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Carpenter's Hammer

The world is mere days from a catastrophe that will mean the end of the world.
Only one thing stands between life and eternal damnation: The Sword of Archangel Michael.

Carpenter's Hammer

by Adrian Kleinbergen

8175 words

The man locked the door behind him and surveyed the room briefly, moving to the large black desk that dominated it and lay his valise upon the blotter. He was stocky, with broad shoulders and the modest paunch of post-middle age. He had a round, balding head with a ponytail of iron-grey hair and a bristling grey moustache adorning a seamed, weathered face. Soft flecks of light winked off the frames of his gold-rimmed glasses and the heavy gold ring in his left ear. Without the cleric’s black suit and dog-collar, one might have mistaken the man for a retired cycle gang member who could still ride tall in the saddle.

Undoing the clasps of the case, he withdrew a folder and settled himself into chair that stood sentinel with the desk. He read the slim dossier, concentrating on each page until finished, then sighed and rubbed his temples. He rose from the chair and crossed the room to where a large safe sat squatly. Pausing, he dipped two fingers into a font of Holy water and touched his forehead, chest, and both shoulders before rotating the dial of the combination lock. He spun the knob until the last tumbler clicked smoothly into place and the heavy door swung outward, revealing the dark interior. Upon metal shelves rested an array of disparate items: a cylinder containing Holy oil; a .44 Magnum four-barrel derringer; and a gold Pyx containing a Communion wafer.
The man pondered the objects, then placed the items into his heavy overcoat. He handled the small blunt pistol, frowning as he hinged open the breech, and examined the interior.
Smiling faintly, he snapped the gun closed and slipped it into a metal frame strapped onto his right arm. Adjusting two threaded pins, the gun was firmly locked into the fast-draw mechanism then he smoothed out his sleeve. He tested the operation, flicking his arm outwards and grasping the pistol as it slithered into his palm in the blink of an eye. He nodded to himself as he reset the device and prepared to leave.
Closing the safe gave the man feeling of forboding, which he was used to, and of destiny, which he was not. Turning away, he walked towards the door and left the room. Down the corridor, another man passed him on the way out and greeted him.
"Good evening, Father Carpenter," the man said.

The man in the black topcoat crossed the floor of the Cathedral's dark interior and stopped only to genuflect, and daub his fingers in the font once more. He crossed himself with a practised formality and then stepped towards the massive door. Heaving it open he breathed fresh, snow-laden air with relief, glad to be out of the stifling, incense-laden atmosphere within. He stepped across the slushy path to the car where he was faced with spray painted graffiti adorning the roadside wall of the Cathedral. He sighed. The image of a crudely rendered sword made Carpenter frown as he stopped to examine the vandal's work.
"DOOMED TO HELLE... SATAN RULES!" Screamed the fluorescent orange hieroglyphs, garish despite the night's gloom.He studied the portent and muttered to himself as he walked to the waiting car.
"Not if I can help it..."

The black sedan pulled away from the curb in a spray of slush and was soon swallowed by the evening traffic's glaring headlights. Overhead, the full moon leered yellowly between ghostly wisps of cloud, and the Cathedral bells began to chime.
Inside the warm confines of the car, Carpenter stared out through the sleet-blurred window and the driver spoke.
"So,what’s the plan, Father?" Carpenter looked up at the man and answered.
"We have a difficult job ahead, Matthew. We need our best people for this one."
"I understand." answered the driver with a frosty smile. Carpenter withdrew a cell phone from his coat pocket. Punching the keys, he then waited for the response. The line clicked and a voice spoke.

"Carpenter here... you're needed."
"Midnight tonight at the usual place?"
"Yes. The Vicarage. Inform the others and make sure they’re ready...." Carpenter replaced the phone into his pocket.
"Let's go home and prepare, Matthew. We don't have much time..."
The car sped onwards, soon lost in the gloom of the cold November night.

Midnight struck and several cars took position in an otherwise empty parking lot behind a warehouse in the city's east end. Driven snow plastered the northern face of the structure and the wind howled. Dark figures, rim-lit by the moon, trudged through snow as they converged at the back door of the building and were admitted by a husky man standing watch. Inside, the figures doffed their overcoats and seated themselves in a semi-circle in front of a lectern where Carpenter stood. The old building creaked and shuddered to the buffeting of the storm as people seated themselves. When they were settled, Carpenter spoke.

"Good evening, all of you,”the man's voice boomed,” We, the members of the Order of St.Michael the Defender are gathered here tonight to face the Darkness. As before, as is and as will be, we the Knights of Archangel Michael put forth the light to dispel the dark and dedicate our lives and our souls to God, the Almighty who has given us the Gift and the Burden of responsibility. The Gift shall give us understanding, the Burden shall give us strength and both shall smite the Usurper and banish him til the day of ultimate reckoning... Amen."
"Amen..." came the response. The man smiled and became less formal now that the prayer of Faith had been incanted. Outside, the watchman stood, cloaked in shadow, his breath steaming. A close observer would not have detected the Uzi under his leather coat.

