Tag Archive: Amenta

Jun 25

In the Company of Angels: Episode 15.2 – The Abbot (cont.)



In the Company of Angels, Episode 15.2 – The Abbot (cont.)


“Welcome to Rome, my dear,” said the Abbot. “I am Father Hildebrandt. And Sam here has been telling me all about you. You appear to have made quite an impression on him and all of the other members of the Order!”

Jill looked at Sam, who had turned bright red. “I just told him the truth,” Sam said.

Father Hildebrandt ushered Jill into the room and seated her before his desk. Sam quietly slipped her a piece of chocolate, and then stood up to leave.

“We were just waiting for you, but I know Father wants to speak to you alone. I’m  going to chat with Brother Carroll, one of the monks here. I’ll be just outside,” he said, and winked. Jill once again felt that curious burst of joy from Sam that she had first felt when they had been in Oxford together.

Sam pulled the office door shut behind him, and Jill heard him chatting with someone outside.

Turning back to look at the office, Jill noticed that, in one corner, a stand had been set up and Muninn was perched there, happily grooming himself. He was not caged.

“Aren’t you afraid he’ll fly away?” asked Jill.

“Oh no,” said the Abbot. “You see, we have come to an understanding.”. He walked over to the perch and put out his arm. Muninn hopped onto his sleeve, and the Abbot stroked the bird’s throat gently. The bird’s eyes shut, and it was clear that the creature enjoyed the attention.

“Father Abbot….?”

“You can call me ‘Father Hildebrandt’, dear, or just ‘Father’. Everyone else does.”

“Well, Father, I was just wondering; since the raven…er…Muninn, seems to have caused so much trouble, how do we know he isn’t working with the, uh, the Amenta? I mean, how do we know he isn’t evil himself?”

“That’s a very good question. The simple answer is that animals, even fairly intelligent ones such as ravens, are not responsible for the acts that others might urge them to commit. We have no way of knowing if Muninn’s stealing of the Guarding Stones was instigated by the Amenta, or whether it was all simply the creature’s natural curiosity and interest in pretty things that wrought the havoc. I’m inclined to think it was the first, and that Muninn was urged to steal the stones. But he’s not truly responsible in either case.

“We can’t know for certain, of course, but it is also safe to say that he poses no further threat, provided we keep him away from other paintings!” The Abbot smiled.

After a minute or so, Father Hildebrandt eased Muninn back onto his perch, and then he returned to his desk.

“Now, my dear, I want to give you a chance to tell me what happened on Orbaratus, in your own words. And I’d also like to answer any questions you might have about what happened, and why. I do not have all of the answers, but such as I do have, I am more than willing to share with you. You have earned that much, and more.”

So, Jill related the whole story of her adventures, just as she had to the Professor in Oxford, but she continued on with the full story of Sam’s and her return to Orbaratus, the battle at the gateway, and their eventual journey back to the Gallery.

Father Hildebrandt listened intently, only interrupting her when he was unclear about an event. Jill thought what a marvelous listener he was, and she wondered at one point whether he, too, might be an Empath. To her surprise, he answered her aloud.

“No, I am not an Empath. I don’t have that gift.”

“But how did you know what I was thinking if you aren’t?” asked Jill, surprised.

“Because you, being an Empath, ‘think’ rather loudly, my dear!” said the abbot, chuckling. “I am merely observant, but unlike you and Polydora, I cannot project my thoughts into others’ heads, nor read theirs.

“Yours is a great gift, and one that will bring with it many temptations as you come to understand it better. Remember to always use this talent wisely, and kindly. You may find, in time, that many things you come to ‘hear’ from others, you may wish had remained secret.”

“I don’t understand, Sir.”

“Perhaps not yet, but hopefully we can teach you how to block out others’ thoughts unless you have an urgent need to hear them; that way you respect their privacy and preserve your own integrity.

“But, now that I’ve heard your tale, what do you still wish to know about last week’s events?”

“Well, Father,” said Jill, “I think we were all a bit perplexed by Brother Azarias’ concern about the portal going missing. I never heard anything from Sam about it during the week. What was that all about?”

Father Hildebrandt smiled and related the news that the Gallery had, in fact, been burned down, and that Brother Azarias had had to travel back in time to prevent it.

“The five men that were arrested weren’t, of course, the ones who instigated the arson…well, the attempted arson. That was someone else, of whom we know a few things. But the important point is that the plan was foiled. If it had not been, the painting you used to reach Orbaratus would have been destroyed in the fire and the portal would have gone missing. Does that make sense?”

“I guess so,” said Jill. “It’s hard to keep such things straight, though. I haven’t read much science fiction; I’m guessing this is the sort of thing that’s explored in the books Sam likes so much….”

“Time travel can be confusing to anyone,” said the abbot, smiling. “Happily, Brother Azarias’ plan worked, the gallery was saved, and you were all able to return safely. The Amenta are not to be trifled with, and this was far too close a call for all of us!

“But, speaking of the Amenta, there is something I need to ask you.”

“Yes, Sir?”

“Do you think what you have been through was of value to you? That is, were your experiences the sort of thing you would ever wish to do again…or have you had enough of framerunning?”

“Are you asking me if I want to continue helping Mr. Luke and Sam?” asked Jill. “You mean, like, that’s an option?!”

“Yes, of course it is. But I want you to think about it very carefully. You were put in very grave danger, and in a way that we could not have anticipated. You survived, and you even uniquely helped to prevent a great catastrophe from occurring. But you and Sam are still both quite young.

“I’m asking you whether you wish to continue working with Sam and Mr. Luke, given what you’ve seen about the reality of the danger and the evil that exists out in the world: ours  as well as others. There is no disgrace or shame if you should decide you’d rather not continue helping us; framerunning is not for everyone!”

