Eowyn stood in the shadow of the old church, taking in her surroundings in silent appraisal. Being of the old world, Eowyn knew little of this new god, but she knew that he was different from the others she had known. He was more than simply a once-mortal whose unquenchable thirst for power transfigured him into a self-proclaimed deity. And he sought not the lives of his followers in order to extend his own existence, but rather sacrificed himself that they might know immortality.
She knew little more than this, but believed that this one would consider the daemon an enemy, and that on his ground the daemon would find no advantage. 'It is enough,' she thought silently, as she began to climb the steps of the church. She had no wish to offend this new one, and was uncertain that he would look upon her with any greater favor than he would the daemon. She had thus decided that she must visit his priest and seek his "blessing" before she could presume to use his lands for her purposes.
With a final sigh of resignation, Eowyn climbed the stairs leading to the sacred building. The heavy doors atop the stairs were closed, and as Eowyn reached a out hand to them she noted that carved into the stone were the words, "Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul." She frowned for a moment, pondering the inscription. She didn't think this new god had a name, but then she recalled hearing something about a trinity. Perhaps these two names completed that union. At another time her curiosity might have compelled her to inquire, but matters more pressing than curiosity had brought her to this house. Thus, putting the names aside for later consideration, Eowyn opened the large doors with surprisingly little effort and stepped inside the foreign temple.
The doors remained open behind her, casting light into the vestibule she had just entered. Now inside, Eowyn felt a strange wash of power flow through her--something familiar, but something she couldn't quite identify. Pulling back the hood of her cloak to reveal dark and determined eyes, she glanced about the vestibule, looking for the pair of unseen eyes which she felt focused on her. Her inspection failed to reveal the hidden watcher, however, yielding instead only two sets of stairs which rose to either side, and another set of doors which barred the path ahead.
Pushing a stray lock of hair behind a decidedly pointed ear, Eowyn chose to go forward. Thus, she opened the doors second set of doors and entered the nave. The early evening light shone softly through the open doors behind her, and she cast a shadow, long and dark, down the main aisle until the inner doors fell silently closed again.
Much to her surprise, she found that she had entered during a service, and quickly took a seat, hoping that her entrance had not worked a disruption. Though the pews were far from full, the service was attended by more than Eowyn would have suspected given the nature and population of its host city—a testament to either its deity or to the lone figure which stood, robed in black and white, before a marble altar. His location and attire suggested to Eowyn that he was the one she had come to see, and so she waited patiently for the service to end, finding herself fascinated by the rituals despite the nature of her visit.
The priest had largely withdrawn from Stormpoint. There was the company of the Lady Doctor, his still grief-hate consumed dragonette....and his mysterious "Sexton".....but beyond that he had simply lost interest in trying to make sense of the town. First there had been the walpurgisnacht of the Ravenclaw guild.....then the chaos of the second fire.....both of which had given him long days and longer nights as he sought to comfort wounded bodies and wounded spirits. He had wondered if a note to the regents about establishing a real hospital might be in order.
But there was always more to do. And in all his doings, he felt absolutely useless.
Yet....he reasoned, "you aren't exactly here to set the world straight, now are you Father?" So he returned to the one foundation that remained changeless in the midst of the vagaries of Stormpoint or any world: the Word and prayer.
And so it was that this evening, when the curious woman of indefinite elven appearance entered the back of the cathedral, she happened upon the priest leading the congregation in the prayer-office of Vespers. The priest had to admit that recent events in the town had swelled the number or regular attendees to these services somewhat. But, he knew too well, let things calm down and order return, and the numbers will shrink again.
To accommodate the newer ones to the services of God's house, he had instituted using the vernacular for worship. As the woman entered, she heard a dragonette's reedy voice provide the plainchant melody as the priest sang from his place in the chancel:
"My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. For He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden: for behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For He that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is His name. And His mercy is on them that fear Him from generation to generation. He hath shewed strength with His arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich He hath sent empty away. He hath holpen His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy; as He spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed forever. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever; unto ages of ages. Amen."
From there, the service moved to the litany of prayers...for the faithful, for stable government, for peaceful times and good order, for weather and harvest, for commerce and those in any distress, for the defeat of evil and the triumph of good...and finally, the evening collect:
"Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give Your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for Your love's sake. Amen"
And with that, he dismissed the congregation with the benediction, and began to snuff the candles at the altar.
Having removed his stole and surplice in the sacistry, he began gather his prayer books, and headed into the nave to "close shop" for the night, so to speak. It was then that he noticed the figure of the woman standing somewhat uncertainly at the back of the cathedral. He set his books on a pew and walked toward her smiling gently.
"Benedicite, my daughter. May I help you?"
"Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give Your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for Your love's sake. Amen"
When the service came to a close, the worshipers slowly filed their way out of the church, scarcely noticing the latecomer who remained behind. Lingering alone in back of the emptying cathedral, Eowyn waited quietly, watching as the figure she had come to see first snuffed the candles surrounding the altar, then began to gather his texts, noting that in even these simple tasks he moved with a certain air of reverence.
Completing his chores, the priest raised his head for the first time since concluding the service, and noticed her--waiting. She wondered briefly if she appeared as foreign as she felt in this house, and tried instead to appear undarkened as he began to walk the long aisle, steadily closing the distance between them. As he neared, she noted that weariness wore heavily on his features, a mien that bespoke something more than mere physical exhaustion, but something far less than hopelessness. His face was kind, however, and the smile which rose on his lips lit his eyes as well in an expression of warmth and welcome.
