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Realm: Horizon's Edge

Realm: Horizon's Edge

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Realm: Horizon's Edge

Lunghezza:
468 pagine
6 ore
Pubblicato:
Feb 21, 2020
ISBN:
9780463764176
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

The God King has returned and rules from the only mountain left on earth. His chosen race dwells in perfection and bliss but mortals still carry within them the evil spark the King banished in the mist-veiled Age before.

Madison, a song-sage for the King, seeks to take His scroll the uttermost cracks and hovels of civilization in order to reconcile lost mortals to their Master.

As the slow centuries pass, she leaves breadcrumb clues for Damaris, a curious archeologist, to discover. But the answers they find may lead them through a celestial portal to another world. Will they return in time to stop the Adversary's final attack on the Capitol of the cosmos?

From the back cover:
“Where sin persists, the Gospel must go forth.” Teckla mused sagely.
Madison turned to her friend. “Yes, But Christ is on His throne, here, physically. I guess I expected Him to take care of places like Russia and China, or whatever they’re called now.”
“Jesus has been here before, Madison. He’s the immutable God of the Universe. He’s not going to change His ways this time. People saw Him, talked to Him, and still hated Him and hung Him on a tree. Why would sinners accept Him now, unless His truth goes out and hearts are transformed?”
“You’re right, of course. He uses us. We’re His ambassadors.”
Teckla’s hair still wafted westward, as if pointing like a compass needle toward what God had on His heart. Madison was pensive. Almost under her breath she said, “But who will go?”

Pubblicato:
Feb 21, 2020
ISBN:
9780463764176
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

John Leslie Battenfield is a Christian, husband, father, missionary, and designer. By day, he helps Bible schools and church ministries around the world through creative media. By night, he imagines the future described in the pages of God’s Word.John is currently writing Book 3 in the REALM Series!

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Realm - John Leslie Battenfield

Appendix

Preface

There is a thread of the Kingdom throughout Scripture.

It has been my deep joy for these last several years to run the finger of my imagination along that thread and trace the perfectly-woven plan God has embedded in time and space. My goal has always been to share my own excitement and anticipation about Christ’s return and reign, but also, as Paul does in his first letter to the saints in Thessalonica, to encourage one another with these things. The antidote for worry and fear in our current circumstances is hope that is keenly focused on the bright future that awaits the Lord’s elect.

The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews reveals that Abraham was looking forward to experiencing a city that God would build. Isaiah in his divine visions saw the whole earth is filled with the glory of God. Surely Heaven is filled with His radiant glory, but earth? That was something still future to the prophet’s time. Jesus Himself, as Hebrews later tells us, endured the cross for the joy set before Him. Ultimately it was not for us and our salvation that Christ went to Golgotha. It was for the love He had for His Father. He, too, looked beyond the present trial to infinite bliss at the Father’s right hand.

That, I think, is why Paul connects details of the next life with encouragement and hope in this life. The Thessalonians were facing persecution at levels we can’t imagine today in the West. But the Bible stresses that even darker times are still to come for believers. The apostle Peter, in his second letter, asks how we are to live in light of future judgments and destruction. We are to strive to live holy lives, embrace the peace that only Christ can provide, and grow in grace, focused on the coming Kingdom.

So I’ve undertaken this second expedition into the Realm. The world of the first book is so big, and lasts so long, that there is now an endless supply of Kingdom adventures and fascinating relationships to explore. Characters, places, and events only mentioned in The Age between Breath and Fire now take center stage. Watch the year markers. Covering a thousand years in one volume means skipping around a bit.

My plan moving forward is to build the framework for a Realm Literary Universe (RLU). These first two volumes provide the outer pillars, between which can rise an unlimited number of stories that focus on just a few characters and that take place over just a few years. I have ideas and outlines for at least five of these inner books. You can see a growing chart of the RLU on the homepage at:

realmnovel.weebly.com

While I’m busy writing those five and more, what if I invited other like-minded authors to help me explore the Realm? Lord willing, the RLU could become a writers guild replete with imaginative, passionate people sharing hope of the life to come.

Also on the website are character images, a couple of maps, and other supporting materials that will assist you on your journey through the REALM.

PART

ONE

Find the Strand

1

The Crossing

The Tribulation, Year 7

An intoxicated, senseless crowd braved the dirty rain to witness the latest spectacle of death.

