Anna Marie and Gladys are terrorists on the run…but its not the government they fear. They betrayed a deadly society of feminists. The Swords of St. Catherine have come for payback.
Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII
I opened my eyes to a gray ceiling fan with cracks in the wood. Everything looked old, as if the house was taken straight from a post-civil war documentary. The windows were milky and stained. The dresser looked like a device for splinters. My bed was twin size with a rusty iron headboard. Even my pillow was stuffed with real feathers. I could feel the stems pricking through the pillowcase, scratching at my neck.
My bullet wounds were patched up. Someone had sewn me shut and dressed me in a faded pink nightgown. There was a table on the other side of the room with a pitcher and two tin cups. I was thirsty like you wouldn’t believe, so I got up.
Anyone wondering if I was awake wouldn’t have to wonder long. I was so weak. My bones felt brittle. As soon as I tried to stand, I crumbled to the floor with this wooden crash that probably sounded much louder than it was. The problem was, I couldn’t hear anyone else. I was on the second floor and sound carried.
Not wanting to break anything, I hugged the wall and hobbled to the table like an old woman. There was nothing in the pitcher. I expected water.
Timed perfectly with my groan was a howling wind that rustled through the last leaves of a withering tree just outside my window. And through the branches, I saw the distant figure of Anna Marie all dressed in black. She was deep in the woods and her long hair shrouded her face, but I knew it was her. I grabbed sheets from the bed, wrapped up, and left.
The Perennial War of Paramours Gladys Vandelay – For the Living By Rock Kitaro
In the downstairs kitchen was a family of African-Americans. A mother, a father, and three toddlers. They were all so quiet as fuck that it creeped me out. I could sense the feeling was mutual. They stared like I was a ghost wandering the halls. No one said anything, not even so much as a greeting.
Finally, I just shuffled over to their breakfast table and grabbed about four strips of bacon. “Thank you.” I whispered before scurrying off. But of course, my bed sheets got caught on the crease in the floorboard. I tripped, scraping my knees and the children laughed. I whipped around to see which ones, but only caught the tail end of the mother snapping her fingers at them.
“Who are you people?” I asked.
“The owners of the house you’re staying in.” the father told me.
“I don’t suppose you have a name?”
“Just call me the caretaker.”
I squinted at him. “Did you put me in this nightgown?”
The mother rolled her neck with spiked brows, a matrimonial warning, not worth ignoring. So I threw up my hands and whispered, “Sorry.” Continue Reading
The Andalusian recalls how she was recruited by the Swords of St. Catherine, a deadly society of underground feminists. She used to be carefree and spirited. Living life to the fullest. But when she kills her would-be rapist, everything changes.
Anna Marie – The Cult By Rock Kitaro
My life begins every time he dies and I’m getting sick of it. I thought he was dead. I thought I had killed him. This time I know he’s not coming back. I suppose the only solace stems from the fact that he finally learned the truth. The truth is, I loved him. I’ll always love him. That’s all there is to it.
I don’t want everyone to know all about my family upbringing or whatever. It’s nobody’s business. So I’m going to skip all that.
I met Marcus in my early twenties. We worked together in the same building, at the same company, an up-and-coming media outlet focusing on entertainment. He was a journalist writing op-ed pieces on the ever-changing culture, while I made my bones on the forecast projections of upcoming album and box office sales. I heard he gave me credit for how much I changed him, inspiring him to grow. I suppose I should do the same.
I dunno… Marcus was really shitty at small talk. I think our first conversation was about God. That’s how deep and straight to the point he was. It was kind of annoying at first. I thought it was creepy and invasive. I was like, “who the hell are you that I should tell you all these deep and personal things?”
But after a while, I dunno. It kinda grew on me. I found myself thinking about crap I never would’ve even considered.
He talked about stuff like North Korea or the slave trade in Africa that still persists to this day. And when he spoke, he was so full of passion. Like, he honestly cared, as if he had a family member there or some stake in the matter. It was a spectacle, actually. Always so dramatic and full of histrionics. Caught myself smiling a couple of times. He’d notice, turn and blush. If black people could blush. Then he’d ask for my opinion. I wouldn’t have one. I just enjoyed listening. But he encouraged me to think. He was in my head. That’s how the bastard got me.
Gladys Vandelay was once a rising recruit, trained to be one of the most dangerous snipers in an underground society of feminists. She has since defected, and now, she’s being recruited by another secret organization. The problem is, everyone still thinks she’s playing for the enemy. Elliot Chan’s determined to find out for himself whether Gladys is a friend or foe. The one thing they have in common is that both of them lost their fathers to the Swords of St. Catherine.
Elliot Chan: Domestication
All that talk about Gladys Vandelay… Jake had so much hope, so much faith in her. Jake’s not an idiot. Just a hopeless romantic. Who was she? What did she know? What if she knew nothing and all this drama was just a waste of time and stress. They did mention that she flunked her initiation. From my understanding, only full-fledged Swords knew the deepest innermost secrets of the Society’s infrastructure. So what could we possibly get out of this one girl? I had to see for myself.
After combing the enormous estate for most of the afternoon, I found her in the first place I should have checked. I heard she was crazy about guns but damn. By the time I arrived at the underground shooting range, she had already gone through fifty magazines, three sniper rifles had jammed and the gears of an antique machine gun had dislodged from its cogs.
A guy leaving told me that she didn’t talk to anyone and good luck. She just stayed in her lane and popped off rounds. When someone asked her a question, she pretended not to hear them. But still, I approached, pulling up a chair so as to signify that I wasn’t going anywhere.
She threw a glance out of the corner of her eye before unloading on a fresh target sheet 30 yards away. I heard she was twenty-two but she looked like she was still in middle school. Baby blue eyes. Long blonde hair with curls at the ends. From her skirt and stockings, I could tell she was athletically gifted by the bulge of her calves, the way she barely shook from the recoil. Her accuracy was also something else. She hit the X on eight out of the ten shots fired from a fully automatic.
