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The Fight for the White Smoke


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Sunday, December 2, 9:30 AM, Year of Our Lord 2018 

Monsignor Rogers sat at the kitchen counter of the rectory, alone by himself as the other priest of the parish was away saying the mass, while Kevin was left praying his cherished “oratio universalis.”  The prayer was popularized by one of the earliest popes of the ancient Salvian Catholic Church, Pope Clemens I, and has been used by priests who were about to say the mass for millennium.  It is said to be passed down directly from Christ to the prophet Liosous.  It is indeed a powerful prayer to anyone seeking God’s wishes.  

 He started with an unknowing sigh and began with the Sign of the Cross and a rosary in his hand. 

“Put my life in order, O my God.”  

I do not know what I am to do. 

Grant that I may know what You require me to do.” 

For I am lost as of now. 

May I not rejoice in anything unless it leads me to You; may I not be saddened by anything unless it turns me from You.” 

Monsignor Kevin, with each passing line, shook a bit more and began to tear up. 

“Grant unto m-m-me, O Lord... my God...” 

Rogers began tearing up fiercely now.  With this he slammed his fist on the counter and cursed hoarsely, the rosary in his hand living marks on the side of his left hand.  He was in tears now, the gravity of what was to come crashing down on him. The sense of guilt was unexpected to the Monsignor, and as he got up to get a glass of water to calm down he sensed something deep inside him burning with regret, shame, and anger.  He began to doubt. 

 Just as he saw Joseph pull in with the car he had seen just days previously, he sensed a burning, pained sensation within his chest. He suppressed it and moved towards the door, waiting to greet the man. 

Monsignor opened the door, inviting Joseph as well as the humid and warm air in with him.  Joseph entered with a grin on his face, appearing to Kevin as excited about something that he knew that was going to happen, like a little child expecting his Christmas presents.  Monsignor Kevin could not resist to smile slightly at this thought. 

“Monsignor, you will not believe the news I bring to you.” 

Rogers nodded slightly, his grin off his face.  “I imagine it good?” 

Joseph nodded his head, bobbing up and down like a bobble head.  “The Circle wishes that you fill the spot of Bishop Lithio.  They think they have the necessary votes and everything.” 

Rogers unconsciously furrowed his brows slightly, his slight smile from before disappearing suddenly.  Joseph, seeing this, deflated, and concerned he inquired, “What’s wrong, Father? Something troubling you?” 

Rogers corrected himself, unfurrowing his eyebrows and looking back at Joseph.  Cracking a fake smile, he silenced his thoughts with speech.  “No, nothing.  Just thinking about how, um, I... forgot to meet with someone at the church.” 

Me? A bishop? The Monsignor’s thoughts raced wildly, his feelings of guilt and shame felt moments before crashing back down into him.  It was as if the Lord himself was saying, Kevin, you know better.  He did know better. 

Joseph continued absentmindedly, discussing future plans, as he walked out of the hallway towards the kitchen counter.  Roger’s rosary was still left on the table, which Joseph left untouched as he sat down at the counter bar.  The Monsignor stood opposite of him, across the counter. 

“The Circle is discussing a lot of things, as always.  Couple of bishop vacancies overseas and up north.  They doubt they’ll get any more allies with those vacancies up north; too close to Deopolis.  Although, a cardinal from @Orioni is visiting St. Paul’s in around 2 weeks.  Circle really wants you to get on that.  We need as many people to get that white smoke.” 

Rogers nodded, processing this.  While the Circle plotted, he began to think, he would have to plot too.

 

*    *    * 

The next morning 

Matthew waved at his secretary as he walked into the office, the clock reading just past 8.  His staff worked hard on their computers as he unlocked the door to his office and entered, setting his briefcase on the desk and hanging his coat on the coat rack in the left-hand corner. 

Matthew was the boss of an independent programming firm, who currently were signed to a contract with the large Murway-Kirk electronics company.  Born to a middle class family, Matthew lived in the suburbs of Trinity in the north.  Different from the vast majority of the population, especially at the time, Matthew was Protestant.  While his other friends from different schools were schooled in the Catholic doctrines, Matthew took his time studying rationalism and other ideas of the Enlightenment. His father’s job paid well, and with the combination of a scholarship due to his good grades, Matthew enrolled into Trinity University. He took programming, with Trinity being one of the first universities to roll it out.  He learned the old school methods, then adapted as new programs and systems rolled out.   

Now, he thought, a different type of system had to change.  Matthew hated the political system in the SIC.  The fact that members of a Church held power in any nation conflicted with the very ideas of the Enlightenment he had personally studied in his youth.  He was determined to change it, and this idea led him to the creation of The White Lotus, of which he was one of the senior members of the Circle 

Matthew opened his desktop as he sat down and noted a sticky note stuck on his monitor.  Removing it, it read: 

 

The flag continues to flap in the wind in the north direction.  A southern wind might come from within, I fear. 

Edited by Sancti Imperii Catholico (see edit history)
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Tuesday, December 4, Year of Our Lord 2018 

The Monsignor sat quietly at his desk in his small room, reading his Bible.  It was a modest bedroom, with a bed, a desk, and a sole nightstand.  Many of his clothes were hung up in the closet that occupied the left side of the room.  The bed and nightstand were oriented towards the door, with the bed sitting against the back right side.  The nightstand held only a prayer book, Roger’s personal rosary, and a lamp.  The desk was situated to the forward wall, and was empty save an old laptop where Rogers did most of the parish work on and the Monsignor himself. 

 

Rogers finished reading the page and flipped it, suddenly coming across his dog tags from his service as a Marine Chaplain.  Memories of old friends and experiences from his service flashed in his mind for a second, as his eyes fluttered over the verses towards one in particular.  The Monsignor read it aloud silently, “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer then a brother.” 

 

The Monsignor looked up at the beige-colored wall, dimly illuminated from the nightstand lamp.  Friends, huhhe thought. I should have a coupleWith this, he began to smile slyly and reached for his cell phone. 

 

*       *      *  

The night sky hung over the suburban neighborhood, seeming as oppressive as the humid air without the moon or stars to illuminate the black expanse.  The neighborhood that sat outside the urban center of St. Paul’s was disinteresting and uneventful, save for one house at the end of a cul-de-sac.   

 

Matthew pulled up the driveway in a shiny, opaque black sports car.  Turning the keys, he noticed many cars already present, early for what was planned.  He took out his phone ad looked at the time.  Wellhe began to think, not that early.  He got out of the open topped car and began up the stairs.  When he reached the door, painted red and with subtle signs of wear and tear on it, he knocked with the special code. 

Knock, pause. Knock knock, pause.  Knock. 

 

The door unlocked before dressed in a black hoodie and jeans quickly ushered Matthew in before closing the door.  Throwing down the hoodie, it revealed to be one of the Circle members, Elijah. 

Elijah was a thin, lean man, who stood slightly above average.  Having always appeared thin and for his obsession with superheroes and the like, he was bullied in school for both his interests and appearance.  Now in his late 30s, he had studied philosophy and programming in college before being employed in Matthew’s company. 

“Hey boss.  Everyone else is gathered in the basement already, just waiting for you.” 

Matthew smiled and patted the man on the shoulder.   

“Good.  Let’s go down, we have some things to discuss.”  Elijah nodded and led Matt to the unfinished basement. 

Edited by Sancti Imperii Catholico (see edit history)
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Tuesday, December 4, Year of Our Lord 2018


The wooden stairs creaked on the way down to the unfinished basement as Matthew and Elijah climbed down the stairs.  The room was well lit, with several overhanging lights illuminating the lower level.  The stairs laid out from one corner and descended downwards, leading to an open and medium sized basement.  It was unfilled, save for a nice washing machine and dryer in front of Matthew and to the right of that in the other corner a TV next to a couch and some chairs.  Other people filled the couches and chairs as the TV was tuned to the popular cop show SBC: Minotia.


Matthew stepped onto the basement floor and walked towards the group, while the group greeted Matthew and Elijah as they made their way towards them.  One of the guys on the couch, Nathan, invited Matthew to sit next to him on what appeared to be the “lead” couch, with the senior members of the Circle of Matthew, Nathan, and another one, Elizabeth, sitting there.  Elijah sat on the floor in front of the TV while the others sat in the assorted chairs and turned towards Matthew as he sat down.


Matthew cleared his throat and begin as someone offered him a bottle of beer, which he took.  He began in a somewhat serious tone, “Thank you for coming, ladies and gents, just have a few updates to discuss.  Firstly, we have everything set to make Monsignor Kevin the new Bishop of St. Paul.  Obviously, this is huge for us, and we should have him christened in a week or so.”


Matthew took a swig of his beer and continued.  “In other news, the arms we ordered recently have arrived and are being stored in the complex.  The meeting with Cardinal Melku from Orioni is expected to happen in around two weeks, which is where the payment will happen.  Monsignor Kevin has got that.  That brings us up to having the secured the vote of around 30 cardinals, including the chamberlain of the college of cardinals, Cardinal Bertone.


That’s all I have to say.  Nathan?” The bald, older man to Matthew’s left shook his head.  “Elizabeth?” She repeated the action.  Matthew nodded, “Alright, sounds good.  Now be quiet- this is my favorite episode.”

