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Journey, by tirnanog

Part 9-10

Make of him who you will. Like a wind-whipped nightflame
into the lamp's mantle I place myself inside him.
A flare grows steady. Might Death
less darkly find his way.

Rainer Maria Rilke, "The Spanish Trilogy," III

Part 9

Darius and Daray passed their long night's vigil quietly, playing chess, remembering old friends and times gone by, and just sitting in silence, taking comfort in each other's company. And in the dark hour before dawn, the last two Brothers of the long-forgotten order of St. Julien le Pauvre celebrated a final Mass together, on the same Holy Ground where they had met fifteen hundred years ago. Chanting the liturgy in unison, their voices became one mighty voice rising triumphantly to fill the little church with their song. They shared the wafer and the wine, and said the final blessing just as the morning light began to shine through the east windows into the apse.

"Ite, Missa est," Darius said. "It is time." Then he took Daray to the crypt below the altar. Neither could find the words to say farewell. After a last embrace, Darius left his friend sitting in the dark on a flat-topped tomb, and went to keep his appointment with the Watchers.

He waited in the church for a very long time, nerves strained to the breaking point. He had steeled himself for this moment, believing he knew when it would come. But no one came to disturb the peace of the little sanctuary. 'If it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all,'  he thought, remembering Hamlet. Perhaps tomorrow, then. Or dare I hope, never?

He returned to the rectory, intending to liberate Daray from the crypt. But as he passed the study door, he hesitated. Give it a little longer, he thought. He went into his study from force of habit, and looked around, checking to make sure he hadn't forgotten to do anything important. Everything seemed to be in order. He had even remembered to leave the marker for Duncan to find—he could see it now, the scrap of tartan stuffed into a crack in the wall, marking the place where the Fifth Chronicle was hidden. He had felt that Duncan deserved to know about the Watchers, despite Enkidu's warning about starting a panic. Duncan was the best student he had ever had, and Darius wanted to make certain that he survived, because he believed Duncan had an important destiny to fulfill. The fire-damaged Watcher Chronicle, which had come into his hands five centuries ago, would provide his student with an introduction to the organization's activities and purpose, and the coded address of Joe Dawson's bookshop in Seacouver would lead Duncan to his Watcher's doorstep. Darius was afraid to leave a clearer message, lest it fall into the wrong hands. But he felt certain Duncan could figure it out.

Now that it seemed that the Angel of Death had passed him over for one more day, he realized how very tired he was. He sat down at his desk for a moment, resting his face in his hands, and tried to pray. 'If it be not now…'

The silence was broken by the faint, but distinctive creak of the church doors opening, which echoed in the empty church and through the stone passageway into the rectory. Darius jumped to his feet. For a second, he hesitated. This was not as he had expected—he suddenly felt unprepared. Part of him wanted to fight, and yet another part wanted to flee. But the spirit of the Holy Man within him gave him the strength he needed to face the challenge with peace in his heart. Resolutely, he went out to meet his destiny. Entering the passageway, he heard the telephone in the study begin to ring, but there was no time to answer it now…

Just as he reached the church, he saw a group of men with their backs to him walking down the south aisle. They disappeared into the apse behind the wooden screen, moving stealthily, as if searching for someone. Darius walked quickly to the altar, and picked up the chalice filled with Holy Water. Just as he did so, the men emerged from the apse and saw him.

The priest and the Watchers stared at each other for a second. Darius noticed that two of them carried guns. Their leader, a small blond man with cruel eyes, removed a short, ugly-looking sword from beneath his trenchcoat, and gave a signal to the gunmen. They lunged towards the priest. Just before they pinned his arms behind his back and forced him to his knees on the worn carpet before the altar, he flung the contents of the chalice on the blond man and the weapon in his hand, saying the words of blessing, "In Nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, Amen."

Darius clearly saw the Watcher tattoo on the man's left wrist as he raised it to wipe the water from his face. "Abomination!" he spat out scornfully, "Is that the best you can do? Holy Water and Latin will not save you from the judgement that is to come." He deliberately crushed the chalice beneath his foot to emphasize the threat and kicked it into the rows of chairs.

The priest looked up at him fearlessly. "I merely wished to cleanse the blade," he said in a calm, clear voice. Through the iron grating under the thin carpet beneath his knees, he could feel Daray's presence below him in the crypt, giving him courage. "Why must you do this?" he asked in a reasonable tone. "I am not your enemy—none of us are. By the Power that made us both in His image, I ask you to stop this insanity before it is too late."

