The God Chasers

Father Franklin walked slowly down the row of coffins, a small silver mallet in one hand and a clipboard in the other. Each coffin was marked with a symbol, a date, and a name. He glanced down at the list on his clipboard, checking where the last priest had finished his rounds. He eventually came to a coffin marked “Inti, 23 March 1533” with a stylized sun. He lightly tapped the mallet over the sun symbol, raised it to his ear, and listened.

A moment later, the mallet vibrated slightly, releasing a small hum not unlike a tuning fork. Father Franklin marked off the name on the list and continued on to the next coffin. This one read “Mama Kilya, 23 March 1533” with a crescent moon. He repeated the ritual with the mallet, marking off the name once he heard the chime.

The crypt was immense. From where he stood, he could see none of the walls through the dim light, only the dusty brick pillars keeping the low ceiling above from collapsing on him. He wondered how they had done it in the past, before electric lighting had been introduced. He could imagine the flickering lantern light casting strange shadows and setting his predecessors constantly on edge as they tapped the mallet, praying that it would ring while looking over their shoulders at the darkness beyond.

These days, the task was much more a rote than anything. Day in, day out, for the past ten years, Father Franklin had walked up and down the row of coffins, tapping the mallet and listening. Every day, he would check off every name on his list until he was relieved for the day.

He was so caught up in the routine, that he nearly missed when the mallet did not ring. He had already taken a step away from the coffin and was in the middle of marking off the name when he realized it. He froze, the blood leaving his face as he went pale. He slowly turned and stared down at the coffin, which read “Perun, 7 July 1012” with a lightning bolt crossed with an axe. He swallowed heavily and, realizing he had not been breathing, began to hyperventilate.

With a shaking hand, he struck the coffin again, right over the symbol, praying he had made a mistake. He brought the mallet to his ear, straining to hear. There was nothing.

For a brief moment, he stood in shock, stupefied. Then he turned and ran toward the stairs, shouting for someone to bring a pry bar. No one heard him until he was already halfway up, at which point the shouts began to be passed along from priest to priest.

Ten minutes later, Father Franklin was at the head of a group of ten priests, all gather around Perun's coffin. Father Franklin took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and let it slowly out. He muttered a prayer that something simplistic had gone wrong. When he finished, he turned to the young brother who held the pry bar at ready. “Open it,” he ordered.

The brother nodded, jammed the pry bar into the crease of the coffin, and pushed. The ancient wood creaked and strained, the nails being slowly pulled from the beds they'd lain in for nearly a thousand years. After several heaves, the lid had been loosened enough for the other priests to get their fingers beneath it and lift it off and to the side.

There was no great cloud of dust or burst of foul air to accompany the opening. Instead, there was simply nothing. The casket was empty.

Father Franklin made the sign of the cross, then turned to the brother with the pry bar. “Fetch the God Catchers.”

Brother Donald sat calmly at his desk, a heavily scratched pair of glasses sitting perched upon his nose. He was an older man, stern face accentuated by the ring of receded gray hair clinging to his temples. To his left stood Brother Marcello, a towering man who could have been eighteen or could have been forty, while Sister Zita, a short, slender woman with shockingly blonde hair and green eyes, was at his right. Marcello and Zita wore simple black tunics with long, billowy sleeves in which they hid their folded hands. Brother Donald wore a more formal cassock, though aside from the rosary around his neck, it was unadorned and plain.

Brother Donald stared down at the paper in his hand, almost disinterestedly. Father Franklin, despite being both his elder and technically his superior, watched Brother Donald with trepidation and a small bit of fear. The brother's eyes swept slowly across the paper in unnaturally even strokes. Father Franklin wondered if he was even actually reading it.

Finally, the brother placed the sheet on his desk and tapped it idly with his finger, lining it perfectly with the desk's edges. He looked up at Father Franklin and pressed his fingers together before his face. “So,” he said, drawing the word out into a long accusation. “One of them escaped.”

Father Franklin swallowed a sudden lump in his throat and nodded. “Yes, Brother Donald.”

“This is very troubling,” Brother Donald said without betraying anything like emotion. “When was the last time we had an escape?”

Father Franklin stammered as he tried to recall. Before he had become a caretaker, at the very least. “Twenty years,” Father Franklin finally suggested.

With a glance over his shoulder at Sister Zita, Brother Donald let Father Franklin know he was wrong. “Twenty-three years, six months, and five days ago,” Zita answered, her voice surprisingly deep for a woman her size. “Amon. Took us three months to find and capture him. Found him in Cairo, of course.”

It seemed she was about to go on, but Brother Donald held up a hand to silence her. He never broke eye contact with Father Franklin, watching him from behind his scarred glasses. “How did this happen, Father?” Donald asked flatly. “Were there any markings on the coffin?”

With a sharp shake of his head, Father Franklin answered, “No, not that we could see.” With hopeful bow of his head, he continued, “We hoped you might inspect the coffin and see for yourself. We would hate for others to escape due to some easily caught mistake.”

“I suppose we could examine it,” Brother Donald said. “Though you opened the coffin with a crowbar?”

That had been in Father Franklin's report, but he answered anyway. “Yes, Brother. Once the mallet did not chime, I thought it best to make sure – ”

With a wave of his hand, Brother Donald cut him off. “Yes, yes. You needed to make sure the god was actually gone from his coffin. Of course, had the mallet simply been malfunctioning, or perhaps there was simply a scarring of the symbol, or human error... Well, you would have been allowing the god to escape by opening the coffin. And though this was not the case, your crude exhumation has invariably damaged the coffin's lid, so any examination would be tainted.”

Father Franklin felt a bead of sweat dribble down the back of his neck. He nodded his head low to Brother Donald. “It seems I made a rash decision, then,” he admitted. “Unfortunately, there are not exactly regulations for this sort of thing.”

For once, Brother Donald made an outward show of emotion, lifting his hand to the bridge of his nose and rubbing it lightly. “No, there are not. Because to lay down regulations for this sort of thing would be to admit that a god other than our Lord exists. And we simply can't have anything challenging the divine.”

“These things are not divine,” Father Franklin reminded the brother. “They are mere crude copies of divinity. Dangerous imposters, yes, but nothing more.”

“Of course,” Brother Donald said with just the hint of a sigh. He had returned his hand to steeple in front of his face. “I suppose it does not matter how it happened. A termite could have gnawed the edges of the coffin enough to weaken the seal. A slight change in the air quality may have warped the wood. It is likely an isolated incident.”

Father Franklin let out a breath of relief. The last thing he wanted was to have an epidemic of escapes on his watch. “Nevertheless,” Brother Donald continued, “I think it is best if every coffin is thoroughly examined for any possible flaw.”

