The screams that tore from my throat could have awakened the dead for miles around.
At the same time, I felt like I was drowning.
The right side of my face was pinned to a prickly rough surface. My stomach felt as though it had erupted, full of molten lava spilling forth. No control of my arms or legs. No relief. Just pain. Everywhere.
My body was yanked rudely across the harsh surface. Back and forth, up and down. Against walls and cold glass.
It wouldn't stop.
It wouldn't stop!
GOD MAKE IT ST-
“Wake up, beautiful. Please... please, wake up.”
Kenny's pained voice awakened me from a dreamless sleep. Every cell of my being felt depleted, beyond mere exhaustion.
“He nearly killed you,” Kenny said in an anguished whisper. “That son of a bitch nearly killed you.”
I tried to speak, but nausea overwhelmed me and I took deep breaths instead and waited for Kenny to tell me more. My eyes were barely open in the dimly lit room.
“I woke up to you screaming, your body being flung around the room like a ragdoll. There was... blood. Coming from your eyes, your ears, your mouth, and…”
He placed a hand over my chest and I gasped from the sudden flare of pain. “Here. Where he marked you.”
It was bandaged. I could feel the tape on the perimeter of the stiff gauze.
“I couldn't heal it. You lost a lot of blood, but not enough to…” He stopped for a moment before continuing. “The shock alone could have stopped your heart. It almost did. Once it was over, I did everything I could to get you stable.”
His hand stroking my hair calmed me somewhat. When I felt myself drifting off, I didn't stop it.
“Demons have been circling. But the room is heavily warded so they stay away. I’m going out now to secure the area. Rest now, beautiful. I’ll keep you safe.”
Safe? I doubted that.
I didn’t know if I ever would be again.
I woke up again, sick to my stomach. Not sure how I made it to the toilet, but I was thankful for it, the remains of blood and bile emptying out. When the dry heaves finally stopped, I rose on shaky knees and rinsed my mouth out.
My eyes rose to the mirror, and barely recognized myself. Faintly tinged skin, hollow eyes, hair caked with blood. I needed a bath.
The flare in my chest came back, bringing with it a barrage of horrific images.
A young college aged girl, lying dead over an altar.
Kenny, my angelic protector… dead. His throat looking as though it had been ripped out by a wild animal.
And Father Finn - no, Bálor - standing bloodied and triumphant over his adversary, extending his hand to me.
I shook my head to will the images away. Looking at my chest, I raised a hand to the bloodied bandage. The tug at my skin only confirmed it was stuck to the wound. I took a wet washcloth and squeezed water on the gauze to loosen its hold.
When I removed the bandage, I was nearly sick again.
The brand looked as if it were cauterized as it was being cut, but it was done so cleanly that there was no mistaking what it was.
A pointed cross, with a serpent curled around it and slithering downward.
My plaything. Mine…
His voice in my head. The room spun.
When you've recovered, you'll come to me. You both will…
I gripped my head, wanting it to stop.
...and I'll reclaim what is rightfully mine.
The last thing I saw was the floor rising to meet me as my shaky legs finally gave out.