Black Shuck and the Betrayal

By Anne Azel

An androgynous face.  Her nose a little too big and straight for a woman and her jaw a little too strong.  With make-up she would be striking but not beautiful.  Without, she could pass at a glance as a boy reaching puberty.   She wore scruffy boots, old patch trousers, and a shirt and waistcoat to flatten her chest profile.  A ragged grey scarf covered her long neck and a scuffed and too large leather boilerman’s cap was pulled down to cover her hair.  Her face was dirty with coal dust and her hands covered in fingerless gloves of tattered wool. 

Victorian London.  The street crowded with horse drawn hansoms and wagons.   Their wheels bouncing over worn cobble- an everlasting roar of thunder.   The cries of fishmongers, rag and bones men and hackers echoed above the rumble.  The gutters ran with muddy water and refuge, and the breeze brought a stench of urine, cabbage and salt fish.  The gas lamps still smelt of hot metal from the night before.  Fancy dressed ladies lifted their skirts as they walked down the sidewalk to keep hems clean.  Gentlemen walked on the outside to protect them from splashes from muddy wheels.  Across the street a shoe boy, skinny and in rags knelt on the wet pavement and polished the boots of a military man, his boot on the child’s bony knee.  A butcher wearing a leather stained apron stood in a doorway his arms crossed and a scowl on his face.  Business was slow and his freshly slaughtered chickens hung by their yellow claws in the store window, wings hanging open showing scrawny under sides.

The woman kept back in the shadows of an alley.  Waiting.  It would not be long now.  Already a silence was rolling down the street.  People stopped, duffed hats and for a minute pondered their own mortality.  Some turned away or held on to a coat button to ward off the bad luck of meeting a funeral head on.  

Leading the procession was a tall man in a black frock suit.  He wore a headdress of black dyed ostrich feathers and carried a six foot staff with a silver knob.  The Featherman.  He and his people had made his headdress and also the ostrich headdresses worn by the six black Belgians each perfectly matched and in step that pulled the funerary cart.    

Behind the Featherman was a pair of mutes.  A tradition that went way back to Roman Britain, the woman knew.  They wore black suits and top hats hanging with white crepe and a white sash crossed their chests and tied in a flamboyant bow on their hip.  Black for an adult, white for a child.   The mutes would have stood on each side of the door of the grieving household and then joined the procession.  At the church they would stand at the doors again.  They would remain always silent and look extravagantly sad.  Their job was to guard the soul of the decreased until the Church’s rites sent it on to a better life.    For this purpose, they carried staffs with a cross bar at the top.  From it black crepe hung and was tied in a bow midway down the staff.  Like the staffs of castle porters hundreds of years ago, the woman thought.

The Featherman passed her and she respectfully duffed her hat as any respectable man would do.  The mutes passed, then the three rows of paired black horses pulling the hearse.  Its walls were glass and within, the woman knew, a small coffin of the finest elm lay beneath the cover of black silk.  She had heard that the Queen herself had paid for the funeral.  It was unlikely, yet someone had seen that this young soul had been given the best of funerals.  Public sentiment and fear were running high.  To each side of the hearse walked three bearers who were tasked with carrying such a light burden to its grave.   Behind the hearse came the six pages carrying truncheons.  They would keep order.  And behind them, the grieving family.  Men only, they were dressed in black top hats with crepe trailing.  Women were considered too emotional to deal with funerals.  Their wailing would ruin the solemn, dignified proceedings.  That thought made the woman sneer and placed her hat back on.

The grieving women would be at home, behind windows hung with black crape.  They too would be dressed in black, heavy veils covering their tear stained faces.  Perhaps they would sit, weaving a ring from the golden hairs of the child or tucking the curls safely away to be made into a broach later.  They’d see the servants talked in whispers as they prepared the funerary lunch and that no laughter or gaiety would be part of the household during the long months of mourning. 

The woman shook her head.  She’d seen many funerals over the last thousand years.  Each different and yet always the same.  She had found out what she needed to know.  The child had been killed by Black Shuck.  Torn apart savagely, and chunks gulped down in bloody hunks of dripping flesh.   Little would have been left to place in the small elm coffin.   The funeral furnishers would have lined the bottom of the coffin with sawdust and bran to absorb the liquid from the rotting remains.  Rosemary branches too had been added to cover the smell.  There was a different smell too that still clung to the remains.  A scent that only she of those that stood silently in respect could sense, one of sulfur, brimstone and death.  The Dark Lord’s scent.

