AP Productions: Winghaven #8

Alysa took the glass of water from Pete and drank it quickly. It was dusk now and once her stomach settled, Alysa was able to have chicken soup and a glass of water. “How ya feeling?,” Creed asked as he sat down at the table in the backroom of Pete’s shop. Alysa looked at him and, for the first time in days, smiled. “I’m… Sure of what I need to do,” she said, “My mom implanted her mystic knowledge into my subconscious. She knew they’d be unlocked when needed.

Creed nodded in approval, “Your mom had a way of always having a plan.”

“Yeah, she did.”

“So if you’re sure of what needs to happen now, what is it?”

“Everyone in the Iseda community thinks I’m dead. I didn’t wanna see them because I was afraid they’d get hurt,” a sure expression crossed her face, “I’m not afraid now. I’m gonna let them know I’m safe and together, maybe we can figure out what to do about the Iconoclasts.”

“Sounds good to me.”

It was dark by the time the Camaro pulled up in front of the Iseda temple: a small repurposed church a few blocks from where the Community Center once stood. There were multiple cars parked outside, indicating that several worshippers were inside. Alysa surmised they were having a memorial. This was mostly true. They entered the foyer and noticed lit candles and pictures of the dead along the walls. Behind the double doors in front of them, they heard a muffled voice. The voice was expressive, passionate and they could hear the congregation of Iseda followers loudly shouting praise.

“They’re having a service?,” Creed asked.

“They must be,” Alysa pressed an ear against the door to hear the speaker more clearly, “That voice sound familiar?”

“Yeah,” Creed furrowed his brow in confusion but didn’t say anything further.

Alysa cracked the door. Most of her brothers and sisters sat in the pews in the sanctuary. An altar with candles and incense was placed at the front as always: A triangular shape with intertwining snakes and a star shape in the center. Everything was expected with the exception of the speaker. “Our people are once again under attack,” the deep voice roared, “But Nature allowed me to return for this purpose.” Alysa was speechless and she felt dizzy for a moment. Creed peeked through the cracked door as well, equally surprised to see the speaker.

Papa Torres stood at the altar in his nicest white suit, his face painted with a white skull. “When they set that bomb, they took our sister Ella Saraki among others!,” his voice raised above the congregation as the people began to sob and raise their hands, “I don’t know why, but I was chosen to come back. I promise that I will use this gift of resurrection to lead our people through this dark time!” Alysa looked at Creed, far too shocked to say anything. He shook his head silently and indicated for her to keep listening. “This new journey will take us to some places we didn’t expect. We’ll have to rethink what we know. We have to relearn what we once rejected. And in doing that, we will strike back at those who wish to do our brothers and sisters harm!” The congregation raised their hands and gave praise again.

Alysa’s mind was racing. She was certain he died with the others at the Community Center. Certainly, he was there when she left the building. She remembered seeing him in the basement. “Did he stay down there?,” she thought to herself, “Did he stay in the basement… that was reinforced in case of attacks?” Reinforcing the basement was her mother’s idea but Papa Torres was well aware of how strong it was and it was surely sturdy enough to withstand a bomb attack. “We believe in reincarnation,” she heard Papa Torres proclaim, “But I wasn’t even sent to the next life. I was brought back whole to serve as a leader of Iseda!” Returning from the dead in this manner was not a common belief in Iseda. Was Torres granted special abilities? Alysa remembered the warnings from Briathos, words that were once confusing but were now clarified.

There is a false prophet in the House of Iseda.  Do not listen to the lies of dead men.

Torres was the false prophet? Was he the dead man telling lies? She had known him since she was a little girl. She trusted him as did her mother. She saw him sitting children on his lap and singing them songs. Those same children were killed in the bombing. Surely Briathos was mistaken or perhaps he was the one lying? Whatever the case might be, she decided to not jump to conclusions but rather, see how it played out. She opened the double doors, making herself and Creed visible. Torres looked down the aisle, stopping briefly once he noticed the figures at the other side of the temple, then he smiled brightly “Brothers and sisters, it seems another miracle has happened tonight,” he motioned toward Alysa and Creed, bringing everyone’s attention to them. The congregation rose at once when they saw Alya and ran to her. “Alysa, baby!,” Miss Gerring, a scholar and one of the oldest members, wrapped her arms around her and hugged her as she sobbed loudly. The others gathered around her and reacted in much the same way. Creed stepped back from the small crowd and met Papa Torres’ eyes. For a moment, he thought he saw a look of anger on Torres’ face but it quickly disappeared as he went to the crowd with a broad smile and began separating everyone, “Brothers and sisters…,” he laughed loudly, “Give her some space, Family.”

