Time’s Labyrinth ( Book 1 )

I wrote a book, and it only took me 8 years. And it’s just the first one of a trilogy.

While I was facing a f***ing blossoming, creative period, I figured out I could do better. So, why write one book when I can write three, instead?

This historical fantasy novel encompasses modern day Britain, ancient Rome, emperors, warriors, Druids, and more. Despair, struggle and all sorts of challenges are what awaits Anthea, Valerius, and others in this thrilling trilogy.

Not only will you find a fiery female lead character who’s no shrinking violet, but also a brave Roman General who completes the picture, or to say, the book. Yes, there is a dose of romance, but don’t start jumping like a kangaroo quite yet…because this story line doesn’t go the way you might imagine it. Here you’ll find a the first chapter, so  check it out, see for yourself and if you have any inputs ,please let me know. I would really appreciate it.

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Chapter 1.

            “Gods, what are we going to do now?” she whispered and held tighter onto him. “The river’s ice was cracking under their horse’s hooves, and the howls of the wolves were echoing into the dark, winter forest. She could hear angry voices coming closer behind them. The soldiers were not giving up the chase. A cold gust of wind blew over the river, and her long fiery hair obscured her eyes. The howling pack appeared on the bank of the river. All she could see were enormous, growling mugs and sharp teeth. The man tilted his head, and she could see a fierce warrior tattoo covering his face. Her emerald eyes shone soft in the moonlight as they surveyed the contours of his rugged features. He appeared as a brute, and yet, she pulled him closer, unafraid. She was not petrified of the man in her arms, but of what was to come. As she held him, she could feel the sticky blood oozing from his wound. The ice started giving way, and she screamed. 

                                                                                     *

Anthea opened her eyes, turned on her back, and stared at the ceiling. She felt very cosy under the warm blanket that engulfed her, but she had no choice. She had to attend the classes today. She reached to the nightstand and tapped the alarm off before clicking on the light. Her eyes adjusted and took in the little apartment where she was staying for the duration of her studies. Sounds of the old city waking emanated through the small window, and a light-hearted smile crept across Anthea’s fair face. She could hear the faint clacking of England’s black taxies. The traffic was getting louder, with the occasional car horn of an impatient driver screeching and ruining an otherwise calm morning.

She was living in a tiny loft flat, which suited her simple tastes. Oxford University allocated these dwellings to the recipients of the Alan Turing Scholarship, whom Anthea also happened to admire. She could never accept the paradox of such a brilliant man’s accomplishments being disregarded after the war ended, an injustice which came from religious prejudice and simple human intolerance. Oxford University’s Foreign Service Programme was looking for unique, bright people to become the new European diplomats. Exceptional people who, as the promising minds of tomorrow, were supposed to change the world for the better and who would lead the European Union through the power struggles of 21st century.

Anthea sighed and stretched her legs, resting her feet on the bare wooden floor. The morning light was soft and low. She stood up and walked passed the desk. She glanced at the worn copy of Pride and Prejudice just barely visible amidst the various historical and psychological texts that adorned the desktop and continued toward her small bathroom. It was a comfortable place, with a modest kitchen and a living room that also doubled as the sleeping quarters simply by lowering the bed out of the wall. The kitchen table was tucked under the window with two hand-carved chairs at its side. A stack of the past week’s Times was arranged chronologically on the spare chair.

Anthea relished in the feeling of the bathroom’s cool tiles beneath her feet and turned on the tap. Her slender body reflected in the mirror as she dipped her foot into the shower. Although she didn’t have the time for gym routines or morning jogs, her naturally toned arms and legs suggested the complexity of a woman who possessed both a youthful charm and a Siren’s ferocity. She checked the warmth of the water with her hand and content with the temperature, stepped under the relaxing stream. She leaned with her hands against the wall of the shower and drifted within herself. With closed eyes, Anthea saw flashes of a man wrapped in wolf pelts. He looked like a vicious barbarian, yet his eyes were kind, and for some reason, she was not fearful of him. His face, rough and worn, had a softness to it that incited a warmth within her—a warmth that radiated throughout her body and churned a deep longing. In that moment, with the help of the warm water’s caresses, time stopped for her. Only when the water became cool did she return to this world.

She stepped out of the shower and twisted her dark hair into a small towel. As she glanced up, her reflection was staring at her from the mirror. A sudden chill overcame her. The tiny hairs on her body stood on end. She closed her eyes and wrapped herself in her arms. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. When she reopened them, her heartbeat had steadied and the moment passed. She draped herself in an oversized towel and walked passed the mirror to the next room, her eyes poised forward.

In the kitchen, she pulled the aside the curtain. Perfect. Another long Monday and the day starts with a fog. Anthea put on water for her morning coffee and opened the wardrobe next to her bed. After deliberating for a moment, she selected a long cowl neck sweater and dark, fitted jeans. Perfunctorily, she dressed, combed her hair, and put on slight touch of makeup around her eyes, just to emphasize the emerald in them. The kettle’s whistle blew, and she situated herself at the table as she sipped the much-welcomed pick-me-up. I wonder how many of my classmates will attend today. Looking out of the window on to the small square where early risers were already hurrying about their business, Anthea started drifting away in her thoughts with a faint smile.

At only twenty-five, she had already been a part of a research team at Wroclaw University in Poland, which conducted studies of political and historical similarities between ancient Empires and today’s superpower policies. One of the leading researchers recommended her to the special Oxford University scholarship committee because she had an exceptionally deductive mind that could penetrate through deep-rooted mysteries hidden in ancient texts. She had liked working at the old university, which, throughout the centuries, had become one of the biggest and most renowned universities in Poland. They had been rewriting history with each discovery.

Anthea quick set down her cup and dipped into the hallway for the morning paper. As she sat back down, her eyes skimmed the feature, which caused her light disposition to turn. More of this BS. “Militant Islamist Invading Europe Under the Guise of Refugee Humanitarian Disaster” was the front-page title. There was a photo of a humanitarian centre on fire and a mass of Muslim men protesting in a threatening manner. She stopped and started to read:

The European Commission faces backlash from Member States in the wake of enforcing the European Agenda for Migration, legislation that requires European borders to remain open for over one million Syrian refugees. Member States, as well as surrounding European nations, express concerns of social and economic devastation as media reports of alleged Islamic extremists posing as refugees increase.

