Nick Stuart: Fans, we’re just moments away from Hayes Hanlon taking on Ned Reform, and…
There’s a buzz in the crowd as a figure makes his way through the entrance and onto the arena stage. And then, once they realize who it is, the buzz grows into a roar.
King Blueberry, dressed in street clothes and the ever-present mask, enters the MGM Grand Garden Arena to no music, no pyro, and no extravagant display on the PRIMEview. If you were to ask him why, he’d tell you that we’re long past the time for the frivolity of Little Big, and that Motley Crue is Justine’s song, and she’s not here tonight.
Richard Parker: Pretty bold of Jared Sykes to make himself a target like this, especially on a night when his partner is still at home recovering from what the Love Convoy did two weeks ago.
Nick Stuart: Well at least none of those asshats are here tonight. They’ve been barred from the arena.
Richard Parker: And with all due respect to the fine staff here at the MGM Grand, we saw how well that worked out at that same show when Paxton Ray managed to get inside the building. Not only that but, wait… did you just say “asshats”?
Nick Stuart: Maybe.
Slung over his right shoulder and held very gingerly is his half of the PRIME Tag Team Championship. Even a casual observer can tell he’s careful not to move it too much, because when your right hand is your dominant side, then a chest wound on that same side makes moving tricky.
His pace quickens when he’s only a few feet away from the ring, building up just enough speed to spring up onto the ring apron with one foot before stepping through the ropes. To date he has never entered a PRIME ring this way, but this gesture is about sending a message. Try as you might to take him out, the Blueberry King is still here.
A microphone is retrieved from the ringside crew.
Richard Parker: Real talk, I kind of hope he’s about to let us know when it’s Darin Zion’s turn to get murdered on television. If I have to listen to one more goddamn “Honk”…
Despite being in possession of the mic, and having the full attention of the MGM Grand upon him, speaking in the ring like this has never been his thing. That he did it four weeks ago to call out Paxton Ray was extraordinary; that he’s out here to do it again is a legitimate anomaly, in that it means you would now need two hands to count the number of times he’s spoken from the inside of a wrestling ring. Now, he paces, letting the gears turn as he tries to figure out exactly what to say. After a moment of this, he pauses in the center of the ring and stares directly into the camera.
King Blueberry: You missed.
Setting the belt down on the canvas, he positions a finger over his right breast, indicating the wound hidden beneath his shirt, and then slowly drags it across to the opposite side just over his heart.
King Blueberry: Basic anatomy lesson, Tristan. You had the right height, but you had the wrong side. Eight inches in the other direction, and the conversation changes. Eight inches in the other direction…
King Blueberry: But you came up short. The target was right there, and you couldn’t hit it. You’re not the first, and I can guarantee you won’t be the last, you’re just the latest name added to a list of people who took their shot and watched it sail wide. Doesn’t matter if it’s a white pantsuit and a steel chair. Doesn’t matter if it’s a psychopath with a light tube fetish. What you get to find out now is the same thing they learned, which is that when you get a shot like that you better damn well make it count, because those don’t come around often. You get to learn that bigger and badder have tried, and they have all FAILED because in case it wasn’t abundantly clear by now I am still fucking here, because you… fucking… missed!!
He takes a moment to regain his composure before continuing.
King Blueberry: But you’re not the reason I’m out here, not really. You see, I need to address a rumor that’s been floating around. According to Matt Mills, I’ve got a one-way plane ticket to New Orleans booked right after Colossus.
King Blueberry: And he’s right.
Nick Stuart: Oh… oh no.
King Blueberry: A few days ago I reached out to a friend of mine about a particular piece of information I thought he might know. You might’ve heard of the guy.
He taps the name on his shirt, the same “Fighting For Jonathan” design he’s worn since UltraViolence. The response from the gathered crowd is predictable.
King Blueberry: See, there’s an issue that needs to get settled, and since it’s not happening here, then I figure the only thing left to do is head down south and get a little dirty. Maybe play in the mud.
Richard Parker: Does that mean…?
