Fiction Page 12
DINNER WITH A SAINT
Lawrence R. Dagstine
On a snow-bedded ridge, where the adventurer’s eye may pan a particular sweep of the Himalayan mountains, a man by the name of Fenrick Margeoux—a twisted, maniacal magician posing as a retributive saint—occupies a spacious, comfortable, shrouded temple with his neighborly band of Tibetan monks, a fat, trollish-looking apprentice, almost twice his age, and an unthinkable sum of knowledge and wealth.
The year was 1932, and as I jot down this little tale into my journal of life, five years since my narrow escape from a situation of senseless evil and impending doom, I wonder to myself if it was all necessary. Other than having performed some spiritual transformation upon myself in some ancient obscure temple in the mountains of Tibet, what have I accomplished? I am witness to some deep-routed trauma that will haunt me for the rest of my days.
My name is Kelvin Harwoods, and I am an explorer—still to this day. Some would call me an adventuring archaeologist with a touch of panache and a taste for the historical, or even a relic hunter—but no, like I said, I am just an explorer. I guess I could be best described as a small, blue-eyed, fair-haired Englishman, which makes me much the cricketer-type. I was born the son of a bureaucrat, during a time when aristocracy was in full rule. I am also the heir to a museum of Welsh lineage, which is why I am the man that I am today. And I am contented to say that I am the proud father of a young, up-and-coming botanist, who is currently in his second year at Oxford.
Now, with all that said, how did I happen to stumble upon this creepy place? How was it I found a shrine embedded into the side of a mountain, house to a sinister force at work? I’ll tell you.
You see there was a plane crash. I was the only survivor of a five-man exploration team effort—a rather expensive expedition, poring over the Himalayan snow-tops for ancient burial sites and the valuable trinkets that might be hidden within them. The history and closed book mysticism of Tibet, and its hidden treasures and artifacts was my interest. I found the native culture to be most fascinating, and the country itself to be a phenomenal place, but in the subfreezing temperatures and an abnormal state of mind (after all, my whole crew was killed), I looked for warmth and rest above all else. But then I saw it. Sanctification. Salvation waited over a pass.
Edged between the narrows of two icy cliffs was an alcazar-looking monastery. Right away I smiled and uttered the words "temple of the mountain", and although the outside was frosted over, I felt an intense beauty flowing from within its foundations. The outward masonry caught my eye first. Between the two cliffs was a small bamboo bridge overlooking an abyss, which led up to an obsidian-paved staircase: and these wonderfully fabricated steps led up to a pair of bronze doors. The monastery was partially built into the side of the mountain, but the substructures and groundworks were still tightly held up by rows of malachite pillars some five feet thick. Along the sides of the temple were rune markers which were carved with words or phrases in what looked like ancient Sanskrit. And each one of these stone markers were supported (or held in place) by iron beams, which had small crystal chimes, stone elephants, and other handmade ornaments hanging from them. The whole place had a sort of peaceful aura surrounding it, and the name of this alp-like sanctuary somehow found its way inside my head.
It was called the Shen-Tau.
I walked up to the big bronze doors and before I had a chance to knock a tall, samurai-looking monk with a long beard and a ponytail greeted me. His name was Daku, and right away both of us had gotten off on the wrong foot. Something about me being an intruder, and something about intruders from the western part of the world that seek to rob the wisdom of the temple and its great saint getting beheaded—on the spot!
Daku was a barbarous-looking man, the kind of person you’d see carrying a sword and standing beside a king’s throne. He just wasn’t the monk type. He was definitely an immense man, about six foot five, broadly and harmoniously built, with a heavy-boned, big-featured face that showed few signs of age. The lids of his eyes were pulled across his face, dark with the wisdom of the ages, taught to him through some sublime-training course or religious vows. Not only did he have no brows but the wrinkles in his forehead were pulled slightly too close together. His mouth was generous though a little mean at the corners, his skull broad, almost kingly. Sort of Genghis Khanish, but without armor.
