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Created darkly, p.17
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       Created Darkly, p.17

           Gena D. Lutz
 
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  “We have arrived.”

  I took in my surroundings. Wolf had stopped in front of a small mausoleum. Directly behind him was a clearing of dried grass and patches of dirt spread out in front of a dilapidated building. There was a backdrop of trees with long, weathered and weeping branches which dragged atop the building’s steep, stone roof. It was an image taken right out of a scary movie, complete with a large, round, ominous moon casting an eerie glow of muted light on the morbid scene.

  "Am I raising another corpse for you?"

  "Yes and no."

  I walked over to the building and dropped my bag. "That’s it. I'm tired of your riddles. I'd raise the lifeless body of a hippopotamus at this point, so direct me to the intended stiff, so I can wave my magic wand and be done with all of this bullshit already."

  Wolf took a key from his pocket; the silver metal gleamed as it caught a ray of moonlight. Rubies encased the snake’s eyes that shined bright at the top, winking against the natural light. He inserted the key into the keyhole. Small puffs of dust billowed out from the tall crack as he pulled open the door. An acrid odor followed the plumes of dust, making me gag, but the foul stench was nothing, compared to the gruesome sight that lay beyond the open doorway.

  Zombie-like ghosts. That was the only way to describe the ghosts dripping and oozing before me. Never before had I seen a spirit in such a terrible condition. Ghosts always appeared to me looking exactly as they did when they were alive. The sight of those ghosts, on the other hand, was terrifying. One of them wrenched open its mouth, blood and green slime dripping to the ground before the gender-ambiguous monster choked out a long, keening cry. The screech bent the night with its tortured sound, making it apparent to me, and anyone else who was unfortunate enough to hear it, that the mangled mess was in terrible agony and was extremely pissed off about it. I stepped back, inching away from the ghosts.

  “You have nothing to fear. The hellhounds can’t harm you,” Wolf said.

  The other two mutated ghosts moaned before dropping to all fours. The third one, which had screeched an unholy warning at me, fell to its hands and knees, as well. They began to shudder, jerky movements that cracked and popped. Their bodies began to lose their celestial forms, smoothing out to replace visible bone, goo, and all of their human features. In its place, short, black fur spilled forth to cover a flesh and bone body. The new forms were canine, thick and bulging. The top of the hellhounds’ heads would easily reach to my shoulders.

  Wolf began to laugh, a broken cackle that had me almost wetting my pants. He seemed to be enjoying the show way more than me.

  “Meet the watchers of the Shadowscape, the underbelly of earth, a little place I like to call home. It’s situated between your earth and Hell. These adorable pups are hellhounds. The finest stock, purely bred from my own personal kennels.”

  A million questions filled my head. Were they real? Maybe I really did sustain a concussion or even a hemorrhage in the brain. And did the guy say he was from Hell? I gripped onto to the most ludicrous thought running through my mind. “Why did your hounds appear to us as human ghosts at first?”

  He looked at me with cheery interest. “Is that what you saw of them? Interesting….”

  “And why would that interest you in the least?” I stepped even farther away from Wolf and his creepy shape-shifting mongrels.

  “Because the hounds appear to whoever invades their sanctuary as that person’s biggest fear. So it would seem, my dear, that your biggest fear is ghosts.”

  I laughed. “Ghosts don’t scare me at all. I’ve been chatting up ghosts ever since I was a kid, so that theory is shot to hell. Try again.”

  “Hmm. What were the ghosts doing when you first saw them?”

  “They were suffering, deformed, and in agonizing pain.”

  “In that case, the suffering of your little spook friends is what you fear the most. That’s good to know.”

  I didn’t even want to know what he meant by that. “I suppose it would be.” I just wanted an end to the uncomfortable conversation.

  Wolf walked into the building. His hounds dropped their heads as if in reverence. I could see the outline of their massive skulls—black-furred skin stretched tightly over them as they crept backward out of his way.

  “Grab your stuff and come. We have a lot of work to do.”

