The room is dark, poorly lit by a single dying lightbulb, clinging to the ceiling with wires that have clearly seen better days. Outside, a storm is raging, a dim red light shining down from on high broken only by strikes of lightning. Through the gloom I hear the sound of a drum pounding, quiet at first, drawing near.
The walls are filthy, covered with shit and piss, specks of vomit, semen, blood. Graffiti is visible beneath the grime, vulgar and crude, profanity in dozens of languages separated by as many centuries. Images of dark, violent sexuality and degradation, records of torture painted in the blood of those who lived it, those who died.
The air is thick with a hideous smell, the stench of death, of bodies putrefying in the midday sun, of plant and man and animal put to the sword and left to rot.
On opposite sides of the room, strangely ornate amidst the decay, are two portraits. Exquisite, set in gold-rimmed frames decorated with diamonds. I draw closer to one of them. The sound of drums grows louder.
Mariella Jade Flair, seated like a medieval princess, a guitar to one side, a pair of boots to the other - her family legacy. Gold crown perched on her head. She stares out of the painting with eyes piercing and fearless.
Yet on closer glance, the crown is corroded, her fine clothes moth-eaten and threadbare, her seemingly fearless countenance masking a sense of deep anxiety.
I turn. The opposing portrait is hidden, covered by a shroud. I approach it, reach out a hand to pull the fabric aside. It is cold, unbearably so, too cold to touch.
The drumming grows louder still. I make my way to the window, looking out over the sea.
The sky is split in two. To the east, a storm rages, powerful and destructive, bolts of lightning striking down. To the west, a total eclipse of the moon, its surface glowing blood red.
Between the two, a single star of shimmering gold.
The Moonchild, my Moonchild, stands on the shore, rooted to the spot, gazing up at the star. The drumming grows louder, fervent, eager.
He turns, faces me, his eyes wide, mouth closed. He points.
I turn. The two portraits are consumed by flames, plumes of smoke rising into the air, suddenly choking, suffocating. I try to cross the room, stumble, fall to the ground. Through the smoke I can make out the portraits as they burn,faces consumed by flames, leaving nothing but ashes.
I cough myself awake. The room is dark. My neck is stiff, jolts of pain coming with every motion. I cough again, feel the fluid rise up my throat, vomit mixed with blood. I pull myself upright, stumble across the room, hit the light switch.
Light floods in, dazzling, overwhelming. My legs give out from under me and I slip to the floor, hitting a red button as I collapse. I close my eyes and the world disappears, light receding, noise losing its edge. Nausea rises and I vomit again, tears streaming down my face, acid burning my throat.
I pull my knees to my chest, hugging them. Despite myself, I begin to giggle, relief and hysteria and hope all at once.
I sense rather than see the door opening. He glances down at me, closes the door behind him, places a pillow beneath my head. Then sits. Watches. Waits.
The throbbing in my head starts to fade. I reach out, a glass is placed in my hand - fresh spring water blended with a selection of vitamins, entheogens, minerals, salts and opiates designed to rejuvenate after each of my “Callings”, as the Institute had euphemistically labelled them.
Now I rule over the Institute as Queen. And soon, so much more.
I open my eyes slowly, carefully, letting them adjust to the light. He sits a few feet away from me, eyes fixed on mine, expression one of curiosity, intensity and concern. I sit up fully, back resting against the wall. He passes me a towel and I clean myself, wiping away blood, vomit and tears.
He stands, the Moonchild, the one the world calls Elisha. Opens a drawer, passes me a fresh shirt. I remove my top with trembling fingers, drained of energy and strength, fumbling as I put on the new one. Even the slightest movement is exhausting. Too exhausting for sleep.
The Moonchild sits once more, a few feet away.
Elisha: What did you see?
Cassandra: A prophecy. Of this coming week, of Mariella and the stranger. And something more. A future time, not long to come. Of people and ideas long since buried now back and seeking vengeance. The Old Orders, ready to return, Gog and Magog behind the walls. And you, the Moonchild, my glorious Moonchild…
Cassandra: Waiting for the star to fall.
I jump to my feet, still not quite steady, grab some food - nuts and fruits mixed with spices sampled from across the world. I feel my strength start to return, thoughts flowing more easily, vision clear, precise. I smile.
Cassandra: What time is it?
Elisha: 4am. Sunrise is in half an hour.
Cassandra: Shall we?
I extend an arm and he takes me by the hand, together making our way out of the room. Up the staircases, winding through the building like the insides of some medieval castle. Finally reaching the surface, stepping out onto the roof of the Epicentre, the huge, atom-shaped building stretching out before us.
Behind us, an open clearing, surrounded by forest, bordered by rivers too swift to cross. The Epicentre, the Institute's little state within the unrecognised state of Makhnovia.
We turn, watching out to the east as the first hints of sunlight creep over the horizon. The City of Dis, capital of Makhnovia, is visible in the distance. We sit at the edge of the building, taking in the morning sun.
Elisha: Penny for your thoughts?
