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The Life And Times Of Citizen Bane

Book 1:

The Eye Of The Shaolin















Copyright 2017

Jon-Paul Smith


Cover Art:

© Dejan Lazarevic | Dreamstime




Episode 1:

A Club In New York






From an unofficial interview by Angela Price with Isaiah Bane, president and CEO of Bane Enterprises. The circumstances of her disappearance are still unknown. The following was found on one of the hard drives that managed to avoid destruction in the Bane Tower fires. There were pieces missing; the following is part of what was salvaged.


Price: You said earlier that the Necronomicon was more widespread then it ever was, more than it ever has been in the history of its existence. Would you care to elaborate on that?


Isaiah: My father used to believe that the Necronomicon in his possession was the only remaining copy in the world. He was wrong about that. Now don't get me wrong. I'm pretty sure it was the only thing he was wrong about. He didn't go through life being wrong about stuff because that's just the kind of person he was. But he was wrong about that. We know that now. Still he was a product of a particular time, a particular place. He didn't have internet. He didn't have satellites. The Shaolin monks didn't have the kind of resources we have today.

Of course the main thing you have to understand about the Necronomicon is that no matter how many times it is destroyed it always resurfaces. That is its true power. The Black Book is always true to its true author's purposes.

And the truth is there are many copies out there. There always have been. And thanks to the digital age it's easier than ever to share them. Which more or less makes my job harder than his ever was. And easier, in a way, but not really.


Price: Your job? And what job is that? I assume you're not talking about your responsibilities as president and CEO of Bane Enterprises.


Isaiah: I'd rather not get into it, Angela. The less you know the better.


Price: There's an unspoken implication there, Mr. Bane. Are you trying to say that the Necronomicon's proliferation is dangerous in some less obvious way? I mean beyond the obvious. Death cults like this have always been around. It's nothing new. What makes this book in particular so special?


Isaiah: Is that why you're here, Angela? To learn more about it, more about the Necronomicon in particular? Because believe me when I tell you, you don't wanna know.


Price: So there is something special about this book? Do you have a, how should I word this, a special relationship with this book in particular, Mr. Bane? Because it sounds to me like you do. And it also sounds to me like you don't want to talk about it, like you don't want anyone to know. I know more about your father then you think I do, Mr. Bane.


Isaiah: Is that right, Ms. Price? You don't know shit.


Price: I know your father is the one who gave it to you. Even if there are copies on the internet we both know that yours is different. It's handwritten. It's original. Its true value is priceless.


Isaiah (laughing): Is that right? Did you also know that my father was over two hundred years old when he died? Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Ms. Price.



New York City

Present Day


Isaiah Bane didn't sleep much these days. He didn't need to anymore. Not since his father had died.

By day he performed his duties as president and CEO of Bane Enterprises, one of the largest chip makers in the world, although they had their hands in everything. Yes, by day he was one of the richest men in the world.

But at night he wore a mask and went by a different name. By night he wore a mask and went by the name of The Guardian, following in his father's footsteps. By night he was Guardian Of The Gate. By night he followed the long tradition of a secret sect of Shaolin monks. It was his life's true work. It always would be.

He was carrying on his father's work and there was a lot of it now.

More often then not the moon these days was red. The times were changing. He could feel it in his bones and every time he looked at the sky the eyeball in his left eye socket would throb and glow with a green, eldritch hue.

The demons, he knew, were banging on the Gate Of Sound, a banging that only he could hear deep in the wind swept canyons of his dreams. But these were no mere dreams. They were real.

They called themselves The Red Hand. Not the demons at the gate but the poor deluded mortals on this side of it who meant to let them in, to pull them through. The members of the latest in a long line of death cults who sought to find power and immortality for themselves.

And they would find it all right, Isaiah thought. But only if he failed. And it would be the kind of immortality that only the damned attained. But they wouldn't believe it, despite the warnings of the Necronomicon itself.

Isaiah Bane had seen what hell had to offer and he knew that it wasn't worth it. But he was only one man.

People who sought to live forever only heard what they wanted to. They focused only on the Black Book's promises, ignoring the rest, thinking that its warnings only applied to other people, people lesser than themselves. Their arrogance was fertile soil for Cthulhu's seed.

The Black Book, the Necronomicon, contained many, many lies but it contained many truths as well, like a dark, mystic Trojan Horse. Only Buddhist wisdom and a discerning eye could see the difference. The Eye Of The Shaolin. The eye that Isaiah Bane possessed.

But he would fight them. He would fight them the way his father had. He knew that he could channel the power of the Eye into any weapon that he wielded and by night he wore a mask. By night he called himself The Guardian and took his fight to their door.

It had always been this way from the beginning. Cthulhu slept beneath the waves, dreaming, as He had done since his banishment, after man came out of the African savannahs, as He had done for most of human history now, since the beginning of time as people reckoned it, and his dreams were sometimes made manifest. The Gate Guardian's work was never done and cults like the Red Hand would always be around as long as Cthulhu lived, sleeping beneath the sea and working his twisted magicks on the imaginations of the lost, hungry and angry souls of evil men.

The history of the Red Hand went way back. His father had fought them in the beginning. He had even destroyed their founder although they hadn't called themselves the Red Hand back then. But it didn't matter. Jebediah, the founder of the Red Hand, had perished. But his vision had lived on. Many death cults based on the Black Book's promises had come and gone, but for a hundred and fifty years the Red Hand itself had endured, longer than any of them. It was possible that their history went back even further than that, even before Jebediah but there was no way to know for sure.

