Prelude To A Storm
“Shall we eliminate them all, boss?”
Schäffer frowned. Despite the given orders, he was a smart man, and determined to act on what was sensible. “No.” He said. “It would be a waste of time. Find the Lux Veritatis, but don’t hurt him.”
The mercenary allowed himself to doubt. “But... the Mistress said...”
“I am your superior, asshole! Better not forget it. Move!”
He vanished. Schäffer watched the flames glowing on the walls. A madwoman, he thought, those are the orders of a madwoman. I’ll take care of this soon.
Nikos coughed repeatedly, and curled up next to Marcus who, with the old codex pressed against his chest, searched through the darkness. “What’s up ahead, patéras?”
“Two ways - one leading to the catacombs, the other to an outside staircase on the wall of the rock.”
“Does it descend to the ground?”
“That’s our way, then!”
Through the dancing shadows Marcus saw his partner shaking his head. “I can′t leave my brothers at those butchers’ mercy, Healer.”
“What will you do against all those men? There are young brothers who carry guns!”
“I can′t, Marcus, I shouldn’t...”
Without listening, Marcus stood up and tugged the hegumenos by his robe sleeve: “Guide me through this second path, for the Light’s sake! The manuscript must not go missing!”
They ran at the limit of their strength. Every scream, hit or shot coming from the higher levels pierced the bowels of the hegumenos. Finally they noticed a gust of cold air. The starry sky opened before them. They were on a kind of balcony of stone and rock stairs winding down. “Here we go separated ways, Brother Healer.” Nikos gasped. “God keep you safe and the Light will be merciful.”
“You can’t stay here!” Marcus yelled. “Come with me, all is lost here!”
The hegumenos was about to reply, but suddenly fell silent and looked in horror behind the Lux Veritatis. He turned and saw the rise of a shadow of the stone wall. “You!” Giselle came towards them. She was still dressed with strict etiquette and her makeup was spotless, beautiful, but her eyes shined in an inhuman way. “Don’t move.” She commanded with a cold voice. Then she looked at the book held by Marcus. “What’s that?” The Lux Veritatis feinted to head for the stairs, but Giselle shouted“Stop!” and pulled out a gun. The small metal gun flashed in the night. Nikos looked at the woman with petrified eyes. She was targeting the Healer with the barrel of the gun.
“I won’t be a prisoner again, Giselle.” Marcus said calmly. “And less your prisoner.”
“Your life’s worth so little to me like all these monks.” She replied dryly. “I won’t waste a single cell on you. Show me that book.”
Suddenly, Nikos placed himself between them, covering Marcus, and said: “Your foolishness and the foolishness of those who came before you have already caused too much damage and pain to innocent people. Leave us alone and go away.”
Giselle just frowned a little. “Get out of my way, monk. I won’t repeat it again.”
“Leave us alo...”
Shrugging, Giselle raised her gun and fired four times. The deafening noise drowned out Marcus’ cry of horror.
She′d aimed well - four bullets pierced the hegumenos′ chest. Dropping the codex, Marcus rushed to hold Nikos’ body while falling. Both ended up on the ground, the Healer’s hands grabbing the sticky, blood-soaked habit. The wounds were mortal, and Nikos Kavafis, hegumenos of Meteora for a short and unhappy time, barely had time to give a reassuring smile to his partner before shuddering and dying. A thick line of blood slid down from the corner of his mouth to the ground.
Marcus looked up. Now the gun barrel was targeting him. “You’re a monster, Giselle.” He said, trying to control the tremor in his voice.
“Hatred and pain create monsters, Healer.” She replied calmly. “Tell this to your friend, that murderer from your Order.”
“You’re insane. You could be saved, Giselle, if you admit it and abandon your war against us. You’re walking into an abyss and only you can stop that.”
“No one can save me - nor tell me what to do. This has been my choice and you all are going to pay for it.”
“Then death is your choice.” He got up, carefully left thehegumenos′ corpse on the ground, and took the manuscript, before wiping his bloodstained hands on his clothes.
“I don’t fear death.” Giselle said, without putting down the gun. “I’ve nothing to lose.”
“That’s what you think.” Marcus showed to her the open book. “You want to know what this is? No need to kill Kavafis for it. It’s an ancient manuscript with an extensive prophecy written by an ancient witch. The prophecy speaks about us and this moment.”
The crimson lipsticked mouth curled into a contemptuous smile. “How much you like old and useless pages full of crap. I understand now why you get along with my dreaming daughter.”
Marcus took a few steps away, extending the open book before her, and recited aloud:
“Flashpoint of the avenging sword
You’re wielding, with trembling hand,
You who never knew the touch of a kiss,
Whose heart beats crazy
Locked between the spines of your distress,
Splashing blood around you.
Your offspring have to kill you,
Because you were born for love
But you can only breed hatred.” Giselle’s laughter echoed through the emptiness of the abyss. “Nonsense! That verse could refer to anyone.”
“It’s about you, Giselle! You’re into something much larger and darker than your personal revenge. There are beings whose power you can’t imagine that have placed you on a huge board with the rest of us. Don’t you understand? We’re game pieces, moved by hellish creatures! Each card with a name, each player with a destiny. It’s foolish to think about revenge, your problems are much greater!”
