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


Saturday, November 16, 2013

40. Three Events Collide

 Hands clasped behind his back, Syrus stood rigidly, staring into the mists that swirled in endless configurations outside his office windows.  He hadn’t moved for several minutes as his mind processed, cataloged, weighed and sifted through the information Taurin had just related to him.

     Unable to stand the tension a moment longer, Taurin cleared his throat, then said quietly, “Sir, I know it’s a strange tale, and no doubt you have many questions, but time is of the essence—”  He was silenced by the look Syrus leveled at him as the man turned from the window.

     “Time is the least of my concerns at the moment,” he barked.

     “I fear the women will not agree, sir.”

     “Until we can determine the best course with the least amount of damage, they have no choice but to agree.”

     Taurin sighed.  “Frankly sir, a few days ago I would never have believed I would say this,” he swallowed audibly, “but those two are a force to be reckoned with.  And I don’t just mean Micah’s granddaughter.  She’s bad enough, but that other one.”  He shook his head.  “She won’t listen, won’t compromise, and won’t stop.”

     Syrus scoffed.  “She’s a small, human female that barely reaches the middle of your chest!  Are you telling me you couldn’t leave her behind?  I understand bringing the other woman, it’s her book and it needs to be returned.”  He began to pace the length of his office.  “But I most definitely do not understand allowing the little one to accompany her.”  He stopped in front of Taurin.  “And what is this nonsense about her being able to find the demon’s spawn?”

     “It seems she has an ability, sir.  A knack for finding things.”  Taurin paused for a moment.  “And I saw the way she and Dominic were…connected.”  He ran a hand through his hair, then said softly, “I think if things had worked out differently, she may have been his redemption.”

     Startled, Syrus frowned.  “What?  Are you certain?”

     Nodding, Taurin said, “Just before he took the talisman from Micah, I heard his words to her.  He sacrificed himself, not only to take his father off the playing field, but to keep Katy safe.  And her need to find him is equally strong.  If I hadn’t brought her, she would have found some other way, I’m certain of it.”

     Syrus walked toward the door.  “I need to speak with her.  If she’s truly his redemption, that changes how we proceed.”  As he reached for the knob, he muttered, “You take Micah’s granddaughter to the Library to return her book while I talk to…”  He looked over his shoulder at Taurin, an eyebrow raised in question.  “Katy, sir.  Her name is Katy.”
     The two men entered the reception area with purpose.  It was always good to have a plan, better still to execute it.  Syrus took in the room at a glance.  It was empty, save for Valeria.  Frowning, he shot a quick, puzzled glance at his Warden, then strode toward her desk.

     Brusquely, he asked, “Where are the two women?”

     Disconcerted as his tone, Val gulped, then said softly, “They went to the Library, sir.”

     “What?  When Val cringed, he made a half-hearted attempt to moderate his voice.  “And just how were they able to do that, Val?”

     “I gave them one of the old keys, the ones that fit the entrance panels on each level.”  She paled, her eyes wide with dismay.  “They just wanted to return the book while you finished your meeting.  I didn’t think you would mind.”

     “I seem to have lost all authority around here,” Syrus growled.  “Decisions made left, right and center and nary a one going by me first.  I might as well just retire and drink myself stupid for all the good I’m doing!”

     When Val burst into tears, Syrus sucked in a deep breath. “My apologies, Val.  This has been a very trying morning, but I needn’t take it out on you.”  He patted her gently, then hissed over her shoulder at Taurin, “We need to find them immediately, though by Odin’s hairy—”  He clamped his mouth shut and roughly handed Val a tissue from a small box on her desk.

     The Warden made his way to the map, eyes searching as his mind chased a long-forgotten memory down the musty corridors of his past.  There was something about those old keys…

     Spotting the tiny blue dot, he smiled with relief.  “I found them, sir.  They’re at the Library.”  In an instant, Syrus was at his side.  Taurin pointed.  “We put a tracker on those keys several centuries ago.  Remember?  After Alighieri was lost for weeks in the Abyss?”

