“Hey baby, I’m a wizard. Wanna see if my staff has a knob on the end, if you know what I mean?”
Enter the Unhygienic Dragon, a tavern not too far from the university campus. It’s a popular tavern, if only because the number of potential patrons is so great that after all the good establishments are filled up, and all the decent establishments are full as well, there’s still hordes of thirsty folks left that can’t be bothered to search for a better place to go. At present, it’s well into the evening, it’s Friday, and there’s a good number of patrons in various states of inebriation.
Enter also Phantasmo the Magnificent, one of the heroes of this story, who is about to receive the contents of a half-full (or half-empty, if you’re so inclined) glass of affordable wine of mediocre quality, as well as a slice of non-specific fruit and a miniature parasol (which serves no purpose save for decoration) to the face by an annoyed but otherwise non-specified woman.
Phantasmo was not pleased with the result of his pick-up line, mostly because there seemed to be a notable lack of result. He made his way towards the bar.
“I’ll have a pint of ale please,” he said to an employee. “Oh, and get me a bloody towel.”
“That’ll be five florins,” the employee said. He fetched the order.
Phantasmo took a big sip of ale, then started to dry himself industriously.
Damien was a little nervous about trying to find Phantasmo the Magnificent, the man he was told could answer all his prayers, who could turn all his fears to nothing but fairy dust, and who could leap a tall building in a single bound. He was also kinda skeptical about that last one, but that's what he'd been hearing, so he kept that doubt to himself for now. He didn't wanna badmouth a local hero and get into trouble.
Because he was in enough already. Why, oh why had he taken this job? Oh right... he thought, pausing before a bar the rumors had directed him to and reaching into his pocket for any scant hopes of cash, ...because I'd like to eat sometime this week... I wonder if this Phantastico... or uh, this... Magnificento guy is really in here. "The Unhygienic Dragon"? Shouldn't he be with like the rich guys or a king somewhere or something if he's so good? He'd probably never have time to help me with this church thing... do wizards even believe in churches?
As these doubts ran through his head, Damien was thanking the Lord that the bar didn't have a bouncer like a lot of clubs did. There was no way a pimply-faced slouch like him would've gotten inside. He was nineteen. He had no ID. And whenever he tried to make his voice sound deeper, people just thought he had the flu.
"Here... here goes nothing. If this dude isn't here, I can just tell the priests that I'll..." Damien gulped, "that I'll handle the demon myself... I can do it..." Like last time when you nearly peed your last pair of jeans? The angel groaned at the memory and shook the thought off, be positive, man, be positive... all right.
Deep breath... he shoved open the door, hurt his wrist underestimating just how heavy it was, and missed getting through the first time. The door connected with his forehead. "Oh... crud! Oww, sweet geez... gosh... damn!"
It was the cleanest bout of swearing anyone had ever heard around those parts that late in the evening. People stared.
No one saw, just... the young man sighed and squared his shoulders, and tried again. This time he was sure to compensate for the weight of the door and pushed his way through, puffing out his chest with the illusion of confidence. By this point, the people had lost interest in him and gone back to their beers. No one noticed him. Like always... he shrugged, figuring he should be grateful he hadn't made a fool of himself again.
Now who looks like a Magnificento...? I guess I should look for a pointy hat... he glanced around, noticing plenty of women who slowed his scan of the room considerably to... linger for a bit, a few of the university students who he hoped desperately hadn't seen his fumble with the door, and... one sopping wet man in robes. Robes? Check. Hat? Check. Why was he wet?
Damien couldn't be sure, but that seemed just his exact type of luck. That had to be his guy. It was almost a sign.
"Uh... hey, you!" he called out. "Are you Magnificento? Er... the famous wizard?" In his Tarheels windbreaker, cap, t-shirt, and jeans, he probably looked like some lost idiot who'd wandered over into rival school territory.
“I am Phantasmo the Magnificent,” the mage said, “the greatest wizard on the continent and beyond! Master of the arcane arts! I control the elements! No challenge is beyond my abilities! My awesome magics can alter the very fabric of reality! Lords, kings and emperors are as nothing before me! Armies flee in terror sooner than facing me! Why, the beings of heaven itself come to me to beg for assistance! So, how would you want me to amaze you?”
