The two priests arrived in the residence at exactly eleven thirty in the morning. It was lunch time of course, so the growling of Marcus’ stomach was understandable even though he just had four rolls of pastry an hour ago. Luckily enough, the moment they entered inside the mansion’s foyer and after exchanging pleasantries with Madame Regina and Master Alfon, they were directed straight all the way to the family dining room. They were important guests, so no one except the Mistress and the Master planned to dine with them. And Ysabelle, supposed to be, if she decides to show herself up on time.
“Please, make yourselves comfortable, Father Marcus, Father Julien, ” Madame Regina stated, gesturing for them to sit in their reserved seats.
“Yes, Madame, thank you.” Marcus was the one who answered politely.
At the right side of Alfon’s center chair was where he sat, and beside him, Father Julien situated himself. On the left was Regina and next to her, a plate was readied too, but Marcus thought it odd that nobody occupied the seat.
The table was rectangular, made with tinted glass. It was filled with mouthwatering courses of meat and fish, and a large array of fruits and pastries, something that Marcus was very delighted about. However, his delight immediately redirected elsewhere, to a woman particularly, when she stepped inside the huge dining hall.
“Ah! Ysabelle. Come! Come! Just in time. Don’t keep our guests waiting, ” Alfon declared, pointing to the vacant seat right next to his wife.
Marcus’ stare betrayed him as it kept itself glued on the woman across the dining table. Yes, his heart, keeping normal beats as usual, jumped anew three times in a row, after realizing that the beautiful apparition in his front and the photographer he was staring at in the plaza was one and the same.
Surely, this was purely coincidence?
The beige chiffon dress Ysabelle wore blessed his eyes. It had a sweetheart neckline, but the chest and neck area was covered with a lace cloth. It was of decent length, just above the knee, and although the sides were styled in drapes, Marcus could clearly see her curves being flaunted perfectly. Indeed, this was something he did not dare realize at all. No. Not way back then in the park, but only now. She looked entirely different in her clothing; more sophisticated, more high-born. Priests wasn’t expected to compliment on anything, all the more on a woman, but he did, hiding it through a smirk on his lips.
“Father Marcus, Father Julien, this is my niece, Ysabelle Rogratiatto, ” Alfon announced, when Ysabelle sat down on the chair. She eyed the two and there was a short glimpse of surprise Marcus noticed from her expression when their gaze connected.
Taking a deep breath and clearing her throat afterwards, Ysabelle dipped her head, looking at them whilst saying, “Good day, Fathers.”
It was Father Julien, the closest of the two across the table, who dared reach a hand on her for formality’s sake. “Good day to you too, Ms. Ysabelle, ” he stated with ease, showing his well-practiced smile.
Marcus only watched as Ysabelle received the secretary’s soft handshake. He watched her curve her lips modestly, adoring how fine she moved in her chair. It was surely the opposite of how carefree she squatted in the fountain’s base. Definitely, it was a clear-cut difference of personalities and somehow, it amused him watching the change. Choosing not to do the same, he decided to dodge their impending handshake by swinging a conversation with the Master of the House.
“Where are your other family members, Sir Alfon? Are they not going to dine with us?”
“Ah, unfortunately they are busy, Father, ” the Master quickly replied. He moved to take a bottle of wine in his side of the table, a 1990 Dom Perignon Vintage, and poured a generous amount on Father Marcus’ flute. Marcus watched as pockets of bubble escaped into the surface of the red liquid. He wasn’t one who takes fine pleasures in drinking wines, but this time, it was an exception having the Master himself pouring it in his empty container.
“My youngest, Mehaque, is at school, two of my older daughters are out-of-town, ” Alfon continued, “and my eldest son is...you know...”
“The one who is possessed?” Marcus finished easily with a slightly raised brow.
The older man cleared his throat then. “Yes, you will meet my son after our lunch, Father. I prefer not to give you details anymore than that, ” he said, wanting not to mention the sensitive subject in the dining table. “So you know, I have already planned all your activities while you’re here in my house.”
“I see, ” was the exorcist priest’s reply. He didn’t further his questioning. It was enough for him to sense that the Master of the House was a man who favors to conduct strict and organized methods on his businesses. Well, not that him having to exorcise a demon to save the eldest son’s life is business, but still it was the same. He was after all in the man’s house and that puts him in no position to dig deeper.
“Well now, eat up. I’m sure you are quite famished from your long travel.” It was Madame Regina who stated that.
“We are, Madame, thank you for this sumptuous feast, ” Father Julien answered, and that made Regina smile kindly.
“Not at all, ” she said, giving fleeting glances on Alfon and Ysabelle.
The whole time of their lunch, Ysabelle was silent, not joining in their conversation unless being asked her opinion. Her focus was diverted elsewhere and elsewhere meant just a few stretch of arm away across the table. Never had she expected that the subject on one of her photos was here eating together with her. All the more she never expected that this subject was actually a priest, and even an exorcist priest for that matter. His presence and the following revelation surprised her greatly, but this didn’t come close to the next surprise she realized. She was in fact too affected with the way his eyes scalded her. Like in the plaza, she felt like he was stripping her bare all throughout - figuratively and literally - and this made her heart flutter wildly in her chest. Something that she wasn’t liking at all. How can one priest have damn sexy eyes? she thought to herself and forked a slice of tenderloin beef from the center plate.
