There was no percussive beat on Brandon Youngblood’s approach, no camera following him through the lead to the Argyle position. He lumbers forward, his upperbody cloaked in white nylon, hood drawn over the head. His footfalls hammer the steps as he climbs into position, throwing back the curtain, disappearing into the belly of the beast.
Lindsay Troy owned PRIME. It only made sense that, during such important contests, she would be here. As her eyes scanned the monitors, watching as Ivan Stanislav took center stage, she heard the sashay of fabric whizzing by her. Directors were motioning, sounding a countdown. The Tower of Babel paid them no mind, ripping at the zipper of his hoodie, pulling it open and tossing it away.
She looked up, instinctively turning to face him. What she saw drained the color from her face. “Brandon–” His look startled her, the question seizing in her throat. “You’re face…what happened to your face?”
His glower burned with hellfire.
“One night. For him.”
Like lightning, it strikes. There for a moment. Gone with the opening of eyes. A simple approach across a field. The sprinklers perfume iron. And as you draw close, you can see the sweat pouring from your son’s body. Locked in drills. Constantly moving. No one else is here. Everyone else has gone home. Out past their time. A Youngblood hallmark.
How could you have known? That anger, that rage? You thought it was exhaustion.
You didn’t realize it was meant for you.
“Yes, I’m sure about it, Angie…” Brandon winced as he tried to roll his left shoulder. A cell phone to his ear, he trenched along the wooden floor of the living room. She was asking if the cracks she was hearing were from his shoulder. “Just…stop it, okay? It will be fine. I am going to be fine.”
He was far from it. His shoulder was a mess and he knew there was no way he’d be a hundred percent by UltraViolence. Locked inside a steel cage against perhaps his greatest challenge in this era of PRIME, Ivan Stanislav, and there he’d be, ceding his full strength. And he’d need it and that much more.
After all, this was a personal war a year in the making. Now that it was on the horizon, all Brandon had was anticipation, a want to get in the cage and settle it for good and all. “Just make sure that nobody up top finds out about this, okay? I don’t need Lindsay calling and asking me what I’m thinking. This is just symbolic. Send a message. And the only people that need to know are in production…”
She affirmed his request, but not without hesitation. No matter. Evening had turned dour, the familiar slate grays coming with the shift in season. Her words were overwhelmed by the buzzing tone of another incoming call.
“I’ll get back with you later, Angie. Got a call coming on the other end.” Affirmation on the other side. He thumbed over the call. “Hey Melissa.”
“I need you to do me a big favor Brandon…”
“I need someone to pick up Cody from football practice. Trav is out on business, and I’m still stuck at work. Think you can do that for me?”
“Yeah, sure…” In truth, he hadn’t seen much of his son the last few months. There were various reasons for it; going through wrestling season, once Cody got on his winning streak, it was about maintaining ritual. Keep everything the same. After that was summer, and even with the pool, Cody chose to stay with his mother. Brandon didn’t pry, didn’t consider it a problem. Sometimes, one feels comfortable where they are. “Just take him back to your place? Or you need me to watch over him?”
“Whatever he wants is fine. I should be home around nine…”
“Fair enough. See you later.” He hung up the phone, looking over the couch to Cheddar, all splayed out over the cushions. Reaching down, he gave his elder pug a belly rub. “Hey, boy…want to go see your brother? I’m sure he’s just dying to see you.”
Dying. At least then, you won’t have to feel. Bury the notion. Nobody needs to know. “Help me out, Dad? Just grab that pad, I want to get ten more reps in trying to break contain before I call it a night.” Sure, son. Sure. Even with a bad arm, I can help you.
I can help.
Even after the first blow surprises with the violence of its suddenness.
Even after the second one threatens to take me out at the knees. He’s stronger than I thought, and I laugh. Alright, this next one, I’m ready for you, kid.
UltraViolence was an unfortunate name for a wrestling event, taken too literally for Doctor Astrid Fihlguud’s liking. There were better places to be in Chicago than stuck in the bowels of Soldier Field, patching up wounds for wrestlers who only took stock of their own welfare after they fought. Hours before night two, she readied her office, anticipating the coming deluge. A few medical clearances needed. Eddie Cross with the final step to clearing full concussion protocol. Coral Avalon had been tentatively approved to face off against Cancer Jiles later in the night, but if there was a flare up with any part of his upper body, caution would need to be exercised.
