Saints, Sinners, and Other Illusionists

An Omen’s War Story by Kara Ashley Dey

I watched Bishop from his open doorway. With his back toward me, so deeply engrossed in his pious supplications, the priest didn’t even notice I was there; unusual for his predatory species. I leaned against the window frame and crossed my arms over my chest, my bones chilled. His was perhaps the draftiest room in the entire building, or maybe the cold atmosphere was just the presences of all those ghosts he’d killed–those innocents, before he’d turned to an honorable life behind a stiff, white collar. His holy leash. Hah! His choke chain.

I would have snorted, but I didn’t want him to know I was there. The paradox he was fascinated me and repulsed me, at the same time, and that was an absurdity all on its own. This man was a demon who hunted his very own children to gain a golden ticket to heaven.

With that thought, I noticed something different in his room–a new addition. While he swapped kneeling for bowing, above him and standing conspicuously alone upon his stoic dresser, a Kokeshi doll watched me with happy eyes. Was Bishop serious?

But there it was, a good luck charm shaped like a young girl. He might as well have placed a Jizo there. The irony. I bit my lip to keep at bay another impulse to snort. I should have scoffed right in his face. What a morbid gesture for him to make, placing a symbol of a daughter–his daughter, Kasha, that he’d helped kill–where he could see it, every day. How self-serving.

These pious men who thought themselves holier than everyone else, really loved to pour salt into their self-inflicted wounds of shame and guilt. Uncanny. And that was another thing about Bishop which intrigued me in a twisted sort of way. I couldn’t help it, because as much as I needled Bishop–to the point of torment–and shattered his peace, I knew he wanted me to, and this was a sublime thrill for the both of us. I could tell.

I kept him counting his rosary beads. He kept me sharpening my arrows.

But that… that doll. Why would he bring a doll into his quarters? Her black lacquered hair and her bright red kimono adorned with cherry blossoms looked nothing like Kasha, who we’d left dead, in her own blood. Mine was the first attack, with arrow true to its goal. Omen’s spear was the follow up and finisher.

I uncrossed my arms and slid my palms down my snug, black leather riding chaps–thank God I wasn’t restricted to skirt and habit. I felt for the tiny pocket that held a tiny arrow point–my souvenir. Seriously, since I knew Bishop got into such masochistic suffering, I should have insisted on him taking it right away. But I sort of liked having it. It made me feel connected to him, with an extra advantage.

Maybe he knew I was there and my thoughts were distracting him, I don’t know, but suddenly his bows lengthened into prostrations, up and down, quick and jarring, and his chanting grew stronger. I squashed my lips together. Then I wrinkled my nose. I sniffed. I smelled fire and just the teeniest-tiniest hint of sulfur. Well you might take the demon out of hell, but you couldn’t get rid of the stink entirely. The smell reminded me of Yellowstone, where I lost my virginity–waaaay before I was a Harley-driving nun with a big bow.

Steam rose up from Bishop’s shirt, as he swayed forward and back. Agony entered his gravelly voice. To say the prayer our Savior taught us filled him with almost unbearable suffering. Forget about flagellation and hair shirts, this demon had those methods beat, hands–or hooves–down.

Bishop abruptly stopped his prayers and sat down on his heels. “How long are you going to stand there cursing my back, Rachel?” He lifted his hands to his jet-black hair, wet with sweat. The gray patches at his temples glistened with a moist sheen.

I pushed down the momentary fluttering that tickled the pit of my stomach, and I entered the room, just as he sat on his cot. I shrugged. “Until Gabriel stops making such a racket, I suppose.”

He reached for a simple, linen towel and wiped his face down. His shirt was plastered to his chest. He certainly didn’t smell like sulfur anymore. Though I enjoyed his more human scent, I sort of missed the brimstone. “I’ll buy him a violin, if that will guarantee your distance.”

I smirked. Who do you think you’re fooling, pal? “Aw and we were just getting friendly.”

“If you call yesterday’s Austrian debacle friendly, I should have left you suffocating under Thor’s hammer.”

I leaned down, near to his ear. “But you didn’t, did you?”

Without rising from the cot, he grasped my upper arm, then pushed me back, not in the gentlest way but not in the roughest way, either. Still, it stung my pride, making me feel like I was some kid who needed to be shown my place–far from him. I looked to his latest roommate. “Where’d you get the Kokeshi doll?”

He looked down; he rubbed his knuckles with his palm. “I thought you dropped it off.”

“Ack.” I snapped my fingers. “Someone beat me to it.”

“Rachel, what do you want?” His voice sounded strained, almost defeated in a way. It made me uncomfortable.

“I don’t know, but now that I’m here, I might as well pay my respects. I know it’s not exactly my first time meeting you, but–” I bowed to the doll. “Hajimemashite, Kasha.”

Bishop sprang from the cot and hit me with the back of his forearm, across the chest. He pushed me to the wall, pinning me there, his elbow digging into my shoulder, his lower arm like a brace across the top of my breasts. The force pushed the air from my lungs.  

“You don’t scare me.” I wheezed out the taunt.

