The Morning Watch

by pillarofgrace

The streets were dark and the air hung heavy with fog. This was every place and no place, but the closest place he could feel that reminded him of his location was Victorian London. But here, he was merely existing, a character to tell a story to someone else. The Character to walk someone else through the story being told.

But he began walking as the Observer. He soon came across a young couple, clearly entrenched in the battles of a long-running story of which he was merely catching a glimpse, an important moment, perhaps.

They were waiting together out in the streets near a bank. The bank was stately and proud having the appearance of grand institution, despite its waterfront location. The old worn, grey bricks echoed out strength, looking more like a fortress in the last whispers of the sunlight that day.

It appeared to him that they were waiting expectantly for someone to join them. Soon, their anticipation was granted, though perhaps not relieved, by the arrival of an older woman. Her face was thin and drawn, not in a haggard, worn-down way for she was dressed far too well for menial labor, but in a disapproving and exasperated expression. She turned on them both.

“There isn’t any money,” she informed them sharply.

“What do you mean?” asked the girl with a stunned look on her face. “He has had a trust with this bank since he was born.”

The look the boy’s mother gave the girl said it all.

“We control the trust until he turns 30,” she snapped. “Given the recent, er, circumstances….”

“Our marriage, you mean,” the girl sighed.

This seemed to be a particularly odious thought to the older woman, complete with its own stench, for her nose crinkled in displeasure at the mention of the word “marriage.”

“Yes, well…we saw fit to keep the money within our family.” She pursed her lips at them. “We’ve distributed the money from his trust equitably amongst his brothers and sisters. You will never see any of it.”

“Of course you did.” The words were not spoken; they were written as clear as day on the girl’s face. The boy, however, nodded gloomily, though it seemed to the man that he looked more closely at his shoes than at his mother, when given the chance. He took his wife’s hand in his, and they walked away from the older woman together, down the deepeningly, dark, cobblestone road.

“Poor devils,” the man thought to himself as he passed them in the street. “I don’t envy them that path.”

His path, however, drew him further down the streets of what appeared to be Victorian London. It became quite clear, however, that the place merely just appeared to be London, but it was not actually that great city at all. The man eventually walked into a great, open hall full of a bazaar of sorts, a market. And this is where the man and its events started to change from Observer to Character, and where his story truly begins.

Adam Prospero. That was his name. Yet, it wasn’t his name, he knew. It was his father’s name, and it was his father who he had come to see.

The bazaar was packed with vendors with a colorful array of materials. The colors and closely-compacted space reminded him of the Great Bazaar in Istanbul. The comparison continued as he looked up, the room having domed, curved ceilings. The large room was smaller and less traverse-able than the Great Bazaar, however keeping a decidedly Victorian feel with its grayish-white stone.

He knew that his father would be here, though he could not explain why. He had been dropped into a story, there to fulfill whatever role he was meant to play: Observer or Character; to tell about others or to experience it himself. As Character, there were two things he knew for certain: that his father would be at this bazaar, and more importantly, that there was a person after him, someone who wanted to kill him. Because he had been using his estranged father’s name as an alias all these years, he had come here to warn the real Adam Prospero before the assassin killed his father by mistake.

He spotted his father by a vendor with red, purple, and black striped fabric hanging up for both perusal and for sale. The man was clearly engrossed in the rich material, which in keeping with the older man’s history, was out of his budget. Adam doubted that would matter. He stood for a moment, gazing at the man that he had not seen for many years wondering how his father would react. Reminded of his purpose, he glanced furtively around the room, hoping that he had not been seen. He took his time moving in and out of the crowds whose presence filled the great hall with a stifled air of excitement. Still, he thought, it’s hard to move. He eventually sidled up to his father and placed a hand on the other man’s shoulder. The blond older man started in surprise.

“What are you doing here?” he whispered with a shocked expression looking with dismay at his son.

“Dad, there’s something I’ve got to….” Adam started, but something in his father’s face made him stop.

The real Adam Prospero’s face was a mediocre shadow of the herculean visage it had been in his youth. Where the edges had been hard and chiseled, they had now been softened by indolence coupled with a good dose of unchecked self-indulgence. He was a selfish man, always had been. He had left Adam’s mother many years ago, in plebian cliché fashion, for a younger woman. The younger woman had, of course, long since left him which wasn’t much of a surprise given that she was just as selfish as he was. It was probably what they had in common: a grossly, overwhelming love for their own countenance in the mirror. So, when Adam looked into his father’s face only to see the eyes darting past his face into the crowds behind him from side-to-side, he knew at once.