     “That was a mistake from the beginning,” Syrus muttered.  “Why the Higher thought a mortal could wander around gathering information for a book and not get into—”  Both men stared as the blue dot winked out, disappearing from the sixth level.  Stepping quickly into the hallway, Syrus focused on the entrance where he expected two women to materialize at any moment in a shower of golden sparks.

     “No!” roared Taurin.  Syrus rushed to the map, and followed Taurin’s shaking finger.

     The small blue dot had just reappeared at the edge of the worst possible place imaginable.

     “Call the Ten,” Syrus barked as he hurried toward his office.  “I want to leave five minutes ago.”  Taurin barely heard the last words.  He was already running down the long corridor to gather his men. 


     Lily and Katy stood in front of the archway outside the Library for a moment to get their bearings.  Using the key had been different than the trip with Taurin’s medallion.

     “That was definitely a ‘Beam me up, Scottie’ experience,” Katy said, shaking her body like a wet puppy.  “Traveling with the Warden was definitely a smoother ride.”

     “Well, it worked, that’s all that matters right now.”  Lily lightly ran her fingers over the cool, smooth texture of the nearest marble column.  “I know this place,” she whispered, walking slowly into the vast interior of the Library.  She glanced to her right, found the dark little alcove where Daniel had hidden from Taurin, then raised her head and followed the marble pillars as they rose to impossible heights, floor after floor, before vanishing into the mists.

     Katy tiptoed behind Lily, her hand clutching the back of Lily’s jacket.  “This is…just…”

     “Yeah,” Lily murmured, “it is.”

     They made their way to the large, circular counter in the middle of the cavernous room.  Standing together, they looked down at the strange crystal squares sticking out of a multitude of slots, like debit cards inserted into bizarre ATM machines.  “What are they?” Katy asked.

     “Why,” a man said amiably from behind them, “those are, for all intents and purposes, library cards.”

     Turning, they saw a tall, thin older man dressed in a long blue robe. His hair was short, gray and sparse, eyes a warm, kindly brown.  With a welcoming smile, he tilted his head like an inquisitive robin and asked politely, “How may I serve you?”

     Unfortunately, when Lily pulled the book out from under her shirt, the poor man gasped and nearly fell to the floor in a dead faint.  Lily tossed the book on the counter, then both women steadied him as he hyperventilated.  Every third or fourth breath, his knees gave out and they had to gently hoist him upright again.  Lily spotted a chair behind the counter and between them, they managed to maneuver the man until he was seated with his forehead pressed into his knees.  Katy looked at Lily as they stood over the man’s hunched form.  When they made eye contact, she scowled, tapping the face of her watch with an impatient finger.

     Nodding, Lily asked, “Are you all right?”

     “How?”  The word was a muffled half-groan as he spoke into his knees.  Slowly raising his head, he stared from one woman to the other.  “You’re mortal.  How is it possible you’re here?”

     “A Warden brought us, so I could return my book,” Lily replied.

     Abruptly he sat up.  “Taurin.”  Then frowning, he asked sharply, “Does this mean he found that wretched thief, Daniel Valentine?”

     Lily stiffened.  With an icy conviction, she said, “I can assure you, there’s more to the story than you’re aware of.  Daniel actually protected both the book and me.”

     Skeptically, his eyes roved over the set expression on her face, then he shrugged.  “I must say, I’ve known him since he was a small boy.  It didn’t make sense that he would do such a thing without cause.”  But as he stood, taking Lily’s hand in both of his, he said bluntly, “It still does not excuse his behavior.”  Before Lily could rise to Daniel’s defense again, the man bowed over her hand.  “Please allow me to introduce myself,” he murmured softly, “I am Deacon, the head librarian and I must apologize most sincerely for this dreadful situation.”

     Lily fought a smile as she watched Katy roll her eyes behind the man’s back and swirl her hand in a gesture to wrap things up.  “No harm done, Deacon.  And in the end, it all worked out.”  She lifted the book off the counter.  “See?  Here I am, book in hand.”  With a bright, encouraging smile, she said, “Now, we’re in a bit of a hurry, so could you show me how the Library works?”

