Authors: Eric Asher
Tags: #vampires, #demon, #civil war, #fairy, #fairies, #necromancer, #vesik
“That’s why I asked.”
Hugh slid into the last empty chair. “What is your
plan? Why did you need me here?”
“Can you and Alan keep watch over everyone? If I
tied up in the Burning Lands and can’t return when you
need me, or Sam, or Ashley, or—”
Hugh held up his hand. “We will help where we
“Damian.” Cara’s voice was quiet.
I turned to look at her, and met her blazing green
“We will keep watch here as well. We can’t travel
through a broken Seal without Glenn’s help, and I have no wish for
him to know you’re absent.”
I looked down at Vicky. Her breathing was even and
the blackened scars on her face had shrunk. “I’ll be back as soon
as I can.” I looked back up at her, the fairy I’d come to call Mom,
the fairy whose lie had cut me to the bone. “And thank you.”
She nodded and turned away, marching up the aisle and
down the stairs in her full-sized form.
Vicky whined and kicked out her leg before she fell
still again. I looked at Foster when he turned away from the
He shrugged and snapped into his smaller form before
gliding onto the table. “I don’t know whose side she’s on,” he
“That is … disturbing,” Hugh said under his
Shiawase laid a hand on Vicky’s head. “It is not our
concern now. Whether we remain here or travel to the Burning Lands
will play no role in her decision.”
I pulled my phone out and texted Zola and Sam. “Shop
Sam replied with an almost immediate ‘Yes.’ It took a
minute for Zola’s response to come through, but I finally got,
“Yes. I told you last week to stop typing at me, boy.”
I smiled and laid the phone down. “Zola will be here
in the morning with Sam. From there …” I trailed off when Vicky
twitched again and groaned. I clenched my hands into fists.
“Peace,” Hugh said. “Be at peace until you can
release her. We will stay vigilant in your absence, though your
friends and family can take care of themselves.”
“I know,” I said, stuffing the Book that Bleeds into
a backpack along with Gaia’s hand and my focus—the hilt of an old
Scottish claymore. Never knew when you might need to run something
through with a soulsword. “Thank you. All of you. I’ll see you
after we get some sleep, Foster. Aideen.”
“I will remain here with Vicky,” Shiawase said. “If
anything should happen, I will lock her inside of your ghost
“That would hold her?” I asked, honestly curious.
“For a time. Ward is perhaps more prepared than you
realize. There is little he builds without more than one
“Where is he?”
“Last I heard from the Old Man,” Hugh said, “they
were all in Falias, helping with the reconstruction.”
“Has he seen Glenn?” Foster asked.
“Not that I am aware of. Do not forget how large the
city is. One could wander for days and never find themselves.”
“Ward fought to protect Falias when Ezekiel destroyed
it,” Aideen said. “I imagine he is safe from anything Glenn might
I slid the straps of the backpack over my shoulder.
“Okay then. Anything else? Or are we calling it a night?”
Hugh stood up and stretched. “I will return to Howell
Island to discuss matters with Alan come morning. Journey
Hugh extended his arm and we traded grips, palms to
“I will wait here as the bear,” Shiawase said. “It
brings her comfort, and I fear she will need that when she
awakens.” Before anyone could respond, the samurai blurred and
distorted, his ghost becoming the familiar shape of a giant panda.
He hadn’t moved from the chair before he changed, and now the ghost
panda was awkwardly seated in the leather chair. His somewhat
stubby hind legs shot straight out while his front legs clawed at
I snorted a laugh and the bear froze. He chuffed and
rolled onto the floor in absolute silence, settling in below
Something sniffed at the top of the stairs. Bubbles
waited, her eyes just peeking above the top step. Her tail whipped
back and forth twice before she bounded down the aisle, dodging the
fairies and werewolf so she could stand beside the ghost panda.
Bubbles cocked her head to the side, and then dropped to the
ground. She rested her muzzle on Happy’s back and wiggled her
bristly green butt into a more comfortable spot.
