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|Hell's Heroes(The Demonata #10) by Darren Shan|
“Because you were all as bad as each other,” I snarl.
“In whose eyes?” Lord Loss asks. “Yours?”
He smiles mockingly. “Who gave you the right to pass judgment on an entire species, Grubitsch Grady?”
“No one. I took it.”
“How demonic of you,” Lord Loss purrs.
“If you’re trying to make me feel guilty, you’ll need to do better than that,” I sneer.
“I doubt if I am required to sow the seeds of guilt,” he murmurs. “Eternity stretches ahead of you. Given time, I believe your conscience will torment you of its own accord.”
“He’s boring me,” I yawn, glancing at the others. “You ready to kill him?”
“Yes,” Kernel says eagerly, taking a step forward.
“Wait,” Bec mutters. Her cheeks are flushed and she’s staring at her feet.
“You don’t feel sorry for him, do you?” I ask incredulously.
“No,” Bec says.
“You can’t feel any loyalty,” Kernel half laughs. “I know you played the part of his servant, but it was only an act.” He pauses. “Right?”
Bec looks up and takes a deep breath. “We struck a deal,” she says, and I groan.
“What sort of deal?” Kernel frowns.
“Never mind,” I snap before Bec answers. “We’re killing him. That’s final. I don’t care what was agreed between the two of you. Dervish, Bill-E, my mum and dad, Gret… all dead because of him. He perishes like the rest of his foul kind. No argument.”
“We can’t kill him,” Bec says miserably. “I hate him too. He killed people close to me or caused their deaths. But you saw us enter the Board together. We made a deal. If I don’t honor it…”
“What was the deal?” Kernel asks again.
“No!” I roar. “I don’t want to know. He’s a demon. We don’t owe him anything. I’m going to kill him, and if you try to stop me, I’ll—”
“Kill her too?” Lord Loss pipes up, relishing the conflict.
“Enjoy the show while you can,” I snarl, raising a hand to obliterate him.
The universe tightens around my fist, and it falls limp at my side. I whirl on Bec, fire in my eyes.
“The Kah-Gash can be split again,” she says. “If we fight with each other, we risk everything. Our sacrifices and endeavors will have been for nothing if we bicker and lose control. All that we knew and loved will be truly lost then.”
I count to ten, reining in my anger. Then, through gritted teeth, I say, “Tell me about the damn deal.”
“He helped us,” Bec says. “I told him of Bran’s plan to let the Demonata build a tunnel and break through, then use the Kah-Gash to tap into the power of the tunnel and take time back to its very beginning.”
“Lord Loss knew we’d kill all the demon masters?” Kernel gasps.
“Yes,” Bec says. “He thought we’d kill the familiars too. He didn’t believe I could persuade you and Grubbs to spare them.”
“And you let us go ahead?” I spit at the demon master.
“Why not?” he murmurs. “They meant nothing to me. A vile, beastly lot. The universe is better off without them.”
As Kernel and I gape at Lord Loss, Bec explains. “My betrayal was a charade. I slaughtered the souls in the Board, but I knew we’d have to kill a lot more than that if we were to triumph. We can bring them back to life later, the same as all the others.
“We tricked Death and the Demonata. Convinced them I was on their side, that I wanted to live forever as one of them. We needed Death to work through me, so I could control and subdue it when the Kah-Gash was reunited.”
“But if Death was part of you, didn’t it know what you were planning?” Kernel asks.
Bec shakes her head. “It didn’t have access to my inner thoughts, only those I chose to share with it. Death was new to consciousness. It had a lot to learn about the mind.” She smirks. “I guess now it never will.”
“I protected her from my savage brethren,” Lord Loss says. “I helped bring the three of you together and did what I could to ensure you were not killed before you had the chance to join. It was a risk, of course, but a calculated one, and in the end it proved to be enough.”
“But why?” I croak. “You’re a demon. You hate us.”
“Not at all,” he retorts. “I adore mankind. I’d have happily strung your guts out for cats to play with, Grubitsch, had things worked out differently. But humans… the games you invent… the sorrows you suffer…” He smiles at the memories.
“What do you get in return?” Kernel asks. “What did Bec promise?”
“My life,” Lord Loss replies. “And a promotion.” He looks at the stars twinkling far above us. “I was never as powerful as you believed. You realize that now, having seen and exterminated much stronger masters than me. I was a young, humble demon. That’s why I focused on Earth. I knew I could impress there, that if I made it my personal playpen, I could dominate the human realm of fear.”
“You chose to be a big fish in a small pond,” I snort.
Lord Loss tilts his head. “Stronger masters terrorized galaxies, inspiring horror across a multitude of worlds. I lacked that power, so I concentrated on a single planet. I tested several before I chose Earth. Your people appealed to me, for reasons I cannot put any of my fingers on. Perhaps I was guided by the Kah-Gash. Maybe even then it had selected your world to serve as its dramatic stage.”
