The Herald Square Macy’s in Manhattan was the flagship of the brand, a New York City institution. During December the palladian icon’s eighth floor becomes Santaland. A venerable Christmas village. Shiny lights. Christmas trees all around. It even has an enchanted winter forest to go along with a workshop, housing the big red sleigh.
In Santaland, everyone plays second fiddle to Jolly Old Saint Nick, even the Tower Of Babel. This was evident with the green costume he wore, as well as the candy cane colored leggings hugging his massive calves. How the hat managed to stay on his head was a miracle given how much he was moving about the workshop. It was hard for someone of his size to fall under the radar, but here? Even as ridiculous as he looked? He blended right in.
Angelica Brooks was able to pull off the elf look much better. Of course she would. She even managed to look properly chic, her jacket shimmering, the curved-toed shoes designer. Her elven ears managed to blend naturally into her own. For a woman of many elements, this was one of them, especially given who she was getting to make over.
In the run up to Colossus, during a weekend breakfast at the Altoona Family Restaurant with little Athena Sanders and her family, she had made it known to Brandon and Amy how much she wanted to go. Was she interested in seeing him wrestle? Maybe, though when he had the Universal Championship belt, she was more interested in him putting it on the line in a game of Mario Kart. He outright refused. It would have been a squash. Then again, she’d at least would make for a legitimate Champion, unlike the gleaming edgelord ‘holding’ the belt currently.
Her parents wouldn’t let her watch the shows. That was on his recommendation. “I…don’t want to scare her. The last thing I need is for her to think I’m a big mean scary bastard man.”
But then he got to thinking; why did it have to be about Colossus? New York City, in December? It was the most wonderful time of the year. Why not embrace it? He flew her, some of her friends, and their families, to the Big Apple, all to get to experience the season.
Athena didn’t have too many friends. She was constantly in and out of school because she was sick. But she got along well with others at the Marshfield Children’s Clinic. That’s who needed to come. Brandon insisted. And while he loved the notion, Amy was more skittish; after all, she knew how unwelcome she was in the world of PRIME. The feeling was mutual. That was before the greater circumstances. Before chocoboarding and a brainbuster and lights out.
Before the panic attack.
Before confessing she still had love for Jared Sykes.
Angelica was stooped down before the group of kids, hands on her thighs, listening to them, an effervescent smile spread across her face. Brandon was busy moving wrapped presents. The task was made all the more difficult given the splint on his left hand. A Colossus gift from The New Era. Thanks, Anna. Thankfully, the cut under his eye had healed quickly. It was touch and go mere days before, his entire eye puffy and jaundiced. That would have been hard to explain. You see, kids, like Hermy, I didn’t go to Elf Practice. And the Head Elf got really mad, and they kept calling me a wrestling hipster, so…The throbbing in his pinkie had mostly subsided, but there was no way it would be fully healed by the time he was back in the ring.
Given what losing strength in his grip had meant at ReVival 20, that gave him pause. Especially with the technical aptitude of most of the men he was facing. And then, there was Rezin.
Angie had waved off Athena and the kids, pointing out the Christmas train that was making a stop just outside the workshop. They had to hurry or they’d miss it again. Standing up, she sauntered over the hardwood toward him, beaming.“So, how much longer is he going to be? Did they say? They’re waiting to see him.”
“Said a good fifteen minutes. The staff wanted to run the parents through what they wanted to do, and make sure of the order of who meets with Santa. That way, the presents go to the right kids.”
She nodded in acknowledgment and chuckled. “You’re such a softie, Brandon Elfblood.”
He returned her smile. “Tis the season.”
“So, where’d you come up with this idea?”
“That’s a secret.”
“One you’ll keep as well as opting out of your contract?”
That was the Angie he knew. So natural in how she could turn a conversation around. He respected her for that. It didn’t mean he was going to give her exactly what she wanted. “These kids have it hard. Athena especially. She’s constantly in and out of the hospital when the histiocytosis flares up. And it’s happening more often than we’d like.”
Hearing this damped her expression. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“She’ll pull through.” A familiar refrain, and one he actually believed.
