Bittersweet seraphim, p.8
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       Bittersweet Seraphim, p.8

           Debra Anastasia

  Jason patted his sister’s hand. She smiled at him for a moment before she continued. “I know you just met us, Kate. But that angel? She doesn’t have anyone else making the choice to help her. It’s just us. God’s not going to be her superhero. It has to be our free will that busts her out. At least that’s my take on it.”

  The house was now quiet. Kate had just begun to process this when Jack pushed past Violent and Dean holding a pair of black sculptures, a puppy and a flower. Instead of angry, he looked sad.

  “Nero loved you.” He set her prized Hell rocks on the kitchen table.

  Kate ran her hand over the shovel-etched art. “He loves me, wherever he’s trapped. He keeps his promises, and he told me the lack of him here was his love for me.” The dew on the flower gained a new, glistening addition as her tear fell and landed on a leaf. “Did you ever want something so badly that just wishing for it tired you out? I’m exhausted. If I don’t do something, I’m not sure I can live this life anymore.” Her words tumbled from a deep place, a place Kate often found in the earliest parts of the morning, before the sun met the horizon.

  “I’m not taking you into Hell, Kate,” Jack declared. “Not today, not tomorrow. I’ll get him out. That’s my word. After I defeat all the minions and the current Devil, and free Emma, on the way out I’ll get Nero.”

  “How can I be sure you’re not just using me?” she asked.

  Violent spoke. “He’ll do what he says. He always has.”

  “I guess that’ll have to do.” Kate left her gifts from her father on the table and headed for the back door.

  She could hear the others filing out behind her. Kate stopped near her shed and was about to speak when Jason neatly tackled her and covered her mouth. Seriana pulled a matching maneuver on Jack a split second later, and Dean and Violent ran off into the woods.

  Chapter 11

  Jason shook his head with pleading eyes as Kate started to struggle. When she was still, he leaned close and whispered in her ear. “There’s another half-breed close by. Not friendly. Shhh.”

  Kate nodded as much as she could with her head immobile. Jason checked on Seriana but Jack didn’t seem to need convincing to keep still. The long car rides as they looked for Hell’s entrance had provided ample opportunity for Jason, Dean, and Seriana to explain the circumstances they lived in: the constant fear, the burning feeling of being chased that kept them overly cautious.

  Jason eased himself off Kate and removed his hand. He had to admit, he was impressed with her. This night must have been blowing her mind, and yet she was rolling with the punches like a champ. Her dark hair now had leaves tangled throughout, but her clear eyes assessed him. She bit her lip as she watched his eyes. He felt himself smile and realized his burning hatred for Jack and desperate need to remember Emma had almost eclipsed the way Kate’s attention made him feel.

  He tore his gaze from hers and mouthed to his sister, “Will they be okay?”

  She shrugged. Then she pointed from her chest to the woods, obviously willing to trek after Dean and Violent.

  He spoke quietly now. “Stay with Kate. Keep her safe.”

  He stood carefully, scanning the surrounding area until he could hear the gentle cracking of papery leaves on the forest floor.

  He was interrupted by Jack arguing with Seriana. “What about me? He doesn’t want you to protect me?”

  Jason wanted to punch the Devil in the mouth. Instead he crept off toward the noises. In an instant, the woods went from peaceful cradle of the night to an explosion of curses and violence. Jason sprinted for the ruckus and found Violent and Dean straddling a spitting mad half-breed. He was covered in tattoos and piercings.

  “Dean, get off of him so I can kill him.” Violent crackled her knuckles.

  “Wait, first we need to know who he is,” Jason cried. He tried to get a better look at the prisoner’s face while Dean slipped away to check for other unexpected visitors.

  “I’m your worst nightmare, asshole!” the half-breed spat.

  Violent stood and yanked him to his feet, easily restraining him.

  Jason shook his head. “You must be a friend of Jack’s.”

  Dean came back, shaking his head. “Looks like he’s alone.”

  Dean made sure the stranger’s limbs stayed still, while Jason patted him down, producing a cell phone and three knives.

