Hi Folks ... it's October! Time for the creatures of the night. This is the first of a batch of stories with a Halloween bent, so if you don't like those, you should probably pass this one by. I started the story out trying out another new editor ... God I miss Mikothebaby ... I ended up finishing it with SirCharles5150 from last week. He cot in at the last minute and did an absolutely heroic job. Here we go. SS06
New Orleans is a city of contrasts. As soon as visitors stepped foot in the city, its character washed over them like a hurricane. Its rich cultural diversity and old world charm just seemed to fit right in alongside all of its modern conveniences. The swampy, hot, humid weather seemed to only add to its down home sophistication.
Internet bars and Starbucks franchises competed for space on the avenues. But in New Orleans they sat right beside fortune teller's shops, voodoo bookstores and hundreds of tiny yet charming mom and pop restaurants that served the most enticing blend of French, Southern and Creole fare.
Religion, be it Catholic, Voodoo, Paganism or whatever, was very in your face. And it wasn't unusual to see statues or posters of the saints, whether the religious icons or the very modern day football team in the windows of both large and small shops.
Tourists are a big part of the city. They come from every area of the country and the planet to experience Jazz, Ragtime, Blues and a thousand other types of music and entertainment that the city is famous for.
Me, I'm Theresa Gillian, I'm thirty four years old, I've lived here all of my life, and I hate it. I can't wait to get out of this cesspool. This city is so full of sin and evil that I often feel like I need to take three showers a day and go to church twice just to keep my soul clean. I've been saving all of the money I can, as quickly as I can, so I can move to Chicago to live near my cousin and her family.
That is my dream. Ever since I visited her three years ago to attend her wedding, I've wanted to go back there. I know that Chicago isn't the nicest place on the planet. They have crime and all of the other ills that every big modern city has. But the difference is that its ills and even its evils are clean, human problems. They don't reek with the touch of evil that permeates the air here.
Maybe it's the fact that because of the water table we have to bury the dead above ground. And that keeps them so close to us that you can fell the presence of the dead all around you. Maybe it's just that being an old city brings the air of past times, past crimes and past evil, closer to the city in an intimate way.
My parish priest once told me that old spirits, both good and bad liked the places that were familiar to them, so an older city has more ghosts. But whatever it is, in only a few months, I'll be free of this place.
Some of the woman that I work with, cleaning hotel rooms in the big tourist type hotels near the quarter laugh at me when I talk about it. But I know what I feel. And I know what I know.
The tourists especially the younger ones with their piercings and their tattoos, who come down here looking for God knows what, should be more careful. Some of those poor young people disappear and are never heard from again. I truly believe that some of them came face to face with what they sought.
Those poor stupid children with archaic languages and metal decorating their bodies have no idea about the forces they play with. Most of them are just looking for thrill. They want to be scared. They are no more prepared for what they find here than those stupid paranormal investigators on TV. They go into a haunted house carrying thousands of dollars worth of equipment, trying to find ghosts or evidence of the supernatural.
What always makes me laugh is how quickly those expert ghost hunters scramble and run out of the pace as soon as something goes bump in the night. Why do they run? I mean the whole intention of their visits is finding ghosts, right? So why would they run as soon as they find one?
They run because it's a human reaction to things that the mind just can't face. There are some things that people should just leave alone. And although those idiots' conscious minds tell them to go and tease the ghosts, their subconscious minds know better.
I pray for all of them though because they really don't understand what they're playing at. Tattoos and body piercings are the devil's way of marking his children. And sooner or later he comes to claim them. If you tease a demon you shouldn't be surprised when he snatches you. Here in New Orleans, magic, whether spiritual, Christian, or evil, is all real. The city is like a nexus point where all kinds of things just seem to come together.
Some places just resonate with a certain type or power. The Catholics have Rome. The witches and Pagans have Salem. The Native tribes have the Great Lakes region, but New Orleans just seems to be the place where they all interact.
So walking around here with a pentagram or an upside down cross tattooed over your hoo-hah is only going to get you in trouble.
Wednesday night, I was walking home after my shift, with one of the girls who lives near me. As we passed by the old convent near the French Quarter, she looked upwards suddenly and let out a gasp. I looked to see what had startled her and noticed that a man was climbing out of one of the windows on the upper floor. It had to be about forty feet up.
