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April 19, 1990
Professor Weem stopped me after class and had me stay after. We talked for nearly an hour about ancient religions and mythology. I couldn't believe it, because he really talked to me like I was an equal, not a student. It was neat. If the other girls in class found out, they'd be so jealous. Me, hanging out with dreamy Mr. Weem.
I stood up next to Jason. "Don't," I whispered in his ear. "Don't attract attention."
"What did you say to me?" asked George, an arrogant smile playing on his lips.
Jason looked at me, and I could see the unchecked fury in his eyes. He turned to George. "I don't like it when people insult my girlfriend," he said evenly. "And you don't want to make me mad."
George laughed. "Is that a threat?"
I grabbed Jason's hand, squeezed it.
He looked back at me. He was struggling, and I could tell.
Jason ripped his hand away from me and tore out of the dining hall. When the door slammed behind him, it got quiet in the room.
Everyone looked up with startled expressions on their faces.
The silence hung in the air for several seconds, and then conversation returned.
George started laughing. "What the hell was that?" he asked Faruza.
"Hey," I said. "He's serious. Don't make him mad, okay?"
When Jason and I were in Rome, things were easier. Things were nicer. Things were idyllic. Sometimes, I wish we could have stayed. We spent our days roaming around the city, doing tourist things. We went to the Coliseum. We ate gelato in the narrow streets. It was warm, springtime in the Mediterranean. I liked it there.
We were staying in a cloister with the Order of Reddimus, monks who had taken us in when we'd gone on the run from the Sons. In particular, we spent time with Brother Mancini, who'd been Sutherland's contact in the Reddimus Order. (Sutherland was a creepy man who'd tried to rape and kill me, but he also had connections, so we'd been forced to deal with him.) Brother Mancini gave us advice about where to go and what to see in Rome. When we ate in the cloister, we took our meals with him, instead of in the larger dining hall where most of the monks ate. He was a friendly man, a little pudgy, but he spoke very good English, unlike some of the other monks there.
Jason and I had separate rooms, and we couldn't see each other in the evening at all. Still, we made the most of our days together. We wandered through the streets of Rome, holding hands. It was more romantic than the movies.
But we had to leave.
According to Sutherland, Rome was considered sanctuary by the Sons. Sanctuary was any holy place of any kind, like a church or a cemetery or Stonehenge. The Sons wouldn't commit acts of violence in a place of sanctuary. Since Rome was the Holy City, the whole city was off-limits for the Sons. Sutherland had told us we'd be safe there.
But the Sons weren't playing by the rules anymore. They'd shot up a church in Shiloh, Georgia the fall before. They were desperate to get at Jason and me.
One day, Jason and I came back to the cloister after one of our idyllic afternoons on the streets of Rome. Brother Mancini was waiting for us. He looked worried. He told us that we needed to talk about something important and that it couldn't wait.
Concerned, Jason and I went with him to a small meeting room in the cloister. It contained only a simple table and several chairs. We all sat down together.
"What is it?" Jason asked, sitting on the edge of his chair. "What's going on?"
It was bad news. I could tell.
"We've discovered some information about the Sons," said Brother Mancini. "I'm afraid it's not good."
"I knew it," I muttered.
"Azazel, your great uncle, Ian Hoyt, has taken Edgar Weem's place on the Council," said Brother Mancini.
"We know that," said Jason. "Sutherland told us."
"It seems," said Brother Mancini, "that Hoyt has taken over to a certain degree. He's declared himself the head of the Council and is currently making decisions for the Sons at large."
"That's bad?" I asked.
"On the face of it, not exactly," said Brother Mancini. "It's the decisions he's making that aren't very good. He's decided that the Sons no longer officially think you're the Rising Son, Jason."
"But that's good," said Jason. "Right?"
"He's decided that they should kill you," said Mancini.
"Oh," said Jason.
"Furthermore, nearly half of the council doesn't agree with him. I'm sure you remember the summit in 2002, when the Council made the official decision that you were the Rising Son?"
