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|Hell's Heroes(The Demonata #10) by Darren Shan|
“Do you feel sorry for them?” Lord Loss asks as Bec shudders.
“Yes,” she whimpers.
“Good,” he says. “Pity is a virtue. I feel sorry for them too. It’s true,” he insists as she shoots him a dubious glance. “I take pleasure from their torment, but I feel pity too. That is how I differ from my fellow demons. I don’t hate humanity. I crave their torment and sorrow, but I also adore them. I torture with love, Little One. Can you understand that?”
“No,” she frowns.
He sighs. “At least you are honest. I’m glad you can reveal your true feelings to me. I don’t want there to be any deception between us. Always tell me the truth, even if you think I won’t like it. Lies belittle us all.”
Bec observes silently as Lord Loss sets to work on a few of the humans hanging from the walls or lying across hard tables. He acts like a nurse as he tortures them, every movement deceptively gentle and loving. He purrs softly, telling them how sorry he is, how he wishes he could free them, how it won’t be much longer now.
Bec doesn’t look as if she shares the demon master’s enjoyment, but she doesn’t object either. I’ve tried to read her mind every time we get to this point, but I can’t. I’d give anything to know what’s in her thoughts. I hope she’s putting on a detached face to fool Lord Loss, to stay on his good side and trick him into thinking she doesn’t hate him. I hope this is a masterful act, that she’s plotting to betray him, waiting and praying for Kernel and me to burst in and rescue her.
But her eyes are calm and emotionless, and when she licks her lips, it looks as if she’s fighting a desire to try what Lord Loss is doing.
As the demon master continues to extract fresh pain from his victims, Bec casts her gaze around, and my virtual head swivels too. This is the part I hate the most. I try to look away or shut my eyes, but I’m locked in. I have to see what she sees, even though it sends a chill through my bones that will still be there when I wake.
The people chained to the walls and torture devices are a varied mix. Men and women, boys and girls, of different races. No babies—Lord Loss likes to be able to hold discussions with his victims. With a single exception, I don’t recognize any of them, though I know by his magical aura that one—a thin, blond-haired man—is a Disciple.
Bec studies the Disciple—he’s in the worst shape of all, kept alive only by magic—then moves on, her gaze sweeping over a girl my age. I didn’t notice her the first few times. To Bec she’s of no more interest than any of the others. It’s a blink-and-you-miss-it moment. It was only after the fourth or fifth time, when I was concentrating on details to keep boredom at bay, that I focused on the girl’s face and got a shock that echoes even now, twenty or so viewings later.
The girl is pretty, but her face is covered with blood and scrunched up with terror. Her clothes hang from her in filthy rags, but I’m sure they originally came from the finest designer boutiques. And although her hair is a tangled mess and her nails are long and cracked, once they were as carefully tended as a model’s.
Apart from the blood, the girl doesn’t seem to have been tortured, but many of Lord Loss’s victims look unmarked. He patches them up and lets them recover a little when he’s done, to make it all the more painful next time. Inside, I’m sure she’s been twisted and torn in more ways than most humans could imagine.
As Bec’s eyes dart about, I snatch the same quick glimpse of the girl that I’ve been horrified by ever since I realized who she was. Back on Earth, in a quiet hospital room, my lips move as I mutter in my sleep. “Bo Kooniart…”
BEC and Lord Loss move on eventually, up another set of stairs, to a different part of the demon master’s palace. Blood drips from his doughy flesh as he floats along, but it’s not his own. Bec is silent, head bowed, brooding.
I’m thinking about Bo Kooniart. It seems like a lifetime since I last saw her, racing back into a demon-infested town in search of her horrible father and pain of a brother. Bo was one of the actresses in Slawter, a movie about demons made by a crazed director who decided to use real-life monsters in the name of art.
I despised Bo. Her father, Tump Kooniart, was a powerful agent, which was the only reason she and her brother were cast in the film. He was working in league with the director and Lord Loss. He thought the Demonata would spare him and his children. He thought wrong.
