The Academy grows by the day.
This land, shrouded in mystery and folklore, sits deep inside that part of Yorkshire known as the Lost Riding. Local traditions tie it to anything from the Ninth Roman Legion to the burning of the idols at Goodmanham, taking in ancient heresy, dissidents against Empire, the Celts, the Masons, ley lines and UFOs. David Icke would have a field day.
The area around the Academy is sparsely populated, consisting of a few small villages whose links to the outside world are limited to sister communities in the City of York. The site of the Academy itself is treated with an almost superstitious sense of reverence, being alternately populated and abandoned by one group or another through the years.
In the 1970s, the site was occupied by the Spirit Science Research Institute, that vile cult which has ruined the lives of so many. In the 1990s, it was abandoned once more in the wake of a mysterious fire. And in the 2000s, it would become home to my beloved and I, ourselves having recently turned our backs on the Institute and all for which it stands.
The site known to the Institute as the Northern Manor would in our time become known as the Academy. First, a school in which each could learn from the other under the motto of Every One a Teacher, Every One a Student. Later, it would become a battleground as the forces of the Institute fought against us and against one another, rival factions vying for supremacy. Then it would become home to my beloved and I once more, and ground for fresh battles.
Now it there is one more role to be added to its storied history. That of a prison.
I make my way through the Academy, still only half repaired from its recent dramas, the drones left to us by Eris working day and night on repairs. Walking past bedrooms and study places, the library, the projection room. Make my way to its centre, bag on my back, on to the point where all corridors in the building converge. I kneel, press my finger to the ground, tap out a familiar rhythm. There is a quiet hiss and the floor opens up, revealing a ladder reaching deep into the ground.
And I descend.
Past the underground cavern set aside for ritual practice, a solace away from the noise of the world above.
Past the vault, the tiny compound which served as a home for my beloved and I while the building above lay in ruins.
Past the hidden archive, left abandoned when the Institute abandoned the site, forgotten when the Founder supposedly died in 1998.
I arrive, confronted by the thick metal block that serves as the cell's door. Place my eye to the iris scanner, my thumb to a device to read its print, use my free hand to tap out a pattern - the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, each sephirot activated in an order long since seated into my memory. The door slides to one side.
And I enter.
The cell is sparse, a bookcase containing a few books of history and spirituality, a pipe feeding in air from the world above, a small table and chairs. A television muted yet sending out images from the news. Wars and rumours of wars, conspiracy theories and political intrigue. Idle gossip from the world of celebrity.
He stands silent, his back to the door, arms folded in front of him.
The prisoner. Our prisoner.
Elisha turns, takes his seat at the table. I do likewise, place the bag my by side, open it. A container of food, a few books - and a game.
Senet. A board game of ancient Egypt, resurrected in the twentieth century, given new and sinister life by the Institute. To the ancients it was a path for the afterlife, to eternal rest and paradise. To the Institute, a way to eternal torment. Fate is in the eye of the beholder.
I place the game on the table and we begin to play, sitting in determined silence. I am the first to speak.
Elijah: Eris continues work on your replacement hand.
Elisha: It has taken some time.
Elijah: Your plight is not exactly our highest priority. We have a home to rebuild, new enemies with which to contend. We will however address your needs in due course. Even the most vile offenders deserve compassion. Something you will never understand.
He nods. The game continues, tiny pieces chasing one another along the board, from time to time one taking another.
Elisha: Compassion has nothing to do with it. You enjoy this.
Elijah: We -
Elisha: Spare me your moralising. You could have killed me when you had the chance.
Elijah: It would have served no purpose.
Elisha: Pacifism? You know better than that. How many of your heroes, revolutionaries and prophets and radicals - how many of them were also killers? Your very namesake, the biblical prophet remembered for his honour and holiness, slew enemy prophets by the hundred.
Elijah: I am no pacifist. Violence, even murder, can be justified and necessary. Your death would have accomplished nothing. Yet justice had to be done. And here you are.
