Into the Labyrinth
As Roman left the chamber, he collided with Astor’s minions. The Addiction had claimed him and a final death now claimed them.
Amidst the screams of the damned, Roman fed, draining three at the same time, two with his wings and one with his fangs. His skin ingested the blood that splattered on his face, his pores opening to drink the sweet sap, his nostrils gilling as the metallic scent crammed his mind.
Three piles of ashes drifted to the ground and were scattered by his beating wings.
They were running from him now, shoving and pushing against each other to escape. A Winged-Recreant was loose inside the coven and killing every vampire in his path. With no one in charge, the Coven of the Bridge was in disarray, and Astor’s minions were more concerned with escaping it than defending it.
The coven’s fear drove Roman. Their fear empowered him. He was a wolf among sheep. A god among mortals. And this deity required blood.
In the background, behind the shrieks of the vampires, he heard a faint melody trying to infiltrate his ecstasy, attempting to beat back the joy he felt. It was a familiar tune. A harmonious hymn that seemed out of place here among these malignant creatures. He ignored it.
Roman launched himself at the retreating mob. Frenzied. He pounced upon three more victims and fed like a gorging glutton. As their ashes wafted to the ground, that melody, once again, demanded listening. A part of him knew it was important. It begged him to follow its faint lilt. A part of him knew that if he didn’t, he’d be damning more than himself.
The priest’s song penetrated his blood lust and gave him pause, enough time to remember why he was here.
He shook himself, spraying blood from his maws as he did. He forced himself away from the feast and tore down the corridor, listening to the priest’s soul song as he went.
Now, Roman employed his essence to expedite his flight. He raced down the stone labyrinth of corridors and intersecting passageways, weaving between the vampires rushing by him. But he couldn’t ignore them completely, so he snatched up several more vampires with his wings as he went, embraced them and drained them to dust without slowing down.
Father Purgeon was still alive; Roman could clearly hear the priest’s soul song, gaining volume the further he descended. He followed it through the labyrinthine network of tunnels, a descending maze of monotonous linearity, periodically broken by sharp turns, steep stairs, and jutting bricks protruding from the walls.
Reaching another stairway, he left his feet, spread his wings and soared down. He landed, ran into the next corridor, and skidded to a halt.
Naked bruised human bodies dangled from the ceiling. Fear filled faces that stared into the impenetrable dark that only the dead could pierce. Shackles slicing into skin. Drawing blood. Some were bound by wrists. Others by their ankles, upside down. Faces beet-red. Lust’s House sigil branded into each left buttock. Vomit, feces, urine, and blood, congealed and amalgamated on the ground, creating a vile paste.
He read their auras. They’d been doomed for damnation well before the vampires of Coven Lust had gotten to them. They were sexual sadists, rapists, pedophiles. They were where they belonged. They’d made their choices and Roman decided to let them live with them as he sped down another passageway.
Though he’d left them behind, his thoughts lingered on them. Who was he to judge them? He doubted they’d been born that way. Had they not been victims themselves? Were monsters created by others? Taught? Made to love what they’d loathed? An endless cycle of psychological damage. A curse that kept on damning. No, he thought, reverting to his earlier conclusion. He innately felt that it all boiled down to choice. Apparently, they’d made theirs and had been too weak to choose otherwise, too lost and too in love with being victims, never daring to confront the architect of their pain, they’d decided to take it out on others. He shed the feeble creatures from his mind and focused on his friend, the one who was worth saving.
Roman saw crimson light at the end of the corridor and ran towards it. The light was coming from a series of glyphs that blazed brightly, their red faces parting the black sea of darkness. Like the ones he’d seen outside the coven set within the sigil and along the arms of all the vampires he’d killed. Like the ones he’d seen in his mind after destroying them. Beneath the symbols was a closed cell door. From behind it, he heard the priest’s soul song, loud and clear.
A shadow fell across the chamber; a shade so large it covered half of the symbols above the door. A deep growl rumbled from the darkness. “Raguel.”
Roman saw the glint of silver. Saw black onyx orbs glisten as Lucien stepped out from the shadows and into what remained of the red glyphs’ glare.
Roman came to a halt.
Lucien came forward, crouching low as he did, a demonic wolf seeking to unleash his wrath.
