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August 17, 1990
It does hurt. We only did it twice so far. Once was at the Colosseum. We did it at midnight, while intoning a chant in Latin that Ted taught me. It hurt. Afterwards, I told Ted that I loved him. He told me I shouldn't say things like that. That we were doing this for a specific purpose, not for personal pleasure. I should have said, "Good," because there wasn't much pleasure for me anyway.
Brother Mancini of the Order of Reddimus directed us to Cornelius Agricola yesterday. Last night, we went to see him. Ted was very excited, because Cornelius apparently has access to some kind of power that he could imbue into the child. I didn't get to find out much about what it was, because they talked without me.
It was strange and weird. I had to drink from several really disgusting tasting drinks. Then they smeared my body with something that smelled horrible. Ted and I did it again, in dark, with just these candles. And Cornelius Agricola watched. I don't like him.
Today, I feel tired. We only have two more days in my window of fertility. Ted hasn't told me where we're going next.
Brother Mancini had made Cornelius Agricola sound pretty dangerous. The entry in Michaela's diary hadn't. She'd said she didn't like him, but nothing more than that. I hadn't had the chance to read beyond her entry on Cornelius Agricola, though. Maybe she talked about him more later. I wished the diary was like Google, and it had a search function. It didn't though.
Jason and I decided the best course of action was to be cautious. I had to admit that I didn't like the fact that Brother Mancini had seemed so frightened of Agricola. I was curious about why, but if it were really, really bad, maybe it was better that we didn't know. We approached Agricola's house with our guns drawn. It was a tall house, connected to the other houses on the street. Most of Rome was like that. All of the houses looked like a wall. The street and sidewalk met the edge of the foundation. There weren't any trees or yards. The city was completely covered in stone. It was as if the original builders of the city had wanted to eradicate nature or something.
The entrance to Agricola's house was a tall, metal gate, made of twisting wrought iron. It wasn't locked. Jason swung it open, and I followed. That was when we both took out our guns. Inside the gate was a courtyard. There was a fountain in the center. When we looked up, we saw a balcony. Dozens of hanging plants dangled in our faces. Jungle-like and dark, the courtyard gave me a touch of the creeps.
Jason went first. We tiptoed across the courtyard to a door across from the gate. It had an old, iron knocker on it. Jason raised it and dropped it. The sound was a resounding boom. We both jumped a little.
Nothing happened. We waited.
"You think he's not home?" I whispered, tightening my grip on my gun.
Jason took a look around and then raised the knocker again. It hit the door and made another loud booming sound.
"Should we come back?" I wondered.
Then there was the sound of shuffling feet from behind the door. It opened. A short, wizened woman stood on the other side of the door. She had stringy white hair, olive colored skin, and she was quite rotund. "Buongiorno?" she said.
"Uh," said Jason, keeping me behind him. "We're looking for Cornelius Agricola."
The woman looked confused. She let out a string of Italian words.
Jesus. This was stupid. Why were Jason and I trying to get around in a city where we didn't speak the language?
"Um," I said, "Inglese?" (Which was essentially the extent of my Italian. It meant English.)
"Ah," said the woman, looking saddened. "No Italiano?"
"No," I said.
"Cornelius Agricola," said Jason. "Does he live here?" He pointed at the ground, as if that was supposed to somehow mime "live."
"Agricola," repeated the woman, still looking confused.
There was a thud behind us.
Jason and I whirled, raising our guns. I didn't have a chance to see what had fallen behind us, however.
Before I could think, someone or something kicked both my gun out of my hands and my feet out from under me. I fell back, my head cracking on the stone of the courtyard. And everything went dark.
I woke up in a darkened room, my back to Jason. We were sitting on the floor, and we were chained up. The chains looked like chains from some medieval dungeon. They were heavy, and they attached to large metal shackles that encircled our ankles and wrists. The room itself was dark and stone, with no furnishings except some whips and chains hanging on a far wall. The only light came from a grate high in the ceiling, where a shaft of light fell down directly on Jason and me. I gulped. What had we gotten ourselves into, exactly?
