A Demon of Midwinter: Part 7
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Rhys was back at the police station. A different inspector stood in front of him this time, a man of sharp eyes and a scowling disposition. But he asked Rhys the same questions Inspector Little had last night. And Rhys gave the same answers.
When he glanced at the clock on the wall, the man’s gaze followed his. “Is our murder investigation keeping you from something?”
He mustered up his courage in face of authority. “I have an appointment with Father Gregory.”
The policeman’s eyes narrowed, and a sneer played at his lips. “Confessing your sins?”
“Lord knows I have plenty—” Rhys stuttered, unsure what had come over him, being so flippant with an officer of the law. “But no, he’s counselling me as I decide whether or not to continue towards ministry.”
The man straightened, and his face softened. “You’re bound for the church?”
Rhys looked at his hands and nodded his head slowly. That was a complicated question. “That’s what I plan to talk to the Reverend Gregory about.”
The man made a sound, half snort, half humph. “I expect I’ll have more questions for you. You did know both of our murder victims—”
“So you accept that John was murdered?” A trill passed through Rhys chest at speaking up.
The inspector ignored his interjection. “But that’ll be all for now.” He escorted Rhys to the door. “Give Father Gregory my regards.”
Even though he was glad for the opportunity to escape, he paused at the top of the stairs, wanting to say something about the hundred people who knew John and Adam as well as he did. But whatever demon had possessed him inside the building was gone. Rhys turned and fled down the road.
The church spires grew, reaching towards the clouds, as he walked along the street. Thankfully, the rains hadn’t started yet. Judging by the cloud he saw each time he exhaled, he expected it to fall as snow. Still, the light was flat and grim, despite being after noon.
His pace slowed as he neared the church, and his gaze dropped to the pavement. He had no idea what he’d say to Father Gregory. They'd been discussing his commitment to the path set before him by parents who didn’t understand his inquisitiveness. It had always been an escape for him rather than fervent belief, a path to a life of reading and study masked by devotion. A path he’d already been questioning — and then his world went tail over tea kettle when he met Dar. He still didn’t know if God was real, but vampires and demons certainly were. And love. Even though Dar had rejected him, the possibility of love had become real.
A shadow loomed ahead, and Rhys raised his head. A woman stood before him. Her dark hair and bright red lipstick contrasted with ghost-pale skin. A black fur cape encircled her shoulders, exposing a red dress that matched her lips. Her eyes bored into him.
He stopped for a second, returning her gaze, then stepped sideways to go around her, cozying up to the fence. Glancing right, he saw that he’d arrived at the church without realizing it.
“You know who I am.” Her alto voice was sinuous, curious.
“What you are.”
Her hand reached out towards his arm, and he flinched away, grabbing the iron fence to his right.
“You should have killed me when you had the chance.”
He met her gaze. “The quality of mercy—”
She snorted. “Mercy is a word of the weak. I’m stronger now.” She leaned closer, and he caught a whiff of a sickly sweet perfume. “Flush with life.”
“Stolen life.” He peered at her, his eyebrows pulling together as he pushed open the gate. “Maybe it can be stolen back.”
She laughed and made to follow as he stepped along the path that led to the church door. Her laugh turned to a hiss at the gate he’d pass through. Her eyes narrowed, and a brow arched. “If you live long enough to try.”
Rhys examined the tracks worn into the floor by generations of the faithful, his hands clasped together, resting on the back of the pew.
“There’s something new weighing on your soul. What demon haunts you?” Father Gregory’s voice was quiet, perhaps mindful that their conversation was private.
A flash of bronzed skin and wine-coloured eyes passed through Rhys’ mind. He inhaled sharply, then glanced around the empty church, before looking sidelong at his counsellor. They’d been discussing his lack of calling for the last half hour, going over the same ground they'd covered before. At the word ‘demon’, a spark of hope flared in his chest that the priest knew about the very real demon outside his doorstep. But the man’s face held the same avuncular serenity as always.
“You wouldn’t understand my demons.” Rhys returned to examining the lines of his palms.
“I might know more than you think. Priests aren’t dead.” The priest peered at him. “I know you struggle with a love the world labels a sin,” he added, his voice soft. Rhys froze, then his head started to shake automatically. Father Gregory continued. “But I am not the world. And I sense that’s not what’s bothering you today.”
“There are more things in….” Rhys petered out.
“Heaven and earth. There certainly are.” Father Gregory leaned forward. “Try me.”
Rhys was silent for a minute before asking the question that weighed on him, cloaking his mind and pressing into his chest. “Is it ever okay to kill a person?” He rushed ahead before the priest could interrupt with platitudes. “Say someone who has killed and will continue to kill unless they’re stopped.” He peered sideways at him, saw his eyes focus on a spot above Rhys’ head, as his jaw moved and his hand rubbed his thigh.
Quiet blanketed them until the priest finally returned his gaze to Rhys. “So there is something else troubling you.” The man crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back. “There was a time when I would have said no. Then an evil that knew no bounds, no compunction, tried to devour the world.” Even though the priest looked at him, Rhys sensed he was somewhere else, and realized with a start that he was old enough to have fought in the war.
“So it is okay sometimes?”
