The Acolyte 

The tower clock struck midnight. 
Ravenwood tensed, glanced over her shoulder at the Sanctuary.  No lights shone in the mullioned
windows.
  The Masters mustn’t catch her
out alone at night.
  Punishment would be
rapid and severe.
  She might even be
banished.
  Her reputation at the school
had suffered for her sister’s sin.

She lit the torch, black smoke billowing from the flame. A darkling
shiver crawled down her rigid spine. The voices that had roused her from sleep
whispered a warning as she crept into the abandoned barn.  A lonely owl hooted from the rafters,
ruffling its feathers and blinking. Red light winked in the bird’s golden
eyes.  She swallowed hard, straining her
ears for any sound.  The eerie stillness chilled
her soul.
Ravenwood had come to say her last goodbye to her sister.  Tonight, Mariana slept the peace of the dead
in this old outbuilding. Tomorrow, she would be lowered into unhallowed
ground.  Then only god knew what the fate
of a demon’s consort would be.  Her
breathing rasped loud, puffing white clouds in the October air. She inched
deeper into the gloom, shoved the hood of her robe back.  Shadows capered in her peripheral vision. A
web caught in her hair, clung to her face. 
Another hard shudder coursed through her, and gooseflesh prickled her
limbs.  Nausea swirled in her stomach. Frantically,
she swiped the crusty fly

stuck in the web and the disgusting stickiness from
her skin.

Blackness coiled along the  rotted
wood pile. A mouse squeaked, scurried out and scampered away. The shade loomed
larger, distorted in the flickering light. She flinched back a step. With a
shaking hand, she clutched the crucifix around her neck. The shadow crossed the
pitchfork, fell on the coffin.
Darkness coalesced into the figure of a winged man.  Two yellow orbs glowed in his leathery gray
face.  The wings were shiny, rubbery
black with spines and points.  A sweet
smell rose from him, but she knew the fragrance was a glamour masking the reek
of the Pit.
“Daakiel,” she whispered.
“Well met, Ravenwood.” A laugh rumbled from his broad chest.
“Such pretty blonde hair and lovely ivory skin, but beneath your rose and gold
beauty is a soul as dark as I am.”
As always, her sister’s lover was naked, his grotesque, swollen equipment
proudly on display.  She shuddered head
to toe, glancing around quickly, studying her options.
There were none.
The creature with hellfire eyes stroked a hand with long, vicious claws
over the pine coffin.  From inside, came
a soft scratching then the lid rattled, an urgent pounding echoing in the
ruined barn.
Ravenwood’s heart caught in her throat. 
A sudden silence crawled along her nerves.  The owl hooted and took flight, a wingtip
brushing her cheek.  She flinched,
clamped a hand to her mouth, but a little cry escaped.   The demon flexed his wings, stirring a
tornado of moldy straw.
A malicious grin split the monstrous face.  “Come my pretty,” and with the rasp
of claws, he ripped the lid off the coffin.
Her dead sister sat bolt upright, empty fish eyes locking to Ravenwood’s.   A terrifying smile spread Mariana’s blue
lips. Crimson pinpointed the black irises. Any innocence that might have
remained in the once Acolyte had perished. Like a spider, elbows and knees
arched at odd angles, she crawled from the casket.  Grave clothes clung to her pale, withered
body but her breasts were exposed and bloody. 
She was horrible.
Ravenwood wouldn’t give the monster the satisfaction of screaming.  She bit her tongue hard enough to draw
blood.  The demon turned and stalked
toward her, fangs dripping thick, green saliva. Horrified, she backed away,
collided with a stack of old cans, sending them clattering to the ground.
“Dear sister.”  Mariana’s
corpse spread her arms in invitation. 
Sharp fangs dented the lower lip of her smile.  “Raven, forsake your god.  Join me.”
Ravenwood ducked, grabbed the pitchfork and brandished the rusted prongs
at the demon.  Another unholy laugh
rumbled from its throat.
“You cannot escape, Ravenwood. 
Your sister has paid her dues. 
She is mine.  Tonight, Acolyte,
you join me in Hell.”
Playing for time, she flung the pitchfork at the demon and dropped the
torch.  Smoke billowed from dry straw.
Flames sprang up, reaching for the cracked roof.  Laughter boomed in the fire.  Engulfed in the holocaust, her sister’s horrified
face branded the nightmare in memory. 
The demon’s leering smile didn’t falter.
She whirled and fled, her legs pumping, her feet going nowhere.  The school seemed hundreds of miles away and
her feet leaden.  If she reached the
Sanctuary—
A claw sliced her shoulder.  Pain
scalded her arm.  Blood oozed warmth down
her back.  She whirled, staring straight
into the demon’s burning eyes.  Lethal
pointed teeth lined the creature’s gaping maw.
A scream ripped the black velvet night, searing her throat.  She stumbled a retreat, praying aloud.
“No answer?” Daarkiel cupped a hand to his pointed ear. “Pray to someone
who will hear you.”
The ground beneath her feet rolled and tossed.  She fell to her knees.  Fear lodged in her dry throat, strangling her
prayers.
“You have taken my lover from me. Burned her alive, you did.”  The creature beckoned with a bloody
claw.  “You will replace her.”
An image of her sister’s living cadaver blinded her. She shook her
head.  “Never.”
The earth opened, swallowing her. 
Down she plunged into a loamy grave, the velocity of her fall sweeping
her robe over her head.  Her feet scraped
something hard.  Bones.  She didn’t have time
to scream.  The hole closed over her
head, burying her alive.
Insects slithered over her feet. Something crept down her back.  She swallowed the horror and the bile burning
her throat. The black dirt caressed her naked arms and legs and matted her
hair. Trapped in the earth and in her robe, unable to claw for the surface, she
held her breath until her lungs threatened to implode.  Terror gripped her heart in an icy hand.
 I’m going to suffocate.
A desperate gasp for breath sucked the fatal soil into her mouth and
nose.  Ravenwood whispered her final
prayer.  For forgiveness.

Now available from Double Dragon:  Sinners’ Opera
Gemini Rising, First Place, 2012 Preditors & Editors 
Night Before Doomsday now on sale at Amazon.com.
Love, Lust and Danger

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