Carnwennan, the Fifth Armament
Posted on 01/18/23 at 10:00am by Coral Avalon
Claire Merci stared at Coral Avalon the moment she met him at the airport.
“I’m rebuilding the Kingdom,” she said in her Quebecois-accented English, “This is not a discussion.”
Coral was almost taken aback by his apprentice’s form of greeting.
“Hello to you, too, Claire.”
December 22nd, 2022
Every December, Coral Avalon visited his wife’s family in Japan for both the Christmas holiday and for his birthday. This was a tradition dating back to when they first started dating in late 2004. Coral considered this a godsend. He had a place to stay while he worked in Japan, broadening his horizons as a professional wrestler and filling in the deep holes in his wrestling that were still existent. When he returned to the States in late 2005, he was clearly a much more complete wrestler and only became better as time went on.
The Natsukawa family embraced Coral as their own from the beginning, a welcome change from the reception he got from his own family, whom he hadn’t spoken to in a very long time.
Coral’s family trip became more complicated when Doi Inoue, the booker and co-owner of Bang! Pro Wrestling who was best known as the Squared Circle’s merciless “School Girl”, called him a couple of months ago to ask for help in filling out a tour in January. Injuries had been a plague for Bang! recently, and they needed to bolster their small roster with some foreign talent for at least one tour so that some of their banged up stars had time to heal.
Coral saw this as a chance to give Joe and Sid some horizon broadening of their own, and to be there for Ignacio, Sam, and Wally as they navigated the hurdles of being young lions for the Japanese promotion.
Of course, he wasn’t the only PRIME talent contacted for this trip.
But we’ll get to that.
Claire Merci – born Claire Boivin – was a very tall woman. At 6’1”, she was even slightly taller than Coral himself. Her blonde hair was cut in a very short pixie cut. She wore a sweatshirt, jeans, and sneakers. No frills. Nothing fancy. Just like Claire. The complete opposite of Coral’s tiny, well-dressed wife.
Claire didn’t quite choose her own ring name. She began as “Claire Merciless” when she started in the Montreal wrestling scene, a name that was given to her on a whim by the promoter. As she improved, she shortened it to “Merci”. And yes, she’s heard the joke plenty of times before that her name would mean “Claire Thank You”. People tended to stop making those jokes when they were thanking her for releasing them from that murderous octopus hold she used as a finishing submission.
Coral could tell that she was nursing some injuries, though. Nothing serious, but he noticed the bandages that would peek out from under the sleeves of her sweatshirt when she moved her hands. Claire had won the Bang! Hardweight championship not that long ago, which meant that she was queen of a division that was very similar to PRIME’s Intense division. That meant everything was on the table in her matches. It was not a championship for the weak.
Little wonder she was playing more hurt than usual.
Claire came under the wing of Coral as he and Franco made their conquest across the international independent promotions, taking countless tag championships across the globe. It was her first tag match in Bang! Pro Wrestling where Coral thought he saw something in the young woman, a very talented person who’d been completely unknown to him until then.
He invited her into the Kingdom, and she became the “unofficial” fifth member of the Crownless Kingdom.
Up until she joined, the Kingdom had always been the four original members – Avalon, Franco Marchesi, Aaron Fetzer, Avis Flyfield – and no others. Under Coral’s tutelage, Claire improved by leaps and bounds, even as the Kingdom slowly collapsed around the two of them.
By 2020, the Kingdom was all but extinct. Flyfield and Fetzer jumped ship to rival Ichiban Nippon Puroresu. Franco, injured and burned out and having gone through a divorce, focused on the training and promotion of the Gates of Avalon Wrestling School and the associated Wonders of Wrestling in Seattle. Even Coral had his role on the cartoon to worry about.
“No arguments?” Claire asked. Her eyebrow, the right one that had a piercing, was raised.
“You’re the only one here that’s left, Moyashi-chan.”
Claire took the nickname with a grumpy frown. It more or less meant “little beansprout”. She closed her eyes and clearly counted to three.
“Stop calling me that, already,” she finally said once she calmed herself.
“Just keeping appearances in front of Annie.”
His wife, Annabelle, offered a little wave for Claire. Dressed for the cold in her white winter wear, Annabelle Avalon seemed more interested in fumbling with her luggage than Claire herself. Claire nodded pleasingly at her. She definitely liked Coral’s wife better than Coral himself, which was typical among the women in Coral’s life.
“How’ve you been?” Coral asked.
“Same. I got into a fight with a refrigerator from Montana while I was in New York City,” Coral said, “I won.”
“Good for you.” Claire said, impatiently, before she returned the subject to what she came to talk about, “Kingdom. Rebuilding.”
“Right, right,” Coral rolled his eyes. Claire was a lot of things as his protégé, but the ability to tolerate the way Coral typically acted wasn’t one of them, “So, why are you telling me this?”
“The Kingdom’s yours, isn’t it?”
Coral shook his head. “Yes and no. Yes, it was my idea. But the point of the Crownless Kingdom was that it was a round table. I was not the leader. I was a king among other kings. Equals. You might’ve been my apprentice once, but you became an equal a long time ago. Well before we fought at Sapporo. You don’t need my permission to do anything.”
“If you say so.”
“I’m serious, Claire. Do what you have to do. And if you need my help, just ask.” Coral said.
Claire rolled her eyes, and turned her attention to Annabelle.
“Wakana-san, does this moron of yours know what a coup d’état even looks like?” she asked.
In America, she went by Annabelle, the name she originally gave her husband when they first met. In Japan, she went by her birth name, Wakana. Claire was much more familiar with the latter name.
Regardless of the name she used, she still smiled, “Oh, he probably can’t even spell it.”
“Thanks, sweetie.” Coral said, rolling his eyes at his wife.
Claire always had a perpetually serious expression, which sometimes made Coral realize that maybe he came off like an idiot to people outside of his immediate circle. It also made her difficult for him to read.
“I mean, you’re doing this regardless of my input, right?”
“Yes,” Claire said, “This conversation is a courtesy. I’ve already spoken to Tyrell about teaming up.”
Tyrell-Marcus Jordan was one of the best talents the Gates of Avalon had ever produced. Maybe the best. Coral knew Claire would be in good hands with Tyrell by her side.
He’s bad at it, but doesn’t let that stop him.
“Well, that’s a good choice. Can I offer a suggestion?”
Claire stared at him impatiently.
“If you’re telling me to play rock-paper-scissors, I’m going to kill you right here in front of Wakana-san.” Claire said, with the tone of voice that suggested that she carried a knife specifically to handle any further jan-ken-pon incidents.
Annabelle shrugged her shoulders, “As long as his blood doesn’t stain my clothes, I’m mildly okay with that. It’s so hard to get blood out of white.”
Coral cast a glance at his wife, faux-aghast about her lack of concern for his physical well-being. Both knew that Claire was simply blustering.
He turned back to Claire, “No, no rock-paper-scissors this time. Although if you’re going to play that around here, you should always be worried about the gun play. Those Hentais don’t play fair, and…”
He knew that look on Claire’s face.
It’s not unlike an owl expressing its disapproval before it attacked helpless prey.
He immediately changed subjects.
“Okay, so… I have a few other students coming over here for the tour. Some of them will be sticking around more permanently. Would you be willing to look after them?” Coral asked.
Claire’s expression softened, if only a little.
When Claire Boivin first came to Japan, she had no idea what she was in for. She knew no one in Bang! Pro Wrestling, and was only given an invitation because one of the young talents that passed through her territory on his excursion, Gorou Ichikawa, had seen her work in Montreal. It was only after she arrived that she fell into the Crownless Kingdom.
After all, they spoke English and they weren’t the fucking Jacks.
“Sure.” Claire said, after some hesitation.
“Trust me, Iggy’s real good. He’ll fit right in.” Coral said, “Wally and Sam are still works in progress, but… they’re good kids. They could use this, even if they don’t end up joining the Kingdom.”
Claire tilted her head.
“What about the other two?”
“What do you mean? I just brought up Wally and Sam.”
