When I came back down in a few hours, Samael was gone. I restrained myself from looking for him around the house or calling for him and sat in front of the TV, turning it on. I needed a break from this… this… whatever this was.
Two days ago I was a struggling bartender with a crappy apartment and semi-decent life in a big city. Now I was a woman that was bound to an insanely attractive man, which happened to be non-human. I was at a crossroads. If I returned to Los Angeles, I would never find out what Samael was doing in that box or why my father put him there. I would never find out what Samael meant, that I knew nothing of the world my father was protecting me from.
On the other side, if I stayed here I was going to spend my life, if I lived that long, looking for answers from a man that didn’t even have time for his daughter’s birthday. How did I even get in the middle of this?
“The police are currently still investigating, but it seems like the two bodies found in the woods were killed by some kind of animal. We confirmed wounds on the neck and they both died from the loss of blood.” The reporter over the TV said with a slow, clear voice as if to grab my attention. My hand immediately moved to my neck where the wounds from Samael’s attack were plenty visible. “The authorities are scouting the area, but for your own safety, don’t wander in the woods alone and avoid going out after dark. The police also caution to lock your doors and report any sightings of rogue or dangerous animals. Please do not try to apprehend yourself.”
My heart was racing as the camera moved to the policemen that were just rolling over the bodies. Was that…?
A knock came from the door and I jumped, cursing under my breath. I hadn’t even realized when the sun had set outside and I was standing in the gloom, eyes glued to the TV. Another knock came from the door and I got up, switching the light in the living room and stepping towards the door.
Samael had fixed the door, it seems, but the window was still missing so I noticed Elijah’s bearded face peeking from the other side. When he noticed me he pulled back, waiting for me to unlock the door. I opened it slightly, smiling at him.
“Elijah, I didn’t expect you,” I said, looking him up. He was wearing his hunting jacket, a rifle hanging from his left shoulder. He was a mountain of a man, with biceps bigger than my thighs and hands that could probably squash my head like a ripe pumpkin. Yet, ever since I knew him, he was the only one among my father’s friends that paid me any mind. He brought me candy on holidays and played cards with me if he was waiting on my father. He even let me win on poker most of the time.
“I wanted to see how you’re doing, kiddo.” He smiled, showing a set of two missing teeth. That was new, probably from the last four years, I was in Los Angeles. I didn’t notice it at the funeral, probably because nobody was smiling then. “You heard about those animal attacks?” I nodded, glancing at the rifle with uneasiness. My father didn’t like guns and there were no weapons in the house. A year ago I had thought about getting one but then decided against it. I needed to pay rent more than I needed a gun. “Me and some friends are patrolling the streets, you know, to keep an eye on people. Some rabid wolf, no doubt, or a bear.”
I nodded. Wolves and bears would go for the intestines first and they would eat the whole body, given the time. The news said only their blood was missing, which meant that either Elijah didn’t know that, which was unlikely, or he was trying to make it seem insignificant for my sake.
“You okay, kiddo? What is that on your neck?”
“Nothing,” I said, running a hand through my hair to push it over my face. “I fell, you know how I am. Tripping over nothing.”
“Yeah, I remember.” He nodded slowly. “I remember when you were learning to ride a bike. You fell, like a hundred times, and at the end of the day, you were bleeding from your knees, your elbows, your chin, and your forehead.”
“But I learned to ride the hell out of that bike.” I laughed, the scene fluttering in front of my eyes for the moment. He and my father had been sitting on the front porch talking as I learned to do that, and it was Elijah who came to pick me up every time I started crying.
“You mind if I come in, kiddo? I could use a cup of coffee. I’ve been up since five am.”
I hesitated but then nodded, stepping aside and making way for him. He looked around apprehensively, leaning the rifle by the door and giving me a smile.
“Make yourself at home. I’ll get you that coffee.” I smiled, stepping into the kitchen. I found the coffee box in the cupboard, one shelf lower this time, so I reached it without a problem. A smile appeared on my face, Samael must have put it there after he had cleaned. And he did a spotless job of it, much better than I would have done it myself. I should give him more chores to do.
“What happened to the door window?” Elijah shouted from the living room and my fingers froze at the ON button for a second. I clicked it, pretending I didn’t hear. When I was done with the coffee, I poured it into two cups and headed towards the living room.
“Did you say something?” I asked, handing him the cup. “I couldn’t hear you from the coffee machine.”