“I’m glad to see your injury hadn’t affected your accuracy.” I said in the pause it took for her to reload.
She didn’t respond.
“You were wounded, weren’t you? I’m only assuming Col. Buchanan isn’t completely off his rocker in bringing you here.”
“Scared?” She asked.
“Terrified.” I grinned.
“You should be. I’m only barely resisting the urge to turn my muzzle your way. Now leave me alone.”
“Are you here to destroy us? Or do you really want to take down the Society?”
She slapped in a new magazine with an attitude that sent chills down my spine.
“If none of you believe me, then why the fuck…You should just get rid of me. It’s so simple it’s stupid.”
“You’re right!” I said, standing up. “It is stupid. However, Jake isn’t dumb and neither is the council. But unlike them, I know all about false hope. I know what it does to a man. They’ll sacrifice their entire lives for that which isn’t true, plunging headfirst in their graves blissfully at peace with the hope and faith that everything will work out. I learned that lesson long ago. Hope, faith, belief, these are like batteries for martyrs. I’m not a martyr.”
“You think I give a damn what you are? Couldn’t care less.” She snapped.
“I heard they killed your old man right in front of you.”
She finally aimed her gun at me but I didn’t back down.
“They killed my father in front of me too. Both of my fathers, actually. The biological and the one who adopted me. Honestly, you bitches make me sick. Initiated or not, you’re one of them. I can see it in your eyes. You all have it.”
“Selfishness. Everyone of you thinks you’re the center of the universe.”
“Please! Grow up! Every one’s selfish! You have to look out for yourself ‘cause no one else will. If all the Paramours are like you then y’all don’t stand a chance. The Swords will carve through you like cake.”
I nodded in disbelief as I walked away, kinda pissed.
“You’re selfish too, you little punk! You’re just too stupid to see it. That ‘correct the course’ philosophy is nonsense! It’s pointless. It won’t change anything. If you don’t kill them! If you don’t kill every last one of them they’ll only multiply and they won’t stop until they get their revenge! And on and on it will go! It’s insanity you fucking blockhead!”
I could still hear her shouting as I boarded the elevator. It’s not that I didn’t believe or understand where she was coming from. But I suppose that’s the difference between the Paramours and the Swords of St. Catherine. The women perpetuate the hate. The men are prepared to end it by laying down their lives. It begged the question, in the depths of my heart, am I really a Paramour? Continue Reading
In the U.S., I heard there was a march on Washington D.C., a women’s march where prominent figures of influence and fame gathered in solidarity. It was a rallying call to address key issues women faced in society. Of their grievances, I understood they called for things like reproductive rights, gender equality, health care reform, equal pay, and an overall acceptance towards the right of a woman to do and be whatever they wanted.
I’m not sure if this movement was promulgated by the Swords of St. Catherine or not, either way, I couldn’t help but feel conflicted in so many ways. In the United States, women have so much control, so much power, so much influence. We can say what we want. Do what we want. There are obstacles sure, but the trials and tribulations makes us ten times stronger than men. I embraced them.
And if the women of America are ten times stronger than men on the basis of that logic, then I can tell you from the bottom of my heart and with the utmost sincerity… The women fighting in the Middle East are a hundred times more powerful.
In many countries, women are still treated like cattle, like currency, like a bartering chip between families. I’ve seen women stoned for exposing too much skin. I’ve seen teenage girls beheaded simply for reporting they were raped. I’ve seen entire villages beating on women for walking without a man’s supervision or daring to take off her hijab in the scorching sun.
In Saudi Arabia, there’s a practice called Wahhabism by which groups of clergy men literally patrol the streets like wolves to surround and attack anyone they deem violators of their sacred laws. They were given carte blanche to determine for themselves what’s consider blasphemy or treason. Women are their main targets.
Here, women need the permission of men to marry, divorce, educate themselves, seek employment, or even open a bank account. That’s just to name a few. And God forbid any woman was caught driving, though I heard they recently ‘laxed on that law. The punishments ranged from mutilation, stoning, death, and on occasion, crucifixion.
Saudi Arabia was my first stop when I came to the Middle East. An underground activist tutored me and the three other protégés on the customs. My blue eyes and blonde hair would have made me an eyesore by which the wolves would be driven to a frenzy. Thankfully, I was able to fully take advantage of the abaya and niqab, black robes that would conceal my fair skin. Additionally, I darkened my face with foundation and used brown contact lenses.
Initially, the plan was to spend five days in Saudi Arabia before smuggling ourselves north into Jordan. But one of my comrades, Shelly, she saw a group of men raping a student in an alley outside our loft. Shelly attacked. The ensuing battle was loud, bloody, and attracted the Wolves of Wahhabi. That’s when I intervened with my trusty Dragunov sniper rifle. The bodies we left in the streets roiled the public for months.
We were long gone by time the police raided shops and homes with impunity, but I learned very fast that all actions had unintended consequences. The public demanded justice and the government gave it to them. The student who was raped was publically beheaded. Her entire family was stoned in the middle of a town square.
Wherever Col. Jake Buchanan goes, he has to register as a sex offender.
His ex-wife used a website that catered to married people looking to engage in affairs. When hackers broke into this website and exposed the thousands of adulterers, the wife divorced Jake and convinced their children to tell the courts that he had molested them. He spent six years in prison. His life was ruined. But he still loves her. He still loves his little girls. That’s why Jake’s a Paramour.
After Gladys defects from a deadly society of Feminists, they send wave after wave of mercenaries to hunt her down. The Paramours have tracked her location to the snowy wilderness of Alberta, Canada. They have to find her before its too late. But even when they do…it’s not like Snow leopards are known for playing nice.
Jake Buchanan – The Hopeless Commander By Rock Kitaro
“There was this girl. Her name was Jamie. I knew we went to the same school. I’d seen her around campus, but it wasn’t till my sophomore year that I found out we stayed in the same housing complex. She was just across the hallway.
