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A Note From the Author:

I lived in Armenia for two years (between 1995-97) as a Peace Corps volunteer. While I never visited NAGORNO-KARABAKH itself, I do recall being able to see the comet HALE-BOPP, which was visible to the naked eye for a record 18 months as it passed by our planet. In ancient times comets were always seen as harbingers of evil, and since Hale-Bopp was the most widely observed extraterrestrial body of the 20th century, it made sense to use it here. I don’t really believe comets can turn nuns into depraved, murdering nymphomaniacs, but it does make a good basis for a story. When I first saw Hale-Bopp it looked like it was dragging a long stand of hair behind it, so I called it after BARBARICCIA, one of the demons in Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy,” whose name means “curly beard,” in Italian.

Throughout this story I use certain terms which, if you are not familiar with Armenian history, will mean very little, but I find fascinating none the less. URARTU was an Iron Age, proto-Armenian kingdom centered around Lake Van in what is now modern-day Turkey. It flourished between 860 BC and 590 BC. Both ARAMAZD and VAHAGN are ancient gods from the pre-Christian Armenian pantheon. Likewise, SHUSHA and STEPANAKERT are cities in the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region, though in the story I call them villages to make them seem more isolated. THE MASHTOTS INSTITUTE OF ANCIENT MANUSCRIPTS, commonly referred to as the Matenadaran, is a repository of books and scrolls located in Yerevan. It holds one of the richest collections of medieval manuscripts in the world, which spans a broad range of subjects; including history, philosophy, medicine, primitive magic and poetry.

Finally, the time this story takes place, 1997, was chosen partly because it was when I was there and partly because the cease-fire that had been declared some years before seemed, at the time, on the verge of collapsing. The area is mostly mountainous and forested, deep in the heart of the South Caucasus. At one time the territory was recognized as part of Azerbaijan, so a war was fought from 1988 to 1994, between the ethnic Armenian civilians and soldiers from Azerbaijan who were attempting to crush their secessionist movement. Even as late as 1997 I was told not to travel in the southern part of Armenia, for shelling was still going on between the armies. This morning (June 5th, 2012) the BBC reported Azerbaijan has accused Armenia of violating its border and killing five of its soldiers, a day after three Armenians were killed in the same area. In such a war-torn region I think it is very possible to imagine otherworldly forces at work; false prophets that whisper in the shadows that war, like evil, can somehow be exorcised, when, in fact, it can only be endured. Perhaps that is why we have the gift of the orgasm, so that we can survive by cumming as the world burns around us. Perhaps.

* * *

“On days, like this, in times like these
I feel an animal deep inside.”

The Sisters of Mercy, This Corrosion.

I.

The memory of pleasure gnaws at her, as all memories gnaw upon the lives of nuns and demon slayers. Consequently, Sister Sevana, named after that mountain lake with deep purple waters high up in the Caucasus mountains, a woman known as a divine soothsayer and a holy sorceress of the Armenian Apostolic Church, wrote down this account of the beginning and the end of the Daemon of Karabakh. When the task was done and the last surviving nun who witnessed the carnage had signed her name as well, the manuscript was sealed up in a bronze box and set into a secret chamber within the Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts, a curious building in the heart of the city of Yerevan; so that, if there ever came a time when another war swept the mountains of Nagorno-Karabakh, perhaps then the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan would read about the wickedness their enmity had helped to create and, perhaps, seek an alternative path than bloodshed. Perhaps. However, this first war happened at end of the 20th century, a most cynical age and the blood-dimmed tide that consumed those after the fall of the Soviet Union made Nagorno-Karabakh look less like the Biblical Eden and more like everlasting Purgatory. Dark forces were at work at that time, a time when modern science had rooted out the evil that lurked in the hearts of men as nothing more than a few faulty synapses and traumatic childhoods. That hardly explained anything. Death, for many, like sex, is a mystery that we surround with fear; though it still happened every day around the world, like cheap clockwork, like badly-made pornography, regardless of what the square-toed prophesiers of psychology might say.

