Present: My name is Elijah
“So. It has been a while...”
Six short words that point to so much more.
It has been a year since I stepped between the ropes of the Championship Wrestling Federation as an active competitor. Almost to the day.
Hellbound, 2017. I entered that night as world heavyweight champion, facing two worthy adversaries in Ripper and Harley Hodge. I left in an ambulance, though not by their hand. Hodge walked away with the championship, yet the worst was yet to come.
Elisha, the so-called Moonchild, returned after eight long years to finish what he started in 2010. Returned to end my career if not my life with a brutal attack that would drive me from active competition. And from there, to ally with Ryan Sunset and Chaolin Sahn in leading the Spirit Science Research Institute, the bane of my existence, the vile cult which has brought so much harm to so many. Finally, he would depose Sahn and Sunset, leaving the Moonchild to reign alone, reshaping the Institute in his own image and manipulating the CWF from behind the scenes. Preparing for greatness with ambitions far more grand than many had ever thought.
After that night at Hellbound, my lover and I committed to training a new generation to fight in the war against the Institute, building our own army as the Moonchild built his. It was a war which would play out within and without the CWF, a war which would cost us friends and loved ones, creating new enemies and uneasy alliances.
In the summer of this year, the Institute seized power in the tiny, unrecognised state of Makhnovia, renaming it as Pierreia in honour of the Institute's founder. Elisha and his disciples abandoned CWF for Pierreia in July as it fell into conflict and chaos.
My beloved and I would follow, drawn like moths to a flame, bound to pursue the war we had fought against the Institute since the day a decade and a half ago when we first escaped its clutches. We were raised in the Institute, primed for greatness, turned our backs on them - and spent the rest of our lives fighting against the organisation we once called home.
Yet the CWF was never far from our thoughts - too many memories made, too much blood shed. We are now a part of the Hall of Fame, our legacies committed to history. And the wheel turns once more.
But first, Pierreia. And how we got there.
The building is massive, imposing, its dark windows revealing nothing of what goes on within. From without, it could be anything - the headquarters of some globe-spanning corporation, a CIA black site, the offices of some mundane government bureaucracy. Only a small brass plaque above the door identifies what lies inside.
THE ORDER OF THE ONCOMING STORM
When we first came here - half a year ago, or half a lifetime - it was with an air of quiet defiance and excitement, curiosity mixed with suspicion. The Order, a secretive alliance of the most wealthy and powerful people in the world, had requested a meeting. It would later be revealed that they sought our help, wishing for us to assist them in turning our friend Dan Highlander into the Starchild - a weapon they could aim directly at the Institute.
In July, with the project concluded, we had turned our backs on the Order, relocating to Pierreia in the aftermath of the Institute's seizure of power. Every so often we would hear rumours of the Order's activities in the tiny, unrecognised, war-torn state, yet it was as ever impossible to separate fact from fiction.
We returned to the United States in September for WrestleFest, to be inducted to the Hall of Fame. After that event, we received a summons calling us to New York for a meeting with the Order. And now here we are.
I knock on the door, the familiar rhythm spelling out a coded message, announcing our arrival. The door opens, revealing one of the Order's lower members, and we enter.
In contrast to the dark, faceless outside, the inside of the building is a testament to opulence and wealth. Framed portraits line the walls, the Order's history spelled out in sumptuous paintings drawn in the finest oils, surrounded by ornate gold. The floor is carpeted and soft, priceless rugs covering the corridors. We make our way through, guided by the nameless attendant, finally arriving in one of the building's many meeting rooms.
It is filled to capacity, some faces we recognise, others that are new and unfamiliar. A sofa sits on one side of the room. My lover skips ahead, launching herself at the sofa, sitting cross-legged in muddy boots. I follow suit.
Charles Upton rolls his eyes. Lord Urquhart goes to say something but Upton gestures him into silence.
Upton: “Elijah. Omega. I trust you are well?”
