Devil in the Rain

by D.G.P. Rector

The rain was coming down so thick, Sister Marisha found it impossible not to think of the Great Deluge. Urartu’s Storm season was hard; if it weren’t, the Sisterhood would have no purpose. She and Sister Clarke had drawn the short straw: evening patrol, tasked with wandering the game trails and other places the Sisterhood’s drones couldn’t easily see from the sky.

Most of the time, they found nothing. Maybe a Black Tongue, that Clarke would try to spear with her walking stick to add to the night’s supper. On rare occasions, there would be a lost Wildcat, some fool from the far side of the Frontier who’d heard of the riches hidden in Urartu’s soil and come to stake his claim. They’d bandage him as needed, feed him as needed, and send him quickly on his way.

On this night, though, something was different. The forest was quiet save the sound of thunder and distant rain. Marisha thought she could smell oil on the wind.

“Oughtta head to the road,” Clarke said, pointing with her stick.

Clarke had just one arm, never having bothered with a replacement. It was funny to Marisha to think that she had actually been with the Order longer than Clarke, hardest and oldest of the Sisters. But Clarke had lived a harsh life before she was Called, and she took to patrol and rescue like a fish in water.

“Think so?” Marisha asked. “We should maybe head back soon. Abbess said the drones would be coming in early tonight...”

“Something funny about the road,” Clarke said. “I caught the scent of oil, maybe rubber. Somebody’s been down it recently. Oughtta check it out.”

They headed down the game trail to the nearest road. It led from Finery all the way to the Northern Claims in the mountains but was seldom traveled. Rain turned it to a grey-brown sea this time of year, despite the ditches dug alongside and the gravel spread on its surface.

“Tracks,” Clarke said when they came to the edge of the forest.

The two of them hopped the ditch onto the road. There were fresh tracks all right, made by the wheels of a Crawler. Oddly, they didn’t seem to be headed back to Finery. Clarke crouched down, staring at the upturned mud. She crossed herself.

“What’s wrong, Sister?”

Clarke pointed. There were prints too, left by booted feet.

“Military boots,” Clarke said. “Weighed down. Half dozen maybe, wearing armor.”

“You think—” Marisha snapped around, cutting herself off mid-sentence. She’d heard something moving. Crouching down, she scanned the tree line.

Clarke crouched beside her, both women peering into the forest. Rain slid down the sinuous tendrils of the trees, making them writhe like living animals. It could just be a Black Tongue, Marisha told herself. Sometimes they got curious and started following humans around.

Then she saw it. A pair of red lights in the shadow of a tree. Eyes.

“Hello, out there,” Marisha called. “We’re Sisters of the Storm Watch. Do you need help?”

There was no reply. Marisha slowly took a torch from her belt and shone its light towards the tree. She saw the snarling face of a demon watching her, a metallic blue so dark it was almost black, armored body slick with rain. The demon was leaning against a tree, a pistol in one hand, pointed at them.

“Down!” Clarke snapped, but Marisha was transfixed. The demon hadn’t moved.

Then the pistol fell from its hands, and it keeled over. It rolled down into the ditch with a wet plop, and lay still.

“Is he—”

Marisha heard a single, low groan come from the figure.

“God’s Wounds,” Clarke swore. “We’ve got to get out of here.”

“He’s hurt,” Marisha said.

“Girl, he’s armed!”

Marisha leaped into the ditch. The demon was bigger than she was, and his armor was heavy, but she rolled him onto his back. There was a massive crater in the upper right side of his breastplate, a ruin of jagged metal and dark blood. He was still breathing, barely.

“Christ,” she whispered. “Clarke, help me! We need to get him to the infirmary.”

“Whoever did that to him could still be nearby—”

“Then we’ve got to work quickly,” Marisha said. “Hurry! We’ve got a job to do.”


It was the day before the Sabbath, and Heitz had been called on to help in the Infirmary. She was the youngest, not even officially a member of the Sisterhood, but she’d been here since she was a child and had studied medicine with Sister Sara. That, and everyone knew she was the Abbess’s favorite. There had been more than a little jealousy when she was selected to help with their “Guest”.

The novices had been speculating about the new arrival since the night Sisters Clarke and Marisha dragged a man in from the storm, and their speculation had only grown more intense whenever shouts and growls had come from the locked Infirmary. Heitz had spied Clarke and the Abbess carrying a pair of heavy crates to the Chapel tower, but had yet to summon the courage to investigate.

The Abbess remained tight-lipped, but Clarke had come away with a black eye that first night, and Sara’s left hand was still in a brace. Some said they’d brought in a Wildcat gone mad, or an outlaw on the run. One novice said she’d caught a glimpse of the man, and that he had the face of the devil himself.

The first thing that struck Heitz when she did see him was how strange he looked. Men occasionally visited the Abbey, and the Sisters brought in lost Wildcats, men and women, during the rough seasons. Still, most of Heitz’s world was made up of the Sisters. Seeing someone so large and broad, having him lying in the bed in front of her, was like studying an alien.

Beneath the bandages, he was a patchwork of flesh and metal. Swathes of his skin had a dull, plastic sheen, while other parts sagged and puckered strangely despite his evident muscles. Heitz was particularly fascinated by the places where his flesh joined the cybernetics: there was a cross-hatch pattern there, as if the skin had been stitched over a hundred times.

His face was shrouded in bandages, mouth covered by an oxygen mask. Only his red, artificial eyes were visible. Those eyes never flickered, never closed. They were dead glass, staring sightless at the ceiling. It wasn’t a pleasant face, but it didn’t remind Heitz of the Devil.

Sister Sara injected another syringe into the patient, the twelfth by Heitz’s count. For the first time he twitched, causing the chains that bound him to the bed to rattle. Then he went still, the only motion in his body the steady rise and fall of his chest.