Bo was a spoiled, snobbish, sneering little brat. But when the demons ran riot and our lives hung in the balance, she acted selflessly, heroically. We might not have escaped without her help. Then, rather than follow us to freedom, she went back to try to rescue her father and brother.
I assumed Bo had been killed along with the hundreds of others who died, but Lord Loss must have spared her and taken her to his own universe, where he could torture her at his leisure.
When I realized Bo was still alive, trapped in that chamber of nightmares, I felt that I was directly to blame. Lord Loss authorized the attack on the film set in order to wreak revenge on Dervish and me. All those people died because of us. Bo is in torment because of me. I feel compelled to cross and break her out. But I don’t dare, not until I’ve decided what to do about Bec. I might get away with one sneak attack on Lord Loss’s kingdom, but never two.
The tour continues. Bec is quiet for the most part and looks gloomy, but I’m sure I’d look a lot worse in her position. How can she walk alongside that beast so calmly? Unless she’s considering joining him…
I wish they’d have a conversation about it. In movies, the villain always gives his plan away by talking too much and revealing his secrets. But Lord Loss never discusses Bec’s state of mind. There’s no mention of the war between the Demonata and mankind, or what role he wants Bec to play in it.
The pair enter a room filled with chessboards, and the demon master’s face lights up. After our showdown in Slawter, he said I’d spoiled chess for him, but that’s not true. He’s still a fanatic, as evidenced by the care he takes of the boards and the way he describes them to Bec, telling her where he got them, the games he’s played, the opponents he’s faced.
“Did you carve any of these yourself?” Bec asks.
“No,” he says morosely. “I started to, several times, but chess is like a religion for me. Whenever I sat down to make a set of my own, it felt like sacrilege.”
Bec looks around at the array. She seems to be searching for one in particular. “What about the original Board?” she asks eventually.
“Why do you seek that?” Lord Loss’s eyes narrow.
“I don’t seek it,” Bec smiles. “I’d just like to see it again. I know you took it from the cave after Drust died.”
“You mean after you killed him,” Lord Loss murmurs.
Bec stiffens, then tilts her head. “Aye.”
Lord Loss clicks several fingers. A demon with five legs and a neck like a giraffe scurries away and returns with a crystal board, the first that was ever made on this world. According to Kernel, it was a tool of the Old Creatures. They used it to help mankind evolve.
Lord Loss holds the Board reverently, then passes it to Bec. She treats it the same careful way he did, examining it closely. “It’s amazing,” she whispers. “I can feel the power, so different from ours.”
“The magic of the Old Creatures,” Lord Loss sniffs. “It’s nothing special.”
Bec hides a smirk behind the Board. I don’t see what all the fuss is about. It’s just another chessboard as far as I’m concerned. I know it has magical properties, but I’ve seen a hundred more fascinating objects in my travels.
Bec hands the Board back to Lord Loss. The dream’s almost over. I’m anticipating the end. But before the conclusion, there will be one last conversation.
“I’d like to enter it,” Bec says.
“Why?” Lord Loss snaps suspiciously.
“I know of its splendors. Kernel went there once, many years ago. I want to experience them for myself.”
Lord Loss is frowning. “You cannot escape me in there,” he growls. “If you think you can tap into the magic of the Old Creatures and use it against me, you are gravely mistaken.”
“That’s not my intention,” Bec says calmly. “You said earlier that you didn’t want me to lie. So I’ll tell you truthfully, I do have a secret reason for wanting to enter the Board. But it has nothing to do with escape.”
Bec’s eyes flicker. It’s the furtive look of someone who suspects she is being watched, who wants to go somewhere private to discuss dark deeds. I think, as I’ve thought every time I see her eyes move, Does she know I’m here?
This is no normal dream. I’m certain these events are real, that they happened, are happening, or will happen in the future. I suspect my ability to follow Bec through the castle is the work of the Kah-Gash. If I’m correct, maybe it’s working through her too, and she can sense me watching.
Maybe Lord Loss senses Bec’s nervousness too, because after a brief pause, he accepts her request. “Very well. I will grant your wish, as I grant the wishes of all who are honest with me.”
