Authors: Morgan Blayde
Tags: #Dark Fantasy, #Horror, #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction
Can he sense my presence?
“I hate it when Death gets tricky.”
In the pool, old snake-face convulsed, shaking off reptilian features, shifting back into mammalian form. Miniature arms separated from his sides, limbs like shriveled, dehydrated tree branches. Fragile fingers clawed at the edge of the pool. His scales melted away and dark-brown human flesh glistened. Pained sounds erupted from him as internal organs moved around, reshaping, spasming through cellular changes. He struggled, forcing recovery at an accelerated pace, no doubted aided by the
waters. I wondered which Hindu god or goddess had pissed here.
His eyes reflected agony, but hatred, too. I could tell he was doing his best to get a human voice so he could warn the others I was present in their midst.
The only thing I could figure that had given me away was a residue of his poison magic I might have carried out of the dream we’d shared. In that case, it wasn’t the cloaked “me” he sensed, but his own energy signature within me.
Before he could betray me, I summoned a PX4 Storm semi-automatic from the ether and fired two shots. His human head exploded clean off, fragments spraying back like chum to cloud the water. My cloaking spell prevented the sound of my shots or the muzzle flashes from betraying me, but it was pretty obvious something unnatural had struck down the wounded naga—whose name I still didn’t know.
Really, bad guys should be required to wear nametags.
The newcomer in the room looked around, the emerald in his turban catching the light of lanterns hanging from the ceiling. He had to guess an assassin was present, but didn’t seem very alarmed. “You can show yourself,” he said. “I never liked that guy anyway.”
That wasn’t true of the nagi woman by the pool who dropped to her knees, one hand cupping her lower face, her eyes wide with horror. A muffled sob escaped her as she stared into the pool.
“Nakisisa!” She screamed his name.
It sounded African, probably had a cool meaning like:
little meerkat born on Wednesday
Maybe there’d be a translation in his obituary. I can always Google it.
The other attendants rushed to the crying woman, drew her to her feet, and guided her swiftly out a side door. That left me alone with Turban Guy. Normally, I’d be running off by now, low profile and all that, but that honkin’ big emerald he wore sure would look so good in my treasure vault.
My inner dragon stared, as captivated as I was.
I saw it first,
I reminded him.
“It looks like you’ve killed my guest,” Turban Guy said. “Not that I really care. He may have been African royalty, but he wasn’t near good enough for my sister.”
I shut down the Demon Wings tattoo on my back.
Turban Guy turned to me as I suddenly popped into his view. He inclined his head and smiled. The emerald flashed. “Welcome to my home. I am Arnav, Voice of my People.”
“Caine Deathwalker, the Red Moon Demon, Heir to the Dragon throne, and a Lord of Under the Hill.”
“I’ve heard the fey have accepted an outlander as a lord. And a dragon throne heir, too. Twice royal. Impressive. I’m afraid I don’t know the
reference. I really don’t get out much.”
I shrugged. “Let’s just say I’m Beloved of Hell and leave it at that.”
“As you say.” He walked over to the healing pool and stared down. “I suppose I’ll have to Fed Ex the remains back to Africa now. Did you want to cut off a trophy before I have it packed up?”
“No thanks, I’m good.” I walked over to join him, the gun at my side.
In the pool, the tail had shriveled and split into legs. Pieces of his face floated. Bone chips were sinking through a pinkish cloud of brain matter and blood. One lonely, bobbing eyeball as yellowy and bloodshot, trailing a bit of optic nerve like a freakish jellyfish. The neck’s open wound trailed fresh blood, darkening the water even more. “Sorry about the mess.”
“I imagine he made a few messes for you so this balances things out. Will the demons and fey let things drop after this.”
“I can only speak for me. Keep your people away from the old school until after the TV show finishes shooting and I’ll have no complaints.”
In western fashion, he held out his hand. “Deal.”
We shook hands. “Deal.”
My inner dragon scowled at me.
Let’s just pistol-whip him, grab the jewel, and go.
I sighed softly at the stupidity of the suggestion. Usually I’m smarter than that. I growled internally at my inner dragon.
Then he’d know it was us. Much better to leave and sneak back some dark night. The local fey will probably take the blame
Oh, right. That’s better.
I said, “Hey, Arnie, you want to show me where the front door is? I should probably get back to my people.” I needed to leave before they found the dead sentry I’d left behind me.
“Of course. This way.”
He turned from the pool and headed for the same door his sister had taken. I’d taken two steps when baby-snake ghost swooped into the room, making Arnie and me duck. We turned to watch the spiky yellow-green blob of light as it orbited above the healing pool.
“Ghost?” Arnie said.
“Yeah, seems like years ago your African naga was in these parts, sowing his seed among the girls at the old school. We found a naga temple there and bodies in a mass grave. This ghost and others have been running amok.”
“Odd, my father never mentioned any of this to me.”
“He might not have known,” I said. “Or he was covering things up.”
“Hmmm. This ghost doesn’t look like others I’ve heard of. Nice serpentine color, though.”
“It’s half naga. The African prince was its dad.”
“Grief upon grief. Awkward.”
The flight rings of the ghost grew smaller, tighter until it stilled at a mid-point above the pool. Its yellow-green light intensified. Pulsing motes of ectoplasm flurried into the sacred pool, agitating the arcane chemicals there. Body parts rose from the pool, dripping, dancing in the ghost light.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” I said.