The Commission’s Humanitarian and Civil Protection Department extends emergency support to displaced refugees that, per consensus reports, consist predominantly of women, children, and elderly migrants. However, local news sources offer conflicting accounts. Organized refugee groups are reported to setting fire to humanitarian centres and destroying donations of food, clothing, and other basic supplies. The groups, referred to as “Sharia gangs,” predominantly consist of two dozen able-bodied men between the ages of twenty and forty-five. Additionally, on-scene footage reveals that these “refugee groups” cross the border into Europe with one or two grief-stricken Muslim women with children, which media analysts speculate is a guise to make these “Sharia gangs” appear “camera-ready” and legitimate. As these autonomous “refugee groups” extend further into Europe, a flood of religious-based violence is spreading against European women based on their “immodest” appearance.

Europol is detaining suspects connected to the “Sharia gangs” and has released information stating that the detainees have thousands of Euros and new mobile phones on their persons upon arrest. In light of the information’s release, protestors against the European Agenda for Migration are pronouncing the invasion of Islamic extremists and the social and economic collapse of Europe. However, politicians in power maintain that the alleged gangs are simply psychologically disturbed individuals not affiliated with any specific religious sect, and officials are citing the alleged terroristic activity as isolated incidents.

German police are receiving orders not to vigorously pursue these cases of social unrest. Critics of EU policy propose that prosecuting refugees of any kind would be an admission of the truth that there is, in fact, a crisis on the rise. Opponents of Commission’s executive power voice that Brussels’ open borders immigration policy, spearheaded by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is a failure and in part responsible for the alleged Islamic militant groups that reports claim are overtaking German and European streets. Local authorities are demanding assistance in countering the increased reports of vandalism, theft, assault, and rape as the number of refugees continues to expand. On a national level, Member States are preoccupied with dissident migrants who are refusing identification and registration based on religious principles and are unable to aid metropolises.

Dr. Otto Stainer, a political history expert with the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, presents the refugee crisis as an attempt from Middle Eastern extremists to destabilize Europe. “We are in a religious war, and Islam is winning. European politicians fear being labelled “Islamophobic” and are sticking their heads in the sand, afraid to call the situation as it is: an Islamic military invasion of Europe. This term was invented to prevent people from criticising an ideology, which clearly has no place in Secular Humanist Society. There is no “Islamophobia.” The reality is that Islam has a problem with everything non-Islamic.” Dr. Stainer contends at last week’s council meeting. He continues, “Behind the human tragedy of the Syrian refugees, the tragedy for Europe is following.” While Dr. Stainer projects a dim outcome for Europe, European nations are expressing similar viewpoints.

European Union members, such as Hungary, Austria, and Greece, are following suit as Germany goes against the EU’s “border-free travel zone” and refuses to allow an endless surplus of migrants. Other Member States are now advocating for a closed border policy, despite the EU’s twenty-year legislation. European leaders are in a tailspin as the refugee crisis escalates and the concern of militarized European borders rises. European Commissioner Pierre Moreau refuses to comment.

If the richest countries in the Middle East are refusing to aid the Muslim refugees, should Europe continue to do so at its own detriment?

Anthea, disconcerted, rubbed her forehead absent-mindedly as she stared at the paper. The academic community of political sciences felt that the third world war was at the doorstep. The world’s social climate was changing. Iran was getting nuclear weapons abilities faster than anyone predicted. The United States was dealing with its own economic problems and needed constant conflict to keep the dollar from collapsing. It was one of the real reasons for invading Iraq and beforehand, staging a false flag operation in New York, which gave an excuse for going into the war in the first place. On the other side of the world, China and Russia were playing their own game of high stakes chess. Their Sino-Russian Border had been a source of constant tension since the undeclared military conflict that started in 1969. As a result, the two super powers were wary of their neighbours.

She idly flipped through the “World” section, pausing only for the occasional brow furrow. There was so much conflict in the Middle East that it was obvious where all of it was going. The propaganda machine was at full power, especially America’s Fox News. Even Goebbels would be proud of their techniques for telling fairy tales and making people believe them. It was history repeating itself. Ancient Empires transformed into today’s superpowers, but the principles and mechanisms of how they operated remained similar. However, then, the corruption and lies weren’t veiled behind talking heads and sound bites. Technology had become more sophisticated and the means of destroying each other had become more advanced. The result was still identical. Civilians suffered, homes destroyed, and innocents were paying the price for old men’s wars.

Anthea supposed that people had the capacity to see where all this was really coming from, if only they could just open their eyes. The real troublemakers were not in the Middle East as the news outlets proposed. They were in their skyscrapers, pulling strings from their leather chairs, manipulating their democratically elected politicians from above. The primary role of these officeholders was to keep the people compliant and enslaved to their reality shows, their unquenchable consumerist thirst, their first world “problems,” which enabled corporations in controlling the free world. For people at the top of those organizations, the real aphrodisiac was not money, but power over lives and destinies of countries. Old chronicles confirmed that sociopaths, megalomaniacs, and narcissists led this world throughout history and into modern times.

Europe wanted to avoid the full blast of the conflict, which motivated the European Union to fund the diplomacy programme. Anthea had always believed that deeds spoke louder than words, and luckily, she was not alone in this way of thinking. Finally, European parliament came to its senses—learning from the past world wars that had torn Europe apart. Thus, the need for bright new diplomats to steer Europe through these tumultuous times became crucial. The idea was to get educated people with knowhow from different zones of sociology, history, psychology, science, and civil engineering who were not career politicians and give them freehand in solving the issues that the unfit bureaucrats had fucked up. Anthea was self-assured in the knowledge that her position in Oxford was pivotal for helping to redirect the future of Europe.

She hurried her coffee and slipped on comfortable black boots that hit just below the knee. After grabbing her long black coat and her knapsack for school, she stepped out into the hall. Most of the students were still sleeping, and she silently walked down a narrow corridor to the stairs. Well, at least climbing all the way to the seventh floor would be great exercise. They renovated the building just a few years earlier, but no matter how much they put into it, the old wooden staircase still squeaked. Treading into the chilly winter’s morning woke her up even more than the coffee. She took in a deep breath, lifted the collar of her coat, and hurried across the square to her bus stop. The connection to her university was very good. The bus was driving to Wellington Square every 15 minutes. She was not waiting long when, as she was entering, a man came running to just barely catch it. He smiled at her as he passed and chose to sit directly behind her. It seemed to her that he was around thirty, but what she had noticed first was his charm and genuine handsomeness. She gazed out of the window, and despite the gray morning, enjoyed the short drive to her university.

