He took a deep breath and stared at his handiwork, wondering what it meant that he would come here to do this. To the gutted remains of this church on a lovely grassy hill overlooking a small human settlement full of simple folk. A community of faith, who only wished to live right in the eyes of God.
Years ago they'd welcomed him with no questions asked, seeing him as their fellow brother in God, a sinner in need of redemption. It was a redemption he'd craved, an escape from a life spent ending others in fire and thunder.
Adam Jericho had been a bomber, a terrorist. He had no cause, no family and no hope, only an anger that sustained him and manifested itself in an appetite for destruction.
He'd made his first bomb when he was fourteen. It had been small, but just as the two crossed wires had touched off the destruction of the shoebox it had been encased in, so it had set him on the path he found himself on now. A path of destruction marked by bigger bangs and more bodies, and never any let up to the rage he felt inside himself.
Appropriate, somehow, that I'm finally destroying myself, he thought, rising to his feet. I thought I was past this, past the anger and the need to destroy.
I was misled.
He walked along the aisle through the empty fellowship hall, his tattered white and blue clothes billowing behind him, stalking through the blasted ruin of the church in which he'd been saved like a mad monk. Or a ghost.
He paused at the sight of a small statue. Christ stood with his hands raised, his manner patient.
You lied to me, he thought, his brown eyes darkening with fury at the statue. No, that's not fair. The people I trusted to speak with Your voice, Lord, they lied to me. Lied to all of us about God's plan for us.
He turned away from that statue, walking up the aisle and mounting the steps to the altar, standing at the lectern as if to address an invisible congregation. A church full of ghosts he'd soon be joining.
My brothers and sister in Christ, he thought, producing a small box from a shelf underneath the lectern. I stand before you today as one who believed he was turned from the path of evil, towards the path of righteousness. When I accepted Christ's love, I believed my brothers of the Church who told me my skills could serve my God in this universe.
He opened the box, examining the scroll of paper and the small crystal inside. He smiled and nodded, closing it and locking it, placing it under the lectern again and reaching for the battered leather-bound bible on top of it.
But I was misled. The people I called brothers, the people I trusted heard God's words, as I did, lied to me, and once I knew of their plan, I knew I could not suffer myself or them to live anymore while the truth was hidden from God's people.
Lord, forgive me for what I did to the town, he thought, folding his hands in prayer, the large silver rosary around his neck clacking noisily in the shadowed silence of the church. And forgive me for the destruction I have wrought on your house, and that which I shall yet wreak.
All this I have done to spread your word . . .your true words . . .and your plan for us to one who understands. He will judge me for my sins, and he will carry your word where I cannot. Protect him, Lord.
He unfolded his hands, opening his eyes slowly. His brown hair stood on end, old familiar reflexes taking over despite his near-consuming despair.
Someone was here. He could feel them. His thoughts went to the box, the bomb-proof case under the lectern. He wondered if God had heard his prayers. For stealing it and destroying the town, he knew the Church would send someone for him.
The question is, was it the right man?
* * *
From the shadows he watched the man he had called friend once, silently preaching like a madman to an empty hall. His hands closed around his pistols, quietly slipping them from their holsters in the small of his back. He looked around the hall from his shadowed remove, sizing up the situation.
It's high sun, and he's got the high ground, he thought. If he's got a gun he can pin me down among the pews. I wont have any cover to sneak around him, and of course, there's every reason to believe he's rigged the entire church to blow.
He closed his eyes, raising his pistols and flicking the safeties off with his thumbs. Adam Jericho was a friend. They'd been saved and brought together at the Metatron, and both of them had worked hard for their redemption.
Jericho told me the guilt he felt about the bombings. All those people dead, all he'd destroyed, for no reason. And how he swore he'd never do it again. How only God would call him to arms.
That Jericho became a gentle man of God. And two days ago, he killed twenty men at Metatron, stole something, came here and destroyed the village.
Why? What would cause him to become go astray?
He took a deep breath, steadying himself. The gun to him was like Jericho's explosives--a symbol of his dark past and the instrument he used on the path God had set him on to redemption. Whenever he drew them, the fear, the power, and the responsibility that came with wielding them flooded through him.
