“Spare us the melodrama, cretins. This song and dance is tiresome.”
Clad in glyph-scrawled robes befitting a druidic cult, Bruce ‘Violence Jack’ Shanahan leans over a podium in a candle-lit, run-down cathedral. Instead of a Holy Bible on the pulpit rests the Black Testament, the infernal parody of faith published under his direction a decade ago. As is long hallmark to the organization, the film stock itself is grainy, as if taken from the vaults of a 1970’s horror film.
“There are no negotiations to be had here. The Sect of Black Wisdom issues no ultimatums. I made a career of sending sorrowful upstarts back into the bowels of obscurity and that legacy now survives through Julian Bathory. For nearly twenty years I roamed the independent circuit and listened to untold greenhorns proclaim themselves the Second Coming of professional wrestling. All of these soon-to-be millionaire megastars sold themselves to the world as untapped mines of potential set to shatter limits and raise every industrial bar. By the standards of territory-crawling nobodies, some even managed modest careers for a while.
Then I inevitably arrived. And those rookie playgrounds became blood-splattered crime scenes. Myriad stars-in-waiting destroyed, shuffling back into their holes after peered into the eyes of wrestling’s most feared pariahs. Still, for a fleeting moment in time, they had heart. Naive and starry-eyed as they were, genuine belief shined that they could be heroes.
If there is a greater tragedy to lament in this scenario, it’s just how separated you already are from that legion of shattered heroes. Tom Marrow, sorry worm that you are, you are dead on arrival. Leashed and led around as a trophy, humbled and damaged before even coming to kneel before your New World Savior. Sacrificial lamb, says the dominatrix? Few know either the depths or the power of sacrifice like the initiates of the Sect of Black Wisdom. You and your pet are trifle playthings before what we command.”
Into frame steps his successor, the Carpathian Devil himself, Julian Bathory. The Hungarian’s dress is cleaner, sophisticated in the fashion of a European socialite. A matte-black mantle brushes the floor behind him like a regal count.
“I know you’ve heard the story time and again. The tired, cliched old yarn of the boy that raises a gentle puppy, cares for and loves his loyal companion, and then finds himself one day looking into its eyes, knowing it’s acquired a taste for blood. He dreads the only and apparent solution. To society at large his friend has become a fiend. He buries a single round in the head of his dog and life goes on. Make the mistake of showing your jaws to me and this company will be your final resting place.
I have no time for lapdogs, Tom. Benji. Whatever the hell your sad and fractured mind answers to.
Perhaps someday, Tom, you’ll find the spirit to break free of your shackles. When you do, the Sect of Black Wisdom will be waiting. We are shepherds to the lost and champions to those astray. In time you may bow before a new master. A pariah of the Old World, cast from grace and reborn a New World Savior. Never forget, Tom, that while mortality may be fleeting, the Old Ones are forever. Wake up, child, and be enlightened to ruin. May chaos reign.”
A bell tolls somewhere, and the patriarchs of the Sect pf Black Wisdom stroll into the shadows.
* * *
The red light went off and Derek Rison clapped his hands. The director, content with another project finished, began barking orders to his subordinates as they abruptly moved to tear down the make-shift set.
Shanahan didn’t wait around to discuss formalities with Rison; editing and scheduling could be handled later. Grimacing as another jolt of pain touched his knees, the mastermind of the Sect exited the studio to found his brazen young charge in the hallway.
“There’s a sorrow in your eyes, Brother Julian. A gloom that’s been there ever since Marrow’s promo popped up on the internet. That is, well, it’s intensified since then.”
Bathory seemed to be examining a painting in the corridor. A gift from Marion Sterling, it was a dark landscape beset by man-made desolation, an abstract of death, with reddish, vaguely skull-shaped clouds cresting the scene. Another of the macabre art pieces boasted through the manor. He merely shrugged, his feelings amplified in the long silence. His mentor waited several long beats before going on in a tone devoid of concern.
“You don’t like the aesthetic. I’m aware.”
“Then let me do it my way. This is my organization to direct.”
Shanahan shook his head. To outsiders the response would be received as insubordinate, but to Julian Bathory it was too familiar inside these walls. His crown felt all too hollow as the spotlight had been settling deeper on their camp. He accepted that he still reigned as a false king, only struggling with the patriarch’s reason.
“I’m sorry, some things simply need to run their course. The image of the Sect of Black Wisdom is too important to compromise right now. In time the form of the organization will be wholly yours to mold. But not yet, not while things are in so crucial a state.”
Julian held his tongue. He had seen too many parallels in watching the tragedy of Marrow and the Warden unfold.
“As you wish, Father Shanahan.”
The conversation was over. With a flourish, Bathory stalked down the corridor, initiates stepping aside to avoid his glowering visage, fearing their leader’s ire as he contemplated the next move in the game.
* * *
The man in the bare room looked downtrodden, sullen. Whatever trespasses had brought him here burdened his mind and soul, his posture extolling a grave conscience riddled by sin. A frame lean and strong, a handsome countenance, but weeks worth of unkempt stubble wordlessly telling a melancholic tale. The coffee in front of him had long since gone cold and he didn’t seem to notice.
Two men entered the precinct observation room, one donning a muted dark suit and his associate in formal military attire. Credentials were clipped at their breasts and both held dossiers.
The commanding officer looked over the new arrivals, noticeably uneasy. “His says it’s time to end his oath of silence. There’s too much at stake, whatever that means. He specifically asked for the both of you.”
The figure inside brushed the clerical collar at his throat. The military figure, gazing through the two-way mirror at the mournful figure, thought he read betrayal in the gesture. Crossing his arms, burly even beneath the fabric, he exhaled. “Never thought he’d come out of hiding. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to pass up a gift like this. Just where have you been, reverend?”
As if sensing the presence in the observation room, Horace Tully turned cold eyes toward the mirror. Something approaching a smile creased his face and he gently waved a hand in greeting.