Blackfeather – Epilogue

Ashrafel hung suspended in a firmament of nothingness. Kate was finally free of the curse he had inflicted upon her and could now go forwards into a life of blissful uncertainty. He had to let her go and would miss sharing her life in his physical form, but he would always be with her as her guardian, whispering words of love and encouragement on her chosen life path.

He waited for the pull, up and away, towards a Heaven he had been absent from for five centuries. He waited, but it didn’t come. There was no sound, no light, no anything here, in between one thing and another, between Earth and Heaven. He waited.

He was starting to panic now. Had he done something wrong after all? Was this his punishment for sleeping with Kate?

He tried to cry out, but could make no sound, and then he felt it. The pull. He was relieved, but only for a moment and then he was panicking again, struggling against the invisible force that drew him inexorably downwards. He became heavy and a great weariness permeated his whole being. The sensation was familiar, something he had experienced briefly a long time ago.

No!, he thought. It can’t be!

It wasn’t to God that he cried out to save him, his last thought, before he sank into a black oblivion, was of the woman he loved.

“Kate, please help me.”

 

The End

 

Kate and Ashrafel’s story continues in the sequel Immortal

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Blackfeather Chapter 32

It was January now. Peter had recovered enough to be allowed home from the hospital and his sister had come to look after him over the Christmas and New Year holidays. Brian had called in to visit Kate, but she wouldn’t tell him what was wrong with her. She kept asking him where he’d been for several days before Christmas and didn’t seem to believe him when he told her he’d had a few days off with flu.

She didn’t seem ill, but maybe she was suffering from stress or a stronger strain of the flu he’d had. It had given him some weird dreams, that was for sure.

It was the first day back at work after the holidays now and it didn’t look as though she was going to show. Brian picked up the phone and dialled her number. It rang and rang, but he knew she was there and he wasn’t going to stop ringing until she’d answered.

Kate lifted the receiver and put it to her ear.

“Kate, it’s Brian. Are you coming in to work today?”

“Huh, what day is it?” she said, her voice sleepy.

“It’s the 9th of January, Kate. You’ve missed Christmas and New Year.”

New Year, she thought. A time of new beginnings.

The trouble with new beginnings was that other things had to end. Kate hated the thought that she had to leave Ash behind her and carry on without him. What was the point if they couldn’t be together? She squeezed the iPod with her other hand. For two weeks she had listened over and over to the playlist that Ash had left her. A collection of songs that he had chosen, each and every song a reminder of his love for her.

Brian was speaking again.

“Come on, Kate, you can’t miss today.”

“Why not?” she sneered.

“Because if you do you won’t see the new researcher that starts today.”

He listened to the silence and waited.

“Peter’s got a new researcher?”

He grinned, he knew that would pique her interest.

“Yep, apparently so.”

“And is Peter there?”

“No, he’s still recovering from that fall he had.”

There was a pause again, then…

“All right,” and she hung up.

*  *  *

Two hours later Kate let herself in to the office of Sharpe’s Genealogists and Probate Researchers, hung up her coat and said a dismal Happy New Year to her colleagues. While Brian, James and Nathan seemed excited by the prospect of a new researcher, Kate had turned up only out of curiosity. She sat at her desk, sorting out her files, the thought of having to re-do all the work she’d lost on the Markham family tree an unhappy prospect. As she moved one of the case files from one pile to another, a slim white envelope fell out from between the pages. She bent down to pick it up with a sigh. It was sealed and had her name written on the front in copperplate flowing script.

It reminded her of the engraved words on the silver casket that Catherine’s ashes were in. She’d put them on her dressing table, the diary tucked underneath the new linen bag inside. They belonged to her now and she would look after them for Ash’s sake.

She stared at the envelope, then tore it open and slipped her fingers inside. When she felt the contents she froze and then pulled out the large black feather and stared at it. Along with the feather was a note-card. It was written in the same handwriting as the envelope and simply said…

We need to talk.

Was that it? No signature, no explanation? She turned the card over.

P.S. I wouldn’t have waited five hundred years 😉

Her heart was thumping and she looked around expecting to find her colleagues laughing at the joke they’d played on her, but they didn’t know anything about Ash and Brian didn’t appear to remember. If it wasn’t them and it couldn’t be Ash, there was only one other possibility. She remembered the angel who had bowed to her in the nightclub, but she didn’t understand what the message meant.

We need to talk? About what?

The three men were rowdy with excitement, but when the door opened they fell silent and all eyes turned on the young man that entered the room. Kate’s eyes were wide with anticipation. She caught Brian’s eye, he gestured at her to close her mouth.

“Hi, I’m looking for Peter Sharpe,” said the man in the doorway.

He pushed blonde hair out of pale green eyes and looked around at the four silent faces.

“I’m supposed to start work today.”

Kate let out her breath, disappointed and slumped in her chair, miserable again. What had she expected? That Ash would walk through the door and they’d carry on as if he never left?

Yes, she thought.

That’s exactly what she’d expected.

Brian introduced himself and shook hands with the newcomer.

“I’m Sam,” he said and stuck out his hand for Kate to shake.

Kate looked down at the message in her hand and stuffed it and the black angel feather back in the envelope, pushing it under the files on her desk.

“Kate,” she said, despondent, and took his hand.

He smiled at her. She wanted to cry.

He moved on to James and Nathan. He was going to get on with them like a house on fire, she thought, but Brian had other ideas.

“Kate, I think you should give Sam here the guided tour.”

She stared at him. Why was he picking her? He stared back and she backed down. He was doing it to try and take her mind off of whatever was making her miserable. His heart was in the right place, but she didn’t need a stray puppy to take care of. All she wanted to do was crawl back into bed and forget the world existed.

Sam Hale was standing by her desk, eyes bright, an eager smile on his face. If he’d had a tail it would have been wagging, furiously.

“Come on,” she forced herself to smile back, “I’ll show you how things work around here.”