  *       *        *
Saturday, December 8, Year of Our Lord 2018
Monsignor Kevin walked hurriedly on the crowded sidewalk in downtown Minotia, the noise of honking cars and talking people drowning any other noises out, as rush hour in big cities tended to do.  Rogers wore his clerical shirt, accompanied by his black pants and dress shoes, and carried with him a briefcase.  The heat and humidity made him and the other commuters sweat, however were partially helped by the clouds covering the sun.  


He hustled along, bumping into the shoulders of other commuters walking to their apartment or to the metro on their way home from work.  Coming to an intersection, he found his destination on the corner across the street, an apartment building many stories high that instead of just occupying the corner spread to either side, allowing for more apartments and rooms.  The pedestrian light illuminated green as Rogers approached the crosswalk, and he continued without missing a step as he took a left across the busy intersection.  Coming to the door of the building, he opened it and took a step inside.


The cool AC relieved the Monsignor of the oppressive heat and humidity.  The lobby he had just entered through was filled with some cushioned armchairs and couches to both his immediate left and right which surrounded coffee tables, while the desk and receptionist lay straight ahead.  Behind the desk, to the left and right, were hallways that went away from the lobby with doors set in them, which Rogers reasoned to be an assortment of apartments and custodial closets.  The desk itself was square in shape and being in the middle of the room, not against the wall, with the wall straight behind the desk being occupied by a twin set of elevators.  

Monsignor Kevin nodded to the receptionist while walking past her, reaching the elevator and pressing the up arrow button to the right of it.  He waited until the elevator opened, then entered it and pressed the “3” button.  He ascended, the elevator opened, and he exited.  Rogers walked down the hallway, the classic refreshing scent of hotels filled his nostrils as he took a left and walked away from the elevators down the hallway.  He stopped at a door near the middle, which read “305,” with a plaque next to it also reading, “Anthony Figorio, P.I.”  Rogers nodded his head to himself, and hesitating for a second, knocked on the door.

Edited by Sancti Imperii Catholico (see edit history)
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Wednesday, December 8, Year of Our Lord 2018


Rogers stood in front of the door, waiting anxiously for someone to open the door as his palms began to sweat.  He was nervous about to see his old colleague, one he had fallen out with many years ago during their time together in the Marines.


The door opened suddenly, a barely clad woman standing in the door frame with a cigarette stuck in her mouth.  The woman took no lengths in trying to cover herself up, even to people who could potentially walk past the room.  The scent of the room streamed past the woman and smelled heavily of tobacco and alcohol.  
The women eyed the Monsignor up and down before asking in a tone of annoyance, “Who the hell are you?”  Rogers got past his moment of surprise, and trying to avoid looking down, he looked into her bloodshot eyes and answered, “Monsignor Rogers.  I’m looking for Anthony.”  The woman rolled her eyes before turning her head over her shoulder and yelled, “TONY! Someone’s at the door for you.”  Rogers heard a man yell, “LET ‘EM IN!”  The woman backed out of the doorframe and let Rogers through.
Rogers walked through the door and took in the room.  The kitchen lay to his left, with some chairs and a counter separating it from the hallway.  The hallway led down to the living room, where Rogers could see a TV playing a movie and a couch facing the TV, where he saw the back of someone's head.  The hallway also had two closed doors in it.


Rogers walked down the hallway towards the couch, where the man stood up and looked behind him to say Rogers.  The man’s faced morphed from annoyed to boiling anger.  The man clenched his teeth and said, “Kevin.  Get the f*ck out of here. Now,” the last bit wavering with anger.  Rogers took a deep breath to calm himself before replying, “Anthony.  I have business.  This is nothing personal.”


Anthony approached Rogers bare-chested.  Rogers almost gagged from the overwhelming smell of cigarette smoke and brandy.  The man replied through gritted teeth, “I don’t give a sh-t, get the hell out of here!”  With this, he reached into his pants pocket.


Rogers calmly patted the briefcase, and said to Anthony, “I said business, Tony.  Something to pay rent with.  I am not here to talk about your choice in prostitutes.”  

Anthony’s face looked like it was as if the Monsignor had punched him square in the jaw.  Fuming but interested in what his former partner had to say, he slightly relaxed his jaw and took his hand out of his pants pocket to motion for Rogers to follow him.


They moved towards the kitchen and sat down at a small table just before the entrance towards the kitchen.  Still mad, Tony nodded his head to Rogers, indicating he should speak.  Rogers opened the briefcase, revealing the contents to be wads of cash.


“Tony, I feel I am trouble.  You obviously do not care, but I can pay you 50 grand and I think that’s all that matters.  There’s a man named Joseph Reed, his address and contact information lies in the briefcase.  He works for some secret group called Ordo Sacra Gloriosa. I have never met these people, but I’ve worked with them through this Joseph.  If I am to give you this money, you must find out who this group is.  I think you are the only one capable of this job, Tony.”


Tony looked at Rogers with one eyebrow cocked, slumping in his chair, “You think I will try and track some random secret organization that I have no clue about and expect success... for 50 grand.  75.”
Rogers fired back, “60.”
“70.  Or I’m not doing the job.”  Anthony read the Monsignor’s face and smiled slyly.  Rogers was not as happy, and stifly replied, “Fine. Nothing more.  The rest will come to you by next week.”  After finishing, Rogers stood up, leaving the briefcase on the table as he headed towards the door.
_________________________
[SECURE TRANSMISSION]
To: Amir Paulos, assistant to Cardinal Edris Melku of @Orioni
From: Matthew Fisher
Hello again,
Rogers has the payment.  Will meet at 0300, corner of Frederick and Ave Rd.  Make sure Melku is 100% up for this.  No turning back.
-Matt

 

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Thursday, 16 December, Year of Our Lord 2018 

Joseph walked down the two-lane road outside his suburban neighborhood.  The clouds shielded the hot sun, allowing the tall man to go on an afternoon walk without the oppressive heat.  He worked from home today, and so the roads and sidewalks were almost completely absent of cars or other people, save the lone stay-home mom on a jog or group of teens skipping school.  He cherished the empty space as one of the only places he had the time to think. 

Joseph stopped suddenly in the sidewalk.  An asphalt path to his right led into a small woodland downhill, until meeting a bridge and crossing a creek before turning left and losing sight from the main road.  It was nothing special, although Joseph had never gone down there before.  And something was pulling him.  He shrugged and decided to make the little detour. 

It turned out to be a nice secluded area.  Quiet, with the birds chirping and little other noise.  Thinking he had the whole space to himself, Joseph further relaxed.  Unbeknownst to him, Anthony had been trailing him since he left his house.  Surprised by his obliviousness throughout the journey, Anthony took Joseph’s trail through the woods as a gift of an easy beating.  No witnesses, no problems. 

Anthony waited until he took the left turn before sprinting towards Joseph.  Joseph apparently heard this, turning his head around in confusion, but it was too late.  Anthony lunged and tackled Joseph, quickly putting his hand over Joseph’s mouth and a gun cocked to his head. 

“Listen motherf*cker, I got a big job and you’re a part of it.” 

Josephs showed fear through his eyes.  He remained tense and simply nodded.  Anthony nodded quickly, still slightly out of breath, heavily breathing through his nose. 

“Good.  I need the info of a certain group.  Flowery group, if you know what I’m talking about.” 

Joseph’s eyes widened further then what they already were.  Anthony could just make out through his hand, “How do you know about that?” 

Anthony simply stared back at him.  “Let’s not delve into details kid.  Except about this group.  Spill the beans or I’m capping your ass.” 

*          *          * 

Monsignor Kevin Rogers was no longer a monsignor, but rather a bishop.  While the ordaining of a bishop was usually a celebration of a pious man taking the seat of what the apostles once held, the mass was arranged to be a rather quiet affair.  Cardinal Edris Melku, from @Orioni, had even made the trip to ordain him, or at least that was the story told to the public.  In reality, he had been brought over for an exchange, his support for money.   

The path for Rogers had been planned out before the Ordo Sacra Gloriosa had even met him.  The order needed a man willing to infiltrate Church ranks.  Their goal was to get rid of papal authority, through electing a man sympathetic to their cause or through some other method.  They found the man they needed in a young and upcoming priest in the city of St. Paul.  A more liberal man, he had been heard by some to denounce the papal authority in the government.  The order found the man- now a monsignor- and contacted him.  The order had then used him to secure endorsements, funds, and other supplies necessary for the task.  While the inner circle was small, the whole Ordo Sacra Gloriosa numbered some thousand, and so used other connections in other places to do the same.  They had gotten 4 to the office of bishop, and dozens of others hastily ordained to the priesthood. 

Bishop Rogers now stood by the front door of the rectory where it all began.  He had come back to pack the few belonging that remained to finally head to the home where he would stay.  The local church members had organized a barbeque in the backyard to celebrate his time here, and with the guests all gone hours later, Rogers began to leave.   

The other priest that had stayed with him and would become the pastor approached him to give one last goodbye.  Kissing him on each cheek and hugging him, he bade farewell and good luck. 

“Good luck out there Kevin.  May God bless you.” 

Rogers nodded solemnly, “And as to you.”  Turning to the door, Rogers opened the screen door and stepped outside.  He walked down to the driveway, where a car was waiting for him.  When he reached the car, he looked over his shoulder and yelled over to the other priest, who still stood by the screen door. 

“Leo, do not forget Judas and the wolves.  Many times they are very close to you.  Stay on guard.” 

Before Father Leo could reflect on what Rogers had said, Rogers had got in the car and drove off. 