Even as a demon slayer, it would be wrong to say Sister Sevana was an outcast or heretic of the Church, for that would imply the Church hierarchy knew what she was doing. Friends were told that she was a librarian, colleagues thought of her as a scholar, albeit one whose topics were not talked about in polite circles. She kept strange hours. Her door to her office was almost always locked and a curious smell, not sulfur per se, but what was it? hung in the hallway late at night when no one else was there. The truth was that the sister trafficked in spirits, elementals they were called and spent more time summoning and controlling them than writing research grants or cataloging manuscripts. Just that evening she had been with a spirit of water, an elemental she had drawn down from a deep mountain pond she had visited the week before. To call it “male” or “female” would be far too imaginative. It had no human-like shape, rather it hung in the pentagram she had drawn on the floor as a complex, twisting spray, forever turning in upon itself, staring at the woman in front of it with what passed as eyes. But its leer was every ounce lascivious, a leer she had seen often enough from men in all walks of life. It wasn’t that it made her uncomfortable, sex never had, rather it was just disappointing that certain spirits had become, over the centuries, so mundanely human.

The nun wasn’t anything special to look at, the spirit thought, turning around and around in its held captivity; curly black hair, weird silver eyes, middle aged, perhaps. No Scheherazade, not even Cleopatra, but a bit alright.

“Nice titties, lady,” the spirit said, making a sound like rain water hitting a hot frying pan.

Sevana didn’t even wince, so fucking predictable. One was not raised in Armenia as a woman and shatter at the first crude word spoken; especially when sexual harassment was a national pastime for half the country.

“Classy. If we’re going to do this we might as well get it over with,” the nun said, grabbing the hem of her business shirt, pulling it over her head and off her arms.

The elemental remained silent for a moment. It had heard of fucking, “carnal congress of the highest order,” as one fire spirit had called it, but this was the first time it had been confronted with the offer. In theory it shouldn’t be a problem, it was pure water, after all, it could go anywhere.

Without wasting another second she pulled the shoulder straps of her bra down her arms and shrugged them off, letting her breasts swing free as she stared at the rotating form before her. Every time she had done this in the past the spirit had asked her what form would be most pleasant for her and she had answered female, for with that came a level of tenderness and compassion she had never experienced from male elementals. Still, a good hard fuck as a reward for revealing knowledge of the spirit world had pluses too. That was the one thing all the spirits asked for and got; the human orgasm was unlike anything else in creation, a power that the elementals could not attain for themselves but hungered after. She was sure that this spirit, once it wrapped itself around her double D’s, would tell her everything she wanted to know.

Sevana stepped out of her shoes as she unbuttoned the trousers and stood on one foot to pull them off, tossing them after the bra and shirt into a heap. The water element had always wondered what modern nuns wore under their habits. The few it had seen pre-dated the Inquisition and were truly disappointing as panties went. No wonder only Christ wanted to be their brides. Sevana’s pink bikini underwear surprised it, but not for long, since they too joined the pile of clothing in quick succession.

“Are you ready?” the nun asked.

The elemental tittered as it ogled Sevana’s milk-white tits, her slightly rounded belly, plump thighs and the untrimmed curly hair, a black hedge of a Y between her legs, that matched the flowing mane on her head. Perhaps it had gotten humans all wrong. After all, human female cum was the most potent substance on the planet, it could do anything, even give something as alien and non-human as an elemental an orgasm. It was why witches were so powerful and warlocks so … impotent; they had nothing to offer. Trading sacred knowledge for that was worth it, the spirit thought. Especially considering the evil that was lurking in the world today. Who knew if this chance would ever come again?

“Yes.”

1997 was a queer year … even for the disembodied.

As it turned out the rise of the Daemon of Karabakh was synchronic with the coming in the night sky of the comet researchers called Hale-Bopp, a smear of pale light which rose behind Capricorn in the early summer. One could sit in one’s apartment in Yerevan and watch its path from their bedroom window, such a curious heavenly body, the tail of which spread out, unspooling its stardust guts far behind it. The harbinger brought with it strange tidings from the Nagorno-Karabakh region as well, releasing a fear like pestilence in its pale wake, for this was a land that laid covered in ancient forests, where, from ages long past, dwelt the spirits of things that were neither mortal nor divine, that fed in the shadows. Soon the rumor of a strange evil, a foulness unheard of in any hand-written book or passed down legend was told among the local people and they despaired.

