Authors: Jack Cavanaugh
Our purpose at Howard Books is to:
in the hearts of growing Christians
in the lives of believers
in the hearts of struggling people everywhere
Because He’s coming again!
© 2008 by Jack Cavanaugh
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information, address Howard Books Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
In association with Steve Laube Literary Agency.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Cavanaugh, Jack, date.
p. cm.—(Kingdom wars; 2)
1. Good and evil—Fiction. 2. Angels—Fiction. 3. Manuscripts—Fiction. I. Title.
HOWARD colophon is a registered trademark of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Edited by David Lambert and Lissa Halls Johnson
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or publisher.
Visit us on the World Wide Web:
To Ramona Tucker for the late-night hours you spent whipping the manuscript into shape. You are not only a talented editor, you are a special lady.
To editor Dave Lambert and the team at Howard Publishing and Simon & Schuster, Inc.: Always professional, you make me appear to be a better author than I am.
And, as always, special thanks to my agent, Steve Laube.
Our most fatal tendency is the belief
that the here and now is all there is.
Our generation is overwhelmingly naturalistic….
If we are not careful, even though we say
we are biblical Christians and supernaturalists,
nevertheless the naturalism of our generation
tends to come in upon us. It may infiltrate our thinking
without our recognizing its coming.
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned,
but sent them to Tartarus…the Lord knows how
to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment,
while continuing their punishment.
Woe to the earth and the sea,
because the Devil has gone down to you.
He is filled with fury
because he knows his time is short.
Six days angelic choirs sang in rapturous praise
As new worlds cooled within the Father’s calloused hands.
The seventh dawned with trumpets stilled, a day of rest.
In muted awe all heaven’s host beneath the stars
Reclined; at peace, content, enthralled. Save one.
Cursing, sputtering, muttering threats, a shadow figure
Slipped unseen into the fields of time.
One hand clutched a bag of tares; the other freely sowed
Discord among harmony,
Chaos among peace.
Rocks were planted in the grass,
Flowers hosted weeds.
Clouds reflected in the mud,
Flesh would know disease.
Thus did Lucifer despoil all creation’s glory,
Warping it in likeness own, perverting heaven’s story.
On morning eight the angels woke with joyful hearts,
The terror sown the night before unknown to them.
His work not done, the black-winged foe flew down to earth,
And slithered in the garden grass one final tare to throw.
While Father God prepared a Seed of flesh to sow.
ABDIEL, SERAPH OF HEAVEN
he screams were getting louder. The curses. The pleas for mercy. The clanging swords.
Unnerved by the violence, Zelek ben Judah waded elbow-deep into a mound of scrolls, frantic to find the misplaced manuscript. He cursed the incompetence of his subordinates. How many times had he lectured them? A disorganized library is worse than no library at all. To misplace a scroll is to destroy it, for who can read words that cannot be found?
Sweat ran into his eyes as he searched. He dared not lift a hand to wipe it away. Sifting through a stack of scrolls was like digging in the sand. If he pulled out now, the scrolls would tumble in and he’d have to start over. With an angry grunt, he wiped the sweat from his eye with the sleeve of his shoulder.
An ungodly shriek from the central room startled him, the dying cry of a man put to the sword. What made it worse, Zelek recognized the voice. Orosius. Only this morning the two of them had discussed the sophist Polemon of Laodikeia while eating figs.
Zelek’s heart rose to his throat. He’d spent his life hunched over manuscripts. His were hands that wielded pens, not swords. Paunchy, slow, and aging, his only chance of surviving was to find that scroll. He continued searching with greater intensity.
A tall clay jar sat at his feet. It held two scrolls with room for a third.
“Ah!” Zelek said.
In triumph he hoisted the missing manuscript. Unrolling it, he read to make certain he had the right one. A scowl wrinkled his brow. It was indeed the scroll he’d been instructed to save. But why this scroll? The two in the jar, yes. But this one?
There were worthier scrolls and codices and sacred texts. Works by Plato and Socrates. Euclid’s
Eratosthenes’ calculations of the size of the earth. Archimedes’ invention of the screw-shaped water pump. The
Irreplaceable originals. Rare copies. Works that would be lost forever. To place this nothing of a scroll in the jar with the other two manuscripts was wrong.
Zelek checked the door. His escort had not yet arrived.
Did he dare?
Laying aside the third scroll, he chose a more suitable work and placed it in the jar instead. He capped the jar with a lid and stood, satisfied with the exchange. For good measure he sealed it with wax to keep them from discovering the deception.