I nudged Jason. "You awake?" I whispered.
"He's awake," said a voice. Not Jason's. The voice was deeper and older than his, with a heavy Italian accent.
I didn't say anything else. My gun was gone. I'd had it in my hand when I'd been knocked out. I noticed now that both our guns were hanging underneath the whips. Whoever had us was taunting us, putting our weapons in sight but out of reach. This sucked. It didn't seem likely that this guy, if he actually was Cornelius Agricola (the lady at the gate hadn't seemed to recognize the name), was going to be real helpful. He probably wasn't going to tell us anything.
"I've been waiting for him," continued the voice. The man who was speaking strode around the circle and into my vision. Apparently, he'd been standing in front of Jason. He was a tall man with broad shoulders. His head was shaved, and he had a goatee. The way he glared at me from under his eyebrows projected something sinister. I didn't like it. "You, though," he continued. "I didn't think there would be a girl." He smiled. "But that will make things even more interesting."
Interesting? What was this guy planning to do to us?
"Sit tight, lovelies," he said and left the room, shutting and locking a heavy door behind him.
We were quiet for several minutes after he left. I was expecting something to drop in through the ceiling or crawl out through some grates in the floor that I couldn't see. Something like poisonous snakes or some deadly gas. But nothing happened.
"He said he'd been waiting for you," I said. "Do you think he knows who you are? Do you think he's Cornelius Agricola?"
Jason was rattling his chains, examining them. Trust Jason to be practical, only concerned with trying to get us out of the situation and not with the motives of our captor. "These are old shackles," he said. "I don't think they were made for women. You might be able to slide out of them."
I tested one of them, trying to pull my hand out of it. It seemed pretty tight to me. Plus it was hard to move my limbs since they were connected to such heavy chains. "I don't think so," I said.
"Try," said Jason.
I dragged the chains closer so that my hands were close enough to touch. I held onto one of the shackles and tried to slide my hand out of it. It slid up over my hand, but caught on the knuckle of my thumb. I tried to push it farther. It wouldn't go. I folded my thumb against my hand, making that part of me as small as possible. It slid a little further up. Then it caught and wouldn't slide any further. "No," I said. "I can't."
Jason twisted, flinching as he did so. He was straining against his chains. He checked my progress. "You've almost got it," he said. "Keep trying."
"It hurts," I said.
"Keep trying," he insisted. He moved his hand forward to help me, but his chain didn't reach far enough.
I grasped the shackle again and tried to force it over my hand. It scraped my knuckles, drawing blood. "Ouch," I said. But it had moved forward more, so I kept struggling with it.
More scraping. More bleeding. And thensuccess! My hand was free! Awesome.
"It worked," I told Jason. "I have a free hand!"
"Good," said Jason. "Keep going."
The second hand was easier to free, but I scraped it up even worse, probably because I knew it could be done and wasn't as careful of myself. With both hands free, I started on my feet. I shrugged out of my shoes and socks and started to try to get the ankle shackles off. At first it seemed hopeless. I pushed the shackle down as far as I could get it. It slid down over my heel, but bit into the skin of the top of my foot, drawing more blood.
Then I had a vague memory from when I was a very little girl. I couldn't have been more than three. My mother was in her bedroom, putting on a pair of very tight jeans. She couldn't get the end of the jeans over her heel. I remembered the way she'd pointed her toes, like a ballet dancer. Then she'd yanked the jeans up. They were tight on her ankle, like a second skin.
This shackle was bigger than those jeans. Of course, it was also not made of fabric. Still, I tried it, elongating my foot and pointing my toes. The shackle slid right off. "Got a foot!" I told Jason. The second one came off just as easily. I was free!
I stood up, going around to face Jason.
"Good," he said. "Good job." He smiled at me.
"How do we get you out?" I asked.
"We don't," he said. "My hands and feet are too big. I've tried." He held up his hands, which were just as scraped as mine, but still encased in their shackles. "Instead, you've got to get the guns and wait behind the door. When he comes back, you shoot him. Then hopefully he's got keys on him, and you can get me out."
