Author's Note: Thanks for reading, everyone! Please let me know what you think of this chapter. I'm not always good at writing battle scenes, so I want to make sure I've done a good job--that the actions isn't too rushed, there isn't too much or too little detail, that the characters still seem true and real, etc. Please review and make any suggestions you may have. Thank you!
Josh Reilly groaned exhaustedly. He had just gotten home after enduring a long and tiring Tuesday at school. He had some homework that was due tomorrow and his body yearned for rest, so he strongly considered crawling into bed and taking a nice, long, refreshing nap. But Josh knew he couldn't take a nap—not right now, at least. He couldn't even go through the mundane motions of solving homework problems like a normal teenager, albeit in the quietness and security of his home. Josh couldn't do these things right now because he had a much more important job to do—or rather, his alter ego, the Watchman, did.
"Well, so much for ever living a normal life again," Josh said to himself alone in his room, half-sarcastic but half-serious. He fished around in the back of his closet for the clothes he had purposely hidden from sight—the dark blue shirt with the silver cross emblem and the thin black mask to cover his face. Josh stuffed his mask deep into his closet, took off the T-shirt he had worn to school, put on the dark blue garment of the Watchman, and slipped his T-shirt back on over it until he could get out of the house unseen. Josh began to step outside, but stopped for a moment to recall the real source of his power and the real reason he had taken up fighting crime. Despite his natural impatience and physical tiredness, Josh reluctantly dropped down on his knees and leaned against his bed, if only for a few moments.
"God, please help me as I go out today," he whispered. "I'm gonna go try to investigate this Edness guy, maybe talk to him and see if I can find out if he had anything to do with Danny's death. The police said he's a suspected criminal, so things might get ugly, but I should be able to take him if I have to—none of the criminals I've fought so far have had super strength like I do. Anyway, God, as always, I need your strength and your help to do the right thing, and to make a difference for you in the world. Thank you, God. In Jesus' Name, amen."
Josh stood back up, trying to ignore his desire to be lazy, remembering the consequences of the last time he had lived a lazy and complacent life and using the thought to motivate himself to the task at hand. He stepped out into the hallway, but before he could leave the house entirely, his mother stopped him.
"Where you going, Josh?" she asked casually.
Josh froze and his heart started to beat rapidly. "Um…just on an errand…" he said weakly.
"An errand?" Mrs. Reilly repeated.
"Yeah," said Josh. "I should be back in a couple hours." Josh fervently hoped that she wouldn't ask about the nature of his errand. He knew that it was wrong to lie and he shouldn't do that to his mom, but he definitely didn't want to reveal his secret identity either.
"Okay," his mom conceded, sounding skeptical. "But it seems like you've been rushing out a lot lately and I don't see you much around home anymore."
"Yeah…sorry, Mom," Josh said sincerely, not knowing how else to explain his situation. "Well…gotta go." He quickly waved to his mother and rushed out the door before she would have a chance to ask him anything else.
Josh wasn't a big fan of the life of secrecy he had to lead in order to maintain his secret identity. He didn't know what would happen when the people close to him started asking more questions and catching on to things. But he couldn't afford to think about that right now. Instead of solving his personal problems, Josh used his super-speed to run quickly into the woods behind his house where he changed into his outfit unnoticed. Then he set off for his next destination: the address that he had been given for William Edness.
Running at full speed, Josh, now dressed as the Watchman, arrived downtown within twenty minutes, which was not quite as long as it would have taken to drive there. Jonathan Hargrove, the police officer who had now served twice as the Watchman's unofficial informant, had said that Edness lived in the large mansion on Thornrose Drive. Josh wasn't particularly familiar with this part of town, but he had looked up the address and it hadn't been too hard to find. He began walking down the lonely street of Thornrose until he saw what was most likely the place he was looking for—an elaborate brick mansion that had clearly weathered several decades. Josh wasn't an expert on architecture, but the style of the house was reminiscent of an age long gone by. He approached it hesitantly and took a deep breath.
Josh was sweating mildly and his heart was beating a little faster than usual. He was still fairly new at the superhero business and the prospect of facing up one of the city's most powerful crime lords was a bit intimidating. He reminded himself that if there was any danger, his powers would most likely enable him to fight it, but he hoped there wouldn't be cause for a fight. At first he had imagined rushing into the mansion, finding Edness, beating him up, and turning him over to the authorities, but then Josh had remembered that he didn't have any proof of anything, and that beating people up shouldn't be his primary objective. He planned to go in, ask Edness a few questions about Danny, try to figure out what his game was, and investigate further if possible. It would be easy to get to the bottom of this without any trouble, right?
