Flirting with Sin Ch. 02

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V: A Plea for Penance

A blanket of shadow was wrapped tightly around my naked flesh. There was comfort in the blackness. Peace and solitude, the weightless feeling of knowing that I shall never be troubled by the world and its sorrows again. Though my soul may be lost in the twist between dimensions and my mind forever still, there was comforting peace.

And then a light bore a hole in the fabric of dark. Tiny at first, like the prick of a needle, then larger and larger to make my peaceful sleep impossible. The Lord was not yet done with me, it seemed. For me there would be no peace, no rest.

“So you’re finally awake.”

My hair was a tangled mop atop my head, and sitting up was like tearing through an overgrowth of vines. The painful wooden frame of the barely cushioned sofa I was laying on did me no favors; my lower back ached, my shoulder cried out in painful jolts each time I moved. I winced and bit my tongue, just getting up a straining effort.

“Careful now. She took quite a bit of blood from you. You’re lucky she took a shine to you—you’d be dead, otherwise.”

A grey-bearded man sat across from me in a wooden rocking chair holding a pipe in his hand. He was better dressed since last I saw him, wearing a priest’s jacket and slacks. No collar, however. Despite his age he was of decent build, suggesting that some day far in the past he could actually fill out that rusty suit of armor on his wall.

My shoulder was wrapped in gauze stained with splotches of dried crimson. Near the sofa lay my robes, a tattered mess of shredded fabric and blood.

“You’re that paladin,” I groaned. “You saved me?”

“Should I have left you to bleed out in the rain? Dragging you back here seemed like the right thing to do, even if you did shoot holes in my wall,” he said, puffing his pipe and shooting me a displeased look.

“What happened? Where did she…?”

The paladin cast his gaze downward and sighed smoke. “After she was done with you, there was enough sense left in her to come back in here and question me. I told her what I knew. Her father is still connected to the Church, still operates as a priest. I told her the last place I’d known him to give sermons and she ran off.” He took the pipe to his mouth again, drew a heavy puff, then put a hand to his face and cursed. “God damn it! If she just listened to me…”

He looked up at me, his brows narrowed in anger. “And you! What the hell kind of Hunter are you, huh? Where’s your holy water? Your sanctified cross? Your prayer beads? You just come in here waving a gun around like some chicken-shit rookie cop! I swear to God if you hurt Alison I’ll see to it that you are flayed within an inch of your life!”

The whirlwind of questions and accusations coming from the old man was dizzying, but hardly threatening. If I was to show my face at the Church empty-handed again, they’d cut them off. The bite marks in my shoulder were nothing compared to what they’d do to me. I couldn’t help but think it have been for the best if the demon cat had simply finished me off after finishing me off.

“What do you care? You’re a paladin. You know that demons cannot be suffered. What makes Alison special? She could have killed you.”

“She’s not a demon!” the paladin lurched forward and nearly sprang out of his chair like he meant to batter me. Thinking better of it however, he calmed down, took a deep breath, and leaned back. “You don’t understand. Alison is not a summoned demon, nor is she the result of some satanic ritual. She was born a human birth like you or me. Her mother Felicity is a demon, however, and when you inherit that blood, well, I suppose it’s only a matter of time until…”

“Her mother, a demon?” I balked. “Her mother was a nun. There’s no fucking way the Church allowed a demon to become a nun.”

The paladin rose an eyebrow at me and rested his pipe in his mouth. “Is it so hard to believe? Felicity is a kind woman, wouldn’t hurt a fly. She chose to give of herself to God that she might not toil forever in the lake of fire, or tempt others to that same suffering. A Hunter like you I thought would know better—the Church is no safe haven from the influence of Lucifer’s minions.”

He pointed his pipe at me, smoke billowing from the end. “I should have you know the reason I left the Church was not due to the influence of demons. No, Alison’s father—a mortal man, mind you—drove me out. I was disgusted by the Church’s complicity in his rapes and abuses. Felicity is a demon, so she cannot be sinned against? That seemed to be the prevailing wisdom. It was sickening.”

“I don’t understand. If Alison’s not a demon, nor is she Possessed or the result of summoning or a rite, how did she end up like this? That wasn’t a human girl that nearly ripped my arm off last night.”