Isaiah shook his head at the thought of that. There was just no way to be certain about it. He simply did not, could not, know. He'd researched it as much as he was able but he'd come up with nothing. Their history was as much a mystery in a way as his. They had that much in common anyway.

Not that it mattered much. His duty never changed.

He would murder them all if he had to.




From the interview of Angela Price and Isaiah Bane (what could be salvaged)


Isaiah: There are things I could show you, Ms. Price, whole worlds beyond your imagination. My father was just a single point in a long line going way back. But if you knew the truth, the whole truth, your sanity itself would be in jeopardy. There is a serenity, a joy, that is beyond your understanding. But everything in this world has an opposite. Heaven can never exist without the existence of Hell to make it possible, to make it real. Do you know what Hell is, Ms. Price? Hell is a single page from the Necronomicon and its mere existence is enough to break your mind.


Price: You're starting to sound like those weird death cults you criticized earlier.


Isaiah: Yeah, well, there's a pretty good reason for that. You see we all think we know what is real. We look around us, we see the sky, we see the trees, and think that's what reality is. We have placed absolute faith in our five senses and their ability to apprehend the world and the truths of reason that seem to bind them together in a consistent rational – believable – way, but I'm here to tell you there's more to reality than what we see and feel everyday. There is far more to reality than that and a part of it is hell bent on our utter destruction. Believe me when I tell you, you don't wanna know about it.





New York City

Present Day


The Eye. It had a way of taking him where he needed to be. The mask he wore had no holes for his eyes to see through. Even when his eyes were shut he could still see. The mask he wore was nothing more than a black bandanna but it served its purpose: to conceal his face from the prying public's eye. Unlike his father he had chosen to keep his true nature a secret. Unlike his father he had chosen to make a mark in the world by the light of day beyond the shadows of Cthulhu.

His father had always walked outside the world but Isaiah had chosen a different path. He had created a real identity and started his own business, getting in early and using his power to give him the advantages he needed. Isaiah needed to know what was going on from the inside. He felt that their shared mission would ultimately be better served that way.

His father, sensing what he needed – had – to do, acquiesced. It was his way when the circumstances dictated it. He was to the end a very pragmatic man. Not that it mattered anyway. They both knew he was dying, old and blind but not afraid, never afraid. It just wasn't his father's style.

His father knew that the monks of his order had grafted the dying god's flesh to their very own in order to ascertain its secrets. It was the only way and it was the kind of ultimate sacrifice that only they were capable of.

But his father had made it all seem so easy. It was just who he was. He was the guy who'd been setting it straight for over a hundred years.

Isaiah Bane sighed, steeling himself and summoning his chi. He was ready he thought. Or at least as ready as he would ever be. His grandmother's healing medicine magic was still a mystery to him and probably always would be despite his father's attempts to teach it to him. The chips would fall where they fell.

But the time to test himself was at hand. He could feel it in his solar plexus.

And the Eye was there to guide him. It was there to take him where he needed to go.

With the moon shining red over Bane Tower, headquarters to Bane Enterprises, deep in the heart of Manhattan, he exited the elevator by the parking ramps in the tower's basement where his motorcycle waited. Not the one he took to work but the one that waited in the shadows in an unassigned parking spot off in the recesses where no one would be watching. He mounted the bike and donned the bandanna, ready now.

Then he closed his eyes, focusing, waiting, waiting for the Eye to speak to him the way it always did.

A field of vision exploded onto the screen of his inner eye, seated firmly behind the chakra point between his eyes, and crackling with energy.

He saw a club with people dancing. The man on stage in jeans and a white t-shirt was playing an electric guitar. Rockabilly with a heavy metal twist. Isaiah could hear the music in his mind even though it was very far away. The singer/guitar player was trying to sound like the Reverend Horton Heat.

Not a bad choice, really. Isaiah had been a fan for a while now.

Then he saw her.

At first he didn't recognize her, didn't recognize her jet black hair, her round snow white face, didn't recognize the ice blue eyes. Then it dawned on him.

The journalist, the one who wrote for that New York rag – what was its name? He couldn't remember. But he remembered her. She'd been doing pieces on death cults lately. It was what she did when she wasn't doing pieces on alien abductions and bigfoot sightings.

And those pieces were leading her, slowly, inextricably, to the Necronomicon. He could see it in her aura. There was a darkness about her, a darkness she didn't know about, couldn't know about, but it was there, an inky blackness that encloaked her body as she sat at the bar, nursing a bourbon on the rocks, laughing with strangers, and studying her surroundings with that eagle eye of hers.

And just like that he knew it would be his job to save her from herself, from all the shit she was digging into.

He revved the motorcycle to life. He put it in gear. Then he was off, into the night, gaining speed, navigating his way skillfully around the toll booth, even as the guard inside stared, wide eyed and cursing, almost spilling his coffee as he stood up.

But it was too late anyway. The poor bastard never even knew he was on the payroll. Isaiah made a mental note to check the camera logs in the morning and delete the evidence. He couldn't have the poor guy losing his job just because his boss wanted to be a late night superhero.

Or something like that anyway.



As it turned out he got there just in time. But of course that was no accident. The Eye always took him where he needed to go.

There was a crowd gathered around the entrance to the club. But they weren't waiting to get in. They were trying to get out.

Isaiah Bane revved the engine on his motorcycle, the one painted yellow with black stripes like a hornet, and came screeching to a stop at the crowd's edge, coming to a rest and leaning the bike on his left leg.

