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November 20th, 2004, Vatican City.

An atheist had once told him that though he never believed in God Almighty, the Chapel Sistine made him doubt.

How could anyone question the existence of God in this room? Cardinal Andreas Torque had seen many sinners repent in tears the moment they raised their head at the ceiling, to witness the glorious work of Michelangelo. No man’s heart could remain unmoved at this architectural and visual perfection. Most only remembered the Creation of Adam part of the frescos, but Michelangelo had painted many more stories, each marvelous in their own way. The Cardinal could spend hours marveling at this divine feast for the senses; and the sight of tourists taking pictures of this wonder without appreciating it made him weep inside.

But these were not the opening hours of the Vatican Museums. Only a single man’s footsteps echoed in the chapel to join his superior, as the clock struck midnight.

“Father Torque,” Inquisitor Ambrosio greeted the Cardinal, dressed in the black garments of the Roman Catholic Church. Ambrosio was more than twenty years Andreas’ senior, his head balding, his golden beard falling off at the edges. Yet his green eyes shone with the same witch pyre that warmed Andreas’ heart.

Andreas Torque was one of the youngest Cardinals in the Catholic Church, by decree of His Holiness Jean-Paul II; he had not yet reached forty. Many had questioned his appointment, his virtue, and his achievements. He had no great deed to his name, and he liked it this way.

His work was best done in the shadows.

The Malleus Maleficarum, the Vatican’s secret service, did not exist, even to most of its members. The Church was officially neutral in world affairs, and only worked through its extensive diplomacy network.

It was a lie, of course. The Catholic Church had many enemies, and needed fiery swords as much as quills. The Malleus Maleficarum’s purpose was to keep His Holiness aware of all dangers threatening the true faith, and to advance the Catholics’ interests across the world.

When Andreas had joined the service, he had been nothing more than an Inquisitor, the lowest rank of this secret fraternity. The future Cardinal had spent most of his career undermining the communist plague that had infected Eastern Europe, and revitalizing the Church’s influence in the broken USSR’s regions. When he eventually became the organization’s Inquisitor-General seven years ago, Andreas Torque had worked on His Holiness’ behalf to check the influence of terrorist groups in the Middle East. Even though Jean-Paul II was on his deathbed, surrounded by scheming Cardinals, the Malleus Maleficarum worked tirelessly to fulfill the Pope’s wish of universal peace.

In short, Andreas Torque was used to fighting human evil.

But the horrors they were facing nowadays… were something else entirely.

Something unnatural.

The two priests sat on a bench, with Ambrosio giving his superior a twenty-five page long file. Only two words were written on the cover.

‘Stanford Incident.’

Andreas’ eyebrows furrowed deeper with each line he read, and the priest outright scowled when he reached the first picture. “Who else knows?” Torque asked.

“Only the Americans for now. And us.” Father Ambrosio joined his hands, a thoughtful frown on his face. “But a video already made its way on the internet. It’s only a matter of time before MI6 and the Russians find out too.”

The internet made keeping secrets from the world harder than ever. The Cardinal was surprised the Americans could keep something that big under wraps, but he wondered for how long.

They could hide a village’s destruction, but not a roaming monster.

The photo showed an abomination straight out of the deepest pits of Hell. A white-skinned, faceless beast lifting a car as easily as a chair. The arms were abnormally long, and a luminous light glowed where the face should have been. Considering the height difference with the man it crushed underfoot, the monster had to be six meters tall at the very least. A shroud of blue mist surrounded it like swirling winds.

All his life Andreas had only ever seen the hand of man at work. But that thing… what could it be but a true demon of flesh and blood, as described in the Holy Scriptures?

“This is Satan’s work,” Andreas declared firmly. “A demon.”

“This was a man, Father,” Ambrosio replied grimly, sending shivers down the Cardinal’s spine. “Keep reading.”

Andreas skimmed the report’s content, summarizing it out loud. It helped him memorize information. “Stanford, Nevada, two-hundred and two inhabitants. On its way to becoming a ghost town since their iron mine dried up. Half of them are dead or missing, and the other half in government custody.”

