Claas by Kris Pierce
This is a work of fiction. While most of the characters and events described herein are a part of the various St. Nicolas of Myra canons, I have gratuitously misrepresented them.
A sharp, blood curdling wail filled the otherwise quiet, meditative atmosphere inside the hallowed church sanctuary, causing Nicolas to break his prayer and glance anxiously around. There. In front of the ornate office door of Bishop Nicholas. A woman in some of the dirtiest clothing he had ever seen on her knees; tears etching strange lines through the ash and dirt on her cheek.
“Plleeaassee!” she was pleading. “Oh God in Heaven, please! This can’t be. She cannot be damned!”
“The scriptures are very clear on the matter,“ his uncle was responding.
“I DON’T CARE ABOUT THE SCRIPTURES! My baby was GOOD, Father! GOOD!”
“You do not mean that, my child. I cannot in good conscience perform Last Rights. I cannot. I am sorry.”
Claas 2 “Cannot or will not?” the woman sneered back.
The bishop took a long breath and contemplated before answering. “Cannot.”
Young Nicolas saw a tremor begin to take over this woman; her body shaking uncontrollably and sustaining a sorrowful cry - her words coming out in a syncopated rhythm that had a singing quality to them.
“Did you see her face, Father?” she cried. “Her young face! An angel’s face one time. Her precious arms! Her beautiful legs! Her whole body was...was...molested by this cursed plague! She was going to die, Father. A horrible, painful death. She was already dead! How can she be cursed?”
Bishop Nicholas felt trite. “It is the scripture. We are prohibited from taking lives, including our own. I’m sorry. But I cannot.”
“The pauper’s field. She can still be laid to rest there?”
The bishop hesitated - an action he would soon regret. What followed was another spine tingling wail of a mother’s anguish.
The elder cleric quickly took her hands into his and looked her evenly in the eyes.
“Listen to me, my child,“ he began slowly, yet firmly. “I will not abandon my flock so easily. Your angel will rest with us. There is no scripture saying she can’t.”
Young Nicolas came back to his thoughts. It had been twenty years since the worst of Cyprian’s Plague had finally been overcome. Twenty years of rebuilding a population; of recovering from the blow his father’s business took near the end of the pandemic. Father. Theopanes. Yet another victim of the gruesome sickness.
But here it was again. And with the memory of those dark times, people were choosing to end their own lives rather than mutate, bleed, suffocate, and die. Slowly.
He closed his eyes and whispered, “My gracious, heavenly Father, I understand that good and evil must both exist. But this, Lord? Why does this flock, your dedicated servants, have to suffer and be asked for this anahitahit?” While he was fluent in Greek and Latin, the native, Luvian tongue of the Lycian territories was spoken by most of the workers under his hire. As a result, he found himself speaking the language of his community as if it was his own.
“The nature of the sacrifice is not for us to question, Master Nicolas,“ a voice, clearly the bishop’s, said over his shoulder.
“It is a rhetorical question,“ Nicolas responded. “I do not expect an answer.”
“Your parents were, are, devout, generous, Christian people who have suffered greatly at the hands of this death among us. Isn’t this what you are really asking Christ about?”
“I am a servant of Christ, but my prayers are to God Himself.”
Claas 4 The bishop chuckled this off. “Secundum aequalitatem substantiae unum cum patre consistit.”
Nicolas wrinkled his nose. “Homoousios.” It was the closest thing to a jab he could think of that wasn’t offensive.
“The church does not expect everyone to understand the miracle of consubstantivus. It is something that must be taken on faith.”
“No offense, Father, but it has the awful appearance of being Maximian’s way of explaining away the over-deification of the Christ so as to not break the first, and most important, commandment. Adam’s first law. And in turn Moishe’s first law.”
“So many things on your mind, and yet nothing at all,“ the cleric said, spoken like a teacher chiding a testy student. “Marcus Aurelius just wants to chase the senators’ little, young daughters. He’s Diocletian’s war boy. Constantine will be the one the bring change. Real change.”
Nicolas knew better than to engage. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and
“NIIIIIIIIIICCCOOOLLLLAAAASSSSS!!!” his mother screamed.
Nonna wasn’t there, though As a matter of fact, she wasn’t even close. She was home. Confined to a bed. Extreme fatigue had led to the loss of motor function which then led to her small intestine vomiting its bloody contents uncontrollably. Her skin had grown covered in
Claas 5 scales long before the eyesight had dimmed. What was once a beautiful, stern blue eye was now a solid, crimson red sac of blood.