It wasn't an awful plan. "But," I said, "if he's Cornelius Agricola, we still want him to tell us about what he did with Michaela and Edgar Weem."
"Well, don't kill him," said Jason. "Just disable him."
"So, where do I shoot him?" This guy looked pretty big. I wasn't sure if he'd go down with a shot in the leg. If it came to fighting hand to hand, I'd never be able to match him.
"Go get the gun," said Jason. "Let me think about it."
It turned out to be a moot point. I couldnt reach the guns. They were too high on the wall, out of my reach. I tried jumping. I couldnt even get my fingertips to brush them. Jason was taller than me. If we could get him free, he could probably reach them.
But Jason assured me that he couldn't get out of his shackles. I told him to keep trying. I surveyed the door. It opened into the room, so it was possible that I could hide behind it when it opened, like Jason had said. "Maybe I could trip him," I said. "When he comes in?"
"And then what?" said Jason.
"Well," I said, "if he falls down flat on his face How far can your chains reach?"
Jason crawled forward. "Maybe," he said. "Maybe I could reach him. I could get a chain around his neck or something. But you'd have to help. If you ran up and kicked his head from behind, that would hurt him. Keep him down. It might work."
We didn't have a better plan, so we decided to try it. I positioned myself behind the door and waited for the man to come back. He didn't come back. I got sick of standing and sat down behind the door.
It felt like hours passed. But we didn't have any way to measure the time. The light from the grate over us seemed to be dimming. Moving. Was it early evening? Late afternoon? We didn't know.
"You know what's been bothering me?" I finally said. "Two people at the school said that they started thinking about us on Friday."
"What?" said Jason.
"Faruza or maybe it was Fairie. And the head. When I asked them when they started to think we were special or whatever, they both said they did on Friday. And that was the day that I found you with Jude."
"Well, every other time something weird has happened to us, it's been right after we kissed," I said. "And we did kiss on Friday. Do you remember?"
"We kiss every day, Azazel. Weird things don't happen every time we kiss."
"Yeah, but do you remember that kiss? It was a pretty intense kiss."
Jason didn't answer for a second. "Yeah," he said. "I do remember. And right before we were kissing, I was wishing like hell that I could just be normal and enjoy high school."
"Were you? Because I was wishing that we had someone who supported us," I said.
"Huh," said Jason.
"We got our wishes, didn't we?"
"Do you think that's how it works?" he asked me. "Because before the Sons went nuts in Shiloh, I was totally wishing that we could get out of that situation."
"And when I thought you were dead, I could hardly accept the fact that you were. I wanted you back."
"Huh," said Jason again. "Maybe we should ditch this whole tripping him plan and just wish really hard that he'd come let us go. And then make out heavily."
I laughed. "You think so?"
"It wouldn't hurt anything would it?" Jason asked. "Plus, the whole thing doesn't sound unpleasant."
I laughed again.
"Come over here," Jason said.
I went to him. I sat down next to him. I touched his face and his chest.
"Now wish," he whispered.
I shut my eyes. I wished as hard as I could. With my eyes still closed, I felt Jason's lips press against mine. They were sweet and soft and familiar, and they still made me feel like the entire world was splitting apart and falling away. I clung to him, our kiss deepening, our mouths opening, our tongues entwining. When we broke away, I sighed.
We waited. The guy didn't come back. The wound on my arm itched. I scratched at it. Jason scolded me about messing up my bandage. We waited some more.
"I guess that didn't work," I said finally.
"Maybe," said Jason, "we didn't do it right. Maybe we should try again."
"You just want to kiss me again."
"I'm that transparent, huh?" he grinned. "Wish again," he said and kissed me. We kissed for a long time. Jason couldn't really touch me because of the fact his hands were in shackles, but he kept whispering to me to get closer. Eventually, I ended up straddling him, our bodies pressed tight against each other. I was running my hands over the stubble on his head, which actually felt really cool. I was getting more and more used to it.