As the crowd parted, Alysa stood in the center of the room, gazing up at Papa Torres. She was silent for the moment. Torres looked into eyes, “Our little sister has been through a lot. I’m sure she has much to say to you but first, I’d like to speak with her privately.”

“I’m coming with her,” Creed appeared behind Alysa, giving Torres a stern look.

“Our old friend, Farrell Creed,” the smile never faded from Torres’ face, “Of course… We’re all in your debt for bringing her to us alive. You have a lot to say, I’m sure.”

“Damn right.”

A few minutes later, they arrived in Torres’ office. Torres sat casually on top of his desk, facing the other two, the smile never fading. Creed noted a large ebony bottle on his bookshelf, filled with an unknown liquid, but said nothing. Alysa, meanwhile, stared at Torres, also not saying a word.

“I’m guessing I’m the one who has to speak first,” Torres began, “I know the two of you are suspicious. I understand how -“

“Who killed my mother?,” Alysa asked bluntly, not letting him in on anything else.

“I don’t know, but this was obviously an act of hatred and violence. During my time between life and death, I realized this could be a new chapter for our faith. We need to take things back to Nature the way it was intended and strip away our worldly -“

“You sound like an Iconoclast,” Creed interrupted.

Torres seemed nonplused by Creed’s interruption, “The Iseda faith has always been about humanity’s connection to Nature, whether it’s a Reformer or Iconoclast but I’m glad you brought that up because I was just telling my brothers and sisters about this. We need to put aside our differences and open up communication. This is the perfect time for reconciliation.”

“Reconcile with the Iconoclasts?,” Alysa asked, still playing it coyly, “But they’re dangerous.”

“You have a right to be angry. They attacked you but that doesn’t mean we can’t forgive and -“

“I never said they attacked me,” Alysa folded her arms across her chest triumphantly. Creed was silently proud of her gambit but remained stone-faced. Torres’ smile faded and he quickly moved past them and locked the door to the office.

“You want it, here it is,” he turned to them boldly, “Yes, I allied myself with Iconoclasts.”

“Allied yourself?,” Creed finally spoke up as he once again took note of the ebony bottle on the shelf, “Seems to me you’re one of `em. Always were.”

“I am a lover of True Nature,” his voice was bold but not loud, “And that makes me a true follower of Iseda. Yes, I am Iconoclast.”

“We trusted you,” Tears welled up in Alysa’s eyes, “And you killed my mother.”

“No,” he raised a single finger, “There were three men who did that. Men who kill for money and they are not in our faith.”

“And you bought them, dipshit,” Creed positioned himself between him and Alysa, “Or was it that scrawny bitch we fought in the old house?”

“We are bound only by our own actions. A man can make a request but if another mans follows through -“

“Boy, stop!,” Alysa moved around Creed, “We all know that’s bullshit! What the hell did you want with us?”

Torres nodded toward Creed, “I think he knows.”

“Yeah,” Creed scratched his beard, “It’s all because of King Josiah. Me and Mama Saraki took his ass out. Now, I remember Josiah killed the last priest that worked in this temple. A little while later, you showed up for the job. My guess is that you were a disciple of his.”

“Josiah was wise. Powerful,” Torres moved around the room, “Initially, I wanted to just kill the two of you but in Iseda, we believe that if we take a life, we should give a life. The life I gave back would be to the Reformers. Believe it or not, there are Iconoclasts who don’t wish to harm Reformers despite their… perversions. I set a plan in motion to not only kill you and Ella Saraki but I would place myself in a position of power in the largest congregation of Iseda followers in the US. This, of course, meant I would practice as a Reformer for years, even going so far as to use modern technology. And yes, killing Alysa would be a part of that plan as I needed full control. It was a sacrifice and something I would have to atone for. I would use my influence to bring the heretics back to True Nature and, incidentally, end the schism that has split our faith.”

