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|Hell's Heroes(The Demonata #10) by Darren Shan|
The walls of the tunnel are vibrating again. It’s still widening. In a few minutes, more demons will be free to cross. I hear their excited cries echoing from the universe at the far end. I recall the army we faced when we went in search of Beranabus’s soul and flash on a picture of thousands of demons pouring into this cave, obscuring us all, forcing Timas to press his button on the cliff above. Whether nuclear bombs or the crossing demons destroy the planet, it’s definitely doomed. Unless…
I pick up Bec and stagger into the pulsing mouth of the tunnel. She stirs in my arms, then squeals and strikes me with blasts of fire. The flames rip up my arms and lick my face, burning my hairs to the roots, then eating deeply into my flesh.
I ignore the pain and focus on Bec. I feel Kernel draw up next to me, then his magic links with mine and we pour it into the struggling girl. I want her to explode in geysers of flesh, bone, blood, and magic. For a moment, as her flesh ripples, I think we’re going to succeed. But then she smiles and stops struggling. Our magic flows into her, but instead of bursting through her, it circles within the girl, then returns to us, stronger than before, but having caused no harm.
I try again, but although I pump more power into her than I did the first time, it doesn’t hurt Bec, just comes back at me with interest. Lord Loss settles beside me and lays a couple of arms across my shoulders. I glare at him, but he doesn’t strike, merely smiles wickedly.
“What’s happening?” Kernel yells as more and more energy builds between and around us.
“Time to unleash the full power of the Kah-Gash,” Bec gurgles, her teeth red with blood from the pounding she took.
“She’s using us,” Kernel screams, trying to pull away but held in place by the magic that continues to build. “Kill her, Grubbs, kill her!”
I try, but I can’t focus. At least not on Bec. I sense the power fanning out, the Kah-Gash taking over as it did in Carcery Vale when it sent us back into the past and gave us the opportunity to defeat the Demonata. But things are different now. Bec’s working for the enemy. There’s no telling what will happen this time.
I have to stop this. The Kah-Gash is the ultimate weapon. Our world will fall, no matter what, but if Bec gets her hands on the Kah-Gash, she can annihilate the rest of the universe too. If the best we can do is deny them that victory, we’ll have to settle for that.
I start to cut off the power flooding through me, to thwart Bec’s plan. But just as I’m about to take my finger off the trigger, Bec catches my eye and… winks.
The wink unnerves me. It didn’t look like a mad, victorious, mocking gesture. Bec looked like her old self for a split second. It was a playful wink, the sort you tip to a friend when you have a secret, mischievous plan. The type that says, “Trust me and play along. This’ll be fun!”
It’s crazy. I should stop this, as I intended. Too much is at stake to gamble recklessly. But the promise in that quick wink… the spark of humanity I thought I saw lurking behind the shadowy veils of Death…
With a desperate, confused, horrified howl, I make what’s probably the worst decision of my entire life, or anyone else’s. Instead of freeing myself from the clutches of Bec and Lord Loss, I draw even more power from the air, giving the Kah-Gash all the kick it needs to flare into life and wreak universal havoc.
With a sudden, sickening lurch, a ball of raw, all-consuming energy bursts from every pore of my body. Similar balls explode from Kernel and Bec. The three parts of the Kah-Gash join, sizzle in the air, then strike hard at the heart of the tunnel to hell.
Everything hits the fan.
WITH A BANG
WE needed words when we previously unleashed the full power of the Kah-Gash, spells to direct it. Not this time. We’ve moved beyond that. Grown, matured, fused completely with the weapon. There’s no pulsing sky, clouds bursting into flames, melting rocks. Instead we skip straight to the exploding-into-colors stage.
My body shreds and I know instinctively that I’ll never have a use for it again. Grubbs Grady is dead and gone. So are Kernel Fleck and Bec. We’re the Kah-Gash now, a bodiless force, purer than light, free of all constraints. We didn’t go this far the first time. We didn’t understand what was happening. We tried to fight the loss of control, the madness. Now we just swing with it, leaving our humanity behind, bursting forward at a speed I can’t begin to describe.
