“There it is, Doctor.”
Giselle looked down the valley and the green vastness from which rose the rocky cliffs crowned by monasteries. In another time, perhaps, her heart could have been touched by such beauty, by Meteora’s ancient dignity, but she’d spent too much time among specimens and flasks, cutting, sewing, opening bodies, mutilating and severing. Too many miles of blank corridors and operating rooms had passed before her eyes. If there was ever any feeling in her soul that could be moved by that sight, it had vanished long ago.
Now she only saw an adverse terrain where a bunch of bigots who’d helped kill Karel vainly sought refuge. Her mind, dull with hate, was barely aware of what she’d left behind in Romania - a huge number of police officers looking for her, which would eventually extend beyond borders. Such a thing was not important to her.
Beside the great coach, Schäffer threw a critical eye on her. He’d sworn to serve her over all, but he was getting tired of her incombustible hatred. She was deranged. Well, if he had to make a new bloodbath, so it be - he’d lost his qualms long ago. But once done with that, Giselle would have to reason - he’d take care of it.
“They will act on my signal - but it’s early yet. There are still tourists in the valley.”
“No tourists in Ayios Stefanos.” The blonde murmured. “That’s where we go. I don’t care about anything else.” Calmly, she settled out of the car and took a few steps forward, without bothering to close the door. Her high heels were uncomfortably sinking in the grass. Truth be told, she was completely sore because of that endless journey, but also because of what was happening every night in her bed. Something she neither especially wanted nor had the heart to refuse. It didn’t matter – when it would all be over, she’d laugh. She’d laugh as ever. “They buried him there.” She muttered - Schäffer barely saw her red lipsticked lips moving. “At the foot of the rock. They put him into a hole and covered him with dirt...”
“You remember how we made him confess?” She smiled and embraced herself as if it was a pleasant and endearing memory.
Schäffer shook his head. Was she deranged, after all?
Without more, Schäffer grabbed Kurtis’ neck and giving him a sharp tug, pulled him off the Throne and slammed him to the floor. Giselle almost trembled with pleasure when she heard the awful crack made by Kurtis’ head upon impacting with the floor, but moments later, she frowned. “You haven’t killed him, right?”
“I think not. This one’s really tough.”
As if corroborating his words, Kurtis began to move. He sat up slowly, his mouth and nose bleeding. She would’ve loved to see all his teeth broken, but they remained intact, protected by his chapped lips.
Well, she might have his teeth pulled out with pliers. Why not?
“You call the doctor that again,” Schäffer threatened, “and I give you another session of sparks. Now answer her question.”
The Lux Veritatis licked his lips, trying to get all the blood possible, and then spat at Schäffer’s feet. Giselle felt angry - was he losing his mind? Didn’t he know she could have him cut into pieces, if she felt like it?
“Motherfuckers.” Kurtis gasped hoarsely. “You really think I care? They buried the freak out of the monastery, in the valley, in an unmarked grave – next to Gunderson.” He looked away, towards Giselle. “I’d have rather left him hanging from a pole, where the crows could tear him to pieces.”
Schäffer responded by giving him a kick in the stomach – not that he particularly enjoyed doing that, but it was his job. In any case, he was following orders. If she asked him to cut off his legs with a carpenter’s saw, he wouldn’t blink in doing so - for that was why he was there, taking Gunderson’s former position.
“We’ll tear you to pieces alive, be sure.” Giselle said - and despite her mocking tone, she was very tense. “He, however, couldn’t suffer more.”
Kurtis’ mouth twisted in a bloody grin. “That fucker had ever suffered in all his damn life, never had the slightest idea about what suffering is.”
“But you do, right? We’ll make you the most well-informed person in the world. Too bad you’re not going to live to tell the tale.” She turned and left abruptly. Schäffer had absolute certainty that she’d gone to mourn into a corner, as usual. That attitude made him furious! There was her most hated enemy, defeated, beaten, tortured and broken, and she wasn’t relieved. Was it not time to change things? Nobody could return her fucking Karel to her. Even if they quartered that poor wretch alive - that’s what he was in the eyes of the mercenary - she wouldn’t be happy. “Lift him.” Schäffer commanded to the other men who, standing in their places, had witness the torture without blinking. “Enough for today.”
But Kurtis didn’t let them to touch him, despite he barely managed to rise and stand on his feet. When they took him back to jail, Schäffer whispered: “You’re insane.”
“Are you saying that to me?” Kurtis replied without looking at him.
“I’ve seen you in action. You can easily get out of here but instead you let us do this. I don’t know if you’re nuts or just an idiot, but that kind of courage is meaningless here.”
Kurtis then looked at him and grinned, showing his reddened teeth. “You care about me?”
Schäffer threw back his head. “Care? If she commands me to cut your balls off, I’ll do it anyway. But if this whole martyr-for-the-cause role responds to a plan of yours, get ready, because I’m gonna really fuck you...”
