131 - Chicago
SEVERAL WEEKS AGO Chanting in what felt like Latin–although a good portion of the words I’d never heard before–brought me back to the days when I’d been studying at the seminary. There had been many a class where we’d been expected to know the exact text of manuscripts that predated the English language itself by hundreds of years–translations not allowed.
I’d been a decent student, nothing spectacular but not terrible either. And I wasn’t the only one that only halfway understood most of what was going on in those older texts at the best of times.
This felt a lot like that. A whole collection of half remembered conjugations combined with what felt right. I could only hope that the pronunciation wasn’t as particular as the placement of the stones and the ratio of the herbs. If it was, I might just have been in some trouble.
The first thing that we had to do was bring Alex to us. We had his earthly remains, but for what we were trying to do, that wasn’t going to be enough. We needed to bring his spirit back together with his ashes in order for the former to move on. So the first thing we had to do was to summon the dead.
A part of me wanted to go get that piece of pottery. The more I thought about it, the more I was sure it was more closely tied to everything that had gone on than anyone–except perhaps Michael–had really realized. But Sister Kat’s instructions had been clear and she had warned me against deviating even slightly from them. So that was off the table.
So that left the chanting.
I stood at the table, reading from my notes while the girls stood and sat on one side of the room–Mrs. Claire had taken a seat and was watching with some fascination while at the same time Amanda was pacing yet refusing to meet either the gaze of anyone else in the room. Against the opposite wall, John Smith stood, his gaze unfocused. I doubted he wasn’t paying attention though.
Looking at him, I had the sudden suspicion that his breathing was too slow, that his skin was too pale, anything to convince me that his story was true. But I wasn’t having any luck. So far as I could tell, he was every bit as alive as I was. So if there was no difference–other than an apparent immunity to harm–then what did it mean for him to have been dead? Was it possible that he had been mistaken, that he wasn’t actually dead after all?
All of these thoughts flitted through my head as I read. I knew in the back of my mind that I should have been paying closer attention to what I was reading, but since I couldn’t understand more than one word in three, it was hard to focus on. I was reading something about calling and binding now, I recognized the verbs if nothing else.
Abruptly, there was a brilliant flash of light and a sudden smell of charcoal in the air as the plate of herbs suddenly lit on fire. It burnt brightly, white hot, but only for a few moments before fading to a more normal ruddy gold colored flame. The herbs barely seemed to be consumed by the fire which was strange, but at the moment, I had bigger concerns in mind.
For at the very same time that the herbs had ignited, suddenly there was Alex, standing there across the table from me. He had a dangerous look on his face, his lips curled up in a cruel snarl. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see even the slightest surprise flickering across his face at having been brought here, which brought to mind one rather terrifying possibility.
He knew exactly what we were trying to do and was now buying his time, trying to come up with some way to stop us.
132 - Rome
PRESENT DAY I woke with a jerk and it took me several long seconds to figure out what in the world was going on.
My mind stubbornly refused to believe that I could have awoken anywhere other than my own bed, but my own bed was several thousand miles away.
It also tried to tell me that none of what I’d experienced in the past few hours could have been real, that it must have all been some sort of elaborate dream.
Waking up to the faces of Father Antonio and the other passerby that had been at the square quickly disabused me of that notion.
To my surprise, we must still have been driving. I could feel as much as hear the drone of the engines still pushing us along–although they seemed deeper than when I’d gone to bed. To my dismay, however, whatever road we were on felt almost perfectly flat and smooth. That must have meant that we’d left the city; after so many centuries of being built and rebuilt, Rome had rather an organic feel to it. This felt to precise, too mechanical.
I noticed that neither of the guards–at least that was how I thought of them; I hadn’t really been given any evidence to the contrary–was looking, so I took the opportunity to catch Father Antonio’s eyes and mouth a few words to him.
“Where are we going?”
The way that he shook his head told me all that I needed to know. It didn’t matter that he was actually from around here and should–theoretically–have known the area better. He didn’t have the slightest idea where we were going, any more than I had when I’d fallen asleep.
Now awake and at least somewhat rested, I took another look at the men who had kidnapped us. Nothing had changed about them though, they still could have been just about anyone. But it was because I was studying them so closely that I managed to come across one potential solution to our problems.
It was a long shot, I knew that, and not really one that I would have taken under any better circumstances. But then again, if it had been any other circumstances, we wouldn’t have been here in the first place.
What I had noticed was that the guard who was sitting on my side of the vehicle–only a few feet away from me actually–had a gun. And that gun was in a side holster that he’d left left unfastened. Lazy or entirely negligent, it didn’t matter. The way that he was sitting, I knew that I would be able to get to that gun before he would be able to react.
I caught Father Antonio’s eyes again and tried to wordlessly communicate my intentions. I knew that as soon as I grabbed that gun, things were about to get all sorts of interesting. But how could I communicate all of that without actually making a sound? And quickly too, the situation as it was now was ripe for me to take advantage of. There was no telling how long that would last.