Of course, that was when the door opened.
And I wasn't nearly close enough to trip him. The sound startled me, and I remembered that was what I was supposed to do. So I leapt to my feet and lunged for the guy. Not only didn't he trip, he caught me and drove me up against the wall, kicking the door closed behind him. He pinned me, his hand around my neck.
"Yes," he said. "You're definitely making things interesting."
The man was strong. He lifted me off the ground, pushing me up the wall. My hands went to my throat instinctively, prying at his fingers, trying to keep him from choking me. The man just laughed.
I couldn't breathe! I couldn't count the amount of times people had tried to strangle me in the past year. Really. Couldn't this guy come up with something original? And considering he was trying to strangle me, I was pretty sure that meant our little kissing-wishing maneuver hadn't worked.
I tried kicking at the man. That only made him laugh more. I looked around the room frantically. Jason was making frantic gestures to look to my right. It was hard to move my head, considering I was being strangled, but I managed to twist it a little.
The man had lifted me up higher. I should be able to reach the guns, which were hanging below the whips and chains to my right. I reached out, my hand scrabbling against the wall. I knocked one of the guns off the wall, and it clattered against the floor.
The world was going white around the edges, and the man was grabbing at me, trying to move my arm down. I groped for a hold on somethinganythingover there.
My fingers closed around a chain of some kind. I yanked at it with all my strength, and it came free. It was heavy, and I had very little control over it as I swung it back toward the man.
As it swung around, I was able to see what it was I'd grabbed. It was a ball and chain, with a very heavy iron ball at its end. The ball swung wide and clobbered the man in the back. He buckled from the force of it, letting out a growl, and dropped me.
I hit the ground hard, and the ball had bounced against the man and was swinging back around. I dropped it, rolling out of the way, and crawled to the dropped gun. The metal ball clattered against the floor. Gun in hands, I rolled over onto my back, aiming in the general direction of the man and flipping off the safety.
My arms weren't steady as I pointed the gun at him. He was lumbering forward, the expression on his face one of pure rage. I was still trying to get oxygen back into my lungs, but I managed to say, "Keys," to him.
He was coming for me.
"Stop," I gasped.
He grabbed at the gun, like he was going to wrench it out of my hand. So I pulled the trigger. He was already putting pressure on the barrel of the gun, so the shot went wide, but it caught him in the opposite shoulder. He let go of the gun and cried out.
I got to my feet, still breathing hard. "Give me the keys, so I can get Jason out," I said.
I was waving the gun in his face, and he was clutching his bleeding shoulder, but he still hesitated. Finally, he dug a set of old keys on an iron ring out of his pocket and flung them on the floor. I bent down to pick them up, keeping my eyes and the gun trained on him.
Holding the keys, I stood up. "Stay where you are," I said to him, backing away. When I reached Jason, I handed him the keys. I didn't watch him, just listened to the sounds of metal scraping metal. Instead, I watched the man, who was staying put, still clutching his bleeding shoulder and looking royally pissed.
"Azazel," said Jason. "I can't get the right one off my hand."
I only looked down for a minute. Jason had freed his legs and his left hand, but his right hand was still shackled. I was about to hand Jason the gun, so that he could cover the man while I unlocked his shackle, but in that short period of time, the man had made his move.
He tackled me, knocking the gun out of my hand. It skittered across the floor, far out of my reach. I was underneath him, the full weight of his body pressing down on me. He pinned my hands down above my head with one armthe one with a bleeding shoulder, if you could believe it. He pulled back his other fist. He was going to hit me! I cringed.
And Jason dove into the man, knocking him off me.
I pulled myself out of the way. Jason and the man were wrestling on the ground. Jason was on top of the man, his hands around the man's neck, squeezing.
The man entwined his legs with Jason's and forced them over so that he was pinning Jason. He punched Jason several times in the face.
Wait. This looked familiar. I'd seen Jason make that move before. Back in Bramford. At the Nelson farm party.
