Chapter LIII: Patriarchate
May 4, 1583
“Can you trust Julio?” Sweet asked with a low tone. Despite the dampening features of the Silent Room, the Korean spy master decided that it was better to stifle his suspicions.
Jakob leaned forward with elbows against the wooden table. He had a different demeanor than a few weeks ago. It was not that he seemed less fatigued; he was still pulling sleepless nights and working on unforgiving heaps of paperwork, but he seemed to have an energy and drive that was not there before.
“It’s definitely what I’d like for you to find out for me,” Jakob said in return with his lips moving from behind his arching hands. “How soon do you think you can find where they’re holding my uncle?”
Sweet leaned closer against the seat of his master taking comfort in the bustling and gossiping nature of the rest of the room going about its normal business. “I’ve narrowed it down to three more spots and I’ve triple checked the details independently.”
Jakob gave a nod to the news. “Yesterday there was yet another attempt at the Timepiece despite the position change. They’re definitely receiving information, but if Julio is correct, it’s not from my uncle.”
“The thought of a mole did occur to me,” Sweet whispered back to Jakob, “especially with Antonio having been gone for so long. I’m new to the mainland scene, however, so I’m at a disadvantage as to who can be trusted.”
Jakob’s hands squeezed against each other as he held them against his face. His thoughts pondered about the difficulty of the situation he was now discussing with Sweet and already ideas of smoking out the double agent percolated through his brain and stiffened the hair on his skin. “Suppress most of the information for now,” he calmly said to his friend, “we don’t want to tip our hand.”
“I will,” was the terse yet effective response.
“It’s important that we permanently destroy this cult so that we can focus on other matters,” Jakob summarized before breaking the interlock of his fingers to fetch a cup of water awaiting him on the tabletop. “For now, we can only hope that our message through Julio will be effective enough in delaying the capture of the last Key.”
“Do you think the clergy in Constantinople is going to like this idea of setting up a Russian Patriarchate?” Sweet asked while straightening himself up. His eyes returned to that same bland droopy stare while he talked.
“No; anything that has a hint of Latin in it is going to be viewed with suspicion and they would hate to take orders from us,” Jakob explained with a bit of a sigh. He gulped down a sip of water. “But the Patriarch knows the safety of the Key is important so he’ll probably explain away the setup as a way of strengthening Orthodoxy now that its main See is under duress from the Turks. The growing Russian community will be a great cover to conceal the true intentions for setting up the Patriarchate of Moscow—to keep the Key from falling into the cult’s hands.”
“Well,” Sweet added with a deeper tone to his accented Spanish, “now that these cultists have one of the Timepieces, getting any of the keys could prove to be dangerous.”
“Constantinople is the only one we don’t have direct stewardship over…” Jakob pondered out loud while holding onto his cup with an absent grip. “It’s bad enough to lose the Timepiece but with even one of the Keys…”
For a moment both were caught in the contemplative stare of the busy dim room constantly moving about. Top advisors, dispatchers, pages, all were sliding across the room like some Greek machine. Across from the table where Jakob held the seat of honour, there was that well illuminated view of the world as it was known to the Spaniards. Flags pinned here and there designated the movements of armies both within and without the borders of Spain. Silent ones who only kept records on paper and passed notes to each other without so much as a whisper gathered around the wide tapestry of political entities and watched the men on ladders slide the various designators to and fro.
Jakob and Sweet beheld the long swath of golden territories stretching from the Californias to Patagonia; from the Great Lakes to the Amazon. Already these areas were the gems of the Empire. Putting down their old ways, the natives of the region—most of them at least—chose to adopt the style of life that was prevalent back home in the Peninsula. Strengthened in this endeavor by Holy Mother Church, the Americas began to rise out of the darkness of its pagan past into the dawn of a promising, productive, and faithful future.
“Sometimes,” Sweet began with an unexpected tenderness, “I wonder why it is that the Timepiece came here from the heavens.”
“In the First Impact, you mean?” Jakob returned. “I think I asked my uncle the same thing when I first came here to Madrid…”
“What did he say?”
The young man sitting in the most powerful seat on the mainland furrowed his brow in half-painful remembrance. The older face of his uncle rose graciously to the forefront of his consciousness. There was no boisterous laugh or stern attitude that most people would have remembered that titan of a cleric. Instead, he remembered the softness and vulnerability of an old man stung by the wounds of a broken world—both politically and religiously.
“He said to me,” Jakob started, “that although it’s always important to question why something happens, nothing happens by chance. Everything that’s happened since the beginning of the universe… everything has a purpose—a reason—a goal. Everything has an ultimate End.”
Sweet tore his eyes off of the golden fields of the New World to turn to his master on the seat. “And the Timepiece has some purpose to play in this End?” Sweet asked sincerely.
