Nadya had begun preparing things, the moment Marko left with the sisters. She had taken one look at the devil’s mark tattoo on Ethan and immediately called for an exorcist. The blackened veins around his wound showed that corruption had already taken root in his system.
Nadya prepared her remedies with care, grinding fresh herbs with a mortar and pedestal then combining measured amounts. She applied a herb infused poultice to his wound, in the hopes that it would draw out the toxins invading his system. Nadya shook her head as she poured a protective ring of exorcised salt on the floor around his bed.
Demonic possession always marred its victims, even after the spirit was exorcised from the victim’s body. She had seen many beautiful men and women descend into the depths of madness and despair. Those blessed enough to return from the brink were mere shadows of their former selves. They couldn’t seem to move past the horrific experience. She took up her post in the living room with a cup of black coffee, settling onto the couch for the night.
Ethan awoke with a jolt. He had fallen asleep clutching the grimoire to his chest and thinking about Andrea. Ethan wondered where she was, hoping desperately that she was safe. He had awoken from the strangest dream. In it, Ethan was a crow but also felt Charles invading his mind. For a few fleeting moments, he knew what Charles knew. Andrea, Janet and Marko were in the dream too. He tried to warn them of Charles’ murderous intentions, but they didn’t seem to understand his squawking.
In the dream, Ethan forced himself to calm down and searched for something useful inside Charles’ devious mind. Suddenly Marko had a gun in his hands and he fired it in his direction. Ethan felt Charles’ astonishment. In that distracted moment, his master’s mind was unguarded and Ethan unearthed a name right before he felt the crow’s head explode and the pain woke him up. Ethan lay in the darkness with his heart racing and whispered the name Agares.
In the midst of these musings, Ethan was paralyzed by the sensation of a wave going through his brain. Nadya heard him cry out, came running and turned on the light in his room as she entered. He was having a seizure. She used her fingers to keep him from swallowing his tongue, as his body stiffened and his eyes rolled back in his head. It was over quickly and he came to questioning her presence in his room.
“You were having a seizure Ethan,” she explained.
“I didn’t have a seizure. I met a man riding a crocodile and holding some sort of hawk. At least, I guess he was human. I told him about my grimoire being in Hebrew and he taught me the language.”
“You were just hallucinating, because of the seizure.”
“For the last time, I wasn’t having a seizure! Agares and I had a very interesting conversation. As a matter of fact, we talked about you.”
Ethan’s sly expression made Nadya uneasy. She took an involuntary step back and instantly regretted it. The absolute wrong thing to do at a time like this was show any weakness. She had to stand strong and maintain control of the situation, until the exorcist arrived. It wouldn’t do for her to allow Ethan to become emboldened enough to attack her. She had to keep him in the safe house. Nadya smiled to convey conviction that she didn’t feel.
“Don’t be silly Ethan. You’re still a little confused. Lay back and try to get some rest. Why don’t I take that silly book and put it to the side. You can look at it later.”
Ethan rose from his bed and Nadya held her breath. If he was possessed, then he wouldn’t be able to breach the ring of consecrated salt. Seeming to read her thoughts he smiled and stuck a toe on the outside of the ring before taking an exaggerated step forward.
“So, you’re telling me that you didn’t get Marko’s family killed?”
Nadya was walking towards him when shock stopped her in her tracks. He had just blurted out the one secret which she intended to take with her to the grave. How on earth did he find out? Did he really did talk to a demon? She forced her trembling lips into a nervous smile and shook her head in an unconscious attempt to negate his words.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I wasn’t with them when they were killed.”
“No, but you set the…wolf on their tracks so to speak didn’t you Nadya?”
The weight of truth in his eyes pushed her back another step. She wanted to look away, to take a break from the weight of his stare and regain her composure, but she couldn’t. Nadya shook her head violently, “that’s a lie! I…I…never…why would I do something like that? I care about Marko.”
“Some might say you care about him a little too much. You knew with his family out of the way, you had him all to yourself.”
Nadya’s laughter was shaky, “you’re clearly still a bit groggy from the seizure. I’m going to let you rest. Try to get some sleep Ethan.”
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead. Right now, I’ve got to catch up to the others. But first, I’ve got a debt to pay. After all, Agares didn’t help me out of the kindness of his black heart. One of his…servants has a task to do and needs a warm body to move about in.”