“So the meeting with Lindsay…”
“This isn’t about a scoop,” she started. “You think I’d go this deep into pocket to put together an outfit like this just to try and suss out where you’re going after you leave PRIME in a few weeks?”
There was no hesitation. “Yes.”
Essayez d’imaginez ce que c’est d’être à ma place.
How’s about this, Julien?
I’m not going to do a comparison with you, or diminish what you suffered through. That’s private, central, all encompassing. And if I start talking about how my thighs are filled with scar tissue from lit cigarettes, or that love happened in a basement with a belt to gag me as he…
There’s an Undergroundcast all about that.
In not minimizing you, we both know you wouldn’t extend the same courtesy.
There’s a cycle to this shit, Julien. And this past summer, I really…really…wanted to help break that. Before you found your way into the Glue Factory, when you were still trying to find yourself in a world of Jabber suspensions because of shilling Bret’s Chips and Genevie Carlson embarrassments, I took notice of you. Not as someone to be molded. No, that was the problem with you; everyone had their hands in the FLAMBERGE cookie jar, trying to wring you of every last damn bit of your worth. I didn’t need to hear about your circumstances; I saw them in your eyes.
I know a fellow child soldier when you see one.
You’ve called Nate Colton my little puppy. My shiny little pet. I looked at him and saw the next diamond.
I never said he was the only one.
In my household is an emerald jacket with your name on it. Amy had it made, back when I had this wild hair about buying a place in Vegas and mentoring two young stars to take over PRIME.
Not be handed.
Nate is a special case. So are you, Julien. Nate’s who I’d like to think I am…and what I’d love to have been at that age. Reality is? It’s me and you who are mirror images.
I don’t blame you for grabbing the rope at Thirteen. Hell, I’d of done the same thing. Find the biggest fish you can and make your statement. Around your age, I pulled the same thing on a guy named Mike Randalls. People looked at him and pissed themselves in fear. The Wolf. He was the baddest dog in the fight, and I went right up and took my piece.
The cycle dictated he’d take more than a pound of my flesh. And did he ever.
Ever since Thirteen, you’ve carried a new swagger. A confidence. A transcendent belief in yourself. You became 5 Star Champion, despite the speed bumps along the way. So kudos. Now, on this night, it’s time for you to pay the platinum price to me. Not because of what you stole. Not because I find you and your entire attitude boring. It’s more than that.
It’s because you went with the lowest hanging fruit possible. You traded one pair of shackles for another. You work for and represent an idea that isn’t your own, and the only reason your bones haven’t been picked clean is because you failed to protect your newfound surrogate father. You’re a dead man not because of that rope grab…you’re a dead man because your announcement to the world was that of a follower who didn’t have the guts to do it himself. Kick me in the face. Break my nose. Choke me out and take my title.
At least you would have done it.
At the end of the day, Julien, we both know the price of bold actions. I offer no veteran advice or life lesson for what you’re about to face.
After all, you don’t have the shoulders to carry the weight of what I’d tell you.
Everybody is looking for an answer, trying to come up with reasons and justifications. Why did Brandon opt out of his contract? What was next? The Dusk retirement tour had taken center stage, his Hall of Fame induction announcement touching the hearts of many. But his career was winding down. The Last Diamond? Mere months before, he was at the top of the mountain, unassailable, seemingly unbeatable.
Was it the frustrations in the wake of Thirteen? Had he lost a step in the midst of finally taking the crown? The wrestling world was still processing the information from back channels. The very nature of it all wasn’t even supposed to be common knowledge. And with how he was treating it? It made for a difficult read. Still in silence. The day was long and rewarding. Athena, her friends, her family, they’d had a wonderful time at Santaland, following the festivities up with a trip to the Rockerfeller Christmas Tree. New York City certainly had a way of being beautiful when it wanted to be.
He eased back into the loveseat on the patio roof of the Marriott. A cigar in hand, bourbon nearby. Alone with his thoughts. The next morning, he’d be meeting with Lindsay after the chaos at the Belmont. He was nervous. Was he doing the right thing?
There was only one way to find out.
