11 Taken

Chase turned to William, who had gasped at recognizing the house in the distance.

“What is it?” Chase asked.

“Something’s happened at Sebastian’s house,” William muttered, and both boys jumped as there was a loud knock at the door. William carefully checked and saw the very tense face of Lt. Spencer through the peep hole. William opened the door and the man rushed in, Eric on his heels. “What’s happened?” William demanded.

Spencer looked distressed. “I’m not sure, I can’t get through to the manor….” He looked guiltily over his shoulder at Eric and said, “I was chatting with Eric last night, and James told me just to take the night off and hang out. Sebastian got me a room so I could stay. Then I was watching the news.” William thought the man might start crying he looked so guilty.

“It’s not your fault,” William said, putting a hand on the man’s shoulder and giving it a squeeze. “Chase, can you tell anything?”

The boy sat down and put a hand out and his eyes went blank for just a moment. “Whatever was happening, it’s over…. The only presences powerful enough for me to sense from here are Avery and Sebastian and they’re both alive….”

“Thank God,” Lt. Spencer sighed.

But Chase gave him a look and warned, “I didn’t say they were well. I just can’t tell beyond that. We need to get down there, closer, and then maybe I can tell more,” the boy said, pushing himself to his feet. “Do you think you can get us nearby, but outside the police perimeter?” Chase asked the young lieutenant.

“Yes, I think so,” the man said, before turning and taking Eric by the elbow and leading him into the hall. The two had a brief conversation and Eric nodded and turned to go. Spencer pulled him into a hug, causing the man to smile brightly, before hurrying back inside. William couldn’t help but smile even in the circumstances, and Spencer, blushing, asked, “What?”

“Eric’s a really nice guy. He’ll make a good friend,” William answered cryptically. Then he added, “Now let’s get this show on the road!”

“William,” Chase said suddenly, “try Sam….”

William got out his cell phone and called Sam Roth’s number. The old rabbi answered, “William? Is everything alright?”

“It was,” the boy replied. “Have you seen the news?”

“No, what do you mean?” the man asked.

“There was an explosion outside of Sebastian’s and we can’t reach them…. We’re going there now,” William said.

“It might not be safe,” Sam exclaimed.

“We’re getting close, not going inside,” William said, not budging.

“Where are you opening the portal?” Sam asked with a sigh.

“Here, I’ll let you talk to Lt. Spencer,” William said, handing the phone to the young soldier.

The man gave some explanation and began nodding, muttering things like, “Yes, general…. No general….” And then the man hung up. Turning to the boys, he said, “He’s meeting us there to guard our arrival and offer assistance as required.”

“Good,” Chase said, and the young man began opening a portal to the exact location he had described to Sam Roth.

Sam was waiting for them when they stepped through, and led them as close as they could get to the manor without being observed by the police, who had cordoned off the neighborhood. “The danger is definitely gone…. I can’t tell who was in the car, but no one was killed. It wasn’t a car bomb,” Chase said with a note of certainty.

Sam nodded. “It looks like someone threw a powerful energy ball at the car as it exited the manor’s grounds, flipping the car over…. If you’re sure it’s safe, we need to get inside, Chase….”

“I’m sure,” Chase said. The defenses around the house were too strong to unilaterally open a portal, however, so Chase reached for the dagger he had commandeered and repeated the procedure, tearing a hole in space and leading the men into Sebastian’s basement. Within moments, voices were shouting at them to freeze.

“Stand down! Stand down! General Sam Roth, reporting….”

“Stand down!” Avery exclaimed. “He’s got the boys….”

“More accurately, Avery, the boys’ got me. None of us could get through on the radios or phones. Something is suppressing communications,” Sam said.

“We’re on it. ­­­They must have learned their lesson from the original assault. They didn’t give us a chance to call in reinforcements….” Avery sounded grave, and his active presence did not bode well, given that he had withdrawn since the death of his brother. If he was occupying such an active leadership role, something was terribly awry.

“What’s wrong?” Chase asked, silencing everyone. “Where is Sebastian?”

“He’s upstairs in his room…. They’re pumping him full of blood. He was injured but he’ll heal himself in pretty short order, given his age and power. But I’ve ordered him sedated. We’ve called in a druid witch to keep him under….”

“Why?” Chase asked, his voice hollow and barely suppressing anger. It was chilling coming from him.

“Because I … don’t know what to do. It’s too dangerous to wake him,” Avery said, hedging.

