Leah Macmillan wandered back-and-forth across the tiny town square, screaming in her bare-bones Arabic, waving a bundle of cash. “Car! Airport! Emergency!” The desert sun relentlessly blazed down on her, and she was sweating underneath her improvised headscarf. Come on! Please! Someone? Anyone?! People watched her out their windows at her as if she was a crazed lunatic. A few passersby gave her apologetic looks before avoiding their gazes and moving on.
She’d left the excavation site ten minutes ago, hurriedly packing the most necessary of her possessions into a backpack and two gym bags. She’d just barely remembered to change from sandals into running shoes before leaving it all behind without even taking another note or securing any of the priceless artifacts against theft or the elements.
“Car! Airport!” she begged another passerby in Arabic, only to be shrugged off with a look of disgust at her rudeness.
“I can take you for good price,” a voice came from behind her, in heavily accented English.
“No. You have to listen to me! I need to board this plane right now! It’s an emergency!“
The airline clerk looked at her, unimpressed.
“Plane is leaving, already. You’re too late.“
“How much?” Leah asked, slapping her last remaining money on the counter. It was four hundred US dollars. It would really be nice to get anything without having to bribe someone for it.
“That much,” the clerk said, and nodded.
“No,” she screamed into her cell phone through the bad reception underground. “I’m still in London! Yes. I’m at the Order... Yes, of course, I’m bringing the amulets... Yes... No. The quickest flight is to Newark, then Boston. I missed the 11 o’clock. There’s nothing sooner than tomorrow afternoon— I’m doing everything I can. What about Dimitri and Marius... Goddammit! Fuck, just... I’ll be there soon.“
“Sir... please. I haven’t slept in 26 hours. I have a permit. Just open the bag. It’s right in there. I showed it to British Customs already. Do you think they would have let me board with it otherwise? Just let me—“
“Ma’am, I need you to keep standing right there.“
“And I need my bag! Just open it and look at the permit!“
The TSA agent sighed and finally did what Leah was asking, fishing the documents out of her bags as if they were wet socks. After he’d read them all carefully, he gave Leah a last suspicious look-over, then folded the documents and zipped the bag closed.
“What do you need that stuff for?” he asked. “Are you opening a museum or are you one of those Live-Action Role Players? My son does that, too. But he ain’t got real dagger, and his robes are way less nice.“
He motioned Leah to take the bag. She stepped forward and took it. With all of her remaining energy she managed a courteous smile as she left and said, with an exhausted shrug
“Saving the world from demons,” she said.
“Good luck with that,” the agent chuckled.
It was almost noon when she finally arrived. She felt like a bum and probably smelled like one, too. She needed a shower. She needed sleep. Taking the time for either of these things was utterly out of the question. Instead, she drove her rental car straight to the university library to meet brother Josiah. As she got out, she saw the eldest and most senior of her Brothers already approaching her.
There was police there, and Leah could almost taste the disorienting and unsettling magic in the air that was affecting the minds of everyone around. It made the policemen look straight through them and past them. She decided that she would not comment on the transgression. It wasn’t her place—and these were desperate times. She was sure that Brother Josiah had his reasons to allow such things.
“What’s the situation?” she asked as her Superior closed the last couple of feet between them.
“Sister Ana has not contacted me since before I boarded the plane at ten-thirty,” Josiah said, looking grim. “She said that she destroyed a possessed woman and eight demonic carriers last night, and that she has been on the hunt since. She was seen entering the library. It seems that she only managed the presence of mind to use a cloaking spell once she had to leave again!”
He scoffed, shaking his head. “The police are searching for her, and I don’t know where she is. Her last message was her telling me that she was following a lead, and needed to turn her phone to silent. I tried to message her when I landed, but she hasn’t written back yet.”
“Can’t you use the amulet of Jordan to find her?” Leah asked.
“She is hidden in the background noise. The amulet has been acting up ever since I entered town; the resonance is everywhere. It has grown stronger since I’ve arrived, too. It had been weak. Now it isn’t.”
Leah swallowed. “That means...”
“Yes,” Josiah said grimly. “A Herald has lost her soul, and Ana failed to stop it.”
Leah wanted to say something to defend her friend, but then bit her tongue. Josiah nodded toward the library. “Their sanctum was here. Ana said that she cleansed it in the night, before she left. But I’m afraid there might already be another, now that a Herald has been reborn in Evil.”
Leah swallowed. “What’s the plan?“
“Go meet brother Marius and Dimitri—they are at the police station, stealing evidence.“
Criticizing sister Ana for being reckless, then breaking into a police station. Nice.
“That’s very risky,” she said.