Josh sighed. He wished that he had great detective skills like the superheroes he had seen in comic books and movies. He also wished that he looked more intimidating than a teenager in blue jeans, a sweatshirt, and a homemade mask. Silently sending up another quick prayer for help, Josh walked up and knocked three times with the golden-colored knocker on the front door.
The door swung wide open.
"Okay…that's a little weird," said Josh, guessing that it probably hadn't been closed tightly enough the last time. He leaned inside hesitantly and looked in as far as he could. "Hello?" he called. "Mr. Edness? Are you home?"
There was no answer. Josh was starting to get a spooky feeling, as if he was in one of those old movies and there was something very bad inside the house. Considering whose house he was at, it was quite possible that there was indeed something very bad inside, though Josh didn't know specifically what. In any case, he was a superhero, and a superhero with God on his side at that, so he didn't have anything to worry about, right? He thought he heard a sinister cackle off in the distance somewhere, but figured it was only his imagination flaring up. Josh called out again and waited a few more moments. When he still didn't hear any answer, he was faced with another decision.
"Should I go inside?" Josh asked himself. He didn't know if it would be a good idea. After all, it was private property, and he hadn't been invited or acknowledged by Edness. But then he thought differently. "It would be a shame to come all this way and not accomplish anything," he said. "And I'm doing it for a good cause—searching for justice and truth. And the police sent me here. Well, kind of. But he didn't forbid me from going and he even told me where it was, so...yeah." Josh decided that it wouldn't be very becoming of a superhero to be afraid to take risks like this one. He boldly and quietly stepped inside and closed the door behind him.
The inside of the house completely complemented the appearance of the outside—big, old, and spooky. The place smelled musty and the paint on the walls was chipped. None of the lights in the place were on and all the windows were closed, so the whole place was fairly dark, but Josh could still see well enough. There was a dusty wooden staircase immediately to Josh's right, a fairly small common room to his left, and a hallway leading to other rooms straight ahead. Josh walked ahead, hoping that he could find and talk to Edness and that the man wouldn't be angry about Josh entering his house. Josh winced with each creak of the floorboards underneath his feet, but he kept going down the hallway, wondering what he might find.
The living room contained a leather couch, a couple of packed bookshelves with empty spaces where the books strewn across the floor were meant to go, and a surprisingly modern big-screen television. Upon entering, Josh began to detect a very strong and unique smell. He looked around and to his dismay, he saw a couple of empty syringes lying in the ground and shattered pieces of a few glass containers next to what looked like chemical spills that had gone unnoticed for hours. Josh didn't know much about different types of drugs, and he was thankful that he had never experimented with them during the more rebellious stage of his teenage years. Even so, he was pretty sure that whatever he saw on the ground had been dangerous and probably illegal. That was something he could report to the police, at least. But was there more?
Josh moved on.
In the back of the living room was a thin, obscure door which was painted such a color as to almost blend in with the rest of the wall. Josh might not have noticed it if not for the golden hinges and doorknob which made it stand out from the rest. He tiptoed across the living room to the door and opened it. He did not find another room—not immediately, at least. Instead, he found a stairwell going down, presumably into the basement or cellar. It was even darker down there and Josh could only see a few feet down, but he began to descend the staircase. His heart was beating even more rapidly now.
"Please be with me, God," he whispered sincerely.
Halfway down the stairs, Josh's foot bumped something that he hadn't been able to see. Curiously, wondering if it was anything else he should report to the police, Josh crouched down to investigate, using to his advantage the scarce light shining through from the open door to the living room above. He squinted, trying to determine what it was he had bumped.
It was a body.
It was hard to tell, but it looked like an older man and he was dressed in a nice suit. Maybe it was Edness's butler or servant, or a business partner who the crime boss had turned on? Josh didn't know, but the victim's identity wasn't his main concern at this time. He was more concerned with the dried blood that covered the victim's clothes and the stairs beneath him, and with the gaping wounds that looked somewhat like claw marks around the man's neck. Josh would have liked to help preserve the man's life if at all possible, but there was no question that he was already dead, and probably by some less than humane method, too.