Sara shook her head and put away the medical kit.

“I’ll have to confer with Sister Chali,” she said. “I don’t know enough about augmenteds. I’ve been trying to stabilize him but…”

“He seems stable,” Heitz said.

“I’d like to restore consciousness. On a normal patient I could give him a stimulant, but this one…”

“This one?” Heitz prompted.

“There was a chem-reservoir in that armor of his when we pulled it off. It was pumping some very serious combat drugs. The wrong stimulants could cause a cascading failure. And of course, all the metal in him is a problem, too. Cybernetics like that are deeply rooted in the nervous system. There’s just too many unknowns.”

Sara drummed her fingers against the top of the medical monitor, then turned to Heitz.

“Heitz, why don’t you go grab Sister Chali? Tell her to bring an induction monitor, some nano-filament links, the convex separator, and—Heitz?”

“Sorry,” Heitz said, shaking her head. “Filament monitor, Induction Separator, uh, what was the third one?”

“Don’t worry about it, kid. I’ll get Chali. You just keep an eye on the patient, and keep that thing handy.”

Heitz looked down at the carbine in her lap. She knew how to shoot well enough, but she’d never even killed a Black Tongue. Clarke had insisted that there be someone armed with the patient at all times.

“Uh, okay.”

Sara put a hand on her shoulder.

“It’ll be fine, Heitz. Just don’t do anything stupid. And if he wakes up, you run and get me, okay?”


Sara smiled and left. Heitz returned her gaze to the patient. He was dead to the world.

Minutes passed, and Heitz grew anxious. She took a peek outside the infirmary door, but Sara was nowhere in sight.

A lot of faith had been put in her.

She looked back at the patient. He hadn’t stirred.

Slowly, she approached his bedside. She was careful to put the carbine out of reach first, but she couldn’t help herself. She wanted to study this strange visitor, to see him up close. Heitz had never met a cyborg before.

She stared at the join in his forearm, the place where cold metal met grey flesh. The scars transfixed her, a bright white against the dour palette of his body. Heitz knew very little of surgery, but there was something about it that seemed so crude, so careless. She reached out to brush her finger along it.

“Where’s my armor?”

Heitz leaped back, stifling a gasp.

The patient had turned his bandaged head towards her, fixing her with his red eyes. His voice was like a blade scraping across rusted metal. Slowly, he sat up.

“Where’s my armor?” he repeated. “What did you do with it?”

“I—I don’t know,” Heitz said quickly. “The other Sisters took it off you when they brought you in.”

“Where’d they put it?”

“I told you I don’t—I mean, I don’t know, it would—”

There was a terrible clattering noise as the man yanked up one of his chained arms. Steel rang against steel. He flexed, and for a terrible moment the metal seemed to bend. Suddenly, he let out a groan, and his arm fell back to his side. He lay there, panting and staring at her.

“What... did you do to me?” he said. “Something wrong. Arms not working right.”

“We’ve been helping you,” Heitz said.

She had retreated to the far side of the room, the carbine within easy reach now. A little of her composure had returned as she looked at him. He was large, certainly, but he was still chained, still recovering from terrible injuries, and the Lord knew what else.

“You were badly hurt when they found you. The Sisters patched you up. You’ve been in the Infirmary almost a week while Sister Chali and Sister Sara tried to figure out how best to help you. We, uh, we don’t get many augmented on Urartu.”

The stranger said nothing. Heitz watched the moisture from his breath fog and clear from the oxygen mask. It gradually became more steady.

“Where’s the rest of your family?” he said. “Need to talk to ‘em.”

“Family? My family’s all—oh! Y-You misunderstood me. The Sisters aren’t my Sisters. They’re the Sisterhood of Urartu, the Storm Watch.”

The man cocked his head to the side.

“This a temple?”

“No, not really. It’s sort of like a convent, but they also do emergency medical and rescue stuff. Wildcats get lost out in the wilderness, and Storm Season plays havoc with cheap comms. So, y’know, they help people who get lost out here or, get, y’know, get hurt. Like you.”

She smiled sheepishly at the stranger. He said nothing.

“Um, I’m Heitz,” she added. “Can I ask your name?”

He stared at her a moment longer.

“Tenlok,” he said.

“Nice to meet you, Tenlok. Like I said, we help a lot of Wildcats out here—”

“I’m not a prospector.”

“What—What are you, then?”

The word he said next made the color drain from Heitz’s face. She remembered how her parents had said it in hushed tones when they were alive. It was a word people like them could only whisper, a word for a relentless, cold-blooded killer. A word for monster.



The Bondsman was waiting where Heitz had said she left him: sitting upright in his infirmary bed, moving little. His red eyes locked with Marisha’s as she entered the room along with Heitz, Clarke, Sara, and the Abbess. They had neither iris nor lid, just a pair of crimson spheres. Pitiless. Predatory. Dead.

Marisha glanced at Heitz. The poor girl’s knees were shaking. It was foolish, and cruel, to have her attend to this. The Abbess had insisted she come along with them, as she was the only person the Bondsman had spoken to since he regained consciousness.

The Abbess was not a large woman, but she had a voice and presence that filled any room. She faced their guest without a trace of fear.

“Hello,” the Abbess said, smoothing her skirts and bowing slightly to the Bondsman. “You’re Tenlok, correct? I am the Abbess of the Sisters of Urartu. You may address me as Mother Superior.”

“Where’s my armor?” he growled.

“We have it in a safe place,” the Abbess replied coolly. “I suppose you know we had a devil of a time getting it off you. Sister Sara was lucky she was able to stop your bleeding at all, with all the time wasted getting you out of that shell.”