WHAT … IS … WRONG, MARSHALL?” Chase asked, using Avery’s rank, and everyone could feel that if he could see, he would be staring Avery down. And he’d be winning.

“James,” the man said, closing his eyes. “James is gone!”

The tears rose in Chase’s eyes as he coughed away his tears to ask, “Gone? You mean dead?”

“No…. Maybe. We just don’t know,” Avery said. “They took him. He was thrown clear of the car and they took him. We don’t know whether they took him dead or alive. To be honest I don’t know which would be better….”

“Alive is better,” Chase said with a note of finality before turning to William. “Take me to him,” Chase demanded of his love.

William led him out of the room full of soldiers and up two flights of stairs to the master bedroom. Sebastian looked small and frail in the enormous king-sized bed. His physical injuries were healing but they still looked terrible. Chase reached out and touched the edge of the bed and guided himself down to sit. Then Chase grasped for Sebastian’s hand, but William had to guide him. William stepped out into the hall and leaned against the wall.

They had all been so happy just hours before. Now everything seemed headed for ruin. Hearing tears, William stood and walked down the hall where he found Chris in Steve’s arms.

“Hi, guys,” William said softly as they noticed him.

Steve nodded and Chris whispered, “First Peter, now James…. When will this nightmare be over?”

William sat down next to Chris and put an arm across his shoulder. “Soon, I hope…. But I don’t know. We’ll get him back … if we can.”

“Him?” Chris asked through his tears. “You mean them?”

William gave them a funny look and said, “What do you think happened to Peter? You know he went over to the other side, right?”

The look on Chris’s face said he did not know that. “That’s not true! It can’t be true!”

Steve said, by way of an explanation, “Peter was like Chris’s brother and best friend,” realizing in an instant that everyone had been protecting them from that knowledge.

“I’m so sorry, Chris, but it’s true…. Without Peter’s help, Sammael wouldn’t have been able to resurrect the last ancient vampire he wanted for his scheme. He was standing at Sammael’s right hand when we saved Sebastian and the others,” William said.

Chris broke down crying and said, “Peter would never,” before he was totally overcome.

“I’m sorry,” William repeated, sitting quietly with the boys until Chase appeared.

“He’s healing,” Chase said, “but Avery is right. We can’t wake him up right now.” Then his face changed slightly. “Chris? Are you alright?” He felt the boy’s pain.

William explained about Chris’s connection to Peter and that he had let slip that Peter had joined the other side. Chase took William’s place next to the boy and shooed the other two boys out of the room.

“Chris, do you know what I am?” Chase asked.

“I’ve heard rumors…. Do you know what you are?” Chris asked.

Chase laughed, “Partly…. If I told you that I’ll do whatever it takes to save Peter for you, would that make a difference?”

“You’d … do that?” Chris asked softly.

“I can try my darnedest. I’ll do whatever I can to bring the boy back to you,” Chase said. “Just don’t lose hope….”

Chase felt Chris’s arms around him, the boy’s heart surging with relief, and Chase returned his hug and called for the other boys.

Later, when they were alone, William would ask what Chase had done or said to make the boy’s spirits improve so much, but Chase only smiled and said, “Trust me….”

Chase called his mother and father with the news, “We’re at Sebastian’s,” he said with a heavy sigh. “He’s been injured and James was taken. We’re going to stay here as long as it takes….”

“Sweetheart,” Sarah began, her voice heavy.

“Mom! This isn’t a negotiation…. We’re staying!” Chase said firmly.

“Sweetheart,” Sarah began, this time a tone in her voice, “I was going to tell you to be careful and stay close to William. Matt will know which of your friends to tell?”

“Yeah, mom…. Tell him everything. And I’m sorry I got on your case,” Chase said.

“Don’t worry about me, sweetie. We’ll see you soon. I love you,” Sarah said.

“Love you too, mom,” Chase said as he hung up the phone.

Then he had William lead him to Avery. “You know you can’t keep him sedated forever?” Chase asked the man pointedly. Avery might have glared at him, but Chase wouldn’t have seen. “What do we know?”

Avery replied, a little saucily, “Not that I report to you … but the trail is cold!”

Chase gave him a funny face before observing, “No, but if it weren’t for me, none of you would be reporting to anyone….”

“Too true,” Avery allowed with a laugh. “A man from the Society is coming down this afternoon to test you and William by the way….”

“What for?” William asked.

“Since you are a wizard, and Chase is … whatever he is … it is required that you be assigned a rank before you are pressed into regular service,” Avery replied.

“Rank isn’t based on experience?” Chase asked.

