When he had recovered his composure, and was wiping away the tears that he had shed during his fit of laughter, Dangchao spoke once more to the Pope.


"I'm going to need your help with one other little matter," he said. "There's a religious cult that has been saying some nasty things about me and my government. We tried to track them down on the Internet, but they destroyed the entire building where their provider was based, before we could get their address. They go by the name of "Twelve Tribes". What information do you have on them?"


The church maintained extensive files on all new religious movements, in their offices in Rome; but why, thought Pius, should he help Dangchao? What if these people offered some hope of stopping this terrible man? If they did, then he should be helping them instead of helping Dangchao.


The General Secretary sighed deeply as he caught the drift of what Pius must be thinking. He would have to play the pious game himself once again, as he had done so often over the years, in order to control the Pope.


"Whatever you might think of me," he said kindly, "the facts are that this is a very dangerous cult. They've already killed nine people that we know of, and there is talk of others having been killed by one of them in Australia as well. Pius, please! You would be doing the world a service if you could help us to stop them."


Pius thought for a moment and then decided that if he was going to be heroic, this might not be the best cause to support or the best time to act. On the other hand, if he were to assist Dangchao this once, he might win his favour. Then he could use that favour to achieve a greater good at another more expedient time in the future.


Dangchao smiled to himself. The old charm never failed. Keep him procrastinating, and he would keep him under his control forever. In a matter of an hour and a half, Pius had a complete report on the Twelve Tribes faxed through from Rome, but it was little help to either of them. Catholic researchers had a small file from the days of the Jesans, which included Reinhard's name. However, almost all of what they had on the Twelve Tribes movement since then had come from material that was already freely available on the Twelve Tribes web site.


Despite attempts by the Church's New Religious Movements Committee to woo the Jesans and then to woo the Twelve Tribes into giving them inside information, there had been no response from either Reinhard, Rayford, or Chaim. Even their names were unknown, because Rayford and Chaim always wrote anonymously. The committee had not found anything obviously dangerous in what they taught, and so they had not pursued the group further.


There were some who said the movement was huge, numbering in the millions; but there were more who believed it was an illusion, caused by a handful of people who wanted to give the impression that they were bigger than what they really were. After all, there were no buildings, no postal addresses, no record of meetings, and no names of either leaders or followers, apart from Reinhard and a few ex-members. It was true that they did produce a lot of literature, but even their literature gave only the web site as a contact address.


"We've put some of the world's best hackers on the job, and they've all hit dead ends," Dangchao lamented to Pius when he had finished reading the report from Rome. "Everything indicates that Web Wonders, their service provider, does not exist. And yet their web site continues to function. We seem to have no way of blocking it."


In fact, the Twelve Tribes hit counter was spinning wildly. And it increased in momentum over the next few months. Each time another media report on Dangchao came out, thousands more would visit the Twelve Tribes site to get an update from the Two Witnesses on what they had to say about what was really happening.


Had Dangchao overplayed his hand? The media did not know how to respond to reports that he was the Father of God, or any of the other outrageous things that he and Pope Pius were getting up to in Jerusalem.


The monstrous statue with its gargoyle head and female body, purporting to be a statue of Dangchao, shocked the world, but it was only the start of other shocks.


Dangchao ripped out the holy of holies from the Temple, and put a throne there for himself to sit on while being worshipped and admired by members of the public. He invited people of all religions and of no religion to come there to worship him, thus severing his relations with the Jewish leaders who had hoped that he might be their Messiah.


He insisted on providing entertainment for his visitors, and his choice of entertainment became more and more blatantly blasphemous. First it was music praising himself as the Saviour of the world, the Prince of Princes, and the Lord of Creation. Then the music started making fun of the real God. Dancers were brought in, who became more and more suggestive in their routines. Powerful drugs were freely dispensed to guests. In the space of just a few months, Dangchao had incorporated live sex acts and other far worse perversions into his system of worship within the Jewish Temple.


But the most surprising thing of all was that people were accepting it. Like he had predicted, even those who did not like what he was doing were so weakened morally that they were not able to resist him.


There were others who flocked to worship him, and to participate in his bacchanalian festivals, with obvious enthusiasm. It was quickly becoming the in-thing amongst diplomats and other highly respected people, to be seen at one of Dangchao's obscene celebrations.


It was even reported that during some of the most extreme activities conducted at the Temple, his whole appearance would magically change, and people could experience first-hand the awesome supernatural power that he possessed.


The media, although stunned, was powerless to do anything more than report what was happening, as if it was normal behaviour from a world ruler. Dangchao, who seemed capable of working all day and partying all night, had the banks and key members of the United Nations securely tucked in his pocket. Between the two institutions, he controlled the world, and no one dared challenge him.


Nevertheless, his public stand against God and his attempts to offend all sensibilities, were what caused so many hundreds of thousands of people to seek out the Twelve Tribes for counsel and explanation. There was no longer any doubt about where Dangchao was coming from. He was, indeed, the Antichrist, the personification of evil.


Word quickly spread around the world about the Twelve Tribes site. Its address was painted (under cover of darkness) on walls and hoardings wherever the faithful 144,000 believers could find a space to fill.


So, as people saw what was happening in Jerusalem, they would turn to Rayford and Chaim for explanations. In a very short time, literally millions of people were visiting the web site, which had become the official mouthpiece of God's two endtime Witnesses.


