Life is so fragile, so fleeting. All the memories - good and bad, stored up for so long, can come with a rush in that final second - that final breath when you know the next step beyond awaits you. This was the mystical phenomena that most likely visited over one million souls on the Field of Abraham on the morning of November 1st in Iraq. Now less than 36 hours later, another was going to meet such a fate. This time more deliberate, more sadistically. Why? Because this person was a hated enemy of the Legion of the Basilisk. This person had to be dealt with in a special way that would forever be branded on souls and hearts that the devil will have his due. He knew where to strike and when in trying to demoralize the one resistance that stood in the prince of darkness' way. There could be no light, no hope.
Dateline: Tel Aviv, Israel - Home of Helene Shenneker - November 2, 7:30 p.m.
While Pat checked into the Esperia and settled in for a well-deserved rest, Helene Shenneker sat in the veranda of her modest home on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, a slight breeze blowing in off the Mediterranean through the portal of her small balcony that faced westward. Her fingers rested lightly on the opened pages of the Psalms of David.
Beside her a lighted candle burned steadily, its glow adding to the sincerity of her reading and the flame sheltered from the breeze by a small bookcase. Helene's eyes were closed in prayer, and she did not stir so much as an eyelash for several long minutes.
The day's events had drummed mercilessly in her mind. The depleted Israeli coalition, the same one that survived the terrible fall of Jerusalem earlier in this fateful year, had been in an uproar throughout the day. They had protested loudly the innuendoes which were moving like a tsunami throughout the Mid East and beyond to all continents. Cardinal Macelli's announcement the morning before of the pope's proclamation had not sat well with Hebrew interests. Fueled by continued hatred by neighboring countries, assumptions were being made that rebellious Jews, indeed, former members of The Mossad, had planted the explosives. The world was in a vengeful mood. There was no Osama bin Laden type on the visible scene who could be blamed for this one and so the scapegoat mantle fell upon those descendants of Judea who were supposedly retaliating for the atrocities of World War II and the siege and destruction of the Holy City.
Never mind that there was no proof. Rumors and half-truths have a way of blotting out such facts. Helene had not been surprised. Her entire career in the Israeli government had taught her that her country would always be a prime target for any nation to pin a crime on. It was the nature of the country and the history of its people. What did surprise her was the incredulity on the faces and in the voices of her fellow cabinet members. Would they never learn?
Her heart and soul were weary this evening. She sensed a quietness about. Glancing out toward the evening sky where the stars and moon were muted by intermittent clouds, she felt as if the night moved about on feet slippered by darkness. It was as if the entire world held its breath in anticipation.
There appeared to be no one else about. The silence was complete. The room was immaculate, almost monastic in its furnishings. Yet, within this very room Helene had achieved much wisdom and virtue of patience through long hours of prayer and meditation. These were her real strengths, given her by God. She sought refuge in them this evening.
Her brief conversation with Fasif earlier in the day had awakened sleeping memories. Now they seemed even more vivid. She realized there was no turning back. No wishing what might have been, what could have been. She realized it was her choice to keep Karel out of the fray, her will to accept or block. She would not stand in his way or her determined daughter's. A deep sigh escaped her fragile frame. Like Fasif, she knew only too well that the Legion was close. The time was at hand. As if knowing her death was imminent.
She did not know if it was still possible to halt the Legion of the Basilisk in its relentless march upon the world, but, like Fasif, she knew she must try. Death in trying to prevent it was preferable to living in a kingdom that swirled in a black mist of hatred.
Despite her prayers this day, she could not shake off the concern for Fasif's life. Anyone who stood in the way of this evil force would be marked for death. It was inevitable. Even more than Fasif, she worried over the safety of her only child. She knew she could not protect Karel. She knew, though she tried in several ways, that she could not dissuade their daughter from undertaking her role in this mission to halt the Anti-christ. The forces of good were in Karel's blood and heart. Karel was the daughter of hers and Malachi's love and convictions, the daughter of their minds and souls. Fasif had been the father figure after her beloved's mysterious death.
