Thanks to Mephistophelian, mir99sna, and clutteredsoul101 for the reviews : ) This chapter is less action, but I promise to make it up to you. Concerning Ariel, I will strive to bring his peculiar quirks and discrepancies into light as we progress. And as for Andras? He -is-, I'll admit, quite eager for a reunion.


There are not many exorcists active and stable in the world. Active, I say, those who accept their capability. Stable, presumably, refers to the sane. Some exorcists are driven mad by the sheer power of demonic influence. Altogether, when you eliminate the ignorant and the crazy, maybe three hundred? Three hundred for six billion potential vessels? Not the best of odds, I know. And of those three hundred-contrary to popular belief-less than half are monotheist. Fewer still claim Christianity-and the Catholic sect of Deliverance Ministry? Maybe fifty. In the world. If someone claims otherwise, that someone has been watching one too many Sci Fi movies.

We need more.

But exorcism is not simply a habit to be picked up. Muttering a few Bible verses with a fishbowl of holy water does not make you an exorcist. People die under that assumption. In the news, those court cases involving malpractice, death and emaciation of the possessed…that occurs because the exorcist is a fraud. Usually said frauds are priests who have the best of intentions and wish not to lose face with their followers, or are religious fanatics who view themselves as vessels of their respective gods.

Newsflash: you either have it, or you don't. It's not determined by age, race, genetics, gender, or religious and sexual preferences. Granted, I'm one of very few female exorcists in the United States, the only-to my knowledge-in the Catholic sect, but I believe that is mostly because it is dormant. Coupled with the Hollywood assumption of exorcism and the overwhelming sexism that still exists in Christianity-most women flat out wouldn't believe it was possible. Exorcism-it's a fairly shocking career choice. But the truth is that you are born with the gift to command the damned. With some divine intervention-pick your religion-you alone have the physical and mental stamina to see and withstand the demons.

And, in my case, the ghosts. At least, one. Ariel. I met him at St. Paul's Catholic Church in McKee, a small town in the Cumberland Plateau region of Kentucky. Because there are so few of us, our territories are not well defined. Unlike Europe, where the average is an exorcist to a country-with the exception of Russia, perhaps. For us Americans, it depends on who is closest to the reported exorcism. My day-to-day work was confined to the D.C. area, as demonic crossovers are naturally more prevalent in large cities of dense population. There were other exorcists bound to locations such as Cleveland, L.A., Detroit, New York, Miami, etc. Occasionally I was called out for isolated incidents in surrounding states, and the occasional imp infestation.

At St. Paul's there was a girl possessed by a minion of Belial, a pretty low level demon. But she…she slaughtered most of the pets in the surrounding area and proceeded to stake them through the limbs in front of respective houses. Before she was captured and bound to the church basement, she managed six cats, two dogs, and a few rabbits. Whilst trapped, her seizures made the walls bleed, an illusion both realistic and unsettling by the demon's influence. She broke her fingers trying to claw her way out and nearly killed a nun with a cardboard box cutter.

When I exorcised her, the minion returned to Hell-

And Ariel found me. I never asked how the demon bound him, but let it be assumed that he was a servant for centuries. The ghost of a Gaelic druid. How the hell had he gotten wrapped up with Belial?

In the two years since, Ariel has yet to talk about it. And Stanton has yet to let it go.

Keeping this in mind, I flattened my right palm against the doorframe, the left catching the bronze knob. Twisted, reluctantly, and pulled it free of its clasping lock. The chain snagged almost instantly, a saving grace that denied entrance past five inches-at the most. But it was enough to peek through into the dimly lit and sometimes cramped hallway of my apartment floor.

Rather than staring at bleached white walls with that abominable green trim-

I was staring at the broad shouldered menace himself. Or, more accurately, his hideous army patterned t-shirt. Stanton towered over me at an impressive six two. Unlike Ariel, who wasn't three inches taller than I was. Gaze flickering from chest to throat to face, I felt that wave of defensive nausea that was now as ordinary as…cereal and milk. I'd known Stanton since…well, since I'd started. He was the one to discover me as I strove to figure out how come the shadows I saw could speak. Of course he always treated me as second fiddle, an apprentice he neither needed nor wanted. A weak willed twit who needed everything explicated.

I couldn't help if he was vague. Stanton's stupid block head was even more pronounced by his baldness. That's right. He couldn't have been a day over twenty seven, but he was utterly bald-save for a tiny rattail braided at the base of his skull. Brown. The only signature of the messy chestnut hair I'd recalled. It had been youthfully, roguishly appealing, rarely brushed with just a hint of curl-

I mentioned I liked it. Once.

