Billy and Angela quickly caught up with Julie, who stood in the debris-littered courtyard staring at the massive structure before the group.
“How are we going to find him in there?” Julie asked.
Directly across from Billy, Julie, and Angela stood a five story mansion built into the walls of the courtyard. No two stones in the face of the building appeared to be the same size, though they all appeared to be vaguely rectangular in shape. Additionally, no course of stone had a uniform or straight line of mortar either. Each of the five floors had two sets of windows on either side of the door and no one window appeared either squarely set in the wall or at the same level as any other, though they did appear to be on the same floors.
“What drunken mason built this?” Julie asked, clearly slowing her pace as she marveled at the building’s total lack of uniformity.
“This is an OCD person’s nightmare,” Angela stated, as she and Billy pulled up next to her and continued to advance toward the open doorway.
In the center of it all, roughly fifty yards away, steps rose from the courtyard to meet a heavy oaken door bound with iron. The door sat in the building obviously askew of plumb but otherwise firm against its frame. The wood had an odd red hue to it Billy couldn’t place, but it was dark enough to suggest blood, which he thought was the intent. The black iron bindings holding the oaken planks appeared thick and formidable for anyone trying to force entry. Hugh de Payens and Planche stood flanking the door, swords drawn, preparing to do just that.
“Did that thing just move?” Billy asked, pointing to the doorway. All three Guardians stopped in their tracks as they stared at the lintels of the building. Sure enough, the doorway seemed to pulse slightly in and out, in and out. “Maybe we should wait out here like Hugh said.” Hugh and Planche seemed to pay the pulsating door no mind. Billy watched as both men bowed their heads for a moment, then stepped in front of the door as one and launched themselves, shields first, against the oak barrier. As soon as their shields touched the door a flash of light erupted from the points of contact and a blast shattered the wood, exploding it into the building. Neither man hesitated, flowing through the door with practiced ease, disappearing into the structure and out of sight.
The sounds of battle instantly echoed from the building through the smashed doorway. Julie immediately ran forward, with Billy and Angela close behind. It took no time at all for the three to bound up the few steps and through the door.
Chaos reigned inside the foyer of the building. Hugh and Planche stood a few feet apart with their backs to each other, slashing and stabbing at a sea of grey-skinned imps who swarmed across the floor, up a winding staircase to the right, and out of a hallway to the left. Bodies of dead and dying imps littered the foyer having already fallen to the Templars’ blades. Julie wasted no time, letting out a primal scream that built in intensity until she thrust out her hands. As soon as her arms were fully extended fire erupted from both her palms, bathing the imps before Hugh in gouts of orange to no effect. On the contrary, it seemed as though some of the wounded imps regained much of their health.
“Idiot! No, no, not with fire, girl. Lumiere! Light, kill them with light or the sword,” Hugh shouted, chiding Julie.
“I can’t make physical weapons!” she growled back, but refocused a moment and pressed her hands back out. This time, beams of red light lanced from her palms, striking several imps. Where the red light hit, smoldering holes appeared in their bodies, slowing but not stopping their progress.
“Lumiere blanche!” Planche shouted as he shifted his footing and slashed three imps completely in half before they could turn on Julie.
“Don’t just stand there gawking. Do something!” Julie shouted at Billy and Angela.
Billy suddenly realized he’d been standing there aghast at what he was seeing, jaw hanging open. He watched as Julie shot two more red beams into the assaulting imps, Hugh skewered two imps with his sword and smashed a third with his shield, and Planche danced through and around his foes like a whirling dervish
Without further prompting, Angela shoved her hands before her and began to mumble something under her breath. Instantly, white light lanced out from her palms blasting a clear path through the imps, striking the far wall with such force that a man-size hole appeared where each beam struck. She wasted no time, wading in to help clear the imps swarming toward Planche.
Suddenly, three imps retreated from Hugh’s ravaging sword strokes and tripped over the bodies of their fallen comrades. They tumbled backwards coming to rest mere feet from where Billy stood. The imps saw an opportunity and scrambled to their feet facing Billy.
