Chapter 24 - 'Though I love to rule in
Nodiesha stood up from the heap of pillows and picked up a fairly transparent gown, which she slipped on.
"Who are you? And where am I?" Jason demanded, still clutching the pillow to his loins. "And where are my clothes?!"
She waved her hand absently and then boredly informed him, "I'm Nodiesha, this is Hell, and I had to cut them off you so I could heal your wounds."
"I liked that shirt," Jason pouted quietly. Then he frowned. "Take me to whoever rules this place, I DEMAND to be sent home. Now!"
"Spoilt much, are we?" Nodiesha curled her lip.
"What?" Jason was stunned. The last time he'd been in Hell, he'd ended up being treated like a King. "No I'm not!" he said hurriedly. "Well, maybe a bit but-- wait! What? No!"
She stared at him in stony silence. "Yeeeaaaah... well, anyway, you're having dinner with the Lord of the Realm in a few hours, so you can just wait 'till then."
Jason's mouth worked silently before he managed, "I'm NAKED!"
"Yeah, bear with me on that." She whistled shrilly and eight piles of clothes came racing through the doorway. They deposited themselves on the floor, revealing the small red imps that had been carrying each. Two of them quickly ran to close a set of curtains that blocked Nodiesha from sight.
One of the imps, slightly larger than the rest and with more of a purple tinge to his skin, hopped onto Jason's chest, it's tiny claws prickling his skin, until it perched on his sternum.
"Look kid," it's voice came out, strangely deep for such a small creature. "There are two ways we can do this. Only one involves you staying conscious. What'll it be?"
"What do you want me to do?" Jason didn't relish the thought of falling unconscious again. The last time he had, he'd woken up very naked and next to an equally naked woman.
The imp grinned... impishly. "Stand up."
Jason complied, careful to keep his genitals covered with the cushion.
"Lose the pillow. It won't go with anything we have here."
Several small hands reached up and the pillow was snatched away from him. Jason quickly covered his groin with his hands.
Immediately the imps scrambled to grab clothes and tug them onto his body. After just a few moments, they stood back to admire their handiwork. Their leader looked at the blue, Elizabethan get-up they'd forced Jason into, complete with doublet and ruff.
"Too dated," the leader snapped, and instantly the imps were back on him, tearing the clothes from his body, before starting with another set of clothes. Garments of purple velvet, lined with white fur, soon covered his body.
Again, he was stripped, and again, they began tugging on a fresh costume. Within moments, green of every hue bedecked Jason, in the style of a business suite that was several sizes too small.
Jason felt like screaming as once more, the imps swarmed all over him. They began forcing him into some hideous maroon outfit that Jason could tell already was too big. He snapped and screamed as he suddenly grabbed two imps by their feet, flinging them through the curtains.
"You wretched little beasts!" he snarled. "I can bloody well dress myself!" He caught another pair of imps with his hands and launched them after the first pair. Another charged at his leg, its teeth bared, and Jason lashed out with his foot. He caught it under the chin, and his little red body tumbled backwards across the floor and out of the curtains.
The imp jumped to its feet and prepared to charge back in and attack Jason once more. Nodiesha plucked the little creature off the ground, pinching the nape of its neck. It struggled wildly for a moment, desperately trying to reach her fingers, before it gave up and hung dejectedly.
"He's right," she told the imps. "You guys suck at dressing humans." She ducked suddenly as an imp shot up over the curtain partition and crashed with a bump on the floor beside her. The remaining imp and their purplish leader cut a hasty retreat and backed out of the curtains.
Alone, Jason pulled off the maroon garments and deposited them in a pile. He started rummaging through the piles of clothes, separating them in sets and matching what went with what on the floor around him.
Nodiesha finished leisurely brushing her black hair and turned to face the curtains. The imps were stacked at the parting of the curtain, standing one upon the other's shoulders in a tower, their small heads pushed through to the other side of the partition. She walked up to the tower, put her back to the curtain and sighed in annoyance. She tapped the shoulder of the purple imp who was on the top, and he jerked his head back through the gap.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
The imp looked at her as if she were stupid. "Watching him change," he answered.
