The Basilisk had struck swiftly and decisively in Tel Aviv. While for the Legion Helene's expendability was a minor matter, Fasif Khadid would not consider it such. He would mourn his beloved. He would not let this heinous, ghastly attack go unpunished. If only he had known the Legion had now focused its attention on one of its chief antagonists. Under the cover of darkness they approached.
Niki had not known when Fasif left the Field of Death to return home. He himself had been delayed in Kuwait City with several parishioners within his catacomb church there. As he veered the car onto the drive heading back to Fasif's villa, he wondered if Gallagher had arrived alright in Rome, whether he would be successful in his rendezvous with Karel. She was much like her father and mother. She would compliment Pat's naturally inquisitive and often impulsive nature. Together they would gather the needed information to form a counterstrike against the Antichrist.
Dateline: Fasif's Oasis Villa on the Kuwait-Iraq border, November 2, 8:58 p.m.
As he rumbled over the ruts on the outskirts of Fasif's palatial estate, Andriopoulos glanced at his watch holding his wristwatch near the dashboard lights of his Humvee, squinting at the time. Nearly 9 p.m. Even before he came in sight of the towering cypress trees he knew that the foreboding which had pulled him here had been all too real. He was anxious to communicate to his mentor his most recent findings at the Field of Death. He had the evidence that would cement Fasif's findings. Now for the next step.
It would be a step taken slowly in lieu of the events that were just unfolding as Niki's machine reached the crest of the hill 200 yards from the estate. A flash, then another and explosives rumbled through Fasif's estate, flames bursting forth everywhere. Like a searing serpent it reached Fasif's car in the driveway and another explosion.
"Oh, God, no!! Not Fasif. Oh, no, no. I was too late!" Niki shrieked in horror as he slumped against the steering wheel, sobbing for a few seconds. Then, he cuts the headlights and slowly edged the Humvee toward the charred cinder fast disappearing in this consummate conflagration. Within 200 feet of the house, the shocked Greek grinded the vehicle to a halt and raced on foot toward the smoldering beams, hoping against hope.
The smoke and heat kept him from entering the area immediately. He leaned on a palm, staring at this scene of utter destruction - merely a glimpse of what the devastation on the Field of Abraham had been. However, this time it was personal. It was Fasif and Elias. A sickening feeling rushed through his body. He wanted to cry out, but it was impossible. Tears welled up inside until his stomach could take no more. A sudden roar of nausea unleashed the dam of all he had digested over the past 12 hours, the stench of regurgitation deluged downward in a gush on the grass beneath his dusty boots.
A minute or more, and Niki wiped his mouth, took a few breaths. The nausea had left. Weakness was settling in. Through sheer will power he made his feet move, gingerly stepping over pieces of fallen masonry, through the smoldering inferno, smashing barricades of fallen beams as he raced toward what was once Fasif's study.
A moan. He heard it distinctly. Instinctively he pulled his handkerchief from his back pocket and lunged forward through the smoke to the source of the sound. Groping through the billowing incineration he found a body writhing in pain, his entire flesh seared. Carefully turning the body, Niki realized he was staring into the scarred, disfigured face of Elias, but seconds from death.
"Elias. What? How? Fasif?" was all Niki could utter.
The look in Elias' eyes told it all. He lowered his head towards his vest, covered in plaster. Niki took the cue and reached in for the small case in Elias' pocket.
With his last breath, Elias gasped, "It's to - too late. Go, get out. They're coming. Save yoursel..."
Then Fasif's trusted servant was gone. God had taken him from this misery. Niki uttered a quick ejaculation, "Be merciful, Father." Then he made the sign of the cross over Elias, "En tow animati, tu Patros, kai tu Haiou, kai tu Aegiou plumatose. Amyn."
A small charred crucifix with flecks of shiny mylar jutting from the wood lay near Elias' hand. With his handkerchief Niki instinctively lifted it, quickly wrapped it in the linen out of respect for the sacramental and inserted it carefully in his pocket along with a small case in Elias' other hand.
Just then a flame shot towards him preceding a fiery side beam that timbered near him, laying bare the wall as it crushed the door frame; sparks flew anew just a few feet from the Greek priest. The new barricade before him prevented Andriopoulos from taking a direct route back. He had to use another exit as he stumbled through the burning debris toward the kitchen and out onto the private driveway Fasif and Elias had always used. The heat was almost unbearable. Frozen in horror, Niki wished his feet need never move another inch as he gasped for air. Through the thick haze he reached the area where only the shell of Fasif's car remained. It, too, was burned to a hollow.
With a woeful moan escaping his lips, Niki edged himself forward to peer into the wreckage. Smoldering upholstery from the seats, the stench of melting leather and disintegrating electrical circuits pushed him back. Nothing else. Not even a pile of ashes remained of his beloved friend. He would probably never know how it happened or where Fasif was in this inferno. The deed was done, and he was convinced the Legion of the Basilisk was responsible.
Silhouetted against this haunting holocaust, Niki screamed from the top of his lungs in an emotional outburst, "I will not fail you, Elias. Nor you, my dear Fasif!!!"
His deep tones awoke a stalking fiend as gunshots rang from the cypress grove. Niki dove just in time to dodge more bullets, then hurled himself through the flames toward his vehicle on the hill, rolling and running with every ounce of strength he had left, crouching as low as he could. Behind him he could hear voices. There were more than one and they were intent on silencing the one man who had been witness to this complete annihilation of one of the strongest powers of good.
Panting and moving with a swiftness and desperateness that defied logic, Niki reached the Humvee and jammed the gear into reverse, spinning and kicking up dust as the exhaust backfire meshed with the deadly ammunition aimed his way. He careened down the twisting road backward until he could turn the vehicle around where the road widened, then descended the hill as vehicle and driver lunged forward together in desperation, racing like a bat out of hell.
