Guardians (Chosen Trilogy Book 2) (16 page)

BOOK: Guardians (Chosen Trilogy Book 2)
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TWENTY FIVE

 

 

Ken
crept and crawled through the filth. Barely conscious. The tumble down the hillside had disoriented him, the cracks and bumps on the head damaging nothing but still shaking him up. When he landed, the world was black—both the physical and mental world—and when he tried to move nothing seemed to work. Not only that, but all sound had vanished too. He lay there, barely conscious, for how long he didn’t know, but gradually, bit by bit, the last few minutes before his fall crept back into his consciousness.

It grew clearer when he tensed reawakening fingers around the object clutched in his right hand. A soft, rolled-up piece of robe.

His lips moved, dry against the cold ground.

“F
. . . Felicia . . .”

Ken fought. He set his palms firmly on the ground and pushed up with all his might. Pain exploded through his joints. Ken ignored it, steeling his heart. Felicia had been captured. The playful
Lycan was in trouble. Ken would not rest another minute until he found her.

Struggling to his knees he let out a breath. Every muscle ached. Every bone felt bruised. The good news was that nothing appeared to be broken. More good news
—he’d bounced so far no one had tracked him. Sounds reached his ears: The caterwaul of exultant demons. He could almost picture them capering and dancing around the lycan’s cage, none of them bright enough to fully grasp the loss of the artefacts.

But Dementia would. And the
demon-bitch had lost her brother to Felicia. Her wrath would not be easy to withstand.

Where
are they taking her?

Ken resolved to sneak around the hillside.
Again, the dilemma struck him. The artefacts were more important, far more important than any one individual. He’d already sent Lilith off with one of them. But he couldn’t abandon Felicia. Now, if it had been one of the vamps . . .

Crap!

It hit him then. The vamps
had
been caught too. He was going to have to save all of them!

Ken’s back fairly bowed beneath the weight. Never had he felt such responsibility. Never had he expected to. Surfer boys from California led relatively uneventful lives, rich with frivolity and heavy on recklessness.
Falling for werewolves and rescuing vampires was really as far from his to-do list as anything was likely to get.

He skirted the dirt-ridden foothills, a shifting fiery sky above and a blasted landscape at his back. When he came around the final bit of curve he was expecting a shock, but it was far worse than he could have expected. Many, many demons stood
, cavorted or slouched their way around three cages. Thick trunks were being inserted through the tops of the bars so some of the demons could carry them.

Inside the cages, bloody and beaten, were the remains of Ken’s team. Milo, so big his head was bent down near his feet, his huge back pushing at the bars. How they
’d crammed him inside was beyond Ken. Eliza, smaller, had been forced up against the bars; her arms and legs stuck through to either side, then bound. She could barely move.

And then there was Felicia.
The poor lycan was similarly crushed up against the bars, but shook, smashed and rattled at them with every breath. She howled her fury at the skies. She wanted freedom; liberty. Ken looked away, unable to watch any more.

Dementia came under his scrutiny.
The demon-bitch was screaming, gesturing, and generally kicking out at anything that didn’t move quickly and to her liking. Demons sprawled all around her, gingerly picking themselves up. One had had enough. It leaped fast, claws outstretched, bellowing, but Dementia plucked it from the air, a hand around its neck, and squeezed until there was an audible snap. She dropped the demon and left it where it lay, not even deigning to glance in its direction.

Ken
tried to stay optimistic. The game wasn’t up yet, not by a long shot. He cast a careful eye to the top of the hill, sighted in on a landmark—the battered side of the house with three empty windows—and carefully buried the artefact right at the base of the foothill. He sighted it in with several more distinctive stumps and bushes and then crept away, confident he could find it again.

Dementia screeched, apparently the signal to get under way. Half a dozen demons hefted each cage over their shoulders and set out along a barely discernible track, heading predictably toward the distant glow that Lilith had pointed out earlier.

The Pit.

Ken
let them range ahead. They wouldn’t be hard to follow. He clung to the dark periphery, using the shadows as cover, a fact he found rather ironic considering who and where he was. The demons were a noisy bunch, like a gang of drunken lads out on a Friday night bar crawl. Ken half-expected bottles of tequila to be passed around. He wasn’t surprised when Dementia started screaming at them and cuffing them back into line.

The march continued with a little less enthusiasm. The vampires were silent behind their steel bars. Felicia continued to howl, despite repeated blows. Ken’s heart
leaped with every yelp, every heartfelt wail. He couldn’t stand to hear her that way.

Time passed. Ken rummaged around for some food, realizing only
now that his supplies were dwindling. The water situation was a tad better. He ate and drank, then studied the horizon. The flickering glow up there was becoming less hazy. Details were now apparent, details he didn’t really want to see.

The ground descended gradually toward the Pit. Ken flicked his eyes around, almost unable to believe what they showed him. To the right lay a far-reaching graveyard, thousands of tombstones erected among ribbons of lava snaking along the ground. Gnarled trees reached beseechingly toward the blazing skies, their hopeless requests lost in dreadful eternity.
Hell was eternal. Once down here . . .

Ken preferred not to finish that thought.
The landscape to the right was even freakier. Sharp, jagged rocks, some of them curved like gigantic tusks, jutted from the ground, rising to dizzying heights. Lava snaked down their sides and spurted from blowholes, raining across the skies. Tables of rock clung to the sides of several mountains, their curved plateaus odd and empty in this forsaken place.

Ken slowed as Dementia and her demons navigated a wide lava river. As Ken drew closer he was startled to see a shape
—no
dozens
of shapes—swimming in the hot bubbling liquid. Human in form, bare skulls screaming, they reached out desperate hands toward him, begging for help. They reared up from the lava only to be dragged back down again. They screeched in agony. All were fully dressed in human clothing, but that only served to make their bony skulls even eerier.

