I open my eyes, breathless. The room is dark. Outside, the moon shines bright, white and clear. Stars twinkling down from a cloudless sky.
The lights come on, faintly at first, the slightest hint of illumination. My head is pounding, mouth dry. As the lights come up I look down at my palms - covered in blood, fingernail scratches and bite marks.
Still dim, I squint into the gloom. Two figures stand at the foot of the bed. I can barely make out more than outlines.
Cassandra: Who is it?
Succubus: And Succubus. Here to check on your welfare. Make sure you're healthy before the big day.
I prop myself up on the pillow, the lights just about bright enough to see. Incubus hands me a large glass of water; I swallow it on one and he refills it. Succubus sets down a bowl of rare fruits and grains by my side, heavily seasoned and salted, replenishing lost nutrients.
This is not the Epicentre. The bed is large, ornate, made of some exotic wood, its sides carved with scenes from myth and legend. Silk curtains hang from four ornate bedposts, currently tied back. Then sheets are beautiful, soft to the touch.
The walls are hung with medieval tapestries, classical mosaics, Soviet-era caricatures filling in the gaps. Bookcases filled with shelf after shelf of political science, intrigue, conspiracy, history on every level from the modern to the ancient, sacred and profane.
The Presidential Palace.
The Big Day.
The Presidential Palace.
Then blackness returns.
I stand in the ring, in the centre of the Coliseum. It is deserted. Row after row of seats stand empty, the chorus of a bloodthirsty crowd fallen silent. The roof is open, pointing up to the heavens.
High above, the sky is split in two. To the East, storm clouds advancing ever closer, lightning striking down, sparking fires in its wake. To the West, the blood moon, a lunar eclipse shining crimson upon the earth.
Between the two, a single star of shimmering gold, lighting up the void in the centre of the night sky. The star looms ever larger, powerful, hypnotic.
I squint. High up, in the highest reaches of the Coliseum, stands the Moonchild. Gazing down at the proceedings, powerful and imposing. The star’s light shines down on him.
There is a sudden noise, an enormous drum pounding. The entrance ramp sparks into life, each side bursting into flame, walls of fire leading down to the ring.
As I watch, a single figure steps out onto the ramp. Head bowed, black hoodie. They make their way down the ramp, surrounded by fire, roll into the ring. Hoodie thrown back.
She attacks me, striking without warning, fist connecting with bone. I dragged back, clutching my nose, lunge forward, tackle her to the ground.
A referee enters the ring, face shrouded in shadow, silent, unresponsive. Standing a few feet away like a department store mannequin in the midst of a riot.
I mount Mia, bombard her with rights and lefts, smash her in the face once, twice, three times. I feel arms on my shoulders, pulling me back. I stumble, pull myself to my feet. Turn to the referee in rage.
I turn, just in time to catch Mia as she strikes me in the stomach, going to follow up with a DDT. I reverse, nailing her with a suplex, taking her to the ground. Spring to my feet, bounce off the ropes, bounce back in a perfect moonsault.
As the world rotates before me, j catch a glimpse. Bodies moving down the entrance ramp, one after another. Every one in identical black hoodies, heads bowed, marching in perfect unison.
I rise to my feet, watch them, spellbound. Suddenly I fall to my knees as Mia strikes me, a hard elbow to the side of the head. She follows up with kicks, to the legs, the stomach, a knee to the face as I double over.
She grabs me and hurls me over the top rope. I feel the air flow past me, the irresistible pull of gravity, the touch of the hard arena floor as I make contact.
I wince, groan, pull myself to my feet. Eyes opened, just in time to catch a lariat, sending me crashing painfully into the ring apron.
I am surrounded. The figures in black hoodies are all around, drawing in closer, more joining their ranks coming down the ramp.
They draw ever closer, mere inches away, trapping me against the ring. One by one they pull back their hoodies.
Every last one, identical, every face filled with that same mix of whimsical fury and vengeful glee. I lash out, strike one in the face, another in the stomach, do my best to return to the ring but they pull me back, dragging me down, fists and boots connecting painfully.
I manage to pull myself to the ring apron and Mia grabs me, yanking me into the ring with a snap suplex, crashing to the ground out of reach of the Mias. The referee, Mia, simply watches in silence.
I get to my feet, charge at Mia, leap into the air at the last moment. Tackle her to the ground with a flying headscissors, spring to my feet in the same motion.
I gaze out over the entrance ramp, surrounded by flames, growing ever higher, ever hotter. As I watch the flames shoot up, expectant, ready and waiting.
