February 4, 2029, City Square, Rome, Italy
After feeding the pigeons with a handful of bird seed she got from the seed dispenser in Rome’s city courtyard, Kali takes in a deep breath of the season’s cool air. The slight break in the winter weather has lured thousands of tourists and locals into the streets. The scene in front of her could easily be on a postcard for the city’s bureau of visitation.
As she stands to stretch, she considers her day’s mission. She’s in Italy to return to the place where she witnessed the beheading of the Apostle Paul in August of A.D. 65. She doesn’t know what is drawing her back to that horrific day, but since she’s off Anna’s radar for a while, she’s decided to go looking for some answers.
She retraces the steps of Paul from the city of Rome, most of which had recently burned at the hands of unknown arsonists, to the small town of Aquae Salviae. Paul was ordered to walk the three-miles to the place of his beheading. Nero ordered his execution to take place away from Rome in hopes of avoiding the protests of the Christian community within the city.
Paul had been imprisoned and accused of spearheading the fires that practically destroyed Rome. A growing number of accusers stationed themselves outside of the prison daily calling out for his death for the loss of their homes, businesses, and families. On the day of his execution, they followed and berated him the entire way to his beheading. They shoved him, poked him with sticks, and spat on him.
Kali had been ordered by Lucie to witness the death of Paul. She did so because she didn’t like the constant questions about Paul’s radical transformation. Kali was fascinated with Paul’s change from a man whose life goal was to murder Christians to a man who exonerated and defended them. By doing so, he knowingly marked himself for death. The huge swing in his belief system intrigued her. Most men stay in the same thought processes from birth to death. Paul completely flipped sides—and did so to his own peril. She struggled to understand what drove him from one side to the other when there was nothing to be gained.
On that fateful day, she followed the men from a distance. She wrapped herself in a large robe and put a scarf over her head so the others wouldn’t know she was female. Women were discouraged from attending public events, and she would have likely been turned away.
Just as Paul was about to ascend the steps to the roughly-made guillotine, Kali was sure he turned to face her. He spoke as if his last words were meant for her. “You are not of this world, why do you follow me? Do not fear what the accuser can do to you. Your soul cannot be stolen. You were created by Almighty. Do not bow down to someone who is below you—no matter the cost. There is still opportunity for you to be admitted to the Kingdom of God, just as I leave you on this very day.”
When the men heard his final words, they were angered. They tore off Paul’s robe and dragged him to the top of the stairs, shouting for his death. When his hands were tied and his head placed beneath the blade, Kali felt sure that his final gaze fell upon her. She was overcome with emotion and turned and ran before the blade dropped. Lucie stopped her by grabbing her from a hiding spot in the back row of the mob of men.
“And, where do you think you are going?”
Kali pulled off Lucie’s head covering revealing to the men she was a woman. As they rebuked her for being at the beheading, and began pushing her back from the execution site, Kali escaped Lucie’s grip. She ran the three miles to the portal and returned to Hades. When Lucie returned to Center Earth, Kali was punished. The punishment was quickly forgotten, but the words of Paul were not.
Now she stands in the very spot where the life of Paul of Tarsus ended on Earth. The area is completely silent. Even the birds make no sound. The light breeze blows the scarf against her cheeks. She’s not sure what she came here to find, but her soul lifts. She sits down on the stump of a fallen tree, closes her eyes, and raises her face to the sun. When she opens her eyes, she is startled by a man standing before her. He’s wearing white robes and is glowing with light. Before she can move, he begins to speak.
“I once asked why you follow me. You did not reply. I will ask again, ‘why are you following me?”
Kali shakes. “Are you Paul?”
“You must answer my question before I answer yours.”
Kali searches for the answer. “I follow you because I can’t find peace until I get an answer. I was thinking if I found you and stayed by your side, I could understand the changes that happened to you—and the ones I see happen to other men at times. In this change, I found hope.”
“I will accept that answer. Now, I will answer your question. Yes, I am Paul. I knew you as a demon who traveled with me and brought me much anguish. I have also known you as a curious force that sought answers from me. Do you still seek this peace you ask for?”
“You need to know that not one thing created by Almighty is beyond redemption. His eyes see all—even in the darkest of places. There is hope for you, Kali. But first, you must right the wrong you see. Protect the innocent when their fate lies within your hands. Face your fears and you will find the peace you seek.” With this, Paul fades out of site.
Kali stands and wraps her cloak tightly around her shoulders as the warm afternoon breeze becomes a chilling evening wind. She walks back to Rome with a newly-inspired clarity. The walk and the portal will return her to Jerusalem by nightfall. She knows what must be done before the sun rises.