"Yeah," said Jason. "I remember that."
"Those Council members feel their evaluation was thorough. They don't agree with Hoyt. But Hoyt is having none of it. They must either agree with him or leave the Sons. Of course, he can't really let them leave. They know too much."
"You mean Hoyt's going to kill them?" I asked.
Brother Mancini nodded. "Unofficially, of course. He couldn't admit to a policy of killing former Council members. But those who don't agree with Hoyt and don't want to die will escape."
"Escape?" said Jason. "And go where?"
"Here," said Brother Mancini. "The long and the short of it is that there are going to be about ten or fifteen former Council members seeking sanctuary here with us. We're not sure if it would be a good idea if you remained here while they did. We don't want Hoyt to figure out where you are, and we can't be sure that they won't be in communication with him."
"Wait," I said. "If they're about to be killed by Hoyt, then they wouldn't kill Jason on his order, would they?"
"Probably not," said Brother Mancini, "but we can't be sure that Hoyt won't have planted a rat among them. Someone who is secretly loyal to him. Even if none of them try to kill you, we aren't sure it would be a good idea for them to see you."
"Why not?" I asked.
"If they're disagreeing with Hoyt, it's because they think Jason is the Rising Sun. They might fawn over you."
I had a quick flashback. Jason and I were leaving Michaela Weem's house in Shiloh. There were members of the Sons everywhere. As we walked by them, they dropped to their knees and whispered, "He's the one." Fawning, indeed.
"That might suck," I said.
Jason looked thoughtful. "Why are they coming here?" he asked. "Why would they seek sanctuary with you? Aren't you the enemies of the Sons?"
"The enemies," said Brother Mancini, "and the origins."
"Did you think the Sons simply materialized out of thin air?" asked Brother Mancini.
"I didn't think they came from the Church," I said.
"Actually," said Jason, "it makes sense. The Brothers, the celibacy . . . They're like monks."
Brother Mancini nodded. "The Order of Reddimus is an old order," he said. "We were founded sometime in the fifth century, in order to spread the gospel throughout Europe."
"The gospel?" I said.
"Christianity," said Brother Mancini. "During the fifth century, very little of Europe was actually Christianized. Only the Mediterranean—Greece and Rome—and even their hold was tenuous. The leaders at the time knew that if they could bring the barbaric countries in the north to Christianity, then they could expand the empire."
"So they wanted to convert people because they wanted to control more land?"
"In essence," said Brother Mancini. "I'm certain there were some devout men in the lot, who truly were concerned with the souls of the Celts, but for the most part, they wanted to expand their power.
"They created the Order of Reddimus, a special group of missionary monks, whose sole purpose was to go to the furthest reaches of the unknown world and witness to the people there. The monks were instructed to make it as easy as possible for these barbarians to come to know Christ. They were taught to find out the religion of the place, learn its lore, and attempt to mix the pagan ideas with the Christian, to ensure a smooth transition between the two."
"You're kidding," said Jason. "I've always know that certain Catholic saints have a great similarity to pagan gods, and that pagan traditions were adopted by early Catholics. But you're saying that this kind of thing was Church policy?!"
Brother Mancini smiled. "In the fifth century, it absolutely was. The Order has ancient records indicating the same. We, however, can't and won't share these records with the world. You can imagine what kind of negative impact such an admission would have on the faithful."
I raised my eyebrows. "You think it's better to lie to the public than to tell them the truth?"
"No," said Brother Mancini, "but I think that the most important thing for the world is a united Mother Church. I think that certain transgressions are overlookable in the service of that idea."
"But," I said, "there are a whole bunch of people who aren't even Catholic."
"But there are many people who are," countered Brother Mancini.
I chewed on my lip, but I didn't say anything. I didn't want to offend Brother Mancini. We owed him a lot for letting us stay here.