Jason reached up and pushed several fingers into the wound on the man's shoulder. The man cried out, thrusting Jason's hand out of the wound. Jason took the opportunity to punch the man squarely on the chin. The man's head flew to the side. Recovering, the man drove his fist into Jason's nose. Jason started bleeding.
Maybe I should stop sitting here watching this like a damsel in distress and find the damned gun.
I caught sight of it and ran to pick it up. The man was sitting up, punching Jason again and again. There wasn't any chance I'd hit Jason instead of the man. So I took careful aim and pulled the trigger.
No! Out of bullets? I stared at the gun. We'd stolen it from the Sons when they were shooting up the prom. Jason had told me the name of these kinds of guns once, but I couldn't remember. Still, it seemed to me that these were the kinds that held about thirty bullets. But who knew how many times the gun had been fired before I picked it up on the floor of the prom? Jason and I needed more ammunition.
I looked from the gun to Jason and the man. The other gun was on the other side of the room, still hanging on the wall. I couldn't get to it, could I? Maybe I should try. Maybe I could grab the ball and chain and throw it up there. Maybe it could knock off the gun.
Jason's head thudded against the floor. His face was broken and bleeding. He groaned.
I ran for the gun. Halfway across the floor, I heard the man howl. I stopped and turned to look. He was lying on his back. Jason was standing over him, kicking him repeatedly in the groin.
"Get the chains," Jason called to me.
At first I thought he meant the ball and chain over by the door. But then I realized he meant the chains in the middle of the room. He wanted to chain up the man. I sprinted to Jason and the man, stopping to grab one of the shackles. I dragged it to the man, clamping one around his wrist. It locked when I snapped it closed.
"Wait," yelled the man.
Was he crazy? I ran to get another shackle.
"I don't think you're who I thought you were," said the man.
I yanked the shackle across the floor, reaching for his hand.
"You're Jason, aren't you?" the man said to Jason.
Jason held up his hand for me to stop. I paused, but I wasn't really sure why. So the guy had mistaken Jason's identity. Big freaking deal. Like that made any difference. He'd chained us up, nearly strangled me, and beaten Jason's face mangled and bloody. We should definitely restrain him, no matter what he was saying.
Jason folded his arms over his chest. "Who'd you think I was?" he asked.
"Michael Jude," said the man. "He's your brother, right? I had a picture. You two look an awful lot alike."
Okay. Intriguing and all. I gestured with the shackle at Jason. "Who cares?" I said.
The man twisted to look at me. "I don't mean you any harm," he said. "I was expecting the other one. Not you." The man's face was pretty messed up too. Jason had held his own. He held out his hand to Jason, the one that wasn't shackled. "Cornelius Agricola," he said.
Jason just stood there for a second. Then he moved forward and shook the man's hand.
"You're amazing," said Agricola. "It's been over twenty years since a man's bested me in a fight." He grinned, and it looked horrible because there was blood in his mouth. "I am getting a little older," he said. "But you were well trained. And I consecrated you to both Mars and Mithras myself. I'm in awe."
Jason shrugged. "Well, I wouldn't have beaten you if I hadn't gone for the groin. Fought dirty."
"No such thing," said Agricola, grinning even wider. "How about letting me out of this shackle?"
"No freaking way," I said.
"Azazel," said Jason.
"You two were just beating the living crap out of each other, and now you're shaking hands and complimenting each other?" I demanded. "This guy is dangerous. We leave him chained up."
"Your young woman is smart," said Agricola. "Listen, I offer you my word. I swear to you on my faith in the great power of the bull and its purifying blood. I will not harm you."
"Screw your word," I said.
"Azazel, I believe him," said Jason. "Besides, we did come here to talk to him, didn't we?"
I couldn't believe this. Maybe it was some kind of ridiculous male code or something. Guys could just punch each other and be friends right after. Who knew why? It was weird and disturbing and stupid. But we did want to talk to Cornelius Agricola. And I supposed what he said kind of made sense. Maybe.