Roman backed up, his wings fanning out behind him, ready for battle, ready to kill anything that stood in his way from the priest, from saving his friend.
Lucien kept coming, deliberately advancing slowly, though he wanted to charge his betrayer. Wanted to rip him to shreds. Warring between these two actions paralyzed him; he stopped advancing, and allowed Bailien’s request to sink in and take hold, allowed logic’s voice to shout over rage’s roar. For now. “Betrayer of both Heaven and Hell, we have missed you. Where have you been hiding for twelve mortal years?”
Raguel. The name meant nothing to him. He tried forcing himself past whatever barrier was preventing him from remembering. Then, he heard traces of that melody he’d heard back at home. The same wordless song he’d heard when Avalyn’s soul had called him. He felt pressure behind his eyes, followed by that same throbbing implosive pain. Once again, he heard the blaring chimes.
“Thought you were dissatisfied with God, with your kin,” Lucien continued, “welcoming us in to Heaven. Allowing so many of your brethren to fall by my hand. What was the point if you were going to betray us?”
Roman began to get angry. Frustrated at his lost memory. Frustrated at these accusations. When he tried to remember, when he tried to force himself beyond the barrier blocking his memory, it felt like searing daggers were stabbing his brain, gouging it. The pain drowned out the song. The pressure increased and blood tears streamed down his face.
Lucien didn’t know why Raguel was in pain. Didn’t understand what was happening to him.
“I remember nothing!” Roman said, screaming past the pain he felt.
“Pity. That is all we remember. You Fell, yet you paid no penance! Why did you do it? Why did you forsake your end of the bargain? Answer me!”
“What crimes you accuse me of were probably justified!” Roman screamed, sorrow and rage quavering his voice, inundating it. He thought he’d paid for his crimes, every night, every second that he existed in. The ever-waking nightmare of killing that he could not escape.
He wanted the pain to stop. He wanted to remember. Nothing made sense. His mind reeled. Trenchant turmoil. One thing was clear though. He now understood why he’d always felt weighted down by guilt. If what Lucien was saying was true, he’d once been an angel. He’d betrayed God. Had backstabbed Heaven as well as the demon now confronting him. He’d dishonored some sacred missive by allowing them into Heaven. But without a memory, he couldn’t shed the sorrow that he felt was as much a part of him as his newfound addiction was. Couldn’t fully appreciate the pain that comes with the realization of the atrocities he committed. Without that pain, he’d always bear guilt’s burden.
“Remembering will not exonerate you, I lost an entire legion because of you! Slaughtered by Michael’s Host! And where were you, Gatemaster?” Lucien said, a diabolical grin stretching his face as he looked past Roman.
Roman followed his gaze, turned his head and saw the vampire he’d seen on the train, the one that was a demon like him, though wingless. Bailien.
Bailien was behind him, floating along the ceiling. Malevolent black eyes bore into Roman. Bailien lowered himself to the ground. “You were supposed to open the portals. Allow us access to the Seven Heavens. We lost our ranks, our honor. Along with my wings and my master’s true form. Both of us forced to serve the Mortal Born.”
Roman brought his hands to his face, smearing the blood tears. It felt like his head was about to explode.
With Raguel in such a weakened state, Bailien called upon his essence. He didn’t release it; only allowed it to build. “Where were you Raguel? Who aided you? Why?” Too many questions for this realm alone to answer. Raising his hand and aiming it at Raguel, Bailien released his essence. “Call me weak now, betrayer!” Bailien said. “BLEED!”
Something struck Roman. An invisible blast of energy that knocked him off his feet and sent him reeling. Lacerations lanced his skin and flayed his flesh. Blood ran from the slits and spreading gashes. He felt his blood seeping out from every pore. Felt it flowing out from behind his eyes. His scalp was soaking with it. He felt himself weaken, threatening to descend him into torpor.
Seeing his betrayer in such a weakened state, and the sight of all his blood, stoked Lucien’s prime. His betrayer was vulnerable, ripe for the taking, and Lucien couldn’t contain himself any longer. He charged at Roman.
“Lucien! No!” Bailien screamed. The beast slammed into Roman and knocked him on his back. Lucien’s claws were a blur of motion as they tore into the Winged-One.