He looked around and then just jumped. We were frozen on the spot. Caroline and I both thought that he had jumped to his death. But when he landed, his legs buckled and then he stood up and walked away as easily as if I had just jumped down from a truck with a lift kit.
Caroline gasped and crossed herself, because we both knew that nothing human should have been able to do that. Suddenly he turned towards us. We ducked behind the building we were passing and went back the other way. I learned at an early age to never let the Devil know that you've seen him.
By the time I got home I was still shaking about what I had seen. The very next morning I told my priest about it when I went to church to pray. He of course proved to be useless. He asked me several times whether I was sure of what I'd seen and if was I was taking any kind of drugs or medication. For a man of the cloth who is supposed to do battle in God's name, against the forces of evil, he seemed to be just as scared as I was.
He even told me not to tell anyone about what I saw. He told me it was probably just a trick of the light or some sort of fatigue making me think I saw something that I didn't actually see.
I went to work today with the intention of having Caroline go to the church with me, so she could tell Father Scaredy pants that she saw it too. Both of us couldn't have been fooled by a trick of the light. Both of us weren't suffering from the same fatigue.
The problem was that Caroline didn't show up for work today. This is the first time I remember her missing work. When I called her, I got no answer. I'm pretty sure that she ran off with that man she's been dating. She's always telling me how she's tired of being alone. So maybe she took him up on one of his offers. He's a truck driver and always asks her to go out on the road with him. I figured that he's married otherwise he'd have asked her to marry him by now. Being out on the road in a truck would be just like playing house. And that's a sin.
I've decided that tonight, I'm going to either walk home the long way and avoid the old convent or maybe just walk over to the taxi stand that's right down the street from hotel. Even though it isn't a convent anymore, I'm not walking past that place again. I still get the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it.
It's a warm night but I feel cold for some reason. I pull my sweater closer around my shoulders to keep the chill out. It just seems funny that on a night when it's eighty degrees out, I'm still cold.
I sit down on the bench to wait for a taxi. A shrunken dark skinned man smoking one of those foul foreign cigars nodded his head at me.
"Ah'll be back in just a shake ma'am," he says. "I just gotta' get my log book and take a leak. There's my cab right there, if you wanna wait inside of it."
It sounded like a good idea to me. There were people just across the street in the sidewalk cafes. There were a couple of Zydeco musician down the block playing for tourists. But there was something wrong with the night itself. It just seemed like the darkness was palpable. If you looked only two feet away from the street lights it was dark again. It almost seemed like the light couldn't chase away the darkness. Waiting inside of the cab sounded like the best idea I heard, so I got up to walk the twenty feet over to the cab.
I never made it. He stepped out of one of the puddles of darkness, as if the dark itself was a cloak to cover him. For some strange reason it seemed as if I was the only one who could see him.
It was as if he had hypnotized me. I couldn't look away from his eyes. He had one of those corny old hats that they used to wear forty or fifty years ago and a ratty old coat. He even had a walking stick. Who the hell carries a walking stick nowadays?
He spoke in a Cajun accent so thick that I could barely understand what he was saying. "Ya saw me th' other night huh Chere?" he asked.
Recognition fired in dormant brain cells along with fear. I tried to run but my body refused to cooperate. My heart started to beat faster and louder and I wanted to scream but for some reason I couldn't. He turned again towards the darkness and I followed him without even being asked.
The strangest thing was that we were only a few yards away from the tourists who were smiling and dancing to the happy sounds of the Zydeco. He bit deeply into my neck and took half of my blood with the first draught.
"Are you going to make me a vampire like you?" I asked.
"Sorry Chere," he laughed. "You're just as plain as swamp grass. You wouldn't be a good vampire." A few seconds later, his red rimmed mouth descended on me again and I felt my soul drawn out of me. As I melted away into nothingness I wondered about the futility of it all. What about heaven? What about hell? Did any of it mean anything?
Hunger is a funny thing. It affects us all differently. Some people get really testy when they're hungry and others get tired. Some of us respond to hunger like there's a dinner bell ringing behind them, and other look at it like it's merely a suggestion. Some of us are vegetarians, who wouldn't touch meat to save their lives. Others think that no meal is complete without a large portion of charred dead animal flesh on their plates.
I see us all, with all of our different appetites as being the same. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses. We all have our woes and our crosses to bear. I know a nurse who's a diabetic. Living around the big easy and not being able to partake of most of the sweets and cakes and pies that come from this region is probably one of the most insidious versions of hell. When I think about her, my particular dietary conundrum becomes less damning.
