The Ninth Circle - Part II

Frieda stopped the car along the road about two kilometers from their destination, parking out of sight along an old access road. Their target was an old manor built in the mid-nineteenth century that had long since fallen into disrepair.
The Ninth Circle - Part II

Part II

The Ninth Circle Part 2

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Frieda stopped the car along the road about two kilometers from their destination, parking out of sight along an old access road. Their target was an old manor built in the mid-nineteenth century that had long since fallen into disrepair.

The estate wasn’t near any cities and was difficult to get to with thick forests and terrain in the way, which made it the perfect place for the Ninth Circle to hole up. It also meant that their raid would be completely free of prying eyes.

Arthur climbed out of the car and began walking in the direction of the manor into the woods. He kept his pace casual and tried to act like he wasn’t in a hurry.

“Wait,” Frieda called after him, climbing out of the driver’s side. “The others aren’t here yet.”

“I’m just going to scout the area,” he called back. He didn’t like to lie to Frieda but he also didn’t want her to try and stop him. “I just want to make sure there aren’t any surprises waiting for us.”

She looked like she was about to argue but changed her mind. Instead, she nodded.

“Good idea.”

“I’ll be back in a couple of minutes.”

“Be careful,” she said.

He nodded and then headed off into the underbrush, quickly disappearing from her sight. He strapped his sword to his hip as he walked and forced his body to relax. He was tense and on edge and knew that what he was about to do was risky at best and suicidal at worst. He needed to be limber and ready when he reached the manor if he hoped to survive this.

Did he hope to survive it?

He honestly wasn’t sure.

The air tasted pure and clean out here, untainted by the smoke and exhaust of the city. He loved the outdoors. He loved camping and hiking and wandering through the forest simply experiencing the natural world. More than anything else, he loved bringing his daughter out and exposing her to the things that brought him joy…

Used to love, he reminded himself.

Before she was taken from him.

He felt his knees begin to wobble and a tear slipped down his cheek at the painful memories. The emotions felt like a blade in his chest, white hot and angry. He stifled his feelings, but he knew it would be impossible to bear them for much longer. There was no escaping the pain of his loss because he was the cause of it.

If he had been at home with his family instead of out on a job he could have stopped the cult from murdering them. He could have protected them. He could have saved his family.

Or, if he had figured out that there was a traitor in the Council he could have dealt with that threat and kept them alive.

Or, if he hadn’t pushed so hard in his work and made so many enemies there would be no reason for anyone to come after his family.

There was an endless supply of reasons for why he was to blame for what happened to his wife and daughter. They were innocent, barely even knowing what he did for a living. His wife had an inkling and knew his life was dangerous and that he would be gone for weeks or months at a time, but he had tried to protect them from it. He wanted to spare them the reality of what he did.

He had completely and utterly failed. He swore an oath to keep them both safe, to protect them through everything that life threw at them and now they were both dead.

How could he possibly go on?

It should have been him.

This would be his last job, one way or the other. It wasn’t something he could explain to Frieda and he knew she would try to talk him out of it. If he lived, then he would find the traitor and deal with them, but on his own terms and not on behalf of the Council. If he didn’t…then, well, he wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore.

He trusted that Frieda would find the traitor in their midst and deal with it without him, so he could leave this world knowing his family would be avenged no matter the outcome. But still, Frieda would never understand or agree with his decision: this was just something he had to do.

He saw the manor rising in the distance through the trees, a broken down and heavily overgrown two-story affair. It had been a proud home, once, but the family who owned it and the land around it had died or moved away a long time ago. The land was perpetually for sale, too close to the national park and too far from the city to be of developmental value. They didn’t even have the money or ambition to tear the place down. Now it was just a broken down shell of its old self, pathetic and unwelcoming.

Much like himself.

Arthur slipped his revolver, a forty-five caliber Colt, out of his pocket as he walked. He drew his sword in his off-hand, feeling the comforting weight against his palm.  If he survived, he would give the blade back to Frieda. He no longer deserved it: not after what he was about to do.

