“Right this way, Miss Allen.”
I followed Father Ezekiel, hoping that my shoes wouldn't get caught in the cracks between the rickety stairs. The heat of the Italian day was slowly fading away into a musky, dry cool as we descended farther into the earth.
A question bubbled to my mind. “Why was I brought here?”
Father Ezekiel turned his head so that I glimpsed one owlish brown eye. “There is something we found here that needs a... professional’s advice.” I wasn't too surprised that this document they’d found had been seemingly lost until now. The Vatican Archives went on for miles and housed at least a million or so books.
We came to a door and Father gently opened it. Inside was a sort of antechamber, with lockers on each side. “We have strict policies here at the Archives, so all belonging must be put away before entering.”
“Alright.” I opened a locker near the door we’d just entered and stuffed my bag in there, opening it to grab a few things. “Is it alright if I brought my notebook to record my thoughts?”
He nodded. “Of course. We wouldn't want you to rely on only memory.” He gave a small smile before opening the door on the other side of the room, the one that lead to the Archives. I took a deep breath and followed Father Ezekiel into one of the most exclusive places on the entire planet.
In fact, people had to apply for entrance if they wished to do research in the Archives. There was a long waiting list and it took months for applications to go through. For others, like myself, you had to be invited to view a certain text by the Pope himself. I had been quite shocked when I received a letter with the seal of the Holy See. Apparently my knowledge of ancient languages had attracted many peoples’ attention, even ones from all the way from Rome.
The rows of shelves stretched on and on into oblivion. The air was stagnant but it held a mantle of dignity, as if it knew exactly what was resting here. Silence stretched on in wispy tendrils between the shelves. It was strange to think that people walked above me and they had no idea how much knowledge lay a few feet below their feet.
I followed my guide between the shelves, past yellowing tomes that ranged in size from giant brick-sized family trees to tiny memoirs with pages as thin as an onion skin. We passed a few people studying at simple wooden tables; they seemed too engrossed in their studies to even notice us pass by. I couldn't blame them. This was a historian’s dream.
The shelves started to blur as we continued on and on past hundreds of shelves. I was starting to sweat a bit. It wasn't exactly hot—the temperature was somewhere in the mid-sixties to keep the books from rotting—but the air didn't circulate at all. I pulled at the collar of my modest blouse and Father Ezekiel noticed my movements.
“We’re almost there,” he announced. “Just a bit longer.”
I nodded but did not reply. Three more rows later and we came upon a table that was unoccupied, save for the priest who sat with his hands linked in front of him. No, wait, he’s a cardinal, I corrected. Cardinals wore the red zucchetto, or skull cap. As we approached, he looked up and smiled widely.
“Ah, you must be Rachel Allen,” the cardinal said.
“Yes, Cardinal,” I replied.
“You don’t have to be so formal.” He gestured to the seat across from him. “Please, have a seat so we can discuss some important matters.”
I gladly sat down in the offered chair, letting my legs finally rest from their ordeal of walking through the Vatican Archives. Father Ezekiel did not follow, but he did bid us farewell before disappearing through the forest of paper and ink.
“You must be wondering why we brought you here,” the cardinal said.
I smiled a bit. “Yes. Father Ezekiel had mentioned something about finding an unusual manuscript.”
“That is correct. However, this is where things get complicated.” The cardinal’s voice lowered and I had to crouch down to hear him. “We believe we may have found a missing piece of the Book of Revelation.”
My eyes widened. Revelation was all about the Apocalypse, written in a strange manner that sounded so impossible. In it was the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Whore of Babylon, and the Antichrist to name a few. Out of all the books in the Bible, it was one of my least favorites. “What does it say?”
“We’re not sure,” the cardinal replied. “It’s probably written in a Greek dialect. Of course, we need an expert’s eye. Also, this document is thousands of years old, so the condition is less than desirable.”
I nodded. “I understand. May I see it?”
“Yes, but I would ask you to wear protective gloves.” He handed me a pair. “These pages are very fragile.”
“Of course.” As I slid them on, the cardinal grabbed a box to his left that I had failed to notice. It had a glass top that slid open to reveal the contents inside. He slid it open partway and I glimpsed weathered paper that seemed weathered at the edges. I pulled the box towards me and beaten pages stared up at me, pulsing with a sickening power that could possibly uproot the entire Catholic faith.
I hesitantly lifted the first page up, noticing that the fibers that held it together were coming apart at the seams.I spread the sheet down on the table and squinted at the page. The majority of the page had been worn by time, and only some of it could be deciphered. I flipped open my notebook and clicked my pen as I began taking notes.
The cardinal watched with a distant amusement as I poured over this document. I transcribed what little writing into my notebook and tried to interpret it into English. It took me a moment to crack the code, but I soon realized this was written in Kione Greek, a dialect used during the Roman period. It was the same language the original Book of Revelation had been written in.
I moved on to the second page, then the third. The pages were all in the same time-weathered condition and by the time I had gotten through four pages, I had barely half a page of written notes. The words were sporadic and entire lines had been smudged and illegible. As I went through the pages, the writing became sloppier and the pen strokes shook.
If this was really a missing part of Revelations, it would make sense for this slow spiral. Many believed that it had been written by St. John, who had been exiled to a deserted island after he had survived a poisoning that would've killed a normal person. I’d always believed that if he had written the real Revelation, he was most likely going insane from the deadly mix of a botched execution and utter solitude. Possible hallucinations could also play a part in his loss of sanity. Revelation wasn't a good book to take literally, since it was brimming with such strange imagery.
After transcribing all of the words I could read legibly, I started to translate them. I couldn't exactly do a direct translation, so I decided to translate the Kione into Modern Greek and then into English. As I started doing that, I could still feel the cardinal’s curious gaze over my work. He didn’t say anything, just observed.
The translating progress took longer than I’d expected and my hand was shaking as I uncurled my fingers. I knew that it was a rough translation, but it would suffice for now. They’d probably get another historian to interpret this missing link.
I silently placed the ancient pages back in the box and slid the top back, sealing it off from the rest of the world. I pushed that back and grabbed my notebook to review what I had translated.
And then, I, John, saw a vision of the world moments from Judgment
world was corrupted, and sin populated
sky was full of fire, and tremors rocked the ground
clouds of smoke and fire and...
—cent people were lost, forever gone... blasts
blank stares, stone hearts
debilitating pain... painpainpain
there was no reason for these people to live for anymore
Black birds came over the sky... sun
chaos with a single flap of their wings
mass killings, mass destruction
becoming slaves, under the whip of their masters
Grinning heads with eyes of greed and... without remorse
—res that trapped men with beaded wrists and ochre lips
plagues descended... Moses
Tyrants turned their faces away
locked... in castles of stone
Killed... death... blood
Repent... fires of Hell... eternity!
This shall commence on—
There was a date, but it had been smeared away. All I could make out was the number 2. By time or a fearful writer, I couldn’t tell. I had chills racing down my entire being. I was literally reading about the end of the world. It made unease simmer deep in my core. Any day this could happen—one person makes a stupid move and the world has engaged in another world war. The world would be torn, shredded beyond recognition. Years ago, many thought that the weather would bring humans to their knees. Now, it was a very different story. Humans would be Man’s downfall.
I probably looked pale and the cardinal spoke up. “Are you alright, Miss Allen?”
I gulped nervously. “Yes. It’s just that this manuscript has some very—”
I never told him why this missing Revelation was affecting me so. Just as the y passed my lips, there was a loud bang that made the shelves rattle. It had come from the world above us and I could almost hear the innocent screaming.