For some reason memories of that night Karel was conceived - Malachi and Helene's wedding night on the Isle of Cyprus - had been such a special time, one they thought would never end. But it did, all too suddenly. Thank God for a devoted brother like Fasif. Now Karel was a grown woman in her 20's who had to live out her own role in this. Karel was comfortable in knowing who her parents were. Confidentiality was one of her greatest traits. Helene had learned to accept whatever came along, learning long ago that God's allowing will had called her husband home and God's ordaining will that her brother Fasif would play a very important role in the world. Such an extraordinary man!
Khadid had indicated to her that the pope's body - or more accurately his pile of ashes - would be secretly returned to Rome later this night. This was uppermost in her mind. For it meant only one thing. The Legion of the Basilisk would seize this opportunity as the world plunged into mourning for so many religious leaders besides the pope and scores of world leaders as well who perished. The entire world was in mourning and a creeping fear gripped Shenneker, a dread that the Basilisk would seize the moment.
Her objective now was to know where that attack was planned and how these disciples of the serpent of sin intended to manifest their power and strike fear anew into the already shell-shocked planet called earth. What threatened them was not of this world.
She realized her own days, even hours, were numbered for the Legion was well aware of her role against them. While the world media had trumpeted various terrorist cells that had to be responsible for the holocaust on the Field of Abraham - a retaliation for the destruction of Jerusalem, Helene wanted, with every fiber, to shout from the rooftops that the 'terrorists' were not just a cell but a damnation from and for all time. The media had not a clue that the world was a victim to an elite squad of people who belonged totally to their master, who thought as the master wished them to think, who took their strength from him, and that in turn strengthened him further in the wake of so much hopelessness and despair of the natural and manmade destruction that had prevailed worldwide for decades.
Helene had sent Karel to Rome the morning of the massacre to meet with another man who could help piece together the location of the den. However that man had mysteriously disappeared, as had many others, for the forces of good were dwindling quickly. Now those who fought with every fiber to detect and root out the Legion were putting their trust in an American whom Fasif had known for only a few hours. He was going on that inner sense that had always sustained him so well. For he trusted in God, not his own prejudices and hunches. Though Helene was a bit skeptical, she knew Fasif had done a quick background check and knew people who could vouch for him. God, she hoped that would be enough.
Karel loved being in Rome. Prior to the attack on the Field of Abraham on November 1st she had been in the eternal city seeking information from various sources, but many of those sources had dried up or disappeared. At the time Karel felt she was losing her touch and confided such in a stream of tears in her mother's arms on the night of October 30th in this very room Helene sat in this night. As a loving mother, Shenneker had tried to console her daughter, tried to tell her that failure was part of the human struggle that could only be truly successful when in harmony with God.
The last time she talked with Karel was earlier this afternoon when she called on the secure line, a renewed enthusiasm in her voice as she told of her findings in the ancient city of Romulus and Remus. She had met with a man, a rather drunken one at that, one Sebastiano Tenazi, who had been more than willing to talk to her for the promise of wine.
Karel had told her mother that Sebastiano had related to her of his assignment to hide in the basement corridor below a produce shop in the Via Magdalena, to watch as four people dressed as the night gathered to hold a secret meeting. He confirmed to her the Basilisk salute and that he had caught a glimpse of one man whose eyes glowed like burning coals. All this, he had told Karel, he had later reported to another man, one he seemed greatly fearful of and yet drawn to, a man who periodically asked such favors of him in return for a bountiful supply of Chianti and heroin. Karel had believed the old man, though it was clear his mind was affected by the excessive use of alcohol and narcotics, not to mention his breath and the putrid odor emitted from a lack of proper hygiene. Such is the hopeless trap so many homeless fall into. Despite all of this, there was something about the way he spoke of these people, in particular the man whom he later met who gave him the barbiturates that sent shivers up Karel's spine. Helene knew Karel was convinced these were members of the inner circle of the Legion. They were in Rome, no doubt about that.