“We have no choice. Things have been set into motion.“
“Where are the rest of the Order?“
“Sister Jeanne is in the library with brother Felipe, looking for more clues. Brother Pascal is still in North Korea—there is no way he will get out before tomorrow. Same thing with Brother Simon and Sister Rahel. They are still a hundred miles upriver of Fonte Boa. They will not be out of Brazil before nightfall. It doesn’t have to concern you, sister; focus on your task! Do it well, and we shall overcome this!”
She sighed a mental sigh, then pulled herself together. Josiah was right. They had to act. If now wasn’t the time for taking risks, the time it would never come. She nodded, and made for her car.
She had barely arrived at the police station when the front doors flew open, and Brothers Dimitri and Marius walked out looking tense but not panicked. For a moment, she braced herself for policemen to emerge behind them, but it seemed that her brothers had succeeded in their mission. Marius was carrying a cardboard box, and Dimitri was cradling an ominous black plastic bag. He was wearing blood-stained surgical gloves.
“Sister Leah!” Marius said, and even through all the stress and tension, a thin smile broke through his grim expression. She hadn’t seen him in two months.
“Do you have a car?” she asked.
“Yes, but we’ll take yours,” he said as he approached her. She matched course, and they were already on the way to the parking lot. “We’re parked two blocks away as a precaution. You should have, too—but there’s no changing that now.”
“How did you get this? It’s the middle of the day,” she asked.
Marius smiled grimly. “Amnestic Incantation, with added mental avoidance. No one in there will get any work done for two days at least. So many other ‘important’ things for them to do.”
“That’s... harsh,” she said.
“No time, no choice,” Dimitri growled in his thick Serbian accent. “Everything else will raise suspicion too quickly. People go in and out. They’ll notice, unless… every mind affected.”
Leah shook her head. That kind of mental magic was frowned-upon. Immoral. Especially in this magnitude. The human mind was a sacred thing, and altering it was second only to murder in how transgressive it was. But what was done was done, and she couldn’t argue that it was effective. She turned on her heel and followed after them.
They arrived at her car, and got in. Marius got on the passenger seat, and Dimitri took the rear, collapsing into his seat with an exhausted sigh. He was bound to be magically exhausted—he had dropped the thaumic equivalent of a nuclear bomb on that police station. When he placed the plastic bag on the back seat next to him, it made a disgusting, wet sound—like rotten wood digging into mud.
“What the hell is in there?” Leah said.
“Brother Dimitri cut the demon out of Lorraine Kent’s body.”
“It’s still intact?”
“Not really,” Dimitri said as he peeled off his plastic gloves and stuffed them in the bag. “But I got all the pieces. Had to cut out a lot of flesh.”
“Thanks for that info!” Leah said through clenched jaws, her voice high-pitched like a tightly wound string. She didn’t need—nor wanted to hear—any more details than that.
“Back to Josiah?” she asked—but just as she spoke, Marius’s phone rang. He picked up, and nodded at her to start the car. She put the car into drive and turned it around, heading for the university campus. Meanwhile Marius was listening to the person that had called him. Probably brother Josiah. Marius looked concerned, thoughtful. After a short moment of silence, he tilted his head questioningly, eyes suddenly wide.
“Brother?” he asked, and there was fear in his voice. Leah had to look at the road, and was only able to cast short sidelong glances to gauge what was happening. Each time her eyes darted over, he looked more pale. Oh shit, something bad has happened.
“Are you certain?” brother Marius asked, finally. Oh no, had the resonance strengthened again?
“Get her back!? Impossible. Her soul is lost!” What? Whose—? Oh God, no.
Leah’s vision seemed to narrow to a point, and she had to take a couple of quick short breaths to stop the world from its sudden spin around her. She clasped the steering wheel with damp hands, and felt her heart race in sudden staccato.
They got Ana.
Her brain vehemently resisted the notion. It couldn’t be. Ana was her friend. Her sister. They’d know each other for ten years. They’d spent months and years studying together, even sharing quarters for a while! If she opened her phone right now, she would be able to read messages they had exchanged less that a week ago! She’d be able to call Ana’s phone—right now! She couldn’t just be... gone!
The world was spinning around her. Her head was filled with static. Leah pulled the car over. Otherwise, she couldn’t be sure that she wasn’t going to crash it into something. It was all she could do not to throw up. The car stopped with a jerk. She looked over at Marius with wide eyes, and Marius looked back at her with a look of utter despair, then reacted to something on the other end.
“Dear God have mercy,” Marius said. “We must—”
Josiah cut him off on the other end, and Marius nodded along. Leah could see his chest rise and fall with heavy breaths. He looked at her again, and she was reasonably certain that she had heard her name spoken over the phone.
Finally he hung up, looking pale as a corpse.
After what felt like a solid minute of dead silence he swallowed hard, then started talking. “Ana serves our enemy. Josiah says she just called him and tried to deceive him. He said that she will try to lure you, Leah, into a trap—to... “
“Make her serve the enemy, too” Dimitri said.
