Demon Trappers Series Book 8
Simon Adler glanced at the address in the text message, then compared it to the white mailbox at the end of the driveway. It’d taken longer than he’d anticipated to find the right house. Sometimes the confusion was the fault of the subdivision, but usually it was Hell’s trickery. Since he was a lay exorcist for the Vatican, Lucifer, and his infernal minions, went out of their way to make his life difficult.
Stepping out of his car immediately introduced him to a full blast of late May heat, along with a side order of body-drenching humidity. Sweat obligingly popped out on his forehead. With the thermometer marching toward 94 degrees, the heat index would be stifling.
A quick visual check proved the neighborhood was as he’d expected: two-story houses, probably built in the eighties, some four-side brick, others not. Most had well-manicured lawns with discrete, though wilting, flower borders.
Not the house in front of him. The lawn hadn’t been mowed and children’s toys were scattered in the grass. A few more days and they’d be lost from view entirely. Now that Simon looked closer, he realized the rain-smeared chalk marks on the driveway were crosses, along with three equally faint ones on the garage door. More dotted the concrete stairs leading to the front porch.
“There we are,” he said.
With the homeowners safe in an extended-stay hotel, word would have spread that this house was possessed. Even if they’d tried, it would have been hard to hide that news. The upstairs windows were blown out, curtains hanging limp in the non-existent breeze. Scorch marks rose onto the roof from the openings. There had been no earthly fire involved and that’s why he was here.
Lay exorcists were a recent development, at least when it came to a church with over two thousand years of history. As the demand for exorcisms increased, Rome began to recruit and train men who were not in the priesthood. Simon had been in the Vatican’s first class, spending months learning the intricacies, and the dangers, involved in exorcising fiends from people and buildings. After graduation he immediately returned home because Atlanta was Ground Zero in the fight against Hell.
He could feel eyes on him now, no doubt some neighbor watching his every move. It came with the territory. Often, they would venture out of their house to tell him about the horrors they’d witnessed. Most of the time they remained locked inside, murmuring prayers. He preferred the latter.
Simon took a deep breath, already feeling sweat wicking into his white shirt, making it stick to his skin. Coupled with his black slacks and the large wooden cross he wore on a thick leather cord around his neck, he knew he could easily double as a door-to-door missionary.
After running a hand through his hair—it was considerably shorter than usual courtesy of a feisty demon and its hellfire—Simon opened the rear driver’s side door and removed the black suitcase holding his exorcism equipment. He didn’t like leaving it in plain sight even with the doors locked, but the case heated up too much in the trunk. After setting it on the driveway, he reached in for an ornate metal container. It wasn’t a big box, just ten inches square, but it was engraved with crosses and would hold the demon after its exorcism. Just as his hands touched it, someone cleared their throat.
As Simon turned, the hairs on the back of his neck rose. This was not a nosey neighbor, not with those bottomless eyes and coal-black hair that nearly touched his shoulders. Ori looked to be in his early thirties, which was ridiculous. Most likely he’d been alive since the universe had been created. If not longer.
The angel wore all black—jeans and a short-sleeved T-shirt that revealed his muscled arms. His wings were hidden, as well as his flaming sword. At least for the moment. “Simon Michael David Adler,” he said solemnly.
“Fallen,” Simon replied, trying to keep his voice from showing his surprise, and failing.
He’d last seen the angel at Riley Blackthorne’s wedding. According to the Master Demon Trapper, Ori was no longer on Hell’s payroll, and that he’d become his own master, if there was such a thing for Divines.
“Some reason you’re lurking in suburbia?” he asked.
“You are not as trusting as you once were,” the Fallen observed.
“Neither are you,” Simon shot back.
A knowing nod returned. “If you prefer that I leave, just tell me. If not, I will remain.”
Simon knew this Divine’s story almost as well as his own. Ori had swallowed Lucifer’s magnificent lies and followed him into exile where he had served as the Prince’s executioner for millennia. That job had eventually sent him to Atlanta where he’d seduced Paul Blackthorne’s daughter and claimed Riley’s soul. That should have been the end of it, but this Fallen was different. In the end, Ori had sacrificed himself to save Riley, and she’d regained her soul. Simon gave thanks for that miracle every day.
It was time to do some probing. “Is it true you’re on your own now?” he asked. “Not allied with Hell or Heaven?”
