My vision narrowed down to the mangled remains of the young woman’s legs before me as I fought to accurately pronounce the Latin incantation. Say what you want about the Catholics, but they apparently did write the religious playbook on the supernatural. As I began to recite the prayer again, my hands began to glow, and I felt the power pouring out of me into the young woman’s wounds. My vision continued to darken as more and more power escaped me, and I realized that I wasn’t quite prepared enough for the undertaking.
McCulloch and his gang were down. Ghouls and hellhound dispatched, Raven and a goblin escaped, Eric in a bloody mess on the ground. Jamie finished a short reunion with his son and looked meaningfully my way as he began to draw his sword. “C’mon Jake,” I motioned for him to come over. “Show me around a bit! Tell me about that ride with your mom…”
Ren was near me and made a stream of water dance through the air, capturing the young boy’s attention away from what his father was about to do. We circled around to the far side of the hill. “Lemme see that arm, big guy.” Jake sniffed a little and held it out for me to examine. The cut that Eric had made, was, as I expected, shallow. It wouldn’t take long to heal but had to hurt like the Dickens. I pulled a handkerchief out of my pack. “Check this out.” I quietly whistled, “This Little Light of Mine” and was rewarded with a gasp as a flash of light emanated from under the makeshift bandage. He looked up at me, and I winked. God bless the placebo effect. “Don’t unwrap that for awhile, ok? It’ll help it heal.”
Ren entertained him a bit with some more water magic while I watched. Once Jamie finished his task, I nodded to Ren and we walked Jake back over to his dad. With Jake securely with Jamie, I made my way back toward the cabin.
I’d noticed Elena checking it out earlier, and she’d just gone inside. Suddenly she poked her head back out, and looking around, found me. “Matthew!” As I got closer to the cabin, I smelled what my eyes wouldn’t be able to see until I get inside. Blood. Guts.
I took a last deep breath of the mostly clean air, and stepped inside. My eyes adjusted quickly, revealing bodies on the floor of the cabin that had obviously been meals for the ghouls. I dug into my pack for my holy water so that I could perform last rites, but Elena gestured from next to one of them, and hissed, “It’s Juno – she’s still alive!”
I nearly vomited. The young woman (one of Miranda’s chorus) was indeed still breathing, but her legs were… well, mostly gone. The bones were there, blood everywhere, but the muscles had been… chewed… away. Elena looked up at me. “Help me tourniquet these, or she’s done.”
I knelt down next to Elena, elbow deep in the remains of Juno’s legs as she applied tourniquets to them. As she worked, a memory flickered. In my last semester at DTS, I had been given a project to research old rites and rituals of the church. Incantations that promised miraculous results, if one’s faith was strong enough – including an old rite for the laying on of hands. It was a bastardized old thing, cobbled together from old scrolls and books, and mostly written in high Latin. As Elena finished, I sat back and took a measured breath, clearing my mind to remember my Latin lessons. Camelback of holy water in hand, I leaned back forward to start the prayer.
In that moment of clarity, I felt a pulse run through the ground. I stopped, waiting, and felt it again. No wonder Eric wanted the confrontation here – there was a ley line! I waited again for the pulse, and got Elena to help me line up her body with path of the energy pulse. I wasn’t exactly sure how to tap into it myself, but alignment is important in these kind of things.
That done, I misted holy water over Juno, took one of her hands in mine, and cradled her head in my other hand.
She groaned a little in reaction to my touch, so I closed my eyes and began the prayer. I struggled with the Latin, and I managed to get to the end, barely, and with no effect. I opened my eyes and realized that Elena was gone.
Keep trying. I looked down and started the incantation again. C’mon, c’mon! I can shoot lasers out of my hands, but I can’t save a life? It’s not fair! The words came easier this time, and I corrected a couple of pronunciations. I felt a spark jump to life in my hands. Laying her head down, I shifted position to place my hands on her legs. I went through the incantation again, and again, and again, my hands glowing with energy, and I thought her remaining wounds closed and dried up right as I passed out.