Jason eventually emerged from the curtains, knocking over the tower of peeping imps as he did so. They sprawled on the floor, looking up at him and his chosen outfit. It consisted of an elegantly cut, black velvet business suit and trousers with fine red pin stripes running up both. The shirt underneath was made of a silvery top he'd found, complete with frilly lace cuffs and collar. He'd been quick to rip these off, and it was a great improvement as far as he was concerned. Nodiesha looked him over, checking his appearance. She grabbed a section of silk drapery and ripped it into a long strip. She flicked it in the air and it came down as a pitch-black silk tie.
She moved close to him-- too close, and started to tie it around his neck. She pressed herself in against his body and he looked steadily at her, rather crossly.
"I'm queer dear." He said simply.
She sighed. "Oh well, it was worth a try."
Jason extracted himself from her and stood anxiously a few feet away.
"Gee kid, it's not like I'd rape you now or anything." She said with a wry smile. "Come on, your ride will be here any minute." Nodiesha padded softly across the room and slipped out of the temple doors onto the broad flight of steps outside. Jason gave one look at the imps who were grinning evilly at him, picking themselves off the ground, before hurrying after her.
She accosted him on the steps outside, grabbing his arm and dragging him down to the road that ran along before the temple. She put two fingers in her mouth and whistled shrilly.
"Don't get too near the front of the carriage. They tend not to be sociable." She said quickly as a black carriage came hurtling down the road towards them. It halted in front of the pair. The carriage appeared to be horse-less, but something there huffed loudly and stamped its feet on the hard cobbles. Jason skirted it and moved to open the door. It swung open before he could reach it and something slithered out of the door. It hardened into a set of steps. He looked back at Nodiesha.
She looked back.
Jason sighed inwardly and clambered into the carriage, settling down on the plush velvet seats. Something snapped, sounding suspiciously like a large tooth filled maw, and the carriage lurched forwards. The cobbled street shook him violently in his seat. The carriage picked up speed and every bump seemed an attempt to send him to the floor. He grabbed hold of the wall and leaned out of the window to ask the cabbie to slow the pace.
There wasn't one.
Jason blinked. There was no one driving the carriage! He looked ahead to see the edge of a cliff fast approaching. He could see past it, a roiling cauldron of fire and lava, surrounded by a vast city of metal works.
"Nodiesha you bitch!" He shouted and tried the door handle. It broke off in his hand. In desperation, Jason threw his weight against the door, sending the carriage rocking. Whatever was pulling the cart snapped loudly and snarled. The cliff was rushing towards them. Jason hurled himself at the door again, trying to break out, and then suddenly they were sailing over the edge. Jason screamed and clutched the walls, bracing himself against the seat. He closed his eyes and felt air rushing past.
Nodiesha stood on the steps a moment, watching the carriage roll away. It lurched suddenly as it approached the cliff edge, and then again before it shot over the precipice.
"Oops, I forgot to warn him about that..." She chewed her lip and then shrugged, shedding her human form. There was a loud rip as the nurse's uniform shredded under her scales. "Fuck," she cursed. "I forgot about that too..."
Eventually Jason ran out of breath, and slowly opened his eyes. The carriage wasn't falling at all. In fact, it was coasting steadily onwards. He leaned out of the window and looked down. His stomach churned from the dizzying height. Far below him, the city of metal works and the churning lava slid past. I gauzelike substance seemed to be directly under the carriage, carrying it through the air. He sat back in his seat, breathing heavily. He stared straight ahead at the wall opposite to avoid looking out over the dizzying heights.
The carriage lurched and struck hard rock and Jason's eyes tore open. He sighed in relief to be on solid ground again. Soon after, they came to a gentle halt and Jason looked out the window. For miles and miles all he could see in one direction were grinding metal works and churning refineries. The door on his other side swung open on it's own accord and the steps curled downwards. Jason scooted out and stepped down onto the blackened steps. They were highly polished and rose absurdly high to a palatial structure with gold doors. He looked back momentarily at the black carriage, but the beasts drawing it snapped loudly and they tore off along the cobbled road. They were soon lost to view as they passed around a bend. Jason looked uncertainly back to the doors and began mounting the stairs, cursing under his breath the uselessness and absurdity of having so many decorative steps.
