"Now the serpent was more cunning
than any beast of the field which
the Lord God had made."
Genesis 3: 1
The chronicles of time have always taught that cause and effect define history. So hard to grasp by so many, so easily misinterpreted by the few who put too much importance on their own self-worth, their own goals.
* * * * * * * *
Over centuries it would happen in the flash of time. For man measures such in linear terms. Therein the finite mind not only fails to grasp the answer, but also follows the wide way that leads to ruin. Time can be an ally or an enemy. Man's fate depends solely on his intent, a trait that often becomes intense. What is on his heart weighs greater for the defendant in the celestial courts than all the brilliance he can accumulate in his mind. While man preaches that time is of the essence, he fails to comprehend the inevitable essence of the situation. It is about time and what man is living on is borrowed!
Infused knowledge. Some say it comes directly from a higher power. Others say it is instinctive; others still a deeper sense of the libido - an altered state that stores data for proper disposal at the time of coincidence. Saints and sinners - grave ones at that - possess the ability to store information derived from the world and the Heavens.
Deciphering the difference was the task at hand for those who would take up the mantle of the devil's advocates in determining what was best for man in modern times. Few men still believed the overwhelming, angelic powers of the fallen spirit. Even fewer the conclusion that the prince of the world was far more powerful than finite man. The question still baffled theologians and psychologists on why the devil continued a course where the light at the end of the tunnel would never shine. Pride was the rationale they arrived at; often through pride they were ushered in.
Every political chamber and ecclesial chancery had been compromised. No exceptions. The siren of temporal achievements, needs and wants had deafened the lyre of virtue and right. It was an era void of saints. The world was ripe for the picking and the chameleon was ready to make the transformation complete. From scarce sources the supplicating cry of Abraham that the Lord save His children only echoed off tin ears tuned to the world in the manner ants would traipse in step over the burrowed ruts of a dead, hollowed-out rotting piece of oak. All in vain. Even Abraham's intercession seemed hopeless.
Yet it was to Abraham the global village turned. This overture was planned with great pomp and circumstance for the late fall in the early part of the 21st century. The purpose: to save civilization from its own auto-demolition. As the stage was being prepared, few realized this prologue would usher in a one-week drama that could bring down the final curtain.
The four horsemen of the Apocalypse had already galloped across the soul of man. Now they were merely scavenging for spoils, aided by a legion so devastating, so covert, so surreptitious that mighty nations, cultures and faiths had been toppled with nary a shot being taken. Such was the war room strategy of this time.
Centuries of preparations were now funneling into one short week. The volcano of gehenna was rumbling. The magma chambers of hell had been boiling deep beneath the strata for centuries. The conduit of sin had assured nothing would clog the roaring rush to the surface. Aided by satan's legions, the reservoir of effusive eruptions had built to such a molten moment that the beastly mouth was more than ready to belch forth a hellish regurgitation from the its infernal entrails. This pyroclastic horror would be beyond biblical proportions. In mocking fashion it would happen on the day of the saints. Only a few final preparations were necessary for the maestro to conduct his sinister symphony. This last step - before all hell would be unleashed - would happen quickly and without any being the wiser. That has always been the beast's modus operandi.
The flame flickered momentarily as the cold night air of a Moscow night invaded the sanctuary of contemplation in the ancient St. Basil Cathedral in Red Square. The heavy door leading from the outside opened ever so slightly, and the beast was within the ornate sacristy of the Russian Patriarch.
Only one man remained after vespers that evening. By design the Legion knew who it would be. They knew he would be there alone. Habit is hard to conceal.
The shadow of an unearthly figure reflected eerily from the candle's glow over the icon of the Mother of Perpetual Help, a 12th century work of art hanging on the dark stone wall to the left of the prelate, lost in prayer as he knelt at the prie dieu. This was where the Metropolitan of Moscow always knelt long after all others had left.
Whatever was on his heart at that instant, it was over. He did not have a prayer. Within seconds, he was writhing in pain, no chance even for the sigh of a final prayer as he slumped over the prayer bench. Within a few more seconds, his gasping had ceased. All that could be heard was a hiss and the sound of what could best be described as a wooden ball rolling on the stone floor of the sacristy. The candle's glow wilted, the life of the wick went dead, the wax hardened. The hiss was silenced. As one dark figure darted across the empty Red Square, two others moved quickly towards the spiral spires of St. Basil to complete the task. Then all was dark.
* * * * * * *
The figure moved quickly, silhouetted against the backdrop of the tall minaret of the main Prayer Tower as most slept this night. Slipping briskly past the mosque, the black-clad figure stealthily found a deserted side street. All was quiet save for the cooing of evening birds, a dog's yelping periodically, camels baying and the isolated chants of a few callers to Allah.
Stopping at a particular gate, the figure gave a furtive glance in both directions, the desert breeze catching his billowing robe before this mysterious figure vaulted the wall surrounding the house in Mecca. The figure moved stealthily to the side of the building. The entire body was covered in black, even the face, so deeply buried in the folds of the cape's hood that it was as if no one was really there.
The yard leading to the house was in darkness. All were asleep. A door had been left slightly ajar - by design. The ebony figure moved comfortably through the pitch-black corridor, as familiar to him as a prayer rug was to all Muslims. This time, as the figure approached the bedroom of the Grand Imam the guards were noticeably missing. Again by design. Standing at the threshold, a bag was extracted from within the folds of the voluminous robe. Wiggling in obvious agitation in the hands of the black-gloved one, the inhabitant of the sack begged to be released. Without hesitation, the bag was flipped opened and set upon the ground. At once, a serpent slithered out intent on its prey, as if it knew.
