Authors: Jack Cavanaugh
Belial frowned. “You wound me. I am not Semyaza’s man. There are many of us who grow increasingly disgusted with his tactics. Does that surprise you? Give it time, Grant, and you will learn that we are not the united horde you make us out to be.”
“Then why are you here?”
He appeared hurt by my tone. “No reason,” he said, shrugging it off. “I’ve said what I came to say. I’ll take my leave.”
He looked at me suspiciously. “I like you, Grant. But I draw the line at helping you clean up.”
“I have a friend who…well, it would mean a lot to me if you could give her an interview.”
“Your reporter friend? Jana Torres?”
I didn’t like that he remembered her name.
Belial grinned. “I can think of worse ways to spend thirty minutes. Tell her it can be arranged.”
ou have to respect a man with this many books,” I said, loading my twelfth cardboard box. Sue and I stood waist-deep in boxes in the professor’s college office. I held up a small blue volume. “I have just one question for you. What’s a Polyglot?”
Sue studied the word on the book spine. “It’s a book about parrot languages.”
“Polyglot a cracker?”
We laughed. Of course it was silly, but silly felt good and it became the tone for the day. Along with polyglot jokes.
“What’s a polyglot?”
“Anything he can hold in his claws.”
We didn’t care that our jokes made no sense.
“What should I do with this?”
It felt good to laugh. Even better to see Sue Ling laughing. Ever since the professor’s death she’d appeared smaller, frail and vulnerable. It hurt to see her this way.
I hadn’t told her about my book contract being canceled or the break-in. I didn’t want to add to her sadness right now. If silly wordplay lifted her spirits, I was all for it.
With the books packed, I turned to the walls, taking down diplomas, awards, pictures. All the photos were school-related except for three framed portraits on the desk. One of the professor with his wife’s arms around his neck. One of his daughters. And one of Sue Ling.
“Look at this.” I removed a plaque from the wall. The professor’s coat of arms. “Forsythe is Scottish. It means, ‘a man of peace.’ The family motto is:
I stopped short of the translation, wishing I’d read it before saying it.
“Repairer of ruin,” Sue translated.
Having spent yesterday tramping through the rubble that had once been the professor’s house, I feared the motto would dampen Sue’s spirit. I was grateful that it didn’t.
I found a scratchpad square of paper taped to the wall so that it could be seen while sitting at the desk. It was a quotation from Dante, supposedly given to him by his hero, the poet Virgil:
Whatever plot these fiends may lay against us, we will go on. This insolence of theirs is nothing new.
“Can I have this?” I asked.
“A piece of notepad paper, Grant?”
I showed it to her.
“That’s his handwriting,” she said. “Take it.”
She turned away, and as she did all the silliness left her. The quotation did what I feared the coat of arms would do. It reminded her that the professor was a casualty of war.
“I’ve decided to work on my dissertation,” she said. “It will take a while to get back into it, but I think I can finish it in a year.”
“Dr. Sue,” I said with a grin. “That sounds better than Sue the doctor, doesn’t it?”
She didn’t laugh. The good times were gone.
“If you need help with research on your book,” she said, “or want me to proof the pages for you, let me know. It would look good on my resume to say I assisted Grant Austin with his second Pulitzer Prize–winning book.”
That stung. I thanked her for the offer and let it pass.
“I’m moving back to my apartment tonight,” she said. “I’ve imposed on Jana long enough, though it has seemed like old times living together again. It’s going to take a while adjusting to living at my apartment. I usually only sleep there.” A pause, then, “You can come visit me.”
“You know I will. Besides, it’s not like we won’t be seeing each other. We still have the training sessions.”
She’d been pulling files from a cabinet. She stopped. “You’re still going through with the training?”
“Of course I am. I’m not going to let Semyaza get away with this.”
She became smaller just standing there. Her head bowed. Her shoulders sagged. Fear glazed her eyes. Was she frightened for me, or for herself?
