Cain wasn’t a practiced public speaker. He didn’t appreciate being put on the spotlight the way he currently was, addressing the inhabitants of a town he had never visited before or knew anything about. But Cain was used to speaking to large groups of strangers in a formal capacity, as Frank had designated him as a liaison between different construction companies whenever they worked on a larger project.
He wasn’t a practiced public speaker, but he knew how to lay out the details of a plan, or encourage others to work together in a professional capacity. All of that helped him to describe the events of the night to hundreds of pairs of ears, place a Numeral in the grasp of hundreds of pairs of hands, and produce another flame above his hand in front of hundreds of pairs of eyes. With his explanation and demonstration finished, Cain stepped to the side and allowed Tom to finish addressing his town.
“It’s been a crazy night folks, and the world as we know it may have changed. Parents, watch out for your kids, keep ‘em safe and get some sleep. We’ll all need it for tomorrow,” Tom concluded.
The townsfolk sensed the impromptu meeting was over and began to disperse back to their homes. There was a significant amount of idle chatter, but no cries of outrage or despair, just dejected acceptance. Mullan was quite a strange town.
“Thanks for doin’ that Cain, and sorry to put you on the spot like that, but I had to let ‘em all know what was goin’ on,” Tom said. Cain just waved him off with a smile, and the man began to speak to the same family he was talking to before the speech. It was a somber and quiet conversation like they...lost...somebody…
Cain began to run without hesitation towards the East side of town, to the gas station where the fire had stalled out in front of his eyes. Nobody called out to stop him, which he was thankful for, and it was only a scarce minute before he found what he was looking for. The man who had pleaded with him to save his wife was still there, kneeling over her body, but no longer sobbing. His hands were pressed to his wife’s side, and a slight glow was emanating from them. The man turned to look at Cain, and his expression was a mixture of relief and sorrow.
“It’s you again...I didn’t think you’d come back,” he said, and turned back to look at his wife.
Cain slowly approached and kneeled next to the man and his spouse, staring at her chest for a few seconds, looking for- there it was. She was breathing. But it was a weak and sparse thing, Cain didn’t think she had much left to go before whatever aid her husband was giving ran out. So Cain would have to contribute. He placed both his hands on her stomach, same as the man, and wanted for her to live. To heal. And so it happened. The same glow began to emanate from his palms, and was somehow streaming towards the hole in her side. The man saw Cain offer his help in the same way, and began to sob.
“I thought-I thought only I could...that I would be forced to watch her...thank...thank you…” the man managed in between body-wracking sobs. But he did not cry, for he had no more tears left to give.
It only took a couple minutes of quiet sprinkled with the occasional sniffle before progress was visible and auditory. The tiny trickle of blood that had been flowing out from the woman shut off entirely, and she began to breathe normally, with color returning to her pale cheeks. It was another tense dozen minutes of focused silence before the man felt comfortable checking on her wound, and underneath her torn and bloodied clothes was completely unblemished skin. Not a trace of the visceral missing chunk of flesh was visible. She was completely fine.
The man looked up at Cain with an expression he couldn’t quite place. Something close to worship, but directed at a simple human. Undying thankfulness perhaps. He took Cain’s hands in his own and began to shake them, smiling a smile caked with snot and tears.
“My name is Donovan, and I don’t know what to say except thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You saved my Alice, thank you. And you saved me. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you,” Donovan finally said.
“I’m Cain, and you are very welcome. Now how about we get Alice off of the street?” Cain asked, and Donovan wiped his eyes before nodding vigorously. Donovan had recovered enough to pick up his wife and Cain led him back to the church, where Tom was waiting outside of.
“Cain? And Donovan? What happened?” Tom asked in quick succession.
“He saved her Tom, like an angel, he came when no one else would and he saved her, he saved my Alice,” Donovan responded, smiling so warmly at his wife it was as if they got married yesterday.
“Alright, well, how’s about we get y'all inside before you freeze to death. The Father still has plenty of blankets to go around.” Donovan nodded and went inside of the church, sending one last, “thank you,” to Cain before he left.
“Saved her?” Tom asked as soon as Donovan left earshot.
