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|Hell's Heroes(The Demonata #10) by Darren Shan|
On the plane, I tell Kernel and Kirilli about the dream. It’s essential they know about the threat, in case anything happens to me.
Kernel hits the roof. “Why didn’t you tell us before?” he roars. I claim innocence—until last night, there was no hint that Bec might betray us—but he doesn’t buy that. “You should have told us anyway. You know better than to hide something this important.”
There’s nothing I can say to defend myself, because he’s right.
Moe and Curly hate planes. They cower in their seats, as far from the windows as they can squirm, whining at the noise of the engines and every bump caused by turbulence. All of the werewolves hate flying. They suffer it only because they know there will be rich pickings at the other end.
At least we don’t have to bother with connecting flights. The governments and armies of the world work hand-in-hand with the Disciples now. A jet is put at my disposal as soon as I ask for one. It makes getting around a hell of a lot easier.
Kernel is still griping as we hit the runway, saying he warned me about Bec, that this wouldn’t be happening if I’d listened and that I should return him to the demon universe and set him free. He insists we’re wasting our time trying to thwart the plans of Bec and Lord Loss. Although many of the world’s lodestones—reservoirs of ancient, magical power—were destroyed or drained long ago, an unknown number still exist.
“The locations of most are a mystery to us,” Kernel says, “but Beranabus knew about a few stones that he either wasn’t able to destroy or wanted to keep intact. He never told us where they were, but Bec absorbs the memories of everyone she touches, and she spent a lot of time with Beranabus. She’ll lead Lord Loss to the lodestones, and we can’t stop her. We’re done for.”
Again, I can’t argue. The more potent lodestones can be used to open a tunnel between the demon universe and ours. The Demonata can cross without limits through such tunnels and stay here as long as they remain open, which could be years or even longer—some can stay open until the end of time itself. If Bec and Lord Loss get hold of those stones, this war is finished.
But we have to try to stop them. I despise Kernel’s defeatist attitude. And we’re not entirely helpless—if Kernel’s eyes are restored, he can target Bec and we can maybe kill her before they get going. But I don’t say that to him because it would set him off on another rant.
A helicopter is waiting for us when we disembark—again, a perk of the job. I’ve never ridden in a helicopter for fun. I’m always zipping off to one fight or another. I’d like to take a scenic flight one day, but the way things are stacking up against us, I doubt that will ever happen.
Once we’re all strapped in, we take off. Curly and Moe howl happily and stick their heads out of the windows. As much as they hate planes, they love helicopters. Werewolves—go figure!
It’s a short flight, and although Kernel carries on with his tirade, I tune him out, thinking about the past, my history, all that I’ve lost and left behind. I haven’t been back here since the night Bill-E died—the night I killed him. Scores of dark memories bob to the surface, mixed in with happier recollections.
We hit the outskirts of Carcery Vale and skim over the houses, shops, and schools. They look unfamiliar from up high. It’s evening and the streets are quiet, with only a few people strolling or driving around. We might be facing the end of the world, but life carries on as normal for the most part.
The plan was to head straight to the cave, but on an impulse I lean forward, tap the pilot’s shoulder, and point him in a different direction.
“What are you doing?” Kernel asks, feeling the helicopter bank around.
“I want to visit the mansion first.”
“What’s the point? If we’re going to do this, let’s crack on and do it. We don’t have time for trips down memory lane.”
I ignore him and watch intently as we home in on the massive house a few miles outside the town. This is where I lived with Dervish after my parents were slaughtered. It’s the last place I was able to call home. Probably the last place I’ll ever be able to call home.
We touch down in the large courtyard, and the pilot kills the engines. Curly and Moe are first out, sniffing the ground, marking their territory, making sure it’s safe for their leader. I slide out next, leaving Kirilli to help Kernel down. The pilot stays with the helicopter.
I stare up at the gigantic house, recalling a variety of memories, a mix of good and bad. The glass in the windows has been shattered by gunfire, but otherwise the building looks much the way it did when I cast my final look back on that sad night.