The woman turned and walked down the alley in long strides.  She skirted the streets keeping in the shadows and kept her head down.  Behind her a wisp of brown floated along.  Sometimes taking shape, sometimes dissolving on the breeze.  It followed.  Finally, she reached a quiet lane of three story town houses.  A good middle class neighborhood now showing its age and hard times.  The woman opened the wrought iron gate on the third house on the right, crossed the small patch of rose garden in two strides and climbed the freshly chalked step to the house.  Pulling out a brass key, she opened the door and stepped into a long hall way halved by a dark flight of stairs.  The striped cream and green wall paper was old but still in good repair.  She stopped and listened. Voice came softly from the parlor. 

The house was supposed to be a boarding house but it was not.  It was used at the moment by six remarkable individuals.  Three women and three men.  They didn’t own the house.  It was on loan to them by a grateful patron.  They would stay only as long as it took to deal with the evil that had appeared here. 

The woman opened the door and entered a cheery room.  The chairs were over stuffed and comfy and covered on burgundy velvet.  The fire in the brick fireplace snapped brightly and the wall paper was roses.

“Blaine, you’re back at last!”  The Honorable Claire Gothenburg stood and came forward to take Blaine’s hands.  “I was worried.”  Claire was painfully thin and short compared to her friend.  Blond hair was streaked with grey.  She worn a simple full length, green gown with a high waist.  From her neck hung a plain gold cross.

“I had no problems.”

Across the room a woman in a similar gown in plum, rushed to be gathered up in a handsome man’s arms. “We were all worried.  It was far too dangerous for you to be walking the streets as a man.  You could have endangered us all.”  Blaine stiffened.  This was Matilda of Parma.  A tall, beautiful woman with raven, black hair and flashing dark eyes, she had once been Blaine’s partner.  Now she was with Sir Pierre St. Jacques.  He too was tall and incredibly handsome with wavy blond hair and startling blue eyes.   A Knight Templar, he’d died a noble death protecting others on Friday, October 13th 1307.

“She did what she had to do,” reasoned a short, burly Scot with red hair and a button nose on a face of freckles.  This was Gordon Campbell, who had died of the leprosy he’d caught treating others in 1560. “She is the only one of us who could smell the lingering scent of Black Shuck’s work.  A woman could hardly have been standing on a street corner waiting for that length of time now could she?”

Blaine’s eyes settled on the white haired man who sat quietly by the fire.  He was Jermaine of Lindisfarne, their spiritual leader.  A monk, he was older than all the others and wise. His rather plain face hid a kind heart and active mind.  He looked up at her. “Well?”

“There is no doubt.  The few mauled remains reeked of the Dark Lord’s servant.  It was the Hellhound, Black Shuck, who murdered the child.”

“Blunt as ever,” muttered St Jacques, rubbing Matilda’s back gently.

Claire let go of Blaine’s hands and turned to Jermaine. “Something must be done!  Jermaine, first a man, then a woman, now a child!  A child!”

Jermaine nodded sadly.  “I know.  The Dark Lord’s forces are growing stronger.  He wants to confront us.”

Claire looked around the room.  “Why do we hesitate?  We are immortals bond to fight for the Light of Our God.  We’ve killed Black Shuck before.  We can do it again.”

Jermaine sighed and got to his feet far more nimbly than would be expected from a man his age.  “It’s different this time.  I sense it.  So does Blaine in her own way.  Black Shuck has come for one of us.  One of us has turned to the power of evil.”

Blaine bit her lip.  It was said.  She’d known deep in her heart, but hadn’t been able to articulate the thought.  Yes, she could sense evil.  A darkness in this room where there should only be Light. 

The stunned silence was broken by Gordon.  “Surely not!  We’ve fought together against evil for hundreds of years.  Each of us died and was reborn to fight evil for Our Lord.  How could this be possible?”

Jermaine shook his head.  “I don’t know and I still pray it is not true.  I could be wrong.”

“You are not wrong,” stated Blaine.

“Are you confessing, Maiden Blaine?” St Jacque asked, sarcastically.

Blaine took a step forward, anger mounting inside.

“No,” said Germaine softly and Blaine stopped, the heat of embarrassment at her loss of control rising in her face.  “No, we will not turn on each other like mad dogs, Pierre.  We will stand united and hope that together we can defeat Black Shuck and redeem a soul tempted by the devil.  IF such a soul exists amongst us.”

Gordon sighed.  “Does that one know?  Is he or she hand in hand with the Dark Lord?  Because if that be so, could you not look into their soul, Jermaine, and know if that person was lying?”

