Rona played hooky from school the next day. She told Brittany and Ashley that she wasn’t feeling well, selling the act with a couple of well-timed groans of agony. It was enough to get some sympathy looks from Brittany and a look of concern tinged with skepticism from Ashley. They promised to let all of her teachers know that she had suddenly fallen ill. Rona appreciated that. They also promised to bring her homework home for her. Rona didn’t appreciate that quite as much, but she thanked them anyway. Her act had apparently been too good. Claire kept popping in every twenty or so minutes to check on her once Brittany and Ashley had left for school. This meant Rona had to waste precious time lying in bed carrying on the charade. Rona had been banking on the fact that Claire would have errands to run or something, but instead Claire had insisted on staying home to take care of her. She brought Rona some green tea and chicken noodle soup, as well as some awful, awful tasting medicine that made Rona so drowsy that she had to will herself to stay awake. Claire ordered Rona to stay in bed and to call if she needed anything.
So, this was what it was like to have a mom.
For a split second, Rona found herself wishing that Claire really was her mom. She pushed those feelings away. Rona was not a teenage girl. Rona was a guardian angel. And she had work to do. Once she felt enough time had passed, she hopped out of bed. She dressed herself in the uniform that Angelica had made for her. Once again, it had repaired all damages and cleaned itself. Angelica, you’re awesome, thought Rona. She opened her door quietly and slipped from her room in silence. She crept down the stairs, hoping to avoid Claire as she made her escape. She rounded the corner of the kitchen and almost bumped right into Claire. Claire wore a pair of black spandex bottoms and a yellow, sleeveless top. She held a freshly opened bottle of water. Her hair was in a ponytail and it looked like she’d built up quite a sweat.
“Rona, are you feeling better?” asked Claire with a concerned look.
“A little,” said Rona, with a cough.
Claire reached out, placing the back of her hand on Rona’s forehead. Her eyebrows furrowed in concentration. She removed it after a long second. “Sorry, I’m sweaty,” she said with a smile as she wiped Rona’s forehead with her palm. “You don’t feel hot. I guess you’re doing a little bit better. You look like you’re dressed for the gym. Do you want to come and work out with me?”
“No thank you, Claire. Actually, I was going to go out and get some air,” said Rona.
“Oh, okay,” said Claire, a twinge of sadness creeping over her features. She sat down on one of the stools beneath the counter.
“Something wrong?” asked Rona.
“No, no. It’s okay. Go and get some air,” said Claire.
Rona pulled out the other stool and sat down facing Claire. “Is everything okay?”
Claire didn’t make eye contact. “I should be asking you that.”
“What do you mean?”
“I know you’re not really sick,” said Claire, looking up at Rona with sad eyes. “At least, not physically. You’re homesick. I know you’re having a rough go at school and you really miss your family and your country. I just hope that there was nothing that we did to make you feel like…”
“No, no, no. You guys have been great,” said Rona, soothingly. She placed her hand on top of Claire’s which brought a thin smile from the woman’s face.
“Okay. I’m just checking. We all really like you Rona. I really like you. And we want you to be happy, that’s all,” said Claire.
“I am happy,” said Rona, trying to smile. She breathed a long sigh. “Maybe I could use a little exercise.”
Claire beamed at Rona, and took her hand by the hand. She led Rona down the hallway into one of the rooms that Rona only barely remembered seeing on her initial tour of the house. It was a den that apparently doubled as a workout room. A treadmill stood parallel to the far wall. A few small weights and a giant ball sat a few feet away from the treadmill. The couch had been pushed back a few feet and the TV was paused on an image of three women dressed in similar outfits to Claire.
“So this is how you ladies stay in such good shape, huh?” said Rona as she gazed around the room.
“Ladies? Oh, you mean Ashley and Brittany? They never do this with me,” said Claire with a wave of her hand. “Those two could put away an entire pizza and never gain a pound—especially Brittany. When you get my age, you have to work a little harder to keep your figure. Gotta’ keep things tight, and in place,” she said, grabbing her breasts and lifting.
“Besides, maintaining your physique is the only antidote for the ‘wandering eyes disease’ that husbands tend to come down with after a few years of marriage,” said Claire, matter-of-factly.
“Roger loves you,” said Rona.
“I know,” said Claire with a gleam in her eye. “It’s just that he keeps getting better looking, and me…well, anyway. Are you ready?”
“Okay, you need to grab a couple of weights from over there,” said Claire pointing to the workout equipment in the corner.
“What is this?” asked Rona as she came upon a big, metal, cannonball-like weight with a handle on top of it.
“Oh, that’s called a kettlebell. But that one is Roger’s; you might want to try one of mine–” Claire’s jaw dropped and her eyes widened as she beheld Rona effortlessly swinging Roger’s kettlebell up and down with one hand.
