Chapter 5: Taming the Download
Nathanael and Bruce returned to the King’s Chambers forty minutes after having left. Upon entry, Nathanael noticed a single change of clothes on top of the dresser for both Hannibal and Selina. “Looks like someone brought Hannibal and Selina quick change of clothes,” Nathanael stated. “That’s good.” He saw a sleeveless, knee-length gray dress that resembled a nightgown in Selina’s pile. Grabbing the dress, he walked to the bed, looking over Hannibal and Selina.
“I’ll step out while you dress them,” Bruce stated. “Let me know when it’s okay to come back in.”
“I will,” Nathanael replied as Bruce stepped out, closing the door. Nathanael threw the blanket back and gently sat Selina up. In less than a minute, he’d dressed her and laid her down making sure the dress covered her properly. He then turned his eye to Hannibal, seeing him in the thigh-length boxers he wore. Returning to the dresser, Nathanael retrieved what appeared to be a gray pair of knee-length pajama bottoms and put them on Hannibal. “Okay, Bruce,” Nathanael called out after dressing Hannibal. “You can come back in now.”
Bruce re-entered the room, seeing Nathanael checking Hannibal and Selina’s vital signs. He watched Nathanael examine them closely, checking their eyes, breathing and pulse, all of which were normal except for the eyes, which remained severely dilated. “No change?” Bruce asked as Nathanael sat on the edge of the bed.
Nathanael sighed deeply, looking at Bruce. “No change,” he reported. “This is the part I hate the most about this: the wait.”
“Is there anything we can do?” Bruce asked. “Surely there’s something that we can do.”
Nathanael shook his head, saying, “No, there’s nothing that can be done except for prayer. Praying for them is the only thing we can do at this point.”
“That can be arranged,” a voice called out from the doorway. Nathanael and Bruce looked to the door and saw Nicodemus standing in the door. He immediately came in, followed by Dr. Drew, Hannibal’s team, and several guards. They all gathered around the bed.
“I see you made use of the clothes we left here while you were gone,” Nicodemus stated. “Were the clothes adequate?”
“Yeah,” Nathanael answered. “The clothes fit very well. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. We’ll bring more clothes for them shortly,” Nicodemus replied as both Dr. Drew and Arabella crawled on the bed to check Hannibal and Selina’s vitals. Nathanael backed away to let Arabella in.
“You cleaned and bound their wounds?” Arabella asked.
“Yes,” Drew replied as he felt for Hannibal’s pulse. “Nathanael and I treated their wounds the moment they got here.”
“You guys did a good job,” Arabella commended. “This is first rate work.”
“Drew is our primary physician,” Nicodemus stated. “He’s very good at what he does.”
“I can see that,” Arabella stated, feeling for Selina’s pulse on her neck.
“Their vitals are okay,” Nathanael reported as the rest of Hannibal’s team circled the bed. “I checked them just before you got here. They just haven’t come out of the download yet.”
After checking Hannibal carefully, Drew stated, “You’re right. His pulse and breathing are normal. What about his companion, Miss Bishop; how is she?”
“Pulse and breathing are normal,” Arabella reported as she sat beside Selina, stroking her hair gently. “But she’s in a strange sort of coma. Nathanael, has this sort of thing happened before?”
“Yes,” Nathanael answered. “The last time it happened was just before we made contact with you. They had an attack that lasted about a day.”
“Do their dilated pupils have anything to do with this malady?” Drew asked.
“It does,” Nathanael stated as Drew stood up, backing away. “There’s nothing left to do but wait. This is a result of Hannibal’s exposure to the Teacher at Tiamat.”
“I must trust you on this,” Drew stated. “This malady is beyond my skills. But if you need any help, don’t hesitate to ask.”
“Me too,” Arabella added. “I don’t understand what’s going on here, but if I can help, I will.”
“Thanks,” Nathanael stated as Harry approached the bed.
“Still out I see,” Harry observed, patting Nathanael on the arm.
“Yeah,” Nathanael stated. “I wish there was something I could do. I hate that I can’t do anything to help.”
“I know you do,” Harry reassured. “The Lord’s the only one who can bring them out of it.”
Nicodemus sat down on the bed next to Hannibal. He put his hand on Hannibal’s head, pushed his hair back, and opened his eyes, looking into them. “I can see he’s been smitten by the machine,” Nicodemus stated soberly.
“How did you know?” Harry asked in amazement.
“It’s in his eyes. You can see it in his eyes,” Nicodemus stated. “Besides, Nathanael and Argus told me about it earlier. I just wanted to get a closer look to be sure. Tell me exactly how this occurred.”
