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|Tony looked up to Alex, who was sitting high on the royal platform. Restrained from behind, Tony was forced to stand at attention as Alex looked down upon him. Jackson joined Tony at his side and both men felt spears at their backs.||
On the tenth day of captivity, the prison door swung open filling the small room with bright light. Tony and Jackson were blinded as they were hauled out into the courtyard tripping over their food bowls scattered on the floor. It took a while for their eyes to readjust to the sun and to the presence of their captors.
Four guards armed with long spears prodded the men into the back of an enclosed cart and then closed the door, tying it closed with rope. The two captives looked out between the slats of the cage and saw that the courtyard was vacant except for the guards posted nearby.
A crack of a whip sent the cart moving. The massive beast that pulled the cart lumbered in a slow yet steady pace along the dirt courtyard. The wheels made a grinding sound as they ground over the loose sand and rock strewn about the area.
"Where are you taking us?" Jackson yelled.
His answer was a stab in the leg from one of the guards walking behind. There would be no talking. Tony scanned the area, surprised to see no one around. The city seemed deserted. He looked to Jackson who was holding the bloody wound with his hand grimacing in pain.
"That jerk!" Jackson whispered.
"Are you alright?" Tony asked.
"Hell no," he said surprisingly calmly, and wiped sweat from his brow with his free hand. "Weíre going to die today," he added looking off in a daze. "I should enjoy the pain. It may be the last feeling I have."
Tony looked to the floor of the cage. His head began to ache and his skin became hot and sweaty. "It must be ninety five degrees in here," Tony said.
"I expected Hell to be a lot hotter than that," Jackson said almost jokingly.
"I didnít expect Hell to have blue skies and green grass either," Tony responded. "I think most people have it wrong."
"Why donít you write a book about it," Jackson said with a smile.
The cart rolled further across the courtyard down the main street towards the coliseum. They were now rolling over cobblestone and the cart rattled with each stone they moved over. They were flanked on both sides by stone buildings and strange animals not familiar to either of them. Behind them, keeping pace with the lumbering beast, were the guards ready to strike at them at any moment.
"I didnít think Hell was a place," Tony said. "My grandmother told me Hell was an eternity from God. Thatís what my dad used to say when he preached."
"I donít know what to tell you friend. Maybe this is another sacrifice." Jackson said. "I guess you havenít been to prolific in the miracle department so far."
"There arenít any lepers around for me to heal," Tony said with a grin.
"I got one for you."
"Whatís that?" Tony asked.
"My leg," Jackson said looking at the blood running down his calf. "It would be a great test."
"Test your Lord? That is blasphemous!" Tony said.
One of the guards struck the side of the cage with his spear startling the two men. Tony moved away from the door and sulked into a corner. He looked to Jackson and closed his eyes. He reached over and placed his hand on Jacksonís wounded leg. Moments passed with only the sounds of the cart rolling and the guardsí footsteps behind them. Tony opened his eyes and looked at Jacksonís wound. There was no difference.
Jackson whispered, "You have to believe. You have to have faith."
Tony retracted his hand and folded his arms across his chest. Frustrated he turned and looked outside the cart at the buildings passing by.
In the distance they could hear the sounds of a massive crowd. They knew the coliseum was close and soon they would meet their fate. Louder and louder the sounds became as they heard cheers and yelling bouncing off buildings in all directions. Tony turned and looked over the beast pulling the cart at the huge building before them.
A moment later they were in a dark tunnel entering the building. The sounds of the cart bounced off the stone walls echoing back and forth. The opening of the tunnel grew smaller and smaller as they moved deeper inside the building. The door to the entrance was closing and the tunnel became very dark. Clanking and clopping sounds were the only things the two men could hear now. The crowd was to far away. The further they moved the more the tunnel lightened. The crowd noise became louder as they neared the exit moving ever onward.
Exiting the tunnel they broke into the bright daylight and the crowd roared with excitement. The show had arrived. Tony and Jackson scanned the stadium looking at the people in the stands surrounding them. It reminded Tony of a bull-fighting arena, the way the high walls prevented anything from escaping into the crowd. The coliseum was massive. It was three times the size of a football stadium, but in a perfect circle. They were wheeled out to the center of the field and stopped next to a sixty-foot tall obelisk where the beast was unhitched and led away.
The cart was untied and the two captives were pulled out and brought around to face in the direction of Alex who was sitting on the kings throne. Alex sat flanked on each side by two leathery winged demons that kept watch over him like a hawk. Surrounding them were many servants and guards who tended to Alex like the royalty he was.
Tony looked up to Alex, who was sitting high on the royal platform. Restrained from behind, Tony was forced to stand at attention as Alex looked down upon him. Jackson joined Tony at his side and both men felt spears at their backs.
"Tony!" Alex said leaning back in his throne chair. "The time has come." Alex slowly stood and walked to the edge of the platform. "We have gathered to rejoice at your baptism." Alex raised his arms to the crowd and the masses cheered. He pivoted at his waist as he turned to face everyone in attendance. His arms fell to his sides and the crowd went silent. "You should be very happy. Not everyone gets this kind of special treatment." Alex said.
"You call this special!" Tony yelled.
The guard on Tonyís right slammed his fist into Tonyís abdomen sending him to the ground wheezing.
Alex turned to the demon on his right and motioned for it to come close. The great winged creature walked over on its thin gangly legs and stopped beside Alex. Alex spoke quietly to the creature and then turned his attention back to Tony who was now back on his feet. The creature spread its wings and glided down off the stage landing ten feet from Tony and Jackson. The breeze from its landing blew a sick stench towards the men that made them gag.
Tony looked into the creatures red eyes and his heart began to pound. He did not want to die this way. "What do you want from me?" Tony said to Alex not taking his eyes off the creature.