“No.  I wish I could.  For some time I have sensed a presence but it doesn’t seem to cling to any one person.  It could be the person doesn’t know the danger their soul is in.  Or it could be I’m wrong completely.”

“Or it could be that whoever this – person - is has become so powerful that we are blinded to the evil near us.”  St Jacques looked at Blaine with suspicion. 

“That could be true too,” conceded Jermaine.  “What I am sure of is that we will be sorely tested.  My friends, remember that it is not the beast at the door that is your most dangerous enemy.  It is the beast within your hearts.  The human flesh is weak and the temptations great.  Tonight is All Hallows Eve.  These nights between harvest and winter are always the darkest and the boundary between the living and the dead thins.  This is the Dark Lord’s night.  When the beast within fights with the souls of men and women.  We must be on our guard.  We must prepared our minds, hearts and souls for what may lay ahead.” 

Gordon moved uneasily.  “Tonight then, master?”

“Perhaps.”  Jermaine forced a smile melting some of the tension in the room.  “In the meantime, Blaine you need to wash and transform yourself back into a lady.  And I will see to the finishing touches of the mutton stew I have prepared for our supper.”

Blaine nodded and headed back into the hall.  Turning to head towards the stairs that lead to the kitchen at the lower level of the house, she caught the glimpse of something brown and moving out of the corner of her eye.  She stopped and looked down the hall.  Nothing.

“Is something the matter?”  Jermaine was behind her. 

“No, I thought I saw… I must set some rat traps,” Blaine concluded and headed down the stairs to the lower level where the kitchen was located in most homes.  Jermaine followed.

Casting an eye to the large fireplace, she smiled.  Jermaine did most of their cooking and he’d insisted on a decent kitchen.  The huge fireplace was divided in half.  On one side an iron oven with its own fire source below and a warming shelf below that filled the area.  On the other side was the traditional fireplace but an iron bar allowed for the hanging of pots and iron shelving in front allowed pots to be sat to warm in front of the flames.  A pot of hot water waited for Blaine.  She got a wood bucket and set it in the tin sink below the hand pump.  Then she took the small pitcher of water that sat on the wood counter and poured it into the top of the pump to prime it.  With a few pumps of the handle cold water flowed from the pump spout from the storage cistern into the bucket.  She filled the pitcher again and set it aside and then put on a well-used pair of leather gloves.  She lifted the pot of hot water and added it to the bucket. 

Jermaine had waited in the doorway watching her.  “What do you sense?” He asked as she filled the pot once again to warm on the fireplace shelving before remove the gloves.  The hot water would be needed for the washing up after dinner.  She didn’t answer right away, instead, she turned and lifted her wood bucket out of the sink.

“Great evil,” Blaine struggled to express what she felt.  Then went on hesitantly.  “I sense a tear in the tapestry of Mother Earth’s world.  One like I have never felt before.  It is a deep wound and from it rises the pus of the Dark One.”  She bit her lip and then admitted what she would not in front of the others.  “I’m afraid.”

Jermaine nodded and came forward to put his hand on Blaine’s shoulder.  “So am I.  We must be alert.  Do not let your own feelings blind you to your duty.”

Blaine looked up sharply.  Anger boiled to the surface and then calmed.  Jermaine could see into her heart and knew how much it hurt her to see Matilda with St. Jacques.  She nodded too emotional to respond and taking the wood bucket made her way up the servant’s stairs to her room on the second floor.

Her room was small but comfortable.  A grate within a brick fireplace allowed Blaine to have glowing coal to warm her room during the night.  Her bed was a straw tick or mattress over strung rope, but it was covered with down filled blankets.   She poured half the warm water from the bucket into a porcelain basin that sat on her dry sink and the other half into the matching china pitcher.  This she placed by her fireplace to keep the water warm during the night for her morning ablutions.  Stripping off, she took a sponge and a bar of soap and gave herself a good sponge bath and then combed her hair with olive oil until it shone.  She slipped into an evening dress that was low on her shoulders and full in the skirt.  Around her neck she wore a gold cross, not plain like the one Claire wore but intricately woven in a Celtic pattern.  As she moved about the room it seemed to give off its own warm radiance. 

This time she walked down the main stairs and joined her colleagues in the parlor once again.  Everyone had changed for dinner.  The men now sported stiff, high collars and broad silk ties with suit jackets and the women formal dresses.   The tension of earlier had dissipated or at least had been buried under a layer of congenial conversation.  They had sherry and kept to safe topics.  Jermaine came in and announced dinner and they trailed into the dining room which Claire had set up earlier.  With no servants to serve, meals were set on the side table in warming dishes.  These were plates or bowls made with a double wall and a hole to pour hot water in to keep the china warm.