Nathanael glanced at Harry silently for a moment. “As I said earlier, we found a teaching machine where we came from,” Nathanael reported. “The thing zapped him with what Hannibal called the knowledge of the ages and it overwhelmed him. It injured him when it happened and he didn’t come out of it for thirty-two hours. After he did, most of what was imparted to him was lost to his conscious mind, though he did retain bits and pieces of what the machine showed him. The vastness of the knowledge would then slowly leak back into his conscious memory. It was roughly thirty days before we realized there were some serious long-term after-effects of it. Now, he has these attacks randomly in which the knowledge imparted to him by the machine suddenly overwhelms him in what I call a catastrophic download. All of what was imparted and lost suddenly cascades out of his unconscious memory, causing great pain and torment and reducing him to this state.
“The first time the download occurred was the day after he married Selina. That morning, he spoke to Harry and me about some strange effects the machine was having on him, particularly the opening of his telepathic potential with Selina. Later that day, we found them unconscious on the floor. Apparently, when Hannibal was smitten by the download, Selina, who happens to be a highly skilled telepath, used her abilities to try to determine what had happened by making telepathic contact with him. The download overwhelmed and snared her as well. Before it was over, the download had fused their telepathic link together so she’s unable to break contact with him and vice versa. What he feels, she feels, and the other way around, even pain and suffering. It is the strangest telepathic connection I believe I’ve ever encountered. So now, when the download strikes, it hits both of them simultaneously. I have some latent telepathic ability but it is nowhere near the strength of hers. Most of this information I’ve shared is from very brief contacts with her when these downloads occur, just for the purpose of determining what is going on. Usually I’m repelled by the download when I attempt to penetrate it. These downloads are vicious and brutal, literally imprisoning them in their own minds while it happens, putting them into this strange coma we’re seeing here. We’ve been powerless to do anything about it,” Nathanael reported.
Nicodemus rubbed his chin and pondered what Nathanael said as the guard and the new members of Hannibal’s team murmured quietly about it in wonder. “The symptoms you describe are vaguely familiar to me,” Nicodemus said. “Where was this machine exactly? You said it was where you came from. Where was that?”
Once again, Nathaniel and Harry looked at each other as the team quieted down. “Originally, we were a team of four: Harry, Hannibal, Selina and I,” Nathanael stated. “We came from the other side of the world with the use of technology we found in the Temple of Tiamat. The teaching machine, which is just one of many machines we uncovered, was found in the lower levels of a vast Library complex we found there. From what we’ve gleaned from the Library before we left, it has a complete history of humanity from the beginning. In fact, just before we left, information concerning the fall of Amacia was being uncovered.”
At the mention of the Temple of Tiamat, the guards began to whisper and murmur with great astonishment. Nicodemus immediately understood the nature of the malady through the prompting of the Holy Spirit and with the information given by Nathanael. “Tiamat…the prophecies are coming true. Oh, great Ancient of Days; your word is being fulfilled!” Nicodemus exclaimed. “Once again, the fabled places are coming to light as real and not stories. Karac had the fabled teaching machines like you speak of in the days before the Kragonar. It was a great city of learning and knowledge until just before our ruin in the 1st Age. Immediately before the Ancient of Days destroyed Amacia and banished us here to this grave, Karac was destroyed by a colossal earthquake, leaving it uninhabitable. There were many such teaching machines during that time according to the writings we’ve found. They were spread around the world and tapped several great Archives around the world, including the one at Karac for their knowledge. Highly trained and special people controlled the machines, teaching the common folk with them. If they were ever used by someone who hadn’t been trained to run it, something very similar to what ails these two would happen, according to the writings. Now we have knowledge of not just such a machine still existing but also having a complete Archive with it. This is truly great news.”
Nicodemus looked down at Hannibal and Selina as he sat there. Abruptly, he turned to Bruce and said, “Bruce…go fetch the elders. Tell them that we need their assistance here immediately. We’re going to pray for these two warriors who’ve been smitten by the machine. Then find Argus and tell him to come to the balcony. We may need his help as well with this.” Bruce nodded and sprinted from the room with the guards that had accompanied Nicodemus and Hannibal’s team.
Nicodemus looked at Nathanael and Harry confidently. “Don’t be afraid, my friends. I’m confident we can break through this thing,” he said with a smile. “The Ancient of Days has allowed this strange malady to overwhelm them periodically for some reason known only to Him. You said Hannibal exhibited new abilities when he initially came out of the machine?”
“Yes, Nicodemus,” Nathanael answered. “In fact, this is the third time the download has smitten them in the last week or so. Each time, the duration of the attack is less and each time when they come out of it, they exhibit either some new ability or knowledge about the ancient technologies and history. When Hannibal first came out of the machine, he could fluently read and speak the language that is your native tongue. That proved very useful when we were captured by the Zinzera and taken to Xabalba and the Circle of Hammunaptra where they forced Hannibal to answer several challenges.”
