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Sons of darkness, p.11

Sons of Darkness, page 11

 part  #1 of  Night Vigil Series


Sons of Darkness

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  When a location with natural power is repeatedly violated with bloodshed and dark magic, it can become a nexus, a supernatural maelstrom that strengthens itself by pulling in similar energies. Such loci can become a constant hazard—as with places said to be evil—or may appear on a cyclical basis, such as the anniversary of a battle. A cyclical loci will manifest periodically to draw in new malevolent energies and eventually go dormant again after it has re-enacted the tragedy that formed it. Such loci are not necessarily hell gates, in that they do not open into the infernal planes, but they draw on the primordial energies of chaos and destruction, which are by their nature opposed to the will of the Creator.”

  “Well, fuck,” Travis muttered, snapping photos of the pages with his phone, as well as one of the frontispiece and cover. More occult collections existed, at the Vatican and a few other secure locations, but Travis doubted he could easily gain access without alerting the Sinistram.

  The remaining hour of his research passed all too quickly, and Father Julian’s knock startled Travis. Reluctantly, he set aside another book that had proved helpful, glad he had taken photos of everything he could find that looked relevant from the indexes, to read later on his phone.

  “I trust your effort was successful?” Julian asked as Travis reshelved the book he had been reading. He had replaced each tome as he finished with it, unwilling to let Julian retrace his steps. He did not need the Sinistram second-guessing him or getting in his way.

  “Tolerably so,” Travis replied with a shrug, hoping he gave the impression that he had not been especially productive.

  “Searching the manuscripts can be a needle-in-the-haystack experience,” Julian said, and Travis could not tell from the other man’s tone whether he believed Travis’s evasion.

  “I’m ready to go,” Travis said, walking over to slip his notes inside his bag. “The room does have an unsettling vibe.” He wondered whether Julian knew about Penrod, curious about what had made the monk lock his spirit into the library in penance. He doubted the priest would tell him, even if he knew.

  Travis stepped across the threshold, feeling a frisson of energy at the wardings. He closed the door behind him, waiting while Julian locked it, and then tried to remain patient while his guide insisted on saying a rite of purification and blessing over him, before permitting him to leave the area.

  “I didn’t get spiritual cooties in there, you know,” Travis grumbled as they retraced their steps to the surface.

  “It’s entirely possible for dark energy—or even spirits—to attach themselves to someone who has been in proximity with tainted objects,” Julian responded.

  “Hello? Medium here. I think I’d know if I picked up a ghostly hitchhiker.”

  “Lucifer is the Father of Lies, the Deceiver,” Julian answered smoothly, not bothering to turn to look at Travis. “We are most easily deceived when we believe ourselves to be in control.”

  Travis reminded himself that Julian was an ally, even if he was sometimes insufferable. It’s not only a mortal sin to murder him, but my soul is probably on iffy grounds already—and it would be damned inconvenient to hide the body.

  Travis breathed a quiet sigh of relief when he was aboveground once more. He thanked Father Julian and took his leave, then headed off-campus to a small neighborhood church where Father Pavel agreed to hear his Confession away from prying ears.

  St. Thomas the Doubter Church anchored a working-class neighborhood that, like the church itself, had seen better days. The old brick building looked tired, and its sills and doors needed a fresh coat of paint. Inside it had barely changed, Travis wagered, since it was built back in the early 1900s. The declining, elderly population embraced the familiarity of the traditional interior, including the old-fashioned confessionals.

  What did it say about him that he found comfort in the liturgy and rites, even when his faith was fragile at best? Travis was unwilling to examine that question too closely most days, and he knew from his short tenure as a priest that he was not alone in editing the sins he confessed. Maybe that was why he preferred this particular church, named for the disciple who needed proof, who had lost hope, and whose faith resisted resurrection.

  “Father?” Travis said when he was near the dark wooden booths with their lattice screens.