Leah’s chest constricted with a feeling of cold dread. It was like someone had just cast her into an icy lake, and suddenly it sunk in just how real all of this was. She hadn’t really had time to think about this. Until now, everything had still been abstract and far removed from anything that could really touch her.
I might die today, she realized, and a horrible shiver went down her spine—and her head began to spin. She took a sharp breath. She felt Marius take her hand and saw him shoot an admonishing look at Dimitri. Marius’s hand was warm and soft against hers, and she felt slightly better. The world was tumbling just a little less around her now.
“Yes, Dimitri,” Marius said. “But she won’t. We know the enemy’s plan. And we’ll get her back.”
“—I thought the same thing,” Marius said. “But brother Josiah thinks that her soul is still intact. She’s still in there! We can cleanse her flesh and free her trapped spirit. Brother Felipe and Sister Jeanne are making preparations in the library basement as we speak.”
He smiled grimly. “Demons aren’t the only creatures that can turn a place into a sanctum of their deity.”
Leah’s phone chimed loudly, and she jumped in surprise. She looked at the screen. It was a message from Ana, containing only a location that she could open in her maps app. Leah swallowed, but the lump in her throat didn’t go away.
The phone chimed again, and the message preview read
- (1:01) Ana:
So glad you’re finally here!
Leah’s heart broke when she read it, knowing that it wasn’t Ana who had written this, but a demon using her body like a puppet on strings. The thought was sickening. Even the text message itself felt like something vile and corrupted, and she wanted to delete it and throw away her phone like it was a ticking bomb. Instead, she opened the messenger app to open the map link. For a moment she was forced to see the chat history just above today’s two messages—the last thing Ana had ever said to her, a couple of days ago:
- (10:24) Ana:
Sorry for always being so tardy with my replies. I promise I won’t keep you hanging next time you write. I’m looking forward to seeing you in October. I hope you find lots of interesting artifacts for us to lose sleep over
- (10:26) Leah:
Yeah, me too! <3
- (10:49) Ana:
See you then
- (10:53) Ana:
Leah felt sick to her stomach. She tapped the location link, and her map opened, directing her to a small commercial district near the suburbs to the west, at the other end of town. She looked at brother Marius, and they shared a moment of mutual, quiet despair.
“Let’s go, no time to lose,” Dimitri said from the back seat.
Leah sighed, and put the car back into drive.
Mina’s hands were a bloody mess of joyous pain and tainted blood. Her palms were already healing, but Ana had cut deep into her flesh when she had still been their enemy instead of their devout whore. Her maimed hands left smears on Katie's arms as Mina dagged the corpse of her wife into the sanctum, where it might be used later. There was a grim satisfaction in handling her dead body. Katie had served, and the death of a flesh-servant was never wasted if it went towards fulfilling the Mother’s destiny.
Still, even if she’d been nothing but willing flesh, Mina’s feelings had been special for Katie, for many reasons. Katie had been the first flesh that Mina had seen corrupted, and she would have been the first flesh to give birth to the Mother’s gifts in centuries. Her progeny would have infected millions and billions. She would have been special among the serving flesh. Less importantly, she had been Mina’s partner and lover for a decade. Seeing her corrupted and soulless, serving the Mother, had held a special thrill that nothing would ever quite be able to replace. That pleasure was gone from the world now. Katie was dead. Katie would never see the World claimed by the goddess she’d died for, and Mina would never see her give birth to the Mother’s gifts.
Mina unceremoniously dumped her lifeless form on the floor. There were none of the Mother’s creatures in the world to feed upon her yet, but it would only be a matter of time. This way, Katie’s flesh would continue to serve. Maybe her body would be twisted and repurposed in even more unholy ways. The thought did little to quell the burning rage inside Mina, but it was still a good thought.
That whore Ana was on her phone, luring her former allies into a trap. Killing them would be one more thing to satisfy the simmering need for violence and revenge in her. “She is on her way,” the former Scholar said, reading from the screen. “She expects me to meet in a park a dozen blocks or so towards downtown. I walked past there on the way here. It is reasonably secluded. We will be able to lay an ambush and overwhelm her, but you will have to be the ones to physically subdue her. Once you have her, I can pacify her with a spell, but only if she is bodily restrained. Otherwise she will be able to ward herself.”
They all looked to Jordan, awaiting word from the Mother. The girl’s eyes were looking at nothing, and her mouth hung slightly open as she stood in the center of their sanctum, rigid and enthralled. Mina idly wondered where the mind of the dark-skinned girl even was right now. She knew that she was still in there, buried deeply beneath the irresistible resonance of her blood.
Jordan said nothing for a moment and her empty eyes made her look almost dead. Then, she spoke once again with the resonance of the mother: “This is acceptable. Serve me well, Ana, and you will know the pleasure of your Mother’s gift, despite the flesh-servants you killed—despite your filthy heritage.”
