After my hopes had been dashed for the sixth time, anger took over. An older woman pushed her way through the door, only to be startled by the sight of me charging down the aisle. “Can't you see the sign? The church is closed!”
The woman scrambled to reach the door handle to escape.
“We need a bigger sign,” I said, crossing my arms.
“Patience, child,” Father Francis said, approaching me with a look of understanding. “He wil come.”
“When?” I said emphatical y. “He should be here by now. I feel like I'm going crazy.”
Father Francis gently guided me back to my pew, patting my shoulder. “Faith is what you need.”
“I used to have faith. It's hard when everyone tel s you that your death is inevitable.”
“Death is inevitable for us al ,” the priest said.
Bex looked up, his eyes narrowing.
“What?” I asked. “Is it Shax?”
“No,” Bex said, his eyes fluttering. “They've been crowding us since we got here, but they're....,” he opened his eyes, “al gone.”
“But...why?” I said, incredulous. The theme of the night had been that Shax had let us get away with his precious book far too easily. Their retreat only set me on edge, wondering when he would decide to put up a real fight.
Suddenly the door opened, cracking against the wal . Bex stood up, pul ing me with him, using his body as a shield.
“You got a bathroom, Father?” Kim asked.
Father Francis scurried down the aisle, shutting the door behind Kim. “Of course, child. Just through there,” he gestured.
“Not funny,” Bex said, frowning at her as she walked past.
“What?” Kim said, oblivious. “Just because you're being chased by hundreds of demons, a girl can't pee?”
Bex just shook his head, laughing once, absent of humor.
I col apsed into the pew, exhausted. “Something is wrong. They should be here by now.”
Bex glanced at me, and then turned a page of the book, choosing to ignore my words.
“I should have helped him. Ryan was dragged to his death, and I just ran away,” I said, feeling the sting of salty tears wel up in my eyes.
“I'm trying to read,” Bex grumbled.
A door slammed down the hal , and then Kim's loud footsteps announced her arrival before she came into view.
“Oh, geez. Are you crying?” she asked. “And where is everyone? They go out for ice cream or what?”
I dried my tear-stained cheeks with my sleeve. “Jared and Claire stayed behind to give me and Ryan time to get out. When we got to the al ey, something took Ryan.”
“Something?” Kim said, eyebrow raised. “Like what?”
“I don't know. I couldn't see it. It was kind of like a shadow...but it was more...,” I trailed off, unable to find the appropriate word to describe it.
“Shadowy?” Kim said, unimpressed.
I rol ed my eyes. “Not everything's a joke, Kim. Ryan's dead.”
“No he's not,” she replied, confident.
Her words peaked my attention. “Why do you say that? Have you heard something? Do you know where they are?”
Kim nodded to the door. “He looks like crap, but he's right there.”
I turned, gripping the top of the pew. Ryan, Claire, and Jared al stood near the entrance, dirty, blood-stained, and badly beaten. Before I registered that I was moving, my legs were carrying me down the aisle at ful speed, and I crashed into Jared's chest. He wrapped his arms around me tight, and sighed with relief.
“Easy,” Jared smiled, returning my repeated kisses as best he could. He kept his weight on one leg, and his pants were torn.
“What happened?” I said, crouching down to get a better look.
“We won,” Claire said with a tired smile.
Ryan limped slowly down the aisle, his arm around Claire. Blood trickled from the outside of his eyebrow, and he was favoring his bad shoulder.
They settled into a pew behind Bex, and Father Francis scurried away, waving back at them.
“I'l get the first aid kit!” he call ed to them as he disappeared down a dark hal way.
Jared smiled down at me. “We did it.”
I leaned up on the bal s of my feet to touch his lips to mine. Jared's words were empty. Winning that smal battle was only part of the war we had just started.
Jared led me down the aisle, sitting beside me in the pew behind Ryan and Claire.
Ryan leaned back, holding a folded piece of fabric against his eye. “Next time we get into it with Hel , I get dibs on Mr. Puff.”
Claire smiled, licking her split lip. “Your effort was impressive, even if that thing did hang you in the air by your ankle...and use you to open two doors...and make you scream like a girl.”
“I didn't scream like a girl,” Ryan protested.
“Maybe I was just hoping you would,” she grinned.
“Thanks,” he said, reaching out to touch her dirty face. His thumb gently grazed her cheek. “Again.”
Claire's eyes met his for a moment, and then she pul ed away. “Just get used to it. You don't need to thank me every time I save your stupid ass.”
Ryan nodded, and then relaxed against the pew.
I watched Claire for a moment, as she desperately attempted to feign indifference. I could recal that expression wel ; Jared used it many times in the beginning. Unfortunately for Claire, Ryan was far more confident than I was stubborn, and he was certain she would come around.
My eyes settled on Jared's beautiful, dirty face. His eyes were tired, but bright blue, excited and amazed that we had the book and our lives.
Seeing his expression only made it more real that he didn't expect any of us to make it to the church alive. A fact that, to me, was more unsettling than relief.
“Did you find anything?” Jared asked Bex.
Bex handed Jared the book. “Not yet. It keeps talking about the birth, the birth, over and over. How it disturbs the balance and how Hel wil stop it and prevail.”
Jared flipped through the pages, increasingly frustrated with each one. “Every prophecy has a loop hole. That is why the Nephilim were created, to try and stop the bloodline from King David to Jesus.” He slammed the book shut. “What did Father Francis say?”
Bex's eyes shifted toward me for just a moment, and then he shook his head, looking down. “He doesn't see anything, either. But we've only looked at it once. We could have missed something.”