Killing rites, p.40
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       Killing Rites, p.40
 

         Part #4 of The Black Suns Daughter series by M. L. N. Hanover
Page 40

 

  “He isn’t,” Carsey said grimly.

  “I will not leave while the beast is free,” Chapin said, his jaw tight. His eyes were bright and fierce. They bored into me like a message I was supposed to understand but didn’t.

  And then I did.

  “Wait a minute,” I said. “You mean me?”

  Chapter 24

  The room went silent. I fought to clear my mind, but the effort of the battle made clarity hard. Miguel and Carsey stood on the opposite side of the table. Ex stood to my right, Chogyi Jake to my left. Father Chapin lay on the table between us. Alexander and Tamblen had almost lifted the blasted shell of Tomás up to a sitting position. Carsey and Miguel looked at me, the relief and exhaustion and fear on their faces shifting. They looked hardened. Resigned. They looked like sailors who’d just figured out that the calm wasn’t the end of the storm but the eye of the hurricane. I figured I probably did too.

  “There is a demon inside of her,” Chapin said. “It is the reason that you brought her here, Xavier. ”

  “You have got to be kidding,” I said. “Did you just miss the part where you’ve had a ringer in your group for … I don’t know. Years? Or that I just got rid of it?”

  Chapin’s lips went tight and he shook his head.

  “I have many failures,” he said. “Many, many failures. I will not be turned from my calling. The beast is here. It is within you, Miss Jayné. You have done us all a great service, and I will not leave you in the claws of Hell. ”

  I stepped back from the table, my legs still unsteady. Chapin tried to sit up. Blood poured out of his wounded side.

  “Don’t be frightened,” Chapin said. “We will save you. Even if we are saving you from yourself. ”

  “Well,” Carsey said. “This is less convenient than I’d hoped. ”

  “Has to be done,” Tamblen said from behind me. I turned toward him as wide, strong arms wrapped around me, lifting me off the floor I kicked back, but it was only my own strength. Even when I hit something soft, the only response I got was a grunt. The grip didn’t go slack.

  “No,” Ex said. “Stop. This is a mistake. ”

  “There can be no mistake, Xavier,” Chapin said. “Nor any room for compromise. It is through exceptions and weakness of will that Satan wins the world, and so—“

  Chapin winced, clutching at his wound.

  “Put me down,” I shrieked, twisting my weight. Tamblen turned, and someone—Miguel—grabbed my ankles. Lifted in the air, I turned toward Ex.

  Over the years I had known him, I’d seen him in a hundred different moods. I had seen him in the depths of rage and joyous, exhausted past the point of illness and sleeping with the sunlight in his hair. I had felt the passion and guilt and longing that he kept bottled up in his soul, and I had wondered what he was thinking when he closed himself off from me. For less than a second—less than a heartbeat—as I screamed and twisted and fought against Tamblen’s arms, I saw Ex, and the desolation in his eyes was unfamiliar and terrible. I thought, This is what a nightmare looks like, and the gun went off again.

  Chogyi Jake lowered his doubled fists until the barrel was aimed unmistakably at Tamblen’s heart. His smile was the same one he always wore.

  “I’m going to ask you to put her down now,” Chogyi Jake said. “Next time, I will not ask. ”

  I stopped struggling. Tamblen shifted my weight but kept me on his shoulder.

  “You don’t understand,” the big man said.

  “You won’t be the first man I’ve killed,” Chogyi Jake said.

  He won’t? I thought, and Ex stepped between them, his hands held out. Where he stood, Tamblen couldn’t reach the door to the courtyard without pushing him aside, and Chogyi Jake couldn’t shoot Tamblen without the bullet passing through him.

  “All right, we’re just going to calm down now,” Ex said. “No one’s getting shot. I mean Father Chapin is, but no one else. ”

  “I know you love these men,” Chogyi Jake said. The gun hadn’t shifted an inch. “But they are zealots, and—“

  “Just don’t shoot them,” Ex said. “Just wait. ”

  Chapin coughed and swung his legs off the table. He tried to stand; he cried out in pain. Miguel put an arm around him.

  “Chewy,” Miguel said. “Please. We don’t have much time. He’s losing blood. ”

  Ex swallowed, nodded to himself, and turned to face Father Chapin. My old friend looked about six years old, lost and determined and frightened to the bone. He licked his lips and I tried to turn so that Tamblen’s shoulder wasn’t digging into my liver.