  “I’m not telling you people nothin’.” The man tried to swagger until Violent shifted his shoulders and cracked one of his arms out of its socket.

  “Fuck you, bitch! That hurts.”

  Violent turned him so she could see his face. “Next time your balls will make that same noise.”

  Jason and Dean made eye contact and lifted their eyebrows. Dean smiled. “Damn, I’m glad V likes us.”

  Jason nodded as he switched his attention to the cell phone. After scanning the recent calls and sent media, he handed the evidence to Dean. “Looks like he was sending this stuff out. His first call was fifteen minutes ago.” He scanned the area again. This was everything they’d been trying to avoid for years.

  “Grandfather knows we’re here.” Dean dropped the phone and stomped on it. After picking through the wreckage and making sure none of the tracking devices were operational, Dean met Jason’s eyes. “What are we going to do? I mean…”

  Violent interrupted. “Just tell me what you need from this one and give me four minutes.”

  Jack sat up and hated that he had to stay with the ladies. Well, he loved the ladies, but being human was pissing him off. This damn close to the entrance, and most of the muscle had gotten up and bolted.

  When the screaming started, Jack knew Violent was the cause. He comforted Seriana and Kate.

  “What’s she doing to that half-breed?” Seriana stood.

  Jack joined her and held out a hand to Kate. She looked pale.

  “You might want to cover your ears, princess. That’s not going to get any prettier.” Jack nodded in the direction of the inhuman wails.

  After Kate put her fingers in her ears and started singing a horrible pop song, Jack shook his head and spoke to Seriana. “You don’t want to know.”

  The sudden absence of the torture noises could only mean death. Soon after the silence, Violent strode back into the backyard with Dean and Jason.

  “Killed him.” She approached the largest tree and began petting it like a dog.

  Dean and Jason looked spooked. Seriana hugged her brothers, and each returned her hug and kissed the top of her head. Jack hoped they could just avoid the inevitably ensuing discussion and just get the Hell to Hell.

  Jason, of course, had other plans. “Jack, you need to take Kate and Seriana somewhere else. Dean, Violent, and I will get Emma. My grandfather has an army of half-breeds, and they could be here any minute. The thing we just killed said there were about twenty-five in the group. And their only goal? Finding us.”

  Seriana looked to the sky and exhaled, worry etching itself on her face.

  “Anything about Mom?” She looked from one brother to another.

  “Ah, he died before we could ask,” Dean reported.

  “She killed him before you could ask about Mom? I knew I should have gone. Damn it.” Seriana clenched her fists.

  Violent left her tree and approached. “They did try to ask, but the man stepped on a flower, and I lost my temper.” The minion patted Seriana’s shoulder awkwardly. “Don’t be concerned. I’m sure your mother’s long dead.”

  Seriana held her hands up in disbelief. “Thanks. That helps.”

  Violent pushed her long red hair out of her face and tried to smile, missing Seriana’s sarcasm completely. “You’re welcome.”

  Jack snapped his fingers until all present looked at him. “Okay, you…Kate, show me where the entrance is quickly before this place turns into a giant clusterfuck.”

  “You’re leaving, Jack,” Jason said, instantly angry. “Don’t act like you can help.”

  Dean glanced at his watch. “Somebody b
etter do something soon or we’ll be handling an army, and we’re far from prepared.”

  Kate clapped her hands as Jack and Jason circled each other menacingly. “Hey! There’s a simple answer. We all go to Hell.”

  “I agree,” said Violent. “The useless half-breed speaks the truth. You all need to go to Hell—except for Dean. He and I will go to Italy and grow grapes.” She smoldered in Dean’s direction.

  “Useless?” Kate asked, offended.

  Seriana stiffened. “Did you guys hear that?”

  At first they didn’t. But then the clamoring in the woods grew louder. Only a careless army would make that much noise.

  Jack quietly threw a temper tantrum before rolling his eyes. “Fine. Kate, you can come. Violent, stop creeping Dean out and help us get to the gateway.” He punctuated his words by pointing.

