Every family has its monsters…and some are nothing but. In the woods outside Overdeere, Ontario, there are trees that speak, a village that doesn’t appear on any map, and a hill that opens wide, entrapping unwary travellers.
It’s a place most people usually know better than to go, at least locally—until tonight, when five bloodlines mired in ancient strife will finally converge once more. Devize, Glouwer, Rusk, Druir, Roke—these are the clans who make up the notorious Five-Family Coven.
From downtown Toronto to the wilds beyond, where reality’s walls grow thin, dark forces are drawing the Coven’s last heirs to a final confrontation. All are haunted by a ghost beyond any one person’s power to exorcize unless they agree to stand together once more—at least long enough to wreak vengeance upon themselves!
Gemma Files’ short story collection We Will All Go Down Together is available December 31st from ChiZine. Read an excerpt from “Furious Angels” below!
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe, according to John the Apostle—those happy few who never look for tangible proof of their supernatural assumptions. Who never, like Doubting Thomas, demand to stick their hand in the Risen Christ’s side.
But the Ordo Sorores Perpetualam’s anchoresses spend their retirement in meditation on a very different version of that phrase: Blessed are those, they say, whether they believe or not, who do not have to see.
This year’s Novice Number Thirty-Three—formerly yet another Vicky, if Sister Blandina recalled her application correctly—had decided to take the battle-name of Cecilia, which Blandina thought pretty but inadequate, especially to a martial order.
“Cecilia was a martyr, dear,” Mother Eulalia reminded her. “And martyrdom is all our charter requires in a name-saint. But I suppose one might consider there to be differing degrees of martyrdom.”
“Catherine’s a good name,” was all Blandina replied, not looking up from her present duty. Yet feeling Mother Eulalia’s single shrewd eye on the nape of her neck, assessingly, nevertheless.
“Of Alexandria? We have a few too many fireworks to deal with around here as it is, don’t you think?”
But: Alexandrine Catherine broke the Wheel, overthrew what pagans thought was the natural order. She made her tormentors’ gods look foolish, confirming her God—our God—over all. St. Cecilia… she’s the reason Baptists think angels have harps.
Rarely any point to debating with Mother Eulalia, however, even when she was feeling charitable enough to allow the impertinence. “Cecilia” had made her choice and would now have upwards of two years to live with it—’til she either paid out her novitiate and made her final vows, thought better, or had those decisions taken from her, decisively. The Ordo was a tour of duty from which few returned, unscathed or otherwise.
We kill monsters or die trying, Blandina remembered explaining once, to a Poor Clare who claimed to be interested in what it was, exactly, that the Perpetuals did. Only for the other to blurt, in return: But… what would be the point?
Fewer monsters, sister.
A ridiculous conversation, by definition. Either the Ordo’s purpose actually was what it said on the box, or it wasn’t; their very role as killers of supernatural things would in itself seem to be, by simple logic, “proof” of the idea that supernatural things which merited killing existed. But to be constantly forced through explaining it, and by other religieuses… ah, chah, her Mémé would have said. Every fool a king in him own house.
I mean, either you’re right in your beliefs, or I am. Or we’re both wrong, of course—at which point, what are either of us even doing here?
Take off your habit and go home, if that’s how you feel about it. Get yourself a boyfriend.
When Blandina fell into moods like these, which was more often than it should be, Mother Eulalia sometimes undertook to tell her improving stories or gave her extra duty. Today, however, she simply shrugged and said: “You need exercise, dear—a breath of fresh air, that’s what strikes me. Have you spoken with Maccabee Roke, lately?”
“’Course not,” Blandina snapped. Then: “No, Mother. Did you think it prudent?”
“Oh, knowing what young Mister Roke is up to is always prudent. He’s sent word to the Bishop about seeing something.”
“He ‘sees something’ every day of his life.”
“I believe he meant of interest. To us.”
“Well, then.” Throwing back over her shoulder, as she moved towards the door: “And take an apprentice with you, when you go— someone who hasn’t met him yet.”
“I’ll leave that up to you, dear.”
Here’s how it all started: God tore pieces off itself to make angels—the Elohim, or Heavenly Host—who were too much the same, yet too different. Who served, and did not question; who had flame, but no true vitality. No… spark.
Then God thought smaller, and thus our troubles began.
Human beings were made, given individual personality, a soul each, free will enough to choose wrongly, and—once sin entered the picture—the knowledge of their own mortality, a poisoned gift, thankfully denied almost every other mammal (save for whales, grey parrots, a few varieties of ape, and elephants). Some angels later rebelled against the concept, only to find themselves cast down—but long before that, my ancestors did the opposite: fell deeply in love with the fragile creatures our Creator had assigned to their care, both figuratively and literally.
