“Why are your hands shaking?” Annabelle asked.
It was two nights after ReVival 16 went off the air, and Coral had returned home to Seattle. For the first time in months, he did so alone. Joe and Sid had decided to try to continue their improvement in the ring. That meant that the Avalon house, a humble abode in the west side of the city, was quieter than it had been since the Winds of Change were eliminated from Survivor.
He looked down at his hands.
Damn. They really were shaking.
“Nervous, I guess,” Coral breathed, looking paler than usual.
His stomach was full of butterflies. Not the normal butterflies, either. These butterflies knew karate. No, wait, check that. These butterflies used all of that fancy gun kata, and they flew around Coral’s stomach on wires, shooting the whole place up. They probably wore leather coats over their thoraxes, too. Very cool edgelord butterflies, with all the tattoos and the EDM and the Linkin Park.
“Alright,” Annabelle said. She flopped down on the sofa next to him, and leaned against his shoulder, “I’ll be your emotional support Annabelle, then. What’s got your goat this time?”
For years, Coral shared his love for wrestling with his wife, just as she shared her love for music with him. Annabelle stuck with Coral even when he went through Gimmick Hell, when Terrence Kingsley tried to end his career in Sin City, or when he struggled to find opportunities. Coral stuck with Annabelle even as she teased him relentlessly and struggled with her own career.
This all felt different.
Coral didn’t answer Annabelle’s question with words. Instead, he passed over the PRIME e-mail he received on his phone.
Annabelle studied it, though her expression only changed in that she raised one eyebrow.
“Who is, uh… Flame-berg-ee?” Annabelle asked. She tilted her head, belting out other guesses at the name on the screen with increasingly incredulous tones, “Flamburglar? Flamborghini? Why’s it all in caps? Why is your font so tiny?”
“Don’t you know that it’s impolite to make fun of a man’s font size?” Coral asked.
Annabelle playfully hit him in the shoulder.
“Damn. You sure told me.”
“Anyway, his name is FLAMBERGE. Not a burglar or an Italian car.”
“Oh. Well, that doesn’t tell me anything.” Annabelle said, “What makes him so different from anyone else?”
Coral ran his hand over his face, “Nothing, really.”
Naturally, Coral knew that was far from the truth.
FLAMBERGE wasn’t that much older than Joe or Sid, but he was dangerous. Dangereux, even. Coral knew it. He knew a kid with more experience than his age suggested when he saw one. After all, he was that way once, too.
“So, what’s the problem?”
“It’s not FLAMBERGE,” Coral admitted, his eyes finding the ceiling of their living room, “He’s not… I’m just remembering all of the times this all ended badly for me. All those times I ended up in a hospital and you’re standing over me with a disapproving look on your face when I wake up.”
“Terrified. The word you’re looking for is terrified.” Annabelle corrected him. Coral couldn’t see her face, the way she half-laid on top of him, but he knew she was just as anxious as he was about his return to the national stage. He could feel it in her heartbeat.
Or was that his own?
“It’s really not about your opponent, then. You’re talking about what happened to Jon, aren’t you?”
“You can’t beat yourself up over it, Coral.” Annie said, “None of us at ringside realized that it was going too far until it was too late. It looked like… I don’t know, normal wrestle business. You know, one guy turning on another and punching the daylights out of them. It happens. We’ve all seen it. But Danny said after it happened that if he knew what was going to happen, he’d have jumped the rails.”
Coral let out a short laugh.
The idea of Sid’s father, who hadn’t wrestled in more than a decade and was on the wrong side of his 40s, picking a fight with a bruiser who made his living fighting out of mud pits in Louisiana was ludicrous. Especially given that in a time long ago, Coral was on the wrong end of “normal wrestle business” from Daniel Phillips. When did that guy get so noble?
“I’m glad he didn’t.” Coral admitted.
There was a silence between them. It was deafening in the unusual quiet of the Avalon house. No music, no television, and no Joe.
The merriment had been replaced by tension.
After all, Coral Avalon was in PRIME, now.
Nothing was going to be the same again until he left that company. Preferably in a peaceful retirement ceremony, and not in a wheelchair. Or a body bag.
Annabelle was the one who broke the silence.
“Well, I guess you’ll just have to get over it and go beat this Flamborghini,” Annabelle said, “Oh, and take out the trash.”
