Tainted

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Chapter 17

The church loomed above them, its spire a dark silhouette against the navy pre-dawn sky. It looked ominous to Isobel, a foreboding sight, like an intimation of the horror to come. And there would be horror, she was sure of it. She rubbed her bare arms against the chill of the night, trying to warm herself. Goosebumps marched up her skin and she shivered, wishing she’d brought a jumper. It wasn’t just the cold making her shiver, though. She was afraid.

If Father O’Leary is dead how the hell are we gonna get Jake back?

The sombre thought niggled at her as they approached the church. She glanced at Ramona, striding along next to her and prayed that all wasn’t lost. It was weird; a couple of days ago Isobel just wanted Ramona to disappear, convinced that she would steal Jake from her. Now the angel was her only hope of getting him back. A bleak laugh issued from her throat, as she bathed in the irony of the situation.

“What’s funny?” Ramona asked.

“Just thinking.” Isobel said, a gallows smile twitching her mouth.

Ramona frowned at her. “Are you okay?”

“No,” Isobel admitted. “No, I’m not okay Ramona, I’m a very long way from okay. This is my old church, my mother’s church. I’ve known the priest since I was a child!”

“Can you hold it together?” Ramona sounded genuinely concerned.

“I don’t have a lot of choice do I?” Isobel snapped. She sighed and rubbed her forehead. “Could we still do the exorcism without a holy man? I mean if they’re all dead could we still do it?”

“I don’t know.”

They came to the heavy wooden doors. The aged oak looked weathered and old even in the dark. Isobel recalled the vibrancy of their rich redwood colour when she was young. Now they were old, splintered and faded.

And they were standing open.

She glanced at Ramona, “What the hell?”

Ramona looked at her, “It might just be.” When Isobel just gave her a confused look she clarified, “The hell. Hell may already be inside.”

“I think it’s already been.” Isobel sniffed the cool night air. A strong odour of rotten meat came from inside the church.

Ramona took a step forward, peering into the entrance, letting her eyes adjust to the gloom inside, her head tilted contemplatively to one side. “Nobody’s seen him,” she said straightening.

“What?” Isobel looked at her.

“No one’s seen him. His soul might not have ascended yet.” She paused, her eyes flicking to Isobel, “He might not be dead.”

Ramona stepped forward again her foot crossing over into the threshold of the church.

Isobel followed, leaving the door open behind them for light.

A moment later she wished she hadn’t.

She stopped dead in her tracks, shocked into stillness. She blinked slowly, trying to make sense of it all.

Even after the horror she’d faced at The Black Swallow Isobel couldn’t quite believe her eyes; couldn’t believe what she was seeing before her. Her breath was gone, her jaw dropped slack. All thoughts vanished from her mind as she blinked rapidly, taking in the awful scene piece by gruesome piece. Finally her mind kicked back in, but her mouth was slower on the uptake. It took two tries before she managed to speak.

“Oh my God!” She cast a scared look at Ramona.

The angel was staring around them in disbelief, slowly shaking her head in shock. Finally her haunted eyes met Isobel’s. “It’s a fucking abattoir!”

The church was covered in blood; it coated the floor in a dark slick and trickled down the walls. It looked freshly spilled.

Reaching back Ramona drew her sword.

“Expecting trouble?”

“Maybe.” Ramona sounded disturbed as she surveyed the ruined church and dismembered bodies. Her foot sent ripples flowing across the surface of blood as she stepped forward into the gory remains. Moonlight slanted down through the stained glass windows, painting the scene in faint hues of colour. The strange lighting made the sights more surreal but no less nauseating. Rows of people slumped in full pews, their throats torn out, faces removed, heads ripped off leaving ragged bleeding stumps.

