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Sever the Wicked, Part VIII: Matthew 13:49

As the domed ceiling of the Vault of Sorrows completed its slow, torturous opening, Father Clemont was sure he’d finally lost his mind. He raked his fingers down his face, muttering every prayer that sprang into his memory. Still, the nightmarish, unblinking eye in the sky above would not depart.

A fierce wind filled the chamber, flinging up sand from every crevice. It swirled around the rough stone chamber, biting and stinging every bit of exposed flesh like a swarm of gnats.

Clemont pulled his knees up to his chest, rocking gently. He was sure that gravity would give out any moment, and he’d begin the slow journey into the sky along with every other living creature. Up, up, up, until everything and everyone became one in the abyssal darkness of that incomprehensible pupil.

But the climb never started. Though the wind whipped at his hair and clothes, his backside remained firmly rooted to the ground. Clemont began to loosen, forcing himself to swallow his terror.

He could see the nuns through the swirling sand. Lament faced skyward, shrieking a prayer, while Revka and Yvonne shielded themselves from the sand. Revka was shouting something, but it wasn’t clear to Clemont whether Lament couldn’t hear her or simply didn’t care.

“Tell me, Priest,” hissed Naranth through Lemke’s severed head. “Are you ready to die at the hand of your own God?”

Clemont gasped - it sounded like the demon was whispering right into his ear, his gravelly voice clear despite the howling windstorm. But just as he remembered Naranth could speak to him through the servant-demon wrapped around the priest’s wrist, he realized the telepathy wouldn’t have made a difference: the maelstrom had frozen in midair, and the chamber had fallen quiet.

He reached forward and batted away several grains of sand; they tumbled away, but the rest remained suspended.

Lemke’s milky eyes rolled in their sockets before fixing on Clemont. The pale lips pulled into a wide grin that tore the skin, revealing blood-spattered teeth behind.

“I don’t know why you’re smiling,” Clemont scoffed. “I’m no fan of Mother Superior, or Lament, or whatever she’s calling herself now, but she carved you up like a Thanksgiving turkey. So whatever that is -“ he nodded toward the nightmarish, sky-spanning eye “ - I think it’s here for you, man.”

No sooner had the words left his lips than the little demon forced its tendrils up and into his ribs. Clemont wailed, grasping at his side and sliding down the chamber’s stone wall.

“Dotard!” roared Naranth. “That is the Eye of God above us!” Clemont realized he had never heard a demon scream. It was not unlike the music his nephew listened to - layers upon layers of noise that distorted and complicated one another, even as they vibrated his cranium. He thought his liquefied brain was about to run out of her ears.

“This is the end of all creation,” Naranth continued. “Matthew 13:49: it is the apocalypse.”

Despite all he’d been through that weekend, Clemont’s brain kicked into high gear, almost out of muscle memory. The passage leaped into his mind:

“So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just,” Clemont muttered. “But why would that be the apocalypse for anyone but your kind, Naranth?”

“If you have to ask, mortal, you haven’t been listening.” Lemke’s eyes rolled back again, and time returned to its normal pace - except now Clemont could hear the argument between Revka and Lament. It seemed like only moments had passed, if anything.

Revka was in the center of the maelstrom, the tip of her cane pointed at Lament. Yvonne was just behind her, crossbow raised.

“It’s too late, Revka,” croaked Lament. She stood with Revka and Yvonne in front of her and the Vault behind. Her sword stood upright in the bowl she’d plunged it into. “You saw the horde that attacked the Convent. How can we stand against so many?”

“It’s not too late!” Revka screamed. “We must do as we once did: fight town to town and village to village!”

“Seven centuries, Revka,” croaked Lament. “Seven centuries I waited. Humanity is not changing. We are not worthy of God’s grace: why else would He allow the demons to organize so?”

