Children

Jude is almost 5. He’s in a dinosaur phase. And living with Kilian who is a year old, Kilian is fascinated by Jude’s dinosaur toys and noises. I have been in a Jurassic Park kick lately and couldn’t figure out why… and then it hit me. To most adults dinosaurs are just extinct animals. They were and now they aren’t and on any given day they never cross our minds. But having a toddler in my life that is still into dinosaurs, has reminded me how cool dinosaurs are. And I hated the book Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton, so I keep returning to Jurassic Park and the sequel The Lost World (This includes the books and all 5 Jurassic movies).

And every time a dinosaur is mentioned that I can’t immediately picture, I look it up to refresh my memory, because like Jude I had a dinosaur phase. Decades ago, before I learned I actually hate being in the dirt I struggled to decide whether I wanted to be an archaeologist or a paleontologist. Then in high school, I got to do a mock archaeological dig and that made me realize I wanted to do neither. I loved “researching” the artifacts and fake bones in our archaeological dig, but I hated actually uncovering them. I even garden in gloves whenever possible.

Sadly like me. unless Jude finds a love for dirt, he will have a fascination with dinosaurs most of his life, but they will never be a career because last year when Jude decided to help me plant my garden, he wouldn’t dig in the dirt with more than a single finger because in his words “the dirt is gross.” Coming from a 4 1/2 year old it was funny, don’t get me wrong, but it was also weird, his mom has encouraged him to play in the dirt and get dirty when it’s appropriate and yet, “it’s gross.”

But I learned something interesting while looking up the Apatosaurus to remind me of what it looked like. Growing up, I learned about the brontosaurus and then it just ceased to be: it was a mistake, a misidentified animal that had already been classified during the dino wars of the 1800s. However, when I searched for the Apatosaurus the other day I found a National Geographic article about the return of the Brontosaurus to the dinosaur world. The article was dated 2015; and re-examination of the fossil record has returned the Brontosaurus to the modern world, which is nice for all those kids that grew up watching Little Foot in The Land Before Time.

And now, I need to go ask Jude his favorite dinosaur. I have two: the ankylosaurs for herbivores and the carnotaurus for carnivores. I also like the more commonly dinosaurs triceratops, stegosaurus, brontosaurus, tyrannosaurus, and Pachycephalosaurs (these are the ones in the movies that ram their heads against things).

Soon hopefully he’ll be old enough to be traumatized by the Jurassic Park movie.

Premium Content (Yearly): Draft NN4 – Chapter 21

Also, I want to highlight something weird that I’ve been doing the last couple of books. My chapters have gotten longer. Before 2020, I did a good job of consistently averaging 2,000 words per chapter. However, Dysfunctional Dreams, Buried Dreams, and this book average 3,000 words per chapter. It isn’t a huge deal except it shortens the number of chapters shown in the TOC and a few people have asked if my books are getting shorter because they don’t have as many chapters. My books aren’t getting shorter, they are actually getting longer – this draft was 100,456 words when I gave up on it. The replacement also has fewer chapters with just 26 chapters and 90,000 words.

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Premium Content (Monthly): Draft NN4 – Chapter 21

Also, I want to highlight something weird that I’ve been doing the last couple of books. My chapters have gotten longer. Before 2020, I did a good job of consistently averaging 2,000 words per chapter. However, Dysfunctional Dreams, Buried Dreams, and this book average 3,000 words per chapter. It isn’t a huge deal except it shortens the number of chapters shown in the TOC and a few people have asked if my books are getting shorter because they don’t have as many chapters. My books aren’t getting shorter, they are actually getting longer – this draft was 100,456 words when I gave up on it. The replacement also has fewer chapters with just 26 chapters and 90,000 words.

Chapter Twenty-one

We had Cassanova’s deliver a couple of pizzas around 9 pm. I was really glad they were open late, even on Sundays. As soon as it was delivered, I used a little magic and sent it across the divide to Dantalian. I’d get the Wendy’s for him tomorrow and take it over when I went to get Umpira.

“You should also get him a 2 liter of soda.” Jerome told me as he and I shared a medium with mushrooms, black olives, sausage, and pepperoni. “Not because he gave you the names, but because he did his best to give you time frames for their arrival.”

