Excerpt: Power Under Pressure

Chapter 22: A Confrontation of Opposites

 

 

“This is a house of God!” he heard the reverend yell, his voice projecting the wrath of the Almighty. “You will leave this place in peace!”

Despite his effective delivery, the men he was attempting to influence were not the type to be easily swayed by an appeal to higher powers. Eschaton had genuine abilities, and he was on earth in the here and now. The gray man’s wrath would certainly be more terrible than any punishment that heaven would be delivering anytime soon. He couldn’t hear exactly what the South- erner was saying, but the guttural laughter of the men was chilling and mean.

“Stay back! Damn you, heathens!” If the reverend had intended it as a warning, it wasn’t a very good one. A second later Anubis heard the sound of the shotgun’s discharge. At least the man had been smart enough to only shoot off one barrel.

Before he could think, Anubis found himself heading back up the stairs and into the kitchen. As he passed by the sink he grabbed a wooden rolling pin off of the drying rack. As weapons went it was hardly the most elegant, or the most stylish, but at the very least it was reliable, and close enough to his missing staff that he was hopeful he might get some use out of it.

The main church was just beyond the living room, and as he opened the door to the sanctuary Anubis could see four men surrounding the reverend. Two of them were dressed in costume.

“You killed the Pugilist!” The man was dressed in thick leather, and was reaching into a bag at his side with a pair of iron tongs.

Whoever it was on the floor was unmoving, his hands bound up inside a pair of large metal boxing gloves. From the wounds on his chest he had been the recipient of the reverend’s buckshot.

“It was God who brought him down. I was only his instrument!” The reverend’s voice was thunder and fury, and Anubis was impressed to see that although the Children of Eschaton might not be believers, at least the White Knight had the good sense to take a step back when presented with such a powerful voice behind a loaded shotgun barrel.

The man with the tongs drew a glowing plug of metal out of his bag. “This is my instrument, priest.”

The shotgun barked out a reply of fire and brimstone that knocked the villain to the ground. “It’s Reverend.”

“Well, Reverend,” the White Knight said, advancing toward him. “It’s just you and me now, and it looks like you’re all outta shots.”

“But not out of friends,” Anubis said. He ran forward, swinging the rolling pin in front of him.

The White Knight brought up his hands in time to deflect the blow before it could smash into his head, but he shouted out in pain as the heavy chunk of wood crashed into his arms and shoved him backwards, throwing him off-balance. “There you are. We’ve been looking all over for you.” As Clements pulled off his mask he seemed to be growing taller. “Now I’m finally going to kill you!”

Anubis was astonished by the speed and ferocity with which the villain leapt toward him. Despite his weakness and injuries, the attack was clearly superhuman. Anubis was thrown to the floor, the rolling pin spinning from his hands. Before he could react the man’s thick hands were around his neck. The man definitely had grown bigger. This was clearly part of the powers that Eschaton had given him.

Anubis knew he should have run away and never looked back, and yet in the end it was his kindnesses that defined him. They were what made him a hero.

Once again the blackness closed in on him, but this time there was no respite. The roaring grew to fill his ears. He had tried to be good, he had even tried to be just, but in the end it was nothing compared to the overwhelming power of human cruelty that was the true legacy of mankind.

As his thoughts finally disintegrated into darkness, Anubis heard a crack that he was sure must be his neck giving way to the unbearable pressure that had been put to his throat. Then a burning rumbled up his chest to become a desperate, sputtering cough.

Air flooded into his lungs as his vision swam back into focus. The first thing he saw was the pasty pink of Jordan Clements’s face as he moaned next to him. There was a gash in the side of his head, blood already welling up from the wound.

Anubis tried to talk, but the only sound he could make was a pitiable, guttural cry.

“Time to get up, son,” the reverend said as he reached for his hand. “You were certainly right about them: they were very bad men.” He let the rev- erend help him to his feet. “I’d still love to hear the story of how you man- aged to make them so damn angry.”

Anubis exhaled. He saw the White Knight starting to move despite his brutal wound. There was no way the reverend could know that the man on the floor was no longer simply human. He knew what Clements was capable of, and the White Knight clearly had more control over his abilities than the last time he’d fought him. Looking around the room, he saw the rolling pin on the floor. He stumbled toward it just as the White Knight roared up to his feet.

