Time’s always as slow as molasses when waiting for something.
Let’s say, as a fun example, that you were expecting a nice leisurely flight back home in a cool jet. Said jet was a beloved character unto itself, and we’ve had many beautiful stories and tales told of it since the day PRIME opened its doors. We’ve sold so much jet merchandise, you guys. So much.
Anyway, Bandit One wasn’t in the Nashville airport when Coral Avalon expected it.
He’d asked. He’d asked again. He was told each and every time by airport staff that this breakout character left the airport the previous night, right after ReVival 39 had ended.
So, he swallowed every bit of pride he had, knowing that he’d fucked up at the end of that show and did nothing to prevent Jiles from losing. He knew Jiles would be angry that Coral stuck to his principles and declined to get involved. He knew that Jiles wouldn’t accept that “having his back” didn’t mean “win your matches for you”.
But still, he had to call King Crumb.
“Hey, Jiles, you guys leave Nashville without me?”
“Hey, buddy!” The cheerful voice on the other end was not Jiles. No, that was Bobby.
Coral was confused to say the least. He even chanced a glance at his phone to make sure he didn’t accidentally dial Bobby’s number. Then he remembered that he’d yet to actually ask Bobby for his number, or rather that he made it a point to not get Bobby’s number. So that was a weird thought to even have.
“Bobby?” Coral asked.
“Yo!” Bobby greeted, using the hippest lingo he knew, “Sup, Avy?”
Coral wasn’t sure he was comfortable with Bobby using his usual nickname, but at least Bobby was friendly enough to him.
“I’d ask why you’re answering Jiles’ phone, but I don’t care. Where’s the jet?”
“Oh!” Bobby said, surprised, “Right! Uh, look, we had to get back to the Octane real quick. Emergency quick! It was important, and we didn’t have time to wait for you to get out of the bathroom or wherever you went.”
“Actually, I was getting yelled at by the boss for the things I said to her on the show last night, especially the part where I insinuated that she was the eGG Queen,” Coral said, running his palm down his face, “I swear, Jiles’ words have been coming out of my mouth more and more lately…”
“Right! That! Don’t worry about that, buddy!” Bobby said, “But we’re a little occupied over here, so I guess you’re going to have to go home on your own!”
Coral suddenly wished he’d brought all of the aspirin.
“I swear by the blood of Hoyt, Bobby… it’s Thanksgiving and I want to be home with my wife.”
“Oh, whoops!” Bobby interjected, “I gotta go! These gallows aren’t going to gallow themselves!”
Coral blinked. Gallows?
“Wait, what? Bobby?” Coral asked to the silence on the other end of the phone, “Bobby!?”
Coral looked at his phone. The call had ended.
Coral resisted the urge to hurl his phone across the gate. Not only would he break a perfectly good phone doing that, but he’d probably get in trouble for it and that would make this experience even more miserable than it already was.
Coral couldn’t remember the last time he’d flown coach since joining the Bandits, and now he had to do it on one of the busiest travel weeks of the year.
He stared at his phone’s contacts, at the heavy gap between the names “Sweetwater” and “Valencia” where the name “Tsonda” was. He considered it for a while. He considered the choices that he’d made going into the previous night’s match. He considered the things he’d said that never sounded like things he’d have said before he joined the Bandits.
This… this was worth it, right?
He wondered about that, or whether his lifelong goal was worth the piece of his soul he was giving up to reach it.
Then he deleted the number from his contacts and steeled himself for the long wait to get home.
Coral didn’t remember how he got here.
It felt like he was waiting around at the airport gate one second, and then he was in the waiting room of the world’s most twisted DMV the next. Everything was arranged as they should be. A bunch of chairs positioned on one side of the room, with a long line of people waiting in front of a desk that never seemed to goddamn move. As Coral started to become aware of his surroundings, he noticed details that seemed out of place.
Most DMVs weren’t in PRIME colors. The walls and ceiling were both in that specific shade of blue, and the carpet was a darker shade of blue, like someone dragged the luminosity slider down a few notches. There were trails of random bones lying around, like someone carrying a big pile of them kept dropping them behind them as they walked. There were sheep grazing in the carpet, which was definitely where sheep grazed. Occasionally, he’d spot a splotch of red. He hoped that wasn’t what he thought it was, but considering the bones…
…No. He decided he wouldn’t think about that.