Jericho can't be beyond reason, he thought. Whatever caused this, there must be a way to find out, and I owe it to my brother to learn it.
And if that doesnt work . . .
He crossed them over himself, resting his head against the barrell of one of them and closing his eyes.
Lord, guide my eye and my hand to where You will them.
He dropped his arms to the side and stepped out of the shadows.
* * *
Jericho recognized his brother in an instant. It was the look in his eyes that was unusual. Michael Corinthos strode towards him, clad in his white and red body armor, his black tunic flowing behind him as a gentle breeze blew through the church. His dark eyes were set and determined, the cruel scar between them giving his gaze that much more intensity. His red hair framed his eyes, holding Jericho's gaze from the lectern.
"Judgment," Jericho said quietly. "God has sent you to me at last, brother."
"You know better Adam," he replied. "It's Michael to my friends."
"Are we still friends, Michael?" Jericho responded, pointing at the guns in his hands.
"I dont know, Adam," he said. "I don't know at all what to make of what I've seen you do. This isn't the work of the man I called friend. The man I called brother. I want to know . . .I need to know . . .why?"
Jericho reached below the lectern. Despite himself, Michael's hands tightened on the pistols. Jericho put a small rectangular box on the lectern next to the bible.
"You wanted to know why," Jericho said, gesturing to the box.
"I wanted to hear you tell me," Michael replied.
"I can tell you nothing," he replied. "God put this task before me, and we always obey the will of God."
"You blew up that entire town down there," Michael said tightly. "Don't tell me that was God's will!"
"He . . .I . . .needed to know the right man would come," Jericho said, taking off the large silver rosary. "It was all to bring you here. You know as well as I do, He puts us where we are destined to be."
Michael relaxed his grip on the pistols, letting the tension go out of his shoulders a little.
"They told me youd gone in insane, looted the holy archive, killed twenty people, and heaven knows how many more in that town," he said. "The ordered me to kill you on sight and retrieve what you stole."
"They are misguided, those who give us orders, but wise in their way," Jericho said. Something about the way he seemed so disconnected from the gravity of the situation disturbed Michael. "You can have what I stole, Michael. I dont need it anymore. It's for you now."
Michael stayed where he was.
"I dont know you anymore, Adam," Michael said. "But I know nothing's that easy. What are you playing at?"
"I've told you," Jericho replied, sitting wearily down on the topmost step of the altar. "You must take this. Read what's inside, Michael. It wont be easy for you to hear, but you must. You must read it, then every human being who will listen."
Michael blinked. "What's in the box that I'm supposed to read?"
Jericho smiled. "A message from God," he said. "One our masters at Metatron never bothered to give us. Who we are and who we are to become. My heart cracked when I finally read it, because I knew our true destiny and knew what liars our masters in the church were."
Michael watched his former friend carefully. "I dont understand," he said. "Why would they hold it back?"
"When you read it, brother, you'll understand," Jericho said. "You'll understand lots of things. Most of all, you'll understand the true nature of those "holy men" we trusted to interpret God's words to us. You'll know why and what the past one hundred years have really been about. It's like seeing a jigsaw puzzle with all the pieces put together--once you see the pattern, you feel like a fool for missing it."
"Adam, youre not making any sense," Michael said. "I . . .I dont understand. This was all to get my attention? Just to make me read this."
Adam looked at his friend, a single tear running down his cheek. He nodded slowly.
Michael raised one of his gold pistols at his friend. The darkness of his eyes reflected the grief he felt at this moment. Adam rose to his feet, hands dangling at his sides, the large silver rosary in his left hand.
"Your masters told you to kill me on sight," Adam said, bowing his head. "Take your shot, Judgment. I'm not going to do anything to stop you."
Michael drew the hammer back, lining up the side of his brother's head with the sights. One shot, and whatever madness that afflicted his friend would be gone, and Jericho would go to his reward, at peace at last.
"Just promise me you'll read what's in the box once you do," he said. "I won't force you to walk my path. Just read what's there with an open mind."
