Petra 1: Rock and a Hard Place (Part 4)
Petra 1: Rock and a Hard Place - Part 4
[Note the author does not speak Italian, or any other languages, so apart from a few words here and there all dialog will be in English. You may however presume that it is what ever language you feel comfortable with. Special thanks to Warren for providing taxi ride experiences in Italy, and a bunch of other insanity. (Yes some of it really is his fault! And Maggie for help with Saul.]
“So Rose, how long do these ‘courts’ go on for?” I asked as she would flutter back and forth to the Signora’s table.
“Occasionally they have gone past midnight,” she sighed and looked at her list, “tonight could be one such night.”
“Oh dear,” said Michelle with a sip of tea, having been not so subtly teased by me to cut down on the wine. “I should be happy I own my own business then.”
“Oh?” asked Rose as she sat down and proceeded to rub her feet gingerly. “That must be nice.”
“Feet tired?” I asked with sympathy as I eased her foot into my lap and proceeded to rub it.
“Oh that is nice,” Rose said with a smile after a moment, “you must bring her here more often Michelle.”
“I barely just found her and I am supposed to share?” asked Michelle with a grin. “But since you ask so nicely.”
I chuckled as Rose didn’t quite purr, “So what do you do for work Rose?”
“Oh I am one of the rich bourgeois types,” she wiggled her toes and said, “so money has not been a factor, so most of the time I help the Signora and study which ever attracts my eye at the time.”
“So you have lots of free time?” asked Michelle with a slightly predatory look at the two of us.
“Ut oh,” I said with a chuckle, “I think she wants to abscond with us and do things.”
“Well lately I’ve been running around trying to keep the Signora from overdoing it,” she sighed happily as I switched feet, “looking into the missing persons reports, checking for newly emergent magical types, handling minor disputes and so on.”
“Missing persons?” I asked as a sudden shiver made me glance back at Gothy who simply gave me a wink.
“Well, yeah.” She sighed and glanced at me with droopy eyes, “No one of real importance, the dregs of society for the most part.”
“No missing pregnant women by any chance?” I asked quickly as my minds eye flickered to the gruesome picture we had briefly located .
“A few,” she admitted as her eyes opened fully, “one of the indignant locals, but well, she was supposedly gifted.”
“Oh my,” said Michelle slowly as she sat up, “gifted?”
“Better fuel for a spell?” I asked Michelle softly.
“Add in an innocent, ‘virginal’ life…” Michelle said looking ill.
“What are you two going on about?” asked Rose as she looked at the two of us with a frown. “Do you know something?” she asked in a firm tone.
“It’s very likely related to one of the things that brought us here,” said Michelle as she motioned to me, “do you have those markings yet Petra?”
I reached down to my purse and removed those napkins, laying them out as best I remembered their order. “We ran across crime scene type photos that had a murdered pregnant woman and these images in the pictures.”
Rose sat up and looked closely at the markings, then looked away suddenly, “They are not correct, close but not correct, of which I can only say you are very lucky Petra if you drew these.”
“Well the pictures I looked through were not the best, and I have no way of knowing the correct order,” I shrugged as she looked at me worriedly, “which may be fortune or folly.”
“Fortune, definitely fortune, though the Signora is fond of saying there is no such thing as chance.” She tapped one of the napkins, “This sigil, if it were correctly drawn would have given you an instant case of amnesia, blanking the past two to three hours if not longer.”
“And the others?” asked Michelle quietly as Rose deliberately and carefully tore that sigil in half.
“They seem to direct energy, but I’d have to look at the correct sigils and placement to know for sure,” she looked at the two of us, “I suspect your arrival tonight is one of the Signora’s ‘not so chancy,’ chances.”
“Ah could one of these sigils lower or acerbate a persons desires or mental traits,” asked Michelle as she pointed to the others, “if they were drawn correctly?”
Rose made a careful study of the sigils and then abruptly crumpled one of them in her fist, “The answer is yes.” She sighed and looked at the two of us, “You two are full of surprises, and we may have to make a definite assessment of you two.”
“Is that a good thing or a bad thing,” I asked the two as Rose replaced her shoes and stood up.
“Both,” said Michelle as she handed Rose her mousse.
“It may mean some extra work for you both, lessons wise, if what I suspect is true.” She smiled and then said, “But on the upside I’ll see the both of you more.”
“So now what?” I asked as Rose clipped my not perfect sigils to her clipboard.
“Well it may be a bit longer, the Romney do have real problem, which is related to yours I think,” she sighed and then added, “it may also depend on how trusting the Signora is of your Godfather.”
“He likely would surprise you,” I said with a smile.
“In any case it maybe an hour, once the Rom have presented things and the Signora considers,” she shook her head, “sometimes tradition really bogs things down.”
As the Rom’s group seemed to be going on forever, I took the liberties of revisiting the ladies room. I suspected the night was going to be a very late one so I turned my phone on and checked messages as I sat and did my business there. I had quite a few, mostly of the, ‘I am alive and well, hope you are too’ type. I also had a few of the annoying ones that wanted to complain at me for not answering or for not being responsible.
Once the message playback had ended I took the time to call Father Rico, fortunately he answered.
“Paige, it is good to hear your voice,” he said with real happiness.
“Yours too, I do have some news though,” I said and then relayed the past days events.
“That is worrying, I did learn our friend with the vampire problem was recovered mostly intact,” he said with a pained chuckle, “if not a bit anemic.”
“Ugh, well that is good news, and our other friend?” I asked quickly.
“Intact, a bit singed and in need of a long rest someplace quiet,” Father Rico made an annoyed grunt and said, “he’s a few bats short in his belfry and was found in a very drunk condition.”
“I had wondered if he did drink a bit much,” I mentioned quietly.
“He does, but he tends to keep it together for such things,” he coughed and said, “he also tends to scrape through such encounters which might get others killed.”
“Ah, so do you have any advice?” I asked as he seemed to go silent.
“Well I think you are on to something, and while I worry for your soul, you may want to keep in proximity to Miss D’aubigne until things shake out.” He sighed and then said, “At least you and she are not irresponsible in your preparations.”
Smiling I said, “Thanks I think.”
“I also think you should spend as little time as need be in the headquarters, no sleeping overnight in there.” He seemed to listen to a half heard voice, “Stay in touch and keep ‘all’ of your weapons sharp Petra, things are a bit grim seeming around here.”
“Ok, I’ll do that, go with God Father Rico,” I said as the voices seemed to pull him away from the phone.
“You too, stay in touch, understand?” he asked quickly.
“Completely,” I replied just as quickly.
“Right,” he said and then the phone blipped as the connection was lost.
Switching the phone off, I placed it back in my purse and readjusted the contents slightly so that the knife and gun were easy to grip if I needed them suddenly. Not that I could likely get into my purse too easily, having them readier was comforting. After washing my hands I paused to check my appearance in the mirror, I had managed to not get messy from dinner, a small miracle of itself. However I did need to correct my skirt once more, evidently I needed a lot more practice sitting in one as it seemed to need help frequently.
My egress from the sitting room was abruptly stalled as a pair of irate girls entered. Both were identically dressed entirely black and in a manner that had me thinking of Witch Hunter Robin. I took a step backwards as they seemingly seemed intent on speaking with me or something.
“May I help you?” I asked as the two stopped just shy of my personal space.
“You, are such a poser,” said the blue eyed girl as she stuck a finger in my face.
Blinking I looked at her and shifted my stance slightly, “I beg your pardon?”
“You come in here out of nowhere, and suck right up to the Anunciata like you are all special,” said the other one as she crossed her arms. “Well you are not.”
Sighing I looked at the two of them, “You are very mistaken, on so many levels I think.”
“Well we are not going to stand for it,” said the one whose finger was in my face.
“Listen, I am not looking for a fight with you two, I really don’t have the time for it,” I said as I felt Chaddy stirring in annoyance.
“Afraid you would lose?” asked the other as she pressed closer.
“No,” I said slowly as the buildings electrical power seemed to want to flow into me, “I am afraid I would hurt you and then be stuck healing you.”
“You are not that powerful,” insisted the one with her finger thudding into my chest.
There was an amused if not elderly chuckle from deeper in the bathroom and the two girls froze. Turning slowly I saw a seemingly ancient woman who was wearing a multitude of colors looking at the three of us. She rested her hands on her cane and tisked loudly in the silence as she regarded us critically.
“M-Matron,” said one of the girls as she quickly curtsied and then grabbed at her friend to provoke her to do the same.
“Ladies,” she said as she glanced at me with amusement as I belated followed their example.
“Um, we were just…” they started to say and then stopped suddenly as the old woman thumped her cane on the tile.
“You were just about to make a grave mistake,” she said scoldingly, “did you even take a moment to see her with eyes not of this world?”
There was a moment of silence as the girls paused to look at each other and then to look harder at me. In some ways it was amusing to watch their expressions go from sullenly indignant to shock and then worry. “Ah we, ah,” they stammered as one they started backing up slowly.
“You were about to apologize to the young lady,” the old lady shook her head in annoyance, “I suspect I will have to speak with your teacher and then your mother about your lack of vision.”
