Most of the snow is gone from the roads, but there are still dirty patches piled on curbs and sidewalks. Considering how far north we are, I am surprised that it is as warm as it is, nearly above freezing. I say a brief prayer of thanks for my much repaired heavy jacket and my whimsical knit cap (another gift from Mrs. Prinn). I wonder at how Joan does not seem to feel the cold. She is wearing the same thin black t-shirt and worn jean cut-offs that we salvaged from Bernadette’s donation box a month ago. They are both filthy and stained with blood and I am grateful that my experience with the less fortunate has rendered my olfactory accustomed to the odor of decrepitude. I wish I could get her to wear warmer clothes. The only concession she has made for the cold is to wear a pair of old black boots that I found for her in an Army surplus store.
The drive to the high school is quiet, besides the pained grumble of the engine. I use those ten minutes to pray. We are headed into a fight, that much is clear, a fight against a higher level of demon than I have ever come across. It is doubtful that Joan has faced such an opponent if she feels the need to bring me along. Lone hunter, that she is, and one accustomed to shuffling off the trappings of humanity. It probably helps that she is not exactly human. Unlike the other hybrids like her who run around in ridiculous costumes to maintain their “human” identities, she is a huntress all the time. She does not attempt to maintain a “normal” life. The idea does not even occur to her. I suppose from her perspective, she is leading a normal life.
Ahead on the left, I see the orange glow that indicates the school’s primary parking lot. To my surprise, it is full. Joan is not surprised. I attempt to recall a time when she has ever been surprised and fail to come up with one example. I take a left to follow the drop-off lane that loops around the parking lot, passes right before the school and rejoins Hawthorne Rd. There is a banner flapping listlessly over a pair of open doors at the right edge of the nearest wing of the school. It says in bright, bold letters “Homecoming Dance” and the car thumps with the easily perceptible bass line of some popular dance song. As we roll past, a few young children in fancy attire and heavy coats rush blindly in front of the car and hurry into the building. I see nothing amiss, but I do not have the abilities of my young friend. Her eyes follow the teenagers, an unnatural glow in the dimly illuminated passenger seat. I cannot see or sense what she does, but there is something wrong. The open doors look like a trap, the music and banner like so much cheese beckoning the wayward mice.
Even were the parking lot empty, I would still be remarkable idiotic to choose to park my escape route in such an obvious place. I follow the lane back to Hawthorne, take a left and find a parking spot a few blocks away across from one of the oft used school practice fields. I know if I follow the road further, it will pass through the little strip of woods that separates the school from the next residential subdivision, the one that Bernadette lives in. I fervently pray she is not attending this event.
Joan exits the vehicle, managing to slam the creaky car door without making a sound. Her stealth abilities spread around us both, as silent as the distant stars that wink dimly between wisps of gray clouds. Even the sliver of moon that is high over the nearby trees seems to dim. Night welcomes the hunter.
We follow the sidewalk back the way we came. The street lights prove ineffective in lighting our way, seeming to flicker out at our approach only to brighten after we have passed on. I want to ask Joan questions, many of them. I have not accompanied her on a hunt before, though I have been on a handful of my own, as God has sent me. I do not know what precisely we are walking into. Legion will have possessed a body, this is clear. Otherwise, he would be no more dangerous than a breath of wind. But in a body, the damage he could do, I shudder to imagine.
Demons have a talent for chaos. They take a body, sometimes alive, sometimes dead. Then all they require are sacrifices in order to maintain the body. And when the host can no longer support the parasite, they jump to a new host. That is what the parasite had tried to do to Bernadette and then to Joan when she interfered. Normally, that is all they can manage. It takes a great deal of power to escape the Void, which is why they are reduced to petty murders once they have achieved it. Even the great demons barely manage the transition and do not remain long. Legion, though. He is a different creature.
He is not one. He is many. He can act as anchor for his brethren or he can simply make an army of himself. If he has a host, all he needs is a surplus of bodies. As this idea trickles down my spine, I feel an answer whisper back and break into a trot. My duffel bag should be clanking heavily on my back, but it remains silent. My pounding feet do not even crunch on the intermittent patches of blackened snow. The cold air bites my lungs, stings my throat. Joan seems to glide through the darkness before me, her dark pony tail flying behind her like the banner of a long forgotten warrior. As we skirt the right-wing of the building and rush quietly between the outstretched arms of brick to the main school entrance, a stray thought crosses mind. Should I be afraid? The answer comes as a lapping on the edges of my mind. Not for yourself.