Adelphi Gaillardia adjusted his position in the custom Bennitti armchair to give him a better view of the expansive grounds below his window. Winter had yet to fully relinquish its grip but a full-time army of groundskeepers and warm Mediterranean breezes had left the land eager to return to life at this first harbinger of spring.
For generations his family had been friends with the family which owned this ancestral estate and he’d visited here many times. His late father had actually contributed to the current owner’s rise on the world stage back when the Roman Lake League was unknown beyond the Italian peninsula.
As he continued to survey the pleasant sight a red and yellow bird landed on the window sill immediately in front of him. The tiny creature cocked its head repeatedly from side to side as if fascinated by the human face on the other side of the glass. Adelphi smiled at it. Although he had sat in this exact guest suite several times before and had seen this species of bird many times, he had never seen one of them notice him, much less study him. Perhaps the bird somehow knew what was about to happen.
A knock at the door startled him. Adelphi turned to stare at it. Knowing that his wife was someplace else on the estate, touring with his two friend’s wives, he knew there was no one but him to go open the door. As a drowning man might clutch at a rope he seized upon the thought that he didn’t really have to go through with this—that he could not be forced to go open that door. But that thought proved to be only a thin thread which snapped before it could prevent his rising. The all-consuming words which had filled his mind an hour ago compelled him up and across the room toward the gentle rapping.
His hand on the door latch, Adelphi took a calming breath and pulled it open. From the hallway an attractive young woman smiled back at him. She wore a classic maid’s uniform and held a silver tray in both her delicate hands. Adelphi’s eyes were drawn immediately to three snifters all half-filled with what he knew would be Vieux Calvados 1937 brandy.
“Compliments of Signore Vicente Romani,” she said in Italian as she thrust the tray with the brandies toward him.
Adelphi’s hand trembled as he lifted one of the three identical glasses. He forced a smile and even managed a slight bow. The young woman promptly curtsied, turned to her right and glided toward the next guest suite down the hall.
Adelphi closed the door and returned to his window seat. There he placed the brandy on a small oak table beside the chair and sat back down. The bird was still there. Adelphi knew that more than expensive liquor glistened in the bottom third of the over-sized snifter beside him. The words accompanying the vision had been as clear about that as they had been about what he had to do next.
He eyed the room one more time—then lifted the snifter and took the liquor down in two large gulps. Grimacing as he swallowed he relished the familiar flavor for a moment before returning the empty glass to the table. There was no need to have grimaced because the Calvados had not been spoiled by what had been mixed with it.
His eyes fell on the hand written note which the inner voice had dictated. He leaned back, tears forming in his eyes, and waited. Life had been so very good to him. He had enjoyed much wealth and many women. He’d been elected president of Italy by a significant majority of his fellow citizens and had enjoyed a high position within the Roman Lake League itself. He hated to leave such a life behind. But…the vision had been so beautiful and the words arising inside him so compelling!
Adelphi watched the red and yellow bird begin hopping excitedly up and down on the windowsill, as if it somehow understood what was now inevitable. Although he didn’t know the bird’s species, always before he’d associated it with the arrival of spring, and he’d always before associated spring with new life on this beautiful green earth. But…that was before the vision had suddenly filled his guest chamber…and before the irresistible words had filled his mind…words which had offered such promise if he but obeyed.
As the first blunt burning began he remembered something else from those words. He looked over again at the suicide note and the empty snifter. The mysterious inner voice had assured him that his two closest political allies would be seated in their own guest suites just down the hall from his, and that they would be looking out their own windows at this same pre-spring morning. The words had promised that his friends would do exactly as he was now doing. In his mind he pictured them having written their own dictated versions of the note before opening their doors to the same beautiful young maid…and wondered if there had now been sufficient time for them to be feeling the same increasing difficulty in breathing that he was feeling. If so, they would soon accompany him into whatever lay beyond.