He got off the bike, pushed the kickstand down with his right foot, the engine still idling, growling, deep and low, like an angry dog. He cut the engine. He looked at the crowd, or at least he seemed to. His eyes were covered by the black bandanna but the crowd could still see his mouth. Everyone was staring at him. They knew who he was. That was mostly thanks to Angela Price and the pieces she'd run but it was more than that.

Everyone knew about the midnight vigilante that roamed the streets of New York.

Move,” Isaiah Bane said.

And that's exactly what they did, stepping aside and clearing a path to the door.

Isaiah Bane stood beneath the flashing lights of the club, waiting with his eyes closed. The noise of the music inside had stopped. It had been replaced by another sound, a sound that was not unfamiliar to the Guardian of the Gate. It was a sound that he could not banish from his memory and he had tried. No matter how many times he heard it, no matter how many times he awoke bathed in sweat, ice cold, he never stopped trying to banish it. But it was un-banishable.

It was the sound of screaming.

It was the sound of primal fear and he knew it well.

After all it was his birthright.

Isaiah Bane took a deep breath, summoning his chi, pushing the door aside and stepping into the club where the strobe lights were still flashing.

And the scene inside was pandemonium.

A hulking figure was laying waste to everyone and everything inside.

He knew the type. He had seen it before. A minor demon made manifest by the dreams of Cthulhu.

The creature had no face, only a rectal orifice in the space of flesh where his mouth should have been. The creature was huge, towering above the room. The creature was rippling with muscle, muscle that quivered even when the creature was standing still.

As it was doing now. As it had been doing ever since it caught sight of Isaiah Bane.

Isaiah Bane assumed a defensive stance.

Tiger's Claw: a purely defensive posture that one assumed when the opponent was clearly stronger and capable of easily overpowering the martial artist. It was designed to use the opponent's strength and momentum against them, aiming for their weak points in the process.

Although to be honest Isaiah was toying with it.

And the Eye flared so brightly that it burned a whole through the bandanna that covered it.

The creature, seeing the Eye itself somehow, even without eyes of its own, put its hands on its knees, vomiting. A steady stream of brown liquid erupted from the orifice that might have been its mouth. Feces.

Isaiah Bane waited, unperturbed.

And the creature made its move, crashing towards him like a raging rhinoceros.

Isaiah Bane waited for precisely the right moment.

Then:

He bashed the creature's forehead with his own, sending it back.

Holyfield's Headbutt, he thought. A distinctly modern touch.

His father would have been proud.

Then he settled his body into a crane stance, waiting, perfectly poised to counter any attack. He waited, just the way his father had taught him to, summoning the animal's instincts and letting them build in his solar plexus.

His concentration at that moment was perfect, like a notched arrow. He focused his mind on a single drop of rain that fell from a rooftop outside the club, focused on its beauty, its elegance, its sublime perfection, letting the chi build within him, white hot and still. Ready.

And he waited. He waited patiently for the creature's next attack.

The lumbering beast was strong but slow. It clambered to its feet shaking its massive head. Then it stomped its feet, pulling its elbows inward in a runner's stance.

The creature lowered its head like a battering ram and charged, faster now, with the force of a transport truck, building speed as it went.

Isaiah Bane reacted with a series of perfectly timed maneuvers.

Rising Dragon Stance: shifting his weight to his back leg he sank into a crouch. His left leg was forward, free to do what he told it to. He crossed his arms, extending them forward, with the left over the right, his hands making knife fists.

Rising Dragon: this maneuver required both power and speed. He released some of the chi he had accumulated, channeling it into his left hand, as he rose. The aim was to connect with the mandibular notch on the creature's left jaw, using the energy of its own movement against it. Properly executed it would sling the creature to Isaiah's left, breaking its jaw in the process.

The creature's jaw did not break but it did fly into the air, landing finally face first on the pavement to Isaiah's left just as thunder cracked across the night sky and the first drops of rain began to fall outside.

By the gods of old but it was strong, this one, Isaiah thought.

Then:

Meteor Strike: a pure power move. With his left fist extended forward in a line and his right fist drawn back to his shoulder he took to the air in a leap. He landed on the creature's back and slammed the back of the creature's head, with his right fist, pushing its face to the floor, pulling his left fist back and releasing the last of his pent up chi as he did so.

The effect was spectacular.

The blow landed with such force that the creature's head exploded in a spray of bone and blood. For an instant the air around Isaiah's fist flashed with a burst of light, green, unearthly and bright.

It was over. Isaiah jumped off the creature's back and stood beside it, catching his breath and staring. The eye in his left socket was aglow, on fire. His chest moved up and down as the rain fell on the rooftop overhead.

It was over.

Or so he thought.

Because that was then they came.




Year: 1875

Somewhere in a Texas desert


Wherever the stranger goes people know that a shadow has passed amongst them. The skies grow overcast where he rides as if the clouds, dark and brooding, follow whatever road he chooses. The mare he rides is gray - as gray as the clouds that mark his path and its eyes are rheumy and rimmed with red like fire. Something green and luminescent burns within their depths.

Some merely call him the Stranger, but others, those who know a bit more about him, who have heard the camp fire tales when the wind is low, or those who have chanced to encounter the occasional wild eyed survivor, one who might know him for what he is, they always call him by his name: Citizen Bane. “Don't cross him,” they say. “Just be polite and maybe he'll go on his way.” And he usually does. But not always.

But whether you know him or not there is always the Eye. Green and luminescent like the dying sun on some cursed, unholy world far against the edges of forgotten space, a place of curses and wailing. This is the Eye of Citizen Bane. It is an eye that looks right through you. The other eye is gone now, lost no one knows how, a gaping wound where the last vestige of his humanity has perished, but the Eye is all he needs. Everyone who knows Citizen Bane knows that much about him but there aren't many people who know him at all really.

