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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2263211-Part-8-Judges
Rated: 18+ · Serial · Horror/Scary · #2263211
I don’t ever wanna have to die, but deep inside: the death it hides...
I drifted through the red haze, thoughts scattered across a pulsing void. Words came to me. I couldn't understand them, an unintelligible language, speech muffled between time and space. There was something I'd forgotten. My head twinged, aching powerfully as I racked a wounded brain for clues. What was it?

Gradually, I became aware of some ambiguous goal left incomplete. The voices grew louder, more insistent in their urgency. I curled into a ball and cradled my tender skull, unwilling to answer those demands, hiding deeper within myself.

"... have arrived..."

Leave me be. I don't want to go anywhere right now.

"... destination."

Each word sent vibrations into my scarlet realm, leaving misery behind. I cried out after each agonizing throe as the voices rippled through my fragile microcosm. Stop, please... I just want to be left alone.

"Wake.... up."

I don't wanna. Another head-splitting spasm racked my cranium. The only reasonable reaction was to burrow even further, searching for a place where the afflicting chatter couldn't reach. It was a futile effort.

"You have arrived..."

Go away. The excruciating mental convulsions began anew.

"Bell!" I knew that voice. A face swam into my mind's eyes, familiar - friendly. Yet I refused the summons, intent on nursing my malady.

"Rise and shine..."

No, Vern... Don't make me leave this place. It hurts to move...

"Come on, Bell! Wake up!"

The pain swelled, cracking open my skull. Multiple people shouting, attacking me with sound as I helplessly writhed away from the verbal assault. I cried out as the universe crumbled and fell away, bursts of radiant fireworks exploding, blood thundering in my ears, blinding brilliance stabbing tender eyeballs-

"You have arrived at your destination," The GPS said calmly.

Blood trickled from my throbbing forehead, stinging unfocused retinas as the fluid tinted everything in crimson hues. I grimaced, feeling like I'd been chewed up and spit out on a grimy sidewalk. Someone jostled my shoulder. A fresh wave of pain soared to my cracked dome. I was ready to kill them for it, turning slowly with a murderous eye.

Vern squatted beside me, propping the door open with a raven wing as he gingerly checked my gashed scalp. "We have to move," He muttered, looking back at the road.

I groaned, putting a hand to my face. "What happened?"

"We crashed. Come on, there's no time!" He pulled me out of the seat while I made noises of protest. Then the memories returned, an information overload that jolted me into panic mode. Flying, Horsemen, Beast, Lilith... August.

Squirming in Vern's grasp, I turned towards the smoking wreckage. "Aug-" The name caught in my throat as I coughed up phlegm from leaky sinuses. A laborious wheeze later, Laila came into sight. The angel was helping my boyfriend limp around the crumpled Challenger, his arm over her shoulders while she pressed against the oozing wound on her stomach, looking as miserable as I was.

"Hurry," Vern urged, climbing up the stone steps. Dully, I watched as we neared the church, several yards away from the stained glass doors. It was a small building, nearly a chapel. It made me question the importance of it, whether this unassuming house of worship was really the solution to our dilemma.

English ivy climbed up the stone walls, tumbling over the archway. The green leaves were a welcome sight after miles of dry brown desert, fluttering gently as the hot breeze swept by. A statue greeted us, the weary travelers. Our Lady of Salvation guarded the entrance, armed with nothing but open arms and a kindly smile upon her marble face. Fresh flowers circled both head and feet, the fragrant carpet wilting beneath the scorching sun. Strangely, her floral crown resisted this fate.

My wobbly legs ascended the final step, three yards away from safety and blessed air conditioning. A mile outside Neemoaka, War screeched. Famine clamped thousands upon thousands of jaws with hideous applause. Tormented moans came from Pestilence. But Death gave no reply, marching on in dead silence.

Before we could reach the door, an armored angel fell to the ground. He arose, brandishing a brilliant lance as a holy vanguard arrived in similar fashion, each equipped with divine weaponry.

"Ye shall go no further, Whore of Babylon." Michael commanded. The archangel struck his spear against the concrete. It hummed, light pouring from the illuminated metal, signalling the winged warriors to surround our group. My heart plummeted into my stomach. There was no chance now, we'd escaped Hell only to be confronted with Heaven.