Sevana knew nothing of this, of course, at the time. She had more pressing matters, for fucking an elemental is not like fucking a mortal. They fuse with you, transform you, convert you into the same substance as they are … sometimes. True, their orgasms tended to be skull-shatteringly strong, but all spirits are perverse creatures and Sevana knew that this one would not stop until it had had its fill of her, regardless of how many hours, days or years that might be.

“Here I come,” the nun said, smiling slightly and stepped into the pentagram.

II.

Sister Dzovinar, a nun from the Aramazd Convent in the village of Shusha, was the first to witness the horror as it spread across the largely bomb-shelled villages of the region. Returning late to the nunnery from an errand in Stepanakert, Dzovinar was overtaken by nightfall. No moon arose to escort her through the forest; but, between the misty and moist boughs of old, fantastic oaks, she looked up and saw the weird, portentous tail of the comet far overhead, which seemed to guide her as she went. Sister Dzovinar felt an eery fear issuing from the grave-dark shadows all around her. Having spent so much time in the forest the sister attempted to use old-fashion gumption and logic to calm her goose bumps, but found both unequal to the task. Passing among the trees that towered thickly around the road that led to the village of Shusha, she thought that she discerned a light, as if from a hut and was cheered by the sight. But, continuing on, she saw that the light was, in fact, moving; flitting like a speckled willow-the-wisp or a bog-flame, changing color as it went, once becoming pale as an electrical spark then turning red as fresh as blood then oddly green like a hellish nimbus.

Dzovinar knew that men could commit any sort of abominations during wartime, but until that night she had never seen the essence of an abomination loping along on four feet, snuffling at the earth as it went. What Dzovinar beheld, the wicked shape, stopped her in her tracks. Shadows revealed a dimly lit hunch with glowing yellow eyes, a wide ass and a row of teats, oddly human in their naked splendor, swaying back and forth as it moved. This much, but no more, Dzovinar saw before the thing loped past her with its halo of flaring sparks, turning from venomous purple to a wrathful pink, disappearing finally among the gnarled oaks.

Nearly crippled with fear, Dzovinar reached her nunnery, where she plead for admittance. The eunuch boy from the village (the war having taken both his manhood and any desire for carnal lust), who served as both porter and guard of the old, outer gate, upon hearing Dzovinar’s tale of what she had seen in the moonless woods, flung the gate open and ushered her quickly inside.

By ten o’clock the next morning a dead sheep had been found in a field behind the village of Shusha. It had been ripped open, but not by a wolf or a soldier or a hunter, for the wide gash that had laid open the spine, from neck to tail, was almost surgical in its exactitude. The spine itself had been literally ripped from the body, the white marrow sucked dry; but no other portion had been devoured. Azeri soldiers had been spotted scouting out the hills less than a month ago, but this was not a simple act of poaching. No one could guess the nature of the man that slew it, since none of God’s beasts, the nuns reasoned, would only mutilate the spine. But some of the sisters, mindful of the story told by their beloved Dzovinar, believed that something else was, perhaps, awake and stirring in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Now, night by night, the comet grew brighter across the sky, a burning mist of cosmic blood while the stars paled all around it. Day by day, from soldiers and peasants, from former KGB agents sent out to investigate, from woodcutters and American tourists who had snuck into the region for the thrill of it, rumors began to circulate at the convent; the Aramazdi nuns heard tales of fearsome, mysterious desecrations. Dead wolves were found with their backs laid open, the spinal marrow all gone. One night an ox, the next a horse, were mutilated in a similar fashion. Then, it seemed, the unknown daemon grew bolder.

