Later, when she looked back on that day, Anna wouldn't be able to explain what drew her to the church. She wasn't a religious woman. Raised Catholic, yes, but she'd left all that behind so many years past, it didn't bear discussing. And yet, that early afternoon some aching need for peace... for Grace... propelled her up the stairs and through the heavy wooden door.
It was a small church. Quaint, with a tiny cemetery attached. It was the sort of humble place that carried a beauty sweeping cathedrals never would. The faded stained glass, the worn pews, the bare wooden floors all spoke of a lean budget but offered warmth and comfort. But it was the stone cross that caught her attention and carried her down the aisle, heels echoing with each click.
The cross could have been plucked from a dense Irish forest a few hundred years before Christ walked the earth. Tall and slightly battered, but resonating with energy, it stood on a plain wooden pedestal behind the altar. Swirls and knots covered the entire surface. The closer she got, eyes locked on the pagan piece, the more it looked like a cage. As if the curves were bars, holding a nightmare at bay. Some primal creature deep within her mind screamed at her to leave. Turn around, walk away, drive home, but for God's sake don't touch.
She glanced over her shoulder, making sure she was still alone. If there was a priest on duty, he was tucked away with a good book or a good nap. A smile tugged at her lips as she turned back to the cross. It was glorious. It practically sang of ancient days and cool breezes on starlit nights. She could easily imagine a druid standing nearby, a rack of antlers at his crown, tattered white robes brushing the ground as he moved through seasonal rites. One hand lifted and paused an inch away from the carved stone. The little furry creature trembling in her mind screamed again and she laughed out loud, startling herself as the sound bounced off the pews. If religion taught her anything, it was that there was no such thing as monsters or demons or gods and this was simply a stunning piece of art from a time long lost.
In the center of the cross, surrounded by intricate knots, rose a simple triskele. While most of the cross had a threadbare feel to it, the triskele stood out as if it had just been carved. She traced a finger over it, intrigued, and yanked her hand back with a startled gasp. Blood oozed from a fine cut and marred a sharp edge of the stone curve. She lifted her finger to her mouth, gently suckling on the wound, irritation wrinkling her brow. And as she watched, the crimson streak soaked into the grain as rain soaks into parched earth, leaving not the slightest hint of colour.
The air in the church shivered, suddenly far colder than it was a moment ago. She took a step back, and another, suddenly in complete agreement with her inner critter. It was time to go.
Rich, deep laughter rumbled from behind her.
"Beautiful, isn't it? But with a bite."
Anna spun, gripping the edge of the altar for balance. If the man standing in the middle of the church was the priest, there was no justice in the world. Dark hair fell past his shoulders, loose and practically glowing in the filtered sunlight. Chiseled features held enough sardonic amusement to do Pan proud and the glitter in those blue eyes would take out the knees of any red-blooded girl. He was tall and far too sculpted to be a man of the cloth, but he clearly belonged here. He stood like he owned the place and knew every inch of it intimately. The smile twisting his lips made her feel like a child caught with a hand in the cookie jar. A child in serious need of a spanking.
She forced an answering smile, sheepish and chagrined. With a rueful laugh, she moved around the altar. "I'm sorry. I couldn't resist. It's so... unexpected. No tormented figure nailed up to stir guilt."
He laughed again, nodding, "True. I don't believe in guilt. There's not much use in it. We can't help how He has made us, after all."
Anna hesitated half-way to him. Again, the primitive remnants of her soul stirred, lecturing her higher thinking.
The priest's gaze flickered and he moved forward, holding out a hand, "Forgive me. I don't mean to taunt. You aren't the first one to be entranced by the cross. You may be the first brave enough to touch it, though."
Again with the smile. She gripped his hand lightly, offering a polite how-do-you-do shake, while she blushed a deep spectrum of red. "Well, my grandmother often told me to keep my hands to myself. A lesson I never learned. Anna. Nice to meet you, Father."
Blues darkened slightly as his fingers closed around her hand. "Call me David. Your grandmother was very wise."
"She was. Yes. David, then." Strange. Growing up, she'd have never dared call a priest by his first name. "It's been a pleasure, but I've intruded enough. I'm sure you have mass to prepare for or something."
