In Orphan's locker room, mere moments after his victory against "Suite" Pete Whealdon in round four of the ULTRATITLE tournament, the fal'Cie once again has a camera in his face. His body and facepaint bear all the signs of war -- the paint itself is smudged down to the bare skin below in some places, and sweat and paint mix together, trickled down Orphan's face, droplets of reddened fluid on his shoulders and chest.
He's exhausted. He's battered. He's bruised.
But he's victorious.
And it's clear that he doesn't want to stop here, not after coming this far already.
ORPHAN: Four down. Three remain, if I am to achieve that which I set out to do. I have defeated a Space God, a sixteen-bit obsessed luchador, a...whatever the Hell Spooky Doom is, and a King of Sleaze. And that brings me here, to the doorstep of the bracket two finals, the tournament quarterfinals...against the reigning NFW World Heavyweight Champion who just walked over an opponent for the third time in this tournament.
On paper, it's the toughest match of the tournament for the Spirit of ACW, and he knows it. For all of Leyenda de Ocho's heart, Spooky Doom's mind games, and Pete Whealdon's focused assault on his past, none of them were the World Champion of New Frontier Wrestling.
Castor Strife is.
ORPHAN: I know of you, Castor. I have been watching you carefully for the past several months, knowing full well that this could come to pass. And as I watch you cling to this tournament with every ounce of your strength, I realize that you are little more than the storyteller who has deluded himself into believing his own narrative.
There's a touch of...sympathy, maybe, in the voice of the fal'Cie. It's a note that he hasn't hit since dealing with Leyenda de Ocho all the way back in round two, and here, it's indicative of something similar to what it was there - he'd been down the path he was accusing Strife of before.
He'd believed his own hype. His own greatness. His own righteousness. And all it had gotten him in the end was a stay in the hospital and an exiling from the company he'd never wanted to leave.
ORPHAN: Week by week you have gained momentum in this tournament, disposing of foes in simplistic fashion, while I have scratched and clawed my way through this tournament every round after I punted Space God into orbit. Even you, Castor, would have to admit that you have faced precisely one opponent of worth -- a man I know well, Khristain Keller.
Saying the name doesn't hurt as much as it used to. With Khristain gone from the ULTRATITLE and in jOlt, the thought that Keller might finally, finally be done enters Orphan's mind.
He frowns at that particular thought, and shakes his head.
ORPHAN: It's sad, really, because Khristain Keller, the man I knew, wouldn't lose to you. I was hoping to be facing him in this round, not you, because I could destroy him every day for a year and still not be content that I'd paid him back for the two plus years that he took from my career. I suppose one could even call him my spiritual father, in a sense. He's the man who Orphaned me in each and every sense of the term. Regardless, as I watched you two verbally joust, you said something that I've remembered very well. You claimed that you could dominate any wrestling company you set foot in. I heard that, Castor, and I laughed.
Just as he does now at the memory of it. It's not mirthful, amused laughter, though. The sound is harsh, bitter, and ever so slightly judging -- mocking Strife for a statement that, in Orphan's eyes, couldn't have been more ludicrous if Castor had tried.
ORPHAN: The truth is that you would not last three weeks in All-Star Championship Wrestling, Castor. That is not me putting down or doubting your talents. It is simple fact. The crucible in which Orphan was born is the harshest environment this sport has seen short of the Asylum. Hell, my partner carries one of that black hovel's titles with him as an albatross every day of his life. This silver title that I carry isn't quite a death brand, but it does make me the embodiment of a company in which death is omnipresent, no depth is too low to stoop, and lawlessness reigns at every turn. It means that I carry the sins of this company with me until the day that I can purge them and ACW from existence. And it means that I am forged in a fire hotter than any you could possibly imagine, Castor V. Strife.
Sweaty and hurt from the best Pete Whealdon could bring to bear against him, Orphan looks like a man who's been through the wringer. And yet, tonight, just like so many other nights in his illustrious career, he came out on top when the chips were down and many others had him counted out.
ORPHAN: ACW has broken far better men than you. You are, to be frank, an emotional wreck of a human being, clinging to the thoughts of glory as motivation. In ACW, such individuals are consumed, chewed up, and spat out with regularity. ACW annihilated the man I once was and forced me to become this that you see before you to survive. I took that lesson that I had force-fed to me by Khristain Keller, and now I do the force-feeding. Now, I dictate terms, until the glorious day comes when I do what no man could ever do: bring a permanent, eternal end to the horrors of All-Star Championship Wrestling. I am the man who made Khristain Keller the damaged goods you defeated in round three. I am the man who is currently running his former best friend through the meat grinder to prove to the world that he's as much of a hypocrite as I could ever hope to be. I was wounded by a monster, Castor, but I came back and became a bigger monster. A badder monster. I became the sort of man that you dread seeing your name across from on the marquee. And you, my former pornographic virtuoso?
He sneers, a demon's gleam in his eye at the thought of Castor trying to live up to his boast, and failing. Not just failing, but failing spectacularly.
ORPHAN: You could barely even handle one Eric Dane in the New Frontier. Sure, you beat him, but at what price? See, the wrestling world we live in is about so much more than Ws and Ls; men are defeated every day before they even step into the squared circle. Dane could not take your title, but he crushed your spirit. He took everything else from you, and now you are a man who has little to cling to but trophies and dreams of glory past, present, and future. I am a dose of reality, Strife. I will succeed where Eric Dane failed, because, quite frankly? He gift-wrapped you for me, just as I gift-wrapped Keller for you by pushing him off a stage and out of ACW.
Malevolence aside, at the end of the day, Orphan is a wrestler, a man who plans for his opposition meticulously. Known once upon a time as the greatest tournament competitor in Primetime Central history, he earned that moniker through careful preparation for opponents and overlooking no one.
Victory, as he used to say, is in the tapes, as much as it is in the gym.
ORPHAN: I watched The Only Star rip your arm from its socket in Jacksonville, Castor. As it so happens, I have a weapon in my arsenal called Distinction that plays quite nicely with injured, weakened arms, and I have the determination and will to slap it on a sad, pitiful former pornographer until he taps out like one of his actresses who'd taken it up the arse one too many times in filming. Just give it up, Castor. Go home to the New Frontier. Up next for you there is Phil Atken, coming for that piece of gold that you love so very much. Deal with him, an opponent you can defeat, rather than one who will put you out of action by tearing every tendon in your shoulder and upper arm if need be to beat you.
While he'd favored the head punt throughout the tournament, the Spirit of ACW was no one trick pony. Distinction was but another tool in the arsenal of a man who had been developing and honing his craft for ten years for moments just like this one.
ORPHAN: What happens when I slap Distinction on you in the middle of that ring and you SCREAM in agony one more time, Castor? You gutted it out against Dane, yes...but that was for your precious NFW World Championship. What do you do in the quarterfinals when I'm trying to take your arm home with me? Do you gut it out and virtually hand over the one thing you care about most on this planet to Phil Atken? Or do you smack the mat three times and live to fight another day? See, I don't have that worry with my title, because I compete under my own rules. I can't be disqualified, which gives me the freedom to go all out in this tournament, because in my homeland right now I am untouchable!
Commentators bleat about the unfairness of Orphan's Rules, while Orphan himself simply claims that the goal of his one sided no-DQ stipulation was to make others feel the pain that he had felt being a hero fighting lawless thugs.
Whatever side you opt for, one thing is clear: it makes him fresher than an injured, mentally wounded World Champion.
ORPHAN: While you've been running yourself ragged I have sat back, competed on my terms, and been able to focus utterly on the ULTRATITLE. You are going to have to make a choice in that ring in Greensboro, Mr. Strife. You can either give it 110%, lose to me, and guarantee that your precious NFW World Championship is lost...or you can come down to the ring and go through the motions for a paycheck, just like most of your opponents have...and in doing so, preserve the only worthwhile possession you have left. It's not a choice I would like to have to make, myself. I pity you, a bit. Only a bit, though, because like the other four men in my wake, you stand between me and changing this business to something better than it is. To achieve that, Castor, I would cripple my grandfather, Yevon rest his soul.
The words sound foreign, even to someone as admittedly hateful as Orphan has become. But he means them, in that moment.