I call myself a Fluitarian. That means I subsist totally on fluids and I'm kind of particular about which fluids I take in. Other than that and a fatal disability to process sunlight, I'm your average, every day swamp rat.
I've been told that I have a certain roguish charm and I see the results from time to time, like tonight. I work in Grace Hospital as a transporter. My job is to move the patients from one area in the hospital to another. I'm supposed to be charming and compassionate, while maintaining an air of professionalism. At least that was the way they explained it during my orientation.
I'm sitting here in the administrative office considering my options, while a forty year old woman with stars in her eyes tries to convince me to better my life.
"Mason, I think you can do better for yourself," she says. "In fact, I'd be willing to help you to do just that." As she speaks she leans over the desk between us much more than is necessary. She leans over so far that the cleavage between her dangling breasts shows me that she isn't wearing a bra. She looks into my eyes to make sure that I'm paying attention to her and smiles as she notices that I've noticed her breasts.
"Mason, we can talk about other things, some other time. Right now we should talk about your future. What do you think about you becoming a nurse or maybe even a doctor?" she asks.
"Well ma'am..." I begin.
"Hallie," she corrects. "Just think of Halle Berry but without the creamy brown skin."
I nod at her. "I'm a transporter, that's it. I don't think I have what it takes to become a doctor or a nurse. That's a lot of school. And I have to work to support myself."
"We can work all of that out and..." she begins.
"Hallie, I'm not interested," I tell her point blank. I was always told to always leave your opponent with a sense of hope, so I throw in. "At least not in the schooling. I like to keep my life in the low pressure zone." I smile and obviously leer at her breasts.
She smiles and leans back in her chair, pulling her shoulders back to make her breasts stand out more. "Can we maybe talk about those other things later tonight?" I ask.
"We sure can," she smiles. "I'll come and find you."
Now all I had to do was avoid her for the rest of the shift. It wasn't hard. With the constant flow of patients to all of the areas of the hospital, I was often too busy to even chat with the patients for more than a few seconds. But those few seconds often made the difference in the lives of the sick.
Sometimes just a few kind words at the right time made all of the difference. I also saw some of the cheesiest things in the world happen. There were times, especially around the first of the month, where the adult children of senior citizens would send mom or pop to the hospital while they spent their parent's social security check. I saw it all too often. Mr. Smith or Mrs. Jones had no idea why their son or daughter had brought them into the hospital. "I coughed a couple of times and she sent me here," was a typical response. And in this day of litigation for any and every reason, the hospital had no choice but to schedule Mr. Smith for a Chest x-ray while his son skipped off to the casino.
With the transporters working overlapping shifts to ensure that there were always some of us on duty, I got off at 4 a.m. Lucky for me, my amorous HR fan was long since asleep. I left the hospital under the cover of darkness and smelled the warm, humid air. My belly was full of the cold, yet still life giving fluid that I had taken in. Years of experience in the hospital setting had taught me how to get around the security methods in the blood bank.
It was simple to trance an overworked doctor into going in and bringing me what I needed and then sending him on his way. Most people in a hospital would never consider questioning a doctor, especially about something as innocuous as a bag of blood.
So flush with blood and the perfume of the night I walked towards my bike. I knew there was a problem before I got to it. I saw them there, but curiosity alone made me go anyway. There was also the fact that I hadn't been seriously challenged by anyone in a long time. My kind, only seem to get stronger with age. In terms of immortality, at 60 years old, I'm nowhere near immortal. But I was turned when I was 27, so I've been a vampire for 33 years. A lot of us don't survive that long these days. It's too simple to succumb to the three S's. Suspicion, Sunlight and Stupidity tend to take their toll on us.
All of the fables and fairy tales about us are mostly wrong about some of the details. Yep, I have the potential to live forever. But potential without motivation ain't squat. Half of us are still subject to all of the insecurities and problems that most humans have. There comes a time when you just get tired of living. It's especially hard when everyone you know has gotten older or died. Life itself also changes with the generations until you no longer relate to anything around you. I was born in the late fifties. Who saw computers and cellphones coming?
Anyway, the shit about being killed by a stake through the chest is true, but come on, that would kill anything. The thing about sunlight bothers the shit out of me and I keep testing it. Every five years as I get stronger, I test it, and every God damned time it hurts like hell. I can't fly, or change into anything unless you're talking about a different outfit.
