There's a banging sound in front of me, like a knocking against wood. Holding the green stone in front of me, I move slowly. The flickering that caused me to get on this path looks unexpectedly brighter. There's a faint light and as I get closer the mirrored bubble is steadily getting brighter. I see that I'm almost at the end of this particular path and stop for I can see my destination in front of me.
I'm looking out at the small enclosure of a chapel in a large church. The flickering that drew me to this place is a candle flickering at the base of a statute of some saint. I'm trying to figure out where I'm at. Surely, there can't be a mirror in this chapel. I look towards the entrance of the chapel but no one is around. Pulling Nick's sword closer to me, I gingerly push my hand through the cool, smooth glass and touch air. I take one last glance around me and step closer to the scene in front of me. I see that I am in a mirror and there's a statute right in front of me, all white, its back to me. I push through the glass and feel it slip over my skin one last time. Then I step around the statute and onto the altar, hoping it will support my weight. The altar feels sturdy enough. There are convenient “steps” on the altar and I step lightly down them, pulling the sword after me.
When I reach the bottom I pull out a dollar, ball it up, drop it into the donations box, and then I light a candle offering it up to the white statue. I look up at it for the first time and start.
The statute is of an angel, its wings aren't expanded but I can see its feathers. It's wearing armor and carrying a sword. It's eyes are sightless and smooth but the face is beautiful. It has long flowing hair. Ravelle is much more beautiful but this angel is still lovely. It's life size, bigger than me. Given my recent experiences with angels, I bow to it quickly and walk out of the chapel.
The church is utterly silent, just like I remember. That weird silence feels weighty and when I move it feels like the air has some resistance. It feels unnatural. I look around. There's two people, an old man in the front row and a middle aged woman wearing a brown knitted cap. This is good.
Still carrying Nick's sword I walk slowly down one of the side aisles. The noise from my shoes sounds deafening and the two people in the church turn to look at me. I take off my shoes and socks and walk barefoot down the aisle, looking around. The church is dark, candles flickering. I'm feeling comfortable, knowing I'm in the right place. The stone floor feels cold but not uncomfortably so. The church was built in the 14th century French Gothic style with some Norman Romanesque features. This explains why the church has a very large, square, solid feeling to it.
I look slowly around, scanning for anything that might be the sword but I'm seeing nothing but the usual church decorations and idolatry. I keep looking, paying attention to the statutes and sculptures in this place. I'm almost at the front of the church now and I scrutinize the altar area. It would seem to me that this would be the place for the sword to be but there's nothing but the usual opulence. The little old man looks at me with pale blue eyes. He doesn't seem to notice I'm carrying a sword. I walk across the aisle towards where he is sitting. As I get closer, he stands tottering on his cane in the narrow aisle. He shuffles at me.
“Are services going to start?” his voice is breathless and feeble. The small amount of hair on his little head are white long wisps curling about his ears. His blue eyes are rimmed with red but they are large and clear.
“I don't know but it's 4:38,” I say. I look at him closely because he's looking at Nick's sword now. He's wearing a blue windbreaker and has a blue and white checked scarf on. He's frail and think and very stooped but his face is beautifully angular and chiseled.
“Nice one but won't work for the next leg of the trip,” he says, nodding at the sword.
“What?” I blink at him in surprise.
“That's nice, lady, but you're going to need something with more oomph, I said,” he sits down looking off to his left at the long line of stained glass windows. “Services going to start soon. Soon.” His voice trails off.
“Do you, do you know where I can find something with more...ooompph?” I take a barefoot step towards him. He's still looking at the stained glass windows. It's dark here with just the ambient light from all the stained glass windows and candles.
“Lotta angels here. Should find that thing soon. You'll need it, you know,” his voice sounds faint in its feebleness. He's still not looking at me. He seems far away.
“Where is it?” I say, then I hold my breath.
“Too many angels. Tend to crowd everything out and disrupt the services,” he says. His head is drooping a little and he's now facing forward.
“Where's the sword?” I ask this clearly now. My voice is cold water splash. He starts, looking at me directly. The woman in the last aisle with the brown knitted cap seems to sit up straighter.
The old man sits back with a sigh. I wait a moment more then I reluctantly start to walk away.
“Wait,” he says looking at me again with those clear pale eyes. “You came through the right entrance. That's good. There's no blade on it from this side. Shoes on. Give me that thing, lady,” he reaches out his hand.
I don't hesitate. I hand him the sword and then sit on the stone floor of the church, slipping on my socks and my shoes quickly. The old man is muttering but holding the sword like he knows what he's doing. He holds it out in front of him, looking down the line to check the balance. I'm surprised at his strength.
