We pulled up a driveway lined with pine trees. The gun-selling guy was babbling to me about how this house was where the leader lived and about how it used to belong to some rich guy who grew peaches or something. I was hardly listening to him.
We rounded a bend in the driveway and the house came into view, a stately mansion built of white brick. It had pillars. But what bothered me about the house was that there were a cluster of cars parked in front of the house. They were identical to the car I’d taken from the OF members last night. Which meant that I hadn’t gotten all of them. Some of them were here, and they were about to take the Satanist leader back to Lily.
I couldn’t let that happen.
The man stopped the car.
I opened the door. “Stay here and watch Chance.” I gestured to where Chance was sleeping in the back seat.
“But—” said the man.
“Don’t argue,” I said. “There’s trouble. I’ve got to go clear it up.” I tore up the rest of the driveway and threw open the front door.
It opened onto an empty foyer. A staircase ran up to the upper level of the house. I listened for voices, trying to determine where the OF might be. I did hear voices that were coming from upstairs. I took the stairs two at a time, emerging onto the second floor in seconds. The OF members were wearing SWAT team outfits, and they were surrounding something or someone in a clump. It figured that they’d try to look official, like they were from a legitimate government.
“Let him go,” I said.
Several of the OF SWAT team turned to look at me.
“It’s Kieran!” someone yelled. “Immobilize him before he uses his power.”
Six or seven of them rushed at me.
I reached inside to uncap my power, but I was too late.
They were on me, clubbing me over the head with the butts of their guns.
As the world went black, I saw that they were carrying a lifeless male body between them. I could just see his face. I was shocked. I recognized him. Or…I guess Azazel did.
Then I was unconscious, and I didn’t know anymore.
I woke up in the same spot, but with my hands tied behind my back. That meant I was lying face down on the floor. My cheek was pressed against the hardwood panels. It wasn’t comfortable. I opened my eyes, but I couldn’t see much, due to the awkward position I was in. My first thought was Chance. Was he okay? Did they have him? I tried to roll over. I wanted a better vantage point on my surroundings.
Then I heard voices. I decided it might be better not to give myself away. I didn’t move. I closed my eyes again.
A woman’s voice, high-pitched, angry: “Where have you taken him?”
“Missy, you aren’t in any position to be asking questions.” This voice was male.
The woman didn’t seem to care what the male voice said. “If you try to hurt him, he’ll—”
A cracking sound, like a slap. “Shut up, bitch.”
Another voice, farther away. “Any word from Lily on what to do with Kieran?”
God. That was me. Lily knew where I was. If they got in touch with her, she’d be sure to tell them to use Chance against me. I might have powers that were impossible to fight, but Chance was my weakness. I’d been an idiot storming in here without checking out the situation first. Now everything might be ruined.
“Can’t reach her,” said the first male voice. “I’m sure she wants him back, though.”
I was sure that she did. Well, I had to do what I could to make sure that didn’t happen, didn’t I? I couldn’t stay tied up here forever. Two of the voices clearly sounded like they were from the OF. The woman sounded like she was a prisoner. I uncapped the power, focusing it on the two OF members. I felt the magic pour through me and wrap its tendrils around the two men’s minds. Quickly, there were two gunshots. The power had made both of the men shoot themselves in the head.
I could feel it chuckling as it gloried in the spattered blood and oozing brain matter. I could also hear the female voice screaming.
“Hey!” I said to her. “Little help over here?”
Her screams stopped. I heard the sound of her steps on the hardwood floor. Then she was next to me, kneeling down and working on the ropes that held my hands together. “They just shot themselves,” she said.
“I know,” I said. “I made them do that.”
“Oh!” the woman said. “You’re the Vessel of Lord Azazel, aren’t you?”
I grimaced. She was clearly a Satanist too. “Whatever,” I said.
She freed my hands, and I sat up, massaging my wrists. “You’re lucky they didn’t tie you up too.”
“I guess they didn’t think I was much of a threat,” she said.
I looked at her. Azazel memories fired again. “Eve Newcomb?” I said. “Jesus. It is you.”
She stood up, putting distance between us. “Do I know you?”
