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Sons of darkness, p.25

Sons of Darkness, page 25

 part  #1 of  Night Vigil Series

 

Sons of Darkness
 


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  “Brent.” Travis’s voice was quiet, but with a tone that said he’d spoken more than once.

  Brent jerked, eyes wide, breath shallow as he came out of his thoughts. “Sorry.”

  Travis brought a hand down on his shoulder, grounding him. “You’re safe here, for the moment. We got out okay yesterday. Breathe.”

  Brent let out a defeated sigh and turned, pulling away from Travis’s grip. “Maybe I’m part of the problem. Demon magnet and all. I’m too fucked up to be much good.”

  Travis frowned. “And I’m not?” he barked with a laugh. “Jesus, that would be funny, if it weren’t fuckin’ sad. Us, saving the world. Must be scraping the bottom of the barrel.” He gave a lopsided grin. “And yet…here we are. Halfway house heroes. We’ll have to do because I don’t see anyone else riding to the rescue.”

  Brent managed a wan smile in response. “I guess we’d better get to it then. Time’s a wasting.”

  Travis put out the call to Ryan, Derek, Michael, and Aricella, while Brent asked Doug to meet him, not wanting to discuss the threat against the gas wells on the phone. When Doug pulled up, Travis finished his Coke and tossed the can in the garbage.

  “I’ve got my folks ready to meet us tomorrow night at ten outside the main shaft,” Travis said. “I’m going back to my room to pull some last pieces together, meditate a little, and call Father Pavel.”

  “He’s your Confessor?’ Brent asked, having picked up bits and pieces about Catholicism in the time he’d been traveling with Travis. Although Travis had left the priesthood and remained wary about the Church, old habits still provided comfort, Brent guessed.

  “Yeah. I try to keep the slate as clean as I can, just in case,” Travis admitted.

  Just in case. It hit Brent then that Travis wasn’t sure they’d survive the fight, and in the back of his mind, he’d known that all along. Everything they’d gone up against so far, the psi-vamp, ghouls, the spriggan, hell-maggots, and even the grief demons were—by themselves—manageable. But the energy or entity of the genius loci was old and powerful, and if not sentient in a human way, it was still able to fight with as much cunning as a wild animal. It needed the hell gate to stay open, while Travis and the rest of them were willing to risk everything to shut it down. The odds were against them succeeding, and even more so against surviving.

  Brent nodded. “See you for breakfast. Shouldn’t try to save the world on an empty stomach.”

  After Travis left, Brent tried to call Angela. He wasn’t surprised to get voicemail. They had exchanged a few texts and one hurried call since he left Pittsburgh, but he couldn’t share what was really going on, and he’d been too stressed and weary to chit-chat. He figured that if he survived the encounter with the hell gate, his reward would be getting dumped by his girlfriend.

  “Hey, it’s me,” he said, feeling like he needed to say something. “It’s been kinda crazy here. But I should be coming back soon. And I miss you. Take care.”

  Brent ended the call and stared at the phone in his hand. He hadn’t wanted to worry Angela by sounding like it might be his last call, but the reality of the danger sank in a little more as he thought about the battle to come. All the battles and firefights he’d survived wouldn’t hold a candle to what they were going up against.

  He shook off his mood and called Doug. The police chief arrived a few minutes later, listening gravely as Brent filled him in on the plan and the threat against Preston Energy.

  “Makes sense,” Doug said. “Those wells and the pipeline are about the only things worth blowing up or burning down around here. I can report an anonymous tip, but I don’t have the manpower to defend every site.”

  “This isn’t like watching out for a terrorist with a backpack full of explosives. If the genius loci goes after the gas wells, it’ll be an energy attack—magic, basically—and nothing security guards can do anything about. Best if there’s no one around.”

  “Let me think how to do this then,” Doug said. “I’m not sure that there’s staff at most of the sites once they’re active. It might be better not to report it if you don’t want people in harm’s way.” He clapped Brent on the shoulder. “I’ll take care of it. Thanks for the head’s up.”

