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Honor Thy Father (Scarab II's Friday the 13th Vignette)

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England. 6am, August 11th, 1314.

"Pa-pa...Pa-pa...

Alexander awoke with a start, the voices of his children still faintly echoing in his mind. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes, then shielded them from the shaft of sunlight stabbing in through the crack in the window shutters. He rolled over and hugged his wife, Helen, and struggled to remember the nature of his nightmare, but it had already faded. He took up his pendant, the wooden cross, hung it around his neck, and kissed it.

7pm, August 11th, 1314.

Alexander wiped the sweat from his brow as he laid his sickle against his shoulder. Another long day in the fields he thought to himself as he trudged back toward the farmhouse, pack horse in tow. But he smiled as he looked down at his sons, trudging alongside him. John and Edward grinned as they looked back up at their father. "The harvest is going well, isn't it Father?" John asked. Edward snorted. "It went better last year." Alexander grinned and tousled Edward's hair with his free hand, then John's. "Best not to count one's chickens until they hatch, boys."

Alexander's eyes lit up when the door to the farmhouse opened and his youngest daughter ran out. "Pa-pa!" she shouted as she ran up to him. He scooped her up in his free arm and kissed her on the cheek. "Jessica! God save me, you're growing fast. Soon I'll need two hands to lift you!" She laughed and buried her face in his shoulder. His eldest daughter, Ruth, stepped out after, wiping a bit of stew off her apron and licking it off her finger. "I think it's my best yet. Hope you boys are hungry." Alexander chuckled. "Smells good."

As he entered the house, he laid Jessica gently on the ground. "Now go wash up for supper, Little One." Jessica crossed her arms as she looked up at her father. "Nuh-uh! I'm not tha little one anymore!" She enthusiastically pointed toward George, the infant currently nursing in his mother's arms as she tried to sew up a tear in a shirt around him. Helen looked up and smiled at her daughter. "You'll always be a little one to us, dear. Now mind your father, and go wash up."

Alexander strode wearily over to his wife, wrapped his arm around her, and kissed her on the forehead as he stroked his youngest son's hair. "Hungry one, ain't he?" Helen laughed. "Hasn't stopped eating since he was born. Just like his father, from what I hear." She rested her face against Alexander's shoulder and rubbed her nose into him.

11am, August 12th, 1314.

The ground trembled beneath their hooves as the dozen horses trample their way across the fields and into the village, bearing riders laden with arms, armor, and the heraldry of The Church. Alexander and his family were in the center of town, trading some wheat and milk for a bolt of cloth for some new winter clothes. Everyone dropped what they were doing and sank into uneasy whispering at the sight of the soldiers coming to rest in the middle of the shops. One of them dismounted, walked over to the smith, grabbed his hammer, and banged it against an anvil. He called out. "Where is the one known as Alexander John's Son? Show yourself!"

The blacksmith grabbed his crutch and limped around to face the soldier and snarled. "Now what's the meaning of this? What's this all about?" The soldier raised an eyebrow at him, then backhanded him across the jaw. The blacksmith fell to the ground, clutching his face. "Gregory!" Helen screamed as darted from Alexander's side and knelt down next to the smith. The other soldiers laughed. "Your husband?" the lead soldier asked. "My brother!" Helen spat. Gregory leaned on Helen, grabbed his crutch, and pulled himself up. "He's my brother-in-law, Alex is. And ye aren't takin' him anywhere unless you go through me first." The soldier shrugged, and began to draw his sword from the scabbard at his belt. Alexander stepped forward.

"I am Alexander, John's Son. What is going on here? We have done nothing wrong!"

The soldier turned, returned his sword to its sheath, and looked Alexander up and down. "You are the one they say talks to God. The one who performs miracles?"

Alexander swallowed. "God talks to everyone. Not everyone listens. He has chosen to bless me with good fortune, but I am no saint."

"That is not what I heard," a voice called out from the middle of the caravan. A horse bearing not a soldier, but a clergyman, ambled up to Alexander. One of the soldiers dismounted and ran over to the priest, kneeling down with his head to the ground. The priest stepped on his back as if it were a stool as he made his descent. He smoothed out the wrinkles from his immaculate robes as he walked foward. "I heard that the only reason this man can walk at all is that you lifted an anvil off of his legs. I heard that you are the finder of lost children. I heard that you see visions, of the past and the future. That you know things that no man could know. Or should know. These rumors reached me all the way from Rome. I am William, your new Bishop." He stood in front of Alexander and held forth his hand, and ring, expectantly. Alexander just stared at him for a few moments, before the lead soldier ran up and swung his fist. Alexander caught it in mid-swing, holding it. "Swine! First, you dare disrespect the Bishop, then you raise your hand against his agents! You will burn for such insolence!"

