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To: Arabella Hoyt <[email protected]>
From: Ian Hoyt <[email protected]>
Subject: Working on it
I assure you that we are as concerned about the situation as you are. The two of them loose on the world represents a serious threat to the organization. We had a lead that they were on an island of the coast of Africa, but that seems to be a dead end.
I'm checking out a report that they're in Rome. I'll be sure to give you updates on the situation.
Through the hole in the window, we could hear shouts. "Let him go!"
Agricola stood up and went to the window. He looked out. "It's the Sons," he said.
Jason and I were also on our feet. "The Sons?" I said. "Since when do they throw rocks? They always come in shooting."
"Not the Brothers," said Agricola. "Those ridiculous ex-Council members that are taking refuge with the Reddimus monks." He turned to us. "How exactly did you find me?"
"We asked Brother Mancini for your address," I said.
"Yeah, but he didn't want anyone to know we were there," said Jason.
"Apparently, they found out," said Agricola.
I stepped over to the window. Below us, in the courtyard were a throng of about twenty aging men. They were wearing suits. "Release the Rising Sun!" one of them yelled.
"I believe your public awaits," said Agricola.
Jason and I just looked at him.
"Well, go on," he said. "I'm not hiding you here while they cause further damage to my property. You'll have to leave."
"Is there a back door?" Jason asked.
Agricola snorted. "Out," he said. "Sorry we weren't able to finish dinner. And that I wasn't more help."
He ushered us through the dining room and down the stairs, depositing us in the courtyard. When the men saw us, they all fell to their knees.
Jason and I rolled our eyes. This kneeling thing was getting so old.
"We're fine," said Jason. "And stop kneeling to us."
"Yep," I said. "On your feet. All of you."
Jason took my hand, and we started for the gate. It was dark outside now. I hoped we'd go to a hotel. I needed to read more of the diary to figure out what our next move was. Of course, maybe my idea wasn't panning out so well. Agricola hadn't been much help. We didn't know anything else that was useful, and Jason had gotten his face beaten in.
The Sons swarmed after us. Lovely. Outside the gate, I paused to look at them. "Okay," I said. "Thanks for coming after us and all, but as you can see, Agricola didn't hurt us. He isn't even evil. So, why don't you guys go ahead home, and we'll catch up another time."
"We can't let you wander off," said one of the Sons. "It's too dangerous."
"Yes," piped up another one, "Hoyt is looking for you. He wants you dead."
"Somebody always wants one of us dead," said Jason. "We're used to it." To me, "Don't talk to them. Let's just go."
The Sons formed a circle around us. "You must come to sanctuary," they said. "Not even Hoyt would dare to harm you in the Reddimus monastery."
We were surrounded. Jason sighed. "We should just shoot our way out," he said.
"We don't have guns anymore," I said.
"Dammit," said Jason. He looked out at the Sons. "Can you guys get us guns?"
They brought us guns. They also brought us wine and food and gave us a private room together. They managed to find us laptops with internet access. They brought in beautiful, expensive sheets and intricately woven rugs. When I mentioned that I was sad to have lost all my clothes, someone took our measurements and arrived later with shopping bags full of clothes for both of us.
Brother Mancini was not happy with this turn of events. "This is a monastery!" he raged as they piled the luxurious items into our room. He stood in the doorway, his hands on his head.
"This is the Rising Sun and his consort," said one of the Sons.
"We offer you sanctuary and you repay us in this way? I should just turn you all out in the street!" Mancini raged.
"Try it, and we'll throw you out," said another of the Sons.
"Sorry Brother Mancini," I tried.
"You don't speak," he said to me. "The both of you are the spawns of Satan, with your guns and your threatening and striding out of here earlier without worrying about who might see you or what they might do. You've brought this upon us, and may God forgive you for your sins!"
Then he stalked off.
The Sons who'd been bringing us stuff bowed low. "What else can we do for you?"
"Stop bowing?" I said.
"But we must show our respect."
I sighed. They weren't going to stop bowing.