"Do all of the members of the Reddimus Order believe in Catholic doctrine to the letter? Of course not," Brother Mancini continued. "Not all of this order's members even believe in Christ, per se. We've all been exposed to too many ideas in other religions that are similar and that seem to resonate just as deeply for us. But we are devoted to the Church, and the Church is loyal to us."
"Yeah," said Jason, "because if they aren't, you could go public with the whole history of your order, which would look bad."
Brother Mancini chuckled. "You are so cynical for one so young, Jason."
Jason shrugged. "I'm not cynical," he said. "I'm realistic."
"Call it what you'd like."
"So," I said, "the Sons will seek refuge with you guys because they were originally an offshoot of the Reddimus Order?"
"Exactly," said Brother Mancini. "Long ago, our Order pledged that we would welcome our wayward brethren back to the fold if they so chose. We think it's likely that, since they will be in fear for their life, they will choose us."
"We have to leave, don't we?" said Jason.
"We aren't going to just send you out into the street," said Brother Mancini. "That wouldn't be very charitable. But for your own safety and comfort, we don't think it would be wise if you remained here."
I looked across the table at Jason. He shrugged at me, looking defeated. This was the story of our lives. Whenever we found someplace that we could stay and be happy, whenever things seemed to have calmed down, we had to leave. People were always chasing us. People were always trying to do us harm. I wanted to reach for him, but Jason and I had decided to chill out our displays of affection in front of the monks. It just seemed improper.
"I understand," said Jason. He stood up.
I wasn't just going to take it, however. I addressed Brother Mancini. "So, you have any ideas where we can go?" I asked him.
"There might be one way that the two of you could free yourselves from the Sons once and for all," he said.
Jason sat back down. "How would that be?" he said. "They either think I'm the messiah or they want to kill me."
"If," said Brother Mancini, "you could prove to everyone that you weren't the Rising Sun, then Hoyt and his followers might not see you as a threat any longer. And those who believed in you might see reason and stop trying to worship you."
"You don't think he's the Rising Sun?" I asked. I wasn't sure anymore. We'd seen things. Done things. I was confused.
"Of course not," said Brother Mancini. "This Rising Sun business was never part of the original Reddimus doctrine. Certainly, there were vague hints here and there, but it never was such an all-encompassing idea. And furthermore, it's only been popular among the Sons recently. I'd say within the last hundred years."
The last hundred years was recently, huh? Weird to think that way.
"But things have happened," Jason said. "Azazel and I have been able to do things."
"He died," I said.
"You both know that there's no conclusive evidence that the gunshot wound Jason sustained was serious," said Brother Mancini.
That was true, as far as it went. It was possible that Jason hadn't been hurt as seriously by the gunshot as we'd thought. Still, I remembered the way he'd lain motionless in my arms. He hadn't been breathing.
"What about what happened in Shiloh with the Brothers?" I asked. "They all went crazy."
"Maybe Weem did it," said Brother Mancini. "Maybe he placed something in their minds through hypnotism. He triggered it with a text message."
I raised my eyebrows again. "That sounds farfetched."
"And the fact that the two of you are mystical beings doesn't?"
When he put it that way . . .
"I'm not saying I don't believe in miracles," said Brother Mancini. "I do. But both of the things you're talking about happened in Shiloh. There are biblical prophecies that point to a place called Shiloh being quite powerful. Maybe it wasn't you. Maybe you were just in the right place at the right time."
The right place at the right time? I narrowed my eyes. It couldn’t be that simple. "But there are so many Shilohs, all over the south. There are two in Georgia alone." The idea was too confusing to even formulate.
Brother Mancini just smiled. "It's only a thought," he said.
And that was how we ended up at the Sol Solis School. Brother Mancini thought that there might be some ancient records in the library at the school. He hoped these would help us prove that Jason wasn't the Rising Sun. Usually, I hoped that too. I didn't want to believe that some ancient power controlled Jason's destiny. Controlled mine.
