I am in the living room of the vault, the underground space that now serves as home for my lover and I. High above, the drones go about their business, fixing, mending working. Here, far beneath the earth's surface, my lover and I live out a lonely existence. For now he is in the archives, the records and artefacts accumulated by the Academy, by the Institute before us and by so many more before them.
I am training. Punch bag hanging from the ceiling. I smash it, once, twice, three times, fists colliding with fabric.
Head to head with Artoria. The same old story, week after week, repeated more often than that clip of the raccoon with the candy floss. The world is unjust, filled with people who cheated their way to the top, maintain their spot through nepotism and corruption. Only Silas is pure. Only Silas can save.
In my eyes I can see him, speak to him, his face on the punching bag as it swings back and forth. That arrogant smirk, my fists connecting one after another. I shout my words, each syllable punctuated by a fist, my knuckles growing sore, skin starting to split.
Omega: Poor Silas. You have no idea. None. You're like a child playing hunter, chasing after imaginary predators in the garden. Dreaming up all manner of terrifying beasts, with you as the chief huntsman, taming nature, beating all comers into submission. And the rebel, the radical, standing up against authority and corruption.
Caledonia finds you an annoyance at most. MJF barely registers your existence. Rish ignores you, as Sunset did before him. For all your complaints, that others coast on past accomplishments and reputation. The fact is you rely on even less.
I hammer the punching bag again and again, fists, elbows. I leap into the air and spin, nail it with a single bare foot, crashing to the ground. I flip up to my feet, duck as the bag swings towards me, breathing heavily.
Omega: You....mean….nothing, Silas. You say nothing. Just noise, empty gestures growing ever more hollow. Raging against a world that doesn't even hate you, only regards you with callous indifference.
The world passes you by and you let it, watching impotent as new stars arrive, reach the top of the company, see the fortune and fame you lust for but will never taste.
Tell me, Silas, who is more pitiful - the has-been or the never-was? The one who basks in the glory of bygone days, or the one who never saw that glory, left to do little more than howl ineptly at the injustice of it all?
Impress me, Silas. For once in your life, do something. Anything. Become more than what you are. An irrelevance, a footnote in the annals of this company. A source of irrelevance and cliche.
I lean back, close my eyes, shift my weight. Send a single fist crashing forward, sense rather than see the punch bag.
My fist connects. There is an enormous crash as the punch bag splits from its hinges, tumbling to the floor. I watch it fall.
Omega: You bore me.
I drop onto the sofa, grab a bottle of water, down half of it in one gulp. Pick up my notebook, start where I left off.
A letter to an old friend.
As I write this, I sit in the vault, deep beneath the ruins of what was once the Academy. As I write, my mind is cast back to the great warehouse on the outskirts of the City of York, where so recently we fought to the bloody end. The site - known to the world as Omega's Funhouse - remains a mess of chaos and destruction, walls and ring mat soaked in blood, shards of glass littering the floor.
My body still stings, flesh torn from a thousand tiny cuts.
Our battle is done. The future is up to us.
I understand that you are angry with my lover and I. For drawing you and others into our world,for manipulating you into fighting against the Institute. And now, the knowledge that we have colluded with the Order of the Oncoming Storm in their own attempts to oppose the Institute, and to mould Dan Highlander into a weapon with which to strike down Elisha, Ouroboros and the SSRI itself.
You feel angry, betrayed and confused. And you are right.
We feel justified in doing what needs to be done. And we are right.
I write this not to apologise, only to explain the how and why and when of our arrangement with the Order. Your own relationship with that organisation is now known to the world. Do not flee from it. Embrace it.
All around us, the place we call home is falling apart. The place we opened to a select few as a school. Every One a Teacher, Every One a Student - the motto that brought us together. Here.
The Institute's helicopters, some aligned with Ryan, some with the Moonchild, fly high above the building. Rocks, Molotov cocktails, projectiles of all shapes and sizes rain down on our home. Outside, our friends and students go head to head with the Institute's finest.
My lover is outside, aiding the injured. He stumbles to the door of the Academy, wounded, breathing heavily, walking uneasily. We share a look, a nod.
