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Short story: “Breathing History”

Some older characters I haven’t played with in a while, helping my brain work out some stuff about my first novel that I’m still working on. It’s actually a direct continuation of “The Chase”, posted not so long ago.

***

After the heavy oak doors closed behind them, they were enveloped in silence, though it was not a complete silence. Soon enough Zouriel could pick out the faint rustling of clothes and the faint echo of the voices of other visitors trying to keep a respectful silence.

He was not sure why he had suggested they enter the large cathedral, the oldest church in the city, as Marcus had cheerfully informed him, repeating what they’d been told earlier. Zouriel didn’t make it a habit to visit churches much anymore, but something had compelled him to enter this one. He told himself it was just another way to get out of the heat on the dusty old streets outside. Even with his jacket off he felt hot and uncomfortable. He dared not bare his arms, for that would expose too much of his altered body.

Zouriel watched with horror as Marcus dropped a coin in a collection box to provide himself with an information brochure about the church, then Zouriel frowned as Marcus dropped some more coins in the box next to a basket of candles.

“You can light one for your mother, and I’ll light one for the guys in our unit”, Marcus said with a slight smile, handing Zouriel one of two candles.

“You know, Mehmet was a muslim and Mark was a Buddhist”, Zouriel said. “Do you think they’d want to be thought about in a Christian place like this?”

Marcus shook his head lightly. “The way I see it, all religions are basically the same at the core. It’s about caring for your fellow man and remembering them when they’re gone.”

“I think my mother would have objected to that”, Zouriel said with a crooked grin. “But she had a lot of objections about many things.”

He still lit the candle, placing it in the elaborate candle holder, flame flickering in the dim light of the church. While he stood here it was easy to let the years fall back, let time move backwards until he was a boy again, standing at a similar candle holder in another church and lighting a candle for his father. It was the smell. Somehow all these places smelled kind of the same, like warm wax, paper and ancient dust.

More ancient in this place, Zouriel assumed.

Marcus had quickly paid his respects and was now perusing the little brochure he’d spent some of their hard earned spending money on. With a grin he turned to Zouriel and began to lead him off to the left, then up a long aisle, the impressive wall covered in religious art on one side, a low row of pews on the other. Now and then Zouriel let his hand grace the pews, feeling the grain of the wood and the worn finish under his normal hand. He tried to imagine all the people who had sat in these pews, paying worship to a God that didn’t really listen to them. God had never listened to Zouriel…Except…

He looked over at Marcus, his eye locating the faint spiderweb of scars on his neck, the only visible evidence that he’d come so close to being lost to Zouriel forever. Marcus had been lost, for quite some time, but then God had finally decided to throw Zouriel a bone.

He picked up the pace so he was walking next to Marcus, gently nudging his shoulder. In turn, Marcus nudged him, gesturing towards the large statue that loomed up in front of them. The guide had already showed them the 19th century replica that stood outside in one of the smaller squares, but this older one…Ah, somehow it looked more impressive here.

The knight, St: George if he remembered correctly, sat atop his horse, sword raised to strike at the dragon that squirmed below the horse’s hooves, a broken lance sticking out of the dragon’s neck. On a tower nearby sat the princess, the one St: George had come to rescue.

“Do you think…That with what we know, that this might not be an allegory after all”, Marcus said, keeping his voice low. “Maybe the dragon was one of these animal spirits, hounded to death by people who didn’t understand him.”

Zouriel raised an eyebrow. “Last I checked dragons were still fictional.”

“Well, it could have been some animal that looked enough like a dragon to people back them”, Marcus said. “I mean, the Chinese were dead certain that dinosaurs were dragons.”

Zouriel grinned. “So, this dragon was a dinosaur spirit…person? I thought only fundies believed men and dinosaurs co-existed.”

“Okay, so maybe not a dinosaur, but something reptilian enough. A crocodile maybe?”

“It’s an interesting thought”, Zouriel said and shrugged. “I still feel I don’t know enough about these people…And they’re helping us, even though we were both created to hunt down things like them.”

“Maybe they realized that you really can’t judge a book by its cover”, Marcus said and smiled, reaching out a hand to gently stroke Zouriel’s scarred cheek.

“I guess…” Zouriel mumbled, leaning into Marcus touch.

They stood in silence for a while, letting their hands intertwine and listening to the muffled sounds of the world outside seeping through the large plate glass windows. Zouriel caught a glimpse of the rather horrific piece of art that hung on the wall next to the statue, depicting purgatory with men and women falling in agony towards hell at the bottom. He shuddered and pulled Marcus away from it, reminding himself that whatever hell was like, he’d already suffered through something that felt quite a lot like it. It had even burned.

Finally Marcus lifted his head and let his lips grace Zouriel’s own, a careful kiss in a place where they weren’t certain how people would react. Back home he might not have dared to be so openly affectionate. That was one this that had changed about Marcus since he’d come back, some of the boldness had been burned out of him.

“There’s just one more thing I want to see”, he said, taking Zouriel by the hand and leading him towards the other side of the church. “It’s a really old painting, from the 16th century, depicting sun dogs over this city as it looked back then. Apparently it’s a bit of a historical icon here.”

“I thought you’d had enough history for one day”, Zouriel said and grinned.

“Never”, Marcus replied. “There can never be enough history in your life.”

He slowed down his pace some and peered over at Zouriel, his eyes nearly shielded by his unruly bangs. “History is what teaches us to do better next time…To stop repeating old mistakes.”

When he put it like that, it made sense. Too much sense.

Zouriel took the lead as they approached the old painting, hung in a separate section of the church. Perhaps if Zouriel let enough of this place seep into him, it would teach him how to become the man he’d always wished he was.

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