Authors: Tracy L. Higley
How many they are. And how lost.
His heart swelled with the unexpected emotion. He had thought the actions of the church here this night would be about conquering, about showing the might and power of the One God, greater than any demon-gods the queen could conjure. Instead, he felt a deep and soul-wrenching desire to show the glorious love of Christ to each of those lost in darkness.
Was this how Jesus felt when He had looked on Jerusalem and wept?
And with the emotion came something else, even deeper, like a vibration in the core of his being, words to speak that were not of himself and yet were true. A
that rose and burst from his lips as though he had prepared the words in advance.
“In the last days the mountain of God’s temple will be established. It will be chief among the mountains. It will be raised above the hills, and the nations will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, ‘Come, we will go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in His paths.’ ”
The believers were not the only ones to hear, not the only ones to turn their faces and listen, wide-eyed, as this man, neither priest nor Petran, spoke as one with authority.
The words poured from Julian like a mighty flow that could not, would not, be held back. He heard himself speak but also heard and saw everything around him. The white eyes of all those who listened, the orange-yellow of the flaming torches set into the ground, and the black smoke that rose from each into a purple-dark sky.
Around them, the red rocks became dark shapes, filled with
mystery and portent, and the wind rose and howled through cracks in the rocks. It tore at his tunic and whipped it around his legs.
The wind pushed at him, gusts so hot they seemed borne from the fires of Hades. He tried to anchor his feet to the rock where he stood but staggered. Hands braced him from behind as he continued. The gnarled hands of Malik.
Something had changed on the plateau. When they had arrived it had been a gathering of the citizens of Petra. No longer. They had been joined by a legion of unseen dark powers. He felt it in his soul and saw it on the faces of the believers.
“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” he called out to them, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms!”
He looked to Talya, to Nahor and Niv, Tabatha and Hozai, and prayed for the power of God to flow into them. “Put on the whole armor of God, my friends. So that you can take your stand against the deceit of the evil one.”
The truth seeped into their faces, but as it did, there came a clear separation, one Julian could see as if each person on the plateau were visibly marked. Their circle tightened, a circle of joyful confidence, and all around, a chaos beat against it with poisonous wings.
The believers joined hands, all prompted by the Spirit at once, and stepped forward until Julian stood in their center, with Malik still holding him steady.
He felt as though he were caught in the center of a sandstorm, a pinpoint of calm while all around them the storm swirled with a ferocious howl.
Indeed, the howl of the wind had turned to an audible shriek of voices now, and the sound chilled his blood.
The dark powers had fallen over the people of Petra.
Some of the crowd lifted their hands to welcome this dark anointing, heads thrown back, voices raised in unearthly screams.
Julian felt the surge of evil, like a thousand tiny insects biting. He lifted his voice above it all, to call to the people. “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
He felt a mighty oppression, whispering, accusing, berating. And he knew his people must also feel the weight. “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?” He wept in earnest now, overcome with compassion for the people, with a fiery jealousy that God’s name be lifted above the darkness, and with the knowledge he was powerless and could only be effective if God chose to work through his frailty.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”
At the name of Christ, the earth shook beneath his feet and, in the same moment, the light of a hundred torches extinguished.
Terrified screams shot to the heavens and bounced back, as though the sky above had turned to stone. People turned on each other in a blind panic. Thick smoke rose from the useless torches and the plateau filled with it, held low by the stony sky.
The ground shook again. Julian felt a shift in the power, as though God’s might were flowing away and the darkness would smother them all. The thousands massed on the plateau shrieked as one and struck out at each other.
“Pray, my friends!” he shouted to the believers. “Pray for the people of Petra! Pray that Jesus would free those who all their lives have been held in slavery!”
And then he felt the prayers go up from the tight circle, saw them rise from the lips of the faithful like wisps of light in the darkness, heard the murmured name of Jesus on a hundred tongues.
The smell of burning sulfur beat against them, unable to penetrate, and Julian threw back his head and knew the angel army of the Lord battled in the unseen realms with the prince of Petra and his legion.
Only God could save them now.
And though Julian wanted nothing more than to keep his flock huddled tightly together, he felt the word of the Lord on him strongly.
“Go out among them, my friends.” He knew that only through the Lord could they do such a thing. “Go out to the people and show them the love of Christ!”
Wide, startled eyes lifted to him, but he spread his arms and urged them outward. “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us, friends.”
And as they drew strength from his words and from the Word of the Lord spoken in each of their hearts, one by one they turned their circle outward to face the darkness.
Julian lifted his hands above them as they dispersed, in the same way he had spread protection over Cassia in the palace so many days ago, and he called a benediction over them as they went forward, his voice echoing over the plateau, riding somehow above the terror, above the fear.
“To him who is able to guard you against stumbling and to set you in the presence of his glory . . . without fault and with great joy—to the only wise God our Savior, be glory, greatness, power, and authority, before all ages, now and forevermore!”