Some people talk about how he had been ambushed once in Texas by a band of Comanche. People like to talk about that kind of thing. It's the kind of story that gets told in camp fire circles, the kind that usually gets taller in the telling. But the camp fire tales of Citizen Bane are never embellished. The truth is tall enough. They always tell it the way it was, which is the main thing about him: whatever you think you know, there is always more.

Citizen Bane is always more than the sum total of the facts that surround him. Not of lot of people know that.

To tell the truth though a lot of Comanche died that day. That's the way the stories tell it too.

He wears a broad rimmed hat with a Spencer on his back, a revolver at his hip and a bullet sling over his chest. His clothes are black - like the murder of crows at his back. And the black deeds on his trail. A man like Bane doesn't walk through the world without running afoul of the law.

He doesn't know the ranger's name, the one with balls enough to track him here. They've been playing cat and mouse this way for three days in the Texas desert before Bane quits his run and comes to rest on a small rise, sitting there on his mare, the desert moon over his shoulder, sitting there like a cock, waiting patiently for the sun, to crow. But it's not the sun he waits for. Just another Texas Ranger. He doesn't wait long. The ranger's stallion is fast.

Citizen Bane watches him get closer in the dark. The ranger's got his pistol drawn as he rides up close, not ten yards away now, pointing the gun right at Bane's chest, a good clean shot. He won't miss. Not now.

Citizen Bane doesn't move.

"Game's up, Chinaman," the ranger says. "I'm bringing you in."

"I reckon," Bane says. "So how you wanna do this?"

"Dead or alive, I'm guessing," the Texas ranger says. "That's parts really up to you."

"So I turn right here and ride away, you gonna shoot me in the back? That how this works?"

"You're wanted for the murder of John Aberdeen," the Texas ranger says. "You can die here or they can hang you back in El Mason. That's how it works."

"I didn't kill John Aberdeen and you know it," Citizen Bane says.

"We got eye witnesses say you did."

"The same eye witnesses that watched him die. My only regret there is I didn't get to kill more Texas rangers."

"Well you won't get another chance at that," the Texas ranger says.

"That's where you're wrong," Citizen Bane says.

Bane knows the ranger is fast, but he's never met a man who can outdraw him. He pulls the Spencer over his shoulder and lays it in the crook of his arm, waiting.

Everything happens real slow for Citizen Bane. That's how it is with that Eye of his.

But it happens so fast for the ranger that he gets spooked and fires, firing too fast, hitting wide. Bane waits.

"I'll see you in Hell," Citizen Bane says, the Eye burning deep now. "In the Void That Separates The Worlds."

The ranger fires again, true this time. Bane falls from his mare, firing his Spencer as he goes, seeing the slug go by where he was just sitting. The ranger takes it in the chest. He goes down.

The air is still. Citizen Bane gets up and waits. The Texas ranger doesn't move. Citizen Bane leads the mare by the reins to the ranger's body, pushes the low brimmed hat back with the point of his boot to see the face.

The Eye begins to pulse. It isn't one he recognizes, just another nameless henchmen in Jebediah's army. They just kept coming. Money had bought Jebediah that much at least, and he was never going to stop until he got what he wanted and Citizen Bane knows what that is: he needs the Book to finish his long study of the Dark Arts.

The Eye in Citizen Bane's head socket burns green at the Book's memory, the Eye he has worn since he became a man, the Eye of the Shaolin, the last living vestige of a long vanquished god, the same Eye that Citizen Bane tore his own eye out to wear, cutting it out and stuffing the god-eye in his own still bleeding socket, where it grafted itself, still living, to his own flesh. It is a part of how Citizen Bane became who he is, but not the only part.

Bane mounts the mare again and looks at the sky. He thinks it over. Then he spurs the horse, pulling the reins, turning her around. He rides east this time, back the way he came.


New York City

Present Day


They came from somewhere in the back of the club, somewhere deep in the shadows beyond the strobe lights. He would've used the Eye but it didn't matter at this point. He knew what they were but the real question was why were they here?

Then he heard her screaming from somewhere in the club's interior and he understood. They had come for her. It was why the Eye had led him here. Perhaps they had warned her first, told her to stop talking about them in the papers. But if she was anything like the Angela Price he'd heard about then likely as not she had given them the finger and told them all to go eat a dick.

Which could have ended very badly for her. She had no idea how close she'd come, how lucky she'd been.

They were gathering around him now in a circle. He could see a special blend of malice in their eyes – that deadly concoction of adrenaline, crystal meth and just plain old bat shit crazy. The members of the Red Hand were murderously famous for their orgiastic frenzies, thanks to Angela Price. Staying up for days at a time no amount of debauchery was beneath them. They lived for one thing: the coming of Cthulhu. On that day, they believed, they would be rewarded with immortality for their loyalty. In exchange for freeing Him from his long ocean prison Cthulhu would make gods of them all.

So they thought anyway.

Isaiah Bane studied them as they approached, a ragtag group in tattered robes who by all appearances had not slept in days. Cultists to the core. Their faces were painted white and dark patches had been tattooed permanently under their eyes. They all wore their hair long, shoulder length, and it was dyed a jet black. They wore long black flowing robes. On their feet they wore sandals made of the darkest leather. Their nails were as sharp as knives and painted black to match.

These were the sons and daughters of the Red Hand. These were the sons and daughters of Cthulhu.

And he was about to destroy them.