“My uncle used to tell me that perhaps it was even meant to be that the Timepiece would spell our demise. From what he was told—from what was passed down since the beginning of the Stewardship—the Timepiece, if used incorrectly, could consume us all in darkness. Us… the world… everything. And not just some metaphorical philosophical darkness; so few would believe us but it has been passed down since the beginning to take those words literally: A darkness which no light will penetrate.”
“And that this would be how it should be?” Sweet questioned curiously.
Once again, Jakob pensively wrapped his hand around his metal cup losing his sight into the entrancing tapestry of the elegant movements of his aides across the room. “The mysterious thing about our faith, Sweet, is that even if the cultists were to open the Timepiece and unleash this destruction upon the world, it would only be by God’s will that it should happen. That is to say that everything that is going on is greater than ourselves or even the choices of men…”
“I suppose in some strange way it’s a bit comforting,” Sweet whispered resolutely.
The young German nodded his head at that and lowered his shoulders closer to the table tiredly. “It’s how the Easterners must feel,” Jakob added, “It must be how they have endured the oppression, destruction, and reduction with their faith still mostly in tact. We can be no worse in our understanding of the world.”
Tears did not flow from Jesca’s eyes because of the death of her comrade. Although she felt the pain of the loss, the liquid coursing from her lids was an attempt to wash away the burning atmosphere that seemed to pull towards her from the cloaked figure. Her blurry vision, however, was not as distressing as the paralysis she suffered throughout her body.
Already, that figure was drawing closer to the table group. The kitchen knife which it held in its hand continued to drip the fresh blood of his first victim. That man, whose face was a strange combination of death and masculine beauty, was no longer the only stalking figure in Jesca’s view. Indeed, the far end of the room was beginning to be filled with hooded figures that shone purple against the shadow blocking the entranceway.
Another step and the intensity of the stifling effluvium rose. For Jesca, movement was even harder and she could only concentrate on not allowing herself to fall. A sound, however, rolled her eyes to her left. One of the guests, Viceroy Renault had buckled and fallen face first onto the tabletop. His plate nearly cracked underneath the smash of his face and his hand dashed several of the cups and utensils in several directions. As Jesca looked on, however, she did not see the face of a succumbing old man on the table. Instead, those eyes were motioning towards something.
Jesca followed Renault’s expressions closely as his eyes rapidly moved upwards and down from one object to another—from the candelabra to the spilt wine. With a sudden understanding of his actions, Jesca released her concentration just for a moment; it was enough to send her tumbling against the table. Purposefully extending her arms as best she could, the candles on her side of the mesa now flew forward. Flame touched soaked cloth and the alcohol ignited violently.
The sudden conflagration elicited a hiss from the approaching foe and scorched the air into a fumed flame. The immediate eruption of those chemicals was enough to replace the terrible stench in everyone’s nose and released their bodies from the horrendous grip. Renault was the first to act as he immediately ran back to the fireplace and heaved one of the flaming logs towards the direction of the retreating foe with a poker.
“His poison is heavier than the air!” Nia called out, finally being able to talk, “Stay away from low ground.”
Even in the flat room, Nia understood her advice was not wasted. Although these were Europeans, the K-style technique which she herself had taught to those in the House of the Rose was practiced just as much in Infinite Castle. Already, Jesca and her troupe had dispersed to the walls to touch feet against vertical barriers. Those men and women sliced sword against the air just enough until it seemed as if they ran across the walls as if it was as flat as the floor. They were, however, not uncontested. Already, the hooded figures swarmed their side of the room. Both groups smashed into each other in a flurry of clinking swords and fist against flesh.
Renault, although not as nimble as this den of spies, nonetheless found his target. Holding two torches, he advanced towards the hissing Sebastian with a cleansing sway of his weapons. The monstrosity in front of him raised his arms in defense against the oncoming flames and backed away slowly.
Heaving into itself, the figure stopped retreating but instead hid his face behind his arm for a second before vomiting out a green liquid towards his attacker. Renault quickly raised his torch at the liquid and the fire and poison neutralized each other. With one torch left, Renault took the opportunity of the parried attack to step forward with his other foot and advance the remaining torch just enough to touch the screeching figure’s brown habit.
With flames now overcoming even this polluted one, the others in the room recognized the decisive turn of the skirmish. Cloaked figures began retreating through the door with the agents in hot pursuit. In the center of the room, however, everyone else witnessed the crazed movements of this now avatar of flame. The cloak he wore was quick to burn away and his body, far from charring, cracked and popped at various places quickened perhaps by the volatile poisons within. After a few moments, the flames subsided and the figure fell to the ground in a dying heap.
