So many of the reviews for the last chapter were amazingly thoughtful analyses and I absolutely loved them! This is a very exciting day as this is the last full chapter based on old story content. You will all be relieved to know I actually formalised an outline for the rest of the journey (I am usually a make-it-up-as-I-go type of person and it probably shows).
Anyway, here's some "satanism".
The voice hit Raven like a gut punch, immediately recognisable as the common thread that wound through her nightmares.
Brother Blood leant against the neighbouring building, wearing the same extravagant robes and shit-eating grin as last time. He raised a hand in mock greeting.
"Don't be mad. I know it's bad luck to see the bride before the wedding, but I couldn't stay away."
"You've literally picked the worst location and timing possible. That warehouse is full of law enforcement." Raven said, stepping away from the wall to avoid feeling so cornered. The situation needed to be managed carefully (there was no way he had actually come alone) so she suppressed the urge to yell for backup.
"Nah, I think the celebration is great. It's going to make it less suspicious when you disappear." he replied, standing up straight and looking behind the building expectantly.
Raven braced herself for something threatening to emerge, but a small child appeared instead. She couldn't have been older than six, dressed in cloud pyjamas. Her movements were strange, as if she were sleep-walking or hypnotised, and there was a trail of barely-dried tears down each of her cheeks.
Sebastian looked back to Raven to check she was still paying attention. With the demonstrative slowness of a showman, he plunged his hand deep into the pockets of his robes and pulled out a gun. The child gave no reaction, expression blank and eyes unfocused.
"I know my last gift didn't go down so well. I mean, what was I thinking, serving those people up to you cold? I should have realised how unappetising that was." He said, as if telling a funny anecdote about a Valentine's Day faux-pas.
His smug expression made her itch. She didn't think she'd ever hated a person more.
He continued, brandishing the gun as he spoke. "So I asked my friend Aaron - you know Aaron right? I said, buddy, what should I do to make up for this? So he gave me some advice. He said, Brother, your intentions were good. Show her you don't give up. Try again but this time do it right. So this time I got you a body so fresh it's still kicking."
He cocked the gun and pressed it to the child's temple, the barrel almost comically large in comparison. If he fired it wouldn't so much create a hole in her head as litter the dock with skull fragments.
"You look great by the way." He added, taking a moment to look Raven up and down. Though his overall demeanour was just as juvenile as ever, there was an unsettling edge to his gaze that set this interaction apart from their last.
"You can't force me to marry you today. The full moon isn't until tomorrow night." She pointed out, grasping onto hope with both hands. Even this cruel prophecy had promised her one more day.
"True, but it would be stupid of me to make the same mistake twice. Last month you escaped and there was no time to recapture you. It would have been too risky to hold onto you for another month, but I'm sure we can manage to keep you occupied for one day."
"I won't go easily." she warned.
"Then neither will she." he replied simply, and looked meaningfully at at the girl.
The child suddenly became fully conscious, tears filling her eyes as she tried to work out where she was and who she was with. Raven felt the second-hand terror acutely, causing her own heart rate to spike.
Brother Blood moved quickly, grabbing the girl by the neck and repositioning the gun at her side. She squealed in fear, a high-pitched sound that would torment anyone with an ounce of maternal intuition.
Instinctively, Raven engulfed the gun with her magic. The dark energy spluttered out before she could crush it to dust. Just like last time.
"Don't bother with that." Brother Blood snarled, anger contorting his features in a way that made him appear older. "Or that little stunt you pulled last time. We had to pull some of our best guys from the Vatican, but they came through with protections against concussive spells in the end. On the bright side, I was so happy to find out you've dabbled in dark magic."
"I have more where that came from." she shot back.
It wasn't a lie of course. Elemental magic could maim Sebastian or at least create enough distraction to allow for escape. Raven had doubts about her ability to pull off anything significant with the child so close by however. Generating fire and controlling water were difficult enough in circumstances where she was free to concentrate as long as required.
"No time for flirting right now, babe." Sebastian quipped, squeezing the child's neck and jamming the gun deeper into her ribs to stop her squirming. "We're on a tight schedule and here's what I need to happen. You, teleporting the three of us to church headquarters, where you and I will be married by my favourite Priestess. Here's what I don't need to happen. You, trying something stupid and forcing me to kill our flower girl, then making me drag you back to headquarters where you and I will be married by my favourite Priestess. It's up to you though."