Isaiah contemplated his mode of attack. One move came to mind, a long winded one mostly due to its complexity:

Blame Not The Way Of Hand And Foot For Thy Untimely And Unfortunate Demise: a highly complex crowd control combo filched from a highly skilled Confucian martial artist who spent some years in the British Isles learning English from the native monks sometime after the Norman Conquest. It involved making the body as stiff as possible with one arm and leg extended and spinning like a helicopter blade. Against the regular joes it never failed to clear the room, a real crowd pleaser so to speak, that one.

Isaiah studied the crowd. It would work here to devastating effect.

He summoned his chi as the crowd began to chant. He recognized the tongue they used. It was the Black Speak, the language of the Necronomicon as it was written in the language Cthulhu Himself used.

He never let it break his concentration. Unleashing his chi and performing the move he dispersed them all to the far corners of the dance floor. He could hear the survivors wailing. They would not bother him again.

Save two. There were always stragglers. They came at him from his flanks, left and right.

Fanatics never learned. It was a death cultist thing, always ready to die for their cause, believing that their salvation would be imminent anyway.

He dispatched the one to his left with a simple maneuver.

Heaven's Gate: a quick left right punch followed by a spinning back fist. It made short work of the cultist, male this time, and sent him flying.

Then he turned to the girl at his right, looking her right in the eye. The next move was one of his favorites, but it only worked when the opponent was weak enough.

Word Of Heaven: with a single utterance the victim would die instantly.

Extending his left arm and summoning his chi, Bane pointed at the woman's heart and said, “Die.”

And that was it. She doubled over immediately. It was only a matter of time now. Her heart was no longer beating.

He walked on, towards the darkness ahead, as she writhed on the floor behind him.






From the interview of Angela Price and Isaiah Bane (what could be salvaged)


Price: So that's why you never married? The world wants to know, Isaiah Bane.


Isaiah: Hardly. It's a whole lot more complicated then that.


Price: Wanna talk about it? You're still a mystery in a lot of ways and the whole world is curious these days. Bane... that's your father's name. But your dad is just like this complete unknown. There's no record of him anywhere. Whoever he was he was totally off the grid. Just who are you anyway, Isaiah Bane... if that's even your real name?


Isaiah: Like I said it's complicated. Do you like music, Ms. Price?


Price: Now you're just changing the subject.


Isaiah: Yeah, I thought so. Everybody does, don't they? There are so many styles of music that have evolved over the centuries but there are only twelve notes. Have you ever thought about that? Twelve notes but the combinations are infinite. Deep at its heart the song is always the same, like the heartbeat of the universe but not really. The heartbeat of the universe is actually that of conflict, that of strife. Music is like war that way but war, conflict, is really its ultimate expression, what the universe is trying to say. Fighting is the ultimate form of music and the body is its instrument. Conflict is the real song of the universe, the strife that it embodies. And there are so many different ways of fighting, so many fighting styles, Kung-Fu, Tae-Kwon-do, boxing, Jujitsu, but the basic moves are always the same. I'm here to tell you, Ms. Price, that I have mastered them all and there is not a man or a woman alive who can defeat me. But I was not born to fight human beings anyway. I was born to save them.


New York City

Present Day


When it was over Isaiah made his way to the back of the club, deep inside where the strobe lights couldn't reach. It was darker here but not all dark. There were lamps on the walls, soft and dim, but back beyond the dance floor that's where he found them.

She was there on her knees bound by a chain. It wrapped around her neck, extending upward. A man held the other end but he wasn't just another cultist. Isaiah Bane knew at once that he was looking at their leader.

Angela Price was nude.

And crying now, her skin snow white, her black hair matted to her shoulders, meek and vulnerable, like a snowflake in July.

The man who held the chain was not dressed like a cultist. He wore stone washed blue jeans, brand new. He wore a snow white T-Shirt covered by a jet black blazer, J. Crew's. Expensive too, by the look of it. His shoes were Air Jordans, white and soft grey. Gucci sunglasses. Only his hair was the same – shoulder length and deep black. He had the features of a young metro-sexual male in his prime with not even a hint of stubble on his chin. A man of wealth and taste, with a flair for casual grace. Even his nails were perfectly manicured.

And there was a natural poise about him that for a moment seemed out of place to Isaiah Bane, giving him pause. That and the staff in his left hand, stony red of an unknown substance and not straight at all, as if it had been grown not made. Something about the staff made it look unbreakable.

Oh, hello,” the man said with a voice that did not waver. “Maybe I should introduce myself. After all I know who you are.”

The man waited but Isaiah Bane didn't say a single word. Instead he just assumed the crane stance and waited, his eyes never moving from the point between the man's eyes. It was an old trick that gave your opponent the illusion of eye contact.

The young man smirked.

The old silent treatment,” he said. “Seriously, you lot never change. Allow me to do introduce myself then. My name is Malachi and, yes, I am, as you have probably guessed by now, the grand poobah of the Red Hand.”

Malachi scratched his ear then studied his index finger, flicking the wax away with his thumb curiously.

That was hardly fair though, you know,” he said. “Am I the only one here who cares about the rules?”

He pointed to Angela who was still on her knees at his side.

Get up, slut,” he said and she immediately did as she was told, an expression on her face of almost lamb like obedience. She never seemed to even notice Bane at all, but he was noticing her, eyeing the red whelps on her arms and legs.

And that's when Isaiah Bane knew that something else was going on. The Angela Price he had heard about would never have acquiesced so easily.

He studied the staff in Malachi's left hand when the realization hit him, setting the Eye aglow.

The Staff Of Persuasion,” Isaiah Bane said. “It doesn't work on me, you know. Where did you find it anyway?”

