I stare off into the distance, my mind outside the walls of this locker room, beyond the sweat stinging my eyes and the thumping of my heart. It’s not the aches and pains or the weight on my knees giving me pause. Physically? Never felt better. Youth came with a haze of downers and depressants as well as a whole lot of self loathing.
Mentally? I don’t know.
Or perhaps I do.
Perhaps I’ve known how I’ve felt for months. And rather than dealing with it, I’m choosing to run. To not answer the hard questions. Broken old habits resurfacing because, in the decade away from the sport of professional wrestling, I figured out just how and why to live. And now that it’s back in my life? I can’t juggle the balance. Can’t be who I am. That familiar stench, those vengeful eyes. I–
I’m tired of this.
I’m so fucking tired of this.
How many laps do you want to run, Brandon? It’s funny; you’re stepping forward, only to keep backpedaling into the past. Like a comfort blanket clutched as you walk into the great unknown as a kind of centering.
Take a deep breath. Exhale. You’re angry. Fingers shaking. Knees trembling. You feel betrayed. Nate Colton…why did Nate hand that belt back to FLAMBERGE? It wasn’t his call! It wasn’t his right! You had plans! That little French piece of shit…rope grabbing bastard. Apt to call him a bastard given how deep a dig that is with his old man.
Wait, is that a mirror you’re staring in? Leaner build. Younger than you were when you started trying to swing your balls. World by the horns in public facing. In private, you know he’s haunted, Brandon. And you know why? Because he’s you. And it eats you up inside. It eats you up not because he cost you the Universal Championship…it’s because the Pariah inside isn’t actually upset.
‘Atta boy.’ ‘Would’ve done the same thing.’
Bounce your heels on the carpet, but you know it’s true.
No. No it isn’t. And you want to know why? Because when I was him, I didn’t go searching for the father figure to replace the one I was born of. Has Julien smelt his own flesh burn under the kiss of lit cigarettes? Did he feel his lips break and his gums bleed from the belt his father gagged him with? A certain kind of cured leather. The mere feeling is enough to raise your pulse, even now, with all those muscles and all that power and all your intensity. No. I didn’t sell the world to bend my knee. I was going to burn it down all on my own, just because I wanted to.
Yes! Focus that rage! Harness it! We’re going to need it! Do you remember the words Anna Daniels hit you with on Jabber after you lost the Universal Title? How they–
Brandon Youngblood had gone down this path before. Thoughts swirling. Voices chirping. His skin felt greasy thanks to a film of dried sweat. So many feelings and thoughts, but why? ReVival 19 had been an eventful night, successful even. He and Nate Colton had exacted the blood price from Jonathan Christopher-Hall and Darin Zion for all the awful things they had done since returning to PRIME. The victory was personal for him, given the upheaval their chocoboarding torture had caused within his own househould. Amy’s panic attack. Her blaming him for bearing witness to her former brethren from the uncaring Hell that was Sin City Championship Wrestling falling like flies in this brave new world.
Her admission that she still had love in her heart for Jared Sykes…
When Darin Zion’s head crashed into the mat for the final time, it was the culmination of a vendetta dominating both heart and mind. He’d never tagged with Nate before, but to have been so successful, to have executed every thing they’d set out to accomplish by sending the message that PRIME wasn’t run by the inmates, he should have felt some form of joy. Some kind of relief.
Counting down the minutes from the moment the match was announced. The singular focus that had robbed him of the attention needed against Scott Gratesburgh. Obstacles upon obstacles. A distraction from FLAMBERGE and a boil festering since mid August. Still, nothing. No smile. No rush of endorphins. No call home to Amy to say how good it felt to feel that honking bastard crumble and black out. To describe how they all wilted under his ferocity.
That he did it for her.
Instead, he felt nothing.
His mind was racing towards a Time Lord. Contorting a narrative. Trying to find reasons to hurt them.
Anna Daniels is a great many things, but on this plane, in this realm, they fight against those who don’t understand. Who refuse to understand. Some have likened their manner to madness. A front. Pieces to pick at, like a scab, thinking they have the silver bullet response to cut everything they stand for down. An unfortunate byproduct of ignorance. A way to try and assert dominance.
