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Authors: Sam Cheever

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BOOK: 'Tween Heaven and Hell
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However, as soon as I walked through the wide archway that
separated the two spaces, the sound of the place crashed into me, nearly taking
my breath away with its force. From all around, the crush of hot, sweaty bodies
pressed into me and although Abrine had obviously taken great pains to perfume
the air and filter out the raunchy smell of hundreds of gyrating bodies packed
into a space that was entirely too small to accommodate their existence, I
could smell a faint undercoat of demon beneath the perfumed air. It was that
rotting earth, mold and decaying flesh kind of smell that demons gave off and
that they could never fully mask from non-humans. It clung to every table,
stool and wall in the place and caused my nose to close off in self-defense.

I tried to block it out of my sensory pool and turned toward
the bar, where I hoped to get the information I needed. I was momentarily
disappointed to see the roiling mass of human and demon flesh between me and
the bar, but then I mentally rolled up my sleeves and went to work chiseling a
path through the clinging, gyrating wall of flesh.

It only took me a couple of minutes to push, shove, threaten
and wriggle my way through them all. The last obstacle between me and the bar
was a particularly revolting couple, where he was of the extremely good-looking
human type and she was of a particularly disgusting demon type, with purple,
warty-looking skin and green Brillo pad hair that moved even when she wasn’t
moving. I determinedly averted my gaze from the moving hair as I passed by. I’d
been killed by curiosity once too often on that front.

Some demons, known as supra-demons, serve as hosts for
other, smaller demons that resemble something from the reptile or maggot
family, depending on their size. Of all the demons, I’ve found these to be the
foulest, in more than just the obvious way. As I took a tall, surprisingly
empty stool at the gleaming bar, I glanced one more time at maggot head, I
couldn’t seem to help myself. She turned bulging brown eyes to me and winked as
a slimy, white wormy-looking thing crawled down the side of her face. I pinched
my lips together in revulsion and turned away. The last thought I gave her was
to wonder what the human was seeing as he looked at her. Little did he know
that the Miss America he thought he was sidling up to was a complete illusion
and he was really rubbing up against something that was too repulsive even for
his sad, human imagination to conjure up.

The bartender that smiled at me when I finally hit the bar
was small, finely boned and almost too pretty, with close-cropped black hair
and smoldering, black eyes. He was definitely sexy, but not really my type.
Generally I like my men in a larger size—tsk, tsk, such dirty minds. Unbidden,
my devil’s face filled my mind’s eye and I shook it off. I must have shivered a
little because the bartender, whose name was riding above his head on a
holograph, smiled at me with large, very white teeth that looked familiar. He
leaned close across the counter and looked into my eyes with velvet black ones
of his own. “Are you cold, little Tweener?”

I glared up at him, finally realizing that he must be one of
the royals. I didn’t remember seeing him the night before, when I went for my
little unplanned visit to Hades on Earth, but he obviously knew who I was. “No.
Actually, Torre, it’s much warmer in here than I would like. All these mashed
together bodies and demon flesh. It’s not only stuffy, the heat in here feels
like hot, burning, tongues of fire on my skin.” I threw him my bad girl smile.
“You ever feel that way?”

He threw his head back and laughed. “More than you would
care to know, Mx. Phelps. Now, what can I get for you?”

“An audience with Abrine.”

His beautiful, black eyes widened just enough to tell me I’d
surprised him. “What would a pretty little thing like yourself want with a big,
bad demon king?”

I shrugged and smiled. “I think you might have some idea, if
you use your imagination.” Hating myself, I ran my tongue over my suddenly very
dry lips and leaned across the bar toward the handsome devil. He grinned back
and met me halfway, pushing his face close enough to mine so that we were both
breathing the same small pocket of air. The effect wasn’t really that awful,
his breath smelled minty and was very warm on my face. I forced myself not to
pull away. Instead I parted my lips just a notch and drew his aura into me.
Under the pretense of being taken over by physical rapture because of his nearness,
I closed my eyes and held his essence inside my head, where I could roll it
around and measure it.

