We are in an underground vault, deep below the earth's surface. The room is spacious, gently lit, the walls covered in portraits and whiteboards littered with indecipherable scrawl.
A series of bookcases houses a collection of books on economics and esoterica, Marxism and artificial intelligence, biblical apocrypha and nuclear physics. Photos are affixed to the sides of the bookcases, showing scenes from the life of Elijah and Omega. In one, the two stand in a CWF ring circa 2009 alongside Amber “Angel” Ryan and Alex Cain, the night the Insurgency was founded, the four filled with energy and pride.
Doors lead off in different directions, one labelled MEMORIES, one KITCHEN, one TRAINING, one REST. In the corner of the room is a round, transparent cylinder housing a lift, connecting the vault to the surface. Softly, quietly, we hear Omega's voice from an adjacent room.
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are grey
You'll never know, dear, how much I love you
Please don't take my sunshine away”
On the wall is a large screen, split in two, one half showing news, the other depicting the outside world as seen through the drones that hover high above this underground chamber.
Facing the screen is a sofa and a pair of chairs. A small table is set between them, home to a bottle of red wine and three glasses. Next to the bottle and glasses is a book - Lost Riding by H. S. T. Acerglyn.
On the sofa sits Elijah, cane resting by his leg.
His eyes are fixed on the screen. One half shows news. A ticker across the bottom of the screen reads, “COUP IN MAKHNOVIA?”, while video footage shows statues being detonated in the City of Dis. Crowds swarm in the city's central square, chanting, defiant, the atom-in-ouroboros symbol hung on banners, painted on buildings.
As we watch, footage of the city is replaced with the President of Makhnovia sitting in front of the nation's flag, the atom-in-ouroboros now embedded in its centre. He is speaking about “constitutional adjustments” and “historic debts”, eyes flickering off camera from time to time.
The other side is footage from the surface, taken from one of the drones. As we watch, the drone flies ever higher, moving in circles over the ruins of what was once the Academy, revealing the full extent of the devastation.
Even now, months after the fateful battle that devastated the lives of so many, the site is a mess. Eris’ drones work their way through the wreckage, clearing out damaged areas, taking what can be salvaged and storing it for later use. The ground is scorched and blackened, shards of broken glass littering the area.
A solitary figure stands in the centre, the drone drawing slowly closer as it flies in ever smaller circles. The figure stares at the devastation around them, motionless, taking in the wreckage of a once great site.
“Elijah! Omega! I know you're here, you can either let me in or I'll make a door of my own.”
The drone comes to a rest at head height, a few feet away, filling the screen with a familiar face.
The face of Amber Jaye Ryan.
Elijah takes a remote control, pushes a button. The lift rises up the cylinder. On-screen, Amber jumps as the ground opens up beside her, the glass cylinder popping up to the surface. The door opens. She steps in and the door closes behind her, sinking back beneath the surface.
There is a few moments pause, then the lift reappears. The door opens up and Amber steps through.
She wears heavy boots and jeans, a t-shirt, arms cut by thorns from her journey through the forest to the Academy. She pauses a moment, taking in the vault, before crossing to the chairs and Elijah.
Amber: Elijah. Where's -
There is a clatter of clumsy footsteps and the door marked REST opens. Omega steps through, bouncing from one foot to the other, skips over to Amber and gives her a hug.
Omega: Howdy doodly doo, Angelcakes!
Amber: I've not gone by that name in years now. It's just Amber.
Omega: Coolio, Miss Amberosia!
Omega: Amber-Cadabra, the most magicful -
Omega: Show me the way to Amberillo -
Amber: Amb...you know what, forget it. Anyway. How are you?
Omega: Fabulous as ever! And your own sweet self?
Amber: Fuck knows where she got to. But this self met up with Caledonia a few nights ago.
There is a moment's silence. Omega flips onto the sofa, landing next to Elijah, resting her head on his chest. Elijah leans forward, pouring three glasses of wine. He takes one, stares into it a moment, taking in his reflection.
Elijah: How is she?
Amber: Good and bad. Good - she won the world title. Beat MJF. Good on her - she deserves it.
Elijah: And the bad?
