159 - al-Eizariya
PRESENT DAY I could see the two of them struggling for control, each trying to force the Cup from the other.
So far as I knew, Lazarus was still mostly human–albeit able to appear and disappear in a most unsettling manner. Mr. Average on the other hand… not so much. He definitely had something going on in the supernatural department.
It was a little surprising to see how well matched the two of them seemed to be. The way they were going, it seemed only an external force was going to be able to tip the balance.
The only problem was… tip the balance which way?
I leaned over to Amira, whispering in her ear. “Get ready to move. Tell Father Antonio.” I saw her eyes widen. She leaned away from me.
I was only going to get one chance.
Mentally counting down in my head, I weighed my options.
I didn’t care for either Lazarus or Mr. Average. Both of them had threatened me excessively, although only the latter had actually come through on it.
I didn’t know what Mr. Average wanted with the Cup–other than he believed it was his. Lazarus wanted to die. Would helping him mean that I would take some blame if he actually succeeded in his goal?
Lazarus had his rather large doggy friend to worry about. Although I couldn’t see either form of her, I doubted he would have show up without her.
The two were still standing stock still, tense as statues, neither willing to give the other an inch.
I tensed. I felt Amira doing the same. I could only pray that they would get away safely, that I would be able to follow them shortly.
With a wordless scream, half theatrical and half terror, I threw myself forwards. I smashed into their joined hands like a linebacker on the line of scrimmage. I half expected their grips to hold, to stop me in my tracks. But as I hit them, they came apart, their hands parting like water.
To my surprise, the Cup came free as well. Slipping from between their hands in a moment that seemed to stretch on and on, it caught against my chest. Instinctively, I cradled it to myself.
Then I was running–half out of control–down the hill, across the rough street. The street was crowded enough, a large group of tourists coming up the hill. My brain jarred at that, amazed at how normal they all looked, how completely unconcerned with what was going on around them. Events were unfolding two thousand years in the making and here they walked, boredom and complacency common on their faces.
My foot caught on a loose stone and I nearly fell. It was more than enough to jerk my thoughts back into the present. I refocused, dodging left and right around pedestrians.
I abruptly realized that Amira was running with me on my right and Father Antonio on my left. She had a faint smile on her face–was she actually enjoying this?–and he seemed already short of breath. I could feel it myself, the strain of sprinting down the uneven hill.
I wanted to look back, to see where the two men were. But I couldn’t chance it.
Without warning, the crowd in front of me thinned out. Rather than having to dodge from side to side, I could run straight out. For a moment, I was elated. This might actually work, I might actually be able to get the Cup away from either of them.
Then I saw why the crowd had dispersed, why there was such a nice open area.
Cerberus stood there, in all her doggy glory, larger than life with a growl rumbling in her throat.
160 - al-Eizariya
PRESENT DAY The crowds were giving her a large berth, although to my surprise there was little in the way of panic–or really any sort of reaction. They just seemed to be subconsciously streaming around her.
No such luck for me though, I had run right into her.
I skidded to a stop, sliding on the stones and pavement. Father Antonio slid into place beside me, coming to rest perhaps a foot further ahead. Amira wasn’t so lucky however, losing her balance and pitching forward. She threw out her hands to catch herself and I thought I heard a rough cracking sound. That couldn’t be good.
A rough laugh came from behind me and I spun to face it. If Lazarus and Mr. Average had been surprised when I took the Cup, it certainly hadn’t slowed either of them down one bit. They had come down the hill as well, albeit at a less breakneck pace and were just now slowing into place, forming a sort of equilateral triangle–Cerberus the third point and the three of us in the center.
I noticed the opening in the crowd growing to expand all of us, some people even crossing the street or turning down alleyways to avoid us. From the looks on their faces, they didn’t know why they were doing it–or in cases, even that they were doing it–but in moments, we were alone.
There was a faint clapping sound. I looked up to see Lazarus, slowly and softly clapping his hands together, the look on his face rife with sarcasm. “Well done, Father, well done. Now why don’t you just hand that Cup over and we can be done with it.”
