How Brother Jed Smock met Vex Harrow.


The hammer cratered the cement-and-rock floor of the Farmer Building courtyard, shook the very earth and toppled the cinderblocks as the ground gave way beneath its mighty blow. Vex stared at the hole for a moment in confusion and anger before she realized what must have happened. She spun to meet Jed and found him standing stock still, eyes gazing hollowly, chest puffed up, and the staff ramrod vertical at his side.

“Oh, fuck,” Vex muttered under her breath as she straightened and turned her body in a fighting pose to show the smallest silhouette to her opponent, hammer gripped behind her in strike position.

“Watch your language, Hellbound child,” he said to her in a double-voice, one his own, the other almost an octave higher. As his lips moved, she noticed those of the Christ-figure on the crucifix mirrored his, as did its gaze and expression. He lifted the staff and slammed it into the ground, a blast-wave of passion—love, hate, zealotry, desire, anger, and fear—rushed across the ground towards her and slammed into her wards. She leaned into it like facing a stiff hurricane wind as it blew around her, but the shield held.

Jed hmphed and turned his back to her to walk out of the shaded courtyard and back onto campus. He took three steps and slammed into an invisible wall at the opening to the short hallway—so close to the outside world, so close to the students and a possible food source, but he couldn’t leave the building. Looking down, he would see the rosaries wrapped together in an unending chain crossing the threshold. Every exit threshold. Even if she couldn’t destroy it in one go, Vex knew well enough not to unleash this thing on the campus.

The parasite and Jed turned around again and faced Vex—both he and the crucifix cocked their heads to one side.

“Unclean thing, you interfere with my hunting grounds,” he continued. “I will erase your memory as surely as I crush a leaf beneath my feet. First, you shall tell me how you uncovered my blind—surely you are proud of your work. Brag for me.”

“When is the last time you ever saw a picture of Jesus giving us his O-face?” Vex said. “Talk about a dead giveaway.”

She could feel it testing her defenses as the figure’s eyes scanned the room, looking for a weakness. Vex hoped that Nathan had hidden himself well; she couldn’t take her eyes of Brother Jed for even a moment to check. He’d become a veteran of many situations like this, so he should know better by now.

“I have taken many wizards before you, child,” Brother Jed said in the uncanny dual-voice. “Like the one I took this form from. Even priests are not immune to my seduction. Perhaps even you will learn to serve me.”

“This is why I have a problem with people like you,” Vex said addressing the host, not even knowing if he could hear her. “You become the focal point of so much human disdain that you attract things like this. Trapped in your own delusion, you only bring strife with you. You’re like the light inside of a bug zapper.” She shifted her attention to the bronze figure. “Except this time, you’re the bug. I’m the zapper.”

“All of your kind are just meat for my grinder,” the dual-voice grated, dripping condescension. “Your enthusiasm too I will subvert to my own ends. You’re no different then they shouting at this one as he belts out his human elegy and I absorb their mockery, their rebellion, and their shame.

“Today we end this. Are you going to talk to me to death or shall I get on with kicking your ass back to the interregnum?”

Brother Jed and the Christ-figure mirrored the same ugly sneer. “Do you value your life so little? So be it. I will break your will and ride your hollow body as my newest trophy.”

“Bring it.”

Brother Jed lowered the crucifix-cum-staff like a spear and charged at her and she advanced at him. Her muscles bunched in anticipation as the hammer sang in her hand, calling out for shattered bones and broken bodies. She indulged it, feeling her adrenaline soar and time slow as she pivoted around the middle and swung.

As she swung, she pulled all of her strength into the blow—expecting her aim to hit something, either Jed or the parasite, at this point it didn’t matter. Instead she struck nothing. Brother Jed turned away from her on one side, ducking the swing; he released the staff, which slid past on her other side and avoided the hammer by leaning away. They rejoined one another after letting her pass between them like a couple holding hands passing a pole.

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