“You bloody fool!” he hissed, lowering his head to hide his face. “How much was your own son’s life worth to you, hey? Did you get paid just to give me up or do you get the whole amount when I’m actually dead on the street?”

He paused for a moment before delivering the real blow. “You narcissistic imbecile, did you really think they’d let you live? ”

The blow hit his father’s weakness full on. His face went ashen when he looked at his son. Then he took off like a shot, pushing aside vendors and goods alike. A man from the crowd began to chase after him, pushing past Adam, not even noticing him, and running after his father. Apparently, no one had witnessed the interchange between father and son, or at least not the assassin. Adam was tempted to leave his father to his fate, but he rejected this immediately. Before he could join the pursuit, something happened which he did not expect, nor could he explain.

A flash of bright yellow light nearly blinded Adam, throwing him slightly backward. Observer ringed clear in his psyche as he surrendered himself to its presence simply to watch.

Two other flashes quickly resonated inside the stone hall of the bazaar quickly following the first. They were nothing more than pure light, but they were hot in pursuit of the assassin. Lights and fury were ringing, not in sound, but in sight throughout the room. One light, with a bluish hue to its streaks, veered off to the left, heading off the assassin at one of the doors of the building, while another, glowing red made for the doors at the opposite end of the hall. The assassin was blocked, with no escape in sight, only an end. Where the walls existed, they existed to pen him in, he was done for. The lights inhabited all of the hall’s doors and crevices, blocked even passages only history knew of, so far as Observer could tell. That was the trick about light. It gets everywhere, he thought. The only way was up. The assassin, transforming into a dark light glowing in spite of itself, shot upwards.

The lights quickly followed, rising high above the earth, fading into bright and shining lights, stars in the sky. As the Observer watched, the lights moved and danced in their pursuit becoming more like stars the longer they stayed aloft. The stars changed colors, switching between yellow, red and blue, changing colors as they chased the assassin across the heavens. Its expanse seemed to give them fuel, while it only served to confuse the assassin’s dwindling light. He floundered while the other lights gained purpose and momentum. The lights joined more lights in the heavens and gathered together to briefly freeze into a triangular-oval shape, blue and red and yellow against the stark night sky, taking the form of what seemed to the Observer to be a modern-shaped space invention that would have awed Jules Verne himself. As its pursuit continued, the shape began to freeze as a constellation in the sky, a heavenly herald for all time of the chase taking place, the chase that had taken place, and the chase that will take place. All of a sudden, without any warning, the assassin’s now-tepid star fell. From the heavens to the earth, it fell. It made no noise, it made no sound. It just came.

Falling, falling, falling.

Abruptly, the man, the Character, slammed back into reality that took the form of a cold hard stone floor. Rising to his feet, he realized he had been left alone outside the great hall, no father, no bazaar, no vendors, no colors: black fading into an even blacker night, the fog closing in around him. It was him, the cold, and the grey-damp fog. London, if this was still London, was a fair-weather mistress to its straggling travelers who ventured out – or in his case: were left – out in the middle of the night. He began to walk through the dark, shadowy streets, his shoes clinking on the grey cobblestone. It seemed to him that his footsteps seemed to grow longer, to grow an echo, also deepening a trembling fear that surged from his more rapidly beating heart and spread into his stomach and on to his groin.

“Bugger this,” he muttered to himself. “Go on. Look behind yourself, man!”

Forcing his head to turn, he glanced behind fearing the worst. His fears were confirmed when a large black shadow took shape out of the darkness and fog, forming the shape of a tall, dark-haired, handsome younger man.

Adam cursed and slipped behind a pillar, hoping that the other man had not seen him. Where the assassin had been cloaked all in black before, with no specific features that Adam could see, he still knew it was the assassin, even though he had been unmasked. He wondered briefly if the light beings had unmasked him.

“That doesn’t matter now,” he thought to himself. “Those light creatures aren’t here now, and I must find somewhere to hide immediately!”

Ducking in and out of the fog and the pillars of buildings he was passing, he tried to gain some speed while looking for a place to hide. But as he began to walk quickly, the other man’s steps echoed his pace. Soon, he was flat-out running, gasping for breath, not daring to stop for a moment, with the assassin hot in pursuit.