“The first time we spoke, it was like magic. Pretty eyes. Long sandy blonde hair. She had such a sweet smile. It was contagious. But she smoked. That was kind of…I’m like damn, dude. Haha! Don’t let those good looks go down the drain. But to each his own, I guess. I didn’t judge.
“It’s like a moment you see in the movies, boy meets girl. Except it’s the next-door neighbor. One day, when we were walking out at the same time, I introduced myself. I remember my voice was shakin’ like crazy. But she seemed smitten. You know, her cheeks lit up bright red. We talked about this, that, and the other, and it was cool. I thought we hit it off.
“Then I went and did a Google search on her. I know people might call that creepy or whatever but, I dunno. I just wanted to know more about her without asking all these invasive questions. I didn’t have the ‘right’ to know. But still, I wanted to know. I clicked on the images tab and scrolled down to find her. And that’s when I was floored, man.
“I found a shot of her in her bathroom, like a webcam. Turns out this girl was using Backpages to hook up with sugar daddies in Denver. I couldn’t believe it. She seemed so clean and pure. Like if you talked to her, you would have never guessed that sex was something she was even into. I know that sounds stupid because everyone’s into sex. But that’s not the impression she gives off.
“Weeks after I found out, I kept it to myself, but it was just by coincidence that we ended up having the same class. Her world seemed to revolve around environmental studies. She was all up in arms about that pipeline the government wanted to run through the Indian Reservation. Again, my point being, prostitution is the last thing you’d expect. And the truth is, I was madly in love with this girl. Like, heads over heels man.
“One night I came home from a long shift of delivering pizzas. And I saw her crying on the steps. Someone had beat the shit out her and it pissed me off. Seriously, , her face was all swollen, black and blue. The neck hole of her shirt was all stretched out. I could see scratch marks on her shoulders. Man…Just thinking about it again, it’s like setting me on fire, you know.
“I asked her what was wrong but she wouldn’t tell me. She just said she wanted to be left alone. So I did, at first. I left her alone. But, I couldn’t just go in and rest easy knowing the girl of my dreams needed help.
“Bout a half hour later, I went back out with a bottle of water and she was still there. She let me treat her injuries. I had like, gauze and Neosporin or some shit.
“The way she looked at me, it was like a puppy I just took in from the freezing rain. I tried to get her to open up and tell me what happened but she wouldn’t. She just said she was going through some things and everything would be alright.
“And that’s when I messed up. It’s like…a thousand voices in my head was screaming ‘NO!!!’ But that one voice in my heart said, ‘Do it, she needs help!’ So I did.
“I went ahead and told her that I knew she was on Backpages. She didn’t deny it. If anything, she seemed relieved.
“I told her that I thought she was ten times more precious than she probably knew. I told her how impressive her dissertation was. I told her I learned more from her than I did the goddamn teachers. I said she was beautiful, smart, and full of so much potential. There are better ways to earn money. Whatever she was being paid, I guaranteed her it was pennies to the fucking dollar of what she was actually worth!
“She cried. And I cried with her. I would’ve given her a hug right then and there. It was cold outside. I should have wrapped her up in my arms and told her everything was gonna be alright. But I didn’t. I thought, that would be taking advantage of her and I didn’t want to do that. It just didn’t seem right.
“So, I helped her up and escorted her to her apartment. I never entered in with her. But what I told her was, ‘Jamie…I stay right there. If you ever need any help, if you ever need someone to talk to, just let me know. You have my number. I barely sleep. So just call anytime.
“And she smiled as I thought we were cool. I told her good night and went to my own apartment thinking, you know, I did something good. I was proud of myself. Not only for consoling her and imparting some sense of self-worth into this individual. But of my restraint, my discipline in not thrusting myself on her in such a vulnerable state.
“Well…as you can imagine. No good deed goes unpunished. About a week later, I was called into the Dean’s office. Jamie accused me of rape and sexual battery. Obviously, she had the bruises to prove it and there were neighbors who testified to seeing me with her the night in question. I was evicted. Expelled. Spent two years in prison and now I have to register as a sex offender wherever I go. No one will hire me. I’m fucking terrified to even look at a girl. Essentially, my life is ruined.
“I never got the chance to face my accuser. She didn’t have to show up for trial. I never saw Jamie again after that night. I couldn’t ask the questions that would eventually go on to torment me for years. Like, why? Why’d she do it? Was she ashamed? Did she think I’d go out and tell everyone she was a prostitute? It really got to the point where I thought about killing myself. Out here. Out on these mountains. All it would take is one jerk of the wheel to end it all. Death would have been sweet. That’s honestly how I felt.
“But that’s when Jake found me. I honestly do think he was sent from God because that very morning, I had made up my mind to fucking end it. I was leaving the pharmacy with oxys when I saw Jake on his Harley. He was parked next to me looking all badass and what not. I thought he was talking on his phone when he said, ‘God has a plan for you.’
“I stood there in place, frozen, stiff as a board. He said, ‘consider the words of Joseph. In Genesis chapter fifty, do you remember?’
“Joseph, poor Joseph, his brothers had sold him into slavery. His master’s wife falsely accused him of taking advantage of her. Then he spent years in jail because of it. But throughout it all, he never lost faith in God. God granted him the power to interpret dreams, helping him gain favor with Pharaoh, prompting his ascension to become the second most powerful man in Egypt. Thanks to Joseph, Egypt had prepared for a famine, which saved the lives of thousands. Hundreds of thousands!’
“But one mustn’t forget the hardships he endured. One mustn’t forget the trials and tribulations he faced. And what did he say? In Chapter Fifty when his brothers feared his wrath, when his brothers feared that one day Joseph would exact the vengeance they felt he was so justified to take? He said: ‘As for you, you meant evil against me. But God meant it for good. To bring it about that many people be kept alive as they are today.’