“Don’t play dumb with me, Avalon.” Claire said, “I’m talking about those two dipshits under your wing in PRIME.”
You all knew the ones.
Coral might have been a bit caught off-guard by the suggestion.
“Joe and Sid?” Coral asked.
“Yes. Those dipshits.”
“They’re not here to stay,” Coral said.
Claire tilted her head. The way she did it reminded Coral a lot of predatory birds, a thought he tried to get out of his mind as she asked, “Is that so?”
“They have something they need to take care of in PRIME.” Coral said, “I brought them here to help with that, since I was already going to be in Japan for family, anyway.”
Claire let out a breath.
“A shame. Perhaps I’d have invited them to the new Kingdom.”
Coral smiled at the idea, but said nothing.
They had their own kingdom to build.
Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, Japan
December 23rd, 2022
The Natsukawa family lived in Kawaguchi, a city that was really just another part of the colossus that was Tokyo. The home was the residence of Annabelle’s parents, Michael and Haruka Natsukawa.
It’s usually by now that most of the Natsukawa family, aside from the parts belonging to Rachel’s Canadian side of the family, visited from all parts of Japan.
Annabelle’s brother, Minato, came from Sendai. He brought his wife and his three mischievous triplet daughters, Sora, Shion, and Seiko. Viola and Henry, Annabelle’s paternal aunt and uncle, were in town as well. They all met the previous day and had a good time congratulating Coral for his success at Colossus and for getting back into the big leagues after more than a decade of struggle.
In any case, Coral did a jog around chilly Kawaguchi the following morning in his sweatshirt and tracksuit. He wasn’t going to wrestle again until January 4th, so he did what he could to stay in shape until he got back in the ring. He hoped Joe and Sid were doing the same back in Arizona, where he knew they’d be for the holiday before they flew out after Christmas.
Up until last year, he’d be on the December tour leading into Clash of Aces, Bang!’s biggest show of the year that took place on January 4th. But this year was different. This year, he had to wrestle in New York City in front of a sold-out Madison Square Garden against the refrigerator with legs named GREAT SCOTT, and couldn’t attend Bang!’s tour.
Of course, Coral did his farewell tour with Bang! this past May. We’ve covered this. What he was doing in January was a special appearance, and the repayment of a debt he’d owed Inoue.
When he returned home, he was ambushed with a cake and loud shouting in unison.
Oh, right. Today’s his birthday.
Today, he hit level thirty-nine.
He gained three points in strength, two points in wisdom, and six points in existential dread in realizing that he was soon approaching his body’s limits in performing at his absolute peak as a professional wrestler.
Before Coral Avalon married Annabelle, he didn’t quite understand the tradition of the birthday party. The Avalon family barely considered birthdays to be worth celebrating more than quarterly financial reports, and never made those days special for Coral.
Keep things safe and normal.
Don’t become a professional wrestler, because that’s not safe to them. (Though in retrospect, Coral did die once doing a big professional wrestle, so maybe that’s fair.)
Don’t become friends with weirdos and whackos like Mega Job or the Malone family or the Knox family or the Natsukawa family, because none of those people are “normal”.
Definitely don’t marry a smart-mouthed bisexual Japanese-Canadian girl. Sometimes, Coral, we just don’t think you’re even trying with this whole “safe normalcy” thing. Couldn’t you have just married a dumb blonde baby factory like your brother?
Coral decided a long time ago that he wasn’t about that safe normal life.
The annual letter that the Avalon family sent him was disposed of without a second thought.
“Oh, hey,” Coral said to the family that greeted him, “I only barely didn’t notice most of you scrambling to hide when I came in.”
His mother-in-law, Natsukawa Haruka, slapped him on the shoulder like she was Garry “Ray-Ray” Nelson’s drunk aunt. Haruka had aged gracefully into her sixties, a half-Canadian and half-Japanese woman who had seen her fair share of unruly types in her life as an English teacher. She was barely under five feet tall, but stood like a colossus among the other Natsukawas that crowded around their tiny home.
“You will feign your surprise like a good son!” she ordered.
He cleared his throat.
“Oh, lamentations! How could I have possibly expected such a wondrous and thoughtful display of surprise!?” Coral hammed, an acting job that couldn’t have been more forced if he were threatened at gunpoint.
Haruka laughed, “Don’t be a smartass, Coral-san.”
Few people could make a big wrestle man like Coral feel sheepish like Haruka could. She commanded the respect you might give a teacher you’re loath to disappoint.
Minato, Annabelle’s older brother, sat with his wife at the table. The terrible triplets were with their aunt and uncle doing some last minute Christmas shopping, allowing the couple a rare moment of not having to deal with them. Minato was starting to see a little grey in his hair now.
“How old does this make you?”
“One more and you’re officially old.” Minato said with a laugh. He had just turned 40 this year.
“Oh yeah, I know. I keep reminding Wakana how much closer she gets every October 30th.” Coral said, “Once I get to 40, I’m gonna tell her all of the things she has to look forward to.”
Annabelle gave a pouty look at her husband that looked as adorable as it did disapproving, “Thanks, I hate it.”
Even at 37, Annabelle looked like she barely aged at all from the awkward teenager she was when Coral first met her. Of course, she worked hard at looking that way. Her appearance was almost as important to her as her music, because she made it a part of her presentation as a musician.
“You should take care of your knees first and foremost, Coral-san,” Haruka said, “They are usually one of the first things that have problems when you get older.”
“Thanks, okaa-san,” Coral said, grinning slightly, “Though in my line of work, I’m worried about all of the rest of it. I’m gonna feel my age in places I didn’t think you could feel age in.”
“Oh, I definitely feel that way after teaching English for so long,” Haruka laughed. She laughed often, especially when the family came over for Christmas. As the one who’d essentially taken over as the family’s matriarch after Annabelle’s grandmother passed, Haruka always looked forward to the family visits.
Coral only really cared about his birthdays because it meant he spent time with this family.
And that was time well worth spending.
WISHES FOR THE NEW YEAR
Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, Japan
December 31st, 2022
Christmas came and went, gifts were exchanged, and more laughs were had.
Perhaps the most important gift given to Coral was a new version of his entrance cloak. Coral’s old cloak, the one he wore since the night he won his first Terminus Complex all the way until Colossus, had been a patchwork thing that’d been in some disrepair in the last few years. The lion’s head mounted on the shoulder kept trying to fall off, something Coral hid rather well considering the elaborate entrances he’d come up with. Only a handful of the fangs and teeth in the other shoulder still remained.
So, yeah, it was time for an upgrade.
Thankfully, Natsukawa Haruka and the others in the family had heard about Coral’s plight, and once again made a new cloak for him.
The cloak appeared as though it was made from the skin of one very large animal instead of many smaller ones, which made it far less patchwork than the old cloak. There was still the head of a lion on one shoulder, but the other shoulder had a different replica animal head on it: a faux bear’s head. No doubt, someone in the Natsukawa household had a sense of humor and knew about Sid’s plight.
One of Annabelle’s gifts was a white winter coat that looked like it had a cape built into it, which Coral found especially pretentious and thus fit quite well with everything he did. Capes were cool in his book. Obviously, you didn’t wear them when fighting or doing superhero stuff, but they’re great for looking cool.
Not to mention, Annabelle always looked good in white.
Like, for example, the way she looked tonight.
The pair walked through the streets of Tokyo, arm and arm, taking in the sights as the clock ticked closer to midnight. Annabelle in white with a bright red scarf, Coral in his dark business casual outfit. They’d eaten at a yakiniku place, which blew through a chuk of their budget for the month-long trip. Coral supposed he would have to make back some of the money spent by getting thrown around by the people of Bang! for two weeks.
“Have you thought about the new year, Coral?” Annabelle asked.
“Little bit. You know how I am with planning, though,” Coral admitted. Coral wasn’t much of a long-term planner when it came to work. Paying bills, saving money, planning for that inevitable retirement, these were things Coral did when he planned. When it came to his various jobs, though, he winged it.
