**This assumes you are up to speed on The Chimera Club Stories**
The Prophecy of The Mystic Warrior (from Roped- Chimera Volume 7)
There will come a great darkness to all the lands, and many will perish. The Trickster and The Golden Man will stand against the darkness. They and theirs will seek refuge with The Mystic Warrior. He will make a New Life Lodge. Together they will sing the Medicine of Healing back into the world.
The day after my interview for Roped I was awakened by a text notification. I expected it to be Daphne, reaching out before going back to bed after tending Athena, but it wasn’t. It was Thomas Meenan. I groaned and rolled back over, thinking of ignoring it in favor of a few more hours of blissful rest. Daphne would forgive me and understand my taking advantage while I could. She was good that way. Sending her my love through the air, I dropped the phone on the covers and snuggled down again, a smile on my face I pressed into the soft pillow.
The phone beeped again. I growled and pulled the covers up over my head. It beeped again, and then again, and then again before I sat up in the bed, swearing like a sailor and grabbed it. What could this asshole possibly want? I was on hiatus from DIH, and it was barely dawn outside!
T: Wake up. I’m here.
T: I need to talk to you.
T: I meant that I am here right now. Outside your door.
T: I know you’re ignoring me.
T: I’m not going away.
That last one came in while I was reading the others. I shook my head and growled again before getting out of the bed and heading to the door in nothing but my pajama bottoms. Only this man could make me this angry before I even got out of bed. I flung the door open, ready to tell him exactly what I thought of his wake-up call and stopped still with my mouth hanging open as my eyes swept over him from head to toe before delivering my assessment of his current state.
“You look like shit.”
“Thank you, Captain Obvious,” Thomas growled at me, as he stepped inside uninvited.
“What’s happening? Is James all right?” My mind was whipping through all the possible connections I shared with this man that could impact him like this and bring him to my doorstep at this inhumane hour.
I had talked to Daphne before going to bed, she was tucked away safe in Wyoming. Logically, I knew that, but I looked down at the phone I was still clutching in my hand and fought the urge to text her. I did the math with my still groggy mind. She would be sleeping now, and waking her up because I was anxious was cruel. Dealing with the erratic schedule of a new baby was enough. I swallowed down my anxiety and shut the door of my penthouse apartment to follow Thomas into my kitchen where he started making coffee.
“You should only let your wife buy the coffee,” he groused at me, looking at my blend with disdain before he shook it off and put some in the filter. “James is fine.” He turned to look me over, and added, “Daphne, too, at least as far as I know. I haven’t corresponded with her in a few days.” Which, I deduced, is how he knew I was in town.
I sighed and felt myself calming a little as a slid onto a stool at my counter, watching him warily as he opened cabinet after cabinet until he located the coffee mugs. He paused picking up one of Daphne’s novelty mugs, a bright purple one with a fat little unicorn on it. I’d gotten it for her not long after we’d gotten together. Seeing it made me smile, and think of her secret tattoo that no one knew about but me, and what she’d said when I’d asked her to explain it to me on our first night. “It reminds me to be the light for someone else, even when there is no light for me.”
She’d want me to help this man. Not just because she considered him to be her friend, but because she found him worthy. It wasn’t something I claimed to understand, but I did love my wife more than anything else in the world, so it was a foregone conclusion that I would offer what help I could, not for him but for her.
I rubbed my face, and exhaled, and worked to let go of all the anger and frustration I was feeling. I took a good look at the man glaring at my coffee pot, as if his impatience could command a faster brew.
His dark hair was in a disarray, which was alarming giving how much time he put into his personal grooming. I’d once teased Daphne, well mostly teased, that if she had gotten together with him instead of me they wouldn’t have ever made it out of the bathroom, and would probably have come to blows over the mirror. It was all I would allow of my insecurity over him to bleed through. I knew she was mine, but I knew he wanted her, too. I could hardly blame him, she was magnificent, but that didn’t mean I approved. Her response had been to tackle me to the ground and kiss me until I forgot how to be jealous. I shook the memory off and looked back at Thomas Meenan.
