August 16th 2014 – Molly
I wasn’t sure how Adrianne was navigating the streets of Fairburn, I had no reason to believe she wasn’t from the area, but I doubted she was anyway. The thought of the strange, violent girl being from the sleepy little city just felt wrong, like a Seelie from Murmansk, or school of wizardry in Detroit. It might be theoretically possible, but it was so unlikely as to be ridiculous. When I asked Adrianne how she knew where she was going, she just giggled and started telling me about the chemical properties of Kevlar. She seemed to have some weird opinions about what constituted good small talk. Adrianne cut through back alleys and backyards alike, leading me in a near unbroken straight line. It took us about twenty minutes on foot to reach the Church of our Lady of The Lake.
The church was a dilapidated affair, graceless in the way that only modern American churches can manage, with yellowing vinyl slats and boxy windows. A peeling white cross perched on top of the steeple. The best thing that could be said for it, is it didn’t pretend to be anything it wasn’t, which was a glorified community center with an attached graveyard and clergy house.
Adrianne kept one hand on the small of my back, gently but inexorably guiding me forward. The church’s graveyard and grounds didn’t fully encircle the building, the heavy wooden double doors were only a few feet away from the street. Adrianne still refused to approach the doors. I supposed that cleared up any doubt about whether or not she was a vampire. All but the oldest and mightiest of vampires were unable to enter the grounds of a church of pain of starting to bleed from all of their orifices. I wasn’t sure how I felt about Adrianne’s vampirism yet. On one hand, having a vampire friend would be incredibly convenient, especially considering the trouble I was liable to get myself into. On the other hand, Wrath had a solid amount of blackmail material on me, and I doubted Adrianne’s friendship would be worth much if her master decided he had a use for me. I was still kicking myself over getting intimidated into telling Wrath what happened at the airport. This entire night was just too much to process, I needed some time to sit down and think through everything. Until then, I was going to avoid making potentially stupid decisions, like alienating the rather friendly vampire who just committed murder for me.
“You’re not coming with me?” I asked.
“Most definitely not. I don’t like trespassing on private property, or dealing with anything remotely sanctified. Entering a house of God qualifies on both counts. You, on the other hand, are going in.” She replied. Adrianne wasn’t paying very much attention to me, or the church. Instead, she was staring at a tree across the street.
“I thought you didn’t care that I was possessed. Why the sudden change of heart?” I asked. Adrianne turned to regard me, and tilted her head.
“My heart has not changed. Wrath ordered that you be taken to a church. I don’t care what you do inside, kill the priest and burn it down for all I care. However, I’m not going to violate Wrath’s orders on a whim, his name was not idly given.”
With that, Adrianne pushed me forward, towards the doors.
“What’s that supposed to mean? And why the hell is he named Wrath anyway? Does he turn into a big green rage monster and smash everything when people piss him off?”
“Big green… rage monster? I do not understand. You shall explain this to me at a later time.”
I snorted, apparently Adrianne wasn’t all that up to date on pop culture. Maybe she was born before movies were a thing and had never bothered to figure out what all the fuss was about. Or maybe she literally lived under a rock, Wrath hadn’t sounded too confident in her computer skills when he was giving orders. I took a step forward and grabbed the handle of the door. No sense in dragging this out, I might as well get this exorcism over with. Maybe then I could finally get a shower and some sleep.
“Molly.” Adrianne called from behind me.
I turned to look at Adrianne. She looked deep in thought, staring at the ground with her brow furrowed and her lips pursed. Was that concern on her face? She shifted back to her customary neutral expression before I could completely confirm it was in fact concern, and not constipation.
“Molly,” Adrianne began again. “Don’t do anything stupid in there. The Church is dangerous, and if you get killed this night will have been a waste of my time.”
I wasn’t sure if that was supposed to be an insult or a display of concern.
“I’ll try. You know, I usually try to avoid doing doing stupid things as a matter of principle.”
“If I hadn’t just heard the story of the last week of your life, I might actually believe that. I’ll come find you if you get out. Good luck.” Adrianne replied. And then she turned and walked away, fading away into the soft shadows cast by the distant streetlights. On that pleasant note, I pushed open the doors, and stepped inside.
Normally, you can’t just walk into a church at three in the morning. Most parishes, being run by reasonable people, lock their doors and have regular business hours. The churches run by the Church, with a capital C, are different. The Holy Church represents the military and occult branches of the Catholic, Orthodox, and most Protestant churches. As an organization, it largely predates and/or ignores the worst of their doctrinal arguments. I guess arguing about iconoclasm and investiture just seemed a little less important to people who spent most of their time hunting vampires and demons.