Bailien was furious. The spell would’ve left Raguel drained and safe to transport to Hell. Lucien was on his way to killing him before Bailien or Hell could get their answers. Having these questions answered was much more important than vengeance. He wasn’t going to let Lucien have his way. He leapt towards his master.
Once again, Roman’s wings came to his aid, shielding him and blocking most of Lucien’s blows. Sensing another presence, one of Roman’s wings intercepted the threat. It stabbed into Bailien’s gut and pinned him to the wall, broke through both flesh and brick and impaled him there. Rock crumbled and stone shrapnel rained on Bailien.
Father Purgeon heard the commotion outside. He knew there was some sort of fight going on out there. He’d heard bodies slamming into the walls, felt the walls shaking around him. But as violent as the events had been on the other side of the door, they were secondary. He had his own problems to deal with.
His back was against the chamber’s door. His eyes were fear-filled saucers, stretched so wide that he feared he’d rupture his sockets. He’d forgotten all about the cold. Barely heard or felt the sound of his heart battering his chest or his trembling limbs. Without even realizing it, he’d retrieved the cross from his pocket, and was now squeezing it so tightly that his palm was bleeding, blood drops dripping to the ground.
He was staring at what used to be the chamber’s rear wall. The wall was gone, seemingly had disappeared into nothingness, into a complete night. But the darkness was moving, its blackness, like smoke seeped into the chamber. Stirring. Roiling. Seemed to be alive. He heard voices coming from within it. Unclear but defiantly there. More like whispers. Urgent and miserable. Festive with fear.
He thought that this was a good time to start praying. But every psalm, every hymn he ever knew slipped his mind, abandoned him.
He’d already tried the door. Tried prying it open until his hands bled, to no avail. He’d even tried bashing through the door, throwing his shoulder into it repeatedly, and the throbbing pain there was a testament to his fruitless efforts. He was about to turn around and try again when he saw a flash of red in the darkness.
He squinted, trying to see exactly what it was, sweat dripping into his eyes despite the chamber’s frigidity. Then he saw it again. Scarlet symbols, growing larger, accompanied by what he thought were footsteps, and the rattling of chains, sounding like they were coming from a million miles away, yet close enough to echo throughout the room and cut past the commotion outside the chamber. He thought he heard the flapping of wings.
The scarlet symbols grew even larger, looked like they were floating and pulsating in the dark. Then Father Purgeon realized that they were Enochian glyphs, like the ones above the door to his chamber, like the ones he’d seen on the statues and on the rear wall before it had disappeared. He’d just made out the shape of a figure just before it stepped into the room. It was male. The red symbols where indeed Enochian glyphs emblazoned on his black armor. And Father Purgeon recognized one of the symbols. It was the Seal of Lucifer, in the middle of his breastplate. Bat-like wings graced his back and beat the air behind him. His flesh was as pale as Roman’s was, and his eyes, just as black, just as soulless. In one of his hands were shackles, their length dragging behind him.
He smiled at the priest. Blood red lips. Ivory fangs. “Your eternal damnation awaits,” he said as he advanced.
Father Purgeon started to scream.
Bailien couldn’t believe what was happening. Capture was so close. Raguel would’ve bled out. Delivering him to Hell might’ve got them back everything they lost. Raguel could destroy Lucien any time he wanted to, even without his songs. Though more powerful than a normal Neuri, Lucien’s current body was no match against a power that helped create the universe.
Roman’s wings drank the blood spilling from Bailien’s stomach, and their master tasted it. It was like nothing he’d ever tasted before. The Bloodlust came upon him, violent and strong. Roman wanted more. Needed more. And he meant to have it. First, he had to get rid of the beast, the mere nuisance impeding him.
Blood sprayed on Bailien’s face. A look, Bailien could only describe as shock registered on Lucien’s face, as a black clawed hand protruded from his back, in its grasp was Lucien’s still beating heart.
Roman had punched straight through the wolf’s chest. He pulled his hand back, yanked Lucien’s heart out from it. As Lucien’s eyes closed, and his stolen body hit the ground, Roman rose, crushing the organ, bursting it. In that motion, he inadvertently pulled his wing free from Bailien’s gut. Roman dropped the pulp onto the floor.
Though Roman had lost a lot of blood, he had much to spare, having fed off so many vampires. The blood flowing from his wounds tapered to a trickle, then ceased, the stolen vampire blood staunching it.
