St. Ignatius was a boring place.
One could simply ask any of its residents under the age of eighteen to verify this. In almost every aspect, St. Ignatius was identical to any number of small farming communities. It had the same layout, the same isolation, the same monotony of an agricultural lifestyle, punctuated only by seasonal holidays.
There was, however, one variable that distinguished St. Ignatius from all of the other towns in the area: The Padre. Nobody had bothered to learn his real name; he seemed content to be identified solely by his profession. Lean, wizened, and white-haired, he carried himself with a certain dignity. This air of charisma that he carried with him was an invaluable boon to his duties as the spiritual & social leader of the small town. However, this advantage came with an interesting side effect in the multitude of rumors that surrounded him. Again, the youth of St. Ignatius could be called on as a prime source of information.
"I'm telling you Diego, he was a pirate!"
"Rico, you ALWAYS say he's a pirate."
"He dresses in black!"
"He's a priest. All priests dress in black."
"Trust me, I've heard all sorts of crap about The Padre. That he was a blind assassin who had his sight restored by some miracle and turned good. That he's a retired gear hunter who's tired of killing things, a disgraced politician who went out west to escape defeat, a bad actor between jobs- just PRETENDING to be a priest. Heck, Steve once told me that The Padre might be a time traveler. But y'know what? They're all wrong. I know who The Padre really is."
"Who's not the question so much as-" Diego halted, allowing a dramatic pause to seep in-between his words. "What."
Diego assumed a hushed tone, leaned in closer to Rico, and continued. "He's a robot."
"Yes way, Rico. See, the Church doesn't get enough priests these days, so they started ordaining androids. Just don't let anyone know that I told you- it's a secret! If The Padre finds out we know, he'll fry our brains with his eye lasers."
"He wouldn't do that! He's too nice!"
"Yeah, he is. Just as long as you never let him know that you know. Also you wanna keep him away from magnets. Bad stuff happens with magnets, messes up his circuitry and makes him start speaking Arabic."
"Wow." Rico huffed, eyes wide.
"Wanna know another secret?" Rico nodded while Diego continued. "They took gullible out of the dictionary." This said, Rico leaned back with a satisfied smirk across his features.
"Why would they- HEY!" Rico pounced upon his friend and set about the essential process of smacking him around for the deception. However, this standard ritual was soon interrupted.
The relative peace of the tranquil and dusty town was breached by the arrival of the three dark riders. They swept into town atop battered hoverbikes, their impractical (though dramatic looking) black cloaks billowing about each one. The sound of their engines created a searing, artificial whine as the assassins tore-assed through the small community, paying no heed to the blinding cloud of dust they created. As one, the trio ground to a halt in front of St. Ignatius' adobe church. This impressive entrance garnered no small degree of attention from the population of the small town; a sizable crowd assembled around the periphery of the Church's distance, watching the trio warily from a distance. A few of the men carried pitchforks or large knives, but such makeshift weapons couldn't stand up against even an apprentice magic-user.
In an absolutely anticlimactic moment, the Padre stepped out of the church's main door to see just what was going on. Even without any sort of fanfare, announcement, or heroic dialogue, one could tell just why rumors about him flew about so recklessly. Though of average height and lean build, The Padre was indeed a striking figure. This wasn't due to any active effort on his part; his stance was casual, his clothing (the standard black casual wear of a priest) practical. Even so, The Padre possessed a certain charisma, a certain air of self-assurance that made him hard to go unnoticed. He squinted his eyes against the sudden glare of the noonday sun, regarding the three strangers with an appraising look. The three cloaked figures peered right back at him. An uncomfortable silence fell over the gathering, tension and fear of the unknown rising by the moment. Almost at random, The Padre spoke.
"Not often that we see strangers around here."
The dark men remained silent.
"I mean, we're pretty far from, well…everything, here. It's at least three days ride to the closest town." No answer came. "You gentlemen must be pretty tired- is there anything we can do for you?"
It was at this question that one cloaked rider did indeed speak up. "There is." He rasped.
"And just what would that be?" Said The Padre.
At this one word, the townspeople of St. Ignatius gasped, edging their way backwards. Some braver men stepped forward, gripping farm implements. None of them were soldiers- but they were more than willing to fight for the spiritual and social leader of the small town. A casual wave of the hand from the old priest halted their advance. Other than this, The Padre showed no outward signs of alarm. "Any particular reason why?"