     Beaming, Deacon gestured for them to follow him to the front of the counter.  After explaining the process, Lily inserted the card with her thumbprint into a slot, there was a slight humming sound, then a series of letters and numbers flashed across a small screen that appeared in the translucence crystal surface of the counter.  “That is the location where your book resides.  Set it down now, if you please.”

     Lily hesitated for a moment, clutching the book to her chest.  Her entire history, all down the ages, was in this small, emerald green tome.  And there hadn’t been a single moment since Daniel Valentine appeared in her kitchen to page through it, see where she’d been, what she’d done, how she’d lived.  Sighing, she met Deacon’s understanding gaze. “It will be here, waiting for you,” he said gently.

     With a nod, she laid it down on the little glowing screen and watched it silently disappear.  When the humming stopped and the card popped from the slot, Deacon pulled a cloth from a pocket in his robe.  Smiling beatifically, he began to polish the card, content as his well-ordered and tidy world settled once more around him. 

      “May I have the pleasure of escorting you back to the Warden now?  I’m sure you must want to put this painful experience behind you.”

     “No, thanks,” Katy said quickly.  She held out the key, keeping the length of silken cord around her neck.  “Valeria gave us our means of travel.”

     Lily impulsively threw her arms around the librarian.  “Thank you, Deacon.”  Startled at the gesture, he stared for a moment when she stepped away, then a broad smile creased his face.  “You are most welcome,” he said cheerfully.

     Katy grabbed Lily’s hand and, with a dismissive wave toward the librarian, half-dragged her from the room.  “I’m going to explode if we don’t get moving, Lil.  I’m feeling…something.  I can’t explain it, but I think we’re running out of time.”

     They stood in front of the golden panel.  When the key turned and the panel opened, they tightly clasped hands.  Katy’s finger hovered over the button.  “Here we come, ready or not,” she whispered, meeting Lily’s eyes.  Taking a deep breath, she pushed the button. 


     Pressed against the stone at their backs, the toes of their boots hung over the edge of the tiny wedge of rock jutting out from the wall.  Calmly, though he was anything but, Daniel asked, “Any ideas?”

     As they had slowly, painstakingly, continued to climb ever upward, Daniel began to think they just might make it out alive.  He’d gotten a second wind, and a third, and even a fourth, but now, with the end nearly within reach, they were stuck.  The small knob of stone was the only thing left to cling to.  Though freedom was only twenty feet or so above their heads, the walls had become as smooth as glass.  There were no niches for hands, no protrusions for their feet.  They balanced precariously over Hell, with Heaven just beyond reach.  Daniel was sure there was a message in there somewhere.

     “I’m thinking,” Dom growled.

     “Can you think faster?  The muscles in my legs are starting some kind of weird internal voodoo dance.”

     “Why aren’t you thinking?”

     “I was.  My first thought was maybe if I stood on your shoulders I could reach the rim, but we’re about five feet shy of getting that plan to work.”

     “What was your second thought?”

     “That I’m the human.”  Daniel was silent for a moment.  “Too bad you can’t fly us out of here.  That would be a great power to have.  Though Spider Man stuff would work, too.”  He gave Dom an appraising look.  “Do you actually have a power?”

     Dom glared, then hissed through his teeth, “Restraint.”

     Just as Daniel started to laugh, a cascade of rock began to fall from above.  Both men flung their arms up to cover their heads.  “Shit!” Daniel yelled as the avalanche increased. “Somebody up there’s trying to kill us!”

     Risking a glance overhead, Dom was rewarded with a cut over his eye for his efforts.  Cocking his head, he closed his eyes and focused his hearing.

     “What are you doing” Daniel cried.


     Before Daniel could ask another question, the rock fall abruptly stopped.  Daniel lowered his arms, the blood running from wrist to elbow in a multitude of cuts.  Dom was motionless with a look of such fierce concentration on his face, Daniel didn’t dare say a word.

     “Fighting,” Dom murmured, more to himself than Daniel.  “A cadre, maybe a dozen men with—”  As he sucked in a harsh, disbelieving breath, his eyes flew open.  “No.  No, there is no way.”