As the hot pain intensified, and as his thinning breath finally refused to inflate his lungs at all, the fact that he would not embark alone on this final journey gave little comfort. A new level of panic rose within him and he wondered how quickly he might be able to locate an antidote, swallow it, regurgitate the poison and return to his lovely life. But that option immediately sank beneath the memory of the words: no other options exist if you are to possess the Promise. He gripped the chair arms and remained seated.
Just as Adelphi’s normal eyesight winked out a set of eyes he’d not realized he possessed saw something black unfurling in the air behind his lone feathered witness. Despite the terror evoked by the burgeoning cavern beyond the window he was powerless to arrest his movement toward it. After floating past the cavern’s cusp and gaining more speed, he came face-to-face with that for which he had exchanged his remaining years on Earth: a bottomless pit! In such a void no life whatsoever could exist, eternal or otherwise.
The voice had lied! Engulfing him now was not eternal life but another death, a death which would render the physical death he’d just passed through the highpoint of his forever. Before him lay an eternity of dying—and he had merely taken the first step!
Daniel POV (About 11:00 AM, Tuesday, March 19)
For maybe the third time this morning Daniel Goldman reached his hand deep into the wall safe at the back of his closet to make sure he’d left no ammunition behind. Back before guns and ammunition had been banned he’d filled most of this safe with boxes of thirty-eight special handgun ammunition. Thankfully he’d had no occasion to use much of it. After wriggling his fingers around at the back of the safe he found it to be just as empty as before—which proved that his recollection of having already sent his whole stash to the shelter along with Dwayne and Catherine was not a false one.
Daniel shook his head at his own obsessive behavior as he closed and locked the safe.
After making sure one last time that the rest of his closet remained empty he stepped out into the sitting area of his master bedroom suite. Four or five paces into the room he stopped, rested his fists on his hips, and surveyed his lushly furnished great-room. There lay the Persian rugs where they belonged—and the stuffed chairs and ottomans now covered with white protective sheets. There was the coffee table in front of the fireplace with its floral arrangements over which Mrs. Harper had continued to fuss as recently as last night. And at the far end of the room were the potted plants. His personal space was as it should be—and as he wanted always to remember it.
He knew it was childish but sometimes he regretted having learned so much about what lay ahead. But of course, because of his calling from God, he’d had no choice but to study the Bible’s prophecies about these times. Using the extensive notes and commentaries of the late Rabbi Magid he’d thoroughly robbed himself of whatever cheap bliss his previous ignorance had provided. And because of all that knowledge he now knew beyond doubt that everything was about to change forever. And for the worse.
Not only Daniel’s own Bible study and input from his family but his most recent inner voice from God had made perfectly clear that the time of Jacob’s trouble was at hand—and that it would be the most terrifying time in human history. The false Christ would finally reveal his true nature and a Big Brother style government would emerge to a degree never before imagined. And in response to such increasing authoritarianism worldwide rebellion and anarchy would follow. There would be global war, famine and death on such a scale that even many true believers would not survive. And at the end of the three and a half year period terrifying phenomena in the atmosphere and even in the solar system would announce the wrath of God Himself upon a world which had rejected His grace.
Yes; their future was clear—which was why Daniel and his whole family were changing addresses.
He looked up at the four foot by six foot oil painting hanging above his fireplace mantle. The portrait was of himself and Mr. Sperling which Daniel had commissioned a couple of years earlier from a budding artist who had become a believer. The artist created the formal portrait using a handful of photos of the two subjects taken years earlier by Smitty, Daniel’s Investment Manager for Europe and Great Britain. The artist had captured Henry Sperling’s innate intelligence and integrity in the brightness of his eyes and the gentle contours of his smiling face. As far as his own portrayal—which showed Daniel smiling over at Mr. Sperling with his right hand on the older man’s left shoulder—Daniel thought his face appeared older and wiser than it would have been at the time of the photos from which the artist had worked. But despite perhaps subconscious flattery on the artist’s part he had otherwise fulfilled his commission well and professionally. Daniel quickly ran his right index finger under both eyes to disrupt any tears threatening to spill over.
He stepped over to his favorite place, his reading alcove. Through watery vision he scanned his book shelves to make sure none of his previously packed books had somehow found their way back to their customary places. None had.