Vern released me and crouched. His eyes darted around, searching for a way out of this, a weakness to exploit, anything that he could turn to our advantage. I leaned against him, shaking my head. "Don't," I murmured weakly. "Just don't."

My guardian met my words with furrowed brow. "But-"

"You did your best. We all did." Tears brimmed, making everything blurry. Somehow I smiled through them, a brave face against the overwhelming peril.

Laila cleared her throat, standing as tall as she could. "Commander Michael," She began. "I have reason to believe our purpose here is a just and righteous one."

The celestial general neglected to comment. Beneath the golden helmet, pale eyes narrowed as he regarded the wounded angel. A gauntlet twitched, motioning for her to proceed.

"Thank you, sir. We are acting on information given by Saint Peter, who may or may not be working in conjunction with Our Heavenly Father." Laila swallowed, voice wavering slightly.

Michael flexed his armored hands. "Heresy."

"Sir?"

"You dare claim the Gatekeeper would ally himself with the forces of darkness? It sickens me to know you served in my ranks."

Laila flinched as if struck, eyes widened by the venom in his words. Her mouth opened and closed, speechless against the humiliation served by her former commander. Wings faltered, drooping listlessly.

The archangel gripped his spear and pointed the razor tip at August and his guardian. "Boy, though you have fallen astray, I sense purity in your eternal soul. I shall grant you and your protector amnesty from my holy wrath. Go now, while the world still turns."

August shook his head. "I didn't come here just to walk away." He grabbed my hand, lacing fingers through mine and held it up. "Whatever happens, I'm with her."

Michael unleashed a heavy sigh, immeasurable disappointment displayed on his dour face. "So be it. One cannot save those who wish to be damned."

He raised the javelin. Somehow, its storied past was made known to me. As I perceived sunlight glint off the ancient relic, a name came to mind: The Lance of Longinus - the Spear of Destiny, once belonging to a Roman soldier, who after witnessing the death of Christ, wanted to ensure his passing and pierced the Son of God, washing in the mystical waters that poured forth atop the cross. That same lance would soon part my flesh, our flesh as August fiercely gripped my sweaty palm, watching our fate rise into the air...

"Wait! Sanctuary! We invoke the right of sanctuary." Laila cried out, pushing between the spearhead and August.

The weapon paused. Michael lowered it with a glower, annoyed by her request for amnesty. "Meddlesome intermediary," He grumbled. "Very well. You three may proceed but I will not suffer the Whore to desecrate those holy grounds. She remains here."

Laila bowed her head, biting her lips. Balling her fists, the lowly angel rustled ivory wings in turmoil, fraught with indecision. "I... I offer up myself in her place. Life for a life, a debt repaid."

I gasped, unable to believe the selfless act. This entire time I was completely convinced Laila hated my guts, acting about as welcoming as a thorn bush. After everything that happened, I'd forgotten about saving her from Azael's cruelty. Wish I stopped him earlier.

She met my astonished eyes and nodded. "Go," Laila whispered. "Do what you must."

The heavenly legion parted while Michael still stood in disbelief. Vern tugged at my arm, jerking a chin towards the church as August stood staring at his guardian in shock. "What's going to happen to you?" He asked her fearfully.

In response, Laila kissed him on the forehead. "You'll always be in my prayers," She sighed and knelt before the archangel.

The commander snapped out of his consternation, trembling as rage overtook him. Golden wings snapped outward, glittering feathers showering the desert air. Raising the lance toward the heavens, Michael stabbed it into the steps, cracking the stone stairway. He released it, the weapon quivering faintly as it remained in place.

Reaching for the sword at his side, the divine general slowly drew the blade. "Twice I forgave your trespasses, Laila." She flinched, lips moving silently in prayer.

"Come on," Vern whispered, dragging me to the doors. August remained, unable to look away from the sentence passing on his closest friend. I gingerly pulled him away. He met my eyes, sorrow tormenting his hazel depths. My heart ached for him, wanting to console that pain, to hold him while grief ripped a hole out of his gentle chest. But we didn't have the luxury of time.

Pestilence drifted in sight, milky eyes nearly upon us. Rotted lips waggled as if it was laughing at some unknown joke. War perched on top of it, preening bloody feathers. It clacked a beak, cocking its head to watch the scene below, smelling blood-lust in the air. Famine began to circle the town limits, forming a massive ravenous cyclone. Death silently approached, ready to absorb another soul.