His suit looked slept in. He hadn’t shaved in a while either, and he was exuding a vibe that could only be labeled ‘disturbed’. He was usually the epitome of chill, and as all the parts came together for me, I could see that whatever he was about to tell me was something that was completely devastating to him.
I glanced at the mug that Thomas had placed on the counter as he waited, and heard her whisper to me again. Be the light. I shook my head a little and smiled at the voice in my head. Daphne was always with me, and it made me a better man than I had ever been before she had given me her love.
“So, what’s happening, Thomas?”
“I need your help.” He turned to face me as he spoke, leaning against the counter and crossing his arms over his chest. This was all so out of character for the arrogant man I had come to know in the nine years that we had both worked for James Draven and Draven International Holdings that I not able to hide my surprise.
Immediately, my mind ran back to the last real conversation we had shared, a meeting in his office with James on the speakerphone, where they told me about their private war against the billionaire philanthropist Kyrie Constantine. That had been over a year ago, and though I had hoped that one or both of them would share more with me neither had been more forthcoming than they had that day.
Thomas Meenan had waited patiently as I sorted through my memories, a knowing look his face as if he could hear the clamoring beats of the words they had said to me. Some to shock, some to illicit my complicity in their plans, and some just to let me know that there were indeed monsters in the closet, and I should be wary when I turned out the lights.
I had done my own research into Constantine, and found that on the surface he was squeaky clean, of course, most of the news media that praised him was in fact owned by him. You had to dig deep to find the connections, but they were there.
Constantine had his hand in many things, not just the media, which informed and controlled public opinion by taking the average person by the head and pointing them at where to look during a twenty-four hour news cycle. He also had a hand deep in the film industry, supporting specific efforts that again redirected, cajoled and obfuscated the truth about what was happening in the world around us.
To date I had been unable to tie him to any specific event or action that could force me into an alliance with James and Thomas, who planned to not only destroy his fortune and his reputation by any means necessary, but to also take his life.
Of course, I was sitting on my own secrets, too, something that Daphne had found troubling once she learned of The Prophecy that tied to my bloodline, now our bloodline, through our daughter Athena, and the revelations Thomas and James and shared with us regarding Constantine.
The Prophecy spoke a great darkness to come, and that we would know it when The Trickster and the Golden Man came to the Mystic Warrior for help. As far as I knew, I was The Mystic Warrior, but I was not convinced that Thomas and James were the ones I was waiting for.
Their actions, the secrets they had kept from me over the years prevented me from being able to trust them. But more than that, their plans to undo this Constantine were not something I felt I could morally support.
They were asking me to approve and participate in pre-meditated murder. The very idea went against everything that was ingrained in my very soul. Not just because of the man The Prophecy proclaimed me to be, but because of the man I knew myself to be. I couldn’t see a time when I would ever be able to approve, let alone participate in something like what they were planning, despite the reasons they had shared with me.
Still, knowing all this, my wife Daphne had embarked on friendship with the man before me. Becoming what seemed his closest confidant, and ceaselessly championing him to me as man worthy of friendship and support. I trusted her implicitly in all matters except this one. When it came to Thomas Meenan I kept my own council and bided my time, determined to let his actions decide where I placed him in my mind once and for all. Perhaps today was the day he finally drew the lines that let me decide if he wore a black hat.
Thomas poured our coffee while I was thinking, handing me the unicorn mug that we both knew belonged to Daphne. Was there some symbolism in that act, I wondered? Was he graciously demonstrating that he knew she was mine, and that I should accept he was not a threat to my relationship with her, or did he simply disdain novelty mugs with fat adorable unicorns on them because they busted up his erudite image? If so, all the more his loss. I adored the whimsy of my wife as much as I did her massive intellect and passionate heart. I accepted all the parts of her with equal relish. I smiled as I sipped from her mug, and tried not to look too smug over how smart I was in comparison the man before me.
“What do you need my help with?” I asked him, determined to hear him out, even if I sent him packing in the end. He set his cup down on the counter and leaned over, coming to rest on his elbows and placing himself eye to eye with me.
