Without opening his eyes, David Moore could feel the Fallen one waiting for him, and he knew he was going to die.
His joints creaked as he got up from the kneeler, supporting himself on the pew in front of him. His arms felt weak, strained, the way they'd felt when he'd been younger, at the end of a long day's training during his apprenticeship. He could not remember when he had begun to think of himself as old. It was not that long ago that he had bid goodbye to his twenties, begun really watching what he ate, that sort of thing, and yet he was already feeling ancient. Did humans feel their age so soon? Did the fatigue of responsibility set in the same way? Or was it his half-nature, the strain of his angelic half on his human half?
He was still shaking a little from what he had found in the old Devries place. He half-cursed his own impatience, and half-cursed the Devries girl herself, for trying what little patience he did have, for keeping such a horrific secret all of these years.
His hands, however, were steady as he checked the magazine in his weapon. Then he replaced the gun in the holster at his shoulder.
"I hope you aren't going to make me wait all day," the woman said. She was just outside of the church doors. The looming, seven-foot-high mahogany structures gave the impression of being able to protect against anything. They could not protect him.
Moore's voice sounded just as tired as his body felt old. "I can't imagine your master is in much of a hurry."
The woman's laughter was cheerful. It chilled him.
"Don't make me come get you," she said. It was an empty threat, but he turned to approach her anyway.
His steps felt heavy as he walked down the aisle toward the open front door of the church. Just on the other side of the threshold stood a tall, slender blond woman. Long-legged and curvaceous, she stood with her hand on her hip and tapped the toe of one high-heeled shoe, waiting while he scrutinized her. In pencil skirt and conservative blouse, sleeves rolled up to her elbows, the only danger of which she seemed capable was a potential sexual harassment lawsuit at the office.
"I expected you sooner," he said. It wasn't much in the way of a remark, and she didn't bother dignifying it with a response of her own. He sought, wildly, one last time, for some idea, some shred of a plan, to escape, to kill this… this thing — but as he stood there looking at her, standing across the threshold that acted as a barrier between them, he knew that it was done. He couldn't stay on holy ground forever, and even if he tried to hold up in the sanctuary, he knew that she would be able to draw him out. She was vicious enough; willing and capable of slaughtering innocent bystanders like cattle. He couldn't even call for help — not that it would come, not to District 40.
Best to get this over with as soon as possible.
His hopes for escape gave way, briefly, to anger. This was her fault — the Devries woman — how in all the universes could it possibly be that he should die for her sake? He touched, briefly, the manila folder tucked into the inside pocket of his jacket. Then his anger faded. This was just the way things were. He could not change them.
"I shouldn't have ignored her," he said to himself.
"I can't blame you for doing so," the Fallen one answered. "She rather makes you want to."
The city was still sleeping; he was so used to thinking of it as District 40, he sometimes had a hard time remember what it was actually called. He could not think of it now. Sleepy birdsong drifted in from some invisible perch on a nearby tree. There were still some sounds of light traffic, despite the hour; the church bells had rung one in the morning shortly after he'd arrived, at least half an hour ago. A door slammed shut on the next block. A dog barked, twice. He'd barely been here a year, and the sounds that he longed for, the last things he would ever hear, those were a world away. No different from these sounds now, but if he died for any reason, he had not wanted to die in District 40. He had not wanted to die because of the goddamn Devries girl.
He was tired, he realized. So tired.
"What's your plan?" he asked. "The whole scheme, how does she fit in?"
The woman smiled. "You can't expect me to answer that."
"No," he admitted, pulling out his weapon. "No, but it was worth a try."
He wiped blood away from his face. Old wounds that he'd sustained over the last several months had reappeared during his frantic retreat to holy ground. He'd overextended himself, and pulled power from his core and the essence of his own soul to fuel the arcanum he had used too much of. His soul had pulled on his life force. One of the fingers on his left hand was broken, as was his nose, although the flow of blood there had been staunched. There was crusted blood on his scalp, and a slight swelling beginning around one eye. All old injuries, healed within the last six or seven months, but as he had defended himself with all he'd learned in the arcane arts, his body had reversed the time and energy it had put into healing itself, and instead put that life into the arcanum.
Only one of his wounds was new: the long, jagged slash burned red-hot down his right leg, from knee to ankle. The woman's eyes had flashed back when her French-tripped nails had rent his flesh below the knee, as he'd fled the Devries place. No matter what he tried, even if he had not resigned himself to his fate, he was a dead man walking. There was venom in demon claws, and it'd had plenty of time to spread from the simple wrath of a woman's manicured nail.
It had cost him dearly, fleeing here to the cathedral, but at least he had been able to spend a few moments in peace. He'd aspired to religiousness during his lifetime, after all, although he'd never attained the level of devotion that his teacher had. He wondered if at least trying counted for something.
At least his wings were white.
At least he had that.
"You coming across that threshold or what?" the blonde asked, as if she didn't really care either way. She made as if to examine her nails, but she did not take her eyes from him.
"You look remarkably human," he said. "I almost forget that you're stuck over there, on that side."
She shook her head, smiling still. "Oh, no. I'm completely human. Well, nefilim, anyway. Mortal enough. It's my passenger…"
Something in her face changed, ever so slightly, and she blinked. When she opened her eyes, the blue had been replaced by the black of the Deep.
Moore felt a tickling line of cold shoot down his spine. "And what do you call yourself, demon?" He couldn't fake surprise, not even at this, not after the assault he'd suffered at her hands, but that did not mean that being so near a demon, or a woman possessed by a demon, did not make his skin crawl.
The voice that curled from out the woman's lips was her own, but not quite. It reverberated with something else, as if something hissing and growling had been badly superimposed on it. "I have none. When I was with my brothers, we were many."
"And where are your brothers now? Here? Close?"
"Destroyed. Gone." It was difficult to tell if the snarl was fueled by anger or rage or some hint of personal triumph. "They drowned. I survived."
The eyes fluttered again and came up blue once more.
"Time's running short," the woman said, the sneer reverting back to the smile. It was unfair how lovely she was. "And I've other errands to run. And before you try," she said, "delaying the inevitable isn't going to help anyone. The three minutes you've got left aren't worth much. I got a good one in, didn't I? Right there at the beginning. Your leg. Don't you feel tired yet? Feverish? You were dead before you even left the old house." Her voice was cool, conversational, analytic. There wasn't even any cruelty in it, no gloating. "The only reason I haven't walked away and left you here to get on with dying is because it would be sloppy and irresponsible on my part. I'd rather go my way knowing the job is done."
He took a deep breath, let it out slowly, then looked the woman in the eye and chambered a round.
"Cute," she remarked. "Useless, of course."
"I know," he answered, and stepped over the threshold, from life into death. "But I'll be damned if I go down without a fight."