Their name was Grigorim, the famous Watcher Angels, of whom Enoch has so much to say in his Apocrypha. And our name is Nephilim, those angels’ progeny—seed of betrayal, rape-born earth-giants, mighty men and women of renown…
Not that we are any of us quite so massive these days, by comparison. Not since hormones and nutrition have rendered Goliath the rule, David the exception, throughout this world’s Westernmost portions.
Blandina and Cecilia left the Connaught Trust in street drag, with their scarves—so easily mistaken for hijab, these post-Osama days— pulled down into neat little cravats, and only the lack of make-up to set them apart from any other two unfashionable young ladies tricked out in sensible black shoes with steel toes and thick soles, sharp-creased navy blue security guard slacks, and white polo-neck uniform shirts bought by the gross from an outlet in Scarborough. Hair either long enough to put back in a braid, yet short enough not to provide much of a hand-hold (Cecilia), or close-cut as the diocese would allow and nappy from ten years’ worth of not being relaxed every other week, the way God always intended (Blandina). Plus nothing personal, nothing identifiable, just in case: no jewellery beyond the tiny silver cross-pins at their lapels or the plain silver wedding ring Blandina wore, signifying her commitment to that principality her Mémé called King Christ Jesus.
A sap in her right-hand pocket, full of anchoress-blessed sand. A set of cold iron knuckles in her left, similarly blessed, incised with Crusader crosses. That, and she could Wing Ch’un the crap out of whatever came her way, with a side order of Krav Maga, and a little bit of Brazilian Capoeira for back-up. Blandina wasn’t sure what sort of hand-to-hand practice Cecilia had under her belt, if any; hadn’t seen her at any of her prayer sessions thus far, that was for sure. But if Mother Eulalia was letting her out of the Connaught Trust at all, she must be able to at least halfway defend herself unarmed.…
Or maybe I’m supposed to do that forher, while she takes notes. As a learning exercise.
They passed through the stacks and out onto the Legacy Library’s floor, a hushed, expensively outfitted reading room full of students and clergy. Most had ancient-looking ecclesiastical books out on their carrels, reading in rapt silence while their Trust-issued pencils scratched diligently away. The wall they passed while crossing to the final door supported a huge dark Renaissance scene: Jacob vs. God’s messenger at Jabbok, Sunday Sunday Sunday.
“‘Jacob wrestled the angel, and the angel was overcome,’” Blandina quoted out the side of her mouth, keeping her voice low. “True or false, sister?”
Cecilia, still craning her neck to look Jacob in the eye, gave a guilty sort of jump. “Um… true?”
“’Cause the Bible says so?” Blandina shrugged. “Scripture also claims, at the Battle of Jericho, Joshua made the sun and moon stand still in the sky—but physics says, if that ever happened, gravity would fail, and we’d all fly off into outer space. Who’s right?”
They stepped through into the hallway, letting the weighted door fall softly shut behind while their steps rang sharp on the tile a good ten times before Cecilia finally found her answer. “That’s… a very hard question,” she said, at last.
“No it’s not.”
Down the hallway’s end, a new set of doors required both palm-scan and computerized lock-code. Blandina put hers in by feel, waiting while Cecilia struggled to recall whichever dead nun’s she’d been assigned. Beyond, the Trust’s outermost lobby was cool, functional, modern; if she didn’t know better, Blandina might’ve suspected today’s greeter of wearing lip-gloss. Her desk bore the Ordo’s insignia and motto, thin gold letters set in dark wood: In Nomine Perpetua in Perpetuam.
“Then how’s this,” Blandina said, tracing the letters. “Night before her martyrdom, Eusebius says the Blessed Perpetua dreamt she wrestled Satan in the form of a black man, and threw him. You think that happened?”
“I don’t know what you want me to—” As Blandina narrowed her eyes, Cecilia sighed. “Okay. Do I think it’s true she threw him? Or that she dreamed it?”
They locked gazes a moment longer, the novice obviously braced for some anti-heretical eruption; Blandina knew she had a reputation, especially amongst the unblooded. But all she gave back was a smile, small yet genuine. “Good one,” she allowed.
And now they were almost out in the world. Blandina stopped on the threshold, asking Cecilia—“Next-to-last question: You and me fought ghul last night. True or false?”
“Well… I was there.”
“But if you told anybody else, would they believe you?”
“… probably not.”
“So riddle me this. Why do we believe, at all, when God and the Church tell us something we know could never happen did—just because we see things everyone else thinks don’t exist every day, every night, and kill them? Or is it something more?”
