“So, this is the lost reliquary?”
Paul stepped back so that Evie could better see the small box on the table between him and Alva.
“Stolen, not lost and technically a philatory,” he explained.
“What’s the difference?” she asked, moving closer to examine the gilt wood and glass object.
“A reliquary,” Alva began, cutting off Paul in his best professorial voice, “is simply a container for a relic. The term is not reserved for Catholicism. Buddhists have reliquaries known as stupa; in Japan the term most often used is tō. They range from tiny paper packets to buildings such as pagodas or shariden – a Japanese relic hall. A philatory, is more specifically a reliquary designed to enable viewing of the artifact. As such, it normally has glass or some other clear viewing area built in, as does this one.”
“So it’s worth a ton of money?” Evie looked at it with renewed interest.
“The box itself, not so much,” Paul picked up where Alva left off. “Sure, it’s 18th century Italian, but it’s just gilt wood, not solid gold. It might go for a few thousand to a collector. It’s the relic inside that’s important.”
“And worth a lot of money,” Evie finished.
“To the Catholic Church?” Paul gazed down at the box, looking through the tiny glass panes to what lay inside. “It’s priceless.”
“Then I bet they’re grateful you got it back for them.” Evie went back to her desk for her coffee mug, taking a sip then frowning before pouring it down the sink.
“One hopes they are grateful in terms of remuneration,” Alva said, watching as Evie made a fresh pot of coffee. “Coffee is not free, nor are Boston rents inexpensive.” At Paul’s questioning glance, Alva shrugged. “We do enough pro bono work, do we not? Besides, the Catholic Church has vast resources. The archdiocese would not run out of communion wafers for the masses should we extract a small fee from their coffers.”
“I’ll talk to Poppi when I return this,” Paul agreed. “He did call it a ‘job’ when he gave me the case.”
Evie wandered back over as the coffee pot gurgled away.
“So that’s really a piece of some dead guy in there from like thousands of years ago?” She gestured to the sliver of bone inside the philatory.
“Not just some dead guy, a saint.” Paul gathered up some tissue paper, newspaper and a box and proceeded to gently pack the reliquary into it. “Though Poppi wouldn’t tell me which saint. To be honest for all the years I was at St. Jerome’s I never heard about it. Didn’t even know they had any relics.”
“Well, someone did,” Alva pointed out. “Else how would they have known to steal it?”
The silence in the church that greeted him was a familiar one, though he’d expected Poppi to be there as arranged. Paul had spent many an hour alone here deeply engaged in prayer, seeking guidance, especially before he left the employ of the Church.
Crossing himself as he genuflected, he crossed into a pew, laid the box beside him, and began to pray.
His faith, once shaken to the core, had been the source of much comfort in the strange and frightening times in Alva’s world. Becoming a part of Sodalitas Querito had resulted in his seeing things so much more miraculous than anything he’d debunked as an investigator for the archdiocese. Souls that passed through time, that switched bodies, that survived after death… And yet, the hand of God had also been blamed for the murders of the others who saw “God is Nowhere” written in their own blood.
A shudder went through him though the drafty old cathedral wasn’t cold. He pulled his coat closer to him then crossed himself to finish off his prayers. An odd sort of light played across the apse, drawing him to it in curiosity. Tucking the box under his arm, he approached the altar down the center aisle only to find the light brightening.
Before he could even form a question the lights flickered and went out, leaving Paul with just the hints of light coming from the encroaching dusk outside the windows.
Blinking to adjust, he took a few steps back just before the lights over the altar suddenly became blindingly bright.
Paul shielded his eyes with one arm and gripped the box tight with the other.
After a flash that blinded him for a few seconds he could make out a figure standing at the altar. He was an unassuming man, wearing a suit and trench coat, yet he seemed unfazed by the lightshow engulfing him in preternatural illumination.
“Who are you?” Paul called out, heart racing as he clutched the box as if it held some sort of protection.
“I am an angel of the lord.”
Paul’s mouth dropped open as huge dark wings appeared as if sprouting from the man’s shoulders. A second later they were gone and the lights dimmed enough that he could see.
“How?” Paul stammered, unable to even find enough words to make a real question. “Here? Me?”
“You have something of great importance that is needed elsewhere.” The angel held out his hand. “You interfered with the relic. I am here to ensure it is placed in the proper hands.”
