Laken was one of the few farmers who braved the weather in response to the bells. Those who gathered at the Community Center were predominately men and young adults, the returned missionaries, the interns, and those who lived close enough to not have difficulties on the roads. News had filtered in from the Phulake Station before Turay and Elder Mathis had even arrived, and the effect was immediate on the people. Laken looked around the room of mirrored panic and realized that many of the deacons were with them and not at the Sanctuary. He was also noticed that Andre was missing.
Waking from the sound of his kitchen door slamming in the wind, Laken knew his nephew had left. He too had remembered the Agabus’ vision of the storm, and attributed Andre’s distant mood all evening to this. He was not surprised when the bells rang but could not guess the reason why. He was surprised as anyone when the news of May Beth reached the village.
The Landers boy was in tears with his father crouched beside him on fold-out chairs in one corner of the room. May Beth’s siblings stood in shock. They had been torn from their sleep and brought to the Community Center while their parents rushed to Iasis. Elders Irons and Kerr were bombarded with questions from the people, and not one concerned the question of prayer. Laken raised his voice to get Komer Turay’s attention on the matter as soon as the komer arrived. A hundred voices hit the holy man with questions desperate for answers, and Laken was struggling to be heard when Elder Mathis burst through the door in a flurry of heavy snow.
“What is this?” he demanded, looking frazzled and as distraught as the rest of them.
“The prophecy.” Turay moved forward as the rest of the room turned to listen. “It is being fulfilled. May Beth George, the healer…she has taken her own life.”
The news hit Mathis hard and he stood stricken under the weight of an entire community waiting for him to tell them what to do. The full meaning of such a tragedy happening on their soil seemed to fill the elder with dread and he found himself inadequate for his position.
May Beth’s fiancé choked on a sob, and there were muffled cries from small clusters of young people around the room. Laken looked and noticed Jora Kirkeby clinging to her brother’s shoulder with tears streaming down her face and, once again, he thought of Andre. Lord, protect my boy, he breathed a prayer and pushed his way through the crowd to get to Mathis. Something had to be done.
“Send the deacons to the Sanctuary!” he called over the murmuring of the terror-struck people. “We can stop this.”
“Stop what?” Turay demanded irrationally. “She’s dead, Flaco! It’s already done!”
“Keep your voice down, Komer,” Elder Kerr snapped in irritation.
“Then organize the prayer coverage from here.” Laken did not care where it was done, so long as it was done. “We’ve averted a break in the Hupsoma before. It might not be too late.” He searched the face of the Head Elder for confirmation, for strength, for any element of leadership, and Mathis failed him.
Looking lost, Mathis’s gaze flitted across the faces staring back at him. He shook his head and took a step away from Laken. “No. You cannot accuse me of another rash decision. I’m not a fool. I know the prophecy. I know the Word was to wait.” He shook his head again with an unstable glint in his eyes. “We’re waiting for the Agabus. No one goes anywhere.”
“And pray,” Laken insisted. “We will wait for Andre and pray.”
Mathis only continued to shake his head as he shrank away from the crowd looking as if he was moments away from bolting.
Laken looked at his countrymen at a loss. What was wrong with them? Why would no one pray? “Komer—” He began to beseech the spiritual leader to at least see reason and help him lead the people in prayer, when the door flew open once again. He whipped around as Andre charged into the Center with Komer Costa limping a few hurried steps behind. The double doors banged with a resonating clang against the stone walls and a gust of frozen air doused the stunned spectators like a wave which seemed to propel the Agabus forward into the center of the room with an expression which caused them all to blanch and cower.
Andre’s eyes flashed with an inner fire, and he held within his hand a gleaming dagger which caught the light and attention of those close enough to see it. They stumbled back to get out of his way, as the prophet moved intent upon his purpose. “Get out!” he bellowed, raising the dagger threateningly without slowing down.
The crowd stood amazed and unsure if he was speaking to them. Not one eye drew away from the scene as the Agabus stopped abruptly before the Kirkeby family with the tip of his blade pointed directly at Kylan and Jora. “Get out.”
