Titan City, 1933
Anson Walker moved off the street, seeking cover beneath the towering spires of St. Gabriel’s Cathedral. Fierce rain soaked him and the city to their bones. There was something about hunting demons that always made it rain in Titan City. Anson shivered as he made his way to the church’s iron gate. A handwritten “No Trespassing” sign hung in the gloom, illuminated by a single gas street lamp.
A brick fence encircled the massive building, a barrier that held back its more modern neighbors. The wings of an angel statue poked up from beyond the wall. Several stairs led to a raised doorway. The arched overhang wasn't keeping the rain out.
An old man, holding a black umbrella and dressed in a cassock, stood near the gate. A rosary was clipped to his waist. He cleared his throat and said, “Are you the exorcist that Bishop Cooper spoke of?”
Anson peered through the bars. “The Bishop did call me. Apparently, the exorcism didn't go so well?”
“But are you an exorcist?”
“Cooper hired me, that’s all that matters.”
The old man looked Anson up and down. “You’re not what I expected.”
“What were you expecting?"
"Someone more . . . priestly."
"Trust me, a priest is the last thing you need." Anson couldn't read his expression in the dark, but the doubt was heavy on his posture. "You Father Donovan?”
“Yes.” Donovan paused. Anson knew he was still deciding how to proceed. “I think you should be on your way.”
Anson sighed and rapped a knuckle against the bars. “Just let me in.”
Donovan seemed as tall and rigid as the cathedral behind him. Anson took note of the distrust in the man’s eyes. That distrust was common in clergymen. Far be it for them to have a little faith.
The gate groaned as Donovan opened it. He stepped aside, inviting Anson in.
Anson nudged passed Donovan and made his way into the courtyard. Shadows played across the courtyard. The statues of pious men glared at Anson, but their stoic pompousness didn’t bother him.
The pair trudged across the uneven cobblestones of the cathedral’s approach. Their boots splashed in the puddles between the cracks. The smell of honey and incense cut through the heavy rainfall. Anson stopped. "Do you smell that?"
"No. Why? Is that important?" Donovan sniffed the air.
"It narrows down the sort of demon we're dealing with.” Anson started back towards the entrance. “Honey could be Sumerian, but it's probably Egyptian in origin."
Donovan’s grip on the umbrella tensed. "I beg your pardon?"
Anson waved Donovan forward. "I don't want to get my hopes up. It could be something more run-of-the-mill."
Anson and Donovan took the stairs, finding shelter beneath the cathedral’s overhang. There was a jingle of keys and a crash of thunder. Donovan opened the double doors of the church and they entered.
A dreadful presence pulled at the edges of Anson’s perception as he crossed the threshold. The skittering of insects scratched inside his mind. His face warmed as if a desert sun was shining on his skin. His chest heaved as fingers crawled under his skin, grasping for a heart that wasn't there. Anson steadied himself against the doorway. “How long has the creature been loose?”
Donovan scratched the grizzle on his chin. “I don't know.”
“You don't know?”
“This isn't my church.” Donovan closed the umbrella and gazed at the statues carved into the foyer. “The Bishop called me first. Told me there was a boy who needed an exorcism. I arrived here about two hours ago, but it was too late."
Anson sighed, this was always the way it was. In the hundreds of demon hunts he had undertaken, an exorcist only helped a fraction of the time. Usually, they just made Anson's life harder than it needed to be. Most demons weren't afraid of the Christian God and even in cases where the demons were monotheistic, priests lacked the willpower to properly dispatch them.
The cool, fizzing of magic bubbled across his fingers as he reached inside one of his long coat’s pockets. He fumbled in the space for a moment and pulled out his cane. It was a length of polished black wood capped with a platinum dragon’s head. A large diamond shined from the beast’s maw. Anson tapped the cane against the floor, and a floating orb of white light snapped into existence.
The air in the foyer was arid, despite the storm. The honey and incense smell now held undercurrents of rot. The pale glow of Anson’s spell illuminated several bodies scattered around the room in various states of disembowelment. Torn, black fabric, gore, and scraps of Bibles formed a macabre carpet.
Anson turned to face Donovan. “Were they dead when you got here?”
Donovan grimaced. “No, they were attacked during the exorcism.”
"So you've seen the demon?"
"Yes. God, she was horrible." Donovan made a sign of the cross.
A succubus maybe. No, too brutal. A marilith? Can't be, no slime trail.
Donovan nodded. "Yes, it was a female demon."
Anson knelt down and rolled one of the bodies over. "Is she the one who ripped out their hearts?"
"Ripped out their--"
"Yes, Father, their hearts. Looks like he missed one though."
Donovan shuddered, his expression darkening. "He did?"
"I thought, he was a she?"
"It was all so fast . . . and dark."
He might be telling the truth. He might not be. Won't know until I figure out what sort of demon we're dealing with here. The heart thing is important.
Anson grabbed a couple of loose pages. “Then what happened?”
