No Way Back
Book 1 : Play Crack The Sky
> December, 2011
For the most part, the roads that wound through the valley of Black Forest were flat and smooth. Blake gave the gas pedal an extra push. The sun’s rays pierced the open Colorado sky and warmed the red leather seats. The wind nipped at his nose and stung his eyes, but he didn’t care. A clear blue sky and an open road were his ideal environment. He released the wheel to rub his gloved hand through Cain’s thick fur and laughed at the look on his companion’s face. “Just like flying, huh buddy?”
Piercing blue eyes grinned at him for a moment, and then returned to their proper place on the roof side of the open t-top.
Blake pushed hard for the mountain line, ticking off the minutes until sunset in his head. When the looming peaks of the Rockies began to block out the sun, he pulled off onto a small private road. Snow was piled high down the drive, and Blake was forced to stop several times to clear it.
Finally, the car came to a stop beneath a copse of trees that leaned sideways into the rock. Blake popped open the passenger door for Cain. “End of the road,” he said, and he snapped his fingers and gestured to the mountains. “You been hitchhiking long enough.” The dog regarded him seriously. “I know you think it’s stupid,” Blake sighed, “But it’s the only plan I’ve got. One does not simply walk into Mordor, right?”
Cain huffed, then jumped out of the car without ceremony and trotted off into the foothills, not bothering to look back. After a few moments his white fur blended him into the snow bank, and he disappeared. Blake shook his head in disbelief, and then raised his voice in a yell loud enough to echo off of the rocks. “Hey! You don’t have to be like that!”
Blake climbed out himself, taking a moment to cement the red leather and the sleek white paint with the blazing Firebird streaking across the hood into his mind. Of all the cars he’d had occasion to own, this one was his favorite.
He shrugged out of his bomber jacket and pressed it into the back seat, then checked the weapons caches that held his rifles. He pulled two knives; one from a wrist sheath and one from his boot. Last, he pulled a chrome .45 from his side holster. He tucked them all away with the rest of the arsenal.
When he seemed completely unarmed, he put the keys on the dash and shut the door. He didn’t bother to lock it; if anyone was going to find her, he’d rather they take everything outright than break a window, anyway.
He threw a white tarp over the car, turned back to face the way he’d come, and started walking. *
Gwen rode shotgun in the large black van, but only because she had nowhere else to go. She held her rifle tight these days, knuckles gripping the hilt nearly to bruising from the constant flow of anger and hurt pouring through her veins, her family’s blood, like acid.
There were bodies in the back of the truck, bodies that used to be men she loved, people she thought she knew.
If she’d jumped on the hunt that led to this ride with Samuel, it was because she wanted to draw them out as far as she could from the few people she had left. As far as she was concerned, this first trip to Crowley’s twisted zoo would also be her last. If she was going down, she was going to go down fighting.
The van pulled into a long stretch of open road and Gwen had to shield her eyes from the sudden glare of the afternoon sun. Beside her, Samuel shifted forward in his seat, squinting for a better glimpse of something far away. “What the Hell…”
Gwen pulled up a pair of binoculars from the floorboard and peered through them, instincts roaring to high alert. Her eyes focused on a patch of road just at the other end of the horizon, where heat rising from the asphalt met the biting winter cold, sending ripples through the air.
She set the binoculars back down. “It looks like a fire.” Gwen bit her lip and spared Samuel a sideways glace. “Think we should find another road?”
“No,” Samuel said firmly. “We keep going until -” A burning arc of light launched from the horizon, hurtling into the air between them with astonishing speed. “Oh, now wh-”
“Turn!” Gwen grabbed for the roof with her free hand, bracing herself for impact. The van swerved left off of the road, going up on two wheels. Gwen shut her eyes as the blast flashed past the window, intense heat from the flare singeing her skin.
Samuel wrestled with the van until it spun to a stop and threw open his door. He grabbed Gwen by the sleeve of her jacket and pulled her out behind him. She scooped up her rifle on the way, and when she hit the ground she quickly chambered a round. She moved to the back of the van and ducked down for cover while Samuel opened the lock on the door. The paint down the right side of the van was bubbling, blistered from the heat.
“Where’d it go,” she heard Samuel demanding of the demon, “What the Hell was that thing? Is this your boss’s idea of a joke?”
The thing wearing her cousin jumped out with a terse remark for the others to stay inside. It ducked down over her position, putting a hand on her shoulder, its fingers sending a slow caress down her collarbone. Her skin crawled.
Another flash streaked across the road, pounding into the side of the van with enough force to shatter the passenger side windows. Gwen threw herself clear of the van entirely, moving free from the grip of the demon and out into the open.
