Double-doors. Solid oak.
Forebodingly dark brown.
They’re the kind of doors that you know you should never knock on.
The kind of doors that say without saying, “Perish all hope, ye who enter here.”
Every major arena in North America has a set of these doors, to provide a barrier between the commoners and the unfathomably monumental professional wrestling talent on the other side.
Two words are engraved at eye level.
V A E V I C T I S
Yes, you read that right: ENGRAVED.
Quite ornately, in brutalist Roman type.
You better believe these fuckers are custom made.
A certain smiling somebody not-so-subtly slides into the shot, accompanied by an identifying chyron at the bottom of the screen. He flashes the camera a characteristically toothy grin, stretched ear to ear.
Simon Tillier: Gooooooood EVENING, fellow PRIMEmates! Your faithful junior reporter Simon Tillier here on the scene backstage at Soldier Field, amid what I have to say has been an AMAZING second night of UltraViolence! But before we get back to the action, join me right now for what I’m told is a “once in a lifetime” exclusive!
An arm waves to the gateway behind the interviewer.
Simon Tillier: As I’m sure you can tell by the lettering on these doors, I am standing right outside the private clubhouse suite belonging to the members of the esteemed Vae Victis! As it should so happen, the elite supergroup of professional wrestling’s finest athletes are here with us tonight in Chicago to witness this monumental UltraViolence event!
Thoughtfully, Simon turns his attention to the doors. Even he can’t help but notice the certain amount of mystique radiating off of them.
Simon Tillier: Admittedly, I’ve always been interested in knowing more about this group, whose ranks include our own CEO of PRIME, Ms. Lindsay Troy. And if you recall just two weeks ago, I had the chance to sit down with fellow member Kerry Kuroyama, in what I would consider to be an interesting and thought-provoking experience that left me wanting to know even more about how this secretive wrestling society operates behind the scenes.
He bites his lip, pondering over whatever forbidden sights and sounds lie just beyond the threshold.
Simon Tillier: Normally, we wouldn’t have any access to whatever goes on inside, as Vae Victis has been strictly confidential in many of their dealings…
His pink, cherub-like face finds the camera once more.
Simon Tillier: Tonight, however, we are in luck! Because by way of “special request”, yours truly has been granted special access by the founding member herself, LINDSAY TROY!
He can hardly contain his sheer excitement. He is beaming like a kid in a candy store, if all the candy was made out of Red Ryder BB Guns.
His zest for this job seriously cannot be understated. And after everything he’s been through since the inception of the ReVival era, it’s easy to see why.
But here he is now. With the “opportunity of a lifetime.”
A chance to peek beyond the veil.
To look upon the faces of wrestling gods.
Simon Tillier: So, without further adieu… let’s see what’s brewing!
Clearing his throat and straightening his tie, he raises his fist and lightly raps on the door…
Even though it’s a soft knock, every tap seems to resound thunderously through the walls of Soldier Field.
KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK…
In heaven, an angel weeps.
In hell, a devil cackles.
As if suddenly realizing his folly, Simon takes two steps back from the door.
And a moment later… the latch clicks.
The doors slowly come open…
And a sole figure appears on the other side.
Simon Tillier: (balking) SCOTT HUNTER?! Y-YOU are a member of Vae Victis!?
Scott looks around.
Scott Hunter: To be honest, I was just looking for the restroom. But they have snacks in here, and I ran out of Combos. I get the cheddar cheese flavored, not the pizza flavored. I don’t care for artificially flavored pizza goo.
Simon Tillier: Isn’t the cheddar cheese filling also artificial?
Scott stares at him.
Scott Hunter: I don’t know what you mean.
From further in the room, a voice bellows out.
“SCOTT!! THAT BETTER BE BONGO HUT WITH MY PANCAKES!!”
Scott’s eyebrow arches at the junior interviewer.
Scott Hunter: You wouldn’t happen to be the pancake guy, would you?
Tillier shakes his head.
Simon Tillier: Um… no. I was sent by Ms. Troy, by special request?
Scott Hunter: Why would someone who works for a pancake place show up if you don’t have any pancakes?
Simon Tillier: I don’t work for – – Look, Ms. Troy sent for me. Can I come in or not?
Scott shrugs, turns, and leads him in. Tillier takes a deep breath, and steps in after him, closely followed by the camera.
Once he’s inside, Simon takes in his surroundings. His face opens with childlike awe.
Simon Tillier: Whoa…
The VVIP Room isn’t so much a clubhouse as it is a micro-palace. The decorations and furnishings are of opulent and pristine quality.
The centerpiece is a large indoor fountain, beneath a crystal chandelier hanging from an uncharacteristically high, vaulted ceiling that doesn’t seem like it would belong in a Chicago sports arena.