They pounded the seats of the dilapidated stadium in a rhythmic frenzy as another group of detainees were prodded and paraded through the mud from the locker room to the center of the playing field. Only two towering light poles, one on the north and one on the west on either side of the darkened jumbo screen, were functioning. They cast their stagnant beams on the flint faces of the Christian prisoners being forced to their knees in a great circle. Covering the rest of the field were the bodies of thousands of martyrs that had been ushered into glory earlier in the day.

The five ushers held rifles. They used both ends effectively and efficiently. The preacher, an effeminate male in his thirties, preferred knives. He pranced into the circle with violent gyrations, arms flapping to whip up the thumping congregation. His head was bald and covered in tattoos, a garish, hot pink lipstick covered too much of his mouth and colored his straggling beard.

He stopped and bowed his head. A raised hand shushed the crowd. His voice was loud. He needed no microphone. Heavenly mother, enthroned above the jealous stars, seated on the mighty beast that straddles the seven hills, we drink of the cup of your endless pleasures. Lord beast, we revel in the energy of your darkness. High priestess and prophetess, we bask in your perfect beauty and ask you to guide us as we deal with these faithless worms tonight. And all the people of the goddess said? Amen.

His followers, tens of thousands strong, solemnly affirmed his amen then ramped up the frenzied drumming again.

Woohoo! The preacher shouted. That’s right! Hey, thanks, everyone, for coming tonight. Really. We have one more group of testimonies and then we can all go get wasted. Am I right? Yeah! He did more arm-flapping which stirred the crowd into a chanting rage. Okay. What do we have here? He walked to one of the kneeling saints and, gripping the hair on her bowed head, pulled her face backward into the light. Now. Like I’ve been doing all day long, I’m going to ask you just one question.

The girl, nineteen years old and hardened to spiritual steel by war and lack, looked resolute.

The preacher leaned in close, his words a whisper. Is Hell forever, or does love conquer all?

She knew her next words would be her last. It is an unquenchable fi—

His blade entered her heart and her body hung limp from his hand.

He discarded her and moved to the next prisoner. In like fashion, he interviewed his way around the solemn circle until there were just five saints left: three men and two women. They were holding hands.

Suddenly, a certain electricity filled the air. The rain had stopped and the ten other light poles burst on, all cycling up with a frightening buzz, blinding the dazed throng. They blew out violently and the world was left dark. For a second the preacher looked around in a growing panic. The crowd, too, felt for their neighbor. Just as suddenly, they all looked to the East where the jumbo screen was now crackling to life.

It was a hundred-foot-high square of brilliant white and it was all anyone could see. A scene began to form. A dark hill and beyond it a red sky. A gash ripped the clouds apart and golden light poured through. Those in the stands pulled out their phones to record this eerie phenomenon but found their screens were already broadcasting live from Jerusalem.

As events of the return of Christ played in real time before them, the five prisoners fended off attacks of doubt. Could this really be the day they had yearned for and prayed for all these months? Quick calculations in all their minds confirmed it had been seven years, almost to the day, since the world had witnessed the rapture of the church and three and a half since godless humanity’s utopia had begun spiraling down into chaos and darkness.

The heathens in the bleachers paused in their lude acts and were more moved by the light show than the historical significance of what they saw. The preacher kept mumbling, No. It’s all fake. It’s a trick, when his eyes betrayed his absolute certainty that it was real enough, and that his life was now to be reckoned.

Everyone in the stadium that night gazed at the face of Christ. When the King breathed the single word that fell the wicked on the fields of Armageddon, the preacher, who stood over a young Christian woman named Madison, stumbled back in writhing agony. His tongue turned to ash in his mouth. Madison stood, with her sister-in-law, Bailey, and approached him, curious and wanting to help. His skin began to rot and fall away. Even as they reached him, his bones showed through his corroding skin and muscles.

The three Christian men, Madison’s brother, Rolf, her husband, Hunter, and Hunter’s brother, Parker, now stood slowly, taking in the fantastic scene around them. The circles of corpses of the martyrs that covered the field turned to dust and blew away on the same ethereal breeze that was dissolving the wicked spectators.