He donned his cap. Using both hands, he picked up the clay jar and pressed it to his chest. He was ready.
Outside the chamber chaos awaited him. A cacophony of shouts and screams, smashed shelves, and—he sniffed the air—fire. To his horror, smoke crawled across the ceiling like a legion of demons. Every nerve within him jolted as though struck by lightning. Fire was a librarian’s greatest fear.
Zelek corrected himself.
Death is greater.
He checked the doorway again. Where was the escort he’d been promised?
The room was filling with smoke, choking him. Zelek’s feet danced nervously as he began to cough.
Were they waiting for him outside? He took a step toward the doorway. Another life-ending wail stopped him. It was nearby. Death was at hand. Zelek whimpered.
He clutched the jar against his chest. He was finding it difficult to breathe.
He looked at the jar.
The third scroll! They knew. They hadn’t come for him because they knew he’d switched scrolls.
Dropping to his knees, he pulled a small knife from his waistband and cut into the wax seal. Prying the lid from the jar, he pulled out the substitute scroll and replaced it with the original third scroll.
At that instant two men with swords appeared in the doorway, tall men with broad shoulders and strong jaws. They stood serene in spotless white robes. No one would mistake them for marauders.
“I’m ready,” Zelek wheezed, the smoke strangling his voice.
His armed escorts turned toward the central room.
With fumbling hands Zelek fitted the lid on the jar, grabbed a leather pouch, slinging its strap over his head, hugged the clay jar, and ran to catch up with his escort.
The room that opened up before him was a familiar one, the domed palatial expanse of the central library. Hallways branched off in many directions leading to lecture halls, study rooms, dining areas, gardens, and an astronomical observatory.
For centuries the great library of Alexandria had been a repository of human knowledge, with hundreds of thousands of documents and records collected from every corner of the known world, the sum of mankind’s learning preserved on papyrus, vellum, and clay tablets. Now it was a battlefield. Its shelves were on fire, and its floor was littered with the dead and dying.
Their path through the carnage was arrow-straight. In order to keep close to his escort, Zelek was forced to step over bodies. Midstep he recognized Orosius, his chest slashed, his eyes staring in disbelief at the terror he had seen. The mouth that had earlier tasted figs gaped open in death.
Zelek swallowed hard, forcing back an eruption of bile.
Pairs of marauders trolled the room, looking for victims and torching shelves. Zelek’s escorts showed no concern or fear. Their swords drawn, they strode almost casually through the vaulted library.
Two marauders spied them. Then two more. And two more. A moment later six filthy, screaming, sweating, wild-eyed men were charging toward them.
Zelek’s escorts did not break stride.
Even though Zelek knew something about his escorts that the marauders didn’t know, a man doesn’t watch six armed attackers with a taste for blood charge at him without experiencing fear. A scream erupted from his throat.
The marauders closed.
Zelek’s escorts raised their weapons.
The swords shimmered, then burst into flame with a pulse of light that knocked the marauders off their feet and sent them flying backward.
Zelek’s scream turned to giddy laughter. His feet tapped with joy. Borrowing from Scripture, he sang lustily, “My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions!”
Once outside they crossed the library grounds with its statues, lush gardens, and pools, leaving behind a pillar of black smoke. They traversed the poorer section of Alexandria without incident. And upon reaching the Mound of Shards, Zelek’s escorts disappeared.
“What?” he shouted at the sky. “You would leave me now?”
He stood at the base of a stone stairway that led up to a limestone portico. One of Alexandria’s greatest works of architecture, the Mound of Shards rivaled the legendary lighthouse in the bay for its grandeur. It was remarkable for its vast intricately decorated rooms cut out of solid rock.
But despite its legendary beauty, Zelek couldn’t get past the fact that it was three levels of catacombs. A city built for the dead. Zelek despised anything that was associated with death.
With the city’s attention focused on the burning library, it wasn’t surprising to Zelek that he had the catacombs to himself. Given the number of corpses he’d stepped over, business would be brisk tomorrow.
Still clutching the clay jar to his chest, Zelek ascended the steps. To one side of the stairway there was a mountain of broken pottery, terra-cotta containers that had been discarded. It was the quantity of the refuse that had given the catacombs their name. The shattered containers had once carried the food and wine of those traveling great distances to visit the site. Not wanting to carry the empty jars home, they discarded them here.
At the top of the steps Zelek passed between pillars to the underground entrance. A feeling of dread passed over him as he stepped out of the light and into the stone-cold rooms.