Raven considered her options. The song currently emanating from the warehouse was loud and bass-heavy, and it was doubtful anyone would hear her yelling now. She could phase backwards through the wall for help, but that was clearly a death sentence for the little girl.
"Oh, one other thing. Just in case you don't like kids that much, I've organised for a very bad thing to happen to that warehouse if you disappear on me." Sebastian added.
"What kind of bad thing?" Raven asked sharply.
He simply smiled and shrugged.
Her sense of dread increased tenfold, along with her certainty that someone was going to die tonight. Whatever security Robin had put in place for the wedding hadn't been enough. Perhaps it had even been the Church's way in. The guards inside could be plants, ready to turn their weapons on the guests at a moment's notice.
"Ten seconds to decide."
The child whimpered, apparently too afraid to cry openly. Even though the two girls bore little resemblance to one another (this one looked like a cherub, right down to the chestnut ringlets), Raven could think only of Melvin.
There was a long time between right now and the full moon. Enough time for the team to get home to safety, and for her to secure the child and find an alternative means of escape.
Sebastian nodded approvingly and the girl snapped back into a trance-like state.
"Excellent! I'll show you where to go. I'm telekinetic, remember? Just gotta let me in."
It was the least appealing offer she'd heard it a while, but there didn't appear to be another choice.
With a savage glare, Raven let the mental protections she'd cultivated since childhood melt away. Brother Blood's arrival in her head was immediate. The experience felt like a parasite had burrowed into the dense sponge of her brain, infecting her will with its own. After relishing the access for an unnecessarily long time, he eventually had her teleport the three of them blind.
The second Raven felt new ground, she flung up her mental barriers with a force that made Sebastian stumble. The lingering sensation of being defiled at the level of the soul made the sight difficult to enjoy however.
Worse still, their surroundings were familiar. He had brought them to the common room of Titan's tower.
"Just a quick stop to drop off your communication device. Can't have your friends wondering where you are, can we?" Sebastian said, a cruel set to his jaw.
Her T-comm was in the small bag looped at her wrist, a fact she'd hoped to conceal and capitalise on later. Now Robin would have no reason to come looking for her when he noticed her disappearance. After all, she'd just been in an argument with the bride.
This wasn't a positive development. Raven kept her face impassive and swept wordlessly toward her bedroom, thinking hard. Brother Blood followed closely, the child trailing obediently behind.
"Just put it on your desk and we'll be going." he said, the menacing promise of what would come after left to hang in the air.
Everything was moving too fast, spinning completely out of control.
They rounded the corner.
A desperate idea struck, and Raven followed through without hesitation.
She teleported directly into her bedroom, falling on her knees before the wooden chest where Malchior's book had been housed for years. He wasn't the only dangerous object to call it home. Inside was a pile of cursed objects, the worst of which were wrapped in scraps of charmed, impermeable cloth. She threw open the heavy lid and rifled through, looking for a pointed bundle.
Since elemental magic felt too temperamental to rely on except as a last resort, a more obvious form of battle might decide the war for earth - a physical fight. Raven had basic combat skills of course, but the dagger she sought was charmed to tilt the odds in her favour. Without it, she wasn't sure she could do what needed to be done. Ending a life went against everything Azar had stood for.
Sooner than expected, the door buckled against the weight of Sebastian's body. He swore loudly and shoulder-barged it again and again. Raven found what she was looking for just as the wood around the hinges splintered and gave way.
A second later she was tackled with unexpected force, cracking her head against the side table on the way down. The world juddered and folded in on itself. By the time her sight re-focused, Sebastian had her pinned. The dagger was wrested easily from her grasp and thrown somewhere unreachable.
"While I would love to stay here a little longer, people are waiting for us!" Sebastian hissed through gritted teeth, his face twisting unpleasantly as he fought to restrain her struggling limbs.
Raven made a last-ditch effort to take hold of the clutch bag (pressing all side-buttons on the T-comm at once would send out a request for check in), but he caught ahold of her arm. In a fit of anger he locked it behind her, rolling her onto her stomach and jamming his knee into the small of her back.
Her last hope for this particular plan working out died as the communicator exploded on contact with the wall.
"Unless you want me to take you right here, right now?" Brother Blood said in a dangerous voice. Her shoulder felt as if it might dislocate. "I don't like to involve children in that sort of thing, so I'd have to put the kid down first."
