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Text message to Hallam Wakefield, 11:12 P.M.:
We've got a trace on the car, thanks to Hoyt. We should know where they are in a matter of minutes. Coordinates to follow.
"But-but—" I sputtered. "They tied you up. And you kept trying to make Jason suspect Jude."
"Well, I did want to bang Jason. I'm not gonna lie about that. I figured any path in a storm, right?"
"You're mixing your metaphors," I said.
"AP English rears its ugly head," she mocked me. "As for the tying up part, I was supposed to keep an eye on you that way. Monitor what you were feeling. They thought you'd trust me."
"I didn't trust you," I said.
"Which is why you untied me."
"Fuck you," I growled.
"Tisk, tisk. It's not a good idea to be rude to the girl who has a knife to your throat."
Ugh. She was right. I was stupid. I was way too trusting.
"Noah and Gordon had no vision," Lilith said. "They thought they could convince you to kill Jason. I know better. You're never going to think it's the right thing to do."
"It's not the right thing to do," I said.
"Like I said, you're never going to think that," said Lilith. "When Jason is dead, Michaela is going to see just how special I am. I'll make her eat those words. Someone will love me."
"I don't get it," I said. "You want Jason dead too? You just said you wanted to bang him."
Lilith chuckled. "Boys aren't good for much other than sex, Zaza. They're all expendable, really."
"But you think Jason is evil incarnate, like they do?"
Lilith didn't answer for a few seconds. "Stop talking," she said. "I'm calling the shots here. I've got a knife at your throat. I could kill you at any second. You shut up, okay?"
I didn't say anything, but I could tell I'd gotten to her.
"Look," she said, "I figure it doesn't really matter how it goes down, as long as you kill Jason. So, we'll go inside. We'll find Jason. He'll do whatever I say as long as I've got a knife to your throat, right? Even take a gun, put it in your hand, hold it to his own head, and make you pull the damned trigger. He'll do that. Won't he?"
She was right. He would. He'd die for me. I didn't like Lilith's plan at all. For someone who didn't do very smart things very often, she'd put together a pretty good plan. I had to keep pushing. She could threaten to shut me up all she wanted, but if she killed me now, then I couldn't kill Jason. And if things were really about to go down the way she'd just explained, I far preferred to die for Jason than for him to die for me. Not when there was some way I could stop it.
"You sure you want Jason dead?" I asked. "I was listening when you flashed Jason, you know. It got quiet for a long time." This was killing me, but it was more important that Jason lived than anything. Than anything. "And when I walked into the room, I could swear he looked guilty. How do you know that he doesn't want to be with you anyway? Maybe that's how you could show Michaela she was wrong."
Lilith pushed the point of the knife a little deeper into my neck. "You think you're so smart, don't you?" she hissed at me. "You think you can play mind games with me, but I'm not as dumb as you think I am."
"I'm not saying your dumb," I said. "I'm just not sure what you're motivation here is. Why are you still working for the Satanists? I mean, what have they ever done for you?"
The knife stabbed at my neck. It broke the skin. I let out at little yelp.
"I said shut up, Zaza," said Lilith, "and I meant it."
Suddenly, this little exercise in trying to manipulate Lilith seemed really, really difficult. I wanted to see Jason. I wanted this nightmare over.
But I didn't want to hurt Lilith. I'd done enough damage for one evening. I knew that. I also knew that there were things I'd done in the past hour that would haunt me for the rest of my life. I didn't want to add to that. I remembered the way Jason had sobbed in my arms after killing the members of the Sons. I knew the way Jason's eyes always looked. There were depths in them. Depths of pain and guilt and confusion. I didn't want to go there myself. But I was frustrated, and I couldn't help but want to do things the easy way.
As I hesitated in those few moments, I saw it all so very clearly. This way was seductive. It was simple. It was quick. It made the immediate problems go away. There were obstacles in the way of my goal. I needed to eliminate them. I saw that. I saw that I was starting down a path of simplicity. A path of casual violence. And I also knew that if I took that path, it would be harder to resist it in the future. I saw all of that.