     “What is it?” Daniel demanded, the shocked look on his brother’s face making him very apprehensive.

     But Dom didn’t answer.  He lifted his head and bellowed in outrage.  It rose from his chest, erupted from his mouth, reverberated off the rock walls.  As the explosion of sound died, a voice drifted down from above.  “You can be pissed off later, big guy.  Right now I need you to get up here.”

     Dom’s head dropped to his chest as Daniel stared incredulously at the small, smiling face of Katy Montgomery.  She was on her stomach, peering over the rim.  She waved at Daniel, then said sharply, “Dom!  Get up here, we’ve got a bit of trouble.”  At her words, a long rope dropped over the edge and snaked down to their perch.

     “What is she doing here?  If my father finds out—” Dom swallowed, eyes haunted as they met Daniel’s.  “Why did she come?” he whispered.

     “Is Lily up there too?”  At Dom’s brusque nod, Daniel felt a surge of energy.  “Come on, we’ll get answers once we’re out of here.  Take the rope.”  Daniel gave it a hard tug to test the strength, then tried to hand it over.

     “No, you go first.  Who knows what will happen,” Dom said ruefully, “when I try to get out.”

     Daniel snorted.  “Resign yourself, man.  You’re not the evil minion you think you are.”  He grabbed the rope and began to climb.  “You don’t even have super powers,” he tossed over his shoulder.

     Just below the rim, a large hand dropped into his line of sight.  Daniel looked up into Taurin’s stern face.  As he hesitated, the Warden said softly, “Take it, boy.”  With a sigh, Daniel grabbed his old friend’s hand and was swiftly pulled to his feet.  He had only a moment to register several men holding back and irate horde of misshapen creatures, and an older man across the rocky plateau, who reminded him of Lily's grandfather, having a very heated discussion with an enormous beast.  And then Lily was in his arms.  Laughing, he spun her in circles.  “What are you doing here?  How did you find us?  Have you brought the book?”  Lily kissed him to halt the flow of questions.

     Dom slowly climbed the rope, furious and overwhelmed that Katy wasn’t safe, and nearly destroyed by the rush of longing that swept through him to see her again.  About a foot or so beneath the edge, he paused.  What if he really couldn’t leave the Abyss?  Hell had no power equal to the pain of being so close to Katy and not able to touch her.  He hung from the rope, suddenly unable to move and squeezed his eyes shut.

     “Hey, big bad wolf,” a soft voice whispered, “take my hand.”

     When something tickled his nose, he looked up into brilliant sapphire eyes, her long chestnut braid hanging down her shoulder to caress his face and neck.  Her smile was brighter than the sun, he thought, as it burned through him.  “You think you’re going to be stuck here?”

     “I don’t know.”

     “Well, there are demons all around me right now, so you can at least come this far.”

     Cursing, he leaped the last few feet, pulled her off the ground and wrapped his arms around her, scowling murderously at anything that moved.  With a delighted sigh, Katy put her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist.  “There.  Much better,” she murmured into his ear. 

      He was just nudging her chin so he could kiss her senseless, when a loud rush of wind, a chorus of hoarse shouts and a woman’s long, horrified scream filled the air.  Before he could react, searing pain pierced his back.  He arched in shock and reached behind to pull whatever it was off him, expecting Katy to let go.  Instead, as he was lifted off the ground, she clung like a barnacle.  Her eyes widened in terror as they rose swiftly, spun in one mad revolution, then plummeted into the Abyss.  He tightened his grip around her and managed to growl over the burning torment in his back, “What is it?”

     Katy's voice shook with fear and panic, her words sending a chill down his spine as she whispered, It's some kind of giant black bat.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

39. Two Perspectives - Second Part

Seven levels higher, and a world away from the danger facing the brothers, Taurin stood at attention in front of Syrus’s desk facing a different kind of peril.  Judging by the scene of carnage outside the office window, there was no problem interpreting his commander’s foul temper.  Taurin was sincerely relieved the sheep, currently smoking in charred, black piles, weren’t actually real.  He was less assured of his own fate.