Ethan shuddered and his eyes rolled back in his head. His eyelids snapped shut. Nadya moved towards him, thinking he was about to faint. His eyes opened and she felt a sudden shift in the atmosphere. Something was very wrong. One look into Ethan’s eyes and it was clear that someone or something had taken possession of his body. It snarled and courage deserted her. She wanted to turn and run, to lock herself in a room and try to wake from the nightmare into which she had just stumbled. Nadya blurted out the first thing that came to mind.
“Even if you get the door open, you can’t leave here. The threshold has been consecrated. Nothing evil can pass over it,” she shouted.
“That cannot be true for you managed to pass over it sinner,” snarled the creature inside of Ethan
“My Lord has forgiven me of my sins.”
“How can that be when you haven’t even forgiven yourself? Your sin still stains your soul Nadya. I can smell it.”
Her worst fear spoken into existence sent an immobilizing current of fear running through her. The doubt she had tried so hard to repress for years assailed her. What if I haven’t been forgiven? Nadya could not seem to shake off the suffocating dread welling up inside of her.
She tried to recall the words to the rebuking spell she had used a hundred times before but her thoughts were chased into panicked circles by doubt and fear. Nadya’s heart galloped painfully, forcing her breath to come in gasps. The thing wearing Ethan’s body began stalking towards Nadya.
She shouted at it, “I will not listen to you demon. I compel you…”
“You are no better than me. At least I don’t deny what I am. You cannot compel me to do anything with that forked tongue! I am getting out of here one way or another. If this body is insufficient, then I will have yours!”
Nadya let out a horrified gasp. She wanted to turn and run but fear kept her feet planted. The demon let out growl of laughter as it leapt from Ethan and closed the gap between them. Nadya tried frantically to protect herself as the creature began burrowing inside of her.
Ethan abruptly came to himself, as a man waking from a dream. He stared in horror at at the sight of Nadya’s body convulsing with the force of her struggle. He felt bad, but what could he do? Ethan was trying to figure out how to undo his impulsive act when she suddenly grew still. For one brief moment, it looked as though she had repelled the beast.
Ethan took a step towards her. Their eyes met and in the blink of an eye, her spirit seemed to wink out. Nadya was gone, the gentle expressiveness in her eyes was replaced by the brazen glare of the demon. Ethan felt convicted by the knowing look the creature gave him. Every one of his misdeeds was reflected back at him. The weight of his guilt felt punishing.
Ethan suddenly couldn’t recall what he had been about to do. It was hard to focus with that thing looking at him. Despair began robbing him of the will to push back the onslaught of unpleasant memories crowding out his other thoughts. He wanted to turn away, to flee but couldn’t seem to break eye contact. Looking into those eyes was like falling into a bottomless, black pit.
Ethan’s eyes watered and he finally blinked. The break in eye contact brought him back to himself. He grabbed a glass vase from a hall table and reared back with it in one hand. Before he could launch it at the beast, he was halted by the same tingling at the base of his skull that had heralded the coming of the demon taking up residence inside of Nadya.
Ethan was so startled, he nearly dropped the vase. He looked questioningly at the creature who smirked back at him. The sensation returned stronger a second time. It was so overwhelming that Ethan felt powerless to stop it. He turned away to hide his distress from the demon laughing at him with Nadya’s mouth.
By chance, he glanced in the mirror and a let out a horrified gasp. His reflection was slowly being replaced by some nightmarish creature. It was like watching scum rising to the surface of pond water. His chest and limbs were invaded by a feeling of fullness that expanded until he felt they would burst.
Ethan’s mind recoiled. This isn’t happening! That thing must be trapped in the mirror. Please don’t let be inside of me. His gaze traveled down to the vase still clutched in his hand and he was horrified to see it in the reflection clutched in the beast’s paw. In a moment, the beast would burst out of him.
Desperation made Ethan turn back to the demon, hoping to plead his case. The look on his face made Ethan realize all hope was lost. He was steeling himself for the start of painful convulsions when realization suddenly dawned on his overwrought senses that Nadya had resurfaced and was gazing back at him. Her voice was like a splash of cold water.
“Ethan, you have to close the portal you opened or more will come. Close off the spell. It’s in the book. Go and get the book. Stay inside the circle until the portal is closed. Hurry!”
Before he could respond, she was gone again. The creature’s struggle to reassert control over her body gave Ethan time enough to retrieve the book. He was frantically rifling through the pages when the being began punching its way through his chest. The intense pain made his limbs heavy and clumsy. He found the page he sought as his vision dimmed. His words tumbled out as the seizure began.