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fire

(Vatican, 1647)

The Manchet loaf tasted heavenly. Usually, Tim ate stale rye or barley, but the fresh, yeasty aroma of white bread, mostly reserved for the upper class, made him feel special today. Spreading the provolone cheese on another slice of the bread and handing it to Tim, Father Donovan said, “I have something very important to ask you.”

Tim, thinking back to the last time he saw the old priest, wondered, Why now, why after all these years? “Yes Father, ask me anything.” Tim offered.

“What I am about to tell you cannot leave this room,” the old man said gravely.

“Yes, of course, Father,” Tim replied with an uneasy feeling beginning to form in his gut. What could this be? he wondered.

What do you know about your father’s death?

“Tim, what do you know about your father’s death?”

Tim, feeling his heart begin to race and palms sweat, answered, “Not much sir.” He remembered, though, sitting at the side of their house, all alone, barely five years old, not knowing how to grieve. His mother inside, hysterical and crying uncontrollably, hit the chest of Father Donovan over and over saying “No, no!” Terrified at hearing the anguish in his mother’s voice, his small heart broke over and over, crying tears of his own. Tim felt for certain was that he was alone in the world now. “All I remember clearly is that my father died in the Vatican, under Saint Peter’s Baldachin. They said he committed suicide.”

Under Bernini’s Canopy

“Yes, you are right, he was found under the canopy, but in fact, your father’s body was found below the floor, deep in the passageways underneath the center of Saint Peter’s Basilica. “Tim,” the priest said gravely, “your father, God rest his soul, did not kill himself. He was murdered.”

Tim, upon hearing that revelation, exclaimed, “I knew it! I always felt that his death was no accident!” he declared.

Father Donovan put his fingers up to his cracked lips, signaling Tim to quiet himself. Continuing in a low voice, the old man said, “Yes, you were right, it was no accident and furthermore, we believe we know who did it.”

Tim, reeling from this revelation, feeling indignation rise in his chest at the injustice of it all, demanded angrily, “Who?”

Meet me after evening prayers

“Your father, John, believed that there was something gravely wrong with the Papacy. As you know, John was part of the Papal court, and while performing his duties, he noticed odd behaviors among certain of his peers. Most notably, many carried a very specific silver crucifix which they demanded their servants kiss daily.

“Just like Cardinal Jenkins?” Tim exclaimed. Again, the priest put his index finger to his lips.

“Yes, precisely,” Donovan continued. As your father began to inquire discreetly, he became convinced that there was a secret society composed of the Pope’s closest advisers. Through their influence, they wielded enormous power over the Papacy of Pope Urban VIII. The day before he was killed, I received this note.” Bringing out the old piece of parchment, obviously crumpled and then straightened, it read:

“I must confirm my suspicions. Meet me in the corridor of the old monastery after evening prayers tomorrow. I fear, though, I’ve found a beautiful and deadly secret.”

Touching the note, knowing his father wrote it with his own hand, tears began to well up in Tim’s eyes. With a quivering voice, he asked, perplexed, “What does that mean?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps it is a code, but evidently someone thought it important enough to kill for.”

Counting the cost

“Young Tim, I don’t know if I should tell you this, because I know it will be hard for you to bear, but I feel I must. You must understand the type of enemy we are up against before you agree to what I am about to ask.”

Tim, gulping, just nodded.

“We found your father, his body draped over the altar of Saint Clementine’s chapel, with a silver crucifix laid on his chest.” Looking away, as if fighting back tears, the old priest turned back grimly to Tim’s wide-eyed expression, saying, “…with every major joint in his body dislocated, as if he had been literally pulled apart.”

Tim, shaken to his core, steeled himself and, looking directly at the old priest, said, “What do you want me to do. Father.”

Double trouble in Hala

(Year 1252 since Val Hala, on the planet Hala, Realm of Alethea)  

Acting more on divine instinct than anything else, Alethea drew her golden bow so tightly it almost began to crack, letting loose the steel-tipped arrow, which flew straight into the smaller dragon’s left eye. Scoring a nearly impossible shot, the demon-lizard screeched in searing pain as the bolt pierced it’s brain deeply. Writhing and shrieking while falling to its death, fire shot out of its mouth indiscriminately in all directions.

Before hitting the ground, the dead beast suddenly exploded. A great ball of fire expanded, stalled for a millisecond, then contracted violently, as if sucked out through a hole in space. It disappeared entirely with a thunderclap, drawing everything around it violently inwards a few feet. All that remained was the smell of sulfur and feathery white ashes.

Leviathans

Meanwhile, barely deflecting another blast from the enormous first beast, 3 waited until the monster drew back to fire again. The dragon, a combination of all that is evil, reeked of sulfur. Most dragons were barely 50 feet in length from head to tail, yet this infernal monster was at least twice as large.

Leviathans were literally made from fallen Arc Angels. During the great rebellion, those who fought against God, filled with a rage born of hatred, submitted themselves to unholy dark tech. These infernal machines transformed fallen spirits into hideous beasts whose sole purpose was to terrorize and destroy their sworn enemy.

What their creators did not know, but found out to their horror, was that manifesting such rage gradually caused most to go insane until they became unmanageable, even killing those who created them. Thus, any area where dragons dwelt became a desolate wasteland ruled by insane creatures bent on destroying everything around them.

Dark Tech

Timing his attack precisely, just before the beast let loose another fiery blast, the mighty warrior threw his javelin through the dragon’s heart. Screaming and writhing, just like it’s fellow, the creature fell to its death, producing a cloud of dust as it hit the ground. Then it, too, burst into a ball of fire, exploding then imploding with such ferocity that the ground trembled around it.