“Everyone has their trials and tribulations, my friend. Remember Jesus Christ, who was persecuted and died for our sins. Know that the world accepts what is there’s, but as for you, because you are no part of the world, but one claimed by Christ, they will persecute you. Have strength. Be strong and ever faithful in the word of God.’ That’s what Jake told me back in the parking lot of a pharmacy.”
Trent recounted his experience with tearful repose. We all gave him a standing ovation, an ovation worthy of his ordeal, his pain and recovery. After concluding the meeting, I saw everyone out, locked up the church, got on my Harley and drove north along the majestic Front Range mountains of Colorado Springs.
Trent was but one of hundreds in our support group. It was just for men. It had to be. In my day, men were taught to be strong, tough, and durable, but we still had emotions. When our fathers and father’s fathers told us we couldn’t cry, that we couldn’t appear weak, we knew. We understood what it meant. They were trying to make leaders out of us. Preparing us to protect and provide for our families. If the leader is weak, incapable, too yielding, it trickles down.
Now there was once a certain senator who was known to frequent clubs and popular spots in Uptown Toronto. His name was Jared J. Chrysler, a despicable bully who had a penchant for strong-arming his proposals through city hall.
Sen. Chrysler was not a good man. Not a good man at all.
As it was, I knew Sen. Chrysler before I saw him. He was as corrupt as they come and thought himself untouchable. His dossier came replete with sexual assaults, everything from rape, torture, and murder. He was once caught on camera literally stripping the clothes off of a reporter in an elevator while he was high on coke.
Two years ago, his name dominated headlines after he declared in Parliament that women had no place in politics. He never apologized. Never chalked it up to a gaffe or a slip of the tongue. Instead, Chrysler had the gumption to stand by his words. And in spite of widespread protests, solidarity from the academia damn-near screaming for his resignation, this unsavory fellow managed to stay in office.
On top of all that, Chrysler had dealings with the Bratva. He aided in human trafficking and had the nerve to call for stricter immigration laws when one of his mistresses threatened to go public. Of course, this mistress hasn’t been seen for some time. Rumor has it she was pregnant with his child and as a result, her body was stuffed in a barrel down in the basement. Everyone knew he dabbled in narcotics and every so often, he’d had to get rid of his limos because no matter what they did they couldn’t get the stench of marijuana out of the seats.
That his execution didn’t come sooner, I think, emboldened his god-like complex. At the same time, it made him an easier target for those who weren’t bound by silly things like laws or ethics.
I think that’s why they chose me. “The first kill is always the hardest,” they say. But honestly, there was no fear. No trepidation. I wasn’t reluctant nor did I hesitate or have any second thoughts. I didn’t feel anything…other than the smooth friction of my knife sliding across his neck. I killed the man. But the ladies killed his legacy.
That’s the way we worked. A death shrouded in mystery would only inflate his infamy. We couldn’t have that. So his hotel room was staged to look like a break in. His business partner, just as corrupt as he, was our patsy. There were recordings of the partner hiring a hitman years ago. The coward called it off but we still had the tapes. Damning evidence, really.
You have to understand, I was never a full-fledged member of the Society. I wanted to be, more than anything. These ladies, these women. They’re extraordinary. Every single one of them has this overpowering presence by which you can’t help but wonder if they came fresh from leading entire legions on the battlefield. Perhaps by becoming one of them, I thought I could soak in but an ounce of their charisma, their strength.
I’m sorry. I suppose even now, I find it difficult to denigrate them. They trained me. They believed in me. But their price was too heavy. It was a price I couldn’t pay.
In New York City some years ago, I was but a budding flower, having just graduated from Elysium with a 4.0 grade average and an avid interest in finance. Having grown up in the halls of Papa’s corporate offices, I was exposed to the high stakes of million dollar hedge fund investments. Despite all that, I was groomed to be a classical composer. That’s the path my parents chose for me.
My mother and our nannies came from Surrey, hence the accent I inherited. I began playing the piano when I was about five or six, and to date, I’ve mastered all of Chopin’s compositions. However, Erik Satie was my idol. It’s all about the timing in his works and the one thing I appreciated the most was the risk he took by trying something new and, dare I say, awkward. “Gymnopedie” is my favorite. I must have rehearsed it a thousand times. Even in complete silence, I hear it in my head.
To much is given, much is expected. That is, unless you have six big brothers and three older sisters, all more outgoing and impressive than yourself. It goes without saying, my own candle paled in comparison.
They dominated everything. Dinner conversations. Galas. Parties and pageants. At some point, I suppose I just got lost somewhere in the back and I didn’t mind. I had no talent for oratory and the moment all eyes were on me, I’d freeze up with the most terrifying heart palpitations.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved my family. My brothers were so cool. Strong and handsome. And my sisters…Well, I suppose it’s a bit ironic now that I think about it. Clarice, Emily, and Victoria. My heart weeps even as I say this, but every time I was in the same room with them, I was afraid. They picked on me for being so short and small. I had bad asthma and they’d mock me relentlessly for the wheezing, the “overdramatic” desperation I’d exhibit to find my inhaler.
Papa made them take me everywhere and I could tell how much they resented it. It’s a horrid feeling, to have so much in common with expensive luggage that’s been passed down through generations. It’s because of Papa that they included me but I understood why. He didn’t want me to feel alone. Papa was always looking out for me. He was perhaps the one ray of light that kept me warm in an otherwise cold and abysmal childhood.
It was because of Papa that I had the strength to smile. When I was little, I used to stare at him like he was a Greek painting. The hope that most people have towards Christ is how I felt about him. Papa came to every one of my recitals. When everyone clapped and congratulated me, words couldn’t quite express how elated my father was. He’d cry. Such emotion. I felt the love. I didn’t have to wonder with him. I simply knew how much he loved me by how open he was about showing his affections. It was to his arms that I’d run. It was within his coat that I found salvation.