They looked down to the floor and seemed mumble an apology as they backed out of the room, not quite tripping on the sides of the door. The old lady shook herself, “You will have to pardon the twins, they are powerful, but they seem to forget there is a reason and order to things at times.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t think that making friends with the Anunciata was improper,” I said cautiously.
“It is not improper, the poor girl really does need more friends, but the role she takes often does intimidate people.” The old woman eased around me in a circle and nodded, “Woven of old priestly magicks, marked by a fertility goddess and one tied to misery who is a maintainer of balance.” She cackled and then said, “Perhaps slightly marked by a fertility god as well?”
“It’s complicated,” I said with a sigh as she seemed to pick up on all sorts of things.
“An you carry what some would consider a holy item of power around casually,” she said as she lifted my hand up in hers.
“That… is really complicated,” I said as I looked at her gnarled bony hand as it held mine.
“It usually is,” she said with a cackle, “it usually is. Come we should sit and talk, as it is I think the Signora is having a moment with your teacher.”
“Um my Godfather is not my teacher… if that is who you are talking about,” I said with a worried look at her.
“Him? Himself that steps lightly with us tonight?” she burst into full laughter and her eyes watered slightly in mirth, “your Godfather…” she paused as she looked at me again before shaking further in mirth.
“Well he is,” I said defensively.
“Now child I was not laughing at you, I was laughing at the twins and their foolishness,” she paused and then seemingly decided to sit on the couch. “The foolishness of youth provides me with hours of amusement.”
“I see,” I said as she pointed at me with her cane and then at a chair, taking her directions something to follow, I sat.
“Yes, its quite entertaining, so what were you going to do if they had really pressed you?” she asked with a wicked grin.
I held my hand a few inches apart and urged a spark to cross the gap between them, “Give them a jolt…” I said as I let my hands drop.
“Not a magickal one,” she said with a chortle, “they never would have seen it coming.”
“I don’t have much experience with magick,” I said with a sigh, “I don’t even know if I have the knack for it.”
“Child it is not often a matter of knack but aptitude and intent,” she reached out and nudged my purse with her cane, “that small book in there has spells in it does it not?”
I blinked recalling the book Arturo gave us and that Paige insisted I take with me, “Yes, it does, kinda.”
“You do not sound so sure,” she looked at me expectantly.
“Well most of the stuff in it is largely ceremonial stuff, what to say when someone sneezes in church that sort thing,” I said hesitantly.
She guffawed loudly the she took a moment to calm herself, “Child I know the Church has magick types in it and that you carry a connection to the Church, you are not hiding much from me.”
Slowly I lifted the purse and took the small yet thick black book out of it, “I suppose I am not.”
Smiling she nodded, “Have you studied it? The light spell?”
I shock my head slowly, “Not that much really, I see into a different spectrum and I glow in the dark if I want.”
‘Or even if you don’t want to…’ interjected Chaddy.
“That would save on candles or light bulbs” she said with a toothy smile, “have you at least looked at it?”
“Yes a few times,” I admitted as the text of the page unfolded in my mind.
“Would you humor an old woman and attempt it?” she asked with a smile that caused me to nod.
“I can try it,” I said slowly.
“Do so,” she instructed firmly. I closed my eyes and then lifted the hand with the ring on it, but before I could speak she halted me, “Use the other hand please, not that one.”
I opened my eyes and saw her point downward firmly, “Ok.” Once more I closed my eyes and then lifted my right hand, “Dixitque Deus fiat lux et facta est lux, dixitque Deus fiat lux et facta est lux, dixitque Deus fiat lux et facta est lux!”
There was a hint of amused laughter as I heard the door opened then close as if to admit someone, “Oh my… I see,” said a newer voice that prompted me to open my eyes.
I quickly closed my eyes against the overpowering light that stung my eyes, oddly enough it was the first light that had affected me since my change. “Um, I think I over did it?”
“A common mistake child, but if you would let it abate?” asked the old woman, “It is a bit bright.”
I focused my thought on wanting the light to go away, and after a moment it provoked a chuckle from the new voice, “Enough child or you might darken the building.”
“Yes, you do glow,’ cackled the old woman and I opened my eyes to look around the room.
“Sorry,” I mumbled as the newcomer spoke a word seemingly restoring the light, “I am not sure if I get the power from myself though.”
“She has a mixture of odd magicks tied into her,” said the old woman to a younger one who might be in her mid forties. “Given who her Godfather is and the artifact she carries, among other things…”
“A bit heavy with the Church as well,” she smiled and then said, “scripture in Latin mixed with intent, it is not unheard of though.”
“Have you tested her teacher?” asked the younger woman.
“Not in some time, I expect I will be pleasantly surprised tonight, as like does call to like,” said the old woman as she peered at me, “perhaps a catalyst effect is in this one.”
“Thank you Matron, child you may return to your place,” said the younger woman with a smile, “I think the Signora will want to see you in a bit.”
Uncertain I returned the book to my purse and then did my best courtesy before leaving the two to talk. Somehow I think I evidently passed a test, what the test was about I was not certain of. I did take a moment to collect myself as Chaddy seemed lost in thought, reviewing some of the ‘supposed’ spells in the book.
‘Us do magick?’ he asked after a moment.
‘Sara said magick can be ‘learned,’ I think what we did was tied to being a Knight though,’ I replied feeling a bit out of sorts with my perception of things.
“You look a bit shocky,” said Rose as she attached herself to my arm on my way back to my table, “testing can be rough on a person.”
“Oh is that what I was doing?” I asked her as she supported me slightly.
“Oh yeah, your spell seemed a bit priestess-ish, holy magicks tend to have a different feel to them.” She patted my arm, “I think that if there was an evil presence within a block of here you likely gave it reason to leave. At full speed.”
“Ok, so why am I so wonky feeling?” I asked her as she poured me back into my seat.
“You likely need to ground, which means you need food and maybe to touch earth,” she patted my head with a pleased grin, “I will say you surprised quite a few people.”
“In a good way or a bad way?” I asked as I clutched my teacup firmly.
“In a good way, holy magick is a good thing,” she said firmly as she gave me a hug, “sit tight and I will see that you get food.”
* I can see why the Knights wanted you, * said Gothmog with a pleased feeling that rolled through me,* and why Sara is grumpy with them, if the needs of the Balance were not so great I’d be tempted to find a way to un-Knight you for her. *
‘Trust me oh Godfather of mine I would not mind that I think,’ I thought back at him.
“I know Petra,” he said as I felt his hands on my shoulders and a warm shiver enter into me, “but the Balance is needful if only to keep lesser powers from mucking things up.”
I sighed and relaxed in the warmth he sent into me, “I guess, even if I got shanghaied into it.”
“If it any consolation I am fairly sure Paige will be kept out of it,” he laughed and rubbed my neck briefly, easing the knots there easily, “I think Sara will put her foot down.”
“That’s good,” I said with a smile up at him.
“Though I may have indirectly done you a wrong turn,” he said with a sigh.
“Oh?” I asked as he resumed rubbing my shoulders.
“Yes, I made sure your Uncle is suitably punished for eternity and beyond.” He paused and then said, “’You know who’ tends to think of that as his prerogative… so when you run into him he may be a bit peevish.”
“Dare I ask what you did to my Uncle?” I asked slowly.
“I have him suffering every abuse and every murder he orchestrated or participated in, forever.” He seemed to sigh, “I don’t normally like vengeance, but well you are like family to me, you and your sisters. No one is allowed to hurt my family like your Uncle hurt you.”
I pulled his arms around me and hugged them, “You are family, I am sure I can deal with him being peevish.”
He kissed me on the forehead and then released me, “I am going out for a while, I’ll be in town visiting folks, but I can’t stir too much up.”
“That Balance thing?” I asked with annoyance.
“Yes, though you may be on the right path to solving your current quandary,” he seemed to consider saying more but he stopped short. “While I am not a part of the rules, I try to abide by them if only to keep things on an even keel.”
“The rules suck,” I said in disgust.
“Well yes, but finding loop holes can be fun,” he gave me a hug as I stood up to kiss his cheek. Then after a fatherly kiss on the brow, before he walked to the door. Once there he took the arms of a pair of ladies on his own before heading out arm in arm with them.
“He is quite the ladies man,” said the waiter as he sat a plate before me.
“You have no idea,” I said as the scent of the food seemed to revive me slightly.
“Well we are firmly on Pagan Standard Time tonight,” said Rose as she stopped to check on both Michelle and me.
“Pagan Standard Time?” I asked as Michelle worked on eating a healthy portion of roast beef.
“Yes, it is the reason six o’clock circles start at eight, and why midnight is the ‘Witching Hour,’” she paused briefly and then said, “it takes that long for a coven to all get moving in the right direction.”
I gave her what felt like a disbelieving look, “You don’t say?”
“Trust her,” said Michelle as she smiled crookedly, “once you get to a few circles and such with us you will see it is true.”