Jill sat and thought for a moment. “Father, I know what you’re saying. But it seems to me that, if I hadn’t seen the tougher side of framerunning already, I’d be more likely to make a bad decision. Last week was very scary, but I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat just to know that I was able to help my friends.”

The abbot considered her for a long time in silence, but Jill could sense nothing whatsoever about what he might be thinking.

“In that case, all I can say, my dear,” said the Abbot, “is that Brother Azarias and Polydora, both of whom I trust more than anyone when it comes to understanding a person’s nature, are both quite right about you. You are, indeed, an extraordinary individual. And if helping your friends is what you wish to continue doing, then I would be a fool to deny you the chance.

“There is, however, one matter we must attend to, if you are determined to continue helping us in our work.”

“What is that, Sir?”

“We need to make sure that you are protected from the Amenta going forward. Sam, Luke, Polydora, and all of us are protected, and must be, in order to carry out our work. You know that the Amenta are attracted to the crystals, yes?”

“Yes, Sir,” said Jill.

“Well then, over the centuries, we have found ways of masking our whereabouts, and even masking the presence of any sapphires that we keep in our possession. If you are willing, I would like to bestow on you this protection. That way, if you ever are left alone with a crystal in the future, you will not be troubled by the ‘Howlers’, as Sam calls them.”

Jill was more than happy to be rid of the Howlers going forward. So, Father Hildebrandt had her stand up. He retrieved a small silver jar and a book from his desk, and, reading in a soft voice, spoke over her words that seemed to be in Latin, and that Jill could only describe as a sort of a blessing. When the Abbot had finished reciting the words from the book, he marked her forehead and the palms of her hands with a fragrant oil taken from the silver jar.

“There. You should be largely untroubled by the dark ones of the spirit world henceforth,” he said, smiling. “And welcome, my dear. Welcome into the Fratrum Simulacrorum. You can, if you wish, think of yourself as a Novice, which is what we call the aspiring folk who are seeking to come into the Benedictine order. And I pray that you are helped and strengthened as much as you help and strengthen us in the months and years to come.”

“Thank you, Father,” said Jill.

The Abbot returned the book and the silver jar to his desk. Then he walked over to his office door and opened it. “Sam, if Brother Carroll has done with you, I believe Miss Jonsson is ready to return home now.”

“Oh, great!” said Sam. He came into the office beaming. He turned to Father Hildebrandt. “So, she’s safe now?” he asked.

“Indeed, and you can quiz her on everything we discussed all the way back home again,” said the Abbot, smiling.

The trip back to the Gallery was a bit easier for Jill this time, to which she credited the delicious hazelnut-laced chocolates with which the Abbot had supplied them. And, true to his word, when she and Sam arrived back at the Gallery, Mr. Luke had a surprise awaiting her. He held in his hands a small silver box that was tied with a silver ribbon. He was about to give it to her, but then he thought better of it and handed it to Polydora.

Polydora knelt down in front of Jill with the small box cupped in her elegant, six-fingered hands. “Go on, open it,” Jill heard Polly’s voice in her head tell her.

Jill took the box and unwrapped it. Within it was a silver ring, not unlike the one that she had used to framerun before, but this one was smaller and more delicate. The emblem of The Framerunners was embossed on either side of the oval sapphire, and inside the band, her initials were engraved.

“This is to be your own personal sapphire going forward,” said Mr. Luke, “just as Samuel has his own and I have my own.”

“I actually have three!” said Sam, grinning. “And I never go anywhere without ‘em!”

“Hmm, well, that’s true. But then, Samuel is a Navigator, so he probably has more need of crystals than anyone. Polly, on the other hand, doesn’t have one of her own because she never leaves the Gallery, but that may be about to change….”

“What do you mean?!” asked Jill, “Is Polly going somewhere?! Isn’t she going to continue here as the Keeper of the Gallery?!”

“Yes, certainly, she is, have no fear on that score! But after our adventure last week, she has said she would like to accompany us on some of our future trips, should the situation allow her to do so. So, Jill, given that fact, and given that she may need her own sapphire going forward, could we have you do the honors for Polly…?” Mr. Luke produced another silver box and handed it to Jill.

Jill turned to Polly, who was still kneeling next to her, and placed the box in her hands. Then she threw her arms around the Ferrumari and hugged her tightly. Polly unwrapped the box and withdrew a ring very similar to Jill’s, but much larger. The engraving on the inside of the band was rendered in characters that Jill didn’t recognize.

“Are those your initials in the Ferrrumari alphabet?” she thought to her friend.

“Something like that,” Polly answered.

“But why would you ever want to leave the Gallery now? Especially after all you went through on Orbaratus? I mean, this is your home, Polly, after all….”

“Yes, it is. But I won’t be leaving the gallery except as needed. And besides, someone has to look after you when you’re out on your adventures, Little One.” The words Jill heard in her head were followed by the sweet familiar chiming of Polydora’s laughter.



          [ To read Episode 16, the conclusion to In the Company of Angels, click here…. ]




Jun 04

In the Company of Angels: Episode 14.1 – Smoke and Mirrors



In the Company of Angels, Episode 14.1 – Smoke and Mirrors

The two swarthy men had just reached the top of the fire escape when they heard a loud clanging from the platform below them. It sounded like someone had struck the metal of the fire escape steps with a pipe. They put their gas cans down and flattened against the wall, hoping that if anyone was in the alley below them, they wouldn’t be noticed. After a few moments, they carefully leaned out to look, but there was no one to be seen. The van that had brought them was at the end of the alley, but there was no sign of anyone else. They breathed a sigh of relief and turned back around to see if they could break into one of the windows on the landing.