He knew the animation studio that produced Mega Job and the Ten True Fruits would inevitably ask him to perform as Baron von Blackberry again. He knew that he had a new class to introduce to the wide world of professional wrestling once he got back from Japan. He knew he’d have to be in Tampa for ReVival 21 at the end of next month.
But that’s all short-term stuff.
Annabelle giggled, knowing all of this, “So, the usual amount of thinking, then.”
“What about you?”
“Well, Mikoto wants to record an album with me.”
“Yeah. And I’m thinking about it.” Annabelle said, “We always used to talk about it in the band club. Getting the girls together once we got more experienced, recording an album together. Mind you, the only ones among that club that still play music are Mikoto and me, but… we started talking about it more lately.”
“That’d be great.” Coral said.
“Yeah.” Annabelle said, “We want to do something where she sings in Japanese and I sing in English. I’ll also play the violin to accompany her guitar. I could brush up on the shamisen, too.”
Being a professional musician, Annabelle played a wide variety of instruments. She’s mainly known for her violin and her guitar, but some of her choices could be considered eclectic. Coral never knew what a shamisen was until he met Annabelle. It was a three-stringed Japanese instrument in the style of a guitar, if you were wondering.
Coral never knew a lot of things before he met his wife.
“I don’t imagine you’d want my amateur hour guitar on that thing, do you?” Coral asked.
“Sweetie, I would love to have you on the album if I didn’t think it would be a distraction from that goal of yours.” Annabelle said.
Coral Avalon had been chasing a crown for twenty years, after all.
And it had to be a specific one.
It couldn’t be Bang! Pro Wrestling’s Openweight championship, which he purposefully avoided except for when he won the Terminus Complex the other two times.
It was a fine enough crown, but… this one needed to be grander.
For him, it could be nothing less than the Universal championship of PRIME.
He didn’t know how he would accomplish becoming Universal champion. He didn’t know what he’d do if he finally got his shot. He especially didn’t know what would happen if he actually became champion. Would he retire? Could he retire? He had so many questions and no way of knowing how he could answer them.
As stated, long-term planning was never Coral Avalon’s forte.
He wouldn’t change that aspect of himself, either. After all, if long-term planning was his forte, he’d have never gotten into wrestling, never would’ve lied about his age to get into Action! Wrestling, never would’ve met Annabelle, and never would’ve become the man he was today.
“You’re never a distraction, Annie.” Coral said.
Annabelle’s smile was devious, and she clung tighter to Coral’s arm.
“Then clearly, I’m not doing my job that well!”
Coral smiled back.
“It sounds like you want to be a distraction tonight.”
“Very much so.”
We won’t talk too much about how Coral and Annabelle rung in the New Year.
Let’s just say it’s best expressed in a series of winking emojis.
THE RENEWED KINGDOM
January 5th, 2023
Only three of the eight participants in tonight’s main event remained at ringside.
The other five had brawled to the back, the smoldering remains of a double countout between the Ironhearts and the hodgepodge team of Hanazawa Akira, Jared Sykes, Justine Calvin, and a surprise appearance from former two-time SCCW World Champion, Amy Campbell.
The match was chaos.
Hanazawa hated teaming with others, especially the night after he failed in his bid to take back the Openweight championship from the leader of the Ironhearts and the face of Bang! Pro Wrestling, “Big Iron” Ichikawa Gorou. Generally speaking, people who teamed with the Godslayer took almost as much damage as the people he was up against. Ask Jared Sykes about that some time.
When all was said and done, only Ichikawa, Sykes, and Calvin remained at ringside.
Ichikawa Gorou was a tall Japanese man with a solid build. Handsome with his shoulder-length hair and thin goatee, Gorou had taken on a “Texas”-style gimmick when he returned from his overseas excursions. His wrestling gear evoked a “cowboy” look with his cowboy-style boots and the tassels around his trunks. His entrance gear included a 10-gallon cowboy hat, a leather jacket, a holster for a prop gun he carried with him to the ring, and chaps.
In interviews, Gorou liked to wax poetic about the cowboy genre of film and the cowboy genre of pro wrestler, and sought to emulate both in and out of the ring. But he was also a friendly kind of cowboy, lacking the surliness that might define other cowboy-style wrestlers.
Ichikawa and Sykes leaned against opposite corners, watching one another carefully.
They weren’t enemies, simply competitors on opposite sides of the ring.
This wasn’t PRIME.
This wasn’t a place where the sport gave way to a man who could paralyze another man and largely get away with it.
This wasn’t Sin City.
This wasn’t a place where there were spies, or assholes, or asshole spies.
It took Sykes a while to realize that Ichikawa wasn’t staring at him because he distrusted him. It was because he respected him. Gorou knew what Jared Sykes went through just a month before, as well as anyone else who paid attention to what went on outside of the Japanese bubble. To fight that fight with Paxton Ray. To still show up a night later against the dangerously unhinged Love Convoy.
There was respect to be shown.
Ichikawa began to approach the center of the ring, in order to offer a handshake.
And then, Claire Merci appeared in the ring.
Somehow, she’d slipped by Calvin, and entered the ring between Sykes and Ichikawa without their notice. She stood there for several moments. Everything would be made clear soon.
She’d changed out of her wrestling gear between the opening match of the night, where was in tag team action, and now. Her black hoodie was conspicuous if only because she never wore them before to the ring.
Sykes did not recognize her, but Ichikawa most certainly did.
The last person to have defeated him in a wrestling ring, winning a crucial match in last year’s Terminus Complex, was Claire Merci. Ichikawa knew to be wary around the Merciless Queen.
He just wasn’t wary enough.
He stepped out from the corner to confront her. Claire moved, ostensibly to keep both Ichikawa and Sykes in her line of sight. As she did, she became aware that Justine was on the apron just behind her, as well. Claire didn’t move a muscle, even knowing that she was surrounded by the Openweight champion and PRIME’s tag team champions.
And then… judgement arrived.
It came in the form of the man called Powerslam Anubis.
Tyrell-Marcus Jordan was 6’8”, 320 pounds of ex-football player turned living avatar for the Egyptian god of judgment. Black, dreadlocked, heavily tattooed, and menacing, the former standout of the Gates of Avalon Wrestling School had become a force of nature in Europe – stuck there as he was for much of the pandemic. His entrance gear – the jackal mask and the staff with a set of scales dangling at the end – had been left in the back. It was this man, in his black trunks and boots, who stalked Ichikawa Gorou from behind.
Ichikawa wasn’t dumb.
He heard the crowd shout words of warning to him. He knew that however dangerous the woman standing in front of him was, something worse was behind him.
So he turned to face judgment itself.
And judgment itself lariated him so hard that a visible cloud of sweat left Ichikawa’s body on impact.
As he often did, Jared Sykes reacted on instinct.
He charged on Powerslam Anubis, peppering him with jabs and punches and not quite realizing that none of it was budging him in the slightest. Maybe it was exhaustion. Maybe it was the vast gulf in the size difference. Maybe it was the fact that Powerslam Anubis was a god. Either way, Anubis let him attack for a few fleeting seconds before he grabbed Jared by both sides of his head and flung him to the ground in a slide that sent Jared to the floor.
On the outside, Justine Calvin was moments from entering the ring. However, upon seeing Sykes get ejected, she rushed over to his side to make sure he was okay. A handful of young lions – trainees at Bang! At Your Dojo – came over to help him get to his feet.
And each and every one of them witnessed the nature of their judgment as it came barreling over the top rope and down on top of them, knocking everyone down like a building at the business end of a wrecking ball. It was maybe one of the most ridiculous tope con hilos you’d ever witness from a man the size of Powerslam Anubis.
Inside the ring, Ichikawa Gorou moved as though drunk while Claire Merci stood there looking down on him, hands in the pockets of her hoodie. She never moved, not even when Ichikawa grasped her by the clothes to try and get to his feet.
It was only when they were face-to-face that Claire took action.
It was a headbutt.
Sudden. Devastating. Claire put her whole body into it, and Ichikawa crumpled to the canvas like a wilting flower. Claire staggered slightly after the impact – because headbutt – but recovered quickly to put the boots to the fallen Openweight champ.
