It’s New Year’s Eve, and I’m sitting at a table in Atwater’s – hangout for the supernatural in Dallas. There are some familiar faces present – Conor doing his thing, providing entertainment; Elena was in the shadows somewhere; and even Ren and Uncle made a short appearance earlier in the evening. But there is one thing I didn’t expect from tonight:
Definitely unexpected, especially given the events that led up to Christmas. Heck, I didn’t even expect to have a silent night on Christmas Eve. But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – the Lord works in mysterious ways.
Dec. 24 – Early
The sun was a couple of hours away from dawning – not that we’d be able to tell through the cloud cover. Regardless, in the small boat shack on White Rock Lake, the time was largely irrelevant.
Brandon was beaten, bound and naked on the floor (after losing a battle to Jamie and Elena). His Hexenwulf belt removed, he was at our mercy – and more specifically, at the mercy of the 20-30 ghosts that surrounded us. The ghosts of his personal victims while under the influence of the belt.
Under Jamie’s interrogation, he spilled… everything. His history in downtown, acquisition of the belt from “El Diablo,” arranging body disposal and … meals … for both the White and Red Courts as the “missing LINC,” the Red Court’s Christmas Eve “feast,” and others. The things that he’d done over the last few years were heinous, to say the least. While Jamie and Cody continued to press him for information, I had to step away. My emotions over the last six hours had been a complete roller coaster, and I was beyond exhausted. To cap it off, I hadn’t even gotten to hit anything during the raid on his house!
But I as I stood away, listening to him babble about being predator or being prey, I realized something. This man – this child of God – had gotten lost. He had gotten so immersed in the darkness that he couldn’t see his way back to the light. That’s when I realized my role in this situation. It wasn’t to clobber orcs with rebar or sear a Hexenwulf with holy light. But it was equally, if not more, important.
Jamie and Cody shook their heads as I returned, acknowledging that they had gotten all the information they could. I knelt down next to Brandon, and he turned to face me, letting out a manic giggle.
“Brandon, I can’t save you, or even protect you, from the consequences of your actions,” I motioned to the ghosts in attendance.
“Then what good are you?” He cackled, looking around nervously.
I pressed on. “What I can do is ensure that your soul goes to a better place.”
“My … soul?” He tittered. “Consprite, I sold my soul long ago…”
I shook my head as I grabbed my cross. “Your soul isn’t yours to sell. It doesn’t belong to you, and the one it belongs to still wants you back.”
“Who… you?” His eyes were scattering around, taking in the sight of the hungry ghosts.
I lost a little patience. “Not me, you idiot. God!” I softened my tone and kept my gaze steady. “You’ve already confessed your sins. If you repent – truly repent, then you can be forgiven.”
He finally met my gaze. After a long moment, he whispered, “You’re serious. After all I’ve done…”
I nodded. “I’m not your judge. But God’s promise is there in the Bible and the sacrifice of His Son for us,” I paused, partly for dramatic effect, “For you.”
Brandon burst into tears, retelling the things that he’d done, and honestly repenting. I let him go on until he wound down into vague mutterings, and then pressed my cross into his hand. “Then Brandon Holton, by the power vested in me by our Lord and Savior, I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” As I invoked the triune God, I marked the sign of the cross on his forehead.
Eyes glistening, he whispered, “Amen.”
I steeled myself for what was to come as I stood up from him. “May God have mercy on your soul.” I met the eyes of the closest ghost and nodded, and then turned and slowly walked away as the shed grew colder and the ghosts’ visages lost what little friendliness they had once contained.
Dec. 24 – Later
With the information from Brandon, we were able to stop the “Christmas Eve feast” of the Red Court, and rescue a dozen kidnapping victims to boot. Jamie and I delivered the Hexenwulf belt to Ren’s Uncle, so that the White Council could dispose of it. I felt a bit like a third wheel in the conversation, as Jamie and Uncle apparently have some history. Uncle was … well, he seemed a lot more understanding than I’ve been led to believe. I think Jamie may finally be considering becoming a member of the White Council – maybe even a Warden? In addition, Uncle indicated to me that I should have a conversation with my old mentor from Dallas Seminary, Arthur Smyth – something I’d been thinking about anyway (but when the know-it-all-sensei brings it up, it seems like an even better idea). We went our separate ways after that – Jamie even made it home for Christmas Eve and Day with his son.