At first, it did not hunt the living, choosing to assault the dead, for at times of war the body count is always high and so it lived like some foul carrion bottom-feeder. Two freshly buried corpses, villagers caught in a cross-fire battle between Armenian and Azerbaijan soldiers, were found lying in the cemetery at Stepanakert where the thing had apparently dug them up from their very graves; it had drawn out their vertebrae with brutish force. On the following night two wood cutters who lived out in the dark in a little hut were slain in their beds. Other villagers, dwelling close at hand, heard the hideous screams that then were cut short. Peering fearfully through their bolted windows they saw, loping away in the starlight, the black, obscene shape and smelled a curious musk on the air that reminded them of a female dog in heat, one that had been rolling around in hot tar, perhaps. Perhaps. Not until dawn did they dare to confirm the fate of their neighbors who had been ripped open in the same manner as the sheep, the wolves and the freshly interred corpses.

Armineh, the mother superior of Shusha, was exhausted over the evil that had chosen to manifest itself in their neck of the woods, an evil whose ravages were all committed within a few hours journey of the convent. Pale and clammy from weeks of self-discipline and the foolishness of celibacy, she called the nuns before her in an assemblage to address the women.

“Yes,” Armineh said, “there is a great evil among us that has come with the comet we call Barbariccia. We, the Sisters of Shusha, must go forth with holy words and rain water to hunt down the daimon that is hidden among us.”

“Hidden among us? Like a peeping tom?”

“Not another purging,” muttered Sister Yeranouhi to Sister Varteni.

Later that afternoon Mother Superior Armineh, together with Sister Dzovinar and a dozen others, strode out, making a search of the forest grounds for miles all around. Cassocks are rough things to hike about in and soon every woman’s ass and nipples were chapped by the rough fabric. Still, defeating evil at end of the 20th century takes on a certain amount of obligation. They entered the woods with crucifixes and bic lighters but found no fiercer thing than a wild goat and a Pallas’s cat up in a tree that hissed at them and sprang away. Then they searched the crumbling vaults of the deserted castle of Jajtam Vret, which was said to be haunted by scantily-clad devil women with red skin and Sapphic impulses, but nowhere could they trace the daemon or find any sign of its lair.

As the long summer went by the killing continued. The villagers, who simply called the daemon, “The Daemon,” found their numbers dwindling even more rapidly as the war between the two countries dragged on. Men, women and children began to disappear at night in twos and threes, for the beast ranged abroad at times, even out to the Zontik waterfalls along the Janapar trail, as well as to the gates of the Gandzasar monastery itself. There were those who had laid eyes on it during the night, but always their stories told of a black, foulness clad in ever-changing luminescence. Always the thing was silent, uttering no sound, being swifter in its motion than the mountain wolf or the desert vulture.

One time it was seen in moonlight by the nunnery’s gardens while it glided toward the forest between rows of tomatoes and turnips. Then, coming in darkness, it struck within the walls, taking old Sister Satenik, slumbering on her thin mattress at the end of the dormitory. The crime was not discovered until dawn, when the nun who slept next to Satenik woke up. She saw her friend’s body laying face downward with the back of her robe ripped down the middle, the flesh beneath it in bloodstained shreds, what remained of the bones all exposed.

A week later, the Daemon came again, this time murdering Sister Heghane. In spite of contacting the village police, performing exorcisms, even sprinkling of holy water on all windows and doors, the thing was seen soon afterward gliding along the midnight halls of the nunnery. It left blasphemous signs painted in, what appeared to be one of the nun’s own menstrual blood, up on the walls of the chapel. Many believed that it menaced the mother superior herself; for Sister Erebuni, the Obedientiary, returning from a visit from the village Hadrut, saw it by starlight as it climbed over the high wall, heading directly toward that window of Armineh’s cell which faced the forest. Seeing Erebuni, however, the thing dropped to the ground like a huge wolf, bounding away among the knobbled trees.

Pale and exhausted the mother superior grew gaunt as she kept to her cell in unremitting prayer for deliverance, whipstitching her flesh until she tottered about, weak from loss of blood; her prayers unanswered, a feverish, wasting illness seeming to devour not just her body but her soul as well.