The pair go rigid and their eyes frost over. Their souls have entered the Board. If I knew for sure that this was happening in the present, I’d cross immediately and strike while the demon master’s soul was absent. I’d kill him where he stood, and that would be the end of lowly Lord Loss.
But time works differently in the demon universe. This might be something that took place in the past, or that hasn’t happened yet. I’d be a fool if I rushed in without knowing for certain that the demon master was distracted and defenseless.
I wait for the scene to fade and the dream to pass. It always does at this point. I’ll slip into unconsciousness and won’t stir until morning. A few more seconds and…
Nothing happens. For several minutes I watch the motionless pair, Lord Loss cradling the Board, Bec leaning close to him, both with their eyes half-closed. I wonder if the scene has frozen, like when a DVD sticks, but then a demon slinks by and I realize time is passing.
For the first time ever, the dream is different. I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad sign. I try looking away from the Board, but my gaze is fixed. I start to fidget, wondering if this is a trap, if my mind will remain stuck here while my body shrivels up and dies. Have I been lured in and ensnared? If so, I can’t see any way out. I’m helpless in this dream zone.
Time drags on. Hard to tell how long. I wish I had a watch. I become more certain that I’ve walked into a trap, that I’m going to perish slowly and stupidly. Then, as I’m cursing myself for being so gullible…
Bec blinks, and Lord Loss clutches the Board to his chest. The pair breathe out and smile shakily at each other. “Interesting,” Lord Loss mutters.
“Isn’t it?” Bec grins.
“I will need time to ponder and reflect.”
“If you’re wrong… if it doesn’t go the way you think…” His face darkens.
“It’s a risk no matter which way you play it.” Bec shrugs, then turns. “I can find my own way back.”
She walks out of the room and I automatically trail her, thinking to myself, What the hell? Lord Loss stays where he is, fondling the Board, staring after Bec with an unreadable expression.
I stay with Bec as she weaves through rooms and corridors of webs, eventually ending up back in the bedroom where she started. She looks exhausted. I think more time passed for them inside the Board than it did for me as an onlooker. But what did they do in there? What did they talk about? It sounded like Bec made some sort of an offer to Lord Loss. But what?
She undresses and wipes the makeup from her face. Steps into her nightgown, then returns to the seat by the table and stares into the mirror. She looks doubtful, like she’s gambled everything and doesn’t know which way the dice will roll. For a moment I believe she’s tried to persuade Lord Loss to throw in his lot with us. Perhaps she’s been playing him all along, waiting until the time was right to sign him up for our side. I have crazy thoughts of the demon master doing a Darth Vader and joining our side to stop the evil Emperor of Death.
But this isn’t Star Wars, and almost as soon as the childish hope forms, reality knocks a thousand holes in it.
“I reached my conclusion sooner than I anticipated.”
Bec turns. Lord Loss has entered the bedroom. He’s smiling. She stands and walks over to him, trembling. “You’ve decided?”
“Yes.” He leans down and kisses her. For a second I think he means to draw the life from her lips, but this is a kiss of passion, not destruction.
“I admire your daring and cunning,” he murmurs. “We will proceed as you suggested. If you can find the lodestones, I’ll help open the tunnels.”
Bec throws her arms around Lord Loss and hugs him. As she does, I’m torn from my dream. Snapping awake, I hurl myself from my makeshift bed in the hospital, smash a fist into the wall, then howl at the ceiling like a madman.
HOME SWEET HOME
I cancel my plans to travel to the city where the next crossing is due. Instead I send the werewolves, under the guidance of Prae Athim and her Lambs. They’ll have to handle this one without me.
I catch a separate plane, with Kernel, Kirilli, Moe, and Curly. I leave Larry with the other werewolves to keep them in line. I’m twitching with nerves, unable to forget the dream for an instant, wondering about the pact Bec made with Lord Loss, recalling the way she embraced him. The memory chews me up inside. I wish I’d gone after her as soon as she was kidnapped, and killed that damn priestess from the past.