“So, let me get this straight.  Micah decided it was a perfectly reasonable plan to bring two mortal women to the Ethereal.  Without a single thought for the consequences or a moment’s consideration for the ramifications.”  Syrus took a deep breath, the scowl on his face etching deep furrows across his forehead, carving harsh lines around his mouth.  Surging to his feet, the chair spun in mad circles behind him as he slammed his fists on the desk and leaned toward Taurin.  “You take your orders from me, not Micah.  Or have you forgotten that?”

“No sir.  But if I might explain—”

“I sent you to retrieve Daniel Valentine and the stolen book!” Syrus shouted.  “You not only don’t have the man, but you bring me two mortals instead!  Have you lost your mind?  How could you possibly explain this?”

“If you would let him speak, he would tell you that I’m the only one who can touch the book and return it to the Library since Daniel is lost somewhere in the Abyss with his brother,” a calm voice said from the doorway.

“And I’m the only one who can find them.  So listen up and make it quick.  Too much time has already gone by and I need to get moving.”  This voice was sharp with irritation.

Taurin sighed and closed his eyes in resignation.  He knew the women wouldn’t wait out in the reception area for long, though he’d at least hoped for a few minutes to talk to Syrus without interference.  Lily’s presence could be easily explained; it was Katy’s that would be harder and her attitude wasn’t helping.

“Ladies,”  Syrus barked, “you have interrupted an important debriefing.  When it has concluded, I will send for you.”

“I’m done waiting!” Katy snapped.

“Katy,” Lily murmured, “hang on for just a minute.”

“They might not have a minute, Lil.  We need to go.  Now.”

“And just where do you think you’re going?”  Taurin stiffened at Syrus's deceptively soft tone.  Rage was building beneath his casual question.

Lily put a hand on Katy’s shoulder when she hissed between her teeth.  Evenly, Lily said, “I am returning my book.  It belongs here and I’ve brought it back.  After that is seen to, Katy and I are going to make an attempt—”

“We’re not attempting, we’re succeeding,” Katy interjected hotly.

Nodding in agreement, Lily continued.  “We’re going after Daniel, and his brother Dominic.  They have disappeared into the Abyss and we plan on getting them back.”

Syrus was momentarily speechless.  He stared first at the two women, then locked eyes with the man he considered not only a friend, but one of the finest Wardens he’d ever known.  And a man who had apparently lost his mind, no doubt due to contact with these two completely insane women.

“Sir,” Taurin said quickly, “if I might be allowed to explain all that has transpired, I think you’ll agree that most of this, ah, misadventure will make a certain kind of sense.”

 “I can’t comprehend such an unlikely event,” Syrus growled.  “However, I’ll hear your report before deciding what must be done.”  He turned toward the two women and dismissively waved a hand at the door.  “If you will excuse us?”

When Katy stiffened, Lily quickly murmured something in her ear then both women spun on their heels and abruptly left the room without another word.  As the door closed firmly behind them, Lily walked purposefully across the reception area to the map on the far wall.

“What are we doing?” Katy whispered as they stood with their backs to the room.

“Look at this map.  I noticed it when we first got here.  Everything we need to know is right here.  See?   Below us is the Library.”  Her finger traced a path downward.  “And below that are five more levels, then…”

Katy focused on the tip of Lily’s finger as it hovered over a large, dark opening, like the gaping maw of a ravenous ogre, the reddish glow of an inferno glowing deep within its throat.  In a ring around the rim they could clearly make out the twenty toll house towers, each with a tiny drawbridge over a burning moat, leading into the Abyss.  Katy leaned close, quickly scanning the words printed above each tower.  “Here,” she said, stabbing her finger into the last tower.  “This one.”

“You’re sure?”

“If they ended up with Razeph, this is it.  The house of pure evil.”  She shrugged nonchalantly, as if strolling into Hell was an everyday occurrence.  “It’s a place to start.”

“Okay, follow my lead.  I’ve got an idea.”  Lily walked over to the reception desk where an attractive older woman sat, a look of curiosity on her face as Lily approached.

