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Authors: j a cipriano

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BOOK: twice cursed mage 05 - claimed
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“Sorry about that, had to get you out of there before you went and did something stupid,” he said, reaching into a small foam cooler beside him and pulling out a silver can. “Beer?”

“Something stupid like trying to save Maya from her suicide mission?” I asked, sitting up. Surprisingly, nothing hurt. I wasn’t sure why or how, but judging by the fact I could taste blood, I was willing to bet Jack had opened a vein for me. How nice, now I’d be at full strength when I punched him in the face. “Did it wind up raining bugs or whatever? I’m guessing something different happens when one of the seven dies and Bruce’s death will trigger bugs?”

“You are correct in your assumption, but sadly, it did not rain bugs.” He looked down at the beer in his hand like it was terribly interesting before popping the top and taking a long pull. When he was done, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “So no beer then?”

“Actually, a beer would be great,” I said as a pang of guilt and sadness settled over my shoulders like a thick blanket. We’d left Maya to face off against Bruce and Sargent when the two of them had wiped the floor with all three of us. We were the worst kind of scum, and now she was probably dead. Well, on the bright side, I was going to kill the fuck out of Bruce. Small conciliation, but sometimes you take what you can get.

“All right,” he replied, setting his beer down and fishing another out of the cooler. He reared back like he was going to toss it to me but thought better of it. Instead, he popped the top and handed it to me as I moved closer to see what he was cooking. I’ll be honest, when I saw the flame kissed ribeye steaks sitting there, my stomach grew three sizes. What can I say, I’m shallow. I like red meat and beer.

“So what’s all this?” I asked, gesturing at the fire before taking a swig. There was so much carbonation, I nearly spit it out. I didn’t because I was a man and the manly thing to do was swallow, and wow, I never thought I’d think that sentence.

“We’re communing with nature,” he said, flipping the steaks over. “You know by cooking it, eating it, and drinking beer over its demise.”

“Yeah, okay,” I said, taking a sip of my beer. It didn’t taste as good as it should have after what we’d done to Maya. I’d need harder stuff for that. Man, what I wouldn’t give for three fingers of Dalmore 18 right about now. “But why are we here, here?” I took a deep breath, and as I did, I realized I felt great. I wasn’t sure how since I’d been beat to shit, but as I swirled the beer in my mouth, I realized I recognized the aftertaste in my mouth. Jack’s blood. The bastard had given me his blood while I’d been out cold. It’d healed me, sure, but yuck.

“Is that like a biblical question?” he asked, raising an eyebrow at me. “Because I figure you’re talking to the wrong bloke if it is. I’m a Native American, and unless you would like me to regale you with the tales of my people, I’m sure there are better people to ask.” He pulled off one of the steaks and put it on a paper plate sitting off to the side. “Besides, vampire.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” I replied, finishing my beer and tossing the can on the ground to see if it’d make a tear dribble down his cheek. It didn’t. Even though I waited a good thirty seconds. So I picked up my can and tossed it in the cardboard box filled with empties next to the fire. “I meant it in the ‘why the fuck are we wasting time when we’ve got people to kill’ sort of way.”

“Oh,” he said, finishing his beer and tossing it into the box. He grabbed two more and offered me one. I took it, opened it, and drank while he continued. “Because I was waiting for you to recover, and I figured you’d be hungry.” He pointed toward a mountain about a mile away. “Duane is being held in a cave right over there. We can go as soon as you finish eating. I want you at full strength.” He tossed a metal knife and fork onto the plate and slid it toward me. “I know your kind well. You need to eat a lot more than you think you do.”

“Okay, you know what, that almost sounds reasonable.” I took the steak and stared at it. The way my stomach rumbled told me he was right, and not just a little right, a lot right. I was nowhere near full power, but like most things, it was something I could fix with meat and beer.

I cut into the steak and was surprised to find it was almost rare enough to still be alive. As I slid a chunk into my mouth, I marveled at how it melted in my mouth. Jack was a damned fine cook, especially considering how he’d cooked them over an open flame. No temperature controlled propane grill for him, no sir. Then again, he was a Native American vampire, for all I knew, he’d learned to do this a couple hundred years ago.

“Glad you think so,” he said, flipping the steak still on the grill before getting up and walking toward a blue and orange hiking pack leaned up against a nearby tree. “You have no idea how much I care that you think my totally awesome plan is reasonable.”

