For the second time this week, Jacob Mephisto sits bolt upright in his bed, waking from what was a deep sleep just moments ago. He is covered in a thin sheen of sweat, his breath ragged and irregular. He sits there, in total darkness, realization coming back to him. First, he slows his breathing, his heart rate following. He sits there for what feels like an eternity before he dares to move again.
The Patriarch swings his legs to the side and sits on the edge of his bed, his head hung low, black hair curtaining his pale face. After a few beats, he stands, stretching and cracking his body. He stumbles to the sink and grips the sides. He doesn’t want to look in the mirror. He doesn’t want to see.
But, he knows he has to.
Slowly, he raises his head, looking into the mirror. It’s just him. Pale, gray eyes stare back at him. There’s no demon there. There’s no SHOOT Project Avatar glaring back from behind violent blue eyes at him. He breathes a heavy sigh of relief. That war is over. He’s survived.
Mephisto takes the next few minutes to collect himself and prepare for the day. The repetition is a comfort. The process soothes his nerves. For two years, he went to war with Azraith DeMitri, a certified Hall of Famer in the SHOOT Project and one of the most violent men in its history. That story came to a close at one of SHOOT Project’s pinnacle events, Redemption. While the match was a draw, neither man being able to answer the count of ten, many say that Azraith walked away the victor due to what happened after the match.
But Jacob Mephisto survived. He is still here. And that mantra is what drives him now. The Patriarch of The Family takes one last look at himself in the mirror before opening his door and stepping out… into an empty, white hall.
Mephisto stops in his tracks. He looks around slowly taking in the sterile surroundings. He turns around and sees no door, just another white wall.
I’m dreaming again.
He doesn’t speak the words. The just… come from him.
What is this?
As if in response to his question, a section of the white floor in front of him glows a light red. Mephisto sighs and takes a deep breath before stepping forward. He moves cautiously, knowing that this is a dream… probably. He makes it another few steps before he hits a dead end, a white wall materializing in front of him. There are dark spots all over the wall and it takes The Patriarch a few moments to realize what it is he’s seeing.
Hundreds and hundreds of masks adorn this bare wall. They come in all shapes and sizes. But, one of them stands out. It’s only familiar because he’s seen it recently. It’s the mask worn by John Kennedy Royko Jr. It’s Balaam, The Mask of Malice. Mephisto breathes a sigh of relief and smirks.
He leans forward, inspecting the face of his opponent at ReVival. Suddenly, a massive arm bursts through the white wall, an equally huge hand snatching him by the throat! Mephisto reaches up with his own arms, but finds them shackled by chains. The massive hand squeezes and things begin to go black.
Jacob’s eyes flutter open as he inhales a sharp breath. He’s sitting with his back against the wall of a rock formation in Red Rock Canyon. He’s still in Nevada. He’s right where he was when he fell asleep. Judging by the low glow of the fire and the pitch dark of the sky, he assumes it’s still some time in the middle of the night.
That was interesting. He thinks to himself as he turns the images from his dream over in his mind. He hasn’t been a factor in PRIME since its grand reopening. He’s had zero wins. Something like that would normally not bother The Patriarch. After all, his game is much more complex than a win-loss record. Still… recent events have gnawed at his mind. He’s a champion, after all. Maybe not here, but the logic still stands.
Mephisto sighs as he rests his head against the cool surface of the rock wall. The Learning Tree is gone now. His Family is full of uncertainty. The SHOOT Project doesn’t know his next move. PRIME? Well, PRIME likely doesn’t expect much. At least not according to Vegas odds. Still, the bookies should probably know better by now. Yes, Mephisto bets on wrestling. Wins his fair share too.
He smiles at the tangential thought before he discards it from his mind. The smile fades as he considers his opponent. His pale, gray eyes survey the sleeping Twins not far ahead of him. He’ll need them at ReVival. He’ll make sure they’re well cared for until then. Much like Mr. Hoyt Williams, Mephisto knows how to keep his people in line. Except the masks The Patriarch uses aren’t literal. He doesn’t need people to wear a mask for him. It’s his own choice of masks he wears as a person that drives those around him to follow, to listen, to obey. That’s the advantage he has here.
Mephisto smiles as he pulls a cigarillo from a case in his pocket. He strikes a wood match and touches the flame to the tip, gray smoke coiling up into the darkness. He takes a pull and allows the smoke to roll from his mouth as he starts to relax. He sits quiet for a long few moments before his thoughts turn back to his opponent and the camp he surrounds himself with.
The Patriarch is also the Silver Tongued Serpent. He’s the Master Manipulator. Jacob Mephisto allows his Family all the free will they can handle. He’s been beaten. He’s been downright embarrassed in front of the world. Still they follow him. Why?
“It’s actually pretty simple.” He says to no one in particular. “They believe. I wonder, dear John, do you believe in Hoyt Williams? Does he believe in you?”
He chuckles, knowing full well he won’t get an answer from the walls of the rock formation behind him, the ground beneath him, or the sky above.
“John Kennedy Royko Jr., Balaam, the Mask of Malice. The name doesn’t matter, does it?” He cocks his head to the side, perhaps listening to something in the distance. “Or perhaps it does. A name can be a powerful thing.”
The Patriarch nods slowly, a fervor filling his voice, though the volume never increases. He watches over his flock, sleeping on the desert ground in sleeping bags and on bedrolls. They’ve followed him out here. They always do.
“Mr. Williams guides you through your mask. It’s time I removed mine at ReVival. You’ll see the true Jacob Mephisto. The Patriarch. The Soldier. The Ghost. The Iron Fist Champion. None of those masks will matter. You’ll get the purest form of me.”
He laughs, the low chuckle growing to a high pitched cackle as the smoke curls from the cigarillo in his hand. The sound rouses a few of his flock, the Montgomery Twins among them. Patience and Decius share a concerned look until they see the elation on their Father’s face.
Mephisto surveys his waking children as he regains his composure.
“It’s alright. Go back to sleep. Balaam can’t harm you. I won’t let him.”
There are a few confused looks as Mephisto chuckles again.
“Mr. Royko, Mr. Williams, that mask can’t protect you from me. You’ll come to find that in the end, The Dark Horse always wins. Everything. Rots. Even your mask.”
Patience clears her throat. “Who are you talking to?
Mephisto cocks his head to the side.
“Dear child, don’t worry your mind with such things. Your father is simply… preparing.”