Ten years of education were done. Andre wasn’t really sure what to feel when he walked out of the Agoge Center and climbed into his car. Excited mostly, but also nostalgic. The entire day had been devoted to preparing for Saturday’s assembly. There were many details which the instructors repeatedly drilled until the order of events was memorized to perfection. Every student knew their place and responsibilities. Even Kai had her oratory piece memorized.
Andre drove straight from school to town in order to meet Davi for their weekly trip to Imani’s. Andre was ready for a quiet evening with nothing to do but sit on the beach in silence. Saturday would come too soon and, though he had been longing for the day, graduation would be nothing but a harried headache until the ceremony was done.
Mama’s line had moved one step since the week before. While Davi ran with the neighborhood mutt, Andre and Imani stood in the wind and breathed in the sea. They didn’t talk about graduation. They didn’t talk about the return of the missionaries or the battle for new citizens’ souls. They talked about Davi, about Demi and the girls, about stationary things fixed to the island which never moved. Andre did most of the talking. Imani just smiled and concentrated on not turning and darting back into the shelter of the healing house.
The three of them enjoyed a simple evening meal on the porch under the light of citronella torches and chunky wax candles dripping on the plastic tablecloth. Imani’s caregiver supplied soup and sandwiches in accordance with her patient’s dietary needs. They took their time, eating mostly in silence.
“I think I’ll sleep on the beach,” Andre announced after the plates had been cleared away.
His mother pulled herself out of her private reverie and took a moment to smile. “It will be cold.”
“I’ll build a fire.” Andre turned to his brother. “Want to help?”
Davi jumped up enthusiastically and left to search for deadwood among the rocks for fuel. Andre found some matches in the custodial supply shed at the end of the row of healing houses. He dug out some old assignment papers from the trunk of his car and, after grabbing a blanket from a closet in Imani’s room, he returned to the beach.
“You do know this is just for the two of us?” He couldn’t help but laugh at Davi’s great mound of driftwood he had stacked in such a short time.
Davi looked at it blankly. “I wanted to make sure we had enough.”
“Well, you did that.” Andre dropped the blanket nearby and began stacking the fuel around the scraps of paper before striking a match. The sun disappeared behind the row of healing houses and lights began to shine from the windows at the hospital further up the beach. The large brick institution stood out on the rocky dunes surrounded by stone paths and weathered boardwalks where patients roamed and took in the salty sea breezes during their therapeutic stays.
The bonfire blazed like a furnace, warming a circle of sand around its rim where Davi and Andre spread out the single blanket and used a flat slab of horizontal rock as a back rest. The sea was a black mass against the darkening horizon, a backdrop to the leaping flames and dancing embers. The boys removed their shoes and balled up their socks. With feet bare, they stretched out before the fire and prodded the glowing coals of disintegrating wood with long, pointed branches.
“I bet they can see this from space,” Davi thought out loud.
“The fire?” Andre glanced up at the heavens. “Like infrared satellites or something?”
“Sure,” Davi shrugged.
Andre laughed. “It’s a big fire, but not that big.”
“They detect forest fires.”
“Ten times this size,” Andre argued. “What do you know about forest fires?”
“I’ve read about them. They have them in Australia a lot. Do you think we’ll go to Australia during Therapon?”
“I don’t know,” Andre set down his poking stick and leaned back against the boulder behind them. “The locations change from year to year.”
“I hope I do,” Davi said wistfully. “I want to see a kangaroo, and a dingo.”
“Do you know what a dingo is?” Andre refrained from laughing.
“It’s like a dog.”
“A lot like a dog,” he chuckled. “We already have one of those. What’s so special about a dingo?”
Davi shrugged. “I just want to see one. But mostly a kangaroo. Most places have zoos where you can see kangaroos and lions and things in cages. We should get a zoo here.”
“What good is an animal in a cage?” Andre thought the idea was absurd. “Would you like to be locked up like that all the time?”
“No,” Davi admitted. “But I’d like to look at them. Hold ‘em maybe. Like lizards and snakes. You wouldn’t want to get close to an alligator?”
“Not really,” Andre replied honestly. “But if it matters that much to you, when you go on Therapon, you go ahead and request a visit to a zoo. Then maybe you can see what it’s like to watch animals all locked up.” Davi may have been catching up with his older brother in size and his voice was deepening recently with age, but Andre found it amusing that the boy still thought much like a kid with a bright imagination.
“I can do that?” Davi stopped playing with the fire and looked at Andre with some surprise. “We can asked where to go?”
“Of course. Did you think that all you do is serve while you’re gone?”
“Therapon means service,” Davi pointed out sarcastically.