On the jumbo screen, Christ strode on that magnificent white horse up the path to the Holy City’s eastern gate. Rolf was the first to find words. This is it! He beckoned the other survivors. This the day we’ve all—all of creation—has been waiting for. Look. It’s happening here in Michigan and the Middle East simultaneously. Jesus. Coming with clouds. Judging this generation with a single word from His mouth.

To the east, beyond the screen, the faintest glimmer of light shown on the horizon. By that light, the family could now see tiny green shoots of vegetation pushing up through the chalky dust around them. Where there were puddles, buds and sprigs of larger plants climbed and spread.

As the sun, somehow renewed and eager to shine, rose somewhere beyond a thickening layer of clouds, the five survivors sat down in the lush field next to wildflowers and the saplings of fruit trees to pray and sing. The live coverage from Israel continued another few hours and they watched the grandest of ceremonies in which the earth’s Savior and rightful King was crowned.

The kingdom age had begun.

***

The Earthly Reign of Christ, Year 2

Madison’s husband, Hunter, held out a steady hand to her. Watch your step.

Thank you, She replied as she placed her foot on the edge of the creaking wooden boat. The old man selling trinkets in the market said the lake is hundreds of miles in either direction. We’ll have to cross at some point.

They settled on a bench and smiled courteously at their fellow passengers, a father-son pair of Canadians with matching maple leaf patches on their packs. Madison eyed the ripples on the water warily. I love boats so much. Her sarcasm was palpable.

Sorry, love, but we promised Rolf we’d meet up with them by tomorrow at nightfall. Hunter held her close and made an attempt at some encouragement. Beats swimming!

She elbowed him in the gut and tried not to close her eyes. Every time she did, memories of dark days would flood her mind, even fifteen months after the world had been transformed into a tropical paradise.

The graying pilot thrust his oar downward and the ferry slipped into the morning fog.

Then Madison saw something move behind the Canadians. From under a sizable tarp popped the furry mane and smooth, black snout of the largest badger she had ever seen. Its dark eyes peered around and it nuzzled its owner, expecting a good scratching. White stripes, starting on its cheeks, widened as they disappeared under its covering.

The boy, maybe eight years old with a missing ear, noticed Madison’s surprise. Myrtle doesn’t like boats either.

She sure likes you, though. Madison chuckled as the animal licked the boy’s palm.

The boy happily grappled the badger’s neck. "Myrtle’s my ears and my legs. Together we make a pretty awesome team.

Madison looked down and realized the boy had no legs past two stubs wrapped in folded green shorts. She almost apologized, but then guessed this poor child had heard too many half-hearted shows of pity. Is she fun to ride?

Yeah. And fast, too! The boy smiled, silently acknowledging her empathy. My dad has a hard time keeping up.

The badger let out a growl before dipping back under the tarp and everyone looked west.

A wall of foam and spray tumbled toward them. Madison jumped into Hunter’s lap. What in the world?

The boy’s father pumped his eyebrows and cupped his hands over his mouth. Hope the Lord blessed you with an umbrella after the return! He shouted and pulled the tarp up over himself and his son.

Hunter laughed as the waterfall swallowed them whole.

Madison pulled her useless hood over her head and gritted her teeth. No one could hear her screaming protest. How is this different from swimming?

Once through, a dank, volcanic tunnel meandered under the crag in the center of the lake. Eventually, the single lantern that hung a pole above the pilot’s head grew dim in the oncoming light from the western mouth of the cave. The travelers floated free into a sunlit cove filled with children on the backs of beavers, turtles, and ducks.

The boat reached the far shore an hour later. Madison rejoiced to flop onto the sandy beach next to the flimsy dock and watch the other passengers enter the dense, encroaching forest. The boy bounded off atop his brisk badger and she said a silent prayer for his future.

Then a girl she hadn’t noticed strode off the boat leading a giant white wolf. Over her shoulder hung a large sack made from an old, olive drab parachute. Something was obviously wiggling around inside and when she set it down, out raced five wolf cubs, all with glistening white fur like their mother. They were immediately investigating the sand, the water, the trees, and each other as Madison looked on.

The girl walked straight up to her and stated, The King has instructed me to place this family of wolves in your charge. Before Madison could respond, the girl walked off and disappeared into the crowd.

Um, Hunter, love?

