I followed Callan with Father Alexi behind me. The Pope led us through a maze of corridors until we stood at the bottom of a great tower with a spiral staircase disappearing into the darkness. Ascending the stairs, I could hear faint wailing drifting down from whatever lay above us.
One of the Cardinals opened a wooden latch at the top of the stairs. Passing beyond the door, I saw a dark, circular room with a high cathedral ceiling. It was bare except for the single bed near the other end. Windows on either side of the bed allowed the moonlight to filter in, illuminating the small form chained to the metal bed frame.
The figure drifted into an erect position as if by some unseen force and set its sights upon us. Father Alexi ignited the candles near us, giving us more light to work with as he approached the child. He was no older than eight or at least from what I could tell, given his current malnourished state. His eyes were void of any cognition while boils and sores were scattered around his face, arms, and legs.
“This boy was infected by one of your demons. He was sent here by his mother to be purified of his affliction,” Father Alexi began. The Cardinals and the Pope stood near the far wall of the room, silent observers.
“You want me to banish the demon, is that right?” I asked, wondering why God had yet to do so.
Father Alexi clutched his rosary taking out a vial of Holy Water from his pocket. Spritzing the possessed boy, he screamed in agony, writhing against his chains, trying to crawl away from the burning liquid. Father Alexi made the sign of the cross over him and said a few prayers as the voice of the demon melded with that of the child into spine-chilling laughter.
As Father Alexi was about to drip the water onto the child once more, I caught his wrist. His head snapped towards me with a look of pure displeasure at my seemingly inappropriate placement of pity upon the poor creature.
“I’m not stopping you for the sake of the wraith. I’m stopping you because your tactics also hurt the child’s soul held captive within,” I said calmly. While I wasn’t an expert when it came to the practice exorcism, I was an expert on demonkind.
Father Alexi wrenched his arm from my grasp and stood back from the bed, allowing me to speak with the demon in question. Callan stood on the other side, closer to us than the others.
“Tell me why this child?” I questioned it as it stared at me with not the fear I was hoping for but with disdain. A low growl escaped it as it slowly smiled.
Quick as a flash, I grabbed the child by its chin roughly, forcing the demon to look into my eyes as I spoke again, “Tell me!”
It spoke to me in a demonic language only I knew. “Innocent souls taste better.”
Letting it go, the demon laughed, licking its lips and smacking for emphasis. I grimaced, knowing that Wraiths were the most stubborn beasts to ever roam the land, but this one was incredibly arrogant.
“Do you know who I am?” I asked, hoping to use scare tactics.
The demon spit in my direction. “Of course, I do! You’re a murderer and traitor to your own kind. Traipsing around with our enemy and manipulating demons for your cause. We like things, just the way they are!”
Its shouts reverberated around the chamber, causing the bed itself to shake against its anger. I watched as the chains cut deeper into its wrists, not worried about the child’s life.
“There’s no reason to negotiate with demons,” Father Alexi said from behind me. “The only way to force them into submission is by using Holy objects and the Word of God against them, but you wouldn’t know anything about that now, would you?”
“You’re going to let a simple man speak to you in such a manner? And you want us to call you Queen,” the demon laughed.
Rage was seething just beneath the surface as I glanced at Callan. He nodded, knowing that if I were to win this war, I needed to show that I wouldn’t retreat. My eyes turned black as the liquid pumped through my veins, allowing myself to feel all the wrath I was holding back to save face with the priests. My shadow self purred its approval as I stood over the child’s body. Reaching down, the demon tried to get away from me, but it was too late. My hand landed on its forehead as it screamed in anguish, blood pouring from every orifice.
“You dare to disobey your Queen?” I bellowed. “Tell me your name so that it may be remembered as a lesson.”
The demon continued to scream, its body seizing violently. Taking my hand away, it breathed rapidly, moaning in agony at the onslaught of pain I had inflicted. Its dark eyes found purchase upon my face, a pleading look replacing its once stern demeanor.
“If your wish is to rule with fear rather than respect, then you won’t last very long,” it replied, breathlessly. “I will leave this child if only to report back to Hell with news of our Queen torturing us by the request of the Vatican!”
Callan and I stiffened at its words, knowing its threat was not empty.
“What is your name?” I hissed, asking once again.
It remained quiet for a few moments, judging me. “I am Pain.”
Its hand flew up, breaking the chains which bound it, trying to attack me. I caught its fragile wrist in my hand and held it down back on the mattress. Jumping on top of the boy as he thrashed, I watched in horror as his head banged against the bed.