Even as the beast haunted the nunnery, rumors were told that the horror traveled far over mountain and valley, even invading larger towns. Toward the middle of August, when the comet was beginning to fade a little in the sky, there occurred the heartbreaking death of Sister Lusine, the beloved, elderly aunt of Armineh herself, slaughtered by the Daemon in her cell all the way over at the Vahagn Convent of Stepanakert. On this occasion the monster was seen by neighbors down in the streets. Reports were that it climbed the city ramparts like some enormous ape or spider and then fled from Stepanakert into the war-torn dark.

In the dead nun’s cell, it was told, the pious Lusine had a letter from her niece, Armineh, in which the mother superior had spoken at some length of the horrendous happening at her nunnery. She had confessed her despair at being unable to cope with the diabolical thing.

“We are cursed by powers that not even God knows about,” the letter ended.

All this finally came to Sister Sevana, who, with cum-splattered lips, labored night and day in her little office at the Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts. Nuns have their own curious grapevine, as it were, and from the beginning, because of her trafficking with invisible things, the investigation into the Daemon was assigned to her, marked as a subject of great concern. Sevana knew that it was no creature of earth but regarding its actual nature, where it came from, even how it could be defeated, she could not learn at first. In vain she consulted her tarot cards (the Kissaneh deck); made use of books of necromancy and the black arts; consulted her familiars who all declared themselves ignorant of the beast, saying that the Daemon was altogether alien to this world, beyond the knowledge of even astral spirits.

Then Sevana recalled of that queer, old delphic ring which she had inherited from her mother, an Ottoman witch, one of many who perished in the 1915 Genocide. The ring had come down from ancient Urartu, had once been the property of the night queen Qubadli herself. It was made from a single ruby, a smoke-filled, smoldering gem. Within it slept a spirit, one of the elder elementals from the great dawn of the earth, long before evolution had caused mankind to develop opposable thumbs and walk upright in the grassy fields of Africa.

From a rarely opened casket in her cell Sevana brought forth the ring, making such formulations as were needed for awakening the ring’s spirit. When the ruby stone was held above a copper vessel, crafted by the priests of ancient Ar (a religion that flourished in the Armenian Highland during 5th-3rd millennium BC), filling it with burning sandalwood and amber, the nun began to speak. The spirit answered, speaking in a crackling voice that was like the dancing of flames. It told her that the Daemon of Karabakh, in its proper form, was invisible to the human eye, but manifested itself because it still needed claws and teeth that could hold, kill and cut out the spine of its victims. It lived for the marrow and fluid found in those particular bones. The elemental told her of the only method by which the Daemon could be destroyed. Even to Sevana, a scholar who had dedicated her life to the study of arcane powers, found these disclosures as a wellspring of worry. For many reasons, she now decided that the mother superior’s attempts at exorcism would continue to fail. But the elemental had sworn that there was no other way forward except with the plan that it had laid before her.

Brooding upon all that she had been told, the sister sat in the dark of her office on one warm summer night, preparing herself. Before Sevana had been a nun she had been a lover of the man called Manfred Trinzcek, a Byronic figure, who had vanished one night in the Bernese Alps under mysterious circumstances. She wished for his council now, for the cards had warned her that her assistance in defeating this fell thing would be required soon.

The air was still save for the whispering of the earth elemental dripping down her thighs. She didn’t really like cunnilingus with creatures of mud and clay, they were far messier and rarely obeyed orders. The last time it had taken her an hour of scrubbing to get the bewitched soil out of her pubes. It was the type of spirit, though, that was rarely a total pervert with her body. But today it was worth the mess and she smiled softly at the lumpy thing and quietly murmured, eat me, “utum yem.”

Her eyes flickered in the dark. The only light came from a dozen candles encircling the pentagram and chair that she sat in. Lifting her long hair, she closed her silver eyes as she felt the slurping mud-lips run up and down her skin. With a small sigh, she dropped her hands against her nipples, her fingertips making them hard at the touch, raising goose-bumps. She cupped her breasts, feeling their weight, rubbing her nipples against her palms, drawing them to a razor’s edge. She groaned as the elemental made obscene tar-pit noises, primitive as proterozoic oral sex, lightly biting her lips to stifle her first moan.