"We're fine," said Jason. "Leave us for the night. We'll speak more in the morning."
The Sons nodded their assent and trooped out of the room, closing the door behind them. Jason flopped down on our bed, which was swathed in pillows and silk comforters. He grinned. "Well," he said. "This isn't all bad."
I lay down next to him. It wasn't bad. It was nice. "So we're going to stay here tonight?" I said.
"Definitely," he said, putting his arm around me.
I opened the diary. "Let's see where we're headed next," I said.
"What, you don't want to stay here and be bowed to and waited on hand and foot?" he teased me.
"I want to find someone who knows more than Agricola did," I said.
Jason sighed. "Maybe we're just barking up the wrong tree here. Maybe it doesn't matter how I was created. Maybe it's not me. Maybe it's you."
"What?" I put the diary down. "Me?"
"You know, you've been there too, when all the weird things have happened. And God knows some weird Satanist mumbo-jumbo rituals have been done over you too. I mean, we're considering the possibility here that being consecrated to Mars or making love in the moonlight of the Colosseum while chanting Latin is what's causing us to be able to do what we do. Why not being the Vessel of Azazel?"
"Because . . . Because Michaela Weem made me happen. It wasn't Satanism they believed in, it was just her, and her obsession with Rabbit and whatever else she thought."
"Edgar Weem made me happen," said Jason.
"True," I said. "I don't know." I was quiet, flipping through the pages of the diary. "So, are you saying we should just give up? Stop following the diary? Stop trying to find this stuff out?"
"No," said Jason. "I don't know." He sighed. "Where did they go next?"
I looked at the diary, flipping past the entry on Agricola. I read quietly. "Tuscany," I reported. "A woman. Her name was Agnes. There's no last name." I kept reading. "She had a cauldron, apparently."
"Does it say anything else about where this woman was?"
"No," I said. "It's a short entry."
"Maybe we can skip her," said Jason. "Who's next?"
"I don't think we should skip anyone," I said.
"How are we are going to find this lady? You propose we just go to Tuscany and start knocking on doors? You know how big Tuscany is?"
I sighed. I flipped the page. "No way," I said.
"What?" said Jason.
"After Tuscany, they went to New Jersey." I handed him the diary.
"Oh my God," said Jason. "Your grandmother?" He kept reading. "Your grandmother's a gypsy?"
"We can't go there," I said. "She doesn't like you. And she has ties to the Sons. To my great-uncle who's like the head of the Sons. Dammit!"
Jason gave me back the diary. He got off the bed and began pacing in front of it. "Who's next?"
"That's it," I said. "She was only fertile for four days. That was their four days. The rest of the entries are about going to Shiloh. It says that she and Edgar waited two weeks to see if it took, and she was pregnant. After that, she starts talking about morning sickness and hating Edgar. Which is weird, because she liked him before."
"Great," said Jason.
I tossed the diary on the floor and rolled over, burying my face in a pillow. Well, so much for that idea. I lifted my head. "Next time I have an idea, Jason, remind me that they're always bad."
He came back to the bed and sat down next to me. "Your ideas are not always bad."
I sat up, and began ticking them off on my fingers. "Ms. Campbell. Aunt Stephanie. Florida"
"Florida was great."
"No, it wasn't."
"Well, bad stuff happened there, but it wasn't because of Florida."
"Going to see Sutherland," I said. "After he carried me off from the target range. That was a great idea."
"Look, I've had bad ideas too," said Jason.
"Like the prom," he said. "And I thought you were paranoid in Florida."
"I was paranoid."
"But you were also right. People were out to get you."
I flopped back on the bed. "What are we going to do now?" I asked the ceiling.
"Do a Google search for Agnes in Tuscany?" he suggested.
I glared at him.
"Maybe," he said, "we should wish really hard for all the answers to come to us while kissing heavily."
I laughed. "That was another of my ideas that didn't work!"
"It might have worked," said Jason. "He did come back. And after we beat him senseless, he was actually kind of nice."