Felix Domina Vandelay II. That was his name, a titan on Wall Street with investments around the world. We were decedents of King Wilhelm Vandelay of Godland who surrendered the throne to the Swedish Empire. Our family was paid handsomely for throne and has since, dominated the shipping industry back before the English stole New York from the Dutch.
My father revered history and I took after him. My siblings didn’t seem to care one way or the other, but I did. Money was something everyone had, more or less, but our heritage, our pedigree, to come from royal blood was something my father regarded with pride. He installed our family crest in the corporate emblem. I’ll never forget the smile on his face when he took me to see it. Just me. No one else wanted to come.
And that’s how it went. The Vandelay name became synonymous with both opulence and, surprisingly enough, generosity. A lot of what I know about capitalism and economy came from what my father taught me. He’d let me sit in on the big important meetings, trusting with good measure that I’d behave and simply observe. And I did. It was interesting, actually. I enjoyed listening to them talk, more than I did watching cartoons or coloring in books. The tension, the frayed nerves, the adrenaline of risking so much on a public stock or new business, as CEO, Papa was the mediator to temper all tempers.
One time, Papa introduced me to the president of an airline company. It was just a joke, but Papa said I was his only daughter. I know this sounds bad but I fantasized about being his only child. I imagined a world without brothers or sisters or even my mother. Just Papa and me. I would have been so happy. It would have been the perfect world. But as it was, my brothers and sisters existed. In particular, Clarice, the eldest sister, born six years before myself.
Clarice was in a lot of ways the ring leader of the many cliques that tormented me from boarding school to boarding school. She could blame it on her youth, sure. But I never understood it. I heard stories about bullies being jealous of their targets or wanting something their victims had. But Clarice was taller, popular, drop-dead gorgeous and intelligent enough to know when to acquiesce. She never physically abused me. Just stole or broke everything that belonged exclusively to me. She called my recitals boring and sometimes, I could hear her laughing from the balconies as I played.
When the Society approached me, it was during a very dark chapter in my life. And yes, I blamed Clarice for it. My music teacher of eight years had just lost his wife to leukemia. I was his favorite pupil. I wanted to be there for him, to commiserate with him, to let him know that he wasn’t alone. But my family had a tradition of taking the yacht across the Mediterranean every Easter. I begged my mother to let me stay behind and support him but Clarice…She put it in my mother’s head that my teacher fancied me beyond what was appropriate.
We had just ported in Barcelona when I learned that my teacher committed suicide by plummeting from his twenty-fifth floor apartment. I was fifteen-years-old.
I was racked with grief. Even my father couldn’t console me. And he tried desperately. I wasn’t eating. I refused to attend school. And one afternoon, I returned home to find my bedroom nearly stacked to ceiling with rows of my favorite flowers, the white hydrangeas. It was classic of my father to go to such lengths. It was out of respect for him that I begrudgingly return to school.
By then, there was something different about me. Everyone could see it and finally, they all left me alone. I no longer smiled. I lost the ability to laugh or giggle. I stopped coming to Papa’s offices, and every time I entered a room where I knew Clarice was present, I’d keep my gaze to the floor.
I really hated that bitch. When I cried alone, it wasn’t because I was sad. It was the growing pain of holding back the rage in my heart. Every time I’d hear her laugh, or cheer, or so much as clear her wretched throat, I’d be so stricken by this incredible urge to stab her with the sharpest thing I could find. It was really bad and I knew something was wrong with me. But who could I tell? Who would possibly understand?
Three weeks after my maestro’s passing, I found myself sitting alone in an herbal teashop down in the Village. It rained that evening with a constant patter that calmed the disquieting notions. I’d hone in an out of the constellation of raindrops on the window. Red and yellow lights blurred in straight lines that zipped up and down the wet street.
Two older men approached and offered to buy me a drink. They appeared college students, and I knew they meant well, but I dismissed both.
Then, she sat down. A velvety black coat that still held beads from the rain. Long dark hair. Dazzling blue eyes with the elegance of a former ballerina, or a debutant like myself. Without saying anything, she just smiled and I was spellbound. She extended a napkin to wipe my tears. I still remember my mascara bleeding into the soft white cloth.
“May I help you?” I asked.
She sighed and looked around once more before settling on me.
“Your guilt is unwarranted. You are trapped, my dear. Like a bird, a caged canary. I am here to set you free.”
It was unreal. Everything I needed to hear came from those few words. She followed up with nothing else, but abruptly scooted her chair out and grazed past my shoulder and made her way to the exit. I exhaled, not realizing I had been holding my breath.
“Are you coming?”
I turned around. She was waiting for me, her and three others, all wearing the same dark velvety coat but with different styles of shoes and earrings. There was a motorcade of two black luxury SUVs parked on the curb behind them.
I didn’t get up at once. It was absurd and I think she saw it in my gaze.
“I can only unlock the cage. It’s up to you to spread your wings and fly.” She said.
“Who are you?” I asked in a shaky whisper.
“I’m Breanne. That’s Scarlett. She’s Mandee. And we call this one the Andalusian.”
Breanne, Scarlett, Mandee, and the Andalusian. These were the first Swords of St. Catherine I had the pleasure to meet. And if all of Swords were as impressive as they, with all due respect, there isn’t a force on earth powerful enough to match wits.
Officially, I ran away from New York City that night. Sadly, no one noticed. Not even Papa.
Elliot Chan – The Network Executive (Short Story) By Rock Kitaro
Training to become a Paramour was about what one expect from any covert Special Forces operation. Except, we learned Tai Chi and a form of kung fu called Wushu. Also, the training didn’t take place over some eight-week boot camp period, but over the course of three years by which, you have to maintain the appearance of an everyday civilian by progressing in your respective fields. For me, that was in the TV industry. I got an entry job at MBC straight out of college and began working my way up as a production assistant.
