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Forty-nine hours after the inferno, he could still smell what made it unique.
Fires and their aftermath had their own signature smells. Anyone who fought them for a living could tell you as much. A forest fire? It smelled natural...just wood and sap, and lots of it, like a big campfire. An urban blaze was totally different -- toxic with all the synthetics they put into the buildings, the furniture, the clothes on their own charred backs.
The thing was, he knew smells that few firefighters had ever encountered, and even if they had, most couldn't have recognized them for what they truly were.
Hellfire? He knew the smell, all right. Brimstone and bitumen and something like the roasting of marrow-rotted bones that might blacken but never fully burn. Sometimes he felt the smell was never far from his nostrils, something he just knew, a birthright he carried in his blood.
This smell, though? Here, in this wreckage and ruin? It was a first for him.
Although that didn't mean he had no idea what it was.
Divine fire, holy fire, fire from Heaven, to clear and cleanse...it left a lingering scent in the ash, mixed in with the stink of immolation and meltdown, a subtle but jarringly incongruous fragrance, like blossoms in a midsummer field, only more astringent. Sniff it in too great a concentration, and he imagined that it would sear the nostrils. He suspected that it bore some relation to the phenomenon known as the Odor of Sanctity, the sweet fragrances that were sometimes reported accompanying the appearances of saints and manifestations of the divine.
That such a smell could linger in a place of so much devastation seemed more than a little like mockery.
He'd never smelled it before but was surprised to find that he knew it so readily, as surely as he knew its opposite. Another birthright, maybe, innate knowledge of an enemy he'd been conceived to fight but never had, never would, because he'd chosen differently. Hell's enemies were not his own. Hell's enemies were his allies -- the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Or so he'd always believed.
Divine fire, holy fire, fire from Heaven, to clear and cleanse...
The last place he'd expected to come across it was the Vatican.
BUREAU FOR PARANORMAL RESEARCH
Field Report EU-000394-59
Date: October 16, 1996
Compiled by: Dr. Kate Corrigan
Classification: Open Access
Interview Subject: Father Rogier Artaud (assistant curator, Vatican Secret Archives; specialist in Palestinian antiquities)
The incident under investigation occurred at approximately 10:30 P.M. on Monday, October 14, as Fr. Artaud was working in the private research area on the fourth floor of the Archives.
[Before I continue, I should clarify a possible misperception for the benefit of anyone in the BPRD who may refer to this file in the future. It was, I admit, news to me: The Vatican Secret Archives aren't nearly as covert as the name implies. They were founded in 1612 by Pope Paul V as a repository for papal records, correspondence, official files, etc....comprising, at present, a whopping 25 miles of shelf space. The "secret" designation lies in the archaic definition of the word: private, rather than deliberately withheld. They're open to any scholars who obtain permission for admittance. As of this writing, all papal archives up to the late 1920s are available for study. An approximate seven-decade restriction prevents access to the modern era...roughly comparable to the lifetime of a living pope, or, in the case of the longer-lived pontiffs, his adult life and career. That said, there are also numerous historical documents in the Archives that have secular origins, or otherwise fall outside of official Church business. Fr. Artaud cites a love letter penned by King Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn in which he pledges his heart to her...ironic, considering the eventual fate of her head.]
At approximately 10:10 P.M., Fr. Artaud removed Document s/00183/1966 from its drawer in a temperature- and humidity-controlled vault used for storing and protecting particularly fragile artifacts. [Re: Document s/00183/1966, see Field Report Supplement EU-000394-59supA.] Permission for its removal had been requested by Fr. Artaud nine days earlier, and granted the afternoon of October 11. The circumstances leading up to its necessity are still not fully understood, but at this point, what we know is this:
In the earliest days of October, Fr. Artaud wished to compare high-resolution scans of Document s/00183/1966 (which exist to facilitate document analysis without need of handling the original) with various points raised in an article about to be published in a journal of the Ecole Biblique, a Jerusalem archaeological school operated by French Dominicans, which has exercised considerable influence over the Dead Sea Scrolls since their 1947 discovery. The article in Fr. Artaud's possession concerned paleography: the study of handwriting in ancient manuscripts -- in this particular case, manuscripts from first-century Palestine. However, for reasons as yet unknown, the two physical copies of the document's scans had evidently been misplaced and the computerized version corrupted and thus inaccessible. In retrospect, this is extremely suspicious, but initially it appeared to be a mere unfortunate coincidence of sloppiness and bad luck.
