A silent snow fell on the moors, and from the threshold of the open barn door, the scene appeared peaceful. A light was on through the kitchen window of the farmhouse, but everyone was already in bed. The rustle and bleating of sheep moving in the dark pens was a comfort to the Agabus as he stood with his hands deep in his overcoat pockets to keep them warm. He should have been in bed trying to sleep also. The next morning was Monday, the day to enter the mines, and he needed to be alert and prepared. Andre’s mind would not let him rest, however, and sleep was far from coming.
“Ready for this?” Lavi asked, standing against the other side of the wide door frame with his eyes to the north and the village beyond Andre’s sightline. He had left the fighting to give encouragement to the Agabus and lend him much needed support. “I’d go with you if I could.”
“I know,” Andre responded. “Just be there when I need you.”
“You know I will be.”
The clear, cold air fell silent between them while the prophet was lost in thought. “I’m doing this right, aren’t I?” he asked suddenly. “Should I have sent Malachi to ask first?”
“Did you speak with Theos over your plans?”
“A response does not have to be audible to be a certainty,” the Panoplia responded. “What do your doubts taste like, caution or fear?”
“Then they are not from Theos.”
Andre nodded, thankful for the confirmation. “Then I’m ready. Except for one thing,” he thought about it. “I would feel better if I could borrow your dagger again.” He looked at the Warrior hopefully. “Can I?”
Lavi weighed his spear between his open hands lazily. “My dagger?” He had a better idea. “Why don’t you just take your sword?”
Lavi met his eye with a grin spreading at the corner of his mouth. “Your sword, Agabus. Don’t tell me your grandfather never told you about the sword?”
Andre stared at him without blinking, waiting for the punch-line which never came. “Obviously not, why don’t you enlighten me?” he encouraged the Panoplia blandly.
“The day Alexander finished his altar on Bethel, Theos presented him with a sword of the Panoplia. Call it a gift for the Agabus in the event that he should need it.”
“Where is it?” Andre couldn’t help but feel excited by the possibility.
“Where do you think?” Lavi smiled.
Andre could not believe he had spent so much time in his grandfather’s office and never noticed it before. “Seriously?” he asked Lavi sarcastically. “It’s been right here the whole time?”
“I am not responsible for your poor skills of observation, Agabus.”
They stood behind the desk looking at the metal crest on the wall, studying what was obviously a real sword behind the K emblem now that Andre looked at it closer. It was sheathed in some sort of black casing resembling leather, though did not look like any material Andre had ever seen on Koinonia. The handle was curved steel which caught the light and appeared like real flames crossing the hilt with outstretched tongues of fire.
“How do I get it down?”
“Try lifting.” Lavi leaned against the desk, crossed his arms and waited.
Andre shot him a sidelong glance of annoyance and stepped forward to investigate. He discovered that the K-shaped faceplate was attached by small hooks to the thin, steel rods which made up the design of the back of the piece. When lifted, the K pulled free from the front of the crest and could be easily removed. The sword then could be lifted down without much trouble, and the Agabus soon held it in his hand, feeling the weight of the weapon with a sense of awe. “Brilliant.” He clasped the handle and pulled the blade free with a chilling ring of perfectly sharpened steel.
“No other human in the world possesses a weapon which can pierce the shell of a spirit,” Lavi informed him.
“Any spirit?” Andre pulled the sword free of its casing and pointed it at the Panoplia in one fast move.
With rapid reflexes, Lavi blocked the hit abruptly with his spear and the two weapons forged in heaven sparked when they touched and sent a vibration up the prophet’s arm he was not expecting. “That is no toy, Agabus.”
Andre withdrew his weapon, looking pleased with himself. “Cálmate, amigo. You can give a joke, but not take one?”
“Your jokes are not funny.” Lavi took the sword away and replaced the sheath before laying it out on the flat surface of the desk in front of them.
“This still leaves me with a problem though.” Andre sank into the desk chair and eyed the weapon thoughtfully.
“What would that be?” the Panoplia asked.
“How am I going to sneak that into the mines?”