"... but now I bring judgement upon you, for you are no true angel." Michael declared with righteous anger. "Make peace with your Creator."

Vern waved at me from the open entrance. I yanked my boyfriend inside the church as he helplessly witnessed Laila's execution. "We have to do something!" August insisted, fighting against my hold. "There's nothing we can do," I admitted.

The broadsword rose, pausing for one long second. Mercifully, the stained glass doors began to close, shutting just as the blade descended. A clang, a wet thud.

"Laila!" August cried out, sinking to his knees. I held him, rocking back and forth as he wept, knowing exactly how it felt to lose a part of you. It was pure hell. And trust me, I've been there multiple times.

Vern said nothing, but I knew he was anxious. I raised a hand, extending five fingers. Vern grimaced and shook his head. "Every second counts right now."

Wiping his anguish away, my boyfriend sniffed as he began to compose himself. "I know. She wanted this. We- we have to see it through to the end." August blinked away tears, jaw clenching. "Let's do this for Laila."

I agreed, kissing him on the cheek. He gave me the faintest of smiles before our strange trio left the vestibule and entered the chapel, in search of the resident pastor.

It was quite a while since I'd been in a church. Incense hung in the air, filling the decadent interior with perfumed smoke which wafted over rows of lit candles decorating the altar. Vern made a face at the smell but wasn't allergic anymore, it seemed. My own nose tickled a bit. I tried not to sneeze, unsure if that would be sinful or not.

Light beams shone through vibrantly hued windows, casting a kaleidoscope of colors across the tiled floor and wooden benches. Missals and pamphlets lay neatly stacked on each pew. A massive crucifix hung above the tabernacle, displaying Jesus gazing up at his father, features racked with passion and suffering.

The priest in question was sitting in a pew, reading his missal. By all appearances, a fairly ordinary man of the cloth. Middle-aged, glasses, balding head, salt and pepper beard, a little on the portly side but at least he had great tan. Not what I expected but was anything foreseeable these days?

A wingless Vern strode right up to him. I rubbed my eyes, unsure what I was seeing. His appearance had completely changed, wearing a starched button-up shirt with a corduroy sweater and khaki pants. Even his hair was different, cut short and neatly trimmed. Seeing my disbelief, Vern shot me a wink.

"Excuse me, Father ...?" He interrupted politely.

The priest looked up from his prayer book and smiled. "Hello, my son. Father O'Connor, at your service. How can I help?"

"If you're not too busy, could you do me a favor?" My disguised guardian asked, affecting timidness. It was astounding to see him acting this way, shyly shifting restless hands as if unsure what to do with them. Vern pushed it even further by tugging nervously on his shirt collar.Clever bastard. I marveled at the antics, curious to see them play out.

Eager to dissuade the stranger's worries, the resident cleric closed his missal and stood up. "Oh certainly, my good man. I'm just passing the time right now. What is it?"

"You see those two over there?" Vern raised an arm.

Following that gesture, the holy man turned and caught sight of August and I. He gave us a little wave. We awkwardly waved back, feeling uncomfortable.

Distress furrowed the aging forehead as the priest took in my gashed forehead, bruised cheek, August's bloody nose and massive goose-egg, as well as our torn and shabby appearance. Nobody in their right mind would look at us and see a potential bride and groom. Domestic dispute on the other hand? Certainly.

"Goodness, they look a bit worse for the wear. Are they in some trouble?" He turned back to the well dressed man before him.

Vern chuckled softly. "You might say that. I'd like you to perform a marriage. A quick one, if you please. The circumstances are a bit... complicated."

Wide-eyed, the priest whipped around to gaze at us again. "Them?! Heavens, they're only teenagers!"

"Exactly, Father. Like I said, it's complicated. We'd best not go too deep into the details, but..." He leaned forward to whisper in the appalled man's ear. Eyes widened, growing dismayed.

"With child?! Ah, I hear these issues are more common than not these days..." Sighing, the pastor rubbed his bald patch, seemingly as embarrassed by the situation as I was.

"So you'll do it? They need to return to a state of grace." Vern was really laying it on thick.

"Very well." The priest cleared his throat as I hid my burning cheeks, giving the fallen angel a nasty side eye. Really, Vern? You had to tell him something like that?! My brazen guardian responded with an imperceptible shrug. What? It worked didn't it? His unrepentant face conveyed.