Standing behind this rather odd-looking warrior was another monk, a much friendlier one, whose hair was balding greatly and whose body was fat and shrunken with age. He weighed about 300 pounds, and from where I was standing it looked like one of his eyes was fully gouged out. He wasn’t a Tibetan, but like Daku, he was some sort of disciple, a higher-up and a respected member of the monastery. His name was Edro Volturna.
He had the other monks fetch dry clothes for me, while I was shown around the main hall and antechamber. I was greatly welcomed (so it seemed), and I was given a grand tour of all the meditation rooms and first floor prayer facilities. I realized that the Shen-Tau was not your average house of worship. On the contrary, it was quite different from the ones I had visited in India or Africa. For a while I had thought Edro the Shen-Tau’s abbot, but then I met him. I stood at the end of the corridor, as motionless as a machine without oil, facing a man in grim silence. For some reason the appearance of this person spooked me. It turned out that Volturna was only an apprentice trying to establish the same wisdom as this monk—and he did not speak the language of a monk or dress in monk’s hides—but rather who stood before me was a fellow Englishman by the name of Margeoux, and he was the temple saint.
There was a sense of mystery in him. He couldn’t have been older than forty, for an abbot young, with black curly hair and dark-colored eyes that were powerful enough to even draw the shadows and cobwebs out of their corners. He wasn’t that tall either, but he still looked like he could handle himself. He wore a charcoal black sleeveless cloak over a black velvet ensemble, which resembled the Count of Edinburgh’s formal attire. On his forefinger was a great big onyx mood ring, and what I thought to be a crown from the distance was actually a studded band clutched around his thick forehead.
Edro took two steps back as he approached me, whispering in my ear, "The saint is all which is light and darkness. He clothes us, feeds us, shows us the way."
"Shows you the way?" I was slightly confused.
"He represents harmony in all its true forms, and shows us how to possess it and take advantage of what it can offer. Please, give him the same respect one of the other monks would give."
The way Edro had said it sounded like he was frightened. I was opposite that. To me, the man that all the monks called "saint" seemed like a charming person. "A pleasure to meet you," I said, somewhat bewitched. The man’s smile expressed total elegance, if not utter magnificence. And his name was surely a mix of Saxon and Celt.
"Fabulous," he said, bowing graciously. "It’s been so long since we’ve had any vis tors. What brings you to this monastery on a cold afternoon?"
At first I wasn’t sure if he’d know what a fixed-wing aircraft is, his being isolated in the mountains with his spiritual brothers and all. "I’m an explorer," I said. "I was the only survivor of a plane that went down over the canyons last night."
"No survivors? Who else was aboard?"
"Four of my teammates and the pilots, sir. I barely escaped with my life. I trekked across hills, up slopes, alongside cliffs—you name it. I knew there was still hope when I saw your temple."
"Ahhh, to obtain peace of mind the road is always long and fraught with danger," he said. "You are lucky to have found this place. Most of the time the temple is shrouded by cumulus, due to the high altitude. I suppose my apprentice Edro has warmed your curiosity about this place?"
"Yes," I said. "He’s been very kind and helpful. Not many people are like that, especially towards a stranger in a foreign country." Which happened to be true.
He went and sat down on the edge of a chaise-lounge, which was decorated with Indonesian mother-of-pearl. In front of him was a round granite stump, which he used as a small serving table. A second later the one called Daku came out with some piping hot tea, setting the silver kettle and cups down on it. "The residents of the countryside would not have offered the same hospitality," he said in reference to the kindness of strangers in a foreign land. "They probably would have thought you were a transient spirit or omen," he went on, "or even a threat to their farm animals. Anyway, at least you found the right place. What is your name, traveler?"
"Kelvin Harwoods—from England, sir. I see you have an English accent. Are you from Britain as well?"
"Yes," he said. "I was born in Salisbury Meadow, but now I take up residence here. As you can see, I am much happier."
"The architecture is fascinating," I said, feeling it was necessary to throw in a compliment about the structure and décor, "both inside and out. Who built this place?"
Right away I saw that he didn’t like this question. His ideologies were of the utmost secrecy. "The gods did," he said lamely, "back when the earth’s deities were ruthless and real." He went no further with his explanation. "As I said before, I am much happier."