Isobel pressed a hand to her mouth at the sight, swallowing back a mouthful of bile. This was worse than the bar; much worse. Everyone had suffered badly before the end. Isobel got the feeling death had been a mercy for them. A corpse to her right was still bleeding where his nose had been torn off. The face wound hadn’t killed the man though; that honour belonged to his evisceration. A pile of guts lay on the floor before his ruptured body, steam rising into the air. She focussed on the gently swirling white patterns the steam made to keep from throwing up. The stench was revolting, the same mix of raw meat and excretions as The Black Swallow, but multiplied, amplified a thousand fold. Two other corpses lay slumped over each other, so covered in gore that they looked fused together, a mutilated mass of flesh and skin.

The entire church was like this.

Isobel kept her eyes down as she moved, watching the blood pool and ripple around her footsteps, trying her best to ignore the chunks of meat and viscera. The further she and Ramona crept the worse the smell got, the cool air from outside unable to chase it away from the shadowy depths. It was truly foul. Isobel felt like she was breathing in offal. Her eyes wandered up to see blood dripping from the battered wooden pews, faint noises echoed from the walls as the drops fell, joining the vermillion flood below.

She was shaking like a leaf, shocked and terrified out of her mind. Slowly her eyes came up and she looked around absorbing the full scale of the horror.

There must be a hundred people in here. Minimum.

She had a brief moment of panic, thinking her mum might be among the dead, this was her church after all, but Isobel couldn’t see her. Her mother’s absence, however, didn’t ease her mind. She was always in church.

Maybe she came to an earlier service? Isobel frowned, uneasy. For some reason she wasn’t buying that.

“God,” she whispered, staring around.

Her mind just wasn’t equipped for this. It kept reeling from the level of carnage she saw, as if unable to take it in, then threw her head long back into the nightmare. She felt dizzy. Despite the cold stone walls and night air blowing in behind her, Isobel felt hot. She clamped a hand onto her sweating forehead and took a deep breath. What she inhaled was less oxygen and more the sour taste of… leftovers. Her stomach flipped again and she fought back nausea.

Ramona stopped and looked back at her. “You okay?”

“Fuck no!” Isobel cried. A rasping gasp escaped her throat, she felt like she was teetering on the edge of passing out.

“Me neither,” Ramona said grimly.

Isobel looked at her critically. There was a tightness about her jaw and her eyes were wide, but otherwise Ramona looked the same as ever.

“How the hell are you so calm?” Isobel asked, angry at herself for succumbing to her own useless emotions as well as resenting Ramona’s control. “Wait, don’t tell me. You’ve seen worse.”

“I’m not sure I have.” Ramona cast her eyes around the blood drenched chapel before settling them back on Isobel. “This is wholesale slaughter.” She shook her head, as if she wanted to deny the atrocity. “Every single person in here died horribly. Horribly and in pain.”

“Are they all dead?” Isobel whispered, not daring herself to speak any louder. Another blood drop fell, the sound echoing from the stone walls.

“Yes. The last one expired just as we came in.”

“We just missed it?”

“Yes.” Ramona tilted her head, listening to voices Isobel guessed. “There are still a few souls floating around. God…” A grimace crossed her face.

“What?”

“They’re showing me what happened.” Ramona grimaced again and closed her eyes, inhaling sharply as if in pain. She flinched as if something had struck her.

It had to be bad to make Ramona cringe.

“There were three of them.” Ramona’s eyes stayed closed as the dead shared their first-hand experience of the mayhem. Her eyelids flickered silently for a moment and Isobel heard another blood drop fall. “They locked the doors so no one could escape.”

Isobel’s eyes went to the now open doors they had entered by. Battered, trampled corpses lay to either side amongst the gore. From the looks of it some of them had been crushed in the stampede before the demons ever got a chance at them.

Lucky them.

One man was torn wide open, his eyes gouged from his face. Another lay atop him, crushing him, their entrails mixing to the point where they looked conjoined. Like before, Isobel couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began.

“Jake was one of them.”

That got Isobel’s attention. “Jake?” She blinked, aghast at the idea. “Jake did this?”

Ramona’s eyelids fluttered again, her head twitched oddly and she shook it as if dislodging something. “They’re angry,” she said.

