I ate alone most meals. In fact Tom Beckman was about the only person I’d regularly spoken to for my first week at the Church of Mammon. That was apparently about to change as, while I was once again eating dinner alone, a familiar face (and the attached body) sat down opposite me.
“Hello again.” said Faith. I finished chewing and swallowed before I greeted her back.
“How’s it going?” Faith began tucking into her own meal while I considered my answer.
“It’s…” I began, “…weird.” I concluded. Faith smiled.
“Still getting used to the fact that you have all these powers?”
“There is that…” That had taken some getting used to, but then I’d been generating heat unprompted for years so it hadn’t taken too much adjustment. “But it’s more… this way of thinking…” What was I trying to say? That this way of thinking, this constant counting of money and weighing up costs and balancing risk and reward… it was all so… familiar to me, and that bothered me. My trail of thought, and my answer, slowed to a trickle. Faith simply gave a sympathetic smile. “How long have you been here?” I asked, changing the subject.
“Good question…” Faith pulled a faraway look as she did the maths. “It’s been about five years since I started here. Before that I studied at the boarding school.”
“The boarding school?”
“Yeah. Actually it’s not far from here. Most graduates get shipped off to work elsewhere though. Only the best get to work here.” Despite her words sounding like a boast, Faith’s tone of voice was anything but boastful. It was almost bitter. “Now I’m more interested in your story.” It was Faith’s turn to change the subject. “You’re training under Tom, how is that?”
“It’s… ” I went to say “weird” again but decided Faith deserved a better answer than that. “He’s not a bad teacher, but it gets uncomfortable when he’s always watching.”
“That sounds about right. He seems really stern for a movie star.” I nodded. Faith had put my thoughts into words exactly.
“When did he join the Church of Mammon?” I asked, “Did he attend the boarding school?” Faith laughed at that.
“Sorry, I wasn’t making fun of you.” She said while still chuckling. “The idea of a little Tom Beckman attending school just tickled me.” Now that I thought about it, the idea tickled me too. “Tom’s story is pretty well known, in fact he’s probably one of our most well-known members.” I looked at Faith expectantly. “So you know the Secret Service films?” I nodded. “Well the filming of Secret Service Countdown, the fourth in the series, kept being delayed because of him.”
We only had Secret Service 2 and 3 on video at home.
“Why was he delaying filming?” I asked. I got the sense that Faith wanted some audience participation.
“Because he was getting blind drunk every night and was too hungover every day for filming.”
“Among other things.” Faith grimaced. “Anyway that continued until one day Tom encountered a member of the Church of Mammon, and he found what they said made perfect sense to him.”
“It did?” I asked, maybe a little too harshly than I intended.
“Well when you accumulate so much wealth for pretending to be a heroic spy, after a while you begin to wonder what it’s even all for. And then Tom discovers the Church of Mammon, and how all that wealth is a gift from Mammon and its true meaning is only realised when it is offered up in service to him. Well it gave his life purpose. In his words, it saved his life.” The emotional language Faith was using didn’t really match up with the Tom Beckman that had been teaching me to make coins jump up and down. Then again that didn’t prove anything either way.
It was at around this point that Isambard came over holding a box in his hand. From the look of it the box contained something I’d been waiting for.
“Hi Faith.” he said as he placed the box on the table in front of me. It was exactly what I’d been waiting for. “Hi Verity, this just arrived.”
It was a phone, something Isambard had said the Church of Mammon would provide if I joined them. It seemed the Church of Mammon had seen fit to uphold their end of the deal. I began to shovel my food into my mouth with renewed vigour. It was around seven in the evening here in Los Angeles, so it was around three in the morning back in Warrington. My mum would be just finishing her shift. I finished my food and stood up.
“Good to see you.” I managed to say as I rushed off back to my room.
Getting the phone set up took me longer than I wanted but eventually I was able to get it working. I took a small slip of paper out of my pocket. Scrawled on the paper were a series of numbers, my mum’s phone number. It took me a few attempts to realise that I needed to include a dialling code. My mum answered the phone almost immediately.
“Verity?” She said breathlessly.
“Hi mum.” I answered.
“You have a phone?”
“That’s how I’m calling you.” I heard my mum chuckle at the other end.
“How are you?” She said. Faith had asked me a similar question and I’d found myself unable to fully answer. I opened my mouth to speak, expecting to encounter a similar block. Instead I found myself talking and talking and unable to stop. Without letting my mum get a word in edgeways I talked without pausing about the Church of Mammon and Tom Beckman and Divitaetion and how strange a world I’d landed myself in and…
I ran out of words. I didn’t know how long I’d been talking for but I was panting slightly. My mum hadn’t said a single word to stop me. She had just listened. Now that I was finished she began talking.
