Steve stepped down into darkness. Or at least he did until the motion sensor tripped and the fluorescent lights came on, lighting the long, narrow stairway. So much for drama, Steve thought. Just when I thought this wouldn’t be the most boring “honor” ever. He continued down the completely well-lit and non-dramatic stairs that led deep under the cathedral.
The bishop had told him how great of an honor it was for someone so young to be chosen for this job. Steve suspected that no one else wanted to walk up and down these stairs every day, and they had decided to pawn the job off on the young guy.
Finally reaching the bottom of the stairs, Steve took a taper and began lighting candles. There weren’t any lights in the Sacrifice Chamber. As candles burned to life, they revealed a large, roughly round chamber carved directly into the dark rock. All around the walls were jagged grooves that looked a lot like claw marks, but they were about fifteen feet long, spaced about six inches apart, and much too deep. Steve knew they couldn’t be claw marks, but just the same, they made him shudder a little.
Steve thought it was odd that, while the bishop had given him very specific instructions, he wasn’t accompanying him for his first time doing the ceremony. For how important, no, crucial the bishop had made this sound, he certainly seemed to have a lax attitude about it. Maybe only one person was allowed into the Chamber at a time? Steve thought he might have remembered that from some teacher or another.
Really, Steve had never paid a lot of attention to his lessons. He had been raised by the monks of the Church of the Sacrifice, and church work had never really been his thing. He had always done what he was told, for the most part, but he had also always made it very obvious that he wasn’t really enjoying it. That was another reason he was surprised that he had been chosen for this “honor.”
But, boring or not, lack or supervision or not, Steve had a job to do. It really wasn’t difficult. He moved around the room, continuing to light candles. On the far side from the bottom of the stairs was a small altar. In the middle of the room yawned a huge, apparently bottomless pit. Steve knew it was just his imagination, but it looked like the light from the candles stopped right at the edge, not illuminating anything farther down. “It’s just your imagination,” he thought. “Just do this stupid job, this ‘honor,’ and get out of here.”
Just to the right of the altar was a small, golden pickaxe hanging on a hook. Steve picked it up, then picked up a golden plate that rested on top of the altar. He moved behind the altar, to a place where he could see many small holes chipped into the rock. Using the pick, he broke a few small chunks from the rock. It came loose surprisingly easily. The rock was softer than he expected. Steve caught the crumbled rock on the plate, hung up the pickaxe, and walked ninety degrees around the pit, chanting the words that the bishop had drilled into him.
“Oh, great Thursis, God of our salvation, we thank you for your great, eternal Sacrifice and give you this small offering. Please partake, and continue your good fight.” and with that, Steve dumped the gold plate’s contents into the the pit. He knew it was only his imagination running when he thought he saw the darkness recede a little bit and thought he heard a rumble coming from the depths of the pit. Feeling a little creeped out, Steve returned the plate to the altar and left the room, putting out the candles as he went. He was a little relieved when he finally reached the familiar, fluorescently lit stairs. “Crap,” Steve said to himself as he started the long ascent, “I don’t believe I have to do this every day!”
During the next couple weeks, between his usual studies and his martial training (monks of the Church of the Sacrifice had always been warrior-monks, and even though it was no longer necessary, they still trained in hand-to-hand and other types of combat), Steve decided to study up on what exactly it was he was doing every morning.
Research in the church database brought up a ridiculous number of hits, from ancient scripture to current articles by church scholars. “Wow,” Steve said to himself. “I really don’t pay attention in any of my classes. No wonder the bishop only explained what to do and not what I was doing.” It turned out that what Steve did every morning was part of what the entire Church of the Sacrifice, a worldwide organization with millions of members, was based on.
Church lore told a story (this was a little familiar) that in ancient times a great evil, one that scripture never named, and only called “the Adversary,” had been running rampant all over the world. Not only was the Adversary personally powerful, but he was also able to recruit anyone with even a little darkness in their hearts. With this ability he had raised armies, drawing in all the criminals in the world, and even many who were not bad people, but who never worked hard to fight the darkness that lies in everyone. With these armies of people held slave to his will, the Adversary had burned his way across the world.