The man's pale eyes flashed with hatred. "I will silence your blasphemy, Demon," he said coldly. "You have defiled this church for the last time." Stepping to the side, he raised the sword high above his head, poised to strike. But Darius did not look at him. Instead, his eyes turned upward to see the rose window in the west wall, its iron supports forming the shape of the cross within the circle. And in that final instant of his life, it seemed to him that it was blazing with all the glory of the sun.

In the crypt below the altar, Daray sat alone in the pitch dark, listening to the muffled footsteps and voices above him. He could not make out everything that was said, but the meaning was clear. It took all the willpower he could muster to remain calm and still, when every fiber of his being screamed at him to run to the church to save his friend. Daray took a deep breath, trying to slow his racing heart. He could feel Darius just above him, and hear his voice as he reasoned with the killers. Darius could be very persuasive—if anyone could convince them…

There came the sound of something heavy falling, followed by silence, and a sickening feeling of isolation. Daray suddenly realized that he could no longer sense Darius' presence. He opened his mouth to cry out, but only a whisper came from his throat. Then he felt something dropping through the grate onto his upturned face, and his nostrils flared at the metallic scent of blood. I will send you all to Hell! he thought. But before he could act on this impulse, the first surge of the Quickening descended upon him from above, forcing him back down on the tomb and driving all the air from his lungs. Breathless, blinded, deafened, and overwhelmed by its terrible power, he felt the life within his body flare wildly like a candle in a hurricane, and go out…

The cold-eyed Watcher stepped forward and wiped the bloody sword on the robes of his decapitated enemy. "Hide the body behind that pillar for now, and help me search the rest of this place," he ordered. "You know what to look for." He turned, and without a backward glance marched down the nave in the direction of the sacristy.

"Mr. Horton…" one of the men called after him.

Horton looked over his shoulder. "What is it?" he demanded irritably.

The two men carrying the body had let it drop abruptly to the floor behind the pillar and were backing away from it as if it were a live bomb. One of them glanced at Horton with terrified eyes. "I thought you said this could never happen!"

His companion, still looking fixedly at the body, murmured, "Oh, merde…"

Horton stomped back impatiently to see what these fools were talking about, then stopped short and stared in disbelief. A glowing white mist was forming over and around the body. It billowed and flowed along the floor following the trail of blood to the place where the priest had died, then slowly rose upward, forming a great pillar that extended all the way to the vaulted ceiling. The pillar began to revolve slowly, emitting a powerful roaring sound that hurt their ears.

As Horton and his men watched in horrified fascination, the column of swirling mist began to seeth with flickering blue flames that hissed and crackled, but consumed nothing. Bolts of thin-branched lightning shot down the center of the maelstrom, striking the floor and vanishing into it. The hum grew into an intolerable roar, forcing the cowering men to cover their ears.

"Out! Out of here now!" Horton bellowed, backing off. He could barely hear his own voice shouting and he felt as if his limbs were made of lead. It wasn't supposed to be like this… and on Holy Ground… suddenly, he felt very, very afraid. A brilliant flash of white light assaulted his eyes, and a powerful gust of wind tore down the nave of the church, flinging chairs in every direction and driving the Watchers before it like dead leaves. They tumbled and fell and rolled all the way to the west doors, and then ran out into the street as if all the angels of Heaven were after them. Piling into a silver minivan, they raced away, tires squealing, just as a black Citroen turned into the other end of the Rue St. Julien…

Inside the church, the fearful phenomenon subsided, vanishing into the floor before the altar, leaving not a trace to mark its passage except for the scattered chairs, the only remaining testament to its fury.

My silent heart lie still and break:
Life, and the world, and mine own self are changed
For a dream's sake.

Christina Rossetti, "Mirage"

Part 10

The long night was over, and both Enkidu and Diana were talked out. They watched together in silence as the eastern sky flamed with rose and gold light, and the first thin edge of the sun's disk showed itself above the horizon. "Come," Enkidu said, with a yawn and stretch, "I think I am ready for some coffee. Will you join me?"

Diana shook her head. "No, thanks. I think I'm going to sit here a bit longer, and then I'm going to try to get some rest."

He looked at her. She seemed somewhat drawn and pale, and the hollows of her cheeks were more pronounced than usual. Perhaps it was only the light, or lack of sleep. He left her sitting there and went to the refectory for breakfast. Most of the brothers were already seated. Spotting an empty chair beside Brother Michel, the infirmarian, Enkidu joined him. "I am a little worried about Diana, Brother. She was awake all last night. I believe she is having some difficulty with the nightmares again, but as usual, she is reluctant to ask for help. Would you mind seeing her?"

"No problem," Michel said. He was a cheerful, competent young fellow, fairly new to the order, but Enkidu had a great deal of respect for his opinion. "Of course, if she is still suffering from bad dreams after this length of time, I believe we should consult with your friend Sean Burns again. But I will be happy to have a word with her. Where is she, by the way? I haven't seen her here this morning."

