Thursday, June 28, 2012

Wither The Vain: Spare Change Part 1


Groundhog day was once called Candlemas. It was an abbreviation of "Candle Mass," a rite where they blessed all the candles the church would use over the next year. In effect, it also was a day that helped to chase winter away. If the weather was bad that day, one could count on winter not being intimidated and hanging around a little longer.

It wasn't just any one church or religion. Everybody seems to have their own version of it.

I miss it.

I miss the candles, the light, the way it shone. I miss being able to see the glow around each candle as it was blessed. By pagan hands or by christians. Didn't matter. They still had an aura of hope. Of peace.

And now there's just a fat, smelly, rude little groundhog in its place.

The holidays leading up to Christmas annoy me. They'll annoy you too when you've lived long enough to watch them all change. To watch the message change time and time again to suit a different audience.

I had sent Arturo below the streets as well, to seek out the others. They were to meet me in two days at a garbage dump inside the Gravesite wall.

That gave me a day to get there.

And a day to wait for word from the Council.

They wouldn't be happy with me. They never were when the wind blew for the horsemen. They only could smell their own change coming, their own gears grinding.

The owl they sent as messenger was no less than shocked when I let my hands destroy it.

Thane wanted to speak with me. So be it.

The church was small and non-denominational, a corner more suited for the corner of a small town mainstreet than for the slums that were most of Chrysalis anymore.

There were Chapel arcologies, monstrous buildings stuffed with fanatics slaving away days with devotions. Full districts had emptied to populate them. And left were all the old faiths and the hopeless. One in the same, often as not.

I found a pew near the door and took a seat to wait.

Christ hung on the wall on his cross. I took a drag off of my cigarette. It was a shame. He'd been a good kid. Never met him, hadn't remembered who I was before they offed him. But all the same, everybody knew he was an alright kid.

Nobody liked to hang up the crucifix anymore. Too much death.

I liked it just the way it was.

Never knew if the Nameless Faceless God was real or not. Dad said he was. He ought to know. But... you never saw him. Never heard from him. Sure there were angels. But they wouldn't tell you who they worked for either.

I finished off the cigarette in one last drag.

Champion of death for a god that might not exist.

I flicked the butt into the holy water by the door and slid down to the edge of the pew. The priest, a young guy, about sixty came down from the front by the altar.

No questions about my behavior. None about my appearance.

"Looking for guidance?"

"Not tonight. Just waiting for a message."

"The Lord's message perchance my son?"

"No. A message from an old friend. Thinking about quitting my job. Lose alot of security by walking away from it now, but... it doesn't feel right anymore."

The priest smiled softly and nodded with a thought.

"Risky business changing jobs in mid-step. Especially with two thousand years seniority."

I had been out the door, the snow freckling my face when I heard those words.


"Yeah. Now get back in here out of the cold. And lock the doors. The place is empty, so we'll have some privacy."

I pulled the wooden doors shut behind me and flipped each latch.

"What is it the Council wants to talk to me about Thane?"

He unzipped the priest suit and bloomed out of the false skin, black robes billowing, scythe gleaming.

"They're displeased that you and your father saved everyone's lives back there. They weren't marked to be healed."

"And? I was correcting a mistake."

"A mistake they were counting on. The Council is prepping for something big. They thought Arturo would be the source of their plague. Josef will work just as well. They've already conspired to change the weather, and set some poor fool on a chase to correct it. I promise you he won't be done before the plague hits. It'll tear through the arcos and completely erase anyone left in the outlying districts with poorer protection. They want the stalemate broken Eli."

"What do they want out of me Thane?"

"They want access to Hell when you raise her."

"Not a chance Thane, and you know it."

He stroked his bone chin, sighing beneath the darkness of his cowl.

"I don't like it either. They're getting too uppity. The war's going poorly outside the walls and they want an edge now."

"What? All the old folks now playing nice now that the humans are gone?"

"Playing nice? I taught the killing game Eli, and this madness is beyond even me."

"I'm out either way Thane. I have work to do elsewhere. Something big's coming for these people. Bigger than the last two thousand years and the two thousand before that."

"An end?"

"Possibly, but I wouldn't hold my breath."

"That's fine, I've got no breath to hold."

"Here, if they want me, they give them this."

"Your card?"

"Yeah. They can hire me like anyone else when I'm not working for the big boss."

"You've got a lot of stones quitting the Council Eli. They'll hunt you down."

"Big deal. I'm Death, remember?"

"Funny that, so am I."

We shook hands, glove to bone, and hugged as brothers. Always did like Thane.

I opened the door and walked out into the snow without saying goodbye. There never was a goodbye to say. We'd see each other or we wouldn't.

Either way, I had work to do.

And so I walked down the sidewalk, tongue out, eating misfortunate snowflakes.

It wasn't Candle Mass, but it'd do.

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