The vault. Home to secrets of the Institute’s past and future, writings of the Founder kept hidden from even the most privileged members. And more besides, artefacts from centuries past, relics and folklore and curiosities left here by former residents.
And the Book.
We retreat to the vault, there to fight to the end if needed, if the Institute's forces get this far Watch on the great screen as one wing of the building after goes up in flames or is smashed into rubble.
Finally Eris goes out, the Book in hand, offers it up to the mob who tear it in two. And in a parting shot, they are taken down, sent crashing to the ground with a sickening impact.
The helicopters retreat. The wounded and traumatised stand on the surface, motionless, the full shock of what has happened not yet having sunk in.
We sit in the vault deep below, watching the screens, smoke billowing into the sky. We cry.
The Academy has fallen.
Omega: We don't get many visitors any more. Not that we got that many in the first place. This place is harder to find than a spine in the Oval Office. Surprised you managed to find it so easily.
Sophia: I know the area.
Omega: Care to elaborate?
I shrug. Since the Battle for the Academy, my lover and I have been living in the vault deep beneath its ruins. We have modified it, adapted it, set aside areas for rest and fun and study. My lover has devoted himself to the archives, studying the bizarre collection of manuscripts and mementos left by the Institute and so many residents before them.
Our students and - now former - friends have left. Some angry, feeling betrayed, manipulated. Some are traumatised. Some injured.
Since that terrible day it has been my lover and I, buried deep underground as the drones do repair work on the surface. Eris visits at times, yet their loyalty to Caledonia means those visits grow less and less frequent. We are trying to regroup, preparing for our next move. Yet the situation seems too huge to even contemplate.
And then she came. Sophia. Just came wandering through the forest, alighting on the little clearing where the Academy once stood. Called out our names, saying she wanted to talk.
And now she is here. Sitting on the sofa sipping a cup of tea. She is in her late sixties or early seventies, greying. She seems thoroughly serious, but with hints of a smile that point to some sort of private amusement.
She sits with her back perfectly straight, hands folded over her lap. There is a faint smell of sage and incense.
Elijah: At risk of seeming impolite -
Omega: Who the fuck are you and what the fuck do you want?
Sophia: Straight and to the point. I would expect nothing less….please, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Sophia. I am a member of the occult organisation known as the Order of the Lunar Eclipse.
I glance at my lover. His eyes are wide, yet he says nothing. Grabs my hand, squeezes it. I smile.
Sophia: You seem surprised.
Elijah: I was under the impression the Order had been absorbed into the Spirit Science Research Institute on its founding. That the Lunar Eclipse had been purged of dissidents, and that when the Institute was founded it simply ceased to be.
Sophia: For the most part, yes. Yet there are some who maintained the beliefs and practices of the Lunar Eclipse in secret, away from the Institute's prying eyes. My family were at the heart of the Order; for as long as I live, it does.
I rejected the Institute on its founding in 1968. I have not seen or heard from my family since. My last fifty years have been filled with constant upheaval, touched by the Institute and its deceptions. I -
Elijah: You are not the first to come to us with such a story. Nor will you be the last.
Sophia: Then I shall get to the point. You are familiar with the Order of the Oncoming Storm?
Omega: Secret network of the wealthiest and most repulsive people in the world. Sort of the Bilderberg Group with a worse PR strategy.
Sophia: Indeed. Half of the Oncoming Storm was absorbed by the Institute on its founding. The other half maintained an independent existence, a shadow of its former self to this day.
Omega: Sometimes bad things happen to bad people. Colour me unconcerned.
Sophia: For years the Order has been trying to outmanoeuvre the Institute behind the scenes, operating in all sorts of proxy wars and social conflicts. The disintegration of the USSR, wars for Makhnovia in the 80s, the conflict in Morotovia in the 90s. The global Occupy movement. And so on.
The Institute's recent moves in Makhnovia have raised alarms, and prompted the Order of the Oncoming Storm to step up its operations. Project Starchild.
Sophia: A term from the mythos of the Order of the Lunar Eclipse - the same mythos that would influence the Institute on its founding. Certain hidden texts speak of a prophecy, that the Moon and the Star would clash in the sky. Look in your archives; you know it to be true.