The event happened on November 14th, six days before the report reached the Cardinal. According to survivors, the monster had burst out of the local clinic at around seven and a half in the evening, and gone on a rampage. The beast tore men apart with its bare hands, and breathing the mist that followed in its wake turned people feral. By the time survivors managed to contact the authorities and the government quarantined the area, the monster had escaped into the Mojave Desert.

The lack of internet and telephone coverage had made it hard for the government to respond quickly, but easy to cover it up afterward. Always the same pattern.

“All the previous incidents took place in similarly isolated areas,” the Cardinal noted.

“But never with such deadly consequences,” Ambrosio replied. “The monster is out there, and the USA’s government hasn’t caught it yet. It won’t stay hidden forever.”

“No, it won’t.” Whoever was responsible was getting bolder, more reckless. Andreas flipped the page, until he found the picture of a thuggish-looking man so skinny, that the Cardinal wondered if he suffered from malnutrition. “James Poole?”

“Some dirt poor repairman,” Ambrosio said. “He was due to receive a second shot of Tetanus vaccine, after the first was found to be a placebo. The town’s doctor, Jason Hopfield, was supposed to receive him at seven and thirty.”

The report indicated that the doctor’s body had been found in the wreckage, gutted chin to groin like a fish.

“Both the vaccines came from a private company called New H,” Ambrosio continued. “You know the Americans, they always mistrust their healthcare. Some think their government puts microchips in them, and so they look for ‘alternative’ sources.”

A microchip would have been a kinder fate than turning into a monster. Andreas offered a prayer to both the doctor and patient. “What do we know of this company?”

“Little, except that that paper trail leads nowhere.”

The Cardinal grit his teeth. “So it’s another dead end?”

“Not quite,” Ambrosio said, as his superior flipped the report’s pages. “The town’s sheriff took a picture of the vaccine’s deliverer. Something about her behavior unsettled him.”

Her.

That woman again.

Andreas quickly found her photo, and scowled. It was her, short black hair, blue eyes, eminently plain, thirty-something. She had worn a cap when she made that delivery, but it was the clearest picture of her that the Malleus Maleficarum had found so far.

November 14th, November 14th… A doubt wormed its way into the Cardinal’s mind. “At which hour was this photo taken?” he asked his fellow priest. “Universal Time Coordinated?”

“One AM UTC, I think.”

Torque closed the file, clenching his jaw. “Inquisitor Silus sighted her near an illegal laboratory in an Uzbekistan frontier town at two AM UTC, before he went silent.”

They hadn’t yet recovered the body, but though the Cardinal prayed for his agent’s survival, he knew better than to expect it. The laboratory had turned into a smoking ruin by the time reinforcements arrived, with Silus nowhere to be found.

Ambrosio registered the words and frowned. “Are you sure it was her?”

“Silus’ description matched that photo.” The agent had been tracking that individual down for a year, since she had been sighted during the Burning Woman incident in Tajikistan.

“How can a woman move between two sides of the Earth within an hour?”

“Or she was in two places at once.” Who was that woman? What was that woman? Some kind of witch or demon? “Have you used our facial recognition software on the photo?”

“Yes, and it came up with a name,” Ambrosio replied. Though most priests were too old to understand new technology, the Malleus Maleficarum had invested heavily in them, to always keep an advantage. “Combined with the previous sketches, the program came up with a name: Eva Fabre.”

Eva Fabre, Eva Fabre... The name sounded familiar. Thankfully, Andreas had a prodigious memory, and he quickly remembered where it came from. “The GEIPAN French files,” he said. “The Antarctica mass-suicide of 1992.”

The French kept a not-so-secret archive about UFOs sightings, and Andreas heard rumors that they intended to make a few of the files public… but none of the truly interesting ones, of course.

France might have split from the Catholic Church a century ago, but the Faith still had friends in high places. A French general had shared with the Malleus Maleficarum a copy of the GEIPAN files, some of them were quite disturbing.