"I'm not allowed to," Michael said. "My orders dont allow it."
Jericho snapped something from his belt, pressing a button on top of it.
"To HELL with your orders!"
He hurled it at his friend, and as the sun splashed over it, Michael could see it.
He cartwheeled to the side, firing a volley at Jericho, who sidestepped behind the lectern. The grenade exploded, splintering the pews with tremendous force and sound. Michael crawled along another row of pews, hearing the clatter of another grenade, he rolled backwards, landing on his feet and shooting through the lectern. His bullets ripped it to pieces as the grenade destroyed still more pews, throwing burning wood everywhere.
He looked around.
Before he knew what was going on, Adam sprang out from behind another pew, smashing him against the side of his face with the rosary. In a painful instance between strikes Michael came to realize with a mounting sense of horror what the rosary actually was.
It's a chain of grenades! Michael though. He jammed the barrel of his gun under Adam's chin.
"Think twice, brother Jericho," he said calmly.
"All I ask . . .is that you read it!"
Michael shoved him backwards, into the charred mess of the pews. He drew and fired, catching Jericho in the shoulder as he sprinted out of the main hall. Michael close on his heels.
Jericho ran for the stairway to what had once been the bell tower of the church. Michael fired twice, hastening him up the stairs, chased by his former friend.
There's no way he can lose me up here, Michael thought. It's got to be a trap.
He paused at the archway at the top of the stairs, guns drawn.
There was no answer.
Michael carefully stepped inside, waiting for Adam to come out of the shadows and attack him. But his friend was waiting for him, standing on his own on the far side of the room, holding a length of rope that had once been tied to one of the church bells. A single ray of sunlight peered through, bathing his fallen brother in light in the dusty gray of the ruined chamber.
"I'm sorry," Jericho said. "Sorry for what I did to you, for what I did to the town. Please believe me. There is a greater purpose in this, and not an evil one."
"I dont believe you," Michael replied. But he was lying--something about Jericho's gentle reserved manner in this strange moment felt right, more like the friend he remembered and not the enemy he'd been told to expect, the enemy he'd been ordered to eliminate.
"Belief . . .is at the core of all we do in this universe, brother," Jericho said. He looked at his hands, holding the old and rotted length of rope. "My role is finished, your role is just beginning. When you read what I've left for you, you'll understand."
Michael holstered his pistols. "What are you talking about?" He asked. "My role in this? What about yours?"
Jericho smiled. "My role was to sound the call that tore the walls down," he said, walking toward the far edge. "My role was to pave the way for you. Soon now, Michael, humankind faces judgement. As Jericho is my name, so truly is Judgment yours. As God named us, so shall we do in this world."
Michael paused. "I'm not the judge of humankind," he said. "Only God can do that."
"God is doing it," Jericho replied. "Through you, he will. We're running out of time, Michael. Mankind must change or die, as God has written, as He has willed. When you read it . . .perhaps you will understand. Perhaps He can tell you better what I failed to explain."
"Adam . . .brother . . ."
Adam took one last look over his shoulder at his friend. A smile crossed his lips as he wrapped the rope around his neck.
"Goodbye, my brother."
Michael ran for him, but Adam slipped off the dusty edge, the rope spilling after him. It pulled taught with a dusty snap, as much from the strain of being pulled taut after years of neglect as the snap of the neck that echoed in the empty bell tower.
Michael didnt look over the side. He'd stared death in the face enough times, seen the various masks it wore on the face of those he'd seen dead and killed himself.
And right now he didn't want to see Death wearing the mask of his friend.
As he made his way down the steps something caught his eye. A flickering light where one shouldn't have been, a strange green light that was still all too familiar.
Michael grit his teeth, gradually putting the pieces together.
He sprinted down the stairs, heading for the large doors, pausing as he was about to sprint to freedom.
He looked through the doors at the main hall. He thought about what Adam had said, what he seemed to want desperately above all. What he was willing to die for.
He took a deep breath and charged back into the hall for the box as he heard the first explosion above him. His golden-gloved hands clasped over the box as another and another rang out. Around him, the church seemed to be groaning in agony and relief as it fell apart, its supports destroyed as it crumbled.