 

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Blackfeather Chapter 31

Across town a tall, dark haired man pressed the palm of his hand to the door of Peter Sharpe’s house and waited for the click of the opening lock. He entered the kitchen and looked down at the top of Brian Thomas’s head as it lolled on his chest. Brian was tied and gagged to a kitchen chair. He stirred at the sound of movement and his head snapped up. His eyes went wide with fear and his nostrils flared as the man came towards him.

Brian flinched as the tall, blue eyed man pulled a small, sharp knife from inside his black trench coat and came towards him. His muffled protests were ignored. He slipped the knife under the ropes at Brian’s wrists and sliced through them with no effort at all.

Brian rubbed at his swollen, bleeding wrists, then spat out the now loosened gag from his mouth.

“Who are you?” he said, his voice as dry as gravel.

A glass of water was thrust into his hand.

“Drink,” he was instructed. “Then go help Kate.”

“Kate, what’s wrong with Kate?”

“Physically, nothing, but she could use a friend right now and you owe her one.”

“I do? Why?”

Brian pulled back as the man reached towards him. He paused, hand outstretched, eyebrows raised. Brian relented and allowed the man to place two fingers against the centre of his forehead. He grunted as the image formed in his head. A village, a crowd of people gathered in an open space. It was a static picture at first, like a photograph, and then there was sound and movement and he wasn’t looking at the picture anymore, he was in it, in the body of a young boy. He was pushing his way through the crowd and then running across the grass to the girl, standing in a barrel of tar, tied to a pole. He picked up a chain and passed it round her waist, pulling it tight around the pole so she could not move or struggle.

As he walked away, smirking, he spat at her face. The girl looked at him, tears in her eyes, she was terrified.

Brian, looking out through the boy’s eyes, paused. His gaze bored into her and he gasped in shock as the eyes that looked back at him changed into Kate’s. He understood now, at last, and the man released him from the memory.

“Who are you?” he said for the second time.

The man was already walking away, he looked back over his shoulder and smiled.

“See you around, Brian.”

He didn’t remember telling the man his name, but he guessed it didn’t matter. He got to his feet, pins and needles flooding his muscles as the feeling came back to his legs. Then he left Peter’s house and went straight to Kate’s.

*  *  *

There was no answer as he knocked on the door, but it opened to the pressure of his hand and he went inside.

“Kate, are you here?”

Brian ran down the hall and skidded to a halt on the tiled kitchen floor. As he turned, he saw the wreckage from the living room doorway. It looked like someone had bombed the place. He edged forward, expecting the worst.

Kate was laid on what was left of the settee. At first he thought she was dead, but as he bent down he heard her soft breathing. She wore earphones and he could hear the music, distant and tinny, emanating from them.

She must have sensed him standing over her and her eyes opened, making him jump.

“Brian, what are you doing here? Where have you been?” she said, pulling the earphones out, jumping up and throwing her arms around him.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” he said. “What the hell happened here?”

“You wouldn’t believe me either,” she said.

*  *  *

Brian didn’t know what had happened to Kate. He suspected it had something to do with Peter Sharpe and if he didn’t want to talk about it then he doubted she did. He sent her to bed, protesting all the way, and took her coffee to warm her up, then set about clearing up the mess and putting the French Doors to rights. He had contacts in the building business that could sort this out in a flash.

It took three full days to repair the damage. Kate had stayed in her room out of the way, he had taken her food and hot drinks and tried to cheer her up, but she’d barely touched anything and spent the whole time listening to that iPod. He was worried about her. Tomorrow he would come back with a can of paint to put the finishing touches on the repairs and have one more go at getting her to leave that room. Before he left for the night, he went to see her.

“Come in,” she said, her voice muffled by the quilt she had pulled over her head.

“I’ve cleared everything up the best I could and my mate’s rebuilt your wall and replaced your windows. I just wanted to say…”

He cleared his throat, feeling stupid. She was never going to understand what he was trying to say, but he felt he had to anyway.

“I wanted to say I’m sorry, for telling your father you were talking to spirits. I didn’t know he was going to burn you.”

Kate sat up and stared at Brian. He squirmed under her gaze.

“I know you don’t understand, but there it is.”

He turned to leave, but she reached out and grabbed his hand, pulling him back toward the bed. He sat down heavily and she stared into his eyes. He didn’t know what she saw there, but her furrowed brow smoothed over and she hugged him.

“It’s all right Brian, everything is forgiven.”

He nodded, then went to leave.

By the time he reached the Jeep his reason for being there, the memory of his past life and the whole incident with Peter had been forgotten.

 

 

Outside in the garden, a tall man with shoulder length black hair and iridescent blue eyes watched him leave. He sighed, content at last that everything was as it should be and looked up at the darkening sky. The stars were coming out.

“Thought I’d tie up a loose end for you, little bro,” he said, smiling.

And then he stopped smiling. There should have been some kind of response. Some acknowledgement from above. There was none. The angel sent a query Heavenwards and received a shocking reply.

 

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Blackfeather Chapter 30

Kate’s eyes couldn’t stand the brightness of the light, but as she closed them she swore she saw white wings where once there were black. When she opened them again, she wasn’t in the church. It took her a moment to adjust, but as she looked about, she was horrified by what she saw.

She felt chains around her body, restraining her against a thick wooden pole and she could already feel the heat of the flames around her feet. Thick smoke drifted up around her and caught in her throat. It made her cough and her eyes stung with it.

There were people watching her. She recognised their faces, knew their names, but at the same time was aware she had never known these people in her own lifetime. She panicked, her eyes pleaded with those people to help her and she cried out in terror. She hadn’t expected it would be like this. But it had to be, this was the point at which she’d died, the act for which she must forgive her father. Her hands pulled at the ropes, chafing the skin of her arms, and just as she was about to scream he came to her.

