He Shall Indeed
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Lucijia Kovach touched the fire to the altar and destroyed a god. The whole affair felt blasphemous.

She had heard the litanies and explanations a thousand times. It was a reenactment, one designed to show the destruction of God before His day of Reformation, represented by the evening ritual. As a young girl, she had seen her parents and parents' parents do it. Still, the morning ritual was the one she least looked forward to.

The fire illuminated the room. First yellow, then orange, then blue, as it died. The light played around her grim, square face. With her black hair already shot through with strands of grey, she looked much older than her twenty-seven years.

Lucijia looked at the empty spot beside her, where Magdalina used to kneel. Even when father and then mother had left, Magdalina had been there. "On će biti cijela," she said to the darkness. He shall be made whole.

Once the war had ended, Magdalina had taken to staying out and sleeping in. Lucijia had tried yelling, as their father had done, and beatings, as he had also done. But none of it seemed to dissuade the girl. She spent recklessly, buying earrings and brooches and bracelets as if there was money to burn.

At that age Lucijia had tried her best to ignore boys and keep her mind on the study of the ancient texts. It was obvious that her little sister was just acting out for attention. It would soon pass.

On the table, the small gear-shaped altar cracked and broke. It was complete.

Lucijia swept the altar pieces into the small box in the darkness. She always liked this part of the ritual. The box was cheap pine, but it had seen countless deaths and recreations, day after day. Generations had handled it with care, making sure that His remains were handled with reverence. There was history in it.

Lucijia closed the reliquary and placed it back in the hole in the floor. A moment later, she placed the loose floorboard back in its spot. She was ready to begin her outside life.

Re-opening the curtains, she could see the first hints of light reaching into the sky. No time to waste, then.

Only a few days in and degenerate idiots from across Italy had begun surging into the city. It was no longer possible to go through the streets without encountering at least one young man - and they were always men - went about the street proclaiming their unique boldness and undying commitment to sacra Italia. Over the past few days, she had heard rumors of of drugs, of orgies, of black magic ceremonies. She didn't doubt any of them.

Even the Croatians and Magyars of the city had begun behaving differently. Before, there had been a respectful conservatism where passion was expressed only in private. Now even those on the street expressed themselves in the most overblown terms.

Some had even begun attending the speeches of the mad poet, where they might only understand a few words of his ranting. Lucijia walked upstairs.

As she changed into her work clothes, she reflected on the changes in her more immediate community. Members of the Church - and not just congregants - had been speaking quietly about holding communal services once again. About being open in their faith for the first time in years.

Lucijia had even heard whispers that the small community of spell-makers and hex-weavers in Rijeka was planning to stop hiding.

The world of furtive gestures and implications and elisions - the world she had grown up in - was in danger of slipping away. And for what? A quarter-second of hedonism and openness that would be inevitably crushed by the Croatians or Italians? Many nights she had listened as her deda spoke about the repressions that came after '48 - how the priests were shot, how the newly-built church was burned to the ground. Her dreams were often plagued with shadowy figures from the Evidenzbureau, chasing her relentlessly.

By the time she left the house, pink-gold light was just peaking over the tops of the lowest buildings. Lucijia made her way to Jardan's to begin her shift. As she passed the lighthouse, she didn't hear the sounds of the waves lapping at the harbor, nor the low murmur of the Italian sailors along the docks. She continued to list the numerous madnesses consuming the world since the poet came to the city.

It wasn't until she collided with a man in a blue suit that she snapped from her thoughts. "Oh, I am so sorry!" she blurted, stepping back, "I did not mean to-"

"It was not worry," the man said in heavily accented Croatian, "All is well." He smiled.

Lucijia apologized again and quickly made her way down the road. She didn't see the man return to his position in the middle of the street, greeting the rising sun with arms stretched wide.

At Jadran's, the outside world fell away. Even the constant bustle of the streets was muted, swallowed up by the thousand bolts of fabric. All that remained were stitches and hems, the movement between her fingers and the cloth. Here, the relation between things was simple and straightforward.

When she got to the shop, Jadran was already sorting the orders for the day. A slight shift of the neck was the only indication he even noticed Lucijia. After a decade of work together, the two understood one another well enough to avoid any small talk.

Moving to the back of the store, she saw the orders for the day. Within minutes, thoughts of the congregation had vanished from her mind.

Four suits later, Jarden brought in a skirt. "Mila," he grunted. Without bothering to look down, he placed the garment in front of her and left. At times, Lucijia suspected that Jarden's lack of curiosity was an act.

Lucijia turned the dress inside out. Red thread, chain-stitched into small circles along the hem. Service tonight. She counted the loops in each circle. 10 PM.

Her thoughts turned back to stories of the Evidenzbureau men and smashed altars. The last communal service had been well before the war. Since then, all worship had been within the home. It was simpler that way, more quiet. But now the elders of the Church wanted to meet again for worship? Had they been caught up in the communal madness as well?