“You’ve seen the fabled Circle of Hammunaptra?” Nicodemus asked, his tone betraying his amazement.
“Unfortunately, yes,” Harry stated. “It’s most bizarre place I’ve ever seen. It had these giant stone statues that weren’t statues, but machines. Two of the statues looked like Nathanael and Selina and the one the Zinzera called the Caverias looks so much like Hannibal it’s scary.”
Nicodemus’ eyes grew wide and he insisted, “Tell me everything.” With that, Nathanael told Nicodemus of the Zinzera Trials Hannibal undertook at the Circle of Hammunaptra. He left out no detail, including the fact that he and the rest of Hannibal’s team were chained to racks waiting to be roasted if Hannibal failed the Trials. When Nathanael finished telling the tale, Nicodemus looked down at Hannibal with wonder. “The Circle of Hammunaptra is myth in these lands, as are the Challenges you spoke of,” Nicodemus explained. “An obscure portion of the prophecy concerning the One who was to come said that when the warrior comes to us, he would bring evidence of the mythic places and that he would have survived the Caverias Trials at the Circle of Hammunaptra. The evidence is stacking up that this man is the Warrior king who was to come and make an end of the Emperor’s tyranny. I would definitely like to speak to him about this event you told me about when he wakes.”
“I’m sure he’ll tell you all about it,” Nathanael stated. “I’m just happy he passed those trials. I haven’t been that fearful for my life since I was a lad.”
“I can understand that,” Nicodemus stated. “The Zinzera are known to us, but we haven’t seen them here since the old chief was captured by the Emperor some twenty-seven cycles ago.”
“You hear that, Nathanael,” Harry chimed. “That’s when Okoto told us the chief turned bad.”
“It’s indeed a strong verification of Okoto’s account,” Nathanael replied. “Fortunately for the Zinzera, they no longer have to fight his evil.”
“Getting back to Hannibal here and his encounter with the teaching machine, what else did it do to him?” Nicodemus asked.
“Well,” Nathanael stated. “In addition to him waking from the first download being fluent in your language, Hannibal also acquired specific knowledge about some of the technology in the Temple; knowledge that would have taken us years to search out. He could actually operate the machinery as if born to them.”
“He’s developing new skills and gifts because of this?” Nicodemus asked.
“Yes,” Harry said. “Nearly all of it has been an uncanny knowledge of things. The only thing I would call a gift is the telepathic ability with Selina he’s developed because of it. Then again, there are these other things he’s doing, like what happened when we were attacked by the beast-men.”
“I heard,” Nicodemus stated. “Argus, Joshua, and Doug told me about the incident. And if what you say about his encounter at the Circle of Hammunaptra is accurate, then he exhibited some of these powers there too.”
“We have no reason to lie about what we saw,” Harry intruded. “We all saw what he did to that thing in the pit arena at the Circle.”
“I didn’t mean to impugn your accounts,” Nicodemus apologized. “But you must understand. Your friend here has power he is totally unaware of…power to manipulate the very elements of nature like the gods of old. Only the Emperor and his Cadre minions have ever been able to use elemental power like this. It’s a disturbing development, but intriguing since Argus insisted that your friend isn’t being manipulated by the powers of darkness like the Emperor. I truly hope he can discover the truth behind this elemental ability he’s manifesting before it destroys him. Did he ever do this type of thing before coming here?”
“I don’t honestly know,” Harry said. “Hannibal told me that long ago, he used to do this sort of thing when he operated as what he called a wizard assassin for the masters of the universe on the surface. But he came out of that dark world long before I met him. All I have is his word that the demons that gave him that power have long since been removed from his person and soul. This seemingly magical activity didn’t erupt until we were taken to the Circle by the Zinzera. Then after we found the armory of the first Emperor of Amacia in Skull Pass, it seemed to grow within him. All this strange magical shit he seems to be able to do became really obvious after he took that sword from the Armory.” Harry pointed to Hannibal’s sword sitting in the corner, adding, “His sword glowed like it was red-hot when he did those things in the forest. I’m at a loss as to how or why these things are happening.”
“Hmmm, very interesting,” Nicodemus murmured. “You and your team raided the weapons vault of Bolthor Sai Keleb…another place only known to us through myth and fables. Our myths say the weapons of the first Emperor were not of this world, forged in other realms and possess great power.” As he spoke, a noise at the balcony attracted their attention. Everyone looked to the balcony and saw Argus peeking in the open door.
“That they were, Nicodemus,” Argus stated. “The weapons of the first Emperor were formidable in power, forged by the gods themselves in realms unknown to me. I have seen the sword Hannibal took from the Armory. It is the sword of Bolthor Sai Keleb himself. It’s a terrible weapon Bolthor used to channel his elemental power, tripling his strength, power, and cunning. Hannibal must be very careful in calling forth its power. It could destroy him if he’s not careful. It may also be why he’s exhibiting enhanced elemental abilities now. It’s awakening some long dormant power within him he’s unaware of that may have been inadvertently triggered by the Teacher at Tiamat.”