Amber: Let's just say you're about as popular as Harold Shipman at a Help the Aged fundraiser right about now.
Elijah: And yet the three of you are to team together this coming week.
Amber: Yup. Against Freddie, Jones and Dorian.
Omega: Quite the match.
Amber: Gotta be honest, it's a little out of left field seeing you back in the ring again. It's been how long?
Omega: Eight years since I set foot in a CWF ring as a competitor. When the company returned I was signed under a multi-purpose contract - manager, trainer, competitor, mailman, chef, go-go dancer, magician -
Amber: So why are they bringing you back to the ring now?
Omega: As the nasal fetishist said to the prostitute: fucknose. But given current affairs between myself and little miss Cal-Cal, I'm guessing whoever put this team together wasn't exactly out to do us a favour.
Amber: Fair point.
Omega: Styles and Jones are two of a kind, full of frustrated ambition, goals forever just out of reach. Styles once laboured under Ryan in the Eternals, Jones was world champion, both promised a hint of glory that would never come. Now together they seem set to do achieve more than either one could alone.
And Dorian, the addict, now aligned with the Forsaken. Tortured and desperate for some kind of solace.
They have the energy of youth and opportunity. We have knowledge and experience.
Amber: All of this doesn't mean shit if we can't work together. And we can't work together if we don't deal with this shit between you two and Cali. I want truth. Start at the beginning.
Omega: Right. 13.8 billion years ago, the universe came into being in an event known as the big bang. According to most scientific models, this -
Amber: Any chance you could find a slightly more recent starting point?
Omega: Fair enough. About half an hour ago -
Amber: Omega. Please begin at a point more recent than the fucking big bang, yet not quite so recent as half a fucking hour ago. Sometime this century would be fantastic.
Omega: Your wish is my command, mon ami!
As you know, my lover and I were raised in the Spirit Science Research Institute. Completely separate, each with our own appointed role in the Institute's grand plan. He was to be the Prodigy and the Teacher, the Founder's favourite pupil and the one who would prepare the Moonchild for his historic mission. I was to be the Princess, one day to be Queen.
In the early 2000s, my lover and I each left the Institute, leaving a trail of wreckage in our wake. We met on the streets of York, discovered our shared connection and experience. And have been together ever since.
She slips her hand into Elijah's, squeezes it gently.
Omega: At first, we occupied a disused warehouse on the outskirts of the city, laying low and simply trying to survive. Over time, we became convinced we needed to come here.
Amber: This place used to be an Institute site, right?
Elijah: Correct - one we had each visited while young. For a time it served as their base of operations in the North of England. In the 1990s the building burned down and the Institute pulled out of the area. Then we returned and turned it into the place you knew. This vault was developed by the Institute, based on structures that go back centuries if not more.
We stayed here, lived here, made it our home. Even when we toured the world, shedding blood on every continent, it was to here that we would return. Forever in conflict with the Institute, forever facing challenges real and imagined.
Amber: I don't understand. If they knew where you were why didn't they just take you out then and there?
Omega: Why does a cat toy with a mouse? The tease before the kill. Forever outrunning their agents, forever shielding our loved ones from the predations of OSA et al. Until in 2010 -
Amber: I remember 2010. It all got a bit stabby as I recall.
You had every opportunity to say something. This was a war and you allowed everyone to walk in blindfolded like it was a surprise party. When Elisha showed up initially, we all stood for you... I put my life on the line.
Does that mean nothing to you when it comes to honesty? Or were you manipulating us all even then?
Elijah: The return of the Moonch...of Elisha was a shock to us as much as anyone. The Institute had prepared me to be his Teacher, to in turn prepare him for his anointed mission. I learned the truth of that mission, of what the Institute has planned, and in 2001 refused to be party to their horrific schemes. Soon after, though we were not yet united or even aware of one another's existence, my beloved did the same.
As youths Elisha and I met only once. I had expected we would never meet again. When in 2010 it became clear that my beloved and I were being followed, we had hoped against hope it was someone else, anyone else.
Amber: So you thought it was him - knew who he was, knew what the Institute had made him - stalking you, still felt the need to keep it your little secret?
Elijah: Secrets are powerful. Secrets keep us safe.
Amber: You got stabbed!
