Chapter no 41

Hell Bent

Alex didn’t fall asleep until the early hours of the morning. There was too much to plan, and her time with Darlington had left her buzzing at some uncomfortable frequency that made sleep impossible. She had been talking to him in her head so long, it should have been easy to sit and hold a conversation. But they were not the same people anymore, student and teacher, apprentice and master. Before, knowledge had flowed one way between them. Power had rested in his hands alone. But now that power was in motion, constantly shifting, bumping up against their understanding of each other, confused by the mysteries that remained, falling into the shadowed places where that understanding failed. It seemed to fill the house, a coil of hellfire that ran through the halls and up the stairs, a lit fuse. Yale and Lethe had belonged to Darlington, but now they were playing on a wider stage, and Alex wasn’t yet sure what role either of them were meant to fill.

She had barely dozed off when she was woken by Dawes shaking her


At the sight of her panicked face Alex bolted upright. “What is it?” “The Praetor’s coming.”

“Here?” Alex asked as she leapt out of bed and pulled on the only clean clothes she had—Lethe sweats. “Now?”

“I was making lunch when he called. I told Mercy to stay upstairs. He wants to go over preparations for the wolf run. Didn’t you email him?”

“I did!” She’d sent her notes, links to her research, along with a four-hundred-word apology for being unprepared at their last meeting and a declaration of her loyalty to Lethe. Maybe she’d overdone it. “Where’s Darlington?”

“He and Turner went to Tripp’s apartment.”

Alex drew her fingers through her hair, trying to make it respectable. “And?”

“No one answered the door, but the salt knot at the entry was still undisturbed.”

“That’s good, right? Maybe he’s just hunkering down with his family or


“If we don’t have Tripp, we won’t be able to lure his demon back to


They would have to face that problem later.

They were halfway down the stairs when they heard the front door open. Professor Walsh-Whiteley entered whistling. He set his cap and coat on the rack by the door. “Miss Stern!” he said. “Oculus said you might be late. Are you … in your pajamas?”

“Just doing some chores,” Alex said with a bright smile. “Old houses need so much maintenance.” The step beneath her creaked mightily as if Il Bastone was joining the charade.

“She’s a grand old thing,” said the Praetor, strolling into the parlor. “I was hoping to find Oculus had stocked the larder.”

Oculus. Whom he hadn’t bothered to greet. No wonder his Virgil and his Dante had hated him. But they had more serious worries than a throwback professor with no manners.

“Call Darlington,” Alex whispered. “I did!”

“Try again. Tell him not to come back until—”

The front door swung open and Darlington strode in. “Morning,” he said. “Turner—”

Alex and Dawes waved frantically at him to shut up. But it was too late. “Do we have guests?” the Praetor asked, craning his neck around the


Darlington stood frozen with his coat in his hands. Walsh-Whiteley stared at him.

“Mr. Arlington?”

Darlington managed a nod. “I … Yes.”

Alex could lie as easily as she could speak, but at that moment, she was at a loss for any words, let alone believable fictions. She hadn’t even thought about how they were going to explain Darlington’s reappearance. Instead she and Dawes were standing there looking like they’d just been doused with ice water.

Well, if she was already playing shocked, she might as well lean into it.

Alex summoned all her will and burst into tears.

“Darlington!” she cried. “You’re back!” She threw her arms around him.

“Yes,” Darlington said too loudly. “I am back.”

“I thought you were dead!” Alex wailed at the top of her lungs.

“Good God,” said the Praetor. “It’s really you? I’d been given to understand that, well, you were dead.”

“No, sir,” Darlington said as he disentangled himself from Alex, his hand at the small of her back like a hot coal. “I had just slipped into a pocket dimension. Dante and Oculus were kind enough to petition Hayman Pérez to attempt a retrieval spell on my behalf.”

“That was most inappropriate,” Walsh-Whiteley scolded. “I should have been consulted. The board—”

“Absolutely,” Darlington agreed as Alex continued sniffling. “A terrible breach of protocol. But I must confess, I’m grateful for it. Pérez is tremendously gifted.”

“That I can agree with. One of the best of Lethe.” The Praetor studied Darlington. “And you just … reappeared.”

“In the basement of Rosenfeld Hall.” “I see.”

Dawes, all but forgotten on the stairs, cleared her throat. “Something to eat, perhaps? I’ve made cheese toasts with smoked almonds and a pumpkin curry.”

Walsh-Whiteley’s eyes traveled from Dawes to Alex and on to Darlington. The man might be pompous and prudish, but he wasn’t a fool.

“Well,” he said at last, “I suppose most things are best explained over a good meal.”

“And a good glass of wine,” Darlington added, shepherding the Praetor through the parlor.

Alex glanced through the window to where she could see the glittering eyes of the demons, gathered in the shadows between the houses across the street. At least they were keeping their distance. Darlington’s attack on Not Hellie must have spooked them.