Brandon Youngblood never viewed them that way.
In the ReVival, a bevy of fresh faces descended upon PRIME, trying to make their mark in the Almasy Invitational. The Eryk Van Warren’s and the Cyrus O’Haire’s carried with them experience and strength. Genevie Carlson claimed herself to be a witch able to call power within magical stones. Brian Williams and his fascination with the moon. Miles Lucky and his Happy Pigeon Day. All of them are gone, quickly, nary a footnote. Brandon knew how hard it was to compete within the walls of PRIME. Had seen countless faces come and go, whether it was with great promise or out of the ether.
Then, there was The Muse.
From the first moment in the MGM Grand Garden Arena, they cut a path through what stood before them. Filmix and Pfefferman weren’t just beaten, but outclassed in such an otherworldly manner that it was impossible to ignore. Brandon had charted the Almasy, studied the bracket. From that first time, he knew Lisieux was theirs for the taking.
That Teddy Palmer managed to upset The Time Lord shocked him. Reset expectations. Made the road to victory appear much easier. Cancer Jiles might have ended up the winner of the bracket, but to Brandon, it was Daniels he had to watch for. They were the New Era. And in the aftermath, they proved it again and again. Rezin. The Anglo Luchador’s last loss came at the hands of The Muse. And the entire time, they carried with them a mystifying, distant, detached charisma. Their path, by the end of the year, would be the beginning embellishments of a Hall of Fame tenure.
When he shook their hand, an agreement was set. The Old Guard against The New Era for the Universal Championship. And in that moment, there was only one place he could imagine it happening.
It wasn’t meant to be. He broke his promise. As he tried to put his face back together in the wake of a soccer kick, Daniels took concertina wire and garroted him for his failure. But just because Brandon had lost, it didn’t mean Anna had to completely abdicate their end of the bargain. He-Who-Hates? How much would the Pariah stoke the flames by returning the favor? By smirking as they tried to act as though Jacob Mephisto hadn’t taken a pound of their flesh? That the charlatan Ned Reform was somehow in the same orbit enough to score a victory?
You know better.
And know you’re supposed to be better.
So what are you doing? Or rather, why have you been going down this road since the moment Thirteen ended? No, don’t stutter. This isn’t a vacuum for excuses. Your entire sentiment has become ‘burn the world’, and you’re using our ethos to try and justify it. As though you’re the righteous crusader, ready to rain down a cleansing fire.
That’s not what the Sentinel would do.
The moment Thirteen ended, the Sentinel, unbeatable, unconquerable, was broken. I felt every tear, every blow, every haunted pant. I bore witness through flesh just how exacting that war was. It shattered everything, not through lack of trying, but that doesn’t matter. You can pick up your sword after you’ve been mortally wounded to try and block the final blows, but the strength seeps out of you in blood failure.
And in the mind, a place. Separated from all others. Unreachable, no matter how much friends and loved ones wish to salve the crushing despondency bore from the past.
A Fortress of Regret.
He stood before it, under the oppression of bleak slate skies, clouds racing parallax. It jutted from the ground as a seemingly endless bulb, its facade a clouded crimson, sheening as though made from hand blown glass. Sunken within were pockets that throbbed and pulsed.
The pieces and parts of Brandon Youngblood all had a hand in its construction. And within its haunted structure, these multitudes made their home, never leaving. The Sentinel was the only one who could. With a shallow limp, he made his way through the trench, toward the entrance locked as tightly as his heart. Wedges made of metal, forming a spiral. And as he drew near, it wailed, like blades of a fan, collapsing upon one another.
The Sentinel had spent ages trying to figure out a way to destroy this tumor of the soul. To be liberated, fully, from its sickly grasp. And he’d come close. So he occupied it. Took residence. And in so doing, he owned what pieces of it he could.
Keeping at bay the master of the house.
An antechamber at the highest of points. Every footfall is burdened. Such immense pressure, filling my head, my sinuses, my eardrums. My surroundings were familiar, pieces of what constituted home throughout the years, from my earliest recollections to the present, a faceted mishmash of walls and stairwells, connected through red and blue filaments at their points of joining. Beyond this maze of reflection is a doorway.
A doorway I’ve never entered.
