Here is Chapter 1 of my recently finished novel, Path of Angels. Enjoy.
Aadi stopped, gave a quick glance over her shoulder at the dark alley behind her. The massive brick buildings lining the industrial park had produced military weapons and ammunition during the Great War when New Athens had been at the height of its golden age some 100 years earlier. A light fog hung over the area giving the clean empty alley an eerie glow as the light from the nearby street lamp attempted to penetrate the darkness.
Aadi slipped into the alcove near the back of the building. She rapped sharply on the solid wood door and waited. The night air was brisk; the touches of winter not yet gone. Cool shivers ran up her spine as she stood in the dark deathly silence. Come on, answer. She was late, but not so late that she should be denied entry. What if they had been caught? What if…
“The night is nearly over.” A deep voice said from inside.
She let out a breath. “And the day is near.” She replied.
Metal grated on medal as the door unlocked. Groaning, it swung open to reveal a stout barrel chested man, his head covered in a mass of graying curls. She slipped inside, the door closed and bolted behind her.
The entryway intersected three corridors to her left, right and directly ahead. The light from dozens of candles lining the hall directly ahead reached a third of the way up the thirty-foot walls leaving the unlit areas in darkness.
“It’s good to see you, Marric. How’s Saara and Steffan?” Aadi pulled back the hood of her brown sweatshirt and brushed a stray strand of her long brown hair from her face. She could almost taste the stale disused air in the place.
She tried not to breath too deeply. There were probably tons of toxic chemicals in the peeling paint and dust that covered the white painted brick walls and concrete floors.
“It’s always a pleasure to see you.” He wrapped her in his massive arms giving her a squeeze that she was sure would crack her ribs. Who would guess that a forty something old guy could be so strong? Ow.
“The family is good. Saara thinks she might be pregnant again.” He released her, and then sat down on the wooden stool near the door. Aadi stared at the battered bolt action rifle leaned in the corner, missing the rest of what Merrick said. Guns had been outlawed long before she was born. The Black Guard had them naturally, but she had never seen one outside of a museum.
“How wonderful. Saara is such a great mother,” Aadi said when she realized he had stopped talking.
“You should drop by for dinner some evening. I know Saara would love the company,” Marric said.
“I’ll do that. Thanks. Has it started yet?” Aadi asked refocusing to the task at hand.
“No, he’s been waiting for you,” Marric said.
“I should get going then. Are you coming?” Aadi asked.
“Not today. My job is here. Pray for me?” Marric said.
“I will.” Aadi turned and followed the line of candles down the hall ahead of her, her footsteps echoing off the walls.
The hall stretched on for two hundred feet before it opened into a large room.
Enormous windows, the glass covered in a a thick layer of dust, lined the upper half of the outside walls. The light from four flickering candles set on a crudely constructed altar of concrete blocks and plywood added to the lights lining the perimeter of the room. A life-sized crucifix that had survived the Cleansing was propped against the wall behind the altar, it’s polished wood charred in places.
“Good, you came. I wasn’t sure you would see the sign.” Thadi leaned against the wall, his lean frame stiff and uncomfortable. Aadi’s heart skipped a beat. Why couldn’t he be dressed in his clerics instead of the blue tshirt and jeans he wore? It was hard to think of the twenty-year-old as Father Leyon when he looked so normal. And so handsome.
They had been a couple six short months ago, before he entered the priesthood. The image of her hand on his olive skinned cheek and the look in his almond shaped brown eyes when he had said that he loved her flashed through her mind. She mentally wiped it away. She shouldn’t think of that.
“It’s the first Mass in three weeks, I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Aadi said. She looked at the wall behind him avoiding his eyes. “I thought something had happened to you. You haven’t been at the clinic.”
“I’m okay. I was reassigned to a less, um, social position. I don’t think the new Captain trusts me.” Thadi looked down at his sneakers for a moment then back at her. Their eyes met and held for several long moments. His brow furrowed.
The silence between them stretched out a bit too long. Something was wrong. “What is it Thadi? What’s wrong?” Aadi laid a hand on his arm and stepped closer to him. He stiffened. His brown eyes looked through her, a silent plea to step away. She dropped her hand and stepped back. He visibly relaxed. Oh God, this was going to be hard.
“Nothing.” He shook his head. “Nothing’s wrong.” He ran a hand through his short black hair. “I need a favor.”
“Anything.” She said. Aadi automatically reached for him again, but drew back just inches before making contact. She really needed to work on that. Thadi was off limits. He had made his choice and it wasn’t her.
“It’ll be dangerous.” He paused a moment as if he expected her to say no. “I’d do it myself, but I’m being watched.” He shifted from one foot to the other.
“Thadi, you know I would do anything for you,” Aadi said. She meant it too. Even if they could never be together, she would still be his most devoted friend.
