Beatific Vision

Beatific Vision

by Jordan Spiece

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781546248804
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 07/30/2018
Pages: 294
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.66(d)

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CHAPTER 1

Chasing Dreams

September 15, 2035

He was engulfed in a white sea of nothingness. An endless void stretched far and wide about him as the sounds of countless words and songs rushed to him like twinkling light from distant stars. What he was feeling was a dreadful cold, one that cut him to the bone and burned his soul; strangely enough, it was not uncomfortable, and he did not shiver.

Suddenly, a low, vibrating, humanlike voice laced with frantic whispers echoed through his entire being, plucking the hairs within his ears.

"No fears, do not fear, we will protect you," reassured the voice. "You are here with friends. We meet you here in the void between life, death, and the eternal. In the abyss — paradise, purgatory, or Sheol — know that our Father protects all his children, no matter their place of being. He is here with you and with us." Giuseppe felt strangely serene listening to the droning, bodiless speech.

"Child of God, do not fear us."

After these words, Giuseppe was greeted by an image of two beings standing before him. It was an image that could have frightened any man into insanity, but Giuseppe was not an ordinary man. Instead, it left him smiling, feeling triumphant and hopeful. He knew what these creatures were — messengers, sons of God, angels. It was not the sight of these beings that brought him feelings of hopefulness, but rather the realization that they were there to deliver a message from something divine in nature.

The two beings were immersed in a light blinding to any mortal who looked upon it. It radiated from behind them, creating a halo effect not unlike the corona of a solar eclipse. White fire leaked through their eyes, mouths, and nostrils like water dripping from holes in a dam. Loose black robes were wrapped around them, floating and waving within the windless void. Each one had familiar symbols adorning his forehead, red symbols pulsating to the beat of Giuseppe's heart. The being on the left stood still, red flames dancing from the top of his skull, his right arm cradling a sword. In his left he held a small, ghostlike infant by one leg. The being on the right appeared to be floating underwater, with moonlit ripples swimming over his body. In his left arm, he cradled an identical sword as the being next to him, and in his right hand he held the same infant by its arm.

A thick fog began to rise from below the three before him. It also throbbed to the beat of Giuseppe's heart. More red symbols moved within its misty tendrils. Soon the fog consumed everything around it, and only the silhouettes of the two men and the infant remained in view. The fog touched everything, heard everything, and was everything.

"Giuseppe. We are coming. Your worries are over. Giuseppe. Giuseppe ..."

Giuseppe.

Giuseppe Morreti opened his eyes effortlessly to the realization he was lying in his bed in the barracks, surrounded by bookshelves and a large wooden desk situated under a curtained window to his right. Was I dreaming? The cold that he'd felt was still with him. The all-consuming fog he'd envisioned seemed still to be dissipating. The images he'd experienced remained vivid in his mind. Could they simply have been fabricated by his sleep-deprived mind? It seemed a likely explanation.

Even after his release from the otherworldly dreamscape, the whispers and musical incantations still echoed through his thoughts. Dreamless nights were a rarity for him, but his usual dreams were nothing compared to the realism and lucidity of this latest experience. As quickly as he was cast back into reality, Giuseppe hazily scribbled down the elements of his dream experience, being sure to include the symbols adorning the beings' foreheads. He felt certain the symbols were from the Hebrew language, but their translation was unknown to him. Intrigued to learn their meanings, he tucked away his notes to have the mysterious messages translated later on.

Giuseppe Morreti commanded an elite branch of the Vatican City military known as the Milvian Guard, a unit shrouded in mystery even from its violent and heroic beginnings as the force that expelled Aurean occupiers from the Vatican at the forefront of Domus Aurea's rise to power. Giuseppe was a seasoned leader at the age of fifty-four, with a history of loss and triumph behind him that would have broken a lesser man or given him a false sense of valor and godliness. Whatever befell him, Giuseppe Morreti kept his calm composure and humble personality.

The man was a hero in his own right, but traditionally heroes were vibrant, tireless, and full of life. He, in contrast, seemed old, broken, and weary, or at least it was how he felt about himself. Three years ago he'd been a different man. Three years ago he could have led an army and skillfully destroyed wicked men, casting them into oblivion. Today, specters of his past haunted him, relentless in their whispers of defeat. They robbed him of sleep and energy, but not his spirit. Although Giuseppe was noticeably weaker and older, his mind was still sharp and his disposition still optimistic.

He was not a frail man by any means, but the wrinkles on his face, along with the gray and white hairs that peppered his head, spoke plainly of his past and the horrors he had faced in the last three years. During the Aurean occupation of Vatican City in 2032, Giuseppe had led a successful revolt against the city-state's captors. Later, with the help of the Swiss Guard, he and his subordinates had barricaded themselves into the Vatican, keeping chaos, disaster, and the entire world locked out.