"But," Our prospective officiant raised a finger. "I'll need approval from both guardians first. Standard procedure."

"Ah," Vern frowned, glancing at August. "Well, I can vouch for Bell but..."

"I do hope you understand. Until I get explicit permission we shan't have any sort of ceremony." His resolve was firm, perhaps a touch too resolute. He stuck to this stipulation with no small amount of relief, glimpsing a way out of this messy request.

Vern shot me an irritated glare and mouthed a four-letter word.

The ground rumbled. Candles quivered, pews vibrating momentarily as the tremors suddenly ceased. Startled, the middle-aged priest faced the windows. "What on earth was that?"

Another quake shook the church. Dust fell from the domed ceiling, where a faint crack appeared on the plaster surface. "Perhaps we'd better take cover in the basement," The priest suggested nervously.

Behind us, hinges squeaked as the doors swung open. Unsteady footsteps echoed. August inhaled sharply once he saw the new arrival, gripping my hand painfully tight.

I followed his gaze, discovering a familiar blonde-haired angel staggering through the entryway. A trail of golden ichor dripped onto the tiles, a metallic trail chasing her shadow from outside. She collapsed into a nearby pew, hacking up shining fluid. The ivory wings had vanished, replaced with a pair of oozing stumps that faintly spasmed and twitched.

August immediately rushed to her side as we stood in uttered bewilderment. Laila smiled weakly as he neared. "Hey." August clasped her gory hands, pressing them to his lips.

"Who might this new arrival be?" The priest said, perplexed at this new development.

"Laila... she's my guardian," August choked.

"And is she alright? Should I call an ambulance?" The worried clergyman asked, pulling out his cell phone.

"No," Laila coughed. "No need."

"That's because," Vern sidled over. "Her wish is to see them both married pronto. Right, Laila?" He raised a hopeful eyebrow. Would she pick up the not-so-subtle hint?

She nodded, forcing an flimsy smile. "Yep. What he... said." Laila winced and exhaled slowly as she struggled to maintain composure. August took his hoodie off and gingerly laid it between her back and the pew, creating a makeshift cushion. The maimed angel sighed, squeezing his hand thankfully.

Quite shaken by the increasingly bizarre situation, the priest glanced around at everyone before caving in. "Well, er, I suppose I'd better get prepared."

"Chop-chop," Vern smiled thinly, his polite modesty long discarded. "The world's ending any minute."

"C-certainly, won't be more than a few minutes." With that the priest scurried off, wiping a sweaty forehead.

Now that he was gone, we were free to focus on the crippled angel who miraculously returned from the jaws of death. "I thought they killed you for sure," August lamented.

Laila chuckled before humor morphed into a grimace of discomfort. "Might as well have. Would have taken my head... but Michael wanted to prove a point. Took my wings first."

Vern gave her a sympathetic look, unconsciously clutching at his invisible appendages. I could scarcely fathom the amount of agony she was enduring. The idea of getting limbs amputated made me shudder, imagining it must be rather similar.

"Before I forget... here." She motioned for the fallen angel to come closer. Vern leaned over the pew as Laila opened a clenched fist, dropping an ichor soaked feather into his palm. "My last one," The woman gasped. "I cannot fashion it... Please, you know what to do."

He assured her not to worry, it would be taken care of.

Laila exhaled a deep breath, relieved from some heavy burden. She coughed again. August wiped her chin with the hoodie's sleeve, freezing as he noticed something strange. The angelic blood was no longer a solid color. Mixed with the ichor were swirls of crimson, gradually overtaking the yellow brilliance. "It's started," Laila observed calmly, as though she were remarking on the weather. "I'm becoming mortal. Punishment for rebelling..."

Another boom shook the ground. Pews rumbled, shifting slightly. The crack above widened a few inches as we were briefly showered with plaster particles.

"What's going on out there?" I wondered.

Laila flashed a bloody grin. "Lilith set the Beast on them. Accidentally saved me." She barked a short, painful laugh. "Can you believe that? Should buy us... a few minutes."

The ground rumbled again. Voices yelled, weapons rang out as they clashed, arrows whistled through the air. Michael and company sure were putting up a good fight. A wail arose from the creature.

"Why'd you do it Laila? Why'd you have to sacrifice yourself?" August demanded, tears streaking his dirty face.

