Hungry Shadows, Part 4
Story idea by Gunjack Valentine and Lain.
Outlined and Written by Gunjack Valentine, Lain, and Lynati,
with additional material by Aaron Wheeler.
Artwork by Lain with coloring by Gunjack Valentine.
~ Hungry Shadows, Part 3
Eugene Kappel drifted in the soothing darkness, watching as his followers gathered around him. They came slowly, pale forms flitting through the swirling shadows in ones and twos. Most of them had been marked one way or another by the Hunter's last gambit, and some still clutched the gnawed remains of their less-fortunate comrades. Perhaps a dozen of his Kin had been lost in the attack, and the same number crippled and maimed. It was insufferable.
His own survival had been the purest of luck, and his body was peppered with a hundred fresh wounds where splinters of stone and wood had been driven into his flesh by the blast. The pain was constant and nagging, an insistent buzz that pulsed through what remained of his senses.
That cursed woman! He gnashed his teeth at the thought of her. Now he understood the Lady's towering hatred for the whole of her disgusting line. How he longed to pay her back for this humiliation... But first, there was a more pressing problem to be dealt with.
His Kin were angry. The signs were obvious: the tension that rippled subtly through the gathering mob, the sullen, furtive looks that flashed his way as they milled about in the eddying shadows. There was menace in their movements, and anticipation too. None yet spoke, but he understood their intentions all the same.
After the humiliating defeat dealt them by the Hunter, the pack was starving for blood. He was the outsider, the upstart, too young to be trusted. He had led them with promises of a feast, and they'd received ruin instead. They'd turn on him, and soon, seeking to tear him apart and consume him as payment for his failure. He eyed the mob coolly, carefully. The next few moments would decide his fate.
One of them stepped forward from the mob, its pallid face contorted into a murderous grin. It was an Elder, a true monster, a head and a half taller than he and all calcified bone and thick, corded muscle. The others crowded closer in its wake, whispering in anticipation as they watched it approach its victim.
"Go soft, go silent we were told, and take them sleeping!" Its voice was a guttural hiss, slow and contemptuous.
“Our prey would be helpless, their light ensnared. And now, How many did of us were silenced? How many maimed? And what have we to show for it, but empty hands and empty mouths!?” It turned, staring out at the eager mob. “Where is the feast we were promised? Once more, this one and his cursed Mistress have brought nothing but trouble!"
“You speak as a worm does, old one.” Kappel stared coldly up at his accuser, refusing to give ground. If he showed weakness now, the others would tear him to shreds. "What would you have me do? Feasts are seized, not given. If the prey is too strong for you-"
"You know nothing of strength, whelp," the thing shouted, eyes bulging with fury. "Where is our meat? The red blood running free for the taking? Where are our brothers, burned and blasted by the light you swore to snuff? We are owed.” It towered over him, sharp, stained teeth gaping for the first bite. “Your own blood runs slow, but it may hold sweetness still..."
The mob gave an exultant shout as the Elder lunged for him... But Eugene was faster. He slipped between its outstretched claws, his right arm snapping out, the open razor in his palm slashing a deep furrow in its cheek. It reared back from the sudden pain, and a sharp blow to the throat brought it up short with a strangled yelp. Before it could recover, Kappel had grabbed one of the creature's shriveled ears, twisting it hard as his razor danced back and forth a hair's breadth from its face.
“Be still, old one. Still, damn you, or I'll have your eyes!” A shudder ran through the big creature at that, and it sank back, clutching its bruised throat. Kappel jerked hard on its ear, forcing its face up to meet his gaze, and was gratified to hear a low murmur rippled through the surrounding mob. His unexpected show of strength was enough to give them pause, and a pause was all he needed.
“The years spent skulking in your tunnels have left you slow. Listen now, and listen well! A bargain has been struck,” he shouted, turning his attention back to his ghastly audience, “Sworn by our Lord and sealed in flesh. Our enemies wander blindly above, trapped in my Lady's snare, held beyond hope of succor... And yet this one crawls back as though diseased, moaning in fear and biting at his brethren. He is rotted out, feeble, weak of tooth and mind. Who would follow such filth?”
The elder tensed once more, but the shimmering blade tickling lightly against its right eyelid held it in check. All around them, the German’s words were having their desired effect. The murmur grew louder as the ghouls began to shift about uneasily.
....Fire and hail, they brought!!!…............... danger there, here…. .....Fire! ...............................................…bad rabbits…
.. .................heat and light and burning, burning.................................................................Tear them as they tore through us! ….
The voices were by turns sullen and angry. Battered by the Hunter, they had now twice been denied the retribution they so craved. Their seething fury only made his job easier.
“I can see the anger in you, my brothers. It runs deep and swift as a raging flood! Why deny it? These vermin who taunted us, shall we let them run free? They are a vicious pair, yes, and cunning as serpents, but their lights dwindle and their tricks are spent. Should we fear them, as this one does?” His voice thundered hollowly through the void, and the horde fairly exploded. The creatures crowded closer, chanting, howling, hooting, and darting about as the deeper instincts took hold.
............We fear none……... ..NONE!! ………..................….Famine’s Children…...........................……Lay them low!……………..... ..the hunger……....…….…tear them to pieces …...............................................................................................................................pieces!!
Kappel leaned back and planted his heel in the Elder’s massive chest, knocking the old monster sprawling. It landed in an ungainly heap and struggled up, snarling and wheezing onto all fours, murder in its pale white eyes… But the tide had turned. The others crowded close, and now it was the Elder’s turn to feel the bite of their ravenous gaze.
Kappel grinned coldly down at his would-be executioner. "If you fear the humans still, stay here. Feast on our fallen, if you can stomach the taste. Wallow in your shame like a mangy cur, and hope that we take blood and meat enough to soften Our Lord’s displeasure.”
“But those of you who still have your teeth, you have a bargain to uphold!” Kappel's voice rose to a triumphant roar, cresting over the chattering mob. They were his now, his and the Lady's, and it was all so deliciously easy... “If we have lost some in the chase, it only means there is more flesh to share between those of us left! Go now, and search them out! Scour the dark for them, and let the Lord’s word hold true! To the Feast!”
With a chorus of shrieked agreement, the mob scattered into the darkness, seeking the city above. Kappel led them, racing upward from the depths, eager to be first in the chase. Somewhere in those cursed streets, the Hunter and her wizard still breathed the air of Her Ladyship’s world… But not for long.
Not for long.
* * * * *
Fiona peered cautiously out from her hiding place, watching the street for signs of pursuit. Her tired eyes strained as they probed the darkness, searching for any hint of movement. They had been lucky so far, and the streets behind them seemed as eerily empty as the rest of this cursed city. She kept count as the seconds ticked by, mouthing the numbers to herself. It was a good way to stay calm and to keep her focused; a careless mind might start playing tricks, seeing things that weren't there and missing things that were.
The cobbled avenue remained still as a tomb, however, and at the count of eighty-nine Fiona allowed herself a small sigh of relief. She gave one last glance around, and then slid silently back into the narrow alleyway. Safe, at least for the moment...
“I...take it... we outran them then,” gasped Bouchard, struggling to keep his ragged breathing as quiet as possible. The Frenchmen was doubled over, hands resting on his knees as he gasped for air.
"So it would seem," replied Fiona. Empty streets or no, she still didn't like stopping so soon. By her count, they'd come just a little over three miles from the shattered remains of the Inn, covering the distance in a long, blind sprint through the darkened streets. She'd have preferred to keep right on running for another hour or two, but the pace had been too much for her companion. Bouchard was younger than she and reasonably fit, but without the benefits of her rigorous physical training, the pace had almost finished what the monsters had started. A few minutes' rest should be enough to let him catch his second wind... and besides, she needed time to think.
She took a pull from her canteen, ignoring the metallic taste. The water was warm and stale, but after the fighting and fire and flight she would have drunk turpentine so long as it was wet. Bouchard had lost the one she'd lent him for their trek into the catacombs, but despite his exhaustion he still had the good manners to wave her off when she offered him a drink.
“N… No. M’ fine. You have…” He gulped, eyes clenched shut as his raw throat worked, “…Have the rest.”
“That’s very gallant of you,” she told him, and shoved the canteen into his hands anyway. “Now shut up and drink.”
Bouchard nursed the water like a teetotaler faced with hard drink, but Fiona stared at him until he finished the last drop.
"Kappel... he was right.” Bouchard wheezed. “There is...no one else here. Anywhere. No noises. No lights. Do you suppose...they've already killed everyone?"
She had been pondering the same question herself, and shook her head slowly. "That many, this quietly? No, I don't think so. Do you remember what he said, about the Demon placing a curse on us? I don't think we're actually in Paris anymore; I think the Demon's spell sent us...."
"Through the looking glass?" supplied Philip.
Fiona smiled briefly. "Yes. I believe that analogy will do nicely." She tugged the sleeve of her coat, frowning in thought. "Now the question is... what's our next move? We can keep running, but I doubt we'll be able to outrun these monsters forever. We need a plan. Where do we go from here? "
"Uh..." Philip's face reddened.
"Please tell me you have some idea." Fiona whispered, brows knitting together.
"Well, I... not really. I just knew we couldn't stay in the pub. And I was right about that, wasn't I?"
"Aye." She was quiet for several breaths, and then dug into her coat pocket. Fishing around for a moment, she brought out the Grey Eye and held it out to him. "I hate to say it, given all the trouble it's caused us – but without the Stone we'd never have made it this far. Perhaps it might aid us again?"
Bouchard regarded the artifact as though it were a particularly venomous serpent. The graven eye seemed to stare out at him as he reached for it, and a cold shiver ran through him from head to toe as his fingers closed around it. All through this endless night, the Seer’s Stone had brought him nothing but horror and fear. He was in no hurry to delve into it again.
“What if they come again while I'm lost in the visions?” He said quietly. “You can't carry me and run at the same time...”
“It’s a chance we’ll have to take, and the sooner, the better.” She turned away as she spoke, taking stock of her remaining equipment. “I can fight the Demon, but I can't fight her magic. What good will running do us, if we carry this curse every step of the way? The monsters will wait until we've worn ourselves out and then take us for an easy meal. If we're going to survive this at all, you'll have to find some way of breaking her hold on us.”
“Of course, of course. I just…” His voiced trailed off, and he squinted into the still grayness beyond her. "Do you see that?"