Jason placed his hand against the golden doors, expecting to have to strain to budge them. They parted easily, welcoming him into a long hall full of columns. He looked around for some sort of greeting party, but apart from shadows, the hall contained little. He ambled through it, his heels clicking on the polished marble floor. A second set of doors marked the end of the hall, this time made of sturdy oak. He grabbed one of the rungs and tugged to pull the portal open before slipping through.
The scene that confronted him took some moments to register. Pillows and couches, chez lounges and carpets crammed the room full of decadent lifestyle. Creatures of all sorts lounged around the room, eating and drinking. Some were humanoid but wore gothic garb. Some were covered in scales or had multiple limbs or even tentacles. The noise of the room assaulted his ears like physical blows, causing him to wince. The door slammed shut behind him and the assemblage turned to look in his direction.
The silence that followed was as sudden and deafening as the commotion before. The creatures quickly split down the middle of the hall, forming a long corridor of bodies. Jason stepped forwards tentatively. If he had a dinner appointment with the lord of this place, he assumed the other guests would make way for him. He slowed as he again reached the end of the room and yet another door. Looking back quickly, he found the gathering had turned to follow him with their eyes as he walked, filling in behind him and closing his route of escape. And yet, there was no sense of threat from them. More a mixture of reverence and curiosity. He stared at them. They stared back. And then Jason felt the door behind him open itself inwards and Jason turned his back on them once more. He straightened his jacket and braced his shoulders before breathing heavily and passing through the doors to meet, he assumed, master of all he'd seen.
Jason strode purposefully into the room and then stopped. It was empty. There was a door at the far end, but other than that, it was barren.
"Oh good," someone said. "You're here."
Jason looked for the source of the voice and ended up slowly tilting his head up to look at the ceiling. He jumped back against the hard wall and stared.
An elegant dinner table was set with food and chairs, on the ceiling! The man who occupied one end of the table looked down at Jason from his seat. His thick, brown locks fell around his shoulders like a lion's mane and he gleaming white business suit with a crimson shirt underneath. He gestured to a door on the ceiling that faced him and his sleeves glittered with gold cufflinks.
"Please," he said, "join me."
The door at the end of the hall and the door the man faced on the ceiling swung open simultaneously. Jason could now see an exact replica of the dinner table laid out in the next room. He quickly skirted along the wall, crossed over the threshold and found it was no replica. He looked at the very handsome man who occupied the far end of the table and then looked up. The floor he had been standing on was now the ceiling. He saw the door on his former floor close and heard the door behind him swing shut in unison.
He darted to the closest chair and sat his weight firmly on the seat, gripping the underside with his hands until his knuckles turned white. He swallowed hard and tried to not look up-- or was it down? Jason couldn't tell which anymore.
The man eyed him and casually cut into the steak that sat on his plate. "I assure you Jason," he said between mouthfuls. "You're quite safe. I say we sit here, so we do."
Jason stared at him. "Who ARE you?!"
He laughed. "Isn't that obvious?"
A double image overlaid itself with the man. Twin spires of twisting black horn rose from his forehead. His hair, now tumbled down into a crimson velvet cloak, and from his back and shoulders, six pairs of pitch-black wings sprouted, each pair sifting gently as he sat.
The image slowly faded away and Jason gasped. "You're Lucifer!"
He inclined his head. "The one and only." He smiled. "Please, you must be hungry. Eat."
Jason's stomach growled noisily as if to press the point. He looked down at his plate, which was suddenly filled with all assortments of foods. "Can I eat it?" he asked.
Lucifer wrinkled his brow. "Of course you can!"
"I-I mean," Jason paused. "I'm not going to end up like Persephone am I?"
Lucifer laughed heartily. "No, don't worry. We don't really do that."
Jason needed no further assurances. He quickly set about devouring the food on his plate. However, after his third mouthful, he froze, his form halfway to his mouth. He stared at the pale circle of scar tissue on the back of his hand. Suddenly, he wasn't so hungry anymore. With a clatter, he dropped the knife and fork he was holding and ran his fingers over the pale circle. He gasped as he noticed a similar mark on the back of his other hand. His fingers trembled as he turned them over to inspect his palms.
He looked up at the fallen angel, his hands held out before him, trembling. "Why?"
A grin split across Lucifer's blemish-less face.
"Why'd you let him do it?" Jason's voice was hoarse and scratchy. He could feel his temper rising at the sight of Lucifer's grin.