“So it would seem,” Nicodemus agreed, going to Argus. “I’m glad you could come, my friend. It looks like we could use your help with this. You have seen this download they are speaking of when they touched you at the gateway, correct?”
“Yes,” Argus answered. “I saw it clearly. That is why I went back for them.”
“So what course of action should we follow?” Nicodemus asked. “We’re planning on anointing them with oil and praying that the Ancient of Days would give them deliverance from the thing.”
“That’s a very wise course of action,” Argus said. “The Ancient of Days will honor such a request. What needs to happen here is they need to master the machine and the knowledge it imparted to them. Until they do so, it will continue to smite them sporadically like this.”
“Good. Very good,” Nicodemus said in a pleased tone. “We’re once again thinking on the same wavelength. When I heard there was a teaching machine at the Temple of Tiamat like those in Karac, I thought the same thing. They stumbled into it and it got them because they weren’t prepared to handle it.”
“That’s what I sensed too,” Argus replied. “What shall I do to help?”
“I’m thinking that you could pray with us and when it becomes possible, use your skills to reach them and help them tame the beast,” Nicodemus suggested. “I suspect that if this kind of problem continues to plague them, it will destroy them as it has destroyed others who fell into similar straits.”
“Very well,” Argus said. “I’ll do what I can; however, it is they who must ultimately tame this thing.”
As Argus spoke, Bruce returned with Joshua and eleven elders, who immediate gathered around to see the great warrior who needed their help. They immediately saw Nathanael standing next to Harry while Arabella sat with Selina on the bed. Upon seeing the two giant cats, the elders hesitated. Nicodemus noticed their arrival and their subsequent hesitation with Selina and Nathanael. He walked over and put his hand on Nathanael’s shoulder. “Do not be afraid, my friends,” Nicodemus declared. “These two great cats are part of the Eleven and the female is the celestial mate of the prophecies. I no longer have any doubt of who they are. Granted, they’re not what we envisioned them as, but it just goes to show you that what we think and what the Ancient of Days thinks is not always the same thing.” At that, they pressed forward and Hannibal’s team backed away, giving the elders room to approach the bed.
“What ails them?” one of the elders asked.
“Do you remember the stories about the teaching machines of Karac?” Nicodemus asked.
“Yes, I do,” the elder replied.
“Well, these two have been smitten by one of those fabled machines before they came here,” Nicodemus said.
“Where was it?” another elder asked.
“The Temple of Tiamat,” Argus answered. “They’re smitten by an overload of information from the machine. Their very life hangs in the balances. Should they not be able to tame the overload, it will destroy them.”
At the mention of the Temple of Tiamat, the elders murmured with astonishment and one of them asked, “What must we do?”
“That’s why you’re here,” Nicodemus said, approaching the bed and sitting down next to Hannibal, putting a friendly hand on his forehead. “We’re going to pray for their deliverance from the machine. Everyone gather around and those who wish to lay hands on them please do so. I want the elders up close and the rest of you move in behind them. Those who don’t lay hands on them, hold hands with each other. We’re going to pray for these two precious souls.” Nathanael sat down on the bed and laid hands on both Selina and Hannibal with Arabella and Harry, who laid his hands on Hannibal’s head. Half of the elders managed to lay hands on Selina and Hannibal and the rest of the elders knelt down. Morrison knelt with them as Thomas, Jonathan, Ned, Sam, and Cracko stood together, holding hands with each other and the remaining elders. The five of them watched with some unease, feeling a bit out of place.
A silence fell over the room as Nicodemus pulled out a small bottle of anointing oil, anointing Hannibal and Selina with the oil, murmuring something in the Stone Language. Next, he laid hands on both Hannibal’s and Selina’s heads and began praying. “Oh, merciful Father,” he prayed. “Almighty Ancient of Days…we humble ourselves and come before thee at this time in prayer for these two precious souls you have brought unto us. We know that they’re greatly afflicted and tormented by a terrible malady that you have allowed upon them. Oh, merciful Father, we know not why you have placed this terrible burden upon them, but we do know that it will be for your glory. What we ask now is that you relieve their suffering and touch them with your mighty hand. Deliver them from the torment of the ancient machines. Oh, Ancient of Days, deliver them and help them to master and tame the beast that imprisons them. We know you can do this because with you all things are possible. For who is like unto thee, o Father…great Ancient of Days? From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. Who can deliver out of thy hand? We know you can do all things, you who have created the universe vast and all the infinite worlds within it. Even now, you preserve us in the grave you buried us in with the Emperor and keep us from his vile hand. Is there nothing you cannot do? Deliver them from this dread peril.”
