They managed to make it to the dock at Kaluma Harbor without anyone vomiting. Ackers’ little pills did the trick, though it was a relief for most of them to get back onto solid ground. “I believe I’ve said it before,” Declan grumbled as he climbed the narrow stair leading up to the Kaluma facilities above, “I am not a seafaring chap.”
Andre walked behind him with a hand on Declan’s shoulder to keep him steady. He gave periodic responses to his friend’s rambling and the excited discussion floating among his peers, but Andre wasn’t listening. His eyes darted in every direction, taking in the sights and watching for shadows.
It was darker on Kaluma, or so it seemed. He could not tell if it was simply cloudier than when they had left or if it was a spiritual shroud only visible to him, but everything was tinted in gray and blurry on the edges as if his eyes watered. He blinked in irritation in a futile attempt to clear his vision. Andre swallowed with a dry mouth which contained an odd taste he couldn’t place.
“Velvela,” he greeted the Kaluma Panoplia at the top of the stair. He held back as the group of interns moved under Ackers’ direction to a cluster of buildings situated on the edge of a rocky shelf overlooking the western sea. “What’s going on?” “Is it always like this?” he asked out loud when the others were out of range and he wouldn’t be overheard.
“You are in the outside world now,” she told him simply. “What did you expect it to be like?”
He really didn’t know and didn’t have an answer. “Do you ever get used to it?”
“One could,” she said. “One does.”
“Someone like me?” Andre watched the slate-gray sky overhead, trying to imagine reaching to the point where he could ignore the continuous appearance of shadows flitting in and out of his peripheral. “Are those Damions?” He nodded at the shifting shapes while attempting to get a good look at one.
“No.” Velvela followed his gaze briefly. “Those are the Lessers. They are offspring of unchecked free will. They are the same shadows you see within your people. There are just more of them here. They move with more freedom, passing among your kind because there is less prayer protection to keep them in check. You will find it grows denser the farther from the island you go.”
Velvela’s explanation gave the Agabus plenty to think about as he followed his classmates up the pebbly, inclined road. It was not encouraging information. All that aura of darkness was emanating from a lightly populated island of Theos’ followers? Andre began to doubt if he could handle seeing what the rest of the world looked like.
Kaluma was comparable to a military base made up of carefully organized groupings of serviceable buildings. It was a bare island with little vegetation and few trees. On the highest, flattest point was a runway for small aircraft landings, a radio tower, and satellite systems. The Kaluma village was made up of resident barracks buildings, a hospital, general store, and full service eatery. It was here where they were first introduced to Captain Barow.
The captain was the highest in command on the island, and she led the military-like training of its rotating staff. A placement on Kaluma was voluntary and lasted no longer than three consecutive years unless a request was made for a career position such as the captain’s.
“Welcome to the Gateway.” She stood before them in a smart uniform of deep green with gold trim. A Koinonian flag pin gleamed brightly below her collar. Her graying hair was cropped short and arranged stiffly below a neat, narrow-brimmed hat, and she carried a pleasant expression which she passed to each of the interns with an alert pair of gray eyes. “I hope the passing of the Hupsoma has not left any of you unable to enjoy your brief visit here today.”
“They seem to have fared rather well,” Ackers responded with a similar smile, shaking the captain’s hand and thanking her for her hospitality. “The waters were comparatively calm, making the crossing an easy one.”
“For him, maybe,” Declan muttered under his breath.
Andre glanced down and noted the paleness of his friend’s usually healthy complexion and looked around in alarm. Declan wasn’t the only one who appeared weak and shaken. The majority of class stood uncomfortably in the chill breeze and collectively shivered. They could not see the shadows, but they could obviously feel them.
“That is good to hear,” Captain Barow was saying, “but it is customary to begin the yearly tour with a visit to Katapauo for a session of respite. Follow me, please.” She led the way up a narrow road before turning left into the hills along a street of low stone garden walls partitioning two rows of matching brick houses. At the end of the street was a round building with a pair of heavy double doors. It was Kaluma’s sanctuary of prayer and spiritual recovery and, when the interns entered, they found it cool and comfortably silent.