The next day it was shaved off. Such was the condition of our relationship. And now he sported the filthy rattail, which he knew I hated. Pity. He had such lovely hair. Stanton's mother was Filipino; you could tell the traces in his facial features, the tint of his skin-blissfully darker than mine, a perpetual tan. Dark, hard brown eyes-not in the least bit inspiring, despite the songs written about brown eyes. He had a spattering of freckles against his cheekbone, his nose was slightly crooked-from bashing into a table after a poltergeist altercation-I learned this second hand, as we rarely spoke unless it was necessary, and even so it usually involved one of us was screaming at the other. But his chin was too stubborn, lips too severe, forehead too brooding, ears too…well, whatever it was, he was not in the least bit attractive to me.

"Are you going to let me in?"

Even from a slight distance I could taste the scent of nicotine in the air. He smoked. I hated when people smoked. I had lungs too.

I elected stubbornly not to reply. "Why do you wear that shit?" Gesturing to the tattered baggy jeans and the camouflage tee. "It looks like you're fucking homeless. Camo went out…a long time ago…didja get dressed in the dark?"

Stanton exhaled in a short, near whistle, distinctly snorting nicotine enriched breath at me. Of that I was certain. The man was just that spiteful. "And I should take advice from you?" Doubtless he caught sight of my wardrobe. Lime green windbreaker shorts and a black tee with a caricature of a dancing silver treble clef. I like music. So sue me.

"Least I didn't walk out in public."

"You will. Let me in, for Christ's sake, change into something appropriate. Tell the ghostie-"

"He has a name." Stanton was such an ass sometimes. He knew it pissed me off and he sensed that Ariel was near-so he was just trying to egg the ghost to appear. Unacceptable.

"Whatever." Easy shrug. Dismissive.

"No." Stanton put his hand on the door, as if to push it open. I shoved my heel into the carpet, keeping my foot pressed against it. He couldn't get in, due to the chain, but I wanted to push back. "His name is Ariel. You've known it for two years. Use it."

Stanton narrowed his eyes at me. Flick of the fingers, he released the door. Hand raised. Twisted it around and gave me the finger.

I rolled my eyes. "You want me to break it off?" I asked coolly, leaning my head against the doorway, tone scathing, "Put that down, you dumbass." Cliché gesture.

"Open the door."

"Fuck. Off." I didn't respond to orders. Pivoting slightly, pressed my shoulders against the door-intending to push it shut-

"Demon attack tonight."

His tone cut through the air harshly, tinged in bitterness and irritation. He didn't want to have this discussion in the hallway. I hesitated-

Shook my head once-no. Not my problem. My workday was done. It was way too fucking early-

I shut the door.

"Xavier!" Another annoying smash of his hand against the doorbell. "We both know you're playing coy. Don't be a bitch, open the door."

"Fuck o-f-f," was my sing song reply. "I'm going to bed." As if to reaffirm that fact, I crossed in front of the treadmill-for the television. Crouched down to press the POWER button.

"You've been bitching for equality?" Stanton demanded impatiently, with a thump that suggested he was leaning against the door, "Why not this? You're rejecting Jonas' recommendation?" I scowled. "I mean, it's not shocking. Must've known you'd fold-"

"Cut the shit." He was trying to piss me off. It was working. He knew if he riled me up enough, I'd open the door. He'd have his chance. I twisted towards it, admittedly. Glaring past the flickering plasma screen as if the door, not he, was the enemy. "I don't care. Get someone else to cover it. It's 3 in the fucking morni-"

"There's a fifteen year old with his spine missing!" Stanton hissed. God. His lips must've been pressed to the wood if I could still hear him.

I turned off the television. The image collapsed and vanished. Leaving the mimic blackness of the refrigerator door. I did not reply.

"I'll wait for you in the car."

Stanton retreated. His footsteps retreating.

Asshole. I'll wait for you in the car. How dare he assume…assume I was going to be lured by something like that? I wanted to go to sleep. And he dragged me out on the shittiest missions. Nothing big, nothing like what other exorcists were famed for. Andras? That was daily work.

And how dare he think that he could get to me like that. Who the hell did he think he was?

I could flat out leave his ass sitting in the car all night-

"Do you want the red jacket?"

I didn't even bother glaring up at Ariel. My gaze was focused on the black T.V. screen, but I wasn't there anymore. I was already at the crime scene. "Yeah."