I wacked him with the pillow. He yanked the pillow away from me. "What?" he said. "Don't you want to kiss me, Azazel?" He began tickling me and kissing whatever part of me he could get his lips onmy elbow, my shoulder, my nose. I struggled away from his hands, laughing and gasping for breath. "Stop! Stop!" I told him, trying to push him off me.
Jason pinned me down with his legs, forcing himself on top of me to keep tickling me. I punched at his chest, grabbed at his hands, still laughing. "Stop!" I said again.
"No, no," he drawled, imitating a redneck accent. "I'm going to learn you, woman. If you don't kiss me, you get tickled." He caught my hands, which weren't having any effect on him anyway and pinned them above my head. Then he kissed my lips, long and sweet. And he stopped tickling me.
My giggles faded into sighs. Within a few seconds, his hold on my hands loosened, and I was free to let my hands roam over his back and to play with the stubble on his head.
"I like the way your head feels," I said.
He broke the kiss, propping himself up to look at me, one eyebrow raised.
I playfully punched him again. "You know what I meant," I said. Then I couldn't suppress a slightly wicked grin. "But I guess you could take it the other way too."
He rolled over next to me, pulling me into his arms. I snuggled against his shoulder.
"Last night," he murmured, "I was kind of . . . I mean, I know you didn't . . . finish. I'm sorry. I didn't even try."
I ran my fingers lightly over the stubble on his head, trying to think of how to respond.
Jason started talking again. "I want you to"
Impulsively, I grabbed Jason's hand and moved it onto my body.
"Azazel?" he said.
"Shh," I said to him.
I put my hand over his, guiding him over my skin, showing him where to put his fingers. For a couple of seconds, I was frightened, because it felt like before, when Jason had tried to do this. It felt like nothing. I closed my eyes, trying to listen to my body, ask it where it wanted to be touched. And then, together, we found it. The place.
"Like that?" Jason asked. He sounded surprised and turned on all at the same time.
"Yeah," I breathed, moving my hand and letting Jason's stay there.
"Yeah," I said, half choking on it. That was very good.
It took forever. It felt really good, but it took forever. Several times, I was just kind of lost in the sensation of it, floating in this warm, sweet feeling, and I suddenly remembered how long it had been going on. I snapped my head a few times up to ask Jason if he was getting bored or if his fingers were getting tired. The third time I did it, Jason growled in my ear, "Shut up, Azazel. I'm not bored. And I love those little noises you're making."
But then, several centuries later, it happened. It was a bursting feeling. It was like flowers opening up or a sweet crescendo of thunder across the sky. It was lovely. I opened my eyes and saw Jason looking at me, and I started crying. He brushed the tears away from my cheeks. "Was that okay?" he asked.
Like he had to ask.
I was dreaming. In my dream, I was reading Michaela Weem's diary, but I was sitting inside an old house. There was a cauldron boiling over an open fireplace, and whatever was inside it smelled delicious. The room was lit entirely by firelight and candles. It was cozy. I snuggled under a quilt, sitting on an overstuffed easy chair.
A woman sat opposite me in a rocking chair. She had long white hair that reached down to her waist. Her face looked so young, howeverunlined. Her eyes were wide and eager, like a child's. She was knitting.
"How am I going to find you?" I asked her.
"I have come to you," she said. "You don't have much time."
"Why not?" I wanted to have time. I liked being in this house. I could stay here forever, I felt. It was so warm and nice.
"They're coming for you," she said. "They're always coming for you, aren't they?"
"Mmm," I said. They always were.
"I had hoped you could come to me," she said. "I had thought you might. But things have changed." She smiled at me. "For two people on the run, you sure do have a tendency to come in guns blazing, don't you?"
The guns. I shook my head. "I don't like shooting people."
"Of course you don't." She smiled again. "But wake up, Azazel. I'm outside."
"Can't I just stay here?" I asked.
"Wake up," she said. "Come outside."
I opened my eyes, and I was inside the monastery. Jason was asleep beside me. It was quiet. I sat up. Come outside? Weird dream.
Come outside, repeated the woman's voice in my head.
