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|Hell's Heroes(The Demonata #10) by Darren Shan|
Shark bends his thumb. “I gouge.” Kirilli laughs, but stops when he realizes Shark is serious. The ex-soldier glares at Kirilli, then turns his gaze to me. “What about you? Anything new I need to know?”
“Yeah. But let’s go back to the other cave. The skulls and bones are giving me the creeps.”
“You’re getting soft,” Shark snorts, but follows me up the tunnel to the cave of natural wonders.
As we settle down close to the waterfall, we fill Shark in on all that’s been going on. Kirilli tells him what happened on the ship of zombies. Kernel gives him a quick rundown of his trip across the universe with the Old Creatures. Then I describe our battle with Death and the demons. When I get to the bit about Kernel’s eyes, Shark interrupts forcefully.
“What the hell do you mean?” he shouts, staring from me to Kernel. “I assumed some demon blinded him. Are you seriously telling me you did it?”
“I had to,” I mutter. “He was going to leave.”
“So what?” Shark roars. “He’s one of us. You never turn on your own.”
“See?” Kernel smiles tightly. “That’s what I’ve been saying for a month.”
“You don’t understand.” I hate the way Shark looks at me. “We’re up against Death. We can’t beat it by normal means. Our only hope is the Kah-Gash. If Kernel leaves, we’re finished. I need him to help me find Bec and unleash the full power of the weapon.”
“I keep telling you there’s no hope,” Kernel snaps. “I won’t waste my time fighting a losing battle. Even if you could convince me to stay, we’d still need Bec, but now that she’s turned against us…”
“What are you talking about?” Shark frowns.
I tell him about my dream, how I saw Bec ally herself with Lord Loss. “She vowed to lead him to the lodestones. With the help of those, he can create tunnels between universes.”
“What makes you think it wasn’t just a nightmare?” Shark asks.
“This was no ordinary dream. It’s real, trust me.”
“Let me get this straight,” Shark says grimly. “You three are the Kah-Gash, the most powerful weapon ever. One of you has turned into a savage werewolf, the second wants to quit and head for the far side of the universe, and the third appears to be a traitor. You guys are supposed to be our best hope? Sounds to me like we’d be better off without the whole damn lot of you!”
“We’re doomed without the Kah-Gash,” I retort. “The demons will wash over us. Earth won’t see out the year.”
“At least we won’t be torn to shreds by our friends,” Shark fires back at me. “I’d rather be gutted by a demon than stabbed in the back by you.”
My temper flares and I lean forward menacingly, growling. Moe and Curly lean in beside me—any foe of mine is an enemy of theirs.
“Easy, doggies,” Shark murmurs, making soothing gestures with his mangled hands.
“Don’t bait me,” I snarl. “I’m not in the mood to be insulted.”
“I don’t care about your mood,” Shark says. “You’re putting yourself forward as our champion, but I think the wires in your head have got crossed. Hell, even Timas seems normal compared to you.”
“I object to that slur on my good character,” Timas says, but Shark ignores him.
“I’m serious, Grubbs. It takes a lot to scare me, but listening to you and seeing that crazy look in your eyes… I’m not sure you’re in control anymore.”
“I’m in full control,” I say through clenched teeth. “I didn’t enjoy blinding Kernel, but it needed to be done. You’ve done things you didn’t like in the past, so don’t get high and mighty with me. I couldn’t have faced this as a human—I was weak. Now I’m strong and heartless, like the demons. I can do whatever it takes to save the world.”
“You’re afraid of nothing, ready to face anything the Demonata can throw at you?”
Shark smiles icily. “Then why haven’t you gone after Bec?”
I blink. “I had to come here first, to destroy the lodestone.”
Shark shakes his head. “There are other stones. Bec might be revealing their location to Lord Loss even as we speak. You should have targeted her.”