The spare key isn’t under the pot to the left of the front doors, and I prepare to break in. But when I try the doors, they’re not locked. Entering, I call “Hello?” but nobody answers. There are no noises apart from the creakings of the house.
As the others follow me in, I spot scores of bullet holes in the walls and ornate old staircase that is the spine of the house, and much of the furniture has been torn to pieces. On Dervish and Bec’s last night here, they were attacked by soldiers in the employ of Antoine Horwitzer, a rogue Lamb.
“It smells stale,” Kirilli says, limping along behind me.
“It’s been deserted for ages,” I tell him.
“Not that long,” Kernel mutters.
“Perhaps it’s mourning the death of its owner,” Kirilli says. “Houses have feelings too. They don’t live and feel like we do, but they absorb part of the spirit of those who inhabit them.”
“Weirdo,” Kernel grunts, and I laugh with him. Kirilli shrugs and shuffles off to explore.
“Do you want to come with me?” I ask Kernel, feeling faint traces of the bond that once existed between us.
“No,” he sighs, moving to a window and standing by it as if he can see out. “I’ll stay here and admire the moonlight. You go cheer up the house. Grubbs?” he adds softly as I turn to pad up the stairs. “I know how much this place means to you. Take your time.”
“Thanks.” I smile.
I head for Dervish’s office first. This is the room he spent most of his time in, where he worked, plotted, and relaxed. It’s been shot up badly, but it still reeks of my uncle. His books lie scattered across the floor. His computers have been blown to smithereens, but I can picture him hunched over the screens, frowning as he read about some old spell or other. And maybe it’s just my imagination, but I’m sure I can smell the musty stench of his feet—he loved to kick off his shoes in here, but he wasn’t great at changing his socks regularly.
I want to say something to mark the occasion and pay homage to the memory of my dead uncle. But everything I think of seems trite and clichéd. I was never the best with words. They’ve failed me often in the past, and they fail me again now. In the end I just pat the back of the chair where Dervish used to sit.
I visit the hall of portraits and run my gaze over the faces of the dead, all our family members who have perished over the centuries, most as a result of lycanthropy. I’d like to add photos of Dervish and Bill-E to the rows of frames, but I don’t have any on me. I could fetch a couple from the study, but I don’t want to go back there.
I settle for writing their names in the dusty glass of a couple of the larger pictures, along with their dates of birth and death. Pausing, I smile and add a line under Dervish’s name. “Died fighting the good fight.” A longer pause, then, with no smile, I write under Bill-E’s name, “Killed by his half brother.”
Let future visitors make of those epitaphs what they will.
My old bedroom. I lie on the bed and sigh happily. Wouldn’t it be great if I woke up now and everything had been a bad dream? I could have a good chuckle with Dervish and Bill-E, tell them how they’d been killed off, play up the grisly circumstances of their deaths, stick some hair around my face to make me look like a werewolf.
But it’s not a dream and I can’t pretend that it is. Too much about me is different, not least the fact that my legs stick way out over the end of the bed, far past the point where my feet used to stop.
I look through my old clothes and CDs, remembering a time when such things were important. I go to the toilet and think about Reni Gossel, Loch’s sister, as I’m washing my hands. We would have become an item if the world hadn’t spun off its rails. Maybe I should look her up, kiss her farewell, tell her something corny, like I’ll always hold her dear to my heart.
Then I catch sight of my twisted face in the mirror, the fangs, the bloodshot eyes, the tufts of coarse hair, the way one ear sticks out about two inches higher than the other. Some boyfriend I’d make in this state! Best to give Reni a wide berth. I’d terrify her if she saw me like this, and I didn’t come back to freak out my ex-girlfriend.
Why did you come? the Kah-Gash asks. The voice of the ancient weapon usually speaks to me only when the situation is dire. But its curiosity has been aroused.
“To say goodbye,” I tell it. “I want to see the old place one last time. Kirilli was right—houses are like people. I want to let the mansion know how much it meant to me.”