Father Franklin's jaw dropped at the suggestion. “But Brother Donald, there are over six-thousand coffins. Examining them all will take... weeks.”

“Months, more like, if you do it properly,” Brother Donald said. “And you will do it properly, understand?”

A brief flare of embarrassment and anger swelled in Father Franklin's stomach. He nearly snapped back at the brother, but held his tongue. “Of course I would do it,” he said. “Though that would slow down the checking of the coffins, as I would be unable to attend to that duty.”

“The other fathers can take extra time to perform cover the slack,” Brother Donald suggested. “It will only be temporary, of course.”

The father opened his mouth to say something, then closed it and slumped his shoulders. “Yes, of course brother. That would be a reasonable course of action.”

“I'm glad you agree, father,” the brother said. “Now, if that is all?”

Father Franklin let the question hang in the air for a minute, savoring the small amount of power he actually held over the brother. The silence dragged on just to the point of awkwardness, as Brother Marcello shifted uncomfortably for the first time all meeting long. Father Franklin bowed his head to Brother Donald and said, “Yes, Brother Donald, you are dismissed. Go in God's Grace.”

“Go in God's Grace, Father Franklin,” Donald answered, making a sign of the cross and bowing his head back. Marcello and Zita repeated it in unison, keeping their eyes down until Father Franklin left the room.

Once the door clicked on its latch, Brother Donald removed his glasses and slid them into a hidden pocket. His body suddenly went slack and he slumped down into his chair, almost sliding out of it. “The fathers, sometimes, I swear...” he sighed, running a hand over his face. To Brother Marcello and Sister Zita, he suddenly seemed much older and much more frail, though neither made a move to assist him.

The brother straightened his posture and pushed himself out of the chair, leaning heavily over the desk. “An escaped god. What are we to do?”

“We hunt,” Brother Marcello said, his deep bass rumbling in his chest. “Like in the stories. We hunt and we capture and we bring it back here.”

Brother Donald made a motion with his head which was parts nod and parts shake. “You were not around when Amun escaped,” he said slowly. “It is not as glorious as the old legends attest. It is more like an extended snipe hunt.”

Brother Marcello cocked his head to the side. “A snipe hunt?”

“That's an English expression, meaning a wild-goose chase or fool's errand,” Sister Zita offered, “such as asking someone to fetch the spark plugs for a diesel engine.”

With a furrow of his brow, Brother Marcello considered, then asked, “Why would that be a wild-goose chase?”

Sister Zita giggled, a high pitched one in stark contrast to her deep voice but much more in line with her petite frame, and Brother Donald answered, “Diesel engines don't use spark plugs.” Donald finally straightened up with a hand on his back, stretching until a small pop emerged. He let out a long sigh and turned to his two subordinates.

“Well, get the tools,” he said. “We have a god to hunt.”

The Venerated Order of Saint Eustace Against Pagan Idolatry, or the God Chasers as they were colloquially known among those few who knew they existed at all, was perhaps the smallest of all orders within the Catholic Church, but it was among the best funded. At one point, long long ago, it was much larger, but as the Church had begun to publicly take a more passive and accepting view of other religions, its numbers dwindled until it was as it was today, manned by four laymen, each holding one of the four posts.

Three of them now walked in a tight-knit group through the Vatican Gardens toward an unassuming fountain sitting upon the side of Vatican Hill. Brother Donald, the First Brother, walked at their head with long, bold strides, sleeve-hidden hands clasped in front of his chest. As always, slightly behind and to his left strode Brother Marcello, the Subduing Brother, while behind and to his left came Sister Zita, the Seeking Brother (as the title had not changed even when the Order began to allow women to join its ranks many years prior).

The three said nothing to each other as they walked, though they remained conspicuous to any tourists who might be nearby. When they finally reached the fountain, at the top of a slight incline, sweat was beading on Brother Donald's head. He reached into one of his pockets and produced a plain white handkerchief, which he used to dab the perspiration away. Once he had finished, he returned the cloth to the pocket and looked around conspiratorially.

The fountain was plain and indistinct, featuring several cherubim pouring water from pots, hidden from above by a small grove of trees. Even so, Brother Donald was cautious.

“Do you see anyone?” he asked his fellows. Both looked around sternly, watching for any who might come across them. Upon confirming they were alone, Brother Donald nodded and retrieved a small chip of marble from his pockets. He placed the chip into a notch in the fountain, then stepped back as the stone paving beneath his feet began to grind and move.

With a grinding that would be loud enough for any within at least a hundred feet to hear, the paving slid away, revealing a staircase leading down inside the hill. Brother Donald retrieved the chip and led the way, followed by Marcello, then Zita. Before Zita's head had even disappeared beneath the lip of the opening, the pathway began to slide back in place, producing a horrible screeching which echoed off the walls of the cramped stairway and forced the sister to duck her head or have it crushed.

Once it had closed, the stairway was cast into darkness for a brief moment before the electric lights flickered on, humming in the stale air. The stairs went deep into the ground, nearly a hundred steps, with the ceiling raising only slightly as they went. By the time they came to the bottom, Brother Donald's hands were shaking and he had to close his eyes and force deep breaths to come to him.

The brother dashed through the hallway at the bottom, toward a room at the end. It was the sole room with a light on and had a high ceiling. As soon as Brother Donald entered, he leaned heavily against a table, breathing heavy. After a moment, he retrieved his handkerchief and wiped away far more sweat than he had in walking through the gardens.

Marcello and Zita entered a considerate minute later, soon enough to see him stuffing the handkerchief back into his pocket. They discretely looked away, while Brother Garth, the Tending Brother, finally took it upon himself to acknowledge their presence.

Brother Garth was a stereotype of a recluse, pastily skinned and dingy, with thick-rimmed and -lensed glasses set over eyes that were prone to squinting. He too wore a simple tunic, though the hem was frayed and stained with unwashed dirt, a condition he frequently blamed on his subterranean residence despite the presence of a proper floor, ceiling, and walls.

“Heard the hatch open,” Garth said in a nasal tone. “Raised quite the racket.”

Sister Zita smiled at him. “It nearly caught my head as it was closing,” she said as if chiding a misbehaving boy. “It would be nice if you could adjust how quickly it closes.”

He shook his head swiftly. “No no no. Can't do that. Too much chance someone would see it then. Already too much of a chance, honestly. Should simply come through the tunnels, no chance of detection then.”

Brother Donald gazed at him as if he were possessed of infinite madness. “You'll never catch me walking through those cramped catacombs,” he said, sparing a glance up at the ceiling as if it might collapse in on him at any moment.