“I know,” I sighed. Demons did not do well with time, because it didn’t matter to them. My few visits to the Stygian always felt super long, but by Earth time they were usually only ten or fifteen minutes. Once, I’d been there nearly half an hour and had watched the sky darken, which had been really pretty. There was a sun and moon, but they looked nothing like our sun and moon. I had a vague notion, the Stygian wasn’t just another plane of existence, but a completely different planet possibly in a completely different universe. I did know with absolute certainty, it was a physical place somewhere, if it wasn’t a different universe, it was at least a different solar system. It was too much like a planet to be anything else. It had land formations and geologic features, not unlike Earth. There were mountains, caves, lakes, rivers, and even an ocean. There was also a night sky, not completely unlike the one here, although I had never found a constellation in the stars that I recognized. The sun was warm, the moon was not, and sometimes, when I traveled outside in the Stygian, I brought back dirt on my shoes from there. When Aurora had gone through a Demon Box and ended up over there, she’d brought back dirt and a rock too. If it had been an artificial construct of Lucifer’s power, I wasn’t sure it would have physical remnants that could come back to Earth with me. Of course, I didn’t tell this to anyone but Jerome because most people would believe me batshit crazy and string me up for consorting with demons.

“Magda and I believe, if I can find the correct spell, and somehow get near the shadow, I can bring it back.” Jerome said.

“Yeah, I figured you could.” I nodded. “If we could anticipate when the gang would strike again or when the shadow would return to the AESPCA, we could probably get the shadow.” I said.

“Yeah,” Jerome said solemnly. “I can’t imagine being stuck in a different time dimension that made it, so I was only visible as a shadow.”

“That would suck,” I agreed. “What is that thing profilers do to narrow down the location of serial killers?” I asked.

“How the heck should I know. I don’t study serial killers.” Jerome said.

“I’ll ask Remiel tomorrow. Maybe we could use that to find some kind of pattern or connection,” I said.

“The amplifier they found outside of Wrigley Field was not like the amplifier found outside Busch. Magda believes it was put there specifically to influence the game either by a Cards fan or Cubs fan. The baseball commission is going to start sweeping for them and has asked the AESPCA to create something to help them find them.”

“Can something be created to find quartz?” I asked.

“Yes,” Jerome nodded. “There are already several devices that do it, but they are cumbersome and problematic, so they are set up only at airports. If it could be scaled down and made less pesky, they could be turned into handheld devices to sweep areas for them. Now that people know amplifiers can overwhelm the protective spells at stadiums, they will probably become more common. I suspect someone is devising one right this second to help out the Jets football team and the Boston Red Sox.” I didn’t know much about football, but during the fall Jerome occasionally watched games, he seemed to like the Chicago Bears in one division and the Kansas City Chiefs in another. He called the Chiefs plucky, they had generally struggled every game I had watched until the previous two years, when they had been good enough to win the Rose Bowl or whatever it was. I had liked baseball because it included a great deal of stats and a player could be summarized by a handful of numbers. However, watching games with Jerome, I was learning football players could also be summarized a handful of numbers. I didn’t know why I was fascinated with stats, as a general rule, I used math when I had to, but I wasn’t mesmerized by numbers like some people.

Around 10:30 our doorbell rang. It was awful late for a social call, even from my family. Jerome and I went together to answer the door. We opened it to find Principal Grace standing on our doorstep, she was dripping wet, breathing rapidly, and her eyes were too wide.

“(First Name), what is it?” I asked, taking the woman by the arms, and pulling her inside. I checked to see if it had rained at any time, but my street was bone dry.

“I need,” she gasped. “I need help, so I came here.”

“Jerome, get her coffee or something. Are you hurt?” I asked her. She shook her head.

“My husband and I went to a movie and something came after us,” she said a tear falling down her cheek.

“Where is your husband?” I asked.

“It took him.” She said and her hands started to shake.

“What took him?” I asked, trying not to be forceful, but in control. Jerome came in with a hot cup of coffee, cream and sugar floated next to him. He gave Principal Grace the coffee mug.

“A hell prince,” Principal Grace said, and the last word came out more as a wailing sob than a word.

“A hell prince took your husband?” I asked to clarify.

“Yes,” she sloshed some coffee out of the mug. It immediately disappeared from her clothes and body. “I jumped in the river and it didn’t follow me. It took several people; Jack was one of them.” My phone buzzed. Jerome turned on the TV. My phone started to ring. Then my doorbell rang. Jerome went to the door and picked up my phone along the way. The cream and sugar followed him.