We smash through the tunnel, the world shattering behind us, the Disciples and the mages dead in an instant, Timas on top of the cliff a moment later, everyone on Earth a second after that. The planet rips apart as Juni predicted, and I’m to blame. But I don’t care. I’m caught up in the moment, crazy with power, oblivious to everything except the rush of the now, the here, the us.
We’re in a subuniverse of billions of flashing patches of light. We careened from one to another when we entered this realm before, but now the transition is fluid. Patches join and form windows. We shoot through without pause, picking up speed, the windows becoming a blur, sucking the remains of the world after us… other planets… stars… the universe… all matter… even time itself. And not just the human universe—we take from the Demonata’s realm too. Everything is sucked along in our wake.
A voice whispers, “The Crux.” It takes me a few seconds to realize it was Bec who spoke. It seems our individual selves still exist on some kind of level. We’re not entirely the single entity I thought we’d become.
“The Crux,” Bec says again, insistently.
“Why?” Kernel asks.
“I’ll explain later. Just direct us there.”
“But if we go to the Crux and take everything with us…”
“Trust me,” Bec says. “This is the only way. Bran hatched a plan.”
“Grubbs?” Kernel asks, still uncertain.
I’ve no idea what’s going on, what the plan might be, if Bec’s really on our side or playing us for laughs? But what choice do we have? “Make it so,” I mutter in my best Captain Picard voice.
Kernel sighs. I get the sense that we’ve adjusted our position. Our speed increases, the windows becoming a buzz of white light, noise building around us, drowning everything out, making it impossible for us to talk to one another.
I have a bad feeling about this, but it’s too late to stop, so I continue supplying power to the Kah-Gash. I take it from the lights and everything behind us, draining the universes dry, using energy, magic, time, and all the rest to propel us forward faster. Kernel’s guiding us. Bec… I’m not sure what the spirit of the Celtic girl is up to, but I get the impression that she’s busy too. Her mind seems to be focused on the flotsam behind us. She’s absorbing something from the spiraling remains of the universes. Not energy or magic. But what else could it be?
Before I can pursue the query, a fiery ball materializes in the distance. From Kernel’s description, I recognize it as the Crux, the center of all things, the place where the Big Bang happened. There was only one universe originally, sixty-four zones, half black, half white, demons in the white zones, Old Creatures in the black. No other life-forms. No time either. During a war between the demons and the Old Creatures, it exploded, creating life and the universes as we know them.
We shoot through the rim of the Crux. Kernel said it was the hottest place he’d ever been, but there’s nothing hotter than us right now.
There are sixty-four giant square panels floating around the lightning-pierced heart of the Crux. Clustered around them are balls of light—the Old Creatures—and enormous demons even more powerful than the masters in the cave. These are the original Demonata, those who existed before the new universes were born.
The Old Creatures and the demons react with shock as we tear into the Crux. Panic-stricken, they try to mount a defense of the giant panels. But we swat them aside and they’re torn to pieces by the trailing vortex, sucked in and ripped apart like all the others, perishing with a chorus of confused howls.
I expect us to slow to a halt, but instead we carry on at full speed, then split as we hit the center of the Crux. There’s a blinding flash. We separate into sixty-four fragments and strike the black and white squares. They flare, and ripples run across their surface. Sparks shoot out of them.
Then everything clicks together. The sixty-four squares join in less than the blink of an eye. We become one again, only now we’re enmeshed with the squares. We explode outwards, the squares expanding with us. We’re the barriers between zones, but we also fill the infinite space inside them, everywhere at once.
The expansion lasts millions of years, but it’s also instantaneous. That doesn’t make sense, but it’s the only way I can explain it. Time has shattered. The laws we lived by—that all creatures lived by since the Big Bang—exist no longer. In the absence of time, everything happens immediately yet gradually.
As I’m trying to get my head around the new laws, there’s a sudden click and the expansion stops. Everything settles. The last traces of the universes I was familiar with disappear completely. The worlds, stars, people, creatures… gone. Erased from history. The souls of the dead are gone too. In this universe, their bodies never existed, so their souls never developed. All is undone.
