Eight Years Ago…
Alysa hid under a pew in the Iseda Temple; hidden from her mother and Papa Torres. Ella Saraki had gotten up in the middle of the night and walked down the street to the temple in a hurry, leaving Alysa at home. She was certain her mother had left to go on an adventure and tagged along. While she hid, she watched Ella walk down the center of the aisle with Papa Torres following. At this time, Torres was relatively new to the Winghaven sector, having taken over a few years after the murder of Papa LaRue. They stood at the altar in the front of the room, lighting incense in preparation. Moments later, Farrell Creed came through the double doors, carrying a man over his shoulder, “I got our guy.” The man was thrashing and snarling but the ropes prevented him from attacking. Alysa was alarmed at how easily he could hold a full-grown man, especially one moving that frantically. Creed laid him on floor as he gave a warning, “Careful, he bites.” The duo quickly approached.
“Thank you for bringing him,” Ella told him, “Creed, this is Papa Torres. He’s our new priest.”
“Nice to meet ya,” Creed shook his hand politely.
“I’ve heard so much about you,” Torres said with a smile, “What happened here?”
“Missing person’s case,” Creed explained as Ella examined the man thrashing on the floor, “I found my guy but it looks like someone is in there with him.”
“I think he’s possessed,” Ella motioned toward Torres, “Hold him still.”
Torres sat behind the man, placing one muscular arm across his chest to hold him and placed one hand on the man’s forehead. He muttered something into the man’s ear while Ella began waving her arms, releasing streaks of light into the air, which surrounded the possessed man, forming a sigil around him. A strange wind began blowing through the room despite no open doors or windows. Soon, a shadow emerged from the struggling man and Alysa saw a grotesque face with gnashing teeth and glowing red eyes. It seemingly got larger as it ascended toward the rafters. The demonic spirit startled her and she couldn’t help but let out a small shriek. Ella turned, her concentration broken.
Clawed hands emerged from the shadows as the demon swatted the pews away, shaking the entire building and exposing Alysa. She screamed as the monster lunged for her. Ella clapped her hands together and emerald energy surrounded the demon like a net and she began casting a spell to send it back to its place of origin. The creature, having already partially escaped, angrily swatted an overturned pew, sending it into the air. Alysa was frozen in fear as the large bench fell toward her; she could only close her eyes and pray for a miracle. With her eyes shut, she could hear a loud THWACK but felt nothing except strong arms wrapping around her, then pulling her away. When she opened her eyes, Torres was holding her with a reassuring smile which she returned. Behind them, her mother was finishing the spell, the demon shrinking down before disappearing in a flash. The man on the floor breathed heavily but was now unconscious due to the demon leaving his body. “You’re safe, child,” Torres whispered to her.
Once the commotion was over, Ella Saraki stormed over to Alysa and pulled her away from Torres, “You weren’t supposed to be here, girl! Do you know what could’ve happened?” As her mother scolded her, Papa Torres politely removed himself form the room. Meanwhile, Farrell Creed silently flung the unconscious man over his shoulder. As her mother continued to shout, she watched nervously as the strange man left the building without saying a word.
Lucille and Alysa sat in a forested area behind Pete’s shop. There were two folding chairs across from one another, a small fire between them and a table holding a cup of tea made from dried peyote buttons. “There are some Native tribes that use peyote and other hallucinogens,” Lucille explained as she stirred the tea, “It’s not to get high. This isn’t a party. With you being a priestess in training, I’m sure you understand we have to do this with the right mindset and reverence.”
“Yeah, I understand.”
“It’s for the forgiveness of sins, healing and spiritual growth. You will be made aware and be at peace with yourself,” Lucille tilted her head curiously, “You haven’t eaten much today, have you?”
“Only like, some junk food early this morning. I’m actually kinda hungry.”
“It’s actually good that you have an empty stomach,” she handed the peyote buttons to Alysa, “I don’t want you to get sick.”