Note: That so few copies of these scans existed is a reflection of the highly sensitive nature of Document s/00183/1966, rather than the inadequacies of the Archives' data backup policy. Although, if I may be indulged another personal observation, while I wouldn't be so presumptuous as to pass judgment on the integrity of their physical recordkeeping, which I'm sure is ordinarily above reproach...they trusted a single electronic copy to Windows 95???
At a minute or two before 10:30 P.M., as Fr. Artaud was rescanning the document in preparation for his study, he became aware of two anomalies: flickering and dimming in the electricity, and an abrupt drop in the air temperature in his work area. This was no minor chill passing through, and well beyond the capabilities of a malfunction in the A/C system, which was not in operation at the time anyway. Fr. Artaud estimates the temperature drop to have been at least 50* F in a minute's time. As it was cold enough for him to see his own breath, this was far below the outside temperature as well. According to local meteorology reports, routine measurements near the Vatican at 10:30 P.M. on the night of October 12 put the temperature at 64* F/17* C. Fr. Artaud also noticed that the cold was unmistakably descending from above.
I'm tempted to say this is the weird part, but then, it's all weird. According to Fr. Artaud's testimony, over the weekend, while he was riding his bicycle in a large market area near the Vatican called the Borgo, he was stopped by a young man who warned him, with the kind of deadly seriousness that only a street lunatic can muster, to "run when the ceiling turns to ice." Naturally Artaud dismissed the encounter and went on his way.
And, just as naturally, it came back to him during this abnormal temperature drop. But at this point, his concern was primarily for the integrity of Document s/00183/1966. Like all fragile documents, it's best protected from shifts
in temperature and humidity. Because the low temperatures appeared to be originating overhead and the power supply appeared unstable, and because Artaud was now a bit unnerved by the warning, he placed the five separate sheets of Document s/00183/1966 in their storage drawer and sought lower ground. He didn't linger to talk with any of the handful of other Archivists working at this late hour, among whom the drop in temperature was the obvious topic of conversation.
This undoubtedly saved both Fr. Artaud's life and the document. As he reached a staff-only stairwell, he heard the shattering of glass and looked back long enough to witness two figures entering through a tall outside window. He also reports hearing the breaking of at least one other window, out of view, leading to the conclusion that the intruders numbered at least four to six.
What he saw he describes as humanoid, if not strictly human. At first he thought they were some sort of commando team. But then, "They changed from shadow to light in only a moment or two. I don't mean they moved from one to the next, like stepping out of a dark room. I mean this is what they were made of. In one moment, like a cloak of dark rags. In the next, so white they seemed to glow, like the filament of a light bulb."
Fr. Artaud didn't pause for more than a brief glance. It was at this point that the arrivals began spewing fire. Exactly how they went about this is unknown, as there are no other witnesses, but the attached photos of the damage inflicted upon that section of the Archives is testament to their efficiency.
One observation: The process by which these entities created fire from their own bodies is, by all available evidence, different from that shown by the BPRD's resident pyrokinetic, Liz Sherman. Although Ms. Sherman's abilities are still not fully understood, she appears to be the fire's conduit, rather than its creator.
On the other hand, the beings at the Vatican Archives appear, to some extent, to be subject to the laws of physics and thermodynamics. They evidently did not generate their flames out of nothing, but instead, immediately prior to their attack, drew the required energy from the air temperature in the vicinity and from the power grid.
Because I'm preaching to the converted here, I shouldn't have to remind you of the oft-reported phenomenon that certain spiritual manifestations are sometimes accompanied by temperature drops and electrical disturbances. The most widely accepted rationale for this occurrence is that the spirit entity requires energy to make itself visible, and uses the process of convection to obtain that energy from the nearest sources: warm air, electricity, etc.
A similar phenomenon appears to have happened at the Vatican Archives, only the siphoned energy was weaponized. The expended energy had to have been far greater than what was drawn from the local environment, leading one of our physics consultants to speculate -- at the risk of making an obvious paranormal event sound overly mechanical -- that the attackers also functioned as their own transformers.
Completion pending conclusion of on-site investigation...
Copyright © 2005 by Mike Mignola