The wind whistled around the little vicarage as Michael and Sarah arrived. The storm clouds were lowering ominously and the temperature had dropped a significant few degrees. Michael ushered Sarah into the house and slammed the door.
'Maggie?' he cried. 'Maggie, are you here?'
His housekeeper leant over the small stair banister rail.
'Hello sir, tis turning into a wicked night' she commented.
'Maggie! Make up the spare room for this young lady please. Then knock her up something to eat. Warming and nourishing please. And stay with her. I'll be back shortly.'
'Yes sir' Maggie was used to short notice visitors. 'Where will you be, sir?'
'I'm running down to the hotel to speak to Mike. I'll tell him you're held up here for a while. I'll be back directly.'
Maggie nodded and came downstairs in a rush.
'Come on then, miss. Let's get you settled in.' and with that she took Sarah's little bag and led the way upstairs.
Michael waited a moment and, seeing the women getting on, he went back out into the lowering evening.
The storm was gathering pace. The darkening sky was almost purple and the clouds were thickening. There was an occasional rattle as the wind started to pick up. Michael sprinted the half mile to the hotel where he demanded to see Mike Jenkins. Mike came from the back rooms, rubbing his hands on a towel.
'Mike,' gasped Michael. 'I need a favour. Can you send a message over to the Dennis farm? Ask Brian and Beatrice to come to the vicarage. Oh, and James should come too - but only if the other lads are around to keep an eye on the girls!'
Mike looked nonplussed at the pastor. But it was unusual for Michael to ask for things for no reason. Obviously the out of breath pastor had something important to tell.
'Course,' he said and bellowed into the back for one of his handymen. He passed on the message and told the boy to take a horse and cart. He also instructed the boy to let Brian and company have the horse and cart, and he was to stay and look after the girls.
'Two birds with one stone,' he grinned at Michael. 'Can I be of any more help?'
'Can you come to the vicarage?' asked Michael. 'I think you're going to want to hear this too.'
'I'll be over shortly,' said Mike. 'Just give me half an hour to sort myself out.'
With that, Pastor Michael headed back out into the burgeoning storm, clasping his soutane around himself and ran back to the vicarage.
'Tea, Maggie!' he shouted over the rising sound of the storm. 'Strong and hot, please. And make a fresh pot, we have visitors coming over! It's going to be a long night!'
Brian and Beatrice sat together on the settle in the vicarage study, holding hands and looking scared. James and Mike Jenkins stood leaning on the mantelpiece as Pastor Michael ushered in Sarah. He made her comfortable in a deep cosy chair and poured her a strong cup of tea. As she drank, the cup rattled in the saucer.
Outside, the wind was becoming so loud that everyone had to shout. The sky was now inky black and the rain was falling in lumps. Michael had drawn the curtains, but everyone could hear the storm starting to rage.
'Everyone, this is Sarah.' Michael began. The assembled group all smiled wecomingly and encouragingly at the young girl. She coloured slightly.
'Sarah has recently had her baby taken.'
There was a second's silence and then everyone started talking at once. As the volume level rose, Michael raised his hand and they all subsided.
'I have been doing some research and I think I know what is going on.'
'Do you know how to stop it?' whispered Beatrice. 'These poor girls. Three of them. How many more are to suffer?'
Michael took a deep breath. He walked over to his bookcase and took down the old book. He opened it to the correct page and read aloud the extract he had found the previous day.
The words echoed around the room, seeming to push back the storm.
The most powerful of all life-giving properties is that of the blood from a demon's own child. This makes the procreation of children a vital part of the demon theology. However, the child has to be half human and it must not be conceived through violence. Demons believe violent conception lessens the effect of the blood. The child must also be nurtured by its mother for a set period before it is suitable for sacrifice.
Brian and Mike went white as they realised the implications. Beatrice fought the urge to faint, and James looked helplessly on.
'Sarah, my dear,' Michael turned to the young girl. 'What was your husband's name?'
'Philip.' Said Sarah with a puzzled tone. 'Philip Mantell.'
Beatrice fainted as Brian leaped out of his seat.
'The bastard!' he screamed, beating the will of the storm as his words came out. 'I'll kill him! The evil, lying, sneaky bastard!'
Pastor Michael went to Beatrice, while keeping a wary eye on Brian. This was the easy bit. Luckily his audience had come to the same conclusions he had.
'Brian,' he said gently. The storm seemed to abate enough so that the Pastor's gentle voice did not need to be raised.
'I believe Philip is a demon. Not only that, but I believe he is a demon that is seeking eternal life. He is ruthlessly marrying women, impregnating them and then stealing the babies.'
That was too much for Sarah, who also fell forward into a bumping faint. Michael rushed to her side at the same time as James stepped forward and the two men revived her. She sat, white-faced, as Michael continued,
'It goes without saying that we must stop him,' but Michael was immediately interrupted by five voices clamouring how.
'The secret is in the triumvirate,' he said, turning the pages of the book. 'Listen; The demon is the most powerful of all the creatures from other-worlds. It is almost impossible to kill demons without first weakening its power. The triumvirate is still the most potent way to weaken a demon. The Power of Three is a magical essence that will reduce the demon to its weakest and enable victory. We need to create a triumvirate. And I think I know how.'
Mike and Brian looked at each other. Beatrice blanched.
'Sarah,' she stammered.
'Sarah is our key,' nodded Michael. He looked at the terrified girl. 'Sarah, my dear girl, I am so sorry. You are the third girl. Your baby was the third taken. You complete the triumvirate.'
This was all too much for Sarah, her face turned the colour of chalk and she leapt up and rushed from the room. The men and Beatrice heard her stumble into the hallway and into the arms of Maggie.
'Feeling a bit sick, love?' asked the kindly maid, and was answered with sounds of retching. 'Not to worry, I'll have that cleaned in an instant. Let me take you upstairs.'
'No!' roared Michael. 'Bring her back in. We have no time. We must make plans!'
Maggie entered the room, supporting Sarah.
'But sir, the girl is proper poorly. She's just thrown up on your hallway rug!'
'Vomiting is to be but a part of this night,' said Michael harshly. 'Please sit down, ladies.'
Brian stood to make room for Sarah and Maggie to sit by Beatrice, Sarah in the middle flanked by the two middle-aged women. Each woman took a frozen hand and held it tight.
Michael took a deep breath. What he was about to ask these people, these friends, was something no man should ever have to ask.
'As I was saying, we have to create the triumvirate. But we already have one. Gloria and Lucy are two. Sarah is the third.'
He put his hand up to still the voices already rising in dismay.
'We can call Philip. We can use the triumvirate to get his attention.' He went on remorselessly. 'You hear that storm? That is no freak of nature. He knows the three girls are close. He can feel his power weakening. We must get them in the same place. He will attempt to stop us, and that is how we get him. We bait him.'
There was an agonised sigh from the room.
'Bait him?' asked Brian disbelievingly. 'Bait him with my daughter and these poor girls?'
Beatrice stood up.
'Pastor, you had better explain yourself. I am not offering up my daughter or any other woman as a sacrifice to a demon!'