Heart and Veins
Julianna had to admit, the chapel on the grounds of the Soldiers of the Sun compound -- housed away from the Fellowship church for numerous reasons -- was pretty. During midday, she could sit in the empty pews and watch the glinting autumn sun play through the stained glass windows. It wasn't big, and it wasn't as ornate as some places of worship, like the Fellowship's main number, a cathedral-type place with sparkling clear skylights, a state of the art sound system and other features designed to get the word out as far as possible.
Vampires are bad, God is good, all rejoice.
It was quiet, and when she was out late and came home in the early hours of the morning, she crept into the building and rode out the last waves of her V high. It was getting cold out, and she could see her own breath in the form of mini puffs of white. Her brother used to call it 'making clouds' when he was little.
What civilians didn't know was that the chapel had a dual purpose. There was a lone skylight up above that opened up like the sun-roof on a car. Directly beneath it was a raised platform with restraints in the form of silver chains. It was for a special ceremony the Fellowship liked to call 'Meet the Dawn.' The idea was to capture a vampire, strap him into it and unveil him to God and the righteous sun, burning him to cinders. Julianna approached it, running her hand over the cold concrete. Using her palms for leverage, she boosted herself up onto it and swung her legs around. She laid back, her dark hair forming a halo around her head, and looked up at the square patch of light.
Whether he was coming to a Fellowship church for a sermon or on his own time, Adam took great care to conceal his identity. He probably resembled aShaolin monk with his maroon robes and corresponding hood, which he draped low over his face to hide his nose and eyes. Though Adam was enjoying a 7-point lead in the polls, he didn't want his association with the Fellowship -- a group that was split when it came to public opinion -- to ruin his chances.
Sure, the Fellowship had good intentions with the whole death-to-vampires thing, but their methods drew scrutiny, and it would be unbecoming of a potential mayor to condone such acts. Still, Adam's hatred from the undead -- or really anything different -- made the loose, unofficial association between him and the Fellowship rather appropriate.
Entering the chapel, Adam smirked when he saw the woman on the platform with the chains. She obviously wasn't a vampire -- she'd be toast otherwise -- but the show of curiosity was slightly entertaining. Adam needed the laugh, in light of the campaign's recent days and the fact that he was dealing with the mysteriousdisappearance of his wife's fertility medication.
Having to hire a new housekeeper because the other one let a stranger in didn't help matters.
Approaching the altar with quiet steps, Adam pulled the hood a little lower over his face before folding his hands together under the bulky sleeves of his robes. "I certainly hope that's not wishful thinking," he said softly. "I can't imagine anyone wanting to be up there."
Julianna sat up quickly, cursing herself for doing so as it brought a sharp wave of nausea. Her hand immediately went to the inside of her jacket, her fingers curling around the handle of her knife. "No," she said. "I was praying." It wasn't true, of course, but it was her default answer whenever someone walked in on her. She narrowed her green eyes suspiciously, hopping down easily from the platform, the sound of her boots hitting the ground echoing through the empty chapel. "Who are you?"
Her first thought was the guy was some sort of Hare Krishna type who accidentally came across the compound. But the place was heavily guarded, even though it didn't look like it from the outside. One needed clearance to enter, and the weird robes would have definitely caught attention.
Adam smiled knowingly beneath his hood. "A friend of the Fellowship," he answered cryptically. The girl didn't strike him as the type of person who would know who a candidate for mayor was, but anonymity was always his friend; it was why he was so mad a few weeks back when he caught Spencer, one of his top aides, half-naked on his desk at campaign headquarters with a young girl.
For someone who ran on moral superiority, that sort of thing would help no one -- except the competition.
"Am I to assume you are as well?" he asked, cocking his head to the side and sitting in one of the wooden pews to his left. The woman seemed a little rugged, like maybe she spent a good bit of her time fighting. She was either a warrior, or just some girl on the street whose life had gone the way of Satan. If she was the former, Adam would grant her the pleasure of knowing his name.
If not? Contempt was all Adam could muster at the thought.