All he has to do is think of all of those who have suffered -- more than him, the same, less, it doesn't matter. The sport he loves has become something twisted. His dream job has become a nightmare.
And so, with no other option, he fights within the system to change it.
ORPHAN: I'm not coming to half-ass this, Castor. I, unlike many of your other opponents, am not in awe of the career of Castor V. Strife and his many championships. I am as decorated, if not moreso, than you are. I am coming to Greensboro, North Carolina to do that which I set out to do when this tournament started, and that is thoroughly and soundly defeat whoever has the poor fortune to be placed in my path. You may be the NFW World Championship and one Hell of a wrestler, but when the curtain falls on our contest, you will be known simply as the latest victim of Orphan in this tournament.
The words are harsh -- and matter of fact as ever. Castor V. Strife might well be a great of the industry, but for all intents and purposes, now, he's just another body.
Another man in the way of something that Orphan wants more than even bringing ACW to its knees: the ULTRATITLE, and the power in the wrestling industry that it would give him.
ORPHAN: I'll say it one last time: focus on NFW, Castor. It'll be much healthier and less heartbreaking for you that way.
It is, all told, the sort of advice he'd wishes he'd taken himself before he'd been Orphaned.
(FADEIN: The square sandpit below the newly reclaimed Castor Strife Productions house atop Hollywood Hills. CASTOR V. STRIFE sits along the stone rim of the pit, shirtless, white tights, wearing his signature black gas mask with the yellow eyelets. He watches as two pairs of athletes, students of the Guild, engage in Pankration-style sparring and grappling. One such student is a young man who looks vaguely familiar to Ultratitle viewers, perhaps someone who was eliminated in an earlier round.
Another student is a female, who stands out both for her hair which is dyed blonde on one side, black on the other, and for her incredible speed. She wears spandex leggings with green and black stripes, and a black and silver rashguard – like Underarmour for those who are unfamiliar. She appears to be overwhelming her partner, a male of moderate size, and at one point hooks his leg for a Fisherman suplex, quickly turning it into a snap-swinging neckbreaker with a bridge pin. At the other end, the two larger athletes are locked in a standstill. Suddenly Castor claps his hands and hops off the stone rim into the pit. His students immediately stop and watch him as he beckons for the camera to come closer. With all eyes on him Castor pauses for a moment before speaking through his mask)
CASTOR: “First, I let him take my home. Then I watched…while he spent my money. I traveled highways in rentals, main streets in buses, and while I did so this man erected a statue of himself in my courtyard, then went for a joyride in my favorite car. (Palms up) He even took my two best students.”
(Deep inhale, big exhale)
“Then he chose the stipulation. From the comfort of my throne. All he needed was the crown, and that’s what we fought for. Him and I, with all my belongings and my prized possession on the line.”
“He had strength in numbers. He had the advantage of time and rest, after I was taken to the limit twice by a man double his size and stature (FLASHCUT: Dan Ryan), then tested again (FLASHCUT: Khristain Keller), and again (FLASHCUT: Anarky)…and again. (FLASHCUT: Magnus and Alex Austin double-teaming Castor with a baseball bat)”
“It’s true… (shakes head) Eric Dane had me beat, and that was before he separated my shoulder. Dane – intelligent, cunning man that he is – rigged the game so that I had to play by his rules.”
“In fact, he had me beat worse than Dan Ryan did, when Dan nearly broke my back and earned a rematch where we played by his rules. Great timing, no doubt, because I was fresh off a title bout with Impulse, who also dictated the stipulations.”
“But you’re a student of history, Orphan – you know the past, and you know how it all unfolded. It’s your prediction of future events that has me puzzled.”
(Takes off the mask, holds it out until one of his students grabs it. He shakes his blonde hair of sweat, then takes a breath)
CASTOR: “Because for a person who read my baseball card line by line, you should know better than anyone that a man who sits atop an empty balcony, overseeing an empty stage of unoccupied chairs and blank sheets of notations not written, can envision all the players with instruments in their hands, and enjoy the clockwork of his imaginary orchestra. But that does not make a symphony. Only a true Maestro gets to hear the music.”
“I am a true Maestro, friend. I am a true Master. And all these imposters to the great sound thought they could run me out by changing the rules, winning the clock, stacking the deck…”
“But you’re different, Orphan. You can hear my back breaking. You possess the final straw. You’re a man who sets the rules, and you’re a man who has me beat.”
CASTOR: “If that’s what you choose to believe, I won’t talk you down. In fact I’ll strengthen it. I’ll give you the stipulation. You want no disqualifications? Done. I’ll make the call. Would you like it in a cage? From a ladder? Through a table? How would you have your eggs, Sam? Green as the Christmas tree they gift-wrapped me under. Oh, but I’m not the toy you want beneath your tree. I’ll grow eyes, start to walk – burn your [BLEEP]king house down.”
(Walks over to his left, puts his hand on the female’s shoulder in a show of camaraderie)
“There’s more to me than what you see on television. You really have to experience it firsthand, the way I make a man quit at his own game. It’s no mind game or mystery. I don’t need to play with the codes on. I’ll walk into his town, beat him and all his friends on their birthday.”
“Lucky? No. When you aim at a target, look into it’s eyes, fire, and hit the bull’s eye, that is no luck.”
“And because I have a proven knack for hitting the target every time, the burden of proof is on you to show the world how beatable I am. After all, I’m the one who’s consistently true to his word while my competitors wait with baited breath for the other shoe to drop. Tell me some more about my own downfall, Orphan.”
“Or better yet, make it about All-Star Championship Wrestling. Leverage their credibility on the chance that you beat me. Brilliant move, by the way.”
(Kneels down, picks up a handful of sand and lets it drop between his hands. He wipes his clean and stands up again)
“To be honest, it’s not my job to measure NFW’s dick and share comparison notes with ACW, though you seem as fond of the idea as Khristain Keller was. I don’t fight for NFW, I fight for Castor Strife. Want to hear about him? Great, I’ll tell you about the time ACW practically kicked his door down and begged him to sign a main event contract.”
CASTOR: “Truthfully, I have nothing but respect for ACW, and thought long about signing that deal. There were some obvious reservations – how could I defecate into the mouth of another company, snatching it’s World Title with ease in my first match while hardworking fellows like yourself spent half a decade chasing the SPIRIT OF THE SCORPIONS Television Title for little to no pay? I already did that once over at your beloved Primetime Central, and it pains me to this day that I could achieve another man’s lifelong goal in a measly three months – or as my friends jokingly reference it, ‘Summer Camp at PRIME’.”
“But at the end of the day, all those things aside, I couldn’t in good conscience dominate ACW like that knowing Craig Miles already made the place his personal cum rag a few years back. Never use another man’s towel, ever. Craig’s children are still stuck to the cotton fibers of that place, and no matter how many times they promised to wash it for me, it would just never feel the same.”
(Smiles, shakes head in disappointment)
“That’s alright. I wish you and Keller the best of luck there, and hope whatever amount I was going to write on the blank check was evenly disbursed among you and your friends. Gods know you’ve earned it after eight years of grinding, and didn’t deserve to be laid off with the rest of the mid-card so ACW could avoid paying luxury tax after acquiring me.”
“I don’t need to sell you on my fame though. I’m not Troy Windham. This isn’t about accomplishments, or who can sell out the Rogers Centre, or even who the best in the world is – and for your sake, that’s a good thing. ULTRATITLE is something else entirely.”
“It’s about survival, this format. It separates the men who simply strive to be great from the ones who will go to the brink of madness and beyond, because greatness is more obsession than desire for them.”
CASTOR: “A victory likes this is a beast of a different nature. Are you the kind of man who was made for it? (shrugs) I don’t know you well enough to answer, and won’t try. I have every reason to underestimate you, but I’ll resist as I did with Keller, Sammy Brown, and Jaguar, because pegging you won’t do me any good, just like ACW won’t do you any.”
“This goes beyond the arbitrary letters of some organization. I promise you that NFW gives less than two sh*ts about ULTRATITLE, but it isn’t about NFW, or ACW, CSWA or EPW.”
