Chapter 1 - Fresh Wound
The day that decided his fate had started so well. He arose and stretched like a large cat as the morning rays trickled in through the bluish-grey curtains of his room. He loved the color blue – it calmed him. The color reminded him of the sea just after a storm, when the barely restrained energy is palpable, and the waves steadily calm to a gentle roll once again.
He shut off his alarm and rolled out of bed onto his feet in one smooth motion. His every movement suggested power yet grace. Then he remembered – he was eighteen today. He strode to a large calendar which was riddled with dates and events and drew a large blue circle around today's date. It was December 15th, though the apparent weather didn't suggest it. He threw open his curtain to examine the morning lurking just outside his bedroom.
The morning mist was evaporating yet still clung to the ground below with graceful white tendrils. The hills which surrounded his home on every side were clothed in dense foliage and forested with pine. The sun was peeking out from behind one such hill that dipped barely short of its brothers' height.
He wanted to throw open the window as if in a movie or cartoon, and music would begin to play in the background. The camera would pan from the outside on the right, dipping down and smoothly to the left as he opened his arms wide. Sadly, though, such gestures would prove meaningless. He sighed, knowing that the moment had been ruined by a single thought. He strode over to his closet and dressed in a plain green shirt and jeans and donned a black hat.
He half-sprinted, half-jumped down the dark brown wooden stairs and into the kitchen. The room seemed like it had been carved directly out of a huge tree with its ornately carved cabinets that joined together seamlessly in a large circle. It was only broken in two places where hallways led to other parts of the house. Even the refrigerator and freezer were covered by wooden facades. In the center was a wooden island with a marble top which was interrupted only by the electric stove. He opened the fridge and reached for the orange juice as his mother's voice came in from down one hall.
"Hey don't get anything to eat yet, I have breakfast for you!" He replaced the orange juice and closed the fridge in time to see his mother enter with a tray of muffins, eggs and bacon and a towering pitcher of orange juice. In the center was a blueberry muffin with covered with powdered sugar and protruding from the center was a single blue candle.
She set it down on the island and said "happy birthday!" he blew out the candle and turned to hug her. Instantly, he froze.
He backed away and said "Mom, don't move. There's a creature on your shoulder."
And there it was – like a miniature demon clawing at her neck but inflicting no damage. On her other shoulder was its exact opposite. A stately, albeit small, angel stood sentinel on her with a look of disgust as it watched the mini demon cavort around on the other side. She chuckled and brushed her wavy blonde hair back and jokingly glanced at her shoulder.
"Oh, you and your imagination. I swear, you ought to be a writer." He felt frozen in time as a clawed hand grasped at his heart. Pain exploded in his chest, and he felt as if he was having an out-of-body experience, simply observing what his body was doing. He felt his knees give way, and he sank to the floor with a low moan, grasping at the marble countertop for support.
"Michael?" His mother asked, worried. "What's wrong?" Michael didn't hear her. Once again pain bloomed in his chest and he clutched at it, making a strained gasping sound.
She knew something was wrong – he was having some sort of medical issue. However, she didn't know what to do. She had no previous experience with this type of situation; her experiences from medical school lay so far in the past. She dashed into her bedroom. Her husband was still in bed, snoring gently. She shook him awake, shouting at him to wake up, that their son was collapsed on the floor. Groggily he asked what was wrong with him, and she replied that she didn't know other than that his chest was evidently in pain. He stood, frowning, and paced into the kitchen. He knelt next to Michael, who was sagging against the side of the island, and began to check his pulse.
"It's okay, I'm here," he said softly. Michael nodded, probably not really hearing him. He took a stethoscope from its place around his neck – he had picked it up from its perch on his dresser – and listened for a moment to his son's heartbeat.
There were no evident signs of physical injury. The symptoms would suggest, if it were a medical condition, that it had something to do with his heart. However, there were no irregularities in his heartbeat. It was incredibly perplexing, to say the least.
"Is there anything you need?" came his wife's voice from over his shoulder.
He stood, nodding and directed her to a medicine cabinet filled with various pills, shots, bandages and other medical menagerie. She ran over to and threw open the cabinet, filing intently through everything while listening to her husband's incredibly calm direction. The medicine he described wasn't there.
She rushed back into the room, barely managing to contain the tears which threatened to break loose, and snapped, "We don't have it, I'm calling the hospital." She paced to a phone that sat on its charger in the kitchen and hurriedly began to dial the number. She was fighting tears at this point, liquid fire burning a salty trail down her cheeks down to the corners of her mouth, salty, corrosive, and sweet. She heard her husband's voice calmly telling her to put the phone down. She put it aside without erasing the number and stared at him in shock. Instead, he had his cell phone out and pressed to his ear.