Elijah: “Skip the pleasantries. What do you want?”
Upton: “Our Order was founded in -”
My lover cuts him off, waving her hand dismissively.
Omega: “Leave it for the History Channel, pretty sure they can slot you in somewhere between Hitler's Favourite Megaliths and Girl Gone Niled: the Cleopatra Story.”
Upton: “Humour me. This will take but a moment.”
She sighs theatrically and lays back, resting her head on my lap. I flip a hashish-infused sweet into the air and she catches it in her mouth. Upton sighs.
Upton: “Our Order was founded over a century and a half ago, as the socialist movement grew across Europe and threatened to upend the economic system our forefathers hard worked so hard to build. Marx's writings were already topics of frantic conversation, revolution the word of the day. The First International had yet to be split between the red and the black, and it seemed as though all would be lost.
“And so our Order was founded. An organisation of the ultra wealthy, a secret army fighting in the class war between us - the wealthy, the privileged, the elite - and the unwashed masses. That faction of the disobedient peasantry who refused to know their proper place in life, aided and abetted by a few philosophers and rich benefactors, class traitors all.
“For a time our Order was glorious. Fighting and winning battles on every front, sowing dissent and discord amongst the Communist and anarchist movements as they developed, sabotaging would-be revolutions from within and without.”
Elijah: “You are a band of elitist scum. This much we already knew.”
Upton shakes his head.
Upton: “We are not elitists. We are the elite.
“But then, in the 1960s, came a new challenge, one for which I must admit we were unprepared. I refer of course to the Spirit Science Research Institute.
“Our Order had always been divided - between the Traditionalists, those who believed in science and materialism, tradition and hierarchy and wealth, seeking only to free the capitalist system from the constraints of government and the irritations of self styled revolutionaries. On the other hand stood the Radicals, those who sought to tear down the world as it is and rebuild it in their own image, who would turn the class war between rich and poor from a gradual social struggle into a literal, apocalyptic conflict.
“Worse still, some had succumbed to that other great fascination of the 19th century.”
Elijah: “You refer to the occult.”
Upton's expression turns to a contemptuous grimace.
Upton: “Nonsense and superstition, nothing more. Alchemy, astrology, numerology, Kabbalah - archaic pseudosciences best consigned to the dustbin of history.”
Elijah: “One might say the same of your beloved economic theories.”
Upton: “Excuse me?”
Elijah: “Magick and mysticism at least offer humanity the chance of something greater, higher, acknowledging the divine spark within all. Your economics would reduce us to organic machines and statistics.
“Tell me, how many massacres have been justified by the writings of M P Hall? And how many by the Chicago School?”
Upton: “I fail to see how this is helpful.”
Omega: “Then please do us all a favour and GET TO THE FUCKING POINT!”
Upton: “I shall be brief. When the Institute was founded in 1968 our Order split, one half siding with Clyde Pierre with his Spirit Science and Amorality, the other half remaining independent, fighting a secret war against the SSRI from that day on.
“More than anything, the Order represents tradition. Stability. Our goal is simply the capitalist system, shorn of those elements - regulation, welfare, environmental and workers protection - which constrain it. We are part of a long and noble tradition - as are you, of course, the Communists and anarchists who have opposed us. There cannot be one without the other.
“The Institute threatens to end all of that. Their success in Pierreia has already sent shockwaves through the world economy, their abuses raising the attention of human rights crusaders and other meddlers. Further developments could bring the entire edifice crashing down. We - both of us - cannot allow that to happen.
“The Order have come to the conclusion that the Spirit Science Research Institute must be destroyed.”
There is a moment's silence.
Elijah: “Why have you come to us?”
Omega: “And why now?”
Upton gestures to Vice Admiral Spencer. He rises, handing my lover and I two thick folders. I take one, flick through it. It is filled with maps of Pierreia, code names, building schematics. Lists of dates and locations from the past few months, relating incidents - sabotage, attempted assassinations. I glance from the folder back to Spencer.
