The gentleman grinned widely at Abel as he passed with his arm hooked around a woman. He held her close with one arm and tipped his top hat with the other in greeting. Abel did not return the gesture, he wasn’t one for pleasantries and a smile on his weathered features were more likely to scare than to calm.
Keeping watch through his peripherals Abel saw the couple disappear round a corner. Immediately he turned on his heel and followed. His long, dark coat and dark brown hat kept his presence subtle against the soot stained walls and he knew how to carry himself to avoid suspicion like a thief or pickpocket.
The street cobbles glistened in the moonlight. He was hunting a murderer, one he suspected was of supernatural origin, but even if it was a deranged madman it had to be stopped. Three women had disappeared over the last three weeks. Each had been seen last in the company of a charming gentleman who had coerced them away with him, or so said the witnesses.
Abel’s weathered face sneered in the darkness. A suited and booted gentleman wasn’t much of a description to go on, even narrowing down his search to this district based on the disappearances did little to enhance his success rate. He’d already roughed up one gentleman waiting for a taxi carriage and due to his rather brutal interrogation methods was confident the man’s squeals were of innocence.
This smug looking gentleman fit the bill too. More so he was, as Abel watched, escorting a woman from a social establishment in the dark night air. The cheeky grin hadn’t lessened Abel’s suspicion.
Abel studied the pair as he stalked them through the quiet streets. The woman, young, pretty and curvaceous, was enamoured with her suitor and hung on his every word. The man, dressed finely with a neatly cropped and gelled goatee walked with confidence and held his mouth close to the lady’s ear and caressed her arm as he spoke.
Abel followed them through three streets before the gentleman became suspicious, giving away his concern by repeatedly glancing behind him. Certain he had been noticed Abel slipped away intending cut the couple off further ahead and confront the gentleman.
He had committed the district map to memory earlier when plotting out a patrol route. Adapting to different terrain was an important skill he had developed after finding himself cornered in one too many dark alleys and dead ends.
Returning to the couple’s path however he found himself alone. Abel grunted and looking ahead and behind for signs of the couple’s passing. Nothing indicated recent passage. He was confident he had travelled faster than them, it was unlikely that the gentleman had run ahead either dragging the woman with him or abandoning her. The other possibility though…
Abel cursed and burst into a run, back the way the gentleman should have come and sure enough he came across the couple in an aggressive embrace. The gentleman had grabbed the woman from behind, one hand an arm clamped her chest close to him and strangled her by the neck, the other hand clasped over her mouth as she desperately tried to scream. Her arms futilely struggled against the grip and as Abel arrived they fell to her side as she fell into unconsciousness and possibly death.
Abel was unsure if the gentleman had taken rash action on noticing his pursuer or had been undeservingly confident once Abel had disappeared, regardless, Abel now had first-hand evidence that this was the killer he was looking for.
The gentleman had been too consumed in his morbid work to notice Abel’s approached and received a studded fist to the face. He squealed from the impact and collapsed to the floor. Abel pulled him up and pressed him against a wall with a meaty fist. Red welts marked the injury, disturbing his otherwise perfectly formed features.
“D-don’t hurt me,” the man pleaded as Abel glowered at him. The gentleman’s pathetic fright almost deceived Abel into believing he was merely a twisted mortal but too late did he notice the thinning of the man’s body and with impossible bending and elasticity he slipped out of Abel’s grasp and behind him.
Abel swung round with his fist but the man-creature had ducked and rolled over the woman discarded on the floor. During the motion it pulled her up with surprising strength and, unceremoniously slinging her over its shoulder, sprinted away down the street with elongated legs.
Abel gave chase, his body was experienced in the chase and he was gaining ground, but slowly. He pulled a small crossbow from his weapon belt, tucked out of sight beneath his coat and shirt. He had become adept at loading and firing the weapon in motion and with practised precision he fired a bolt, silver-tipped. It sprung forth with the haste of an exploding cinder and would have struck the back of the man-creature’s shoulder had it not dashed sideways with inhuman reflexes, to have noticed the shot at all evidenced some form of extrasensory perception. The creature then sprang into the air, jumping as a cricket, it landed on the rooftops scattering a dozen tiles to smash on the floor far below.
