There was a moan from the entrance and Henry turned around once more to see two men, both dressed the same as all the other cultists, with a heavily pregnant woman supported between them. She was half-undressed, her distended belly covered in swirls of drying blood that did not seem to be hers. The rest of her clothing appeared fashionable, all warm, yet muted colours. Traces of mascara ran down her cheeks.
She’s not one of them, he realised, but where did they find her?
The woman staggered forwards, legs apart apart, as contractions rocked her abdomen, Her hands gripped the shoulders of the two men like claws.
“Welcome, Hazel,” the Priestess said and as Henry turned back to her he saw she wore an almost serene smile. “I know you have been through a lot this evening, but you are in safe hands now.”
The woman - Hazel - continued forwards until she was just a few feet away from Henry’s pew, then, as a particularly powerful contraction hit her, she stumbled and the two men lost their grip on her. She tumbled forwards, hands flying out in front of her in protective instinct and, equally instinctual, Henry found himself leaping out of his seat (barely noticing the pain in his hip as he did) and reaching out for her.
She turned in an instant. One moment she was a pregnant woman imperilled by her fall, the next she was something like a beast, eyes screwed up tight above a snarling mouth; the one hand catching her weight on the stone floor of the Kirk even as the other swung through the air to slash at Henry with her nails. He barely managed managed to get out of her way, falling backwards against his pew and feeling the pain in his hip suddenly flare into agony.
“Stay away from my baby,” Hazel shrieked, “stay away!” and despite the pain Henry found himself trying to huddle closer to the end of the pew, terrified.
The two men who had been supporting her were at her side immediately and she seemed suddenly subdued as they lifted her back to her feet and helped her on her way towards the Priestess, the communion table and the pool of blood. But Henry had his own supporters and it was with incredible relief that he accepted Paige and Charlie’s help, one to grab each hand, to get him back onto his feet and into the pew. By the time he had righted himself and rubbed away some of the pain he saw that the woman had made it to the edge of the pool of bloody wax.
“Hazel,” the Priestess said gently, “you have been chosen for the greatest of honours.” She reached out and took each of Hazel’s hands from their resting places on the shoulders of the two men and held them, gently, supportively, in her own. “You have been chosen to rebirth the Son of God. Your womb has become a gateway to the celestial realms, a place most holy and sacred and soon, so soon, it will open and He who has been veiled in flesh once more shall arrive. Then, this world will end and be replaced by something infinitely better: paradise, a new Eden, the final Heaven for those who believe.” She brought her hands and Hazel’s down onto Hazel’s blood-smeared belly and smiled. “Are you ready for this glorious burden, Hazel?”
“I am,” the woman replied and her voice sounded far-off now, as if she were reciting lines from within a dream.
But as she spoke those words Henry noticed that something had changed about the pool at their feet. The candles were flickering wildly now and the liquid between them was rippling, bulging in several places near the centre and sending waves outward. It was as hypnotic as it was awful.
What new horror is this? he asked himself, but it was the Priestess who answered.
“Behold,” she said, letting go of Hazel’s hands and taking a step away from the pool, even as a gnarled, blood-soaked hand emerged from within, “the midwife of the Lord.”