“Yeah. What happened to the door window? It was fine when we left.” He took a long sip, closing his eyes for a moment. “Just like your mother’s. You Sharpe women know how to make a good coffee. Your father really sucked at it.”
I smiled at him as he stared, waiting for an answer to his question.
“I got a little emotional,” I replied, leaving my cup on the table. “I’ll have it repaired before I put the house for sale.”
“You’re selling it?” Elijah asked, his furry brows rising to his hair. Gray had woven through the brown, and he looked years older than the last time I saw him. The wrinkles around his eyes were more pronounced, and even his beard had silver in it.
“Yeah. I don’t need it and I need the money.” I mumbled.
“I’ll buy it.” He shrugged, taking another sip of coffee, which allowed him to avoid my eyes. “For a reasonable price, of course.”
“Why do you want this old junk? I thought you have a house.” I asked, confusion sweeping over me. I had never actually been to Elijah’s house, my father conducted his business in his study or somewhere else while I was at grandma. But Elijah visited often enough to think he lived nearby, definitely in the same state. And our house was not very new. There was a leak in the roof that had been there even before I left this place. The cellar had flooded twice and it was so moldy down there that was basically unusable. The electrical wiring had its own mind and I was positive I heard mice in the walls last night.
Unless what Elijah wanted was not the house but one room of it. The only one that seemed able to withstand the ails of time.
“I’ve always wanted a house like this. Mine is an old trailer with a terrible bed and wheels. I think it may be time to settle down. And the neighborhood is nice. Or it used to be.”
“Right.” I nodded slowly. “I’ll definitely have you in mind.”
“Thanks, kiddo.” He smiled, gulping the rest of his coffee. “Well, thanks for the coffee, Nora, and I hope to see you again before you go.” He looked around the house then flashed me another smile heading for the door.
“Elijah, may I ask you a question?” He paused, slowly turning to look at me.
“What were you looking for in my father’s study after the funeral?”
He gave me a long, appraising look before shrugging.
“Long time ago we made a promise, your father and I.” He said, his lips turning into a lopsided smile. “Whoever dies first will leave the other a key. This key will take them to something they must guard. I was looking for the key.”
“Key to the heart,” I said out loud even though I didn’t mean to. Elijah’s soft features turned sharp and tense in an instant. “It wasn’t in the will.”
“There was no will,” Elijah said. “Your father didn’t make one.”
“So if I keep the house and I find this key, it would be up to me to guard this something?” I asked and the moment I did, I realized I had made a mistake. His previous warmth and cordiality drained from his face replaced by pure, cold calculation.
“You’ve been to your father’s study.” He said, taking a step back into the room. “You shouldn’t have gone there, Nora. Your father explicitly forbade you.”
“My father is dead.” I snapped at him. “I think you should leave, Elijah. Now.”
“I need that key, Nora.” He said, taking another step towards me. I swallowed the sudden fear that rose inside my chest, moving aside so the sofa was between us. “You can’t possibly fathom the danger and the importance of that key, kiddo. If it falls into the wrong hands, it can be disastrous. Give me the key and leave, just as you said. There is nothing here for you. I’ll buy the house and you’ll have enough money to get a fresh start anywhere you want. What do you say?”
His tone was perfectly safe and even friendly if you didn’t have to look on his face. I was afraid that if the couch was not between us, his hands may already be around my throat.
He didn’t know the whole truth, her father hadn’t told him. If he had, he’d know there was no key. Blood, likely Sharpe blood, was the key. And she was the only one who possessed it.
“Nora, move away from him.” I heard a voice say from behind me, and Elijah’s eyes fixed on something above my shoulder. His face changed from tense to shocked, then to angry. He looked back at me.
“What have you done?” He snarled, his enormous hands balling into fists. “You let it out?”
I felt a firm hand gripping my shoulder, and Samael placed himself between me and Elijah. Elijah’s eyes widened and he looked back at me.
“He is bound to you.” The words rolled off his tongue like a curse and I shuddered. “God have mercy on your soul.”
“Do you want to test your faith, old man?” Samael took a step forward and I watched with horror as his fingers elongated, turning into foot long, black spikes. I could not see his eyes but I bet my life they were pitch black just like last night.
“This is why your father never wanted you in his study, Nora,” Elijah said, slowly moving back towards the door. “You never learn, you never listen. Don’t be fooled by his appearance, he chose it to please you. Demons are cunning, manipulative creatures and they will do anything to be free. You will submit to him and when you release him, he will kill you, just like his kind killed your mother.”
