In the early days of the ReVival, Brandon’s conversations with Lindsay Troy rarely dealt with the ring, but rather, everything outside of it. They spoke of their children, shared pictures of their dogs, traded old stories. Simple, tensionless chatter between friends.
Whatever it was today had been hilarious enough to cause them to both struggle to catch their breath. He hunched over, his fingers wiping away at welling tears. His eyes absentmindedly scanned the filing cabinet pressed against the wall of her office, its surface littered with random knick knacks only those of us who’d weathered the Revolution would appreciate. The support beam acting as a paperweight was a bit much. So odd. That is, until the black steel unfolded his attention. Reading the faint etching across its length, he didn’t feel much like laughing anymore. His finger stabbed toward it as he faced her. “Lindsay…why the fuck do you have a piece of the Dual Halo?”
March 10, 2023
The Laura Hotel was quiet despite being so close to the Toyota Center. Brandon didn’t know if any of his peers were staying there, hoping he was the only one thanks to the disgust radiating inside him. Victory over Nate Colton and Rezin, no matter how it occurred should’ve been reason to celebrate. Yet, even with all they represented, there was no satisfaction. Rezin turned tail when the going got tough. Brandon couldn’t contain his scowl as he trudged to the check-in desk, his bag slung over his shoulder.
The agent was alone, her greeting warm. “How may we help you this evening?”
He exhaled. Time to put on the camouflage. A soft smile. An easing of his tone as he slid his driver’s license over the marble top. After all, it wasn’t like she was a Goat Bastard.“Just checking in. Should be under Youngblood. Brandon.”
Her fingers pecked at her keyboard. “Oh, yes. Would you like one key or two?”
“One should be enough.”
“Are you sure? There’s a woman who’s been waiting for you for quite some time.”
He found himself perplexed “I’m sorry…what?”
The agent pointed at the bar. A lone woman nursing the bulb of a wine glass. Her black tracksuit blazer and matching ruby pants spoke of sophisticated chic, the designer briefcase at her side the perfect accessory. Their sandy blonde hair had graying roots.
His stomach churned as she pivoted, and upon seeing him, she rose from her seat. The briefcase clutched in her hand, she sauntered, her expression inscrutable. “Hello, Brandon.”
It had been years since he’d heard from his eldest sister, even longer since he’d seen her in person. He wished time hadn’t been so kind to her. A fool’s folly. Those within the family seemed to age gracefully on the outside. It was a different matter internally. “Candace.”
Her fingers strummed against the leather body of the bag. She had her father’s eyes. “Was hoping I’d get to see you. Had to make a few calls to see where you were staying.” Her voice was disinfected, wooden . “There’s something we need to discuss.”
He steeled himself with a sneer. After all, she only appeared when she wanted something.
Colossus, Night One
The 5 Star Championship Match was moments away, the technical crew going through their final rundown before Brandon’s entrance. The Tower of Babel made into Zeus, with accompanying rolling thunder. The Greek God concept wasn’t his idea. The showdown with Rezin and Nate Colton didn’t need the pomp and circumstance. Then, there was FLAMBERGE. Months of steady hatred, and finally, tonight, he’d stamp Julien Lavigne’s death warrant with his own blood after costing him his Universal Championship.
Before him, the monitor shifted away from the arena to a rolling landscape of tallgrass and emmer wheat swaying under the glow of a setting sun. Sam Elliott’s words were loud and clear.
They say, “Beware the old man in a profession where they all die young”
This business has no mercy on youth.
It will chew a kid up, spit them out…
Break the spirit of the strongest Youngblood.
What was this message? Why now, right before getting his revenge? What was the purpose? For months, Brandon had been hurt. He’d rushed back too soon, trying to fight his way to reclaim what was his. Recovering from the fall had taken its toll. His aura of invincibility was no more. Once again, his standard was being used as a prop. A ploy. A cheap tactic. It reeked of glue.
It wasn’t until ‘The Orange’ revealed him that he realized what he was up against.
It angered him all the same.
There was no small talk as he led his sister to his hotel room. Using the keycard, he stepped inside the doorframe, flicking the light switch, easing his way to the thermostat and cranking it as far down as it could go. She pressed past him, putting her briefcase on the work desk, taking a seat in the office chair before crossing her legs. He followed past her, tossing his bag onto the bed, parking himself on the couch. “So how’s life treating you? Your family doing well?”