My shoes on I stand up again. I glance up at the ceiling but there's nothing but the soaring dome above us.
“Where's the ingot?” he asks in his breathless voice. He is fingering the place on the handle where it should be.
“I...I gave it to its owner. Who are you?” I take a deep breath and look at him more closely but he's really just a little old bent man. He hands the sword back to me. I thank him.
“Good. Good. Walk to that side, lady.” He says, waving to his left, and he smiles a little, “Hurry, services will start soon.” He nods me towards the long line of stained glass windows.
“Thank you. You should leave now,” I tell him, bowing slightly. He only smiles at me, waving me away.
I walk towards the windows, making noise now but not caring. The woman in the back row seems to have left so I don't worry about bothering her. The silence seems to have thinned out a bit anyway. I can hear faint hum of traffic outside. This is New York city, after all. I walk along the other side aisle, looking around me. There's another chapel and another angel. This angel isn't standing regally, it's lunging forward, the sword in the other hand is just being raised. This angel is bigger than life. Long flowing hair. Wings more open. I look at the sword and see that it's just a stone handle. A handle. No blade.
There's an unexpectedly loud splintering sound then a cracking. Behind me at the back of the church. The sound of stone falling.
I grab the handle but it won't budge. I pull at it and try to break it but the stone is unyielding.
The stone behind me is breaking and falling to the floor.
I can hear the sound of someone landing on the stone floor. The sound is light and beautiful. A perfect landing.
Using Nick's sword I slice through the statute. The stone cuts but doesn't do anything except peel away the stone covering the sword handle. I can see the bronze underneath. I grab the handle and pull hard. The handle doesn't budge but more stone crumbles in my hand. I use the sword to slice around the handle. I hear the whoosh behind me. A fleshy smack on the stone floor.
“You did well back there,” says Ravelle, only a couple feet behind me now. I jump back into the wall. She's holding the little old man's decapitated head by his fine wisps of white hair. She holds the man's head higher. His blood is dripping to the chapel floor, his eyes are open and clear, steady looking. He doesn't look surprised.
“It's your fault, you know. You shouldn't have talked to him,” her green eyes are sparkling like emeralds in the dark candlelight and she smiles. Her teeth are perfect.
“He was waiting for services to start,” I say, tears welling in my eyes. I realize I'm not holding the handle. Bad move. I lunge towards it but Ravelle slams her sword into the statute, shattering it. It crumbles around us, shards of stone flying round us, hitting me, and she grabs the handle. Before I can do anything she knocks Nick's sword out of my hand. I hear the clang as it lands behind us. I'm trapped with no weapon and no time.
Ravelle smiles at me and holds the blade to my throat. I feel a sting and a trickle of blood starts flowing.
“Cut off your head and you're done for. No crawling after your own head for you,” her voice sounds sing-song now. She is magnificent, her armor is shimmering with gold and the encrusted jewels in the candlelight.
There's a movement behind her and then she lurches forward as the blade of Nick's sword plunges through her chest. She's still holding the handle. She glares at me, then her eyes turn amber, and she buzzes at me. I feel a brief wave of nausea.
Nick's blade pulls out of her and her hand and the handle of the sword goes flying across the small chapel, landing on the small altar. I run for the handle. I grab it and it fits my hand perfectly even with its heavy bronze weight. The remaining stone chips fall away.
Nick is standing behind Ravelle still holding his sword. I'm holding the handle. She staggers sideways, slumping on her side. I throw her hand to her. It seems I'm always throwing Ravelle's hand back to her.
“Blasphemy!” she hisses at me. Her face is shimmering like diamonds. I realize she is crying.
“Stay down. Don't move,” I say. She glares at me as I step around her. Nick moves to stand in front of me, but I shake my head. “Behind me,” I say. He does as he's told. We back out of the chapel into the main part of the church. I glance at the little old man's head lying by the chapel entrance, the floor wet with his blood. I feel a pain rising inside me.
We back slowly out into the side aisle. Ravelle has put her hand back on and is following us into the church. She is moving slowly too but she doesn't hold her sword out in front her.
“No, Miss Turtle. No,” she says, her wings opening and extending to their widest width.
“Who are you to tell me no? Who are you? What gives you the RIGHT?” I shout, my voice breaking. I'm gripping the sword handle but nothing is happening. I know something is going to happen, very painful, but necessary. I bear this knowledge easily.
“It's been sanctioned, Miss Turtle. Approved. Unlike your unauthorized goings on,” Ravelle spits at me. She is still moving slowly towards me even as we continue to back away from her.