I didn’t say a word. I’m sure he was happy. I mean, who was I to fight him on this? He told his apprentice to prepare a room for me, and I was informed that I could stay for as long as I wanted. The Shen-Tau was a spiritual reward, my key to seeking the ultimate
relaxation and acquiring divine knowledge. He also said I could read some of the monastery’s tomes and examine the artifacts during my stay there. He was definitely kind, if not courteous. He took a vivid interest in me (perhaps because I too was from England), and Edro seemed to fear this. But Volturna knew better than to open his mouth. He kept silent, minding his own business.
Margeoux insisted that I have dinner with him that night; Edro and Daku would also be attending, along with four other top monks, to talk about an important spiritual matter. Conversation and a filling meal was the best remedy for frostbite. I couldn’t refuse. I was starving. His private cook was going to prepare one of the birds from the region. It seemed that everything was going to turn out most satisfactory.
That evening the saint, myself, and many other higher-ups sat around a large oak table, similar to the one I had read about in one of King Arthur’s knightly tales as a child. Great big chandeliers (about 15th century) hung from the ceiling, candle stumps in their filters, illuminating the entire interior. The dining area seemed to be the largest room in the entire monastery—so much stretch, so much space to move around. Non-monk partisans (or what looked like Tibetan warriors) with helmets and staves guarded the entrance leading in, and I had learned that they weren’t only a form of sentry but protectors of the rune markers and temple idols as well. We ate our meals off Mongolian china, drank blessed wine out of tiny, bejeweled goblets, and talked intimately on a variety of spiritually symmetric topics. Volturna sat at the far end, to the right of me and opposite Daku. Since I was a guest I got to sit in the center, face-to-face with Margeoux on the other side; we had the most contact out of anyone at the table.
The saint sat there and gazed into my eyes. It was disturbing. Although I was appreciated by his intentions, his hazel-eyed, Homeric look told a different story. "A toast," he said, raising his drink in the air. "To our guest—Kelvin Harwoods. I’d like to dedicate this meal to him, just as the gods have made other meals possible. The Shen-Tau is now your home too. Feel free to ask as many questions as you like."
It was a sudden change of attitude on his part. So ask I did…
"You know, at first I thought you were a hundred percent English," I started off solemnly, "but with a name like Fenrick, you’re surely Celtic in race."
"Actually, I’m not," he said. "But others who have visited here have confused me for a Celt. I come from a family of circus magicians. My ancestors were also practitioners of witchcraft." He started digging into his meal.
"And your father?" In English tradition, the parent was always an important part of the opening discussion in respect to family backgrounds.
"My father was partners with an aristocrat, who in turn handled the promotion and ownership benefits of the circus. He was also the last of a long line of Druid priests."
"Did he dabble in alchemy?" I asked.
"Rarely," he said. "My father was more the performing type. It was just something he did on the side, a tradition he was forced to keep up. Since his death, it has been carried over to me."
"So, you’re druidic," I said, relatively surprised. "It’s a strange faith to practice in a Tibetan monastery, even with the oddities that exist in this day and age."
"You’re not the first to say that," he said. "But if it’s associated with the metaphysical, anything goes. And please, let’s be formal. Call me by my nickname, Marcus."
Saint Marcus. It was simple, but the man himself wasn’t. His mind was ahead of everyone else’s, and it was obvious he was hiding a deep secret about his past or the true reason for his living in a Tibetan monastery. I also noticed that he shared a sort of cracked vanity with that other character, Daku. He was recognized and revered, but there was more to this so-called saint than I thought. "What kind of magician are you?" I asked him, since he came from a family of circus entertainers.
"A conjurer," he replied. "I gave up my father’s sacrificial practices a long time ago, so don't worry---and I could never see myself as being a necromancer. What brought me to Tibet was the medium of Tai-Sun. It was an ancient power used by the people in the lowlands, and before them the deities themselves. It’s a very reticent form of divination brought out through reflective influences."
"Yes, a combination of black and white magic, only more concentrated, more malevolent. Mirrors are the key to unlocking its potential."