“It’s about ME!I’m the New Face, the Abbott and Czar, the Champion Swordsman, the Eclectic Peacemaker. These are things I know to be true – not through blind faith or wistful hope, but demonstrable evidence. The kind you acquire while audaciously treading the outlands of possibility, and stepping over to the other side.”
“So open your eyes, Seymour Almassy, Orphan, whatever you call yourself. I wouldn’t ask you to believe in anything you couldn’t see.”
(Holds out arms, looks left to right, smiling)
“The hype is real – the stories are all true. Can’t be delusions when they happen outside the imagination. I’m every bit the threat that you fear I am – and I know you fear me.”
“They all do. Because I deal in a currency called inevitability, and it’s a gamble you’re guaranteed to lose.”
(The female student smiles and widens eyes for a split-second. One of the male students hands Castor his mask, as he turns from the camera and puts it over his face again)
From Castor's magnificent studio, we go to a far more simplistic setting.
Judging by the screen in which the Spirit of ACW is standing, he is already in Greensboro, several days in advance of his clash.
Here, at the ESEN Studios, he's come to give his words to his opposition with no frills or fripperies.
Straight from the heart, if one can truly say that the bitter Orphan still has his.
ORPHAN: I hate to burst your bubble, Castor...but I'm not really all that afraid of you at all, actually.
The statement is made casually but firmly. There's no trace of insult in it, either.
ORPHAN: Don't misunderstand. That isn't to say that I don't think you can beat me. Anyone who's made it this far in this tournament is certainly capable. But for all of your bluster and accomplishments in this sport, I look at you and...well, what's there to be afraid of? Your knack for being in the right place at the right time, perhaps? Certainly useful, but not all that terrifying. There has to be something, though. After all, you're the great CASTOR V. STRIFE, right? Clearly, there's something about you I should fear, if I had sense, right?
NOW there's a trace of insult in his words, and a small smile that forms across the fal'Cie's lips.
ORPHAN: Should I be afraid, for example, of your prodigious mental powers? You tell me the parable of Eric Dane, and yet, you take away the wrong moral of that story. You see your triumph over The Only Star as proof of your potency, of your abilities in this sport. You envision yourself as a chess grandmaster, as the Ludwig von Beethoven of professional wrestling. And yet, have you ever considered the simple fact that Eric Dane...choked?
ORPHAN: Because that's what I saw when I watched Reloaded: Jacksonville. I saw a man with every single advantage, just as you said. That much you and I agree on. But when it comes right down to it, the story of Eric Dane isn't about your grand success and redemption; it is about the Only Star gagging on a colossal, cosmic scale. Sure, you might have pushed him off the bridge, but he's the idiot who jumped up on the side of it to begin with.
Shaking his head, it's almost as if he's chiding the former ULTRATITLE competitor for not getting the job done.
ORPHAN: Unfortunately for you, I will not make the same mistakes Dane made. He got overconfident. He took everything from you and expected you to come to the ring angry. To fight angry. To make mistakes. To your credit, Castor, you didn't. You are, for what it is worth, smarter than the average man of our profession. You came up with a game plan and executed it well. Bravo. But the fact is he should have won, and he did not. That is the narrative of Eric Dane's attempt to become NFW World Champion.
He knows, of course, that not everyone wins when they should. Tournaments themselves are quite the indication of that. Sean Stevens was supposed to be in the spot that Orphan himself now occupied.
"Supposed to" and "should have" aren't worth a whole Hell of a lot anymore.
ORPHAN: I will not be overconfident when we meet in the ring. I am a man who is your intellectual equal, one who will bring a game plan to the ring designed to do but one thing: win. Not humiliate you, as Dane tried to do. The name of the game we are playing is indeed survive and advance. For a decade, Castor, I've been playing that game in tournaments around the world. I am the most tournament tested competitor remaining in this battle for the ULTRATITLE. I've been winning these things since 2003.
More than championship gold, he prides himself on tournament success. He would trade his world championships for more tournament titles in a heartbeat.
Survive and advance was Seymour Almasy's tournament mantra.
It is Orphan's life mantra.
ORPHAN: And, you see, this is where it all starts to fall apart for you. You've beaten very good wrestlers in this tournament. My personal feelings about Khristain Keller aside, I know how difficult he is to best in this ring. But you have been fighting men who, intellectually, have been playing checkers while you have played chess. No more. Now, we're playing on a three-dimensional chess board, where one wrong move spells disaster. No doubt you can play that sort of mind game out of the ring, Strife. But can you play it inside of it? Khristain Keller and Anarky are straight ahead professional wrestlers. Lunchpail sort of men. I am anything but.
He could fly if needed. Strike if needed. Wrestle if needed.
Cheat like his life depended on it, if needed.
ORPHAN: At all times inside the squared circle I have but one thought on my mind: victory, and how to achieve it at any cost. If I have to lure you into getting counted out? Fine with me. If I have to bait you into getting yourself disqualified? Ditto. You are always a split-second away from being punted in the head, and as I have already told you, I can tear your separated shoulder in ways that not even the stars of your more violent films would want to imagine. I can beat you in any way a wrestling match allows, Castor. That is a reality that you will have to contend with. I do not beat myself; it is YOU who will have to do what precious few can claim and beat me.
Orphan smiles. He knows his own record; not spotless, but since putting on red face paint, he's become even more of a handful than he had been, even when racking up one of the best records in ACW history en route to his first ACW World Championship.
Winning begets confidence. Orphan is many things, and though he may come off as arrogant at times, deep down, the thought of losing regulates his brain, keeps him from believing too much of his own hype.
ORPHAN: Or perhaps, I should be afraid of your ability to virtually sneeze and win top prizes in promotions around the world. I mean, you talk about walking into PRIME and winning its Universal Championship in three months; admittedly, I'm impressed. But all achievements need context, dear friend, and you walked into a company that was on the verge of closure and walked through a litany of people just happy to be getting their opportunity there and wrestling for a national promotion.
His face goes serious; PRIME and he have had a complicated relationship over the years, with Orphan the biggest star in Primetime Central to not walk through the doors -- until 2011, that is. Even now, with the company on the verge of closing, he is the PRIME Intense Champion.
As such, he knows a little something about what he's about to say.
ORPHAN: Backstage over there, Castor? They don't think of you as an all-conquering God. They think of you as a stain on a championship that they worked very hard to establish over the years. That's not your fault, really; its theirs for putting themselves in such a situation to begin with. It's an achievement that sounds impressive, but when you subject it to scrutiny, well, it just doesn't quite hold the same luster you'd like to believe it does.
Primetime Central is his dominion. Of all that Castor said, this is perhaps the only thing that truly annoyed him -- Strife's incessant bragging about his achievements, there and elsewhere.
To the fal'Cie, Strife wouldn't make it five minutes in a revitalized PRIME, to say nothing of All-Star Championship Wrestling.
ORPHAN: I guess that means that there is one thing I AM afraid of, related to you, and it is your ignorance of history. I've covered PRIME already, and as for your boss in the New Frontier? Yevon's honest truth is that Craig Miles has never won a single match in an ACW ring. He walked into the company alongside Rana Venenosa and got promptly smacked right back out. His fourth place finish in End Game 2005 is his ACW career highlight. Just because you can play fast and loose with facts in your movies does not mean that I will allow you to do so here. Facts are important things, Castor.
There's a hint of the wolfish fal'Cie grin back on his face.
ORPHAN: It's a fact, for example, that your arm's not 100%, isn't it? You can try to convince me -- or, more likely, convince yourself -- that you have me right where you want me, that you're setting me up for a grand fall in front of the entire world. But I know that you have a separated shoulder, and I am not Eric Dane. I don't want to embarrass you. I don't want to humiliate you. I want to defeat you. That's it, that's all. The end.
Four opponents beaten. Three more left.
It is simple numbers at this point, and the same thought likely flows through the minds of all left.
Three more wins, and it's all mine.
ORPHAN: At the end of the day, though, you're right about one thing. This isn't about much other than you and I competing for the right to win our bracket and move on to the tournament finals. Really, I find myself having difficulty summoning up my usual bile for our confrontation. Could it be that you're giving me that thing I asked Pete Whealdon for: an honest professional wrestling match, a battle between two proud men seeking little more than to prove their superiority? I hope so, Castor. I hope that you truly intend to give me that battle, because if you do? It will be the last mistake you make in this tournament. I promise you that.
