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1:11 Bad Reputation
They walked through the chapel, passing groups of people in plain clothes and in the black cloth of the clergy, all with their heads bowed in prayer. At the front of the room was a modern edifice of Christ, carved in wood, depicted as a rogue in a duster with a massive cross slung over his shoulder. Chad found it far more comforting than the traditional, more torturous image of the crucifixion. Joe looked like a man who wanted to brazenly yell ‘blasphemy!’, but respectfully remained silent.
At the back of the chapel there was a statue of three wise men playing a game of dice. Carla pulled on one of their beards and a stone slab recessed into the wall, revealing a dark tunnel. She led them through the passage and into a small grotto with dim light shining from pockets in the stone ceiling. Water poured down grooves in the walls into small pools illuminated in deep blue. Several plush couches had been arranged in the center of the room around a wooden table covered in glass decanters. Three stone chalices had been set out.
“Expecting company?” asked Joe.
“I’m always prepared.” Carla sat on one of the couches and picked up a green glass decanter with the stopper in the shape of a skull. She poured thick, red liquid into the stone cup closest to her.
Chad felt his hand reaching down toward the mescaline in his pocket, but balled his fist up tight, resisting the urge. Something deep within told him that it was not yet the time, and that he was going to need it. There was a part of his brain that yelled at him to take it before it was somehow taken away, but Chad shut it out.
While Chad struggled internally, Joe and Carla began discussing the concept of Hell on earth at length. Chad thought that most of it sounded like arcane bullshit, but each time the word apocalypse was mentioned, he felt his attention rise. As much as he understood little, he did know that without their help, the world was only going to have a year left.
Joe and Carla chatted and drank, ignoring Chad as if he were one of the church’s many statues. Cups were drained and refilled, and yet Chad sat, cup dry, with no offers of refreshment. He was growing angry when Carla came to the same conclusion as Mrs. B had in the diner. “One way or another, it looks like we’re going to need some outside help.”
“Were those not swords I saw hanging above the alter?” Joe motioned back toward the chapel.
Carla rolled her eyes. “You know as much as I do that they’re decorative. Unlike the traditional churches, we take a strictly neutral stance on the conflicts above, below and in between. Tends to keep us out of awkward situations like… I don’t know, holy wars, genocide, you name it.”
“Thousands of years later and your still can’t let us live down The Crusades.”
“I know more than a few undead who are still pretty sore about it.”
Chad was about to ask about the undead when Joe cut him off.
“Ancient history and necromancy aside, I know what you’re going to suggest Carla, and the answer is no.”
“Do it or don’t,” she raised her hands placatively. “It’s none of my business, but no matter which way you slice it, you’re going to need Nick Venter.”
Joe winced as if the very mention of the name pained him.
“Oh give it a rest. What did he do to you that was so bad anyway? It can’t be worse than excommunication.” Carla drank deeply from her goblet. The statement had been a jab, but there was true hurt behind it.
A dark look crossed Joe’s face. “Doctor Ventner took a young man from the clergy as his apprentice. As you know, with his track record, that’s a death sentence. I heard a month later the poor kid had been tossed into a volcano to satisfy an island god.” Joe drank bitterly to the memory.
“Sounds like Nick alright. Oh, and he’s not a doctor.”
“Really?” Joe seemed surprised.
“Can you imagine Ventner in a place of higher education? He wouldn’t last ten minutes with someone else calling the shots. No, people just sort of assume, and he does nothing to correct the rumor. Call him Mr. Ventner when you see him; it’ll piss him right off.”
Joe smiled at the thought.
“Who is this Nick Ventner anyway?” interjected Chad.
Carla looked him over. “You heard any of the stories?”
“Ghost at a local diner told me to find him before she was dragged to Hell.” Chad shuddered at the memory. “Then this one,” He gestured to Joe, “said that he wouldn’t have anything to do with him. Sounds popular.”
“You received instructions from the undead to find him?” asked Carla, the conversational tone gone from her voice.
“Yes, that’s why I went—”
“Then why the hell are you here?” Her voice was suddenly full of a chastising anger. “Disobeying the wishes of the undead is unwise.”
“I have no idea who Nick Ventner is, and I figured the best place to learn about Hell on earth was a church.” Chad shrugged. “Closest church to B’s Diner was Joe’s.”
Carla nodded with understanding, but kept her serious demeanor. “When the dead speak, it’s for good reason. Returning to the land of the living is no easy feat.” She paused, thinking the matter over and returned her attention to Joe. “Look, I can give you all the information we’ve got on the end of times, but at some point, you’re going to need to set aside your anger for the greater good.”
“He got a member of my clergy killed, Carla.”
“One death, or the death of the world as we know it? Should be an easy choice for a man of the cloth.” She eyed his robes. “So long as that still means something.”
Joe scowled. “Of course it does.” He drained his chalice. “I’m just not sure Ventner will live long if I find him.”
Carla rolled her eyes. “Ok tough guy.”
“What are you trying to say?”
Carla ignored Joe. “Fair play dictates that Chad has a year to stop the apocalypse from happening, but doesn’t say anything about how anyone could accomplish such a feat. I’ll put our best people on it, but if Chad gets killed in the interim…”
“Yeah, I’d prefer to avoid that if possible,” interjected Chad, briefly feeling like a part of the conversation.
“Yes, I’m sure you have so much to live for. The hell hound on the freeway was likely the first of many, and if they chose you for fair play, it means that you’re the only one who can stop it, and they don’t think there’s any way you’ll be able to do it. You’re not going to survive whatever they send next without outside help.”
Joe opened his mouth to protest again.
“You are going to need Nick Ventner. He’s killed more beasts than the rest of the Order combined.”
“Can’t we just use Manchester?” asked Joe.
“Haven’t you heard? Manchester hasn’t been seen since his party left for the mountains three months ago. Most hold out hope, but if our intel is to be believed, he’s dead. Nick Ventner is your best hope. Now, as painful as it might be, swallow your anger, and go find him, or we’re all lost.”
Want to know more about Nick Ventner? Check out the first few chapters of Whiteout, the first in the Nick Ventner series! There’s also a short story featuring Nick, a lake monster, and a whole lot of chocolate. Links Below: