Lilith usually avoided places like the Pie Bird Diner. Retro-nostalgia wasn’t something she enjoyed. Lilith suspected people found comfort in the trappings of the past, in the innocuous kitschiness of the neon sign and booth style seating, in the chrome and glass display case rotating slowly, proudly presenting the diner’s offerings, but she’d always felt disenchanted with such places. For Lilith the aesthetic was inherently disingenuous. The design felt to her like architectural homeopathy - a diluted copy, of a copy, of a copy, mimicking something that had been an ignorant rose tinted fantasy to begin with. Case in point, the man she’d been tailing the last few days would’ve likely been an unwelcome patron when such diners were in their heyday.
Logan Maxwell had been harder to track down than expected. The mess Cartwright wrought wasn’t limited to just the Night of Madness. Lilith had been dealing with the aftermath, part of which had been locating the mysterious DPD officer from the footage Xavier had shown her. She hadn’t put much effort in at first, hoping Xavier would acquire an unredacted version of the footage and demystify the process, deciding instead to search for the “Mr. Black” whose voice had featured in the footage. When Xavier wasn’t able to produce more video Lilith redirected her attention to the DPD, figuring a search for a “Mr. Black” was something of a wild goose chase. Luckily, most of the officers who participated in Cartwright’s capture were on administrative leave pending the conclusion of an internal investigation. This had narrowed her list of possible matches significantly, but given that she only had a general body shape to go on it forced her to get eyes on each in turn, eating up time she didn’t have right now. Lilith had almost crossed Logan off the list, thinking when she first saw him that he was a bit big to be the man Cartwright had loomed over in the video. She’d been about to write that morning off as another failure when a Vergeron Corp vehicle had stopped by the diner to pick Logan up.
Lilith had followed that car, overjoyed to finally find a connection, even a tentative one, between Vergeron and the DPD. It wasn’t immediately obvious why Vergeron would remain in contact with an off duty officer, but the unusual circumstance was almost a guarantee she’d finally found her man.
Lilith tailed that car and when it finally stopped she saw that Logan wasn’t alone. Another man, a gangly fellow in a wrinkled gray coat, was with him. They had proceeded to travel all over Delphi, ping ponging across the city in a pattern that quickly grew concerning. At first, though she was curious, Lilith hadn’t put much significance into what it was the two were doing, but when they stopped by the home of one of her soldiers she began to pay more attention.
After a day of keeping tabs on them Lilith went through and examined exactly who it was they were talking to and it became clear the two were sifting through data she thought expunged. It wasn’t precise what they were doing, not exact, but whatever information they were working off of had them sniffing around cult activity like a pair of bloodhounds, especially as it related to Cartwright.
Now that Lilith was certain she had her DPD officer, all she needed was to confirm the identity of his Vergeron counterpart. Running the name ‘Py’ through a database search of Vergeron employees had yielded a possible connection between ‘Py’ and ‘Pythagoras Black’, which was a promising lead. The cherry on top had been when she ran a picture she’d snapped of the gray coated man through facial recognition and come up with news footage of that same man being dragged forcibly from an airport. The news report proclaimed this man to be none other than a Mr. Black, one Richard Pythagoras Black. She’d crossed referenced Vergeron’s staffing database and was shocked to find Mr. Black not only as a listed employee, but a more recent hire in Vergeron’s marketing department, of all things. That revelation had sealed it for Lilith and she’d been following them exclusively ever since.
Lilith had taken one of the corner bar stools, giving her a view of Maxwell as he waited on his partner to show. The man was eating like he'd never seen food before, putting away two slices of pie and a full pint of milk before Mr. Black, who she’d overheard Logan call Py in her time tailing them, swung in through the door and straight to Logan. The first time she heard Py’s name come up in conversation Lilith wasn’t sure if it was in reference to the food, the diner, or the man, but ultimately that single word had been the link she needed between the DPD, Vergeron, and the infamous drone footage.
Lilith’s ears perked up as she tried to appear more interested in the remnants of her slice of coconut cream pie than in the men’s conversation.
Maxwell set down his fork and gave a snap of his fingers in an excited gesture as Py took the seat opposite him.
“I did a little checking on that tattoo and sure as shit a couple of the boys confirm they saw it on the guy.” Lilith glanced up nonchalantly as Logan pulled something from his jacket pocket.
“Called in a favor from one of the sketch artists on staff. It’s not perfect, but I think it confirms what Evelyn was talking about.” Lilith saw a quick flash of a drawing on paper before Logan passed it to Py. Lilith’s stomach gave a small turn. It was impossible to mistake, even from this distance - the sketch was that of a snake circling around to bite its own tail.