“You’re pathetic,” I sneer, seeing my old foe in his true colors, astonished that I lived so long in fear of him, considering him the worst of any imaginable enemy.
“I was,” Lord Loss says calmly. “No longer. I am the last demon master, the final sentinel of sorrow. All of this universe’s demonic familiars must bow to my power now. I’ll also cast a dark shadow across the hearts and minds of the creatures in your universe, weaving my web of misery across more worlds than any master ever came close to before. I’ll be the source of every nightmare, the face behind each malicious mask of myth. I’ll sow fear everywhere my eye alights, and reap the rich rewards for all eternity.”
“What makes you think we’ll let you?” I challenge him.
“Bec promised,” he smiles.
I cock an eyebrow at the girl.
“We need him,” she says quietly. “Every developed world had its boogey men, evil spirits, devils. The universe requires a force of evil for the wicked to gravitate towards, a malevolent being that the dark-hearted can worship. If they can’t turn to Lord Loss, we’ll have to play that hideous role. I don’t want to be a monster to the twisted and the vicious of our own worlds. Do you?” she asks me. “Or you?” she throws the question at Kernel.
Kernel and I look at each other uneasily.
“Why him?” I grumble. “We can bring back one of the others that we killed, or use a familiar. It doesn’t have to be Lord Loss. I want to destroy him. After all he did to us…”
“They do say, ‘Better the devil you know,’” Lord Loss murmurs slyly.
“I gave him my word that we’d let him rule the white zones,” Bec says. “Plus, he vowed never to overstep the mark, to leave the Old Creatures alone, to cross only when authorized and always return to his own realm when his work is done. He won’t establish toeholds in the human universe, or allow his familiars to settle there either.”
“But the familiars won’t be able to cross universes this time,” Kernel frowns. “We’ll stop them.”
“We can’t,” Bec says. “History demands their presence. If we’re to let time unravel as it did before, every demon crossing will have to be recreated. I’ll work in tandem with Lord Loss, letting him know when and where his familiars should cross. When we reach the present—the time when we ended the universe—we’ll set him free to operate by himself as long as he respects the rules, and at that point we can put a stop to the crossings of lesser demons. Our people can be free of the monsters after that, but not before.”
“How can we trust him?” I growl.
“I gave my word,” Lord Loss says stiffly. “I have always honored a promise.”
I shake my head. “We’re better off without him. We can control and direct the familiars by ourselves. Lord Loss would be a threat. We’d have to watch him like a hawk.”
“No,” the demon master says. “That’s merely an excuse, Grubitsch. You wish to kill me to exact revenge. You cannot justify my execution any other way.”
“Then I won’t,” I shrug. “I’ll kill you and take your place. I’d rather that than let you carry on. You’re the reason I’m here, the cause of everything bad that ever happened to me. If it wasn’t for you, my parents would be alive, Dervish and Bill-E, all the others. I won’t spare you, not after the hell you’ve put me through. I’d rather burn.”
I raise a hand to wipe out the demon master. I’d meant to torment him before I finished him off, but now I’ll settle for a quick kill.
“Your words hold the key to my reprieve,” Lord Loss says calmly as I point a finger at him. His self-satisfied smirk infuriates me, but for some reason I can’t bring myself to strike. “If not for my interference, you wouldn’t have joined with Kernel and Bec. The Kah-Gash could never have been utilized as it was. All has been shattered to be rebuilt, but if not for my actions, it would have simply been destroyed.
“I put you through hell, yes, but it was a hell you needed to experience. The pain, suffering, death… all were necessary. I served the purpose of the universe, just as you did. If not for my dark presence, you would never have found the path you were required to travel.
“People need devils and dark gods, if only to give them a foe to rally against, an obstacle to overcome. Your people understood that there can be no light without darkness, no good without evil, no triumph without setbacks. You can’t kill me because I’m part of all that you are, all you’ve done and plan to do. You don’t have to like me. You can even loathe me. But you must accept me.”
I tremble with frustration. Part of me wants to whip him down, wipe that smirk from his face, kill him no matter what. But everything he says rings true. I owe it all to him, the good as well as the bad. As despicable as he is, he set this in motion. It wasn’t intentional, and he acted selfishly at every turn, but if Beranabus was right and some godly force in our universe chose heroes and molded them, maybe Lord Loss was part of the über plan, as vital a player as Bec, Kernel, or me.
“I’ll be watching you,” I snarl. “If you take just one wrong step…”
“Why should I?” he smiles. “I never yearned to conquer your world, Grubitsch, merely to revel in the torment of its many desperate souls. Now I will become the pit of darkness at the center of the entire universe, a web into which all the weak, helpess, and vindictive must fall. What more could I wish for?”
“I hope you choke on it,” I sneer, then let my body unravel and return to my ethereal state. The last thing I see through my human eyes is Lord Loss rubbing his eight stumpy hands together, leering eagerly, awaiting the dawn of time and the birth of the first of the billions whose misery he’ll wallow in like the ugly, heartless, flaccid, but essential leech that he is.