The man who was short, but still taller than me, led me across the lobby, past an intricate glass fountain, and towards one of many doors on the back wall. I knew the man’s name before he even introduced himself, though I was thoroughly confused as to why someone like Tom Beckman was here. We had a couple of the Secret Service films, in which he had the starring role, on video. He looked younger in those films, though that was understandable as they were about thirty years old. Why was a movie star here among strange men with even stranger powers?
Powers that you have I reminded myself. Based on that I arrived at the, seemingly obvious, answer as to what Tom Beckman was doing here. He was a member, an acolyte, of the Church of Mammon. In fact, based on how Isambard had handed me over to him, he appeared to be of a higher rank.
This train of thought continued as we reached the door, at which Tom Beckman pulled a card from his pocket and placed it on a panel on the wall. Moments later there was a beep and a green light on the panel lit up, followed by a click that was probably the door unlocking. Tom Beckman pulled the door open and walked through. I followed.
Tom Beckman didn’t appear to care very much if I followed him or not, but I got a sense that, no matter how disinterested he seemed, he was observing me.
A few doors, and one very uncomfortable lift ride, later we arrived at what could probably be best described as a second lobby. An inner lobby of sort. This one had a desk with a younger woman sat at it, though the far more noticeable difference was that there was no glass fountain. In its place was an imposing stone sculpture of a man in a long and billowing toga. One arm was raised upwards to the heavens, and between the thumb and index finger of his outstretched hand was small disc.
Based on what little I knew about the Church of Mammon, it was probably a coin.
At the base of the statue was a plaque with an inscription, though I didn’t have time to read it before Tom Beckman turned to me.
“Mr Poster has explained the situation to me.” Tom Beckman said, his voice low and steady. “You can use Divitaetion without money?” I nodded, my throat too dry to talk. I was beginning to wonder if I had made a wise choice in coming here. Tom Beckman pointed a thumb towards the large wooden door past the desk and the statue. “The current Grand Elder of the Church of Mammon is sitting in the room just beyond those doors. We will be meeting him in a few moments and I need you to demonstrate your power to me now.”
I was being made to use my powers far more frequently than I usually would. As Tom Beckman looked at me expectantly, I had a thought.
I could just not do it… I could pretend that Isambard made a mistake, that I tricked him somehow. Then I could go back home and forget about Divitaetion and the Church of Mammon…
I thought about my mum, and Alistair… and the stipend Isambard had quoted.
Tom Beckman winced slightly as he felt the heat emanating from my hand.
“Impressive.” He commented, and he did sound impressed. “You’re outputting a lot of power.”
“You can tell?” I asked without thinking.
“We have our ways.” That was all the explanation I got as Tom Beckman turned to the woman at the desk. “We’re here to see Elder Guyard.”
“He’s expecting you.” The woman smiled at both of us. We walked through to the door. There was no panel by this one, but it swung open by itself as we approached. Beyond the door was a room that I could scarcely believe. In stark contrast to the pure white walls I’d seen in the rest of the building, this one was golden. Actually, when I looked closer, I could still see the white of the walls but they were all covered in plaques, ornaments and other objects I couldn’t think of an appropriate name for. There was no rhyme or reason to the size and style of these objects. The only common theme they shared was their material.
They were all made of gold.
I wondered how much it was all worth and if I would even be able to fathom that number, whatever it turned out to be. There were only two things not adorned completely in gold in the room. A large wooden desk and a man standing behind it. The man may not have been wearing gold, save for an expensive looking watch, but had come close with a loud, bright yellow suit. Equally bright was the man’s smile, which he flashed as he watched Tom Beckman and I walk into the room. The doors closed behind us.
“Tom, good to see you.” The man in the yellow suit spoke with a loud voice.
“Same to you, Grand Elder.” Tom Beckman bowed, actually bowed, slightly as he spoke.
“And you,” the Grand Elder turned his smile on me, “must be Miss Verity Pour.”
“Yes sir.” I said, adding the “sir” reflexively. Some people made it very clear how they expected to be addressed, and everything about this man, from the suit to the watch to the desk to the door and to all the golden paraphernalia surrounding us, screamed that he expected to be addressed with respect and deference.