"See what? You have the Eye, not I."
He shook his head. "No, no. It's not the Eye. I just noticed...over there, a ways off." He gestured with his rifle. "Light."
"Some place the curse isn't affecting?" She replied, squinting in the direction he pointed.
"Or isn't affected entirely."
She frowned again. "If the curse isn't affecting it, it may be their headquarters."
"If it was there headquarters, there would be no light
at all…maybe it is a place where the veil is pierced, a way o-"
Their was movement materializing far down the block, pallid forms trickling up the middle of the Boulevard like a slow river, making their way through the brick and mortar forest of the surrounding rooftops.
“We need to move…now.” Hissed Fiona, sparing one more glance at the oncoming mass and crossing herself before grabbing his arm and heading deeper into the alley.
They wove their way through the Paris backstreets as quiet as their quick progress would allow, heading towards the glow in the distance. They paused in a doorway to catch their breath and slug down some water. “I think it is Notre Dame”, whispered Philip between sips.
"Holy Ground," whispered back Fiona, nodding.
"Holy Ground! The Demon... Her curse is powerful, but it is still a thing of evil! Perhaps its effects are unable to affect sanctified ground…”
“Sanctuary,” Fiona smiled grimly. “If we can get to it.”
The sound began with a single voice in the night, a long, mournful howl rising up from the distant streets. It echoed through a blackened, empty parody of a city, ringing through abandoned boulevards and forgotten buildings. On and on it sang, under a pitch-dark sky swept clean of stars.
A city boy like Bouchard might have mistaken it for a wolf, but not Fiona Canmore. She’d heard wolves before, on clear nights in the Prussian mountains. This cry was different, dull and monotonous, more like an air-raid siren than the voice of a living creature. There were no words, but she thought she understood its meaning well enough. The Bone Eaters were calling to each other. Her last trick at the Inn may have scattered them, but now they were gathering for the pursuit.
A soft scrape drew both their attention to the rooftop above; a single shingle suddenly worked its way loose and clattered to the ground not far from them.
Fiona mouthed an obscenity, and readied her weapon.
* * * * *
They found themselves racing out of a sidestreet and on to the bank of the Seine with a ravenous pack of about thirty at their backs, and more Bone Eaters began pouring out from the sidestreets as they passed. They were scarcely three long blocks from the glowing gold of Notre Dame, and there was a bridge only a few meters up that would take them over the river… Philip risked a glance down. He could see the monsters in the water below, matching his pace.
“They’re trying to outflank us!” He wheezed to Fiona. She didn’t reply, just swung her weapon out over the water as they reached the bridge, and fired down several bursts. There was a great threshing sound down in the water, and Philip couldn’t help but stare down at the depths below.
A Bone Eater burst up upwards, trailing silvery ribbons of river water, and grasped Philip by the lapels of his coat. He did the only sensible thing he could, and started beating it with his flashlight while screaming at the top of his aching lungs.
“Get down!” Fiona screamed at him, and Bouchard flung himself backwards the best he could, catching a horrified glimpse of waves of Bone Eaters barely a room’s length away from him. The site was enough to make him forget the stitch in his side and the pain in his legs.
Fiona's weapon began to chatter just above him, causing most of the Bone Eaters to dive for safety and distracting the one trying to chew its way through Philip’s coat long enough for Philip to pull out a handful of flares and rip the caps off. They jumped to life, and the creature tore away from him with a noxious hiss of air. Fiona once again hauled him to his feet, only to find the way in front of them now peppered with ghouls. More were surging up the bridge supports. Philip cracked open another two flares and sent the first pair flying ahead, to light their path. But the glow of the flares was fading fast, too fast, barely holding the beast back with their feeble light, and then there were no more in his pockets, and a vast depth of shadow was cast from the cathedral between him and its grand entrance.
Miraculously, hands did not immediately spring up from the grand to trip his step, nor did the darkness suddenly twist into pale shapes and choke him where he stood. In fact, the ghouls seemed to be falling back...
He half-slammed into the wooden door, Fiona four steps behind him. "Holy ground!" he shouted, struggling to breathe. A laugh came boiling out of him, half-relieved and half-hysterical, and Philip forced himself to stop, to inhale, and to not black out. "Are you well?" he croaked to Fiona.
"Get me inside, and I just might be," she replied. Strands of hair had come loose from her braid again, plastered to her face by sweat. She crouched low, her submachine gun making a sweep of the crowd of slick-bodied ghouls milling around the plaza, just outside the ring of soft light. Bouchard tore his eyes off the crowd, trusting Fiona to keep him safe, and put his back to the macabre sight as he strained to shove open the heavy door. They spilled inside, Fiona slamming the door shut and Philip dropped to the floor.
“I… I haven’t run like that since… the War,” he panted, “I’m not in shape… for it.” He could feel his hands shaking as he wiped the sweat from his forehead. That escape had been entirely too close for his liking. Come to think of it, the entire night had been too close for his liking.
"What happened back there?" Fiona asked. She was breathing hard as well, but had remained alert and was scanning their surroundings for any sign of a threat.
The cathedral, like the rest of the city around them, was deserted. Candles filled the front half of the room, filling the room with warmth. Where they lay, pale light filtered through the massive stained-glass windows, casting an intricate tracery of shadow on the cathedral floor, but apart from the magnified sounds of their breathing and the shuffle of their clothing, the interior was silent. Philip stared up at an image of a saint done in blue and gold glass, and squinted his eyes.
Was it? Could it be?
"Fiona, the moon...it's back." He jerked his head in the direction of the line of windows. "That's part of the reason this place is so bright...it's not just the candles, there's actually moonlight shining here," his voice dropped to a reverent whisper.
"And you're the one who spotted it, Bouchard. You were right about the Holy Ground, too."
He shrugged one shoulder, mindful not to stress his wounds. "Well, I wouldn't have made it here without you. Back at the pub..." he shuddered.
She smiled tightly, pulling out a fresh drum of ammunition for her Thompson. “Don’t thank me just yet; we’re still deep in it,” she said, checking the spring tension before loading her weapon. “God only knows how many of those monsters are out there – and we’re stuck here now. If we try to run, we’ll be eaten alive. We have no food. No supplies. They could very well just keep us here until we starve.”
That was a sobering thought. “Can we not keep driving them off with the light?”
Fiona shook her head, “How much further do you think you can run? And where would we run too? This is the only place in the city that we know of that they have not taken over. Besides, I only have a few flares left, and they burn out.”
“Will the church hold off your Demon, as well?”
She sighed. “I don’t think so. The Demon has often hid herself in churches in the past...all the stone gargoyles make good camouflage in the day, you see. Only sunlight can hold her, and this” Fiona held up the sizzling flare, “is certainly a far cry from it." Her expression suddenly turned thoughtful. "Kappel said she had trapped us in night, in darkness...but the moon is up now. Do you think the curse is fading? Will the sun rise soon, after all?"
Philip thought on it. "No...no, I don't think so. I think the curse is as strong as it ever was, and this place," he tapped the floor, "Is just too powerful for the spell to work fully on its grounds. The moon may be visible, but it ought to be brighter than it is. And the candles...this is about half as much light as this many should be putting out."
He caught her drawn expression. "However, this is probably the best place in the city from which to try and break us free of the curse. And while I try to figure us a way out of here, we're safe from the ghouls."
Fiona considered for a few moments, before nodding her agreement. “If that’s the case, you had better get working - the Demon will come for us soon. This place had the makings of a good defensive position,” she looked around for a moment, examining the angles and cover. “It looks like the best place might be from the triforium, up there,” she pointed to a small landing that ran around the edge of the nave. “Come on, you can start your research once we're in place.”
He nodded, and followed her through a door to their left, and up the worn stone stair that led up to the top of the North bell tower. At the clerestory, she paused, peering down the darkened balcony.
“You continue up, try to find a place to hide and get working on breaking whatever hoodoo the Demon’s cooked up. If those creatures can’t enter Holy Ground, that means she's the only one we have to worry about. When she comes, I’ll draw her attention and keep her busy as best I can while you work – but keep that rifle close at hand. If something goes wrong, don’t hesitate to use it. Stay alive,” she said quietly, “I’m counting on you.”
He stared at her in the murky darkness, fear and pride jockeying for position as he tried to formulate a response. She didn’t wait for him.
“Move it!” She gestured up the stair, before
turning her back on him, padding off along the balcony towards the nave
to secure her post.
* * * * *
Above, Demona wheeled lazily, surveying the city with delight. This is exquisite!
She laughed, the sound whipped away by the wind. A night that will never end, and prey that can never escape. She through her head back, reveling in the joy of the moment before hugging her wings in close and dropping out of the sky.
Her wings flared just before she reached the ground, and she back-winged once before landing soundlessly as a cat in the damp grass. Stalking towards the church, the smell of a burning cigarette assailed her sensitive nose. Kappel stepped out of the thick shadows of a nearby alley, grinning.
“You seem to have taken your time in getting here, my Lady,” he bowed to her. “They escaped into the church grounds approximately a quarter hour ago. My kind cannot enter, but we have surrounded the cathedral, cutting off all avenues of escape. The prey is snared; our contract is complete.”
She frowned at Kappel, unsettled by her former servant’s ever-present leer.
“Certainly, you’ve treed the two, but they’re not in the hand yet,” Demona replied, talons clenching.
“As I said, my Lady, my kind cannot enter hallowed ground unprotected, but this body still human enough that the rules don’t hold fast to it,” he gestured at himself. “I can help you bring them down. But in return, I want the girl.”
Demona mulled over his request for a moment, then grinned coldly. “I will give you what is left of her.”
“Good enough. Lead on, my Lady...”
* * * * *
Bouchard scrambled up the winding stair, the heavy pack of research books tucked against his side as he stumbled through the darkness. The stair circled tightly, and he was beginning to feel dizzy by the time he reached the second-level balcony. He went gingerly to the edge, looking out over the city of Paris, a sea of sooty outlines and shadowed rooftops. They seemed flat and distant, lacking the impact of the Cathedral's gothic architecture as it was thrown into sharp relief by the glow of the moon above.