“So, what do I owe the pleasure?” Garth asked, glancing back down at his cluttered table. The entire room, about ten meters by ten meters in total, was filled with cluttered tables, each holding a hodgepodge of musty books, weapons both archaic and modern, half-tinkered gadgets, computers along with printouts, a jumble of random scientific equipment which looked to have overused by inexpert hands, and some things which had no apparent function other than to take up space.

Brother Donald straightened up and smoothed down the front of his cassock. “Perun escaped,” he said.

“Perun?” Garth wondered aloud, not bothering to look up from whatever small device he was fiddling with. It looked like some sort of remote control, though the back had been popped off so the wires were exposed. He held a small probe of some sort, randomly prodding at the device's guts with seeming intensity, his tongue sticking crossways out of his mouth.

“One of the gods,” Sister Zita helpfully offered.

Garth glanced up at her briefly. “Gods? Gods. Silly misnomer. Nothing more than ancient spirits. False idols given power by human worship.” He strained and something popped inside his device, eliciting a satisfactory grunt. “Not the Lord God. Possibly devil, or servants, demonic creatures. Possibly fallen angels. Possibly neither. Never any chance to study them. Doubt the bodies would remain long enough for a proper dissection anyway. Not if the stories are true.”

“It doesn't matter what they are,” Brother Donald finally interrupted. “They spread heresy and apostasy. We are here to capture and contain them. And one escaped.”

Garth finally placed the device back on the table, its guts still exposed, and seemed to immediately forget about it now that it was out of his hands. “Of course. Holy mission, after all. Most important one, in this day and age. Keeps the nonbelievers from more nonbelieving.” He rubbed his hands through his hair, as if wiping them off on a towel. Whether they came away cleaner was a topic for debate. “So, which one, again?”

“Perun,” Brother Marcello rumbled from the doorway.

Garth waved his hand at him noncommittally. “Perun, Perun. Sounds... Asian.” He looked at Zita expectantly.

She smiled lightly back to him. “Not even close.”

Brother Donald cleared his throat. “Besides, you know we haven't made enough inroads into Asia to capture their gods yet.” Brother Donald shook his head. “So many evil spirits still roaming free in that land.” He sighed. “One day, maybe,” he finished, with a faraway look.

It took him a moment before he seemed to come back to himself, but once he did, he looked over his shoulder at Sister Zita. “Where were we? Ah, yes. Sister Zita, if you would.”

Her smile spread wide as she stepped up to a table. With a sweep of her arm, she shoved most of the junk to the side, sending several pieces falling to the ground. Brother Garth seemed to not mind. She reached into her tunic and withdrew a scroll. She unrolled it onto the recently-cleared space and flattened it out.

She didn't even look at the scroll as she recited, “Perun is the primary deity of the ancient Slavic pantheon, representing thunder, lightning, and war, with numerous lesser attributes. He should be easy to identify; rugged with a copper beard. He carries around an axe which he can throw at anyone who is evil and have it return to his hand. They say he rides in a chariot pulled by a goat, so we can search for sightings of that.”

Brother Donald raised his eyebrows. “Do you really think he'll do that?”

Sister Zita shrugged. “He's been entombed for a thousand years. I don't think he'll leap out and go find a cell phone to call for a taxi.” Brother Donald slowly nodded at her. “A common sacrifice was an ox. Once we get a location, we can narrow it down further by looking for missing oxen.”

“Speaking of which,” Brother Donald interrupted. “Let's do that now.”

Sister Zita nodded and glanced at Brother Garth, who bolted off his stool and shuffled quickly toward a messy corner. “Yes, yes. The locator,” he muttered to himself. “Around here somewhere. Been too long since we've needed it.” He began tossing things aside, throwing them around as if they were so much detritus. They crashed loudly into the ground and on top of tables, knocking other things aside. Several things clearly broke; glass tubes shattered on the ground, pieces of plastic cracked, parts popped.

After several minutes of this, he finally found what he was looking for: an old, dusty globe on a tarnished gold spindle. Brother Garth gingerly lifted the globe, though he grunted as he hefted it, and carried it slowly over to Sister Zita. He set it down on top of her scroll with a thunk and took a step back, breathing heavily. She smiled politely at him and said, “Thank you, Brother Garth.”

Garth stepped back and Zita approached the globe. She lightly brushed her fingers over it, tracing long tracks in the dust. She made the sign of the cross over the globe, then over her chest, then bowed her head and clasped her hands together. The three brothers watched in silence.

For several long minutes, nothing happened. Zita simply stood there as immobile as the globe. Then, as they watched closely, they saw the globe start to rotate just slightly. It was almost imperceptible, but it soon began to speed up, squealing on its dingy axis. The globe spun faster and faster, dust kicking off it, so that Brother Garth, who had remained too close, began to cough. Both Brothers Marcello and Donald took a respectful step back.

Only Sister Zita remained unaffected by the loud screech or the flying dust. She merely continued her silent prayer. The spinning globe began to shudder violently almost as if it were about to fly apart. It began to wobble back and forth, ready to tumble off the table and shatter on the ground below.

Just as it was about to topple, the globe suddenly slowed, coming to a stop far quicker than it had taken to speed up. As it finally squeaked and shuddered to a stop, Sister Zita reached out a hand, made a final sign of the cross, and laid a single finger on the globe. A small burst of light appeared beneath her finger and a sound like a chime sounded in the air. Zita shuddered and let out a smiling sigh.

When she opened her eyes, she found all three brothers crowded around her, staring at the point her finger marked. “Somewhere in the Ukraine, I think” Brother Donald noted, peering at the unmarked landmass which held the vague shape of central Europe.

“Makes sense. Ukrainians descended from Slavs,” Brother Garth added. “Need to check exact coordinates, of course.” He fetched pen and paper, then scribbled a pair of numbers. He retreated to a computer that looked like it could have been built twenty years prior, though it booted up smoothly with barely a sound.

As Sister Zita excused herself to get composed, the brothers gathered around the computer and watched as Brother Garth looked up the coordinates. It took only a moment. “Kiev,” Brother Garth reported.

“Kiev?” Brother Donald groaned. “The capital. That will make things... problematic.”

“We will find him,” Brother Marcello rumbled.

Brother Donald cast a glance at Marcello. “Well, of course we'll find him. Eventually.” He sighed. “It's just the difference between finding him in a few days and a few months.”

Brother Marcello shrugged his shoulders. “Now or later. It does not matter.” He cracked his knuckles. “We will catch him.”

The Chasers had been in the city for only a week, but had already found a promising lead. Brother Garth had been scouring the internet for any mention of a man riding around in a chariot pulled by a goat. At first, he'd found nothing, but once he replaced the word “chariot” with “cart” he'd found success.