Still lying in his bed, Giuseppe peered out his window at the gray sky outside. It seemed to him that the world had finally accepted its fate and saw fit for nature to reflect the hell unfolding in Rome. Drops of rain landed lightly on the windowpanes, making it difficult for him to avoid falling back to sleep. Just as the luxury was beginning to envelop him once again, it was ripped away by a quiet but steady knock from the other side of the two large mahogany doors enclosing him within his sanctuary. At first he wondered if he had imagined the knock, but after a few seconds, he heard two voices whispering to each other.

"You call that a knock? If he's even awake, there's no way he heard it," said one of the voices.

"Fine. You do it if you're such an expert at knocking on doors," replied the other.

The second knock was much more forceful.

"Crown Morreti, Inspector General Gabrieli sent us to retrieve and escort you to the gardens," said the first voice.

Giuseppe rolled over and peered, once again, outside into the overcast sky. He hoped and prayed it wasn't an omen for the day to come. After rubbing his eyes and sitting up in bed, he gave a raspy response.

"I'll be out in a moment. Wait in my office."

"Yes, sir," responded four or five voices in unison. This chorus of voices gave Giuseppe a sudden jolt of energy. Why had the inspector general sent so many men to escort him?

After a few minutes, Giuseppe emerged from his room. Standing in his office were five officers of the Vatican gendarmerie.

"We're ready when you are, sir," said one as he opened the door for them to depart.

Giuseppe had questions, but he knew to save them for when he reached his destination. If he knew the inspector general as well as he thought, it was safe to assume the man wouldn't divulge information to those who didn't need to know it.

As the group left the Milvian Guard barracks, Giuseppe gazed into the sky. A steady breeze blew the rain, and as the cold drops hit his face, he was awakened to the reality around him. The city-state was no small place by any means, but the walls that surrounded it had closed in over the past three years. Claustrophobia didn't seem like something one could suffer from by living in such a large place, but many besides him had felt its effects. Ever since the city walls were closed to the outside world, there had been a wave of suicides inside. Perhaps it was why the inspector general, Adriano, had called Giuseppe. Maybe there's been another suicide. Maybe I'm needed to help identify the body. But the seasoned man knew better. Something strange was in the air, and Giuseppe was aware of it.

From his current location, Giuseppe could see the dome of Saint Peter's Basilica rising over the buildings of the Vatican. The beautiful architectural accomplishment used to stand for something bright and hopeful, but it had become a dead husk, empty and void of the voices that had once echoed within its massive and grand interior. Saint Peter's Square was just as vacant: silent and abandoned. The only signs of life were the ranks of Uriel's Sword, soldiers in the Milvian Guard who patrolled and stood watch at its entrance. Sharpshooters were intertwined among the statues of Christ and his apostles at the basilica's facade, which was a sad contradiction in Giuseppe's eyes.

As the group neared the gardens, Giuseppe noticed a large number of gendarmes scouring the area, each glancing at the approaching men as they closed in. The Crown of the Milvian Guard, as the rest of the guard knew him, began to run every possible scenario through his head. The worst would be the assassination of the pope, but Giuseppe knew that whatever it was, it was serious enough to warrant his attention. The looks on the men's faces around him expressed that clearly.

All of it was especially distressful to Giuseppe today. He had long roamed the grounds of the Vatican gardens as an escape from the strange new world inside. The trees hid the sight of the massive stone walls surrounding him, and the sounds of the birds that dwelt there took him someplace else, somewhere far and away. Now it seemed that Giuseppe's paradise had become the very same hell that burned and festered outside his walled in home.

Giuseppe and the men arrived where Adriano, the inspector general, had told them to go. He could see yellow crime scene tape surrounding a small area around Saint Peter's statue, with several gendarmes standing within it. Directly to the right of the scene stood several cardinal priests, which served as some relief to Giuseppe; if the pope had been assassinated, every cardinal within the Vatican would have immediately rushed to the Sistine Chapel.

"Giuseppe!" yelled Adriano from within the crime scene. "Over here!"

Giuseppe held out his hand to let his escorts know that he would continue the rest of the way on his own. As he lifted the crime scene tape, Giuseppe looked around to see if he could gather what he could about the situation encompassing him. Nothing out of the ordinary seemed to stand out, but the air around him had an eerie and electrified feel about it.

Again Giuseppe looked to the sky. The clouds were moving faster than when he left the barracks. A storm was coming, and he knew that it wasn't just one within the realms of nature that he should worry about.

"What's going on, Adriano?" asked Giuseppe once he reached the inspector general. "It can't be something simple, can it? That would make my life easier."

"I only wish it was," said Adriano as he motioned for Giuseppe to follow him. "A priest found him this morning next to Saint Peter's statue."