Again, Cecilia hesitated—a flinch, almost. Somebody was going to have to break her of that habit, and Blandina suspected she’d been handed the job. “I, I’m just thinking… I mean…”
“It’s not rocket science, sister. We take it on faith, because we have to. By definition.”
“Yes. Of course.”
You couldn’t fault the girl for knowing nothing, Blandina supposed. She’d known nothing herself, once upon a time.
“What’s he like, Mac Roke?” Cecilia asked.
“You’ll find him charming, probably,” Blandina replied, without turning. “Most do.”
“Because he’ll be putting a charm on me?” Blandina threw her a look. “He’s partly Fae, that’s what I’d heard; part Fae and part warlock, and I don’t even know what that is. Is there a word for that, specifically?”
“Not that I know of.”
She thought of Mac Roke, bent to his former customary task, updating the Bestiarium Ad Noctem with notes from the Ordo’s latest interrogations; had he found family members’ names in there, now and again? But then, as she recalled, that implication was always a sore spot. We don’t all know each other, B, he’d tell her. There’s no organized “monster community” with a party line, a hidden agenda, or what-have-you. Jesus, how speciesist can you get?
“Some Fae can charm, yes,” Blandina told Cecilia, “just like there’s spells which bend affection. Our vows disrupt them, mostly. But…” Forcing herself to be honest, she had to admit: “… I’ve never known Roke to use glamer, no, not on us. Or me.”
“So if I feel—something happening, then—”
You won’t, Blandina wanted to snap. Instead, she doled out the glare once more, keeping things short and sharp—easy to remember yet hard to forget, especially under pressure. Like any standing order.
“Pray,” she advised, curtly. And turned, moving down, onto the St. George subway station steps.
Of the rest, the Goetim, Adversary-allied, found themselves imprisoned along with him in Hell’s multifoliated holding-cell—able to escape every now and then through the usual channels (possession, pacts or deals, the debatable appeal of doing some magician’s beck and call), but always eventually returned to serve out the rest of their sentence. The Maskim or Terrible Seven, meanwhile, chose no side but their own and continue even now to do as they please in vain pursuit of free will, which their very nature renders an impossibility.
But my ancestors were set to wandering, cast out on every side, surrounded by a movable cage/feast/retinue of children—only comfortable in our presence, yet resentful of our existence, palpable proof of their own endless appetite-slavery, the injury they are unable to keep themselves from offering the One who still loves them most. He who would gladly grant them salvation, even now, if only they could keep from making more of us.
(And what might He offer we Nephilim, were our parents to relent at last? This I do not know, for I have never heard His voice, at all. I am not enough of one thing for that. Half of me is human, just like everybody else—made from meat and hunger and sin, driven by blood, tormented by possibility. But the other—
The other half is like every angel, good, bad, or indifferent. And it is made from God.)
What Maccabee Roke looked like, these days, was the same man he’d always seemed: rugged, edge-of-handsome, with too-dark hair, and abnormally bright blue eyes. He was leaned up against the till of that ridiculous shop of his—“Curia: Odd Objects Appraised and Traded”— studying a ledger with his reading glasses on, wearing the Port Dalhousie Peregrines football team sweatshirt Blandina vaguely recalled from their ill-advised early-morning jogging sessions.
“Roke,” she said from the doorway. And: “Hey, B,” he replied, not bothering to look up. “Guess you got my message.”
“Mother Eulalia did.”
“Well, she obviously knew who I really meant it for.” Here, he finally turned, eyebrows lifting as he took in Cecilia. “This one’s new, though.”
“A novice. I’m training her.”
“Sounds fun. Am I Exhibit Number One?”
“Don’t flatter yourself.”
“Okay, whatever. You actually want to see what I found, or are we just going to stand here flirting?”
Here, however, a new voice intruded—snakey, smokey, rich with archaic Scots burr. “I’d thought tae find ye unoccupied, coz, yet here I stand, corrected. Will ye no’ introduce me tae yuir friends?”
This newest arrival, still half-caught in the act of pixilating into quick relief like an Escher puzzle-print emerging from its background pattern, was someone Blandina knew of, but had never previously met: “young,” lean and flexible, with a pouty, private mouth, dressed head-to-toe in scaly green—a silky suit of uncertain cut, probably cobbled together from leaves.
“One of the Druirs,” Blandina told Cecilia. “Saracen, right? Don’t look in its eyes.”
A moue. “‘It?’ Ye do me wrong, God-lady. I am a tourist here only, and worthy of yuir respect.”
“You came in through the wall, Oberon.”