  Kate jogged over to the shed with her companions right behind her. She twirled the dial on the combination lock, but whenever she yanked on it, the lock stayed closed. Her hands shook.

  Calmly, Jason reached around her. “I’ll get it,” he said, then yanked the lock and hinge completely off the shed.

  She pulled the door open and they quickly entered, shutting it behind them. The dirty window let in just enough moonlight to see shapes and silhouettes, but Kate seemed to have no trouble finding the spot. She moved yard equipment out of the way to reveal a large rock. “This is it. This boulder.”

  Chapter 12

  Vittorio knew he was closer to the chosen offspring than he’d ever been before. But the updates from Bick had ceased, which was curious. No matter. As he and the army of half-breeds headed for the cabin his spy had indicated, the old man smiled. He had the best grandchild-detector in the world. His own daughter. She hadn’t shown life in years, but trailing the hunting party in chains she looked worried—nay, petrified—so he knew he must be close.

  He indulged his fantasy again. In a few years, when he had his great-grandchildren trained and raised, he could breed them as well. Once they’d created an army of full-blood minions, all minions—even the remaining half-breeds—would go from hiding in the shadows to living as kings and gods on Earth. Their nearly endless lives would be spent harvesting humans for food and pleasure. And he would be the king of the kings. Power fit him like a glove.

  Through the forest, through the trees, came a scent. The wave of want hit them quickly, like a tornado, and every half-breed with him got a vaccine of power. Their veins pulsed with it, like a heartbeat of a mother. Without needing prompting, his army sprinted together toward what had to be the source of all power.

  Jack set down his guns. He cracked his knuckles and looked at the rock.

  “Hey, let’s move it.” Jason approached the proposed entryway.

  Jack shook his head and went to his knees to lay his hands on the boulder’s surface like a mason. He felt all around, finally closing his eyes.

  “Devil guy?” Kate interrupted. “I can hear them right outside.”

  Jason pushed at Jack’s shoulder to get him out of the way.

  Jack wobbled a bit, losing his connection. “Bloodsucker, this rock is held down by more than fucking gravity. It takes finesse—not that I expect you to know what that is. It’s kept in place by the sucking damnation of a million souls. If we don’t time it right, we won’t get shit done. Now shut up and let me think.” Jack cradled the boulder again.

  Jason stayed quiet but Jack could see him flailing around making elaborate hand gestures of frustration at his brother and sister. He was just about to tell him shutting up included movements as well, when he felt something shift. “Now! Pull it now,” he yelled.

  Jason shoved him over, and Dean grabbed the other side of the rock, but they could only wiggle it a bit. The shed door flew open and crazed vampire soldiers punched through the walls. Violent moved next to the men and joined them as they heaved. The rock began to turn. When it finally loosened—like an embedded tooth—everyone staggered backward. Brilliant blue light shot up through the sky in a shimmering pillar, and the invading half-breeds tumbled as if from a blow.

  Once they sat up, instead of rushing for the safety they hoped Hell would provide, Jason, Dean, and Seriana turned now-hungry eyes on Jack. He felt like a soon-to-be late-night snack. Violent pulled him off the ground and stood between him and the hungry vampires. The siblings seethed like beasts, their eyes glazed over.

  “Hey, V?” Jack turned from the scene to face the open hole. “I’m leaving.”

  Kate, who surprisingly had her wits about her, pulled herself to her feet. “Not without me. I get my father. That was our deal.”

  Violent slapped Jason across the face as he lunged for Jack. He yelped and seemed to come to himself again. Jack held out his hand for Kate who grabbed it and wrapped her other arm around his leather-clad bicep. They watched as Violent whacked Seriana across the cheek as well. She seemed abashed and hung her head. But Violent just smiled at Dean as he looked her up and down with hungry eyes. She bit her lip.

  Just then, Vittorio recovered enough to lift himself from the ground. “Children, I’ve found you!”