She stepped out on the Little Clarendon Street, followed by the man who almost missed the bus. There was just a short walk across the square full of trees to her classroom. He elongated his step to come by her side and asked her if she also had early classes. She glanced at him and nodded without a word. She didn’t feel like talking because she knew what would inevitably follow. Here we go, another so-called witty pick up line. With her dark red hair, big emerald eyes, and spellbinding face, she was well-accustomed to the appreciative looks of men. Although by twenty-five, she had grown to find those little exchanges as more tiring flattery. She had long exhausted her patience for suitors that masqueraded as men. And even the professors had become a bore, men who simply desired to make her the other woman while promising castles in the clouds. All she wanted was the passion she felt in her visions. This longing made her sometimes question herself and her place in the world, but then she’d remind herself that there’s a thin line between crazy and genius.

There were a few good men, but none of which she shared their romantic affections. These admirers possessed the right intellectual acuity and could go toe-to-toe with her in matters of the mind, yet these relationships often turned decidedly platonic. “You’re too picky,” her mother would criticize. She only ever had one serious lover, and while he was acclaimed in his respective field, he lacked any real capability for true love. He lavished her beauty and admired her for her wit, yet her affections were regarded as more ornamental than practical. When she had pushed for them to move in together, he had simply responded that while he found her to be a suitable companion for black-tie galas, she was just too high-maintenance for day-to-day living. She was unable to garner any sympathy in such circumstances when even her former best friend, Maja, whom she had also dated for couple of years when they were teenagers, would reproach her with comments like “Well, you’re too hard to please, Anthea” or “Anthea, you come off like you’re so above everyone.” Eventually Anthea became fed up with her criticism, and just before she left for England, they parted ways. Ever since, on occasion, Anthea would receive a handwritten holiday card or birthday greeting from Maja. And although she never responded, she kept these little mementos of their sensual friendship and relationship tucked away in a cardboard box on the top shelf of the linen closet.

“Or don’t you,” he teased, “care for coffee?” She paused for a moment, unaware that the uninvited companion had been talking to her.

“What?” She tightened the belt on her coat.

“I was saying that it’s been lovely walking beside you, and would you like to grab a cup with me after your classes?” He flashed her another confident smile.

Anthea sighed. “Listen—”

“Oh, come on, why not? I don’t bite, and it is just a cup of coffee,” he interrupted.

She paused for a moment and glanced again at his playful smile.

“Judging from your accent, I would say you’re from Poland. I’ve always liked girls from your part of the world.” He gave her a wink.

She discreetly rolled her eyes and didn’t feel the need to correct him. Everyone that had ever met her thought she was from Poland, when, in fact, she was from a small, charming Alpine town in Slovenia, called Bovec. Her mother was Slovenian, yet her father was Scottish.

“I can show you the city if you want. I’ll be your personal tour guide,” he continued.

Anthea scoffed. “I may not be from around here, but I am uninterested in what you may consider the duties of a “personal guide” to be. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” Looking forward, she quickened her gait with finality.

His charming smile faded and for a flash reflected the disposition she had become accustomed to seeing in men to whom she did not reciprocate their advances.

“Geez, you’re an ice queen,” he said with a grin, regaining his composure. “You should know that with me, you would have a great time, and I’d melt that icy heart of yours real quick.”

Anthea released a derisive laugh and dismissed him with a flutter of her hand. Wow. I should start writing down all the idiocies guys say. That’s priceless. She briskly walked away as he stood stupefied, his eyes locked to the back of her beautiful dark red hair. Like I’d dignify such juvenile behavior with a response.

Yet, she had a light step while walking into her classroom, and her mind was clear despite the early morning. She was thinking of the future. Changing minds of the politicians was a challenging endeavor. She figured out quite early that democracy was just an illusion, another experiment in social construction. Nevertheless, ancient Greeks had it figured out. Only the educated ones had the right to vote. The fanciful notion most people held was that they had a voice, and this was a welcomed illusion for the ruling class. It kept people happy under the guise of having some form of control over their destinies.

The course she was attending was a Foreign Service Programme, which had entered its 44th year in 2012. The programme had brought together diplomats in their early-to-mid careers for a course lasting a full academic year, from early October to late June. Its graduates now occupied a number of senior posts in the international field. Most graduates became established diplomats, one of which Anthea would become at the end of the course after receiving a certificate in diplomatic studies.

Oxford had generally accepted candidates from all over the world, recommended by their respective governments. This meant that at one time, career politicians also had the accessibility to enter the class. This time around, as European Parliament decided to make drastic changes, the admission conditions now forbade candidates who were career politicians without any kind of successful work experiences from their fields of study, with an underlying emphasis on their integrity. Another condition for this year’s course was that no non-European candidates could enroll. The special nature of the programme automatically excluded them on a geographical basis.

Only two British were attending the course—an experienced architect and a skilled civil engineer. It was a pilot program, and not even the EU knew how it would turn out. Teaching psychologists, historians, engineers, sociologists, and anthropologists about diplomacy and its finesse was becoming a challenge for lecturers quite fast. These were students with practical working experiences and who were, in most cases, already striving to solve all the problems created by their governments’ appointed “specialists”.

Anthea, along with her classmates, very soon started to call the course “the science of bullshit.” She smiled at the thought. Diplomacy, for the most part, was just a word that could substitute for “hypocrisy,” and it essentially gave “mind games” a more sophisticated title. In essence, the professors were trying to teach them how to send someone to hell in such a way that after the new diplomats were done with them, they’d be looking forward to the trip. Anthea held master’s degrees in psychology and history, two fields that helped her excel at her work in Poland and which were proving to be invaluable at Oxford as well.