Ashrafel. Her own guardian angel once more. His aura wrapped around her like a protective bubble. He stood in the flames with her, but they did not touch him. There was no pain, no crackle of burning flesh, no sound at all, except his voice, soothing and comforting her.

“Do you know where you are, Kate?”

“Yes,” she replied. “Back where it started.”

“That’s right. There’s one more thing you have to do. Hurry before it’s too late.”

Kate scanned the faces in the crowd. At first she couldn’t find him, but as she searched further back she saw him, standing alone, almost hidden in the shadow of a tree. He hugged himself as though sick with stomach cramps and cried silent tears for his daughter. He was ashamed at what he’d done, but he knew he couldn’t stop it now and he forced himself to watch as punishment.

“Hurry Kate, there’s not much time.”

Ash’s voice broke through the sleepy feeling that was overcoming Kate. She roused herself, she pitied the man beneath the tree, the man who had been her father. It wasn’t his fault she was going to die either. She smiled at him and his mouth dropped open in shock.

“I forgive you, Father!” she called, hoping he could hear her over the crackling flames.

He had, for he fell to his knees in prayer. Kate closed her eyes once more, she wanted to sleep now. She was ready to die, if that’s what she needed to do, and she drifted into darkness.

*  *  *

The cold brought her back to her senses. Where was she? In moments her eyes adjusted to the darkness. She was laying on the floor of the church, with only the light of a single guttering candle to see by. Her breath fogged on the air and she shivered. The silence was heavy. She felt so alone. If Ash was still with her, why couldn’t she feel him? She looked around and saw Peter’s still form curled on the floor.

Oh God!” she thought. What if I’ve killed him?

She rushed over and bent down, pressing the fingers of her right hand to his throat. Thank goodness there was a pulse. Scrabbling through Peter’s pockets, she found a mobile phone and dialled for an ambulance. How was she going to explain this?

While she waited she slipped Ash’s diary and Catherine’s ashes into her coat. The new flagstone had been cemented in place, there was no way she could return them to their original hiding place and she didn’t want to anyway. They were all she had of Ash.

She took a last look at the church and walked back to her car, knowing Peter would be found when the ambulance arrived. She felt numb as she turned the key in the ignition and pulled away from the wall. She drove home, taking care on the bends, knowing there would be no ghostly apparition appearing in front of her car on the pitch dark road.

The front door of her home was still unlocked. There hadn’t seemed much point given that the wall of her living room was missing. It was freezing in the house, but Kate didn’t feel anything anymore. Ash was gone, nothing mattered now. She walked to the living room, crunching broken glass and the remains of the Christmas tree underfoot and looked around at the devastation.

The dining room was a mess too, but Kate didn’t care, all she wanted was to see Ash, standing at the bookshelves, flicking through her books and photo albums. She turned in the middle of the mess, surveying the damage and caught sight of something that hadn’t been there before. Poking out from beneath a splayed book was a small oblong package, wrapped up in shiny Christmas paper. She stepped over the fallen debris, picked it up and read the small tag that dangled from it.

To my beloved, Kate

I’ll always be with you.

She dropped to her knees, clutching the precious gift to her heart. She peeled the paper off and sobbed as the object came free of its wrapping. She didn’t know when he had hidden the iPod beneath the Christmas tree, it must have been days ago, before the demons ransacked the house. It was a miracle it had survived intact.

She couldn’t hold it in anymore, her voice rising to a wail as the pain of losing him threatened to drown her. She lay down in the debris and pressed play on the circular dial below the screen.

Her heart ached at the familiar tune she’d heard on her alarm clock and on her car radio and in Selena’s flat before she’d even met Ash. She knew now that he had somehow engineered her hearing the song each time. She curled up and listened to the whole of the song, letting the tears roll down her face and neck. When it had finished, she played it again and again until she fell into an exhausted sleep.

 

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Blackfeather Chapter 29

She’d been unconscious for over an hour before the throbbing ache in her head, arms and back brought her to wakefulness. She raised herself up on her elbows and immediately regretted the manoeuvre. Groaning, she sat upright and surveyed the damage. The whole of the wall, the French Doors and the bay window next to them, had been blasted to smithereens when Ash had been thrown through them.

Oh God, Ash! she thought, remembering how he’d been surrounded by demons.

He had fought as hard as he could, but they’d beaten, kicked and punched him into submission before forcibly carrying him away to God only knew where.

What was she supposed to do now? He had said not to follow him, no matter what, but she couldn’t just leave him to whatever fate they were going to dole out to him. The memory of Sebastian chaining and torturing him with the dagger flashed into her mind. It made her stomach churn and she almost vomited. She was not going to leave him to that. The first thing she needed to do was figure out where on earth they would take him.

She didn’t even know who she was looking for. Was it someone she knew or a random stranger? She thought back over her previous lives. Who had it been in each of them?

To begin with it had been her father, but that didn’t make any sense now, her own father was in France and it didn’t seem to work like that anyway. And that had been the catalyst for the curse, not really a part of it. Then there had been the Witch Finder, a kind of revenge for Catherine’s burning, but she hadn’t known him before he’d ridden into town.

With Evelyn it had been her own brother and in Mons he had been a German Officer, again no one she had known until he found her in her home village. If there was a pattern, she couldn’t see it. Maybe there’d been a clue in the journal she’d missed… well it was too late now, the journal was gone.

“Wait,” she said aloud. What was it Ash had said on the journey home?

He had said there were crossovers, previous lives encroaching on the present, and those crossovers had never happened before. What if one of those lives was encroaching now. She ground the heel of her hand into her forehead.

“Come on, Kate, think.”

And then it hit her, a real light bulb moment. She was Kathryn wasn’t she, in the village where it had all started? Hadn’t he attacked Reverend Pilling in the church that Thomas Whittle had built? Where else would he go now?

She got to her feet, a little too quickly, dizziness making her stumble over a broken table. She steadied herself, brushed herself down and made for the front door, grabbing her car keys from the hall table on the way out.

