A subtle buzz on his hip startled Tristan. It was easy to get lost in his strength training, particularly with the sounds of Wagner in his headphones. But the buzz from his pager told him that the Deacon needed to see him. Now.


Tristan relaxed his arms, and deftly shifted from the vertically inverted iron cross to perform a full-out layout, landing easily on the concrete slab below. He relished the the sting on the soles of his bare feet. The vibration coursed up through his body, and he took a quick inventory, flexing and relaxing his muscles along the way. Grabbing his towel, Tristan wiped the sheen of sweat off his brow: the only evidence of his three-hour workout.

His pager buzzed a second time, causing Tristan to pause. The Deacon was not an impatient man, so this indicated a sense of urgency to his summons. Tristan proceeded across the grounds of the Conclave, breathing in the cool, late October air.

Near the main entrance to the building, he caught sight of Elder Jude, raking the last of the fallen leaves. Throwing the elder a quick wave, Tristan called out, “Hey, Jude!” This always caused Jude’s bushy beard to quiver in silent laughter, although Tristan had yet to figure out the joke. After he ascended, Tristan thought, he would have to question Jude on that matter.

Jude leaned his rake against the side of the maintenance shed, and fell in step behind him. The physically imposing elder was by far Tristan’s favorite. Quick-tempered, and even more quickly-witted, Jude’s dynamic teaching style in politics and ancient prophecy was unmatched by Tristan’s other tutors, and while those classes were the only ones in which he scored less than perfect, Tristan enjoyed his time with Jude the most.

“You’re in a rush,” Jude noted. “Breakfast isn’t for another hour yet.”

Tristan nodded. “The Deacon paged me. Twice.” He detected an ever-so-slight hitch in Jude’s long strides behind him, indicating both the elder’s recognition of the unusual event, and perhaps something else…? “You wouldn’t happen to know what this is all about, would you?”

Jude harrumphed. “Whether or not I do, it’s not your place to ask me, is it? We’ll find out soon enough.” Tristan recognized the verbal parry, indicating either Jude was as much in the dark as he was, or very displeased with what he did know.

As they arrived at the Deacon’s quarters, Tristan drew back, and allowed Jude to step forward. The elder pressed the intercom button on the wall beside the heavy oaken door and intoned, “Jude and The One to see you, Deacon.” A moment later, a harsh electric buzz preceded the loud click of the door unlocking. Jude pulled the door open and allowed Tristan to walk through first.

The Deacon’s office was a humble affair. The windowless walls were of concrete block; finely laid, but with no decoration. The sparse furniture consisted of wooden stools and an old writing desk, the wood so dark as to appear black. The only light in the room came from either a bare lightbulb that hung from the middle of the ceiling, or as now, the fireplace on the wall opposite the door to the Deacon’s private bedroom. The Deacon himself was just closing the door to his cell as Tristan and Jude entered. He walked to his small desk at the far end of the room, and laid a sheaf of papers on it, then waved the others to sit down on the stools. Tristan took the stool closer to the fireplace, not because he was at all cold, but so he could better see the expressions of the other two in the dim light.

The Deacon settled himself onto his own stool with a sigh and stared at the fire. Tristan kept his eyes fixed on the Deacon, as was proper, but noticed in his peripheral vision that Jude was instead looking at Tristan, himself. This confirmed Tristan’s suspicions that the elder knew at least something of what was going on here. Tristan cleared his throat as a polite way of breaking the silence. “You paged me, Deacon?”

“Yes, Tristan, I did. I’m afraid…well, it seems…” The Deacon’s sudden lack of elocution concerned Tristan greatly. The old man consistently spoke with the strength of his convictions, which–up till now–seemed as solid and impenetrable as the walls of his office. “There’s been a mistake.”

Tristan shifted slightly in his stool, making a harsh scraping sound on the bare floor. This broke the Deacon’s attention to the fire, as Tristan had intended, and he caught the old man’s gaze. “What sort of mistake?”

The Deacon stared at Tristan for a moment, then pulled the sheaf of papers from his desk. “I’m sure you’re aware of the Conclave’s meeting last night.” Tristan nodded. Despite the fact that he was not privy to the actions of the Elders, and that they typically met during his sleeping cycle, Tristan was usually able to determine both when and for what purpose they met. He had as yet been unable to suss out any details of last night’s meeting, although he assumed it had to do with his planned ascension. The initial ceremony was to commence the following week.

The Deacon continued, “A year ago, I formed a special committee of Elders to re-examine the specific guideposts that brought you here to us, Tristan. While our initial intake found everything to be in order, I had some lingering … questions. Last night, the committee presented its findings, and …” He faltered, slapping the papers in his hand. Tristan fought the temptation to look to Jude for an answer.

“…You’re not Him,” the Deacon whispered.