  After Doug left, Brent turned the TV to a sports channel to fill the silence as he looked at data for the fifty-year catastrophes. “Two hundred and two presumed dead, 1868. Two ninety-five, 1918. Three fifty, 1968.” The records were spottier before 1868, but what he found suggested “more than one hundred dead or missing” from 1818, and a passing mention of the “great calamity” of 1768 when fever struck the village leaving “uncounted numbers” dead of disease.

  All day Brent had argued with himself about whether he and his companions could handle the genius loci. He didn’t have any illusions about stopping the cycle, but if they could avert the catastrophe, it would be a heroic, if unsung, accomplishment. And very likely suicidal. Not that Brent hadn’t, on frequent occasions, thought about going out in a blaze of glory. But now his friends’ lives were on the line, and that made a difference.

  Travis had already told him that the Sinistram declined to help, that this threat wasn’t “big picture” enough to warrant their involvement. But what about CHARON? Brent didn’t like the idea of asking the shadowy group for anything, and he knew any favors would come with a high price, but hundreds of lives might be saved if he and the others could just get a little knowledgeable backup.

  His thumb hovered over the contact on his phone, and he tapped it, squeezing his eyes shut in resignation. Shane answered on the second ring.

  “Brent. Nice, but not unexpected. Have you decided to stop playing games?”

  “We’ve got a situation, in Cooper City. An entity that rises in fifty-year cycles—”

  “Oh, is it that time again? My how the decades fly.”

  “You know.”

  “Of course we know. That’s what we do.”

  Brent’s hand tightened into a fist at his side. “Then why the fuck aren’t you here?”

  “Because we can’t be everywhere, and we’re busy saving thousands or tens of thousands.”

  “These people here, they matter. They pay their taxes—your paycheck does come out of taxpayer dollars, doesn’t it?” Brent sniped.

  “Cute. Not relevant,” Shane returned. “If this is why you called, I’m afraid it’s a non-starter.”

  “How about if I said I’d consider coming in if you handle the entity?”

  The pause went on so long that Brent thought the connection had dropped. Then he heard Shane sigh on the other end. “Tempting. But, no. Unfortunately, I don’t have that kind of say over where we go and what we do. But hold that thought. Come in, join us, and you can be a part of something much bigger, that really changes things.”

  It clicked then with Brent, the real reason for Shane’s disinterest. “Because stopping a cataclysm in a Central Pennsylvania town won’t make the news in a big way, will it? You need something big—stopping a plutonium smuggling ring, cracking down on a cartel, busting up a terrorist plot. That’ll hijack the news cycle for days, and make sure your budget gets approved. That’s the real game, isn’t it? All about the money.”

  “I’d forgotten how tediously moral you were,” Shane replied. “Let me recap: You’re not joining, and we’re not coming. Did I miss anything?”

  “Just the big ‘fuck you’ at the end,” Brent muttered, ending the call.

  He pushed back from the computer and rubbed his eyes. Old injuries ached, but he couldn’t afford to let pain meds get their claws into him. Instead, he reached for a bottle of Jack and splashed a few fingers of amber salvation into his coffee mug.

  Brent moved from the hard plastic chair by the table to an armchair, which was only slightly more comfortable and held a musty scent from too many occupants and too much deodorizer. He took a swallow of his whiskey and let it burn down his throat.

  Over the years more than one acquaintance had accused him of seeking “suicide
by monster,” or at least trying to check out in the line of duty. There was some truth to that. He remained convinced the demons that killed his family had been looking for him, that he had, somehow, brought death to their home. When his unit faced down Mavet, he took no pride in the commendations for saving most of his men, not when he felt certain that he had drawn the demon to them. The demon who killed his FBI partner had nearly said as much, straight out goading him. When he and his police team made a drug bust and found possessed narcos, Brent had been sure he was cursed. And now here he was, partnering with Travis, and they were all probably going to die.

  Demons lie. He reminded himself of that, knew that the infernal beings would say anything to gain an advantage, but he also knew that sometimes, the bald truth was worse.

  If tonight turned out to be the last night of his life, Brent felt like he ought to do more than sit in a cheap motel room, drinking alone. But the thought of going out to a bar—even if there were one in walking distance, which there wasn’t—and being surrounded by oblivious strangers who had no idea of the looming danger—left him cold.