In one corner, a string quartet dressed like 19th century plague doctors plays the works of Abney Park with expert precision.
The catering is topnotch. An array of entrees from the Windy City’s high-end eateries line a seemingly endless banquet table. Overlooking the smorgasbord are ice sculptures of Rachel McAdams, Lacey Chabert, and Amanda Seyfried.
And yeah, there’s a Lindsay Lohan off to the side. Half-melted, like her career.
But the pièce de résistance itself is a massive oil painting on the wall, depicting the likeness of the PRIME CEO herself.
From out of the painting, Lindsay Troy’s confidently smirking face stares down upon whatever lowlife is staring back at her immortalized glory.
She’s clad in safari khakis, standing in the classic Captain Morgan pose in what appears to be a field of dead wrestlers, her foot propped upon the back of her trophy, the corpse of a one cOnOr FuSe. Perched on her arm like a falcon awaiting command, Athena’s golden eyes also stare out of the painting.
Clearing his throat, Scott gestures to the portrait.
Scott Hunter: First of all, you know, I know, everyone knows, this… is Lindsay Troy. She is the PRIME CEO, is a patron of the arts, likes spinach puffs, owls and small dogs and has won a kajillion championships in her fifty year career in wrestling.
From within the painting, one could swear that she shoots him a look.
Scott Hunter: Oops, my bad! I meant… in her fifty year career in Professional Wrestling. She is very very tough, both in fighting people and in business. She owns a gym and also a cappuccino machine. She also has two kids, a dog, and fourteen adopted chinchillas, but they live with her ex-husband which is not relevant information right now.
This time she just rolls her eyes. Or at least she does in our imaginations.
Could also be there are holes right where the eyes would be and she’s just standing on the other side of the wall.
I mean, stranger things have happened, right?
The junior reporter continues to scan the room.
Simon Tillier: So, aside from the PRIME CEO, who else is involved in Vae Victis?
Scott nods further into the clubhouse, and leads the junior reporter toward the balcony overlooking the bowl of Soldier Field and the thousands of fans filling the seats below.
Overlooking the view, arranged in a wide elliptical semi-circle, sits a row of plush seats. Crushed velvet, dyed pink.
Figures occupy their respective thrones, looking down at the world beneath them like a pantheon of wrestling Olympians.
Starting at the far end, Scott gestures to the occupant of the first seat. A stately man with a head lined with salt-and-paprika’d hair and a kraken-engraved eyepatch. He’s dressed in a rather dated, Victorian-era admiral’s uniform.
Scott Hunter: Okay, from what I’ve learned this gentleman is Henry Keyes. The thing that you need to know about Henry is that he only has one eye and yet he has the vision of a hawk. That is a type of bird. He has made at least three angry faces in my direction since I came inside, but already he’s my favorite.
The Kraken snorts when he sees that neither man has come with a tribute of Chicago-style pizza.
Henry Keyes: Pequod’s, or GET THE FUCK OUT!
Scott takes a few steps and stops in front of a sharp-dressed man, with an even sharper look in his eye. His swept back blonde hair and Van Dyke are groomed with regal precision. His camel tweed suit is accented by a pair of shining loafers, because FUCK shoelaces. A shovel with a platinum spade happens to be leaning against his seat.
Scott Hunter: This is Oscar Burns. I believe that his name suits him perfectly because it seems that he is a grouch. I don’t know how ‘Burns’ applies to his personality but I just assume it means he has chronic battles with chafing. He likes graps based on his t-shirt collection, website and Tinder profile. I think that means different things depending on each situation. He is also already my favorite.
Oscar Burns: Call me DEFIANCE.
Simon Tillier: Um… as in the wrestling company?
Oscar Burns: Yeah. I AM the company. I’d be PRIME if I was here, too, GC, but… DEFIANCE.
Scott moves on and stops in front of an empty seat.
Scott Hunter: This seat is usually where the big cowboy guy sits. I don’t know his name either, ‘cause I haven’t met him yet, but in my mind, his name is Sheriff Winston J. Cuddlepants. It is rumored that he has a snake in his boot. He is also already – –
Simon Tillier: – – already your favorite?
Scott Hunter: What?? No. I was going to say he is already my… ok yes, already my favorite.
Simon Tiller: Thought so.
Scott continues on, and stops in front of a gentleman with a mohawk and a proud grin etched on his face.
Unlike the previous stops in this tour through the ranks of Vae Victis, this guy actually looks mildly excited to be introduced to the world at large.
Peeking through the lapels of his blazer is his own brand of t-shirt, which plainly reads “BUTCHER VICTORIOUS” in loud red and yellow letters.
