Private: Julian Bathory
Click. Rewind. Click. Play.
The professional wrestling landscape has become a hotbed of false faiths. Littered with the offcast trimmings of personality cults and overpolished grifter schemes, an excess of demagogues. This just will not do.
MESSIAH doesn’t require blind obedience to flawed men or peddle snake-oil to desperate, gullible marks. We offer merely truth. There is, however, a caveat to enlightenment, a reason that everyone walking our inner sanctum has steeled their mind and spirit as a stronghold.
Ultimate truth is a terrible thing. It will exact a fatal toll on the unprepared, and starry-eyed initiates expecting paradise will break as before a tempest. Truth is a sanity-splitting horror set against the backdrop of a dread horizon. It often extends beyond mere cosmic indifference and bleeds over into a whimsical malevolence.
I don’t stomach false prophets. Especially not vagabonds squatting in bunkers spreading virulent gospel to a horde of motley followers worshipping the boot that crushes them. Mephisto’s putrid existence in PRIME impedes our task, places locks on proverbial doors that should never have been set before us.
The Family. Pfft. How many of these misfits will weep when we blow apart Jacob’s knock-off Fight Club and scatter them to the winds?
It’s been said that some men are born just so that they can be buried. Fortuitous that our playground borders the Vegas desert, a sprawling depository for erased problems.
Abel, West Virginia – May 12, 2022
“I’m sorry I couldn’t stay longer to save you, chase away the shadows. Your blood runs so cold now, big brother. ”
The shade’s words stung like barbs. Sasha Marko’s phantom reclined on the bank, ethereal and observant, plucking petals from virgin flowers sprouting from the grass. Another avatar of his discordant conscience, an ephemeral dream, his departed sister took on the form he roughly envisioned she’d be today were she alive and healthy. Another projection of his pain that Bruce would never know about.
“You didn’t fail anyone,” he muttered, crouching low to the ground and searching for something, clawing. “It was a part of that damnable plan you always lectured me about, wasn’t it?”
“What did you say, mister?”
Bathory shifted his attention back to the boy. Asher Kelley still looked at him with a barely restrained awe, vaguely star-struck, just as he had that chill night that MESSIAH had descended on the church in Abel. The kid had an inquisitive range far beyond that of his peers or elders in this town, curiosity that belied one so firmly rooted in the impliable faith of these parts. He was a chip off the old block, a youthful echo of Evan Kelley unmarred by the past violence and depravities that stained his father’s soul.
“Nothing,” he said, rising, having found a smooth stone just past the water’s edge. “Sometimes I talk aloud to myself when I’m thinking. Don’t be alarmed.”
The young Kelley skipped another across the pond, sending ripples over the still and glassy surface. Birds skirted above the marsh, weaving between wilted branches blanketed thick with moss and mold.
“I like how you talk, mister. It’s different. Nothin’ like the other men ‘round here. They all sound the same.”
“Ah, you mean my accent.”
The burly man whipped his own rock over the water, bouncing it nearly to the opposite shore. The boy whistled. “I came here from far away. A country called Hungary. It’s an old land with an old soul, sort of like here.” He paused, minding the graying clouds as they shifted to fleetingly blot out the sun. “The Carpathian Mountains run through my home, like the Appalachians do here in West Virginia. Both of them are ancient, and they both hold incredible power. You can feel it in the earth when you learn what to look for.”
“Spare the boy one of your monologues, Padraig,” interjected the shadow of Sasha. She glided atop the pond like a skater as she chided him, playful but firm. “Your people already feed him this drivel twice a week. At least allow him a childhood before you and your devils turn him into another infernal hand.”
“What’s it like bein’ on TV? Do ya ever get scared in front o’ all those people? Heck, I get butterflies when I just gotta give a speech in class.”
The Hungarian grinned, rolling the stone between his fingers as he ruminated. As much as the kid’s father brooded over had come to Abel, it surprised him how little that mood had influenced his offspring. “Sometimes, Asher. Not real scared but, sure, nervous. Especially if the other guy is big and strong.”
“But you’re big and strong.” He poked at the man’s bicep through the fabric of his shirt. It was a rarity for the MESSIAH director to be spotted in anything but a suit or his sporting attire, but he’d found that his business here allowed a more casual dress code.