Mr. Average looked from Lazarus to me, the beginnings of a sneer playing over his lips. “No, give it to me. All that old fool wants it to break it, to end it, to end himself.”
He was looking at me as he said it–I knew he was playing off of the same thoughts I’d been having the entire time. Allowing sin was sin itself.
“And just think,” he continued, “it’s a piece of living history. Two thousand years old and the only remaining record of Jesus’ words.”
This one was aimed at Amira, lying there on the ground, cradling one hand in the other, I was sure. But that didn’t mean I didn’t have anything to say. “That’s not even true. We have record of His Words–the Bible.”
He waved dismissively at me. “The words of man, only written a hundred years or more after the fact. If you were really there…”
For just a moment, I hesitated. I’d heard the stories, I had friends that said much the same thing. That there were other records to the Bible, other Gospels, but that they had been removed in order to shape the early church in the way that men choose.
Lazarus spoke up, taking a step forward as he did. He was looking right into my eyes now. “Don’t listen to him. You have the right of it. It really is true, all of it, just as it was written.”
This despite the dismissive tone he’d taken on when we’d first met about the surviving records of the day. I hadn’t forgotten. I knew that the only reason his tune had changed was the hope that he could win me over to his side.
“Don’t do it.” Mr. Average growled. He took a step forward, keeping his eyes focused on me. “Don’t give it to that liar.”
“Then what?” I asked. “What would you have me do?” He must have known that if I wouldn’t give it to Lazarus, I wouldn’t give it to him either.
“Keep it,” he said, to my surprise. “Take the power for yourself. The power of life and death? Who wouldn’t want that?”
“You could be a god,” he said, “A thousand years, ten times that.” He was looking right at me. I thought I could detect a hint of madness in his eyes, but perhaps that was just my mind playing tricks on me.
Where had this come from? What had turned him so far from his path?
“Just think of all the good we could do,” he said.
I could feel it too, wanting to be remembered, wanting to leave my mark on the world.
Not like this.
Never like this.
With a shake of my head, I lifted the Cup in one hand, high above my head.
“Lord Jesus, please give me the strength to do what I must.”
And with that, I threw the Cup downwards, dashing it against the street with all of the might I could muster.
161 - al-Eizariya
PRESENT DAY Too late, I remembered what Lazarus had said. How he’d tried, time and time again to destroy the Cup. How after centuries of life, it had finally drug on too much for him.
I remembered how he had failed, braking it into pieces but never quite managing to destroy it, doomed to watch it over and over again as it reformed just as it had mere minutes ago.
The feeling went through me like a shot, digging into my heart all in the moments between the Cup leaving my hands and hitting the pavement. I knew it was futile, that it would just bounce off–or shatter just to reform again.
Lazarus and Mr. Average both dived forward, too slowly to do anything, but powerless to resist that chance, no matter how slim.
The moment the Cup his the pavement, there was a burst of light, so pure and so bright that I couldn’t help but feel wonder at its passing. Afterwards, all that was left was a memory, an echo, imperfect in its humanity.
But for a movement, just a moment, I thought I truly felt God.
Then it was over. There was a crash, like an entire China shop imploding at once, well out of proportion to a simple piece of pottery, no matter how old.
The Cup hit the pavement and it didn’t break.
In the blink of an eye, it went from pottery to dust.
I looked up. Lazarus and Mr. Average had each stopped dead in their tracks, as stunned as I was at what had transpired. Mr. Average looked like a kid at a candy store window, so close but only allowed to look, never to touch, never to taste. It would have been amusing had it not been so pathetic.
Amira was sitting up now, supporting her weight on one hand, cradling the other in her lap. There was a faint smile on her lips and as she caught my gaze, she nodded slightly. So at least one person thought I had done the right thing.
Mr. Average fell to his knees next to the pile of dust, swiftly shrinking as it was caught in the breeze. “What have you done?” he cried, but he wasn’t expecting an answer. It was a lost sort of cry, more of loss than of pain.
I looked up to see Lazarus and was surprised to see an old man where once the timeless figure had stood. In a matter of seconds, he had aged decades and I could only expect that it would continue on. Nature was taking it’s course–it had just taken a little longer, that was all.