Her posture straightened, and she withdrew her hand from her jacket. She doubted the man would suddenly leap from the pew and attack her -- he definitely wasn't a vampire, either -- but just in case, she hadunclipped the knife from where it was encased. It would then just be a simple matter of pulling it out. "I'm a Soldier," she replied, figuring if this guy was a friend of the Fellowship, as he claimed, he would know what that meant. "Ordained for patrol. I'm on observe and neutralize orders." Also known as, spot the vamps and take them down.
Julianna could feel the sun heating the crown of her head, and it wasn't an unpleasant sensation, considering the chilly air that permeated the place. Maybe that was why this guy was walking around like he was something out of a Dan Brown novel.
The smile on Adam's face broadened. She was one of the fighters, spent her nights staking vampires. Beat spending all night drinking herself silly and sleeping with any random guy who came along. This woman was already heads-and-tails better than just about every other college-aged girl in this city. Fixated on beer and boys ... when would they ever find anything worth a damn in their lives?
He lowered his head in a bow. "Then let me offer you my thanks," he said, "for fighting the good fight."
Adam sat up a little straighter, taking in his arcane surroundings. He stared at the sun roof for a moment, the shadow of the hood cascading over his chin. He smiled once more, glancing at the crucifix nailed to the far wall. The sight always brought about a certain calm to the wannabe mayor.
"We all have our roles in this fight."
Julianna's cheeks reddened slightly, which annoyed her. No one thanked her for what she did, and she liked to tell herself she didn't need the sentiment. But if she was being honest, she would have suspected it was because she didn't truly believe she deserved it. "Not a problem," she said, feigning a blithe tone. And just in case he was one of the hidden higher-ups in her chain of command, she added, "With all due respect, may I ask ... what's your role?"
She took a step away from the platform, wishing she had stopped for a quick shower and change of clothes earlier.
"Hard to say," Adam said, cocking his head upward a little more to feign contemplation. "I guess my role hasn't exactly been defined as of yet. I'm not a fighter in the traditional sense -- handing me a weapon is one of the worst things anyone can do -- but ..."
He folded his arms over his chest, raising his left hand to stroke his chin for a moment. He unfolded his arms once more, leveling a gaze at the woman, making sure the hood once again obscured his eyes.
"I lend ... support to the cause. I donate when I can, pray when it's called for. And yet ... I find myself wanting to do more, and I come here twice a week for a bit of quiet prayer, hoping the good Lord guides me in the right direction."
Complete bullshit; then again, Adam was a politician.
She decided to sit down on the front pew as well, while still keeping a good four or five feet of distance away from the mysterious man. "What if I told you I didn't believe in God?" she asked him. Julianna looked down at her boots to gather her thoughts. "But that I didn't completely, truly believe there isn't one, either. I mean, I know that's called an agnostic, but this seems more ... existential than that. I do what I do, and I'm not sure why. I have a litany of reasons for doing it, of course, but I figure the more reasons I come up with, the less true they are."
She wondered why she was telling all of this to a stranger, to anyone. Usually she kept her mouth shut and went about her business, fulfilling her duties as she saw fit.
Adam mentally chewed on the woman's words for a moment, though he snarled internally at her. He had little use for people who didn't believe in God; they were pretty much dead to him. But this girl dedicated her life to fighting and killing vampires, so Adam figured he should at least forgive the God transgression ... particularly since she admitted God might exist after all, she just wasn't sure.
Weak-mindedness, Adam thought. Anyone who didn't know unequivocally that God existed was weak-minded at best, corrupted at worst. Since this girl killed vampires, she had to be the former.
"I would say," he began, choosing his words carefully, "it's natural to question. It's what makes us human. Animals don't question; they simply follow their instincts. God gave humans no such luxury; He burdened us with intelligence and awareness, knowing it's up to us how we use them.
"It's a test from on high."
Julianna looked up at the man, her expression uncertain. Something about his voice scared her ... and angered her at the same time. "A test," she repeated. She leaned back against the pew. She could feel her heart thudding away in her chest, and her fingers itched to withdraw the glass vial in her pocket, to take a drop of V right in front of him. She knew about tests. "Like a vampire-hating church supplying an illegal drug to their soldiers?" Maybe she was goading him just a little. Maybe she wanted him to take off that damn hood and judge her face-to-face.