Elisha: Spoken like a true Amoralist. Compassion was not the point, only pragmatism - is that not correct?
Elijah: We do what must be done, with ruthlessness if necessary. Yet our violence, even cruelty, is but a temporary measure in pursuit of justice and freedom for all. Yours would enslave the world.
Elisha: A difference in perspective is all.
He moves one of the pieces,knocking one of mine from the board.
Elisha: You do what must be done to achieve your goals, thinking nothing of striking down those who stand in your way, using friends as unwitting pawns in your schemes.
Elisha: How is Highlander, by the way, and dear sweet Caledonia? Do send them my regards.
Elijah: They are well. Rebuilding their lives. Returning to normalcy, peace. Love.
Elisha: And what of the others? How many countless lives have been destroyed, bones broken, loves lost and friendships betrayed in your war against the Institute? How many countless -
Elijah: Not countless. Counted. Every last one of them rests on my conscience each day. For us, such things are a regrettable necessity. To you, they are a way of life.
Elisha: Tell that to James Skelton. I'm sure your regrets would mean a lot.
I close my eyes, block out Elisha's smirking face. It replaced by that of James, innocent James, shot dead by the forces of the Institute when they launched their raid against the Academy. What feels like a lifetime ago.
Elisha continues, pressing on regardless.
Elisha: Humour me a moment.
You were a mere orphan - your mother died in childbirth, your father dead by his own have a few months later. You were passed from one state institution to the next, never staying long, too troubled and traumatised for their walls to contain.
The Institute took you in, housed you, fed you. Nurtured your gifts and talents and insights, your budding spirituality. Channelled your rage, concentrated it, turned it into a weapon. Took the raw clay of Elijah, moulded it, put it to the fire and brought forth the Prodigy.
The Institute treated you like royalty, made you the Teacher, appointed you a position in my own destiny - to guide me on the path to become the Moonchild
Yet you would betray those who had given you so much, turned your back, knowing when you did so that another - your only friend Dolores, the Prophetess Cassandra, still loyal to the Institute - would suffer for your transgression. You ran from your responsibilities. And you have been running ever since.
Once outside the Institute, you and your fellow apostate - the Princess, the Scarlet Woman, the one you call Omega - would wage war against us without regard for those who would fall in battle. Then you would enter the world of wrestling, achieving money and fame through acts of wanton violence and cruelty. Broken bones, broken lives, all at your hand.
An Amoral life indeed. The Founder would be proud. His teachings are like the most beautiful cancer. One can never be truly cured, only go into remission, Amorality lurking just beneath the surface awaiting its time to relapse. And for you it is very close to the surface indeed.
This is why you hate me - not because you oppose me, but because we are almost exactly alike.
Elisha: You are a coward, too afraid to embrace the darkness within you. A hero would own it, celebrate it - would gloat that you finally have me, your nemesis, maimed and imprisoned and helpless. Instead you maintain this charade of compassion and justice.
Silence. His words sting, speak to my own doubts and fears and regrets, the voices screaming from my conscience each night. At least I can refuse to give him the satisfaction of a response. I pick up a piece, move it, scarcely taking in where it lands.
Elisha: Very well. Let us speak of other matters. I see you are alone today. Trouble between Prodigy and Princess?
Elijah: My beloved is in London, alongside Eris. We live in interesting times.
He rolls his eyes.
Elisha: Yes. The spectacle they call Brexit.
Elijah: Do I detect the hand of the Institute in our current predicament?
Elisha: Perish the thought. Our concerns are far greater than the petty squabbles of one class of parasites against another - be they small minded little Englanders, capitalists intent on a common market, bleeding heart liberals or deluded socialists and nationalists. Such things are beneath us.
Elijah: Forgive me if I refuse to believe you.
Elisha: We fed the fire, certainly - provided money and resources to ideologues on all sides, stoked chaos and discord and reaped the benefits of the confusion. Yet the British are quite capable of creating this farce on their own, with or without the Institute's aid.
Elijah: Point taken.