"We were sent to kill you." This businesslike statement was rasped out in a terse tone, and the three attacked. As one, they lunged for the old priest, long knives gleaming. The maneuver was a simple one that the trio of killers had performed any number of times, honed to a deadly efficiency. Each knife took a different angle into the ribcage and the heart. Any one blow could be deadly- but the added impact of the other two ensured that the melee would be over in a matter of moments. The assault worked well on the last part- though not as the assassination team had expected.
At about the crucial instant where knife should have penetrated flesh The Padre simply was not where he was supposed to be. A single leap, straight up, brought The Padre temporarily beyond the reach of the assassins' blades. Gravity kicked in right thereafter, bringing the old priest back down to the earth. The Padre, having a good grasp on the workings of gravity, was prepared. He lashed out with his right foot, neatly placing it into the center of the center assassin's face. The Padre sprung backwards, landing nimbly on his feet a short distance away from the remaining two. The killers didn't allow themselves any time to be shocked, instead surging forward once more. This time, however, one leapt into the air in order to cut off the old man's aerial avenue of escape. Despite the loss of one of their number, the remaining two assassins could still kill this spry old man. It was just a matter of using the right strategy.
The Padre, however, was no one-trick pony. Where he leapt high into the air previously, he ducked low at the second attack, catching the forearm of the earthbound killer, twisting the appendage to just the right angle, flinging the assailant to the ground in one fluid motion.
This done, The Padre spun about and batted the last attacker out of the air with a single, almost casual kick. The final assassin crashed to the ground in a dark heap. A cool breeze billowed through, sweeping away the dust and sand kicked up by the short melee. The citizens of St. Ignatius looked on, awed into silence by the display of martial prowess.
Such silence, however, was not to last. A strangled, desperate cry came from the first of the fallen assassins, drawing the attention of all present- including The Padre. A circle of blackness spread out from the ground beneath him, as if someone had suddenly spilled a canister of crude oil. No oil slick could move so uniformly, however- nor do they suck those unfortunate enough to step in them into the ground, as the round piece of darkness did to that particular assassin. The same fate awaited the other two, gone before anyone could move to assist them. The circles of blackness folded in on themselves and disappeared, leaving no sign that they were ever there in the first place, save for one small rectangle of immaculate white against the dusty brown ground. Where the final assassin had departed, a small envelope remained.
The town was empty. Almost empty- The Padre still remained, having sent the rest of St. Ignatius's population away once he had read the letter that the assassins left behind. The people protested, of course, with many inevitably insisting on staying behind. However, it only took a few well-placed glares to get them to change their minds. A roving band of bandits could be easily dealt with- The Padre had fended off more than a few during his time as pastor to the small town. But the fighting style and appearance of the attacking trio indicated that they were well-trained (though, thankfully not well-trained enough). The most disturbing thing about them, however, was their method of exit- Shadow Magic. The Padre knew of only one man who used that particular dark art- and that particular man was supposed to be dead. All and all, the whole scenario stank. Under other circumstances, The Padre might have allowed the villagers to stay- it would have been easier to protect them, that way. But the two words on the letter changed his mind instantly.
The last day's events brought up far too many questions with far too few answers. Who wanted to kill him? Why? How did they know where to find him? Was their attack just a warning of things to come? Had someone else sold their soul for access to the dark arts?
There was one thing, however, that The Padre did know: that the situation was rapidly growing desperate. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Once he walked around the town one final time to verify that no stragglers or overly curious children were lurking around in order to see what was going on, he returned to his room- a Spartan affair, little more than a small chamber with a cot and a desk. Even though he knew the town to be empty, he glanced about warily to verify that he wasn't being watched. The Padre crouched down, gingerly probing at the battered floor with calloused fingers. His fingertips touched upon the certain catch, allowing him to pull up the carefully laid floorboard, revealing the small secret recess in the floor he had personally dug all those years ago.
It was still there, as he had left it all those years ago- an oblong, leather-wrapped bundle. He had hoped that he would never have to touch it since. Wishful thinking, on his part. The Padre lifted the bundle and slowly, reverently unraveled the wrapping, revealing the gleaming metal beneath.
A wave of energy surged through him, instantly sharpening The Padre's already considerably senses. By unwrapping the bundle, he broke the light hex that had been placed on it, concealing the inherent magic contained within. He closed his eyes and sucked in a deep breath, bracing himself. He slowly opened his eyes once more, grabbed the weapon quickly, stood, and stalked out of the room. The weapon felt good- natural in his hand, providing a cool comfort in his hand. As he did so, The Padre looked down towards the sword's scabbard, noting the inscription.