“Give it back,” Tenlok said. “Weapons, too.”

The Abbess smiled.

“Those are also in a safe place. Sir, we may live a life of simplicity, but we are not fools. I don’t have any intention of seeing you armed until I know you pose no threat to my community.”

“There a bounty on any of you?”

“None that I’m aware of.”

“Then you’re safe. I don’t give a damn about your beliefs, and I don’t work for Pogromists. Give me my gear, and I’ll leave.”

“I’d like to see that,” Sister Sara chimed in. “Your injuries mean you need at least another week’s rest. I had to use a barbiturate compound to balance your system after we removed that chemical reservoir from your back.”

The Bondsman’s head snapped over towards Sara. Marisha could see the muscles in his neck tighten. For the first time, when he spoke she heard real emotion.

“You took my chems?” he snarled.

“Under my orders,” the Abbess said. “You were going berserk whenever you gained consciousness. We had to keep you calm, and we realized that reservoir was what was provoking you.”

“Those chems are from the Guild. They were designed for me.”

“And they were going to kill you,” Sara said. “Do you have any idea how fast your heart was going when we found you? Your whole system could have burned out in a matter of hours. Not to mention the chest wound.”

“I’ve handled it before. Give me my things. I’ll leave.”

“No,” the Abbess said.

Tenlok turned his gaze back to her.


“I said ‘no’. We’re not going to give you your armor, or your weapons, and we are most certainly not going to give you a pack full of drugs that almost killed you.”

“I could go into withdrawal—”

“I know,” the Abbess said. “Sister Sara already told me about it. She’s analyzed what was in that cocktail that was being pumped into you. In addition to her skills in surgery and xeno-botany, Sara’s also become a dab hand at helping addicts over the years. She’s already got a few things in you that should help with your symptoms.”

“I. Am. Not. An. Addict.”

The Abbess smiled serenely.

“No, of course not. ‘Addict’ implies you had some degree of choice in the matter, at least to start with. You see, Tenlok, one of the tenets of the Sisterhood is to tend to the sick and the needy. What kind of holy woman would I be if I fed poison to a sick man?”

“Give me my gear,” Tenlok said. “Give it to me. Now.”


The Bondsman yanked suddenly at his chains. There was an incredible ferocity in his movements, a violent explosiveness that made everyone in the room take a step back. All save the Abbess, who continued to smile at the Bondsman, now with a hint of smugness. In moments, Tenlok lost his strength, and collapsed back into the bed. He glared at the Abbess.

“You’re in no position to make demands,” she said. “And you’ve done a very poor job of convincing me you’re not dangerous. Until that changes, you are going to stay in that bed until you are well. Don’t worry, the Sisters and I are more than happy to tend to you. It might not feel like it now, but we are trying to make you better. Sister Clarke, you and Chali have first watch. See that our guest is comfortable?”

“Yes, Abbess,” Clarke said, staring daggers at the Bondsman.

The Abbess rose to leave and signaled the others to follow. As she approached the door, she paused and turned back towards the Bondsman.

“Oh, one more thing. I was thinking of contacting the Wardens at Finery, we might transfer you to their care. You’re not in any trouble with them, are you?”

“I wouldn’t do that,” Tenlok said.

“So you are in trouble with them?”

He shrugged.

“Could say that. Truth is, the people I had a disagreement with have the Wardens in their pocket. Tell anyone I’m here, they’ll show up a long time before the Wardens do. Could get messy.”

The Abbess allowed herself a snort of laughter.

“Are you trying to intimidate me?

The Bondsman shook his head.

“No,” he said. “But if you want to keep your people safe, you should know: they don’t care for witnesses.”


It was odd to Marisha how quickly the Sisters grew used to the Bondsman’s presence. Another week passed before he could get up and walk around, always under close supervision and with his hands bound. He spoke very little, except to ask for his things. Always he was politely, but firmly, rebuffed.

Clarke and the Abbess argued incessantly behind closed doors. When Clarke had pointed out that the Bondsman had not actually asked for the sanctuary that was being given to him, the Abbess had a blunt rebuttal.

“Tell me, Sister,” the Abbess had said. “Did our Lord take a plebiscite of all Mankind when He sacrificed Himself? How simple things would have been if enough people had just said ‘no, thank you!’ Sometimes, we must help others, even when they insist they do not need it.”

Marisha chuckled at the memory, then returned to work. The rain had let up, at least. She’d been assigned to tend to one of the compound’s gardens, and it was easier work when she wasn’t slipping in wet manure.

“You’re the one they let into Finery, right?”

The Bondsman’s voice was an iron growl, followed by a wheeze. He was standing at the edge of the garden, in the shelter of the alcove. Alone.

They had dressed him in a spare storm coat, his face still covered in bandages. All she could see were his mouth and eyes, and the semi-transparent plastic of his jaw. His tongue was a deep red behind black teeth.

Marisha stood up, shovel in hand.

“Where’s Sister Sara? You’re not supposed to be on the grounds alone.”

“Doc’s taking a leak,” Tenlok said. “They let you leave, right?”

“I don’t think I should be talking to you.”

“Doc’s treatment fucked my nerve pathways. Can’t hurt you.”

He raised his bound hands in illustration. The movement was slow and awkward. He lowered them back down and leaned against the pillar, his breath heavy. Even standing up seemed to take effort.

Still, something stuck out to Marisha. Can’t hurt you, not won’t hurt you.

“It’s important,” Tenlok said. “Something I need to know. I can pay you.”

Marisha slowly loosened her grip on the shovel.

“What is it?”

“Company called Matruska. Had reps out here, looking to buy one of the Wildcat claims. Need to know if they’re still here.”

