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Here's the other prompt that won the bonus story poll!  It's a Reverend Alpert story, originally orphaned off of Shadowthon and going off of [ profile] rolodexaspirin's prompt of Shadow superpowers.  Enjoy!

The Shadow Wife

Among house cleanings and restless dead, the most common work for exorcists was possessed produce.  Anyone could do it, but entire fields tended to get afflicted simultaneously, and that combined with the manual labor of catching the vegetables often made the jobs long ones.  Townships that could afford it would often hire multiple exorcists for the task.

Still, there was a hierarchy to that sort of thing, and Most Revered Dorothy Ives was above it.  And yet there she was, a tall, poised woman in white clothes and braids, standing at the farm, waiting.  She did not look happy.


 “Dorothy Ives.  What a surprise, seeing you outside the central church.”

“You’re overdue.” Her voice was like ice.

“The work called.”

“You missed your past two checkpoints.  The last summons we tried to forward to you burst into flame.  So here it is in person.” She shoved an envelope into his hand.

Alpert winced and put it in his coat pocket. “An unfortunate accident.”

“I’m sure.”

Perfection bounded up, eating an apple. “Hey Alpert, I’ve haggled them down, and—” She saw Dorothy Ives. “Oh.  Hi.”

Dorothy Ives looked at Alpert with disgust. “Oh no.  Alpert, really?”

Perfection blinked. “Excuse me?”

Dorothy Ives just turned and walked away.

Perfection blinked. “What was that all about?”

“Late for the church summons, my dear.  Don’t worry about it,” Alpert said.

He could tell Perfection wasn’t satisfied, but she accepted the answer and went to go wrangle demonic turnips, almost as though she wanted to avoid Dorothy Ives’s scrutiny.  Alpert headed to the barn to set up a diagram.

The structure hadn’t been a barn, originally; it was a huge, ancient structure of crumbling concrete, reinforced with wood.  Dorothy Ives was already laying a spread of cards across the floor, working from the center outward.

“No wonder you sloughed the summons.  A sins-of-flesh demon, Alpert?  You of all people should know better.”

Alpert was silent.

She sighed, tossing down a row of sword cards. “After losing your later names, I really hoped you’d changed.”

“I have changed,” Alpert said. “Perfection saved my life.  In exchange, I allowed her to continue hers.”

Dorothy Ives closed her eyes for a moment. “She’s a demon, Alpert.  Of course she’d keep you alive; you’re the only reason she exists.  And you’re feeding her.  You named her.”

“She named herself.”

Dorothy Ives gave him an exasperated look. “She’s a solipsistic projection of your own psyche, Alpert.  She can’t name herself.  And I see the way she looks at you.  Tell me you haven’t—”

“Of course not,” Alpert snapped, and the tip of his chalk broke off against the wood of the wall.  He adjusted his grip and continued working. “I’m no acolyte.”

“Stop acting like one.  That’s a lust demon if I’ve ever seen one.  You think your will is that good?  Draw a card.”

Alpert looked up from his diagram.  Dorothy Ives was holding her deck out to him.  With a sigh, he pulled and held it up: the Fool.

Dorothy Ives snorted and took the card back.

Alpert looked at her evenly. “Last I checked, that card meant the beginning of a new journey.”

Her lips twisted. “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.  Stick with your chalk, white man.” She shuffled the Fool back into her deck and continued her spiral spread from the center of the room, her braids hanging over her shoulders.  He went back to his own diagram.

“‘A solipsistic projection of your own psyche,’” he quoted. “Harsh words.  I never expected them from you.”

“I’ve changed too.” Her voice was calmer, but no less intent. “You’ve been doing this work for a long time, too long maybe—”

“And you’ve been at the central church for too long, if you’re quoting the elders at me.”

Dorothy Ives sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “What powers has she manifested?”

“She’s very strong.  And she has a good sense of the emotions around her.”

Dorothy Ives hissed through her teeth. “Not good.”

“She’s been self-directed for a while.  She wants to be good.”

Dorothy Ives paused to give him a pleading look. “Alpert.  She’s not self-directed; she’s just the projected feelings of a lonely old man with a complex.  Clean up your head, before you lose it.”

Alpert smiled at her. “I’d think you of all people would understand how difficult that is.  You got stripped of your last name for a reason.”

“I was a stupid, lonely child playing out psychodramas and mistaking it for love.  That’s why I’m telling you.  The longer she’s with you, the harder it’ll be.  I miss mine every day, but—”

The door banged open and Perfection came in, hauling a line of bound, furious winter vegetables. “First load!  You ready?”

Alpert rushed to finish his wall diagrams, while Dorothy Ives darted to the center of hers and tossed down The Empress.

In the mad rounds of exorcism that followed, there was no time for conversation, only bushel after bushel of uncooperative crops.  Farmers and Perfection dashed back and forth, replacing the clean vegetables with more possessed ones, barely giving time for any rest.  Dorothy Ives’s cards vented heat until everyone was sweating, and Alpert’s chalk glowed with cold fire.  It went much faster with two.

After an interminable period, the loads dwindled, then stopped.  Perfection, who seemed barely winded after a day of hard labor, laughed as Alpert tossed off his coat and shirt, mopping his forehead.

“Did that woman give you a run for your money?” she teased.

Alpert looked at Dorothy Ives, but she only turned away to gather her cards.

“Yes,” he said. “She certainly did.”

Dorothy Ives didn’t look up. “Make sure your master goes to the central church,” she said. “He’s overdue.”

Perfection blinked, then frowned. “He’s not my master.  I’m not his secretary.  Tell him yourself.”

Dorothy Ives only turned away
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