WHITE SMOKE, BLACK FIRE! c 1986, 2001
White Smoke, Black Fire!
"White Smoke, Black Fire!" is an original work, registered with the Writers' Guild and all rights are the exclusive rights of The DAILY CATHOLIC who owns the copyright. Because of the nature of the internet and the importance of sharing, we hereby give the reader permission to collect and disseminate by e-mail each episode as it is presented in each issue of The DAILY CATHOLIC, provided that one includes this 1986, 2001 copyright statement and source - www.DailyCatholic.org - and take nothing out of context, nor reproduce it for profit. This work, seventeen years in the making, is a work of fiction that replicates the reality of today in many ways. However names, characters, places and incidents are used fictionally and any resemblance to actual persons and events, except those recorded in history, are purely coincidental.
Civilization had ebbed and flowed throughout the countless centuries and millennia that began in this very vicinity. From the seeds of the fruits of the Garden of Eden twelve tribes had evolved branching to circumference the globe long before anyone was aware the world was not flat. The serpent had returned to the crime of the scene. The question remained. Which of these nefarious characters masquerading in human form were satan incarnate?
Fr. Niki Andriopoulos knew intuitively and through Faith that only one could be such a monster, the others mere pawns, duped ones at that. The key to victory was in weakening the enemy, divide and conquer. He had no idea who was the real host, who were merely weaker helpers. They had to find the weak link. It wouldn't be as difficult as they thought. Prayer and the pride of the enemy would assure that.
Dateline: Field of Death - New Nasiriyah, Southern Iraq - Nov 7, 5:30 a.m.
Niki spoke softly in a voice not really his own, "And I saw Heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him, was called Faithful and True."
Pat was inquisitive, "Sounds like the Bible."
"It is," Niki responded softly in his own voice, "The Apocalypse. The Song of Triumph. The Defeat of the Beast."
"We can only hope and pray," Pat encouraged to which Niki did not answer but continued in the other voice, an ethereal calm voice.
"And He was clothed with a white garment sprinkled with blood; and his name is called, The Word of God."
"I think we better be ready, Nik." The realization of Pat's statement shocked Fr. Niki back into the moment.
"It's time, cara mia," Pat whispered to her. "They'll be here soon. We've got to be ready."
"Already?" she asked wearily, the pain returning. Then she realized that it was getting lighter, and they'd better take no chance on being caught free by their captors. "Help me, please, my love, my arm's stiffened."
Gently Pat placed her arm to her side concealing the splint and wrapping the rope loosely in the back but taut in the front to deceive the Legion. He helped Niki fasten himself to the post, and then Pat leaned his back to the post and with one hand swung it around him and pulled it tight from the back where he held the ropes. He had already done the same with his feet. They sat there the three of them braced to the post, both Niki and Pat leaning towards Corrie to cover her arms, hoping Blix wouldn't remember that Corrie hadn't worn a jacket when she'd been tied up the night before.
Hopefully, Pat thought, Blix would be too busy to notice much besides preparing for the Master.
They only had a few minutes to wait before they heard the sound of an engine coming along the road, and heard the crunch of wheels on loose earth. Then, into the gathering light of approaching dawn the headlights signaled they had arrived. The car pulled to a stop about fifteen yards away and five people emerged.
From Pat's vantage point he sized up the opposition. Vendhem was the first he saw. By the way he was dressed no one would believe that just 12 hours ago he'd worn the robes of a Cardinal of the Church and so close to becoming Pope. Now he looked like some high priest from some ancient superstitious sect, which was, in a way, exactly what he was. A vessel, an instrument through which the Devil himself had sought and won power. The garments Vendhem, and Macelli, who came from the back seat behind Vendhem, his girth blocking who was behind him, were trappings, symbols of evil, nothing more of the power they represented. It was fitting therefore, that they were dark, and the only light would come from the yoke around their neck...those showy jewels which would catch the sunlight and glisten with prisms as the unholy power was unleashed from hell.
Despite all this, Pat mumbled to Niki, "I like our chances."
"You would," Niki exhaled.
Soto accompanied another, a darker man. It was Ogidi. He was being guarded at gun-point, but otherwise seemed to have suffered no abuse at their hands. In fact, of all of them, he seemed in perfect
spirits, and in perfect control.
"Thank God, Ogidi's alive," Niki offered.
"Told ya we've got a good chance, Nik," Pat punctuated as Corrie was just coming fully to her senses.
"If you ask me, they're all devils," Corrie snapped at the four intruders approaching.
Ogidi had always had that knack of turning the most difficult situation his way by the sheer power of his will, Pat remembered and smiled for his friend. Makuta glanced over at the three prisoners tied to the post at the foot of the hill, then looked up at the skyline above the hill. It was almost dawn.