Understanding the histories of nations—where old conflicts originated and how different nations thought of the world around them—in conjunction with grasping how nations thought and perceived themselves, was essential in bringing countries together in cooperation for the greater good. Lecturers liked her from the start, and she challenged them with her exacting questions. She also sometimes annoyed professors with her logic and amused her classmates by it, as she tended to embarrass the lecturers on an occasion or two with the presentation of her arguments. This had made her popular amongst her fellow students. They were all good people, and one could see that the combination of their ways of thinking, their character, and their working experiences could quite possibly bring about the changes the pilot program wanted to achieve. The key for success was that the governments would allow these graduates to continue with their work in European parliament. The idea was to create committees with executive power that would regulate European countries in such a way that the European Union could stay economically and militarily strong and, hopefully, become independent from NATO. European countries signed a document with which they agreed to allow those committees to suggest changes in their policies for the greater good, and subsequently, it obligated signature countries to abide by those suggestions.

The primary goal was to put aside political differences and primitive pissing contests between the self-centred “experts” who couldn’t get a decent job if they paid for it. They were too incompetent to hold an honest job, thus they became politicians in the first place. There were of course exceptions, idealists who truly believed that they could make a difference. Unfortunately, the system was such that it either corrupted them, or one just gave up. Actions, deeds, and history showed beyond the shadow of a doubt that politicians, no matter the colour or country, for the most part, were the most useless people on the planet. That is, followed by lobbyists and gangster rappers.

The first class, Theoretical Traditions in International Relations, was interesting to her. The subject, in a way, touched upon both history and psychology, her fields of expertise. The class passed quickly enough even though it lasted two hours. She had an hour and a half of free time before the afternoon classes, The End of History and Democratic Peace. Consequently, she decided to go to the library and find her favourite book, which she had wanted to read again for some time now. A good book is better company than the one of a dull, unimaginative man-child. Anthea softly chuckled to herself. The walk to the University of Oxford’s main research library took her only about ten minutes, as it was not far from Wellington Square. She loved the character and energy of the Bodleian library, which was also one of the oldest in Europe. As she was walking toward the entrance, the distinctive dimples in her cheeks appeared in tandem with a radiant smile. One could feel it. Just entering through the towering wooden doors and wandering amongst all those books made Anthea beam. Her satisfaction remained in knowing that only the British Library, with over 150 million items, was bigger than the one she just walked into.

When professors referred them to the main research library, they referred them to what the locals call the “Bodley,” or simply, “the Bod”. The Bodley had become, under the Legal Deposit Libraries Act of 2003, one of six legal deposit libraries for works published in the United Kingdom. Also under the Irish law, it was entitled to request a copy of each book published in the Republic of Ireland. Anthea learned when she came for the first time to Bodleian that it operated principally as a reference library. It stored a lot of historic documents, which are allowed only to be studied at the premises. She learned that it occupied a group of five buildings located near Broad Street, dating from the late medieval Duke Humfrey’s Library to the New Bodleian of the 1930s. The first time she walked through the oldest building and explored the other four, she was overwhelmed. She always liked the scent of books and was drawn to the unique energy they radiated.

Duke Humfrey’s Library was her favourite of the five buildings that constituted the old Bod. Since the 19th century, a man built several underground stores below parts of the buildings that were used to archive documents. It was just one more thing that fascinated Anthea because she loved combing through old texts to discover buried secrets. She diligently read to make connections between different documents and to draw conclusions about what probably happened and why. It was very much like detective work. The only difference being that the mysteries were hundreds of years old.

Anthea strolled toward the old wooden stairs that led to the upper gallery, which provided an overarching view of the central reading area below. She stopped for a moment and admired the Victorian-styled décor. “I have to get one of those,” she whispered to herself with a chuckle while eyeing a green and gold antique table light. She continued through the upper gallery, searching for a particular bookshelf. Here’s the right area…so where are you… With her fingertips, she followed the covers of the books, sliding over them and mouthing each title softly to herself. She was searching for The Insulted and Humiliated by Dostoyevsky.  His writing captivated her. The first time she read his book, she had gotten the feeling as if she had stepped down somewhere deep under the earth. As she reached the bottom, she could see nothing through the heavy darkness. It was hard to draw breath, and it seemed to her like there was no air to breathe, no place to go. Suddenly, the darkness had started to vanish, not because it became lighter, but because her eyes opened to things of the world she had never knew existed. She grew within her soul and became richer for the knowledge she gained from Dostoyevsky’s genius. Reading authors like Dostoyevsky and Remarque eventually brought her to Oxford.

She loved walking amongst the thousands of books and was lulled into a simple calmness of the soul, an enchanting moment of being close to all the different worlds hidden within the texts. Ah! She found what she was looking for on a higher shelf, so she stood on her tiptoes and extended her arm to reach for it. As her small fingers pulled her book off the shelf, another fell next to her feet. It was quite dated and had the dimensions of a pocket-sized notebook. She picked it up and mulled it over in her hand, her brow raised with curiosity. As she opened the strange text, she immediately noticed that it was handwritten. Appears to be about ancient Rome, perhaps some kind of oracle’s predictions. She moved to slip the intriguing little book back on the shelf, but she paused, and her arm lingered mid-air.

Well, let’s just take a quick look. Dostoyevsky isn’t going anywhere. She began with the page that had opened as the book fell and was absorbed by the words she read. She was taken in by the strange sensation the book cast on her. Being considerate of the time, she closed the book and headed toward the service desk. She greeted the elderly librarian who was leaning over some papers and set her books on the counter. It seemed to her that the woman was as old as the building itself. Her voice was sharp, probably from dealing for decades with students. Anthea waited patiently for her to finish with whatever she was doing, as she didn’t want to antagonise the old woman. Her eyes drifted over the stacks of books that anticipated being returned to their places in the library. She wandered away within her thoughts and at first, didn’t hear the librarian calling to her.

“Your card, please. Miss, your card, please.” The librarian, without lifting her head, took only Dostoyevsky off the counter and extended her hand for the card. Anthea came to attention and abided the request.

“Is this everything, Miss O’Connell?” She read the name on the card without looking up.

“Yes, Ma’am.” Anthea nodded.

The librarian, in moving the papers to one side, saw the handwritten book placed on the counter. She took it slowly and put it in front of her on the desk. The old woman brushed her palm over its worn leather and lifted her eyes to look at Anthea. She leaned over the counter and cupped Anthea’s hand in hers. As she turned the girl’s hand over to inspect her soft palm, the old woman lifted her gaze into Anthea’s wide eyes. Before Anthea could react, the old woman released her hand with shout.