  He tossed back the whiskey, poured another shot and pounded it, deciding that he’d get a good night’s sleep before the end of the world. Brent toed off his boots, stripped off his jeans and shirt, and fell into bed with the taste of toothpaste and Jack mingling in his mouth.

  He was sitting on the back porch steps of his childhood home, shoulder to shoulder with Danny. Dream or illusion, it all felt real—the boards beneath him, the warm summer breeze with a hint of honeysuckle, the chirp and buzz of tree frogs and cicadas.

  Danny turned to him, and while years had not changed him, his eyes held a sadness Brent did not ever remember seeing in life. “You know I have to go.”

  “It’s not your fight,” Brent argued, knowing they were talking about the battle with the genius loci and the ritual that required a “traitor” ghost to help shut the hell gate from inside. “You’re not from here. These aren’t the demons that killed you.” Left unspoken was that he didn’t want Danny to leave.

  “Hazel’s ghost is too weak. The others—the new dead—they’re not very solid. It takes a while…after…to figure out what’s going on,” Danny said with a sad smile. “I’m the best bet. My spirit is more stable. And I’ve got a helluva incentive—keeping you alive.”

  “If you want to go on…to heaven…I’m not selfish enough to hold you back,” Brent confessed. Even here, in this dream realm, he felt his hands sweat and his heart race at the prospect. Danny had been dead for more than a decade, but their contact had been enough, over the years, that Brent hadn’t felt totally alone. The thought that Danny might be gone for good made his gut clench, and his throat tighten.

  “I don’t know what will happen when I shut the gate,” Danny admitted. “Maybe I can come back to you like this again, or I’ll be stuck…somewhere. Or maybe if it ends me for good, I’ll go on. But if I can come back, I will—if you want me.”

  “Of course I do, if you want to be here.”

  “Or you could make friends and meet someone special,” Danny teased.

  “Overrated,” Brent replied. “Besides, that always gets fucked sideways when I try it.”

  “Keep trying,” Danny said, his eyes losing their teasing glint. “For me.”

  “Yeah, yeah,” Brent said, looking away, so Danny didn’t see the tears in his eyes. “Hey, the priest and I get on okay; I mean, we haven’t killed each other yet.”

  “He’ll do,” Danny said. “He and Simon can hear me. I like that. So they don’t think you’re crazy.”

  “Har, har.”

  “Like that time you had your earbuds in, and you were singing along to the music, and Old Man Kenner called the cops because he thought you were high?” Danny replied.

  “More like the time you got stuck in the attic and yelled yourself hoarse because mom had the radio turned on loud enough to hear it over the vacuum,” Brent answered, elbowing his brother in the ribs.

  “Says the guy who got locked in the gym storage closet and almost had to spend the night before someone found you.”

  “Hey, that wasn’t my fault! Cobie Harris admitted he pushed me in there and locked the door,” Brent protested. It felt so nice, so normal, to banter and remember. Most of the time Brent was torn between not wanting to forget all the good times he and Danny had, and not being able to bear to recall them.

  “I hope I can come back,” Danny said, growing wistful. The dreamscape around them was beginning to fade, and Brent knew their time in this place between waking and sleeping was ending. “But if I can’t, some of me will be with you as long as you don’t forget.”

  “Never,” Brent swore. “And if this goes badly, I might see you on the other side sooner than you think.”

  “Let’s hope not,” Danny said. “I’d much rather come back here. Good luck, Brent. Tell Travis I’ll be waiting for my cue.”

  With that, the dream, vision, sending—whatever it was—ended, and Brent woke tangled in the motel bedspread.

  It was like facing Mavet all over again. Different landscape—the rolling, tree-covered hills of Central Pennsylvania instead of desert and ancient ruins—but the same feeling of dread at going up against an enemy that might have existed before time itself.

  Brent choked down his fear and locked away his doubts. Whether they died facing down the energy of the genius loci or got blown to Kingdom Come, their odds of living through the confrontation were slim.