Much like many countries in the world, the French maintained a presence in Antarctica. They had an official research station there, studying penguins... but Torque knew for a fact that France once had a second, secret laboratory deeper inland called Station Orpheon. Secret, because the station had been dedicated to studying bacteriological weapons away from civilization. Eva Fabre had been the base’s lead geneticist.

“On the night of December 12th, 1992, Station Orpheon contacted the French Ministère de la Défense to inform them of a peculiar event,” Andreas whispered. “The scientists saw a flash of purple light in the skies, and then an unidentified object crashing in a glacier nearby. The French authorities had lost contact with the station two days afterward. When French soldiers reached the station to investigate, they found twenty-two of the twenty-three researchers dead.”

An experimental, deadly bacteria had escaped and infected the staff. The soldiers thought it had been an accident, until they checked the radios and found them sabotaged. Though almost all the researchers had been accounted for, Eva Fabre’s body was never found.

The French government quietly covered up the incident, and after five years of searching for the missing scientist, closed the file. Eva Fabre had probably caused the outbreak before killing herself, they figured. Isolation drove men and women mad. Neither had the investigators found any trace of a meteorite impact, not even with satellite surveillance. The event had joined the other strange tales of the GEIPAN files, and been forgotten.

Ambrosio searched inside his garment for a photo, which he handed to his superior. Torque raised an eyebrow, before comparing it to the sheriff’s snapshot.

Not only could Eva Fabre teleport, but she hadn’t aged in nearly twelve years either.

Somehow, the Cardinal wasn’t even surprised.

“How cold?” Andreas asked, after putting all the pictures inside the file and closing it. “The New H lead, I mean?”

“The Americans couldn’t find anyone employed by this company, but my informers had more luck with the vehicle used for the delivery,” Ambrosio explained. “It was purchased through an American shell company, owned by a Swiss bank.”

Probably the same bank that funded the illegal lab in Uzbekistan. “Find someone and make them talk,” Andreas ordered. “These incidents are escalating in severity, which means they’re building up to something.”

“A confessor informed me that one of the bank’s administrators could be… open to collaborating with the Church’s investigation.”

“For the sake of his soul?”

“For the sake of his bank account.”

In this era of greed, Mammon ruled absolute. “How much?” The Cardinal asked, and scowled deeply when his agent told him the amount. “That’s a hefty price. Even Judas only asked for thirty silver coins.”

“Traitors are more expensive than ever nowadays, Father Torque. Supply and demand.”

“I will have to ask for his help then.” Thankfully, he was the next appointment. “I will wire the money to the usual account. Do not fail.”

Ambrosio took a deep breath. “If I may ask, Inquisitor-General… what are we investigating?”

“I don’t know,” the Cardinal admitted, “and that’s what I’m afraid of. Communists, terrorists, they’re all humans in the end. But that woman, and these abominations… they’re something else.”

“You think time is running out?”

“How can you doubt it now?” the Cardinal asked. “If this snapshot made it to us, then it means she isn’t hiding anymore. His Holiness will perish soon, and then there will be a time of crisis. The Church must act now, before it is too late.”

“May the Lord be with us,” Ambrosio prayed before taking his leave, leaving the Cardinal alone in the chapel.

Andreas’ eyes wandered to the ceiling, to the sight of God’s hand reaching for the first man. He pondered how events had progressed to today, inexorably.

A string of disappearances in early 2002, all in the southern hemisphere. Brazil, South Africa, Australia, Tanzania… hundreds had vanished without a trace with nothing to tie them together. Nothing, except the fact they happened in isolated areas, and the same woman had been sighted in three of the cases. Then people started vanishing in the northern hemisphere too.

2003. A woman spontaneously caught fire in Tajikistan, killing fourteen. A laboratory was discovered in Siberia, with human test subjects found inside. Some had extra organs, or limbs, and all were missing people from last year. A scaled thing capable of turning invisible was caught on tape in Utah.

As for 2004… A man had shot a Serbian war criminal in his own home, only for authorities to learn that the killer had been made of bolts and wires. Sarajevo suffered from unexplained earthquakes, people swearing that they heard gears moving below the earth.

