See the woman I love underneath the shadow of the clergy house. See that she stood before the door with color close to vantablack in shade. The weight of the door pulled her closer, guided her trembling hand — her whole left — by an almost magnetic energy. Even with the curious draw to knock, the words she had yet to speak repelled her; the unspoken pain and the rage threatening to leak out of every pore held her back.
In the end, Templar knocked on the door. They made a lonely pair on the porch of Longinus’ home. Home? Far more a hiding place. The bottom side of a rock. The windows and the musty wood. The stone walkway caked with dirt. Grass overgrown. Longinus did not keep this place up. There was a tiny chapel of red brick just behind them, overlooking the coast.
“How long has it been?” Bedevil asked.
“Since?” Templar looked her over, saw what she meant. “Ah. A little over a year. I saw Jamie the most, but even he got busy.”
Bedevil dwelt on the winds that had blown them all apart. The drinking, the regret. Would Mega be ashamed if he was alive? Would he understand that life had a way of doing that? She imagined he did. “You know, it wasn’t all on you. I should have reached out, too.”
“I was the leader.” Templar’s eyes searched the blackness of the door for some image Bedevil could only imagine. “I should have made every effort to ensure you were safe. Instead, I let you get swept under a rug.”
“I have a phone.” Bedevil would own her own wrongs. She would not let Templar bear all the weight of their dissolution. “I have an email and the ability to send a letter. But I was too busy drinking myself into oblivion.”
Templar did not break her gaze from the door. “It’s not your fault.”
“Oh.” Bedevil wanted to lighten the mood a bit. She shrugged. “I wasn’t aware you were there forcing beer through a funnel into my mouth. Or maybe you used your power to give me a crippling addiction.”
Templar snorted. She looked away. “Maybe that would have been easier, huh?”
“If you were a monster?” Bedevil asked.
“Monsters are easier to understand.” Templar frowned, and though she never cried, her eyes told the story of sleepless nights.
The statement struck Bedevil, but once she’d thought on it, she realized that made perfect sense from Templar. When she was in the Inheritors, Templar stared at reports and rogue psych-evals. She was the one who faced Kassandra in Syria.
Bedevil, on the other hand, had more experience with plain old people. She smiled at Templar. “You can handle the monsters, then.” After she spoke, she realized that Longinus had still not answered the door. “Where is he?”
Templar shook her head, a small gesture. No telling. She knocked again.
A voice grumbled through the walls. “Give me a fuck— a second…”
Bedevil had not heard his voice in years. Through the walls she could tell he’d developed a gravel, like she had, from drinking. Alcohol and smoke left their marks. Not just that. They were still writing on his words.
Bedevil’s heart almost broke there on the porch. Like had called out to like. A man torn apart by monstrous guilt. A man who’d grinned at her, a cup of coffee infused with THC in his hands, and encouraged her before she’d joined the Inheritors. And yet, that same man was there as Megajoule died.
Where was Longinus truly, then?
At the door, now, fumbling with the keys. Bedevil steadied herself.
The vantablack door peeled back to reveal a haggard man’s face in the crack, peering out with blinking, drunken eyes. He stared at them behind smudged glasses, as if he did not know their faces, and then came the connection. Those dull eyes widened, his lips parted beneath his rough beard. He said no words.
“Longinus?” Templar asked.
Longinus opened the door wide. His mouth worked to speak but made no sound.
Bedevil fared no better. Her rage dissipated at the sight of him, wretched and clinging to the door like a raft. His blinking, dullard eyes. His pallor expression. His clothes and clerical collar unwashed, reeking even from two feet away.
“Templar,” Longinus said at last. “Bedevil. Do come in.”
Without protest, they followed Longinus into his home. They sat with him in the tiny living room, where they had to move aside clothes and books just to make space. Bedevil found the couch lumpy and uncomfortable. She adjusted it and found another book underneath, which she set aside.
“Your hand,” Longinus said. “What happened to it?”
“I was in a bad fight.” Bedevil didn’t have the patience for niceties or catching up. “Longinus, we came to ask for your help. Have you been watching the news?”
“I try not to.” Longinus stared through her. “But I know about Gabe, if that’s what you mean. Is that why you are here, after all these years?”
“Gabe’s been taken by the Fear.”
Longinus sat upright. He scratched his beard, and all the while his gaze still pierced through Bedevil, somewhere far away.
“You’ve fought the Fear, haven’t you?” Bedevil, stirred by a sense of urgency to free Gabe, became frustrated at his apathy.
Longinus sighed. “You don’t want my help.”
“Longinus,” Templar said. “We do.”
