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Sever the Wicked, Part VI: Lament

Father Clemont frowned at the sounds of combat from the village below. He was waiting for Revka and Yvonne outside the entrance to the convent’s catacombs, and one of the windows nearby was permanently stuck open. Through it, he heard the mix of muffled explosions, chattering machine guns, and shrieking demons inch closer to the convent with every moment.

It wouldn’t be long before the convent’s enormous doors were tested by the demon army.

For now, they were wide open, with villagers streaming into the cobblestone courtyard. Nuns walked among the crowd, crucifixes in hand, holding them up to everyone who passed.

It started raining shortly after Revka and Yvonne disappeared down the stairwell leading to the catacombs. Clemont tried not to take it as an omen, but after a half hour of pacing, it was hard not to feel worried. Hadn’t Katrina said something about the nuns avoiding the area?

What did they have to fear down there that was so much worse than demons and other horrors?

He was turning the thought over in his mind when he spotted her down in the courtyard. She was helping check the incoming villagers, her cloak’s hood down despite the steady downpour. She turned to shout something at one of the other sisters, but as she resumed checking the arrivals, she cried out.

Clemont braced himself against the window as Katrina threw down her cross, clutching her hand and backing away from a woman in a red cloak. The cross landed in a small puddle of water, instantly turning it into steam. The villagers were screaming now, too, backing away from the woman, who was twisting and contorting in a way Father Clemont recognized all too well. So much for hallowed ground - no wonder the stranger had been able to walk right into St. Paul’s. Did the strength of the world’s belief really power so much?

He pushed the questions aside. He wanted to run down and help, but was a brawler at best. Besides, he’d ultimately needed Revka to save his skin both times he’d ever gotten into a real tangle. So he bit his lip, watching as the woman dropped to all fours and scrambled toward Katrina. She tried to draw her short sword, but it caught in its hilt. Before she could reach her dagger, the red woman was upon her. She sank her teeth into the nun’s shoulder.

“No!” Clemont slapped his palm against the window. Somehow, he knew the little demon wrapped around his was feeding on his anguish. He bashed it against the window, eliciting a brief shriek of pain from the creature. It promptly returned the gesture by raking its fangs along his arm bone. The world around Clemont spun briefly, but he was getting used to the little bastard’s tricks. He pulled in a long, rattling breath, steadied himself against the window frame, and focused on the courtyard again.

The woman in red, her teeth still buried deep in Katrina’s shoulder, whipped her head around like a dog with a chew toy. The steward, her own teeth bared in a snarl, batted her fist against the woman’s head until finally, the demon released her shoulder. It hissed at her, then dove for Katrina’s neck.

Before the woman in red could close her jaws for the kill, a crossbow bolt thudded into her chest. Clemont traced the shot back to a surprised-looking nun, then returned his gaze to Katrina. The woman in red had rolled off her, thrashing around in a puddle nearby. The steward rolled onto her stomach, crawling toward her crucifix. Just as her fingers closed around it, the woman in red grasped Katrina’s ankle, dragging her along the cobblestones.

There was a flash of silver as she unsheathed her crucifix and slashed the demon’s throat.

The woman in red immediately put her hands to her throat. Katrina resheathed her dagger and placed the crucifix against the creature’s chest. She shouted something in a strange tongue Father Clemont recognized: it was the same language Revka had used at St. Paul’s.

The demon shrieked. Its corporeal form exploded backward in an ash cloud, leaving an outline that hung in the air for a moment despite the downpour. Then the rain washed it all away.

Grasping her shoulder, Katrina stood, shaking off the nuns that rushed to help her.

“There will be others!” She shouted, ambling toward the main hall’s entrance. “Keep checking them!”

Clemont started toward the main hall, then remembered he didn’t know the first thing about first aid. Still, seeing Katrina sidelined only underscored the nuns only had a handful of true warriors among them. They needed Revka and Yvonne back up here, not digging around the convent’s basement for Mother Superior’s sword.

What did the old toad need it for, anyway? She could barely lift herself out of her dinner chair, let alone swing a sword.