Only a comparatively small group of people had resisted. This group, those who were able to push back the darkness inside of them, were led by a man named Thursis. However, the accounts explained that he was more than a man. Thursis was able to inspire those around him to be better, not only as warriors, but also as people. It was said that when Thursis came near the front lines of a battle, many of the Adversary’s troops would shake off the spell that was controlling them and surrender, or, in some cases, turn on their former comrades.
The power of Thursis was legendary. Some verses of scripture said that he was able to shake the earth at a word, and call down fire from the heavens. The Adversary himself had been, according to scripture, afraid of Thursis, and had avoided direct confrontation between the two of them.
However, knowing that the Adversary had to be defeated, Thursis and his followers had set a trap. Using their combined abilities (for those who were strongest in the army of Thursis developed special talents and skills), they had created a Pit. Some accounts said it was a gateway into another dimension. Others said it was a hole to the center of the planet. Of course, modern science made that one a little hard to swallow. Actually, it made both of them hard to swallow.
Regardless, Thursis and his followers had lured the Adversary to the Pit, though no record was clear on how, and Thursis, knowing that no pit would hold a being as powerful as the Adversary for any length of time, had bound the Adversary to him with his power and had dived into the Pit, sacrificing himself to save the world.
Thus was born the Church of the Sacrifice, it’s doctrine built from the story and “teachings” of Thursis, who hadn’t really intentionally taught anything, but had said a lot of things that were now construed as such. The Pit, where legend said that Thursis continues to fight the Adversary for all eternity, became a sacred monument. Over the thousands of years since the Sacrifice, the great city of Thursia had been built around it, and many edifices had been built over it, culminating with the current cathedral where Steve had grown up. The Order of the Sacrifice, the monks who had taken him in, had been formed from some of the original followers of Thursis, those without the special abilities. The records never said what happened to those who helped create the pit, but the monks had taught the martial skills that they had learned from Thursis to their order throughout the years, so their fighters had always been unparalleled.
The ceremony that Steve did every morning was called the Ceremony of Sustenance. “They could have thought of a better name for that,” Steve thought. The idea was that the rock from the Pit’s walls, having originally been dug out by Thursis’s power, still held some of that power, and by dropping it into the Pit, the God was able to harvest that power and thus keep the upper hand in his fight with the Adversary.
However, the scripture warned, the stone must be dedicated to Thursis before it was dropped. If it was not, its energy would also be available for the Adversary, and he would use it to escape into the world.
“Well,” Steve thought, “Now I know what I’m doing. Too bad it’s a bunch of crap.” Steve had never really subscribed to the beliefs of the Church, even though they had been taught to him since before he could talk. It had just never rang true with him, and as the years had gone by, while he had always done what he said he would and had enjoyed his martial training, he had paid less and less attention to the doctrine of the church, because he just didn’t believe in it. He suspected that few people really did these days, and were just part of the church for tradition.
Steve often wondered about his origins. He didn’t really love being a monk, so much as he had never known anything else. THe monks hadn’t known what to do when a baby had been left on their doorstep and had taught Steve what they knew. But, Steve often felt that he was meant to do more in his life than study books and dump rocks down a hole. He had all of this awesome training from the monks and nowhere to use it!
These thoughts were on Steve’s mind as he walked down the stairs for the who-knows-what-th time several months later. Arriving in the Sacrifice Chamber, he absently lit the candles as he walked toward the altar. He was almost there when he noticed that the flickering light from the candles was hardly doing anything to push back the darkness. It seemd to be rising in a column out of the Pit and was slowly filling the cave-like room.
Steve wasn’t sure what that meant, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t good. He hurried over to the altar. The golden pickaxe, instead of being on its hook where he had left it, was discarded on the ground. There were rock chunks everywhere. The spot on the wall behind the wall, where Steve had been slowly writing his name as he chipped out small amounts of rock, was marred by deep gouges. The golden plate was still sitting on the altar.