Lex was the first to return into the chamber to find the scene but, in his professionalism, he looked towards his mistress and said, “We’ve managed to get five of them but the rest escaped to the dock.”
“Let them go,” Jesca replied with a heavy breath as she slowly approached Renault and the lifeless figure. “It will be a lesson to all those who wish to challenge us in our own court.” Her voice seemed to add a harsh quickness to the condemnation.
“I’ll begin on putting out the fires,” Lex informed her dutifully. Jesca’s eye however was captured by the sudden twitch of this ‘Sebastian.’ Almost in response, Renault had drawn his sword.
“It’s still alive!” Renault called out to the others. He raised his sword to deliver a stabbing blow.
“Wait!” Nia called out. Renault stayed his blow but did not take his eyes off of the strange creature. “Watch carefully,” Nia added, “and you will see the secret of the Lord of Acid’s power.”
As the charred body twitched and moved, its arm was raised towards the air and, to the surprise of many, burnt flesh subsided from concealed flesh and a hand erupted from inside the hand. Even Renault blinked at the morbid sight. “What is this?!” Renault exclaimed.
“This is the ‘resurrection’ Sio-Pan dabbles in…” Nia explained as she stepped forward towards the body. “Through poisons and acids he places his fanatical volunteers into the bodies of those he wishes to rise from the dead. Weak and subservient… this is but a mere shadow of what Sio-Pan has been doing… these are Flesh Puppets.”
“K…Kill me…” was the rasping tone from the young Chinese boy that was now emerging from the charred remains of Sebastian Royce. “Please… Kill me…”
“This is the true face of Sio-Pan’s actions,” Nia said in a low tone as she knelt down beside the young one. “It’s the reason why I left that place… and why Sio-Pan must be stopped. You all see now the choice we must make. This is no longer a war just for political or economic gain. This is no longer a conflict for the emancipation of Europeans. Sio-Pan is working and engineering something that will consume the world in this kind of shadow.” She took a moment to caress the dying young man’s cheek despite the burnt and spent flesh surrounding him. “We have to put our suspicions and lethargy aside and work together for an end to all of this.”
“But I don’t understand, Miss de Fronsac,” Hayato curiously asked, “How do you know that Carlos took him to the Patriarch’s Delegate Office here in Osaka?”
Lara continued to stare out of the car window as the vehicle shuddered up and down against the uneven portions of the street. It did not help that Captain DeWitt was driving at a rather quick pace.
“I saw it in his notes,” Lara responded slowly, “In Tom’s papers he wrote about the perpetuation of the Great Schism. Ever since Rodrigo told me that he would be choosing Tom as his ‘co-worker’ in the End—”
“Carlos’s family has been working as an agent for the Patriarchate since they took over the de Guzman name during the establishment of Moscow’s Patriarchal See,” Rodrigo interrupted as he faced an inquisitive Hayato. “Even though he’s of the Latin Rite the de Guzman family from then on had been working with Constantinople since the beginning.”
“I see…” Hayato lamented as he straightened himself back in the seat. “And so he really did take him to the Room.”
“Yes… at least the one run by the Eastern Rite. He doesn’t want Tom to choose against them. He wants to keep the Great Schism from being perpetuated.” Rodrigo’s deduction seemed to echo in the small cabin of the vehicle.
“But if you knew about Carlos already…” Hayato began his question.
“For what’s coming,” Rodrigo answered, “from what I’ve come to understand of how it works. In the End, even Carlos will have some role to play.”
From those words, Lara seemed to tighten the grip around her necklace. “I knew that all of us in our Class had special training when we were children. From our families and from our traditions—I never knew that Carlos would be working for the Patriarchate.”
“It’s not that the Patriarchate is a bad thing, Lara,” Rodrigo comforted her, “In reality it was only a matter of time until we subjected Tom to the Room… I suppose that Carlos is just a bit more impatient…”
Lara cringed at the thought. Regardless of the necessity of these procedures, it still pained her to imagine the torture Tom must be going through. She nearly didn’t notice when Rodrigo’s hand overshadow hers. “Don’t worry, Lara… we’ll get Tom back. It may seem like Carlos has betrayed us now, but I promise you that before the End you will come to understand why all of this had to happen…”
“It’s is really coming soon, isn’t it?” Lara said softly, “especially now that Carlos has accelerated Tom’s development as a Key bearer, it’s really a sign that this is the End we’ve sought after for so long.”
“Perhaps now it’s done,” Rodrigo said in response, “but if all Five of us Key Bearers are not ready—whether the End comes now or in the next generation we will fail… and you know this. Tom is the bearer of Jerusalem just as you are the bearer of Alexandria. The responsibility of choice may be coming soon and we must be ready…”
Chapter LIV: Choice (coming soon)