As the inspector general and Crown of the Milvian Guard neared the statue, Giuseppe noticed a white cloth covering a man just below the statue's pedestal. It wasn't anything he hadn't seen before. Compared to the hundreds of mangled bodies of those who served under him during the Vatican Revolt, this was nothing. But Giuseppe still felt strange and sickened by what he saw. Something wasn't right, and he could feel it in his soul.

A small gust of wind blew past the two men from the direction of the body. With it Giuseppe could hear the voices of the men around him talking among themselves, but there was something else layered beneath all the scattered conversation — something that stood out and made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end.

Adriano stood facing the corpse while scratching the back of his head. "I've dealt with death and the likes of it before, but this ... this is something entirely different. Take a look."

Giuseppe took a closer look at the covered body, but noticed some movement underneath the white blanket. Upon removing the covering, Giuseppe searched for any signs of what may have caused this young man's untimely demise, but there was nothing that could be seen. In fact, the color in his skin had not faded, and his eyes seemed uncannily alive. Giuseppe had stared many times into the face of the dead and dying. Enough times to recognize it when he saw it. This man was dead. The young man was staring into the face of God or the black abyss of nothingness, depending on how he had lived his life. But it wasn't the lively look to the dead man or the mysterious circumstances of his death that perplexed, frightened, and chilled Giuseppe to the bone. By all accounts, death had taken this man, but dead men do not speak, and this man was speaking.

A horrid and breathless voice rose from the mouth of the man. At first, the words were meaningless clicks and vibrations to his ears, but slowly Morreti could distinguish a message.

"The sons of God will be punished, and the owl will emerge from her place of rest to dwell on the shores of the sea. Her children will again know dominance and cleanse their world of filth. The three will vanish, and God will turn his head. Your soul will be forgotten, and your world turned to dust."

It was something Giuseppe should have expected, but not what he desired. He stood and placed his hands in his pockets. To him the message was clear, but telling Adriano the meaning would land him in a worse predicament than he was already in, if that was possible. He would either have to avoid the emerging questions or fabricate answers.

"I have to say, Giuseppe, this is not something I'm used to. Normally when I'm investigating a mysterious death, I'm attempting to give a voice to the departed. Not trying to decipher what the dead are saying to me. What do you make of it all?" asked Adriano, breaking the silence.

Giuseppe opened his mouth attempting to assemble a believable lie when a voice from across the gardens yelled his name, saving him from having to mislead his longtime friend.

"Giuseppe Morreti! I demand that you speak with me at once!" screamed a stout and pug-looking cardinal behind the crime scene tape.

"Oh no. It's Alban," said Adriano, laughing with pity as he spotted the short, red-robed cardinal priest.

Giuseppe placed his face in his hands and rubbed his forehead. He had been brewing a headache ever since he woke up from his dream, but he knew it was about to get worse.

Alban Sommer was a cardinal priest who loved to spend his time torturing Giuseppe. Or at least that's what Giuseppe thought. Alban had a false sense of superiority when it came to his position and a small understanding on what he was able to get away with. This earned him the title as the bane of Giuseppe's existence.

"Maybe if you ignore him he'll go away," said Adriano in an attempt to cheer his friend up.

"Not this time," replied Giuseppe as he walked toward the group of cardinals.

Morreti prepped himself for the argument that was about to ensue. He knew that rationality and reason were mostly absent in any type of conversation with Alban. Today would not be any different, he feared.

"What is it, Alban?" asked Giuseppe dryly after reaching the crime scene tape.

"Morreti, what is the purpose of your position? Is it not to command the soldiers in your guard?" questioned Alban facetiously. "The same group that is supposed to guard and protect our home and our people? Then how is it that this has happened?" asked Alban angrily.

"Alban, this has nothing to do with you. The matter is being taken care of by the gendarmerie, and I would appreciate it very much if you would just leave," responded Giuseppe, ignoring Alban's inquiry. "How did you get past the barricade?"

"I'm asking the questions here! I knew it was ill-advised to appoint you as a leader. You are obviously not worthy of this responsibility." screamed Alban, pointing in the direction of the body.

"You had nothing to do with appointing me. For that, I am eternally grateful, Alban," said Giuseppe, again dryly and sarcastically.

At this point, Alban's face resembled a cherry about to pop. Never had anyone been so impolite to him — and in front of his peers nonetheless.

"That's 'Your Eminence' to you!" yelled Alban as Giuseppe turned around and walked away. "You will not speak to me in such a disrespectful manner! As far as I'm concerned, you are inadequate and unable to hold your position! This will be brought to His Holiness immediately!"

Giuseppe simply waved his hand in the air without turning around. "It's a good thing your opinion doesn't hold much weight then."

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Beatific Vision"
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Copyright © 2018 Jordan Spiece.
Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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