Father Gregory’s gaze homed in on him again. “I think that’s a question between you and God.” The priest leaned forward, and his voice became quiet. “But why do you ask? Have you seen something? I’d advise you to tell the police, if it will do any good.”
Rhys snorted. “Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.” He should have followed his inclination to go back to his room and read; the priest wouldn’t understand. He stood and shook his head. “It’s nothing. Just maudlin philosophical rambling.”
“Even though that’s true to your nature, I doubt that’s the case here.” Father Gregory frowned and joined him in standing.
“Same time next week? At your office?” The old cathedral weighed on his shoulders whenever they met here.
“’We know what we are but know not what we may be’.”
“Shakespeare, Father?” Rhys kept his eyes on the priest as he put on his jacket. “Really?”
“I thought I’d speak to you in your own language.” A small smile replaced the man’s frown. “Do you realize you quote Shakespeare more often than the bible?”
“I—” Rhys blinked, trying to recall the last time he’d quoted the bible.
“I think you know where your path is. Or, at least, where it isn’t. The church should be something you choose, not somewhere you run away to.” The priest placed a hand on his shoulder. “I know it’s difficult, facing the prospect of coming up with another life for yourself. But I believe in you.”
Rhys’ shoulder slumped even as it felt like a burden had lifted from them. “Thank you, Father.”
“Even if I’m no longer your advisor, I’m still your friend.” The priest dropped his hand to his side. “You know where to find me if you need to talk.”
Rhys froze when he stepped from the nave into the narthex — Dar stood in the entryway, perusing the books on the shelf. His mouth dropped open, but he didn’t know what to say. A hand clutched at his heart and twisted when a cloud shifted outside, and the sun hit the stained glass, casting a multi-hued halo around the vampire’s face. The vampire.
“What are you doing here?” A flicker of adrenalin coursed through his chest at the thought that Dar had followed him.
Dar’s face turned towards him, betraying no surprise at finding him there. “I’ve come to see the priest.” His gaze flicked over Rhys' shoulder.
“But your —” Rhys looked around. “Inside a church?”
Dar looked down to examine the book he held in his hands, and Rhys realized it was a bible. Then his eyes turned to the window, squinting. “It got sunny out.” He put the book back in its slot and turned to Rhys. “I sought sanctuary.”
“So you haven’t come to take confession?”
“They still do that, don’t they?” Again, his gaze shifted over Rhys shoulder. Rhys turned to see Father Gregory standing at the threshold between nave and narthex.
“Sometimes.” The priest tipped his head towards the vampire, causing Rhys to frown. “Good afternoon, Darius.”
Father Gregory slipped back into the vaulting church proper, leaving the two of them alone. Rhys opened his mouth to speak, but again the words he wanted to say refused to come. “You know Father Gregory?”
Dar’s eyes stayed fixed on a spot behind him, but he nodded. “Your priest is one of the good ones.” He stepped towards him, dancing left to go past him into the church.
Rhys reached out his hand, and Dar’s gaze snapped to his face, his pupils contracting. A sharp breath escaped him, and he blinked. Then his eyes dropped to Rhys’ fingers, where they lay gently on Dar’s forearm.
“You’re injured.” His attention oscillated between Rhys’ hand and his face. “What happened?”
The wound still burned, but he was soon distracted from the pain when Dar lifted the hand towards his face. He stroked the striations with the fingertips of his other hand.
Rhys bit his lip, unsure how much to say. Then he sighed — his stomach heaved at the thought of lying. “A cat scratched me.” Dar twined his fingers through Rhys’ but kept his attention focused on their hands. “It wasn’t an ordinary cat.”
“What?” Dar dropped his hand, grabbing his arms instead.
“She attacked me.” Rhys looked at the scrap of floor between their feet. “On my way home from —” He lifted his head up to catch Dar peering at him, a severe frown on his face. “Well, the other night.”
Dar let go and started pacing. “She attacked you? But that means….” He stopped, looking up.
Rhys’ eyebrows pulled together, and his head shook. “What?”
Dar stepped closed to him again, his face an indecent distance from Rhys’ own. “I didn’t keep you safe.” His voice dropped to a hush. “I’m sorry. I thought…she’d leave you alone if I showed no interest in you. Instead, it put you in even greater danger.”
“I—” Rhys processed the words as if they were churning through mud. When he realized what they meant, a pleasant shock pulsed through his body: Dar hadn’t rejected him.
“Ahem.” Both their heads spun to see Father Gregory watching them. “I may have no qualms about your desires, but not all my fellow priests and parishioners are the same. And certainly none of them know you’re a vampire, not that they’d believe it if they did. They tend to be somewhat…firm in their worldview.”
Rhys’ mouth opened and snapped shut as he peered at the priest in confusion. “But…” He alternated looking at Dar and Father Gregory. “You know?”
“There are more things in heaven and earth, et cetera.” He waved his hand, then turned to Dar. “Are you going to come in?”
“I ... I need to postpone. I have a monster to hunt.” He caught Rhys’ eye. “We have a monster to hunt.”
The priest’s lips pressed together, then he sighed and tipped his chin down. “Take care of him,” he said before turning back to the church. Rhys wasn’t sure who he was talking to.