Chapter 27

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DOMINIC STARED AT THE CORPSE lying on the marble floor. His arm slowly lowered back to his side. After a couple twitches the priest went still. Blood pooled beneath the dead man's arm, leaking from the hole in his chest and back. Dominic stepped across the room to stand over him and make sure he was dead. He didn't recall putting the gun in his trench pocket. The idea popped into his head suddenly, like a random memory triggered by a smell or color. When he reached for it, it was there.  Staring at the shocked expression frozen on the dead face, he retraced his steps. Unless Lena put it there, it should have been in the bag he'd left outside on the portico. He looked at the gun. Then he looked at the sword clutched in his other hand.

A shuffling sound roused Dominic's attention to the pews behind him. He looked, hoisting the gun in the direction of the noise. His eyes settled on Lena. She approached, wearing her oddly mature  expression. He settled the gun in the trench coat pocket.

"Gediel," Lena said.

"But I had one in the bag," Dominic replied.

"He's a clever spy—thinks things through. That's why he gave you the coat. He knew you'd keep it on to save yourself, but the bag could be lost or dropped," Lena said, coming to the last pew.

The girl's eyes watched him closely. He nodded. She made sense.

Dominic turned. He'd nearly forgot about his wife, so immersed in the pleasure of shooting the priest. She was no longer there. He looked over the altar, pews, and balcony. She wasn't in any of those places. Panic seized him as he came full circle. Maiel had run from them again. Lena pointed toward a set of doors on the left. Dominic took a step toward them.

"Where are you going?" a gnashing voice spoke from the other direction.

Dominic faced the utterance. A disturbing sight stood there. Long gold hair framed a face of gray marble in which rested two gold eyes. He wore a crown of gold and robes of silver tied with a crimson sash. A blood red mouth curled into a scornful grin. Dominic opened his mouth to utter a curse, but found himself silenced. The figure was no man, but a danava and one of the mightiest he had ever crossed paths with in all his centuries. The Prince of Acheron, he whom they feared, set his sights on Maiel in a tired effort to bait Mikhael into war. The gun would be of no use against Belial, and the sword would only prolong a painful death at the ends of the danava's claws.

Belial disappeared in a roiling cloud of smoke. Lena gasped and retreated to the arches near the entrance. The demon reappeared, perching on the wall. He speedily jumped to the altar and then climbed the hanging pentacle. He looked like a giant horned bat, except for his pale marbled skin. Dominic watched him closely, feeling his senses heightened. His eyes saw faster, his nose smelled finer, and his ears heard louder. The energy pulsing through him, the fire that began in his throat, was an inferno of ecstasy. His heart ached to lay claim to Belial's destruction, but his gut hungered for the power the flame gave him.

"You belong to me, marditavya. You'll do as I command," Belial hissed, backing up the chains that held the pentagram in place.

Belial grinned down at him, working his way slowly up the chains.

"I belong to myself," Dominic replied.

"Adonai will be most displeased with that answer," Belial called down from the ceiling. The prince laughed at his own jest.

The prince's claws chipped the frescos, sending a shower of plaster onto Dominic's head. He squinted, raising his arms protectively. His heart pumped harder at the declaration. Under the high roof of the  portico, he became a lost soul. The fire took him, burning furiously. No longer was clay being fired into a diamond. The clay was just burning down.

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