Marisha had heard a few Star-Corp names, but never paid much attention to them. Matruska was vaguely familiar. They had a dark reputation, from what she recalled.

She considered it a moment. If they were who this Bondsman was hiding from, it could be a threat to the whole Sisterhood. Speaking about anything besides his endless requests for his armor was something of a breakthrough, too. Of course, there was another option. He might be working for them, and looking for his payment.

“Alright,” she said. “I’m due for a supply run in a few days. I’ll ask around.”


Sister Sara emerged from a back hall.

“There you are! You can’t go running off like that,” she scolded. “Is everything all right, Marisha?”

“It is, Sister Sara. The Bondsman and I were just chatting.”

Sara turned to Tenlok, and rolled her eyes.

“Marisha doesn’t know where your armor is,” she said. “You’ll get your things back when the Abbess says, and not before. Now come along, we have to keep up your exercise or you’ll never rebuild your strength.”

The Bondsman exchanged a last look with Marisha, then followed Sara out of the garden. She watched him go for a moment, then returned to spreading manure.


Heitz rode on the back of the ATV, arms wrapped around Marisha’s waist. There was an undeniable thrill at being asked to join in the trip to Finery. She had only been there a few times over the years, and it was one of the things that reminded her of the happier times in her childhood. Her family’s home had been a little ways south of Finery, and she could still remember the layout of every market and holo-theatre.

Of course, it had all changed. It had been less than a decade, and yet as they approached the city, what had once been a sprawl of squat pre-fabs now counted a dozen towering spires. Most of the taller stacks would be temporary residences, places for visitors to stay in comfort during their trip to Urartu. The rest of the people still lived in rundown shanties, like her folk had.

They made the rounds, Marisha always keeping her close. She’d tried to engage Marisha on the ride down, but her responses had been terse.

Heitz was sure the Bondsman had something to do with the trip, but she had no idea what. The medical supplies they gathered and loaded onto the ATV’s flatbed were nothing special, from what she could tell. They weren’t buying ammo, either. It was only when they stopped at Old Heather’s for dry rations that she got her first hint.

“Matruska?” Old Heather said. “Yeah, there was some talk of them a few weeks back. Saw a few fellows that looked like Condottiere, then there was that business with the Laing claim. Reps been laying low since then, if they haven’t scarpered.”

“Laing claim?” Marisha asked.

The old woman shook her head sadly.

“Bad business. Off-worlder family came in, trying to go Wildcat. Nice enough folk, well-to-do. Little in over their head, if you ask me. Anyway, word was they’d made a good strike, started buying up mining drones. One of those Matruska reps got into it with Poppa Laing at some drinking hole, things got hot. Laing started asking around about guns. Then those Condottiere showed up in Finery, next thing ya know, Laing claim’s gone from all the registers.

“Heard some folks say Momma Laing and her boy hitched a ride with the last Cycler out of here, cheapest berths they could get. As for Poppa, well, I expect he’s in the mud, or else a Black Tongue’s belly. Gods and Ancestors, it was a hell of a business. Folks got pretty riled, Wildcats an’ ’Steaders both.”

“Didn’t the Wardens do anything about it?”

“Nah, they hushed everything up. Couple folks got cracks on the head, things quieted down. Not much to be done, especially with those Matruska fuckers gone. Just another sad day in the Frontier.”

Heitz spoke up.

“You mean, nobody was punished? At all?”

The old woman smiled at her from behind the counter.

“Kid,” she said. “The worlds don’t work that way. You can get down on your knees and pray with the Sisters to that Cross-Man all you want, but it don’t change things. Wicked folk do wicked deeds, and then they run on. Nothing changes. It’s all dust anyway.

“Hell, Marisha here knows better than most,” she added.

Marisha gave her a dark look, and Heather raised her hands apologetically.

“That’s no business of yours,” Marisha said.

“Sure, sure. Eighty for the crate, anyway.”

Marisha paid, and the two of them carried the ration crate out to the ATV. The sun was setting by the time everything was stowed, so Marisha rented them rooms for the night after sending a message back to the Abbey.

They ate their evening meal together and said their prayers. Marisha had been even more quiet than usual.

“So,” Heitz said. “You think Tenlok killed Poppa Laing?”

Marisha looked at her blankly.

“This isn’t something to joke about, Heitz.”

“But that’s why you were asking around, right? You want to know just as much as the rest of us what he was doing here. Sounds like the Matruska hired him to take out the Laings.”

“Maybe,” Marisha said. “You shouldn’t speculate.”


“Because it won’t change anything,” Marisha snapped. “The Abbess made her decision, and that’s the end of things.”

“But you have to know,” Heitz said. “’Cause you brought him in. Clarke said she wanted to leave him out there in the storm.”

“Clarke was wrong. The Sisters have a duty. If we fail in that, then we will have failed our Beloved, and that’s just about the worst thing we can do. Understand?”



“Yeah,” Heitz said. “Okay. I won’t bother you anymore about it.”


“Just… What did Old Heather mean about you knowing about wicked people getting away with things?”

Marisha laughed.

“If you think I’m some sort of outlaw in hiding, you’re going to be disappointed. Clarke’s the only one with an interesting story, and you can see that she was a soldier just by looking at her.”

“So? What did Heather mean?”

Marisha sighed.

“She means that I had a reason for joining the Sisterhood. And that reason is none of your business. Now get some sleep, we’re getting up early tomorrow.”

“Alright, alright, you win,” Heitz said. “See you in the morning, Sister.”

“Sleep well.”


Marisha woke an hour before dawn. She did her daily obeisances and made herself ready, then woke Heitz. The bleary-eyed teenager mumbled and groaned, but got ready in the end. Preparing the ATV for the trip back to the Convent was a simple task, and only the first rays of sunlight were peeking above the horizon by the time they were ready to depart.

