Chapter 37

Upon the Altar

In the bone chapel a rivulet of black blood streaked down the side of a skull, along the white gypsum of the door, reached the floor, and mingled with the pool of blood spreading around the body of the guard known as Gerard, whose chest still rose and fell with slow, agonizing breaths that bubbled more as each inhalation drew blood into his lungs. A sound like crackling lightning, but fainter and bringing with it the scent of burning flesh, sizzled through the air. Gerard’s eyes opened and he gasped out a tortured, gurgling scream, his ruined lungs expelled air and pooled blood. Every muscle in his body drew tight.

Then he fell limp.

The flesh of his face drew tight across his bones, then seemed to wither away. Then the flesh turned to dust and fell away, leaving nothing but a pile of brittle, dry bones.

Above, on the altar, the guardian stirred.

It sat up and ran a withered hand across its jaw, then up over its ear and around to touch its scalp just above its right ear. The bone was still thin and brittle and it was covered by a ragged scar of flesh, but the ragged wound that the bullet had carved out was otherwise healed.

The guardian sat up and studied the blood-splattered stone and bones of the chapel for a long moment, then pushed itself to the edge of the altar and stood up. It moved, first slowly, then with increasing confidence and strength, back to the doorway of the chapel, where its scythe still lay on the ground. The guardian bent, slowly and with apparent stiffness in its joints, lifted its scythe, and hefted the weapon, then returned to its post.