He didn’t wait for an answer, turning instead to the man behind the bar, whose right eyebrow was raised so high it could fly off his face at any moment.
“Two pints of ale, please,” Phantasmo said. “It’s on him.” He motioned to Damien.
The wizard quickly inspected the angel. The latter was, Phantasmo thought, outlandishly dressed, but otherwise as much of a chump as it was possible to be. Ideal wingman material; with someone like him around, anyone could look impressive by comparison.
The angel waved his hands in a flurry of gestures that could've sufficed for anything from denying an accusation to emergency-landing a failing plane. This plus all his head-shaking immediately set the bartender on alert that these two bums were quiet likely broke bums taking up air and space in his bar.
"Hey you," he leaned his considerable bulk onto the counter and gave Damien a glare. "If you can't pay, scram. The stools is for payin' customers only."
"R-right, of course! I was... I was just working on that actually! See... er, Mr. Fantastic Wizard... I've heard a lot about you and I need your help. You're the only person in town who could maybe help me take down the demons causing trouble at St. Martin's church a few blocks from here." This idea was beginning to feel increasingly dumb even as the words left Damien's mouth and he got a second look over this Phantasmo, but he was up the river without a paddle and there wasn't much of a way to back out now. He'd already taken the priest's modest advance to afford lunch earlier that day. He was duty-bound, by his word and by his morals.
"It's a paying job and... if you help, you'll have the thanks of all the people around here and stuff. You'll be a local hero!"
Phantasmo was facing a dilemma. On the one hand, there was no way he was going to face demons. Demons tended to enjoy snacking on wizards. He could of course try and explain to the demons that he was all flesh and bones and not very tasty for that matter, but he wasn’t expecting the demons to be particularly willing to listen. He wasn’t very good at speaking the demonic language, anyway. He just didn’t have enough tongues.
So basically, trying to help the stranger out would be a death warrant to Phantasmo, and as far as he was concerned, he was just far too pretty to die.
On the other hand, he was in a busy tavern. If he were to chicken out, people were going to know. There was no way he could let that happen. He had his reputation to consider. Maybe, though, he could come up with an excuse not to go.
“Defeating the demons at St. Marius’ church, you said? Well, I don’t know. I’m a busy wizard. Surely the clergy there can handle it, no? Or, failing that, a lesser wizard? I have important business to attend to, you know.”
"They've tried! The demon's just sneezed practically at all their attempts! Swatted two guys down like flies last week, they said! Come on, Wizard, if you're really the best, this should be a cakewalk! St. Martin's needs some help..." Damien paused, and added in his mind, ...besides just me. Really, really besides just me.
"Did you say St. Martin's...?" one of the girls at the bar asked, a twenty-something blond student from the college, all youthful good looks and blue eyes. She turned to look at Phantasmo and Damien and the angel started to forget what he was saying.
"H... huh...?" he managed.
"St. Martin's church, is that the one in trouble?"
He didn't see a boyfriend with her. She wasn't even drunk, she was talking to him fully aware and of her own will. A girl like her... talking to him. Not directed at someone behind him that he wished was him. She'd been listening.
"Uh... oh, yeah, yeah! Yeah, that's the one!"
"Oh my uncle is a priest there..." she began to fret, clasping her hands in her long, university sweatshirt together before her chest, "I hope he's all right! I'd be so worried if he's hurt... he and my aunt are my only family in the area..."
"I-I'll... um... I could look out for him..." Damien volunteered, a bit lamely. By now, he'd completely forgotten the wizard was there or why the heck he'd even begun talking to him in the first place. There were girls here.
Something was wrong, Phantasmo thought. Something was very, very wrong. The chump - the complete and utter total chump - was talking to an attractive female, and no one was attempting to apply beverages to his chump-like face.
“Wait, did you just say St. Mark’s church?” the wizard said. “Because it just so happens that that was exactly the church I was going to help with their demon problem tonight! I must’ve misheard the chump” - “you don’t mind if I call you chump, right?” Phantasmo informed Damien - “he should probably speak more clearly, but I suppose the poor chump, bless him, just can’t manage.”
