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To the passersby, she seemed a strange woman, perhaps a fairy from a dream, with her long blond curls and elfish features. And yet, her deep sapphire eyes shone, not with mischief, but with sadness, longing and pain. A fairy tale princess locked in tower. No, she could never be a princess, for princesses never dressed in all black, or in trousers and never wore wide brimmed hats meant to hide their faces. No princess had ever looked up at the beautiful church with such a mixture of feelings, all showing on her face at once. This was no princess.
She stared up at the magnificent stone building. It had stood for a hundred years and would stand for hundreds more. The reaching spires and gargoyles had seen war and peace, joy and sadness and would see much more, though they would never see anything like this strange woman ever again.
She steeled herself one last time with a deep breath before walking through the massive wooden doors and tried not to wince as they shut behind her with an air of finality, like the doors on a cage. A gilded cage certainly, but a cage nonetheless. She could have navigated the entire place blindfolded, and found her way into the sanctuary without help.
The sanctuary. Possibly the most beautiful room in the entire church, it had always stood out in her memory. She had been chastised so many times in her girlhood for lurking in corners during a sermon, not to listen, but just to drink in the atmosphere of peace and love given off by the church-goers mingling with the beauty of the wooden pews and glowing stained glass. She placed a hand on one of the pews absent-mindedly, rubbing the smooth wood. When had her home begun to remind her of a cage?
Her eyes roamed over the stained glass, still glowing as it always had and always would. But its beauty was somehow muted, coated in the dust of lingering sadness. She paused on the confessions box. So long it had been since she’d made a confession. Then again, she nearly laughed, she had committed so many sins it was no longer worth counting. She didn’t belong here, didn’t belong in this beautiful world. A walking armory had no place in a peaceful church.
The collection of weapons in her long black coat should have clinked as she left the sanctuary, but wooden stakes, silver bullets with their firing mechanisms, vials of holy water and countless other objects had been placed carefully to avoid such a problem. Her heavy black boots should have clumped on the stone floor, echoing through the building, yet were silent as the grave. She was like a ghost, barely seen, never heard, on a mission she could never complete.
Her feelings of captivity and desperation heightened as she walked the endless stone staircases and hallways toward her destination. Why had she been called in? Was it another mission, or was she being discharged? No, not discharged, anything but that! She had no place here, indeed, but none anywhere else either. Without this place, she would have nowhere to go, no one who cared whether she lived or died. Sure, with these people, it was more a loss of an investment, but they still cared.
She paused before the simple wooden door, elegant, slim fingers clenched. She dug her nails into the calluses on her hands and sighed. What was the use of this? Waiting wasn’t going to make it go away. As she brushed her hair away from her face, her fingers touched a new scar on her temple. That vampire on the last mission had been a difficult one. Those long fingers rapped on the door, and a voice within told her to enter. She turned the icy iron handle, nearly sick with unease, and stepped into the small office, closing the door behind her.
The bishop stood from his chair and she dropped to one knee, head bowed as she always did when in his presence. This man in white robes had saved her, given her purpose when she had nothing. She owed him her life, and yet hated him for keeping her tied to the church, tied to the only home she had ever known.
“Your worship,” she murmured softly, in what she hoped was a reverent tone. She didn’t dare ask why she was here, that would come in time. The bishop tilted her chin up; sad sapphire blue met cold dead black.
“Rise,” the bishop told her, “Van Helsing.”