A Mining Crawler rumbled past as she ran through her final checks. She paused to watch it go.

It would be the Miners’ first shift of the day at one of the Company sites. Those men would labor hard in the picking and sorting, constantly repairing the delicate drones as they broke down again and again.


The voice was deep and familiar. One of the Miners leaped from the back of the Crawler, a smile on his bearded face.

She took a step back as he approached.

He was older, his face more lined than she remembered. There was no mistaking his brown eyes, the slight turn in his nose where it had been broken a dozen times, or the scar on his lip. The one she’d given him, a long time ago.

“Marisha! Marisha, it is you,” he beamed. “Thank God, I thought I’d never see you again.”

“Stay away from me, Davin,” Marisha said, taking another step back. “I’ve got nothing to say to you.”

“Oh, come on. Don’t be ridiculous! It’s been years, don’t you at least want to, I don’t know, catch up?”

Marisha shook her head.

Heitz emerged from the hotel, pack slung over one shoulder. Her pace slowed as she approached, looking between Davin and Marisha.

“Uh, hi?” she said.

Davin smiled, but Marisha saw a familiar, cruel flicker in his eyes.

“Hi,” he said. “Well, this one’s cute. That why you joined them Sisters?”

“She’s a child. Don’t be disgusting,” Marisha said.

“Oh, sure. I’m disgusting. You can’t keep to one bed, but I’m the disgusting one.”

“You know something, Davin? You were always crazy. Always. I don’t know how I ever put up with you.”

Davin sneered.

“Right. Crazy Davin, there he goes again. Crazy man, able to see what’s in front of his face! Well, I bet you’re real happy now, aren’t you? You can say whatever you want, put that stupid damn outfit on, but I know, I know what you are, Marisha!”

Davin put his hand on her shoulder and Marisha slapped it away. She backed away from him until she was against the ATV. He loomed over her, jaw set, eyes wild, fists balled. Just like the old days.

“The fuck are you doing, Davin?!”

Half a dozen men in Miners’ togs came jogging up, and in moments they had pulled Davin away. He was cursing madly now, calling her every vile name he could think of. One of the Miners turned, giving Marisha a sympathetic look.

“Sorry, Sister,” he said. “He gets like this sometimes. Don’t you worry, we won’t let him bother you.”

“Sure,” Marisha said.

She and Heitz mounted the ATV quickly, and rode away. As they reached the outskirts of town, Heitz spoke up.

“So, who was that?”

“The reason I joined the Sisters.”

They rode the rest of the way home in silence.


“His breathing still hasn’t improved,” Sister Sara said. “I don’t understand it. Lungs are perfectly healthy, but it’s as if he doesn’t know how.”

“Perhaps he doesn’t want to,” the Abbess suggested.

Marisha had been invited to their now weekly discussion of the Bondsman’s condition, and what exactly was to be done with him. She, Sara, the Abbess, and Chali sat together in the Chapter House, watched over by flickering holo-images of saints and renderings of the Passion. Marisha liked the holos well enough, but the permanence of the stained glass in the Chapel appealed to her more. There was something pleasant in that ancient continuity with Old Earth.

Sister Chali had fetched some of the Bondsman’s armor from its hiding place and laid it out on the table between them. She was examining the Bondsman’s face mask. It would cover the lower half of the face, and was wrought to look like a snarling ghoul. Large fangs glistened in its mouth, clenching around a pair of stimulant tubes. It looked like a demon biting down on a serpent, to Marisha.

Chali held the mask up for the others to see, indicating the tubes. She was mute, but had her own ways of making herself understood.

“Hmm, that’s a good point,” Sara said. “It could be a withdrawal side-effect. His behavior isn’t erratic, and his other vitals are good. It seems he got a lot of his drugs from the mask though, so it stands to reason there’s a psychological tie to his breathing.”

“Sisters, forgive me,” Marisha said. “But are we just going to ignore the fact that he might be a murderer?”

The meeting had opened with Marisha’s report of what she had been told in the city, but the Abbess had briskly moved the conversation on to the Bondsman’s health. She now turned to Marisha, a stern expression on her face.

“He might have done a great many things, Sister. We do not know. And we have very good reason to suspect that releasing him from our care would put him in very serious danger. For now, until we are certain of his guilt or innocence, I intend to continue to care for him.”

“Mother Superior, when are you going to accept that this man is dangerous,” Marisha said. “Clarke was right, I was a fool to bring him in! Every moment we keep him here, we are all in danger.”

The Abbess steepled her hands and hooded her eyes.

“Hmmph,” she snorted. “I suppose there is only one way around this. Come along, it’s almost time for afternoon prayers.”

“Mother Superior—”

“We are going to resolve this,” the Abbess said. “At your continued insistence, Sister Marisha. Then I shall have no more questioning on this matter, understood?”

The Abbess rose, and directed Chali to put away the armor before beckoning Sara and Marisha to follow her. The summoning bell was already chiming by the time they met Clarke and the Bondsman in the courtyard, but it would be a few minutes before all the Sisters had gathered in the Chapel. A few of the novices were still beyond the wall, clearing away the ever-encroaching forest.

“So,” the Abbess said. “Mr. Tenlok, do you know anything of the Laing family?”

“Yes,” he replied flatly.

“Oh? We’ve learned they disappeared recently. Did you have anything to do with that?”

He nodded.

“You see? I told you he was involved,” Marisha interjected. “He wanted me to look up the Matruska group, he killed the Laings—”

“I didn’t kill them,” Tenlok growled.