He turned to the window and pulled back the drapes. Now he was looking out on his private lake. At the sight of its placid surface one word came to mind: yesterday. He lifted his gaze to the copper and slate roof of the Sperling estate beyond the lake. That now-empty mansion brought to mind a whole phrase this time: once upon a time. Although he was no poet Daniel felt that both the single word and the spontaneous phrase expressed nostalgia more perfectly than if he’d sat for hours trying to put them into prose. And why shouldn’t he feel nostalgic? The future was guaranteed to produce a longing for the past in those who knew what was coming. According to Scripture the First Beast of Revelation would soon claim to be God and command the whole world to forsake all other gods and worship him alone. And Vicente Romani was without doubt that First Beast.
Although the broad outlines of their future were clear many questions continued to haunt Daniel—such as how much of Romani’s claim to be God would he be able to back up? In justifying his claim would Romani merely cloak himself in clever trickery or would he be like Jannes and Jambres who, when confronting Moses, were able to conjure sufficient satanic power to infuse a dead rod with the squirming life of a real snake?
In light of the obviously supernatural visions created in front of thousands of witnesses by Romani’s sidekick, Akiva Sharabani, Daniel figured it was more than probable that Romani himself would one day be able to pull off something much more astounding than giving life to a wooden rod. In fact it was probable that the satanic powers of both Sharabani and his master would increase exponentially. But in what specific ways Daniel unfortunately could not say. For now these were unanswerable questions—yet time was so short he could no longer dismiss them as merely theological puzzles. He had to take specific action—and that required specific information.
Daniel forced his thoughts away from unanswerable questions and focused instead on his most recent divine instructions. By an inner voice God had told him to forget all geopolitical efforts and to focus only on individuals. God had also told him in that same inner message to move away from the Compound. But, as tended to be His way, God had not revealed all the details of Daniel’s new mission.
For Daniel the most difficult part of focusing only on individuals was that he had always sought to operate on a scale sufficiently large to make a meaningful impact. Since he’d always had the resources to think on a grand scale it had always made sense to do so. But focusing only on individuals seemed exactly the opposite of operating on a large scale. He found himself wondering all over again if perhaps the scale of his previous activities had never been as important to God as it had been to him. But after considering that possibility for a few moments he reminded himself that God had never explicitly told him not to operate on a large scale. And since Daniel still had great resources, striving for large-scale impact was still possible—which was why he’d developed an ambitious plan for his time in exile from the Compound.
Daniel had devised a method by which he could alert believers about what to expect next based on Biblical prophecy—and on God’s guiding inner voice when available. Since Daniel’s technology guys had assured him that from his new sanctuary he’d be able to reach people scattered throughout North, Central and South America, his plan satisfied his specific new mission to individuals. At the same time it had the possibility of ramping up in scale as more and more people learned to trust the messages and therefore passed them on to others. Daniel would thus be following God’s directions to the letter—he would be thinking about individuals—but at the same time he would be doing so on a really big scale!
All he had to do now was learn to recognize the specific ways in which prophetic events were being fulfilled in real time so that his warnings would be helpful to his hearers. Unfortunately, that was the part of his plan which had yet to become clear.
But…in contrast to the murkiness of his new mission…all these familiar surroundings lay very clear all around him. And saying goodbye to them was painful.
Romani POV (Tuesday, March 19, 2024, about 6:00 PM, Italian)
Vicente Romani’s stomach growled as he stepped into the walk-in closet of his yacht’s master suite. His tongue felt dry enough to crack if he tried to speak. Not that there was anyone to speak to. He had just come from looking out onto the harbor off the coast of his ancestral estate where his yacht was moored and he could personally verify that he was still the only flesh-and-blood being to walk these polished decks and pristine corridors. The internationally renowned chefs and important guests would all arrive later this afternoon.