Azazel had gone to high school with this girl. She’d started a rumor about her, that Azazel had deformed genitalia or something because her boyfriend Toby wasn’t sleeping with her. “You, um, still with Darius?”
“Who are you? Are you doing that because you have the power of the dark lord inside you?”
“Uh…it’s a long story,” I said, deciding it wasn’t worth getting into. “Listen, do you know if they found a guy in a car with a baby outside?”
“You mean Mr. Lambert?” she said. “They’ve got them, but they haven’t taken them anywhere yet. Not like Cameron.”
“He’s already gone, huh?” I said.
“They sped off with him right away.”
I had to get Chance. I stood up. The power was still free, burbling around in my body, itching to do some damage. I’d let it play in just a little bit. “Show me where the baby is,” I said to Eve. “And later on, maybe you can explain to me how some foster kid becomes so powerful, the OF wants to use him against someone like Jason.”
She blinked. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” She started walking. “This way.”
I followed. “Cameron. Last I knew about him, he was my foster brother—I mean, Azazel Jones’s foster brother. Now, he’s like Mr. Powerful.” Cameron had been a troubled kid that the Joneses had taken in. I remembered—or Azazel remembered—that he’d gotten into an argument at a party with some guy named Eric Nelson, and Jason had beaten Eric up for saying mean things to Cameron. After all the weirdness had gone down with Azazel’s family, Cameron had apparently been released back into the foster system. She hadn’t heard a thing about him since.
Eve looked over her shoulder at me. “After the solar flare, everything got weird. And it still keeps getting weirder. Case and point, you.”
“Thanks,” I muttered. “Help me find the baby.”
There were clusters of OF cars in front of the house. Members of the OF in SWAT team uniforms milled about. They’d rounded up a number of other people, who huddled in groups. They were probably Satanists, I determined. And standing by his car, with Chance in his arms, I could see the guy who’d sold me a gun. Eve had called him Mr. Lambert. I marked all the people who weren’t OF carefully, making sure the power understood they were to be left unharmed. Everyone else, however, was open season. Go to town, I thought grimly at the power.
It made a whispered noise in my head, something like a cry of glee. I felt it whoosh out of me, heading for all of the members of the OF. For several minutes, it was gory pandemonium. Knives flashed as SWAT team-clad men threw themselves at each other, slashing at throats and stabbing at stomachs. Guns were aimed. Shots were fired. Men shrieked as bullets caught them between the eyes or in the gut. Hands clutched at wounds that poured out blood. Bodies staggered and fell. Mouths gurgled up blood, choked on it, drowned in it. The air was rent with the sounds of screams, the gush of bleeding, and the thud of bodies hitting the ground. But it was only for several minutes. Then everything was still.
I pulled the power back to me. It sighed as it curled up inside, sated on the violence and death it had caused.
Eve looked around at the now silent front of the house. It was strewn with dead bodies, their blank eyes bulging as they stared at nothing. “Holy shit.”
I stepped over about five bodies to get to Chance. He held out his arms to me, smiling.
Mr. Lambert handed him over.
“Duh-duh-duh-duh,” Chance informed me, popping his fist into his mouth.
I tickled his tummy. “Good to see you too, buddy.”
Mr. Lambert fell to his knees again. “You are amazing, my lord,” he said.
I rolled my eyes. “Get up,” I told him.
But it was too late. Every single one of the Satanists followed Mr. Lambert’s lead, all dropping to their knees, looks of adoration on their faces. Every one, that is, except Eve Newcomb, who stayed standing, regarding me with an expression of confusion. The wind picked up her blonde curls and blew them over her face. She shoved them out of the way with one hand. Azazel remembered her as bitchy. I kind of thought she was pretty.
Eve insisted that she feed me and give me a place to stay that night. While she bustled around in the kitchen cooking pasta on her gas stove, I sat with Chance at the kitchen table, and we talked.
“So,” Eve said as she filled a saucepan with water. “You’re the Vessel of Azazel, huh? How’d that happen?”
“Hold on,” I said. “You can sense that too?”
She set the saucepan on the stove. “All of us here in Bramford can these days. It’s crazy.”
“And Cameron’s power? That showed up after the solar flare too?”
