Authors: J.A. Cipriano
Tags: #Action & Adventure
The Thrice Cursed Mage Book #4
Copyright © 2016 J.A. Cipriano
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Table of Contents
“Send me back, jackass,” I growled, glaring at Vassago. I could hardly believe the demon had trapped me in his interdimensional game room the moment I’d succeeded in rescuing my family. I mean, Jesus tap-dancing Christ, I’d fought my way through werewolves, vampires, and killed a demonic king of Hell to rescue my sister and her nephew. I was running on fumes as it was, and now, just when I had them in my sights, he picked now to call in his favor? Seriously? He couldn’t have given me even five minutes with my sister and nephew? What bullshit.
“I will gladly send you home if you beat me,” Vassago said, gesturing toward the dartboard on the wall. “Play me for it? Double or nothing? What do you say?” His lilting voice had a hungry, interested edge as he licked his lips and eyed me up and down in a way that made me feel like a piece of meat on a butcher’s counter.
I glared at the demon and gritted my teeth. Part of me wanted to play him. I’d won the last time we’d played at darts, but I wasn’t sure if I could do it again. I doubted he’d fall for the same trick he had last time, and I didn’t want to be further indebted to the slime ball. Besides, I had no idea what he wanted me to do. Maybe it was something simple. For all I knew, I’d be back with my family by dinner. Yeah, and monkeys might fly out of my butt.
“Maybe another time,” I replied, waving his offer away with my black as pitch arm. My crimson tattoos glinted in the sterile light of his bar as a satisfied smile spread across the demon’s face.
“Pity, I was hoping to get more use out of you, Mac Brennan,” Vassago said, looking more pleased than a cat with cream. “Well, there’s always time for that. Maybe you’ll find you don’t want this to be a one-night stand after all.”
I had half a mind to grab my revolver out of my belt and put a bullet in his forehead just for the fun of it, but unfortunately, the gun was out of bullets. Instead, I turned on my heel and made my way behind his stocked bar.
Without bothering to ask his permission, I grabbed the most expensive thing I could find, a bottle of Dalmore 64 Trinitas, off of his shelf. I was partially surprised he had the whiskey since only three bottles had ever been made, and the last one had sold for over one-hundred-sixty-thousand dollars. Then again, he was a Prince of Hell. Knowing him, he’d gotten it to mix with Coke just to show he could. After all, what was money to a demon?
“You know how to pick ‘em,” Vassago said in his syrupy sweet drawl while sidling up beside me. He jerked the bottle from my grip with one hand and set it lightly on the counter in front of us. He pulled two glasses down off the shelf and plunked a huge chunk of ice in one. He opened the Trinitas and filled both glasses with three fingers worth. “You seem like the type who would like it neat.” He slid the iceless drink to me. “Enjoy.”
“Thanks,” I said, not even able to fathom how lucky I was to be holding a glass of Trinitas. I mean I still hated Vassago from the core of my black heart for stealing me away from my moment of triumph, but at the same time, I’d only heard about this whiskey in hushed whispers. I never in a million years thought I’d be able to drink it.
I wasn’t sure what his play was, but giving me thirty thousand dollars’ worth of whiskey was a pretty good way of calming me down after stealing me away, especially since my family was safe. Still, there had to be better ways to say “I’d like a minute of your time.”
“I was never really a fan of whiskey.” He swirled his glass for a moment and took a tentative sip. He made a face like someone had poisoned him. He shook his head and pushed the glass aside like he was content to let the ice melt until the perfect amber liquid turned into undrinkable sludge. “Or really anything that comes out of a wooden barrel. It just doesn’t do it for me.” He shrugged and reached into the fridge under the bar. He pulled out a forty ounce Mickey, popped the top, and took a huge swig. “That’s right, I own a bottle of Trinitas, and I still drink Mickey Four O’s.”
“Whatever floats your boat,” I said, understanding why he was a demon. Only a creature from the depths of Hell would trade a glass of Trinitas for a forty of Mickeys.
“Glad you’re not one of those judgmental types. You have no idea how much that’d upset me.” He took another gulp and wiped his mouth with the back of one hand.
“So what do you need me to do?” I asked before taking another sip of the Trinitas. I savored the sweet burn of the whiskey on my tongue. It was like a bunch of big-titted pixies pillow-fighting in my mouth. It was almost enough for me to ignore the sudden lump of guilt rising in the back of my throat. Almost.
Part of me couldn’t believe I was going to hear the demon out when I should be trying to get back home as soon as possible. Still, it wasn’t like I had much of a choice. There was no way out of this bar without Vassago’s say so, and I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to butter me up just to let me go.
Still, as fear for my family’s safety threatened to overwhelm my thoughts, the logical part of my brain reassured me my family was safe. After all, Ricky was with them, and she was the most powerful werewolf in the state.