A sign on the wall read “IT HAS BEEN 15 DAYS SINCE SOMEONE IN PRIME WAS VAMP-CURIOUS”.
Another read “ALWAYS REMEMBER”.
Coral found himself near the front of the line, but couldn’t recognize any of the nondescript people behind him or in front of him. Their faces were blurs. They also wore wool clothing, but that didn’t matter much to him. Lots of people wore wool, it’s the hip fashion!
Coral didn’t know why he was here, but it felt like he’d been here for decades. He’d been on his feet for so long that his shoes were glued to the floor with Civil Dusk. Coral swore that the clocks moved backwards – if they moved at all. When he realized that he could move up in the line, his shoes made a sticky sound as they resisted.
When Coral finally reached the front of the line, he felt like he’d aged a hundred years.
The receptionist was familiar to him. Maybe it was the bleached blonde hair that’s turned salt white, or the T-shades, or the electric blue suit. Maybe it was the fact that Coral felt his sodium intake rising simply by being in his presence. Maybe it was the first word that escaped his lips.
The Jilesceptionist leafed through a stack of papers situated in front of him, though Coral couldn’t tell if he was actually reading anything. Those shades hide a lot. Like secrets, or whether or not he had a soul.
“Do you have your passport?”
Coral stared at him blankly, the question not quite registering, “My passport?”
“Yeah, you crumb,” Jiles said. He reached over and tapped a sign that said “BRING YOUR DAMN PASSPORT”. It was in Tahoma, because of course it was. “Everybody who’s going where you want to go has a passport. We got a whole system. Every person who’s a top champion has one, and gets to go in.”
Jiles pointed towards a door. A sign next to it read “TOP CHAMPIONS ONLY”. Standing next to it like a goddamn bouncer was the beautiful man from Honalee himself, who suddenly looked like he was in the best shape of his life. His pecs had pecs! That’s not even fair!
“Wait, Bobby was a world champion? That Bobby?”
“The one and only.”
Coral looked frantically between buff Bobby and the Jilesceptionist. As his bewilderment grew, he also saw the other receptionists. They were all different versions of Jiles, of every kind of gender and national origin you could think of. Also, a bleached blonde sheep Jiles in T-shades, because that made sense.
“Passport,” Coral’s specific Jiles reminded him.
Coral patted his pockets, but didn’t find anything.
“Uh, hold on…” Coral kept looking, but his pockets didn’t even have lint, let alone this passport that Jiles was talking about. Jiles tapped his pencil impatiently waiting for Coral to produce what was asked.
Finally, he pointed that pencil towards another line while keeping his T-shades firmly locked in Coral’s eyes, “If you don’t have your passport, you crumb, then you’re going to the back of that line to get it.”
Coral turned to look.
There were hundreds…. No, thousands of faceless nobodies in that line. They wrapped around a spiral staircase leading towards some sub-basement, stretching downwards into an infinity that Coral couldn’t even fathom. All those that never were. Names lost to PRIME’s history that were never spoken of again. The Vetras. The Whealdons. The SkyMonts, my god.
Coral was horrified to see it, “Oh… no! No, no, no! God, no!”
He looked more frantically for the passport, but it simply wasn’t there. That was when security showed up. Imagine another Jiles, but built like a mountain with the presence of a literal Greek god. That’s security.
This mountain in the guise of a man with T-shades picked up Coral by the back of his neck, and hurled him mightily towards the hole where the spiral stairs emerged from like he was shooting a three-pointer. Naturally, it was nothing but net.
Somebody sign this guy to the Mavericks.
Coral screamed as he fell into the hole, and plummeted towards the bottom and speeds that were double that of terminal velocity.
Because when they sent you to the back of the line around here, they meant it.
Coral’s eyes fluttered open, and he barely comprehended where he was.
“Mmrph?” he asked articulately.
“Think your flight’s boarding,” the man that woke him told him.
“Oh… thanks…” Coral said groggily. For a brief moment, he thought he’d seen a flash of gold. Probably nothing.
He had a flight back home to catch, after all.
Just like PRIME, it always rained in Seattle.
Several days after he got home, here he was. It was drizzling, and cold enough that the Crownless King looked about as miserable as anyone about to talk to a cellphone camera. Even through his thick Mariners hoodie, he shivered.
Coral had chosen to take a trip to Washington Park, where he sometimes went for morning jogs. He was here for a more professional reason, though. He needed to be somewhere where he couldn’t be comfortable. So, he chose the park in the shitty drizzle with a specific person holding the camera.