Within the musty warehouse, Carpenter knew there was no more time to waste. This would be the most potentially dangerous mission ever undertaken by the Order, and he did not know what the price of failure would be.
"People," he toned as he thumbed the switch of a slide projector," this slide shows the frontispiece of an ancient text that was found at Jericho II . It's currently under investigation and evaluation at the Vatican manuscript labs. It's existence is unknown to the public as are many such documents and it was here that the enigma began. Look at the design in the centre of the parchment. The image is faded and broken, but the next slide..." Carpenter thumbed the button again and the machine obeyed
" The next slide shows an enhanced view."

The group of people looked in fascination at the screen in front of them but Carpenter knew they didn't realize the significance of the design that would soon be etched in their minds forever.
"You see the shape of an ornate, two-handed sword. Now look at this..."
Another slide flashed.
"This illuminated page from the 'Biblia Sanctifi' found at Val Camonica near Brescia, in Italy... you see the sword motif again." Slide flash.
"This fresco in a church ruin near Descani, in the former Yugoslavia shows a flaming sword about to be grasped by a great hand. What we're seeing is the continual recurrence of this sword's image but what is important is that the image is now considered to represent a genuine artifact." A final slide showed an illuminated page from an ornate bible. The illustration depicted the Archangel Michael, resplendent and mighty, holding out a massive sword to a group of armoured holy men. Latin text framed the picture and Carpenter translated aloud.

"Unto those precious mortal men that do honour and praise me, I bestowe upon thee my sword, which shall be named Shaddai, the Arm of God, until such time as I will be called upon to defend the Heavens and the Earth from the Star Wormwood, the Lord of Flies and his legion. The Holy men of this land will then guard this blade until the signs are at hand and the sword returned to my grasp."
Carpenter turned to address the group.
"Before you comment, this page is from a text that you won’t have seen before; it’s from a still-unreleased page of “Dead Sea Scrolls”, that has been classified as one of the 'forbidden books.' For centuries the Vatican has withheld certain texts like the 'Liber Ivonus', the 'Unauschprechlingen Kulten' of Von Junzt, the 'Cultes des Ghoules' of Comte d’Erlette and so on. Apart from those obvious texts there are a variety of 'Bibles' and Holy texts that predate the King James, Douay and Gideon versions that are prevalent today. The church deemed it necessary to erase certain knowledge contained in those older books in the best interests of the common man." Carpenter nodded at a spectacled young woman who motioned to speak.
"What exactly are we looking for, Father?"
"The greatest religious relic in our history, Lyta... The Sword of Archangel Michael."
The group grew silent and more than one brow furrowed in disbelief.
Before they could rise in a wave of questions, Carpenter spoke.

"The sources at my disposal have revealed mostly apocryphal legends concerning the Sword, but a clue to its location came to my attention before I was even aware of it." Carpenter thumbed a fresh slide and the room was illuminated by the image. The grainy, black-and-white image of a group of young men in desert gear, posed and smiling in front of what looked like the great colonnaded doorway to a vast temple. A man with a long ponytail spoke up.
"That looks like the Kahzneh, at Petra , in southwest Jordan."
"That's correct, Mr. Franzoni. I was with the University of Gibraltar in the linguistics department in those days; that's me on the left, by the way. Back in '52 we made a pretty thorough investigation of the Wadi Araba area. We examined the High Place of Sacrifice, the Jebel Khubtha, the Corinthian Tomb and especially the Khazneh, which is a huge palatial facade carved out of the living rock of the valley. It's name means 'treasure' because it has a number of legends surrounding it concerning hidden riches." He thumbed another slide.
"Here is the narrow canyon or 'Siq' that leads to the complex within. You can see the Khazneh at the end of the chasm. We spent a long time searching around the ruins but the interiors of the facades are basically small, empty chambers, devoid of artifacts. We scoured the interior of the Khazneh with painstaking scrutiny and we were able to determine only one thing. The chamber within had been carved from the inside out."
"Inside out?" Franzoni said, puzzled.

"The chamber predated the outside facade by about two thousand years. Dr. Brinton eventually determined that from the direction of the hammer strokes and the marks they left. What we couldn't determine was where the opening to the connecting tunnel must be. We were never able to find out. Our grant was almost depleted and we were forced to return to the University. My instructor and colleague, Dr. Brinton wrote a paper on the discovery but it was largely ignored."
The woman named Lyta looked mystified.
"It's an impressive story, Father but what does it have to do with why we're here?"
"Because of this." He thumbed the last slide.
The screen flashed again and the image of another illuminated parchment appeared. It was the unmistakable image of the ornate facade of the Khazneh. A mass of people knelt before the columned structure and the people in the illustration all looked upward toward the face of the edifice, which, superimposed upon the carved stonework, was the undeniable shape of an enormous flaming sword.
The room grew silent and the howl of the midnight wind was the only sound to punctuate the tableau. The one called Franzoni spoke first.
"The sword is there? At Petra?" He stared at the image on the screen.

"No one's sure.Its existence has only now been relegated as a possibility by the Vatican. Even those who take the sparse legends concerning the blade seriously have never been so bold as to mount an expensive expedition to find it. . . until now." The group, shrouded in the dark of the creaking warehouse, stared at Carpenter in amazement. He continued into the awed hush.
"The real question right now is whether there is a hidden tunnel entrance inside the Khazneh. The way to the Sword will certainly hinge on that tunnel, if we can find it in time." The one named Lyta frowned again.
"In time for what, Father?" Carpenter's face clouded and he pressed on, knowing that what lay ahead was no mere archaeological jaunt.
"There are other - forces to be reckoned with here. Forces that are determined to keep the Sword from being found and will do whatever it takes to stop us. The time of this millennium is drawing to a close and a nexus is forming around us. The time of crisis between the forces of Good and Evil is creeping closer and the Sword is the key to unlock Armageddon."
Franzoni looked doubtful.