“Yeah, well, there are guys there bigger and stronger than I am. It’s not always the strongest or toughest or fastest man that wins, just like out here in the world. Sometimes it’s the smartest. Like how David took down Goliath, right? Be more clever and be a problem solver.”
A distant sigh, amplified.
“Is this the point where you go on some bizarrely timed rant, big brother?” Sasha’s apparition had drifted to the highest branch of a tree overlooking the pond, teetering overhead as she walked it like a tightrope. “Are you going to start howling to some confused kid about the vagaries and barbarisms of pro wrestling? Guide him through some farcical safari while you belittle some foe’s manhood? You could dress him up in a costume and take him back to Vegas with you as a mascot. I’m sure Bruce would adore it, the kind and wistful soul that he is.”
Sasha would never have let that relationship flourish. His baby sister had a hound’s nose for bad seeds out there, even as a young girl.
He gazed down at the boy. “I’m not one of your teachers, Asher. Call me Julian.”
A pleased shrug. “That necklace. Where’d you get it?”
He hadn’t even noticed that he had drawn out the coin around his neck during his musings, finger absently tracing along the engraved image.
“It was a gift, kiddo. A gift from a very dear friend that I haven’t seen in a long time.” He knelt and spun his talisman between two fingers, fading daylight glinting off its chain, showing the Kelley boy the silver crown etched on the token. “I got hurt when I was traveling and she helped me heal. Carved this herself. Not bad, huh?”
“That’s mighty fancy, Mist…er, Julian. Was she your girlfriend? Was she pretty?”
That familiar burn began in Bathory’s nostrils, his eyes welling. He looked away just long enough to swipe away a slipped tear. He still couldn’t play this card, not even in front of an impressionable boy. He remained wary of the Season of Knives, it’s murderous climate as secrets were loosed. Young tongues couldn’t be trusted, intent be damned.
“She is. Very, very pretty. Works in a museum far away and loves history. Someday we’ll see each other again. One day you’ll understand.”
The clouds moving in grew black, aggressive, a death shroud covering Roane County like a corpse; in some regards it already was just that, a decaying village devoured by Bathory’s ominous order. The first sound of thunder rumbled distantly over the mountain as droplets fell to saturate the land, quickening to begin a gentle beat on the pond. His phone buzzed.
THEY HAVE ARRIVED
The text was simple, expected. The call to arms he had waited for.
“This will be our secret. The conversation and everything. Your daddy doesn’t much approve of the things I’m doing in Abel and he’d prefer we didn’t meet too much.”
The boy nodded. He seemed, in a word, crestfallen. “I know, sir. Daddy don’t like you too much. But he really hates the other fella you came with. Says he’s the Devil in man’s clothes. Evil as sin and can’t be redeemed.”
The Hungarian offered little in the way of redemption. He ruffled the kid’s hair with a smile and ambled toward his rental car with nary a further glance.
He unzipped his bag, tilting it to reveal the contents. Pressed between folded clothes and a leather-bound tome, protruding slightly, was a plush head. A head with comical fangs and two copper coins for eyes.
The phantom smiled, head lolling to one side. “I knew you wouldn’t forget me, big brother. Thanks for that.”
She dissipated. He fought off tears again before sliding into the driver’s seat.
It was after Julian Bathory had disappeared over the hill that Asher saw the angel. He didn’t know what else it could possibly be, this watcher above that remained dry despite the torrential rain. The boy lingered a moment, frightened despite his belief, eyes settled on the motionless, winged figure.
“Are you an angel?”
An impossibly long beat.
“I am.” The response rang purely in his mind. It was exciting, like a hero in the comic books he had at home.
“Wow! So…why are you here?”
The boy sensed the angel would have smiled if it had a mouth. Instead it had a curved beak, set below three grey eyes that had yet to blink. One wing was membranous like a bat, talon-tipped, the other the feathered archetype associated with God’s messengers.
Terrifying, abhorrent, a miracle. Asher Kelley had come to distinguish little between these as he wandered ahead, felt the embrace of the Lord’s chosen.