William held a hand up to his guard, silencing him. "Stand down, Richard." He looked deep into Alexander's eyes. "You haven't changed a bit. Still the same imperious nature, regardless of your humble surroundings." Alexander glared right back into William's eyes. "You appear to have me at a disadvantage, your Holiness. Have we met?" William smiled. "But of course we have. And yet we haven't. You really don't recognize me yet, do you? But something about me leaves you ill at ease, doesn't it, 'Alexander?'" He chuckled. "Come with me. I would have you as a guest at my castle. We shall speak of these miracles."

Alexander swallowed. "With all do respect, your Holiness, I do not think that is necessary. The tales you heard are no doubt exaggerations, hardly worth your time." William raised an eyebrow. "I will decide what is and is not worth my time, thank you. Now, come along. It would be...rude to refuse an audience with such an esteemed person as myself." Using his guard once again as a stepping stone, he pulled himself back upon his steed.

William's guards advanced upon Alexander. His older sons, John and Edward, moved to intercept, placing themselves firmly in front of their father. "You're not taking Papa," John declared. "Not without going through us first!" shouted Edward. Alexander grabbed his sons shoulders and pulled them around to face him. "Now listen you! I'll only be gone a couple days at the most, I promise! And while I'm gone, I need you two to look after the homestead. You're the men of the house while I'm away, and I need you to act like it! Now go tend to your mother and sisters!" He kissed each of them on the forehead and pushed them away. Then he embraced his wife and daughters, but the moment was cut short when the soldiers grabbed his arms and pulled him away. "Enough of that," Richard growled. "Time to go, 'Saint Alexander The Too-Big-For-His-Britches.'" He laughed as he shoved Alexander toward the horses. Alexander pulled his cross up to his lips, kissed it, and smiled back at his family.

8pm, August 12th, 1314.

It was less than half a day's ride from the village to the Bishop's castle. The sun was just beginning to fall below the horizon when William had Alexander thrown down into the dungeon and shackled up, to await trial on charges of "heresy." The Bishop's comments still made no sense to Alexander. The last thing he said before the door closed was "You will not stand in my way again. Not again."

Alexander prayed and wished and concentrated with all his might, and once again, the Lord's hand moved in his favor. The shackles pulled themselves out of the stone wall of the dungeon. The door pulled itself free of its hinges. Alexander's first instinct was to flee, back to his village, but then a brief thought stopped him. Images flashed across his eyes, then faded as suddenly as they appeared. Images of blood, of bones, of demons and fire. He felt drawn toward the chapel, next to the central keep.

He sneaked up and across the courtyard, but it was empty. He didn't even hear crickets. Torches were burning, but there were no sentries posted anywhere he could see. Horses were stabled. There was no sign of human activity anywhere. He crept to the chapel and peeked through the nearest window. What he saw made his skin crawl.

The Bishop stood in front of an altar, conducting a rite. No Christian rite, but some pagan mockery. His soldiers knelt around him. He stood in the center of a circle, around a five-pointed star. Instead of water, he dripped blood upon his followers. The altar was emblazoned with an upside-down cross. Fire erupted from the pentagram, and shadows began to dance around the room. The fire died out, but still the shadows danced and crawled. Alexander felt bile rise in his throat. He choked the vomit back down as he fled toward the stables. He stole a horse and rode back to his village as quickly and quietly as he could.

12am, August 13th, 1314.

The Bishop had not endeared himself to the villagers. Most needed little convincing of William's blasphemies. Those few who dissented were shamed and shouted down by reminders of all the good Alexander had done for them. How he never lied, even as a child when it would have saved him a whipping. The men of the village gathered together sickle, pitchfork, and torch, ready to take up arms in the name of the Lord to defend their homes and families. Even Gregory, the half-crippled blacksmith, could not be convinced to stay behind.

When the mob arrived at the castle, the gate was open and unbarred. Torches were still lit, but the buildings in the courtyard were all empty. A light flickered up in the top level of the central keep. Alexander led them tentatively to the chapel. All the blasphemous props still hung there, but the soldiers were gone. Huddled close together, they entered the keep.

As they approached the central stairwell, their torches suddenly went out and the room went black. Or so they thought. Christopher the stonemason cried out in pain. The others could hear his flesh sizzle against the flame of his torch. "They're still lit! Why can't we see?!" Another farmer, James, ran to a doorway. "I can't even see the moon or the stars outside! This is no natural darkness! It's the Devil, I s-urk!"

"James?!" Alexander called out. Several other people shouted his name, but there was no response. There were several grunts and exclamations of pain as men ran into each other in the dark.

Suddenly, the torches gave off light again. Blood was splattered against the wall and the floor. James was nowhere to be seen. Alexander growled. "Up the stairs, now!" He led the charge.

Several more times, the lights would go out again. The torches were still burning, but there was no light. Every time the light returned, another man was missing, replaced only by blood. Sometimes pooled on the ground. Sometimes splattered against the walls. Sometimes falling from the ceiling, a drop at a time.