But other times . . . Other times, I half-wished that we'd find out we did have magical powers. Maybe we could zap all our enemies. Rearrange everything to our liking. Would that be so bad, really? And in my darkest moments, I sometimes wondered if it wouldn't be really, really nice to rule the world.
"Someone's coming," I whispered to Jason.
He was kneeling outside the back door to the library, lock-picking tools in the keyhole. He was biting his tongue in concentration. "Damn it," Jason muttered, pulling the tools out of the lock. "Is it guards?"
I peered back around the corner of the building at the dark landscape of the campus at night. Between the bushes that hugged the building, I could make out the uniform of the Sol Solis security guards.
Jason stood up, grabbing my hand. "Are they coming this way?"
"I don't know," I said.
"Damn it, damn it," he said. He shot one look towards the corner of the building, the same way the guard was coming. Then he turned to look down the stretch of the building on the other side. "Let's go," he said, tugging me with him as he broke into a sprint.
Seconds later, we rounded the other side of the building, panting a little. Jason flattened himself against the other side, stealing a look back at the spot where we'd been.
"Is he there?"
"He's rounding the corner," Jason told me.
"He didn't see us?"
"I don't think so." I breathed a sigh of relief.
"He's still coming," Jason said, pulling me forward again.
We ran along the side of the building, towards the front.
"There are always guards out front!" I said. Stationary guards. They stood in front of the entrance twenty-four/seven.
Jason took a wild look around as we continued to run. "The church," he said, switching direction.
The old church, our assembly hall, was directly perpendicular to us. I quickened my pace to keep up with Jason.
"We'll go in the side door," he said to me.
The side door of the church was shadowed by several large trees, making it difficult to see, especially at night. Jason should be able to crouch there and pick the lock without the guards seeing.
We arrived at the door and stopped again. My breath came in deep gasps, but I positioned myself behind one of the large trees so I could see if one of the guards was coming.
I couldn't see anyone now, just the walls of the library, dark red brick in the darkness. Behind me, I heard Jason's lock picks scraping against the metal of the doorknob. He'd picked this lock before.
"So far, so good," I told him.
"This'll just take a second," Jason said.
I watched. Nothing moved.
I turned back to Jason to see how he was progressing. He was still digging inside the lock.
I turned back. Still nothing.
The guard was starting to round the corner.
"Jason!" I hissed.
"One second," he said, jiggling the long metal tool in the lock.
The guard was in full view now, but he was looking around at the side of the library building.
"I can see him!"
"Got it," Jason said, and the door swung open.
I raced through the door, and Jason shut it behind me. We were back inside the church. Memories of the last time we'd been in here—last night—flooded through me. I looked up at the stained glass, remembering the way I'd felt it was glaring down at me, watching me and Jason.
"I told you we wouldn't be able to get into the library," Jason said, throwing himself into one of the pews.
"We have to try, though," I said.
"Do we?" asked Jason. "Just because Brother Mancini told us to? Is that why we have to?"
I sat down next to him. "I thought you wanted to find out. I thought you wanted to prove you were normal once and for all."
Jason snorted. "I'm not normal," he said. "I'll never be normal. I've come to terms with that."
I rubbed his leg. All Jason had ever wanted was a normal life.
He sighed. "No, you're right. I do want to find out. I want to get into that library. But I don't know how we're going to do it."
The wing of the library we wanted to enter was under heavy security. It housed the ancient documents that the Sons used for research. No one could get in without express written consent from the Council. Sometimes a professor from Sol Solis might obtain permission for one of his classes, but even that was rare, and it wasn't likely to happen this late in the year. We figured our best chance was to break in after hours, but even our best chance wasn't working out very well.
I lay my head on Jason's shoulder, feeling frustrated. "I don't know either."
He reached around to stroke my cheek, shifting so that he faced me and I was looking up into his eyes. "We'll figure something out. We always do."
I touched his forehead. His chin. Then I brought my lips up to meet his. For a second I felt the weight of the church bearing down on me like it had last night, but I ignored it, and it fell away. My hands moved on Jason's chest, and he pulled me into his arms.