“Pagan’s, Witches, Wiccans and others are notorious for never being able to start or end things on time,” Rose made a rueful laugh and said, “but when they get momentum, look out.”
“I see,” I said while I was not sure that I was sure.
“Yes you will,” said Rose as she looked at Michelle, “feeling better?”
“I feel like I have been on the end of a three day party,” Michelle weakly grinned, “the kind where it is nothing but greasy food, very cheap wine, and very little sleep but lots of fun times.”
“I remember a time or three like that,” Rose admitted with a wistful sigh, “and it is a very apt analogy for the testing you went through.”
‘Or a very long weekend hacking trying to hack GEO?’ asked Chaddy quickly as that long weekend replayed itself briefly.
“Sounds like someone has a serious fun deficiency,” I said as Rose took a seat besides us.
“Oh, well we should make time to correct that,” said Michelle as her eyes twinkled, “once the current mess is resolved.”
“Ah yes,” Rose tapped Michelle on the hand that held her fork, “eat, I am to collect you both to meet with the Signora and a few of the Matrons in a more formal council circle; once you are sufficiently recovered.”
Michelle groaned softly, “Well we are not getting out of here quickly tonight it seems.”
“Eat, and you might hurry things a bit,” chided Rose as she then took a sip of wine. “Beatrice was pleased with you both,” she said as she rested her glass in her hands.
“Beatrice?” I asked as I was unsure about whom she was speaking about.”
“The Matron’s second,” she paused and then explained, “some of the covens have a triumvirate that leads them, if they are sufficiently large enough. A Maid, a Mother and a Crone, who also share duties as High Priestess given the time of the year, different ceremonies and the like.”
“Oh, ok.” I said as I filed that bit of information away then I asked, “So why is she the ‘The Matron.’”
“Her age,” said Rose with a wry smile, “evidently she has been Stregheria for a very, very long time.
“Some say she was around when the coliseum was new,” shaking her head Michelle added, “only the Signora is supposedly older.”
“They are not that old,” Rose said in a scolding tone, “and don’t even suggest it in earshot; unless skinning newts and such things seems like fun pastime to you?”
Michelle shuddered and then shook her head vigorously, “No thanks I’ll not be offering to do that.”
“So why am I mostly naked?’ I asked as I draped a sheet around me.
“Well total nudity is a bit hard to arrange in a public venue,” Rose rolled her eyes as she wrapped herself in a similar sheet, “traditionally we work six months nude, six months clothed.”
“Ok so why are only some of us doing the whole toga thing?” I asked trying to sort out the logic in things.
“Younger bones can handle it better,” muttered Michelle as she seemingly recited it from rote.
Rose giggled softly yet she nodded, “Besides it is less emotionally painful when you have to uncover for measuring if you are already nude along with everyone else.”
‘Uhh, measuring?’ asked Chaddy uncertainly, ‘Measuring what?’
I gave Michelle what seemed like a panicked look of worry, “Um I am not sure…”
“Don’t worry,” said Rose as she placed her hands on my shoulders, “they’ve seen it all before, many of them have been midwives.”
“Um can I keep my panties on?” I asked quickly envisioning all sorts of shocked looks.
Before Michelle could speak Rose shook her head and said, “Underwear off now.” She turned to look at Michelle and said, “She acts like she is not used to undressing around women, you may have to work on that.”
I was sure certain doom was ahead of me as Michelle worked to compose her face, “Americans are so body shy, but I um, will certainly try to work on that.”
Both of them then turned to face me and nearly said in unison, “Panties off!”
‘Oh gawds this is so going to be such a bad thing!’ said Chaddy as I felt our body completely flush, ‘I am gonna hide now…’
“If this is just a plot to get me out of my panties again…” I mock warned as I looked at Michelle as I slowly and carefully removed my panties. With a certain amount of dread I handed them to Michelle.
I was going to say how bad of an idea this was, but Rose stopped me by placing a chaste kiss on my lips. Of which her kiss was followed by Michelle’s, whose kiss was certainly less chaste. From the look of amusement in her face I suspected she was going to try for maximum embarrassment on my part.
“Now, the two of you will have to keep silent until called forth, Michelle stop that, the poor girl looks mortified,” Rose gave her an amused poke, “This is serious business you know.”
“Oh I know, but there is no rule that there can not be fun in it,” she said as she looked at me and licked her lips.
“And I thought Judith was the trickster incarnate,” she said as she bopped her gently on the head.
“Where is Judith? I don’t remember seeing her here,” asked Michelle with a worried frown, “she never misses a gathering.”
“No one knows,” Rose said with a tight frown, “no one.”
“… oh,” said Michelle softly and then she nodded at Rose as she evidently sobered up emotionally.
“There was a soft knock on the door and a toga clad Beatrice half stepped through the doorway, “It is time.”
“We meet this night, both in celebration and in evident dire need,” spoke an ancient yet young seeming woman, “welcoming sisters distant, close and new into our circle.”
The Matron approached the table where a multitude of odd yet semi-familiar items lay, and then she addressed that woman with a slight bow. “Signora, my sister, I have tested those you wished to be tested. One of which is known to us, the other but a bare babe in the craft.”
“Are they talented?” asked the Signora with a faint smile.
“The elder of the two, has far surpassed her prior testing and may be like a rising moon in her potential,” said the Matron with smile as she waved a hand to Michelle who walked to stand roughly a yard from the table.
“This is indeed welcome news,” said the Signora as her face crinkled into a warm smile, “and the other?”
“The younger of the two, carries a multitude of burdens and blessings.” I didn’t quite squeak as Rose brought me to stand a foot away from Michelle at the Matron’s wave, “She is marked as one of service to the preservation of Order and to the Gods. She calls to Himself as like a father and as a sister to one of the Goddesses.”
“As we are sisters to the Goddess and children of the Gods, this is a good thing,” acknowledged the Signora with a calm smile.
Inwardly I was wondering how literal the Matron was being with the truth or if she was plying in a bit of mysticism on purpose. As it was my smile felt entirely of glass as I stood there. Though I was shivering slightly in dread as well, but that could have been the chill in the air.
“Does she carry the gift within her?” asked the Signora with a knowing look at me.
“As one touched by the Goddess and her Consort, she calls a light that banishes evil, and a darkness that shelters like the night,” intoned the Matron with a smile as she indicated me with a soft wave.
“I see, indeed this is glad news,” said the Matron as she all but beamed at me in delight. “Who tends to this child?”
“I do,” said Michelle with a smile, “as the Goddess saw fit to place her into my path.”
“Truly there is no such thing as chance,” said the Matron as others around the circle nodded.
“And you child, are you willing to learn at her knee, to fully grow into your gifts, that you may then teach and train others in your own time?” She paused and then spoke again, “To keep faith with those placed over you, and to do what is right and needful of you should the Goddess and her Consort demand it?”
I stood silent for a moment and tried to contrast this with Father Pete had bid me before different alter. I searched for words briefly then spoke, “In that it should violate no other oaths, yes.”
“Speak then of these oaths child that we may test them and their worth,” said the Matron clearly into the still air.
I took a moment to review Father Peter’s knighting of me and said, “I was Knighted into the Knights of the Church by Father Peter Darcy. My oath was to protect and to serve others, to use only use force to show evil the error of its ways.” I lifted my arm and I hoped to heaven it showed more a Rose and Brand than ruined flesh, “I was marked by my testing and in an act of love I passed.”
The Signora laughed slightly, “If I know Father Peter Darcy he likely used the words backsliding somewhere in there.”
I blushed slightly and said, “Well his exact words were;” I paused and tried to mimic his intonation and accent, “‘Do you promise to serve and protect others, only occasionally back sliding as to teach Evil the proper error of its ways?’”
The Matron guffawed as she thumped her cane, “It is evident that you know him then.”
“Yes, so it would seem,” said the Matron with a smile, “and your other oaths child?”
I drew a blank and then said as the words seemed to rise up as if from Sara, “I am willingly bound to serve my Goddess as a friend and lover.”
“As well you should child,” said the Signora with an approving nod, “it has been many a long year since there was a Knight that followed the Gods as you do among us.”
“Knowing Father Darcy he likely slipped the ring on you when you were not looking too,” said the Matron with a chuckle prompting me to give her an astonished look, of which caused her to laugh deeper.
“Yes, he did,” I shrugged in the toga, “I woke up with it and a knife in my hands.”
“That’s typical of him,” said the Signora blandly, “though he has ‘the sight.’ Have the Knights asked any other oaths of you Child?”
“No, not really,” I sighed and said, “it’s a huge loop-hole that made me into a messenger girl for one side of the Balance, and thus The Order.”
“It also allows you to serve your Goddess freely child,” the Signora said softly, “and to take instruction and service and shelter among us should you desire it.”
“I thought it kind of meant I had to be Catholic,” I said after a moment.
“Child, if Father Darcy had made it a part of the your Oath, it might matter somewhere, but he did not.” She smiled and then asked, “Do you worship the Christian God in any fashion?”
“Well I know he exists,” I said as I stood there thinking.
“But do you worship him?” asked the Matron softly.