Jora was stunned, and Kylan glanced at the surrounding faces as if searching for sense and reason before meeting the unmoving glare of the Agabus with an expression of confusion.
“You’ve done what you came for,” Andre didn’t move or break his stance with weapon raised. “Get out. Go back to your master while you still have a chance.”
“Shut up,” he snapped at Kylan. “I wasn’t speaking to you.”
The color seemed to drain in Kylan’s face as Andre’s words sank in. The crowd reacted with a ripple of murmured shock, and Mr. Kirkeby moved convulsively behind his son.
“Stay back,” Andre ordered. “Move, Jora.” He did not draw his eyes away from Kylan until she didn’t comply, too frightened to move. “Move!” he insisted, causing her to jump from the harshness of his command. She backed away and grabbed her father’s arm with tears welling up in her eyes.
“What are you doing?” Kylan asked.
Andre reacted with a sudden move, cutting him off by grabbing the front of his shirt with his free hand and tightening his grip on the handle of the dagger. He directed it, not at Kylan, but at a point just over his left shoulder and held it. “Shut up,” he lowered his voice with emphasis.
Kylan blinked with his hands up in surrender, completely baffled by the actions of the Agabus. The people grew uncomfortable, looking to the elders to do something. The leaders were in as much disbelief as anyone, but a single glance at Costa proved they had best not interfere.
Andre returned his attention to the spirit of chaos which clung to his host with sneering fangs dripping with the gleaming blood of the Panoplia. Havoc rose to his full height above Kylan’s head, and Andre stepped back. He abruptly released his hold on Kylan’s shirt and caused him to stumble slightly while he watched the Agabus cautiously.
Andre cared for no one but the beast filling the room with its dread, spreading his useless wings and unhitching his jaw with a high-pitched, horrific scream. The Agabus gave Havoc no time to strike, launching the dagger and hitting the Daimon in the skeletal shoulder to repay him for Lavi’s infliction. The spectators collectively reacted to the sight of the blade leave his hand and simply vanish into thin air over Kylan’s head.
Kylan dropped to the floor, ducking his head, and glancing up as if expecting the dagger to fall from above. The people were stunned to silence. The Kirkebys stared in amazement at the Agabus as he turned with his eyes, not on them, but on the ceiling of the great building.
Andre followed the escape of the Daimon as it fled from the room with a ferocious roar which quelled the hearts of the people though they did not know the source of the disturbance. Havoc landed heavily on the polished floor before the open doors of the Center, scrambled with scratching claws, and ran into the night.
“Shamira!” Andre crossed the floor once more and stopped at the door as the Panoplia appeared.
“I cannot stop him,” she told him, looking agitated that her powers were repressed under the weight of the people’s lack of faith.
“Follow him and tell me where he goes.”
This she could do, and the spirit rushed off through the storm in pursuit of the invader.
Andre turned to find the eyes of the assembly still locked on him. Kylan was back on his feet and their gazes met as the Agabus stormed forward with his anger still on the edge and reaching boiling point. “How did you get him in?” He flew at Kylan once more, getting inches from his face and demanding an answer. “How!”
Kylan backed up as Mr. Kirkeby stood by his son. Costa grabbed Andre from behind to hold him in place. “What?” Kylan appeared baffled, but the prophet saw through his front straight through to the truth in his eyes.
“Get him off the island.” He struggled to break out of Costa’s grasp.
“You’ve lost your mind, Agabus!” Kirkeby protected his son with a firm grip on his shoulders. “What are these accusations? A girl commits suicide and you blame him?”
“May Beth did not let that thing in!” Andre shouted without taking his eyes off Kylan. “That Daimon was never hers.”
The mention of a Daimon caused the people to exclaim in an indiscernible uproar of renewed distress. “A Daimon?” a woman cried. “Here?” Her wild eyes roved the space around the ceiling as if the beast was still in the room and she might catch a glimpse of its terror driving face.