As Lucijia tore the stitched message from the fabric, she accidentally gouged the dress. She spent the rest of the day trying to think of other things.

It was a slow day, and Lucijia left work at 9:30 PM, just as the last traces of light left the sky. She made her way to the church.

The gas lamps on each corner threw light, twisting the shadows of every object into unnatural shapes. Men and women stood together, speaking and whispering, the darkness melding their bodies into one.

Lucijia remembered nightmares she had had as a child about the flesh, as bodies twisted and distended under His wrath. She tried to push the thoughts from her mind.

A pair of arditi walked down the opposite side of the street, rifles on their shoulders. The skull emblems on their uniforms were visible even from the distance.

In the distant plaza, the poet-dictator gave a speech, impossible to hear. The only thing she could make out were the periodic roars of the crowd, giving the contours to the unheard words. Another roar. The arditi, now well past Lucijia, gave a loud cheer to the phantom speech. Lucijia jumped. The soldiers laughed.

The eight blocks to the basement felt as though it took an hour. Finally, she came to a staircase at the foot of the red brick building, leading down to a blue door hidden in shadows. The stone steps were smooth with wear, and Lucijia had to move careful to keep from sliding. Finally, she reached the bottom.

From the outside, it looked like any other wooden door in the city. She knocked twice. It gave off a metallic ring. "Who is it?" barked a voice that seemed to come from outside. Lucijia recognized it as Nika.

It had been so long since Lucijia had needed to recall the password. The last time there had been a service, Magdalena had said something unspeakable about Nika's mother. The door had swung open seconds afterwards.

"Who is it?" Nika's voice said again.

Lucijia tried to think. Blood and water. No. Soil and blood. No.

"Who is it?"

It came to her. "Blood and oil!" Lucijia said. She barely stopped herself from shouting it. The door swung open.

Lucijia shuffled in and the door slammed shut behind her. It took her eyes a minute to adjust to the light. Benches had been laid out in rows every meter, each row bounded by iron candlesticks at the end.

The machine - the Sacred Iron Soul - sat at the far end of the room in front of the benches. Its gears were freshly polished with the blessed oil. Even so, the wear on the machine was evident.

All around her, old members of the congregation gathered in whorls of conversation, each breaking up after a minute or so. Something grabbed her arm from behind. Lucijia started, then turned. It was Nika. After nearly eight years, the old woman looked the same, down to the sore just below her right ear.

"So glad you c-c-could make it," the old woman stammered, "Al-almost the wh-whole congregation has gathered. Most families came together for it, even."

Nika vanished into another whorl before Lucijia could respond. It took several seconds for the statement to register as a jab about Magdelina's absence.

Indeed, it looked as though the congregation had come together. The Novaks, the Joriks, the Bosanacs - all were there. Nika's slight was forgotten with the realization that, for the first time since the war began, they were all there. Together. On će biti cijela.

Lucijia moved towards Ljuba and Josip - friends of her grandmother's. She wanted to ask them a dozen - no, a hundred - questions. The unspoken rules dictated that members could not contact one another outside of Church affairs, lest they draw attention to the congregation. But in church, they could talk and converse as they pleased.

Lucijia cleared her throat, and the elderly couple turned towards her.

"Gospodin, Gospođa Stolar, may you be pleasing in His sight," she began.

"And you as well," Ljuba said. Normally, Lucijia loved the ritualistic greetings, and how they made a foundation for conversation. Now, however, she wanted them done so that they could finally speak. She hurried her way through the other three formalized greetings.

Finally, the conversation began. Lucijia was at a loss for what to actually say. "How are you," she asked after a moment of silence.

Josip looked to the floor. "His gears turn."

Not well, then. More silence.

"I don't see Stepjan or Tomislav anywhere. Are they coming later?" she asked. Magdalena had always nursed a fierce crush on Tomislav with his quick smile.

More silence. Ljuba opened her mouth, closed it, then opened it again. Finally, she whispered something Lucijia couldn't make out. Lucijia leaned closer. "They died. In the war," Ljuba whispered again. Josip continued to look at the floor.

Lucijia stopped a gasp. It had always seemed that the brothers would always be there, two of the pillars of the congregation. Now just gone. Looking around, she noticed the absences.
Hrvoje and Vitomir. The Duvnjak brothers. Lovro and Strahimir and Davor and the rest.

Looking around, she saw a sea of gray hair and tired looks. She was one of the only people in the room below the age of sixty. A tree, shorn of new growth.

Suddenly, her eyes fixed on a light blue suit in the crowd, standing out from the mass of gray and brown clothing. The man from the morning. She saw him more clearly now. Thin, with a narrow face and shifting eyes. His closely shorn hair was receding. He wore gaudy cufflinks and a sapphire brooch.

As before, he was just standing, not speaking with anyone. No one seemed to notice him. A new man, with life for the congregation. She mouthed a vague apology to Ljuba and Josip, then excused herself, pushing through the crowd.