“What do you mean?” Donovan stepped lightly around the blood stains on the tiles.
“You screwed up the exorcism, the monster attacked and killed all of these folks and then?”
“I performed my duties. I didn't 'screw up.'"
Anson stretched and yawned." Great. I suppose the demon problem is all handled then. I can go home?"
Donovan gestured for the doorway. "If you aren't willing to treat this with the seriousness it deserves, maybe you should be on your way."
"Relax, I'm just trying to get the facts. What happened next?"
"I was attacked.”
Anson read over the pages he’d gathered. “You were attacked? At least she didn’t kill you.”
Donovan gripped his rosary. “I rebuked her with the word of God.”
“Good news, these pages, they’re Corinthians 3:16: ‘And Jesus rebuked him, saying, hold your peace, and come out of him.’”
Donovan made a sign of the cross. “The Lord is sending us a sign.”
Anson stood up and tucked the pages into his coat. “Maybe.” He pointed ahead. “Were those here when you got here?”
Wet, bloody, hieroglyphs coated the walls near the entrance to the nave. Deep drag marks and broken fingernails led into the gloom beneath the sigils. Donovan shook his head. “No. What do they say?”
Anson raised his light high above the hieroglyphs. The orb traced them, and an illusion of each character jumped off the wall. The symbols orbited Anson's head. He studied them for a moment and said, “The Judgement of Osiris awaits any who pass this gate. Let he who enters be assured in the weight of his heart and the eternal certainty of his punishment.”
Donovan clutched his rosary tighter. “What does that mean?”
Anson paused. “It means we’re dealing with an Egyptian demon. Probably an Anubite.”
Donovan glowered. “That’s impossible. There’s no such being as Anubis.”
Anson turned to Donovan. “Oh but there is, and it appears someone pissed him off.” He muttered to himself. “Just once I want it to be a succubus.”
The change of pace was interesting. Anson hadn’t faced an Anubite in decades, but what was it doing in Titan City? Something was amiss. Egyptian demons didn't just wander into Massachusetts on their own. Was it a cult?
Anson reached for the necklace beneath his shirt and fumbled through the religious icons attached to it. A crucifix here, a pentacle there, until he settled on the ankh. He pulled the symbol off the chain, letting his fingers slide over the cool silver as he palmed it. He hoped to keep it out of view of the demon. Anson whispered a prayer to Osiris and proceeded into the sanctuary.
The mystical light led the way into the nave. Dozens of splintered pews were scattered around the space. The stained-glass windows shattered, their open jagged mouths smiled against the night sky. Rain pooled in large puddles around the perimeter. The drag marks terminated before the dais. The open corpse of a young man was leaned against the altar with smashed Canopic jars at his feet. The boy’s bleeding heart sat on a rusted scale.
Donovan recoiled from the sight. “Good Lord!”
Anson stepped up to the altar. The boy's wrists and ankles were tied with thick rope. His flesh was raw where he had struggled against the bindings.
Clearly the boy was a sacrifice. But was it an Egyptian cult or the Catholic cult performing the ritual?
Thunder crashed again. Anson closed his eyes and let his magic pool inside him. He placed a hand on the boy's heart and inhaled. Sand filled his mind's eye, pouring in from every corner of his consciousness. Anson inhaled, dug his free hand into a sand dune and plucked out a glass crucifix. That was the answer he needed.
Donovan's voice interrupted his meditation. He was getting testy. “How can you be so composed right now?”
Anson turned and faced him. “This is pretty normal for me.”
“When you’ve been around as long as I have, you get numb to these kinds of things.”
Donovan pocketed his rosary. “Do you think…do you think the creature is gone?”
Anson reached down and lifted the body’s head. “Unlikely, this boy wasn’t his target.”
“How do you figure?” Donovan threw a nervous glance around the room. “His heart is out.”
“It sure is, but that’s what this demon does." Anson began to focus on his feet, planting himself in front of the altar. "It weighs the hearts of everyone who dies in its presence.”
“But didn’t it kill him?”
“No, this boy’s soul was sacrificed.” Anson pulled the flesh of the chest cavity forward. “The priests and nuns were killed by claws and teeth, but he doesn’t have such injuries. Judging from the amount of blood localized to this area, the organ was removed postmortem.”
“What about the other hearts?”
Anson gestured behind the altar. “They’re back there, a whole pyramid of them. Looks like we might be missing some bodies. I think my arrival interrupted his process.”
Donovan scowled. “Where do you think it is?”
“I have a theory about that.” Anson smiled and gripped his cane. “You see something like me, something deathless, would drive it into hiding. I think we both know that, Donovan.”
“What are you talking about?” Donovan stepped back.
“You certainly look the part, but you're not Donovan, not anymore at any rate.”
"You gave yourself away when I mentioned that one of the bodies still had a heart. I saw that shudder."
Donovan's mouth dropped open. He was fumbling for a response. "It was upsetting."