I looked down at Jason. He looked so peaceful and beautiful sleeping like that. And I eased out of the bed and put on a pair of jeans. I was going outside. Sure it was a stupid idea. Sure, it had just been a dream. But that dream about Chance and Jason had led me to the basement of the old church. And that dream about the diary had . . .
I moved quietly through the darkened halls of the monastery. When I opened the door, I opened it onto a silent, dark street in Rome. It was after midnight. The air was cold. Goosebumps broke out on my arms. I hugged myself. There was no one out here. It had only been a dream.
I reached for the door knob.
"Azazel," said a soft female voice.
I whirled. There she was. The woman from my dream. "Agnes," I said, and I knew that it was her.
She nodded. "Walk with me," she said, reaching for my hand.
Her hand was warm and strong. I could feel her calluses against my palm. And once I was close to her, it didn't seem nearly as cold anymore. We walked through the silent streets, away from the monastery. Everything seemed beautiful, bathed in a deep blue moonlight. And there was no one on the streets. No one at all. She led me through the streets of Rome as if she had done it many, many times.
I was surprised when we arrived at the Roman Forum. I didn't know if we could get in at night. During the day, you had to pay to tour it. But Agnes led me over steps and around walls and before I knew it, we were inside. I stared up at the splendor of it. These buildings were thousands of years old. They had majestic columns and long staircases leading to their entrances. They were in ruinsbut they were still standing. When Jason and I had visited earlier this spring, it had been awesome. But now, in the dark, standing here, looking up at what was left of ancient Rome, I felt as if the buildings were whispering to me, telling me their secrets.
Agnes squeezed my hand. "We will sit here," she said. "In front of the Atrium Vestae." The House of the Vestal Virgins. How long ago had it been that I'd designed a Vestal Virgin Halloween costume?
We sat down.
"You must have questions," she said to me.
Of course I did. What were they?
"Are you the Agnes from the diary?" I asked her.
"Yes," she said. "I blessed Michaela and Ted's union. I prayed to the goddess Hecate that Jason would be a powerful being, a blessing to the earth."
"So powerful he could come back from the dead?" I asked.
She laughed. "That would be up to him, now wouldn't it?"
What? I didn't understand. I realized that I should probably be finding this entire experience extremely weird, but I didn't. There was something about Agnes that made me feel very, very relaxed. I trusted her. Maybe that was stupid, but I did.
She smiled. "You want to know what happened. What I did for my part to help create Jason."
I nodded. That was why we'd been looking for her.
"I can tell you that," she said. She took my hand. "Eighteen years ago, a man and a woman checked into my little inn in Tuscany. That is what I do, you see. I am an innkeeper. I have run my little inn my whole adult life. My mother ran it before me. It is a charming little place. I didn't think anything of the visitors who arrived, not really. I noticed that the girl seemed much younger than the man, and that she looked tired and sad."
As Agnes spoke, I felt like I could see what she was talking about. I envisioned the small inn, an old, old house of two stories. It was built of stone. Inside, it was rustic and comfortable. There were quilts hanging on the walls, rugs hugging the wooden floors. Each of the rooms had a fireplace. But when Michaela and Edgar arrived, it was summer. No fires were burning. Instead, air conditioners chugged in the windows. They arrived in the evening. The sun was hanging heavy in the sky. Edgar was carrying the luggage. Michaela hung behind him as he checked in and paid for the room.
Agnes' words swirled into what I was seeing. I both heard her and didn't. Instead, it was as if I were there. Like my dream about the diary, I floated in the corner of the room, looking down on what was happening.
Agnes was standing at her check-in desk. She had a feather quill pen, which she was using to mark down the number of nights Edgar and Michaela would be staying. They couldn't see me, but Agnes did. She waved at me and said, "I gave them their keys, and I wouldn't have given them a second thought."
Edgar and Michaela trooped up the stairs to their room. Agnes opened the novel she was reading and settled back in her chair. She wore reading glasses, perched on her nose. Edgar Weem came back down the stairs.