“Who?”

“The dead.” Her eyes remained closed as she frowned. Suddenly she screamed, “No!” Her arm shot out as if she were reaching for something, a shudder ran through her and she stumbled back, barely catching hold of a pew to steady herself. Ramona’s hand slid on the slick wood and she fell, landing in the blood with a splash… and she didn’t get up. She lay twitching in the blood as visions overwhelmed her.

“Ramona!” Isobel darted forward, crouching down and taking Ramona’s hand.

Blood soaked through Ramona’s tights in an instant, her top was next, the blood warming her skin as it saturated the gauzy fabric. She could feel it in her hair, but that was all secondary. She was watching the chaos of the massacre unfolding behind her eyes, inside her mind. Although she could feel herself, here and now, she also felt the torments the demons had visited upon the congregation mere minutes ago. Feel them as if she was in the room with them, as if it had been her. Falling in the blood, touching it with her bare skin had intensified the visions. Their feelings merged with her own and Ramona felt herself slipping away into their memories as she struggled to hold on, to stay in her own body.

The sheer volume of screaming was unbelievable. It was so damn loud! Ramona watched in horror as a woman running past was grabbed by a feral looking man. Her arm was torn off her body, blood pouring in thick waves from the ragged stump. The demon twisted her neck, bringing her to him as if for an embrace and bit into her face as she struggled, screaming against him. Skin peeled from her cheek in a wet rip, bloody strips hanging from the demons mouth as he chewed. Ramona caught glimpses of broken cheekbone and sinew as the dying woman was hurled to the ground. Her heart racing in terror, she turned and ran.

The scene shifted, suddenly, leaving Ramona disorientated, her mind spinning from the sudden shock.

She was across the church now, facing the pews. Body parts were being tossed in the air like batons, dark blood arcing over the crowd. It wasn’t just limbs; severed heads and dismembered torsos were thrown into the air accompanied by the vicious growls and laughs of the demons. A woman screamed. A demon screamed back, mocking her panicked tone before tearing off her head and drinking from the stem. Something moved near her and Ramona’s head instinctively whipped round, blood dripping from the ends of her sodden hair. Right next to her was a demon, his hands plunged deep into the torso of a man screaming in agony. The man’s eyes met Ramona’s and she could feel him begging her to help him. But she was frozen to the spot, paralysed by shock and fear.

This is how they felt, she realised, but that didn’t make it any less real for her.

The demon’s hands clenched and the man’s head rolled back, his eyes squeezing shut in pain. He let out a gut wrenching howl as the demon began to pull. With a wet rip the demon tore his victim’s innards out through his flesh. Still in shock, even as blood flecked her face, Ramona watched horrified as the monster brought the steaming hot viscera to his mouth and began, greedily to eat. The man was still twitching, dying on the ground as the demon reached down again, his hands disappearing, searching for something in the chest.

Ramona’s perspective switched again.

She was slammed against the heavy wooden doors, the wind knocked out of her. People crushed her from behind in their desperation to escape. Her bones ground into the wood, the steel rivets on the door digging painfully into her flesh. She couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t get any air. All she inhaled was sweat and the scent of offal, of terror. Another person slammed into those behind, pressing her face into the door. The wood cracked but didn’t move. She began to feel her mind grow dim, shutting down from lack of oxygen. In a weird moment of clarity she thought, why don’t they just unbolt the door? But the mob was too far gone, too lost to hysteria to think clearly. As she began to pass out, some of the crushing weight lifted. They were coming. Oh God, they were coming for her! Throwing the others aside to… She fell to the ground, the world gone black.

She was on the other side of the church again, near the front. As she watched in rising panic, she saw chaos erupting all around her. She could see people feasting on the flesh of others, gnawing on limbs and swallowing gobbets of flesh. Arterial spray shot across the church doors, coating the people crushed into them. Her heart was racing so fast she thought it might explode. Given the scene before her that would probably be a blessing. One of the monsters, a dirty man with long hair and a checked shirt, was crashing towards her, a dripping arm clutched in his hand. Though confused by the memories flooding her mind Ramona knew immediately who it was.