He walked calmly toward the front door of the estate. There were most likely too many cultists inside for him to deal with on his own if they swarmed him, but that was sort of the point. He would take as many of them with him as he could before breathing his last, if that was how this was going to end.

The door started to open just as he reached the top of the front steps. Someone began talking, probably asking him who he was, but he never got the chance.

Arthur leapt forward onto the landing, stabbing with his blade through the partially open doorway. He felt the sword bite into something and heard a grunt of pain.

He finished pushing the door open and saw a man standing there, holding a shotgun in one hand and clutching his torn stomach with the other. He had patchy facial hair and a terrified look in his eye. Blood ran out of the sword wound and was staining his flannel shirt and dirty jeans. He was wearing old and dirty clothes and his eyes were bloodshot.

Arthur twisted the blade, eliciting a shocked scream, and yanked it back out, watching the man slide to the floor. Farther in the foyer he saw another cultist rising from a chair. The man grabbed a rifle leaning against the wall beside him. This one had a shock of crazy hair atop his head, chewing tobacco in his lip, and a look of surprise on his face.

Arthur rushed forward, stabbing him in the throat before he could raise the rifle. It pierced through easily, like a hot knife through butter. Arthur glanced to his left and saw a roomful of people sitting at a table playing cards. They were frozen in various positions of confusion, staring across the room at him. A half-naked woman leaned against the wall, one of their prisoners. She was tied up, gagged, and visibly beaten.

One of the card players was leaning forward to collect his pot of winnings — a pot which included cut-off fingers and teeth as well as crumpled up bills and cigarettes — and he was frozen like someone in a Photorealism painting.

Six of them around the table, all told. The momentary surprise passed and everyone exploded into motion all at once. Arthur strode into the room as they scrambled to grab weapons. Two guns were lying on the table and their respective owners reached for them. Arthur raised the revolver in his left hand and squeezed off a pair of shots, hitting both of the men in the chest with one bullet each.

Arthur quickly stepped up to the table and slashed twice with his sword, cutting another man in the stomach as he rose from his chair and then beheading a fourth man where he sat. Arthur felt like he was gliding, as though he was outside his body and just watching this happen. His hands had none of their usual hesitation, only murder.

That left two more men in the room able to fight. Both had found weapons, one a short and jagged knife and the other a beam of wood that looked to have fallen from the ceiling some time ago.

The man with the knife was missing half of his teeth as he grinned at Arthur. He passed the rusty knife from hand-to-hand and bobbed back and forth, clearly untrained in fighting. He had clearly watched too many movies growing up. Arthur watched his ineffective display for a few seconds and then began steadily closing the distance.

The man seemed to realize he was outmatched as Arthur approached and glanced at the girl on the ground next to him. She was their captive, nearly unconscious and unaware of what was happening around her. He glanced back at Arthur with a knowing look, grinned his toothless grin again, and then leaned down toward her. Arthur knew he was planning to use her as a hostage.

He didn’t get the chance. Arthur raised his revolver and fired, putting a bullet through the man’s temple. Blood spurted and he collapsed to the ground, his entire body twitching and convulsing as he died.

Arthur watched him fall, torn between disgust and triumph. Part of him screamed that this man was only getting what he deserved, but another part was horrified. Arthur had killed before in his line of work, but never like this.

He had never enjoyed it before.

He was horrified by the realization, but he was also incapable of stopping. The out of body sensation only intensified as his training and bloodlust took over.

The other opponent used Arthur’s momentary distraction to his advantage and rushed forward with a shout. He swiped his beam down in an overhead attack. Arthur side-stepped the blow easily, moved in, and kneed the man in the stomach. He followed this by kicking him in the back of the leg.

The man collapsed to a kneeling position with a groan and tried to pull away. Arthur bashed him in the temple with the butt of his gun before he could, silencing him.

He surveyed the room and the cultists he had just killed. In the span of a few seconds, he had murdered several people, none of which were probably a part of what happened to his family.

Guilty by association, he knew, but that justification was harder to hold onto with the coppery smell of blood in the air. He felt sick to his stomach, but he also knew that no matter how bad he felt he couldn’t afford to stop now.