He believes it, too. It's the Seymour Almasy left inside of him that lets a man who has survived as Spirit of ACW since Groundhog Day with cheap win after cheap win believe he can defeat one of the best wrestlers in the world without the benefit of his rules.
The scariest part is that he might damn well be right.
ORPHAN: So, I guess this all comes back to being puzzled by your closing statement to me. What is there in you that I should be afraid of? Your gas mask? The quality of women you hire for your feature presentations? The fact that you seem to play fast and loose with history you know nothing about? You're talented, sure, but if I was afraid of every World Champion I'd ever faced, I wouldn't be long for this business. No, Castor, I'm not afraid of you. In the slightest. We human beings fear that which we don't understand, and you, Castor, are a man that I understand completely, for all of your merits and flaws. You are a man who would be a God, a mere mortal who strives to climb the Tower of Babel and ascend to something beyond your station.
It is, perhaps, the most human of ambitions, to be all that you can be -- and sometimes, that ambition becomes hubris.
To Orphan, the greatest irony is that in believing that he is setting the fal'Cie up for a fall, all Castor is doing is ensuring his own plummet from grace.
ORPHAN: The Tower of Babel came crumbling down when the Gods realized mankind's folly. I am no God, but the mission of the divine in this case falls on my shoulders. I will do what no one in NFW or this tournament has been able to do. In just a few short days, Castor, I will crush your origin story. The Castor V. Strife mythos will die in North Carolina in the Bracket Two final. But hey, you're a creative guy. I'm sure you can come up with another story for the future, right?
With a chuckle and a wave of his hand, the fal'Cie is done.
ORPHAN: Just make it more believable than the one you're trying to sell me.
There’s only one person in the gym of the Holiday Inn Greensboro. That might be because it’s 3:25 in the morning right now, an hour in which no sane human being is awake.
That, then, explains why the former Seymour Almasy is there. Standing on a mat, dressed in a circle-slashed ACW t-shirt and a pair of black gym shorts, the fal’Cie is engaging in a classic workout from the days before Nautilus machines and personal trainers and nutrition plans: jumping rope.
ORPHAN: You feeling it, Castor?
The Spirit of ACW continues to look straight ahead as he skips rope, arms and legs moving in harmony with each leap in a practiced motion that he’s done since a child.
ORPHAN: Are you feeling the pressure? The weight of the world on your shoulders? Because I’ll tell you truthfully, I definitely am. There’s a lot on the line here. More than our respective championships. More than our respective promotions. The winner of this contest becomes one of four men with the ability to change this business as we know it.
The sound becomes a staccato beat on the floor of the gym, plink after plink barely audible. The fal’Cie isn’t breathing hard yet, though beads of sweat have started to form on his forehead as he continues with his workout.
ORPHAN: The ULTRATITLE is no mere trinket, Castor. I came to New Frontier Wrestling in Season 2 to try and claim it. I made the playoffs – but no more. I failed in my first attempt to wrap the title around my waist. More to the point, though, NFW Season II is where I first realized how screwed up this business is.
Even as he speaks and thinks, the rope maintains its cadence. How many times has he done this? Thousands? Tens of thousands?
Even Orphan himself doesn’t know. But when he wants to think while getting in his workout, he doesn’t run. He doesn’t get on a rowing machine.
He goes back to elementary school and jumps rope.
ORPHAN: NFW Season II is where Lindsay Troy cut my flesh with Chinese throwing stars. It’s where I got fire thrown in my face by your bat**** insane boss, Craig Miles. And yet, at the same time, I got to wrestle men like Vic Creed. The greats of the industry. And as I sat licking my wounds after my elimination, I realized that wrestling had become too much about the former, and not about the latter.
If one looks closely, a vertical scar on the right side of Orphan’s forehead, just below the hairline, is clearly visible.
It’s one of dozens of scars on the fal’Cie’s body, most faded, but he knows the location and responsible party for each, and that particular scar was courtesy of the Queen of the Ring’s patented weapon.
ORPHAN: I realized that the point of wrestling had ceased to be out-grappling or out-flying your opponent. It had become instead about out-brutalizing your opponent in the ring, or psyching them out before even stepping into the squared circle. The sport of kings had become a blood sport, attracting all manner of psychopaths, sycophants, and criminals to its ranks. That is the world we live in today, Castor.
He shakes his head as he continues to jump, short jumps, just enough to clear the rope. It’s clear that he’s been doing it a while in this session; his lower legs are covered in a thin sheen of sweat, and his breathing is only now starting to become a little more labored than it had been at the start.
ORPHAN: The ULTRATITLE has been awarded precious few times in history. Its holders read like a who’s who of this industry. The man who wraps that prize around his waist is the most important man in the sport; I have no qualms about admitting that fact. Much as I love holding the Spirit of ACW, I would trade it for the ULTRATITLE in a heartbeat. Because to be the ULTRATITLE Champion when this tournament is all said and done means that I have triumphed over athletes from over a dozen promotions. I will have stood tall over 127 of my fellow athletes as the master of all of them. It means that I will be not only the greatest, but the most influential wrestler walking Yevon’s green Earth.
The thought makes him smile and increase the pace, just a little. Though he has more accolades than most wrestlers could dream of, the next is always that which drives the fal’Cie onwards.
And given his failing to grasp the ULTRATITLE in NFW Season II, he’s just a little bit more desperate and eager to claim it for his own in his second chance.
ORPHAN: With that influence, Castor, I can make the world I envision. I can use my stroke to help turn the sport we both compete in back to what it once was. Back to the glory of competition between individuals, struggling to be the very best we can be. That’s the spirit I can watch right now when I turn on the TV and watch London 2012; it is the spirit that our sport has had sucked dry from it by those who believe professional wrestling to be a lawless battle won by any means necessary.
Watching London 2012 had narrowed his focus, a bit. Seeing the opening ceremony and thousands of athletes proudly representing their countries, most of whom wouldn’t even sniff a medal…it helped put his drive and determination in perspective.
In wrestling, though, there weren’t many moral victories, and the gold medal was the only one anyone cared about.
ORPHAN: You of all people, Castor, should understand. In my perfect world, Eric Dane would never have taken your precious estate. He would have had to face you one on one in the ring, and he would likely have lost. My world is one in which skill, strength, and smarts triumph over guile, trickery, and weaponry. It is a world in which any who wish to try and knock me off of my perch may come and do so freely; for I will defend my vision against anyone and anything.
With one final jump, he stops, neatly folding up the rope and placing it on the ground alongside him. Droplets of sweat trickle down his forehead now, and he reaches up to wipe his sweaty brow, a grin on his face.
ORPHAN: And that’s why I’m here, Castor V. Strife. That’s why I’m in the gym of my hotel at 3:25 in the morning jumping rope for forty-five minutes, because just thinking about our battle in this city in a few short days makes me want to push myself that much more. Behind the gas mask and the pornographic films, I know the kind of athlete you are. Craig Miles would not have given you an opportunity at his richest prize if you weren’t. You are smart, cunning, and capable in the ring. You have a list of championships as long as any man in this tournament can boast. I’ve got only one true advantage over you, but it’s a big one.
The Spirit of ACW’s eyes look into the living rooms of ESEN’s worldwide audience. They blaze with Orphan’s conviction, and just a tiny, tiny hint of madness.
ORPHAN: I’m more motivated than you. I spent two years out of this business thanks to Khristain Keller looking at what the sport I loved had become. I dropped out of college two years from my degree to chase this damned crazy pipe dream. And I never once regretted that decision until 2009, when I looked around at the state of professional wrestling and fell to my knees in despair. I loved this business with every fiber of my being. I sacrificed everything that I ever loved to become one of the best wrestlers in the world. All I want is to feel that passion again. To rekindle my love affair with the sport of kings.
Laura Winters was dead. His attempts at love with his Party had always met with jealousy and awkwardness. Even his current physical lover, Elixr, in ACW, was pretty clearly just a ****buddy.
The only thing that he loved anymore was wrestling, and it no longer loved him back.