Josh usually had a fairly strong stomach, but he certainly didn't enjoy seeing dead bodies, especially when the sight was as gruesome as this one. Even he was feeling a little queasy now, and his heartbeat had gotten a lot higher. A sizeable part of him wanted to go back up the stairs and run far away, but Josh reminded himself that he wasn't a little kid anymore, and he wasn't even the same Josh Reilly he had been a month ago, either. He was the Watchman now, he had a job to do, and between the drugs and the dead body, he now had very strong evidence that William Edness was up to no good. He no longer retained any intention of asking questions first, and he no longer wondered whether or not Edness was the type of person who would order a hit on Danny Carraway. If Edness really was anywhere in the house, then Josh would detain him and bring him to the police one way or another. Stepping carefully over the gruesome corpse, Josh continued down the stairs.
He heard a slam behind him. The door at the top of the stairs had somehow shut, eliminating what little light had shone in from above. Josh was now standing on a cold, metal floor. The only light in the basement came from a small rectangular window on the other side of the room.
"Mr. Edness?" Josh called out. Maybe Edness was out for the day and away from the house, but maybe he had been in the basement and hadn't heard Josh earlier, or maybe he had heard him and was trying to hide on purpose. Considering the high stakes of the situation, Josh wasn't going to be satisfied until he had done a thorough search. "Are you down here?" he asked loudly.
He thought he heard faint breathing from the other direction.
Cautiously, Josh tiptoed towards the small source of light, and the sound of the steady breathing got louder. His eyes had mostly adjusted to the darkness now, and he looked around. The light seemed to reveal a human silhouette, facing the wall and crouching in the corner of the room. Was this William Edness? Had Josh finally found the man's hiding place? He stepped closer until he was right behind the figure and was now quite sure it was a person, though the facial features were obscured.
Josh leaned down and spoke as firmly and boldly as he could. "Are you William Edness?" When the figure didn't respond, Josh grabbed his shoulder and tried to turn him around—
With an unearthly growl, the obscured figure flailed out his arm and struck at Josh with more force than Josh had ever felt before. Before he knew what was happening, the impact was causing Josh's body to soar across the room. His back crashed excruciatingly against the brick wall and he fell to the unforgiving concrete floor below.
An altogether new level of pain surged through Josh's body while unanswerable questions surged through his mind. Who was this person, and how had they just done that? Josh's back felt like it was badly scraped, if not bleeding, and every part of him ached. He considered that if not for his enhanced strength and healing abilities, the blow may well have killed him. He was breathing heavily and struggling to get back to his feet. He didn't know whether to run or to fight back. What was going on?
Josh stood up, ignored his pain, and spoke loudly, trying to sound brave. "So you want a fight, huh? I don't know who or what you are, but—"
The mysterious being growled again, sounding surprised. Josh heard a deep, chilling voice ask what sounded like, "Still alive? How?"
"I'm a little stronger than your average bear," he called back (even though he was just using the expression, Josh briefly considered that he probably actually was stronger than the average bear). "Now, you can try to fight me if you want, but I'm here for William Edness, and if you know where he is—"
"Edness?" the disturbing voice repeated with contempt. "What do you want with Edness? Who are you?" Before Josh could answer, his opponent ran up to him and stood a couple of feet away. Josh still couldn't see him very well in the dark, but the figure was definitely shaped like a man, however unnaturally strong and creepy-voiced that man might be. Josh was scared out of his mind. Then the man's gruff voice spoke two words which Josh hadn't expected to hear at all.
Josh gasped. Now he was even more freaked out, but he tried not to let it show. This guy had probably just heard about him on the news or something and recognized him by his costume. "Yes," said Josh. "I'm the Watchman. But who are you? I'm looking for William Edness. Are you Edness?"
The man growled in contempt once again. "No!" he shouted. "I am not Edness…anymore."
Anymore? Josh thought skeptically.
"I am Aven!" the creature thundered. "I am the wickedness which rules the hearts of men! Mortals and spirits shall fall before my power!"
"Well, it sounds like you've got the whole evil villain monologue thing down pretty well," Josh said in spite of himself. He knew it wasn't a time for joking, but joking during a fight seemed pretty cool when all the superheroes in the movies did it, and he needed something to relieve his tension and keep him from screaming for his mother. "Now, do you mind telling me where I can find Edness, or—"
"Mortal fool!" Aven shouted, violently lashing out at Josh again. This time Josh expected it and his heightened speed allowed him a little time to brace himself, but the oncoming fist still struck the side of his face, and it didn't exactly feel like a pillow fight. Josh winced and groaned. Just who was this Aven character, and what did he have to do with Edness?