The door to medical swung open, shutting with a heavy latch. The sound drew Fihlguud’s attention, her eyes peering up from her reports to find the form of another of her early appointments. “Brandon. Sorry for the last minute notice, but the Illinois Athletic Commission got a look at what happened on the last ReVival and they’re concerned about how your shoulder is holding up. I know we gave it a little patching, and as long as you didn’t put a lot of stress on–oh sweet Jesus!”
“I’m fine,” he snarled, his hood thrown back. He put his duffle bag on the table before unzipping the hoodie and placing it over top.
Her analytical brain was dissecting what she saw etched across his face. His left eye was swollen, haphazard stitches closing a gash across the eyelid. The bridge of his nose looked ever so off-center. Scratches, bruises. “What happened to you, Brandon? Did you–”
He could barely clench his fist. “Let’s just get this taken care of and get moving…”
Something was very wrong here. “Look, it’s clear that you’ve–”
“Not your concern, Doc. So let’s not talk because I’m not talking about it. You do your job, you get me cleared, and I’m out of your hair. Easy as that.”
Easy as that with how gingerly he took a seat on the table? Yet still, his immutable intensity persisted. Eyes cast forward. Teeth gritted. A subtle waggle of the arm as if to say ‘see, it’s fine.’ She picked up her clipboard, ready to begin her examination. “Can you take your shirt off, please?”
It was as she feared; all movement came from the right side, very little from the left. He could feel her eyes studying him. Probing. Nervousness flooded his chest. He couldn’t feign his way through clearance with her. He knew it. Grabbing at his duffle bag, he pulled from within the Universal Championship, plopping it on his lap. A direct signal. ‘You want to cost Chicago this main event? Want to explain it to Lindsay?’ As if he was so stupid. Medical and corporate were in lockstep. Hell, with enough lead time, Lindsay and Killean could scrape together enough bodies for a surprise one night tournament to determine the new Universal Champion. After all, the fans around these parts were used to such flights of ignorant fancy given their ‘home’ promotion.
Her hands felt around his shoulder, causing him to stifle a groan. “Can you lift–” Without hesitation, through gritted teeth, his left arm rose. And as it did? The crackling was alarming. But that wasn’t the only place her eyes focused upon. A distinct bowing at the top of his arm. When her hands reached for it, there was no hiding the yelp that poured from his lips.
Cody told you he knew but he didn’t tell you until after the third rep, where he caught hold of your left arm and yanked on it with all he could muster. There was no pop, but there damn sure was burning going through the entirety of the arm. YOU TRIED TO KILL MOM YOU FUCKER!’ Surprise before adrenaline. A year’s worth of rage unloaded with the blow of the first fist, cutting through the eye socket, dropping you to the ground. And as he mounted you, he bellowed, roared, screamed, all as his fist hailed upon you.
And what did you do?
You did nothing.
The arm shot back to his side. He grabbed for his shirt, pulling it over his head with his right hand. “Alright. That’s good.”
“Brandon…your shoulder is separated. And that’s not all. I don’t know if its full or partial, but your tricep–”
“I’m clear for tonight. Thanks Doc–”
“–it’s torn, Brandon. A little or all the way, it’s torn. And there’s nothing I can do about that to make it so you can be cleared to wrestle–”
His eyes shot towards hers. “You can’t be serious.”
“I’m afraid so. Look, your medical clearance was contingent on you resting your arm. That’s not the case. I don’t know what happened, what you did–”
“It’s none of your–”
“–but I would not be doing my job as a medical professional if I let you go out there and compete tonight. The amount of damage you could do to yourself and your arm–”
“–are you concerned with forfeiting the Universal Championship? I know it’s hard but–”
The title flew into the wall, putting a hole in the drywall, chunks of plaster falling and breaking apart across its faceplate. The look in Youngblood’s eyes was feral, his skin turning flush. “Fuck. That. Fuck all that. It’s about him. It’s about Stanislav. And you’re going to deny–”
Instinctively, she began to backpedal. “It’s about your health–”
“My health?” he spat out, laughing in a miasma of rage and frustration. “What about my health when I went forehead to forehead with that fucker? My health? They’re putting us in the cage! So spare me. I want to fight. I need to fight–”
“And that is why such decisions aren’t made–”
“If you’re so damn interested in my health, how about you load up some Toradol and cortisone and we stop playing this fucking game, Astrid? Because I’m tired. I’m hurt. And I got to do something nobody else has the guts to do and–”
He rose from the table, snatching the clipboard from her hand. Grabbing the pen, he started scrawling across the page. The message was indelible. ‘I won’t sue.’ “It’s what you’re worried about, right? That I go out there despite what you’re saying and get hurt worse? Fuck the arm. Fuck my wellbeing. I’m here TO FIGHT! So either YOU do it or I WILL!”