"Because," Lucifer told him, his grin broadening further, "I needed to know if you were strong enough."
Jason felt his anger start to boil over. He'd almost been raped-- as a TEST?! He grabbed his knife and flung it at the fallen angel.
Lucifer simply flicked the blade aside with a finger and it span away to burry itself in the wall of a shadowy corner of the room, mere inches from a gloved hand.
"And you were strong enough," Lucifer continued undaunted. "You kept fighting 'till the end."
That was too much for Jason to bear. He jerked up from his chair, pushing it backwards as he snarled and swiped his arm across the table. His hand caught his plate, flipping it up into the air where it hung momentarily before tumbling upwards towards the floor. It shattered loudly and Jason's body heaved with rage in the silence that followed.
"Tell me Azrael," Lucifer asked him at last. "Why is the mortal spirit so proud?"
Jason's body stiffened and straightened up on it's own accord. "What?"
Lucifer was looking at him intently now. "William Knox asked that question." He paused and then started to recite:
"Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
Like a swift-flitting meteor, a fast-flying cloud,
A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave,
He passeth from life to his rest in the grave...
The hand of the king, that the scepter hath borne;
The brow of the priest, that the mitre hath worn;
The eyes of the sage, and the heart of the brave,-
Are hidden and lost in the depths of the grave.
The saint who enjoyed the communion of heaven,
The sinner who dared to remain unforgiven,
The wise and the foolish, the guilty and just,
Have quietly mingled their bones in the dust...
'Tis the wink of an eye; 'tis the draught of a breath
From the blossom of health to the paleness of death,
From the gilded saloon to the bier and the shroud;
Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?"
Jason's reply came un-bidden to his lips:
"The surest thing there is, is we are riders,
And though none too successful at it guiders,
Through everything presented, land and tide
And now the very air, of what we ride.
What is this talked-of mystery of birth,
But being mounted bareback on the earth?
We can just as the infant up astride,
His small fist buried in the bushy hide.
There is our wildest mount—a headless horse
And though it runs unbridled off it's course
And all our blandishments would seem defied,
We have ideas yet that we haven't tried."
The words were unfamiliar to him, but they came naturally from his mouth.
Lucifer looked at him quizzically. "You know," he said after a moments contemplation, "that's the best answer I've ever heard... because you 'have ideas yet that you haven't tried,'" he repeated.
"It's a shitty answer." A heavily accented Russian voice snarled from the shadowy corner. It was cruel and harsh and very loud.
"You must forgive Beelzebub," Lucifer said gently to Jason. "He doesn't quite agree with me on the matter of your nature."
"He's a fucking boy! Hardly even a man yet!" Beelzebub spat as he stepped out of the thick shadows.
He made a stark contrast to the white rabbit of Jason's dream. He was a bull of a man, with not a shred of white to be seen on him. He wore thick, black, ornate armor with swirling patterns the color of dried blood all across the gleaming surface. Vicious spikes protruded from his gauntlets and greaves, and a thick black cloak hung from his shoulder-plates, draping around his steel-shod feet. As Jason looked though, a ghost image formed over him. The pair of wings he bore on his back were the largest Jason had yet seen on an angel, fallen or not. They dwarfed the man's massive body. But even they were not the most startling aspect of his double image. A second set of arms extended out from his sides, just below the normal pair. Each hand wielded a wicked looking blade of some sort. Jason blinked once, and the image was gone.
Matthew blossomed down from the sky amidst a heard of wild zebra. They eyed him casually, sensing his true nature and knowing they had no reason to panic. Matt extended his mind across the African savannah, using every ounce of his senses to search for any trace of Miriam or his father. He found none. He was about to launch himself off to search another location, when he felt a gentle tug on his mind. He relaxed and a small window of light opened up in the air before him.
Ashley looked through at him. "Matt, I've spoken with Ophiel, and he says Mom would regularly go to this one place, and then disappear, ordering him to tell no-one." She paused. "She no longer has that authority, so I convinced him to tell me."
"What is this place Ash?" Matt asked eagerly.
"It's an old monastery built into a mountain in the Himalayas." She quickly sent him a mental image of the place and then looked at him in concern. "Be careful, OK? Ophiel says Damien's visited there more than once in the past."