"Okay, that's it," said Josh. "I don't know what you hope to get out of hitting me, but—"
"I shall strike you if I please, mortal!" Aven announced. "Just as I am strong enough to destroy you if I please!"
"But why?" Josh asked, confused and desperate. "What do you want from me?"
It seemed like Aven's anger subsided for a moment. He stepped close to Josh and spoke in a soft but menacing tone. "I despise the one you serve, and I despise the work you have done for Him," Aven explained bluntly. "For this reason, you are my enemy. But if you renounce your faith in your master and cease the heroic acts you perform in his name, then I shall spare your life here today."
For a moment, a small part of Josh considered the offer. Aven did seem stronger than Josh, and Josh definitely didn't want to die. But when he thought about renouncing his faith, the concept disgusted him. He had only had it—the true kind, at least—for a short while, but already it had transformed his life in amazing ways he couldn't otherwise explain. He knew the power of God and the reality of his faith, and he wasn't about to give it up just because some crazy villain hiding in a basement had tried to threaten him into doing so. Josh fervently hoped he would be able to beat Aven and come out of the whole thing alive, but regardless of the outcome, he knew where he stood and what his answer would be.
"No," Josh stated firmly. "Never."
"Then I will destroy you, Watchman!" Aven struck at Josh again, but with less success than before. Josh stepped aside quickly, then threw his own punch at Aven's face—or at least, what seemed like his face, judging by the little light Josh could see by. He felt the satisfying pressure on his knuckles that let him know he had made impact, but he didn't know how much it would hurt the super-strong freak. For good measure, he probed around with his leg until he located Aven's legs, and kicked them out from under him as well. Josh heard his opponent crash to the ground.
"That ought to teach you," said Josh, hoping that his words were correct but not so sure that Aven was truly down and out. He decided to use this chance to make a break for the stairs. Not that he planned to run away—although a part of him really wanted to—but he would better be able to see what he was doing in the light of the main floor, and up there he would have a better possibility for a quick escape if it did indeed come to that. He climbed the first couple of steps and jumped over the body in the middle before he heard the sound of Aven's growl and more footsteps pursuing him quickly. Josh bolted through the door at the top of the steps, thrust it open, and burst back into the living room.
In the middle of panting for breath, Josh spoke. "Okay, Aven, let's see how you like it up here in my element."
He turned around to face his enemy, bracing himself again, but let out a gasp at the sight before him, made fully visible by the light. The figure in front of Josh looked like a man in his mid-thirties, but more gruesome and deformed than any man Josh had ever seen before. He was hairless except for a thin moustache and dark, pointed goatee. He wore only a pair of pants and an undershirt, revealing a chest and arms with wounds all over them. Josh couldn't tell if they were slash marks or claw marks or bite marks or a mixture of all three, but they must have been fresh, because his arms were covered with a dried stream of messy crimson blood, which even tainted the otherwise white undershirt he wore. Aven's white eyes were bloodshot and had no pupils that Josh could see. His lips were currently twisted into a wrathful snarl.
"What…what are you?" Josh asked in awe. "What happened to you?"
"I told you that I am Aven!" he shouted back. "What happened is that I came to inhabit this mortal Edness you seek, making him more powerful…much more powerful."
Realization dawned on Josh and a dark cloud formed over his heart. "You mean you're…possessed?" he asked.
Somewhat to Josh's surprise, a normal (though strained) human voice came from Aven, but only for a moment. "Yes, help m—"
Then the deep, demonic growl returned. "No," Aven said. "I am not possessed. I am the one doing the possessing!" He laughed quietly and cruelly for a moment.
"Oh, crud," Josh whispered to himself, panicking intensely on the inside. "I'm fighting a demon. A real, live demon. Jesus, give me strength."
Aven shrieked for a moment as if he was in pain or terror, but Josh didn't take any notice of it yet. He was too focused on the horror of his situation and trying to stay alive. Even though Josh believed in all the spiritual truths that he had read in the Bible, such as the existence of angels and demons and such, it was rather disturbing for him to see someone who actually was possessed. He guessed that the demon was probably the reason for Aven's otherworldly strength—he didn't know much about what powers demons were supposed to have, but he knew that they were beyond the physical world and could probably do a lot of things that he couldn't begin to imagine. Either way, he didn't have much time right now to ponder issues of theology or metaphysics or the like, because he was more concerned with surviving and trying to keep people safe. Josh knew now that this fight was bigger than himself or Danny or even William Edness, and he couldn't afford to lose.