So all that I took the time for was to mouth just two simple words to him.
Then it was time.
My hand darted forward in an adequately smooth and sneaky manner, closing on the smooth handle of the gun just as easily as I’d imagined it. It all happened quickly enough that I the only reaction I had time to see register on anyone else’s face was the widening eye’s on Father Antonio’s face. No one else appeared to be paying the slightest attention.
Then I had the gun, right in my hand.
Immediately, my training kicked in. It had been years since I’d served and longer still since my training, but it came right back just as they’d always said it would, just as they’d always intended it would.
It was a different style grip than I was used to, but not so different that I couldn’t use it. A moment’s fumbling and I found the safety–still engaged. Thinking quickly, I actually spun the gun around, grabbing it by the barrel for just a second, before bringing it down on the guard’s temple in a single swift motion.
He hadn’t had time to do more than turn and look at me which made the blow all the more devastating. I felt the impact with a squishing sort of crunch and he collapsed as if a puppet whose strings had been cut. I could only pray that he would be all right–no matter how they had treated us recently, there was reason to wish them dead.
Then I spun the gun again–the fancy motion almost but not quite costing me the grip on the gun–and slid my finger onto the safety. My hands had already learned the new contours of this unfamiliar hardware.
As I moved, I stood, bringing the gun to bear directly on the other man, the one in the black body armor.
Standing, I yelled. “Freeze!”
Had it been any other situation, the look on his face would have been priceless. Equal parts surprise and fear, he had followed my order, his hand no more than an inch from his own weapon.
Crap, I thought. I didn’t know if I was actually going to be able to shoot him if he went for it. I just prayed that he wouldn’t realize it.
133 - Rome
PRESENT DAY “Don’t even think about it,” I said, trying to sound more confident than I felt. “How about you raise your hands above your head, nice and slowly.”
Unfortunately, this time he wasn’t so quick to acquiesce to my demands. He just stood there, frozen, a blank look on his face.
“Raise your hands!” I repeated.
At least he wasn’t moving closer to the gun, that was something. But I knew that if he didn’t raise his hands, there was going to be trouble. At the moment, I had the power in the situation, but if he decided to ignore me, that could all change all too quickly.
“Now!” I shouted.
Without warning, Father Antonio was standing, moving impressively faster for an older priest of his stature. He turned to stand beside me, looking down at the man in the black armor as well. “Alzate le mani!” he said.
The man in the armor blinked at him but then to my surprise, actually lifted his hands.
Of course. When in Rome… I thought bitterly to myself. Everyone had been speaking English so far, to the point that I hadn’t even thought about the fact that I was half a world away from home. Of course there would be people that didn’t speak my language any more than I spoke theirs. It just had to be here and now though.
“Thanks,” I whispered out of the corner of my mouth.
“Don’t mention it,” he whispered back. The man in the black armor was looking from one of us to the other now, as if trying to figure out what we were saying. “So what’s the plan?” Father Antonio asked.
“Still working on that.” Honestly, I hadn’t actually gotten this far in my head. In my wildest dreams I wouldn’t have guessed that this was going to go quite so well.
Looking back towards the back of the truck, I spied the single small window set into the sliding doors. Perhaps I would be able to get my bearings.
“You know how to use one of these?” I asked Father Antonio.
He gave me a dark look. “Though shall not kill,” was all he said.
“Sure,” I replied. Now really wasn’t the time. “But the rules are significantly more flexible when it comes to kneecaps.”
He grimaced, but he did take the gun. We both kept our eyes on the man in the armor as he did, but he didn’t move so much as an inch. In fact, now that the shock of of the situation was wearing off, he almost looked bored. I guess that he figured we wouldn’t be able to get off of the moving truck and that we wouldn’t dare to actually shoot him if he didn’t do anything stupid, so all he would have to do was wait.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t wrong on either count.
Trying to buy time to think as much as anything, I walked to the back of the truck. The others that had been captured with his followed me with their eyes as I passed, but not a one of them dared to speak up or offer me a hand. They knew as well as I did that if this all went sideways–and that wasn’t at all an unlikely possibility–that anyone who helped me would be equally culpable. But for the moment, that was fine with me. So long as they didn’t hinder either me or Father Antonio, that was more than enough.
I reached the back of the truck and looked out through the back windows. It was dark outside and it took my eyes a few moments to adjust.
When they did, I almost wished that they hadn’t, that I could have stayed blissfully unaware of what was outside.
The engine noises that I’d heard hadn’t been coming from the truck at all. They were coming from whatever was all around us.
We were driving down some smooth highway, instead we were in the belly of what looked like some sort of giant cargo hold, large enough to hold at least one more truck parked right behind us–luckily there was no driver that I could see, looking back at me–maybe more.
The sight drove all thoughts of escape right from my mind, at least momentarily, replacing them with one single overriding question.
Where were we?