“How does it work?” asked Rona.
“It works just like that! That’s fifty-five pounds! I can barely even lift that one!” said Claire, her eyes still wide with surprise, and an impressed smile fixed on her face. Rona realized what she was doing and placed her other hand on the handle of the ball before letting it fall heavy to the floor.
“Yeah that is really heavy,” she said with a cheeky grin.
“He has one in the garage that’s over one hundred-fifty pounds. He never uses them. I guess he’s just collecting them,” said Claire with a laugh.
“Really,” said Rona, the wheels in her head turning.
Rona attempted to stay a step or two behind Claire as the two of them did the workouts from the video. She grunted, and groaned, and gritted her teeth when she thought it appropriate. This prompted encouraging words from Claire. “You can do it, girl, hang in there!” Rona made sure to keep a look of determination on her face throughout. Angelica had been right; this was an acting job. And it was fun hanging with Claire.
“It takes time to be able to push all of the way through the workout,” said Claire between breaths. “Just when you think you can’t hold on anymore, you just gotta’ keep on pushing! You’re stronger than you think you are,” she took a deep breath. “You can do anything you put your mind to, girl.”
That was a welcome pep talk.
So this was what it was like to have a mom…
At that moment Rona remembered that if she decided not to continue this mission then this may be the last time she saw Claire. She brushed aside any encroaching feelings. She could deal with those later—or not.
“You’re a pretty awesome mom,” said Rona, sticking out her hand. Claire’s face lit up. She hugged Rona tight and kissed her on the cheek.
“I love you, Rona,” said Claire as she stroked the front lochs of Rona’s blue hair. Rona giggled and smiled from ear to ear.
“I’m going to get some air now.”
“Of course. Thank you for hanging out with me.”
The mailman was on the porch when Rona opened the front door. He held a brown box in his hands. “Package for Rona Klu—um—Klev…”
“That’s me,” said Rona, taking the package and reading the label. It was from The Mechanic. It’s about time, thought Rona. She signed for the package before tearing into it just enough to see that it was her Elnign Dagger. A welcome sight! She breathed a sigh of relief and was about to go back inside before something caught her eye. A black cat was standing at the far end of the driveway, looking at her.
“You! Come here,” said Rona, curling her finger in and out. The cat ignored her. Rona leaped from the porch and sprinted toward the cat. The cat took off running, darting from side to side and switching angles to avoid Rona’s approaching grasp. Rona feinted right, goading the cat into turning left. Rona was just quick enough to catch its tail and yank it upwards. She held the cat upside down as it attempted to get free by twirling and hissing.
“Oh, cut it out,” said Rona, impatiently. “I said—cut it out!” she began shaking the cat back and forth violently until the yowling became a distinguishable voice.
“Take—it—easy—Rona—this—body—is—a—rental!” said the cat.
Rona dropped the cat to the ground and it landed on its feet in expert fashion. The cat sat upright on its hind legs, and placed its forepaws on its head as if nursing a headache.
“What are you doing here, Angelica?” said Rona.
“I’m on another, completely unrelated assignment. I just thought I would check in on you. I am currently regretting that decision,” said Angelica, the cat’s features giving Rona a dirty look.
“I’m actually glad you’re here,” said Rona.
“You have a peculiar way of showing it.”
“I’m not talking to you like this. Take your real form.”
“But I won’t be corporeal.”
“I just want to talk to you. I don’t need to touch you.”
“Oh, so, you’re through assaulting me, then?”
Rona glared down at the cat.
In an instant, the cat began to glow white, its form growing several times until it stood just a few inches shorter than Rona. The white light melted away to reveal a beautiful young girl with impish features and bright pink hair. She smiled at Rona.
“Beam us up to the roof,” said Rona.
Angelica’s smile became a pout. “Rona,” she whined. “You’re going to make me drain my power reservoir before I complete my other mission.”
“The roof, Angelica.”
“Fine,” She raised her arms and in a flash, she and Rona were on the roof of the house.
“You’re not gonna’ like what I’m about to tell you,” said Rona. She took a deep breath. “I’m walking off of the mission.”
“I figured as much,” said Angelica, nonchalantly.
“Yep. I should have known it would be too tough for you.”
“It’s not that it’s too tough for me, it’s just—hey, stop trying to manipulate me!”
“Sorry,” said Angelica with a wink. “Why, may I ask, are you giving up?”
“I’m not giving up. The kid doesn’t want me being his guardian. He told me himself. I’m not going to stay where I’m not wanted,” said Rona, taking a seat on the edge of the roof and swinging her legs over the ledge.