“Are you sure about this, sweetie?” Annabelle asked, “I… haven’t done this in a long time. It’s nostalgic.”
“Yeah,” Coral said, “I know I can depend on you, Annie. You’re my Camerabelle.”
“Thanks, I hate it.”
Coral turned and winked at the camera.
Despite wanting to turn on the charm for his beloved wife, Coral Avalon looked like a man who hadn’t slept well in a while, and a faraway gaze in his eyes. The bags were heavy under there. He looked as miserable as miserable could be for a man who was as deep as he was in the tournament he found himself in.
Which was perfect for him.
“You know, Cecilworth, I can’t say that I’m blind to the irony of picking Seattle as the place I’d settle down.”
Coral paused because the cold was causing him to shiver and contract his body. He moved his body to get the blood pumping.
“It’s as far away from the rest of the country as you can get without leaving the continental United States. A distant kingdom in the clouds. It’s far enough away from the centers of America that nobody really talks about it outside of the rain, the grunge scene, or sports. Speaking of…”
Coral gestured at the Mariners logo on his hoodie.
“The team whose colors I wear right now? They’re like me. Crownless. You probably don’t know much about baseball, but the M’s? They’re not champions. They’ve never even come close. Every year, they seek their crown. Every year, they’re turned away at the door. Most of the time, they don’t even find the door to begin with. Trust me, I can relate.”
He turned and started walking down the path, passing by benches and joggers on the way.
“Of course, while I can relate to the M’s… Seattle’s not really my home. My home is the ring, surrounded by anywhere between ten to tens of thousands of people yelling and cheering for me. There’s an aura about that. An energy. You could power the whole damn stadium on that kind of enthusiasm. As intoxicating as any drug, and just as damaging to the body, too.”
Coral nodded at a few other passers-by, who gave him funny looks as he’s cutting a promo with his “Camerabelle” trailing behind him.
“But I can’t help myself, Cecilworth. Twenty years of this and I still love doing it as much as I did when I first laced up the boots.”
Then Coral whirled around suddenly to face the camera, a sudden anger in his voice, “And then five months ago, you came into my home and took everything from me.”
Coral took to walking backwards, and his wife behind the camera kept the pace with him.
“And sure, it’d be easy peasy Febreezy for me to make excuses for how and why that happened, considering all that happened to me that month. Few months hurt me as physically or as emotionally as that past June. But I won’t discredit your victory like that. You faced me like a man, and beat me all by yourself. You won. Hell, you haven’t lost since you got here. Props.”
He smiled dangerously.
“So, let me ask you a question, then. Cecilworth, how long did it take before you stopped pissing blood after that match?”
Coral’s face softened slightly, “Sorry, Annie, that was extreme of me.”
There’d been a lot of that lately.
“I need you to think about that night in San Diego, oh friend of mine. Think about it real hard,” He stopped walking backwards and held both of his index fingers to his copious forehead, “Think.”
“How long did it take? How long before you were able to chew solid food again? A day? Two days? Maybe a week? Certainly long enough to remember that despite being at a fraction of my strength, I still beat your ass from pillar to post while looking like an extra from Braveheart.”
Not your finest moment, chief.
“So, what you’re getting in Memphis is going to be exactly what I gave you in San Diego. Only, it’s amped up to eleven, and I broke the knob off. How clumsy of me,” Coral’s smile grew, “I’m going to pummel you, Cecilworth. I’m going to take that pound of flesh you still owe me after Tropical Turmoil. I’m going to hit you at angles that only the Hounds of Tindalos would dare come out of.”
“The what?” Annabelle asked.
Coral relaxed again and gave his wife a smile, “Sorry, this one guy in the Octane’s KFC wouldn’t shut up about those.”
Once he recomposed himself, he continued, “And yet, despite all those lovely threats of harm, you want to know something? I’m not even doing this out of something stupid as revenge. Despite being congenial with a man who hoards grudges like a dragon, that’s not how I roll. This isn’t because of what you took from me in San Diego, whether it’s my championship or my protégé who’s done nothing but enjoy catering since he joined you. To be honest, I’m not even going to enjoy what I’m going to do to you.”
His backwards walk came to a stop. The Camerabelle stopped and zoomed in closer on his face.