She could feel how deep the spirit had entered her, filling every nook and cranny of her cunt, every millimeter of its surface focused on pleasuring her. She closed her eyes, slowly tracing a path from the slightly luminous mud up to her breasts, her thighs parting wider as the spirit pressed in. All of her skin tingled, she felt chills of swamp mire and muck oozing across her clit, settling into her very core. She moaned at the contact, every nerve coming alive with the gentleness of this otherworldly touch, the caress of her fingers.

Her breathing became erratic, the elemental circled her clit. Whimpering, she felt the spirit rub the hard nubble of girl-flesh, her hips rolling. The room shook with her gasps, building to a crescendo, her body enthralled by powers beyond human understanding. Arching her back, she felt waves spreading through her like the Biblical flood that landed the Ark on Mount Ararat. Her cry turned wild and debased, her cunt convulsing around the phantasmal tongue-like muck.

A knock came on Sevana’s little office door.

The earth elemental stopped its sucking, turning what Sevana assumed to be its startled head toward the door. The nun was frozen in the act of cumming, her back arched, her breasts hard and pointing in odd directions. It had been less than 48-hours following the death of Sister Lusine. The Director of the Matenadaran, an elderly man who indulge the funny, little nun who seemed to live in the bowels of the institute day and night, together with the mother superior, Armineh herself, stood patiently waiting for Sevana to answer. The naked woman in the chair held her breath, cursing the fates for orgasmo interruptus; she could feel her own cum dripping down her thigh.

“Er, Sister Sevana-jan?” came the old man’s reedy voice.

With a silver laugh Sevana pulled the door open and invited her unwelcome visitors to enter.

Armineh looked at the younger woman who stood humbly before them. She was dressed in an almost Byzantine nun’s habit; a starched white cornette and black veil, a woolen belt and wooden rosary, an apron with hand-stitched designs of The Fall and Lilith tempting Eve to carnal sin. Unlike the mother superior’s own spartan cell back at the nunnery, Sevana’s office was literally overflowing with dusty books, parchments, half translated manuscripts, files on hundreds of different projects and subjects, all the tools of a scholar who spends her waking hours studying history and the artifacts the ancestors left behind. The floor was clean, the chair creaked loudly as the nun offered the seat to Armineh. There was, though, a slight smell of … was that river mud? the mother superior thought. No. Probably just mildew from all these old books.

Sevana stared at the older woman sitting before her. She could feel the earth elemental swishing about inside her cunt and womb where she had imprisoned it for the time being. It wasn’t complaining. Indeed, concentrating on what the mother superior was saying at the moment was becoming difficult. She squeezed her thighs slightly tighter, willing the spirit to settle down for the moment. She wondered what sort of sin orgasming in front of a fellow clergy member would fall under. She concentrated on staring at Armineh, in whose worn features and bowed head Sevana saw the ravages of exhaustive sorrow, terror and shame. God had refused to answer any of her pleas, indeed, the sky seemed an empty hole to Armineh now. She had come, however, to ask Sevana’s advice and help in defeating the daemon.

“You, Sister Sevana-jan,” the mother superior began once the two women were alone, “are one of the few nuns left in this world who can use the heathen arts of sorcery, the taboo spells which can destroy evil. Therefore, in dealing with this devil it may be that you shall succeed where all others have failed. I must warn you, it is not willingly that I accepted the suggestion of employing you in this matter, since it is not becoming for the Church to be known that it allies itself with pagan magic, even if it is being done in God’s name, even if the spell caster is one of our own.”

“O!” Sevana blurted out as the elemental found her g-spot, turning what was intended to be a smirk into an exercise of lip-biting. “You, er, don’t approve of my m- m- methods?”

“The people are despairing,” Armineh said, giving the younger woman a curious glance as if she saw clear enough what was happening but out of tact deferred from saying anything. “They hardly accept this war but now time is against us, lest the demon should kill again while I am here in Yerevan. The Bishop of Vanadzor and the Archbishop of Echmiadzin have been told of this plea and support us in this undertaking.”

“Stop!” Sevana gasped, much louder than she intended, “that is, I mean, O! If it is in my power to rid Karabakh of this plague I shall do so. But you have given me a difficult task, one that shall bring many strange dangers with it.”

