Authors: Victoria Danann
Litha shook her head. “Doesn’t matter. The answer is yes. I will. You have my phone number. Call me when you’re ready, but try to keep the time difference in mind.”
Lana grinned. “Owe you big time.”
“Yes. You do. And someday I’ll be taking your first child as payment.”
Assessing the seriousness of Litha’s tone and expression, Lana’s smile slowly faded and morphed into a look of concern.
Litha broke into laughter. “Just kidding. It’s a witch thing from these stories my friend, Elora, tells.”
“You mean fairy tales.”
Litha looked astounded. “Yes! They have them in your world, too?”
“I can’t wait to tell her.”
“Yeah. So you’re not really, um, going to…” Lana looked like she couldn’t bring herself to say it.
“Take your first baby?” She laughed a hearty throaty, and Lana had to admit, sexy laugh. “Nah. If you have kids, they’re all yours. And good luck with that.”
And she was gone.
The patient was released three days later looking healthy as ever.
Lana had talked to Litha the day before to prearrange a transport time and had brought Brave new clothes for the journey home. She had to make a trip back to the store to exchange sizes and had to deal with Brave being vain about clothes. He said he looked ridiculous in loose jeans and a hoodie.
Lana gaped. “You chose to present yourself to me in stained rags! Don’t pretend to be all GQ now. Stop complaining. You’re decent and you can resume the wearing of majestic robes when you get back to Demon World.”
“I’m not pretending to be all GQ, whatever that is, and I don’t wear majestic robes, but I do think hyperbole is cute.”
“You do? Because exaggeration is part of a Scots-Irish heritage. That means I can’t help it.”
“Yeah,” his mouth twitched at one corner and his voice softened, “I think it’s adorable. But what I really want to talk about is what you said about me going back.” He paused to see if she had anything to say. When he saw that she planned to remain silent, he said, “I couldn’t help but notice that you didn’t say we.”
“Don’t play dumb, Lana. You didn’t say
are going back.”
Lana canted her head to one side as she rested her weight and one hand on her hip. “Did we talk about it?”
“Talk about it?”
“Don’t play dumb, Brave. Did you ask me to go?”
Brave briefly looked at the floor between them. When he raised his eyes to hers, he took two long steps, grabbed her arms in his big hands and said, “Lana. You came back for me. That means you changed your mind. Right? You want to give me a chance?”
Between the closeness and Brave’s intensity, it was hard for Lana to breathe, much less think. “Yes,” she managed. “That’s what it meant.”
He gave her a tiny shake. “Then you’re coming with me. Right?”
She smiled slowly. “All you had to do was ask.”
He huffed out an exasperated breath just before he pulled her into a kiss. Lana was thinking that if Brave got any better at kissing she would simply pass out and miss whatever happened next. When she pressed against him, he gripped her ass in both hands and pulled her even tighter. His moan was cut short when they heard a voice say, “You want to go home or get a room here?”
Lana pulled back to see Litha standing there smirking, and reacted with all the shyness of a teenager being caught by a hall monitor.
Litha looked at her watch. “Forgot what time it was?”
Lana’s cheeks pinkened.
“Hi, Litha,” Brave said. “Is it just you? Because there are two of us.”
In answer, Litha held up two syringes.
Lana had put together a second duffel with things she anticipated wanting along with a couple of decks of cards and some poker chips as requested by Brave. She was careful to clarify with Brave that she was accompanying him for purposes of dating and that there were no promises or long term commitments implied.
Litha promised to look in on her once a week for a while to see how things were going.
With those verbal contracts in place, Lana picked up her duffel and said, “Demon World. Part Two.”
In a courtly gesture that made her heart hurt, Brave took the duffel wordlessly and put it over his own broad shoulder.
And so they were taken, one at a time, to the scene where it began, the dungeon at Renagoth Anh. The location wasn’t chosen for any particular reason other than that Litha had been there before and could return quickly.
Having been deposited and uncuffed, Brave waited patiently for Litha’s return with Lana.
No one was around, which was okay with Brave. He didn’t really want to hear all the stories right then. He just wanted to find a quiet place to be alone with Lana.
When Litha removed the cuff from Lana’s wrist, she asked, “You good?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
Litha glanced at Brave. “Should I tell Simon you’re taking a personal leave?”
Lana laughed. “Yes. One week at a time. For now.”
“Okay. See you in seven.”
Brave and Lana had walked up the incline paths from the subterranean level hand in hand. When they reached the city, they began to realize that there was no sign of life. The streets were empty. No sounds of any kind.
“They must have evacuated.” Brave looked back and forth. “Again.”
“Why would they do that?”
“Well, there are a few reasons I can think of. None of them good.”
She drew in a big sigh. “Any chance of a hot bath and a chicken fried steak before we investigate further?”