Jake.

Blood covered his deranged features, turning his normally relaxed visage into a vision of homicidal mania. Turning she ran for a door beside the pulpit, but she was too slow. His hand clamped on her hair, yanking her painfully back. Hot fetid breath hit her face and neck. She barely had time to scream before Jake bit into her jugular. Her scream turned to an agonised gargle as the monster tore out her throat.

Something latched onto her hand, a presence she could make no sense of for a moment. Then the memories receded quickly, like a wave pulled back from the shore and Ramona was back in her own body again.

She sat up in the blood, breathing heavily, almost hyperventilating. Blood and sweat trickled down her skin. Her hand clasped tightly round Isobel’s. She was clinging so tightly her fingers hurt. God knew what her grip was doing to Isobel’s hand. She tried to loosen her fingers but found them locked in place.

“Ramona!” Isobel was saying urgently. “Ramona!”

“I’m okay,” she said shakily, blinking her eyes open. She looked up at Isobel, a haunted look in her eyes. “They showed me what happened.”

“I think we can guess what happened.” Isobel tried to flex her fingers, but they wouldn’t budge under Ramona’s iron grip.

“No. You don’t understand.” Ramona sounded disturbed despite her soft tone. “I saw it through their eyes. I felt their fear.” She shivered. “I’ve never experienced anything like it.” She loosened her grip, grimacing at the pain in her joints.

Isobel exhaled and flexed her own fingers, trying to entice circulation back into them. “You’ve got a strong grip,” she told Ramona.

The angel gave her a sheepish smile, “Sorry.” Her eyes fixed on Isobel for a moment. “You saved me.”

“What?” Isobel was surprised by this news. She’d just acted on instinct, going to her friend’s aid.

“I was losing myself in the memories,” Ramona explained. “I could feel my body, but I was losing control. When you took my hand it pulled me back. You chased them out of my head. Thank you.”

“What? How?”

Ramona shrugged, “I don’t know. Maybe saved souls don’t get along with tainted ones. This is new to me too.”

“I guess that makes sense,” Isobel mused. “So you experienced this?” Isobel glanced around at the devastation, “First hand?”

Ramona nodded.

“God.”

“They showed me everything.”

“You screamed and reached out for someone,” Isobel reminded her. “What happened?”

Ramona sighed. “We lost one to the pit.”

Isobel blanched, her face turning pale. “You mean…?”

“A demon came up and snatched him down to Hell.” She looked away. Isobel thought she seemed almost ashamed. “There was nothing I could do.” Nonetheless she still felt guilty. She was an angel she was meant to protect people from that kind of thing.

“What about the others?” Isobel asked.

Ramona looked up, her eyes flicking back and forth, watching things Isobel couldn’t see. “They’re ascending,” she said, a slight whimsical smile on her face. She could see the pure light of Heaven reaching down to welcome them, bathing her momentarily in its radiance. “They’re safe for now.”

Isobel followed her gaze, but couldn’t see anything. “Guess I’ll take your word for it,” she commented as Ramona rose.

“I think this church has been used as a sacrificial site,” Ramona announced.

“You what?”

“If we go outside and sweep the perimeter I bet we’ll find a pentagram. That’s how a demon was able to get in and steal that poor soul.”

“Are we in danger?”

“No more than usual.” She picked up her sword, shook lose drops of blood from its glowing length and continued into the church.

Isobel followed, watching her footing on the blood slick floor. She was beginning to measure time by the rhythm of blood dripping from the pews. As she looked around, her eyes fell on a blood soaked lump on the floor. At first she ignored it, but something about it made her look again. The sight made her inhale a sharp breath. It was a teddy, a teddy in the shape of a lop-eared rabbit.

Isobel crouched and picked it up from where it lay in the pool of blood. Blood ran off its gore soaked fibres, running in thin rivers onto the floor.