“No, it’s based on power and ability,” Avery said.

“So you’re a marshal?” Chase asked. “What does that mean?”

“Marshal and Grand Marshal are the two highest ranks. Only two people alive today hold the rank of Marshal, none the rank of Grand Marshall,” Avery observed.

“So there’s you, and Christen?” William asked.

“Heavens no! Christen is a bright and accomplished young witch—she’s a Lt. General, like Sam…. You’re father was just appointed Brigadier General before he left the Society and the Council,” Avery added with a nod.

“So who is the other Marshal,” Chase asked.

“Why, Her Majesty the Queen, of course!” Avery exclaimed, like it should have been obvious.

Chase nodded. “In the meantime, I’d like to go to the Temple and see if I can get anything about James’s disappearance. If you can help us?”

Avery nodded and accompanied the boys to the door to William’s space, which already had an existing portal to the Temple.

***

You could have heard a pin drop in hell’s archive as Sammael stood facing Pursan. “What have you done?” Pursan asked with venom. “How dare you bring him here?”

“There is nowhere else, my teacher,” Sammael said, lowering his head in a sign of respect. “I had to bring him beyond the reach of Sebastian and … the boy!”

Pursan grunted impatiently. “Tell me about the boy….”

“He’s small for his age, blond, extraordinarily beautiful … for a human…. And power! So much power!” Sammael said.

“His eyes?” Pursan asked hesitantly.

“Blind,” Sammael answered. “What is he?”

Pursan looked long and hard from beneath his ancient cowl, before scowling, “He is the end-game, and he must not find the vampire here! You’ve broken the accords, Sammael, just by bringing him below!”

“Accords! Luckily He turns a blind eye to what goes on below the sphere of the moon! He doesn’t CARE!” Sammael said.

“Sammael, you are making a mistake that could cost us everything,” Pursan said, exhaling deeply. “Put him in your old cell….”

“Thank you, my teacher,” Sammael said, again lowering his head in respect. Then he motioned for his men to seal the boy in.

“Now let me see your hands,” Pursan said, reaching for the blackened flesh of Sammael’s human form. “You touched him?”

“Yes. I had no idea. We took him because he is Sebastian’s lover,” Sammael said, downcast. “We were going to torture him and drive Sebastian mad with grief!”

Pursan laughed, “Only to find out that you cannot touch him! The irony. Good thing you didn’t try to rape him!” Sammael rolled his eyes, but he’d had every intention of enjoying the boy’s supple flesh, and of sending the video to Sebastian. And he knew his old teacher knew. “This one was foretold ages ago, Lord Sammae, the vampire born of love! Frankly, you’re lucky you were able to hold your human form together! The filth permeates his being….”

“You’ll keep him secretly?” Sammael asked.

“They’d destroy me if they found out I was still with you…. And breaking the Accords? Not everyone is as flippant as you about the possibility of Divine intrusion into infernal affairs!”

“Thank you,” Sammael said, and then he was gone. He couldn’t afford to get caught downstairs either!

Stepping out of the shadows, Daemon gave a little clap. “You’re a tricky old devil, aren’t you?” Daemon asked with a laugh.

“The fool has brought ruin on us all! Watch over the boy and keep him safe at all costs! And for Evil’s sake, don’t touch him!”

Daemon nodded and bounded off toward hell’s most forbidding prison. Looking through the door, he saw James had been left bound and gagged with a bag over his head. So he stepped inside and ripped the bag off. James’s eyes were wide with fear, rage, and recognition.

“Stop struggling, ape! I’m going to unbind you, but if you hurt me I can’t help you!” Daemon said.

With a doubtful look, James stopped moving and let Daemon remove the gag. “YOU!”

“I thought you looked familiar! You’re the cute little vampire’s jock-boy!” Daemon said.

“James,” the big boy growled. “Daemon….”

“Yes well, most men don’t forget me once they’ve seen me! Listen, same rules apply. I’m going to untie you….” And he did.

“What’s going on?” James asked, confused and definitely not trusting this latest bit of help.

“Sammael kidnapped you, and now he’s brought you down to the Pit to lock you in his own cell! He’s trying to keep the kid out….”

“You’ve got to let me out,” James said, looking panicked.

“I can’t help you escape, and if I let you out, they’ll kill you if they find you down here! Having a non-damned soul in hell would be grounds for a Divine invasion,” Daemon said.

“So what am I supposed to do?” James asked.