“You speak of God’s grace,” Revka said. “Do you really think God intends us to destroy His creation to save it? Pull the blade out before – “

A muffled boom from overhead swallowed the rest of her sentence. Clemont looked to the eye and saw several silhouettes descending from the pupil, arms outstretched in Christ-like poses. It was beautiful and yet somehow grotesque.

“As I said, Sister Calamity, it is too late. His angels are on their way.” Lament raised her shield. “You defied me once, Sister Calamity, and I spared you and Sister Scorn in mercy and foolishness. I will not make the same mistake twice.” She raised her shield. “You will not pull this sword from its place.”

Revka glanced over her shoulder at Yvonne, then charged forward with a shout. A bolt from Yvonne’s crossbow whistled over her shoulder, glowing with emerald energy. Lament easily deflected the bolt and brought her shield down in time to absorb the blow from Revka’s cane.

No matter how Revka swung, Lament’s shield was there. Yvonne fired bolt after bolt, but the former Mother Superior moved with inhuman speed, knocking the bolts away or letting them stick into her shield. With a roar, she swatted Revka, sending the nun spinning backward onto the cold stone floor. The cane clattered away, and Clemont shouted in despair.

Overhead, the angels were no longer mere dots: their ethereal forms were dimly visible despite the maelstrom. Some had other wings, but others had shapes that Clemont had no earthly words to describe. The priest found he could not look at them for long without a growing sense of despair and instead looked back to the chamber, where Revka had gotten back to her feet.

She flicked her wrist, bringing out Calamity’s true form with an aquamarine burst of spiritual energy, then swung the barbed whip at Lament. Again and again, the woman blocked Revka’s attacks, but with each block, Yvonne moved forward step by step, slowly circling around to her back. Finally, Revka swung the whip and buried its barbs into the shield just as Yvonne slid into place.

“Yield, Lament!” Revka cried, her brow furrowed and dotted with sweat. Her arms shook as she tried to pull the shield from Lament. “It’s over!”

With a guttural howl, Lament raised the shield. Yvonne fired a bolt at her exposed back, but it never reached her: Lament slammed the shield back into the ground, sending out a burst of spiritual energy that filled the chamber and flung the nuns backward. It crashed into Clemont, pinning him to the wall. Something thudded against his crotch, and he looked down, disgusted to see Lemke’s head resting there.

He shoved it roughly away, then looked up to see Yvonne getting shakily to her feet. Lament grinned, wrapping her hand around the crucifix dangling from her neck.

“Yvonne!” Clemont screamed, but his warning came just in time for her to watch the knife bury itself in her chest. She grunted, staggering backward, then fell onto her face, a pool of dark blood pooling beneath her.

Clemont had never heard a sound in Heaven or Hell like the one that came out of Revka just then. And when it reached his ears, the little demon leaped from his wrist - only for Clemont to snatch it out of the air. It struggled and squirmed in his grasp, prodding him with its needle-tip limbs and slashing at his wrists, but he would not let it go. The thing knew Revka was at her most vulnerable moment, just like Naranth wanted. But if Clemont could hang on to it a bit longer, he might be able to buy Revka a few moments.

Meanwhile, Revka extended her hand, and Calamity leaped into her palm. As she charged Lament, the nun cried out what sounded like a prayer in the despicable tongue Revka and the Stranger had spoken back in St. Paul’s. Something about the undulations in her voice made Clemont feel physically unwell. It seemed to affect Revka, too: the nun missed a step, and Lament batted her easily aside. Revka groaned and got to her feet once more. She raised Calamity to attack, but before she could take a step, her expression shifted from rage to terror.

“Mother Superior, no!” she cried, but it was too late. Lament tossed aside her shield and lifted her countenance to the sky. Clemont followed her gaze and immediately wished he hadn’t. The angels were closer than ever now, and though some resembled the paintings he’d spent a lifetime looking at, most didn’t. Some were swirling balls of light, surrounded by an endless series of eyes that spun at impossible speed. Several seraphim were there, mere faces enclosed by wings pointed in every direction.