She fastened her seatbelt and started the engine, breathing a sigh of relief when it chugged into life.

Thank God they overlooked the car, she thought and screeched out of her driveway in reverse gear.

The tyres skidded on the road as she turned the car to face the right direction and lurched forward, her foot flooring the accelerator.

*  *  *

Slow down, she cautioned herself. He didn’t save you from skidding on the ice so you could kill yourself at the same place racing to his rescue.

She wondered if he was going to be angry with her when he saw her.

Tough, she thought again, it’s my turn to save him.

It took her less than ten minutes to reach the church and she pulled in to the lea of the wall, hoping it would hide her from anyone watching. She freed the seatbelt and got out of the car, using it to crouch behind while she tried to get a look at the church. There were dim lights inside. Candles, judging from the flicker. He’d already set up his altar then.

There didn’t seem much point in trying to hide anymore, so she walked to the lych-gate, or at least where there used to be a gate. It had been ripped off its hinges by overzealous demons.

Could demons enter a churchyard? She searched for any sign of eyes peeping out from behind gravestones. She couldn’t see any moving shadows, but remained wary as she walked steadily up the path to the front entrance.

The door was locked. She hadn’t expected that, but she knew how to get in and set off round the back to the vestry door. The key wasn’t under the plant pot, but the door was unlocked. So he’d found the key before her.

 

That must have been how he’d been able to get in to attack Reverend Pilling.

She pushed it open, wincing as the hinges creaked, and tiptoed down the passage to the door to the church. Putting her ear to the ancient wood she thought she could hear laughter from the other side. It wasn’t a pleasant sound. It was sadistic, mocking.

If he’d hurt Ash, she’d… What?

What was she going to do? She still had no idea how to send him home and end this. Maybe she was just going to make things worse. She took a deep breath, filled her cheeks with air and blew it out through the circle of her lips to slow her beating heart. She pressed the handle and pushed open the door a crack. There was silence from the church so she carried on, emerging from the vestry between the dark wooden pews. She hugged the wall and made her way towards the chancel.

Through the pillared arches she saw Ash, shirtless and bleeding, hung from the beams above by chains, shackles clamped tight round each wrist. The metal bit into his flesh, and being no ordinary metal it burned him. Deep cuts scored the flesh on his chest, stomach and arms. She cried out and clamped her hands over her mouth, tears springing to her eyes at the sight of his pain. His head whipped up at the sound she made. Who wouldn’t hear her coming? It echoed through the church.

His eyes were dull, but when he saw her his face crumpled in despair.

“I told you not to follow me,” he said. “I’d rather take my chances in Hell than put you through this again.”

“I couldn’t just leave you.”

 

He tried to smile, to reassure her, to show her he was grateful and understood.

“Aw, isn’t that sweet,” said a voice from the shadows.

Kate stiffened. Ash pulled at the chains in vain, trying to get loose so he could protect her.

“Who are you?” Kate demanded, trying to sound more confident than she felt.

When the voice didn’t answer she grew impatient, angry.

“Show yourself, you coward.”

A figure stepped from the shadows behind the pulpit. He held a dagger in one hand and used it to pare the dirt from beneath the fingernails of his other. It caught the light and Kate could see the symbols etched on the blade. It was wicked sharp. Last to emerge was the face. Kate’s jaw dropped when she saw him.

“Peter?!”

Peter Sharpe was the last person they had suspected. They hadn’t even considered him at all. He was supposed to be away, travelling to an antiques sale, but then that would fit, wouldn’t it? If he’d bought the dagger and book at an auction or boot sale. It would be an easy way for it to come to him.

“Hello Kate,” he said with a fiendish grin.

His voice sounded different from the warm, friendly man she knew as her boss and he looked awful. His hair was greasy and unkempt, he hadn’t shaved for days and his eyes were red-rimmed and glassy. He began walking towards her across the chancel and she backed up against the wall. Ash’s chains rattled as he strained to free himself.

“Don’t fight the inevitable, Kate. Embrace your destiny.”

His arms were flung wide in a dramatic gesture. Kate put several pews between herself and her boss. Peter didn’t want to play cat and mouse, he knew what would bring her to him and turned towards the angel. As Kate realised what he was about to do she cried out.

“No! Don’t touch him!”

He smiled at her over his shoulder and put the point of the blade to Ash’s chest. Ash clenched his teeth; he wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of screaming at the searing pain. Peter dragged the knife down his skin in a straight line from breastbone to navel. Kate screamed and ran forward.

“Stop it, please stop it!” she sobbed.

Peter removed the dagger, blood dripped to the floor in a pool beneath Ash’s feet. He turned to Kate, who had stopped at the altar he had set up. The casket with Catherine’s ashes and the diary lay on one side and in the centre lay the book, open at the ritual on one of the lecterns from the archive room. Either side were the heavy silver candlesticks that would normally adorn the altar where the offertory plate stood. This had now been filled with blood. She guessed the blood was Ash’s.

“I used it to see you coming here,” he said. “What better way to seek you out than with the blood of the angel that loves you so?”

Peter stood in front of her; she pressed her back to the table’s edge and leaned away from him. He shoved his face into hers, so close she could smell his putrid breath and the stench of stale sweat from his clothes. He looked like he hadn’t had a bath or brushed his teeth for weeks. Scabbed over cuts peeped out from beneath the cuffs of his dirty shirt. It reminded her of Thomas Whittle and the self-inflicted cuts he made to perform the black magic spells from the book. Had Peter been doing the same? Of course he had.

“Peter, this isn’t you,” she crooned. “You’re better than this, you can fight it.”

“I don’t want to fight it!” he spat through gritted teeth, spittle hitting her in the face. “I want to end it! I want what should have been mine centuries ago. I want to be immortal!”

“So why haven’t you killed him then?”

“Because I need you here too. I want you to watch me while I do it. I want you to consent to it.”