The Abbess began to speak, but there was the roar of an ATV, and the sounds of commotion coming from the front gate. Marisha turned to look, and saw two of the novices come darting through the gate, terrified looks on their faces. Following hard on was Davin.

He was soaked in sweat, his hair and beard wild. It was clear from the bottle in his hand and his stiff gait that he had been drinking.

“Marisha,” he slurred. “Marisha, I want to talk to you!”

“Dear lord,” she said. “Davin, you can’t be here!”

“I just want to talk,” he repeated.

The Abbess stepped between them. He was a full head taller than her, and looked down at her with genuine confusion.

“Sir,” she said. “You must leave. These grounds are for the Sisterhood and its charges only.”

“What? Men not allowed?”


Davin pointed a finger at the Bondsman.

“The fuck is he doing here, then?” he said.

“He is in the care of the Sisterhood. Now please—”

“That sounds like a lot of shit to me. Like a lot of SHIT!”

His voice was halfway between a roar and a scream. The Abbess tried to speak, but he swung his arm out, smacking her to the ground. Marisha tried to back away, the old memories coming up in a flood. Then his red face blocked out her vision, pressing in close to her, the smell of his breath filling her nose.

“Davin, Davin please—”

“Why’s it always gotta be a fuckin’ production with you, huh? I’m your damn husband, you could show me some goddamned respect! What kinda holy bitch are you, treatin’ me like this?”

His hand had wrapped around her shoulder, fingers clawing into her skin. Then Sister Clarke was on him. She charged into his side, sending Davin sprawling. Clarke kicked him where he lay, and for a moment Marisha dared to think it would end there, but Davin caught hold of Clarke’s leg.

He yanked, sending her down into the mud with him. Clarke was wiry and strong, but he was easily twice her size. Davin pinned her down, smacking her with his free hand. Marisha watched in terror as he struck Clarke, laughing. He had always laughed when she fought back, too.

Marisha looked around wildly, calling for help. Sister Sara had sprinted for the infirmary, the other few Sisters in the courtyard were crying out in confusion. A few took timid steps towards the brawl, but none of them were warriors. There was a great deal of difference between hunting game from time to time and fighting off a drunkard bent on violence.

“Stop this! Stop this madness!” the Abbess called, clutching her bruised jaw.

Marisha saw Tenlok, less than a step from where Clarke and Davin struggled. Briefly, he locked eyes with her, then returned to watching them fight with cold indifference.

Davin had wrapped his hand around Clarke’s throat. He raised his bottle up high, readying to bring it crashing down. It just barely grazed the Bondsman’s leg.

Tenlok took a step back, and kicked Davin in the head. Davin went sprawling, and the Bondsman pounced. He gathered up his chains, and smashed them against Davin’s face again and again. Each time he struck, Davin let out a shriek.

Tenlok released the chain and grabbed Davin’s bloody face, placing his thumbs against Davin’s eyes. He began to squeeze. Davin’s shrieks grew higher, he flailed and twitched, but the Bondsman’s grip was steel.

“Stop! Stop!” Marisha found herself crying.

It took Clarke and four other Sisters to pull Tenlok off of him. By the time he was removed, Davin’s eyes were swollen shut, and he was reduced to a trembling mass, softly weeping and mumbling apologies. Tenlok had made no noise during the entire exchange, nor had what little could be seen of his expression changed at all.

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” the Abbess said, waving away Sister Sara upon her return.

Sara gave Marisha a brief once-over before she began tending to Davin. She bound up his wounds and sedated him, and Clarke promptly bundled him onto the back of a Crawler with a couple of the hardier sisters. It was thought best to drop him at the hospital in Finery.

Marisha watched the vehicle drive off down the road from the main gate. Afternoon prayers were canceled, of course, but most of the Sisters had retreated to the Chapel anyway. For some reason, Marisha thought it would be wrong of her to join them.

“You shouldn’t have stopped me.”

She started at the sound of Tenlok’s voice. In the chaos, she had briefly lost track of him. Now he was standing beside her, having made no attempt to escape.

“He’s going to cause more trouble,” he added.

She shook her head.

“Davin’s a sick man. He’s done things I don’t have the strength to forgive. But that doesn’t mean I want him dead. Not here, of all places.”

Tenlok shrugged.

“You went to the city?”

“Yes,” she said. “Matruska’s still there, but it sounds like they’re in hiding.”

“What about the Laings?”

“The mother and child might be off planet. That’s what people said, anyway. Why do you care? You don’t get the full bounty if they’re dead?”

“Wasn’t hired to kill them. I was working for them, when Matruska raided their claim. Took a contact shot from one of their Mercs. Bondsman’s Guild trains us as bodyguards. Some of us still do that work, when it comes along.”

Marisha studied him. It was impossible to know what was going on in his strange, cold heart. Yet, she could swear she saw a relaxation in his limbs, as if he had just set down a great weight.

“There’s a credit chit in my belt,” he said. “Should be about eight hundred sola on it. It’s yours, if you know where the Abbess has it hidden.”

“I don’t want your money,” Marisha said. “I’m glad I could bring you a little peace.”

The Bondsman said nothing. That evening, she asked the Abbess for the key to his chains. Marisha freed him, but he said not a word of thanks, nor did he leave. All he did was ask where his armor was.


Heitz was working with the Brother, clearing out brush around the base of the walls. “Brother” was the nickname she and the novices had settled on for Tenlok, though personally she had voted for “Gargoyle” given his stony demeanor. She was getting used to having him around. He wasn’t friendly to her, of course, but he did answer her questions about the wider Frontier sometimes, and he was a tireless worker.

Just about the only thing he still didn’t join the Sisters in was Mass. Heitz had wondered if he had some kind of aversion to setting foot in the Chapel, or if perhaps he belonged to another faith. The truth was disappointing when she had finally asked him.