Adam zigged and zagged out of the shadows, managing to finally elude his pursuer as he ducked into a large stone building that suddenly jutted out of the shadows into sight. The building was dark and seemed to be going through renovations. The entrance was ground-level, but entry into the place itself took him down a wide flight of stone stairs. There was scaffolding all around the room surrounded closely by thick stone walls. Despite its gloomy outward appearance, Adam noticed quickly that he was not alone as he saw low lights illuminating a small part of the entrance hall. A group of old women were seated on some dusty benches. They turned their heads when he clambered through the door (nearly falling down the stairs) some of them rising to see what the commotion was all about. Suddenly, Adam felt self-conscious, intruding on what was obviously an old woman’s prayer group. Looking around, it dawned on him where he was.

“This is a church.” He wheezed the obvious, out of breath.

“Do you need help?” one wizened woman asked him, concern in her voice.

“I’m being chased by something evil,” he found himself answering, much to his own surprise.

The old woman looked back at her friends knowingly and nodded. She returned to her seat and without another word to Adam, they began to pray, softly and quietly, but together. They made an odd picture to Adam, as Observer began to settle in. They were all over the age of sixty, simple, even conservative looking, and plain to the eye. But they had an openness about them, a kindness that he was having a hard time explaining or describing in his own mind’s eye. They were soft and warm: an inviting group that was juxtaposed against a shell of a building that was dusty, breezy, and broken. But Observer was cut short by the door slamming open once more, abruptly slamming Adam back into Character once again.

Darkness in the form of a shrouded cloud engulfed the church’s gateway. The cloud was as tall as the door it framed, with wispy tendrils pouring out of its ugly black depths. As dark as the night outside had been earlier that evening, no light from even the street lamps were shining through this opaque horror that now blocked the church door.  It was clearly the assassin, though at this point Adam didn’t bother to wonder how he knew that given its radical transformation. The cloud paused outside of the arch and then drew itself back as a last pause before it thrust itself through the open entryway. Adam turned to run. Before he could fully sprint away, he noticed something in the corner of his eye that made him stop and turn back towards the door.

The cloud had stopped. It was as if it had hit an invisible wall. It tried again, a sound emanating from its depths that resembled a scream, which it would’ve been…if it had lungs and a mouth. Whatever the sound might have been, or wherever it came from, it conveyed one thing: Unyielding frustration. It tried again and again to push its way through the doors to the church.

The group of older women had not moved. They sat together in quiet silence, holding hands in a circle and Adam would have thought they were completely unaware of the dangers of the situation until he saw their lips moving in prayer. He looked at the small group of women curiously, then back at the black cloud, even moving closer to it. The cloud hovered ominously in the opening, as if thinking. As Adam moved closer to the door, he saw it shift in wavy plumes, rippling as it sat in midair in oily silence.

“If it possessed eyes, it might be staring straight at me,” he thought.

It lunged to make it through the open door once more and upon failing again, finally whooshed away back into the night’s darkness without a sound. Adam peered suspiciously through the door after its retreat. The women who had been so silent and so focused up until now, praying in their circle, broke from the circle, some with grim looks on their faces, others with smiles. There were murmurs of thanksgiving, smiles of relief, and the overall tone was one of a sense of accomplishment, a humble pride at a job well done. This was quickly squelched by the original wizened woman who had first addressed Adam.

“It won’t be gone forever,” she said pointedly. “This man is still here and that thing wants him.”

“Do you want me to go?” asked Adam. “I didn’t ever mean to bring this to your door. I thought this place was an abandoned building, and I was looking for somewhere to hide. I didn’t mean….”

“Of course not,” she interrupted. “We are not afraid of that monster, and our doors are always open for anyone who wants to walk through them and seek out help and life.”

“But that thing might kill you on the way to get to me,” he pointed out. “I don’t want to put any of you in danger.”

The old woman gave him a hard look. “Young man, if that shrouded monstrosity ever does find a way into this place there are two things I know for certain. The first is that everyone that thing finds, it will kill.”

“What’s the second?” Adam asked.

“That it will take everyone in this building fighting back to drive it out.”

“Will that be enough?” Adam wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer.

She smiled at him. “It depends on the people. It always does.”

Finally facing the possibility he prayed would never happen, he asked pointedly, “Can it actually find a way in? The door….I thought…”

“There are always ways in,” she reflected. “This is, after all, still a building.”