ORPHAN: I’m not an innocent man, Castor, I know that. To further my ambitions, I have engaged in the same sort of mind****ery and sneak attacks that I have decried. I am a hypocrite, and I accept any who would call me such; but to them I say simply that my end justifies my means. My goal is not simply personal glory. My goal is to purify this sport, and when one must lay down with monsters, one must become as monstrous as they are to triumph. I will owe many apologies when my journey is over, and I will give them freely when the time comes.
Is it a flash of sorrow in Orphan’s eyes? Perhaps, but he’d never admit it. Not now, anyway.
Not when he’s so close to never having to do this again. Three matches away. Three victories away.
ORPHAN: But to get there, Strife, I have to go through you in front of the world. I can’t sniff the ULTRATITLE until I defeat you by whatever means I can. I have fought for world championships in front of 60,000 people, and yet, this is the biggest match of my career. If you send me home, you smash my dream in front of millions around the world. You deal me a blow that I may never fully recover from.
The pained expression on Orphan’s face makes it clear that he’s not joking or exaggerating. In that moment, the world sees him, sees his worries, his doubts, his concerns and fears.
Just as quickly, though, his face hardens. That one moment, though, is all the motivation he truly needs.
ORPHAN: That’s why I won’t lose. It’s why I will never give up, never let you pin my shoulders to the mat for a full three seconds. It’s why I’m going to be in this gym pushing myself to the breaking point in anticipation of taking you on. I can look you dead in the eyes and tell you that I will give every last bit of my soul to defeat you, Castor. If that means I must lose the Spirit of ACW Championship; so be it. If it means that the ULTRATITLE Tournament is my last professional endeavor, so long as I lift that title high overhead at the end it will have been well worth it.
He’s not getting any younger. Thirty-one years old, with a decade as a high-flyer under his belt, Orphan may not have many – if any – more chances at something as monumental as the ULTRATITLE.
He has the money to retire whenever he wants. He’s not here for money. He’s not here for fame.
He’s here to do that which so few people ever truly do: stamp his name on the history of his profession.
ORPHAN: I’ll do anything, Castor. Anything at all.
Quietly, the Spirit of ACW stoops, picking up his jump rope once more. A quick glance at the clock confirms that it’s only 3:32. Plenty more time to keep going. The anger that so characterizes Orphan isn't there. As the contest gets closer and closer, it seems, his focus is on the purity of his purpose.
On doing what he must.
ORPHAN: Will you?
Soon, the room falls quiet, except for the plink-plink-plink of the Orphan’s rope.
(FADEIN: The balcony of an old Hollywood mansion, where CASTOR STRIFE sits in a lawn chair beneath the perishable glow of an afternoon California sun. “It’s good to be home”, he says, methodically twisting off the cap of a brown flask filled with sweet red wine. His sip is deliberate, indulgent, and he bellows a pleasure sigh before replacing the cap. He leans forward into his fingers that wipe the dark circled eyes behind black sunglasses – weary, but working up the urge to speak. A lizard quickly climbs over the white brick structure, and runs across the camera’s view. Castor runs his hands one time through shoulder-length blonde hair, and speaks)
CASTOR: “You let a man speak for long enough, and he’ll reveal himself eventually.”
(Cracks neck left to right, leans forward with one hand in the other)
“Listening to you, Orphan…it was well worth the wait. You enlightened and informed me, and even said a few things that I wouldn’t have dared bring up for fear of embarrassing you on national television. But since you brought it up…”
(Exhales disappointingly; takes off sunglasses)
“Craig Miles did light you on fire. He also shot you with a 16-gauge hunting rifle, brained Keith Scott Zimmerman, did the same to Alias, and then you all ran back to that dumpster dive of an organization where you spent the next three years jerking yourselves off over who could glean the most pops off his finisher. Given that was the method by which you became the ACW Scorpions F*cking In The Wild World Champion, I guess that makes you the winner.”
“It also makes the ACW Hall of Fame the unofficial Battered Women’s Shelter for Victims of Craig Miles. It’s sad when a man can so thoroughly dominate an organization from remote locations. Now let that be the last time we speak his name, before he appears in your mirror with a Zippo.”
(Castor silently mouths the word K-I-L-L-J-O-Y)
CASTOR: “Never mind. (shakes head) It’s not worth me devaluing your beloved promotion – especially since you beat me to it by putting ULTRATITLE on a pedestal above your own championship. I thought it would be sporting fun to diminish you all, but not like this. I won’t kick an injured dog.”
“I was, however, looking forward to pointing out your disastrous stint in NFW, where you languished as run of the mill canon fodder before being put down for good by a teenage Impulse, whereupon you sought and found a place that matched your modest skill level. But again, you beat me to it and I’m glad, because a few well-meaning fans might have believe that whole “we’ve broken far better men than you” bit. I understood the sarcasm right away, but not everyone picks up on that stuff.”
“I’ll tell you what the people do believe, though…” (holds out one finger)
“It’s a very basic truth that even my most ardent detractors understand, and that is: I don’t break my promises.”
(Twists off flask cap, but continues speaking)
CASTOR: “The bar is set impossibly high, and it is Castor Strife, not anybody else and especially not you who goes about making the impossible possible. They saw it in A1E, they saw it in PRIME, they’ve seen it in NFW for the last three years, and ESEN viewers the world over are the most recent lucky witnesses.”
(Takes a swig from the flask, uses forearm to wipe his mouth as the wine audibly spills back into its container)
“So when you bring up my past in order to denigrate it, as just about every one of my ULTRATITLE opponents thus far have attempted, all you’ve done is reminded the viewers – and yourself – that I am capable of backing up every word I speak. And you can back up nothing.”
“It took the Christian God more time to create the universe than it took me to become the top ranked Primetime Central athlete with PRIME’s belt around my waist. And it’s supposed to be breaking news that they consider me a stain on their history? Why wouldn’t they? My statue is a harrowing reminder of the abuse suffered at the hands of a man playing with boys, and they brought it down faster than JoePa.”
(Flicks hand dismissively)
CASTOR: “Predictably, though, you’ve tried to downplay that too with a meaningless hypothetical about how I would perform in (finger quotes) THE REAL PRIME. That’s a fake standard based on a subjective quality of something that can be defined a thousand different ways by a hundred different people.”
“I could say that you were run ragged in what is universally recognized as the weakest iteration of NFW. I could also say that you advanced from perhaps the most shallow pool of sixteen competitors in the history of Ultratitle.”
“But that would be wrong on both counts, because it’s an idiotic hypothetical based on an impossible level of knowledge, designed to excuse mediocre talents from their failures in the here and now. It’s an attempt to compare tangible success to one man’s arbitrary idea of a high watermark. It is a single degree of stupidity removed from the people who spend hours arguing over all the different possible integers as to how Batman can defeat Spiderman.”
“The reality is that most of the same people who supposedly made that place great were around when I got there, and the owner paid me handsomely to make coitus with Lindsay Troy and Tyler Rayne’s skulls, thus exposing them for the second rate operation they always were. And what no one will tell you, Seymour, is that I did them a favor. I signed and brought my star friends with me – World Champions from other reputable organizations. They had every opportunity to cash in and make a success of it, but they failed and are even asking me back for a REUNION. I, the man who reduced them in stature to a tribe of pygmy natives am in possession of an ENGRAVED INVITATION to send the place off in another month.”
“And guess what? I’m showing up, dick in hand, and I am going to piss all over the ashes because PRIME is SH*T, just like YOU are sh*t.”
(Upturns the flask, finishes the last drops and places the empty container at his feet. Castor rubs his hands together before cracking his knuckles)
CASTOR: “So you ask me, BOY to MAN, if I’m feeling any pressure?”
“I’ll give you the same answer I gave to Anarky and Keller, when they asked me the identical question: NO. There is not a single ounce of weight on my shoulders.”
“Why would there be? I’m not the one who diminished my own championship by elevating this one. I’m not the one who made ULTRATITLE the barometer of all-time greatness that you have, anointing it the paradigm shift, the GAME-CHANGER of the sport itself.”