“Slight change in plans,” Andre announced as soon as he climbed out from behind the wheel of his car outside of the Mallory home on Oikos Crescent early the next morning. The twins were already there when he arrived, having walked from their house to catch a ride with Declan to Kopiao. They grouped around the back end of Andre’s car as he popped the trunk to pull out his newly acquired sword.
“How slight a change? What—is that?” Declan’s eyes grew wide at the sight of the gleaming piece of weaponry. “Is that real?”
“Whoa.” Svana was also quite impressed, grabbing the impressive handle and pulling it in for a closer look. “Who did you rob?”
“No one.” Andre jerked the sword away and gathered the last of his things before shutting the trunk lid and carrying it all to Declan’s waiting car. “Apparently it was always mine. Or at least it always belonged to the Agabus.”
“You get all the perks,” Declan lamented lightly, following and opening the driver’s side door as everyone climbed in and prepared to leave. “So what’s the new plan?”
Andre got in the front passenger seat and struggled to get the lengthy weapon to fit without being seen through the windshield. “I won’t get this past the front door, obviously, so I can’t go in with you guys.”
“Okay,” Declan responded thoughtfully, pulling away from the house in the direction of Ergon Park and the mine while he tried to find a way around the problem.
“If anyone asks, tell them the Agabus won’t be there today. Don’t even give a reason, just say I won’t be there. While you meet up with Mathis and the class, I’ll hang back in the car until they take you into the office for the tour. Then I’ll get in through the emergency exit door behind the engine room. I can get to the elevators from there and go down before they even hand out the hardhats for the tour. Carry through with the plan from there and meet me in the shaft by the door.”
“And if someone sees you running around riding elevators with a sword?” Svana wanted to know.
“They won’t,” Andre answered bluntly.
The other three did not have his confidence but had learned not to ask.
“Give me the bag with the lock and tools,” he commanded. He would take it all in so they wouldn’t have to try and sneak it all in beneath their coats and in pockets. “Everyone remember how to get to the door once inside?”
“Yeah,” Declan nodded, turning off the highway onto the gravel road leading up to the gates of Ergon. “If it even looks the way we imagine once inside. And if we can get away without anyone getting suspicious.”
“Well, if you don’t show within an hour after I get down there, I’m going in alone.” The door could be resealed any time; that was only part of the plan, and the least significant.
“We’ll make it,” Jora assured him with her steady gaze out the window while Declan drove past the power plant, factory row, and the utilities office before pulling through a second set of gates in front of Kopiao and parking alongside a row of vehicles across from the train tracks leading beneath the tipper-tower built into the side of the mountain. A rail box stood positioned and waiting under the coal shoots to be filled and transported the short distance to the power plant down the hill beside the fast-flowing Bethesda River.
Andre slid low in his seat so as not to be seen by any of the miners arriving to work or the interns gathering for their first day of Operations Sunesis. “See you in a bit,” he nodded at Declan to get going and glanced into the back seat to pass Jora a reassuring smile before they climbed out and left him.
“Don’t get caught,” Declan passed back one last warning before shutting the driver’s door and disappearing.
Andre peered over the ledge of the window and watched them hurry through the chilly morning to where the group of interns gathered and waited for Mathis. It seemed to take forever for the elder to arrive. He took even longer to share a few words about their last quarter of Sunesis and their internship in the mines. Andre guessed he was probably handing out strict warnings about the dangers of the underground tunnels.
Finally, he motioned for the group to follow him through an entrance door marked with a sign signifying the location for Kopiao’s main office. As soon as the last intern was inside and the door closed behind him, Andre popped his head up and scanned the gravel lot in front of the mine for anyone approaching. It was all clear, and he quickly jumped out of the car, grabbed his bag and sword, and darted for the cover of the tipper-tower.
The engine room was an extension of the office and repair shop which had a separate emergency door at its rear. The engine room’s side entrance was tucked back in the corner of the building near the looming rock wall, out of sightline from the front gate and parking lot.