Elisha: Perhaps you should ask the same question of your friends in the Order of the Oncoming Storm.
Elijah: That alliance came to a rather abrupt end, as well you know. We are now in their crosshairs - my beloved and I, and the others who betrayed them.
Elisha: Ah yes. How foolish of me. And still they pursue their own war against the Spirit Science Research Institute.
Elisha: It would seem you and I now share a common enemy in the Order. Perhaps this calls for a new alliance - the Prodigy and the Moonchild, together at past, united against the Order with its love of wealth and tradition. Almost poetic, would you not agree?
The sarcasm drips from his tongue like poison from a cursed syringe.
Elijah: My greatest hope is that the two of you will destroy one another and leave the world in peace.
Elisha: Not in a hundred years. Not in three hundred and fifty years.
I move one of my pieces, taking one of his, removing it from the board.
Elijah: Your days are numbered, Elisha. Yours and those of the Institute you hold so dear. A philosophy which praises power and authority will inevitably collapse under the weight of rival claimants for the crown.
The Founder supposedly died in 1998, in reality deposed by his own son and by the Usurper, Henry Benson. Benson would in turn be overthrown by Sahn and Sunset. You went on to replace them. And now you lie captive and Cassandra has replaced you. What then?
Elisha: Such is the way of things. Betrayal, struggle, sacrifice and the lust for power - these are the things that build strength, from the individual to the Institute to the nation to the world. The weak justify their Will by reference to some higher purpose - the divine right of kings, the science of race, the pursuit of equality, democracy and human rights. Only Amorality and Spirit Science dare to state openly what all rulers have known in private: power is its own justification. All else is paperwork.
He studies the board a moment, reaches out to move a piece. He pauses, moves his hand to another, moves it forward with a definite certainty.
Elisha: Speaking of which. I believe the Golden Couple are due to return to the squared circle, no?
Elijah: Indeed. How did -
Elisha glances at the television.
Elisha: My sources of entertainment are rather limited in this fetid little cell. CWF remains big business, peddling bloodshed to the masses. Besides, I am always curious to see how the old gang are doing. I might even send a Christmas card.
More sarcasm. I shrug.
Elijah: Your words would be warmly received, I am sure. In that they would be burned on sight.
He places a hand on his chest in mock outrage.
Elisha: You wound me, good sir. Yet - tell me more. The company is under siege, is it not?
Elijah: Yes. Loyalists of a long dead promotion known as Hostility have returned to settle old scores, seek to seize control of CWF and use it as a platform for their resurrection. They will fail, of course.
Elisha: You sound very sure. Are they not worthy opponents?
Elijah: Worthy, certainly. They call themselves the Hostile Takeover, fierce and determined competitors. Yet they are not the first to attempt to conquer the federation, remake it in their image or bask in its glory. Nor will they be the last. Defiance attempted the same before them, and High Stakes Wrestling before them. All of them ended in miserable failure and so will Hostility. In one year's time, the very name of their company will be long since forgotten.
Elisha: Who are they - your opponents, that is?
Elijah: Tobias Devereaux and Jimmy Allen. Two who have spearheaded the attempt by Hostility loyalists to take over CWF, aligned with James Milenko. The first trickle of the tsunami which now threatens to engulf the company. They are talented, no doubt. They have won some battles - yet they will not win the war.
Elisha: No doubt.
Elijah: Your days in the federation are over. Why are you so concerned?
Elisha: Call it curiosity. And professional interest.
Elijah: Perhaps. Yet for now, I must depart. We shall continue this game at a later date.
He nods. I rise to exit, leaving the game and the food with the captive Moonchild. As I reach the door, his voice calls after me.
Elisha: Ouroboros, the Chosen and I may have taken our leave from that benighted company. Yet there is more to the world than meets the eye. A snake can always shed its skin, after all, and be born anew.
Elisha: Be seeing you.
I open the door, secure it behind me, his laughter ringing in my ears as I begin the long, torturous climb back to the surface. Back to sunlight. Back to life.