“Find yourself a prayer booth,” Barow instructed, waving at the circle of curtain-covered segmented stations. “They are all open. Here on Kaluma we do not have deacons in constant prayer as there is at Erotao. If we are in need of Protection we must take it upon ourselves to seek it.”
Once everyone had picked a booth and disappeared within, Barow started things off with an overall prayer for the interns to regain sound mind. “Focus directly on how you are feeling both physically and mentally,” she informed them before she began. “Create a list in your mind and check it off, asking for strength and severing strongholds. Take whatever time you need. Elder Ackers and I will be here.”
Andre sank onto the wooden bench behind his closed curtain. Leaning his heavy head against the cool stone wall behind him, he closed his eyes and heard the eerie echo of the captain’s voice outside but did not register what she said. Stay alert, stay alert, he willed himself to remain conscious though every fiber within fought against it.
A blend of voices lifted in various volumes from behind the neighboring curtains in a blur of words and petitions rising to the rafters. Like listening through a compressed tube, Andre felt separated from the others as he drifted out of the present and lost his hold on reality. A buzzing replaced the sound of voices, raising in persistency and developing a clarity which sounded very like the rippling of gleeful laughter, high-pitched and nauseating.
Shut up, shut up! Andre clutched at his temples as pain exploded behind his eyes. He forced a picture of Evil before his inner consciousness to get a grip on the terror which threatened to choke him. He ran his experiences with Abaddon through his head to diminish him to nothing more than a figure, capable of defeat and pathetic in his self-loathing. It was a difficult visual to conjure under the pressure of Abaddon’s cackling jeer and accusatory influence.
“You’re on my playground now, little prophet…”
Andre’s mind screamed for him to back off, but he felt Evil gaining strength as he grew weaker and unable to pass even the most elementary prayer across his lips. Sweat stood out on his face, and the prophet convulsed with the effort to hold back a scream as Abaddon’s laughter ripped through his skull.
“…weak, pitiful, inadequate, incapable…failure…”
Shut up! Andre braced himself against the walls of the prayer booth with gritted teeth. He was suffocating in the tight space.
“Open your eyes.”
The prophet resisted the command and fought against the strong desire to give in.
“Open your eyes!”
Hit with a physical blow to the chest, Andre’s eyes popped open involuntarily and for the briefest moment he experienced the horrific sight of sin in tangible form. Pinpoint fangs stained with stench. Hallow eye sockets rolling with orbs of sickly green on skin burnt black and stretched thin across skeletal bones. The terror opened its mouth, unhinging its jaw with a ghastly jerk and let loose a chilling scream. Raising thick, three-inch-long talons on spindly claws, it poised to strike.
Andre jumped back on the bench against the wall in terror, yelling Theos’ name at full volume. The beast exploded in a smoky fog before his eyes, blasting him in the face like a burning wave from a furnace.
Screams and calls of alarm erupted from outside the prayer booth as the sounds of the sanctuary returned to the prophet’s ears in a rush. Someone called his name, but Andre ignored it, bolting from the bench and exploding through the curtain out into the middle of the room. He ran passed a stunned looking Ackers and alert Captain Barow and shoved his way out of the double doors into the street.
The interns stumbled out of their prayer booths in alarm, all talking at once and wondering what had happened. All they had heard was their Agabus yell in a gut-wrenching scream which had sent chills through most of them. Declan was the first to reach the door with Jora and Svana on his heels. He pushed it open and looked out before abruptly turning back, preventing Jora from advancing any further. “Whoa, let the man puke in private. Let’s wait a bit.”
Andre bent at the waist and emptied his stomach on the gravel, gasping for air with streaming eyes. “You said there wasn’t any Daimons on this island!”
“I never spoke to you of such things.” Velvela stood by and stoically watched as Andre spat in the dirt and straightened to his full height before wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
“I was told there was none,” he insisted. “What was that?!” Thrusting a finger at the sanctuary, he demanded an explanation.
“A vision,” Velvela told him. “There is no Daimon here. Although how can you be surprised? This is not Koinonia, this is Kaluma.”
“I know that!” Andre was intensely shaken. His hands quaked uncontrollably.
“You should have been prepared for this.”