Nick Stuart: (softly) The “mud pits.”
King Blueberry: So consider this a courtesy, Paxton, granted it’s one you sure as hell don’t deserve. You’ve got six weeks. Six weeks to kick back, relax, do whatever it is you do in your free time. You don’t need to come here lookin’ for me, because before the year is over I will find YOU!
BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD
SKULLS FOR THE SKULL THRONE
LET THE GALAXY BURN
The original cheer is for Blueberry. But with the sudden battle cry forcing its way through the MGM Grand Garden Arena, the intensity of that cheer becomes more sustained. There is no light show, no ballyhoo of pyro. Just Brandon Youngblood, powerwalking from the Argyle Position, dressed for the combat to come against GREAT SCOTT. Save one thing; a ‘Fighting For Jonathan’ shirt. His expression is a scowl. Standard operating procedure. Microphone in hand, the Tower of Babel takes very little time, climbing the ring steps, stepping between the ropes, all as his music powers forward. The PRIME Tag Team Champion stands in the middle of the ring, eyes glued on the Hall of Famer, the look behind his masked eyes puzzlement, a frown from annoyance pouting across his lips.
The size discrepancy is obvious.
With the events of ReVival 17 fresh on everyone’s minds, when Youngblood led the cavalry to finally do something about the Love Convoy’s constant campaign of assault, the tension between Diamond and King takes on a peculiar flavor. The space between the two closes quickly, the intense glower from the former Universal Champion enough to melt most caught in its wake.
Jared Sykes was made of stronger stuff.
The music fades away, the cheering buzz from the fans for the two stars in the ring replacing it. The only movement is Youngblood, cocking his head, arms still at his sides. After a few moments, King Blueberry brings the microphone to his lips.
King Blueberry: I appreciate what you, Nate, and Coral did last week. Believe me, I do. But now really isn’t the time or the place. This is about me and Paxton–
Brandon Youngblood: Shut up.
The interruption stops him cold in his tracks. But not for long. Blueberry’s brow furrows. Two weeks before, this man was reaching to him, calling him brother. Now? The look in his eyes screamed of wanting to snap him in two.
King Blueberry: Excu–
Brandon Youngblood: I said shut up.
There’s some cheers. There’s some boos. Youngblood steps forward. The two are barely within arm’s reach now.
Brandon Youngblood: You’re not built for this.
A shocking gasp from the crowd, followed by the entire arena booing loudly. For a moment, the Blueberry’s mic hand falls, but not before it picks up an exasperated, “Oh, for fuck’s sake.” With his free hand he rubs at his temples for a moment, resigned to the idea that there is a very real chance he might be on the receiving end of a beating for the third straight week for what he’s about to do.
King Blueberry: Okay. Look. Let me make this as clear as I can. I respect what you’ve done here this year, and you’ll forever have my appreciation for coming out two weeks ago. I mean that. But please understand something… I don’t know what you’ve heard, or what you’ve been told…
He stares across the ring, the Knight-errant of Sin City and the Ace of PRIME now within striking distance.
King Blueberry: You do not know me.
Brandon never flinches.
Brandon Youngblood: Last time. Shut up and listen.
The tone sure seems hostile before Youngblood continues.
Brandon Youngblood: You’re not built for this. Not because you can’t fight. Not because you’re not willing. Not because you got a bullshit cause. You say I don’t know you? I don’t. But I’ve been learning. Learning quite a lot lately. From someone who knows you as well as anyone. From what I’ve seen with my own eyes.
There are those that know. For those that don’t, it seems, reluctantly, like the PRIME Tag Team Champion is listening, albeit with a load of hesitation.
Brandon Youngblood: How many times you been in the hospital the last month or so, Jared? How many trips through the ICU? You barely can make it out here without doubling over. You’ve been sliced up. Been victim to war crimes. Battered pillar to post. And I know I can say this because my ass is old too…you ain’t some spring chicken, shrugging off bullets, ready to jump through the window like you’re Superman. No matter how willing your spirit is. No matter what you’re feeling inside.