“She looks a lot like her mother—the resemblance is uncanny, really. She was always going to end up like this eventually. But something must have spurned her on. I have known Alison since she was a little girl, and she was not herself last night. It might be that her transformation was the result of demonic influence. Antep Escort Bayan If I had to guess, someone who knew her wanted her to be hunted by the Church. By someone like you.”

I grunted. Not someone like me, someone who could get the job done. I would be nursing my pride for some time to come—I doubt most Hunters have ‘was raped by a cat’ on their resume.

“She ruined your robes. I’ve folded my old robe on the floor there next to you. I think we’re about the same size, so you can have it,” he said, and leaned forward pointedly. “What do you intend to do now?”

“If I don’t bring her in, my life is forfeit. I have to find her.”

“And kill her?”

There was a pleading desperation in his eyes. A shaking fear, like he might drop to his knees and start begging me to have mercy. I shook my head and sighed.

“I don’t know. But she’s already killed a man, so she must be dealt with. I’ll do what I have to.”

The paladin stood and marched to the corner of the room where a tall old wooden dresser sat. He flung open one of the shelves and dug around for a moment, filling the house with the sound of rustling wood and junk. Finally, he retrieved something and brought it before me.

“Take this.”

In his outstretched hand he held a silver rosary attached to a silver chain, the soft light of the room giving it a faint shine. He pressed it into my palms and his blue eyes stared intently into me.

“This was my wife’s, God rest her soul. It’s been blessed. If you can make Alison wear this, it should banish whatever demonic forces are raging within her heart. Please. Eye for an eye is a practice rooted in fear; the answer to this is not more deaths.”

VI: Unholy Rituals

Itchy is how I’d describe the hand-me-downs I’d been given. Incessantly itchy, the type where no matter how much I scratched the itching would return only moments later in a different spot. And though at the time I attributed it to old cotton that had been sitting in a closet for twenty or more years, perhaps the itching was not of the flesh but rather of the spirit. An itching in my soul, for no matter how I framed or rationalized the events I was nevertheless a sinner and the yearnings of sin would not be denied.

Alison Gales pawed through my mind. Her deep green eyes, her crisp brunette hair, her soft sun-touched skin. If the body is a temple and the mind its holy inner chambers, Alison was traipsing through them, yawning and stretching in the courtyard, her heaving breasts and luscious lips shining in the sunlight, before finally coming to the darkened confessional of my subconscious and curling up into a ball to nap. I absolutely could not stop thinking about her, a confounding mix of fear and revulsion and shameful sinful desire came over me each time I pictured her face and her fangs.

I have to kill her. I have to kill her. I have to kill her.

The place the Paladin had told me to go was within the city proper, a branch of the Church on the farside of the glass-steel jungle. To say I was unprepared to face her, to speak nothing of his supposed demons inhabiting the Church as clergymen and monks, was like saying a newborn mouse was unprepared to face a lion. I could hardly move my left arm. Walking was a shaking, anxious effort. My thoughts were a tangled jumble. It was a freezing rainy day and yet I couldn’t stop sweating.

Loathe as I was to admit it to myself, if I was to come out of this ordeal alive and unmolested I would need a demon’s help once again—and that meant finding Alice and making good on my offer.

A good time could mean a lot of things, I told myself. Unfortunately the most obvious—bending her over in a barely secluded alleyway and ramming my dick into her flesh-melting furnace until she screamed the Lord’s name—was probably not what she had in mind after I put a gun to her head. What likely sounded like a good time to Alice was the use of a ritual knife to carve into my skin a series of unholy runes so she could have my unconditional consent in some sacrificial rite to hasten her master’s return into the mortal realm.

As I passed by the crevice separating two buildings I heard a high-pitched chirp, like that of a very troubled bird. Incessantly it buzzed in my ears, louder and more shrill with each step I took away from the alley. The image of a bird being pounced upon and devoured by a prowling cat entered my mind and I shuddered. Maybe it was merely the anxiety, but soon curiosity took hold of me and I had to find the dying bird if only to confirm it had broken a wing or lost its young or some other small tragedy.

It was not a long crawl into the belly of the brick and asphalt like the last time. Just hidden by the darkness of shade were three rough-looking men smelling of sin and alcohol who accused my intrusion with bloodshot red eyes. Among them with her tear-stained face pressed to the bricks was a perfectly naked blonde woman, her shame bare for all to see, and the three men with their flies loose and their depravities hanging free.

“Help—please help me, please, please help,” the woman struggled through a throat choked by terror.