Ramona looked round at the noise. “What have you found?”

“A teddy,” Isobel whispered. “A teddy… bunny.” At Ramona’s raised eyebrow she turned the toy to face her so she could see its floppy ears.

“Cute.”

“It’s heavy with blood.” Isobel’s voice was cracking. She looked around trying to find the bunny’s owner, even though she knew there was no hope that they were alive. A short way down the aisle she saw a slim, small arm and hand sticking out. Isobel looked closer. Her eyes widened at the sight of the child torn in half. Shaking in horror, Isobel rose, clutching the soft toy in one hand. She faced Ramona in the aisle, the cool breeze from outside barely taking the edge off the rank odour of butchered meat infesting the church. She was beginning to feel too hot again. Shakily she asked, “Ramona?”

“Yes.”

“Is this my fault?” A tear slid down her cheek and she sucked in her lower lip, biting down to keep from crying. “Did I cause this? By not letting you kill Jake? Did I let this happen?” Her free hand came up to cover her mouth as she began to sob. “I’m so sorry!” She wept, addressing all of the dead surrounding her, her body shaking with the force of her tears. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know! Ramona I didn’t know!”

Ramona looked at her sympathetically. “It’s not your fault Isobel,” she said quietly.

“Ramona, look around you! I caused this!”

“No!” Ramona was firm. “No. The bastards who murdered these people caused this. Not you.”

“But Jake was one of them. And I let him go!”

“Precisely. He was one of them.” Ramona came slowly towards her, “One of them. If I’d killed him the others would still have been here.”

“They came here to stop us exorcising him…”

“They came here to try.” Ramona looked at her, meeting her eyes. “You’re in love with him.” She offered Isobel the faintest smile of reassurance. “Of course you let him go. I was an ass to think you wouldn’t.”

“We could have stopped this.” Isobel squeezed the blood soaked toy. Fresh blood dribbled noisily to the floor, the grim sound reverberating off the walls. “We have to stop them Ramona.”

“We will.” She turned and headed deeper into the church.

After taking a moment to compose herself Isobel followed. “You don’t blame me then?” she asked as she caught up.

“No,” Ramona assured her. “I’m sorry about what I said before.”

Isobel looked around her. Despite Ramona’s absolution she still couldn’t help but feel responsible. “You had a point.”

Ramona just gave her an elegant shrug, “We’ll never know now.” She looked around. “This is not your fault Isobel, don’t think that it is.”

Isobel just nodded, keeping her disagreement to herself.

As they neared the front of the church, a severed leg lay in the centre of the aisle. It had been torn off at the thigh, blood and sinew trailing in its wake. It could have been the blood soaking the material or the dim light, but Isobel was sure the leg was covered in black cloth. As they emerged into the pulpit area out front she realised she was right.

Father O’Leary’s butchered corpse awaited them. He had been dismembered, torn limb from limb. Entrails and organs erupted from where he had been ripped open down the middle. Bone protruded from his ribcage, leaving his guts exposed to the fetid air. Isobel’s hand clamped over her mouth again, but too late to stifle a cry of distress.

A confetti of tarot cards lay across the scene, scattered as if they had been casually tossed over the thrower’s shoulder. The Lovers lay nestled in O’Leary’s remains. She knew exactly who had left this and what it meant.

“So much for God’s protection.” Isobel’s voice shook despite the jest.

Ramona gave her a stern look but let the comment slide. “Is that Father O’Leary?” she indicated the corpse with her sword.

Isobel nodded. “Yeah, that’s him.” A tear slid down her cheek and silently she began to cry, her hand still trying to keep the stench of death out of her nose. She was becoming way too familiar with that particular smell. Isobel turned away, eyes squeezed shut, but was too late to block this fresh horror from her mind.