“Gwen! Get back here!” Samuel was pulling a pistol from the waistband of his jeans as he shouted, and he leaned around what used to be Christian to search the horizon for their attacker.
Gwen took another step back, certainty bubbling up through the shocked fog of the last few months. She’d prayed for a distraction; her prayers had been answered. This could be her only chance to take the demon down.
She raised her voice, willing away the trembling sound of fear. “I’m going to check the others!” Samuel nodded but his back was already to her, and Christian was only two steps behind.
The ground around them started to shake, and Gwen sprinted for the back of the van and flung the door open. Bright white light streamed in on the demons inside, and on the alpha that they guarded. Gwen dropped her rifle and grabbed for the camel pack of holy water, snagging it with her right hand. She slung the strap over her shoulder and palmed the modified pump with her left, flipping the on
switch to send pressure into the line. There was a sound like roaring wind and the bright light intensified with the crackle of engulfing flames. Over the roar, Samuel shouted. “Gwen, get down!”
Gwen spun around, aiming the nozzle in her hand like a weapon, and froze. “Blake?” *
Blake held the fire, finally
, in his hands.
The flames licked up his forearms and danced in the dark panes of his sunglasses, fraying the edges of his t-shirt sleeves but not blistering his skin. The rush of release tried to consume him, tempting him higher along the power’s crest. The branches of the Tree burned and crackled underneath his skin, offering more, unimaginably more, and Blake struggled to ignore the pull.
Gwen’s voice, stunned and afraid, silenced the temptation immediately. He couldn’t afford to hurt her. Short waves of impossible heat rolled through the air between them, turning the world to mirrors and glass. Gwen was flushed from the heat, and her eyes watered, lulling her into a daze. Her finger rested on the spray gun’s trigger. She repeated his name, louder, as though testing a mirage. “Blake?” Snap her out of it,
he told himself, get her moving.
He grinned at her over his Ray-Bans, trying to channel Val Kilmer fresh off the set of Top Gun, and she started to laugh; a strained, disbelieving sound. Then he raised one hand to aim it over her shoulder and into the depths of the van. The demons behind her growled and came to their feet.
“Hey babe,” Blake said, keeping his voice as easy and casual as if they were out for drinks, “Mind stepping out of the way? I need to talk to the Hell-spawn Samuel's been playing Pirates of Dark Water with. There’s my girl.” Gwen opened her mouth, no doubt to retort that she wasn’t his girl, but as he moved past her she smoothly stepped aside. Blake breathed a sigh of relief and peered into the van, searching.
Deep inside the van lay the Alpha, bound with bronze shackles and chained to the floor, and Blake felt its pulse thrumming through the fire in his veins. It had been drugged, but the drugs wouldn’t hold it for long. The wing beats of a thousand insects filled the air, plague and famine and promise of destruction in the undertones of the Alpha’s true voice. The demon’s eyes widened, amazed, but Blake heard a call in the swarm. Brother,
it hummed and buzzed, settling beneath his skin, Leave this place.
Blake shook his head. There was no way in hell.
The four demons standing guard before the Alpha gained their footing, tripping over each other in an effort to escape the heat. The first demon to clear the door brandished a pistol at Blake, and Blake flicked his wrist and engulfed the demon in a ball of flame, incinerating it.
Off to his left side, Gwen was watching. When the ashes of the demon fell like powdered rain through the rippling heat and onto the asphalt, something like hope flared in her eyes.
On his right side, Samuel crouched around the open door, his own gun trained between Blake’s eyes. “What are you?” His voice was steady and low, angry. Desperate. “What do you want?”
Blake raised his hand to his face, and the fire crawled across his cheeks and through his hair as he pulled his sunglasses away. The fire flared to life behind the blue of his eyes, and he pinned Samuel with a single, deadly stare, letting the frost in his voice counter the heat in the air. “For you to let my people go, naturally.”
Gwen raised the spray nozzle again, but she didn’t fire. Instead she backed away from Blake, and he let her go. Whatever she had decided, it wasn’t to try to stop him. Blake hoped she was clear, but he couldn’t spare a glance to look.
Samuel spared a glance towards the van and the rakshasa locked inside. Panic flooded his features. Blake looked forward to increasing that panic. He raised both hands this time, leveling them at the back of the van. Heat built around him as he charged the flame, holding it inside until he couldn’t hold it anymore.
The fire exploded from Blake’s hands and poured into the back of the van, engulfing the three demons and the alpha still inside. The demons went up in three bright blazes. Samuel opened fire and Blake laughed, barely sparing the hunter a glance as the bullets reached the maelstrom around him. Unable to pass through the heat they turned to liquid, falling harmlessly to the ground. The smell of burning flesh and charred paint and metal filled the air.
