I sat in front of the demon and crossed my legs, just outside of kicking range. At least the child’s legs weren’t long. Dash took up his post near me, but not close enough to invade my personal space. He kept an eye on the townfolk around us. There were times people would attack us, or the possessed person. Or we’d even have an onlooker become possessed because of their own weaknesses. Once I began purifying, I’d be almost defenseless. That’s why Shadows doubled as bodyguards. Purifiers left defenseless didn’t last long.
I set the used black candle down to my right, and dug a box of matches out from my bag. I kept them in a waterproof leather pouch, because it was important to keep them dry. There were times when we roamed between settlements, and all that stood between us and the dark was our fire. Not just the dark of night, but the dark of spirit and evil. Fire was one of the most purifying forces in our world, bringing both life and death. It was a force to be respected and feared; not only by humans, but by forces both good and evil.
I pulled out a match, struck it, and lit the candle. Black wasn’t always an evil color. It represented one of the strongest colors for protection. I opened my book, and stuck it underneath my knee to keep it that way. I never wrote out complete prayers, because each situation is unique in some way.
“As fire burns, so burns the purity of this child’s spirit, and you shall not darken that flame with your evil essence, demon. I call upon the power of the Phoenix, and as the fiery bird burns away in this life, so do you burn, demon. As it is reborn from the ashes, so, too, will this child rise from this unharmed and renewed.”
A hot wind rushed against my back, like a bird beating its wings. The candlelight whipped and flared brighter for a moment. This time the demon didn’t howl, but screamed in pain.
The group around us flinched. “Steady on,” Dash said in barely more than a whisper.
Next came the knife. Despite its age, the honed blade was sharper than my uncivilized tongue. I’d inherited it from my mother, another Purifier, who’d died when she’d placed her trust in the wrong Shadow. It was also how I’d gotten the scar.
With the light pressure of the blade, I cut a paper-thin line across my palm. It would scar and join the others there. I rarely resorted to this type of cleansing, because it was dangerous for the Purifier. I had a bad feeling about the town. This girl didn’t deserve to die because of whatever stupid shit the adults around her were doing.
I turned over my journal, and scooted unceremoniously over to her side. I leaned away from her; it wouldn’t do to have her bite me. I mimicked the cut on the palm of the girl, and the murmurs rose again. Dash shifted behind me, his movement making the floorboards creak. The voices died down. He sure was nifty to have around.
When I placed the cuts together, and grasped her hand tight in mine so she couldn’t wiggle free. The noise that rose from her made the previous sounds mere whispers in comparison. My words didn’t need to reach anyone’s ears but the demon’s. No matter how much noise it made it could not block out the words of a Purifier.
“Let blood call to blood. Though you are not blood of my blood, you are blood as I am blood—human. Let the divinity in my blood as a Purifier, proclaimed by a Wanderer, wash this young girl free of the demon’s essence.”
Now the demon cried. Great, pitiful sobs that came out broken through the girl’s damaged chords.
“I shall not repent, and you shall not have her, Purifier. I will take her, screaming into the abyss!” The demon turned toward me and spat.
I didn’t flinch. Instead, I released the child’s hand after a final squeeze. I wiped my cheek against my shirt. The spittle had begun to burn my skin, but not with an intensity it would have before I began the purification. We were getting somewhere.
Whether I could get them apart remained to be seen.
Next came the bone, passed down through generations in my family. Hundreds of years ago, all manner of beings, both evil and divine, of all the varying religions, came down onto the earth. Some good deities identified people they believed to be worthy. The divine good guys, known as Wanderers, equipped the human good guys with certain artifacts. One of which was rumored to be this rib bone—supposedly taken out of the body of an angel, by an angel. Etched into it were markings no one could identify for me. I was sure they were some language even our ancestors may not recognize, because they were not of this earth.
The markings glowed faintly in the presence of the demon. Flickering, as though illuminated by a silver fire.
“Bone of a Wanderer. Ancient as time itself. Let its divine aura repulse the creature of evil present here, and resonate with the child’s soul,” I said, and placed the bone on the child’s lap. No matter how the demon moved or wiggled, the bone stayed in place. Drawn to the demonic aura like a magnet.
Next came the pouch of rock salt, given to me by a devout witch. As were the two leather pouches it came in. One was large, to carry the bulk of the salt. The smaller one I used during purifying. It was tooled with enchantments to fuse the salt with power. To trap the essence of the demon once it was drawn into the pouch.
I opened the drawstring of the top of the bag wide, and cupped the pouch in both hands beneath the nose of the demon.
“Draw the demon’s essence from her, as drawing poison from a wound. Let it come to rest in this salt, one of the greatest purifying agents found in this dimension, and all those betwixt and between. Let it be your prison, until you are released for a final death, demon,” I growled, my long-ago damaged chords making it painful to speak.
It let out a single throaty chuckle, and looked me in the eye before dissipating.
“My kind are not the only ones capable of evil roaming these lands, Purifier. Remember your history. Know the evil of humans has long persisted without the aid of my kind…” it whispered out, and the salt turned black in the pouch. I drew the strings tight so fast that they hummed, like the plucked string of a cello.
The girl’s head lolled forward, exhausted, and quiet sounds of pain began to escape from her lips. I lifted her head, and bade her to drink some of my holy water. She grimaced, but didn’t scream, which meant I hadn’t drawn the demon out completely. I sighed and looked to Dash, who gave a grim nod in return.
The adults around us broke the circle, and continued their murmuring, growing more uneasy. That didn’t sit well with me, and when the mayor came in the girl tensed behind me. I hadn’t known she’d looked up, but she had.
She tried to speak, but it came out as nothing more than a cough. I gave her more water, this time the regular kind, and leaned in close to hear her speak. It was a scant few words, but they chilled me down to my soul. I looked up to Dash.
“We aren’t finished.” He looked from the girl, to me, and nodded.
I ‘deputized’ the majority of the townsfolk, which wasn’t difficult once they heard what happened. Any of the offenders who tried to escape were quickly run down. We rounded up the elders, all of whom had stayed behind to form the circle. They were trying to avoid this exact situation. Also on the list were the child’s mother, father, and the leader of the town. I locked them in the meeting house, deaf to their screams, and pleas for mercy.
The actions of a Purifier in the face of evil were above reproach. What these people had done was evil. Human, or not.
The mother and father took the girl outside of the wards, where the elders and leader were waiting. They allowed the girl to be possessed. To see if they could use the demon for free, strong labor in exchange for keeping the girl.
I set the meeting house on fire. We remained until there was nothing but ash, stone, and the occasional bone smoldering in the ruin.
The girl was sitting in front of Dash, who was on his horse. She would be coming with us, now an outcast as all Shadows were outcasts. Leaving behind everything she knew would be difficult, but it was better this way.
We turned the horses to head north, back toward the place we called home. I thought back on the demon’s words; “My kind are not the only ones capable of evil…”
Indeed not. Bless it all, we should be better than the demons! The monsters in the dark. Even though it was our right as humans to choose our own path. Free of the influence of the evil, or divine, who now roamed the land.
I rolled my shoulder and grinned tiredly back at Dash, who returned the smile, just as worn down. I’d just have to stick around to make sure we could continue to make that choice, too old for this or not.