“We need you!” A panicked Uriel shouted at me as he stormed into my house. “Who is this?”

“This is Jerome’s principal; she says a hell prince took her husband.”

“Belial,” Uriel said. “He appeared in a movie theater about ten minutes ago. Took several people and disappeared.” My stomach tightened into a knot at the mention of the name, and I felt the pizza want to come back up.

“How?” I asked.

“An amplifier.” Uriel said. “There was a double feature tonight at the Starlight Drive In.” I looked at Principal Grace, she was nodding her head.

“Jerome call Helia to sit with Principal Grace, you and I will go with Uriel.” I said. “Principal Grace, I will get Jack back, don’t worry.” I said. I couldn’t say what kind of condition he would be in when he returned, but I would get him back. Helia showed up before Jerome got around to calling her.

“We heard a commotion, is…” Helia stopped her eyes finding the small petite witch who was half Asian, half Caucasian.

“Sit with Principal Grace, Belial appeared at a drive in, I have to go,” I told her. We ran behind Uriel out my door.

“Fucking wings,” Uriel spat looking at me. “Let me get Azrael, we’ll fly both of you there.”

“I can get us there, if I won’t get arrested.” Jerome said.

“How?” I asked.

“Magda teleported into our house,” Jerome said as if that answered it. It didn’t, but I didn’t have time for a magic lesson from Jerome.

“If you can do it, do it, I’ll take responsibility,” Uriel said with a nod. I gave my uncle a sideways glance. I didn’t doubt Jerome could do it, I just doubted Uriel would take responsibility if the kid got into trouble for it. For a moment, I thought something had gone wrong, it felt like something had wrapped around me and yanked me forward, it was a similar sensation to traveling to the Stygian. I instinctively closed my eyes and when I opened them, I expected to see red dirt beneath my feet. Instead, I was standing on rocks. Several cars were on their sides or roofs. First responders were trying to get people out of them. Ambulance sirens screamed and the lights strobed across the buildings and the damaged movie screen.

“The amplifier was behind the screen; the movie Venom had just started when Belial came through the screen and started picking up cars. Witnesses say they thought he was looking for something. People panicked and scattered. He went after a man and woman, the woman jumped into the Mississippi River about a quarter mile from her, the man was taken by Belial. Then Belial came back and picked up more people and disappeared.” Uriel told us.

“Any idea how many he took?” I asked.

“About ten,” Uriel said. “Where did he go?”

“He went home,” I said. Fan-fucking-tabulous, I was going to have to go to the Stygian and find the people and bring them back.

“Why would a hell prince kidnap people?” Uriel asked.

“Because he could.” I said.

“To get Soleil to come to him,” Jerome said. Which had been my first thought too, but I had not intended to hear it said out loud. My second thought was this was a direct disobedience of Lucifer’s orders, and a direct challenge by extension. In the last year, I had begun to suspect Belial, Beelzebub, and Azazael were actively conspiring against the central power. However, I believed there would be unintentional consequences they weren’t planning on, like some degradation of the divide which might make it harder for demons to pass between the Stygian and Earth. Zadkiel and Jophiel had designed it while they were living breathing angels. With Zadkiel now dead, and Jophiel somewhere between alive and dead, I felt quite strongly that it was still their angelic and demonic powers that made it work as well as operating the divide which worked like a gateway. I was not sure how or what to expect if Lucifer lost control of it. But Lucifer’s status as not dead, meant that he was still using powers Belial and Beelzebub would never have access to, even if they killed Jophiel. Part of me wondered if killing Jophiel would bring him back as an even stronger ruler of the Stygian, because Lucifer would be a demon at that point. However, I wasn’t interested in testing the theory.

“We’ll need to go there and get them. We’ll need strength and numbers,” I told my uncle. “While there we can rescue Reginald Bayer and Umpira the vampire,” I said.

“What?” Uriel looked at me.

“I suspect people living in the Stygian is partly responsible for eroding Lucifer’s power over it. Reginald Bayer lives in Belial’s territory. Umpira the vampire went missing in October and I have it from a reliable source that she has set up house in Ashtaroth’s territory and that her arrival was accidental. If we are going to enter the Stygian to rescue people from Belial, then we might as well have Ashtaroth bring Umpira, and we can rescue her as well.”