I am far stronger than any human and much, much faster though. I can trance most humans and even some animals but that's the extent of my supernatural abilities. We don't seem to have any telepathic abilities or no links between vampires unless they share a bloodline. We are very territorial, but it's mostly just suspiciousness of the motivation of others of our kind.
I have only met a truly old vampire, twice during my life. And both times it was a terrifying experience. The first of course was the woman who turned me. She was scary but only because of what she did to me. On retrospect, she was actually very kind to me. I was out of my head at the time. She didn't stick around to see what happened to me. The stories of vampires training their fledglings, is only more fiction. I often wonder what has happened to her. I heard more about her during my second encounter with an older vampire.
His name was Antoine de la Cravalle, obviously French and crazy as a bed bug. He was curious about me. He kept calling me his grandson. I finally figured out that he didn't mean genetically. He was the creature who had turned the woman who turned me. My vampire blood came from him, through her. She is almost four hundred years old and he's older still. He is extremely terrified of her, now. She has powers that defy even vampiric age. We didn't talk much, what with him being a total fucking lunatic. But from what I gathered, she has somehow gained the ability to switch back and forth between being a vamp and a human at will. And she can walk in the sun when she's human. He's scared shitless that she'll track him down and murder him while he sleeps so he's constantly on the move. I got the impression that he turned her by force over two hundred years ago and she's been tracking him around the globe to get her revenge until recently when something else took over her interest.
Anyway, I didn't think I'd have much of a problem with them at first glance. I guess, since I could hear their heartbeats, which marked them as human, and the fact that they were women I didn't really take them seriously. There was also the fact that three women, dressed from head to toe in leather piqued my curiosity. Each one of them wore a different color of leather. Each of them also wore a hooded leather cloak in the same color as their leathers. One wore head to toe white leather. Another was clothed in green leather and the last, wore yellow leather.
As I said I sensed a problem as I approached, but I didn't think it was a serious one. In the back of my mind, I had the idea that they were just another group of Goth kids. I thought the main danger might've been that they had discovered or suspected what I was. I might have to move out of my apartment or change jobs, but I viewed them as more of an annoyance than a legitimate threat. I was wrong.
I hate being the new kid. To most of the people we interact with there isn't much difference between us. After they've been around us for a few hours or in some cases a few days, they look for differences. We're never in any place for longer than a few days though, so most never get the chance to discover that even the surface differences between us aren't really a good way to tell. Once you get past the appearance and personality quirks we're even more the same. We're all devoted to our lord and his service first and foremost.
In fact, that was what led to me becoming a part of the team. Was it only 2 years ago that I was one of the nuns in the academy training and hoping that one day I would join them in serving our lord or even simply support them in some way.
I knew that the only way I'd actually get a place on the team would be through accident, injury or death. And I also knew that once selected, I'd be under the same risk. I simply never expected it to happen this soon or that Sister Prudence would be the one I replaced. I could see Sister Patience falling in battle or simply retiring. Not because she isn't still in shape physically, but because she's pretty old; I think. No one really knows how old Patience is. When I looked back at the team the way they were structured, Patience was the strategist among them. She was the one who moved to a higher vantage-point and fired long range weapons, while directing the fight from a distance. She was the one who saw the big picture. But again she was and is old. I saw myself replacing her.
Then there's Penance ... what can I say about her? Penance scares the heck out of me. I'm not sure she can really be considered a nun. Penance curses ... I've heard her. And she's just too bloodthirsty to be a nun. Her battle strategy also seems to be a touch foolhardy. She rushes straight in, with no planning and no strategy. Penance uses brute force against most of her opponents and she usually out-muscles most men. Penance is also the largest of us all. She's built really proportionally and a lot of men stare at her, especially her huge boobs, but Penance is a nun, first and foremost. She's an angry, scary, blood-thirsty nun, but still a nun.
Now I find myself teamed with the two of them. I'm not really sure which position I fall into. Prudence was the natural leader and that definitely isn't me. But Prudence was also the best fighter among the three and that is also not me. I modeled myself after Prudence, but I don't have half of her skill or speed. I'm bigger than Patience, but not nearly the size of Penance.
I've heard myself referred to as the young one or the nervous one, but I'm only a year or two younger than Penance and she's been doing this for five years. I also don't see myself as being any more fidgety than the other two.