When I awoke, it was dark. I was laying on the grassy hill outside of the cabin, nursing a hellacious headache. The only noises I could hear were those of the swamp. How long have I been out? I slowly rolled over and pushed up onto my hands and knees.
“Well, well. ‘Bout time you woke up.”
I yelped, scrabbling to get away from the voice. When I looked up, I saw it was a park ranger, sitting on a rocking chair in the light of a lantern hung outside the cabin. “Who… what…?"
“Easy, kid. You weren’t quite in as bad of shape as that young lady, but you bit off a little more than you could chew, din’cha?”
I sat on the grass, just staring at him, “I … guess you could say that…”
“Of course, so did dreadlock-boy and his ghouls.”
Ok, so you’re In the Know. I was still a bit disoriented from waking up.
“Your friends are fine. They just left you in my care for bit. But I’m not here to talk about them. I’m here to talk about you.”
I stammered something unintelligible with a question mark at the end.
“You finally got my attention. Stepped up and struck back at the evils of the world. Quite effectively, I might add.”
I paused, trying to get my brain to stop hurting. Yeah, I torched one of the hobs, and put the hurt on a ghoul. It had been awhile since I’d really gone on the offense with my abilities. “But… Juno?”
“Ah, now that’s where I came in. You finally fulfilled what I’ve been expecting of you, so I lent you a hand. She’ll live.” His face softens. “Nothing to be done for her legs, but you saved her life.”
I just sat on the grass, thinking. I’ve earned the attention of a supernatural entity who can lend me his power. That rarely bodes well… Finally, I just blurted out, “Who are you?”
“Call me Jake. Although you may have heard others just call me the Watchman.”
Something about that reference tickled at the back of mind, but was quashed in a new wave of pain. “You… said I fulfilled… you helped?”
“People with your particular set of talents don’t come along very often, so I push every button that I’m allowed to in order to get you into my area of influence.”
“Predestination? That’s not very biblical…”
“Meh – more facilitation. Steering the right people to the right place at just the right time.” He sighed and looked off into the swamp. “Look, kid. The Eye of Thoth has been around a long time – you’re part of the latest generation. But beyond that, you’ve got the ability to take advantage of what I’m offering to you. And you’re already on the hook with this power. Even though I’m the caretaker of it – it comes from farther up the food chain, if you get my meaning.”
My headache was finally subsiding enough that I was starting to piece things together. “So you’re… one of the archangels. Watchman…” I paused, finally able to mull the title through. “…over Eden?”
His smile broadened. “Been a long time since that assignment ended. I tend to work a little more circumspectly now.” He continued and gestured to another rocking chair that was apparently for me. “And speaking of circumspect… Kid, you get the metaphorical part of the war with darkness better than most. You understand the value of changing a life by making a decision, no matter how insignificant it seems. You get what a lot of folks don’t about the Church Militant here on earth.”
I took the proffered seat and nodded.
“But what I need you to understand and accept is that for you, the war isn’t metaphorical anymore.” I stopped nodding, and he poked at my arm, where my Eye of Thoth tattoo was. “You are an active part of the war against the darkness – technically that started the day you got that tattoo. But for sure the night it erased the surrounding tattoos, you committed to stand against the dark. I should know – that’s MY mark.”
I swallowed, a bit nervously.
“But to do that, you have to stand.”
I scowled. “I have stood! I’ve guarded the innocent-“
“What – with your shields? How’d that work out for Midori?”
My hackles were up now. “I didn’t know what Wani was – none of us did!”
“Irrelevant. Did you strike back at him?”
“But nothing, kid. That’s the reason it’s taken this long for someone with your potential to really get my attention. You’re just not… how should I put this… Old Testament enough.”
I blinked. “Beg pardon?”
“Old Testament. Fire and brimstone, not Gospel forgiveness.”
“But I can’t just go around blasting-“
“Says you; that’s a hurdle you put in. Where these things are concerned, you have to. The way you took down that Hob? Sometimes that’s how you’ve got to act. Most of these supernatural creatures aren’t human anymore, or never were. There is no redemption for them. If you hesitate again like you did with that ghoul, you might not have friends around to save you.”