The rakshasa stirred, unharmed from the assault, and rose slowly to stand inside the flames. Its multifaceted eyes glittered, reflecting the colors back in a shower of light. Blake exhaled and let the fire die down. The alpha stepped forward. There was a bloody grin on its fangs. It tipped its head in deference to Blake, and Blake nodded back, breathing hard and suddenly tired from the effort. The scraping of pointed legs and the click of pinchers grated against his ears. The alpha tilted his head. We go,
Blake shook his head minutely, and the rakshasa’s eyes snapped with anger. Blake called the cooling fire back inside, and it curled there like an obedient pet. He had no intention of leaving. The rakshasa shrieked, an empty, despairing sound, and vanished.
From behind Blake, Christian’s voice rang through the sudden silence. “Enough with the light show. Stand down, now.”
Samuel snarled and leveled his gun over Blake’s shoulder. “Gwen!”
Blake spun and turned his back on Samuel.
The demon wearing Christian had Gwen it its arms. One hand was clamped around her mouth, and one held a gun to her head. The steel of the barrel dug into her temple. Gwen’s eyes were wide as she struggled for control, but the demon’s power surrounded her and held her firm.
“Shhhhh,” Christian crooned into her ear. Her arm began to rise, shaking as she fought. Her finger, still wrapped around the trigger of the spray gun, began to tighten. “There’s my girl,” he whispered.
Rage gripped Blake, and the blaze started jumping back to life, more red than white. “Let her go!”
“Uh-uh,” Christian warned, grinding the gun harshly into her skin. “Move and I’ll kill her. You’re fast, but not as fast as the time it would take for this bullet to turn her skull to Jell-o.”
Samuel yelled something in protest, but Blake was watching Gwen. He dropped his hands, and the fire extinguished as completely as though it had never been. Gwen blinked in surprise. It was nearly nightfall, and the wind was cold. Now that the roar of the blaze was gone, the sudden chill seeped into his bones. Gwen’s eyes shone in the sunset light, and Blake mouthed the words I’m sorry.
The demon took its hand off of her mouth and placed it over her hand instead, pulling against the trigger of the pressure washer to within a hair’s breadth of fire. Blake took a deep breath and braced himself for impact.
A shot rang out from behind him, and numbness blossomed through his left shoulder and into his chest. Blake’s eyes flared and widened, slow realization spreading through his body with the shock wave. Creeping cold began to turn to pain, and he dropped to his knees.
Samuel approached him from behind and pressed his own gun into the base of Blake’s skull. Samuel’s voice shook. “Alright, he’s down, now let her go, damn it!”
Christian chuckled and his lips grazed the base of her neck. Gwen’s eyes closed and all color drained from her cheeks at the demon’s touch. Blake’s eyes narrowed, flashing with anger even while swimming in pain. He felt every beat of his heart as it pumped blood through the new exit, but he was too charged with hatred to slow it down.
The demon pulled the pistol away from Gwen’s temple, but his grip on her hand tightened over the spray nozzle control. “I think it likes you.” Christian scoffed. “Say goodbye to your boyfriend,” he added, and then he used Gwen’s hand to pull the trigger.
Holy water blasted Blake right in the face, ripping loose a scream of agony. Everything turned white and he clawed at his eyes and gasped, struggling for air. Steam rose in mighty billows into the sky, cloud after cloud of it, thick and searing. The stream of water dipped to Blake’s chest, turned red where it hit blood, found the bullet hole in his shoulder. Blake’s screams doubled, echoing through the valley, inhuman shrieks of pain.
He tried to block the stream with his good arm and the liquid sank through to bone, rooting out his inner fire at the core. The melted ground around him turned into a puddle, and the water started to boil. Barely able to move, or even to think, he reached for her. *
“Blake!” Gwen threw back her elbow, surprised to find the demon’s power broken, and connected with Christian’s nose. He grunted in surprise, and she dove for the nozzle and tried to wrest it from his hands.
“Gwen, stop!” Samuel’s hands gripped her shoulders, pulling her roughly away and gathering her into his arms. “Don’t look, shh, I’m sorry.”
“Get off of me! Let us go! Screw you!”” She flailed against him, striking him in the chest, his arms, his jaw.
Samuel just pulled her in tighter, ignoring her blows. He looked to the demon. “What is it?”
Christian moved the jet lower, and Blake crumpled to the ground beneath the stream, barely moving now. “Dunno,” the demon answered. “But it’s a hell of a monster. Boss’ll take it.” It threw Gwen a sneering, lascivious smile. “Thought you didn’t go for monsters.”
Gwen’s vision swam with tears and bile rose in the back of her throat, unexpected and strong. Her shoulders heaved and Samuel released his hold on her. What little was left of her lunch sprayed all over his shoes. Samuel sighed. “I’m sorry, sweetheart,” he said. “There was no way you could have known.”