I gasped, taking a step back.
The shock made me turn my eyes just for a second, which was what Elijah needed to get to his rifle. I knew it was too late even before I heard him pull the trigger. Something slammed into me a second later and I landed on my back on the floor, Samael’s body covering mine. He was up on his feet before I could even blink, pulling me after.
Elijah recharged his rifle and shot again, the bullet smashing into the wall above my head. Before I knew it, I was off my feet and into Samael’s arms, being carried up the stairs. He pushed the door of my room open and let me down.
“Can he kill you?” I asked, gasping for breath even though I had barely run myself. Samael, on the other side, looked as if he had just woken up from a nice afternoon nap.
“No.” He said, glancing at the door. “But he was not aiming at me, he was aiming at you.” He looked around as if searching for something, then pointed at the bed. “Hide and don’t come out until I come back for you.” I opened my mouth to argue, but his eyes were turning black again and the words got stuck in my throat. “Do it now, Nora.”
I slid under the bed watching with horror as he left the room closing the door behind. The house grew quiet for a minute and all I could hear was my labored breathing and the ringing in my ears.
I jumped as I heard the rifle going off again and then a second time. Silence followed again, and then a sudden scream pierced the house. I found myself praying the scream did not belong to Samael, then cursing myself for it. He was a demon, of course, what else?
My thoughts went back to Elijah, the only man that I didn’t hate from my childhood. The man that put bandages on my bruised knees and made me cocoa in the winter and taught me how to play poker. The same man that just tried to blow my head off with his rifle. There was going to be little left of my skull if he hadn’t missed.
The door opened with a slow, painful screech. I moved my hand to my mouth to make sure my breathing wouldn’t betray me. I wasn’t sure who I was afraid more of at the moment - Elijah or Samael.
The feet stopped next to my bed and bit my lip until it bled. Then slowly the covers were pulled and a hand extended to me. I hesitated before taking it and being pulled out into Samael’s arms. There was blood on his shirt but none on his face, which was probably the only reason I didn’t throw up.
“Are you hurt?” He asked, his bloody fingers moving over my face and body as he looked for any wounds. I stepped away from him, raising my hands as he tried to move towards me. “I won’t hurt you.”
“You don’t need to touch me to hurt me,” I said with a shaky voice. His jaw tightened. “Is he dead?”
“Yes.” He said without hesitation. “He wouldn’t have stopped before he had killed you. The only way for me to die is for you to die.”
A sob left my lips and I raised my hand to stop it. Samael remained a few steps away, although I could still see the hesitation on his face. What was he hesitating for? He had just killed him like he killed the other two people in the woods. They were of no consequence for him.
I heard sirens in the distance and took a sharp breath, wiping away my eyes. I tried to move past Samael, but he blocked my way.
“You don’t have to see this,” I said in a low, grave tone.
“The police will be here any minute and they will have questions. Let me do the talking.” I pushed his hand away and headed towards the door. He didn’t stop me and I descended the stairs, noticing half of the banister was missing and there was a hole in the wall where one of the bullets went through.
The stench of fire and blood hung in the air, so I tried to breathe through my mouth. I heard steps behind me, but I didn’t turn.
Elijah’s body was stretched on the living room floor, the rifle lying next to him. His head was almost torn away from his body, blood still oozing from the wound and drenching the carpet. I felt the bile rising in my stomach, but I tried to hold it.
“Give me the towel from the kitchen.” I said without turning.
“You can’t save him, he’s…”
Samael’s rushed steps echoed in my ears until he stood next to me, raising the towel in his hand without a word. I circled the body, kneeling next to it and pressing the towel against the wound. The white cloth turned red in seconds, Elijah’s blood soaking in my jeans and shoes.
“Police! Open up!” There was a bang on the door. I turned to look at Samael, who immediately opened it. At the sound of steps, I screamed.
“Please, quickly! Help!” Pressing hard against the wound, I turned to look at the three policemen with their sidearms aimed at me. I still had tears in my eyes, probably blood everywhere, and the terror I was feeling, although not due to the body in my house, made my body shook.
One of the officers rushed to Elijah’s body, checking his pulse while the other one radioed the station. Samael moved behind me, his unnatural calmness making me want to punch him.
“He is dead.” The policeman, an elderly man with completely gray hair and a mustache, looked at me. “Oh, God, this is Elijah Miller.” His eyes returned to me and he studied me more carefully. “You’re Sharpe’s kid. What happened here?”