There were two windows, both of them set with mirrored glass. Neither was very large, but the two men were sure if they could get one of them open, they would be able to slip in and out easily. The smaller man pulled a toolkit out of his coverall pockets, unrolled it on the landing, and began to study the casing.

“Don’t break it unless you have to, Pavel” said the larger man. “We don’t want to attract too much attention until the fire is set.”

Pavel nodded. He was just about to try a chisel on the window frame, when they once more heard the clanging below them.

“What the heck?!” the larger man said. This time he wasn’t cautious. He looked over the railing at the 2nd floor landing below them. He thought he had seen something moving, but couldn’t be sure. “Stay here and get that window open,” he said. “I’m going to go find out who’s down there.” He pulled a Glock from its holster beneath his shirt and threaded a silencer onto its barrel.

“Ahmed, remember, if you have to shoot, try not to break any glass. That sound carries….”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. Just get the window open,” said Ahmed. He stealthily stepped down the steps until he was standing on the 2nd floor landing. He looked carefully at the window. There was no sign that it had been opened, and no obvious way for him to pry it open. He put his hand above his eyes to block out the light and put his face up next to the glass, straining to see if he could see anything in the darkness beyond.

“Nothing,” he hissed. He dropped his gun to his side and turned around to survey the other buildings around them.

Pavel had just gotten his chisel set well into the window frame when he heard a short yell and the sounds of struggle below him. Then came the clanging of metal upon metal. He jumped up and leaned over the railing. Ahmed was nowhere to be seen, but Pavel recognized his gun lying on the landing floor. He put his chisel back into the tool kit, swore, and ran down the fire escape. When he reached the 2nd floor landing, the gun had disappeared as well.

Pavel started sweating. He looked wildly around and beneath the landing. Everything was exactly as it had appeared when they had first climbed the fire escape. He looked down the alleyway. The van was still there, thank heavens!

He shook his head. There was nothing to do but keep working on the window and hope that Ahmed would show back up again. He climbed the stairs to the 3rd floor once more and stopped abruptly. His tools were gone! Not only that, but the two gas cans were gone too!

     o o o

The two men in The Gallery’s stairwell had reached the mirrored door leading onto the main floor. One of the men was heavy set with blonde hair. The other was almost as large, but with a great black bushy beard.

“I still think we’d do better spreading this stuff on the first floor. Fires move up, not down,” said the blonde.

“We have to get the jewels first, moron, then we torches the place,” said Blackbeard.

“Whatcha think those jewels are worth, eh Blacky?”

Blacky shook his head and grunted. “Don’t go making plans we’ll regret, comrade. We don’t want to cross Aym. You do that and….” he ran his finger across his throat. “Jewels first; then fire.”

They returned to the door. Blacky reached into his coat pocket and retrieved his lock-picking tools. The blonde stood aside with his arms crossed, watching him.

Suddenly the two men heard the door downstairs open. Someone was below them, whistling a merry tune. The blonde leaned over the railing and saw a tall, bearded man with grey hair shutting the street door behind him.

“Hello?” said the blonde.

“Oh, hello up there! Can I help you? No one else is here at present, I’m afraid.”

“We’re…uh…here to make some repairs. Someone called and said they had a lock that needed fixing. Can you let us in?”

“Oh, my, now, I couldn’t do that, could I? That wouldn’t be sporting! No, I’m sorry, whoever it is that called you, they must have been mistaken. I’ll have to ask you to leave now.”

“Well, we’ll need to be paid before we leave,” said the blonde. He nudged Blacky, who grunted and grinned.

“No, no payment. And, this will be your final warning. Leave now, or I can’t answer for the consequences.”

“Oh yeah? Well, we ain’t leavin’ grandpa, and neither are you!” said the blonde. He pulled a gun out and aimed it at Azarias.

Suddenly the blonde heard a voice in his head say “Blacky is going to double-cross you.” The blonde shook his head, wondering where that idea had come from. “Show me your hands!” he said. Azarias held his hands up.

“As soon as you go downstairs, Blacky’s going to shoot you both,” said the voice in the blonde’s head. He looked nervously behind him at Blacky, but his partner was continuing to try to pick the lock on the door. As soon as he turned back to look down at the first floor landing, Azarias had disappeared.

“Hey!” the blonde cried. “You come back here!” He raced down the stairs, expecting to see Azarias crouching in the corner, but there was no one downstairs at all. And he knew he had not heard either of the downstairs doors open.

He stood there perplexed and looked up. Blacky was standing with his gun pointed at him.

“Go on, say it,” said Blacky.

“Say what?!” asked the blonde.

“Say ‘come on down here, Blacky, and help me with this guy’. I know what you’re up to, comrade. You and the geezer are gonna try to steal the gems. Well, it ain’t happenin’, pal. Put down your gun, then put your hands up and come back up here. I’ll deal with the geezer later….”

The blonde had no choice. He put his gun down and started walking back up the stairs. That was when both men heard the sirens in the distance.

   o o o

Jack was alone in the van, keeping an eye on the alley and on the road at the end of it. He had backed the van into the alley so that they could all leave quickly once the blaze was set. There was additional equipment in the van; more gas cans, some climbing gear, and even masks. They’d decided against the masks.

Jack glanced in the rearview mirror. He had seen Ahmed and Pavel climbing up the fire escape stairs a few minutes back and suspected that, by now, they would likely be inside the warehouse. He glanced at his watch. They’d only been here for ten minutes. The goal was to be gone in twenty. “This should be a piece of cake,” he thought to himself, and lit a cigarette. He rolled down the window to flick out the ashes and noticed the loading dock door was being raised. The door was situated just in front of his parking spot, on the right. It led into the warehouse.

At first, Jack thought that some of the boys had already gotten in and that they were going to get back out to the van by way of the loading dock. “That’s pretty slick,” he thought. “Should get us out of here that much faster.” But then he spotted Azarias.

