No wonder they were all at each others’ throat, Sara told herself as she headed towards the clinic; they had been stuck with each other for over a month. The constant threat of the Red Wraiths catching up to them - and she had no doubt Viktor Sanae would be looking for them - and pushing themselves beyond the brink of exhaustion, and the simple fact they were a mixed bag of mostly rotten apples had them attacking each other like rabid dogs. She needed a break.
Few wandered Mendes Outpost’s single street. A mother led a small boy by the child, their face and clothes smothered with dirt. The mother had a boniness to her face that illustrated malnutrition. While the boy didn’t exactly look like he was starving he still looked like he could an extra meal each day himself.
With a pang of regret for them, Sara wandered how her own parents, no doubt worried about her as well, were doing. Were they okay or had the tensions within the hellscape forced them from their farmstead in the Jalacial Flatlands as well? Since the Stray Dogs had left Miffland for their mission she hadn’t had the chance to write to them. The last letter she had received from Grace Abernathy, her mother had written her father would stay on the farm until circumstances absolutely forced them to leave their form. But circumstances were getting worse, the influence of the Casteless and the Scarlet Church spreading across the ‘scape like a wildfire. How could they possibly have?
Having arrived at the clinic, Sara forced these thoughts from her mind. They wouldn’t do her any good when she had her own troubles she was dealing with. It wasn’t until she entered the clinic that she remembered why she had chosen to come here: the fragrances of healing herbs and substances wrapped around her with the comfort and familiarity like the loving arms of an old friend. Sister Abigail couldn’t have given Fulko a more comforting, more safer place to sleep after the months of torture he had suffered. Hopefully the comforting atmosphere within the building would help comfort his mind.
Sister Abigail came stepping out of a door, white cloak sweeping behind her. “Ah,” she said cheerfully when she saw Sara, who had been studying labeled bottles of herbs and healing teas behind a glass case. “I thought I heard someone come in. Can I help you with anything, dear?”
Instantly put at ease by the nun’s friendly nature, Sara smiled. “No. I just came here to...I don’t know why I came here to be honest. For comfort I suppose. I’ve always loved the smell of herbs.”
The older woman nodded, understanding. “I’ve always felt the same way. That or when I’m in the chapel, praying to Mercius. I was just getting ready to make some tea. Perhaps you would like to join me.”
Sara hated the sense of eagerness that tugged at her heart like a rope but she craved interaction, even if it was someone she didn’t know. As long as the conversation was pleasant, without snappy insults mixed in, or words blotted out because she was pretending to be someone else, she cared not. Though she thought her relationship with Lydia to be loving it was no less difficult than her relationship with the other members of D-squad. “I would love some tea.”
Sara glanced at the old grandfather clock in the corner of the office, fascinated by the tick-tocking sound it made; she’d heard of them and read about them but had never actually seen one.
“Quite the curiosity isn’t it?” Sister Abigail asked. “Apparently it was found in the Ubrios Wastes, in almost perfect condition. Pope Drajen had it donated to our clinic, here at Mendes Outpost. Back in the days of the Old World, before the hellscape, grandfather clocks were considered pretty common.”
“It’s strange how some things, things like grandfather clocks, have survived when so many other things have not.”
Sister Abigail’s bright green eyes twinkled, reflecting both kindness and wisdom; Sara found it hard to look away. It was so rare to see these attributes in a person. “Isn’t it though?” the woman asked. “From old tomes it was said there were dinosaurs that lived long before we did, wiped out by a large rock from the sky and that we’re genetically related to apes and that we used to be able to travel to the moon. Now we can do none of those things. All of those things are gone, just as I’m sure the First Disciple and his demon masters wanted. May he burn in the Infernal Depths yet, if you don’t mind me saying.”
Sara chuckled. “May he burn.” She took a sip from her tea, which tasted wonderful: chai tea, with hints of vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
“So if a lonely old nun may ask, how does a pretty young woman such as yourself end up with a squad of prisoners?”
“I volunteered, as did Crow.”
“The young practitioner.”
“That’s the one.”
“I didn’t volunteer immediately. I started as a novitiate. I was getting ready to make my temporary vows and then changed my mind.”
Mother Abigail leaned forward slightly in her chair. “May I ask why?”
Sara blushed sheepishly. “The Eurchurch frowns upon it...”
“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, but I promise you I won’t say a word to anyone outside of this room about what you tell me. Not only do I not have the right to judge but I feel that there are some things the Eurchurch should change their views on. And some things they have. If you need an obvious example just think: before the recent uprising of the Scarlet Church, and the influx of demon activity, the Eurchurch was burning anyone with the slightest amount of mana in their blood at the stake - except for healers of course. Men, women, and children, it didn’t matter their age. Sometimes there were even mass burnings. Now the practitioners and the Eurchurch are working together to rid the hellscape of the Scarlet Church and its followers - hopefully once and for all. A pivotal moment in history, this business between the practitioners and the Eurchurch. They call it the Inquisition just to make it official.”
Sara voiced a question that had been burning in the back of her mind; it had been stuck there, glued to the back of her skull but she was only just now fully aware of its presence. “Do you you think there’s any hope for the Inquisition? Do you think we can win against the Scarlet Church, or is this truly the end of everything?”
The nun studied her from across the table for a long time; the creases in her face had deepened with sadness. “That depends on whether or not you truly want to know what I think.”
“This will be the second war I’ve experienced should I live long enough to see its end,” Mother Abigail said. “I’m not really sure the last one ended, I think maybe it just paused in light of the bigger threat.” Sara knew she meant the Eurchurch-Practitioner War; even now, in the face of the threat from the Scarlet Church, the Practitioner’s Guild and the Eurchurch bickered with each other. Was their alliance strong enough to withstand the grudge and spilt blood between them?
“To finally get to the answer you seek of me I think there’s always room for hope,” continued Mother Abigail.
“Do you truly believe that?” Sara asked. “Or are you only saying so because you think it’s what I want to hear?”
The nun’s brow’s furrowed. “It is what I truly believe. I would not have given my life to Mercius if I did not. Don’t you believe there is hope?”
I did once, Sara thought, but could not bring herself to say the words out loud.
Mother Abigail took a slow sip of her tea, eyes downcast. “On the other side of my answer I feel that the Eurchurch must continue to change its way of thinking. If not then the Scarlet Church will win this war and put an end to everything.”