Agnes stood up, marking her place in her book. "Is there a problem, sir?"
"No," said Edgar. "I wanted to ask you something, actually."
"Certainly," said Agnes, smiling her best for-the-customer smile.
"We heard some things about you in the village," said Edgar. "You grow herbs. I saw your garden when we arrived."
Agnes seemed unsure of herself. "You're talking about the fact that some of the villagers think I'm a witch."
"Yes," said Edgar. "I am. Is it true?"
"Because," said Edgar, "we are trying to have a baby, and I had hoped that if you would be willing, you could lay a blessing on the two of us."
Agnes nodded in recognition. "I see," she said. "I do suppose there might be something I could do. You believe in the blessing of an old woman you have never met?"
"Yes," said Edgar, smiling. "I do." He was actually a good-looking man. For an old guy.
Agnes turned to me. "So," she said. "I agreed to meet them that night, after the evening meal. I was planning to bless their union, a similar blessing to the one traditionally made at weddings. I gathered my herbs and prepared them in my cauldron."
The scenery around Agnes changed suddenly. She was in the room I'd seen her in in my dream, bustling about and dropping herbs into the boiling water. The fire was hot. Every so often, she would wipe her brow with her apron. She was humming to herself. Behind her, Michaela entered. Michaela looked so young. Her hair was long and black. She had braided it, but wisps of hair were coming free of the braid and framing her face. She was wearing a sundress. She clasped her hands behind her back and cleared her throat.
Agnes turned to her. "Yes?" she said.
"Ted said that you were a witch," Michaela blurted.
"I prefer a different word," said Agnes. "I am only a simple woman. But I do seek the power of the goddesses and study the wisdom of the Tarot and of the stars. Are you concerned about the blessing your husband asked me to perform?"
"No," said Michaela. "I am not concerned about this one." She looked away from Agnes and there was a haggard look in her eyes. To the floor, she said, "He's not my husband."
"You do seem quite young," said Agnes. Agnes crossed to Michaela, touching her shoulder. "And somehow sad."
Michaela looked at Agnes, tears in her eyes. "I said I would do this because I love him. But he doesnt love me. I wondered if there was something . . . a charm, maybe, or a spell. To make him care about me? I could pay you."
"Oh my dear," said Agnes. "That is not what magic does. Magic cannot force anyone to do things against his will. We ask magic to change ourselves, not to change our environments."
Michaela shook her head. "Ted doesn't think that," she said.
"Well, I must admit I am curious. Why, if he doesn't love you, does he want you to bear his child?"
"Not his child," said Michaela. "Not really. This will be the child. Ted feels he's going to change the world."
Agnes looked confused. "I don't think I understand."
"Ted believes this child is going to save the world. There are prophecies. He thinks we are fulfilling them. He thinks we're conceiving some kind of messiah."
"I used to think so too. But last night . . ." Michaela shook her head.
The sound went away, even though their lips still moved. Agnes' voice came up, like a voice-over on a movie. "She began to tell me things," said Agnes. "She poured out the whole story to me. It was tragic and heartbreaking. She was young. I could see that her innocence was breaking. That she was becoming embittered. And the man she was with was responsible for it. I began to wonder if it would be the right thing to do to bless the two of them. I began to wonder if I shouldn't instead try to find some way to get the girl away from the man she traveled with.
"After she left me, I turned to my cards." I saw Agnes sitting at a table, turning over Tarot cards. "I had quite a strange reading. Every card I turned over was from the major arcana. When this happens in a reading, it means that the subject of a reading is in play, and that there is little you can do to change it. It means that powerful forces are at work." Agnes looked over her shoulder, where I was hovering next to her. "Let me show you the reading," she said.
I settled close to her and stared at the cards. They were arranged in rows. The center looked like a cross. Agnes turned over the first card, the one in the very center. "The World," she said. "This card tells what the reading will concern. The present situation. The present situation in my reading was the world. Generally, this card means that one cycle of life is ending and another is beginning."