"Bring the girl to the altar," commanded Blix.
Before Ogidi could make any gesture to them Soto prodded him in the ribs with the gun, and he was forced to retrieve Corrie and carry her up the hill. Slowly they began to climb the hill. Apparently he was to have a front-row seat for this performance. Following behind him in ascending the hill with some difficulty was Macelli, slipping a few times. Blix followed. Vendhem reached the top of the mound where he stood tall and erect, and faced the three prisoners.
"Christianity is finished," the German prelate, decked out in black and scarlet robes, intoned solemnly. "There is no church, no God... There is room for no one else in the universe now except the Master. The Master shall come now...and live!"
"Like hell he will," Gallagher shouted obstinately. Emotions got the best of him as he sprung to his feet, betraying his tethered position at the post. His veins were bulging with anger, "So you blew up a few buildings. Big deal," he chided Vendhem as Soto aimed his pistol at Pat.
Vendhem stayed his hand, "Wait, Mr. Ichariak, let us see what the brash Texan will divulge before we eliminate them all." He then focused his attention on Gallagher. "What do you mean, misguided man? It is over. Accept the Master!" Josef demanded.
Niki knew Pat was a sitting duck and decided it was too late to continue the pretense of being tied up. He sprang to his feet, moving farther away horizontally from Pat who caught the drift and he too edged farther away from the post.
The ploy to distract and separate was their last hope as Pat, now calmer, stalled for time, "The Vatican. What was it? Just a few buildings. Nothin' more. You shoulda known that, oh mighty Lord Vendhem," Pat's sarcasm oozed with disrespect for this faux prelate. "You lived there long enough, and you, too, fat boy."
Macelli did not take kindly to insults, especially from one so insolent as this obnoxious and pesky know-it-all Texan who had foiled so many of the Legion's plans. "Kill them both now," commanded Antonio, but again Vendhem refused.
"You are nothing but hot wind," Vendhem was caught up in the trap. "You all are miserable, desperate to hold on to superstitions to a God who does not exist."
Pat was up to the challenge. Time, he needed to stall. "St. Peter's still stands, dumbkoff," Pat shot back. "You cannot destroy what God made. Ever!"
Niki chimed in, hoping to further exacerbate both Vendhem and Macelli. "You cannot destroy what God has made, traitorous ones. You will feel the wrath of the Lord Almighty."
Vendhem's face was now crimson with rage. "How dare you!"
"We dared nothing," Niki countered. "You are the ones who failed by letting your pride get in the way."
"Yeah," baited Pat, "I don't think the Master'll take too kindly to that, do you?"
"I did what was right, what the Master wanted," screamed Vendhem, now definitely on the defensive as his voice echoed over the deserted Field of Death.
"By lettin' yer pride get in the way of the election," reprimanded Blix as he moved away from near the altar to the ridge. The old man was wise to the tricks of these three and he sought to capitalize on the weaknesses of these prelates to advance his own cause.
"You dare question me?" Vendhem fumed at Blix's remarks.
Blix pounced. "Ya did what Vendhem wanted, what Macelli wanted. What ya both thought would gain approval from the Master without realizin' the Legion's goals are the Master's goals. Ya've both proven yourselves unworthy. The Master will come, as planned, but ya leave him to finish a task that shoulda been completed long ago - the destruction of the Church's hierarchy and the elimination of these pesky varmints who've foiled so many of our plans."
Macelli was livid. "Were you there, Signor Blix? No! You have no idea what we have been through. Your accusations are unwarranted."
"Ah think not," snapped Blix. "But that's alright. Ah'll help him achieve that victory." Blix's boast was daring.
Vendhem started forward, hands outstretched toward Blix, who backed away, somewhat startled as he looked for Soto to defend him. As Soto raised his gun, Ogidi swung Corrie around, flinging her at Soto from the side. The force of her hurtling body toppled Soto over the ridge, the gun falling harmlessly near where Corrie landed with a thud. Ans, on the other side of the makeshift altar, could not act fast enough. Despite the aches and pains that plagued Corrie this morning, her adrenaline would not let her die. She stretched for the gun and aimed it at the heart of the oncoming Ans.
One eunuch down, one to go. But three monsters still on the loose.
"Seize the girl," barked Blix at Soto trying to regain his footing. "Marinko, help him."
Makuta gave him a sly grin. "I am not Marinko. Remember?"
Corrie kept the pistol aimed at Blix, who was visibly growing older by the minute.
Vendhem and Macelli tried to seize the day. Vendhem lunged at Corrie, knocking her off balance as the bullet whistled just a foot from Blix's head and found its mark in Soto. Two down, three to go. Macelli wrestled her arms behind her back as he grabbed the gun. Now he would restore order.