I stopped to ponder his words. I haven’t been particularly effective against the supernatural on my own. With the exception of Malzen, I’ve usually just thrown up defenses and allowed my allies to take the brunt of the damage that is done to us, where there would have been less had I acted sooner. “I… think I understand.”
“Good.” He looked at me carefully. “I don’t expect you to change your nature – talk about being counterproductive to the cause. But you’ve got to recognize and adapt to what you’re facing. Especially where you’re headed next.”
I hung my head, regretting that I hadn’t taken out the Ghoul quicker so I could stop… “Goblins. Kaely.”
Suddenly my head was wrenched up as he grabbed my chin. “Yes, goblins, and worse. They stole a little girl! A child! Quit moping about how you didn’t prevent it – you couldn’t. But, kid – I need you a little more focused to get her back.” He let go of my chin.
Then he slapped me. I mean, hard. And backhanded.
The chair rocked over backwards and dumped me out. As I hit the ground rolling I ended up on my hands and knees. “Jake” was standing now, and took a step towards me. I scrambled to my feet, instinctively uttering the Bible reference that was the focus word for my shield spell “Psalm 7.” The glowing half dome snapped into place between us. “What the hell?”
Psalm 7:10 – My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart.
He walked right through the shield, shattering it, and slapped me again. “No, no, no! This is exactly what I’m trying to tell you!”
I reeled, taking a step back. Right – attack. So, I lashed out with my standard attack spell, a focused laser beam of light. “Habbakuk!”
Habbakuk 3:4 – …rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden.
“Better!” His skin took on a mirror finish, my laser-light spell reflecting off harmlessly. “The Prophets are getting us there, but go back further, kid.” He stepped in and slapped me again. I spun around, realizing that I was rapidly approaching the edge of the water, where the gators had circled earlier.
Try as I might, no Old Testament references came to mind that I could produce with my limited evocation ability. He stepped in again and pushed me into the water. As my foot hit, I panicked, and desperately shouted out the name of an example of really Old Testment smiting: “Gomorrah!”
Genesis 19:24 – Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah – from the Lord out of the heavens.
To my amazement, it worked. Small chunks of the ground around him blasted up, coating him in a rain of fiery sulfur. He coughed and hacked for a moment, embers burning through his uniform, and then –
We were sitting in the rocking chairs outside the cabin again, completely unharmed. “That. That is what I’m talking about.”
I looked down at my hands. Earth and fire? “How…?”
“Like I said. This power isn’t yours; while your use of it is subject to some limitations, at the same time it gives you a lot more options.”
“Limitations… with options?”
He grinned. “An oxymoron, yeah? Just another part of the great mystery, but you have to change your thinking a bit. This power is less about elements and more about intent.”
I slowly nodded. Although I didn’t fully understand, I got that the power being offered through the archangel came with some expectations in exchange for opening up my capabilities.
We sat quietly for a moment – him rocking, me sitting, still trying to more fully understand what was going on.
“Yep… just not quite old Testament enough… but it’ll do.” Jake stood up, and turned to face me. “You’ve got a job to do, Matthew; you think about what I’ve said.”
I met his gaze evenly for a long few seconds; I was on the edge of my seat just in case he was about to try another backhand.
Jake eyed my tattoos, “Show me my mark kid. I got more homework for ya.”
Hesitantly, I showed the tattoo of the Eye of Thoth, which was apparently the mark of an archangel of the Lord; the one that watched over Eden no less.
He reached out a finger and touched the tattoo, “Genesis 9:6.” The pain in my head spiked again and I passed out.
I came to on the floor of the cabin, a new pain in my head from where I’d hit the blood-sticky floor next to Juno. Elena appeared back at the door of the cabin, blocking the midafternoon sun. “Matthew?”
She helped me to sit up. Sun? The whole encounter with “Jake” had happened in the seconds between when I blacked out and when I hit the floor.
We both looked down at Juno. Sure enough, the worst of the ragged wounds, if not healed, were at least closed. She was no longer losing blood, and even seemed to be resting comfortably. Elena glanced at me with a raised eyebrow. I shrugged. “Faith works – and I apparently have some help.”