“You’ll help me, won’t you?” I said. “I need someone on my side. All Abdiel does is yell at me.”
“Abdiel’s continuing your training?” she asked.
“Why wouldn’t he?”
“Why would he?”
She had a point. I had just assumed Abdiel would continue training me. But he had always participated at the professor’s request, hadn’t he? And even then he often acted as though he didn’t want to be there.
Without Sue and Abdiel, I was sunk.
I placed the pictures on the desk and went to her. She didn’t look up. As often as I’d felt the sting of her sharp tongue, the heat of her fiery gaze, and the painful jab of her wit, I preferred them to the defeated woman standing before me. I wanted to take her in my arms, press her to my chest, rest my cheek against her head, and assure her that everything would all right. But if I made a move toward her and she recoiled, the damage between us would be irreparable.
“Sue, I need you. Your knowledge. Your encouragement. Your friendship. Nobody understands me like you do. If I get Abdiel to agree to continue the training, will you help me?”
For a long time she said nothing. I gave her the time she needed. The longer she took, the more I convinced myself she was searching for the words to turn me down.
“I’ll help you if you answer one question to my satisfaction.”
“OK,” I replied hesitantly.
“How many glots has a polyglot got if a polyglot could glot polys?” She looked up at me with an impish grin.
I laughed. “How long have you been cooking up that one?”
“Most of the morning,” she said with a smirk.
Abdiel agreed to continue my training with reluctance. What he disapproved of most was that I had badgered him for two days to get him to appear. I called to him in my apartment, at the beach, on the patio at Heritage College (the librarian complained and security asked me to leave), and standing in the rubble on the professor’s property. I even called out to him in the shower, since he appeared to enjoy popping in at inconvenient moments.
“I’m not your genie in a bottle,” he complained.
“Fine. Get a cell phone and I’ll text you.”
My training resumed three days after the professor’s funeral in my condominium’s recreation room. My place was still a mess, and Sue’s apartment was too small. The rec room seemed the logical choice. It was large and people rarely used it during the day.
The room had a billiard table, a Ping-Pong table, a wet bar, and a wall lined with video arcade games, including Ms. Pac-Man, Asteroids, Golden Tee Golf, and a Spiderman pinball machine. A bulletin board was plastered with notices from the association, lost-animal flyers, and appliances for sale. In other words, it was a perfect location for spiritual warfare tactics.
Sue sat at a table on a folding chair, a stack of physics textbooks beside her. Abdiel and I stood facing each other in the center of the room. Two things united us: devotion to the professor and the common goal of finding a way to unmask Belial and thwart this worldwide deception. For some reason he’d taken a liking to me. Maybe we could take advantage of that.
“If he can’t see swords, he can’t defend himself!” Abdiel insisted.
“Maybe he’s incapable of seeing swords. Did you ever think of that?” Sue said.
My training had picked up right where it left off.
“If he can see angels, he can see swords,” Abdiel insisted.
“Are you accusing Grant of lying?” Sue challenged.
Sue had been disagreeable ever since Abdiel appeared. I should have realized she would hold him accountable for the professor’s death. And she was miffed at me for having to hear about my canceled book contract and condo break-in from Jana.
I was equally frustrated. No matter how hard I tried I could not see Abdiel’s sword unless he showed it to me. If it was as easy as he said it was, why couldn’t I do it?
“Let’s try the teleportation again,” I suggested.
“How can I make you understand?” Abdiel said. “If you cannot see an enemy’s sword—”
“We’ll come back to it. You have my word.”
That seemed to satisfy him. It placated Sue. And it gave me a chance to succeed at something. I didn’t want to admit it, but I was getting discouraged. If I was able to see my sword right now, I was afraid it would look like a limp spear of asparagus.
“Try taking it one step at a time again,” Sue suggested. “Try the wall.”
With Abdiel beside me, I put my toes against the wall. He raised a hand and I fended it off. “You’re not going to smash my head into the wall again, are you?”
