He smiles as he sets down the pen, but is immediately distracted by the downstairs buzzer for his apartment. Odd, he thinks, I don’t usually get visitors. He pads over to the intercom and presses the button. “Yes?”
“Matthew? It’s Elena. Mind if I come in?”
Elena? “Um, sure!” He hits the buzzer for the downstairs gate, and quickly glances around his small apartment. Not spotless, but suitable for unexpected company. He almost dashes for the bathroom to check his hair, but catches himself. It’s Elena… she’s here on business.
Shortly there is a knock at the door, and Matthew opens it and smiles. Well, it looks like Elena, at least. “Hey Elena. What brings you to my neck of the woods?”
She stays where she is, not giving away anything. “Can I come in?”
Matthew raises a knowing eyebrow and steps back from the door. “I don’t know – can you?” As active as their little group was getting in the supernatural community, none of them were going to give up the protection offered by a threshhold.
She sighs, giving him an exasperated look. “If I wanted to hurt you, I could have shot you through the door, or from across the street, or just now.”
“Yes, you could have.” Matthew stands his ground, waiting.
“Ugh! Fine!” She steps through the doorway, and Matthew sees her shudder slightly as his threshhold strips down most of her supernatural abilities. But she stays Elena – she isn’t a shapeshifter or demon or vampire or anything. “Happy now?”
Matthew grins again and offers her a chair. “As long as you don’t shoot me? Absolutely. What’s up?”
Matthew studies Elena as she obviously cases the room and sits down. He’s not quite sure if she’s just checking for her gun or if there was something more on her face. Discomfort, sure, but… Was that … pain I just saw?
That line of thinking drops from his mind as her usual business-like demeanor softens into something more… well, feminine. Matthew finds himself suddenly a bit more self-conscious about his own appearance with a woman (not just an ally or friend) in the room. What are you, man – twelve? Focus!
“Sorry to intrude. I try not to just drop in on friends. Especially without warning.” Her mouth twists wryly, and she shrugs. “You know I’m no good with social niceties, so maybe I should just get straight to the point.” Her gaze travels the room a bit again, and the looks back at Matthew. "I had a run in with a demon and had to use up the last of that ammo you blessed for me. I was wondering if it would trouble you in any way to do the same for me again?"
He listens to her request. “A demon? Your patrols have kept you busy.” Matthew’s interest is peaked, and thankfully re-focused on the matter at hand. “I take it the bullets were effective? What kind of demon was it?” He stops to grab a pen and sheet of paper. “I hope you don’t mind if I get some details from you about your encounter – I’m trying to get some notes together.” He purposefully gestures, indicating the apartment. "This kind of information helps me pay the rent now – my benefactors are always looking for information on supernatural threats – and how to defeat them. I’d like to hear the whole thing, but I’ll limit my notes to the particulars of the creature in question."
“Let’s see,” Elena pauses, and Matthew can tell she’s organizing her thoughts. “We had just exited the elevator when we were attacked by two ghouls. The team I was with was very efficient, and the ghouls were dispatched. During that fight, however, I could hear the rhythmic thump of what I assumed were very heavy footsteps, so I knew that combat wasn’t over after the two ghouls fell.”
“When the creature entered the room,” she continues, “it was one I had never seen before. It was about seven feet tall, and its weight indeterminable due to its anatomy being completely different than a human’s.” She pauses briefly, then goes on, “Okay, it was anthropomorphic in that it had a head and face, torso, two arms and two legs, but it was clearly more dense. The floor vibrated with its weight every step it took and the surface of its entire body was distinctly rock-like. It reminded me of that character The Thing from a comic book movie I had seen, although rather than orange, it was slate gray.”
She shakes her head as if to clear it. “The item that really stood out, though, and caused me to switch magazines, was the distinct smell of something strongly resembling volcanic ash.”
Matthew’s pens scratches across the paper quickly – he’ll make it legible later. Rock… volcanic smell… anthropomorphic… Not until he stops writing does she continue.
A predatory smile flashes across her face. “Now, we were in Reunion Tower, and yeah, the creature looked to be made of rock, but I didn’t see a logical reason for the volcano smell. I promptly switched to the magazine with the ammo you had blessed and put two judicically placed rounds in its head area, and then the creature collapsed into itself and fell in a pile of dust and rubble.”
