11. Promise Keepers

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Kadav was jolted awake by a shock of cold water across his face. He lurched to a sitting position, shuddering and soaked. What the devil was going on? As the hunched-over form of the priest materialized over him, gripping an overturned pail in both hands and swimming in and out of focus, he knew he wasn't going to like the answer. "What was that for?" he crowed indignantly.

"Exorcism," thundered the priest. His voice resounded uncomfortably in the echo chamber of the mayor's head.

"Exorcism! Have you lost your bleeding mind, you old crackpot?"

"Hmm. Must not have taken." He doused the mayor a second time. "Needs more holy water."

"This is an outrage!" Kadav spluttered. "I'm the mayor for Rhojë's sake! You can't just barge in here and—and do that!"

"Shhhh!" The priest put a finger to his lips. "We wouldn't want to wake up the whole town, now would we?"

"Town? What do you mean, the whole—" Kadav recoiled in horror as he took in his surroundings. Where there should have been cedar paneled walls and a low nightstand with a profit ledger, there was the dusty lane of the town itself, laid out before him like a plank. The low sun doused the shops in a rosy glow. A few people moved about or stood in doorways, surreptitiously glancing in his direction. Rhojë be merciful, had he just passed the night like a drunken lout on the chapel's doorstep? That would explain the invisible giant stomping on his head.

Pull yourself together, he rebuked himself as he made an effort to stand. His legs were slow to obey his commands, as if the messages from his brain were being dispatched along different routes. Clutching the chapel wall for support, he did a sort of vertical crawl until he was more or less upright. Momentarily stabilized, he brushed off dirt and smoothed down his tousled hair. One tuft resisted his ministrations, jutting out like a devil's horn.

The holy man, by comparison, appeared fresh and rested. Having sat down the pails, he slipped his hands into the voluminous sleeves of his habit and gazed pensively to the east. Newly smelted sunlight gilded the hair-wreathed cupola of his bald head. "I do so love the mornings." He breathed in deeply. "The air is so brisk and clean, it feels like you could drink it from a cup."

Kadav shivered in his wet clothes. "I much prefer the nighttime myself. I find it more conducive to carrying out my human sacrifices."

The priest sketched the sign of an arc over his forehead. "Evildoers avoid the light because it exposes the vileness of their deeds."

"As surely as the self-righteous flock to the light because they want everyone to take notice of them," Kadav rejoined.

The holy man frowned. "Clearly, you are not here to repent of your misdeeds. To what then may I attribute the honor of your presence this blessed morn?"

Kadav bit back another caustic remark. However gratifying, trading barbs with the priest was not going to advance his cause. "I came to make a, uh... proposition," he managed with difficulty.

"It's a proposition now, is it? Last night it was a bargain. Or was it an agreement? It was right after the part where you called me a vulture-faced prig. Perhaps you could refresh my memory."

"Truth be told, my recollection of last night is a bit foggy," Kadav said. "I must have been sleepwalking again. It's an ornery affliction. I hope I didn't disturb you too awful much. There's no telling what sort of things I might have blurted out in my sleep."

"No trouble at all, mayor," the priest said with a knowing grin. "I once knew a man that could do just about anything in his sleep. Why, he could drink himself blind, eat a loaf of bread, even walk to the other end of town to attend confessional."

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