“You’re going to pay,” Clements bellowed. “You’re both going to pay.” “Dear God, protect me!” the preacher said, backing away from him. “That’s right, Reverend, you call on your precious savior. But I’m some-

thing new under the sun, and I don’t think he’s ready for me.”
He took a step forward, and Anubis could feel the ground shudder from his step. “The Negro will have to wait his turn while I send you off to heaven.” The White Knight’s baggy clothing was filling with the villain’s

expanding bulk as the man continued to grow.
Wrapping his hand around the handle of the rolling pin, Anubis stood

up. He coughed, and then shouted, “Come on, you white monster. If you want to kill me, now’s the time.”

What turned to face him was no longer human, but simply a leering smile in the middle of a vast field of dough. The face had grown unevenly, and the grin revealed teeth separated by wide gaps along the gums. “All right, boy, if that’s the way you want it, you go meet God first.”

Clements plodded toward Anubis. “I know you think you have some- thing in mind. But whatever desperate plan you think is going to save you, it won’t help.”

As he got closer, Anubis reared back with his rolling pin and looked up. The White Knight towered over him now, arms raised, each hand big enough to crush his entire head.

Anubis realized that even if he attacked, his swing wouldn’t reach up past the White Knight’s chest. Once again it seemed that he hadn’t had the good sense to simply run away. He made a small prayer to God for forgive- ness, and held his ground.

“I still can’t believe that Eschaton thought you could be purified.” Clements said.

The sound of the shotgun was deafening as it loosed both barrels. For an instant it seemed that even the Remington might not be enough to stop the monster.

Clements just stood there, looking stunned. Then he let out a gurgling sigh as his eyes rolled back into his head. He teetered forward slightly before his legs gave way, and the huge man crashed to the floor, revealing that the back of his head was mostly gone.

Anubis let out a sigh. “Thank you, Reverend.”
“You came back to help me.”
Anubis nodded.

“I’m stubborn that way,” the reverend  said with a laugh and cracked open the breach on the barrel.

The preacher reached down into one of the pews, pulling out a few more shells from underneath a hymnal. Now it was Anubis’s turn to laugh. “I don’t suppose the congregation minds you hiding your ammunition down with the prayer books.”

He slipped in the second shell, then snapped the Remington closed with a practiced hand. “Not so many people share my enlightened views, so it isn’t very often we fill them enough for anyone to notice. Besides, I’m the only one in the church allowed to carry a shotgun—on Sunday, anyway.”

Anubis nodded and looked around. He’d lost Nathaniel, and his cos- tume, but he’d somehow survived once again.

He reached down and picked up the White Knight’s hood.

“Looks like one a those gentlemen adventurers the papers are always going on about,” the reverend said.

“A pretender and a villain.”

The reverend eyed him up and down. “And I suppose you dress up in a costume, as well.”

Anubis looked down at the ragged outfit he was wearing. He had some older pieces, and at least he still had his chestplate. “Hard to deny it.”

“What do you call yourself?”
“Anubis.”
“Not exactly a Christian name—or,” he said, wagging a finger at the

golden ankh on his chest, “a Christian symbol.”

Faced with the priest’s condemnation he felt duly chided. “That’s why it’s supposed to be a secret identity.”

“So, what’s next?”

He pulled the mask down over his face, trying to ignore the scent of the dead man that clung to it. As sweaty as Clements had been, it seemed he’d at least bothered to bathe, and there was a faint scent of lavender behind the sour odor. “How does it look?”

“If you follow me you can have a look for yourself.” Anubis did as the Reverend asked. They left the sanctuary and headed back into the living area. Once inside the living room, the holy man lit a chimney lamp and held

it up in front of a mirror. “What do you think?”
Seeing himself wearing the stolen face of his enemy, he felt as if he had

been reborn. The white of the mask would be a good match for his Egyptian skirt.

“Anubis. Something to do with the underworld, right?”

The man nodded. “He weighed the hearts of dead men, and determined if they were fit to go on to the underworld.”

“Seems a bit dark for a man wearing a white mask. I’m in the redemp- tion business, myself, and when a man rises up after being saved, I always say it’s time to take on a new name.” He rubbed his chin. “Usually I tell people they should keep it a secret, but in your case, I—”

“How about Ra?” The name had come out of nowhere, but it seemed absolutely right. “That’s the sun god.”

The reverend made a show of thinking about it, and then nodded. “It’s not the son of God, but for a pagan deity, it just might do.”

Abraham was already thinking he liked it. He’d have to make a few changes to the costume. First and foremost, he’d need a new mask. Ra was a bird-headed god, but at least he could still carry a staff. He didn’t want to give that up. But being the light-bringer certainly seemed like a better job than being the judge.

“Now, son, I’ve got three dead bodies on my floor, and I’m going to need a hand cleaning up the mess before my worshippers get here in the morning.”

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