“Schäffer! The hell are you doing?” Giselle looked at him accusingly.
The mercenary realized that he had been absorbed in his memories. “Excuse me, Doctor. I was thinking.”
The scientists bared her teeth in a grin. She was damn seductive; even though she didn’t know or pretend such thing. “Thinking doesn’t suit you, Adolf. You’d better follow my command.”
He looked over the valley and frowned.
“C’mon. Tonight we’ll have fun big time.”
How funny, Schäffer mocked to himself.
Woe to you, Innocent soul
From your marked body
The deepest pain
Will devastate your essence
And to the fire of your birth
The one which shaped your beauty
Marcus looked up those verses written by a trembling hand, then at Nikos, who was somewhat enthralled.
“I know this isn’t appropriate for a man of my religion,” the hegumenos stipulated, “but I’d never read something so beautiful.”
“It’s beautiful, in fact.” The old man leaned back. “Like those poems I recited to Bathsheba...”
The monk blinked. “You recites poems to that monster?”
The Healer frowned. “Bathsheba’s not like her father.”
“Please, Brother! That... devil tempted me and punished me. How can you say such a thing when you’ve seen all your people dying at the hands of creatures of her ilk?”
Marcus shook his head. “We shouldn’t forget that she was born of a probe, a hybridization experiment. She’s not like the others.”
“Well, from what I’ve seen, she behaves like the others - cold, merciless, and she didn’t care even the least to step on corpses to achieve her goals. She’s as alien to human suffering as her predecessors.”
“However, she still hasn’t soiled her hands with blood - and I saw her covering Brother Kurtis’ tortured body with her cloak when we were prisoners on the Island.”
The monk shook his head stubbornly. “That makes her a human being?”
“I can’t imagine Karel covering anyone with his cloak. What I mean, Brother, is that she hasn’t yet been...let’s say, marked, stained, by the cruelty of her kind. She has a lot of mortal blood in her veins, though apparently possessing all the qualities of a Nephilim.”
“So you recite poems to her?”
“I’m a big fan of literature. I tried to criticize her indifference to suffering.” He sighed. “Oh, nevermind. You can’t understand.”
“Of course not!”
But then again, if Bathsheba wasn’t like the others, there could be a glimmer of hope. In some sense, she was still pure, still innoce... “What if she’s the Innocent?” Marcus exclaimed suddenly, startling the monk. The old Healer took and read the verse again.
Woe to you, Innocent soul
From your marked body
The deepest pain
Will devastate your essence
And to the fire of your birth
The one which shaped your beauty
“Bathsheba has her body... marked?” Nikos asked. “Was she born from fire?
“Don’t interpret it literally.” Marcus said. “We’re dealing with a prophetess. Prophets have never spoken out, it is known.”
“Oh, well. Leave it and continue with the other.”
Marcus frowned. He didn’t like the following passages at all.
Of cursed lineage
Born for suffering
You will choose your bitterest price
And drain the cup of sorrow
Until there is nothing left to give...
“I wish nothing horrible awaits Kurtis. He’s suffered enough, poor boy.” Marcus heard the monk bemoaning.
“A Lux Veritatis never suffers enough.” The Healer muttered quietly. “A Lux Veritatis only rests in his grave – it’s always like this.”
“Time to put an end to it.”
Marcus nodded absently. End with that? May the Light help them! They would need all the help possible. And they were so alone...
With hardened soul
In your heart and your womb
You bring hope
Also you carry the curse
Which will devour the darkness...
“Radha!” Marie called out. “Don’t go too far!”
The girl, who looked thoughtfully at her reflection in a pool - was she that girl staring back at her? looked up and meekly went back to her.
The Navajo woman had spent several days distraught. When it had been about taking care of herself there was no problem - in any case, if she failed, the only one damaged would be herself. But being responsible for a child, who’d had enough in her country and now was expecting any kind of horror here - that was too much for her in some way. Marie must now go back to the times when she’d to take care of a boy disputed by the world’s oldest orders, one to control him, the other to kill him. Too backward for her.
The Navajo woman looked at the phone. Should she do it? Should she drop all the bad news to Lara and Kurtis? Hadn’t they enough burdens on their shoulders? She bit her lip.
Finally, the old lady reached out and picked up the receiver, but instead of dialing the number Lara always carried with her, she scored Marcus’ one, who’d been gifted with another phone by the solicitous British explorer to avoid communication problems.
“Those are bad news, Marie.” Marcus lamented, holding the receiver away from the table for consultation, where Nikos was flipping through the codex.
“I fear for my life and Radha’s, but I can deal with it.” The Navajo woman continued. “I also fear for Zip, but he refuses to leave the hospital - and you, Marcus, you might be in danger too.”