“Thanks, Doctor Natsukawa,” Coral rolled his eyes, “Impeccable bedside manner, as usual.”
“We’re on a sofa.”
“Sofaside manner,” Coral responded smoothly.
Then he stood and went to take out the trash, as asked.
The webcam turned on, and showed a Coral Avalon sitting there, bleary-eyed and tired. Judging from the lack of light coming from the windows behind him, this must’ve been very late into the night.
Coral’s office and webcam setup suggested someone who liked to show off his collectibles whenever he had a chance to turn it on. There were some championship belts, most of which from his pre-Bang! days like the Action! Bantam Championship. More notably, Coral had a small collection of prop swords interspersed among his wrestling accolades, which he’d use for entrances, mainly.
Coral tried clearing using his prop swords in PRIME not long after he knew he was going to take the Blackberry mask off, but he was told that the Anglo Luchador’s ongoing quest for a sword made it a resounding “no”.
The Blackberry mask also ominously sat on its own display, menacingly watching over Coral from over his shoulder.
We’ll leave it to your imagination how often the mask was used in the privacy of the Avalon house.
Coral rubbed his eyes, half-asleep, “Hey, FLAMBERGE. Don’t… really know your real name. Sorry. Part of me hopes Henri didn’t name you that out of the womb.”
“Sorry. That yawn wasn’t meant for you.”
He waved his hands in a somewhat apologetic gesture.
“Anyway, how are you doing? Uh, I hope you’re training well. Hoping you found a good training partner under the Atken umbrella. Glue, am I right? Ahaha…”
He paused, closing his eyes and looking like he was suddenly regretting this.
“Ugh. Sorry. Too early to be doing this. I’ll try this again later.”
He placed a hand on the lens, and the screen went black.
“You seem off today,” Franco Marchesi said. “Hadn’t seen you like this since the last TC-X.”
Coral had been pacing around the Gates of Avalon since early that morning. The only people that were there were Franco and Ignacio el Jaguar, one of Coral’s brightest students for the 2022 class. Ignacio had spent most of the morning making coffee for Franco, doing basic exercises, and going over ways he could improve on his own. That left Coral and Franco for the preparations Coral needed to have his first match in PRIME in over fifteen years.
“Is it that obvious?” Coral asked.
“Avy, an illiterate man could read you like a book.” Franco said, his face expressionless. “Like a copy of Highlights in a doctor’s office.”
Coral resisted the urge to make a joke about Doctor Ned Reform at that moment, like a true professional.
A lot of what Franco and Coral did was very routine for the two of them. Circle around, lock up, jockey for position, and then whatever happened… happened. Franco had five inches of height on Coral, but he had more of a swimmer’s build. Coral had the technical acumen that could counteract Franco’s strength. If Coral was on his game, it’d be an even match.
More times than not, Franco was the one who won the exchanges. Coral moved as though he was going through the motions instead of actually thinking his way through them, like he normally would.
“What’s on your mind?” Franco asked.
“Just… I’m in PRIME again. I should be happy that after all this time, some big company wants me around again. But all I can think about is what happened to Jon.”
Franco furrowed his brow. Just like Annabelle, he was there at UltraViolence. He was one of the mannequin druids for the Winds of Change’s ring entrance. He’d only seen the aftermath of what happened, and it was only a testament to Franco’s professionalism that he still performed his part of their ridiculous entrance.
“That was that, this is this,” Franco said, “You keep napping in the ring, that French kid’s gonna beat you.”
“Yet I keep taking the advantage.” Franco said. “So, what’s the problem?”
Coral sighed, and stepped back to lean against the turnbuckles behind him, his arms hanging over the top ropes. His expression was cloudy, with a chance of thunderstorms.
“Just wondering if I’m making a big mistake, that’s all. Not wrestling FLAMBERGE, of course. I’m glad I get to take him on first. But, man… I was happy over in Bang! Pro. Under the radar, no pressure, free to do whatever I want. It’s Narnia. It’s paradise. And PRIME is… well, you were at the big show. What did you think?”
Franco thought about it for a while, his hand underneath his chin with a contemplative look.
“That the inmates run the asylum.”