Omega: What do you know about our -
Sophia waves her hand, brushing away the question.
Sophia: From the prophecy came the concept of the Moonchild, conceived by magical rites and destined to rule over every spirit and power. The Lunar Eclipse's concept was later taken on by the Institute, bastardised and used as a vehicle for their plans. You have seen the result for yourselves.
The Starchild is his opposite number. The one who generates light.
The Order of the Oncoming Storm does not subscribe to the occult view of the world. They are an alliance of the wealthy, far more concerned with tradition and the material world than in anything that might like beyond it. Yet they recognise the power that beliefs hold over the faithful, over members of the Institute in particular.
So they contacted me via an old…. acquaintance, and made an offer. That I would use my occult knowledge to assist them in turning their chosen warrior into the Starchild - one who would be able to fight against the Institute without pause or regret, one who would be loyal to the Oncoming Storm and its values. That we would unite in pursuit of this common goal, however opposed we might otherwise be.
Omega: Fascinating story, I'm sure. Can't wait for the movie. In the meantime -
Sophia: The Starchild. You know him.
My lover and I glance at each other. Impossible.
Sophia: Yes. We have great plans for Daniel. He will be the hammer with which we shatter the Institute. Fitting, really.
Elijah: Your own personal Starchild.
Omega: Someone to hear your prayers, someone who cares?
Sophia: The plan advances by the day. Yet the Order of the Oncoming Storm leaves nothing to chance. They need more. They need people who have been inside the Institute, who know it at its highest levels. Who have fought against the Institute, fought against the Moonchild firsthand. They need people who know the lay of the land, the right buttons to press to sway the Institute faithful.
They need you.
Elijah: What would you have us do?
Sophia: Your allotted role. You were trained from youth to act as Teacher for the Moonchild, to turn him into everything the Institute needed him to be. Now you - both of you - can turn those same skills against the Institute, use them to forge the weapon that will be their downfall.
Omega: And empower a group of capitalist shitgibbons in the process.
Sophia: Yes. The Order of the Oncoming Storm is an alliance of the wealthy and privileged. They seek to preserve the status quo, in a more brutal, elitist, unconstrained fashion than ever before.
What the Institute has planned is much, much worse. You know this.
Elijah: May we…
Sophia: Of course. Take time to consider our offer. But with the greatest of respect. Please also remember that your current options are somewhat limited.
I will be in touch.
And with that, she rises, making her way to the lift in the corner of the room, the glass cylindrical tube leading to the surface. Before she leaves, she pauses, turns.
Sophia: Whatever you decide. It has been a pleasure meeting both of you. Genuinely.
Sophia: You have your mother's eyes, Omega.
And with that she is gone, the lift taking her back to the surface. I watch after her in shock.
The building is huge. And ugly. Ugly and huge.
Huge and ugly and huge. But mostly ugly.
A featureless black tower in a nondescript part of New York City. Could easily be yet another half empty skyscraper home to one passing business after another, infested with rats and asbestos.
A small plaque on the door reads: THE ORDER OF THE ONCOMING STORM.
My lover and I approach, knock on the door in a set sequence. It opens and we are ushered inside, the door closing softly behind.
In contrast to the decrepit exterior, the inside of the building is luxurious. Marble floors, ornate staircases in carved oak leading to the upper floors. The walls are awash with portraits of the Order's historical icons - Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, even Karl Marx.
The ceiling is home to an enormous candelabra, diamonds embedded in gold, glistening in the light. A group of attendants in identical waistcoats appear out of nowhere, take our coats, offer drinks and snacks.
We make our way through to an expansive living room. Twin sofas and a series of chairs, centuries old, stand on ageing, priceless carpets, hand-weaved with intricate designs.
I grab a glass of wine and some cheese and cracker thing, settle down on one of the sofas with a loud crunch, stick my feet up on my lover as he takes a seat next to me. We are both clad in black combat trousers and boots, him in a black top adorned with occult symbols, red omega symbol over the left of the chest, me in a SpongeRish JustinPants t-shirt I got while drunk on Etsy.