Somewhere in the back of his head, Phantasmo realized he was making a very, very stupid mistake. He dismissed the thought.
“I’ll go and find my familiar, and then we’ll be off to save your parents from those demons!”
"My... uncle," the girl corrected, now having moved noticeably closer to Damien than Phantasmo. He'd lost her as soon as he'd opened his mouth and said St. Mark’s--and with every "chump" after that. He was like all the wizards she'd heard about. She'd rather take her chances with the gangly guy in the windbreaker.
"Your familiar...?" Damien was asking, more than a little skeptical himself. Everything about this guy was screaming that he was less legitimate than a bootleg copy of a movie with half the title misspelled, but any body was better than no body when it came to blocking attacks from a demon. He could at least make a distraction.
“Yes, my trusty familiar. Takes the form of a perfect white cat. He’ll amaze you. I’m good at amazing people.”
The wizard turned to the bartender. “Two half-pints of ale and a glass of your finest wine for the lady, please. It’s on the chump. If he doesn’t have any money, feel free to take some of his stuff. He’ll buy it back from you when he has the money.”
Phantasmo walked away to search for his familiar, while the girl cancelled his order behind his back.
“Caaat! Caaa-aaat! Come out, come out wherever you aaaargh!”
Phantasmo returned with a slight limp in his stride, followed by a cat with just a teensy bit of blood on his paws.
"...I like the cat," the girl murmured to Damien. He blushed and tried not to look so pleased that she was speaking privately to him.
"You to--I-I mean... me too...! I like it too... for doing that..." the angel winced inwardly at his mixed-up tongue. Any small mistake in front of a girl like her felt like the end of the world to him. Duh. Real smooth there. I hope this guy does something retarded again to cover for that.
"What does the cat do, anyway?" he asked, quickly changing the subject. "Besides get along with you totally well."
The girl merely groaned this time and made no effort to correct the "wizard". She was hoping they could ditch him at the first available opportunity. Or at least feed him to the bad guys.
"My name's Marianne, by the way," she told Damien, paying the tab for a few sodas she had drank before they stood.
"D... Damien..." he managed, sounding like he was about to swoon. His feet temporarily forgot how to stand but sorted themselves out well enough so that he only stumbled upon rising from his stool. He felt lucky for that much.
"Could you... help us find the church? Maybe give us a description of your uncle?" the angel asked her. Neither made any effort to include Phantasmo in the conversation, but the girl picked up the cat gladly. Petting it helped calm her nerves.
"Well... he's... he's a balding man, in his middle forties. A little overweight but he has a kind face and brown hair, or what's left of his hair... wears glasses and his clerical uniform most of the time. His name is Patrick. Father Patrick Jennings, the church knows him as. Do you really think you could help him...?" her blue eyes searched for some kind of encouragement or reassurance from the angel. The back of Damien's neck and his cheeks began to feel hot.
"O-oh yeah, no problem!" his voice cracked on the last word and he cringed to himself.
"Well, he's supposed to know how to do exorcisms and stuff... magic, I think. But I'm kinda doubting any of that is true now..." Damien answered.
"Who is he, anyway?"
"Magnificento or something? Something dumb like that. I guess I shoulda been skeptical when I heard even that part, but..." the young man scratched the back of his neck awkwardly, "w-well I... I wanted some back-up..."
"I've never heard of him," Marianne replied, narrowing her eyes at the wizard in front of them, but speaking as if he couldn't hear them. Or maybe as if she just didn't plain care at this point. This con-artist, as she was now assuming he was, seemed the lowest of the low. "He hasn't tried to charge you any money or anything for his 'help', has he?"
"Not... not yet... except all those drink orders."
”I’m going to die. I’m going to die. I’m going to die. I’m going to die.”
Phantasmo realized that at some point he was going to have to stop quietly reciting his optimistic little mantra. He was planning on seeing just how far he could push back this point.
He was also vaguely aware that the chump and the girl were talking. He didn’t like that. He felt he ought to do something about it. Maybe he could just take a short break from his mantra. He figured it’d be okay for a little while.