A student had posted on a message board about seeing a “huge-ass burly dude” riding in a “broke-ass cart” being pulled by a “loud, scrawny-ass goat.” Despite the propensity for usage of the word “ass”, Brother Donald had thanked their good luck and Garth tracked down the original poster. Donald didn't exactly understand how Brother Garth had done it; there was an explanation using terms like “IP Address” and “Facebook” that Donald simply didn't comprehend.

The student was quite surprised when three Catholic laypersons showed up to his apartment to cryptically interrogate him about his post. The language barrier didn't help, especially with Brother Marcello serving as translator. Marcello wasn't the most eloquent man in the first place and he admitted his Ukrainian was “rusty”. Considering the bewildered expression the student had worn during the entire thing, Brother Donald felt it a minor blessing they'd managed to find any information at all.

Eventually, however, between Brother Marcello's shouted demands and Sister Zita doing her best to calm the young man despite not speaking a word of Ukrainian, they managed to figure out where the goat-drawn chariot had been spotted.

Now the three sat crammed in the back of an unmarked white van with the blinds drawn shut. Brother Donald peeked through a pair of binoculars which he had poked between the blinds, watching a group of young people carrying plywood and other carpentry equipment into a small, run-down house on the outskirts of Kiev.

“Neopagans,” Brother Donald groaned. “Of course it has to be neopagans.”

“How can you tell?” asked Sister Zita, squirming in the cramped space. Aside from the three of them were piles of monitoring equipment, including binoculars, parabolic microphones, high-powered cameras, and more. Brother Marcello sat on a box, crumpled under his weight, full of listening devices.

“They're all wearing ridiculous pendants,” he said. “Pentagrams, ankhs, all sorts of other faux pagan nonsense.” He shook his head at the ridiculousness of it all. “Children playing at heathens.” He made the sign of the cross over his chest. “Lord, forgive them their ignorance.”

Sister Zita placed her face uncomfortably close to his, even going so far as to press her cheek against his in an effort to squeeze him away from one binocular lens. He simply leaned away, keeping the binoculars firmly in his own grasp. “What are they doing?” she finally asked, doing only a moderate job of hiding her exasperation.

“They're carrying supplies inside the home,” he said. “Most likely building an altar of some sort.” He finally lowered the binoculars from his face and Sister Zita immediately grabbed them to look for herself.

Brother Donald indulged her and leaned back. “There's at least ten of them. If Perun is in there, we can't simply storm in. It will be too costly.”

“Why not?” Brother Marcello asked. “I can handle some neopagans.”

With a shake of his head, Brother Donald said, “No. We can't hurt innocents. Even if they are blasphemers misled from Christ's love.” He ran a hand through his hair. “We'll have to figure out some other way to get to the god.”

Without lowering the binoculars, Sister Zita asked, “And how will we do that?”


Brother Marcello walked calmly into the pub, head held high and chest puffed out. Normally, it would have seemed intimidating. But he wore a brightly-colored t-shirt which was at least two sizes too small. His normally well-groomed hair was an uncombed mop and he had not showered in three days, producing a greasy film over his skin. A warm stench hung around him in almost palpable clouds.

The sparse patrons all turned toward him as he entered. Even the bartender stopped wiping off the bar and looked. Brother Marcello simply pushed his shoulders back and head higher, as if daring the patrons to keep staring at him. When they did, he suddenly flushed red in the face. He quickly deflated and shuffled off to tables at the side. Now that his presence had lessened, the patrons were quickly relieved of their interest in him.

“What do you see?” Brother Donald's voice said into his ear. Brother Marcello reached up and conspicuously touched the speaker hidden in his ear.

“Neopagans,” Brother Marcello said as softly as he could, which was still loud enough that a person sitting a table over looked up.

“Excuse me?” the person, a young man with a long beard which had been tied into a long braid, said.

Brother Marcello's eyes widened a bit and he abruptly stood. “Nothing,” he said hastily, moving away. His head swiveled from side to side as he looked for an area free of people. Finally, he found a table back near the bathrooms, which the patrons were staying well away from.

As he approached, he discovered why. The smell coming from the bathroom rose up and assaulted the funk hanging around him. The two did battle for a few short seconds, before deciding the best course would be to team together. Brother Marcello nearly gagged, but he swallowed the rising acid in his throat and forced himself into the chair.

Breathing through his mouth, Brother Marcello began talking into the thick cord necklace around his neck. “Sorry, Brother Donald. There are five neopagans, as well as three other patrons, plus the bartender. I do not see any other staff. Everyone is young. The neopagans are all sitting near each other toward the bar.”

“Excellent, Brother Marcello,” Brother Donald responded. His voice crackled over the weak connection. “What are they doing?”

“They seem to simply be sitting there,” Marcello answered. “Drinking,” he added with mild disgust.

“Good, good.” There was a brief pause. “See what you can do.”

Brother Marcello waited a moment for further instructions. When none were forthcoming, he began, “Brother Donald, what do you mean? I'm not sure how I can – ”

“Excuse me?” a woman said in a heavily accented voice. Brother Marcello started and clutched his hand over the microphone-concealing necklace. Only then did he turn to face the speaker, a woman in her mid-20s with tanned skin and long brown hair pulled into a ponytail. She wore an apron around her waist. “You talking to some one?”

Brother Marcello blinked heavily three times, then cleared his throat. “You speak English?” he asked in Ukrainian.

She smiled at him. “A little. You speak Ukrainian?” she responded in her own language. He nodded stiffly. “Then can I get you anything? A drink? Food?”

He stared at her for a moment, eyes wide. Just as the pause began to grow awkward, he said, in flawless Ukrainian, “Affirmative, I devour cow meat biscuit old milk. The liquid from the ocean on a glacier. All of it.”

She smirked and then placed her hand over her mouth to conceal a laugh. “Ok,” she said in English. “Let's use English. Ok?”

“Oh, alright. Then I'll have – ”

Brother Donald's voice cut him off. “Keep in mind, Brother Marcello, that we have work to do. Keep it light.”

Brother Marcello sighed. “Just water.”

The waitress frowned at him. “Water?” she asked, with sudden annoyance. “Are you meeting people?”

Now it was Brother Marcello's turn to narrow his eyes at her. “Why? What have you heard?” he asked with a suspicious drawl.

She raised an eyebrow. “Heard? Heard you talking to no one. On your phone, I figured. If you're not going to buy any thing...” She glanced toward the door as she trailed off.

“We don't have time for this, Brother Marcello,” Brother Donald squawked. “Just order a soda or something!”