I looked around at everyone. “Until the morning
I climbed out of my ’32 Ford Victoria and shambled up
the stairs to my apartment. It was late, and I was tired, but that
didn’t stop me from laying out the Book that Bleeds on the oak
After a few minutes, I walked to the old green fridge
and pulled out a pack of frozen chimichangas. I pulled them out
when the microwave dinged and made my way back to the couch.
It was another hour before I found the passage. I
wanted to scream, and jump, and celebrate, but then I dug in to
what I was really reading. It seemed so promising. A devil could be
struck down by hellfire, immolated. There was a huge caveat after
that. One of two things happened to any creature bonded to the
devil. They either died with the devil, or became it.
My fists shook as I clenched them. I finally turned
“Devils and Timewalkers?” I said, confused at the
correlation in the next heading.
The only bonded beings known to
have survived the destruction of a devil are those with a bond to
Timewalker. The Timewalker magics are far older than the Burning
Lands, heralding from a time before the Great War of the Abyss.
What makes them truly extraordinary is the ability of these magics
to function on any known species.
I read on, but the book didn’t do much to clarify
what I’d read. A later passage described an unstoppable soldier,
and it took me a minute to realize it was describing a vampiric
zombie. Where would we even find a Timewalker? If Vicky was bonded
to one, could we destroy her devil? Or would she still burn up
along with the damned thing?
Possibilities blurred with risks and dark thoughts
crept up into my head. I slid the page of a manuscript in to mark
the passage and leaned back, resting my arm on the backpack. I
needed to sleep, and I cringed when I looked at the clock. Tomorrow
was going to be hell.
The alarm on my phone woke me up with a series of
trumpets and a crash of cymbals. I almost smashed the damned thing
on general principle. A stuttering zombie shuffle carried me to the
shower, Frappuccino in hand.
Mornings like this always felt surreal. It was my
normal routine, same food, same drinks, same shower, same
everything, but I knew the end of the day might leave my world
changed forever. There was nothing I could do to stop it. It
reminded me of one of Hugh’s sayings: “No matter the trial you
face, do not lose the peace and rhythm of life.”
It irritated me, how that wolf could say something
one day that didn’t make a damn bit of sense, and then a year later
… poof, oh, that’s what he meant.
I pulled my jeans on, along with a clean
vampire-skull T-shirt. Vicky had taken to buying them for me
whenever she came across one. She had money, and I wasn’t sure I
wanted to know where it came from. Happy had told me not to worry
about it, so I didn’t. I had six of the T-shirts now. I tucked an
extra one into my backpack, along with two more Frappuccinos and a
bag of Frank’s beef jerky. I slid extra speed loaders for the
pepperbox into the front pocket.
I glanced at the clock on the microwave. It was only
two where Nixie was in Europe. I could definitely make it there and
back to the shop on time. She might be busy, or not even home, or I
might land on some unsuspecting visitor’s head, or maybe Glenn
wasn’t really in Falias and he’d be waiting to—
“Screw it.” I pulled Gaia’s hand out of my backpack
before hooking the shoulder straps over my arms. The dead hand felt
frigid in my grasp before the fingers flexed and laced in with my
own like an old friend. The wood paneling on my walls flickered,
and then there was only darkness.
“You have returned quickly,” Gaia said.
She’d spoken before I could so much as make out a
pale dot in the infinite darkness. That was unusual, but not
“I thought I’d go see Nixie before …” I paused as the
pale, glowing path lit beneath my feet and Gaia took form. “Before
we go into the Burning Lands.”
“You fear you may not return,” Gaia said, her breathy
voice almost a song in the silence.
I didn’t answer. I’d be an idiot to think this was
going to go off without a hitch.
“You’ve grown wiser in the short time I’ve known
One of the great Leviathans rose up beside us as we
continued forward. I couldn’t be sure if it was Croatoan—the awful
creature the Old Man had fought centuries before—but it was
enormous, its tentacles barely moving, trapped in the distorted
time of the Abyss. I watched the massive beak as we neared the
thing. It cracked open wide enough to see the trio of slimy beaks
within it, beneath a great black eye. I shivered and looked away,
and by the time I glanced back, the entirety of the beast was
“Gaia,” I said, thinking back to the Book that
Bleeds. “Do you know where your body is?”
