Wednesday, May 11

Fragment 3

I couldn't stay awake at work today. Kept falling asleep. Anyway, you didn't come here to read about my day, you came to read the next chapter in the continuing saga of the Stray. Awesomesauce.

I'm sitting on the roof of the world. From here, I can see almost the entire sprawl. From Ophan to Chayot, from Arel to Malak, even to the center, to Shekina, the Pinnacle City itself. Before this place was the sprawl, before the architects decided to keep on building and building forever, this place was called the Angels. At certain times, when the sun is just about to set and the light is reflected off a million beams of metal, the city almost lives up to the name.

Back to the job.

"What's the Slender Man?" I asked Father Caulis.

"I'm not surprised you haven't heard of Him," the priest said, removing the mask completely from his head. He was bald, but I could see stubble growing back. "It used to be that everyone knew who He was, but that was a long time ago. Barely anyone's heard of Him these days." He seemed a little miffed about that, but then smiled at me again. His teeth were crooked, which somewhat ruined the effect, but still it was a warm smile. "Would you like to see the inside of our church?"

I was leading up to asking for a tour, but this was better. "Sure," I said. As we passed the door, I saw another sign, but this one was missing letters. It read THE HOLY CH__CH OF THE THIN MAN.

"You like that?" Father Caulis asked. "I put that up and then ask the congregation what's missing. Do you get it?" He seemed pleased with himself. "They always love a bit of a puzzle, though I was never very good at them myself."

He led me through a small hallway and then into the main room of the building, the place where the kneeling had taken place. I looked around and gasped - legitimately gasped. There were beautiful pieces of artwork arranged around the room, each one depicting a different scene. "Ah, I know you like them. I'm much, much better at painting than puzzles. They are scenes from our canon." He pointed to one. "That's the Saint of Nothing with his broken sword. And that's the many battles of the Longest Night. And over there, we have the Saint of All Runners and the Trickster Saint." There was a line of text underneath the picture: if He catches you, He will kill you. But first He must catch you. Father Caulis was still pointing at the paintings, which populated each wall. "There's Saint Ezekial the Bull, unstoppable, and there's Omeg-"

"All these people followed the Slender Man?" I asked.

Father Caulis looked at me. "Oh no," he said. "They all fought against Him in their way."

I looked around again. "Then why are they all saints?"

"Because," he said, "He was meant to be fought. Without them, He would be nothing more than a simple story. With them...well, He was epic."

"Oh," I said. I still didn't understand, but I didn't need to. The paintings were beautiful, but in all likelihood, they were made up, stories retold generation after generation, becoming so degraded that there probably wasn't even an inch of truth left in them.

Father Caulis could see that I wasn't very much interested in his stories, in the canon of the Slender Man, so he started his other pitch. "We offer services every Wednesday and Saturday," he said, "and I can assure you, any information you provide to us will be held with the strictist security. Our archives are unhackable."

"Really?" I asked. This was like saying your ship was unsinkable. "Could I see your archives?"

He smiled again. "Of course," he said. "One of our congregation is a member of a tech-herd, so he was able to get us some top of the line equipment." He led me to a door in the side of the room, which opened up into a small area adorned with cables and monitors. "Here is where our congregation can read our canon. And there-" he pointed to the center of the room "-are the archives."

My mouth watered. When he said top of the line, he wasn't kidding. This was better than top of the line, this was over the top of the line. The archives were in a solid tower made of gleaming chrome. However, I could see through the gaps inside - there weren't any motherboards or circuits. This wasn't a normal computer. I could see the soup inside. This was gooware. This was a chemical computer.

This was going to be very, very difficult.

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