The headless body rose into view. Its head reformed—sorta. Like
Mr. Potato Head
in the hands of an infant Picasso, the nose and ears were in unlikely places. The naga-baby
inexperienced at this sort of thing after all.
“Wants his daddy,” I said.
Arnie said. “That’s not going to work. The sacred pool has preserved the flesh, but the soul is gone.”
“Yeah, but possession is still possible. We could wind up with Franken-Daddy here a revenant.”
“You must kill Nakisisa all over again.”
I have to
rekill him? Your pool and the ghost baby did this. Don’t get me wrong, though, for the right fee…”
Arnie smiled. “Sadly, the revenant’s last hate filled thoughts will drive its resurrected existence: its need to kill you. Of course, if you’d rather just die, or have it come after you forever from the shadows, that’s your choice.”
I glared at him. “So you’re saying I don’t get paid for this.”
He looked from me to the levitating corpse. “And things get worse.”
I looked to see what he referred to. A second ghost was present. A bigger, spikier one. Nakisisa’s ghost had faded in—and was being eaten by the baby-ghost. Ectoplasms fused. The other ghosts from the haunted school arrived. The colored lights swarmed the ghostly gestalt, and were sucked into the spectral mess as well.
An uber-ghost formed. The body trembled. Hand-sized globs of bloody water wobbled up into the air as if gravity were reversed. Uber ghost sank into the corpse. The light in the room dimmed. The globs of water fell back into the sacred pool.
The body drifted to the edge of the pool, stepping down to the floor. His eyes beamed with a harsh radiance. Hate burned there. A lot of it. He unhinged his jaw, opened his ragged mouth, and fangs folded down into view. Fangs dripping poison.
I raised my PX4 Storm, aiming for the face once more. The gun bucked in my hand. I emptied the magazine, buying time. The face deformed to a cloud of frothy red. I’d blinded it. My last couple of shots punched out its heart.
Arnie said, “He’s animated, but still dead. You can’t really kill him.”
“Yeah, I know. Complete destruction is necessary.”
I swirled raw magic through my body, concentrating it in my
tattoos. Pain came, jagged glass grinding along my nerves. I looked down at my chest. It felt like my heart had just been ripped out, at high velocity, and then stomped on. Such was the price I paid to access dragon magic while a half-dragon in human form. The sensations faded like echoes from a nightmare, leaving me magically shielded, with golden fire burning under my skin, spurting out in patches here and there.
I released my gun. It returned to my armory where stored magic would automatically reload the gun for me.
I raised palms toward the revenant. A wall of fire
between us, white-hot, hungry. Undamming the pressure felt good. The room temperature soared. I lost sight of the revenant with all the roaring flame.
Bursting through the core of the fire, a high-pressure stream of water shot in close. The revenant used its ghostly telekinetic power to channel the sacred waters, creating a weapon against my fire. The water stream waggled like a water elemental, seeking me.
Though braced, the stream pounded into me, forcing me back several steps, my boots skidding on the wet floor. Growing momentum slammed me back even more as my fire diffused itself in the water and steam clouds misted everywhere. My back hit a wall. The stream waggled on, playing elsewhere, thinning out as the pool ran dry.
I cut off the flow of my fire, waiting for the air to clear so I could see my enemy. Listening, I only heard Arnie’s heart pounding excitedly. He’d retreated to the door his sister had used, but he hadn’t completely abandoned me.
He’s waiting to see if I’m going to die or solve this problem for him.
I couldn’t spot the revenant by listening. His heart didn’t beat, and since he could float in the air, there weren’t footfalls to hear.
I could sure could have used Thorn here to guide my attacks, and hold the revenant immobile with one of her barriers.
Really, running headlong into these situations is a habit I need to break.
There was something important I was forgetting. It annoyed me like a trunk full of dead hookers that hadn’t been packed in ice.
My inner dragon remembered. His eyes burned gold inside my head. Caine! You’re wasting magic. He can see through
Damn, that’s right!
Hurricane winds came out of nothing, screaming, shredding the steam, lifting it like a curtain, cooling it back to transparency again. And there was the revenant. Hovering a foot off the floor, staring at me. A too-wide smile made its misshapen face even uglier. There was an eyeball where an ear used to be. The head was facing away so it could see me with that eye. The impression I had was of being hated and ignored at the same time. The naked, over-muscled flesh was in the process of fading from black to a lighter charcoal color. The fingernails were jet black. It was as if its new state were vulnerable to its own poison magic.
As the revenant bobbed, its lax member flopped, drawing attention.
Seriously, dude, put some boxers on.
A bile green glow seeped out of its pore. The sickly light intensified. It was about to unleash the same poison wind attack that had nearly killed me in my dream when we first met.
I flung myself toward the exit where Arnie waited. The room blurred as I put dragon strength into my legs, going all out. Green light chased me. I could swear I heard it sizzling behind me like hot grease. And then I was at the exit, Arnie right in front of me.
His sister stood behind him, the dead sentry in her arms, tears on her face. She moaned piteously. “My child! My child!”
Arnie’s face looked aged. His nonchalant expression was broken by anguish. His eyes were hard as agates. He put his hands against my chest and shoved me backwards with a shapeshifter’s inhuman strength.
Repelled, I landed a couple of yards inside the room, hitting on my back, skidding until I flopped over and pushed off the floor, landing on my feet.