Her trembling fingers brushed his glistening cheek, leaving a golden smudge upon the sorrowful boy's face. "I had my doubts... but people can always change... I see proof of that now." Laila glanced at Vern, her unfocused sight lingering on his altered form before turning towards me.

She reached out, pale arm shaking unsteadily. I drew nearer and grasped the searching hand. It pulled me close. "Love him," Her tremulous voice murmured. "Love him like the world depends on it."

I bit my lips, shaking my head. "I promise." The entire universe hung in the balance: mine, August's, everyone's, strangers who lived, breathed, and dreamed of better futures. Those souls were all counting on me, whether they knew it or not. I couldn't- wouldn't let them down.

The feeble hold loosened as Laila sighed, gazing over my shoulder. "It's time."

At some point, the priest had returned during our tender ministrations, clad in ceremonial robes. "Are- are we prepared to proceed?" His timid voice asked.

Vern looked up, fiddling around with something he quickly hid away. "Yes, I believe so." He shot me a questioning look. I turned to my future husband. August and Laila were having a similar moment between themselves. She gave him a knowing nod. Wiping his eyes, August stood up and took a shaky breath. "I'm ready."

We followed Father O'Connor to the altar, which held a silver tray with a bowl of holy water and an aspergillum - a perforated silver ball on a stick. He clasped his hands and glanced at us expectantly. "Do you have the rings?"

Vern uncurled his fingers, revealing two intricate metal bands, golden and obsidian. At first, it appeared as if they were delicately carved but as I looked closer I saw with surprise that both had been formed out of feathers. The priest took the wedding rings and placed them on the tray.

"And lastly, I'll need your full names, if you please."

"Augustine Tolbert." My nervous groom mumbled sheepishly. "Jezebel Lorelie." I said shyly, eyes downcast.

And with that, the ceremony began.

We held hands, gazing into each other's bashful eyes, severely under-dressed for the formal occasion. Him, sporting a stained graphic t-shirt and baggy jeans, I wearing torn leggings and a halter top, probably the shabbiest looking couple in history, under the worst circumstances possible. The church shook, violent conflict brewing right outside the doors.

Father O'Connor paused to mop the growing perspiration on his brow before initiating the vows. "August and Jezebel, have you come here to enter into marriage without coercion, freely and wholeheartedly?"

We replied in unison. "I have."

A massive roar erupted, followed by an earth-shaking tremor. Chunks fell from the roof and crashed onto the pews, scattering mortar over the floor. The stained glass windows rattled as the priest blanched yet still forged ahead: "Are - are you prepared, as you follow the path of marriage, to love and honor each other for as long as you both shall live?"

Again, we responded. "I am."

The ground heaved, making several candles fall from the altar. They rolled, shedding melted wax over the floor, flames sputtering out. More plaster rained downward, covering us in white dust. I flinched, but none struck either of us. Vern hovered above, shielding the participants with his wings. He gave me a weak grin, unable to completely mask the grim foreboding on his features.

Behind him, I could see outside through the growing crevice. Three heads of the beast peered inward as War flew by, cawing for more destruction, more chaos, more blood to be spilled. Famine's locusts swarmed the air, a living cloud descending towards the chapel, millions of mouths gnashing in search of sustenance. The Horsemen were restless, eager for their rampage to begin.

The celebrant looked as if he was about to faint, the book in his grasp quivering as his voice rose over the clamor. "Are you prepared to accept children lovingly from God and to bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?"

This time our answer was a bit hesitant, neither of us had even thought about having kids. But still, we bravely pushed on. "I - I am."

Teeth clamped onto the roof, ripping off pieces, widening the hole. The beast wanted me, its rightful owner. Michael swooped down and plunged his lance into the creature's neck. The hydra snarled, heads snapping and lunging as he dodged away, shouting words I couldn't hear.

Lilith darted into sight, jabbing at him with a scarlet trident. She struck a gilded wing, cackling victoriously.

"Augustine Tolbert, do you take Jezebel Lorelie to be your wife? Do you promise to be faithful to her in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love her, and to honor her all the days of your life?"

My groom squeezed my hands, never taking his sight off me. "I do."

I blushed, feeling undeserving of such a commitment. Then again, we might not even last a day let alone an hour with Hell knocking at our doors... It was hard to focus on the ceremony. My eyes kept getting drawn to the clashes amidst the heavens. Michael was desperately fending off the succubus queen as his soldiers began to get picked off, one by one.