And now this?

Andreas Torque was finally starting to see the bigger picture, the trend that united all these events into a coherent narrative. It clicked when he had heard the word ‘vaccine.’

Tests.

Eva Fabre was testing something on people, turning them into monsters. That was the only explanation that made sense to Andreas Torque, though he couldn’t understand whatever science or sorcery made it possible.

Whatever the case, this wicked woman was a threat to the world’s natural order, and she had to go.

The Cardinal would find Eva Fabre before she claimed more victims. He would listen to her tale, let her confess her sins so that she might earn absolution from the Lord. And then he would burn her like a witch.

Andreas looked away from the ceiling, as he heard new footsteps. Ambrosio’s had been soft, careful; these ones were firm, heavy with power and purpose. The man that walked in the chapel was in his mid-fifties, a veteran of half a dozen mob wars, a titan in a red suit bought with drug money. The Cardinal could almost hear the blood dripping from his hands, though they looked clean. His cold, heartless eyes didn’t hide anything. One couldn’t see this man and not doubt for a second about his true nature.

“Janus,” the Cardinal said.

“Andreas,” the man answered with a shark-like glint in his eyes. “You look concerned.”

“I am. We live in strange, dangerous times.” The Cardinal invited the mafioso to sit down, but he declined. “The bench is warm.”

“I would prefer we meet in the classical art gallery,” the mob boss replied. Unlike any sensible soul, he didn’t even bother looking at the ceiling.

Janus Augusti was a godless man, but he served the Lord all the same.

“What is on your mind, my friend?” Janus asked, looking down on the seated priest. Though many men would have shaken in dread at this man’s presence, Andreas Torque remained serene. “I assume this must be urgent to organize this meeting so late.”

“I will go straight to the point.” The Cardinal took a deep breath, having hoped not to resort to this. “I need millions.”

“You will have your funds. If you clean them.”

Of course. Some officials in the Vatican Bank laundered mafia money to fill their pockets, but Andreas Torque did it for a higher cause. The Malleus Maleficarum needed a black budget, independent from the Holy City’s finances to maintain plausible deniability. It was a dirty job, but all was forgiven if done in the Lord’s service.

Janus was no member of the Malleus Maleficarum though, and the less he knew about the Vatican’s secret activities the better. Andreas could tell that if he let this man sink his claws into the organization, he would corrupt it as he did with many others. His influence over the Neapolitan Camorra was almost unmatched, and from what Andreas had heard, he intended to expand. Nobody was able to resist him for long.

Unfortunately, Janus Augusti smelled weakness like how a shark could detect blood from miles away. “The situation must be dire for you to ask for so much,” he said, examining the priest suspiciously. “If you need my protection, you only need to ask.”

“The Lord protects me.”

“He would not protect you from me, if I wished you harm.” A blasphemous boast, but the man was not to be underestimated. He had filled entire cemeteries, cementing his empire of sin with blood and tears. “But I am genuine. You are almost a friend now, and I need men with your talents.”

“I may serve as your wife’s confessor, but you are a necessary evil as far as I am concerned, Janus,” the Cardinal replied. “Let’s keep it that way.”

The mob boss chuckled. “A necessary evil you say? I suppose it is appropriate. I do separate the worthy from the unworthy. Truly good and strong men wouldn’t need my services.”

Andreas didn’t miss the not-so-subtle taunt. “Do you think of me as evil, or weak?”

“There is no good or evil, Andreas, but I do wonder what your pope would think upon seeing us together. Somehow I doubt he would approve of your work.”

“What His Holiness does not know cannot harm him,” the Cardinal replied, though his resolve was slightly shaken. “I do the dirty work needed to keep his hands clean. For the greater good.”

Janus clearly didn’t believe him, if the amused look on his face was any indication. “No matter,” he said. “So long as you clean the blood off my family’s money so I may pay for my daughter’s birthdays, I will let you cling to your delusions.”

Andreas ignored the taunt, remaining dignified. “How is little Livia?”

The mob boss’ face softened. “She asked me for a pony.”