“That is true.”
“How’s that going?”
One of Ori’s black eyebrows rose. “About as good as you’d think,” was the sharp reply. “Though I find I now have certain informants in Hell who are eager to cultivate my favor.”
“They think I intend to overthrow the Prince.”
Simon’s heart double beat. “Do you?”
Ori’s eyes weren’t meeting his. When they did, he shook his head. “I have wasted enough of my existence on that one. I have my own goals now.”
“You are incredibly inquisitive for someone who has been offered Divine assistance.”
Simon huffed. “Somehow I missed the Divine assistance part of this conversation. I certainly have legitimate reasons to be skeptical: I once had a Fallen’s ‘help’ and almost lost my soul because of it.”
“It would appear we both learned much-needed lessons.” A pause, then, “My personal goals are variable, but I seek to destroy my former master’s Hellspawn wherever they are found. They are my enemies . . . for eternity.”
“Then I’d appreciate any assistance you are willing to give me.”
In response, Ori claimed the small metal box from the car while Simon picked up the case.
“Have you seen Riley lately?”
“I enjoyed her and the grand master’s hospitality just last week,” the angel replied.
“Do that often?”
“Every now and then. Grand Master Beck makes excellent pancakes.”
“Yes, he does.” Simon had been the recipient of a few of those himself. “She’s happy now. With Beck, I mean.”
“Yes, she is.”
They shared a moment of reflective silence. Simon had once dated Riley, had even begun to think of their future together. At least until nearly dying at the claws of a demon had caused a crisis of faith, and led to his betrayal of her. It’d been a lying Fallen that had lured him on that path, yet another of Lucifer’s devious angels. Riley eventually forgave Simon, but he still carried the guilt. Always would.
A poorly spray-painted cross greeted them at the front door. The paint had been applied so quickly that it had run and made the sacred symbol appear to be bleeding.
Simon shuddered at the thought, then knocked. He hadn’t expected a response, but you never knew. He held his hand close to the door knob to ensure it wouldn’t fry his flesh—Riley had learned that lesson during one of their joint exorcisms—and then tried the knob. It was unlocked, which was often the case when the homeowners ran for their lives. It was that or be possessed. At least they’d all escaped unharmed.
He was about to push the door open when Ori touched his arm. “Prepare yourself out here. You may not have the chance once inside this dwelling.”
Simon let that sink in. “Is this a demon, or something worse?”
“I’m not sure. All I know is that I felt an urgent need to join you here today. Since my instincts have been uncannily accurate as of late, you should heed my warning.”
“Getting help from . . .” Simon pointed upward. The angel shrugged in return.
Simon moved a desiccated geranium off a wrought iron table, sending a rain of dried yellow petals to the porch. He placed the case that held his equipment on top of the cleared space. Popping open the lid, he began the ritual he performed before each exorcism.
Clearing his mind, Simon focused on the task ahead, intoning a prayer for guidance, and for protection. Then he anointed himself with the freshly consecrated Holy Water that had arrived from the Vatican late last evening. Papal Holy Water—it didn’t get any more potent than that. On impulse, Simon turned toward his companion and offered the small vial just to see the Divine’s reaction.
Ori shook his head. “I have no need of it, Simon Michael David Adler. You’re forgetting who created me.”
The angel did have a point.
“Just Simon, okay? Hearing my full name makes me feel like I’m getting chewed out by one of the nuns in elementary school.”
“As you wish.”
Since it appeared the case would have to remain outside, Simon removed the large wooden cross from its cushioned niche. He usually employed a brass one, but it often grew too hot sitting in the car so the wooden version would do. It was the symbol, not its construction, that mattered.
Though most of the Vatican’s lay exorcists continued to conduct their exorcisms exactly as they’d been taught in Rome, Simon, much to his own surprise, had begun to change-up that formula. Unless he was working with a priest, he no longer used the aspergillum to sprinkle Holy Water. He’d streamlined other portions of the ritual as well. Time was not always on your side in the real world. It appeared that Hell’s strategies changed constantly, at least when it came to him, though not so with the priests. He still wasn’t sure what to make of that.
In many ways, Riley had been an inadvertent catalyst for some of his alterations, others had occurred the longer Simon exorcised Hellspawn. As long as the fiends continued to change their tactics, so would he.