Brother Marcello nodded and said, “Of course.” The waitress, thinking he meant her, relaxed and took out a pen. “I'll have a soda.”

She frowned again and huffed. “Soda? That's all?” Brother Marcello nodded. She rolled her eyes and huffed again. “Fine. Better than no thing.” She said the word with an audible gap. “What kind?”

Caught off guard by the question, Brother Marcello stammered to think of an answer. “Oh for Heaven's sake, just say Coke!” Brother Donald snapped, his voice growling with static.

“Coke!” Marcello yelped out, loud enough that several of the other patrons, including the group of neopagans, all turned to look at him.

“One Coke,” the waitress said without enthusiasm and turned away.

“Sorry Brother Donald,” Marcello said, awkwardly angling his head so his mouth was closer to the mic. “I have not had any soda in... ever.”

“Oh come now,” Donald answered. “Surely as a young boy.”

“No,” Marcello said with a surprisingly soft sigh. “You see, I was – ” But before he could finish, he noticed the group of neopagans whispering amongst themselves and occasionally glancing back at him. “Sorry, Brother Donald. I have been noticed.”

“Godspeed, Brother Marcello,” Donald answered amidst a loud burst of static that caused Marcello to cringe in pain.

Trying to appear casual, Marcello slowly walked over toward the neopagans. He swung his arms in wide, limp arcs that looked more like a crude charade of a gorilla and stooped his back in an attempt to look smaller but only seeming to be experiencing some sort of back pain. The neopagans all looked up at him as he neared.

“Hello, friends!” he said in a loud, forced voice that carried over the Europop being played over the bar's speakers.

As one, the group turned to look at each other, then back up at him. He wore a large, artificial smile. “Yes?” a man wearing thick glasses, a white t-shirt, and faded jeans asked. His accent was barely noticeable.

“I see you are wearing the symbol of...” Brother Marcello leaned in and peered at the pendant hanging around the man's neck. It looked like four rakes formed into a plus sign. “Yeah. That symbol.” Brother Marcello withdrew a silver chain from beneath his shirt and let it dangle over his chest. It looked like a wheel made out of eight scythes. Brother Garth had called it a “Kolovrat” and said the Slavic neopagans liked to use it as a symbol. “See? I am one of you too.”

“One of us?” the man said. He turned to the rest of his group and said something in Ukrainian so quickly that Brother Marcello couldn't understand.

One of the women, a young brunette with a crooked nose, chattered back at him, still much too fast to follow. He thought he caught the word “him” and “alright” but that didn't really get him much. The other woman, who had her long red hair twisted into dreadlocks, added something next.

She spoke much slower and Marcello could understand her. “What do you think he will say about it?” The first man shrugged with a slight smile and jabbered out another line. A second man, with a shaved head and long, dingy beard answered back in a voice like sandpaper.

“What are they saying?” Brother Donald's voice came into Brother Marcello's ear.

“I don't know,” Brother Marcello said out loud. Everyone at the table ceased talking and turned to look at him again.

“Don't know what?” the man with the glasses asked him curiously.

Sputtering, Brother Marcello tried to come up with an explanation, but only managed to get out, “I... uh... Well... Things.”

The man in the glasses peered at him sharply. “What's your name, friend?”

“I am...” Brother Marcello froze.

“Just tell them your real name!” Brother Donald said through a static crackle.

“Brother Marcello,” he said. He heard the loud groans of protest inside his ear even before he finished saying it.

“Brother?” the dreadlocked woman asked in a heavy accent.

“Yes,” Marcello answered quickly with a nod. “It is an old family name.”

The group all began to chatter amongst themselves again. Because of the speed and overlapping of words, Brother Marcello couldn't understand a single thing anyone was saying. From their tone and gesturing, they seemed to be arguing about something. He hoped it was about whether to let him in their group or not. And he prayed their answer was going to be yes.

After a couple of minutes, the man with the glasses turned back to Marcello. “Alright, friend. Have a seat.”

Marcello grinned wide and dragged a chair toward the table. He sat down heavily and leaned on the table. The man with the glasses simply nodded at him. “I am Borys. That is Volodymyr,” he said, indicating a man with long, curly blonde hair who had not spoken. The man simply grunted as a way of greeting.

“I am Jaroslav,” the man with the shaved head said, his English nearly as unaccented as Borys's.

“Olha,” the dreadlocked woman said.

“Zoryana,” the final woman introduced herself. She smiled brightly at Marcello and said something in Ukrainian that was too fast for him to follow.

“Sorry,” he replied in his slow Ukrainian. “Too fast to follow.” He'd had to use that phrase often, so knew it well.

Zoryana merely said, “Ah,” and did not repeat herself, but instead switched her smile to one far more impish.

“It is nice to meet you all,” Brother Marcello said, his words practiced. “It is good to meet some who follow the old ways.”

The man named Jaroslav gave him a measured look over. “The old ways. But you are not Slavic,” he said.

“Only half,” Brother Marcello said. It was a lie, of course, but he prayed God would forgive him this deception in the name of capturing the escaped god. “My mother was Belarusian. My father Italian.”

“I see,” Jaroslav answered flatly. He placed his hand over his mouth and lightly stroked his mustache. “Then what brings you to Kiev?”

“Simply touring,” Brother Marcello told them. “I am planning on going out into the countryside to see many of the old pagan sites. To pay my respects.”

“Good, good,” Brother Donald said into his ear. The static burst so loud that it caused Marcello to cringe. He hoped none of the pagans noticed it. “You're doing very well! I can just see them falling for it all now.”

With a forced smile, Brother Marcello said. “Yes, yes,” then realized the neopagans might wonder at that and added, “I have a lot of traveling to do.”

“Maybe not as much as you think,” Borys said with a smirk. “Tell me, you know of Perun?”

Jaroslav snapped, “Borys, careful!” in Ukrainian, but it was simple enough for Marcello to understand.

“Do not worry,” Borys answered slowly, also in Ukrainian. “I think the god will like him.” He let his smile spread slowly over his face. Brother Marcello quirked his head to the side and wondered.

After a moment's contemplation, he decided to acknowledge his understanding. “The god?” Brother Marcello asked pointedly. “What god do you mean?” He hoped his acting was up to snuff or, at least, that his awkward Ukrainian would cover it up.

“Why, Perun, of course,” Borys said in inviting English. “I asked you about him before. Do you know of Perun?”

Brother Marcello nodded slowly, even though feeling like he shouldn't. “Of course I know Perun,” he said slowly. “Why wouldn't I?” He gestured to his pendant.