Where had things gone wrong? Up until she had appeared, her son had appeared fine. Did Michael actually believe what he had said, that there were creatures on her shoulder? She didn't think it was schizophrenia – they didn't have a history of it in either of their families, as far as she knew.
In contrast to her frightened disbelief, the only expression that her husband held was one of grim determination. She could no longer handle this: her son was on the floor of their kitchen, on the verge of going unconscious; her husband was entirely too calm – sometimes she felt that years of medical practice with the military had deadened his humanity. She sat down at a leather couch in the living room and began to cry.
Her husband at this point was on his feet pacing back and forth. He observed his son who was now beginning to sob with the pain. The father left as the call was answered. He needed to get this figured out.
Michael rolled over and went limp, as the world gently went black.
The world felt empty. There was a distant sensation of cold, and he heard people's voices as if underwater. He tried to move if only to twitch his finger, yet he felt restrained by a thousand lead weights. Perhaps he was drowning, he thought in passing. For some reason, the thought felt as if it didn't really matter – he could drown. He didn't care.
However, a new sensation was beginning to emerge. It seemed to start in his fingertips, though in fact he couldn't really tell from where it came. It was a gentle warmth which spread into his arms and to his chest. It was like he was wrapped in a blanket or a warm embrace. It began to spread into his legs, and the sensation changed. The weights evaporated and it grew uncomfortably hot as if he had lightning coursing through his veins. Now being in complete control of his limbs, he thrashed once and flung his eyes open. His vision suddenly went from pitch black to bright lights and colors, and he voiced his protest. He was in a brightly lit room upon a soft, yet bare, mattress.
After a few moments, he relaxed. He really was quite warm and still dressed in his clothes from earlier. He sat up, experiencing no pain. And why should he? He hadn't been injured whatsoever, as far as he knew. Of course, if he had been hurt he imagined he would be in a hospital, and very much in pain, as opposed to comfortable, he thought as he examined the room he was in. It was sparingly furnished with a plain table next to which was a single wooden chair, a medium sized wooden desk and the bed in which he lay. The walls were painted a greyish color and there were two plain white doors. He got up and walked over to the one on the left, opening it to a similarly furnished bathroom.
The door on the right led to a hallway, which in turn lead to a staircase. He paced nervously down the hall, peering down the staircase into a large room which can only be described as a chapel. There were no pews, but it was obvious from the plethora of icons, stained glass windows and the altar which stood at the end of the room that it was some holy place. Kneeling at the altar was a bald man in a habit who was evidently deep in prayer. As he cautiously descended the staircase the monk turned and looked at him, then stood up and began walking in his direction. As he headed toward him he spoke:
"Thank the Lord, you're awake. I was beginning to wonder if the demon had killed you." As the monk came closer he saw a ring of angels on his shoulder with one demon attempting to break the circle. However, this time he felt no overwhelming fear nor did he lose consciousness.
"Demon? What're you talking about?" he asked but feared he knew the answer.
The monk's expression became uncertain as a shadow of doubt crossed his face. He said "follow me" and gestured to a staircase on the other side of the room, mirroring its counterpart which he had just descended. "Your name is Michael, correct? Such a nice name. There's an angel named Michael, you know." Michael nodded and followed the monk up the stairs. "I'm Brother Simon. We're going to see Father Allgood, because he can explain the situation to you better than I could." He nodded again as we reached another plain white door.
Brother Simon knocked on the door, three quick raps, which were quickly answered by the voice of an old man calling "Is he awake? Bring him in." Brother Simon opened the door and directed Michael inside where a priestly old man knelt at a cross with a bible. Other than the cross and a tapestry of Jesus being crucified, the room was furnished as simply as his own.
Brother Simon knelt at the entrance, reverently addressing the priest, "Father Allgood, I apologize for interrupting your matins. Michael is here." He rose and left, abandoning Michael to the company of the old man.
There was an awkward silence for a while as Michael waited for the priest – Father Allgood – to finish his prayers. After a few minutes the old man rose with some difficulty and grasped a gnarled wooden cane. He coughed a bit and rose to face Michael. "You're probably wondering what happened to you at your house. In truth, you could probably infer a few of the details." Michael nodded, an uncertain feeling settling in the pit of his stomach.
"Here is what happened. However, I have a bit of backstory to share with you first," he began to pace back and forth from the bed to the wall where the tapestry hung like a grim reminder of human imperfection. "This world is connected, as most know, to Heaven and the Underworld through tunnels known as the Crystal Gate and Crumbling Gates, respectively. What most people are unaware of is that each world is ruled by a celestial being which is the king of that world. The three together make the Celestial Triumvirate, and the three worlds together make the Earthly Triumvirate." Michael nodded again – this wasn't too difficult to absorb, given what had just happened to him.