“Get farther behind me, Nick,” I glance at him, his brown hair is sticking up in places as usual. It's a comfort to see him. He winks at me. I look back towards Ravelle and I hear him back further away from me.
Then it happens. The tolling of bells from outside. The sound is muffled in this place but unmistakable.
Ravelle trembles, eyes wide.
“Services are starting,” I say and I hold out the sword handle. The tolling of the time continues five times. I shift my weight and plant my feet. Ravelle backs away from me too.
The church goes very dark now with only the candlelight when the last bell tolls. The sword handle is humming now and then starts to vibrate. “Get back, Nick! No matter what happens to me stay back! Don't touch me or try to help!” I shout not moving from my spot. I'm standing almost directly center of the main aisle. The vibrating continues, rougher and more pitched. Then the sword handle is shaking. I hold onto for dear life knowing that this moment is the moment to hold on and never let go. The vibrating is so rough now that it feels like my bones and joints are going to break apart. I grip as hard as I can with my right hand. I can see Ravelle slumped up against the nearest church pillar, eyes full of terror but I can only glance at her. All my attention is focused on not letting go. My teeth start to rattle and the sound, a screalling sound, fills the room. Ravelle has to put her hands over her ears now and she curls up in agony, her angelic ears unable to take that sound.
My body still shaking, it happens. I feel an impossible pain in my hand and then a feeling of something sharp slamming up into my right arm. I can't hold onto the sword anymore but I couldn't let go even if I wanted to. I scream from the pain and collapse to the stone floor. The pain goes all the way up into my arm, across my shoulders and down my left arm. It spreads upwards to my head and down to my heart, down, down past my stomach and into my groin and legs. I'm lying on the floor writhing in agony, the pain forcing and shoving its way through my body. It feels like I'm being impaled through the inside. I scream and scream, in so much pain now that I can't see or think anymore. I scream for death, for mercy, for oblivion, but still the pain goes on. The church is breaking apart now. The decorations falling around me but I know I can't pay attention to that now. The pain runs up and down my body in a flash and then is concentrated on my right arm and hand again. My body slumps on the stone floor from the battering, the concentrated pain growing even more in my right hand, blossoming like flowers butchering their way through my flesh.
The church gradually stops shaking, the lights slowly come up, and the pain fades quickly to a dull throbbing. I can breath now. I take some deep, shaky breaths and look up. Ravelle is standing over me, sword out.
“No Ravelle. It's time for you to go home now,” I say to her, not moving. My voice is harsh and raspy from the screaming. My body shivers.
Her cheeks are still sparkling with tears. “I can't go home. Can't. I need the sword. Give it to me.”
“The Boss has given you the Ultimatum, I see,” I look at her sadly. I feel sorry for her now. She's just an angel, doing what she's told.
Her berry colored lips tremble and she nods. I don't take my eyes off her, but I sit up slowly.
“I'm going to cut off your head like I cut off that old man's. It's been sanctioned and approved, Miss Turtle. I have ALL the full permissions!” she shouts, swinging her sword at me.
Without any effort from where I'm sitting, I counter her swing with my newly completed sword and it's unearthly black blade. The blade slices Ravelle's sword like it was nothing. She takes two steps back, dropping her sword, watching in horror as her weapon shimmers and vibrates then disappears. She screams.
“Blasphemy!!!!” And she lunges towards me one last time, her hands out. I slice open her armor and her insides, cutting up through the top of her head. She shudders, green eyes huge, and I pull the blade out of her. She shakes and trembles and then a terrible gurgling scream fills the air as she shimmers. The sound abruptly stops as she disappears into nothing.
Still lying down, I wipe the tears from my eyes. I hadn't realized I was crying. Nick steps into my view and I'm so glad to see him. He holds out his hand. I take hold of it letting him pull me up. My body is very sore but I know this is not the end of it. The Boss will unleash Heaven's fury on me and I still need to find Mr. Gryphon's head.
“Are you all right?” Nick asks.
“Yeah, I know you want to know what happened but I think I need to get back to the infirmary first," I can barely stand.
“Okay. I'll wait as long as it takes,” he says.
“Thanks for coming. I couldn't have done it without you. Really.” I smile at him, my eyes hurt and I squeeze my eyes shut for a moment.
“My pleasure. I'm glad I could be of some help for a change.”
“You're always helpful, Nick. Especially in the real world,” I say, stretching out my hand in front of us. The reassuring blue door appears in front of us.
He smiles and opens the door for us. He puts his arm around me, supporting me as we go through the door. He feels and smells good. I lean my head against him. I feel like I'm going to collapse now. I walk through the door, my sword Mithra dangling from my hand.