How Brother Jed Smock met Vex Harrow.


Snatch and Grab (feat. Brother Jed)
© 2011 Kyt Dotson

Peering over the roof edge of ASU’s Hayden Library Stacks engendered a feeling of being a comic book superhero in Vex as she watched the crowd boil slowly below. An uncanny wind blustered about her hair as it yanked at her long coat and furled it out like a lengthy, black pennon. Above, pearly clouds scuttled across the sun casting and removing cold shadows; she could barely feel the change in light on the exposed skin of her face, covered mostly by pale foundation. Today she weakened the makeup design around her left eye that described the Eye of Isis—a powerful magickal ward formed from ever-changing strokes of alchemical cosmetics—and with that strengthened the vocal intrusion of the voices as they distinguished themselves from the sound of the wind.

This place has excellent geometrics,” one voice muttered in her ear, breathing hot-sweet words of expectation, addressing the landscape below and the college buildings. Spread out before her she could see much of the campus laid out with inky lines as if on architectural parchment. To her left, she could see the fountain—sloshing with sparkling water—and the stunted green shrubs-of-trees set around it. Directly ahead, the triangular steeple of chapel sat in shadow, bleeding with dark lines and intent. “The focal moment is there, the ur-numina could be pierced like a needle into a bubble in a glass of champagne, causing it to flush upwards into a reservoir—

No, she thought to herself, sweeping that one aside to create a vacuum for a new voice to fill. Her eyes never wavered from the mob below and the motion of jockeying bodies. It’s about people, not bricks.

The swarm of interest at the foot of the Stacks centered around a animated man carrying a staff with a cross atop, reminding her of the accoutrements of pontiff from one of Nathan’s religious ceremonies. Brother Jed, she knew of him from Natahan; according to whom, the Brother followed some heresy or another of his chosen religion. She could only see back, and specifically the top of his head, from her vantage; the wind snatched up and carried away his shouts even as the crowd agitated in punctuated reply. The spark of the dark magicks she’d divined earlier tickled her mind like fleeting moth-wings—a subtle, dusty rumination over dark thoughts that made no outburst of itself. Although she could sense it moving like a grim intent, she couldn’t discern its origin.

The voices muttered amongst themselves and she listened, careful not to press them. Like an uninvited guest at a terrible tea-party menagerie of eccentric experts, she moved between their tables trying to blend in—just listening. Here a voice babbled in some forgotten language about blood in the sun and the hunger of the earth; there another chattered away about stealing knowledge from his students using a memory-eater. A phage, the voice began to say, but another one cut in—flooding a chill down her spine as if the unseen presence had put a hand on her shoulder to capture her attention.

Like natural organisms, the occulted spirit ecosystem of pathophages also has predators and prey.” A woman’s voice, almost bored in her intonation, leaned close as if reading from a long forgotten scripture. “Some will employ deceptive camouflage or disguise; shroud themselves with shelters like hermit crabs or use biomimicry like a parasite. Many such organisms will inhabit objects or persons of special importance to reduce the likelihood they will remain in the crux of apprehension.

Vex sighed and brushed that one aside as well, the sentiments seemed correct—but she couldn’t grasp the meaning. Willing them away, she dismissed the voices and placed both hands on the cold, cement of the roof as she peered down. She knew she mustn’t rely on the muttered thoughts of the voices much longer lest she attract attention she couldn’t handle.

Still, something in the last words caught her whimsy and she scanned the crowd below as the wind whistled disappointment in her ear.

Nathan had joined the group below; he’d gotten into a shouting match with the preacher-man. His countenance darkened with some emotion—probably righteous indignation at some perceived threat—and his lips moved without sound, almost like an old Kung-fu movie where she could hear the almost-words of his reply but moments after she saw the motions of his mouth. That was when she noticed it.

A glimmer of nothing, like a shadow out of place with the angle of the sun, it had itself wrapped around the top of the shaft of Brother Jed’s staff—immediately beneath the crucifix with its bronze visage of the Christ, weeping frozen metal tears and blood from his wounds. Her own imagination added the details from numerous tomes and dialogues she’d read about Jesuit occult meandering, amid many the crucifix would be used as a fetish-focus for their mystic arts. Perhaps the second voice, the woman, had been helpful after all.

Nathan, filled up with whatever frustration had caught his fancy took a swipe at the staff with his hand and Brother Jed swung it away from him, twirling the staff and its bronzework into Vex’s full view. That moment, with the sun angling down into her eyes, another cloud passed in front of it—freezing time in a grave hush—and the details of the sculpture on the crucifix jumped out at her, in particular, the eyes narrowed and the lips curled back to display tiny-bronze teeth as if gasping in orgasm.

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