July 15th, 2017
“Does he have a name?” Dion asked.
“It doesn’t matter. He’s just the Priest. Might be the only real one left too.”
Apollo took two steps into the church courtyard and already a shudder came upon his shoulders. It was the first time in a while since he had that visceral gut reaction like his belly had been punctured and everything acidic forced out. His pace was slow and he looked with close attention at the miserable expressions on the ruined statues around him. It was a mausoleum of pain, those statues of angels and of the Virgin Mary and of Christ. His shoulders twitched again as he heard the sound of the giant wooden doors open. There were clacks of firm bottomed shoes, then the stampede of attendees. Their faces were low and their voices were soft, afraid.
“Ah, we missed the sermon.” Dion said.
“Good.” Apollo said.
They slithered past the crowd, coming to a small enclave on the side of the wall and the holy water fountain that rested inside. They dipped their hands. It burned, it tingled. It reminded them of what they were not. Human.
The halls were large and arched. Their footsteps reverberated like a loud clap. They looked at the Gothic pillars and the way they converged into a dome and they looked at the feet of those pillars where the devout sat on their knees with locked hands. Past them was the Priest. He was smiling, for a moment only.
He jingled the charity basket and bemoaned. His face changed to something sour.
“We’re here.” Apollo said. The painted glass followed him with their neon eyes. He looked side to side and swore their dull faces dragged.
“Who are you?” The Priest was shaking his little basket.
“The Vicars?” Dion said.
“Uh. Hmm. You sent for us? Right?” Dion asked.
“Mmm. Maybe.” The Priest looked up. “Follow me.”
Perhaps he played stupid, perhaps he was stupid. Either way, it didn’t help Apollo from feeling that grating annoyance that made his eyes twitch.
They headed to the graveyard, through doors upon doors. Doors into doors. Fences into doors. Just an endless stream of gates and stops that had Apollo twitch, twitch, twitch. They went to the chirping birds. It was relaxing, some of it. They walked upon the neat grass, then found themselves amongst graves. Apollo looked down to the piles of dirt, more doors. Entrances into the lives of the long dead who breathed into the two boys a sense of mortality. Some of the erected stones were slanted, aged, others tall and fresh. Dion put his hands to a particular stone, it read JAYNE CONRAD 2005-2017. He jerked away.
Gust broke into the yard and following the wind, most peculiar, the sound of bells. An all-encompassing ringing. They were hollow tings all around them, coming from the graves and they noticed immediately the small silver bells that were strung up on the tops of small plastic poles. It looked like the water pipes had broken and stabbed through the dirt.
“What’s up with the noise? Does a corpse need room service?” Apollo asked.
“What? Room service? Oh.” The Priest laughed. “Oh! The bells?”
“No, just the sound, really.” Apollo said.
“Aha. Yes. We install those into every grave.”
“Into? Install? What the f***?”
“It’s tradition mostly. Started out as a fear though.” The Priest raised his hands up and away like an eccentric conductor. “We had an accident a few years back. We came around to move a body, Andrew Boyle – God rest his soul – and the oddest thing happened.” The Priest stopped. “We found claw marks inside of his coffin.”
“Oh my days.” Dion said. “Was it a dog?”
“In the coffin, you idiot.” Apollo said. “Not on. In. The guy was obviously buried alive. What kind of f****** dog digs six feet under anyway?”
“Yes, it was very strange. Poor guy suffocated in his own coffin.” The Priest stopped at a worn grave, made a gross expression and moved on. “You could see the stiff fear on his face. He looked like a statue. Like those poor souls in Pompeii who I’m sure saw death the same way he did, harsh and slow.”
“How bleak.” Dion said.
“Should have made sure he was dead.” Apollo looked around to spit and decided better to do it on the path than the graves.
“Aha. Yeah. Well, it was a first for us and ever since then we’ve added a bell and rope to every hole. Just in case.”
“That’s some f***** up room service.” Apollo rubbed the dirt off of a plaque. A small karmic gesture. “But if you use the bells to tell if someones dead, how would you be able to know under this terrible wind?”
“You’re right. And such unnatural wind, I might add.” Dion raised his coat up to his face. “It was so hot earlier too. Bizarre.”
The Priest looked up. He closed his eyes and began scratching his head. That was all the answer the two needed to feel that sense of dread grow inside of them again.
“Why’d you move the body anyway?” Dion asked.
“Weirdest thing. His wife wanted it moved.” He looked back and Dion could feel the Priest’s grin pierce him as if nails had been hammered into the gaps inside his vertebrae. He hunched and cringed and then the Priest continued out of, what seemed like, joy. “She said she had a dream about him, that he was drowning. She had it four days in a row before she finally got the urge to act and well…”
“And well.” Dion repeated. Sweat collected on his forehead.
The Priest held the tension with his smile before he broke into a jovial gaff.
