The Way of Sorrows

The Angelus Trilogy, Part 3
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The earthly—and cosmic—adventures of Katherine Taylor and Jay Harper come to an electrifying, action-packed conclusion in The Way of Sorrows, the final installment of Jon Steele’s critically acclaimed Angelus Trilogy.

Praise

"Steele’s dexterity in weaving sharply drawn, memorable characters into a multilayered story line is breathtaking, as is the pyrotechnic display of supernatural action that brings the series to a thrilling conclusion." —Booklist

"Steele wraps up his apocalyptic Angelus trilogy with a bang." —Publisher's Weekly
 

Excerpt

**This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof**

Copyright © 2015 Jon Steele

 

PERFECTUM

 

תחא

 

 

In the name of the Pure G-d.

 

These words are written many years after the destruction of Jerusa- lem, which came on the ninth day of Av, 3830. Know that I am a son of the light who served the teacher of righteousness at Qumran near the Salt Sea. Our settlement stood three parsa’ot in distance from Jericho, which is also now destroyed. The destruction of Qumran came on the twenty-fifth day of Sivan, three years after the fall of Jerusalem. It came at the hands of the Tenth Legion Fretensis of Rome, who marched along the Salt Sea to conquer the Zealots at Masada and so end the Jewish revolt.

This is how it happened.

On the twenty-first day of Sivan, Roman outriders reached the summit of the mountain that separated us from Jericho’s ruins. In doing this they discovered our commune on the plateau below them. The outriders ob- served us through the afternoon and left before sunset. In those hours they learned we had no fortifications or weapons of any kind. Four days had passed when a great cloud of dust rose from the desert and there was the clamor of boots and drums. Then appeared the vanguard of the Tenth Legion leading more than five thousand soldiers onto the Masada Road. Their helmets and lances caught the dawn and their shields bore the color of blood. By this sign we knew our sacrifice was at hand, as it had been prophesied to us by seven angels of the Pure G-d. And so it was that upon reaching the trail that climbed the plateau to our commune, the main body of the legion continued south while the fifth cohort of infantry and archers broke away to attack Qumran.

 

As this prophecy came to pass, and being the youngest of my order, I was instructed by the teacher of righteousness to take refuge in the cavern of solitude, which is set apart from the commune. It was a scripto- rium for transcriptions of the holiest scrolls as judged by the teacher. Here, one of the chosen scribes would live alone for many days in proper meditation before writing the holy name of the Pure G-d.

I was young and had yet to be selected for this duty, though I longed to assume it. So it was with sadness that my ascension to the cavern was not as one of the chosen scribes but to bear witness to the annihilation of my order, and then live a life of isolation to the end of my days. Within the cavern were a bed, a table and stool, lamps, and sacred oil to burn for light. There were quills and ink-making tools and sheets of fine vellum. There were food stocks in jars and a cistern outside the cavern’s entrance that gathered rain as it flowed from the mountains.

This duty was commanded of me by the teacher of righteousness so that one of our number might survive and continue to watch for the man of signs and wonders, who would come to reclaim the things entrusted to us by the seven angels of the Pure G-d. For the seven did know this man and guarded his tomb for a period of thirty-four years; from the time of the man’s death until his tomb was abandoned when Jerusalem was de- stroyed. And upon abandoning the man’s tomb the seven angels appeared to us to reveal the truth of the man’s death, entreating us to aid them in their sacred purpose. Now knowing the cousin of this man, who was called the Baptist, and upon hearing the voices of the seven angels of the Pure G-d, the teacher of righteousness identified them as the forces of light named in the War Scroll of our order. We pledged our souls to them and agreed to watch over the way of the man’s return. We pledged in full knowledge that the forces of darkness, who sought to wipe all memory of the man from the world, would one day destroy us as they had destroyed Jerusalem.

 

 

 

םיתש

 

 

The cavern of solitude was located in the canyon above Qumran and hid from the world by an outcrop of rock at the entrance. There were narrow fissures in the stone allowing me to see down onto the commune and wit- ness the slaughter of my order. All my brethren, including the teacher of righteousness, suffered  greatly before giving up their souls to forever death; but all kept their vow to not reveal any knowledge of the man of signs and wonders, though this knowledge was cruelly demanded of them.