Most of Ichikawa’s allies had left the ringside area to brawl with the others, but one of them returned upon realizing what was going on.
Her name was Tsukino Riko.
The “Iron Idol” of Bang! Pro Wrestling.
Riko was a former idol singer who made a transition to pro wrestling, and the “iron” in her nickname was not for show. Riko was best known for her tenaciousness and her undeniable courage in the face of dangerous opponents. Even Hanazawa Akira, the Godslayer himself, regarded her with the closest measure of respect for an opponent possible for a surly lone wolf such as himself, despite being almost literally twice her size.
She was driven to succeed in Bang! against all odds because for Riko, there was no backup plan.
This was the backup plan.
She made a beeline for Claire the moment she entered the ring. Claire might have seen her coming, but the Iron Idol was not someone easily deterred by Claire’s elbow strikes. She took one, then took a second, and then responded with a lunging headbutt that staggered the self-styled “Merciless Queen” of Bang! Pro Wrestling.
With Ichikawa slowly coming around and Anubis still down on the floor after his acrobatics, it seemed like the tides would turn.
And then, someone unexpected appeared to spoil things.
Ignacio Valencia – professionally known as Ignacio el Jaguar – wasn’t supposed to be here. He wasn’t supposed to be in Japan. He wasn’t supposed to be the Gates of Avalon student that made it the furthest in the Belmont Classic, only stopped because he was still too inexperienced to have the bite needed to put down the Bayou Butcher. In a lot of ways, he wasn’t supposed to even show up at the doors of the Gates of Avalon.
And yet, when he appeared behind Tsukino Riko with a kendo stick in his hand, it was like he always belonged here.
Even the Iron Idol would flinch at being lashed with a shinai from behind. She staggered forward into the waiting arms of Merci.
Claire might have been rocked by Riko’s headbutt, but she was the Hardweight champion of Bang! Pro Wrestling and was made of sterner stuff than most. She quickly got behind Riko and dropped her with the dragon suplex known as the Royal Butterfly Suplex, a move that not only won her the Hardweight championship, but allowed her to keep it last night.
Ichikawa tried to get up, only to be met by Ignacio who struck him across the shoulder with the cane. Then he got behind the still-recovering Ichikawa and looped the cane across his shoulder blades, before dropping him down with a Russian legsweep.
Anubis re-entered the ring. The three of them hovered over the fallen Openweight champion, having dealt with everyone that could immediately stop them
The Big God grasped Ichikawa by the wrist. With one mighty pull, he ripped him up from the canvas and onto his shoulders in a fireman’s carry so fluidly that it looked like it was in one solid motion. After taking a moment to set, Powerslam Anubis threw Ichikawa into the air and drove him to the canvas with a ferocious… well, powerslam.
A fireman’s carry powerslam called the “Scales of Dominion”.
Ichikawa wasn’t getting up after that one.
Anubis stood from the judgment he wrought.
Ignacio stood next to him, kendo stick still in his hand.
Claire made a show of removing her hoodie, throwing it to the ground.
The T-shirt she wore underneath had only one image on it. A familiar one, for everyone even passingly familiar with Bang! Pro Wrestling. Certainly familiar for those familiar with Coral Avalon’s work in PRIME these days.
A skull with half of a broken crown on it.
Anubis calmly stalked over to the ring ropes to grab the microphone from a ringside attendant. Claire, meanwhile, stepped over to Ichikawa and sat down on top of his chest.
She took the microphone from Anubis.
She sat staring down at Ichikawa’s expression of pain and discomfort.
She only spoke three words that night.
It was all she needed.
“Thy kingdom come.”
“HE’S GOT A BICYCLE!”
Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan
January 7th, 2023
It just wouldn’t be a Bang! tour for Coral Avalon if Doi Inoue didn’t attempt to book at least one match designed to kill him.
In this case, she decided to book Coral in a match with a man calling himself the “Don of the Deathmatch”.
Rory Hayes didn’t have the “look” that of a professional wrestler. He was prematurely bald by his 20s, and never bothered to shave his head to make that look graceful. He had a thick mustache and even thicker sideburns, a few missing teeth and a beer belly, wrestling in a tank top and cargo pants. Outside of the ring, he wore glasses because his vision was shit.
He looked like the professional wrestling version of Carl Brutananadilewski.
Rory wrestled in the New England area for a time, but it was a chance conversation with one of the erstwhile Princes of New England talking about some of the sorts of matches they ended up wrestling in Bang! Pro Wrestling that attracted him.
Because he wanted all of that.
The thumbtacks. The light tubes. The possibility for occasionally ending up in a bouncy castle. He wanted to be in every dumb stipulation match to have ever existed. He wanted to be everything that the Hardweight division of Bang! Pro Wrestling represented. More importantly, he just wanted to get into fights. The bloodier, the better. The dumber, the even better.
Coral Avalon knew what to expect with Hayes, having met him in the ring before. Hayes had actually beaten him in the last TC-X that Coral participated in, the only one of two blemishes on his record on his way to upsetting Hanazawa Akira in the finals in a nearly forty minute war with the Godslayer.
What he didn’t expect was how the rules were suddenly forgotten by referee Doi Ryuunosuke from the jump.
Within a minute of the match beginning, the match had spilled out to the floor.
Then, blood spilled from Coral’s forehead when Hayes cracked a light tube over his head.
That’s generally a disqualification in most sane wrestling companies that utilized novel things such as rules and regulations.
But this was Bang! Pro Wrestling, and the woman in charge of this place was a sadist. Or, more specifically, a sadist who had it out for one man in particular. Unfortunately for Coral, he was that man.
Coral staggered like he was punch-drunk, casting a wide-eyed glance not at his opponent, who looked like a man deep in the throes of a religious experience, but at Ryuunosuke. Ryuunosuke offered him a knowing shrug.
Coral knew that expression.
It was the expression of a man who received instruction from his sadist of a younger sister – this one’s gonna be a little lax with the rules. An expression that Coral had been given by Ryuunosuke countless times in the eleven years he worked in Bang! Pro.
Rory smiled, the type of smile that was missing a few teeth and hadn’t cared enough to go get some of them fixed. His hands already had a number of minor cuts from handling the broken light tube.
Coral had a strong opinion about light tubes.
Fuck light tubes.
Okay, he wouldn’t actually say “fuck”, but the sentiment was certainly there. After all, both of the times in his life he’d almost died occurred because of light tubes.
A second light tube practically teleported into Hayes’ hands.
Coral had to absorb the next hit with his left shoulder, and the glass shattered against his body as Coral tried to shield his eyes from the cloud of glass. Being outside of the ring gave Ryuunosuke enough plausible deniability to not disqualify Rory immediately. Not that he’d likely do much more than give an unheeded warning to the Don of the Deathmatch in this situation.
Rory stomped away on Coral after he collapsed to the ground. A steel chair became involved when Rory smashed it across Coral’s back. A kendo stick became much more intimately involved when Rory used it as a fulcrum for a vicious Saito suplex on the floor. It was only when Rory became too over eager that Coral was able to stun him, ducking a steel chair shot aimed for his head and watching it sail into the ring post. Coral hit Hayes with a European uppercut with enough mustard on it to knock him down.
All the while, Ryuunosuke was definitely not exercising his twenty count. He was pretending to be distracted.
Coral did the only thing he could do in this escalating situation.
He rolled underneath the bottom rope and escaped to the relative safety of the ring.
It wasn’t all that safe.
Blood clouded his vision. Hayes had ripped open numerous wounds on Coral’s body from the light tubes – once again, can’t stress this enough, fuck light tubes – and it made it difficult for him to notice Hayes sliding into the ring behind him.
Also, and I feel like this should be said in the most Southern voice possible: he’s got a bicycle.
Alright, so that’s not exactly standard for the ringside area. Not even sure where he got that, to be honest. I mean, really, who brings a bicycle to the wrestling ring? Other than Strong Antonio the Paperboy, who wrestled out of England?