I felt my body being forced up and off the child as I skid across the room’s floorboards on my back towards the far wall. The priests backed away from the child and me as it rose from the bed, levitating midair. Its body slowly rotated to an upright position as it glared upon me. I felt Callan’s hands wrap underneath my arms from behind as he lifted me to my feet.
Father Alexi leaped in front of us with his hand outstretched, a wooden cross in it. He spoke in prayer towards the demon as the child landed softly on his feet. Father Alexi threw Holy Water at it as the child dodged it by distorting its body. The sickening sound of bones breaking filled the air as the other Cardinals read passages from their Bibles.
Callan stepped in front of me, ready to fight, to kill for me or die for me. Whichever one came first. I watched the horror scene unfold as doubt and shame filled the rage within me at how weak I was against a simple lesser demon. Maybe it was right. Perhaps I didn’t deserve the title.
Memories of my past battles flooded back to the surface as I thought of all the encounters I had previously with demons. I had won those battles. I had fought Lucifer and came out victorious, a feat no other demon would ever have been able to do. Standing tall, I walked towards the creature.
Staring into its eyes, I spoke in an ancient demonic tongue so the others wouldn’t understand me.
“Hell is dying, my friend,” I began. “Our home is dissolving. I want us to survive, and we can’t do that here on Earth. We tried that, long ago, and we were blessed with a realm all to ourselves, a place we could thrive. Help me help us.”
I held out my hand towards the wraith, hoping my words were heard. It was a plea to save us all, to avoid a war that would decimate us, including our homes. My people weren’t the enemy, and I needed to stop treating them as such. Otherwise, I would lose them.
“I am a lowly wraith…” it began. “I must feed.”
“And you will,” I added. “But on those who truly deserve the pain for their wickedness. The wicked feed our realm. They make it strong, and thus, you make it strong.”
“I am not! Go to Hell and gaze upon its ruins for yourself. I have seen them. Have you?” I asked coldly.
It pondered my words. “I will see this for myself, but if you are wrong, then all will know your misdeeds here.”
I nodded, knowing it was the only way to save the child from certain death. I watched as the darkness left the child’s eyes as he started to collapse. Rushing forward, I caught him before he crashed to the floor.
Cradling him, the others looked on in silence, stunned by what they had just witnessed. Holding the boy, I put my hand upon his cheek, the coldness of it causing me to panic. I felt around, placing my fingers to his neck, trying to discern a pulse, but could feel none. Was I too late?
Tears filled my eyes as I stared upon his bruised and torn face, dried blood covering all his wounds. A sob rattled my being as I hugged the child to me, burying my face into his neck. Crying for this boy was the only thing I could do for him now.
The priests slowly approached me as I rocked the boy in my arms, weeping over his cold, dead body. I knew their eyes were judging me, but I didn’t care. This was what they wanted, to see some sort of reaction towards humanity to prove that I was willing to save it.
“Kasdeya, while the boy was too far gone to be saved, your actions have proven worthy of consideration,” the Pope began.
Lifting my head from the child, I glared at him. “You knew this child was beyond redemption, didn’t you? So, did I pass? Was the life of this child worth it to you?”
My words caught in my throat as I slung them at the others, a tear landing upon the child’s cheek, washing away some blood. His body warmed in my grasp, causing me to look upon his face again, a new wave of emotions hitting me. We all watched as the child took a deep, gasping breath in my arms. My eyes widened as his breathing steadied, a pulse regaining its strength underneath his skin.
“My God…” Father Alexi whispered as he dropped his crucifix, clattering to the floor.
The boy’s eyes fluttered open, barely a squint, but they were looking upon me now. A small smile tugged at the corner of his mouth, but it pained him due to his dehydration. He coughed as I helped him sit up more in my lap.
“Are you…an angel?” he asked.
New tears streamed down my face at his words. “No…I’m not. What’s your name?”
“Elijah,” he answered. It was the sweetest sound I had ever heard in my life. I helped him rise to his feet as he ran towards Father Alexi, his arms open wide.
Father Alexi dropped to his knees and hugged the boy, kissing him on his forehead. It was a reunion Callan nor I expected.
“Thank you,” Father Alexi whispered. “Thank you for saving my nephew.”
I stood up slowly, words escaping me at the revelation. This boy, who I assumed to be a stranger, was akin to the person who hated me the most. I bowed my head at the family as Callan placed his arm around my shoulders.
“This means the Paladins will stand down?” Callan asked, sealing our agreement with the Pope.