  Violent was so fast that the others didn’t register what was happening until she was almost done. She bulldozed her entire group into the hole and pulled the rock down behind them.

  Jack landed unceremoniously on the ground, but at least they weren’t trying to eat him now. One slap from Violent seemed to be all it took. Inside Hell, the rock had melded with the wall. The only evidence that it had ever been anything special, any sort of opening, was the ring of fingertips captured between the rock and the hard place.

  “Ew.” Kate took a deliberate step toward Jason. “You back to normal?” When he nodded and held out his hand, she took it.

  Jack looked around Hell and shook his head. He tented his fingers and tapped them against his forehead. “Think. Think.”

  Jason looked at Kate and smirked. “Great. You have to tell yourself to do that? We’re doomed.”

  She stifled a giggle.

  Jack ignored the barb. “Did you grab my guns, V?”

  She was busy petting Dean and holding him back. He now looked like he was enjoying her attention, and still considering eating Jack.

  “No, sir. I was busy saving our asses. Isn’t he pretty?” She looked like she might kiss her great-great-great grandson.

  Seriana slapped her brother in the back of the head, hard. Dean shook himself out of his stupor and regained his demeanor of disgust.

  “Why did you do that? I hate you, spawn.” Violent pulled Dean into a hug and snarled at the girl.

  Jack rolled his eyes. This is what he had to work with? “No. No fighting. Violent, that’s an order.” He began to pace. The others seemed surprised when she let Dean go and looked at her feet. “And yes, Jason, we’re most likely doomed. This is Hell, not a vacation. Ready for some honesty? Here’s a fucking dose.” Jack bit his lip. “I’m not here to live. For me, dying while trying to save Emma is better than living without her. I fully expect that most of us will die or stay in here forever. Now let’s move.” He started off confidently into the pitch dark.

  Vittorio screamed and pounded on the boulder. Six of his half-breeds had their hands stuck in the crack and were howling in pain. He spun to face his daughter, and she knew she couldn’t hide the relief that flowed through her. He, in turn, looked ready to spit nails.

  “Why are you smiling? Are you proud of your children?” he raged. “They saw you and left you! Cowards. You raised cowards.” He slapped her across the face and pounded into her midsection. The chain around her neck jingled as his rage manifested in his fists.

  But Rebecca was beyond pain now. She’d been transformed by the glimpse of her children. Vittorio was wrong. Not a single one of them had seen her, and for that she was grateful. Her children were too brave to protect themselves—Rebecca knew that—so she was thankful they were sealed, oblivious, behind the rock. Vittorio’s fists and kicks brought her to the ground, and Rebecca retreated inside
her mind, remembering love while she endured hate.

  Chapter 13

  Everett had decided to try to hole his way through the wall as opposed to getting at Emma through the bars of the gate. She could hear him pounding away. So far he seemed unsuccessful, but her senses were shot. Every breath she took was laden with a smoke-flavored humidity.

  Enduring was her job now. She kept her eyes closed and tried to say the Lord’s Prayer again. It would not come, and she couldn’t pull forth God’s face in her memory now either. She had no tears for that loss. Had she ever been more than this? An angel? Loved by God? It seemed so far away. There’d be no reason for her to linger. If God had even a modicum of decency, He would let her die here. Maybe this was the lowest low: doubting God so thoroughly.

  She had taken to holding her own hand. She squeezed to try to comfort herself. This hallway had asked too much of her the first time she visited. Now it was taking her soul, filling her with evil by osmosis. A loud thump sent electricity through her nervous system. Emma closed her eyes and relived her last escape, cuddled in God’s arms. She could still recall his healing effect. Exhaling, she tried not to want that feeling too much. She stretched her legs carefully. The floor was her bed, her captor, and her prison all at once.

  As she extended, her big toe inched into a swath of warmth. Like sticking the tip of her toe in a bubble bath, there was the promise of relaxation. She pulled her foot back quickly, afraid of a trick, a hidden plague. But her whole consciousness centered on that small spot on the floor as she sat up.

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