“Ah please don’t call me sir,” the Grand Elder chuckled. Perhaps I had been incorrect in my assessment. “My title is Grand Elder.”
Never mind then.
“So this is her? The one Isambard phoned ahead about?” The Grand Elder… Guyard asked Tom Beckman.
“Yes, Grand Elder.” Beckman answered, “I have confirmed it myself as well. She appears to be able to use Divitaetion without money, and to impressive effect as well.” Guyard’s face lit up even brighter than it already had.
“Then she’s the one?”
“It would be reckless, Grand Elder, to assume that right now.” Beckman’s voice was far more measured than Guyard’s. “But it would also be foolish to discount that possibility.”
The one? What are they talking about? Something about the way these two men were speaking opened a pit in my stomach. Had I underestimated just how important I was to these people?
“You look confused dear.” Guyard addressed me. There was no point denying that, so I nodded. “Well let me ask you this: what do you know of the Church of Mammon?”
The truth was: very little. I had certainly heard of them, most people had, but it seemed that no one really knew, or bothered to find out, what they believed in. People tended to use the word “cult” as much as they used the word “church”. While its meeting houses were apparently open to everyone, its upper echelons and inner circles were only open to the most generous of donors.
My short answer to Guyard’s question was next to nothing, and certainly nothing good...
“Very little.” I said. I felt it would be diplomatic to leave out that last part. Guyard’s smile broadened.
“Then let me tell you,” he began, “of the history of the Church of Mammon.”
Jeremiah Guyard was a man of means. At the turn of the nineteenth century he accrued vast wealth thanks to his keen sense for all things business. This was not too uncommon for the time. What was uncommon was the divine revelation he received from an ancient deity.
“This deity saw my great grandfather, and what an excellent steward of his wealth he was, and saw fit to reveal to him the secrets of the greatest gift man has ever received.” Jeremiah Guyard’s great grandson, the Grand Elder of the Church of Mammon Richard Guyard, was speaking animatedly. Perhaps he didn’t get many chances to tell this story, or perhaps he did and that was why it was so well rehearsed. “And that gift was money.” Guyard left a pause there to let the words have their impact. “Money is power, but not only power. It brings order to the world. Those who are worthy of it will gain it, and those who gain it can be trusted to use it for the betterment of humanity as a whole.” Beckman was nodding along. “This deity was Mammon, god of money and wealth.”
I had never heard of them.
“Mammon revealed his existence, forgotten for centuries, to my great grandfather. He also taught my great grandfather the true power of money.” Ah, that must be-
“Divitaetion.” I said. Beckman nodded again but Guyard looked slightly put out that I had interrupted him like that.
“Yes.” He recovered and resumed his story telling. “Money is a gift from Mammon given to us, and through offering up money back to him he grants us powers beyond those of human capability.”
“That’s why Divitaetion has a real cost. Money must be offered up to Mammon, and he grants us abilities of equal value.” Beckman cut in. “Usually anyway.” He added, looking pointedly at me.
“Mammon taught my great grandfather all this and more.” Richard Guyard certainly enjoyed reminding me that Jeremiah Guyard was his great grandfather. “And he promised this: that one day Mammon would come to the world in human form and would finally set the world right.” Another pause, but with a sickening feeling I already knew what was coming next. “We believe you are Mammon, come to us in human form.” Guyard confirmed my worst fears.
“The fact that you have access to the powers of Divitaetion with no cost is our greatest sign.” Beckman explained.
Oh no. Actually my thoughts were a little more explicit than that.
“If you are Mammon then the promised time is almost upon us, and you are here to set the world right.” Guyard was beaming brighter than he had at any point before. “To think that Mammon would come in my lifetime!” Beckman chose this moment to speak again.
“We will train you in the art of Divitaetion, Verity, so that you will one day fulfil your promise.”
It wasn’t my promise! I don’t remember being a deity! I don’t even know what you mean by “set the world right”! I wanted to shout all these things but I didn’t. I kept my mouth shut and nodded, and prayed to any deity that might be out there, Mammon included, that they didn’t discover my secret.
My secret that I had been lying from the start. I was sacrificing something to use my Divitaetion, and I knew exactly what is was.
But it wasn’t money.