A cool, stiff breeze swirled around him, reminding him of just how high up he was. Philip shook himself. This was no time to be staring; he had a job to do. He picked his way along the edge of the platform, sticking close to the cathedral wall to avoid being spotted from below. After some consideration, he selected a place situated nearly halfway between the bell tower and the north apse, next to one of the massive stained-glass windows that overlooked the nave. Sitting with his back against the cold stone wall he peered around the corner through the window, but could hardly make out a thing in the interior church's interior.
Still, he thought, I might be able to provide some assistance if things get too desperate in there. Though if Mme. Canmore wasn’t able to persuade the Demon and her monsters to leave them alone, he wasn't sure how much more he could add to the argument.
He would stick to his appointed task: finding a way to break them free of the night that held them both hostage. Philip pulled the rifle off his shoulder and balanced it across his lap before emptying his pack, stacking the volumes neatly beside him. He scanned the titles, but he had no idea where to begin, or even exactly what he was looking for.
With some desperation, he snatched up a book, largely at random, and began leafing through the pages.
* * * * *
Fiona crouched low as she looked out over the vast expanse of the Cathedral, her shoulder pressed into one of the tall stone pillars that lined the triforium. Perched some thirty feet above the smooth stone floor, her position gave her a clear view of both the west and south portals, as well as the majority of the nave itself. In a fight, her Grandfather had taught her, it was always best to take the high ground.
Of course, the “high ground” was a difficult thing to take when your opponent could fly. The thought made Fiona uneasy, and she gripped the Thompson tighter as she scanned below for any sign of movement. The Demon had wings, and this entire magnificent structure seemed to be made of glass. The gallery itself was walled with the stuff, and she’d be trapped if the Demon came that way…
She could feel the tension in her hands, and her palms were sweating as she flexed them on the wooden grips of her weapon. Her family had hunted the Demon for centuries, and still it survived to work its evil. Could she really stand fast where her ancestors had failed? For a moment, Fiona felt very small, little more than a child lost in the deep, dark wood, left to the mercy of the wolves. The weapon in her hands seemed a small, frail thing.
Too late for second thoughts, girl. She’s thrown everything she has at you, and you’re still alive. You’ve got a weapon in hand and ground of your choosing; none on the green earth can ask for more. Stand now, and show Her how a Canmore fights.
"Garg'n Uair Dhuisgear…” Fierce when roused. It was the Canmore motto, shouted out over a hundred battlefields since time untold. Her doubt began to burn away, driven out by hungry anticipation. She was the Hunter, and her Prey drew near. There was work to be done.
Reaching into her pocket, she drew out the black mask of the Hunter and pulled it quickly over her face.
Let the Demon come.
* * * * *
And come she did.
The heavy wooden doors of the Portal of Judgment flew wide with a reverberating boom, and Demona strode through them into the soft light of the cathedral. Her glowing ruby eyes surveyed the great hall for signs of her quarry, but she could see none. Hiding, just like they always do.
So, she must flush them out into the open. She grinned, talons flexing, her tail lashing with anticipation. It had been a very, very long time since she enjoyed a good stalk.
"There's no sanctuary to be had here, Hunter!" She called out. "I've slept safe among these walls and parapets for many a season, and I know every stone! Your religious houses are nothing to me but good camouflage, and I'll have your heart on a plate if I have to pull this whole cathedral down brick by brick to do it!"
Her shout reverberated off the stone walls and vaulted ceiling, echoing vacantly back to her. There was no response, but then, she hadn't expected one. This Hunter was well trained, and certainly not foolish enough to allow mere taunts to lure her from wherever she was hiding.
Demona smiled to herself; that was for the best, though. The stupid ones rarely provided an enjoyable chase.
* * * * *
"Come on out Hunter, I'm growing bored! You filth are usually in more of a hurry to meet your doom!" The Demon's voice sung out cruelly as she stalked forward, red eyes aglow as they searched the cathedral. "Or have you survived all these years like the rest of your sisters, by running away and abandoning your menfolk when faced with the very thought of my presence? Is that all Canmore females are good for, hiding and breeding?"
Fiona's face burned with every word, but she forced herself to remain still. The Demon was a cruel beast, but she was exceedingly foolish if she thought Fiona could be easily provoked. When the moment came, she’d answer with something harder than words.
She watched as her quarry moved, silhouetted against the moonlight that spilled through the portal arch. The range was probably less than sixty yards, a hard shot with her pistol, but manageable with a long arm like the Thompson. She breathed slowly, working to control her heartbeat as she settled her sights on the faint shape below.
The darkness made it difficult to use the sights properly. She doubted it would matter.
* * * * *
As Demona paused, still scanning the room for signs of movement, Kappel peered cautiously around the edge of the portal. She turned, and stared back at him. “Are you coming, or not?”
He chucked softly. “I think I’ll let you scout the area first, if it’s all the same, my Lady – just to make sure there are no unpleasant surprises.”
“Coward,” she snorted in disgust. She turned her back on him, caping her wings with a flourish as she strode forward.
* * * * *
The sights aligned perfectly, and Fiona’s finger took up the slack on the trigger. It broke cleanly, and the roar of the Thompson shattered the shadowy stillness. The blast was deafening, multiplied a thousand fold as it danced and reverberated amid the cathedral’s architecture.
* * * * *
Without warning, the nave erupted with gunfire. Demona dove to the right, scrambling to escape the lethal rain of bullets. Too slow; pain lanced through her leg as the Hunter’s aim followed her movement. A bullet buzzed past her ear, and she felt another strike her shoulder before she managed to duck behind one of the massive pillars.
“Come out, Monster!” The shout was nearly drowned out as its owner fired two more shots into the pillar behind which Demona was hiding. “Or weren’t you going to finish the job?!”
Chips of stone sang around her as more bullets struck the pillar, and Demona hissed in fury. It wasn’t the ambush, or the pain of her wounds. It was the insufferable arrogance in the brat’s words. Oh, she’d caught herself a Hunter, all right. No other could match that smug assurance, that dumb, obstinate pride. She’d heard it from a hundred voices through the years, and silenced every one of them. And always it returned, wearing a different face but driven by the same eternal, fanatic certainty.
'Demon! Monster! Your kind has no place in this world; we’ll send you back to hell where you belong!'
She snarled soundlessly, eyes flaring crimson.
I’ll make her pay. I’ll make her pay for it all…
She gave her injuries a cursory glance; there was pain where the bullets had struck her but none of the wounds were serious. They’d be little more than bruises in a few hours. While there was nothing the Hunters could do to kill her short of tracking Macbeth down and enlisting his aid- and thank the Dragon none of them had ever uncovered that little detail- they were still vicious and determined enemies. A memory of fire and screaming hatchlings skittered through her mind, and she forced it away. This Hunter was canny, and although she was alone she was quite well-armed. In her long life, Demona had learned that it never paid to underestimate the enemy. And she'd never faced anyone with weapons like this head-on before.
Not that she was without weapons of her own....
Demona smiled nastily, gripping the contents of the leather pouch that dangled from her belt, and began to draw on its power.
* * * * *
"Adorior flabrorum!" shouted the Demon's voice from below.
A breath of wind caressed Fiona's face, and shifting dust from the damaged pillar began to blow inwards, towards her. She narrowed her eyes and tried to ignore it, but the breeze was gathering intensity with startling speed. The candles below went out in a wash, and many tipped from their sconces. The heavy wooden doors that secured the East and West portals rattled and banged on their hinges before finally bursting open under the onslaught of the increasing gale. The force of it was astonishing; tendrils of Fiona’s hair that had loosened from her braid stung her face as they whipped about. Several of the stained glass windows in the nave shattered with the pressure as her eyes began to water.
This could be bad.
With a shriek that echoed the howling wind, the Demon dashed from her cover and snapped her wings wide. The wind caught her instantly, sending her skimming above the Cathedral floor at great speed. Fiona’s shout of rage answered the Demon's cry as she became airborne, and the Hunter opened fire again. The beast was ready this time, the unnatural wind responding to her needs as though it were her guardian. Bullets tracked across the marble floor as she twisted and rolled midair, agile as a falcon. Fiona swore loudly, but bit back her rising anger and forced herself to concentrate.
Lead your target carefully, the way uncle Harod taught with you hunting geese on the wing. Swing through the target, fire as you cross…The next burst came closer, and the Demon backed off, corkscrewing on wingtip to gain altitude. Fiona followed her movements through the Thompson's sights, watching for a pattern in the beast’s movement that would leave a clear shot. Three more rounds met nothing but air and stone, and then the demon was gone, twisting mid-air to flash between two pillars and into the opposite gallery.
It re-emerged a few moments later, something clutched within its talons like a spear.
Fiona sighted in on the winged form as it wheeled and began to charge. She was just about to take the shot when the demon canted her wings, flinging her burden at the Hunter. Fiona threw herself behind a pillar as a massive iron candle-stand smashed through the railing where she had stood moments before. She spun around to the other side of the pillar, snapping off two quick bursts at the rapidly approaching demon. Fiona adjusted her aim, squeezing the trigger...and was rewarded with a dry snap. The ammo drum had run dry.
This seemed to be what the Demon was waiting for. She gave a roar of triumph, and the gale doubled in force as she hurtled in for the kill. A lesser warrior might have panicked, but not Fiona Canmore. The empty drum bounced away across the stones, and time slowed for her as she reached for a spare. Her hands seemed to move on their own; her eyes never left her charging opponent, gauging speed and distance.
No time. No time at all-
The Demon’s howl was like an approaching freight train, and the gale tore at Fiona's clothes and hair, stinging her eyes. The loaded drum slid free from its pouch; a clumsy, heavy thing weighing down her hand. She tried to shove it into place, but it wouldn’t seem to fit. Fiona tried again, eyes now fixed on the talons that reached for her, flexing and straining as they sought to tear her to pieces. No time, No time!
Fiona tore her eyes away, and stared down at the magazine. With exaggerated precision, she angled it a little to the left and pressed up, and this time it seated with a hearty clack. She jerked the bolt back, her head snapping back up to find her target bare feet away, so close that she could see the ruby lips pulled back in a viscous snarl, eyes glowing that hellish red as she closed with her prey.
Taking time to aim would be suicide. Fiona slammed the trigger back, firing from the hip as she ran through fifty rounds in one long burst. The Demon saw it coming at the last moment and tried to twist away, but she was moving too fast and the range was just too short. Her battle cry became a scream of pain as she flew headlong into a wall of lead. For a moment, she hung helpless in the air as the bullets punched into her, unable to charge and unable to retreat. In that moment, Fiona knew that she had won.
