He can’t run like he used to. He reaches the church doors puffing and sweating, feeling his age in his throbbing joints. Fumbling out his ring of keys he turns one in the lock, finds it is already open, and pushes his way inside with the creak of hinges now turned ominous.
Inside, Mark turns to him, eyes a little wide.
“What have they done?” His shadow stretches between the pews to be lost in the shadows.
“Master, I’m sorry, I don’t know. They went into the crypt-“
Of course! He rushes down the isle and to the crypt-door, which is still ajar. There is soft light below, and silence. He shuffles quickly down the stone steps and into the dry, cool room beneath the sanctuary.
They are gone. He can see the scattered remnants of Alistair’s rote, and other marks from those apparently with him. The place reeks of death, and something worse beneath that, and the smell of alcohol is a twinge in his nose. Otherwise, there is no sign.
He closes his eyes, and though he does not need to, he calls upon an ancient symbol of his people, to be certain he sees clearly. The words roll from him sonorously, and he sounds like the cantor he once was long, long ago.
Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Elohaynu Adonai Echad
Barukh Shem k’vod malkhuto l’olam va-ed…
The divine energy of the place immediately manifests itself in his second sight. He can see that his wards are still fully in place, but he also knows what brought him here in such haste. If I can sense it, so can anyone. His singing ends with the last words of the Shema, and he looks deeper. Soon he can see what was done, and how. But why here? Why now? It seems so hasty, the barest preparation…and who are these other people? Some he remembers from Alice’s attempt at a meeting that ended so poorly…..
Behind him, Mark, who has quietly come down the stairs, quietly clears his throat. “Master, I’m sorry, I truly am, but…there are visitors. They’re outside. They…they just arrived. Alistair mentioned…the Technocracy. I think…I think they’re here.”
Isaac slumps, expelling a long breath. Why the haste? Of course. Why else?
“Master? There are…police…and large, dangerous looking men. What – what should we do?”
Silently, smoothly, he reaches into his cassock and withdraws a small handful of ashes – his own. He recalls his wounds, still burning in the light of the divine. He mixes the ashes with his own saliva, tasting the acrid remnant of his own flesh, and makes the sign of the cross, symmetrical, inscribed in a circle on his forehead. There is only the One.
Mark falls silent again, feeling the power begin radiating from the old man. He has no words. He is terrified he may never see his Master again, but he can find nothing to say. Isaac turns toward the stairs, pauses to put a hand on Mark’s shoulder. His hands are so warm! Their eyes meet, but Mark has to look away at what he sees. Something wonderful and terrible for which there are no words.
Isaac strides firmly up the stairs and down the isle. Through the open door he can see them, assembled outside in a semicircle. Two in black, mirror shades, flanked by two of their killer cyborgs. Two police cars, men nervous with hands on their guns. He knows someone is trying to watch him. Across the street, a black Cadillac gleams in the streetlight.
When he becomes visible, still in the church, he sees the four in the foreground tense slightly. The flow of energy in the cyborgs changes – they are preparing something. The two at the center are protected, but not quite certain of themselves. The older one hides it better, and he speaks first. Isaac sees his tiny, bent reflection in the sunglasses.
“Good evening. You can call me Agent Winter. This is Agent Door. It seems we have a…situation. Approximately twenty minutes ago there was an…event which took place. Those involved are currently wanted for questioning in the attempted murder of my associate, among other things. The epicenter of the event is this church. We’re going to need to come inside and have a look around.” He pauses, waiting for a response.
Isaac watches him, listening; behind his serenity there is…something else. “Twenty minutes. From Manhattan? I would have thought there would be more traffic.”
Winter’s eyes flicker to his associate, who glances back in return. Isaac feels he is being probed, but they will hopefully find only emptiness. Finally, he responds. “Yes. Well. We wish to expedite these procedures as much as possible. Persuant to that, I’m sure you won’t mind if we come in.”
Isaac sadly shakes his head. “They have gone, I assure you. I can show you enough to see that I am not lying, if you do not know by other means. I know you can analyze these things from a distance, and I will allow that as well, as a courtesy to you and a sign that I wish only peace.” At the word ‘allow, a muscle flexes in Winter’s cheek. “However. This is a place of God. It is sacred and holy. I know without your grimace that this means nothing to you. It does mean a great deal to me. I cannot allow you entry. If the police wish to enter, to process the scene, they may, though I doubt they will find anything to help them. You however, and your companion Agent Door, and the two large gentlemen with you, and those in the Cadillac parked nearby, are not welcome.”
Mark, watching from inside, knows something terrible is growing. But who is there to help? No one.
Agent Door tenses and becomes fidgety. Agent Winter, in contrast, becomes still. All warmth leaves him. He slowly removes his glasses, puts them in his suit pocket, stares into Isaac with eyes like chips of ice.
“I don’t think you understand. This isn’t a request.”