Everyone in the manor knew he was here now. He had cost Frieda, Dexter, and Charles and Mildred Greathouse any chance of catching the cult by surprise, and if he didn’t go through with this then they would be at risk.

Worse, he had just cost any of their prisoners their lives if he left. No doubt the cult would flee, and rather than taking their prisoners they would execute them before leaving.

It felt like he had just awoken from a horrible nightmare, and Arthur felt his hand shaking as he considered his next action. He steadied it as best he could and then decided he had no choice but to go on.

He slipped his revolver away and picked up the guns from the table. One was old and looked as though it was likely to jam, but the other was a nine millimeter pistol that seemed new and well cared for.

He moved toward a hallway leading further into the manor and headed down it, walking quietly and listening for any movement. Doorways led off to the right and left into side rooms, and he took a few seconds to clear each of them before moving on. He didn’t want to leave any surprises behind him.

Through the windows of the right-hand rooms he saw an overgrown courtyard. The manor was built around it, encircling the plants and trees, but it looked like it hadn’t been cared for in years. Instead, it was overgrown and cramped.

A gunshot sounded from farther down the hallway as he cleared the third room and he heard buckshot tear into the wall above his head. He ducked and dove into one of the left-hand rooms, sliding out of sight of his assailant.

He heard more gunshots, followed by shouting. He waited, counting to three, and then stepped out of cover. He walked quickly but calmly, heading across the hallway at a diagonal toward another room closer to the shooter.

One man was running down the hall toward him, surprised when he saw Arthur. He jerked his gun up, but Arthur was faster. He put two bullets into the man’s chest and then fired over the man’s shoulder, forcing three other men farther down the hall to duck back into their hiding places.

Then Arthur went to the doorway of a right-hand room. He stepped inside, out of the hallway, and surveyed the room. A woman was sleeping here, dirty and bedraggled, and she was climbing out of her grimy bed and looking for some sort of weapon to use against him.

Arthur stepped forward and bashed her with the hilt of his sword. She collapsed back onto the bed, unconscious.

More gunshots sounded down the hall as the three men moved toward him. They were closing the distance, hoping to use numbers to their advantage, but none of them were trained soldiers. All of them were just civilians carrying guns they had probably only ever fired at targets.

Enough shots, though, and one would hit him. He needed to keep them off balance and do things they wouldn’t expect.

Arthur went to the wall separating this room from the one next door and glanced it over. Most of the wood was rotten and deteriorated and it was pockmarked with holes from termites. He backed away, loosening his muscles and preparing himself mentally. He listened to the gunshots, waiting until the men were closing in. He had to time this perfectly.

Shots sounded from nearby in the hallway. Satisfied that they were in position, Arthur rushed forward and kicked the wall. Part of it crumpled easily, and he shoved the rest out of his way as he strode through. Two men were in this adjoining room, one leaning out and firing down the hallway and the other was reloading his pistol. Both were wearing dirty pajamas and seemed to have been sleeping.

Neither was prepared for him. Arthur raised the stolen pistol and fired off several shots. They hit their targets perfectly. Both men collapsed to the ground, and Arthur’s gun clicked as the last shell was spent.

He dropped the nine millimeter pistol to the floor and drew his revolver once more. The third man came running into the room just as he raised his Colt. The attacker fired off a shot, but he panicked and the bullet went wide. Arthur’s didn’t. This man fell to the ground, dead before he hit the hardwood floor.

Arthur walked to the door of the room and stabbed his sword through it to free up his other hand. He spun open his revolver and dropped the spent shells out, holding the last two live rounds in with his thumb.

The empties clanked against the wooden floor. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of loose bullets, slipping them into the chambers with practiced ease. He had some quick loaders, but he didn’t want to waste them; not while he had a little extra time to spare.

Reloaded, he grabbed the sword and pulled it free and then listened at the doorframe.

It was quiet, but he wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad thing. He’d dealt with twelve cultists so far, none of which were possessed, but it was impossible to tell how many might be left. Best guess was around thirty people in the building, but that could have been off in either direction by half.