A few people had cracked Neville's email code and they had been able to get letters straight through to the tribes. These people were being dealt with personally. Most of them had still not received the Mark, and so they were quickly taken into fellowship, on the assumption that God had both protected them from taking the Mark and been instrumental in helping them to work out the email code. Based on this theory, such people did not represent a security risk.


Between the email code and the anonymity of the website, the 144,000 had, indeed, escaped into a "wilderness" of safety from the authorities. God himself controlled who would have access to them, and the rest of the world was locked out.


With the exception of isolated individuals and some of the most rural and primitive villages in the Third world, virtually everyone on earth had received the Mark by this time. It was impossible to do business without it. Those Twelve Tribe members who had not been successful in getting free rent from personal friends in the system were being forced out onto the streets, or into tents and other makeshift accommodation. But, overall, they were surviving without undue hardship, using the principles of begging, bartering, and stealing the most basic necessities of life in this insanely evil new world order.


The people who were in the worst predicament were the ones who were now contacting the Twelve Tribes out of desperation. What they had read about the curse on those who took the Mark had virtually put them into a hopeless situation spiritually. They were without any means of salvation, and they were living in a world that was growing rapidly more evil every day.


Dangchao brought back gladiatorial sports, the ultimate reality games, where contestants fought to the death. He had also arranged to televise public tortures and executions in Jerusalem as a form of entertainment. But many people who had never given God much thought before, were becoming sickened by it all, and they wanted out.


So Chaim and Rayford released the plan of salvation that they had hinted at in a previous message to the 144,000. It had become the lead article on the website, and it shocked the world.


Here is what it said:


"God's plan of salvation today is really no different to what it has always been. You need only accept Jesus Christ as God's Son, and as your only hope of salvation.


"The difference (for those who know something about what used to pass as Christianity) is that we are not talking about some cheap pretence at faith this time. Accepting Jesus means accepting everything that he has said. His teachings are a necessary part of God's plan of salvation for you. Read his teachings and you'll see that he expects total faith, and total obedience. His standards are high, but what he offers is eternal life. No price could be too high for that."

Rayford explained that his sacrificial death on the cross had bought Jesus the right to give salvation to whomever he chose; but it did not obligate Jesus to chose just anybody.  He had certain standards that he was looking for first.

"Some of your religious leaders have taught that a loving God cannot set standards, make demands, or put a 'price' on what he offers," he said. "But where have they led you? They have brought you to the brink of hell. What they taught sounded like 'good news' at the time, because it was so cheap and easy. But it has turned into the worst possible disaster.


"In contrast, the gospel that Jesus preached really is good news, even if it is not cheap. It is good news because he could see what each of you have tried to ignore all your life. He could see your utter hopelessness. He could see that, with or without the events that are happening in the world today, you are going to die one day, and you are going to be punished for your failure to obey God. He knew that whatever price he might put on his plan of salvation, the price would be incidental by comparison to what he was offering... a total pardon, and eternal life in a world that is infinitely more beautiful and more satisfying than the one that we now live in.


"So what is the price that he asks? He asks that you forsake all, i.e. that you give up everything that you now have... your possessions, your livelihood, your family and friends, and even your own life. Take it or leave it. That is his price. It has always been his price, and it still is his price. The offer is still open to you now. But there will be no cheating on the rules this time.


"Most of you who are reading this message have already accepted the Mark of the Beast, either in your right hand or in your forehead. Most of you also know that the Bible says that anyone who receives that Mark will experience the undiluted wrath of God, and that you will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of Jesus and in the presence of his holy angels. You will be cast into the lake of fire, which burns forever and ever. These are real threats. You may not think that it is 'loving', but remember... you don't make the rules; God does. Until you accept that, you will never be able to discover just how loving he really is.


"Now here is what the good news of Jesus Christ means in practical terms for those of you who have already taken the Mark of the Beast. It means that you must cut off your right hand, or allow yourself to be beheaded for the sake of the gospel!


"That's right. Jesus said that if your right hand offends you, you should cut it off... that it would be better for you to enter into heaven without a hand, than to go to hell because of what your right hand represents. For years people have pointed to that very teaching of Jesus as proof that he never seriously meant for us to take him literally. But now it is time for believers everywhere to prove their faith by their actions.


"Many of you never heard the warning about the Mark of the Beast. But you did hear the voice of God speaking to you through your own conscience, and you rejected it. For one reason or another, you chose to go your own way, to move gradually away from the ideals of your youth and the ideals of your various religions. And it is because of your insincerity and double-mindedness at those times that you have ended up where you are now.


"Remember, God is not asking anything of you that he hasn't asked of everyone else. The difference is that we who are writing to you now... we took the still, small voice of his spirit seriously before accepting the Mark of the Beast, and we refused to take it. We responded to God speaking through our conscience as well as through his Son.


"Sure, we were inconvenienced, and even now we are being inconvenienced for our decision to put God first. But, overall, we have come out ahead. You who are reading this chose to delay your decision, thinking it was too difficult or too inconvenient to put God first, and you have brought this situation upon yourselves as a result.


"We can conclude by telling you that the offer is real. God is real. Heaven is real. Jesus really is God's Son. And what he offers is genuine. Eternal life. Eternal happiness. Eternal peace.


"But the full terms of the offer require you to turn loose of your present life to get it. It's your choice."