Scott Hunter: I don’t know this guy.
The smile disappears, and the guy in the shirt that says “BUTCHER VICTORIOUS” stammers and blubbers indignantly.
Butcher Victorious: WHAAAT?! C’mon, man! They FINALLY gave me a chair!
Scott just blinks at the man, then steps past him.
Finally, at the far end of the row of seats sits someone in an expensive emerald brillo Sebastian Cruz that Simon actually recognizes.
Scott Hunter: Last but not least, there’s–
Kerry Kuroyama: He knows who I am.
And you should too.
That’s the sound of a pair of ice cubes being sloshed around a jewel-cut glass tumbler.
It’s also the universal signal that a man needs another drink.
Kerry Kuroyama: But while you’re here, Scott, be a lamb and fetch me a refill. Hokushu. On the rocks.
Seemingly confused by the request, Scott takes the glass and goes to the minibar.
Scott Hunter: BAAA… BAAAA…
Kuroyama nods to Tillier as a way of welcoming him.
Kerry Kuroyama: Thank you for being prompt upon request, Simon. Have a seat.
Simon is about to put himself into the empty chair next to Kerry when–
“HEY! YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US!”
The aforementioned mohawked individual–we’ll just randomly identify him as “Butcher Victorious” for the sake of convenience–is pointing accusingly at the junior reporter.
Butcher Victorious: Look, everybody! He’s trying to SIT WITH US!!
As if a switch had been flipped, the steely temperaments of Keyes and Burns suddenly transition from mildly irate to volcanically enraged.
Oscar Burns: YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US!
Henry Keyes: (angrily pounding the arm of his chair) You CAN’T! SIT! With US!
Simon freezes in place over the chair, a baby deer caught in the headlights of a Mack truck.
Kerry Kuroyama: Yeah, sorry Simon. Forgot to mention that we kind of have an unspoken policy about that around here. If you wouldn’t mind, pop a squat here on the floor.
Simon Tillier: Um… would it be okay if I just remained standing.
Kerry doesn’t answer. He simply stares at the junior reporter in a way that suggests he’s not the type who cares to repeat himself.
Getting the hint, Simon sullenly gets down on the floor.
Simon Tillier: Well, Kerry, um… I guess I should begin by saying I greatly appreciate the opportunity to be given this close of access to such an esteemed group of individuals.
Kerry Kuroyama: (nodding) As well you should, Simon. It’s not every day the mortals get a glimpse of heaven.
Kerry gives the camera a side eye, while Simon is left pondering this statement.
Simon Tillier: Is… that how you see this place? Or how you see yourselves?
Kerry lightly chuckles.
Kerry Kuroyama: C’mon, Simon… I’m talking in hyperbole here. I think you and the people watching out there are smart enough to know that we in Vae Victis are just ordinary human beings like everyone else. We just also happen to be gifted with extra-ordinary talent in the field of professional wrestling. Hence, the luxury.
Simon Tillier: I see. Well, again, the gesture is appreciated. I know Vae Victis has a reputation of exclusivity. So much so, that I was moderately surprised you requested this follow-up interview.
Kerry Kuroyama: Would it have been better to interrupt a live Pay Per View broadcast by walking to the ring with a mic in hand, so I could fulfill some pedantic need to be the center of attention? Or maybe I can stand around for twenty minutes in catering and exchange witty banter with some of the other talent, comparing the sizes of posteriors?
He shakes his head.
Kerry Kuroyama: I’ll stick to the interviews, thanks. Because I actually understand and respect that this is a professional wrestling event, Simon. Not some two-bit comedy hour.
As soon as he says this, Hunter returns with a pile of lava rocks cupped in his hands, which he promptly dumps into the lap of the Pacific Blitzkrieg, before placing an ice skate on top.
Scott Hunter: One hockey shoe with rocks. It was an odd request, but I always carry a spare ice skate. And Chicago is known for its lava rock farms, so long story short, it worked out.
Kerry looks pensively down at the mess of his lap. Though his expression is stoic, his temples pulsate as his brain attempts to withstand the sheer stupidity he’s being forced to deal with.
Kerry Kuroyama: …thank you, Scott. Your attention to detail is… absolutely impeccable.
While the Pacific Blitzkrieg pushes the rocks off his lap and to the floor, Scott turns and produces a glass with a clear but opaque liquid inside, poured over ice. He holds it out to Kerry.
Scott Hunter: I also got you this drink.
Kerry breathes a sigh of relief.
Kerry Kuroyama: Well played, Scott. Well played. Really had me going there for a minute.
Gratefully, he receives the glass and takes a sip.
…and his lips curl into a frown.