"So you’re not a true saint, but still a Druid practicing monk faith," I said. Everyone at the table dropped their forks and practically choked on their food. As a guest I should have known when to shut my mouth. Edro was the most silent out of anyone; worried too. I could tell by the look in his only resourceful eye.
A firm "no" was the response I got. Besides, Edro informed me, Marcus was just so charming that it was almost impossible not to believe anything he said. Just like a pagan, I thought to myself.
"What do you hope to gain by practicing this Tai-Sun?" My curiosity was getting the best of me. Why didn't I just shut my mouth from the start?
"Some people come to a shrine or temple looking for peace and tranquility," he said, obviously referring to me. "My aim is to teach the world a lesson." His voice hardened at this point.
"You’re kidding, aren’t you?" I laughed. I did not get a reply. "Aren’t you?" There was a sudden madness in his face, a flaming look upon his eyelids. "I don’t quite understand," I went on, "but what exactly are you trying to say?"
Strange, but this man considered himself a saint, yet a saint is a person of exceptional holiness—a soul of pure (or great) virtue and benevolence, usually canonized by a Christian church. Sure, the wisdom of many cultures and races and histories were there, but the Jesuit roots definitely weren’t. The look in his eyes only told me that he was preparing for a very special day, and out for some very silly revenge. Edro said to me when I had first arrived that Marcus represented harmony in all its true forms, but if the saint was talking weird like this, what was his definition of harmony? Anarchy?
Marcus started laughing crazily. How odd, I thought to myself. I looked over at Edro, and he lowered his head and frowned; he must have known what Marcus was laughing about. He feared his cackle so that he wanted nothing to do with it. And the whole time I wondered: what had I gotten myself into? I would have been better off braving the out-doors until help arrived.
"What the hell is going on?" I stood up and asked, making the mistake of raising my voice a little too demandingly. "What is this Tai-Sun?" Naturally, it was none of my business, but if Marcus were a real saint and a genuine keeper of the faith, then he would have no problem telling a sincere Englishman such as myself all of his secrets.
"All-Consuming Fire!" His voice rose in a tiresomely theatrical crescendo. "I plan on becoming ruler of this wretched planet. It is my destiny. It has been foreseen."
"But if harmony is your way of life, then why do you suddenly talk like a radical?"
"Let me tell you a little story," he said. "Two-thousand years ago the early Christians drove my Druid ancestors out of their homes, because they wanted their new religion to exceed all others on the planet, including Judaism. I owe it to my bloodline to seek revenge. I owe it upon myself." He pushed his chair out and stood up, wiping his mouth with his napkin and throwing it down on his plate. It was apparent he had had enough, and was preparing to exit the dining area.
"You speak like a tyrant in haste!" I said slight angrily. He was mad. How could a man like this control the world, or change the events revolving around the Christians who lived in it? And what was the purpose to this All-Consuming Fire? He made himself out to be a god, yet he was nothing more than a human with knowledge and roots in the metaphysical and the occult. "Maybe you need to be reborn," I also threw at him. He knew what I was getting at, but of course he was opposed to such views.
"I have been reborn," he said, clenching his fists and gritting his teeth. "This temple is my rebirth for many years now." It was a rather dull philosophy which I had not expected to hear. "What you call born again, Mr Harwoods, such as becoming a dedicated Christian with a supernatural belief system is against most of my convictions. Pure dogma! If you forget, it was the Christians who drove my ancestors out of their homes and out of Great Britain. It was the Christians who betrayed us and tried to change our belief system and personal way of life. And it was the Romans, who through unduly Christian influence, went back on their deal to share the land and slain the remaining tribes of us. And I speak of a time long after the Dark Ages."
Frightened, I sat down and shut my mouth…but not before asking one last question.
"And through this silly plot of revenge," I said casually, "which I still can’t fully un-derstand, what do you hope to gain spiritually from it?"
"Emotional release," Marcus said, "mental reverberation, graceful impartiality, fore-ordained magnanimity—and many other great things. Each will follow one another, as I grow stronger in will and dominance." He started to make his way to the door, the two guards stepping aside to let him pass. "As a Christian, perhaps you need to see it with your own eyes. If you are brave enough, why don’t you come to my library sometime after midnight? It is the most important room in this monastery. It is where all the knowledge of the ages are stored."