In that moment, the moon itself turned to blood.
ALIK DROPPED AWAY FROM
HIS EYES ON THE
The boy had done well thus far, but the powers rising around them were stronger than any Malik had ever encountered. As though Dushara, the unseen prince of Petra, had called forth every demon of hell to aid him in his domination of the High Place and the people.
Could Julian withstand such an onslaught? Malik was not certain he himself could do it, and Julian was largely untested and so young. Malik listened to Julian’s voice above the wind, above the screams of the people, and thought perhaps the boy’s strength faltered even now.
I should speak to them. I should tell them to have faith.
Malik’s skin twitched. His fingers tightened into fists, his fingernails dug into his palms.
The torches on the other side of the High Place, where the altar stood awaiting its gruesome offering, still flamed. Cassia would be there, Malik knew. He could do nothing for her, could not even call out words of assurance she would hear. He must entrust her to God alone.
And the rest of them.
Malik’s heart reached out to the word of the Lord, such a quiet voice amid the chaos that swirled around them.
Say it again, Lord.
My child, you are not trusting the flock to Julian. You are giving them to Me.
Malik had visited Mount Hermon in Judea once, when he was much younger. He had seen the snow and ice atop the heights. And in this moment before the Lord, he felt as though he were that snow, melting under the heat of the love of God, dissolving and pouring downward. He closed his eyes and loosened his fingers, his hands open as though releasing at last his grip on the church.
The turmoil on the plateau grew louder, more frantic, and Malik opened his eyes to trace the cause. His people had gone out to the citizens of Petra, the word of the Lord pouring from each of them, the light of the love of Christ shed abroad.
But the powers of darkness would not lie still at this assault. One citizen after another seemed to be filled with an evil so palpable, it shot venom from their eyes and mouths.
Malik had seen this before. In his youth he had been present when Paul cast demons out of the very bodies of people who had become inhabited by a foul presence. He saw those afflicted tear at their own skin, rip out their own hair in an agony of confusion, their own bodies becoming their enemy. Paul lifted the name of Christ over these demons, their backs arched and lips drawn back over their teeth, then the evil spirits left the bodies behind, like empty shells, nearly lifeless in the dirt.
Malik swallowed hard, fought against the fear in his chest, tasted ashes in his mouth. His stomach turned at the smell of burning flesh, as though the demons fed upon those they had invaded.
The wild eyes of both men and women who had given themselves away darted left and right, up and down, looking for someone
to devour. And Malik heard a wrenching sound, as though the very earth had been torn open and shrieks erupted from the deep.
He turned to Julian, fearing an attack on the boy, for the wild-eyed ones turned on anyone who approached.
Julian stood with his arms upraised, his eyes closed, and Malik saw the Spirit of God on him, a shield of defense. He breathed in relief, but the breath was cut short by a sharp pain, like the prick of a small needle, in his lower back.
He turned a slow circle, confused, and put a hand to the pain.
Behind him, a young man, his eyes impossibly large and dark, hissed through clenched teeth, “You will not win here.” He waved a short dagger. “You are
here!” Then he was gone.
When Malik brought his hand before his eyes, he saw it was covered with blood, and his legs grew wobbly.
He turned back to the battle. Although it raged on, for Malik all had grown quiet. The sound of the clash of heaven and hell was replaced by a sweet silence, and perhaps soft music far away.
His vision blurred and he decided to lie down on the rock, for that would be much better.
A thousand stars looked down on him in that sweet silence, and Malik thought, strangely, of Moses dying on Mount Nebo, not far from here. Of Aaron, also called home on a mountain, some said here in Petra.
It is an honor to die thus, on a mountaintop before the Lord.
He felt no pain, only some sadness that like Moses, he would not live to see the end of his battle.
The battle is the Lord’s, Malik.
He nodded to the dark sky, to the stars watching him.
You have done well, faithful servant. It is time to enter into your rest.
Malik smiled and turned his head slightly on his rock-bed. There was only one thing left to do.
As though Malik’s desire had carried on the hot wind and lodged in the heart of the boy, Julian looked down, saw Malik there on the ground, and dropped his arms.
Come, Julian. It is time to say good-bye.
ASSIA THOUGHT PERHAPS
AGIRU COULD CAUSE THE
earth to open and swallow her as she stood before the queen on the narrow promontory of rock at the highest part of the plateau. Below and to their right, an unearthly shriek had begun, and when Cassia glanced that way she saw that darkness reigned over the area. All the torches had gone out.
Hagiru saw it, too, and Cassia felt a flash of something like fear in the queen, but it was gone just as quickly and the queen’s gaze was back on her with a fury that could burn through rock.
As though the citizens feared this battle could also take them down, they cleared the stone-outlined rectangle that served as the holy place. Only a few held their places, and behind Hagiru, Alexander was held by a palace guard. A rope circled his wrists and the sight of it caused Cassia physical pain, wracking her body with a trembling chill she fought to control.