Lavi was waiting for Andre when he reached it with a hand holding the door so the prophet could get in. He slipped through ahead of Andre and maintained frontal coverage as they entered the building. The concrete room echoed with the rhythm of machines and was empty aside from the presence of a pair of engineers with their backs turned and heads down in discussion where they stood on an upper level metal-mesh catwalk.
“Stay behind me,” Lavi instructed Andre as they passed through the room and out the opposite door without being seen. The obscuring power of the Panoplia was needed in the dark hall outside the elevator as well, as it was full of miners chatting in front of the lift while waiting to catch a ride down.
Despite the fact that Andre knew no one could see him, he ducked his head and slunk against the wall, gripping tightly to the sword so he wouldn’t accidently drop it. He barely expelled a breath waiting for the miners to enter the lift and begin their descent. He prayed that no more laborers or touring groups of interns would suddenly appear before he got a chance to slip into the elevator.
“Here we go, kid.” Lavi nodded at the lift when it finally returned, and he slipped in behind Andre before the prophet closed the cage doors and set the elevator in motion.
Andre tried very hard not to think about how deep they were descending or the fact that hundreds of tons of earth would be between him and the sky for an uncertain amount of hours.
“People move in and out of this mine every day.” Lavi attempted to ease his anxiety.
“I know.” Andre closed his eyes and focused on his breathing. He thought he hated flying. Now he knew that falling was really his greatest fear.
“We’re here.” Lavi nudged him when the lift stopped at the bottom.
Andre opened his eyes and peered through the grating to the dank space beyond lit up with the orange glow of lanterns spaced along a seemingly endless vertical shaft. He could hear distant voices calling down side corridors and the sound of running motors, clanging load cars, and buzzing electricity echoing off the low ceilings, but he saw no one nearby.
Pulling open the lift doors, he stepped out cautiously and tried to get his bearings.
“I can’t follow you much further,” Lavi spoke behind him.
Andre began to sweat beneath his heavy coat despite the cool air currents sucking through the intersecting tunnels. “Just stay for a bit.” He tried to keep the uneasiness out of his voice but knew he wasn’t fooling the Panoplia. The underground mine reminded him too much of Abaddon’s lair and it suddenly hit him that he was headed straight back to that off-shoot of hell. The thought made him want to jump back in the elevator and make a run for it.
“Come on.” Lavi pulled on his sleeve to get him moving again. “This way.”
The prophet was thankful for the presence of the Panoplia. He was a comfort as well as a guide. Andre thought he had a detailed understanding of where to find the passage with the Forbidden Door but would have certainly gotten lost if it wasn’t for Lavi. It made him worry that the others were not going to find it as easily as they had hoped.
“Don’t forget that your little friend has a better sense of direction than you do,” the spirit was kind enough to remind him.
“Right,” Andre nodded, glancing over his shoulder as they turned a bend and suddenly came upon the passage Kylan had told him about. As soon as they reached it, Andre did not need the direction of the Panoplia any longer. He could sense it, smell it, and even hear it the way Kylan had. Only it had a different voice. “He’s down there,” Andre stopped in his tracks before the dark chasm leading down to the door.
Glancing back, he noticed Lavi had not moved any nearer then the turn around the corner. He stood beneath a lamp on the wall behind a rectangle wire cover and waited for Andre to step back from the dark passage. “I must go back,” he told him. “You’re on your own until you return from the lair. Return from the lair, Agabus.”
“I will.” Andre met his intense gaze and drew off it, borrowing some of the spirit’s courage while he still had the chance.
“I will check on your friends and make sure they get headed in the right direction.”
Lavi nodded and turned to leave, lighting the path with his own internal light as he went. “May Theos protect you.”
It did Andre no good promising to strike out on his own after an hour since he didn’t wear a watch and lost track of time sitting there in the dark listening to the whispered voice of Evil tempting him through the door. With nerves on edge, Andre sat crouched in the tunnel, as far away from the lower passage as possible without risking being seen by any laborer who might happen by. It felt like three or maybe four hours since Lavi had left him when he finally heard voices dancing off the walls and saw the shadows of Declan and the twins running his direction.