"She decided to skip breakfast. I last saw her in the rose garden, but she said she was going back to the guest house to rest. There is no hurry."

But when the two men left the building together some time later, Enkidu saw that Diana was still on the bench where he had left her. He nudged Michel, and pointed her out. Michel nodded. "No time like the present," he said.

"Give me a minute, and then come over," Enkidu suggested. "Otherwise she will know we have been conspiring together." He walked back to the garden. "Still here?" he asked. "You will grow roots if you stay here much longer, you know."

She smiled. "Sorry. I guess I've been daydreaming, since dreaming at night seems to be a risky proposition these days. I'm leaving right this minute." She stood up as if to go. Then he saw her tired face light up as she gazed past him down the path. "Darius!" she exclaimed, and went past Enkidu at a run. He turned around just in time to see her fall face down on the empty path. He turned her over, and felt for a pulse but could not find one. Looking back over his shoulder, he shouted to Brother Michel.

Michel was already running to help. "There was no warning. She just collapsed, and her heart has stopped beating," Enkidu explained breathlessly as Michel knelt down across from him and expertly pressed two fingers against Diana's throat.

"Go and call the paramedics," Michel said calmly, beginning CPR. "I'll take over here. Why don't you say a prayer, while you are at it, Brother?"

Enkidu sprinted to the nearest phone in the dormitory office and made the emergency call. What could possibly have brought this on? he wondered. She was young and fit, hardly a likely candidate for heart problems. Then he remembered. Darius. Just before it happened, she had spoken of Darius. No, that was not right—she had spoken to him, as if he were there. Suddenly, it hit him. Perhaps Darius was dead, killed in his church as he himself had forseen. Diana had shared his nightmares—might she also share his death? And Daray… also at St. Julien… what had become of him? Fearing the worst, Enkidu dialed the number for the rectory. He let the phone ring a dozen times, but there was no answer.

He took the stairs up to his room three at a time, snatched up his sword and the car keys, and raced to the parking area. Shoving the blade between the front seats of the station wagon, he floored it, spraying gravel all the way down the drive, oblivious to the surprised glances of the Brothers who saw him. As the wagon fishtailed out onto the main road to Paris, he saw the ambulance just arriving. For a second, he thought of Diana, and said a prayer on her behalf, but he could not do anything more for her just now. He knew she was in good hands. He wondered whose hands Daray was in, and hoped he was not already too late.

Enkidu drove like a madman. The amount of traffic increased the closer he got to Paris, which forced him to slow down somewhat, but he begrudged every second, and took every chance he could to speed his arrival. Changing lanes repeatedly, he considered what he might find when he got there. Darius he had little hope for, alas. The priest had seen the path that lay before him, and chose not to turn aside. But Daray was another matter. He might have left St. Julien before anything happened, or he might be dead, or he might be a captive. If the latter were true, his captors could try to extract information from him, but since they were Watchers surely they had access to whatever information the organization had in its possession. Unless they merely wished to torture an Immortal for pleasure, they would probably kill him fairly soon, which made it imperative to find him. It also occurred to him that he might find the church and rectory occupied, or watched, by the regular Watchers, the renegades, or the Paris police.

With all these possibilities spinning around in his head, Enkidu took precautions once he reached the Latin Quarter, parking in a side street rather than in front of the church, and choosing the north side entrance over the main doors. As he approached the building, his heart sank. He could detect no Immortal presence within. It appeared that Darius and Daray were either dead, or gone. But he needed to know for sure. Quietly he slipped inside.

The church seemed, as always, dim and very peaceful. It also appeared to be quite empty. But as he walked down the north aisle towards the apse, he notice that certain things appeared to be slightly out of place. A Bible sat crookedly on a lectern, and in the nave, the rows of chairs looked somewhat misaligned. Beneath one, he spotted a pewter chalice, the soft metal crushed in on one side. He picked it up, and with a little shudder, remembered the chalice in Darius' dream. Further on, near the little Chapel of St. Joseph, he found what he had been dreading--a body lying hidden on the floor behind a pillar, decently covered with what appeared to be an altar cloth. He lifted the edge of it. "Darius," he said, his voice filled with sorrow as he saw how the priest had died.

Gently he laid his hand over the stilled heart. "Farewell, old friend. Your real journey has just begun." He let the cloth fall back into place, wondering who had put it there, but he had no time to ponder this now. From where he stood, Enkidu could see small traces of blood on the floor, leading in the direction of the altar, and the remains of some larger stains on the rug in front of it. Someone had obviously moved the body, hidden it, and tried to clean up as much of the mess as possible. He started towards the altar, searching for more clues.