“Oh Gods, it is you! I can’t believe it, you finally came!”

 Anthea stood struck. Embarrassed, she looked behind to see if anyone witnessed the librarian’s apparent breakdown, but she was alone. She turned back toward the desk just as the woman was scurrying around the counter.

Beside her, the old woman clasped Anthea’s hands and shook them with fervour. “Gods, let me look at you child, it is really you.” The strange woman’s face emanated such warmth that she could have quite possibility been mistaken for Anthea’s grandmother. “Those green eyes, one can’t miss those eyes.”

 Anthea’s eyes narrowed. She scanned the old woman’s face, as if the answers remained within her many wrinkles. She took a deep breath before responding through thin, parted lips. “What are you talking about? You must have confused me with someone else. I don’t know who you are, we have never met.” As Anthea’s voice began to crack, she pulled her hand out of the woman’s grip and took a step back.

“True, true, but I know who you are. You are Lavinia, and you are Anthea. I also see that you have found the book.” The old librarian continued with growing excitement.

“The book?” With a slight head shake, Anthea sighed. What is wrong with you, woman.

The old lady nodded with a huge grin. Anthea’s big emerald eyes studied the woman before her. She had grey hair, almost white, and the years were clearly showing on her face. She appeared to be well over sixty, and the woman had pleasant, soft features, which, despite the circumstances, made her look very kind.

“Yes, the book! It was hidden here,” the old woman said with a mischievous smile.

Anthea’s face gradually twisted with impatience. “What book are you talking about?”

“Well, this one.” The librarian put her hand on the old handwritten text and continued.

“In it many things are written from long lost past and now that past has touched our future.”

She took it and pushed it into Anthea’s hands. This is so weird. Anthea looked down at the unsolicited gift. Well, what can I do. If the lady has got one thing going for her, it’s certainly intrigue.

“Listen, I was looking for the other book there,” Anthea motioned toward The Insulted and Humiliated, “and this one just happened to be next to it. It had fallen from the shelf, so I picked it up. That’s it.” Anthea paused, and her disposition softened. “I mean, I thought it looked like a quick read and that, you know, it might be interesting to find out what’s tucked away in it. I really didn’t mean to stir anything up here.” Her voice had a somewhat apologetic tone.

“Ah!” The old woman beamed. “I have hidden it in plain sight, the best place to hide things, and if you wouldn’t have found it, I would have given it to you.” An emphatic smile radiated across her face. “However, as the universe knows what it is doing, you stumbled upon it and took it. I know that something told you in your heart to do so, dear. This book isn’t for loan. It was always for you to have it. You’ll see.”

The librarian, having completed the transaction, released Anthea with a nod and returned to her position behind the service desk. “If you have any questions, here is my phone number. Please don’t hesitate to call me.” She offered her card across the counter. “Now, off you go my dear, people are waiting in line.”

Anthea gathered the books and after a hard blink, turned toward the exit. Wow. The old woman watched from the corner of her eye as Anthea stepped through the exit. As she stared at the dark red locks, she whispered to herself, “Finally, we have found you, our beloved Lavinia.” She involuntarily brought her worn wrinkled hand against her beating heart. “My mother was right. She knew. She knew that I would sense her and know. It took only a lifetime, but she has come.”

Anthea drifted back to her classroom as if in a trance. What the hell was that all about? She dismissed the bizarre interaction with short shrug and let out a chuckle. Just one of those Mondays. Yet, as she journeyed to her building, Anthea couldn’t shake the sensation she had when she first held the leather book. Despite her curiosity, she didn’t dare stop to open it. She had felt the ages in the writing, in the pages from long ago. When she held it, it was as if she was carrying all the weight of time in her hands. She walked past her classroom and, in a daze, double backed. She quietly entered the bustling room and snuck a seat in the back, waiting for the class to begin.

The lecture was dragging on, and as she scanned the classroom, she could see that most of her classmates were struggling to keep their eyes open, just as she was. The professor’s monotone voice was putting everyone to sleep just as sure as if they had taken sleeping pills. Muffled sounds from the street didn’t help the overall energy of the classroom either. For a moment, Anthea drifted off in her mind until she was startled by an odd sensation. Her leg felt uncomfortably and curiously warm, and she looked down to see her schoolbag resting against her calf. She stared at the bag and knew. The heat emanated from the handwritten text. She abruptly pulled her leg away and fumbled to gather her belongings. Without looking around her, she beelined for the exit and left without a word. She walked out onto Wellington Square and looked up into the grey sky as soft raindrops started to caress her warm cheeks. She tasted them on her lips and with a chill, clamoured to put on her coat. Anthea pressed her fingertips to her forehead and sighed. What am I doing? She took a moment to adjust her knapsack and regain her composure before hurrying toward the bus stop.

The driver gave her a polite nod as she entered the vacant bus. Since Oxford was a university town, most people were either at work or in class that time of day. A little embarrassed, she ambled to the back and kept her eyes to the window. She rested her bag on her knees with her arms wrapped around it, as if she were holding a treasure. The bus lurched forward, and she squeezed tighter.

                                                                                                         * * * * *

Twenty minutes later she entered the loft. She shut the door in haste and secured the locks. She put the bag on her bed, looked out of the window, and anxiously skidded her hand through her dampened hair. She looked at her knapsack. She paused, then put it on the kitchen table and sat down. Her attention shifted from the book to the view outside the window and back again. What she had felt holding that book was something beyond her. She read more books than she could count, but she had never had this kind of sensation about any book she ever touched, let alone read. She opened the knapsack and pulled out the old woman’s book. She took the book with her to the bed and held it in her lap.

She didn’t think of Dostoyevsky’s The Insulted and Humiliated or even of the class she had walked out of. Her hand glided over the worn leather, and her fingertips felt its age. Anthea opened the book with ease. The pages had yellowed and were quite fragile to the touch. Yet, it was a thing of beauty. The handwriting was gothic in style, and the edges of the pages were adorned with colourful patterns. The book was not very thick, although it was unexpectedly heavy. First few pages contained notes of some man who lived 2,000 years ago, as well as the notes of the person who wrote the book. The author stated that his writing was a word for word transcription of the older script, which was in the scrolls he copied.