“I spit on the ashes of my worthless soul,” Ana said. “My flesh serves. The Order will burn.”
Mina took in a sharp breath of arousal as Ana’s words licked her cunt. She looked at the woman that had killed Katie and drank in the sight of the blonde flesh-servant’s cold, soulless eyes. With a jolt of arousal she remembered the agony they had made Ana experience as punishment for what she’d done to Katie and the Librarian. Yesss. They had claimed her, and raped her, and killed her. The blonde flesh-servant was as much 'Ana' as the dead body on the floor was her wife.
When Ana noticed Mina’s gaze, she smiled and licked her lips seductively as if to reaffirm how utterly the woman she’d been had been destroyed. It was almost enough to sate Mina’s desire for retribution. Mina would fuck her hard when the time came. Use her body. Taste her flesh. Make her scream. She would think of so many wonderful things to make her repent for her sins against the Mother.
“We should get dressed,” Sam said.
“Unfortunately,” Ana said, with a smile.
They gathered up their discarded clothes from around the clinic. Putting them on was like slipping into a life that was no longer hers. She was no longer made for the jeans, boots and leather jacket. Her body was meant to be naked and her flesh was meant to be gazed upon with awe and terror. She couldn’t wait to shed these disgusting pieces of fabric for the final time.
The others were certain to feel the same way as she did, but seeing them dress up and masquerade as the people that had died to become the Mother’s flesh still made Mina’s pussy quiver. Sam was back in her opaque black stockings and patterned dress and jacket combination. The blood was hardly visibly on the floral patterns of her dress. She would look as innocent and approachable as she ever had if it weren't for her wonderfully cold and soulless eyes.
They helped Ana into her elaborately layered garments and she once again looked proper and demure and academic like the good little innocent Order slut that they had killed. Mina licked her lips. Seeing her like this and knowing that it was nothing but a lie made her pussy throb. Ana's Soul was dead. There was no more goodness left in her. Their enemy had become their whore. Their pawn. Fuck, yes! Ana was a taste of the glory to come!
Jordan told them that she was to be left behind in the influence of the Sanctum. The epicenter of the Mother’s influence would keep the girl’s blood firmly resonant and under control. It was a calculated risk to leave her unguarded—and a huge one at that—but there weren’t enough of them to afford splitting up and dividing their forces just to babysit her. After all, the Order’s Healer might not come alone. They needed to be prepared for that.
“I will know it when the Healer serves,” the Mother said through Jordan. “I will release the both of you then, and you will become the tumor that eats up the Order from inside. You will not remember anything but you will still know what to do without realizing it.”
“Yesss,” Ana hissed, eager and willing to serve the Mother. “Everyone shall serve. Their flesh is Yours, Mistress!”
And with that, they departed the Sanctum, leaving behind the final Herald-to-be, deeply immersed in the resonance of the Mother’s power. Sam cradled the last of the Mother’s gifts in her arms, carrying it close to her like the precious thing that it was. They had wrapped it in a piece of cloth to protect it from the sun. Mina could taste Sam’s intense need to give the Gift to Jordan—but they all knew the risk was too great; they would be discovered before the Constellation could be completed and they would be helpless while it happened.
They crossed the parking lot. Ana’s arm was wrapped around Mina’s shoulder as the first Herald helped her walk with her useless right ankle. The demonic blood of her Gift would usually heal her, just as it was healing the cuts in Mina’s palms, just as it had already healed the penetrated insides of her lower body. But the Mother had withdrawn her power from Ana's flesh so that there might be fewer physical changes to betray her true nature. The corrupted scholar felt no more pain of course, and even if she did, Mina would only have enjoyed it more.
They got into Mina’s car. Again, Mina could feel the Anchors burn pleasantly in her freshly pierced nipples. She knew it would have been pain, but the Mother’s blood in her veins transformed it into pure pleasure. The rings pulled her forward, towards the place where she needed to be to serve the Mother. To where they would find more flesh to serve Her.
To where they would hunt.
Mina felt her pulse racing as her blackened heart thrummed with excitement and bloodlust—but also a sickening fear. Fear that their plan would fail. Fear that they would die without having served the Mother. Fear that it would all go wrong, and that Jordan—and the world with her—would remain unclaimed and untouched. The Mother had to win! All flesh had to serve! It was the trembling, shivering truth at Mina’s core, and she could sense the same conviction burn in the corrupted bodies of her fellow flesh-servants. No more filthy goodness left in the world! No more pathetic souls! Only darkness and lust, and the purpose of belonging to the Mother of chaos! All flesh has to serve!
And even through the fear and the nausea and the nerve-wracking tension and uncertainty of it all, she felt her pussy moisten at the thought.
All flesh will serve!