“Go to Hell,” I said, taking another bite of steak and chasing it with a gulp of beer.

He raised an eyebrow at me. “I’m an Indian Vampire. Don’t worry. The only way I could be more assured of going to Hell would be if I was a lesbian witch.”

I fought back a smile as he shook his head at me. “Don’t suppose you bothered to get me a real gun too?”

“Actually,” he said, reaching into the backpack. He pulled out a silver Desert Eagle and walked over to me. He offered it to me, grip first. “I saw you using one like this when you fought Van, so I figured it might be more your style.”

I put my beer can in the dirt next to me and took the gun from him. As I did, I felt my confidence level rise several degrees. It was amazing how just holding the gun made me feel ten times better, but it did. Wow, I had problems.

“You’re the best vampire Indian I know,” I said around a mouthful of steak. “When you find yourself in Hell, look me up. I’ll buy you a beer.”

“I’m the only Indian vampire you know,” he replied, pulling his steak off the grill and placing it on his own plate. As he cut into it, I could see it was beyond well done. What a savage.

“I think you killed your steak,” I said, tucking the gun into my waistband for lack of a place to put it. I’d make sure it was loaded and ready to go after I finished eating.

“I like ‘em well done.” He shrugged. “I actually can’t stand undercooked meat. The taste of animal blood is just ugh.” He made a disgusted face. “Downside to being a vampire, I suppose.”

“You know what, I’m going to allow that,” I replied, finishing my steak and tossing the plate into the fire.

As the flames slowly turned the paper into ash, I silently readied myself for the coming battle. So far, I’d managed to take down only one of the seven, and it’d been by surprise. The two I’d faced off since then, Sargent and Bruce, had been beyond formidable. I was pretty sure it was because they served Asmodai, especially since Jenna served that demon bastard and she’d been pretty badass herself.

Still, as I muddled it over in my head, a strange thought struck me about the whole thing. No, it wasn’t the absurdity of the thing, nor the crazy cast of characters I’d faced thus far. Instead, it had to do with Maya. Bruce had been her father, or at least, I think that’s what she’d said, but well, something about the two’s reactions toward one another seemed really fucked up.

“So, what’s the deal with Maya and Bruce Lee?” I asked, draining my beer as I got to my feet.

“Are you talking about Jun? The guy with the nunchucks?” he asked, looking pointedly away from me in a way that made me think he didn’t really want to talk to me about it.

“If Jun is the Bruce Lee motherfucker with the nunchucks who helped Sargent beat us like naughty puppies, then yeah. Him.” I watched Jack as I spoke, but his face stayed impassive. If my words had any effect on him, he didn’t let it show.

“Maya is descended from a long line of demon worshiping psychopaths. Her parents are no exception. After her sister died a few years back, Maya left the business. I don’t think her family ever quite forgave her for her sister’s death.” Jack shook his head. “It’s not really my place to say more.”

“Well, she’s probably dead now, so the next time I meet with her dad, I’m going to visit some righteous vengeance down on his ass,” I snapped, pulling out the Desert Eagle and weighing it in my hand. Yeah, this would be perfect for blowing a whole bunch of holes in Maya’s dad because I was betting even if he did deflect the .50 caliber rounds with his kung fu, it’d still hurt like a bitch.

To be fair, my relationship with Maya had been strained at best, but that didn’t mean I wanted a scumbag like Jun to kill her. Father or not, he’d pay with his life, and not just because I was going to kill the douchebag already. “Speaking of which, got any more bullets?”

“It’s a nice to think you’ll avenge her, but I sincerely doubt Maya is dead. Her father wouldn’t kill her. I’m certain Asmodai wants her back in the fold or they’d have killed her long before all of this.” Jack finished his steak and stood. He stretched and moved over to the pack, and as he did, I watched him pull a Mossberg shotgun from nowhere. Well, that was a neat trick.

“You saying Maya used to work for Asmodai?” I asked, raising an eyebrow. To be fair, it wasn’t that hard to believe. Maya knew all sorts of fucked up magic.

“She did until Danton sundered the binding between her and the demon and brought her from Japan to America.” Jack began loading shells into the shotgun, slotting them with practiced ease. “Again, get your head in the now. We have a plant-wielding bitch to kill.”