(Folds arms, looks quizzically at the camera)
“And I as sit here, listening to you unravel beneath peeled layers of false bravado, watching you shrink into my admitted inferior despite everything you had been saying – I contemplate a challenger plagued by uncertainties about himself, his accomplishments, and even his very name, that he embarks down a path of fear because it gives him purpose and promises meaning on the other end.”
“Not unlike you, I came back to the ring after a long hiatus, determined to bring this industry to its knees. I learned that you don’t dance with fear unless you’re sure-footed. You face your enemy, tell him exactly how he’s going to die, and then execute. And if you can’t do that without contradicting and second-guessing yourself, then uncertainty will deliver you into the hands of Castor V. Strife.”
(Castor wipes the sweat off his brow and runs a hand through his hair – the humid temperature is pulling the excretion from his pores like water from fertile ground)
CASTOR: “You’re not a liar for admitting my many advantages, though you’d be lying to yourself for believing that sheer motivation will outrun the pressure and fear clouding over your head.”
“Motivation will put the gun in your hands, convince you to load the chamber, and fire in my direction.”
“Pressure will have you rush.”
“Uncertainty will make you miss. And my Gods will you miss. You’ll empty the entire round without wounding me fatally. Then it’s my turn.”
“Click click click click click goes the trigger of the empty pistol. Heavy breathing, panic…as you watch me take aim. One second, two seconds…”
(Points finger like a gun at the camera, closes one eye)
“Director’s Cut. Pain so quick, it’s in through the front door before you even heard a knock. Another challenger who had me beat before he didn’t.”
(His mouth twists into a smile born of sadism and messianic joy; a starborn shepherd leading stray flock to a river of dysentery from which they beg to drink)
CASTOR: “That’s when the real hurt begins. When you realize that the others didn’t choke, and begin to find out what makes me so untouchable.”
“People who choke don’t fire at all. They don’t get off a shot. They don’t break my shoulder, or hit me with their entire arsenal over a sixty minute match.”
“Eric Dane, Impulse, Dan Ryan, Dorchester Stratton, Lindsay Troy, Anarky – the cream of the crop as you might know them…”
“They hit me with their best, executed their gameplans with perfection…and still came up empty handed. So instead of asking me if I’m prepared to win at all costs, to do anything and everything, perhaps you should ask yourself: what happens when you throw all your sh*t against my wall, and none of it sticks?”
“Would you like to know why I’m here?”
“It’s not because I’m after the most prestigious championship in the world. I already own that. It’s not to prove that I’m the best – I am. It’s one part glory, one part competitive spirit, but I’ll tell you what really drives me…”
(Leans forward, squints eyes, and holds up his fingers tres)
“The fact that I’m three wins away from making the sh*t-eating executives at ESEN and CS Enterprises cut me a check for the biggest single payout in wrestling history. That’s when I look them in the eyes, all of them, and say, ‘I ran the table at your Holy Grail tournament, and it was only a part-time summer job.’ Last summer it was PRIME, this summer it’s ULTRATITLE.”
It is mere minutes to bell time, and in front of an ULTRATITLE banner backstage stands the fal’Cie, Orphan. Over the past two rounds, though, the hateful, bitter Orphan has begun to give way to the man who once inhabited the same body, the more virtuous Final Fantasy, Seymour Almasy.
But whether it was Orphan, Almasy, or some hybrid of the two, the goal is the same: the ULTRATITLE.
To get there, though, he has to take care of business three more times.
One of those times? Oh, just against the NFW World Champion.
ORPHAN: We’re almost there, thank Yevon. Just a few more minutes now. Just a few more minutes until I book my place in history.
There’s confidence in Orphan’s eyes. It’s not the boastful sort that Strife or so many others flash around like a greeting card, though. Orphan’s quietly confident. He knows.
ORPHAN: There’s a saying that when the only tool one has is a hammer, every problem one encounters starts to look like a nail. That, to me, epitomizes the man whom I am set to do battle with in under twenty-four hours. In both the New Frontier and the ULTRATITLE tournament, Castor V. Strife has stepped onto the battlefield time after time with a hammer, and time after time, it has been successful.
Irritation creeps into his voice. Though he’s only seen Castor focused on him twice…he’s heard Strife speak more than enough. To Keller. To Anarky.
And, quite frankly, Orphan’s sick and tired of it.
ORPHAN: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I get that, Castor, I really do…but as I sit here, having watched your latest missive to the world…I’m left with one thought.
He looks out into TV land and crosses his arms over his chest, shaking his head back and forth.
ORPHAN: That’s it, Castor? That’s all you can offer me? That’s all you have? Glorification of New Frontier Wrestling and yourself and a demeaning of everything I’ve accomplished. Really? As if the entire world hasn’t been doing the same thing for years and years? For someone who claims to be avant-garde and creative, you are…boring. Trite. Unimaginative. I’m almost disappointed, considering the reputation that you come to the dance with.
Not that Orphan really wanted to see creative bondage films produced by Castor, but it would have been, to his mind, at least more…interesting.
ORPHAN: It’s the same thing, over and over again – but if you truly believe your NFW World Championship to be the most prestigious in the world – I am sorry, Castor, but you are delusional. The Holy Grail of Craig Miles’ play land cannot compare to an honor earned by defeating 127 other men. That’s a fact. Undeniable. That doesn’t mean your title is a hunk of tin; nor does it mean my Spirit of ACW is any lesser for that fact. But the ULTRATITLE is the Grail of Grails, and if you approach me like a drunken camp counselor approaches the final few weeks of his duties, you will lose.
It’s perhaps the epitome of how they’re different: Castor clutches to his current honor as the end-all, be-all, while the fal’Cie yearns for the (in his mind) greater prize on the horizon.
To Orphan, it’s that simple – good though Castor is, he’s equally complacent.
ORPHAN: I am done with the mind games. I am done with insults. I am done with our petty back and forth game of one-upmanship, because it all goes away in just a few short hours. Days from now, no one will remember your pithy sayings, nor my well-reasoned responses. The only thing that will matter one jot is which of us gets our hand raised at the end of the evening. That’s it. That’s all. The end. I am done defending myself to you. I am done defending ACW – how ironic, this match has made me defend the place I wish to destroy. And yet, ACW was once paradise for me, the place where I blossomed from a rising star to a World Champion. I hate what it has become, Castor. And I hate all those – yourself, Eric Dane, and Craig Miles inclusive – who have contributed to our sport’s downfall into what it is today.
More than just the glory of the ULTRATITLE itself, it’s what the title would do for him that inspires the Orphan. If he can inspire a generation to shake off the shackles of what his art is, the future may be saved.
At the very least, fewer Orphans would exist. Much as he hates a great many people these days, even the fal’Cie wouldn’t wish the fate that he suffered on his greatest enemy.
ORPHAN: That’s why you can’t beat me, Castor. Not on this night. Not with everything at stake. You could bring everything in your arsenal, Strife, and it would not be enough. You are beyond confident, ego inflated by your own success. You can mention your victories against the upper echelon as much as you want, but the answer to your question that you posed to me is very, VERY simple. What happens when my “sh*t doesn’t stick,” as you so eloquently put it? I dig down deep and try something else until I find something that does work. That’s what this sport is all about. You have the Director’s Cut. I can beat a man in more ways than even your best actress ever figured out.
He nods firmly, continuing along as the momentum takes him.
ORPHAN: You have a hammer. So do I, Castor. But I also have a saw, a screwdriver, sandpaper, and a whole Hell of a lot more. We’ve come to Greensboro to see which of us is the better craftsman, the better artist. That man moves onward to the Final Four. If you lose, Castor, you’ll show up on NFW television not giving two ****s, because that’s who you are. Everything rolls off of you. Me? If I show up at Courage 181 not in this tournament anymore, you’ll see it in my eyes. In my voice. In the way I walk.
Disaster always looms in his mind’s eye, just below the surface. Unlike some elite athletes who claw their way to the top by never imagining failure, Orphan is the rare athlete who uses the fear of failure to motivate him and drive himself onward ever higher.