And I made my choice. Because, in the end, no matter what anyone said about fate or Shiva or the power of Azazel, it was all about my choices. In the end, I wouldn't be able to blame ancient religions for my life. I'd have to take responsibility for it.
I moved as quick as Lilith had, and it meant that her knife took a pretty nice-sized chunk out of my neck. The pain was sharp, and I felt blood begin to trickle from the wound. But in one movement, I got the gun out of my pants with one hand, slapped the barrel against Lilith's temple, wrenched the knife away from her with my other hand, and twisted so that I could see her face.
I smiled at her. "Lilith, if you're so smart, why didn't you take my gun?"
"I-I—" Lilith was startled.
I didn't let her finish. I just pulled the trigger.
Her blood got on my face.
I looked at her for a while after it was done. The bullet didn't cause too much destruction going in. Sure there was a big bloody hole. But it was the exit wound that was so bad. Blood spattered all over the interior of the car, an exploded firework of red fluid and brain matter. The other side of Lilith's head caved in. It didn't really look like a skull anymore. Instead it was a broken Easter egg. A shattered Christmas ornament.
I don't know why I looked as long as I did. I think I just needed to see what I'd done. To understand that I'd killed her. I needed to look at it, look at the utter horror of it, the gore of it, the incomprehensible, repulsive reality of it, and make sure that I understood that I was responsible for it. Because I'd decided that my life and that Jason's life were more important than hers, I'd taken her life. I needed to recognize that, force myself to face it and acknowledge it.
I wasn't telling myself that it was the right thing to do. I wasn't trying to excuse it. I was just facing it. Taking responsibility for it.
As I got out of the car, my heart clanged against my rib cage. My legs trembled. I stood outside the car and closed the door behind me, shutting away the dreadfulness of the remains of Lilith.
Gripping the gun tightly, I started forward. Halting steps carried me over the threshold of Michaela Weem's house and inside.
Inside the house it was dusty and dark. I stumbled over shadowed shapes of furniture, looking for the staircase. I remembered that it was in the foyer, just as you entered the house. I wanted to go upstairs because I figured Jason was in the attic.
I felt blindly ahead of me and connected with the railing to the stairwell. As my eyes gradually adjusted to the darkness, I eased up the steps. I wanted to go faster, but I felt sluggish. Gingerly, I reached up to touch my head. How much blood had I lost? Could I have a concussion? If I had a concussion, I wasn't supposed to go to sleep, right?
I labored up the steps, gazing around me in the scant light. The steps opened onto narrow hallway. Moonlight came in a window at end, illuminating an antique wooden table overflowing with burnt candles and several framed photos on the wall. My feet creaked as I moved forward. Could Jason hear me? If he could, would he come down to investigate?
I had a horrible thought. Maybe Jason wasn't here at all. Maybe the comment he'd made in Jude's car had been nothing more than an offhand remark, and he wasn't even in the house. I didn't move, biting my fingernails nervously. If that were true, then the only thing I'd be able to do would be to get back in the car . . . But I couldn't sit next to Lilith's body. No. No.
I looked up. How did I get to the attic? Was there a pull-down set of stairs in the ceiling somewhere? Or was there an actual built-in staircase?
Then I heard a woman moan.
They were here.
She moaned again. She sounded so close. Where were they? How did I get to them?
"There's someone here," said the woman's voice.
"Shh," hushed a voice. Jason?
"I won't be quiet," said the woman. "Help m—" she yelled, but her voice was muffled before she could finish.
"Shut up," said Jason's voice. It was his, unmistakably, even though it had a threatening tinge to it that I'd never heard before. "If you make one more noise, I'll kill you. I can cut parts off your dead body just as easy as your live one."
I shuddered. Jason sounded ugly. Hard. Cruel. And I couldn't believe he was talking about cutting off body parts.
Michaela Weem was his mother, no matter how awful she was. Jason shouldn't—
But did I have any right to judge him? After my evening?