  Unlike the Zimmer Eight mine where they had faced down the spriggan, the mine entrance that Brent’s maps showed to be closest to the central pit was long abandoned by even the monsters, nearly lost to view in a tangle of overgrowth. The Carmichael Mine was the first in the area, overshadowed years later when the larger, more industrialized Zimmer Mining Company bought up the land and forced out the owners. They had bricked up the mine mouth, relocating the heart of the operation to Zimmer One, never imagining that the old tunnel might hold the key to their descendants’ salvation.

  “This is Aricella,” Travis said, introducing Brent to a slim, dark-haired woman dressed in a flannel shirt, down vest, jeans, and hiking boots. She looked more like a trail guide than a bruja . Everyone shook hands. Father Ryan didn’t seem to have any qualms about working with either Derek or Aricella, and if they had reservations about collaborating with a priest, it obviously didn’t keep them from putting their lives on the line.

  It had taken several hours to lug all the materials in from where they had to leave their vehicles. More time had passed getting everything into position. Now, they were as ready as they would ever be.

  “Everyone, listen up!” Travis said, halting the low buzz of conversation. The small team drew closer, instinctively moving away from the mine entrance.

  “We’ve got one shot,” Travis told them. “And we’re not entirely sure what the genius loci is, energy or entity. So there’s a ritual, but be prepared, because we can be sure it will fight back if it realizes we’re trying to close the hell gate and stop it from blowing up the gas wells and drinking in all that pain and suffering.”

  Brent looked from one face to another. Each person nodded, jaws clenched, gazes resolute. No one had to tell them the odds. They knew, and they came anyhow. Brent had the sudden, overwhelming certainty that Danny was very proud.

  “We’ve got a man on the inside,” Travis went on. “And we have some unconventional helpers. So do what you do best, and we’ll shut this muther down.”

  “Is this where you say, ‘may the Force be with you’?” Brent asked.

  “And also with you,” Father Ryan replied with a gleam in his eye.

  “Whatever works,” Travis said, but he smiled, just a little. “All right, folks. Let’s get to it!”

  Aricella had already driven to all of the Preston Energy sites they could locate and placed a warding and containment spell on each. Two of the wells were close to the old Carmichael entrance, and she placed her strongest wardings on those. Maint
aining the protections on the gas wells and pipelines would take all of her attention, so she had set up a salt circle between the mine and the wells, reinforced with candles and blessed herbs.

  Michael had scoped out the area early in the day and built himself a sniper’s roost in a nearby tree where he could have a clear view of the land around the mine mouth. Brent and Doug brought a variety of guns and types of ammunition and laid out safe areas bounded by salt and iron. Jason came armed, too, with a handgun and a shotgun to back up his fire starting.

  That left Travis, Derek, and Father Ryan to work Hazel’s ritual, and Danny to get into position wherever the hell gate was located so he could spring the trap.

  Brent took up position in a salt circle just a few feet from Travis, while Michael did the same on the other side, near Derek. He shuddered to think that the battle might reprise the fight at the mausoleum. That had been close, maybe closer even than Travis realized. The creatures had come at them out of nowhere and kept on coming, and he had doubted for a while that they would be able to fight them all off. Then Travis had sent the grief demons packing, and the others lost their mojo.

  “First, some help from our friends on the other side,” Travis said. He glanced at Derek, who gave a nod. Then both the medium and the necromancer closed their eyes, and they each held out a hand as if beckoning for the spirits to join them.

  The temperature dropped, going from late autumn chill to winter frigid in seconds. Brent could see his breath in front of his face, and he was glad he had dressed for the cold. A gray mist rose all around them, not the ominous black and green smoke of demons, but the fog of clustered spirits. Sometimes he could glimpse shapes or faces, and he strained to see Danny, but couldn’t make out enough specifics to be sure.

  Danny always wanted to play super spy. Now he gets to infiltrate the enemy location and be the hero. Go, Danny. A swell of pride filled him at his brother’s bravery, and Brent refused to let himself feel the impending sorrow of their final separation. He drew on all his training as a soldier and summoned his battle calm, pushing everything extraneous from his mind, shutting down his feelings, heightening his senses. This was the kind of war he was, unfortunately, uniquely ready to fight.

 
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