He was fairly powerful, which made me wonder what he was
doing working behind a bar in a demon club. He didn’t seem to be powerful
enough to get into my head, however, which I had come to recognize as a
definite plus when dealing with devils. As I rolled him around in my head I
felt something surge inside me and for a very brief moment something started to
build there, something I didn’t really recognize, but which wasn’t entirely
foreign to me. Something that made me gasp and push his aura away in panic.

Because I was focusing so hard on that surge of something, I
barely noticed when his hot, dry tongue flicked out and touched my lips,
probing just inside my mouth for the barest second before the spell was broken
and my eyes flew open. I watched him jerk away from me as a sudden cold
enveloped us both. I could tell he’d felt it too because he wrapped his arms
around himself and backed away from me. The electric current I was beginning to
recognize so well flew up my arms, bringing every tiny, little hair I owned to
attention.

I followed his black gaze to a spot just behind my left
shoulder and, despite my best efforts, gasped just a little as I turned and my eyes
met the frosty, entirely colorless, eyes of the demon king, Abrine.

 

Chapter
Nine

The Evil Snow King Meets Little
Red Demon Killer Hood

Never had she seen a face, so well devoid of tint,

And never had she seen such eyes, that speared her
with their icy glint.

 

It really doesn’t matter how many times you look upon the
devil, it still gives your system a shock when you see him. And so it is with
demon kings. What was particularly alarming about Abrine, aside from the fact
that he was as evil a package as ever God did allow to be compiled, was the
fact that he was entirely devoid of color. I mean entirely. Oh, I know, you’re
thinking about albinos. Yes, there are human beings and other animals that,
through some weird stroke of fate are arranged around a genetic cocktail that
is missing the color ingredient, but that isn’t what I’m talking about here.
Even albinos have pink eyes. Abrine’s eyes are starkly, coldly, frostily white,
just like the rest of him.

I stared into those frosty eyes now and rubbed at my arms as
I tried to decide how best to begin. Fortunately Torre saved me the trouble.

The bartending devil’s voice jerked me out of my horrified
trance and I turned to look at him as he spoke. “Master, this Tweener wishes an
audience with you.” Torre said this, not only with a straight face, but also
with a bowed head.

My eyes drifted reluctantly back to the ghostly apparition
that stood just a couple of feet away from me. Abrine merely nodded and turned
away. I looked at Torre and he smiled, motioning for me to follow his boss. I
blew him a kiss and followed, marveling at the way the path cleared for Abrine
as he moved through the crowd. Though no one seemed to stare.

The air around me still felt cold and charged with
electricity. I decided I had found the source of my mysterious force. How
strange that it had come to me, the second time at least, apparently at the
bidding of the royals, when it appeared to be tied to Abrine.

I gave a mental shrug and concentrated on staying in the
space just behind my frosty host because if I got just five feet away from him,
I quickly realized the human wall tended to close off. Somehow, without their
even realizing it, the humans made way for the monster, without even really
seeing him.

Abrine disappeared through a narrow archway that opened up
into another pitch-black space. Somehow I doubted that this darkness had been
created for the pleasure of the club’s patrons. Maybe it was the nine-foot-tall
demon with a black scowl on his gray face that convinced me of this. I doubted
anyone went through this door who wasn’t invited.

I edged around the scowling, building-sized demon and took a
deep breath before plunging down the pitch-black staircase beyond the archway.
As I descended, I closed my useless eyes and allowed my power to cover me like
a softly vibrating blanket. I carefully reached into the space with it. Almost
immediately, I could sense several auras. Most of them were pure evil, but they
were muted as if they were hibernating or contained somehow.

Overriding the total sense of evil, I could feel a thick,
bone-crunching cold that I assumed was Abrine. There was also a very unpleasant
smell that, unfortunately, I’d smelled before, even as recently as yesterday,
in Deaver’s office. It was the smell of violent death. As I realized this, I
stopped and my eyes flew open.

