THE WAR OF THE SEVEN HEAVENS
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“No...” The word formed in his head before it ever left his cracked lips. Brother Veneto’s deep brown eyes widened. At first it was the surge of a new discovery that hit him, which gave way, quickly, to realization, then doubt, then fear.
“This can’t be...” He scanned the scattered stack of papers and books and scrolls that lay across his wide desk. As he began to shuffle frantically through the organized mess the old man, whose equally wide desk sat opposite his in the little study, raised not an eye to the sudden an immediate dilemma.
“Another brilliant discovery of a missing alphabetic letter brother?” His tone was mocking Veneto’s efforts before they’d been teamed together for this project. Veneto, some years prior, had gained recognition as the discoverer or a “lost letter” within Cuneiform. The predecessor or parent language of many subsequent written alphabets. His discovery would have shaken the world of archeology, archeo-theology, among other fields, but it did not. He labored for years to gain proof positive that this “new” letter held a key to retranslating ancient scripts, which would create a butterfly effect that touched every piece of language that had come since 3,500 B.C. Alas, the Church had only given him a small piece of the puzzle to translate. It had split the task between five other scholars, and despite Veneto’s repeated requests would allow him to go no further. The source of scorn came from what followed thereafter. Brother Veneto went to the press. His hope was that the public pressures would force the Vatican’s hand to allow him to prove his notion. In the end, however, Brother Veneto appeared to be simply a very dedicated fanatic and not the brilliant archeo-linguist and scholar he was.
The priests’ slight had no effect on Veneto’s movements, or his expressions. He only kept muttering,
“this can’t be right... no. No, no, no. This can’t be right.”
Father Fabbini was now intrigued. He peered at the Brother with cocked eye. He calmly placed his notes on his wide desk, sat back in his chair, and took a deep breath.
“Alright Brother. What have you found? What is that cannot be?”
Veneto froze. His deep brown eyes shot to the priest. The fear in them shook the priest for a split second.
“Everything...” He rasped a whisper. Then his eyes trailed in resignation, knowing eyes that belied the truth of the matter. That it did not matter if he checked his facts for an eleventh time, they would be the same. He sat, slowly, in his chair. The body mimicking the mind. A tear welled in his eye as he looked up to the priest.
“Now now. Brother. We will not allow our feelings to sour the research. We can NOT allow this. We will approach this in a scholarly manner. So... what is your claim?” Fabbini was used to the young man’s eccentricities, but this was something interesting. He knew that the Brother was a brilliant man, but he suspected that the Brother had sacrificed some sanity for brilliance. Fabbini would not have made such a bargain, personally.
“They say the greatest lie the Devil ever told was to convince man that he didn’t exist.” Veneto’s eyes seemed dead. As though he’d told this story a million times already.
“I have heard that.” Fabbini said.
“It’s not. It’s not the greatest lie ever told.”
His interest piqued, Fabbini was genuinely interested now.
Veneto’s head slowly shook side to side.
“Then what is Brother?”
Veneto closed his eyes knowing the next words out of his mouth had never been spoken by a single human; and given the gravity of it... it may be the last. He rose out of the chair returned it to its place as partner to the wide desk. As he took in deep breaths trying to compose himself, a rock hit the window. He heard the pang of the impact, and looked to see a hole there. Though this was strange it did not bother him. The weight of the knowledge he held, and what he was about to impart to the priest immersed him totally, and so he paced behind his own chair, getting his mind ready for the story he was about to tell.
“The greatest lie ever told was that God...”, and as he turned to say the rest he noticed the priest’s forehead. Just enough of the split second passed to allow Veneto to realize what had happened. But the reality he was looking at was so alien to his own realm of existence that it didn’t process in time.
He was interrupted by the window pane behind the priest exploding. Veneto, instinctually, ducked behind the desk. He peered from behind it to see the odd triangles of glass left in the frame of the window. His eyes moved to Father Fabbini whose head had hit his own wide desk hard when the window exploded. Though he could not actually see it with his own eyes Veneto knew there was a pool of blood collecting on the papers of his desk. Then it all processed in a second. Father Fabbini had been shot in the head from behind. Since they were in an elevated level of the scriptorium the killer had been watching them. This was no accidental discharge.
Murder! In the Vatican! He thought rapidly. His mind moved to what to do.
Yell for help! His mind screamed.
“Alarm! Alarm! Help me! Guard!” He turned to the door to yell the alarm. He did not dare go near the exploded window or expose himself to whomever was looking through a sniper’s scope. So he made sure he stayed low to the floor and behind the furniture.
“Alarm... alarm!” Help would not come in time for him to be saved. Veneto’s mind raced, escape. He slid to his belly, and crawled like a soldier to the door. His ears were ringing and his heart was racing, almost as fast as his mind. As he reached for the door’s knob he stopped and retracted his arm quickly with the realization he would be exposed. The main light switch was to the right of the elevated knob for the door. Before his right mind had time to pick the situation apart he acted. In one movement Veneto leapt to his feet flicked the switch off, and on the way back to the floor unlocked the door; and he fell to the floor with a solid thud, his muscles helping the power of gravity to usher with speed.