“Dull,” was all he had said.

Even Clarke had relaxed around him somewhat. Sister Sara still worried about his health, but the Abbess said she would give him permission to leave soon. Heitz knew that didn’t matter. He wouldn’t leave without his armor, and that was the one thing the Abbess wouldn’t give him.

So, he had become something of a mascot for them, though Heitz was sure he would be angry if she told him that to his face.

“Hurry it up there, Tenlok,” she called to him playfully as she carried another bundle of bramble-thorn to the back of the Hauler. “Afternoon service is coming up.”

Tenlok grunted. She tossed the bramble-thorn into the flatbed, then climbed up after it and packed it hard against the rest of the day’s work. Storm Season was coming to an end, and the bushes wouldn’t grow so aggressively in the new season.

She heard a thud, and turned. The Bondsman had dropped his own bale and was looking to the distance. She could hear rumbling, and turned towards what he was seeing.

There was a vehicle coming down the road, armored and angular. There was no doubt it was military, and headed for the abbey.

“Down,” Tenlok growled.

She leaped from the Hauler, and dove into the underbrush beside him. They pressed themselves to the ground, watching through the thorns.

Six men emerged from the armored vehicle’s side hatches. They wore tan armor and helmets with glowing blue visors, all armed and walking with the casual alertness of professionals. These weren’t Wardens, Heitz was sure of it. Wardens would have announced themselves.

A seventh man came stumbling out of the Crawler. Even at this distance, Heitz recognized him. Davin.

Two of the men hustled to the Hauler, while the others approached the gate. They swept the truck with their guns, then peered into the brush. Heitz felt the Bondsman’s arm around her, holding her tight. It was strong, and cold.

“Nothing,” one of the men grunted, as they returned to their comrades.

Heitz watched as one of the Sisters, Sara she thought, emerged from the gate. It had been open to let those with duties outside the walls pass freely, and Heitz wished to God now that it had been shut and barred. She couldn’t make out the greeting Sara called to the armored men, but she heard her shriek of pain when one of them struck her with the stock of his rifle. They grabbed Sara and Davin, and dragged them both through the gate.

Heitz felt the Bondsman’s hand tighten on her shoulder.

“Last chance,” he said. “Where’s my armor?”

She looked at him, at those pitiless, blank red eyes. She could hear shouts coming from inside the walls. She remembered Tenlok saying something about his enemies not leaving witnesses.

“Alright,” she said. “I think I know where it is. I’ll show you.”


Marisha had been on her way back from the library when she was caught. She hadn’t heard the commotion at the gate, and for a moment she had thought she was dreaming when she saw an armored man come charging towards her, gun raised and roaring at her to get on the ground. She had reacted, stupidly, by shushing him, and he had cracked her across the face before ripping her wimple off and dragging her by her hair to the courtyard.

Soldiers were charging back and forth from the cloisters and cells, dragging the Sisters out from where they’d tried to hide. The younger novices wailed as they were forced to kneel in front of their captors, while the older Sisters whispered prayers for mercy. She looked for Clarke, but she was nowhere to be found. Marisha caught sight of the Abbess as she was dragged out and flung to the ground in front of the leader, a man with long red hair and a pencil thin mustache.

“I think this is the last one, Captain,” the soldier said.

“Is it?” the Captain asked, his voice light and refined. “You, there. You’re the leader, correct? Is this all of you?”

The Abbess glared at him.

“Sir, you have no right to treat us this way. I demand that you leave immediately!”

The Captain rolled his eyes.

“My men and I are on a tight schedule, so I’ll be brief. You are harboring a very dangerous individual. We are here to deal with him. Tell us where he is, and this will all go away. Resist, and I will have to encourage you to tell me the truth. Am I understood?”

“There’s no one else here,” the Abbess said. “You’ve come to the wrong place.”

“Oh? Because this fellow here says he saw a man matching the description of our target inside your walls.”

The Captain pointed, and Marisha saw Davin for the first time. He looked frightened.

Of course. It had been two weeks, hadn’t it? Just long enough for him to hit the nadir of his binge, long enough for him to grow resentful again, run his mouth off at one of his drinking dens.

Poor, idiot Davin. She pitied him in that moment almost as much as she hated him. The mercenaries had clearly seized him, tortured him, and dragged him along as their guide. He was just as terrified as the rest of them.

“He is mistaken,” the Abbess said calmly, raising herself to her knees.

The Captain smirked.

“Fascinating. Well, I have to decide who’s telling the truth: the drunk, or the holy woman? The drunk I already know, he and I are on quite intimate terms. But you, Sister—”

“You may address me as Mother Superior.”

He threw up his hands.

“Lady Gobbledygook, whatever your title is. I don’t know if I can trust you, so… I’ll just have to get to know you too, won’t I?”

The Captain drew his pistol, pointed it at the Abbess, and fired.


Heitz and the Bondsman took the steps two at a time. It was a long climb to the top of the bell tower, but neither she nor the Bondsman slowed. At last they reached the top.

In one corner were a pair of heavy wooden crates. Neither had a lock; it would have been impossible for the Bondsman to sneak up here under normal circumstances. Heitz had spied them only a day ago, during a moment of idle curiosity when she was left unattended.

“I think that one has your armor,” she said, pointing. “The other has everything else.”

Tenlok opened the weapons crate first. He handed her a rifle.

“Load this,” he said.

He opened the second crate, and with practiced ease shed his coat and began strapping the armor to his undersuit. His movements were fluid, as natural as breathing. Once the breastplate was on, he took the chemical pack and locked it into place on his back. Last, he put on his helmet, and the snarling mask.