“Whose hands? What does it do?” Paul forced out.
“Not yours.” The angel held out his hand again. “It has power beyond your understanding, power that will help in the war of good and evil.”
“This box?” Paul finally found his feet and tentatively walked towards the being still bathed in light. “It plays a role in the apocalypse?”
The angel took the box from him, gazing at it. “Not the box, the holy relic inside.” When he shifted his gaze from the bone to Paul, Paul felt those eyes bore into him as if able to see into his mind, his very soul. “As do you, in time, Paul Callan.”
“I… I have so many questions…” Paul stammered, even as he felt a heavy dread flood him, a sensation as if the gravity of hell beneath increased beneath his feet.
“In time, Paul Callan,” the angel repeated. “For now…”
He raised his hand and brought the tip of his fingers to Paul’s forehead. A cacophony of voices filled his mind with unknown languages, overwhelming him. Paul felt his vision and body begin to fail yet as he slumped down to the floor a new light burst forth from the philatory, now open in the angel’s hands. The golden glare it emitted nearly blinded him and a sound not unlike a sonic boom knocked him back. He felt his feet leave the floor as he was propelled through the air, then all was blackness.
“The ambulance is coming.”
“I haven’t moved him. I found him this way.”
“You mean, all this…”
“I have no idea…”
Paul woke to pain and voices coming in and out around him. Wincing, he tried to move only to feel a hand on his shoulder pressing down.
“Don’t try to rise just yet,” came Alva’s soothing voice.
Paul opened his eyes to find Alva and a very worried looking Poppi hovering over him.
“You took quite a tumble, kiddo,” Poppi said, forcing a smile. He pulled out a handkerchief and pressed it to a gash at Paul’s hairline.
“Ow,” Paul reacted, putting his hand up to hold it in place, realizing at the same time that he wasn’t just on the floor, he was on top of some debris. “What happened?”
“I’d have to guess some sort of explosion?” Alva pulled back, looking around. “Clearly something caused you to be thrown from the altar with enough force to break the pews beneath you.”
As Paul lifted his head slightly he paid for it with another flash of pain yet was greeted with the sight of the first three rows of pews on one side left near in splinters, showing the path he’d taken when the blast had thrown him backward.
“It wasn’t an explosion, it was…” Paul’s voice trailed off; he felt completely unable to describe his experience. Words were wholly insufficient to explain the awe and reverence of being in the presence of an emissary from God. “It was… I saw… Poppi, it was an angel! And he took the box! He said it was needed... The apocalypse…”
Alva and Poppi exchanged a look which only frustrated Paul further.
“Paul…” Poppi began only to be cut off by an adamant Paul.
“It was the box! When the angel opened the philatory it was like the box was filled with light and then there was a big boom… He said what was inside had power… He wanted the relic…”
EMTs arrived, bringing a gurney, and they forged their way forward, dismissively gesturing Alva and Poppi aside. “Let us through!”
As they checked his injuries and loaded him onto the gurney Paul could see Alva and Poppi in fervent head-down conversation.
“Poppi…” Paul reached out his hand and Poppi broke away, taking it in his own and walking beside the gurney as they rolled him away to the ambulance.
“I’m right here, kiddo. Don’t worry. They’ll take good care of you at the hospital…”
“But I really…”
“For now, just rest,” Poppi soothed. “I’ll be there shortly.”
He faded back as Alva stepped forward to send him on his way.
“Let the doctors see to your injuries for now,” Alva urged. “We’ll talk later.”
As he started to step away, Paul grabbed his wrist.
“The angel… He told me I play a role in the apocalypse.”
Even under his fingers Paul could feel the tension in Alva’s reaction.
“We’ll talk later,” he repeated, only this time Alva’s voice wasn’t as strong. He appeared shaken by this revelation despite how dismissive he’d been of what Paul had already told them. The EMTs prepared to load him into the ambulance, forcing him to let go of Alva’s arm. “You have to go…”
Paul let his head fall back on the pillow, unable to struggle against the pain any longer.
“Paul! Are you okay?” Evie’s face appeared above him only to disappear just as fast as he was lifted into the vehicle.
“I’m sorry ma’am, we need to take him to the hospital.”
Paul could hear her voice, just barely as she walked away, only cut off when the door closed with finality.
“Alva! What the hell is going on? Why is that phila thing box out here on the street? And why is it empty?”