Grayson watched as Avice took flight ahead of them. He was pleased. The familiar was not going to be such a nuisance after all.
He was slightly concerned after she told him what he wanted to hear that she would just be in the way, constantly hanging around him until he commanded her to do something useful. That seemed to not be the case. The shapeshifting runt was of use.
Slowing his horse to a canter, he glanced over at Phoebe. She hummed the song she sang earlier, her head rocking with the rhythm that only existed in her head. It was haunting and gave off an ominous feeling, making Grayson doubt that she heard it from a normal soldier.
What’s more, after Avice talked about the Veil, it left more questions than answers. But, instead of dwelling on it, Grayson decided to focus on the task at hand. Getting Eleanor back.
The dream he had the previous night gave him the feeling that Eilif was the one talking to him.
‘The smug bastard,’ Grayson thought in annoyance.
And he recognized the name from the militia. ‘Master’ Eilif as they called him, was trying to capture him, Alice, and Phoebe. The reason was beyond Grayson, although his kind has a vendetta against witches. Perhaps it was because Grayson is Eleanor’s husband and Eilif wishes for him to be out of the picture?
Grayson growled loudly at the very thought of this Master Eilif taking his wife and claiming her. The animals and birds scattered at the sound of a terrifying predator. Phoebe looked over at him with wide eyes. Curiosity filled them instead of fear.
Ignoring her, Grayson turned his focus to Avice, who was flying back to him at that moment.
Grayson held out his forearm for her to land on. Her claws dug into his skin as she accepted the perch.
‘There is a church up ahead. A nun and most likely a priest occupy it. There may be more, but I did not see or hear anyone else.’ Avice mind-linked to Grayson.
Grayson nodded once in response.
A church. He felt on edge at the word. He was not a religious man, and he did not have any recollection of going to church as a child or with Eleanor. But he did not trust his memories, they seemed to leave out important things. He trusted his intuition more than anything.
They slowed their horses to a walk as they came to the clearing. As they broke the tree line, Phoebe gasped loudly at the tall church.
They slowly walked by the garden filled with flowers and statues when the large double door suddenly opened.
Grayson felt the demon inside him hiss at the occupants of the church.
A priest and a nun with a scowl on her face walked down the stairs. Both were older, with wrinkles covering their faces. The nun wore a habit that seemed to fit tightly around her face while the priest’s hair was decorated in silver and white. They both wore typical outfits for a nun and priest, even with the growing cold.
“Hello travelers!” Shouted the priest while waving.
“Hi!” Phoebe shouted back.
Grayson did not say anything. He was uneasy at the sight of the priest and nun. Like there was something about their appearance that was familiar.
The priest and nun continued down the steps and walked through the garden to meet them. Grayson and Phoebe stopped before the path into the garden, allowing the priest and nun to come to them.
Once they stopped in front of them, the priest smiled. “It has been a while since we’ve had any proper guests. How can I aid you?”
Grayson studied him. His smile was genuine and his light brown eyes showed kindness that is rarely seen.
“We are trying to find my friend, his wife,” Phoebe spoke, earning a glare from Grayson.
The priest hummed, his eyes showing concern. “Oh, well we have not had anyone pass this way in a long time. I’m sorry that is all the information I can give.”
The nun continued to glare up at them, her dull blue eyes showing hostility rather than good will.
“What I can provide though, is warm food and a warm place to stay the night,” The priest continued.
“Father!” the nun whisper yelled.
The priest turned to her. “Do not worry Sister Jane. It is our duty to help those in need. You know that,” He smiled and turned his attention back to them. “Do not mind her, she is leery around strangers.”
“As she should,” Grayson spoke, staring into the nun’s eyes. Fear and anger filled them as she glared back at him, making him smirk.
Phoebe looked over at Grayson with wide eyes. “Can we please stay here for the night?” Her voice pleading like a child.
“No.” Grayson snapped, making Avice croak. “We have to travel to the next town before we stop for the night.”
“Besides, we do not want to disturb the praising and worshiping of their God.” Grayson threw a sideways look at Phoebe, “do we?”
Phoebe shrugged one shoulder while her face remained impassive.
The priest chuckled at Grayson’s words. “He is Almighty and is God to everyone, not just our God,” he motioned to himself and the nun, “we would have no trouble worshipping Him if you were around.”
Avice croaked loudly again, bringing the priest’s attention to her.
“That’s the bird I saw, Father. “ The nun whispered to the priest, clutching her hands together tightly.
“It’s a beautiful bird. A Raven?” The priest asked, showing no signs of superstition.
Grayson nodded. “If you could point us in the direction of the next town, we will be on our way.”
The priest chuckled again. “Of course. Continue on the path over there,” he pointed to a small worn-down path that was opposite the church’s doors. It was surrounded by trees but not as dense as the forest they just came from.
“Although,” The priest continued, “I do recommend spending the night, it is already getting late in the day and it will take you all night to get there.”
Grayson did not like being near the church. It had nothing to do with that particular church, it had to do with the memory of candles and darkness and a bed with red silk sheets. There was a connection to that room and churches, making Grayson taste the dirty cloth from his memories. It made Grayson’s heart rate pick up and sweat start to form on his forehead.