Hell, that's what this was. He must get away! He had to flee; escape not only this scene of execution, but this region itself. But how and where?
The Legion was growing stronger, tightening its ranks against its enemies. Niki was an enemy...perhaps now more so than ever. With Niki rested all the hopes Fasif had fought for. They were pursuing him, headlights in his dust a good 100 yards behind but gaining.
Niki drove at breakneck speed. He prayed he would make it. He had to survive if there was to be any hope of curtailing the Legion - stopping the Antichrist from gaining total dominion.
Dateline: Oblate General House on Via Aurelia, Rome 7:30 p.m.
The stately manor of the General House of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate was bathed in moonlight as it stood majestically on the hill on Via Aurelia just south above the Vatican City complex. This four-story estate had been the original birthplace of Eugenio Pacelli who had gone on to become Papa Pacelli, better known as Pope Pius XII. It was here that Monsignor Stephen Navarro, O.M.I. had arranged for Cardinal Zachmann to stay at the latter's request. The Archbishop of St. Louis had arrived in the late afternoon following an uneventful flight from Lambert International in St. Louis. By the time this Prince of the Church had cleared customs he had not reached the Oblate General House on Via Aurelia until nearly 6:30 p.m. After a visit to the chapel, unpacking and a light snack, he had rested for a few minutes before being the cordial guest of the Superior General for a late supper.
As an Oblate Lay Brother removed the plate from in front of the cardinal, Gregory drew his shoulders back, "The meal was delicious, Brother. My compliments to the chef."
"We're glad to accommodate you, your Eminence," gushed the Superior General of the Order as the waiter also removed his plate. "We deem it an esteem privilege to have you stay with us."
Another waiter brought a modest desert tray that tempted the taste buds of the eye, but the Cardinal knew better. "None for me. Must watch my figure," he joshed as all chuckled. At 5'11" 190 pounds this American prelate, with a command of seven languages, was in better shape than most his age. He attributed that to regularly jogging in the early morning and virtuous living. The thinning hair was a badge of honor to him, almost like a tonsure in its formation.
"Then would a fine liqueur suit the palate, your Eminence?" the Superior General offered.
Such epicurean elixers may tempt the palate, the Cardinal knew, but it was a luxury he could very well do without. Temperance was a virtue he was loyal to in order that he might keep himself tethered to the moral virtues when temptations knocked. The General's invite was just such a siren and only a polite 'no' would quiet their beckoning.
"Truly I am quite refreshed and full," Cardinal Zachmann assured.
"Very well then, your Eminence, may I..." The head of the Oblates was interrupted by another lay brother who humbly entered the room with great urgency.
"Sil vous plait, pardon moi. Un telephon maitenant por le cardinal."
"Thank you, Brother Henri, he will be there shortly," the Superior General affirmed.
Looking at his watch, Gregory rose from the table. "A call at this hour must be important. Where can I take the call, mon frere?" The cardinal's smile eased the tension on Brother Henri's face.
"Le foyer, mon Pere," the lay brother bowed humbly backing up and ready to lead the cardinal to the small nook in the foyer off the main lobby.
"Merci beaucoup, Father General. It was delicious," Gregory complimented. "Please, Brother, lead the way."
With that he was off at a brisk pace from the refectory towards the foyer following the black-cassocked lay brother to the phone.
"Je suis, mon Pere. Telefono," the lay brother announced to the American Prelate as they reached the foyer. Founded by a French Bishop - Saint Eugene de Mazenod - the Order was staffed by French Lay Brothers who mixed languages as the Italian and English crept in with the territory.
"Merci, mon frere." The Cardinal was cordial as he nodded to Brother Henri.
The lay brother bowed respectfully as he backed away while responding, "Je ne se pas, a plus tard."
With that he was gone, leaving Gregory alone in the foyer as his hand came to rest on the receiver still in its cradle, the light on the phone blinking on hold. Whoever was calling would have to be one of only two people at this late hour.
"Cardinal Zachmann, here." He listened intently. It was news he had not expected and the call would not last long.
Where are you now?" he inquired anxiously. The answer satisfied him to a degree, "I understand."
"I will do as you wish," the Cardinal assured. "I knew it was bad, but had no idea this bad. I will notify Victor by e-mail. He must be informed. I am ready to help in any way I can. But are you sure the course you have taken will work?" A short pause and he knew the decision was correct.
"Yes. I will keep it confidential until the final hour. God be with you, my dear friend."
Gregory hung up and, before returning to his room, he paused to gaze upon the magnificent life-size bronzed statue of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception that dominated the entrance lobby off the foyer. A few candles in their holders, which jutted from the wall, cast a pale light as the statue seemed to sway with the flickering light. The twelve stars above her head glimmered brighter than he had noticed before and he meditated instantly on the passage in the Apocalypse 12: 1. Beneath the woman's feet was the moon, resting on a jade globe. Coiled menacingly around the slivered Luna and on the earth was the serpent about to be crushed by the Blessed Virgin Mary's heel - a fulfillment of Genesis 3: 15. Gregory contemplated on those two verses - one from the first book of the Old Testament, the other from the last book of the New Testament. The battle foretold in Divine Revelation was nigh. He could only pray and hope her Immaculate Heart would triumph soon and the evil one would be vanquished. From the events that had transpired over the past 40 hours this revelation didn't seem to jell with actualities. But faith was all most had left. He silently said an Ave Maria as he stood there in the lobby. He knew the beast was growing stronger, more cunning, ever closer, and much more powerful as the shadows of the night seemed to hiss in the quietude of this room where a holy man braced for the ultimate battle ahead.
Next: PART II: The Shadowing SIXTH CHAPTER, Episode Six
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