"Jezebel Lorelie, do you take Augustine Tolbert for your lawful husband, to have and to hold..."

An angel wailed as the dragon savagely caught hold of a leg. Another set of jaws latched onto his arms. Both necks separated, shredding the holy knight apart in a grisly display.

"... from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health..."

Lilith landed on the roof, silhouetted against the setting sun. Her dark velvet wings opened, stretching as she hissed at the scene below, understanding what our intentions were. You think this will save you? This is a mockery of the sacrament, you're cursing the poor boy to a lifetime of misery. You'll never be anything but my Whore.

"... to love and to cherish, until death do you part?"

"I -" My voice wavered, throat raspy as her psychic voice assaulted me. Let me help you, darling. You can't marry a corpse. Lilith raised her cruel weapon, taking aim at August.

"No!" I cried out. Father O'Connor and August looked at me in shock.

The Lance of Longinus shot out, jamming itself between the trident's barbed prongs. Michael glowered at the queen of lust as she hissed at him, her beautiful face contorting into a visage of hatred, forked tongue protruding obscenely. This isn't over, Jezzy. I have a pushy suitor to handle, don't go anywhere just yet.

Realizing what I'd said, my cheeks flushed beet-red. "Sorry, I mean yes! I do! Sorry, just got confused is all..." I stumbled over my words as the priest gave me an encouraging nod and continued. He turned to the tray and began blessing the rings, shaking holy water over them with the aspergillium.

Lilith and Michael danced in the sky, dueling for superiority as their forces clashed.

Father O'Connor held out the rings, hands trembling as he gave me the gold band and August the obsidian one, nearly dropping them in the process. "Now you will place them on each other and repeat after me," He ordered, swallowing fearfully. I didn't know if he could see the monstrosities outside but the rapidly crumbling church was hard to ignore.

The beast had nearly torn a large enough hole to fit a head through now. It roared as angels flew around it like angry bees, swatting at the divine army, aided by the Horsemen as they gleefully joined the fray. War plucked a tasty morsel, crunching on the prize. Locusts swept across an unfortunate cherubim, Famine eating her alive as her shrieks suddenly ceased.

"In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, take and wear this ring as a sign of my love and faithfulness." August placed the black ring on my finger.

Pestilence floated, blind retinas pulsing, exhaling gas on a group of seraph warriors. They rotted away, armor tumbling as their bodies disintegrated into golden powder and downy plumes, drifting on foul smelling winds.

"In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, take and wear this ring as a sign of my love and faithfulness." I croaked out, gently slipping Laila's feather on August's ring finger.

Death swept the wicked scythe, leaving dark cuts in the atmosphere as it severed everything in its path. Nothing could stand before the terrible might bestowed upon the necrotic entity. Grim was the reaper who harvested souls, showing neither mercy nor delight as it began the dissolution of life itself.

The priest held up his arms, eyes closed as he began the final blessing. "Look now with favor on these your servants, joined together in marriage, who ask to be strengthened by your blessing."

A leech fell from Pestilence, landing on a pew as it splintered in a crash. The slithering parasite oozed over the floor, opening a slimy mouth as rows of needled fangs gaped, seeking warm blood to drain. Vern snatched a candle holder and attacked the vile slug. It evaded his blows, sliding under the benches.

"Send down on them the grace of the Holy Spirit and pour your love into their hearts,"

Michael couldn't say airborne with a wounded wing, losing the advantage to Lilith as she kicked him into War. The vulture pecked at the archangel, denting his chest plate. He slashed the Horseman, before diving out of my vision. Screeching angrily, the carrion feeder gave chase, its superficial neck wound dribbling onto the chattering skull necklace.

"...that they may remain faithful in the marriage covenant."

The beast slammed into the house of worship. Candles toppled, scorching tongues licking at the linen cloth, setting the shrine ablaze. Noxious smoke began to fill the church, stinging my eyes, choking breath, as Father O'Connor's arms trembled, knees wobbling as his voice grew higher and frantic.

"And grant that, reaching at last together the fullness of years..."