The Cardinal couldn’t help but smile. “She is wise beyond her years, but still a child in the end.”

“My wife says that I’m spoiling her rotten. What would you have me do, Father? Is it a sin to indulge a child?”

“I cannot say. I never had one.”

Janus searched inside his suit. “Speaking of gifts, I have one for you.”

He threw a small bag full of colored crystals at the priest, who caught it on instinct and immediately frowned in disgust. “What is this?”

“Our new product,” the mob boss replied with a smile. “I heard you were interested in… mind-opening experiments.”

Andreas flinched, and a smile appeared at the edge of Janus’ lips.

Many cultures used drugs in an attempt to contact the higher realms of existence, and the Cardinal had wondered if perhaps they had stumbled on to something. He had never dared to test his theory on himself, since it would have been a sin, but he couldn’t suppress his curiosity.

How did Augustus know though? Did he have the Cardinal under surveillance?

“Take it back,” Andreas said. It was all a power game of some kind. “I don’t need it.”

“Is that so? In that case, you can simply toss it in the nearest trash can. If you truly are the good man you believe yourself to be, you will.” His smirk widened. “But if I am correct about your true self… then when you are ready to accept your true nature, I will welcome you with open arms.”

Augustus walked away, leaving Andreas alone with his poison.


March 27th, 2005.
Last Easter.

They were inside the Vatican, looking for him.

He could hear them behind the chapel’s doors, which Andreas had barricaded with benches. They would get through, he knew. None of his agents had been able to evade them for long, and they had kept the Cardinal for last.

He had failed, and the world had gone mad. The world didn’t know it yet, but iron pillars had risen from beneath Sarajevo and half a dozen other cities in the Balkans, pouring out metal men and drones. Other human monsters she had released in the wild. The prototypes, the early test subjects, those who kept their wits.

His Holiness had died of natural causes. The Lord had mercifully recalled him to spare him the horror ahead. Father Ambrosio had perished too, but his demise had been less kind. Eva Fabre had him shot, alongside his Swiss informer. But before he died, he had sent Andreas enough information to start figuring it all out.

But he had never imagined. Couldn’t imagine, just how deep it went.

So they had started hunting him. They had wiped out the Malleus Maleficarum in days, before the Church could stop the worldwide distribution. They had known. They had known all along and never cared.

Even six months ago, Andreas Torque was already too late.

Now, the Cardinal understood why he could never find a lead. It was an organization, yes, but an organization of one. They were legion, for they were many. The others were catspaws, dupes, tools to provide her with money and equipment, but never trusted, never knowing anything. She had hired hundreds of companies to make the deliveries, none of them aware that they carried bottled poison to millions across the world. He had tried to warn others, but she was everywhere, always getting in his way. Intercepting his messages, making him fear for his life. Anyone he confided in vanished without a trace.

She was not human anymore.

Was she ever?

He should have gone to Augustus. It all made sense now. Who better than a fiend in human skin to ward away demons?

His hand reached for the gun beneath his black garment, and he pointed it at the barred door. The noise on the other side stopped. Had they heard him? Did they know?

Andreas Torque saw the flash of blue light behind him, and turned around in panic.

There were dozens of them in the chapel. Women in blue suits with strange weapons that looked like rifles made of both flesh and metal. They all were her, but not exactly the same either. Some had eyes of a different color, others different hairstyles. It was her, but in countless variations.

“Eva Fabre.” Andreas Torque tried to hide the fear in his voice, but didn’t quite succeed.

They all smiled, but only one of them spoke. “That was my name once,” she said, her voice so deceptively banal. “But I go by the Alchemist nowadays.”

He heard them break the barred door and surround him. “Satan would have been more appropriate,” the priest replied, trying to keep the legion at bay by threatening them with his gun. But there were dozens, maybe a hundred, and he had only five shots.

“I was as human as you are once, but you are onto something. There are demons out there, Father. But they are not below our feet.” Some of them looked at the ceiling. “They are above our heads, in the grim darkness of space.”