 

Edited by Sancti Imperii Catholico (see edit history)
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Joseph lay there on the ground, unmoving.  Anthony grimaced and pushed the barrel harder into Joseph’s temple. 

“Listen, bud.  I can sit here all da-” 

He was cut off by Joseph’s elbow, which he had wriggled out of under Tony’s body.  The sharp jab to the temple made Tony momentarily flinch back, loosening his grip on Joseph, allowing Joseph to punch Tony and throw him off.  Tony fell onto his back, and Joseph jumped on top of him, knocking the gun out of his hand before pummeling him with his fists.  After some punches, Joseph wrapped his hands around Tony’s sweaty and slick throat and growled. 

“I don’t care who you are or why your after me, but how do you know about the order?” 

Tony racked his brain for things to say.  His heart was racing as he felt a sharp pain in his nose and forehead, blocking his focus.  He sputtered for air, trying to answer. 

“I w-w-w-as hir-r-red,” was all he was able to sputter out.  Joseph nodded, indicating him to go on, loosening his grip slightly.  Tony sputtered a bit less and was able to talk more clearly.  “By a m-man who wanted to k-know about your group.” 

Joseph nodded slowly, before releasing Tony, getting up, and grabbing the handgun that had been knocked a few feet away.  Tony lay on the asphalt path, breathing heavily.  Joseph walked back over and helped him up, the gun pointed towards Tony.  Joseph thought for a moment longer before saying, 

“Who hired you.” 

Anthony, dusting himself off and without a man on top of him, tried to play slick. 

“Well, information costs, huh?” 

Joseph cocked the gun and didn’t look impressed.  Tony feigned fear, swallowing obviously as if he had a large lump in his throat.  He hooked his collar with one finger, and moving his hand to seemingly scratch his head, he instead quickly punched Joseph in the gut and sprinted off into the woods.  Joseph bent over, but swiftly stood back up and, aiming the gun, squeezed the trigger. 

*Tink* *Tink* 

Nothing came out of the gun.  Joseph lowered the gun as he saw Tony run further away through the thicket, disappearing out the other side.  Joseph sighed, pocketing the gun so as to not leave it lying around, and turned around where something got his eye.  A wallet, not Joseph’s, lay on the ground where the scuffle had originally begun.   Joseph picked it up and flipped through it, seeing, among other things, a credit card, several IDs (some obviously fake), and cash.  Just as Joseph was about to close it and pocket the money, a card hidden behind some credit cards caught his eye.  He pulled it out and smiled as he realized it was a business card. 

                                                                                                 *       *       * 

Friday, The Eve of the Birth of the Christ Jesus, Year of Our Lord 2018 

Matthew never really liked Christmastime, in the country of Salvia, at least.  He had enjoyed it with his family out of country on the few occasions they went vacationing and had liked the Christmas songs that had played on the radio and the general carefree atmosphere.  In Salvia, however, it was one of the most serious times of year, excluding Lent.  Very few Christmas pop songs were played, and while consumerism had still wriggled itself into the country through the countless signs and commercials advertising sales on gifts, the greater part of the society had remained stoic and reverent to the extreme. 

Nevertheless, Matthew had business to attend to in the city of Trinity.  The city was just north of the capital Deopolis, and as such retained much of the religious qualities found in the capital of Salvian Catholicism.  However, it tended to be more liberal than the other provinces and became a hotbed of controversy within the Church elite for the clergy’s seemingly liberal traditions and preachings, like the parishes in St. Paul’s down south and other places outside Salvia.  Matthew used these liberal clergy members, especially the bishops and other senior clergy members, to influence cardinals in their own ideas.   With the election of a new pope upcoming, the Ordo Sacra Gloriosa planned to turn these cardinals, through bribes or manipulation, to vote for Bishop Rogers for pope.  As Matthew thought over this plan through his head for what was probably the billionth time, he played it out the same way.  Rogers would, through direct policy or simple influence, remove the Church from Salvia, and after that, Matthew could even take down the institution he saw as corrupt and greedy. 

But first, more allies were needed.  And they could be found in Trinity. 

 
 

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Monday, 20 December, Year of Our Lord 2018 

The squad of black-suited individuals walked through the same lobby in the same building as Rogers had done not even two weeks before.  They each gave a curt nod as they walked pass the receptionist to the elevator before piling in.  One hit the button marked “3,” and the elevator doors closed as the elevator began to ascend. 

The doors opened and the squad walked out, nonchalantly walking down the hallway as if they were only just walking back to their apartment.  They stopped at a door marked “305”- the same number on the business card.  One of them dropped a duffel bag, rummaging through it and passing out gear- masks, weapons and tactical grenades.  None of this would be used if everything went according to plan.  But plans rarely work out. 

When they had finished putting their masks on and prepping their weapons, the apparent captain of the squad nodded to each one of them, then suddenly kicked the door down.  Two split left to clear the kitchen while the other three walked down the hallway towards the living room, which was dark save for the TV which was on.  The three slowly walked down, the two doors set in the hallway closed and locked.  They reached the living room, one clearing left and one clearing right.  The third walked over to the couch, where he found Tony lying on the couch, sleeping and with an empty beer can in his hand.  On a coffee table in front of the couch were documents, sprawled out in an unorganized fashion.   

The group leader, Thomas, took off his mask, and the rest of the squad did the same as the two men from the kitchen walked into the living room.  As the two drugged Tony and bounded him, Thomas looked at the documents.  Many of them seemed like printed out emails, letters, or other documents, although some were profiles on some members of the Ordo.  Thomas frowned at how much info seemed to be leaked. 

“Grab those documents, we’ll burn them later.” 

The other two men nodded, and the squad began packing up. The gear was stowed back to where it was before, with the documents stashed with them.  Tony was stuffed into a large suitcase that they had brought in with them.  They left 5 minutes later out of the backdoor. 

____________ 

Saturday, The Day of the Birth of Our Messiah, Jesus Christ, Year of Our Lord 2018 

Tony woke up from his unconscious stupor, his body aching and in pain.  He had lost count how many days he’s been in the basement.  His face was bloodied, bruised, and bloodied from the beatings. 

“Come on, Tony.  Do just tell.” 

The pain at first was unbearable, but he had gotten used to it.  He was sure that they’d broken a good number of bones in his body.  he knew it was bad when thoughts became hard to muster. 

“Toooony.”  The woman seemed to croon.  “Tell and you won’t be in trouble.”  It sounded like his mother.  Why was that? 

Something stopped him from telling.  Not the excruciating pain or brain damage.  He despised Kevin.  What was his business going around telling people what to do or not do when he’s got his own problems, his own hellish “sins?”  He was part of this plot in the first place. 

The woman made an exaggerated pouting face.  “Oh, come on Tony, you know you want to tell me your secret.  Who told you those naughty things? You don’t want to get in trouble, do you?” 

Tony struggled to lift his head up.  His mother was asking a simple question, all he had to do was answer the truth.  No punishment.  But something stopped him.  He didn’t know what.  They always hated each other.  Or... did they? 

Tony, his eyes empty and blank, grunted in response.  The woman frowned.  “Well, no cookie for you.”  Then it went black. 

_______ 

“Stop.”  The tattooed woman stopped beating Tony.  The bat was stained red. 

Matthew was standing in the dark corner, examining Tony from a distance like he was examining a corpse at a crime scene.  The woman walked over to him and shrugging her shoulders.  Matthew looked to the man standing next to him. 

“We found him with documents about us.  Profiles on us even, including one on you.” 

Kevin looked away from Tony and stared at Matt.  He held back his emotions screaming at him to do something.  “Why do you tell me this?” he asked, nonchalantly. 

Matt shrugged.  “Just to let you know.”  Kevin simply nodded in affirmation and replied briefly. 

“I think we can begin our moves for the smoke.”   

Matt was surprised.  He cocked one eyebrow, “You sure?  Saulius is popular.  We do not have a guaranteed majority.”  

Kevin simply nodded.  “Cardinal John is also popular, especially with the more liberal cardinals overseas in Europa.  Others we have bought off.”  He looked away from Matt and back at Tony.  “Others could simply miss the vote.” 

_______ 

The morning after. 

Father Leo walked out to his mailbox to collect the daily mail.  As the new pastor, he was incredibly busy, but with it being the day after Christmas church offices were closed and there was only one daily mass, which the other priest offered to preside over.  He was left to enjoy his Sunday, something rarely enjoyed by the clergy in Salvia. 

He walked down the asphalt driveway and opened the mailbox.  He rifled through it, and seeing the usual package almost stopped.  But a small, handwritten note taped to the corner of a magazine caught his eye.  He ripped it off the magazine and read it.  He frowned confusingly. 

Judas seeks the lambs. 

He wears a red flower. 

His wolves wear white. 

Seek them. 

 

 

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Thursday, 3 January, Year of Our Lord 2019 

St. Leo's Cathedral, Deopolis 

Inner Chambers of the Palace 

Cardinal Patrick Agrilo walked through the connection of rooms that was the Inner Chambers. These rooms, separated from the public eye, served as the private cogs of the machine that was the Salvian Catholic Church.  All doctrines, bulls, traditions, and everything else originated or passed through these sections of rooms and offices.  The rooms, while certainly large by conventional standards, were not nearly as large as those inside the Cathedral.  Separated by the St. Benelian Courtyard, the Papal Palace connected to the more famous Leotine Chapel through two long hallways, wrapping around the courtyard and forming a bell-shape. 