From behind a pillar the figure watched steadily as the asp encircled the poster of the bed and then as quickly onto the bed itself. There was a hiss as the fangs lunged at the sleeping figure. Death came in a venomous span of seconds. That was all the black-robed figure needed to see. As the viper began to retreat from his prey, the black glove reached into the same bag and retrieved a round object with the seal of a red lizard on it. He thrust it into the room and quickly, void of all sound, stole back down the corridor and out the same side door he had entered. Into the night he fled. Almost on cue three other figures emerged from the shadows and into the Grand Imam's home. None were the wiser.
* * * * * * *
Almost simultaneously, beneath the rubble of the Wailing Wall in a decimated and pillaged Jerusalem, another similar figure stole over the rocks as if in on wings. The moonlight cast an uneasy shadow on this swift interloper who sought out a somewhat preserved palace less than a mile away. The black-robed figure's target was the chief rabbi's abode. Israeli soldiers who had been patrolling the outskirts of the rabbi's residence just minutes before were gone. All was silent. All had been prepared. Mimicking the angel of the Passover it passed over the portals of the rabbi's home and penetrated the inner sanctum.
* * * * * * * *
Quickly the figure was inside, climbing the stairs to the bedroom where the rabbi slept soundly. The Torah stood open on a stand near his bed. Such comfort would be useless now. Within seconds the figure had produced a squiggly creature - a deadly red scorpion. He deftly placed it at the foot of the rabbi's bed and moved to the head of the bed, watching as the scorpion plunged its tail into the victim's side. The rabbi's eyes bulged in excruciating pain. The sting had found its mark. The figure put full force on the pillow that muffled the screams. Then he retreated into the shadows and a black ball was heard on the uneven floor. A puff of smoke and the room was enveloped in a haze that would choke the breath out of every living thing in that room. The figure was long gone. The scorpion dispatched. More importantly, within minutes other clandestine cohorts would remove the intended victim. Such was the way of the Legion. There would be no shiva for the rabbi.
The same scenario was taking place throughout the world in the still of the night or in the unforeseen moment of the day. In Burma the method was a black cobra, inflicting its deadly venom into the veins of the leading raja. The Hindus would know not how, why or if. In Tokyo, before an unknowing statue of Buddha the mamba struck silently but surely. In the British Isles many thought the archbishop of the Anglican Church slept soundly that night in Canterbury. Little did they know. In Munich, the ball rolled across the carpeted confines of the Lutheran president as he slept. Even in Memphis, Tennessee in the broad daylight of a brisk October afternoon the head of the Baptist Synod never knew what hit him as he turned the corner near a weeping willow in his garden. A puff and the deed was done.
* * * * * * * *
The few lights illumined on St. Peter's magnificent Basilica twinkled in the pre-dawn light. All was still at the Vatican. Only a few were awake at this hour. The period between dark and light, the time of limbo, ushered in the same black-robed figure as he snuck from pillar to pillar, passing between the Bernini Colonnade near the entrance to the Apostolic Palace. Always the Swiss Guards stood statuesque at their posts. Somehow the black-robed figure had slipped past two sentry stations, through the colossal Portoni di Bronzo and he was in the Apostolic Palace. Down the marble corridor and up the wide stairs the figure glided, piercing the shadows as it reached the high-security elevator that would allow him to breach the fourth floor and the level where the Pope's quarters were well-guarded. Fearlessly the black-robed figure turned a key and the elevator hoisted him upward.
The sound of the elevator alerted two plainclothes Swiss guards in the hallway of the fourth floor. They adroitly aimed their magnums ever so carefully at the door as the elevator came to a stop. All precautions were necessary. Who would be granted access at this time of night? They had not been alerted of any guest. The door opened slowly and the oddity of an 8-ball rolling towards the two guards warned their inner senses. They pivoted to the front at the door, guns at the ready. The elevator was empty. Before they could react they were gasping for air, their pistols crashing to the floor as the fumes engulfed them. Choking and wheezing they were unaware of the figure that swooped down from the ceiling of the elevator, purling by them and up the corridor to where it turned toward the Papal door. The acoustics were such that no one heard the thud of the two guards. Only one guard stood between the Papal apartment and doom.
Riage Benziger stood there guarding the door to the Papal Apartment in all his regalia, scabbard at the ready, halberd held out proudly. Always alert, his strong chin jutted out. His focus straight ahead in that obedient, dedicated manner that marked this vaunted brigade of loyal Swiss men who, for five centuries, had vowed their allegiance to the Vicar of Christ. He did not sense the rolling granite, did not see the red lizard emblazoned on the black eight ball. All the guard's weapons were futile this evening as the sphere came to a halt at his boot. Benziger had only a second to glance down before he was gripped with a heaviness in his lungs. It encompassed his entire body as his grip loosened on the halberd. It clanged to the marble surface as the guard collapsed in agony. The figure moved swiftly, with one glove shielding the tunic's hood over his face to stave off the poisonous gas, the other glove extracted a key from Riage's upper vest pocket.
Before he could continue further four figures emerged from the shadows, two of them clerics. One held his white-gloved hand out and the black-gloved one placed the key in it. "We are the Legion," said the white-gloved one as the others replied, "Long live the Basilisk." Turning on his hidden heels the black-robed figure was gone, and the deed was left to the inner circle. Here in this hallowed place it had to be that way. Fate had determined such.
Next issue: First Chapter - Episode Two