“You better just move the fuck along, holy man. You didn’t see a Goddamned thing,” said the man pressing her face to the wall.

My arm ached as I withdrew the gun from its holster. The blade hummed with light, pulsing intensely as I drew it into my right. There were many things I had seen and wished I hadn’t. Many things I could turn a blind eye to, could forget about in the haze of inebriation and the wash of the morning sun. I wish this was one of those things, my arm sorely wished it was, but it was not.

“Let the girl go. Let her go, and repent for your sins. You may yet be forgiven,” I advised them, pulling back the hammer of the gun.

“Did you not hear me, you sanctimonious shithead? Get the fuck out of here before we put you in a fucking wheelchair!” the thug threatened.

He let go of the woman, who dropped to the ground and skittered away into the corner of the alley. The three men put away their vulgarities and pulled weapons from their pockets. One had brass knuckles, another a shiv, and another just rose his fists.

“I can see the three of you have already made one mistake,” I said, noting the demons floating in their eyes, “don’t make another. ‘For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God, so turn and live.'”

“You’re dead!” was all the answer I received before the one nearest me came charging down the alleyway with his blade outstretched. And though aiming at him was a teeth-clenched, hand-shakingly painful endeavor, I raised the barrel to the level of his chest and fired. The bullet ripped through his side, a searing red tear through his clothes and skin, felling him in an instant.

The next came thrusting his brass fists toward me. He had speed and he had skill, and if he had bothered to hone any of that demon-gifted might he might have landed a hit on me. As it was I easily sidestepped his attacks, even in my shaking and wobbling gait, and sunk the dagger into his back. Drawing it free, I watched as he fell to his disbelieving knees and stared blankly at me.

I pointed the blooded blade at the thug and bellowed, “Don’t be as dumb as your friends. There’s still time to turn from this wicked path and give yourself to the Lord.”

He threw his head back and laughed into the rain. “You Hunters sure think you’re hot shit. God’s lapdogs, think you can just throw your weight around and the rest of us will bend over for you. Not me. You think I give a damn about those two? You just did me a favor.”

“What?”

The man held his hands out in front of him, empty palms toward the ground. Then, quietly, he began to murmur a low droning tone to himself. This went on for several unbroken seconds without event. Confused, I pointed the gun at him and drew closer, but it was like he had forgotten I was there. But then the words entered my ears and a thrumming migraine pounded my temples.

“Yrots eht gniyojne erouy epoh! Tniop siht ot pu gnidaer rof sknaht!”

A red mist filled the air. I felt drops of blood fall touch my hair, my face, my robe. The mist was snaking in an eerie haze from the wounds I’d made in the two men on the ground, floating to meet the third thug’s hands. The air crackled with Satanic energy, I could hear the dark whisperings from beyond, the warped voices of women and children joining his to mingle with his twisted words. And then his body began to change, the sickening crack of bone and popping of veins to make room for something else.

Metamorphosis! He’s using their blood as a sacrifice for a summoning rite!

I aimed at him and fired, once, twice, three times. The gun smoked; a bullet was pushed from his skin by bulging red muscle. He stared down at me from newly hatched white-filled eyes, his mouth hung open as hungry fangs distended from behind his bottom lip. Horns long enough to gore a man sprouted from his head and his clothes ripped open, too small for his new terrible form. He spoke, and though it was in words I could not understand, the meaning sank into my mind.

“Die, slave of the Church!”

Bits of asphalt cracked and broke free under his fist. The Earth shook behind his dark might. Had I not moved in the knick of time, I would be a red stain in the ground. I ducked and dodged under the swing of his right arm, feeling its coming more than seeing it, and fired again at his neck. The bullet sank into his flesh and steam rose from the boiling blood spattering the ground, but the creature barely reacted to the wound.

A massive hand struck me in the chest, too fast to leap away from, and I fell onto cold unwelcoming asphalt coughing and sputtering. If I had been hit in a very slightly different angle, several of my ribs would surely have been broken. As I lay there soaking up rain, a plan quickly hatched in my mind.

Powerful, but slow. I have to use his own strength against him if I’m to survive this.

I rose on one arm and a knee, the accumulation of my wounds catching up to me. Defiantly I held the gun in a shaking hand and aimed at the fist balled above me, ready to fall and strike me down to Hell. The shadow fell over me, and I shut my eyes as I waited for its deadly descent.