‘I SAW IT! I SAW IT AND HEARD IT! YOU WERE GONNA KILL HER AND YOU WERE GONNA KILL ME! THEY SHOWED ME! THEY SHOWED ME EVERYTHING–’
You didn’t run from it.
It found you all the same.
Oh no. Don’t. Those moments in the fighting pits in Karachi. Those moments you took the abuse slung upon you and did nothing until this part of you turned on. No. Don’t do it. You know the truth. He deserves to do this. Don’t take it from
It’s already too late. Even with one arm, even with all his strength and all the advantage in his favor, you sweep, and you strike, and you mount and you drive your forearm into his throat and you press like you’ve never pressed before, as he struggles
As he gasps
As he gasps
AS HE GASPS
His explosion of emotion bellowed, but the toll was clear. Tears streamed from his eyes, his entire body shaking. But it was the desperation in his words that drew his words. The threat. “Brandon…what is…what is going on? Talk to me.”
Exasperated, he swallowed, hands on his haunches. “You got to let me go out there, Astrid. You got to. I’ll tell you, but you got to promise me…”
Nearly two years within the confines of PRIME, never had she seen him like this. While fixing wounds and setting bones was primary to her vocation, coming from a general practitioner background meant there was more to her skillset. She needed to tap into that now. The psychology. The understanding. “Look, just talk to me, okay?”
“I need to fight him. I need to hurt him.” The emphasis bludgeoned with its sincerity. “He…they got to my kid, Astrid. They…got to my fucking kid.”
Is he dead?
Oh God, is he dead?
A pulse. There’s still a pulse. Did you break his neck? Did you collapse his throat?
Shake him. SHAKE HIM! Smelling salts? Smack him.
A sudden surge, a desperation gasp. Your son is awake. He’s awake and coming to and his eyes find you and he’s reaching for you, grabbing for you, clawing at your face, in shock.
And you just say you’re sorry. To settle down. You’re sorry you’re sorry you’re sorry
“Get off me! I hate you! I fucking always hated you! You’re just fucking bullshit!”
And you are bullshit.
Because the razor caught in your mind isn’t that he knows any of this after being denied it so long.
It’s how he found out.
Nobody wants to be the hero. Not really. Look and read the world around us. So many people deem themselves as multifaceted, complicated, fighting for themselves. Unenviable. ‘You don’t want to be me’. And I’ve said it myself lord knows how many times. Don’t use me as your example. Don’t fit me in this box. Winding on and on about the weight of it all.
Ivan Stanislav isn’t weighed down at all about heroism. Every step forward, no matter the skulls underneath his tread, crushed under his weight, regardless of how or why, it doesn’t matter. Just ground up bones to make bread for this giant of a man, physical supremacy blessed by genetics no matter how many try to frame it as through nation. He carries a banner and an ideology with him. Children in schools view him as a superhero.
You thought you buried this deep to move forward, but here we are. For one night only, yes?
For one night only.
So pick up that razor. You’ve used it countless times to keep her head clean. Embrace in full. Become. Your pretty words and sympathetic emotions bought you the painkillers necessary to go out and do the job. Got you the clearance necessary. So commit. Strike on through and make your symbology mean something.
The ends justify the means. So why play a different game than he does?
The steam rises.
PRIME doesn’t need you to be a hero right now.
It needs you to be the worst villain you can be to bring the Russian Bear down. Not just for tonight, but forever.
He’s a giant.
But Brandon Youngblood?
DATE: 23 September 2023
MEMORANDUM FOR: Director R. Borisov. FSB
SUBJECT: Contingencies for Imminent Failure of Operation: Spyashchiy Medved
FROM: Chief A. Ugryumov. FSB
This memorandum is sent at your behest and I am in agreement with your assessments, save few.
Operation: Spyashchiy Medved has proven to be an invaluable diversion during these troubled times for our nation. Praporshchik Ivan Sergeiovich Stanislav carries with him a charisma and strength that makes the people believe in our superiority.