“A few months ago one of my operatives had a run in with Constantine. It was quite unexpected. We went in thinking it was a routine assignment that would lead us to information about him that could be useful.” He took a flash drive out of his pocket and placed it on the bar in front of me. “These are the details.” He gulped his coffee and stood. “May I borrow your shower while you review the information?”
I’m not sure what I was expecting when I opened the flash drive files, but it was nowhere near what I found. There were newspaper articles about the Oklahoma town of Clarendon, and the disappearance of blind school teacher named Mila Samuels. The facts, consistently reported through several local and national outlets, said that her house had exploded from a gas leak and had been found to contain the unidentified remains of eight bodies, seven of which had died from gunfire, the last from a broken neck prior to the explosion. The authorities were still looking for Mila Samuels. At one point they had also been seeking a man named Tony McIntire for questioning about the incident, but a few weeks after the incident his name disappeared from the press and the police reports regarding the incident.
There were also several files on a woman named Harper Stanley who seemed to have been involved in this incident, though how was unclear. There were some files of posts she had made to her social media accounts claiming this man, McIntire, had sexually harassed her while she worked with him at the Clarendon School for the Blind, along with Samuels, and some shots of Samuels face with a broken nose and two black eyes, supposedly from a beating at the hands of McIntire.
The last thing was a video file, taken by someone with a cellphone showing a couple dancing in restaurant. I watched it several times before I realized it was McIntire and Samuels, and then I watched it again. Noting the way they moved, the way he looked at her as she danced around him, and the secret smile on her face that never faltered.
I’d seen all those looks before between me and Daphne and I knew two things instantly. Those two people were in love, and that he would never have hurt her as the articles claimed. It wasn’t scientific, but my gut told me I was right. I closed the video and started a search for updates on the web regarding the case and these people.
Ten minutes of fruitless searching confirmed that McIntire was no longer a person of interest in the case, Samuels was still wanted for questioning and Harper Stanley had not posted anything on her social media since shortly after the incident several months ago. Given the amount and frequency of her previous posts, even before the incident with McIntire, it seemed odd. Why would someone who thrived on attention suddenly stop seeking it, and drop off the face of the earth?
I got up to get more coffee, arriving at the conclusion that they would not, at least not voluntarily, so her disappearance, especially in connection with McIntire and Samuels and the wasteland they had left behind, seemed more ominous than it might otherwise. My mind was still trying to fit the pieces together when Thomas came out of the shower, dressed again in his rumpled suit, but looking slightly refreshed from his efforts.
“Up to speed?” He asked, as he poured himself another mug of coffee. I ran my hand through my hair, and sat down at the counter in the seat I had taken when he first arrived.
“I know what happened. Now I’d like you to tell me why it happened.” A look of pain skittered across his face before he turned his back to me. I sighed, frustrated that we were still where we were the first time he had opened up about his past months ago. “If you’re here for my help, you’re going to have to trust me, Thomas.”
“Because if I don’t, you won’t trust me.” He said to my cabinets before he turned back to face me with his usual mask of arrogance and amusement in place. I just looked at him. We both knew if he kept trying to play me we were done here, but knowing a thing does not change it. This man was exhausting, and again I wondered what my wife saw in him under the dancing arrogance that made him worth her time and allegiance. Reading my mind, he smirked at me.
“Daphne likes me because I’m not boring.” The way he said it almost sounded like he thought I was boring, and he wasn’t sure what she saw in me. I chuckled, and then laughed, shaking my head at his sophomoric attempts to distract me with petty jealousy. I suppose he was amusing, but that wasn’t enough to unruffled my feathers over the early wake-up call and his seemingly endless tap dancing around the questions I needed answers to before I agreed to anything other than getting back on a plane and going home to Wyoming.
“I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but since you are insisting on being difficult, just this once I will indulge you,” Morgan said, reaching for his unicorn mug and taking a sip before casting an almost evil-eye in my direction. It was almost enough to make me smile, seeing him, the executive cowboy, holding the novelty unicorn mug, forming an image so incongruous that sparked it thousand different thoughts in my never quiet mind.