  “Father Chapin,” Ex said. “I know Jayné. I trust her, and after tonight, I think she deserves your trust too. She wasn’t wrong. She was the one who found the taint in our society, and she stopped it. She wants to be free of this thing. She only made common cause with it when we forced her to. Us. Ask her to renounce it. She’ll come back again just like before. ”

  Chapin’s eyes narrowed. He looked at Tamblen and nodded. The big man lowered me to my feet.

  “Is this true?” the old priest asked. The blood on his cheek was dry and dark and flaking. “Do you renounce the Black Sun, and will you swear to me on peril of your soul that you will return here and complete the rites that you began?”

  I took a breath. It was what I’d come here for. It was the reason I’d been running like hell since Chicago. One of the reasons, anyway. I thought of the hours I’d spent waiting for my body to move without my willing it, watching for evidence that I wasn’t in control of my own flesh. It had been terrible. All I had to do now was say that I still felt the way I had then.

  But I didn’t. I’d made my truce with her, and she hadn’t betrayed me. There weren’t all that many people I could say that for.

  “No,” I said. “No, I won’t renounce her. ”

  Ex’s cry of despair broke my heart a little. He sank to his knees, his eyes closed. I thought he might be crying. It was all spinning out of control now. All of the people he wanted to keep safe were destroying themselves and each other, and all his efforts to protect us were falling through his fingers like sand. I stepped forward and put my hand on his shoulder. He was shaking.

  “I’m sorry,” I said. “I really am. ”

  “Father Chapin? I think you’re making a mistake. ”

  Everyone turned toward Alexander. He was stroking his terrible little goatee thoughtfully.

  “You think … what?” Chapin’s voice was a rasp. “A Princess of Hell stands before us in the flesh of this poor sinner who came to us for aid. Tomás’s corruption was terrible, and the price we will pay for it will beggar us, but there is this thing still before us that we can do right. ”

  Alexander pressed his fingertips to his lips, scowling.

  “No,” he said. “If she wants our help, I’ll do whatever I can to help her because I think she has a good soul. But if she doesn’t want it, we can’t force it on her. She’s not even a Christian, Father. ”

  “Meaning what?”

  “Meaning you shouldn’t have accepted her in the first place,” he said. “She’s only here because you and Xavier killed that girl years ago, and somehow she’s supposed to make up for it. ”

  “Well, there’s an uncomfortable perspective,” Carsey said. “So we should just open the door and usher her out into the world? With what she is?”

  “We will not!” Chapin shouted. “We will not free the devil! What I have done wrong, I will answer for, but I will not sin again. I refuse to. I will die here if I must, but I will not leave while she is free!”

  didn’t even turn to see what the commotion was about. I knew that some riders did more than lurk in the back of a mind. Some kicked the original owner out, taking the body whole. If the Akaname were like hermit crabs, taking over the bodies that other riders had already opened up, that meant Tomás had been ridden before, and maybe that first rider had killed
his soul years before. Maybe he was only qliphoth now, an empty shell without self or rider. And even if there was something of the man left in the body, he was broken in ways that wouldn’t ever be made whole.

  And then I knew what they reminded me of. They had been parasitized. Tomás had been the one with the actual beast in it, but they had all been used. Tamblen and Carsey, Miguel and Chapin. All these men dedicated their lives to freeing people from possession, and instead they’d become an engine for spreading riders. Tracking down the Akaname they had spread would be the work of years, if it could even be done. Right now in front of me, Chapin was doing anything he could to distract himself from the grief bearing down on him. And grief, I knew, made people crazy.

  Chapin really was going to let himself die.

  “Jayné,” Ex said. “I need a favor. ”

  “You want to lock me up,” I said.

  “Just long enough to get him to the hospital. So that he can know you’re safe. ”

  “Is that what you call it?”

  “Please,” Ex said. “I need to save him. At least let me try. ”

  I looked over at Chogyi Jake. The gun in his hand hadn’t moved. I had the distinct impression that if I’d said so, he’d have shot everyone in the room who tried to keep me from walking out. It wasn’t what I’d expected of him, but the fact that he was there—that the choice was there—made choosing possible.

  Ex stepped closer, leaning in. His voice was low and fast, and his hands fluttered in front of him as he spoke, like little sparrows trying to take wing.

  “If you don’t want the rite of exorcism, I’ll make sure you don’t have it. Just let me put you down there for now. I promise I’ll free you again later. ”

  “I’m sorry. It’s not my call,” I said. And then: “Hey. We’ve got a situation here. You want to chime in?”
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