She smiled slightly in response, though more out of sorrow and perhaps regret than greeting. She had no right to increase the burden he already carried, and no reason to believe that he would offer the help she sought. True, he had accepted his commission from vampires, and kept the company of dragons, but neither the queen nor the dragonet had sought anything in return save that he perform the duties required by his god. She, however, had come in need of assistance, seeking a favor that might conflict with those same duties. Still, she came to him and to the house of his god, hoping that her aim, if not her methods, might find some small degree of favor.
"Benedicite, my daughter. May I help you?"
"Salvete . . . Father," she answered, certain of the language if not the precise connotation of his greeting. "My name is Eowyn." She considered adding that she was a friend of the Lady Samantha's, but left her introduction as it stood, lest, by her invocation of the queen's name, she persuade him to do that which he otherwise would not. "And I think perhaps you can help me . . . if you will."
She glanced away suddenly, turning her eyes towards one of the stained-glass windows that faced westward, though whether to avoid his gaze or direct his attention, it was impossible to tell. "Did you see the fire, Father? The one that consumed half of merchants' row and a portion of the docks?"
She paused for a moment, setting her resolve and choosing her words with care, "It may have paused in its destruction, but it isn't finished. It might not be fire next time. It might be a dragonet, or an assassin, or perhaps even a small child in search of sanctuary . . ." she returned her gaze towards him again, a curious mixture of conviction and pleading rising in her eyes, "but it will come just the same."
She waited, searching his face for a sign of recognition, "He has a name. One which I believe you know, though I dare not speak it here," she explained, glancing about the sanctuary as if some hidden form might have followed her in from the city which had already begun to stir under the early blanket of night. When she satisfied herself that they were sufficiently alone, she continued, laying for the basis of her plea, "I know how to get rid of him, Father, but I need your help to do it."
"Salvete......Father.....my name is Eowyn...."
When the woman responded to his greeting in the ancient tongue of the Church, the priest raised an eyebrow......"ah.....no commoner this one, she has an education...." he thought to himself.
He bowed slightly, smiling genuinely at having found one in this city, who though not human, still followed the customs of human civility. He was about to introduce himself formally when she began to speak again. His smile did not stay long on his face.
"....you can help me......did you see the fire.......it will come here......he has a name.....I know how to get rid of him.....I need your help....."
The priest's lips pursed into a frown at the mention of the last fire to sweep through the city. He had detected in her voice......what? both urgency and ill-ease? His old instincts again moved him to speak, to consol......but then she continued. He was puzzled at first when she mentioned the dragonette, the assassin, the small child....
His mind raced, "whatever can she be getting at?" He flashed briefly to the incident of the child who became a demon outside the cathedral some time ago. It was an incident he had largely shut out of his mind, in the way men often do when aspects of the world around them fail to make any sense. All that remained was the lingering chill he had felt that day when he had first realized something was not at all right with the child who demanded sanctuary, nor with this city in which such children walked. He also felt again a dull frustrated anger at the "being" that had walked through the cathedral doors to send the demon off that day......only after a full pound of blessed incense had been burned in the cathedral, and a week of prayers for cleansing from evil had been said, did the statues stop bleeding and the sanctuary again "feel" holy.
[High above them, yellow eyes turned red as another also recalled that day.......pupils narrowed, and fingernails bit into the shadowed rafters that were being grasped by pale hands......]
The priest snapped back to attention at her reference to the one she would not name......"what did they call him? ah...yes...Giacomo I think it was......"
He crossed himself in a quick, reflexive motion, muttering in a whisper, "In nomine Patri, et Fili, et Spiritu Sancti. Amen."
As she glanced about her, the priest puzzled again.....as she gave appearance of one who thought she might have been followed, though he had seen nothing.
[Above them, a word was spoken silently. Had one the ability to notice such things, one might have caught a slight movement to the doors and windows of the cathedral, as if they were all suddenly drawn tight. And had anyone been directing her or his ears, or mind, or spirit to the cathedral to detect the thoughts or words of those within, that one would have suddenly discovered the place quiet.....empty.....dark.......]
The priest was oblivious to such things, of course. He simply watched the woman as she revealed her secret......."she needs my help?" he thought. But what help could he give in a place that knew nothing of the laws by which he lived.
He drew himself straight up for a moment, squared his shoulders, and took a deep breath....as if to prepare for what lay ahead. Then, in an even voice, spoke, "I am Father Selnecker, and am pleased to make your acquaintance, Lady Eowyn. Might I suggest that you take a seat?"
He gestured to the pew she stood near, and waiting on no formality, seated himself in the next pew forward, turned toward her. He knew the conversation they were about to have would be grave, and that what may follow from their words, graver still. In his mind, he made a quick prayer, "Father, for the sake of Your mercy in Christ, give me wisdom....."
Then he spoke again, "What you ask, I am uncertain I can give.....I am well-versed in dealing with the servants of the Evil One on my old world....but here......" he waved a hand in disgust....."here....nothing is as it should be......yet, in ridding this city of evil, I will be of what help I can be.....I am at your service....."
And then he waited for the discussion that must follow......and tried to remember all that he had learned of the fallen angels when he was at the monastery and university......