“I will send word to Paladin Marcus to command his troops to stand down,” the Pope assured. “I don’t know what you said to make that demon leave this child, but know that my Order will never stop hunting your kind here on Earth.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything less from you,” I replied. While some may have interpreted the Pope’s words as a threat, they made perfect sense to me. The war between Good and Evil would always be an ongoing fight, but perhaps, the Paladins could keep my subjects in line and away from the innocent.
Elijah turned in his uncle’s arms, coming back to me for a hug. “Thank you.”
I smiled and hugged him back, patting him. At first, Father Alexi frowned but then folded his arms across his chest with a smirk upon his face. The Cardinals and the Pope were already descending the stairs, retiring for the night, leaving Callan, Father Alexi, and Elijah behind.
I felt a sudden shift in the energy around me as I noticed the moon’s light changing from its white glow to an ominous red upon the floor of the room. Glancing towards the window, we all walked over as the last remnants of the moon’s brilliant glow dissolved into a reddish tint. In the streets below, a few stragglers stopped in their tracks to gaze upon the phenomenon.
“What’s going on?” Callan asked.
“I don’t know,” I breathed. “I’m not doing this. Was there an eclipse scheduled for today?”
“No,” Father Alexi said, shaking his head. “Nothing was reported by the news. We pay close attention to celestial events.”
“Uncle?” Elijah said as Father Alexi picked up the boy.
“Yes, my child?” he asked.
“He’s here,” Elijah replied.
“Who?” I asked Elijah, turning towards him.
“The bad man,” Elijah stated. “I saw him when I was asleep.”
“Lucifer?” Callan whispered in my ear, not wanting to upset the child any further.
I shook my head. That was impossible. Lucifer was dead. I could feel it in the core of my being that my father had left this Earth. To where, was a different story, but I knew he wasn’t here or in Hell.
“Perhaps, Leviathan?” I answered although I was questioning myself at this point as well.
“We need to get back to the others,” Callan stated. “Whatever’s happening, we’re running out of time here.”
We headed out of the room, letting the wooden latch slam shut behind us. I hoped to never have to visit that small chamber again and that no one else would end up there. Father Alexi led us down the staircase and to the building’s front doors before bidding us farewell.
While the man still didn’t care for me, there was mutual respect after saving his nephew. I let him and Callan speak alone without me as I walked towards the street where our motorcycles were. The red glow was still present upon the moon’s face, making everything appear as if it were covered in blood.
My gaze settled upon a man in a tan trench coat across the street. It was the same one I had seen on the crosswalk before entering the city. His eyes were directed towards the mysterious moon, but as soon as I saw him, he shifted his focus towards me.
He was statuesque against the background of the fountains and silent trees. Something about him gave me a sense of peace, although my head was telling me to stay away from him. He wasn’t a demon, but he certainly wasn’t human. The sweet scent assaulted my senses once again, causing me to step back from my bike.
Glancing over my shoulder to see if Callan was ready to leave, I walked across the street towards the figure. He stayed put, allowing me to approach him. Stopping short, I maintained a distance of a few feet away, not knowing what sort of man he was.
He had a gentle smile that put me at ease even though the feeling was irrational for me when meeting a stranger, especially one who seemed to know everything about me.
“Who are you?” I asked, wondering if he would even answer.
“I’ve been watching you for a long time,” he said, his voice silky. It sounded like bells.
“Is that so? Why are you revealing yourself to me now?” I asked, abandoning my previous question.
“The boy you saved,” he began. “He was an important key.”
“A key to what?” I inquired, growing impatient with his vagueness.
“The first key,” he simply said. “He rode upon a white horse setting forth to conquer. You will need to remain diligent on your quest if you are to succeed.”
“I…don’t know what that means,” I answered.
“You will in time, Kasdeya,” he replied.
“Kas!” Callan called from behind me across the street. Glancing over my shoulder, I waved and turned back to the man, except he had vanished.
Shaking my head, I strode back to Callan, who looked awfully confused.
“What were you doing over there?” he asked, straddling his bike with his helmet in his hand.
“What? I was talking to that man,” I answered.
“What man? It’s late. There’s no one else out here besides us,” Callan commented.
“But,” I began, turning to the spot where the man had been standing. “There was…”
“Let’s get home and get some rest. Performing an exorcism can be exhausting physically and mentally. Besides, we have a lot to talk about when we get back to Bianca’s home,” Callan said, starting his engine.
Sighing, I started my own bike and drove off into the night with Callan, all the while feeling the presence of the strange man lingering around me. I felt like I knew him. It was as real as being around my own family, and yet, I had never met him until now. Whatever the reason behind his sudden appearance, I knew of one way to find out. It was only a matter of getting a message to Baku for my mother.