"Why'd you think Jude was coming?" I asked.
"Jason's father told me he probably would. Edgar said Jude had taken off after stealing a journal that mentioned me and that the boy would be following the journal through Europe. Edgar wanted the boy contained and the journal returned to him."
So that was what Jude had been doing at the Sol Solis School. Retracing Michaela's steps. God. He hadn't been trying to kill us after all. Had he? We'd never know.
"So you're in touch with Edgar Weem," said Jason. "And doing him favors?"
"Ted and I are old friends," said Agricola. "I used to train his Brothers in hand-to-hand combat. I did that for years."
"Well," said Jason. "Last I checked, Edgar Weem wanted me dead, so I don't think Im actually going to let you go."
Thank you, Jason. At least he was being slightly reasonable.
"Dead?" Agricola laughed as if that were ridiculous. "Jason, you're his pride and joy. He doesn't want you dead."
I stood by Jason. We both folded our arms over our chests.
"All right," said Agricola. "Perhaps he wanted you to think that. Ted always had a tendency to make things more complicated than they needed to be. I told him if he really wanted to destroy the Sons to just set a bomb, but no, no, no. He was convinced about all of this Rising Sun business and wanted to make you to do it for him."
Jason and I exchanged a look. "Destroy the Sons?" said Jason. "I thought I was supposed to unite the world under a global government."
"Let me out of my shackle, and I'll tell you all about it," said Agricola. "And we can all get cleaned up. Maybe have some food?"
Jason looked at me questioningly.
"I promise I won't call Ted," said Agricola. "I swear."
I was hungry.
About an hour later, we were sitting at the table in Agricola's dining room. The old woman from the door was bustling about in the kitchen. She was Agricola's mother apparently. She'd already set out several plates of food. First course stuff. Antipasti. There were slices of gorgonzola and mozzarella, a plate of prosciutto and salami, a bowl of olives, some roasted red peppers, and a basket of bread. I could probably make a meal out of this, but Agricola assured us there was more coming. Much more.
They really did know how to feed you in Italy. Agricola's mother came into the dining room, carrying a wine decanter. She sat it down on the table and sat down with us. "Mangi. Mangi," she said.
"Eat," translated Agricola. He reached for a plate and dipped himself some roasted red peppers.
While we filled our plates with appetizers, Agricola and his mother chatted in Italian. Jason and I ate quietly. Thus far, everything seemed okay. Agricola was being very hospitable. He'd allowed Jason and I to shower and had his mother prepare this massive feast for us. I wasn't sure if I trusted him or not, but the food was really, really good. Still, I was curious. What did Agricola know about Weem? Why had he said that Weem wanted to destroy the Sons? It didn't make sense. Up until a few months ago, Weem had been very high up in the Council, practically the head of the Sons. If he wanted to destroy them, why had he worked for them for so long? I wanted to ask Agricola about it, but I wasn't sure how. Besides, he and his mother were still talking.
Eventually, his mother went out of the room to bring out the first course. Agricola told us that he'd been explaining to her who we were and that she would be dining in the kitchen so that we could talk.
"She doesn't have to do that," I said. This woman was preparing our food. It didn't seem right that she also had to eat in the kitchen.
"It's not a problem for her," said Agricola.
She brought in a several bowls and a large dish of pasta. Linguine with onions and tomato sauce. We served our-selves portions of pasta and Agricola's mother left the room.
"So," said Agricola, "I must admit, I'm curious. How did you happen to get this instead of your brother?" He held up the diary.
"Can we have that back?" I said.
Agricola hesitated, then slid it across the table to me. "I was to give it to Ted," he said, "but I'll give it back to you as a gesture of good faith."
"Jude's dead," Jason said shortly, digging into his pasta.
Agricola raised his eyebrows. "Ted will be saddened," he said. "He said that the younger boy was unruly, however."
"I don't think Edgar Weem is going to care," I said.
"You don't know him," said Agricola. "I'm sure he's appeared cold and aloof to you, but he's not a bad man. He has his weaknesses, but so do we all. I know that he is quite proud of you, Jason."