The 5 Star Championship.
Three times around the horn. No one is more synonymous with it than me. Only one man ever managed to pry it from my grasp. Every other time, it took being fired or injury to stop my reign.
But that was in the Revolution.
We’re in the ReVival now. And Brandon Youngblood? He’s supposed to be ‘above’ the 5 Star Championship. He’s a Hall of Famer. His sights are always glued on the Universal Title. The Tower of Babel only hunts the biggest of game.
Erik…you stood on the ground I consecrated, your measure compared to my mark. One of the most unlikely of figures. The Goat Bastard. Perennially failing in schemes and grand entrances. You walked into PRIME talking about how punk rock it was to shit your pants.
You’re the reason the 5 Star Championship is the most important title in PRIME today.
Hayes Hanlon didn’t put the title back on the map. As hot as he has been, has he been the venerated ‘last guy you want to face’? Since losing in the Almasy, all you’ve done is take the top spot in the rankings from me and become one of the most talked about, most highly regarded, pillars of the ReVival. You’re one of the greatest 5 Star Champions that has ever been.
The only one who doesn’t see it is you. You wallow in the question of your self worth. Behind the bombast and the crust punk, there’s a man who very much wants to be respected for what he brings to the table. It’s not something to put in a box. It’s human nature. Crust and all.
So when it comes to hunting that biggest game? That’s you, Mister Indiana. You’re not ascending to what you’ll become. You’re in it. A wildcard. Something impossible to expect or plan for. That excites me. That makes my mouth water. And I’m sure this all shocks you. To have the foundation not just give you the time of day, but to think you belong. I’m not going to go on some soliloquy about how conformity is the true counterculture like that piece of shit who nearly ran you out of here. And what a statement you’ve made, even before he became undearly departed. Think about this; you’re going to be center stage in his haunt, all while he sits in some bar, reckoning with exactly why he’s never welcome back here while his manic pixie dream girl salves him with cold brews. And you’re going to be facing the only man who beat him in PRIME.
And unlike him, that man respects you.
That’s a spicy revenge.
But are you going to taste it? Or are you going to wear the goat mask and carry on like it doesn’t matter? Because it does. Because winning this match makes you the best wrestler in the world.
And I think that’s pretty punk fucking rock.
“You sure about this?” Lindsay Troy’s voice lingered in the air with a pregnant pause, her arms folding across her chest as she eased into her office chair. The room was claustrophobic, tucked away in the bowels of Madison Square Garden, nary enough room for the small table separating her from Brandon Youngblood. “If you do this, there’s no going back.”
“I think we’ve danced around this enough,” he started. After opting out of his contract, the pair were on the cusp of a great unknown. A final salvo, for PRIME, perhaps for the sport in general, were possibilities, as were the lucrative deals from DEFIANCE, High Octane Wrestling, and SHOOT Project. “Been worried I’m coming for you that much?” His tone mocked the seriousness of the situation.
“Vae Victis could always use a new punching bag.”
“Like you wouldn’t offer me a spot.”
She chuckled. “Well, we both did pretty well the last time we were grouped up.”
“We did.” That was the first time she’d managed to coax him from retirement. The Inner Circle. The two of them and Dan Ryan. PRIME was different. It was always different. “Had a lot of fun on someone else’s dime.”
“A blast.” She smiled. Such a reconciliation would have been impossible mere weeks before. Nobody was privy to their conversations. They preferred it that way. The Queen of the Ring would have much rather the very nature of this conference maintained the same secrecy. Alas. “I just want you to know how proud I am of what you accomplished here, Brandon. You wrote a fantastic chapter to your career with PRIME. Not many have that kind of opportunity. It’s why I want you to be sure you feel you’re making the right decision.”
“As my boss?”
“As your friend.”
Hearing that warmed his heart. “I appreciate that more than you will ever know.”
Through hard times and good, from the pinnacle to gnashing teeth, to glowing praise and shots across the bow, there were few that he, at the end of the day, knew he could rely on to give it to him straight like Lindsay.
