Incubus knelt, facing the camera, his head bowed. Behind him was an enormous black banner, the atom-in-ouroboros emblazoned in blood red. To either side stood two pillars, topped with golden bowls filled with smouldering incense.
Incubus raised his head, staring directly into the viewer. His eyes were lit in brightest orange flecked with red, as if burning from within. His expression was one of pure contempt and hatred.
"I will waste no time with pleasantries. This is a message for Jon Willis.
"The man who has seen it all, done it all, fought on every continent, wrapped himself in gold. The man who soared so high then crashed and burned, his perfect life mangled in the wreckage.
"Like so many before, so many to come. A man ensnared by the world, buffeted by the winds of fate. A man out of control.
"This is what we offer, Jon. This is our gift to you, to a world too stubborn to accept it: Total control. The unrelenting, unapologetic pursuit of one's own true Will, the freedom to indulge or abstain, to strike or embrace, the exercise of love and hate and anger and passion as tools with which to shape the world.
"The Addict is an unfree man, his existence forever tethered to an outside source. True Amorality is true freedom, the liberation of self from all earthly constraint.
"Allow me to bring you into our world, to give you a glimpse into the beautiful agony the Institute brings in its wake. To see the power we hold, power that is yours for the taking. The power to crush our enemies beneath our feet like vermin.
"This week is not simply an athletic contest. It is a love letter written in blood."
Incubus reached into his pocket and withdrew a small card, holding it up to the camera. The card featured Jon Willis and Axton Gunn, the tag team championships around their waists. Above them hovered a cherub, bow at the ready. Yet this Cupid was more than a simple romantic, his eyes wide, possessive, obsessed, his arrows sharpened and ready to strike.
"Willis. Gunn. Champions, lovers, fighters.
"Soon you will go head to head with Pandaemonium. The clock is ticking. This week is a prologue. The book remains to be written."
Incubus turned the card over between his fingertips. As he did, it caught light, suddenly Illuminating the darkness with flames. He flicked it into the air as it smouldered, the fire consuming it leaving nothing but ashes.
Incubus stared into the camera, his gaze intense, penetrating.
"What is your name?" asked Cassandra.
"My name is Raziel."
Cassandra sat back in her chair. They were in the Star Chamber, the rooms in the palace of the City of Dis that served as her personal quarters. She was seated in a large, luxurious armchair, clearly of great age, decorated with the pelts and bones of endangered animals.
Across the table from her sat a young woman, her hair dyed a blinding white, her eyes deepest green. On the table were a tablet and a small bag.
Incubus entered the room in silence, the smell of incense smoke clinging tightly to his clothes. He took a seat beside Cassandra, who greeted him with a simple nod before returning her attention to the young woman.
"You say your name is Raziel. What of Emily?"
Raziel smirked, tapping their temple with the left index finger. "Emily is up here. I can still hear her, talk to her. Her spirit is... elsewhere."
Cassandra tilted her head to one side in curiosity. "Elsewhere?"
Raziel exhaled. "It is difficult to explain in your terms. It is not a place, more a….state of being, a form of existence. Something that exists outside and above what you know. Byss and Abyss, Nothing and All, Time and Eternity.
"Imagine meeting a being that could only perceive the world in two dimensions - an eternity of flat, near-featureless nothingness - and trying to explain Mount Hermon or the wonders of the stars.
"The realm from which I come is the home of angels, demons, djinn, spirits of all types. And more - of dreams and nightmares and the voices that whisper. Each soul that is incarnated returns to this source upon death, forgets, returns to earth to be clad in bodies anew.
"And more. Lost minds, lost souls. When a spirit is called to possess a material body, the spirit that body once housed is sent to the other plane awaiting the chance to return to the flesh.
"Emily can see what I see, feel what I feel, speak to me - but only in the same manner as you might watch a video on one of your devices. Her spirit is Elsewhere."
Cassandra glanced at Incubus. He was leaning forward, unblinking, barely breathing, taking in Raziel's words with enraptured fascination.
"Tell me," said Incubus. "What are you, really? Grigori, Djinn, Loa? What?"