The angel opened the door to the house, though he allowed Simon to enter first. The moment he stepped into the entryway, Simon felt a blast of heat and inhaled the thick stench of brimstone. The foyer in front of him undulated, like heat rising off the sands in a desert, casting red and yellow shadows on the once-white walls. For some perverse reason, the fiends loved to show him their home.
“Some things never change,” Ori murmured. The stench of the Pit seared his nostrils. Had the reek of brimstone always been that strong or had he become accustomed to it when he’d served the Prince? No matter, it was rank now.
A quick glance at the exorcist told him his companion wasn’t as stunned as he’d expected.
“It’s been this way lately—lots and lots of Hell,” Simon explained. He looked over at Ori now, thoughtful. “What kind of backup can you give me?”
“My fiery sword and a whole lot of attitude.”
A particularly grim smile claimed the exorcist’s face. “Then as Riley would say, let’s go kick some demon butt.”
A low laugh rolled through the house now, rattling the windows.
Ori frowned, searching. “There’s more than one.” He let his senses roam, but something was blocking him from visualizing every part of the structure. That was unusual. “Still want to face them?”
“Yes,” was the instant reply.
“There is no dishonor in stepping back,” he said, testing Simon’s resolve.
“I step back, then next time they’ll bring even more fiends. It’ll only escalate. We do this here, now.”
Simon had barely finished speaking when the front door slammed shut behind them. To his credit, the exorcist didn’t flinch. If anything, he appeared more determined.
“If I tell you to flee, heed me. Do you understand?” Ori demanded.
“I’m not suicidal.”
“Curiously, neither am I.” Not anymore.
The mortal next to him had changed. A year ago, Simon Michael David Adler seemed convinced of his own moral superiority. That he, alone, could stand against evil and prevail.
That Simon was gone. Now he looked older than his years, battle-hardened, no longer a naïve young man who believed everything was strictly good vs. evil. He had witnessed death, faced it firsthand, and learned life-changing lessons because of that naivete. Simon the Exorcist was a force to be reckoned with, someone who merited protection.
They made their way through the stifling atmosphere, entering a room with a brick fireplace and a big-screen television mounted above it, the screen shattered. Furniture had been thrown around, each piece scorched, the cushions shredded. The stench of urine filled the air. The owners would weep when they saw their home violated in such a way.
“This room is too big for this size house,” Simon said. “Is it an illusion?”
“Yes. Its purpose is to disorient us, making us question everything we see.”
“Can you work inside a Holy Water circle?”
Ori wasn’t sure, so he hedged. “I would prefer not to.”
“Then I’ll set a circle for me and—”
The first demon swooped out of nowhere and flew at them like a demented bird, mouth gaped open, teeth in abundance, its hands tipped with studded claws. Even before Simon could react, the flash of Ori’s blinding sword cut the thing in half. As it fell, it melted into the carpet in a stinking black puddle before it turned to ash.
With an abrupt change in pressure, the kind that heralded the arrival of one of Lucifer’s higher-level fiends, the air in front them boiled and a Hellspawn stepped forward. At least seven feet tall, it had golden skin studded with spikes, two broad eyes that glowed with amber fire, and massive arms that ended in sausage-shaped fingers tipped with claws.
“Traitor,” it hissed, eyeing him. Then it abruptly turned its attention to the exorcist as if Ori posed no threat.
That wasn’t good news.
“Simon the Betrayer,” it said, smirking. Like most of the more powerful fiends, the voice was riddled with cunning, sliding across your skin like oil. “Do you believe you can cleanse your sins by wielding your pathetic faith? I am of Hell, I am all powerful, I am—”
“Lucifer’s lapdog,” Simon spat back.
He touched a finger to the still damp Holy Water on his forehead and then bent to touch that same digit to the carpet. As he rose, he murmured to himself, and to Ori’s astonishment a flash of light heralded the near instantaneous creation of a sacred circle around the young man. A circle that would keep him safe as long as he remained within it.
He sensed Riley Anora Blackthorne’s hand in that, though there was no magic to it. No matter how the circle came to be, it meant the difference between remaining alive, or being impaled on a demon’s claws.
Ori settled into a fighting stance, blazing sword in hand, waiting to see what horrors the fiend had in mind.
