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The Veritas ConflictA Novel of Spiritual Warfare
By Shaunti Feldhahn
Multnomah PublishersCopyright © 2001 Shaunti Feldhahn
All right reserved.
The dark lord's eyes closed, and his howl of frustration became a roar. At his outburst, his top generals exerted all their discipline to remain stony-faced and still. Their master began pacing, his heavy step shaking the very air of his dominion.
"When our persecution in England drove them not to simple flight and despair, but to establish an enemy stake on these shores, I knew this battle would be hard." He shot a glance of malice at a high-ranking general assigned to Europe, who stared straight ahead.
"But our attempts at terror and increased hardship have only further driven these accursed people into the arms of the Enemy. And now I find out," he swung on a recently arrived aide, who stepped back a pace, "that this new college will not simply be a center of learning, but is being dedicated to the quest for heaven's truth in all the disciplines?"
The aide trembled a bit, but nodded. "Yes, my lord. We believe so."
"With what reason? What makes you think so?"
"The school's-ah-motto, my lord."
"What is it?"
The others shared quick glances and looked for a way to avoid speaking the fatal words. Lucifer grabbed the aide and jerked his face close. "WHAT IS IT!"
"`T-truth,' my Lord." The cruel fingersgripped convulsively, and the aide gasped in pain.
"The university's motto is Veritas-Truth. And they are pondering a change to Christo et Ecclesiae-'For Christ and the Church.'"
Lucifer drew a taloned finger across the demon's neck. The aide convulsed and with terror-filled eyes, was drawn into a dark portal that opened just behind him. As it clanged shut on his strangled scream, those who remained could still feel the heat and fear that had blasted from the deep beyond.
Their lord didn't turn to face them. "What shall we do to turn this tide?" he asked, then seemed to lose himself in thought. No one spoke. After several minutes, the dark lord stirred and looked up. "Well, they are searching for knowledge, are they? Searching for wisdom, for truth. Well, let them find it-my wisdom. I will show them that they are the wise ones, and there is no truth.
"They want to establish a nation-a Christian body of believers. So how do you change the course of a body? You strike at the head, the mind. The heart may be often out of our reach, while their faith continues fervent, but the head ... the head can give us a lot to work with."
He surveyed his minions, taking his time, muttering to himself. His gaze settled on a tall demon, and he snapped his fingers. The demon was at Lucifer's side in an instant, bowing long and deferentially. "Yes, my liege."
"Leviathan, you have always been one of my most trusted generals, and I believe your expertise will be much needed here."
The proud eyes flickered. "As you wish."
"I realize that you are more accustomed to being Prince over well-established and large-scale initiatives, but this is a strategic time. We must undermine their roots before their power is firmly planted. That will provide incalculable benefits for all the years to come. You wield-to put it simply-our most effective tools, and we need your prowess here most of all."
Lucifer carefully hid his satisfaction at using Leviathan's own tools against him. "And I trust that in time you will find other areas in this new nation that will also be amenable to your efforts, just as you have in so many places before."
The tall demon straightened, his chest high. "I will take delight, my liege, at demonstrating for our side the proper use of strategic tools." He ignored an indignant outburst from the general over Europe. "I hope we may find an avenue to poison the course of this new land." Lucifer leaned toward his officer. "You already have it. That is why you were chosen. Wait no longer!"
Seconds later, the guards posted outside the meeting room were bowled over as Leviathan shot like a comet through the door and began to muster his troops. One guard, a less experienced demon recently come up through the ranks, raised an eyebrow at his comrade-in-arms.
The other guard rubbed his hands together. "Get a good eyeful, my boy. If Leviathan has been assigned, this is going to be good."
"Is-is he ..."
"One of the seven deadly princes."
The younger demon blanched. "Which one?"
The older guard smiled, a slow smile of anticipation as he watched the battalion take shape.
Many Years Later ...
Laura Grindley watched her husband pace along the length of the sitting room. Each lap seemed to increase his tension, winding him tighter than the strings in the harpsichord he thumped occasionally in passing. She remained silent on the divan, arms draped over a small pillow in her lap, stroking the satin brocade.
Finally, he turned to face her, and she opened her arms to him.
He knelt quickly in front of her, wrapping his arms around her. "I'm sorry, my love. It wasn't supposed to be this way. I have long sought to avoid dragging you into my burden."