“Not to mention dropping the ball on that religious passage earlier. Corinthians 3:16 is, ‘Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?’ I read Mark 1:25 to you, any exorcist worth his salt would know that passage.”
“You're a madman.” Donovan turned to flee.
“No. I'm not. I’m here to solve the problem.” Anson slammed his palm down on the cane, letting his hand rest on the dragon's head. A wave of white light erupted from Anson, washing over Donovan.
The magic arced across his body, covering him in a cage of lightning. Anson raised his cane and said, "Reveal your true form, servant of Anubis."
Donovan wailed as he began his terrible transformation. The smell of honey swelled through the nave. A hot desert wind blew through the cool damp air. The clergymen’s flesh twisted and blackened. Bones cracked and reset as he grew tall and gaunt. Matted patches of fur sprouted from beneath the monster’s tight skin.
The Anubite’s long arms scraped against the floor. Pulsing, golden hieroglyphs radiated along the monster’s muscular, black skin. Viscous ichor dripped from its snout. Portions of its flesh were torn away along its ribs and joints, revealing bloody muscle and pearlescent bone.
It clacked its fangs together. A guttural growl issued from its belly. Its tiny eyes regarded Anson with cold, alien disdain. The glyphs on its skin burned brighter and a hum reverberated through the sanctuary.
Anson wiped a bead of sweat from his brow. "I told you so."
The gas lamps flickered and snapped from their fixtures on the wall. The groan of bending metal tore into Anson’s ears as the crosses in the room were bent and broken. The largest crucifix twisted in on itself, before being thrown down with a clattering bang.
The orb floated into the air, casting shadows across Anson's face. He regarded the Anubite with a condescending smirk, “I imagine that display would be very frightening if I was an exorcist. Fortunately, I am no man of God.”
The creature slammed its claws into the ground and tensed every muscle in its body. A roar shattered the ethereal silence of the cathedral, rattling the broken windows.
Anson continued, unshaken by the demon’s display of power. “You’re not supposed to be here. You know it and I know it. Let me send you home.”
The Anubite snapped its jaws and flung itself forward, soaring through the air with surprising grace and dexterity. Anson anticipated the beast’s arc and spun to the side, brandishing the ankh as he did. The Anubite recoiled at the sight of the symbol and crashed into the altar, cracking the dais.
Anson seized his moment, focusing his energy. The dragon’s eyes glowed white. The cane crackled with electricity as a series of mystical chains exploded into existence. They snaked through the air and wrapped around the Anubite, pinning it in place. Anson leapt onto its splayed form and pressed the ankh into the creature’s forehead.
It howled in agony as skin boiled beneath the icon. Anson raised his cane, strengthening the spell. He began the exorcism. “Osiris, Lord of the Underworld I invoke thee. Grant me the strength to drive this servant of darkness back into the abyss.”
The Anubite bucked, straining its bindings. “This won’t hurt if you cooperate. I ask you to send your servant Amnet to cast away this evil spirit who fears you as my protector. I shall surrender my heart as you surrendered yours to…”
A boom resonated through the worship space as the bindings exploded into sparkling dust. The Anubite rolled over and grabbed Anson in its powerful grasp. It lifted him into the air and slammed him into the ground.
Marble cracked beneath Anson. The Anubite slashed his face with long, vicious talons. His flesh tore away, showering the creature with coarse, black ash.
Anson smiled through his shattered cheeks, focusing his magic into stitching the wounds back together. “You’re going to have to do better than that if you want to kill me. Curses, right?”
The Anubite howled its disapproval and snatched the ankh from Anson’s hand. It screeched in pain as the symbol seared its palm. The monster gnashed its teeth and flung the ankh through a nearby window. It lifted him once more and slammed him into the ground.
Anson shifted under the demon’s grip and slammed his cane into its face. Thunder crashed from the impact and a flash of white light filled the room sending the monster reeling. He wheezed through a broken rib as he staggered to his feet.
The ankh had been the easy way. Anson couldn’t go on fighting with his focus divided between the Anubite and healing his own injuries.
I’ll just have to let the curse keep me going and work with the pain.
He spat a thick glob of black liquid from his mouth and smiled, his teeth coated with wet ash.
Anson charged forward. The Anubite snapped its jaws and slammed its fists, hurling itself skyward. Anson threw himself to the ground and channeled his energy into a spell. A column of white light exploded into the Anubite’s gaunt torso.
The magic carried the Anubite into the arched ceiling, then slammed it down. It curled into itself as it fell back to Earth. A deafening crash filled the nave. Dust and broken stone mingled with Anson’s light, casting an ethereal glow on the sanctuary.
The Anubite whimpered and moaned as Anson dragged himself to the edge of the crater. Its features had softened. The snout was less pronounced. The priest’s blue eyes stared out from the demon’s broken body, terrified and frantic.
Pain rushed back into Anson's ribs. He wheezed and staggered to his feet. Anson loosened his tie and produced a long ceremonial knife from his coat. “Rest in peace, Donovan.”