"Well, Signor Blix, I see you do not have things under control," sniggered Macelli. "But we do. And so we will offer the maiden up to the Master." Pointing the pistol at Ogidi, Macelli ordered Makuta to do as he was told. "Black man, put her on the altar now."
Ogidi had no choice. He scooped up the handicapped Corrie and gently carried her to the altar, placing her squarely in the center on the pentagram-etched stone.
Distracted by distrust of each other, they had not been aware of the movement by both Pat and Niki. Pat was visible just behind them. He had scaled the ridge. Niki was nowhere to be seen.
"Gotta deal. Take me," Pat surrendered, "Trade me for the girl."
"How touchin'," Blix shot back, realizing he had to step cautiously, not trusting anyone. "No, Gallagher, ya serve another purpose. We have a ceremony to perform." Feigning that he was throwing down the gauntlet, Blix gestured to Macelli and Vendhem. "Gentlemen, times a wastin' so waste him!"
In a split second Pat knew what was coming. He dove off the ridge just as Macelli fired past him. Ogidi reacted instantly, barreling into the stout Italian. The impact sent them both rolling down the same hill. Pat grabbed the loose gun and fired back at the rotund Italian who had finally met his end. He screamed in horror for an eternity of darkness awaited.
Pat had picked up on the disintegration going on between Blix, Macelli and Vendhem. Two against three are not good odds, two against one are much better. Blix was the key. Gallagher decided to roll the dice to work on Blix first.
"Hey, Lizard breath, why ya pickin' on a girl? Are you a wimp or what? Pick on someone your own size, Basilisk brain."
Blix tried to ignore the taunting as he and Vendhem began to experience panic, quite possibly for the first time ever, as they expedited the unworldly incantations. Terror was gripping them both for they had to do something. Otherwise there would be no one left alive to receive the Master. And that was all they knew for certain - the arrival of the Master was minutes away. They could not delay it with these damaging distractions. For all eternity this moment had been planned by the prince of the world. It must be.
As the sky to the east began to brighten the silhouettes of these two gaunt figures in black robes cast an eerie, foreboding shadow over the entire field. Seemingly oblivious to Pat and Niki, Vendhem and Blix picked up the pace. With only two celebrants, the sacrifice must be ready. The German prelate reached for the machete. The woman who started this all with a simple bite of an apple could not have dreamt of such a fate for this feminine victim who lay prostrate upon this nefarious altar. It was inhuman.
Vendhem raised the machete and even in murder, jealousy arose. "Josef, allow me this last privilege," pleaded Blix. "There's no one Ah'd rather kill than this filly. Ya heah?"
"Be my guest," offered Vendhem, realizing cooperation might buy him points with the Master though nothing was ever guaranteed. The knife never reached Blix's hands. Niki appeared from beneath the stone and flung himself between the two grabbing the machete as Pat reached the edge of the summit and fixed his gun on the two of them.
"Okay, you jokers. Jigs up," announced Pat triumphantly, moving cautiously around behind altar where with one hand he loosened the knots on Corrie's wrists and ankles. "Cara mia, it's over. You okay."
Corrie nodded, too weak to respond as she slowly eased herself off the fated stone.
"No one'll deny me mah rightful place in the kingdom," Blix spat angrily both at Pat and Vendhem.
"It is my place," insisted Vendhem, railing at Blix. "The Master has chosen me, mein herr."
"Afraid not, pahdner," Blix shot back. "Ah'm the brains behind the successful victories, Vendhem. Yer nothin'. A mere puppet."
"That's right, Vendhem," chided Pat trying to foment the dissent between the two. "A puppet."
"Little men on little strings," Niki jerked their attention to his direction as he firmly gripped the machete in self defense. "Fools who think they will be kings," he continued, seeing the mottled rage in Blix's face seethe upward and boil over in his eyes, which had become as demented as Vendhem's.
Then another voice, entered the fray. It was Corrie's. "What's the matter, Blix? Things not going your way? You'd planned it all so neatly, too. Guess you should've checked with him long ago, huh?"
"Yeah," Pat chimed in, "shame the Master didn't agree with your plans, buddy."
Corrie added the dagger, "now there's nothin' left for it to do but destroy the once mighty Blix."
Edwin Blix could stand it no longer. He was filled with power as the sun peeked over the horizon. The evil consumed him, devoured him, pushed him forward blindly. Blix had only one thought. He'd kill this bitch who sought to taunt him and drive him mad, and then he'd be able to handle Vendhem and these other two men. The bitch had to come first.
He lunged toward Corrie, Vendhem watching him warily which gave Niki the opportunity he needed to distract Vendhem.
Blix seemed to grow larger as Corrie shrank back in fear for her life. Her one arm was so badly damaged it was useless, more of a hindrance than a help. She could hardly deal with the writhing evilness that was lunging toward her.
