Shadows greeted me, a complete darkness that seemed to return my weary stare blocking any and all sight of what was contained within the room. The windows must have been thoroughly covered, because a combination of the full moon outside and the light pollution of the city should have ensured I see something. Instead I saw nothing, and now the only way I would be able to search the room for the Rider -who couldn’t have escaped for the same reason I couldn’t see- would be to enter and use my dagger. The dagger was convenient in the way that its glow got brighter the closer I got to a demon- kind of like a homing beacon but handier.
Taking a long, deep breath, I braced myself before pushing myself off the wall and rotating quickly on my left foot to face the inky blackness of the room. My dagger pulsed with its own life, its piercing light creating a splotch in my vision, but no monster jumped out at me from the shadows, and the silence was complete. After a moment consumed with the suspense, I stepped into the room. Yet again, nothing attacked me and the dagger’s glow remained steady, neither increasing nor decreasing, and after another moment I moved until I was in the very centre of the room. The dagger was bright enough that I could see all four walls, and the only things it revealed were broken planks and more shadows.
I frowned, thinking.
Had the demon, in an unexpected flash of cunning, bashed the door in and then carried on running? But surely I would have heard his steps continue on -he was a demon, not a ghost- and if not, then I definitely would have noticed the dagger’s glow gradually dim as the distance between us increased…
For some reason it didn’t occur to me to look up. Despite all the horror films I’d seen in which it took saliva to start dripping from the ceiling before the character was smart enough to look up, it still didn’t occur to me that the demon would seek refuge above. I’d just started to lower my dagger, my stance relaxing, when the demon dropped from the ceiling and tackled me to the ground with the pure force of gravity. The irony of a demon catching me off guard from above would take time to sink in- the panic didn’t.
I fell face-first to the floorboards, my wrist hitting hard, and the dagger bounced out of my limp grip. It skidded across the floor about a meter towards the southern wall and then stopped, out of reach but not far enough that I lost all hope of reaching it. Though the press of the demon above me almost made me reconsider my evaluation; he was heavy, heavier than he should be, and it felt as if I was being sat on by a sumo wrestler, not a lanky, five foot eight druggie who probably hadn’t eaten properly in days, maybe even weeks. My chest felt as if it were being crushed, and I had to struggle to even twitch. Hot breath tickled my cheek and the smell of sulphur assaulted me. “Foolisssh girl, you should learn to pick on demonsss your own sssize,” the thing hissed in my ear, his voice showing just how pathetic he was; only the truly weak ones broadcasted their demonic nature through speech patterns.
And yet here I was, caught immobile under such a small-fry- but it wasn’t that fact which caused mortified anger to burn in my chest like the very fires of Hell; it was his comment about my size. Being a petite five foot five with dimples and a heart-shaped face meant that despite being nearly eighteen and an adult in my own right, I was often treated like a harmless child. Not good when you’re supposed to be a kick-ass exorcist and potential Watcher. Thus, I’m sorry to say, I had a bit of a complex when it came to size.
Letting out a growl that would have been at home coming out of a demon’s throat, I thrashed blindly in an attempt to shake him off, my chin knocking off the floor before I managed to get a slip of moving space. The Rider cursed and soon regained his balance, but I’d bought enough time that I managed to slip my hand into the satchel at my waist and pull out a small, round and clear object that, like my dagger, glowed slightly in the darkness. I hid it inside my clenched fist, and when the Rider cursed one last time and then bent down once more, no doubt to describe in detail how he was going to torture, violate and then kill me -not necessarily in that order-, my hand shot up from my side and I smashed the globular object into the side of the demon’s face. There was no force behind the blow -the angle was too awkward- but the thin skin protecting the contents broke, and that’s all that mattered.
Holy water burst forth and the foreign skin beneath my fingertips heated, and then burned. I snatched my hand back and then, whilst he was distracted with half of his face melting off, I snapped my head backwards and caught him the chin with a clumsy head-butt. I winced at the impact whilst he howled in agony, falling backwards, both hands covering his face. By the time he rose from his knees and stopped screaming I was standing again. Pitch-black, hate-filled eyes glared at me from between pale fingers. After a short moment of silence in which I discreetly backed away in the direction of my dagger, he lowered his hands. I fought back a cringe at the sight of the mangled, steaming flesh he’d hidden beneath them. “You will pay for that, chicky.” He said, and I dove for my dagger just as he lunged, blade-sharp claws where human nails used to be, and no white left in his eyes.
I don’t know who would have reached their target first had we been left to our devices uninterrupted –me my dagger, he my jugular-, but it didn’t matter because in that moment, Caleb, my Dad’s trusty familiar, dove through the air on black wings and clawed at the demon’s already damaged face. The demon howled, skidding to a stop, hands flying to his face once more, and something white flashed in Caleb’s claws as he retreated, letting off a rattling caw. I tried not to look too close at what the crow was holding in his talons as he hovered in the air before me, and my whole body relaxing slightly, I picked my dagger up from the floor, which glowed brighter in my hand as if it were as glad to see me as I was it.
My grandfather, Elijah, had sent Caleb after me to intervene if things took a turn for the worse, and to be honest I was surprised it had taken the familiar so long to interfere. It was my first solo Hunt, and I’d been convinced from the start that I’d been doing it all wrong. Apparently not- until now, that is. A caw startled me out of my temporary sanctuary, and I realized that it was far from over. I needed to expel and then banish the Rider quickly before it fully healed. The host would likely have some scarring, but I didn’t doubt it beat never being in control of your own body again.
Pulling out the cross I kept on a silver chain beneath my shirt, I ran forward, ducking underneath the claws of Caleb, and then pressed the artefact to the Rider’s forehead. Before he had time to jerk away, I opened my mind, losing all of the mental shields that I’d permanently erected in order to prevent demons possessing me. The only way to force a demon from the mind of another is to do it with your own. The holy water had damaged the demon enough that he was distracted and weak, and add that to the fact that he was in essence a lower demon, I was in no danger of being possessed, even with all my mental shields lowered and my mind reaching into his. His thoughts were like a roiling pit of snakes, sinister and slippery, and it was hard to find purchase, but somehow I managed. I gathered my will and some of the dormant energy that existed inside of me- the power that made me not quite human- andpushed, lacing my next words with power and command, “Be gone!”
Some priests would have chanted, others done a whole ritual, but with such a weak demon none of that was really necessary. Like a tidal wave washing away pebbles on a beach, the Rider was pushed out of the man’s body under a crash of pure willpower. The human collapsed in a heap, and a substantial-looking cloud of black, akin to an unnaturally dense swarm of flies, coalesced in the space that he had occupied moments ago, the smell of sulphur rising in the room. “Go to Hell,” I muttered, pushing once more with my mind at the vulnerable demon, and along with the pull of The Veil, it was too much- the demon was sucked back into the Netherland with an almost audible pop.
I sighed, waiting for a moment to ensure that the demon was well and truly gone, before looking back to the crow hovering behind me, its round black eyes almost knowing as they met mine. “Well, that was fun,” I said.