Never make it back the way I came, he thought, tucking the box under one arm. He looked at the statuary on the altar and the window beyond and began climbing up the large crucifix mounted into the wall.
Around him, the walls were crumbling, falling in on one another. Support beams snapped like toothpicks, sending debris crashing to the floor of the church.
Michael grit his teeth and kicked out the stained-glass window behind the crucifix, slipping out and sliding off the ledge, into freefall.
Behind him, the church seemed to implode, tumbling in on itself. Had Michael had the time or the presence of mind, he would have appreciated the irony, but right now he had more important matters to attend to.
Like saving himself.
He reached behind him, between the holsters on his belt and his hand closed on a small device. Firing it towards the cliff wall he was tumbling past, he found purchase, slowing his descent and bracing with his feet against the rock face, swinging to avoid any debris that might be tumbling after him.
He took a deep breath. He was alive, his friend--his brother--wasn't.
But his legacy to me is, Michael thought, looking at the box he held in his other hand. Whatever's in here, whatever I'm supposed to learn Adam was willing to kill so many, and himself, just so I would have the chance to read it, whether I believed it or not.
* * *
"Archbishop Sloane," Michael said to the image on the viewscreen before him. "Adam Jericho has been judged, God's will has been done."
"Very good, Judgment," the older man in white on the screen said. If what Adam said were true, this man is the enemy, he thought, examining his the pious turn of the lip and his half-closed eyes.
"What of the items he stole?"
"I have them, Archbishop," Michael said.
"Very good. We await your return to Metatron, Judgment. I must remind you that it is vitally important that you under no circumstances read what he stole. The documents themselves are very ancient and quite brittle."
"Ah, of course," Michael said. He looked away at the navigational chart on another screen. "My ETA at Metatron is two days, twelve hours Archbishop. You have my word that I will return it to you."
"Unread, Judgment," Sloane underlined.
"Godspeed, my son," Sloane said, closing the connection. Michael delicately turned the small shuttlecraft upwards through the atmosphere of the planet, easing the shuttle into a low orbit in preparation.
With this little maneuver it'll actually be a day and sixteen hours, he thought.
The momentum of the orbit slingshotted the shuttle out and into open space. Michael activated the ship's Space Drive, and in an instant the elegant white craft was cruising at terrific speeds in complete security.
Michael opened the box, only slightly battered by the explosions and the journey down the rock face. He unfolded the piece of paper, yellowed and brittle and attempted to read what was on it, but found it useless, so he reached for the data crystal instead, inserting it into the shuttle's access port.
There was a soft glow from the crystal reader as the information on it was decoded. A series of document choices flashed over the screen. Names that seemed familiar. Names of saints, or prophets, of judges, and kings.
It was the context he found unusual. He selected the first document.
"Sephirotic Analysis of Prophecy, cross-referenced against existing genetic research," Michael read. A diagram scrolled up on screen, one he'd seen a hundred times before, as recently as when he'd prepared the shuttle for flight.
He unfolded the paper again. In the center of the page, the same diagram.
How in God's name . . .a piece of a scroll found at the bottom of a sea on Earth centuries ago . . .and it has that diagram? How could they have known?
He read the document with great interest. A cold shock ran through him, and for a moment he feared the same insanity that had claimed his friend was about to take his mind.
Then shock. Then disgust. Disgust with himself for not taking Adam at his word. Shame at himself for not seeing the whole picture until now.
He took a deep breath and turned off the display for a moment. He shut his eyes and rubbed his temples as if that would be enough to allow him to unsee what he'd read.
Then he opened his eyes and turned on the display again. He couldnt stop himself. Now he selected another document--"The Sephirotic Analysis And Divine Prophecy, Revelations."
Michael felt himself shaking, but unable to stop. The weight of what he was seeing was sinking it at last, the meaning of everything and the sick shame of what he had been doing in the name of God.
Or so he had thought. He selected a third document and read it through as he pondered whose will he'd actually been serving the past few years.