A group of ageing white men in suits enter, visibly uncomfortable as I brush cracker crumbs over the carpet. I nudge my lover and he brings the wine glass to my lips. I smile.
One of the men starts to speak. In the corner of the room I spot Sophia. She nods encouragement.
One of the men offers his hand. I recognise him. Summers. Father of Caledonia Highlander. I ignore him, take in others around the room. Lords and minor aristocrats, heads of business, banks. Half a dozen in total, united in an almost palpable sense of privilege.
One of the men leans forward to speak.
Man: Elijah. Omega. Welcome to our headquarters - one of several. My name is Charles Francis Upton. I -
Omega: We've met.
Upton glances to his companions in amused confusion.
Upton: I find that rather difficult to believe. With the greatest of respect, you and we occupy somewhat different social strata, one might say.
Elijah: Yet we have some...common interests. You are the CEO of Niñita, are you not?
Upton: I fail to see what that -
Elijah: Your company was responsible for a massacre of trade unionists in Latin America in 2006. Not the first, not the past, but this one attracted outrage.
Omega: There was a protest, at your company's annual conference. We shut it down for hours.
Omega: Like I said. We've met. Though last time you were behind the wheel of a car trying to flee the protest. “Fucking commie scum!” was how you so tactfully put it. Meanwhile dozens lay dead, thousands of miles away. Out of sight, out of mind?
Upton: That was a business affair, I assure you.
Elijah: So was the Shoah - to you.
Upton: We had nothing to do with that.
Elijah: Only because IBM beat the Order's companies to the contract.
Upton: I will pretend I didn't hear that.
Omega: Pretend all you want. Won't be so easy to pretend there isn't a noose around your -
The room falls silent. Sophia marches to the centre, glaring at us and Upton with equal venom.
Sophia: Upton, you're a heartless ghoul. Elijah, Omega - you knew what the Order was when you agreed to come here. You knew what you were getting into. Now can we please get down to business.
Upton: Project Starchild.
Omega: Where is Dan?
Upton: You will see him soon enough. He is well, healthy. Unharmed.
Elijah: We will judge that. How goes the Project? His...transformation?
Upton: It goes well. Yet it would go better with your assistance. We are familiar with your work, your life stories. Your exploits have been studied in depth when formulating our own strategies against the Institute. Often, it must be said, as lessons in what not to do.
Ignore the insult.
Omega: Say we agree to participate in this Project. What happens then?
Upton: You will be questioned, interviewed. There are certain holes in our knowledge of the Institute's history, its beliefs and practices, which you will fill. We will use this information to better understand the actions of the Institute. And through that, formulate our own plans, the uses to which the Starchild shall be put.
Omega: And Dan?
Upton: When the time is right you will meet. You will train him in mind, body and spirit, train him to be more than the equal of Elisha. To be better, stronger, faster. And like Elisha, able to act without pause, without regret or remorse. And adept in the so-called “occult” -
The distaste in his voice is obvious.
Upton: - with which to manipulate the gullible. Once the training is complete, when the moment is right. We will strike. And the Institute will be no more.
Omega: And then?
Upton: And then you can get back to locking on to my delivery trucks and shutting down my conferences, if that's what you wish.
We offer you an alliance of convenience, one of open, unapologetic pragmatism. We have a mutual enemy. Our hatred for one another can wait.
I glance at my lover. His expression is dark, his loathing for Upton clear. Yet his eyes are clear and empty of doubt. Elijah nods.
Omega: An alliance of convenience. Until the moment the work is done. Not a moment sooner, not a moment later.
I pull myself upright, raise a glass. My lover does the same. Upton, Sinclair and the Institute men follow suit.
The deal is done.
And that, for the most part, is that.
Over the past few months, my lover and I have been devoted to Project Starchild. Not out of any love for the Order and its archaic, elitist view of the world. But because, for the time being, we share a single specific goal: the collapse of the Spirit Science Research Institute.
My enemy's enemy is a problem for later. For now, we do what we must. That means the Order. It means Project Starchild.
And maybe, just maybe, it means you.
We've seen conflict. We've seen battles. We've seen wars. Perhaps what the world needs now is -
Think about it.