***

Year 3

The meadow was wet with heavy dew as the sun peeked over the ruddy wall of the ravine. Madison woke and felt for her husband next to her on the blanket but space his body had occupied was empty, but still warm. The duel smells of lilac and cranberries made her sit up and stretch. She straightened her blue and black flannel shirt and pulled on her boots, spotting Hunter a few meters away manning the grill.

Beyond him stood the grove of lilac bushes she smelled, nestled in a shady bend in the riverbank. Evenly spaced around their little camp were the five wolves they inherited, all resembling melted snowmen and snoring like a lumber mill quintet. She had never felt safer, but in this strange, renewed world, everyone kept telling her there was nothing to fear from man or beast. She wasn’t convinced, but maybe that was due to the fact that they had just spent years running for their lives from a cruel, global regime that believed she was worthless, wrong, and without meaning.

Hey, beautiful. Hunter checked under one of his scones with a knife. How’d you sleep? His rugged smile always made her day.

Maybe an hour, she replied, grabbing her new little camping stool and joining him at the fire. Everyone left has some level of PTSD they’re dealing with, so I’ll take what I can get.

He kissed her and pulled her hair back away from her slim shoulders. Dreams?

None. Thank God.

An official answer to prayer.

She hugged his toned arm. We have so much to be thankful for. She looked around as the wolves began to wake and yawn and nibble at the wildflowers. So many people are alone, lost everyone and everything they knew. Somehow we made it through together.

All God’s grace. We need to watch ourselves when we interact with others. I don’t think anyone has it as good as we have it.

They kissed again and chuckled. This was evidently an alert to the wolves that it was time to play. One of the pack, her Melody, came over and greeted the humans heartily with nudges and licks.

Oh, Mel, you’re soaking wet. Down, girl.

The wolf obediently dropped to the deep grass but Madison could see the readiness in her eyes, in case more greetings were needed.

Madison rubbed her ears. You’re getting so big.

Hunter handed her a clean pie tin with a luxurious cranberry scone inside.

Thank you. Yum. I wonder when she’ll be big enough to ride.

I think that badger boy we met was a real pioneer in transportation. I haven’t seen anyone riding an animal since. I’m not sure it will catch on. He placed the second scone in the same tin. Shall we pray?

After breakfast they played with the wolves and fished in the river before breaking camp and followed the canyon west. Once under the jungle canopy outside Winnipeg the terrain became more vertical and their pace slowed.

See how easily the wolves are descending these boulders and crossing waterfalls? Hunter was saying. A horse could never do that.

Well it’s still a shame they’re all gone. How could they all be gone? Every last horse on Earth was sent to the plains of Megiddo?

All that were left, yes.

Just then the wolves started a barking session and quickly surrounded a disheveled traveler who had stopped several meters below them across the noisy falls. He waved and shouted, Hey, are you real? Like, real human beings?

Of course, Hunter yelled back, sharing a curious look with Madison. As real as these rocks and trees. Greetings in Christ.

The man, who obviously hadn’t shaved since the return, looked relieved. Oh, and Christians, too. Thank God.

Hunter hopped down and shook the man’s hand. Well, the only people left on Earth are Christians. His words shocked the man. Didn’t you know? Jesus came back and wiped out everybody else. All unbelievers. In Armageddon.

When was that?

More than two years ago now. Jesus is here on Earth, reigning as King from Jerusalem.

That sounds just about crazy enough to be true. I went on a solo backpacking trip near Calgary and I’ve been hiking ever since. I woke up one morning and thought I had been beamed to another planet because the mountains were gone and everything was tropical and warm and the carnivores were eating grass and stuff. Then I thought I was just losing my mind.

Have you read the Bible? All the changes you mentioned were predicted.

No. About three days into my trek, I found a brochure about Jesus. It explained very clearly how I was hopelessly lost and on my way to Hell and needed a savior. There were some powerful words in there. Look, I have it here. He took out a wrinkled and worn piece of paper from a pocket.

Praise God. He’s given you a new heart or else you would have been destroyed, too. Why don’t you travel with us? We’re about a day south of Winnipeg and we’re meeting up with some friends there. We could read the Bible on the way.

The man fell to his knees and rolled onto a boulder. That sounds wonderful. Just to talk to actual people again.

What’s your name, brother?

Michael. Michael Vrai. From Seattle.