Elijah: “So. It was you after all.”
Spencer: “The Order of the Oncoming Storm has had contacts in Pierreia going back decades, working quietly underground to undermine the Institute as it manipulated the country once known as Makhnovia from behind the scenes. Once the Institute openly seized power in July, our groups went into action. A resistance movement of sorts.”
Elijah: “We had heard rumours of your actions, of course.”
Spencer: “And we of yours. The Institute seems to have turned you into quite the hate figures, it seems, blaming you for everything from crop failure to terrorism. The Emmanuel Goldsteins of the Institute's Brave New World.”
Omega: “You're mixing your dystopias, sweetie.”
Elijah: “What would you have us do?”
Spencer: “In two month's time, we plan to have our allies launch a string of coordinated uprisings throughout Pierreia, turning the country to chaos and stretching the Institute's resources to breaking point. In the midst of this, a group will enter Pierreia and kidnap Elisha, the so-called Moonchild. They will take him captive, transfer him to the United States, where he will be held in our custody. From there he will be placed on trial for his crimes. Publicly humiliated, forced to admit his guilt. Paraded before the world in chains, helpless and at our mercy.
“Without their glorious leader, the Institute will be weak. Powerless. And in the midst of the disarray to follow, they will lose support, the masses will lose their fear. Pierreia will be returned to the people.
“You will lead this team.”
I nod, glance at my lover. She stares unblinking at Spencer, suspicious.
Omega: “Why us?”
Spencer: “You know the Institute inside and out, know its geography, its history, its ideology. There are those in Pierreia and in the Institute who live in fear of the return of the two of you, the Prodigy and Princess, conditioned to see you as larger than life figures of terror. You are to the Institute's faithful what Judas and Lucifer are to the Christians.
“There are others who even now, years after your apostasy, hold you in high regard, awaiting your return to free them from the tyranny of the Moonchild. Symbolism is paramount, and the two of you are living symbols of everything the Institute despises.”
Elijah: “You seem to know a lot about how the Institute thinks.”
Spencer glances to Urquhart, who shrugs.
Urquhart: “Suffice to say after half a century of struggle and conflict, we know the Institute inside and out. Our methods are none of your concern.”
Elijah: “You have someone on the inside? If so, why not simply use them?”
Spencer: “You are currently surrounded by men and women with fortunes running into the billions of dollars. We command more power than most nations. Our reputations are key. If it became known we were involved with the Institute - if this operation were to be unsuccessful, and reach the public eye - the consequences would be devastating.”
Omega: “We're expendable. Like that film with Baldy McBaldface.”
Urquhart: “In a word, yes. Few would suspect us to be allied with a pair of anarchist upstarts with a grudge.”
Spencer: “We will provide you with all necessary training, information, resources and transportation to achieve your goals. Your team will be of your own choosing. Your instructions are simple: enter Pierreia, seize Elisha by any means necessary, return him to the United States. We will take it from there.”
Omega: “And if we refuse?”
Spencer: “Then know that you had one chance to destroy the Institute for good and turned it down because of your own petty values and morals, because you dislike what our Order represents.
“The threat posed by the Institute cannot be defeated by tiny groups of dissidents raging ineptly against the machine. You need us, just as we need you. Our goals are the same. The choice is yours.”
I glance at my lover. Still suspicious, still angry. We look into one another's eyes a moment. Words are unnecessary; her expression says it all. We cannot trust them. And we cannot reject them. I nod, turn back to Spencer and Urquhart.
Elijah: “We have a deal.”
Spencer nods in satisfaction.
Spencer: “Correct answer. Go and form your team. We will be in touch.”
And so we did.
The letters went out, to friends old and new. Summoning them to our home, to the place once known as the Academy, burned to the ground by the forces of the Institute as they fought against us - the little army we had lured here and trained for this very moment - and against one another, as forces loyal to the Moonchild vied for supremacy against those of Sahn and Sunset.