Malachi smirked.

I think you already know the answer to that question. But that's not the real question here is it? You know that if any harm comes to me then the bond that holds her will never be released don't you?”

Isaiah Bane didn't say anything at all to that. The bastard had him there. He knew all too well the rules of engagement that were at play here. If Malachi died without releasing the bond that he held over her she would remain nothing more than a gibbering child until the end of her days – and those days would be long. The spell would grant her unnaturally long life.

And that was only the beginning of it. As she grew old her body would grow horribly deformed. Her old age would be more twisted and painful then anything that anyone had ever imagined before, other than the Mad Arab of course, but he had long ago been dispatched to The Void That Separates The Worlds where, with any luck, he was suffering even more then he deserved. As he would for a long time until someone released him and that was something that no one would ever do. No, the Mad Arab was just going to have to wait it out.

Yes, Isaiah Bane knew the staff that Malachi held in his left hand was none other than the Staff Of Persuasion, grown from the body of Cthulhu Himself, one of the many thorns that adorned the tentacles of His horrid, unspeakable features. It was written – rightly – that whoever wielded it could bend all living creatures to their will.

And right now it didn't matter how Malachi had obtained it. It only mattered that he had.

Because, as Isaiah Bane well knew, it was something of a game changer.

He disregarded the fact that he had believed the Staff to be banished long ago from the world. He eschewed for the moment his desire to rip this damned cult leader's head from his body.

Instead he did what he had always done and always would. He came to terms with reality. He accepted reality on its own terms with the calmness and equanimity that his Buddhist training had prepared him for.

So if I let you go you will unbind her, is that how it is?” Isaiah Bane said.

You are a bit slow,” Malachi said. “But I think you're starting to come around. You didn't seriously think I was just going to let you come in and spoil the show did you? I mean goddamn, dude. Give me some credit. Rules, Guardian, or whatever the fuck you're calling yourself now. Ignore them at your peril.”

And how do I know you'll honor your end of the bargain?”

Oh, I already have,” he said, letting go the chain. It hit the Formica tiles of the floor with a steely clang.

She wasn't that important anyway. And I'm pretty sure we made our point.”

Malachi held the Staff Of Persuasion over his head with both hands.

When this is over Cthulhu will make me a god,” he said.

Isaiah sighed, crossing his arms.

When this is over,” he said. “He will make you a worm for His stool. But hey, that's your choice, man. You wanna eat shit for all eternity that's on you. Seriously, my dad should've finished you people off when he had a chance. It would've saved you a lot of trouble.”

But it was too late. Because by then Malachi had already disappeared in a flash of green, ethereal light.

And Isaiah Bane stood there in awe. To be honest he hadn't known the staff could even do that.




Angela Price never took shit from anyone. She ran away from home at the age of thirteen because she wouldn't take shit from her dad – and the shit he'd done to her – and ever since then she'd been making it a life habit.

She hadn't taken any shit that time with the truck driver either when she'd learned first hand about life on the road as a runaway.

She hadn't taken any shit from the bartender when she first started turning tables, working under the table because she was underage. She still remembered that asshole and that stupid fucking look on his face when she grabbed him by the testicles and pulled - hard. She was pretty sure he still remembered her too.

And she hadn't taken any shit from her bosses at the New York Gawker, even as she'd worked her way up from the copy desk to a full time writer with a desk of her own. And a byline

Not taking shit from people was how she got where she was today. And taking shit was just something that she'd never, ever done.

Until today.

She had to think about that now, sitting on her knees, completely naked, as she watched the guy in the bandanna, felt him looking at her, knew somehow that he was looking at her, despite the fact that the bandanna completely covered his eyes.

Well not both of them she realized as he walked towards her. The bandanna looked like it'd had a hole burned through it over the eye on the left and looking at it she was starting to see why.

Because when that eye looked at her she had to turn away. It was impossible not to. It was like it burned a hole right through her too and she felt a sick nausea pass through her gut in an icy wave when he looked at her with it, with an intensity that reminded her of the piercing blue eyes of Blind Master Po from that old TV show Kung Fu. But then it passed and she started to think to herself, who knows? Maybe he really is one of the good guys.

How the fuck did he do that?” she said.

She was trying to ignore the fact, for the moment, that she was naked. But even now, already, she was starting to feel her old self, the old Angela Price, returning. Perhaps it was the nakedness that did it, her nakedness in the presence of this strange masked man, who may or may not have been a hero of some sorts. Or maybe it was just who she was.

You already know the answer to that question,” the man in the mask was saying but all she could think about really was getting dressed but she had no idea where her clothes were, had no idea really where to even start looking for them. Everything had happened so fast. The past hour was just one blur of trauma and pain. What the fuck had they done to her anyway?

As if sensing her confusion the man in the mask said, “It will all come back soon enough. Enjoy the amnesia while it lasts because I promise you when the memories come back they won't be pretty. I know these people.”

Then he sunk to a crouch, mere inches away, and looked at her and she was starting to think that her nakedness had taken him off guard so she did something that only Angela Price could do, something that only Angela Price would even dare to do, and she reached up slowly, meeting his eye now, not looking away this time, and peeled the bandanna up, getting a real good look at his face now.

And he fucking froze. She could see the panic in his eyes as he saw the recognition in hers, knowing that it was too late to do anything about it.

Oh,” she said. “It's... you.”

And that was really all that she could think to say about it at the moment.

He just stood up then with a look of disgust on his face.

Goddammit,” he said, almost whispering. “Why the fuck did you just do that?”