The fluorescent lights in the hallway flickered, and Clemont gasped as Revka’s voice reached his ears from the stairwell.

“Father Clemont!” she called. “We’ve found Lament, but there is something you need to see down here. A weapon for you.”

He stepped to the edge of the stairwell. “Are you serious?” he called. As exciting as the prospect was, he couldn’t even fathom what weapon might be forged in his name. He’d loved plinking cans when he was a boy - maybe the Lord had forged him some sort of divine BB gun. “What is it?”

“You must come down here to receive it!”

“I thought I wasn’t supposed to come down there!” Disgusted with his mere presence, Mother Superior had forbidden him from following Revka and Yvonne into the catacombs. He’d been ready to disobey the ornery nun’s command but ultimately relented after a gentle rebuke from Revka.

Evidently, the weapon had changed her mind. He called her name into the darkness once more for good measure but received no response.

Father Clemont sighed. “Son of a bitch.”

He started down the staircase, trailing his fingers lightly over the rough, uneven stones on the wall for balance. The further down he got, the cooler they became under his fingertips. Most were moist, and as he neared the bottom of the stairs, it seemed some were even covered in moss.

He glanced back over his shoulder and was surprised to see how far he’d come; the stairs were much deeper than they’d looked when he stood at the top.

Much deeper, and much darker.

He took his hand from the wall, meaning to pull out his phone to light the rest of the way, but the moment his fingers left the wall, he realized the stairs themselves were slippery with moss. As if he’d thought it into existence, his shoe skidded forward when his foot came down on the next step. The old priest lost his balance and tumbled down the rest of the stone stairs, yelling with each painful knock against his bones.

Finally, he splashed to a stop in a small pool of standing water at the bottom of the staircase. He got shakily to his feet: his clothes were soaked, but it didn’t feel like anything was broken, and for once this weekend, his ass was not sore - so thank the Lord for small favors. He said another small prayer of thanks as he found his phone’s flashlight still worked.

The landing looked to be some twenty stories above him. How far had he fallen? Grimacing, he turned to the heavy wooden door in front of him. It was cross bound with iron and looked like it might have been part of the convent since its founding.

He put a hand against it and pushed, and was both surprised and disappointed to discover how easy it swung open. As it stopped, he found himself facing a long hallway lined with skulls on either side. Some were in fairly good shape; others had been caved in or reduced to dust. How many thousands were buried down here? Had they all been warrior nuns?

“Hurry, Father!” Revka’s voice echoed from around some unseen corner. Father Clemont couldn’t tell whether he’d pissed himself, given his already soaking pants, but decided to give himself the benefit of the doubt.

“Where are you, Revka?” he asked. “Where’s Yvonne?”

“Keep going!”

Clemont could hear footsteps in the darkness ahead. It sounded like the path was mostly dry, but at times he could hear splashing as well. He called out to Revka several times, doing his best not to let his hands touch the skulls on either side of him. But the further he went, the more the darkness seemed to press in on all sides.

At some point, the footsteps ahead of him abruptly stopped. Or had they vanished? There was a quiet beyond silence in the inky shadows all around him. Even the demon on his wrist seemed subdued.

Had he wandered into another demonic trap?

Clemont licked his lips. “Naranth?”

“No,” whispered a high-pitched, tight voice behind him.

The hairs on the back of Clemont’s neck stood up. He turned just in time to see part of a pale, lanky figure disappear around the bend behind him. With a weak chuckle - how could he have been so stupid? - he ambled forward, his phone’s light casting eerie shadows into the skulls lining the walls on either side.

He wandered for what felt like hours. At times he was utterly sure he was alone; other times he knew that, if he were to turn, he’d find himself face-to-face with whatever clammy-skinned nightmare inhabited the catacombs. A notion nagged at the back of his head: what if, like the Eye, this creature was somehow both abhorrent and divine? Was it a guardian? Had he somehow defiled the catacombs by bringing this little demon down here?

Did it matter?