“What?” Tristan blurted out. “But the signs, the fulfilled prophecies, my birthmark…!” Tristan stopped himself. It was possible that this was another test of some sort, and he had come close to losing control. If this *were* another test, he would pass it.

The Deacon nodded. “Yes, I had the committee specifically check into those. It seems that the brothers who brought you to us here in Gloaming Gap had … fudged some of the details of your birth. Prophecies were massaged. Events had been reinterpreted and shoehorned into our understanding of what was to happen. We were deliberately misled on at least six different, vital points.”

Tristan felt anger rising inside of him. Calculatingly, he chose to redirect that anger. “Those who misled the Conclave should be immediately killed!”

The Deacon’s eyes flashed. But it was Jude who spoke up: “And it is presumptuous of you, Tristan, to believe that those actions have not already been taken. Remember your place!”

Tristan checked himself, realizing his error. “Of course, Elder. Forgive my impertinence, but we’re speaking of my life’s purpose. An emotional reaction is certainly justified, yes?” Jude inclined his head slightly, acknowledging his point.

The Deacon’s voice brought their attention back to him. “Unfortunately, Tristan, the committee’s findings have been confirmed, and your place is no longer here. You are to leave the Conclave immediately.”

At this, Tristan decided to throw caution to the wind. He didn’t care if this was a test; this was too much. “But all my training! My studies!” He turned to Jude, asking a silent plea to reason with the Deacon. The elder looked down at the floor and muttered, “I’m sorry, Tristan. The prophecies have not been fulfilled. The Conclave has spoken.”

The Deacon glanced sharply at Jude, as Tristan continued. “But, I’ve been here since birth. The Conclave is my home! What am I supposed to do with my life now?”

The Deacon shook his head, almost sadly. “What any other regular person does: whatever you want. You’re intelligent and charismatic. Perhaps you can still rule the world, but only as a placeholder until He comes.”

They couldn’t do this. All the time, all the effort, all the prophecies.

Wait.

The prophecies. Of course.

Tristan gathered his composure and took a deep breath. “Deacon… I will of course obey the Conclave’s mandate. If I may, though, what if I personally present further evidence that I am indeed He?”

The Deacon’s eyes narrowed, “What evidence would that be?”

Tristan stood abruptly. “I will present it shortly. May I be dismissed?” The Deacon considered for a moment, then nodded. Tristan bowed to each of the men in turn, then left the office. He strode down the hallway, returning to the grounds.

The prophecies. The wound. If he survived this, it would trump everything.

By the time Tristan had reached the exercise area, he was in a full, flat-out run. He leapt from the ground, and his hands found the familiar handles of the rings. He began to spin around on the rings, in his usual warm-up routine, just as his mind ran through the prophecies.

The Anti-Christ would suffer from a mortal head wound, yet survive.

Tristan paused, once again holding himself in the inverted iron cross. His arms trembled, not with exertion, but with barely contained excitement. “This is it,” he breathed, staring at the ground, nine feet below. Then, with a tremendous force of will, he released his hands from the rings.

———

As the Deacon left the central building, he saw Jude standing by the maintenance shed, shovel in hand. “Deacon? …It’s been five days.”

The Deacon sighed. “Yes, I suppose it’s time. I like to give a couple extra days in case one of the ancients had problems counting to three…”

Jude handed a second shovel to the Deacon, and the two walked towards the Conclave’s exercise yard and burial field. As they walked together, Jude glanced around them. All the other members of the Conclave were still sequestered, once again studying both the ancient prophecies and local birth records. They were alone. “Y’know, Abe, you guys lose more potential candidates this way.”

The Deacon glanced sidelong at his companion. “I’m afraid it is a bit of an occupational hazard. At least for the ones who pay attention to the prophetic parts. You do far too good of a job teaching that.”

Image by Melanie Hill

Jude chuckled ruefully as they arrived at the burial ground, just past the cracked concrete of the exercise yard. The two began to fill the hole dug four days prior. “Seems to me it would make more sense for you guys to just start with the head wound. That way, you wouldn’t have to waste all those years with the training and the tutelage…”

“Yeah,” considered the Deacon, between shovelfuls of earth. “But we couldn’t exactly go around sniper-hunting toddlers and expect not to be caught, now, could we?”

“I suppose not. …Abe, I’ve been meaning to ask you, for a long time, now. Why do you let me stay here? I mean, you figured out who I was a while ago, right?”

“Two candidates ago, yes.” Abraham looked at his friend of 30 years and paused in his work. “Your guy said, ‘Love your enemies,’ yeah?”

Jude smiled. “Yep.”

“We prefer, ‘Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.'” The Deacon returned to his digging.

Jude laid down his shovel and wiped the sweat from his forehead. “Ah, irony.”

“Yep,” said the Deacon, patting down the last of the ground.