She went limp, thinking of the zombified girl standing in the doorway.
"Good girl. Now let me in again."
There would be another way out. There had to be.
Raven repeated the phrase like a mantra as the world went black once more.
A thousand-year old need to be free drummed through Malchior's mind, barely held at bay with every scrap of self-control he could muster.
Something terrible was happening outside the book, a frenzy punctuated by sounds that made willpower waver dangerously: the door forced open, the unmistakable crack of something hard against human bone, a feminine yelp of pain, and the flurry of two people scrambling for physical dominance.
Finally a man spoke, his voice low. A lot of what he said was confusing to Malchior, but the gist was clear. This man was threatening her. The threat was sexual or violent in nature. It was convincing enough to make Raven stop fighting.
Malchior did everything he could to try and divorce the situation from its meaning and become not real enough to stop the images of Raven, pinned and helpless, from forming his head. Before he could fail at this badly enough to jeopardise her safety the room fell silent.
They were gone.
The bonds of Rorek's curse snapped all at once. The blank expanse of Malchior's prison faded into nothing, his very being dematerialised along with it. He was insubstantial, senseless, thoughtless.
Then, particle by particle, he began to reform. The first thing to surface was rage. It was a natural state for Malchior, as easy to yield to as gravity. Thoughts developed next, formed in its image.
The foundation of unfairness upon which this world was built. The agony of existence. All those years lost. Everyone he knew dead now. His girl, struggling under the weight of another.
Rage was pain, but it was also life-giving. So enriching and pure it seemed divine in origin. But then the image he'd been trying to repress broke through. Raven - reproachful, untrusting and distinctly not his at all. The debt he owed her swept away the tangle of blood-lust, hatred and confusion. And then very suddenly, the earth found him.
Malchior was immediately thrown off-balance. He fell to the ground, the impact triggering a pain in his shoulder that exploded like a firework and took his breath away, before subsiding into a steady throb. Each pulse reminded him of one beautiful fact - he had a body, and it was a human one. The dragon did not feel pain like this.
He opened his eyes. The first thing he noticed were his hands. They were just as he remembered, with rather long fingers adorned with cuts and burns from potion making and the gods knew what else. He flexed a few fingers. Laughed in disbelief.
The sensations of living were a luxurious onslaught after the void of the last thousand years. The first lungful of oxygen brought with it a barrage of scents, including recently extinguished candles, the comforting smell of old books, something astringent he did not like and something plant-based he did. The carpet itself was impossibly soft, formed by thousands of tiny uniform weaves. Even though he was indoors, a faint breeze caressed his head.
In any other circumstances he might have laid on the floor all day getting used to the fact that he was somehow human. But Raven's magical signature was already fading from the room. The thought of Brother Blood did spark up fresh rage, though it was not as all-consuming as before. Malchior was a man again, capable of delayed-gratification. More than that however, all parts of him were aligned on what needed to happen next. His mind felt remarkably clean for once, a purpose shining like gold before him.
Standing triggered yet more aches, as if Malchior had been fighting Rorek only moments ago. Looking down at himself, he realised that may well have been the case in physical terms. The surface of his chest plate was wet with blood. Still, he felt energised. There was no time to waste cataloguing various wounds. Only the pain in his right shoulder was grating, and he knew from experience that he would likely forget all about it once he got moving.
A glint caught his eye. A dagger lay at his feet like an offering, partially obscured by a silk wrapping. He extended his hand and in the span of a blink, the cold metal was sitting heavy in his palm.
Raven found herself face down on a cold floor with Sebastian still on top of her. Surprisingly, he got up immediately. She jumped up, rolling her shoulder gingerly and taking in their new surroundings.
They were in the foyer of some kind of mansion. There was something distinctly old world and European about the place, though it was decorated in a modern luxe style. Heavy jewel-toned fabrics, brass-framed mirrors, modern art pieces and imperial-looking potted plants dotted the grand room, which consisted of two floors joined by a central marble staircase. Lit candles covered the surface of every side table and window ledge, throwing monstrous shadows everywhere she looked. The only other illumination came from a domed skylight above, which shone a natural spotlight down over the three of them.
The moon was high and bright, though of course not yet quite full.
It wasn't the creepiest location Raven could imagine (a dilapidated shack covered in pentagrams and the blood of livestock would have been worse) but it was deeply threatening all the same. More than that, the place made her feel odd. It was like a delicate veil had been thrown over her, dulling every sense beyond the five most humans possessed.
