"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." Anton Chekhov


Monday, August 26, 2013

34. The Choices...continued

     Alarmed at Cantrell's sudden interest in Katy, Lily dragged her deeper into the kitchen out of the man's sight.  After tossing the bloody knife into the garbage and fighting off a sudden bout of roiling nausea, she turned to look at Katy's white, tear-streaked face.  “Are you all right,” she whispered.

     Shaking her head, Katy swallowed roughly around the lump of fear still wedged in her throat.  “Dom's father is...”  Unable to continue, to find the right words, she reached across the counter, tore off a paper towel and wiped her face and eyes.  “So that makes Dominic, what?  Half a demon?”  Shivering, she remembered the moment his eyes had blazed red, though she knew his anger had been directed at the beast, not her.

     “I’m not sure what he is, except possibly Daniel's brother.” Shaking her head, Lily looked sadly into Katy's eyes. “After hearing that horrible story, I just…I don’t know what to think.”

     “He’s not bad, Lil. He’s not like the monster his father is, I’m sure of it.”

     “You can’t be sure of anything, Katy. You barely know the guy,” Lily protested.

     “But I do know him.” Taking Lily’s hand, she pulled her back toward the living room. “And somehow I’ll prove it to you.”

     Dom shot a quick glance at Katy as she and Lily came out of the kitchen. She’d been crying and wouldn't meet his eyes.  Though the distance between them nearly unmanned him, it was best that she no longer wanted him, trusted him. Better that she feared him.  While he glared belligerently at his father, his mind raced.  This situation wasn't remotely similar to any of the scenarios he'd envisioned over the years while planning his father's destruction.  But now, to secure Katy's safety, all that mattered was to find the missing piece of this bizarre puzzle.  It was time to play.

     “Considering my low tolerance for boredom,” Dom said sarcastically, “how about a revelation or two to liven the party?”

     “Ah, my son, so many revelations, one hardly knows where to begin,” Cantrell said affably, but though he smiled, it did nothing to warm the ice in his gaze. “Let us all sit, shall we?”  When no one moved, he sighed despondently, as if the burden of dealing with such uncooperative children was just too heavy to bear. “Stand then, I don’t care.”

     Jamieson Cantrell took his time, and a long swallow of his drink, before he finally spoke. “By a pure fluke of alchemy and research, I inadvertently opened a portal between the Abyss and this realm.  I couldn't resist the temptation to explore, and after a time I realized that with the right army, the possibilities to expand my dominion were at hand.” He sighed. “It was such a perfect plan, but when I tried to return, to raise my troops, I found the portal closed against me. At first I was enraged, then I found a multitude of ways to entertain myself while working on a solution to the problem. Chief among those entertainments was amassing a fortune and building an empire, but I took a particular delight in my experiments in procreation.” 

     Shaking his head in mock despair, Cantrell said casually with a shrug, “I went through so many weak and worthless women over the years until,” he smiled broadly at Dom, “one finally brought forth my son.” His words, ripe with gratification, dropped like stones into the room.  “Your mother proved unworthy in the end, of course, but by then it didn’t matter because I had you, my son.”  Caught up in his vile tale, Cantrell didn't register that Daniel's lunge toward him had been effectively thwarted by both Wardens.  Slapping Dom jovially on the back, a human gesture completely at odds with the demon lord’s total disregard for humanity.

     Daniel spoke up then, angry at the Wardens. “What are you waiting for?” he snapped at Taurin. “Haul him off, yank his chain, revoke his visa. Send the bastard back to Hell,” he snarled. Rife with hatred, his eyes burned as he faced Cantrell and hissed, “You will never touch Lily or that book.”

     Cantrell glanced with disinterest at the beautiful emerald green book with the golden script where it lay on the coffee table. “Such fools. It was never about the book.”

     He laughed with malicious delight at the incredulous, disbelieving stares. “Allow me to spell it out for you since I don't plan on being here much longer. I needed a book to draw a Warden. Several years ago I found a woman with a modicum of ability to enter the Ethereal. I had hoped, erroneously as it transpired, that she would prove useful in reopening the portal. However, before her unfortunate...dinner engagement with the Hound, she unearthed two very interesting clues. First, that Wardens have the ability to move between realms to apprehend or investigate souls, a most useful talent, though one that requires a token of some unknown description. Therefore, if a book could be stolen from the Library of Souls, that would bring swift reprisal.  In other words, for those of you having trouble keeping up, a Warden would be dispatched immediately, token or talisman in hand, so to speak.”