In the center, the Pariah sat upon a slab. Fresh shaven. His eyes are gaunt, his features spectral despite his youthful presentation. Hatred had a way of seeping through every pore. A wretched, pathetic thing. But how he smiled…
So we’re talking to ourself again, I chuckle. The Sentinel has so many fucking names, trying desperately to pluck something that sticks. A miserable bundle of identity crises. Tower this. Anger Golem that. Nobody takes someone called Suplex Daddy seriously. Scratching around in the filth. It eats him alive that what endures was our call. The Diamond. It’s in your branding. Hell, you think so much of it, you want to ‘bequeath’ it to others, like it’s your right to give away our namesake. And to a naive little sniveling podunking midwestern bitch boy and that French–
I’m tired of this, I snarl. I’m tired of you. Some festering thing. Cancer.
Shut the fuck up.
That’s the spirit! Just uttering his name is enough to get you going! And we’re going to need that, Sentinel. We’re going to need that because he holds our Universe and he thinks he can make a mockery out of it. Out of us. Eyes on the prize. Constantly moving forward. We’re going to harness that. We need to. We need to! They aren’t going to put us in the ring with him ever again if you keep losing. Lost. Adrift. Got us going a step down. The Queen is protecting him. Needs to protect her precious COOLossus. And if she wasn’t, why would she be trying to occupy–
Droning on and on. That’s what the Pariah does. Enraptured with his own voice. His sense of self righteousness. An embarrassing remnant. We have to own this. Accept it. And for the longest time, we thought we had. Enough to move past him. His voice always lingers, despite our best effort to quiet him. I wasn’t strong enough. That August night, I woke upon the same slab he perches himself upon. Beaten. Bloody. Broken. I carried with me an aura of invulnerability. But on that night, The Humble Proprietor changed everything. And as much as this feud with FLAMBERGE has me referencing him grabbing that bottom rope, as much as I’ve focused on losing the Universal Title as my driving force…the former, the latter, it’s not why I stand here now. It’s not why the last few months have been a miasma of decline and rage. No, it’s coming to terms with something far more primal. Something central. A feeling I thought I’d trained myself against. An impossibility. Even in the most optimal of circumstances, had I survived, had I outlasted Atken, I know…know…I’d be riding this same boat, because the reality is, what haunts me most is the fact that he brutalized me in a way only one other person has ever done. And that’s why–
Dear old Dad.
Yes. It’s because Phil Atken beat us like our father used to.
You carry yourself with all the sturm, acting like you’ve grown above it. And those fans, your peers, they ate it up. Almost as much as you yourself did. But they don’t know your palette. Don’t know how much of a lie it all was. He broke your face with a single kick. His elbows found soft spots in that chiseled facade. All that muscle, Tower of Babel, and he broke you down into chunks and ground you into mince. And you can’t cope with that. You know how pathetic it was, to see you writhe on this slab, tossing and turning before you fell limp into coma? We rooted for you! Believed in you! And you failed us! All the work we did, and you pissed it all away, and for what? You’ve been limping ever since! Grabbing at your face whenever someone does as much as touch that nose of yours. Ole Philly A became Daddy, and you can’t deal.
It’s funny. Stepping forward, I notice, for the first time, how warped he is. Hunched over top of himself. Long fingers. His hunger denied for so long he nearly wasted away, to the point where his vertebrae jut from his flesh like plates. A creature whose high water mark is so distant it’s almost old enough to buy cigarettes. What does it say that I allowed him life again?
You’re wasting our time, Sentinel. It’s Anna Daniels–
No. It’s you who has been stealing mine.
It’s not stealing when you pissed it all away. You were shattered. Unable to stand up. Crippled with doubts and depression. It was easy when you were on top of the world, wasn’t it? But the moment you hit a little adversity, you crumbled to dust. You made that joke about Jiles being Humpty Dumpy, that he’d never be able to be put back together again when he got thrown from your ‘Tower of Babel’. You got ground into glue. So somebody had to pick up the fucking pieces.
Oh no. That’s not true. It wasn’t until after Caesar–
Do you know how pathetic it was for you to be so happy for Nova when he beat you? Everything we had fought for. Look at the banner again. COOLossus. You made that happen! All because you couldn’t beat–
Because of you.