"Yeah," said Jason. "Well, see that's what I don't get. Because he had one of the Brothers watching me this winter, waiting to see if I got too violent. According to that guy, Edgar Weem said that when he made me he 'created a monster.' And that if I screwed up too much, he'd have me killed."
Agricola shrugged. "Ted always wanted you to be violent," he said. "Not in an undisciplined manner, of course, but he created you to be a deadly warrior. And it seems he succeeded." Agricola smiled. "I can't say enough how impressed I am by your abilities. Perhaps he only wanted you watched because he wanted to keep tabs on your progress. I'm certain he never intended to have you killed. He's your father, after all."
"I don't have a father," Jason muttered.
"I'm sure he'd approve of that sentiment, as well," said Agricola. "But I'm afraid I still don't understand. You took this journal from your brother. Killed him"
"We didn't kill him," I interrupted. "Someone else did."
"I see," said Agricola. "But I don't know what this journal is. Ted wouldn't explain. He said that if I found it, I'd probably read it, and that he couldn't stop me. But he wouldn't go any further."
"It's Michaela Weem's diary," said Jason.
It was occurring to me that Agricola was asking the questions and not the other way around. Was he pumping us for information? When he had what he wanted, would he just lock us back up again? Maybe that was why he'd had no problem giving back the diary.
"Who?" said Agricola.
Jason looked surprised. "She was here with Edgar Weem. Eighteen years ago."
Agricola still looked blank.
"My mother," Jason said finally, but he didn't sound like he liked saying the words.
"Ah! Yes. She was a pretty girl. You do take after her quite a bit. I don't know if I ever knew her name."
Really? "In the diary, she says that you watched her and Edgar have sex. And you didn't bother to find out her name?" I asked.
Agricola turned to me. "You are quite a girl, aren't you?" he said. "You handle a gun well. And Jason, you do rely on her quite a bit, don't you?"
"She's reliable," said Jason.
"She's your weakness," said Agricola. "Women always make men weak."
Sexist bastard. I clamped my mouth shut. No wonder he didn't know Michaela's name.
"No," said Jason. "You're wrong about that. Before Azazel came along, I didn't have anything to fight for. Fighting without purpose makes a man weak. Having a purpose strengthens your resolve."
I shot Jason a grateful smile.
Agricola raised an eyebrow.
"Besides," said Jason. "She held her own." He nodded to Agricola's shoulder.
"Touché," said Agricola. "So your mother's diary, then."
"It explains how she and Edgar Weem went about trying to conceive me," said Jason. "Azazel and I thought that if we knew more about where I came from, we could figure out . . . Do you believe in the Rising Sun?"
"Of course not," said Agricola. "But I do have my beliefs. They are older than those of the Sons. And they are far less democratic. I don't believe all gods are the same god. I don't believe that all religious traditions are equally valid. No. I worship Mithras, and I worship Mars. I am a warrior and a soldier, and those are my patrons. I believe that the power I summoned to bestow on you, Jason, was very real indeed."
"I guess that's why we're here," said Jason. "We want to know what exactly that power was. The diary is pretty vague on what actually happened."
Agricola raised his eyebrows. "I'm not sure the details of the ritual are really a good dinner conversation."
"Because they're gross?" I asked.
"Not gross," said Agricola, giving me a withering look. "They are sacred, powerful actions. But they might not be appetizing."
"Did you make her drink the bull semen?" I asked.
"I thought you didn't know about the ritual," said Agricola.
"It's vague," said Jason.
"So you did?" I said.
Agricola sighed. "Maybe I should start at the beginning," he said.
"Okay," said Jason.
Agricola took a deep breath. "I've known Ted for quite some time, as I said. For years, I was on the Sons' payroll, because I trained the Brothers in hand-to-hand combat. Ted and I spoke often during this period. He and I talked about ancient religions, which was his deepest interest. He sometimes shared with me concerns about the organization he worked for. He was worried that the Sons were losing their faith. He didn't feel that they were following the true path anymore, but had been seduced by the call of power and money. In those early days, he used to talk to me about the Sons' messiah. The Rising Sun. He said that the way things stood, if the Rising Sun were to arrive, he'd clean house in the Sons, in much the way that Jesus did with the moneymakers in the temple.