I was surprised to find myself in a softly lighted room at
the bottom of the stairs. My eyes were drawn to the frosty form of Abrine, who
stood just a couple of feet away from me, staring, apparently, into my face. It
was really hard to tell because he had no pupils or anything to tell me where
he was pointing his gaze. He was smiling in a way that didn’t make me warm and
fuzzy.

When he spoke the air around me seemed, conversely, to boil
and shift. His voice was what you’d expect from the original iceman, brittle
and scratchy and strangely high-pitched. His hand swept around the room,
causing me to check out my fellow inhabitants for the first time.

“Welcome to my world, Tweener Phelps. I’ve been expecting you.”

My carefully controlled, “I’m a professional so I know how
to throw a poker face” expression must have slipped a little because he laughed
at me. “Yes, you were brought here deliberately. I need to speak with you.”

To buy myself some time to think, I checked out the
inhabitants of the various chairs and divans that were placed in an approximate
semicircle around the room. Along with several demons of high rank,
recognizable by their flashy, black uniforms, which were decorated on the chest
and shoulders with heavy silver braid, I was surprised to recognize at least
one of the royals from my “audience” with the devilish Dialle and his dangerous
darling.

My eyes widened a bit as they encountered a large, slavering
gargoyle that was crouched just this side of the shadows at the far side of the
room. The thing was eating something that I was sure I didn’t want to identify.
It squatted over the cold stone floor, hunched down on tree-like legs. Its
long, narrow feet and hands ended in evil looking yellow claws that curved
under in a way that made it impossible for its three, thick toes to lie against
the ground. Its head was wide at the top and became narrower as it flowed into
a short, dense muzzle that was held ajar by an impossibly large set of
gore-coated teeth. Two long fangs curved toward each other from the corners of
the wide mouth, nearly meeting in the middle about an inch below its chin. The
’goyle’s mutated dog face was slathered with blood and other, best not
investigated, substances. I nodded my head toward the disgusting creature. “Why
isn’t that sleeping?”

Abrine didn’t even glance at it. He simply smiled his frosty
smile, revealing, you guessed it, startlingly white teeth set into colorless
gums. “My pets sometimes awaken on their own. I simply haven’t had the time to
lie him down again.”

I glared at him. “Seems an awful lot of your
pets
were on the prowl last night, your majesty. They created quite a stir, killing
and maiming humans. Why do you suppose that is?”

If Abrine were human he would have shrugged. But since he
wasn’t he simply stared at me with that same smile. It was as if he knew he
couldn’t look innocent no matter what he did or said so he didn’t even try. “I
wonder where you got your information, Tweener Phelps, my pets have slept soundly
atop their buildings for the last thirty years, since the culmination of the
Great Wars.”

“Yeah. Right.” I acted like I hadn’t heard the implied
question. The demon king and I, and for that matter everyone else in that
foul-smelling dungeon room, knew that I was tied to the angels. His lie to me
was stupid and useless. But for some reason we were all going to play make
believe. Since I was surrounded by evil creatures and didn’t really feel like
it was in my best interests to admit my complicity with the other side right at
the moment, I decided I could go along with the game for the time being. “So…”
I said, changing the subject nicely, “what did you want from me?”

Abrine sat down on a chair that looked suspiciously like a
throne and motioned a paper-white hand toward an empty chair beside the one
where he had inserted his royal, white butt.

I simply stood there, staring at the offered chair, turning
over my options and weighing the consequences of pissing him off this early in
the game. If I sat down in that chair, my back would be fair game to the
gargoyle with the blood-covered face and two-inch-long teeth. The sound of the
thing slavering and crunching its poor victim was almost enough to make me turn
and run screaming from the room. I certainly didn’t want to turn my back on it.

Abrine noticed my hesitation and accurately assessed the
cause. He turned toward the gargoyle and spoke a few words in a language I
couldn’t understand but did recognize. It was the language of the demons, which
was the native language of Hades, spoken first by the Big Red Guy, who, when
he’d been thrown out of Heaven, had been commanded never to speak in the
language of the angels again. I liked to call it speaking in tongues of fire.

BOOK: 'Tween Heaven and Hell
8.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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