“Verity, I will be proud of you whatever choices you make. I know why you took this opportunity but I want you to know that you can come back any time.” Considering how important Richard Guyard thought I was, I couldn’t imagine he would take it too kindly if I decided I wanted to leave. Despite that, hearing my mum say that made me feel slightly better. “Have you made any friends?” I thought about that.
“Yeah… I think so…”
We talked for a little longer.
“Call me any time you want.” My mum said as I went to hang up.
“Thanks mum.” I said and hit the red icon. It was dark now, the sun had set a while ago. As I sat there in the darkness I wondered if I’d ever be as strong a person as my mum.
Mealtimes with Faith, and sometimes Isambard, became a regular fixture of my life. Faith was unendingly cheerful and never seemed to run out of topics for conversation. Isambard was quieter but still friendly, though I tended to get the sense with him that there was always something that he found amusing that was flying right over my head. He wasn’t unpleasant to talk to, but there was something odd. That said I found most things at the Church of Mammon somewhat odd.
Training in Divitaetion resumed the next week, with no mention of the incident with the blade. That said, there was no more casting with bank cards.
For a week my training consisted mainly of learning the time it took a coin to drop from my hand to the floor. It was apparently a vital bit of knowledge for any self-respecting practitioner of Divitaetion. Perhaps because of that, I wasn’t very good at getting the timing right. The following week our training session had a third attendee. Faith.
“Hi Verity.” She said. She was leaning on the wall of the gym by the door, waiting for Beckman and I.
“Hi.” I replied, then, “What are you doing here?”
“I’m your training partner for today.” She explained. Training partner? Was it time for me to start learning how to fight properly? As it turned out, not quite.
“Today you will be learning trap.” Beckman explained. “Miss Acre, why don’t you explain it to Miss Pour?” Miss Acre, Faith, smiled and began her lesson.
“So as you might have guessed, trap is used to trap people.”
“Only people?” I asked.
“Well any living thing, if it’s big enough.” Faith shrugged, “But generally humans are what you’ll need to use it on.” Faith looked to Beckman, who took out the familiar wallet. Faith took the wallet and took out a one dollar bill. “I’m going to cast trap on you, if that’s okay.” Faith was already approaching me, and I got the sense that my opinion on the matter was immaterial.
“Okay…” I wasn’t thrilled about the idea but I let Faith hold the one dollar bill against my chest.
“So I’m going to cast trap... now.”
Sometimes when you wake up you don’t quite realise exactly when it happened. Recovering from trap felt similar. When I came to, I was still standing up, but Faith had moved to the other side of the gym.
“Get it?” she called as she began walking back over.
“I think so.” I said once she was closer. As far as I could tell I had essentially fallen asleep standing up.
“Now it’s your turn.” Faith cheerily pulled out a one dollar bill and offered it to me. I went to take it and
I came to and Faith was standing behind me.
“So what have we learned?” She asked. I hadn’t yet turned to see her face but I was sure she had a mischievous grin plastered across her face.
“To never trust you?” I hazarded a guess. Faith had cast trap on me when I’d touched the note in her hand. “Does the money have to touch your target for it to work?” I asked as I turned.
“Yep.” Faith was offering me another one dollar bill. I hesitated a moment, then took it.
And now Faith was pulling my hair into a pony tail. She’d hit me with trap again.
“You’re not going to be able to make it any less wild.” I warned her.
“Hold still.” Faith retorted, “Or I’ll make you hold still.” Once she was satisfied with my hair, she took out a third one dollar bill and offered it to me. I didn’t take it immediately. I’d had an idea. I hoped it would work.
I took hold of the note in Faith’s hand. The note turned to dust and Faith stiffened. It had worked! I took a few steps back. There were no outward signs of the cast, other than the fact that she was frozen in place. I heard a clapping noise. It was Beckman, clapping.
“Oh you…” Faith was moving again, and had realised what I’d done. I smiled.
“Serves you right.” I said. Faith chuckled.
“Well you’ve gotten the hang of trap pretty quickly.” I couldn’t tell if Faith was genuinely a little annoyed with me for ruining her fun, or if this was how she had planned on me learning all along. “So now we can learn how to break trap.” Faith pocketed the wallet. “Now what do you think is required to break a trap?”
I thought for a moment but it didn’t take long for my mind to wander back to the fiasco with the blade from a week ago.
“More money than what was used for the trap?” I guessed.
“Got it in one.” Faith’s smile broadened a little for a moment before returning to its resting state. That is to say, still pretty wide.