“My boy did not do this,” Kirkeby insisted over the panicked noise, looking at Andre and Costa with the expression of a madman. “That girl took her own life. She has brought this upon us.”
There was a grumble of agreement amid doubt and confusion.
“Evil commanded his minion to join his host,” Andre explained. “The Daimon clung to him,” he pointed to Kylan. “He could not have done so unless he was invited.”
“Those are lies,” Kirkeby accused him with abandon.
“What would be the point of that?” Costa wanted reason. “Why would he place such a thing on Kylan if it were not true?”
“Because he doesn’t like him.” The announcement stunned the room back to silence, and everyone looked at Svana standing beside her sister. She looked uncomfortable but resolute in her proclamation. “It’s true, Dre.” She met his gaze. “You know you never have.”
“Disliking someone doesn’t make me a liar,” he responded, looking not at Svana but at Jora who had tears on her cheeks and looked as if she had been slapped. “I know what I saw and it’s the truth. He was at Iasis this afternoon, you know it,” he reminded both of the twins, “in the same ward where May Beth worked.” Turning back to Kylan he asked him again. “How did you let it in?”
Kylan met his glare without blinking. They both knew the truth, but he wasn’t about to admit it.
His father refused to accept the truth. “Where are the elders? You cannot allow this. He is the Agabus, not the law!”
The attention in the room fell back on Mathis and the council as they stood dumbly by the wayside.
“The law,” Costa spoke for them when none of the elders made a move, “states that a citizen seen as a threat by the Agabus must be removed from the community until the menace subsides. He must be taken,” he told the Kirkebys with a tone of sympathy beneath the stern exterior. “Phulake, escort Kylan Kirkeby to the guardhouse and alert Kaluma of his transport.”
Two guards in attendance moved forward uncertainly, glancing at Mathis before following through with the command of the komer. There were several mutterings of disagreement among the crowd, but no one moved to object.
“I will go with him,” Kirkeby insisted, lifting a proud, determined face and refusing to look at the Agabus as he passed.
Andre swallowed back the bitter taste of Mr. Kirkeby’s resentment, feeling a pang of injury from the man he had always held in high regard. Svana quickly followed her father and brother with a similar expression of loathing and ignored Andre as if they had not been lifelong friends.
He looked to Jora next, holding his breath against the pain of the expression in her eyes. He could not stand it if she hated him for this.
Jora’s lower lip trembled as she withheld a sob. Biting it back between her teeth, she blinked away fresh tears, and Andre saw in her eyes not hatred, but agony. Agony and complete confusion. She hesitated, wanting some sign from him that it was okay for her to go. She was fearful of his rejection.
The realization hit Andre hard, and he gave it to her, releasing her under any obligation to him so she could run after her family. Catching her breath against the pain it caused her to do so, Jora fled from the building.
Andre felt Costa’s hand on his shoulder and pulled his eyes away from watching her go.
“Get out of here,” the komer told him. “Let me handle this.” He nodded at the remaining group of lost citizens standing in tight groups of grumbling conversation which was his to now guide back to some sort of order. “Find me at the Sanctuary later.”
Andre nodded and crossed the floor to the open doors, finding Chesed waiting for him outside. She placed an illuminated hand on the side of his face and met his stony expression with a stoic one of her own. Her touch was a comfort and relief, but the air was heavy, and the prophet was shaken.
“Shamira follows the dark spirit called Havoc. He roams the island looking for a new host. We cannot touch him, Agabus.”
“I know,” Andre responded.
“If the Hupsoma continues to splinter, he will call his companions to join him. We will not be able to stop them from entering.”
“They are too afraid. They never thought one could get in.” The prophet did not have confidence in his people’s prayers anymore. How many of them would be filled with doubts and would falter before they even reach their lips?
“They must be made unafraid,” Chesed replied plainly. “I go to attend to Lavi.” She rose into the air as Andre looked at her hopefully. “He recovers on the mountain. You will find him in good health at the altar when the sun rises. Guard your heart, Agabus. We still have power where we are called upon to use it. Your people must remember this, and you must be the one to remind them.”