Chapter no 47

Hell Bent

It had taken Alex a few tries to remember exactly where Tripp’s apartment was. Turner could have helped, but he was back at work, trying to figure out where his conscience lay on the matter of a man who had helped to commit two murders under demonic influence.

“No more favors,” he’d warned her the last time she saw him at Il Bastone.

“They’re not really favors, are they?” Alex asked as they sat on the front steps in the cold, breath pluming in the air. The snow had melted away, a false start to true winter, and the sky above them looked hard and bright as blue enamel, as if you could reach up and knock on it. The leaves still clung to their branches in trembling clouds of red and orange. “Not anymore. You don’t get to go back to not returning my calls.”

“Why not?”

Because I think Mercy may have changed her mind about rooming with me next year. Because I don’t have many friends left and I need to know you’re one of them.

“Because you’re a part of this now. You’ve seen through the Veil, past it. You can’t go back to pretending.”

Turner rested his elbows on his knees, clasped his hands. “I don’t want to be a part of it.”

“Bullshit. You like this fight.”

“Maybe I do. But I can’t be a part of Lethe, that fucking map, everything this place and these societies stand for.”

“You do realize you’re a cop, right?”

He shot her a glance. “Don’t start with that shit, Stern. I know who I am and I know who my people are. Do you?”

Turner was trying to rile her. He couldn’t help it. She was the same way, poking and prodding, looking for the angle. But nothing like a couple of trips to hell to get your priorities in order.

“My people are right here,” she said. “You. Dawes. Darlington. Mercy, if I didn’t scare her away. You’re the ones who fought for me. You’re the ones I want to fight for. Lethe has nothing to do with it.”

“It isn’t that simple.”

Probably not. But she’d been in Turner’s head. When the moment came to choose a path, he’d made his own—with a bullet. That was something she understood.

Turner rose and Alex did the same. No aches and pains thanks to the magic of Lethe.

“What do you want at the end of all of this, Alex?” he asked.

Freedom. Money. A weeklong nap. “I just want to be allowed to live. Maybe … maybe I want to see this whole place undone. I don’t know yet. But you can’t go back to the way things were. No matter how much you might want that. You can’t walk through hell unchanged.”

“We’ll see,” he said, heading down the steps. He paused on the walkway and looked back at her. “It changed you too, Stern. You may not care about good and evil, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. You stole a man out of hell. You beat a demon at his own game. You’d better think about what that means.”

“And what’s that?”

“The devil knows your name now, Galaxy Stern.”



Alex had expected Turner to try to vanish back into his own life, to put distance between himself and Lethe, but when they finally arrived at Tripp’s place, there he was, bundled up in an Armani overcoat, leaning against the Dodge. He was reading a newspaper that he folded neatly away when he saw Alex, Dawes, and Darlington.

“Surprised to see you,” Alex murmured as they headed into the lobby. “Not as surprised as me.”

“Do you think he’s alive?” Dawes asked as they crowded into the elevator and Turner punched the button for the top floor.

“No,” she admitted.

Alex wanted to believe Tripp had simply been too scared to return to hell and that they’d find him watching TV and eating ice cream, but she didn’t really believe that and they were taking no chances.

Dawes and Darlington had laid down fresh barriers of blooded salt in knot patterns at the entry to the building, the elevator, and now the door to the stairs. Alex had Mercy’s salt sword. If Tripp’s demon was still here, they’d have to find a way to contain and destroy it. If it had fled, they’d have to find a way to hunt it. More work, more trouble, more enemies to fight. Why did that excite her? She should be spending her nights studying and writing papers. If only those things came as naturally as violence.

“Do you smell that?” Darlington asked as they approached Tripp’s door. There was no mistaking it, the stink of something left to rot.

“That’s new,” Turner said. He rested his hand on his gun.

The door was unlocked. It creaked on its hinges as Alex gently pushed it open. The loft had a huge wall of windows that had been blacked out with blankets and duct tape.

In the gloom, Alex saw the galley kitchen was littered with dirty dishes and a couple of old pizza boxes. There wasn’t much furniture—a massive flat-screen with a gaming system, a couch, and a recliner. A second later she realized someone was in the chair, huddled in the dark.

Alex raised the salt sword, but the thing moved quickly, with the same horrible speed she’d seen in Linus Reiter. Vampire. Her fear rose up to choke her. The monster hissed and knocked the sword from her hands.