"Why?" I asked, in reference to the sudden invitation.
"I will show you firsthand—a small test of what Tai-Sun is, of what the All-Consuming Fire can do…"
And then, oddly enough, he wrapped his cloak around him and left with a shudder.
I looked over at Edro and queried. "What was that all about? Why do you curl up in fear to this man? He is not even of your culture?"
"Because his power is too great," Edro said, trying to be realistic. "There is a chamber in this monastery, where great danger lurks. You should be wary about the library—at all costs! It is said that the entrance to this chamber is there, accessible by a secret lever behind one of the book shelves."
"What is this chamber? And what danger?"
"Silence that tongue of yours, Edro," Daku abruptly interrupted. "Do you want to get us all killed?"
Edro looked over at him. "It’s too late for that now, Daku. He must know. Mr Harwoods may be our only hope." Then his only resourceful eye came back over to me. "The secret chamber I speak of is a hall, a hall of many mirrors---a place of reflection pressed upon reflection. Not even the most distinguishable members of our religious order are allowed near there. But if you are to enter, then I must prepare you spiritually."
"Prepare me for what?"
"Prepare you for the power that emanates from within its main corridor. It is a place where black and white magic come together…a place where Druidism and Tibetan sortilege clash…a place where light and darkness overshadow all consistency."
"Of course, the All-Consuming Fire," I muttered, coming to a realization. "The representation of Tai-Sun, brought out through a special form of divination. How could I be so stupid?"
At the same time I was mentally digesting this sudden insight, across the table an angry Daku had formed a fist and gave me a dirty look.
As you can see, dinner didn’t go over quite so well.
I had learned many things by now about this so-called saint. One of these things was that he was misleading the other monks, misleading them into believing he was some sort of divine teacher who could make them deviate from their own faith and teach them how to utilize the power of harmony when it never even existed. Instead, he was the one doing all the utilizing. He was using the Tibetans’ ancient knowledge and books of magic to destroy the Christians of the world, and follow some sick, unordained passage which he considered to be his destiny.
Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Saint Margeoux (or Marcus, which he preferred to be called) was just like the rest of them: King Otto II, Nebuchad-nezzar, Attila the Hun—a jackal, a hatemonger, and a self-proclaimed megalomaniac. A man only out for himself and his own desires, trying to avenge his ancestors by acquiring some kind of sinister medium through ruthless evil and arcane intentions.
Anyway, after a sleepless night in a room near the monastery’s kitchen, in which my head gave me constant questions to focus on, I went in search of the library Marcus was talking about. Before I could investigate the interior and start looking around for a secret lever, I got caught up in the other monks’ after-hours meditation march. Of course, I agreed to join in the festivities, a dedication to the Asian spirits that proclaimed the night, so as not to make my curious intentions look obvious. After all, I was still on the lookout for Daku. I just didn’t trust him. Hooded, the lot of us carried torches and incense and chanted Tibetan lullabies for the dead. The monks in front of me who were not holding torches or incense had cymbals on their fingers and wore cloaks adorned with shards of opals and rubies and great big sapphires. The monks to my rear wore leather straps on their faces and beat on strange-looking percussion instruments. And if Edro had not cleansed my body and soul before retiring to his quarters for the night, I would not have been permitted to join in this spiritual procession.
When the march ended, I worked my way out of the crowd. I figured no one would even notice. I had to find Volturna, and I had to gain access to the library. It wasn’t until now that the corridors of the Shen-Tau had adopted a ghostly feel, almost like being in a haunted house. The halls were pitch-dark, and the night air was deeply upon my shoulders. I paid no mind to the chilly atmosphere, and just kept walking down the hall.
Suddenly, I saw a figure standing in the shadows, large and strong, and from the reflection on my watch glass (a shiny glare that only lasted a brief second) it looked like the person was holding a metallic object.
A moment later the figure jumped out of the shadows and struck me. My eyelids automatically dropped, as did the weight of my body, and my head went blank. Now everything was much darker.
