“Amen,” Billy said as he opened his eyes. He pushed up on the bed he leaned against to help get off his knees and realized he’d need to get something soft to kneel on if he were going to keep on doing this. He sat on the edge of the bed for a moment and rubbed his knees to try and get the ache out, until the fresh memory of what he’d just overheard snapped back into the front of his mind. He instantly forgot all about the pain in his knees as he bolted out of his room.
He dashed through the barracks so quickly every head turned as he went. Out the door, into the halls he ran. The images of the scene he’d seen in that place, was it really Hell, kept streaming through his mind as he caromed off people and obstacles in his path. Soldiers seemed to keep getting in his way or obscuring a straight line of travel, as if some force was purposefully trying to change his course of travel.
Billy lost track of the turns he’d made and even where he was. He couldn’t get the sights, sounds, or even the smells of where he’d been out of his head. He began to wonder if he was even in the right section of the base until he rounded a corner and saw the familiar door to the Colonel’s office. The door was shut but he didn’t care.
Billy darted across the hall and burst into the Colonel’s office. The Colonel looked up from his computer screen and bolted out of his chair as his door slammed up against a book case against the wall. Billy stopped dead as soon as he saw the look of shock fade to one of brooding anger. Colonel Peters softened his face immediately and looked back down at his computer monitor, addressing it directly.
“You see, Senator Radcliff? You really do need to make me a general so I can have an adjutant run interference for things like this,” he said, waving a hand at Billy.
“Just give me their name and former rank,” the computer speaker said in a voice that burbled as though it were filtered through gravy. The implied threat of the demotion was not lost on Billy nonetheless. “And I’ll see to it they don’t get off KP until you retire, Colonel.”
“I’ve been to Hell. Rabdos, that’s the demon’s name that’s been taking care of Robert Dante, met with someone called the Red Rider of War. They plan on taking over somebody in the base and attacking to kill off the Guardians, but they’re really searching for some other guy who’s supposed to be some sort of herald for another guy and the first guy works at the company Dante works at but there’s another guy who’s got some sort of plan to find the herald-guy only the Red Rider doesn’t think any of the guys know the herald-guy is a herald at all and they’re going to try to kill him and us to stop some sort of cycle the Red Rider doesn’t want to happen and Satan is all about finding this herald-guy only we have to find him first!” Billy burst out, racing through his report as quickly as he could before the Colonel found a way to stop him.
“Who the hell is that, Colonel?” the computer speakers barked.
“That is the young man I was telling you about, Senator,” Colonel Peters said, frowning at Billy and waving him around the desk so he could see the computer screen. “Come around here son so you can meet the man who makes all this possible.”
“Yes, let me get a look at this prodigy of yours, Colonel,” the computer said, as Billy moved around the desk to face the screen.
The face on the screen was that of an aging man with thinning hair combed over from right to left. He had a thick neck with so many chins Billy understood now why his words sounded thick and wet given the amount of flesh they had to travel through to get out of the man’s mouth. He currently wore stylish glasses that seemed too thin to be worn all the time, but more the kind someone puts on to read or use the computer, which made sense since they were conversing via video conference.
“Hello sir,” Billy said, losing the steam he’d originally had now that he’d reported on what he’d seen.
“Hi Billy,” the balding head said in that condescending tone adults used when addressing children for the first time. “Colonel Peters tells me you can enter the Ether without using all our fancy equipment there. Is that true?”
“Yes, sir,” Billy answered. “I just did it again and went to Hell to see if I could find the demon that’s been hanging around with Robert Dante since we can’t seem to find him.”
“Can’t find him huh?” the head asked, but he shifted his eyes a little in the direction of the Colonel who winced softly.
“Billy, Hell isn’t a real place and I don’t want you going into the Ether without authorization,” the Colonel said.
“Hell is a real place, sir. I was there. You should have seen it. It’s awful but that’s not the point,” Billy started but the Colonel held up a hand to stop him.
“I’m not arguing with you Billy. You were inside someone’s delusion and that’s a very dangerous place to be as we’ve seen with Brandt’s and your injuries recently,” Peters admonished. “If you went in with the Shroud, there’d be a record of what you’d seen and I could go see this place you say you’ve been to, we all could. Then we could make intelligent decisions based on facts and reality instead of flights of fantasy.”
“But the Devil is after this herald-guy!” Billy demanded, raising his voice. Why wouldn’t they believe him? His silent question popped out before he could stop it. “Why won’t you believe me?”
“Billy I do believe you saw something you think is important, but we’re here to stop terrorists from blowing up buildings and baseball games like Robert Dante planned,” the Colonel said turning to face him. “We don’t even know who this person is, what they look like, or even if he’s real. You were inside someone else’s delusion. Who knows if the things you saw were even real or not?”
“But he works at Dante’s company somewhere. The boss of the company is looking for him too,” he pleaded. “Maybe we could find that guy and see if there are any clues?”
“Right now we have to find Robert Dante. He’s the threat. He’s the one who built that bomb out of a diesel tanker and killed all those soldiers, remember?” Colonel Peters said. He waved his hand at the open door to his office before continuing. “Now go back to the barracks and get some rest. You have a shift coming up soon to find Dante. That’s what you should focus on right now, and no more unauthorized trips into the Ether. That’s an order.”
Billy stomped around the desk and headed to the door, but he looked back over his shoulder as he exited to leave and said, “I’m not one of your robot soldiers. You can’t order me around!”
He wondered if Hugh de Paynes and Planche were still awake? Maybe if he told them what he told Colonel Peters they’d believe him? He didn’t care what the Colonel said. He knew what he’d seen and where he’d been. It was Hell, and it was real. If the Devil was after someone he resolved to do whatever he could to find that person and protect them, no matter the cost.
Guardians of the Herald is a weekly serial published and copyright by The Cavalier, Mark Malcolm. To catch up on the first 45 issues you can either read them for free on the web site or purchase the compilation, Guardians of the Herald Issues 1-45: Angels and Demons for the Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/Guardians-Herald-Issues-1-45-Angels-ebook/dp/B00IJIFXSY.
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