“I have a standing invitation,” Saracen Druir explained to Cecilia, who reddened slightly.
“My wall, B,” Roke pointed out, at the same time. “My cousin.”
“So now you’re proud of what you spent twenty years hiding? Interesting.”
A flash of something in Roke’s eyes made her tense, joyful. But it died down quickly.
“It’s what it is,” he replied, simply. “I’m what… I am. We’ve all got things in our makeup we’d drop like they’re hot, if we could. That’s family.”
Dem Scots get in every damn where, like hissin’ roaches, her Mémé whispered from her memory’s back recesses, tracing the splash of freckles across Blandina’s nose with one papery blue-brown-on-pale-pink finger. Scots, French, English-from-England, breedin’ their blood in us fe a hundred generation gone, chah!Messin’ us from the cradle on so we forever strangers, even to our own-selves.
But: ah, chah, indeed. She didn’t have time for this, not with Saracen already moving in on Cecilia out of the corner of one eye, thinking Blandina too far away to notice, or Cecilia apparently too tranced to think of stopping him.
Just before he could make contact, however, Blandina interposed— touched him instead, with her left hand, and let cold iron do all the work. There was a subdued flash, almost grey, which sent Saracen scurrying backwards; under his own hand, slapped down protectively, she could see the charred edges of a palm-print forming. “Ye foul rag-and-bone!” he cursed at her.
“You’re lucky I didn’t do it on your face.”
“Tae treat me thus, under my ane cousin’s guest-truce! I should blast ye—”
“Keep the peace, half-thing. Think you’re safe just because your hill lies outside the GTA? Be very sure—if our charter widens to include the Five-Family Coven’s leavings, we will move against you… all of you.”
“Oh? And do ye ‘keep the peace,’ sweeting?”
Blandina grinned. “Try me.”
Roke, unimpressed, made a dry little tutting sound. “Saracen, what the hell: they’re God-protected to begin with, and she kills stuff like you for fun. What’d you expect?”
Those eyes flared, narrowing. “A sad thing, when blood counts for naught in the face of threat. Ye should at least pretend tae ha’ my back.”
“Mmm, yeah, right—that’d be a solid no; Curia’s neutral ground, and if the price of it staying that way is you occasionally getting crucifix-whipped for acting stupid, I don’t have any real problem with the concept. Now: need a little something for that burn, or were you going?”
Saracen made a hissing noise, high wind through dry grass, and leaned back against the same wall he’d first eased his way through, eyes closing bottom-to-top on all of them, as though he’d suddenly had quite enough of this silly human nonsense.
Roke snorted again, switching his attention back to Blandina. “So here’s what happened,” he began. “Not last night but the night before, I’m closing up, and these guys come in—four of ’em, all dressed differently, but they have this weird look, like they’re related somehow. Which set off my radar, so—”
“You turned on the security camera.”
“Kirlian video, here we come.” He bent below the desk, came up with a sheaf of screen-cap printouts. “Now… you tell me.”
Four man-shapes, as advertised: one white, two brown, one possibly Asian of some derivation. And all of them with a single spear of light guttering from each of their foreheads, a blowtorch-bright halo-slice, like flaws in the nonexistent film.
“What are those?” Cecilia asked behind her, apparently sure that Blandina would know the answer. But Blandina simply shook her head.
“I don’t know,” she replied.
“Exactly,” Roke agreed; he punched cash-out, rummaged inside his till, withdrew something wrapped in a Glad easy-open sandwich bag that drew the gaze like a magically charged magnet, a slightly shimmering curlicue knot of black-on-silver penmanship.
Cecilia leaned forward. “Is that Enochian?”
“Proto-Enochian, a name, one of the oldest. The seal of Penemue Grigorim.”
Blandina felt both her thumbs prick at once, hard enough to make her wince; she shook her head, blinking. And asked: “Somebody sold you that? And you bought it?”
“Angelic script has its markets, B. Point is, whenever I usually get my hands on stuff like this, it’s old—fifty years, a hundred, centuries. But look closer.”
Cecilia put out her hand, idiotically, and Roke dropped the thing into her palm, holding it gingerly by the corner as if it might be hot. When she turned it over, its weird no-glow masked by the paper’s back- side, they both saw a stationery header, which read Greetings from the Motorway Motel, Mississauga—Unlimited Pool, Cable, Wi Fi. Perfect for Parties.
“It’s genuine,” Roke said. “Written maybe… yesterday, or the day before. Which means that one of the first angels to ever descend is right here, in town. And not alone, either.”
“Furious Angels,” excerpted from We Will All Go Down Together © Gemma Files, 2014