I was out cold.
When I woke up my eyes were half-shut and my head was hurting; not to mention the awful ringing in my ears that had me thinking I was totally deaf. At first it felt like I was levitating, but when the confusion subsided and I finally came to I realized I was being carried like some oversized infant. Daku was walking down a well-lit corridor, holding me in his arms like a father who nurtures his only child and then takes him back to his room. But of course I knew I wasn’t going back to my room. The question is: where was he taking me?
"Sorry," he said, "but I have to do this." He saw that I was waking up, but I was too weak to fight him off. "Orders from the master."
We entered a chamber: a large, octagonal-shaped vault filled with books—literally hundreds of them. This was obviously the library and I had been brought there for a reason. He dropped me on the floor (as if I had not received enough pain already) and said to me before exiting, "It was curiosity that killed the cat, white man. Remember this during the time of your redemption." And then he was gone.
"Redemption?" I said to myself, still a bit groggy. "What the devil?"
"So, my power does interest you," another voice in the room said, but this one came from the shadows. I knew it couldn’t be Edro. The voice sounded too sinister. And the way my heart was racing, I could have used his company. "A few hours ago," the voice added, "it was my refuge and my kindness...the name of the Shen-Tau itself which interested you. Oh well, look on the bright side---at least you weren’t the first."
I walked into the center of the room, aisles and aisles of books set up in an octagonal shelving pattern, all pretty much surrounding me. A dim light shined above my head, and with what little vision capability I had, I glanced across at my adversary...
"Don’t be so tense," he said softly, sitting triumphant in what looked like (from the distance anyway) a thronelike seat. "Let’s just talk—you and I."
I froze. "Talk?"
"Yes, talk. I enjoy having conversations with interesting people. And you, Mr Harwoods are very interesting. Welcome to my study."
I bowed as if it were a great honor, but I was actually scared out of my wits.
"So, do you still want to see my place of reflection, and the performance of a life-time within it?" he asked me suggestively. "I already know that Edro has filled you in on a lot. Of course, against my wishes. That is what my spy Daku is for."
"Yes, I do want to see the hall of mirrors," I said, even though he was obviously mad and somewhat deranged; and I could not trust him at this point. "I want to see Tai-Sun."
"I have a better idea," he said, as he rose from his seat. "Why don’t you give up your faith in Christ, and your current belief system? Join me, as a fellow Englander and nobleman. It doesn’t only have to be my destiny. It can be our destiny."
"What do you mean?"
"We can rule this world together." He was giving me an offer I couldn’t refuse. He was going to let me in on his unspeakable power, but not give me the details right away. First there was a story to be heard. "You’ve seen the village from afar, haven’t you?"
"Yes, I believe I have," I said. How could I be so naïve to keep this communion up? "The people there are farmers and fur traders, aren’t they?"
"Correct," he said. "And did you know that I could wipe out their entire population if I wanted to? I can do it right from my fingertips with one single fireball." He snapped his fingers. "Other small working communities have ceased to exist from such adversity as well." By now I had wondered what he was getting at. "These fireballs are unstoppable. When used correctly, they are the end result of the medium the monks call Tai-Sun."
"All-Consuming Fire," I uttered. The meaning was pretty obvious.
"Yes, and by using the gift of my Druid ancestors, passed down along many generations, I can control the formation of the fireball and regulate its destructive pattern by using mirrors to centralize the heat." That explained the necessity for a hall filled with tons of them. "Without the Tibetans knowledge of mysticism and magic I could not have acquired such a power, especially over such a short period of time."
"And you can direct these fireballs at any community in any country throughout the world?" I asked him.
"Yes," he replied. "They’re almost like comets or space rocks that fall unexpectedly from the sky. The only difference is that I control them—which proves my point to the rest of the world…that my dominance over Christianity is imminent."
I shook my head in disgust. "Including England?"
"Including England," he said.
"So for the time being you’re using these poor monks as an example for all of Christendom. Very becoming of a sick murderer to be. I’ve heard many stories about the men of this earth’s past who kindled enmity, but currently you, Saint Marcus—you take the cake!"