The elders prayed fervently, as did Nathanael, Harry, Arabella, and Morrison. Argus prayed also, probing with his great mind, seeking entrance into Hannibal and Selina’s minds. Ned, Thomas, Jonathan, Sam, and Cracko watched with interest and curiosity as the prayers continued. Deep within their hearts, in their own way, they prayed also for the deliverance of Hannibal and Selina. Suddenly, Nicodemus began to pray in tongues, which aroused the interest of the rest of Hannibal’s team. Then the elders started to speak in tongues, followed by Nathanael and Harry. For ten minutes, the praying in tongues continued.
Their prayers finally broke out of the dense Amacian darkness and reached the throne of Heaven, prompting an immediate response. The windows of heaven opened up and the Holy Spirit fell as a torrential downpour upon everyone. It fell upon Thomas, Ned, Jonathan, Sam, and Cracko, driving them to their knees in deep conviction. They began to weep and cry for their sin in repentance. Immediately, the elders around them noticed what happened and prayed with them. For the first time in their lives, Cracko, Sam, Ned, Jonathan, and Thomas knew without a doubt there was a God; that He was real; and they were sinners whom He wished to reclaim from the Darkness. They also knew without a doubt that Hannibal was a true visionary man of God who had tried to share his faith with them. They finally understood what Hannibal tried to tell them and accepted it as well has his position over them as a man of God like Nicodemus.
Nicodemus’ face began to shine as he prayed in tongues. Suddenly, he cried out in a very loud voice, “In the name of the Lord God, the Almighty Ancient of Days, we bind up this beast and release them from its grip! We command this beast to be tamed in the name of the Ancient of Days! Wake and be free from the beast!” His voice rumbled supernaturally throughout the room.
“Release them, in the name of the Almighty Ancient of Days, and be free,” Argus called out with great authority, backing up Nicodemus. Argus’ voice rumbled throughout the King’s Chambers.
Deep inside the battle zone of the mind, Hannibal and Selina prayed passionately for the release and taming of the download as they clung to one another. As they prayed, the maelstrom of the download raged at higher and higher levels, taking on a life of its own. It lashed them with the viciousness of a sandstorm. The longer they prayed, the worse the storm became. It raked and shredded at them, trying to break them apart to find an outlet. The storm began to be more and more malevolent in nature as they stayed pinned underneath it, stubbornly refusing to be separated by it, while it lashed them with the ferocity of a demon. Hannibal began sensing a vile, familiar darkness associated with the download, which galvanized his resolve to tame the beast that tormented them.
At the peak of the storm, they abruptly heard a faint voice on the storm saying, “Do not give up hope, my friends. Help is here. Keep praying and you’ll tame the beast.” Within minutes, the voice became more pronounced and clearer; it was Argus, who was praying for their deliverance. It strengthened them greatly to hear the ancient draken praying for their deliverance.
Then with one last great push, the storm reared up to devour them, becoming right down demoniac in its viciousness. With their newfound strength, Hannibal and Selina endured the torment as they prayed. Suddenly, a chorus of voices echoed through the storm with Argus’ voice. After a couple of moments, Selina recognized Nathanael’s voice amongst the chorus of voices praying for their deliverance. It’s dad! He’s praying for us! Selina said to Hannibal as they listened to the chorus of prayers get stronger and stronger.
Look! Hannibal said with wonder to Selina. The storm is being affected by the prayers. Let’s keep praying. Help has arrived. At that, they prayed even more sincerely. As the chorus of prayers in the storm rose, the storm began to recede, struggling futilely against the prayers. With the prayer chorus increasing in strength, Hannibal and Selina found the maelstrom slowly being tamed by them with the help of those prayers. Within the surge of the chorus of prayers they heard, Argus’ voice became clearer. He helped guide them in the taming of the download by telling them to direct their prayers at certain aspects of the maelstrom. A piece at a time, the storm dwindled under the withering attack of prayer. As they snatched out larger and larger chunks of information out of the storm, Hannibal and Selina noticed the crushing pressure of the download lifted a little more each time they tamed a piece of the information. This allowed them to move faster and with more ease in the taming of the information.
Suddenly, a voice boomed out of the chorus, “In the name of the Lord God, the Ancient of Days, we bind up this beast and release them from its grip! We command this beast to be tamed in the name of the Ancient of Days! Wake and be free from the beast!”
Half a second later, they heard Argus roar, “Release them in the name of the Almighty Ancient of Days, and be free!”