Nobody seems to know how exactly their command structure works, but everyone knows how to get in contact with one of their members. At least one person capable of dealing with the supernatural world lives on the premises of any church affiliated with the Holy Church. They don’t lock their doors because they don’t need to. God might be merciful, but if you wander in and try to vandalize something, the Church’s guardian won’t be. As a result, towns where the Holy Church has a presence tend to have a lower rate of vampire attacks, missing people, and crime in general. The Association usually tries to avoid antagonizing the Church, primarily because so many of it’s members are Christian and would abstain in any sort of armed conflict with the Church. Also because their magical-ninja-priests and literal knights in shining armor are pretty scary. Yes, they have magical-ninja-priest-assassins. No, that’s not what adults call them, but it’s a pretty accurate description of what they do.
It was dark inside the church. The votive candles on the far side of the aisle illuminated the altar, and cast flickering shadows across the pews. The church smelled of old varnish and older pine, sharp and spicy, but cut with a noticeable chemical undertone. It wasn’t as bad as a hospital, but it just smelled like a place where people came to slowly die. I don’t have any fond memories of churches, but I don’t think that’s an unfair description of what people do in them. Have you ever seen anyone who wasn’t old enough to be worrying about their afterlife go to church of their own free will? I sure haven’t. Aside from the flickers and hisses of the failing candles, the church was both still and silent once the echoes of my footsteps had faded.
I waited for the guardian to make his presence known. It was usually a priest, but whoever the guardian was they would certainly know the moment I entered the building. It might be divine wards, it might be a modern silent alarm, but they knew I was here. No sense in making them jumpy. I only had to wait a few moments before they greeted me.
“It is unusual for a mage to visit me here in Fairburn, even in these dark days our quiet town has yet been spared much attention from the outside world. Have you come on behalf of the association?” A quiet, but deep and confident voice asked. The voice came from behind and slightly above me, apparently the priest was tall, or at least taller than my measly five feet. This is why I didn’t want to make him jumpy. Frightened ninja-priests are scary.
“No, I’m here on personal business. It’s nice to meet you Father…?” I let the word hang, waiting for him to introduce himself. Slowly, I turned around, trying to be as non-threatening as possible.
“Ah. Then, welcome to the church of Our Lady of the Lake. I am Father Marcus Murphy. It’s nice to meet you Miss…” Father Murphy replied, mimicking me. Father Marcus Murphy was an older man, closer to sixty than fifty if his white hair could be trusted. His face might have been handsome, or at least distinguished, a few bad punches ago. He had a slightly crooked nose, a mild case of cauliflower ears, and enough facial scars to suggest he was either a boxer or a hunter before becoming a priest. Based on that last name and the traces of an accent, I pegged him as Irish, but either long-time expat, or very well traveled.
“I don’t like using my last name, it’s silly. You can call me Molly. It’s a pleasure to meet you Father. I have to ask though, is it really that quiet around here? You’re barely fifteen miles out from Atlanta proper.” I was genuinely curious. That made almost zero sense.
“It generally is. This week of course, has been a bit of an exception with that tragedy at the airport. Several of the families in my parish lost loved ones that day.” The Father paused abruptly, as if finally drawing a connection between my apparel and what happened at the airport. To his credit, Father Murphy didn’t immediately jump to conclusions and try to kill me. It’s a sad statement about the current relationship between the Church and the Association that not immediately jumping to murder marked him as uncommonly rational and restrained.
I hadn’t really considered what to say when he realized I was probably involved. With everything that had happened tonight, I supposed I had as good an excuse as any, but between this and the fiasco with Wrath I really was slipping. I should have planned out this conversation in detail.
“Lie. Don’t tell him you made a bargain. He’ll kill us. Tell him it cut you with it’s sword and you’re worried you might have been tainted.” The voice in my head was eerily reminiscent of the demon from the airport. And it made me furious. I’m not sure if it could hear my silent reply, but I’m not going to repeat it here anyway. It was pretty much a couple dozen increasingly colorful variants of “Get the fuck out of my head.” Honestly, I was less bothered by the fact that the voice was demonic than I was by the fact that it was living in my mind. I don’t understand how anyone can not think mind-reading is the most horrific violation of privacy imaginable.
I took the advice anyway. It was good advice.