“One day they will come for us,” another Eva said, with burns on the left side of her face. “In other worlds, they already did.”

Other worlds? What was this madness? “Stay back!” Andreas warned, his finger nearly pulling the trigger. “Stay back!”

But the circle grew tighter. “To take its rightful place as the universal master race, mankind must evolve,” one of the mad women said, so close he could almost feel her breath. “Surpass the theory of natural selection, and enter the realm of intelligent design.”

“Our design,” another Eva Fabre added, her voice masculine.

Torque pulled the trigger, and shot one in the head.

She collapsed into blue particles, as if she had never existed.

The others were onto him immediately afterward. He thrashed and shot and raged, but in the end, they forced him to his knees and disarmed him. They searched his garment for hidden weapons, and only found the drug Augustus gave him months ago.

“What is this?” Eva Fabre asked while they examined the substance, though Torque couldn’t tell which one. “Hallucinogenic drugs?”

He… he had kept the substance yes, but only to study it. Never to use it on himself, no.

The madwomen started arguing. “Did we try that during the bonding process?”

“I don’t think so.”

“We should have.”

“We can still. Results should be interesting.”

Andreas Torque furiously tried to think of a way out. Why hadn’t they killed him yet, like the others? Why did they keep him alive instead of slicing his throat?

But then they brought the blue syringe, and he understood.

“No,” Andreas pleaded, his voice dying his throat. The fluid swirled inside its container, as if alive and hungry. “No, please. Just kill me. Don’t make me… don’t make me one of those things…”

“This is a blessing,” one said, forcing Augustus’ drug through his mouth. It tasted of salt and mushrooms and chemicals.

“A reward for your persistence,” another added, rolling up his sleeve.

“We should have buried you with your secrets,” a third said, stabbing him with the syringe. “But killing you would be a waste.”

“Your mind will shatter,” a fourth declared. “But you will live.”

The world turned blue as the Blue Elixir entered his veins, and Andreas Torque screamed.

His mind was on fire. The drug and the blue substance in his body reacted together, reality crumbling around him. The chapel’s ceiling swirled like an azure whirlpool, shapes collapsing. Colors danced at the edge of his eyes, and the pictures of angels started to whisper to him.

Hallucinations. These were hallucinations, nothing more. A dream.

But… he sensed something else. Something different, something… something wriggling inside his brain and neurons. The Alchemist’s poison traveled through his nerves, infecting him like a plague. His whole body seemed to have caught fire, his skin flayed to expose the raw flesh underneath.

The pain was excruciating, maddening!

“Please!” he shouted, and the hallucination of angels answered with a screaming chorus. “Make it stop!”

And something listened.

His spirit left his kneeling flesh, his mind free of the shackles of a body. His immortal soul was dragged into a great blue vortex, into a place unlike anything he had ever seen. He couldn’t see with eyes, no, but… but images filled his mind. The pain was gone, replaced with ethereal numbness.

He had become a thought, an ascending consciousness entering a bright blue world.

A realm of numbers and letters, an organized archive of smells and scents and sounds. Books without pages, drives of stray thoughts. A mental world without flesh or blood, where minds were no longer constrained by the storage limits of neurons.

This strange dimension had a powerful force at its center, ruling from a throne of information. Andreas’ disembodied mind couldn’t make sense out of it. It was so large, so big, so complex. Geometric shapes and equations and swirling sentences unified into a single, divine whole.

“Lord?” the Cardinal asked, and though he had no mouth to speak with, words came out nonetheless.

No.

It was God, but not the Lord of the scriptures. It was neither male nor female. It hadn’t created man in its image, for there was nothing human about it. It was a sentient thought, a divine mind without a body, knowledge without a container. A being of pure blue, a psionic force of the cosmos. All the universe’s information, focused into a singularity.

The entity noticed Andreas.

And studied him.

Andreas screamed, as the entity ripped his mind open with a stray thought. It shattered the Cardinal’s brain into a million tiny thoughts, flipped through the man’s memories like a child through a book. There was no pain, but no comfort either. For the being, this Ultimate One, felt neither love nor hate.