Eowyn took a seat on the proffered pew and waited silently as the priest appeared to reflect for a moment before he added, "What you ask, I am uncertain I can give.....I am well-versed in dealing with the servants of the Evil One on my old world....but here......" he waved a hand in disgust....."here....nothing is as it should be......yet, in ridding this city of evil, I will be of what help I can be.....I am at your service....."
She smiled again, a small, but more sincere gesture, taking some measure of comfort in the priest's words and in the force which seemed to have suddenly enveloped the church. She didn't bother trying to locate the origin of the force, the presence she had felt since entering the vestibule, but found herself thinking that her plea might be better received by the unseen watcher who lurked somewhere above. Such circumvention would do little to bolster her credibility, however. The priest, this Father Selnecker, was the one appointed to care for this house and tend to its tenets and worshippers--he was the one with whom she must deal, the one who she must convince.
He seemed a fair man, by what little accounts she had heard, and the fact that he preached the word of a living god in a city inhabited largely by undead took no small amount of courage or faith. He would need both, she thought, to survive in Stormpoint, and she strained to conceal her regret as she realized that by her visit, she might be putting them both to the test.
"Thank you, Father, for your courtesy," she said at last, "I was . . . uncertain how my presence in this temple would be received." Eowyn's past was both long and secretive, a combination which caused her to be oft regarded with suspicion, and to one unaccustomed to the ways of this world, she and the plea she brought must seem strange. It was in an effort to allay any lingering suspicions that she found herself speaking more candidly than was her wont, starting first with a confession of her nature.
"I've no wish to deceive you, Father. You know that I am not a follower of your faith, but please be assured that I am not some fell wraith who seeks to desecrate this house. I have certain," she paused, searching for a sufficiently innocuous word, and continued when she settled upon one, "abilities natural to my race, and I know enough about the daemon to banish him . . . with some assistance. What I need first is a place to confront him, a place where he's weakened."
"Thank you......uncertain how my presence...would be received......not a follower of your faith....not some fell wraith......I have certain abilities....I need a place to confront him......"
As she spoke, the priest's mind slipped into the paths of his old training. So many years of drills in logic, in analysis, that habit had largely subsumed instinct. He realized that many thought him a bit "cold" for these habits......but they simply didn't understand how hard it had been, or how deceptive the passions of the old nature could be. He sighed, turned forward in His pew, and stared for a moment at the sanctuary candle burning in its red vase, indicating to those who knew the Church's customs that the consecrated Host was in the tabernacle. Then he organized his thoughts, and without turning back to the woman, spoke with slow deliberation....
"First, I should reassure you that all are welcome in God's house.....indeed, this is no Temple restricted to the worthy, but just a place hallowed by prayer and worship.....a place where one's thoughts and feelings might be better directed to Him Who is the source of all things, through the art and architecture that surrounds us. But our Scriptures teach us, and we who gather here confess, that He fills all things and all creation belongs to Him...."
Again the priest sighed....and now turned to the woman who sat behind him. "As for your not sharing the faith proclaimed here.....well...." he smiled for a moment...but in genuine amusement at himself .....'never pass up an opportunity, eh Nicolaus?'.....and in a conscious effort to set the woman at ease...." well.....we can always explore the possibility of changing that........"
He fell silent for a moment......'bring your thoughts back to heel, Father.....' "But what I think you need to understand, relative to your abilities, this place, and the demon is this - there is no magic here, per se. Oh heavens.....how do I explain....." he frowned at himself...ran a hand through his hair and scratched his head......"Look....while I do not claim to understand the ways of this world, or how the creatures one finds here fit into God's order of creation, for the Church, there remain two articles of doctrine that cannot be altered: 1) that even these creatures remain under the providence of our Lord, and 2) that our God's power is still in His Word.....a Word that condemns the wicked and consols the repentant."
He paused....uncertain how far to go in giving speech to his thoughts.....but he had to finish. He hoped she would understand that he was not so much denying her his assistance as he was simply trying to help her understand the nature of the Cathedral as "holy ground."
"In my world, we know of demons only as angels.....spiritual creatures of God, who turned away from His glory, and now seek to ruin what He has made. But they have been defeated...and now only work to draw as many as they can into the final condemnation they know awaits them. They have no power against the Word...but only when it is used in faith.....our Scriptures tell us of some unfortunate men, early in the life of the Church, who dared to use the name of our God and Lord to cast out an evil spirit, yet they spoke the divine name without faith. The evil spirit simply said to them, 'Jesus I know, but who are you?' Then the spirit caused them to be attacked and overwhelmed them."
The priest stopped again. Looked for some sign of understanding in the woman's features.....and then hurriedly added.....
"I say this only to let you know to what degree this place may or may not weaken the demon and thereby be of help to you in your battle......"
And finally, he came to a full stop. He hoped she would now ask questions.....for there was much in which the cathedral could be of help....indeed, if the demon was truly a fallen angel, then his power would fail him were he to confront the Word.......but......and this was the danger......it had to be the Word rightly spoken, and spoken with unswerving faith......