"A few years later, he contacted me again. He was a teacher now, at a school the Sons ran for rich kids. But now he had a crazy idea in his head. He said that the Sons needed to be stopped. Destroyed. They were too corrupt. And he was going to do this by bringing forth the Rising Sun. When I asked him how, he started spewing all this ridiculous nonsense about King Arthur and genealogical lines."
"Yeah," said Jason. "We've heard that too."
"The long and short of it was that he wanted my help to perform a fertility ritual on him and some girl he was bringing with him. He wanted the blessings of Mars and Mithras on the child, because he felt that the Rising Sun would need to be a great warrior in order to destroy the Sons.
"I told him that I worshipped the gods of soldiers, and I didn't know much about fertility. He suggested an initiation of sorts into the Mithraic mysteries for both him and the girl. I told him this was blasphemous. Women weren't allowed in the Mithraic mysteries. We worked out a compromise. I initiated Ted, but not the girl. She was however, bathed in the blood of the sacrificial bull and as a measure of fertility, drank the bull's semen."
"Sacrificial bull?" I said. "You killed a bull?"
"The mysteries are mysteries for a reason," said Agricola. "I can't tell you what transpires in the ceremony. It is a sacred secret."
I guessed I knew enough about that ritual anyway. Bathed in bull's blood? Eeww.
"Further," continued Agricola. "I consecrated you to Mars and blessed you with a warrior's spirit. Or rather, I consecrated their union, should it produce offspring. Which it apparently did."
Jason was quiet for several seconds. Then he said, "Did you do anything that might make me, like, come back from the dead?"
Agricola raised his eyebrows. He did that a lot. "You died?"
"I got shot in the head," said Jason. "I wasn't breathing. I didn't have a pulse. And then Azazel kissed me, and I woke up."
Agricola laughed. "Well, it sounds like something Ted would want his Rising Sun to do. No. I don't have access to power like that. I have no idea."
"I thought Mithras was a dying god," said Jason.
Agricola shook his head. "No Mithras sacrifices a bull, which he is tied to symbolically. But he himself does not die. And the bull doesn't come back to life. It's not a seasonal religion, you see. It isn't intended to explain why the crops die. Instead it is about fighting always against the evil that surrounds us."
I couldn't help laughing a little.
"Why are you laughing?" asked Agricola. "I don't think that was funny."
"It's just that Brother Mancini told us you were evil."
"That is because Brother Mancini serves the Catholic Church, which is the most evil institution in the world. I fight against it. Brother Mancini doesn't appreciate that."
Oh. Well, with everyone thinking everyone else was evil, it sure made things confusing, didn't it? I guessed this was why my parents hadn't believed in evil, just constructive and destructive consequences. Maybe fighting against evil was really the only evil that existed, because it allowed people to do things they wouldn't otherwise do. If their enemies were evil, then all bets were off. They had to do whatever they could to get rid of those enemies. It all seemed so primitive.
"But this warrior power stuff," said Jason. "That could easily be explained by the fact I was trained by the Sons. And the fact I was able to beat you is probably because you used to train the Sons, so I know your techniques. Overall, how is there any proof that what you did to Michaela and Edgar had any affect on me?"
"Proof? Is that what you're looking for?"
"I don't want to be this Rising Sun thing," said Jason. "I don't care if I'm supposed to be establishing a global government or destroying the Sons. I just want to be left alone. And I told myself that the Sons were just nuts. That there was no Rising Sun. But this weird stuff keeps happening. And I just want to know why."
"You think I can answer that question?" asked Agricola.
A rock sailed through the window in Agricola's dining room. It shattered the glass and landed in the middle of the pasta dish.
Copyright (c) 2009 Valerie Chambers