"One even more esoteric body of knowledge is concerning a fourth god. He is simply called the Marquis of Darkness, and he rules over the Negative World. His world and all the beings in it are born from his consciousness. You see, long ago there existed one God who created the Earthly Triumvirate. He gave birth to four children – the Celestial Triumvirate and the Marquis of Darkness. However, he grew sick and weak as humans shunned him more and more. Accordingly, he passed his kingdom to three of his children. However, the Marquis of Darkness received nothing because God believed his soul was darkened. Enraged, the Marquis fled the Earthly Triumvirate and created the Negative Zone. This is where evil is rooted."
Michael sat down upon the bed and sighed, staring out the window to the flat landscape. The earth was bare except for the occasional shrub or stunted tree. That last bit was a lot to absorb – Michael frowned and rested both hands on top of his head. The sun was so different here. The light was yellow and the heat unforgiving. Michael was uncomfortably warm. And what might he make of this Marquis and Triumvirates and gods? He looked back to the old man, who only smiled. He nodded again, gesturing to him to continue.
"What happened to you," he continued "was an attack. You just today gained the ability to see these creatures of the Negative realm. However, you also have an ability unique to you and only a few other people. You are able to see the moral conflict within people personified as angels and demons perched upon them. However, gaining these abilities made you susceptible to the attacks of the Negative creatures. Remember, their sole intent is to corrupt those who live within the Earthly Triumvirate for the glory of the Marquis. They will not stop until all the universe belongs to them."
Michael nodded and shuddered, remembering the sensation of a hand tugging at his heart. "How am I alive then?" he asked. In truth, he didn't feel unharmed there was a lingering sensation of… weight. It seemed as if one lead weight still remained fettered to his heart.
The old man said "I exorcised you, meaning I destroyed the demon which was attempting to take over your soul." He hobbled over to an old and worn chest. He simply lifted the lid, regardless of the heavy padlocks and took out a long object wrapped in red cloth which was equally worn. He handed it to Michael reverently, saying "This is the Redeemer, a sword with the power to kill Negative Beings. It is enchanted with the ability to cut through any material. I give it to you in the hope that one day you put it to use." Michael unwrapped the sword revealing a glittering silver blade attached seamlessly to a glittering silver hilt inlaid with sapphires at the pommel. At the base of the blade was an engraved eagle intertwined with flowering vines. The vines wound around the hilt ending in two blooms just above the pommel. He held it aloft, appreciating the beauty of the sword, but not knowing why the priest regarded it with such reverance.
He examined it a bit longer then replaced it carefully in its red velvet wrapping. He looked at the Father, who was scrutinizing him with an expectant face. He matched his gaze steadily and said "So you expect me to fight off a horde of creatures from some… negative world?"
The old man said "I don't expect you to do anything. I hope, however, that you choose to. Without the intention to do it yourself, you won't succeed. But I warn you – it will be difficult. Most likely you'll end up simply fighting off demons the rest of your life." As Michael opened his mouth to speak, he interrupted, "Don't give me an answer now. Meditate on it for a while." Michael nodded and left as in a daze.
Three of four days passed. Michael had been anxious to see his parents – they had always known what to do in a difficult situation – and he was now delighted to find that they would be coming today. He jumped out of his plain bed in a brief flurry of movement, moving fluidly to a dresser from which he took a pair of jeans and a plain blue shirt. He always dressed plainly, he noted without really caring.
After combing his hands through his fairly short brown hair, he rushed down the stairs into the entry hall of the monastery. Brother Simon was in his usual place at the altar, performing his matins. "Brother Simon!" Michael called. "Do you know when my parents'll be here?" he asked.
"They said that they would be here around ten o'clock," he said as he glanced to a large clock in one corner of the room. "Which means they should be here in about an hour. Since it's nearly a four hour drive from your house to here, they should have already left." Michael's face stretched in a massive grin.
"Thanks!" he called as he walked into the large dining hall. A couple of monks were still eating, huddled over bowls of oatmeal. Michael wasn't a big fan of oatmeal; however, as it was the only breakfast meal that they served, he had to deal with it. He walked over to a large pot, scraping half a bowl from the remaining oatmeal.
He sat at one of the plain brown tables and began shoveling oatmeal into his mouth, hoping to finish as quickly as possible. In part, it was because he didn't want to be eating when his parents arrived, and partly because he didn't like oatmeal. They didn't have any sugar here, either.