"Father, I don't want to rain on your apocalyptic parade but even I think that something seems awfully blown out of proportion here. I mean, there are always greater and lesser evils to be dealt with in the world but you’re making it sound too much like ‘The Lord of the Rings’ to be taken seriously." Carpenter looked at the young man sadly and shook his head.
" That's what I thought when my old instructor originally told me of the legend, when it was still a closely guarded secret. I laughed, politely of course, but I didn't take it seriously for a long time: until I saw the parchments you've all seen just now." Carpenter opened his mouth to continue when the one named Lyta stood suddenly.
"Yes, Lyta? What is-" He went silent immediately and his eyes widened in horrified shock as the young woman screamed. Her shriek split the dead air of the warehouse and she convulsed with a violence that split the seams of her plain black suit. her mouth contorted and her eyes blackened as her skin grew taut and parted with a wet tearing sound over her joints. The people seated around her rose in a panic and they stumbled away, overturning chairs in their wake. Amidst the spraying blood and the shrieking, another smaller figure seemed to be ripping its way out of the now-unrecognizable body. The figure, drenched in gore clambered out of the ruined meat and entrails to stand before Carpenter with the casual ease of a man getting off a bus. It opened its dripping mouth and spoke with a bubbling, liquid voice.

"The Sword will be ours, cattle. Our Master will shatter Heaven and Earth to depose the pretender who rules in his place. Go forth and seek it out, by all means. All the easier to take from your flayed hands when it suits the will of our Master," it stepped closer and leered, "Your flayed hands, one-called-Car-penter." Carpenter snapped out his right arm and, as if by magic, the silver gleam of a small, blunt pistol appeared in his clenched hand. Four shots boomed out and the bloody monstrosity spun apart in spraying, screaming chunks. Then all fell silent as the smoke cleared and the gasps of disgusted and horrified awe dissipated. The sharp ping of spent cartridges echoed through he expanse of the dark building as he slowly reloaded the stubby, four-barreled derringer. The door boomed open and Matthew stormed in, his Uzi cocked and at the ready.
"Father! What happened? Is everything al- Ahh, Jesus!" He stopped short when his eyes fell upon the gory, twisted residue of what had been a luckless human being and its Demonic host; his eyes narrowed." Father, was it-?"

"Yes, Matthew. it was Ashmadai, or one of his minions... it used up an innocent to taunt us." Carpenter slid fresh shells into the breech of the gun and closed it with a well-oiled snick. He tried not to look at the pitiful remains of what had moments ago been one of his brightest pupils. He flinched at the thought of what he would have to tell her parents who went to church regularly and were so filled with pride that their only daughter would be taken under the wing of the Good and Holy Father Carpenter. The Good and Holy Father Carpenter who could do nothing more than stand gaping like a slack-jawed idiot while their beloved and innocent daughter was violated in ways that defied description. Carpenter looked out into the darkness at the huddled group of his students. What in God's good name was he thinking? Traipsing out to the middle of a stinking desert to look for a weapon that made an H-bomb look like a Fisher-Price toy, with the prospect of battling hundred-thousand-year-old demons and very likely Satan himself. With no allies except these wet-behind-the-ears kids? He needed a drink in the worse way. A legion of drinks to drown the weeping, cringing coward that lurked in his dark insides.
"God, this job stinks." he whispered as he reset the spring-loaded slider of the pistol's fast-draw mechanism.
Franzoni stepped forward tentatively, his eyes bulging with horror.
"F-Father. What are we involved with here? What just Happened?" His voice wavered on the hysterical..
"It's the big leagues, my friends. I had hoped that we would be spared what happened here tonight until you all had been hardened by more experience. But it seems we were destined to sink or swim through this. I had suspected that this could happen." Franzoni’s face darkened.
"Do you mean that you knew all this time that Lyta was going to- going to-" His voice cracked and Carpenter continued.

"Not her specifically; but the Demons like their games and they often inhabit people to use for their own ends or that of their masters. In this case, it was a warning designed to break our nerve.”
Carpenter gathered papers and loose slides and slid them into his valise with shaking hands.
"Matthew, collect your team. Let's get the hell out of here."

The snow whipped against the windshield as the black sedan coursed its way through the deserted streets. Inside, Carpenter brooded over the sudden, brutal manifestation that had occurred that night. He sat wordlessly, gazing out at the flurries of clean, white snow that pelted the car. Matthew drove in silence, taking occasional glances at Carpenter in the rearview mirror and wondered what would be next.
“This whole thing stinks. . . why would Ashmadai show his hand so early? We must be closer than we realize,” He paused as he thought of quiet, studious Lyta,”we have to be very careful now;”Carpenter frowned.”the race is on and we can’t afford to lose.”

Two weeks later.