I close my eyes, smile, envision the atom-in-ouroboros. The air fills with the sound of twenty four voices screaming in agony.
I open my eyes. The flames spread, engulfing the area around the ring. The Mias howl as the fire consumes their flesh, hair, clothing, skin and organs melting away to nothing, leaving only skeletons crumbling to nothing.
In the ring, Mia stares at me, suddenly terrified, Mia the referee impassive by her side. As I watch, the fire from the Mias rushes into the ring, consuming the flesh of both.
Mia charges at me in one lady desperate attempt at vengeance, fails, falls to the mat as nothing more than a heap of smouldering bones.
I watch as the Mias collapse, the Coliseum filled with smoke, goes threatening to consume the ring itself. I close my eyes and as suddenly as it arose, the fire dies away to nothing.
I open my eyes. The flames are gone, the air filled with the stench of burning flesh. Outside, the ground is scorched, bodies contorted by pain and heat, lying wherever they fell.
I stare up at the heights of the arena. The Moonchild stares down.
I throw my head back and scream.
My head is pounding, throbbing, like an electrode jammed in the base of my skull sending a million volts bursting through every last neuron and synapse. I open my eyes and the world lurches into view, sudden, unsteady.
My vision goes in one direction, balance in another, the world spinning around me. I close my eyes, count backwards from the, wait for the nausea to subside.
Eyes open, I pull myself to sit upright, blocking out the agony that shoots through my skull with every movement. The room is lit up bright, the walls now stained and spoiled, smeared with blood, vomit, tears.
I am laid on the floor, curled up in a ball, at the heart of a tiny explosion of chaos. All around me the carpet is torn up, exquisite fibres torn to pieces, my hands red raw and bleeding.
I force myself to my feet. On the other side of the room, Incubus and Succubus lie in a bloodied heap, their bodies mangled, beaten and bruised. Incubus's face is a mess of blood and bone, Succubus barely conscious, moaning softly.
I look down. My chest is sprayed with blood, t-shirt torn. I pull it off, throw it to one side, underwear following close after. They land on the probe bodies of Incubus and Succubus, hiding them from view.
I cross the room. With each step the throbbing in my skull fades, the pain and weakness vanishing to little more than a memory.
In their place lies power.
I open the closet on the far side of the room. There, hanging ready and waiting. The garments. The robe of black, red and white, inscribed with occult mottos and symbols. Its back is the flag of Makhnovia, the atom-in-ouroboros in its centre.
I out the river on, nude beneath, feeling the touch of the priceless, delicate fabrics c against my skin. I take a spin, watch as the robe spins with me, swaying out around me as I turn, careful to avoid the bodies of Incubus and Succubus as they lie moaning. I laugh.
The door clicks open. And he is there.
He glanced at me, at Incubus and Succubus, back to me. I shrug. He smiles.
Elisha: Are you ready?
Cassandra: I thought you'd never ask.
And out we go.
The stadium is packed to the rafters, standing room only. Usually we would make sure of that but this time there is no need. The people want to come.
Young and old, Christian and pagan, fascist, fundamentalist, relics of one despised movement or another - all have found their way to Makhnovia over the years, the centuries.
All waiting for this.
The seizure of power.
We stand before them in the centre of the stadium. Moonchild and Prophetess, flanked by the Chosen and Ouroboros. Standing attentive, savouring the moment.
He begins to speak.
Elisha: One and all.
I know this is a frightening time for many of you, a time of great change and transition, a time when old certainties are falling by the wayside and new ones are still coming into view.
The part three decades have seen you vanish from the world stage, little more than a memory, the unrecognised state left in the wake you for the collapse of Soviet power.
Some of you wanted to change that, to modernise and moderate, to surrender to the ways of the world and its slave morality.
I am here to tell you: there is another way.
No more will you be hidden from the eye of history, no more relegated to the margins. No more will you be the goes away, forgotten, an accident of politics and time.
You will achieve greatness. Not by running from your past, but by embracing it.
I see you, every single one of you, working day in and day out, trying your hardest to be something, anything more than just another statistic.
We offer greatness. The Moonchild offers greatness.
From this day forth, this land will no longer be known as Makhnovia. From this day forth, it shall be Pierreia. Named for the most amazing man of the twentieth century.
One and all, I give you - the Moonchild and Prophetess!
The roar of the crowd is deafening. Video cameras zoom in as Incubus and Succubus, bloodied and bruised, place twin crowns on our heads. In mind's eye I see them, our gathered enemies, looking on the other side of the screen in horror. I blow them.a kiss, the Moonchild offers a little wave.
It is done.