“Despite what he may want, he needs you,” said Angelica, taking a seat next to Rona.
“He can ‘need’ someone else. You can’t let me screw this up. I already almost got the kid killed twice, just last night,” said Rona.
“And how many times would he have been dead already if it weren’t for you?” asked Angelica.
“It doesn’t matter. It only takes one slipup and…are you sure he’s the one?”
“I am. And I’m sure about something else too; you should be his guardian.”
“You’re not listening to a word I’m saying, are you? I need you to trust me on this, alright?”
“I’ll finish what I started with Pitroth and Goliath—I have a score to settle with them, as it is—then you’ll have to find someone else to be the boy’s guardian.” Angelica nodded. “You wouldn’t happen to be able to tell me where to find Pitroth or the Infernal, would you?”
“I take it these are the demons you’ve encountered. No, they’ve somehow been able to veil themselves from us. I’m sorry I can’t be more help. I’ll arrange for a new guardian to take your place and for you to get back home,” said Angelica.
“Answer me this question though,” said Angelica. “How do you always know it’s me?”
Rona shrugged. “I don’t know. I just, uh, know.”
“You have an innate ability to see through disguises, Rona. I suggest you start using it,” said Angelica, shrinking back down into cat form.
“Good luck on your mission,” said Rona.
“Figure out what your mission is, Rona.” said Angelica the cat. Then she leaped from the roof of the house.
What is my mission? See through disguises? That was two cryptic messages that Rona couldn’t figure out, but she kept them in mind as she climbed through her bedroom window. She tore open the box that the mailman had delivered. The Elnign Dagger gleamed in the bedroom light. Rona stuffed it into the inside pocket of her hoodie, which turned out to be a lot deeper than it appeared. The dagger which should’ve been a bit too long for the pocket instead fit seamlessly. Angelica had thought of everything. Now what had she meant about disguises? Rona didn’t have time to think too much before she noticed that a note had fallen out of the package. She opened it up and read it:
Dear Rona, sorry we were so late getting it to you. Chuck was supposed to do it a week ago, but he completely forgot. He’s really a good man, just forgetful sometimes. Anyway, we’re sorry for any inconvenience this might have caused you and we offer you one free favor if you ever need it. Thank you and good luck saving the world.
The Mechanic J
Rona stashed the note away. Luck, she thought. She reached under the mattress to where she kept her lucky stone. She held the small, multicolored stone in the palm of her hand. The two of them had been through much together. Hopefully she hadn’t used all of the luck from it yet. She placed it in her pocket next to the dagger, then slipped back out of the window, and down to the ground floor in one leap. She dashed over to the garage and peeked inside. The van was still there, but Roger’s truck was gone. The door wasn’t locked and Rona was able to walk in without making much noise. She searched the garage with her eyes. Where was it? She peered under the van, around the back, and behind some boxes until she spotted it: Roger’s kettlebell. Just as Claire had said, this one was heavier than the one inside. Much heavier. Rona spotted a tow chain off to the side. She grabbed the chain and wrapped it around the handle of the kettlebell. The thought of smashing Goliath in the face with it brought joy to her heart. David definitely hadn’t had one of these babies! She hoisted her newly minted weapon over her shoulder and went back outside. A familiar black Cadillac pulled up across the street. Right on time, thought Rona. She hopped in the back seat of the car and sat her new weapon on the floor.
“Any new leads?” she asked.
Donny shook his head. He looked down at the ball and chain at Rona’s feet.
“Don’t worry, it’s not for you,” said Rona.
“Any ideas?” asked Terrance from the passenger’s seat.
Rona thought for a second. If I were a demon in disguise, where would I be?
“Let’s go to church.”
“So they want to enthrall the entire city? Turn everyone into Infernal that they can control?” asked Terrance.
“In a nutshell,” said Rona, as they pulled up in front of the church.
“So why don’t we go to the construction site now? What are we doing here?” asked Terrance.
“They’re going to wait for nightfall. The Infernal wear masks for a reason. During the day they pose as ordinary people. Teachers, police officers, construction workers…”
“Priests,” said Donny and Terrance at the same time.
“How much do you know about Father O’Neal?” asked Rona.
“He’s connected in our circles. That’s all I know,” said Terrance he looked to Donny, who shrugged, then turned back to Rona.
“Okay, let’s go and have a little chat, shall we,” said Rona.
Rona banged on the church door. No answer. She waited a couple more seconds before smashing the locks and forcing the door open. The Templars followed her in, their hands near their pistols. At first nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but then Father O’Neal stumbled out from the back. He looked taken aback, and in a slight panic when he saw them approaching.
“Oh hey, hey,” said the Father, brushing sweat from his brow. “I didn’t know you were coming. Have a seat.”