“Dre!” Jora tried to keep her elation to a whisper, but grabbed him in a quick embrace as soon as she reached him. “I feel like I’m drowning down here. This place is horrible.”
“It’s only going to get worse,” Svana assured her while reaching for the supply bag where Andre had set it on the floor and pulling out a bottle of water. “Your plan worked like a charm, Agabus. Mathis thinks we’re on our way to surface level administering smelling salts to your claustrophobic girlfriend.”
“It wasn’t hard to pretend to feel faint actually,” Jora admitted, looking pleased. “I really did want to get out of there.”
Declan began digging in the bag as well, searching for his tools and the new lock for the door. “Shall we get this over with then?” He began to head in the direction of the passage when Andre stopped him by grabbing hold of his shoulder.
“Hold on.” He looked at them all seriously, wanting to convey the feeling of the Forbidden Side of the Mountain accurately so they would understand. “I know we already talked about this, but just sitting by the tunnel waiting for you has stressed me out. He knows I’m here and will soon know you are. Don’t let him get inside your head.” He looked at Svana when he said this. “He’ll use things against you and try to get us to turn on one another, understand?”
Each of them exchanged uncertain glances, but quickly sobered with resolute nods of confirmation.
“Okay,” Andre relaxed slightly. “Then let’s pray for clarity and strength to do this cleanly and quickly.” They moved to the opening of the tunnel and huddled in a circle. Jora grabbed a hand of both Svana and Andre and touched a toe to Declan’s shoe before closing her eyes. Declan looked down and regarded her foot as if she had lost her mind before meeting Andre’s amused expression before he too closed his eyes.
“Lord our Savior and Protector, come with us down into the hole, the house of our Enemy,” Jora prayed. “Give us quick hands to get our job done, clear minds to stay clear of danger, and strong hearts to fight what awaits us behind that door. We praise You for Your Might which will be made clear to all of Koinonia on this day.”
“Praise Theos,” Andre echoed, tacking on an internal, personal request to shield the others from Evil’s sight until the right time.
“Praise Theos,” Declan and Svana concluded out loud.
They broke from their tight circle, and turned to the passageway. Andre inhaled deeply, pushed the luring voice from his mind and led the way inside.
Declan switched on the light attached to the hardhat he still wore from the mine tour, and the twins followed suit, illuminating the interior of the tunnel as they slowly crawled down with backs bent against the low height of the ceiling. The passage wasn’t long, and before they had gone five steps, they could see the door at the bottom.
It stood open a few feet where Kylan had left it, a dark void standing in the gap for unseen things to hide. Jora shivered next to Andre, and he searched for her hand, holding it tight in his with their fingers intertwined. “Give me your light,” he told her.
Jora took off her hardhat and handed it over, and Andre moved closer to the door, shining the beam of the lamp down into the abyss. There was nothing to see but a continuing tunnel with rock walls and uneven floors. The air felt cooler on the other side, as if somewhere along the path was an open room or airshaft allowing in fresh air.
He turned back and handed Jora her light again. “Help me remove the door, Dec.”
Like at the top of the tunnel, time seemed to cease to exist while they worked. Andre had no idea what time of day it was, if it was in fact still day by the time they finished inserting the new locking mechanism, flipping the door, and drilling in the new holes for the hinges.
“We can’t have been here all day already,” Svana voiced logically. “It was barely sunrise when we left and we had only been here maybe an hour before we left the tour to meet you. Noon maybe, early afternoon at the latest. It just feels later because we’re trapped in a cheerless tube with no air.”
“We not trapped,” Jora tried to stay positive. “But you’re right, it can’t be that late yet.”
“Done.” Declan stepped back from the door and examined his work under the light. From the Kopiao side it looked like a single piece of steel slab, no deadbolt, no keyhole, no latch, just a solid wall with no way to get in once it was shut and locked from the other side.
“Perfect,” Andre praised the clean job with a nod of approval. Even the hinges were seamless, and it would take a great deal more than rust and decay for anyone to get through there again. “Alright, let’s close it up. Ready?” He looked at the girls.