 

The hallways and rooms of the structure, emulating that of the Cathedral itself displayed the opulence of the Church.  Decorated with Renaissance era frescos and paintings, the ornate design of the building took breaths away.  The colorful and intricate illustrations and images breathed an air of life into the building. 

 

Exiting his office, he quickened to a brisk pace as he sought for what he was looking for. Agrilo was the Administrator Curiae of Deopolis, meaning that he was the overseer and conductor of almost all of the administrative duties in the whole Church.  In his 50s, he was rather young to be a cardinal, but through clever plays by the Ordo he had successfully be instituted by the previous pope.  Soon after, that pope conveniently retired amid even more convenient scandal, opening up the papacy once more.  In this office of power, Agrilo was able to stall and delay elections, as the Ordo worked more young men to the upper echelons of the clergy through him.  He loved the power and concluded that he would be the one chosen to be the new pope by the Ordo.  But his dreams were rudely interrupted by a lowly priest from St. Paul’s. 

While Kevin was never a serious (or at least favored) candidate for the papacy among the Ordo, his ideas were valued by the group.  Patrick furrowed his brows at the thought. Rogers was the one who moved the focus away from Agrilo and towards an older cardinal, John Roberts, an older man, more entrenched in the Church’s power structure.  But he of course was not at the top just yet.  And without a pope, the men at the top were part of the Supreme Cardinal Assembly, the Magnissimum Comitium Cardinalicium.  Those were the only people Agrilo needed to move the light back onto him. 

              *               *               * 

 

Rogers walked down the stairs into the unfinished basement.  Peering into a corner, he saw Tony lying in the makeshift cell, dehydrated, beaten, and only half-conscious.  He walked over to him, keys jangling in his hand.  Reaching the cell door, he unlocked it, picking Tony up over his shoulders.  Tony only grunted softly.  Rogers walked back up the stairs quietly and out the front door, the humid air blanketing Rogers in the soft night.  He lay Tony in the back seat of his car before getting in the front and then driving off. 

Matt lay asleep upstairs in his bedroom, none the wiser. 

Later that morning... 

Matt started when he heard a very loud knock on his front door, accidentally cutting himself with his razor in the process.  Cursing, he quickly wrapped a towel around his waist and hurried downstairs.  Peering through the peephole, he saw Rogers standing in front of his door, arms crossed and foot tapping.  Matt opened the door hurriedly. 

“Come on in, Kevin.”  Kevin nodded in affirmation before walking in and turning towards Matt.  “I need to speak to Tony.”  Matt closed the door and looked back at Kevin.  “Alright, go ahead.  I’ll be down in a sec.”  Kevin walked downstairs while Matt hurried up, quickly finishing his shave and changing into some clothes.   

He left his bedroom and came to the top of the stairs, seeing Kevin at the bottom with a furious look on his face.  Matt got an unsettling feeling in his gut. 

“What’s up?” he inquired.  Kevin, lips pursed, motioned his head towards the basement stairwell.  “Tony’s gone.”  Matt’s eyes widened, hurrying past Kevin as he ran down both flights of stairs.  Reaching the basement, he saw the empty cell and screamed in rage. 

 

*               *               * 

 

Friday, 4 January, Year of Our Lord 2019 

St. Paul’s, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Parish 

Parish Rectory 

Father Leo had all forgotten about the note, until he saw another one in the mail in a stack the other priest had gotten from the mailbox.  He was becoming worried at this point. 

Adam saved a lamb 

Millions more remain in danger 

Seek Judas. 

The Biblical references made it, if more cryptic, even more annoying.  He was about to trash the note and disregard the entire matter before seeing a manila folder, with the word Judas scribbled on it in black pen.  Leo opened the folder and took its contents out of the folder.  On it were profiles of several men he didn’t know.  Their names, occupations, and IDs were all on it.  None of them looked familiar, except one.  Joseph.  He used to be a regular attender, that he knew.  Was he supposed to go for him first?  What was he even supposed to do?  He had no clue.  Did God? 

Edited by Salvia (see edit history)
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Thursday, 3 January, Year of Our Lord 2019  

St. Leo's Cathedral, Deopolis  

Inner Chambers of the Palace 

Agrilo found what he was looking for outside the office of some clerk.  A raised, closed wooden box with an open slit and a little plaque above it that read “Letters.”  Agrilo slid the letter into the box and then turned away, smiling. 

________________ 

The pile of letters was dropped off onto Cardinal D’Angelo’s desk.  Sitting down, he took a letter opener and picked up the first letter on his desk.  He read the envelope, and seeing it was from a fellow cardinal, opened it quickly.  Several papers were in the envelope one of which had the words “Read first” written on it.  He unfolded it and read, 

 

Dearest brothers of the Magnissimum Comitium Cardinalicium,  

 

It has come to my most troubling attention as Adminstrator Curiae that a recently appointed bishop under the name of Kevin Rogers, who was accepted by the most holy Assembly, has committed egregious & terrible acts against God and his Church.  His sins (of which the appropriate documents are accompanying this letter) include those of fornication, sodomy, and treason against the Church. He has sought to undermine the authority of the Comitium as well as other senior members of the clergy. 

Make no mistake, he is a great enemy of God and the Church.  He is a Satanist and seeks the destruction of the flock... 

D’Angelo read no more.  It was a long letter, but the cardinal had read all that he needed.  He took a long look at the several documents that accompanied the letter. It contained an assortment of “evidence” against Rogers.  The first document contained what seemed to be a report of some sorts of an organization called the Ordo Sacra Gloriosa.  It contained pictures and information on many of its members, including apparent proof of collaboration between the group and Rogers- hacked emails, stolen mail, and cell phone conversations.  D’Angelo pondered how Agrilo had gotten this information.  As the Administrator Curiae, he certainly had a lot of outreach.  He shook off the thought, deeming it unimportant.  What was important was to get this information to the Comitium.  

 *          *         * 

“We’ll just have to ignore him- move on with the elections.” 

“We can’t do that, he knows too much now.  He’ll snitch- if not to whoever hired him, certainly to someone in authority in the Church.”  

Matt pondered this last statement.  Kevin was correct, he knew that.  But what could they do?  There were no security cameras in the house- the neighborhood was safe enough to the point that Elijah felt comfortable without a security service, Matt figured. Suddenly, an idea came to him.  Matt rushed downstairs without a word, a slightly puzzled Rogers following.   

Matt walked over to the cage, and bending over the lock examined it.  He smiled and chuckled to himself.  He turned over his shoulder to Rogers. 

“No signs of tampering.  Someone from the inside did this.”  He turned back around and shook his head, still chuckling. 

*          *         * 

Monday, 7 January, Year of Our Lord 2019 

Pacar Office Building, St. Paul’s 

Front Desk 

Father Leo pushed open the glass doors and walked to the front desk that stood in front of him.  He had driven some half an hour to the place where Joseph worked, where, from his research, he had concluded he was part of the upper echelon of the regional hierachy.  

The secretary at the front desk looked up from her computer to look at Leo before smiling politely and looking back down.  Brushing the hair out of her face she finished what she was typing and focused on Leo. 

“Good afternoon, how may I help you?”  Leo approached the desk, leaning on the raised counter and saying “You wouldn’t happen to know where uh,” he glanced down at his other hand, “Joseph Reed is?”  The secretary politely smiled once more before replying, “He’s vacationing in Trinity right now. Would you like me to let him know you asked for him?” 

Leo furrowed his eyebrows before shaking his head.  “No, thank you.”  He turned around and walked out the door.  The secretary was confused for a moment before forgetting about the matter and returning to her work. 

Edited by Salvia (see edit history)
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Friday, 11 January, Year of Our Lord 2019

Ordo House, Trinity

Matt sat by the kitchen island, fingers tapping on his laptop.  He was still at Elijah’s house, securing the last of the payments between clergymen and other people in positions of power to secure Cardinal Roberts the papacy.  Once there, the Church would be there's. 

He heard a knock on the door.  It didn’t sound friendly- not the knock of a neighbor or solicitor, but rather someone that demanded attention.  Matt slowly scooted the stool he was sitting on backwards and put his feet on the floor.  He walked to the front door and looked through the peephole.  Two imposing figures stood outside, dressed in a white uniform shirt and dark blue pants.  The badges on their chest and patches on their shoulders revealed who they were, as well as the entourage of vehicles and officers that stood outside: the Papal Police.  Matt swallowed nervously.  The voice muffled through the door, he heard one of the officers say, “Papal police, open the door right now.”  Matt put his back on the door, heart pounding.  He knew Tony would snitch- he had already bribed a police officer that came earlier to keep quiet.  But the Papal Police?  There was no way Tony could’ve gotten them to come here.  This wasn’t even a religious matter, as far as they were concerned. 

“Papal police, open this door right now!”  The voice sounded more irritated this time as if he knew that they’d have to breach the house anyways.  Matt’s heart continued to thud in his chest, so loud he thought they could hear it on the other side of the door.  He crept as quietly as he could towards his laptop and grabbed it before making his way to the back door.  Suddenly he heard the front door smash open and without even turning to check he booked it out the back door. 