“Never,” she said, and the voices of all those who had gone before her echoed alongside her.

He jabbed the dagger at her. Ash groaned and struggled again.

“I won’t do it,” Kate said, her voice husky, her eyes spilling over with tears at Ash’s pain.

“Won’t you?” Peter sang, dancing away and slashing the knife across Ash’s bicep.

The angel cried out despite his best efforts.

“When I’ve finished with him you’ll be begging me to kill him. You’ll be desperate to end his pain.”

“Don’t listen to him, Kate,” Ash said.

Kate pressed her lips together to stop herself from screaming. Her lips trembled. Her mind was spinning, searching for a way out of the situation. The debate raged in her head. What did Ash need her to do? Should she kill Peter, should she repeat Evelyn’s sacrifice and kill herself? That seemed better than being responsible for anyone else’s death.

What had he said about Evelyn, that killing herself wasn’t the only thing she could have done. Kate whizzed through the options that Evelyn could have had. She had the knife, she killed herself, but that wasn’t right, she could have killed Sebastian, but previous attempts to kill the bearer of Thomas Whittle’s soul hadn’t solved anything either. The only other option that Evelyn had open to her was the one thing that had never been done before.

Kill Ash.

Her mind reeled in shock. Was that it? Was that what she had to do to set him free? How could she? How could she look into his eyes and plunge that dagger into his heart? How could she kill the man she loved? But maybe that was why it was so hard, maybe that was why she had never done it before…

If only Sebastian wasn’t there to chant the words of the ritual…

As she was arguing with herself, Peter had continued his monologue. He was preaching to her now, telling her they’d been chosen for something great, miraculous, amazing… He was pacing back and forth across the chancel. She had to shut him up.

Kate glanced across at Ash. He stared at the floor. He looked lost, defeated. Her heart ached to hold him. Why couldn’t she make him see that none of this was his fault. It wasn’t Peter’s fault either. After going over everything that she’d read in the diary, every conversation she had had with Ash while they’d been together, a couple of things had jumped out at her. And suddenly that was it. The last piece of the puzzle fell into place. Every time she had shown pity for Thomas, for Sebastian, Ash had reacted. Now she knew without a doubt what she had to do. She risked glancing behind her for the position of the ornate candlesticks on the altar, and while Peter carried on talking, she began to edge her way towards them.

She wanted Ash to notice the change in her. He had to be able to hear the excited beating of her heart, but he wouldn’t look up. He was so lost in his misery, convinced she was going to die because of him again, he had given up caring what happened to him anymore.

Kate wondered if she could do something similar to Ash’s aura trick and send him calming vibes. She focused on her heartbeat, tried to slow it down, shut out Peter’s droning monologue and inched ever closer to that candlestick, willing Ash to look up at her and hear her thoughts. In all the time she’d known him, he’d always been able to hear her thoughts, feel her emotions, why when she needed him to see what was in her head, did he not seem able to?

Was the metal that the chains were made of somehow responsible for blocking their connection? It appeared so. There were deep burn marks around his wrists and she knew that when Sebastian had tortured him the shackles had prevented him from using his angelic powers to transport himself from one place to another.  He had whispered into Evelyn’s mind, but had never been certain he had reached her.

When she reached her goal, she felt behind her, her hand moving like a drunken spider across the cloth until her fingers made contact with the cold metal of the candlestick. She curled her fingers around it and pulled it closer to her back.

She must have reached Ash in some way as something seemed to catch his attention and he raised his head, cocking it on one side. He seemed to be listening for something, and as his eyes found hers, he frowned. Kate gave him the smallest of secret smiles and was rewarded with seeing the light come back into his eyes. He stood a little taller and there was hope there once more as he watched her curiously.

“And when I finally receive my reward from Lucifer, no one will be able to stop me!”

Peter came to a standstill in front of Kate and smiled at her, shaking his head like a sympathetic father.

“Poor girl, five hundred years of misery and you still haven’t managed to work out how to end this. Even with his diary, the whole sorry tale spelled out for you, you can’t see the wood for the trees,” Peter said.

Kate straightened in defiance.

“Karmic debt,” said Kate, shocking Peter into silence. “When souls reincarnate together because they love each other so much they need to be together again,” she smiled at Ash. “Or sometimes because they do something so bad to someone they have to seek forgiveness.”

“It’s not that simple,” he mocked. “Forgiving him isn’t the answer. You love him, as far as you’re concerned he has never done anything to be forgiven for. And neither has the man this body belongs to.”

“I know. It wasn’t Peter’s choice to do this, or Sebastian’s or the Witch Finder’s. The only one who had the choice to say no was Thomas Whittle. And there’s only one way I can forgive him. Free Ash, and let him take me back to the beginning.”

There was silence. Peter weighed up Kate’s words and  realised he was about to lose his chance again. He sprang into action, bringing the dagger over his head in a sweeping motion towards Kate’s heart. She swung the candlestick in front of her and blocked the blow, but with his full weight behind it, it was forced closer and closer to her chest.

As she struggled against him the face before her seemed to twist and change.

“Witch,” he hissed. “When I am immortal you will burn in Hell.”

Kate could feel the other woman looking out from behind her eyes. Isabel was strong, she had no fear of the Witch Finder. She had faced him once before and defeated him. She leant her strength to Kate and together they pushed the Witch Finder back.

Kate ran down the aisle, turning at the last pew to face him as he chased after her. He lunged and she dodged backwards out of his reach. Backing into the Christmas tree that stood in the entrance of the church. She edged around it, then pushed it over, sending it toppling towards him. He wrestled with it then extricated himself, trailing a length of tinsel from its branches.

“Let it go, Witch Finder. This is no longer our fight,” Isabel said, gently.

The Witch Finder growled and made a grab for her arm, catching her by the wrist and pulling her towards him.

“I forgive you,” she said.