"Don't be sorry. You are doing what God intends you to do." Her hands stroked his thick hair as if he were a child. "You are standing in the gap, standing for what is right, for the truth. How could I not support the only strong beam that is keeping the foundations from crumbling?"
George Grindley hugged his wife fiercely, then he released her and stood. "I have to go. Whelen Pike will be at the board meeting today, and they will be voting. So I must at all costs be there."
Two hours later, George breathed his third silent plea that the Lord would help him keep his temper ... or maybe just that He would send down a lightning bolt and wipe the smug smile off the countenance before him. Either would do.
Whelen Pike was stirring sugar into his teacup. "After all, Mr. Grindley, I was asked to come on this board to help whip the business affairs of the college into shape. Meaning no offense to the more established board members," he nodded at the other faces around the table, "or to those lost in the tragic accident at sea one year ago, God rest their souls. But perhaps ... well, let us just say what we are all thinking, shall we? We need the bracing reality of true business acumen. We must restore order to the chaos in which we now find ourselves. Begging your pardon for that characterization, of course."
George could see Kingsley, Wheeler and the others already assuming thoughtful expressions, as they did all too often under the misleading but clever arguments Whelen Pike brought to the table.
Business acumen? More like cleverly concealed fraud and confidence tricks! George had labored at trade, earning his fortune with integrity and pride. He had long sought to be the `trusted servant' to whom the Master would give ever more talents to manage, and his Master had indeed blessed his efforts. Pike, on the other hand, would pick the Master's pocket and show a doubled return by slight-of-hand.
George's eyes slid to the easel holding the model of Pike's suggested `revision' to the university's shield. No more flowing banner, no place for the motto Christo et ecclesiae. It was so stark, the triangular talisman somehow emasculated by the absence of its trailing banner.
The remaining motto: Veritas, alone, out of context. Truth in a vacuum.
"Gentlemen," George said, "we've already been through this. And our previous vote was binding. This board may have only a few remaining members following our tragic losses last year, but such a proposal still requires a unanimous vote. And I cannot and will not allow either the motto or the shield to be altered to lessen the cause of Christ, just because certain members believe that doing so will advance the cause of business in an already-wealthy university. Those who founded the college were very clear about our ultimate goal. Just because you who remain no longer agree with that goal doesn't mean it should change. Rather, I respectfully submit that you should be persuaded to alter your opinions, giving way to the inexorability of the ultimate Truth." He looked directly at Pike. "Truth ... in the cause of Christ. There is no other."
Pike arched his eyebrows, pursed his lips, and slowly nodded. "Of course we are willing to alter our opinions ... and have, my dear boy. Quite often, as a matter of fact. I consider myself to be an open-minded man, and am only seeking the ultimate good of the college, after all. I am only seeking to apply the business talents for which I was chosen."
Pike's fingers played with the silver sugar spoon, and George set his jaw and tried to match Pike's patience. With a click, the spoon came to rest again on the table, pointing at George. Pike looked around. "Well, gentlemen, I think we've had enough for one day, don't you? What do you say to reconvening next week? I was not prepared to outline my analysis of the university's financial situation today, but next week we could revisit-"
"I think not." George's voice was sharp. "We'll wait until our next regularly scheduled meeting, Whelen." George seethed at the smooth usurpation of his prerogative as Chairman. In the next moment, he was washed with shame. He was being ruled by pride at Whelen's tactics, opposing a suggestion simply because of the source. He breathed a silent prayer for forgiveness. Then, looking across the table, added a plea for Whelen Pike and his family. But he was not inclined to back down, especially when he noted the other Board members looking thoughtfully at the man. He lifted the gavel and tapped it on the grand mahogany table. "This meeting-and this debate-is closed, gentlemen. We'll reconvene in three months' time."
Whelen Pike spoke a soft order, and his manservant approached to refill his cup. The servant poured deftly, careful to avoid spilling a drop on the small ribbon-tied package that sat nearby. He stopped when his master raised a hand and, stepping back in silent deference, returned to his place on the wall.
Whelen raised the cup to his lips, his eyes on the portrait hanging on the opposite wall. The wooden frame was intricately engraved with leaves and branches. The woman's dark eyes stared into his, their challenge unabated even now, so many years after her death.
His lips hardened in a thin line. A torturous death. In the hellfire the hypocrites accused her of fanning.