Then the wind roared back, tearing the Demon out of the bullet's path with the force of a hurricane. Fiona tried to track her as she fled, but the wind was too strong. Fiona was lifted off her feet and thrown back against the gallery wall. The wind raged for a moment more, and then died away as quickly as it came. Once more, the nave was silent.
* * * * *
Kappel stepped out of the shadowy stair and into the moonlight. He’d have loved to stay and watch the battle, but between the frightful din and the amount of lead being slung around, he decided it would be safer leave the girls to their games and stalk his own prey. His former Lady got results, but lacked a certain… subtlety.
He moved slowly, savoring the night air and the scent of his prey.
The boy had been through here, all right. A book with his smell on it lay forlornly on the stones like a forgotten prayer. Kappel knelt and retrieved one; the writing was meaningless, but the pages stank of wizards and mischief. The rabbit is trying to break free of our snare. He flung the volume over the balustrade in disgust. Meddling fool, he must have been up here the whole time. Not sturdy enough to mix it up with the ladies, so he hides away picking at things he shouldn’t.
Philip couldn’t have gotten far. And where Bouchard was, the Lady’s bauble was as well. She would be willing to trade for it; his King would no doubt reward the one who handed over such valuable leverage.
Now to find its current owner…
Kappel closed his eyes and whuffed in air. His razor leapt open with a flick of his wrist, glimmering like a sliver of moonlight.
The Lady hunted her way, and he hunted his.
* * * * *
The massive window rattled and shook with the fury of the fight inside. Philip hunched lower over his text, trying in vain to keep his concentration focused on the work at hand. He had always taken pride in his linguistic skills, but working in the comforts of his own home was quite different from translating by moonlight just outside a rapidly-developing war zone.
Even more distracting than the fight inside was the fact that he had been unable to find anything of use whatsoever. Everything he had read had been dry academic theory and old superstition; oddly enough, no one seemed to have taken the time to write a monograph on what to do when one found oneself trapped in an endless night by a hell-spawned demon and her horde of cannibalistic ghouls.
Bouchard slammed the book shut in frustration as another burst of gunfire thundered through the Cathedral. Time was running out – he had to do something!
I have to help her, he thought desperately as he shoveled books back into his bag. I shouldn’t be up here wasting my time with these useless books. I should be down there, helping her fight! I should be finding SOMEthing useful to-
The Seer’s Stone.
He stopped in his tracks, the last book dropping from his nerveless fingers as he shuddered at the memory of his last horrible vision - but his hand was already searching his coat pocket for the Stone. Horrors or no, it had helped them find Kappel, and also helped save their lives more than once this eve. The books had produced no results; there was no other way.
It felt cool and heavy against his skin, the black silk of the ties sifting between his fingers as the night’s cool breeze stirred them. The Eye stared up at him, inert and empty. Bouchard remembered the clutch of the visions, the horrible crushing sensation that accompanied them as knowledge was ground into his mind, and the terror was almost enough to make him hurl the thing away into the night.
There’s no time for that, Philip. She’s counting on you, remember?
He swallowed his fear once more, taking deep breaths as he raised the stone to his face, placing it over his right eye and tying it in place. He closed his left, cleared his mind as well as he could, and opened himself to its secrets.
Philip shivered as he felt the tendrils of power slowly sift their way into his mind. Past experience had hinted to him that the Stone reacted to its user’s thoughts, which was the reason he believed he had been overcome by the horrors of the Catacombs. He used all his best meditation techniques to relax, and still his mind.
Calm the breathing. Calm the heart. Calm the thoughts. Focus, He chanted to himself, and the din of the battle seemed to grow distant…
When he was satisfied that he had himself under control, he reached out carefully, beginning to think about the signs of the curse; the empty streets, the lightless fires, the flat shadows that made up this world. Each thought created rippling sensations as almost-visions fluttered past him, just beyond his reach. He forced himself to remain calm, to not allow himself to be drawn in by them. Focus was the key.
Why is the city empty of all but us? Why does the dark consume the light? Why has time stilled like a dammed river? Kappel said it was a curse. Can what was done be undone, the threads unsnarled?
Slowly, something tentative began to emerge from the shadows of his mind. He saw a small statuette – a flash of Kappel’s razor slicing into his coat sleeve – a sickening blue and green fire sputtering in a haze of anger and hatred-
He could see the whole of the shadow Paris they were trapped within; it was as if he hovered far above it, higher even than the Cathedral’s towers. Looking down it was as though all the houses and shops and buildings rest upon a vast mirror, but unlike the dead world in which he is trapped, the world mirrored beneath was alive and moving. Through the looking glass indeed, Philip thought. He wondered if their actions here were reflected in the living world, if the pub fire started in this realm had consumed its twin on the other side. There was no time to follow that trail at the moment; he had to keep focus on the matter at hand.
The vision shifted, and the early morning streets of Paris wavered and faded like the morning mist. All signs of life vanished, and something emerged in the place of what should have been; a sickly glow that invaded the world like a plague. He examined the barrier between the two worlds; a thin distortion was all that separated them. So. That was all. It seemed simple enough – even frail. To break free, all he had to do was destabilize the skein, and this shadow world should collapse back into the real one.
Perhaps a pranic deconstruction? If only he knew how the spell had been laid! Philip had barely began to think of possible thamautological counters to the curse when there was an incredible rush of power, as though he'd shaken hands with a lightning bolt. He felt something break loose inside his skull, and suddenly found himself staring at a ghastly green flame burning in the center of a unnaturally dark room, and there was chanting- a bloody blade- a small glowing statue- and suddenly Philip could SEE how it was all connected, yes, the statue, the statue was like a keystone, holding this deviation in place.
And Mme. Canmore's demon held the statue.
The vision shifted, with the beast now its focus. With a start Philip realized he was watching the events unfolding in the room below as though he were hovering mid-air, a specter spectator on the brutal fight. Fiona fired rapidly, and the demon responded by raised a wall of air against her. Philip caught his breath at the sight.
"Quite remarkable, is she not?"
Had he been in possession of a physical body at the time, Philip Bouchard would have jumped out of his skin with a start, his heart pounding. The shock was similar without one, as he recognized the speaker; it was the crone who had appeared in his dream. She was suddenly standing beside him in the vision. Or was she already here, and I just did not notice?
"Such power," the crone continued. "If she could but harness her anger, she would truly be a force to be reckoned with. And we will teach her such things, when she comes to claim her crown."
He could feel her focus, and it was not on Fiona but on the demon. Philip swallowed thickly. "You said...in my dream, you said you had been calling her."
"Yes. We have waited a long time for her, watched her through nightmares of men. Long have we slept and watched in vain, daring to hope only for one who was but a shadow of her. She is our sister returned to us; through Demona, we will be made whole once more. Give the eye to her, boy, so that she may hear our call in our own voices, and not just the song of power."
"Are you mad, spirit? This stone contains more power- with it, she could- why she could-" Each example he thought of was brushed aside by thoughts of an even worse atrocity. The crone seemed to now his thoughts at a glance, and chuckled dryly.
"She will do all that and more, boy, when she takes up her rightful crown." the crone rasped joyously. "She will be as the storms of the deep, furious and unrelenting, and none shall stand before her. Give the eye to her, or let her take it from your corpse; it will be in her hands either way soon enough.”
"You don't know what you are asking, what this thing is!"
It turned its cowled head to him, and he was overcome with a sense of dread. If she turned a fraction more, he would see what lay beneath the hood.
"Of course I know what I am asking; it is my eye, after all." A withered hand brushed away a lock of greasy hair, and the cowl shifted.
* * * * *
The wind died back down until it was a stiff breeze, leaving behind a frightening silence. This was not good; she was far too exposed here. Fiona nervously backed away towards the tower. From somewhere high above, the demon taunted her.
"I'd like to thank you, Hunter. Kappel was a bit too thorough in Lyon, and your brother died too quickly to answer most of my questions. I had planned to look up the rest of his family, and you just saved me a lot of time and effort."
The Demon’s voice echoed too much to track her by sound, but in the heavy silence that followed the taunt, Fiona could feel that she was close. A drop of something warm splashed against the tip of her nose, and Fiona brushed it away irritably. He fingers were halfway to wiping themselves clean against her coat when the horrible thought struck her, and she brought it to her nose instead.
It smelled like… Blood. Oh for the love of God-
Wind rushed above her as the Demon launched herself from the ceiling like a jungle cat, twisting in the air as she bore down on her prey. Fiona tried to raise the Thompson, but the Demon snapped her tail like a whip, and the gun went spinning away across the nave, leaving her right arm numb as she dove away from the swooping monster.
"Your little toys won't save you this time, girl!"
Drawing her Colt left handed, Paul Canmore’s only granddaughter pointed the gun in the general direction of her enemy and ran through seven rounds as fast as she could pull the trigger, falling backwards as she fired.
Luck, it seemed, was with her. Her last shot clipped the Demon in the shoulder, sending her twisting away. One wing smacked against a colonnade, and the Demon dropped towards the floor like a marionette whose strings had been cut. Fiona could hear the impact from where she lay.
"Interesting comment from a beast who had to hire a whole brigade of night-walking ghouls to try and bring us down, and then attacked me from the shadows with magic. You haven't exactly been fighting with only yuir own two hands," she muttered, heaving herself back up. She could see the Demon was doing the same...what would it take to put her down, once and for all? Fiona's face split into a wicked grin, and she began to rummage through her satchel one-handed.
"Though if ye think the little toys aren't doing the trick, perhaps I ought to introduce you to the grown-up ones."
* * * * *
Demona struggled to rise, the sharp stinging pain in her chest letting her know that some of her ribs were broken every time she drew breath. One of her wings was bent at an odd angle, and was probably broken as well. Across the room, she saw the accursed Hunter grab something cylindrical about a foot long from her bag.
The Canmore wench tossed the thing towards her, underhanded, before leaping for cover, and time seemed to slow down. Demona watched it describe a perfect parabola through the air and land a few feet away. A bit of knowledge she’d absorbed from Kappel without realizing it flashed across her mind, and she scrambled, far too late, to escape, blood-slick talons slipping on the smooth tile floor. And then – all was light.
* * * * *
Fiona emerged from behind the heavy oaken pew she’d taken shelter behind, and shook her head as she surveyed the grenade's damage.