The Observer turned away from her in pensive silence still pondering her words. The scene was starting to shift again, much like it was moving through time. Morning had broken through the night of darkness, and was started to shine through the stained glass windows. Observer could finally see a way down to the rest of the church. Where he had been standing with the scaffolding was merely a narrow stone foyer with high ceilings. It led him straight forward, gradually breaking to a hard right, opening up into an outcrop, alcove almost, filled with wooden pews facing a wall with crucifixes, statues, icons, and incense. The pews were empty as the light cast its early morning haze over them. The light made him blink unexpectedly and turn looking for its source, his eyes adjusting to the radiance of the morning.

What he saw almost took him aback: the church was huge. Its entryway seemed hard and cramped, uninviting in its narrow construction. Even the alcove that you came upon next, while exquisitely decorated was no match for the vast expanse that appeared before him now. The interior of the church was a vast edifice comprised mainly of a grayish-white limestone that immediately reminded him of other buildings he had seen in historic Jerusalem many years before. They carried the same worn-but-stately ancient look to them, a conveyance of both strength and regular use. The renovations and scaffolding had gone, disappeared, and the church remained. It had a circular form to its inner shape, a perfect circle surrounding the dais in the middle. But as a larger whole, its structure appeared to be more half-moons upon half-moons; alcoves and pews and smaller chapels making smaller moons that opened up into the larger circle.

Once he had taken in the impressive structure of the place, Observer focused on the images and decoration. A humble simplicity coupled with commanding regality rang out loud and clear from every icon, every statue, every decoration. In every step he took, without exception in all the places on the walls and floors, every faithful saint in the world, officially recognized or not, gazed back at him, either from their mosaic faces compiled of many colored stones with care, or merely from their names reaching along every open space they could find: along the floors, along the walls, and along the doors.

He walked for long awhile in contemplative silence, reading the names and gazing at the faces of some long-since past, others recently gone. He finally roused from his attentions from the countless names and faces, and gazed upon the large raised circle in the middle of the church. It was the altar area. The circle was set apart from the rest of the building by a waist-high rail though not an unbroken rail as it had multiple access points for the priests to move in and out of easily. It ran in a perfect sphere, following the inner circumference of the larger building. Above this circle was a dome and where the dome met the top of the walls, stained glass followed this sphere giving the light streaming through it the sense of a foundational strength to structure of the church. The light from these windows above shone down upon the round dais illuminating it fully. Observer looked down at the altars because there was not just the singular altar but many. The altars ran around the circle, each with its own place along the railing with its own relic and cross. The priests tended each to his own altar but all moving freely, in and out of the altar circle as their duties commanded.

There were other people in the church as well, praying at the various half-mooned chapels, kneeling in the pews, and some were just wandering around admiring the beauty of the church as Observer was doing.

The scene rapidly changed; a heavy clank at the door drew Character back running into the narrow narthex. He arrived just in time to see the door flying open, with the monstrous black cloud back and looming in the doorway. It paused in front of the door and then slunk from view, seemingly defeated as it had been before. The old women and their prayer group were no longer there; vanished into the morning light. Their vigil had ended. Adam was grateful for this, but a twinge of fear gripped him as he wondered to whom the watch had passed. A few seconds later, the twinge of fear strengthened its grip because instead of a black cloud in the doorway, there emerged the tall, dark-haired handsome man that Adam had seen the previous night. It was the assassin.

As men go, he was perhaps even more appealingly handsome in the light of day. He had a broad forehead, a square jaw, and a bedazzling smile. He was dressed to the nines, every speck of his black three-piece suit ironed to perfection. Even his shoes were shined, and his black hair was styled admirably into place with no trace of grease or oil. He had henchmen this time, looming behind him with a grotesquely violent air to them. They leered into the church wickedly, hanging behind the assassin. The assassin grinned his charming smile though to Adam, it hid a mocking snarl masked behind his perfect white teeth. The assassin looked at the door and paused at the threshold for a split second. Suddenly, he grinned and with wide strides stepped through the doors and into the church. His henchmen followed quickly, hot on his heels.