“No, he’s right.” Bedevil glared at him, marshaling her anger. “I don’t want your help, Longinus. I know the truth of what you’ve done. I know you helped murder Julian and I know that you hid when the rest of us were left wondering why. You buried your head in this church and I can tell you tried to bury yourself. I can tell you’ve had nothing to drink that wasn’t hard liquor in God knows how long, and that you’ve stained every room in this building with pot. Am I wrong about any of that?”
Longinus gawked. He retreated into his recliner as far as he could, as if it would hide him from Bedevil’s words. “No,” he mustered, when he found nowhere else to run.
“I don’t want your help at all. But I need it. You’ve fought the Fear. I need your help rescuing Gabe.” Bedevil rose. She marched over to his recliner. “And I’m not taking no for an answer. I’m not going to let you die in this place by yourself. You need to come with us as much as we need you. Am I wrong about that, either?”
Longinus pulled his glasses from his face, a stammering wreck of a man. Once the glasses were off, Bedevil saw the deep bags beneath his eyes. “No. You’re not.”
“You killed him,” Bedevil whispered. She knelt in front of Longinus. “Why?”
“I…” Longinus shook his head, as if that would dispel her like a drunken hallucination. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I was afraid of Cynic and Nero.”
“No,” Bedevil said. “You weren’t.”
“Please, I don’t know. I picked a side I thought would win. I picked the side that…”
“That required less of you,” Bedevil answered for him.
“They didn’t require me at all,” Longinus said. “They let me retire in peace. No more Fear.”
“You killed him over the Fear?” Bedevil asked. A sudden bout of disgust hit her, thinking of how Gabe dove into the Fear to save Maisa even after he’d seen the worst of it once before. How unlike Gabe this Longinus was. “Really?”
“Really?” Longinus found his fire at last. He sat up and his gaze finally found its way to her eyes, not far away. “You’ve seen it.”
“The love of my life is in it right now,” Bedevil said.
“Please, Longinus. I am so angry with you, I am so hurt by you.” Bedevil could have clasped her hands. “But I don’t care about that right now. I care about Gabe. He needs your help. We can hash out the rest later, once he’s safe.”
Longinus was somewhere between a sage man pondering his future and a cornered beast, trapped by hunters with spears and fire. He had nowhere to run, nowhere to go.
“Please. Help me.”
Longinus put a hand on her shoulder. He stood up and stumbled from her, awkwardly glanced over his shoulder. He disappeared into his kitchen, shuffled around for a few moments, and then returned, a black bible in his hand. There was not a cross on the cover, but a single, golden ‘I.’
He thumped his fingers on the bible. “For a long time, I’ve not had sermons. No one in this town is Episcopalian.” He caressed the leather cover, his fingers tracing out the golden letter. “When I gave them, though, I was a rotten preacher. Who knew that a murderer stood behind the pulpit? Most who came in the first years knew I was an Inheritor. They didn’t know that I was part of their end.
“One thing they did know. I could not bring myself to the pulpit some days.” He sagged his shoulders, defeated. “Some days it was drink, and the people would say, ‘He’s had too much.’ Other days, I couldn’t even muster the strength to open the bottle. And then they wouldn’t know what to say.”
“I’m surprised you’re still a priest,” Bedevil said.
A miniscule smile haunted his lips. “I am poured out like water, and my bones are all out of joint. My heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast. My strength is dried up.”
Templar spoke now: “What are you saying?”
“I haven’t opened this book in years. I have not called my power since I used it to slay the man I called my brother.” Longinus placed his bible on a coffee table already too full with books, and the entire pile clattered to the ground. “And now, when I recite verses, I feel nothing.”
“What are you saying?” Templar asked again, her voice like the edge of a knife.
“I am saying I can’t help you,” Longinus said.
Bedevil couldn’t believe it. She knew he was lying, she could just tell. “You’re a coward,” was the only thing she had to say, before fleeing out the front door. She ran out to the chapel and fell to her knees there, her hand against the brick.
It was the smell that caught her first.
Longinus mentioned he drank a lot. Bedevil did not expect to find a half-drunken bottle of whiskey resting two feet from her.
The smell woke something inside her blood. It stirred the ravenous beast that Bedevil had not heard from in the three months she’d spent in Chile. She was not prepared for how her skin began to crawl, how her mouth dried out, and how her stomach turned.
Why not? She wondered. The last three days had been a nightmare. Would anyone blame her if she drank? Would Gabe? He wouldn’t, he wouldn’t. He loved her. Maybe he’d be mad, but he would understand, right? The beast inside begged. It demanded.
Bedevil reached for the bottle, grasped it around the neck. She waited there for a moment, feeling like she was tottering over the edge of a cliff.