The Healer felt a cold indifference - there was nothing left to lose for him, there was no danger he couldn’t assume. At the end of the day, what else could they do to him? “Has she been found?”
“She seems to have left, at least, the city of Brasov. Maybe she’s gone even from Romania. But I’m not sure.”
“That woman is completely deranged – she’ll do whatever ruthlessly and without considering the consequences. You must leave and take Radha with you.”
Marie couldn’t suppress a grimace of disgust. He kept giving orders as if he was still a wise of the Order’s Council. Some things never changed.
“I’ll take care of Radha, no problem with that. But I fear for Lara and Kurtis.”
“You shouldn’t. Both of them are perfectly able to handle this, if they stay together. I’ve never seen two people working better together.”
“Marcus... if that madwoman breaks in with her goons...”
“I know. I’ll warn them. Don’t worry.” And without more, he hung up.
Marie looked at the phone, stunned, and hung it in turn. Then she turned and stared for a moment, without actually seeing her, at the tall, slender young girl before her.
Why had Marie the feeling that they had abandoned her again?
Stop feeling sorry for yourself, you old fool. By now you should know this is how it works: save your own ass, and may the others save themselves if they can. “Let’s go, Radha. We’re done here.”
“Where?” The girl said, confused.
Did Marie have the right to put her in such a risk? Who but Lara was responsible? Or should she take her back to England...from where she was kidnapped...? “We go to Syria.”
The Cardinal Monteleone looked, spellbound, at the flames dancing in the fireplace. They had spent almost an hour there and he’d not even begun, but Bathsheba was well endowed with the astounding patience of the Nephili, despite her half-blood.
“At the beginning of time, a battle was fought in God’s kingdom because of the first wife who was, unlike what has been taught to all Christians, not Eve but Lilith. In fact, if the evil had to be loose on a creature, it would be on her. I’m ignorant of how that woman looked when mortal, but she had to be the most beautiful creature of God to corrupt the purest of His angels.” He huddled in his chair, picking up his purple cassock. “Samael was by far the highest of all the Lord’s angels. He hadn’t Michael’s warlike and loyal personality, or Gabriel’s enthusiasm for the Word, nor even looked like the other angels. From the moment he saw the first human being, the one who was called Adam, he was charmed by the fragile but also divine nature of mortals - and seeing who was to be his wife ended up deranging him. But I must not linger on this, you’d probably already know- still, that’s how Karel told me.” He looked briefly towards the woman who sat quietly in front of him. “Yes... she must have been a beauty like you.” He sighed.
“In any case, we named Lilith and Samael’s children Nephili, who fell to Earth to blend in with mortals. Hybrids of angels and demons they were called... that’s right. Both He and She are a couple that shares power equally. Some Satanic traditions made them brothers, but we shouldn’t be mistaken: Brothers in the sense of equals, since Lilith had become an angel – a fallen angel as doomed as Her husband, but an angel after all. This goes against the precepts of my Church, but really an angel doesn’t need to have wings or live in heaven. The angel is such thing because of being born as an angel, or having reached an angel’s status, and once you are made an angel, angelic nature can’t be removed. We say the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, but He shouldn’t have been able to take away what was given to His servants, nor what Samael gave to Lilith, so that in the end He’d to banish them to the Darkness.”
It was amazing how Karel’s words still haunted his memory so vividly that he even seemed to be there, forcing him to write what he remembered so well.
“Lilith’s malice is immense. Samael knows how not to get involved in the affairs of mortals, and at the same time, be with them, but She’d to be contained or Her overwhelming fury would have devoured the Earth. That’s why when the Nephili achieved enough power to consider imposing a new rule over mortals... they decided to betray their Mother and imprison her.”
For the first time he saw signs of activity in Bathsheba - her eyelashes quivered and she rose, rigid in her seat. “Imprisoning her? Must have been my father’s work, who in his arrogance cheated you. No one can imprison Lilith, not even the strongest of the Nephili!”
“It was Karel - one of the oldest children, if not the first. It was him who locked Her up.”
“He used Her own Scepter against Her.”
Bathsheba shook her head, waving her hair’s black curls. Would she have an idea about how lovely she was when angry?
“You’ll understand, Blessed Daughter – is that not like how you were called among your own? - when you let me speak a little more. The Scepter, that Scepter you hold in your lap as indulgently as if holding a child’s toy, is an object of great power. Lilith focused all Her anger and energy on it. She created an instrument that only She could control, but... in doing so, She also created the only object that could control Her.”
Her coralline lips twisted into a sarcastic grimace, but said nothing.
“She used the Scepter to frighten the Order which had risen to fight them. But Karel discovered something... in fact, something that broke all the schemes and led him to seriously consider to betray not only The One Who Has Given Him Life, but his strongest ally in his struggle for dominance over mortals and extermination of his enemies. And when She, angry and disappointed, delivered the Shards to the Lux Veritatis... Karel had no more doubt about what to do. With his overwhelming personality, which made him the strongest among his brothers, he managed to win enough support for the rebellion. He used the Scepter against its own Maker and when hitting Her with it, he defeated Her, leaving Her lost in the semi-conscious slumber of the damned from that century.”