Steve wasn’t sure what to think about this, or what to do about it, so the first thing he did was the regular ceremony, hoping it would return things to normal. It didn’t. The darkness seemed to dissipate a little bit, but as Steve returned the plate and pickaxe to their places, the darkness re-gathered and almost seemed to make the candle flames shrink. An icy breeze blew through the Sacrifice Chamber, something that Steve had never felt in well over 100 times coming down.
“Yeah….” Steve said, “I’m definitely getting out of here.” He didn’t even bother to put out the candles as he left, and that was his favorite part of the ceremony. As he started up the stairs, much more quickly than usual, he quickly glanced back and saw the last of the candles flicker and die.
Five minutes later, Steve burst into the bishop’s office. Brother Frankl, the monk who was basically the bishop’s secretary, looked up, annoyed.
“Don’t you have better things to do than annoy your elders?” He asked as Steve came to a stop in front of his desk, panting. The fit, bald man had a severe look on his face, but then, he always did. He was a few years on the far side of sixty, but that didn’t make Steve think that Brother Frankl was a pushover. He practiced the monks’ martial arts every day, just like everyone else, and had personally put Steve on the ground a number of times.
When Steve caught his breath he said, “I need to see the bishop. It’s important.”
“The bishop is not seeing visitors today, Bother Steve.” Frankl sneered as he said Steve’s name. Normally monks called each other by their last names, but Steve didn’t have one. “So unless the Adversary himself is escapin the Pit, I suggest you leave.”
“Um,” Steve said, feeling nervous, “that’s just it. I think he might be. You said the bishop isn’t seeing visitors today?”
“That’s what I said, and what are you talking...what are you doing?”
Steve quickly walked around the desk and banged on the bishop’s door. Brother Frankl was there in a flash. “I told you the bishop isn’t taking visitors today!” he shouted.
“Well, if that’s the case, I won’t be interrupting a meeting.” He pushed on the doors. To his surprise, they were unlocked and swung open easily. Steve walked in, dodging as Frankl tried to grab him and pull him back.
“Bishop Lawrence!” he said as he entered, “I need to talk to you. The Sacrifice Chamber….” He trailed off.
“Well, you’re in here now, say what you came here to….” Brother Frankl also became quiet as he saw what was in the room. Bishop Lawrence, head of the monks of the Order of the Sacrifice, was slumped over the desk in his small, but elegant office, his head resting in a pool of blood. A small handgun was on the floor next to him.
“Suicide?” Brother Frankl said, apparently dumbfounded. “That makes no sense. The bishop was the happiest man I’ve ever known.”
Steve moved forward and picked up the gun. He couldn’t say anything. It was a small caliber handgun and when he checked the chamber he saw that a single shot had indeed been fired. There were no signs of a struggle, but Steve didn’t understand, either. He had thought he had known the bishop fairly well. They had met often, the bishop trying to help Steve in any way he could. The bishop had been as close to a father as Steve had ever had. Brother Frankl was right about him, too. The bishop had always been a very happy man. He had always greeted Steve with a welcoming smile and had seemed very content with his lot in life. Granted, that lot had been being a bishop in the church, as well as the leader of the Order of the Sacrifice, a position that held a lot of power. But, as far as Steve saw it, that was all the more reason for the bishop to be happy.
No, it really made no sense. “There’s no note,” Frankl said, looking at the desk. “But then, Bishop Lawrence really wouldn’t be the type to leave one.”
“Bishop Lawrence wasn’t the type to kill himself!” Steve almost shouted back. “There has to be something else happening here!”
“I know you’re upset, son,” Frankl started to say in a much kinder tone than usual, “but the evidence….”
“Brother Frankl, here are the docu….” another monk, one Steve knew by sight but not by name, had come into the office, carrying a pile of papers.
“What? What’s wrong with the bishop? Brother Steve...why are you holding a gun….”
“Now son,” Frankl started. Steve suddenly realized how bad they must look to someone walking in. “This isn’t what it looks like,” Frankl continued. “The bishop, he’s….”
“MURDER!” the monk (Steve wished he knew his name, so he could curse it properly) shouted at the top of his lungs. “The bishop has been murdered by Brother Frankl and Brother Steve!” Then he attacked.