“Yeah. Nobody’s tried to waterboard someone in chocolate in Bang!, or leave a horse’s head in the champion’s locker room, or paralyze an unconscious man. Sure, sometimes a certain Kingdom might go overboard and kick someone in the face a bunch of times, but… that’s not the same.” Coral said.
Franco shrugged his shoulders, the motion even more exaggerated given his tall, lanky physique.
“You put together that many egos, Avy, it’s always gonna be that way,” Franco said, “That world ain’t built for the selfless.”
“I know, man. I know.” Coral said.
Every fiber of his being hated knowing it.
Because however true it was, especially in wrestling where there were always winners and losers, it wasn’t what he wanted.
He wanted all of his students to succeed. He wanted them to find ways to thrive in the cutthroat business they found themselves in.
But what he wanted was rarely what he ever got.
Ignacio “el Jaguar” Valencia was one of the students that Coral had left in the year 2022.
He was a nineteen-year-old kid from Sacramento that made the trip to Seattle in order to learn under Coral Avalon. At just 5’10”, he wasn’t the biggest dog in the fight. But out of all of Coral’s students, he had the most heart. Also, the most agility. He lived up to the “el Jaguar” part of his name by being as agile as a cat. He was also handsome, which really wasn’t fair. Leave some of the handsomeness for the rest of us, dude.
Coral was astonished by the effort when Ignacio told him how far he traveled. Coral had pointed out numerous other trainers in NorCal and Oregon that he could’ve picked before he got here. Even if he had to get here, Sonny Silver and his brothers ran a competing school in Seattle as well, and as a former PRIME Universal Champion, Sonny’s was a much bigger name in the industry than Coral’s.
For a long time, Ignacio never explained himself to Coral.
So, Coral started making up backstories for him every time.
“You’re from the Kabal Proving Grounds, and you’ve come here for revenge for all the times I made fun of Nathan Filmix.”
“You’re actually a space alien from another dimension, here to warn us about a pending Galactic Empire attack on our home planet.”
“So, did you join my school because you heard I was the Crownless King and that makes me MESSIAH’s number one enemy?”
Ignacio always laughed off Coral’s guesses.
It was only after Coral and Franco concluded the very one-sided training session that Ignacio came up to Coral.
“Hey,” Ignacio said. He didn’t say anything more, but Coral could tell he wanted to say something.
“What’s up, Nacio?”
“So, you’re always comin’ up with ideas on why I came to this school.”
“Yeah. Want to hear the latest one?” Coral asked.
Ignacio shrugged, “Hit me.”
“You’re some kind of Aztec god brought forth by the Anglo Luchador’s alcohol-induced hallucinations, and trying to locate him so that you may gift him a sword,” Coral said. He said it so calmly and precisely that it was hard to believe that he never rehearsed such a doofus idea.
Ignacio stared blankly at Coral, barely comprehending Coral’s latest crackpot idea.
“No idea what goes through that head of yours, amigo,” Ignacio said, shaking his head, “Ain’t nothin’ wild like that, anyway.”
“Clearly, you haven’t met the people I’ve met. It’s wild out there. I should introduce you to Mega Job someday. You’ll start thinking thoughts you never thought to think when they’re through thinking with you,” Coral said, his smile wide enough to show teeth.
Ignacio spread his arms for a moment, and then let them flop against his sides. He had the look of a man that was starting to have more than a few regrets about this conversation.
“I’ll pass, ain’t much into that cartoon shit,” Ignacio said, “Reason I’m here is a little simpler than all those fairy tales you tell. I came up here ‘cause you helped out my pa, once.”
That simple, huh?
“My pa ain’t exactly a guy who did this very long, can’t imagine you’d remember him. He had this scare on a show down in Sacramento. Maybe fifty people were there.” Ignacio said, his expression forlorn. “It was one of those scramble matches. Lots of guys in the ring, total chaos.”
Coral hated those. He always felt they were too impersonal. He could never focus.
At least with tags, he had a partner or two to rely on.
Coral nodded for him to continue.
“Pa’s a luchador. Uh, El Soldado Rojo was his name. He’s always tellin’ me how he wasn’t all that great at it, but he did it a couple of years. Never liked the mask. So he went out for a tope suicida, and he up n’ caught his feet on the ropes on his way out. Tumbled out of the ropes, would’ve fallen on his head.” Ignacio said, “Except… you caught him. Out of all the other guys out there, you were the only one who saw what’d happen and did somethin’ about it.”