In the end, the Moonchild stood supreme and alone, Sahn and Sunset deposed. The Academy was in ruins, and our friendships with it.
Years of experience had taught us that to simply recruit people to fight against the Institute would lead to tragedy - that people would either flee in terror, or rush in as fools and fall victim to the Institute's machinery. So we drew people to the Academy - friends, allies, interested strangers. Taught them what we could, learned from them, slowly educated them on the importance of the Institute, its threats and dangers. Yet we never told them the truth, that the Academy was a target, that war was coming and they would be expected to fight.
And on that fateful day, that war came to our doorstep. Our home was left in ruins, and James Skelton lay dead.
What followed was an exodus. Caledonia would never forgive us, for lying to her, for drawing her into this war without her consent. Others would follow suit, turning their backs on us never to return. Even Eris - sweet, gentle, ingenious Eris - found themselves trapped between us and Caledonia, living and travelling with the latter yet never truly abandoning us either.
Eris would leave us their drones, setting them to work on rebuilding the Academy, even paying the occasional visit when circumstances would allow. And so it was to Eris that the first summons would be sent, beckoning them to the Academy, the place that was once their home.
The next was Dean Coulter, the man drawn in by Elisha's charisma and lies, promises of aid for his mother as she lay dying. Dean would finally be cast aside like garbage when the Institute had no further use for him, liberated from Pierreia by the forces loyal to the Shadow. Now a broken man looking to be made whole, to silence the demons placed in his mind by the Moonchild.
Zach van Owen - heroic, noble and ever so eager Zach, keen to fight against injustice and aid the weak and oppressed. He had trained at the Academy years before, learned from us as best he could, been sent into the world to be taught in practice what we could only teach in theory.
Matthias Eddy, son of Clyde Eddy, son of Josef Eddy - the founder of the Friends of Paracelsus, the medical wing of the Institute. When Matthias had turned his back on the Institute his father had followed suit. Clyde Eddy would pay for his son's apostasy with his life. And Matthias would devote his life to seeking revenge, siding with the Shadow in his war against Elisha, then setting out on his own to pursue his crusade alone.
“Rebel” Ray Skelton, grandfather of the late James. Ray was the man who first taught my lover and I how to fight, passed on his years of experience in the wrestling industry, taught us all he knew and set us on the path to victory a road the world. Raised in the midst of the Second World War, he had witnessed its horrors first hand, heard from parents and grandparents of the terrible things they had done in pursuit of vanquishing the fascist menace. He alone understood why we had pursued the path we did, why we had lied to those around us to fight against the Institute. Even as we placed his grandson in the ground, he alone bore us no hatred. The Institute, however, he would never forgive.
Serpico. Once an agent of the Operational Security Agency - or OSA - the Institute's intelligence agency, known and feared by enemies and defectors alike. One of the few to publicly speak out against the Institute and to confess, uncensored and unfiltered, to the terrible things he had done in their name. A man with a deathwish, who knew they would come for him in time, who now had nothing left to lose and a willingness to give all.
And Cyprian. Raised in Bloodmoon - the Institute's occult order, founded by those members of the Order of the Lunar Eclipse who joined the Institute on its founding. Bloodmoon exists to practice and propagate Spirit Science, the magickal doctrines formulated by the Institute through years of study and experimentation. Cyprian turned his back on Bloodmoon when Elisha seized power, disgusted by the path the Institute was taking. He found his way to our door, lured by the news of the Battle for the Academy. And now we are calling him back once more.
Eris. Dean. Zach. Matthias. Ray. Serpico. Cyprian. My beloved and myself.
An army of nine, ready to go to war.
The Academy is beautiful.