Matt heard shouts and footsteps throughout the house as he swung open the door and sprinted through the backyard.  He tossed his laptop over the fence and began to climb it when he suddenly felt two strong hands on his back grab him and throw him on the ground back first.  Matt couldn’t even catch a glance at the man who had grabbed him before he was flipped over and handcuffed, the dirt rubbing onto his cheek as the grass went into his ear.  The officer picked him up off the ground before forcibly slamming his feet into the ground, a stab of pain travelling through the arch of his foot to his calves.  The officer forcefully escorted him through the backyard to the front, where he was able to see several police officers search the house and bring out Elijah and another member of the Circle.  The cluster of vehicles and officers had by now attracted several people to watch, some of who were just coming home from work.  The setting sun didn’t let Matt see the faces of the officers, but a passing cloud stopped it long enough for Matt to see a face he recognized: Cardinal Agrillo.  Matt caught his eye.   Agrillo grinned smugly before the sun came out again, but Matt could still see Agrillo’s figure walk towards the police car he was being led towards. 

An officer opened the door and the one leading Matt forced him into the seat, gripping his shoulder and pushing down hard.  Matt sat there for a few moments before Agrillo appeared, his forehead against the top of car and his right arm slung over the door, his smug grim still on his face. 

“Matthew Fisher, you’re under arrest for conspiracy against the Church.  Do you have anything to say for yourself?” 

Matt spat on Patrick’s shoe.  “Traitor,” he spat out contemptuously. 

Patrick stood up and shrugged, wiping his shoe off on Matt’s pants leg.  “Just looking out for myself, Matt.” He locked eyes with Matt one more time, Matt’s eyes smoldering with anger and his face twitching, showing signs of rage.  Agrillo walked away. 

 

St. Paul's Cathedral Rectory

Bishop Rogers sat on the couch watching TV when he suddenly heard a commanding knock on his door.  He absent mindedly patted his cat who was sitting next to him before standing up, stretching, and walking towards the door.  He opened it, expecting a churchgoer asking for his prayers or a solicitor, but was surprised when he saw two officers from the Papal Police. 

“What brings yo-” 

He was interrupted by the officers grabbing him, forcing him outside and slamming him against the brick wall next to the door.  His head smashed into the brick wall, the hit causing him to momentarily lose his sense as lights danced around his eyes.  His hands were forced behind his back as he was handcuffed, then forcibly led to the police car in the parking lot.  He heard a muffled voice began to speak, “Bishop Kevin Rogers, you are under arrest for conspiracy and treason against the Church, heretical actions...” 

He stopped listening after the officer said that, focusing instead on staying on his feet and not passing out. 

 

Inner Chambers of the Palace

Cardinal D’Angelo’s office phone rang.  Expecting the call, he picked it up before the first ring was even complete. 

“Brother, the deed is done.   Rogers and Fisher have been arrested.  We are investigating the whereabouts of the rest of the members and will arrest them as soon as we can.” 

D’Angelo shook with excitement.  “Excellent work Agrillo!  The enemies of God have been stopped.  The Church has been saved by your hands.” 

Although D’Angelo couldn’t see it, Agrillo was grinning ear to ear, his plan working out perfectly. 

“You are too kind, Mark.  I will be back in Deopolis shortly with Rogers and Fisher for questioning.”  Agrillo hung up then.  D’Angelo put the phone back into the receiver before making the Sign of the Cross joyously. 

 

St. Paul’s, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Parish 

Parish Rectory

Father Leo was eating his dinner with the other parish priest at the kitchen counter, the TV on in the other room facing towards the kitchen, allowing both to watch the news as they ate.  Leo was taken aback when he heard Roger’s name on the television, and quickly focused on the newscaster.   

“... and Matthew Fisher have both been taken into custody by the Papal Police on charges of conspiracy.  The operation was led by Cardinal and Administrator Curiae Patrick Agrillo, who after acquiring sufficient evidence was given the order from the Magnissimum Comitium Cardinalicium to enact the arrest of these two individuals.” 

Leo was taken aback.  He had thought that name sounded familiar.  In fact, both did.  He got out of his seat and rushed into the rectory office, opening his desk drawer to find the documents he was looking for.  He found both profiles- one on Matthew, the other on Cardinal Agrillo.  He figured that he could never accuse a cardinal of the suggested crimes, but had instead sought Fisher.  But maybe now was the time to come forward about Cardinal Agrillo. 

Edited by Sancti Imperii Catholico (see edit history)
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Thursday, 14 February, Year of Our Lord 2019 

Office of Clerical Abuses, Inner Chambers of the Papal Palace 

Hearing Room 

 

The Office of Clerical Abuses took up around a quarter of the Inner Chambers.  A majority of the Office were offices of those in its employment. However, there stood one solitary courtroom on the eastern part of the palace, a hallway running parallel to the wall on the other side of the courtroom.  

 

The courtroom itself was a long rectangle that shot out perpendicular from the wall, the large double doors acting as the entrance into the room sitting on the western, shorter side of the room.  The judge’s bench sat opposite of the doors with the witness stand conjoined with it to its right. The jury box sat to the judge’s left, coming out of the other wall. The windows above the box stretched across the entire wall, allowing light to stream into the courtroom.  Facing the judge’s bench in the front rows behind pew screens were the counseling tables, and behind that was the gallery, where those who wish to observe the hearing sat.  

 

Cardinal D’Angelo sat next to his fellow Magnissimum Comitium Cardinalicium members in the jury box, a mix of anger and betrayal on his face.  The laugh lines usually present on the cardinal’s tan face were not as visible, the emphasis instead being on his frown lines above his brows. His spectacles sat tightly on his face as he observed Agrillo and Rogers, the red cap on his head hiding most of his gray hair.  His thin lips curved slightly downwards as he sat in the front row of the jury box.

 

Agrillo sat in the front row of the hearing room behind the left pew screen, apprehensively optimistic.  His gray hair was brushed back, revealing the many frown lines he had on his forehead. His glasses rested on his large, chubby nose, while his lips seemed slightly crooked as they arched downwards. It had taken around a month to organize everything together, as the Church needed the approval of the state to have a hearing and gather more evidence.  He had made sure that everything was taken care of- everything on his involvement in the Ordo was covered up and Tony or anybody who had dirt on him shouldn’t, wouldn’t come.  Any member of the Ordo that testified he was a part of it would be swiftly disregarded.  Everything seemed to be in place. And if everything was in place at the time of the sentencing, he’d be rewarded greatly. 

 

Rogers sat next to Matt and the defense attorney in the front row of the hearing room behind the right pew screen.  12 other Ordo members sat in the pews behind them.  They were all part of the defense being prosecuted by Agrillo for “heretical and subversive activities against the Church.”   

 

Matt sat with chin in his hand and his arm resting on the armchair, brooding.  His face was slightly bruised from his captivity and he had a bandage wrapped around one of his hands.  His eyes showed his hatred as he gazed into the air. 

 

The bishop to his right was in a better condition.  While he had sustained a concussion from his arrest, he had been treated very well for a prisoner.  He sat upright in his chair, his left hand grabbing his right wrist as he rested them on his stomach.  His gaze was caught by the large crucifix that was behind the raised judge’s bench as he thought of his course of action. Both the one he had already taken and the one he would take in the future.   

 

Matt’s eyes were caught by movement to his right.  Rogers shifted his gaze behind him and focused on the doors, where a priest had entered the courtroom silently.  The hearing had not yet started and so nobody paid much attention to what was just another member of the clergy interested in the case.  However, as Matt shifted his head to look at Rogers, he saw something on the man’s face. This person was more important than just another observer.  As the man sat down and Rogers moved his head back down, he caught Matt’s inquisitive gaze and just simply shook his head. Matt couldn’t help but catch a slight smile on Roger’s face. 

 

Father Leo walked into the courtroom and sat down near the middle of the right aisle closer to the front.  He had already submitted his evidence for review and was asked to attend the hearings in order to help the jury properly sort the whole situation out.  He felt calm- he had one job, and he would complete it. 

The clock struck noon, the time the hearings were set to begin.  Everyone rose as the judge* walked in and sat back down when he was seated.  He put on a pair of spectacles before reading out loud from a paper he had carried in. 

 

“The trial for case Ecclesiate** vs. Rogers, in conjunction with cases Ecclesiate vs. Fisher and Ecclesiate vs. Ordo is set to begin shortly.  I will allow a few minutes for both sides to prepare their opening remarks before we begin.” 

 

The respective attorneys began shuffling papers around in preparation for the beginning of the trial as the rest of the courtroom sat expectantly. 

 

*              *            *

Thursday, 30 September, Year of Our Lord 2019 

Office of Clerical Abuses, Inner Chambers of the Papal Palace 

Hearing Room 

 

An ecclesiastical trial held in the Office of Clerical Abuses is, to the surprise of even its own clergy, is informal.  The attorneys, who are members of the clergy themselves, shout, yell, and interrupt their opponent without regulation from the judge.  References to Scripture or doctrine are common. Witnesses are asked questions by both attorneys at the same time while the jury yells out questions of their own.  It’s a far cry from the legal system of Salvia or any other nation in the world. 

 

For the last seven months Rogers and the Ordo have been on trial.  The evidence and witnesses are presented in the chronological order they are shown to the judge, meaning the one important witness, Father Leo, would be last.  The evidence that was presented was, of course, damning. D’Angelo and his fellow cardinals, some 20 members of the Comitium, were only further swayed by the evidence Agrillo presented, shouting frequently curses to the guilty.  Matt and the Ordo members only sat there awkwardly, knowing they will be sentenced to prison for very possibly the rest of their lives.

 

It was the final day of the trial.  All business was wrapped up, the prosecution and jury coming in fully expecting this to be sentencing day. 