Elijah: Indeed. Yet given the circumstances, one could say I was fortunate.
Amber: You think?
Elijah: Dolores - the one you know as Cassandra - defected from the Institute and entered the public eye at the beginning of that year. It was this, and the weakness of the Institute in responding, that prompted Elisha to do likewise. And as soon as freed from the Institute's grasp, he sought us out. Given the circumstances, yes - I was fortunate.
Amber: And even then you still couldn't bring yourselves to let the rest of us in on what was really going on?
Elijah: Therein lay the dilemma. We could not take on the Institute alone. Yet the size of the problem, the sheer scale of terror the Institute can inflict, is designed to provoke one of two responses: fight or flight. Either to charge forth all guns blazing and go down in a haze of futility, or to hide for the rest of one's days, fearful and paranoid. The third response - wait, plan, prepare - is the hardest of all.
Omega: So we set out to form an army. Opened up our home. Drew the best here, those with the skills we needed and the strength to follow through. Trained them and had them train us in the arts needed to take on the Institute. And slowly exposed them to the truth so that when the time came they would be ready to do what needed to be done.
Amber: And you didn't think the rest of them - of us - might like to be let in on your plan?
Elijah: We could not take that risk. That those we cared about flee in terror - or, worse, would rush in unprepared and get -
Amber: James died. Dan is missing.
Omega: In any war there are casualties.
Amber: We're not your fucking toy soldiers, Omega.
Omega: And this was not our first battle, Amber. Nor you and the others our first army. Believe me, things could have been far, far worse.
A moment's silence. Amber glances at the wall, noticing for the first time the series of photos placed high on the wall, just below the ceiling. Some have red spots beneath them, others yellow, others black.
Towards the end of the row of photos we see the former residents of the Academy over the years. James Skelton appears, his photograph stained with tears, a black spot beneath.
Yusuf, Eris, Caledonia and Amber are given pride of place, marked in green. And after them...
Amber: Not your first. And not your last. How is Impakt, by the way?
Omega: Getting better. Currently in a hospital in Philadelphia, recuperating. He'll be back to fight another day, whether he wants to or not. He can't help himself.
Amber: Just another little trooper, then? Another unwitting soldier fighting a war they barely understand?
Elijah: Your point is made, your outrage is clear. You share Caledonia's perspective in this.
Amber: I didn't say that. I'm not willing to get caught in the middle of you and Cali.
Elijah: That decision may not be yours to take.
Amber: It's always mine to take. I refuse to be dictated to by other people's fucking drama.
Omega: After everything you've seen, everything you know. You think being neutral is even an option? To just go your own way, fuck everyone, I'm not getting stuck in the middle?
Omega: Then WHAT IS THE FUCKING POINT OF YOU?
Elijah: My love -
Omega: NO! I have fucking had it with people thinking they can pass judgement on us and the way we do things. You think you suffered during your little holiday in LA, locked up like a trapped rat under the House of the fucking Will?
You're a fucking tourist Amber, waltzing into a situation you don't understand a fucking thing about then condemning the two of us. What you don't understand - what you've NEVER understood - is that for us there is no outside.
There is no real life to get back to. There is no normality to regain. There is no choice of whether or not to pursue this struggle. The struggle pursues us, wherever we might hide.
This is our lives, Amber, all we are and all we have ever known. You've said you want to be part of this battle. But with this - the tiny little issue of how we wage that battle - now you don't want to take a side?
You have NO FUCKING IDEA what the Institute is capable of and you have NO FUCKING IDEA why we do the things that we do.
Now get the FUCK out of our house.
The room is silent. Omega's eyes are wide, filled with fire and fury, outraged, every word spat out with venom. Amber is stunned, looking from Omega to Elijah in amazement. Slowly, she turns, goes to the lift, enters and is gone. We look to the screen. The drone watches Amber as she leaves, marching away without a second glance. As we fade to black, the last sound is Omega sobbing.
"The concession stands are now selling those cheap hotel room round soap disks that I have personally blessed for $100’s a bar….AND SINNERS….I suggest you buy one, and use it, because if you think your God wants you in his heaven smelling like a 3am New York City uber ride you got another thing coming."