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.”
“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?