“She had a hole in her side, like something had taken a bite but left before they could finish the job. I found Donovan next to her body, healing her, yes healing, and so I thought I could too. We managed to close the hole in minutes Tom, it was like a miracle,” Cain responded, barely able to believe the words coming out of his mouth.
“So we can all conjure fire and heal people like some kind of wizard?”
“I don’t think so. At least, I don’t think we can do just that.”
Cain didn’t elaborate, but just grabbed hold of his Numeral and looked at the Ordinals. When he thought of his Arc, it gave off a feeling of protection, or hardness, and his Edge the opposite feeling of attack or capacity to hurt. He focused on the First Cardinal of the Primary Ordinal and all he could garner was a strange feeling of force. Making something move, changing its position or speed somehow. He set one of his wrenches on the ground, letting Tom watch without offering explanation. And then he just wanted it to move away from him. So it did. It shot a few meters away from Cain, and clattered on the asphalt below the steps to the church.
“Now how’d you go about doin’ that?”
Cain still didn’t say a word and just focused on the Second Cardinal, which felt like the opposite of the First, a feeling of resistance, of preventing a change in position or speed. It was strange, like he knew these things the same way he knew an emotion. Happiness, anger, force, resistance, they all kind of just made sense. He pulled out his other wrench and wanted it to not move. When he let go of it, it remained floating in the air, in the exact same orientation he held it in. He grabbed it out of the air and picked up the one on the street before starting to speak to Tom.
“Tom, every single Ordinal in your Numeral, in all of our Numerals is a power,” Cain said, letting his revelation sink in. Even Cain didn’t know what it meant though. There were a grand total of fourteen Ordinals, translating to a total of fourteen powers any one person could use, and all it took was an errant thought to cause any one of them to happen. It was a wonder the whole town wasn’t filled with flying objects and houses on fire.
“How did ya figure that one out?” Tom asked in a quiet voice.
“I just thought about any one of the Ordinals, and I just...knew. You’ll have to do it yourself. But I think I’ll go grab one of those blankets for myself now though, I’ve been awake for a while,” Cain explained and then went inside the church leaving Tom outside to ponder his words.
He left the man as he gazed intently at a small wisp of flame hovering above his hand, almost the same as the one Cain fantastically wished into being earlier that night. Cain wasn’t special, these powers weren’t granted to him alone, but were accessible by everyone. It wasn’t anything unique, just...different.
The inside wasn’t a particularly grand affair. There were no massive windows dotting the walls of the building, or fancy turrets and spires decorating the roof. The pews had all been folded up and moved to one wall, freeing up the floor for the dozens of families that were asleep. A man with many smile lines on his face handed him a blanket and put a finger to his mouth before pointing to a corner that was less occupied than the rest of the church. Cain nodded and carefully made his way over, making sure not to step on someone’s leg in the process.
It had been a very long night, filled with danger and discovery, but Cain didn’t want to think about any of that. He propped himself directly in the corner of the church, uncaring of the neck cramps he would have in the morning and closed his eyes in rest for what felt like forever.
Cain was a pretty light sleeper. Sometimes Frank would call in the middle of the night and ask him to come over to the most recent project and sort out some blueprints, or to just have a conversation. He sometimes wondered if he was the only friend Frank had, since they did spend a lot of their free time at bars together. Frank never drank though, too uptight for that. Which is why when Cain awoke to screaming, he hoped that it was the first scream, and not the last.
The light streaming in through the small windows of the church indicated it was barely dawn, so Cain only got a few hours of sleep, but he felt alert and rested. Enough to notice the commotion was coming from the front of the church, where a bear of all things was sniffing around the altar. It was a black bear just like the one he killed at Lookout Pass, but this one had horns just like the wolf at the gas station. It was surreal to see such things mixed together. And also a little concerning.
The rest of the people in the church began to wake up one after the other and the onslaught of noise and confusion and continued screaming began to agitate the bear. Before it could start assaulting the nearest people, Cain began to run and willed a flame the size of his hand to appear and shoot towards the bear. It traveled about as fast as one could throw a baseball, but it was fast enough. The bear let out a ROAR of pain as the fire seemed to singe its entire face.
