Success and failure came with the turns of the tides, or so it was said. Reality had other things to say, such as claims of socio-economic factors, random chance, and certain tasks just genuinely being too difficult to accomplish.
And all of those reasons were, largely, taken as pithy excuses from those in positions of authority, and thus failure was more often rewarded with punishment instead of resources to prevent any such failure from occurring again. But then, such was life.
And such was the life of Bonnie Mercadi, who found that her recent successes against monstrosities strange and reviled did little for her case in the face of her failure to handle the false rusalki and what puppeteer pulled their strings. Aside from simply not being paid for her efforts on that job, she had been assigned a different job instead to make up for it. She was compensated for the spent ammo, at least, but quitting a job in which a malicious, lethal monster was currently active meant incurring at least some penalties.
In her case, the penalty was to accept a new job. Specifically, an escort mission.
The Church of Silence had been born out of what people called the Former Faith. Many faiths were called Old, so this one was called “Former” to set it apart. Reasonably so, given it wasn’t especially old. It was just hard to have a faith remain unchanged when its deity had died.
Stained glass lined the sides of the church. Six windows total, depicting five saints.
The first one on the left displayed a figure engulfed in flames, flesh blackening in the glass in soundless prayer. The stake she was bound to stood stark even amid the flames.
Opposite the Burned Saint was the image of deep water, blue as sapphires. Bubbles rose from the bound saint, her ankles chained to a weight at the bottom.
Next to the Drowned Saint sat a king on a throne. Molten gold leaked down his face and spilled from his open mouth. Lightning sparked from his head and he could not press his hands in prayer, for they were bound to the rests of his chair.
Across from the Crowned Saint stood a solemn figure. Blood dripped from the wounds in his head. Even in the glass, his nose looked crushed and his lips split. Just like his partner to the side, his arms were bound. To post, rather than a stake, and bloodied rocks stained the sand beneath his feet.
Last, there were two windows for one saint. One who smiled from where they hanged. It was impossible not to see the smile that spread across their lips, even as their head hung limp, their torso halved with only their intestines to connect top and bottom. Yet, still, in the image, their heart gleamed with a beating life.
On the other side stood the four horses. The Torn Saint’s limbs hung from their necks.
The priest smiled and greeted her kindly. A pentacle of five metals hung around his neck, the colors complementing the white of his vestments. There was no hint of blood on the blindfold that wrapped around his shaved head, so his eyes had likely been removed some time ago.
No matter how clean the procedure was, a new priest always bled. Some said the saints were weeping through them.
He was not the client she was meant to escort though. No, the priest was there to introduce her to the actual person of interest, who stood out like a bloodstain on a white shirt.
The Penitent had a reputation. A well-earned one, given that the position was only held by members of the faith who had committed crimes considered unforgivable.
In death, all were equal though, and the Silent God was dead and rotting. So even the worst could be forgiven, if they were willing to accept such things.
The Penitent wore no vestments. No robes covered his flesh. The fabric bound around his head was sewn into his skin. A tapestry spread down from his neck to his chest then to his arms, which were bound in front of him. Each finger was sewn together, locked in front of his lap.
The fabric scrawled the tale of his crimes. Of crusade and violence. Of licentiousness and hypocrisy. Of waste and ruin left in his wake as he gave in to the corruption of false faith and sin in the name of Saints, unheeding of how the laws he had broken were bound in steel.
The man was a relic, yet his body stood strong, scarred and mutilated, a defaced temple awaiting deliverance or retribution.
Bonnie would have pitied him if his crimes were not apparent. As was, she felt a disgust rise up in her gullet when she saw precisely what he had done.
The priest apologized, and stated quite simply that the Penitent would either succeed or die on his mission. Bonnie’s role was to guide him, nothing more. Should he die, then he did die, and the payment would come either way.
The priest had one warning though. He would not pass judgment if Bonnie did allow the Penitent to die, for it was not her place to forgive. However, the Penitent was still seeking penance. He wanted forgiveness, and had asked it of the Saints.
So if she were to murder him, his sins would become her own.