Coral closed his eyes, searching for a memory sometimes rattled by head injury.
“Red mask, surprisingly big for a luchador?” Coral asked, “Probably had no business diving out in the first place?”
“That’d be him.”
“Yeah. I remember. First time I ever met him. Even after I caught him, he was still badly shaken up. I ended up staying with him until the match was over. Man, I remember chewing all the other guys out afterwards for not catching him, too. Yeah, we’re gonna fight, maybe bleed a little, maybe get a little hurt here or there. That’s just how it goes. Thing is, I want people to be able to walk away from the business when they know they’re done. I don’t… want…”
His thoughts drifted back to Jon, and it was all he could do but to find the wall and put a hand on it to steady himself.
“…S-sorry. Um, I have a lot on my mind.”
Ignacio nodded, rubbing at the back of his neck.
“Yeah. Pretty sure Mr. Marchesi hit the nail on the head when he said that shit about activity books,” Ignacio said. Coral looked up at his student’s grin, and mentally considered and then disregarded all of the ways he could make him pay for that expression. It’d set a bad example, he reasoned.
“Pa called it quits after that show, man. Scared him straight, it did. But he still talked about you. You stuck with him until you were sure he was okay. You bought us dinner after the show. You even lent an ear to him when he was thinking about quittin’. Not a lot of guys spend that kind of time on some nobody they never met like my pa.”
Coral tried to jog his memory. He definitely remembered going out of his way for some guys while on the road. That was usually in Japan, though. Particularly his fellow gaijin.
“So, why’re you telling me this?” Coral asked.
Ignacio held his arms up in an exaggerated shrug.
“Pa always said that most wrestling trainers just want your money, and then they cut you loose. Sink or swim, he called it. Here, not so much.” Ignacio said. “And, to be honest, I ain’t so much interested in swimming as I am in becomin’ a torpedo.”
Coral smiled at the idea.
“Sounds dangerous.” Coral said. “Looking forward to it.”
They bumped fists.
Coral would be back the following day.
And that next time, doing the usual dance with Franco… things would go decidedly his way.
Coral sat in front of the webcam again.
Only he’s significantly more awake than last time.
“FLAMBERGE. Hey, so I found out that that’s not the name you were born with since the last time I tried this. In retrospect, that sure was a silly thing to assume. Whoops. I think we can both agree that the sword name is much better, though.” Coral said, smiling slightly at his ability to do basic research and talking about people’s names, “You know, I’m probably one of the few in this company that actually liked Phil Atken. Oh, sure, he’d probably strangle me to death the first chance he got, but what’s a little strangulation between friends?”
Coral laughed a little.
He and Phil Atken were most definitely not friends. Their stated goals were similar. Their means were not.
But… at least they weren’t enemies.
“FLAMBO, I want you to understand something about me. I’m not a veteran who demands respect or fear out of everyone I meet. I won’t ask you to pay your dues to me. I don’t even blame you for throwing your lot in with Atken and his Adhesive Emporium, because who else would you have joined up with that promised what you wanted?”
Coral rubbed the side of his face with his palm, looking at the camera with a blasé expression.
“But I imagine you don’t believe any of that, since wrestling doesn’t exactly produce a lot of idealists.”
He offered a smile.
“In a way, you’re actually really lucky. Not everyone gets to the big leagues as quickly as you have, and as good as you are. I know guys every bit as talented as you are, and they’ve never made it like you have. You’ve even notched some big wins. Little wonder why Philly A. took such an interest in you. I certainly had my eye on you, too.”
His smile wore away, disappearing as his gaze to the camera turned to steel.
“But as you are now… you’re more like a dog barking at the moon, unaware that your fangs will never reach it. You’re a sword that still needs tempering. You still have much to learn. And I’m not talking about vague ‘dues’, like I’m some carny you’d find in a bingo hall. I’m talking about you and me in that ring, between a patient teacher and an unruly student. I know that you’re dangerous, FLAMBERGE. Dangereux, even. What you should understand is… I am, too.”
“Bokuwa motto kikenna.”
He put his hand on the lens of the camera, and it cut to black again.