He could find nowhere to turn from the path; it seemed to bend and change at will. Eventually, though, the turns stopped and the path began to narrow. Before long, the way forward became so narrow the skulls almost brushed his shoulders as he passed. The light from his phone dimmed as it entered battery-saving mode. Clemont cursed softly, raising it up and bypassing the mode. When the light returned to its full brightness, he could see the tunnel come to a stop at a dead end.

A figure stood there, wreathed in black and swaying slightly as if trying to keep itself awake. Its back was to him.

He glanced over his shoulder, but the shadows were so oppressive that the light would not penetrate even a few inches into it. Even if he could have seen further, he dared not step into the darkness for fear of the pale thing.

When he turned back around, the black figure was suddenly within arm’s reach. He realized the figure was wearing a habit.

“Revka?” he whispered.

The figure whirled to face him. It was Revka, but there were empty sockets where her eyes should have been. The same inky darkness that filled the catacombs swirled within her eyes, running down her cheeks like candlewax. She grasped his shoulders with chalky fingers that swelled with dead blood. Her blotchy skin sagged a waterlogged corpse that’d spent two weeks floating face-down in a cistern.

“Why did you betray me, Father?!” she wailed. “I trusted you!”

Father Clemont grabbed at her arms, but the skin sloughed off, splattering onto the cold stones beneath their feet. Revka shrieked, her mouth splitting open into a nightmare of sharp, jaundice-yellow teeth, then leaned in and sank them into the screaming priest’s neck.

“Father!” When Clemont opened his eyes, Revka was staring down at him. She was no longer a corpse but alive and kneeling over him, concern written all over her face. “Father, are you alright?”

He sat bolt upright. He was still at the top of the stairs. The sounds of battle coming through the open window were closer than ever. Yvonne gazed out the window, her crossbow, Scorn, slung over her back.

Clemont looked into Revka’s eyes and forced himself to nod.

“Just … just dozed a bit, I guess.”

Revka frowned but evidently pushed any misgivings aside. She stood and hefted a rusty greatsword.

“That’s Lament?” Clemont asked. Revka nodded and extended her hand to help him up. “I can’t believe Mother Superior sent you into the catacombs for that.”

Revka smirked. “She has her reasons. Let’s go.” She started toward the main hall with Yvonne following closely behind. Clemont started forward, then paused as something occurred to him. He pulled out his phone and tried to unlock it before realizing it was dead.

He stared at it briefly, then shoved it back in his pocket and headed for the main hall.

Had everything that’d happened down there been real?

He didn’t have long to think about it. The main hall was packed with townspeople: some were wrapped in blankets, their clothes soaked from the storms. Nuns tended to others who’d been injured in the fighting below. A few were checking shotguns and pistols, though Clemont had no idea whether those would do anything to stop the onslaught.

Still, a shotgun would probably do more than his fists at this point, especially if he waited until he could stick the barrel into a demon’s gut. He was about to walk over and ask for one when Mother Superior yelled over the crowd.

“Took you long enough!” she shrilled, scooching her walker toward Revka, Yvonne, and Clemont. “Come on, come on, let’s have it!”

After a quick sideways glance at Yvonne, Revka walked over and dropped to one knee in front of Mother Superior, offering up the rusty blade. Mother Superior picked it up and nearly dropped it right away. Clemont smothered a smile, then gasped as the old toad held the blade aloft.

“My God!” she cried, her arms shaking with effort. “Make me the warrior I once was! Give me the strength of youth that I might smite this unruly evil in your name!”

The room fell silent for a moment. Even the combat in the village seemed to pause.

Then, a lightning bolt erupted through the stained glass window at the entrance to the main hall. It struck the blade’s tip, and Mother Superior cried out, dropping to the ground and bursting into flame. Several villagers cried out, scrambling away from the blaze. Others crossed themselves and wailed.

“Jesus Christ!” screamed Clemont. Pushing aside the small, awful part of him that was happy to see Mother Superior get smote, he started forward to help her when Revka grabbed his arm and held him back.