Ramona cocked her head, examining O’Leary’s body. What remained of his hands were covered in blood, but it looked darker in the middle of his palms. The wounds looked like stigmata, but it was hard to distinguish anything in this half light. Ramona crouched next to the body, examining the extremities. More blood soaked through her tights, as she brushed the ground, but she figured it didn’t matter anymore; she was already covered in the stuff. Ramona leaned closer to O’Leary’s hands, brushing her long dark hair out of the way.

“God, how can you do that?” Isobel said, briefly looking back.

“Do what?”

“Get closer to that smell. It reeks in here.”

“I’m used to it.”

“So if the whole thing is another sacrifice,” Isobel said, “what does that make him? A sacrifice within a sacrifice? Like a Russian doll of Satanic energy?”

“Something like that.” Ramona frowned and traced the edge of the circle drawn around the body, taking care to keep her finger an inch above it. Squinting, Isobel could just make out the outline of a circle. “This isn’t the edge of the pentagram,” Ramona told her.

“What do you mean?” Isobel asked.

Ramona didn’t reply. Instead she stared out across the church as if searching for something.

“Ramona?”

“Hold on a sec.” Frowning Ramona climbed atop the front beach, standing in the slick blood between two corpses. Again she stared out over the desecrated church, searching. A moment later her eyebrows shot up. “Woah.”

“What?” Isobel was losing patience. She desperately wanted out of here and Ramona was doing God knew what.

“Get up here.”

Isobel did so, being careful not to slip on the damp wood. With shaky balance she stood beside Ramona and surveyed the carnage. “What?” she asked again.

“Look,” Ramona pointed. “Can you see them?”

Isobel squinted at where Ramona was pointing, but all she could see was blood… blood and… parts. She closed her eyes and swallowed down another wave of nausea. “I need a clue here Ramona,” she said. “I’m not feeling too good.”

“Concentric rings,” Ramona told her. “Underneath the blood you can just make out fine lines, darker lines of blood.”

Isobel peered out, trying to identify the markings Ramona spoke of. Having an objective helped her cope with the gore but as she looked Isobel couldn’t help seeing the mutilated bodies. She was never going to recover from this, she was sure of it. This would be seared into her mind for life, haunting her dreams forever more. To Ramona she said, “I don’t see them.”

“Look closer.”

“I’m looking pretty close,” she snapped.

“Try over there,” Ramona pointed, “The long gap between those pews.”

Isobel peered at the spot Ramona had indicated. “I still don’t…” Then she saw it. A double line of blood, almost black, lay beneath the surface coating of gore. Beyond that, nearer the walls, was another double set. She gasped.

“See them now?”

“Yeah,” she swallowed again. “What does it mean?”

“It means I was right,” Ramona said grimly. This whole place is one giant sacrifice. One of the souls told me she was sure there were only three demons. She was right. There were only three…”

“But they raised more.”

“Each death helped bring more forth into the world. And newly raised demons are hungry sons of bitches.”

“How?” Isobel asked, distressed. “Jesus, Ramona how could they do this in a church? Isn’t it consecrated? Shouldn’t they be allergic or something?”

“I wish.” Ramona hopped off the pew landing expertly with a quiet splash in the gore.

Isobel was more careful with her descent, taking her time and putting her hand on the back of the bench for balance. The cooling blood felt unpleasant beneath her hand and she found herself reflecting on how recently it had pulsed round a person’s body, keeping them alive. Now it was splashed all over a bench like a perverse Jackson Pollack. She retracted her hand with a grimace and fought to keep her balance on the wet floor.

“They’re laughing at us,” Ramona said flatly, eyes on the Father’s corpse. “It’s a challenge, violating a sacred place like this.”

“They’re calling you out?”

Ramona nodded.

“Shit.”

Isobel watched as Ramona closed O’Leary’s terrified eyes, giving the man some final semblance of peace. Why was this happening to people she cared about? Granted she hadn’t seen the Father for years, until recently, but he was still part of her past, part of her life. As a child she’d liked him, despite his stern demeanour. To a small extent he’d occupied the space her father should have while she was growing up. Now he’d died painfully, screaming while monsters... she squeezed her eyes shut tight and clenched her fist, trying to get her feelings out without breaking down.