“How! How could I possibly be prepared!” he ranted, not caring who could hear him or how irrational he sounded. For the first time he felt free to express his emotions with the ability to thrust aside the guilt recklessly. “Who was going to prepare me? You? Lavi? ‘Cause Costa couldn’t. No one on the island could!” He stopped short and realized something. “Where’s Costa?” Andre glanced around as if he would spot him out for a stroll through the Kaluma base camp.
“He is in his recovery center,” the spirit told him.
“Where?” Andre demanded.
“You would do better to stay away.”
Ignoring her warning, he rushed back to the sanctuary and yanked open the doors. Several interns jumped in surprise and scurried away from where they had been standing by the door listening to his outburst. He paid them no heed and sought out the captain. “Take me to Costa,” he commanded. “I want to see the komer.”
Barow hesitated, unsure if she should authorize such an impromptu visit. She glanced at Ackers for confirmation and, though the man seemed as lost as she did, he eventually nodded. “Come with me.” Barow led the way into the street with instructions for Ackers to proceed with the interns’ tour of the facility until she returned.
All-Terrain Vehicles were used for transport on the small island, and the captain drove a four seat supply carrier which was parked outside of Headquarters. Taking a deserted road past the control tower near the airstrip, she drove across the island to the Seclusion facilities on the northern edge. A row of one-room brick barracks sat alone facing the sea, and Barow parked halfway down in front of number four. There were no windows on the south side, only doors leading into each separate compartment. Beside each door was a small video screen which, when Barow typed in a code on the keypad below, brought up a feed from within the barrack.
Andre stood a few feet to her left, glancing nervously around. He still felt jumpy and off balance, though considerably less after the cooling drive from Headquarters. Barow watched the small screen carefully. Andre caught a glimpse of movement in a near empty room. The captain pressed another button and spoke to the occupant through a speaker. “Company, Costa. Do you authorize entrance?”
There was no audible response, only the wave of a hand on the screen, facing the camera. Barow put in a second code, and the thick, metal door buzzed before releasing its lock. She opened it and stood aside, waiting for Andre to make the next move. “I’ll be right outside. Just press the call button by the door when you’re ready to leave.”
Andre hesitated and eyed the open door uncomfortably. Was this really where they held the patients?
“Dre?” A strained voice called from within, and Costa appeared.
It was not the komer as the prophet knew him. He was a shell of his former self, thin with an unkempt beard covering his face. Costa, it seemed, had not had access to a mirror during his entire absence. Whether or not he had eaten anything in that time was also debatable. There were dark circles under his eyes, and he wore nothing but a dirty white gown falling below his knobby knees.
“This is how you care for your sick, Captain?”
“It is how he wishes to be treated,” Barow responded curtly, standing with her hands behind her back in a stance of respectful but distant attention.
Costa stumbled on unsteady feet and placed a hand on the doorframe, peering out at the windswept lawn in front of the barracks. “Why did you come? Why…?” He trailed off as his free hand balled in a strangled fist, and his eyes flashed in the light like a torch in a pair of long tunnels.
Now that he was there Andre had no idea why he had wanted to see him. An echo of laughter rippled through his brain, and he winced before stepping back as if afraid of the man standing before him.
“You should not have come.” Costa’s voice sounded distant and hollow as he turned and shuffled back into his lonely quarters. Andre could see from where he stood that the room was not just a sparse hole. The floor was laid with polished, sanitary tiles. The north wall was completely made of windows, and Costa’s profile appeared dark against the blue haze of the sea on the other side. He walked slowly to the only piece of so-called furniture in the room, a thick sleeping mat covered in sterile, white bedding. “You should not have come.”
Andre rushed forward and crossed the threshold into the room, jumping slightly when the door slammed shut behind him. Costa seemed not to notice as he crouched down on his mattress and rolled over stiffly until he lay sprawled on his back with blank eyes staring at the ceiling.
The prophet followed his gaze and noticed that a portion of the roof was also made of windows with a full view of the sky. “Costa?” He returned his attention to the broken man on the bed and moved forward in an attempt to get his attention. “Are… are you alright?” It was the only thing he could think to say.
“The world is a web,” Costa spoke mechanically to the ceiling. “We are caught…The world is a web. Caught up and full of Evil’s venom.”
Andre stared at the komer with a chill knot gnawing at his gut and tried to ignore the laughter reverberating in his head naming the prophet a failure again and again.
