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Symbols of Cataclysm
Morning Mass, led by the venerable Pope Patricius I in Domus Sanctae Marthae.

"A return is needed, to ourselves. We need to embark on an internal pilgrimage, to that often far-off place within ourselves, that place of reflection and meditation we refer to as the conscience, where we may weigh and measure and take stock, as the year ends. This is the specific action of reasoning creatures, of human beings who must choose between good and evil, or between lesser evil and greater good."

Armande tuned him out.

Overhead, a white ceiling yawned, and aided the design of a lofty space, but it was all an illusion. The room was grand, but not large. Marble stretched from Armande's chair in the back to the altar in the front. White also, it shone like the heavens with rivers of gold. The same gold as what streaked the Papal vestament adorned by the Holy Father.

Ordained clergy filled the rows separating Armande's place in the back to where the Holy Father delivered his speech. IF the Holy Father had noticed Armande's presence, he continued with the remainder of his homily and did not acknowledge him.

He looked well, but despite words to the contrary, there was a tension to his eyes that spoke of unease with the world. For this, Armande admired his counterpart. Pope Patricius I, and his predecessors though Armande could not ascribe to their countenance personally, doggedly clung to the Faith in everlasting redemption, even to the dismissal of all earthly ills. The Vicar of Christ was dealt the burden of guiding the souls of man to spiritual peace; but the Regus was their worldly champion. He would forge a legacy for humanity that would guide their children to their rightful place; that is, toward freedom.

The Eucharist prayer had begun. The offeratories were made, and Armande stood with those around him. A series of prayers followed. The epiclesis called upon the Holy Spirit to imbue the bread and cup with the body and blood of Christ. The words of Jesus at the Last Supper were recounted, followed by a narrative of his death and resurrection.

Armande fell through the motions with crisp replies of the tongue and devout movement of the hands, but his soul was empty of faith. As the Holy Father ignored the flesh, so also did the Regus ignore the spirit. They were two halves of the same whole, a balance of body and spirit, distinct but connected at the same time. Where one office ended, the other began. Just as the white robes of the papal capes, the mozzetta, reflected the stretch toward heavenly futures, the long, black cassock of the Regus' robes reflected the death of what has already been: a cataclysmic past that must be amended if mankind is to be saved.

By all outward appearances, he was as penitent and pilgrim as any other participant, but he was the first to depart at the end of mass, hands tucked behind his back, and luminous eyes burning with the significance over this reunion with his counterpart. His attendance meant one disturbing thing. That the end was come unless the warriors of the Atharim stood to stop it.

Patricus I saw him then, without mistake, and the heavy burdens both men carried crashed about their senses. They would meet in private.
Armande was a patient statue waiting outside a pair of bronze doors.  The Apostolic Palace, a structure dating to antiquity, rose high overhead, and the setting sun flashed upon the door before him.  

After about twenty minutes in such sentry, the doors opened and he was led by Papal Attendants up several grand stairs, across a courtyard, up more stairs and through the palace to the ante-room of Papal apartments.  

The men whose company he joined were vested for mass, but alongside even the plainer, priestly attendants for the Holy Father Armande stood out despite his own clerical attire, a long, black cassock that billowed around and behind every lengthy, purposeful step.  The attendants, although youthful, were soft and thoughtful.  Those of an age more advanced than his were wizened and stooped.  Compared to even the hardy men of the Swiss Guard, whose presence were always marked, Armande was a shard of danger hidden secretly among them.  

The Prefacture of the Papal Household informed Armande that the audience with His Holiness would then commence.  The arrangements having been made since they locked eyes following mass, Armande passed by Bishops and Cardinals, businessmen and Prefects to be granted the rare and special audience.  Of course, the arrangements were not to suit Patricus' needs, but rather, Armande's.

There were fourteen hundred rooms in the Apostolic Palace, but only ten were Armande's immediate destination.  Of the ten rooms the Holy Father called home, half were dedicated to chapel.  They were arranged according to standards of the High Middle Ages, that is, they were quite spacious.  A Swiss guard stood at the door, but once within, their footsteps echoed in the hollow air.  The walls were bare, and the furniture modest and outdated.  