Being the new kid sucks. There are so many things that the three of them went through that are talked about or used as a reference that I have no knowledge of. It's always, "Remember the one in England did this?" when I clearly wasn't in England with them. I guess that time will tell, and truthfully over the 2 years that I've been with the team we have begun to generate some memories of our own. I truly am beginning to gain experience when dealing with some of the challenges we face.
As we wait in the parking lot outside of the hospital that our next opponent frequents, I go over the chain of events that brought us here.
A woman named Theresa Gilliam complained to her parish priest that she'd seen some sort of creature, the nature of which is still unknown. The priest followed the protocol. He tried to dissuade her, but reported her claims to the local bishop. The Bishop went to an Arch Bishop, who contacted a Cardinal. A few days later, we're sweating it out in leather in the bowels of the Bayou.
The first thing we did upon arrival was to visit the local church. I guess technically we should have gone to the Archbishop and followed the chain of command downwards, but we favor the direct approach.
Our idea was to have the priest direct us to Theresa, but we couldn't find her. After visiting the local hospitals and morgues, we found that both Theresa and the friend who had been with her on the night when she saw the creature had been killed. Strangely enough both bodies had been drained of blood. Because of the way the throats had been ripped out, the police suspected an animal attack. The three of us didn't say a word. We just silently looked at each other and nodded.
The detective who'd helped us was a parishioner and a very religious man. But like most cops he tended to want to be able to answer questions with what seem like reasonable and factual answers. So when you ask him what type of animal sucks out all of the blood from its victims, he says it was probably a wolf or a bear. When you ask him again where the blood went, he says it was probably absorbed into the ground after the victim bled out.
He's not a bad man, he just needs everything to fit neatly into little boxes that he can wrap his mind around. This will be my first vampire and both Patience and Penance have prayed that once we make our presence known the creature vacates the area. Most of them do. A few of the very old ones, like the one from two years ago can be trouble. It was a vampire that caused Prudence to leave the team. He was very old and very powerful. He had all kinds of mental tricks. He didn't kill Prudence but he was able to wound her. In the end it was a man, a civilian, who had rammed his car into the beast pinning it so it could be beheaded that had ended things. After that things get sketchy. What should have happened was that Prudence should have undergone a cleansing process to make sure that she was still untainted, and then returned to service. But for some reason she quit.
I've heard all kinds of rumors about why. At first I really believed the one that made the most sense. That was the one where dealing with the creature and barely escaping with her life had caused her to lose her nerve. Another theory was that she'd been so tainted by the creature's foul touch that she was no longer fit for service.
I didn't believe that one because it really didn't make sense. I got to meet Prudence a year after the incident. There were several weird things going on. My psychology classes prepared me for all of the things that might occur. I was prepared for her to resent me for taking her place on the team. I was prepared for jealousy. I was even prepared for her to try to challenge me, to see if my skill with a sword was equal to hers. I knew that I had to go easy on her because she no longer had her powers. I intended to gently but firmly let her know that although I respected her immensely, she no longer had what it takes, and I had earned my place on the team honestly and fairly.
I wasn't prepared for what actually happened. When we pulled up in front of the nicest house I'd ever seen, a tall blond hurricane rocketed out of the house and hugged Patience and then Penance. If she was tainted, neither of them should have let her touch them. But what came next shocked me to the core. She saw me out of the corner of her eye and enveloped me in one of her hugs as well.
It was surprising. I wondered how a woman who had fallen from grace could be so happy. And then I saw it. A man, a good looking one came out of the house and walked over to her shyly. Somehow, without trying to they ended up next to each other and then their hands ended up entwined and she glowed. All of my life, in the convent and before I've heard of people who had been touched by the spirit, but that was the first time I'd truly understood it.
Patience had smiled at the man and called him by name. Even Penance had paid him a grudging compliment.
"Hello, Man," she said. "I see you haven't run out on her or killed her joy yet."
"Penance, he has a name," laughed Patience. "And he's a friend."
"I don't have any friends who are MEN," grumbled Penance. She looked over at Jason then and gave him a very high compliment. "Do you want to fight?" it was the same thing she asked me when we first met.
We went inside of their house and their love was clear. The two of them could barely keep their hands off of each other and their eyes ... were always on each other.
I guess the psychologists don't know it all. I began feeling like I, not she was the loser. I started to analyze the things she said and realized that I was the one who was jealous.
It was the man who brought up the subject but I was glad he did.