I would have expected someone who dripped as much testosterone as Morgan Lightner to eschew anything that might seem frivolous and feminine, out of the simple notion that it would disturb his image. I was coming to realize though that his image was completely separate from the man himself, and that made him far more interesting than I had ever imagined he could be. He was a straight arrow, as they say.
If the world were a chess board Morgan would be a white knight, with all that image implied, and the only opinion that mattered to him was his own. This meant he lived by his own internal ruler of right and wrong, and had somehow learned in his life that the choices he made were choices that he was accountable for, and therefore he would make sure that he was making the best ones possible using that internal measuring device. It was why he wasn’t sure about me. It was almost enough to make me genuinely like him. But it was too soon for that, and he would not accept it, even if I was sure that I could.
My friends could be numbered in two. James Draven who saved me, and Daphne Morgan who accepted me. I wasn’t sure there was room in my menagerie for a cowboy who would no doubt push me to be a better man than I was capable of being. Oh, it would be fun to watch him try, but in the end the inevitable disappointment I would see on his face when he realized the impossibility of his goal would be…unpleasant for me. Probably not a good time for him either, but I was not the keeper of disappointed knights. I tried to dismiss my unease as he went on to explain the things he shouldn’t have to tell me. I was almost listening, but mostly I was planning out what I was going to say when he was done speaking.
“This is how these things work,” he continued. “You tell me things. I tell you things. We reach a mutual understanding, and I decide based on that whether I’m willing to participate, after I’ve made my assumptions about all the things you’re still not telling me.” I laughed, almost choking on the coffee I had just sipped.
He was indeed entertaining, and I made a mental note to tell Daphne that my high opinion of her was intact and continuing to grow by the minute. I might have caught him off guard, but he was coming back quickly. I leaned on the counter and looked him in the eye, knowing that what I said next would make or break this deal.
“Tony McIntire is one of mine. He works security for me, and I sent him to Clarendon to find out how Mila Samuels was connected to a man name Sergei Sokolov.” Morgan frowned, searching his memory banks to see if he knew who Sokolov was. I watched him come up empty.
“Sokolov is an arms dealer who was planning a planning a viral attack in US soil at one point. It was a test run, a demonstration of his biological weapons to make his buyers feel more secure. My team found out about it, and we interrupted his plans, but he went underground and we needed to find him and determine if he was still planning anything. When we found a tenuous connection between Mila and Sokolov, we pursued it hoping to root him out.”
“What’s Sokolov’s connection to Constantine?” Morgan asked. I could see him trying to find where all these pieces needed to rest on the chess board of his mind.
“That was one of our questions. My team discovered that Wolfgang Sokolov, Sergei’s father had been a fellow traveler with Constantine before he was executed, and Sergei took over the family empire, but exactly what they are doing is not clear. However, given what we know of Constantine it’s doubtful they’re working on world peace.” Morgan rolled his eyes.
“And the connection between Samuels and Sokolov?” Morgan asked.
“She’s his sister.” He leaned back, his eyebrows going up in surprise. “It’s not what you think. As a child, Mila was taken from her family by Constantine and held captive for several years before she escaped. She was hiding in Clarendon when we found her, and she was subsequently discovered by Constantine. I believe it was the video that led to her discovery, though the stir raised by Harper Stanley probably contributed.” I could see him doing the math in his head.
“How long has this thing with Constantine been going on?” It was a wasted question, I had hoped he would be more forward with his thinking, even if that wasn’t fair. If I knew as little as he did I might be foolish as well. I sighed, rubbing my face in frustration and tried to find the right words.
“I don’t know how to answer that.” I looked at him and saw he was ready to speak again but I raised my hand to ask him for a chance to explain. “I can and I have told you about my personal involvement with Kyrie Constantine.”
“Not all of it.” I raised a brow and looked down my nose at him.
“No, but surely enough for you to know that you don’t really want to know the details.” He really didn’t want to know, and I really didn’t want to tell him. If I did I would have to go back into that part of my past that I kept the door closed on. I couldn’t afford the distraction now. Having those wounds opened in Clarendon had made me lose my focus, and had almost gotten us killed. I had to be on my game now, because if I was going to take Morgan’s hand and lead him into this, I had to make sure I could keep him safe. He was thinking of leaving his job at DIH, but we needed him here. We needed him on our side. That, and the fact that I had to make sure he was protected, were the only two things I knew for certain about all of this, even if I couldn’t logically explain why at the moment.
