Saga of Darkness Vision of Light
Chapter Seven

Unholy Shrines

by Dennis R. Cook

Saga of Darkness Vision of Light
Chapter Seven
Unholy Shrines
by Dennis R. Cook

There beneath the risen altar arose an apparition reminiscent of an age when dreams conjured images of torture chambers and chaste virgins held captive by warlocks and wizards. Steamy froth billowed upward, boiling and drifting like witches brew from the netherworld. Then a serpentine image appeared, seductive and alluring, as if bent on revealing the powers of the eerie forbidden fruit to Eve.

Old Blackgoat, Steven, and I stared, dumbfounded. Before us loomed the scene of a modern world gone mad by the alluring appeal of pagan rites.

The glow of glowing ruby-red eyes set in relief on either side of the pit gave the image of gaping serpent's jaws eager to devour. Thirteen steps carved with the deftness of an artisan were set like teeth beneath the glow of the gaping chasm's anxious jaws, bringing a pull upon our souls that revealed the true seductive immortal powers lurking below.

I shuddered as I moved closer to Old Blackgoat and Steven, still transfixed by the pit's menacing appeal. Raw heat from the chasm forced beads of sweat to form upon my brow only to be frozen into nothingness by chills racing like shrieking hyenas up and down my spine. My bones were left dry and numb.

Undaunted, Steven placed a jacketed arm across his face and braced himself to face the fiery wind billowing up from the chasm. He began a cautious descent. I shuddered to think what might lie ahead.

Old Blackgoat looked at me dumbfounded. "Do all white men lack the common sense not to know that we must pound sand in a rat hole, not walk down in one?"

"Ike," I whispered..." "Ike,..., Jesus, Ike.., get out of there! Ike!" All to no avail...

Were we but sheep leading ourselves to the slaughter?

"Come on," Ol' Blackgoat said, "we can't let him get out of sight.

Remembering my earlier case of nerves, I steadied myself with silent confessions. "I can do all things through Jesus who strengthens me. I can do all things through Jesus who strengthens me. Greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world."

Gaining faith, I followed.

Brighter flickers of light now came flaming about the entranceway which opened beneath the last of the thirteen steps. The new light challenged the necessity of our lamps, given the unmatchable, pride filled egos that wicked fires manifest. Were they laughing and scoffing at the thought of ever feeling the pain one might inflict, should they be extinguished?

As we neared the bottom of the steps I thought I heard the sound of creaking. Eerie. Not perhaps unlike the sound of a lone playground swing caught by a brisk night wind, or brushed by an unknown visitor.visitor.

I mused how the scene might play out in the mind of a great author struck down by bizarre, life-changing, circumstances; A wrong turn such as mine, that placed all that he held dear to his soul, in jeopardy. What great line would he write? Perhaps, I thought, some Shakespearean barb, like: "And fate has played its indomitable role, that ill wind blown by irony most vile.. ha!"

Still holding his arm as a brace against the searing heat, Steven entered the smoke belching pit first, Old Blackgoat and myself a step back of either shoulder, making sure he wouldn't get away.

The pit was a small circular confinement, perhaps not fifty feet in diameter.

"Gothic," Steven said. "Now this is gothic the way it is, not like in the movies."

"Or was," I added.

"Like stepping out of time into timelessness," said Ol' Blackgoat.

Rough hewn stones like those of the stairway composed the floor, with the exception being the very center, where coals of hellfire burned. A ring of fire as it were...

"And it bur... Ike cut me off...

"Joseph, don't you dare start singing," Ike said.

"Barbeque anyone?" I quipped.

"Thought you were full of fear," Ol' Blackgoat said.

"Faith," I said. "I remembered my faith. You know, can do all things, the Greater One lives in me."

"Good," Ol' Blackgoat said. "Good."

A concave shaped ceiling, rising some thirty feet upward at its zenith, revealed a single length of heavy gauge wrought iron chain protruding downward toward the sunken furnace; splitting, as it were, into four new lengths; each new length of chain a clutching talon of captivity, two of which gripped a silver chalice, two of which gripped an extremely long and intricately decorated sarcophagus. All creaked together.

"Ah, the playground swing," I said, not thinking.

"The what?" Ike asked.

"Never mind," I said.

It appeared the weight imbalances on the chain caused the entire fixture to rotate slightly. A glow emanating from the top of the chalice suggested we had found the substance we were looking for.

Steven circled the hellfire, eyeing the dangling fixtures like a hungry fox, whose prey, a fatted fowl, taunted him from a tree branch just out of reach. I sensed what he had in mind, knowing a leap churning coals to the chain above the silver chalice was possible, but knowing too, certain death awaited my friend if he failed. At their lowest point, both chalice and crypt dangled only a few feet from the surface of the smoldering heat, but were a good five to six feet from where we stood at the fire's edge.

"Talk about a leap of faith," I said.

"Not funny," Ike said. "How did you lighten up so much all of a sudden?"

"You best focus in on what you are contemplating doing," I said. "Forget about me. It is time I shut up."

Steven was wasting his time. If he reached his mark, instant pain from scorched hands would surely cause him to lose his grip and plummet into the fiery crown of hell beneath him.

