Making her way down the hall past the dining room, she set about pulling the chicken from the oven, slicing off sections of meat and setting them on a platter with the whole bird before carrying the tray into the dining room. The two strangers had pulled straight backed chairs from other rooms, while the good Father sat in the comfortable chair across from her seat. She placed the platter on the table before muttering she would need additional plates.
“I found a bottle of wine in the basement of the cathedral earlier this year,” Father Dee said, revealing the small wicker-bottomed jug. “It seemed like a good time to bring it out.”
“I’ll fetch four glasses,” Sara said as she turned back towards the kitchen.
Once everyone had a plate and wine glass, along with silverware and savory pieces of juicy chicken, the blonde stranger took the small bottle of wine and poured everyone half a glass before setting it in the middle of the table.
Father Dee raised his glass. “To Arabella Wellington,” he said, toasting Sara’s grandmother, “without her we would surely have succumbed to darkness years ago.”
“Hear hear!” The scarred man said, downing most of his glass in a single gulp.
“I’m sorry, but you told me that my grandmother was a member of the church at the service,” Sara said after a few minutes of silence, interrupted only by the clinking of silverware on plates.
“But how is it she’s prevented us from succumbing to darkness?”
“Ah, now there is a story to tell,” Father Dee said, placing his silverware over his dinner and leaning back in his chair. “As you may know, this manor has been here for well over three hundred years.”
“Yes, it’s the oldest building in Mossy Grove,” Sara nodded.
“Indeed it is. When it was first built, it was used as both a home, an inn and a church. This is where the town of Mossy Grove began Sara, and this is where the town expanded from.” Father Dee smiled serenely over the table. “I’m sure you’ve noticed a certain motif to the building over the years, have you not?”
“Yeah,” Sara replied after a moment, glancing down at one of her golden rings, which bore the silhouette of a raven. It’d been her grandmother’s wedding ring.
“Well this motif is by no means an accident, nor a penchant that one of your ancestors merely took to an extreme,” Father Dee said, rolling up the sleeve of his black shirt until he revealed a faded black tattoo.
After a moment Sara realized it was of a raven.
“Okay, so what does this have to do with my grandmother?” Sara asked, confused.
“Everything girl,” the scarred stranger said as he poured himself another glass of wine. “With her death we came to make sure the bindings would still be in place, and re-establish them if need be.”
“Bindings?” Sara repeated, expecting an explanation. She glared at the man when he turned back to his plate, digging into his chicken.
“Yes, well, what Brother Brandon means to say is that your family has held this location for our organization for quite some time,” Father Dee said gently, carefully rolling down his sleeve to once again conceal the tattoo. “It is one of the few locations in the United States that is both holy ground and no longer a church or graveyard.”
“Why does that matter?” Sara asked.
The blonde cleared his throat before turning his sapphire eyes to Sara. “If I may, do you believe in the supernatural madam?”
“The supernatural? Like God?” Sara asked.
The blonde smiled. “Among other things, yes.”
“I don’t know,” Sara said after a moment. “I believe there’s an afterlife, and that there are things we simply can’t explain. But I don’t really know if I would assign them labels.”
Father Dee clapped his hands together once. “Your grandmother said those exact words to my predecessor nearly sixty years ago! I was but a neophyte then, much like Brother Brandon and Brother Stephen. I used my gifts to actively aid those in need of it.”
“Gifts?” Sara repeated the word slowly.
“Well yes, I myself am merely a man of the cloth. I can perform exorcisms and bless ground and water, while also banishing spirits back to the Ether,” Father Dee replied with a sigh. “Brother Brandon and Brother Stephen are actual hunters, members of what out organization call a Murder.”
Sara thought for a moment. “A group of crows?”
This prompted all three men to look at her for a moment before Father Dee smiled once again. “Why yes, we take our names from our patron animal, the raven. Centuries ago our order was recognized by the Church, even funded if you would believe it. But after the Reformation we were lost in the shuffle, and have since operated from the shadows, much like our prey.”
“Prey? You mentioned these two,” Sara said, indicating the two men enjoying her chicken dinner, “were hunters. What exactly do they hunt?”
Father Dee smiled an enigmatic smile before standing slowly from the table. “How about I show you?”
Sara followed Father Dee through the house until he stopped in front of the wide stairs leading to the second story. The wooden railings were capped by carved busts of bird-like creatures, something Sara had never noticed before. Father Dee turned his head slightly and looked at her before reaching up to the bust on the right banister. With a small tug, he flipped the head of the statue back, revealing a dusty button. Before Sara could even gasp at the revelation that there was a hidden panel in her home, Father Dee pressed the button before returning to his calm stance, arms folded behind his back.
Clockwork grinding could be heard throughout the house, with dust falling from the ceiling as the walls vibrated. Slowly, with a gust of stale air, the middle of the stairs folded inward and became a stairway down into the foundation of the house. Sara was so fascinated by the creaking mechanism that she hadn’t noticed Brother Brandon and Brother Stephen walk up behind her.
“Brother Stephen,” Father Dee said as if just now noticing his presence, “has a special gift that allows him to tell the strength of dark creatures and entities.”
“It’s called the Eyes of Horus,” Brother Stephen said with a smile. “It also allows me to see into a person’s soul, to see if they’ve been corrupted by darkness.”
“That’s when we either kill them or, if they’ve delved too far into the Occult, we bring them here,” Brother Brandon said with a wry grin.
“Here?” Sara repeated, wary as she watched Father Dee begin to descend the stairs. “What’s down there?”
“The source of humanities pain,” Brother Stephen said with a slight wince. “Hurry along now, each warden needs to see what they’re being charged with.”