“They’re going after people I know.”

“Not they,” Ramona said sadly. “Him.”

“Why?”

“Because the demon enjoys cruelty,” she gazed levelly at Isobel. “It won’t be long now. It’s coming.”

“Yeah,” Isobel sighed, “Its arma-fucking-geddon.” She glanced briefly at the unfortunate priest, the tarot card catching her eye, momentarily stealing her breath. “He’s mocking our relationship,” she said starkly. “The Lovers. He’s mocking me.” She could feel her horror and anguish morphing into anger and welcomed the change. Anger gave her fire, brought out the fighter in her. “I’m taking him down, this demon,” she vowed, staring at O’Leary’s ruins. “I’m taking him down and getting my lover back.”

“We’re taking him down,” Ramona corrected. A look passed between them and Isobel gave her a nod.

Reaching into the blood and viscera, Ramona drew out the tarot card with a flourish eliciting a thick wet sound as the preacher’s entrails relinquished the card to her. She flicked the blood off it, scarlet droplets spattering across the floor and held it up. “The Lovers,” she mused and looked at Isobel.

Isobel examined the card, the picture was less grand than at the last murder, the figures not as regal, but the overall content was the same.

“It’s from a different deck,” Isobel said after a moment. She looked around the scattering of cards, noting the designs on a few of the face up ones. “They all are. Christ.”

“A lot of thought went into this.” Ramona straightened and looked at Isobel. “He wanted you to see this.”

“We have to find him.” She fixed Ramona with a look, “Can we still do the exorcism without a priest?”

Ramona took a second to consider before she answered. “Maybe. I am an angel, I already have an inherent connection to God. The priest would enhance that and, through his faith add strength to my recitals...” she trailed off and finally shrugged. “I don’t know, I’m sorry.”

Isobel walked away to the side of the pulpit area, breathing deeply, trying to remain calm and not throw up. Both the gore and her own mounting anxiety were upsetting her stomach. She leaned her head against the cold stone wall and placed her palms on either side. The cool stone stung the lacerations criss-crossing her palm. She was glad. The dull stinging pain gave her something to focus on other than the desecrated body of her childhood priest. This was all just too much. She could feel tears running down her face now, was powerless to stop them. What would her mother say? Her mother. A chill ran through her as a new, more horrific thought dawned on her. “Mum,” she said softly, against the stone.

“What?” Ramona looked round at her.

“Mum.” Isobel tried to look at Ramona without looking at Father O’Leary’s corpse. Her eyes kept wandering, drawn to the bloody remains and she had to close them to block the sight. When she opened them again she stared straight at Ramona. “He’s going after my mum.”

Ramona stood, “Does he know where she lives?”

Isobel’s eyes flicked involuntarily to the Father’s corpse. “If he asked while they were doing this,” she gestured at the ruined body, “he knows.”

Ramona nodded thoughtfully, considering. “It’s likely. Demons can be vindictive. This one’s desires may also be warped by Jake’s personality, if he’s still in there.” She tilted her head.

“He’s still in there,” Isobel was determined. “He’s in there.”

They stood, staring silently at the body for a while, until Ramona spoke: “There have been other attacks on churches all over town,” she said. “Vicars, priests, all orders of holy men have been killed.” She looked at Isobel, “It’s all connected.”

“Why?”

“Why do you think?” Ramona replied.

“Jake,” Isobel said with a sense of dawning horror. “The exorcism.”

“They don’t want us to have two tainted souls. And you being distracted is also a good advantage.”

Isobel shook her head, “How do you know all this?”

Ramona smiled secretively, “Internal communication.”

“You mean, like, telepathy?” Isobel guessed.

“Yes,” Ramona nodded.

Isobel just shook her head. “This is another weird angel thing right?”

