Chapter no 45

Hell Bent

Darlington couldn’t quite put together the moments after the descent. He remembered snow falling, the dreary weight of his sodden clothes on his body. They were all tired and shaken, but they couldn’t simply drag themselves home. There was too much evidence to dispose of. When he’d stepped into the mouth of the hellbeast, he’d been a man who followed rules, who believed he understood his world and its workings. But as he was not quite human any longer, he supposed a more flexible approach to morality was called for.

There were books scattered around the Linonia and Brothers Room. One of the tables had been knocked over. The demons had crashed through the eastern-facing windows, destroying an image of St. Mark at work on his gospels in the process, then smashed straight through the windows leading to the courtyard. There was nothing to be done about the damage. There was restoration magic they could use, but all of it was long and painstaking. It hurt Darlington to leave Sterling in such a state, but when the university reported the vandalism, Lethe could offer use of the crucible and whatever else they could find in the armory. For now, they just had to remove any sign of the uncanny.

It was easy enough to return the spiders to the spindle with another prick of Mercy’s finger, but the web above the courtyard still hung thick with melancholy. It took them the better part of an hour to pull it down with a broom they borrowed from the janitor’s closet, and transfer it into the waters of the basin, where they watched it dissolve. They were all weeping uncontrollably by the time they were rid of the damned thing.

They had left the body for last. Eitan Harel lay facedown in the mud and melting snow.

Turner retrieved his Dodge and waited for them by the York Street entrance. The tempest Dawes had brewed was still hot enough to manage the cameras, but there was nothing magical or arcane about the act of putting a corpse in a trunk. It was a cold act, ugly in its transformation: the body made cargo. Mercy hung back, clutching her salt sword, as if it might ward against the truth of what they’d done.

“You said you weren’t going to help clean up our messes,” Alex noted when the work was finished, and they piled into the Dodge, damp and weary, dawn still hours away.

Turner only shrugged and gunned the engine. “This is my mess too.”



The door to Il Bastone sprang open before they reached the top of the steps. The lights were on, the old radiators pumping heat through every room. In the kitchen, Dawes had lined up thermoses of leftover avgolemono that they drank in greedy swallows. There were plates of tomato sandwiches and hot tea spiked with brandy.

They stood at the kitchen counter, eating in silence, too tired and battered to talk. Darlington couldn’t help but think of how rarely the dining room at Il Bastone had been used, of how few meals he’d shared with Michelle Alameddine or Dean Sandow, of how few conversations he’d had with Detective Abel Turner. They’d let Lethe atrophy, let its secrecy and ritual make them strangers to each other. Or maybe that was the way Lethe had always been intended to function, toothless and powerless, bumbling along with a sense of their own importance, a sop to the university while the societies did as they pleased.

At last, Mercy set her mug down and said, “Is it done?”

The girl was brave, but tonight had been too much for her. The magic, the spells, the strange objects had all been a kind of play. Now she had helped to kill a man, and the weight of that was no easy thing to carry, no matter the justification. Darlington knew that well.

Alex had warned them that there would be a moment when she needed their defense, when she would ask them to fight for her without question. They’d done it—because they were desperate, and because for all their

noble protestations, none of them wanted to suffer for eternity. Mercy had been eager to go along with the plan, to wear her salt armor, to face a very human monster. Maybe she regretted that now.

But this was not the time to be gentle.

“It’s not over,” he said. “There are more demons left to kill.” Maybe there always would be.

Alex was weak from all the blood she’d lost, so Dawes applied balm to the wound Anselm had left at her wrist, then took her upstairs to drop her into a bath of goat milk in the crucible. They had a kind of easy routine of caretaking that Darlington didn’t quite understand and that made him feel like a child left out of a game. So he would make himself useful instead.

He went with Turner back to Black Elm.

“I can’t believe I’m a wheelman for a demon,” Turner muttered as he pulled out of the Il Bastone lot.