"Perhaps," Adam conceded, glancing once more at the crucifix on the far wall. The sunlight missed the image, and it was hard to see behind the rays. But Adam was so convinced in his beliefs that he knew he could see the crucifix clear as day, even if the chapel were pitch black.
"Or perhaps it is a means to an end," he added knowingly. "Though our intentions are always honorable, our methods might not necessarily be so. But at the end of the day, we are judged by what is in our hearts and our minds, and if they are in the right place, misguided actions can -- and will -- be forgiven."
He glanced the woman's way again, removing the hood. "It's not about what's in your veins. It's about what's in your heart."
There was a flicker of recognition as Julianna looked at the man. Adam Thurston, soon-to-be Mayor Thurston, if the Fellowship had their way. They were his staunchest supporters, and it was all in secret, even though rumors flickered all around. She remembered the comment Fox had made. "The ends justify the means. I thought that was Machiavelli, not King James," she quipped. Julianna had heard the speeches, and she knew how seriously he took God's word, so she also knew the remark would irk him. Somehow, she didn't really care. The only power people had was what you attributed them.
"My mother was made a vampire when I was going on seventeen. I had to leave my home, my younger brother in tow, and the only place that welcomed me was the Fellowship. They trained me into who I am today, and my brother wants to follow in my footsteps. Can't say I'm too thrilled with the idea of him taking V, though. But if he doesn't, he's toast. And a dead soldier is a useless one, right?"
"God gave us his words," Adam contemplated, "but even He couldn't dictate how we interpreted or ignored them. Free will is at once the greatest freedom and the most suffocating responsibility of our lives." He glanced at the crucifix again, his gaze narrowing. "There's also something to be said for intent. Sometimes, a sin committed for the purpose of the greater good is more forgivable."
He glanced the woman's way again, sizing her up. There was a determination about her, combined with a vulnerability -- a vulnerability the Fellowship had no doubt taken advantage of by now. Personal vengeance was probably more prevalent among Fellowship soldiers than the elders wanted to admit, but it didn't really matter to Adam. To him, a soldier's reason for being there wasn't nearly as important as the fact that he was there.
In this battle, there was no why. There was just bloodshed.
"Is your mother ... still around?"
"I have no idea. I never gave her a chance." Julianna smiled to herself, her fingers toying with the cold metal zipper of her jacket. "She came home and made the mistake of showing us her new fangs. She almost glamoured my younger brother into letting her in, but I stopped it. I locked us in the bathroom until dawn, we packed two bags and we came here." She looked up at Adam, and a strange thought flitted through her head. I could kill him right now. Who would know? I could make it look like a mugging. She frowned and turned away.
"You can't give them a chance to infect your mind, to twist it." Julianna thought of Theresa at the club earlier. "No matter how much they may look like us, they're not human. They're monsters."
"In every sense of the word," Adam answered, smiling.
Clearing his throat, Adam glanced the woman's way again before pulling the hood over his face once again. He rose, taking a deep breath and closing his eyes. He couldn't quite explain it, but every time the mayoral candidate set foot in one of the Fellowship's worship halls, he felt a current of power rushing though him. Adam was fairly certain he was imagining that, but it was there nonetheless -- almost as if it was God's way of telling Adam he was right.
Not that he needed the affirmation.
"I trust this conversation will be kept secret?" he cautioned. "There are those who wouldn't take kindly to my association with the Fellowship."
Julianna's eyes settled on his covered face. "I'm good at keeping secrets," she told him. "This is just one of many." Now that he was leaving, she felt comfortable giving him one long, last study. If the rumors were true, this was the man responsible for her budding drug addiction. All in the name of God, if one paraphrased the words he had spoken to her. She hated when politicians tried to sound all wise. They were better off working for Hallmark.
"Good," Adam smiled again, his lips barely visible below the hem of his hood. "God bless."
His steps, though quiet, almost echoed throughout the chapel as Adam left. He had a press luncheon downtown in an hour, and he trusted Spencer would have all the talking points in order. The Sun-Times had been snooping around regarding the possible theft at the Thurston residence two weeks ago, and Adam didn't appreciate the distraction.
Adam wouldn't be surprised if the whole thing was cooked up by his opponent. Politics were a dirty game; pretty much nothing was off-limits, not even one's family.