Candace pursed her lips, gazing at the curtain wall overlooking the district, her hands reaching for the buckle of the briefcase. She pulled a binder from within, then a narrow walnut box, unlatching its clasp. The pen was luxury. “Brandon, I’m not here to waste your time, and honestly, I have to get an early start tomorrow. So no small chat. No asking how each other are doing. None of that.”
Despite trying to give her the benefit of the doubt, time hadn’t changed her one bit. “You came all the way out from Virginia for this?”
“We…” she caught herself, pausing before recomposing. “I…moved to Houston a few years ago. A career opportunity came up.”
He marriage must have broken down. That, too, must run in the family. What was it she did again? He offered a nod, his tone dripping with insincerity. “Congratulations.”
She deflected his faux support. “I had to work hard to build my realty business from the ground up. The area was saturated and there’s a dearth of talent. But in the past few years, I’ve built three offices, alongside a few satellites in the area.”
“It’s going well then.”
“Quite.” The pride in her achievements caused the words to flow. For her, they were the most interesting thing in the world. “Actually, I’d say it’s going better than well. Almost as good as your…wrestling…thing.” She scanned him up and down; the muscle tee, the shorts, running shoes with no socks. Then there were the sleeves of tattoos. “Maybe even better.”
He chewed on his lip. “You really know how to butter me up.” Her vacant stare coaxed him to try and humanize the conversation. “Life’s going good, by the way. Got the woman of my dreams. Son is wrestling and he’s got an undefeated season going.”
She knew more than she was letting on. “Ranked number one in his division. That’s…good. And what about your…inhibitions?”
A slip of her jab. “The ex-wife and my partner…they think I smoke too many cigars. Sometimes I take something for anxiety. Only in emergencies though.”
“And how often does that happen–”
His tongue clicked against the roof of his mouth. “You said you didn’t come here for small talk–”
“–I didn’t. But you insisted.” Her hands busied themselves with the binder, opening it, flipping through the pages. She didn’t even have the courtesy to look at him. “I knew you’d be in town, and it got me thinking.”
“About the ranch we grew up on in Bandera.”
Its mere mention caused his eyes to narrow. “I try not to think about it.”
The binder snapped shut as she edged forward in her seat. “I want it.”
“What do you want it for?” Rhetorical. He knew the answer before even asking the question.
His sister eased back in her seat, rocking, the air conditioner billowing air less frigid than their relationship.“The property has been vacant since…well…when you left about a decade ago. Maybe even before then. When you–”
He interrupted before she could massage her words. “Burned the house I was building down?” A skeleton of untreated plywood and joists with only a tarpaulin roof. He’d slept on the floorboards. “Before I went to Pakistan and–”
“It’s just sitting there. Nobody’s tending to it. And that area, a plot of land like that, in this market–”
Everything she said, tutted over with a dispassionate grunt. The mask drawn down. Poor strategy. Tsk tsk. “And you think the brow beating act is the way to go? You sure you’re good at the whole…selling…thing? ”
Backing on her heels. She never was adept when she wasn’t in firm control. “I’m sorry. I just think if it’s going to waste, and you’re not going to sell it–.”
“I haven’t given much thought to that place in a long fucking time. And as far as I’m concerned, it can stay that way.”
A lilting whine, a pouting child countenance accessorized by folded arms across the chest. “That’s not fair–”
“You had your chance.” And she had. The ranch was willed to the oldest of the Youngblood children. Back then, she wanted nothing to do with it, said being around it would be bad ‘for her chakras’. Status symbol spirituality. Like a pair of pumps or a clutch bag, molted away when it had outgrown its usefulness.
Hindsight rewrote her reasoning. Brandon’s project home hadn’t been the first to go up in flames. “The old house had burned–”
“Because Mom fell…” the first part was true; the rest to come had been rehearsed enough times that it may as well have been.“She left the stove on, Candace. And when she rushed to turn off the gas, she fell down the stairs–”
“Funny how the coroner–”
Rehearsed, but not for himself. “–and Lindsay–”
She sneered. “–don’t you–”
“–if she hadn’t been taking her friend back to the airport–”
Imploding equanimity. “–don’t you dare bring your sister into this!” For a few moments, only silence. She straightened herself, clearing her throat, clawing back for lost poise. Practice made perfect. Her voice was once again even keeled. “Look, I brought papers for you to sign over the land to me, alright? That’s why I came. That’s the only reason I came. Whatever you want, we can make this work. We can come to some type of split that leaves us both feeling good about the whole thing. It’s right and it’s fair.”