“Part demon,” Darlington corrected. They drove without talking for a while, but eventually he asked, “How did Alex get you to go along with this anyway?”

“She came to see me last night,” said Turner. “I didn’t want to do it. She was asking me to use my badge to set up a murder. Then I took a look at Eitan Harel’s record.”

“That convinced you?”

He shook his head. “No. I’m actually very fond of due process. But you know Alex—she sees an opening, she’s going to wiggle through it like a window.”

“An apt description.” We do what we have to. That’s the only job of a survivor.

“She told me Eitan was a soldier for evil.”

Darlington cast Turner a disbelieving glance. “That doesn’t sound like Alex Stern.”

“She was quoting me. Soldiers for good, soldiers for evil. I know you won’t agree, but as far as I’m concerned, this was always about keeping the devil down. She kept telling me it was bullshit. Until last night.”

“And then?”

“Then she said, ‘But what if I’m wrong?’”

Now Darlington laughed. “That’s Alex Stern.”

Turner tapped the steering wheel as he navigated the near empty streets. “I’m going to be honest with you. That’s not really what changed my mind either.”

Darlington waited. He didn’t know Turner well, but it was easy to see he wasn’t a man who liked to be rushed.

“I picked her up in Darien,” Turner went on at last, “the night Harel sent her to take on Linus Reiter. She was … I’ve seen her trade punches with a guy twice her size. I’ve seen her nearly get her skull split by a frat boy looking for revenge. But I’ve never seen her scared like that.”

When they reached Black Elm, Darlington unlocked the kitchen door and they rolled Eitan’s body down the stairs into the basement. The home he loved had become a tomb. He wondered what his grandfather made out of the carnage, or the fact that his grandson had abandoned this noble pile of rock. For the time being, at least. He wasn’t sure what they were going to do with all of those corpses, or what kind of burial he owed his parents. What would it mean if they just disappeared? And what about Anselm’s family?

It was too easy to vanish. He’d done it himself. And who had there been to seek him out? Dawes and Alex, Turner and Tripp. What life could he put together from what was left?

Darlington called to Cosmo, hoping the cat would make an appearance and he could offer some gift of gratitude, tribute in the form of tuna fish. But it seemed he would just have to be patient. Like all cats, Cosmo would arrive when he wanted to and not a moment before.

Turner helped Darlington lean the basement door against the jamb once more. Then there was nothing to do but turn their backs on the dead.



Darlington slept for the first time since he had been restored to this world, for the first time in over a year. He had never been allowed to sleep in hell or to dream. No rest for the wicked had turned out to be a very literal proposition.

He dreamed he was back in hell, a demon once more, a creature of appetite and nothing else. He knelt again at Golgarot’s throne, but this time, when he raised his head, it was Alex who gazed down at him, her naked body bathed in blue flames, a crown of silver fire at her brow.

“I will serve you ’til the end of days,” he promised. In the dream she laughed. “And love me too.”

Her eyes were black and full of stars.



He woke at noon, his body aching. Sluggish and miserable, he showered and dressed in the jeans and sweater he’d packed in his grandfather’s old leather bag. He couldn’t seem to get warm.

“Hell hangover,” Alex explained when she saw him. She was sitting in the parlor, one leg curled beneath her, still in Lethe sweats, a book of Hart Crane’s poetry open in her lap—reading for one of her classes, he presumed. It pleased him too much to see her there, easy on the velvet couch, hair tucked behind her ears. “Dawes made breakfast soup.”

From scratch, of course. The perfect cure. He ate two bowls of changua with fresh cilantro, little toasts topped with poached egg floating in the milky broth. His mind was beginning to clear enough to think of something other than survival. He supposed he’d have to reenroll. Lethe would help him. Assuming he was still considered a member of Lethe.

“Where’s Mercy?” he asked.

Alex kept her eyes on her book. “I walked her back to JE this morning.” “Is she okay?”

“She wanted to talk to her pastor and have lunch with Lauren. She needs a little normal.”

Unfortunately, normal was in very short supply.