“Should I poison his soup?” Dawes whispered as she passed. “You’ve had worse ideas.”

The lunch was long, and Darlington and Alex could only pick at their food. They needed to fast for the descent. The conversation revolved around Sandow’s death and Darlington’s disappearance and the particulars of the supposed retrieval spell Pérez had performed. Alex wondered if Darlington had been such an excellent liar before he’d become part demon.

“Aren’t you hungry?” the Praetor demanded as Dawes set down a warm apple crostata and a pot of crème fraîche.

“Portal travel,” Darlington said. “Terrible on the digestion.”

Alex was famished, but she just sniffled and said, “I’m too emotional to eat.”

Walsh-Whiteley jabbed at the air with his fork. “Maudlin nonsense. There’s no room at Lethe for delicate sensibilities. This is why the Ninth House is no place for women.”

Inside the kitchen a loud crash sounded as Dawes made her feelings known.

“Are you up to attending tonight’s wolf run?” the Praetor asked Darlington.


“I think you’ll be pleased with the way our Miss Stern has progressed. Despite her dubious background and lack of education, she’s acquitted herself well. I can only assume as the result of your tutelage.”


Alex resisted the urge to kick him under the table.

When Walsh-Whiteley had finished the last bite of his crostata, and downed the last sip of his Sauternes, Alex walked him to the door.

“Good luck tonight, Miss Stern,” he said, cheeks rosy from the wine. “I’ll expect your report by Sunday at the latest.”

“Of course.”

He paused on the steps. “You must be relieved Mr. Arlington has returned.”

Very relieved.”

“It’s fortunate that Hayman Pérez was able to manage such a complicated spell.”

Very fortunate.”

“Of course Mr. Pérez has been searching for lost Nazi bunkers in the Antarctic for the better part of a year. A pointless endeavor, I suspect, but he got the funding, so I suppose the board must see a purpose. He’s been quite unreachable.”

Alex wasn’t sure if the Praetor had really caught them out or if he was bluffing. “Has he? I guess we got lucky.”

Very,” said the Praetor. He tucked his cap onto his head. “Lethe sees me as a nuisance and a pedant. It has ever been so. But I hold the Ninth House to a higher standard than those who make a pretense of governing it. I believe in the institution that Lethe might be, that it should be. We are the shepherds.” His gaze found hers, his eyes a rheumy indeterminate brown. “There are places we were never meant to trespass, no matter that we may have the means. Be careful out there, Miss Stern.”

Before Alex could think of a reply, he was walking down the street, whistling a tune she didn’t recognize.

Alex watched him go, wondering at who Raymond Walsh-Whiteley really was. A young genius. A reactionary curmudgeon. A student still in love with the boy he’d met on some seaside idyll, the boy he still mourned.

Alex shut the door, grateful to be behind the wards. Dawes was in the dining room with her blueprints and her notes, walking Darlington through what to expect from the descent. Alex was happy to leave them to it. She didn’t want to think of Darlington as he’d been last night in front of the fire. A predilection for first editions and women who like to lecture me about myself. A joke. Nothing more. But that word kept sticking in her thoughts— predilection, precise and filthy at the same time.

She headed straight for the Dante bedroom. She had work to do.

“Baby!” her mother exclaimed when she picked up the phone, and Alex felt that familiar rush of happiness and embarrassment that always came with her mother’s voice. “How are you? Is everything okay?”

“Everything’s great. I was thinking about coming home for Thanksgiving.”

Mercy and Lauren were planning a trip to Montreal with a couple of theater people Lauren had met working at the Dramat. They’d invited Alex, but Alex wasn’t swimming in cash, and if she made it through the second descent and everything it entailed, she was going to use what money she did have for a trip to Los Angeles.

A long pause. Alex could imagine Mira pacing in their old living room, fear descending over her. “You’re sure? I’d love to see you, but I want to make sure this is a healthy step forward for you.”

“It’s okay. I’d just come to see you for a few days.”

“Really? That would be perfect! I’ve found a new healer and I think she could do wonders for you. She’s great at purging negative energy.”

How about demons? “Sure. That sounds nice.”

Another pause. “You’re sure everything is okay?” Alex should have protested the healer more.

“I really am. I love you and I’m excited to see you and … Okay, I’m not excited to eat tofurkey, but I can pretend.”

Mira’s laugh was so easy, so light. “You’re going to love it, Galaxy. I’ll have your room all ready.”

They said their goodbyes, and Alex sat looking at the window, at the stained glass moon glowing in a bank of blue glass clouds, never waxing, never waning. When she was small, she’d searched her mother’s features for some hint of herself and found nothing. Only once they’d been sitting side by side on the bed, barefooted, and she’d noticed that they had the same feet, the second toe longer than the big toe, the pinky crowded in like an afterthought. It had reassured her. She belonged to this person. They were made of the same stuff. But it wasn’t enough. Where was the shared sense of humor? A talent like sewing or singing or picking up languages?