“Remind me not to use one of those indoors again if I can avoid it.” She remarked to no one in particular, before scanning the area for both the Demon, and her missing weapon.
* * * * *
With a start, Bouchard found himself back in his body, the grey eye still in his hand. He stared down at it, revulsion filling him as he thought of - don't think of her face, of that place where a face should have been! Please God, anything to keep the memory of that at bay!
Pain seared his skull and neck as fistful of his hair was yanked, hard, forcing his head back. He was now eye to fishbelly-eye with Kappel, the icy chill of the German’s razor stroking gently across the skin of his throat.
“Easy, easy now,” Kappel whispered, “if you can’t keep still, there’s liable to be a messy accident.”
Hold still, hell, I’ve forgotten how to breathe. His eyes search around franticly for something that could help him; the shoulder-bag was nearby, research books spilling out of it, and his rifle…where was his rifle? He must have dropped it when the vision took him. In the distance he could hear the play of weapons-fire. Fiona was still alive, which was good, but he knew with cold certainty that she would not be coming to his rescue this time.
The blade curled up his cheek in a grim parody of a barber, and slid beneath his nose. A slight move, and the blade disappeared. He could hear Kappel sniffing at it, and knew he had scraped away some of his nosebleed.
“That little bit of rock too much for you, hmm? Foolish of you to be playing around at a time like this. It seems to have cost you rather dearly. But what will you pay with first? An ear? A finger?”
“Eugene, please. Don’t do this. The darkness is strong, I know it is, but you are strong too! I know you are!” Philip croaked desperately, heart in his throat. “You can beat it, if you only fight!”
Kappel threw back his head and chortled a thick laugh, and Philip started edging his fingers towards the strap of his bag.
“Sorry, boy! You are preaching to another’s convert; Eugene Kappel is gone. Oh, you can keep trying to reach him if you like, plead with him for your life if it amuses you- it certainly amuses me! But your little friend is quite gone…”
Another flash- less pain this time- as the Eye entered the conversation on Kappel’s side. A few terrifying moments and then it withdrew, but it had confirmed what the Bone Eater had just told him. Eugene was gone. And he had a ghoul to deal with in his place.
Blinking back tears, there was only one thing on Philip’s mind now- keep it distracted long enough to get away. After that would come getting to his gun and helping Fiona, but for now, all that mattered was stopping the thing that wore his friend’s skin from slicing his own apart.
“If he’s gone, then how are you here? Your kind…shouldn’t be able to…walk on consecrated ground.” The razor was playing against his skin again, and he was finding it hard to concentrate.
"Mmm...don't know." The razor paused. "Perhaps some of my Lady's grace still remains with me." He shrugged, the movement jerking the blade against his skin. "I don't care, and I doubt you do either- you are no doubt listing up as many useless questions that you can think of to ask me to divide away my attention. It hasn't worked. I have much more focus than the meatling that once inhabited this body."
Philip started to object, and froze as the ghoul placed Kappel's razor against his lips.
"No use objecting, I can taste the truth in your blood." He moved the blade up, until the tip rested just below his exposed left eye. "Now these next few minutes are really going to hurt, so feel free to scream and beg as much as you like. Might as well get some use out of your tongue while it’s still attached…"
The knife sliced, and Philip bit back a yell. His cheek stung from eye to chin, but all he could think of in that moment was how lucky he was that the blade had moved down and not up.
"Not really the reaction I was expecting." The razor moved again, a shallow dragging cut, but this time Philip was prepared. He whimpered and made a show of trying-to-writhe-away-while-staying-still, and used the movements as a cover for closing his hand around the strap of his bag and bringing it nearer. The Bone Eater giggled.
"Much better. Much better. Where to cut next...Perhaps you have a suggestion? No?"
He moved the razor in a slow arc, across Philip's neck and back up his opposite cheek, the point digging in to his temple, across his hairline-
Philip made his move. He ignored the sudden, sharp pains in his scalp as he lunged forward, leaving behind a hank of his hair in his captor's hand. Digging his fingers into the side of his bag, he pivoted his body and swung twenty leather-bound pounds of arcane wisdom into the surprised German’s face.
The ghoul went sprawling, and Philip dove for his rifle.
He had barely gotten his hands on it when Kappel came at him, and fetched him a vicious kick in the side. Grunting, Philip rolled with the blow and came up on his feet, facing his opponent.
The next few minutes where a whirl of action, Kappel slashing with the knife and Bouchard doing his best to fend him off with the barrel of the Winchester while trying to find a break in the action to fire. He gradually found himself backed into the stairwell and then up it, barely out of reach of the snarling ghoul. His knuckles were bleeding freely by the time Philip stumbled out of the narrow confines of the stairs and into the open ground of the bell room.
He jumped back and brought the barrel up; the blast of the rifle set the bells above their heads to humming. The heavy slug missed and blew a thick wooden pole in half as it dodged to the left with inhuman speed. The thing was on him before he could work the action again, Kappel’s face locked in a rictus of fury.
Philip made to block with the rifle again as the razor soared down, but it was a feint. One grey-skinned hand wrapped around the gun and the other whipped forward again; he hissed as the thin blade sliced easily through his vest and shirt, not quite fast enough to avoid the vicious slash across his belly. With a shout, he wrenched the rifle loose from the thing's grip, and smashed the brass butt plate into its collar. There was an audible snap, and the ghoul stumbled back, snarling. Their gazes locked again, and with a dry smile it simply transferred the razor into the hand of its uninjured arm.
Bouchard eyed the wretch coldly, and jacked a fresh round into the chamber.
The metal-on–metal clatter of the Winchester shook loose the creature's stare, its focus shifting to the gun momentarily.
"Well well, it looks like the rabbit had some fight in it after all. What’s it intend to do now, I wonder?"
"Leave?" The thing chortled incredulously.
Philip steeled his jaw and nodded once. "Leave the body of Eugene Kappel, and be gone forever. If you do, I promise to not come looking for you. If you don't release him, I'll contract every doctor and priest I know and find a way to burn you out of existence. Permanently."
The thing that had been Kappel stared at him, and slowly shook its head. "It doesn't work that way, boy." And then it rushed him.
The Winchester boomed, and the Bone Eater danced out of its path, smirking.
"Too fast for you", it started to say, but the words came out slurred. Its knife-arm wavered, and began to fall to its side.
It looked at its arm, a surprised expression on its face. "What...?" Its eyes shifted, and it saw the rapidly-spreading stain darkening its shirt. "Not a miss after all," the thing muttered softly as he crumpled to his knees, the razor sliding from his grasp.
It stares up sickly at a grim-faced Bouchard, who worked the action a third time. "Damn you."
Philip shook his head. "You are the damned one." The thing's eyes narrowed, and Philip could see its intent a second before it moved. Before he could form words, the injured ghoul mustered its strength and launched itself forward. Philip fired.
The massive bullet caught his target full in the breast, throwing it backward...right between the open columns of the bell tower. Despite himself, Bouchard shouted a too-late warning, even as the ghoul vanished soundlessly over the edge. Heart pounding in his throat he risked a look over the side. Far below, Kappel’s body lay broken on the cobbles. Truly dead or not, it didn't look like he would be getting up any time soon.
Bouchard slumped back against the cool wall of the tower, wanting nothing more than to fall to the floor and sleep for a week.
She must run. Her brain screamed at her to escape, but her battered body refused to respond. The explosion had deafened her, but Demona didn’t need her hearing to know the Hunter was coming. Her vision swam, and the sound of her ragged breathing was buried under the toneless buzzing of her ruined ears. If she could stand… But her left leg sent ripples of agony through her as it moved, and her right was completely numb. The best she could manage was an excruciating crawl, her talons digging troughs in the polished stone floor as she pulled herself forward.
Her eyes refused to focus, and the rushing in her head told her that she was on the verge of fainting. She clung to consciousness through sheer determination, but fear was beginning to seep past the pain. The damage would heal, given time, but the Hunter was unlikely to be so generous. She was fairly certain that the wretched Canmore girl could not kill her, but for some fates, might not death be a mercy?
She couldn’t allow herself to be taken. To be at a human’s mercy, too weak to defend herself… Never again.
But escape seemed impossible, and had no strength left to fight. She forced herself to think, to push through the haze of pain that choked her thoughts. There might still be a way.
She slowly drew herself upright, leaning heavily against a massive pillar as she reached into her belt pouch. Weakly, she pulled out the Praying Gargoyle; by some miracle, it survived both the fall and the blast intact. There might be hope yet; the statue had powerful regenerative capabilities, and a small spell might allow her to tap into them. And more- the statue was keyed to gargoyles, and her kind once guarded these walls. Some she had known. All were gone. Still, their memories might survive in the stone…
Demona clutched the small statuette against her chest, and began to whisper.
* * * * *
Fiona moved slowly across the shadowy Nave, her retrieved trench-broom leading the way. The grenade’s scar was easy to spot even in the faint moonlight, as was the heavy blood trail leading away from it.
She grinned to herself; perhaps the Demon wasn’t so invincible after all.
Oh, she was a tough one to be sure, the toughest of her kind her family had ever encountered, but if the grenade didn’t do the trick, a few dozen 45-caliber slugs in her skull ought to. The Hunters had been pondering the Demon’s resilience for a long time now, and there were several theories that Fiona was itching to test.
The trail was a short one, leading toward a pair of pillars flanking a massive statue of the Virgin Mary. The Madonna smiled serenely down on Fiona as she advanced. She darted ahead, swinging left, and found her quarry, her monstrous frame burned and broken. Still breathing- though with some difficulty, the Hunter noted. The beast was also mumbling in what sounded like Latin.
Fiona sneered. "Saying your prayers, Demon?"
To who or what the Demon could possibly pray Fiona neither knew nor cared, but she had no problem sending the beast on her way to meet them. The gargoyle turned sluggishly, and her eyes glowed stronger for a moment. But then the glow faded, her expression shifting with it from anger to something less definable. An aura of crushing weariness settled over her, leaving Fiona momentarily disconcerted.
This was no how it was supposed to go, She thought.
For the Demon, bane of her family for centuries, to simply give up… She’d expected defiance, threats, even begging, but this detached regard was unnerving.
Fiona paused, wary of some new trick, but a quick visual check of her surroundings revealed nothing. Perhaps the Demon simply knew when she was beaten, and was hoping for a quick death. If so, she’d be disappointed.