     Looking around the room, he reveled in the rapt attention.  “My little helper discovered the names of two people with a strong enough soul bond to enable one to take the other's book.” He waved a languid hand at Daniel and Lily, “That would be you two,” he said dismissively.  “It was a brilliant scheme. I already knew of Valentine's altruistic excuse for robbing people, which only made it easier to trap him.  And once he had the book, it was only a matter of time before a Warden would follow.” Cantrell’s smile was cruel as he met Daniel’s furious glower. “What I didn't anticipate was your little road trip.  And by the way, my boy, does everyone here understand your part in this little adventure? Or might they be shocked and horrified at your deceit and treachery?”

     Lily pried open Daniel's fist and took his hand. “Of course we know.” Her eyes narrowed. “Daniel told us everything.” Insolently, she let her gaze roam from the tips of his shiny Italian shoes to the top of his perfectly coiffed head. “Whatever you hoped to accomplish, you've failed.” Her voice cool with satisfaction, Lily said calmly, “I think it’s time for you to leave.”

     With a disgruntled shake of his head, Cantrell turned to his son. “They’re hopeless. No imagination at all.” He tipped his glass and finished off the drink in one large swallow. “Once I find the means to come and go between realms, these small-minded humans will be so incredibly easy to control.” His look of disgust swept over all of them before settling on Katy. “Bring me your little pet, Dominic. I think I’ll take her.” He turned his cold, obsidian eyes on Dom. “You don't mind, do you, son?

     Dom knew it was a test of his loyalty, a test to see if Katy was a weapon that could be used against him.  He also knew Katy’s life hung on the success of what he did next. Finally, he had the puzzle piece to finish his father.

     So, without a word, he walked toward the group standing in a half-circle at the other end of the coffee table.  He ignored Mickey and Taurin, standing on either side of Katy, when they stepped forward to block him, and didn’t spare a glance for Daniel when he edged behind the sofa dragging Lily with him.

     Holding out his hand, eyes locked with hers, Dom waited for Katy to reach for him. Solemn, she hesitated for only a moment, then wrapped her fingers around his. As he started to draw her to him, Lily shouted, “Katy! No!” Daniel struggled to hold her back, though both Mickey and Taurin now stood transfixed.

     Bending, Dom’s lips brushed against Katy’s ear as he whispered, “Don’t forget me, Red.” She felt a tiny, feathery kiss float across her cheek, heard the yearning in his velvet-soft words as he breathed them against her mouth, “I will always belong to you.” Before another breath could be drawn, he flung her at Taurin, reached unerringly toward Mickey, ripping the medallion from his neck.  Without a moment's hesitation he spun, embraced his father with a powerful strength born of determination, and imaged the deepest, darkest pit in the Abyss.

     As his father fought and roared with rage, as the world disappeared around them, Dom felt something clamp around his ankle in a tight, painful grip. Before he could wonder or question, oblivion claimed him.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

33. It's All About The Choices

Possessed by a writing demon over the weekend, I wrote a very long chapter.  Thinking perhaps the length might be a bit much for a serial installment, I tried to find a good dividing point to break things up.  It wasn't easy and I can only hope I haven't just ruined the flow of the story. I'll post the other half shortly--if I can resist a rewrite and the characters don't butt in with dumbass opinions. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

     Daniel’s mind churned with the thoughts and images brought to life by Dominic Cantrell’s words. Discovering who his parents were, moments later hearing the nightmare of their murder, then finding out his only living kin was a man he hated—had almost been more than he could take in. Waves of loss and pain had swept over him, settling into a stomach-clenching despair as Dom told his story, though it didn’t take long before those emotions were incinerated in the raw power of his fury, resolve and retribution rising from the ashes.

     “Do you think he’s telling the truth?” Daniel muttered to Mickey, watching Katy move toward the living room. Before Mickey could respond, Daniel stared in disbelief as Dom surged to his feet and raced out of the kitchen, his face harsh with dawning horror.