They stood on the mine side of the door, holding their hats steady to give Declan and Andre as much light as possible. The fact that the moment had come to shut themselves in the cave with their only way out leading right into Abaddon’s path began to set in, and it took them both a moment to nod in response.
Slipping through the door, they turned and gave Andre back the light as he picked up the bag and his sword from where they rested by the wall. He was the last one through, closing the door with an ominous clang as it swung shut. Declan pulled hard on the latch to make sure it was completely closed while Andre fished for the key hanging on its chain around his neck. Pulling it off, he fit the end in the lock and turned it until he heard the heavy bolt click.
“That’s it then,” Jora said. “No going back.”
“Well,” Declan considered it logically. “We could just unlock it again.”
“But we won’t.” Andre turned away from the door and took Jora’s light and shined the beam down the tunnel. Hurrying along the path, he quickly found what he was looking for, a break in the rock wall where the natural structure of the cave became uneven and full of fissures. Most were shallow with visible bottoms, but the further they moved away from the door, the larger the crags and crevices became, and Andre climbed up on a narrow shelf of stone with a drop off on the other side. The shelf and overhead ceiling created a sort of long, narrow window leaving just enough room for him to stick his head in and shine the light down toward the bottom. As he had hoped, it was too deep to see.
The others stood on the path below and watched as he dangled the key on its chain over the side and dropped it out of sight.
“Alright,” Declan conceded. “Now there’s no going back.”
The Head Komer’s office stood adjacent to the main entrance of the Erotao Sanctuary. It was a small, square room with two walls made entirely of windows, one facing the entrance hall, the other the front garden and parking lot. Though the komer often worked in solitude or held private meetings with his congregation, the design of the room allowed for him to see anyone entering or exiting the Sanctuary as well as provided a sense of transparency for the weighty position of spiritual leader.
Komer Costa sat behind his compact desk facing both sets of windows and maintained a steady flow of notes on a pad of lined paper. The glass-paned door of his office stood propped open, and he could hear the low cadence of deacons in prayer down the hall in the main sanctuary. The parking lot was still, free of traffic, and dazzling with a ray of warm morning sun hitting the light layer of freshly fallen snow.
Under the warm glow, the roof of the Sanctuary shown bright but for a patch of shadow which slipped from the eaves as Havoc dropped to the ground in the shrubs dusted with white powder. He rose to his full height before the wall of glass, flexing his shredded wings, and emitting a low, pleasure-toned growl. Crouching on all fours, he slid into the room and eased behind the komer’s chair.
Costa dropped his pen on the paper and stretched his aching neck. He had not slept well since the Congregational Meeting, and he was feeling the effects. He had a message he needed to prepare, but the words were flowing all wrong.
Havoc curled himself around the chair, wrapping his wings like a confining cage, slinking a claw over the komer’s head, and sunk his talons deep within the sockets of his eyes.
Costa rubbed his heavy eyelids, closing them against the headache which began to form in his temples. The stress was beginning to get to him. When the Hupsoma broke, so did his safe haven in which to heal. It was becoming harder and harder to keep the nightmarish memories at bay. His fears and concerns for his congregation, for Andre, and for the entire country weighed on him heavily.
Havoc removed his razor blade claws and slid over the back of the chair. Clinging with a crushing grip, he pressed into the komer’s shoulders with a greasy grin spreading on his gaunt face lurking inches from his prey.
It was hard not to feel abandoned. Costa never asked his countrymen to agree with every one of his actions, but he had always tried to show compassion and lead them in a way pleasing to Theos. Yet, he knew they were right; he had been easily lured into Evil’s lair. Kylan Kirkeby’s confession or not, he had endangered his country by foolishly becoming ensnared. He drew away the Agabus and kept the boy from performing the duties Theos had gifted him to help preserve the Hupsoma. Entirely or partially, it did not matter. The fault belonged to him.
With contemptuous ease, the spirit of chaos wove lies from the tip of his blackened tongue deep into the komer’s ear. Pressing his burning fingertips to the holy man’s face, Havoc directed it to turn and look out the window at the sundrenched lawn.