I had to think about that for a moment and then I thought back to the times where I healed people and had the resulting tour of Purgatory and Hell, but not Heaven. “No. Unless Hail Mary’s count.”
“Hail Mary’s tend to be counted towards Mary worship, Co-Redemptrix not withstanding, that is basically Goddess worship,” said the Matron with long suffering look skyward.
“Then you are not in conflict with Him nor would you have any oaths to His Church, apart from service to the Knights,” explained the Signora.
Blinking I smiled as it did sort out a few things neatly for me, “Oh, well that makes things a bit clearer.”
The Signora smiled, “Are you willing to take a more formal oath with us, free of any reservations that might conflict with your other oaths?”
I paused for a moment and then said, “Well I would like to know what the oath was about and what was in it… I’ve been slightly scorched even with Father Pete’s oath.”
“I have no doubt,” said the Matron as she looked at my ringed hand. “Once burned, twice shy?”
“And burned and burned,” I said as I shook my head.
“I would swear you to the Students Oath,” said the Matron calmly, “but that is too constraining in that you cannot practice magick unsupervised and you would likely need your magicks to stay alive.”
‘Staying alive is a good thing,’ suggested Chaddy as he nodded my head.
“You could swear her to the Service of the Scourge, though that would mean her teacher would have to be so sworn as well,” said the Matron with a nod to Michelle.
“They would need a third to make their Boshetto complete,” said the Matron as she eyed the two of us carefully.
“You already use Rosalva that way, why not make it official?” asked the Matron with a smile, “You never did hold that there any chance to these things.”
The Signora gave the Matron a look mixed with irritation and amusement, “True. Rosalva dear, join these two if you please.”
“Not to mention she could use more friends,” the Matron not quite observed aloud.
“Signora, Matron?” asked Rose as she stepped to stand next to Michelle.
“It serves the needs of the Cunning to have a complete Boshetto of the Scourge, and perhaps to both add to your burden and ease some of it,” said the Matron with a smile as she indicated us with a wave of her hand.
She looked at the two of us, “It would be nice to have help on occasion,” she admitted quietly, while giving the to ladies a semi-suspicious look.
“Um, just what does the Scourge do?” I asked quickly.
“They seek and punish wrongdoers, protect the secrets of the Cunning, and act when needed to preserve life, including the taking of it when such action preserve life.
“Basically the same thing Father Pete roped me into?” I asked after a moment.
“Well it is a bit more complex than that, in that you are not allowed to speak of the tasks and training involved with being of the Scourge. Keeping the spells, knowledge and such you would learn secret, even from those in the Order,” The Matron explained and then added, “The Cunning and the Order are not in competition or conflict, but our methods do not often mesh well with the hidebound.”
“The Order was not the Inquisition,” stated the Signora firmly, “in fact we often hid members of the Order from the Inquisition so that they could continue to protect others.”
“Oh?” I asked trying to sort out the need for that.
“The Order consorts with dark powers on occasion,” the Signora said with a meaningful look at my hand, “so they often ran into conflict with the Inquisition.”
“The history of the Inquisition should be saved for another time,” interjected the Matron with a roll of her eyes.
“So my service with them and you should not conflict?” I asked carefully.
“It may raise a few eyebrows, but they do owe us. A point of which you should bring up a few times just to annoy the more stiff minded of them,” said the Signora with a crafty smile.
“I see, so the oath?” I asked as the humor of it sunk in.
“Do you, Rosalva, Michelle and Petra swear to keep faith with each other, to respect each of the others gifts and abilities?” asked the Signora solemnly.
“Yes,” answered the other two and I quickly said yes as well.
“Do each of you swear to keep the secrets and the wisdom of the Cunning in good faith, protecting such from those who would use it for ill?” asked the Matron calmly.
“I do,” said Michelle said after a moment.
“I will continue to do so,” said Rose with a nod.
“I do,” I said as I could not see any conflict with other things.
“Do you seek to grow in knowledge and wisdom, respecting the traditions and history of the Cunning, seeking only to add to the same, never subtracting?” asked the Signora of us.
“I do,” I said as the other two seemed to wait for me to speak.
“Yes Signora,” said Rose with a pleased smile.
“Yes Signora,” said Michelle with a hint of tears in her eyes.
Then the Matron and the Signora spoke in unison, “Then we charge you to live full, love deeply and grow tall with the blessings of the Goddess and her Consort.”
I closed my eyes and waited for the shock of things to hit me, and when it did not I opened my eyes to see the Signora looking at me. “You seem puzzled child, is something wrong?”
“Well, I was half expecting to end up on the floor, considering my oath with Father Peter did that,” I explained cautiously.
“Oh,” the Signora laughed, “That was likely due to the fact that the Knights tend to drown their members with a ton of information in order to let it filter in.”
The Matron thumped her cane on the floor as she cackled, “Where as we expect you to learn it, at a pace you can handle, before we throw you to the wolves.”
“Where as I am already dealing with the wolves as a Knight?” I asked sensing a huge dichotomy in the two groups.
“Precisely,” said the Signora.
“Now ladies, we have to take your measures so you braid can braid them together later, so lose the sheets,” instructed the Matron as she lifted a ball of white cord from the alter.
I felt the blood slowly drain out of my face as Michelle giggled. “Oh did I forget to mention that part?” she asked of me as she doffed her own toga.
“Don’t worry Petra there are no naked orgies involved,” said Rose as her own slipped to the floor.
“I suppose we should help our nervous sister,” said Michelle as her smile turned slightly wicked.
“She does seem reluctant,” said Rose as both ladies place their hands in my toga.
“Ladies if you will?” asked the Matron quickly.
Before I could protest there was a tug and then an abundance of cold air on my suddenly naked body. I think I must have flushed all the way down to my feet as the room swept from hot to ice cold in that instant, then the lights went out.
“You do glow in the dark Petra, so you are not exactly hiding anything,” the Matron pointed out with an amused chuckle, “rather the opposite in fact.”
“So,” started the Signora with a leer in my direction, “doubly blessed are you?”
“What? Oh my…” said Rose as she looked at me then glanced again looking lower. “… oh wow.”
“Surely you have seen one of those before tonight Rosalva?” asked the Matron with a thump of her cane and a slightly braying laugh.
‘Can we die now?’ asked Chaddy in a much abused and mortified tone.
I think of the three of us, only Michelle was not in some sort of shock.
“So who gets to measure things?” asked Michelle with a giggle.
“We could draw lots,” suggested a voice further back in the shadows.
“Or hold a raffle,” suggested a different voice.
“Um…” I managed to stammer, “no?” There was a lot of laughter which followed my hopeful question, and I really wanted to sink into the floor or hide. Then there were a few suggestion of what should be measured first, and how… as the ladies gathered around us.
“No cameras!” I protested as the flashes strobed.
“Don’t be a spoilsport,” teased Michelle as she draped herself on me briefly as the cameras flashed again.
* I so do love the followers of fertility religions… * sent Gothmog with a chuckle, * they really know what is important in life. *
There was a hint of warmth from Sara’s mark and I suspected that somewhere she was laughing at my predicament.
Somewhere after my third of ten ‘measurings,’ I managed to regain a sense of humor about the process as Michelle and Rosa were also subjected to the same process. With, I might point out additional ribaldry from all present, so I wasn’t the only one suffering abuse to their dignity. Though the tension of it did ease a bit once the initial shock wore off, the glass of Meade that was passed between us did wonders in mellowing me as well.
“So why so many measurings?” I asked as yet another lady worked me through it.
“One measure is kept in a secret place, should we need to find you in emergencies, and if you should go bad, to end you,” stated the Matron in a baldly frank tone.
“And the others?” I asked quietly as the implications of the first cord sunk in.
“They are braided, three in three in three, with the others of your Boshetto to make a ritual belt.” The Signora said and then added, “Think of it as a spiritual safety belt linking you to them and it is a physical reminder that your actions and those of your sisters are bound together.”
“Um, isn’t that dangerous for them considering I am also a Knight?” I asked as I was ‘passed’ to a different lady.
“Yes and no,” said the Signora as she refilled my cup with Meade. “Over the next three days you three will be weaving in charms and protections into the three belts, with additional charms protections and blessings from the ladies here.”
“Oh, and these will protect them?” I asked taking a sip that made my stomach warm and the rest of me warmer as it crawled into my toes.
“As well as you,” she gave me a thoughtful look and removed the glass from my hands, “No more of that I think.”
“Darrnnn,” I said and tried to make puppy dog eyes at her.
She gave it a sip and then sighed, “A very good year, and you are a bit blotto I think.”
“I don’t drink mush,” I said with a sigh, “medicines makes me silly too.”
“So I see,” said the Matron as she placed a warm cup in my hands, “Coffee time.”
I took a cautious sip and sighed as it tasted good, “So why do you remember the Knights?”
“When everyone else seems to have forgot them?” asked the Signora as she steadied me.
“Yesh,” I said as my eyes crossed and uncrossed.
“I have been around for a while and learned things, which you will learn in time,” she clucked her tongue briefly and said, “that and I have the support of these other ladies who I support in turn.”