I also had to make a stop up at LINC headquarters in Carrollton to let them know what had happened. They were in understandable disarray with what little they knew about what had happened downtown. When I filled in more of the details… well, to put it kindly, they freaked out. They made some noise about my taking a few days for myself, but I could read between the lines. The downtown LINC office was gone, and they were going to have a tough enough time repairing the damage that Brandon had done to both their operations and reputation without a former subordinate around. I was done at LINC. And to be honest, other than the loss of a paycheck and potentially a place to live, I was OK with that. I wasn’t the only one that Brandon had fooled in organization, and they also had to be wondering if he had approval from higher up in LINC. From the confession that he gave, I knew that he was acting alone (at least, within LINC), but they would need time to figure that out.
I spent Christmas Day alone for the first time… well, ever. Normally I’d be with a local church congregation, or find my way back up to the Nelson Center to spread a little Christmas joy. This year it was a bit tougher. I had a lot of time to myself to ruminate on things, and did a lot of it just wandering around the eerily quiet streets of downtown
Monday … well, it mostly sucked. DPD banged on my door at oh-dark-thirty and ferried me over to HQ for a LONG day of questions. I gave them as much information as I knew about Brandon … and that they’d be able and willing to understand. They could tell I was holding things back, but I knew better than to divulge anything supernatural. Finally late in the day, one of my interrogators got called out to the hallway, and I heard the rumbling of a now-familiar voice – Ranger Lorance. A few minutes later, the detective came back in, obviously perturbed, and gave me the ‘you’re-free-to-go-but-don’t-leave-town” spiel. I thought I exhibited Job-like patience in thanking him for the drink (yeah, I knew they’d use it for fingerprints and DNA, but I really had nothing to hide, mortal-authority-wise), and letting him know that I might be changing addresses in the near future but that I would stay in touch. Out in the main area, I passed Cody and nodded at him to indicate my thanks. He just ran his hand across the brim of his hat and went back to his conversation with one of the desk clerks. I smiled, knowing that he was working to provide some closure for the Red Court kidnappees, and made my way back home.
The next morning, I made my way over to DTS to talk to Arthur. He was his usual chipper self as he greeted me and invited me to sit. “Well, how’ve you been, Mr. Consprite?”
“Well… good and bad, I suppose.”
He nodded sagely. “I heard you were involved with some recent unpleasantness down there at LINC. Are you here to talk – or are you here to talk – with me?”
I couldn’t help but smile a bit at his emphasis. “Yes.”
“Ok, just a moment.” Arthur opened a desk drawer, pulled out a small white small white gadget, and turned it on. White noise filled the room. “Go ahead – you can talk, or talk – whichever you need.” Before I could even start, he rolled right on. “I understand you met Ranger Lorance?”
I was startled by the tangent in the conversation. “Yes…?”
“Good man. Good man.” Arthur’s head was bobbing.
It took a moment for me to make the connection. “Wait, you know him?”
“I do. Special Force.” He waited for me to be less confused, but then continued. “They help."
I nodded, unable to do anything but agree. “Yes… they do. Yes, he did. His assistance was invaluable in resolving the… um…”
Arthur just continued on, like one of his lectures. “Believe it or not, most significant cities and municipalities have someone who’s in charge of things like that.”
I pondered that. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.”
He continued with the lesson. “There’s a reason that the supernaturals don’t advertise their presence. Mortality has a unique position in the world, really. They are both… you know, I really don’t like this analogy, but I’m going to use it. Think of cattle. You eat them … use them for leather, all those things. But if you stampede the herd… you see where the analogy is going.”
I did. “And it’s strangely appropriate given Brandon’s activities.”
Arthur nodded more excitedly, seeing that I was following. “Right… but you can only stampede the herd so many times before the herd starts realizing that something’s going on… or at least, the cattle rancher notices.”
Realization dawned on me. “Huh… that explains why Jamie was so iffy about involving the Rangers in the situation in Oak Cliff to begin with.”