Eowyn waited quietly as the priest turned from her and stared, unspeaking, at a lone candle burning steadily at the front of the sanctuary. His silence might have been brief, but to Eowyn it seemed endless, and as the stillness grew heavier she became increasingly certain that she had overstepped her welcome. The church seemed suddenly a cold and dark place, and she felt terribly alone within its foreign trappings despite the reflective figure who sat on the pew just before her. She was about to leave, to slip quietly away into the ever-darkening city when the priest's voice suddenly broke the silence,
". . . all are welcome in God's house.....a. place hallowed by prayer and worship..... where one's thoughts and feelings might be better directed to Him Who is the source of all things . . . He fills all things and all creation belongs to Him...."
She sighed silently at his words, relief washing through her tired frame, and had just drawn breath to respond when the priest turned and continued.
"As for your not sharing the faith proclaimed here.....well.... well.....we can always explore the possibility of changing that........"
She wasn't so much surprised by his statement, for she had known other faiths that sought to enlighten "the ignorant," as she was by his tone, which carried no hint of condescension or scorn, but rather bespoke of sincere invitation. At another time, in other circumstances, she might have considered his offer, for Eowyn loved few things better than exploring new territory, physical or metaphysical, but her present task and the decisions she had made in connection with it eclipsed her concerns for her own mind or soul. She was, therefore, pleased when the priest spoke more directly to what she perceived to be the matter of her visit.
"But what I think you need to understand, relative to your abilities, this place, and the demon is this - there is no magic here, per se. Oh heavens.....how do I explain....."
A bemused smile lit her eyes with the word 'magic.' She had heard humans use the term before and had developed a vague understanding of the meaning it held for them. She listened intently, however, quickly hiding her amusement as the priest continued to explain the nature of his god and his faith. It was, in many ways, different from the practices of the old world, and though she thought she understood his message, she pondered silently before responding.
"I fear that I and my request have caused you some discomfort. Please believe that were the need not so dire I would not have come, but you know little of the creature's history. He destroys without a care, kills for amusement, and leaves nothing but chaos and despair in his wake. He is madness."
Her features remained unchanged as she spoke, but her voice had quickened and had taken on a tone of urgency. As if suddenly realizing her demeanor, she paused in her speech, collecting both herself and her thoughts. When she spoke again, her pace was steadied, and her tone, though no less urgent, had assumed a pensive quality. She watched the priest carefully now, trying to judge from his response whether she had correctly deciphered his meaning.
"I believe you when you say that this . . .'word' . . . is powerful enough to destroy the daemon. Indeed, I would not have come had I not recognized the strength of your god and his power over the creature. But I cannot claim to have the faith you describe, and, though you may deem me rash, I can neither wait to attain it nor allow another to proceed in my place."
She fell silent with this declaration---an abrupt interruption as if, suddenly faced with two paths, she was uncertain of the one to choose. Her eyes lost focus as her mind wandered in thought between the winding routes, examining each for swiftness and certainty. When she continued, her eyes were distant and her voice was questioning, as if trying to find her way back from her chosen path, having left no markers and now falling victim to mist-filled bends which cleared or darkened at the whim of another.
"You say that only the faithful may invoke the power of the 'word' against the daemon. But what of the daemon's own faith? If what you say is true, the creature knows the authority of your god, just as the evil spirits recounted in your scriptures. He is weakened in the presence your god. This much at least has been borne out. Though he burned with desire to do so, he could not enter this building. And even on the ground before your steps he was crippled, for make no mistake, he would not otherwise have fled. If it is that by his belief, his essence, he is weakened on this ground, it is possible that such vulnerability, even if slight, may work towards his defeat."
The priest listened carefully to the woman's words, and to the steady determination in her voice as well. The truth be known, he was slightly relieved that she was understanding something of what he had tried to say. With embarrassment, he thought of some conversations he had engaged in with other residents of this city which had not gone so well. It was his nature to believe the fault in these unsuccessful conversations had been his when he reflected on the matter....not that he had been wrong to defend the way of the Church....but that he had let his old ways get the better of him.....jumping by force of logic and confession to conclusions which others could not easily see, and which they often took for pettiness or diffidence on his part. He was on the verge of falling into another fugue considering these things when another part of his mind pressed urgently....'Now is not the time Nicolaus.....back to the matter at hand......the way forward does not lie through reflection on the past.....' He began to debate himself, 'Yes, but without understanding our failures in the past, shall we not repeat them in the future?' He scolded himself, 'Nicolaus!' And even as he completed that thought, his mind was already turned to his studies of metaphysics.....and then he remembered his guest.
He looked at her, noticing that the smile which had played across her face when he spoke of "magic" was now gone....and as her words lingered into silence, there was something of a distant, even uncertain, look to her face. The priest thought....'Hmmm...so this creature also has her doubting herself....' He quickly brought to mind the points she had touched upon as he prepared to give her an answer:
"He destroys without care.....He is madness.....I can neither wait to attain it nor allow another to proceed in my place......what of the daemon's faith? he could not enter this building.....he is weakened on this ground....may work towards his defeat......"
The priest took a deep breath.....and then spoke calmly....trying to lend something of the strength of his words to this woman..... "Ahhh...my good Lady, it is not 'discomfort,' that your request brings to me....but merely apprehension.....for while I know little of this particular demon you speak of, I know of others....and know the danger they pose, both to the unsuspecting and to those who would do them battle - even the disciples of my God were once powerless before a demon because they had failed to center their faith with prayer and fasting before they dared to attempt the casting out......"
