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. “Most of what I’ve managed to figure out comes from notes written on the margins of the text. References to the reign of Valentinian III and wars with the Visigoths place the discovery of the book in the first half of the fifth century. The book was found in the ruins of an subterranean temple in the Western Empire, which had been unknown to the Romans until some time after the Visigoths sacked Rome in 410. The Romans had no idea what deity the temple honored, and the notes mention that attempts to reform it into a Christian tomb had stalled for several decades. It was during the last attempt that the tome was discovered. A worker was removing some stone drawings when he uncovered a hidden vault containing the volume. The workers recognized the book as extremely old and completely intact, something its discoverer found particularly unsettling. He took it to the bishop overseeing the restoration, who thought it might have been a collection of pagan folklore.”
“Go on,” Carter said. He seemed a bit more interested.
“The first hundred or so pages record the priest’s notes on the tome itself. He notes that the pages are made from vellum, which concerned him since it was too old for anything but papyrus. He also became concerned with the Latin used in the text, which he described as vague and butchered. Eventually he began to jot down notes about the contents of the text itself, mentioning its prophecies and disturbing imagery. Not long after, his notes took on a paranoid bent–he wrote about recurring nightmares, a feeling of inexplicable dread that he claimed increased with every page he read, and finally he came to the conclusion that the book itself was a demonic entity and that it needed to be destroyed.”
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 it,” 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–some of them resulting in the deaths of the individuals involved. In the end, it was decided that the best course of action was to just seal it away. After that, the book was essentially lost, and no one was aware of its existence until a few years ago.”
“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, “His notes mentioned him finding it, but they don’t say how it happened. Just that whoever hid it was determined to make sure it stayed that way.”
Carter became quiet again, but his skepticism was beginning to fade. While it was possible that the notes were simply delusions of madmen, he was not about to dismiss them outright.
“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 that what he was hearing was important. Regardless, an explanation is long overdue.
“Some of the later notes mention that the tome itself seems to have a will of its own. It inspires people, gets them to do things that they normally wouldn’t do. The notes themselves indicate that it was only known for a little over a year, but it was stolen six times in that time period, and each time it was recovered the thief had either died horribly, or apparently abandoning the book in plain view of the public–often in some rather inexplicable places, and with no one but the priests searching for it noticing it was there. And as I mentioned before, they attempted to burn the tome several times, but it wouldn’t burn. Worse, several of these attempts ended in tragedy, one of them involving a cardinal being found after the fact, his body charred to the bone and still clutching the book which was left intact.”
“Sounds like the goddamn Necronomicon,” Steven said. He flicked his wrist and the twin blades of the Nightwalker slid into place.
“So what kind of book is it?” Pepper asked. “A chronicle, some sort of religious or mythological text, or more of a grimoire?”
“I’d say it’s a mixture of all three,” Jacob said, “although I doubt it can really be categorized. The book is bizarre, and judging from the aging of the vellum it seems to predate the history of the codex as we know it. 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 Hellenistic and Koine Greek as well as Early Latin, but its grammar structure is very simple and its lexicon seems to be a strange hodgepodge of all three of those languages.”
“Scaelin,” Fiona muttered, remembering the note on the translation.
“That’s correct,” Jacob said. “The language is difficult to understand. The problem is that while it has a very large lexicon, the meanings of each words far outnumber their equivalents in Latin and Greek. This is made even more frustrating 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 about Dheania. The one that Pepper tried to read implies that we’re in for some serious shit.”
Jacob’s demeanor became significantly more reserved. He set the Tome Kataklysma on the floor beside him. “There’s a lot about Dheania in there, and none of it is pleasant. You see, 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, a sort of slave race you might say, to intercede on their behalf. These creatures don’t enter our world often. Instead, they hide in worlds we cant enter, preferring to enter our world in the twilight hours, often through darkness and shadows. The Tome Kataklysma calls them The Watchers Beyond the Veil, but it also calls them Occae Caelestium–the Gods’ Harrows’. These harrows are manipulators, heavy handed and brutal in their methods, but usually without any will or reason of their own. The ones that have these traits are the things of nightmares–and all of the horror they unleash is for the benefit of their masters.”
“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… mundane purpose.”
“And what’s that?” Carlton asked.
Jacob removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “We’re… their cattle,” he said. “Their prey. They need our souls–our life energy–to grow and mature. And it’s not just us–everything that lives our dies in our world 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 doesn’t go into detail about what it entails, but it does mention it a few times. Consider the typical Christian Hell–the biblical Lake of Fire that the damned are sent to in the end of days for failing to repent for their sins. Imagine how it must painful that eternal fire must be, burning not just our bodies but our souls as our minds suffer in the absence of the Almighty. Now imagine that the worst pain in your life is nothing compared to that agony. What you have there is a human concept of suffering–an eternity of torment for a lifetime of sin. Now imagine there is no sin. Everyone is equal in death–the bacteria that infects a wound, the wolf that slaughters the lamb, the murderer who hunts his victims, the petty thief who steals to survive, the saint who sacrifices his life for the innocent, even the infant that is too young to know right from wrong. The only sorting value they have–that we have–is which god, which hell claims them when they die. Now consider that there is, in fact, a limit to the human imagination and that the reality is far worse. The Tome Kataklysma implies that such a fate awaits all of us in death. We’re limited by our minds. Our fates are not.”
The room fell silent again, but 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 also the best possible fate–after all, even our souls can only withstand so much before they fade from existence. And that means it’s also the least efficient way to get the energy the god needs–and they have other, far more efficient ways to utilize the souls they consume.”
“Like what?” Pepper asked.
“If they consume a living soul,” Jacob replied, “they can extend the process and draw out more of that energy. Only now that soul is still alive in every sense of the word, with its body and mind intact. And because of that, that soul’s body can be withstand its fate almost indefinitely. 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 expressed in human terms.”
Jacob closed his eyes. “There is no way to escape this. It will happen to every living being–every animal, every plant, everything that dies. After all, 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. “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.” Despite maintaining the calm tone he had maintained throughout the evening, it still 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 even hope fight it. It wasn’t a ghost that could be exorcised. It wasn’t a demon, or a monster, or some silly childhood terror going bump in the night. It was a god, an entity whose mere existence had stormed into her stable, rational life and devastated everything she thought she knew.
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.