It’s nice to meet you, Michael. I’m Hunter Janz and this is my wife, Madison.

Hey, Michael. Need something to eat?

Michael closed his eyes. Bacon cheeseburger, hold the onions.

Leftover cranberry scone?

That works, too. Hey, you guys can help me with something. Michael sat up and pulled off his knit cap. Can you see the weird flashy mark on my face? When I look into a lake at night I can see something shiny. It looks like the ones you guys have. Right?

Hunter chuckled. "Yep. We see it. That’s the seal of God. The Bible says all His people would have the name of their God on their forehead. It’s made up of four Hebrew letters:

YHWH

It’s basically the name of God that Jesus gave to Moses at the burning bush.

What’s the burning bush?

We’ll show you. Don’t worry. Every seal is different, like a snowflake. And every Christian has one.

Hunter and Madison started with Genesis and began to explain the Scriptures to Michael as they hiked. By the time they could see the outskirts of what was left of Winnipeg, he had a good idea of what each book of the Bible was about.

Around the breakfast campfire, they prayed together. Finally, Madison asked, What’s your story, Michael?

Well, I’m an actor–was an actor. Mostly commercials and bit parts in things. When the entertainment companies all came together as one, everything turned sort of unilateral. Same message, same perspective. All the creativity and originality in the industry disappeared. He watched as Hunter stoked the fire.

Family? Madison was curious.

I was married on paper, but we didn’t see a lot of each other. Our careers were going in different directions, and our personal lives. It turned out Kate was interested in other women. In my lost flesh I was okay with it. Gender in those days was such a fluid concept. Most of my friends were gay or some such designation. Those were crazy times, right up until that horribel Easter morning.

The L3 virus. Hunter remembered as well.

Yeah, love is love is love. In a matter of three days, almost ten percent of the western population contracted this mysterious disease and died, and the common denominator was deviant sexual behavior. Michael’s eyes looked bloodshot. So, basically everyone I knew, and most of the people in Hollywood and politics were gone. Sorry. Let’s talk about something else, please.

Hey, Michael. Madison touched his shoulder. It’s in the past. God is holy but He is also love and truth.

I want to understand Him, you know. Sometimes I wish I could forget it all. I feel so ashamed and ignorant. I didn’t know any better.

Hunter looked him in the eyes. "We’re here for you, Michael if you ever want to explore that, okay? Let’s pray and then we’ll head into town.

2

Fountain

Year 30

The tide was out at a quiet, palm-lined cove south of the western city of Iconium. Melody, the white wolf, yawned then rested her magnificent head on her paws. Her thick brow rose and fell as she darted her bright green eyes back and forth watching two girls play. They had made toy buckets and shovels out of wood and were constructing a replica of the doomed city of Jericho out of wet sand. Aged four and six, they giggled and narrated the story over and over, marching in circles then smashing their creation each time.

Madison watched her nieces with her friend Leelah as they leaned against the wolf’s silky pelt and played with a one year old nephew named Rolf, Jr., who was enjoying the sensation of sand between his toes. Leelah would push his sand-covered fingers away from his mouth every few seconds with a gentle, No no, Buddy.

A thick, curved branch about a meter long lay at Madison’s feet. She had fastened five metal wires of various thicknesses from one end of it to the other and she was preparing to connect a sixth.

Gonna do some hunting? Leelah smirked. I thought bows only had one string.

It’s going to be a guitar. She strained and stretched the last wire into place and screwed down a slight metal plate over the strings at both ends. Well, someday.

Leelah felt her friend’s frustration. That’s so creative. Come on, give it a try.

Apologizing with her eyes, Madison plucked at each wire, offending all their ears with each out-of-tune note. But the fourth wire was impressively close to a C. At this, even the wolf perked up and began to watch. The girls, done with their conquest of the promised land, were ready for a snack and a song. Their names were Tinka and Tooi.

Everything but the branch was furnished by your Hapa. With a few more twists of the driver, things were sounding pretty good.

Leelah smiled wide. Ezasen is so generous with his time and talents.

The Samson song! The Samson song! The girls demanded in unison.

Madison was eager to try. Alright, alright. Here we go.

The girls, Leelah, and even Rolf clapped along.

He’s big, and strong, and nobody can beat him.

Samson. Samson.