Mustering up his courage once again, he delivered the hardest blow he could into Aven's chest. The demon-possessed man staggered backward for a moment, but Josh's attack hadn't been enough to put him down. Instead Aven picked Josh up and threw him into the center of the living room, where the momentum of his body smashed the table that he landed on. If the aches and pains from Josh's first crash against the wall had even begun to subside at all in the past few minutes, they were alive and well again now.
"I will crush you!" Aven boomed as he came closer to Josh once again. "You and your master think yourselves stronger than me and my master. You think you're better than us, more worthy than us…but you're not." Whatever he was ranting about was obviously very important to the demon. "But I'll show you."
Josh began to stand up, fearing another blow or being tossed across the room again. But Aven didn't hit him—instead, he picked up the big-screen television from where it stood in the living room and raised it high above his head.
"Oh, crud," Josh muttered again, standing up and scrambling out of the way as fast as he could. Aven hurled the TV across the room. Josh was on the run, and the TV landed right where he had been about two seconds earlier and broke apart, its many pieces scattering in every direction.
"Run while you can!" Aven shouted. He raised his arms menacingly, stretched out his hands towards Josh, and without hesitation began to launch miniature bursts of flame at Josh's feet. Josh felt the intense heat approaching him and began to run even faster.
"He can shoot fire?!?" Josh asked himself aloud. "What else can demons do? I don't think I want to know!" It didn't take long for the flames to spread. They quickly engulfed the floor of the main hallway and began to climb onto the walls as well.
"Doesn't this guy care about destroying his house?" Josh asked himself sarcastically. "No, I guess demons aren't too concerned with that kind of stuff. Actually, I guess Edness kind of is that demon's house now…creepy."
Josh now stood facing the door through which he had first entered the house, the staircase leading upwards on his left, and the flames standing menacingly between him and the living room where Aven still stood. The logical thing to do would be to charge out the front door and run far, far away, but Josh knew he shouldn't ignore the danger he had found in the house just to save himself. He also knew that, as a superhero and a Christian, he should value and save life whenever possible, even what seemed like the worst of lives. Josh decided he should at least try to save Edness from the burning house, albeit also to bring the man to justice. Now the only question was in exactly how to save both of them before the place burned down.
"Now I've got you!" Aven shouted wrathfully. Josh looked behind himself to see Aven running at him again from the living room, passing quickly through the flames undaunted and apparently unhurt. Obviously, the demon-possessed crime boss didn't have quite the same Christian love for enemies that Josh was trying to cultivate, and he wasn't going to let a little thing like a burning house change that fact.
Josh knew he wasn't strong enough to take Aven head on. He would have to outsmart him or outpray him or both, but in order to do either of those, he would need to still be alive, which probably wouldn't happen if Aven caught up to him. So Josh, in a panic and a moment of acting on instinct, turned and ran up the staircase to his left, away from Aven and the rapidly spreading flames. He might get a bit of a head start up here, but Aven was already following him up. Josh dashed up and away as fast as he could.
Suddenly it occurred to Josh that going up the stairs, further into the house, had not been the wisest choice considering the fact that the house was burning and that if the fire got bad enough and destroyed enough of the house, the upper floor could collapse onto the lower one. He wished he had had time to consider this when he hadn't been running for his life, but he had acted out of fear and instinct without considering the consequences. Now that Aven was behind him on the stairs, it was too late to turn back. Josh gulped. He was on the highest floor of a burning building, being chased by a demon-possessed murderer who had made no secret about wanting to kill him.
"Well," Josh said to himself, still trying to ease his fears by making light of the situation. "I would say something like 'I've been in tougher spots before', but I'm pretty new at this whole superhero business, and I don't think I've even been in a spot remotely this tough before…God, help me."
There was only one door at the top of the steps, and it led into a room that was more or less an attic. Josh entered the room to discover a spacious area covered in dust. A few tattered cardboard boxes were scattered here and there, but most of the room was filled with just an old, eerie emptiness. In the traditional style of the house, a lone, large, circular glass window decorated one wall of the room, but the rest of the room was completely dark. However, Josh didn't really have much time to admire the room's decoration or lack thereof; he was busy running and fighting for his life.