“It also confirms our information deficit, and gives us something to focus on.” Py said, taking a quick look at the paper before passing it back to Logan. “How do we want to proceed?”
“I think,” Logan said, pushing himself up and out of the booth, “we finish off our people of interest with the additional info and have Alice start cross referencing that tattoo...” Their conversation became muddy as Py got up himself and they exited the diner in a rush of excited purpose.
Lilith sat in thought, pushing her pie crust around her plate. She was sure now. These two were pulling at Cartwright’s shadow, trying to piece together whatever stray crumbs still clung to the dead fuck. Even in death he managed to annoy her. She knew inevitably their search ended at a corpse, but could they connect it to Lilith, or the cult? They were already making house calls, but that seemed more coincidence than focused intent. Under different circumstances she might have written it off, knowing the trail went cold, but where were they getting their information? There shouldn’t be anything actionable in what the DPD had access to and there were no open investigations concerning anything these two were looking into. As far as Lilith could tell, Logan was suspended from active duty, Py was a marketing peon with a sorted past and a bad nickname, and Vergeron seemed to be sponsoring their activities...why?
At least there was one thing she’d been able to confirm. Now that Lilith had gotten close enough to properly hear him there was no doubt that the voice in the background of Xavier’s footage was none other than Richard Pythagoras Black.
Lilith stepped through the door into Xaviers office. The Archdeacon had already arrived and was in the process of elocuting on some point of doctrine. Xavier was sitting across the conference table his head held in his hands, elbows on the table, fingers running through his hair as if he were contemplating removing it by force, his face hovering a few inches from an open bible.
“When was the last time you read that thing?” Lilith spoke, gently ribbing Xavier, who was not generally known for his deep love of scripture.
“I try to skim it at least once a year.” Xavier replied, lifting his face toward Lilith. She could see on his face an expression of absolute exhaustion. Deep black circles sagged under his eyes, which were dry and bloodshot, and his words slow and tired. “Get over here and help us, will you.”
“Sure,” Lilith replied, pulling a large tattered bible from a shoulder bag and making her way to the table. “What are you reading?”
“We’re trying to piece together everything the Apostle said to us the other day.” The Archdeacon chimed. “His quote doesn’t seem to be verbatim with the canonical text. I think he might’ve been indirectly alluding to a few different books. The reference to ‘cleansing’ may relate to this quote from the Sumerian Epistle: ‘The Children of the Advent draw power from the unwitting and unknowing, yea, many in ignorance have become slaves to that end. It is better that a nation be made clean than to allow for the Advent to dwell in its shadows.’” The Archdeacon shifted another of the open books in front of himself before continuing. “Now, the river of the dead may relate to this passage from the Ramesses Admonition where it states: ‘The army of the living shall not overcome the army of god, which commands both the living and the dead.”
“Hmm”, Lilith hummed thoughtfully.
“Care to enlighten us?” Xavier replied, seeming more than a little annoyed.
“Well, those are both from the Second Gospels. They're often less regarded since they were written by men after god’s ascension.”
The Archdeacon began nodding and continued her thought. “Unfortunately, the First Gospels as we know them are a little… less clear. Some scholars believe the Second Gospels are quoted from early texts that we no longer have access to. This is why they’ve been included with the standard canon even though some scholars perceive them as apocryphal texts.”
“Fine.” Xavier replied with some frustration. “So what is it after? Why is it here?”
“The Prophet searches the world for the Advent Children, right?” Lilith asked, quoting a commonly held, yet academically contested belief. “Maybe the Prophet thinks they’ve amassed some influence here.”
“Does it actually say that? Show me where it says that!” Xavier shouted, growing more irritated by the second.
Lilith set her bible on the table and started thumbing through pages thoughtfully. “There has to be something...”
“All I want to know is what’s happening so we can stop it.”
“Xavier,” Lilith gently rebuked, glancing up from her own bible “I know this is hard, but you can’t interfere with the work of god. If the Prophet has made its determination we shouldn’t get in its way.”
“There has to be some way we can short circuit this. What if we found the enemy first? Cleared them out ourselves. Wouldn’t that eliminate the need for this ‘cleanse’? Maybe the Prophet could wrap up and move on its way.”
“God’s not a lawyer Xavier,” Lilith said, “you're not going to just catch him on some technicality.”
“The Apostle said we would all be tested. Maybe this is the test. Maybe he wants to see if we can keep the world in equilibrium without burning it to the ground.”
“That feels like a stretch...”