Cassandra: You'll need more than a penny, my dear. One soul, paid in advance.
Elisha: I lost use for mine long ago.
Cassandra: Then you've got a deal, mister!
I giggle. He smiles.
Cassandra: Evolution approaches. Myself and Dean, against Mariella and the Stranger.
Elisha: Eric Dane, yes?
Cassandra: Yes. Someone from Mariella’s past. Another careerist, desperate to make his name by any means necessary. Basking in Mariella's reflected glory, a glory that fades by the day as she falls from her esteemed position back to the ranks of the mundane and uninspired.
With the championship, she was everything. Without the championship, she is nothing. Just an Icarus with golden wings, soaring so high only to come crashing back to earth like a meteorite.
If Eric Dane seeks to cling to her wings, to use her reputation to bolster his own, he will be sorely disappointed.
Elisha: She is talented, impressive in her way. Limited, incapable of seeing beyond her own narrow view of the world, one which has room for wrestling and music and precious little else. Yet powerful nonetheless.
Cassandra: So were the Neanderthals in their time. Then Homo Sapiens arrived and they got hunted and fucked into extinction.
Elisha: Is that your plan for Mariella and Dane?
Cassandra: Do you want it to be?
I kiss him, bite the lip, just hard enough to draw blood.
Elisha: You saw him, you and Dean, dealt with him one to one. What did you feel? What did you see?
Cassandra: Hunger. For fame, for fortune, for gold. Hungry with ambition. And heavy with the past. Defiance.
Cassandra: His former company.
Elisha: He competes in CWF. His - their - past in another company counts for less than nothing.
I nod, smile, rest my head on his chest. Bury my nails in his arm, smile as I feel the skin break, the tiniest trickle of blood starting to flow. I watch, play my fingertips through the blood, press them against my tongue. The force of life. I laugh.
Cassandra: And what about you? What are you thinking?
Elisha: You already know.
I laugh, nod.
Cassandra: You're thinking of all the people out there, millions of men, women and children of Makhnovia. Ignorant of their past, ignorant of their future. Ignorant of the changes that shape the world even as that world shifts around them.
Elisha: The seizure of power is almost complete. The ceremony is imminent. 20th June, by this calendar. The inauguration of our new age. Until then our Chosen are at work day and night ensuring every last detail is in place. Even now they are at work in the City, playing brother against brother and the Institute against all. Entering the holy sites - courts of law and military shrines, sacred temples and profane stadiums, banks and brothels alike.
In each place, those serving are given the simple choice. To align with the Will of the Institute, or to defy ut. Once the situation is adequately explained, there are few who opt for the latter.
Elisha: Heresiarch. Alongside Jezebel, appointed to the office of Religion. He is currently detained deep beneath the Epicentre. Jezebel, his consort, has accused him of Piety.
Cassandra: What happened?
Elisha: The two of them were to enter the Cathedral of Christ with Fire and Sword, a home for those fundamentalists who fled their homelands when their particular brand of fascism fell from favour.
Heresiarch and Jezebel were to enter the church, tear down its cross, smash the icons, have the priest sodomised over the altar. All this was done, the atom-in-ouroboros raised high above the congregation gathered for midday mass. Bibles gathered together and burned, copies of Amorality put in their place.
Jezebel alleges that, as the books were put to the torch, Heresiarch began to cross himself, stopped when he saw her watching.
Cassandra: You believe her?
Elisha: She has been with the Institute over ten years, has seen the House of the Will, the Abbey. She has served in the Chosen these past months. She knows that any lie will be uncovered, that betrayal shall be punished ruthlessly and without hesitation.
Cassandra: Are you fucking her?
Cassandra: You believe Heresiarch would show this weakness? Piety?
Elisha: It is possible.
Cassandra: Bring him to us.
Elisha reaches into his pocket, withdraws a radio, speaks into it quickly. A few moments pass. The sun continues to tease, hidden just behind the horizon, rising slowly, shedding its light over the rivers and trees. The domes and spires of the City of Dis stand stark against the morning skyline.
A doorway opens, two of the Chosen - Armilus and Lilith - step through. Between them is Heresiarch. They throw him to the ground, glance at Elisha. He nods, and they withdraw.
I make my way over to Heresiarch, walking slowly, deliberately. I stand over him and he turns his head, staring up at me through bloodshot eyes.
Heresiarch: Cass... Prophetess. Believe me, I -
I raise a boot, bring it down on his hand, smile as he writhes in pain. I grind the heel in, feeling bone against the hard concrete of the roof of the Epicentre. Wind blows around us, the morning sun lighting the scene with dramatic shadows.
I lean, grab him by the hair, pull him to his feet. Heresiarch is in his 30s, with short cropped blond hair. His eyes are a piercing blue. When he speaks, his tone is short, clipped, neutral, revealing little.
I hold his head in my hands, stare deeply into his eyes. Memories flood back, data I was force-fed in years gone by at the hands of the Institute's doctors. Facts and figures, news, history, conspiracy theories. Personnel files. A mind overloaded to breaking point by the relentless flow of information, designed to make me the ultimate weapon.