“Well, that was years ago. We’re better now. You make mistakes, you learn. That kind of thing.” The Priest said.
Out of fear, Dion laughed too.
They didn’t speak much the rest of the way and did more staring and gawking. Off at a distance, a dull-faced groundskeeper looked at them with his leaf blower aimed against the wind. He was driving grass shavings up into a tornado. The Priest noticed him, looked, and copied his boring face. An ape copying another ape.
“Who are you again?” The Priest said.
“Enough f****** around. We’re the Vicars from the Vatican.” Apollo’s loud voice straightened up Dion.
“How can I be sure of that?” The Priest said.
“On account of us being the only ones here and knowledgeable about the fact. You didn’t exactly post up the job offer in the yellow papers. We have a schedule, a text, a name. A role. We’re demon hunters, alright? We’re the two and with you, makes the three. The only three that know about this exchange and about the job. The Devils of Havenbrook, that was the report title, right?” Apollo wanted to add more than that but tempered the raunchy thoughts by biting his tongue.
“The Devils of Havenbrook.” The Priest’s face turned away. “Yes, I know that.”
He meditated in silence for a bit, but shook his head and faced the two.
“You know, you have quite the mouth.” The Priest looked to Apollo. Apollo who was rolling and massaging his neck, trying to soften bulging veins. “But when you’re right, you’re right. Right? I’ve summoned you and for a reason. Come along.”
The Priest dangled a key. They were in front of a small shed, with an overbearing musk of dirt and oil. The planks on the wall were half eaten by termites, the room was full of tools; scythes, hammers, nails mostly. The Priest lurked inside of the darkness of the shed where they could only see the small rays of light from the holed ceiling. It exposed the ancient dust that lived in the air, ephemeral and gentile.
The Priest rustled with metal. He came out with two rusted shovels.
“I can’t kill anything with a shovel.” Dion said.
“I can come up with a couple ways.” He mumbled, rubbing his temples.
“You need to think harder.” The Priest pointed to Dion. “And you need to relax.” His finger shifted to Apollo. “Your friends brought your stuff in a very strange way. They buried it, didn’t tell me where though.”
“Because they told us.” Apollo said. “It’s under a ‘Bill Kirby 1940-1997′”
“They didn’t tell me.” Dion said.
“You’d probably forget it even if they did.” Apollo said.
Dion kicked dirt in Apollo’s direction. Apollo walked away, neither angered nor amused. It was a denial that seemed to bitter Dion more.
“Why’s it so elaborate?” The Priest asked. Apollo’s spade dragged along the stony road and hit every bump along the curve up to the site.
“Because it’s too dangerous otherwise.” Apollo said. “They used to have another system. One with a Retainer and the Host, the Retainer, of course, would be given the honor of handing the weapon and the Host, of course, would be the weapon user. At least for undisciplined low-level Vicars, like us.”
“I’m not undisciplined.” Dion mumbled.
“Right. Anyways, that system used to work. But of course, there was an incident. A pretty bad one involving a rogue entity in the streets of London. This rogue entity not only killed the Retainer, a fisherman. Not only stole the weapon, a whip. But used it to kill the Vicar sent out in the first place. Real f****** character, that one. They sent a dozen hunters after her. Most of them never came back. Those that did, killed themselves after. All of them were tortured. She was never caught and the church never made that mistake again, never accepted either. Wanted to save face, I guess. They just sort of swept it under the rug.” Apollo said. “Now they only let a select few Apostles and church-hands handle the sanctioning and divvy of weapons. And of course, they have to make it as complicated as f****** possible.”
“What was the name?” Dion asked.
“Of the victims or of the murderer?”
“The killer, of course.” Dion said.
“Justiciar Léona.” Apollo looked back to Dion. “Don’t worry, this was a hundred and fifty years ago. I’m sure the hourglass turned her over long ago.”
Dion could not close his eyes as he imagined it. Apollo looked at him, hoping to see a reaction. A frown, maybe juvenile false-courage. His eyes narrowed as he looked at Dion, Dion who was still facing the ground. And to Apollo’s surprise, he saw Dion’s face contort. It changed to something of a sneer. He was smiling, smiling from the story.
“She must have been a strong warrior, huh?” Dion ran up the hill behind Apollo.
There was something drab about it, about the Priest, about that odd look on Dion, about the groundskeeper and about the crows. The air was raw and heavy and all around Apollo, he felt terrible. Like he had just put his signature down the papyrus, a signature for a bad deal, a deal whose consequences he was only beginning to think about. This invisible contract, not read nor shown to him, that only existed in whispers and in fate. A contract that promised suffering.
He looked at that odd, giddy Dion. He shook his head, it was nothing, he hoped. But as he pushed his thighs up and put his shovel behind his neck he felt in his belly that acidic tingling as if, instinctively, he knew that the day would only get worse.
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.