From the racks and shelves of fine clothing he selected his newest Stefano Ricci tuxedo and carefully laid it out on the dressing bench. Next he chose a fresh Bonolos shirt with matching accessories and the Berluti-Alessandro shoes with Asberly over-the-calf socks which he believed best complemented the suit. He laid all these items on the bench beside his tuxedo and turned to the full length mirror. Time to review his physical progress.
He was extremely pleased with what he saw. There was no doubt about his facial appearance compared with the way it had looked just two days ago, when he’d been commanded by a high-ranking Other to leave his private estate on the southern coast of Italy and go spend time alone on his yacht. That high-ranking Other, who called himself Baal, had been appearing in Vicente’s mirror with increasingly specific instructions of late.
Vicente was certainly happy with his new face. But of course that was only part of the test. He dropped his robe to the floor and let his gaze travel down his nude body. Immediately his smile widened even further. What he saw convinced him he’d done well some forty hours ago when he’d done something which at one time in his life would have been unthinkable—obey an order issued by someone not named Vicente Romani.
Most impressive of all was the new muscle mass in his chest and shoulders. And the skin across his belly was definitely tighter. It had been a long two days since he’d finished his business with Adelphi and his two friends, but the time had not been wasted. His whole body was that of a man fifteen years younger!
After grinning once more at his own image he let his eyes focus deeper into the mirror, past his own reflection, where he expected to spot Baal again any time now. That was where he normally waited. But, seeing no one, Romani re-focused his eyes on his own face. He winked at himself and thought about the progression of this business in the mirrors.
When his mirror experiences first began Romani would see only his own face through which Another would sometimes speak. In the weeks leading up to his first encounter with Baal, he’d begun to see faces looking back at him from the mirror which were not his own but which would more or less merge with his own reflection as he studied them. Eventually the Others would stand beside him in the mirror, thus creating two totally distinct images. He’d eventually realized what all this meant: the Others in the mirror progressed in degree of distinctness from him as he himself evolved toward his ultimate destiny. It was all for his benefit!
Two days ago, as Vicente was deciding how best to dispatch Adelphi and his friends, the Other who called himself Baal had appeared in the mirror. Baal had promised Vicente that Another even greater than himself would soon appear to Vicente and that he needed to prepare himself for that visit. Baal had commanded Vicente to finish his immediate business with the diplomats and then to go to his yacht. There he was to remain alone, without eating or drinking, for forty hours. Such a humbling experience, Baal had said, was necessary preparation for coming into the Presence of one so great as he who would soon visit Vicente.
Vicente smiled at his own reflection as he considered that word, humbling. He didn’t feel humble at all. He felt godlike.
He resumed looking for some image other than his own in the mirror and saw nothing—except some pale grey mist slowly swirling and tumbling deep within the mirror. After several seconds of careful observation he still saw only the mist.
During his time alone he’d had nothing to do but think, and although most of his thoughts had entertained him and helped pass the time, there had been one recurring thought which troubled him. Why did Baal instruct him to dispatch Adelphi and his co-conspirators in that particular way? The justification for killing them was unassailable, and inducing them to commit suicide with the help of Akiva’s vision-gift was elegant indeed. But Vicente could have accomplished their deaths in any number of ways. So why was he told to persuade them that drinking poison would thrust them into eternal life? Eternal life, of all things! Each time that question recurred during his long fast Vicente felt he was close to receiving some immensely significant insight…but then it would fade away…leaving him merely frustrated. The answer to his question still eluded him…and it still seemed immensely important.
Weary from waiting and weak from lack of food and water, Vicente was about to give up and dress for his gala when he noticed a shape slowly coalescing within the swirling gray mist. Eventually the shape consolidated and thickened and began moving toward the surface of the mirror. Vicente realized it walked on two legs as a man would walk. Spellbound, he watched it move gradually closer until he had no doubt. This was a new Other!
The new Other finally emerged from the mist completely, revealing the most handsome visage Romani had ever seen. Handsome and regal. The new Other continued his stately approach until his face was pressed up against the back side of the glass.
Almost breathless with excitement Romani said, “Baal said you would come!”
The new Other smiled pleasantly back at Romani. “Yes. And here I am.”