Chapter One - His Assignment
Vatican City, Rome
A low tenor humming of male angelic voices covered the Holy Room as Father Azrael stepped inside.
The smell of incense immediately greeted his nostrils; an odor he has never been accustomed to since he was ordained three years ago when he was twenty-six years old.
A wrinkle formed above his nose. Disgusted — that’s what his mind strained to confess.
Yes. He was the only priest that despised the lingering smell. This was exactly why he never headed a mass in St. Peter’s Basilica nor any church for that matter.
Donned on his black nonliturgical robe and a pectoral cross made of platinum around his neck, he continued his way towards an aged man sitting in a recliner chair near the fireplace.
The room they were in was dimly lit with yellow lights. An unlit iron-wrought candle chandelier hang in the center where a set of Victorian furniture was placed right below. The carpet was a deep burgundy with intricate designs of the papal insignia. In the dextral side of the room, one can see an old oaken desk with a stack of books, an antique lamp, a spread of blank parchments and a bulky brown envelope. It showed that the Pope had just decided a momentary breather from his papal paperworks.
“Your Grace,” Father Azrael spoke in a deep, languid voice. He knelt down in front of the Holy Pope, Pope Benedict the First, and leaned forward to kiss his holy ring.
Pope Benedict made a sign of the cross above his head in return. ”In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen. May God’s grace be with you always.”
The latter just dipped his head once in reponse.
The Pope gestured for him to sit in a nearby chair to which Father Azrael did, feeling relaxed despite the scent surrounding the room. His back was bent forward, his elbows pressed on his knees, and his hands clasped together like a normal priest would do.
“You look good,” the Pope started with a small smile.
Father Azrael cocked a brow. “Don’t I always look good?” he fired back.
“Hmmm... yes you do, and I am getting old.”
“When is your age beginning to bother you, Your Grace?” he clarified, sending the Pope a confused look.
“Since you stepped inside that door,” Pope Benedict promptly answered. His voice was too soft, too tender for the younger priest to even consider it a joke.
Father Azrael cleared his throat and then shifted his position upright. He placed his elbows in the armrests and looked at him like a businessman would to his customer.
The Pope waved a hand in the air and groaned softly before saying, “Enough about that. Now, let’s talk about sensitive issues.”
Father Azrael knitted his brows. “Sensitive huh.”
There were no other priests except the two of them and he began to think that this was one of those times when the Holy Father gives him a mission that pertains most specifically to another kind: the demons.
“There has been recurrent attacks by dark entities in a certain place,” Pope Benedict started. “I had already sent other exorcists to do the job, but still the problem persists. My guess is, there are high-class demons working behind the scenes. This is where you come in, Azrael, since I know this is your...specialty.”
Father Azrael remained silent. He just stared at the Pope without reservation and listened intently on the matter at hand.
“I want you to investigate and see what this problem is,” the Pope added, his voice sounding grave.
A deep sigh escaped from Father Azrael when he closed his eyes. “Have I got any choice?” he remarked. “I am always at your disposal, Your Grace. I trust that you have contemplated a hundred times about you sending me there? You know what possible consequences are at stake.”
After clearing his throat, the Pope promptly answered, “Yes, I have contemplated about it for quite some time. I even prayed for enlightenment from our Creator.”
“And were you enlightened?” Father Azrael raised his brow again.
Pope Benedict’s reply was soft and true that the exorcist priest could no longer argue about it. There was nothing he could do anyway. It was expected of him to do whatever the Pope requests whether he liked it or not.
“Now, take this,” Pope Benedict said whilst taking the bulky brown envelope from the desk and offered it to him.
The younger priest took it without hesitation, ultimately assigning himself the task.
“Inside that sealed envelope is detailed information about the place, the history of the charity house, the personal data of the staff, and the children also. And of course, all of the demon attacks recorded thus far.”
Father Azrael shifted his attention to the flames dancing on the hearth. These flames reminded him of something...something dark, dangerous and utterly unnatural, but only a mere speck of it however.
“By attacks, you mean...demon possession?” he inquired.
“Yes,” the Pope replied and nodded, “and a couple others of course.”
The hint in his voice was clear enough for the exorcist priest to notice. It seemed that this ‘job’ might not be as easy as he thought it would be.
“Hmmm... I’ll see what I can do then,” Father Azrael, in finality, answered, then dismissed himself in front of the Pope. There was no reason for him to stay any longer anyway.
Pope Benedict nodded, waving a hand to accept his leave, but as soon as Father Azrael was halfway across the room, he said, “And Azrael...”
The younger priest paused.
“Try to be discreet this time.”
As a sign of respect, Father Azrael turned his head to the side. The yellow light kissed his profile just barely leaving a dark outline in his eyes and the bridge of his nose. A sinister smile broke from his lips then and the Pope didn’t miss it.
"Cercherò,” he answered with confidence and continued on his way.
Pope Benedict sighed. For an old servant of God, he had already experienced a lot and so much more now that he became the pope. This made him a brave man, but as he watched the younger priest exit the door, his senile eyes showed a flicker of fear - fear of what might come once he starts this so-called investigation.
“I pray you will Azrael. I Pray. You. Will.”