His head flitted, finding the city. “How about the rest of the family? What do they get?” When he looked back toward her, her pause spoke to how revoltingly selfish she truly was. “That’s what I thought.”
Brandon paid to witness his Great American Nightmare. A slurry of blood alcohol and soma. His apartment was barely furnished, a couch, a mattress on the floor, heavy blankets nailed by the windows to keep the sun from coming in. The kitchen was a mess of wrappers, bottles, and blister packs. His eyes glossed over as he watched the television in darkness.
Nobody had seen Tchu coming.
The Jewel in the Crown changed all that. Smitty T. Duluth, Tyler Lopez, and Vangellus Oxios, all turned to mince in the early rounds. At King of Kings, Karina Wolfenden, near her peak, bludgeoned. In the tournament final, The Inhuman Being took his seat on the throne, decimating Amy Campbell in the process.
Tonight, with everything on the line, Matt Ward fought with all he had. A back body drop dead weighted. The Universal Champion, Hoyt Williams, quickly hoisted him up, nearly powerbombing him through the mat. No cover. Tchu splayed across the canvas, and with nothing but malice in his heart, the champion lifted him onto his shoulder, ready to hit another Oklahoma Stampede. He buried him in one corner, launching with momentum toward the next.
The Inhuman Being squirmed free.
Why was Brandon watching this, soaking in his own piss? His fingers reached toward the screen, trying to catch the dragon. PRIME hadn’t just fired him; he was excommunicated, never to be seen from again. Every other promotion within PTC had heard the stories, had heard the emergency call from his wife after he’d punched her and broken her jaw. His career was dead. The wake would be dedicated to his vices.
Such a wonderful assortment of chemical coping mechanisms.
Ward managed to slide off of Hoyt’s shoulder. Youngblood gurgled as Tchu locked Hoyt in the kata-ha-jime, the visual acting as a smelling salt of sobriety, socking him awake. That was HIS hold. HIS Gridlock. It was what he’d used to brandish his mark across PRIME. Mania brought him to his feet. Shaking, quivering, pacing, yet his eyes never left the screen. HIS hold. The audacity. THE GODDAMN AUDACITY! It didn’t matter if Ward used it as a signature, didn’t matter that he, too, had perfected the choke. The Inhuman Being was lamprey latching to the Universal Champion, emulsifying all resistance and will. PRIME’s Personal Jesus had nothing left to give, his massive arms haplessly falling to the canvas. Once. Twice. Then, a final third.
Brandon roared as he grabbed the television, heaving it, causing it to skip across the kitchen laminate. The sharpness of the crash caused dogs to bark throughout the complex. Sweating, drooling, incensed, he launched whiskey and tequila bottles at the television’s base, then the screen, a well of broken glass filling the floor. He stormed to the wreckage, bare feet stomping the fracturing tube until it gave way. Pools of blood flooded from his cuts, causing him to slip and crash to the floor.
His heartbeat surged, drowning out the caterwauling of his neighbors through the paper thin walls, his only company on the comedown as, across the country, Matthew Ward had become everything Brandon would never be.
“I’m giving you the easy way here, Brandon. Take it. Because I have done more than enough studying and gotten enough lawyers to take a look at everything.” A threat drawn from the bully pulpit. Her father had taught her well. “It’s not going to end well if you fight me on this.”
He couldn’t suppress his smile, his fingers tenting as his elbows anchored against his knees. His chuckle was foreboding. “Never going to happen.”
Nobody told Candace Youngblood no. “Incredible. I can’t believe this.” She grabbed her binder, throwing it into her bag, every movement deliberate, performative. Scowling, the next tactic also came from dear old Dad. “You’re always playing the martyr. Only caring about yourself, no matter how much it hurts the rest of us.”
His eyes darted toward her. “I’m not in the mood–”
“AND I WASN’T IN THE MOOD FOR THAT DAMN PODCAST YOU DID A YEAR AGO!” Her fist slammed against the desk. Trembling. A crane of the neck, only wildness in her glare. “You know how much damage you caused, Brandon? How I kept getting asked questions, people wanting to interview me, paparazzi…dragging me all through the mud because you’re so selfish, so self absorbed–”
“–and it’s all bullshit! All of it! Saying Dad molested you, beat you, abused you–”
“GET THE FUCK OUT!”