Matt nodded solemnly and the window closed as he shot up into the air with a shower of golden sparks.
"Come Jason," Lucifer said as he rose. "Let me show you something." His body exploded in a puff of inky blackness before he reappeared besides Jason. He took Jason by the elbow and led him back to the door he had entered from. Lucifer pushed it open and
Jason stared as, rather than the hall bellow—above—he saw millions upon millions of tiny diamonds. He stepped out onto the thin catwalk of obsidian that led from the door. He felt Lucifer follow closely after him.
Mephistopheles emerged from the corner where he'd been silently observing.
'Russian?' Beelzebub projected at him. 'Why the fuck did he make me Russian?!'
'Don't project things like that Big B,' Mephistopheles answered with the mind-speak. 'He can hear them.'
"Bullshit," he hissed, but all the same, Mephistopheles noticed he did so with his voice.
"Besides," Mephistopheles chuckled. "You should have seen what he made you in his dream."
Jason stood now in what he could see was the centre of a massive sphere. The number of tiny diamonds that whirled around them was countless beyond all possibility. "What are they?"
"See for yourself." Lucifer urged him, gesturing with his hands.
Jason turned his head back to look at the flickering crystals. Light lanced into his eyes and pictures suddenly swam into vision. Each way he looked, Jason could see scenes of people enjoying a paradisial life. They flickered past in the millions, interspersed with vistas of people laboring in various forges and foundries. He realized suddenly that there was a person for each of the tiny crystals.
"W-who are they?" He asked in a whisper.
"Who aren't they?" Lucifer retorted. "They're the dead."
A chill ran up Jason's spine. He knew instantly that it was true.
Jason looked back at the crystals and images instantly began filling his eyes again.
"You've been to Heaven, Jason. Tell me, how many scenes of paradise did you see? How many souls did you encounter in Heaven?"
Jason thought back to his brief spell in Heaven. Lucifer was right... he'd only ever seen other angels. But then, he'd hardly seen much of the place...
"The dead don't go to Heaven, Jason." Lucifer said quietly. "They never have. That was one of the reasons for my 'fall from grace'." He rolled his eyes at the last part. He took Jason by his arm and turned him to leave the room. "Come along my dear Azrael, let me help you to remember."
Beelzebub looked at Mephistopheles. "What just happened?"
Mephistopheles grinned. "Luce just proved you wrong." He chuckled. "Only an ancient could have seen anything in that room. Anyone else would have simply seen a collection of diamonds."
Beelzebub glared at him. "That doesn't prove he's Azrael."
"Oh come off it Big B, he's—quiet now, they're coming back."
The pair quietly slipped back to the walls to observe what transpired.
Jason was led to his seat at the table and fell heavily into it. There was a puff of inky blackness, and Lucifer was sitting in his own chair at the head of the table.
"S-s-" Jason started, his voice trembling a bit. "So you're telling me that everyone goes to Hell, no matter what?"
Lucifer waved his hand casually. "You call it hell, I call it paradise."
"Well you would. You are evil after all."
"Jason I'm surprised at you!" Lucifer exclaimed, sounding genuinely hurt. "Do I really seem that evil to you? More evil than say.... Miriam?"
Jason had to admit... Miriam's evil factor seemed to drastically out-weigh Lucifer's.
"You know what you saw in those crystals, Jason. I can see them too. This is no realm of fiery torture. That's not what I wanted." He paused and looked at the boy from across the table. "Would you rather be a servant in Heaven, or a master in Hell?"
Jason considered this for a moment. Then replied, "A master in Hell. That way I could make it my own Heaven."
Lucifer smiled warmly. "You see, you do understand." He sighed. "Sadly, this realm is only so large. We have long since reached the natural borders, but the dead never stop coming. It was around the 14th Century AD on your world, that the land tore apart. The fiery caldera you passed over on your way here was created when the fabric of this world split apart. There are several of them now. It was Mephistopheles who came up with the idea of actually creating our own paradise. Not just transforming the land to suite us, but to create it ourselves. The foundries and forges we at first used to create weapons to defend ourselves from the armies of Heaven were put to use fabricating sections of land. Now we attach them to the perimeters of our realm and gradually expand it to accommodate the deceased.
