Summary: One of Dover's Charges is in danger, and these demons seem to know her by name.
She took the time to get Mrs. Rushman home, the startled old woman still asking why Dover had come running into the hallway armed. Stowing the Sig in her waistband, Dover ensured the woman was returned to her apartment, wrapping the blessed rosary around the doorknob before she left. Mrs. Rushman locked the doors as Dover headed back to her apartment, the head wound she’d received already healing.
The elevator dinged an arrival, startling the Guardian so that she whirled, pulling the Sig Sauer from her waistband in one motion. She flattened her body against the wall, aiming the gun high, in case it was another angel come to toss her against the wall again.
But the blonde woman who stepped into the corridor was categorically not a threat.
Relief flooded the guardian, releasing the tension building in her back so swiftly, Dover almost crumpled to the floor. Elise strode toward her, shaking her head and clucking her tongue in that way that reminded Dover her friend had been in her 80’s when she died a heroic death. She’d had children, grandchildren, even a great-grandchild.
Her friend stopped at the dent in the wall Dover had left with her body. She traced a Celestian spell onto the paint with her fingertip, repairing the damage. The wall pulled itself back together, the dent popping back into proper place, the cracks sealing without effort. Paint smoothed itself, leaving no hint that anything had been amiss since it was first painted.
That done, Elise strode to Dover, those blue eyes searching for injury and answers.
“I knew it.” The senior guardian said with a sigh, pulling Dover’s arm over her shoulder so she could half-carry her toward the apartment. “I knew something was wrong. I got done pulling a lesser out of a kid in the Bluffs, had the urge to come check on you.”
Dover smiled a little as her friend ushered her into the apartment, the loose floorboard giving an irritated creak as they stepped into the foyer. Elise deposited Dover on the nearest barstool, standing on her toes to inspect the damage.
“A lesser?” Dover asked with an attempt at professional curiosity. “Run of the mill or did it fight you?”
“Don’t change the subject,” Elise sighed. “But it was fine. Easy. And this is almost healed. Want to tell me what the hell happened?”
In lieu of replying, Dover slid from her stool and headed for the bathroom. She wet a hand towel in the sink, cleaning the blood from her face and neck as best she could. One thing she’d always hated about head wounds was the penchant for an extreme amount of blood. Dover resembled a cage fighter more than a Guardian at the moment.
Elise parked herself familiarly in the doorway as Dover explained the evening’s events to her friend, holding nothing back. Dover explained her theory that the angelic creature had been inside her apartment, that it had waited until it knew it would be discovered before running for the hills. To her credit, Elise didn’t laugh herself sick when Dover insisted it’d been an angel creeping about her apartment.
As she finished her tale, Elise huffed a breath. She rubbed a hand over her pretty face, sweeping fine blond hair from her eyes as she did so.
“And it resisted Holy Command. You’re sure?” Her friend asked as Dover made her way back to the kitchen.
“The Command was in full force, I was still lit up from prayers.” Dover insisted. “Why would an angel be watching me, El?”
The senior Guardian arched a brow, a wicked little smirk playing out over her generous mouth. “Well, maybe it was Hanael wanting to get a peek. If you hadn’t startled him, you might be making the beasts with two backs right now.”
Dover squinted at her friend, shaking her head. “You’re severely damaged, did you know that?”
“My fatal flaw.” Elise shrugged, sliding onto a barstool as Dover hunted up a pair of glasses and an almost-empty bottle of Jameson.
“Seriously, El.” Dover sighed as she poured them each a drink. “I don’t know what to make of all this. It’s weird, right?”
Elise toyed with the glass Dover handed her, staring down into the amber liquid.
“There’s a lot of weird going around right now, but we can’t exactly protect ourselves from angels.”
Dover nodded, throwing back her Jameson in one swallow. Her apartment, always a place of solitude now felt invaded, tainted by some alien presence. Elise lifted her head, watching her carefully. Dover exhaled a shaky breath, setting her empty glass into the sink.
“Want me to stay over?”
No matter how desperately Dover wanted to say yes, she could see the fatigue on her friend. Exorcism always left a mark, even if it went as easily as Elise typically made it seem. She needed to go home, to rest, not baby sit a full-grown Guardian.
Shaking her head, Dover pushed her own needs aside.
“No. Go home, get some sleep.”
“You should head to the Arbor in the morning, talk to Hanael about all this.” Elise offered, her blue eyes leveling her protégé with a heavy stare.