He’s big, and strong, and nobody can beat him.

Samson. Samson.

He fought off that lion.

He was bigger than a bear.

God only made him mighty

When he had a lot of hair.

And when they cut it off

And put him into prison,

They took him to that building with all the people on the roof

And he pushed on the pillars and everything came crashing down and they all died.

I haven’t worked out that last bit yet.

Oh. He’s big, and strong, and nobody can beat him.

Samson. Samson.

He’s big, and strong, and nobody can beat him.

Samson. Samson.

The ensemble performance had several encores before it was time for lunch.

While they shared a strawberry, an arugula leaf, and a palm date between the five of them, Tooi kept shifting in her spot on the thin, patterned blanket.

What’s going on there, little miss? Madison said, assuming it was time for potty break.

Tooi, looking guilty, lifted the corner of the blanket and pulled out a long, black case made of some stiff material. I found it in the sand under Jericho. It’s my buried treasure. Can I keep it, please?

Madison stayed calm with some effort. What an amazing discovery! May I see it? The girl reluctantly handed it to her aunt. Madison swallowed hard. She recognized it instantly. The black flag insignia of the Al Mahdi army was emblazoned on the Kevlar sheath. Without opening it, she knew a thirty centimeter serrated blade was inside. Ok, guys. So this belongs to someone else, and we need to return it right away. Thank you so much for finding this.

Ahhh, protested both girls.

I know. I know. Madison and Leelah stood and began packing up from lunch. Jesus has given you plenty of other toys to play with. Now. Lets head back to the print shop. Your mom should be just about ready for you.

The girls rode Melody, their black box forgotten, singing and laughing and greeting the townspeople. Leelah and Madison followed on foot in silence until Leelah thought out loud. It makes sense, I guess. An army with two hundred million soldiers and unlimited resources would naturally have troops stationed all over the planet in those final days. The odds of one knife—

And one nuclear warhead. Remember the Mosasaur incident?

Are you kidding? Impossible to forget. Leelah exhaled slowly. Well, we’ll see what Ezasen has to say. I, for one, want nothing to do with it.

***

Ezasen lived above the forge. His tiny kitchen overlooked the fountain just inside the eastern gate of Iconium. An unusually late night meant he was finally making breakfast around midday.

He grabbed a saucepan he had made himself off its hook on the ceiling above his wood burning stove and added water and some salt. He diced half a dried cranberry the size of his fist and poured it in, too. In his single cupboard he found his jar of cinnamon, his bag of crushed oats, and a jug of maple syrup and set them near the stove for later. Next, he stoked the fire and brought the water to a boil.

In went some oats, some cinnamon, and some maple syrup. He quickly covered the pan with a lid and moved it to the tiny table on the north-facing deck to cool. He fetched a bowl, a spoon, and a shirt and sat down to pray over the food.

Halfway through his meal, Ezasen heard two of his favorite voices below outside the forge. With a mouthful of oatmeal, he leaned out over the deck and spotted the white wolf with Bailey’s precocious girls on board, playing in the fountain. Looking straight down he saw Madison, Leelah, and baby Rolf staring up at him. He smiled, conscientiously finished chewing, and announced, Be down in five.

Hey, Madison. Babysitting duty? Ezasen asked as he joined them, dressed but not yet shaven, in the straw-laden yard of the forge.

Yep, Leelah confirmed. We were at the beach all morning. She stood, gently bouncing an exhausted one-year-old in the woven papoose she wore around her waist and shoulders. And the girls found something.

Madison drew the black case from behind her and presented it to Ezasen with a sing-song, Ta da!

Ooh. The black flag of Al Mahdi. See the horse motif on the hilt? This belonged to a general at least. He reverently took the case and slowly pulled the silver blade out. It glistened and sang as it slid along the scabbard. I don’t think it’s ever been used.

Leelah scrunched up her nose. May it never be. Except for maybe cutting potatoes.

It could certainly do that. Ezasen whistled. You did the right thing bringing it to me. I’m glad no one was hurt. He shoved the knife back in with a clack. Tell you what. I’ll take care of it. But I’m going to have to fulfill biblical prophecy to do so.

Madison and Leelah both blinked. What?

I’m going to melt it down and make a rake. Mrs. Kuxtal up the street needs a new one anyway. Ezasen smiled, waiting for the connection to be made.