The Paramours had posts all over the world. However, our headquarters was in this big country house in the English county of Derbyshire, right along the Derwent River, not far from the Chatsworth Estate. Its official title was the Leigh Estate. But the Paramours called it, Hollow Rock.
Many of the actual facilities were underground and shielded from aerial coverage, such as the firing range, the armory, and it’s inventory of the most badass vehicles I’ve ever seen. The first time I saw the place, it was breathtaking, the beauty of its green luscious splendor. It was vast, remote, and serene with singing birds and the trickle of creeks. Everything had this quaint, old British feel to it like a step back in time. Peaceful and soothing. It was just what I needed to accelerate the healing process…by which I was able to move on from the murder of my adoptive parents.
I reconnected with “Jake” at Hollow Rock. His real name was Col. Jacob Buchanan, having served in the Gulf War and conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo. His story was a sad story. I mean…damn. But I’ll let him tell you himself. Jake became my closest friend and confidant. I told him what happened to Marvin and Sharon and he commiserated with me.
I remember one of my first conversations with him, after I went through the inaugural training sessions and my peers saw that there was more to me than meets the eye. We were walking along the stone bridge over the clear stream of the Derwent when I asked him something that’s been on my mind since I joined.
“Here’s my problem with the Paramours. It’s sort of like the superhero in a comic book. They foil the evil plan but they don’t kill, so the villains keep coming back. I don’t get that. It’s illogical. You said the Paramours don’t kill. To know that this secret society exists but no one’s doing anything to make them public? We don’t even turn them into the authorities, so they just keep on killin’ and ruinin’ innocent lives. Does no one feel guilty about all that?”
Jake, with his cold blue eyes and crew cut, stared out over the river.
“Elliot, do you know what a Paramour is? By definition, do you know what a paramour is?”
A question with a question. Friggin love those.
“It’s like a person’s who’s loved the most.” I answered.
“It’s an illicit lover, a secret lover to a married person. In that sense, I think Lord Byron named us precisely when he founded the brotherhood. Granted, not all of us are married or have ever been married, the key word her is love. You never met your mom. Do you love her?”
His questions were getting annoying.
“I don’t know. I guess.”
He scoffed, shaking his head at me like the rookie I was.
“It’s like this, Ellie. When you’re here, we train you, we give you the tools and trust you to assist your brothers out in the field. If you kill, if you choose to kill, you’re no longer a Paramour. You’re not one of us. Not in your heart. But once you’re put in a position where you have that choice and you choose not to kill, you’ll know what it means to be one of us.”
“Alright, I get what you’re saying. You can’t kill the woman you love, sure. But what if someone else, what if one of your comrades kills the woman for you? Because you can’t do it yourself, but you know, you know without a shred out of doubt that the bitch needs to die. Like, put down. For good!”
He started chuckling.
I threw up my hands. “You get what I’m saying, right? When does it end? How does it end?”
“The same way it always ends.” He told me.
“Well!? Let’s hear it!”
“I can’t tell you, son. You stick around long enough, you’ll find out for yourself.”
Anyways…Marcus Angel was also there. I couldn’t believe it. When I came to Hollow Rock he was still in a coma due to his extensive injuries and to be honest, his situation didn’t look good. He was shot multiple times. He had broken ribs and a fractured skull. He was on life support, costing the organization $5,000 a day but they had no intention of giving up on him. It was endearing, their level of compassion. Of course I wouldn’t find out until later how much everyone was depending on him to regain consciousness.
It wasn’t just military training that I learned over the course of three years. The Paramours were all about refinement, the stuff of gentlemen. The education, the in-depth history taught to me was more than I ever knew existed. I learned six different languages and took acting classes to both suppress my emotions and convey the right ones to elicit any response I wanted. The Paramours focused on stealth, intelligence, and tactics of subterfuge. Perception was everything and like a chess master, I was conditioned to think five moves ahead.
After three years of training, the Paramours started taking me on missions in the field. At first, it was just to observe and shadow other experienced members. My non-descript Asian appearance was extremely helpful. It didn’t matter what country I was in, there was something about me that whispered, “nothing special” or “harmless foreigner.”
Then came the first mission where I had a more pertinent role. It was in the summer of 2018. The leading Paramour was a revolutionary named Arsen Masol. My unit was posing as documentary filmmakers and I was the cameraman. Arsen’s mission was to provide the authorities with proof that deputies within the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) were being blackmailed and coerced to stay in the European Union.
What does this have to do with the Paramours? I had no idea. And honestly, I didn’t need to know. It was Arsen’s mission. He had his reasons and we were there to support him. I never doubted for a second that when the time came, my newfound comrades would assist me in my personal mission as well.
That’s the thing about us Paramours…we’re intensely loyal. When you’re in hostile lands or investigating in countries where things like due process and evidence are laughed at like bar jokes, everyone’s afraid. The fear of death or imprisonment was inevitable. But we weren’t alone. Our comrades were with us. They had our backs.
We’ve been shot at. We’ve been wounded. We’ve been caught. We’ve been killed. But no one has ever revealed our existence to the outside world. Even the Society didn’t know about us. The Paramours who were declared dead to the world could never leave Hollow Rock. That included men like Marcus Angel. Should he ever reappear, he’d jeopardize us all.
After five years of running with the Paramours, it was my turn to step up to the plate. It was a difficult decision that I knew would change my life forever. Once I crossed the threshold, there was no coming back. From here on out, I’d have to spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder. The Society wouldn’t stop until I was killed. That was the risk I was willing to take to find my mother.
Repressed memories of a murder leads to a lifelong obsession. Elliot Chan was just a toddler when it all went down, but now that he’s all grown up, he’s searching for the missing pieces. He’s searching for his mother, the woman in the green cocktail dress.
Elliot Chan – The Woman in the Green Cocktail Dress By Rock Kitaro
“When I count to ten, I want you to open your eyes. Tell me what you see. Elliot, open your eyes. Tell me what you see.”