“So you are what, a huge family?” I asked as my body warred between caffeine and alcohol.
“Of a sort,” said the lady before me as she gave me a kiss on the forehead after hugging me, “welcome sister.”
I hugged her back and kissed her cheek, “Welcome sister.”
“Yes,” said the Matron, “a large sisterhood of a larger family, we do have men in our ranks as well… You can’t have a fertility religion with out a way to be fertile with someone.”
“True, though they tend to have their brotherhoods meet in separate places most of time,” said the Signora with a roll of her eyes, “usually bars, soccer stadiums, hunting clubs.”
“Where thay can be ‘manly men’,” I asked as the words twisted and tried to slur.
“Precisely,” said a lady not quite my age with a grin, “so are you fully functional?”
‘Trekie!’ said Chaddy gleefully.
“All the parts do fire correctly keptian,” I said with a silly salute.
She blushed deeply and then stammered, “I-I asked for that didn’t I?”
I nodded and let the salute drop, “Afrimative!”
“She doesn’t have much of a tolerance does she?” asked the lady as she wove the cord around my head.
“So it would seem,” said the Signora with a smile.
“Zero,” I said mournfully and took another sip of the coffee, “and I was enjoying it too.”
“There will be other times,” promised the Matron with a smile.
Once the measurings were complete, and a my hand nicked to draw blood to anoint them, things eased to a calmer less frantically celebratory feel. I was, to mine and Chaddy’s great relief, ensconced once more in the toga, though Michelle and Rose barely wore theirs. Ok, so I didn’t mind that too much.
The ritualistic portion of the ‘meeting’ had ended up with most of the ladies sitting or laying on pillows on the floor. I was not unpleasantly situated between Rose and Michelle, and alternating with the massaging their feet of which seemed to make them happy. The others sipped Meade or coffee as things seemed to take on a more serious tone.
“Well ladies, we have a possible clue as to the relevance of the missing,” said the Signora with nod towards me and Michelle.
“Our newest sister is as you have learned, is a Knight of the Church, most of which have gone mysteriously missing,” said the Matron with a tap of the sigils in her lap.
“Sadly we can not just send Petra into the Rose Palace to ferret out all the clues there-in. The spell that seems to have effected the Knights is one that is seemingly cumulative if not insidious in the manner it affects those in the building.” The Matron smiled at me briefly and added, “While Petra does have a degree of protection from the spell, we suspect it will only be a matter of time until she is affected.”
“I was told to only spend a limited time in the building,” I said with an annoyed groan, “but part of me says to just chuck it and get the answers.”
“Yes which is why you are not going into it for a day or so,” the Signora shook her head firmly, “in fact I think you and your sisters must get out of the city for a day or so.”
“To ease the effects on her?” asked Rose with a soft frown.
“Yes, and to give you all time to weave your belts.” The Matron pointed to the sigils, “and to allow us time to find counters for these.”
“I was most assuredly affected,” said Michelle softly and ruefully “and I may have contributed to eroding Petra’s defenses.”
“That is nothing to worry over,” said the Signora as she nodded acceptance of Michelle’s statement. “The good thing is that you two not only managed to get clear of the influence, but you brought out information we can use.”
“Largely due to Petra’s quick thinking and a bit of luck,” said Michelle as she laid a kiss on my forehead.
“There is no such thing as luck,” chorused the other women along with the Signora and Rose.
As the meeting seemed to wander from serious topic, to less serious ones, I felt myself shiver with an odd tingle of dread. I glanced from woman to woman to see if it was just my imagination, though they seemed unaffected. I took a calming breath and then the ring and Sara’s mark sent an spasm of alarm into me, jerking me to my feet.
In a full panic I started screaming, “Dixitque Deus fiat lux et facta est lux!” repeatedly at the top of my lungs as I called for light. I was aware of the light shattering the wave of dread I felt, then one of the walls exploded inward. I watched as part of a car crashed in slow motion to the far wall, destroying vases and mirrors that resides on shelves on that wall. For a timeless fleeting moment I watched as the faux neo-Grecian vines hung like surprised spaghetti as it dangled limply from the remaining shelves.
An odd yet familiar portion of my mind awoke as I seemingly shed my fear, replacing it with a cold inner fury. Amid the screams of surprise and fear I seized the nearest thing that looked like a weapon from the altar. As my toga dropped to the floor, I spun the sickle experimentally in my hand and turned towards the hole in the wall. The anger in me quickly fading to a cold blankness that part of me dimly recognized as something my Uncle had created in me. Chaddy and I for the most part had checked out, and the Killer had checked in.
A part of me was awake enough to pull up a banishing chant, and I tried to scream it past the Killer’s lips as he snarled. I watched and felt the Killer’s joyous exultation as the daemon stepped into the room though the hole it had created. I felt the daemon’s gaze and seeming recognition of me as it lifted its three arms that were tipped with insect claws. Its face was grotesquely human and its teeth jutted obscenely, rasping in and out of the ruined flesh around its mouth.
I was dimly aware of the beasts reptilian legs and the enormous genitals as it bellowed its rage. The Killer’s own scream of defiance tore from our lungs as he forced us into a knife fighters stance. The shouts from the women took on an odd melody as the Killer shifted and moved our stance mirroring the daemons as it circled us. There was a splash of light that lanced into the daemon jarring it, and the Killer launched a trio of strikes on the closest arm.
As that arm fell limply to the daemons side from the tendon shredding slices, it spun on us, lashing out. The Killer pushed back on our rear most leg and lifted up in a kick that did little to faze the daemon even as it landed firmly in its genitals. Enraged the daemon swung its arms, lashing at us, we ducked and twisted trying to spin out of its reach, but one claw all but ripped a breast from our body as it raked us. I felt the Killers shock and rage as it noted the sagging flesh and the white of bone underneath.
Before the Killer could react, we were lifted and thrown across the room by the daemon. Crashing into a wall the Killer noted a wash of light striking the daemon. Even as we fell woodenly to the floor, I pulled on my will to focus the Killer’s eyes towards the ring. “Heal us!” I shouted at the Killer and towards the ring, though it was more a gasp of pain that escaped my lips before darkness claimed us.
The sound of mocking laughter greeted my ears as I awoke in a place I recognized as hell. Unable to move I saw Satan bend down to look at me, then I felt him derisively lift my tattered breast and I watched as he then dropped it back to my chest. I slowly became aware of his attire as he stood there nudging my body with his foot.
For some unfathomable reason he was dressed as a chef, a cruel parody of one. His chef’s hat was blood spattered as was the rest of his cooks whites. His apron though was immaculate, however and I found my eyes wandering to the highly stylized ‘S’ on the left breast of it. I could not make out what the implements were in his apron pockets, though they had little to do with cooking.
“Well I see tonight’s mystery ingredient has finally been revealed, and it is pre-tenderized,” he said mockingly as I felt myself lifted by him and slammed down hard on what seemed like a kitchen’s cutting board.
Only of one of my eyes was able to see him as he suddenly loomed larger than life, the ‘S’ on his apron several stories high from my perspective. “What?” I asked blankly as he flipped my naked and wrecked body face up and then painfully back down onto the cutting block again.
Seemingly ignoring me, he addressed someone or something out of my sight, “Tonight in Hell’s Kitchen I will be guiding you my studio audience in the preparation of three killer meals.”
“Oh fuck you,” I said as things slowly made a warped bit of sense.
“Hello Petra, I’ve been hoping you would show up,” he sneered lifting a trio of thick nail-like cooking skewers. “I’ve have had this little session just cooking away in the back of my mind just for you.”
“And I got nothing for you,” I mumbled around the pain, coughing blood out as I did so, “sorry.”
“First if you have a live one, it makes filleting them so much easier if you affix them to your cutting surface.” Satan paused and then licked the sharp tips of them, “Now some chefs I have seen like to use just two skewers, but I have found if you just have to nail someone or something down, three works best.”
“You have to be shitting me,” I said in a rasping wheeze.
“No, no not at all,” Satan said as he pulled my left arm over and slammed the spike down into the small of my wrist. “Now some beginning chefs will make the mistake of piercing the palms, which can be problematic if you have a Conan like specimen to work with.”
“Like them getting up and kicking your ass, sort of problems?” I asked around the pain.
“Precisely,” he said as he did the same to my other wrist causing me to scream in agony. “But it is nothing to lose your head over if you secure them properly,” he said to the laughing jeers of his ‘audience.’
“Now I find it easiest to get at the breast meat, if you pull the trunk down and then secure the legs by the feet to your cutting surface.” He smirked and did just that, “Since the feet are only good for soup stock or as a seared aperitif, you can just pound on them to get the point into the cutting board.”
Most of my contributing dialog for the next few minutes as he did just that, consisted of ragged screams and swearwords. “Just because you are pissed at someone is no reason to be an ass,” I said once I could form words.
I felt my arms almost rip from my shoulders as he lifted the cutting board to ‘display’ his work, “Admittedly I like to garnish the head appropriately with thorns, but sometimes I like the simple approach.”