The cohort then raided our stores of food and wine. Becoming drunk they ransacked the scriptorium for plunder. Finding nothing to please them, they took up battering rams and demolished the commune to rub- ble. But this destruction did not sate them, and they were overcome with savagery. They pounded their chest armor with fists; their curses filled the canyon with wickedness. Some drew swords and hacked apart the bodies of the dead, others built great fires; then was my brethren’s flesh roasted and eaten. This unholy feast lasted into the night until a stupor came over the soldiers and they lay on the ground to sleep. Black clouds concealed the moon and stars that night, and when the fires ended there was no light of any kind; as if all the world had gone into hiding from the evil befallen us. At dawn, and hearing no sound, I went to the entrance of the cavern. There was no sign of the fifth cohort but for the slaughter they had com- mitted.

 

I had been commanded by the teacher of righteousness to not leave the cavern for forty days. In obeying his command I did not bury my brethren according to Jewish law. In so doing I watched the remains of my order devoured by the beasts of the desert. Many of my brethren’s bones were carried away, though some remained that I might not be de- voured by the beast of loneliness. But I did not touch the bones or bury them; I only watched them turn to dust. This had been commanded of me so I would not be detected by any forces of darkness who might pass; nor those foul spirits who feed on human souls; nor their progeny who were possessed of the same hunger and roamed the world in the forms of men.

In the month of Elul my forty days of hiding had ended. To replenish the cavern’s food stocks I grew grains and vegetables on a nearby plot of irrigated land. This plot was long used by my order and not seen from the desert lowlands or the surrounding mountains. One parsa from this place were colonies of bees that did not abandon their hives, and I tended them for honey. Near Jericho’s ruins, abandoned groves of date palm and pome- granate and olive trees, once belonging to Egypt’s queen, continued to bear fruit, and I harvested them.

I was commanded also to lay aside the white robes of the order and take the appearance of a madman. For there are things to be seen in this desert that will deliver a man into madness  if regarded too long and with- out enlightenment, and such woeful men are common along the Salt Sea. I sealed my robes and sandals in an empty jar to protect them from cor- ruption. I ceased to perform the water purification rituals of my order. In summer I wore only a loincloth and walked the desert in bare feet; in winter I wore coarse animal skins for warmth. My hair and beard became long and matted; my flesh darkened and leathered. In doing all these things I would not be regarded as a son of the light.

I walked the hills and mountains above Qumran to watch over the caves in which were hid the holy scrolls of the Jewish people. Also hid were the scrolls of our order, including the Book of Community Rule and the War Scroll. And in a remote cave, five parsa’ot in distance from Qum- ran’s ruins, were the things for the man of signs and wonders as entrusted to us by the seven angels of the Pure G-d. This place was named the cav- ern of secrets by the teacher of righteousness.

 

שולש

 

Through innumerable seasons I watched people travel across the Jordan Valley, wondering if one of them would reveal himself to me as the man foretold to us. There were merchant caravans from the east, Syrians and Phoenicians from the north, tribes of nomads from the south. Some of these travelers camped within sight of Qumran. They grazed their ani- mals at the mouth of the Jordan River where it flows into the Salt Sea. Some travelers, chasing after their wandering flocks, climbed the trail to the ruins of our commune. Finding Roman coins or arrow points or other things of use, and not knowing the history of the place, most were satis- fied and left. Those more curious of the place dared to approach the caves.

I hurried through the cliffs by unseen trails and jumped out before all invaders. I threw stones and called to Baal and proclaimed this ground as my divinely given kingdom. I chanted in tongues, rolled my eyes, and spit- tle formed on my lips. I became a creature of such dread that the invaders feared the curse of desert madness would claim them, too, and they re- treated.

 

I lost count of the days long ago.