 

The clock struck noon.  The judge walked in as the courtroom rose and sat down on the judge’s bench, the sounds of wood scraping on the floor accompanying it as the rest of the courtroom sat down.  D’Angelo eyed Rogers with contempt, while Agrillo did so with triumph.   

The judge took a deep breath before projecting, 

“Part 74 for case Ecclesiate vs. Rogers, in conjunction with cases Ecclesiate vs. Fisher and Ecclesiate vs. Ordo is set to begin shortly.  I ask the last witness of this hearing to the stand, Father Leo Alessi to the witness stand.” 

 

 

Agrillo was taken aback.  He had apparently missed this last witness.  It was no matter. There was nothing he could say that could take away his victory.  The defense attorney, who had already been prepped on Father Leo’s role by Rogers, stood up confidently.  He walked over to the right of the witness stand and judge’s bench and turned on the projector, which was set up to a powerpoint showing the documents Leo had supplied to the case.  The judge leaned forward to take a look. 

 

“Your eminence, the evidence brought before these esteemed members of the Comitium shows without a doubt that Cardinal Agrillo is in cahoots with these Ordo memb-” 

 

Agrillo scoffed loudly and interjected, 

 

"Nothing but an attempt on my reputation.  You know you’ve lost so you’re trying to bring me down.” 

 

 

The jury shouted in support. The defendant yelled over them in dismay, 

 

“These documents clearly showed direct communication with the Ordo and consenting cardinals.  This conspiracy goes beyond Bishop Rogers and his companions and directly into the Church!” 

 

 

The jury was silenced by this outburst, then began murmuring among themselves.  The defendant continued. 

 

“As demonstrated in these files, Cardinal Agrillo is shown to have met with Ordo members and to have communicated them since their inception in 2013.  In fact, His Eminence was the first key member of the clergy to be recruited by the Ordo; that is before Bishop Rogers or any other higher member of the clergy.  Agrillo used his position as Administrator Curiae to delay the election of the pope, elect members of the lower levels of the clergy, such as Bishop Rogers, to higher positions, and gain support from other cardinals and bishops.” 

 

Cardinal D’Angelo, in the front of the jury box, turned to his fellow cardinals before looking at the defendant with a look of disbelief,  

 

“That’s just preposterous.  Patrick was the one who busted this whole deal.  Plus, what about this evidence is conclusive? They could’ve been easily been faked.  And those images could’ve been edited.” 

 

The defendant shook his head and continued, 

 

“The dates that these pictures were taken match days that Cardinal Agrillo was seen missing from his post in Deopolis.  Now, I’m sure His Eminence would say that he had business to attend to in these locations, but why were you seen with these people?” 

 

Agrillo shook his head in disbelief and replied, 

 

“As Cardinal D’Angelo said, they were simply edited to frame me.”  He turned to the judge and continued, “Sir, I ask you dismiss this motion as pure fantasy and allow the sentencing of these enemies of the Church.” 

 

The judge waved him off.  “No, I want to see where this is going.  Unless you are in fact guilty and are just trying to move on?” 

 

Agrillo huffed and stopped talking.  The defendant resumed, 

 

“If these images are, in fact, edited, then why do they perfectly align your schedule and location?  For example, this one,” the defendant pointed to an image on the projector, “is dated as Christmas Eve in the city of Trinity, pictured next to Mr. Fisher.  Almost all of these pictures were taken by security cameras. What reason would someone like Bishop Rogers or Father Alessi have to take an image from a random time in a random place with one of my clients and edit you in?  They couldn’t do it while imprisoned and had no contact with the outside world.” The defense attorney turned towards the priest on the witness stand. “Now, Father Alessi, I just have a few questions for you, for the sake of the doubtful.  How did you obtain these documents?” 

 

Father Alessi leaned forward and projected for everyone to hear.  

 

 “They were mailed to me by Bishop Rogers.” 

 

The defense attorney nodded and continued, “And, Father Alessi, what did these files contain?” 

 

“There were several ‘profiles’ of Ordo members, including Mr. Fisher and Cardinal Agrillo among others.  Each profile contained several pages, an assortment of addresses, I.D.s, other information, and other candid pictures.” 

 

“And why do you suppose Bishop Rogers sent you this information?” 

 

Leo shrugged.  “I’m guessing he wanted to bring down the Ordo and the corrupt members of the clergy.” 

 

The defendant turned around to Rogers, eyebrows raised.  “Was this your intention, Bishop Rogers?” Rogers simply nodded.  Agrillo stood up and spat out a response, 

 

“Absolutely preposterous!”  He turned to the cardinals of the jury and continued incredulously, “You are to believe this man, having already confessed and been proven to be in direct contact with heretics committing one of the worst crimes in the Church?” 

 

Rogers suddenly became passionate and stood up, the screech of the chair against the floorboards drowning out his first words from how sudden he stood up. 

 

“You are just as guilty as I in this you greedy son of a b*tch!” 

 

Some members of the jury began shouting before D’Angelo shouted over all of them. 

 

“You demon!  Associating a holy man with heretics such as yourself!” 

 

Rogers shot back as the courtroom exploded into chaos, “Shut up you-” The sound of the judge’s gavel slamming into his desk cut off Rogers and silenced the courtroom. 

 

“Alright, alright!  That concludes our hearing.  I ask the jury to convene outside and sentence the defendants.” 

 

D’Angelo eyed Agrillo with concern as he left the room behind the rest of the cardinals.  Agrillo just sat there, trying to hide his look of apprehension. He knew for certain that Rogers and the rest of the Ordo would be going down.  But would he sink with them?


-----------------------

Near the end guys, hang in there.

*: The judge that presides over a case held by the Office of Clerical Abuses is almost always a lay Salvian Catholic well versed in theology and canon and national law.  They are appointed by the Salvian executive and serve for life.

**: The title for the Salvian Church in church cases is "Ecclesiate" 

Edited by Sancti Imperii Catholico (see edit history)
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Recap: The goal of the Ordo Gloriosa, a secular secret society in Salvia, is to win the seat of the papacy by having one of their own elected.  While the group’s “official” goal is to rid Salvia of religious influences and bring it in line with the wurld’s other democracies, there are many in this group that have their own goals.  One of these people, Cardinal Patrick Agrillo, a high official in the Church, wishes to secure his spot as pope for power, which is at odds with the Ordo’s plan.  Bishop Kevin Rogers was one of the higher members of the Ordo, originally sharing their goal but now regrets his decisions and seeks to bring it down.  Matthew Brown, among others, have stayed true to the original goal. The Ordo have been securing votes for the papacy and delaying the vote through bribes, threats, and “other” means.  Rogers, trying to bring down the Ordo, sought former and current colleagues to bring the Ordo to justice.  Agrillo, who would not secure the papacy under the Ordo’s plan, ratted out the group including Rogers, seemingly leaving a clean trail that couldn’t be traced back to him.  Father Leo, however, had evidence gathered by Rogers that seemingly proved Agrillo guilty. We return once more to the hearing room...

_____

 

Not even 15 minutes had passed before the cardinals had shuffled back into the jury box, the room stuffed full with tension.  All knew the sentencing to be delivered by the jury; the tension was more due to the events that had occurred before. The actions of the judge were dubious to say the least- allowing a totally irrelevant argument take place would certainly warrant a punishment from Agrillo.  

 

The creaking of the wooden benches as the cardinals sat down echoed out amongst the deafening silence.  The judge, after clearing his throat, spoke up in an almost sarcastic tone.

 

“Have these Eminences reached a common sentence?”

 

D’Angelo stood up and exhaled indignantly.  “We have, your honor.” An unnecessary pause, for everybody knew what words would come out next, “We find these most horrid individuals guilty of the highest crimes of the Church, those of heresy and conspiracy, and hereby submit a request to the Successor of Peter the Apostle the formal excommunication of these individuals.”

 

The tension was in no way eased by the delivering of the sentencing.  The judge leaning forward in his chair and looking towards the jury box only leaned back and faced the defendant before accompanying his short, attentive rap of the gavel against the wood with the legal sentence, of which Rogers only heard the words, “Fifteen years.”  He felt nothing and sat there numb.

 

*                *                *

 

Tuesday, October 15

His Holiness Hilarius XIX, Successor of Peter, Diarchic Pontiff of the Universal Church, may Christ Almighty hold you in His glory forever and ever,

 

I, as a humble servant of the Lord, write to you, most high Vicar of Christ, for a most holy and worthy request.  As your respective seat here in Salvia lays empty, ready for a new Successor of the Peace, I turn to you, you above all equals, for aid in a time of need.

Several dozen souls, numbering exactly 37, have been convicted of several high crimes against His Most Holy Church.  Sixteen of these souls are recorded as being baptized and raised in the Catholic tradition. While this matter would usually be turned over to the Bishop of Deopolis, the papacy of the Salvian Church is currently vacant.  This matter is most urgent- we can not simply wait for the election of a new Successor.

As head of the Magnissium Comitium Cardinalicium of the Salvian Catholic Church, I humbly implore you, as much a Vicar of the Messiah as our pope will be and equal in both piety, grace, and power, to formally excommunicate these souls, to be separated from His Most Holy Church until they have completed their repentance and are able to be accepted back into the Church.

 

I seek and pray for your most speedy and worthy response.