One order I hold disagreement with you, Director, is that Agent Ruslan is compromised given his affinity for Praporshchik Stanislav. In competition, his assessment has proven correct in most cases. That he has been able to be as successful as he has been is not only commendable to the both of them, but also to the intelligence and data networks we have set up for this Operation. We have seen Western ‘heroes’ like Jared Sykes, Nathan Colton, Hayes Hanlon, Caesar Vega, and Coral Avalon all fall before him, and in many cases, leave them in utter defeat. If Praporshchik Stanislav were to be facing Hanlon, or Erik Black, or Cancer Jiles, or even Phil Atken, for the PRIME Universal Championship at this stage, Agent Ruslan’s belief would be well placed. If it were thirty years ago, we would also not be holding this correspondence.
It’s unfortunate for all of us that Praporshchik Stanislav is in this position at this moment rather than others in the past.
I take full responsibility for the failings of our intelligence gathering on Brandon Youngblood. When you tasked me to clear the way of undesirable elements ahead of Operation: Spyashchiy Medved, I knew he might prove to be our greatest challenge. Our initial attempts at disrupting his home life proved futile, and the agent tasked with weaponizing materials and leaking them to his son has been dealt with. Escalation has proven fruitless, as Youngblood has not wilted under the psychological strain like we saw with Sykes and Calvin. Without effective counterintelligence, this leaves the operation in the hands of Praporshchik Stanislav and Agent Ruslan. Much to my dismay, they seem to be too busy with frivolous Western amenities, using their cellular phone services to communicate with coworkers, and rallies that we have set up in their honor turning into excesses in vanity.
I am of the same mind as you; the failure Operation: Spyashchiy Medved will suffer in Chicago is one we will struggle deeply to mend. It is with this in mind that I offer the following for immediate dissemination to counteract this setback.
1.) While engaging with President Putin and Supreme Leader Jong Un, Praporshchik Stanislav was stricken with a disease constructed by Western powers to attempt to eradicate all three. This endeavor proved fruitless. However, unlike President Putin, Praporshchik Stanislav suffered diminished lung function. Ever the tireless hero, Praporshchik Stanislav hid this condition from all and attempted to fight valiantly for the Motherland, only for the bastard Youngblood to take advantage in the most disgusting of ways.
2.) Praporshchik Stanislav was poisoned at a Chicago eatery by Ukrainian sympathizers. Utilize similar language as above. Internal data shows that blaming a pizzeria in the area would yield the greatest Western outrage, followed closely with something called ‘The Chicago Dog’.
3.) Praporshchik Stanislav sustained massive injury on a humanitarian engagement in (Libya? Nagorno-Karabakh?) that rendered him to be at only 30% combat readiness. Even still, he fought valiantly for the Motherland, and nearly wrested the PRIME Universal Championship away from the capitalist pig-dog Brandon Youngblood.
4.) Praporshchik Stanislav has fallen ill with an undisclosed ailment. We wish him a speedy recovery, but signs are shown that this is unlikely. (Operatives are in place, as always, for this contingency. If you decide that this is the best course of action, nobody will hesitate.)
In any event, I look forward to your response, and if you decide to terminate this phase of Operation: Spyashchiy Medved, then we already have a multitude of paths we can explore to make the most of the fallout. Agent Ruslan, as proven with Stefan Kulikov, should not be a factor regardless. If I prove incorrect, however, two fallen Russian heroes are better than one, no?
Chief A. Ugryumov
Service for Protection of the Constitutional System and the Fight against Terrorism
In Lindsay’s eyes, her champion was more armor than man. The bulky brace surrounding the entirety of his left arm belonged on the gridiron, as did the glove fitted on his hand. Kinesio tape lashed in full across his shoulder. She’d expected some level of protection would be necessary given the injury report, but this? Yet that wasn’t what swallowed the color from her face.
Looking in his eyes, the friend she’d known for so long was buried somewhere deep, distant. Like a ghost coming to haunt the present. The old and familiar. The diamond logo with the fanged skull at the Y’s center. That shade of red which belonged to it. The wounds of his face were all the more stark against the clean shave of his face.
The strumming of the guitar riff, rising. No Blood For The Blood God. A different clarion call. He ripped the Universal Championship from his waist, clutching it in his gloved hand, and as he did so, he turned away, stalking like a vengeful hunter into the night.
Bastard by Devin Townsend.
It wasn’t the Tower that had come to Chicago on this night.
It was the Pariah.
I love my son. With all my heart. So consider this, Stanislav.
If I would choke the life from own flesh and blood…
Imagine what I will do to you in that cage.