“Who the heck is this?!!” he grumbled. Jack got out of the van.

Azarias waved at him. “Your friends are all inside. They’re asking for you.”

Jack pretended to look confused. “What friends, pal? I’m just parked out here having a smoke.”

“Ah, well then, you must not be the getaway driver. Just as well. Then you’re not in any hurry to leave, are you?”

“Uh, no. Should I be?”

“Not particularly. But my friend there is going to need to stack a few things up outside the loading dock door, and he’s liable to block your exit route for a bit.” Azarias gestured behind him toward the open door. “Don’t worry, he’ll get them out of your way soon. But if you were hoping to leave immediately, I suspect you’ve already lost your chance.”

While Azarias had been talking, Jack noticed several pallets, loaded with heavy metal barrels, being pushed — he couldn’t see by whom — out into the alleyway. They had soon closed off the street so that there was no hope of his leaving in that direction. He looked back behind the van. There was no exit in that direction, either, because the fire escape and a dumpster narrowed the alleyway too much to get the van through.

“Look, mister,” he said angrily, turning back around to face Azarias. But Azarias was not there. Instead, he found that he was looking at an enormous blue-skinned creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man. The creature had blazing red eyes, and these were gazing none too kindly at Jack. Azarias was nowhere to be seen.

“Uh…uh….” Jack gurgled. He grabbed the van door and hurled himself inside, rolling up the window behind him. Then he locked the doors and stared in horror at the creature, who was still glaring at him angrily. He then desperately started searching through the bags behind his seat to try to find a gun…a knife…anything that he might be able to use as a weapon.

The minotaur (for that is precisely what the creature was) reached down to the bumper of the van and lifted the front of it into the air. He then slammed his great sledge-hammer fist against the inner side of the van’s right front wheel. It popped off like it was a child’s toy, bounced off of the brick wall of the warehouse, and rolled down the alleyway toward the fire escape. Pavel, who had just fled in a panic down the fire escape, was running toward the van. He was hit and flattened by the wayward wheel.

In the meantime, the minotaur continued to rock the van back and forth, preventing Jack from keeping his balance and slamming him against the sides, floor, and even the roof of the vehicle. Then the beast dropped the front of the van, strode around to the back of it, and ripped both of the rear doors off. Jack was bruised and in a panic, but was still trying to find a weapon to use on the monster.

“Too late again, I’m afraid,” came a voice from the alleyway. Jack looked up. The minotaur was gone. In its place stood Azarias, holding the gun he had taken away from Ahmed. Jack put up his hands and painfully crawled out of the van, wincing, just as he heard the sirens. Police cars had completely surrounded the warehouse.



     [ To read Episode 14.2, click here…. ]



Apr 30

In the Company of Angels: Episode 11.2 – The Broken Gate (cont.)



In the Company of Angels, Episode 11.2 – The Broken Gate (cont.)

“I guess I don’t understand. Whatever would drive the Amenta to destroy a world…any world?!” Luke asked Azarias. They were passing through the flat in London , and Luke was once again downing a mouthful of chocolate. Azarias glanced at the letters on the table, noting that none had been taken other than Luke’s.

Azarias was, Luke noted with some envy, apparently untroubled by the act of framerunning. But it then occurred to Luke that he had never been entirely sure into which of the three primary categories of the Order the older man fell. He knew that he had some Empathic capabilities, and was also capable of Rendering images; perhaps he had Navigator skills as well. “Some people have all the luck,” he thought to himself as he downed another mouthful of chocolate. “I just know I’m going to weigh 300 pounds by the time I’m his age,” he thought ruefully.

From Father Hildebrandt’s “squirrel’s nest” of a storage room, Azarias had retrieved a staff that appeared to be wrought entirely of matte silver. Atop the rather plain shaft was a large blue crystal. Azarias had said that they’d need it, but he had not elaborated further, fearing to waste too much time on their return to Orbaratus.

“I’m sorry, what was your question?” asked Azarias.

“My question is: what is the point? That is, of the Amenta getting an entire planet to destroy itself?”

“Ah! That might better be asked of Father Hildebrandt than myself; it is more in his line, you might say.”

“Why is that?”

“Well, because it has to do with the nature of evil: of what it seeks and of how it grows.”

“That’s pretty heady stuff…”

“Yes indeed! But, since we need to find your portal — where is it, by the way? — let me answer you succinctly. What are the Amenta after, you ask? Souls. That’s all. It’s really that simple.”


“Souls. I’ll explain more when we have a better opportunity, but where is this portal? I am unable to discern it, even though I am holding one of the sapphires.”

Luke looked around the room; he still had his ring on, and was only confused for a moment. The grey light from Orbaratus was almost identical to that coming through one of the living room windows, and the portal was in front of one of these, making it difficult to pick out from the background.

“There it is,” he said, pointing.

“Ah! Well then, shall we?”

Luke looked through the portal before he stepped through, and he was glad that he did so. “There’s something wrong,” he said. “The horizon is wrong.”

They looked through the glowing frame and saw the plaza on Orbaratus; but it was as if a giant had tilted it upon its side.

“Either the world through the portal is undergoing some tremendous upheaval,” said Azarias, “or your base image sketch has broken away from its moorings and fallen upon its side.”

“I’m guessing the latter,” said Luke, “although I drew it upon a huge block of stone and it would have taken quite a blow to fell it. We suffered an earthquake just before I made the sketch; I wonder if there has been another since I left?”

“We shall soon see,” said Azarias. And with that he stepped through the portal, found gravity to be pulling him sideways, and thus half-rolled and half-crawled out onto the plaza. Luke followed right behind him.