Cain trusted in himself, and his ability to so far adapt to this strange new reality, so he began to think of ways he could end this fight, without anyone getting hurt. Preferably something that didn’t involve something as risky as getting close enough to the bear to get mauled. He threw another ball of fire to give himself a moment to think, and thought of all of his past successes in fights. They mostly involved stomping on heads or crushing them with his...wrench. That was it!
He threw one of the wrenches he had at the bear’s head, but willed it to fly faster and hit harder. To hit with force. Wrench collided with skull in an audible crack and the bear fell to the ground, its face a mess of bone and flesh beyond recognition. He fished the wrench out from the goop and wiped it on a nearby cloth riddled with holes. Strange. He would have to apologize to the Father later. Before anyone could ask any questions, he walked away, towards the only ajar door in the church. The back room was where all of the clothes for the clergy were held as well as various things the church needed in day-to-day operations such as candles or holy water. The door leading outside of the church was also ajar, but had no claw marks on it. Either the doors weren’t locked and the bear managed to open the handles, or someone let it in.
Cain took a look outside, but didn’t see anyone or anything on the streets. He went back inside and closed the door behind him, which was coincidentally when Tom and Father Ferdinand showed up. The mayor had shaved and changed into a new suit since the last time he saw him, impressive, but the man probably hadn’t slept yet. Tom just raised an eyebrow, indicating for Cain to explain himself.
“The doors were open, and that bear got in somehow, so I killed it,” Cain stated. It was strange to say however, since Cain hadn’t really ever killed anything before last night. He didn’t have any certain moral standpoint on killing, such as what some vegetarians had, but was just never put in such a situation. It was strange to discover he was so willing to kill whatever animal showed up in front of him, and he wondered if that extended to people too. Tom broke him out of his dark thoughts by looking at Father Ferdinand and asking, “did you lock the doors before you went to sleep?”
The Father was dressed in pulpit robes, was completely bald, and was shorter than either Tom or Cain. So it was weird to hear him speak in such a deep voice. “Those doors remain locked throughout the year, I use the front entrance to come in, there would have been no need to lock locked doors,” the man explained, leaving Tom in thought. He seemed to be doing much of that in the few hours Cain had known him.
“Ah Father, I dirtied the cloth on the altar, I’m sorry about that,” Cain said, interrupting the silence, hoping he didn’t ruin something of religious importance.
“Oh that old thing? I have a few dozen right here I got from Walmart a few years ago. About time I switch it out anyway,” the Father replied jovially. “And please, call me Ferdinand.” Cain nodded in agreement and turned to address Tom again.
“Tom, you might not know, but the animals that die since after the...incident all decompose very fast. The church will start to stink in a few minutes,” Cain warned.
“We’ll get everyone outside then. I’m sorry this happened here Ferdinand, but at least Cain prevented any real damage.”
“No problem Tom, none at all. A little bit of febreeze and we should be ready for morning mass in a jiffy.”
Ferdinand was just full of enthusiasm. And his church was apparently stuffed with modern goods. Cain left the back room along with Tom to take a look at the bear he killed more closely. While the people inside of the church funneled outside, he inspected the body of the bear, and his suspicion was confirmed.
There were spikes of what looked like gnarled bone jutting out from various parts of the bear’s body ending in deadly points. They ripped holes all over the cloth on top of the altar just from contact, and Cain shuddered to think what they would do to a person. He left the bear there, knowing it would soon evaporate into nothing but bones in a couple of hours. Although come to think of it, he didn’t see any bones near the gas station when he went to check on Donovan, so perhaps everything just misted off into nonexistence.
It was a little snippy when Cain followed the townsfolk outside, and it looked as if the people who had slept in houses were similarly congregating around the church, with many looking as refreshed as Cain felt. He spotted Joe talking to Deborah off to the side and went to join them.
“Egg shells, huh? Well I’ll be darned I’ve never thought of that one before, thank you kindly Debs, but I don’t wager anyone’s looking for a plumber right about now. This whole thing might just put me out of business,” Joe joked, guffawing merrily.
“Morning Joe, nice to see you talking again,” Cain said accusingly.
“Oh that? Well I just thought it would be fun to look a little menacing, do a little bit of bodyguarding. You had it handled anyway, didn’t need an old man like me to do the talkin’ for ya,” Joe explained himself. Cain just chalked it up to Joe being Joe and left it at that, changing the topic.
