Shepherds
rating: +92+x

Mary-Ann Lewitt re-adjusted her blanket. November night blustered outside the window, the cold leaking in through the seams of the apartment. Of course, the truth was that the warmth was leaking out and the “cold” was not actually anything, but Mary-Ann generally thought of that definition as the realm of scientists who had never experienced proper cold.

This cold was a small one, easily fought with a wool blanket and a mug of chai tea. Alexander was sleeping on top of the computer tower, as he often was. Mary-Ann sipped her tea and went back to scrolling through the database of groups.

Cult of the Wordsmith: Christian-descendant group of approximately 250. Language is considered sacrosanct in both verbal and written form: destruction of written material considered gravely sinful. In possession of the Gospel of Bartholomew. Current Status: Integrated. Threat Level: None.

Mary-Ann had, in any sense of the term, lived a rather interesting life. She had slammed the door behind her the moment she had the chance, sworn off the faith she had grown up with, served several tours overseas, saw too many friends die, came back to America with a few more cracks than she had shipped out with, picked her faith back up while trying to get some peace of mind, went back to school, re-adapted to life, found some work.

Those Who Gaze Deeply: A collection of European alchemical practitioners in search of the “God-Element”, that is, the material which God consists of. Connections with the Church of the Broken God suspected but never confirmed. Current Status: Defunct. Last Activity: 1991

That work happened to, once again, involve shooting at some rather fanatic people, except this time the fanatics she had shot at before were now her co-workers, and the fanatics she shot at now had a tendency to consort with demons in a very literal sense.

Sons of the Nephilim: Group of approximately 50 individuals located in a single compound within the Hindu Kush. Believe themselves to be the descendants of angelic beings: beliefs focus on re-attaining a perfect state. Highly violent, and in possession of a dangerous artifact, the supposed corpse of an angelic being. Integration talks pending. Current Status: Active. Threat Level: High.

Not as literal as it could have been, but at the end of the day there wasn’t much difference between a horned and hoofed imp with a pitchfork and the talking corpse floating in a septic tank.

The Bramberly Family and followers: Group of 216 individuals located in North Dakota, United States. Central belief that the head of the Bramberly family was in contact with alien life forms, and as such was to serve as the liberator of mankind from evil through various sexual rituals. Possession of artifacts suspected but never confirmed. Compound was raided by agents of the Global Occult Coalition. Current Status: Defunct. Last Activity: 1982.

The database entries scrolled by. There were over six hundred entries on the list, though a good deal of them were either extinct, or only fragments existed. For some, there was enough material stored away to publish an entire catechism on the belief. For others, the cover blurb was all there was.

Icthians: A group measuring approximately 700 practitioners in small cells along the northeastern seaboard of the United States. Group worships fish and aquatic life. In possession of no known artifacts. Notable events include a schism over the admittance of lobsters into the Salt Canon (six casualties) and the deaths of forty-five individuals inside a single trailer home under claims that sardines were the most holy of fish. Current Status: Active. Threat Level: Minimal.

When people heard “counter-cult” what did they jump to? Church of the Broken God and the Fifthists. Most of the agents over in Project Malleus encouraged that sort of glamorizing of the job. Mary-Ann would admit that the stories about fighting off waves of cogboys and starminds did wonders for morale throughout the Initiative, but she was pretty sure those were exaggerations. In the end the vast majority of her job was cleaning up the small stuff. The big cults generally fell under the jurisdiction of other groups, the ones with the resources and ability to combat them effectively. Very few of the cults were more than a couple dozen people, most didn’t have much staying power, and eventually, almost all of them devolved into some form of violence or sex, or both. If that didn’t say something about the fallen nature of man, Mary-Ann couldn’t think of anything better.

The Defiled: Buddhist-derived group, consisting of one hundred and eight individuals. Group is in possession of at least four anomalous artifacts. Primary goal is destruction of the physical universe, so as to help the entire human race achieve nirvana. Current Status: Active. Threat Level: High.

Ah, here was the one. Mary-Ann began converting her notes from that afternoon into the database. Nothing much to these ones: no name, no organization, not even a cult, really. Just an enemy group, one that managed to build a nice little torture engine in front of a church that killed fifteen people very slowly. The artifacts inside the church were likewise treated.

bleep-bloop The chat window opened on her screen. There he was, right on schedule.

Click

“Hey, Salah.” Mary-Ann continued tapping away at the keyboard.

“Hello. There has been a change in plans.” She could never place his accent. Whenever she thought it was pinned down as Middle-Eastern, it would seem more British, more Middle Eastern when it seemed British.

“Oh?”

“Three of them have committed suicide.”

“Arsenic dentures? Auto-erotic strangulation? That one thing with the diarrhea?”

“A small explosive hidden in the mouth. The splatter spelled out 'Fuck you' for two of them. The third was 'Check your privilege, you cisgendered cisnational cismental cisspecies cislingual cistime cispolarity cisdimensional scum.' The text was very small for that one.”

“Yow.”

“I was thinking of getting it engraved. It’d be a wonderful desk ornament.”

“Heh. Any of them left?”

“One. I was just about to arbitrate.”

“Wrapping up here as well.”

“Did the doctor say anything about your leg?

“Another week in the cast.”

“Ah, so it is. Well, God waits not for the machinations of man.”

blooooooop

Some distance away, in one of those places where people who needed to disappear disappeared in, a Pakistani man tucked his cellphone back in the pocket of his coat. It was a big, wool-lined thing, something bought on the cheap and worth a lot more than the money paid for it.

He focused his attention on the young woman in the makeshift cell. The tattoos were quite garish, as were the piercings, and the hair, and the gore splatters from her fellows didn’t do much either. She was shouting all manner of vile things at him, screeching about how she’d paint the Prophet in shit and menstrual blood all over the kaaba.

He would have loved to make her suffer for that. The young man with boiling blood shook the cage his older self had built around it, screaming to make himself heard over her blasphemies. Drop the act, just kill her. She’s nothing. Less than human. The lowest of infidels. Let the worms eat her and her soul rot in fire for eternity. You’d be justified, completely justified. The ritual just holds back the real justice…

As he did many times before, Salah reminded the young man with the boiling blood what that hate had gotten him before. The young man resisted, and he fought a lot harder than Salah could. He dug through the bag on the ground, looking for an excuse to busy his hands. As he always did, with each time the young man shook his cage, he thought it best to use the weapons of an old man: A calm tone and a quick tongue.

He stood up. In one hand, he held a slim tome bound in black, opened to a pre-marked page. In his other hand was a pistol.

“As is customary, you may take this moment to make a final atonement. If you wish to make a plea for forgiveness, please do so.”

The woman spat in his face.

“Very well. In the sight of God all-mighty and all-merciful, I find you guilty in the deaths of fifteen individuals and the desecration of holy relics contained within the church of St. Anthony. As appointed arbitrator of the eternal law, I hereby sentence you to death. With great regret and a heavy heart I do this, and trust in God’s mercy for the sake of your soul, and for mine. Have you any final words?”

“You think you’re the fucking Spanish Inquisition or something?”

Salah clicked off the safety.

“No, we don’t.”

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