“Have you ever seen your mother cry blood tears?” Nicolas asked under his breath. “I have.”
“NICY! NICOLAS! CLAAS! COME HOME, BABY BOY!”
Nicolas felt his heart drop all the way to the floor, through the floor, and in to the catacombs beneath them. No, momma! Wait! I’m coming!
Something resembling the look of horror must have been smeared across his face, but all he heard was
Go (COOOME!) home, son!
Nicolas quickly rose and spun around on his heel towards the main entrance foyer. His peripheral sight was gone. He couldn’t focus. Focus focus focus. Everything started dimming to a pinhole of light.
Focus focus focus.
What came next was hard to explain. Something pulled out of his body. From his
Claas 6 bones. Like he had been running with strings attached to his skin that had suddenly reached their end and a whole sheath of skin came flying from its former home in one piece. Nicolas fell to his knees and tried to catch his breath.
I’m getting sick.
He pushed his hands on the floor to help himself stand again.
Wait. That’s not right.
The sanctuary floor was stone and marble. This...this was undeniably...those were his initials etched in the polished wood floor at the foot of his mother’s bed. His eyes shot open but what hit him first was the stench of his mother’s decaying body.
“My baby son,“ Nonna choked behind several layers of gauze; her exoskeleton, he liked to call it. “I thought you were at the church.” Her ability to coo to her offspring had been taken away from her. A small trickle of blood crept through the crevice of her open lips. But while she could feel herself bleeding, she was powerless to do anything about it. As one might imagine, the gauze, while needed to keep her facial innards from spilling onto her shoulder and pillow, was in a constant state of septic toxicity.
This is the second thing that hit Nicolas. The bandages looked like they hadn’t been changed in days. “I was,“ he said, making his way to her side. “Why haven’t the bandages been changed?”
Claas 7 “The pain is so unbearable.” This was followed by a choked cough with a deep rattle in the chest. Nicolas thought she sounded like she was drowning. “I am a dead woman. Let me be while my soul realizes it.”
“Please do not talk like that,“ Nicolas pleaded stoically. In his consolatory epistle De Mortalitate, Cyprian had placed so much, maybe too much, emphasis on the necessity of caging the emotions rent asunder in this dark and agonizing time of mass bereavement for the fratres dilectissimi.
“When your anna speaks, you will listen,“ his mother replied back. Even in this weakened state of existence the notorious, absolute sternness she carried out in the family business found it’s way into her voice. Since this small group of territories in the surrounding region had taken on the notion of a democratic union with each other, all the merchants now had individual voices with potential influence over each other’s economies and it often came down to who could be the most stubborn. Often referred to as Ariyatalla a Pttara (The Mountain of Pttara), she could make her strong willed husband cower.
Nicolas felt chastised and then guilty for causing his mother to have to speak to him like that on her deathbed and vowed never to do that again. To anyone.
“The union with our anninniyama has been very good,“ she continued. “They each have been as a family to us. It will change the world as know it. Nevertheless, we will remain nameless in the face of this evolution of thought, as it should be. The needs of the community, son, matter more than the perceived needs of individual people. Here me on this. But we cannot ignore the actual needs of the people either. Use our family name and the wealth that
Claas 8 God has blessed us with to comfort those in the most unfortunate circumstances. It is our duty. Now, your duty.”
A long, rattling sigh made its way through her throat, followed by a series of heart wrenching coughs.
“I love you, Claas.”
“I love you, too, Mother.”
At that moment, her soul realized the body been through enough and the time had come to end this leg of the journey. Nicolas searched for the comfort in knowing his mother had stopped suffering, but could not find it. But here - right now - he realized that materializing his anguish, emoting his grief, however dark, however agonizing, purified him. Starting from somewhere deep and unnamed inside him a rumble of body and mind trampled through the blockades of Cyprian’s exaltation as a horrific, black grief ripped through him. Cyprian be damned.
The desperate scream of a twenty-six year old young man had only made it half way through his throat when he felt his skin being ripped off again, followed by a blinding, electric blue flash of light.
It had happened quicker than a blink of the eye. Gone was the room. Gone were any walls or windows. There were actually no buildings in sight at all. Instead, he was standing in an overpopulated field of bright, sunny daisies. For as far as his eyes could see.
An enormously large flock of alarmed butterflies swarmed the air, no doubt frightened by this strange creature that suddenly appeared from thin air, screaming bloody murder. The sunlight danced and twinkled between the flutters of frantic wings and Nicolas wondered in awe at how it appeared to be raining light, but going up instead of down.
“Death is not the worst thing that can happen to a living being.”
The Voice seemed everywhere at once. Inside his head and out. A female voice. One that was soft and sure; of earth and air at once. Familiar and, yet, alien. Otherworldly may have come to mind.
“The anguish,“ he found himself saying, his voice trailing off. He felt frozen in time. In amazement. Disbelief. This, all of this, was wrong.
Is this how it begins? Is this what it’s like to succumb to this evil?
Beautiful, delicate hands found their way over the crests of his shoulders and slowly, almost longingly, traced the chiseled contours of his arms to his wrists. They smelled as fully bloomed roses do when the morning kiss of dew melts away in the rising sun, dispersing with it a sweet, healing perfume.
Why can’t I move?
“So much on your mind,“ the voice was saying, “yet nothing at all.”
Who are you? Why can’t I speak?
“Neither here nor there ever leads to anywhere. But everywhere...”
Long fingers with bright silver rings were making their sensual way to the center of his chest. They stopped over his heart and pressed firmly into his chest.
“Everywhere is here,“ said the voice, strictly outside his ear this time, as a woman padded barefoot around from behind him with a childlike, innocent energy that had been somehow sculpted into a strikingly beautiful woman by the will of divine inspiration. A goddess, if there were one. As beautiful as Nonna had once been. The grief was evaporating from him in the comforting heat surrounding the creature in front of him. A familiar, primal heat. Not the kind he had sworn not to indulge in as he prepared to enter the life of celibacy as a permanent servant of Christ. The type he felt when his mother put her arms around him and sang a soft lullaby in his ear.
The woman in front of him was pouting a little. “Even Adam had Hawwah. Am I to be denied?”
She deliberately, yet softly, closed her eyes and that familial feeling of a mother’s embrace, that gestating pool of (Heaven) calm, was now breaching the outer boundaries of his internal kingdom of self-survival and species continuance; that other primal heat. She bit her lower lip, thrust her shoulders back, exposed the entirety of her supple neck, and held her breath for a moment, soaking in the pleasure of experiencing his inner desire for her. Complete
Claas 11 satisfaction was reflected in the totality of her countenance. Once finally opened, Nicolas imagined that he could see into the infinite through the windows of the eyes beholding him with adolescent obsession now.
“None of Adam has known me,“ she cooed. “Not one.” Her head rotated from side to side in an innocent expression of “no.” Her eyebrows pulled together in exaggerated sincerity. Her bottom lip sucked in. Her chin directed towards the horizon while lockets of raven black hair were framing her face and lulling his eyes to temptation and primal survival - falling easily around and calling attention to the claustrophobic closeness of well endowed breasts squeezed tightly together, up, and out.
It wasn’t until after he heard himself finish speaking that he realized he was no longer paralyzed. “What is this? Do I know you?”
“This,“ she said, sweeping an open hand around her and then resting both hands on her chest with a couple of taps. “Divine,” she said, although in their Greek tongue it came out as Diana.
“Pater noster,“ Nicolas began praying.
Diana’s body slumped in disapproval, but without missing a beat she spun on her heel and started walking away, a hand up over a shoulder compelling him to follow. A moonshaped charm hung from the fibulae of her strophion, swinging back and forth like a hypnotising pendulum. Nicolas stopped praying and found himself following her to a small, crystal clear pool of water that was the size of a large, silver serving platter. He couldn’t explain why, but
Claas 12 he thought of his neighbor’s daughter - the one who was coming of age without a dowry. The alternative life she’d live as a result was sickening.
“I have to tell you,“ Diana said, sitting down on the ground next to the water, “I’m a very jealous woman.” She pointed her chin to the pool saying, Look.
Nicolas’ eyes lowered to the water as images began to ripple and dance on its surface. There was an older woman with a headband across her forehead with the symbol of the triple goddess in the center - the waxing, full, and waning moons. Around her were scantily clad women, all very young, each being assigned a warrior type of man. He recognized the group of women as the cult prostitutes who practiced their magic in the King’s Tombs in Xanthos. The women would take their man and exit the vision. Next up was his neighbor’s daughter. Nicolas’ heart stopped.
“See?“ Diana poked. “She’s a whore.” Reaching behind her, she untied her strophion and it fell away. Her breasts almost glowed.
Nicolas chuckled. “And what does this make you?”
“She’s had many. I’ve had none.”
“As you will continue to have none,” he retorted, then continued praying. “Fiat voluntas sicut in caelo et en terra.”