Through the chapel, dining room, and gathering space, Armande was shown into the Pope's private study.  The man himself was seated behind a wooden desk.  Armande closed the door behind him, and crossed to stand before the man that was his mirror image.  They bowed heads to one another. Years passed since their previous face to face.

"We must be in great peril for you to be here.  Is this about the Islamic blasphemer?" the Pope asked, and retook his seat.  He would be fully aware of Al-Hasan's activities and claims, but his words contradicted the harmonious prayers of the Pro Dialogo's interpretation of Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, a Council meant to seek harmony between the Catholic Church and Muslim leaders.   If Patricus was worried, it was hidden behind a serene mask.  The man exuded dignity at its maximum.  His age had not quite caught up to him, but otherwise he seemed weary to Armande's critical eye.  

"I come with ill news, indeed."  Armande replied and similarly took a chair.  

The Pope was Christ's representation of the father of all believers, of all the baptized and the whole of humanity. He was the high priest. He managed the grace of mediating sacraments. He stood on the place of the only Savior and Redeemer, for which humanity thirsted longingly at all times. To him all people should and want to look up to him, because they sensed something of the truth rising from the man, accompanied by Christ and so many people, as the Scriptures revealed, and perceived, even the blind when he came near them sensed the resonance of the spirit.

Armande's respect for Patrick was enormous, but he saw only another man.  

"Apollyon rises."  Armande began, hands folded on his lap.  Patricus' expression paled. Anticipating this, Armande delivered the apocalyptic news in the form of a video too fragile to share in any form but in person.  

A blood soaked, darkened image of Nikolai Brandon filled the screen.  Behind him, the rush of air blew across the microphone, but his words were clear.  

"Know this, Holy Regus of the Atharim. I am the worst monster to walk this world, but you will never succeed. I allow you to exist, and do not tempt me to come after you." The camera angled toward his forearm, where a rolled-up sleeve revealed bared flesh, and inked therein was the vaguely recognizable shape of eternity itself: a clawed, shredded, and scarred ouroboros.

Philip absorbed it all.  When it was over, he looked to Armande, hands folded on the table, back straight and divine features willing to face the unveiling truth.  The same prophecy entombed forever by Isaiah filled Patricus' mind as it did Armande's.  

Θα προχωρήσουμε προς την Ανατολή και την κυριαρχία της γης. Όταν περπατά, η Γη θα καταρρεύσει στα πόδια του. Η Μεγάλη Ουροβόρος πρέπει να σχιστεί από τη σάρκα του ακόμα σκουλήκι του δεν πεθαίνει και η φωτιά του είναι άσβεστη. Αυτός είναι βδέλυγμα για όλη την ανθρωπότητα.

He will move into the East and dominate the land. Where he walks, the Earth shall crumble at his feet. The Great Serpent shall be torn from his flesh yet his worm does not die and his fire is unquenched. He is an abomination to all mankind.

The Vicars of light and dark, of shadow and sun, of spirit and of flesh looked upon one another with full knowledge of their mutual duty.  Armande stood.  

"I came today to give you warning, as is your right to have.  Prepare yourself, and your followers, for the war of last wars: Armageddon, because I intend to see it started, so that I can finish it, and protect what Athari remain.

I refuse to allow the World to end, not when I have the power to save a remnant.  And it starts with destruction of Apollyon.  The Destroyer himself will be eradicated by my will.  This I swear upon the blood of my office."
 He held up the palm of one hand where the edge of a blade once drew a red line.  Years previously, Armande spilled his own blood upon taking the sanctified robes of Regus.  The oath remained.

Philip's expression furrowed to deep thoughtfulness. "'The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.' The Lord has prepared his children for thousands of years, but in the end, it does not matter for it is already conquered. Go with the favor of God, and save all whom you can." Philip bowed his head whilst Armande curled his fist closed.  The humble members of the Church would cringe to know Pope blessed the incitement of a war that would likely destroy most of the world in order to save a few from the clutches of Apollyon, one of their own, an Atharim - their beloved Ascendancy.

"I will not fail."  Armande said, and immediately left.

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