Anyway, Ryuunosuke made a token effort in getting Hayes to stop, but his tone of voice was closer to asking his wife to pick up a Milky Way on the way back from the convenience store than it was to admonishment. Hayes hefted the bicycle up over his head and then dropped it on Coral’s back.
The pedal of the bicycle jabbed Coral right in the back, and he yelled out in pain.
There’s just not a lot of easy ways to take a bicycle.
I mean, how often in your day-to-day life do you get bludgeoned by a bicycle, even as a pro wrestler? Probably not that many. So even Coral didn’t have a lot of life experience in dealing with this situation.
Hayes smiled as he looked down at the bicycle, which had bounced from Coral’s back and back down on the canvas.
He just had the most fantastic idea.
He picked up the bicycle and took it with him to a corner, and then he mounted it. It even came with a horn, which he cheerfully honked like he was a deathmatch Darin Zion.
Sorry, I don’t know what came over me.
He rode circles around the ring awkwardly as he built up momentum to lariat Coral from the bicycle. The lariat, thrown with his left arm, connected and send Coral crashing to the mat. As he landed, the tire of the bicycle also ran over Coral’s left arm, and he yelled in pain more from that than he did from the lariat.
That’s not good.
Getting one’s arm run over by a bicycle driven by a man who looked like he was neighbors with sentient food products was never a good time, especially when it was an accident. Coral clutched at his arm and rolled onto his stomach, fearing a break. He flexed his fingers and his wrist as he used his body to shield the injured arm.
Rory didn’t care, of course.
He was there for the violence.
And he wanted to do it again.
He cheerfully honked the horn again in anticipation.
…Again. I don’t know what that’s about.
Bloodied, injured in a way that he hadn’t felt in a while, and more importantly, just annoyed, Coral finally got to his feet to see Rory pedaling like a crazy person at him.
So, Coral Avalon hit the Deathmatch Don with a Rhongomyniad that he had absolutely zero means of avoiding.
Just as there wasn’t an easy way to take a bicycle to the back, there’s also not very many easy ways to take a yakuza kick when you’re in the middle of trying to lariat a man on the back of a bicycle. Hayes flew off the back of the bicycle, which flew into the turnbuckles, bounced once, and landed conspicuously next to Hayes. Hayes was a tough bastard, but even he wasn’t able to get up from that one right away.
Coral, with one working arm, managed to stick the landing on the kick. Recognizing that he needed a second move in his arsenal that didn’t require the left arm, he ascended to the top rope.
There was only one Armament he did from the top rope.
Fifth Armament, Carnwennan.
Hayes found he couldn’t get up. But what he could try to do was protect himself with the bicycle. He pulled it over the top of him, like a protective blanket.
…Rory, my dude.
What are you doing?
Coral did not use weapons in his matches, though he wasn’t a prude about it. He didn’t care if anyone else did it. It was a personal choice, one that definitely got him into more trouble than not.
But if you’re just going to put a bicycle on top of you to protect yourself, Coral had no qualms about stomping that son of a bitch straight through you.
Coral flew off the top rope without hesitation, and brought both feet down on top of the bicycle with Rory underneath it.
It was academic.
And so, the Don of the Deathmatch fell to the Crownless King.
Celebrating the victory was a chore. Cleaning crews had to come in to sweep up the remains of Rory’s management-approved attempts to kill Coral that evening. And Coral knew that his arm was some kind of fucked up after the bicycle incident.
He didn’t get to leave the ring until Muse’s “Knights of Cydonia” hit the PA system. That song was Claire’s entrance music, and the three members of the new Crownless Kingdom walked out from behind the curtains.
Right in Coral’s path.
Coral hesitated as Claire, Anubis, and Ignacio walked past him. All were his students. Claire was his protégé in the Kingdom. Anubis was his best student in 2019. Ignacio might well be his best student in 2022.
Words were briefly exchanged between the four before they parted ways without any further incident.
Karen Nakano from RingDispatch.com wondered in her review what this could mean.
We’ll tell you now.
They’re just making a little dinner date, two days from now, at the fanciest place Coral knew.
NEW LOOK, SAME KING
Shizuoka, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan
January 9th, 2023
“Perhaps I shall call myself Grand Powerslam Anubis!”
The man known professionally as Powerslam Anubis made this declaration in a cool baritone as he hoisted a cup of water into the air in a triumphant toast.
Three people at the table laughed.
The fourth, Claire, just stared at him blankly.
“I don’t understand.” Claire said.
“Well, we’re at a Denny’s.” Ignacio said between sips of his own water. “Pretty obvious to get.”
Coral Avalon didn’t know why he chose Denny’s as the place to form the Crownless Kingdom in 2014, other than that it seemed like as good a place as any to plot retribution against Fukumaru Kazuya.
Ever since, it became a tradition among the alumni of the Kingdom to visit a Denny’s after any major event in the Kingdom’s history. When the Kingdom won the Bang! With Your Partners tag championships. When the Kingdom won the Bang! With Your Friends trios championships. Each time Coral and Franco won the Celestial Dragon Tag League. Each time Fetzer and Flyfield won the Celestial Dragon Tag League. Whenever Coral won the TC-X, even though the last time it happened, it was considerably lonelier than it was now. When Franco became the only member of the Kingdom to win the Openweight championship.
The Kingdom shared all of their celebrations here.
At the Denny’s.
So whenever the Crownless Kingdom did anything that shook the foundation of Bang! Pro Wrestling, steer clear of any Denny’s in the immediate vicinity.
The meeting today was between five distinct individuals.
There were the three members of the renewed Crownless Kingdom – Claire, Tyrell (Anubis), and Ignacio.
And there was Coral and his wife, Annabelle. Underneath Coral’s T-shirt were loads of bandages and fresh scars from his run-in with Rory Hayes. His left arm in particular had tire-shaped bruises peeking out from underneath one of the bandages. Doctors had cleared him to finish up the tour, but he sometimes winced in pain whenever he did something with his arm.
He worried that he might get back to PRIME and have to take a few shows off.
Tyrell set down his cup of water, which looked astonishingly too small in his enormous hand, and gave Coral a toothy smile, “Ain’t used to you being blonde.”
Coral still had the longish dark hair he’d been known for all the way up until Colossus last month. Now, he’d cut it shorter and dyed it blonde. It was a stark, unfamiliar change that took plenty of people who knew Coral aback.
Claire only recognized him when he arrived in Japan just a few weeks ago because Annabelle was much easier for her to recognize. Joe Fontaine, who arrived in Japan with Sid last week, was convinced that this new Coral was a skinwalker.
“It’s a new look.” Coral said, “New year, new me.”
“And still the exact same moron I married,” Annabelle chimed in, smiling pleasantly. She’d helped him navigate the dye job.
A long time ago in the distant past when he was still a young rookie trying to make sense of the professional wrestling landscape, he attempted to do such a dye job. It looked awful. He looked like a shitty teenage Reed Richards. A Shit Reed Richards who opposed Dr. Victor von Jeff Garvin.
He never attempted it again until now.
At least he had someone experienced in dyeing hair with him this time.
“It’s the same with the Kingdom, isn’t it?” Coral asked, “New look, new leader.”
Claire smiled slightly, a rare expression from someone so ardently serious all the time.
“I don’t understand you,” Claire admitted, after a moment, “I have taken your kingdom from you, have I not?”
Coral smiled back at her, “It’s easy to take a kingdom of dust and neglect, and it’s hard to clean that dust once it’s built up enough.”
Claire clicked her tongue audibly, a sound she often made when she felt disagreeable. In the years Coral had known his protégé in Bang! Pro Wrestling, he’d heard that sound quite often. Claire was a fine enough student, but she frequently chafed at Coral’s various eccentricities.
“Don’t speak in metaphor and say what you mean, you pretentious shoe.” Claire said.
Coral blinked at her.
Who called people a shoe?
“Okay. It’s one thing to claim yourselves the Crownless Kingdom. It’s another thing to live up to what that means.” Coral said. He paused to take a sip of water, contemplating his next words, “We built it from nothing, after all. I was the only one of the four of us with an established name, and it’d been in the mud for years. But together, we took everything Bang! had to offer. We took the independent wrestling world by storm. So by taking this Kingdom, you have much to live up to.”