“It’s dark. Like nighttime. There’s a light to my left. TV’s on. Everything’s grainy with blurred lines like the Zepruder film but I see the semblance of an American flag. I’m sitting low to the floor. I don’t like this.”
“It’s okay, Elliot. It’s okay. Don’t be afraid. This is why we’re here. Confront this. You’re not alone.”
I was sitting back with my eyes close but my mind open. Palms were sweaty. I didn’t want to see it but she was right. It would never end if I didn’t go through with it.
“Tell me what you see,” she prodded.
“I see a fat man sitting in a lazy boy. Right in front of me. In a white tee shirt, black pants, and a large belly. He’s bleeding. He’s bleeding out. He’s twitching. The handle of a knife is sticking out of his chest and I’m just sitting there watching. What is this? Who is he?”
“I’m not doing anything! I’m just sitting there. It’s the same as before! Nothing’s changed.”
“Keep watching!” She urged.
Even with eyes close, tears came through.
“Wait…” I said, almost in a gasp of relief. “Someone just walked by. Long calves in a green dress. High heels glistening from the TV light. I smell her, her scent, her perfume as she just walked by. Dude, she is stunning. That dress, looks like she just came back from a cocktail party or something.
“She’s walking towards the man on the love seat. She’s standing there. The man, he’s struggling to look up at her. I can hear him. He’s wheezing. I don’t know what he’s saying. Oh! She just grabbed the knife! She’s shoving it deeper into his chest. Oh my god! What the hell is this! He tumbled back! She literally just shoved the knife so hard that he fell out of the chair. She’s screaming. Stabbing him over and over again! Dude, she’s stabbing the hell out of him! I can’t do this!”
“This is messed up!”
“You’ve come so far, Elliot! See it through. You’re the only one who can!”
“There’s nothing… She stopped. She’s getting up, standing over the man’s body. Damn…There’s blood everywhere. It’s pooling around her heels. She’s walking my way. I see the knife. It’s drenched. I can’t make out her face. The TV light, it’s not enough. I’m looking up at her. Long dark hair. Her hand’s clenching the knife. It’s completely drenched as if she just dipped into a can of paint.”
“Don’t be afraid.”
I couldn’t tell if it was Dr. Wilkerson or the woman in the green dress who just told me that.
“Go on, Elliot.”
“She drops the knife. It hits the hard surface floor. She’s walking away. I turn to watch her go but I can’t see her anymore. She entered darkness. I just hear the clacking heels fading in the distance.”
“And the knife?” Dr. Wilkerson asked.
“I don’t pick it up. I don’t do anything. I just sit there. Like a dumbass.”
Finally, I opened my eyes to the white popcorn ceiling. Dr. Wilkerson’s nodding, seemingly proud of my accomplishment. Odd. I didn’t feel accomplished. I didn’t feel fulfilled and I for damn sure didn’t feel satisfied.
“How do you feel?” She asked.
“Not good, doc. Not good at all.”
“Before we entertain the possibility that this actually happened, is there any chance you saw this before? On TV or in a movie?”
“Ma’am, I saw Scarface and Goodfellas when I was six. This doesn’t even compare.”
“Where are you going? You have thirty minutes left in the session.”
“Doc, I really appreciate everything you’ve done. Really, today was truly a breakthrough. I’ll follow up next week. I promise.”
I was halfway out the door when she tugged me by the sleeve and said with caring, compassionate eyes, “You really do need to talk about what you saw.”
“Ma’am, I just did.”
This all began because of the reoccurring nightmares that decided to hit not long after I enrolled into film school. I understood the neighborhood of Chelsea tended to have that affect on impressionable artists but this was different. New York was supposed to be the place where I could shed off the past and begin anew. But no matter where I went. The unanswered questions lingered like a chronic illness, like a sore throat. There’s no vaccination for what I had.
I was walking past the eclectic boutiques of hipster vibes when I felt the vibration in my pocket. It was Marvin, my father, giving me a call.
“Hey, how’d it go?” He asked.
I heaved a little sigh before changing directions on a course for Washington Square. It’s a park in the Village known for its ripoff of the Arc de Triumph, but ideal for self-reflection amongst the shaded trees, the exquisite monuments and a lovely central fountain. Twas still early in the day, so I didn’t expect it to be noisy or packed.
“Dad…I have to ask you something and I think it’s about time.”
He’s groaned. I got the feeling he knew exactly where this conversation was headed.
“Dad…who are my real parents?”
After a long pause, he said, “Elliot, I think its time you come home.”
Getting shot’s probably not the best way to begin a story, but here goes. Streetlights. The glint from her golden earrings. The flash from her muzzle and then I died. Even as I type this, I still can’t believe it. But in the end, what I saw with my own eyes confirmed what I’ve suspected all along. Women really do run the world. Perhaps they always have. I’m willing to bet they always will.
Ever since I first laid eyes on her twelve years ago, Anna Marie’s held the title as the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. This includes actresses, pop singers, and fashion models. None of them could hold a candle to my Anna Marie.
At first glance it didn’t even make sense why she was working for a start-up company to begin with. She looked like she belonged on one of those housewife shows, lounging on a beach, or shopping along some strip of sun-blasted boutiques. The way she carried herself. Her height, her posture, her figure, it was ridiculous. As if she trained her whole life to win every pageant she could. Anna Marie was a stone cold stunner and she didn’t even know it. Or maybe she did know and just didn’t care.
Back then, Anna was always so bubbly and free-spirited, the type of woman who’d get out of my car in the middle of an intersection if she spotted a frozen yogurt cart on the corner. I’m not saying I like unpredictable women, but I confess there’s something about her that I found superior to myself in so many ways. How she never seemed to care about the future. That freedom, that spontaneity, I thought it was because she was fearless. I respected it. She was amazing.