As if to read my mind, however, he pulled a pair of rough, brown cowhide gloves from his jacket pocket and slipped them on, still eyeing the fixtures with a look of absolute determination.

"Look," Steven breathed with finality, pointing at the four chain lengths. The chains connect to the chalice and crypt with eye clamps. If we could somehow maneuver them away from the fire, we could get them down rather easily I think.

I was just about to speak my misgivings, when Steven said, "where did you leave the ropes, Joseph? I've got a plan in mind."

"They're back by the elevator," nervously, knowing full well I would have to go get the ropes,...alone, and thinking it would take more faith than my confession to get me through that journey.

Old Blackgoat sensed my uneasiness. "Just do it," he said. "Your confession is enough."

I didn't waste any time retrieving the ropes, but while trotting through the great hall above, I recited the Twenty-Third Psalm. "As I walk through the valley of the shadow of Death, I shall fear no evil." It seemed so appropriate. Why hadn't I thought of it earlier? I felt so foolish. "Sometimes I can be so weak, I turn my own stomach," I mumbled to myself as I hurried back down the steps made to remind one of dragon's teeth.

Old Blackgoat acknowledged my return with a smile. I handed him one section of the rope. Steven and Iwatched as he prepared a professional lasso. His former youthful experience with southwestern rodeos was paying off. Like riding a bicycle, he had not forgotten.

"Stand back," Old Blackgoat said, motioning us to give him room to apply his trade.

Old Blackgoat's arm darted outward, sailing the rope with deft precision toward his target, snaring the two chain lengths which were attached to the silver chalice. There would be just enough slack in the chain to enable us to move both fixtures just off the lip of the burning embers. All Blackgoat had to do was make one trip around the pit with the rope. That caught both objects, and made it easy to pull them both within our reach.

Steven positioned himself to receive the objects. Old Blackgoat and I began pulling back on the rope until it was taught against the sarcophagus, then we walked the circumference of the flaming circle until both objects were entwined enough for us to pull them aside.

The chalice was first to come within Steven'sreach. "Oh, for a hot pad," he joked, extending gloved hands to loose the silvery metallic flask before lowering it to the ground.

"One of you will have to help me with the crypt," Steven said, as he positioned himself to receive the larger object. "I won't be able to hold it and release it too."

"Joseph will help you," Old Blackgoat said. "The rope will not get away from me."

"If you're sure," I said, concerned for the old sage.

"Hurry up," Steven said, "the darn thing isn't getting any cooler."

It only took an instant to unsnap the chains. That freed me to help a wheezing and grunting Steven lower the crypt to the ground. But it wouldn't have mattered had I been late. The weight was more than any of us had counted on. The sarcophagus slipped from our arms and sank with a thud to the rock. A crack developed on its side from the impact.

"We can't carry that thing out of here," Steven said with disgust, "but we've got half of Sheolman's treasure. Just taking the chalice of faith ought to set him back enough. Let's go."

Old Blackgoat untied his lasso from the chain and recoiled his rope. Steven and I made haste to gather the other utensils, but it was too late! A cacophony of triumphant sound filled the room. A shriek followed by blood curdling laughter filled the hall above us. Someone or something was here. We were caught!

Steven took valiant action, racing upward with his chalice of faith before his face. Seeming to confront someone, we heard Steven bellow, "in the name of...," but his words were cut short, and fell as so much dribble to the floor. We scurried to position ourselves so we could see what was going on. Just then, an as yet unseen foe or force flung Steven, chalice and all, across the entire length of the glass-like surface of the black marble floor.

Old Blackgoat and I raced after him, but it was to no avail...The same mighty force gripped us both and began drawing and dragging us backward toward the thrones.

Then I saw. The villain glared at us with all pomposity, some ten feet tall, clad like a titan of old in full battle dress, sickle in hand. Death had come for us in person. We were as wheat before the scythe. I fought with all fierceness to speak the great name of Jesus, but I couldn't. I was paralyzed.

I wondered if Steven was alive. I knew, in a moment, Old Blackgoat and I wouldn't be. Struggling was to no avail. The enormous yellowish, hollow eyes of Death leered down upon us as chunks of coal fired in a kiln. The titan's mouth moved incessantly. It was as though the fiend was unable to control it's appetite for human flesh. It lusted to lap mercilessly upon it's fated prey.

Our bodies began to lift higher off the black marble floor. Over the altar we soared, then to a cold stop, as the titan prepared, it seemed, to consider what our fate should be, mouth gaping with delight at its prize.

I had all but given up hope. I deemed our fate inevitable. But the monster spoke. "You must serve me," it bellowed, eyeing Old Blackgoat and me with contempt. "All that enter my holy mountain must worship at my feet! I will free you if you will come and worship me. Here, see that I am a god of my word."

Showing benign intent, the monster lowered us to the floor.

Finding I could again speak, I gathered courage, but a voice echoing from the pit of hell-fire beneath the altar brought me up short.

"They will not serve you, but you will indeed let them go," a voice of great power commanded, causing the hair to rise on the back of my neck, while, at the same time turning the countenance on the face of Death from frenzied delight to one of abject despair.