He reached across the table, to the bundled document near her. Picking it up, he flipped to the last page, and without hesitation, signed his name on the line. He looked upward to her, gently pushing the contract back to her.
Her grin was contagious.
There would be a lifetime to show her just how much he appreciated her.
How much he appreciated PRIME.
The Next Diamond.
I go back a long ways with the Coltons. Jake was a tremendous wrestler who, until his knee fully gave out, was one of the true best in the world. He simply didn’t have the greatest luck. Or the kinds of promotions behind him that would have made him a household name. He could have been one of the Pillars in PRIME’s Golden Age. Instead, it’s through his children that people are growing true appreciation for him.
When Nate signed with PRIME, I called Jake. I asked him, bluntly, how good his son was. He seemed incredulous that I’d be so forward. But I also knew I was putting him in an unenviable position; the man is truthful to a fault. He said you were a little rough around the edges, but that he thought you had tremendous potential because of how natural of a learner you are. That’s all I needed to hear.
There was no asking to look out for him.
And in truth, he didn’t need it.
Turns out, you’re not so rough around the edges.
Nate, I respect your family. The Next Diamond? That’s a gift. But not like you think. It’s a tagline. Something to put on a shirt. Your father wasn’t the most inventive with marketing himself, and really, the Colton’s are bread and butter professional wrestling. Salt of the Earth people. Your talent will take you far. Maybe the moniker gets you some healthy royalty checks in the process.
But the reality is, Nate, I respect you. Why? Because you showed me something. You helped bring me back from the brink. I was so consumed with my disdain, my rage, my hatred of FLAMBERGE, that all I wanted to do was hurt him. Wound him. Bury him under the madhouse prison PRIME had become. I spoke so much about a Wrestling Camelot, but such a place can’t exist without trustworthy knights to show the way. Everyone asks you why you handed the 5 Star Championship back to FLAMBERGE. I know why.
Because it’s not yours to give until you’ve earned it.
That’s when I knew I had to stay.
But don’t mistake me; just because I respect you for standing up and being your own man, it doesn’t mean I appreciate you taking control of my message, especially when yours to end. I’m not Arthur. In that ring, it’s a battle. Julien crossed that line for someone else’s behalf. His price still needs to be paid.
And for what you’ve helped me see, Nate? I owe a price to you. But this is a mutual demand. All I can give you is the best version of myself that I can muster. I owe it to you. Not only that, I owe it to your father. To challenge you. To give you that trial by fire. With you? I need you to be the best Nate Colton you will ever be.
You Coltons are making a habit of trying to take over the world right now.
But if you’re going to do it, you’re going to have to go through me. And after abdicating my place on the throne to tend to my wounds since Thirteen, I refuse to let anyone just waltz in and take everything without making them earn it.
Raise your name beyond the mark set by your father.
Be the hero professional wrestling believes in.
Late night. The covers drown. Wisconsin cold had settled in. Even still, the windows to Cody Youngblood’s room were cracked open. All night, he’d watched Colossus on his phone. He’d been waiting for this match. The 5 Star Title. It only made sense. To see his father take the ring. Cheering and rooting him on.
When Nate Colton came to Eau Claire to train with his father, he’d been away with his other parents. Or so they thought. He’d forgotten some clothes, stopping by after school to pick them up. And when he did, he saw his father in the backyard, training, watching how he looked at Nate. Putting his arm around his shoulder. Glowing with such pride. Why didn’t he look at him like that?
What did Nate fucking Colton have that he didn’t?
It wasn’t until he’d come back to stay with Brandon and Amy that he found it. It’s why this moment was so important. This match.
BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD
An greenish satin jacket. And on its breast, in cursive stitching, was the name FLAMBERGE. The Emerald of PRIME.
SKULLS FOR THE SKULL THRONE
He clutched it in his hands. Everyone gets to be a diamond, no matter who they are, or what they’ve done. No matter if they eat at your table, or try to cut your throat to make their name.
LET THE GALAXY BURN
Being a diamond was his birthright. And there was his father, selling it out from under him.
“Get him, FLAMBO.”
At least there was one person who saw through all of Brandon Youngblood’s bullshit.
Make that two.