I could be asking you the same question.”

He looked down at her then, a hard, quizzical look, then turned to look around the room. The tables there, the ones that hadn't been demolished, had white tablecloths with soft, round lamps in the center. He pulled one off with a yank, sending the lamp to the floor where it shattered.

You need to get dressed. Here. Wear this.”

And he handed the tablecloth to her. She took it graciously, standing up and wrapping it around her. When she was done she looked him in the eye again.

You owe me an interview,” she said. “At the very least. Most people don't get to see me naked that easily.”

Yeah, she could already feel the old Angela Price coming back.

He looked down at the floor. Thinking about it.

Wait in line then,” Isaiah Bane said. “Everyone else does.”






Episode 2:

We Should Get Together Sometime




New York City

Present Day

The Facebook Page Of Angela Price



Facebook messages (1):


Tap.


Angela Price, soon all of your messages will be moving to Messenger. Install Facebook Messenger now!


Settings:


Tap.


View Page in Desktop Mode:


Tap.


Waiting for page to reload...


Then:


Facebook Messages (1):


Tap.


Facebook Messages:


Skyweather Moon: Angela Price we are watching you. You have been warned.


Reply:


Tap.


Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.


Send:


Tap.


Page refresh. Then:


Angela Price: This another one of your sock puppet accounts? Go fuck yourself, fellows. I'm not going anywhere.


X to close window:


Tap.


Phone desktop, Chrome:


Tap.


Search bar.


Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.


Search text: the Red Hand.


Go.


Tap.


Search results. Thumb scroll.


Link: Red Hand of Cthulhu – Wikipedia.


Tap.


Thumb scroll, thumb scroll, thumb scroll.


Settings.


Tap.


Share.


Tap.


Upload Article to Kindle.


Tap.


X to close window.


Tap.


Phone desktop, Twitter app.


Tap.


Tweet feather.


Tap.


Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.


Message text: shit's getting deep, ya'll. Peace out and stay tuned!


X to close window.


Tap.


Power button press...


Blank screen.



From the Twitter Account of Angela Price.

These are the last postings she made prior to her disappearance:



Angela Price @angelaprice Aug 23

Wow, what a day. Should be out of the office most of the afternoon.


Angela Price @angelaprice Aug 23

Shit's getting deep, ya'll. Peace out and stay tuned!


Angela Price @angelaprice Aug 23

Gonna follow up a lead at the Stone Lion. I hear Johnny Knox is a pretty good front man.


Angela Price @angelaprice Aug 23

Holy shit, this band is good.


Angela Price @angelaprice Aug 23

Wow, he just covered Fucked Up Ford. Definitely getting his number.


Angela Price @angelaprice Aug 23

OK, there's something weird going on round back. Checking it out now. Stay tuned.





1875

(Somewhere in a Texas desert)


He knows they won't let up this time and he's bored with the pursuit. It's time to bring the fight to Jebediah. As he rides he feels inside his saddle bag for the Book, the ancient tome, its pages tattered, but still intact, as they have been for centuries. It's still there at his side as it has been now for all his adult life.

The Necronomicon, the only remaining copy in the world. The most dangerous book ever written. And the most important. Only Citizen Bane knows about the struggle to come, the one that will affect the entire world, and all of humanity, as They Who Come spill forth from The Void That Separates The Worlds. Citizen Bane rides, knowing that it is up to him and him alone to save the world when that time comes.

A cloud rolls over the moon as he rides. There is more at stake than even Jebediah can understand. He only wants what all men like him want. Power and immortality. But Citizen Bane has no use for it. The healing magics of the animals and the desert are all he needs to sustain him.


Citizen Bane was born the son of an Apache woman whose father was a medicine man. She had learned the art of magic from her father even though the Chief had forbidden him to teach it to her - that kind of magic being the province of males in her tribe - and for learning it she had been banished. It was under these circumstances that the father of Citizen Bane, Master Chang, had found her. His father was the last surviving member of a Buddhist temple, Shaolin in origin, that had been destroyed, so he had left China to seek a new life in the Wild West because, as he said later, “the Eye had drawn him there.”

There was no love between them. His father had agreed to take care of her, for reasons known only to him, and she had agreed, having nowhere else to go. But when she had given him a child, his father had abruptly chosen to abandon them, vowing to return for the child "like Merlin," he said, "when he came of age."

The tribe of her birth, seeing her condition, took pity on her and took her back, the tribal Chief making her promise to never use the medicine magic again, as its practice by anyone other than the medicine man would bring bad luck and ruin to the tribe. They even called the child Bane in their native tongue as a reminder. So she agreed and that was how Citizen Bane came to be raised by the Apache, with her mother teaching the medicine magic of her father to her son in secret.

At the age of ten Bane's father returned, just as he said he would, and just as the tribal chief had warned, he brought ruin to the tribe.

Citizen Bane remembers as he rides. He remembers the blood and the screams for mercy, the vultures that flew above the carnage, in slow circles, waiting for their copious meal. His father had returned unarmed, wearing nothing but the flowing white robes of his temple, and he had slaughtered the entire tribe by Hand And Foot, hardened Apache warriors helpless in the face of that Ancient Art. He had tried to come peacefully in the Shaolin way but the Apache, perhaps understandably, had hated him on sight and he did what he had to do. Citizen Bane understood on that day that he was descended from a long line of learned and formidable warriors and a hunger for that martial wisdom was kindled within him.

Even his mother had died that day, by her own hand. She wanted nothing more of the monster who had slaughtered her tribe, despite the fact that he had given her a son, despite the fact that they had given him no choice, and nothing more of the world that had spawned him. It had grieved the child Bane for a fortnight, spent wailing and alone in his teepee, but it had not broken him. There was too much to be learned.