"Once I was among the Grigori, among the most glorious of the Heavenly Court. I brought humanity my Book of Secrets, my effort to lead them to illumination beyond this weak and dying world. For this I was punished by the heavenly host, ostracised and cast down to the plane halfway between heaven and earth. My brethren rejected me, while humanity rejected my message.
"I have no hope for salvation. All I want is revenge."
Incubus smiled and nodded approvingly.
Cassandra reached into the bag and withdrew a series of laminated cards, sliding them over the table to Raziel.
"Enigmas," said Cassandra by way of explanation.
"I know," said Raziel dismissively, flicking through the cards with a detached amusement. "To answer your questions: a prank from my old friend Jeu, the result of ergot poisoning, the tongue of a sect of angels, and a cupcake recipe."
Incubus looked at Cassandra. She shrugged. "The Books of Jeu, the Voynich Manuscript, Dee's Enochian language, and the Kryptos statue." Cassandra took a tablet and began to make notes.
"You require my assistance," said Raziel. It was a statement, not a question.
"We have a common interest," replied Cassandra. She opened the bag and withdrew a set of books, passing them across the table. "The writings of our Founder, the magnificent Clyde Pierre. The Book of Amorality, the Book of Spirit Science, and the Book of Beginnings and Endings. Together they form the basis of our organisation, of our view of creation and our role in it. We -"
Raziel closed their eyes, picked up the books one by one, pressing their fingertips to the covers. The books began to glow, traces of smoke trickling from their pages, slowly building into flames.
The books collapsed into nothing but ashes. Raziel sat with hands outstretched as if in contemplation. They opened their eyes, suddenly awake and alive, filled with a new energy.
"Your Founder. He….saw things. The unseen. The known and unknown. Things that would anger the Gods." Raziel shook their head, as if to dislodge a thought. "What would you have me do?"
Cassandra spoke. "Assist us in our plans. You are the Angel of Secrets, the Keeper of Mysteries. You can unlock any secret, decipher any code. For us you could be the ultimate interrogator and spy, able to expose the most deeply held mysteries without lifting a finger."
Raziel nodded, gesturing to Cassandra to elaborate.
"The Order of Plutus."
Cassandra tapped her tablet, bringing a screen mounted on the wall to life. She reached under the table and withdrew a decanter filled with red wine, pure and crystal clear, along with three ornate chalices. She filled the glasses and handed them out, as the screen began to fill with information - vintage photos, graphs, statistics. Raziel stared at it, taking in the data at lightning speed as Cassandra spoke.
"The Order of Plutus was founded in the latter decades of the nineteenth century," said Cassandra. "Named for the Greek God of Wealth, the Order was founded as an alliance of the ultra-rich as a safeguard against the threat of working class revolution.
"In essence, the Order believed in the principles of Marxism - the notion of history being defined by class struggle, that the bourgeoisie and proletariat had inherently opposing interests, that open warfare between classes was all but inevitable.
"The Order was founded to fight and win that war in the name of the wealthy.
"Our Founder, Clyde Pierre, was born into the Order. When he founded the Spirit Science Research Institute in 1968, the Order split, with half siding with the Institute and half attempting to resist.
"Of the latter group, almost all were either forced underground, compelled to join the Institute, or brought to personal and financial ruin. All that now remains is a tiny fragment, a handful of ageing families from 'old money' practicing their little ceremonies a few times a year before crawling into a bottle of port."
"Yet something has changed," interjected Raziel.
Cassandra nodded. "Our homeland of Pierreia has been the target of dissidents. We have reason to believe these terrorists are being funded from outside by -"
"Ah yes," said Raziel with a smile. "My current host - Emily - remembers the conversation with the one you call Eris. Her last clear memory before we were...introduced, as it were."
Incubus laughed. "So you know the situation. The Order are sponsoring the terrorists, but as yet, we don't know how or who. The information we need is, we believe, in the Order's headquarters in New York City.
"Which is where you come in.
"You can get us in the building, get employees to tell us everything they know, unlock security codes, break encryption. Help us identify those who stand against the Institute."
Raziel nodded. "And what would I get in return?"
"What you want," said Incubus. "What all of us want. Revenge, of course."
Raziel raised their glass in a toast. "Sounds like quite the party. Drinks at the end of the world."