“Stay here…. I’ll protect you and feed you until we can figure out how to get you rescued without destroying us all! In the meantime, cast a circle and spend all your time reinforcing it. That way, if Sammael comes back, you’ll be safe….” James looked very unhappy, but he nodded and began drawing a circle in the floor that took up most of the room.

***

Chase stood in the Temple with his hands on the altar in a silent back-and-forth with the voices only he could hear. At last he shouted, startling William, “Tell me where he is! We’ll find him!”

“There are a billion billions of worlds, mortal child,” a loud voice echoed through the room. This one William heard. “You’ll find him when the time comes, if it’s meant to come!”

“How can you do this? Give me so much power that is entirely useless to help those I love?” Chase asked, tears streaking his lovely face. “You speak to me, unless I need to hear!”

“Very well,” the voice said, with a terrifying note of finality, and fell silent. Chase gasped and William rushed to his side.

“What is it, baby?” William asked.

“Silence…. The voices are gone!” Chase’s voice was full of anxiety and a touch of relief.

“Let’s go,” William whispered, and led him to the door, shutting the portal behind them.

As they returned to Sebastian’s, they heard Avery call out, “I’m glad you’re back…. Mr. Smith is here from the Society….  What happened?” he asked as he noticed their faces.

William shook his head. “I’ll go first. Chase needs to rest a while….”

An older gentleman in a three-piece suit approached and held out his hand, “Nigel Smith. You must be William Jennings! I remember when I gave your father this test before he was promoted! He’d be very proud of you today, young man, based on what I hear from his own teacher….”

“Thank you sir, though my father left the Society and Council for a reason,” William reminded.

“Yes, well…. Water under the bridge…. Your father is missed,” the man added as he led William upstairs and outside.

The test was a rigorous examination of William’s skill at manipulating the magical elements—the heat of the fire he could conjure, how much earth he could move, and the like. Then he was tested on the strength of his offensive spells and defensive spells. When he had a particularly difficult time defending against William’s offensive spells, Smith summoned Avery.

“Avery, if you wouldn’t mind, I need you to test the boy’s defenses. His offense is fairly formidable….”

So Avery raised a beam of energy and fired it at William’s shield, increasing power gradually until it began to pierce William’s defenses. Then Avery whispered to the man to give him the data he needed. “Very impressive,” the man noted and then made a calculation. “The queen herself will want to award you your insignia, but I’ve made my determination,” the man said with a salute, “Colonel Jennings!”

Avery slapped the boy on the shoulder and said, “GOOD SHOW! William looked dazed as he shook Mr. Smith’s hand.

“Are you ready, Chase?” Smith asked. The boy nodded and stood but he was clearly distracted. The man ran him through the elements one by one, muttering to himself and making notations.

He looked perturbed when he said, “Let’s move on to offensive spells…. When I say ready, give me all you’ve got!”

“Wait!” Avery and William yelled at once.

“That’s not a good idea,” Avery said. “You don’t understand….”

“Don’t be silly! The boy isn’t even a wizard!” But the man raised a very powerful shield, more powerful than he would have otherwise, and said, “Ready!”

Chase raised his hand and did not give the man all he had—just all he had an interest in giving. And all he heard was a loud bang, followed by a thud. “What happened?” Chase asked.

“It seems Mr. Smith has bumped his head,” Avery said as he crossed the yard to help the man up.

After a few minutes, Smith murmured, “Perhaps you’d like to take over from here, Avery?”

Avery smiled and raised the most powerful shield he could manage, and when Chase hit him, he really let go. When the energy ball struck Avery’s shield, he was just able to maintain it, though he stumbled back a few feet. Avery then consulted with Smith about the strength of the shield and the impact of the blast.

Smith simply shook his head and said, “Chase, raise your shield, and Avery will attack it with a beam of magick, increasing in intensity until he can penetrate your defenses. Okay?”

The boy nodded and raised his shield. Smith blanched at the sight of it and the little shock wave of energy that pulsed through the yard off of it. “Now!” Avery increased his intensity steadily for ten minutes until his energy burned blue/white, throbbing and many feet wide.

“Avery?” Smith asked, uncertain.

But Avery’s forehead was beaded with sweat and concentration, and he did not answer for another minute, at which time he merely shook his head and dropped his attack.

“That is not possible,” Smith said with absolute certainty. “You’re a wizard and he isn’t!”

“Then how do you explain it, Nigel?” Avery asked with a little grin.