"I suppose that wasn't unexpected." Sebastian remarked, sounding more invigorated than angry now they'd arrived on his home turf. "In a way it's good you got it out of your system. You'll find we've placed some strong restrictions on the house. Teleportation in is fine, but not inside or out."
The feeling of containment now made sense. Raven had to marvel at the magic involved, even as panic seized her chest. That was two unexpected steps ahead for the Church of Blood. She took quick stock of every doorway, trying to guess at the nature of the rooms beyond. None looked like an exit. She imagined the main entranceway was behind her, but didn't dare turn around to check.
"The house is also full of Church members who can barely wait for our wedding, so I don't think your friends would stand much of a chance even if they did know where you were." He continued, with obvious pleasure.
Raven gave him nothing but a glare in response. He rolled his eyes, as if she were a sulky teenager determined to ruin a nice day with a bad attitude. With a prickle of unease, she noticed that the little girl appeared to be fully awake despite her silence, and if anything seemed to have calmed down.
"The Gem has arrived!" Sebastian boomed suddenly. His voice echoed around the foyer, seemingly reaching no one. The building appeared deserted.
Raven raised an eyebrow, but was soon alarmed into a fighting stance as the house began to vibrate with footsteps. Men, women and children soon converged at every doorway. There were soon so many of them that they spilled out into the foyer on the first floor and across the landing and into the stairwell of the second. They were a diverse group, split almost in half between apparently normal civilians and those dressed in the plain brown robes of the cult. Most were quiet, but a few pockets conversed excitedly under their breath, creating an eerie chorus of whispers.
Every single one of them was staring at her, wearing practically identical expressions of delight. It felt like death by a thousand cuts.
An older man stepped out from the crowd, recognisable from the group that had shown up at Utopia to ask for an early surrender.
"Welcome home. I am Aden, one of Brother Blood's advisors." he said seriously, perhaps the only person not smiling with insane fervour. She searched the creases of his face for some sign of what might happen next, but came up with nothing.
Aden nodded to Sebastian, who pushed the little girl in front of him. She took the gesture as permission to leave, but rather than tearing away toward Raven or the front door, she made a beeline for Aden. He gave a low chuckle as she embraced him just above the knee.
"You did perfect, my precious child." He patted her on the back. "Thanks to you, the Gem has been returned to us."
Raven blinked, disbelieving. The kid had really seemed petrified for her life and the entire time she had been one of them? It was inconceivable that anyone was that good an actor.
"Can mommy come back now?" The child asked. Perhaps she had been afraid.
The crowd parted by way of answer, allowing a woman with a brunette bob and cult garb through. Despite looking rather wan, her face was a mask of singular focus and determination.
"Milly!" She cried, pulling the child to her chest. She unleashed a shower of quiet praise, and little Milly started to cry in big breathy gasps that bordered on hyperventilation. Members of the crowd called out their congratulations loudly ("Well done, my girl!", "Amazing job Milly!"), until she calmed down to beam at her fans.
There was absolutely no regret or second thoughts from this community about what they were doing here. Milly was getting treated as if she were Lassie the dog, just returned from rescuing Raven from the bottom of a well.
Sebastian clapped his hands once, and the congregation fell silent. If wearing his father's robes had once made him look a little silly, being so incongruous with his California surfer look, he now seemed completely natural in the role of Brother Blood.
"This is a massive deal and we will celebrate more tomorrow. For now though, the Gem must rest!" he announced. "Please, go back to your preparations with joy in your hearts!"
There were cheerful murmurs of agreement, and the crowd began to slowly disperse. Few were content to leave without looking back for another glimpse or two of the demoness however.
Sebastian spotted someone in the crowd."Ah! There's my favourite Priestess! Loretta, come with us."
The blonde woman shoved a burly man in a suit out of the way in order to get to them. She wore robes as well, but they were dove grey rather than brown and decorated with white embroidery on the lapels, full bell sleeves and a neckline that plunged to her navel. The garment should have looked like a costume from a vampire-themed porn film, but the quality of the fabric and inherent innocence of her face managed to guard against that impression. With her heart-shaped face, doe eyes and snub nose, she looked a bit like an angel.
She raised her hands in a prayer position and bowed her head first to Raven and Sebastian, and then to Aden.
"Yes brother." Loretta breathed, sharing an intense look with her leader. Raven couldn't help but notice Aden's smile hardening.