Gwen stared at the shoes and drew a deep breath. The taste of vomit was nearly enough to make her hurl again, but she forced herself to look at Samuel instead. He had leaned down to her level and his eyes brimmed with sympathy, a look reserved for the memory of the daughter he once had. The daughter who grew up to sell her own son to the devil - the daughter that Samuel was willing to let Gwen’s family die for.
She spit in his face.
Samuel’s eyes went dark. He stood tall, wiped his face with the back of his hand, and squared his jaw. “Fine,” he said. “If that’s what you want.” He stepped around her. He rinsed his shoes in the small river of water trickling down Blake’s side. The steam had slowed to wisps of thickened air, and Blake wasn’t screaming anymore.
“Can you keep it pinned down?” The demon nodded. “Good. Load it up. Hopefully this thing still drives.”
Christian shut off the pump and walked to the front of the van to look inside. “Cab’s okay,” he called back. “There’s some rope up here. If we keep it wet, it should hold him.”
Samuel grunted and trained his gun on Blake’s still form.
Gwen flinched, biting back a scream, hoping that he wouldn’t, that somewhere in there was the man that took her in, the man she trusted, the man that gave her a home.
Samuel pulled the trigger and put another bullet straight into Blake’s right thigh at point blank range. Blake jerked like a man convulsing and went completely motionless, and he collapsed face-first into the steaming pool.
Gwen sprinted for Blake. Her jeans caught and ripped on shards of melted asphalt as she skidded in the mud, and his blood washed hotly over her hands as she tried to apply pressure to the wound. She pulled his head into her lap.
“Gwen. Get away from him.” Samuel’s voice was angry and hard.
“No,” she rasped. The holy water was scalding, and she worked to pull Blake out of the puddle and onto drier ground. Tears began to flow freely down her cheeks. “You’re working for a demon
. You let them kill everyone! You’re the monster, not him. You are
Blake wasn’t moving. Samuel shifted his weight above her, and she heard him sigh. “Thirty seconds, you hear me?”
Samuel went to join Christian at the front of the van, and they were alone.
“Blake, answer me. Blake?” Gwen brushed his hair back and dried his face with her jacket sleeve. He was cold to the touch, but he was breathing. She didn’t know what he was, but in that moment, she realized that she had already associated Blake with fire, with warmth. “Blake?”
His eyes fluttered open, and a slow smile spread across his face. “Hey. Candy girl,” he breathed.“Was lookin’ for you.You alright?” When she nodded he echoed her nod, letting his eyes slip closed again in exhaustion.
Gwen leaned closer, speaking fast and low. “I have to get you out of here. They’ll torture you at that place. You don’t know what goes on there. Crowley will kill you.”
Blake nodded again, cracking one eye back open. He raised a shaking hand to her cheek and wiped away her tears. “Don’t cry,” he said.
“Blake, they’ll kill
He scoffed, setting off a deep cough that bubbled up from his chest. “Told you I was the last of my kind,” he quipped. Gwen opened her mouth to protest, but his hand found hers, and his grip was startlingly strong. “Gwen,” he said, and his voice seemed even stronger. “Don’t worry. Run back the way you came. You’ll find help.”
“I don’t even know who you are,” she whispered. “What
Blake smiled. “Go,” he said. “I’ll see you.”
His stare drew her in, and his fingers burned against her skin, and she believed him.
Samuel’s footsteps sounded from the side of the van. Gwen pressed a kiss to Blake’s forehead, reached under the van for her discarded rifle, and ran like hell. *
Blake was losing his bearings as the van limped down the highway, taking turn after turn. He could sense the demon Christian sitting next to him in the dark, and he knew that any sudden move on his part would end painfully. His wrists were bound tightly to his ankles, stretching his arm in a way that pulled at the bullet wound in his shoulder. Holy water soaked through the ropes and sizzled against his skin. Blood from the gunshots pooled steadily out onto the metal floor.
Shadows crept into the edges of his vision. The branches of the tree across his back laced deep into his muscles, reaching for his veins, burning as they sank deep enough to take control of his body. Blake’s heart rate dropped dangerously low, but he didn’t fight it. The lines etched into his skin began to burn, then spread blessed numbness as restorative power began to flow. He sighed in relief and let the fire fade away with the pain, embers to be rekindled only when the time was right. Blake fell asleep underneath the Tree with the warm valley wind caressing his cheek.
He woke with a jolt, pain lancing through his knees, to find that the van had stopped and he had been dumped unceremoniously in the dirt. The ropes were still in place and he swayed, off balance. Two strong hands grabbed his shoulders to catch him, and he blinked as he tried to focus. Everything was swimming, but through the haze Blake recognized two blacks suits, and he realized that he could smell them in the air, sulphur under rotting skin; demons.