     Then they all froze at the unmistakable sound of Katy’s scream. Taurin and Mickey exchanged a look as Mickey snarled, “The bloody Hound is here. I can smell it.”

     Frowning, Daniel wasn’t sure what that meant exactly, but when Lily tried to race past him, he grabbed her arm and spun her into Mickey’s grasp. Running after Dom, he snapped over his shoulder, “Stay out of sight, Lily, until we know what’s happening.”

     Ignoring him, Lily pushed away from her grandfather. “Lass, you must listen! Stop!” And with his forbidding words, Mickey shoved her at Taurin, who promptly pushed her onto the bench and held her in place. When she tried to stand, he said sharply, “You are in grave peril and must be protected until we understand what Razeph wants with you and your book—” Abruptly Taurin straightened. “The book!”

     As soon as he'd dashed out of the room, Lily leaped to her feet. Anger flared, heating her face, seething through her blood. Did they seriously think she would cower like a helpless twit while her best friend was in danger? Wrenching open one of the drawers, she snatched up her favorite chef’s knife, hefting the familiar weight of the long, lethal blade before tearing out of the kitchen.

     Within an instant Dom took in the sight of Katy struggling against the Hound’s chest in a tight choke hold, his father across the room casually pouring himself a drink, and the disturbance at his back alerting him that the occupants of the kitchen were now ranged behind him. He knew from long experience not to give anything away to his father, though his control was slipping as the urge to tear the fiend limb from limb grew stronger the more Katy writhed in its grasp. He narrowed his eyes, searching beyond the terror on her face to the...wrongness in the creature. It appeared the beast had already been torn to pieces not long ago and hadn’t had time to reform itself. Hairy and ape-like, with a smattering of canine features, it truly resembled the abomination he had first seen long ago in the dungeons as a boy.

     The creature risked a quick look, and without conscious thought Dom's eyes flashed with fiery, deadly promise. He had a moment of satisfaction at the Hound's recoil, but when he saw Katy’s eyes widen with fear and panic, the moment evaporated. Clenching his teeth, he fought the red haze until his vision cleared, and with a deep, penetrating look—no doubt the last one he would have before she too cringed at the sight of him—Dom absorbed the beauty of her elfin face, the joy and wonder of her body, the exuberant passion in her spirit.  He was well aware the true pain would be in never again feeling the peaceful, soothing calm while stroking the long silken rope of her chestnut braid as she curled in his lap.

     Dom watched one last miracle as her eyes softened under his scrutiny, her warmth reaching across the ten feet that separated them. He turned away before he did something foolish to jeopardize her, hoping she would understand someday, would forgive him for what he was about to do.

     Jamieson Cantrell turned from the liquor cabinet and casually sauntered across the room to stand in front of the fireplace. Smiling, he took a sip of his drink, then gestured, as if he owned the place, for everyone to sit down. At the sputter of outrage behind the broad backs of the three men in front of him, Cantrell laughed softly. “Come, come, gentlemen, let the lady through.” He paused for a moment, then said in a cold, sibilant voice, “I’ve been so very eager to meet the instrument of my liberation.”

     “Tell your Hound to release the girl, Razeph, and mayhap we’ll talk before ending your fun and games,” Taurin said tersely.

     Cantrell cocked his head at the Warden. “I don’t believe we’ve been introduced.”

     “Cut the crap,” Daniel barked. “Tell your foul, mangy Fido to let her go, or else.”

     “Or else what?” Cantrell laughed.

     Suddenly, with no warning, Lily dodged around Taurin and slashed at the arm that held her best friend imprisoned. When the creature made an unearthly howl of pain, loosening his grip, she yanked Katy forward so hard, they both fell to the floor. Taurin immediately grabbed them up, pushed them toward the kitchen and went for the Hound.

     Watching the unexpected attack with interest, Cantrell stood quietly until the unknown Warden seemed too close to capturing his spawn. He uttered a strange, guttural exclamation that sizzled around the room like ball lightning, impelling the fiend to twist and gyrate, evading every move Taurin made before bolting out the door and down the staircase, leaving the disturbing amalgam of slapping flesh and scratching claws to echo up the stairs.