Bailien had fallen to his knees but quickly regained his feet, his bleeding starting to ebb. As Raguel fixed his hungry gaze upon him, and knowing that without his wings, without his songs, he’d be no match for Raguel, Bailien ran back up the corridor, his essence exploding from his back, expediting his flight.
Roman was about to go after him, feed on what he so desperately wanted, when he heard a scream coming from the chamber at the end of the corridor. At first, he didn’t know who it belonged to, but when he heard it again, louder and more urgent, he remembered why he was here and who he’d come to save. Father Purgeon.
He made his way to the priest’s chamber.
He examined the symbols above the door. Though he didn’t know what they said, he remembered how he’d opened the way into the coven and thought he might be able to the same thing here. So he grasped the glyphs and pressed his palm to them, hoping he was right.
But something different happened. Something he wasn’t prepared for. Yet, a part of him felt as though he’d been waiting for this moment. A part of him that had been buried beneath a dark impenetrable wall of malevolence. Then, what felt like tiny, icy needles prickled his hand, sharp and cold. The sensation traveled up his arm, coursed across his torso, and streamed down his legs, numbed what was already dead. The frost stabbed at his heart and threatened to puncture it. But beneath the violence, he heard a low drumming sound. He listened to the baritone build. Felt what it was.
How is this possible? he thought.
It was the sound of his heart. Beating.
The frost began receding from his chest, a warm roiling resonation that beat back the rime. He felt it wash over the frost and spread throughout him. It streamed down his arm and into the glyphs. Then an explosion of heat erupted from his palm.
He felt the glyphs shift. The scarlet light flickered, then changed. Now, blue beams of light shot from the glyphs and pierced him. He closed his eyes against the glare. Heard the beginnings of a familiar song. A melody bounced within it.
The cuts along his body sealed and then completely healed as if they’d never been there.
He wanted to pull his hand away and unleash the song. He knew where he’d heard it before. The night he’d saved her, back at home. It was her song. Avalyn’s song.
Waves of warmth washed over him, coursed throughout him, filled him. For the first time in his unlife, he felt soothed, at peace. Almost complete.
The glyphs shattered. He heard them break. He pulled his hand away and stared at them. The glyphs were now a blue sigil, a seal of some sort, a pentagram at its center, surrounded by linking heptagons and numerous concentric circles. The outer ring of the sigil had forty pairs of scripted silver letters and numbers, seven of the letters capitalized. Inside the rings, crosses appended the entire sigil. Symbols were set within each arc. Many more silver scripted letters ran throughout it. The shape of the letters was similar to the letters he’d seen within his mind after draining vampires, though not the same shade.
The demon known as the Deliverer was at the room’s center, still advancing toward Father Purgeon, dragging the chains behind him, when the glyphs above the door stopped blinking and the chamber plunged into darkness. Surprised, the Deliverer halted, for this was most irregular.
The dark didn’t last. It ended in a blaze of blue light. The glyphs were now gone and were replaced with a blue sigil. The Deliver threw up his hands, dropping the chains in the process, and shielded his eyes, blood tears welling in them.
Father Purgeon looked up at the blue light, at what had once been red glyphs. He’d been studying angelic lore for over thirty years. He knew what the sigil was and whom it represented. Though it was an angelic sigil, it was much more than that. It was a divine sigil, the seal of God. The letters were Enochian, the language of the celestials. He knew that when these letters were combined they would spell out the greatest name of God. He saw every angelic name within the seal. Yet one shown brighter than all the rest, glinted with silver as if trying to wrest his attention. It was an archangel’s seal, more specifically, the seal of Raguel. Two symbols linked together, looked like two tree branches whose outreaching limbs overlapped, became one and shared the same space. A symbol of companionship between Heaven and earth, friendship in and of itself. Arching over this particular glyph were Enochian words. Father Purgeon read the angelic inscription. Friend of God.
The Deliverer was backing away now, moving back towards the darkness from which he had come, leaving the chains behind. His mind was racing. What he was looking at was impossible. What it portended was unfathomable. Who had converted the glyphs into God’s seal, the sigil before his very throne? A part of him felt sorrow at the sight, but he stifled his cry to Heaven. It had to be angel. But the covenant. The agreement. An angel wouldn’t dare break it, even though this was exactly what the Seven were doing, what Hell was doing when they sent him to deliver the souls of the pure to the Soul-Eater, Lucifer’s creation. But it couldn’t be an angel. An angel shouldn’t be able to invoke that particular seal.