“Ha, ha,” I said and he let the board fall painfully flat to the counter top, “let me guess, its fuck with the Knight day?”
“My dear it is always, ‘Fuck with the Knight day’ down here, but truthfully this is going out as a special broadcast in a few days to a very select audience.” He patted my head with a sneer, before he lifted a pair of knives, “And now I will demonstrate how to remove the bowels without fouling the meat, for maximum pain and dining pleasure.”
“Oh goody,” I said as I tried to think of cheery ways I would return the favor if I got the chance.
"While filleting a soul is like simply deboning a body, it's trickier since you want to keep the flavor. Not unlike sushi using blow fish, one wrong slice and the customer is dead. Not that I mind a bit of extra accidental carnage,” Satan paused dramatically and said, “not to mention the occasional early collection.” He then made a long incision down my stomach and folded it back, “It’s much like dissecting a frog truthfully.”
I choked back a retort as he lifted my intestines up and started to play cats-cradle with them. Once my lungs started working again I managed to say as my mind skipped a cog, “Sorry I just can’t fathom how a line from Braveheart would help me about now.”
He actually paused to snicker before he gathered my intestines and tossed them over his shoulder theatrically. “I did appreciate his ‘The Passion’.” He paused and then wistfully said, “It brings back such fond memories.”
“I’ve read the book they took it from, he gets up in the end,” I said with a snicker as his face fell into a disappointed frown.
“Yes, yes but this is not ‘Dinner with a Movie,’ and I could not get TBS to air my show.” He sighed dramatically, “I was even able to show them how the ratings for it are killer.”
“That and they edit things for content and time,” I offered whimsically. An you are no Emerild either.”
“But I am such a fan of haute cuisine! Just wait until I show them how to kick it up a notch with seasonings… Bam!” he said savagely as he pointed to the ‘audience,’ of which cheered and applauded as the music rose in tempo to my screams as he started cutting again.
After what seemed like an eternity of recipe induced torture and abuse, I slowly became more clearheaded and able to actually think. “Are we done yet?” I asked of him, in as best a bored sounding tone of voice as I could muster. “I need to get back to that daemon you know.”
“Yes, yes, but no time has expired, really, should you know that,” he said with a snicker.
“Yeah, of course, it always just ‘seems’ like an eternity,” I offered by way of reply.
“Exactly, and while I have enjoyed our little kitchen time together, I actually need to help you Petra.” Satan gave me a somber look as he griped my head and pulled it painfully apart with a loud ‘pop.’ “While Sara did a marvelous job with you and your twin by splitting you into parts, she missed an important bit.”
As he stuffed his hand into my brain I tried to place words together coherently, “Just wait Petra this is kind of tricky,” he said and then gave a satisfied grunt.
“Oh?” was the first word and question I could rationally formulate.
There was an odd screaming and cursing voice I dimly recognized as my own, and then Satan stepped back away from me. “Yes, and while you do need a bit of it, lets just say it is definitely not useful as it is.”
“Oh and what is it?” I asked as I fought the fogginess in my head.
He reached forth his hand where he was holding something that kicked and squirmed violently as it spat obscenities. “Petra, I would like to introduce you to you inner sociopath, Chaddy or if you prefer ‘Killer.’” he said as the blood dripped away from the screaming things face, revealing that it was Chad’s face, which made it even more eerie and unreal.
“Hi,” I said to it since Satan seemed to expect it.
“While normally I would just ‘love’ to leave something like this in a person,” he said with an all to sincere smile. “I need you as a Messenger and Knight not a slobbering, drooling ‘thing’ that will only get itself half killed, repeatedly.”
“I never knew you cared,” I said sarcastically.
“I don’t, but its not productive to have to patch you up only to turn around and need to do it again a moment later.” He paused and then said, “It was cleverly hidden I admit which is why Sara likely missed it for what it was.”
“But I need Chaddy,” I said as Satan slapped it around a few times.
“Well yes, part of Chaddy,” he admitted with a smile, “but not the entirety of him.” He sighed and said, “Your Uncle really messed you up and while I sometimes applaud such efforts, in your case it really interferes with things.”
“I am touched, I assure you,” I said bitterly as I still found myself pinned to the cutting board.
“Truthfully I need you to be more of a saint than a sociopath Petra,” he chuckled vilely and tapped each of the nail like skewers. “I also like confounding the clergy on occasion, if only to keep them humble.”
“Oh goody, so back to Chaddy?” I asked as he drummed the furiously cursing ‘thing’ up and down on the cutting board in idle amusement.
“Yes,” he said and picked up a small knife and to my disgust skinned Chaddy neatly. “I do like the spine of him, but you don’t need too much of his meat.”
“What of the memories?” I asked as I watched him with a sick fascination as he pulled the spine out of the body via the skull, snapped it free and then shoved it into one of my eyes.
“Oh you will need them, the good bits only though. How to fight, the clear focus, the deadly persistence and oh yes those happy childhood bits.” He stopped and said with a sad smile, “But you do not need that which reshaped Chad into an unthinking, mindless killer.”
“And what will this do to me?” I asked as he popped the brain out and let it rage mindlessly around the counter top like a homicidal chicken.
“Oh it should not fuck you up too badly,” he said with a smirk, “most of the time it was locked away from the real you, whichever ‘that’ was.”
“I am not comforted by your observations,” I said as he squished the brain in his fist and then dumped it into a colander like a stewed tomato.
“No I suppose not,” he said as he picked up a wooden pulpier and started mashing the brain into a paste that oozed slightly into the sauce pan below it.
“So are you just pissed in general or is this away at getting at Gothy?” I asked in disgust as he licked his fingers.
“Well someone is fucking with the Balance in a big way, which of course always makes me testy,” he stopped and set the strainer aside as he placed the sauce pan on a lit burner.
“Yeah I kinda figured that out, care to offer some insights or a hit list of who is behind it?” I asked as I felt part of myself ‘boiling.’
“I would if I had a firm grasp of exactly who is behind it,” he shook his head angrily, “I am getting some very confused and mindless souls showing up from there, and I can’t do much with them.”
“Mindless souls?” I asked incredulously.
“More like stripped of essence and substance,” he paused and said, “they scream nicely but beyond that, useless.”
“So what, I am up against some sort of deity?” I asked as my head steamed and my facial flesh bubbled.
“Or something or someone that wants to be a deity,” I watched as he placed the uncooked parts of me into a jar. “Seriously bad stuff there,” he said as he patted the jar fondly.
“The deity wanna-be or my left overs?” I asked as he used a spoon to bring something back towards me.
“Yes,” he said and then he poor the spoonful into my skull, altering my world again, “and a good cook wastes nothing.”
Some timeless moment later I saw him looking down at me with a hint of satisfaction. “While I would love to shove an egg-beater into your brain and froth it up properly to a nicely whipped consistency; I need you more functional than that would leave you.”
“Yeah, and I would love to feed you to Sara too, but I don’t think she would stomach you well,” I countered with a snarl, “or just plain kick your ass personally.”
“That is the spirit,” he said approvingly, “I am going to send you back with something, a lovely parting gift if you will.”
“If it comes with a snake I am so going to pass on that,” I said with a sigh of disgust, “I am not the one afraid of snakes.”
“No, but I think you will accept it, just the same,” he said as he lifted a brightly shining dagger that smoked in his hand. “Ready?”
“Oh fuck no,” I said as he drew it point first over my body, burning my flesh as it cut into me.
“I’ll see you soon,” he said with a laugh and then he drove it into my heart from under the sternum of the ribcage.
“…-ker!” I said as I coughed out a coppery mouthful of blood in odd counter point to the celestial music and a electric throb from the ring. As I lay there coughing and trying to breath, I could feel my flesh and muscles rapidly creeping back into place on my chest. As my wrists and feet burned in pain, I forced my hands to my chest where a long dagger’s grip and pommel jutted out. Blankly I registered the spikes in my wrists, as they prevented my firmly gripping the dagger. Reluctantly I forced myself to pull them out, inch by inch, one at a time.
Not quite blanking out from the pain, a part of my mind registered the bestial bellows of pain and rage from the daemon as both light and darkness flared within the room. Once free of the spikes in my wrists, getting that dagger out was surprisingly easier, but just as painful. For a brief instant the blood from that wound geysered upward, then ceased as I felt my heart lurch and then pound violently at an accelerated pace.
A quickly aborted attempt at standing forced me to deal with the last painful spike, the one Satan so cheerfully pounded on. I gave a disgruntled protest of annoyance and barely suppressed scream of pain as I was forced to rip my top most foot up and over the semi-flattened base of the spike and thus free of it. Part of me gibbered in fear and revulsion as the mangled ruins of that foot slithered back into place as some primal force drove me on to work the other spike free of the tile below.
“Mother puss bucket, eating shit for fucking brains bastard!” I cursed aloud as I fought to get free of that last spike. Finally with a flesh rending pop, I worked it free of the floor and sat there panting and hacking my lungs out as I sucked hard at the air.