ORPHAN: And that’s why I’m not going to lose to you, Castor. That’s why I’m punching my ticket as Bracket Two Champion. Because while you convince yourself that carrying the NFW World Championship makes you the best wrestler on Earth, I’m putting in the time to ensure that I earn that moniker. While you run your mouth with the same old, same old, I’ve been preparing ways to counter your Director’s Cut. While you denigrate me, I’ve been getting ready to take on the man that you say you are.
He takes in a deep breath, and holds it for several seconds, before blowing it out. He’s as ready as he’ll ever be.
ORPHAN: This entire tournament comes down to making a wrestling world that I don’t have to be embarrassed or ashamed to compete in. A world where I’d be willing to let the son I hope to have one day follow in my footsteps. Castor, quite frankly, ESEN is hoping and praying you put me down and gets to write you that huge check, because you’re marketable. You shoot your mouth off at a moment’s notice. You do, admittedly, have talent in the ring to back it up. You’re the face of NFW. Me?
After a career of being the favorite, the expected victor in most of his matches, it is perhaps ironic that the fal’Cie has found entirely new life embracing the role of underdog. Whether it was bestowed upon him by others, or a mantle taken on by his own wishes, it had certainly done the trick so far.
ORPHAN: I’m the face of the darker side of what we do. A red-face painted specter that refused to go gently into that good night. You’ve beaten some of the best this sport has to offer, Castor, I’d never deny that. But in the bracket two finals, you go face to face with a man who will give it his all, who will fight for the world he believes in with every fiber of his being.
It’s almost time now. There’s not much more that anyone can say before two men walk to the ring and give of their souls for the thousands in attendance.
ORPHAN: You fight a man who can’t afford to lose. A man with his back against the wall.
He’s halfway off-screen before he turns around to get in the parting shot.
ORPHAN: But most importantly, you fight the man who’s going through you to the Final Four.
(FADEIN: The living room of what appears to be a suburban home setting. A lane-shaped staircase lets out to an area rug over wood floor, where matching pink sofas face one another parallel between a larger two-person couch. There sits CASTOR STRIFE with his legs up on a coffee table – stacks of Good Housekeeping next to the tapping toe of brown Bostonians – dressed conservatively in white khakis, and a blue button-down underneath an argyle sweater-vest. His attention is paid to the Macbook Pro on his lap, though how he can see the screen beneath the yellow eyelets of his black gas mask is anyone’s guess. “Maetl” by Autechre plays at moderate volume over the laptop’s speakers)
CASTOR: (heavy breathing) “Summer time, and the living is easy…”
(Casually unmasks, brushes back wild blonde hair)
CASTOR: “Here I am, Orphan. No frills, no flair…just a man in his living room, paying his bills before he sets out for bed. And with just enough time to make you into the fool you are – so pull up a seat and listen close…”
(Closes laptop and sets it aside. He uncrosses his feet and sits upright)
“That’s it? That’s it. Castor Strife to-go: curbside pickup from a paired down menu of verbal chess, served well after midnight for those who crave more, well after I’ve trapped their King.”
“You’ve made what moves you could, but now I’ll let it sink in that defeat is inescapable as I claim mate in three…”
“And I’ll do it without the theatrics, the supreme meaning or the message that worldwide audiences have come to love and to loathe me for, because, well…frankly, you don’t deserve them.”
“When this tournament was in it’s infancy, CS Enterprises and ESEN came to me with a lucrative contract filled with performance bonuses, profit-sharing percentages, and the promise of world-class competition for the glory of a renowned championship.”
“Instead, what I got was you. And not just you, but one-hundred and fifteen of you who’ve made this glorified mud relay about as enjoyable as a vaginal pear for the baker’s dozen who actually deserve to be here.”
“What did you expect? I was going to be happy about throwing away my off-days to compete in what has essentially been a kickstarter fund for the Colonel Sanders Wrestling Association out there in Sisterfuck, North Carolina? “
(Shakes head, smirks)
CASTOR: “It doesn’t get any more ‘Hollywood’ than resorting to “It wasn’t in my contract”, but I’ll tell you what, Orphan – if avant garde and indie bondage is what you seek, you’re welcome to order from my website. Or you can use the vacation I’m about to send you on to look at some of my work over the years. For instance, the scissoring nuns I filmed during NFW Season 1, the Shane Southern sex tape, the countless shows I produced for the Disney Channel when they named me Programming Director during my A1E stint, or the Broadway production of Lindsay Troy’s pubic crab whom I had sing and quote J.P. Sartre to a live audience as my Farewell video segment to PRIME.”
“I’ve Killed Bill in drag then hung him from a closet, shown Impulse his life, built up an Alyas named Brock just to tear him down, and even filmed myself traveling cross-country homeless. IMDB would suspend me for fist-fucking it if I posted my full resume, and you can enjoy all that and more from the comfort of the tropical depression I’m sending you to…”
“…but not here. Not now. Not on this network, for this company, for this tournament…”
“Not while my opponents bombard me with training clips and cheap re-enactments of Ali-Cosell. The fact is, if I’m going to fulfill the terms of my corporate prostitution pact, I’ll do it with teeth and an ice-pick.”
(Leans forward, squinting eyes)
CASTOR: “And if that doesn’t impress you, if that bores you or drives you to question my ability in the ring, then this entire industry is nothing but a sham, because I’m the paragon standing at the top of the mountain.”
“My purpose isn’t to come out here and wave the NFW flag, or run down anybody who didn’t have it coming, but please don’t open a Pandora’s Box of stupidity and whine about the consequences. I could have gone another lifetime without ever mentioning ACW or your forgettable career, but that’s the gate you came running out of. If talking shop with me about in-ring achievements has proven to be a difficult lap, perhaps you should try a different race next time.”
(LANA DREMIRE enters through the kitchen door wearing hip-huggers, a sweater, and carrying a pitcher of iced tea. Her home-making attire is in contrast with the face of a washed out former adult star, whose lip scars are the sadist’s cosmetic when a life lived inside a pill prison has afforded you thin razors and enablers. She sets the pitcher down next to Castor, who pours it into his coffee cup and takes a sip)
CASTOR: “Mmm. This is good, thank you Lana.”
LANA: “Can I get you anything else? Or is…(smiles, pouts) that all?”
CASTOR: “Now that you mention it, I’d like Steve to position the camera so that the audience can see we’re on set.”
LANA: “I believe you just did…”
(Castor smiles, twirls his finger to signify a rotation of the camera, and now it moves to show that the living room is merely a set within Castor V. Strife Productions. Castor gets up and begins walking off set as he talks. He takes off his sweater-vest, unbuttons his shirt down twice)
CASTOR: “See that, Orphan? A studio set designed specifically for your non-entertainment. Even when we’re not impressing you, we’re still impressing ourselves. After all these years, I’m a man who loves the show, however hell bent I am on ruining somebody else’s.”
“It’s not that I don’t admire your zeal for conquering ULTRATITLE, a feat that would earn you a spot in the pantheon next to legends and household names like MICKEY BENEDICT and PAUL PIERCE. It’s just, I realized two rounds ago that I could get better television time – not to mention a better workout – from jerking off Bob Ryder than I could by punching a golden ticket to Uncle Chad’s Funhouse.”
“And if it’s any consolation, the ULTRATITLE is about as timely and relevant as the obscure references I’m making. Shouldn’t be that way, I know, but that’s the added benefit of having me stay in this tournament instead of no-showing and cashing the check anyway. When I win – when I win you lowbrow cosplay idiot – this age-old championship will have new life breathed into it. And perhaps the next time it’s resurrected, Uncle Chad will afford it more dignity than a mere appetizer to the CS Enterprises main course.”
(Leans against a beam behind the set)
CASTOR: “This is my gift to the Ultratitle. This is my reason for staying, or a close, close second to the embarrassment I cause CS CORPORATE for setting the truth free as a sparrow on national television week to week and STILL winning their precious f*cking trophy.”
“But rather than waste my time telling you why you’re hammer analogy sucks, or how ridiculous a notion it is that the self-proclaimed “dark side” of wrestling is a five-foot-seven androgynous Final Fantasy cosplayer, I would rather turn the other cheek, revert to my ability to spread wonder and joy through the creative process, or as my friends in Scientology call it, The Seventh Dynamic…”
“…and present you, Orphan, with a little gift we made in your honor here at Castor Strife Productions. I hope it goes a long way to entertaining you and only you, before we meet and I break your neck.”