“I don’t know.” Eve tossed some garlic into a sizzling saucepan. “Cameron showed back up in Bramford after the solar flare. I’m not sure where he was before that, but I have a feeling it was jail.”
After the solar flare, a lot of prisons ended up being abandoned. Prisoners were freed without much thought of the consequences. After all, it was the end of the world. No one seemed too concerned. “So after the Jones family got killed in New Jersey, they sent Cameron away. You didn’t hear from him for years, and then he shows up here after the lights go out, with tons of power?”
Eve held up a glass jar containing some kind of dried white particles. “Sniff this for me, would you?”
I got up and smelled. “Smells like onions.”
“Good.” She put several heaping spoonfuls into the saucepan with the garlic. “My grandmother always dried and canned stuff from her garden. I’d be lost without that stuff.”
“So, this is your grandmother’s house?”
“Yup,” said Eve.
“I thought Cameron was living here,” I said.
“He was.” She stirred the onions and garlic.
She nodded. “To answer your question from before, though, about Cameron’s power. It’s not like yours. Cameron didn’t show up here with power. He showed up here with the potential for power. We all sensed it. But Cameron’s power has to be taken from other things for him to use it. He can’t just think things and make them happen. He has to do spells and rituals. You understand?”
“I think so.” Chance was sleeping in my arms, so I set him gently on one of the chairs, making sure his blankets were cushion enough for him. “So Cameron showed up and you guys decided since he had so much potential, you’d train him in the ways of Lord Satan and make him super powerful?”
Eve rolled her eyes. “Don’t mock his Infernal Majesty, all right?”
I bit my tongue.
“Seriously,” she said. “Maybe before the solar flare, I would have agreed with you that it was all a little bit silly, but I’ve experienced too much now. There is something there. I don’t know if it’s Azazel, or Satan, or something else entirely, but there’s power. We’ve tapped into it. It’s real.”
“I don’t believe in Satan,” I said.
She shrugged, turning back to the food on the stove. “You don’t have to, but you are imbued with His power, so I guess He believes in you.”
“I don’t even buy that,” I said. “Because Azazel’s powers were inherited from her gypsy grandmother. They weren’t imbued or anything else.”
Eve walked over to the table and pulled out a chair. She sat down next to me. “That’s the other thing. How come you’ve got this power, anyway? Why doesn’t Azazel still have it? And how did you know that I used to date that loser Darius?”
“Azazel’s my girlfriend.”
“Oh. So she just lets you borrow her powers from time to time? Like her car or something? ‘Sure baby, take the keys. I could use a break from behind the Vessel of Azazel.'”
“No,” I said. “Not exactly.” I looked down at Chance, sleeping peacefully. Everything was a wreck, and it was all my fault.
“You guys have a baby together and everything,” she said. “It must be serious. So where is she?”
I took a deep breath, trying to figure out where to start. There was so much to explain.
“Oh my God,” said Eve. “Is she dead?”
I turned to her. “She’s not dead. And it’s not our baby. It’s Jason’s baby. You knew Jason, right?”
I tried to explain it all as best I could. Jason and Azazel falling out. The solar flare. Zaza using her powers to help the OF. What they’d done to her. How she’d changed. The grimoire. How using it had backfired. Zaza losing her memory. Me with her powers and her memories. And the OF, threatening to take Zaza’s powers from me and render me helpless to take care of Chance, or find her and make things right.
When I was finished, the pasta was already done, and Eve was serving piping hot plates of spaghetti and tomato sauce to us. She handed me a fork, and I dug in. I hadn’t had a hot meal in a long time. “This is delicious,” I told her between mouthfuls.
She laughed. “I’m glad you like it.” She took a bite. “It’s missing something, though…” She stood up. “Parmesan cheese.” She went to the cupboard and came back with some. “That’s a crazy story, Kieran.” She offered me the parmesan.
I took it. “Yeah, it’s pretty nuts, I guess.”
She took the parmesan back and sprinkled it on her own pasta. “So you know everything that Azazel did. That’s why you recognized me.”
“If I apologize to you about spreading that nasty rumor about her at school our senior year, do you think that would count?” she asked.