There was a silence among the three that made up the new Crownless Kingdom.
For Ignacio, he was barely a year into his career as a pro wrestler. He had a close brush with Paxton Ray, deep in the throes of lining up everyone he encountered in the Belmont Classic in matching hospital beds. Being worthy of the Kingdom was a lot to ask for such a young wrestler.
For Tyrell, he might have played the role of the Egyptian god in mortal form, but he was still a relatively new and unproven figure in Bang! Pro Wrestling. Bang! had seen plenty of big men in the past like Clay Byrd, Tom Elijah, Nathan Boswell, and even “the Godslayer” Hanazawa Akira. Tyrell had already differentiated himself in plenty of ways with his freakish agility. But could he prove himself?
And as for Claire… well, Claire simply smiled defiantly.
“As if I didn’t consider any of that before we put Ichikawa-san on notice.”
THE TWISTED TOWER
Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan
January 11th, 2023
The new Crownless Kingdom had already notched two big wins over the Ironhearts.
In Yokohama, the three-person crew of Merci, Anubis, and Ignacio defeated an Ironheart team consisting of Ichikawa Gorou, Kensuke BLACK, and Sakaragi Taka. It was a match dominated by Powerslam Anubis and highlighted by Ignacio el Jaguar’s high flying. All the while, Claire kept her eyes squarely on the Openweight champion and prevented him from saving Sakaragi when Anubis drove him through the mat with the Scales of Dominion.
Then, in Shizouka, Merci and Anubis ran over BLACK and Sakaragi in a tag match. That time, Sakaragi fell victim to Merci’s Royal Butterfly Stretch octopus hold. So clearly, the Hawkeye was having the worst time out of all of them in dealing with the Kingdom.
By comparison, Coral and the Winds of Changes weren’t having the best run of it.
Things began with disappointment, with Joe falling victim to the antics of the Jacks. It was readily apparent that Joe and Sid had no idea what they were in for with the Jacks of All Trades and their nonstop infinite bullshit. The match was only truly in question when Avalon was in the match – because he was familiar enough with the Jacks to deal with them, even with all of his normal blind spots about cheating.
Joe and Sid had an opportunity to even the ledger against Jared Sykes and Justine Calvin from UltraViolence in a six-person tag at Shizouka. Unfortunately, it was the third man on the side of Sykes and Calvin that took down Fontaine to pick up the win, that being “Big Iron” himself. Coral, still banged up from his match with Rory Hayes and advised to take it easy for the rest of the tour, couldn’t do much to help even the odds. Gorou Ichikawa was one of his best students, and he was otherworldly in the ring even if Coral was 100%.
So it was that Coral Avalon, still banged up from his contests with Victor Jimenez and Rory Hayes, found himself in an eight-man tag in Hamamatsu. His opponents were the Jacks of All Trades – Sweetwater, Pizazz, and Graves – and his new bicycle-wielding nemesis Rory Hayes. His partners were Joe and Sid… and Garry “Ray-Ray” Nelson.
Coral’s relationship with Garry had been charmingly tumultuous. Garry asked for a lot. Usually, it involved fine dining establishments like Denny’s and TGI Fridays, or trying to get Coral out of Cleveland while he was visiting his sister’s grave. Or bringing him to Japan in the first place and getting in a good word about him to Inoue. Inoue took one look at the big, Larry Bird-looking slap-fighting Kentuckian and decided that he was Coral’s responsibility.
Fortunately, Coral had plenty of patience for people like Garry. He did, after all, counted Mega Job as his friends. And for his part, Garry took Coral’s instructions well.
Coral turned to Garry “Ray-Ray” Nelson and pointed at Jack Pizazz, “Garry, go slap that man in the face.”
Garry raised one big paw – seriously, they actually make hands that big? – in a big ‘ol thumbs up. When the bell rang, Nelson marched right over to Pizazz and slapped him so hard that every other Jack in the match felt it in sympathy.
Jack Pizazz was born with the name Ryan Gosling. He wasn’t actually the Notebook star, and he played no part in the life of Jared Sykes. He was, however, a former actor who got into wrestling. “Jack Pizazz” was his professional name in both businesses, because… well. Obviously. He was quite protective of his handsome face and hated it when people hit him in it.
It also meant that when he did get hit, he felt it way more than most wrestlers.
Pizazz took the slap like it was a bucket of ice water and stood there frozen in shock for several seconds. Even Garry was baffled by the reaction. Then Pizazz flopped onto the canvas like a dead fish. Now, if Garry were smart, he might’ve gone for the cover. But Garry instead turned to Avalon and gave him another big ‘ol meaty thumbs up for his approval.
That moment of distraction allowed the other two Jacks to pull Pizazz out of the ring, and for their non-Jack tag team partner to let himself be known.
Rory Hayes stepped into the ring and stepped to Garry. Within moments, they were fighting. Slaps and punches all around. Hayes took the slaps better than most, and fired back at the much taller Nelson in the process. Their brawl spilled out to the floor, and that’s when the Jacks came around behind the three members of the Winds of Change and pulled them off of the apron in unison to initiate a brawl with them.
Chaos ensued with all eight men fighting.
Nelson and Hayes re-entered the ring after a while and continued their fight. When they were worn down, others tagged in and continued the match. Neither side could really gain a full advantage for very long. The Jacks were too caught up in dicking around, while Coral had to herd the very inexperienced wrestlers on his side like a bunch of cats.
Eventually, another big brawl erupted between the eight wrestlers while Fontaine and Pizazz were the legal men. Fontaine quickly found himself in trouble against the veteran actor after the referee was too distracted by all of the fighting to catch Pizazz kicking him low.
Just like at the Clash of Aces.
Pizazz obnoxiously celebrated like he just kicked a game-winning field goal.
Unfortunately for him, he failed to take in his surroundings.
Because the other three on the Winds’ side took care of business against the Jacks’ side. Sid had powerbombed Hayes on the apron. Avalon and Garry took care of the other two Jacks in their own way.
And so, when Pizazz turned to continue celebrating, he found two very big hosses standing there waiting for him.
“Oh, fuck!” Pizazz shouted.
The Rhongomyniad from Avalon came from out of nowhere from Pizazz’s perspective, as caught up as he was with Sid and Garry staring daggers at him. Pizazz took it right on the chin and spun around. He didn’t quite go down, but he was spaghetti legged.
Then Garry hit him with the rolling elbow he called the Blood on the Plow.
Pizazz hit the canvas like he was shot, and laid there unmoving afterwards.
Okay. That’s a lie.
He twitched a little.
That counted as movement, right?
Garry would’ve gone for the cover here, but he was not the legal man, and Coral told Garry to run interference on the other Jacks and on Hayes.
He did so with many slaps.
Coral pulled Sid close, “Like we talked about.”
Sid nodded gravely.
Coral helped Joe to his feet, who was having trouble with his unspeakable man parts. He gave him the same instruction.
Then he ran into the ropes and rebounded back with a tope con hilo that bowled over everyone at ringside.
Well, everyone except Garry, who stood there like he’d been a bystander for a car accident.
Coral laid amongst the pile of bodies, clutching his injured arm. His expression said it all, “That was such a mistake. Oh God.”
After a few moments, Garry leaned down and asked, “Hey, Mr. Avalon, how’d I do?”
Coral gave him a thumbs up from his spot on the floor. He had to use the right arm for that. His left arm hurt too much. Stupid bicycle.
In the ring, Joe staggered to the ropes while Sid hoisted Pizazz up in a powerbomb. Before, the Winds of Change utilized a knee strike out of the powerbomb called the Supercell. It worked, but both Joe and Sid felt they needed something bigger… and something that would still involve the powerbombs that we all knew Sid loved from the bottom of his powerbomb-shaped heart.
So, Joe jumped up to the second rope. He jumped up to the top rope.
And then he sprung backwards with a moonsault. When he hit Pizazz, Sid completed the powerbomb with Joe landing on top of him.