“I’m doing this because I know you won’t stay down otherwise. Anyone can be drawn into that Farthington charm, forgetting how dangerous you truly are. I know firsthand how quickly you can snatch up a submission. I know all about the broken arms, particularly to a man as big and durable as Clay Byrd. You put down two Universal champions to get this far. I know full well the lengths you’d go through to win. If I don’t answer in kind, then it’s over before it begins.”
He pulled his hood down.
“And, also… I’ve worked my whole life for this. Twenty years. The constant travel. All the blood I’ve shed, all the broken bones. The concussions… the dislocated shoulders… that time my heart STOPPED BEATING after a match that I won. All. The. Sacrifice.”
He ran the palm of his hand down his face, trying to calm himself. When he finished, he was looking down at his feet. “I’ve waited to get my shot for so long, Cecilworth. So long that it hurts every time someone jumps ahead of me. I’m done waiting. I don’t plan to get stopped at the door. I mean to kick it down. If you’re standing there when I do, then the door won’t be the only thing getting blown down. My work… no, my home won’t be complete until I do this.”
He looked up, and stared past the camera.
“Because my daughter deserves to live in a world only knowing of her father wearing his crown.”
He walked towards the camera and the feed cut to black.
Annabelle found it necessary to rest after serving as Coral’s camera, so they found shelter from the drizzle underneath a gazebo.
Coral was soaked. The hoodie he’d worn was not exactly meant for this kind of weather. He’d pulled it off to let it dry, and he shivered without its protection.
“You know, you’re an idiot,” Annabelle said, “Cutting promos in the rain! Really! If you catch a cold before your stupid match with the only dipshit in PRIME with an equivalent Neanderthal forehead to yours, I’m going to point and laugh at you.”
“Please, don’t point and laugh. I’m sensitive to such abuse.” Coral said, miserably.
“It’s what you deserve after the hurtful names you’ve called me today,” Annabelle said, sticking her tongue out at him, “Honestly. I thought you were done with funny names for me after I read you the riot act for ‘Bananabelle’.”
“What?” Coral smiled defensively, “You made a great banana bread! Everyone was impressed!”
Annabelle was not impressed.
“And remember the time when I called you Hannabelle Lecter after that time you chased the Godslayer away from me with one of Inoue’s swords? So many laughs!”
Now she was done with this, “Oh, stop it.”
She laughed and leaned next to him, resting her hands on her stomach.
“It’s going to be soon, Coral.”
He wrapped an arm over her shoulders, “I know.”
“Do you remember what we talked about when we finally agreed to do this?” she asked, “Because I know that was a hard thing for you to even talk about.”
“Yeah,” Coral looked up at the gazebo’s ceiling, “I’ll be honest, it scares me. The only things I’ve ever known since I left home were you, traveling, and wrestling. Once my contract expires… well, won’t have to worry about the travel as much, I guess.”
Coral shook his head, and looked down at his hands.
Did they always shake so much? It’s just the cold, right?
Annabelle jabbed Coral on the cheek with her index finger, which caused him to yelp in pain, “Ow!”
Coral rubbed his cheek, “What?”
“Are you really okay with this?” she asked, “I know you, you know. If you had it your way, you’d be there until you’re collecting social security.”
Coral turned white as a sheet at the notion, “Annie… no, please. God, I don’t want to wrestle to the point that I start to look like I’m melting. That’s a Phil Atken thing. I don’t… I want everyone’s lasting image of me to be that I went out in my prime.”
Out during his prime… in PRIME.
Oh, the irony.
“Okay. So, you have one year left, then,” Annabelle said. Her voice was apprehensive. It’d been a big ask when the topic came up, and Coral couldn’t have been more reluctant to the notion nearly a year ago. Much has changed since then. Betrayal. Bandits. Bamboozlement.
“Yeah,” Coral nodded, “I’ve spent most of my life in transit, Annie. Waiting, and waiting, and waiting to get to my destination. I want to get there bad enough that I’m willing to do whatever it takes in this last year to do it.”
Coral took his wife by the hand, “But… once this hourglass runs out of sand, I’ll walk away. One year. You have my word. You’ve suffered this nonsense with me enough.”
Annabelle hesitated, before she held up a pinky with her other hand, “Promise?”
“A pinky swear?” Coral laughed, “Are you five?”
“Oh, please, you can indulge me, sweetie,” Annabelle teased, “Promise me?”
Coral smiled, and linked his pinky with her’s.