The Witch Finder frowned for a moment, then his shoulders slumped and his face softened in an expression of relief as he was released from centuries of anger, bottled up from one incarnation to the next.

Isabel, finally at peace, threw Ash one last, fond, farewell glance before she returned Kate’s body to her, but it wasn’t over yet.

Peter reached out towards Kate as if begging her for help, but the steel in his eyes made her draw back. She took a step to the side and then he came after her, trapping her against the pulpit. He spun her to face him and flung her back against the wood panelling, his hand at her throat.

“Evelyn?” he said, trying to focus on her face.

Kate swallowed, she’d been dreading this. Ash pulled ever harder at the chains.

“Stay away from her, Sebastian. It’s me you want, remember?”

“You can wait, angel. My sister and I have unfinished business.”

Sebastian’s hand squeezed tighter. Kate struggled for breath. Evelyn hovered in the corner of Kate’s mind. She looked past Sebastian at Ash, then turned her eyes to her brother.

Sebastian pressed himself against her, brushed the hair from her face then kissed her, hard. Then in one swift movement, he swung her around and stepped behind her, his arm across her chest, the dagger at her throat. Kate, aware of everything that was happening, was powerless to act.

Slowly Sebastian shuffled forward, pushing Evelyn before him until she stood face to face with Ashrafel.

Evelyn, my beautiful Evelyn,” Sebastian said. “I’ve missed you, my love.”

“Don’t listen to him, Evie. I’m with you. I never left you,” Ash said.

Evelyn reacted to neither, but Kate felt something shift. Evelyn was pushed aside and another took her place. She winked at the angel and flashed him a grin.

“Hello, Handsome.”

“Charlotte?” Ash said, in surprise.

The woman Kate had become stamped her foot hard on top of Sebastian’s, crushing his foot beneath the heel of her boot. Then she elbowed him sharply in the ribs, knocking the wind from his lungs and twisted out of his grip.

Peter doubled over, clutching at his body in pain. He staggered backwards and fell to the floor. The dagger clattered on the flagstones. He clutched at his head, twisting it this way and that between his hands. Between screams he muttered phrases in German.

“Make it stop,” he screamed up at Ash, kneeling on the floor before the chained angel.

He reached down to the dagger at his side, tortured by the awful images inside his head, and his fingers curled round the handle. He fought against the pain and prepared to lunge at Ash, but Kate was quicker.

Throughout the struggle the forgotten candlestick had remained in her grip and she leapt forward, swinging her arm as hard as she could, catching Peter on the side of the head. He crumpled to the floor.

Kate flung her weapon aside, picked up the dagger and made her way towards Ash. He was smiling now with pride. She touched the shackles at his wrists and they fell away, but she couldn’t look at him. Her heart was still breaking, but for a different reason. She knew what she had to do was going to take him away from her forever. He’d be gone and she’d be alone again.

“I don’t think I can do this,” she whispered.

Tears trickled down her cheeks as he lifted her chin.

“You have to, it will never end if you don’t.”

“Can’t you stay? We could be together for this lifetime at least.”

He shook his head.

“We tried that, remember. There’s always a price and then it starts all over again.”

She flung the dagger to the floor and held onto him, but he held her at arm’s length, picked up the knife and pressed it into her hand.

“I would take Hell over Heaven any day, if it meant I could be with you, but I can’t save you from this nightmare unless you send me home.”

She shook her head.

“I’ll always be with you,” he said, seeing the thing she feared most in her thoughts.

Kate flung her arms around his neck and sobbed, her face buried in his shoulder. She breathed in the scent of him and committed it to memory, not willing to forget a single thing about him. Then determined to get it over with, she kissed him for the last time.

She placed the point of the dagger against his heart.

“I love you,” she whispered. “And I forgive you.”

She pushed as hard as she could, forcing the dagger home.

 

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Blackfeather Chapter 28

They had wandered around the park for a while, revisiting the places Evelyn would have known and a few she never saw in her lifetime. They had marvelled at the palm house that was still under construction in 1873 and visited the statue of Anteros before returning to the car and setting off for home. On the way they stopped off to get Kate something to eat, lengthening the journey by an extra hour, and it was now after midnight.

“The more I’m with you the more this seems different to other incarnations,” Ash said as he pulled into the driveway of Kate’s home.

“Different how?”

“I’m not sure, but there are too many crossovers, that’s never happened before. I mean, here we are back at the place it all began, your name is the same, there was that whole thing with your great, great grandfather at Mons and now Evelyn is in the picture. It’s as though all the separate strands of the cloth are finally weaving together.”

“Is that good or bad?” she said, getting out of the Beetle and slamming the door, looking over the car’s roof at him.

“I don’t know. It could go either way. It all depends on you.”

The face she pulled made him laugh. Kate didn’t see the funny side of this, in fact it made her feel sick. Ash’s mood had lightened after leaving Evelyn’s house; the further away he got the better he seemed to feel. Both were relieved that Evelyn’s great, great nephew had turned out not to be the enemy they feared, but that still meant they were clueless as to who they were up against and Brian was still unaccounted for. The earring they’d received in the post earlier that day had been a clear warning that evil was hot on their trail – it would confront them soon, and what was Kate supposed to do then? She was faced with three choices: find the answer to sending Ash home and ending the curse, kill whoever came after them, even if this was someone she knew, or let them kill her.  She had no clue how to go about the first option and the other two didn’t appeal much either. Of course, there was one other choice, she could give him over to Hell, but that was no choice at all.

Ash took one look at her worried, tired face and came to her side.

“Come on, let’s get inside, get a good night’s sleep and talk about it tomorrow.”

She nodded, bleary-eyed, and linked her arm through his as they walked to the front door. She leant against him, her eyes already half closed, but they flew open again and she was alert in seconds when she felt his muscles tense. The door was ajar. They exchanged glances, both knowing the door had been locked when they’d set off for Liverpool.