The woman pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes at him. “If you’re looking for Heaven
Claas 13 on Earth,“ she started, “fill my womb.”
“Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie,” was his only response.
“Your stupid incantations are worthless,“ Diana spat. “Your faith will fail you in my house. Your salvation lies in your blood and bones.”
Just as quickly as before there was a blinding flash of blue light to follow that bizarre sensation of skin ripping free of his body. Again, he was standing at his mother’s bedside, looking down lovingly at her corpse. But that wasn’t to last long. His skin sucked away again, another flash of light, and he was becoming aware of the bishop leaning over him with a look of concern in its roundness. Nicolas was on his back. On the floor. Sweating profusely.
“He has the fever,“ he could hear someone say from the side. The Uncle Nicholas was shaking his head in remorse. “Three weeks at best.”
My God. Was none of that real?
“Nonna, “ Nicolas whispered.
The bishop’s face melted into sympathy. “She is resting, my son. So should you.”
There could not have been a more miserable day to bury his mother. Gone was the first voice he ever heard - the pillar of his existence. Nicolas justified following the procession to the mountain-side necropolis on foot, through a heavy rain without an arkiwit, as paying homage to Nonna’s strength in the face of adversity. Through the constant death threats. Through her illness. She never wavered in her ethics. She had never been one to give up.
“Nicolas,“ she’d say, “the end only comes when you give up. So don’t ever give up! Try again.”
But really, he wanted time on his own to figure what happened yesterday. The visions had been surprisingly vivid. He could have sworn he physically watched his mother die, but mankind is tied to the Earth in a peculiar way that prevents traversing distances in that manner. What sealed the deal, though, was Diana. He acknowledged one God in accordance with the Holy Scriptures, although any scholar who understood the subtext agreed that even He acknowledged other living, celestial beings. Engaging with another deity, a pagan one at that, was heresy, nonetheless. He could be excommunicated for that. No, it was visions. This was the additional, personal evil of the devil’s plague.
As they entered the necropolis Nicolas looked sadly at a large mound of dirt covered with poorly constructed crosses, some of them falling apart in the rain. The pauper’s field. So long. So high. So many souls gone. A small child, who could not have been more than five or six, was sobbing as her relatives buried her parents. Each family member, in turn, would shovel three scoops over the bodies until the grave was filled. Someone was approaching her now with arms open as an invitation to embrace and console, and the child lets them. An
Claas 15 aunt, maybe? The Aunt sneezes, catching the little girl in the face, who starts sobbing harder. Apologies ensue.
Next came the graves of those who could afford to donate some money to the church. Neither rich nor poor. He recognized his neighbor, who’s name escaped him at the moment, with his three coming of age daughters mourning the loss of a wife and mother. She too had succumbed to the evil.
I wish this rain would go away. Who deserves this? Just go away.
Was it his imagination or did some of the heaviness in the rain just disappear?
A fissure had broken into the looming clouds by the time the procession had reached the family plot. Some words were spoken - Nicolas wasn’t listening. The body was lowered into the ground - Nicolas wasn’t aware. He just wanted to climb down into the earth next his mother, curl close, and lay his head on her chest. Now that his mother was gone, he didn’t want to be anywhere. Everything went black.
“Marcus is not to be trusted,“ Uncle Max was saying. “It was his boat. His shipment. He has the most to lose from the democratic union.” He used his lips to clear the libation from the beard around his mouth. “He’d sell his mother’s soul to get ahead.”
Claas 16 Antonius, the family’s money manager, huffed and took another sip of wine. Maximus was definitely a conspiracy theorist and easily jumped to conclusions.
“It was no accident, I tell you,“ Maximus continued, as if on cue, pointing to Nicolas, who was seated with these men who now ran the family export business. “Theopanes was murdered. Allalla!”
“Maximus!” Antonius exclaimed. “Watch your words. You have no proof.”
“I will not do such a thing,“ Maximus retorted. “Watch my words. Who do you think I am, anyways?”
Nicolas said his first words of the meeting. “You are a very paranoid man, Uncle Max.“
“How else do you explain how that diseased woman had the opportunity to appear out of nowhere, at your father’s table, and at a family dinner, to spit on him?” Maximus asked defensively. “Allalla.” Betrayal.
That had been a big mystery that no one could resolve. Within four days of that night Theopanes began showing symptoms of the plague. Was Uncle Max really saying that Theopanes had been assassinated? Being a wealthy family meant having to deal with people angry at success. Even with their generous philanthropy, just the simple fact that they had enormous wealth made them targets for protests and death threats. It had become a way of life. The people just didn’t understand how much they had to thank for Nicolas’ family’s contribution to the city and citizens of Pttara.