He sighed...... "I appreciate what powers you claim to have, and would not dare to instruct one who is older in this world than myself.....But...." then the priest's voice took on the sound of iron...."But, if we are to do battle with the creature on this ground, then we must do it within the bounds of this ground's law.....for, since he is 'madness,' as you say, the first thing he will attempt is to turn us away from the tools we are given here.....he will use blasphemy, lie, half-truth, illusion, and even material harm, to shake those who confront him here from the sure foundation of God's holy Word."
Suddenly the priest started, and his eyes grew wide with a new insight.....and strangely enough, he chuckled..... "In fact, my Lady Eowyn, I believe he has already been at work to undermine you and me both from the beginning.....trying to start us on a false premise with his hellish dissembling. Think of that ruse he played as the child. Now what did he seek? He showed us that he wanted to enter the cathedral, but played that he could not without my invitation. And what then did you conclude? That the cathedral had a power to bind him apart from the right use of the Word. I have to admit that I thought little of the incident until you brought it to my mind again. But here's the deceptive thing: he didn't need my invitation to enter this place, any more than that 'Old Man' did. Our Scriptures are filled with accounts of the demon-possessed entering synagogues uninvited to confront our Lord, and the Church's tradition has many stories of demons entering churches to disrupt the Mass.....no, there is no inherent power to holy ground that prevents the demon from coming here....but he would like us to think so...in order that we might trust in something other than God and His Word.......ahhhhh...but this demon is a clever one......"
The priest paused for a moment.....to re-gather his thoughts....
[Above them, eyes and ears that had observed all appeared to tremble for a moment. A smile played across pale lips....another word was spoken, in calm resignation.....and the cathedral was released from the force that had closed it in.......and to those who could pluck thoughts from the pair, a whisper might have been heard......"Yes Father....you speak truth.....we will play no games with the demon....."]
The priest spoken again, intensely.... "Look, you must battle him as your beliefs so direct you.....but consider just this: he may be trying to lure you to battle him here because your power would be weakened by a misplaced trust and incomplete knowledge.....it is not that he fears this place or would be weakened here himself....rather he wants to get you at a disadvantage......and if that be the case, then you really cannot do without my company.....for what he believes or doesn't believe isn't the issue......God's law is all that matters, and to that he must bow....but again, only when it is spoken in truth and with faith....."
And then the priest's tone changed again.....to one of camaraderie and steadfast courage.... "So, while I respect your desire to battle him alone, I must insist that if you fight on this ground, you do so in my company.....and that you receive a quick course in the Church's teaching about demons.....one can never be too prepared, eh?"
And then the priest smiled.....offering her confidence....no matter what might come.....
Outside the church, night had fallen completely, and the once illuminated stained-glass windows fell dark, no longer casting bits of color upon the hard stone floor. Only the tallow candles lit the sanctuary now, and though they grew shorter, their light remained constant, bathing the stone interior and two of its occupants in a warm, rich glow. Mindful of the strange quietude, Eowyn listened to the priest and the reservation in his voice, convinced that she had asked too much and realizing that she could hardly fault him for his skepticism.
"I appreciate what powers you claim to have, and would not dare to instruct one who is older in this world than myself.....But...."
She looked at him squarely, prepared to accept his rejection. He was not the first, and she sincerely doubted he would be the last. Drawing deep within herself and assuming her darkest reserve, she told herself that it mattered little, that she could face the daemon alone and elsewhere. Perhaps it had been intended that way. She couldn't tell anymore. She had seen the church, and she had seen others, but her visions had become increasingly vague as of late, affected, she surmised, by the gypsy curse that had been invoked that first night the daemon had appeared in Stormpoint. Clearing her mind of the remembered images, Eowyn steeled herself for the priest's next words, surprised by his sudden change in tone.
"But, if we are to do battle with the creature on this ground, then we must do it within the bounds of this ground's law ..."
Her eyes widened imperceptibly with his statement, and so unsure was she of his words that she caught little of what followed as she allowed the statement to echo and reecho in her mind before she finally convinced herself that she had heard him correctly.
". . . no, there is no inherent power to holy ground that prevents the demon from coming here....but he would like us to think so...in order that we might trust in something other than God and His Word.......ahhhhh...but this demon is a clever one......"
She was about respond when the air in the church shifted; and as a silent hold was released, a harsh whisper drifted downward from the shadows that hung above. "Yes, Father....you speak truth.....we will play no games with the demon.....". Eowyn's head jerked upward with the sound, and though her eyes narrowed as she searched the darkness above, she saw nothing. She chided herself for her action, realizing that the speaker would not wish to be seen and that, to the priest, her sudden distraction must appear discourteous at best.
The priest continued, however, either not having seen or politely ignoring her distraction, "So, while I respect your desire to battle him alone, I must insist that if you fight on this ground, you do so in my company.....and that you receive a quick course in the Church's teaching about demons.....one can never be too prepared, eh?"
He punctuated his insistence with a smile, a gesture which Eowyn found both curious and pleasing in its use. Despite the expression, however, she discerned from his tone that the priest would not be swayed in this matter, and though she had known him but briefly, she respected him too much to debate the point. And so she smiled in return and understanding, using the time to gather her thoughts before she finally spoke, "I find myself at loss, Father. Though I had hoped for your assent, I had not expected to receive it, let alone your assistance. You and your faith are very different from others of this world." She chose her next words with care, having no desire to offend a newly acquired ally, but unable to abandon the ways she had known, the ways she had followed for so many years.