A coronal flash suddenly penetrated the storm and instantly dissipated it, freeing the minds of Selina and Hannibal. Hannibal and Selina suddenly bolted upright in the bed, gasping for air. They looked around wildly, panting heavily, and every nerve fiber in their body feeling like it was on fire. Almost immediately upon their awakening, the intense pain they felt began to slowly subside. Upon seeing each other, they embraced each other with great relief. “We’re free!” Selina cried as they hugged. They looked around and found themselves surrounded by their team and just as many strangers in a completely unfamiliar place. Selina laid eyes on Nathanael and threw her arms around his neck, overcome with emotion, crying, “Dad!”
“It’s all right princess. We’re here,” Nathanael replied softly, returning the embrace.
Hannibal looked around the room and saw Harry sitting next to Nicodemus, who had a smile on his face. Once he calmed down, Hannibal asked, “Where are we?”
“You’re in the Keep of Kaal Bek,” Nicodemus said. “Argus brought you here several hours ago when you were smitten. We treated your wounds and now the Ancient of Days has answered our prayers by waking you from your coma.”
“Oh, so this is why I’m dressed like this,” Hannibal surmised. “Who treated us?”
“Dr. Drew and I treated your wounds,” Nathanael stated, gesturing to Drew as he stood behind Nicodemus. “But I was the one who dressed you and Selina after treating your wounds.”
“Thank you,” Hannibal replied to both Nathanael and Drew. “I appreciate the help. Where are Joshua and Doug?”
“Over here,” Joshua called out as he stepped up to the bed. “Doug is on patrol right now. How are you feeling?”
“Like I was run over by a Mac truck,” Hannibal murmured. “I have a terrible headache too.” He continued to look around with some confusion as to where he was and who the strangers were. He turned to Nicodemus sitting on the bed next to him and asked, “Who are you, sir? You look strangely familiar.”
Nicodemus smiled and put his hand on Hannibal’s shoulder. “I’m Nicodemus, Hannibal Smith,” he replied warmly. “We have awaited your arrival for a very long time.”
“Nicodemus,” Hannibal said as he rubbed the side of his pounding head. “Nicodemus.” Suddenly, he understood and exclaimed, “The Prophet of Amacia! Oh, the Lord is so good!”
“Yes,” Nicodemus said. “I’m the prophet to the remnant of this cursed people. We’ve known of your coming for many cycles. Welcome to Arionath, Hannibal Smith.” He extended his hand to Hannibal, who shook it eagerly.
“One question: who are these with you? I know my team and I know Joshua and Argus there in the doorway. But who are the rest of these precious people?” Hannibal asked.
“They are the elders of Arionath,” Nicodemus said. “I called them here to pray for you and your wife to be delivered from what Nathanael calls a download.”
Hannibal’s face lit up with amazement as he asked, “You knew we were married? How?”
“Argus told me when you were first brought here,” Nicodemus replied. “What he told me confirmed what the Ancient of Days had already put in my heart about you. Then Nathanael here reinforced it when I talked to him after you arrived. He explained the situation thoroughly, telling us exactly what was going on. With the information we got from him and Argus about the nature of the machine, we decided that praying for your deliverance from the machine by the taming of the download was the only option. Everyone prayed...even these five.” He pointed at Ned, Sam, Thomas, Jonathan, and Cracko. “When the Spirit fell for the deliverance, you weren’t the only one that was delivered. They crumbled and repented of their sin,” Nicodemus said with a smile on his face. “It’s such a pleasure to see people truly repent like they ought to.”
Hannibal looked at them with shock as Selina latched onto his arm. “Is this true?” he asked them, noticing that their eyes were red with tears and a great sense of peace showed on their faces, a peace that he’d never seen on them before.
Thomas looked at his friends for a moment before answering. “I guess it is,” Thomas admitted. “I never knew that God would or could move like that. I immediately knew how wicked I was and that I had to repent. For the first time in my miserable life, I know there’s a God and that He really cares for us. I think I pretty much speak for all of us in that regard. It happened to all of us at the same time.” The rest of the five nodded and agreed with Thomas’ assessment.
Hannibal sighed and said with great satisfaction, “Looks like the Lord used this event to work a great deliverance for all of us: you from your sin and me and Selina from the terrors of the download. All the glory goes to Him for this. Thank you for your prayers. It wasn’t in vain.” He looked over toward the door to the balcony and saw Argus lying down on the balcony with his head peeking in the door. “Thank you, Argus,” he called out to Argus. “Your special prayers and help were a great strength to us. Thank you.”
“You’re most welcome,” Argus answered humbly. “I’m happy I was able to be of assistance. I’ve seen others who were caught in the machine like you were. They were destroyed by it because they weren’t able to tame that beast. You’re the first in almost twelve thousand cycles to survive and tame the effects of the teaching machine. I do believe that you and your mate being soul mates had a great deal to do with it. It took the combined energy of both your minds in prayer to master the machine.”
