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.