Helene closed the Book of Psalms and extinguished the candle. There in the moonlight she meditated in silent prayer, as if making her total peace with God.
A wisp of wind blew the candle out. It was maybe a minute before she noticed it as she reached for a match to re-light the wick. Her hand paused in the very action of striking the match. Had she imagined it? Surely she had not heard a hissing sound in the room? Never! There were no lethal serpents in this part of Israel, especially so close to the coast for the government had been most methodical in keeping wildlife away from the settlements.
She started to strike the match again. Just as she did she heard it again. A slithering, hissing movement that was all of one piece. She applied the match to the wick and watched the flame leap from the door which she had not fully closed.
Helene was not given to hysteria by any means. She had been through too much. However, tonight she felt a quickening of her heartbeat at this unprecedented sound. Her imagination, nothing more, she told herself firmly. After all, concentrating as she must on the Legion of the Basilisk can conjure up many scenarios that can play with the mind and psyche.
She held the candle aloft, lighting a portion of the room directly in front of her. Nothing there. She began to move forward, toward the front door when the sound repeated. It was much closer now. She whirled about, candle held high, and shed its light to her left.
Then she saw it!
Not a lizard she had ever seen before, accustomed as she was to seeing strange creatures in the remoter parts of the Israeli state. This was the same reptile Pat had learned of earlier this day; the same Basilisk Fasif had alerted Helene to so often in recent years. The same unearthly reptile which had taken her beloved Malachi from her - so dastardly that many of the operatives within her own agency at The Mossad had refused to believe this legend. It was no legend. What was this beast?
It hissed and grew larger even as she watched in stunned horror. The sight paralyzed her. The candle trembled in her hand, making the shadows waver and the hideous effect upon the reptile's puffing dilatable pouch was even more appalling. From its mouth its tongue darted, seeking her scent, her flesh.
She managed to back up an inch.
That was as far as she got. Another hiss, this more powerful, more satanic than any previous sound, as it rose on its hind legs, the crest along its spine standing upright, each one a spike of death. Beneath its belching throat the pouch enlarged more, glowing red in the candlelight.
Her gaze was hypnotically riveted upon this creature. The tongue still darted in and out with great rapidity. Yet that was not where her gaze was fixed. She looked with terror upon its own eyes. Eyes of deepest ebony that transformed in the flickering to eyes that took on the red glow of molten hatred.
All this took mere seconds, though to Helene it seemed endless minutes as she stood frozen to the spot, captured by an evilness which she had only guessed at, and never thought to behold.
The Basilisk came at her, far more omnipotent than she could have imagined - than anyone could have imagined. There was no preparation on earth for what she experienced. The lizard grew to the proportions of a grown man and caught her throat with its diabolical claws, ripping, tearing, and breathing upon her the stench of her own death. She tried to fight it off, but her efforts were as futile as the blood pouring from her numerous wounds and the blood spurting from her ruptured carotid artery, the candle dropping on the couch.
The monster of depravity lunged full on, knocking Helene to the floor. With her last ounce of breath she managed to scream one final exclamation, one last prayer into the fetid air before the end came.
"Fasif! May God protect you!" Her lungs expelled the words as the final agony took hold.
No sooner were her last words uttered than the Basilisk was on her, goring into her side and burrowing into an open cavity until her entire body imploded in a mass of tissue, bone and blood. Then the hissing filled the air once more. Yet it was quieter now. Satisfied and satiated.
The flames seared to the ceiling as the curtains spread the candleflame into a conflagration that soon engulfed the entire room. It created a thick Black Fire that boiled and rolled, thundering forth, creating its own velocity as the lizard moved swiftly through the thick smoke to the balcony and down the wall and out into the night, leaving behind only ashes.
Next issue: Sixth Chapter - Episode Five
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WHITE SMOKE, BLACK FIRE!