“That’s just a title, listillo. Serving is only half of it. The point is to see what’s out there.” He nodded toward the sea beyond their quiet little portion of the beach. “By the time I’m ready to go next year I’ll have all the information I need to prepare for it. Then I’ll get to make suggestions on where to go at each location they take my class. The world has many zoos. I’m sure you’ll find at least one that has a kangaroo when you go.”
He was teasing, but Davi looked pleased by the bit of information. He gazed into the fire, his poking stick burning idly at the tip, and appeared lost in thought over the prospect of actually getting to visit a zoo someday. Andre didn’t quite understand his desire to do so, but everyone had their whims. He had a luxury request he hoped would be granted when the time came. Out of the vast variety of things the world had that Koinonia lacked, what Andre wanted most to see a professional soccer game live. He followed many teams and watched numerous matches in the information department of the Agoge Center when free time allowed it. It couldn’t possibly feel the same as being there, right in the middle of the excitement of a packed arena amid stands full of fans. Andre could only imagine what it was truly like to witness it with his own eyes.
Davi interrupted his daydreams by jumping up and moving around the fire to maneuver several burning logs into a better position. Andre glanced over his brother’s shoulder and noticed Shamira walking among the waves just beyond the shore. He nodded in response when she raised her silver bow in greeting before moving on to wherever her duties carried her.
“I wish it was warmer,” Davi followed his brother’s gaze on the sea. “We haven’t gone swimming yet and soon you’ll be too busy with interning.”
Andre shrugged. “Not every day. We’ll have time.”
Davi scrunched up his face in distaste. “Not likely. You’ll spend all your free time with Jora.”
Amused by this, Andre jumped to his feet and chased his brother around the edge of the fire, picking him up and dumping him ungraciously in the cool, pebbly sand. He pinned him to the ground, wrestling as Davi tried to defend himself through a fit of laughter. “Stop, stop! Ouch, Dre, get off!”
“Tell Jora you’re sorry,” Andre squeezed tighter, giving Davi very little room for air.
“What? She’s not even here!”
“Then say she’s the most beautiful girl in the world, and I’d be a fool not to spend every waking moment with her.”
“That’s sck.” Davi wasn’t having any part of that. Andre laughed and let him go, rolling over onto his back as Davi sat up and tossed a handful of sand at him. “Why don’t you just ask her to marry you already?” The idea appalled him a great deal, and he made a face to match his feelings on the matter.
“Well, I would,” Andre couldn’t hold back a smile at the thought, “but I can’t. Not until after Therapon.” He recalled Lavi’s opinionated observation that the two of them were not at equal stations in life. “We’re too young.”
Davi was done discussing such things, back at the fire with his stick. Pushing a heavy log over on its side, he sent fresh sparks into the night air to mix with the stars. Andre turned onto his side and propped his head with his elbow. The light of another distant Panoplia lit the water down the beach on the north side of Iasis Manor. “They’re still restless,” he muttered to himself.
“What?” Davi had overheard but missed what he said.
Andre shook off his curiosity and returned his attention to his brother without answering his question. “Repeat your part for tomorrow,” he encouraged him onto a new topic, catching the Panoplia out of the corner of his eye as the spirit flew into the air and disappeared. “Let’s hear if you can remember it all the way through without stopping.”
“No,” Davi muttered. “I know it. I’ve practiced it a million times.”
“Highly unlikely,” Andre argued. “Say it. Let’s go, all the way through without stopping or I’ll throw you in the ocean.”
“Try me.” Andre sat up suddenly as if about to make true to his threat. Davi stepped back, wielding his hot poker, and shot him a look of disdain before beginning.
“Koinonia stands for communion. Our country was founded for the soul purpose of being a community in service to one another and the world. On this day of Eleutheros we celebrate our freedoms given to us by Theos, and…and—” He stammered, and Andre moved to grab him, ready to toss him in the nearby water. Davi wielded his stick and darted out of reach, rushing on with his memorization. “And we praise Him for His provision and protection through all fifty years and beyond.” The last line was forced through in a rush, but he managed to finish it.
Andre stood down, relaxing and dropping any pretense of dunking Davi in the ice cold waves. “Good. Although it’s :‘provision, protection, and freedom…’ You missed that last one.”
“How do you know?”
“You left your lines on the kitchen table,” Andre said. “I glanced at it during breakfast.”
“Well if you’re so good at memorizing then you do it,” Davi grumbled.
“Are you nervous about giving it?”
He lowered his poking stick and shrugged. “Not really, but I’d rather just have the feast and not mess with an assembly at all.”
“What kind of Koinonian holiday would it be without an endless run of orations, songs, and memorials?” Andre asked facetiously, dropping back in his place on the blanket. “It’ll be fine,” he assured Davi as his brother sat down beside him. “By this time tomorrow it will be all done and we’ll be stuffing our faces. Plus, the Service group returns from Kaluma in the morning, and the fishermen. They’ll have lots of news.”
“For the adults,” Davi pointed out.