     “I do so appreciate obedient pets,” Cantrell murmured, “and such brave women, don’t you agree, my son?” His eyes shifted over Dom’s shoulder, grazed over Lily, then settled on Katy, staring gravely back at him from the kitchen threshold. When he licked his lips, his gaze all but devouring her, Dom had to fight the overwhelming urge to rip off his father’s head and drop-kick it across the carpet. But, portraying nothing more than his usual relaxed nonchalance, his well-practiced and jaded indifference, he smiled instead. “I find obedience overrated, and much too boring. Really, where's the fun in it?”

     Cantrell stared at Dom for a long moment, assessing his words, then he scoffed, a hint of amusement in his voice. “Since you rarely obey anyone, including me, I can only surmise that you are never bored.” Pausing, he speared Dom with a piercing look. “Has London been relocated to the Pacific Northwest? Did I miss the memo?”

     Dom laughed with a casualness he didn't feel, “Surely you can understand the concept of a grown man's privacy.  I shouldn't have to use subterfuge to enjoy myself.”  He didn't flinch or lower his eyes from his father's burning glare, instead, irritated now, he said curtly, “And speaking of lying and misdirection, I think it's well beyond time to hear some truths from you, old man.”

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

32. Who's Your Daddy?

Into the stunned silence after Dom’s pronouncement, Katy’s voice sounded small and uncertain when she spoke.  “What’s really going on here?” she asked, her eyes shooting around the table until they met Lily’s. “Lily?  Demons and murder and lost brothers—”

Dom interrupted before she could finish her sentence, his voice low and rough.  “One night, when I was about four, my mother came into my bedroom and woke me.  I remember thinking how dark and quiet the house was.  She didn’t turn on the lights, though there was a fixture out in the hall that gave me a shadowy sense of her sitting on the edge of my bed.”  Dominic slowly ran a hand up and down Katy’s braid, his eyes following the movements as if mesmerized.  It was clear to everyone at the table that he was no longer in the here and now.

“I didn’t know my mother very well.  My father kept her close and I was usually with a succession of child minders.  On the rare occasions when I did see her, and sometimes those were just from a distance, she would be crying.”  He stopped, cocked his head slightly and murmured, “She was always crying.”

“Oh Dom,” Katy whispered.  She took the hand that was resting on her hip and gripped it tightly.

“I was so surprised and happy to see her that night, I threw myself into her arms.  She held me for a moment, then settled me back against the pillows.  When I looked up at her, she seemed different somehow.  I got scared and started to cry.  She put her fingers on my lips and told me to be a brave boy.  Then she said she had to go far away, away from my father, because she had to protect someone.  I begged her to take me with her, but she said my father would never, ever stop hunting for her if she took me.  Her only hope for escape was to leave me behind.  Then I heard a sound and looked toward my bedroom door. 

“With his body lit from behind by the light in the hall, her guard filled the doorway like a giant.  “It’s now or never, Beth,” he said quietly.  She reached for me and hugged me so hard it hurt and I started crying again.  In my ear she whispered, “Fight him, Dominic.  When you grow to be big and strong, promise me you will fight him.  Don’t let him win.”  Tears in her eyes, she kissed me, then tucked the covers around me.  Her last words were, “I’m so sorry.  One day I hope you’ll understand and maybe forgive me.”  Then she walked out, but the bodyguard came to stand over me.  “To keep your mother safe, you can’t tell anyone she was here tonight.  Can you do that Dom?  It would be the most important secret in the world for a boy to keep.  Do you think you can?”  I nodded, though I was terrified and confused and fuck, I was only four.”

Brushing his knuckles down Katy’s face, Dom felt the wet streaks.  Startled, he tipped her face up and looked at the silent tears coursing down her cheeks.  Something hurt in his chest at the sight.  Not since that long ago night had anyone cared enough to cry for him.  “Red,” he whispered, “you’re going to own me if one more tear falls, and believe me, that will so ruin my street cred.”  The pain eased a bit when she laughed softly and gave him a wobbly grin.

Lily got up and grabbed some napkins off the kitchen counter, handing them to Katy as she said quietly to Dom, “Did you keep the secret?  Was she able to get away?”