Noah's and Gordon's empty eyes danced in front of my face, dangling inside the van's open door, staring at me.
"Go on, kill me," said the woman. "Do it. It's what I've always known you'd do. Evil spawn. Abomination."
"Shut up!" Jason insisted. "I'm not going to warn you again."
"Kill me!" shouted Michaela Weem.
"Jason!" I yelled. "Jason, it's me!"
Michaela Weem shrieked.
"No!" I yelled. "I'm here. Stop!"
From above me, the shrieking died off. There was a gurgling noise, like there was blood in her throat.
"Jason!" I called, my voice hoarse.
Behind me, a square of light appeared in the ceiling. A set of steps folded down and settled against the floor.
"Azazel?" said a voice. Jason's voice.
I flew to the stairs, scrambling up them as fast as I could. "Jason?" I said. "Jason?"
He caught me in his arms at the top of the steps. I dropped the gun I was holding to wrap myself around him. He smelled like sweat and blood, but I didn't care. He smelled like Jason. My Jason. I kissed his lips. His cheeks. His forehead. His chin. His neck. I couldn't stop kissing him.
"Jason, Jason, Jason," I murmured between kisses, feeling his arms tight around my waist.
But Jason was pulling away from me.
He held my face in his palms and forced my face away from his. "You're hurt," he said. "You're bleeding."
"I'm fine," I said, tears starting to stream down my face. He was here. I'd found him. Nothing else mattered right then. I'd found Jason. We were together. Everything else was just periphery. I didn't care about anything except the fact I'd found him.
"What happened to you?" he said.
There was so much. "I got away," I said. "I had to shoot people. They're dead."
"Jesus," he breathed. "But your head . . ."
"I was in a car accident."
"We've got to get you to a hospital."
I shook my head. "No. I'm a murderer. I can't go—" I broke off. Speaking of being a murderer. "Where's Michaela?"
"Who cares about her?" said Jason. "Let's just go. Both of us. Let's just go. Now."
I peered around Jason, actually looking at our surroundings for the first time. The attic was low-ceilinged. It had exposed rafters. It was lit entirely by candlelight. At least twenty candles squatted on the floor, between boxes and broken pieces of furniture. There was an old sewing machine, the kind with a pedal. In the corner, lying on several bloodstained rags was Michaela Weem.
She lay on her back. Her hand was bandaged, but the bandage was crusted with dry blood. Her head twisted towards me at an unnatural angle. Her eyes were wide and staring.
"Oh, Jason," I whispered. "What did you do?"
He touched my face again, turned my chin to face him. "I didn't know where you were," he said softly.
Slowly, I disentangled myself from Jason. I went to Michaela. Kneeled next to her. She looked so old, lying there. Old and broken.
I looked at Jason. "She's your mother," I said.
Jason shook his head. "I don't have a mother," he said.
Suddenly, Michaela moved.
I leaped back, but not in time. She reached over, with her good hand and grasped my wrist. She sat up, gasping for breath.
I struggled against her grip, but she held me fast.
Jason rushed towards us.
Michaela pulled me top of her. I was lying with my back on top of her body. She snaked her arm around my neck. She tightened it.
"Stop, Fiend," she said to Jason.
Jason stopped, his eyes murderous.
I could breathe, but it wasn't comfortable. And to think I'd been feeling sorry for this woman. I really was an idiot.
"That's your Vessel you're strangling," he rasped.
Michaela's mouth was close. I could feel her breath on my neck. I heard her voice in my ear. "Azazel," she said. "Oh Azazel. It's all gone wrong. My visions . . . they're swimming in confusion. Muddied. Swirled up. What have you done?"
"I remember," Michaela continued, "what I saw when I first put my hands on your mother's belly and knew you were growing inside her. How delighted I was. You stood, strong and proud, clutching a spear of fire. You would vanquish the abomination. And your mother a Hoyt. It was too perfect."
"Hoyt?" I managed. "What's my mother's family got to do with this?"
Michaela Weem laughed, a high-pitched maniacal sound. "You don't know, do you?"