Caesar had a score to settle. But you know the funny thing? He didn’t wear that need as a burden. He was free. Ankle monitor and all, at least when he stepped into the ring at UltraViolence, he did so completely free.
I beat him. You failed where I–
I didn’t fail. I lost. To the better man on that night. And in those circumstances? I can live. Smile. Move on. Because I no longer have to deal with the mess you made. All because your little pride couldn’t handle the very idea that on those Hawaiian Islands, he might beat you.
You…you don’t understand. It had to be done. It had to be!
Before he can continue, I raise my hand, ready to strike. The Devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape. The Pariah shifted. I was staring into the eyes of my son. That’s what he is. What he does. He burrows deep within and when he needs to, he shifts to whatever form is necessary. Poisoned feelings. The world is against us. Every word, every sentiment. And as he shakes, mocking, I stop.
What? Don’t want to be like dear old dad?
He shifts, taking on a sullen, waxen form. The eyes of The Muse are milky, her beauty warped and crooked. A flowing cape of tatters. And she sneers and spits upon me.
Trying to keep up with the times, huh, old man? You fucking wrestling hipster. Which Skull Kid is your favorite? Are you going to keep trying to placate us? Why? Because you’re afraid? Because you know, without hesitation, we’ll crush your skull just like we did Larry Tact? We don’t like you. We don’t fear you. And we’ve never, ever respected you. So how about you do the wise thing and fuck on off, because at the rate you’re going? Wrestling you is the closest thing there is to a damn streak buster, and I’m looking to get my groove back.
I laugh. Hard. My entire body is shaking.
What’s so funny?
You…you think that’s going to work?
You heard me on Jabb–
Huh? What do you–
So what? Yeah, hearing those words hurt. At the moment. Because I was wounded. But now? Who cares? See, Pariah, you want to leverage that whole thing into control. Like I’m supposed to forget Anna’s apology later on. Like I’m supposed to act like the talent I see is just a mirage. It pisses me off to feel you wearing my face. I can’t even imagine what they would do to you if they knew you were trying to wear theirs.
The Malformed Muse melts away. All that is left is my old pallid shade. And as he stammers, I ask if he’s enjoyed his little run. If he’s enjoyed being able to play around and act like he matters. Because it’s over. Because after weeks of letting this pissant part of me try and ruin everything I’ve built, everything I’ve become? Hurt the people I care about with his snide comments and his glower? Being sick of your past is one thing. If you’re not willing to do anything about it? Then you’re just waiting for it to come back. I grab him by the throat, and as I do, he scratches, claws, tries to punch himself free. I can see in his eyes a startling revelation. His body may be sinew, but his ego had become fat thinking it once again could hold dominion. The Sentinel he’d thought he’d step on past had gotten a lot healthier since Thirteen.
You need me! You need me! I inform your every movement! Your every thought! I’m safety! Your life preserver. Just take swipes at me and what I’ve done, and poof, you’re that tortured haunted soul. I’m a bounty. An evergreen tree. I give you color. Flavor!
Dragging him, his feet kick as he tries to scurry. But it’s no use. I’d never entered the door to the outside of the antechamber. Today, we do so together. Gales of wind tore into our flesh. The drop was far from this perch.
I AM A PART OF YOU!
Yes, you were. We’ll remember you. Not fondly. Whatever is left can go in an unmarked grave.
It has to be burdensome, Anna. I only had one voice. You have so many. All vying for your attention. Holding congress. Some call you aloof and detached. I don’t think that’s the case. You just have too many parts trying to shove their way through the same door. The perspectives, the different sets of sensory information from disparate minds.
There’s really no other way you could be.
I respect you. And I know to expect your best. We all go through those moments where we question ourselves. When the results aren’t in our favor. When the road isn’t so easy. You’ve felt that lately. It’s not a state of permanence. Hell, the fact that you’re able to dust yourself off and not succumb to some deep rooted malignancy is something I could stand to learn from.
Even still, as we both try to find our way forward, know this; anyone who faces me, it takes all they have to have a chance at beating me. Even in this state. So I demand your all.
Everyone wants the bright lights of New York.
You and me?
Let’s close the MGM and move forward into the new era.