Arthur nodded again, “You call in the mortal authorities, it’s pretty much like declaring war by dropping a tactical nuke to resolve a border skirmish.” He paused, allowing that analogy to sink it. “But… certain Rangers – the Special Force – they work with the limitations that most supernaturals are aware of… we more or less had this discussion when you were younger about the way things are. So, in summary, yes, I know Ranger Lorance – at least, passingly.”
I shook my head. Same old Arthur – five minutes of tangentially related exposition to answer a yes or no question.
The room fell silent, save for the white noise, as I tried to figure out where to start. “I just have no idea what my future is going to be with LINC. I mean, the downtown office is shot…”
Arthur shook his head sadly. “It’s ruined. Absolutely ruined.”
“And the higher ups at LINC itself are freaked out,” I continued.
Arthur leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers at his chin. “As well they should be. This will pretty much ruin their street cred for a number of years, so it’s going to be difficult to continue the ministry under those guises. There will need to be some damage control that happens; people will, by necessity, have to find other things to do. The work can continue, but the names and titles will have to change… it’s the nature of beast.” He leaned back in towards me. “But, your ministry is not dependent upon them…?”
“Not in and of itself, but I am dependent on it to an extent.”
Arthur gave me that damnable sage nod of understanding again. “For your paycheck.”
“Yes, and my living space.”
He sat back again. “Speak with me about your concerns, your plans… where do you see yourself in five years?
Really? My annoyance at the question faded quickly with the realization that I didn’t have an answer… so much was up in the air. “I… I don’t know anymore…”
“What do you feel that you want to do? If… if you…” Arthur paused to ponder for a few moments, again leaning back in his chair and steepling his fingers , and then spoke. “If the Master told you to come with Him and set aside your fishes… if the concerns of your body were not an issue right now… what are you thinking?”
I took a moment to again shake off my annoyance at the old career counseling gimmick – If money was no object, what would you do? – and focus on the question. “I’d do what I’ve been doing…”
“And you’re concerned about how you take care of your mortal body, while you go out and… What have you been doing, Matthew?”
I suddenly remembered that I hadn’t been very in close contact with Arthur since my graduation, and so I explained my work with LINC over the last three years… helping small churches and communities in gangland, bringing the Word to the dark streets, so on and so forth.
Arthur waved his hand dismissively. “Yes, yes, that’s your mortal ministry. What have you been doing, Matthew?”
Duh. He’s Venatori, after all. “Oh! Well, there was a demon, and-“
He raised an eyebrow, almost skeptically. “You’ve faced down a demon?”
I stayed calm. “Yessir.”
He nodded. “ Continue, continue.”
I recounted the events around the motorcycle rally and the defeat of Malzen. “I’ve also had some run-ins with the… “bumpy” side of Oak Cliff… the Orcs.”
He gave that sagely nod again. “Yes, there are some unpleasant things in Dallas/Fort Worth.”
I conceded that point. “I’m discovering that more and more. And… I played a hand in stopping the resurgence of the Red Court.”
“Ah-ha…” He sat back and steepled his fingers again. “So, let me ask, now that you’ve given me this information… well, I’ll ask again: What is it you would do? Which do you prefer?”
I looked at him quizzically. “Does one have to supercede the other?”
“One is more dangerous than the other…”
I snorted. “And it’s hard to tell which, some days…” I paused, finally giving his question some thought. He wasn’t going to take “both” as an answer. “The Metroplex needs more light.”
A smile crossed his face. “Yes… and you would be willing to… be that light?”
I nodded. “I have. And I will.”
He regarded me seriously for the first time since sitting down. “You realize that the outcome of failure is death?”
I shrugged. “It always has been.”
He scowled a bit. “Dying to a gang-banger’s bullet, and dying in the ways that some of the things out there can make you die are different, son.”
I scowled right back. I knew what I’d been dealing with. “I’m aware. I saw the remnants of the possessed body that Malzen had, and I saw the remnants of what the ghosts did to Brandon.”
He met my gaze evenly. “And the Red Court? They can turn you, son, and you’ll live forever, consuming the flesh and souls of others. Death is not the worst thing that can happen. Death is actually one of the more pleasant ways out of your particular calling.”