There were cherubim, too, each with their combined lion-ox-eagle-human heads turned up to the sky and singing praises to God. Their feet glimmered in the setting sun; one pair of wings was closed around their body, the other aiding them in flight.

All of them were pointing and indicating directions; wherever they did, Clemont could hear a tremendous explosion.

Between them all came a bolt of energy identical to the one that had transformed Mother Superior into Lament, except this time, her body was not burned. She sank to her knees and - whether in ecstasy or agony, Clemont couldn’t tell - cried out as her eyes rolled back, and nine more split open on her head. The remaining color drained from her body until she was pure alabaster. When she stood, her clothes tore away, revealing a nine-foot-tall body that Clemont knew instinctively was the human form perfected. She threw her arms back, and two pairs of feathered wings sprouted from her back.

She brought them forward with a clap that shook the Vault, and a sword of pure energy formed between them.

Revka got to her feet, looked the perfected Lament in the eyes, and spat out a mouthful of blood. “You're going to have to do better than that,” she growled.

Lament howled, her mouth stretching impossibly wide to reveal rows of perfectly flat teeth that were somehow more upsetting than any demon’s mouth Clemont had seen. Revka screamed back at the angel, charging forward and scoring several glancing blows with Calamity, but nothing that looked more than superficial. None of the wounds would slow Lament down enough for Revka to get to the sword without being sliced in half.

Again and again, she dodged the angel’s swings, but whenever Calamity touched the angel’s sword, the chamber shook, and Revka was flung backward. Battered but not broken, she stood up again and again. At some point - Clemont wasn’t sure when - she picked up Lament’s shield. But though it absorbed several sword swings Clemont was sure would have been lethal, Revka seemed sluggish and weighed down by it. One swing cracked the stones where she’d stood only a moment ago, and when she came out of her dodge, Revka was puffing and slumped over. All the while, the monstrous angels above continued their rain of destruction.

Clemont could think of only one way to tip the scales.

“Naranth!”

Lemke’s eyeballs rolled around to Clemont. Naranth tried to make the face smile, but the torn lips were hanging down near Lemke’s chin.

“Decided to beg for your life, mortal? I’d let you sell me your soul, but we’ll all be together in the darkness soon.”

The little demon whipped a tendril across Clemont’s face, slicing his cheek. He tried to hold it at arm’s length while preventing it from going to Revka. He looked around it at Lemke’s head.

“What if it doesn’t have to end at all?”

The chamber was silent for a moment except for the occasional clang and boom from Revka’s battle with the angel.

Finally, Lemke’s brows furrowed. “Eh?”

“Send this thing after Lament. Drain her power.”

“Lament and Mother Superior are gone. That angel is all that’s left. My servant would be obliterated before it even reached her.”

“Maybe it’ll give Revka the opening she needs.”

“You fool. Can’t you see she’ll never win?”

Clemont glanced back at the battle. Revka dashed forward, her whip crackling with otherworldly energy, and slashed once more at the angel. Barbs and spikes tore at the angel’s flesh, and Revka would dive away just in time to avoid the angel’s counterattack. Meanwhile, the ruined flesh continually knit itself back together.

The pattern repeated itself over and over. Naranth was right: she would never beat the angel this way, not on her own. Revka was creative and intelligent - why wouldn’t she try something different?

Then he realized he was looking at things wrong.

“She’s not trying to kill it. She’s trying to get the sword.” Clemont looked back at Naranth. “Revka just needs an opening.”

“Say you’re right, Priest. So what? What will you do for me?”

“That is what I’m doing for you: we all get to keep existing. But you’re going to do something for me in exchange for the privilege.”

“What! You dare to –”

“Can it. You said it yourself: we’re both screwed. So when this is all done, you’re going to call off your attack for, say … forty days.”

“Cute, Priest.” The disembodied head was silent for a moment. “I’ll give you three. But not all of my followers will heed my command.”