“Aren’t you afraid for your virtue, at least?” He relaxed his hold on me just enough to let me breathe…a little.

“Virtue? In this town?” I sucked in air. “That’s funny coming from a demon priest who’s sired four brats that he knows of–”

He covered my mouth with his lips in a gentle kiss that took my words away. His lips were delicious and warm, his breath indescribably tantalizing, and my mind shut down like it had in Austria, when he’d touched me.

No snarky chit-chat or barbed banter. The fluttering in my tummy turned into a deep throbbing pulse much lower. His lips slid across mine, then reclaimed them, teasing with his tongue and coaxing me to open for him–certain foreplay for a different, more profound submission. I gave in willingly, to show I was game.

He was beautiful, disarming, and everything a naughty demon should be. Inherently, he sought to seduce and corrupt. He couldn’t help it. And I did not mind. Not at that moment. Hell, I wanted him to throw me on the cot, and rip my chaps off, and to bury his hot face between my breasts.

A knock sounded on the door. Bishop pushed away from the wall and me, like pepper swam from dish soap. I turned toward the persistent rapping, a growl lifting from deep in my throat.

Damn. We’d left the door open a crack–a very wide crack–and beyond it, a monk waited with eyes cast downward. “I’m sent to find Sister Rachel. Cardinal Desiertos wishes to speak with her.”

I cleared the growl from my throat and glanced up. Bishop had already turned away, busying himself with smoothing out nonexistent creases on his bedspread, as I saw my chance at actually creasing it for real fade away. “Well, Red Boss calls.”

Bishop didn’t answer. I left, wiping my hands self-consciously on my thighs. I caught a quick dart-of-a-glance from the monk. “What are you looking at?” I demanded.

He didn’t answer but shook his head, leading me on a path I knew by heart. I didn’t need his escort but having someone to follow kept me from turning a corner and kicking a very hard marble wall. God, I needed a smoke. I hoped Red Boss would make this quick or bum me a light.

He did make it quick. Painfully so.

When I entered the room, he slapped two files onto his polished, wood table. I frowned and didn’t touch them. “Shouldn’t you wait to brief the team together?”

“No.” He sat down and gestured for me to sit. I slid in, my black cow-leather squeaking against rich, patent cordovan. “The team has its mission. This is yours alone.”

“Am I to take it, you’re promoting me over Omen?” That was fine by me.

Red Boss rubbed his hand over his unnaturally smooth forehead and scalp. “Omen is not coming back. He’s journeyed to Hades.” His eerily youthful face creased with old worries.

“Oh.” I leaned in. I cracked my knuckles. “Secret mission?”

“Clever deception. It’s all in the files. Read them over.”

I picked one up and then the other: files on my teammates. I looked over Omen’s and sucked in my breath. “Does Bishop know this?” My heart twisted despite the priest’s cold goodbye.

Red Boss shook his head. “Not yet. But I believe Omen has known since he killed his sister.”

I whistled. Holy shit. Omen was Bishop’s son and Bishop didn’t even know.

“And it’s best Bishop not find out just yet.”

“But why?”

He spread his unblemished hands out, palms upward, over the desk. “Read.”

I took the next folder and read. It said my final target for completion of my mission was Bishop. My throat tightened, and I abruptly lifted from the chair. “You can’t be serious!”

“Why do you care? You’ve said he’s a demon, a disgrace–a prince of Hades.”

“Loyal to you.”

“An antichrist.”

My blood ran cold. No. That couldn’t be. Not Bishop. But if it were true, clearly the demon priest didn’t know.

I pulled my hand through my hair and wiped my face, blinking rapidly as I tried to think. God, this situation was majorly bent in a bad way. I reread the file with greater attention to detail, and with every line and paragraph, my stomach further knotted and gurgled.

Bishop had been through so much in hopes to dwell under the loving eyes of the Lord. I was more upset than I ever thought I could be about another’s misfortune–so upset, I wanted to puke.

“Will you do it, Rachel?”

I tapped the folders against my hand. I wanted to fling them at his perfect face, but I knew I couldn’t. He knew and understood more than I could comprehend. I had no doubt that, if Bishop also knew this bit of news, he would fall upon his blade immediately, or use his staff with its powerful crystal to self-explode into a million pieces or something. No, he deserved better than that–an honorable death, as a warrior.

And I wanted more time with him; however little remained.

“I’ll do it.” My voice hitched as my chest tightened. “But give me time.”

“Two weeks tops,” Red Boss said. “Then I send someone else…for the three of you.” He opened his desk drawer. When he stepped back, a Romeo y Julieta rested between his fingers. His other palm weighed his rosewood cigar cutter. “You do the Lord’s work, Rachel.”

The Lord’s work. Yeah. Right. “Like hell, I do.” A sneer skipped across my upper lip, before I slammed the door.


Copyright 2019 by Kara Ashley Dey. All rights reserved. Stock images from, Depositphotos, Inc.: faestock, beorm

The Omen War series of short stories came from a short story class called “Five in Five” offered by Devon Ellington at Savvy Authors many moons ago. “Latest Light of Day” has been online for a few years already, and I am excited to share the rest with readers now. –Kara

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