“I thought she’d come here,” I mumble. “This was one of the most powerful stones. They’ve used it before, so I figured—”
“Bull!” Shark stops me. “You came here to stall for time because you’re afraid. I see it in your eyes, inhuman as they are. You can’t mask the traces of fear, not from those who know what to look for.”
“What the hell do you know about fear?” I challenge him hotly.
“More than I ever wished to,” Shark says softly. “I’ve lived with real terror, as have most of us who fight these demonic beasts. I’ve seen horror in my eyes when I’ve woken in the middle of the night and looked in a mirror. Hell, I’ve seen it in daylight too. I don’t let fear distract me, but it’s always there. It’s in you too. And I think it’s misleading you.”
I start to roar a denial… then stop.
He’s right. As soon as he says it, I know. Shark isn’t the most vocal of people, but he has the knack of hitting the nail clean on the head when he does speak up. I am afraid. Not of the Demonata or Bec, but of myself and Juni’s prophecy that I’d destroy the world.
I should have gone after Bec once I’d recovered from my wounds. I could have let Kernel leave, just asked him to locate Bec and open a window before he went. I don’t truly believe we can defeat Death, even with all three pieces of the Kah-Gash. People wiser than me have said it’s impossible, and I’m sure they’re correct.
I kept Kernel because I was afraid. I didn’t want to go after Bec. I preferred to carry on fighting, doing what I was good at—what I was safe at. If I’d let Kernel go, it would have meant returning to the demon universe and running the risk of becoming a world-destroying monster. By staying here, I childishly hoped to avoid my destiny. It was a delaying measure, nothing more.
I thought I was Grubbs Grady—superhero. But I’ve been trying to hide from the universe—from myself—ever since our escape from Lord Loss and his army. Now that Shark’s opened my eyes to the truth, I know it’s time to stop.
“Kernel, I’m sorry,” I mutter. His features crease with surprise. “I was wrong. I was cowardly. I was vicious.”
“Keep going,” he says.
“I won’t hold you any longer,” I tell him. “I’ll take us back to the Demonata universe and set you free. All I ask is that you locate Bec and open a window for us before you leave. I hope you’ll come with us, to rescue her if we can, kill her if we must, but I won’t force you. It’s your choice.”
“If I thought we could make a difference…” he says miserably.
“You don’t have to explain.” Cracking my fingers, I shoot Shark a wry glance. “You should have been a psychologist.”
“And put up with whining brats like you every day? No thanks.”
“Excuse me for pointing out the obvious,” Kirilli says, “but isn’t Kernel the only one of us who can open windows?”
“No,” I say. “I can too, just nowhere near as easily as him, and only to a single place in the demon universe. It’ll take a few hours, but we’re in an area of magic, so I’ll be able to tap into that energy.”
“There would have been much more magic to tap into if you hadn’t destroyed the lodestone,” Kirilli murmurs.
I lean in close. “See those werewolves?” I hold my thumb and index finger a quarter of an inch apart. “I’m this close to serving you to them for lunch.”
As Kirilli blanches, I close my eyes and draw all the power that I can from the air. It’s fading now that the lodestone’s been smashed, but I don’t give the stage magician the satisfaction of telling him he was right. Taking a deep breath, I recall the first line of the spells that Beranabus taught me, and begin.
WHO’S THAT GIRL?
IT takes longer than I thought it would to open the window, and it’s bloody uncomfortable. Kernel makes it look easy—he just moves his hands around and voilà! Even Beranabus was able to open one with relative ease. But I operate more like Dervish did when he once summoned Lord Loss in the cellar at Carcery Vale. Lots of huffing and puffing, incantations, smoke steaming out of my pores.
Finally, after hours of intense effort, a weak-looking window of yellow light forms. “Quick,” I groan at the others. “I don’t know how long it will last.”
Shark is first through. He moves stiffly, hindered by his brace, and looks quite pitiful, but I wouldn’t like to be the demon who mistakes Shark for an easy target. Timas hurries after him. I don’t think he’ll be much use over there—he has all the magical talent of a slug—but he won’t abandon Shark.