The man groaned and shook his head, and returned to his calculations. At last he sighed, wrote his report and handed it to Avery. “You’ll need to sign this to verify that you used as much energy as you said. This is above my pay-grade,” the man said, unhappily as he walked away to make a phone call.

“What’s going on?” Chase asked. “Did I do something wrong?”

“No,” Avery laughed. “You just showed him what his precious assumptions are worth!”“

Nigel returned wearing a frown. “The queen will arrive in three days time to see a display of your power and to award you your rank.”

“Can’t you tell us?” Avery asked.

“The queen reserves that honor for herself. These are dark times, and she hopes the ceremony, which will be broadcast across our network, will be a morale-boosting event. Good day, gentlemen!” And the little man disappeared, leaving even Avery looking surprised and uncertain.

“Alright, then! What do we do now?” Avery pondered.

Chase smiled wanly at him and said, “You don’t answer to me, remember!”

“You’re never going to let me live that down, are you?” Avery asked with a smile.

Chase just smiled and said, “Any news?”

“Yeah, and it’s not good. They’ve learned their lesson: get in, get out, spread chaos,” Avery said. “Come on, I’ll let you guys in on what we’ve got since last night….”

They went down to Sebastian’s office and Avery began playing clips for them from surveillance video and even some news reports, describing bits of the scene for Chase’s benefit.

“This first video is from a village outside of Rome,” Avery began.

The female reporter’s voiceover took over from there: “What you’re seeing is a little fishing village near Rome, the sight of a health catastrophe of biblical proportions. The entire town has been quarantined to control the rampant spread of an as-yet unidentified virus which has claimed over two hundred lives….”

“Resheph?” Chase asked.

“Plague is his favorite mystical toy,” Avery said, “though Aethon could have done this too.  He taught Resheph all he knows…. But we suspect Aethon’s been at work elsewhere….” With that, he switched videos.

“The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has announced that a blight has struck the grain fields of the Ukraine, formerly the ‘bread basket’ of the USSR, destroying as much as 30% of the annual harvest. It is unclear what affect this will have on international grain supply and prices…. If the fungus spreads, it could decimate the European grain harvest for years to come!”

“Hell,” William exclaimed.

Just then, the phone rang and Avery picked up. A few short seconds later, he muttered “Mother fucker,” and keyed up a live feed from a local station in New York.

A reporter in a helicopter was shouting into her microphone, “We are reporting live from above the Long Island Sound’s Hart Island, city of the city burial ground, a so-called ‘potter’s field’. In the last century-and-a-half, New York City has buried nearly a million of its unclaimed dead on this desolate island, where, tonight, the unthinkable is happening. We have reports that the dead are rising from their graves! This afternoon, the department of corrections lost contact with the work detail in charge of burying the dead here, as well as security staff. Fly-overs reveal, as we are now broadcasting, the island is over-run by corpses, more rising by the minute. So far the authorities have no explanation, and the incident seems isolated. Nevertheless, this is cause for alarm….”

Avery shut off the news feed and told the boys, “Get suited up, and tell the men to get ready to go! Looks like we’re going zombie-hunting…. Then he got on the phone with his fellow commanders, and then the governor of New York.

The man was in a panic. “We can’t give you your cover story, Mr. Governor, and too many people have seen it anyway! Maybe you can sell it as a hoax, maybe not, but we need you to shut down the airspace over the damn island so we can go in and sanitize it…. Yes sir, we can! No I don’t think they can leave the island…. The magick animating them won’t allow them to cross the sound, unless someone is controlling them all individually! No, governor, they’re probably not infectious. There are too many of them for it to be that kind of outbreak. They’re just plain old homicidal, super-strong corpses! Yes sir, we are better equipped for that…. Thank you sir. As soon as the choppers are all cleared out of airspace, we’ll go in. I’ll let you know when the situation is under control….”

When the team was assembled, Avery explained his plan, which involved casting a giant magick circle around Hart Island to cut off the flow of magick that was keeping the corpses animate. They would have to do this from boats and coordinate, which was a trick procedure, but he had already made arrangements with the Coast Guard to sail five ships to position them around the island for the procedure.

Three hours later, they were in place and began the spell, which expended a great deal of energy. But within moments of completing it, the air hummed and a pop could be heard in the distance. And all at once, a few hundred thousand corpses fell dead and decaying to the ground. It was a huge mess to clean up, but that was for the human authorities to handle.