The ever-widening smile on Borys's face seemed to show more teeth than should be possible. “Then let's go meet him.”

Brother Donald watched from the van as the five neopagans exited the tavern with Brother Marcello in tow. “Just act natural,” he said. “Don't panic. We'll keep you in sight. This is actually going better than I thought it would.”

He lowered the mic and turned to Sister Zita. “We might catch this god in record time.”

With a smile, she answered, “That would be something.” Then her smile faded a bit. “Then it will be back to the Vatican.”

Brother Donald sighed. “It's true. There just aren't as many opportunities for hunting the old gods as our predecessors had.”

He climbed into the front seat of the van and started it up. The car with Brother Marcello and the neopagans was just pulling out of the parking lot, so Brother Donald waited a moment before beginning to follow. He stayed several lengths behind and switched into a different lane, trying to hide himself behind other vehicles.

The car traveled back toward the house the group had been scoping out before. Brother Donald mumbled to himself about their luck and made a sign of the cross over his chest. Once they got to the street, Brother Donald drove right past as the car turned down it. He went to the next street up, then pulled the van over and parked it.

He moved the mic back up to his mouth. “Brother Marcello, can you hear me.”

“Yes,” came a whispered answer. “Can't talk.”

“That's fine,” Brother Donald said, giving a thumbs up to Zita. “We can hear you too. Just try to find out as much about the god as you can. Don't give yourself away. We can't afford anything going wrong now.”

Brother Marcello grunted, which Brother Donald hoped he meant he understood. A heavy door slam shot through the earphones, making Brother Donald cringe. The neopagans started talking loudly in Ukrainian. It meant nothing to Donald, but he noticed an odd tone to their voices.

He stiffened as Brother Marcello loudly shouted, “What are you doing?” A loud crash followed, then a grunt and thud.

“Brother Marcello?” Brother Donald asked in worry. “Brother Marcello, what is going on?”

There was no answer. Brother Donald went pale and turned to Sister Zita, his eyes wide. Her mouth formed a perfect 'o' of surprise as her own eyes widened to match his. Donald shouted into the microphone again. “Brother Marcello! Can you hear me? Are you alright! Make some sort of noise if you can hear me!”

But there was nothing. Only the loud talking of the neopagans, punctuated by occasional laughs. Brother Donald took a deep breath and made the sign of the cross over his chest, then slowly removed the headphones. He turned to Sister Zita, his face quickly transforming into a stony mask. “Get ready,” he ordered.

She gave a swift nod and started to open the boxes.

Brother Marcello opened his eyes with a groan, but still found everything black. He blinked several times, hoping he could clear his vision, but there was nothing. His head pounded from where he'd been hit. He didn't know who struck him; he guessed it was Volodymyr, who was large enough to knock him out.

He tried to sit up, but found himself restrained. His hands had been tied behind his back and his legs together, making it difficult to balance himself. He took a deep breath and from that realized he had a hood over his face. It was thick and rough, little more than a cloth sack held in place by a loosely-tied rope. He wriggled, but couldn't seem to loosen his bonds, nor get the bag above his chin.

When he heard a door open, he went still. Two pair of footfalls sounded as someone approached him. The neopagans, of course. What were they going to do to him? He did not know, but realized it could not be good. He figured it best to continue to play unconscious. Perhaps they would untie him and he could surprise them.

No such luck. Instead, a pair of hands reached under his shoulders while another grabbed his ankles and he was roughly lifted from the floor. A voice – Jaroslav's – muttered an angry Ukrainian curse as he raised a knee into Marcello's back to steady him. It was all Marcello could do not to grunt in pain. He bit his tongue and was thankful for the hood, which at least allowed him to grimace without being noticed.

They carried him out of the room and up or down some stairs. The two spoke in short, clipped sentences as they went. The other must have been Volodymyr, or perhaps some other neopagan, because Marcello didn't recognize the voice. And though they were not conversing quickly, Marcello couldn't understand them. The throbbing pain clouded his thoughts and he couldn't manage to translate the words inside his own head.

Finally, he was brought into a room (he heard the door close behind him) and thrown roughly onto a wooden pallet. This time, he couldn't hold it in, and let out an audible oof. Someone yanked him into a sitting position and then pulled the bag from his head. His vision was blurry and he squinted in pain at the light. Even as he adjusted, white spots continued to swim through his eyes.

Borys stood in front of him, grinning down. “So you're awake?” he said in a mocking tone. “Not that it will matter much.”

“Brother Marcello,” Brother Donald's voice came into his ear. Marcello started, until he realized no one had checked him after they knocked him out. The earpiece was still there. “Can you hear me?”

“Yes,” Brother Marcello said, his speech slightly slurred. “I can.”

Borys glared at him. “You can what?” he asked harshly.

Marcello shook his head, as if trying to clear it. “Where am I?” he asked, purposefully slurring his words more than normal. “What's going on?”

Borys laughed at him and turned away. Marcello turned his head to watch him and noticed that he was in a large room. The others were there, as well as a few new ones he didn't recognize. Ten in all. He supposed he expected them to all be wearing robes, but they were instead dressed in normal clothes; t-shirts and faded jeans.

“You're on our altar,” Borys said. “To be sacrificed to Perun!”

Brother Marcello bit his tongue. “Your altar?” he asked. “Where? Up stairs? Down stairs?”

Borys frowned at him. “Down,” he said. “That's not really the relevant part! You are to be our sacrifice to Perun! He will spill your blood and gain power from our prayers!”

“So I'm down the stairs,” Brother Marcello said loudly, angling his head so his mouth was as close to the microphone as possible.

The other neopagans all started to murmur in confusion, while Borys stepped forward in annoyance. He shoved Marcello back, causing his head to smack against the altar. More white stars flashed through Marcello's vision and he felt sick. “Do you think this is a joke?” Borys asked angrily. “We are not joking. I don't know what game you are playing, but we are not!”

He turned away and raised his arms to the other neopagans. He spoke demonstratively in Ukrainian. The others alternately murmured and raised cheers of their own in response. Borys pointed back at Marcello without turning and emphatically yelled something. The neopagans all started to chant “Perun!” over and over.

There was a rustling and Brother Marcello turned his throbbing head. A sheet had been draped across a beam. A man was trying to push his way through it, as if it were stage curtains, but was finding himself entangled in it. A string of sharply shouted words emerged from the man as he flailed at the sheet, finally pulling it off the beam and throwing it to the ground.

It was undoubtedly Perun. He was tall and barrel chested with a fiery red beard and long, red hair. There was lightning in his eyes. But he seemed shabby. His clothes were worn, ill-fitting cast offs. His shirt was an old band t-shirt with the logo worn mostly away with a large hole beneath an armpit. His jeans were tattered at the ankles, with a hole at the knee. Both were too small for him.