"Each soul serves one day a year in making their own world. There is no punishment here, for there is no crime. No one wants for anything in my kingdom. For here, the Kingdom of Heaven is here and now. Think about it Jason, you know it's true. Why do you think the idea of a Hell of fire and Brimstone only emerged in the 14th Century?"
Jason thought about it quietly. He mulled it over in his head. It did make sense... to make your own paradise. It seemed... almost too good to be true. "Why not Heaven then?" He asked. "Why don't the dead go to Heaven?"
"Ah, that's where you come in Azrael. The gates of Heaven have stood closed to all but Angels since time immemorial. A shame really... because Heaven bears an enchantment of sorts... you see, it expands to accommodate everyone there. When I saw sentient beings dying and being denied Heaven... I vouched in the halls of Heaven that the gates be opened. And I was cast out for believe that mortals could ever be on par—could ever be deserving of what Angels have."
"That's it? That was the reason for your fall from grace?"
Lucifer nodded sadly. "We're a proud race Azrael."
Jason raised his voice. "So where do I come in? You said 'that's where you come in,' what is it you want me to do?"
Lucifer looked past him wistfully. "Azrael, it's never been so good here. This is paradise... but though I love to rule in Hell... Oh how I miss the taste of Heaven. It simply cannot compare." His eyes focused suddenly on the boy. "I want to go home Jason. I--" He quickly composed himself. "You'll know what to do when the time comes old friend. Don't be afraid to do what you know to be right."
Mr. and Mrs. Parker returned from their afternoon walk. They rounded the corner and found their driveway gate standing wide open. Their eyes met briefly before they both tore off at a run, racing up the drive towards their house. Mr. Parker slowed as he saw the sleek black car idling before the front door. The passenger door opened and a brisk looking woman with straight strawberry-blond red hair stepped out. She pulled her gloved hands from the pockets of her black coat and nodded at him before opening the rear passenger door for him.
Mr. Parker turned to his wife, his mouth open ready to explain.
She beat him to the mark. "Oh no you don't! This is Christmas day, your family is here, and you are not leaving!"
"Elizabeth, I'm sorry. I don't have a choice. I have to go. I'll be back as soon as I can." He quickly kissed her to silence any further complaints before striding to the car and sliding into the back seat. The red head shut the door firmly, looked at Mrs. Parker, gave her a half-bow and then got back into the car. Before her door even closed, the car was moving, crunching gravel as it curved around the new fountain and down the drive again.
Elizabeth sighed heavily before carrying on into her house. She called up the stairs as she removed her coat and hung it up. "Guys, your father got called away to work, it was an emergency. I'm sure he'll be back soon, it's just---"
She was cut short as Sara came racing out of the living room. "MOM! Jason's been--"
Mr. Parker took off his coat in the warm car. "You better have a bloody good reason for taking me away on Christmas day, Nicole."
The woman in the front seat turned to hand him a briefcase. "It's started," she said simply, and his breath caught in his throat. He opened the briefcase quickly and pulled out the manila file inside. The color drained from his face. "Jason..." he mouthed.
Matt shot down in a shower of golden light from the sky, before crashing bodily into an invisible force in the air. He cried out as his body took form in his shock and he forced his wings to form to keep himself from falling to the distant ground. His wings ruffled with the cold mountain air, and had he been human, he would have been unable to breath, so thin was the atmosphere. He tried to transport himself again, the golden light welling up around him. Once more though, his magical body collided with the invisible force, and he was forced into corporeal form.
"My, my, mother, you do guard yourself well."
Relying on his wings alone to travel, he soared through the biting winds and soon passed over what once must have been a Tibetan monastery. Now however, it was little more than scorched rubble. The wind whistled shrilly, and he began losing altitude. Matt beat his wings faster to stay aloft, straining against some invisible force, but they were quickly failing. He just managed to reach a crest, clipping the rocks on top with his feet, when his wings gave out. He tumbled to down into the snow, his wings bending painfully as he rolled down the steep incline. A crag of rock on the edge of a plateau broke his fall. He groaned and crawled to his knees. He stretched his wings to make sure they weren't broken, and winced as several of his gleaming white feathers fell free. He stood and looked across the valley he now stood in. High up on the next peak, he could make out a dark splodge against the snow. His angelic vision zoomed forwards until he could make out a massive set of ebony doors built into the mountainside. He drew his wings tightly around his body like a cloak, shivering in the cold. As he trudged forwards towards his distant destination, he forced layer after layer of warm clothes out of his wrists to wrap themselves around his body.
