151 - Chicago
SEVERAL WEEKS AGO Running into a thick white fog to help a self-proclaimed dead man fight off his once brother turned demon wasn’t exactly the most intelligent thing that I’d ever done. Truth be told, I had no idea what I was even going to do once I got in there, but I knew that I had to try something.
For Amanda, if nothing else.
As I ran, I felt time stretching out. I thought back on the past few days, trying to find that one moment where I could have made a different decision and avoided the entire situation.
Nothing came to mind.
Not a single thing. Each decision had seemed minor at the time, a single step on the road. Yet as they say, the path to Hell is paved with good intentions. I didn’t believe that I was bound for Hell, but it seemed like just a bit of it had found its way to me.
I emerged into a hole in the fog in the middle of the room, the temperature jumping up perhaps ten degrees as I did. I immediately felt sweat beading on my skin.
Not-Alex and John were standing there, face to face. John still had the fire extinguisher that he’d been holding earlier, although the metal of the cylinder had been crushed in the center, bent inwards like a discarded pop can. There was a gash on one side with some sort of white liquid leaking out.
At least now I knew where the fog had come from.
John looked tired. Dead tired. He was barely holding onto the hunk of metal. I would have been willing to bet that was the only reason that he was still alive. I noted to my surprise that he still had his gun; I could see it tucked into the waistband of his pants. Why wasn’t he using it?
Not-Alex didn’t even look winded. Granted, it was hard to tell exactly how a ghost-turned-demon was feeling, but he just stood there looking as solid as a rock wall. His fists were clenched tightly, that faint reddish glow still leaking out from between his fingers.
When I slowed to a stop just inside the clear area in the cloud, both of them turned to look at me.
John looked beaten. It was clear in his eyes. There was no other way to put it.
Not-Alex sneered. “Looks like the calvary has finally arrived, eh brother?”
The voice was wrong. So wrong. The rumbling of stones in a metal drum. It grated on my ears to hear it, only made worse knowing that it wasn’t Alex anymore.
“You’re not my brother,” John replied. His heart wasn’t in it anymore though. He half-heartedly raised the remains of the fire extinguisher and took a step forward.
Not-Alex sneered. “A moment, if you please father.” He turned almost lazily back to John and stepped forward to meet him.
With surprising deftness, John suddenly spun, whipping the extinguisher around in a full circle.
Had he just been biding his time?
But it didn’t matter. Not-Alex had plenty of time to leisurely raise one hand, almost as if he were hailing a cab.
If he’d been human, John’s blow would have broken his hand at the very least.
But he wasn’t.
The bent cylinder smashed into his hand and just stopped dead. He might as well have swung it against a wall–although that likely would have had more effect.
Another sneer from not-Alex. Then he closed his fist, taking hold of the fire extinguisher from the inside, pulling it towards himself.
John held on for a moment, trying to rip it from not-Alex’s hands. Instead, he was pulled forward, right towards not-Alex. One stumbling step. Two.
And then not-Alex jerked. Hark. The metal was pulled from John’s hands, sending him sprawling forward onto the floor.
I had a moment then, a moment to react.
But nothing. I found myself frozen in place. John was bigger than me, stronger physically. If he couldn’t best whatever it was his brother had become, what hope did I have?
Then the moment was over. Not-Alex swung the fire extinguisher–still wrapped around his smoldering fist–in a swift downward struck.
Right into the back of John’s skull.
152 - Baghdad
SEVERAL YEARS AGO “Good morning, sleepyhead.”
I awoke slowly, blinking the sleep out of eyes that felt glued shut.
Where am I?
It all came back slowly, like a half remembered dream.
Waking up under the museum.
Being questioned by the Sergeant.
The mysterious orders to rescue her.
Finding here in the same room I’d been held in, hooked to an IV drip of some strange fluids.
Shielding her from the shrapnel.
My apparent descent into madness.
Being taken to the hospital.
It all came back to me then, and I opened my eyes wide.
There was light streaming in from the window, sheer white curtains blowing faintly in the wind. I was in a bed of some sort, the sheets matching the walls in a faint pastel blue.
And Amira was sitting in a wheelchair right beside my bed, a blanked across her lap and a smile on her face.
“I was beginning to worry if you would ever wake up.”
I had to smile at that. I wondered how long I’d been out. “Been a long day.”