What they saw when they regained their bearings shocked them both. The plaza was swarming with black shadows, and a roaring and howling filled their ears. As they stood, they perceived the gateway at the other end of the plaza, and it appeared to be the nexus of all of the turmoil and confusion. Yet, within that heart of  darkness, they could yet perceive a single bright figure, standing alone: it was Polydora.

“Come,” said Azarias, “there is not a moment to lose.”

    o o o

The raven had been put into a wicker basket with plenty of openings that would allow the bird to breathe, and even to intermittently eye its captors reproachfully. It croaked and clicked at them, and at least once, Jill could swear, it said something that sounded like Latin, although she couldn’t identify the words used.

Sam had initially entangle himself in the selfsame blanket that Jill and the Professor had prepared for the bird when he dived through the portal. There were several moments of sheer panic and confusion when both he and the raven had come careening through the canvas at nearly the same time.

Somehow, they had managed to isolate the bird from the boy, and the former was held tightly until a suitable repository for it could be found. The Professor had discovered an old basket that a friend had brought him back from Ethiopia a few years before. It was a pretty thing, and something he rather hated to part with, but he had no qualms in offering it up for the bird’s safekeeping.

The three of them, with raven in tow, had returned to the attic once the bird was safely tucked into his temporary home. The painting of Orbaratus has been turned around and uncovered. Jill knew that time was pressing, and that they’d likely broken every Framerunner rule in taking the Professor into their confidence, but she somehow sensed that it would be alright in the end.

“Professor, I wanted to ask you, where did you get this painting? I mean, the one we used to come here?”

“It was given to me by a friend at Oxford. Painted by a dystopian writer: one named Acasi Simaov, if memory serves. I don’t believe his works ever caught on, but my friend liked the painting and he bought it at an estate sale. He thought I’d like it since I had been working on books on space travel to other worlds. It’s a strange painting, and I never got around to framing it or hanging it, which is why it is still here in the attic.”

“Well, Sir, if you ever decide you don’t want it, I know of a group of people who would be interested in keeping it safe for you,” said Sam. “I don’t know who is in charge there these days, but let me write them a note and jot down an address for you.”

The Professor brought him an envelope, some paper and a pencil, and Sam wrote a quick explanation to the Abbot Primate of the Benedictine order, outlining in general terms that the painting was of Orbaratus and might need safekeeping. Then he added the address of the Monastery de Sant’Anselmo to the outside of the envelope.

“There, Sir,” he said to the Professor. “If you ever decide to part with it, just pop your own note in with mine and send the painting with the envelope to that address. It’s entirely up to you, of course, and without access to a crystal, it’s unlikely that the painting could cause any further mischief. But, ya never know….”

Then there came the awkward moment of having to say their goodbyes.

“I wish we had more time for me to ask more questions,” said the Professor, “but I also know that to do so might cause even more harm than may already have been done. I shall have to either hope to see you again some day, or to spend some time speculating, for my own benefit, what framerunning might be like. In any event, it has certainly been a very interesting and thought-provoking afternoon!”

With that, Jill and Sam bid the Professor the best of luck with all of his works, clenched tightly hold of their crystals, and disappeared into the painting of Orbaratus. The Professor rubbed his eyes once he was sure that they were gone, and gone for good. He then left the painting as it sat for the remainder of the day and all of the next. Thereafter, he boxed it up and shipped it to Rome, where it came, in due time, to be in the hands of Father Hildebrandt.

        o o o

When Jill and Sam arrived back upon the Plaza of the Masters with the raven and basket in tow, they were astonished at the change. The howling and roaring that had greeted Luke and Azarias was, if anything, louder still, and thunder, wind, and lightning had blown up from the south. They, too, could see that all of the movement and noise centered near the gateway at the other end of the plaza, and they knew that’s where they would be needed. They could not make out precisely what was happening, but they saw two figures heading toward the maelstrom before them.

“I think that’s Mr. Luke!” yelled Sam as he picked up the basket, “and I’m betting that’s Azarias with him!”

They narrowed their eyes against the gusting wind, and Jill was forced to put her hands over her ears to try to block out the howling. She was feeling even more queasy than usual, and although Sam had immediately started toward the gateway, when he looked back at her and saw how pale she was, he returned and fed her some chocolate.

“You gonna be OK?” he yelled in her ear.

“I think so. But that noise; it’s driving me crazy!” said Jill.

“Just Howlers, but more than I’ve ever heard at once. And you usually don’t see them, ever, in the daylight. They’re the things that look like flying sheets of black tissue paper, and they’re thick as smoke over by the gateway. We need to get over there, because we have the two crystals that the raven stole. Let me know when you feel well enough to walk….”

“We shouldn’t wait,” Jill yelled back at him. “I’ll be alright. Let’s just go!”

They turned back toward the gateway and followed Mr. Luke and Azarias into the heart of the storm.


       [ To read Episode 12.1, click here…. ]


Apr 23

In the Company of Angels: Episode 11.1 – The Broken Gate




In the Company of Angels, Episode 11.1 – The Broken Gate


“There is a tendency to dismiss the events on Orbaratus as an anomaly. ‘Surely’, the historians will say, ‘the catastrophe on Orbaratus was simply an aberration on a world that had nothing whatsoever to do with our own.’ Yet, it was not so. The near cataclysm on that planet — distant in time and in space from the earth — came closer to destroying our world than any historian may ever be willing to acknowledge.”

       Brother Azarias, The Orbaratus Chronicles.


When the second earthquake on Orbaratus began, Polydora had spread her glittering silver wings and soared twenty or thirty feet above the Plaza of the Masters. There she circled above both the monolith Luke had sketched upon and the portal into which Jill and Sam had vanished. She soon was very glad that she had taken the precaution, for this earthquake was much more violent than the first. New cracks appeared on the plaza floor, and additional stone monuments were heaved from their pedestals and toppled. Among these was the very one that Luke had sketched upon. But there was nothing Polly could do but wait out the calamity, so she continued to circle above the plaza while the ruined city of Cenurbus trembled and buckled beneath her.