Burn in
hell,
Ken thought,
might have more meaning than I first thought.

Were these souls damned to eternal agony for all the bad deeds they
’d done? Or was this where failed reality TV contestants were cast? He backed away, inwardly making light of the situation to stay sane. The figures seemed alive, aware, beyond desperate. Ken watched as Dementia and her demons trod a rickety rope bridge across the boiling inferno, once almost losing their footing and sending Milo’s cage crashing down among the flames. Dementia caught the scrawny demon that had slipped, taking its place and flinging it over the side.

Ken flinched away as several burning figures
leaped out of the flames to claim the plummeting body, devouring it on sight.

He knelt in the shadows, trying to ignore the plaintive appeals. He stared at the ground, waiting for space to cross the bridge. His sword felt hot to the touch.

At last the way was clear. Ken took great care as he walked toward the bridge, trying to clear his mind of the nightmares below and concentrate on the steps and the rope-handles. The first step was one of faith. The bridge swayed beneath him, rolling gently. He gripped the ropes to each side hard enough to turn his flesh white. One more step and he was on the bridge proper, suspended over the lava lake. A figure leaped up, flames leaping off his body, and swiped high, not quite reaching the bottom of the bridge. Another tried and fell atop the first. The pair fell writhing back into the fires. Ken stepped cautiously, placing one foot in front of the other and reciting silent prayers.

Halfway across, the bridge swayed uneasily. Ken fixed his eyes on the far bank and just kept walking, trying to ignore the tiny plumes of burning smoke drifting up from the soles of his shoes.
Firm ground drew nearer and nearer. He had never been so happy to see the rotting filthy earth of hell. Beyond the decayed bank lay a paved area, offering another sensory shockwave to Ken’s already shredded senses. A low squat building stood around the paved area, old and laden with earth-like architecture. What appeared to be a domed church took center stage. Other out-of-place buildings were dotted everywhere. Church spires climbed toward the skies. Castle walls ran from nowhere to nowhere, crumbling along their pointless lengths.

He walked away from the river of lava, leaving the burning supplicants behind. Still downward they walked, descending into the wide Pit. The landscape was too irregular to see right into its heart, but Ken could guess what might be there.

He shut it out of his mind. The buildings would offer perfect cover. It was likely the best chance he was going to get to save his friends.

As if
in sardonic agreement, Dementia stepped from the blind side of a building up ahead. “Did you think we could not sssseee you?” she hissed before he could catch his breath. “Ssssmell you?”

Ken felt a rush of anger and hefted his sword.
From both sides, more demons stepped. Still, he would have taken his chances in battle, had not Felicia’s cage been brought into sight. At shoulder height, the lycan was still bent almost in half, crushed between bars, only now demons shoved pointed sticks through the small gaps, eliciting whimpers and grunts of pain. They had stuffed some kind of gag into her mouth.

Ken felt the fight drop out of him. Felicia’s blood ran out of the bottom of the cage. Demons queued to lap it up.

“Please,” he said. “No more. Leave her alone.”

Dementia pointed at his sword. “Put down the Lionheart blade. It shinessss with a vilenesss not unlike your ownnnn.”

Ken blinked.
The Lionheart blade? Really?
He was carrying the sword of Richard the Lionheart? Why on earth hadn’t Cheyne told him?

His fingers trembled as he held it upright. So much so that it tipped and danced across his palms, crashing into the earth.

Ah, that’s why.

Dementia directed a lackey to retrieve the weapon. The thing hopped across and screeched when it touched the sword, fingers burning. After a minute it thought to take of
f the rag it wore around its loins, treating Ken to the sight of a wrinkled old demon penis, and wrapped it around the hilt. Ken felt naked himself without his sword, particularly in the midst of all these demons.

He caught sight of Milo watching him, and Eliza. The big vampire shook
his head in disdain and this time the female didn’t make a point of stopping him.

“Missed me?” Ken asked lightly, as the demons herded him forward.

Dementia’s powerful claw-like hand shot out, gripping his throat. “Open your mouth. Open!”

Ken relaxed his jaws. Dementia reached in and caught hold of his tongue, pinching it and pulling until it stretched uncomfortably out of his mouth, testing its moorings.

“I would happily rrrrrip this out,” she susurrated. “But Lord Lucifer wants you all in one piece. But don’t tesssst me, pretttty boyyyy.”

Ken nodded frantically as she tugged a bit more, stretching the tendons beneath his tongue. She leaned forward, eyes close
d, necklace of bones brushing against his face. He’d never been this close to a female before without the intention of getting that little bit closer.

But not with Dementia. If indeed she was female, and not some kind of hellish
ladyboy.

Ken
brutally stoppered the stream of thoughts that ran through his mind. Humor and derision would get him nowhere now. Courage, cunning and expertise were the talents he should be searching for.

But damn, the very thought that Dementia was about to put him before Lucifer, the Devil Himself, the supreme being of all evil, froze the blood in his veins and the marrow in his bones. Not to mention every clever thought process he might have been able to dream up.

And he wasn’t afraid to admit it.

*

The journey wound on, the path bordered by disintegrating buildings and stone statues on high pillars—griffins, dragons and gargoyles. A true highway to hell, it dipped underground for a short while, the ceiling a jagged mass of hanging stalactites, each one a thick irregular tooth where large serpents slithered and writhed. The way grew rocky and irregular, one potholed slope leading to the next and, when they emerged from the underground chamber, they passed by a deep quarry to the right. Its sides wound down and down, ever lower into the depths of the abyss. All along the sides and splayed across the bottom were groaning wretches; men and women condemned for eternity to the serpents’ torture.

BOOK: Guardians (Chosen Trilogy Book 2)
11.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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