I turned to Mr. Average, expecting much the same.
Imagine my surprise when he turned to me, standing, a look of pure rage on a face that was no longer entirely human.
With a scream of rage, the thing that had taken Mr. Average’s place leaped at me.
He wasn’t nearly so average now, not even pretending to be human. He looked nothing less than a human-sized lizard, somehow standing on its hind legs, skin gone green and scaly. His eyes were yellow now, vertical slits for pupils and his tongue was long, thin, and forked.
Most terrifying of all though, were the claws. Were once had been hands, five overlong fingers stretched out, webbing between each. And on the tips? Three inches of what looked like steel, razor sharp and glinting in the sun.
162 - al-Eizariya
PRESENT DAY I was done for. Whatever sort of demon hat thing was, I was no match for it physically.
Raising my hands anyways, I prepared for the end.
But the never came. Instead, there was a whistling sound from high overhead. A blur of motion from above ending at street level in a burst of white light. A moment later and there was a second shrill scream, a blur of motion, and this time a burst of gold.
When my eyes had cleared, two angels stood before me, side by side, backs to me, standing between me and the former Mr. Average. They each had a blazing sword in their hands, Michael with his long straight edge, Gabriel with her curving blade.
“Michael! Gabriel!” I don’t think I had ever been so happy to see anyone in my life.
Perhaps the demon underestimated the two archangels. Perhaps he simply had too much momentum to stop. Either way, he rushed headlong into the pair of them, claws flashing in the sunlight.
The twin swords flashed as well, moving in perfect harmony with each other and with their wielders.
The two angels moved apart, allowing the demon to pass between them. I felt a moment more of pure terror; that they would come so far and so fast, flying to the rescue–only to abandon me in my final hour of need.
But I needn’t have worried. Their blades were sharp and their aim was true.
The demon lizard made it a step more before realizing that he was already dead.
Three pieces of lizard man came to rest near my feet, one bumping into and past Father Antonio’s arm.
As I watched, the pieces seemed to almost collapse in upon themselves, melting away into nothing.
No, not quite nothing. Into dust.
As I watched, the two thousand year old form of a man who had once been a potter–a man who had once had the opportunity to meet Jesus Christ himself, in person–faded into dust.
The entire fight had taken less than fifteen seconds.
I looked up to see Michael and Gabriel standing side by side, still holding their flaming swords. Just like everything else that had passed, people seemed to be giving them wide berth without quite understanding why. this time around, I could totally see why.
“Took you long enough,” I said, a smile on my face to show that I was kidding. At the moment though, I didn’t really mind if they had taken it the long day. It had been a long… well, it had been a long time.
Gabriel looked about to take offense, her face clouding, but Michael just laid a hand on her arm. As he did, the blades vanished from each of their hands into nothing. I still thought that was cool. “You seemed to be handling it quite well on your own,” he said.
I smiled slightly at that, looking down at the piles of dust in the street, now almost vanished. A piece of the past–but one too dangerous to be allowed into the future.
“I guess I was at that.” I looked over at Amira, still cradling her arm. “Can you help with that?”
Gabriel started to protest, but again Michael overruled her. I wondered what had happened between the two of them after Rome to shift the balance of power like that.
Striding over to Amira, he laid his hands on hers and closed his eyes. There was a burst of light–more muted than when they had arrived–and a sound that I felt more than heard, like ringing bells.
Michael took away his hands. Amira blinked at him, testing her wrist. It appeared to be fully healed. “Thank you,” she murdered.
I wondered at that, thinking back to a few weeks ago when I’d been in much the same sort of situation, broken and in need of help. I considered asking if perhaps there had been some divine intervention then as well… But decided that I didn’t need to know. Sometimes things were just best left as mysteries.
Without warning, there was a low growl behind me, at about the same height as my head. There was only one thing I could think that would make a noise quite like that…
I spun, my heart racing, my hands raised to … do what? I didn’t know.
I found myself face to face with the canine form of Cerberus, standing mere inches in front of me.
This was it. After all that I’d been through, I was to meet my end at the hands–or the mouth–of a dangerous beast straight from Greek myth.
She opened her mouth wide…