Epilogue

Malachi looked up at humble shrine atop the rocky mount with a proud smile. He was here at last. Just locating where that treasure lay had taken up a lot of valuable time. He couldn't let anyone else possess that relic; it had to be him, he was Malachi.

Guided by the light of the stars in the night sky, Malachi gripped his bassoon case and began the steep climb up the only path to the sanctuary. He had walked all the way from Jerusalem during the day and each step simply added to his exhaustion.

He had barely had any time to rest at all since he had got on that bus in Cambridge. The earliest plane to the Middle East was from Cambridge Airport, and even then, he had only just made the flight. He couldn't afford to waste a second, knowing someone could easily be just one step ahead of him. Despite the screams and groans of his muscles, Malachi stubbornly drove himself up the rock.

By the time he reached the top, he was sweating heavily, each drop stealing precious heat from him and giving it to the chill of the night air. He rested for a brief moment, placing his hands on his knees.

"Shalom, we have been waiting for the one who would claim the Stone of David," a serene-looking hermit commented as he approached Malachi, his hands in front of him as if he were in prayer.

"I guess you don't get many tourists," Malachi laughed, standing upright again. The shrine was not much bigger than a shed but it was beautifully built, even by Malachi's sceptical eye. He strode towards it with authority. "Even less once I'm done,"

The hermit followed the Death subserviently. The Church of the Seven Stars and the Holy King was purposely created to safeguard the treasure, the Stone of David. The fact that a total stranger, a gentile no less, was marching towards their only relic and charge to take it away, out of the country, didn't seem to perturb him in the slightest.

Indeed, that was how it was to be. It wouldn't bring about a climatic clash between Heaven and Hell but it would be key to a battle much closer to home. The hermit even dared to smile. He already knew who would possess the stone after the cocksure angel. However, the details of what was to happen were vague and the hermit knew little else of the future.

Malachi put his bassoon case down and knelt in front of the shrine. There was a lattice window veiling the relic, decorated in gold. He pulled on the golden knob and the window swung open. There it was, the Stone of David. It sat on a plush purple cushion, waiting for Malachi to take it, daring him to.

It was not much bigger than a pebble but Malachi could sense its potency. It was a dark blue or green in colour, smooth and polished. The waxing moon reflected off of its dark surface, making it seem even more alluring to the Death.

"The Stone of David," Malachi murmured, sitting back on his haunches to admire it some more. "One of the stones David used to stun Goliath. After Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem, the stones were moved there to sit in sanctuary. When Judah fell in 586 BC and the Temple restored, it was the only stone to escape destruction by the Babylonians. One of the exiled priests hid it away at the bottom of a well. When the Jews began returning to Jerusalem and the Temple rebuilt, the stone was found again and kept sacrosanct. Despite occupation by various empires, the stone was preserved intact. Finally, when the Temple was destroyed again in 70 AD, the stone was passed on to Timothy, companion of Paul by a strange quirk of fate. After being held by the church in Ephesus, it passed through the hands of a great deal of early churches. Eventually, it passed into the hands of a pious hermit who prophesied the future of the stone. He and his followers came out into the desert to protect it until the person in his vision came for it. During the crusades, they fought viciously to keep the precious stone safe, even from the formidable Knights Templar. And so, the stone passes into my hands,"

Malachi reached out and took the stone, paying it the reverence it deserved. He opened his hand and examined it closely in his open palm. It was dark and powerful; it reflected him perfectly.

The Holy Land was a goldmine for tourists who had seen too many films and read too many books. Apparently, anything and everything could be found in the sands of the area. The Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant, the Staff of Moses; they were supposed to be hidden away under lock and key somewhere around there. It was all nonsense of course. The Holy Land only had one treasure to yield and it had already yielded it to Malachi.

"The Stone of David, blessed by heaven. Supposedly, its powers are too great to even comprehend. As Death lore goes, it can amplify one's skills and talents beyond all recognition, beyond the human limit." Malachi muttered, frowning slightly as he closed his hand around it once again. "Very interesting but I wonder if it's true,"

He gripped the stone in his right hand tightly and concentrated. He welled up his thoughts and thrust them towards his hand. He felt the stone absorbing them into its structure and resonating them, mingling his power with its power.