“But will Ashtaroth willingly bring her?” Uriel asked, eyes narrowed. Uriel knew the least of my uncles about my recent dealings with the demons and the Stygian and he didn’t believe they could be trusted at all, which I understood.

“Yes,” I nodded confidently. If nothing else, I can command Ashtaroth to give her to me. I have less power over Azazael, so the fourth might be out of my reach. Esmeralda is also questionable. She is shacked up with Mammon and it sounds like she wants to remain there, so while I could force Mammon to bring her to me, I won’t if she truly wants to remain one of his possessions.“

“Huh,” Uriel said, and it held a great deal of emotion and meaning, mostly that he was pissed at me. But I was fine with that. “Who do you intend to take?”

“Jerome, me,” I paused. “I need strong volunteers, because if Belial decides to make it a fight, his demons will try to fight us too.”

“Can’t you just command him to give you the hostages?” Uriel asked.

“Maybe,” I shrugged. “I can and I can’t. I can command it, but Belial will fight against his own instinct to obey it.”

“It will become a contest of wills with Belial’s minions trying to distract Soleil to ensure she loses. The others will battle the demons, while Soleil matches will power with Belial.” Jerome said. “If we enter through Leviathan’s territory, Leviathan will assist us as much as he can, but Leviathan doesn’t have a great many demons to use for combat, because he doesn’t require possession to keep others afraid of him.” This was true, although I doubted most people realized it. Leviathan’s hell hounds and dragons and storm gods were far scarier than any demon could be and knowing that Leviathan had them at his disposal kept people afraid of him. I had a feeling Chaac rampaging across Lake Michigan three years ago had moved Leviathan into his position as second strongest hell prince, because before that he’d been like fourth or fifth.

Taxes, Taxes, Taxes… F*CK*NG QuickBooks

I have less than a month to get my 2020 taxes filed and … My Monday was spent dealing with issues related to QuickBooks. I spent 4 hours trying to “fix” my company file, which QuickBooks refused to open because it was damaged. I did as instructed and downloaded QuickBooks Tool Hub and set about fixing my company file for 4 damn hours… At which point, I contacted QuickBooks technical support who informed me the file couldn’t be fixed because it wasn’t broken. They had me uninstall QuickBooks and reinstall it and it opened the file. Needless to say, at the end of day 1; I had a terrible headache. Now the question I know you’re wondering about: why am I not completing my QuickBooks paperwork at the end of every month, like I should be.

In order to do my 2019 taxes, I had to scramble to reconcile every month of 2019 because it had magically un-reconciled when I went to get my paperwork together. I actually was doing pretty good in 2020 and then in August I logged on to complete my monthly paperwork and the program refused to work. I unistalled it, I reinstalled it, I looked online for troubleshooting tips for my problem, and finally I gave in and upgraded to the 2020 version. At this point, the program worked, but I didn’t have enough space on my hard drive to run Windows and QuickBooks… I have a double hard drive system and it’s not a partitioned drive, it is 2 completely different drives. And so I couldn’t just re-partitioned my C to give it more space. And then I got busy preparing audiobook scripts for Tortured Dreams, Elysium Dreams, Mercurial Dreams, Natural Born Exorcist, Oh My Wizard, and Demon Boxes.

I was going to do it in January, but my right eye stopped compensating for my left and my computer screen became blurry… so now I have 4 months of QuickBooks work to complete so I can get my taxes done. For the record, I despise QuickBooks with every ounce of my being.

Anyway, don’t be surprised if I’m not around much this week as a result. I will be doing tax paperwork and dealing with QuickBooks.

I also expect a few days next week will be a wash as I am scheduled for my second COVID vaccination on the 22nd.

The Doyle Effect

Have you ever been reading a series you love and it suddenly ends? Have you ever noticed Sherlock Holmes dies twice within the series of short stories and novellas written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? If you read Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot series, she suddenly introduces a new character Mrs. Ariadne Oliver a writer who hates the character she’s created the Finish detective? All of these things fall into something writers call the Doyle Effect named after the creator of Sherlock Holmes. It’s when the writer decides they hate a series or a character they’ve created and they have to find a way to deal with it. Doyle killed and resurrected Holmes twice because everyone loved Sherlock except him and Holmes stories were the only thing that made him money. He actually counselled Christie not to kill Poirot and to find a way to deal with her hate of the character – she created Mrs. Oliver a writer who goes through Poirot books complaining about the ridiculous Finnish detective she created, but he’s beloved by the masses and he makes her a lot of money, so she can’t kill him even though she really wants to, which mirrored how Christie felt about Poirot.