“I have talked to the head of police in Shusha; all assistance that can be given to you shall be yours to command,” said the older woman. “Police officers shall attend to your investigation, if you wish it.”

Then Armineh, speaking in a low, broken voice, assured the heavily sweating Sevana that all doors, including those to the Aramazd Convent itself, would be opened at her request, that everything possible would be done to further the destruction of the evil.

Sevana, attempting to wrap up the interview so she could send the elemental back to the marsh from which it had come, finally said, “when will you return to Shusha?”

“This very night, as soon as I can have your answer.”

“Well then, I shall accompany you back. I will not use the police, I think, for men tend to become nervous when faced with things they do not understand. Rather, pick out two of your nuns to assist me. Let these women be chosen for their courage and discretion: for by tomorrow night I hope to get to the bottom of this mystery.”

“Really?” the mother superior said, a bit of animation crossing her face, though she still looked tired and worn.

“Yes, now please let me set my affairs in order and I will meet you upstairs in twenty minutes.”

As the office door closed on Armineh she could almost swear she could hear Sevana hiss, “I am so fucking going to kill you for that, you little piece of shit!”

“What a strange nun,” the mother superior thought as she walked through the basement of the Institute, “though no one can say her heart isn’t in the right place. I hope she at least puts up a good fight.”

III.

Twenty minutes later Sevana emerged from the dark still clad in her odd habit; on her index finger sat the ring of Qubadli. To arm herself she carried a curious Persian hammer. Upon arriving at Shusha after a three-hour mountainous car ride, Sevana found that the two assistants the mother superior had chosen for her, Sister Aras and Sister Argitchi, were stout, with forearms like blacksmiths, and, clad in their more traditional Apostolic habits, looked like they could have wrestled with both Jacob and the angel and bested both. The three began walking, taking a little-goat-path which ran through the trees.

Her companions were reticent, speaking briefly only when answering questions. This pleased Sevana; for she knew that they would maintain a discreet silence regarding everything that might occur. That whole afternoon they walked, while the sun sank in a well of blood among the twisted trees. Soon the darkness closed in upon them. Deeper they went into the woods. Even Sevana, the last mistress of sorcery in the Caucasus mountains, shivered a little at the thought of what was awake and moving about in the darkness.

However, they returned to the convent when the moon was high overhead empty handed. The building was quiet; all the nuns, save the eunuch boy from the village, had retired to their dormitory. The mother superior had left at sunset to Stepanakert to arrange for the burial of her aunt. Hearing this, Sevana said she had reason to believe the Daemon of Karabakh would return to the nunnery that very night. She told the boy of her intention to wait outside the outer walls so that the three women could catch it. She asked her two companions to accompany her in a tour of the building, so that she could get a sense of lay of the land. During the tour Sister Aras pointed out a certain window in the second story that belonged to their mother superior. Sevana remarked on Armineh’s foolhardiness in leaving it open while evil was abroad. This, her guides told her, was what the older woman always did. On the windowsill they saw the glimmering of a candle, as if Armineh had returned from her journey and was now keeping her own late night vigil.

Asking her companions to rest under Armineh’s open window the three women sat down to wait as the hollow-faced moon rose higher above the somber oaks, pouring a spectral mist down upon the leaden stone of the nunnery’s walls. Far to the west Hale-Bopp glowed among the corpse-white stars. They waited hour after dark hour in the shadows. When the moon had finally disappeared from sight all was finitely quiet. Nothing moved. Sevana spent the time mindlessly toying with the ring of Qubadli on her finger, ready for that which the elemental had directed her to do. Toward dawn the candle sputtered in Armineh’s window, as if it had burned itself out and the cell fell into darkness.

Nothing stirred in the lattice-like shadows, the slow night died, the sky grew pale with morning. Then, half an hour before sunrise, the thing fell upon them. From seemingly out of nowhere — suddenly — a glow of hellish light, flying like St. Elmo’s fire, leaped from the forest gloom, sprang upon the three women where they sat, blinking in the early dawn, worn out from their night-long vigil.