But the axe he wore at his hip looked as if it had just been forged. The edge glinted in the light of the altar room. He walked toward Brother Marcello and looked down at him.

“This is the sacrifice?” Perun asked. Though Brother Marcello heard the words and knew they were nothing he'd ever learned, he could still understand them. Borys responded in Ukrainian and Marcello still couldn't understand it.

“Very well,” Perun said. He looked Marcello in the eyes. “I have not tasted the life blood of a human in a thousand years. You will be the first. Your life and the prayers of my followers shall revitalize me. The rebirth of my faith shall shake the world to its foundations! I will punish those who captured me by crushing their altars and burning their shrines to the ground!”

Brother Marcello just closed his eyes and started murmuring prayers to himself. Perun laughed. “You cannot bear to face me? My followers were right; you are no true follower of the old ways. You are a coward. A shame; a courageous man's blood would sate me more.”

Brother Marcello waited. He trusted that Brother Donald and Sister Zita would arrive soon and save him. But even if they did not make it in time, he was sure it was all part of God's plan.

There was suddenly a light pressure on Marcello's chest, as if someone were gently pressing him down. He continued to whisper his prayers and he heard the god let out another string of untranslated curses. Marcello opened his eyes and saw the axe being raised a second time, then brought firmly down. Marcello didn't even flinch as the axe blade touched his chest, but went no further.

Marcello grinned. “O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God,” he said, his voice growing louder with each word.

Perun shouted in anger. “He's a Christian!” he growled, glaring at Borys.

“But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the Lord,
and he answered me from his holy hill,” Brother Marcello almost sang the words, his voice strong and clear. The spots in his eyes began to fade as he continued the prayer.

“Lord Perun,” Borys said, gaping. “I do not understand!”

Perun glowered at Borys. “My strength cannot touch those who are true believers of that God! You fools! What is he doing here? This must be some sort of trap!”

“I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around,” Brother Marcello said, his voice loud and strong, carrying over the shouting of the neopagans.

Perun growled, “Someone must sacrifice him on my behalf! I cannot take him myself.”

“Yes, Lord Perun!” Borys said, running to the side of the room, where sat a chest. Marcello ignored him, looking up at the god defiantly. Perun took a step back and held his axe in front of him like a shield.

“Arise, O Lord! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.” A loud commotion broke out outside of the door. The pounding of feet down the stairs. Voices – those of the sentries, no doubt – shouting in challenge and surprise.

Borys held up a large dagger, almost as long as his forearm, and grinned a wicked smile, though sweat beaded on his forehead. He swiftly walked toward Brother Marcello, holding the dagger up, ready to strike. “For the glory of Perun, prepare to die nonbeliever!” he said.

“Salvation belongs to the Lord; your blessing be on your people!” Marcello shouted so loud his throat hurt. The door slammed open and in rolled a small round object. Brother Marcello slammed his eyes shut and turned his head away. A moment later, he heard the pained cries of the neopagans. The bright light of the flashbang grenade still caused him to flinch even so.

He cracked his eyes and saw Borys on all fours, groping around blindly, while the dagger had landed next to the altar.

Donald and Zita started to head toward Marcello, when a bolt of lightning struck the ground in front of them. They both leapt back as Perun boldly strode in front of the altar. “My axe may not be able to hurt you,” the god said, “but I can still kill you.”

Marcello grit his teeth. Neither Donald nor Zita were fighters. The god could overpower them, especially if he kept their attention long enough for his followers to get back to their feet. Marcello rolled off the side of the altar, landing next to the dagger. Borys was groping around for it, but his fingers were far away. Marcello flipped over and inched himself back toward the dagger, probing with his fingers to find the handle.

Perun slung a lightning bolt at Zita, but she raised her hands, which were covered in a wire mesh. The bolt struck her left hand, crackled around it, and then shot back out at Perun. The god didn't even flinch as the electricity slammed into his chest. He laughed and raised his hand again. “I don't know how you can redirect my lighting,” Perun said, “but giving it back to me merely feeds my strength!”

He sent another bolt arcing from his palm toward Sister Zita. She caught it in her left and it emerged from her right, back toward Perun. He continued to cackle as the electricity formed a deadly circuit. The harsh smell of ozone began to fill the room as the air around the lightning began to ionize.

Zita soon began to choke from the noxious fumes. Brother Donald, meanwhile, was contending with Jaroslav, who had recovered from the shock of the flashbang grenade and was swinging wild haymakers at the older man. Donald held two wooden batons, each about two feet in length, and was using them to slap at Jaroslav.

However, Brother Donald was clearly being pushed back and the other neopagans were starting to recover. Sister Zita managed to keep her arms up, but had collapsed to one knee and was coughing violently from the fumes.

Finally, Marcello got his hands on the dagger. He flipped it around and angled the blade against the ropes tying his hands. As he began to saw, Borys appeared over him. “You're going to pay for this,” he said with a snarl. “Once Perun kills your friends, I will plunge the knife into your heart myself, cut it out, and hand it to Lord Perun on a platter! The old gods will return and – ” Marcello whipped his bound feet out and slammed them into Borys's knees. Borys flopped onto his back, as Marcello cut away the last of the ropes.

His hands free, Marcello quickly sliced through the ropes around his feet and tossed the dagger aside.

“Perun!” he yelled, rising to his feet and charging at the god. Perun turned to face him, just in time to catch a heavy fist into the side of his jaw. The god's lightning shorted out and Sister Zita fell forward, exhausted.

Marcello turned away as the god reeled and charged Jaroslav. He caught the man in the back with a forearm, then grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and sent him flying toward the wall. Jaroslav hit with a thud, then fell to the ground in a heap. “Brother Donald, are you alright?”

“Yes, Subduing Brother,” Donald said between heavy breaths. “Go. Do your duty. I shall see to Sister Zita.”

“Yes, First Brother,” Marcello said, spinning around to face Perun once again.

The god was rubbing the side of his face, where a bright red welt was quickly rising. “You will pay for that, Christian,” the god spat.

Brother Marcello cracked his knuckles. “The love of Christ shall protect me. The justice of God shall defeat you.” He walked confidently forward as the god raised his hand. Marcello weaved to the side as a bolt of lightning coursed from the god's hand and cracked inches away from him.

As Perun dropped his hand, Marcello dropped into a crouch and sprang forward. Perun swung his axe, but the blade stopped harmlessly short. Perun cursed and dropped his weapon, taking a step back to barely avoid a vicious right cross. Brother Marcello unleashed a flurry of blows on the god, who could only raise his arms and try to block them. The god was forced slowly backward.