Rolling unsteadily to my knees, I bit back on the pain it generated from my feet as the flesh knitted there. I took that enforced moment of rest to study the scene. Most of others were in a glowing circle of light and chanting in unison, while a few launched eye numbing spears of light into the daemon. As it rocked from blasts of light, I could see its flesh cooking and charring significantly as it briefly wobbled off balance.
Still it violently railed at them and pounded at their circle with its two functional arms and tail. Chaddy drew my focus to the arm we had sliced in our senseless rage, the flesh there nearly gone as it cracked and smoldered with every hit in proximity to it. Evidently the sickle I had used, had some sort of property that made those wounds exceedingly susceptible to further damage.
Scooping up the nail-like spikes and the dagger I arose fully into a crouch, shifting the first spike into my empty palm. Having discovered the hard way that close combat with a daemon was not a very smart choice, I felt a part of Chaddy take control. The spike reversed itself in my hand before he whipped it back and then forward in a deliberately aimed throw at the base of the daemons tail.
The very brief wave of elation I felt as the spike bore deeply into the daemon’s tail, gave way to concern as it spun around to face me. Then as the daemon took a step towards me it was abruptly back-lit from a volley of blasts that staggered it. Unmindful of my actions I felt my arm make two more throws, one spike going deep into its left thigh, the other going into its abdomen.
Moving quickly I took a few steps deeper into the room and away from the wall, forcing it to turn on its bad leg to face me. Abruptly there was an eye watering wash of light from part of the circle as an emerald flash partially lifted the daemon upwards. I cursed mutely as the concussive blowback from that spell knocked me backwards and tumbled me forcefully onto a broken table leg. Shocked and stunned by the after affects of that blast, it took me a moment to realize I had been skewered for the fifth time today; this time through my upper thigh.
“Oh come on!” I protested in a screech of pain as I beat at that thigh in frustration as I tried to rise. There was a sickening, bone grating pop as the table leg shifted beneath me as the room shook again from concussive magicks. Stuck to the floor, I watched in steadily growing horror as the upper trunk of the daemon crawled in my direction.
More than a bit freaked and still reeling from the blast and the pain of my impalement, I found myself screaming at the top of my lungs the first spell that fell into my mind. “Ego consecro is aedificium edificium , suus terra quod suus populus ut cultus of deus , ut nullus of malum penitus may penetro vel suscipio principatus hic!” I screamed rapidly as each word tore painfully from my throat.
There was a resounding bell-like tone that rippled out from the center of my chest and a shockingly painful blast of light that rocked out from where I lay. I was vaguely aware of it permeating into the stones beneath the building and pouring though the walls as it spilled out from me. Drained of emotion and will I felt myself dropping back against the table I was pinned to, sending a spasm of pain though my leg once again. As the room spun unpleasantly, a faint cracking and sizzling sound drew me back from the edge of blackness and I forced my head up to peer down at my feet.
Just a scant foot from my free leg, was the quickly burning and self-immolating shell of the daemon. Figuring I and the others were safe for a moment I took a shuddering gasp of air and looked down at my ring. Cursing I forced my lips and will to form and speak the words, “Get on with it and heal me you sorry bastard,” as I glared down at my ringed hand.
“Back so soon?” asked Satan with a chuckle and mocking background applause, “And here I was just thinking a flambé would suit me fine just about now.”
“Fuck, you,” I said as I lay there and whimpered.
“She’s alive?” were the first words I registered upon re-entry.
I tried to speak and was rewarded with yet another coughing and hacking fit that brought up more blood and the return of the celestial chorus. “I don’t want to go on the cart,” I managed to get out between coughs.
There was a relieved sigh and I found myself looking up at Michelle once I opened my eyes, “Don’t move Petra you are impaled on a table leg,” she said as she placed a hand on my chest to keep me from rising.
“It’s just a flesh wound,” I murmured as I looked up at her, “I can still fight.”
“She is in shock,” pronounced the Rose with certainty, “she doesn’t know what she is saying.”
“No, no just pull me off of it,” I said as they made to lift me and the part of the table I was attached to. “I’m a Knight and I regenerate, I’ll heal.” I gave what sound like a deranged laugh, “Don’t mind the screaming though… I do that. A lot.”
“Knight’s do heal from nearly mortal wounds at a frightening rate,” said the Signora as she blurred into view, “but you should render her asleep first out of kindness.”
“That would be nice,” I admitted and then gave another utterly whacked sounding laugh, “the first four impalings were a bit rough and getting my feet unstuck was an utter bitch.”
“It seems even Knights suffer from shock,” said the Matron with frown as she knelt down besides me.
“We’ve also got to get her out of here and to safety,” instructed the Signora.
“Don’t forget my nails and the dagger,” I said as I giggled oddly, “though you may have to supply your own hammer; just in case I need to be put up for the night somewhere.”
I felt the Matron place her hand on my face, “Sleep Petra, sleep,” and then I felt a strange tingle as I lost my place in time and space.
“So apart from the daemon, what just happened?” asked Rose as she looked away from the women who were easing Petra’s leg off of the broken table leg.
“And why did it just ‘have’ to use my car as a wrecking ball?” asked Michelle with a disgusted look at the front third of her car as it rested haphazardly against one wall.
“I suspect someone sent the daemon after Petra to silence or stop her,” said the Matron as she wrapped a sheet around Petra, “considering she is evidently the only Knight in the area actually acting as a Knight.”
“But that means someone would have to have something of hers in order to aim it at her,” said Rose as she looked at the large pile of ashes and seemingly suppressed the urge to vomit.
“She was sleeping in one of the Knight’s offices, and we had dropped her new clothes along with some dirty stuff there.” Michelle frowned as she thought for a moment, “Which likely means who ever it was likely was either in the building with us, or went there after we had left.”
“Go get dressed everyone and gather up Petra’s belongings,” instructed the Signora. “As while this building is newly consecrated, I suspect our moment of grace will expire and the authorities will arrive eventually.”
“I found the nails I think she was babbling about,” said Rose as she used a splinter of wood to move them out of the daemons ashes. “They are more like railroad spikes if you ask me though.”
“Search for the dagger then,” said the Matron as she herself searched the floor briefly, “never mind I just found it.” The Matron picked up and then displayed the gleaming dagger and studied the robed female figure that made up its grip, “It is certainly pretty, and I suspect it is as blessed as those nails evidently are.”
“I wonder where she got them,” asked Michelle as she cast a glance at the sleeping girl as the others looked back at her. “She was totally naked, there no way she could have hidden them on herself.”
“I think the comedian George Carlin says it best,” said the Signora with a small shrug. “Eh… it’s a mystery.”
Tammy gave Bill an affronted look and asked, “Ok hot shot, where would ‘you’ look for a priest in Rome who was determined to hide in a place no one would look for you? If they even exist?”
Bill chuckled and then said, “Well yes that is the question isn’t it? No I suppose if we were looking for just any priest it might be trickier.” He reached out and tapped the laptop in front of him, “But I think we can narrow the areas to search considerably by taking a few hints from this dossier.”
“Oh?” she asked as she paced the room.
“First it says he is Irish,” Bill said significantly, “and it says he prefers Irish whiskey, neat; though he does not drink to excess.”
“Do you know how many Irish Bars there are Italy?” she asked with annoyance. “I’ll tell you, two thousand, two hundred and seventy seven, and that is just the ones with ‘Irish’ in their name.”
Snickering he nodded, “Now suppose if he forgot he was a priest as well as these other belonging in this supposed ‘Knights Group?’”
Her brow furrowed briefly, “I am not sure I want to ask this, but why?”
“Well if it were me, and I had not had sex in an age,” he paused to lean back, “I would likely try to find a place to get drunk and get laid.“ With a pause he added, “And maybe a place to eat that was close to both places, Irish home-style cooking would be a plus.”
“We are talking about a moral man,” she protested indignantly as she tapped the laptop emphatically. “The dossier says he is anyways.”
“Yeah,” Bill said as he looked at her, “A very moral man who has been ‘pushed’ or something, to supposedly walk away from a holy calling. What if his morals went away at the same time as his focus on that calling?”
She blinked a few times and then sighed, “I’ll start raiding the police databases again, with luck we’ll get a hit that matches your ‘criteria.’”
“Good, I am going to go over the other dossiers that we have, maybe something will jump out at me.”
“Is Motor still watching the scene?” she asked as she stood up and walked to a bank of computers.
“Yeah, and apart from the sudden religious conversion he has had,” Bill snorted in amusement, “he is on the job.”
“He is certain Petra was not in the building before it went up in purplish-black flames?” she asked as she sat down.
“Yeah, he said the lights never flickered.” Bill laughed, “Knowing Mer-err-Paige, damn-it, Petra, if she had run into something like he described; there would have been a black out.” He glanced at the window and pointed to the distant horizon, “Most of the lights are on, as you can see.”
She looked at a flashing monitor briefly, “Police and fire departments are sending units to a reported bombing, fucking terrorists.”
“No shootings reported from there?” he asked as he looked up from his screen.
“Just the bombing,” shaking her head she toggled a box that lit up with static before resolving into an image of a street and the reflection of warning lights, “Naturally the traffic camera for that area is pointed the wrong direction for us to see anything.”
