How Brother Jed Smock met Vex Harrow.


“The Farmer Building,” she pointed to a square structure further down a lane of sidewalk. “It’s pretty empty about now and there’s a sheltered space inside. I need it so that my work will go uninterrupted. Then we can start looking for whatever’s causing this disturbance.”

“I can tell you what’s causing a disturbance right now.” Nathan followed her as she headed off onto the campus with vicious intent propelling her steps; he gave a wide berth as he took up on the side she wasn’t swinging the hammer on. “It’s Brother Jed. He’s been here since Monday. Always gets a crowd and he doesn’t deserve it.”

“You just feed their ego when you yell at them, you know,” Vex said.

“He’s a special case, I think,” Nathan replied, closing his eyes for a moment for a half-heard calming prayer to his Lord. “Heretics like him give the work the Church does a bad name. People should know that we’re not like that—selfish, angry, sexist. I know we’ve had our problems, but I wouldn’t let someone like him be my representative.”

Vex shrugged, a languid movement that accentuated the well-defined muscles of her back and arm. “You take that too much to heart,” she said. “Look what you’re doing today. He’s out there shouting at a crowd, doing nothing useful, and you’re here helping me rid the world of something dangerous. Who’s the better man?”

She patted Nathan’s shoulder, he yelped when she thumped him a bit too hard. He stared straight ahead, pretending that she hadn’t bruised his shoulder and she ignored his moment of weakness for the sake of his male pride. He’d been a good friend to her, always at her beck and call; she understood that he didn’t find being part of an occultist ritual comfortable but she wouldn’t let it like that Nathan stood among her bravest friends. She’d seen few others who would walk into the face of serious supernatural danger with only a wing and a prayer literally.

“We’re here,” he said after a long pause. “What do you need me to do?”

“I’m going to start building the binding and convocation circle with the salt and detergent,” she said. Fishing through her pockets she pulled out a pair of silver shears. “I need you to cut the bottom part off all the rosaries so that they’re all circles of beads.”

He sighed audibly and took the shears from her. “I should have known you would deface them.”

“I promise you, it’s for a good cause.”

* * *

At present, Vex ran with every ounce of muscle she could muster. She ditched the umbrella—it flipped end-over-end as it flung into the bushes—and she switched the hand that held the staff she’d just taken. Ahead of her, she could see the looming building where she’d left Nathan with the hammer and her preparations. In a moment of dire lucidity, she could feel Brother Jed’s eyes on her back and hear his footfalls in pursuit. She figured he must be at least twice her age, if not more, and yet he gained slowly.

The distance to the convocation circle closed swiftly—faster than Jed could catch up with her—and that would make all the difference.

She could see Nathan rise from his perch across the small courtyard within the building; he timidly lifted the sledgehammer and started to walk towards her slowly. He outmassed her in muscle by at least a half, but even then he could barely lift the hammer from the ground.

“Hammer! Now!” she shouted as she rushed through the short hallway into shadow. Nathan held it out and leaned away as she hooked her hand under his, around the haft of the weapon, and ripped it from his grip. The supremacy of the hammer roared through her arm as she brought it to bear.

She dug her heels in as she reached the center of the room—there sat positioned a pair of cinder blocks, opportunely taken from nearby, side by side within several concentric circles of salt and laundry detergent. She set the crucifix-cum-staff across the blocks, took a step back, and wound the sledge up as if she were about to drive a railroad spike—looked over her shoulder for a brief moment to see Brother Jed charge into the courtyard—just in time to look back to aim her stroke and unleash a rebel yell as the hammer came down.

“Tool of the devil, I deny your power!” Jed shouted. The staff leapt up from where it lie, whistling as it twirled through the air and into his outstretched hand.

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