Gregory was the last one to go. "There are no bodies. Why are there no bodies?!" he asked, as the lights went down one final time. When they returned, Alexander was alone.

Alexander heard a faint, rhythmic tapping from far above him. He clung to the right wall, slowly feeling his way up the stairs. At what must have been the top of the tower, the stairs gave way to even floor, and he could just make out some sort of flickering light at the end of the hall. Following the light led him into a vast chamber, lined with candles all around the edge, and filled with all manner of sorcerous trappings. An open shutter, moved by a slight wind, tapped against the stone wall. In the center of the room, another encircled pentagram was smeared on the floor in red...ink? No. Not ink. A pile of human skulls was arranged in a pyramid shape in the center of the pentagram. Freshly stripped skulls. A chair stood at the far end of the room. No human sat there, only a large glass ball about a foot wide, which glowed with an inner fire.

One of the shadows in the room seemed longer than the others. It did not move in time with the candle flames. Alexander's eyes widened as it crept across the floor, independent of any object, and rose from the floor. It rose, filled, took the shape of a man, and stood up. It opened its hands wide, then snapped its arms backward. The hands lengthened into claws, and it leapt at Alexander.

Alexander dropped his sickle, reached into his shirt, and took out his cross. "Back, foul demon!" The cross began to glow with a golden light. The shadow recoiled and hissed. Alexander pressed forward, thrusting the cross toward the shadow. "In the name of the Lord, I smite thee! In the name of the Lord, I banish thee! Back to Hell with ye!" Cornered against a wall, the shadow hissed and screeched. Alexander could smell brimstone as the shadow unraveled and faded into nothingness.

The sound of hands clapping together rang out from the other side of the room. The flames in the crystal ball dissipated, leaving only the smiling face of Bishop William. "Impressive," William chuckled. "I can always summon another shadow-demon. But your powers are manifesting quickly. Given the chance, you would easily reclaim your former glory. But, of course, there will be no chance. Not this time. You took the bait, as I suspected. You always were so predictable."

Alexander rushed across the room, took up the globe, and shook it in frustration. "Enough! Why have you done this?!" "WHO ARE YOU?!"

William's grin faded into a grimace as he glared at Alexander. "You truly don't remember any of it, do you? Not Egypt, or the gods. Not even your own name...Heru-Ra?"

An explosion went off behind Alexander's eyes. Startled from the pain, he almost lost his grip on the crystal. "That name...that is...my name? My name..." He looked up at William. "...Tan'Aktor."

William's grin returned. "Very good. You're learning. A pity there isn't more time."

Alexander scowled. "What do you mean?"

William's grin widened in a full-toothed smile. "All the able-bodied men of the village, pulled away in the middle of the night. It would be such a shame if something were to happen to all those unguarded women and children..."

Alexander roared and threw the crystal against the wall, where it shattered, and exploded into flame. Enraged, Alexander charged around the room, knocking over candles as he went. He ran down the stairs as the room lit afire. By the time he exited the tower, the Bishop's chambers were engulfed in fire. He ran back toward his village, refusing to stop or catch his breath even as his heart threatened to explode in his chest.

As he reached the village, all he could hear was his heart thumping against the insides of his head. After he fell to his knees and sucked in a few extra breaths, he realized that it was the only sound he heard. Oh no. Oh, no no no... He ran across the fields to his house.

The door rested halfway open. Alexander stopped and listened. At first, there was only silence. "Helen?" he called out. "John? Is anyone here?" He stepped inside, grabbed and lit a candle, and slowly walked toward his bedroom. There was a burst of movement across the window. "Hello?"

His wife's voice echoed back at him from their room. "Alexander...I've missed you." His children's voices followed, in unison. "We've all missed you..."

Alexander raised the candle to his face as he entered the room. "Where are you? Are you all alright?" He smiled. "Is this some sort of joke? I was so worried about you..."

They laughed from the shadows. "We love you, Papa. We've missed you so much."

The shape finally stepped into the candlelight. It slid into view. Them. It. There was only one person in the room. His wife was the torso. Each of his children were legs. The heads and arms were cut free of their original placements and stitched back together in the center. Their arms unfolded like some hellish flower. Their faces, clumped together like the eyes of a spider, stared at Alexander, their eyes vacant, their mouths hanging open. The mass of flesh shambled forth, making squishing cracking wet sounds with each step.

"We love you, Papa. Come give us a hug."

Alexander took a step back and screamed. The crudely-stitched doll that was once his family crouched down, then leapt and pounced on him. The bundle of arms ensnared him, pulling him close. The many hands of his family pushed his face down into Its chest, so hard and so deep he couldn't breathe. His screams were muffled by his wife's bosom. They faded into choking sounds, as the many mouths began to bite into his flesh.

William's laughter echoed across the countryside.

"Pa-pa..."

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