He chuckled and then shrugged, “It probably is not our girl then, Merry has a tendency to shoot back when attacked.”
“There is that,” she admitted with a grin, “I do wish Willard would let us bring her in out of the cold.”
“He knows what he is doing, whatever he has her doing here in Rome has to be important,” Bill said with a sigh, “his damned hunches are annoying though.”
“Yes, but has he ever been wrong?” she asked as she scrolled though a file.
“No, but it only takes once to end a streak.”
“You worry too much.”
“My shop!” exclaimed Michelle in shock as she stared out the window of the large car as it edged around a fire truck.
“Keep driving Rose,” said the Matron as she looked into the back seat where Michelle was cradling the unconscious girl.
“All my stuff…” Michelle trailed off in seeming disbelief as the car sped past.
“You were insured?” the Signora asked quietly.
“Yes, but…” Michelle looked away and then down at Petra.
“Then it can be replaced,” the Signora said calmly yet firmly, “the immediate needs are the urgent ones. Does Petra have someone she checks in with or reports to?”
“A Father Rico, they never used last names,” she lifted Petra’s purse and opened it, “he is in Turkey, working to protect the Pope there, from what I gathered.”
“Is it related?” asked the Matron.
“Petra and the Father seemed to think so,” she lifted the phone out and flipped it open.
“Then we should make an effort to inform him of the events,” instructed the Signora as she glanced over to Michelle.
“Well she has only a few numbers in her phone,” she shrugged and pressed a button, “’R dash cell,’ has to be the right one.”
“We can hope,” said Rose as she angled the car out onto the freeway, “home first Signora or?”
“Just drive for a time, and try to keep an eye out for suspicious looking vehicles,” said the Signora with a sigh, “I’ve not recovered enough to mask the car just yet.”
“Ok its connecting,” said Michelle with a relieved sigh as she pushed a button to make the signal audible to everyone.
“Hello? Petra?” asked the voice on the other end after a moments hesitation.
“Father Rico, I am Michelle I believe Petra mentioned me?” asked carefully aloud.
“Yes, I take it something has come up where Petra is unable to come to the phone?” Father Rico asked calmly though with evident worry.
“Yes, she is intact but unconscious,” said the Signora clearly, “after assisting to put down a daemon evidently targeted for her.”
“Saints preserve us,” said Father Rico after what seemed like a hasty prayer, “she’s not been trained for that yet.”
“Yes, but that did not stop her,” said the Matron as she leaned over the seat.
“No, it likely would not have,” Father Rico said with a sigh, “was she injured in the encounter?”
“Twice, we think,” the Matron said with a small sigh, “The first during a direct physical attack on the daemon that wounded it.”
“Ok,” Father Rico said with a long drawn out sigh, “and the second?”
“Was likely a result of an joint attack on the daemon with disruptive magicks,” the Signora offered in an apologetic voice, “a bit excessive but with a daemon you stop it first, confer about methods later.”
“Understandable, and I was not offering criticism,” Father Rico chuckled sourly, “we have had a similar occurrence or two in the Order over the past few days.”
“Father Rico, I think your Order has been infiltrated or something,” said the Signora calmly yet firmly, “that sort of daemon usually requires a material aid to send it after someone.”
“We think someone went into the Rose Palace after or during the time Petra and I were there,” explained Michelle with a downward look at Petra, “she had slept there the night prior, and had old clothing and shoes there.”
“Then it is likely someone that has access or obtained access somehow to the building, and then collected hairs or clothing in order to create a magical link.” Father Rico concluded and then said, “Remote magical attacks are not exactly impossible on Knights, but it would take more than hair or clothing to achieve.”
“Also as a side note, something leveled Michelle’s shop and the building it was in,” said Rose loudly as she glanced into the mirror.
“I see, was any of Petra’s clothing there?” asked Father Rico quickly.
“Yes, we had changed to attend…” Michelle looked at the Signora questioningly.
“A religious function,” supplied the Signora with a patient expression, “of which I dare say the good Father would not likely approve of.”
“We have a devout Buddhist and a very amoral atheist in the Order, and I am sure somewhere in our rolls you might find a Witch or three in the past.” There was a pained grunt as he concluded, “While I could prefer all of our members were firmly of the cloth, it occasionally does not work that way.”
“Are you well?” asked the Signora
“Bruised but intact,” Father Rico admitted with a soft groan, “mostly.”
“I see, so do you have any recommendations?” asked the Signora with a nod as she glanced at the unconscious girl.
“Move her to sacred or holy ground, while it is unlikely there will be another attack made before sun up, I suspect it is not the last of them.” He paused and then said, “Daylight seems to be safe, as all attacks reported recently are during hours of darkness.”
“I concur,” said the Signora as she smiled in evident mirth. “Also she seems to have acquired three very and sharp spikes and an equally sharp dagger, of which we gather are blessed somehow.”
There was a very long pause before Father Rico spoke, “Three?”
“Yes, they look to be hand forged and very old,” said the Signora as she innocently looked to the window, “I suspect they have been used prior to tonight.”
Father Rico coughed once, “I suspect you may be correct, but on whom?”
“That would be the question,” the Signora said with a smirk, “if Petra should part with them is another… I do not believe in chance.”
“Well…” Father Rico sounded slightly pained as he continued, “it may be wise to have her keep them handy if not on her person.”
“I also have issues with her training, namely the lack there of,” said the Signora in a resolute tone of voice, “we shall correct that, in exchange for certain things.”
“I am not the one to broker such things,” Father Rico said quickly, “and this is hardly the time I think.”
“True, but I assure you such things will be discussed,” said the Signora, “in the mean time; do you have a set schedule for regular communications with Petra?”
“It has been mostly as needed to pass on information and the like, other Knights have been leaving information with her, for her to pass on.” He seemed to take a breath, “If she has not recovered fully on the marrow we will have to make arrangements.”
“And how does one recover from a daemon attack?” asked Michelle quickly.
“With rest, cautious supervision and not infrequently; keeping them away from sharp objects.” He paused and then said, “Nightmares are not uncommon, though they will fade.”
“Rest may be problematic, if we are to get to the bottom of this,” said the Signora, “but she will not be alone.”
“I am grateful to you for that, it was my concern that the influence would isolate her and leave her unprotected,” Father Rico said with a calm voice. “You have my blessings and prayers, should you care for them.”
“We may be a bit different Father Rico, but we are on the same side, so yes they are welcomed,” said the Signora with a smile.
“I see, go with God then,” said Father Rico just before he hung up.
“So Signora, where to?” asked Rose as she glanced in the mirror.
The Signora sighed and then glanced about the car, “The Mansion to pick up things, it should be safe enough.” She paused and briefly closed her eyes, “Then I suspect we should go to the Lodge near Alban lake, it should be sufficiently holy enough.”
“Not to mention nearly three hundred miles away,” said the Matron with a thoughtful glance at Rose, “can you handle driving that far or should we take turns.”
“Turns I think, mixed with food and coffee,” she gave the Matron an apologetic smile, “I lost my dinner somewhere in the process of pausing to get dressed.”
“There was a line for the toilets, I barely made it to a potted bush,” added Michelle as she looked out the window in embarrassment.
“It’s the stink of brimstone, sulfur and the stink of inter-planar things shedding their energy as they cook off,” explained the Signora calmly, “add in the negative energy that they radiate and you get a double whammy.”
“We definitely will have to add tonight to our records though,” said the Matron with a frown, “and perhaps schedule a few more circles with the men as well; just to make sure more of the Crafty are up to speed.”
“I will speak with Lagrange once we get home, if his wife has not given him an earful already.” The Signora laughed with a hearty chuckle, “Lynnette is a bit flighty at times but when she gets a bee in her bonnet she does not give up. I suspect we will find her on our door step asking for more lessons in how to deal with such things once she has pestered her husband to death on the subject.”
“My Winfred was much the same way, but he liked to do most of the digging himself,” the Matron paused with a sigh, “now there a useful man. He’d work most of the day, stomp down things that needed stomping and still made me happy he was home.”
“Um, did he die fighting these things,” asked Michelle softly.
“Winfred? Oh heavens no! It was finally old age that took him in his sleep.” The Matron sighed quietly and then said, “He was too cranky for something like a daemon or vampire to kill him or so he used to say when I stitched him up more than a few times.”
“Vampires?” asked Michelle as the other ladies nodded.
“Most of them are not mass murderers, and they tend to take care of their willing donors,” said Rose from the front seat.
“Though they do have their share of bad sheep that have to be put down on occasion, but most of the time they handle it internally.” The Matron said with a dismissing wave of her hand, “They manage to stay below the radar for the most part as no one want to believe in them seriously.”
“While in the mean time gathering in more donors, thanks to their publicists and the media,” said the Signora grumpily as he studied the dagger.
“Vampires have publicists?” asked Michelle incredulously as she looked at the Signora suspiciously.
“How else to you explain the popularity of vampire themed novels and movies?” asked the Signora with a small shrug in return.
More to come - Warren