Now, getting attacked by a monk of the Order of the Sacrifice was not something to sniff at. Whether you believed in everything about Thursis or not, the fact remained that the monks had a unique and very effective fighting style.
However, Steve had seen this monk in the gym. He was a beginner at best. All monks were required to do some training, but this was not a time of battles and wars, at least not for the church. If a monk was more inclined to study or research, he only had to do a little training.
So, getting attacked by a monk of the Order of the Sacrifice was nothing to sniff at, unless you’re another member of that order, one who enjoys his training and who works hard at it. Steve and Frankl both fit into that category.
The monk--Steve had started calling him “Nameless” in his head--came at Steve wildly. Steve, despite his being distraught over the bishop’s death, immediately saw what he was going to do and knew how to counter it. And he did. Deftly. Nameless ended up on the ground gasping.
“Not bad, Brother Steve,” Frankl said. There was no derision in his voice this time. Steve had almost forgotten he was there.
“However,” Frankl continued, “this makes us look even more guilty! We need to get out of here!”
“What, won’t they listen to you?” Steve asked. “You’re very respected around here, aren’t you?”
“Not as much as you might think,” Frankl responded. “Besides, I was next in line to be bishop, and I haven’t exactly been quiet over a few disagreements I’ve had with him. They’ll think I’ve killed him to get his position.”
“How do I know you didn’t kill him?” Steve asked warily, suddenly realizing that Frankl had a point.
“You don’t, son.” Frankl said. “But I’m telling you that I didn’t.” On the floor, Brother Nameless groaned and started to get up. “You’ve got a choice to make, son.” Frankl said. “If you think they’ll listen to you when this dipstick”--he gestured to Nameless--“says he saw you holding the gun, you’ve got another think coming.”
“Hey!” Nameless managed. Steve kicked him in the gut, not too hard but hard enough to put him out of commission for a few more seconds. Nameless, who had been up on his hands and knees, flopped back to the floor.
“I know that everyone here treats you as an outcast,” Brother Frankl said. “By the Pit, even I have, and I’m not proud of that, but I tell you, if you stay here, no one will give you a fair trial.”
Steve thought quickly. It was true that he had always been a bit of an outcast. None of the other monks had overtly excluded him, but it had ended up happening, and over the past few years more and more things had been happening that showed that the monks did not respect him, and even thought of him as inferior for not knowing where he came from. Brother Frankl was right about that. Some of them had even turned to outright resentment when Steve had been chosen for the “honor” of doing the Ceremony of Sustenance every morning.
That brought Steve to Frankl himself. They had spoken many times over the years, and while Steve didn’t think that Frankl liked him and was really a crotchety old man, he didn’t think that he would have killed the bishop. It was obvious in the way the two men had interacted that they were very close friends, even if they did disagree from time to time.
“Fine!” Steve said. The fact that he believed the old monk didn’t mean that he liked him--the two of them had never really gotten along--but they were in this together. “Let’s go!”
Nameless tried something again. Steve had known he would. This time he at least put some thought into it. As Steve turned to leave with Brother Frankl, Nameless spun on the floor, trying to sweep Steve’s legs. Steve jumped and then kicked Nameless in the gut again. Then he and Frankl ran out the door.
It was only when they got halfway down the hall that Steve realized he was still holding the gun. He quickly put it in the pocket of his monk’s robes, knowing that holding the gun that had killed the bishop would make him look even more guilty.
They ran through the monastery section of the cathedral as quietly as they could, slowing when they met someone. Steve had always liked the size of the cathedral, but now that he was trying to get out, it seemed way too large. They didn’t meet any resistance. Apparently Nameless’s shout hadn’t brought help, and he hadn’t sounded the alarm yet. But Steve knew it could happen any second.
The thought of leaving the cathedral scared him a little. Of course he knew what the outside world was like. He had access to the Internet. However, he had never left the monastery. He had asked the bishop for permission several times, but had never gotten it. Part of the creed of the Order of the Sacrifice was seclusion, so monks rarely left the cathedral. That was another reason why Steve didn’t really like it. There were so many things out in the world that he wanted to see and do. He supposed now he would get his change. As a fugitive. Because the bishop was dead--Steve still wasn’t ready to say that it was suicide--and he had been blamed for it.
