Patrick stood in the guard tower watching the world go by. It’d been weeks since they’d last encountered demons, but a scouting party had returned yesterday with reports of the enemy amassing just south of Carlisle. That men and women could even make it that far and back in safety was something he would have thought impossible only a few short months ago, but things had changed at Kielder Forest Park, and Kothal Castle was at the centre of it all — the new hub of British civilisation.
What had once been a crumbling manor house was now a labyrinth of stone and wood. Patrick had personally overseen the construction of timber and plasterboard buildings, providing warm and dry meeting places, dwellings, and workshops. At the bottom of the hill, tents and hastily erected huts surrounded the lodge-style activity centre. The small settlement had popped up after a large group from a nearby supermarket — as well as multiple stragglers — had arrived. Patrick didn’t know the exact number of people now settled in the forest — they didn’t have time to conduct a census — but he was confident there were at least a thousand. Maybe more.
And they had an arsenal.
Damien’s arrival, alongside a small group of American soldiers and several crates of weapons, was a welcome, if concerning, event. Concerning, because one of the young man’s companions was a demon. Sorrow, it called itself. A monstrous thing with sharp horns and leathery black wings. It was that demon to which Patrick paid attention now. The thing was evil, and it was only a matter of time before turned on people.
Frank had been standing nearby, and he came over now. The short man — but don’t call him a midget — tiptoed so he could see over the guard tower’s wooden railing. The structure abutted the rooftop of the castle and, being the highest point, was where most of the lookouts stationed themselves.
“You nay trust that one, do ya?”
Patrick gave Frank a pained sigh. “He’s one of them.”
“He ain’t done no harm yet, kidda. W’out him, we wunt have built half the stuff we ‘ave. Fella’s strong as ten men.”
Patrick nodded. It was true. Sorrow had made himself an asset since arriving, no doubt about it. The demon could carry a ten-foot plank as if it were a broom handle, and his tireless runs up and down the fortifications had sped things up monumentally. Sorrow was a one-demon lumberyard.
But he was still one of them.
Right inside the camp.
But there was an even worse threat that was plaguing Patrick’s mind. A fallen angel existed somewhere beyond the forest; a giant beast intent on destroying mankind. It had appeared on that dreadful day, months ago now, when a gate had appeared beneath the surface of their lake. A young boy, Nathan, had saved everybody by throwing himself into the water, but not before a massive creature had emerged and retreated to lick its wounds. One day, it would be back, Patrick knew it. He could feel a fight coming — felt it in his bones — and it was going to be bad. He’d been no soldier in his former life, but nowadays he was on constant high alert, always sensing danger and predicting attacks. If the people at Kielder weren’t ready to fight when the time came, they would all die.
And that’ll be on me.
Patrick turned to Frank, who had recently taken to chewing twigs to ease his smoker’s cravings. The camp still had cigarettes, but they wouldn’t last forever, so a two per day rule had been put in place. Patrick was glad he had never caught the habit based on how many twigs Frank gnawed through each day. Folding his arms to show he wanted an honest answer, he asked, “Frank, how prepared do you think we are?”
Frank shrugged, an odd gesture with his slightly offset shoulders. “None of us were born fighters, Pat, but we are survivors. Everyone’ll step up when the time comes. Death has lost its horror after so much of it. There are no cowards here.”
“You think we have a chance then?”
“Are yow kidding me? Pat, we’re more prepared than ever. We ‘ave weapons, walls, manpower. We even have our own demon, which I personally think is bostin! Whatever happens, there’s nout more we can do about it. Maybe it’s our fate to die, but last time we sent the buggers packing, dint we?”
Pat nodded silently.
Frank saw his sadness and frowned. “What’s got into yow, kidda? Yow’s a fella with practical solutions, not a worrier like this.”
“All I do is worry, Frank. I feel like everything is on my shoulders, and if we don’t make it, it’ll be because my planning and all my big ideas weren’t good enough. People look to me to keep them safe, but the truth is I don’t think I’ve done anywhere near enough.”
Frank gave Patrick a firm pat on the back. “Yow’ve done more than most. If anyone has better ideas, they can damn well speak up, can’t they? I would soon tell you if I had something on my brain.”
Patrick tittered. “Yeah, I can always rely on you to speak your mind, Frank. Thank you for that.”
“Yow’s welcome. Oh, bugger it, I forgot to say; Dr Kamiyo wants to speak with yow at the infirmary.”
“Okay, do you know what about?”
“Nah, but he seemed hot and bothered ‘bout something. Yow best be quick.”
Patrick nodded and got going. Quick wasn’t something he could’ve managed a year ago, not with his age and substantial beer gut, but these days he was lean and wiry, a grey-haired man of action. He liked who he’d become, but it pained him that his daughter, Chloe, wasn’t alive to see it.