Her association with me was a bit of a mystery in the beginning. Just to be clear, Anna was never officially my girlfriend, but someone who preferred hanging out with me as opposed to everyone else…in the beginning. Sure I made her laugh with my observations and blundering blithe. But back then, I was grossly overweight. I turned my back on religion and I barely had a social life because I didn’t drink or smoke weed. And more importantly, I had no direction in my life, no clear or concrete goal. No purpose.
Women like Anna have a way of changing all that. You can’t be with someone like her and have absolutely nothing going for you. I realized this the first time I pushed her away. My dumbass had “caught feelings” for her and I had the brass to come out and tell her that I loved her. I told her that face to face. She smirked and shook her head and told me that it wasn’t love but lust. I was completely embarrassed and promptly walked away in the middle of that conversation. In hindsight, I do think I should have stayed and played it out.
Here, we’re introduced to Queen Morgaus, the fierce she-bear of a mother when it comes to Gawain, Gaheris, and Agravain. Ever since Morgan ran away with the brothers, Castle Tintagel has been on pins and needles, fearing the wrath of Morgaus and praying for the day everyone returns safely. That day comes.
The clouds give way to sunshine and all of Tintagel rejoices. But still…in the triumph of Gawain’s return and their subsequent capture of Princess Isolde…no one thanks Morgan. No one even acknowledges her presence or gives her any credit. It’s just like when they were kids. Gawain is the light, favored by all. While she is the darkness, ignored and forgotten.
artwork from WLOP and his “Ghostblade” series
Chapter 10: The Eldest Daughter By Rock Kitaro
In the weeks following the disappearance of Morgan, Gaharis, and Agravain, the mood at Tintagel had soured immensely. King Mark, in particular, felt an enormous sense of responsibility since no one had reported their absence for days after the Council of Gold Clovers left to return to their respective domains.
Sir Cador, the Lord Chamberlain, dispatched his own son to lead the search party, but Constantine’s failure to produce results in the first few weeks cast dread over the city. Making matters worse was the fact that Tristan had also disappeared. King Mark was convinced that Tristan was with Morgan and the princes, but his personal assurance wasn’t enough to satisfy an unforgiving mother.
For nearly four weeks, the maids, masons, stewards, and guards walked with stiffness in their shoulders. Everyone performed his or her duties to the utmost perfection for fear of maximum reprisal. Even the elderly Sir Ekner was on edge as he presided over the training halls in the Western Ward. Tintagel’s devoted knights practiced with due diligence as prognostications of pending battles were on the tips of everyone’s tongue.
The castle’s labyrinth of corridors were devoid of laughter or glee. Melancholy and foreboding anxiety spread like a contagious disease. Even the sun itself stayed hidden behind a blanketed overcast of dark clouds, sending only an easterly wind to howl through the alleys.
There was no talk of sport or recreation. All hunts and banquets were cancelled. The musicians kept to the abbeys, and on the king’s orders, all choirs were forbidden from raising their heavenly voices. Taverns closed early. Ale was outlawed. Duels were suspended and no one could ride horses faster than a trot.
Most citizens thought King Mark’s decrees were unfounded, unreasonable, and unjust. However, the royal court knew and understood the king’s logic. It was more so a precaution than a sign of despair. That’s because Tintagel had guests. If there’s one thing King Mark feared more than an invasion from King Vortigern…it was the combined wrath of the Duchess Igraine and her eldest daughter, Queen Morgaus.
Morgaus was the eldest daughter of Igraine and the late Duke Gorlois. She was married to King Lot of Lothian and more importantly, she was the adoptive mother of Gawain, Gaheris, and Agravain.
The twenty-nine-year-old Morgaus was much like her youngest sister Morgana in appearance, blessed with bold eyes and rich brown hair. Morgaus was strong, ready and able to perform manual labor if she needed to. She loved dressing in purple fabrics. Her favorite ensemble consisted of a purple dress with a black leather bodice strapped around her ribcage. Her shoulders would be draped by warm fur. Even her gold crown donned an exquisite arrangement of smooth sapphire stones.
Growing up in Tintagel, Morgaus was popular due to her warm personal affection to both the rich and the poor, the guests and the staff. She was praised for her beauty, but Morgaus beat back vanity and conquered her own conceit. She was humble at every turn, often volunteering in the neighboring villages to oversee building projects such as schools and nurseries.
Like Elaine, Morgaus was always smiling, always optimistic despite the constant flow of tumultuous news that poured in from the violent world around them. She rarely complained or overstepped her bounds. Even when she felt she was being mistreated, she’d simply remember the less fortunate and take it with a grain of salt.
However…this was also what made her so scary. Everyone in Tintagel knew it.
Morgaus had lines that should never be crossed. All of those lines related to the safety and security of her boys.
Years ago, Gaheris and Agravain were kidnapped during their first mission to the Roman Emperor Lucius. Queen Morgaus suspected the guards had betrayed them. Without any evidence, she had them arrested. They were tortured and forced to swallow hot boiling lead until one of them spoke up. The problem was, she was right. The guards had indeed taken a bribe to give up their route. Since then, Morgaus’s every intuition was treated as a matter of fact. This made her a very scary individual.
In her relentless pursuit to get her boys back, Morgaus coaxed King Lot into making a pact with a famous sorcerer named Kaidan. Fire and brimstone literally rained down on Emperor Lucius’s northern armies. When Kaidan brought the boys back and demanded payment, Morgaus reminded him that he was her subject and threatened to cut off his hand if he ever held it out again expecting compensation so brazenly. It was the first time Kaidan ever cancelled a debt and news of the incident spread.
“Morgaus is fearsome…”
Yes, when it came to her sons, the fable of a ferocious she-bear protecting her cubs was made true by her existence. There was nothing King Lot could do about it. He resigned to the role of a supporting husband and did his best to placate her. And now… Gaheris and Agravain had gone missing, yet again. The berating Duke Tiburne got was beyond excessive.