“I was the target of the attack at their airport. Someone raised a demon and sent it after me in order to steal an artifact I was couriering from Ireland to America. I only managed to get away because an iron golem sent by another party fought the demon over the artifact. I don’t even know why it was so valuable, they didn’t even tell me what I was delivering.” I lied, improvising a plausible story. The best lies contain a core of truth after all, and this one contained more than most. “I was injured in the struggle, and now I’m worried that the demon might have tainted my soul. I didn’t know where I could go for help, all I knew is it wasn’t safe for me to stay in the hospital. Please, help me, I don’t know where else to turn.” I finished. I looked down at the floor and let myself sniffle a little at the end.
I suppose I’m supposed to feel bad about misleading a priest, but it was honestly kinda exciting. The rush was way better than confession. And I’d managed to do it without a single technically untrue statement, though the bit about only escaping because of the golem probably was speculation, I had no idea what would have happened if only the demon was present. I was kinda proud of that, it wasn’t my fault if he made bad assumptions.
When I looked back up at Father Murphy, his expression had visibly softened. He’d bought it, hook, line, and sinker. Ah, I love old men. Not in an icky way though. I love the way they always underestimate teenage girls, all I had to do was look like I was about to cry, and suddenly he’s completely unable to think of me as a potential threat. However dangerous a man Father Murphy might normally be, he was powerless before me once he started mentally comparing me to his nieces or daughters.
“Dear lord, to send an apprentice up against such things.” Father Murphy looked pale and slightly shaken. That was curious, I wouldn’t expect someone like him to have a visible reaction to any news. Perhaps he’d had some personal experiences of his own with demons?
“Actually, I’m a full Magus.” I said, letting a suitably prideful smile slip onto my face. It contrasted nicely with the fake tears still welling in the corner of my eyes, and helped play into the image of a little girl indoctrinated by an evil organization. I actually was proud of the accomplishment, even among apprentices who had started as young as me, few reached the rank of Magus as quickly as I had. Of course, few apprentices were given as much incentive as me.
“When did you begin your apprenticeship?”
“I don’t remember a time before I was an apprentice. I think I started learning the really basic stuff when I was four or five.” I replied. More truth, fudged slightly to make me sound less sure, less confident. I loved this game, playing it with a priest was a new and exciting twist. “It’s easier to learn magic if you start early!”
“That’s what they tell you?” Father Murphy asked, trying and failing to hide his righteousness indignation at the thought of preschoolers being trained to become living weapons of war.
“Of course that’s what they tell us, it’s the truth!” I exclaimed indignantly. It actually was the truth, though he had no way of knowing that. It was a tightly kept secret, but it was one of the few things we learned when we started applying modern statistical methods to the study of magic. Apprentices who started younger generally ended up stronger, even controlling for years spent practicing.
The Father, like much of the rest of the world, just thought the Association liked getting us young so they could indoctrinate us more effectively. Here he was, suppressing his anger at a lie that was actually true in order to avoid discomforting a girl who was deliberately misrepresenting her beliefs as more credulous than they were in order to distance herself from the organization she represented. I suppressed a giggle, playing it off as an indignant shudder. There were so many layers to keep track of here. Human communication really was such a glorious mess.
“But don’t you think it’s wrong to teach people about magic before they’re old enough to understand the consequences?” The Father asked.
“Don’t you think it’s wrong to make people believe something you can’t prove before they’re old enough to make decisions for themselves?” I retorted.
I could have phrased that so much more effectively, but it would have hurt the image I wanted to project. I didn’t give a damn about convincing him, or winning the argument. I wanted him to think me naive and indoctrinated, I wanted him to want to save me. And there was no surer way to cement that image in his eyes than spouting the party line on religion.
“Don’t you think that’s an unfair comparison? After all, learning magic is much more dangerous than going to Sunday School.”
I harrumphed at him, looking away. I wasn’t the most eloquent of responses, but it was antagonistic and childish. Which played right into his image of me as an arrogant kid who was in over my head. I counted to three in my head before making a conciliatory gesture.
“Look, I’m sorry I made fun of your beliefs. Are you going to help me or not?” I asked, still looking down. Down was good, it was safe, submissive, apologetic. I hated every moment of it. But I hated the thought of a demon growing in my head, reading my mind, so much more.
Father Murphy sighed.
“Of course I will help you child.”
I looked up at Father Murphy and smiled, all bubblegum and roses. Inside, I felt a little dirty. And it wasn’t just because something evil was growing inside my head.