Samuel’s tall frame came in to view, and there was murder in his eyes. “Did you think you could just walk into my family?” When Blake didn’t answer, Samuel leaned down and grabbed the collar of his shirt, pulling Blake’s chest forward against the demon’s iron grip. Blake’s lungs screamed for air, and he struggled for shallow breaths against the pressure. The older hunter’s voice dropped to an icy whisper. “Thought you could put your filthy hands all over my niece? I’ve got news for you, freak,” he spat the words, “You’re a dead man.”
Samuel forcefully released Blake, throwing him back to the demons with a snarl. Blake gasped, gathering as much air as the pain would allow. Blake whispered something, and Samuel put a hand to his own ear. “Didn’t quite catch that.”
Blake mustered the strength to raise his eyes to Samuel’s. He smiled. “I … said,”
he panted, “It takes one to know one... Grandpa.”
Samuel’s face flushed with anger, and he leveled a vicious kick at Blake’s midsection. The point of his boot connected, and Blake felt the snap of bone echo through his ribcage. Everything flared white. Blake coughed up something wet into the dust. Distantly he heard Samuel walking away. One of the demons placed a rough sack over his head, and he felt himself being lifted and dragged. Pain bloomed across his middle and into his chest.
Blake was dropped unceremoniously into a tight space. A strong smelling liquid was splashed onto the sack, and the door above him slammed shut. “Great start, genius,” he muttered to himself, “Gotta love it when a plan comes together.”
The engine of the demon’s car started up somewhere off to his right. The chemical soaking into the sack burned his nostrils. Blake choked and sputtered, turning his head away from the smell as best as he could, but whatever drug they’d used was already taking effect. His limbs grew heavy, and his eyes fluttered shut.
The car rolled on, each mile taking Blake one step closer to Crowley’s headquarters. He closed his eyes and focused on trying to conserve his energy. Where they were taking him, Crowley would do a lot more than push him around.
Within minutes, the world faded away in the haze, taking Blake’s pain with it. *
When he woke up, all he could remember was that he had been standing for a very, very long time. Both arms were asleep from being cuffed in wide metal bands and strung above his head on thick chains. The only way to rest his burning leg and sore back was to hang on his hands for a while, which tore into the muscles in his shoulder and splayed out his ribs past the point where he could breathe.
It felt like a freaking sauna in this joint, wherever this
was. Two bright spotlights hung from opposite corners of the room so that no matter which way he turned, everything was whited out. Only shadows moved past him in the room, dark blotches on a narrow horizon as they made noises to distract him, made him twist toward them defensively and hiss at the pain from the reopened wounds.
The solace of the tree provided little relief now. With each breath, searing pain spasmed through his back, trembling against flesh that gaped in long, precise cuts. Muscle memory told him that whole days of Abe’s work had been lost; that one hour’s idle tracing had carved out the entire tree. Even worse was that the bastard had good tools, and the spellbound blade that must have been used had rendered what was left of the mark inert.
Blood slicked the floor. His bare feet slipped in it as he caught the sound of a low whistle and rotated to ready himself for the next onslaught. Out of the corner of one swollen eye, he could barely see the inside of his arm. The circle had always tightened in steady degrees over the years, but now it had shrunk vastly smaller in hours. The black halo had grown much thicker as it clung to the outer edges of the infinity symbol and vibrated. Negative, Ghost Rider, the pattern is full.
“It’s truly amazing to me,” said a man in a suit, “that anything - even such a thing as you - would be able to withstand so much.”
A punch to his ribs sent shudders and dry heaving through his chest. Burning rhythms in his blood clawed their way to the surface to heal him, but stopped short and shrank away when it reached the barrier of moisture in the air.
Blake could hear the voice but not feel the malice. It was just a monotone, an inclination of syllables. As the circle tightened, he fought the process of disassociation. Bone and flesh grew numb enough that his mind edged toward surrender: this place would kill him and give the demons everything they wanted... if only they knew what they had. He took a few deep breaths of the dense air despite the pain and tried to focus. He couldn’t go now. He needed to buy time.
“Can I have a drink of water?” Blake pleaded, with his best gruff voice and his eyebrows held in a pitiable furrow.
“Oh, that’s hilarious. Endearing, in fact. I think I might have some here.” Crowley twisted off the cap of a flask and tipped it towards Blake’s lips.
Blake twisted his mouth to the side before the pain sliced into the side of his cheek, and he shook against it.
“Awww, quite wasteful,” Crowley objected, “I thought you were thirsty.”
“Not for holy water,” he clarified. He bent his head low and shook again.