  The door peeked open, providing a glimpse of Father Pavel’s familiar face. “Travis. Welcome, my son.”

  Travis opened the other door and knelt in the cramped, shadowed space that always made him feel like he had crawled inside an armoire. “Father, forgive me, for I have sinned. My last confession was—I don’t remember. It’s been a while.”

  Father Pavel chuckled. “That’s all right, my son. God knows, even if we lose count.”

  “I may have committed six mortal sins, if the human hosts of the demons I killed weren’t dead already.” He paused. “I have committed more venial sins than I can count. I have lied and misled in the course of hunting infernal creatures. I have broken laws—especially trespassing, breaking and entering—in those hunts. I, um, have exceeded the speed limit and parked in fire lanes when circumstances required haste.”

  Travis did not confess regarding his psychic gifts or his sex life. He considered both to be an intrinsic, God-given part of his core being, and as such, part of Creation itself. That “difference of opinion” led, in part, to his decision to leave the priesthood, and resign from the Sinistram. Father Pavel might not agree, but he understood.

  “Is there something else on your mind, Travis?” Pavel knew him well enough to interpret his silence as well as his words.

  “I repent of my hubris,” Travis said. “I came upon another man hunting the same supernatural creature, and I’m ashamed to say I briefly considered not helping because he had gotten in my way.”

  “Did you help?”

  Travis nodded, then realized the priest couldn’t see clearly through the screen. “Yes. He didn’t have the right weapons for the type of monster. I killed the thing, and took the hunter back to the Center to be healed.”

  “Then, in the end, you did what was right. Thoughts come to our mind unbidden,” Pavel replied. “Even Christ was tempted. It is what we do with those impulses that matter. You faced temptation and rose above it. There is no sin in that.”

  “I have been very rude to Father Liam.”

  On the other side of the screen, his confessor might have sneezed or perhaps coughed. Or, more likely, choked back a laugh. They had long ago wordlessly established a mutual dislike of the Sinistram priest. “Was he attempting to sway you to act against your conscience?”

  “Doesn’t he always?” Travis said, before catching himself. “Sorry. I meant, yes.”

  “It is no sin to tell the devil to get behind you.”

  “I might have used somewhat less Biblical phrasing.”

  “The Lord knows your thoughts—and your heart. Pretending to use mild language when you mean something else is a form of lying and indicates that you do not trust Our Heavenly Father to love you just as you are,” Pavel replied.

  “I think that’s it, for now,” Travis said. “I’m sure I’ll rack up a few dozen more before supper.”

  “Come back, and we’ll talk it over,” Pavel offered. “And now I must ask, how is the depression? Are you taking care of yourself?”

  Pavel was one of the few who knew the truth about Travis’s background with the Sinistram, and that what he had seen and done in those years rocked his faith and darkened his dreams. Travis had wanted this particular priest because Pavel understood about the monsters. Pavel had bargained that part of hearing the hunter’s confession included holding him accountable for his physical well-being along with his immortal soul.

  “As well as I can, given everything,” Travis hedged. “Jon and Matthew keep me fed and patched up. I rest when I’m able but between the monsters and the needs of St. Dismas—”

  “It’s like what they say on airplanes, with the oxygen masks. You can’t care for others if you don’t
take care of yourself.”

  “I will try to do better,” Travis promised. He meant it, too. Except that things tended to go awry.

  “Then may God give you pardon, and I absolve you, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Go in peace,” Father Pavel said as both men made the sign of the cross. Perhaps it was merely his imagination, but Travis always felt lighter after Confession. Only with Father Pavel could he admit his fears and how often he second-guessed himself. Then again, Travis knew from experience that any peace he felt would be as short-lived as his absolution.

  Chapter Seven

  The old church was as empty when Travis left as it was when he came. He headed back to St. Dismas on foot, although twilight had fallen. It was a distance of perhaps a mile, and while the neighborhood wasn’t the best, Travis felt confident that he could protect himself from human threats. A few streets over, cars gridlocked in a sea of red tail lights for rush hour. Travis kept to the smaller streets that were still well lit, but didn’t attract bumper-to-bumper cars or homicidal city buses.

