Learning the lost ways of the Knights was so difficult that learning to use my new arm was only slightly harder. The process of attaching the arm tops them both, however. I flexed it, turning it over and examining the silver ingrained sigil. It was asleep, as Master Roger says.
It had only been a week since the day I ended my priesthood, entering into the service of the Knights, and we found ourselves barrelling toward our first mission. The books piled upon me were heavy with contradiction to some of the teachings of the church and exceptions for people such as our order. My french was coming along roughly.
“Nous sommes près de l’église de Saint Christina,” I managed.
“Practice your prononciation,” Master Roger replied without turning away from the car window. His people were not let out much, if ever, according to the books I had read. This may have been his first outing in over a hundred years, but I had yet to attain the level of familiarity to ask that question. This was the first time since the hiding of the order that more than one of them have been dispatched at a time. Yet the entire group from that dark place has gone off on a variety of papal missions, the only word on Earth other than the Lord that we reported to. Something about being deemed “too hazardous”.
Master Roger sat up straighter as the town came into view and stroked his well-trimmed, black beard.
This unassuming town held such great power locked away. Each seal formed long ago, holding strong through centuries. My palms were sweating; with such power at stake, we were armed with minimal knowledge and fewer weapons and armor rattling around in the back of the car.
“There are people about,” he said as we came into town, “This is a good sign.”
“There are Sir…I mean, Master Roger,” I stammered,
I parked across the street from the church situated in the middle of the town. Its spires touched the sky, doors open, with two guards out front. Friendly enough to most but marked with a Vatican patch. Our own garb was not as subtle: long, white trench coats marked on the sleeves with the Templar cross.
I hurried to keep up as Master Roger took great strides across the street, lugging the rattling bag of our equipment. The Vatican guards spoke quickly to one another, and one stepped forward slightly to meet him.
“Brief me,” Master Roger stated.
“The uh…everything is secure, Lord Sir Roger. Sir,” the guard stammered.
“No sign of possession in the town?” Master Roger replied.
“No, sir, the town appears to be operating as normal. There is a tavern available for rest and the church has reserved a room for prayer for you– you both,” the guard stumbled over his words.
“Good, we will inspect the church, and then retire for the night,” Master Roger marched past the guards who appeared relieved.
Stained glass windows lit the church in color, an interior made to hold a hundred people. We progressed through and met with the Father of this church, who led us down a series of steps behind a door most would have passed by.
The room below was chill and contained a book on a pedestal, from my hurried studies on the road, I knew it to contain impossible secrets and knowledge. In front of it was the intact seal on the floor. Master Roger took great pains to examine it, stopping at one side or another. Satisfied, we left the church and made our way to the local tavern.
After adjusting our gear in our bedroom, we sipped wine while the sun sat behind the horizon. The atmosphere was calm, almost inviting with the warm hearth turning the room into a cozy den and the effects of alcohol, which I rarely partake, settling in. This would be a nice town to settle into, not busy, and not too far from a larger city.
Master Roger’s watched the patrons as he rubbed at his thigh, his sword lay hidden underneath the trench coat. I checked my own, it becoming somewhat of a ritual.
The barkeep waddled away after we refused any more drink or food. I noticed a slip of paper fall to the ground as he did.
“They have my wife and son, call police NOW.”
My eyes widened and handed the note to Master Roger. He nodded and called, “Barkeep, bring me a large helping of your chicken and potatoes.” The barkeep nodded and headed into the back.
Taking out his sword, he stabbed the wooden floor beneath him and bent to a knee. This was a simple blessing, it would not take long or last long, but required him to be uninterrupted. I stood and placed myself between him and the rest of the room, eyeing the patrons.
“What in the fuck are you doing, mate? You can’t just come in here and rip up the floor like you own the place,” one of the patrons asked.
I did not answer.
One patron began to vomit, viscous pitch spewing from his mouth. Then another. I had little training, and being told what is real, and seeing it are two different things.
“What in the FUCK, mate?” the first patron demanded, as the pitch steamed off the floor. I threw a cross from our bag to him, which he fumbled before catching.
“Put that on your door and don’t come out tonight,” I told him.
He scampered off as the rest of the patrons stood and faced us, their eyes midnight pools. One turned around more slowly, her eyes normal, but her face in a maniacal grin. She clapped slowly and began a low chuckle.
“It’s been a loooong time since I have met someone who can perform the basic rites. Although, as you see, some of my friends have been in this world for a while. It won’t work on them,” she gestured at the people around her. Some of them smiled wicked grins, too many teeth for their mouths.
