Flame and Shadow

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Chapter 9

It had been an exhausting day. By the time that Sherman had finished explaining everything about Nahalore, the sun was coming up on the new day. Hard to believe that at this time yesterday, I was still at Brookside, thinking about the recital. Now I was the subject of ancient prophecy, in a top-secret organization, and, oh yeah, descended from a Seraph.

What I wanted most was to go to sleep. I felt like I was going to collapse on the spot, but that wouldn’t be a good idea. Sherman’s words began to blend together, and it was getting harder to stay awake. I think he was saying something about the Holy Scriptures or something like that, as my head started to droop.

Sherman must have noticed my drowsiness, because he stopped talking and addressed me.

“Sera, you look exhausted. Do you want to get some rest?”

I slowly nodded my head, my eyes half closed.

“Come on. Let’s get you to your room.” He laughed.

I dragged my heavy body behind the bishop, as he led me away from the training zone. It was almost impossible to pay attention to my surroundings. I noticed that we were going toward the residential area, with odd square-roofed buildings. Of course. There was no rain down here, so all of the buildings would be perfectly cuboidal to maximize space. Some of the buildings were multiple stories, reaching up to support the “ceiling” above, but they all had exactly the same design.

Sherman brought me to an enormous building, and we walked right through the front door. The mansion-like house was nearly still, with only a handful of servants walking about. Boy, I sure hoped that they wouldn’t ask me to find my way back, because my mind was so out of it, nothing would look familiar after I woke up.

Eventually, we stopped outside of a huge room, with a King-Size bed, a variety of large lounging bean-bags, and a bunch of other stuff that didn’t interest me at that moment.

“Here you are!” Sherman held out an open hand. “The room reserved for the Fiery One. It’s all yours.”

As fast as a sleep-deprived zombie could move, I staggered forward and crashed headfirst into the bed. I remembered breathing a deep sigh on the soft comforter, and then I was out like a light.

The next morning, or I guess it might have been the same day still, I groggily came to my senses. Nahalore’s underground city had a system of artificial lights that were timed to emulate a normal day’s cycle, and the bright beams entered my room through a huge glass window.

“Mmmm…How long have I been asleep?” I groaned to myself. Now that I was refreshed a bit, I was able to more closely examine my sleeping quarters.

My room was downright palatial. There were two expansive mahogany dressers, with large, multifaceted vanity-style mirrors above them. The room was also furnished with a number of giant plush cushions, both on the bed and leaning up against a wall. The walls were painted white, but everything else seemed to follow a color scheme of red and orange. There was an attached bathroom, and a bookshelf filled with hard-bound tomes.

I had never had even 5 square feet to myself before, and with this colossal suite, I didn’t have any idea what to do. I sleepily stumbled out of the room, and down a carpeted hallway. My mind was cloudy, and I didn’t know where I was, or what time it was, but I knew that I was hungry. I made my way through the mansion, until I came into what appeared to be a dining room.

A man approached me, who appeared to be some kind of butler.

“Good afternoon mademoiselle. I trust your sleeping arrangements were acceptable.”

I yawned, nodding.

“Yeah…uh…did I miss breakfast?”

“Well, we were uncertain whether your awakening self would prefer a dinner entrée, befitting the time of day, or a breakfast spread suited for one newly rising. So we took the precaution of preparing both. I assume you will be able to find desirable aliment among the sea of options.”

The manservant gestured to a long dining room table, packed with every manner of dish. There were large cuts of roast meats, skyscraper-like stacks of waffles, a variety of pastas and sauces, several different styles of omelets, and many foods that I honestly had no clue what they were.

I stretched again rubbing my eyes.

“Um…I really have no idea what’s going on. Do you have some Cap’n Crunch or something? That sounds pretty good.”

The butler’s eye twitched a little, but he summoned several other men with a repeated circular motion of his hand, and they rapidly conversed in French. The caucus resulted in one man, dressed in a chef’s outfit, falling to his knees and pulling out his hair, crying in a language completely foreign to me. Eventually, the butler strode back over to me.

“I apologize mademoiselle. We do not seem to possess the Cap’n Crunch in stock. However, I believe that we may have a similar product in the pantry. I shall fetch it for you.”

“No, that’s OK. I can get it. Thanks.”

I walked past the overwhelmed man into the large kitchen, until I came to the pantry in the back. After a brief search, I found a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

This’ll do.” I thought, and looked for a bowl. The first one I found was a large crystal glass dish. I poured some cereal into the bowl, grabbed a gleaming silver spoon, and added a bit of milk. I then exited the kitchen with my breakfast, and went up to the butler I had spoken with before.

“Excuse me, sir. Could you tell me where I am, exactly?” I asked, crunching on my cereal.

“But of course, mademoiselle. You are in the underground city of the Nahalore. This building in particular is the abode of the bishop, and those of highest authority in the organization.”

“What?! Then what am I doing here?”