He paused to listen. No noise, no shots...move. He pulled the door open from the bottom, and crawled into the hallway outside the study. The lights in the hall were dimed, thankfully, and Veneto crawled out of the perceived danger zone. Once there, he leapt to his feet once more and ran. Where he did not know quite yet, the instinct to get out of the danger overtook all sense of direction or rational thought. In fact... this was quite an irrational situation.
The guards his mind finally settled on. The track to the closest guard flew through his mind as his feet went to action. Down the stairs, to the right, through the... Veneto heard his chest ringing.
My chest ringing!? He thought. Then he realized his cellular phone was in his breast pocket. Running and reaching for the phone, the number displayed was not identified. In normal circumstance Veneto would not answer such a number, but this was not normal circumstance. He pushed the answer button and spat, “Ciao” breathlessly.
The voice on the other end was a male with a deep softened rasp.
“Yes this is Brother Veneto...” trading his attention between the conversation and the directions to the guards outside the library.
”Brother, I know you are in danger, and I know what has happened. The people you seek to provide for your safety have orders to detain you, and who knows what afterwards.”
Veneto slowed to a shuffle.
“What do you mean? Who IS this?”
“You understand what I’ve said to you.” The voice claimed in a matter of fact tone, “and the messenger is not important. There are two things of the greatest import at this moment.”
Veneto slowed. One more turn and he would be at the library, and safety. He thought.
“What are these two things nameless one?”
He heard a barely perceptible laugh. “The first is that you must remain safe. I can remove you from this dangerous situation, but I cannot MAKE you do anything. You must decide. The second is the preservation of your discovery.”
Veneto froze in place. The pit of his stomach grabbed itself into a knot, and his throat tightened.
“I... I do not understand. WHO ARE YOU?”
“Brother Veneto you must listen carefully to me. You must not go to the library. You must not report the murder of the priest.”
“YOU” he spat with venom unknown to him.
“YOU did this. Why did you kill him?”
A pause. “I did not.”
“Why should I trust someone who does not reveal his name to me?” Veneto was regaining his senses, and to do what this unknown man wanted made no sense. Yet he stopped, and began to pace, as he always did when in a conversation on the telephone. “Why should I trust the safety of anything to your word? Tell me stranger, since you know so much?”
“Because you know the power of a name... you are knowed.”
“KNOWED?” It was Veneto’s turn to laugh, “That is not even a word! In the most ignorant of tongues, that is not a word!”
“BROTHER!” The voice demanded, “You must decide... now.”
“Decide what? My means of death? Pray tell nameless one,” Veneto had regain his senses by now, and the familiar arrogance of knowledge was betrayed by his tone, “are thou the angel of Death? Will you tell me Truths to soothe my ears that will listen as you pull my soul like so much candy?” Veneto’s pacing had taken him past a side hall that adjoined the final hall to the library, and safety. He spun on his heel, awaiting the response, and with none forthcoming he would gladly hang up with ultimately queer conversation, and return to what the human realm would call “sanity”.
The phone went silent. Veneto looked at the face of the cell phone to see if the call was dropped. Even though the Vatican had been high tech for some time, the walls were thick. Thick enough to drop a call on a cell phone at any random time.
“I am what I am Brother” The voice seemed to gain a closeness, as though it were in stereo rather than a tinny cellular phone noise.
“Nothing more.” Those final words were spoken in his right ear from the phone attached to it, and all around him as to his left a man emerged from the hall.
“Because you know more than any man ever has...” Veneto looked with a start, and his breath escaped him for a brief second. He was tall with a gaunt but powerful face that could barely be made out in the dim lighting of the hall. The knot in his stomach worsened when he began to realize that this was no “normal” man.
Each froze in place, cell phones attached to the respective ears of its owners. The tall man stared through Veneto’s eyes, and they did not move even as he hung up the cell phone. Veneto took in this man’s gait, his hair, everything he could see with his eyes. The light from the hall danced on the edges of the curls of his ebony hair. The arcs of light glancing, betrayed the curls that were straighter than the others were crooked. It seemed to his eyes that the electric lights flickered as though it were torches of yore rather than modern filament bulbs. There was something very old about this man, yet his face was that of a man just introduced to manhood. The clothing, what Veneto could see, was flowing and dark. It seemed to his eyes that the eye could not see all things that they were not intended to see.
“I...I do not understand!” He stuttered, shocked and feared into inaction.
The man reached slowly for the hood that concealed his pitch black hair.
“You do. Yes Brother. You do not understand it all, but you understand enough for me to speak the truth with you.” The hood fell to his broad shoulders, and the hall lights shone off his long ebony hair. He stood tall straightening out his face, squaring his gaze with Veneto’s.
His look gave Veneto such a feeling of fear, no awe that he’d never experienced in his life.
“And you know who I am.” His eyes pierced Veneto’s, and his head tilted as he finished,
“Do you not?”
Veneto knew, but his mouth was frozen with fear and trembling. He could only manage a small and slow nod.
“I am the one who God helps.” Veneto took a step back, and the man a step forward maintaining the eyestare.
“I am Malak al-Maut”
Veneto took another step, he another forward. His mouth forming the name he knew.
“I am the Lord of the Third Heaven.”
Another step back.
“A...a...a” Veneto stumbled.
“My... name... is...”
They spoke it in unison,