Whoa. “I hadn’t really thought about it that way.”
He held up a hand placatingly. “I tell you this not to frighten you – I tell you this to make you fully aware of what you are choosing. Death is a pleasant way out.”
I took a moment, but nodded. “I understand. But I’ve seen the results of my faith made manifest too many times to walk away from it now.”
Arthur let out a contended sigh. “Very well. I will speak with people I know and see what we can do. As far as your… temporal … concerns, at the end of the month, simply bring me your bills. We will, for a time, take care of it for you. So don’t worry about the flowers of the field, Matthew – they will be tended to.”
And it’s back to the lecture. But… “Thank you.”
He continued in lecture mode. “Rent and electricity are no problem – you don’t exactly live in the Ritz Carlton, so it will be a minor expense until we can resolve this one way or another. Of course, you’ll be in charge of your own food and entertainment, things like that – if you want cable, you’ll have to pay for that.”
I laughed. “I’ve lived without it thus far, I think I can survive without it… cable and I don’t get along so good, anyway.”
He smiled. “I’m aware of your unique gifts… and their curious side effects.”
That little remark about my magical abilities reminded me of how I’d discovered them. “I’m still not sure if I’ve completely forgiven you for that South American mission trip.”
He just kept smiling. “You will. I have faith.” He paused. “So, continue your ministry.”
I just shook my head, smiling. The man was completely unflappable. “I will.”
He arched an eyebrow. “Both of them. And I’ll see you at the end of the month with your bills?”
I nodded. “If not before. Thank you again, Arthur.”
Over the next couple of days, I thought a lot about our conversation. A lot.
Arthur was mostly right. Much like the conclusions that we’d come to after Brandon’s confession, the supernatural community in Dallas did need … well, heroes, for lack of a better term. Those who could and would stand against the encroaching darkness were in short supply. Freed from my obligations to LINC, I could spend more time amongst the supernatural community, developing those relationships and developing a better sense of where supernatural threats would come from.
But other parts of the conversation bothered me a bit.
Arthur brushed aside the work that I’d done during my time with LINC as if it was irrelevant compared to defeating a demon, werewolf, and vampires. I supposed that’s to be expected from a Venatori – fighting the supernatural is their job after all. But good works aren’t always measured in mighty battles – many times they come from the small actions and decisions that we make on a day-to-day basis. I refused to discount the weeks spent in neighborhoods like Oak Cliff and Pleasant Grove as irrelevant. I’d turned some of those kids away from the gangs. Hell, I’d saved at least one life from a “normal” bullet wound.
I’ve decided. I’ll divide my time as I need to – with the Venatori paying my bills, I know I’m somewhat at their beckon call, but there are still people – normal, everyday people – who need and deserve my help. I spent part of the day sketching out a rough plan of how to handle my new roles, and the remainder at the Purple House and Atwater’s –starting the process of building (and re-building) my relationships in the supernatural community.
I slept well last night – at least until my arm started burning. When I finally collected myself enough to get some light, I noticed that most of the tattoos on my right arm had disappeared – except for the strange Egyptian eye on the inside of my arm. As a stared at it, a name popped into my mind – Eye of Thoth. I knew that this was a reflection of the new commitment I’d made regarding the supernatural, but what it would fully mean was beyond my current understanding. But it was enough – a positive sign from the Lord that I was on the path He’d set for me.
A tall mug of … something warm and cider-y sits on the table in easy reach, as I scratch these thoughts into my journal. As the new year dawns, I am also renewed with a sense of purpose. I’m interrupted by folk just wanting to talk – and that it is as it should be. I am comfortable with whatever the future holds for me.
For now – I’ll get in touch with LINC and see what their current arrangement is with the property owner of the building I live in – maybe I can get a deal and take over the whole space? The upstairs apartment is suitable to live in, but I need a larger space to work. Maybe Jamie could even use some of the space as an office for Harper Security?
I smiled, and a memory clicked. Weather permitting, I’d stop by the Purple House tomorrow. Barbara mentioned paying her a visit when I was genuinely happy, and to bring a clean handkerchief…