  Standing by the door, a frown dominating her face, the ghost from earlier shook her head. Wisps of stray hair floated to frame her face, the hair moving, even though the night was still, with no wind. Not even a gentle breeze.

  I took a deep breath and let it out. After picking up my bag, I walked forward. I eyed the open door. Six glowing, red eyes peered back at me. “Here goes nothing,” I mumbled.

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  The inside of the mausoleum looked exactly as I would have expected. It was cramped, with carved pillars pushed up into all four corners. What hit me the hardest about the place was how gloomy it felt. Dark and miserable. Shadows played on the walls, intertwining, dancing to the beat of the flickering candles that hung on either side of the room.

  Wolf stood only a few feet away from me over a rectangular-shaped stone slab. It was half the length of the room. My eyes fell on its surface markings. Chiseled deep into the stone were archaic symbols and drawings. They matched the ones carved into the pillars. I didn’t recognize a single one of them.

  The hounds fell back farther against the interior walls. There was barely enough room for Wolf and me to navigate around the room, as it was. Add those massive beasts into the mix, and the cramped place became a sweat lodge of the supernatural. I was severely uncomfortable. My body itched from sweat, and my nerves jumped every time one of the hounds so much as breathed in my direction. I was a freaking mess.

  “Do you still have that locket I sent you?” Wolf asked.

  Oh, crap. I had forgotten about the necklace. I hadn’t needed it to raise Rafe or anything else, for that matter. I almost panicked, feeling around my neck. The bare skin underneath my fingers confirmed what I already knew; it wasn’t there. I was wearing the same jacket I had worn the night before, so I crossed my fingers. I stuck my hands inside the pockets, and after a few tense seconds, I breathed a sigh of relief and pulled the jewelry from its hiding place. I held it out for him to see.

  “Good girl. Now grab your dagger and some salt. It’s all you’ll need down there, besides luck.”

  I didn’t respond. I was getting pretty good at letting his taunts and jibes slide off my back. Cooler heads always prevailed. I did wonder, however, what he meant by ‘down there.’ My question was soon answered, though. Wolf’s arm flung out before him, making me jump in my skin with its suddenness. His hands began to twirl at the wrists, clockwise, as a baritone hum vibrated from between his lips.

  If I hadn’t been so frightened, I might have realized that my enemy had slipped into something akin to deep meditation, not able to protect himself from me or my hands. I could have easily gotten a hold of him in that condition, but instead, I was frozen in place. I would forever kick myself for that missed opportunity.

  The air in the room was sucked out like a vacuum, taking with it the small amount filling my lungs. I grabbed at my throat, clawing for breath. Then as suddenly as it was taken, the air swooshed back inside the stifled room. I began to choke and cough, sucking air into my lungs.

  My vision swam, the fog lifting from my eyes in time for me to witness the stone slab beneath Wolf’s feet beginning to tremble. He took a step backwards, and then another, right before the slab rose a few inches into the air. The breach made a popping sound as it opened to fall back against the wall with a jarring thud. What it revealed was none too assuring—a chasm filled with darkness.

  I felt a pull of immense power from its depths. Whatever resided in that deep hole hovered between life and death, and it called to me silently. I knew without a shadow of doubt that whatever was down there had been waiting for me, or someone like me, for quite some time. The hellhoun
ds lifted their heads. Without direction from Wolf, they fell in line, single file, and descended into the darkness.

  “You’re next, necromancer,” Wolf said.

  I shook my head, folding my arms across my chest.

  He let out an exasperated sigh. “I’m growing rather weary of having to prod you like a stubborn cow every step of the way. Grab your stuff and move it. Now.”

  That got me seething. “You stupid, low-down…dirty bastard! How do you expect me to react? No one in her right mind would blindly follow three demon dogs into Hell! Let alone, do it with a scumbag like you at her back!”

  An intense feeling of foreboding snaked up my spine. I didn’t know if it was from me being petrified, or if I was having some kind of premonition. Wolf sneered at me.

