The Host – The Gates of Perdition (2)
a tale of hub city
Derdekea’s paper sword squeezed tightly in her left hand throbs as the darkness consumes all the light in the room.
Only the sputtering glow of Guthriel’s flaming sword and the weak light of the paper blade remain. Snarling Face walked toward them and the souls of the other two damned souls followed closely. One, whose face is twisted in fear, the other in an abject sadness and despair. Fear looked over the shoulder of Snarling Face and whispered “Which one of these are we keeping, Brother?”
Despair walked over to Derdekea, slowly, tentatively as if he expected her to strike out at her. In truth, she wondered why she hadn’t. Normally, she would have had no problem destroying the reawakened souls of the departed, they were beyond redemption and that was why the Harrowing was able to take them in the first place.
But this creature seemed different, more pitiable and this stayed her hand, for a moment. Despair looked at her, into her eyes and his sadness revealed the rigors of his life, a split second that encompassed the despair of a life, barely lived.
Charles Dempsey, store clerk, marginally employed at a supermarket down the street for ten years. Failed to graduate high school, dated a girl who got pregnant and decided he was not good enough to be a father and took his baby to another city, possibly New York, she never told him.
He started drinking and for a moment it was okay. One drink lead to two, two lead to four and after a while he could drink a six pack in an evening after his shift. Then a twelve-pack. He got hooked on painkillers, hoping they would help him sleep. Never did. He lived in between his job and his painkillers, a life he wanted someone to take and relieve him of his responsibilities.
Enter Nesbitt. Bastard, drug dealer, parasite, always snarling about something. Convinced Charles to let him crash at his place in return for drugs. Nesbitt was a sadist. He hurt everyone, with his words, with his fists, with anything he could lay his hands on. Charlie and Nesbitt fought regularly once Nesbitt decided he wasn’t moving out.
Nesbitt brought some guy home with him some nights, some whiny crybaby Nesbitt would be in his room beating with a belt or whatever they used. Charlie didn’t know, didn’t care. Whiny always left in the morning when Nesbitt did. Came home with Nesbitt did. Oh, God, why didn’t I change the lock, I could have just left…
He came in this evening and was crazed, he said I was a waste of space and today he was going to change all our lives tonight. He had met some people who told him what to do. He hit me with a pipe. I could feel him cutting me but he tied me up and I couldn’t see what he was doing, then the room filled with shadows and I think I died.
In that moment, Charles Dempsey realized he was dead. Derdekea swung her sword, splitting the essence of what was the fearful, despairing soul of Charles from the Charles who struggled to find a reason to get to work on time every day.
The Charles that managed to find the address of his girlfriend and send her some money every month, even though she didn’t do anything with the money but spend it on booze.
The Charles who cooked breakfast for cruel Nesbitt and Whiny because it was the decent thing to do for the only people who were friends to him for a time. The Charles who helped at a shelter before he was too far gone in his drugs.
The Charles who tried to find a reason every day to live, she took that person and cut him from the evil and despair he had allowed to fill the holes in his spirit, and she reaped him, taking his goodness into herself and if she survived this encounter, she would release him to his reward. He had suffered enough.
Snarling Face, formerly known as Nesbitt looked on and said nothing. Whiny turned away from Charles as he slumped to the floor. Nesbitt had locked eyes with Guthriel and the two of them were locked in some private hell that Derdekea could not help her sister battle.
It took all of her will power to hold the darkness at bay so they could confront these wayward souls tapped by evil to a darker purpose. Their first goal, to close the gate to the Harrowing. The second to save the souls of those who might be trapped or damned by it. Baring that, destroying any evil that might attempt to escape and create more suffering. Charles had to die first.
The Harrowing draws its power from Despair and Charles was the focus here. Nesbitt is a sadist and Whiny a masochist, their energies bound together both in life and death. Guthriel is not battling one soul but two.
The shadows began to shift toward Guthriel and Derdekea moved closer to her sister to offer her cover. There were five or six, they shifted in the light of their swords and lapped tiny tendrils of darkness toward them, tasting them like a serpent tastes the air around it for the scent of a succulent snack, just out of reach.
This gate was different. It was crowded with a variety of different Harrowed souls. Shades were the souls of people who died in a place but could not move on, this place was rife with them. The newly dead, whose life force especially when spent violently was bound to a place and could harvest energies they spent there as living creatures for their own undead purpose. And there was one more here. One who had not revealed itself.
Nesbitt was sweating. The dead don’t sweat, but his soul exerted effort and that manifested as a sweat, like it would in life. Guthriel was winning. She was beginning to smile. Nesbitt fell back, expecting to be caught by Whiny, who stepped out of the way and left him to fall. Guthriel, now free walked up to Whiny and raised her sword.
“Trust me, sister.” Guthriel reached out and grabbed Whiny and pulled him to her. She kissed him gently on the lips. Nesbitt howled, in rage and frustration as Whiny slowly melted away in a few seconds into a puddle of blood at his feet. For the masochist, kindness was his poison.
“This wasn’t the power you promised me. You said they would be no match for the three of us. You lied to me!” Nesbitt shouted into the air in the room, screaming, spittle flying everywhere.