 

May Christ be with us always,

 

Cardinal Mark D’Angelo



 

*                 *                 *

Authored by @Iverica

 

 “Very well. Notify the Quaestoriate. Send no more than 2 de jurisecclesia—for formality’s sake. They are ordered to make expedient work of this investigation. With no fuss.” 

The Patriarch had not even looked up from the Baltasar Gracian book he was currently perusing. 

The advisor, who had only just dictated the letter from the Catholic Church stood uneasily at the centre of the Patriarchal Apartments, his feet seemingly sinking into the thick burgundy carpet. 

Sunlight streamed in from the tall Lysian windows, which cast rays of late-morning sunshine diagonally into the marble and lime whiteness of the room. 

The advisor, a lay official made a polite noise. His Holiness the Patriarch of the Tacolic Church, Hilarius XIX, who was seated at his long mahogany desk, wore only his casual white cassock. The plain white zuchetto cap lay on the table, atop a stack of outgoing letters & addresses already marked Nihil Obstat by His Holiness earlier in the morning. 

His Holiness raised an eyebrow, though did not remove his fixed gaze from the pages of the Jesuit writings. 

“Was there something else, my son?” 

“Erm. Your Holiness… Its just that—well. It is a very serious matter. I’ve already been approached by certain… forces in the cardinality which would very much like to give their inputs on the matter. If our church is going to excommunicate some of our Catholic brothers, it does make quite the statement.” 

His Holiness sighed. The book was shut with a clap and laid on the desk. 

“Pray tell, my son. What have the gorrion been chittering into your ears?” 

His Holiness interlaced his fingers and placed those calloused, wrinkled hands on the desktop. 

The lay advisor fidget, but quickly replied. 

“The more orthodox of the lot did have some worthy concerns. Among them, they had agreed that our excommunication of the number could backfire terribly if they were exonerated later on. They insisted that a serious investigation effort was critical. Both for the sake of prudence and to save His Holiness any embarrassment that may come from this serious measure.” 

They were after all, talking along the lines of very probable eternal damnation. 

His Holiness scratched at his silvery brow before sighing and sitting back on this armchair. 

“And did they consider what any hesitation on our part would look like to the faithful? Sending the Quaestoriate in force would not only tell the Catholics that we do not trust their judgement, it would also signal to the faithful that our Diarchy is less united than we have promised this last millennium.” 

His Holiness put on his glasses and picked up a pre-sealed letter paper. It was where his response was to be drafted. 

“My son, I do not wish to condescend—but do you not know of the tenuous game we play with the cardinality?”, Hilarius began, tapping the book he had lain on the table. 

“Prudence. Careful tact, as honourable Baltasar Gracian (Saviour rest him), would say, is the method by which we navigate the faults of worldly affiars and bickering. I realise the downfall of compromises. But come what may, my Pastory of this Church will be one of balance and tact.” 

His Holiness picked up the seal-bearing blank letter and waved it at the lay advisor. 

“Do you understand, my son? We send two quaestors, and promptly move on with the excommunication.” 

“I-I think I do, your Holiness.” 

“Well, take this for drafting then. Fr Santos has already dipped his nib.” 

With a bow before and a bow after, the advisor approached and took the paper. Leaving the chamber, he hastened to have the Patriarch’s response transcribed. 

Edited by Sancti Imperii Catholico (see edit history)
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Epilogue

Part 1

Cardinal Agrillo, now simply Mr. Agrillo, sat with his back against the cell wall upright.  His thick clothes protected his body against the cold and dank cell housed under the palace of popes.  A very old dungeon that once housed criminals or other miscreants that had attempted to break into the papal palace now housed the great conspirators that had plotted against the Church.  In the process, they had created maybe the greatest scandal His Holy Church as ever witnessed in its two thousand year history.

While the conspirators were to be transported to another facility to house them for the duration of their arrest, it was not decided yet which facility they would be kept at. The papal dungeon, not used for probably several decades, was opened back up, cleaned, and became the home to the conspirators.   

The dungeon was U-shaped, with the entrance leading into a corridor that connected two separate hallways that branched off from the corridor.  The dungeon was not constructed or finished- the cells were hewn out from the rock, the site of dungeon being chosen for the cave that pre existed the Church.  Lit by candles that were blown out at 9 o’clock sharp, the dungeon was poorly lit as the light flickered constantly. While everyone else was placed in cells on the end of the left hallway of the U, the clergy were placed in their own individual cells at the end of the right hallway.  A plain wooden bench ran along the wall opposite of the cells.

Agrillo looked up quickly from his dozing state as the sound of the door opening startled him.  In his position on his bed, he was able to lean his head against the iron bars and looked down the hallway.  Despite the poor lighting, Agrillo was able to recognize the person by the dress shoes, cardinal dress, and figure--D’Angelo.  He took his head off the iron bars and leaned it once again against the wall, looking straight forward. He heard the shuffling of D’Angelo and the groan of the wooden bench as D’Angelo sat in it. 

“Good evening, Patrick.  I hope dinner was enjoyable.”  Agrillo said nothing. D’Angelo just clicked his tongue, took out a rosary, and began to pray.  

They sat in silence for a few minutes before D’Angelo looked up from his prayer, sighed, and pleaded, “Why, Patrick?”  Agrillo continued to sit in silence, tense. D’Angelo breathed heavily out his nose before continuing, “I mean why did you-”

“Because I wanted to!” Agrillo interrupted him, turning his head to face him.  “I wanted that power.” Agrillo’s voice broke this time.

D’Angelo pursed his lips, sighed again, and said, “There’s more to it, Patrick.”  He crossed his arms. “There has to be. You wouldn’t do all of that for just power.  You had enough of that already.  What’s the real reason? The reason you went through all of this?”  He motioned with his hand on the word.  Agrillo looked back at the rock wall, the creases on his face exaggerated by the flickering candlelight. D’Angelo leaned forward in his seat.  “You are a God-fearing man, are you not?”. Agrillo simply nodded.  

“So why do all this?  You’re facing excommunication from the Church now.”  Agrillo nodded once again, “And I’ll repent to His Holiness when he’s elected.”  

Silence once again descended between the pair before Agrillo said suddenly, “You’re right, it’s not all about the power.  The Church needs to change, D’Angelo. The world is changing, and what is the Church doing? We’ve become the very thing the Church once was a victim to: persecutors.  Homosexuals, nonbelievers, all the others we deem ‘unworthy’ of His grace, we push away, isolate. Look at Salvia! Shootings of Judds and homosexuals in Minotia. Why are we allowed power if we are just going to continue to oversee the suffering of God’s children?”

D’Angelo just shook his head silently, Agrillo’s gaze once again shifted back to the cardinal.  “D’Angelo, promise me this, if you’re elected to the papacy-” D’Angelo tried to interrupt him, “No, no no…” but Agrillo continued, “promise me you will try to change things.”  

D’Angelo just continued to shake his head as he stared down at the ground.  “You know of these forces, Agrillo. I am not the one the cardinality wants to elect.”  He now met Agrillo’s gaze before looking back down again, “Y’know, you sounded a lot like your friend Rogers.  I pray he shares your same desire of repentance.” D’Angelo stood up and looked back at Agrillo. “I pray for your soul every day, Patrick.”  

Agrillo leaned his head back onto the iron bars as he watched D’Angelo walked out of the dungeon, his cardinal robes flowing gently behind him.

Patrick sat up with a start as he heard Rogers’ voice from the other cell, “Do you really mean what you said to Cardinal D’Angelo, Agrillo?”  Patrick nodded, even though Rogers couldn’t see him. “I did.”

“I never struck you as the reformer type.” Agrillo raised his eyebrows, again without Rogers seeing.  “Why else would I join the Ordo?”

Silence once again descended over the dungeon as the two former clergy remained silent.

Edited by Salvia (see edit history)
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Epilogue

Part 2

"Eminence, your afternoon tea."  The old servant nun put the cup of steaming tea down on D'Angelo's desk as he continued to draft a letter.

"Thanks, Maria.  Anything else?" The nun shook her head and went to leave before realizing she had something in her pocket.  Remembering, she turned back towards the cardinal and spoke once more, "Cardinal Lorenzo wanted me to tell you that he wishes to meet with you later this evening to discuss the election of a new papa.”  D’Angelo smiled, thanked her, and continued to work.

______________

D’Angelo entered the office and soon embraced the other cardinal who was standing and looking out the window.  “Hello, brother. You wished to discuss something with me?” The other cardinal, Andrea Lorenzo, nodded and began to speak as he withdrew from the embrace.  “Yes, my brother.” He walked back to the window, this time with D’Angelo following closely behind him. The two cardinals looked out onto St. Leo's Plaza.  The sight they beheld would not have been abnormal- thousands of people thronging the plaza- if it were not for the crowd to be holding signs and chanting in protest.  Lorenzo sighed as he turned back from the view and looked at D’Angelo. “Brother, we need to elect a new pope. And soon.”  

“Of course.  You are not wrong in this.”  D’Angelo helped himself to a seat in the padded chair opposite of the cardinal’s desk as Lorenzo continued to stare out the window.  “But we must be cautious with this. The laity will not be happy with any pontiff that seeks to consolidate or hold on to power.” Lorenzo, still looking out the window, looked back to D’Angelo.  “The next pontiff has to keep the Church’s power, brother.  Reforms and anti-corruption measures do not equate to someone willing to give up power- it is critical a pontiff is elected that can do both.”  D’Angelo just shook his head.

“Upsetting the laity further will only further cripple the Church that’s just the way it will be.”