The creature continued its flight along the rooftops, clearing chasms created by intersecting streets with a single bound. Abel followed below, relying more on the sound of feet on tiles above him than on brief shadowy glimpses to follow his prey.
The rooftops ended for the creature, a large courtyard before the city cathedral lay ahead. In trying to halt its pace the murderous thing displaced more tiling and tumbled to the concrete floor. A thud and the sound of breaking bones accompanied the crash. The unconscious woman fell on top of it.
The creature shoved the woman’s body off of itself, the suit it wore torn and tattered and its skin marked red with its own blood. Abel closed in on it as it flexed its limbs and with a cracking noise reset its bones. Closer now Abel could see it was not in fact covered in blood from the impact but had reverted from its disguise to reveal its true form, the crimson flesh of a devil. It turned towards Abel, smirked and removed its top hat that had miraculously remained a fixed to its head two reveal two curved horns and a main of mangy, black hair that ran down its neck and back. It tossed the hat at Abel, who instinctively dodged the projectile, and ran towards the cathedral.
Abel paused to check on the woman, he grabbed her wrist and pressed his thumb to the artery. No pulse.
The devil had crossed the courtyard and reached the base of the cathedral, it ignored the great doors and instead twisted and retched as its body mass grew. Its arms and legs thickened and throbbed, the crimson skin turned black and leathery, its hands and legs elongated into claws. With its new muscular body it leapt and climbed up the outside of the cathedral with acrobatic skill swinging up to the flying buttresses. Against the cloudy, night sky it was near impossible to follow and Abel resigned himself to stalking the creature through the cathedral bounds.
He stepped through the man-size door embedded in the great, oaken gateway of the cathedral, large enough to fit another building through. This little door was always left unlocked, to provide sanctuary to any who might need it in the darkness of the night.
The cathedral proper was empty, as expected, the devil would have made its home or its temporary hiding place high up in the rafters and spires of the holy ground. Depending on the strength of the demon it might not even be able to enter this sacred place, hence the need to climb the outside of it, though even there it should still feel the sting of holy prayer.
A spiral staircase secreted away in the corner of the enormous hall took Abel to the second level, overlooking the rows of pews, the altar and gave a view of the circular, stain-glass windows depicting scenes of saints and miracles.
A second staircase further along took Abel within the roof, above the arch of the cathedral hall. The floor was thus curved and a walkway of planks had been fitted along the length of the space.
A pitiful moan crawled through the air. Abel grasped the crucifix that hung about his neck and muttered a few words of activation. The amulet glowed with a pale light, shedding enough that Abel could walk along the planks without fear.
“Who’s there?” the voice called out as Abel made his way through the cathedral roof, no doubt alerted by the creak of timber.
“A friend to those in need and an enemy to the enemies of my friends.” Abel responded. The voice was male in pitch and possibly a captive of the devil, equally it could be a ploy and trap to ensnare Abel. He reached the end of the plank walkway where a simple stone doorway marked the way forward and just beyond it a hall with several other such doors. The first one on his left was the source of the voice.
“There’s a monster here, it kept me trapped here for days, making me watch as it kills these women it brings here. Help me or get away from here but whatever you do don’t let yourself get caught by it.”
“Where is the beast now?” Abel asked as he checked the other archways to satisfy his suspicion of ambush. The rooms were used as storage and emergency habitation, housing the most basic of beds and several devotional items.
“Gone, gone for now to find another woman, but it won’t be long now before it comes back. You must hurry.”
Abel returned to the room from which the man’s weak voice drifted and entered. Like the others the room was crafted of grey stone with no embellishments and a single dilapidated bed. The floor was stained with old blood though the smell still permeated the air. Against one wall stood the man who had called out to Abel. He was dressed in a shirt and trousers though by the look of them he had not changed or washed for several days. The shirt showed noticeable blood stains though it was impossible to tell at a glance if they belonged to the man or the tortured women. His arms were held up above him, manacled by chains to the wall.