Suddenly Steve remembered the reason he had gone to see the bishop in the first place. The Sacrifice Chamber! He had to tell someone. He could, of course, tell Brother Frankl and he planned to, but by the time he had a chance, Steve feared they would no longer be able to do anything about it.
All of that was pushed from his mind once again when an alarm started blaring.
“Crapper!” Brother Frankl cursed. “That dope Wallace finally managed to raise the alarm! We have to move, son!” After that they stopped talking. They were almost to a side exit from the monastery section of the cathedral, and hadn’t seen anyone in a while. They just had to make it out the door...there!
Steve saw the door, and then he saw three monks rush from a side passage. When they reached the door one began fumbling with a key and the other two took up defensive positions. They saw Steve and Frankl immediately, and charged, one heading for Steve, and one heading for Frankl.
“Crapper.” Steve cursed to himself, readying for a fight. But, even as he cursed, his combat instincts kicked in and everything seemed to slow down. This had happened to him before once or twice. When Steve was fighting everything seemed simple. It had always come naturally to him. However, at these times, he seemed to have an extra feeling of strength and, even more than that, clarity.
He assessed his attacker. He was carrying a quarterstaff, one of the most common weapons the monks of the Order of the Sacrifice were trained to use. It would give him extra reach and striking power.
However, Steve (and all the monks) had also been trained in how to counter almost every weapon, both with other weapons and when unarmed. HIs martial training was the only think about being a monk that Steve really enjoyed, and so he had always devoted as much time as he could to it. He knew exactly what to do.
Steve’s attacker swung his staff low from maximum range. He was trying to know Steve down before coming into his striking range. Steve jumped up and forward at the last second, going up and over the swing. He delivered a punch to the monk’s face, which he barely dodged. Steve wasn’t done, though. Still in the air, he brought up his right leg and kicked his opponent in the arm. The monk cursed and his staff dropped to the floor with a clatter.
Steve landed on the floor to his opponent’s right and raised an arm to block the blow that he knew would be coming. It did, and Steve used his attacker’s momentum against him, grabbing his arm and pulling, then twisting it, then levering him over his back, where he slammed into the floor. Steve delivered a precise kick to the monk’s jaw, meant to knock him unconscious, not kill him. While Steve had been treated as an outcast, he didn’t want to kill any of the monks. They were the only family he had ever known. The kick did its job, and the monk’s eyes rolled back into his head. He was down for the count.
Steve looked around just in time to see Brother Frankl taking care of his opponent with a similar move. That didn’t surprise him. Steve had seen Frankl in the gym a lot. They moved toward the third monk in unison. Steve barely recognized this one, which meant he wasn’t in the gym very much. He must have been one of the more bookish monks. This was made evident when he cowered (something the Order of the Sacrifice specifically taught its adherents NOT to do) and tried to run.
Running was really the wise move. His objective was, after all, to keep Steve and Brother Frankl inside the cathedral and he could achieve that by getting away and leaving them locked in.
He hesitated, though, and Steve, whose youth made him a little bit faster, caught him first. At that point, taking him down was simple. Steve administered a quick kick to the back of the monk’s leg and he went sprawling. Steve followed him down, searching the pockets of his robes for the key. He found it and hit the monk in the jaw just hard enough to knock him out just as Brother Frankl caught up.
“Good work, son!” he actually sounded legitimately impressed. “Now let’s get out of here!”Steve tossed him the key and Frankl opened the door onto bright sunlight. As alarms continued to blare throughout the cathedral, the two monks, one old, one young, slipped out into the city of Thursia.
So, thoughts? I'd love to hear them! I hope you all liked it. I haven't perfected it, of course. Heck, there's probably several typos. Also, I think I need to do a little research on martial arts if I want to keep writing this, so I know what's logical. Anyway, that's all I've got. I'll make an end to this post in the usual way.
This is Captain Danger out.