  “One way or another, your ass is going down there. Shall I pop on over and grab your sister to help persuade you? Hmm?”

  Knowing when I was beaten, I moved forward without uttering another word. My quiet wasn’t contagious, however.

  “That’s a good girl. Do as you’re told,” he said, gloating.

  Silence followed me down those stairs, broken only by the deep, satisfied breathing of the tyrant behind me. I knew I was heading towards a strong source of power, by the way my hair stood on end and goosebumps prickled to cover my arms. It hung heavy in the air, thick, almost tangible. With every step I took in my descent, the power grew in intensity, coating my skin like molasses, its influence calling me. I walked for what seemed like hours, but in real time, not measured by ticks of fear, it had only been a few minutes. Light crawled across the next few steps I walked on before they disappeared altogether, leaving me standing in the middle of a corridor. The space was circular, about twenty feet in circumference. I glanced around the room, my eyes landing on a large, wooden door. Other than that, there was nothing really special or useful about the room. I looked over my shoulder and gave Wolf a flat look.

  “Stupid question, but am I supposed to open that door?”

  He inhaled. A smile twisted his lips, fire burning fiercely within his eyes. It was as if the place invigorated, renewed him, feeding not only his weakened essence, but also his inflated arrogance. “Yes.”

  I closed my eyes, filling my thoughts of warm summer days, my sister’s infectious laughter, and the soft caress of my lover’s touch—all of the precious things I loved most in the world. After drowning my apprehension in the sweet bliss of those memories, I opened my eyes back up, lifting my lids slowly. Calmer, I walked forward, towards the door. It had nothing adorning its surface. It was plain, wooden, and had a black iron doorknob.

  I ignored the tremors that consumed my body when carnival music began to play faintly in the background. I seriously hoped that the eerie, jovial tune wasn’t an omen, because I swore that if a freaky, balloon-toting, dancing clown was behind that door, my ass was out of there. No offense to Stephen King, but the movie It ruined any chances for clowns and me to ever be friends. Nothing, and I meant nothing, would stop me from screaming like a little girl while I ran for the nearest exit if one jumped out at me. There was only so much the vampire-slaying necromancer could take.

  Resigned, I pushed forward. Before I knew it, I was reaching for the door knob. I wrapped my fingers around the warm metal, and after a turn, the door opened.

  A dark and dismal landscape greeted me as I walked over the threshold, into what seemed like another world. I could hear Wolf shuffling up from behind, and seconds later, the door clicking shut. The first thing I noticed about the new place was that it was void of a sun or moon. That world was blanketed in never-ending shadows. But somehow, and beyond logic, I was able to see everything with perfect clarity.

  I took an apprehensive glance around. In front of me, a wide chasm separated us, in what little space was in front of the door, from a vast wasteland that resembled a grim garden of dust and bones. I twisted my neck from left to right, searching for a way to go, but I was blocked off on both sides by a rock wall. It looked like my only options were to turn around and go back inside, or I could attempt a gold-medal long jump over twenty feet of nothing, which would most assuredly end with me plummeting to my death. That latter option was out of the question, needless to say.

  “What now?”

  “We go down,” Wolf said.

  I turned and shot him a look—one that accused him of being an insufferable imbecile.

  Wolf rolled his eyes and walked forward. He started to walk around me for fear of my touch, but then changed course and walked right by me. My fingers tightened and clenched. That was it, time to show him who was really boss around there.

  “By the way, necromancer, I’m your only ticket back through that door to civilization, so do us a both a favor and keep those hands to yourself. You wouldn’t want to be trapped down here forever. Trust me.”

  My hands flew back down to my side as quick as a bullet. Magic had already risen to the tips of my fingers, so I had to concentrate on the prickling sensation until it faded away.

  “You have no idea how close you were to a final-death,” I said.