The Deliverer had to inform the Seven. They had to be told that Heaven knew what they were doing. He would have to destroy, not only the chamber, but also the entire coven along with it, expunge all evidence of Hell’s endeavors. Was the time for secrecy at an end? Was open warfare upon the Mortal Realm now eminent? The demon turned and fled into the darkness, through the doorway and back into the Deadtime. Behind him, the doorway sealed and the chamber’s rear wall reappeared.
The cell’s door opened in front of Father Purgeon. He wasn’t surprised when Roman stepped into the chamber.
The Seal of the Seven
Father Purgeon’s eyes had grown more accustomed to the dark. He thanked the crimson illumination pulsing from the glyphs above the cell’s door. That light was faint, but without it, he knew he wouldn’t be able to see anything at all. And the thought of being in this chamber without that sparse scarlet light terrified him.
He’d forgotten all about the markings he’d spied from the entrance, the ones on the rear wall, for he saw that there were five other statues in the room. Three along the left wall. Another three on the right. Of the six, four were cater-cornered. He made his way back to the first statue and knew that the plaque’s inscription would be in Enochian. Another of the seven deadly sins. Reaching the statue, he wondered where the missing seventh one was.
Standing before it, he saw that this one was female. Like the stone wrath statue, she wore armor, had a sword, and bat-like wings, a malevolent energy radiating from her. She was just as dreadfully gorgeous, yet her face seemed crueler, remorseless and wicked. Robust lips curled in contempt, her granite eyes seemed to seep with superiority. Her sword was sheathed between her wings. Clawed hands at her hips, arms akimbo. Below her taloned feet was the word ENVY in Enochian.
Father Purgeon turned to his left and made his way to one of the cater-cornered statues by the door. Even from a distance, he could see that this one was thinner than the other two. Barely had any meat on its frame. No musculature to speak of. Armor seemed too big for it. When he reached it, he looked up at its face. Couldn’t tell if the effigy was male or female. Loose skin sagged over jutting cheekbones. He could clearly see its skull. There were lumps on its skin, cancerous looking growths that disfigured its features. Its face was the epitome of despair, with passionless, apathetic eyes. Its wings hung limp at its sides, as if it didn’t have the strength or will to lift them. But Father Purgeon knew it wasn’t weak; he felt the energy beating from it; the same energy as the others. He read the plaque at its taloned feet: SLOTH.
The priest had seen enough. He wasn’t interested in examining the other three statues in the room. Again, he wondered where the seventh one was. Remembering the glyphs he’d been trying to decipher above the door, he made his way over to them, wishing he’d brought his cigarettes with him before leaving the rectory. He could use one now. He’d been too busy being scared to notice how bad his body needed the nicotine, craved it.
Squinting past the white mist that was his breath, he focused on the Enochian glyphs above the door, and deciphered them. He didn’t like what they said, so he reread them, made sure he wasn’t mistaken. After going over it several more times, he was quite sure that he was right. The Enochian words said: Their souls are not theirs to keep.
He wondered what that meant. He didn’t like the feelings they stirred, that washed over him now that he’d translated the glyphs. They were ominous words, foreboding, downright sinister. He wished he hadn’t read them. He wished he hadn’t understood them.
Their souls are not theirs to keep.
He turned away from the inscription and gave them his back, wanting to expunge them from his mind, and obliterate them from existence. He didn’t know why he felt this way. All he knew was that he just did. That’s when he noticed the humming sound again, that baritone droning. Had it been there all along? Or had it faded, dissipated when he’d been examining the statues? He didn’t think so. He thought that sound had always been there.
As he looked toward the back of the chamber, at the rear wall where the markings were, where he knew the sound was coming from, he discovered the seventh statue. It was overhead, depending from the ceiling, in the middle of it. It looked like it was swooping down toward him because its hair was swept back. Like the others, it was wearing armor, massive bat wings spread wide. It had a sword in one hand, a shield in the other. Enochian glyphs along the weapon and shield. In comparison, its face made wrath’s beautiful visage look repulsive. Its plaque read: PRIDE.