Debris exploded and fell into the shadowed streets, and rumblings like distant thunder heralded the collapse of structures that had been abandoned for centuries. At length, the roaring of the earth began to subside and the ground ceased its convulsions. Only then did Polydora glide gently back down to the plaza’s surface. She alighted near the fallen monolith upon which  Luke had created his sketch. She was relieved to find that the stone had fallen on its side, and that the sketch was still visible and intact; if it had been otherwise, Polly knew that Luke would have been unable to return through that frame.

Polly turned her attention to the other portal. It still remained suspended in space near the edge of the plaza; she noticed nothing different about it, and could see no sign of anyone when she gazed through it. She wondered where Jill and Sam were, and how they were faring in their quest to capture the raven.

She then turned her gaze upon the gateway into the mountain. It appeared not to have suffered from the earthquake, but she strode toward it to make sure. With each step the feeling that there were other beings stirring beneath her feet increased; that feeling had ceased when she took flight, but now that she was walking once more upon the surface of her planet, it was back, and now much stronger than before.

She approached the gateway and saw with dismay that now two of the three sapphires were missing from the mirrored surface within which the stone slab door was set. She ran to the gateway and began searching through the rubble, hoping that the gem might have been accidentally  dislodged by the earth’s heavings. But it was not so. The sapphire was gone.

Polly looked across the plaza at the distant portal and wondered. Had the raven come back during the earthquake, unmarked by her while she was aloft? It was possible. But now only a single stone remained, and she was unsure what that meant. She shut her eyes and tried to sense with her whole being, attempting to learn through her empathic powers what might be happening behind and below the gateway.

And this is what she experienced:

Deep, deep down through the crust of these high places her awareness drifted. At first she felt the presence only of cold stone, but then pockets of warmth pricked her. Scattered like the tiny chambers crafted into the immensity of an Egyptian pyramid, these pockets were few, but each was filled to overflowing with white linen-wrapped bodies. They were seeds within an otherwise empty and lifeless sea of living rock. And within each of the pockets there was growth; wild, malignant growth: of consciousness; of hatred; of violence. Each pocket was reaching out in diseased flailings as it found its bonds weakening and falling away.

Polydora pulled back her awareness and opened her eyes once more upon the Plaza of the Masters. She then understood that the forces that guarded the gateway were failing, and that some great horror must soon be unleashed unless…unless what?

In her centuries alone upon her planet, Polly had learned the dead languages of her people, and even snippets of the older language of the Masters. To the extent possible, she had absorbed the culture of the Ferrumari: their understanding of themselves before the end times had come; their understanding of what goodness, and truth, and beauty meant in a world that could still be controlled by evil. She remembered what we might call prayers, and these she began to recite aloud, as she had done, alone, whenever her heart had quailed and trembled during those earliest years of her life.

Polly stood before the gateway, reciting the prayers of her people, over and over again. She had remembered a litany against fear, against evil, against cruelty and hatred. And as she said the words aloud in the tongue of her people, she felt calmed and uplifted, as if the prayers themselves were calling forth the life force of all of those that had ever stood upon this plaza, generation upon generation, perhaps knowing what was behind the gateway or perhaps not. But Polly was comforted, and she resolved to continue her vigil, and to continue her prayers, as long as was necessary.

She stood alone, upright before the gateway, and the darkness increased. She knew not the time of day, but this darkness seemed unnatural, and she felt that there must be much more to it than simply a change in the weather. She felt new rumblings beneath her feet, and understood, she knew not how, that some Thing of great power had thrown off the last of its shackles and was now making its way to the surface, intent on finding a way out of the prison that had held it for so many thousands of years.

“The Light is my guide and my refuge,” Polydora said under her breath, “I shall not fear. Fear is the tool of the darkness; it is the mote that mocks the meek. I shall breathe in my fear; I shall allow it to wash over me and through me; and I shall breathe it out again. Then, my fear shall be no more, and only I and the Light shall remain….”

Now the darkness had increased so that the Plaza of the Masters appeared as it might have at twilight. And Polydora could sense movement in the air above and around her. She looked up and saw shadows flitting between her and the high clouds above, and she understood that something evil from beyond her own world had found a chink in the continuum of space and time, and was flooding through that chink to gather around the plaza. This was, she suddenly knew, the culmination of some grand design that must have been in progress for many ages. That she was alone, here, standing before the gateway, could not be coincidence. She must be there for a reason, and that reason could only be to stop what was about to happen.

But how could she? She did not know the nature and power of the forces beneath her, nor of those creatures swirling around her, although the latter she suspected must be the spirit beings, the Amenta, of whom Luke and Sam and Brother Azarias had spoken so often. Alone in the Gallery, she had never encountered them; she had only heard the tales told by others, as one might hear ghost stories told around a campfire.

But these were no ghost stories. These were malignant spirits blotting out the sky. And she alone might be able to hold the gate; if she only knew how!

Rumblings beneath her feet heralded the approach of yet another earthquake, and this one, she knew, would likely be greater yet than the two that had come before. She could but wait for it to burst upon her here in the open, before the gate; she dared not rise above the surface lest some new evil be allowed to pass in her absence. She felt the rumblings and the heaving waves of fluid rock beneath her feet. And she saw cracks form in the frame around the gateway. At the peak of the earthquake, the stone slab of the gateway itself began to yield; it moved forward as if thrust from the inside. Around her, more of the monoliths toppled, and Polly heard the cracking of stone, glass, and metal around and below her. She looked wildly to her left and her right, watching all the time to make sure that none of the destruction might rain down upon her.

