Evelyn Chartres Author
The Prelude to Action – Part VII

The Prelude to Action – Part VII

Clara had been blindfolded and transported to a new location. Had she been familiar with her surroundings, she may have guessed her whereabouts.

When her blindfold was lifted, her eyes struggled to adjust to the light. Hay, thick supporting beams and wood planks made up her immediate surroundings, so these were either stables or a barn.

She had been tied to a chair and her bindings had been expertly secured. The well-planned ambush, transfer and securing of the prisoner were indicative of someone who knew their craft.

Since only women were present at the ambush, that implied she was dealing with the Feminine Brigade of Saint Joan of Arc. The Reverend Mother had already revealed that members of the Tower had infiltrated this group. Although the name was far too…

“Surprised you were captured so easily?” Edith mused.

Clara sniggered before she replied, “And miss the chance to see who was running the show?”

“Good point,” Edith said. “How are you enjoying our hospitality?”

“A bit to be desired in terms of locale,” Clara said in riposte.

“Take it up with management,” Edith said.

“I am,” Clara replied. “Won’t lend me her ear.”

Edith did not say a word and for now they were at an impasse. Clara was curious about why they were having this exchange.

“You went native?” Clara asked. “Nice tan, by the way.”

“You’re still hunting,” Edith said. “Still bathing in milk?” came her retort.

“So you haven’t heard?” Clara asked to break the cycle.

That odd question caused Edith’s face to register some emotion. There was confusion, but also a faint sign that their friendship still meant something to her.

“Heard of what?” Edith asked.

“The Terminus was attacked,” Clara replied. “The gates are closed, and the Tower is isolated.”

“When?” Edith sputtered out. “How?”

“When did the government attack that church?” Clara asked.

Edith fell into deep thought. Clara had seen this before in people who struggled to survive. For them, the passage of time was nearly irrelevant. When living to see another day was a challenge, what was a week or a month in their minds?

“About a fortnight ago,” Edith said.

“I was heading to a gate in California when I was redirected to French Canada,” Clara said. “Ruined a perfectly good dress, too,” she whined before adopting a smirk.

Edith suppressed a laugh. The air between them was beginning to clear. Gone were the theories that Clara had been sent here to bring her back into the fold, theories that may have held true had the Reverend Mother told her about this defection. Was the Tower aware of this development? Had Edith been counted as one of the hunters who went missing? Clara wondered if there was an end to these secrets and omissions.

“Did you break a nail?” Edith asked.

“You know how expensive manicures are up there,” Clara said sarcastically. “Practically had to sell out every hunter in the country to afford it.”

Edith almost cracked a legitimate smile but there was still a distance between them. Clara felt a twinge of regret. Edith’s actions would forever set them apart, even if they ended up working together.

“Your angel was in town,” Edith said while she produced a newspaper clipping.

Clara brought out her hands from behind the chair. She had been holding the rope together after cutting her way to freedom. Fortunately, devout Catholics rarely took away religious artefacts, even those with sharp blades.

When she grabbed the newspaper clipping, Edith raised an eyebrow. She must have forgotten how slippery Clara could be.

“Taken at a social Gala a couple of days before the attack?” Clara asked.

“Yes,” Edith said. “I recognised her as soon as I saw that picture.”

“Any news on the attack itself?” Clara asked.

“None. Not a peep,” Edith replied.

“That is decidedly odd. The army shows up and blows a church to Kingdom Come, but there is no mention of it in the local papers?” Clara asked.

“That’s why we were keeping an eye on the site,” Edith said. “To see if anyone came sniffing around. We thought that we might get a few answers from those who came to investigate.”

That strategy made sense, except it failed to account for their opponent anticipating the move. Clara would have left traps behind to throw them off. So far, it seemed that Drusilla did not have the same instincts.

“Anyone else come sniffing around?” Clara asked.

Edith’s lips went white and in that moment, Clara realised that someone had indeed laid a trap. There was blood on her friend’s hands.

“Did Drusilla come back to inspect her handiwork?” Clara asked.

For a moment, Edith avoided Clara’s gaze but relented before she replied, “Y—Yes.”

“I am sorry,” Clara said. “You two were close?” Clara guessed.

Clara had inadvertently poured salt in an open wound, but her show of sympathy would avoid making her the target of all that pent up guilt. Edith, the woman who was always cool, calm and collected, finally broke.

As tears streamed down her cheeks, Clara freed her feet just in time to catch Edith. Nothing she said or did would stem the tide, so Clara simply held her friend.

“It’s not fair,” Edith sobbed.

“It never is,” Clara said. “It never is,” she repeated after a long pause.

Life was not fair and there was nothing they could do to change that fact. Many held on to the promise of an afterlife, putting up the good fight until the bitter end. This was done in the hopes that Saint Peter would welcome them with open arms when the time came.

Clara knew that this moment could not be hastened. It was not the time to be selfish nor righteous in dealing with Edith; it was the perfect opportunity to show compassion and empathy. Alas, those were traits hunters rarely needed to use.

Edith finally pulled away after what seemed to be an hour of sobbing. Her eyes were red and puffy while her cheeks were covered in streaks. Even in a place like this, Edith still liked to powder her nose. It was often said that vanity was the devil’s favourite sin.

“I’m okay,” Edith said softly.

“Quiet alright,” Clara said. “We’ve all been there at one point in our lives,” she lied.

“I doubt it,” Edith said with a meek smile.

“Is there anything I can do?” Clara asked.

“Yes,” Edith said. “Kill that bitch.”

Clara did not expect that. Had the tables been turned, Clara would have led the charge herself. Nothing less would satiate her thirst for revenge.

She was doubly surprised when Edith handed over a slip of paper that contained a series of icons indicating gate locations. Disguised as a business card, it could easily be handed around without arousing suspicion.

“How did you get this?” Clara asked.

“Found it—,” Edith said before she broke into tears.

While Clara held Edith, she figured out the rest. The card had been crumpled into a ball as though someone had gripped it with all their might. Somehow her friend had managed to wrestle it away from her killer.

So Drusilla had been there to witness the attack? A gutsy move that worked in Clara’s favour, because she now had a place to start her search.

With the card in hand, she glanced at the design. Some symbols were familiar while others were a complete mystery. One particular symbol brought back memories of Father Allen being dragged away. Her recollection had been so vivid that she nearly dropped the card in response.

This variant featured a crescent moon hanging over a cross. It represented a merging of two faiths, the original, cast aside by the upstart. This must be the location of their holy site, which also meant heavy security.

“Aww, nertz,” Clara said.

Fortunately, this did not appear to be Drusilla’s destination. There was one symbol which had been circled with lipstick. Something the woman who died was unable to afford. Besides, who wore makeup while fighting a civil war? Well, other than Edith?

That symbol did seem to be familiar. It was an icon of the caduceus with an eagle in the background. The caduceus was normally carried by Hermes, however the eagle at its back was the key.

According to Edith, Drusilla desired to be the centre of attention. That jived with previously observed behaviour. Someone who hides from the spotlight would not be found in art throughout the ages. Despite this being one of this country’s major destinations, it was not large enough to keep her interested for long.

Clara smiled once she remembered seeing this icon adorning a major train station. A train station located at a metropolis made infinite sense. Easy to run, hide or party, based on the amount of attention she got.

All Clara needed to do was make sure Edith was alright before leaving. It seemed like the least she could do for a friend. Besides, that woman had roamed the earth for a long time. What was the harm in delaying her death by a couple of weeks?

Disclaimer: This chapter is currently in development.  There are likely typos, errors, omissions, inconsistencies and so forth.  Please do not treat this as a polished and completed work!

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