He stared at Abel with wet eyes as the exorcist entered. “Thank God you are here, quick get me out of these chains!” The man exclaimed. He started to tug and pull at the chains in his desperation creating a loud clanging noise.
Abel recognised the man as the same gentleman whom he had chased through the streets earlier, though that had been the devil in disguise. It was clear now that this was the man after whom it had crafted its guise.
The noise was liable to attract the devil’s attention however, that was if it had remained in the vicinity and not already fled the city. Abel tried to hush the prisoner and moved forward into the room ready to physically silence him if he became hysterical. Fortunately, even over the clamour of rattling metal, Abel heard the sound of crumbling rock, a sound he had learnt to associate with hulking beasts that walk and climb over buildings.
He turned and shielded himself with his arms in time to take a swiping blow from the muscular form of the devil. The blow knocked Abel to the side, though he had tensed his muscles and tumbled with the force to prevent severe injury.
Abel rose to his feet and drew a short sword, a gladius, from his belt, holding the blade forward ready to thrust into the devil should an opening present itself. Or to deflect another blow which would injure the beast in the process. The devil however, didn’t move. It watched Abel curiously, then it began to shrink with that same pulsating of the flesh that had preceded its last transformation. Its skin glowed bright as it returned to its crimson shade, the elongated wolf jaw of its bestial form retreated to resemble something vaguely human. It continued to shrink until it was a head shorter than Abel, its form humanoid in nature was no longer a misshapen devil copy of its prisoner but of its true appearance, though smaller than other devils and demons Abel had encountered before. It was undeniably recognisable however as it still wore the same smirk as before.
The devil raised a hand and a ball of fire burst into existence in it. He lobbed it at Abel with a giggle. Abel dropped his hands, turning his body to let the fire splash across his chest. The shirt he was wearing ignited instantly and Abel, with one swift motion, ripped it off and tossed it aside. The leather cuirass he wore underneath protected him from any burns, though the leather heated to an uncomfortable level and another strike would no doubt permeate the protection.
Abel pulled a knife from his leg and tossed it at the devil who side stepped it neatly. The action left Abel enough time to close the gap between them however and he sliced at the demon with his sword. The demon stepped back from the first swing but was too close to the wall now to avoid the second, backslash in a similar manner. Instead it leapt up above the return swing of the blade then kicked off against the wall and tackled Abel. The two tumbled back over the blood stained floor and landed before the imprisoned man who shouted for them to stay away from him.
The devil rose on top and with a claw glowing like an ember it gripped the side of Abel’s face. His cheek seared from the red hot touch, but Abel did not react, other than to thrust his gladius into the shoulder of the devil. It shrieked and released its grip, rolling on the floor. Abel rose to his feet and readied his blade to deliver a final, decapitating blow to the disgusting creature.
A sharp pain flared in the small of his back and a low, sinister voice whispered in his ear.
“Come now, you didn’t really think I was just a victim here did you?” Abel cursed himself for his folly. The pain in his back had the familiar feel of cold metal, a dagger secreted away on the man’s person no doubt.
“It’ll take more than that to kill me,” said Abel before swinging around, tearing the wound wide, and striking at the man. He hit him round the face, the bloodied dagger fell to the floor. The man turned to look back at Abel, blood spewing over his lips. He smiled.
“But you’re already dead.” As the man spoke a numbness ran along Abel’s spine and he collapsed to the floor.
“Poison!” Abel managed to cry.
“Naturally,” the man laughed. The devil moved into Abel’s sight
wriggling its arm as though checking it for injuries and sprains, the stab wound had disappeared. “Calvik, I command you to give me wings that I might fly into the night!”
The little devil rolled its eyes than transformed back into its great, black bestial form this time with a pair of enormous bat wings. It pounded against the wall of the chamber, the stone crumbling under the force and revealing the night sky. The chamber they were in was revealed to be situated between two of the cathedral’s flying buttresses. The devil grabbed hold of the man, who laughed manically, and with a beating of its wings leapt into the night. The light faded from Abel’s eyes as the devil shrank into the distance.