"So Piety," he began. "What's your weapon of choice?"
"I use a rapier," I said. His eyes lit up. "Do you want me to go to the car and snow it to you?" I asked. He nodded his head. I should have noticed then that Penance was shaking hers.
I guess I expected him to be impressed or awed by my sword. "Oh, a Pappenheimer," he said matter of factly. He acted as if he saw them every day.
"Can you use it?" he asked. I started to wonder exactly how much Prudence had told him about what we do.
"Of course," I said.
"Can you show me?" he asked.
"If you want," I said shrugging my shoulders.
"Oh shit," grumbled Penance. "This is how it starts."
We went out in the back of the house where they had a large sun deck. I unsheathed my blade. "Be right back," he said. He came back with a dagger and a mace. I laughed at his choice of weapons. This would be like child's play. First there was the fact that I had enhanced speed and strength. But even more obvious was the fact that my rapier was almost three times the length of the mace which was longer than the dagger.
"Ooh," gasped Penance. Jason smiled and showed her the mace.
"Are you serious?" I asked. I was sure that the longer reach of my rapier would allow me to simply sit back and pick him apart. He just smiled at me. I felt like Miguel Cabrera facing a little league pitcher. The problem was that Patience and even Penance seemed to like the guy.
I decided to end it quickly. Feeling no danger, I struck. Without warning, I launched myself forward in the classic fencer's lunge. I intended to lightly tap his shirt with the tip of my blade and show him that in the real world, having a few collectible weapons wouldn't get him far.
That was where my plan fell apart. I really expected to thump him, have the mock battle end and all of us sit down and have something to eat while we talked about it. But he moved. I guess all of my training in fencing worked against me. I had never actually fought a for real battle, but I had thousands of hours of training on the piste. In my mind, because of my experience fencing, I had the right of way. Like most fencers, he should have retreated to my attack or possibly tried to parry it. He did neither. Even as I moved into the lunge and extended the blade he moved towards me. It made no sense until I thought about it later.
By moving towards me he moved me into his playground. He was so close to me that my longer weapon was ineffective. He also sidestepped my lunge as if I was moving in slow motion. After the tip of my blade had passed him, which was an insult, he did what I thought at first was a parry, with the dagger. But then it all went badly. He pressed a button on the hilt of the dagger and two long prongs snapped out of the blade somehow. He twisted his wrist trapping my blade and then brought the head of the mace down onto my captured blade snapping it.
The shock on his face told me that he hadn't intended to destroy my weapon. I was in shock. My Sword was over three hundred years old and had been blessed by the new Pope himself.
"I tried to warn her, didn't I?" rumbled Penance. "The one thing men are good at is breaking things."
"I'm really sorry," he said. "I thought that you were holy and super, you know? I guess I'm so used to sparring with Pru, so I thought that you'd be as fast as she is and..."
"Jason, you still owe me a mace," grumbled Penance. "Can I have that one?"
"You know that it's not real," said Jason. "It's a battle ready modern replica."
"I don't care. It's pretty. Gimme," said Penance. "Now if you really want to be friends, you'd give me that sneaky dagger too."
"Penance, it's a replica too. It's a Paul Chen Trident Main Gauche. They sell them on EBay for about 90 bucks," said Jason.
"And you're not giving that one to anyone," spat Prudence. "I gave you that one for your birthday."
I was still in shock. "Jason, what did you mean when you said that you thought that I was as fast as Prudence?" I asked.
"I'm much faster than..." I began.
"Not even close," he said.
For some reason, I got angry. All of the psychological training I went through became pointless. From the very start, as soon as I joined the team, everyone myself included had been comparing me to Prudence. I even compared myself to her.
"Show me," I said. The anger in my voice was barely contained. Patience looked at me with concern in her eyes. Penance was too busy swinging her new mace around and looking at it the way a new mother looks at her child.
Jason walked back into the house. When he came back he was carrying two swords. He handed some sort of samurai sword to Prudence.
"The Bear?" she laughed. I noticed the way their hands touched as he handed her the sword.
"Come on, I wanted to make this interesting," he said.
Then he dropped to one knee in front of me and presented me with a rapier that was nowhere near as compelling as the look in his eyes.
"Sister Piety, I'm really sorry about breaking your blade," he said. "Until you secure a replacement, I'd be honored to have you use this one."