 Mickey held up his hand in a stop gesture as he climbed to his feet, left the room and within seconds returned with the whisky bottle.  “This is a bleak tale that definitely calls for Irish” he said, splashing a good measure first into Dom’s coffee, then doing the same around the table.

Taking a deep swallow, Dom shifted Katy more comfortably on his lap and sighed.  “The next day, after she disappeared and the whole house was in an uproar, my father came to my playroom and grilled me.  I did all right until he got angry.  I was so close to breaking when I remembered how much he hated when I cried.  He couldn’t stand any weakness from me.  So I burst into tears, wailed and cried hysterically for my mommy.  He slapped me hard enough to knock me down, then stormed out of the room in disgust and never asked me about her again.”  Dom smiled in grim satisfaction.  “So, yeah, I kept the secret.”

Softly, Daniel asked, “And your…mother?”  Dom met his eyes across the table.  He knew what Daniel was really asking.

“When I was eight, we moved from San Francisco to England so my father could oversee his interests in Europe and I could go to boarding school in the UK.  He bought an estate from a destitute aristocrat, which for a kid was like living at Disneyland.  A moat, forests, stables, two lakes, gardens and rooms upon rooms to explore.  I was only allowed home for holidays, and usually left by myself, but I was used to being alone so I really didn’t mind.”  He paused and took a sip from his coffee.  “That first Christmas home from school, my father was off somewhere in Europe and I was on my own.  One day when I was exploring, I discovered a passageway off the kitchen below the servants’ staircase.  It was dark and creepy and exciting.  I followed the passage until it got too dark to see what was ahead so I turned around and was making plans to find a flashlight and come back the next day, when I heard these eerie, horrible groaning sounds.  They seemed to be coming right out of the stone walls.  It scared the piss out of me and I ran like a frightened rabbit.

“A day or two later I asked the housekeeper and some of the other servants what was down there, but no one would tell me anything and I was forbidden to go into that part of the house again.  I waited until the next time I came home, then braver and with flashlight in hand, I snuck down the passage only to find my way barred by a locked, very sturdy, wooden door.”

“But, what about—” Daniel started to say before being interrupted by an almost savage growl.

“Christ, just let me tell it my way, goddamn it.”

Daniel scowled, but threw up his hands in reluctant surrender.

“I’m sixteen.  Summer, filled with hormones and angst and too much time on my idle teenage hands.  I’d come home late from a party and was hungry so instead of going to my room, I went to the kitchen to grab some food, intending to take a shortcut upstairs by using the servants’ stairs after I’d raided the fridge.  I’m loading up, sandwiches, crisps, cakes and cider, when I hear a noise coming from the old passageway.  I hadn’t given the place a single thought in years.  Curious, I set down the food and walked toward the opening under the stairs.  I was nearly grown, tough and fit.  And no longer believed in ghosts.

“When I got to the wooden door, I was amazed to find it open, and there was a light ahead, low, dim, flickering, like a candle.  I heard this…indescribable sound coming from up ahead and wished I’d brought a kitchen knife or cleaver.  Coming to an intersection, my right led to total darkness, but the left was light enough for me to see that beyond where I was standing, the passage had been hacked out of solid rock.  With my back to the rough cold stone, I risked a quick look around the corner.  Stunned, I saw an ancient, medieval dungeon of some kind.  Four primitive cells had been hewn out of the rock, four small, dank and dismal caves, with thick bars of what looked like iron, two cells to a side with a crude aisle down the middle.”

Dom carefully lifted Katy off his lap and stood.  He abruptly paced to the end of the kitchen and back, twice, before drawing a deep shuddering breath and running his hands through his hair.  Standing at the head of the table, his gaze focused on the surface as if his thoughts played out on the wood.  “There was a creature in the open door of the last cell, some kind of dog, or ape, or...  Well, it was the first time I’d seen my father’s hell spawn though it would be years before I learned what it was.  At that moment I was less concerned about the animal than I was about what the bloody thing was doing.”  He raised haunted eyes to Daniel.  “Paul, my mother’s guard, had always been nice to me.  Aloof, scary, a giant in my childish eyes, but nice.  He gave me Tootsie Pops.  And he wore this ring, a wolf’s head carved in black stone, set into a silver band.  The creature was squatting, gnawing on a femur, the ring glittering in the heap of bones at its feet.”