The plane vibrated as it strained to climb above the snowstorm that had grounded almost everything else at the airport that night. The small, powerful transport jet, emblazoned with the Constantinian Papal Seal clawed its way above the clouds and leveled off, the setting sun gleaming from its wings. Carpenter, buckled into a plush seat, studied documents while Matthew disassembled and cleaned one of several assault weapons before him, whistling as he methodically tended to the job. Matthew was a tall, big-boned irishman, compactly muscular and topped with a thick thatch of curly red hair. He had been an IRA operative until one of his own bombs killed his brother and he joined Carpenter’s group to attone for the deed. His loyalty to the priest that forgave him was exceeded only by the guilt that would not.
Silent all through takeoff, Marc Franzoni swivelled his seat to face Carpenter.
“Father, do we still have a chance?” He looked worried and was perspiring slightly in spite of the air-conditioning. He was a slightly-built but wiry young man with deep, dark eyes and a face narrow with perspective.

“Of course we do, Marc. This event has been anticipated within the upper levels of the Church for centuries. There’s been a plan in the works of one form or another since the time of Christ, but it seems that the paths of destiny are finally converging together with us as the main players.”
Franzoni looked incredulous.
“Father, with all due respect, you make it sound like a privilege.”
Carpenter put down his papers and smiled slightly.
“It is a privilege, Marc. Success in this mission means a clear future; failure, a one way ticket to Armageddon. Don’t get so worried. We only need to secure the Sword; it’s for the hands of another to wield it”
Franzoni looked appalled.
“Father, how can you sound so confident? Aren’t you even the slightest bit afraid?”
Carpenter frowned for a moment.
“Marc, I’m terrified, but like the man said, we can run but we can’t hide. This is our job and we have to do it right. When we picked you out of all the hopefuls at the Episcopal College you were briefed with the knowledge that you might be exposed to a definite element of danger during our researches. Well, here it is. The big game has begun and we are on our way to meet it.” Carpenter smiled again, grimly and resumed studying his notes and maps. Franzoni slowly spun his chair and stared gloomily out the window, losing himself amidst the billowing cloud-tops awash in the blood-red glare of the sinking sun.

Behind them, the four men that made up Matthew’s team sat relaxed and making idle conversation with each other, masking their own tension with the casual banter that came so easily to military men. Further down, two women and one man quietly discussed the upcoming event without showing the tense concern that Franzoni had displayed to Carpenter.
These were the cream of Carpenter’s group; the finest paranormal and archaeological minds in the western hemisphere. The man, a shaven-headed, nose-ringed youth in dark glasses and black leather argued quietly with two attractive women, identical twins in their early thirties garbed in matching, expensive-looking desert wear. Laughing with a tinkle at some comment, they shook their heads and pressed forth their own opinions, continuing their discourse.while the last rays of the sun winked out behind a cloud-rimmed horizon.

Two days later...

Two streaked and dusty Humvee all-terrain vehicles slowly advanced along a rocky, winding road amidst a blinding sandstorm. The sure-footed vehicles rounded each bend cautiously, headlights all but useless in the yellow maelstrom. Inside, Matthew wrestled the wheel, straining his eyes to stay on track. Beside him, Carpenter folded a creased, soiled map and put it into a pocket.

“Matthew, there’s no point in continuing until the storm is over. Let’s pull over to the roadside and wait it out. We’re nearly there; a few hours more shouldn’t make any difference.”
“If you insist, Father. I’ll contact the others and let them know.” Matthew grasped the mike of the two-way radio and conveyed the information to the crew in the second car.
For three hours the two cars stood motionless, sand and grit whipping around them, the wind howling balefully. Inside, each individual huddled side by side, some drinking coffee, staring out at the roiling clouds and saying nothing.
Carpenter spoke softly.
“We’re nearly there, people. I know there’s danger where we’re going, and that some of us might not be coming home again. It’s a terrible responsibility to have the knowledge we have but literally everyone on Earth is depending on what we do in the next few days. I hope I can count on all of you.”
One of the twins spoke between cigarette puffs.
“We understand, Father. Don’t worry; you can count on us. We’ll do what needs to be done.” The two smiled faintly.
Leather lad also spoke.
“Count me in, pops. I’m cool. Hey, looks like the storm’s clearing.”
Matthew was the last to speak.

“The boy’s right, Father. The route should be clear now,” He picked up the mike once more,”Unit one to Unit two. . . saddle up and move out. Do you copy?”
“That’s a go, Unit one. Ready to rocket.”
The storm, losing steam, abated enough for the small convoy to resume its course, winding its way through the wagon-rutted roads that led to their final destination... the ruins of Petra.

One day later...

The well-used Hummers, clambered over the last embankment and came to rest before a sheer, rugged rock face. The dust settled as the doors popped open and the team emerged and gathered in front of the parked vehicles.
Carpenter addressed them all.
“Ok, people. From here we go on foot. When we get close enough to the cliffs we’ll find the Siq, or passage that leads to the Khazneh. It’s far too narrow for the cars so we’ll have to portage the equipment ourselves. Matthew, get your men prepped and we’ll handle the hardware.”

“Right Father. Ok boys, step lively. Weapons ready, gear packed. Smith, Rukatansky, you’re on point. Wehrzbaskie, Jones, you’re tail-end Charlie.” Matthew barked his orders and his troops quickly organized themselves. Carpenter oversaw the unloading of the excavation tools and the small, tough wheelbarrow that would carry them.
When all was completed, the small group made their way to the forbidding cliffs ahead, whose pinnacles now only caught the scarlet rays of the setting sun..