They started with a piece of salted cod served with a pickled onion.  The main course was lamb stew and dumplings and the sweet was fresh pears in a sweet molasses glaze.  Once everyone was seated, Jermaine had led them in prayer and then they’d settled to eat.  It was an excellent meal as always.  Jermaine had a knack of making the simplest meal delightful.   He gave credit to Blaine who managed the kitchen garden and who could grow, as he often joked, potatoes on pavement.

Blaine, of course, was different from the others.  She too had died and become immortal.  She had stepped in front of an arrow meant for her brother at the battle of Mons Badonicus in 502.  Unlike the others, it was not out of Christian devotion that she had become immortal.  It seemed instead to have been the result of the cross she wore that a Druid had blessed for her.  Her power was of the Earth not the heavens.  And when Matilda had saved her life during a flash flood in 1098, she had held Blaine’s cross and had become immortal as well.

After dinner, St Jacque and Matilda cleared and did the dishes.  They all took turns doing the domestic chores by Jermaine’s insistence.  The others sat in the parlor again in relative silence.  The men drank a glass of port.  The women read by the gas lights.  When the remaining two joined them, Jermaine spoke.

“We will stand guard tonight.  Be alert.  Danger is near.”

It was all that needed to be said.  The dread had been descending slowly on them all day.  They had fought it back by a façade of normality, but now night had gathered around them.  Each would be returning to their own rooms and to their own demons.   Fear of the night.  Fear of the evil within.  It was as natural as breathing.  A primeval trace memory with which all living things were born.  The fear of what is out there lurking in the darkness.  Listen!  Do you hear it?  Do you sense it nearby?   Out there in the darkness, it waits for you.  They lingered afraid to separate until Jermaine insisted that they retire.   St Jacque and Claire took the first watch.  One would patrol downstairs and one upstairs.  All Hallow eve had begun.  Quickly, they made ready for bed.

The three women went out to the privy together.  Claire stood shivering beside Blaine as Matilda went first.  “I’m afraid of canines,” she confessed.

“Black Shuck only looks like a big dog.  He’s not.  He’s a monster.  Most dogs are good, loyal animals.”

“It will be tonight?”  Claire asked.

“Yes.  Tonight.”  Blaine frowned.  “Something I sense.  Something I think Jermaine feels too.  Be careful, Claire.  Tonight trust no one.”

Claire’s eyes widened in shock. “Surely you don’t believe that one of the faithful could be seduced by the Dark Lord!”

The door of the privy opened and Matilda stepped out smoothing her skirts.  “Your turn Blaine.  I left the seat warm,” she teased. 

Blaine’s lips tightened but she said nothing.  She pushed passed Matilda and entered the privy closing the door swiftly.

“You shouldn’t tease her like that,” Claire whispered.  “It’s cruel.”

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t realize what I was saying.  Claire, don’t take what Blaine said too seriously.  She’s, well, she’s dramatic at times.  It’s her Celtic blood, I imagine.”

“Don’t you feel the danger?” Claire asked a bit sharply, a frown forming on her face.

“Oh yes!  There’s great danger.  I just think like you that it’s not from one of us.  It’s out there, in the darkness.  Can’t you sense it?”  Matilda shivered and laughed softly.  “I’m scaring myself.  The wind is getting up.  I think it will rain.”

“Yes, I feel it.  They’re close, the storm and the evil.  There’s every reason to be scared.”

The privy door opened and Blaine came out holding the door open for Claire.  “Go and get some sleep, Matilda.  I’ll wait for Claire,” Blaine said bluntly.

Matilda smiled.  “Really, Blaine, you shouldn’t get so agitated over small things.  I’m sorry I upset you.”  She turned with a gentle swirl of silk skirts and walked up the path to the house.  Blaine stood watching her, mesmerized even now by her beauty.

It was a late October night, dark, windy and wet.  Blaine pulled her heavy drapes against the night and stooped to add a few pieces of coal to her fire.  She slipped out of her clothes, but instead of putting her night dress on, she slipped into trousers and a shirt.  Reaching across her body to her hip, she felt her hand grasp something that as yet could not be seen.  Pulling her hand forward a sword appeared giving off a faint blue luminescence.   “Steadfast, you have served me well for a thousand years.  You that was forged in the forges and well waters of Tintagel, serve me well tonight.”   She turned the sword down and jammed it into the floor to form a makeshift cross and knelt, praying to God to give her the strength she would need and the peace to rest before the battle.