She turned to Raven. "Gem...I am honoured. We have been preparing for your arrival for months and months."
The reverence in the woman's voice made bile rise in Raven's throat.
"Come on." Sebastian said, seeming somewhat preoccupied now. He grabbed her by the upper arm and manoeuvred towards the stairs. Raven let herself be taken without putting up much of a fight - this room was the last place she wanted to try elemental magic. The less people around the better.
As they approached the top of the stairs, the images carved and painted on the double doors directly ahead became clearer. Each side depicted a scene from the infamous prophecy in lurid detail. On the left was a relatively faithful imagining of Sebastian and herself, hands tied together with red ribbon. They were standing before Loretta at the altar, with hooded figures on all sides. The expression painted onto her face was completely unrealistic however. If this wedding did come to pass, she would never look at Sebastian with solemn acceptance.
The carving on the right was even worse. The focal point was a portrait of herself in demon form. Four glowing eyes, white flowing hair, red skin and horns - the works. She hovered above a heaving, tormented mass of humans, face tilted skyward and back arched as if basking in sunlight rather than pain. The terror on the faces of the people was lovingly rendered, but at least their features were anonymous. Raven was thankful for that. It would not have been beneath the Church to paint her friends into the picture.
Loretta rushed forward to pull the doors open, and Sebastian suddenly picked up the pace. Before Raven could question it, he shoved her roughly through the doorway.
The room was huge. It was furnished like a bedroom, though Raven wondered if it might have once been a lesser ballroom. Her eyes were immediately drawn to the bed itself, a four poster with maroon drapes. Leather straps were fastened to the headboard and end-posts, a sinister sight that made her throat constrict.
Brother Blood laughed at the slight widening of her eyes, and she spun around in shock at the shallow experience of hearing it. There was no mirth behind the sound, and no longer any admiration wafting off the Priestess either. The room was an empathetic void - her senses were no longer simply clogged, but blocked completely.
"More spell work." Sebastian said, borderline hysterical relief evident on his face. "It cost us, but it had to be done. You're a determined woman Raven, even in this pitiful human form you've been reduced to. I suppose you were looking for escape routes on our short little walk just now?"
She stared right through him, struggling to hold onto her new mantra.
"It looks like my fiancée isn't going to answer me." He directed the comment to Loretta. "In any case, you needn't bother with stupid fantasies like that anymore. You can't leave this room until you're married, and I mean that literally. Go ahead, you might as well try."
The area beyond the doorway seemed vast and desolate now. It would probably take less than 30 seconds to sprint from the room to the front door, but she could feel the spell work pressing down. They would no doubt succeed in confining her to the room, and she would not give them the satisfaction of seeing her fail.
"I'm fine here, thanks."
Brother Blood let out a giddy laugh.
"I'm glad to hear it." He said, striding past and taking particular delight in stepping through the doorway. "Loretta, please ready both the room and our lovely demoness for tonight. I will be back after evening prayers."
"You can't marry me until tomorrow." Raven said, startled. The idea that time itself had skipped and the full moon was already here was too terrifying to believe, yet at the same time not impossible given how her night was going.
"I'm not coming back to marry you." He said, cocking an eyebrow suggestively before closing the doors on them.
His meaning sank into the very marrow of her bones. It didn't mess with the prophecy one bit to conceive a child out of wedlock - only for the child to be born out of it. Unable to reign in her emotions, Raven lashed out. The shields rebuffed her powers so forcefully she fell flat on her backside. Lacking the motivation to get back up, she slid backwards on the floor until her back hit something solid.
After a month of dreading this exact scenario and dreaming variations of it into existence, she still couldn't believe it was really happening. How had the evening unravelled so quickly? Cyborg and Jinx's wedding felt so far away. She'd journeyed deep into hell since, every step making it harder to turn back. It was clear now that she should have let the child die and chanced her friends being harmed to escape earlier.
Loretta tentatively struck up conversation.
"It is impressive magic, isn't it? Every high-ranking member came for the ritual, even the ones from other countries. There were hundreds of us taking part. Most of us don't have any natural magic… but that's okay." Loretta reassured Raven quickly, as if she would be distressed by such news. "There were other ways for us to contribute."
Raven turned her head away in disgust, not wanting to know or think about what people like Loretta had to do to aid in such a ritual.