Yet her countenance said she'd give it her best shot. She had promised she would take Blix with her. By God this was the moment. Resigned to martyrdom, Corrie was willing to give herself up so Niki and Pat could conquer these two monsters.
However, the love of her life was not about to let her suffer such a fate if he could help it. Before the old man filed with power beyond belief could throw himself at her, Pat threw a perfect tackle, sending Blix sprawling into the dust with a roar that seemed like a cannon exploding. The ground shook. Pat and Corrie nearly lost their balance. In an instant Blix was back on his feet, his face more contorted as the Basilisk was making its grotesque appearance all the more manifest, more contorted than ever for Blix's whole being was one huge thrust of power that had one aim now: to kill the woman!
To get to her Blix had to go through Pat. The Basilisk rammed against him as if it was nothing more than a mere battering ram and Gallagher a door. Pat felt the air whammed from his lungs. He sank to his knees gasping for breath, trying to retrieve the pistol laying in the dust. But that seemed useless now for the thing was no longer Blix, but a monster of such depravity that it was unrecognizable, hideous. It lunged again, bringing its claw-like hands down upon Pat's neck, grasping at his bulging veins. Pat fell forward, collapsed by the power of the blow.
Corrie feared the worst, but she didn't have time to grieve. She knew it was just her now. She and what had once been Edwin Blix. Their moment together had come. It was now or never.
The beast stood for a moment, its mouth drawn back while spittle and foam drooled from the fang-like teeth, and the eyes leaped with flames of pure hatred. The hands, now fully claws, poised themselves to slaughter this woman. It was the same repulsive reptile that she saw kill Victor in Blix's study.
Corrie was ready, as ready as she was ever going to be. She flung open her hands which had been clutching the grime and grit of the Field of Death. It had not occurred to the thing to wonder why she had stood so still with clenched fists. But now it knew as particles of the dust and sand pelted the face and stung the eyes.
It screamed, inhumanly, violently, reeking upon Corrie a horror like no nightmare she had ever had; one she would never forget. But for the moment her strategy worked. The monster fell to its knees, claws trying to clear the debris from the eyes that needed to see in order to hate. The claws dug into its own eyes, causing more bleeding, green ooze seeping forth.
Her next action was swift and accurate. Corrie picked up a rock with a sharp point that lay by her feet. With her good arm she shot forward and brought the small piece of granite down upon the thing's neck, causing it more pain as it toppled onto the dust.
Then, as if all along she'd known it would come down to this, Corrie took from the pocket of her thin dress jacket a small compact mirror she had always carried with her to check her make-up. Cosmetics didn't matter at a time like this, but the glass was invaluable. As the beast struggled to regain leverage, she slid the mirror on the ground near its head in line with the eyes which, within seconds, would try to focus. She retreated a few steps trepidatiously, in great pain, watching with desperate anticipation. It was her only hope, the whole process not taking more than twenty seconds since Blix had torn down the hill after her, knocking Pat unconscious, or worse.
At the top of the hill, Vendhem turned to face Niki, aware of the battle being fought below as the beast finally managed to open an eye, catching its own hideous reflection. It could not move its gaze, so paralyzed by the mirrored image.
The sound that emerged from its throat was the guttural of all screams, of every nightmare that had ever been, the groan of every pain that had ever been felt by the human spirit, and more. Disgust, loathing and hatred escaped its evil and decrepit mouth. The stench of death laced the edge of discord as it whipped around the field in an echo of unearthly agony.
Corrie watched in stunned disbelief as the thing that was half Edwin Blix, half something else from the bowels of hell began to transform - its own image turning upon itself. Inch by inch the facial features distorted further, the skin growing dark and loathsome, eyes bulging, lips protruding, and then scales began to form upon the skin. Before Corrie could dare blink, the powerful magnate was no more. In its place, writhing on the ground, was a lizard...similar to the one depicted on the logo of the Basilisk, only this one the size of a man. With one last gasp the reptile let out a final mind-curdling roar, and its eyes rolled backwards into its misshapen skull as it heaved once and then stillness at Corrie's feet. The woman had triumphed.
Corrie didn't have time to feel victorious for almost immediately the thing in front of her began to shrivel and melt away, while from the direction at the top of the hill she heard another ungodly roar, that same deep bellowing of the nether regions that made the earth shake with fear and loathing. Her glance caught Vendhem stretching to attack Niki who wielded the machete at the lunging monster in transition.
It might as well have been a toothpick for Vendhem, transforming in the same manner Blix had, brushed away the machete as a mere nuisance and continued towards his kill. Niki did not have time to reach beneath his belt.
WHITE SMOKE, BLACK FIRE!