 

I do not know the number of years I have lived since the destruc- tion of Qumran. In this season of summer I became much weakened. It became difficult for me to walk the trails or gather food. Then did questions come to me. In the war between the forces of light and the darkness, as written in the War Scroll of our order, had the man of signs and wonders been vanquished? Was all hope of his return lost? If so, what had been the purpose of my terrible isolation? Why was I not sacrificed with the members of my order? But these questions were without answer and sorrow weighed heavily on my soul; the last soul belonging to a son of the light.

Then did a tempest come up from the land of the Edomites, and the sky became thick with dust and the sun yellowed as if diseased. I could not see the lowlands or the Salt Sea for the blowing sand. As night fell the winds increased tenfold; then came the wails of the world’s unburied and forgotten dead. Included in their number were the members of my order who had sacrificed their souls to forever death. By these signs I knew forces of darkness were passing the ruins of Qumran in search of the cav- ern of secrets.

I grew fearful, with only the flame of an oil lamp for consolation. I cried out to the Pure G-d and begged Him to give me succor. But the tem- pest mocked me for my cries, and the ground shook and the outcrop of rock at the cavern’s entrance fell away. A suffocating dust, foul with putre- faction, rushed in to extinguish the lamp and I was blinded. I heard the screams of the world’s unburied and forgotten dead approach; I felt their tormented souls reach from the dust and claw at my flesh, wanting to drag me down to the woeful place where they were imprisoned by the forces of darkness. And they begged me to save them by revealing the way to the cavern of secrets. So torn between my oath and the pitiful souls about me that I was overcome with despair, I crawled to the entrance of the cavern to throw myself from the cliffs and so end my own torment. I reached the edge of the cliff, rose to my feet, and stepped toward the abyss. Then came the roar of a thousand wings, and the whirlwind so created held me in place, and I beheld a vision.

 

עברא

 

The tempest vanished and I saw the Pure G-d asleep in an immense void above the earth and nothing moved. He stirred and awoke and saw that He was alone in his place. He breathed and a fire was born into the void. By this light He reached down to the earth and gathered the world’s un- buried and forgotten dead. He anointed them with tongues of fire and cast them into the void where they became the stars and spheres of the heavens. Then a great comet rose from the east and it hovered over Qum- ran’s ruins. And the comet burst into ten thousand stars, and they did form the constellation Kesîl. From them appeared the seven angels of the

Pure G-d who had entreated us to aid them in their sacred purpose. They came down bearing a body bound in a linen shroud, and they lay it on the ground. Then the leader of the seven smiled upon me, as he had smiled upon us in the days after Jerusalem was destroyed, and he said:

 

“They will see the dwelling place of the Pure G-d, They will see the time of angels,

They will see the coming of the light.”

 

And the angel drew his sword and cut open the shroud to reveal the face of the man of signs and wonders, and he was of the light. And the angel said:

 

“By your words will he be raised from the dead, So that the world will know the light.”

 

The sun rose above Mount Nebo and I was returned to the world. I knew my years of isolation were not in vain. I knew the man foretold to us would return, but not in the time of men; he would return in the time of angels when the secrets of the heavens are so revealed. And thus, my own sacred purpose was made known to me. I must guide the way of the man’s return from beyond the time of my death. I took a knife and cut my hair and beard. I took water from the cistern and performed the purifica- tion rituals of my order for the first time since Qumran was destroyed. I unsealed my robe and sandals and I dressed in them. With joy in my heart I prepared ink and quills and seven scrolls of velum, and after proper med- itation and with joy in my heart, I became one of the chosen scribes of Qumran.

 

Now, my work is finished. I await for my soul to be lifted to the heav- ens, where I may take my place with the world’s unburied and forgotten dead.

Receive, then, these seven scrolls to know of Qumran and the sons of the light; to know of the seven angels of the Pure G-d who appeared to us in the days after Jerusalem  was destroyed; to know of Yeshua ben Yosef and the crucifixion of the man of signs and wonders; to know how through him the world may be saved. In knowing these things you will find the path to the cavern of secrets, and there you will claim the things left to him. For you, beloved reader, are that man; and now is the time of your return.

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