“I never thought about it like that,” Selina said, impressed with Argus’ deduction. “I guess we can just add that to the list of things the Lord has done for us.”
“Indeed,” Hannibal said. “I just want to thank you all for your prayers. We certainly wouldn’t have broken out of that prison without your help. We heard your prayers while we were in there. They were a sweet chorus that, as it rose, literally tore the storm to pieces. Thank you, and may all the glory go the Lord for this great deliverance of all of us. I am especially pleased that you, my friends, have come to know the truth. If you have any questions, feel free to ask any time.”
“Oh, you can be sure that we will,” Jonathan said.
“Let’s not tax him with questions now,” Nathanael spoke up. “Just look at them. They are exhausted, even though they are free of the download. I think we should give them time to rest.”
“Yes, that’s a good idea. Take your rest, son,” Nicodemus said to Hannibal. “You’ve had a very trying and taxing ordeal with the machine. There will be time for questions and discussions later. I’m going to let your team stay in this part of the keep with you. Their rooms are just down the hall from this room. I’ll also have some food sent up here for you.”
“Thank you, Nicodemus,” Hannibal said, slumping in weariness. “That would be great. We are very tired and weak from the ordeal.”
Nicodemus rose from his seat and waved to the elders, saying, “Let’s leave them be for now so they can rest. They have been on a long journey in more ways than one.” The elders individually greeted Hannibal and Selina with a handshake and a promise to be as helpful to them as possible. Within minutes, the elders and all of Hannibal’s team except for Nathanael and Harry had left the room. “I will send you some dinner within the hour,” Nicodemus stated. “Will that be all right?”
“Yes,” Hannibal replied. “That’ll be fine. Is there somewhere we can clean up?”
“The bath is through that door,” Nicodemus stated, pointing toward the small door on the far wall where Nathanael found the bathroom. “We anticipated that request. A full wardrobe is being gathered for both of you as I speak and will be sent immediately. When you are rested, we hope you will be able to join us at the dinner table.”
“We would be honored,” Hannibal answered warmly. Nicodemus nodded with satisfaction and left the room.
Harry sat on the bed next to Hannibal. Weariness and fatigue showed on their faces as Hannibal put an arm around Selina. “Are you all right?” Harry asked, putting his hand on Hannibal’s shoulder.
“Yeah,” Hannibal said wearily. “Thanks for asking. I see you all made it here.”
“We arrived about an hour ago,” Harry reported. “Nicodemus is much like Brother Paul. Do you need anything?”
“No,” Hannibal replied as he moved to get up. Harry stood to let him up. Hannibal stood up and almost immediately, his legs buckled under him. Harry caught him and sat him on the edge of the bed.
“You’d better take it easy,” Harry said.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” Hannibal returned. “It will pass in a few moments. I need to get up and move around.” Harry nodded and helped Hannibal up. Nathanael did the same with Selina, helping her walk around the room. Within a few moments, Hannibal and Selina were walking around slowly under their own power. Argus watched silently from the doors with some satisfaction at their quick recovery. Hannibal and Selina slowly walked over to Argus and looked him in the eye as Nathanael and Harry stood behind them. “Thank you, my friend,” Hannibal said gratefully. “It’s good to have friends like you. Is there anything we can do for you?”
Argus smiled. “No, my friend,” he replied. “Your heartfelt thanks are more than enough. If you ever need me, I’ll be there for you.”
Hannibal smiled as Selina wrapped her arms around Argus’ huge head, laying her head on his face, saying, “We will never forget what you did for us, Argus. You’re part of our family now.”
“Yes,” Hannibal agreed. “Consider yourself one with us. You’re part of our family now.”
Argus lowered his head and said softly, “You know…no one has ever done something like this for me, taking me into their family. The only one who has come close to doing what you’ve done is Nicodemus. We’re very close friends, almost brothers. But he has never made a commitment like you have just made. Do you realize that I’ve haven’t had a family in over seven thousand cycles. Even though most of the people are friendly toward me, I can tell that they fear me more than they love me.”
“You can tell that through your telepathic ability?” Hannibal asked as he held Selina’s hand.
“Yes,” Argus replied. “In a way, it’s a curse having this ability. It allows me to see and feel things in people that sometimes I wish I couldn’t see.”
“I know that feeling all too well,” Selina said. “It’s really tough being a skilled telepath. A lot of the time, I literally have to tune them out. But you can be sure of one thing. We were serious in our proclamation. If you want to be sure, just use your abilities to find out. You are now part of our family.”
Argus sighed with a great rumble coming from his chest. “I don’t have to,” he replied. “It’s written all over your faces and in your eyes. I can see it even in Harry and your father. If you need anything at all, I’m ready to help in any way I can.”
Hannibal smiled and said, “Sure. We’ll keep that in mind, brother. Now if you will excuse me, I need to clean up.”