"Elizabeth--" Mr. Parker said, answering his cell phone.
"Jason's missing," she gushed. "Sara said he was taken, and Matt's nowhere to be found either--"
"I know dear. I know. I can't explain now, but don't worry about Matthew. It wasn't him. Tell Sara to get her people ready. Tell her it's started. Don't ask how I know about her, please just do it? I'm doing everything I can to bring Jason home safely. I'll be back as soon as I can." He folded his phone, hanging up.
"Mom?" Sara asked, standing before her mother. "What's going on? Is he coming back? We have to tell him everything about Matthew and Damien and--"
Elizabeth hung up the phone with a trembling hand and set the handset on the kitchen counter. "You father says to get your people ready and that it's started."
Sara stared at her for a moment. "What?"
Elizabeth set a kettle on the stove with trembling hands. She reached into the cupboard and took down a mug. Sara watched as it tumbled from her shaking grasp and shattered on the floor. Her mother crouched to pick up the pieces, before sinking to her knees as tears welled up in her eyes and began coursing down her cheeks. She looked up at her daughter. "Bring my baby home, Sara. I don't want to lose another son..."
Sara was out of the kitchen in seconds. She ran through the living room and up the stairs. She spied Drew and Scott at the end of the corridor, searching every room for any sign of her brother or Matthew.
"Scott, get your stuff to go. It's started." She shouted down the hall to them before bursting into her room and pulling open her wardrobe. She tore the hanging clothes aside and tugged open the secret compartment. She grabbed the two duffle bags inside and stuffed everything she could reach into them. She hoisted them onto her shoulders and turned to find Scott already waiting for her at her door, his two bags on his back. She took a step towards him and the glittering sword on her bedspread caught her eye. She took Matthew's present to her in her hands and drew the blade partway. "Let's hope you were right about this sword Matthew..."
Together, they rushed down the hall. Drew stood by the top of the stairs looking like a frightened child.
"What's happening?" He asked them anxiously.
"Don't worry, I'll come back, but we have to leave right now. It's about Jason." Scott told him.
Sara mounted the stairs and then stopped, looking back up at the boy. "Drew, go into the kitchen. My mom needs someone right now, and there's no-one else." She hurried down the stairs, the door banging open as she and Scott left, and then slamming shut.
Drew hurried down after them and into the kitchen. He saw the shattered mug on the floor beside Jason's crying mother. Instinct took over, and he helped her up into a chair by the breakfast table. He turned the stove on to boil the kettle that was already there, took two more mugs down and got out the tea. He found a broom and carefully swept the shards onto some newspaper before putting it in the trash and pouring the boiled water in the mugs. He took the cups back to the table and set one before Jason's mother and one before himself. Drew looked at her trembling hands as she took a slow sip.
"Thank you," she mumbled.
Drew reached out and wrapped his hands around Elizabeth's jittering hands. "What's going on?"
She looked at him, tears forming in her eyes. Then she looked quickly out the window, never saying a word.
"If it helps... I-- I know about Matt..." He said gently. "You can tell me..."
She looked back at him. Her lip trembled and the sides of her mouth twitched as if she was about to burst into tears. "They're going to kill Jason."
Mr. Parker was bustled through the busy corridor. He'd never seen Antioch so busy before. They'd driven at top speed, joining up with a motorcade of other cars, all headed to the motherhouse. Entire highways had been cleared so that the hundred or so cars could move en-masse unobstructed. They'd pulled into the motherhouse along with the others. There was no sense of joviality or welcome, just a sense of urgency tinged with fear.
He'd changed in the car, and now dressed in snappy business attire, he blended in with the mass of people making their way towards the council room. Their heels clicked down the corridors as aides ran up and down, weaving in and out to deliver reports to various places.
Once in the council room, they all took their seats around the massive round table, their secretaries sitting besides them. Nicole leaned in close to him and whispered so only he could hear, "He's your son. Expect to be put on the spot about this."
He nodded his grim thanks to her as the last members of the council took their seats and the meeting began.