Nearly every series author goes through times when they hate the world, characters, or stories they’ve created in a single series. And they handle it in different ways. Some kill off the character they hate and end the series. Others change the series to fit more into what they want to write. While still others cut back on the frequency of books they release in that series.

I had intended to end D&R after Fortified Dreams (book 12 I think), because realistically 12 books in a series is quite a few. I didn’t. And after 17 books in the series, I’ve started to feel the weight of the series and characters. I could respond like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and kill the members of the SCTU, but if I did that I have no doubt I’d resurrect them at a later date when I needed the money a new D&R book brings in. And I’ve already pulled the Agatha Christie trick, giving Ace a biographer. And so, the only way to continue the series and keep the books of decent quality is to cut back on the frequency of them.

Here’s what I deal with when it comes to D&R: I get excited to start a new book in the series and it goes well for 20,000 words or so and then I stop writing it and don’t want to pick it up again. I have 4 half finished D&R novels saved on my computer at the moment.

As a self-published author, I have the advantage of picking my own publication schedule as well as the number of books I publish a year. Most traditionally published authors don’t have that and are forced to publish one book in a series a year. My best friend is like me, an avid reader, and her and I discussed this ad nauseum: did I want to kill the series entirely or would I prefer to cut back and keep a steady trickle of D&R books coming for several more years?

Thursday, I announced I would be cutting back on the frequency. Most of my dedicated readers were supportive, one even said “Yay! Room for a new series! I’m so excited.” I do usually publish 4 books a year, I write fast enough to release 4 a year and I do love my job even if I am struggling with a series. I don’t know if you’ll get a new series or if I’ll leave that 4th spot open to allow me to write more standalone novels and have some fun with writing.

There is another possibility; sometimes when a writer commits to slowing down on a series as I have done they eventually find their love for it again. A couple of authors I’ve talked to have said they cut back to one book in a series every couple years or one a year and after a handful of years they fell back in love with the series and sped back up. This could happen with D&R, if I don’t get frustrated and kill them off. Or it might not. Part of the issue with D&R is the rigidity of Aislinn Cain’s character and I can’t make major changes to her 17 books in, that just wouldn’t work.

I think slowing down is the best solution for me (the author) and you (the reader). It prevents the SCTU from being blown up by serial killer.

Premium Content (Monthly): Draft NN4 – Chapter 20

At the start of Chapter 20 we are 54,000 words into this book. This means the reveal and wrap up should be starting but it wasn’t and I kinda suspected I had a problem. As such, the next handful of chapters don’t always make sense with the story.

Chapter Twenty

Going through any database of missing persons is tedious. The Help Find Us organization’s database of missing persons was not an exception. They offered their services to all of North America; US, Canada, and Mexico including Hawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Rico. It appeared to be a volunteer organization filled with supernaturals and humans that offered an array of services to families and friends of missing persons. Until becoming a private investigator, I had not realized how many people went missing every year. My last missing persons case had taken months to solve. We knew the fairy had been murdered, but no one could find her body. We’d figured out who was responsible for the demon boxes and she’d been sentenced to serve time in the Third Plane, but she hadn’t been charged with murder because there hadn’t been a body. I had found it by accident around Christmas, in the Stygian. Since then, I did monthly sweeps of the Stygian for people that shouldn’t be there, alive, or dead and I’d built up a network of demons who would alert Leviathan if they found a person in the Stygian in return, I would pop over the divide with a pizza or bag of fast food. It turned out demons craved Earth food and it was a great form of payment to them. It was even more persuasive than allowing them to hang out on Earth for a while before exorcising them. Anyway, my network of informants would tell Leviathan and he’d tell me in my dreams. Or if I were looking for a specific person, they could and would help as long as I was willing to provide the appropriate payment. Remiel and I had discovered they were surprisingly well informed about happenings on Earth.