Jason shook his head. "Not those Hoyts," he said.
"Yes," said Michaela Weem. "Yes."
"You're twisted," said Jason. "You and my father both. You claim it's got something to do with ancient power or fate or destiny or anything like that, but it's all about you—your revenge—your ability to do what you want."
"I don't understand," I said.
"Your great uncle is Weem's successor," said Michaela. "Where did you think all that Hoyt money came from? It comes from the Sons of the Rising Sun. To use their own blood against them. To use you . . ." She laughed again. "It was too perfect."
Wait. My mother's side of the family had ties to Sons? That would make sense, considering my grandmother hadn't wanted anything to do with the Satanists. But . . . "But the Sons killed my Aunt Stephanie," I protested.
"The Sons are very rarely concerned with women's lives," said Michaela. "Very rarely concerned. And you, my dear sweet Azazel, you were going to be a thorn in their side. You were going to strike a blow to their foundations. Such a blow . . . But now . . . now I can't see. It's all a haze." Michaela's grip on my throat loosened a little bit. "It was so clear before. Two figures. One an agent of Chaos. One an agent of Order. One light. One dark. But now I can't see which is which."
What was she talking about? And she had to be wrong anyway. The Hoyts had nothing to do with the Sons. They couldn't. "Why was my grandmother helping Noah and Gordon, then?" I asked. "Why did she send them that car?"
Michaela cackled. "Oh, there are many, many things you don't know about Arabella Hoyt, Azazel. Many things." She smiled, humming to herself for a second. Then she stopped. "The Sons never would have noticed you, you know," she continued. "If you'd just struck. Smote him down. But now they know who you are. And they must control their precious Rising Sun. Oh, they must, mustn't they? But I can't see anymore, Azazel. I can't tell who you serve. Or who he serves. Do you use the power of Rabbit for evil, girl? Which of you, which of you, which of you should die? Which one?"
If my grandmother had ties to the Sons, then that would mean that the car that I drove to the house was a car that belonged to the Sons.
I looked up at Jason. "Jason," I said. "The Sons, they—"
And I was cut off by the sounds of several cars outside the house, all pulling to a stop.
"They know where we are," I finished.
"Oh, I know, I know that only you can kill the abomination. But if you won't kill him, and both of you live, what worse things could happen? One of you must die!" And she pulled her arm tight around my neck.
I gagged, my eyes going wide. Frantic, I scrabbled at her arm with my nails, raking her skin, drawing blood.
Jason raced to us, fishing out a gun. He put the barrel against Michaela Weem's head. "Let her go," he said.
Michaela only laughed. "Must die, must die, must die!" she squealed.
Jason shot her.
Immediately, her arm fell away from me lifelessly. Her body thudded back against the floor behind me.
I crawled away from her, into Jason's waiting arms.
I didn't look back, but Jason was staring at her. He didn't look away.
And the Sons were entering the house. We could hear their footsteps as they mounted the stairs, their voices as they opened doors.
"Jason?" I said.
He didn't look away from Michaela.
I only looked for a second. I only peeled my eyes away from the entrance for one moment, to look at what he was looking at. Michaela's body, frail and twisted, a sick smiled still on her lips.
A second was all it took.
I heard the gun shot, and I turned, but it was too late.
Jason didn't even make a noise. He just collapsed against me, blood seeping out of his forehead.
"Jude?" I said.
He was standing at the opening to the attic, holding the gun I'd dropped.
He smiled at me. "Hi Azazel," he said.
"Jude," I repeated. I'd left him alive. Of all of them, I'd left him alive. And it was funny. He'd seemed like such a bad shot at the target range. But he hadn't had any trouble this time. Right on the mark.
I looked back at Jason, his head slumped against my chest. His blood was flowing onto my shirt. He was— But no. No, that—
"Mother's gone," said Jude. "But so is he now. And now, Azazel, there's no reason we can't be together."
I started to tremble, then to shake. Spastic jerks. No. No. NO.
Copyright (c) 2009 Valerie Chambers