His father raised him then, teaching him the wisdom of the Shaolin. He showed him the ways and language of the white man's world and taught him the secrets of the Shaolin, their Buddhist wisdom and their martial art. The training took years and it had been severe, but he was his father's son. He learned fast and well. The training had nearly killed him, and it left him with nothing but loathing for his father in the end, but it also left him tough as nails. Looking back he knows his father only did what had to be done, but it was too late to tell him that. Perhaps he would see him again in The Void That Separates The Worlds and tell him that he understood, but it was a strange place there, and the things that made sense here didn't always matter anymore.

When he was eighteen his father told him the story of the Eye, the Eye he wore, the Eye that seemed a living thing of its own. He told Citizen Bane how his temple had obtained the last copy of the Necronomicon from a dying traveler. How the monks had spent the better part of a century translating and deciphering its riddles. How they used that knowledge to summon an ancient god from across The Void That Separates The Worlds through The Gate Of Sound. And how they had battled the god for a fortnight, finally bringing its demonic body to ruins, a burned shell, nothing left save the Eye, the only physical remnant of its being to survive. How the Eye was still alive, even as they lifted it from the ashen pyre where the body of the ancient god had been reduced to nothing more than ash, pulsing and bloated with a vitality that could not be extinguished, not by time nor by fire nor by anything that the world of men could produce, not even by anything that The Void That Separates The Worlds could vomit forth. The Eye was still alive, its power still intact and its potency unscathed even with the demonic body's annihilation.

Only a handful of monks survived that day and for centuries now the Eye and the Book had been passed from father to son. Great knowledge and great power came with that inheritance and it was now being passed from father once again to Citizen Bane.

'The Eye will grant you long life,' his father had told him, 'but one day you will grow weary of the world and its burden and beget a child. When that happens you will feel your life pass to the child you made, and you will pass the burden on, to be carried by another.'

'Then what?' Citizen Bane had asked.

'Then you will die,' his father said.

'Why would I do that?' Citizen Bane said.

'One day you will choose to lay this burden down,' his father said. 'That is how it has always been. One day you will understand.'

Citizen Bane remembers, will always remember, removing his own eye with a Bowie knife and stuffing the Eye of the Shaolin, as they called it now, into the still bleeding socket. When he wore the Eye that day it was as if he saw the world for the first time. A great vitality had filled him then - and a great wisdom but also a great foreboding and a great sense of mission. He had chosen the name of Bane that day and would thereafter refer to the denizens of this world as its 'citizens' to remind him of his mission.

Later that night his father had gone to lay down in the cabin they were sharing and died. It was just as he had told him it would be. To lose the Eye was to lose more than the power it gave. It was to lose your life itself.



New York City

Present Day



You know, I was thinking,” Angela said. “When this is all over we should get together sometime. I was serious about that interview, you know.”

Worry about that, later,” Isaiah Bane said. “Trust me. It's not over yet.”

They were still in the club but they had managed to find her clothes.

You still don't remember, do you?” Isaiah Bane said, with his back to her now, as she put them on.

Nothing,” she said, eschewing her panties for the moment and tossing them aside, crinkling her nose in disgust. They were ruined. What the hell had happened anyway? “The past hour is just a complete blank. You think maybe they slipped a roofie in my drink?”

Not likely.”

Well I do appreciate your being a gentleman about this.”

I've seen it all before.”

What's that supposed to mean? What I'm not good enough for you?”

It's got nothing to do with that,” he said, shaking his head. He was studying the room. It was large, occupying most of the building. There was a dance floor in front, an island bar in the center and then the dining area, with its lamp lit tables, where they were now. The bar was in shambles. All the top shelf bottles were smashed, along with the shelving. There were shards of glass everywhere. “Think of it like a vow of chastity.”

What? Seriously? You took one?”

No, but it's close enough to the truth for now. I'm just playing it safe. It's hard to explain.”

You're a very cryptic man, Mr. Bane,” she said and Isaiah whipped around to stare at her.

Don't call me that,” he said.

Relax,” she said, zipping up her black skirt. “Your secret's safe with me. Look, I get it, OK? So what should I call you now then? The Guardian? Seriously? It doesn't exactly roll of the tongue, you know.”

Isaiah Bane sighed.

You shouldn't have done it,” he said.

She looked at her discarded panties on the floor, thinking.

You're probably right,” she said. “I really don't know why I did it to be honest. But I guess it's kinda too late for apologies.”

If the world finds out then it's the end of Bane Enterprises. You do understand that, right?”

She nodded solemnly, looking him in the eye now.

And if that happens, just so you know, it may seriously undermine my ability to protect you. And in case you haven't notice you're in serious need of protection. That's all I'm gonna say about it.”

She nodded again, not saying anything at all. She was having one helluva day, for sure.

Isaiah turned again to study the room.

When your memories come back you need to tell me everything,” he said. “It's important. I have to find them. I know you can't possibly understand why but you have to believe me when I tell you it's important.”

He sighed.

More important than you realize,” he said.

Then, out of nowhere, he heard her cry out in pain.

Oh god,” she said.

Isaiah Bane turned to look at her. She was on her knees now, clutching her crotch with both hands.

I see your memories are coming back,” he said.

But she wasn't saying anything now, wasn't even looking at him. She had doubled over completely.

Oh god,” she said again.

Then she threw up on the floor in front of her, a spewing mass of red liquid.

Blood. A lot of it.


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