Just as she was approaching the man, a bell chimed, signalling the beginning of the service. The men and women shuffled to their separate sides of the room and sat. Lucijia sat near the back, letting the elders sit closer to the altar. The man in blue simply stood. At the front of the room, Father Bogomil stood, looking over the faithful. Behind him, the gears of the Soul began to clank to life.

"Brothers and Sisters," he began, "We are now once again made whole. Through many losses and turns of fate, through war and destruction, His gears have moved with strict purpose."

The machine behind Bogomil rattled. The thing was a mere prop to remind the worshipers of His interlocking natures. Every time a member of the congregation died, another gear was added. The machine was nearly twice as large as it had been during the last service before the war. She could barely see the gears for her mother and father.

When she was young, Lucijia had believed that His spirit ran through it. Now, though, she saw it as a simple gadget, run through with small tricks to make it run - no different than the machines in the factories of Rijevka.

Bogomil began to speak of the Martyr Sacesu. The enemies of the faith had dismembered him, but each of his limbs had continued to fight, killing many scores of them. It had been the exact lecture that he had given during the last service, almost a decade before. He even began nearly where he had left off.

The audience nodded approvingly. Listening to the familiar cadences of Father Bogomil's voice, Lucijia felt hollow. This wasn't the service that she remembered as a young woman. There was no fire, no spirit moving through anything.

She believed as strongly as ever in Him, but she felt no connection here - not with him or those whom she had known for many years. This was just a story, without any mention of the war, the losses, the occupation, of anything beyond a fairy tale metaphor.

She looked to the man in blue, hoping for something - anything - from him. A recognition of the ridiculousness of this, a sign of unease, anything. There was a fire in the man's eyes. It was not at all like the light from the candles.

Lucijia shuddered for a reason she didn't understand, then turned back to the sermon.

Finally, after what felt like hours, Father Bogomil concluded his story. The Martyr lay dead, but not defeated. He was quick to point out that once he had seen a relic of Sacesu - a whole toenail.

"Now," he said, "with our spirits justly moved, let us partake of His being." The machine's rattle heightened.

"No!" came a shout from the back of the room. Lucijia turned. The rest of the congregation seemed to be sitting still.

It was the man in the blue suit. His eyes were wide, filled with the unnatural fire.

He began shouting in Italian. It took Lucijia a moment to mentally adjust to translating. "Your idol is dead. You have smothered him in rust and cloth!" he yelled, pointing at Father Bogomil.

The congregation sat still. Lucijia was frozen, unsure of how to react to the man's ravings. The machine gears turned more quickly, making a racket that almost matched the man's volume.

"The god of speed and action, of violence and cleansing. He can be made new and perfect! But this," he pointed at the machine, "this graveyard of an altar. It must die! I will eat its flesh!"

He seemed to be pointing directly to the gears of her mother and father. For a brief moment, the candlelight flickered and Lucijia thought she recognized the shadowy Evidenzbureau man from her dreams. Here, in the church.

Lucijia stood up. She would stop the man. Stop his profanity and desecration with… something. She wasn't sure.

She stormed up to the man as he yelled about cleansing fire in a foreign language, then stopped. Her eyes fixated on the man's suit. The altar's gears turned faster and faster.

Then, the world seemed to fall apart.

An ungodly sound came from the front of the room. Lucijia turned just in time to see the first of the green flames begin to flicker from between its gears. The machine continued to turn, more and more frenetically.

The body of God seemed to scream as a dozen generations of gears began to burn and melt. Later, Nika would claim that she could see the souls fleeing it.

Ljuba gave a hoarse scream. The sound snapped the congregation from its paralysis. The church was in chaos as the green flames ate the altar. Everything became shoving arms and trampling feet. Lucijia's view of the man was blocked.

Suddenly, the altar burst, showering the congregation with fragments of metal. Father Bogomil cried out as a shard tore into his shoulder. Lucijia was grazed on the cheek. She could barely feel it.

The altar groaned, then collapsed in a heap of cracked machinery. The green flame sputtered and died, not spreading beyond the remains of the machine.

Lucijia stood, staring at where the man had been. Josip grabbed her by the arm and pulled her outside.

Hours later, as she helped tend to the wounded, Lucijia continued to think on the man. When she had tried to confront him, she had had seen it. On his tie, he wore Magdalina's sapphire brooch, in the shape of a gear.

It was well after midnight by the time Lucijia Kovach came home. She moved silently through the darkness of the house.

Thoughts of the day's events were pushed from her mind, at least for the moment.

Having memorized the steps in the dark, she set up the idol on the table.

She said the words the prayer, clear this time. The idol snapped together. Lucijia knew that she wouldn't be able to see the cracks, even if she used a jeweler's glass. It was as if He had never been broken. She felt her connection with Him once more.

Before returning the idol to its spot, she spoke the final words of the prayer to the empty room.

"On će postati cjelovit."

"On će doista." He shall indeed.

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