“A matter of time…” Costa’s voice was a harsh rattle in his throat between the gratings of grinding teeth within his skull. “The world is a web.”
The memory of the horrifying face flashed before the Agabus’ swimming vision for one sickening second before he blinked it away.
Costa moved compulsively and met the Agabus’ gaze with pools of black in his eyes. “You should not have come.” His hoarse reprimand echoed with Abaddon’s imbedded, accusatory guilt. His tone of voice was cold, inhuman, and dark.
Andre backed up two hurried steps and hit the call button with the flat of his palm as Costa rose into a sitting position with his eyes focused on the prophet. The look on his face was hauntingly pale and pleading. The man was mad.
The door buzzed and Andre pushed against it as Barow pulled it open. He stumbled into the open air, not once pulling his eyes away from Costa’s until the door snapped to and broke the spell.
“…only a matter of time…”
Andre blinked and pulled himself out of his head. He felt empty. He felt like a failure. He was not able to withstand the sight of a Daimon. He was a prophet who could not save Costa from his own insanity.
An explosion of pain ripped through the back of his head, and Andre stumbled in surprise. Catching himself before his knees hit the ground, he whipped around as Lavi raised the butt end of his spear for a second hit. Andre blocked it, grabbed the shaft, and locked it in a tight fist against the strength of the Warrior’s blow. The fierce look on the Panoplia’s face erased the layer of doubt from Andre’s ragged mind. “Excuse yourself from the captain,” Lavi growled.
Barow had her back to the prophet in front of Costa’s screen and did not see him nearly get knocked off his feet. Andre loosened his grip on the spear and addressed the captain while wiping running sweat from his eyes and steadying his breath. “I’ll walk back by myself,” he told her.
Barow turned around with a frown of curiosity. “Alright.” She didn’t question his choice, though she appeared unsure of his sanity. “Just follow the road.”
“Fine.” Andre nodded as she climbed into the ATV and drove away.
As soon as she was gone Andre received a second hit from the spear, straight to the chest, and the air was forced from his lungs as he hit the ground. Lavi flipped his weapon with one swift move, pointing the sharp head inches from the prophet’s face to keep him in check. “Where is your Strength?” he demanded.
“Where’s his?” Andre indicated the solemn door enclosing the debilitated holy man within is therapeutic cell. “Was anyone planning on telling me they had given up trying to fix him!”
“He makes his own choices.”
“How can he?” Andre grabbed the spear and pushed it away in irritation. “Abaddon has control of his mind. I saw it in his eyes! You told me there was no Daimon here. Was that really just a vision? Because it sure didn’t feel like one.”
“Ask Theos yourself. I know not what you saw.” Lavi relaxed his stance, drawing up his weapon abruptly and leaving the Agabus glowering in the dirt. “Your mind is clouded here. It is not appealing.”
“I agree,” Andre shot back hotly before getting to his feet. He watched the Panoplia warily, fully expecting another blow. “A little more warning would have been nice.”
“You knew exactly what you were facing.”
“I knew nothing!” Andre shouted. “Nothing could have prepared me for that!”
“You are not the only one who faced Oppression—”
“I’m the only one who saw it!” He stepped forward in anger, and Lavi reacted to the aggressive move by ramming the end of his spear into the ground. The gravel road shook beneath them, and Andre stumbled back. “You have no idea how this feels. No one does. I tried to prepare myself, but the one man who could have helped me is stuck inside his own head going crazy!” He gestured aggressively at the door once more. “How am I supposed to go out into the world and follow Theos’ plan if I can’t even get past the front gate?” Heaving in a great lung-full of air, he tried unsuccessfully to steady his nerves. He fought deep feelings of loathing for the injustice of seeing Costa locked up in a glass box while he was drowning in inadequacies.
“The komer is not the object of your rage,” Lavi forced him to see clearly. “He is not the one who left you in this position.”
Andre stared at the ground without speaking. His jaw clenched against the surge of pain beating incessantly at his temples. “I can’t do this.”
“You weren’t asked to,” Lavi reminded him sharply. “I don’t know why you’ve even been trying. You forget that you are only a prophet. Get over yourself.” He began to walk away, leaving Andre to stew in his own shame. “You weren’t called to be a savior. That position’s already been filled.”