The All Saints Cathedral was a place frozen in time. Its design and aesthetic stuck out like a sore thumb compared to the new and technologically advanced neighborhood. Its gothic architecture and ancient ambiance gave it a personality like no other. Once a month, a group of four elders would join in chanting Gregorian hymns. Those were the best days. It added more to the mood.
My mother was Catholic and adamant about attending church when I was younger. I never minded, though; I felt like a time traveler attending mass in medieval times. The stained glassed windows brought colors that would keep me distracted forever. The incense would burn, creating a soft haze in the air like a fog.
All Saints Cathedral was the only church left in Ultima. The last religious building, for that matter. As to no surprise, the idea of God and religion chipped away slowly as the world progressed further into science and the stars. Once humans began extending their lifespans, upgrading their bodies, and downloading the universe into their brains… once they became more than human, a god no longer computed.
It's not as if religion faded away entirely, though. Most people still practiced at home, but the leadership and congregations of faith were burned to the ground years ago during the Purge. Churches, Temples, Mosques, and the like were torn down with many other 'old' practices.
The idea of God seemed believable, but I couldn't bother with all the rules and traditions. I only come here to sit in silence and ponder with my thoughts. Usually, there would be at least one other person around the church. But it appeared I was alone for today. Fine by me. I sat in a pew near the middle of the church next to the aisle. I breathed in deeply and shut my eyes, exhaling the tension from my body.
Not a second later, a creak of a door whispered from behind the altar. I opened my eyes to find a priest lighting some candles. I looked back down, closing my eyes again to focus. But what I really intended was to avoid him noticing me. The last thing I wanted was a personal ser-
"Mind if I join you?" the priest stood above me with a gentle smile on his face. His eyes were warm brown, and his beard was long and well-maintained. He wore a simple shirt and collar underneath a rain jacket.
"I'm not really praying-"
"I see; I just like to greet my visitors. But, unfortunately, we don't get that many. I can practically count the number of visitors on my fingers," the priest sat down next to me, "I've seen your face before, but I never had the chance to meet you. I'm Father Alan."
"You don't have to tell me your name. I'd just like you to know mine," he continued.
"E-... it's Eiji," I said.
"Nice to meet you, Eiji. If it's okay… can I pray for you in silence while we're here?"
Great. I came here with the intention to be alone, but I didn't want to come off as rude. Especially since I'm the only one here for possibly the whole day. I'll just let him do his thing so he can leave. "I don't mind," I answered politely.
"Great," he said.
About ten minutes passed by. Father Alan had his eyes closed the whole time, deep in prayer, not bothering me. He was sitting about three feet to my right, minding to give me space. I just wondered how long he could pray about someone he's never met. I felt sorry he was wasting his time offering me any thought, considering who I was.
"Why do you still serve?" I broke the silence.
Opening his eyes, he answered, "Hmm- here? Oh- I can't leave my calling, not when people still need me."
"But the Church was disassembled ages ago. No Vatican, hierarchy, or Pope. Not even a following anymore. Only a few churches remain standing in this world. You can just practice your faith at home where there's no risk of someone burning this place down with you in it. Why risk or waste your time for a few survivors?"
"That'd be like asking a shepherd to abandon his sheep. Even if there is only one left. Do you know most of the people who still visit here are not even Catholic? Not even Christian for some. All who wander here seek to find peace and refuge from the darkness that is the world. If one person remained, I have a duty to tend to that brave soul. As far as my safety goes, I've been blessed so far to be shielded from any danger. It's not the end of the world; it's just a bit different."
"That's putting it mildly," I chided.
"Why do you come here?"
The innocent question brought out old and lost feeling that I had forgotten. Memories of comfort with a touch of sadness. A life that had a routine, far from loneliness… when I still had a family.
"My mother brought me here as a kid. I don't have many memories of her. She died when I was young. I guess this is the last place I can truly feel her presence," I shook my head, trying to push the negative emotions out, "The cars were flying, and men were becoming more like machines… but she still believed we were specially made by some higher being."
"Sounds like she was a strong woman. Unshaken, even during a storm," Father Alan spoke softly.
"Or arrogance. But is that where we are? The world- I mean. A storm?"
"Progress is… great. It offers many things giving us the ability to take full control of our lives. However, people forget what is truly important… life itself. Not all the fancy tech and perks the physical world gives you."
"Most people are fine with it now. People like change," I said.
"Mankind can only handle one change at a time. In the past fifty years, we have been through millions… no good comes out of unnecessary evolution."
"I never thought a priest would believe in any evolution. Evolution and Christianity don't really pair well together," I smiled to myself.
"That's the way of life. Evolution from day to day. Improving upon what is already there, but not replacing. That's when we lose our true selves."
I get what he was saying, but I don't think you can simply add to what's already messed up. What good is continuing to build a house if the foundation is unstable?
"What if our true selves are corrupt?…" I said reluctantly.
"How so?" asked Father Alan.
"Your whole thing is about forgiveness and cleansing, but could someone as low as a... murderer really overcome their sin- be redeemable?"
"Have you heard of St. Paul?" he gently laughed.
"Oh, I've heard of him. But I don't think any blinding rays of light or booming voices will come to save the day."
"Simply take the story to heart. No miracle will present itself like that per se, but when life gives you the opportunity to change… you take it. It'll be hard and full of uprooting old wounds, but that is redemption. Accepting who you are in order to be better," Father Alan stood from the pew and walked to the center of the aisle.
"I never said it was me," I reassured.
Father Alan took a deep breath and looked at the ground, preparing his response, "I might not know who you are as a person or what you've done… but there's always hope. And it starts with you. If you can't forgive yourself, you can't move forward. The first step is acknowledging your flaws."
"What's the second?" I called as he walked away.
He turned around to face my question, "Knowing your own worth. Invite the good things in your life, and see what they do for you."
"Do all priests sound like fortune cookies?"
"Have a blessed day, Eiji," Father Alan walked towards the south transept into a large door. Leaving me all alone in the church.
A few more minutes passed by as I sat quietly. Against the stone walls, the candle's wax began to drip to the floor as the flame burned. I stared at the crucifix above the altar, staring at me in contempt. If there was an afterlife, I sure wasn't going somewhere pleasant.
It might seem pessimistic, but I don't flatter myself with false hope. I was an assassin. I kill to rid this city of its filth and vermin. So I'm okay not being a hero, and I'm fine if I have to leave this planet to find some peace.
I briskly walked down the aisle towards the narthex to leave. The enormous gold-like organ above the main entrance glistened as I passed under it. Beyond the main entrance, I could feel a strange presence there.
The sound of pattering rain began to swell from behind the doors. So much for a sunshine break. I pulled up my hood to brace for the weather. But I was not ready for what lay next. What I found waiting outside would change my fate entirely.
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