By the time the group located the Siq and wended their way along its sinuous path into the main court that fronted the Khazneh, it was well after dark. Camp was set up in short order and soon a blazing fire lit the face of the edifice in a ruddy, wavering light. Food was prepared and as the group settled around the fire, the growing tension of the expedition finally began to wind down. Only Matthew, eating from a battered mess tin, warily made a circuit around the camp perimeter scanning the rugged area surrounding them. Carpenter, along with Wehrzbaskie, rejoined the group after a brief reconnoiter.
“I’ve just taken a quick look inside the chamber; it’s just as we left it forty years ago. Now, however, we have gear that we couldn’t have dreamed of in those days. If there’s a hidden passage to be found, we’ve got the eyes to see it this time.”
Carpenter smiled, and the rest of the group’s morale renewed. Voices spoke and laughed as the nervous tension drained away to be replaced with ... hope?

The stars grew bright within the jagged strip of sky left bare by the opposing walls of rock that made up the Petra Valley and the camp noises lessened until all was quiet. Soon the occasional crackle from the fire and the scuffing footfalls of the two sentries were all that could be heard, their flashlights swiveling and cutting swaths through the deep blue of the night.

Dawn came and the shadows of the canyon grew rosy with the early light. The majesty of the Khazneh, now in the glow of morning, was a thing to make one pause in silent wonder. The group, rested and fed, stood awaiting Carpenter’s instruction. He looked around and then at the dark ma w of the doorway and motioned the others to follow.
“Let’s do it.”
Matthew posted two of his men at the doorway and led the way in himself, scanning the interior of the chamber with their flashlights before announcing all-clear.
Soon, halogen flood lamps illuminated the chamber and the special scanning equipment was already at work on the walls and floor, with Carpenter’s team working to distraction with each of their respective skills. Half an hour later, Franzoni, clutching a clipboard, approached Carpenter.
“Well, Father. Nothing so far.” Franzoni looked glum.

“We’ve only started, son. It’s a matter of patience. We’ll just keep at it.” Carpenter reassured. Several hours passed uneventfully, lunch was consumed and work continued.
Leather-jacket, exasperated, finally took to examining the walls with a very powerful magnifier he’d taken from his pocket. He did this for half an hour, his brow furrowing with concentration. Then he spoke out.
“Pops, take a look at this. I think I got something here.” Carpenter, frowning, moved to the far wall to join the lad.
“Look here. In the bright light, through the glass you can see that the rock crystallization pattern is different from the surrounding matrix.”
Carpenter took the offered glass and examined the same spot.
“I think I see what you mean, lad. Marc, the rest of you; come here and take a look at this section of wall.”
The group moved along the wall, applying more light and scrutinizing the surface minutely, pasting small markers along where the discrepancy in granulation was found. Soon a square area roughly four feet by four feet had been marked out on the stone. One of the twins complained.
“This doesn’t make sense. We scanned that area when we began and nothing showed up.”
“It’s peculiar, all right,” Carpenter muttered, “did you use your most powerful setting?”

“Yes, and not a peep from the scanner. From what we’re seeing, new rock has somehow been used to fill the cavity. We’ve never seen anything like it. As far as this machine is concerned, there’s nothing but solid rock all around us; there’s no cavity to locate.” The twins, frustrated and angry, both began to tinker with the device. Leather-jacket grinned and winked at Carpenter who, shaking his head, returned only a half smile.
“Well, let’s see what lies behind this wall. Marc, get the pneumatic drills plugged into the compressor and hand out ear plugs to everyone.”
The drills were readied and when the last earplug was put in place, Carpenter signaled to begin the excavation.
For twenty minutes carbide bits bore into the hard stone of the chamber, dust and fragments of rock sprayed out, until suddenly, a large chunk of wall fell out onto the floor. Immediately the drilling stopped, everyone pulled back and Matthew and Smith, readied their weapons and peered into the dark aperture. The dust clouds cleared and silence fell on the group. Carpenter slowly approached the cavity and, with the aid of a flashlight, squinted into the inky blackness.

“Can’t see anything yet... wait... yes, I see a tunnel leading into the rock. We’ve found the hidden passage. Alright, get those drills going again.” Carpenter found himself grinning in spite of himself. Could it really be this easy? He looked around him, noting Matthew’s unchanging alertness, the twins still working on the scanning device and the quizzical smile on Leather-jacket’s stubbly, young face.
The drills continued to attack the rock wall and soon the entire marked-off section fell outward in a cascade of powder and shards.
“It looks like we’re in the home stretch. Fasten your safety helmets and turn on your lights, everyone. We’re going in.” Carpenter motioned Matthew and Smith to enter first and they did so, their gun-mounted lights lancing through the remaining dust suspended in the dry, stale air of the passage.
“All clear,” Matthew whispered,”Wehrzbaskie, Jones, you follow up, rear-guard.”
The group quietly stepped into the hole, looking around as their lights fell on the walls. Like the chamber, the only marks on the walls and floor were the bite of chisels. No decorative adornment was lavished on any part of the interior, Carpenter puzzled over this detail.
“It’s seems there was no attempt to embellish this place with hieroglyphs. It’s as though the passage was excavated solely as a utility and sealed up just as fast.”
The passage was fairly straight, although tended to angle downward at a slight decline.