He looked at her funny. “No to the hot bath. Not until we find out what’s going on. As to the other, what’s a chicken fried steak?”
Lana spent all of one second trying to decide if it was worth it to try to explain, before simply saying, “Heaven.”
“Oh.” He took her hand. “My chambers are this way.”
Brave led her through the narrow streets of the town that would have almost passed for an old world European village. There were symbols here and there that closely resembled angel script, but the overall atmosphere was surprisingly familiar and not alien as she would have predicted.
Before they reached the building where Lana had been housed overnight, where she had confronted Brave, they saw a portal open at the head of the street they were on.
What emerged was a stream of demons with blue streaks in their black hair. Lana recognized them as demons because of their size and the graceful way they moved, like the Callii.
“Reinlitegen,” Brave whispered as he plastered himself against a wall and pushed her back.
“Who are they?”
“Enemies of my people. We’ve got to get out of here. Stay with me. Do what I do and stay quiet.”
They were on the west side of the city. Brave wished they were on the east because, after designing an adventure obstacle course for Lana, he knew every inch of the territory to the east. He knew they’d never get through the city to the east side without being caught and he knew firsthand what Reinlitegen did with human prisoners.
Their only chance was to flee to the west and try to remain undetected until the Reinlitegen left or until Litha returned.
They ducked into narrow alleyways going further and further from the city center until they came to the edge of town. There was an expanse of more or less flat ground between where they huddled next to a stone wall and where they would find cover of trees.
Brave looked at Lana.
She chewed on her bottom lip and looked worried. “Into the woods?”
He nodded and said, “Go. I’m right behind you.”
She hadn’t seen the Reinlitegen up close, but she’d seen the Callii up close and didn’t want anything to do with demons who could make the Callii run away without a fight. Then there was also what they’d done to Brave. They’d chained him up and hadn’t given him food or water for days. Those were sufficient enough motives to help her break her personal best sprint record.
She sprang into a run as if the fires of Hades were licking at her heels, and didn’t stop until she was well into the forest. When she turned to see that no one had followed but Brave, she stopped and leaned against a tree. That was when the feeling began to creep over her that she could be a prime candidate for fool-me-twice.
Brave was also panting. When he looked up, he said, “Good job, baby. I had to work to keep up with you.”
Lana narrowed her eyes at him. That didn’t sound like a guy who was afraid for his life. That sounded like a guy who was staging a game. For fun. While she stood there plotting to play along until the right opportunity for payback presented itself, a white snake with gray triangles just like the one that had fallen out of the cupboard at the hunters’ cabin, slithered down the tree trunk, onto her shoulder.
“Oh. Look who’s here,” she told Brave as he gaped at her. “Our old friend, White Snake.”
At that she grabbed the snake behind its head, as she’d seen Brave do, and flung it at him. He yelped and jumped out of the way while Lana laughed.
“Good one, Brave. Very believable. Which way?”
“Lana, have you lost your mind? That was a Plackusnake. Poisonous. Probably lethal to humans. What were you thinking?”
“Oh. I don’t know. That the multiverse has only got so many coincidences to go around.”
Brave shook his head looking exasperated. She was sure he was frustrated because she wasn’t falling for it that time.
“Come on. Let’s…”
“Go. I know. Second verse same as the first.”
Brave reshouldered the duffel and began walking deeper into the forest. After a couple of hours, Lana’s nose twitched. She kept trudging along, sure that her mind was playing tricks on her. But after another ten minutes she was sure it was not a hallucination.
“Brave. That can’t be what I think it is. Can it?”
He stopped and turned to look at her. “Yeah. There are sulphur pits scattered all over this world, but I don’t know my way through this cluster. I think we should probably try to find a way around.”
To his amazement, Lana just smiled. “Hell no, Brave-O. If that’s the shortest distance between here and wherever we’re going, then I’m game. Follow me.”
Brave stood gaping for a couple of seconds before catching up and stopping her.
“No. Really. I don’t know how to navigate this group of pits. Let’s find another way.”
“You sure?” He nodded. “Well, whatever. I’m with you, I guess.”
“Lana. Are you doing okay? You don’t seem like yourself.”
“And how’s that, Brave? Weak? Weepy? Scared shitless? That was the old Lana. This Lana rides rollercoasters with her hands held up high. Hell bent for leather, baby. Hell bent for leather!”
Brave shook his head. “No idea what
of that means.”
“It means lead the way.”
They spent an hour going round to the right and found a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon. Brave gave Lana a look and started back the other way. After another hour going to the left, they came to a thicket wall too dense to be pierced by human bodies and stretching out to the horizon as far as they could see.
“Looks like we’re going through sulphur hell after all. Surprise. Surprise. Surprise. You know it occurs to me that Demon World is not exactly hospitable.”