Claire moved from the parlor into the shadows of the hallway.  What was that smell?  She moved slowly down the dark hall, keeping her back to the wall.  Nothing.  Yet the smell was stronger.  Acidic and foul.  She bit her lip, should she call for help?  No, not until she had some tangible reason.  Victorian England was full of nasty smells after all.  She edge to the stair well and looked down into the darkness.  No sound, no movement from within the gloom.  One step at a time, she edged down to the scullery.  She could see a little better now.  The coals from the fire in the kitchen still gave off a warm glow from within their white coat of ash.  She moved slowly forward, all her sense straining to detect anything out of the ordinary. Nothing, just the smell getting stronger.

She stopped and wiped sweat from her upper lip, then steeling her courage, she stepped into the kitchen itself.  A soft glow from the fire and a shaft of gaslight from the window at street level illuminated the neat kitchen.  A cinder rolled out of place in the fire and sparked and Claire jumped, her heart pounding heavily in her chest.  She gasped in fear and gave a weak laugh. 

Breathing.  No panting!  It came from directly behind her and with it the over powering smell of rot and brimstone.  She turned.  A massive form stood before her. She saw the shaggy fur matted in blood and refuge, teeth bared and jaws drooling a yellow reeking pus.  It’s eyes blood red and hateful.  It was only a second’s hesitation, a second’s glimpse.  Claire opened her mouth to scream as teeth ripped at her throat and she was shaken like a flag in the wind.  Warm fresh blood spattered across the wall and dripped to the floor.  Black Shuck.  He was there.  He is everywhere.  Can you hear him?  Can you see him move in the darkness?  Can he feel your guilt and your fears? Will he come for you too? The Hellhound of nightmares.

Blaine had thought she would be unable to sleep but her prayers had given her peace.  She slumbered.  Beside her, a warm body curled close.  Possessively.  Soft finger tips reached under her shirt and explored her breasts and hardened nipples.  Warm liquid pooled between Blaine’s thighs.  She moaned in her sleep.  It had been a long time.  Too long.  Lips hot with desire nuzzled at the white of her vulnerable throat.  Her eyes shot open and she rolled away with a gasp of fear as teeth snapped and missed.  She was on her feet and her sword drawn from invisibility in a second.  Curled on her bed, laughing softly was a misty, brown form of a serpent.  Then in an instant the luscious naked form of a woman.  Matilda.

“What’s the matter my lovely?  You still desire me.  You have always desired me, my sex, my beauty – my power.  I tempted you once before and I can tempt you once again.  Come here, take me.  I want you on me, in me, a part of me.  Come ride me, my love one.  Join me.”

“No!  Where is St Jacque?  Blaine clung to her sword.  Fighting the temptation to fling it away and throw herself on the beauty woman.  To have her way as she had many nights in the past.  It was all she ever wanted, this love.  An evil, hot passion consumed her.  She gritted her teeth.  Matilda, the temptress.  The Dark Lord’s servant.  Why hadn’t she sensed it?  Why hadn’t she seen it before it was too late?  “Where is St Jacque?”

The woman uncurled, spreading her legs so Blaine could see all she had to offer.  “Frozen with fear and waiting for my call.  But it’s not him I want.  I have him.  I want you.  The Dark Lord will be pleased.”

“Never!” Blaine choked out.

“Never?” Matilda laughed.  “But we already have.  Have you forgotten how we fit, our bread and butter.  You liked the taste of my butter, didn’t you?  You want me.  I can smell your desire.  Come join me.”

“Where is Claire, Jermaine and Gordon?”  Blaine fought for self-control.  She could feel those long, sensitive fingers still stroking her body.

“Poor Claire.  Black Shuck got her.  I imagine Jermaine and Gordon are mopping up the mess.”  Matilda pulled a face.  “A true dog’s dinner, our blessed Claire.”

With a howl of rage, Blaine charged forward her blade held high.  It crashed just as suddenly against another.  Matilda’s sword.  She now stood before Blaine dressed as a warrior in red chain mail.  “If you reject me then you will die,” came an unearthly roar. 