Fiona thought of Jackson, Herod, young Thomas, of all her family fallen in the Demon’s wake, and of all the others, innocents like Ancel, and Reeves, that she’d murdered down through the centuries, and even of Kappel, who’d been turned to a monster twice over simply for crossing her path.
It had to end. It would end. Tonight. But first…
Fiona squatted to look her family’s nemesis in the eye, her coat pooling on the floor behind her.
“D’ye know how many of my kin you and yer retched kind have killed, Demon?”
“N… Not enough… Apparently.” The Demon wheezed.
Fiona smiled, and stood back up.
“Glad t’ see yer still lively enough t’ make jokes, hell-spawn. I wouldn’t want ye t’ miss any of what’s comin’.”
With a flourish, she slung the Thompson over her shoulder and retrieved her Colt. From her rucksack she produced a spare magazine, one with a large red ‘X’ applied to it with nail polish.
“D’ ye know what dum-dum bullets are, Demon?”
Theatrically, Fiona hit the magazine release on her pistol and let the magazine fall to the floor, the impact echoing loudly through the empty church.
“They were banned by The Hague over twenty years ago, but I don’t think that applies to you and me.”
The new rounds loaded, the Hunter pulled the slide slowly, drawing in a deep breath as it clicked and snapped back into place, signaling the gun was ready to fire.
“Heart or head, Demon?” she asked, almost playfully. “It doesna really matter of course. After I shoot ye, I’m goin’ ta cut one out and the other off, then pour gasoline over what’s left, and burn yer filthy carcass until it’s nothin’ but a smudge…”
The Demon twitched, convulsively, and Fiona’s trained reflexes kicked in, her boot heel connecting with the Demon’s forehead before her mind was aware her leg had moved.
The beast slid away from the column, and lolled brokenly on the floor, still clutching whatever she was clinging to so tightly in her hands.
Part of Fiona wanted to kick the wretched specimen before her again, but she was afraid if she started, she might not be able to stop. Better to just do the deed and be done with the whole miserable business.
She stood over the Demon, Colt pointed directly into her face, and quickly crossed herself.
“Be off with ye, then.” She murmured, drawing one last deep breath.
In that split second, Fiona heard a rush of air behind her, and sprang to one side. An instant later, the cathedral shook to its foundations as a massive stone palm whistled through the space she’d just occupied and crashed into the nearby column.
It took a moment for Fiona to process what she was seeing, and another to believe it. The Virgin Mary stood in the muted moonlight between her and the Demon. The statue held its palms open at its sides, head cocked slightly, looking calm, peaceful, and for all the world as though it hadn’t just moved from its perch and tried to turn Fiona into a red smear on the walls.
Behind the statue, a brilliant blue glow, the brightest light Fiona had seen in this endless night, enveloped the Demon.
Fiona darted to her right, raising her gun, desperate to bring the nightmare to an end. But the statue slid just fast enough to its left, barring her path. And she found herself, contrary to all her training, filled with a white-hot rage. When your family’s calling was hunting demons, a little more than average religious faith was to be expected, and her soul burned at this blasphemy.
“More sorcery… Do yer crimes never end?!? Do ye think this will stop me?”
Breathing a quick Hail Mary by way of apology, Fiona dropped into a kneeling position and put three shots into each of the statue’s kneecaps, before raising her aim and firing the last round into its forehead.
“Amen.” She whispered as the statue took a wobbly step towards her and fell over sideways, legs splintered. Behind it, Fiona could still see the eerie blue glow rising from the Demon’s unmoving form. Furious with herself for her previous lapse, Fiona roughly unslung the Thompson and made to step around the fallen work of art…
Until it abruptly sat up and took a swipe at her legs.
Startled, the Hunter leapt back, knuckles white on the grips of her weapon. Apparently her foe still had some life left in it, and whatever the light coming off the Demon was, it was bound to be more bad news.
Confound it, she’d come too close to let this chance slip away, and this sacrilegious puppet was not going to stop her!
Darting to her left, Fiona tried to dodge around the statue, hoping to finish the Demon off quickly.
She was shocked when the Virgin Mary, her normally serene expression marred somewhat by her glowing eyes and the bullet hole in her forehead, let out a roar that could have belonged to one of the Demon’s kin, and launched one of her own severed marble legs through the air like a javelin.
The improvised missile came close enough for Fiona to feel the wind of its passage on her face as she slid to a halt on the polished tile, sailing past her and crashing its way through three pews before coming to rest.
The Madonna sat, watching Fiona impassively, holding her other leg. Its posture seemed to say, ‘the next one won’t miss.’
Clearly, a change of strategy was in order, and the statue was not the only one who could throw things, Fiona decided.
She reached into her bag, gripping the smooth wooden handle of her last grenade. With luck, she dispose of the Demon and her guardian at once, the proverbial two birds with one stone, but as long as the statue was destroyed, Fiona felt she could still finish off her target with hot lead, cold steel, or her own two hands if necessary.
She reached to arm the grenade, and suddenly the night air came alive with the sound of shattering glass.
Far above her, one of the massive stained-glass windows exploded inward. A second statue slammed to the ground amid a hail of glass and lead ribbon, somehow surviving the fall intact. It had the shape of a gargoyle, one of the carvings from the upper reaches of the Cathedral.
Another leapt through one of the northern windows to land with a splintering crash among the pews. A fourth crawled rapidly down the smooth stones of the wall, delicate granite fingers grasping and clutching at handholds as its mouth gaped hungrily at her.
More followed, gargoyles and other statuary swarming in from all sides. In ones and twos, they made their way to the nave, ten, fifteen, a score of them.
A few made threatening gestures towards her, but most simply surrounded the Demon, though the way their glowing eyes regarded Fiona was definitely unfriendly. They seemed to be waiting for something, and the Hunter had a fair idea of what it was.
Though she could no longer observe her target directly, Fiona could still see the blue light shining from behind the shielding figures, and noted for the first time a low murmuring sound, rising around her.
As the sound reached a crescendo, the Hunter began mentally reviewing her options.
The statuary wasn’t attacking yet, but they probably would soon, and definitely would if she made a move toward the Demon. The Bone Eaters were presumably still licking their chops outside, waiting for their intended meal to leave the consecrated ground, and her weapons were only marginally more effective against the ghouls than against the Demon’s honor guard anyway. And most vexingly of all, something was happening with the Demon.
Advance was impossible, as was escape. Time then, for a tactical retreat,
and a prayer that Bouchard was having better luck than she was.
* * * * *
Philip sat hunched against the wall of the tower, too drained to move. The front of his shirt was stiff with dried blood, and absently he wondered if he might die this way. To have survived all of the last two days, to have defeated…Kappel…and then to die of blood loss from a number of relatively minor wounds? The Fates were cruel, indeed.
Then came a booming noise from below that rocked the very stone. As series of gunshots followed, and then silence.
One way or another it's over, he thought. Philip closed his eyes.
He opened them again at the sound of shattering glass, and the roaring sounds all around as though the very cathedral was coming to life. Apparently the Demon had a few tricks up her sleeve that Mme. Canmore hadn't been aware of.
He was all that she has left, and she was waiting for him. He knew what he had to do, and his last vision had left him with a few revelations – the Demon was no friend to the Bone Eaters, and even now walked a narrow line with them. Whatever she anchored the curse to, she would not have left an artifact of such power alone where they might tamper with it; she would want it with her, in her direct control, especially while here in this world.
Find the Demon, and you find the key to the curse. And the Demon won’t be at all hard to find just now.
Slowly his arm reached out, almost of its own volition, and seized the rifle lying at his side. With it, he forced himself to his feet. Dizzy from trauma and shock and leaning heavily on the butt of the rifle, he made for the stairway.
* * * * *
“Bring the human to me alive!”
Fiona heard the Demon's ring out as she charged up the winding stair of the Southern Bell Tower, taking the ancient stone steps two at a time, rage and shame burning her heart.
She’d been so close that time. If not for her own stupid vanity, it would have only taken a second more to finish it forever…
But the Demon had summoned the very stones of the Cathedral to her defense, and her creatures were far too many. She could hear the din of their pursuit rising from below, even now, a great thudding and grinding of stone that reverberated through the tower.
Winded, she paused for a second, leaning against the doorframe, and tried to think.
She could still fight. She could turn, and make her stand here. The narrow stairway would keep the minions from attacking en masse, and with concentrated fire from the Thompson, and careful use of her last grenade… Well, she might go down, but she’d show the Demon what a true Hunter was made of, and be able to look her family in the eye when she met them.
Fiona shook her head. Doomed last stands might be noble and romantic, but she’d never had much use for them. She was smarter than that. Trapped in an endless night, surrounded by evil statuary, and low on ammunition she might be, but she was still smarter than the Demon. The longer she could keep this dance up, the better the chances of Bouchard pulling a rabbit out of the hat. There were still a few tricks left up her sleeve yet…
A lithe, compact form dropped from the shadows above, interrupting her reverie as it landed with a great clattering of stone on stone. It was another of the statues, a long-necked thing with glowing eyes, about the size of one of the half-feral dogs her Great-Uncles used to keep as trackers. Its stone face leered at her, gape-jawed.
She emptied the Thompson into the thing’s head in one long burst, its crude grimace evaporating in a cloud of dust and chipped granite.
Unfortunately, the thing hardly seemed to notice its defacement. Steadying itself it charged her, but with a nimble leap, Fiona managed to catch the stump of its neck and vault herself past it, its momentum sending it rolling and crashing down the stairs. With a little luck, it would slow the ones pursuing her.
For a moment, Fiona contemplated tossing her last grenade down the stairs after it, but thought better of it.
Save it for when you can see what you’re using it on, She thought. Or for if the Demon really does take you alive.
She slapped a fresh magazine into her weapon, and took stock of her supplies. Last drum in the Thompson, next to last magazine in the Colt. Knife next to useless. A few flares. Maybe she could set the tower on fire?
Fiona shook her head. The idea of burning down Notre Dame was heretical, and the chances of killing the Demon that way seemed slim anyhow. Bouchard probably wouldn’t thank her for getting him roasted alive either.
Assuming the roaming statuary hasn’t done him in already...
The sound of heavy stone feet coming up the stairs told her it was time to go. If her memory served, just ahead should be the neat little crossover that connected the towers...