An hour was spent slowly navigating the passage when one of the twins spoke out.
“Father, do you see? That light up ahead?” Carpenter squinted and shook his head.
“I can’t make it out. Turn off your lights for a moment, everyone. Let your eyes get accustomed to the darkness.” They did so, and wasn’t long before the rest of the group perceived a faint glow in the distance. After ten minutes or more, they began to shut off their lights one by one as the phosphorescence grew to an intensity that made the lamps unnecessary. A warm yellow light flowed into the passage, brightening with every step until, without warning, the narrow channel opened into a vast, arched and columned cathedral, fashioned out of the living rock of an immense cavern. Thick pillars girded the walls of the structure and the roof was so high as to be nearly lost within a glowing mist. Carpenter gasped and the rest of the group froze in the passage, awestruck at the sight. They moved together, slowly approaching the front of the incredible construct. Carpenter looked around, his head turning turning, all the while a look of frustrated expectancy on his face.
Matthew spoke softly.
“What is it , Father? What are you looking for?”

“The light source. The whole chamber is aglow but I can’t see where the light is coming from. That’s one more riddle to solved here, and little time to solve it.” The group approached a massive stone structure at the front of the chamber that stood almost twelve feet tall. Carpenter stared in wonder.
“That can’t be an. . . altar? It’s huge. No human priest could...” Carpenter looked at Matthew with a look of dawning amazement.
“Matthew, no human priest could employ an altar this vast, but perhaps...”
A voice shouted from above.
“Hey, Pops. There’s an inscription on top of this stone table. I think you should have a look.” Leather-jacket stood, hands on his hips, looking down at the unseen surface of the titan altar.
Matthew cursed.
“How did you get up there?” Carpenter asked.
“Franzoni gave me a boost.” shot back the youth. Franzoni grinned sheepishly.
“Matthew, can you get me up there? Carpenter looked up at the slab.
“No problem, Father.,” Matthew dug into his pack and withdrew a bundled up rope ladder,” Hoy, lad! Catch the end of this and let it down the other side of the slab.” Leather-jacket nodded and did as he was instructed. Matthew held the opposite end of the ladder tight and nodded at the priest.

“Ok, Father. It’s braced on this side. Climb away.” Carpenter gingerly gripped the thin rungs and pulled himself up. By the time he was standing on the top of the broad slab, he was only slightly out of breath.
Carpenter approached where the youngster was standing and inspected the inscription. Leather-jacket shrugged.
“So what is it? Latin?”
Carpenter pursed his lips and knelt down.
“Yes... very archaic Latin..” He produced a battered notebook and pencil and began to transcribe the lines of script. Leather-jacket shrugged and joined the others in investigating the interior of the cathedral while Carpenter puzzled over the inscription.

Ten minutes later he stood, shaking with excitement.
“Everyone, come here.” Carpenter swung down off the ladder in his haste and he jumped onto the stone floor.
“I’ve translated the inscription. This is what it says:

Fashioned, forged in flame and smoke,
Cleansed by willing, holy blood,
Shaped by arcing hammer?stroke,
Honed, edged and ready it stood.

Locked in ancient, living stone,
For the mortal son and the reaching hand,
The shielding wing, the watchful eye,
The terrible glory, the fiery brand,

The endless night of the final day,
The darkness split by glinting steel,
The Daemon horde's Master at bay,
The Defender's blazing, Holy Seal.

The all stood in silence as Carpenter read, and as the last word echoed around them, they immediately began to dissect the lines of verse. Carpenter held the notebook in his hands reverently, thinking about each line and quatrain, and pondering their meaning; He clapped the book shut.
“People, I think I have something...‘Locked in ancient, living stone’ and ‘The Defender’s Majestic, Holy Seal’, I think that these are the clues... everyone; spread out and search the walls and the floor. We have to find something that fits the description of a seal. It will be inscribed on one or the other.” The group moved to inspect the cathedral interior and for several hours, all were silent as the search progressed. Carpenter glanced at the far wall behind the altar and saw, for the first time, a large round symbol carved lightly into the seamless stone of the wall.
“People! All of you. Come here.”

The group gathered around and moved to the wall. Carpenter reached up to touch the incised marking.
“A circle... a symbol of eternity... of ongoing existence without end. Possibly the oldest religious symbol on earth.” Carpenter said in a low voice. As his fingers gingerly touched the smooth stone, a sharp crack split the silence of the cathedral and the rock wall began to shatter. With a chorus of yelps, the startled group scattered and Carpenter backed away sharply to avoid being struck by the shards that fell from the cavity that opened before him.
The dust settled, the noise subsided and a glow of lambent light emanated from the chamber that now lay revealed. Carpenter peered into the expanse with excited but cautious eyes and what he saw made him catch his breath. Matthew, his Uzi clutched in taut hands, glanced into the chamber as well and his eyes widened.
There, within the golden confines of the newly opened niche, lay an enormous alabaster block, perhaps fifteen feet long. The group slowly filed into the small cell, circling the block in quiet reverence. On the top surface, the prominent image of a huge blade stood out, cut in deep relief. Carpenter, without thinking, touched the carven image gently. Immediately, the block shuddered and disintegrated to reveal... The Sword.

At rest amidst the debris of the slab that encased it, the Sword, its enormous glittering blade, and dark three-foot long handle created an image of dark beauty and lethal potential that commanded the attention of all in the room.