"Your life," Alex said.
"Then get this over and stop playing games with me!" Tony barked back.
Jackson was stone silent too scared to speak up.
"Soon enough," Alex said. "But first I want to do something I have been waiting for, for all eternity."
The guards pushed Tony forward. The winged demon took flight and grasped Tony at his shoulders lifting him up to the stage and depositing him at Alexís feet. Tony fell with a thud and rolled to a stop two feet from the end of the stage. He looked down at Jackson who was still being held by the four-armed guards. Behind him stood the sixty-foot tall stone obelisk rising into the sky.
"Stand," Alex said softly. "I need to have a moment alone with you."
Tony stood and faced Alex. This was the same man he worked side by side with for years at the university. He was also the man who was put into prison for the killing of college students on the same campus. Tony hated this man with all his heart. "What do you want, you son of a gun?"
Alex stepped in close. Close enough to touch Tony. "I want to see the eyes of the Son of God for the last time. This is the revenge I have been waiting for since I was cast out of heaven." Alex stared deep into Tonyís eyes. The crowd was silent.
Alex stepped back and grinned. "Turn around," he commanded Tony.
Tony trembling in fear, turned to face the crowd which was seated in the ever rising rows of the stadium. Before him was his last comrade. The last person he knew was alive. Tony felt pressure on his back, and with a forceful shove was knocked off the stage to the ground thirty feet below. Tony landed hard, but the ground was unusually soft. The crowd cheered and Tony was carried off by the guards to another holding cage along side the obelisk.
The cage door was opened and Tony and Jackson were both forced inside. A rope above the cage connected to a yardarm at the top of the obelisk that pulled them off the ground and up towards the top. One of the hairy four legged beasts walked away from the obelisk with a rope tied to it that connected to a pulley on the yardarm. With each step, the cage lunged slowly upwards into the sky.
Jackson looked down at the ground getting further and further away. "This is it," Jackson said.
Tony tried to comfort Jackson, but he knew he was correct. "My death is a God damn spectator sport?" Tony asked.
"How can you say that?" Jackson asked.
"What am I supposed to say?" Tony cried. "Iím about to die!"
Jackson lunged forward at Tony and grabbed him by the collar. "You stupid son of a gun! If you just opened your mind for one second you might just get us the hell out of here!" With that Jackson slapped Tony across the face and sulked back to the other side of the cage. They were now almost to the top. Tony stood dumbfounded and turned away watching the crowd encircling them.
The cage rose above the deck of the obelisk and the yardarm swung over. Two guards opened the door and let the men out. The top of the obelisk was forty feet by forty feet square, about the size of a tennis court. At the corners of the surface were four winged creatures standing like gargoyles, keeping watch over the men. Standing in the center of the platform was Seth and Tonyís father Pastor Jack Rhine.
Tony and Jackson stepped forward approaching the two other men. Jackson noticed right away that they were both armed. Seth had a dagger in his right hand and Jack had spear.
Tony stopped ten feet from his father. "So this is how it is going to end?"
Jack stood silent.
Tony was at his end. He cared no longer. He looked over to the edge of the platform and though about jumping off. He turned to his father. "Will you gain any pleasure from this?"
"What I gain is not important," Jack replied.
"You are a tool?" Tony shouted. "You are a pawn for the devil?"
Jackson noticed this was the first time Tony used the word "devil."
Tony lunged forward and grabbed the spear from his father before he had a chance to react. Seth stepped forward only to receive a kick in the ribs from Jackson. Seth rolled on his back. Tony ran to the edge of the obelisk and tossed the spear over the edge to the dismay of the crowd. He walked back over and said to his father, "I will not fight my own father!" Tony shouted. He turned to face Alex sitting on his throne across the stadium. " I will not fight my father!" he shouted loud enough for Alex to hear.
"Watch out!" Jackson yelled and Tony turned in time to see Seth running at him at full speed. Tony stepped aside and allowed Sethís momentum to carry him off the edge of the obelisk. He fell sixty feet to the ground and landed hard. His body broke apart upon impact.
One of the demons approached Tony. With anger only he knew, Tony walked to the center of the platform and stood with Jackson. Tonyís father stood defenseless only ten feet away. The demon moved in close and squatted down on its thin hind legs.
"You can do it," Jackson said. "Just believe."
Tony looked to Jackson. "I do, with God as my witness I believe." Tony stepped in next to the demon and stood fearless before it. "Do with me what you wish," Tony said. The beast looked at him with surprise. It backed up frightened. Tony approached and it backed up further. Tony raised his arm and pointed to the sun. He said," I am the Son of Man! And all of you will fall before me!" He spun and moved his arm across the sky. As his hand passed the demon, the demon was shot off the obelisk and exploded in mid air falling to the ground in a mass of blood and entrails.
Tony walked to the edge of the platform and looked down upon the beast. He looked to Alex who was now horrified, standing before his throne. "It will not come back," Tony said calmly. He did not raise his voice, but Alex heard him loud and clear. Tony breathed hard. He was angry. He was angry with Alex and it was time to pay.
Tony turned and walked back to the center of the platform. He looked to Jackson and said, "You will be saved my son."
Jackson saw the Lord before him. "I believe you!" Jackson said and fell to his knees.
Tony turned to his father and stepped in close. He put his arms around the man and hugged him with a love he held for twenty years. Tony stepped back and looked into his fathersí eyes. "I now know the path I must take. I shall return and judge the living and the dead. I shall revenge your death."
Tony raised his arms to the sky and spoke aloud a prayer to the sky above. He had the faith.
|Morning Star chapter 5||Morning Star chapter 20|
|Morning Star chapter 21||Alignment chapter 16|
|Alignment chapter 2||Morning Star Prologue|