“So when you’re ready, please hit EJECT and turn me over to SIDE 2.”
(FADEIN: A blue START screen with a white hand for a selector. The title reads “FINAL FANTASY: THE CASTOR CHRONICLES”. The hand hits Start, and begins to flash after a sword-clash sound effect)
(CUT-SCENE: Camera moves ground up from the dusty brown boots, black leather pants, and badass Tokyo-chic jean-jacket of a computer-animated CASTOR STRIFE! He’s standing atop a mountain, overlooking a village in front of sunset)
CASTOR: “My name is Castor Strife, and I am the last hope of the Free Wrestling Continent against the evils of man. Will you join me, Orphan, as I battle to win our freedom?”
CASTOR: “Thank you. My production company has gone into the red $50k to produce this demo game, and I hope you like it. Right now, I am standing at the mountain top of YEVON, the creator of the universe. No man before me has climbed to this peak, and it is with Yevon’s knowledge and blessing that I will go forth to the village beyond Sector 7 and destroy the oppressive CS SHINRA CORPORATION.”
(Castor turns, walks off camera – scene fades)
(CUTTO: With the cut-scene ended, a 3D Castor is standing on a mountain top. He draws a giant sword)
CASTOR: “Before we continue, I will introduce you to the player who is controlling the demo.”
(CUTTO: Real-life – PETER WINDHAM is sitting on a bean bag in front of a Playstation 3 console, holding a controller. He waves to the camera)
PW: “What’s up clowns!”
(CUTTO: 3D CASTOR)
CASTOR: “This is Peter Windham, adopted brother of Troy, and a former associate of mine. You might know also know him as PROBLEM CHILD.”
(CUTTO: “What’s Your Name?” screen. Castor’s avatar is next to a spelling of his name, and beneath is the alphabet and some numbers)
CASTOR: “Alright Peter, just hit start, my name is already spelled out.”
PW: “What do I hit, B or something?”
CASTOR: “No! Hit Sta- PETER!”
What’s Your Name?
PW: “Oh sh*t! How do I erase it?”
CASTOR: “Move the cursor to erase and just spell out the last two letters of my – NO, YOU JUST HIT START!”
PW: “Damn. Sorry dude.”
CASTOR: (sighs) “I really, really shouldn’t have gotten you involved with this. Let’s move on. Bring me to Yevon’s cave.”
(3D Castor climbs down the mountain, to the next screen, and jumps onto a ledge leading to a cave. He enters to a room lit by fire, and encounters a buff old man sitting on a stone throne holding a scepter)
OLD MAN: “WHO DARES TO ENTER THE CAVE OF YEVON?! PUNY MORTALS, I SHOULD STRIKE YOU WITH THE BLUE LIGHTNING OF A THOUSAND ISLANDS!”
PW: “The salad dressing?”
YEVON: “NO, NOT THE SALAD DRESSING! BUT I WILL STRIKE YOU WITH THE BLUE LIGHTNING OF A THOUSAND STORMS IF YOU CORRECT ME AGAIN! I AM YEVON!”
CASTOR: “My apologies for Peter’s indiscretion, oh great Yevon.”
YEVON: “AND WHAT IS YOUR NAME, MORTAL? WAIT, DON’T TELL ME, I SHALL READ YOUR HARD DRIVE DEVICE…”
CASTOR: “That’s not really necessary-“
YEVON: “CASTPOR! STEP FORWARD AND TELL ME WHY YOU ARE HERE!”
CASTOR: “I seek to liberate the Free Wrestling Continent from the evil CS Shinra Corporation. Please Yevon, tell me how I can do this.”
YEVON: “AHHH, SO YOU SEEK THE ULTRATITLE! FOR THAT IS THE TROPHY WHICH, IN THE RIGHT HANDS, WILL CAUSE THE DETONATION AND DESTRUCTION OF CS SHINRA!”
CASTOR: “Yes, Yevon, that is what I seek.”
YEVON: “IT WILL BE A LONG, ARDUOUS JOURNEY. YOU MUST DO BATTLE WITH 127 GUARDIANS!”
PW: “Dude, you know how many hours I’d have to play to level up for that?! Can’t we just Game Shark this sh*t?”
YEVON: “THERE IS NO GAME SHARK! THIS IS FINAL FANTASY!”
CASTOR: “Do I have to defeat all 127 Guardians, Yevon?”
YEVON: “NO, NOT REALLY. YOU WILL BE SEPARATED INTO FOUR BRACKETS AND 64 BATTLES! EACH BATTLE WILL BE WATCHED BY THE SPIRITS OF JUSTICE, TO ENSURE FAIRNESS!”
CASTOR: “And who are these Spirits of Justice, Yevon?”
YEVON: “THE SPIRITS INCLUDE ODIN, RAIDEN, SHIVA, IFRIT, SIREN, MY CAVE NEIGHBOR FRANK, AND THREE HOMELESS PEOPLE FROM THE VILLAGE.”
CASTOR: “Homeless people?”
YEVON: “YESSS! DO YOU TAKE ISSUE WITH MY SPIRITS OF JUSTICE, PUNY INSECT?!” (charges blue lightning)
CASTOR: “No, that seems totally fair.”
YEVON: “GOOD! THE SPIRITS AND I HAVE DECIDED ON THE ELEMENT TABLE THAT WILL DICTATE THE TERMS OF YOUR BATTLES! FIRE DESTROYS ICE! WIND DESTROYS WATER! ULTIMA DESTROYS ALL!”
CASTOR: “Great, I have a lot of Ultima.”
YEVON: “THAT IS NOT TO SAY ULTIMA CANNOT BE DESTROYED BY FIRE! BUT I WOULD THINK ULTIMA WILL GUIDE YOU FAIR!”
CASTOR: “But you just said Ultima destroys all…”
YEVON: “I DID NOT SAY THAT!!!! THE SPIRITS OF JUSTICE DID! BUT NOT ALL SPIRITS THINK THE SAME!!!”
CASTOR: “Then what the F*CK is the point of an elements table?”
(Yevon charges blue lightning!)
PW: “Whatever dude, let’s just use the sword.”
YEVON: “A WISE DECISION. NOW BEFORE YOU SET OUT FOR SECTOR 7, YOU WILL NEED SOME INFORMATION ON YOUR OPPONENTS! THEY ARE THE GREATEST COLLECTION OF- (Next screen)
PW: “F*ck this sh*t, I wanna play!”
CASTOR: “You can’t just skip a screen when you feel like it! We needed that information, Peter.”
PW: “What kind of crap game is this? It’s like 90% movie, 10% game.”
CASTOR: “Run up to Yevon, see if he’ll talk again.”
(Peter has 3D Castor approach Yevon, and presses B)
YEVON: “GO FORTH CASTPOR, YOUR DESTINY AWAITS!”
CASTOR: “Sh*t. Do it again, see if he says something else.”
YEVON: “GO FORTH CASTPOR, YOUR DESTINY AWAITS!”
PW: “Eat my dick, Yevon!”
(3D Castor pulls out his sword and slashes at Yevon)
CASTOR: “WHAT THE F*CK ARE YOU DOING, PETER?!”
PW: “Oh sh*t! He’s throwing the lightning! He’s throwing the lightning!”
CASTOR: “Get me the hell out of here!”
(3D Castor leaves the cave, and a fast-forward sequence begins, highlighting his treck from the cave, to Sector 7, all the way to the CS Shinra building. He sneaks through the lobby, and takes an elevator to the top floor, whereupon he enters into a dojo)
PW: “This game is TOO LONG. Next time we take a Gold Chocobo.”
CASTOR: “Shh. Do you hear that?”
(Silent footsteps – all of a sudden, CHAD SHINRA appears out of thin-air!)
CS: “I didn’t think you’d show up, Castpor. What does it say about a man that he should arrive at his own funeral on time? GWAHAHA!”
CASTOR: “I’m here to put you out of business for good, Chad Shinra!”
CS: “We’ll see about that. GWAHAHA! Can you survive your first match?”
(A new player appears. Above his head is PSN Gamertag “BLaZeRXX103”)
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