Agnes turned over another card and placed this one over the first card. "This card," she said, "represents the immediate challenge to the present situation. I drew The Tower. That card refers to a situation in which a structure must be demolished to make way for something new." She pointed to the illustration. "You see how the tower is falling apart in the picture? How the people are falling out of it?"
"I wasn't sure what this meant. The immediate challenge was that the entire world needed to be destroyed to make room for something new? I turned over the next card." Agnes turned over the card. I looked at it. It said, "The Emperor." But the card was upside down. "This card represents the mind," she said. "It represents the structured world. The world of rules. It is upside down. In this position, the position of the distant past, it indicates that the perversion of the structured world has influenced the need of the world to change radically."
Agnes turned over the next card. "This is the position of the recent past," she said. The card was the Magician. "This card represents the ability of the individual to transform things through his will. I surmised that this card represented Ted. According to Michaela, he had decided to create the Rising Sun. To bring about change."
The next card was the card that revealed the best outcome of the situation. "The Sun. Clearly, here it represents the Rising Sun, I thought. Also, it is a card of extreme optimism and positivity. So it seemed that in regards to the immediate situation, the best outcome was that the Rising Sun did indeed emerge."
The last card in the cross revealed the immediate future. "The Wheel of Fortune," said Agnes. "Meaning that destiny and fate were in play. And that in the immediate future, I would play my part."
She moved to the final four cards, which were in a row to the right of the cross. "This seventh card reveals factors affecting the situation," she said. She turned it over. "The Devil, upside down. The Devil is the representation of the dark side with humanity, or within yourself. It represents desires, or lusts, destructive forces that lurk within each of us."
I interrupted her. "What does that mean, it affects the situation?" It was pretty obvious this Tarot card reading had as much to do with Michaela and Edgar as it did with Jason and me.
"Simply that," said Agnes. "It will come into play. It does not mean that it will overcome the situation and destroy the final outcome. But it could. It is part of the whole."
She turned over the next card. "External influences. Things out of control," Agnes explained. The card was the Hanged Man. "This card refers to the idea that one must make sacrificeslike the Hanged Man's sacrifice of freedomto gain knowledge and wisdom."
Agnes turned over the next card. "Hopes and fears," she said. "Death. The card that represents a shift or transition to a new level of life.
"Finally," said Agnes, "is the outcome of the situation. Overall." She turned over the last card. "The lovers," she said. Agnes looked over the cards, her brow furrowed. "At the time," said the voice-over of Agnes, "I wasn't entirely sure what to make of the reading. I knew it strongly directed me to take part in something which was directed by Fate. I knew that implied that great good could come from the situation. But there were aspects of the reading that did not make sense to me. Why did the reading say that the final outcome of the situation was the Lovers? Where Michaela and Ted to become the lovers?
"I supposed it was possible, but it seemed unlikely. The kind of love represented on the card was a kind of perfect love, the combination of a duality to create a beautiful harmony. In some ways, it seemed to me that Ted had abused Michaela. I didn't see how a perfect love could come from a union like that.
"I was also confused by the appearance of the Devil and of the Hanged Man. Where these cards meant for me? Where they meant for Michaela? Or where they meant for someone else? Someone who hadn't come into the picture yet?"
Agnes turned to me, away from the cards. She grasped my hands. "I think they were meant for you," she said.
"Me?" I said.
"I think the Lovers card refers to you and Jason. That this whole situation was to culminate in the two of you. You and Jason have been entwined since before your conception, in ways that I don't think either of us understands. The seeds were planted here, when Michaela began to express her dissatisfaction with Ted. And the Devil card, that has special significance to you, doesn't it?"
The Satanists. "Yes," I said.
"Study this layout. Remember these cards," said Agnes. "I show them to you to guide you. To help you make your choices. If the cards are correct, the fate of the world is at stake here. The world will be changing." She smiled at me again. "But more on that later."
The scene changed. Ted and Michaela were standing in the room now. They were holding hands. Agnes placed a wreath of flowers on Michaela's head. Her voice-over continued. "I only knew that I had a role to perform in a greater scheme, and that I must do it. I didn't bless the union of Ted and Michaela, however, but I blessed the child they would conceive. I believed that the cards had told me that he or she would bring about some kind of phenomenal change in the world. I believed that it was important that I bless the child with the power and grace of the goddesses."