Immediately, that shiver of unease slid once more down her spinal column. Before this morning, Dover would have agreed with her old friend’s assessment. Hanael would know what to do, would give guidance and assurances. If nothing else, he would make her feel better about the strange encounter.
But the way he had turned away from her this morning, his taciturn demeanor so unlike him in the decade she’d been in his charge gave her pause.
“No.” The Guardian decided, shaking her head. “No, El, this stays between us, at least for now.”
“Dover,” Elise sighed. “That’s ridiculous.”
“Why?” Dover shot back. “If one angel was here, inside my apartment, and strong enough to shake off a Holy Command, what’s to say others aren’t in on it? Even if Han isn’t involved, I might spook whoever was after me into inaction.”
“You sound like you want it to come back.” Elise’s voice was flat, her eyes boring into Dover’s.
“Of course I do.” Dover replied, meeting that stare dead on. “I need to know what it was doing here, what it wanted.”
Elise rubbed at the bridge of her nose. “Dove, angels don’t work that way. They don’t plot and scheme. It isn’t in their nature.”
“Obedience is. I know.” Dover tilted her head back, staring at the ceiling to gather her thoughts. “But, if that’s the case, why did it bother resisting a Command? And how was it able to?”
Her blond friend fell quiet, staring into the untouched amber liquid in her glass. Silence stretched between them as they both thought. Neither Dover nor Elise were untried trainees, easy to spook. She took it as a mark of respect that Elise trusted her instincts enough to not easily dismiss her suspicions.
Part of her, that scared little place that never went away even in death, wanted her friend to convince her she was making too much of this. She was desperate to believe that it could have been a rookie, shadowing her as part of their training. Or a curious Cherubim with boundary issues.
Unfortunately, Elise only offered a soft, surrendering sigh.
“I don’t know, love.”
Dover nodded once, accepting this answer. She pulled the bottle of Jameson to her lips, swallowing a healthy gulp to steady the nerves still jumping in her belly.
“There’s no use worrying about this now.” Dover said, her bravery a little better than feigned. “Go home, get some sleep.”
Elise watched her with that heavy maternal glare for another moment before she spoke.
Dover nodded, her smile somewhat stronger. “I’m sure.”
“OK.” Elise slid from the barstool, stretching a hand to the humming fluorescent bulbs above their heads. The light dimmed a bit as her friend absorbed the light needed to Slide. “If you need anything, just call.”
“Promise.” Dover agreed. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Elise offered one more smile before she vanished into the Slide. Dover contemplated for a moment before she reached across the counter, taking Elise’s abandoned glass in her hand. She gulped the liquor down before turning back to the front door and flipping the locks.
Instead of returning to her bedroom, Dover stuffed her Sig under the couch cushion and turned the television on.
She wouldn’t even try sleeping tonight.
When she kicked her way into the house, Dover recoiled with a muttered curse, covering her mouth with one leather-gloved hand.
As always, the scent reached her before the sounds of banging doors, shattering glass, and a screeching teakettle. The stench she knew well, a tinge of urine mingled with the heavy, acrid flavor of body odor. Dover hissed out a breath, reminding herself to breathe as shallowly as possible so the putrid scent would not disarm her completely.
She often thought that demons chose to smell so unbelievably awful because they wanted to put their prey off their guard. Dover shook her head as she entered the apartment, ignoring how the door slammed behind her, close enough that it briefly caught on her gun belt before it banged closed.
The sound of the deadbolt sliding into place shouldn’t have been audible over the immense noise of the apartment, but she heard it all the same. That meant the creatures here wanted her to know she was locked in with them. They weren’t afraid.
That made her just a little more nervous than she had been on arrival.
Her voice was lost to the cacophony in the living room, her Charge not in the immediate area. She slid one Sig into her right hand, the left brandishing a Blessed silver knife. Though she could not see the creatures causing havoc, that did not mean a bullet or blade would not cause damage if aimed properly.
Dover narrowly dodged a heavy ceramic plate to the head, ducking aside in time for it to whiz by, crashing into the wall beside a window with its vertical blinds rippling as though someone were walking beneath them.
“Liam?” The Guardian called out again, searching the living room for signs of a struggle, or bodily harm to her Charge. The kitchen appliances suddenly roared to life, the high pitch whine of a can-opener competing with the unholy amount of noise a food processor filled with glass could make. Dover rolled her eyes as framed posters and photographs yanked themselves off of the walls, crashing to the carpeting in a pile of splintered wood and cracked glass.
“Liam!” Dover yelled again, this time in full voice. To hell if the demons located her. The television flared to life as she walked past, the volume rising to full blast inside of a few seconds. Because Liam Childs was a 24-year-old man, he had a ‘kick-ass’ sound system. Dover was relatively sure she felt blood seeping from both of her ears.