“Dear God...” Carpenter nearly choked,” It’s really here. The Sword of Archangel Michael. Look at it, all of you.” He fell to his knees in an attitude of whispered prayer and rest of the groupstood behind him, eyes shut in silent contemplation. In the silence of the next few moments no one noticed the two shadowy figures that moved behind them.

The thundering crash of shotgun blasts were made even more deafening within the confines of the small room. Leather-jacket and Franzoni pitched forward, spraying blood from ragged exit wounds, dead before they touched the floor. Carpenter looked around incredulously and caught a blast on the top of his left shoulder, spinning him around and hammering him into the wall where he slowly slid down to the floor. To his credit, as the first two were hit, Matthew spun and fired the Uzi in a ripping burst that cut through one of the shotgun-armed figures. Unhindered, both attackers fired their weapons fired simultaneously, cartwheeling Matthew into a broken, bleeding heap against the wall next to the coughing and wide-eyed Carpenter.
The last resonances of gunshots and screams faded away and silence filled the room like molasses. The two assassins, still shadowed in gun smoke and dust, tossed away the weapons and began to laugh. A soft, tinkling feminine laugh that grew until it filled the blood-tainted air.
Carpenter, wincing from pain and shock, fumbled with his glasses and looked upon the enemy that had finally struck: struck at their moment of triumph... at their moment of greatest weakness.
“The - the twins. Uhnn.. How? Why?”
The two, as smiling and pretty as ever, grabbed Carpenter by the collar and dragged him out of the chamber and threw him onto the cathedral floor like so much laundry. He groaned and faced them from the floor.

“Damnit, I should have known. All the time... uhnn.. You were with us all the time. Lyta was just a decoy, wasn’t she? You’ve been tagging along, listening, waiting till ..uhn.. waiting till we found the sword and did your work for you. That’s it, isn’t it?” Carpenter spat out the words, cursing himself for his blindness and the carelessness that had cost him everything. Tears of pain and bitter betrayal streamed down his face and he suddenly felt a deep shame and sadness. He had failed in a mission that meant far more that the retrieval of an ancient artifact. The full realization flooded his brain and he cried out in frustrated rage.
The twins, laughing their laugh, stopped abruptly and began to scream, scream in high-pitched, shrieking agony. In front of Carpenter’s pain-filled eyes, the twins’ bodies wrenched, popped and ripped apart, the gory, spurting chunks joining together in a nightmare jigsaw, eventually one crude entity taking shape.
“One-called-Car-penter... did you think I had forgotten? You have performed just as I wished. You have led me and mine to the ultimate victory. The Sword... yesss, the Sword. With it in our possession, we are invincible. The Heavens and the Earth are ours for the taking.” The patchwork creature, looking as though some monstrous ghoul-child had built it out of abbatoir scrapings, laughed a laugh that sounded like a civil war vet coughing up a rifle ball. The shudder of its laughter caused strips of wet meat and spatters of blood to slough off the misshapen body of the thing and Carpenter began to seethe with a nauseous anger.
“Suck on this!” Carpenter snarled, snapping out his forearm. The derringer did its magical appearing act and shots boomed out. The bloody, piecework demon shuddered and bucked, blood and flesh whirling this way and that, but did not die.

“Your parlour tricks no longer amuse me, One-called-Car-penter,” the demon grated,” My master knows about your juvenile toys and now, I am under his protection. Ask your pathetic little guards out there.”
Carpenter saw the scorched and smoking bodies of Matthew’s men strewn about the floor beyond the altar and sank down, defeated. He reached into his inner pocket and withdrew the pyx. As the demon turned away, already bored with taunting the beaten priest and more interested in assembling its growing army of misshapen demons. Time enough to dismember the wretch for his amusementwhen the upcoming battle was won.
Carpenter opened the pyx and took the flat wafer in hand. He broke it into small pieces and placed one in his mouth, whispering the rites of Communion. Around him, the hideous manifestations of demons began to filter in and grow, soon filling the vast cathedral with their howling, blasphemous legions. For the moment he was being left alone, a harmless toy to be played with later, and he had to use the opportunity wisely. He staggered back into the Sword chamber and turned over the bodies of Leather-jacket and Franzoni. He opened the brass vial of holy oil he carried, anointed their foreheads, whispered the last rites, and placed a small piece of the wafer into their mouths. He then approached Matthew with an expression of terrible sadness and prepared to take his leave of him. He turned him over and was shocked.
“Father.... you gotta get outta ... here... I don’t think I can help you out this... time”.
Matthew gasped, blood leaking from a dozen wounds, “I’m sorry... Father.....”
Carpenter held Matthew close and wept as the life drained out of Matthew’s torn body.

“Damnit, damnit, damnit! This is all my fault! I should have known that it was too easy. All too easy... and now you’re all dead. All dead!” Sobbing, he put the oil on Matthew’s forehead and placed the wafer in his slack, bloodstained mouth, holding it closed as he whispered the last rites. Then he anointed himself, and stood up.