  His thoughts jumped between what he had learned at the Archive, to the mess in Cooper City, to wondering whether the donations for the food bank and shipments for the soup kitchen had arrived. Travis felt a stab of guilt at leaving so much of the day-to-day management of St. Dismas to Jon and Matthew, although he knew both men had the necessary skills and temperament to do the job. And neither had any desire or aptitude to hunt monsters. That was Travis’s personal geas and atonement.

  His skin prickled, and Travis had the sense he was being watched. A glance behind him showed no one in sight, and none of the cars slowed or gave any indication of following him. Wary, Travis picked up his pace, unwilling to discount his intuition. Something or someone knew where he was, and that couldn’t be a good thing.

  The smell of sulfur jarred him, and Travis instantly went on alert. He let the silver blade he carried in a wrist sheath fall into his hand, and took comfort in the weight of the Glock with its silver bullets nestled in the small of his back, tucked into his waistband.

  He glanced around the empty side street, trying to figure out the most likely hiding place for a demon. Travis was familiar enough with the area to know the smell wasn’t normal. He saw a boarded-up restaurant, a defunct bail bonds shop, and a convenience store with steel grates over its windows and doors, although a light burned inside and it appeared to be reluctantly open for business.

  Travis decided that the convenience store was an unlikely shelter, and the bail bonds office window provided a poor hiding place. That left the shuttered restaurant on the corner. He approached it cautiously, reaching for his gun.

  The front door faced a street with enough traffic that going in that way would be noticed. Travis slipped around to the back, eyeing the alley skeptically. The light from a dim security fixture barely dispelled the shadows, and a battered dumpster blocked visibility. The restaurant had filled the first floor of a wooden building that looked like it pre-dated both World Wars. Darkened, dirty windows of what might have been an apartment on the second floor convinced him that the building was uninhabited. That made some things easier.

  Travis moved down the alley, holding his gun and a small Maglite in front of him to clear the space, sweeping the light from side to side. Unwilling to be ambushed, he checked all around and inside the dumpster before returning to the nondescript black door that led into the back of the restaurant. The lock was broken, and the door swung open at his touch.

  “Shit,” he murmured. Had squatters attracted the demon’s attention? Or had the infernal creature come to this transient neighborhood to hunt for food, expecting easy prey? Travis hadn’t been expecting a fight when he headed to see Father Pavel, but he had learned from bitter experience to always prepare for the worst.

  He had his rosary in one pocket, a flick-top container of salt and iron filings in the other, as well as a small squirt bottle of holy water. His backpack carried a few more surprises. He weighed whether to go back to St. Dismas and get more weapons and decided it wasn’t worth the risk that the demon might escape. Whatever brought the creature here, it boded ill for anyone nearby. Travis wasn’t about to permit that kind of incursion, not on what he considered to be “his” territory.

  The sulfur smell was so strong it nearly made him retch. Roaches scurried to flee from the piercing beam of his flashlight, and he tried to ignore the crunch of their shells beneath his feet. The back door brought him in by a storage closet and the bathrooms—all empty. The old restaurant looked to have been closed for a while; a thick layer of dust lay across the diner’s counter and tables. The old, hard-used equipment must not have been worth selling off since the last owner apparently just closed the door and walked away.

  The boards that covered the front windows made the room unnaturally dark, giving his quarry the advantage. Travis sent out a light psychic touch, checking for recent ghosts, but no spirits answered his call. He wondered if he would be able to smell fresh blood over the stench of sulfur.

  Travis made a thorough sweep of the main restaurant and found no creatures. He heard scuffling in the back toward the kitchen and wondered if the demon was aware of his pursuit. Outside, car horns blared, and the pulsing bass of a car’s subwoofer throbbed before he was alone once more in the silence.