The three count and the victory for the Winds and Garry was academic.
In the post-match interview, Joe would name it “the Twisted Tower” as a joke. Joe hadn’t played Fortnite in over a year, and most of his references to the game were in jest.
But the name would stick.
Much to Joe’s annoyance.
Nevertheless, the Winds had a new weapon.
One, they hoped, would bring them one step closer to their goal.
THE TWO SUCCESSORS
Okayama, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
January 16th, 2023
Coral Avalon had done whatever he could to protect his left arm in the past week, but his two one-on-one matches with the Kazuyagumi’s Junpei Tsukioka and then tonight against “Hawkeye” Sakaragi Taka left him wincing.
His only reprieve was a tag match between those two contests teaming with, of all people, Amy Campbell.
While Coral knew he’d have some time to recover once the tour was over, his eventual return to action in PRIME still loomed over his head like a specter.
“Yo, you going to be okay?” Joe asked Coral.
His concern was obvious, as was the concern of a lot of friends, family and associates of his. Coral had trained many of the top stars in Bang! out of the “Bang! At Your Dojo”, including the Ichikawa brothers, Tsukino Riko, Lord Kurosame-sama, and his many students that have made the trip overseas. And his wife was accompanying him to the shows.
All of them gave him a lot of advice to take the tour off and get healthy.
Even Hanazawa Akira, a man who hated him and everything he stood for, expressed a desire to only crush him when he’s 100%. This was about the closest thing to concern that the Godslayer was capable of.
They were in the trainer’s room after the show in Okayama. The match with Sakaragi in particular had been a rough go for Coral, though he had more than enough tricks to use even with one working arm to overcome someone still learning like Quinley or Sakaragi. Against his final opponent in the tour, though… that could be a different story.
“Yeah,” Coral said. “Doctors said my arm’s not broke, so that’s a good sign. Once we get through this tour, I should be fine with some rest.”
He winced as he tried to pick up his water. Since Coral’s dominant arm was his left one, it sucked to do anything. He was even asking Annabelle to use the Jabber app on his phone for him at this point, because it wasn’t helping him rest his arm between matches.
“Sure.” Joe said, “But I mean… if you’re really going to insist on going out there to wrestle, why don’t you do some tag stuff with Sid and me?”
It wasn’t out of pride, either.
“Honestly, this might be a good opportunity to let you two do things on your own,” Coral said, as he flexed his arm to test it. It still stung. The bruises hadn’t healed yet, and with him obviously favoring it in matches, even the least savvy of his opponents were focusing on it. It hadn’t helped with the healing. Coral acknowledged that everyone was right that he should rest. But a tour was a tour. They’d have to carry him out to make him stop.
“A teacher should let their students figure things out for themselves for a while. Joey and Max both did that for me. And plenty of my own students thrived without me there, like Gorou, Claire, and Tyrell. You guys shouldn’t be any different.”
Joe let out a sigh that he didn’t even bother to hide.
“So, you’re not going to have any problems with Sid and I going after your buddy and his GF, are you?” Joe asked.
It took Coral a few moments to realize who Joe meant.
“Do you have any rusty nails, chained fists, chocoboarding, or other violations of the Geneva Convention in mind?” he asked, eventually.
“Then why would I have a problem?” Coral asked.
Joe gave him a strangely serious look for a man who looked like a doofus almost 95% of the time, “Prolly ‘cause you got a weird blind spot for that guy. And like, I get it. Some people really want to really do a big murder on him. Probably out of fruit booty jealousy. Like, damn. Jared thicc, yo. But you know he brings a lot of that big murder energy on himself, right? Like the Paxton thing. I know this is a lot coming from me, but the guy’s decision-making skills… woof.”
Joe paused to wave his hands around, like he was pantomiming a typical Jared decision that inevitably led to ruination. It looked disorganized and unrehearsed.
“Like, you gotta understand. We’re running it back. Sid and I still want those belts. Far as I’m concerned, they have no say. No one else in PRIME can do it but us. No one but us.”
There was a glint in Joe’s eyes as he spoke.
Joe would see this thing through, with or without Coral. He had enough skills by now to weather the storm. He was no mere squire. Joe was ready to be cut loose.
Coral nodded, and conceded, “No one but you.”
The two bumped fists.
And then they both heard the loud clearing of someone’s throat by the door.
Claire Merci stood there, shoulder leaning against the door’s frame. Claire’s eyes went between Joe and Coral for a few moments, before she asked, “Am I interrupting something?”
Joe was a lot of things. “Idiot” and “moron” often got thrown around with him.
But he was not so stupid that he couldn’t understand who Claire was here to see, “Nah. I’m ghost, y’all. Peace.”
He flashed a peace sign, picked himself up out of his seat, and walked past Claire on his way out of the office. Claire watched him go, her head tilted curiously.
“So, why him?” she asked.
“He’s Joey Malone’s son.”
Claire nodded, slowly.
“Hm. Is that so? Your trainer, right? I know of him. I’ve heard of two different Joey Malones: one an idiot, the other a psychopath.”
“Same guy,” Coral said, “And both versions of him are Hall of Famers.”
Joseph Tyler Malone built his name in the Internet Wrestling Organization, where his naturally whimsical personality won over fans even as he buried himself in the worst, most dangerous deathmatches ever captured on film. After meandering around different promotions, Malone wound up in Action! Wrestling, playing against type as he tried to be taken more seriously as a performer. Over time, he wound up in even more violent matches and might have genuinely gone crazy for a couple of months near the end of his career.
Joe had not displayed that second side of his father yet.
Though Coral was a little thankful he hadn’t gotten into deathmatches.
Coral turned his attention back to Claire, “Something I can help you with, Moyashi-chan?”
“Avalon,” Claire narrowed her eyes at Coral’s nickname for her, her tone dangerous, “Do you have a death wish?”
Coral gave her a vague smile, acting as though he didn’t sense the danger in her words.
“Are you asking this in general or because I keep calling you that?”
Claire uncrossed her arms and moved from her lean. She stepped into the doctor’s office. Claire was not a subtle person, and Coral could tell that she didn’t actually intend to come in here and pick a fight with a man with maybe half of a working arm.
“Why are you so frustrating?” Claire asked.
Coral offered a Cheshire cat grin, “We’d be here all day if I had to answer that question. So, which parts of the Coral Avalon experience are you frustrated with?”
Claire pursed her lips as she thought carefully about that question.
“You just let me take the Kingdom?”
“Does that still bother you?”
“For the last six months, I have thought about this. I’d planned on what I would’ve done if you’d said no. How I would… convince you. I waited at that airport for hours, you know. I paced. Stewed over it. And then, you arrived and not only did you agree to it without a fight, but you act blasé about it afterwards. It doesn’t even matter to you, does it?”
Coral shrugged his right shoulder. His left was not agreeable for the same gesture because it was attached to his left arm, and he winced because of it.
“Claire, you know it matters a lot to me. That’s why I agreed to let you take the Kingdom. No one else but you could.”
Claire placed a hand on her hip, narrowing her eyes. She knew Coral very well. She knew the type of man he was. She knew the type of Kingdom he ran.
“I would do things different than you. I want to take this Kingdom to greater heights than you were capable. I want that title Ichikawa has. By any means necessary. That does not bother you?”
Coral shook his head, “No.”
“I would grind his bones into dust and spit upon his name.”
“Well, that’s extreme, but I wouldn’t stop you.”
“Because I left Bang! Pro Wrestling to you. Because I put my trust in you. Because the Kingdom is yours now, with all that entails. And all I ask when you take the Kingdom is to make it something you’d be proud of when the shoe is on the other foot and you’re in my position.” Coral said.
He shrugged his single useful shoulder and continued, “Besides, no king reigns forever. The most important duty a sitting king has is deciding a successor. And, well… that’s you, Claire. It’s always been you. You can spin taking the Kingdom from me as a coup d’état all you want, but the keys to it were always yours for the taking.”
Claire appeared taken aback at first, because she knew Coral’s words were sincere.