As Sister Aras was borne to the ground, Sevana saw above them, floating in a sudden geyser of blood, the black, wolf-like form of the Daemon. Hunched shoulders with glowing yellow eyes, the wide ass and vaguely human tits, just as the mother superior described, was tearing at the woman’s neck with serrated teeth. The nun did not cry out, only made a terrible guttering sound as she began to drown in her own blood. Swiftly Sevana laid the ring of Qubadli on the ground and broke the ruby with a single blow from the Persian hammer that she carried with her.

From the pieces of the shattered gem the elemental, roused from centuries of sleep, rose in the form of a queerly burning fire, thin as a candle-flame but taller than any mortal. Hissing softly in a crackling voice, the spirit leaped forward just as it had promised Sevana it would do in return for its liberation. It fell upon the beast with contempt, as the dark shape under it writhed about. As they fought the body of the Daemon appeared to melt before the two awe-struck women, to murkily change, to transform. Horrifyingly the thing took on the wavering shape of a naked woman, one burned by the orphic flame. The defiling blackness flowed out of her, swirling high into the night air, leaving behind it the nude, burnt-out, distorted body of the mother superior herself, Armineh.

The fire-shaped elemental continued to wrap itself around the nun, the woman’s face melting away into a waxy nothingness. Now a great column of smoke rose up; Sevana and Argitchi both choked on the odor as of burning flesh intermingled with the beast’s sex stench. Out of the smoke, above the hissing of the spirit, there came a single cry, like the voice of Armineh. But then the smoke thickened, hiding everything from view, save for the singing of the otherworldly heat.

At last the loathsome fumes began to lift, disappearing among the gnarled branches. The living flame rose up as well, stretching even further out until, twisting over and over, it made its curling way to the west. Sevana knew that she and the spirit had fulfilled their respective promises. It had now gone back to its remote, mountaintop from which the night witch Qubadli had first drawn it down in the time of Urartu to become a sleeping prisoner of her ruby.

What had become of the Daemon neither woman could say, there was no longer any trace of the body. With the help of the devastated eunuch, who had looked upon Sister Aras as a source of endless kindness, they brought the body of the slain nun inside. They told the nuns of the Aramazd Convent of Shusha that the Daemon had come upon the three of them in a mad rush, had slain Aras and gained the mother superior’s window before they could call out for help, had then turned and sprung forth from the second floor, carrying poor Armineh in its maw. Sevana had exorcised the beast, which had vanished in a cloud of fire and brimstone, but sadly it took their mother superior with it.

Both their deaths, Sevana said, made them true martyrs; Armineh and Aras did not die in vain, she went on, for the Daemon would no longer plague Nagorno-Karabakh, nor bedevil the nuns of Shusha, since the exorcism she had used had come from the Catholicos himself. After that there were no more questions, since if the Catholicos, the head and the chief bishop of Armenian Church, had had a hand in crushing the devil then there was nothing more to be said, though the Sisters grieved for a long time for their fallen.

In time Hale-Bopp faded slowly away. It would not return to the visible skies again until the year 4534, enough time to prepare oneself if the Daemon chose to rise again as well. If, in fact, the comet had brought the terror that had consumed the mother superior then it was a completely different sort of evil than what Armenia and Azerbaijan had been waging upon each other, all in the name of holding onto a small plot of land. Unlike the comet, war does not wait for a whole 2537 years to resurface once it passes by, it is a constant that does not care if the veil between humans and the divine is paper thin or an insurmountable wall. War cannot be exorcised, only endured, regardless of what the prophet of the shadows might say.

Back in her basement office, locked behind closed door, Sevana continued to invite all that which could drive the living to madness into her arms, between her thighs; slipping her fingers deep inside as strange abominations roughly fucked her; causing the earth, the moon and the galaxies to explode behind her eyeballs from orgasm after orgasm. Arching her back into the arms of unnamable things, liquid fire fucks, her cunt shaking around the tongues of alien horrors, making her cum again; for the orgasms of the spirit world are nothing like the orgasm we possess while on this waking Earth.