Billy instantly pressed his hands out willing a barrier of force to appear between him and the imps, but nothing seemed to happen. The first imp to stand leapt off the ground with claws out, flying at Billy’s throat. He yelped and ducked to his left narrowly avoiding the attack. Hugh had pivoted to face Billy but a group of imps stood between Billy and him.
“William, look at my shield. Look at the symbol on my shield. This is what protects you. Faith in God protects you!” Hugh shouted as he hacked and slashed his foes.
The other two imps launched at Billy almost simultaneously. The first reached him a second before the other, which saved his life. The first imp latched onto both of his legs, knocking him to the ground. The second imp flew over his head as Billy fell or he’d have latched onto Billy’s throat for certain.
“I don’t know how!” Billy shouted as he kicked and fought the imp wrapped around his feet.
“You have faith God will protect you, no? Shove that feeling outside your body. Will it to become something you can hold, like my shield,” Hugh said, hacking an opening toward Billy and stepping in that direction.
“Ah!” the imps that had missed their marks earlier latched onto Billy’s left arm and shoulder. They dug their talons deep into his flesh and pulled. Billy felt fire in his veins as pain cascaded down his arm, completely ruining his concentration. Fear took over as he balled up his fist and struck out at the nearest imp. As his punch entered his field of vision, Billy saw fire covering his fist. Upon impact his fist exploded in flames. The force of the explosion knocked both imps off his arm but did no other harm.
“No William, no!” Hugh shouted, desperately hacking his way closer to the young man. Billy paid him no attention as he quickly sat up and began to angrily flail at the third imp. More fiery explosions battered the imp off his feet and back just as Hugh broke free and stabbed the creature from behind. “No William. Fear and anger are tools of the enemy.”
“I can’t do anything else,” Billy said rolling quickly to his feet and grimacing in pain as his wounded left arm shifted. “I can’t fight like you.”
“Yes you can, in time. For now we must equip you with the first tools of your faith,” Hugh said, stepping forward and easily dispatching the two other imps. Billy looked around and saw the other three mopping up the last of their foes.
“What are you talking about?” Billy asked.
“In here, inside a person’s heart, we are on hallowed ground, hallowed to one side or the other,” Hugh said, raising his visor. Billy saw sweat pouring down the man’s face as evidence of his exertion. “This will be much more difficult inside this man’s heart, but I believe in you, William.”
“His defenses grow stronger every moment we wait, my lord,” Planche said as Julie, Angela, and he came to join the conversation.
“They will not go mon ami. We must at least give them something with which to defend themselves,” Hugh insisted. Planche silently nodded and walked through the room, alert for intruders.
“Just tell us what to do and let’s get on with it,” Julie insisted.
“It is not something I can tell. It is a manifestation of your faith in God. He alone can protect you ultimately from these creatures,” Hugh said. Turning back to Billy he continued, “You must find a way to bring out your belief, your faith that God really will protect you. I cannot do it for you, and we must continue on or you will never escape.”
Billy looked at Angela for help, but she seemed to be staring off into space. After a moment more, she closed her eyes and raised her chin slightly. Suddenly, a halo of light sprang into existence above her head and a curtain of crackling, iridescent light veiled her body from the circle of light above her head all the way to the floor. She opened her eyes and let out a little shout of triumph, smiling broadly.
“Bravo, mon cher, bravo!” Hugh exclaimed. “You see, it can be done. Come. We must go.”
Planche motioned for everyone to follow him up the winding staircase to the second floor as Hugh trotted over to him. Julie scowled at Angela and trotted off as well, with Angela veiled by her crackling shield close behind. Billy looked at his hands as he took off after the crowd, but his thoughts centered on Hugh’s kite shield and he wondered how his own shaky belief in God could protect him.
Guardians of the Herald is live on Kickstarter to fund the production of Angels and Demons as a real book! Go to this address to get involved and see the nifty rewards available to backers of the project: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thecavalier/angels-and-demons-guardians-of-the-herald-issues-1
Guardians of the Herald is a weekly serial published and copyright by The Cavalier, Mark Malcolm. To catch up on the first 45 issues you can either read them for free on the web site or purchase the compilation, Guardians of the Herald Issues 1-45: Angels and Demons for the Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/Guardians-Herald-Issues-1-45-Angels-ebook/dp/B00IJIFXSY.
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