He reached for the thick, massive handle of the sword, realizing now that it could not have been made for any human hand. He curled his arm around the hilt and heaving with all his fading strength, lifted the blade from its resting place. Thoughts of the inscription went through his head, specific lines that now suddenly had meaning.
“For the mortal son and ... the reaching hand...” He thought aloud,”...and the sword returned to my grasp... That’s it! The Archangel can’t just take the sword... it must be offered to him! It’s part of the pact.”He became aware of a low rumble that began when he first laid hands on the mysterious blade. The sound grew louder and more intense as he reached the gaping hole in the wall of the room. Carpenter struggled with the tremendous weight of the weapon and his shoulder burned with a deep pain.
“One-called-Car- penter! What have you done? None of your feeble kind may touch that sword and live. My master will punish...” The guttural words of the demon who had once been the twins rose to a shriek and were cut off as the rumble turned to a roar of great voices and blare of unearthly horns. The demons crowded within the now-darkened cathedral began to shout and gibber in confused fear. Great pieces of the high ceiling broke free and collapsed down to crush the vile life out of the demons below and beams of light too bright to look at directly shone down from the apertures left above.

A golden vapour billowed from cracks in the floor and suddenly light poured forth from below, launching chunks of masonry and brick into the air. The sound of singing voices and horns grew even louder and the demons clasped their clawed hands over their malformed ears to stem the din.
And then, before the astonished eyes of Carpenter, a huge and fabulous figure materialized out of the swirling mist and lancing beams of light. Although the light was not bright enough to dazzle the eye, Carpenter found that he could not look directly at the manifestation. It hurt to turn his gaze towards the blazing, whirling tower of light, but somewhere in his head, not in his eyes. Shielding his face from the sight, he then realized who stood before him and he fell to his knees, still clutching the sword, dragging it behind him. He only caught the suggestion of enormous predator’s wings, dark, flowing robes, glinting armour and the pinpoints of monstrous red eyes. Carpenter prayed for strength as blood loss made him more and more woozy, and he hoisted himself up for the act that he now knew was his destiny.
He lifted the sword’s handle as high as he could and could only glimpse the huge, gauntleted hand that gently took the blade from him, the grasp encompassing the entire length of wrapped leather handle. Carpenter fell to his knees in a swoon and remembered the spectacle of the vast hand and then knew no more.

Carpenter awoke in what seemed only a few seconds but the entire cathedral was now empty. Light still streamed from the holes in the ceiling but all that remained of the demon horde were small mounds of smoking ash. All was silent and he stood shakily, still wondering if he had been seized by hallucinations. The gunshot wound was no illusion, however, and neither were the corpses of his friends and colleagues that lay within the secret chamber. He opened a medicated adhesive patch, cleaned the crusted wound and pasted it onto his shoulder. He sat, now unsure of what to do. The sword was gone, as were the demons and he didn’t even know if the forces of good had won. Then, the light changed and the beams strengthened, the sound of singing voices returned but softer this time.

A voice spoke .

“You’ve fought hard and well, son; as have your friends. Your quest is over now. The great battle that threatened all you hold dear was won and the demons have been vanquished. Don’t grieve for your friends, son. They’re with me now as one day you’ll be. The sword will sleep once more, until it’s needed again... for nothing ever ends. Be at peace now.”

As the voice spoke, luminous pillars of luminous white vapour rose around Carpenter. He looked around, puzzled until he realized that there was one streamer of bright vapor for each of the friends and colleagues he had lost. One in particular approached him and circled closely. Although he saw nothing but brilliant, featureless mist, Carpenter was sure it was Matthew.

“Goodbye, my friend. I’ll see you again some day.” His eyes ran with tears and as he tried to touch the glowing wraith, it vanished with the others up into the ceiling and the chamber grew dark. Behind him, the broken shards of the seal-graven wall rumblingly re-assembled itself and Carpenter knew the Great Sword was once more secure.

After several hours of contemplation, Carpenter snapped on a flashlight and gathered what gear he needed and made his way outside to join a world saved from an apocalypse that he alone had glimpsed.

He knew it was a secret he could keep.

The End

© Copyright 2007 Adrian M. Kleinbergen. All rights reserved. Distribution of any kind is prohibited without the written consent of Adrian M. Kleinbergen

Well, any story that

Well, any story that references Lovecraftian texts and has a secret chamber in the Khazneh gets a thumbs up from me. =)

I thought this story was very good overall. I did think Lyta's death didn't have quite the impact it might. The narrative flows into that moment just a little too easily, and before the reader knows it, it's over. I wonder if there's a way to make that entire moment more jarring, make it even more of a brutal interruption of Carpenter's presentation? The twins' transformation stands out better, but might also benefit from the same treatment.

One thing that is a little jarring is to hear Carpenter say, "the race is on," and then have the next line be, "Two weeks later." Perhaps that could be shortened to just a couple of days?

Your tale has pulp-style energy, and quite a lot happens in 8000 words, which is good. It might get more of a grip on the reader, though, if the settings were just a little more vivid. For example, are Carpenter and his team battling the heat on their way to the Khazneh? Did those vibrations of the plane knock someone's drink over? Perhaps the Humvee lurches suddenly when Matthew nearly drives into a sandpit during the storm and they lose a couple of hours getting it moving again (their supplies and themselves getting encrusted with sand and grit in the process)?

You have some of that in there now (I liked the old, creaky warehouse, shuddering in the storm). But adding a little more to each scene might give them even more impact--and help readers really to feel each setting--without slowing the story down too much.

Definitely a good read!