After breakfast, he went to the armory and spent an hour digging through the drawers and cabinets. They needed to deal with the bodies in the Black Elm basement. He considered trying the library, but he couldn’t quite bear to find the right phrase for the Albemarle Book. How to dispose of a body. How to dispose of your mother’s remains. It was all too bleak. What he really needed to know was how to grieve for people he had done

his best to stop loving years ago. His parents had come and gone from his life like unexpected gaps in the clouds, and if he had spent his days waiting for those brief hours of sunlight, he would have withered and died.

Briefly he considered the Tayyaara, a “magic carpet” that really could take you anywhere by simply opening a portal beneath it. But the destination had to be woven into the design, and anyone who had the skill for such things was long gone, so the weave had remained unchanged, and the carpet could take you only one place: a catacomb beneath Vijayanagar. For several hundred years, it had served as a kind of unofficial dumping ground for unwanted objects and people. He didn’t know if what he felt for his parents was duty or love or the memory of love, but he couldn’t toss them on some ancient garbage pile.

Alex and Dawes found him sitting on the floor of the armory, surrounded by glittering artifacts and bits of ephemera, stuck. The boy with the rock in his hand, forever trying to build something that had long ago been lost. They helped him put everything back in its proper place, and then they drove to Black Elm.

The whole house was beginning to smell. Or maybe he just knew what was waiting for them as they shuffled the door to the basement aside and stared down into the dark.

“Do you … want to say anything?” Alex asked. He wasn’t sure. “Is my grandfather here?”

“He’s in the kitchen with Dawes.”

Darlington glanced over his shoulder, the kitchen empty to his eyes except for Dawes clutching a wooden spoon like a weapon. Golgarot had offered him a life of revelation, of knowledge, the unseen made seen. That would never be.

“You can talk to him, you know,” said Alex.

“I know you liked Stevenson’s ‘Requiem,’” he said, hoping his grandfather was listening, feeling foolish all the same. “But I’m afraid it doesn’t suit.”

If Darlington was honest, his grandfather wouldn’t like any of it. A eulogy was nothing but death words.

“Go on,” he told Alex.

She took a step down the stairs, then another. Darlington followed. The smell was worse here.

“That’s enough,” he said, and he saw her shoulders slump in relief. The heaps of his parents’ bodies were visible now, the scraps that had been Anselm, Eitan Harel slumped against the wall. How could this be his life? His home? What had he allowed for want of skill or knowledge or grit? “I am struck by the profound depth of my failure.”

Alex looked back at him from her place on the stairs. “You didn’t let the demon in the door. Sandow did. The societies did. When the time came, you stood between the living and the dead. Hoplite, hussar, dragoon, remember?”

“You’ve been paying attention. I’m both delighted and unnerved.” There was nothing for this but to see it done.

He laid his hand on Alex’s shoulder and reached for the demon. It was an easy thing, like flexing a muscle, like taking a deep breath. He felt his body change, a rush of strength. All fear dropped away; his grief and confusion faded. He felt the curve of Alex’s shoulder beneath his palm. If he curled his fingers, his claws would sink deeper. He would hear her gasp. He restrained himself.

Blue flame had blossomed over her body. She glanced back again, looking for a signal from him. He saw the will in her gaze, the way she had shoved her fear down. I will serve you ’til the end of days.

He nodded once and she lifted her arm. Blue fire spun from her hands, an arc of flame that became a river, coursing down the stairs and over the bodies. He’d been prepared to speak, a quote from … His demon mind couldn’t manage it. He remembered Alex with her book of poems. Hart Crane. He grasped at the words.

And if they take away your sleep sometimes they give it back again.” It was the best he could do. He watched the bodies burn.

Part of him wanted to tell Alex not to stop there, to let the whole house burn down to nothing, to let them burn with it too. Instead they stood together in the dark shadows of Black Elm, until there was nothing left but ashes and the old stones that might stand forever but would never mourn.

You'll Also Like