The database allowed us to search by zip code, city, or state. But it wouldn’t allow us to search multiple zip codes at once, which seemed like a failing and unfortunately, living in or near a metro area made it hard to narrow it down even by city, because someone who went missing from Maryland Heights or Chesterfield, would not be listed if we searched solely for St. Louis. They were independent cities that made up the metro area, Maryland Heights didn’t even touch the city of St. Louis. Instead, it was shared boundaries with Creve Coeur, St. Ann, St. Charles, and University City. However, it was only a few miles of urbanized area from the city of St. Louis, there was a good chance a missing person lived in Maryland Heights but was last seen in St. Louis city proper. Not being able to search multiple zip codes or multiple cities at once, was a hinderance as a result to all major urban area disappearances. There was not a single large city in the US that didn’t have a well populated metro area made up of dozens of towns. This seemed to be unique to North America though, because I had been to large European cities and they were made up of neighborhoods, not towns. For example, Berlin wasn’t made up of Berlin and eight or nine other towns that had been swallowed by Berlin, it was just Berlin. The area known as Pankow in Berlin didn’t have its own police department, its own city council, or its own government infrastructure to take care of roads and things, Pankow and Mitte two bordering neighborhoods shared the exact same government as Spandau to the east. Whereas Maryland Heights had its own city council, police department, and other government institutions and were not subject to the governing of the city of St. Louis.

Remiel pulled up missing persons in the city of St. Louis, Missouri first. We agreed to start there and spiral out hitting the cities of the metro area in both Missouri and Illinois and making a list of possible suspects for the shadow. We all agreed it had to be a supernatural and not a human, because the spell had been cast once by the group, meaning with their sixth they had more magic as a whole. Now they didn’t, ruling out the possibility the shadow was a human. Humans could act as conduits for small amounts of magic, that they couldn’t use, and no human had enough magic to use as a power source for any spell. We also agreed, it was most likely a woman. The first five-man job had happened three months on January 22, 2021. We pulled up our first round of search results looking for female supernaturals that had gone missing before January 22, 2021. In the city of St. Louis alone it brought up four thousand hits. Then Remiel and Jerome noticed at exactly the same we’d set one date, missing before January 22, 2021, but not an after date and the files went back fifty years. We settled on an gone missing after date of September 1, 2020. Twenty-one results, three had the word FOUND across them in big red letters. I sighed, one of them was the missing fairy from October of 2020. Supernaturals did not go missing at the rate humans did, because there were usually spells that coven, herd, or host could do to find a missing member. Usually, supernaturals that went missing disappeared intentionally or they were murdered. Since, I’d started my demon search squad fueling them with Cassanova’s pizza and Arby’s Roast beef sandwiches, we’d located eight dead supernatural corpses in the Stygian that they had known about since their arrival, five of them had been missing since the 1980s and 1990s. We’d also found two dead humans, one of them from the 1950s. I suspected there were more that the demons either didn’t know about or just hadn’t remembered and had been there even longer.

“Should I tell Magda about my demon search squad in the Stygian?” I asked to two males in the room.

“Just Magda or the AESPCA?” Remiel asked.

“I was thinking just Magda,” I said. “I was sort of thinking, if someone discovered it without me telling someone outside of this house, it would go over better if someone like Magda knew about it.”

“It’s not illegal,” Jerome reminded me.

“No, but it is unorthodox. The majority of supernaturals are not going to understanding my popping over to the Stygian with pizza and fast food to recover missing people. Especially, dead missing people.”

“Yeah, it might not be a bad idea, although I would only tell Magda. If shit hit the fan over it, your father and uncles would defend you to the death, but getting someone with some pull at the AESPCA, isn’t a bad idea.” Remiel said. I created another encrypted message and sent it to Magda Red.