Anthea was struck by energy of the original text, as it was copied so meticulously. She could grasp the feeling of the time when the words were written. She glanced over them, searching for the page that had opened when the book fell in front of her way back in the Bod. In finding the part that had caught her eye, she began reading. The words enthralled her. Wait. What language is this? Latin? Then it dawned on her. She understood everything, yet she only knew incidental Latin terms from Psychology and from her studies in general. Nevertheless, the words began to flow in front of her eyes, and she absorbed them with perfect clarity.

I am hiding in the fort and writing these words to you in the hope that they will reach you safe. It is two years after Boadicea rose against the Empire, and now the Celts are at it again, another rebellion. However, this time much more organised, much more sophisticated. They learned from their mistakes. Take heed of what I am telling you now, dear Lavinia.

The storm came upon us from the world that is beyond our reach. Celtic Gods have aided their warriors in their uprising. Valerius, with his legion of 8,000 men, faced them. There was also a woman, who had come from a world unknown to us. I can’t tell you much about her. All I can say is that if the Celts would have been able to use her, I shudder to think what more terrors would befall us.

Their chant was not utterly successful. Nevertheless, it was good enough to submerge this world into darkness. Still, there is hope, as not all is lost. You who are reading these lines can bring about the change and save us all. The darkness that we have fallen into can be fought. Take heart in what I am saying to you, because you will need it. Your soul has been reborn again. I know that you always felt as if you were out of place and time. Everything about you told the world that you are inimitable—from your unique dark red hair to your emerald eyes. Have no doubt, my child, about who you are. You will come to us through the ages and through time. All is relative, and the world is much more than it seems. There are things I can’t even begin to comprehend, let alone explain to you. I can hear the fighting outside. Our men are hardly holding the line. They are good men, all of them, the best soldiers Rome ever had, and they are all going to perish. I will follow them to Elysium, but not before I finish my tale. That is as much time as I dared asking them to give me.

The Gods have sent me a gift for you. I didn’t dare use it, because I felt it was for you alone. Our Gods spoke to me, and from the moment I touched it and held it in my hands, I knew that only you could use its full power. Only you can destroy the altar of sacrifice with the sword of Nature, as it is called by the Celts. I don’t have time to explain how I know about these things, but part of it was written in the sacred Sibylline Scrolls. I have just enough time to tell you about the last battle that led us few survivors to this place where we are making our last stand. You need to know.

Anthea put down the book and looked through the window at the glowing blood red Moon. It was still the middle of the day, and yet there it was, shining right through her window. The red glow protruded through grey clouds, and it looked as if it had chased the Sun toward the west. And then she remembered. Her dreams, which had tormented her last year, came to her. She remembered waking up in the middle of the night, full of fear, covered in a cold sweat as if she had just taken an icy shower. She remembered the unexplainable feelings of passion that had left her gasping for air as she woke up, suddenly breathing deeply. There were also dreams of remarkable a calm, and in them, she was with a dark-haired man. She didn’t remember why or how she came to be with him, only that she felt at peace in his arms.

She stood up and walked toward the warm kitchen. She felt tired and yet, somehow, alert. She could feel her soul and all her past lives. She could feel something churning within her body. She put the water on the stove without much thought and leaned against the tiny window, gazing into the pale red ball peeking out. It was as if the Moon was calling her, and she couldn’t comprehend why or how. At this time of day? At this time of month? How peculiar. She didn’t know much about astronomy, but she knew well enough that the appearance of such a moon was out of place. The kettle whistled and drew her from the window. She made herself Nescafe with cold milk before heading back to the bedroom. She slowly leafed through pages, searching. What was that gift? What was he talking about? Anthea felt as if she was slipping into some kind of dream, where she was looking at herself and her actions from above.

As she turned the pages, she curiously paused at a sketch of a fortress. She could feel him speaking directly to her, could hear his voice telling her his story, as if he was standing right in front of her. She came to the passage that described the fate of the soldiers. She knew the strength of legions and that it was an exquisitely professional army. She also knew that against overwhelming odds, and with bad leadership, the legion could be lost. Maybe that is what happened, bad commanding officer, thus the loss of so many lives. She knew her history well, but she couldn’t recall any rebellion two years after Boadicea’s uprising. On the other hand, history from so long ago could have been lost, and records were vague. Yet, here she possessed a document that said there had been a huge uprising, one much more organised than Boadicea’s was. She continued reading where she had left off, in the hope of learning more about the gift from the Gods and of the rebellion. She was hooked into the mystery she had stumbled upon by chance.

The battle was fought at the altar where Druids of the fellowship “Black Woods” sang the chants of the ancient Celts. The Gods from beyond time put down huge stones on this land, creating a magnificently terrifying archway, which turned out to be the gate from the other worlds. General Valerius, with his “7th legion Augusta,” fought those beasts hard, but the battle was already lost even before it began—as the Gods told me in my dreams when I had asked them to help us by sacrificing ten bulls to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. Our Gods sent me alone atop a hill next to the battlefield when the portal opened. They spoke to me and showed me the exact moment when I was to leave my brethren. When I came there, the earth shook when the Moon was at its highest, and it was glowing dark red, as if it would be bleeding. It was the colour of your hair. Thunders were flashing down from the clear sky, and the ground was shaking. I was all alone in the middle of the forest, atop of that hill. It felt, with mist surrounding me, like being among the clouds. Wind was blowing by every moment more forcefully. The sounds of battle vanished. Screams of dead and dying were utterly lost to my ears, although I was not far from their place of death. Then a lightning struck right before me, knocking me off my feet. I was amazed that I had no injuries, so I stood up and walked where the lightning had struck. Looking down, I saw it. I saw the gift for you.

I thanked the Gods for their present. I picked it up, and then in a flash I saw you reborn, the woman who will destroy the altar. I saw you walking through some narrow hallway, wearing strange, black clothes. I saw your graceful, beautiful face, as if you were standing right before my eyes, carrying books of a foreign tongue. Therefore, I have entrusted this important task to the Vestal priestesses. I sent a courier with my instructions before all hell broke loose for virgo vestalis maxima. She is the chief priestess and my trusted friend. They will be searching for you, travelling through the ages, from one generation to another, until the age will come in which you will be reborn. The one that will find you will know. Gods will tell her. I prayed and will pray to the Gods that the Vestal priestesses will endure time and all the trials which will await them in the coming. Gods only know just how many centuries.