  He laughed and then winked. “Believe me, I knew. I could feel you charging up those puppies of yours even before you knew you had a real chance of zapping me. I’m so sorry to disappoint you.” Wolf’s eyes flicked over the cliff, and after one long step, he walked right off of it. “See you down there.” His voice trailed behind him.

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  A cold brush of wind swiped against my cheek.

  "Wake up, young man. She needs you."

  My eyes felt heavy, a throbbing pain consuming my chest. It felt like my heart and ribcage were engulfed in flames. Two cool hands cupped my cheeks; the chilling touch helped drag me out of unconsciousness.

  "She's dying. Kris would want you save her before it is too late."

  What the hell? Where was my woman?

  "Is Kris all right?" I asked, voice slurred.

  "Yes, dear. Kris will be fine. It's her sister you should be worried about. You have to wake up and help her. And you must hurry."

  All at once, the night’s unfortunate events came rushing back to me. I remembered the cemetery, getting shot, and pleading for Kris to run. But of course, that stubborn and beautiful woman wouldn’t listen, doing exactly as she damn well pleased.

  My eyes shot open. Blurred shapes swam in out of my vision. It was so dark, and my back was pressed up against something hard and ridged, sending more spasms of pain through my chest. A soft moaning sound made me forget my own agony, and my eyes swung to land on an unclear form in front of me. Blinking a few times, I was able to finally see. My heart thundered when I saw the body of a woman curled up into the fetal position. She was underneath a tree. A small walking path was the only thing separating us.

  “Kris!” I sprung off the tree I’d been slumped against.

  I came to a jarring stop next to the woman’s still body, hoping that it wasn’t my Kristina. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the woman had a heavy mane of straight, blond hair, instead of the thick, wavy locks of hair like Kris’s. Even though I felt guilty about it, I breathed a sigh of relief. All I could think was, Thank God, it’s not her. It was her sister, Torra.

  “You see, the young one needs help.”

  There was that voice again. I looked behind me. A residual form slunk across the narrow path and stopped next to us. The ghost had an olden-time hairdo, a full bun wrapped on top of her head with wisps of hair fluttering into her face. Her dress was vintage eighteenth century, and she wore a locket around her neck.

  “What is your name?” I asked the ghost while checking Torra’s neck for a pulse. It was weak, thrumming lightly against my fingertips—too lightly.

  “My name, dear boy, is Deidra Chase.”

  The name took me by surprise. I took a better look at the ghost’s transparent features. Sure enough, Deidra and Kristina shared the same nose and heart-shaped face. I couldn’t make out her hair color because of the whole ghost thing, but s
omehow, I knew it would be the same color as Kristina’s. I shook my head in disbelief. Hovering in front of me was the ghost of one of Kristina’s descendants.

  “How can I help her?”

  Torra was close to passing on, and the only thing my powers could do was bring her back as a vampire after she was already dead. And somehow, I knew that she and Kristina wouldn’t want me to do that. Not without her explicit consent, because once done, an awakening couldn’t be undone. Not unless Torra, as a vampire, elected for a final-death.

  “Do you know any vampires who would help you?” Deidra asked.

  I thought of Rafe. Even though I had awakened many of my own vampires, I never kept in contact with them afterwards. Unlike Kristina and Rafe, I didn’t form a preternatural bond with any of my clients. It was a business arrangement. I had a feeling, however, that Kristina’s vampire would jump at the chance to help her out in any way.

  “Yeah, I think I do.”

  I pulled out my phone and scrolled until I found the number for Devil’s Playground. I had the number for every vampire bar and club in the area, but never thought I’d have cause to use them. Sometimes it paid to be thorough and prepared. The phone was picked up after several rings.

  A woman answered, “Devil’s Playground. What’s your pleasure?”

  I could hear the sounds of construction, banging hammers and the zip of numerous power tools, echoing in the background.

  “Hello, is Rafe around?”

  “Sure, honey, hold on.” There was a clatter as she set the phone down to go in search of him.

  Several seconds later, Rafe was on the line. “Is she dead?” he whispered, almost reverently.

 
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