Then, a single voice rang out, as deep as the very roots of the earth. It was a voice of command, and at its words, the earthquake ceased.

Polydora swung her gaze back toward the gateway. The stone slab had been thrust forward. A crack in the center had appeared, and the slab, now in two pieces, swung outward and toward her on unseen hinges. Polydora saw blackness behind it: not emptiness, but blackness; and there was motion there, as of some monstrous convulsion in the shadows.

A form emerged from that blackness. Coppery red it appeared in the dim twilight, and the fleeting forms of the Amenta gathered toward it as blackbirds flock together. The reddish shape emerged, and Polydora saw first the horns, and then the leathery black wings and the clawed arms. She recognized this shape; it was one she had seen in paintings on earth: of demons, and of the Devil himself. She knew not what to think of such a form appearing here, on her home planet, unless….

…unless this was some universal form of evil, one transmitted by dreams and myths between all worlds and all peoples and times. But now this creature literally stood before her, stretching its clawed arms out to embrace its newfound freedom.

Then the creature’s fiery eyes turned downward and focused upon her, and the monster paused, for just a moment. Then it chuckled. The chuckle grew into laughter, and the laughter into a maniacal howl of glee. The Amenta joined their howling to that of this, the greatest of The Masters, in an unholy chorus.

And Polly stood there in dismay, quailing in the roar of the hideous din….

       [ To read Episode 11.2, click here…. ]




Apr 02

In the Company of Angels: Episode 9.2 – The Renderer (cont.)




In the Company of Angels, Episode 9.2 – The Renderer (cont.)


“Yes, I’m afraid I do,” said Azarias, his brow furrowing. “What is it about the Jonsson family? Well, we can’t overly concern ourselves with that issue at present. Pray continue.”

Luke picked up the tale, including Sam’s loss of one of the crystals and its recovery by Jill. Both Azarias and Father Hildebrandt were alarmed to hear that it had been out of Sam’s possession for as long as it had, and they were not surprised to hear that the Amenta had gathered to try to take the gem.

“Sam calls them ‘spooks’, or just ‘howlers’ of course, but we all know that they are the vanguard of a much greater Darkness,” said Azarias, “That was a close call! But thereafter, you invited Miss Jonsson to visit you at the Gallery. Why in the world would you do that without consulting me?”

“Because Sam knows her,” said Luke, “and he was sure she had seen too much to dismiss without a great deal of additional explanation. He also, I believe, has good instincts for people, despite not being an Empath himself. In addition, Polydora believed that Sam would have great difficulty dissembling over the events at Jill’s home, since they are such good friends. I took a chance; and it paid off, as you’ll soon hear.”

Luke continued his tale, explaining how Jill had come to the Gallery and had been instantly identified by Polly not only as an Empath, but as an extraordinarily gifted one.

“Polly claimed she had never encountered anyone other than you, Azarias, who had the ability to see as far or as clearly.”

Azarias and Father Hildebrandt looked at each other, and Luke suspected that a quiet telepathic exchange had taken place. But it only lasted a moment.

“Please, Luke, do continue,” said Father Hildebrandt, turning back toward him.

Luke described the trip to Orbaratus, Polly’s recognition that things were amiss, the trip to the Plaza of the Masters, and the discovery that one of the three guarding stones was missing. At this both Azarias and Father Hildebrandt became alarmed.

“It is, then, as we feared,” said Azarias. “The events here have been a diversion; the real drama is about to play out on Orbaratus, and we will have to do everything in our power to get that stone back into place if we are to avoid catastrophe.”

“Then you know about the stones?” asked Luke.

“Know about them? Yes indeed! But tell us what happened once you had discovered that a gem was missing.”

Luke mentioned the earthquake, the raven, and his decision to allow Sam and Jill to try to follow the bird and retrieve the stone.

“I understood the risks, but we could not leave Jill alone with a crystal on her; that would have put her in danger, since she has not yet been placed under protection.”

Azarias looked up at Father Hildebrandt. “We’ll need to remedy that as soon as possible.”

“Agreed,” said the Abbot.

Luke continued. “I believe that Sam and Jill, working together as a team, should be as capable as anyone of finding the bird and the guarding stone. I also felt urgently that I needed to warn both of you and seek advice. For I could only deduce the gem’s significance; I could not be certain of it. The situation called for us all to split up in order to save time.”

“But what of Polydora? Did she accompany Sam and Jill, or did she return to the Gallery?” Azarias leaned forward with an anxious look on his face as he asked the question, as did Father Hildebrandt. Luke wasn’t sure why the issue was so important to them.

“She remained on Orbaratus,” he said.

Both of the older men appeared visibly relieved. “She should certainly be able to keep anything worse from happening on her homeworld, and much better so than anyone else under the circumstances,” said Azarias, “But she doesn’t really understand what may be coming, and we mustn’t leave her there alone for too long, particularly if the Masters are indeed showing signs of stirring.”

“So that is what is happening?” asked Luke, “The Masters — the ones behind the stone gate — are awakening because the guarding stone was removed? As I said, I deduced that something of the sort could possibly occur, once Polly had fully translated the verses above the door for us. They were certainly a warning, even though they were written onto the stone lintel thousands of years ago.”

Azarias smiled. “Indeed, you surmised correctly. And that is precisely why the verses were left over the gateway in the first place. Yet, the Masters should remain restrained as long as only one of the stones has been prised away. They may stir, and they may even be able to regain a small measure of wakefulness, but the gate will hold against them — at least for a while.”

“But there is still much that you do not know, Luke, and at this point, despite our need for haste in returning to Orbaratus…”

“So you will be coming with me?” interrupted Luke.

