Something strange is happening in the city of Everett, Washington and Father Niccolo Paladina is tasked with investigating possible demonic activity. Nothing is as it seems, however, and things quickly begin spiraling out of his control.
When his path crosses with that of an old rival, they discover that things are worse in Everett than either of them could ever have imagined. As his world collapses around him, Niccolo will be left with one terrible question: what is my faith worth?
This City Will Be Your Tomb!
“Come out, come out, wherever you are!”
Father Paladina knelt in his uncomfortable position beneath the staircase, eyes closed and struggling to control his breathing. Each gasp sounded like the cracking of a tree branch, and he couldn’t fight down an occasional sob of terror. His heart beat in his ears, and his veins seemed about to burst open.
“I can smell you, Priest. I know you didn’t run far. Where are you?”
The voice came from upstairs in the local priest’s office. Niccolo couldn’t remember a time in his life when he had been so on edge and afraid. It felt like a sickness in his stomach, as all of his muscles tensed simultaneously. It made his body shake, and he worried that he might throw up at any moment.
“We both know how this will end. If you come out now, I’ll do it quick. If you make me come and find you, though …”
Niccolo struggled to control his breathing as hot tears ran down his cheeks. He reached into his front-right pocket for the single item he kept there. His rosary, which he held between his fingers and pressed against his lips, praying as hard as he could for the strength to deal with whatever was happening to him.
Not to overcome it, though. Part of him—if he were honest, a large part—knew he was about to die alone in this church, and the only thing he prayed for was the strength to die well.
After all, right now, not only his life hung in the balance: so did his everlasting soul.
“This basement has no exits. I know this church. This is my church. Not yours,” the man—if still a man—said from just upstairs. “I never thought I would actually get to kill a priest here. This is delightful!”
What is he waiting for? Niccolo wondered, in fear. Tim Spencer—or whatever controlled him—seemed to enjoy taking his time. Every muscle in Niccolo’s body ached, and he had to fight to keep from sobbing. Why is he doing this? Why is he waiting up there?
It felt like he’d been hiding under the stairs forever, but it had probably lasted for less than a minute.
“We’re having fun, aren’t we, Priest?” Tim asked.
Niccolo couldn’t contain a shudder, and the movement caused his shoulder to bump against one of the boxes behind him. The noise it made wasn’t that loud, but to Niccolo, it rumbled like an explosion in the stillness of the basement.
If his pursuer heard, though, he didn’t let on. Tim hummed to himself as he took his first step down the staircase. It creaked heavily underfoot, and Father Paladina winced when dust fell on his head.
Another step; the sound of the boot on the stairs sounded like a nail in the priest’s coffin. Tim kept on coming, humming a tuneless tone, until the father could see muddy boots in front of his face.
“Priest? You know I’ll find you. You can’t hide from me.”
Niccolo’s whole body trembled, and the man had called it true. His hiding place seemed weak and pathetic now. As soon as Tim reached the bottom of the staircase, he would spy Niccolo. The priest had backed himself into a corner and had nowhere to go.
He shouldn’t have stayed here at Saint Joseph’s Cathedral alone. Should have gone with Father Reynolds to his home; splitting up had turned into a terrible idea, and one that might well cost him his life.
Father Reynolds’s life, too, Niccolo realized. Jackson had gone home, but no doubt, whoever had sent this creature after Niccolo had gone after him as well. Father Paladina hadn’t warned his friend of the danger. He regretted that, now. Jackson had no way of defending himself and knew nothing of the danger. Niccolo had led him like a lamb to the slaughter.
Tim Spencer reached the bottom step, and Niccolo could see his back through the gap in the risers. He had nowhere to run and no possible way to get out of this. It was over. He was about to die.
He should at least face his death head on.
As a servant of God.
Easier said than done, however. His body struggled against him. The priest forced his wobbly legs to move and rose from his crouched position, stepping out from beneath the stairs to confront his pursuer. Tim heard him and turned.
“Well, then. There you are.” The man grinned and bared his teeth. He looked more feral than anything. “Well done, Priest. Found a little courage after all. Are you ready to meet your maker?”
Father Paladina opened his mouth to speak, to pray, but no sounds would come. His voice had abandoned him, and the words he’d studied and practiced for years caught in his throat.
“What? Cat got your tongue?” The man stepped closer to him and continued to grin that insane grin. “Let me get you started: Our Father, who art in heaven …”
“Vile abomination, you don’t belong here,” Niccolo muttered. “By the power of Christ, I compel you.” He held up his rosary, hand still shaking. “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I order you to leave this place.”
The man stopped moving forward, his grin fading. “You think that will work? You, of all people, think that a prayer could compel me to just drop everything and leave?”
Father Paladina grew emboldened, feeling momentary strength while the words poured out of him. The demon was lying, and the words did have some impact. They gave Niccolo courage and knowledge that, despite everything, he did not stand alone. It had an effect, the power, the prayers, and his faith. They held the man at bay.
Maybe he could get out of this alive. If his faith held up.
“You do not belong here, creature. Return from whence you came. Through the power of Christ, I demand that you leave this holy place.”
A long moment passed, the only sound Niccolo and the man’s breathing. The priest held his rosary forth, hand unwavering and back tall. They stared at each other, locked in place, as the seconds ticked by.
“Silly priest,” the man said, finally, his grin returning. “Don’t you know you have no power here?”
The man reached up and grabbed the rosary in Father Paladina’s hand. A sizzling sound filled the basement, as though flesh burned, and the priest could feel the metal heating in his hand.
Niccolo watched in horror when Tim stepped closer to him, pressing the cross against his forehead. The metal burned Tim’s skin where it touched, and he burst into a wild and maniacal laugh.
Father Paladina released his grip on the rosary and jerked back in disgust. The man let it fall to the floor, a sizzling chunk of metal, and there it lay.
“How does it feel?” The man took another step closer to Father Paladina. Still grinning that sick and toothy grin. “How does it feel to know you are truly alone?”
He reached forward, grabbing the priest around the throat and squeezing. His grip felt like iron, crushing down on Niccolo’s windpipe.
“How does it feel to know that God has abandoned you?”