She shrugs and glances back over at Matthew. “Any questions?”
“Two bullets… not to discount your shots or my blessings, but that’s pretty light damage for demons. Must have been a quick summoning…” He looks back at her with a discerning eye. “There was a warlock involved?”
Elena shrugs, her lips twisting slightly with distaste. "Sure, the one I told the Freakshow about, to pass on to the White Council. Dude was a warlock with an affinity to air and clearly some mind control crap. He flew away, so he’s still out there doin’ evil." Her eyebrow raises and she adds, “Oh, and don’t confuse the quickness of the demon’s death with a lack of danger to me or my allies. That thing could have crushed me with one blow, easy, and I’m no featherweight.”
Matthew looks up at her. Whoops. “Oh, no – I don’t discount the threat it presented, but there’s a difference between a demon’s physical strength and the strength of its connection to our world.” He makes another quick note, and turns to face her, knowing that he needs to explain his statement, and that she’ll appreciate some additional inside information on combating the supernatural. “Um… it was the rock. Instead of giving it an ectoplasmic body, the warlock let it inhabit material from our world. That required less power for him to bring over the inhabiting demon from the Nevernever, but gave it tons of damage dealing capacity. But once you breached it…” Matthew mimes firing a gun. "Your bullet took care of the body, the blessing disconnected the demon. Great call on your part to change ammo. But you remember what it took to dislodge Malzen? That’s why I said it was light damage."
Elena listens intently, and nods. “Yeah, I figure there have to be as many different demon types as there are different people, so I’m not surprised. However, I am convinced that if I had not had your blessed bullets, it would have been way more difficult to pierce through its rock skin. Dunno if my armor piercing rounds would have even done the trick.” She thinks a moment and adds, “I knew it was nothing like Malzen – Malzen was a possession or something, and this creature had no human element to it other than its general structure.”
Matthew nods as he blows carefully on the now ink-laden paper. "The concept is the same – just the host was different – human as opposed to rock.” He eyes it approvingly as he lays it back on his desk. “Thanks for that.”
He sits back down, and his eyes pass over his Bible before re-orienting on Elena. “Of course, I have no problem with blessing some additional bullets for you – I know that you’ve been judicious in how you use them.” He pauses. “I hope you’ll indulge me a bit more, though. I’ve been curious about your current patron – the source of the desert aura around you and your amazing speed. Could you tell me about… him? Her? Them?”
He watches her shift a bit uncomfortably. How much does she trust me after what we’ve faced? Finally, she settles and begins to speak.
“So, you know I was DEA?” She watches Matthew attentively. "Yeah, well, a few years back…”
Matthew listens attentively as Elena slowly spins her tale. He realizes that she isn’t giving him the whole story, but it’s enough to help him understand why she is so reluctant to trust. The fact that she divulges as much as she does speaks volumes to him. He fights down the urge to ask more questions about her patrons, and simply says. “You were fortunate to find such like-minded patrons.”
Elena studies Matthew in silence a moment, and then grins. “So, I shared. What’s your story? You don’t exactly look like the average preacher.” He nearly blushes as she pointedly looks him over, but realizes that she’s focused on his tattoos and piercings.
He settles back in his chair. "As for me? I’m an orphan. Apparently I bounced around the foster system for a few years as a baby, but my earliest memories are of the Nelson Center up in Denton. I pretty much grew up there. It’s a home for abandoned and abused kids, run by an affiliate organization of the Lutheran church. We would get help from various Lutheran congregations around the area, counseling and ministry for some of the kids that had a much rougher time than I did."
“The preachers, and even congregations that came through and helped out had a big influence on me. All these people that had no reason in the world to care about any of us other than what this,” he pats his Bible," tells them – to follow the example provided by Jesus." He shrugs. “It caught me. Through high school I spent a lot of time with the visiting preachers, studied hard, and got a scholarship to seminary. Figured I’d be a preacher too.”
"Apparently even at that point I was showing some signs of supernatural abilities, because when I got to Dallas Seminary, I recognized quite a few of the preachers that I’d been visiting with. In addition to my normal lessons, they really drilled me on my faith – ethical and moral case studies, scripture memorization, how to pray… I started being able to notice things… threshholds, subtle threads of power if I carefully crafted a prayer, that sort of thing. Then came my mission trip."