Some could be out on a job right now, or out on patrol, or they could all be waiting for him up just around the corner, waiting for him to show his head. There was no way to know for sure, and the longer he waited the more time he gave them to regroup. He stepped back into the hallway and kept moving.

With each passing second his advantage of surprise diminished. He rounded a corner and saw a flight of stairs heading up to the second floor. He crept ahead, hearing the old wood creak underfoot, and reached the next landing. He hesitated, listening, and heard another board creak from farther down the hallway.

He darted forward, revolver ready, and saw a woman poke her head out of one of the rooms ten or so feet away. He fired off a shot, forcing her to duck back into the room where she was peeking out from and then he reached the corner where she was hiding.

The woman stepped around once more, but too late. Arthur was already there. He stabbed her in the shoulder, pinning her to the wall, and then bashed her in the temple with the butt of his gun.

She staggered to the floor, and he kicked her in the temple, knocking her unconscious.

He heard footsteps behind him and turned just in time to see a man throw himself at Arthur. This was definitely one of the possessed cultists and the first demon he was going up against. The body looked to have been dead for a few weeks. The clothes were dirty and the skin was dry and covered in maggots. His face was beginning to slough off in huge chunks.

Arthur raised his sword, stabbing the man in the chest, but this attack actually worked against him. The blade caught in one of the ribs and was jerked out of his hand. The dead man swung an arm at him and Arthur dodged, stepping out of the way and putting distance between himself and the demonic host.

If his opponent even noticed the sword lodged in his chest, he didn’t show it. More footsteps sounded as cultists charged into the room. Arthur stepped back and shot the attackers as they spilled in at him, firing off his remaining five shells and dropping a cultist with each one. He acted on impulse and muscle memory, aiming for the chest of each.

The demon charged at Arthur and kept punching, not even bothering to look for a weapon. It was supernaturally strong, despite being dead, and he knew if it landed a hit it would do serious damage. Arthur scrambled, shifting to the side and putting a bed between him and the demon, keeping his distance. The demon pursued, still attacking, and more enemies were rushing into the room behind it. They were starting to gather, which wasn’t good for him.

Arthur dodged, shifting to keep the demon between him and the new enemies, but he misjudged the demon’s intent. It didn’t try to punch him this time: it tackled him instead.

He felt it hit him in the chest, pushing him back toward the window. He hit the window hard and felt glass break behind him. They fell out into empty air from the second floor window. He pulled the demon closer and rotated his body in midair, maneuvering it toward the ground instead of himself. He took a moment to curse at himself in frustration.

And then he hoped for the best.

They hit the ground hard, but luckily the demon padded his fall. He felt bones and sinew crunch beneath him, along with some sort of ooze that came out of it that he tried to ignore. He rolled to the side, getting his bearings and trying to ignore the pain.

He was in the courtyard of the manor. It was maybe fifteen meters square with brick walkways running through it that had deteriorated over time.  At one point it had been a garden and might have been beautiful, but now it was overgrown with weeds and vines.

He ripped his sword from the demon’s chest and bashed it in the face with the hilt, dazing it. He stood and removed the demon’s head with a clean slice of his blade.

One demon down, but it hardly felt like a victory.

There was shouting from above him in the room he’d been tackled out of, and he quickly rushed closer to the building, hiding under a partial awning so they wouldn’t be able to see him.

More gunshots sounded from up above, narrowly missing him and ripping into the ground around him. He quickly reloaded his revolver as he rushed along the wall. There was a shout as a man jumped out the broken window above.

The cultist hit the ground and stumbled to the side, trying to catch his balance. Arthur shot him before he could right himself and then kept moving. He made it to another door leading back into the manor. It was locked, but a good kick broke it and cleared the way for him.

Arthur rushed inside, unsure of what to do next.

This wasn’t exactly what he had in mind.

The Ninth Circle - Part III
Arthur stepped out of the courtyard and into an empty dining area of the manor that looked mostly unused. It was dusty and filled with broken chairs and tables that had deteriorated with age.

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