Katy started to rise, but Dom placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.  “Let me finish,” he murmured.  “In the cell closest to me, there was another pile of bones, shards mostly.  I guess the creature had started with her first.”  At Daniel’s groan, Dom met his eyes.  “You look like him.  Paul, I mean.  He had those same green eyes and the cleft in his chin.”  Sighing, he sat down and put his head in his hands.  “Finally, I understand.  Now I know why she left.”  He raised his head.  “How old are you?” he asked Daniel.

“Probably real close to four years younger than you,” Daniel managed to reply before grief and pain and a lifetime of questions with no answers surged up his throat and choked him into a bitter silence.

Taurin spoke for the first time.  Quietly he asked, “How did you find out what your father was?”

“I was standing in that passage, listening to the animal chewing on the bones of someone I once knew, my mother, literally, in pieces not five feet from me.  I remembered the groans, and knew I'd heard them that day when I ran like a scared rabbit, not a ghost.  In shock, fighting the urge to kill the creature or vomit everything I had ever eaten, I heard someone coming.  Crossing to the other turn in the passage, I hid in the dark and waited.  When I heard my father’s voice, I was relieved and had started out of my hiding place so we could deal with this horror together.”  His smile was brief and mocking.  “Obviously at that point I wasn’t thinking clearly.  Thankfully, I hesitated for a moment longer and heard my father berating the creature for opening the door, for hoarding the bones, for leaving evidence.  I suddenly understood it was my father behind everything, he was the monster who had murdered my mother.”

Lifting his mug, Dominic tossed back the rest of his drink.  “It wasn’t until I was an adult, and after many years of research, investigating and spying, that I found out who and what he really is.”  He paused for a moment, his eyes meeting the others around the table.  “When I was a child I promised my mother I would fight him.  When I was a teenager, standing in that cold, dark nightmare, I vowed to take him down.  I don’t have everything in place yet, but I’m close, and if I have to drag the bastard back to Hell myself, so be it.”

He tugged on Katy’s braid as she stood, her gaze narrowing on the living room.  “I’ll be right back,” she murmured, walking around the table and out of the kitchen.  He watched her go, then turned back to listen to something Mickey was telling Daniel when her mumbled words about smelling smoke finally registered.
Suddenly lunging to his feet, Dom startled everyone at the table.  Spinning for the living room, his heart pounding fiercely in his chest, breath hissing through his teeth, he already knew he was too late when he heard Katy's terrified cry.

Friday, August 2, 2013

31. The Meeting of Master and Hound

Stepping onto the tarmac at Boeing Field, Jamieson Cantrell walked briskly from his plane and headed for the waiting limousine, his eyes scanning the ambient shadows obscuring a long row of hangars.  The creature was out there somewhere, skulking in the dark, out of sight of the few humans working at the small Seattle airport in the early hours before dawn.

The limo driver stood by the open back door, but as Cantrell slid inside the car, he ordered, “Leave the door, I’m waiting for someone to join me.  Get in and wait.  I’ll tell you where we’re going shortly.”  Nodding, the man silently got behind the wheel.

As soon as the driver’s door closed, the burning acridity of brimstone, mixed with a putrid stench of decaying flesh, wafted into the car.  Jamieson Cantrell took a deep breath, his pleasure at the aroma evident in his voice as he gestured for his Hound.  “Come, talk to me.”

Shutting the door behind him, the fiend settled uncomfortably in one of the soft leather seats across from his master.  He feared enclosed spaces, remembered the torture of being trapped in a cage, the memories making his rudimentary speech nearly indecipherable.  After several attempts to make his tongue form words instead of growls, Cantrell abruptly leaned forward and backhanded him hard enough to knock him to the floor.  “I said talk.”

Absently wiping the blood from his nose, the Hound slowly rose and regained his seat.  Head down in submission, he closed his eyes, the better to concentrate.  “The master’s whelp and the female left one cage and returned to the first.”  Cantrell had no trouble translating, he’d spawned the creature after all.  “They’re back at the bookstore?”  The Hound nodded, hesitated briefly, then said, “After mating, they slept, but bells rang and they went away.”