He headed down through Kothal Castle and then to the sally port of the inner wall. A wooden palisade dissected the steep hill halfway down, and Patrick had to wait while a pair of sentries opened the gate from above. One of the sentries was Scarlett, the demon’s ward. Sorrow seemed to be her bodyguard, and for the first couple of weeks at Kielder, he had refused to leave her side. Only recently had he relaxed enough to give her some breathing room.
The girl waved to him. “Hey, Mr P, Doctor Kamiyo was looking for you. He’s at—”
“The infirmary, yeah. Thanks, Scarlett. Um, are you okay today?”
“Yeah, I really need to pee, but I think I can hold it a bit longer. You’ve got this place really buzzing. Any demons are gonna have a hard time taking us in a fight.”
“I hope you’re right. Your, um, friend… Will he be willing to fight against his—”
Scarlett smirked. “His fellow demon? Yah, no problem. I’ve seen him do it before. He’s a badass, and he’s ours. You can trust him.”
Patrick passed no comment and headed through the outer gate. Despite the girl’s assurances, he didn’t think he could ever trust a demon. Especially not one with jet black wings the length of two minibuses. Even his name was evil — Sorrow. How much of that had it caused in Hell?
It was done now though. The demon had ingratiated itself into the population. The children loved it, asking Sorrow to perform feats of strength or perform magic. Women, too, were under its thrall. Someone had to remain suspicious, even if it was only Patrick.
I won’t ever trust that thing. It will never be one of us.
The infirmary was located inside the activity centre, chosen because the upper floor contained multiple bedrooms, each with open fireplaces. It would be the only way to keep the sick healthy during the harsh winter months rapidly on their way. No one knew the current date, but it felt like late October to Patrick — those drizzly, chilly weeks that led into the freezing festive season. It would be the first true test for their community. They had planted crops under the supervision of a pair of ex-farmers who knew the ropes, but no one really knew if the produce would survive the ground frosts. No one knew if the people at the camp would manage to keep warm. It all remained to be seen.
Whatever happened in the days ahead, death to some degree was certain. Even if the demons disappeared, humanity had been knocked spiralling into a new dark age. Cut off from each other with limited resources, things would never be the same. Medicine was rare, food was dwindling, and Kamiyo was their sole doctor. If he died, the entire camp would have to get by on the four ex-nurses who lived there. Most the world’s doctors had been too involved in the initial rescue efforts of the invasion to still be alive a year later. Kamiyo never spoke about why he hadn’t been one of them, and Patrick wouldn’t ask.
It’s his business. We all have a past we’re trying to forget.
Patrick said hello to various people on the approach to the activity centre. The building was designed to look like a woodland lodge, with thick brown logs and planked flooring. It was a cluttered space, stacked with supplies and people. The lower floor was used as a school for the children, a useful way to keep track of them during the day. Twenty-six were under the age of fourteen, and their childish laughter was the biggest boost to morale in Kielder. They were the camp’s mascots — a treasure that must be protected at all costs. To lose the children would be to lose all hope.
Dr Kamiyo was rushing across the landing when Patrick made it upstairs. When he saw Patrick, he skidded on his heels and waved a hand to follow. “I’ve been waiting for you to turn up. Follow me.”
Patrick frowned as Kamiyo hurried to the room at the end of the landing. The door was closed, but he shouldered it open easily, then stood aside so that Patrick could enter. “Our patient is awake,” he said. “I wanted to wait for you to question them.”
Patrick stepped inside and was greeted by the smell of medicinal alcohol and bleach. The woman lying in bed was indeed awake, but she appeared groggy and unwell. Twice, her pudgy jowls bulged, and it looked like she might puke. She showed no recognition of where she was, but neither did she seem afraid. The scouts had found her one week ago on the outskirts of the forest, unconscious in the middle of a road. She’d been stuck in an endless sleep ever since. Until now.
“Hello, miss, my name’s Patrick. We found you and brought you to our camp. You’re safe and amongst friends. There’s no reason to fret.”
The woman frowned. Middle-aged and a little on the heavier side, she was not entirely unattractive, but something about her seemed harsh and unappealing. “What camp?” she asked in a phlegmy voice.
“Kielder Forest, do you know it?”
She shook her head. “I’m not really an outdoorsy type of bird.”
“What’s your name? Do you remember what happened to you?”
“Okay, why don’t we start with your name and how you ended up in the road.”
The woman pushed herself up a little higher on her elbows. She blinked as if trying to wake up fully. “My name’s Angela, and I was in Hell for being a dyke. Anyone got a cigarette?”