“I didn’t catch your name, Sir…?” the possessed patron gestured at Master Roger.
Master Roger said nothing.
“Well, you may call me Mal,” she continued.
Master Roger stood up and pulled his sword from the floor in a clean move. “We are not on a first name basis,” he said as he flexed his shoulders and rolled his neck, the chain mail beneath the coat jingling.
“Oh, and how about you, then?” she looked daggers at me.
I knew better than to give demons your name even when I was but a priest. My new arm began to throb and tense.
“Very well then,” she shrugged, sauntering to the door. “First one to the church loses,” she made a show of gathering her coat and leaving very slowly, as I drew my own sword. We stood that way for a moment, facing the once-people and their corrupted grins, the silence ticking by.
Master Roger’s cut went clean through the table one of the creatures stood at, splitting the creature nearest to him in half. A surge pulsed from my arm into my body, the arm giving me stamina and strength. I bounded from my spot toward the other end of the room, the creature meeting me with dark claws grown in an instant. I gripped his wrist with one hand, screaming the Lord’s name and smashing at his claws. The arm pressured my moves elsewhere, and I shoved the sword through his belly and into his heart. His claws tried to rake my midsection but a sad look fell over his eyes as the life went out of him, my own chainmail ringing as they weakly scraped against it.
I flailed for purchase as someone charged into me from the side, catching a glimpse of Sir Roger smashing his head into a creature’s gaping maw. I dropped my sword to grapple with the one on me, just before getting pinned to the bar. It bit into my shoulder, a few of the teeth finding small gaps, but his mouth became stuck. Rolling myself along the bar, I found room to punch him as his bite got tighter and bit deeper into my shoulder. I shut my eyes through the pain and doubled my efforts, continuously bashing away.
It was only when Master Roger’s voice hit me that I opened them. I found the upper half of the creature attached only by the head and shoulders, a bloody mess below it. He removed the head, none too delicately and tossed it. Where he had fought, there was a similar sight. Blood dripped from our wounds, but none were too deep as we set out into the night.
Pops that could only be firearms sounded from the direction of the church, only two blocks away. I trailed Master Roger as we dashed down the street. He was already amidst a sea of bodies when I caught up.
“Push into the sanctuary!” he screamed at the two guards out front who were furiously emptying sub-machine guns into the horde. “The sanctuary!” he yelled again.
They moved slowly backwards, retreating into the doors. The majority of the wave of creatures began screaming upon reaching the threshold, but a few unaffected pushed forward. We carved through them as best we could before one guard, then the other, vanish from the entrance. We slammed the doors in place and locked them once inside.
The two guards were on the ceiling, impaled by something black and dripping. I turned away as I saw their organs begin to spill out. I tried not to hear the splattering noises. At the pulpit stood Mal, her eyes aflame with yellow and orange sparks, something dark shifting underneath her skin. A shadow crept out from behind her, from the direction of where the door to the seal was.
It was the priest.
“Your work complete, your work complete, your work complete,” the thing that wore the Father’s skin said.
Mal smirked, “We’ll meet again, perhaps in the void, Sir Knight!” she shouted to us, and leapt two meters through a stained glass window into the night.
Master Roger was already backing up when the priest’s eyes locked to ours.
“Our bonds are free, our bonds are free, our bonds are freeeeee,” the thing said.
“We have to go,” Master Roger said.
The priest’s face twisted and warped, his head twitching at impossible speeds. He grew. Legs became spindly and arms became barbed and elongated. I screamed.
Master Roger didn’t wait for the profane transformation to finish and hefted me out of the church, my sanity dropped the ground like breadcrumbs. There was nothing but carnage on the steps of the church.
“Sinners come to church, sinners come to church, sssssineerssss come to church,” the words rattled the stained glass window, and I almost vomited as my spirit revolted at the sound of them. The neighboring houses filled with the screams, and I caught a glimpse a grinning, too many teeth, smile going into a house. Master Roger carried me through the streets, but by the time we were at the car, I had regained some of my senses.
“Go,” he said.
“The people…” I said. The barkeep was on his back in the street. His hands batted at a half dozen creatures picking him apart.
“We cannot help them, and there will be more than we can handle come dawn. I admit defeat. We are unprepared, and we DO NOT HAVE TIME, GO!” he screamed as the creatures began to pour out of the houses around us.
I wondered if this town would see sunlight again as we peeled away, or if this was one of many doomed towns to come.