Faith Healing part 1
Rating: FRAO eventually, for now, FRT
Faith stepped off the bus just in time to see the sun dip below the horizon, escaping from the orange-red sky. She hadn't seen a sky like it since she'd witness hell swallow up Sunnydale. But that was in the past, buried along with a town she never could call home. This was the fresh start with a spic-n-span clean slate. No Council, no Scoobies, no Watchers or Watcher wannabes, no ties binding her to a world that never really wanted her, only tolerated her in facing the end of days. The grudgingly pardoned, ex-con Slayer was set on a new path, her own. She took in a deep breath and coughed as the dusty winds of her new path stirred up from the exhaust of the departing bus.
As the sound of the straining engine faded with distance, a rhythm of clapping and singing slowly became evident. Instinctively, she reached within her jacket pocket to retrieve a smoke and grunted discouraged when all she found was a crumpled pack of gum. Settling for whatever would keep her mouth busy, she slipped a limp stick from the pack, tore off the wrapper and folded the warm cinnamon between her teeth. She strolled across the unpaved street, the joyous voices intensifying as she approached a small town hall. The doors were wide open allowing the festive racket to spill out into the empty streets, inviting any curious passersby to inquire about the goings on. Faith stepped up to the entrance and peeked inside. The ‘event' was standing room only, folks shoulder to shoulder in the heat of an unforgiving humid night. No one seemed bothered, though, singing happily along with a small choir of six and rattling the paper thin walls with their revelry. It was a melting pot crowd, faces of all colors, all creeds joined together in a sense of community, of unity. The rickety ceiling fans slowly rotated above the crowd but scarcely caused a breeze enough to touch the tallest of the congregation. Those flaunting their brightly colored personal paper fans advertising the man of the hour fared better with relieving the heat and shooing away the flies invited in by the many open doors.
The parishioners fanned as they gossiped, mingling voices straining to be heard over others. There was an accompanying soundtrack of inspirational gospel music courtesy of a digital keyboardist off to one side of the small rise of a stage at the front of the room. It reminded Faith of a movie she saw once where a con man swindled a small town out of their money. It was hard to believe someone could fall for such an old fashioned scheme. Then again, she of all people knew a little faith could be a cunning accomplice. Besides, she had nowhere else to be and time to spare. That and curiosity lured her deeper into the festivities. She settled in at the rear of the room, keeping an eye out for anything unusual.
Whoever was the main act was they'd certainly established a following. The town mayor politicked his way through he crowd, kissing babies and offering a firm handshake to his supporters. What better way to win a coming election than to schmooze it up with your spiritual constituents as you're getting your palm greased to fill the venue with easy marks. The town sheriff also made his presence known, shuffling through the collection of friendly faces. Nails had to be nicely manicured for the amount of back scratching going on.
Faith smirked, wickedly amused as she made her way along the wall, suddenly determined to get a better vantage point. Along the way, she made it a game to discern the wolves from the sheep. They made it obvious on most accounts; servants to the holy vessel wore nametags. It was the wolves in sheep's clothing she was looking for, hard to call until the show began.
There was a moment of quiet before the music changed, turning dramatic and many decibels louder. The audience fell silent as the lights dimmed. A single spotlight guided by one of the crew followed a man as he came through a door of a side room. The crowd went wild with applause. Faith noted three darkly suited gentlemen at the rear of the room who crossed their arms in a unfriendly display, skeptics in the sea of spectacle. Her attentions were quickly drawn back to the solitary man making his way up the few steps to the modest stage.
The star was dressed entirely in black, polished dress shoes, neatly pressed slacks, and a button down, silk striped shirt that gleamed subtly as he crossed the stage. Rather than the common, golden crucifix worn from a chain around the neck, his dangled from his left ear, a petite golden cross catching the spotlight with every motion. His sleeves were rolled up and a few buttons of his shirt were unfastened, giving him a relaxed and casual appearance, a true man of the people. He was tall, fit, and commanding attention with his smooth strides across the short length of stage.
But Faith nearly laughed at the irony of the man's appearance. If you were asked to draw the stereotyped caricature of Satan himself, it would be him. He sported a carefully shaped goatee, dark with a peppering of grey defining his chin. His hair was trimmed short on the sides and rear but with length enough to create a mess of curls on top. Some were so thick they seemed a shadow for the horns she half expected hid beneath. His brows were dark and angular, complimenting his large shady eyes of indistinctive color. Though not movie star handsome, the contours of his face with high, rolling cheekbones and strong jaw, provided him an air of mystery. Faith had to admit he wasn't at all unappealing. But it wasn't until he smiled that she realized where the charm lay. She could see the devil in his smile and couldn't help but be intrigued by it.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” he declared in a low, resonant tone, his hands reaching out as if to embrace the audience. “I'd like to welcome you all to an evening of enlightenment."
The British accent immediately reminded her of Giles but only in a superficial way. Even so, it was a nice addition to the package.
"Allow me to introduce you to your salvation. I've travel from sea to shining sea across this great land of yours and nowhere have I felt so welcome as I do here in the grand City of Wiregrass.”
This guy was nothing like Giles, as far from soft spoken as you could get. Instead he was boastful and bold, an aging rock star unwilling to surrender the bright lights of the stage.
“Your neighborly town has spread its arms wide to receive the holy word and I promise not to disappoint. The name is Rayne, Ethan Rayne. And make no mistake, I am a sinner.”
The ‘S' word drew out a rumbled reaction of dread, empathy, and most importantly, association. He shook his head, as did the crowd, in communal disgust then began the strut of the righteous across the stage as he continued with his sermon.
“Wasted most my worthless life sinning. I reveled in breaking every single one of those seven deadly sins. The shameful anger of my sad and abandoned youth, envying those privileged enough to have more so I took what I wanted, forever left wanting more. There was the gluttony of my adulthood, so proud and pompous. I lived for lust, never denying myself the excess of wine, women, and song. I've tasted sin far greater than any of you.”
He directed a broad, sweeping hand to the audience, including them all in the accusation. Then his hand closed to a fist and fell uselessly at his side as his voice returned to a more humbled tone.
“So you might ask yourself, who am I to judge? What right have I to pass judgment on you hard working, god fearing people? Then let me ask you, who better to recognize sin than a sinner? And not just a weekend sinner, my friends, a spectacular sinner of biblical proportions. I stand before you with a tarnished soul, making amends for my unholy crimes. Now, I know there are those among you who would challenge my claims of indulgence, dismissing me as just another preaching passerby.” He stepped out to the very edge of the stage, his dark eyes pleading to every face masked by the light encasing him. “I'm the real deal, flesh and blood and faith. And I've been sent here to help you. To make good on a promise I made to the Almighty. To make amends for my past deeds by sharing the light of salvation I was blessed with.”
There was nothing new in his speech. Faith had heard it all before in one form or another. Can't cheat a cheater. With the flash and flare of the overture out of the way, she wondered what he could possibly do to keep this audience captivated. As if her thoughts prompted it, the lights gradually rose as the spotlight switched off. Whatever it was, he wanted them to get a clear view of it.
Faith could see his lips moving, like he was mumbling to himself as he raised his fist above him, trembling with the strain of some inexplicable tension. His eyes shut tightly as she saw a strange glow emanated from his hand. Soon, the glow became brighter and brighter until his hand had become a sort of beacon, sparking and pulsing out with a brilliant light.
“Come forth and let me heal your wounded soul!” He called out as he released his fist and the light evaporated. Immediately, the roar of the excited crowd nearly deafened Faith as everyone pushed forward to gain the stranger's attention.
'A fucking sorcerer? You have to be kidding!' Faith snickered.