“As it should be,“ his mother had said on her deathbed.
Antonius decided to take the conversation back. “Nicolas, as I am sure you are well aware, you have a substantial inheritance that I am to deliver to you. And today we take care of that.” It was pretty well known that Nicolas really did not care about his family’s money. Antonius continued. “I have already calculated the appropriate charity gifts for next ten years as you requested, and have set that money aside to dispensed according to the current schedule.”
“Make the donations now,“ Nicolas interrupted. “Dispense it all now.”
“Yes, of course, I will,“ Antonius replied after a short pause. Uncle Max grunted but knew better than to say anything. Theopanes had made it very clear before he died that no one was to question Nicolas on any matter. But that did not stop him from turning ashen white when he heard the next words.
“And close everything,“ Nicolas commanded. “Give yourselves your salaries for twenty years with typical gifts. Do the same for everyone in our employ. Take whatever is left and give it to the church. Our money will have one purpose. One goal.”
“You can’t be serious,“ Antonius stammered. But the look on Nicolas’ face convinced him otherwise.
“I want to thank you both,“ Nicolas continued, “for the faithfulness and dedication you have shown to my family all the way to the end. The arrangement is acceptable?”
Both men nodded the approval. “Thank you, Master Nicolas.”
Nicolas couldn’t help but to chuckle at them.
Uncle Max couldn’t help himself. “What will you do with what is left over?” he asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Where is your head? The bishop will be furious that you are closing things down. You know him. He’s more greedy than Marcus.”
“He may be self-serving sometimes, but he means well.”
This is met with another bellied grunt from Maximus. But he would not say much, if anything at all. He was being treated more than fairly at the hands of his employer’s son. Twenty years? He would be dead by then. But deep down he was happy that his daughters would be provided for.
“Are there any other subjects to discuss?” Nicolas asked the men. Both shook their head no. “Now you must pardon my departure, but today is Wednesday.”
No more need to be said. Two years ago, on a Wednesday, Theopanes had succumbed to the plague. Ever since then, Nicolas had spent every Wednesday praying at the church to honor his father. Antonius and Marcus rose and bowed their heads. Without saying a
Claas 19 word, Nicolas exited the room.
Nicolas’ walk to the church led him through the dregs of Pttara, taking him through rows upon rows of winding, serpentine buildings in various stages of rot and dilapidation. The street was a mephitic stream of refuse and runoff. Up and down the avenue, left and right, cries of pain, sorrow, and anguish could be heard - a man who’s blisters had just burst, spewing a mix of puss and cartilage onto his only son - a young mother who’s toddler wouldn’t wake. The plague was strong in this all but forgotten ghetto.
It all weighed so heavily on Nicolas’ soul. Human misery, Aristotle had written, was cathartic.
What can I do?
So deep were his thoughts that he was caught off guard when he tripped on something in the road and had to throw himself into the closest wall to avoid landing in the muddy street. It was a tiny shoe. Some child had left...
He glanced down the street and realized that most of the these buildings had shoes on the doorstep. It took him a moment but then it came to him: These were children who had lost a parent. A lot them had probably lost both parents.
Claas 20 So much death.
He reached into a pocket, pulled out a handful of gold coins, and dropped one in each shoe. Glancing down to the street, mentally counting the shoes, he filled his other hand with coins as well.
Heh heh heh. These coins were too heavy anyway.
Nicolas dropped a coin in every shoe he saw until he ran out at fifty. Not that it mattered. He’d make his way back down that way in the morning.
“It’s such a tragedy,“ one gossiping woman was saying to another outside the entrance to the church as Nicolas passed them.
“What will she do?” the other asked, clearly concerned for someone’s plight.
“The cult,“ the first woman whispered. “Those cult whores in the tombs.”
The priestesses of Diana cast their circles and practiced their magic in the mountain Tombs of the Kings. The believed their magic came from semen and engaged in ritualistic sex with the men who had no need for magic. Most of these contributors were sailors and soldiers men en route.
The second lady shook her head in shame. “What ahra. She was so pretty, so young. But her mother, may she rest in peace, left nothing for them when she was taken. The angel has no dowry. Ahra.”
Nicolas nodded hello to the ladies as he entered the church.
This was the fourth straight season that yielded no crops. Farmers found their seeds could not grow while the cattle slowly rotted away with the same disease plaguing the humans. Nicolas had exhausted his families food supplies trying to keep the children and sick in the ghetto fed. It was serious now.
