By that point, the sun had already set. The last glimmer of twilight was beginning to fade, and in the east the first stars of night could be seen. The stillness of the evening air only served to accentuate the tension.
The group had gathered in the living room. Carlton at the foot of the stairs, filling spare magazines for the rifles, while Roderigo and Yvonne took to cleaning their guns. Fiona sat on the couch, her body rigid with anxiety, and Pepper had taken a seat beside her. Steven lounged on the floor looking rather bored, and Carter sat back in his recliner, his eyes half-closed in frustration. Each of them kept their attention on Jacob Niles, who was seated in the center of the room on an ottoman with the massive book in his lap.
Carter stared skeptically at Jacob. “The Tome Kataklysma,” he said, repeating with Jacob had called the book that he held in his lap.
“Yes.” He began tapping his fingers on the volume’s cover. “It’s an ancient codex, the contents of which concern the history and nature of the Gods.”
“So you’ve said.” Carter leaned forward and rested his chin on his knuckles. “What I don’t understand is how an official living in the Holy See could get his hands on a book that is, to the church, nothing more than heresy.”
“It’s a long story,” Jacob said.
“I doubt any of us will sleep tonight.”
Jacob let out a sigh and began. “During the fifth century, there was a project to reconstruct an old church in southern Italy. The church had been converted from a former pagan temple that was abandoned during the height of the Roman Empire; no one knew what particular deities it honored, although it was unlikely to be affiliated with the state’s religion. As one worker was lifting the stone tiles on the temple’s floor, he found a large volume that was remarkably undamaged. He took the book to a local priest who initially thought it was a collection of pagan folklore.”
“Go on,” Carter said. He seemed a bit more interested.
“As the priest read through the book, he realized that there was more to its contents than he initially thought. He began to feel an unexplainable terror that only worsened with each page. Eventually he came to believe that the book itself was the embodiment of a very powerful demonic being.”
Fiona noticed a strange look on Pepper’s face. She’d mentioned feeling strange during their discussion of Deni’s books, but Fiona was more unnerved by how this story appeared to affect her–she was staring down at her feet, refusing to meet anyone’s eyes, and tightly gripping the arms of the chair. She knew this was unlike her niece, who typically displayed neither fear, guilt nor anxiety–the girl was, after all, unflappable.
“So what happened?” Yvonne asked. “I mean, I find it hard to believe the Catholic Church would knowingly hide a book like this.”
“There were never many people who knew about the book,” Jacob said. “There were a few early on, but they kept it to themselves. There were several attempts to destroy it, but they all failed. In the end, it was decided that the best course of action was to just seal it away, and it remained hidden that way for over fourteen hundred years.”
“I take it you found it,” Carter said.
“Actually, my predecessor did,” Jacob said. “It was hidden behind a stone block in the Vatican Library, along with several crucifixes and a vial of holy water. He read it, but he suffered the same feelings of terror that overcame the original priest. Unlike him, however, my predecessor was determined to read it through. He ended up hanging himself just weeks after discovering it. I came across it and his notes while cleaning out his room, and took it to investigate.”
“So the Church doesn’t know it exists,” Carter said.
“Then how did your predecessor find out about it?”
“That I don’t know,” Jacob said, “none of his notes mentioned where he got the tome’s history.”
Carter became quiet again, but his skepticism was beginning to fade. While it was possible that the notes were simply delusions of a disturbed priest, the past few days had left him open to other possibilities.
“Should I continue?” Jacob asked.
Carter shifted in his seat. “Yes, please,” he said. He didn’t really want to hear more, but he felt that an explanation was long overdue.
“According to my predecessor’s notes, the tome itself seems to have a will of its own. It inspires people, gets them to do things that normally don’t make much sense. In the year between its discovery and its hiding, it was stolen three times. Each of those times the tome was recovered after the thief had met a grisly end. Even the attempts to destroy it ended in tragedy–one of the clerics that attempted to burn it set fire to his own vestments in the process, and he was found charred to death with the book still intact.”
“Sounds like the goddamn Necronomicon,” Steven said. He flicked his wrist and the twin blades of the Nightwalker slid into place.
“So how old is this book, anyway?” Pepper asked. “And is it just a religious text, or more of a grimoire?”
“I’d say it’s a mixture of both,” Jacob said. “And to answer your other question, I’m not exactly sure. From what I can tell the book is over two thousand years old–the language it’s written in shares a number of similarities with both Ancient Greek and Early Latin, but its grammar structure is simpler and its overall lexicon seems different.”
“Scaelin,” Fiona muttered, remembering the note on the translation.