Father Purgeon was reluctant to walk directly beneath the statue, so he veered around it and made his way to the back of the chamber. The droning sound grew louder, drumming in his ears. He stopped several feet away from the wall.
He was staring at a giant circle that took up most of the wall’s center, from ceiling to floor. Set within it were seven symbols, sigils of some sort. Beneath each sigil were Enochian words, several of which the priest had just translated. His eyes widened as understanding dawned over him. He knew what they were and what they represented. They were seals, though not angelic. They were demonic seals representing seven demon lords, fallen angels.
As he digested this information, the droning sound grew louder. Then, the sigils ignited as one, scarlet light that blazed so bright that it made Father Purgeon’s eyes burn and tear. A grating sound followed as the entire rear wall began to slide backwards, away from Father Purgeon. He backpedaled away from the wall, shielding his eyes with his arm as he did.
Father Purgeon forgot how cold it was, forgot how much his body ached. All he knew was that he had to get away from the receding wall, and whatever lied behind it.
The windows implode and shower a storm of glass into the room.
Eyes seek. Nostrils flare. Searching for a scent.
Screams greet them. They are not alone. They turn to the sounds and see a woman and a girl, their intended target. Though the woman’s scent is familiar, she is not the one they seek. Still, she smells like the Abomination and must be destroyed.
From the scabbards set between their wings, they unsheathe mighty swords. Blades emblazoned with blue Enochian script alight, the sigil of the archangel, Michael, etched upon the pommels and on the Hunter’s helms. The air crackles with energy.
Suddenly, the scene shifts, and the Shadowy Man is before her.
“Wake up, Avalyn! You have to run! They have found you. Wake up! Run!”
Avalyn’s eyes shot open, wide and alert, sweat streaming from her forehead, the Shadowy Man’s shouts still ringing in her ears.
Avalyn! You have to run! They have found you!
She looked about the room, shedding the sleep from her mind, and glanced towards the window, where she’d seen the hunters amidst showering glass, crashing through in the vision the Shadowy Man had just shown her.
No hunters. The window was still intact. The only sound was Sarah snoring beside her, arms protectively wrapped around her.
She still had time. How much if it, she didn’t know. Not much, she guessed. Her heart was racing.
“Wake up, Sarah! Wake up!” Avalyn shook Sarah awake.
Groggily, Sarah opened eyes slitted with sleep. “What?” she mumbled. “What’s wrong?”
“We have to get out of here! We have to leave! They’re coming!”
Avalyn shot a fearful glance over her shoulder, back at the windows. But the only thing coming through it was the moon’s lunar light, silver-bright and full.
Sarah sat up. “Who’s coming? Vampires?”
“No, Sarah. Something worse. Something more powerful.”
Without questioning the girl further, Sarah got up off the bed, glad that she and Avalyn were still dressed. “How much time do we have?”
The exploding windows answered Sarah’s question.
Glass showered them. Cold night air blasted into the room. They whipped their heads toward the window, their hearts pounding hard in their chests, screams leaving their throats.
Two crouching figures. Rising from bended knees. Great-feathered wings trailed behind them. Like a bird’s. Like an eagle’s. Drawn swords in their hands. They wore silver formfitting armor, with blue symbols engraving it. The helms on their heads also had symbols. From the open visors of their helms, Avalyn saw their enormous eyes. Whirling spheres that were a kaleidoscope of colors. What skin she could see was luminescent. Seemed like every particle of skin was made from the sun.
They raised their swords over their heads, poised to strike Avalyn. Sarah reached for the girl as the swords descended, grasping her and tearing her from the bed. Both of them tumbled to the floor. The swords sliced through the space where Avalyn had just been, and met the mattress, cleaving the entire bed in half, demolishing it.
Sarah and Avalyn jumped to their feet. They ran out the open door and into the hallway. Sarah grasped Avalyn’s hand as they raced toward the stairs leading below, hoping to make it out the house. But the wall to their left exploded, and both of them were thrown backwards down the hall in the opposite direction, amidst plaster and sheet rock rubble.
