16. Sh’Karee

July 14, 2007

Faithful Book One Chapter 16
High above the vast public baths of the Acropolitan Thermae, Faith’s secret chambers darkened with the rapid approach of the final pentad in the 45-hour day. Paul Sebastian and Michael Constantine’s red uniforms contrasted against the glowing gaseous disk of Planet Gaia in Court-at-Columbia’s evening sky.

The regard between the men shrouded darkly, too.

Parliamentary passed the reforms,” Reverend Constable Paul Sebastian xiDuang proclaimed. He twisted a face when the news elicited little interest on Constantine’s uncharacteristically stony face.

The Archangel listened, although He took care to appear preoccupied elsewhere.

As had become His custom while sequestered, The Archangel perched atop ancient masonry like a sculpted gargoyle of perfect balance and intensity. His favored spot protected a small shaft that extended hundreds of meters through rock and architecture to vents and ducks latticing the bath works below. The chatter of oblivious Thermae bathers, a hundred choruses playing at once, rose to whisper in His acutely tuned ears.

Still, He allowed His focus to eavesdrop on the two Templar soldier-priests who retreated to the battlements outside. His senses observed a curious exchange of tension brewing between His chaperones.

In defiance of the other’s silence, Sebastian began again, “They wasted little time in dismissing etaSade’s amendments. After the other delegates heard what he was up to, no one wanted to back the new measures he tried imposing. Anyway, he wasn’t around to defend them.”

He continued, “There’s no telling how high in the Guild and House eta this human trafficking ring goes. Faith and Parliamentary will probably be sorting it out for years. Funny, don’t you think, etaSade woke today a saint and savior and he’ll sleep tonight Aideena’s greatest villain.”

Constantine flinched, as though pained, and turned himself away from the senior Templar.

The movement chilled Sebastian. He calculated that the younger Faithful deserved his foul mood, a good thickening of his skin for being undisciplined and naïve and light colored. He relished that the blond finally shut up.

But, then, Sebastian suddenly, inexplicably, felt he needed Constantine to speak. An indiscernible feeling disquieted him about Reverend Constable tau Valez’ silence.

“The eta boy that was killed got what he wanted after all: Sh’karee,” xiDuang mused aloud, abandoning his conceit and measuring his words.

“Imagine what Sade and his conspirators might have gotten away with hadn’t he attempted it. There’s no better case for justifiable revenge upon a clansman who’s brought dishonored on one’s House and ancestors, if you ask me. By Creation, consider the situation he found himself. How many people these days would have had the courage to invoke Sh’karee and act on it?”

Michael Constantine suddenly whipped around. Face reddening, the anger in his eyes turned to burning rage and scalded Paul Sebastian with a smoldering incrimination. He lunged forward and, just as xiDuang’s martial instincts pinned him on the ground, warning siren trumpeted.

“Security breach, sector beta. Security breach, sector beta,” an automated voice announced.

The two Faithful reacted, instantly reaching for their pulsons and Discipliners, and racing for the shielded anterior staircase. They descended only a few steps when, onto the landing below, a lone shapely figure emerged from the shadows, her way barred by a thin traveling energy barrier.

“Matron Seneca!” tauValez vocalized his shock.

“Halt!” said Paul Sebastian, equally stunned. “How the Hell did you break our protocols?”

Steady, as though accustomed to having pulsons leveled at her, omegaMarat Seneca eased a sly smile, “As a matriarch of House omega I am not without my resources, even within Faith, Disciple Paul.”

Hurried bootsteps behind the matron announced the arrival of more Templar to the rear. Recognizing the personage before him, and with a nod from Sebastian, Faithful John Gregory alphaOsloe stood down the alarm.

“This area is prohibited, by order of Faith,” xiDuang harped. “Retreat now or I’ll arrest you where you stand.”

“I’ll see The Archangel,” Seneca answered, undeterred.

“Impossible,” Sebastian countered. “Retreat now!”

“I’ll have my audience with His Divinity, and I won’t leave without it.”

Constantine leaned in with his pulson. “You may petition the Prefect, Matron Seneca,” he cautioned. “For now, our orders require us to remove you by force should we have cause.”

Then, thunder rolled, “We’ll hear her.”

The Archangel bore down on them from the shadowed upper landing, His towering winged figure silhouetted and threatening against the chamber’s Gaia-saturated light. The grey electric glow of His eyes leveled the omega matriarch with an imperious look that would be too contemptible of an Aideenan male to attempt upon a woman.

It excited Seneca. She suspected the alien knew that.