Crowley took a sip and smacked his lips. “It isn’t scotch, but I hardly understand the revulsion.”
Blake leered. “Do all of the inmates enjoy your parlor tricks, or did you save them just for me?”
“You alpha gits are all the same. No respect for your elders, for the process. No ability to care about the big picture.” Crowley shook his head. He set down the flask and unceremoniously stabbed the small knife into Blake’s thigh, then listened with a smile to the screamed epithets and gasps.
Blake spewed blood across the floor and he got momentarily distracted by the artistic attributes of it. He swallowed and smirked, “I never said I was an alpha.”
“So, let’s discuss parlor tricks, then. Let’s talk about that beautiful, fiery stunt you pulled that cost me my latest prize. He would have been interesting stuff, but you’re positively fascinating.” Crowley got right in his face and the demon stench reeked directly under Blake’s nose, “I don’t accept disappointment. Which is why I am going to make you tell me what you are. I am a business man, and business men demand satisfaction, and there are means by which we will attain certain... goals.”
He jabbed the knife into Blake’s other leg and twisted, tearing another scream from his lungs.
“Tell me what you are. Tell me why you came here,” he heard Crowley ask. He felt the slice of metal as Crowley dragged the point into his leg, up forcefully along his inner thigh and toward his crotch. Blake flinched and took a deep breath, carefully avoiding more than a tiny flare when the breath left and entered his nose.
“I told you... I thought I was checking myself into rehab,” Blake breathed.
The pain ripped into his inner thigh and bloody dregs laced out across the floor. Blake’s head fell backwards from exhaustion.
“Then I hope you like it. Here’s a proposition.” Crowley balanced the knife on the palm of his hand and admired his handiwork, Blake curtained in his own blood. “I may lose interest in knowing what you are... if you tell me where Purgatory is.”
Blake’s dry chuckle was more of a wet cough, “I thought we were standing in it.”
“Don’t get smart with me, and I won’t start getting experimental with you. For example, do you need that willy, there? Is it useful, I wonder, being so … small.” Crowley observed. Then he listed to one side and leaned toward an especially devilish looking contraption.
Blake swallowed hard and his throat moved slowly with the effort. “Look, Sir King, I’m deeply affected by your methodical outrage, but I’m not going to tell you where George and Martha Washington are.”
“Ah, a patriot. I’m touched. However, we both know that you will
talk. There is a story told in the old country - stop me if you’ve heard this one - that in the end, the oldest and wisest member of the clans will reap the earth and every reward in it when he gives up the rest of his kind to be judged. They will have earned such judgement, so the story goes, after what they did to those he loved.”
Blake’s eyes betrayed no emotion at Crowley’s words. He only winked conspiratorially.
His body ached everywhere from his silent efforts, but the edges of a smile began to show in the corners of his eyes. Under the camouflage of his drying blood and the wailing, thrashing monsters echoing his pain through the hallways, his ribcage and thighs had begun to mend. Crowley was going to have to step it up.
“And have I ever told you about the story of Red Hand? Oh that’s right, you weren’t born yet.” Blake nodded arrogantly.
Crowley moved to stand nonchalantly beneath a large ax hanging on the wall and looked back at Blake. “Was it his left hand or his right hand?”
“Once upon a time,” Blake leaned his head forward in the metal restraints as much as he could and spit toward the ground. He continued, “In the wild North, there was an old wise man named Red Hand who could talk to the animals. Nobody knew how old Red Hand was because he lived alone. Several tribes wanted the land where he lived for themselves. They believed that the land was responsible for his great power. If they could live there, they would be able to speak to the animals, too, learn their secrets and gain great power for their people. One day, an enemy felled Red Hand in battle and demanded his secret, which he refused to say. So the man killed him and tore his body apart and left the parts strewn upon the ground. A wolf found him and howled loud enough to gather the rest of the animals. The animals all gave parts of themselves to Red Hand to make him whole again and the bear breathed life into him until he was restored.”
Crowley scoffed from across the room.
“True story,” Blake finished.
“And where is he now, your Red Hand?” Crowley asked, with a twinge more curiosity than was becoming for a demon.
“Oh,” Blake swung slightly on his chains, “he died.”
Crowley stared at him for a moment or two while Blake swung slowly back and forth, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Then Blake used the leverage of his motion to swing himself up into a hand-stand on his cuffed wrists. He wrapped one leg around the upper part of the chain and swung upright again, his weight suspended in a loop around his less wounded leg. He grabbed hold of the water pipe with one hand and with the other, twisted the chain through the clamp hook. Now several feet in the air, but free, he jumped down holding the pile of chain cuffed to his wrists and stood upright to meet the look of shock that carpeted Crowley’s face.
