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Introitus

Midnight At the Vatican

(Vatican City, 1687)

Standing still with the other members of the order, Tim had to remember to not lock his knees, lest he pass out. Assembled together since midnight, they waited for “Her.”

For 40 years now, Tim outwardly served “The Order,” all the while funneling information to The Faithful who sought various ways to oppose them. The Order was an ancient secret society within the Holy See, deftly pulling the levers of Papacy Power behind the scenes. Masterminds of unjust wars, brutal inquisitions, raiding the papacy coffers and promoting every vice known to man, they were utterly ruthless and efficient, corrupting or killing anyone who got in their way. They could be known, by the large silver crucifixes they carried. Several times, Tim’s fellow members almost found him out, but for some unseen reason, he narrowly escaped what would surely have been torture and a gruesome death.

Camel’s hair

Several days before “Her” arrival, Cardinal Jenkins, as Tim took leave for the evening, said, “I have something for you.”

Looking at the wrapped gift, surprised, Tim answered, “Thank you, Cardinal.” As the old man was obviously waiting, he unwrapped the package, exclaiming, “What is it?”

“A cilice,” the old man replied. Seeing that Tim was obviously still at a loss, Cardinal Jenkins explained, “It is a ‘sack cloth,’ a ‘hair shirt.’ Most use it for self-mortification, to do personal penance for sins, but I want you to wear it the night of the assembly.”

Tim, holding up the rough looking shirt made out of camel’s hair, looked questioning at his master. “Have I sinned against you father?”

“No, that’s not why I’m giving it to you. It will help you keep your mind pure and give no offense during the ceremony. Her majesty prefers to travel in her natural state.” Then, looking directly at Tim, the old man, with some emotion, said, “No man can look upon Her true form and live.”

Remembering the cardinal’s words, now waiting, sweating, all Tim thought about was how much the rough hair itched against his increasingly irritated skin. “This is ludicrous,” Tim thought, distracted to the point of anger.

Introitus

Since joining the order all those years ago, Tim had never been present at an Introitus, the ceremony that the sect observed whenever their Leader arrived. However, he’d heard strange things. Well, whispers really. Anecdotal accounts so fantastical he’d dismissed them as mere fancy. One old priest spoke of a time when thirteen monks lost their lives by looking upon “Her.” The tale bearer, literally shaking as he recounted their screams, said, “Young man, people say to even glimpse Her makes you unable to look away. If there ever was a siren, she is it. No man having seen Her can resist to worship at her feet.”

Tim, at the time, assumed old age must have addled his head, but throughout the years, as other old monks shared similar tales, he began to wonder. Tonight, standing in the hall of Saint Peter’s Basilica with, he guessed, at least 6000 of the order, he shuddered to think that the stories might be true after all.

The blind leading…

Two columns of believers stood barefoot, lining either side of the great hallway facing forward, a Gregorian chant filling the air, giving thanks to her holiness. As the somber music rose and fell, echoing off the walls, Tim, near the front left, saw Father Selvaggio, head of The Order, now blinded by age, lead to stand before the altar. Towering above the old man, the Balanchine, a 95-foot tall ornate brass canopy, marked the center of Saint Peter’s Basilica. If one viewed the buildings’ layout from a great height, it formed the shape of a gigantic cross on the ground.

Down at the end of the Great Hall, to the right lay the Door of Death. The chanters falling silent, the old, blind monk sounded out with a loud, clear voice,

“Behold, Brothers of our Sacred Order, I bring you glad tidings! Rejoice, for Her Majesty comes! Mistress of the Seven Realms, Keeper of the Stones of Fire, Beauty Incarnate, the Pure and Holy One, Covering Cherub of Eden, Triumphant and Just! We are unworthy to look upon her! All who love and adore Her, turn away!”

With that, as previously instructed, everyone turned away, facing the side walls of the Great Hall.

At Death’s Door

Creaking slowly, the two great leaves of deaths door opened. Immediately, Tim noticed a faint whiff of rotten eggs. Marching in cadence, Tim heard a cohort of solders in armor advance up the the length of Great Hall, taking up positions on either side of the aisle.

As the stench of sulfur grew stronger, making Tim queasy, the blind priest announced,

“Behold, She comes on six wings, from beyond our world to grace us with Her majesty! All kneel!” To which everyone knelt, including the old man.

What Tim must be the butts of a thousand spears, thudded seven times in unison on the marble floor, reverberating off the stone walls. Suddenly, through Tim’s tightly closed eyes he saw Light! Then heat, like the noonday sun, seeped through the robe on his back. A collective shudder ran through all those present.

Long ago, Tim reconciled himself to celibacy, not because he thought it was particularly holy, but because his life was so tenuous, how could he endanger a wife and possible children? Knowing what is was like to grow up fatherless, he couldn’t visit that curse upon another generation, no matter how his loins burned. However, right now, confusingly, that is just how he felt; like he burned with lust.

Original Sin

Those around him, from the sounds of it, were lusting, too. Gasps, groans, and sighs, sounded far and wide in the Great Hall. Though Tim knelt trembling, against the cardinals strict warning, he dared to open his eyes, ever so slightly, looking in front of him at several rows of monks towards the cathedral wall. Shockingly, some lay jerking uncontrollably on the floor, writhed as if in the grips of unseen passion. Several shrill screams rang out, abruptly cut short, echoing from the back of the church, making Tim’s hot blood run cold.