Then he felt it—very faint but distinct—the presence of another Immortal. He set the chalice on the altar and looked about him, but he saw no one else in the church. "Enkidu of Akkad," he said, giving the formal declaration. "This is Holy Ground. Come forth and identify yourself." But all he heard in reply was a low groan that seemed to come from beneath the floor where he stood. He got down on his knees and rolled back the edge of the rug, revealing a metal grate with a decorative rondel pattern. "Daray?" he said, directing the question to the dark opening. An incoherent mumble came back to him through the grate, and he could feel the Immortal's presence more strongly in this spot.

He must be in the crypt, Enkidu thought, trying desperately to remember something Darius had mentioned to him about the place in the recent past. They had been in the cellar of the rectory, bringing up bottles of mead for James Connolly's funeral reception… the cellar—that was it. The entrance was there.

"I am on my way," he reassured the man in the crypt before replacing the rug and heading for the rectory. Despite the urgency of his mission, he entered cautiously, not knowing who he might encounter. But the rectory, too, seemed empty. Descending into the large cellar room where Darius brewed, aged and stored his mead, he saw that it looked very much as he remembered—wooden bins full of bottles, shelves filled with equipment and supplies, carboys of mead in various stages of the brewing process. But he saw no other door besides the one he had come through.

Enkidu looked at the south wall, the one closest to the church. A row of wooden shelving units stood against it. He went over to them, and noticed, on one of the shelves, fresh fingerprints in the dust near the edge. He grasped that shelf and pulled, and to his relief, the entire center unit swung out from the wall, revealing a doorway, and a dark passage.

Light. His eyes searched the cellar. He found an electric torch on one of the shelves, and said a grateful thank-you to Darius for the still-fresh batteries. Seconds later, he reached the musty-smelling crypt, and found Daray lying like the marble effigy of a dead knight on top of a tomb. His pulse and respiration were very weak, but he was alive and marginally responsive, reacting to the light by trying to cover his eyes with one hand. His face and chest were spattered with dried blood. Enkidu shone the light upwards at the metal grating in the ceiling above the tomb and saw the underside of the stained rug showing through it. "By the One!" he whispered, suddenly realizing what had taken place here. "Darius, what have you done? A Quickening on Holy Ground? Who would have thought it possible?" Given the generally accepted view on such a thing, it was a miracle that the church was still here, let alone any survivors. The implications of this could be enormous, but he had other things to think of now, chief among them the safety of the barely-breathing Immortal in front of him.

"Daray," he called urgently, trying to rouse him. "Wake, my friend. We must leave this place before we are discovered." The other Immortal stirred slightly, but was unable to sit up or to speak. Enkidu set the torch on one end of the tomb, directing its beam towards the way out. Then he raised Daray into a sitting position, swung his legs over the edge of the tomb, and with an effort, tipped his friend's body over his shoulder in a "fireman's carry." Daray was a large man and his weight was a crushing burden, but somehow the Akkadian managed to stagger all the way into the cellar, and against incredible odds, up the steep stairs without dropping him or falling. In the rectory kitchen, he put Daray into a chair. There was no way he could carry him to the car. He would have to get him mobile somehow.

He wet a towel with water and wiped away Darius' blood from the pale face. Baptized with the blood and the Quickening of a friend on Holy Ground—small wonder he was so overcome. A half-filled bottle of mead sat on the counter. Enkidu poured some of it into a glass, diluted it with water, and helped Daray to drink, ignoring all the rules about giving fluids to the semi-conscious. Luckily Daray did not choke, and the sweet wine seemed to help—his friend was finally showing some signs of recovering. He obviously recognized Enkidu, although he had still not spoken, and he was able to sit upright now. Enkidu judged he might be able to walk with help.

"Come," he said, taking his friend's arm and getting him on his feet. Daray staggered badly, but did not fall. Together, they left the rectory by the back way, and moved slowly throught the garden to the side street where the car was parked. A chance encounter with a policeman gave Enkidu a bad moment, but, "A bit too much to drink, Officer," sufficed to explain the situation, especially with Daray smelling of the mead he had just consumed. The policeman was only too glad to avoid running in another drunk. He helped Enkidu put Daray into the wagon, admonishing him avoid doing this again in future, and shortly thereafter, the two Immortals were on their way to St. Jerome.

Enkidu regretted leaving the priest's body behind at the church. He would have preferred to personally insure that it was treated with the respect it deserved, but he considered his first responsibility was to the living Immortal in the car beside him, the Immortal who now carried Darius' Quickening. He knew that Darius would understand.

This story is Copyright ©1998 by tirnanog and may not be reproduced without permission.

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