“The next pontiff can retain power and still please the faithful.  It just needs to be the right cardinal, that’s all.” D’Angelo raised his eyebrows inquisitively at the man opposite him.  “And who do you propose that may be?” Lorenzo, his eyes filled with confidence, looked back at D’Angelo. “Me.”

D’Angelo pondered for a moment, studying Lorenzo.  A man in his late 70s, he didn’t quite look the part, with a face lacking many wrinkles and his hair gray but not gone.  Long ears, a flat bottomed nose (for a Salvian), plenty of smile lines and bright eyes sat prominently on his face; there was nothing sulken about the man to suggest age or the weariness and sickness that comes with it.  He certainly possessed the energy and charisma to be pope, but did he have the right agenda? D’Angelo could not say for certain. Lorenzo had a point when he said the laity could still be pacified with the papacy holding their power, but it was not a certain guarantee- Salvians, when angry, tend to fight for what they want until they get it without compromise.  They tended to respect authority, but when authority disrespected them, they would replace that authority with someone who would respect them. That is the nature of Salvian politics and has been since the idea of Salvia was in the heads of its inhabitants. Someone in authority that tried to challenge the set of rules was sure to bring himself and his institution down in the process.  D’Angelo had come to the conclusion that what Lorenzo was proposing was daring and dangerous, yet… it could work.  If done correctly.

Votes was not the concern for Lorenzo.  He was already quite popular amongst the laity for his firm yet merciful stance and passionate preaching, and popular amongst the cardinals for the many things he has to maintain the Church’s power, especially in the far reaches of the Catholic wurld.  That, combined with support from a cardinal like D’Angelo and maybe another from the Magnissimum would result in an almost certain victory for Lorenzo.  The concern for him was if he was able to rally D’Angelo, and to do that, he’d have to quell D’Angelo’s concerns.

“What do you think brother?  Would you support me?”  

D’Angelo rubbed his temple with his index finger and thumb as he exhaled heavily.  “I do not know what I think of this, brother. You are certainly fitting for the position, I am just concerned about your, um, agenda.  It just seems unrealistic to me that we could retain power in the long run with the situation that this crisis has produced.”  He gestured towards the window, “One only has to look out the window to see how upset the Salvian people are.”  

Lorenzo nodded slowly.  “You have a point, D’Angelo.  You always do, but I still think that we can do this.  If we elect the right person.  Who else would handle this well?  Cardinal Roberts is rumored to have worked with the Ordo itself- the people would riot with his election.  Cardinal Anastas would be too conservative and Cardinal Gallo the opposite.  Am I not our best option?”

D’Angelo just sunk slightly more into his chair and rested his elbow on the armchair and his chin on the same arm’s fingers.  “Beware of what you say, brother, ‘I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant.’  But you are definitely right, in most regards.” Several moments of silence passed over them before D’Angelo stood up.  Lorenzo followed suit and the two cardinals embraced.

“We will have these elections soon, however.  The Magnissimum has already decided that.  The announcement will be made known soon.  I bid you goodnight, brother.” Lorenzo took a long breath inwards and exhaled slowly.  “God bless you, brother.”

Edited by Salvia (see edit history)
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Epilogue

Part 3

 

February 16th

The large and decorative wooden doors clicked shut behind them as the last of the cardinals took their seats.  The frescoes that adorned the walls and ceiling of the Leotine Chapel spread out before them, detailed Magnum Progressum and Baroque artwork depicting scenes from the Bible and Church history.  The bright colors and tall windows let in the midday sun’s rays, and both the artwork and lighting were directed towards the altar at the front of the nave on a raised platform.  For this occasion, however, a table was placed directly in front of the altar to instead focus attention on a more pressing matter, that being the election of a new pope. Seated at the table were two abbots, indicative of the Diarchy of the Catholic Church, of the most respected order amongst the Salvian clergy, the Order of the Immaculate Heart, which had been appointed to direct the election of the pope all the way back in the 1300s.  The two men were seated as they waited for the cardinals to ready themselves for the voting process. Once all the cardinals were seated, quiet, and paying attention to the two men at the front, one of them stood. An authoritative figure, he was tall and bulky with a thick beard but bald head. In the traditional gray drab clothes of a monastery, he spoke with a surprisingly soft voice as he began with the Sign of the Cross, “In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.”  The cardinals followed suit, and then the man continued.

 

“My Eminences.  You are here, appointed by God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, to elect a new Successor of Peter; to take the throne of the Holy See and to replace His Holiness Thomas VII whose soul now enters heaven and watches over us.  May this remind you all that everything is done in the awareness of God, in whose sight each person will one day be judged.  I ask all of you, then, to place your hand upon the Holy Cross to swear an oath of secrecy and faith, that the one who is to be elected to the throne of Peter is to be the one that Jesus would have chosen if He Himself was on Eurth.”

 

The cardinals began to move forward in a line towards the holy relic.  In a golden container about the size of a baseball, a large fragment, supposedly a part of the True Cross, sat on top of a deep crimson velvet.  Each cardinal bent over and kissed the container before repeating the oath (in Aroman, of course), then returned to their seats.  

 

Once the oath was taken, the man who had directed the cardinals from before stood up once more and handed a pile of ballot papers to several priests, who began passing the ballots out to each cardinal.  The ballot was small, no larger than a typical postcard. On the top, written in Aroman, was Eligio in Summum Pontificem: “I elect as Supreme Pontiff.”  The cardinals were to write the name of who they chose under the Aroman phrase, where afterwards they would then walk up to the altar, bow, say a long Aroman prayer, and then place their vote into a small wooden box.  The votes would then be counted, with a needle and thread being pierced into the word Eligio, placing all the ballots onto a single thread.  The process, although rather simple, took weeks, months, or even years. 

 

Cardinal D’Angelo sat, playing with his pen in between his fingers.  The ballot sat in front of him, blank. He had not an inkling of who to vote for.  While a few serious candidates always stood out by election time, D’Angelo could not decide on one.  To be frank with himself, he thought, he was not sure if he could trust any of the cardinals.  The words of the intendant that had brought them into the Leotine Chapel still resonated with him.  As the doors were opened, unsuspecting tourists turned to see an imposing figure yell, “Extra omnes!”: “Everyone out!”  The tourists were hurriedly shuffled out to make room for the cardinals who now replaced them.  The chapel, usually filled with the quiet prayers of the faithful, surprised gasps of tourists who had never seen such beauty, or the occasional hooligan, was now completely silent.  Who was he to vote for?

 

March 1st

Cardinalus, Lorenzo.  Cardinalus, Nerio. Cardinalus, Nerio.  Cardinalus, Roberts. Cardinalus, Nerio…

 

The votes continued to be called out.  After a week of votes, prayer, discussion, and contemplation, the fight had been narrowed down to just three cardinals: Cardinal John Roberts, Cardinal Julian Nerio, and Cardinal Matteo Lorenzo.  Another week passed without one of them being declared a winner. This was the last vote of the day before they would be dismissed for the evening. If a winner was not declared here, it would continue, and after a week of deadlock there was no telling of what was to happen.

 

Cardinalus, Roberts.  Cardinalus, Roberts. Cardinalus, Lorenzo…

 

The count continued to be called out.  With each name read, the group of cardinals grew more expectant.  Some tallied the results themselves, while others simply listened to the call and waited for the official results.  Still others just sat in prayer.

 

...Cardinalus, Lorenzo.”  The abbot, reading glasses on the edge of his nose, counted with the help of the other abbot and several priests.  After some moments of counting and discussion, the priests walked back to their posts around the chapel as the lead abbot took off his glasses, placed them on the table, and stood.  

 

“Your Eminences.  Through the glory and grace of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, a new Successor of Peter has been elected by a two-thirds majority as directed by the will of His Holiness Pope Thomas VII.”  The air became even more expectant and tense as the abbot paused and read from a sheet of paper.

 

“I ask for His Eminence Matteo Lorenzo to step forward in front of the altar.”

 

The table and chairs the two abbots were sitting at were quickly picked up and moved by the priests as the cardinals stood.  Lorenzo walked forwards towards the altar.  The abbots stepped aside as Pope Hilarius XIX of the Tacolic Church came out of a side chamber and walked to where the abbots once stood.  With a humeral veil covering his hands, he picked up the Leotine monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament.

 

“Cardinal Lorenzo," the Tacolic pope began, "do you wish to accept your canonical election as Pontiff of the Salvian Catholic Church, Vicar of Christ, Successor of the Prince of Peace, Diarchic Pontiff of the Universal Church, and Bishop of Deopolis?”  Lorenzo nodded standing in front of him, “I do.”

 

“What shall your name be, Your Holiness?”  

 

Lorenzo contemplated for a second.  “Gregory.”

 

“Gregory,  through the power of God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit, all the angels and spirits of heaven, the saints, and all popes who have sat on the throne of Peter before you, I anoint you as His Holiness Pope Gregory XVI,  Pontiff of the Salvian Catholic Church, Vicar of Christ, Successor of the Prince of Peace, Diarchic Pontiff of the Universal Church, and Bishop of Deopolis,”  With this, Lorenzo knelt and the Tacolic pope, monstrance in hand, made the Sign of the Cross over Lorenzo- now Gregory-’s head.  Lorenzo then stood and faced towards the assembly of cardinals, who began to shuffle forward and kiss the feet of the newly elected pope as he touched their heads to bless them.

Edited by Salvia (see edit history)
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