She was always the successor.
Her moment’s pause passed.
“And what about you?”
“I think it’s time I sought my crown.”
Claire returned Coral’s smile, the first time she’d genuinely smiled around him the entire trip.
“About goddamn time.”
CARNWENNAN, THE LITTLE WHITE HILT
RingDispatch.com, the Internet
March 19th, 2015 (dictated January 18th, 2023)
It’s ironic that I’ve spent much of this past tour relying on the Carnwennan to win matches, since it was never supposed to become one of the Armaments.
The move that became Carnwennan started as a mistake.
Wrestlers make those sometimes.
I know, I’m shocked, too.
Anyway, this accident happened in a match with Lord Kurosame-sama. I’d call it ironic, but the truth is that he’s the guy I’ve wrestled the most out of anyone in my entire career. So, the law of averages suggest that if something happened in my career, there’s a good chance you might’ve heard “Shark at the Devil”.
I wouldn’t call him a rival or an enemy.
To me, he’s just Nishiki-san, this weird guy from Vancouver who dresses as a shark. That’s a guy who knew exactly what he wanted to be from the moment he first stepped into a ring. Unlike me, he knew what he wanted to be from the moment he stepped into the squared circle.
Me? I spent a decade trying to be other wrestlers.
I had to reinvent myself to be the wrestler I am today.
I envy Nishiki-san in that way, knowing from day one what he wanted to be and pursuing it with conviction.
Most people think Nishiki-san is an idiot. He’s the shark man. Most of what he says is the word “shark”, which he uses interchangeably as a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb. Maybe also a preposition.
He doesn’t win a lot of his matches.
His victories, while celebrated, aren’t looked upon with the same light as a Yoshida-san or an Ichikawa-san. The only noise he makes in the TC-X is when he somehow beats Kazuya in a match again, because Nishiki always saves his best tricks against that guy.
But honestly, Nishiki-san’s brilliant. He knows how to make people underestimate him. He appears to be screwing around at all times when you wrestle him. Fans love him more than some of the top stars in Bang! Pro Wrestling, even if he’s never the top star.
With me, though… Nishiki never does well against opponents like me.
After all, I respect him.
Which means I take him seriously.
In 2015, at the height of the Crownless Kingdom, I was also wrestling in places besides Japan. Sometimes, I would go with Franco and the Squadron as a four-man crew to wrestle as the Crownless Kingdom. Sometimes, I would go with just Franco to go take tag championships across the world. And sometimes, it’s just me.
Nishiki-san was the same way.
He traveled all over, Bang! was simply his home. Just like me.
It’s actually a bit uncommon that Nishiki-san and I would be on the same tour if it wasn’t in Bang!, but any time we were, we were almost always booked against each other. I think it’s because no one got as much out of him as I did, since no one understood the shark better than me. When I trained the Renowned Gabriel last year, my understanding of Nishiki-san’s trickery became something I passed on to him.
So it was a match in Berlin. The Crownless King versus Lord Kurosame-sama.
I remember it pretty clearly.
It was the usual array of Kurosame-sama antics. He ripped the turnbuckle covers off of all four corners within a minute of the match and tried to ram me into one of them. When that didn’t work, he distracted the referee so he could low blow me and roll me up. When that didn’t work, he bit me. All standard, so far.
But I knew something was off.
The top rope was looser than I was accustomed to. When I bounced off the ropes for the first time, I thought I was going to fall out of the ring. I couldn’t use them well, so I had to adjust mid-match and face Nishiki on the ground.
That became a problem after Nishiki unexpectedly switched tactics and started attacking my arm, not unlike what he’ll probably do in tonight’s match. So when I hit Rhongomyniad, my arm was too weak to follow with Excalibur. I was already starting to use my Armaments as a one-two punch after the Terminus Complex the previous year, so when I realized I couldn’t follow with Excalibur, I went for Plan B.
Plan B, at the time, was the frog splash.
I used to use a frog splash as an unofficial “Armament”. It’s a move that I used to beat Lindsay Troy a few times in the fWo before she became the unconquerable world-beater that she became in PRIME. I used it as a berry, too. So I go up to the top rope, and it’s still loose. My balance was crap for it, but I’ve stood on barbed wire cages in my life and on its face, this wasn’t as bad as that. Most things in my life were not as bad as Gimmick Hell, it turned out.
I took a moment to settle, and went to jump… and the top rope gave out from under me as I did.
Accidents happen. Sometimes they’re happy accidents.
While I knew the top rope was loose, I didn’t expect it to actually give. Instead of flying gracefully in the air as high as I could, gravity had other plans for me, and for poor Nishiki-san on the ground. While trying to make sure I didn’t break my own neck, I landed feet first on top of Nishiki.
I knocked the wind right out of him.
And that sloppy-ass “move” won me the match.
I like to think that I am a good professional wrestler at the craft of pro wrestling.
I also know that I’m lucky in many aspects of the sport. Both Annabelle and Franco call me the luckiest unlucky person they know. Considering the events of my life, that’s probably accurate.
I would remember this match, even as I added the Turntable and the Pillory to the armory. And when the time came, three years later, I remembered what happened in Berlin and did what won me this match, only deliberately, during the 2018 TC-X. I made the finals for the fourth time after using the Carnwennan to punch my ticket there.
To explain the name, a little mythology lesson is needed.
“Carnwennan” was the dagger of King Arthur. The name roughly means “little white hilt”.
The dagger only existed in Welsh traditions of the story of King Arthur. Malory and Geoffery of Monmouth both exclude it from their retellings of Arthurian legend, since Excalibur was the end-all-be-all of the Arthurian armory. In Welsh tradition, Carnwennan was the dagger that Arthur used to cut a witch in half. Because what’s the point of carrying all those weapons if you can’t cut a witch in half?
Carnwennan, the Fifth Armament, was the second time Nishiki-san played a role in putting a weapon in the King’s Armaments. The first… that’s not even my story to tell.
I might have never built up my arsenal were it not for him.
So thanks, Shark.
Just stop trying to bite me already.
Karen Nakano & Coral Avalon
All good things have to come to an end.
Coral had defeated Lord Kurosame-sama again, bringing down the dagger of Carnwennan on the shark. His arm hurt terribly by the end of the match, and it was all he could do to use his legs to bring home the win.
He knew Bang! Pro Wrestling was in better hands now than when he left it. Returning after six months painted enough of a picture of that. Ichikawa was an even more amazing champion than he was when they last met. Bang!’s stock had risen enough to be a destination for more than just people like Coral Avalon. And the Crownless Kingdom was reborn, especially with Powerslam Anubis scoring a rare victory over the Godslayer and Claire keeping her Hardweight championship against Pom Shinjoku.
A picture floated around in the immediate aftermath of “Explosion!! in Osaka”. Three people, with a fourth standing off to the side, barely visible. Front and center was a bloodied Claire Merci, covered in bloodstained bandages from her war against the Katana of Kanagawa, Pom Shinjoku. The way her eyes stared daggers at the camera as the picture was taken would be the most iconic part of the picture. To her left sat Ignacio el Jaguar, still holding an ice pack against his neck after Hanazawa Akira dropped him with the Ragnarok Driver. His stringy black hair framed a face that remained young, scrappy and hungry. Still with much to learn, but with the world in his sights. To her right stood Powerslam Anubis, sitting loud and proud. His confident smirk stood in contrast to the pain that his fellows in the Kingdom felt, and belied the fact that he should also be in considerable pain after his battle with the Godslayer.
All three of them were flashing middle fingers for the camera.
And as for the fourth? The one you can’t really see except for an arm in a sling?
That’s Coral, the one common thread between these three diverse, diametrically opposed individuals. A man who knew, once and for all, that his time in Bang! had passed. A man who had a lot of work to do if he wanted to accomplish his goal.
He still needed to rest his arm in time for the next time he’d have to wrestle in PRIME.
He hoped his arm would be ready by then.
He hoped he could achieve his goal.
And even if he couldn’t, he hoped he could at least prove the Crownless King’s creed: that he didn’t need a crown to be king.