"I would not refuse your teachings, for I deem them to be of value, but I hope you can understand that I may not be able to use the means you offer, and that while I will defer to your wishes to the extent possible, I cannot take so great a leap of faith as to completely disregard the ways which I have known."
The priest watched the woman struggle with how to respond to his offer. He knew it wasn't easy for her. He had detected about her the same lonely pride that often proved to be his own Achilles' heel, and knew that for her, to admit the need for assistance, much less to yield to the rules of another, would be foreign ground. Yet, when she had mastered herself and considered her words, she began to speak:
"I find myself at a loss......had not expected to receive it, let alone your assistance. you and your faith are very different.....I may not be able to use the means you offer...I cannot take so great a leap of faith......."
The priest pursed his lips, sighed, nodded, and faced his turn to deliberate carefully. The woman was an ally to the good, this much was clear, and it was likely that she was also a seeker after truth. But clearly she was also shaped by this world and its laws, and the priest had to admit to himself that he was completely in the dark as to how this world worked. He had no doubt but that the great truths of his religion were still true here......but the minor truths.....He sighed again. Then thought to himself "Well Nicolaus, time to put up or shut up, eh?" In another corner of his mind, his philosophical training busied itself with a consideration of what differences between earth and this place might mean for how God's Word would express itself. Then clarity came. He started. Looked at the woman, and spoke.
"Well.....I should hope my faith is different, as it is true......" He smiled good-naturedly, "but as for this, your humble servant, I am possessed of all the weaknesses of my race, so I may not be that different from others you have met. And as for your ways.....there I need your assistance." He paused to make sure that she was willing to indulge him, and then continued.... "I am aware that the laws of this world, materially speaking, are not the same as those of the world from which I came. Water may still be water, death is still death....but, well, take the Fairies for instance - here they are absolutely real, possessed of power, and it is unwise to irk them....but on my world, while they are rumored to exist, they do not generally make themselves known, nor are they exactly active in the affairs of men. I could catalogue the differences in the vampires between this world and mine as well.....but suffice it to say, I have been surprised to find some among the un-dead here who act morally....and then there is you, if you will pardon my saying so good Lady, I have never seen nor heard of one like yourself in my world, yet here you are, as substantial as myself. So, if your 'ways' are simply part of the nature of this world, and do not involve calling upon other gods or powers than the One to Whom this place is consecrated, you are free to use them here. The Church is allowed to adapt to local circumstances as needed, so long as the created order is respected..... I am not allowed to use powers that are not natural to me for instance, and so long as nothing contrary to the Faith proclaimed from this pulpit and altar is endorsed. But as for spiritual matters....." He paused again to see if he had given offense, and seeing the woman listening impassively, he ventured further....
"As for spiritual matters.....there I must insist on the priority of this ground's laws. This creature with whom we are to do battle, he is either some creature of material form natural to this world, in which case you are free to do what is necessary to end his existence for the sake of the innocent whom he has harmed..... or he is a spiritual being. Our Scriptures call the evil spirits demons. They are in fact, fallen angels - creatures originally created by our God as good, created to serve Him and His Word, with intellect and power beyond anything mortal. However, early in creation's history, a number turned away from God to serve their own desires, and in that turning, became confirmed in evil, twisted in mind, and consumed with hatred of all that is good. They are immortal and cannot be destroyed, but they have been defeated by God's Son, and can be bound, limited in their actions, by the Son's Word and Name. This binding of a demon we call exorcism, and may only be undertaken by one who is strong in faith. The action itself is simple, the demon is called by name, he is commanded to leave, and he is consigned to a specific place. But the process is hard.....for he is allowed to use every dark trick he has learned to deceive the faithful.....
The priest fell silent. He watched the woman carefully.
"I think that I have said enough.....so, now good Lady, unless you have more you need to know, I must ask you, are we in accord?"
And he waited for her reply.....
The priest remained silent for a moment before responding, and in his eyes Eowyn could see a portion of the silent debate in which he was currently engaged. She imagined that he saw her as the lesser of two evils, and small nagging worry that he might be right suddenly began to gnaw away at the edges of her mind. She tried to push it away, but it held fast, consuming increasingly more of her thought and giving rise to the first feeling of panic she had experienced in a long, long time. Thankfully, however, the priest found the clarity that currently eluded her, and he began to speak.
"Well.....I should hope my faith is different, as it is true......I am aware that the laws of this world, materially speaking, are not the same as those of the world from which I came."
She nodded in silent understanding as he provided examples of some of the differences between this world and his once home, a small, but sad smile rising on her lips as he mentioned the vampires. Indeed, she had found the undead here very different from the ones she had known, but still failed to understand them entirely, even though her oldest friend now stood among their number. Perhaps had she been human and felt for herself the grip of mortality, perhaps then . . .
".....and then there is you," she heard the priest say, cutting sharply through her momentary supposition and causing her to stiffen with the feeling that she had fallen under sudden scrutiny, "if you will pardon my saying so good Lady, I have never seen nor heard of one like yourself in my world, yet here you are, as substantial as myself." She relaxed as he continued, relieved that he did not call upon her to explain herself, uncertain at this moment that she could.
"So, if your 'ways' are simply part of the nature of this world, and do not involve calling upon other gods or powers than the One to Whom this place is consecrated, you are free to use them here."