“Then show me something else!” Xavier yelled, throwing his bible closed. “Show me where it talks about any of this garbage. I've been reading this thing day and night. So far I've found all the tenants of faith - the code of ethics, the ceremonial rights, but this Prophet is practically a ghost. It hardly exists in any of the scripture I've read so far.”
“It's true the work of the Prophet is somewhat obscured.” The Archdeacon expounded, seeming to ignore Xavier’s outburst. “But we do have a few passages. See here: ‘The Advent War is not inevitable. If the Children of Opposition can be cut at every turn, in the end, you shall know peace. If the war comes to Man the scar of such violence will mark the world eternally, even to the end of everything. With hope for salvation I will leave you weapons of great import. Chief among them are the Angels, birthed of my heart and mind. Do not seek to understand the Angels in all things, for the mind of Man is not prepared. But serve them as the ever evolving appendage of past and future Man’.”
“There, the beginning of that, doesn’t it say that war can be avoided? What else does it say?”
The Archdeacon remained silent for a moment, his eyes not leaving the page. He adopted a somber tone before continuing.
“It is the task of Man to serve the great weapon of which you are a part. To question god’s will is to be tested. To be tested is to court ruin. A weak weapon is blunt. A blunt weapon is indiscriminate.”
The room was silent for a moment. Lilith could see the wheels turn in Xavier’s mind in the way she had seen many times before, refusing to accept defeat.
“What was that last one from?” Xavier asked, looking as if he’d latched on to something.
“The first book of the Advent Revelation.” Lilith replied solemnly. “The first article in the Thesis of the End Times. I’m not sure it applies to our situation.”
“What does the rest of it say?” Xavier pressed.
“I don’t know.” The Archdeacon confessed. “It’s not part of the standard canon. There’s an addendum to the canon, usually referred to as the high canon. It’s the most difficult body of text to decipher. Disagreement over the meaning of the text once led to a dangerous schism in the faith. It was around the 15th century, I believe. This is actually when the western faith went through its controversial restructuring from the rights of the ancient cult to a form resembling the contemporary papistry. The break in the church was so severe in fact that the offending books were removed from the common scripture. Now only the College of Scholars have access to the full text.”
“I need to know the difference between a strong weapon and an indiscriminate one, and I need to know what an Angel is and what they want. Go to the College of Scholars and see what they can tell you. If they won’t help then we’ll go past them. I’ll dig an original testament out of the dirt if I have to. I’ll bring it to Delphi in stone slabs and build a house of scripture. Understood!? If we can save Delphi we will do it at any cost. I won’t accept any other alternative.”
“I don’t like this Xavier.” Lilith spoke, slowly shaking her head. “If you're not sure what to do… I think we should ask the Apostle for clarification.”
“If you want to talk to the Apostle I won’t stop you, but I’m not leaving the fate of my city to some thing I just met who seems to think I need testing.”
“You can’t cheat your way through this Xavier. I know you always manage to find a way to get what you want, but to question the will of god is to court ruin, just as the scriptures say.”
“The Apostle said we would be tested. I never met a teacher who just handed out the answers because I asked for them nicely. Just because he serves your god doesn’t mean he has your best interest in mind.”
Lilith felt her fist clench in response to the admonition. She did not appreciate being rebuked for defense of her faith.
“You rebuilt the church of Delphi in your own image and now the Apostle has called all of our judgment into question.”
Xavier shot up from his chair and pointed a finger at Lilith.
“Ever since you lost control of Cartwright I’ve sat back and watched your order disintegrate. The biggest chance I’ve taken in Delphi is the chance I took on you. You’d better think long and hard about that before you call my judgement into question.”
The room was deadly silent as Xavier lowed himself back into his chair, never breaking eye contact with Lilith.
“I should go.” The Archdeacon spoke, probably trying to dodge an awkward moment. “I still have a lot of studying to do. I’ll try to reach out to the College of Scholars. I think one of my old seminary instructors might still have access to the restricted texts.”
“Fine, I want to hear from you at least twice a day, every day, until I get something I can use.”
The Archdeacon gathered together his things and shuffled out the door.
“And what about me, sir?” Lilith asked stiffly her face roasting with the heat of righteous indignation.
“Do your job. Miss one quota and I’ll replace you in an instant. I already have a candidate in mind. And find your men. All of them. I’ve been more than patient, but it can’t continue.”
“Yes sir.” Lilith replied, fighting harder than ever to maintain her composure.
“Anything else?” Xavier asked, no doubt wondering why Lilith hadn’t left.
“Yes sir, I’ve found your ‘Mr. Black’.”