Tenlok connected the stimulant tubes to the chemical reservoir. He breathed in, long and slow. His body straightened, his hands flexed. He was fully formed now, a demon in steel. For a moment, Heitz knew what it was to look on something truly inhuman.

He turned to her, focusing on her with his dead glass eyes. She did not even feel it when he took the rifle from her limp hands. It was the first time she had seen his face, his real face.

“Stay low,” he said. “Don’t come out until it’s done.”

Then he vaulted from the bell tower.


Marisha prayed when the Captain pressed his pistol against the Abbess’s forehead. She was bleeding from where he’d shot her in the knee, teeth bared in a snarl, yet still she would not give him the satisfaction of screaming, and certainly not of pleading for mercy. The Abbess wouldn’t beg, so Marisha did. She begged God for mercy, for grace, for something to stop this madness.

She heard another gunshot, loud as thunder, and opened her eyes, certain she would see the Abbess dead. Instead, it was one of the mercenaries who reeled back, a hole blown clean through his breastplate. Another shot rang out, another and another and another, and then all was pandemonium.

The soldiers scattered, the Sisters fled screaming, diving for what cover they could. Marisha saw one of the mercenaries go sprinting towards their idling armored Crawler, but a burst of fire caught him in the back and sent him spinning to the ground.

She crawled to the Abbess, looking about wildly to see where the shooting was coming from. There, up on the roof of the chapel, crouched among the buttresses, was the Bondsman. Not as she had grown used to seeing him, in his coat and bandages, but as she had found him on that terrible day in the storm, more demon than man.

He fired again and again, and she heard more of the mercenaries calling out in pain. A few managed to return fire, bullets peppering the Chapel, shattering the beautiful stained-glass windows. The Bondsman leaped from his perch, shots sparking off his armor as he landed and rolled with devilish grace.

He was up and sprinting, moving almost too fast for the eye to see. One man tried to scramble away from him, but Tenlok had drawn a curved kukri blade, and hacked him down with a single stroke. His rifle was left behind, empty and discarded in the mud as he darted across the courtyard, hunting the mercenaries down with machine-like precision. They shot him a score of times, but he gave not the slightest sign of pain. He butchered each of them with crisp, brutal efficiency.

The Captain was last. He sprang from his hiding place beneath the first man to be shot, as Tenlok darted by. The heavy pistol in his hand roared, catching Tenlok’s blade arm and sending the kukri flying. Tenlok charged, and caught the Captain in his bare hands. They grappled with each other, Tenlok trying to get the Captain’s throat beneath his iron fingers, the Captain struggling desperately to bring his pistol to bear.

At last, the Captain managed to break from Tenlok’s grip. He shoved the pistol up beneath the Bondsman’s war mask. Tenlok snarled.

There was another roar of gunfire. The Captain’s nerveless body fell, a bloody crater in the side of his skull.

Marisha saw Sister Clarke emerge from the shadows, hunting carbine braced one-handed against her shoulder. She shot the Captain’s body where he lay four more times. Then she turned to Tenlok, pointing the shaking gun barrel at him.

The Bondsman did not move. He stood there, gore-stained, watching Clarke. Clarke looked down at the dead Captain, then to the Abbess, then seemed to take in for the first time all the carnage around her.

Every one of the mercenaries had been felled, their bodies strewn about. Davin was dead. Marisha wondered if it was a stray bullet, but doubted it.

The carbine fell from Clarke’s hand.

“Damn you,” Clarke whispered. “God damn you all.”


Tenlok loaded the bodies onto the armored Crawler while Sara tended to the wounded. He gathered his things without a word, only stopping to ask Sara how much she was owed for his treatment. She refused him.

“I don’t like being in anyone’s debt,” Tenlok said.

“And I don’t need your money on my conscience,” Sara replied. “Go.”

He left in the Crawler without ceremony. It was a few days later that Clarke disappeared too, and after her a pair of the novices. Then a few more, and a few more. All told, a dozen Sisters left the order.

Days became months. The Wardens came by, incurious and perfunctory in their inquiries. They wanted the business finished, and studiously ignored the bullet holes in the chapel, just as they had ignored the murder of Poppa Laing.

Marisha stood at the compound wall with the Abbess, watching the sky go dark as Storm Season came upon them again. The Abbess’s leg had healed, but she needed a cane to walk now. They had just finished reviewing Heitz’s application to join the order as a novice, and agreed that she would apprentice with Marisha when it came time to send out patrols again. They were silent a while after that, until the Abbess spoke up.

“Do you think I should apologize? To the rest of the Sisterhood, I mean.”

Marisha shrugged.

“Only if I should. I was the one that found him, brought him in.”

“I kept him, though. I wanted more than anything to help him heal, to fix him. I was so stubborn, so damnably proud! It brought us nothing but death and misery.”

“I think there were things coming our way for a long time,” Marisha said. “God chose that Bondsman to bring them, that’s all.”

“Perhaps. I wouldn’t dare to guess at it. Tell me something: if you found the Devil himself out there, lost in the rain, would you have brought him back to us?”

Marisha smiled.

“We both know the answer to that, Mother Superior.”

“Yes,” the Abbess said. “I suppose we do.”

They said nothing more, just waited as the heavens turned black, and the world became nothing but cold rain, and the distant sound of thunder.

D.G.P. Rector is a Pacific Northwest based author of S.F. and Fantasy. This is his third story with Mysterion, and is set in the same universe as “On Charis Station.” His work has been featured in Analog, Shrapnel, the air and nothingness press anthology The Librarian, and of course, Mysterion. You can find more of his work at, on Facebook @DGPRectorAuthor, and on Twitter @DgpRector.

“Devil in the Rain” by D.G.P. Rector. Copyright © 2023 by D.G.P. Rector.

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