By the end of their lunch, it was she who stood up first. She knew that they will head straight to the Altar room and decided no amount of antacid would help her stomach seeing the exorcism rite if she were to join them. But, just the same, Alfon immediately called her attention.
“You should watch the rite, Ysabelle, ” was his suggestion. By what purpose it was, she didn’t know. She wanted to turn him down, to decline directly; however, she gently nodded her reluctant acceptance after looking at the way Marcus stared at her. It had still the same amount of depth, but now it had more curiosity.
“If you say so, Uncle, I will, ” she answered, feeling a tug of something she couldn’t explain.
Master Alfon together with his wife, Ysabelle and the two priests went to the foyer, but Father Julien, in his usual self, decided to stay in the receiving room, not wanting to see the exorcism process. The remaining group understood his predicament, especially Marcus, so they continued their way up the second floor without him.
This floor was as carpeted as the foyer. It had antic decorations and light fixtures in every end of the hallway. Pictures and paintings were also hung on the walls, mainly of landscapes and the family member’s portraits. It was in the far end of the left hall that the Altar room was located. The moment Father Marcus stepped on the threshold of the room, he sensed something was off. There was an intermittent soft buzzing and ringing in his ears that he couldn’t explain with just mere physical distractions alone.
Furrowing his brows, he thought it odd - definitely odd - but overlooked it intentionally, advancing inside the open door with his eyes directly looking at the ghastly scene in his front.
True. What he noticed immediately was the blue and violet flames surrounding an unconscious man, but being already briefed about this by the Holy Pope and having been able to research all about this kind of demon in the Vatican Library, it wasn’t a surprising show for him anymore. But clench his teeth he did, after thinking that the family was too prideful to call the Vatican’s help early on the possession.
Why? Again, he wanted to know the reason.
Looking around, he noticed quite a few pieces of furniture inside the room. Aside from the master chair right next to the fireplace - which Alfon was already sitting in - and the vacant sectional sofa, there was a king-sized bed in a far corner of the room, a desk and a lamp on top, and some few pieces of books stacked altogether in a shelf. It looked to be just a normal room, except for the marble table of course. However, what he saw that was striking the most was a lamb-skin book opened halfway showing its tattered pages. It was resting just right next to the marble table in a wooden podium of some sort. Judging from the way the set-up went, it proved to be out-of-the-ordinary, but luckily, Marcus happened to know what it meant: the family’s brotherhood - The Priory of Scion.
“Please, you go on ahead Father.” Marcus heard Alfon say. There was not a speck of worry in the old man’s expression when the exorcist priest turned to look at him. Maybe it was either he was skillful on hiding his feelings or that he wasn’t concerned on his son at all. But the look on the Mistress’s face, standing behind him was quite clear. It showed deep worry and sadness. Marcus hadn’t noticed this before when they were in the dining room. Regina, it seems, was good an actress.
“Don’t mind if I do, Sir Alfon, ” Marcus replied, and turned to face the unconscious man. In his peripheral vision, he saw Ysabelle pausing just a few feet away from the closed door. She had the same expression of sadness and worry as Regina, but it seemed to him that there was guilt mixed with it too.
‘Why?’ was his question again.
Doing exorcism rites with audiences at the room didn’t bother him at all. No, he wasn’t worried about any demon jumping into another host to escape its fate as he was beyond confident that he can take the entity down with one technique alone. This technique was taught to him by a certain demon friend years back and it had a hundred percent success rate. That’s if, his focus is just as perfect - which wasn’t a problem for him at all.
“I take it your eldest son hasn’t eaten since he was possessed?” Marcus asked, glancing at the parents fleetingly, then riffled his leather valise to pull out a white bottle of holy water.
“Yes, ” was Regina’s quick reply.
“Hmm...just as I thought, ” he remarked.
He stood up, leaving the bag pressed against the podium and turned his attention on the flames dancing wildly on the air. Inhaling sharply, he tilted the bottle, ready to spray its contents, but paused abruptly and said, “When the rite is over and if your son wakes up, give him some water. If he wants to eat, give him food. Don’t waste time delaying on nourishing him. The demon’s power is keeping him alive. If I exorcise the demon, his physical condition might give out, so there is a fifty percent chance your son will die if he is not strong enough to surpass human hunger.”
He heard a stifled gasp coming from the older woman, and threw her a cold, but understanding stare.
“Yes, we will, ” was Alfon’s answer, when he realized his wife remained mute.
“Then I should probably call for Mrs. Agatha to bring some food, Uncle, ” Ysabelle quickly offered, but Alfon only shook his head on her way.
“No need, Ysabelle. Regina just needs to press that kitchen button for food to be served, ” Alfon stated, pointing to a panel of buttons attached just above the headboard of the king-sized bed.
“Oh, right, ” was her reply.
Buttons weren’t normal inside the Rogratiatto Family house, only in the Altar room they were present, because, apparently, this room in particular was André’s who graduated as an electrical engineer of the family. As one of his postgraduate projects, he had his own room installed with accessible switches after feeling tired of his father’s old-fashioned preferences of the house.
Mistress Regina waltzed across the room towards the headboard and pressed the green switch connected to the kitchen. The whole time she did so, Marcus sprinkled holy water into the possessed, seeing a thick white smoke evaporating as he did so. Once done, he prepared himself mentally on the pending ceremony. He remained silent, closed his eyes and took in deep, calm breaths.