Once Aven noticed that Josh was already in the room, he positioned himself in front of the doorway, blocking the only entrance, and chuckled wickedly. "Now you will die here, Watchman," said the twisted, demonic voice. "And then will the one you serve be able to save you?"
Josh stepped as far back from Aven as he could and shouted across the room. "Edness, don't do it!" he shouted. "If you're in there, listen to me! Don't let the demon have your soul—it'll destroy us both!"
"Sorry," said Aven delightfully. "But Edness can't do anything anymore. I'm in control here now, and I am going to destroy you."
"Why?" Josh shouted back, wondering if there was any way he could reason with his foe, or if it was even theologically possible to reason with a demon. "What did I ever do to you?"
"You've made no apology about serving my one great enemy," Aven spat contemptuously. "He who cast my master and all of my kind down from the high places because He was too proud to share His glory. You and His servants have always been arrogant and disgusting, and I will destroy you for it before you can do any more of His work."
"I don't think so," said Josh, stalling for time and trying to be bold. "He's stronger than you are, Aven. My God is— "
"Silence!" Aven roared, sending more bursts of flame across the room to Josh. Josh tried to dodge and felt a flash of pain as one of the flames briefly hit his leg, but he moved fast enough to prevent himself from catching on fire. Josh tried to gain a secure footing away from the flames and from Aven, but Aven was stepping closer.
"You have the potential to do powerful thing for my enemy's kingdom," Aven growled to Josh. "But if you are dead, then you will never reach another soul for Him." Josh tried to move away, but there wasn't much safe space left for him to move to. Aven came up in front of him and delivered a harsh blow to the chest which caused Josh to stumble backwards onto the ground. Before Josh could get up or defend himself again, Aven grabbed him by the neck and lifted him up off the ground. Josh began to choke.
"Goodbye, Watchman," Aven said.
Gasping for breath and yearning desperately to live, Josh knew that the only two options he had were to rely fully on the God whom he had recently pledged himself to or to be sent immediately into that God's presence. He wasn't ready to leave the mortal world quite yet, so he would have to go with the former option instead. Despite being physically weakened and choking, he managed to breathe a few words. "Jesus…give me strength," he uttered quietly. He began to feel a little more full of breath, despite being choked by Aven.
"What did you say?" Aven asked, not sounding quite as arrogant and victorious as he had a moment ago.
Josh repeated it, a little louder this time. "Jesus, give me strength." Aven was still holding him by the neck, but the pain throughout his body began to alleviate, and he could breathe even more easily.
"Do not speak that name in my presence!" Aven shouted, sounding both angry and scared. "I will kill you! I have the power to kill you right now!"
"No," said Josh. "You have no power over me. I belong to Jesus Christ, and there's nothing you can do to change that."
"No!" screamed Aven. "You lie! I shall be victorious!"
"Jesus is my strength, and He shall be victorious!" Josh shouted in reply. In one last-ditch effort to escape, he lifted up his legs which had been dangling in the air and slammed them as hard as he could into Aven's chest. The impact sent the man falling backward to the ground, loosening his grasp on Josh's neck in the process. Josh landed on top of Aven and scrambled to get back to his feet before his opponent could. Josh succeeded. He felt a great strength inside of him, even greater than that which his superpowers usually granted him. Aven was obviously weakened, both physically from Josh's kick and, Josh had to assume, spiritually from the power of Jesus' Name. Aven tried to stand back up a few times, but Josh, feeling rejuvenated, kicked him down each time before he could succeed. Soon Aven was lying on the floor, not looking like much of a threat any longer. Josh mentally thanked God for giving him the victory.
"Jesus always has the victory," he said aloud. Aven groaned.
Josh looked around. Most of the attic was on fire. He quickly became less concerned with his victory in battle and more concerned with getting himself and Edness out of the burning house. Josh reached down, grabbed the other man's arms, and lifted him partially back up. "Mr. Edness, I don't know if you can hear me, but I need to get both of us out of here," Josh said. "Can you make it down the stairs?"
"No…" came the weak growl.
"I can help you down—" Josh began.
"No!" Aven shouted back. "No, I won't go with you!" Apparently still stronger than Josh had thought him to be, Aven picked himself back up, but instead of trying to fight Josh again, he backed away from him.
"You have to come!" Josh said frantically. "You'll die if you stay up here!"