“You damn near ruined what I was building, turning me into gossip–”
He erupted from the couch, storming toward her, and as he drew close, his hands grabbed at the band of his shorts, yanking them down far enough so she could come face to face with the evidence. She tried to look away, pawed her hands at the air in front of them, but he followed every attempt to slink away. Circles of discoloration, too many to count. “THESE LOOK LIKE BULLSHIT TO YOU?! Cigarettes! Where nobody would see! And you’d find them on Tommy, and you’d find them on Chris too but he KILLED HIMSELF–”
Only stammers. “You…you did those…you did those to your–”
He towered over her. “You’re just like him, you know?” In a past life, he would have grabbed her, thrown her down, choked her. Instead, he turned away, separating himself so he wouldn’t be tempted. “You even look like him. Beady eyes. Thinking you got control. But you don’t. And it’s easy for you.” Thoughts racing. She’d heard it through the floorboards all the way to the upstairs of their home. There was no way she couldn’t. The aftermaths. The crying. Blood and rubbing alcohol and cotton balls, children tending their own wounds. His voice wavered. He couldn’t help it. “He didn’t hit you. He loved you. Loved his girls. And you knew what he was doing to us. Saw it with your own two eyes. And now you’re going to sit there and say none of it ever happened?”
The faintest of smiles tickled the edges of her lips. “Maybe you should take responsibility for what happened. You guys were always acting up. Maybe…you should grow up.”
There were no tears. The tiny crack seeping through him had already calcified. He relaxed back onto the couch, his fingertips brushing against the seat of his shorts. His sister wanted the ranch? She could burn in Hell. “Maybe you’re onto something. Maybe the real estate market around here is good. I know one thing, though; you’re never going to get it. Never. I’ll look up some of your competitors. Would be glad to make a deal with them.”
A perverse snicker bubbled up from within her as she stood up. “I was hoping you’d choose this. You just made this all worth it.” If nothing else, making his life difficult served as victory.
Her victory was pyrrhic. Salt poured onto the leech so heavy it would drown. The final words he would ever speak to her were from the depths of his heart. “Go ahead, Candace. Go ahead. Give me a reason. Because if you do, I’ll buy the best attorneys. I’ll pay people to revoke your license. You think you’re going to treat me like Dad did? I will ruin your life. And maybe I still will…just because I fucking can. Now get the fuck out.”
All color drained from her face.
She knew his threat carried the utmost sincerity.
The glass table shattered upon impact on the stage, the crowd gathered near Legacy Hall at a fever pitch. Youngblood and Ward continued their war of words, the attempts at jostling their way through the swath of security guards crystallizing their intentions. Angelica Brooks, lithe and diminutive, acted as a barrier. Whatever The Wrecking Ball was saying, it wasn’t getting through.
The Diamond’s finger stabbed at his opponent before he bellowed. “You’re not better than me! You’ve NEVER been better than me!” It wasn’t a statement to prop up ego. To make him believe. It was genuine. The casualness of his opponent, even still, even with losing to Sage Pontiff…
And then, it all dawned on him. His finger fell to his side. Suddenly, his unbridled rage dissipated. The call out. The continued barbs. There was a familiarity to this rehearsal. Ward was wounded, not just at the knee, but at the base of his pride. All his distinctions were from the past. Yes, he had decimated Pontiff before his body failed him. Yes, what he’d accomplished was practically immeasurable. But he needed this win, and to do so, he had to play to the old ways of lathering up the Tower of Babel. Fluster him. Gash his ego.
Make him see nothing but red.
If Ward as much as survived the challenge, the platitudes would flow. Anna Daniels parlayed hers into a shot at the 5 Star Championship. What if Ward won? He had to have seen what it’d done for Caesar. The Starchild adrift, an old name the new faces used to make their bones. Beating Brandon Youngblood galvanized him. Had resurrected the legend of Nova. Helped him find home. Matthew Ward didn’t have what The Risen Star did. He hadn’t nearly been crippled by the Diamond. Their battle wasn’t about some form of squared circle justice. The old guard had already spent their one victory over him; there would be no more to give.This was different. He was different. For someone of Tchu’s caliber, his pedigree, to call him out?
Ward knew he needed him to maintain his spot on Rushmore, not the other way around.
All the same, he’d picked this fight.
Now, it was time to make sure The Orange was never coming home.
Brandon never expected The Queen to pick up her phone, not in the early morning hours. It shocked him when she did. “Sorry, Lindsay, but I have a big favor to ask.” Plumes of cigar smoke rose from him like the flames of dawn. “Do you still have that chunk from the Dual Halo?”
It was time to finally put to rest his greatest foe.
See you soon, Dad.