Light, brilliant and multicolored, cast hooded shadows that moved from left to right on the side of the Cathedral Tim faced. A primal force, pulsating outward like a giant heartbeat, exerted pressure on his body as it grew steadily closer. “Concentrate!” Tim thought, as he pressed the coarse hair shirt firmly to his body, rubbing it like sand paper over his skin.

Feelings of overwhelming adoration, devotion, and worship flooded his soul. Base, animalistic instincts began to drown out all higher reason, tempting him to turn around and look upon the object of his carnal desire. Fighting with all his might to look straight ahead, out of the corner of his eye, Tim noticed the priest next to him stand and turn. Reaching out, vainly pulling at the priest’s robe, it was too late, the doomed man walked helplessly and steadily towards the light.

Five Darlings

(Realm of Elysia, date unknown)

The sun setting in Elysia, Bren closed out another day with her “five darlings” as she called them. All five were very proud of the flower garlands they fashion from Dove’s Garden. Each one alternately paraded their creations before her, receiving praise and approval.

Robyn was her favorite, though not by much. Robyn seemed to always know what Brenzel needed, or wanted, or even whimmed. Fabulous Felicity, as Bren christened her, was excellent in fun and laughter, both playing pranks and telling jokes. Manu simply loved being close to Bren, almost a permanent fixture on her arm. Bren dubbed her, “snuggle bunny”. Hope and Mercy simply giggled and smiled a lot, listening intently to every word Bren said.

Each day, sometimes twice a day, she and the girls swam in a large marble pool filled with giant lilies. Bren often marveled at how clean Elysia was, though she never saw anyone actually cleaning. On this occasion, Manu, bobbing up and down near her asked, “Darling Bren, why do you wear clothes to swim? We never do.”

Bren, are you okay?

Bren, caught off guard, said, “Uh…I don’t know, I just feel more comfortable that way.”

Manu, eyes growing wide, said, “You’re turning red! Are you okay?!” Looking away, Bren wondered what to do next. “Sisters! Bren is not well! Hurry, come over!”

Bren, sensing imminent embarrassment, turned back to Manu, whispering, “Please, dear, it is nothing. I’m fine!”

Still looking concerned, the young girl sounded the all clear saying, “Don’t worry everyone, Bren says she’s fine!. . .But I will watch her closely, anyway.”

Diving, leaving her flower garland on the surface as she swam towards Brenzel, the small brunette surfaced, hair dripping, snuggling close to her friend saying, “Don’t worry, I will protect you!”

Touched by her innocence and loving heart, Bren answered, “My young friend, I always feel warm and safe when you’re around.”

Tea for three

Dove sat, placing her hand delicately on top of the tea pot, as she poured another cup for Traveler, who sat admiring her precision. Tea, he thought, must be one of the most elegant rituals of the seven realms, the perfect expression of refinement and manners. Placing his thumb on top of the tea cup’s handle, his pointer finger through the opening, and using his middle finger supported the bottom, he raised his cup, sipping the hot liquid carefully. Glancing over the rim at Dove, who was looking intently at him, the Timekeeper Extraordinaire inquired, “What troubles you, my love?”

Dove, stirring her tea precisely back and forth, without touching the sides, replied, “You know, Joshua, I trust you always, but are you sure you want to give her that hat?”

Raising one eyebrow slightly, Traveler sat back and, crossing his ankles, looked thoughtful. “Actually, I’ve thought about it a lot, really, and, you’re right to be concerned, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

“However, even with the risk, I do think it is necessary. Though Bren’s a fighter and has a good heart, she’ll need all the help she can get.”

Understanding his words, still Dove ventured one more question, “Darling, is this personal?”

It is personal

Silent for a moment, Traveler’s eyes flashed, then he admitted, “Yes, of course it is. It would be silly of me to not recognize this is somewhat personal. Beauty hurt me a great deal and it’s poetic justice, don’t you think, to give her hat to Bren? However, Wisdom, Brenzel’s destined to wear it at some point, and I see no reason to not start now.

“Besides,” Traveler said as he set his tea down, “I’ve assigned James to be her “Hat Master”. He will keep her in line and instruct her on it’s proper use.” Slightly rolling her eyes, head tilting a little to one side, the Elder Seraph managed not to chuckle. Then the young, impeccably dressed man, assured, “No, really, he’ll be good for her!”

Thank you!

Just then, Bren arrived, hesitating at the doorway leading to the balcony where Dove and Traveler sat finishing tea. Dove looked over saying, “Welcome Bren, please, come sit with us.”

Approaching them and recognizing her savior, Bren couldn’t help but shout, “Traveler!” as she rushed over, hugging him as he stood up to greet her.

Dove, beaming, looked her young charge holding the surprised Joshua tightly. He said, “Good to see you, too, Brenzel, I’m glad to see you’re feeling much better!”

Looking up into his eyes, Bren said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you! You saved me! I’m so sorry, I know I messed up so much, but you didn’t give up on me! Thank you!” as she hugged him tightly again.

Traveler, accepting her affection, said softly, “It’s okay, Brenzel. You’re welcome. Obviously, I couldn’t let my favorite hunter down, could I?” he said as he smiled at her. Then, guiding her with his arms, he said, “Come, let us sit together, we have much to discuss.”

SEOIB.