Their matriarch should have lived out her life in peace, surrounded by her material comforts. Instead, her property was seized, her family ostracized for generations. That she indeed practiced the dark magic was beside the point. Those who pointed their fingers were no better than she. His fingers tightened on his cup. It had taken them years to come back, and they would not let it slip away. Their Mandate would prevail.
He took another sip and closed his eyes. He could feel the vital forces moving, their strength gathering like the thunderclouds. After a long moment of communion, he set the cup down on its saucer. He gestured with his hand, and his manservant bowed and departed.
Whelen sourly regarded the small stack of papers wrapped in a blue velvet cover and bound with a slender cream ribbon. Back when he was married, he had reveled in the accolades of visitors admiring his wife's eye for detail, her `delightful' adornments to their opulent home. But that was before. He heartily wished he did not have to touch those adornments now.
Best to get it over with, he supposed. Now that she had passed on-he shuddered-to her reward, as she had so ridiculously put it, her journal would certainly provide the information he needed. He did not want to wade through pages of sentimental sop, but it would be worth it to find access to the valuable keepsakes she had refused to return.
He pulled the loosely bound pages toward him and opened them at a random spot.
I continue to pray, O my Lord and God, that thou would intervene in this family. Down through the generations, break through the darkness and open their eyes just as thou hast opened mine.
He slammed the volume shut. Thank the gods the little traitor had not been allowed to raise his son.
Two Weeks Later
George emerged from the grand house just off the west side of campus, pulling on his leather gloves. A small boy scampered past him and down the steps to the carriage. The doorman gave a subtle assist as he clambered inside. The young master didn't want any help.
George was halfway down the steps when he stopped and hurried back up. Opening the door wide, he pulled his wife to him and planted a firm kiss, then playfully patted her backside. She shooed him back out the door with a smile.
High above, several dark beings followed the carriage, frustrated as the man and his grandson stopped on a few simple errands. They could see a familiar warrior watching over them-the results of his wife's accursed prayers, no doubt-and several more were always around the university due to the increased warfare over the last few years. Although they were willing to enter direct battle, they preferred to face minimal opposition from the host of heaven. Their support was still just too weak. But by direct order, it had to be done today.
Suddenly, their leader came alert and pointed. Their charge was heading for a bridge across the Charles River. Another group of people was strolling across that bridge a few hundred yards ahead, enjoying the sunny day. A few boys were jumping on and off the stone railing. The voices of scolding mothers could be heard. With a tight smile, the leader barked out his orders.
Heading toward the Anderson bridge, Gael rested a powerful hand on the carriage below him. He had been with this child of God for years, on and off, and was looking forward to watching the meeting in Boston unfold. He noticed that his charge had his head in his hands, praying for the meeting. Gael joined his prayers, asking God to intervene. He had felt the excitement of the host of heaven when this meeting had been announced; perhaps the tactics of the enemy would soon be countered!
He had barely started praying when he felt a swift, distinctive chill. Gael whipped around, hand on his sword. Nothing.
He looked ahead at the group of people on the bridge, and noticed a commotion. Two children had slipped from a ledge and were dangling above the cold water! Several women were hollering, desperate, leaning far over the verge.
As Gael rose to a better view, he could see a skirmish in the air opposite the bridge. Four brilliant warriors were fighting off a second malevolent attempt to yank the children down. The enemy was swarming, suddenly too numerous for the angelic team. The children fell screaming into the water, and Gael reflexively prepared to help his comrades.
Then he stopped, hovering in the air, scarcely breathing. The instincts honed from eons on the front lines of the great war were sending an urgent message. He settled to the roof of the swaying carriage, eyes intent. George had seen the fracas on the bridge, and was urging the driver forward. Gael turned a full circle, sword unsheathed and held low and ready.
A diversion. Somehow, he was certain.
George stripped off his waistcoat. Through the small front window, the driver hollered back that two men had plunged in after the children, who were being swept closer to the opposite shore. The river was swift, and George prayed that God would help him reach those in the water before they were swept from reach. O God, save those children! They were scarcely older than his grandson, who had started whimpering as the carriage hurtled toward the bridge.
Gael risked a glance forward-they were almost there, and all attention was focused on the four people in the water. Flashes rose like lightning as the angels fought off the demonic swarm. The other angels were calling for assistance, but Gael didn't leave the carriage.
Excerpted from The Veritas Conflict by Shaunti Feldhahn Copyright © 2001 by Shaunti Feldhahn
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.