chapter LXVIMature

Hazel handed him a small paper cup filled with a purplish liquid that smelled like rotten eggs and strong fish, but he drank it down.  He supposed after eating a demon heart, his stomach could handle an unpleasant beverage.  It choked him halfway down and the flavor was enhanced with a dose of vomit, but he forced it the rest of the way.  Graeme thought if it weren’t for Gabriel’s trust in Hazel, he’d have suspected it was poison, but he dismissed it.  No good would come from him questioning the small group, not then.  It was much too late for that.

In her gravelly voice, Hazel began a chant in a language Graeme didn’t recognize.  Gabriel dipped her fingers in another paper cup and withdrew them, dripping holy water, to anoint his forehead and chest, then his shoulders.  She repeated the motions over and over, her lips moving without any words escaping them.  Whatever her chant was, he couldn’t hear.  Sebastian stared at him from the doorway, his thumbs undisguisedly looped around the hilts of two of the knives hanging from his belt.  He said nothing, only observed Graeme with a stoic detachment.  It was a comfort, actually, to Graeme, that Sebastian seemed so calmly prepared to embed the blades of those knives into his skull.  If Appoloin managed to break through, Graeme wanted to know Gabriel wouldn’t get hurt.  And the quickest and surest way to make certain of that would be to take Graeme’s body down immediately.  It didn’t matter if he never came back, so long as Gabriel didn’t suffer.  It did not occur to him that she would suffer if he did not come back.

The concoction Hazel had given him was causing a riot in his guts.  The longer he kept it down, the hotter it felt.  Like he’d swallowed lava and it was slowly, steadily, melting his stomach and intestines.  The scars from the blood spell on his forearm itched and he found himself digging at them, his nails scraping away layer after layer of flesh, shedding it, letting it drop to the floor of the tub in long ribbons, tainted pink, tainted red.  The pain was insignificant compared to the blazing itch.

Gabriel’s alabaster skin hummed gently with a soft light, her watercolor green eyes backlit with a pulsing luminescence.  He thought, even if he did not come back, at least he got to watch her come alive again.  At least he got to see her eyes ablaze with a light that could only be heaven-sent.  The word felt like a needle in his mind but he thought it again and bit back a scream at how sharp the new stab of agony was.  Heaven-sent.

“Appoloin,” Sebastian said, and his voice was more familiar than it should have been.  Graeme’s head was spinning, a whirlwind of memories that he knew but also didn’t know.  Things he couldn’t remember himself, but that his body remembered.  White-hot electricity surging through his muscles.  The searing misery of it, burning him slowly.  Sebastian’s voice saying, “He can’t handle any more, Azriel.”  Saying, “The demon is gone.”  The force of so many new memories being shoved into his consciousness was agonizing.  Someone was screaming.

His own mouth said, “I remember you, Hunter.”  His own tongue tasting blood.  His lips moving, again, to speak, “Why don’t you come a little closer, stop hiding behind your fallen bitch?”

There was a duality to his vision.  Graeme was staring at Gabriel, watching her eyes darken, watching the light in them dim, watching them turn swampy, watching her narrow them.  Like another layer of film over his vision he could see Sebastian, could see the way his mouth curved downward in a frown of recognition.  Neither focus was on Hazel, and it did not escape Graeme.  Gabriel, swift and methodical, grabbed one of the blessed knives and, with absolute mercilessness, speared his shoulder with it and pinned him to the wall.  In an instant, she’d repeated the gesture on his other shoulder and Appoloin was screaming, using Graeme’s mouth.  Using Graeme’s throat until it threatened to burst.  Graeme could feel Appoloin struggling, as if for control, but Graeme did not feel himself dwindling.  He could see and hear and feel it all; he could hear the sizzling of his flesh as the holy water cauterized the knife wounds even as the blades remained.  He realized then that Appoloin wasn’t struggling to grasp full control.

He was struggling to free himself, to escape this flesh, to shed it like he would a filthy suit.  He was trying to bail out, but he was trapped.  Graeme thought back to the concoction Hazel had given him.  It no longer sent his stomach into flips.  Graeme had, in fact, forgotten it entirely, but as he thought of it, he could feel it still – burning his guts like hot coals.  His organs were black with soot, his throat congested with smoke as thick as tar.

Gabriel’s voice was everywhere, in every corner of his head and between every scream that tore from his mouth.  He wanted to call out to her, to tell her he was being swallowed whole, but he could not make his tongue move.  He could not stop the screams.  A fresh fire swelled up along his right collarbone and its twin blossomed on the right side a fraction of a second later.  More knives, he thought; he could smell his skin searing, could detect the faintest whif of something clean that could only be holy water.

He was howling when the last of the knives were embedded into his hands, keeping them palm-down along the rim of the tub, stretching his torso uncomfortably to accommodate the knives in his shoulders and collarbones as well as the ones in his hands.  Gasping for air, a timer flashed behind his eyelids.  00:00:00:11.  He hadn’t realized how quickly time ran out.  Regret bloomed in his heart for everything he would have said if he’d paid better attention.  How could he have forgotten?

The End

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