Kerry Kuroyama: …nevermind… this is apple juice…
Kuroyama sets the glass aside.
Kerry Kuroyama: Do me a favor, Scott, and just… don’t breathe too loud. Or something.
Scott silently reaches into his pocket and produces two Breathe Right strips. He places one on each nostril, then gives a thumbs up.
Meanwhile, the junior reporter’s eyes awkwardly dart back and forth. He doesn’t quite know how to react to all of this.
Simon Tillier: Are, um… all Vae Victis gatherings like…
He trails off, knowing that he should probably word this question as carefully as possible.
Simon Tillier: I mean… like this?
The Beast of Seattle releases a beleaguered sigh. Clearly, it’s a complicated issue.
Kerry Kuroyama: Sometimes, Simon, when you work for the better part of a year trying to instill a sense of order within a nuthouse, you’re bound to go a little nuts yourself.
Henry Keyes: (off-camera) WHERE IN BLAZES ARE MY PANCAKES?!
Scott points at Simon, then quickly looks away and starts whistling.
Kerry Kuroyama: I’ve learned to accept the absurdity for what it is, because between the ropes, each and every one of us knows how to fight the real fight. But you needn’t worry, Simon. Unlike some of the miscreants you’ve had to deal with in the past, we’re not the type who will do anything to endanger you, or leave you with any lasting trauma. Like trap you in a room with a bear, or something.
Simon Tillier: Is that a tiger over there?
Scott Hunter: Her name is Helen. She was captured in South Africa during a Helen hunt.
Kerry Kuroyama: Simon, I really need you to focus here. I’m trying to talk to you about serious, no-nonsense wrestling.
Simon Tillier: Okay… then, perhaps I should ask about wrestling. How are all of you enjoying UltraViolence so far?
Kuroyama looks to his other compatriots to read their reactions.
Keyes and Burns remain fixated on the view below them.
“Butcher Victorious” is staring back at him, just hoping someone acknowledges him.
He looks over his shoulder, at Scott, nodding rhythmically to what we can only assume to be a drum solo going off in his head.
Kerry turns his attention back to the reporter, and says…
Kerry Kuroyama: It’s been an experience, Simon. I can say that much. But I can’t really elaborate much more than that, being how difficult it is to judge the current product while knowing it’s on the cusp of a major change.
Simon Tillier: That major change, being…?
Kerry arm waves across the row of seats, and the other men occupying them.
Kerry Kuroyama: Why, the oncoming expansion of the greatest wrestling society on the planet. Outgrowing the festering, toxic swamps of New Orleans for the greener pastures here in PRIME Wrestling. Virgin territory, in our eyes. Ripe to be molded and shaped into a company worthy of calling itself the greatest on the planet.
The arm angles back toward himself, as he gestures toward his chest.
Kerry Kuroyama: And I, as the ambassador to this collective, will naturally become the harbinger to that change. One victory after the next, until I am at the pinnacle. PRIME’s own Emerald Apex.
To his far left, Keyes and Burns pound their armrests in a show of solidarity behind that statement, with Butch following suit a couple seconds after the fact.
Scott looks around. With nothing in his immediate vicinity to likewise sound off, he says in a monotone voice…
Scott Hunter: Boom boom boom.
Over the course of the interview, Simon Tillier’s face has increasingly been filled with reproach. What began with earnest interest in learning more about these vaunted athletes has devolved into a morbid discovery of just how narcissistic and self-absorbed these people really are.
Which is, of course, the exact mindset one would adopt if they were a simple-minded, one-dimensional plebeian, like our dear Simon here.
Simon Tillier: Well, Kerry, I can certainly admire your confidence going into your anticipated debut. Although to be honest, knowing this company as well as I do, I feel that PRIME is the kind of place that is just as capable of changing others as well.
Kerry Kuroyama: (shrugging) We’ll see. But, I think that concludes our time, Simon.
Kuroyama snaps his fingers, calling Hunter to attention.
Kerry Kuroyama: Scott, can you show our guest the door?
Scott Hunter: That is the door.
Everyone stares at him. Scott suddenly snaps, then winks with a “oh I get it” expression.
Scott Hunter: Right this way, sir.
Sensing that it’s time to make himself scarce, Simon pushes himself back off the floor and dusts the pancake crumbs off his PRIME blue suit. He nods to his company to bid them farewell.
Simon Tillier: Enjoy the rest of the event, gentlemen.
No response. Tillier follows Scott to the doors, who holds them open as he ushers the junior reporter out of the clubhouse.
Scott Hunter: Next time, please don’t forget the pancakes.
Back in the hallway, Simon sighs dejectedly.
Simon Tillier: You know, hard as it may be to say this, I think I’m beginning to miss that punk…