"I won't go with you!" Aven screamed bitterly. "I won't give this mortal into the hands of my enemies to be jailed and tortured as you would have him!" Obviously defeated but still frightened and bitter, Aven kept backing away.
"I'm not going to—" Josh began.
"I won't!" Aven asserted. "But I won't stay here to die, either." He moved over to the far wall with the circular glass window and struck the fixture once with his fist. The glass shattered from the impact and the window was now a hole in the wall—a hole big enough for a person to fit through.
"No!' Josh shouted desperately, realizing what was happening. "Don't!'
But Aven didn't listen. Josh ran towards him, but didn't arrive in time. The man (and the demon inside him) jumped out the window without a second thought and crashed to the ground below.
"No…" Josh whispered, sorrowful for the man's fate.
Josh's mind was racing to cope with all the pain he felt and all the trauma he had experienced since entering the house, but getting out of the house to live another day was more urgent. Thankful that the structure was still intact, Josh walked carefully through the flame-filled attic to the door that led back downstairs. He desperately opened the door, but was immediately barraged by a thick cloud of smoke which had accumulated from the other flames downstairs. Josh began coughing and he almost tried to step into the staircase, but the smoke clouded his eyes and wouldn't let him breathe. He couldn't get down through the staircase. He was trapped up here, unless there was another way down. Desperately, he looked across the room.
The shattered window was his only hope.
Without thinking twice about the matter, Josh ran back over to the window, dodging small fires and praying in his heart for the ability to make it out alive. He stood in front of the round opening and looked down. The ground was two stories away, but the room behind him was burning. Josh took a deep breath, braced himself, and jumped, falling several feet to the ground below. He hit the grass on the lawn with a significant crash, and felt new jolts of pain being sent throughout his entire body once again. He was bruised and hurting, but he was alive. Thanks to his super strength or divine intervention or, more likely, a combination of both, he had survived the fall and made it out of the burning house alive.
After a moment Josh was able to stand back up, ignoring the intense pain required to do so. He looked around him. The house was still burning, but to his surprise and curiosity, the body of William Edness, who had fallen right from the same window to this same spot, was nowhere to be seen. Had he somehow landed somewhere else? Had the flames reached the body and consumed it? Had the demonic presence of Aven somehow destroyed Edness' physical body as well as his soul? Josh didn't know, but he didn't plan to investigate any further at the time. He needed to get away from the burning house, find a phone, and call the fire department, if one of the neighbors hadn't done so already. He didn't have much evidence to give to the police or to show for his efforts today, but he had his life and the knowledge of all that had happened, which seemed like a pretty good deal, all things considered. He would have saved Edness if he could have, but the man hadn't wanted to be saved, and there was nothing Josh could do now.
"Thank you, God…for saving me," Josh breathed.
Feeling a strange sense of both victory and loss, the solitary figure of the Watchman turned around and walked away.
Unnoticed by Josh, the flames in the house behind him were extinguished all at once.
William Edness sat alone in the darkness of his basement. But he was not truly alone.
"You failed today, William," said Aven.
"Me?" Edness retorted. "I failed? What about you? You're the one with all the power!"
"You can give me incredible strength," Edness pointed out. "You can manipulate the very laws of nature to create fire and make it disappear again. You can probably do lots of things that I can't imagine, but you couldn't beat the Watchman?"
"The name he spoke is…a terror to me," Aven explained. "It is the name of the only one who is strong enough to vanquish my master and I."
"Wait," said Edness. "He's stronger than you? I thought—"
"He does have a certain power over me," the demon admitted. "But my master and I are wiser and more cunning. You wished to destroy him in a tangible battle, and that was your failure."
"Then how can he be destroyed?" Edness asked.
"Tempt him," Aven explained. "Lure him slowly away from the faith he holds to and the standards of the one he serves. When he is the furthest away from his master he will be at his weakest, and then you may crush him freely."
"And why should I listen to you anymore?" Edness asked. "We failed once already, and you've been torturing me inside my own mind ever since I let you in last night. You're a fiend and I don't want anything to do with you anymore!"
"William," said Aven. "Was it not you who invited me in and asked for my power?"
"Yes, but I didn't know what it would be like!" Edness protested. "I didn't know what I was getting into. I want you out, do you hear me? Out!"
"William, I am not going anywhere," Aven retorted. "So you'll just have to get used to me. And since you can't get rid of me, why don't you trust me? We don't have to be enemies. We both still want to destroy the Watchman, don't we?"