He sighed and rubbed his bloated face.
“Samael didn’t intervene. Karel was of the opinion that, for The First Fallen One, there were things to be left in the hands of mortals. Although He didn’t quite approve of the plans of the Nephili and His Wife, He was convinced that everything would run its course. The appearance of the Lux Veritatis was merely a proof of the existence of a rival power that would balance the scales. But don’t think Samael was fair and beneficial. The Shadows War has created more victims and the blood has been spilled in a way that is not any less horrible just because it’s been discreet. I think He didn’t care they massacred each other as their energies were balanced and His lovely Wife lay sleeping next to Him. Just because he doesn’t intervene, He’s not better than those wicked He spawned and the whore who is His...”
“Cardinale,” Bathsheba mocked with her cold eyes, “if I were you I wouldn’t give my opinion. Stick to what he told you, and leave your impressions for your cult. What was it that my father discovered that prompted him to commit such treachery?”
The Cardinal smiled a sad smile. “I don’t think you’re ready to hear such a thing. Although for practical purposes this doesn’t change anything, and for us mortals it doesn’t mean so much, I’m sure if anyone else, Nephili or Lux Veritatis, had known this, the shock would have created terrible consequences for them. Karel, of course, kept this to himself and invented other reasons... until he told it to me.”
“I must know.”
Monteleone smiled again - for the first time he seemed revived, and rising from the seat, he came limping to the girl. She stood up, angry, because she could barely stand such closer contact, but the old man didn’t flinch, and marvelling at the fragrance of that white skin, he put his lips to her ear and whispered a few words.
She moved aside so violently that her hair hit the cardinal’s face. “Liar!”
“Why should I lie? What do I have to lose, Blessed Daughter?”
“That wouldn’t make any sense! The Great Goddess never...would never have acted like that... that’s absurd!”
“It’s true, and when Karel discovered that, he felt such panic - or whatever the Nephili feel when they fear something, that he decided to silence the only voice which could tell that awful secret. Lilith’s one!”
Bathsheba sprang back as if the Cardinal’s clothes burned her, and looked at him angrily. “Impossible. My father lied to you, he lied for his own intentions...!”
“There, there. What intentions could he have with me, with a useless deacon?”
“It’s absurd. Impossible. And even if there was a flash of truth... what does it matter...?”
“You tell me. You look shocked - but it’s true. Think about it. Maybe if we′d known it before, how much horror, how much death... we would have avoided.” He watched amazed how she bent in two, as if a burning pain was drilling her bowels. How fragile she seemed now that her most basic concepts had been shaken! “Blessed Daughter... listen...”
“...now that you know the truth, you must take advantage of it. Don’t let your father’s mistake, being silenced, destroy all hope. You shall not commit the same mistake.”
She recoiled, pressing against her the wrapped burden.
“Listen to me, Bathsheba. No matter what they say you should be. No matter whom your father was, or for what your mother bred you. You shouldn’t obey the dictates of the priestess who raised you, or that infernal goddess whom you think you serve.”
“Shut up now!”
“You are pure. You are immaculate - although they have tried to corrupt you, there’s still time to stop what’s coming. You must stop them at once! Now you know the truth. A disaster is coming, you see it coming. Over all, Lilith must not be awakened.”
“Shut up and die!”
“What your ancestors, cruel monsters without a drop of mortal blood in their veins, what your father couldn’t do, you must do. Stop this - not one more death, Bathsheba. Not one more demon to come into the Earth. You’re still innocent, you’re still untouched by darkness... Bathsheba...” Suddenly, he gasped, trying to talk. The emerald eyes pierced him, furious. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t move. He bent on his knees. His face struck the floor carpet. “Bathsheba...”
She pursed her lips, furious. The Cardinal made titanic efforts to talk. “Don’t let yourself to be corrupted... in your hand is salvation... redeem your breed... forgive your enemies... Bathsheba... Bathsheba... if you don’t do it ... it won’t be done by anyone else...” The words were cut short. Suddenly he stopped breathing, his body suffered a couple of crackles, and then a gush of blood flowed from his mouth. He was dead.
She clenched her eyes tightly, her heart throbbing and her hands aching and sweaty from holding the bundle so hard.
“I’m not a mortals’ instrument.” The Nephilim gasped, gritting her teeth.
She turned violently and went towards the door. Then she paused, recalling with a grimace of disgust that she didn’t need to open doors. She looked around and, before vanishing into the air, she reached to the Virgin’s statue which innocently looked at her from a corner of the room, and slammed it furiously with her hand, shattering it on the floor.