“I said they would prove resourceful. I said you would be challenged. You were simply not up to the task.” A silky voice whispered from the surrounding darkness. “But no matter, we will still be taking one of them with us this evening. Now get up off the floor, you worm.”
This was the thing they both felt from the moment they entered the building. A nameless evil that has coalesced into this one room, summoned by this idiot. Guthriel began to chant and her sword glowed brighter. Derdekea readied her weapon and reached into her coat to pull out several other small shapes.
“Now ladies, your host… well soon to be my host, will be recruiting one of you for our unholy army. Your choices are simple. You both die, or one of you serves us and the other gets to live until we hunt you down and destroy you.
Guthriel laughs and looks around the room at the twelve shadow forms surrounding them. “Not today, demon. Today, you decorate bottom of my shoe.” Guthriel made only the smallest of gestures and her Patron of Fire, illuminated the room as she breathed a wall of flame toward one side of the room, burning all of the shadows there.
Those that were not destroyed immediately were bound by the flames unable to break free. Derdekea swung her hand out across the room and her tiny paper objects flew out and pinned shadows to walls as each of the tiny stars became glowing beacons trapping the shadows on the other side of them. With the way now clear, shadows pushed back, only Nesbitt remained in the center of the room.
“This hardly seems sporting. Don’t you have an honor code or something? Two against one seems hardly fair.” Nesbitt voice had begun to take on the sound of the silky menace in the dark.
“Take it up with our union steward,” Guthriel hissed as she leapt toward Nesbitt, fiery sword whirling about her head, coming in for a killing blow.
Nesbitt parried using an arm swathed in darkness, he moves and striking her full in the chest, she is thrown across the room into the far corner of the house. Guthriel rebounds almost immediately and returns to the fray.
Derdekea has already engaged Nesbitt, her sword of force, bounding from his flashing hands, parrying her attacks. Guthriel adds her sword to the attack and Nesbitt appears nonplussed by her appearance. The three of them, dancing through the apartment, testing, probing, taking the measure of the other.
Nesbitt catches Derdekea off guard, and a barely blocked attack drives her to her knees. Turning his full attention to Guthriel, he gathers a sphere of shadow and repels her backward driving her embedding her into the wall of the apartment. She hangs there for a moment and then slumps to the ground, unmoving.
“You, my dear, seem to be a bit more thoughtful than your sister. Perhaps I can convince you to join us and save her life. What I have done to her cannot be undone.” Nesbitt’s previous rabid screams had been replaced with the slick sound of the demon’s voice. Nesbitt was dead now.
Whatever good might have been able to be salvaged was now absorbed and replaced with pure evil. There was no redemption for him now. Derdekea reached into her pocket again and scattered some slips of paper onto the floor and turned to attend to her sister.
“Don’t turn your back on me. Do you know who I am?”
“No. And in a minute, neither will anyone else.” Derdekea reached down and grabbed Guthriel, and slung her over her shoulder. Her breathing was shallow and labored.
The demon turned toward the shadows on the wall and waved them free of their burning or star bound prisons. He absorbed them into himself and Nesbitt’s pitiful form was transformed in a swollen dark shape, dripping ichor from its over-sized fangs. Its blue-black skin shown with a sickly hue and its eyes burned with a terrible fire. Derdekea recognized it as an oni, a terrible spirit of malice that hailed from Japan.
“We have come to your lands her and found the despair here richer and deeper than anything where we have lived before. Many of us have already come and many more will be following. In the days to come you will regret your duties to this city in ways you cannot imagine.
Look within you. You can no longer hear the Source, can you? That was our influence here. We have made the Harrowing strong and you are now alone. There is nothing you can do to stop us. So I say to you again, which of you will stay so the other may live? We are honorable and will keep our word.”
Derdekea turned her back and strode toward the open hole where a door once stood. “Personally we don’t care who you are, or how far you have come to be here. If you did your homework and it sounds like you did, you would know we have protected this city for a hundred years, through times that make today’s despair seem quaint and old-fashioned. Through times when Old Powers strode the Earth like giants. There may be many of you and only two of us, but do not confuse numbers with potency. You will find yourself falling short. Take this message to your masters. Get out of our city before we drive you out. This is your final warning.”
The tiny stars, carefully folded so that thousands of bits of Derdekea’s essence was bound into every folded corner, each star unfurled, flinging her power across the room, each tiny fold sprinkling the tiny bit of sparkling power as the paper reversed itself from a folded to a flat state. The oni looked on, touching the tiny sparkling fountain of light as it covered the entire room.
“Is this it? A child’s toy? My masters oversold your abilities greatly. I shall enjoy wearing your skin as a decorative belt. Wha? What’s happening?” The tiny sparkles began to burn, no matter where they touched in the room, a fire started, a white fire, that filled the room with light, a thousand tiny flames joining together covering and destroying all of the darkness and any spiritual presence within it. The house would be purged of all the despair and negative emotion that had taken up residence here.
The oni’s screams as its hand that it waved through the sparkling lights caught fire and any effort to put it out, only spread it. The sound was like that of a dozen baying hounds, long and mournful. The crackle of the flames behind her fill the apartment transforming from supernatural to a natural and cleansing fire. Sirens sound in the distance, creeping closer.
Derdekea looked back, gathered her power and closed the Harrowing gate behind her.