The first level boasted a vestibule and a large banquet hall, complete with rotunda and extensive mosaic flooring. Rectangular limestone slabs served as tables flanked by stone couches. It disgusted Zelek to think that dining clubs regularly used this facility for entertainment. What sort of people held banquets in the catacombs?
He crossed to a spiral staircase with a central shaft six meters in diameter. The shaft not only provided light for the stairway but was used to lower bodies to the second and third levels.
At the top of the stairway Zelek hesitated. The first step down was a small one. The builders had designed it so the height of the steps decreased near the top to make it easier for people as they approached the surface. There were ninety-nine steps in all. Perspiring heavily, Zelek took a deep breath and started down.
At the second level he ran out of natural light. Torches were available for visitors. He took one and lit it.
As he turned, his heart seized and he nearly dropped the clay jar. Inches from his face was a writhing serpent, carved in stone and flanking the doorway. The flickering of the torch had brought it to life.
Unlike those in Rome’s catacombs, the images on these walls were Egyptian, not Christian.
Having caught his breath, Zelek continued downward to the third level, where he found a central hallway intersected by a series of connecting corridors. The dense humidity at this depth made it seem darker than the second level, and Zelek fought a strong urge to turn back. He tried not to think what lay beyond the reach of his torchlight.
Following his instructions, Zelek counted the connecting corridors as he passed them. At the ninth corridor he turned right and proceeded to the end, where he encountered solid rock. This was where his instructions ran out.
His torch flickering, the walls dripping, his heart pounding, Zelek waited for whatever was to happen next. Initially, when he was told of the plan to rescue the scrolls, the description of the massacre in the library had so frightened him that waiting alone in the catacombs seemed a minor thing. It didn’t seem so minor now. He stood alone in the dark, deep underground, with his only escape a hallway of row after row of rotting corpses.
“I’m here,” he said with a shaky voice.
His eyes strained at the corridor entrance, alternately wanting someone to appear and fearing someone would appear.
Then the rock wall behind him shuddered.
He jumped away from it.
It shuddered again, as did the stone floor.
Zelek’s eyes bulged with fear.
He turned to run, but as he did the rock floor tilted, throwing him against a slick wall. He managed to spin just in time so that his shoulder, and not the clay jar, took the brunt of the force.
The rock underfoot rippled like waves. To keep from falling over, Zelek sank to the floor, his back against the wall. He watched in fearful wonder as a fissure opened at the closed end of the corridor, large enough for a man to walk through.
The quaking stopped. Everything was still again. Still and silent as rock was meant to be.
A light appeared through the fissure. Soft at first, then increasing to blinding brilliance.
Inching himself up the side of the wall Zelek managed to get to his feet. He approached the fissure, clay jar in hand. He left the torch behind, for it was no longer needed.
Shielding his eyes, Zelek stepped through the fissure. An exquisite radiance awaited him.
“Gabriel!” Zelek fell to his knees and offered the jar. “I have done everything you have asked of me.”
The angel stared down at him. “Seal the jar.”
The angel’s voice resonated within Zelek’s chest like the music of a thousand instruments in perfect harmony. The feeling was pleasant to the point of distraction.
“I…I…brought the wax,” Zelek managed to say.
He shrugged the strap of the pouch over his head and retrieved the tools he needed to seal the jar. Under heaven’s gaze, Zelek ben Judah took pains to make certain the container was properly sealed. Then he placed it with several other jars that had already been deposited in the cave.
The angel nodded his approval.
Zelek sighed with relief. He had done it. He’d faced his greatest fear and preserved a pair of invaluable scrolls. Now all he had to do was climb out of this wretched hole of death.
Beaming, he said, “God willing, in the future I will tell my grandchildren of the day the angel Gabriel dispatched two of his own to guide me safely through the valley of death.”
“You would tell them a lie?” the angel asked.
The smile on Zelek’s face vanished. “A lie? I don’t understand.”
“You have never met Gabriel.”
The brightness of the angel increased dramatically. His voice boomed off the walls of the small subterranean cave. “I am Semyaza. Tremble before me.”
Zelek recognized the name. “You are Satan’s man!”
Terror animated him. He lunged for the fissure, but it had already begun to close. Desperate to get out, he stretched a hand to the other side. But who was there to rescue him? There were only corpses there. And soon he would add to their number.
The fissure continued to close. Zelek had no choice but to retract his arm to keep it from being crushed. His back against the rock, he turned toward his captor, who pulsed with heavenly radiance.