She pulled gently on her hand, breath catching when he didn't let go. "Ahhh, Anna. You aren't intruding at all. In fact, you should definitely stay for this... mass."
He took a long step forward, forcing her to either move or let him run into her. She suddenly didn't want any more of him touching her and she stumbled back, still trying to retrieve her hand. His smile deepened as he let her go and tucked his hands behind him. She smiled, taking a step to the side. And froze.
A rush of fetid air filled the small church, as if a wind had blown up from the cemetery. She could have sworn she'd closed the door behind her, but the slam of heavy wood resounded, hurting her ears. The candles flared into pillars of raging fire, then went out entirely. But in that flash, the priest was cast in dark shadow. An impossible shadow that had no place in a house of God. A shadow larger than the man, with soaring curved horns and a snapping tail. A shadow that loomed from the depths of every hellish painting and woodcut. Ancient. Primal.
Anna looked back over her shoulder at the cross, logical denial warring with the image burned into her eyes. The laughter that rose around her this time was frightening. His voice rumbled, soaking in and leaving her no place to hide.
"Clever girl. Yes, it was your blood that released me. Your blood that opened the door. And it will be your blood that allows me to stay. After a fashion."
He moved closer and she lurched back. The I-told-you-so's were dove-tailing with the get-out-get-out-get-out's. She ducked left. He stepped left. She dodged right and he swept an arm upward, knocking her off her feet without touching her. She landed in a heap at the base of the altar, unmoving for a moment. It was just long enough for him to close the distance and lift her by her throat, gazing at her with those same beautiful eyes. The memory of the shadow hovered behind the man. David hadn't changed, but she could see him. True sight had never been so unwelcome.
"I should thank you, precious. You could have been some toothless old hag and I wouldn't have enjoyed this next part at all. But you are ripe. Lush. I will greatly enjoy taking you."
He dropped her on the altar, standing over her while she wheezed and clutched her throat. When she finally gathered her senses enough to struggle, she kicked out with both feet and twisted her body. If she could get to the other side of the altar, if she could put it between them, maybe she had a chance.
A ripping sound wrapped around the altar, shaking the wooden structure. Thick vines crawled through the air to tangle around wrists and ankles. Anna screamed and flailed, kicking again, tucking her arms tight around her waist. Her efforts only caused pain when the vines snapped down and away, stretching her until muscles burned in protest.
"You have such spirit. You can not imagine how delicious your fear and fight is after so long of being locked away. "
Panting, Anna looked at him, fury and terror warring for control. He held up one hand. The hand that slapped her halfway across the church. Terror began to win when the shadow surrounding his hand lengthened into talons and flew downward, rippling as the claws touched her shirt. The fabric parted as if sliced by a scalpel. A flurry of darkness and her skirt was a shredded wreck. David's flesh and blood hand caressed her lace bra. He was careful, almost reverent, as he traced the edge, barely touching the swell of her breast. Anna trembled. Thoughts slid sideways, leaving her clinging to prayers she'd almost forgotten.
"Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee..."
David paused, listening.
"Blessed art thou amongst women..."
He began to laugh, fingers sliding along cleavage and downward over her shivering belly.
"And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus."
Darkness clutched the fragile silk at her hips and snapped outward, tearing the cloth away.
"H... h... holy Mary, mother of God!"
Laughter as hands rubbed her thighs. She could feel fingers, almost tender, stroking. She could feel claws scraping. Two became one became two. The panic was blinding as she felt both step between her legs. The cold of shadow burning, the heat pouring off flesh.
"Pray for us sinners..."
"Yes... pray. Call to the god you have denied so long!" Triumph made his voice an ugly, guttural thing. Anna pulled at the vines, sobbing. She couldn't remember the last line and somehow, it seemed important. In the midst of this nightmare, this thing that could not be happening but was, the last line was so terribly necessary. She fought to remember and escape. He would take her body, but she could save her mind. If only she could remember.
Hands were digging into her thighs now, holding her wide open. Cool air rushed over exposed folds a moment before the tip of his cock nudged. He sighed and she whimpered, shaking her head. She wanted to beg him to stop, but she hadn't finished her prayer. He slipped into her, just enough to stretch her and give her a taste of what was coming. Already her skin was straining. Burning.
"P... pray... pray for us sinners..."