Besides, if I wasn’t back home soon, I was pretty sure the devil who had given me my very own cursed arm would be more than happy to help me get back there if only to rub Vassago’s nose in it. She seemed antagonistic that way. Listening to the demon still didn’t sit quite right, mind you, but it sat well enough that another sip of whiskey was nearly enough to make me believe I’d get back to them alive.
“How do you feel about children?” Vassago asked, moving around the bar and seating himself at a stool. He patted the spot next to him before fishing a pretzel out of a bowl that resembled a skull that had been cut vertically in half. He popped it in his mouth as I sat down next to him. “Do you like them?”
“In what way?” I asked, hoping I would be able to finish my whiskey. I’d really hate to have to throw it in his face and smash the glass into his throat. If he was implying anything untoward, him and I were going to have a serious problem.
“In the way that you don’t like them being kidnapped so they can be ritualistically murdered to resurrect some two-bit nobody?” he deadpanned while eyeing me carefully. There wasn’t even a trace of humor in his voice, and something about that combined with the way he looked at me, made a snake of fear twist in my guts. “How did you think I mean it?” He raised an eyebrow at me.
“I’m not a huge fan of kids being ritually murdered,” I said very carefully. My mouth was suddenly so dry, even another sip of whiskey barely helped me get the words out of my mouth. I hate to say it, but I have a certain soft spot for kids in general, and the idea that kids plural were in danger of getting killed made me so angry, I could barely see straight. “Why do you ask?”
“Good. That’s what I’d hoped,” Vassago said, clapping me on the shoulder with one hand. “I’ve been recruiting a team to rescue said children. I need you on it.”
“Why?” I asked even though my first impulse was to agree to help on the spot. The last thing I wanted was for kids to be kidnapped and murdered. If I could save them, I was pretty much in, but there was one tiny problem. I didn’t trust Vassago even slightly. If he wanted me to save some kids, there had to be an ulterior motive the size of Kansas lurking around in the shadows. That was how guys like him operated. It wasn’t enough to watch the right hand while the left moves because if you were watching him move, it was already too late.
“Because you killed Van, and now the rescue is one Cursed short. Normally, I’d reschedule, but the cultists are sort of on a timetable. They’ll be going through with their dastardly plan despite the time being very inconvenient to me.” He spread his hands on the bar. “You see my dilemma.”
“Uh, huh,” I said, looking into my whiskey so I’d have somewhere to look that wasn’t at him. I took a deep breath and tried to remain calm even though I was on the cusp of freaking out. I didn’t want to do that, at least not with the demon eyeing me like the last candy in the bag. Everything inside me screamed “BAD IDEA!!!” and yes, there were that many exclamation points.
“What’s in it for you?” I asked because there was no way I was going to save a bunch of kids just to hand them over to him if he had something equally nefarious planned. I might owe him, but I’d never owe him that much.
“You know what the problem is with our world today?” Vassago said with a shrug before popping another pretzel in his mouth. “No one drinks from the skulls of their enemies anymore. It’s important because it shows those around you that you are not to be fucked with. Someone has forgotten that lesson and is trying to fuck with me. So yes, I need you to save some kids. Can you do that for me?”
“I can be down with rescuing kids, but I don’t understand why you care. Make me believe delivering them to you isn’t worse. Give me a reason to not pull a John Constantine and let you all burn,” I said even though I knew I ought to hightail it home, but kids. Kids. Goddammit, was I ever a sucker.
“Mac, do you think I want to harm children once you rescue them?” Vassago put a hand to his chest in mock horror. “That makes no sense. Why would I go to all the trouble of having you rescue them just to have them killed? No, no, no.” He shook his head. “If I wanted them dead, there’d just be a little accident– like a plane falling out of the sky or a gas line explosion. You know, something easy.”
The way he said those words made me think he’d actually done that before, and worse, that it was a perfectly natural thing for him to do. Part of me was surprised, although I didn’t know why. Vassago gave off an appearance of someone normal, so I kept thinking he was human, but he wasn’t just some fucked up human. He was a demon.
“Easy?” I had no choice. I took another sip of whiskey to calm myself. “I think the word you were looking for is evil.”
“You really are an innocent pup,” Vassago replied, pushing the pretzel-filled skull toward me. I ignored it.
“You wanted to cut John’s finger off when I missed a shot,” I said, gesturing at the dartboard with my whiskey. John was Sera and Danton’s eight-year-old son. Vassago and his Cursed, Van, had used John as a bargaining chip in a dart game that had almost ended very badly for both of us.
“Okay, you know what? I was being nice, but I need you to remember something since you seem to think you have a choice,” Vassago said, sliding off the stool and taking a step toward me. As he did, a ball of emerald flame leapt across the distance between us and hovered in front of my face like a miniature sun. “I don’t actually have to tell you anything. I don’t have to do anything in particular to get you to help me. I merely have to tell you what I want. You
me, Mac.” Something dark and sinister flashed through his emerald eyes. A sudden surge of panic made the whiskey in my mouth turn acrid. Swallowing it was nearly impossible, but I managed to do it without choking.