Only curiosity.

It disassembled Andreas Torque down to his molecules, to figure out the way he worked. Why did it need a heart? Why a brain? How did it fit together? What did Andreas fear? Why did he prefer apples over cheese? Why did he live? What was the underlying logic?

Why, how, what?

It asked all the questions, and got all the answers.

The entity recorded every thought that ever crossed the Cardinal’s mind, every sensation he ever felt. It broke down his existence to its foundations, to figure out how it all fit together. Andreas Torque didn’t know how long it took, perhaps centuries or minutes, but in the end, the Ultimate One understood him more than the human ever knew himself.

And then, it cobbled Andreas Torque’s mind together.

But instead of shoving it back into the human’s tiny brain, the Ultimate One shared back.

Mysteries of the stars and cosmic principles were revealed to the priest. His questions about man’s origins and purpose were answered. The entity taught him the true history of the saints and the prophets he had worshiped all his life. And when it found that the priest wanted more, It taught him mathematics, botany, and chemistry. The knowledge was imprinted into the Cardinal’s neurons like burning letters.

There was no word to describe the experience. It was an unimaginable pleasure, a rapture. Andreas’ small, weak human mind briefly melded with the divine consciousness of the supreme entity, basking in its limitless knowledge. For a moment, the human felt whole, truly whole, stripped of all his doubts and fears. He was one with something greater than himself, his sense of self dissolving like a droplet in the ocean.

This…

This was Heaven.

This was God. This was the entity that Andreas had yearned to serve all his life. This was the afterlife he desired, for his mind to meld into this divine consciousness, to become a new neuron in a universe-sized brain.

And then it ended, as abruptly as it had begun.

The mental connection with the Ultimate One collapsed. His brain was cast down to Earth, back into his limited brain, back into his flesh, back into this prison. He was cast out of Eden, the bliss of perfection replaced with the cold sensation of the chapel’s floor.

Andreas didn’t know how long he remained on the floor, crushed and destroyed. He felt numb. He felt numb inside.

He was breathing, but he felt dead.

Eva Fabre was long gone, but he wouldn’t have cared even if she had remained behind. His eyes wandered to the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, but all he saw were the human imperfections now. The slight, nearly invisible mistakes in the design, the errors, the ugliness. The work of Michelangelo now looked as crass and disordered as horseshit.

Andreas Torque had tasted Heaven, and now he found Earth hideous.

He rose back to his feet, his gun laying on the ground next to the empty drug bag. “No!” His fingers immediately grabbed the container, his tongue licking the plastic in search for a taste, just a taste of paradise. “Send me back! Send me back!”

He tore the empty bag apart in his despair, and scratched his skull with his fingers. He felt his mind struggling against this bone-shaped prison, trying to escape, trying to ascend, trying to go back. By the end, he felt the blood dripping on his fingernails.

He breathed heavily, in despair and tiredness.

His mind was clear as water, possessed by one single purpose.

His thoughts were no longer splintered, pulling in all directions. Now, he could only think of one thing.

Going back.

Andreas Torque stumbled out of the chapel, his eyes unblinking, his senses assaulted by the disordered universe around him. The Vatican, the Holy City, was trembling, crumbling. But he didn’t care. He didn’t care anymore about the Church, the world of suffering, or Eva Fabre. He had to go back to the Blue World, back to his new God, back to this blissful afterlife.

He walked outside, into the Vatican’s gardens, and looked at Rome. It was night, though he couldn’t tell if it was still March 27th, or some other night. Whatever the case, he could tell that the Alchemist’s plan had gone off without a hitch. Everywhere he looked, he saw the signs. Flames spreading out of Saint Peter’s Basilica; giant mushrooms growing out of the old historical district; the ICBMs flying through the sky north, towards the Balkans and Sarajevo.

The old world was ablaze, and a new world would rise from the ashes.

And Andreas Torque couldn’t care less.

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Void Herald

Bio: I'm Maxime Julien Durand ([email protected]), a European warlock living in the distant realm known as France, spending half my time writing and the other half managing magical websites.

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