“Yeah, I guess,” he agreed, understanding his brother’s frustration. “Alright, forget Eleutheros. You’ll start school at the Agoge after the holiday,” he gave the boy hope. “You’ll have access to the information department, and I’ll show you some clips of those televised futbol matches I was telling you about.”
Davi looked up and the firelight caught in the eagerness in his eyes. “Yeah?”
Andre nodded. “Sure. You can’t know everything yet, but what else do you need when there’s futbol?”
“I’ll finally be old enough to join the boys in the scrimmage games after school at Energy Field.” Soccer was loved and played by all ages on Koinonia, but the serious players worked their skill on the pitches of Energy Field every day, all year round. Admittance to the program began at age fourteen when the eager hopefuls would sign on for hours of rigorous practice under the mentorship of more seasoned players and coaches.
“Are you up for that? I mean, those blokes are really good.” Andre was an avid spectator, but his skills as a player had never stood up against those of the ambitious Koinonian athletes.
“I’ll get good,” Davi replied honestly, and Andre laughed.
They fell silent, entering their own private thoughts while watching the flames. Andre was sure that Davi was still thinking about soccer matches, so when his brother eventually spoke again, he was surprised by the question he posed.
“Do you know about bombs?”
“What?” It took a second for Andre to register what Davi said.
“Bombs, like for wars and stuff,” he said it again. “One of those new kids who moved here last week, he was talking about them. That’s why they came, because people were always bombing the city where they lived.”
The prophet was taken off guard by this. There were rules about what could be shared with children, but it was nearly impossible to monitor every little thing a new citizen said when they were only kids themselves. “I’m not supposed to,” Andre answered honestly. “It’s not something the instructors talk about until Sunesis higher studies. But I do, somewhat.”
“Because you’re the Agabus?” Davi was watching him now.
“Yeah…because I’m the Agabus,” he murmured. The image of Abaddon seemed to swim in the flames before his eyes and the stench of war and destruction which surrounded him. Andre may not understand all of the visions which Evil pressed upon him during their battles, but he had felt the pain which permeated each sickly revelation. It was enough for him to know that life outside of Koinonia was often a rather weighty existence.
They fell silent again, and the fire began to die down. Andre pulled his eyes away from watching it burn to find Davi falling asleep where he sat against the rock wall. “Hey,” he hit his knee gently. “Lay down.” Andre gestured to the blanket they sat on.
Davi opened his bleary eyes and looked around in a daze. “I’m going to the house.” He yawned with a groggy slur to his statement as he rolled to his feet.
“Yeah,” he nodded and turned up the path leading to Imani’s healing house behind them. “It’s cold.”
“Okay,” Andre let him go. “Are you alright on your own?”
Davi passed him a sleepy but queer look over his shoulder, “Yeah.”
Andre smiled and nodded, forgetting that Davi didn’t know fear of the dark or what could hide in it. Andre had been dwelling on thoughts of Abaddon too much, it was making him paranoid. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
“ ‘Night.” Davi disappeared outside the reach of the firelight, and Andre listened until his soft footsteps were covered by the sound of waves hitting the rocks along the shore. He had forgotten his shoes, Andre noticed.
“Shamira,” he spoke out loud into the night and waited for her to arrive, as he knew she would.
The Panoplia moved soundlessly among the pebbles and coarse sand, stopping to the right of the fire and looking down on him with a serene but unsmiling expression.
“Is everything at rest out there tonight?” Andre asked with heavy-lidded eyes.
Shamira did not answer his question, but watched silently as he slid into a laying position and pulled half of the blanket over himself. “Sleep, Agabus,” she told him instead. “We are watching.”
Andre woke with a start. Something had touched him with a sharp sting, and when he opened his eyes, he saw the glint of Lavi’s spear against the bright rays of the sun. He sat up in alarm. “What?” he demanded. “What’s wrong?”
Shamira and Chesed stood with the Warrior, and they all had odd looks on their faces; the faces of spirits with nothing good to say. “Come,” Lavi commanded him and held out his spear for Andre to take before assisting him to stand. “Evil has overcome your komer.”
“My—what?” Andre winced against the harshness of the morning light hitting his face. “Costa? Where?”
“In Abaddon’s dwelling. Hurry, he has held him captive there for many hours.”
“Many hours?” Andre followed the spirits away over the rocks toward his mother’s healing house and his awaiting car out front. “How many hours?”
“We believe Abaddon lured him in as early as two days past. We knew something was amiss. We did not know until now what that was.”
“He can’t have lured him in.” Andre fumbled to pull his car keys out of his pocket as he moved quickly around the side of the house. Costa knew not to go near Abaddon’s cave. “Nobody goes to that side of the mountain.”
“He did,” Lavi insisted, “and Evil found him.” He stopped and turned, looking down on Andre with a stony expression. “You must bring him back.”
