008: Thus even war felt like the garden, a CHORUS of crows held too close; the last among them wild for rye.

Emil had been keeping an eye on the gate leading into New Lucifer for a very long time, hoping like hell that the man in the leather jacket would come back from inside the town to let him through. It was a nice enough gate to watch, all silver filigree and dark wood—either walnut or mahogany, Emil could never remember the different grain patterns—standing ten feet tall and twice as wide. The real problem with watching the gate, Emil had decided, was that he didn’t actually know what that meant. Was he supposed to protect the gate? That didn’t seem right. The gate was sturdy, and none of the people entering the city seemed to care about its intricate patterns or expensive inlay. At first Emil had thought perhaps he was supposed to keep people from entering, but, you know, that seemed rather rude. Who was he to decide who was admitted to New Lucifer? No one had tried to exit the town yet, so Emil hadn’t even considered that as a factor in his gate watching. This kind of pedantry was why Emil had made a terrible husband back in Toronto.

The flow of people, therefore, trickled slowly inward from the golden fields surrounding the last place on Earth. A few people one day, a couple the next. Sometimes nobody showed up. Pilgrims came to the tower alone, exhausted, and lost; the last stop on a journey that nobody quite remembers embarking on. They trickled in on horseback, or on worn out sneakers, or flying down the highway in a two door convertible with the top down—but always alone. The road to New Lucifer was long in a way that other roads were not. This one ate the horizon alive and spit out time itself in its wake.

Toronto. Weak coffee from the market next to work. Accounting, managing spreadsheets for companies that sold tile manufacturing equipment. His dog, Linus, German Shepherd. The third time he caught his wife having an affair, Mark Goetz, German bastard. A lonely apartment with not enough furniture and too many empty bottles. Emil tried not to think about it too much. Instead he focused on the task at hand. Watch the gate. Wait for the man to come back. Go into town. Find a place to rest.

Of course, the man in the leather jacket never came back.

Brother Gagneux took a deep breath of the dusty Autumn air. It had been a fine idea to leave the monastery. This hike had done him much good; his legs were stronger than they had been, and that horrible wet cough had quickly subsided. Good riddance. The trail was long and empty, but he slept well and never doubted that he was drawing near to his destination.

As he marched he cleared his mind and whispered old hymns half remembered,

“The Lord of hosts stands firm below,
While on the path I stride,
The sturdy walls of Jericho,
Rise lofty on each side,

Away, away, my feet do fall,
‘Till home I do abide,
The echo of His final call,

The cadence of his voice was comforting, even if he was missing some of the words. It had been many years since Brother Gagneux had sung in earnest.

Finally, one day, as the sun swung low on the horizon, Brother Gagneux saw the tower of New Lucifer splitting the sky like a seam. The thing stood so tall it seemed to loom in his direction, hunched and hostile, a monument like none other—Babel that was—drawn from history and completed by the hand of God himself. Gagneux’s footsteps picked up and his path straightened. This was where he was meant to go.

The dust from the road clung to his feet and his chest heaved with a painful burn, the result of the final miles of the journey taken at a sprint. Blessings were at hand, because alive or dead he had found the kingdom, the one he had always dreamed of. The walls of the city were like iron, and it’s buildings alabaster, all ringed by the amber grain countryside. Brother Gagneux fell to his knees at the mighty gate to the city, sure that streets of gold awaited him just past the final judgement, along with his heavenly reward.

“Good Saint Peter, I am poured out like a drink in offering, and the time for my departure is here. I have fought the good fight, I have run my race, I have kept the faith. Let me be judged worthy to enter my Father’s house, if it is His will.”

The request was met with silence from the man at the gate. Brother Gagneux waited patiently, bowed, face in the dirt, until the silence became uncomfortable. Gagneux lifted his eyes to face Saint Peter, but was met instead with the apologetic stare of someone far too diminutive to be the venerable first Pope. Saints should have stoic gravitas, great white beards, a halo of glory; this man was balding, had a weak chin, and wore an ill-fitting brown suit.

Emil, for his part, was perplexed by the winded Cistercian at his feet. None of the other pilgrims had made this kind of dramatic show. Most entered on their own, perhaps with a small, polite nod to the timid man watching the gate. A few had asked questions, but Emil didn’t really have any answers, so his reaction was almost always a weak shrug. He decided to stick with what he knew, and lifted his shoulders in confusion at the prostrate monk.

Brother Gagneux took this shrug as some kind of divine castigation, and muttered a more formal bona fides, “I was a man of faith. A French Trappist, a servant, a devoted member of the true Catholic Church. I submitted myself to the will of God in everything, and sought only his voice. These words are the most I have said in years, barred from frivolous speech by my vows and by my dedication to the Lord. I declare my belief in the Son of God, and repent of every sin I may have committed.” Forehead back to the dirt.

“Ah, well, very good. Go on through the gate then I suppose,” Emile responded.

“Pardon?” Gagneux trembled.

“Come on in. Seems like you just made it in time for dinner.”

“But… Isn’t there supposed to be some kind of judgement? A reckoning perhaps? I really didn’t expect to walk in just like that.”

“No, no judgement here. Maybe further in, I can’t say I’ve actually been. I’m just watching the gate.”

“The gate? But…” Gagneux stood up finally, grit in his teeth. “Who are you?”

“Emil. I’m watching the gate for a bit.”

The monk peered into the city. From this vantage point, the tower seemed to blend in with the sky itself, but the surrounding buildings seemed nice. On top of that, there really wasn’t really anything else on the horizon. Gagneux was under the distinct impression that once you got to this city, there really wasn’t anywhere to go.

“Well, alright then. Thank you honorable Emil. May the blessings of the Lord rain down upon you,” the lost Cistercian said. He knew the right things to say, but his heart wasn’t really in it. This didn’t seem like Hell, but it certainly wasn’t the Heaven he envisioned either.

Brother Gagneux stumbled in to New Lucifer, a growing sense of dread and uncertainty creeping through his chest.

Brother Gagneux appears previously in Vault 003.