Very peculiar, the Kah-Gash says drily. I thought you had put such quaint human ways behind you forever.
“I thought so too,” I mutter, then wink at myself in the mirror. “But I’m glad that I haven’t.”
I head for the ground floor. The others are drinking in the kitchen, Kernel and Kirilli from glasses, Curly and Moe from bowls. I tell them I’ll be a few more minutes, then steel myself and open the door to the cellar.
Dervish’s wine collection—his pride and joy—is a mess. Lots of the racks have been knocked over, and hundreds of bottles lie smashed on the ground, their contents spilled. I was never bothered about wine, but I feel sad viewing the destruction, knowing how rare some of the bottles were and how much they meant to my uncle.
Stepping carefully through the wreckage, I open the secret panel that nestles behind a fake wine rack. I trudge down a long tunnel to the house’s second, secret cellar. This was where Dervish cast his more dangerous spells and communed with Lord Loss.
There’s magic in this room. I never asked Dervish where it came from. Maybe it has something to do with the lodestone buried in the cave not far from here.
I use my power to light the candles dotting the walls. The room flickers into view, and my eyes are drawn to the remains of a steel cage. We kept Bill-E in it when he was turning. I was a prisoner there too for a while. Hard to believe such puny bars could ever have held the likes of me. But I wasn’t a monster in those days.
I wander around the cellar, looking at the books, the scraps of burned paper, the chess pieces left over from when we challenged Lord Loss. I never liked this room, but it doesn’t scare me as it once did. Nothing really scares me now. Except the thought of Bec collaborating with the demons, or me destroying the universe. Heh!
A book among the debris catches my attention. There’s a picture of Lord Loss on the cover. I pick it up and study the demon master. My lips curl. Of all the monsters, this is the one I hate most. I’d give anything to look in his eyes and laugh as I throttled the life out of him. I’d maybe even accept defeat in the war if I could settle the score with this lowly one first.
As I’m thinking about Lord Loss, the picture moves. His eyes come into focus and he leers. “Grubitsch…” he whispers. “Come to me… Grubitsch…”
“In my own good time,” I growl.
The face presses out of the page like a 3-D image. “Give yourself… to me. Let me end… it all now. No more pain. No more sorrow. No more—”
“—of your bull,” I snort, then roar at the book. Lord Loss’s face wrinkles, then flattens. Seconds later it’s just a picture, and his voice is gone. I toss the book aside. “That’s enough nostalgic crap,” I huff, and head back to the house, all my goodbyes completed, ready for business.
WE walk to the cave, leaving the pilot and the helicopter at the house. I know this forest so well, even having been away so long, that I could go through it with my eyes closed and never stumble. I savor the familiar sights and smells, taking it all in. I sense things kicking into high gear. This could be my last quiet night for a long time, maybe ever.
When we reach the place where the cave is, there’s no sign of an entrance.
“What’s happening?” Kernel asks, sniffing the air uneasily.
“The hole’s been filled,” I tell him.
“Then we’ve nothing to worry about,” he says. “They can’t do anything with the lodestone unless they can access the cave from this side.”
“I’m not taking any chances.” I grab Kernel’s hand and squeeze hard. As he yelps, I use the power of the Kah-Gash to unite with him. Our potential skyrockets, and I draw energy from everything around us, and from the reservoir of magic beneath our feet.
With my free hand, I point at the spot where the hole used to be and bark a command. Rocks and dirt—along with lots of insects and a few startled rabbits—fly into the air in a funnel and arc over our heads.
Kernel trembles when I release him. “How did you do that?” he croaks. “You took power from me without my permission.”
“I’m the trigger,” I remind him. “The guy who fires the Kah-Gash into life. I don’t need permission.”
“So you can steal from me whenever you like,” Kernel snarls, relations between us deteriorating as swiftly as they’d started to improve.
“Don’t have a heart attack,” I mutter, then scramble down the hole into the gloom of the subterranean world.