I smiled. “I doubt she holds it against you. It was high school, and it was hardly the worst thing that happened to her that year. She was chased out of the country by secret societies who were trying to kill her and nearly raped by a psychopath and—” I broke off. “Her life’s crazy, okay?”
Eve took another bite of pasta. “So’s mine. So’s everyone’s these days. I am sorry, though. I was kind of horrible in high school.”
“Everyone is horrible in high school in their own way,” I said. “Don’t worry about it.”
“I guess you aren’t crazy about going back to the OF,” she said. “Since that Lily woman is trying to steal your powers.”
“I hadn’t really planned on going back there any time soon, no.”
Eve sighed. “Damn it. I was really counting on you to help me get Cameron back.”
“Why do you think they want him?” I shoveled more spaghetti into my mouth.
Eve twirled pasta onto her fork. “Same reason they wanted you or Azazel, I guess. They want someone with the power to combat Jason. He’s camped pretty close, you know. Just over the mountains. Maybe an hour and a half away by car. He’s got this huge hippie commune type thing going on. Calls it Jasontown. He sends out this message, convincing people to come there. He’s really good at influencing minds.”
“But not yours?”
“Lord Azazel gives us strength.” She took another bite of spaghetti.
“I felt it, actually,” I said. “Earlier. Jason’s power? He’s strong. But I’m as strong as he is.”
“So is Cameron,” said Eve. “And the OF are going to force him to use his power for their ends. We have to get him back. Rescue him.”
I pushed some pasta around on my plate. “You care about him a lot, don’t you?”
“Yes. We’re very close.”
They had lived together, after all. “I don’t know. I don’t know if I can go back there.”
Jason decided that the only way we could determine who might have ties to the OF and who didn’t was to sequester everyone who’d shown up at Jasontown in the period of time since the attacks from Azazel had stopped up until now. This meant that nearly half of the people in Jasontown were rounded up and placed in custody by the guards. We didn’t have room for them all, so instead, Jason put them under a sort of house arrest. They were unable to go anywhere until he’d had the chance to interrogate and clear them. I wasn’t allowed to go along for these interrogations, because Jason had decided it might be dangerous for me. Apparently, he thought that if these people saw me while he was interrogating them, I might get hurt.
The interrogations went on for days. Most people were cleared, but Jason had others sent to be kept in a makeshift prison in the basement of the guards’ quarters. Each day, more men and women were sent to the prison.
Finally, Jason finished his initial interrogations, and set up trials for the people in jail. The trials lasted all day. Jason excused people from their chores and duties to attend. He had the people vote on what should be done with each of the accused. The people were not merciful.
At first, Jason only had one head on a stick outside his house. But then it was two. Then five and six. Soon, there was a row of them, stretching down the road towards the river. Severed human heads on poles. In the hot, July heat, they baked. The smell was putrid and fearful. Flies settled all over the heads, swarms of black bodies squirming over bloody, rotting flesh.
And the trials continued. Jason wouldn’t rest until he was sure that Jasontown was safe. And the people were glad of it. So was I. We knew that Jason had our best interests at heart, and that he wouldn’t be pursuing these violent ends if he didn’t have to. He was our leader and our guide. We trusted him to do what was best for us. We thanked him for keeping us safe from the dangerous people he’d executed. Jason knew what we needed. We knew that.
Late at night, he held me close, whispering into my hair that he couldn’t live without me, that he’d do anything to make sure he never had to lose me. Sometimes, he whispered different things. Sometimes, he seemed unsure. He wanted guidance. He asked me if I thought there should be less death. He asked me if I thought he was going overboard. I always told him I thought he knew the right thing to do.
Sometimes he raged at that. Sometimes, he said that he knew I’d say that. Of course I’d say that. He’d say things like, “Why am I talking to you, anyway? You’re my puppet, and I know that. You don’t have a thought of your own in your head.” And I’d tell him that I appreciated his thoughts more than my own. His were brilliant. He was Jason. I was nothing.
But I knew that I loved him, no matter what. I would never stop. He was my destiny. We belonged together. Always.
This book is being posted on Mondays and Thursdays between 7/4/2011 and 9/5/2011. To access other chapters, check out the Between Posts Archive, here.