She shook her head, waving short locks of blond hair. “Dotard, you should hear the crap you’re saying. You sound like an ignorant peasant of the Middle Ages, awaiting the Day of Judgment.”
Marcus dropped the book. “You’re blind. This will be your undoing. You’re digging your own grave.”
“No, you’ve dug your own. I’m sick of your gibberish, stupid old man.” She said, and raised the gun again.
“You won’t kill me. I am the Wise - I’ve a role in this plot, and hellish beings won’t let you alter the course of their plans. So far you’ve come, but they won’t let you go any further. Everything that’s happened so far has been with their approval and consent, for nothing interfered with their plans. But now you won’t kill me.”
“Let’s test it.” Giselle smiled, and pulled the trigger.
The bullet struck the old man’s shoulder. The wound was not fatal, but the bullet pushed him over the stone balcony. He screamed as he fell. Giselle then approached, and after leaning over, was dumbfounded.
Marcus remained suspended in the air, clutching the manuscript with his good arm. He floated, but it was Bathsheba who was holding him by the waist, a gaunt Bathsheba, haggard and dressed in rags, whose locks of hair and clothes were flying in the evening breeze, making her look ghostly. She raised her sunk eyes to her mortal mother and looked at her with infinite sorrow.
“What a scene!” The doctor muttered. “Karel would’ve enjoyed so much seeing his daughter, a Nephilim, saving the life of a Lux Veritatis!”
“I haven’t saved his life.” She answered in stride. “What he said is true. He has a reserved role in the Mother’s plans - and you do too.” Bathsheba’s long white fingers dug into Marcus’ injured shoulder.
Giselle noticed she was healing him. That enraged her. “Is this the daughter I bred? Is this broken, tearful, whiny, pitiful wreck my daughter? Are you a compassionate beggar? Indeed, Gertrude made you useless from head to toe!”
The Nephilim lowered her long lashes. Marcus stood motionless and silent in her arms.
“You’re blind, Mother. Everything he said is true. What is to come will end all you know and love.”
“What I love…” Giselle’s voice trembled. “What I love is lost. They took him from me. I have nothing to lose.”
Her daughter’s green eyes raised back to her. “Youth, beauty, life. Things for which I didn’t pay, but you do, Mother. All this can still be missed.”
“I don’t want them anymore. I want revenge - and you should want it too! For this you were born!” She stopped abruptly, for through her daughter’ dirty cheeks tears were sliding. “Are you crying? Why do you cry? You have no feelings for it!”
“Despite the Holy Blood of the Mother, I’m still half-human. You gave birth to me for your revenge and the Mother gave me blood for Hers. I can’t be an instrument of both. I made my choice, Mother. I disown you.”
At that time, a shadow slid down the wall. Schäffer was silent and subtle, looking stunned at the scene.
“Schäffer.” Bathsheba looked at him. “I know you’ve been listening to it all secretly, since she murdered the hegumenos. You know what’s coming, and I hope for Giselle’s own good you’ll believe this more than she does. You must believe what you hear, and if you really love her, remove her from her stupid revenge, because,” she closed her eyes at that moment, “no one will remove her from the Mother’s plans. Her fate is the same as each one of ours - even mine.” She turned back to Giselle. “This is the last time we meet on neutral ground, Giselle. Next time you’ll believe in everything I say, since you’ll be fighting for your life. May the Mother have mercy on you.”
The Nephilim rose slowly, taking Marcus with her, and soon disappeared in the sky, turning a deaf ear to Giselle’s cries, whom Schäffer held to avoid her pounce on the brink.
Yes, something was awfully wrong with Wilbur’s corpse - it had already acquired the typical rigor mortis, but the skin had become strangely bruised and looked as if huge worms were sliding under it. It was unthinkable it had reached such a state of putrefaction in so little time...unless...
Kurtis bent over the lying body on the table, feeling an unpleasant premonition. Almost instantly, the corpse opened his eyes and looked at him - they were covered by a whitish layer, similar to the Sibilla’s blind eyes.
William let out a cry of horror at seeing his dead brother rising from the table and grabbing Kurtis’ neck. The Lux Veritatis struggled, but the strong creature clung to his throat, squeezing him with inhumane violence. Kurtis jerked back, dragging the corpse off the table, making it hang of his neck and falling to the ground like an empty sack.
The American barely had time to take a deep breath before that thing pounced on him again in a relentless struggle, ready to strangle him. The Lux Veritatis hit it with blows and kicks which would’ve crushed a living man, given his considerable strength, and actually broke bones and tore pieces of flesh - but couldn’t exhaust the unholy strength animating that corpse.
Through the red haze which clouded his eyes, Kurtis noticed Marie and Lara who looked on terrified - he should tell them what to do. He pulled one of the monster’s claws from his throat, tearing, incidentally, some strips of his own skin, and took breath to yell a single word: “Golem!”
That was enough for Marie, who, despite never having seen a golem before, knew what to do. She ran outside and took a burning piece of wood from the bonfire used for dinner and ran inside again.