Nicolas looked down at the last bowl of wheat on the oak table in front of him. He hadn’t eaten in two days and his stomach growled a bit beneath his white tunic. At the same time, how could he eat knowing there were so many starving people left?
He breathed a long, resigning sigh and placed his hands on the sides of the bowl.
What can I do?
Focus focus focus.
Nicolas was only half surprised when his vision clouded and the strange sensation of something being pulled out of him swept over his body. There was the flash of blue, electric light. His vision recovered quickly this time and...
He was standing beside himself holding a duplicate bowl of wheat. The clone set his wooden bowl on the table then fizzled away without saying anything.
He looked at the duplicate bowl. Poked the wheat. Took a pinch of grain and put it in his mouth.
He quickly grasped the original bowl, closed his eyes, and concentrated. As expected his vision faded, his skin felt ripped off, and he shook his head clear from the blue blast. Another surragote was standing beside him, placing its bowl on the table and fading away into nothingness. Nicolas tested this batch and was rewarded with genuine wheat.
“How is this, Pater?“ he asked under his breath. “Am I to be a conduit of loaves and fishes?”
He glanced around the kitchen, peering around the open door that led to the inner chambers. No one in sight. All asleep, he assumed, since it was well passed midnight.
Claas 23 Surreptitiously, he closed the door and returned to the table.
He gripped the bowl and
Focus focus focus.
Everything started happening again, only this time he didnâ€™t stop to watch the clone. He just kept focusing. Everything turned into a whirl of fading vision, his soul ripping away, blinding light, and back to fading vision. Over and over. Again. Again. Again.
Focus focus focus.
After what seemed like eternity, he finally stopped concentrating and stumbled away from the table, weak, out of breath, and dizzy. What he saw made him chuckle.
Heh heh heh.
The cycle was continuing in front of him in rapid successions. A version of him would pulling out of the first, setting its bowl of wheat on the table, and fading away.
How is this? How can this happen without the original me?
The bishopâ€™s words hit Nicolas hard.
The Logos is one with the Father according to the similarity of substance.
He sat on the floor cross-legged and watched the miracle in front of him for the rest of the night.
Nicolas startled awake to find himself curled up on the kitchen floor. All around him, filling every possible space, were identical bowls of wheat. The family cook had arrived to start the morning duties and had to push against the door with all her might to open it.
“Where did all this come from?” demanded the cook.
Nicolas carefully rose to his feet and looked around him. “Look what I found,“ he answered.
“Thaumaturgos!” she exclaimed. Wonderworker.
“Not me,“ he countered. “This...this is God.”
The cook’s eyes were wide. She was speechless. Finally she stammered out, “How am I to work?”
Claas 25 “Nothing of it,“ he said, smiling. “I’ll get someone to help clear this out for you.”
“Yes you will!”
Nicolas gingerly hopped around the stacks of bowls and quickly shuffled out the door, leaving the cook to stare in amazement at the miracle.
Once errand boys had been summoned and provided instructions to deliver the wheat to the ghetto, he wearily fell onto his bed completely exhausted. But finding a comfortable position was hard to come by.
He reached into the hair under his arm and felt a large, tender lump. He pushed on it a little and winced in pain. Cyprian had written that this was the first sign of the plague. He sighed deeply and then felt under the other arm. Same thing.
That’s it. It’s for real now.
He held his hand over the swollen patch of skin for a moment and closed his eyes.
This is what it feels like to have the plague...
His thoughts began drifting off to his parents - to the stages of their sickness. How innocent the symptoms started before taking a drastic turn towards the macabre. He put pressure on the lump, sucking in the pain, until it burst with puss and bone tissue.
Claas 26 He switched sides, feeling under the other arm, and there, yes, the lump was still there. Inadvertently smearing bodily fluids, his hand cupped the protrusion and again thoughts drifted to his parents. The lump slowly shrank away in a life reversed.
What is this?
How is it that I can do this thing?
Then the thoughts took a dastardly turn.
Could I have saved my mother and father?
All this time. I could have prevented their suffering.
I COULD HAVE SAVED THEM!!!
Nicolas curled himself into a fetal position and sobbed harder than he ever had in his life. Scenes from his childhood flashed forward and backward in front of him like ghosts given breath by vivid memory dancing around the bed - the final sequence being the march to his mother’s final resting place. He remembered the small girl who’d been burying a family member. How she’d been sneezed on. Hadn’t Cyprian written something about that? Sneezing was one of the main catalysts for the plague’s prolific recurrences.