Over the months, the drones Eris left us have been doing their work, piecing our home together brick by careful brick as my beloved and I lived in a vault far beneath the ground. It will never be the place it once was, yet from time to time, one can forget. One can imagine this place as home. The only home we have known these past fifteen years, gradually restored to its former glory.
Today we rally the troops, gathered together from across the world, brought here to prepare for the mission to come.
My beloved and I stand together, the seven souls we brought here ready and waiting. The air is thick with expectation and excitement. I clear my voice and the murmuring of the crowd falls silent, all eyes on the two of us.
Elijah: “One and all. We have summoned you here, on this day, in this place, to prepare you for a great and terrible mission to come. The choice of whether to accept it is yours and yours alone; we trust that you will choose wisely.
“My beloved and I have been contacted by the Order of the Oncoming Storm. We have reached an agreement. In one month's time, the Order will instigate a series of uprisings in the distressed nation of Pierreia, plunging the state into chaos. In the midst of this chaos, the Order will dispatch a specially trained team with the mission of abducting Elisha, the so-called Moonchild. Elisha will be brought to the United States and placed in the custody of the Order, until such a time as he can be brought to trial and made to pay for his crimes.
“For the Institute, to see imprisoned and humiliated and paraded before the eyes of the world by one's most hated enemies would be the ultimate disgrace. The Order believes that this would deal the Institute a mortal wound, perhaps even a fatal one.
“They have assigned us to lead this mission, to find a team capable of the task. You are that team.”
There is a moment's silence as the assembled group take in my words. Eris, blessed Eris, is the one to break it.
Eris: “Why should we trust the Order?”
My beloved nods.
Omega: “You shouldn't. Nor do we. They are a group of self serving, elitist, exploitative little shirs who care about nothing but their own power and privilege. Yet in this situation, their goals and ours are in alignment. That is all.”
Ray: “What will the raid involve?”
Elijah: “The Order will provide a helicopter and drop us in a remote location in the thick forest surrounding Pierreia. From there, we will fight our way to the Epicentre. Elisha will be there. We will subdue his minions by any means necessary, detain Elisha. We will then send a message to the Order, who will lift us from the Epicentre to a safe location some distance away. From there, Elisha will be taken to the United States.”
Omega: “Ray - you are in your 80s. We ask only for your aid in training this group for the battle to come. We do not expect you to -”
Ray: “They killed my grandson. I am coming.”
Zach: “'By any means necessary’?”
Elijah: “We seek to avoid unnecessary suffering and death if at all possible.”
Zach: “And if it isn't possible?”
I glance at my lover.
Elijah: “We will cross that bridge when - if - we come to it.”
Matthias: “Say this doesn't work out. Say the Institute captures us. What then? Would the Order evacuate us?”
Elijah: “Doubtful. We succeed or we perish.”
Matthias: “As I thought.”
Serpico: “You know the lay of the land in Pierreia?”
Elijah: “My beloved and I visited the land as youths, before we turned our backs on the Institute. The Order have provided maps, schematics, the latest data on the Institute's forces. Our hope is that you, as a former agent of OSA, could fill in the blanks.”
Serpico: “Sure thing.”
Cyprian: “What is the date of the raid?”
Elijah: “11th November. It seemed fitting.”
Omega: “Dean - you're quieter than the audience at a Nickelback tribute concert. What's on your mind?”
Dean: “I'm in. No matter what.”
My beloved smiles.
Omega: “Quite so.”
We take in the crowd.
Elijah: “So. You know the plan. You know the risks. You know what we are fighting for, what we are up against. What do you say?”
The team stands together, united and firm. I look at my lover. Words are not needed. She nods.
Omega: “I hereby name this group the James Skelton Battalion. Let's get to work.”
And so we got to training. For the next month, the nine of us would live together at the Academy. Training, preparing, plotting. Ray taught them how to fight. My lover taught them spontaneity. I taught them how to think as the Institute thinks. Serpico taught them the art of deception, Zach, the power of principles and ethics.