A little more, splitting her. He was breathing heavy, holding himself in check as he watched the beauty beneath him. She could feel his eyes drinking her in, savouring every drop of fear.
"Now and at the hour of our ohgod!"
He drove into her, ruining her prayer and snapping what was left of her mental grip. She arched and screamed as he tore her open. Her cries danced with his bellow. His hands came down, gripping her breasts, mauling until the lace split. He leaned forward, hunching over her, bucking in short jabs. His breath was hot as he growled in her ear, using the sound to ramp up her already debilitating fear. He took, pounding into her until flesh swelled and bruised. His breath quickened, searing her cheek. He groaned, then rose up and slammed in deep, howling his pleasure.
When he pulled away, sliding out of her with a wet, clutching sound, Anna dared open her eyes. It was over. It had to be over. He reached down and slid a finger over abused flesh. He dipped in, curling, then dragged out. With a chilling smile, he lifted his finger to her lips.
"Now, you will beg."
He rubbed his seed on her tongue, watching intently as she winced and tossed her head, choking. But the scent and taste soaked in and her head began to spin. The church blurred, fading in and out, tipping and spinning. Heat lashed at her skin, racing up and down. She struggled to breathe, knowing she had to fight the need blossoming in her belly. Once more, his hands trailed over her. But this time, there was no warmth. There was only the chill of the shadow. She blinked as he began to blur as well. He seemed to grow. Taller. Thicker. Wider at the shoulder. As she watched, sliding deeper into the ache, the shadow that had surrounded him transformed him. Horns gleamed with an inner light, fire flickering at the tips. Huge leathery wings unfolded and blocked out the back of the church. The tail she'd caught a glimpse of snapped against her foot, slicing the skin. She tried to scream, but a moan of hunger painted the air instead. She wanted him. She needed him. She had to give herself to him. Now.
Rumbling laughter shook the building. The vines slithered away, freeing her. She could run. Could scramble off the altar and maybe escape. At least try. The tiny primal beast begged and she rose up on the altar, meeting his blazing eyes.
And then she turned, bracing herself on hands and knees, offering herself to him, "Please!"
Talons ran over the smooth skin of her ass. "Please, what, mortal?"
She blushed. Anna didn't speak this way. But she wasn't herself and what she did or did not do was irrelevant. She needed.
"Please... fuck me!"
Cold hands gripped her hips. So cold. Holding her steady. He bent his head and snaked a thick tongue over dripping folds. She moaned again, rocking back. His tongue swept up, scraping the tight dark star between her cheeks. Another moan. It felt so good. How could she possibly fight now?
He stood, placing a hand at the small of her back. He gripped his shaft, stroking it, rubbing it over her until she was writhing and pleading with strangled, senseless words. This time, he gave her no warning. He simply shoved his cock deep into her ass. Her screech of blinding agony fueled his lust and he clenched a fistful of her hair, yanking her head back.
"Look at the cross. Look at it!"
Pounding into her. Slamming so hard her knees scraped on the altar. She was gasping for air, sobbing and groaning. Pain and pleasure no longer held meaning. There was no distinction. Only the hunger for more, no matter what it did to her. Flesh split and bright scarlet streaked over his driving cock. As she bled for him, as she took his brutal abuse, the lines on the cross began to fade. The bars of his prison retreated until only the triskele remained. What was left of Anna understood. And cried in that understanding. She had let him loose and destroyed the only thing that could contain him.
Still he slammed into her, holding her by the hair. His voice cut through everything, snarling a single command and she arched, jerking against his thrust, shrieking on the waves of release. Once again, he filled her, lava-hot liquid searing.
He let her go and stepped back in one smooth motion. She collapsed, clinging to the wood. The overwhelming hunger left her as soon as he pulled out and she was left with the memory and the pain. She curled into a ball, shaking. Sobbing.
She closed her eyes.
No. No no no. She wrapped tighter.
"Anna!" Snarled, demanding.
The scent of him flared and she lifted her head, peering through the tears.
David stood in the middle of the church, straightening his priest's collar. "Good girl. Thank you for your... assistance. I expect to see you here for mass on Sunday. "
He turned and walked out, not bothering to open the door. As forgiving oblivion wrapped around her, dragging her into unconsciousness, one thought held on.
She needed to find something proper to wear to church.