Ash stepped in front of Kate and pushed open the door with his fingertips. The house was in darkness, the hall empty. He groped behind him for her hand and stepped through the door. Moving down the hall to the kitchen, he kept stopping and listening for any sound or sense of an intruder. He shook his head at Kate’s inquisitive expression.

 

 

Nothing was out of place in the kitchen, it was only when they entered the living room that everything changed. Furniture had been overturned, the fabric of the settee was ripped and the stuffing spilled out like the guts from a road-kill.  Ornaments were smashed, even pictures were strewn across the floor, torn from their frames.

Whoever had done this had taken great delight in wrecking the Christmas decorations, the delicate snowflakes were smashed to tiny pieces and the tree had been toppled, its branches ripped from the trunk. Every last beautiful glass bauble had been broken and crushed. Kate’s lip trembled. Who would do such a thing?

They could see through the archway into her study that the mahogany dining table had been broken in two and Kate’s research was littered all over the floor in shreds. She ran into the room, horrified, her precious books had been tumbled off the shelves, pages torn cruelly from the spines and tossed to the floor. Her laptop had been swept off the desk, the screen smashed.

“Why? Who would…?” But she already knew the answer.

She turned to Ash, but he wasn’t behind her, he had dashed from the room, up the stairs to what she now termed their bedroom. He came down much slower, his face pale, his eyes blazing with such fury she was afraid to ask him what was wrong. That they’d left no room inviolate was clear. She followed him back to the dining room, where he stooped to the floor, tossing aside debris, searching for something.

“They’ve taken that too,” he said, his voice an angry murmur.

“What, what did they take?” Kate was stumped at first, until he raised his head and spoke words that chilled her.

“They’ve taken Catherine’s ashes – and the diary.”

No wonder he was furious. He stood in the midst of the wreckage, his fists clenching and unclenching, his chest heaving with every breath. Then he shook his head, stooped down again and continued looking, just in case. Kate wandered away in despair. She stood at the French Doors gazing at her own tearful reflection in the glass.

“Are you sure we left it in here?” Ash called from the archway, picking his way over broken china and tipping back the upturned settee.

“Yes,” Kate said. She peered closer to the glass. Something beyond didn’t seem right.

The ornamental cherry tree had lost its blossoms and was once again a bare branched tree in the depths of Winter, but…

Was she seeing things? She rubbed her eyes; the stress must be playing tricks on her now. For a second she’d thought she’d seen a flash beneath the tree, like sunlight glinting off something metallic, but there couldn’t have been anything there. It must have been the reflection of the broken baubles. As she tried to focus on the area, it happened again and the darkness began to move.

The sound of furniture being pushed to one side continued behind her as she lifted her hands to the glass and cupped them to the sides of her face, blotting out the light from inside. What she saw made the breath catch in her throat.

“Ash,” she said, her voice a whimper.

He didn’t answer, his attention focussed on finding the diary.

“Ash,” she tried again, a little louder this time.

 

“I don’t care what the consequences are,” he was saying behind her, oblivious to the fear in her voice. “When I find him, I’m going to kill him for taking those ashes.”

“ASH!” she screamed, finally bringing him up short.

She didn’t turn round, she couldn’t because she was rooted to the spot with fear at what was gathering outside. He sidled up behind her and turned her to face him.

“What is it?”

“Not me,” she said, putting a hand on his cheek and pushing his head to face the window. “Them.”

As he stared out through the glass, the clouds pulled back from the moon and the garden was drenched in silver light.

“Shit!” he said.

Kate screamed, he pushed her behind him, his head doing a quick calculation of the numbers of demons coming towards them across the grass. They all looked like ordinary human men, but he could see beyond their outward appearance.

He turned to Kate.

“Get in the back, stay out of sight. Whatever happens, do NOT come after me.”

Tears spilled down her cheeks.

“You can’t go out there.”

He didn’t speak, simply smiled his lopsided smile and kissed her once, then he was gone. When she saw him again he was on the other side of the French Doors, facing down an army of demons.

Kate wasn’t about to leave him out there alone, she didn’t care what he said about hiding. She pulled the handle: it was locked again. She had no choice but to stay and watch as they advanced towards him.

Ash raised his arm to the side in a slow arc. His hand opened and there was a flare of blue light. In his grip was a sword that burned with blue fire. They rushed him, the only thing Kate could see was the sword slashing back and forth through the dark mass of demon bodies. They were thrown to the sides, but as soon as one was cut down three more took its place.

She knew he was going to be overwhelmed, it was inevitable, but he fought to keep them from her as long as he could. There was a brief flash of fire as the cherry tree exploded in sparks of red and blue flame. It blinded her for a moment. The next thing she knew, the French Doors exploded inwards and she was knocked backwards as Ash was flung off his feet.

The last thing she saw was his face swimming in a blurred haze before her as he was grabbed and lifted, kicking and screaming from her.

“Don’t follow me!” he shouted out loud and then the words were in her head. “Please don’t follow me!”

And then it all went black.

 

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Blackfeather Chapter 27

“Where is Ash? Where is Ash? Where is Ash?”

There was nothing he could do but play out his part in her nightmare.

“I’m here, beloved.”

He repeated the words he had spoken in this very room over one hundred years before. The echo of Sebastian mocked them from the shadows.

“Why don’t you show her what you really are?”

Kate’s eyes grew wide as the angel revealed his true nature to her, her hand reached out for a knife that was no longer there.

“Kill him, Evelyn. All you have to do is plunge it into his heart and we can be together forever,” Sebastian whispered to her.

She leaned towards Ash and kissed him.

“You could have told me the truth, beloved.”

Then she made a stabbing motion towards herself and crumpled to the floor.

Ash held Kate in his arms, his tears splashing on to her face as she lay limply against his chest.

“Come back to me Kate, please. I should never have brought you here.”