"Yes…" answered Edness hesitantly, but very frightened. "Yes…we do."
"Good," said Aven. "As I said, if you tempt him away from the faith he holds, he will be as weak as any mortal."
"But how do I do that?"
"It may not be easy. After all, he already knows you now, and he believes you to be dead. He'll know to defend himself if you ever encounter him again. But, tell me…do you have any associates or contacts who would be interested in helping us? Someone who the Watchman wouldn't recognize or suspect?"
"Yes...I think so."
Pierre Azzo was normally a little creeped out by his boss's house anyway, but it was even more disturbing when he walked into it later that night after receiving an urgent call from Edness. The upper window had been smashed, and once he got inside, he noticed that much of the interior appeared to have been consumed by fire. The many small, broken pieces of what had once been the television were strewn haphazardly throughout the living room.
:"Boss, what happened to this place?" Pierre called out before locating Edness. Then he saw him, standing in the corner of the living room right next to the basement door, dressed in significantly dirtier clothes than the nice suit that Pierre was used to seeing him in. The man was scarred and looked physically beaten. "Boss…what happened to you?"
"It is unimportant," Edness answered. "Pierre, would you like to have power?"
"Um…what kind of power, boss?" Pierre was feeling quite unnerved.
"The power to influence the decisions of others," Edness explained. "The power to attain any pleasure you've ever wanted. The power to destroy the infernal Watchman."
"Sure, boss, sounds great!" said Pierre, thoroughly freaked out. He didn't know if his boss was hinting at some spell from one of his occult books or what. The part about attaining pleasure certainly did appeal to Pierre, though, so if there was any truth to it, it might be worth looking into. "How exactly do I get this power?"
"Come to me, Pierre."
Hesitantly, Pierre approached his boss. The other man grabbed Pierre by the shoulders, laying his hands very tightly on Pierre. Edness didn't say anything that Pierre could understand, but he uttered what sounded like an incantation in some otherworldly language Pierre had never heard of. And suddenly, inexplicably, just as Edness had said, Pierre felt power rising up inside of him.
Something had happened. Pierre wasn't quite sure what, but something strange had happened to him at Edness' house, and he felt different inside. Of course, that didn't do anything to diminish the creepiness of the house, which Pierre still wasn't too happy about. And since he didn't have anything better to do tonight anyway, Pierre decided promptly to drown his fears and sorrows with a few cold drinks (or maybe several cold drinks) at his favorite bar. Whether or not there really was anything to all that magic occult stuff, Pierre still craved the enjoyment of losing his senses to a bottle of wine and to any woman who he might be able to pick up.
Pierre stepped into the bar. To his surprise, he immediately noticed a familiar face—no one he knew personally, but the same blond woman who had turned him down so definitively just a few days earlier. Maybe he would have better luck tonight. Pierre walked casually to her side.
"Hey, good-looking. Remember me?"
The woman turned to face him and recognized him quickly. "You!" she shouted angrily. "I thought I told you to leave me alone the last time you were here! Just what do you want from me, anyway?"
Pierre would not be dissuaded. "I want you," he insisted. "Just come to me. Please."
That was all he had to say. Instantly the angry look left the woman's face, replaced by one of extreme desire. Completely forgetting that she had rejected him just a moment before, the woman threw herself upon Pierre without hesitation and began kissing him passionately, readily indulging in the pleasure that her flesh so deeply craved. Pierre proceeded to grab the woman around the waist and return her kisses even more passionately. Each kiss brought him unspeakable pleasure, but only tantalized him and increased his longing.
Pierre smiled. He hadn't been expecting this at all, but he certainly wasn't complaining. Had Edness' spell given him this power to attain whatever pleasure he wanted and make others obey his commands? A dozen possibilities raced through Pierre's excited brain. He would have no trouble getting used to this.
Next: The Tempter Cometh!
Author's Note: So far, I've produced one chapter per month of The Watchman since May. This November, however, I'll probably have to break this pattern, as my attention will be occupied by another writing project for National Novel Writing Month (any of my fellow authors who are interested in this should check out .org). It is unlikely that I'll be able to put out a chapter of The Watchman in November, so I hope this issue can tide you over for a while, but I intend to return to the monthly installments with #7 in December. Thanks for your patience, and thanks for reading this far. May the Lord bless all of you greatly.