  Time to bring the fight to me. He reached into his backpack for a jimmied special-purpose IED. He pulled the pin and lobbed the device through the opening where cooks once passed plates up from the kitchen.

  A deafening boom accompanied a burst of light that illuminated the kitchen like the sun, sending dust and debris raining down on him. Even braced for it, Travis winced from the noise, though he knew to look away from what little of the glare would penetrate the rest of the seating area. The flashbang also sprayed out salt and iron, guaranteed to piss off most troublesome supernatural creatures.

  A dark, hunched form let out an ear-splitting wail and flew through the opening from the back kitchen, landing in a crouch on the counter. In the seconds before he fired, when the demon was caught in the beam of his flashlight, Travis got a good look at his opponent.

  Its leathery skin looked almost as dark as the shadows around it, covering a compact body probably only four feet tall, but strongly muscled, with vicious claws on its hands and feet. The head was round, too large for the body, with gleaming yellow eyes and a wide maw full of teeth.

  Drude , Travis thought. He squeezed the trigger twice in the instant before the creature sank its talons into the counter and pushed off, flying through the air right at him.

  Travis shot one last time before throwing himself out of the way, pivoting to remain facing the creature when it landed. At least two of his shots had winged the demon, though he’d missed both head and center mass.

  The Drude moved before Travis could get a bead on it, coming at him with its long fingers and sharp claws extended. He fired again, and this time his bullet at close range tore into the Drude’s shoulder, and the creature crash-landed into one of the tables, breaking through the Formica-clad wood.

  Travis leaped over the back of the nearest booth, gun ready to fire down on the wounded demon. Before he could take the shot, he heard a shriek, and another dark shape hurtled toward him from the kitchen, swiping for him with its talons.

  “Fuck!” Travis threw himself out of the way, thudding against the glass window, which shattered between his heavy jacket and the plywood on the outside, clattering all around him. The second demon clawed its way up over the back of the booth, shredding the old vinyl and revealing the guts of the dated bench seats. Travis fired again, point blank, but the demon jerked to one side at the last second, so that the bullet lodged to the side rather than squarely where its heart should be. In the other booth, Travis heard the first demon scrabbling to regain its feet.

  Travis squeezed the trigger once more, and this time he caught the second monster squarely between the eyes. Its skull shattered, spraying ichor and goo. The first creature hurled i
tself over the booth, underestimating the distance between itself and Travis. His point-blank shot tore through the demon’s chest, and the body tumbled backward.

  Before Travis could begin to speak the exorcism that would send the demons back to Hell, the back door burst open, and a man he had never seen before lunged toward him. A foxfire green light filled the stranger’s eyes, telling Travis his opponent was possessed. The attacker started to close, but a shot from the back hallway split the man’s head like a ripe melon. The body collapsed, and tendrils of eerie green smoke flowed from the corpse.

  “Start the fucking exorcism already. I’ll cover you.” A familiar voice shouted from the hallway.

  “Exorcizamos te …” Travis began the litany, as Brent Lawson sauntered out, taking up a shooter stance with his back to the wall where he could cover the entrance and the entire restaurant.

  The green mist swirled angrily, held by the power of the rite but clearly fighting the words that constrained it. Travis glanced at the black-skinned bodies of the two Drude . They were demonic in origin, but not possessed like the stranger. While the liturgy tore at the glowing fog, thinning and draining its power until it was sent back from whence it came, the corpses withered like mummies, shriveling to bone until they went up in flames like dry timber. He waited until the bodies crumbled to ash, and used the holy water he carried to extinguish the embers.

  Brent remained covering the darkened diner, still on high alert. “Is it done?”

  Travis nodded and reminded himself of his confession. Brent was clearly working on the same case from a different angle. Resisting his help was pointless and prideful.

  “Thanks,” Travis said. Brent grinned as if he knew what that word cost him. “How did you find me?”

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