Costa recognized Elder Mathis’s vehicle pulling into the parking lot. Stopping directly in front of the Sanctuary, three doors opened simultaneously and Mathis, Pondyakov, and Ackers stepped out. They waited by the car until another vehicle pulled up alongside them carrying elders Kerr and Irons. They shared a brief word and entered the building.
“We aren’t disturbing you, are we?” Mathis was kind enough to ask before Kerr got directly to the point of their visit. They crowded into the tiny office before the komer’s desk and didn’t bother to sit or remove their coats. They wouldn’t be staying long.
“It’s time, Costa,” Kerr informed him. “The people have made their decision. The majority call for Komer Turay to take the permanent position as Head. You are required to step down…”
Costa fought to maintain control as the beast’s claws sunk deep within his skull and overcame the komer with its dark influence. The picture of a dark tunnel leading to an underground room doused in cool blue, of fire and stench, burning flesh, and choking guilt…
“If you wish to remain within the Sect, that is fine. But we understand if you wish to— Costa?”
The men stepped forward compulsively in reaction to Costa’s head suddenly whipping back in his chair. His eyes rolled and his body went limp. Mathis caught the komer before he slipped out of the chair, holding him in place while Pondyakov raised his lolling head and listened to his breathing.
“He’s going into shock,” the Head Healer stated and went immediately to work, ordering the other men to help him stretch Costa on the floor with his feet propped up on the seat of the chair. Ripping off his own overcoat, he threw it over the komer and felt his neck for the speed of his pulse. “It’s happening again,” he muttered. “Call Iasis and get an ambulance here. Stay back!” he commanded the curious deacons crowding in the hall to see what was happening.
Komer Dokko appeared and judged the situation, pulling the deacons back into the sanctuary and conducting them in prayer. Mathis yelled into the office phone for Iasis to hurry, and the councilmen exchanged fearful, guilty glances wondering what they had done.
Havoc held on with a death grip and a deep, guttural laugh while he squeezed all consciousness from the mind of his victim, dragging him into darkness. A painful light touched his flesh, and the dark spirit loosened his grip to turn and block the inevitable blow.
Lavi whipped his spear against the side of Havoc’s skull with such force it knocked the Daimon free from the mortal lying on the ground. Grabbing Havoc by the neck, Lavi threw him out of the sanctuary and sent him sprawling into the snow.
Costa inhaled sharply and opened his eyes. The elders stood back in surprise and watched him in stunned silence. The komer caught his breath and looked wildly around the room as if forgetting where he was. Meeting the anxious eyes of the Head Elder, he struggled to speak. “Sound the bells,” he croaked desperately. “Get the people to the worship house.”
Lavi stood over the crouching beast with a stony look of contempt while Havoc growled at his feet and gnashed his fangs. “I’m getting really tired of you,” the Warrior spoke, taking a calculated step with a threatening twirl of his spear into a position to strike.
Havoc rose up on his back legs and prepared to take the Panoplia on for another fight. He liked the taste of this one’s flesh, and did not object to a second chance to rip him to shreds.
Lavi continued to shorten the distance between them, crossing the frozen sanctuary parking lot to the windswept field of snow glittering under the sun. His eyes reflected the light with confident brilliancy, and his fierce expression dared the Daimon to make the first move.
Havoc lowered into a poised position with a growl vibrating within his chest. The detestable light surrounding the Panoplia seemed to surround the moor and encircle him like the jaws of a closing trap, and the Daimon turned to find the full force of Koinonia upon him.
Malachi stood before the line of Panoplia, looking terrible in their full armor and stunning illumination. Chesed raised a two-ended sword, Amnon gripped his staff, Velvela’s golden sword burned bright beneath the sun, Raisel’s deadly whip dangled threateningly, and Shamira’s silver bow was poised with arrow at the ready in her outstretched hand. Prepared to put an end to the spirit of chaos who had plagued their island for too long, they waited for word from the Messenger to fly into action.
“I’m with you, Warrior.” Malachi matched the eager grin of his comrade. “It’s time for this filth to go.”