Creed placed a hand on the bookshelf near the ebony bottle, “Meanwhile, you got this false-flag kinda thing going where you setup the hitmen that you hired as the bad guys. Get the whole damn church riled up. And to keep them in line, you do the whole Jesus act and come back from the dead a few days later.”

“His ass just hid in the basement,” Alysa sneered, “He never came back from noth’n.”

Torres smirked a bit, “The bomb the hitmen set off ensured most of my enemies would be out of my way and the fortified basement ensured my survival. The plan absolved me of any suspicion and gave our brothers and sisters something to believe in. As I said, sacrifices were made. If I brought our sects together, wouldn’t it all be worth it?”

“You’re still trying to act like you’re the hero?,” Alysa shook her head, “You’re the reason I got no mom anymore. You killed women and children. You lied and you manipulated,” she gritted her teeth, “You can talk about ending the war but this was all about revenge.”

“Perhaps it was foolish to think I could change the minds of Reformers,” Papa Torres began removing his jacket, “While we were talking, I sent a charm to alert my employees. I would stay to finish what I’ve started but there’s one more issue I need to resolve.”

Torres opened his palms and bright lights danced across their faces while a loud rumbling erupted in their ears. It was only for a moment but when their sense of sight and sound returned, they noticed Torres was gone along with something else.

“Where the hell’s the bottle?,” Creed shouted.

Alysa shook her head, “What bottle?”

“The big black bottle on the shelf,” he pointed to the spot on the shelf where the bottle once stood.

“I didn’t see a bottle… Where did Papa Torres go?”

“I think I know. I’ll explain on the way but first, your people need to get as far away as they can.”

They rushed out into the sanctuary where the congregation was still gathered. They happily approached Alysa once more but she gave a quick warning, “Everybody, ya’all gotta go back home and lock your doors. We got no time to explain.” They looked at her curiously and Creed pushed through the crowd, his back turned toward the front door. “Go out the back, people. It ain’t safe,” he began waving them to go out the rear exit and Alysa motioning for them to hurry. Despite the confusion, they began to move to the back. “What’s going on, Alysa?,” Miss Gerring asked. “Promise I’ll explain later, Miss Gerring,” Some of the younger members helped her out of the building. With most of the Iseda followers leaving, Creed moved toward the front doors, “Make sure they get to their cars safely,” he turned back to speak to Alysa, “After that, you and me gotta -“.

The front doors burst open and Johns entered the room, flanked by his men. Creed turned just in time for them to raise automatic weapons and fire. Alysa screamed as the bullets tore through Creed’s body, throwing him down the aisle where he hit the ground between the front row of pews. Johns stepped into the room, his rifle slung over his shoulder and looked down at Creed who remained bleeding on the wood floor. His men stood behind him with their guns trained on Alysa.

“Call Torres,” Johns ordered them, “Let `im know the threat has been neutralized.”

Creed smiled, exposing bloody teeth, “The threat… has been neutralized?,” his laugh was a pained choking sound, “You think I’m the threat?… Dumb sonvuabitch…,” he raised a bloody finger toward Alysa who remained standing by the altar, “See that girl?… Her mama was an Iseda priestess… most powerful I ever seen… taught her baby girl everything she knows… She knows you were the hired guns who killed her mom… and she’s got you dead in her sights… And you think I’m the threat?,” Creed turned his head, blood still dribbling between his lips as he looked her in her eyes, “… Show them.”

Alysa’s eyes narrowed. She was focused. Confident. She didn’t shout or make a threat. She only stared. The weapons of the three men didn’t matter and were thrown to the floor by an invisible force. She raised her hands and Johns clutched his throat while making a choking sound as he was lifted off the floor, followed by his two partners. Soon, they dangled from the rafters, helplessly, their legs kicking and peddling as they struggled to breathe. Alysa curled her fingers. Their limbs began to twist and turn in unnatural ways accompanied by the sound of dry twigs snapping, the screams of the men muffled behind clenched jaws. Knees and elbows bent backwards, necks twisted to the side and spines contorted until the three men were molded into balls of broken bones. The muffled screams quickly stopped. Once Alysa was satisfied, she dropped her hands and three heaps of flesh fell from the rafters.

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