 We have also learned earlier during our march to this damned island that you are in our time the girl by the name Lavinia. She/you were supposed to be sacrificed in the chant ritual that would have enable the druid performing the rites to gain powers beyond our comprehension. Alas, you have been killed in the skirmish, just beyond the border. Nevertheless, with this victory, Celts might unite and strike across the channel into Gaul, inciting rebellion after rebellion all through the other Roman provinces. Consequently, endangering Rome itself. I do pray to Gods that they will be stopped by other Roman legions. I hope that the remainder of the 7th Legion will give me enough time to finish these words. Demise of the world as we know it is probably inescapable, although it is merely postponed and not, at present, imminent. Yet by having you at our side, destines can change.

As you are reading these words now, it means that the priestesses already have revealed themselves to you. Trust them, because they will keep you safe and help you do what needs to be done for all our sakes. I must go now, as the Celtic army has breached the walls of our marching fort. The last of Valerius’ legionaries are fighting close to my tent. I wish I had more time.

 I am leaving you with these final words of prayer that the Gods will watch over you. I hope that the soldier entrusted with these scrolls escaped with them, and my words will find you. Heed my warning. Druids also know about you. They will wait for you through time too, and they will do everything possible to get to you. Please, trust the priestesses and know that your life has changed now. Nothing will be as you know it.

Anthea stared at the page before her. The final words weighed heavily on her heart. She returned to the present when a white dove landed on the window shelf and gently rapped its beak against the glass. She watched the bird for a moment before standing up. She reached for some bread on the table and opened the window. Surprisingly enough, the bird didn’t fly away. It behaved as if it knew her and was completely calm as Anthea extended her hand, offering the food. She thought that this day was becoming stranger and stranger the more it progressed.

First that woman in the library, then the red Moon, now this dove. She fumbled in the pocket of her coat for the card with the phone number. It was plain white and had only one small emblem printed on it. A tiny dove encircled with olive leaves. She read the name that was in small print just above the phone number: J. Macintosh. Yeah right, she can’t be one of the priestesses, can she? She took a moment to stare at the emblem and then dialled the number on the card. The phone was ringing. She looked at her window to see if that dove was still there. It was. As she gazed at the blood red Moon, she again felt that pull, as if the dim rays of red light were calling to her through the clouds. She felt a chill and closed the open window.

As Anthea removed her hand from the window pane, the voice of the old woman answered. “Yes?”

“Miss Macintosh?”

“Speaking.”

“It’s Anthea. You gave me your card to call you…if I were to have any questions regarding the book…”

There was a pause. “Ah, Miss Anthea, I’m glad you’ve called.” Anthea could have sworn she felt the old woman smiling on the other end. She took a deep breath.

“What is going on? I feel very strange. I’m confused…and…when I was reading the book, I could feel his words. Especially the last ones, as if he was standing right in front of me. Speaking to me. I could understand everything, but I…I don’t speak Latin.”

The old woman let out a soft, knowing chuckle. “You could read it my dear, because you are Lavinia. Your old soul has awakened. The memories of your past lives are coming back. Tell me, child, do you have dreams? Those which you can’t explain. Those which are accompanied by intense emotion.”

Anthea withdrew a sharp, audible breath. How she could know? “Yes.” Her tone was flat and stern. “Sometimes I can’t sleep…and wake in the middle of the night.” Her voice lowered. “How did you know?”

“Relax, my dear,” Miss Macintosh assured in a calm manner. “Those are your memories. Those are your soul’s recollections of the past, remembering all that it went through. Do you now know who I am?”

Anthea collected her thoughts. “You are a librarian—”

The old woman interrupted with a light laugh.

“Who seems to know a lot about history,” she continued. “You also sound like as if you are a part of some kind of cult.” Anthea lingered on that final word and, in getting no response, edged further. “You’re not a…a…Vestal priestess.”

“Ah, my dear. But I am.”

“Come again?” Anthea’s eyes widen, surprised by how confident the old woman answered. She composed herself and continued more firmly. “You can’t be a Vestal priestess.

As far as I know, they don’t exist anymore, and I do know my history quite well.”

Miss Macintosh reassured her. “Oh, my dear, but I am a Vestal priestess.”

“Miss Macintosh.” Anthea’s voice gradually loudened. “You’re trying to tell me that you’re one of the Vestal priestesses that originated from Ancient Rome. That you are, in fact, a virgin, since only virgins could become priestesses of Goddess Vesta. And that you still honour this Goddess of the hearth, or in common words, the Goddess of home. In which,” her words grew even louder still, “the primary task of priestesses is to maintain the sacred fire of Vesta. Doesn’t seem particularly likely, considering I don’t know about any temple where they would be doing that now days. Somehow I seriously doubt that you have any privileges deriving from being a Vestal priestess. Really. Give me a break.”

Miss Macintosh responded as calmly as possible. “Lavinia, you have figured it out by yourself. I am a Vestal priestess, as sure as there is the Moon and the Sun in the sky.”

Anthea sighed, shaking her head in disbelief. “The Moon and the Sun are not as they used to be. Have you seen outside the window yet? And by the way, I’m Anthea. You know I’m Anthea.”

“Lavinia is who you are. Listen, when the scroll came into the hands of our chief Vestal, who read it, she figured out by the description of you that she knows you. She was your mother’s childhood friend. She remembered that her friend gave a birth to a beautiful girl with dark red hair and deep green eyes that glowed like emeralds under the Sun. And with dimples in her cheeks when she smiled. The same as your dimples. The description was unmistakable, as girls with your features in those times were practically non-existent. Even today, girls like you simply don’t come to be. In the years to come, the scroll was rewritten into the book you found. Nobody knows when or by whom it was done. The only thing that was important was that the scroll’s message was saved for you. Thus, it was copied word for word.” Miss Macintosh took a long breath before continuing. “Anthea, we should meet. Tomorrow.”

What Anthea heard touched her deep within her soul and confused her even more. She had so many questions that she wanted to ask, but she knew that it was better to ask them in person. “I can’t tomorrow. I have classes all day. I also have some papers to write.” Anthea’s  mind was racing, grasping to figure it all out. She was deciding if she should just meet her anyway.