“It was that thing from the news.” I said, my voice shaking. “Elijah came by to check on us, to tell us to stay inside just in case and that they were patrolling around. I must have left the back door open. We were just drinking coffee when we heard it growl.” I wiped my tears, fully aware of the traces of blood that movement left. The policeman swallowed loudly. “He tried to shoot it but missed,” I nodded towards the kitchen table that was lying on the ground with only three feet. It would have been my brain on the table if it wasn’t for Samael and his self-preservation instincts.
“He shouted for us to hide and he kept trying to shoot it. We hid upstairs until all grew quiet.” I said, my voice breaking at the end as I remember lying under the bed wondering if I was going to die tonight or get to live another few days until Samael manipulated me into freeing him.
“We came to see what happened and we found him here. The creature was gone.” Samael finished my story, crouching to me and pulling my hands from the blood-soaked towel. I didn’t resist and left him to pull me to my feet. My knees were so shaky that if it wasn’t his arm around my waist, I would have crumbled back to the floor.
“What did the creature look like?” The policeman asked, glancing towards his colleagues that were now examining the body.
“Like a wolf,” Samael replied.
“But bigger,” I added, meeting the older man’s eyes. “And faster.”
Another sob rose inside me, but I pursed my lips, my body convulsing with the bottled emotion. I felt Samael’s hand rub my back reassuringly, and I hated that it made me feel better.
“Thank you,” he said, nodding at both of us. “Please follow officer Moore into the kitchen so he can take your statements while we secure the crime scene.”
I nodded and we made our way to the kitchen. Officer Moore made us coffee before taking a seat across from us. He asked us to walk him through what happened and this time Samael told the story, repeating my words perfectly as the other man wrote down in his notepad.
“And what is the relation between you two?” Officer Moore asked, looking first at Samael, then at me. Samael hesitated.
“He is my boyfriend,” I replied, hoping the words wouldn’t get stuck into my throat. Office Moore nodded politely, writing it down.
“Thank you and my condolences. I understand that Elijah was a close friend of the family. I can’t imagine what it feels to lose your father and now Elijah.” I nodded, staring at the officer. “It may take a couple of hours to document the scene but feel free to head upstairs and clean yourself up. Both of you. If we have any questions, we’ll be in touch.”
I nodded, getting up as the officer did. I was still shaking, but at least I didn’t feel like I was going to fall apart like a Lego tower. I headed towards the stairs, vaguely sensing Samael trailing behind me. He followed into my room and closed the door behind us just as I was trying to put my head in order.
“I did not expect you to lie so easily.” He said, his eyes studying me curiously as I turned.
“That’s rich coming from you.” He didn’t react to the remark. “Is it true, what Elijah said?”
“You’ll have to be a bit more specific. He said a lot of things, most of which untrue.” Despite his easy tone, he didn’t look relaxed. If anything, he looked like he was expecting a blow.
“Is this your true form or did you choose it so it is appealing to me?” I breathed out. My eyes studied his strong jawline, his high cheekbones, and big, devouring eyes. Moved down to his broad shoulders and slender frame. It all looked perfectly real to me, perfectly perfect.
“This is not my true form.” He said with a strained voice. I bit my lip to stop myself from screaming. He had been manipulating me all along.
Shock covered his face, followed by hesitation.
“I said,” I spoke slowly, taking a step towards him. “Show me. Now.”
“Nora, no.” The words came out as a low growl, his body shaking. “You don’t want to see that. Say you don’t.”
“You’re bound to me, Samael. Do as you’re told.” I insisted, a surge of adrenaline rushing through my veins. His head twisted as he was fighting my command and the muscles under his shirt bulged. I swallowed the scream that rose in my throat, too stunned to move.
His body grew, his muscles ripping the shirt and pants like they were paper. His body darkened, turning to something between tar and black marble, his hands lost its human outlines and turned into giant paws, sharp claws protruding from the deadly fingers. His head brushed the ceiling, despite his bent pose.
My eyes moved towards the face, more demon than human, smooth marble skin covering a skull, features distantly resembling that of the Samael I knew.
I recognized the eyes right away, black and sinister as the first time I saw them in that same room, on that exact spot.
“Satisfied?” He said in a voice that sounded more like a growl than a speech.
Fear, horror, excitement, and grief swept all over me at once and I felt my body grow heavy, darkness swooping in front of my eyes even before I hit the ground.