“I’ll bet,” Clemont said. “How do I know you’ll keep your word?”

Naranth cackled in response.

Clemont grimaced. He looked at Revka, still embroiled in battle. Even powered by divine energy, the nun was panting and heaving. It looked like she could barely lift the whip, but she kept up her attacks. Yvonne lay motionless on the other side of the chamber.

He sighed, then let go of the demon. A tremendous weight left his body, and he felt like he could breathe fully again for the first time in nearly three days.

For a terrifying moment, Clemont thought the creature would attack Revka anyway - then Lemke’s eyes lit up, and the demon froze. Above the whirling maelstrom, Clemont heard a sound like a thousand whispers. The demon jumped on its little scorpion legs, reorienting itself toward the angel, and scurried forward. Then the light left Lemke’s eyes, and his head exploded.

Naranth was gone. Clemont didn’t even have to look up to see the angels overhead had multiplied, nearly obscuring the giant eye above. Its abyssal pupil was still clearly visible, though.

The little demon scuttled toward the battle, its body moving with fluid grace along the cobblestone floor. Before it was even close enough to leap at the angel, the celestial being whirled and stomped on it with its bare foot.

Revka saw her opportunity. She bellowed, lashing out with the whip. Clemont knew she’d spent the last of her energy to power this strike. Calamity’s chain whirled past the angel, wrapping around the sword. All nine of the angel’s eyes opened wide. Shrieking, it reached for the chain.

But it was too late.

With a final cry, Revka yanked the sword from the bowl, and it clattered to the stone floor. Up in the sky, the Eye of God blinked. The angels, still bellowing their hymns of praise, were pulled back into the Eye.

Grinning the same way as when she’d first been revivified, Revka sank to her knees, then collapsed and lay still.

“Revka!” Clemont shouted.

The angel’s eyes rolled backward in its head, and it let out a mournful wail. The maelstrom churned through the chamber, the particles of sand now whizzing by with razor speed. They left Clemont untouched but slashed and scarred the giant angel, stripping away its flesh and sinew. The whirling winds pulled the pieces up and through the ceiling until nothing was left but Lament.

She stood tall and proud, looking right at Clemont. What she felt, he couldn’t say, but for a moment, he could understand why Revka had felt such loyalty to her: she looked strong, glorious, and peaceful. Then the chamber’s ceiling slammed shut, and as the light from above faded, so did Lament. Mother Superior stood in her place, bloated and confused. She, too, collapsed, her bulk spreading out on the floor beneath her. She blew out one last rattling breath and did not move again.

The maelstrom stopped, and Clemont was no longer pinned to the wall. He scrambled toward Revka’s form, lying curled up on the stones ahead.

As he approached, he realized she had not collapsed from fatigue. The nun was sobbing quietly, her back rising and falling in short, heaving little breaths.

He knelt next to her. When she looked up, he realized she was in even worse shape than he’d thought. Her eyes were red from crying, and two small rivulets of dried blood were beneath her nose. Scraggly strands of hair hung out from beneath her coif, and several parts of her habit were torn. Wherever her skin showed, it was caked with sweat, dirt, and gristle from the miniature sandstorm.

“I can no longer feel Yvonne’s spirit, Father,” she rasped, glancing at her love’s limp form sprawled on the floor across the chamber. “For the first time in centuries, we were side by side once more. And now …” her voice broke, and she trailed off.

“Is there nothing that can be done?” he asked. After all he’d seen, it seemed like there must have been some kind of supernatural workaround, but Revka shook her head.

“There's only one who has ever conquered Death,” she said.

“I’m so sorry, Revka,” Clemont whispered. “For Yvonne, for Mother Superior … for everything.”

Revka met his gaze. “You mean the demon you’ve been trying to hide all this time?”

Clemont was gobsmacked. If he had felt relief when the demon left, this was like absolution - even as his stomach tied itself in knots over how she’d respond to the truth.