“We need to talk, Father,” said Terrence. “Now.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” said Father O’Neal, motioning for them all to have a seat.
No one obliged.
“Matthew,” called Father O’Neal.
Mathew emerged from the back room. “Yes, Father?”
“Our guests,” said Father O’Neal walking over and putting his hand on Terrence’s shoulder. “Would you get them something to drink.”
“Father, we don’t need anything–” Rona began, but Father O’Neal fixed her with a glance.
“Certainly, Father,” said Matthew, turning and walking away.
Without warning, Father O’Neal grabbed the pistol from Terrence’s holster and aimed it at Matthew’s back. Terrence knocked the Father’s arm up in the air just as he pulled the trigger. The shot rang out, startling everyone to attention. Terrance and Isaac attempted to wrestle the gun from Father O’Neal’s possession.
“He’s one of them! He’s one of them!” shouted the priest.
Donny drew his gun from inside his jacket and pointed it at Matthew.
A low, guttural growl cut through the air.
He whirled around and lunged at Donny.
Donny fired, but Mathew managed to dodge all of Donny’s panic fire. Matthew landed in front of Donny and hit him with a hard blow that knocked him into Rona and sent the two of them tumbling into the pews. Mathew grabbed a hold of Isaac and tossed him through the air until he crash landed onto the altar. Mathew’s face twisted into something grotesque and barely recognizable. Terrence seemed shocked by the transformation as Mathew took him and hurled him aside easily. Mathew reached down and took hold of the priest. He bit hard into father O’Neal’s neck. The wound spurted crimson instantly as Father O’Neal let out a blood curdling scream. Rona leaped to his aid, but instantly dodged to the side as a hailstorm of bullets penetrated the area.
“Watch where you’re shooting!” cried Rona.
A few of the bullets hit their mark, knocking Mathew backwards and away from the Father. He leaped back to his feet and made a beeline for the front door, leaping over pews and moving at inhuman speed. Rona rolled to her feet. She pulled the Elnign Dagger from her pocket and let loose the rope around the handle. She spun the dagger by the rope, building momentum before letting it fly through the air. Matthew’s escape was cut short as the Elnign Dagger penetrated his torso. He let out a howl before incinerating on the spot.
“Neat,” said Donny.
“The Elnign Dagger, it’s devastating to low level demons. I don’t know how well it will work against Goliath. It should at least slow him down,” said Rona, as she dragged the dagger back to her by the rope at the end of the handle.
“Hey, get over here,” said an accented voice that Rona didn’t recognize. She turned to see Isaac kneeling over Father O’Neal, applying pressure to his wound.
“We need to call an ambulance,” said Rona, rushing over to join Isaac and the fallen priest.
“Isaac was one of the best doctors in the Israeli military,” said Terrance.
“He lose a lot of blood,” said Isaac in his thickly accented English.
“It’s okay,” said Father O’Neal as he tried to sit up, but Isaac put his hand on the priest’s chest preventing it. “Let me go, to the house of the Lord.”
“We can’t let you do that, Father,” said Donny, taking out his cell phone. He looked at it quizzically. “My phone is dead. I’ve been charging it all day.”
“Mine is dying, too,” said Terrance after checking his.
“Yes, energy,” said Father O’Neal with a nod. “The ritual to enthrall the city will take energy. It’s already begun draining energy from devices and soon it will draw from all of the buildings in the area.”
“He needs electricity for the ritual. That explains why he’s conducting it in the middle of the city and not off in the mountains somewhere,” said Donny.
“Aye. They’re doing it tonight. It’s already begun. They have the Blood Gage. They have the missing teenagers—Nicole. They’re searching for one more person. A boy. They’re going after him tonight. You have to stop them,” said Father O’Neal, his voice weakening. “Save Nicole.”
“I will,” said Rona.
“Thank you,” said Father O’Neal, weakly. He held out his hand for Rona to take. She accepted his hand and squeezed gently. The priest looked at her as if seeing her for the first time. A smile crossed his lips. “An angel,” he said. And just like that, the grip of his hand loosened and his head fell to one side.
His eyes closed one final time.
“Rest in peace, Father,” said Rona.
Isaac laid Father O’Neal down to the floor, gently. He placed the Father’s hands on his chest, one on top of the other.
The four of them sat in silence for a moment.
“Let’s move,” said Rona.
“We should be heading downtown to the construction site,” said Terrance as they turned a corner in the Cadillac.
“I have to make sure that Virgil is okay first,” said Rona.
“That really isn’t our concern,” said Terrance.
“It is now,” said Rona, sternly. “We’ll check the house.” Rona only hoped that he had decided to skip the last couple of periods as he usually did.