“Yes,” Ramona smiled slightly at the phrase, “A weird angel thing. Although it’s not so weird after three hundred years.”

Isobel shook her head again and began heading for the door. “Sounds weird to me,” she commented as she passed the angel.

Her thoughts were a preoccupied swirl as she hurried out of the church, leaving Ramona trailing a little way behind. So distracted was she that she barely heard when Ramona yelled, “Get down!”

It took Isobel a split second to react, but she dropped forward onto her hands, blood immediately oozing through her top. Something whipped through the air just above her head as she fell, snicking off a lock of her hair. Turning she saw a blade swooping down at her. She rolled aside, the blade striking sparks off the stone, missing her by a millimetre. Her assailant snarled, preparing to strike again, but Ramona barrelled into him, knocking him to the floor. His knife skittered away across the bloody stones. He was quickly on his feet and running out the door, fleeing now his attempt on Isobel’s life had failed.

Ramona gave her a quick glance then took after the would-be assassin.

Getting to her feet Isobel went after them, snatching up the demons knife as she went. It was a wicked looking blade, curved and ornate with runes, glowing as if lit by some internal fire, carved into its bloodied surface. It was a weapon worth slipping in the blood for.

She burst out into the cool night air, relishing the feel of it on her feverish skin. She hadn’t realised how sweaty she’d been until now. Her soaked shoes slid precariously on the dewy grass, but somehow she kept moving, spurred on by the inferno growing inside her.

Ramona was up ahead, gaining on the demon. As Isobel watched she leapt on the thing tackling it to the ground and straddling him, pinning him with her hips and a blessed knife to his throat. Steam rose from the skin where she pressed her blade.

Part of her hoped it was Jake… but that would mean her lover had just tried to kill her. Isobel let the confusing thought go as she stopped at the scene.

“Pull back his hood,” Ramona seethed. Isobel guessed she was angry at the demon rather than her. She was plenty pissed at them herself after tonight. Dropping to the floor Isobel snatched the demons hood up. A man’s face greeted her, but it wasn’t Jake. Relief flooded her for a moment; Jake hadn’t just tried to kill her. But her relief was short lived. If Jake wasn’t here he was out there doing God alone knew what. “Where is he?” she snarled, feeling a bit like a broken record. “Where’s Jake.”

“He’s busy,” the demon laughed.

Ramona pushed her blade harder against the things throat.

He laughed harder, even as he began to bleed, pushing his neck into Ramona’s knife. “Doesn’t matter if you kill me,” he grinned, “Soon we will rise. We will rise and swallow the Earth.”

Isobel kicked him in the head, jerking Ramona’s knife where she held it. The demon yelled and sucked in an anguished breath as his head rolled back into place.

Ramona looked up at Isobel in surprise but played it cool, pressing her sacred knife back against the demons throat. Once more the smell of burning flesh filled the air.

“What’s he planning for my mum?” Isobel yelled down at him. “She should be here, this is her church!”

The demon just laughed.

Isobel kicked him again, harder, hard enough to make Ramona sway where she crouched over him. She didn’t tell Isobel to let up though.

“Want me to make him talk?” Ramona offered.

“No.” Isobel shook her head. “No I got this.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah.” She kicked the man again. Blood welled up spilling from his mouth onto the grass. “Where is my mother?” She hissed.

The demon laughed, coughing blood, before replying, “She burns.” He laughed harder, as if it were the funniest thing he’d heard in weeks. “She burns as you will burn. As you’ll all burn.”

“Fuck you I will!” Isobel shouted and plunged her stolen knife into the demons chest, slamming it home with all the force her shaking arms could muster.

He let out a howl of pain and rage. His glaring eyes turning to her as he died. She met them with a gaze she felt sure was even more hostile than his.

This time she didn’t even look away as Ramona tore out the demon’s heart and sawed off his head. She glared hatefully at the corpse, willing him to suffer. She wasn’t going to let anymore innocents die if she could help it. Ramona’s war had become personal, become her war. And now she was ready to fight.


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