She felt for the edges of the barrier with her magic, finding it unchanged. That burst of power had done nothing to erode it. Her thoughts raced, slipping over possibilities and finding no purchase. You couldn't burn sorcery like this, nor drown it. She was stuck in this room.
The only option left was to kill Sebastian when he came back to defile her. She'd have to use elemental magic to do it, and this time there would be no room for hesitation, indulging pacifist tendencies, or concern for the safety of anyone. Even herself. If she lost control and they were both burned alive, so be it. And if Sebastian died but the bindings still didn't break, she'd worry about that then.
Before long, Loretta returned with a length of shining silver fabric. Raven was so busy hating the woman that it didn't register as clothing until it was unfolded and held up.
"I'm not putting that on." Raven said flatly.
"You want this." Loretta replied firmly. "You're just confused now, because of what they did to you."
"Those Azarathians. The unnatural way they forced you to be. They were a bunch of child abusers, cutting you off from your natural feelings and desires, telling you that you were wrong to be yourself. It hurts me to think of you as a little girl, going through that. People don't like to acknowledge it, but trauma like that can really affect you."
Raven snorted derisively at the irony of the explanation, but Loretta carried on knowingly.
"And then those friends of yours, still encouraging it. You don't want that life, not really. The Raven we know wants this marriage."
"You've never met me before. How the hell would you know what I want?"
Lorreta sat down against the wall next to her. Up close, she gave off a cloying smell of perfumed oils.
"I've known you all my life. I've grown up in the church and your story has always been my favourite." she said.
That at least explained the depths of her insanity, Raven thought. Being bred in the Church and fed lies from birth meant that Loretta's brain had never properly formed.
"Maybe it's because your story is unfolding in my lifetime, or perhaps it's because we're almost the same age. I remember hearing the news of your conception, you know. It's one of my earliest memories. We had a celebration for you right here in this house. I was so young and didn't quite understand what was happening. I thought I was getting a baby sister!" Loretta reminisced.
Raven pushed herself up, desperate to be away from the Priestess who seemed to be edging closer with every fond recollection.
"I am a person, not a biblical figure. The only way you can know what I want is to listen to me now. I do not want this. This prophecy does not have to come true, and you can still help me!" Raven insisted.
Loretta looked back sadly, replying in a gentle but firm tone.
"That you think I'm insane now, while your true desires and thoughts are still being repressed, is confirmation that everything going on here is 100 percent right. I would sit and pray with you, but there are more practical things I can do to be of service right now." she said, standing and dusting herself off.
Raven tried a different tact, hoping to trade on this overfamiliarity.
"You think a human like him is worthy of me?"
Loretta's mouth fell into an anguished O-shape. "Please do not worry about that! Sebastian may be young and new to the role, but he is the perfect Brother Blood. The leadership he has shown since his father's death has been... amazing. I wish you could have seen it. There were doubters, but tonight he has proved them wrong. And I can assure you he knows everything a man should." Loretta replied earnestly.
"Personal experience?" Raven inquired bitterly.
"Even though the church is his birth-right, Brother Sebastian and the elders insisted he test himself to be worthy of the honour of being your husband." she responded graciously.
"Gross." Raven muttered.
Life suddenly felt like a cloak that had grown too heavy. She imagined the cult members beneath her, preparing for the wedding that would mark an irreversible slide towards doom. She thought too of her friends back at the wedding, enjoying what could be their last happy night.
In a few hours, Sebastian would come back to this room, hold her down, and fasten restraints around her wrists. Regardless of what happened after that, she would lose a kind of innocence.
Raven set her jaw, refusing to wallow in self-pity. Even if she did not succeed in killing Brother Blood, she had almost two decades of mind-training behind her. Whatever he did to her, she did not have to experience. She could detach. Imagine a different reality, where Malchior loved her in some twisted inhuman way of his and had come for her instead.
"Raven I want to-"
"Shut up." Raven said harshly, throwing up a hand and conjuring a shield that forced the Priestess to take a step back. Loretta looked as if she was going to argue, but was cut off again by a piercing scream that split the air in two.
Malchior sheathed the side-arm, closed his eyes, and tapped into the stream that Raven had created when she'd disappeared. Though teleportation seemed a mysterious form of transportation, it left behind many signs for the knowledgeable to discern. The principals behind tracing its path were really no different than tracking an animal in the wilderness. Actually moving locations like this was a complicated bit of sorcery for him however. The journey itself was jarring and draining, and upon arrival it always felt like one of his less vital organs had been taken out and put back askew. Flying was far preferred, though he quickly shoved the thought of it away. There would be no transformations happening around Raven.