But then the vampire was on the floor. Darlington towered over it, horns out, the bands at his neck and wrists glowing. Alex was alight with flame. Turner had his gun drawn.

Darlington seized the salt sword, then hissed as it burned his palm. “D-D-Darlington?” said the monster. “That you, man?”

Darlington hesitated.

Alex yanked one of the blankets down from the window. The thing shrieked and shrank back. “Tripp?”

“Alex! Guys, oh God, don’t look at me, I’m so gross.”

Tripp was in the same dirty polo shirt and blazer he’d worn to their first descent, a backward Yale sailing cap on his head. He was shockingly pale, but other than that he looked like Tripp. Well, that and the fangs.

Alex stood back, still wary.

“Is that Tripp?” Dawes asked. “Or is it his demon?”

Turner kept his weapon raised. “He’s definitely not human.”

“Shit,” said Tripp, taking off his cap and running a hand through his dirty hair in a gesture Alex had seen countless times. “I knew something was wrong. I haven’t taken a shit in … I don’t even know how long. And every time I try to eat, I have some kind of seizure. And…” He looked up guiltily.

“I think he wants to drink our blood,” said Dawes.

“No!” Tripp cried. But then he licked his lips. “Okay, yes. I just … I’m so hungry.”

“Can we get him some rats or something?” Dawes suggested. “I’m not going to eat rats!”

Alex peered at him. “If this is the demon, Tripp’s body has to be somewhere. Or what’s left of it.”

Not Tripp’s eyes darted guiltily to the corner of the kitchen, to what looked like a pile of rolled-up pieces of paper. A husk. Just like the one she’d seen in the Black Elm basement—the husk of the real Tripp Helmuth’s body.

Darlington’s demon form hadn’t receded. He was still on high alert, his eyes glowing gold. “That thing sucked Tripp dry. That’s all that’s left.”

Tripp—or the demon—backed away, baring its fangs. “I couldn’t help


“You’re a killer,” Turner said. “We’re all killers!”

“I’m not arguing semantics with a vampire,” Darlington snarled. “You

know what we have to do.”

He was right. Alex had tangled with one vampire, and that was more than enough. But this demon didn’t seem like a threat. It seemed feral, weak, and … a little dopey.

Her eyes scanned the apartment; aside from the husk of the body in the corner, it looked messy but ordinary—laundry on the floor, dishes in the sink. The only part of the loft that appeared clean or well organized was the big chair and gaming setup. Photos of Tripp’s family and friends had been arranged carefully around it, some figurines from games she didn’t recognize. She thought of Linus Reiter’s vases and bottles of liquor and bouquets of hyacinths. Did all vampires like to nest?

“Darlington’s right,” said Turner. “This thing is a menace. And we’re responsible for its presence here. We need to put it down. It’s dangerous.”

“I don’t think he is,” Alex said slowly. “What have you been doing for the last week, Tripp?”

“Just playing video games. Watching old episodes of Ridiculousness.

Sleeping a lot.”

“What have you been eating?” Dawes asked, her voice strained. “Bugs mostly. But they’re a delicacy in some countries, right?” “What if we didn’t kill him?” Alex asked.

“You have to be kidding,” Turner exclaimed. “He’s a loaded weapon.” “He’s barely a squirt gun.”

“It could all be an act,” Darlington growled.

“Should I put on some tunes?” Tripp asked. “I have this amazing Red Hot Chili Peppers double album—”

Maybe they should kill him.

“He’s…” Alex wasn’t going to say harmless. “He’s Tripp. Maybe he got the personality right along with the life force.”

Darlington shook his horned head. “Or it’s all an act and he’s contemplating killing us all.”

“Are you?” Dawes asked. Tripp winced. “A little bit?”

But an idea had taken root in Alex’s mind. “Tripp, call your seabird.” Tripp licked his knuckles, and a silvery albatross rose from behind him,

circling the room, with a bright, piercing cry.

“It’s still there,” marveled Dawes. “How can that be?”

The bird dove straight for Darlington. Alex slid in front of him, dragging her tongue over her wrist and letting her snakes snap out.

For a moment the rattlers and the albatross seemed to face off, and then they receded.

“Tripp’s salt spirit did what it was supposed to do,” said Alex. “It tried to protect his life, and when it couldn’t do that, it stayed with him. It protected his soul.”

