While in training I was under the impression that the instructors were being overzealous with the things they asked us to learn.
Once, after burning myself repeatedly with the anointing oil I was meant to cast at my practice subject, I threw my hands in annoyance and gave up. Professor Malcolm immediately grabbed me by my shoulders and shoved me roughly against the nearest wall.
“Do you think this is a joke, Romi?” she hissed angrily.
“N-no, I just…I just keep burning myself,” I stammered, trying to keep my composure.
She let go of me but the expression on her face didn’t change. “You need to toughen up that soft skin of yours. What’s a little burn compared to the guilt that’s going to eat away at you if you let your target escape? Who knows, maybe it will possess a child next! Do you want that child’s soul or the blood of its victims on your hands?”
With a deep, steadying breath I attempted to quell my rising panic. “No, ma’am, I apologize. It won’t happen again.”
I burned myself severely after that, but I pushed through and got top marks on my exorcism practical. I justified the professor’s actions by thinking to myself that it was their job to freak us out now so it was out of our system by the time we had to do the real thing. Sitting on the train with Aric, watching as he opened up the bag we were given by the Deacon, I understood then how serious Professor Malcolm’s admonitions had been.
The plain-looking leather bag held a veritable arsenal against evil. Silver crosses, wooden crosses, bottles of holy oil and water, oil warmers, bibles of all sizes, rosaries—you name it. A shiver ran up my spine seeing all of it condensed into one small space.
The door to the compartment I was in slid open and Aric entered, easily carrying a tray filled with food. “I don’t know what you like yet, so I got a little bit of everything,” he said cheerfully, making room on the floor to sit with me and place the food.
“How can you be hungry at a time like this?”
“I would think that exorcising a demon would be less tiresome on a full belly.” He pushed a poppy seed bagel towards me and nodded for me to eat.
My stomach growled loudly in response and I conceded defeat. “Do you think that’s what we’ll be doing when we get to England?” I asked as I spread a healthy amount of cream cheese over my bagel.
“I sure hope not. As well as I scored on my practical, it’s not something I hope to experience anytime soon. Maybe we should take a look over the mission notes now that we’ve got time.”
I nodded and pulled a manila folder out from a side pocket of the duffel bag. Inside was a large stack of notes, a blueprint of an old building, and a few photographs. Wiping my hands clean on a napkin, I began to skim through the notes.
“It says here that the American Motherhouse in New Orleans has already been overrun by spies. They didn’t see it coming, but they’ve managed to detect the infiltration of the British Motherhouse at its root. Apparently it has started at a convent owned by the Order.”
“You’ve really got to wonder how a woman of God could be turned into a spy of the enemy,” said Aric, handing me a picture of a pretty brunette nun.
There was something familiar about this woman, something I couldn’t put my finger on. “Not everyone who claims to love the Lord actually does. There are plenty of wolves in sheep’s clothing that wander this world.”
I rifled through the rest of the pictures, one was a young altar boy maybe our age and the other was a priest. This was going to be one hell of a first mission.
“Eat up, Romi,” said Aric, tapping the tray to get my attention. “We’ll have plenty of time to hash out a strategy on the ship ride to England. For now you should focus on food, and getting as much rest as possible until we get to the Civitavecchia port.”
It was clear that the Italian name was foreign on his tongue, and his pronunciation made me smile. “Where are you originally from, Aric?”
He concealed a mischievous grin by popping an olive into his mouth. “Not now, we’ll play the ‘getting to know you’ game at sea. I think you’re going to need it as a distraction.”