“I do, young one.”
I looked at the flowing golden light of her hair and
studied the side of her face. “Is it beneath Rivercene? Are you the
Gaia’s steps hesitated. “I do not know if I could
give my imprisonment such a noble name, Damian. I am trapped within
that place for all time, though my spirit is free to roam the
“That’s wrong,” I said. “Then the innkeeper, she’s
your prison guard?”
“Oh, no. She is a very old friend. It would do well
to be kind to that creature, for she is not what she seems.”
“She’s an immortal,” I said. “Like Edgar, like
“Ezekiel,” Gaia said, tilting her head to one side.
“I suppose, in a way they are similar, but she would never kill
that which did not deserve to die.”
A frisson of adrenaline wracked my spine as the
reality of holding Gaia’s hand within the Abyss slammed into me.
All she had to do was let go, and that would be the end of me. “Why
did you never abandon Philip or Ezekiel here?”
“You already know that answer.”
“Whatever binds you makes you happy to serve the
bloodline of Anubis.”
She nodded slowly. “That is part of it I suppose, but
I am not a cruel being.” Gaia slowed to a stop. “We are here once
“Do you remember being free?”
Gaia looked up into the infinite stars of the Abyss
before lowering her gaze to mine. “A great Fae cursed me to this
life, binding my very spirit into the world. Were I to be free, I
do not know what would happen. I remember a time before my
shackling, but it is dim, and it is distant.”
I looked down at our hands and turned them over.
“Have you always had the power to wander the Abyss?”
“No. That I remember quite clearly. A piece of my
body needed to be severed and sustained by a terrible soulart. The
kind of magic that will outlive its practitioner, and perhaps its
“Thank you for talking about it,” I said. “I know it
can’t be easy.”
“It is not a difficult thing, either. I have had a
great many centuries to accept my fate.”
I frowned and looked into the darkness before
nodding. “I’ll be back soon. I have to be at Death’s Door by
Gaia released my hand, and I fell.
Torchlight greeted me as my feet slammed into the
floor. I stumbled two steps and snatched Gaia’s hand from the air
before it hit the ground. I stuffed the severed limb into my
backpack, squinting against the light. The stone tiles were a stark
contrast to the soft path through the Abyss.
Gaia’s aim had gotten better. I stood directly in
front of the door to the room Nixie had been staying in. The same
room where I’d stayed with her after my appearance in the Royal
Court. I glanced behind me at the monolithic statues that doubled
as pillars to either side of the hall.
The waterfall cascaded across the door. I hoped that
meant Nixie was here, and I wasn’t about to step into some
newfangled Fae trap that would turn me into a deadbolt. As soon as
I came within three steps of the door, the waterfall cut off and
the door clicked.
The door cracked open slightly. “Who’s there?”
“You ordered a pizza?” I shouted back.
The door swung inward and Nixie stared at me. Her
hair was shorter, barely to her waist now, and her eyes sparkled in
the torchlight. “Damian? Why are you here?”
“I have an hour to kill before I head to the Burning
Her eyes narrowed. “Come in.” She stepped back into
the room and I followed her inside.
I closed the door behind me and heard the waterfall
start up again. Nixie settled onto an ornately carved chair by a
“Are we safe to talk here?” I asked.
“As safe as we can be. Glenn is in Falias from what I
understand, and the Queen has not been seen here in over a
“What?” Nixie asked. “Oh, no, I mean the queen of the
She hadn’t so much as hugged me after I mentioned the
Burning Lands. I guess she already understood what I was getting
“I will not pretend to be happy about this, Damian.
Things with the Queen have been … there were several deaths before
her faithful left this place. Having you in an uncertain situation
is not ideal.”
She sounded cold, calculating. I wasn’t sure what to
say. “I’m sorry,” was all I mustered.
She shook her head. “Did you hear from Mike?”