Agnes gave Michaela and Ted each a goblet, and they drank. She sang to them in another language. The three all kneeled, their hands raised to the ceiling.
And then the vision swirled again. When it stopped moving, I was back in the Roman Forum, holding hands with Agnes. It was still dark outside. I shook myself. That had been kind of strange. "So you blessed Jason," I said. "You imbued him with power?"
Agnes laughed, and it sounded like wind chimes. "I can't imbue power," she said. "Power comes from within. Power comes from the goddesses. Power comes from the earth. I don't control these things."
I sighed. This had all been very, very interesting, but we really weren't any better off than we had been. "Jason and I can do things," I said. "We don't know why. We don't know how."
"And you wanted me to tell you," said Agnes.
"I hoped . . ."
Agnes stood up. She helped me to my feet. She gestured at the Forum. "This was once the hub of the civilized world," she said. "Once, this place and the people here controlled everything."
I looked around. Sure, I knew this. This was a majestic place, full of the echoes of ancient power. But I didn't understand exactly why that was important.
"How did they do it?" she asked me.
"Well, they went and killed a bunch of people," I said. "They took them over and then they taxed the heck out of them."
Another laugh from Agnes. "Certainly," she said. "But how did they become the most powerful? How did they create a society that was so advanced? Democracy. Aqueducts. Religious tolerance. How did all of this come to the Romans?"
"I don't know," I said. "I guess they just thought of that stuff."
"It was their time," said Agnes. "They had an explosion of knowledge and power and creativity. There have been other such times in the world. It hasn't always been the Romans, but there have been other times. And then it was no longer their time. Things began to fall apart."
I gave her a sharp look. "You read Yeats?"
"Hmm?" she looked confused.
"Changes happened. Have you ever heard of the crisis of the Roman empire?"
"No," I said.
"It was a period of time," she said. "In the third century, when the empire nearly collapsed. But right around the end of it, something happened. The planet Pluto entered Capricorn."
"I thought Pluto wasn't a planet anymore," I said.
"For astrological purposes," she said, "it is a very important entity. Very powerful. Pluto symbolizes the hidden undercurrents within us and society. It represents what is hidden coming to the surface. When it enters Capricorn, the sign of hard work and goal-oriented views, it means that things can get done. For that period of time, when Pluto was in Capricorn, the Empire was able to hold off the darkness, to keep things from falling apart. It took another hundred years afterwards for the Empire to really break apart."
This was interesting. I guessed. "Why are you telling me this?" I asked.
"Pluto has been in Capricorn during some interesting historical periods," she said. "It may have been there when King Arthur was fighting off the Saxons." God. King Arthur again. "We can't be sure when King Arthur lived, but the dates seem to line up. It was in Capricorn when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of his church. It was in Capricorn when the American Revolution happened." She looked at me. "And Pluto entered Capricorn last November."
"Really?" I said.
"It is a sign," she said. "We are on the cusp of the Age of Aquarius. Things are changing. And I'm sure you've thought about the fact that 2012 and the end of the Mayan calendar are only three years away. This is a time of great change and a time of great power. You and Jason are part of it. The Tarot reading showed that to me. Your influence will be felt. It will happen. You may not know how. But you are part of something very big."
I took a second to let all of that sink in. People had been telling me all about destiny and fate for the past year. People had been telling Jason and me that we had important roles to play. This woman was saying the same thing. But somehow it was different. Maybe it was just because it wasn't primarily concerned with either of us exactly. It was about bigger things, things that were happening in the world. It was about everything, on a global level. But still, it was the same song and dance. The world was destined to change. Jason and I were supposed to be part of it.
"Do you think this change that's going to happen in the world is a New World Order?" I asked. "Is it a global government?"
"I don't know what it's going to be," said Agnes. "No one knows. No one understands the future."