"So maybe I am filled with hatred." He stepped forward and stood before me. "So maybe I am." He smiled at me for a brief moment, before letting out a chortle that is usually becoming of a male witch. Then he walked back over to the chair he had been sitting in only a minute earlier. In back of the chair there was a bookshelf, which he felt his way around. A second later he pulled on a latch, somewhere along the third row of books, and there came a bright reflective light through a small slit or niche in the side of the wall.
I bit my lip as the light took hold over my body, illuminating the gummy lint on the outside of my raiment. Now, no dire thoughts occurred to me immediately, but after a while, when I put aside the crazy notion that the light was dangerous, my irksome, free- wheeling imagination (more my curiosity) kicked in. "What are you doing?" I asked from across the floor, as Marcus slowly made his way deeper and deeper into the lit passage. I was thinking about Daku’s words. Redemption.
"Do you still hold an interest, Mr Harwoods? Do you still wish to follow me inside?"
"Never!" I said brutally. "I condemn this power of yours! You must take me for an uneducated fool!"
"But believe in the insanity of the moment, Mr Harwoods," he said, as he went deeper inside; he was practically in the center by now, surrounded by walls of constant reflection. I started to tread on his footsteps, without realizing the course of my actions. "With
me as ruler, and you by my side, we can prevent any further misfortunes of humanity, which for the last 2000 years has been a fault of the Catholic Church."
I was starting to fall for what he said, almost hypnotically, regardless of his ambitions and regardless of my feelings of animosity. I felt myself drifting off, further into his influence and deeper into the hall of mirrors, succumbing to some sort of power that felt almost supernatural in strength. I saw fire, a ball of it, round and blazing from the tip of his fingers. And whatever destructive path toward whatever distant country it was about to take, I too felt consumed by it.
As I stood before this man-made fireball a perpetually reflective glare hit me in the face and blinded me. The pain in back of my eyes was like electric shocks stabbing the inside of my brain. Had my eyesight been normal, I might have made the mistake of participating in this fool’s quest for power. I fell to my knees and started crawling around in agony, screaming, "I’m blind! I’m blind! What do I do?" The swelling from my lids had increased in size so that it had made my whole face turn numb; my guess was that some of my optic nerves were damaged by the intensity of the mirrors.
...And then I heard a voice. One of hope.
I looked up indistinctly, and saw a pale blob of a face. "Your eyesight will return," the voice said. "It is only temporary." It was Edro, and he had come to my rescue, carrying me from the mirrored hall. His sole purpose now was to put a stop to Marcus’s evil, and restore harmony like it had once been. "Do not worry," he added, as he set me down. "I’ve been through the same thing myself. Just stay put. The more time you experience darkness, the faster the recovery of your vision." He looked back toward Margeoux and his All-Consuming Fire. "I will finish this myself—once and for all."
I stood witness with faulty sight, as Volturna drew a blade and rushed at the saint. I heard the wall behind the thronelike seat close, and I lifted myself up by grabbing hold of a nearby pillar. Marcus’s chair was just within reach. I sat down and leaned my head back, feeling myself about to hyperventilate. Panic was racing through my veins straight to my heart. And then I heard it. The sound of a blade splicing a man’s heart.
In the days to follow, I did not see Edro. I just heard from some of the other monks that he was now the temple saint. I think he wanted to be left alone. Daku was banished, and one of the other higher-ups told me Edro had gone into one of the caves in the mountains to contemplate and ask Buddha for forgiveness. I spent a couple of more days, resting and packing up my equipment, preparing for the rescue team to arrive. It was hard to believe that I was never going to see the Shen-Tau or Edro again. I still miss them.
Looking back, I felt that a lack of faith in my religion contributed at least in part to Marcus’s influence and this weakening of the brain. But anyhow, propelled by this newly emerged paranoia I made it out alive. It was a tremendous relief to verify that not only myself, but also the Christians of the world were going to be all right.
As for me, the pages in my journal are running out and my story is at an end. I left the Shen-Tau a happy man, headed for a retreat of my own.