I should find her. Maybe I can help her. If she’s sick, can I save her? Can I help at all?
Claas 27 This time he was barely aware of the vision changes, pulling skin sensation, and flashing lights. He didn’t notice the clones appearing and disappearing through him - each one carrying a piece of the plague larger than the last. Cycling faster and faster. His body slowing being overcome by open, bleeding lesions from head to toe.
By nightfall Nicolas looked as if he was a breath away from death. His body ached. Throbbed. His lungs scream every time he inhaled. His body and bed cloths were smeared in puss and blood from the open wounds, giving him a deeply, freshly sunburned appearance.
Focus focus focus.
The little girl at the necropolis.
The process was now lacked tactility and he found himself standing in front of the little girl from the necropolis who was tugging on a dead aunt’s arm. The child promptly screamed at the red monster.
Nicolas took a couple steps forward with an extended hand. “No, no,“ he pleaded. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
As the little one stifled her tears Nicolas couldn’t help but notice that he skin, just like his mother’s, was covered in scales and scabs. She was doomed, he was sure of it.
He motioned for her to come closer. “Come here, little one. There’s no need to cry. I think I can help you.”
She shook her head no enthusiastically.
He pulled a few shiny coins out of his pocket and walked towards her. Setting the coins on the bed he said, “Listen, little one. You will have a good life. Yes, you will.”
He cautiously anointed her forehead. Starting at the point where Nicolas’ blistered skin touched her, the child’s wounds began to close up. Her scales started dissipating. In a matter of minutes she was completely free of the plague. The girl looked down at her skin as Nicolas stepped away.
“Who are you?“ she asked.
“My mother called me Claas.”
“Claas,“ she said in wonderment. “Claas ho Thaumaturgos.”
“Stay away from that body,“ Nicolas warned. “Find shelter at the church and take the money with you. God will keep you safe there.”
With that he felt himself being sucked back to his room where he was curled into a ball. A smile crept across his peeling face.
Heh heh heh.
But next time, the child had to be asleep. He must look like a red devil to those little, innocent eyes. No, he mustnâ€™t scare them. And he had to go somewhere else. Here, he would draw attention to his condition. Where could he go? This required extreme privacy. Where will people not look for him?
Pinara. The mountainside necropolis in Xanthos. Perfect. The dead wonâ€™t care.
Nicolas told the driver to stop right outside the Roman amphitheatre which they arrived at shortly after midnight. The moon was blacked out this night, so stepping out of the araba into complete darkness, his eyes scanned in the direction of the tombs. He was startled to see lights and movement in front of the large one - lanterns highlighting the temple architecture of the royal mausoleum and the faint, haunting sirensâ€™ song riding the night wind. With a lantern in hand and a large bag of coins in the other, Nicolas sent the carriage and driver back home, made his way across the amphitheatre stage, then followed the bottom of the mountain to the furthermost tomb.
Having scaled the rocky mountain and broken the seal to the entrance, Nicolas found himself in a cold, silent room - surrounded by generations of aristocrats passed. The air was
Claas 30 filled with a rosy perfume, something like myrrh. Finding a stone bench in the blackest of black corners, Nicolas shed his robe and couldn’t help but look in wonder at his blistered body. It was then that he realized that the odor came from him. From the lesions themselves. Stripped completely naked, save the fist full of gold coins in his hand, his eyes closed and
Focus focus focus.
One bloody surrogate appeared in front of a small boy’s bed, silently dropping the coin in a ragged and torn shoe, then fizzled away.
Another found himself standing on a wooden dinner table and a quick sweep of the room resulted in finding a set of leather shoes in a row by the dilapidated front door. A coin was dropped into each shoe before the figure seemed to dissolve into a mist and disseminate into the air.
A third proxy was finishing his mission, but didn’t notice that a pair of young eyes were peeking from behind the curtain to her room. Eyes that were wide as saucers as the small, red man faded away into nothing.
The cycle repeated over and over. House after house. Child after child. Emissary after shadowy emissary materializing and dissolving, leaving, what he thought was, no trace of his ghostly presence, save the lingering perfume of myrrh.
Only one location was different. “Nicolas” found himself in a dimly lit cavern - a natural open space inside the mountain behind the cult tomb. He was standing in recess, the cool,
Claas 31 moist wall soothing his skin. Peering around the corner he saw two females, their tunics leaving a breast exposed, solemnly enter an alcove and disappear. Soon afterwards they exited empty handed and melted into the shadows that led deeper into the cavern. When he was sure they were not returning he sprinted silently to the alcove and ducked inside.