The Hunters came through the gap in the wall and blocked their way to the stairs. Sarah leapt to her feet, still grasping Avalyn’s hand, and dragged the girl with her as she charged down the hall to a locked door at its end, away from the hunters. The door led to another set of stairs that led to the roof. Sarah had no plan. All she knew was that she had to save Avalyn. Had to keep her safe. Had to get away from the things chasing them. Whatever they were. She was in a wild panic, feeling like a trapped animal, hunted prey.
Sarah fumbled her fingers over the locks but managed to get the door open. She pushed Avalyn ahead of her up the stairs. The Hunters were coming. A loud screeching sound blasted Avalyn’s and Sarah’s backs, sounded like a million shrieking voices merging into one, so loud it made them stumble, made the entire house quake, almost made them fall down on their faces. They unlinked hands to maintain balance, hands whipping the air, and kept running upward, now cupping their ears with their hands, though it didn’t help much. The shrieks hurt. It felt like their eardrums were being shredded. The sound clawed at their eyes and made tears well in them, blurring their vision. Then the air became thick and oppressive.
Sarah’s chest was hurting. It felt tight, forcing her to gasp for air as if she were having an asthma attack. Looking over at Avalyn now beside her, she saw that the girl’s hand was over her chest, and knew that she felt it too. Sarah’s limbs felt heavy, as if she was running through mud, or a dream, where you never could run as fast as you’d like, especially when trying to outrun a nightmare’s monster.
Behind them, the screams grew louder, bolder.
The door leading to the roof was no more than three feet away.
Suddenly, the stairway elongated, made the distance to their destination look like it was twenty yards away now. Avalyn and Sarah pumped their legs harder. But the faster they ran, the more stairs they seemed to be climbing.
Avalyn looked down at her feet. Though her legs were moving, she wasn’t gaining any ground. She was running in place. Beside her, Sarah fared no better. Avalyn knew it had something to do with the Hunter’s screams.
Sarah felt as though she were being pulled from behind, like a fish on a hook. She gazed down at her legs. She was moving backwards, towards the Hunters. So was Avalyn. Sarah looked back, saw them in the doorway climbing, ascending towards them. One of the Hunters had his arm outstretched, palm open, the symbols on its gauntlet blazing blue, and knew that whatever it was doing had something to do with her and Avalyn’s rearward march. She tore her eyes away and focused on the stairs.
In their screams, Avalyn discerned a word. And in that word, she felt their menace. Abomination!
Was this what the Shadowy Man was always afraid of? Was this who they were hiding from?
The screeching suddenly stopped. The pulling sensation ebbed. Avalyn and Sarah fell forward, stumbled and landed on their faces at the foot of the door. Lurching to her feet, Avalyn grabbed the doors knob and pulled herself up. Behind her, Sarah had gained her feet as well and was shoving Avalyn though the doorway making her way in as well.
Sarah looked back again, even though she knew she shouldn’t waste a single second. They were four feet away, raising their swords, the symbols along them radiating.
As Sarah was closing the door, she saw their swords descend, heard the air sizzle and crackle, felt the hum of their vibrating swords prickle past her ear, before they cut through her blouse and sliced into her arm.
Vicious growls and bestial screams serrated the air and swept into the chamber. The sounds of heavy bodies colliding shook the walls. The vampires heard bones breaking, flesh tearing and teeth gnashing. Then, those raucous growls turned to whimpers, then to yelps, high-pitched and desperate.
In the Hall of Gathering, every eye turned toward the corridor. Every voice was silenced.
Then a Rottweiler’s body flew into the room and landed on the table. Headless. Limbless. Drained.
Before any of them could react, the cold air suddenly turned frigid, a frigidity that even the dead felt. As quickly as the temperature in the room had dropped, Nathan and Dalia disappeared, as if the air had swallowed them. Though the vampires couldn’t see them, they heard their screams. Gerald, who’d been sitting right next to Nathan and Dalia, was trying to get away from the table when his body was lifted, apparently by his neck. His body convulsed and shook; his chins warbled and wiggled spasmodically as two open puncture holes appeared on his throat as if invisible fangs had pierced it. Then, a great gouge encircled the holes, the size of a mouth.
Instantaneously, his body shriveled before the coven leaders’ eyes, collapsed and crumpled inward as the husk that was once Gerald was desiccated, his blood completely drained. Gerald seemed to implode as he turned to ash. Terror tore into every pale face. In the blink of an eye, three coven leaders had been destroyed.