Alex thought of her mother walking down the street, shining with hope. But Alex was always in shadow.

She wanted to tell her mother to go away for a few days, to go stay with Andrea, but she couldn’t do that without panicking her. And if she failed tonight, none of it would matter anyway.

Alex checked her phone. Still no message from Turner. She wasn’t going to call, wasn’t going to risk tipping the scales the wrong way. What she’d asked him to do wasn’t exactly criminal, but it also wasn’t anywhere close to honest, and Turner’s virtuous streak was too wide for her comfort.

“Just what are you planning?” he’d asked when she’d found him in the armory the previous night.

“Do you really want to know?”

He’d taken a long moment to consider, then said, “Absolutely not.” Without another word, he’d lain back down and pulled the blanket over his head.

“But you’ll do what I asked?” she had insisted. “You’ll make the call?” “Go to bed, Stern,” was all he said.

Now she looked down at her phone and dialed Tripp’s number for the twentieth time that day. No answer. How many people would be dead before this was over? How many more bodies would float in her wake?

Alex hesitated, the phone in her hand. The next call might save her or quite literally damn her.

Eitan picked up on the first ring. “Alex! How are you? You go to see Reiter?”

Alex kept her eyes on the glass moon. “This is a courtesy call. I’m done being your errand girl. I’m going to work for Linus Reiter.”

“Don’t be silly. Reiter is no good. He—”

“You can’t stop him. You don’t have a weapon in your arsenal that can.” “What you say is very serious, Alex.”

“I’m going to tell him every last thing about your organization and your associates.”

“Your mother—”

“Mira is under his protection.” Or she could be.

“I’m in New York. Come see me. We talk. We make a new deal.”

Alex had no doubt she would not return from that meeting. “No hard feelings, Eitan.”

“Alex, you—”

She hung up. Hell is empty, and all the devils are here. Shakespeare again. One of the strippers back at the King King Club had the quote tattooed above her pubic bone. Alex had been jumping to do Eitan’s bidding for months. It was time for him to be afraid. It was time for him to come running. Reiter was the devil the other devils couldn’t best, the one they warned each other about.

“You’re up to something, Stern,” Darlington said as they packed for the wolf run later that night. “I can tell.”

“Just keep your head down and don’t let anything try to kill me.” “It’s my price to pay,” he warned her.

“It’s Sandow’s price. You didn’t end up in hell because you did something wrong.”

“But I did.”

Alex took stock of the contents of the duffel: salt, silver rings, and a silver dagger for good measure. “We can debate this when we’re done. Dawes will take notes. We can bind them up and put them in the Lethe library. Stern’s Daemonologie.”

Arlington’s Daemonologie. Aren’t you going to valiantly offer to stay in hell in my place?”

“Fuck off.”

“I did miss you, Stern.”

“Did you?” She hadn’t meant to ask, but the words were out before she could stop them.

“As much as an unholy fiend without human feeling could.” That almost made her laugh.

No, Alex wasn’t about to volunteer for an eternity of anguish. She didn’t have the makings of a hero. But she wasn’t leaving Darlington down there again. Hell’s price must be paid. All that meant was hell was no different from any other place. There was always a price and someone to pay it. And someone was always on the take.

When they left Il Bastone to meet with the Wolf’s Head delegation at Sleeping Giant, she felt a kind of ease, as if the thread that bound them now had drawn tight, as if no demon would dare to face them together.

I will serve you ’til the end of days. Had that been a dream or some kind of prediction? Had Alex, like her grandmother, somehow looked into the future to this moment? Even if she had, that gave her no greater insight into what it meant, or those golden shackles at Darlington’s wrists, or the disturbing comfort it brought her to know she could call and he would come running. Gentleman demon. A creature even the dead had feared.

A ship sailed from New Haven, And the keen and frosty airs

That filled her sails at parting

Were heavy with good men’s prayers.

“O Lord! if it be thy pleasure,”— Thus prayed the old divine,—

“To bury our friends in the ocean, Take them, for they are thine!”

—“The Phantom Ship,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

My last entry as Virgil. I thought I would never wish to leave this office, but instead I find myself counting the days until I can close the door of Il Bastone behind me and never darken the doorstep of this house again. I leave with my fortunes secured, but I know I will see hell again. How Nownes would laugh at me if he knew the extent of our folly. How he would weep if he knew the extent of our crimes. But why do I write? I will hide this book and in it our sins. I wish only that I believed in God, so that I might beg for His mercy.

Lethe Days Diary of Rudolph Kittscher (Jonathan

Edwards College ’33)

You'll Also Like