She looked at the tea, “So is this legal?”
“I’m from the Comanche tribe and it’s legal in the US to use in certain ceremonies my people perform.”
“Yeah, but this isn’t like,… a ceremony.”
“We’ll bend the rules a little,” she said with a smile, “Ready?”
Alysa sipped the tea, ignoring the bitterness, then set the cup down. Aside from the unpleasant taste in her mouth, Alysa otherwise felt no ill effect; she turned curiously toward Lucille. “It usually takes a while so let’s chat,” Lucille crossed her legs and leaned in, “Your mom came by the shop a few times to buy some herbs. She was real nice.”
“Yeah, but I kinda wished she wasn’t so protective over me, know what I’m say’n? Maybe she could’ve taught me more.”
“That’s what this is about. Maybe she taught you more than you know.”
“That’s what Farrell said.”
“He’s probably right and he knew your mom really well.”
“I know but I don’t know him well. We kinda got stuck together,” she looked out at the parking lot next to the store and saw Creed and Pete chatting by the car, “So how does Pete know him?”
“They were in juvie together when they were kids. Creed saved his life.”
Alysa puffed out her cheeks and her eyes widened, “I’m not surprised Farrell went to juvie at some point. Shit, I’m surprised it wasn’t jail.”
“It might not be a good idea to ask him too much about it.”
“Guess not,” Alysa was quickly reminded of another rumor she heard but was afraid to ask Creed directly, “Hey, I heard something about his dad. Do you know who -“
“Also probably not a good idea to ask about Creed’s dad.”
“Sheesh. Is his whole history off limits?”
“Did you think a guy like Creed wouldn’t have a past?”
“Guess not. He doesn’t seem… ,” Alysa trailed off as if trying to remember what she had been saying.
“Is the tea working?,” Lucille’s voice reverberated and Alysa’s vison blurred slightly as colors became far more vibrant.
Alysa lowered her gaze to the grass below which seemed to move on its own and as she looked closer, she realized each blade of grass was several stories high; she was only floating over it. The vibrancy of the colors intensified into a psychedelic mixture of bizarre textures and lights which seemingly made sounds. The choral hums were soothing as were the chimes made by the bright, violet sun. Someone took her by the hand and stood her up to guide her through the swaying trees. Ella Saraki wore a white gown and smiled brightly at her daughter who was not concerned in the least.
“Must have gotten pretty bad if you’re talking to me now,” Ella asked, a wry smile spreading across her face.
“Are you my mother?,” Alysa’s words were quiet and not unhurried.
“Yes and no. I’m a shadow. An implant that has been dormant in your subconscious for a while now. Ever since the day you were born, I would subtly whisper a charm into your ear while you slept or sing a lullaby you were too young to fully understand. I was shoring up my knowledge inside you, knowing one day, you would find me.”
“Why didn’t you just teach me everything?”
“I did. Just not the way most folks expect.”
“I mean,… Why the secrets? You taught me a few minor spells but all the important stuff you locked away?”
“I taught you everything you needed to know in the moment. There was a time and place for everything else. I know you Alysa. I know how impulsive you can be. If you were made aware from the start, you’d have gotten into trouble.”
“I could be trusted.”
“Do you remember the day you snuck into the temple? Farrell Creed brought a man who had been possessed and you distracted me while I was performing the exorcism. The demon attacked you.”
“Yeah. Papa Torres saved me.”
“How would you know, girl? You had your eyes closed.”
