The First Age

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The Holy Father was eating a midday meal when he was suddenly interrupted by the hurried footsteps of Archbishop Jean-Guy Cheney. The Archbishop served as foreign minister in the Secretariat of State, and one of a limited few with frequent access to the Pope. The former Frenchman was portly around the waist, balding, and had a mole on his upper lip that should probably be removed by a dermatologist.

“Holy Father,” he entered exasperated. Philip vaguely attributed his breathlessness to aging addiction to cigarettes. It wasn’t until the Archbishop placed a screen alongside his plate that his attention was fully diverted.

The headline played out in bold red letters: 

He looked up, eyes wide. Anger at the intrusion dissipated instantly. The Archbishop was sweating, a hand gripping the cross on his chest. He said nothing.

Within moments, Philip abandoned the Archbishop to the solitude of the table. His apartments were completely devoid of electronics, which meant he relocated to the Secretariat of State’s offices, which occupied the same level of the Vatican palace.

The screens were already attuned to the news. He barely entered the room when it seemed the spirit parted the way forward through avid watchers. The Cardinal Secretary of State alone approached his shadow. Philip absorbed it all without speaking. The Cardinal filled the silence, meanwhile.
“They say it is the worst mega-quake since 2020,” he said reverently.

Patricus’ lips formed a thin line.
A wind blew across the face of the balcony on which Patricus I was concluding a homily devoted to the tragedy in the southern pacific. It whisked the heat from his own face, and ruffled the cape of the pellegrina about his shoulders. He came to an unpracticed pause in the moment, lifting his gaze to the cloudy skies as though they may part by his will alone. The wind receded then, but his gaze remained fixed heavenward.

“You are safe. Not because you experience no danger. You are safe. Not because you are immune from disease. You are safe. Not because you are free of the blight of poverty. You are safe because you have the one thing that is the only thing that can keep you safe. You are given Christ.”. And you are given me.

Philip poured the whole of his spirit into every homily he delivered during his career as a priest. In this moment, he felt the spirits of the dead sweep by his soul as that wind crept along his skin. A chill flushed and took his breath away. He gasped, receding suddenly backward, falling away from the view of the square. A hand touched his shoulder, a touchstone that seemed to orient the spirit back to the world at hand. He put a hand to his chest, brushing past the pectoral cross found there, closed his eyes and prayed to the point of pain.

He continued to fast as he had since the tragedy was known to him. That night, he walked the Vatican gardens seeking fellowship with his god, in solitude. He dismissed his advisors, the Cardinal Secretariat, and his confessor. Despite the lull of night, the light pollution of surrounding Rome encroached upon the view of heaven above. Starlight obscured, and he wondered when the last time he saw the heavens as they were wrought by the hand of God. If ever he had before. Emptiness called to him, and in that emptiness was found the promise of pre-destined peace.

He came to his bed later than normal, crawling into the covers wearing only a white shirt and shorts, the exact same he had donned even in seminary. On one hand he always knew he would be the Pope, and yet on the other, he was still surprised by the identity even after all these years in the Vatican.  

As they had frequently before, dreams worked their way into an active mind…
Continued at Alluvion