Astor’s mind raced. Only Winged-Ones attacked like this, undetected and unseen. Only a vampire belonging to his coven could activate Asmodeus’ seal and enter. Or a vampire who’d fed off a vampire from his coven. The Recreant? Was the Recreant a Winged-One? In that moment, Astor realized that Bailien had set him up. Had lied to him. If Astor had known the Recreant was a Winged-One, he would’ve never allowed the hunt in the first place. He would’ve immediately informed his House Ruler, Asmodeus, and let the demons deal with their own. He’d been deceived. Bailien knew that the Mortal Born vampires couldn’t stop the might of a demon. Knew that the entire coven could fall. Bailien would sacrifice every damned soul on the planet if he had to, just to get out from under Astor’s feet. Astor should’ve seen it coming.
Where Nathan and Dalia had once been, ashes drifted to the floor.
Devlin leapt away, feeling invisible wings brush against his face, leathery and cold. He crashed into the moaning mortals hanging from the wall, entangling himself with the siphoning tubes. He tore himself loose and several of the tubes popped free. Blood sprayed the air. The twitching tubes resembled decapitated snakes writhing in death, blood pouring from the stumps of their plastic necks. The humans on the wall convulsed.
The blood hit something. Gave shape to a wing. Wings and part of a face were now visible, heaving with the feed, the wings unfurling, ready to swathe around prey. Devlin saw death’s face, a bloody bodiless head with fangs, before the demon’s wings enshrouded him. The blood spouting from the tubes was thinning to a trickle. The humans on the wall had ceased jactitating and now hung still. The blood on the demon’s body began to fade, seemingly ebbing into the nothingness it had appeared from, taking Devlin with it.
Devlin’s shrill screaming keened throughout the chamber.
Astor thought about contacting Asmodeus. He quickly shed the idea. Contacting Hell took more time than contacting his minions. Besides, the Seven would be too busy making preparations. Opening the doorway to the Deadtime required their full attention. Instead, he tore away at his sleeve, grasped the House sigil, and activated it, closing his eyes.
The coven is under attack! Everyone report to the Hall of Gathering and defend the coven!
Astor opened his eyes and saw Devlin’s ashes drift to the ground.
Lyliss and Laszlo were racing for the exit, essence exploding from their backs, galvanizing their flight. Astor hissed. If he escaped with his unlife, he’d remember their abandonment.
Astor got up and ran. He saw that Lyliss and Laszlo had already escaped via the tunnel that led to the exit by the base of the bridge. In his haste, Astor tripped over a fallen chair and fell on his back. As he scrambled to his feet, he reached for the Talisman dangling from his neck, wanting to activate the spells on them, administer as much pain as he could upon both Bailien and Lucien before his end.
Astor’s minions arrived and swept into the room just as Astor felt glacial fingers graze his neck. The air ate him. His minions froze, unsure and terrified.
Roman fed off Astor, not even knowing whom his victim was, so lost in the throes of the Bloodlust. He felt the others. Astor’s coven. He felt their baleful energy, the fear behind it, and heard their scampering feet. He dropped his essence, allowed them to see him, wanted them to see him. Needed them to see their harbinger of doom, of a final death, relishing the role he now played, he now accepted. Brimming with vampire blood, he felt its power coursing within him and wanted more of it. But behind the sounds of the vampires’ vile frequencies, past the sound of the blood he now heard roaring in their veins-and in his own-he heard the priest’s soul song, distant but there. Then Father Purgeon’s song faded from his mind, retreated to some recess, some small niche that was drowned by the waves of addiction, and stifled to silence. He no longer cared about saving Father Purgeon. He now wondered if he’d ever really cared at all.
What wounds he’d received during the dog attack had healed. With each of the coven leader’s deaths, the red script had appeared within Roman’s mind. He still didn’t know what to make of it. At this point he didn’t care. It might as well have been gibberish. The scarlet symbols meant nothing to him. Nothing seemed to matter now. Nothing mattered but the blood.
Roman opened his wings and Astor’s ashes drifted to the floor. He lunged into the mob of vampires, trying to quench an unquenchable thirst.
Behind him, on the floor, resting on Astor’s ashes was the Enochian engraved talisman.