“Aaaaghhh!!” the creature screamed in pain, its twisted, deafening voice rumbling in my eardrums.

The dagger, pulsating madly with holy light, was stuck fast in his wrist—pulled at the last possible second before he struck me. A gamble now as it had been then, but it had to work at least once. I took the hilt in both hands and ran the blade down his arm, spilling torrents of his blood onto my robe and boots. It mixed with the rain in a sickening sizzle, water boiling and evaporating. Ripping the blade from his elbow I stuck it into his heart and jammed the barrel of the gun into his open mouth.

Five pounds of pressure, forty-four caliber silver. His head exploded like a ripe watermelon, chunks of it painting the alleyway pink as it mixed with the rain. I wiped my face with the sleeve of the robe and sighed.

Before I could even put my weapons away, the blonde woman nearly tackled me. She wrapped her rain soaked arms around me and pressed her hair-matted face to my chest, rubbing up and down.

“Thank you! Thank you! I was so scared! I, I, I was so scared! These men, they, tricked me, they—” she babbled as she wiped tears and snot into my robe.

Looking down at the thing craning itself on me, nearly too weak to stand, my eyes popped open. Her blonde hair wasn’t just straight and fine, it was white-tipped and silky like a bed of feathers, and as I touched my hand to her head I felt the pieces connected—her hair was feathers. She was terribly thin, with long, long legs that ended in strangely shaped feet that curved into large claws. Talons!

“You—you’re a demon? How did they do this to you?” I questioned, dumbstruck.

“They, they called to me, they used my name, and they told me they just wanted to have fun and I listened to them because it’s been a long time since I’ve been on Earth, and I just thought we would sing and maybe eat a goat, I just, I hadn’t talked to humans in a long time so I thought it would be okay, and…” she babbled hysterically.

“Your name? How did they know your name?” I asked, a rhetorical question. Those men were Possessed. Their possessors told them. My question was a test.

“I am Shuu’Vohsa, a songstress,” she said, sniffling and utterly failing my test.

A demon of song. Not so different from the sirens that lured sailors to their doom off the shores of Greece and conscripted them into infernal servitude, song demons were known for charming men with their beautiful voices before they drained them of their blood and devoured their souls. But this birdbrain was dimwitted enough to tell a Hunter her true name, so somehow I doubted she was much threat to anyone.

Since I knew her true name it was a simple matter of reading the correct scripture and throwing some salt on her forehead. Until I could get some, I couldn’t let her out of my sight.

“Hey, you smell good…” she chirped, sniffing me. “And a little like a cat.”

VII: The Black Well

Even under my robe, she continued to shudder and shake with cold. It was a problem because she would coo and trill in discomfort and her feathery hair and talons were hard enough to hide already. Her clawed feet scraped the ground with awkward steps, she tripped over uneven squares in the sidewalk more than once. The worst part was I think I was beginning to feel sorry for her.

We were an odd pair. A thin woman wearing a robe much too large for her, hair dripping wet, and me, a black mop on my head and an undershirt and slacks with a belt of weapons hanging off my hips. Anyone who saw us on the street probably thought we were fleeing the scene of some depraved unholy act—which we sort of were.

I didn’t know what to do with her. I couldn’t very well go into the nearest convenience store, buy a salt shaker and sprinkle her back to Hell. It had to be blessed with holy water and the rite performed by a clergyman. I couldn’t show my face in the Church either. Fail to kill a demon twice, then show up with a naked bird-woman crooning and rubbing her face all over me. They’d execute me on the spot.

“Look, don’t give out your true name. It has power, and in the hands of the wrong people they could do some really awful things to you,” I tried explaining to her.

She tilted her head in confusion, not understanding. “But it’s my name. What should you call me if not my name?”

I exhaled exasperation through my nose. “How about just ‘Voh?'” She smiled and nodded at me, clutched my arm and put her head on my shoulder as we walked. I was too tired to object.

As I saw it, there were two options: take her back to my apartment—which is sandwiched between an old lady’s place and where a couple live with their kid—and harbor a demonic entity from Hell, or find Alice and make Shuu’Vohsa her problem. Both prospects seemed unwise, though the latter of which actually gave me pause for the bird-girl’s safety. She was harmless enough, though her corrupting presence would probably turn the couple’s kid onto metal music or encourage him to start smoking pot. Conversely, Alice seemed like enough trouble on her own and I didn’t want to think about what she would put the songstress up to.

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