“Hi, Valeria, is it?”  They had been hastily introduced as Syrus dragged Taurin into his office the moment they'd arrived.  At the woman's nod, she smiled.  “I was wondering if you could answer a question for us.”

Valeria returned the smile, then nodded her head toward the door where the low, heated rumble of two male voices could be heard.  “Things not going too well in there?”

“Your boss wants to finish his meeting.  In private.”  Lily rolled her eyes, then pulled the book from the pouch under her shirt, pleased that the woman recognized immediately what it was, saving valuable time in explanations.  “While Taurin is trying to defend himself, I thought we could drop into the Library and return my book.”  Lily grinned, charming and friendly as she leaned closer to the desk.  “We just don’t know how to get there.  Is there an elevator, or stairs down to the lower levels?  A shuttle?”

Valeria laughed.  “Nothing so complicated,” but then she frowned.  “At least not for those of us who actually reside here.”  Tapping the fingers of one hand on her desk, she cocked her head and stared thoughtfully at the ceiling.  “Being corporeal, you can’t move about with just a thought.”  Then she brightened and began rummaging in the top drawer of her desk.  “Where is it?”  She looked up at Lily for a moment. “There’s been a time or two over the centuries—rare and extremely unusual times—when mortals have come…”  Scooting her chair back, the better to peer into the dark reaches of the drawer, Val triumphantly cried, “Aha!”

She clutched a small object, similar in shape to a skeleton key.  It appeared to be made of a crystalline material with two small teeth and a long silken cord knotted through the bow.  Holding the key aloft like a torch to light the darkness, she said cheerfully, “On every level there is a golden panel on the wall just outside the entrance.  Insert the key.  When the buttons appear, choose your destination and whoosh!”

Lily and Katy stared in astonishment.  Whoosh?  Surely, it couldn’t be that simple.  “So, just to be absolutely clear,” Katy said, “the key fits in a panel, we pick the Library button, and poof, we’re there?”  When Val nodded, Katy took it from her hand, then casually asked as she studied it, “And this little thing can take us…anywhere?”

Frowning, Valeria said carefully, “Well, there are some places you most definitely shouldn’t go.  Not for any reason.”  She hesitated, then got to her feet.  “Perhaps it would be best if I accompanied you.”

“No, no.  We wouldn't dream of bothering you.”  Lily grabbed Katy’s arm and turned to leave. “Thank you so much for your help, Valeria, but we'll just go now and return my book.  If the big important meeting is over before we get back, you know where to find us.”  Hurrying out the door, she tossed lightly over her shoulder, “See you shortly.”

Once out in the corridor, Lily whispered, “Quick, find the panel.  We need to drop off the book, then go to Hell as fast as possible.”  Katy was still chuckling at Lily's choice of words when they inserted the key, pushed the button and were gone in a shimmer of golden sparks.

Slightly uneasy for some reason, Valeria began to step around her desk to follow them, but stopped and shook her head.  There was nothing to worry about, she told herself, settling down to work.  After all, how much trouble could two mortal women get into just going to the Library?


Saturday, November 2, 2013

38. Two Perspectives - First Part

The two men sat shoulder to shoulder on a narrow outcropping, feet dangling over a drop a mile deep.  They'd been climbing, steadily, carefully, for nearly two hours, stopping only twice at the mouths of two caves.  Leaving Daniel to rest, Dom had edged down the dark passageways, hoping to find a way out that didn’t require clawing their way out of Hell.  One trail had ended at a waterfall of seething lava, the other at a gate with large deformed skulls impaled on the tip of each iron rail.

“The wall is cooler now and the air feels fresher,” Daniel mumbled, wiping the sweat off his face with the ragged edge of his shirt.  At the first place they’d stopped, he’d torn strips off the material, wrapping his hands to ease the blistering from the heated rock, though he couldn’t do the same for his fingers, now burned and raw.

Looking up at the bright, golden haze, then down at the twisted scarlet ribbon of the River of Tears writhing far beneath them, Dom said, “We’re about halfway, I think.”  Glancing at the condition of Daniel’s hands, he focused on the rock wall across the chasm from their perch before he asked softly, “Can you manage?”  The intensity of Daniel’s glower felt like a physical slap on his face.