At the sounds of the growling and tearing Jermaine and Gordon had charged from their rooms and belted down the two flights of stairs to the kitchen.  Claire hung limp from the monster’s mouth.  Without thought, both men charged forward.  Black Shuck dropped Claire’s body in a heap and snapped out at Gordon.  He managed to leap aside and Jermaine slashed out, cutting Black Shuck across the chest.  The slash was long but not deep enough.  The beast turned on the man and slammed his paw down on his body.  Germaine, cried out in pain and jabbed his sword into the soft flesh between the beast’s toes just as Gordon ran forward and sunk his sword deeply into the monster’s side.  Black Shuck reared around and knocked Gordon against the wall with a paw, then turned back to Germaine.  But the monk was ready.  He staggered forward and dug his blade deep into the bleeding slash of Black Shuck’s chest.  The monster snapped at him and Germaine dodged to avoid the deadly teeth.  Suddenly, Gordon was beside him and added his blade to Germaine’s, Black Shuck choked.  Blood exploded from his mouth and the monster fell to the ground crushing the wood kitchen table.  They waited, blades ready but it was over.  The monster slowly turned to brown vapor and dissipated.  Germaine limped to Clair’s side.

“Did it get her soul?” Gordon asked, gasping for breath as he held his broken ribs in place.

“No, she lives but she will suffer for months before her body can heal itself.  I’ll give her opium to help with the pain.”

“Where are the others?”  Gordon asked.  The men looked up, suddenly aware of a battle several stories up.

“Go,” said Germaine. “My leg is broken.  I’ll stay with Claire.”

Gordon nodded, turned and ran despite the pain that shot through him with each step.

The red warrior had slowly worn down Blaine’s defenses.  Blaine staggered backward with each blow of Matilda’s sword against her own.  She gritted her teeth against the desire within her that demanded she give herself to the serpent, who had once been the woman she loved. 

“We are meant to be,” Matilda hissed.  “You and I.”

“We are not!”

Matilda laughed.  It was a deep, hollow sound.  “Oh yes, we are and with a final slash she forced Blaine back until she tripped and landed on the bed.   Matilda dived forward with a cry of victory, her hand outstretched to grab the sacred cross from Blaine’s neck.  But Blaine was ready.  She pulled her feet up and slammed them into Matilda with all the force she could muster.  Matilda staggered back in surprise and Blaine lashed out with Steadfast. The blade tore through the flesh and sinew of Matilda’s sword arm. 

“You can escape, Matilda.  You can step away from the Dark Lord.  Let us help you,” Blaine begged tears rolling down her face, but at the same time she raised her sword to make the final stroke if she needed to.

The door burst open and Gordon rushed through, gasping for breath, but his sword was raised and ready.  Blaine’s attention had been diverted for the briefest of seconds but it was enough.  With a roar of rage, Matilda swept around the room in a hurricane of brown fury and was gone.  Blaine staggered back to her feet and helped Gordon up.

“She’s gone.  Gone to the devil,” she sobbed.

Gordon nodded and grabbed a sheet off the bed and started ripping it into strips to make bandages for Blaine’s many wounds.  Blaine wouldn’t die.  She couldn’t but the blood loss and possible infection would weaken her and make them all vulnerable.  That was the hell of being immortal.  One could be hurt badly, suffer and yet never die.

“The others?”

Gordon sighed.  “Claire’s the worst, mangled by Black Shuck but her soul is intact.  Jermaine has a broken leg.  I passed St Jacque in the hall.  He’s alive but lying unresponsive.”

“I’m okay now,” came a voice from behind them.   St Jacque staggered into the room looking pale and haggard.  “I fear I have missed a good deal.   I was with Matilda in the hall when a sudden coldness entered my being and my muscles refused to respond.  I felt Matilda slip by me and I tried to stop her but she lashed out at me and I fell.  I remember nothing more until I woke in the hall a few minutes ago.”  As he talked he helped Gordon to bind Blaine’s wounds.  “What has happened?”

Gordon looked up and frowned.  “Black Shuck came and tore Claire apart.  He came at the bidding of the devil’s servant.  One of ours.”

“It was Matilda,” Blaine stated. “She’s sold her soul to the devil.”

“But I loved her,” St Jacques said in bewilderment.

“So did I,” Blaine choked and the tears came again.  “I tried to save her.  She wouldn’t listen.  We need to help the others.”

“Will she return?” Gordon asked.

Blaine nodded her face distorted in misery.  “I didn’t kill her.  Someday, yes, she will return as will Black Shuck.  Today we defeated evil.  Today we won.  But evil is always out there, waiting in the darkness.  Waiting for a weakness.  For a soul weighed with guilt.  It waits for all of us on this Hallow Eve and always.  Beware of the devil within.”