Eowyn pondered this statement with some care, more care than she would usually would have given it, and finally concluded that she could comply with both the text and spirit of the restriction. Her brow furrowed slightly, however, as she considered those whose assistance she would also require. Two of them, at least, should present little difficulty, but the third . . . . She swept the matter aside, into the pile of growing concerns that could be dealt with later, and turned her attention to the priest's account of spirits, demons, and fallen angels, committing each word to memory, as much to understand the messenger as the message. When he came to the end of his explanation she found herself nodding in agreement.
"This binding of a demon we call exorcism . . . the demon is called by name, . . . commanded to leave . . . consigned to a specific place . . . . are we in accord?"
"Exorcism," she repeated thoughtfully, "I've not heard it called by that name, but I am familiar with a similar practice." She paused, considering the matter carefully, then nodded Again. "Yes, Father, I believe that we are in accord. I know the dAemon's name, his true name, and I can teach it to you. I also have a 'place' an object into which he can be consigned. If you can force him from his host and into this object, I can seal it behind him, blocking off any path of escape. I will need help to do this, however, a few select individuals to whom I will explain your restrictions and ensure their compliance."
"There is something else you should know," she added finally, laying another card on the table, "The daemon's power presently lies in two hosts, though only one is possessed by his spirit and subject to his control. The other . . ." she paused and drew a deep breath, uncertain how to explain, uncertain that she fully understood herself, "the other has only a portion of his power and madness, but lacks the ability to either control or comprehend it. Her existence works both to our benefit and our detriment, for though we cannot completely banish the daemon without her presence, she is the surest way to draw him here. "And," she added in a tone of strained hopefulness, "by bringing them both together, we should be able to save her from the consuming insanity she currently houses."
The priest nodded, smiling at the woman's response. When she mentioned needing the help of others, he was in no way disturbed. For a reason he could not put his finger on, he had confidence in the woman's wisdom, and might have even been tempted to learn more of her 'ways' had not Church law forbidden him to do so. He was about to offer his right hand according to the ancient forms of pledging fidelity and marking accord when she let the other shoe drop.....
"There is something else......daemon's power in two Hosts.....one possessed by his spirit...subject to his control.....other has only portion of his power and madness......."
The priest didn't really catch the rest of what she said, since his blood ran cold and his mind ground to a halt after those few words had been spoken. The truth be told, he had participated in a few exorcisms when he had been back on earth. He regarded it as nasty, brutish, and dangerous, but necessary, work. He had known priests stronger than himself to be broken by the tricks and deceptions of demons. He had encountered hosts possessed by single demons, he had encountered single demons possessing one host while co-ordinating their work with the assistance of a demon in another host, he had once even been involved in a case of multiple possession, an unfortunate girl plagued with seven evil spirits. But what he had never encountered, or even heard of, was a single demon divided in any way between two hosts. His first conclusion was that this creature plaguing Stormpoint must not be a true demon after all, but merely some mis-begotten material creature with powers that were natural, if rare, to this world. But the woman insisted on calling it a demon, and she hardly seemed ignorant concerning the matters of this world.
What disturbed him especially was the implication that the demon could be in more than one place at a time. Classically, while not "omnipresence," per se, such an attribute was still predicated only of God. That any creature could even approximate such a characteristic was flat out denied by the Church. Deceive people into thinking that it was everywhere, yes, a demon could do that - but actually to be in more than one place, no. Demons were 'simple' creatures, in the sense that since they were spirits, they had no parts as such to make them 'complex'......you couldn't cut a demon in half. They had indefinite locality, which was to say, that while you could point to where the demon was, you could not determine exactly how much space it occupied. After all, how many demons can dance on the head of a pin? His mind kept looking for ways to make sense of the woman's words, but at every turn he reached a dead end. Finally, he spoke.....
"If what you say is accurate, and I have no reason to think it not, then I may be off little assistance to you after all. You call this creature a demon. And were he that only, I have no doubt that he would have to bow to the power of the Word. But in my world, such creatures cannot do what you describe him doing here. So, let me see if I understand you clearly. You say that the demon currently possesses but one host with his spirit, and by that you mean that this host, and this host only, is under his direct control? But also that a second host is occupied by some portion of his 'power and madness,' which is to say, that some essence of the creature occupies the woman, but that neither he nor she have control of its working?
Vainly he tried to come up with some sort of analogy for his mind to grasp.....but every time he considered the fact that the second host was influenced by what possessed her, he grew frustrated. There were no analogies. At last, not caring if he appeared ignorant, he simply asked, "Is it something like this? Let us say the demon's power is like a bag of gold, an accident, and an important predicate of his nature, but not substantial to what he is, that is, he continues to be what he is whether his bag is full or empty? Would that be correct? So, then do we imagine that this second host has some portion of his power, but without knowing it, in the way that....say, gold from a purse could fall into my jacket lining without my being aware of it? I know this analogy is crude - but if it hits truth, then in a sense she possesses what is his without knowing, and he wants to get it back, but it is not 'him' per se. Yet I still fail to understand how his power possesses her....." He sighed......"but then again, philosophical metaphysics was not my strongest subject at university.....Anyway, if this is akin to what you have described, then we remain on firm ground......but if I am entirely off the mark, then I can offer you no firm hope of success through my assistance, since this creature would lie entirely outside of my experience or knowledge....."