Vern hunted for the leech, which squeezed into a crevice out of his reach. Locusts crawled from the ceiling, eating away at the hole as the roof deteriorated into a fine dust. A reptilian head poked in, drooling as nostrils sniffed at August and the priest, intent on beginning its feast. Before the monster could strike, Vern whipped the candle holder directly into the beast's eyeball. It reared up, black fluid gushing from the punctured socket as the dragon bellowed.

"...for which they hope, they may come to the life of the blessed in the Kingdom of Heaven..."

Fire crept along the walls, casting a reddish glow over us. Lilith swept into the church like a giant bat, clutching her trident as she swiped at August. My protector barreled into the succubus, grabbing hold of the forked weapon while their wings flapped, exchanging blows. She was stronger and larger, but Vern was demon no longer. He wrestled valiantly until Lilith rammed the prongs into his feathers, pinning him against the wall.

"Through Christ our Lord. Amen." Father O'Connor solemnly concluded. He placed his palms together, firmly keeping his eyes shut to the mayhem. His pale face began to take on a greenish tinge.

It was all I could do to stay in place, holding August's hands in mine as my own fingers grew slick with sweat. He didn't dare look anywhere else but at me, frightened stiff by the warring worlds above and within. I stared deep into his hazel eyes, trying to shut out my surroundings, fearing I'd bolt from the altar if I didn't.

"Augustine and Jezebel, bear witness to the love of God in this world..."

In my peripheral vision, I saw Lilith striding towards me. Now Jezzy, where were we? Oh yes, I think I was about to claim you once and for all. Vern ripped the trident free, landing on the floor in a heap. He pushed against the wall with his feet, pouncing towards the succubus queen. She whirled, catching hold of him. You don't know when to stay dead, do you? Can you come back a second time, I wonder?

"... so that those to whom love is a stranger will find in you good and generous friends."

Two serpent heads forced their way in as orange flames covered the walls. Vern jabbed at Lilith with her trident. She laughed, swatting it away. Stained glass shattered, War butting its hideous face through the window, gory beak cracking open with a leer. Pestilence belched a plague into the church. Locusts now began to pour over the floor, biting at my toes. Death reached a melting hand towards August, its form twisting and shifting into several dozen ghostly fingers.

"By the power vested in me by God and man, I pronounce you wife and husband."

Hearing the final words, Lilith shrieked, releasing Vern and lunging towards me, her shadowy eyes growing voluminous, mouth stretching open greater than before, as though she intended to swallow me whole. The leech returned, needle teeth ready to sink into August's leg. Green disease mixed with the smoke, reaching our lungs. Famine climbed up my ankles, tearing my leggings, nipping at my flesh...

"What God has joined together, let no man put asunder. You may now kiss the bride."

I yanked my husband towards me as our lips found each other. The Horsemen descended on us, Lilith tore at my hair, screams and howls filling ears as I closed my eyes and kissed August like I'd never kissed him before. A powerful gale whipped through the church, as pain and pleasure intertwined in a symphony of tortuous ecstasy, uncaring if these were my last moments on earth, savoring the sensation of his body joining with mine.

Silence.

For a minute, I was convinced I'd gone deaf. But no, there was no sounds of hostility, no bloodshed or struggles of any kind.

I opened an eye. Lilith was an inch away, her repulsive features frozen. Behind her, Vern was motionless as static limbs grabbed at the demoness, an statue suspended in time. In fact, everything was stock-still. The Horsemen, the seven-headed beast, even August was still pressed against me, eyes closed, lips pursed as he gave me an eternal kiss.

Stepping back, I glanced around. "Hello? Anyone?" My question went unanswered, echoing in the vast stillness. Did I break the laws of the universe or something?

Locusts fell from my legs, crunching as I walked over them. The petrified flames were still hot, I didn't have to touch them to feel the warmth pouring off those fixed embers. What the hell was going on? I moved through the debris, searching for some clue behind this surreal phenomenon.

Someone was seated next to Laila, a bearded stranger holding her hand as he quietly muttered. He turned as I approached, patting the former angel's leg and placing her arm back. "Hello Bell," The man smiled. "Quite a show you gave me."

"Who... are you exactly?" I frowned.

"Don't you know?" He chortled, holding his sides with cheerful mirth.

Shaking my head, I admitted I was utterly lost. "Not a clue, dude."

The mysterious visitor stroked his beard and gazed at me thoughtfully. "Why, I'm the Alpha and the Omega. But you might know me better as God. Come! Take a seat. We're due for a chat, I think."
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