There was no grand moment of resistance, no triumphant roar. She simply thought, ‘I must be better than this,’ and let go of the bottle. Standing took more work, like a rocket hitting escape velocity, but she managed to get to her feet, and walk away.
Bedevil walked over to the cliff that overlooked the ocean. They’d flown so much she was barely even sure of where they were; somewhere north, possibly even Canada. Gulls hung in the air above her, cawing and drifting along the wind.
Wings. Bedevil paid attention to their wings, how they held them aloft. Archimedes told her that the wingspan required to lift an adult was almost seven meters. That was easily within the length of her tendrils. She wove them into the shape of bat wings, like Archimedes had advised her. He’d told her she needed a takeoff speed of around fifteen miles per hour. Easy. She hooked some of her tendrils into the cliff-side.
She vaulted herself up.
Her invisible wings caught on the ocean breeze and lifted her up. Bedevil cheered as she rose on the currents, flapping her new wings wildly to take her higher.
See the woman I love soar faster than she’s ever flown before, save when she latched onto me or Megajoule. See her whoop as she dropped low over the water and stabbed her fingers into the sea. See her land and fall to her knees when she could not keep up with the velocity of her flight. See her land in a heap of laughter.
“Bedevil!” Templar shouted. “You flew!”
Bedevil sat up with a grin, which she lost when she saw that Longinus trailed behind Templar, carrying his bible and a pack in the crook of his arm. He could not meet her glare, but he wore a faint smile. Bedevil rose to greet them. “I thought you weren’t coming.”
Longinus grimaced. Still he could not raise his eyes. “I think that he would be upset with me if I did not go to help Gabe.”
“God or Megajoule?” Bedevil asked.
“Both,” Longinus answered. “You’re right. I’ve been a coward. Let me atone.”
Templar turned her head to the right, listening to the comm in her ear. “Atonement can wait. Archimedes is calling us back to the White Shark.”
Still, Bedevil felt uneasy that Longinus was coming after he’d tried to weasel his way out of it. Not that she would rake him over the coals for that, but the Fear operated on cowardice. Bedevil worried that his weakness would fuel the entity inside Gabe.
She said none of this, though, and only hurried with Templar and Longinus back to the White Shark. Archimedes waited with the bay door opened, and as soon as they were on board, it closed behind them. “What’s going on?” Templar asked.
“Gabe is going to attack Buenos Aires,” Epione said. “He’s lost control again.”
Bedevil turned to Longinus. She hadn’t said anything as they ran, but now she would. Then, seeing that he watched her, she reconsidered. Why demoralize him further? They’d have words, true. After Gabe was safe. For now, she nodded at him. “Thank you, Longinus.”
The White Shark leapt into the air while everyone got settled, and Archimedes came out of the cockpit to brief them. “I’ve had my ear to the ground. The capes lost Gabe in Argentina, close to the border of Paraguay. They have reason to believe the Fear will attack Buenos Aires soon.”
“He called out to me,” Epione said. “He was in trouble.”
Flashfire scowled. He looked ready for a fight. “We’re going to get him out of there.”
“How long until we’re at the city?” Bedevil asked.
“With a hard burn, we can be there in eight hours,” Archimedes said. “Epione is keeping an eye on him. She says he’s in orbit right now.”
“Orbit?” Remise guffawed. “What, you mean he’s in space?”
“Yeah. Either the Fear is keeping him alive or he has some way to breathe we didn’t know about,” Archimedes said.
“Megajoule could do that,” Bedevil said. “He never explained it, but he didn’t need to breathe for hours. He said that was really uncomfortable, though.”
“Whatever it is, it’s not good for us.” Archimedes nodded to Bedevil. “You’re the one who’s going to get close. I made you a suit with the White Shark’s mesh printer. Come try it on, tell me if it needs adjustments.”
A suit. Bedevil hadn’t worn one in a while. Was it excitement or dread at the thought? She didn’t know, but she rose to find out. Archimedes handed her a spandex suit that looked like it was the base of something grander. The material was white and gray, except for the gloves and shoes, which were bright red.
“I tried to incorporate your color scheme a bit.” Archimedes offered her one last piece: her Inheritors cape, the same fire-engine red as the gloves and boots. “Do you want it?”
Bedevil stared at the cape. That life felt so long ago. The girl that wore this cape with pride, well, Bedevil wasn’t her. Not anymore. She’d grown up, been through hell, fallen in love, and now she was fighting for everything she held dear.
Bedevil took the cape and unfolded the fabric. She saw that the bottom was frayed, torn, stained and dirty. The cape was rough around the edges, but like her, it had been through hell.
She donned it with a new pride.
See the woman I love, dressed in her armor, looking every part the cape she once was and more. See her becoming more. See her coming to save me.