Ella pointed past Alysa, directing her to something behind her and when she turned, she found herself in the Iseda Temple. It was eight years prior. Pews had been cast aside and she saw herself as a little girl screaming and shrinking away from the demonic creature hovering above while her mother was in the midst of banishing it. As the creature flailed about, it slapped a pew into the air. Young Alysa closed her eyes as it sailed toward her. Time slowed down. Ella drew the demon back, Papa Torres let go of the man on the ground and Alysa clenched her eyes tightly as the large plank of wood fell. Suddenly, Farrell Creed dove into action, the pew colliding against the side of his head as he took the hit meant for Alysa. He hit the floor several feet away and the pew tumbled off to the side, leaving Alysa safe. As Ella banished the demon, Papa Torres pulled Alysa to safety, whispering, “You’re safe, child.” She opened her eyes and smiled at Torres while Creed picked himself off the floor behind them.
“Farrell was the one who saved me that night?,” Alysa turned away from the vision to face her mother.
“Yes, he did.”
“He didn’t say anything.”
“Why would he? He did what he needed to do and went about his business. He’s never been the kind of man who felt he needed to explain himself and he’d rather not have the hassle of being thought of as a hero. From that day forward, I linked your fates to one another. If I passed, he would be the one to bring you to me,” she shrugged a bit, “And that plan seems to have worked out pretty well. Somehow, he knew to get you to the state in which you could talk to me.”
“Does he know `bout all this?”
“Lord, no. If he found out, he would’ve asked me to choose someone else. I knew he was the best fit for the job. You needed each other.”
“You know I don’t… I didn’t like that man.”
“Because you were impulsive and judged a book by its cover. Now you know better. I showed you the past, now let me show you the present.”
Alysa found herself on Main Street in Winghaven. She noticed her brothers and sisters performing an Iseda funeral march down the street. They were all dressed in their nicest clothes with two people at the front of the parade, playing drums while a group of people followed behind, carrying a coffin. Pictures of everyone killed in the bombing were being carried on tall poles: Ella, Papa Torres, the children… and Alysa.
“They think I’m dead,” Alysa said sadly, “The cops have me as a missing person’s case but I guess they don’t think I’m coming back.”
“You know our faith better than that, girl. Physical death is just the beginning of a new life. That’s what’s happening here.”
“Am I -?”
“Dead? Only in the way that’s helpful. Now it’s time to start your new life. Let’s look at the future.”
Alysa found herself surrounded by darkness, the vibrant colors that once surrounded her were gone completely. “I-I don’t see anything.”
“You’re right, it’s pretty dark,” she could hear her mother’s voice behind the veil, “But then Winghaven is a dark place, isn’t it? It’s an evil place. There are things even I don’t understand about it and probably never will. But I do know that there should always be folks around to help keep that evil at bay, stop it from getting out anymore than it already has. Because when real shit happens, it’s not just the people in this town that are in danger. It could mean the world… or even beyond,” Alysa began to see a small light in the distance, “I did what I could when I was alive but I knew I wouldn’t be around forever. I knew who I needed to put my trust in.”
“It was me,” a bittersweet smile crossed Alysa face, “You trusted me all this time.”
“Of course, I did. You’re my child and I know I raised you right even when you acted a fool.”
“But I still don’t know if I’m… ready.”
“I never said this was something to do alone,” the light in the distance began to grow brighter, “To protect this world, there needs to be power and wisdom. I gave that to you. But fighting evil? The kind of evil that lives under this soil? Well, that takes something else.,” the light grew brighter, like a train racing through a tunnel, “Farrell Creed is a troubled man. You know this. He ain’t nice but sometimes, to fight a certain kind of evil, you can’t afford to be nice,” the light became blinding, “That’s the balance I’ve created. Best I can do but I know the future is in good hands.”
“I miss you, mama,” tears began running her cheeks as the light engulfed her, “I miss you so much.”
“I miss you too, baby, and we’ll see each other again. But for right now, I’m gonna need you to fight.”
“Everything that was in me is in you now and you know what to do.”
“You got this.”
The light disappeared and Alysa fell to her knees in the green grass below. Her fists clenched, her back arched and when she looked up at the sky, she let out a primal scream. Mystic energies swirled around her, then shot into the air, parting the clouds. Alysa Saraki was reborn.