Cassandra. The Prophetess.
Cassandra: Heresiarch. Born Dale Maguire. Grandson of James Maguire, the priest who went mad and killed himself on reading the Founder's works; and of Jane Hearst, the activist leader, Maguire's dirty little secret, pregnant when he decided to get his clerical fuck on prior to his untimely end. The family has been in the Institute ever since.
I gaze at Heresiarch, into him, kiss him deeply. I feel his body tense, heart suddenly racing. I pull back and slap him across the face, smile as he winces, my nail cutting open his cheek.
Cassandra: Your grandfather was a pious man, driven out of his mind when the Founder's writings destroyed the illusions of morality, compassion and justice that have held man back for so long. Perhaps you share his weakness?
Heresiarch: I do not. I was raised in the Institute, as my father and mother before me. My grandfather was weak. I am strong. Loyal. I -
Cassandra: And the thought of desecration, of blasphemy and sins against the gods?
Heresiarch: It fills me with pride.
I step back, take him in as if for the first time. Battered and beaten, bloodied and bruised. Yet his eyes, staring out from behind swollen eyelids, remain bright, fearless.
Cassandra: Tell me, Heresiarch. Dale. What are your feelings towards Jezebel?
Heresiarch: She is my consort, my second self. Together we rule over the field of Religion. Shaping it in the image of the Institute.
Cassandra: She has betrayed you. Accused you of clear falsehoods. Sought to disrupt the Institute in achieving its goals, goals we have pursued for decades. She will be punished.
Heresiarch: What is to be done?
Cassandra: You'll see.
We are in a suite inside the Epicentre. Heresiarch sits at a desk, a dial in front of him, a red button next to it. Next to the dial and button is a computer monitor, showing footage of the adjacent room.
Jezebel sits strapped to a chair, wires attached to her nipples, fingertips and tongue. She is expressionless, calm. The Moonchild stands next to her, tall, imposing. Through the computer we hear him speak.
Elisha: Jezebel. You stand accused of deception and sabotage, of falsifying allegations against a fellow member of the Chosen.
I nod. Heresiarch turns the dial. On the monitor, we hear a low hum as the generator sparks into life. Jezebel winces as the power starts to flow.
Jezebel: I told you the truth. Heresiarch is guilty of Piety.
I glance at Heresiarch. He is impassive, expressionless. I nod again, and he turns the dial, increasing the power. Jezebel's fists begin to clench.
Elisha: Is it not more likely that it is you, eager for advancement, shamed by your own humble origins, sought to discredit one born and raised in the Institute's world? To prove to yourself and to the world your willingness to act with ruthless pragmatism, whatever the cost, whoever the victim?
Heresiarch has ancestry that date to the very origins of the Institute itself. You have been here but a scant decade. You saw one more established than yourself, sought to discredit him. Is that not true?
Jezebel: No, I…I am telling the truth….we entered the...cathedral…
I nod. Heresiarch turns the dial once more. On screen, Jezebel bites her lip, fingernails buried deep in her palms, sweating profusely.
Elisha: You entered the cathedral. And then?
Jezebel: We…we did as you asked...tore down the….icons, desecrated the…
She is overwhelmed, a low moan escaping her body, writhing against her restraints.
Jezebel: we desecrated the...altar, sodomised the priest, smeared shit, semen and menstrual blood on the holy of holies. We…
I nod. Heresiarch reaches out, turns the dial, his hands starting to tremble. On screen, for the first time, Jezebel screams, a low, animal sound, a howl of agony and helplessness.
Jezebel: We gathered….the books together...in a big pile, stripped the priest naked, added his robes to the fire. Heresiarch lit the torch. Before he lit it, he…
I nod. Heresiarch reaches out a hand, pauses, millimetres away from the dial.
Cassandra: Do it. Or it shall be done unto you
He bites his lip, turns the dial once more. Jezebel screams, incoherent, desperate, angry.
Jezebel: HE CROSSED HIMSELF! THE GOD DAMN PIECE OF SHIT CROSSED HIMSELF!
Elisha: Still you persist in your lies.
I nod. Heresiarch moves slowly, his hand wavering, between the dial and the red button above.
Cassandra: You can stop all this if you want. But you know what happens then.
He nods, turns the dial suddenly, definitely, making a statement. On screen, Jezebel throws her head back, howls in agony, screaming out a single word.
He slams the red button. The electricity cuts out, Jezebel's body sagging, her breathing ragged. The Moonchild looks up at the screen, a quiet smirk on his face.
Heresiarch looks from me to the screen and back, eyes wide in disbelief at what he has done.
Cassandra: Mercy. The greatest sin of all.
He gulps, nods.
Heresiarch: So what happens now? Some cell under the Epicentre to live out the rest of my days?
Cassandra: Nothing so mundane, my dear Dale.
Cassandra: I'm going to have a word with Dean.