“No kidding.” Her hands were folded in her lap.
Again, I noticed the wheelchair. “You okay?”
She followed my gaze and to my surprise broke into an even wider smile. “Oh this? Silly thing. But the doctors insist. They say it’s hospital policy.”
I let out a breath I hadn’t even known I’d been holding. I’d been worried that Mr. Average had done something… more to her.
For several long moments, we were both silent. But it wasn’t an uncomfortable silence, but rather the familiar sort of silence that develops between old friends. I’d only known Amira for a few weeks, but already it felt like a lifetime.
I suppose nearly being killed–several times–will do that to someone.
Finally, it was Amira that broke the silence. Hesitating, she asked, “so what happened after I was…”
“Kidnapped?” I supplied.
She nodded. “I can’t get anyone to give me a straight answer.”
I doubted many of them knew themselves. Heck, as clearly as I could remember, I didn’t even know what had been going on.
But I told her everything that I knew. I started further back, from when I’d been taken myself, coming right up to essentially losing my mind. She smiled slightly at that. I wondered if perhaps people had told her at least about that part.
To her credit, she didn’t interrupt once. Even during the more… fantastic elements of the story.
When I was done, she was silent for a moment. Then she simply said, “well, I’m glad that it’s over.”
I shook my head. “I’m not sure it is. Surely, he’s not going to stop until he gets what he’s looking for.”
Her face fell slightly. I knew what her next words were going to be before she even spoke them. “That’s not going to be a problem any more.”
“He took the pottery?”
“He took the pottery.”
I shook my head. I could have felt angry. Frustrated. Enraged. But mostly I just felt tired. No matter how long I’d been asleep, that had been something to recover from.
“I wonder who he was?” I said.
But at the same time, a part of me hoped I would never know.
153 - Not Rome
PRESENT DAY “You’re the one that created the Cup of Lazarus?”
Mr. Average nodded. “Stupid name though. Lazarus didn’t have anything to do with the cup.”
I shook my head. Another impossible thing. “I guess it’s just another mistake that you’re still alive too then?”
He smirked. “No, not at all. My resurrection was entirely intentional.”
I heard Father Antonio snort. *Was
“You have something to say?” Mr. Average turned towards him.
“Only one man had the right to come back from the dead.” There was a solid quality to his voice that I had to admire, particularly given the situation. “You aren’t him.”
The other man smiled that strangely serpentine smile. “Of course I’m not. But he’s not here right now. I am.”
“God’s will is present in each of us.” Perfectly confident. I had to give that to him, Father Antonio had confidence.
“Well aren’t you the good little alter boy,” Mr. Average growled.
Amira’s voice cut in, thankfully forestalling any more of that particular argument. “So how did you do it?”
Mr. Average’s gaze snapped to her and for a moment, I was afraid for her. There were three of us and only one of him, granted, but that didn’t take into account the dozens of armed men back on the plane that he surely could call on. And I was sure that after 2000 years–if he was to be believed–he’d surely picked up a trick or two.
But then some of the tension went out of him–at least a bit. “The Cup. I used the Cup of…” He sounded like he had to force the last word out. “Lazarus.”
Something that had been tickling at the back of my mind for a while suddenly leaped to the forefront. “But it didn’t work, did it? You came back wrong?” I remembered Alex. Not-Alex. The fight at Mrs. Claire’s.
His glare came back to me, hard once again. “You’ve used it yourself, haven’t you?”
I didn’t answer. But I didn’t have to; he knew.
“No matter.” He paused for a moment, measuring me. “You’re actually not far off.”
“The Cup of Lazarus was never intended to do what it does. I’m sure you’ve figured that much out. It recorded God’s words, that much is true, but it could never capture the really important part. It could never capture the Spirit of the Word.”
“So you need something else.” It was finally starting to come together in my mind. “A demon.”
He smirked again–and just for an instant, the mask fell. There was a man there, or what had once been a man, but there was was something else. Something serpentine, something wrong.
Then he was back. That unsettling overly average man, yet still just a man.
“You’ve got it,” he said.
I shook my head. I was starting to really agree with Lazarus. The Cup needed to be destroyed.
Of course it would help if I knew where it was.
“So why are we here?” I asked. That was the one thing that I really couldn’t figure out. He had our piece of the Cup back now, so what more could he possibly want from us?
His answer sent chills up my spine.