"What's the rush for?" said a quiet voice behind him. He turned to see a woman standing behind him. She was thin and short, with straight blond hair that fell down just past her shoulders. Her eyes were clear blue like crystal clear water. After a moment, he realized with some embarrassment that he still hadn't answered.
"Uh… my parents are coming to see me today," he said as he turned back to his half-empty bowl of oatmeal.
"Oh, so you're Michael?" she asked. "I've heard so much about you – all the monks are really impressed with you, you know." He turned, and as she said this, a grin stretched across her face, revealing two rows of perfectly white teeth.
"Oh, they talk about me?" he said, then realized disappointedly that he was probably coming off as self-centered. "But then again," he said before she could reply, "that's not really important. What's your name?" She looked confused for a moment by the change in topic.
"My name's Anna," she said. "I teach the children their lessons. You know, stuff like math and English," she embellished, blushing slightly. She finally decided to take a seat next to Michael, setting a small bowl of oatmeal and a glass of water at a place next to him.
"That's cool," he replied lamely. He glanced at a clock nearby, wondering when his parents would arrive. "I didn't know kids lived here," he said even more lamely. "I-I mean that I thought that it was just monks here."
"Yeah, but some of the monks have kids. They can't leave them, but they want to come here, so we opened a small school in a few of the unoccupied rooms." Silence stretched between them for a moment.
"Uh, my parents ought to be here soon," Michael broke the silence awkwardly as he stood, gathering his dishes.
"Have fun!" Anna said cheerfully, probably glad for the conversation's end. Michael turned and fled to the large sink in which the monk's washed their dishes. After thoroughly scrubbing his bowl, spoon and cup, he returned them to their places and left the dining hall.
As he stepped through the door to the front of the building, he noticed his mother's white Escalade pulling into the driveway. What timing, he thought as he jogged to the side of the road. The car pulled alongside him and he threw open the door enthusiastically. He greeted his parents with hugs and excited greetings, finally settling back into the seat behind his mother.
His father was usually driving, as usual, which meant that they were consistently going ten miles per hour over the speed limit. Michael was glad, actually, that nothing had changed for once. His parents still smiled the same way, still joked and bantered like old times. The car was still cluttered with papers, discarded fast-food bags, and various other things. Michael thought he saw a phone book, but was too lazy to check. The entire drive flew by in a blur of his mother's jokes and his father's quiet remarks that were, sometimes, a not so quiet or appropriate.
They arrived at a restaurant in Portland that his parents had loved before Michael was born. It was the legendary restaurant where his father had proposed. Regardless of Michael's relative disassociation with the place, it still felt special. It was a classy Italian place, and Michael consistently ordered penne with a marinara sausage sauce. It had sautéed bell peppers in it too that, while Michael didn't normally like the oddly colored fruits, were delicious with this particular dish.
Mercifully the wait was short, and they were ushered to a booth towards the far right wall within a few minutes. Michael settled into the plush cushions, not bothering to glance at the menu. He knew what he always got.
"Hey guys?" Michael began tentatively, unsure of how to present the topic. He couldn't exactly say, "hey mom, dad, I've been told it's my destiny to fight off a horde of evil monsters. Any advice?" regardless of how priceless his parents' expressions would be.
His father looked up from the menu. Michael noticed with mixed amusement and surprise that his father had been scanning the wine menu. "Whatdya need?" he asked.
"I, uh, well," Michael began, searching for the right way to phrase his question.
"It's alright," his father interrupted, magically guessing what he was thinking. "Father Allgood told us." Michael breathed a small sigh of relief – at least he was going to be saved that long-winded explanation. Yet this raised an excellent question – how on earth did his father even know Father Allgood?
"Uh, awesome," Michael replied. "So what do you think? Should I do it?"
"I think if you make this a question of 'should I'," his mother said softly, "then the answer is obvious. The better question is 'will I'." Michael's stomach turned – of course the answer, or at least the right answer, was obvious. Regardless, he was nervous – and he had every right to be.
"We aren't thrilled at the idea," his father said, picking up on his mother's thoughts as usual. "But, I think we'll all agree that it would be the right thing to do. And neither of us are eager to see you go." He said.
"We're sure you'll make the right choice," his mother continued, a smile gracing her careworn expression.
"Thanks," he mumbled as their waiter appeared with his little pad and pen. The rest of the night continued happily on. After a great meal, they stumbled sleepily into the car and continued to the monastery. Michael felt like a balloon ready to pop, and consequently they didn't talk much on the way back. Instead, Michael fell asleep to the rhythm of the car bobbing up and down with every dip or rise in the road.