Every one a teacher, every one a student. Just as it used to be.
As the days passed, we went from a collection of individuals to a unit, a team. A family.
Still the same questions would recur, time and again. Could we trust the Order? Would they truly trust us? Spencer kept in touch, passing on occasional updates, reams of information detailing the Institute's latest news and maneuvers.
It was clear they had contacts - someone buried deep inside the Institute, perhaps another somewhere in Pierreia. And a collection of local proxies, groups of dissidents scattered around the country preparing to launch their uprising even as we prepared our own incursion.
Somehow CWF seemed a million miles away. Yet still as ever, close to home. After the Hall of Fame induction, rumours had circulated, claims we would return, that we had been spotted at this event or that. We let them continue; better for the Institute to believe we had returned to our old stomping grounds than to suspect us to be plotting against them.
Then in November, Jon Stewart - commissioner of CWF, alongside some interloping parasite called Steel - reached out to us. Invited us to return for that legendary “one more match”, to participate in Northern Crown alongside some of the best in the world. How could we say no?
So we appeared at Evolution on 8th November. Found ourselves on the wrong side of the Hostile Takeover, that band of bitter failures out to make a name for themselves and blaming CWF for their failures. They will be dealt with soon enough.
But first would come the raid.
Raid on Pierreia scene
Arrival in Pierreia
Disembark, all wearing masks, each with a different symbol
Explain they have a contact already in Pierreia
Order get in touch. New orders: assassinate Elisha, or the Order will tell the Institute their whereabouts
The sound of the helicopter blades is deafening. For most, it would be disorienting, deafening, forcing one to shout just to be heard and to block out sound just to think. Yet over the weeks, we have prepared for this, practiced meditation and contemplation that renders outside noise little more than background. No more disorienting than the shining of the sun or the blowing of the wind.
We sit together, the team of nine - the James Skelton Battalion. We are dressed in black from head to toe, each with their own headset and earpiece, allowing us to speak unimpeded despite the racket.
The helicopter belongs to the Order. We had embarked in England, outside the Academy, weapons and uniforms in tow. From there, we travel to Pierreia. Soon we will arrive.
I tap my mic into action. The group turn to look, expectant, ready and waiting.
Elijah: “In a few short moments, we will arrive in Pierreia. From there, we will make our way to the Epicentre. We will fight our way to its heart, take Elisha captive. Once this is accomplished, we will inform the Order. They will send this helicopter to collect us. We will return to the Academy, and from there, a jet will transfer him to the United States, in the custody of myself and my beloved.
“Each of you carries a pack containing weapons - tasers, batons, cattle prods. You also carry handcuffs, wear body armour. Our aim is to incapacitate, not to kill. Yet you must be aware that our enemies will have no such compunction. If the situation requires it, we expect you to do what you must.”
I reach into my bag, withdraw nine masks, each of them emblazoned with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
Elijah: “For the sake of yourselves and your loved ones, we would ask you to wear these masks. Each represents a sephirot, taken from the Kabbalah.”
Cyprian takes his mask, stares at it a moment.
Cyprian: “There is one missing. Malkuth.”
Elijah: “Occulta Veritas. Call it a supposition.”
The helicopter begins to lower, landing in a small clearing in the midst of the thick forest surrounding the land of Pierreia. We exit, one by one, stand together as the helicopter rises.
As we watch it disappear into the skies, I feel a vibrating in my pocket. I withdraw my phone, a specially designed satellite phone constructed for this mission. The screen springs to life.
It is Spencer.
Spencer: “There has been a slight change of plan. Your mission is not to kidnap Elisha. You are to assassinate him. If you refuse, we will inform the Institute of your whereabouts and leave you to their mercy. I trust that you will choose wisely. That is all.”
The phone cuts out. I glance to my beloved, who looks on, her expression a mix of fury and terror.
Omega: “Well, fuck.”