One of the neopagans slammed into Marcello from the side, sending him staggering off balance. Perun took the opportunity to swing his fist, but much like the axe it held no force once it hit Marcello. The god cursed as Marcello grabbed the neopagan around the throat, lifted him, and threw him at Olha and Voldymyr. The three of them went down in a heap and seemed unwilling to rise again.

Perun thrust his hand out, but Marcello caught it and angled it toward the roof as a burst of lightning shot out. It smashed through the ceiling, causing debris to rain down below. Marcello spun on his heel and hefted, tossing Perun with a shoulder throw. The god landed hard. He rolled onto his stomach and tried to push himself to his feet, but his arms gave out and he crashed to the ground.

Brother Marcello slowly walked over, spinning his head at the few neopagans who remained standing, daring any to try him. They all shied away. Marcello reached the god and grabbed his collar, pulling him back to his feet.

Perun looked at him with defeated eyes. “I hate you,” he said. “I hate you Christians. You stole our people. Our worshippers. Our land. All for your own god. And you locked us away! Caged us forever.” He spat in Marcello's face, but the brother did not even flinch. “Do you know what a thousand years of imprisonment is like?”

“You are lucky,” Marcello said. “Those lost souls you misled with your pagan rites will suffer an eternity in the lake of fire.”

He cocked his arm back to finish the god off, when there was a shout from behind them. Marcello turned to see Borys standing with the dagger in his hands. Marcello dropped Perun to the ground and turned fully to face Borys. “Do not be foolish,” Marcello warned. “I am a trained fighter. Just because you have a dagger does not mean you can hurt me.”

Borys's face was etched with pain and fear. “Lord Perun,” he said, lip quivering. “I am sorry I have failed you. Please, accept this as a sacrifice.”

Brother Donald shouted, “No!” and dove for Borys, but it was too late. Borys drove the knife into his own throat. A gush of blood erupted from the wound, splashing over the altar. A second later, Borys slumped forward, his blood slowly spreading over the wood.

Soft laughing erupted from Perun. Brother Marcello slowly turned back toward the god, who was slowly standing. Small crackles of electricity burst across his skin. He seemed fuller, stronger. His hair was a more vibrant shade of red. His eyes thundered with energy.

“He killed himself for you,” Brother Donald said in horror. “And you laugh? You are a monster.”

Perun swept a hand at Donald and a bolt of lighting thundered with a deafening boom. Only Donald's closeness to Zita and her Faraday cage kept him from being blown away. “I laugh because I know you three will die,” he said coldly. “My follower did not die in vain. His blood sacrifice will save me.”

Brother Marcello raised his fists. “You still must defeat me,” he said. Perun wasted no words and charged forward, swinging a wild haymaker at Marcello. Marcello did not bother to duck, but when the fist reached his face, he felt a small ripple, then a sound like a popping bubble. The god's fist crashed into Marcello's flesh.

Marcello was blasted back with a burst of electricity. His muscles spasmed as he stumbled, barely able to keep on his feet. Perun was laughing again. “You see! He has given me the strength to break through your god's protections!”

Perun charged, swinging another wild punch that Marcello was barely able to duck. He fell backward, knowing that a blow from Perun could send a shock like a stun gun through him. When the god missed a particularly heavy swing, Marcello ducked and landed two fists to the ribs. Perun tried to lower his elbow on Marcello's back, but the brother spun away.

Perun spun slowly. “You know how to fight,” the god said. “But your cannot beat a god. And your god cannot help you now.”

Brother Marcello simply smiled at the god. Tiny bolts of electricity sprang from Perun's skin as the god's face twisted in rage. He screamed and cocked his fist back, charging straight forward. Marcello ducked the clumsy swing and sprang up, adding the strength of his legs to his arm.

His uppercut caught Perun on the chin with such force that he was thrown from his feet. The god went flying backward, crashing down onto the altar still strewn with Borys's body. The flimsy wood structure collapsed under the god's weight. Brother Marcello strode forward, so he was standing over the wreck.

Perun lifted a hand feebly. Small arcs of electricity formed between his fingers, but the strength left the god and his arm fell. Brother Marcello wrenched him to his feet. “God helps those who help themselves,” he said, before slamming his fist right into the god's nose.

Brother Donald sat at his desk, idly tapping his fingers. Behind and to his left stood Sister Zita. She had been taken to the hospital for ozone inhalation, but they found no permanent damage and she'd been released the next day. She still looked haggard and worse for the wear, but she worse a peaceful, content smile.

Behind and to his right stood Brother Marcello. He had a large purple bruise on the side of his face, mixed with mild burns, from where Perun had landed a blow. They told him he had a mild concussion from the repeated blows to the head, but said it was nothing serious. The Vatican doctor had him under observation for the entire day they returned, but eventually relented and allowed Marcello to roam free.

Brother Garth had been overjoyed at hearing his Faraday cage, the flashbang grenades, and his listening device had worked without difficulty. “They didn't have these in the old days,” he told his fellows. “Imagine, so many lives could have been saved capturing the gods if they had.”

Perun had been interred in a new coffin and returned to the crypt. Brother Donald had inspected it himself – out in the open, of course – and determined that its seal would hold for at least another thousand years if proper care was taken. His followers had been turned over to the authorities for assault and kidnapping of Brother Marcello. The police tried to claim they had killed Borys too, but Brother Donald explained the man had committed suicide. They left out mention of the fight with the god, though the neopagans tried to say something. The police just laughed and wondered how many would attempt an insanity plea.

“Well, that was fun,” Brother Donald said, breaking the silence in the room.

Brother Marcello simply grunted. Sister Zita chuckled lightly. “I can do without that sort of fun, Brother Donald,” she said.

He turned stiffly in his chair. His muscles still ached from the fight. “Maybe so, Sister Zita,” he said. “It's not every day I want to fight an old god and his followers.” He sighed. “But it may be the last one we will ever deal with.” He stared down at the report on Perun's capture, finished but for his signature. He lifted his pen and added it. “And with that, we're finished.”

Then the door slammed open and a harried priest ran in. “Brother Donald,” he said, huffing in heavy breaths. “We have a problem.”

Brother Donald straightened up and put on his impassive mask. “What is it, father?”

“The gods... Escape...”

Brother Donald frowned. “Another one?” he asked flatly. “And which one was it this time.”

The priest shook his head, still breathing heavily. “Not one,” he said. “Dozens... Hundreds. We don't know!”

Brother Donald allowed the faintest bit of shock to register on his face, while Sister Zita giggled softly and Brother Marcello cracked his knuckles.

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