“I’d like a cell now,” Blake towered over him, “and I’d like it to be the honeymoon suite.”
Crowley flinched, fully aware that reaching for the axe behind him would result in Blake’s hands producing untimely volcanic eruptions in parts of his borrowed anatomy. Instead, he blinked professionally. “Now that I am sufficiently bored and hungry, we will reconvene tomorrow. Next time, you will be cuffed to the floor.”
At the disdainful snap of Crowley’s fingers, four demons came in with a high pressure hose aimed at Blake’s face. His jaw slammed shut and a fresh copper taste filled his mouth. He didn’t fight it.
The steam cloud drifted up more and more slowly as his power waned. The tree was falling silent sooner than he’d hoped, sleeping through the monsoon as the demons washed the dried blood from his body and exposed the shredded skin. His shirt fell in tatters from his back and the holes in his jeans sagged with the weight of the water. They grabbed him and pulled the chain at his wrists through two long metal bars, then shoved the bars under his arms, hefting him off his feet. It took all of Blake’s effort to keep breathing and not make a sound.
As they rounded a corner and passed the cells, Blake looked up listlessly into each one. Sometimes, his eyes were met with wide stares and exclamations of fear. Others were clinging to the slimy walls with their back, arms and fingers splayed out like flat spiders, seeking to be as far away from him as they could get. As soon as he passed by, many of them shrieked and groaned in agony. Others reached for him from the tiny barred windows and called out to him without name.
They slammed the cell door after chucking him inside, arms still bound by the chains to the two sets of metal bars. In the dark, he could see well enough, but his eyes would not stay open. He felt the edge of a drain with the side of his face, possibly what was meant to be the sewer, and something spongy and wet with his left foot.
He let his eyes close completely around a few blissful moments of silence. Then the voices crept in through the walls. Some of them were nearing hysteria. “Are you here to kill us?” “Don’t be ridiculous. If he wanted to do that, we’d already be dead.” “Says you! I say he’s wasted and half dead himself!” “Did you get a good look at him? He’ll be killing us all just as soon as he can gather his wits.” “Someone needs to get us out of here.” “That’s probably the grand plan. We don’t talk, so Armani sends us to the biggest dog he’s found yet. It’s a master plan, I tell you.” “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Water dripped from the ends of his clothes and a mouse shuffled by in the corner. He tried to pull his arms loose from the metal bars but they had fallen in a twisted jumble behind him, pulling his shoulders back and locking his elbows. He had to hunch forward, shifting across the concrete floor on his kneecaps. The metal poles were solid and heavy as hell, and it took all his strength to push them along as he searched for the wall. One clanged sharply against the lead door. He kept pushing backward until his arms hit the crossbar and stopped his progress. He sighed and let his head fall back against the door.
On and on, the voices argued between themselves, anger and fear weaving around his senses like moths attracted to a bug zapper. A totally useless bug zapper.
Finally, he lifted his head. “All of you shut the hell up,” he groaned, “I still have ears, you know.”
“Hello?” said a voice in the far corner. It was a feminine voice and the proximity startled him.
“I’m sorry. I thought I was alone,” he said toward the dark corner.
“Then who were you talking to?” she asked. He still couldn’t make out exactly where she was or what she was doing here - she obviously wasn’t one of them if she couldn’t hear them talking. For that matter, why the hell wasn’t he alone? Stupid demons, never follow directions.
He tried to shrug in delayed response to her question and then realized that she probably couldn’t see him either, except for the shadow of his ass in the doorway. “I, uh, it’s not important. Listen, are you tied down?”
“No,” she whispered. “Are you?”
“Can you give me a hand?”
Her voice lowered. “How do I know you won’t hurt me?”
He let his head clang against the door again and tried to shift to a more comfortable position. “You don’t, I guess. Never mind. I just need to get some rest, so you can stop talking to me now.”
“I’m... not talking very much.”
“Good. No talking.”
Several minutes went by and Blake had to shift again to alleviate the burning in his shoulder. At this rate, he wouldn’t be able to heal by the time they came for him again. He tried to refocus his efforts on the metal cuffs, but it would take everything he had to get through them and he’d still be in this room. He needed to recharge.
“You’re hurt,” said the feminine voice from the corner that wasn’t supposed to talk to him.
“Yeah, but I’m not dead,” he replied.
“You’re hurt bad.”
Blake huffed. “What about it?”
“I can smell it. It smells... different.”
“Congratulations, Nancy Drew. You know, you sure don’t listen worth a damn. Anyone ever tell you that?”
Scuffling sounds approached him quickly and he tensed as soon as he felt a hand on his knee. “I know you,” she said distantly. “Where do I know you from?”