He pauses to grab a couple of bottles of water from the fridge and offers one to Elena. "I got sent to South America, which was no biggie – lots of Christian mission work going on there. But one night I got a bit lost, ended up on the edge of the city I was visiting, and caught the attention of what I first thought was a gang, but turned out to be a Red Court hunting party. The would’ve had me for sure, but from what I’ve been able to piece together, I ran across a ley line, and that really woke up my latent abilities." He waves his hand at the candles on the table, and as he whistles the refrain of “This Little Light of Mine,” the wicks begin to glow softly. “I threw up a shield on pure instinct, and that gave me the breathing room to say a very potent prayer – it did a number on the pack of vampires.”
“I staggered back into town, and I was so freaked out that I got rip-snorting drunk. The next morniing, I woke up to this.” He motions to his tattoos and piercings. “I’m still not sure what, if anything, most of them mean, but I’ve kept them as reminders of what I’m out there doing.”
"Anyway, I graduated and went to work for LINC." He grimaces. "Well, you know how that turned out, but I think I’ve done a lot of good down here in gangland, despite the ill-intentions of my former boss. The … new look… turned out to be an asset. Even though I’m still ‘White Bread,’ not being so straight-laced made it easier for me to connect with people." He takes a long drink of water. “Since all that went down at Christmas, I’ve been a lot more focused on the supernatural, but I’m still trying to spend some time on the streets.”
He stops again to take a drink, and looks at Elena. "Until I ran into you, Conor, and Jamie, I really felt somewhat isolated, you know?" He deepens his voice a bit as he gets an impish grin. “A bright, shining beacon… all alone in the night.” He pauses again. “It’s been good to know that I have allies and friends to count on in the battle against What Goes Bump.”
As he speaks, Elena is listening attentively. But there’s something else… her feet are still braced on the floor, but she is settling back into the chair, her eyes closing just slightly… She’s relaxing! She takes a long drink of water and nods. “I know what you mean. I’ve been working alone for so long I’d forgotten what it’s like to be part of a team.”
She smiles and slowly sets the water down. “Thanks for the drink, and especially the conversation. I’d better get back out there, though,” she adds, “and on patrol. Evil never rests.”
Matthew finishes his water off. “That’s true, I suppose. But, it’s ok for us – for you – to rest. Even God rested on the seventh day. You can spare one now and again.” He smiles as he stands up, and holds his hand out for one of her magazines. “I’ll need until tomorrow… the blessing seems to be most effective at sunrise.”
He’s a bit crestfallen as she pulls out not a magazine, but a full box of bullets, and places it in his hand. That’ll take longer to go through… He pauses, pondering whether he should ask her to participate in the blessing, but then shakes his head negatively. Baby steps. “My door is always open, Elena. If you need anything – reloads, a drink, conversation… or just a rest.” He smiles again, “Don’t be a stranger, eh? I’ll even let you through the threshold next time.”
Elena smiles. “Well, don’t let me through, just maybe re-invite me? It was a good call.” She looks over at the window, then back at Matthew with a wry grin. “Buy some heavy curtains, will you? And close them at night, at least?” She looks down at his hands holding her box of ammo and nods. . “I’ll remember your offer. Thanks.”
He nods. “Yeah, I’ve been meaning to get something for the windows… I’ll save up for it.”
She walks towards the door, not with her usual fluidity, but still graceful. At the door, she turns. “See you tomorrow evening, then, if that’s cool?”
Matthew opens the door for her. “Absolutely cool. I’ll be here.” As she steps out of his apartment, her posture immediately straightens as she reconnects with her patrons. “I won’t bother telling you to stay safe, but watch your back out there.”
She doesn’t say another word, but turns back to him, smiles, and waves. He watches her descend the stairs, and then shuts the door to his apartment.
Matthew slumps against the door for a moment and lets out a sigh before returning to his desk, carefully depositing the box of ammunition in a drawer. All the supernatural threats I’ve faced, he thinks ruefully, and the thing I have the most trouble with is figuring out how to relate to the women in my life. He shakes his head again as he starts making a neater copy of his notes from their conversation. At least I’ll feel like I earned my rent this month…
NOTE: I collaborated with Elena’s player on this one. You can find her version of this story here. ~Elkhorn