Facing away from him, rocking slightly from side to side and hypnotized by the triple goddess symbol on the wall in front of her, was the girl he was looking for. The room smelled of aged wine and the only light came from a solitary candle hanging high on the wall. Nicolas saw her body stiffen, a long breath taken then slowly released. The woman reached behind and pulled the fibulae from the strophion around her breasts and let it fall away, exposing a slender, smooth back.
“My magic is strong,“ she said dreamily. “I am a good host.”
Nicolas shook his head. “Put you clothes back on.”
She lifted her breasts in her hands and turned her body to him. She screamed bloody murder at the sight of him.
“No no no,“ he stammered. “Shh!!”
She calmed down and Nicolas noticed a glassy look in her eyes. She was drugged.
“Here.” He opened his hand to reveal the coins. “To help you live when you escape from this place.”
“Why do you bring the plague in here?” she exclaimed.
Nicolas looked down at his body and realized he had forgotten the state of his appearance. But he wouldn’t have to think about that very long. Men’s voices were filling the passageway. “You have nothing to fear from me.”
A look of recognition came across her face. “I know you.”
Nicolas rushed forward and set the coins in her hands. “Get out of here. As quickly as you can. Tonight.”
“What about you?”
“God is with me.”
Focus focus focus.
The voices were right outside the door now.
FOCUS FOCUS FOCUS.
“Problem?” asked the girl.
FOCUS FOCUS FOCUS FOCUS FOCUS FOCUS .
The door swung open and three large men barged in, swinging canes - each one landing across Nicolas’ head.
Vibration. A deep rumbling in the ground. Eyes that felt weighted with mill stones.
I can’t move.
Nicolas’ body strained against whatever was tying him to
Where am I?
A chorus of a hundred voices intoned EEEEEEEE.
The rumbling was stronger.
Claas 34 AAAAAAAAHHHHH.
Fearing an earthquake, Nicolas forced his eyes open and his heart skipped before jumping into his throat. He was bound to a stone altar in the middle of the amphitheatre stage; the main focus of the hundred cultists filling the semi-circle seating. Each one had their arms and heads upraised to the sky, calling down the deities. Nicolas swung his head upstage and saw twenty or so men in long, red cloaks sitting cross-legged around him. From the darkness behind them appeared thirteen men and women in long, white robes with headdresses emblazoned with the symbols of their names. In the center was Diana. What was in her right hand was unmistakable. A long, wavy dagger. The audience sat and silence filled the air.
Diana began addressing the crowd. “In the beginning there were thirteen. Each presiding over their own even while favoring this special place. Together, we were Elohim. There came a time when a group of us were exiled to Terra, known to mankind as a race of wise giants - the Nephilim. We saw your men and women and found lust for them. So we took them unto ourselves.”
The group of red cloaked figures rose and dispersed through the audience, each one freeing it’s human of its clothes and copulating with them.
“We were special,” the goddess continued, “but our brothers turned away from us. Then
Claas 35 demanded blood as a sacrifice. To give up that which we loved.”
Diana stepped forward and looked lovingly down at Nicolas. “Where is your God now?”
The air became filled with the ecstatic moans of humans and demi-gods in their climaxes as the dagger was raised above the deity’s head with both hands. The razor sharp blade pierced through Nicolas’ sternum, severing the spine with a force so strong that the dagger buried into and cracked the altar.
A chorus of screams melted with a giant rush of air, carrying with them the life no longer allowed Nicolas. Blackness. Deeper than blackness. And then nothing.
Where are you? I can’t see you.
“Wake up, Master Nicolas! I can see you breathing. Wake up!” exclaimed his neighbor’s daughter.
Nicolas opened his eyes to her concerned face. “What happened to you?” she asked. “Do you have the plague?”
“I think the better question is: How am I alive?” he responded.
“There’s no time to think about this. We have to go,” she urged. “They’ll be coming this way soon.”
Nicolas rolled off the altar and told her to follow him as he headed back to the tomb he had started from.
“How many days has it been?” he asked.
“And they just left me there?” “Yes. We were ordered to leave you alone.”
They entered the tomb as the sun began to rise on the new day. Somehow everything seemed brighter - crisper - to Nicolas. As they approached the back wall, there in a beam of light, was clone after clone pulling away from each other like ghosts on strings for a blink then disappearing.
“What is this?” the wondered girl asked.
Nicolas pondered for a moment, gazing at the miracle in front of him.