“It seemed to knock some sense into you last time,” Abdiel replied.
Sue reminded me of the physics. Theoretically, given the vast amount of space in the universe even on the tiniest level, a normal person could do this given enough attempts. Being part angel, I had an advantage.
“I’m ready,” I said.
With Abdiel’s hand on my shoulder, side by side we stepped through the wall, emerging poolside. I felt some resistance going through the wall, but it wasn’t difficult and, more important, it didn’t hurt. Coming back through was even easier.
“Now try it on your own,” Abdiel said.
“Wait!” Sue jumped out of her chair. “Grant, do you think you should?”
The latent junior-high kid inside me was shouting,
“Are you kidding? This is so cool!”
The adult Grant was worried that I might get stuck halfway through.
“If that happens, I’ll pull you out,” Abdiel said.
“I’m going to do it,” I said.
Sue folded her arms and took a step back.
I stood with my nose to the wall and took a deep breath. Closing my eyes, I thought about what it felt like to pass through the wall. I leaned forward.
My forehead felt a cool pressure from the drywall. I felt resistance, like walking into a stiff breeze. Leaning into it, I took a step. It felt like the molecules of the wall were trying to congeal around me. I pressed harder.
I cleared the outer edge. The resistance gave way, and I stumbled onto the deck just as one of my neighbors was walking past the pool, looking at his mail.
My sudden appearance startled him. Envelopes went flying. He jumped away, found the edge of the pool, did the windmill thing with his arms, and splashed into the water.
I jumped back through the wall before he surfaced.
“Grant, you did it!” Sue gave me a congratulatory hug.
Abdiel was proud of me. I was proud of me.
“I think I’m ready to try that dimension thing again,” I said.
“Grant, are you sure?” Sue had hold of my arm.
“I’ve completed step one. Step two is the logical next…well, step.”
Abdiel was already looking for a thinning of the dimensional membrane. “Over here,” he said, motioning me to a spot in front of Ms. Pac-Man.
“Grant…” Sue said.
“I really want to do this, Sue. One of Semyaza’s strategic advantages is his ability to choose where and when our confrontations take place. If I can do this, I’ll be able to escape if necessary, or follow him and confront him at a time and place of my choosing.”
I didn’t say it, but I thought that if the professor had had this ability, he’d still be alive.
“Besides,” I said, “think of the money I’ll save on airfare.”
Abdiel positioned me in front of the membrane. I couldn’t see it, but this time I could feel something there. Cold. Gelatinous. Abdiel put his hand on my shoulder.
“We’ll try it slower this time,” Abdiel said.
I nodded. My heart hammered. I thought I could feel my breath bouncing back into my face. Something was definitely there.
I prepared myself the same way I had with the wall. Eyes closed. Imagining myself going through it.
Following Abdiel’s lead, I took a step.
The next thing I remember was moaning with the cool tile floor pressing against my back. Sue was on her knees bending over me. I heard her voice echoing down a long tunnel.
“Is it possible to bruise atoms?” I asked. “Because every atom in my body aches.”
She helped me into a chair.
“You progressed farther than last time,” Abdiel said.
“And you were unconscious longer!” Sue added.
“I suppose we’re done for the day,” Abdiel said. “I will take my leave.”
“Wait,” Sue said. “I want to try something else.”
“I would have thought you’d be the first one wanting to quit,” I said.
“As would I,” Abdiel added, also taken aback.
“Sue, if you want me to try to fly, I’m afraid my wings are a little tired.”
She wasn’t listening. Neither was she smiling.
“I’ve been thinking,” she said, “about the mark. Exactly what does it protect Grant from, and more important, what does it not protect him from?”
“It doesn’t make me impervious to pain,” I said, my head still spinning. “And it doesn’t make me immortal.”
“Are you certain of that?” Sue said. “I mean, for at least while you have the mark?”
“The mark protects me from Lucifer and Semyaza,” I said. “I don’t think it protects me if I step off a cliff.”