Youngblood takes a step back. The air of tension has dissipated slightly.
Brandon Youngblood: Nobody else is going to come down this ramp and give you a reality check. So I am. Not because I owe it to you. But because you deserve it. Because you want a piece of Paxton Ray. And he’s supposed to be gone. Bye bye. Fired. But he’s kicking at the door. Breaking in. Hurting people. And it ain’t some scattershot deal. See, you’re not built for this because you’re not a hunter. And he is. And each and every step of the way? He’s proving it to you.
Blueberry grits his teeth.
Brandon Youngblood: What the hell is this? You coming out here, pointing at your heart. Saying Tristan Gladhappy missed? And then you’re announcing, to the world, for all to hear, for him to hear, that you’re going to those Mud Pits? What, is this you telling him to meet you by the flagpole? You challenging his manhood? Every step along the way, Paxton Ray is ahead. On the offensive. And he’s not coming for you. He’s coming for people associated with you. He’s coming for people you care about. And as you stand here, announcing intent, he prowls around your goddamn chicken coop. And the door is open.
Brandon once again steps forward, a slight cock to his head.
Brandon Youngblood: You play by his rules? You knock on the door to his turf? I know what that Butcher is thinking. He’s smiling. Grinning ear to ear. Because you think this is how it works? No. No…you knock on his door, and the next thing you know, you’re flat on your back, a slug burning in your chest. Dying. Dead.
The unappealing sentiment causes the fans to boo.
Brandon Youngblood: And then, he sets up shop in your coop. He rules it. All those people you value? That you care about? That you love? There’s nothing you can do to stop him doing whatever the hell he wants. You’re not built for this. But you know what you are built for, Jared? No more damn proclamations. No more giving him the first move. He’s the outsider. This is your house. Defend it. When you hear him scratch at the windows? When he starts trying to break down your door? You burn the slug in him. You put down the big bad wolf.
That small bit of separation is gone. Brandon’s hand is on Blueberry’s shoulder now.
Brandon Youngblood: You do it on terms you control. You do it on ground you know. And you make sure the people you care about can’t be hurt. Because Paxton Ray? He can hear these words. And he can know what’s coming. But he’s not inside the coop. He’s not in control. You are. And when you have control…you can do whatever the hell you want to him. Beat him down. Break him. Nobody will bat an eye. That’s what you’re built for. That’s what a goddamn King would do.
There’s the faint makings of a grin that creeps across the Blueberry’s lips, one born from relief. It comes from knowing that finally – finally – someone has acknowledged what he’s known since UltraViolence, the truth that no one else seems willing to accept. It started with Rhine, then it moved to Mark; the civilian casualty. All roads lead to the same destination.
The fight is inevitable, and at long last someone else recognizes it.
King Blueberry: There’s just a little problem with that approach. I’m not in control here. This isn’t my company, isn’t my house. He’s fired. Like it fucking matters at this point. Like it’s going to keep him out. So the way I see it I don’t have much of a choice here.
“No, you don’t.”
For the second time tonight, to no music and no fanfare, Lindsay Troy appears in front of the crowd with a microphone in hand. This time, however, she remains on the stage and doesn’t trek down to the ring to meet up with Sykes and Youngblood. Probably because she figures she’s not going to be out here for very long.
Lindsay Troy: You don’t have a choice. Neither of you do. And you’re right, Jared, this isn’t your house…it’s mine. So perhaps the time has come to stop talking amongst yourselves and at cameras and journalists and to start talking directly to me.
Her piercing hazel eyes flick between the Berry and the Diamond.
Lindsay Troy: You know where to find me.
Just as quickly as she appeared, the Queen departs back through the curtain.
The soft thump of a microphone reverberating off the canvas sounds through the arena as Blueberry lets his fall from his grip. Without a word, he turns again to Youngblood and offers a nod of acknowledgement before stepping through the ropes to the arena floor. He moves with purpose back up the ramp, his destination the same as the Queen’s. The exchange that will follow – one that cameras and microphones will not be privy to – is another inevitability to be addressed.