Fiona planned to cross to the other tower, and then double back down into the Nave, hopefully leaving most, or even all, of the Demon’s minions milling around the upper parts of the Cathedral. Strong they might be, but they didn’t seem to be the sharpest tacks in the box, and with a little luck she should be able to shake them-
As Fiona burst onto the walkway, she felt all her plans go up on smoke.
She should have remembered the Kings; her Uncle Harod pointed them out to her when they visited the cathedral; she remembered riding on his shoulders as he recited the names and stories for each of the eight and twenty. They looked so grand and solemn, standing as if on parade in the warm summer sun.
The far side of the crosswalk was guarded by the Kings. They towered in the darkness like enormous chessmen, eyes glowing with an eerie eldritch light amid the shadowy columns of the crossway. There had to be at least ten of them, and the chances of getting past them without one of those ‘tank’ things the Germans had been so keen on during the War seemed next to nil.
As one, they turned toward her and advanced, the stones of the bridge ringing with their tread.
Briefly, Fiona wondered how much weight the causeway could support, even as her feet spun her back the way she came. If she could get back into the tower, climb to the belfry, she might be able to rappel down the ropes, albeit at the price of alerting every minion in a half-mile radius. But that was no good either; the Statues were below her and before her, and all that was left to her was to retreat further up the worn stone steps.
She hadn't far to run. A few swift turns of the stairway, and she was standing beneath the low dome of the tower's roof. The tower itself seemed to be coming alive now, the ancient stones shaking under the echoing march of the Demon's horde. Fiona fled before them, racing up the last few steps, shouldering her way through the stout door at their end, and spilled out onto the roof.
Moonlight greeted her there, and beneath it, the city of Paris. The roof was small- no more than a handful of meters square- and beyond its low stone railing hung nothing but empty air and the plaza far, far below. Beyond, the empty streets stretched off into the distance, their neat rows of buildings seeming toy-like from her perch. Were those really the boulevards that she'd stalked and fought and bled in? It seemed so long ago, now...
There was nowhere left to run, and no hope left of victory in battle. Even so, she would fight on to the last. A Canmore could do no less. She heard a scrape of stone upon stone behind her, and turned wearily to face her adversary. Clambering over the railing behind her was another statue, one of the grotesques, a horned, goat-faced monster bearing a remarkable resemblance to Old Scratch himself. How fitting.
One of the Kings emerged from the Tower door, and then another, their bearded heads turning slowly toward her, their baleful eyes glowing like stars against the night sky. Fiona retreated, shifting the Thompson to her right hand to cover the Kings, and drawing the Colt with her left to cover Scratch. He paused, head cocked to one side, waiting.
A quick glance revealed that the stern giants were likewise still, watching her with the eternal patience of stone. For a moment they were so still that Fiona almost believed that Bouchard had pulled off a miracle, and broken the spell that empowered them.
Then from somewhere in the tower behind Scratch she heard the Demon’s voice: “Take her!”
Fiona drew breath and screamed, a war cry to do her ancestors proud, quickly lost in the roar of her guns. The lead King staggered toward her, rocking as the Thompson traced a line up its midsection, finally tumbling, blinded, over the edge. Unfortunately, there were still plenty more where he came from.
Meanwhile, her Colt cost Scratch an eye, a horn, and most of his lower jaw before he closed the distance between them. There was no subtlety to his attack, just simple brute force.
The Hunter ducked a vicious backhanded swing that could have shattered her skull, and put two more slugs into Scratch’s center of mass before the slide locked on her Colt. Even as she dropped it, the Thompson ran dry, and she was left with no option but to reverse her grip on it and swing, breaking the stock to splinters across Scratch’s face.
As Scratch staggered away, Fiona chanced a look backward, just in time to see another of the Kings loom up behind her, trying to scoop her up.
With no time to retrieve her fallen pistol, Fiona ripped a blade from the sheath at the base of her spine. The knife was one of her favorites, nearly eight inches of razor steel, the handle incorporating a guard of spiked knuckles.
With a yell, she struck her attacker between the eyes, only to watch the blade snap as it met unyielding stone. Spinning away in the split second it hesitated, Fiona pulled her last flares from her coat pockets, and popped them alight.
The statue charged her, arms open, roaring, and Fiona flipped the flares deftly, jamming the burning ends directly into her opponent’s glowing eyes. It roared, but the massive arms still swept closed, rough hands seizing her by the shoulders. In an instant, she was flipped around and held to attention, feet swaying nearly a foot off the ground.
From out of the tower came the Demon, leaning heavily on what appeared
to be a statue St. Peter, while Scratch knelt before her like a faithful
retainer, his remaining eye glaring balefully at Fiona.
* * * * *
Gingerly, Demona stepped out into the open air, grateful for the support of the statue beside her. Even in her semi-healed state, her legs had complained bitterly during the long climb up the tower stairs, and her breath had dissolved into wracking gasps twice along the way.
Now, however, she steeled her spine, determined not to show the Hunter how badly she’d been hurt. She placed the Praying Gargoyle into the upturned palms of the statue flanking her, having been healed enough by its power that she no longer needed to be in close proximity to the statue to avoid an inconvenient death. Besides, she would want both hands free for the upcoming fun.
Ignoring the human squirming in the massive statue’s grasp, she bent and retrieved the Hunter’s pistol from where it lay on the walkway. Almost lazily, she considered the pistol for a moment more before finally deigning to notice her prey.
“In the end, Hunter, all your tricks, all your little toys, amount to nothing.”
Smiling, she crushed the Colt and tossed it behind her, listening to it clatter down the tower stairs.
The girl snorted.
“An what would ye’ call all this then? You were layin’ in a pool of yer own blood beggin’ for mercy before these oversized paperweights came t’ yer rescue. You wouldna be so brave w’ out them t’ do yer dirty work.”
A spasm of anger shot through Demona. The Hunters all seemed to be masters of that same arrogant tone, the same across nine centuries and countless voices. Still, that just made their screaming that much more satisfying in the end.
“What can I say, Hunter? I’m better at this game than you are. My tricks work. And speaking of dirty work, what were those two thugs with hammers my servant killed in Berlin? Have you started an apprentice program, or has the family tradition fallen on such hard times since the fire that you have to hire freelancers?”
Irritatingly, the Hunter failed to rise to the jab. Demona could feel the hateful stare coming through that accursed mask, but…
Yes, the mask. I’ll take that to start with, and then see what else I can rob this insolent little fool of. She might even have the Graeae's Eye tucked away in that coat of hers.
Grinning, she reached out.
* * * * *
Fiona summoned all her nerve to keep calm as the Demon reached in and ripped away her mask, the symbol of her family’s legacy since time out of mind. It’s just a piece of cloth, girl, she reminded herself. Yer heart is what makes you a Hunter, and yer mind. And all ye need is fer her to stay distracted a few more seconds…
So she concentrated on keeping her body loose, subtly rolling her shoulders in the King’s grip, even as her hated enemy stepped back and held up her mask, as if contemplating the way it looked in the pale moonlight.
“For nine hundred years I’ve been killing fools wearing these same masks, and I wonder sometimes: Do any of you idiots even know what these markings mean anymore?”
The Demon glanced at her, clearly expecting a response. When none came, her expression darkened, and she tossed the mask away, over the railing, where it fluttered gently away.
Snarling, eyes alight, the Demon stepped forward and dealt Fiona a stinging backhand across the face.
Ears ringing, the Hunter spat a tooth and a long string of bloody spittle in her tormentor’s general direction.
“Ye hit like a little girl, did ye know that?” she slurred, punch-drunkenly.
With a roar, the Demon shot a fist toward her face, and Fiona sprang into action.
With a shrug of her shoulders, she slid her arms free from her sleeves, leaving her captor clutching nothing but an empty coat. Even as the Demon punched a deep crater into the King where her head used to be, Fiona hit the ground and sprang straight back up, driving the heels of both hands into the Demon’s jaw from below.
The statue and the Demon staggered and fell back in opposite directions, while the Hunter pulled her last-ditch grenade, armed it, and threw it as hard as she could towards her target.
The Demon was helpless, flat on her back, able only to watch in horror as the explosive missile hurtled toward her. There was no chance for escape this time…
Triumph turned to horror as Fiona watched Scratch gather himself and leap, snatching her grenade out of the air like a trout landing a fly, before tumbling over the railing. A muffled explosion a second later testified to his fate.
That was it then. She’d fought the good fight for as long as she could, and only two options were left to her: Quick and painless or long and messy.
Her last hope shattered, Fiona chose the first option, and tried to follow Scratch over the side. She almost succeeded, before a massive stone fist closed around her braid and dragged her away from the edge. A heavy stone foot landed across her chest, knocking the wind from her and pinning her to the ground.
Jackson always said that long hair was vanity, and would be the death of me one day, Fiona remembered. I guess he was right, after all.
* * * * *
Demona lay on the ground, panting. Having already been of the receiving end of one of the Hunter’s lethal little presents, she’d been terrified when the next had come flying towards her.
Fear turned to boiling rage as she realized how she’d been tricked. The Hunter had been saving that one, watching her posture and taunt, playing her like a fish on a line, all the time just feigning helplessness until she’d been in position to strike. She’d probably allowed herself to be captured simply so she could do so.
But as angry as Demona was with herself for the monumental lapse in judgment, the fact that the Hunter had made her that afraid, and had seen her in that moment of weakness… For that, she would suffer.
Raising her head, Demona saw the object of her hatred being restrained by one of the Kings. More of them hovered nearby, looking to her for instructions.
The bearded statue who had helped her up the stairs offered his arm again, but Wyvern’s eternal survivor coldly refused it, struggling to her feet by herself.
“Stand her up!” she snapped. “You two!” she gestured to the two nearest Kings. “Hold her arms, and keep her legs restrained as well.”
The Kings held Fiona by the arms between them, each resting a foot on one of hers, pinning her legs as well. The Hunter struggled in their grasp, but stilled when Demona approached.
“In the end, you’re just like all the others. Not. Good. Enough.”
Fiona opened her mouth to spit defiance at her enemy, but Demona struck with lightning speed, her fist burying itself in Fiona’s midsection. The Hunter sagged in the Kings’ grip, and coughed up blood.
Demona seized her prey by the hair and dragged her gaze upwards to look the azure gargoyle in the eye.
“Do you know how many of my kin you and your filthy kind have slaughtered, human?!?”
