Initiates wore silk as a sign of opulence, so that all the brothers of the order would know the truth. Hálma didn’t mind so much. She liked the way it felt on her skin.
For the first time in 200 seasons, a woman joined the men in prayer to worship asceticism in the burnt out abbey in Nord Trøndelag. Their chants warmed her soul, transcendent reverberations speaking sweet lullabies into the darkness on the night. Each man kneeled reverently on the cold stone, straddling concave impressions of generations, as torchlight licked their faces. They had all come seeking refutation, and the authority to stay the Materia Elicitum. Each man bore their chosen brand upon their hand and the day would come when Hálma would receive her own: the entwined band, of penance. Then she too could serve as an acolyte and herald to Refutemon, and declare the folly of the unenlightened.
Aspect Gauss, the Order’s chief herald entered the foyer and announced himself with customary formality. The brothers all turned their heads attentively. Hálma shuffled on her knees, positioning herself towards Gauss, who looked fat and dignified. His rotund waist puffed through his purple habit with his two hands folded over it delicately.
“Highest Aspect,” a lanky pockmarked acolyte spouted eagerly, picking himself off the ground. His busy hands dusted away the remnant stone. “How may we serve the agent of Refutemon?”
Gauss briskly whisked his hand impatiently in dismissal.
“Brothers,” he said blessing the space, “If you please, seek enlightenment elsewhere. I have words for the outsider.” Hálma held her breath and sat backward, onto her hands, as Gauss encircled her inspecting her closely. The cowed acolytes said nothing. They stood and filed out like ogres, hunchbacked and lumbering. Gauss watched them leave, patting his gut rhythmically with his fingertips.
“Well then,” he began, “How have you sought the Master this week?”
Hálma shrugged, looking away sheepishly.
“Still getting used to the robes,” she replied, tugging at her sleeves.
Gauss’s face changed in the firelight, subtly. He approached the altar to warm his hands, but paused and reached inside his sleeves to grab a pipe. Fixing the pipe to his mouth, he drew a slender stick from his belt and lit the end of it on the fire. He used the incense to light his pipe and anxiously puffed away.
“No, please,” he said pointing his pipe stem at Hálma unamused. “Clearly my coffers aren't deep enough for you. Play the part, walk the walk, that was the deal.”
Hálma tugged at her sleeves. She felt the knives press into her skin.
“Why are you really here?” Hálma began, closing her eyes. She could hear the holy man falter. Two steps forward, one back, two back again. He takes a seat down on the kneeling stone. Opening her eyes, she could appreciate the fear he possessed, how raw it was, how articulate.
“Beda was spotted touring the waterways,” Gauss said twiddling his thumbs. “he’s coming back. He needs to be stopped before he hurts any more people. The order will not… cannot be shamed by him.”
Hálma’s body twisted and lifted off the ground, her body flowing like a cat.
“And… and I, for one, would like the matter dealt with discreetly,” Gauss added hastily. But as Hálma slowly approached him, his firm, confident grip on reality melted away. Gauss began to cry, and Hálma stroked his bald pate soothingly.
“He can’t… he’ll destroy everything. Our ways are not of violence, but we are desperate,” Gauss whimpered.
Nodding, Hálma gave Gauss a reassuring pat on the back.
“I can’t blame you, Aspect,” Hálma said, letting go of Gauss. “Religion has the power to create, and destroy. Beda, whoever he is, I don’t care either way for his intensions.” Hálma walked backwards, pacing closer to the edge of night.
“I’ve never had to kill a man that could talk me to death,” she said. “Sounds fun.”
She left Gauss alone to his thoughts, as she walked back to the dormitories. She had worked with the cults before, but nothing like the Order of Sacred Refutation. Religious nuts, this Beda character, she couldn’t make heads of tails of it. He was a talker, a rogue. Those were the most dangerous kind.
“Come home Beda,” she taunted. “My knives will find you first.”