The tear-drops made her flinch; at first she thought they were drops of blood, but as they ran over her lips she tasted salt. She couldn’t breathe, it caught in her throat, she opened her eyes and looked up into the face of her angel. He lifted her off the floor and cradled her in his arms. The sudden movement made her gasp, air rushed into her lungs and she was coughing and spluttering, but she was alive.

For a long time they sat huddled together, oblivious to the filth around them. The atmosphere in the attic had changed in a subtle way. It was far less menacing and oppressive and seemed lighter somehow.

“Are you OK?” he said.

“You wait all that time between lives to be with her for such a brief time, only to watch her die again,” she said, trying to hold her voice steady. “How could you stand it when you loved her so much?”

A fresh tear slipped down her cheek.

“You mean when I love you so much?” he said, wiping it away. “I can’t bear it. I hate watching you die, but that’s better than not being with you at all. I have to stand it because you’re all I have. All I want is to fix the wrong I did, to give you peace and the freedom to live out your lives without all this hanging over you and to allow you to make your own choices, knowing that you’ll be safe and happy, but I can’t change anything, I’m helpless. It’s just another part of my punishment.”

“Well it doesn’t seem very fair. It wasn’t really your fault. It wasn’t even Sebastian’s”

His muscles tensed and she looked up at him, worried she’d said something wrong. He searched her face, waiting for her to continue, but she didn’t know what else to say and then the moment passed and he relaxed.

“It’s going to be all right,” he said, kissing her forehead. “Come on, Let’s get you out of here.”

He jumped to his feet, pulling her after him and was about to kiss her once more when he stopped and cocked his head, listening. Below them he could hear the rattle of keys. He put a finger to Kate’s lips to stop her from speaking and waited. The front door opened and closed and footsteps echoed down the hall.

“Someone’s here,” said Ash.

Kate squeezed his hand tightly.

“What do we do? Is it him?”

“I don’t know. Whatever happens, try not to let the past take over. If you touch that knife and Evelyn manifests, it’s all over. You’ll lose control and won’t know what you’re doing.”

“Evelyn knew what she was doing.”

He shook his head.

“Evelyn had lost her mind.”

“Maybe, but I think she did what she did knowing it was the only thing she could do to save you.”

She paused before adding, “She must have loved you very much.”

He knew what she was trying to say and smiled.

“It wasn’t the only thing she could have done.”

Kate opened her mouth to speak, but he hushed her again. The steady beat of footsteps echoed up the stairs and paused on the landing below. A male voice made some muffled exclamation and then began the climb to the attic.

A dark figure filled the attic doorway, bobbing its head to fit beneath the low frame.

“Who are you, what are you doing in my house?” it said.

It wasn’t the voice Kate expected to hear from an evil, psychopathic Satanist. Not unless he had a cold. The figure stepped into a patch of light and straightened up.

He was short enough to stand upright beneath the beams and very thin and wore jeans, a cagoule and tan loafers. His hair was short, greying and Kate guessed he was aged between forty five and fifty. It was Kate who spoke first.

“Are you David Markham?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said and sneezed.

“I’m Kate Lowry. I’m researching your family tree.”

*  *  *

When the introductions were over they had trooped downstairs to the parlour. Ash, unable to lie, had left Kate to explain how they’d entered through the already open back door, thinking he might be somewhere in the house, and after finding the other rooms empty had wandered upstairs to the attic as the last place to search.

“But how did you get in to the attic? No one’s been able to open that door since the place was last lived in.”

“The cold weather must have shrunk the wood,” Kate lied.

Ash looked on with something like admiration for her quick thinking replies.

“It’s a beautiful house.”

David Markham’s wariness at the two intruders melted away and his eyes softened at the thought of what the house would be, once the renovations were complete.

“You’d never know it, looking at her in this state.”

Kate knew David Markham would not believe what she had seen earlier. She could see he was passionate about restoring it and wished she could share the images of the house in its original state with him.

“So why are you here?” he said, pulling a crumpled handkerchief from his jeans pocket and blowing his nose.

“I was here to do some research into your tree and thought it would be nice to see the house. We called in on the off-chance you might be here to show us round.”

“That’s it?” he said. “You wanted to see the house?”

“Yes, I find it gives me a feel for the people I’m researching. I’ve gone back quite a way with your side of the tree and should be writing up a report for you soon.”

Kate was edging out of the room, trying to make as quick an exit as possible.

“That would be great. Mr Sharpe said you were his best researcher.”

“Really? That’s very kind of him.”

They were almost at the front door now.

“I suppose we should be getting off. Long drive, you know how it is.”

David Markham nodded. He opened the front door and ushered them outside, gushing goodbyes as they almost ran down the steps and out of the driveway. He watched them cross the road and disappear out of view behind the trees at the bottom of the garden before closing the door and turning to stare up the stairs, perplexed at what had just happened.

*  *  *

Kate couldn’t get away fast enough and had broken into a run.

“I guess it’s not him then?” she said, panting.

“No, and I was so sure it would be. I’m out of ideas now.”

It was Ash’s turn to catch up with Kate, but he had other ideas.

“Wait, Kate, please.”

There was something in his voice that pulled her up short.

“There’s one more thing I need to do,” he said.

He turned and walked past the house to a small path leading into the park. He waited for Kate to join him and knew she understood when she smiled at him.

“I used to stand here, day and night, watching the house, watching over you.”

Evelyn had never been aware of his level of devotion, until now. He could explain it to Kate and thereby to Evelyn, though of course it wouldn’t change things.

They meandered down the winding path, stopping beneath the bare branches of an oak tree that stood sentinel in the fairy dell where Ash and Evelyn had met in secret all those years ago. The waterfall splashed into the small pool where they had sat on more than one Summer’s day, dangling their feet into the cooling water.

They turned to face each other. Kate wrapped her arms around Ash’s neck and stood on tip toe to kiss him. As he responded, pulling her close and almost lifting her off the floor, they heard the distant yapping of a small dog.

 

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