Miss Macintosh didn’t let Anthea’s excuses discourage her. “Well, you can forget about them,” she replied matter of fact. “Your life has just changed in ways you will hardly be able to believe. At first. Tomorrow at eight at the pub next to the library and be on time, please. Good night, Miss Lavinia.” With these parting words, the Vestal priestess put down the phone with a click, thus preventing Anthea from another chance for more excuses.

The Moon was hiding behind the clouds. Anthea stared out of the window, feeling as though her life really had changed. She laid her cell phone on top of the nightstand and crawled into the bed. She burrowed under the blanket, thinking about everything that had transpired. She knew that sleep would not come easily tonight, yet she hoped for it anyway. The dove flew away from the tiny Oxford loft and left the uncertain Anthea alone with her thoughts.

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AfterShock

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The crackling voice in his earpiece of the squad leader brought him back to the present. “This is some fucked up shit. They slaughtered all the villagers. Check the cellars. Don’t touch the bodies. They might be booby-trapped.”

“Well, that’s what happens when you’re killing for God. You do it with righteous joy,” Herbst replied with disgust.

            “Ghost, anything?” the squad leader asked. He left the bodies in the cellar, and as he stepped out of the house, he looked in Ghost’s direction. He couldn’t see him because Aiden was an expert of camouflage and the ghillie suit had masterfully concealed him.

            “Nothing, the village seems empty from here,” Aiden replied, emotionally detached.

             He was on over-watch of the patrol that was moving into a village where a mujahedeen warlord supposedly established his base of operations. So far, there were no movements or sound detected. This was a modern religious war between Islam and Europe, yet the whole world was involved. This new war was as brutal as World War I and World War II combined and was compliments of the elected 2017 Trump administration and the alt-right Nazi supremacist Stephen Bannon.

            Yet in that moment, the rest of the world didn’t matter. The causes for war in Europe, just as the causes for the second Civil War in the U.S. between religious right wing states and secular states, were unimportant. The only thing that mattered was his buddies moving into a slaughtered village. The stench of death was everywhere. He was searching for possible threats, a possible ambush or an enemy sniper that might be lurking and waiting for the opportune moment to strike.

            The sound was carried with the wind first, and then he saw the smoke in the distance. He focused his scope onto the road leading into the village. His vantage point was perfect and from it he could see three cars driving towards them.

            He pressed the receiver on his radio and calmly reported, “Gents, we have company. Two jeeps and a truck in between. Approaching fast.” He was tracking their movement and focused on the driver of the first car.

            The squad in the village took up defensive positions and kept out of sight. “They’re not slowing down. It seems like they have no idea we’re here.”

            “Copy that Ghost,” the squad leader replied. “Heads up, gents. We don’t know their strength. Might be a platoon size.”

            “They stopped in the center of the village and are getting out of their vehicles. I got their commander in sight. I have a clear shot.” He found that space between breathing and his heartbeats that enabled a first shot-first kill.

            “Weapons free. I want prisoners.” He heard the squad leader’s order in his earpiece.

             “Wait, they have captives.” He moved his scope toward the back of the vehicle as they threw the first prisoner off the truck.

             Steiner sighed. “Shize. Hold,” he ordered his international fifteen men-strong squad.

             Aiden steadied his breathing and focused on the man on the ground. The guy had just received a kick to the head by the mujahid from the second jeep. He quickly scanned the village and made sure he knew where his comrades were. It was his job to keep them alive, and he was great at his job. Day was coming to an end, and it was clear that the mujahideen decided to stay the night in the village. The second prisoner was thrown off the truck, and the third followed.

            He swore silently, because what he saw through his scope was a girl, and they were usually brutalized if captured by jihadists under Sharia laws, which were barbaric to say the least, especially to a modern, secular, and humanist society. He saw more than his share of death and destruction, and he didn’t want even for his enemies to suffer the fate mujahideen had reserved for the infidel prisoners when captured. The newcomers didn’t venture deeper into the village, and their commander pointed at a few houses where he would want them to set up their beds for the night.

            Aiden pressed the receiver on his radio. “They’re staying put in the center of the village, and they’re setting up a larger bonfire, too. The prisoners seem to be members of the Red Cross. One of them is a woman. For some reason, they kept them alive, but I don’t like that fire. There’s no reason for it, unless they plan to have a bit of entertainment before they settle in for the night.”

            The girl’s screams amused the jihadists as they hauled her and kicked the two men toward the fire that was then lit. Aiden zoomed in on the mujahedeen dragging the girl. “What’s the plan, Stenier?” he calmly asked their squad leader. “I think that they’re about to barbecue their prisoners.”

            They forced all three prisoners onto their knees, and the one in the middle got smacked over the head for showing resistance. The girl yelled at the assailant and tried to jump at him but was punched in the face by the mujahedeen commander. He was laughing as he pointed at her and made what Aiden figured was a derogatory remark.

            He whispered to himself, “The first bullet is for you, filthy bastard.”

            The prisoners were shouting at their captors and without a warning, a man who appeared to be their second in command grabbed the middle captive by his hair, pulled his head back, and slit his throat. Blood gurgled from the gash and falling onto his side, the life faded out of him. The girl was helplessly lying on the ground, sobbing as her other colleague met the same fate with screams of horror which were sharply cut short by a mujahid knife.

            “Son of a bitch,” Aiden gasped. “Steiner, are you seeing this shit?! I’m taking the bastards down.”

            “Hold your fire, Ghost!” The pissed-off reply cracked in his earpiece, but he wasn’t listening anymore. He turned off his radio.

            He closed his eyes for a moment and cleared his mind. He knew that he was about to open the gates of hell and that he would have no regrets. His vision focused on the mujahedeen commander, who was hovering over the girl as two of his fellow jihadists were holding her down. She was crying and resisting and that earned her another punch in the face. Aiden sensed that his comrades were waiting for his shot before springing into action. A soft breeze caressed his cheek, and he tenderly adjusted his scope to account for the changed conditions. This was one shot he did not want to miss.

           His finger caressed the trigger as his heartbeat slowed. Her terrified screams vanished. His breathing calmed. He had found the magic place between the end of a single exhale aligned among heartbeats. He didn’t even feel the recoil of his rifle. The sound echoed off the mountains. Just as he had undone his pants, the mujahedeen commander’s head exploded in a red, pulpy burst. The girl stared in shock, hypnotized by terror. The dogs of war were unleashed.

To be continued,