Darlington still didn’t look convinced.

“Look,” Alex said, “we did this to him. We took him to hell. We put him in harm’s way. He’s our responsibility. Without him we never would have gotten you back.”

“Didn’t you say he did it for cash?”

“Well,” said Tripp, “I didn’t want to mention it, but my rent is—” “Not the time, Tripp.”

“Alex is right,” Dawes said. “He’s … still him. And he might be useful if we’re going to go after Linus Reiter. We could find a way to place him under some kind of prohibition if we’re worried he’s going to … act out.”

After Michelle, after Anselm, after Darlington’s parents, they needed this, a small victory to carry out of this nightmare.

Darlington threw up his hands, claws receding, a handsome young man in a fine wool coat once more. Alex felt her own flames recede. Their powers were connected now. Bound by hellfire.

Turner holstered his gun. “If he murders someone, I’m not taking the heat.”

Darlington jabbed a finger at Dawes. “You’ve gone soft.”

Dawes only smiled. “Come on,” she said to Tripp. “We’ll get you to Il Bastone and I’ll see what I can find to feed you.”

“Oh man, thank you. Thank you.”

“But you’re going to have to change,” Alex said.

“Of course. I know I haven’t been the most responsible member of the team, but I believe in transformative growth—”

“Clothes, Tripp. You’re going to have to change your clothes.”

“Shit, man! Absolutely. What did I say? You’re all right, Alex.” He put up his hand for a fist bump. “I just really want to eat you.”

Alex nudged her knuckles against his. “I know, buddy.”

He disappeared into the bathroom with disturbing speed and returned in clean shorts and a fleece.

As they walked out into the falling night, Alex felt wildly hopeful. Eitan was dead. Anselm was banished. They would find a way to break the enchantments on the Gauntlet so no one would ever be able to use it again.

The churches on the green shone like stars in their own constellation, and the Harkness bells began to ring. The tune was sweet and familiar, though her brain couldn’t quite place it.

Come on along. Come on along.

Fear, hard as a stone, settled in her gut.

Let me take you by the hand. Up to the man. Up to the man. Who’s the leader of the band.

Alex peered up at Harkness. As she watched, a dark shape detached itself from the stonework high atop the tower. It spread its wings, a black shadow against the gathering dusk, its eyes glowing red.

“Oh God,” Tripp moaned.

“Is it Reiter?” Dawes rasped out.

“I don’t think so,” said Darlington. “He can’t shake his human form.” Turner was staring up at Harkness, at those eyes gazing down at them.

“What else could it be?”

“A demon. A monster under his command.”

“No,” said Dawes. “That can’t be. We trapped those demons back in hell. We closed the door.”

It is your presence in hell that will keep the door open. The wound at Alex’s wrist throbbed.

“He bled her,” Darlington said.

Golgarot. He hadn’t been trying to kill Alex or even keep her in hell when he bit her. “He used my blood to prop open the door.”

The thing perched atop Harkness launched itself into the night. “We have to track it,” said Dawes. “Capture it or—”

“That thing is the first,” Darlington said. “It won’t be the last. We have to find a way to shut the door for good, to seal the Gauntlet before the demons figure out how to keep it open.”

“Would that be so bad?” Tripp asked innocently.

“Demons feeding on the living?” Turner snapped. “Hell on earth? Yes, Tripp. That would be bad.”

Alex watched the creature circling above. She was done being used by Lethe and men like Eitan.

“You don’t get to prey on us,” she said to the thing in the sky, to Linus Reiter and Golgarot, and to every hungry thing that might be hunting them. “You don’t get to use me to do it.” She faced Turner. “Find Mercy. Warn her. Make sure she’s safe. Dawes, get Tripp to Il Bastone—and don’t let him eat you.”

“Alex,” Dawes said warningly, worry in her voice. “What are you going to do?”

“The only thing I’m good at.”

Alex set off across the green, daring the monster above to follow. She drew her salt sword and called to her hellfire, letting it bloom over her body. If Reiter wanted a target, she’d give him one. Darlington had already fallen into step beside her, matching her stride, his horns glowing, a low growl rumbling in his chest.

A little magic. A talent for taking a beating. A demon at her side. That was all she had, but maybe it was all she needed.

“Come on, Darlington,” she said. “Let’s give them hell.”

You'll Also Like