The man patiently answered me.

“Well, as the Fiery One of prophecy, you are deserving of the finest treatment we can offer. That room has remained untouched for many years, awaiting your arrival.”

“Oh, yeah. I guess that makes sense. Well, um, as the Fiery One of prophecy, what should I do next? I mean, were there any prophecies about what I would do after breakfast, er, dinner?”

“Well, I would recommend that you attend the evening chapel session, as it is mandatory under penalty of death.”

“Ah. Yes. Good idea. Thanks. How long do I have until it starts?”

“3 minutes and 45 seconds.”

“I see. Well then,” I handed him my bowl and spoon. “Thank you very much for dinner. I mean breakfast. I should be going.”

I took off running, leaving the man standing in well-veiled exasperation. It wouldn’t do for me to lose my head on the very first day as the fulfillment of ancient prophecy.

I sprinted out of the mansion, in search of wherever they might hold this chapel meeting. I had never been to a church service before, and I had certainly never been a member of an organization made up of Ircabim, but mandatory chapel seemed like a strange thing to have. I had no time to think about this, though.

After running for some time, I found a crowd of people gathering on the north side of the underground complex. That must be where the service would be held. Out of breath, I finally reached them.

“Ah…is this where…the mandatory…chapel thingy is…?” I gasped to a nearby man.

“Yeah. You’ve come to right place.” He was not a tall man, and looked to be in his early 40s. His hair was a light, sandy blonde. It was very short, and seemed to be slightly receding. He wore a standard uniform, with royal blue stripes. His jacket also had a white clerical collar, and small white crosses on the sleeves.

“That’s good.” I breathed a sigh of relief. “I don’t want to get executed on my first day here!”

“Executed? Oh, yeah. Don’t worry. These services are mandatory, but you don’t actually get put to death if you miss one. It’s just very heavily frowned upon.”

“Ah, that’s good to hear. I was kind of worried I was in a cult or something for a minute there.”

“You’re the Fiery One, aren’t you? Sera?” He asked

“I guess so. I mean, I’m definitely Sera. Yes. Sorry, this is still a little weird. I’m not used to everybody knowing who I am.”

“I’ll bet. I can’t imagine what it’s like, one minute being a normal girl, and the next, the most important person on the planet.”

There was nothing for me to say after that, so I was silent.

“Sorry, I know your name, but you probably don’t know mine. I’m Todd Kopek. I’m a chaplain here. Really, I’m nothing special. I just council small groups of people that want to learn a little bit more about God.”

“OK. Nice to meet you Mr. Kopek.”

“You can just call me Todd, actually. That’s fine.”

“Uh, OK.” I’ve never really felt comfortable calling adults by their first name, but I guess some people just don’t like being called Mr. Whatever.

My new friend and I followed the crowd into a large, open amphitheater type construction. I figured that the entire population of the little city was there. Probably over one thousand people. I could see all different ages, from little kids to the elderly, everyone made their way to the meeting. There was an eerie silence as everyone settled into their seats. I would have expected a cacophony of noise from such a crowd, but everyone was quiet in reverent anticipation.

After a few minutes, a man took the stage. I didn’t recognize him, but everyone else seemed to. Despite this, the silence continued. Nahalore seemed to take this chapel thing very seriously.

I turned and whispered to Todd.

“Who’s this guy?”

“That’s James Hobbes.” He whispered back. “He’s the head cardinal here, and he does most of the teaching.”

“What about Oro Sherman?”

“Usually he only speaks at special occasions. The daily chapels are taught by Hobbes. Shh. He’s starting.”

Hobbes addressed the audience in a booming, charismatic voice.

“Brothers and Sisters! Fellow elect of God! Heed what I have to say!”

Everyone in the congregation sat in rapt attention to the cardinal.

“We are the chosen ones! The hands and feet of God. The Scriptures say: ‘For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters’! You and I are the predestined ones! Our eternal destiny is certain!”

The audience cheered as Hobbes hyped them up, but I didn’t really understand why. Sure, maybe we were special, but were we really the only ones that God loved?

“We were put here on earth to guide the masses. They will never be worthy to even be our footstool, but the kingdom of God waits for no man! The Scriptures say ‘in a great house there are vessels of honor, and some of dishonor’. We are the vessels of honor! They are the vessels of dishonor! You are superior! The chosen of God! It’s your job to lead the unelect as ‘kings and priests’! After the evil ones are destroyed, then we can govern the people of this world the way it should have been all along! Thank God we are not like them, but don’t hate them for it. They have their place, at the foot of the table of God. But you are the head! Don’t ever forget that!”

Almost everyone in the amphitheater went wild with excitement. It sounds pretty good. I mean, everything that Hobbes said was right from the Holy Scriptures, right? The unfailing word of God! I guess if God said it, it must be true! I noticed that Todd had no joyful reaction to the message. He must just internalize it, like me. Boy, I’m sure glad I’m on the right side.

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