“You think I can’t handle this?”

“Did I say that?  I just asked if you could—”

“Have I been holding you back?” Daniel snapped.  “Pretty funny, considering an hour or so ago you were just going to roll over and martyr yourself in the fucking Pit of Doom!”

“Excuse me for trying to muster up some give a shit, you bastard!” 

Dom saw the hurt flash in Daniel’s eyes as he bellowed, “Don’t call me a bastard!”

Heedless of the precarious position, they both surged to their feet, but Daniel slipped on a small stone and teetered to the side, forcing Dom to jerk him away from the edge.  Nose to nose, they glared furiously at each other until suddenly Daniel smiled.  “Good save, thanks.”  He cocked his head, still smiling.  “So this brother thing means pissing each other off on a regular basis?”

Dom reluctantly grinned, then shook his head.  “Having to put up with a smartass like you might be worse than staying here.”   He lightly punched Daniel in the shoulder.  “It was just a word.  I didn’t mean it personally.”

“Spent my whole life fighting it.”  Daniel shrugged. “Can’t help taking it personal.”  He looked up the wall, sighed and began to search for his next handhold.  Hissing at the burn when he slid his fingers into a crack, he slowly began to pull himself upward, eager to reach the rim.

“Get down!” Dom shouted.  Before he could react, Daniel found himself abruptly yanked back onto the ledge, Dom’s arm flung across his chest, slamming him against the rock.

“What’s wrong?” Daniel gasped, trying to catch his breath from the blow.

“Something’s coming,” Dom growled, his head tipped back.  Following his gaze, Daniel watched as a small shape fell from above.  Flattened to the wall, both men tracked the falling object as it dropped, its approach preceded by an interminable howling.

 “I don’t believe it.”  Dom recognized the Hound as it drew closer.  Suddenly spying them, it screamed with fury and tried to crawl through the air toward them, stringy ropes of drool streaming from its jaws, eyes febrile as it altered shape from malformed ape, to misshapen man, back to frenzied Hound.  Each mutation strained to reach them until it was too late and the creature soared past in its plummet to the River of Tears.

“Was that your father’s mangy dog thing?” Daniel asked, carefully peering over the edge to watch the beast’s descent.  “How did it end up here?”
“I don’t know.  Unless—” They stared at each other, then simultaneously looked above their heads.  “Taurin.”

“Your eyes are obviously better than mine,” Daniel said eagerly, “do you see him up there?”  He felt a momentary sense of relief that rescue might be at hand, even if that hand was intent on making him pay for stealing Lily’s book.

Disgruntled when Dom said there was no sign of the Warden, Daniel turned back to the rock, found his handhold again and was just about to resume his climb, when Dom said softly, “I’ve waited years to see the end of that fucking thing.  Let me savor the moment.”

Daniel stood next to his brother and followed the creature’s flailing movements, listened as the screeches faded into the depths, and felt a profound solidarity with the man at his side, coupled with a bone-deep satisfaction at the imminent demise of the monstrosity that had killed not only their mother, but his father.

“Oh shit,” Dom hissed, leaning so far over the edge Daniel’s hand shot out to grasp his arm before he pitched off the ledge.  Far below, he could just make out two skeletal, black-winged beings streaking from a fracture in the rock.  He saw with dawning horror the long, clawed foot snatch up the Hound a moment before it plunged into the fiery river. 

Silently the brothers watched the creatures until they disappeared from sight, then Dom said grimly, “We’ve got to get moving.  That damned dog knows where we are.  We probably don’t have much time before dear old Dad gets an earful.”

“Do those flying skeletons belong to him?”  Daniel asked over his shoulder as he immediately began to lead the way upward.

“No clue.  My father’s been gone for over a century.  I don’t know what kind of power he has now, but even if those bat things aren’t his, they’ll belong to someone.”  He took his place behind Daniel.  “No matter what, we can’t be caught scrambling up the face of this rock when they come back.”

Nothing more was said as they concentrated on the arduous climb, urgency driving them at a reckless pace.