“Anyways Joe, you’ve been up for a while, have you seen anyone do anything this morning?”
“Anything as in…”
“I really don’t Cain, you’ll have to elaborate.”
“Did anyone use any powers? Start any fires? Something like that.”
“Oh, something like that you say? No I can’t say I saw anyone do anything such as that something,” Joe teased. Cain rolled his eyes and walked away, not particularly willing to talk to Joe if he felt like messing around. He began to look for Tom, but was waylaid by Donovan and his wife Alice who called to him from across the street. They were both wearing matching outfits consisting of plaid shirts and jeans. Perhaps it was a quirk of their marriage.
“Good morning Cain! Was it really you who killed that bear that snuck in? Oh I wonder how that happened, how those doors were unlocked...could there perhaps be a traitor in the town? Well that wouldn’t make much sense, why would anyone want to-”
“That’s enough Don, give the poor man a break,” Alice chastised. “I’m sorry about that, Don just gets all excited whenever he sees a mystery he has to solve. You know he wanted to be a detective when he was little?” With each word Donovan became a little redder in the face, a grown man blushing out of embarrassment was a little strange to see, but Cain could understand his heightened emotions. His wife almost died just a few hours ago after all. A disturbingly short time frame if one thought about it.
“Nothing to worry about, Alice, was it? Donovan has been very...polite with me since we met.” Cain didn’t know whether complete adoration counted as politeness, but he didn’t want to spit on the man’s thankfulness even if he felt like it was undeserved.
“Polite, huh? Don dear, you haven’t been saying any strange things to Cain have you?” Alice pinched her husband’s cheeks like one would a misbehaving toddler.
“Nho Ahwice I din’t,” Donovan managed through stretched cheeks. Alice redirected her attention to Cain, grabbing his hands the same way Donovan did last night and squeezed them.
“Thank you for saving my life Cain. I owe you something that I don’t think either of us could ever repay. I don’t know what my Don would have done if I wasn’t there to look after him, he can be such a handful sometimes,” she finished, sending a loving look at Donovan. “We’re both extremely thankful, so please, if there is ever anything you need, just let me or Don know.”
“You’re welcome Alice, but I just did what anyone would have done if they saw someone that needed help,” Cain responded to Alice lamely.
“But you were the one who did it,” she said back.
Cain didn’t understand why these people believed in him so wholeheartedly. It was odd to know that some small act such as placing his hands on someone’s dying body would be enough to revive them. There was no medicine involved, no tubes and syringes and transfusions, just an act that a child might have done. And yet Alice was here, breathing, alive, laughing as she teased Don, and the man who had pleaded and begged for help until he was hoarse was laughing right alongside her. He thought this was what war might look like, but wars didn’t have supernatural powers involved in them. Or happy endings.
It wasn’t long before Tom was standing at the steps of the church, having appeared like some kind of middle-aged ghost. He began to address the town giving thanks to those who came and began to lay out a process for communications and designated various people as leaders of various temporary work forces. Cain recognized the way he was dividing the townsfolk, as Frank did something similar when there were too many people to manage individually. People soon began to set off for work, temporary stalls being made for food, clothing, and water storage, families taking their children to play at what looked like a school, and groups of people hovering around vehicles trying to start them up was what Mullan looked like in a matter of minutes after Tom designated jobs.
He grabbed and downed two water bottles and a pack of saltines in a scant minute, wolfing them down once his hunger and thirst finally made themselves known. A quick change behind a house and he replaced his jeans and plaid with ones that didn’t have holes in them. The organization the town displayed was phenomenal, but it was also too practiced. As if they rehearsed this post-apocalyptic scenario before. Tom did start listing people’s names as if he were reading off a list he had memorized, so perhaps he wasn’t too far off.
Cain’s name was never called however, and nobody thought to seek him out, but he also didn’t feel like doing a job that others were clearly used to doing. He began to wander throughout the town, idly memorizing street names and learning the locations of buildings such as a motel, bar and museum. Why would such a small town need a museum? All together, Cain thought this day was shaping out to go pretty well, at least better than last night.
But of course that was when the screaming started again.