As they sat down at a table and Jerry brought them tea, Rebecca pretended she needed a trip to the bathroom to go see the boy in the kitchen.
“Hey, Jerry, can I ask you a favour?”
“Sure, anything you want. What's the problem?”
“Well, you see that bloke who is with us? Just... he looks a bit weird, so if he ever became scary, I was wondering...”
“The priest? Oh, I don't see why he should become dangerous... but don't worry, I understand. If he even slightly touches you, or Sally, I got that left hook ready to take off!” He smiled. “They don't call me the Italian Wolf for nothing, you know!”
“Thanks,” she whispered, smiling coyly. It felt good to know there were boys around, ready to protect her. She went back to her table and asked the priest about the cross.
“Fine,” he said as he took a sip from his tea. “First, I realize I didn't introduce myself. My name is Hubert Louis de Sainte Croix, Second Prior of the Abbaye de Sainte Croix... the Abbey of the Holy Cross, in English.”
“So this abbey is in France, then?” Rebecca asked.
“And how come your cross ended up in a ruin field in London?”
“I was coming to it... but I'm warning you, believing in what I am about to reveal will take a lot of faith... our Abbey was founded in the fifth century AD, as an order of warrior monks with a holy mission to protect what remained of the Christian civilization in a time of despair. I guess you have history classes, so you must know that in the fifth century, the Roman Empire was brought to its end by the barbarians from Germany. What you don't know and may find hard to believe, is that this destruction was plotted by the Devil.”
“The Devil?” Rebecca asked. “Like, the big red guy with the horns?”
“Lucifer himself, yes, though he doesn't look like what you described. Cast away from the Heavens, the Fallen resided for millennia in his dark kingdom, where his influence on men was limited. But something happened at that time, a sorcerer of immeasurable wickedness managed to summon him on our world, and to offer his body as a vessel, to spread darkness over the Earth. In a human envelope, Lucifer led the heathen hordes to destroy the kingdom of Our Lord on Earth. The founders of our Abbey prayed, and swore to give their lives to defend the Church. That is when the miracle occurs. Our Lord, in His great wisdom, granted a fraction of His power, which He contained in a cross, the one you have in your bag today, which we have come to call the Headless Cross. This is a weapon, potentially the most powerful weapon ever, and you have only felt a minute portion of Its might. It chooses its Bearer as the bravest and purest of heart, and It blesses him with the strength of ten men, and the power to summon the Holy Light to banish the evil. The first Bearer was the perfect warrior, and he gave up his life to protect us.”
“Did he succeed?” Sally asked, enraptured in the story.
“In a way, he did. Rome fell, but Christianity, in its darkest hour, ultimately survived and flourished anew. The Devil's human form was not destroyed, but in his sacrifice, the Bearer managed to impose limitations on his powers. While in Hell, his might cannot be challenged, but as he walks the Earth among men, his might is limited by the rules of our world. After the death of the first Bearer, the Headless Cross was preserved, and passed on to the next protector, to ensure that Lucifer would never endanger the kingdom of Our Lord again.”
“Okay, wait a second,” Rebecca said, confused. “You're telling us, that this cross is passed along people chosen to protect the Earth from the Devil, and the chosen one is granted, like, powers? Like a superhero or something? And he has to use these powers to keep all the evil at bay?”
“That would be a way to say it, yes.”
“And where's the Devil now?”
“He can go in and out of Hell as he pleases, but his powers in our world are very limited. Even his knowledge, once almost infinite, is greatly limited, and he needs to find the Cross to get all his might back. He cannot find it on his own, the Cross was designed this way. Unfortunately, the consequence is that the Cross cannot detect the Devil either. He could be anywhere, and anyone. He is cunning, and for centuries he has attempted to attain his goals by seducing people into joining his ranks, wreaking havoc by any indirect means. We don't know how many minions he has, and how far his influence has extended over the centuries. All this time, we have only managed to contain him, and to foil his nefarious schemes, but we never faced him or discovered where he was, just like he never found our Abbey, or the Cross. All of modern history was ruled by this delicate balance of powers, and if the balance were to tip on his side, if he got his hands on the Cross... it would be Hell on Earth.”
“Yeah, right,” Rebecca sneered, “and that's why it ended up in a ruin field...”
“During World War II,” the priest replied, unfazed by her mocking tone, “we suspected Lucifer had something to do with the Reich, and the Bearer at this time decided to join the RAF... he was killed in December 1940 while defending London, during the Blitz. His body was found, but for over seventy years, the Cross remained lost. Without a protector, humanity became a prey to darkness. Vampires, werewolves, ghosts, possessions, all of these phenomena have been multiplying since the War because we lost the one weapon that could keep it all in check... until today. Young lady, you told me you had visions, and nightmares?”
“It means the Cross is trying to communicate with you, but you are not ready to hear It yet. The white light, and the strength increase you are experiencing, are also ways for It to communicate: It is showing you a fraction of Its power, but you have to accept It entirely, abandon yourself to It, to reveal Its whole power. You need to have faith to become the Bearer. Do you have faith, Rebecca?”
The girl suddenly sprang up, stiff as an arrow. “Okay,” she declared, “usually I like these kinds of stories, but this is officially creepy. You know what, I didn't sign up for this, and if I knew, I would have left this stupid cross in this stupid hole! So, know what?” she searched her bag and abruptly dropped the cross on the table. “If it's so precious to you, you just keep it, I'll return to my normal life anytime! Good bye, father.”
And on these words, she took her friend by the hand and dragged her out of the restaurant.
“Wait!” the priest said as he sprang up and grabbed her wrist before she could reach the door.
“Don't touch me,” she warned as she gave him an evil glare. Understanding, he released her and just handed her a card.
“The Cross chooses its Bearer, it only works that way. I don't know why It chose a schoolgirl over one of us, but the fact is, the responsibility is on you. I cannot force you, I just wish you understood how terrible it would be for the world if you turned your back on us... so if you ever changed your mind, please call me.”
“To be honest, father,” she said as she pocketed the card, “I hope I'll never get to see you ever again.”