Lara, who despite her injured status couldn’t overcome her nature as a woman of action, had tried to fend the creature from Kurtis twisting its neck horribly. The corpse’s vertebrae were broken with a snap, but that didn’t stop the monster at all.
“Step aside!” Marie yelled, putting the torch to the rotting leg of the golem. Lara did so, watching in horror as the dead skin crackled and set on fire.
There was a terrible risk of setting Kurtis on fire also, but when the rotten flesh began to burn, the creature loosened its grip. The Lux Veritatis busted its guts with a kick, so the thing staggered back, wrapped in flames, and stumbled onto the floor.
Kurtis coughed while a thin trickle of blood stained his T-shirt collar. William was screaming in horror, after watching the scene with wide eyes and without helping at all. Marie and Lara approached Kurtis, without losing sight of the flaming lump, Radha and Maddalena had arrived also and were embracing each other, when barely seconds had passed since the Indian girl had finished telling her own story. Finally, the being froze and became a charred mass - but it wasn’t over yet. Marie pulled a knife and leaning on the golem, she began to chop it while reciting aloud: “Golem of Darkness, I cut your fingers so you can’t return from the demon world to grab us. I cut your feet so you can’t chase us. I cut, at last, your tongue, so you can’t curse us. Return to the shadow from which you were born and leave this body you stole to rest in peace.”
Finally, Willian reacted: “What the hell are you doing? You’re butchering my brother!”
“It was not your brother.” Kurtis mumbled, his voice broken as a result of the struggle. “A vengeful soul took his body and drove away his soul, taking control of him - then tried to rape Lara and attacked me. If we don’t destroy it, it will rise again and again to accomplish its task. This is what the Order calls golem.”
“And... my brother?”
“He’s gone. He was gone even before Lara was attacked.” Kurtis concluded, and too exhausted to speak more, he withdrew to his tent.
“He’s injured!” Maddalena said, noting his bleeding neck, and started to go after him, but she stopped at Lara’s glance. The Italian woman blushed and decided to take Radha to her tent instead.
Lara cleaned the wound and then said: “I feel reassured now. There’s an explanation for what happened. But this new creature…the golem...why would it return from the dead just to rape a woman? I thought its mission was to kill.”
Reluctantly, for he didn’t feel like talking, Kurtis said: “It’s not a demon in the literal sense of the word. What took control of Wilbur’s body was a doomed soul, who sought to take revenge on those who wronged it. Whoever it may be, it’s someone killed by either you or me, Lara.”
“I’ve killed a lot of people.” She shrugged - then she realized that sounded too frivolous and corrected herself. “I’m not proud of it, but it seems impossible to figure it out. He’s not the first one to try to rape me, but…” That was hard to admit. “Yes, he’s the first one who almost made it. I couldn’t fight against him, he was too strong.”
“A recently dead, a bloodthirsty soul – easy to be manipulated by dark forces.” Kurtis shook his head. “I’m exhausted Lara, and you should rest too.”
It was the first night in a long time they didn’t make love, but she didn’t protest - at the end of the day, she felt terrible and he’d almost been choked to death. After a while she fell asleep, hugging his back.
But Kurtis couldn’t sleep... he couldn’t. No matter how exhausted he was, how tired of that endless struggle, neither sleep nor tears came to lighten the weight of his eyelids and the pain in his body.
For the first time in the depths of his conscience, Kurtis Trent realized he’d hit bottom. He couldn’t go on like that, wandering from place to place, dragging his beloved ones through all kinds of hardship, suffering, injury and certain death. It was time to make a decision - a decision that would only involve him. He knew that Lara wouldn’t agree, but she was no longer in a position to decide. He must do it for her, if she wanted to avoid further mishaps.
The Lux Veritatis sat up and looked at the sleeping woman by his side. Lara was strong and brave, and tough, very tough. But now she was pregnant and it was absurd to make her endure that relentless ordeal. Soon, her pregnancy would be too advanced and any effort or hardship could lead her to suffer a miscarriage, and possibly die. She didn’t want to see it, but that was the way things were. It was time to keep her safe.
Kurtis knew he wasn’t entitled to make plans for her. After all, he was neither her husband nor her fiancé; he was nothing but the man who shared her bed at night. He could be considered her lover, but that didn’t give him any power over her.
But he was the father of her child, yes. He was responsible for that life - and if she thought she could exclude him from that, she was wrong.
I wish I could have given you something better than this, he lamented. Since they were together, she’d been hungry and cold, suffered terrible wounds at the hands of his enemies. He was cursed, he brought pain everywhere. I told you, Lara. Why didn’t listen to me? You don’t regret it, but I do. Kurtis loved her too much to do that to her. One way or another, it was the end. He got up slowly, dressed with all the secrecy inherited from his two roots - both the Order and the Navajo people. Thoroughly equipped, he collected all his weapons, the beautiful Chirugai, everything that was his. Then he left quietly. He would’ve liked to kiss her one last time, but that would’ve awakened her.
Next morning, no one could find him. He’d vanished.