Out of the corner of her eye, Dover caught a shapeless form sliding from the television to the couch. A beat later, something sharp ripped the cushions open, pulling the stuffing out and tossing it merrily around the room. In the doorway of the kitchen, Dover spied another undefinable bubble of movement crossing to the dining room table. Seconds later, the cheap chandelier fell to the messy wooden surface, crashing in a mass of broken metal and burnt out bulbs.
Dover grinned, closing one eye to aim her weapon at the semi-invisible blob still ripping into couch cushions. She squeezed the trigger once, rewarded at the preternatural screech that said her aim had been true. Black ichor bubbled up from the wound, forcing the creature to reveal its short, lanky little figure tearing up her Charge’s apartment.
“Hello, handsome.” Dover grinned at the creature, her internal alarms now blaring with warning as the demon turned toward her.
Chaos minions could often be blamed for tales of hauntings all over the world, since they preferred to be incognito. Most demons were too vain to hide behind invisibility the way Chaos did, but not these little suckers.
The minion stood at just four feet tall, with elongated limbs ending in spindly fingers sharp as razors. Their legs were muscular, though the knees folded backward, the way a doe’s might. These demons had no animal grace, however, and lumbered on their mismatched limbs as though uncomfortable in their own bodies.
Their skin carried with it a sheen, almost a glisten of sweat over a blue-gray complexion that was simply unwholesome to look at. They had no faces, only the slight indentations where a nose, mouth, and eyes might be.
Dover stared at the thing as it gripped the wounded shoulder, ichor spurting over that sickly flesh and onto the rental’s carpeting.
The thing spoke without a mouth, its voice slipping into Dover’s mind without an invitation. She shook off that sweet singsong tone, raising her Sig to aim at the creature in the doorway to the kitchen, but she could no longer distinguish the bubble-like refraction that betrayed its location.
She tried to turn, but it was too late. The deceptively heavy body of the Chaos’ companion slammed into her back, spindly arms wrapping around her neck. Those sharp fingers tore into her clothing, trying to swipe the ammo belt from its place across her shoulders. Dover reached back with the Blessed blade, blindly trying to hit something that resembled flesh. The creature astride her back, however, moved too quickly to be stabbed.
In the seconds she took to gather her bearings, the other minion vanished. Dover swore, ignoring the creature on her back as she fired blind. She laid down fire in a precise pattern, rewarded when the minion cried out in pain again.
The scream reverberated through her mind, the gnashing tongue of Hellspeak too quick to follow. Dover didn’t know many words of the Infernal Tongue, but she caught enough of the tone to know when they were swearing heavily.
Backing up as swiftly as she could, Dover slammed the creature on her back into the wall. Lifting an elbow with as much might as she could muster, the Guardian slammed her appendage into the semblance of a face. The minion grasped her more tightly, dragging those disgusting fingertips across her throat, over the jawline and to her cheek. Blood oozed from the wounds, pain lancing through the Guardian as she slammed the thing once more into the wall.
This time, the grip around her loosened. Dover tucked her body, rolled away on the balls of her feet and spun in one fluid motion. The creature had not become visible. Its shimmering bubble of displaced air gave away its location, though. Dover opened fire without hesitation, unloading the clip into the minion’s grotesque body.
“Liam!” Dover shouted again, turning from the creature she had just killed as it ignited.
Lucky for angelic creatures, the slaves of Hell cleaned up after themselves. Most demons immolated on their own, leaving only a small sweep of oily ash in their wake.
Her Charge had not revealed himself. Worry pounded through her. She could still feel her friend’s fear, his desperation to be saved as the demons tore into his house. Her fingers slipped in her own blood as she grabbed a fresh clip, discarded the empty, and reloaded her weapon.
Of course, the first minion had now vanished again. Dover stuffed the Blessed knife back into her waistband, wiping at the blood on her cheek as she focused her eyes on the room around them.
Where had it gone?
Her vision swam slightly. Beneath the grip of her gun, Dover felt sweat begin to pool. She rolled her eyes toward Heaven, shaking her head.
Swearing under her breath, Dover tried to not jump in her skin as the Chaos minion whispered into her mind again.
Fine hairs on the back of Dover’s neck stood at full attention. The demon knew her name. How? Why?
“OK, I’m not saying that’s not creepy,” Dover called out to the creature still hiding somewhere in Liam’s destroyed home. “I don’t give up for creepy, though, bud.”