Later, retrieving his weapon from the crater the large demon left, 3 sat cleaning it on a nearby rock. Alethea, touching down near him said, “I’ve never seen one that big,” looking at the charred depression.

Setting his lance to one side, 3 stood, surveying the area with Hala’s covering Cherub. “You know,” 3 mused, “these two monsters didn’t seem insane, they cooperated in their attack.”

Alethea whispered, out of habit in 3’s mind, “You don’t think?”

What other explanation could there be?” 3 thought in reply.

But he is not immortal and was old even when the rebellion began,” Alethea stated.

This is not good, not good at all

Out loud, 3 said, “It is definitely his tech, even if it isn’t the Tech Wizard, that much I’m certain of. You saw how they exploded and then disappeared. I think these may be recent Dark Tech creations, not ones left over from the rebellion. Before these last three appeared recently, we hadn’t seen a dragon on Hala for over 600 years.”

Alethea, looking worried, touched her bow, brow furrowed, thinking, “I don’t want to even believe that 3, because if that is true, then everything we’ve worked to rebuild is at risk.”

“I know, I know, this is not good, not good at all,” 3 said out loud in the vast, empty wastelands of equatorial Hala.

Visions of the night

(Lakota Tribe, Montana Territory, 1876)

Waking up early in the morning, feeling the chill of the wilderness predawn, Bren heard Wichapi talking in her sleep, “No, no…stop, you’re hurting me!”

Turning towards her, shaking her gently, Bren said, “Chapi, wake up, you’re having a bad dream.” Between the dream world and consciousness, the Indian maiden wrestled in confusion. Bren, moving from her buffalo blanket to Chapi’s, held her close as Chapi began to to weep softly. Rocking her gently, Bren reassured her, “it’s just a bad dream, you’re okay, I’m right here.”

Holding her tightly, Wichapi said, “It was horrible, Bren, so real. I stood in a field or maybe on a small hill, looking into the sky. Above me many birds circled, and I became afraid. When I looked down around me, men, both Indian and white, lay dead or dying. One white soldier grabbed my ankle with his bloody hand and pleaded, Help me.” I wanted to run, but he would not let go, and I could not move.

Feeling the chill

Bren, feeling a chill run down her spine, felt an overwhelming sense of real fear without knowing why. Something deep inside the Seraph Hunter told her this was not just a random nightmare, but a premonition.

Wichapi moaned pitifully, saying, “And the worst thing about it, Bren, is that when I looked at my hands they were full of blood.”

Bren, shaken and now wide awake, said, “That’s awful, Chapi, I am so sorry.”

“I felt like a monster!” the sobbing maiden concluded.

“Wichapi, you know I love you, and I’d do anything for you. I will never, ever reject you.”

“Yes, I know it, I feel the same way. Then with sincerity in her tone, Chapi said, “Honestly, I felt like I could trust from the first time I saw you.”

Squeezing her hand reassuringly, Bren said, “Me too, the day I saw you at the lake, I felt like I’d known you forever.”

You’ll probably think I’m crazy

Though Wichapi felt better, Bren knew in her spirit that the dream was a warning, and she asked Wichapi, “I think that is a warning Chapi, do you have such dreams often?”

“I’ve never spoken of such things with anyone but Chaska. I’m always afraid people will think I’m crazy,” Wichapi admitted.

Bren almost laughed, but then, catching herself replied, “Wichapi, if you only knew what I had been through lately, you’d realize not much would shock me.”

With a sigh of relief, Wichapi confessed, “Bren, I have terrible dreams when I sleep. In these dreams, like the one tonight, I see things. Sometimes I do awful things too. I even see waking visions in the day.” Bren just held her, stroking her jet black hair softly. Encouraged, Chapi continued, “When I meet a stranger, sometimes I see them as dead, and when that happens, in a few days they always die.” Bren, sensing her deep distress, touched Wichapi’s face, wiping away some of her tears.

Premonitions

As if a cloud descended upon them, the atmosphere in the tent suddenly turned dark as Wichapi said angrily, “I foresaw my own mother’s death and the man who did it two moons before it happened. I heard her scream and beg for her life, then I saw the knife in the hand of the man who cut her throat. I was only 12 years old.” Looking at Bren’s face in the morning light, the Indian beauty said, “I think I killed him Bren, I killed the man who took my mamma from me. They found that man’s horse mauled by a bear, and further up the trail, the man himself was killed by a mountain lion. I didn’t know I did it, but I must have, and when they told me, I felt good about it.”

Visitation

Brenzel, stunned into silence, didn’t know how to answer except to say, “I’m so sorry Chapi, that’s awful.”

The Indian princess continued, “I hate my life because the future I is see is always pain. I hate myself because I can’t do anything to stop it,” she said between deep sobs.

Suddenly the fire, almost out for hours, flared up into a great flame. Bren backed away hurriedly as the familiar stench of sulfur permeated the air, causing both girls to cough violently. A presence seemed to fill their tepee, though they saw no one. Then, as quickly as it came, the fire died down and everything became normal again.

This changes everything

(Vatican, 1647)

Deep in the bowels of the 16th century Vatican, Beauty moved towards her divan in astonishment, sitting down very slowly and precisely with a calculating look fixed on her face. Shaking her head ever so slightly, she thought, “Oh, I never expected this,” realizing the truth after seeing through the flame, witnessing the two young women in the Indian tepee. Suddenly, eyes narrowing, the fallen Seraph said out loud, “this changes everything.”

SEIOSB.