“Like Poison Ivy?” I asked, trying to ignore what he’d said. So Danton had saved Maya. Interesting.

“Exactly like Poison Ivy,” Jack said, slinging the shotgun over one shoulder before picking up a bucket of water and tossing it on the fire. His eyes glowed like molten copper coins in the darkness. “Do not let her scratch you or touch her lips to your skin. I mean, you can if you’re into that sort of thing, but you’ll be dead about ten seconds later.”

“Well, fuck that, then,” I said, wishing I had more bullets for my Desert Eagle. I was suddenly worried it wouldn’t be enough. Thankfully, Jack took that moment to hand me two extra magazines. People who say guns don’t bring happiness are right. Bullets bring happiness.

 

Chapter 12

As we stepped out of the forest and approached the yawning mouth of the slate gray cave, Jack flipped on a fucking headlamp, revealing us to any and all comers.

“Are you fucking serious?” I asked, glaring at him as I leapt back into the trees. It barely hid me, but it was better than nothing.

The vampire turned in my direction, causing the beam of his headlamp to slash through the forest. As he settled his gaze on me, he damned near blinded me with the stupid flashlight on his head. It looked even more ridiculous because it was wrapped around the Stetson he’d stolen from Sargent earlier.

“I thought you might need to see better, and if anyone shoots at us, they’ll hit me.” He smiled broadly in a way that reminded me of a puppy who wanted to show you the mess he’d made on the carpet. “See how nice I am? I’d take a bullet for you.”

“Turn it off before you get us killed. I can see in the dark.” I held my cursed arm out in front of us. “I’ve got this. Remember?”

“You don’t have to be such a dick about it,” the vampire replied, switching off the lamp, and for some reason, I got the distinct impression he’d been fucking with me. I wasn’t sure why he’d do that given we were about to storm a creepy cave in the middle of the night to take on a chick made of poison, but then again, I wasn’t a vampire. So far, all I knew about the creatures was that they all seemed to be weirdly good at pool.

“Quiet,” I hissed as I stepped forward out of the brush for the second time. I had one hand wrapped around Mammon’s pimp staff and the other around my Desert Eagle. Yeah, Jack had returned the jewel-encrusted cane Mammon had given to me. It made me glad because I’d been a bit worried I’d lost it after I went and made a deal with a demon to get it. You’d think I’d know better, but I didn’t, sadly.

“I still don’t understand what the deal is with that cane.” Jack shook his head at me as he eyed the staff. “I doubt Ivy is going to fall down from a pimp slap.”

“You just haven’t seen me powder my hands,” I replied, putting my back against the cool stone next to the cave’s entrance before chancing a look through the stalactites and stalagmites filling the cave’s maw like huge jagged teeth. I didn’t see anything, and even with my demon-augmented night vision, it was dark. Too dark to make attacking a den full of unknown dangers much fun. Still, maybe I could get some help. If not, well, I guess Jack would be using his ridiculous headlamp after all.

I shut my eyes and took a deep breath as I searched my mind for the cat demon who had cursed me. I found her lying on her back in the same metaphysical field where she’d eaten Beleth and Baphomet. She was stretched out, sunning herself as purple and orange shadows danced in the amber waves of grain, which seemed a touch odd because none of the things here were real, nor was I sure how this place had come to exist in my head. Part of me wanted me to ask, but if I did, I risked irking her before I could get her to help me.

“To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?” she asked, fixing me with half-lidded eyes as her calico tail clicked back and forth in annoyance.

“How do you feel about Asmodai and his council?” I asked, settling a congenial smile on my lips. I wanted her to help me, but for that to happen, she had to want to help me. It reminded me of those old Dale Carnegie lessons about how people did want to help you, they just didn’t know it yet.

“I’m not a fan of the Consort. His tastes do not match mine though I can see how others might feel differently,” she replied with no trace of judgment in her voice. She stretched, and as she did, her claws dug into the soft grass. “Why do you ask?”

I fought the urge to just say “seriously? Have you been paying attention at all?” and instead pasted a mischievous grin on my face because she probably hadn’t been paying attention. Ever since she’d eaten the two demons, she’d seemed, well, sated. Then again, I guess eating two powerful demons would make anyone full.

BOOK: twice cursed mage 05 - claimed
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