"That didn't work," said Jason, stroking my hair as I lay on his bare shoulder. "Did it?" We lay between the pews in the old church, moonlight bathing us through the stained glass windows.
I played with the few tiny hairs on his chest. "It worked," I said. "I mean, it happened."
"That's not what I meant," Jason said. "I meant that you didn't . . ."
"Do we have to talk about this?" I asked.
Jason's hand scampered across my thigh and darted between my legs. "No," he whispered. "No talking is required."
And so we were quiet.
For a long time. Jason's fingers were the only thing that moved.
"Is this okay?" Jason finally whispered.
"Uh huh," I said.
"Do you like this?"
"Uh huh." Even though, truthfully, whatever he was doing didn't really feel like anything. I could feel him touching me. It didn't hurt. But it didn't . . . It didn't feel the way I thought it should.
Jason moved his hand. "You've got to be honest with me Azazel."
"I am being honest," I said.
He raised his eyebrows.
I sighed, burying my face in his soft skin. "Sorry," I murmured.
"Did you like that?" he asked.
I hesitated, then shook my head against him.
He didn't say anything for a minute. "I wish you would have told me," he said.
"I didn't hate it," I said. "I don't know."
"So, what do you want me to do?" Jason asked.
"I don't know!" I said. "Can we just drop it? It's not important. You don't have to try."
Jason sat up, dislodging me from where I lay on his shoulder. "Hey!" I protested.
He put his arms around his knees and studied his kneecaps. "Azazel," he said, "I want you to enjoy it when we make love."
I sat up next to him, touching his arm. "I do enjoy it," I said.
He turned to me. "Not as much as you could. Not as much as I do."
"I love you, Jason," I said. "I love being with you. It's okay."
"It's not," he said.
"Jason . . ."
He turned away from me and started yanking on his pants. After a couple seconds, I started wriggling back into my clothes too. "You know," I said, "it's my body. I should be able to decide whether or not it's okay if I don't have an orgasm."
He sighed heavily. "You already told me it wasn't okay. And then you said tonight that you don't want me to try anymore. Am I that bad at what I was doing?"
What? Why couldn’t he understand? He wasn't bad at it. I didn't know what bad at it was. I didn't know what good at it was. But the way I'd felt when he was touching me before—spotlighted, like I needed to do something to prove to him he was pleasing me—well, I didn't like that feeling at all. "You're not bad at anything," I said.
"Right," he muttered. He shrugged into his shirt and started buttoning it, not looking at me.
"Jason, it's okay," I said. How was this fair anyway? I was the one who wasn't having orgasms. Why was I comforting him?
"We should probably get back to our dorms," he said.
So he was done talking to me, then? Okay. "I guess so," I said. "Are we going out the side door?"
We paused at the door, peering out the window to make sure the coast was clear. Outside, the campus of the Sol Solis School stood motionless, dark, and quiet. We didn't see any guards, just rolling grass and trees. Carefully, we stole out of the assembly building and into the night air.
Jason started forward ahead of me, but a movement caught my eye, and I grabbed him. "Wait," I whispered.
He turned to me. "What?"
We looked. Beside the dining hall, which was far in the distance, a small dark figure was walking. It looked like he was walking right towards us.
Jason pulled me behind the large tree.
"Is that a guard?" I asked him.
"Why isn't he wearing his uniform, then?" Jason asked me.
I swallowed. There was only one group of people that we knew of that followed us around in the dark and showed up wearing all black.
Jason ducked back in front of the tree. "He's gone," he reported.
"Gone where?" I asked.
"I don't know," he said, taking my hand, "but let's get back inside and fast."
I nodded, squeezing his fingers with mine. "Jason," I said, "you don't think it's the . . ."
"The Sons?" he said. He gave me a dark look. "Just let them try to kill me. I might like a challenge."
Copyright (c) 2009 Valerie Chambers