"You cannot defeat me again," the monster shrieked. I still have the chalice of faith! Maintaining eyes fixed upon the fiery pit, it pointed a bony finger and summoned the chalice filled with the faith of innocence to his titan hand. Faith which only moments earlier had rested in the hands of my beloved friend, Steven.

Then, primordial rage gripped the monster's hideous features. Without warning it swung back toward Old Blackgoat and me. Death was livid in its glare. "This chalice is no good, you have broken the spell," it screamed at us with contempt, turning again to the mouth of the chasm.

There, kneeling down, the creature gazed into the flame tempered darkness. We had no idea what the monster saw. Suddenly, the realization that our tampering with the sarcophagus had wrought a damage to its world that could not be undone, brought a flash of terror to the creature's eyes. Who could bring such terror to Death, I wondered?

Moaning sardonically, the beast raised its arm and dashed the faith filled chalice against the chasm's entranceway, but its action was to no avail.

Rising, as from the depths of hell, a being emerged, apparently released from the spell that had bound it for ages, either by the crack in the sarcophagus, or by removal of the chalice, or both. What did it matter? The being was free! Out of its bonds it sauntered, confident, strident, powerful. Silently the being advanced toward Death, unafraid, undeterred, undaunted.

Death, the titan, although much the taller, cowered at the being's fierce appeal. Sobering nonetheless, it unsheathed a sword, red with fire and blood, no doubt spawned and forged by Hell itself, and brandished it menacingly.

"Ah ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!" Laughed Death's foe. "Where will you strike, Death? I will be where your blow cannot land. Have you forgotten that I see the future? Strike where you will! I will not be there!

Again Death lost its composure. Unable to shake off its fear a second time, it disappeared into the nothingness from which it had come.

In the blink of an eye we were free from the remaining paralysis that immobilized us, but we dared not move, for we did not know if the powerful looking creature was friend or foe.

I was concerned, but not afraid. The creature seemed to be sizing us up as well. I used the time to consider the size and scope of the being before us. He had a thick square jaw perhaps twice the breadth of a man's hand, full lips, and a nose which bent and broke downward from the middle. His eyes were set wide apart. They pierced and penetrated like that of a falcon. He had a high, broad forehead that roared with intelligence, and long, stringy brown hair that curled around shoulders that would have made the greatest of men cower. His arms and legs were mammoth, and contoured with muscles aglow with might. His height was every bit of eight feet.

For a few more minutes, and purposefully it seemed, the creature maintained his vigilance over us. Satisfied we were no threat, he turned and began taking great strides toward Steven, arriving at our friend's disheveled frame before either Blackgoat or I could protest.

As Blackgoat and I peeled ourselves up off the floor, the giant gathered Steven into his arms and headed toward the elevator. With his head, he motioned us to follow. We didn't hesitate.

When we arrived at the hallway which led to the elevator, the creature was already inside, still holding Steven with a tender care and concern that one would have thought impossible for such a being. We marveled as the creature seated himself inside the elevator still cuddling Steven. We said nothing, but took our seats as well.

To say the least I was intimidated by this being making himself our companion at first. And, I was perplexed. My senses were off line. I needed the Holy Spirit to quicken my intuition. I needed to know if the creature was good or evil. He seemed kind, but..., even neighborhood psychos seem neighborly before they strike, or so I've heard.

As we reached the cave below, Steven moved. Consciousness was returning. I almost wished for his sake that he would just sleep on until we reached Old Blackgoat's house, as things were already confusing enough.

I was about to question the being about Steven's overall condition, but the mighty creature was halfway down the passageway leading to the cave entrance, leaving me standing by the elevator with my mouth half open.

"There's no need to talk," Old Blackgoat said. "He has read our minds. Let's hurry. I don't want him driving off without us."

I hadn't thought of that possibility. Who knew what the being was really capable of?

By the time Old Blackgoat and I managed to make our way to the camper our friend had already loaded himself and Steven into the back. I had to laugh when Old Blackgoat's smile turned to a frown.

"Look at my tires," the old fella' moaned. "They have flattened against the mountainside from the weight in the back. He must weigh as much as a half cord of wood! How much do you think he weighs?" I shrugged my shoulders. Old Blackgoat sighed as we climbed into the cab.

I refused to consider the events of the evening as we roared down the twisty mountain road toward the plain below, choosing rather to thank God over and over and over and over, that He was God, and that I would worship and praise Him forever. I would praise Him for the great things he had done!

I had to laugh when we got home and opened the camper. There sat Steven across from our new found friend; pale, bug eyed, mesmerized, and not just from the obvious shock of this night's events. We managed to pull him from the truck and stand him on his feet, but Steven didn't take his eyes off our guest all the way to the trailer. I didn't either!

I whispered to Blackgoat, "My friend, what can all this mean? Is there a solution to this puzzle? How could the search for the killers of livestock lead us all to the gates of the netherworld?

"Shhh," Blackgoat answered, this is not the time for plot lines or stories, problems or answers, let us tend to he, who is like my own son, then we will see.

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