He followed her magic to its approximate destination. A large mansion lay directly ahead, set at the end of a street filled with smaller and newer dwellings. It was night time, but even under the light of the moon it was clear that this was an affluent kind of village. Malchior had never seen anything like it outside of books, though he been to places with a similar feeling the last time he was a man. Apparently the noble were all the same, no matter the time period.
The front door was illuminated by an orb of light held aloft by a metal pole. He walked towards it slightly stiffly, vaguely remembering the cause of his shoulder injury now - Rorek had hit him with a curse that had cost him a chunk of flesh while still in dragon form. Luckily, he was left-handed.
The door was locked but it wasn't a problem. The metal hinges melted away and Malchior stepped to the side to allow it to fall backwards.
There were three men inside, but he didn't take the time to register their faces. Before they could open their mouths to yell, they were out cold - if only because killing them would be too loud. It wasn't his usual style. Magic did not seem fair unless the other party brought the same skills, and long before he'd had sorcery, he'd had fists and swords anyway.
It turned out he needn't have bothered with stealth however.
Two men appeared from a side door, one drawing a gun and the other running to the wall and smashing his hand through a small glass window. Malchior's musings on why anyone would wound themselves before a fight was cut short by the shriek of an alarm.
Cringing at the assaulting wail, Malchior flung the dagger at the man about to shoot him. It sailed through the air and hit its intended target dead on, lodging itself in his eye socket. It was rather a lucky shot, but he had little time to question good aim.
He went after the second man, relishing in the feeling of movement. He'd headed up the staircase, frantically trying to press buttons on a very small phone and stumbling twice as a result. Sprinting as hard as possible (his shoulder screaming in protest) Malchior managed to catch up and smash his man's head against the bannister at the top step.
"Where is Raven?" Malchior demanded.
The man spat on the marble floor, his saliva tinged pink. "Fuck you."
"Each time I have to ask you this question I will take great joy in breaking one of your fingers." Malchior warned.
The man thrust his chin up in defiance.
A brave, stupid one. After a few minutes it became clear he actually wasn't going to talk, so Malchior left him out cold like the others and summoned the dagger back. He had no idea where Raven was exactly, but her presence was all around. Carrying on down the path of the landing, his eye was immediately caught by a set of large doors. Both displayed a version of the very woman he was looking for. On the left, a bride. On the right, a goddess of death.
Could it be that easy?
He pulled the doors open eagerly, just as an awful thought struck him - he had no way of knowing if the dragon inside him was truly done with seeking Raven's death. How could he be sure?
But it was too late for such questions. Raven was standing in the centre of the room looking equal parts dishevelled, shocked and gorgeous. A strap on her dress was torn and there was blood on her forehead, but otherwise she appeared unharmed.
A full-body relief so strong he had to steady himself against the door overtook him.
"Malchior?" she asked, her voice quiet under the screech of the alarm.
"Stop right there!"
Silver metal glinted in Malchior's periphery - another gun, much too close for comfort. He saw red and lunged, thrusting the dagger right under where he guessed the gun-owner's ribs would be.
"Terrible timing." he hissed, throwing all of his strength into creating a mortal wound despite the flaring pain in his shoulder. Nothing was going to stop him from reaching Raven, not now she was so close.
Hot blood spilled over his hands, the clearest sign yet that that Malchior had left the dimensionless world of the book and entered the precarious and vital world of the living.
The man dropped his gun with a groan. It went off with an explosive bang.
Malchior guided his fall to the ground, then refocused. He crossed the threshold of the room, wrenching his scarf down so he could speak freely. Inside, the sound of alarm was pleasantly muted.
"Raven." He said, enjoying the shape of her name in his mouth.
Alexa, play "Criminal" by Britney Spears.
I do want to get in before reviews telling me I've written Raven terribly in this chapter by allowing her to be captured. Her powers can theoretically be written as limitless, which in my opinion makes for really dull storytelling if not handled carefully. It's more interesting for me to explore situations in which she might hold back or be bested (e.g. when coming up against an organised, ruthless cult with endless resources and a keen interest in blood magic).
TW: This one's got it all. Violence, sexual assault, kidnapping, child abuse, brain-washing.