Adam made for the larger church as quickly as possible. There were people in here, he thought, people who should know what’s coming. The old woman said we would need everyone. He started to inform the people in the pews and small chapels as fast as he could. He tried to make them understand what was happening, though he knew it would become apparent soon enough. He managed to successfully convince a few of the people, and their small band began to pray as the assassin and his thugs moved into the main church and out of the narrow narthex. The assassin was still dressed in black with a malevolent smile now clearly spread across his face. His followers had assumed long, crimson robes, and they mirrored his mocking smile with amusement showing in their now-glowing red eyes.

Half of the assassin’s followers moved quickly and decidedly towards the circular dais, and the other half went to find and collect the priests from the further inner reaches of the church. His supporters reemerged dragging men in robes behind them by whatever means was necessary to subdue them.  The more resistant men were being yanked aggressively by their hair; others were being hauled by their belts or the back of their collars. As soon as they reached the large room of the main church, the men in red crimson started to stab or strangle the men they had subdued. Then they turned from their slaughter to set their sights to help their companions on the dais. The assassin watched with a lazy amusement as his red-eyed followers started forcibly removing priests from their altars and butchering them, their blood spilling; running over all the names and faces on the stone floor. Once the crimson robes had successfully murdered a dozen priests, they began to pile the dead one on top of the other in front of the spherical dais, pulling the bodies from inside the altar circle.

Adam was desperate, the words of the old woman ringing in his head. He ran around the church, gathering other people around him. He needed to do something, attempt something, but he possessed no special knowledge that would aid him in the prevention of this violence. The violence had not turned away from the clergy to everyone else yet, but he knew it would only be a matter of time. The red-robed followers would walk straight past all of them to chase after priests and other clergy, stabbing them, the blood of the people staining the red of their robes an even darker shade of crimson.

So in desperation, Adam prayed. As he ran along the paved stones of the church floor, he would look down at the faces of the saints he was walking over, and look up to the walls for the names. He asked for all of their help, just as he would ask a living sister or brother to help him. Pray for help. Pray for deliverance for us. Every name he saw, he begged them all.

Adam was drawn to a halt in front of one of the altars, directly across the rail from a priest who was kneeling before his altar. He was short and elderly with a bald spot shining from the top of his white hair. He was dressed in brown robes, and he had prostrated himself in front of the altar, hands uplifted. One of the assassin’s men was standing behind him, with a jagged wooden knife held to his throat.

“Martyrdom! Thanks be to God!” the priest cried in ecstatic resignation.

Adam stood dumbfounded. He found his voice and yelled at the priest, “Fight back! We can beat them if you fight back! We can drive them out again! There are more of us than there are of them! Look at the people in your church all praying, all wanting to help you. We can fight them back. Please lead us! Just fight back!”

It was as if Adam’s words came out and fell on deaf ears. The priest had apparently accepted his glorious demise before he had ever even knelt. The assassin had heard this priest and walked over to stand behind the crimson man with the jagged knife. It was as if the dark man didn’t even see Adam, who had fallen on his knees in supplication before this priest begging for him to see the truth, begging him to lead his people. The assassin leered at the priest before he commanded his follower “Do it.”

The red-robed man slit the priest’s throat with the jagged wooden knife, his body crumpling forward and his blood cascading onto the altar.

“No!!!” Adam cried, crying out against the priest’s needless death. His head was swimming. The massacre was still continuing around him, priests falling like flies, and a fit of madness took him. He waited for the red-robed man to walk out of the dais. He then threw himself at the glowing eyes, wresting the wooden dagger away from him. Almost stunned by his success, he paused for a split second looking into the man’s crimson eyes. Remembering the priest, his jaw hardened, and Adam stabbed him in the belly with the wooden implement. It did not kill the man however. It barely wounded him, only moderately slowing the robed henchman. But then the crimson man saw him. All the assassin’s followers saw him. In a split second, Adam had become enemy number one. They slowly began to move towards him, methodical and malevolent. Adam was still holding the jagged wooden dagger dripping with both the priest and the follower’s blood as he turned to face them all.

A dark woman emerged from the sea of crimson robes, that were now all converging on him, holding another wooden knife which forced Adam to move backwards as she approached. She stood tall and ominous, at least his height. She had long black dreads of hair, and her ears were ornamented with shrunken, shriveled heads hanging by strings eerily suggestive of mementos or prizes from another evil day in another place or time. Her eyes pulsated red as she focused on Adam, and she moved closer and closer. Her aggressive charge had backed him into a pew. He stumbled as she pressed in on him, with the others close behind him. Her red eyes grew larger, closer to his with every breath he took. She was over him.