“Not enough… Yet.” Fiona croaked, her breath coming in ragged gasps.
Demona struck again, bloodying Fiona’s nose this time.
“Very droll, Hunter. I could kill you and yours for another thousand years and it would never be enough to balance the scales. And your family is simply the most egregious example of the damage humanity has wrought on my people.” She paused, trying to keep her anger and the urge to throttle the woman down long enough to speak her piece. "One hundred and twenty years ago, right in this city, right in this very place, a clan of my people lived. Now all that remains are these grotesques, and the noble," she sneered, motioning at the animated sculptures around them, "monuments to your own people."
"Ye torched my family's home in the time of my grandfather, and left but a handful of us alive, monster. And we ne'er even heard of a clan living here." The human croaked in response.
“Fifty years ago, your family slaughtered an entire clan in the Bavarian Alps." Demona shot back. "Nearly a hundred adults and young warriors, most of them shattered in their sleep, and the rest put to the sword as they awoke. The elders and the hatchlings retreated into the rookery… And you burned them alive! Fifty years, and I can still hear them screaming! And you call me the beast.”
Fiona’s head struggled to rise. “I call ye a monster. You and all yer demonic kin.”
Again the gargoyle’s fists lashed out, feeling ribs rack under her assault.
"Far fewer of your worthless kind died on that farm than mine did in the mountains under the same action. I was just repaying the favor," She said with a snarl.
“And now, now ye think killin’ me will stop the Hunt?” Her voice gaining strength, The Hunter looked her in the eye, and screamed out:
“There must always be a Hunter! We can no more stop huntin’ you than we can stop breathin’ the air, and so it shall be forever, until you and all yer kind are naught but a nightmare memory! My family will avenge me! So do yer worst, Demon.”
Demona drew back for another blow that would probably have shattered the wretched human’s skull if it connected, and stopped.
Already braced for the coming blow, her prey looked up at her, confused, as Demona put her hand on her chin, and turned away, looking out over the darkened streets of Paris.
“Yes, that’s the problem, isn’t it?” she mused, more to herself than the Hunter. “No matter how many of you Canmores I kill, there always seems to be a dozen more waiting in the wings, ready to sacrifice for the family honor.”
Demona turned back, regarding Fiona quizzically. “Countless times across the centuries I’d hoped maybe you’d finally given up, but you seem to get stupider and more stubborn with every passing generation. Even the fire didn’t slow you down as much as I’d hoped… What I need is a way…”
Abruptly, Demona had a flash of inspiration. She could never succeed in wiping out all the Canmores…unless she came wearing a face they trusted.
“Congratulations Hunter. I’m not going to kill you. You cost me Kappel, my human servant, so you’re going to replace him.”
She paused, lost in thought, almost tasting the possibilities this delicious irony would offer, savoring the look of horror dawning across the Hunter’s face.
* * * * *
A gentle night breeze caressed his sweating face as Philip, peering carefully around the masonry, watched the tableau across the way unfold. The Demon stood proud in the light of the moon on the opposite tower, surprisingly close. It was his first real look at her, and she was every bit the nightmare Fiona warned him of.
He dropped to his belly and began to worm his way across the rooftop, the taunts that the Demon flung at Fiona stinging at his own heart.
Don't let her distract you. You must make your shot count, Philip. You’ll not likely get another chance.
Kneeling, he rested the rifle across the carved stone railing, and took aim at his target.
* * * * *
“With you as my instrument, I’ll finally have my revenge on your miserable line once and for all.”
Fiona recoiled, stricken by the Demon’s words. She’d been prepared to die, to accept the peace of the grave. In fact, she’d been rather hoping the Demon would soon hit her too hard, and thus spare her what would almost assuredly be hours of painful torture first before the inevitable. But this…
To suffer that kind of living death, with her mind banished and her body turned into the Demon’s puppet, to be used against all those she held dear… Fiona thought of Diane, and Aaron and Douglas; Jackson’s boys would make good strong men, and their mother would teach them well. They would grow up to make fine Hunters, worthy of the Canmore name, if only they survived to maturity. Fiona thought of her family, living and dead, and knew she could never allow herself to be used as the Demon planned.
"The spell shouldn't be too hard to repeat...although the ingredients may take a while to gather. I'm sure I can make you comfortable in the meantime; France does have a wonderful selection of oubliettes..."
Escape was impossible. The Kings that held her were immovable stone, and even if she could extricate herself from their grip she knew she could not evade their fellows behind them. There was only one way out.
The Demon was raving, lost in her vision of making a Fiona into her servant, ignoring her for the moment.
Fiona took a deep breath, and prepared to sever her own tongue. But before she could bite down, a dull glint of something from the opposing tower caught her eye. Hardly able to believe what she was seeing was real and not a delusion brought on by panic, she stared at the form of Philip Bouchard, kneeling behind the concrete trellis and angling a rifle towards them.
There was still a chance. If Bouchard could aim true... Fiona stared. It didn't even look as though he was pointing the gun at the Demon. She could only hope that if he missed, he'd have a bullet left for her.
"You Hunters have always been like rats- you can kill one, but there’s still ten more hiding in the walls," The Demon was saying. "I should have been as thorough in your den fifty years ago as your kind were in Germany. I won't make that mistake again- this time, I'll have you, oh, write up a list naming every Hunter and Hunter in training alive, and I'll have you scratch them out one at a time. Ending the Hunter line by the hand of a Hunter itself...perhaps I will do all the work through you, and..."
The Demon trailed off, frowning. Too late Fiona realized that she'd been staring past her at Philip, and she cursed herself for giving him away. Even as the beast turned to follow her gaze, a rifle retort split the night.
* * * * *
The Praying Gargoyle exploded with a blinding flash, throwing glowing fragments across the stones of the Tower. Spun by the impact, The Demon landed in a crouch, searching for her attacker. Her burning gaze fell on Philip and he chambered another round, trying to get a second shot off before she could attack.
And then the entire world fractured.
It was not unlike using the Eye. When the spots cleared from his eyes the statues and the mess were both gone, and even the candles were once again upright and lit.
The Demon was the first to recover, looking in horror at the remains of the broken statue scattered around her. She plucked at the fragments, piling them in her arms, completely ignoring both Fiona and himself. Philip pulled the trigger.
The shot buried itself in the stone between her feet, and her head jerked up, snarling. They stared at each other for moments, and then her head turned. Like a bird listening for worms, she seemed to sense something beyond his abilities. Growling, she backed away slowly, still cradling the broken statue. The Demon's gaze turned toward Fiona, now on her knees and swaying drunkenly as she dried to drag her Thompson up off the floor.
What happened next, Bouchard would always be a little confused about. Rather than attacking, or launching off of the rooftop and fleeing right away, she instead vaulted the side of the tower and bolted across the roof below, clinging to the architecture of one section. He realized now what she had feared, as he could see her glancing again to the east, where dawn had started to claim the sky.
Out of his line of site, her hands moved; perhaps she had left a magical surprise for them, and decided to claim the untriggered power back into herself? Whatever the reason, when Philip investigated the spot later, he found nothing.
At present, Bouchard was stuck marveling at the feeling of clarity that came back to the world with the breaking of the Demon’s spell, as though he’d been wrapped in thick layers of cotton wool which had been suddenly stripped away. An unfortunate part of this newfound lucidity was a far increased awareness of the pain of his injuries, but above that, he could hear Fiona screaming at him.
“Philip! Gun! I need your gun!”
Hurriedly, he complied, tossing the heavy Winchester across the gap between them with every ounce of his strength.
Bouchard marveled as he watched Fiona snatch the weapon from the air,
bring it to bear, and begin unloading rounds at the retreating Demon,
firing from the hip as fast as she could work the lever.
* * * * *
Demona made it almost half a block away before a hail of rounds found her. The first several snapped past harmlessly, only startling her, before the next two punched neat holes through her right wing and a third hit her square in the back. Her left wing strained and she faltered, losing altitude…then another bullet struck, this one burying itself in the bone of the humerus of her left wing. She fell into a tailspin, crying out in as the street rushed up to meet her. The mud of the gutter embraced her as she crashed, a tangle of wrenched limbs and broken bones.
The sky above her grew perceptibly lighter in the minutes it took for her to heal enough to drag herself out of the road and into the comforting darkness of the closest alley. She could hear movement out in the street; pathetic ants scurrying about their meaningless tasks in the pre-dawn light. The curse was shattered, and she was badly injured, stuck out in the open with sunrise not twenty minutes away and no safe refuge at hand.
The pain is transient; you will heal without a scar to show for the events of this evening, as you always have. Her lifelong mantra; this was one of the times it barely distracted her from the near-blinding pain as she forced herself to her feet and staggered to the alley wall. Her back muscles shrieked as she raised her hand to plunge her talons into the brick, intent on dragging herself to the bare safety of the rooftop, and Demona collapsed to her knees on the cold cobbles.
She slumped for a moment, then steeled her nerves. This is hardly the worst defeat you have had, nor the closest you have come to death. And what is death but an inconvenience, since those three witches cast their charm on you? A cold pit remained in her stomach at the thought, as it always did, a fear that this time the magic would fail, and death would be final. She reminded herself as she had earlier that even true death was not the worst of fates to suffer.
“Looking for a place to rest, Cherie?”
Her head snapped around, hair falling across her eyes as they flared. The Chief of the Bone Eaters returned her snarl with a pointy smile, his dead eyes gazing down at her in an almost patronizing manner.
"You failed our bargain, gargoyle. Many of my people were slain this night, three times as many have been damaged, et vous êtes fautif!! And for what? RIEN!! You failed to capture the prey; there will be no reward feast for those who hunted so devotedly for you."
The smile on his face died.
"And that, mon entremets, would not be fair to them."
She hoisted herself up, the cold in her stomach spreading into an icy terror as she struggled to back away.
"No..." Demona whispered, but it was too late. From the ground beneath her very feet they came, bony hands grabbing at her legs, pale wraiths surfacing just enough to seize hold of her, bearing her down.
She fought back tooth and talon even as the pain of her previous injuries overcame her. Her howl of denial filled the street and she continued to struggle even as she was pulled under, swallowed up by impenetrable shadow...
Minutes passed in silence, and the sun slowly scaled the horizon. The darkness retreated, leaving behind it an empty alleyway.
* * * * *