“Yes,” he said. “How did you - ”

“Naranth is not particularly subtle with his games,” Revka said, propping herself up. “Even if he thinks he is. But why did you not come to me?”

“I … I didn’t know what to do. Everything has happened so fast — it wasn’t even two days ago I heard Mrs. Kowalski’s confession.” Clemont allowed himself to fall on his backside as the enormity of their adventure - and how much he missed his dear friend - washed over him. “Jesus Christ.” He glanced up at Revka. “But if you knew, why didn’t you do something about it?”

“For the same reason.” She smiled. “I wanted to find out who you really were. And now I know: you are the type of man who would not let annihilation itself move you to betray a friend.” She looked at Yvonne’s body. “You and I are a lot alike, Father. I think that’s why God sent me to St. Paul’s."

Clemont felt a warm droplet on his hand and looked down. He was crying. He drew a deep breath and stood, offering his hand to Revka. “If you knew about the demon, then I’m sure you know we still have work to do. Naranth promised us three days, but —“

“ — you can’t trust a demon,” Revka finished for him. Her gaze was still locked on Yvonne’s lifeless form. “What’s the point, Father?”

Father Clemont thought for what felt like a long time.

“I don’t know,” he finally said. There had been so much death and destruction over the past few days, and in the end, all it had bought them was three lousy days. But maybe it was more than that.

Maybe there was still hope.

“I’ve spent my whole life believing without the assurance that God was real. Living in faith means believing without seeing. And now that I’ve seen God is real - witnessed His awesome, terrible power - I have to believe that we can still make a better tomorrow. I have to believe in humanity.” He nodded at the broken bowl. “Maybe we can do better. Maybe we’re not the worst parts of ourselves.”

He chewed his lip. That was all good - and, if nothing else, seeing God’s angels in action had been fucking terrifying, something he never wanted to relive. So maybe it was best to stay in the Lord’s good graces, after all. He looked at Revka, but her expression was still unsure.

“If nothing else, Revka, don’t let Yvonne’s sacrifice be for nothing.”

The nun looked up at him, then at Yvonne’s body again. With a sigh, she extended her hand, and Calamity leaped into her palm. She grabbed Clemont’s hand and stood, steadying herself with the cane. Once she’d gotten to her feet, she wrapped the priest in a tight hug.

“See, Father? I knew you had a part yet to play.”

He gave her one more squeeze, then stepped back. “I’m not sure how much help I can be now.” He thought about the convent: two of their most potent warriors lay dead on the stones before him. Katrina seemed formidable, but was she in fighting form? The rest of the women appeared to be trainees.

“Are there other convents? Anyone we can turn to for help?”

“What do you mean?” Clemont shrugged, scratching his head.

“I mean, Catholicism doesn’t have a monopoly on the end times, as much as we’d like to think so.”

Revka frowned. “There are others like us, yes … but the Church has long forbidden contact with warriors from other faiths. I do not know how we’ll convince them, let alone find them.”

No sooner had she uttered the words than Lament’s sword, lying discarded on the floor, burst into life with ethereal energy. The pale glow filled the chamber.

“God will point the way,” Clemont said. “And if He doesn’t, we’ll figure it out.”

“Together?”

Clemont nodded. “Together.”

Revka sucked in a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. She approached the sword, sheathing Calamity as she walked.

“Though I am not worthy, Lord, let me wield this weapon in Your name,” she whispered, crouching by the blade. “Let me put to rest this unruly evil.”

She grasped the hilt, and the blade erupted into pure white light. She held her hand to the shield, which sprang into her palm.

“I think that’s a yes,” Clemont said.

Revka grinned over her shoulder, then raised the blade. With one last cry, she brought it down, then stepped through the portal.


Thank you for taking this journey with me - it means more than I can express with mere words. If you want to know what's playing while the end credits roll, check out "Firebird" by Dance with the Dead.

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