Musing, Cantrell knew two things immediately.  Whoever had called, the news was important enough to drag Dominic from a warm bed and a willing woman.  And his dog was leaving something out of the report.  Tapping the intercom button, he instructed the driver to head for the University District, then resumed his questioning.  “What happened when you followed them?”

 “They ran into the cage of books, there was much shouting and fighting, then quiet.”  The Hound raised his head and for a single heartbeat met Cantrell’s eyes before lowering them quickly to the floor.  “I felt…” he faltered, his vocabulary too small for what he was trying to convey.

“What?” barked his master impatiently.  “You felt what?”

Quietly, the creature murmured, “Men from there.”

Narrowing his eyes, Cantrell’s voice was harsh, chilled with a bitter ice that could only come from the deepest levels of the Abyss.  “Explain.”

Swallowing loudly, the beast whispered, “Wardens.”

Cantrell cursed viciously.  How was that possible?  He had known that Micah, a Warden of skilled tenacity, had followed him relentlessly for years after he’d escaped from the Abyss until suddenly, for no reason Cantrell could ever discover, the Warden had vanished without a trace.  Feeling untouchable and smug, he had nurtured his superiority into a multi-million dollar enterprise, all his efforts moving ever forward toward one goal.  A goal that was coming to fruition, one he had actually hoped to achieve this very night, in fact.  But now…Wardens?  Jamieson hissed at his Hound, “How many?  Do you know them?”

“One of old, one of new,” the creature replied.

Frustrated, Cantrell spit the words like bullets, “Do. You. Know. Them?”

The demon dog slowly shook his head back and forth as he tried understand what his master was asking.  Hadn’t he already answered the question?  Then a glimmer of understanding sparked in his feral mind.  He smiled, almost childlike in his eagerness to please.  “One of old, chased us.  One of new, chasing another.”  His smile widened, a vision from nightmare of yellowed, blade-sharp teeth, a thick strand of drool sliding down his chin from one corner of his twisted mouth.

Cantrell stared out the window as the quiet streets of Seattle flickered past in the street lights like an old silent film.  So, Micah was back, though how and why wasn’t clear, and he had to assume the other Warden had come after Daniel Valentine, which meant the man had actually succeeded in stealing the book.  His satisfaction that one phase of his plan had been accomplished was offset by the appearance of two Wardens.  And inexplicably, deep in the mix, was his son.  Did Micah know of him?  Had he been betrayed by his own son?  For an instant the interior of the car flashed with a blaze of heat so intense, the Hound threw himself on the floor and cowered.   

No.  His son would never betray him.  Releasing his anger, Jamieson Cantrell—scion of industry, demon lord Razeph—calmed himself.  Between them, he and Dominic could subdue the Wardens, and Valentine.  Once he had the book, he would take his son back to the Abyss, show him the glory in being a prince.  Together they would be an insurmountable force.  His mouth twitched in amusement as he reveled in the knowledge that no one knew he was coming.

Glancing down at the floor, he poked the Hound, still curled into a ball, with the sharp toe of one expensive Italian shoe.  “Get up, dog!  We’re not finished.”  He waited until the creature was back in his seat, then said softly, disarmingly gentle, “Tell your master what you hide, there’s a good boy.”

The creature began to quake, fear slicing like claws down his spine.  He knew this voice, knew the brutal pain that followed such kind words.  He couldn’t stop the forlorn whimper, but knew it would be worse if he didn’t speak, and quickly.  Trying to force coherent words past the swelling terror clogging his throat, he managed to utter two words.  “Saw me.”

Cantrell went ominously still.  He stared at the Hound.  “Who saw you?” he asked calmly, though his hands were clenched into tight fists.

“After mating.  I thought they slept, but the whelp.  Saw me in the trees.” 

Before the Hound could draw breath, could hope for leniency, Cantrell struck.  “Now he knows I’m coming,” he snarled, “and you’ve cost me the advantage.”  In a fury as hot and red as the blood that ran down the limousine windows, he pounded and ripped, tore and beat, long after the creature had stopped howling.