Blake opened his eyes and waited for them to focus on the hazy face before him in the splintered light from the doorjamb. A thin face with angular cheekbones and deep, dark eyes stared in the general direction of his face. Her shoulder length hair was matted and her skin was pale. She looked haunted. It had been at least ten years since he’d seen her. “Kate? Is that you?”
She didn’t smile, but her face relaxed and she reached out for his shoulders, trying to find where he was bound. “Yes, it’s me.”
“Thank God. It sure is good to see a friendly face.” Blake tried to shift around to allow in more light and to show her his ensnared hands. “Where is Luther? Is he here?”
Her hands paused midway down his arms and he could hear a breath catching in her throat. After a second or two, she continued. “No, he’s not here. He’s not anywhere. They killed him.”
Sadness filled Blake’s heart and his whole body deflated inside watery edges. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault. It was mine.” She sounded curt now as she tried to stay on task, to work his arms free.
He could hear her choking back the desire to chase his heartbeat. She must be near starving in this place to be losing her abilities and control. “I’m sure it wasn’t like that,” he said gently.
“Luther was right,” she whispered as she searched behind him. Her fingers were freezing. “Revenge is pretty worthless if you end up dead. I tried to give him revenge and it killed him. They took his gun, and they killed him.”
“They killed him with the gun? Kate, who was it?”
“Took me years to find out, but people talk. They were friends of that bastard Elkins, called themselves Winchester. Killing them was the only thing I could think about... until I heard they were all dead.”
“And the gun?”
“No idea. If I ever see it again, it will be too soon.” She made a low sound in her throat, “Got it. Move.” Blake leaned forward as far as he could and she grabbed the end of the pole that was twisted and crossed and stood to lift it.
The pole broke free from the tangle and she set it down in the corner with a thud. It was enough for him to move again, even though he was still shackled. Every muscle was tense and stiff. His back popped loudly into place and he groaned and rolled his shoulder. He tried to get a better look at her condition. “How long have you been here?”
“Haven’t had a chance to check my cell phone lately,” she responded glibly. “I’d say close to six months. I told them they had no hold over me, to go ahead and kill me because everyone I cared about was dead.” Then she smiled. “I didn’t count on you being alive.”
Blake reached up to cup her face in his hands. “Well, here I am. And we’ve gotta take care of each other.” He pulled a shackle down to the raw end of his wrist and wiped at the inside of his arm. “Here. You need to have something.”
Kate laid her hand gently on his arm and pushed it down again. “Did you hit your head when they threw you in here? You’re in no shape for that. If anything, I should be helping you.”
Blake stared at her and then he clenched his eyes shut tightly. Screams renewed down the hallways and reached their ears. Some of the prisoners around them started pounding on the doors of their cells, demanding to be let out. Blake could sense their excitement at new meat walking down the aisles. “What I wouldn’t give for a Royale with cheese right now,” he joked.
They rested and waited.
She noted once or twice that things seemed more lively out there than normal, but neither of them could see past the walls of the cell across the hall.
It was tiring in a different way, draining energy from those around him, but he didn’t have much of a choice. If they were good ones, they would survive this. If he was lucky, none of them would remember a thing, especially Kate.
She said that he should be the one to give Crowley a run for his money. He said it wasn’t about beating some weaselly demon, even if he was the King of Hell. He’d come to find his friends. He wanted to take their fathers home.
After a few more hours, he fell asleep in her lap as she stroked his face, humming under her breath. When he woke, it was just as dark as before and she was laid out beside him, breath shallow and body still.
He stood and ran his hands over himself. He was considerably better, his skin mostly smooth and bruised, but he was still sore when he breathed and he was beginning to feel pangs for real food. He walked over to the door shakily and held his hand out toward the thick steel deadbolt on the door. It was so much worse than he’d thought. They would all die here. They had to get out, somehow.
Simultaneously, all the locked bolts around him screeched and slid from their resting places and the doors were sucked open with a huge clang. Blake was stunned, his hand still reached out meditatively toward the handle where it had been only seconds before. “Okay,” he said slowly.
He took a few steps forward and peered cautiously out. Some were doing nearly the same. Others took off running and shouting, bouncing off of each other down the hallway. Those left behind started crying for them to come back, come back and help them, they were chained to the walls or unable to walk.
At the end of the south hallway, one figure stood perfectly still, back stiff as he watched them panic and flee past him, his trench coat yanked up and bloodied in the onslaught of terrified bodies searching for an exit. Blake watched the head tilt several times awkwardly, like he’d heard a familiar voice or felt someone’s eyes on him.
Suddenly, the figure pivoted in place and a pair of piercing blue eyes scanned the hallway for the source of the feeling, but whatever had been watching him was already gone. Book 2, Part 1