Without another word, he stood back to allow Andre to climb behind the wheel. There was no time to waste. Each spirit took their post, Lavi on the driver’s side, Chesed on the passenger. Shamira flew overhead, and Andre sped off at top speed, out of the parking space and up the winding paved road to the highway.
Andre gripped the wheel and prayed that he was not too late. His stomach was like a hardened rock in his abdomen. Komer Costa trapped inside Abaddon’s lair. How could it even happen? And how had they not known? When had he seen Costa last? He wasn’t at the Community Center Thursday night, had he really been lost inside hell’s open chasm while Andre tossed a volleyball around with his schoolmates? The idea made him sick, and when he swerved around the bend onto the narrow, climbing stretch of gravel road which wound its way up the west side of the mountain, Andre attempted to suppress the guilt weighing heavy in his chest.
The road abruptly ended deep within Hule Copes, an off-limits section of the island for most of its inhabitants. Andre hit the brakes and skid on gravel before parking and jumping out of his car. A gap in the trees showed an unused path which led to the cave entrance of Abaddon’s lair. The Panoplia held their sentry positions, surrounding the prophet as he ran, and a thousand unspoken questions bombarded Andre’s mind.
Why hadn’t the other komers or any of the deacon staff at the Erotao Sanctuary mention anything about his disappearance? Certainly someone must have noticed that the Head Komer had been gone that long? “Why was he up here?” Andre demanded an answer from the spirits. “Did any of you see him?”
“We would have turned him away if we had.” Chesed flew at his left side, keeping pace with a grim look of determination on her glowing features. “A cloud of confusion has been over the mountain all week. Malachi has sought wisdom from Theos, but we have not been enlightened. It seems as though this was ordained to happen outside of our control.”
“Why?” Andre fought for breath, growing more and more agitated the closer they got to the cave. Anger and frustration grew up like a beast inside him and with it fear. The strength of it choked him. “Why? What has Costa ever done?”
“It is not always about one soul,” Shamira input from her aerial position above.
“We must gain more perspective,” Chesed agreed.
Andre didn’t want perspective, he wanted plain answers. How had this happened? What had ever possessed the komer to hike the forbidden trail and enter the cave? Dread washed over him like a chilling wave, and he slowed his steps with a growing feeling of inadequacy. How was he ever going to get him out? Andre stopped within two yards of the turnoff. Just around the corner stood the opening, a vast black hole veering deep into the heart of the mountain. He had been here only once before and only for a moment. Abaddon usually came to him.
“You must go.” Lavi dropped to the ground with a clang of metal against rock as his spear hit the mountain.
Andre swallowed hard in an effort not to vomit. He could smell it, the stench of Evil covered in gory pride. “He knows I’m here,” his voice shook. “He can feel my—”
“Use your fear,” Lavi cut him off curtly. “Let it guide you to him. You need to find the komer. You need to find him now!”
“Come with me.” Andre clenched his sweaty palms to keep his hands from shaking. His heart was pounding a painful beat which made it difficult to hear the Warrior’s reply.
Lavi shook his head. “We cannot pass the entrance,” he informed the prophet. “But take this.” Kneeling, the spirit pulled his dagger from its holster tied around his leg and handed it over. Andre stared at it, feeling the weight of it in his palm.
“We do not know what you will find down there,” Chesed touched his arm with a strong surge of warmth. “But remember what you already know. We were created by Theos, as were you, and the world and everything in it to its greatest unknown depths. He created everything which roams, the living and the spirits, they are all His. This includes Abaddon, and nothing is stronger than its Creator. Nothing.”
“You sound like Malachi,” Andre pointed out weakly.
“Is he here?”
She nodded, “We all are. The rest wait around the bend. We may not be able to go with you, but we will be waiting for your return.”
And if I don’t? Andre was tempted to ask. Perspective, he reminded himself. Get a grip, Agabus.
The spirits did not encourage him any further, but waited for him to make the next move. Tightening his hold on the handle of Lavi’s dagger, he stepped around the bend. The ocean reached out before him below the cliffs of the mountain. The horizon was hazy with morning mist not yet touched by the early sun. White caps stood out from the shore, jagged ridges of white against a navy blue canvass. Andre looked to his right and stood before the chasm that was the mouth of the cave. A putrid steam rose from within and fought against his gag reflex. The rest of the Panoplia stood soundlessly near, spread out on the mountain side. Malachi rose high above the opening of the cave while gazing down with a concerned frown. Not even the Messenger had an answer to such alarming circumstances.
“What does Theos say?” Andre paused to ask.
Malachi met his eye with an unwavering gaze. “What He has always said…Follow Me.”
Andre clenched the dagger and his reserve. Gritting his teeth and taking a deep breath, he stepped forward into the shadow of Evil’s dark chamber.