Before Sebastian could managed a protest, The Archangel swept down a reproachful force upon the Templar and his fellows, the slightest psychic twinge rude enough to make plain his resolve, and He asserted aloud, “She may speak.”

Seneca raised her stance confidently. “Why are you here, Divinity?” she asked candidly.

Neither startled nor amused, The Archangel stared back at omegaMarat in silence, void of empathy and motionless.

“I suspect your unwillingness to respond is not because you wish to seem indignant, but that you simply do not know the answer,” brazened Seneca after a moment. “Tell me, do you still hear the Celestial Collective? Is their ever-present chorus of thought still so completely immersed within your own consciousness that you can only express yourself in the ‘we’?”

The Archangel remained mute; only staring, just staring.

“I believe the Celestial Collective are as still in your head as you are here. No more willing to explain themselves to you as they have been mum to Aideena-kind since we first mistook them for angels,” Seneca continued.

“You are guilty of some horribly transgression, something so reprehensible that it demanded exile, here, in this man-woman form. Normally the past, present and future are interchangeable to you, but now whatever future or past you are aware of must seem like a dream growing more and more distant with each day you’re among us. Along with it, the reason for your excommunication grows further from your reach, and whatever redemption the Collective might have require of you, too.”

Seneca paused and listened for The Archangel’s rebuttal. Again, He offered none.

The omega matriarch’s gaze narrowed on the metaterrestial’s immovable shrouded frame and she contemplated aloud, “How utterly alone you must be. Frightened. Friendless.”

“It doesn’t have to be,” Seneca fired. “You’re actions today prove it. The Celestial Collective is resign to be mere observers in world, but you have the capacity to act. It’s within your power now to behave according to your conscious.”

In her excitement, Seneca advanced forward and the security barrier automatically closed toward her. She had the presence of mind to draw back, making the barrier retreat, avoiding direct contact and its disabling neuro-sensory effects.

She pleaded, “You are not alone. You are part of the world, part of Aideena. You are an actor in its future. By choosing to engage, you shape your own future out of the present and you make it possible for everyone you touch to have a stake in the future they create also. I urge you, don’t sit on the sidelines. Do what’s within your conscious to influence. Whether your actions produce charity and hope or something else, you cannot simply observe and live safe and above it all. You must choose.”

The Archangel’s eyes flared, suddenly. He turned and showed omegaMarat his winged back. Seneca sunk, summarily dismissed and uncertain she’d succeeded in driving her point. Before she could recover and start again, Michael Constantine waved his pulson.

“Your audience with Divinity’s done, Matron Seneca,” tauValez commanded. “Go, please. Now.”

Seneca returned a piercing glare. She held her ground for a long moment, sizing up the young Faithful. Then suddenly, she softened. “You’ve seen it, too, Disciple Michael,” she discerned aptly. “You’ve experienced that thing that asks us why we are here.”

Seneca turned and then paused, regarding Michael Constantine again, “The Goddess entrusted Aideena to the Faithful to prepare the way to Salvation. But, even the Faithful must choose whether they will be actors in the world or bystanders. Just like Him, you’re asking yourself that question right now.”

The House omega matriarch withdrew down the staircase under escort of John Gregory and the other Templar. Sebastian and Constantine holstered their weapons and ascended toward chambers.

Wearily, xiDuang rasped, “Now you know why I no longer ask questions.”

Michael Constantine slammed his forearm into the Templar’s chest and pushed himself hard against his superior. “You are a coward, Sebastian.”

The senior Reverend Constable angrily grabbed the younger Faithful by his breast-coat and spun him around. The Michael reacted instinctively, clasped the other’s grip and shifted his weight, and prevented himself from being thrown.

The expert counter surprised Paul Sebastian. His scornful expression melted and he grabbed Michael Constantine by the strut of the neck and pressed his lips hard upon the young man’s mouth. He held him there.

Sebastian whispered softly, “You are young, tauValez.”

“Shall that be our excuse? I am young and you’ve seen it all?”

“The truth is the world is not always what we wish it to be. This uniform and our oath remind us who we are and what we’re here to do.”

Sebastian’s dark eyes held his younger self and in those watered spheres Constantine saw the familiar memory that beckon him back to an event in every Templar’s experience that all shared. In the temple yard, standing shoulder to shouldered, the newly ordained shouted in unison, “I am Faithful.”

“What are you?”

Reverend Constable tauValez straightened and answered loudly and proudly, “I am Faithful.”

“What are you?”

“I am the Goddess’ emissary. I am Her fist that strikes and Her open hand that lifts up.”

“Damned be the enemies of the Faithful.”

The Archangel listened, although He took care to appear preoccupied elsewhere.

TO BE CONCLUDED

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