“Just watch,” she said.

Mother Superior’s blackened body bubbled and spattered on the ground, filling the great hall with a smell not unlike bacon cooking. Then her corpse split open, and out of it crawled a young woman more beautiful than anyone Clemont had ever seen. She was clad in a shimmering white garment, and spiritual energy seemed to radiate out from her. Her eyes might have been ice blue, but looking at them made Clemont uneasy: he had no doubt she could see into the depths of his soul, and her probing gaze with frigid. She was not smiling.

“Come,” she said, looking at Revka and Yvonne indifferently. “We will cleanse this filth from the village and then from God’s earth itself.”

Mother Superior - Lament, the priest reminded himself - did not wait for Revka and Yvonne. Instead, she glided through the crowd with an eerie grace. When she reached the main doors, she threw a hand out. They crashed open.

Revka and Yvonne exchanged a quick glance. Then Revka smiled - the same hungry smile she’d worn in St. Paul’s when she faced off with the stranger. She tapped her cane, Calamity, on the ground. Its serrated blades dropped into place, forming a long, barbed whip that crackled with wild energy.

Meanwhile, Yvonne began chanting a short prayer. Within moments, Scorn glowed an unnatural golden color as if sunlight itself had become diseased. With Clemont close behind, the two charged out into the courtyard where Lament stood alone in the rainstorm. The droplets hissed into little tendrils of steam as they spattered her skin.

“Let them come,” she said. “They will repent.” Two nuns - the only ones left in the courtyard - yanked open the enormous metal doors, then hightailed it into the main hall.

“Are you staying out here?” one of them asked Clemont as they passed.

“I —“

“Suit yourself,” she said, closing the door with a heavy boom.

Clemont opened and closed his mouth, but no sound came out. Instead, he decided to make himself as small as possible, finding a nice pile of sandbags to hide behind. Over his shoulder, her could feel the gaze of dozens of people looking through the main hall’s windows. He glanced backward and breathed a quick sigh of relief when he saw Katrina with a large bandage on her shoulder.

Lament yelled something in the language Revka and Katrina had used, with a voice that sounded like several people speaking at once.

The roar started low, like a live recording of a concert with the crowd screaming for the band to come out. When lightning flashed overhead again, it looked like hundreds of demons were marching on the convent.

The three nuns each settled into their fighting stances. As if this were some kind of signal, the demons broke into a charge, rushing the gate and boiling over the walls. Some even swooped low through the air, diving out of the storm clouds as lightning flashed overhead. Clemont could only get brief impressions of their shapes: some were like terrible birds, others insectoid, still others humanoid.

Their numbers made no difference. Outnumbered dozens to one, the three nuns still made short work of everything that charged at them.

Scorn’s glow seemed to strengthen with every bolt Yvonne put through a demon. At first, they simply slumped to the ground or fell from the sky, but before long, they would detonate spectacularly upon impact. Where she kept her ammunition, Clemont could not tell, but she never seemed to be short of the bolts she needed.

Revka’s whip flashed like the lightning crackling above them, its barbs slashing easily through scores of the demon horde. With deft movements, she would split the demons in half, behead them, or pluck them out of the air to smite them upon the ground.

If Yvonne and Revka were in their element, then Lament was a force of nature unto herself. Clemont wiped rainwater from his eyes as her greatsword flashed again and again, sending waves of spiritual energy into the horde that pulped the demons upon contact.

When it was over, Clemont wondered how the courtyard could ever be clean again. The water pooling by his feet was black with the ichor of the dead.

Lament gazed over the slaughter, then flicked her sword to cleanse it of the black blood. She turned to Revka and Yvonne.

“It’s time,” she said, raising the sword once more. With a shriek that rivaled anything Father Clemont had heard that night, Lament slashed through the empty air in front of her. For a moment, it looked like nothing had happened. Then Father Clemont noticed the sand seeping through what looked like a shimmering tear in reality.

“The Vault of Sorrows awaits,” said Lament.

She was smiling, but her eyes were dead.


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