Too Late to Turn Back Now

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Between fits of coughing up dust, I ask, "Are you okay, Father?"

"Fine." He switches on the flashlight while clearing his throat, then shines the beam on my face. "Are you hurt?"

"No." I turn away from the offending light and approach the obstruction, a mix of rock and the underside of the Bronco. "You think Trisha's okay?"

"She can take care of herself."

"What if more white warriors attack?" Or worse, Azael finds us?

"We'd need a crane to clear the crevasse," the priest says. "We have no choice but to advance to the main cavern." He flashes light down the dark tunnel. "Get the case."

Olive wood box in hand, I continue to worry that Trisha is alone against Margery, Roy, and the white warriors. But I'm more concerned about what's ahead.

Hunched over, we trudge across an obstacle course of jagged rock. My heart skips with each misstep, terrified the jostling of pebbles will reveal our approach. Or, at any moment, Azael could provoke a collapse.

A few minutes later, my gut cramps. I drop to my knees and burp up rotten fish. What were they thinking, having me drink Ulla and Inez's brew before battling a fallen angel? I'm defenseless once the spasms kick in. We're all going to die. Or worse, be buried alive and conscious while my body withers away.

Sheesh, Boss says, you make torture sound miserable to a demon.

Shut up, I tell him. If Trisha can sense you, so can Azael.

The sooner he finds you, the sooner we finish this. Or should I say, he finishes you.

You sensing Ulla and Inez's curse yet, I ask. Because I'm hoping it comes with a muzzle and atomic pain.

Pshaw, he says. Them bitches can't mess with me.

We'll see.

The priest nudges my shoulder and turns off the flashlight. Above our heads, an unknown light source filters through an opening. At the end of the path, a steep, six-foot incline leads to a platform barely wide enough to hold both of us. He points and whispers, "That has to be the entrance to the main cavern, the one that Trisha mentioned."

"I'll check," I say and hand him the box.

"Be careful."

I nod and climb toward the light, cautious not to make any noise. My ears strain to identify a song playing on the other side. It's Can't Get Enough of Your Love Baby by Barry White.

Boss chuckles. Someone's horny.

I turn up my lip. Live action sex between a fallen angel and nuns is the last thing I want to witness, although catching him with his pants down might make it easier to drive the sword through his black heart.

On top of the platform, water drips from the ceiling, leaving the floor beneath my feet slick. A cue to never go spelunking in cowboy boots again.

I lift myself to the narrow gap. This is one time I'm glad to be smaller than average.

The opening looks down into a cavern the size of a high school gym. Thirty feet below, chained to the far wall, three nuns huddle together, weeping.

Dead center, a veiled nun stands over a rock altar, the bottom of her buttocks and naked legs extending below her oversized gray sweater. A chill runs up my spine when I spot a meat cleaver in her hand.

Where's the fifth one? Boss asks.

The nun raises the cleaver. At the same time I draw in a deep breath.

Then she chops.

Bone cracks under the blade.

And an arm falls to the ground.

The chained women shriek and struggle against their restraints.

Found her. Boss sings.

I turn away and clutch my chest. I'm not ready for this.

Told ya to run, Boss says. Shoulda listened.

Dammit, be quiet.

The stream of light flickers. Something has the nuns shrieking again. My body stiffens and I build up the courage to peek back through the hole.

Azael's shadow trails across the floor while he re-enters the cave and flies to the altar. Hopefully he hasn't returned because he sensed the chatty demon in my head. He lands beside the Butcher of the Divine Heart Convent, puffs out his chest, and adjusts his wings against his back. His muscular bronze arm envelops her waist, and he lifts her five feet to his level. She cheerfully pecks kisses on his cheek, then raises her sweater to expose her pregnant belly. The proud daddy grins and strokes the near-term bump.

Holding her like a baby, he bends at the knees to pick up the severed limb. Between kisses, they growl and rip their teeth into the dead nun's bicep.

I retch while scooting back to Father Timothy's level.

He whispers, "What's going on?"

"The nuns are there."

His voice wavers. "Are they okay?"

To avoid describing the horrific scene, I ask, "Did you tell me everything you know about Azael?"

"Yes, why?" He frowns and repeats, "What's going on? It sounds like feeding time at the zoo."

This time I swallow hard and give it to him straight.

Even in the darkened cave, the whites of Father Timothy's eyes brighten and pop. He turns away, his back hunched.

"You had to know about this." I grab his shoulder and motion for him to face me.

"We only knew about Azael impregnating holy women." He shakes his head. "How can this be happening?"

I peer down at the box. "It's time to use the Sword of Sin."

The priest remains stationary, his back to me, seemingly unable to react.

"Father?" I tighten my grip on his shoulder. "It's time."

He pats my hand. "You're right. We should go."

So far, Father Timothy has been calm and collected. Now he seems reluctant. What will he say when he sees the bite marks in the dismembered nun?

Better have thanked the Lord for the meal they received, Boss says.


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