Ha ha. Madison said finally. Micah chapter four. Swords into plowshares. Nice.

Rolf was finally asleep. Leelah smiled and breathed a sigh of relief. Well, Hapa. As you know, whenever we kids find dangerous weapons, we come to you first.

Madison turned to go. Sorry to interrupt your lunch.

Ezasen ran his hand through his hair. Breakfast, actually. We were up most of the night getting the Gospels of Luke bound for the Commonwealth order. And I’m training young Mr. Park, so…

It’s not going to be the same without you two. Madison pursed her lips, sensing a good cry wasn’t far off.

Leelah put her arm around her dear friend. The King moves in mysterious ways. I’m sure our paths will cross again many times over the next 900 years.

You better make an effort, Munchkin. Madison squeezed her harder. She wiped her nose. Sorry. I’m just feeling adrift lately. It’s hard to see you guys leave. It’s hard to see Bailey producing offspring at will while Hunter and I…

Ezasen put a hand on each woman’s shoulder. Hey. His ways are mysterious but His timing is perfect. Their eyes met. Can you trust him in the in-between places?

Absolutely. It’s just hard for us going it alone. I feel like there are some big things that God wants me to do. And I’m totally ready. I was kind of thinking that this, you know, the whole literature thing, was the big thing. Maybe it’s not. Are you sure you can’t stay?

I know what you’re going through. Leelah smiled. Hapa, too. You’re talking to two unmarrieds who are heading off into the unknown in a few days.

Of course. I’m sorry. Madison sniffled. Thanks for making this part of the journey so pleasant and full.

Ezasen closed his eyes. Time to pray.

3

Splash

Year 31

A young finback whale flopped around in the calm waters beyond a new, sturdy pier that reached forty meters into the sea. Madison sat on the hammered black railing as she did most evenings, awaiting the arrival of her tired husband home from work. A stroll on the wet sand always eased the tensions of the day before heading up to their simple apartment for dinner.

Tonight she had clocked out a little early from the print shop with the intention of spending an hour in prayer, gazing at the sunset horizon. But after perhaps ten minutes, she suddenly had the sensation that she was not alone on the pier. She opened her eyes and found her ethereal friend, Teckla, sitting next to her.

The lovely, loyal girl, though she was probably more than eighty years old, had a peaceful look to her, but also a hint of playfulness in her eyes. Madison turned and took a step back, squinting in curiosity at Teckla’s flowing hair. Although there was a gentle breeze caressing the coast from the west, her mousy locks drifted toward the sea like the stems of millions of underwater flora bending in the ocean current.

Teckla sensed it as well. There is a sacred wind, she began in that beguiling tone, that emanates from the very throne of King Jesus in the temple on the Mountain in Jerusalem. His loving presence and strength can be felt anywhere in the Realm, both near and far. Across the sea and in the heart of every star.

Madison wiped her eye. Sweet Lord, she prayed. Thank you for sending this encouraging angel to me just when I need it. With her eyes closed, she felt Teckla’s hand hold hers. When she opened them again she asked, Will you stay and pray with me for a while?

Of course. Teckla replied and they spent the next hour in praise and supplications to the King.

As the time came naturally to a close, Madison looked out at the twilight sea. I have a question for you, Teckla, and I don’t want you to feel you have to answer.

Teckla smiled. I have learned over the years to never expect such pressure from you, my sister. Ask anything.

What is it like in the heart of a star? They both looked up and could see a break in the thickening clouds. Your choice of words earlier gave me the impression you’ve had personal experience of such a place.

Teckla closed her eyes, pulling an ever- fresh memory to the fore. It is pure, fiery light. Wild. Unbridled. I’ve only seen one Someone brighter.

So amazing. I’ll bet nuclear fusion gets pretty hot, too. Madison dropped her gaze to the water. So what’s it like over there? I mean, across the ocean. I guess if this is roughly where California used to be, is Hawaii still there? How about Japan, China, the Philippines?

Teckla clapped her hands. Oh, I am so glad you finally asked. Yes. Yes, there are other lands beyond these waves. None of the places you mentioned remain, but there are people there who—May I tell her? She seemed to inquire with Someone else. Madison realized it was the Holy Spirit she spoke so directly to. "—yes, people who need to hear

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