“I think,” I told him, “that it goes back several generations at least. Maybe more, depending on how you fit in. If you fit in.” That surprised him.
“What does this have to do with me?”
“When I vetted you for James, before he hired you for DIH, I found out about The Prophecy tied to your family.” He paled a little, but held his tongue to see what I would say next. “Do you believe in The Prophecy of the Mystic Warrior, Morgan?” He stared at me with a hard discerning look. “Come on. You know how this works. I tell you things. You tell me things.” I twirled my finger and suppressed an eye roll, as I quoted his words from moments ago back to him.
I had told James not to put too much stock in mysticism when we spoke of Morgan Lightner and his family legacy, and I’d stood by that even after he’d read the information I had on the Lightner line, but that was because it was my job to make sure all the variables were accounted for.
It was also because I was in a unique position to see how things were connected. A position that no one else could possibly be in, and it had sent a chill down my back when I realized that Morgan’s family was connected to the Carstairs, let alone that it was a connection that went back more than a hundred years.
The scope of it was staggering, especially when you took into account my connection with the Carstairs, and how we were connected with Kyrie Constantine. But I had to be careful with that, because a lot of that was behind the door I had locked, that I had to keep locked. While I worked to keep my past under control, I lost sight of Morgan for a moment. When I focused on him again the look on his face caught me by surprise.
“Explain what you mean about it going back generations, if I fit in.” I shook my head in confusion. Had he not made the connection? Did he not know the story?
“Your ancestor, Collin Lightner, and his best friend Gabriel Carstairs. You know the story, surely?” His fists clenched, and I saw his jaw lock. I’d told him I had vetted him, why was proving it so disturbing to him? “You’re upset. I don’t understand.” His jaw was still locked when he answered me.
“I’m not sure that this is any of your business.” Oh.
“Me either. Finding that out is part of why I am here. You said you’d done your research on Constantine. His connections with the Carstairs are highly publicized and well known. I don’t understand why this is sensitive information to you.” His jaw unlocked and he let out a breath.
“I didn’t make the connection,” he admitted, looking down at the bar. I could practically see his thoughts clicking. I wanted to help him. I wanted to get him there because we needed to get moving soon. I was also sure that anything I had to tell him that he hadn’t figured out for himself was hardly going to endear me to him.
This was going to be more delicate than I realized, and for the first time I wondered if I should just stop now and abandon this. As soon as I thought it, I felt the push to make sure that he stayed with us, the one that had led me here in the first place.
Walking away might be the kindest thing to do, but it didn’t seem to be an option, and maybe that was the point. If he was who his prophecy proclaimed him to be, then I needed to see what he was made of.
If there is any true fault to be found with a white knight it was in their rigid unbending nature. Of course, if there was any value to be found in a white knight it was their rigid unbending nature. Still, only being able to see things in a single way was limiting, and to my mind it made your greatest strength your greatest weakness as well. I wasn’t without sympathy for his situation, but he was new tool for me. The closest thing I’d ever dealt with to Morgan was James, who was surprisingly far more bendable. But perhaps that was because I kept him away from the very things I was about to walk Morgan into head first. James saw results. I was asking Morgan to help me get them. This would either push him away completely, or embroil him utterly in the way I was sure James needed him to be.
“I think you’ll find,” I told him kindly, “that this is a very small world after all.” He looked at me, his hand unconsciously flexing around the unicorn mug. “To make sure the things you hold dear are safe in it, you’re going to have to open your eyes a little more, Morgan.” His head snapped up and his eyes narrowed as he looked at me, processing the warning he’d heard in my words. His jaw clenched, and he took a deep calming breath before he spoke again.
“What exactly are you asking me to do?”
“I want you to help me find out what happened to Harper Stanley.”
**I do not have a publication date set yet for SHELL, Chimera Volume 8. This is still very much a WIP, still, I wanted to share. You will be the first to get up status updates on this as the project evolves!** CC