With a deep breath, Simon raised the cross. “Abomination, know that I am Simon Michael David Adler, child of God. I command you—”
The fiend’s eyes narrowed, and with a wave of a clawed hand three figures appeared, kneeling on the carpet to its right. They were boys, probably fourteen or fifteen years of age, their eyes filled with unimaginable terror. An iron collar encircled each kid’s neck, and standing behind them was a single demon, holding the thick metal chains that attached to those collars.
“I know of you, Simon the Betrayer,” the large fiend said. “You do not fear death. But what of these mortals? Do you fear for them? Are you as righteous as you claim?”
“I claim no glory for what I do,” Simon replied. “All glory comes from God.”
“Then let us put your faith to a test.” The fiend glowered, its eyes riveted on him.
“How much courage do you possess?”
“My courage is endless because of whom I serve.”
The demon slapped its thigh, as if Simon had made the best joke. “We shall see, we shall see,” it hissed. “I will send Hellspawn against you until the stroke of midnight this day. If you defeat each of them then you will face me. If you can defeat all of us, I will release one of these mortals.”
You never bargained with a fiend. Never. It was the first rule he’d been taught in Rome. And yet if Simon didn’t, he’d likely lose all these souls.
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “You have no skin in this game.” He paused, thinking it through, carefully choosing his words. “I defeat all the demons you send to me, and only one of these boys will be set free? That’s hardly worth my time.”
He heard Ori’s sharp intake of breath, followed by the angel’s urgent voice in his mind. Be very careful. Your soul is in jeopardy.
“All three,” Simon said, ignoring the advice. “I will defeat each of the demons you send, one by one, by midnight, and you will release all of your captives at once.” He sucked in a deep breath. “If you lose three potential souls your master will take notice, and you know that’s never a good thing. All three. Take it or leave it.”
The demon’s eyes narrowed even further as it glanced toward Ori, then back to him. “No help from this traitor, or Blackthorne’s daughter, any grand master, or the Killer of the Fallen, cursed be his name forever.”
Which sidelined Ori, Riley, Grand Masters Stewart and Denver Beck from this battle.
“By midnight your mortal time, beginning now,” the demon pressed. “If you violate those rules, all of these mortals’ souls will be mine. And, because you dared to bargain with me, your soul will be mine as well. My master will be pleased to hear your screams of agony . . . for eternity.”
Even before Simon could refuse that outrageous bargain, the fiends and the teens vanished in a swirling cloud of brimstone.
“I can’t believe you did that!” Ori shouted, his voice echoing off the walls. “Are you insane?”
Simon glared at him. “And what, O Wise Angel, should I have done? Waited until you killed that lesser demon while that big one took off with the kids? Or maybe I should have tried to exorcise both of them, like that was going to work. Playing the fiend’s game bought me time.”
“Playing the fiend’s game bought your way into Hell.”
“Had any of the kids given up their souls yet?”
As his sword disappeared, Ori’s furious expression lessened. “No. They retain their souls.”
“Then I still have a chance to save them,” Simon said. He dragged his foot across the Holy Water circle to break it, astounded at what he’d just done.
Demons lied. Even if he pulled off the impossible, there was no guarantee those souls would live, or that he would retain his freedom.
The angel shook his head in dismay. “The Hellspawn will hold you to the letter of the agreement because you accepted part of its bargain. Your mortal soul is in peril, Simon.”
“I know.” God, I know.
“I cannot help you.”
“How could you be so stupid?” the Fallen demanded.
“How could you be so stupid to follow Lucifer into exile?”
Ori reeled back in shock. “You mortals never learn,” he said, then abruptly vanished.
Simon’s hand shook so badly the cross quavered in midair, so he lowered it. His eyes tracked back to where the boys had been. Did their families know they were missing? How had they been captured? Why three of them?
With a whispered prayer, he made his way to the front of the house. The fiends were gone, but there was no reason they would not reappear here. He would anoint each room, clear it of Hell’s taint, beginning at the top of the house. Once he was done, he’d go to Mass and pray for help to free those innocent souls.
If God were merciful, he might even save his own.
Demon Trappers® Series Book 8
Copyright ©2021 Jana Oliver
Angel Wing Graphic used with permission of Macmillan Children’s Books
Cover image courtesy of Yocla Designs
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Demon Trappers is a Registered Trademark of Jana G. Oliver
is an international & multi award-winning author in various genres including young adult, urban fantasy and paranormal romance.