Laughter drifted into her mind, a faint, villainous chuckle that made goosebumps race over the bloodied flesh of her arms. Dover took a step into the living room, the smoldering body of her quarry’s companion behind her. Her vision blurred, just a little, as she moved closer to the kitchen, where household appliances were still competing for the noise awards.
Liam’s desk sat where a kitchen table was meant to go, covered in notebooks, papers, sticky notes and a state of the art laptop. The printer on a shelf above spat out paper, one sheet after another, the pages fluttering to the floor in rapid succession. Dover stepped around the desk cautiously, peering into the hallway illuminated by flickering bald bulbs.
The ceramic sconces cracked under her feet as she moved toward Liam’s bedroom, her Sig still held aloft. Dover concentrated her angelic power to absorb light from the bulbs, refusing to remove her hands from her weapon, even if channeling without motion took more effort.
That, of course, was the opening the demon had waited for.
It flew down the hallway, invisible to the naked eye, save for the bulbous of displaced air that heralded it. Dover swore under her breath, trying to dodge the hit aimed at her belly, but the tight confines of the corridor limited her movement. The minion’s undetectable body crashed into her torso, shoving the breath from her lungs as her back hit the glass-strewn carpeting. Dover slammed a fist into where she thought the face might be, satisfied by the crack of bone. The creature screamed into her mind, its claws shredding the material of her tank top. It grasped for the gun in her hand, forcing the two of them to wrestle over the weapon.
Cop instinct kicked into gear. Dover twisted her body, bucking the creature on top of her up, forcing its grip to relax. She wrenched the gun away from it, aimed at the invisible head and squeezed the trigger three times in quick succession.
The minion collapsed on top of her, dead.
Mindful that the thing would quickly burst into flame, Dover threw the heavy body off of her, scrambling away as the flesh caught light.
She shoved her weapon back into the bloodied holster, raising a hand to absorb light from the bulb above her. Light immediately went to work on the poison swimming in her veins, knitting her flesh back together and repairing yet another bruised rib as she staggered further down the hallway.
Dover headed immediately for the closet at the end of the hall. After their first meeting when Liam still had braces, he’d said that if serious trouble ever darkened his doorstep, he would grab a Bible and hide in a closet, repeating the Our Father until his rescuer arrived.
Dover wrenched open the closet door just as her Charge was begging for the forgiveness of trespasses.
The young man jumped a solid foot in the air, which was pretty good distance from his knees. Dover stepped back, throwing her hands up in a familiar gesture to indicate surrender. Liam had been a little twitchy since his encounter with possession back in his teens. It happened to be Dover who was Called to pull the higher demon out of the boy, while his ineffectual parents encouraged the doctors to push more Haldol. The moment his blue eyes cleared, free from demonic chains, Liam had looked to Dover with a sort of boyish hero worship.
He would miss her when she went home.
“Thank God.” Liam choked as he clambered to standing. Almost immediately, he wrapped Dover into a bone-breaking hug. “I was ok handling one, but when his friend showed up, shit got real.”
Dover chuckled, rolling her shoulders as she tried to burn the poison in her system off. She managed to pat her Charge on the back, staining his shirt with blood that still flowed from the wounds on her neck and arms. She hissed as she stepped back, the poison lacing those wounds making her drowsy.
“Hey.” Liam said, his kind voice filled with concern. “Hey, sit down a sec.”
Unable to fight the urge to comply, Dover sat heavily on the floor, her back sliding against the wall. Liam crouched in front of her, those familiar eyes scanning her injuries with worry creasing his brow.
“Yeah.” Dover nodded, focusing her gaze on her Charge.
Liam had grown since they first met, topping out at over six feet tall with a stature that would lovingly be called ‘husky’. His kind, round face almost always had a smile on it, his long dark hair falling into his eyes as it escaped the ponytail holder clasping it at his nape. He had been the first of her Charges and that accounted for the deep, unrelenting bond between the two of them.
“How did this happen?” Dover asked weakly as her body strove to heal. “I had Embry Ward the place himself.” “I don’t know, Dove.” Liam said with a sigh. “But something tells me they weren’t here for me. They weren’t even interested in me.”
Frowning, Dover nodded. “Yeah. They knew my name.”
Liam’s eyes widened, his hand reaching out to grasp hers, even though blood and ichor stained her fingers.
“I figured.” He indicated to the wall over her head, forcing Dover to look above her.
A few feet over her head, the wall boasted an elegant script written in what looked like the blood of demons.
Dover Ellis. It read in a looping, beautiful hand. We need to talk.