Thadi looked away from her. The soft drone of prayer carried into the hall filling in the long awkward silence. Aadi shifted, waiting for Thadi to say something. Anything. Had he changed his mind?
“I had better get ready for Mass. See me afterward and I’ll fill you in on the details.” He walked away without looking at her.
Aadi walked into the makeshift chapel and found a place in the back row of crude benches constructed of concrete blocks and wooden planks. There were nearly a dozen people spread out on the benches, most in their teens and early twenties. Catholicism was a religion of the young, ignorant of history and unafraid of the consequences.
She genuflected, then knelt on the hard concrete floor. She bowed her head and made the sign of the cross.
Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus while before Your face I humbly kneel. Amen.
She unhooked the clasp on her necklace and joined the low drone of prayers, marking her place on the beads. The prayers were so familiar that she said them without thought. A gentle peace settled within her. The rosary had always been able to do that to her.
The prayers lasted no more than fifteen minutes, but it was enough time for her to lose feeling in her legs. A gasp escaped Aadi’s lips when she rose as blood rushed into her numb limbs. Next time remember the knee pads. She rubbed the feeling back into her legs just in time for the procession.
“In nòmine Patris, et Fìlii,et Spìritus Sancti” Thadi said beginning the Mass. The purple chasuble that he wore had seen better days. A long tear ran along the right edge of the fabric and several holes had been patched with random bits of red, blue and purple cloth salvaged from discarded vestments.
Aadi followed along as best she could as Thadi said the Mass in Latin, his back to her. She had tried to learn bits of Latin, but she couldn’t seem to grasp the language. The Mass was beautiful in a simple sort of way. All the kneeling, though was killing her knees. She was relieved when Thadi began his homily. It meant she would have at least fifteen minutes where she could sit.
“Today, I want to talk about God’s mission for us. As some of you know, I was transferred from my position at the clinic. The good Captain thought that I could better serve in a position with less contact with the general public. This change makes it difficult, but not impossible to continue, as a priest, to minister to our small community. You and I, in this society that forbids our kind, must learn to work to fulfill whatever God calls us to do with our lives.”
Aadi looked away when Thadi’s eyes found hers. She didn’t want to think about it. Didn’t want to think about the future that might have been. She would do what God wanted, but she didn’t have to like it.
When Mass was over and everyone had left, Aadi began the process of cleaning up. The makeshift chapel had to be dismantled less a Guard discover that there was an underground church operating against Aninogazar’s law forbidding religion.
In year 21 of the New Era, the Council had declared that religion was the cause of the breakdown of society. In 25 NE they outlawed it completely. The law had caused a small rebellion throughout the country, but was quickly stifled once the Red Guard was formed. They were given the power of judge and jury in matters of faith. Anyone who was caught could be immediately sentenced to death or worse.
Aadi stacked the wooden planks that had served as pews into piles along the wall. She scooped up a handful of dirt from the floor and tossed it across the boards. That should be good enough, no one comes in here anyway.
The cement blocks were randomly stacked in several locations in the room. The first block was easy to pick up and move about. Each one that followed seemed five pounds heavier than the last. Aadi worked silently beside Thadi who was back to his tshirt and jeans. The vestments and vessels stashed in a vent and the crucifix was hidden behind a stack of rotting plywood.
“I promised to deliver a relic to the St. Michael the Archangel’s parish in Galt,” Thadi said breaking the silence. Thadi helped her lay the last piece of plywood over the Crucifix. He wiped the dust and dirt from his hands on to his pants.
“It’s a gift for Father Andrias’s anniversary. I wouldn’t be a priest today without his help. It’s near impossible to get across the border and even harder to falsify service records. I owe him a lot.”
The empty room stood empty and hollow around them. A bit of morning light pushing its way through the dust caked windows. Aadi kept several feet of space between them. Act like a normal person, Aadi.
Thadi avoided eye contact. “You know that you are one of the few people that I really care for. And, I’d never ask you to do something that I thought would put you in real harm.”
“I’ll take it.” Aadi said before he could ask. “I have a cousin in Galt who I haven’t seen in years. If I took the train I could be there and back in a couple days.” Aadi smiled at him. Why worry him with the little detail that she didn’t have the money to take the train.
“God has blessed me with such a good friend.” Thadi beamed. He took a small pouch from his pocket and placed it in her hand.
The touch sent shivers through Aadi. She didn’t want him to stop touching her. She wanted him to be his old self again. The Thadi that she loved and who she thought she would love forever. She wanted…nothing she could ever have. She put the pouch into the pocket of her skirt.
“May God protect you,” Thadi said, a wide smile across his face.
Aadi’s heart sunk. She was going to Hell for sure for lying to a priest.