"But you're saying that you do. You're saying that these signs predict what will happen." This was the problem. I didn't want to be a plaything of fate and destiny. I'd promised myself over and over that I'd make my own destiny. I didn't want to be forced into doing anything. "You're saying that Jason and I don't have a choice."
"Choices are all we have," said Agnes.
"That doesn't make sense," I said. "If the future is all set like that, if I have a destiny, then I don't have a choice."
Agnes laughed. "This isn't Oedipus Rex, darling. That isn't the way destiny works. Listen, all that anyone can ever predict, by looking at the stars, or by reading cards, or by searching ancient prophecies, is that you and Jason will be forced into situations over and over again where you will have a massive influence on the fate of important things. But it will be up to you to decide what to do in those situations. You've made decisions before. You'll make them again."
I blinked. "You mean there can be destiny and free will at the same time?"
"I mean that there are influences beyond ourselves that we can't control," said Agnes. "That will always be, no matter what you believe. What you can control, Azazel, is the way you react to those influences."
I bit my lip. Okay, I guess that made sense. So the way Jason and I had been reacting thus far was to run away. To try to protect ourselves. And I'd been worried that the things people had told me about our being evil were coming true. I thought of the Tarot card spread that Agnes had showed me. It was a factor at play. Our violence. "You don't think that we're evil, then?" I said. "Or destructive? Or violent?"
"Why do you ask me that?"
"Because there were visions," I said. "There were visions that Jason was going to kill tons and tons of people. And that he was going to eat me alive. And then some people said that Jason would have been fine, but that I was his dark force. That I was the destructive half, and that I would drive him to become evil. And then Jason is always hitting people and shooting people, and I've been shooting people too. And sometimes it seems like all there is between us is blood and terror and running and hate and fear."
"The Devil card," said Agnes. "It's an influence."
"That's all. Just an influence?"
"There is no way to know what will happen in the future," said Agnes. "Earlier this week, I did a reading that indicated you and Jason would come to see me. This morning, I did a reading again, and it became clear that you two would not be coming."
"So you came to me."
"Best as I could," said Agnes. "There is something deeply powerful within you. And within Jason as well. I've never felt anything like it. You speak of visions, Azazel. You have had visions, too, though."
"Me? No, I haven't."
"They're just nightmares," I said.
"They are not 'just' anything. They are the way that I can communicate with you. Truthfully, perhaps, you brought me to you more than I came to you. You must trust yourself. Jason has been trained to act without thinking. You examine things. You worry over things. But until you come to believe that you can make the right decisions and that you will do the right thing, you will never be truly able to wield your power. Jason needs your concern for balance. But you also need his daring resolve. You must act. You must not doubt."
The sounds of birds chirping carried through the forum. I could see that the sky was starting to lighten.
"You must go back," said Agnes. "It is late."
I wanted Agnes to walk with me back to the monastery, but she said she had to go in an opposite direction, so I made my way through the silent streets alone, trying to think about what she had said. None of it made much sense to me. She said that I had to be confident to wield my power. She said that I did have choices, but that I was also bound to a destiny. Overall, she'd said absolutely nothing definite. It was much different from the way the Sons behaved or from the way the Satanists had behaved. They were certain. They were sure of themselves.
Maybe that was it. She'd said I needed to be confident in myself. Trust myself. But hadn't my parents been certain that Jason was evil? And hadn't that exact certainty caused them to do absolutely horrible things? Weren't the Sons sure that Jason was really the Rising Sun? Hadn't Edgar Weem been certain that he should do what he'd done to bring Jason into the world? I didn't know if I wanted to be certain. I was afraid that if I was certain, I would excuse all kinds of atrocities that I committed in the name of that certainty.
Of course, it wasn't as if I hadn't already committed atrocities. I flashed again on Lilith's demolished, bloody face. I felt sick.
When I got back to the monastery, I slid in bed with Jason, who didn't wake up. I closed my eyes and was asleep almost immediately.
I awoke to the sound of gunshots.
Copyright (c) 2009 Valerie Chambers