Argus smiled broadly, replying, “Of course, brother. If you need me, just call my name. And Hannibal....”
“Yes?” Hannibal answered.
“You must be very careful with your elemental power,” Argus warned. “It’s a power only a handful of humans ever get to utilize without the assistance of the Dark Powers. It can destroy you if you don’t take proper control of it.”
Hannibal felt his heart fall into his feet. “I am aware of that,” he stated glumly. “I still don’t know what’s causing it to happen. Can you help me with this?”
“Of course,” Argus stated. “Right now, the only advice I can give you is keep that battle rage under control and be careful when using your sword. It has power you can’t imagine and may be triggering these dormant elemental abilities within you. If you keep your cool in battle and don’t let that rage of yours get off the leash, you should be able to control it.”
“That’s very sound advice. I scared myself with that last time; moreover, I don’t even remember it,” Hannibal said.
“In time, you will,” Argus said with a smile. “You don’t seem to know your true potential or understand your destiny in this place. I wish you could see what I do. You have no idea how important your coming to this cursed grave is to everyone. Everything is about to change in ways no one can comprehend.”
“I’m aware of that,” Hannibal murmured. “Please Argus…don’t let me do something stupid. I know there’s something about me that’s different from everyone else. I’ve always felt it but never understood why. I’m doing things by instinct that baffles even me, and it scares me. I don’t want to be a messiah. I just want to be me.”
Argus rumbled at Hannibal’s declaration. “I know you fear the Darkness with good reason,” he stated. “But you must understand. Things are in motion now that cannot be undone or stopped. Whether you will be a messiah to these people remains to be seen. I wouldn’t worry about that. Messiahs seldom know that they are messiahs until long after the fact. What you are is a born leader…a powerful warrior who cares a great deal for others. You now use that power and skill to protect the weak and helpless. It’s an admirable trait…one you should never turn your back on. It’s the same code your ancestors followed.” Argus smiled broadly, adding, “Just be yourself, my friend, and do like your scripture tells you: don’t worry about tomorrow for today has enough trouble of its own. Follow your instincts, and your God, and you’ll not fail as a man or a leader. I believe in you.”
Hannibal shook his head, smiling at Argus’ words. “You have put me in my place, Argus,” he stated with a chuckle. “Thank you. It shows me you are a true friend to be so brutally honest. I appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome,” Argus replied pleasantly. “You just needed a little verbal prodding to get you to remember. Now if I may make a suggestion. Both you and Selina should make use of the tub in the bathroom. It and the waters flowing through this fortress have healing properties that will help you recover.”
“I certainly will,” Hannibal stated as Argus backed away from the door, turning toward the rail of the balcony. In an instant, he spread his wings and took flight. Selina wrapped her arm around Hannibal’s back, leaning on him slightly as he put his arm around her. They looked at each other silently for a moment.
“Our family gets stranger by the day, doesn’t it?” Harry blurted out.
Hannibal and Selina turned toward him and Nathanael as Harry spoke. “I guess it does,” Hannibal stated. “You have no idea how alone Argus has been. I can see it in his eyes. He did us a great service while we were under the download. His assistance will be invaluable in dealing with the Emperor.”
“I’m sure of that. He is a fire-breathing draken, after all,” Harry answered as Bruce returned with a couple of men. Everyone noticed their arrival. They bore two covered plates of food and a small portable table. The man carrying the table set it up and the man with the plates sat them on the table as Bruce retrieved two chairs from around the bedroom, sitting them either side of the table.
“What would you like to drink?” Bruce asked.
“Oh, water will do for now,” Hannibal said as they approached the table.
Selina nodded in agreement, saying, “Water will be fine for me too.” A strange, pleasant aroma drifted from the covered plates.
“Very good,” Bruce said as he motioned for one of the men to get the drinks. “I checked about your clothes and Nicodemus said they weren’t ready yet. He’ll have them sent up as soon as they’re gathered. That goes for your team as well.”
“Thank you, Bruce,” Selina purred. “We appreciate that.” As she spoke, the man Bruce sent for the drinks returned with them, sitting the glasses of water on the table next to the plates.
Bruce motioned to the two men and they left. “If you need anything else, I’ll be around. Just let me know,” he declared.
“Thanks,” Hannibal said gratefully, shaking Bruce’s hand firmly.
“I’ll check in later to see if everything’s okay,” Bruce replied as he turned and walked out of the door.
“Come on, Harry,” Nathanael said. “Let’s leave them alone.”
Harry nodded and said to Hannibal, “If you need us, Nathanael and I are right next door.” Hannibal nodded as Nathanael gently put his hands on Harry’s shoulders, pushing him out the door.
“Have a good night, you guys,” Nathanael said, closing the door behind him.