He managed a weak smile.....and hoped that further words from the woman might bring him some clarity.
The priest's face darkened as Eowyn explained the daemon's apparent schism, and she could feel the change within him as she spoke. She feared for a moment that she had, in that one statement, lost any trust she had so far gained, but when the priest answered, she realized that his doubt did not lie in her, but in the nature of creature she described. This, at least, she could explain, and was about to do so when the priest continued.
"Is it something like this? Let us say the demon's power is like a bag of gold, an accident, and an important predicate of his nature, but not substantial to what he is, that is, he continues to be what he is whether his bag is full or empty? Would that be correct?"
She raised a single brow as he began to answer his own question, exposing at last the philosophical bent which she had guessed occupied his moments of thoughtful silence. The dichotomy she had described was clearly something with which the priest was unfamiliar, but his continued reasoning carefully brought the daemon's nature back into the realm of his understanding. It was an impressive display, and one for which she was thankful as she often found his language insufficient to describe such workings and characteristics.
"So, then do we imagine that this second host has some portion of his power, but without knowing it, in the way that....say, gold from a purse could fall into my jacket lining without my being aware of it? I know this analogy is crude . . . ."
She waited for him to finish, frankly amazed at his ability to hit so closely upon an answer that lay shrouded in unfamiliar concepts, prompting her to ponder for a moment the depth of his knowledge in more familiar areas.
"Your analogy is . . . remarkably sound." She paused, ostensibly to clear her throat, but in truth to quell the surprise within her voice lest he mistake it for condescension. "The 'gold,' as you would have it, is a certain mix of abilities and characteristics that the daemon 'acquired' long ago through the death of one of his adversaries." Recalling the priest's earlier mention of vampires, she sought to draw a comparison with something he might find familiar and quickly added, ". . . much in the same way that the vampires of this realm do---if they feed upon their own kind, they gain the powers of their victim. Thus, while the power, the 'gold,' is 'his,' it is not endemic to him, and he can retain or release it at will. In this instance, he has chosen to release it to another."
Seeing no question on the priest's face, Eowyn continued; and though images from her encounter with Jaysa welled within her mind and threatened to flood past her reserve, her eyes never left those of the priest, as if she hoped by her very gaze to explain anything which her words could not.
"And just as you could walk the city with, say a bag of gold in the lining of your jacket, unaware of its presence, so could another walk the same streets with this 'bag' of destruction and madness, not knowing what they carry. Eventually, however, just as the weight of the gold would cause it to tear through the lining of your jacket, the weight of the daemon's curse will become too great for the one who carries it. But," and here she paused, the change in her tone underlining an important distinction, "unlike the bag of gold, this burden will not simply tear through the lining of a coat and fall harmlessly to the ground. It will instead spread through its victim, a plague unleashed, growing steadily and slowly seducing the one who holds it, as power is wont to do. And when it has destroyed all resistance, completely corrupting the carrier, it will tear through its victim's soul, leaving him . . . or her, a dry and brittle husk, if even alive, before it is reclaimed by its true owner."
The priest nodded, darkly, as the woman tried to explain the nature of the daemon's power with her own language and experience. What little of it he really grasped made his heart sore. To think of some poor girl trapped with such a burden. To think of such a daemon with such cruelty, cunning, and power. He shivered and crossed himself silently. No, if this battle were ever joined, it would be far from easy.
"....a plague unleashed, growing steadily and slowly seducing the one who holds it, as power is wont to do. And when it has destroyed all resistance, completely corrupting the carrier, it will tear through the victim's soul, leaving him...or her, a dry and brittle husk, if even alive, before it is reclaimed by its true owner."
The priest was silent for a time, eyes closed, praying for his God to give him wisdom. At last, he spoke.....
"Then this girl who carries the daemon's power must be our first concern - for we are called to rescue the innocent before we execute justice on the wicked, yes? Bring her, and I will offer what assistance I can, with prayer if nothing else. But, if we are also to battle the daemon, I must prepare myself, and I suspect you too have duties to attend. So, good Lady, and friend, I take your leave that I may go to prayers. May God speed and strengthen you in your good work."
He held up a hand in a blessing, and then turned.....his features shadowed. As he walked to the altar and his kneeling table, he did not stop to genuflect or light candles, but simply knelt. Had you seen him, you might have gasped to discover how frail and mortal he looked at that moment.
As he bid her farewell, the priest held up a hand in what Eowyn guessed to be a ritual gesture, then rose from the pew and walked heavily towards the front of the church. She frowned silently as he knelt before the altar, wondering if she had made the right choice in coming, and in adding to the burden the priest already carried. The choice had been made, however, and could not be undone. Her worries instead should focus on the future and on what remained ahead for them both.
With a mental sigh of resignation, she rose easily to her feet and placed a small beryl stone on the pew in elven silence. The stone was pale green in color and bore a marking, possibly a rune, on its face. It was not what the priest would call "magical," having no power other than to identify its holder as elendil, but he might find it useful should he venture beyond the gates of the city.
Drawing her cloak about her, Eowyn glanced back only once as she left the church and descended the stone steps, leaving the sanctity of the temple and its curious occupants behind. It was still night within the streets of the shadow-filled city, and the wind was gathering strength. She raised the hood of her cloak and quickened her step. She had another visit to make that night, and a storm was coming.
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