Malachi's eyes went wide with shock. Such force! It was incredible. He could feel his pulse rushing through his ears but it felt like the tide was constantly breaking over him with wave after merciless wave. It made all his actions before that moment seem pitifully weak in comparison. Malachi felt like laughing; him, weak?

The hermit stepped back, afraid. He knew that this man had come to claim the stone, and from him, it would pass to someone else, but he didn't know whether he would live to see that transaction. The person standing in front of him, with the Stone of David in his gloved right hand, filled him with an intense feeling of dread. His knees shook with fear; it took all he had to remain standing.

That was when the ground began to tremble. The hermit looked all around; the mount wasn't prone to quakes, even little ones. What was this? By the light of the moon, he could see animals of all kinds converging on the sacred hill. He looked up; the sky was filling with birds of all sizes too.

Within minutes, the mount was covered with animals. There were lions and deer standing shoulder to shoulder, wolves and sheep lying down next to each other, foxes and rabbits keeping rank. The hermit couldn't move for all the animals. So far, not a cry nor howl nor roar had been heard, nor one jaw opened to feast, but the hermit did not want to chance fate any further.

The roof of the shrine was covered with birds coming down to rest. The hermit could see hawks and eagles, pigeons and doves, crows and ravens all assembled on top of the small hut. But it was too small. Many more birds were forced to wheel around in the sky above, obscuring the stars in their numbers.

Malachi, still gripping the Stone of David, reached into his case and removed his bayonet. It glinted occasionally when the moonlight shone through. Holding it confidently in his left hand, he pointed it at a lion and regarded it. The proud creature bowed and lowered its head. Malachi smiled. He slowly turned around, holding his blade outstretched to each animal in turn. They all acknowledged him and paid their respect.

Next, Malachi looked upward at the winged creatures above him. Starting with the birds on the roof, he pointed his bayonet at them. In response the birds cawed in honour of him. It was sweet music to Malachi's ears. He thrust his foil straight up into the night sky and the air filled with the sound of a thousand screeches, calls and songs.

Malachi nodded. This was exactly what he needed, what he deserved. He focussed his thoughts and sent them through the stone. At once, the animals jerked up and left the mount, no longer interested in their master or the roughly dressed appetiser beside him. The birds, too, flew away in search of shelter, or perhaps a midnight snack.

The hermit fell to his knees in silent prayer. He had been spared; it was a miracle. He knew the hermetical life was dangerous but he had never imagined that he would stand among a congregation of wild animals.

"It's good. This will be very useful," Malachi grinned superiorly. He placed his blade back in its case and pocketed the Stone of David, his stone, in a special bag around his neck. He had sewn it on the plane to Jerusalem; it was the only thing he could do to keep his fragile stranglehold on sanity. He looked to the hermit, "I hope you don't mind me leaving in the middle of the night but I can't stand being near the weak,"

Malachi took a deep breath and looked up at the moon. With the power he had now, he could easily bring it down to his feet. He wouldn't though; that would be a waste. He concentrated once again and used the stone to call an animal to him again. Just one this time; he would only need one.

He heard it before he saw it. The deep sigh of air as each wingbeat sounded against the night. Then, eclipsing the light of the moon, a giant shadow descended on the mount. It was another bird, though this one was far too big to sit upon the shrine roof. Controlling its flight, a giant eagle lowered itself to the top of the hill. If it had wanted to, it could have ripped Malachi to shreds in seconds.

Malachi smiled as he approached it. It didn't land because he didn't want it to land. He was its master. With his free hand, he gripped its ankle. At once, the eagle clasped its talon around Malachi's arm. Secure in its grasp, Malachi commanded the bird with the Stone of David. It beat its titanic wings and took off; Malachi wasn't a burden to it at all.

As the wind rushed past his face, Malachi laughed. This was only the beginning. His laughter carried through the air as the Death flew through the night.

The End.