Before I can go insane with guilt, I notice beings blinking back into existence. The Old Creatures and the Demonata who were alive when Bec, Kernel, and I became the Kah-Gash are revived and returned to their proper places in the universe. The dismayed Old Creatures pop up in the black squares and wail at all that has been lost. The delighted Demonata—both the original demons and those they sired—materialize in the white squares and go wild with joy.
Time has been eradicated. Humanity and their kind are no more and never were. The original order has been restored. Death can function as an unconscious force, the way it was meant to. Demons will live forever, breed, and kill without limits. The Old Creatures will drift along meaninglessly in their otherwise lifeless zones, or be tracked down and slaughtered by demons. The Shadow and the Demonata have won.
AH YES, I REMEMBER IT WELL
NO, you idiot, it’s the beginning.”
Bec laughs, and light bubbles around me. I blink and shield my eyes with a hand. Then frown. Hang on—I’m a bodiless force. I don’t have eyes or hands.
“You do now,” Bec giggles.
Lowering my hand, I stare with astonishment at the little girl sitting on a couch I know only too well. It’s from my old home, the mansion in Carcery Vale. I’m in the enormous living room, in my regular spot opposite the oversize TV. Bec’s sitting across from me, smirking. A confused-looking Kernel is in a seat nearby.
“What the hell…” I stop, something about my hand unnerving me. I turn it over, wondering what’s wrong. Then I realize—there are no hairs. The skin is smooth and pale. The fingers are large but not inhuman, and instead of claws I have ordinary fingernails. I’m not a werewolf.
“Of course you aren’t,” Bec snorts. “Not unless you choose to be. You can make yourself muscular and hairy if you want, but I’d rather you didn’t. You looked so silly prancing about as a man-wolf.”
She gets to her feet and walks to the window. She’s dressed in simple clothes, just a cloak or something like that wrapped around her. I’m in my favorite jeans and T-shirt. Kernel’s wearing something similar.
I follow Bec to the window. As I cross the room, I spot objects snapping into place around me—vases, books, pictures. The room is still forming.
Bec is staring out of the window at nothing. And I mean real nothing. It’s black out there, the pure blackness of empty space. As I watch, some of the garden from home sprouts into view and spreads, looking strange against the dark backdrop. I see Bec’s reflected smile in the glass. She turns and beams at me.
“What’s going on?” I mumble.
“I’m making a temporary base for us,” she says. “I figured it might help us adjust more smoothly.”
“And these?” I ask, nodding at our bodies. “Are they real?”
“As real as we want them to be,” she says enigmatically, returning to the couch.
“What does that mean?” Kernel snaps. “Is this a dream? Reality? How are you…” He stops, head twisting from one side to the other. “I can’t see the lights,” he whispers.
“Of course not,” Bec says. “We are the lights now. They were part of the Kah-Gash. Now that we’ve become it, you don’t need to see them. We’ve moved beyond that stage. We’re not physical beings. We don’t really have eyes or ears, or even brains. You have to start thinking bigger than that.”
“How about you just explain it to us nice and simply before we lose patience,” I growl, flexing my fingers.
Bec laughs. “You can’t threaten me, Grubbs. This body’s for show. You could grind it to dust and it wouldn’t make the least difference.” She clicks her fingers, and her head explodes. Blood pumps from her neck. Kernel and I yelp with shock. Then a new head grows out of the stump. Her eyes open and she winks. She waves a hand over the blood on the couch and it fades.
“I don’t get it,” I mutter. “Is this fantasy? Are we dead?”
“No, you moron,” Bec says. “We’re the Kah-Gash. The universe is us and we’re the universe. We’re the glue holding everything together, the power that drives it, the force…” She sees incomprehension in my eyes and sighs. “Are you getting any of this?” she asks Kernel.
“I think so,” he says slowly. “But…” His face drops. “We destroyed the world! The people we knew—are they all…?”