“Hey baby, is the chump bothering you?” Phantasmo said, pushing Damien away from Marianne. “I’m sure you want to know all about how I’m going to” - there was a very slight gulp - “beat those demons.”
"Get away from me!" Marianne shoved the persistent wizard back, her nose wrinkled up in disgust. She hadn't bought a word of Phantasmo's grandstanding since he'd first opened his mouth. "You're a coward and a liar and you tagging along is only going to get my uncle in worse trouble! And QUIT calling me 'baby'!"
Damien could only stumble back and stare when he was pushed away--was she defending him? Or at least choosing him over the wizard? He knew the guy was a loser, but the fact that she thought he was less of a loser did wonders for his self-esteem. He swelled with pride, forgetting for the moment the task that would lay ahead of him alone.
"Let's go, Damien!" the girl stomped over and grasped his hand, "I'm sick of hearing this fraud run his mouth!"
Phantasmo considered what had just happened. The girl had made it very clear she didn’t want his help. The chump was practically in a perfect position to score, as far as Phantasmo could tell. On the other hand, Phantasmo had just gotten a Get Out Of Being Mauled By Demons Free Card. He liked Get Out Of Being Mauled By Demons Free Cards.
“Fine!” he said to nobody in particular. “Have fun being demon food! I can find a chick that doesn’t want me to rescue her pet goldfish from demons!”
He turned around to return to the tavern.
“C’mon, Cat, let’s go back to the Unhygienic Dragon. I’m sure we’ll find a more worthwhile use of my talents there.”
“... Cat? Cat? Where’ve you gotten off to?”
At a speed similar to the one at which species evolve new limbs, realization dawned on Phantasmo.
“!” exclaimed the wizard. He sprinted after the pretty girl, the awkward angel, and the little white fluffball trotting along between them.
"Such a good animal..." Marianne stroked the cat's fur, scratching him under his chin just as he liked. He purred in her arms. "I don't know what he was doing stuck with that jerk..."
"Yeah..." Damien agreed, trying his best to sound interested. The cat seemed nice enough but he had never been very good around animals. They tended to see him as a scratching post. Or a chew toy. "So where is the church from here? I'm not that familiar with the town..."
"Oh, if we take Pine Avenue onto Brandenburg, we should be heading the right way!"
The angel nodded and began to lead the way, noticing that he had been outdone by a cat. Wish she was hugging me like that... No one slowed down for the wizard trailing behind in the dusk.
St. Martin’s facade, with its twin towers, loomed before Phantasmo, Damien, Marianne, and Cat. The latter started growling. Any animal spending years in the company of a wizard, even a very incompetent one, learns to sense evil. There was plenty of it inside the church.
The buildings around the church were in various states of ruin. The church itself was fairly intact, save for a few broken windows and lots of vandalized sculptures. A flash of lightning illuminated the many spires of the building. For all their faults, the demons did at least know a thing or two about dramatics.
Then the pavement in front of the trio exploded. A demon on top of one of the towers laughed at them, and prepared another attack.
To his credit, Damien's first instinct was to grab Marianne and get her away. If he happened to get his butt out of the line of fire in the process, that was just a bonus. And get out he did, making a bee-line for the side of the church, hoping desperately that it would put the two of them out of the demon's angle on the rooftop for now. More complicated concerns could come later.
Like what the heck they were going to do.
As an angel, Damien was naturally more of a pacifist, or a healer. He was armed with a single more proactive holy ability that demons found abhorrent, an ability to sanctify a given area, to imbue a person or place with his holy energy to protect it from just these sorts of things. It was often far more effective than he ever expected. But usually against just a few demons, or lesser ones. This place was infested. With just a slingshot and his few skills, he was growing infinitely more worried about his ability to save this church. Or even get them all out alive.
"H-hang onto me..." he told Marianne, his legs shaking like Jello in an earthquake. Flying was going to be a no-no here. That lightning would fry him in an instant. But... he began to think, maybe if he blessed some of his slingshot pellets to fire at this demon, he could clear the entrance...
As he dodged and prayed, Damien never realized he'd completely lost track of both Cat and Phantasmo.
"D... Damien, I'm scared..." the girl at his side was murmuring. It blocked out all else.