“That’s correct,” Jacob said. “The language is very difficult to understand. The problem is that while it has a very large list of words, the meanings of these words far outnumber their equivalents in Latin and Greek. This is compounded by the fact that the language only uses the nominative and genitive forms of their nouns, relies exclusively on feminine and neuter forms, excludes the opative moods of verbs, ignores perfect tenses and excludes augments. It’s literally incapable of speaking in the past tense.” He took a deep breath. “I’m pretty sure that the language was concurrent with classical Latin, and it probably evolved from an early version of it. But due to the way it works, it’s both ambiguous and precise, to the point that it’s almost a code rather than an actual language.”
“Fascinating,” Steven said. “But I’m more concerned with what the book says. That book that Pepper tried to read implies that we’re in for some serious shit.”
Jacob’s demeanor became significantly more nervous. He set the Tome Kataklysma on the floor beside him. “The gods don’t usually work directly through our world,” he said. “However, they aren’t content with mortals living as they please. Rather, they have created… beings to intercede on their behalf. These creatures manipulate and even end the lives of the living to suit the needs of the gods they serve. They hide in worlds we can’t enter, and enter ours through the darkness and shadows. The Tome Kataklysma calls them The Watchers Beyond the Veil, but it also calls them Occae Caelestium–the Gods’ Harrows’.”
“In other words,” Carlton said, “they exist to further the divine plan at our expense.”
“That’s… partly right. It’s definitely at our expense, but there isn’t a divine plan. We have a more more… basal purpose.”
“And what’s that?” Carlton asked.
Jacob removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “We’re… their cattle,” he said. “They need our souls–our life energy–to grow and mature so that we can sustain them. And it’s not just us–everything that lives our dies exists for this reason. So when a living soul dies, it is sent to the wasteland, where it is claimed by a god and consumed.” He opened his eyes. “The Tome Kataklysma also goes on to give out some details what happens afterward. Not much, mind you, but enough to get an idea. It tells us that every God is a hell in His or Her own, but they are not the hell that we thought we knew. There is no justice after death. They are indifferent to our faiths, to our moral worth, to our actions, to our manner of death and even to our age and youth. And the manner of our fates… well, it’s nothing like we learned in church. There is no fire and brimstone, no lakes of fire or burning sulfur. There is no blistering heat or burning cold. And there are no brutal or ironic punishments. Those are human ideas. The Tome Kataklysma implies that the fate that awaits the dead is far worse than man can conceive. We’re limited by our finite imaginations. Our fates are not.”
The room fell silent again. Once more the atmosphere felt tense, but this time, it wasn’t the silence that made it that way.
Jacob did not let the atmosphere settle. He placed his glasses back on his nose, but this time he didn’t look up. “From what the Tome Kataklysma does say, that is the best possible fate. There are other, more efficient ways for gods to get the souls they need.”
“Like what?” Pepper asked. There was no sarcasm or frustration in her voice, only anxiety.
“If they consume a living being,” Jacob replied, “they can extend the process and draw out more of that energy. Doing so greatly amplifies the effect on the soul in question. That’s because this soul is still alive, and therefore it can be made to withstand that torment almost indefinitely. And because it is alive, its body and mind are both still intact. Because they the Gods will never not die, this means that any souls that are consumed alive will never fade. It’s a fate so terrible that it cannot be explained in human terms.”
Each of them gazed at Jacob in horror, rendered speechless by that revelation. Only Carlton spoke, swearing under his breath, and it was only after several minutes of silence that Steven could be heard to whisper, “Jesus.”
Jacob closed his eyes. “There’s no way to escape this. They are the light that awaits us, in the end.” He reached into his pocket to remove a prescription bottle, taking a moment to swallow a pill with a gulp of water. “Tomorrow…” he said, “tomorrow I say goodbye to my sister and my cousin. Two people we all loved, who right now are suffering a fate worse than Hell itself.” It wasn’t hard to hear the pain in his voice.
Fiona stared out the window at the growing darkness. She finally had an answer to identity of the beast in her dreams, but that answer didn’t bring any comfort. The beast–this Dheania–was coming, and they couldn’t fight it. It wasn’t a ghost. It wasn’t a demon or anything else that her faith had prepared her to fight. It was a god, a being whose mere existence had destroyed everything she thought she knew. Having this truth revealed destroyed any hope she had of her sister’s peace.
It shouldn’t be like this, she thought. We’re alive. We exist. We have rights. Don’t we? She didn’t want to believe her cousin. She didn’t want to accept that that was the reason why she was alive.
With only a week remaining, she feared the worse was yet to come. There would be no stopping it, no softening the blow, no coming back from the brink. She realized at that moment what that prophecy foretold. The world was not coming to an end. There would be death on a massive scale, but life would survive. Why wouldn’t it? The gods were timeless, but she doubted they had the patience to start from scratch. After all, the Earth was nearly five billion years old. The first prokaryotic cells appeared only around four billion years ago, and the first sexually reproducing species in just a little more than one billion. And it was only one hundred thousand years ago that the first anatomically modern humans appeared; it made no sense for the gods to waste all of that and wipe the slate clean.
But it made sense to harvest it.