He has never had a reaction like this before. He was always so calm and collected when it came to fighting and facing impossible problems. But this church, this memory that had broken free, was causing him a great deal of emotional pain that he was not ready to deal with.
So, Grayson opened his mouth to decline the priest’s offer again when Phoebe answered for him instead.
“We would love to stay! We need to replenish before continuing on our journey anyways, right Grayson?” Phoebe looked over at him with pleading eyes.
Grayson glared at her. She knew they needed to get to Eleanor, and the more they stopped the farther away she was getting. However, he knew they were already wearing thin. They have barely eaten the past few days and they needed supplies. To top it off, their coin was extremely limited, so having a place to stay the night, with food, for free was the best option they had.
Sighing, Grayson nodded.
The priest smiled while the nun scolded him from behind.
“The horses can go around back in the small barn. There is hay and water for them. Once you are ready, please come inside. I’ll make sure your rooms are ready.” He turned and walked away.
The nun stood in her spot for another moment, making sure her glare penetrated Grayson, Phoebe, and Avice before turning around and following the priest.
Grayson and Phoebe went to put their horses in the barn while Avice circled the church, looking for signs of a threat in any form.
After making sure the horses were comfortable, Grayson and Phoebe found themselves staring up at the church at the bottom of the stairs. For some reason, they felt like they were about to enter forbidden grounds, knowing they both were too dirty for such a holy place.
Normally, Grayson did not care. But this place had him on edge, making him feel weak and hesitant. He hated the feeling.
With one hand on the hilt of his sword and the other clenching into a fist, Grayson ascended the stairs. Avice landed on his shoulder halfway up the stairs while Phoebe lifted her skirts and followed close behind.
Up close, they saw the large double doors were made of a dark wood and smooth to the touch, practically shining in the lowering sun. The handles were made from gold but needed a good buffering from years of neglect.
Grayson pulled open the door, a woosh of air flew past them, bringing the scent of mold and burning candles to fill their nostrils. Phoebe ended up sneezing loudly as they stepped inside the church.
“Bless you!” A voice yelled then chuckled, causing an echo to fill the room.
Grayson and Phoebe lifted their heads towards the end of the hall. In front of a raised platform, which held an alter with copious amounts of lit candles and a large cross standing tall, stood the priest. He smiled while beckoning them to come closer.
The two cautiously walked down the aisle, passing by the benches that lined either side of them.
Grayson took a finger and dragged it across one the benches. Picking up his finger, he looked at the film of dust that covered it. Grayson looked at the priest and rubbed his hand on his pants.
“Quite dusty in here…” Grayson said.
The priest chuckled. “It cannot be helped. We have not had worshippers for a long while and it is only me and Sister Jane here to take care of this large church.” Looking over the church, the priest smiled as he reminisced about the days when the church would be flooded with people.
Grayson hummed an acknowledgement, not really caring about the priest’s problems.
As he continued to walk, Grayson looked at the stained-glass windows high up on the walls. They were odd.
There were seven of them on each side, matching exactly with the other side of the church.
Grayson stopped and stared at each of them, confused on what they were depicting.
“These are the seven deadly sins.” The priest said, watching Grayson’s face for a reaction.
He gave none. Instead, he stopped walking to study each stained glass, seeing if he could match the sins.
The first window held a half-naked man lounging against a tree, bathing in the sunlight.
’Sloth,’ thought Grayson.
The second window held two men fighting. Each held a sword, both blocking at the same time. Their faces showed the anger and hatred they had for each other. For what the dispute could have been about, Grayson was not sure.
’Wrath,’ he concluded.
The third window held a fat woman, sitting at a table with food overflowing it. She was stuffing her face with the food, her mouth partially opening as if in mid chew.
The fourth window held a king and queen at the top of a hill with people of the bottom reaching up for them, trying to get to them. Trying to become them.
The fifth window held a woman completely naked with a man clutching onto her waist. She regarded him with half-lidded eyes while you could read the need in the man’s eyes.
The sixth window held a woman sitting on a pile of gold and jewels. She had a satisfied smile on her face while she watched the gold coins fall from her hands.
The seventh, and final, window held a man wearing armor, his helmet under his arm. He stood on top of a hill, staring straight ahead with just the lightest smirk on his face.
“Ah, pride. The deadliest sin of all seven sins.” The priest spoke right beside Grayson, making his hand go straight for his sword.
The priest pretended not to notice the sudden defense stance. “Did you ever wonder why pride is the worst of them?”
Grayson looked at the priest, making sure to give him the ‘I really don’t care’ face. That did not stop the priest.
He chuckled and leaned forward, so he could whisper in Grayson’s ear. “It is said that pride is the root of all evil. That Lucifer, having been the most beautiful angel and God’s favorite, became prideful and challenged God, causing his eventual downfall into hell. Thus, creating the other six sins. Why create more sins? Perhaps Lucifer was lonely and wanted wicked souls to keep him company. Or perhaps he was just simply bored.”
Grayson clenched his jaw as the priest withdrew and walked away.
“Come! Your rooms are ready!” The priest yelled, not bothering to see if they were following.
Avice croaked silently, making Grayson remember she was still on his shoulder.
Glancing at Phoebe, whose eyes were filled with curiosity at the scene she just witnessed, Grayson turned on his heel and followed the priest.