Kirilli hesitates. “Maybe one of us should stay here to…” He stops, unable to think of a valid excuse.
“Cower?” I suggest.
Kirilli shoots me a dark look, then steps through. I bark at Moe and Curly and they cross. Then I take Kernel’s hand and lead him to the window. He pauses in front of it.
“I can still sense the lights,” he whispers, moving his head as if he had eyes.
“I bet my window doesn’t compare with any of yours.”
“No.” He smiles. “But you did good for a novice.”
He steps into the window, sighing happily, and disappears.
Are you sure this is wise? the Kah-Gash asks as I lift my leg to cross.
I frown. “You don’t want me to go?”
My wants are yours, the voice of the ancient weapon says. I have always served, hiding myself when you wished, fighting your wolfen half when you were afraid of it, helping you take the world back through time when the Demonata crossed. You don’t trust me, but I have always respected your desires.
“Then tell me if this is the right thing to do.”
I cannot judge. I merely question your actions because I sense your uncertainty.
“Will I destroy the world if I go after Bec?” I press. “Should I flee with Kernel to the other side of the universe? Throw myself off a cliff?”
I don’t know, the Kah-Gash says. I have no insight into the future. I only know that you mistrust this course, so I ask as your friend—is this wise?
“You want me to find her, so we can unite and set you free,” I challenge it.
I have always been free, the Kah-Gash retorts. I choose my hosts and stay of my own free will.
“But you want to be made whole again?”
There’s silence for a few seconds. Then a sigh. The window is about to close. Cross or stay, the choice is yours. But choose now.
I want to question it further, but there isn’t time. Cursing, knowing this might be the worst move I ever make, I throw myself through the window just before it blinks out, severing the link between universes.
We’re in the middle of an oasis. At least that’s what it looks like, but on closer examination you can see that the trees are made of bones and scraps of human skin, and the pool at the center is alive and carnivorous. This was one of Beranabus’s favorite spots in this foul universe. He often rested here.
“What kept you?” Shark asks.
At the same time Kernel says, “We shouldn’t be here.”
“I was tying my shoelaces,” I tell Shark, then turn to answer Kernel.
“You’re not wearing any shoes,” Shark notes.
“You’re so observant,” I respond drily.
“Bec knows about this place,” Kernel says, raising his voice. “We stayed here after the attack at the hospital. She might be keeping tabs on it.”
“I already thought of that,” I scowl, “but this is the only place Beranabus showed me how to get to. I couldn’t guide us anywhere else.”
“That’s stupid,” Kernel barks. “The location is irrelevant. You could have—”
“You can stand there and lecture me,” I snap, “or you can build a fresh pair of eyes and lead us all to safety.”
Kernel grumbles, but turns, sits, and focuses on his empty sockets. As he directs magic at the place where his eyes once were, Moe growls and advances on him, followed by Curly.
“Easy,” I soothe them. “Change of plan. Let him work on the eyes.”
The werewolves stare at me. Sighing, I thicken the cords in my throat and growl their new instructions. Once the message has penetrated, they explore the trees around us, chasing each other through them, munching strips of flesh and breaking off bones to gnaw.
“Is the water safe to drink?” Kirilli asks, stepping towards the dark pool.
“It’s not water,” I tell him. “If you get close, it will pull you in and eat you.”
“Nice,” Shark grunts. “You know how to pick the perfect spot for a date.”
“Are there any computers here?” Timas asks, studying the trees.
“This is the universe of the Demonata,” I remind him. “The home of magic and monsters, nightmares and madness. Of course there are no bloody computers!”
“Why not?” he asks. “Maybe demons like to surf the web too.”
I roll my eyes, but inside I’m smiling. They’re a weird, wounded lot, but I can rely on every one of them to stand by me in a fight. Well, maybe not Kirilli if his yellow streak kicks in… or Timas if he gets bored… or Kernel once he takes off for his rendezvous with the Old Creatures… or Shark if the brace holding his guts in place cracks open…