His sincerity alone began to melt my anger. I looked at the sword. It was a Pappenheimer like mine. It was finely made. I drew the blade from its scabbard and tapped the steel. The high pitched ringing tone told me that it was very good steel. The weight and the balance were astounding.
"What century?" I asked. "How old is this blade? It's very good."
"It came from a company called Museum Replicas," he laughed. "It's about six months old. But it won't snap like yours did."
I looked past him at Prudence. Maybe this would be the chance for me to put my demons to rest.
As Prudence came to stand before me, she was actually smiling. Her eyes still weren't on me they were on Jason.
As I raised my blade she touched it with hers. I advanced and then lunged. She did some kind of circular step that brought her around behind me. She tapped me gently on my back with the point of her blade.
"Sister, this isn't the fencing strip," she laughed. "Attacks can come from any angle or any direction. Didn't you learn that from Jason? We're not doing the fencing rules."
She had treated me like a novice and shamed me in front of my team mates. I had to beat her. I did a big circle with my blade and attacked again before the circle was complete. It was blindingly fast but she caught my blade as if she'd been expecting it. She moved her blade down mine until it hit the guard and then grabbed the guard of my sword with her free hand. She spun in a circle and ended up holding both her weapon and mine. And still she smiled.
"You know that is one scary move you just did. Now I know what it felt like from the other side," she said. Throughout our battle she had never stopped smiling.
Then I was even more embarrassed. I remembered then where I had learned the move. It had been when I watched videos of her battles. I had tried to use one of her own moves against her.
"The disarming move you did. Where did you learn it?" I asked.
"Jason made me watch a really stupid movie called Highlander. He made me watch about five of them. That move came from the third one. It was about a bunch of men who went around cutting off each other's heads. I have no idea why they did it. I just like watching movies with him. It's probably why I married him," she said. "Ooh! I think she kicked,"
"I didn't kick anything," I said.
"Not you, Sister," she laughed. "The baby." she held her tummy and Jason was there next to her.
I couldn't believe that I'd been bested by a pregnant woman.
"You still have your speed and your strength," I spat. "You were never tainted. Why did you quit! Do you want your place back? Is that why you invited us here? And you needed to beat me in front of my team mates to prove that you're better than I am, right?"
She just started laughing then. "Sister, you have quite an imagination," she said. "Do I look unhappy to you?" she asked.
"Well ... no," I said.
"And I really am quite tainted and really unfit to serve," she continued. "Can you really see a pregnant nun? I'm not sure the church could deal with that. The new Pope does seem to want to return the church to the people, but I think even he has limits of propriety."
Her smile was infectious and it caused me to relax. "You're not tainted," I said. "I don't feel any evil coming from you. You were never infected were you?" I looked at Patience who couldn't meet my gaze.
"And I don't think you lost your nerve either. Excuse my language Sister, but what the hell is going on?" I asked angrily. "Why did I have to replace you when you didn't need replacing?"
Again, her smile disarmed me. "Piety, you're not seeing the big picture," she said. "I WAS tainted. I AM tainted..."
"But you still have your powers? I don't understand," I asked in frustration.
"Sister, being tainted simply means that you're no longer pure. I am tainted. I am no longer able to put the church first. Nothing comes before my husband and my child. And as far as the powers thing goes ... who knows? They come from God. He decides what he gives us or what he takes away. Jason doesn't have any powers, maybe I don't either."
Even when she said his name her voice changed. She was right the two of them were totally devoted to each other. I wondered what that felt like. With the crisis over Jason went back to whatever he was doing and Patience went with him. Penance left the deck and went out among the trees, leaving Prudence and me alone.
"You know when you left the church it threw everything into a state of chaos," I said.
"The church is immortal it. It will go on long after both of us are dust," she said.
"But they were thinking that you could have been the next..." she shushed me before I could say it.
"Piety, just be yourself and you'll be fine," she said. "You have no one to live up to and nothing to prove. It's not your job to be the next me. All you have to do is become the best version of yourself that you can and you'll be great. Your Sisters love you already. They have faith in you and they trust you. If they didn't, they never would have brought you here." Then she hugged me again.
A few seconds later we heard a "Thunk" sound coming from the trees.
"Holy shit, this thing is ... Sorry, I swore," grumbled Penance. She came running out from the trees. "Hey the flanges on this thing are so sharp that it might as well be an axe. Prudence, can I cut down one of your trees? I'll bet I can!"
"No, Penance. We like our trees," she said shaking her head.