Back at the house, William and Chase were given an inflatable mattress to set up in the floor of Sebastian’s spacious room, where they got some sleep. In the morning, they wandered down to find their friends drinking coffee around the television as pundits weighed in on the recent events. Even as scientists thoroughly discredited themselves by trying to explain how there must be a rational explanation for how decades- or centuries-old corpses could crawl out of the ground, the priests and religious leaders on the program sounded utterly rational.

One old man declared, shouting down a scientist, “Isn’t it clear what this is? It’s God’s judgment upon us all! Armageddon! THE END IS HERE!” Sometimes the simplest answer IS the truth. Then he couldn’t help but add, “Our society’s toleration of all manner of sin—rape, pedophilia, homosexuality—this is what has brought us to the edge of oblivion….”

“So, God brought the dead back to life on Hart Island to protest New York’s gay marriage drive? You people never made it far past the Inquisition, did you?” one of the scientists asked in rebuttal. “God has nothing to do with this!”

Avery switched off the program and said, “He’s right on that, but for all the wrong reasons…. There was more activity overnight. A group of rebel soldiers in central Africa attacked a boy’s orphanage, raping and murdering most of the residents. This has sparked renewed fighting in the local civil war. Sekhmet was sighted in the area, of course. Oh, and two women were videotaped being attacked by werewolves, of all things, in Paris last night. All this Armageddon talk is heating up all over the world…. And there is precious little we can do about it!”

“We’ll hold the line,” a weak voice from behind them startled them all. “Now what the hell is going on here?” Sebastian asked, looking shaky on his feet. William rushed to his side and helped him to a seat.

“I, uhm…. You should be in bed, Sebastian,” Avery stuttered.

“What happened?” Sebastian asked. “The last thing I remember, I got a call and James and I were on our way to the intel offices…. Then, nothing!” Chase knelt by his side and took his hand, while William grasped his other hand. Sebastian’s face began to dawn with comprehension, and he choked out, “What happened?” He had a helpless look on his face and directed that full force at his oldest friend.

Avery’s eyes got misty, and he averted his gaze as he said, “They took him…. We don’t know where, why, or in what condition….”

A heaving sob wracked Sebastian’s inner being as he doubled over. Chase ran a hand softly through his hair and kissing his head. “We’ll get him back, Sebastian,” the boy whispered. But Sebastian’s chest merely heaved with another sob.

Chase held onto him as William helped Sebastian up and led him upstairs back to his room. When he lay down on the bed, he was nearly in a fetal position, but he didn’t let go of Chase’s hand. The boy nodded to William that he should go, and Chase lay down facing Sebastian. “I went to the Temple to try to find him, Sebastian,” he whispered. “I was so angry that they wouldn’t tell me, I lost my temper, and … now the voices are gone,” he added with a tearful laugh. “I’m so sorry!”

Chase felt Sebastian’s arms surround him and the two cried together until they could cry no more. When William looked in on them later, he found them sleeping soundly.

***

Daemon tossed James a bag of O-Negative and sat outside his protective circle on the floor, looking as delectable as ever. “Turn off the charm, demon,” James said grumpily. It bothered him how much he liked to look at the pretty demon-boy.

“It is my burden to bear,” Daemon said, smiling sweetly.

“So, why me?” James asked. “What’s the … plan here? I’m not that important….”

“That depends on the perspective, doesn’t it? If you had an enemy who was more effective than you expected, and you weren’t sure you could get to him, what would be the best way to make him less effective, besides killing him?”

James thought for a moment. “Preoccupy him…. I’m a distraction.”

“And a pleasant one to look at…. I could sit in here all day if you’d take off some of those bothersome clothes,” Daemon said seductively.

“What is his next move?” James asked, ignoring him.

“Alas, we are not in on his plot…. But what would you do in his place?” Daemon wondered out loud.

“Well, there’s Chase,” James said, knowing he wasn’t revealing anything to Daemon, who’d had a close encounter with the boy.

“That there is. He is frightened of the boy. That’s why he took so desperate a measure as bringing you down here. It violates the Accords that established this place and ended the war with heaven…. If hell knew you were here, they wouldn’t just remain neutral; they’d actively fight Sammael.”

“So why don’t we tell them?” James asked.

“They don’t want war with heaven, so they’d be obliged to destroy the evidence. And you and I are the evidence….”

“Good reason,” James responded. “So he’ll go after Chase next…. But if he decided not to go after Sebastian in such a roundabout way, what are the chances he’ll take Chase head-on?”

“Oh, no…. He’ll hit him where it hurts—his family, his friends, his lover…. He doesn’t need to defeat Chase. He only needs enough time to bring his plan to fruition,” Daemon explained.