“Yes, yes, certainly! That is a necessity at this point, but for reasons I’ve yet to state. In the meantime, I think it time to acquaint you more fully with the early history of Orbaratus. In fact, that also is imperative, so that you know what it is we may be facing.

“What I am about to tell you,” Azarias said, rising from his chair and pacing before the Abbot’s desk, “is now known only to myself, Father Hildebrandt, and the Masters, although their perspective on these events would be, as you might imagine, considerably different from ours. Not even Polydora knows all of what you are about to hear.

“When we first explored Orbaratus and discovered Polydora there, it was clear that her world had been victimized by the Amenta.  After Polly came back with us and began her work in The Gallery, I took the opportunity to make many trips to her world so that I could better understand what had happened there and to try to determine whether her world was truly as empty and abandoned as it first appeared to be.

“It was not.

“The Amenta had conquered the original peoples of Orbaratus, the ones we now know as the Masters. But in those earliest days, they called themselves simply the Ferrubene, or the ‘Blessed Ones’ in their own tongue. They were a brilliant people, skilled in crafts, the arts, and philosophy, and as their ultimate achievement, they brought into being a servant race of creatures that, at first, were simply clever automatons. But these were gifted with learning algorithms that ultimately, and in a manner beyond the wildest hopes of the Ferrubene craftsmen, resulted in their awakening into a fully sentient race. This, of course, was far beyond the Ferrubene’s own skill; it was a gift granted by One greater than themselves, and it was ultimately to a greater purpose of its own, as you shall see.

“But, the Ferrubene liberality in learning, and their untempered love of tolerance and diversity, led to their downfall. After the awakening of their servants, their educators and leaders allowed evil ideas to creep into their prosperous and peaceful world, and these ideas remained unchallenged. Prosperity ever breeds excessive complacency and misplaced tolerance toward evil, Luke, as you should always remember. Ah, there have been so many civilizations destroyed by their own successes! But, I digress….

“In the case of Orbaratus, the seemingly benign tolerance and the weakening of a societal moral compass — all made possible by wealth and abundance — extended even to the point of defending evil doctrines in their many guises. In such a setting, idleness also encouraged dangerous experimentation among the elites, and the Amenta, who are able to travel unfettered into any world that invites them in, found their opening and quickly exploited it.

“The Amenta, once they had come to Orbaratus, whispered into the ears of the rulers among the Ferrubene, promising ever greater riches and glory if they promoted what was in effect a new religion: one that would ultimately serve to destroy their world. The tenets of this religion are unimportant, but it cloaked its adherents in a mantle of victimhood and injustice that they used against the greater Ferrubene society itself. The religion was quietly taught to those with less education and skills: these were convinced that they were victims of societal injustice, and that the new faith would avenge all the wrongs they had suffered. Others were converted through promises of more power, or, as a last resort, by threats of violence to themselves or to their families.

“The worship of novelty had become so widespread at this time, by the urgings of the Amenta, that common sense was utterly abandoned, and anyone who challenged the teachings of the new religion was labeled a bigot and a hater of the coming ‘New Era’. Societal disruptions increased, and eventually these reached the stage that stopping them and prosecuting their instigators was impossible. Killings and riots in the name of the new religion became widespread. Whole cities were burned and looted, and the Ferrubene people turned against themselves in open civil war after civil war.

“In this setting, the Ferrubene’s servants strove against the teachings of the new religion, and even while the Ferrubene killed themselves off, the Ferrumari ever sought to save the lives of their creators. But they were largely unsuccessful, for the Ferrumari numbers were too few. In the end, most of the Ferrubene died, leaving behind only the worst and the most corrupted of their rulers. These the Amenta had preserved, knowing them to be their greatest servants.

“Now that there were so few of the Masters left, the Ferrumari captured and imprisoned them, fashioning for their onetime creators a place where they could be held harmless. But the prisons were incapable of holding the Masters, until, ultimately, when the opportunity was offered them, the Ferrumari put the last of that twisted master race into a state of biological suspension. This was done in the hopes that a day might come when they could be cured of their madness, for the Ferrumari were and are a very compassionate people.

“The gate to their resting place was sealed with three crystals whose power was both to sustain the Masters’ suspension and to keep the gate that sealed their prison strong and inviolate.

“Without the Masters to breed further strife, the Ferrumari themselves at first thrived, but they, too, many thousands of years later, also became victims of the Amenta. In the end, they, too, turned upon themselves, ultimately destroying all members of their own race save Polydora. She and the Masters who remained alive — although suspended behind and below their stone gateway — are now the only living inhabitants of Orbaratus. You, Luke, are already familiar with this latter history, as I recall.”

“Yes, I am,” said Luke, “and I related it to Jill and to Sam earlier today. But I was certainly unaware that the Amenta had claimed both of the planet’s sentient races, rather than just the latter one.”

The room was silent while they all considered Azarias’ words.

“But how on earth did you learn all of this?” asked Luke. “Polly lived for thousands of years on her planet, and she was unable to fully decipher anything other than fragments of the history you’ve just related.”

“Ah, yes, that is true,” said Azarias, “but Polly did not have the one tool she might have used to discover the full truth about her planet’s ancient history.”

“And what tool was that?”

“Why, the ability to framerun, of course. I was able to learn much, much more than she ever could in all her years on Orbaratus; but that was only possible because I was able to travel to her world through both space and time.”

“So are you saying you went back to Orbaratus during the earliest times of the Masters and directly witnessed much of what you have just related?”

“I not only witnessed it, but I did what I could to minimize the sufferings that I encountered there; at least, to the extent I was able.”

“What do you mean?”

“Simply this; that it was I who taught the Ferrumari how to contain the Masters. And it was I who placed the three guarding stones upon the gateway in the first place, sealing them within!”

         [ To read Episode 10.1, click here…. ]