Seventeen of the missing were young supernaturals drowning in credit card debt with terrible jobs in uninspiring career paths. Some of them probably would turn to a life of crime to improve their prospects, but they were all middle of the road powerful, and it was improbable a young supernatural was responsible for a time spell. As forbidden spells and forms of magical expression, they weren’t on the curriculum for most schools beyond don’t do this or you’ll end up in the Third Plane because it is forbidden to mess with time using magic. You can’t wake up one morning, running late and turn back time to get a better jump on the day, it’s a long prison sentence and time moves incredibly slow in the Third Plane, it’s better to be late that one day. And then the teacher moved on to other forbidden types of magic, like death spells, pain spells, and magic drugs. The entire thing was covered in less than an hour. One of the other missing was a woman who’d been busted making Bliss, a magical drug used in a startlingly high amount of sexual assaults. Bliss was supposed to make people frisky, but in the process, it rendered the ingestor completely powerless for about a day, so they couldn’t fit back if they weren’t okay with the frisky part. That supernatural had either jumped bail to avoid time in the Third Plane or they had been murdered for not making their drug fulfillment quota after the raid and arrest. Or because someone that had been sexually assaulted took revenge, that was always a possibility too. Bliss raids were very hush hush because most supernaturals looked down on Bliss makers as if they were lower than demons, at least demons sorta gave a person a fighting chance during possession.

That left three possible suspects for the shadow. The first was a 600-year-old vampire named Umpira Schmidt, which seemed like a terrible name for a vampire. She had lived alone, not close to family, no real friends. She had been seen on October 3, 2020 by some neighbors with a guy. But when the Synth Blood delivery guy had showed up on October 9, 2020 she was nowhere to be found. He had called and reported it, as a possible medical emergency, because Umpira never missed signing for her delivery. Her clutch had spent a month casting finding spells with no luck. They had even provided items of hers to a very powerful coven of witches to see if they could find her without success. Finally, they had hired a pack of werewolves to literally sniff around and see if they could turn up nothing. They hadn’t.

“Maybe we should call and offer our services, pro bono,” Remiel said.

“I could have a search of the Stygian done too,” I said, feeling unexcited about it. I believed if she were dead in the Stygian, I’d already know. And living supernaturals and humans went nutty there after a short time.

“I’ll call, you check that plane,” Remiel said. I took a deep breath. I had grown up thinking demons were evil. This was not fundamentally true, demons needed fear, like I needed food. They could be awful, but they weren’t inherently evil. I was working to conquer my prejudices about demons, but I didn’t want the rest of the world to do it. They needed to stay in the Stygian, but once in a while, I could do good with the help of demons. I had realized that when dealing with the demon boxes. However, there was a huge difference between my communicating with a handful of demons that could be trusted and everyone else trying to do it. And sometimes, I worried about it setting the wrong message if it got out I did it. Like if a member of BEDR ever found it, it would be anarchy. I looked at Jerome.

“I know the rules,” Jerome said. “Let’s go to the game room.” I never summoned large demons for this. So, they could be contained by Jerome’s game room, which had no windows and only two doors for access. Jerome sat down on the couch in his game room. It would take me about twenty seconds to get a demon here. And while it wasn’t technically illegal, it was definitely a dark gray area of the law. I sighed. Sometimes, supernaturals did try to hide in the Stygian. And just like demons shouldn’t inhabit Earth, living beings shouldn’t inhabit the Stygian. I sighed a second time and then I summoned Dantalian.

“Exorcist,” he purred my name. Dantalian had been the first demon I had ever exorcised. He was an incubus, but I had discovered he was trustworthy over the years and he was willing to be a spy for me and help me recover the missing in return for nothing more than food and a look at Jerome’s game room. Most beings can’t summon a demon form, just the spirit of it. Dantalian appeared before me, in body, not just spirit. He was tall, iridescent red, had horns, and a long-spiked tail. He also had a forked tongue caused him to hiss the word exorcist. Being an incubus though, even the hiss was sexy.

“Demon,” I did not hiss or purr the word. I made it forceful and commanding. “I have been remiss, the last few months, I have asked for the physical dead bodies from the Stygian. Today, I realized I should have asked if there were any living beings that shouldn’t be there.”

“We wondered when you’d get to those.” Dantalian said.

“Those? Is there more than one?” I asked.

“There are four.” Dantalian said. “One took up residence in the territory of my sire. One is in Belial’s territory, one is living with the Hell Prince Mammon, and one I’ve heard whispers they are tending bennu birds for Azazael. Only the one in Ashtaroth’s territory is within my power to deliver.”

“Tell me what you know about them.” I said.

“It is a vampire in Ashtaroth’s territory, she is old, confused, lost. She doesn’t know how she got here, and she is weak with hunger. There is nothing for her to feed upon here. She has been here the least amount of time. The one in Belial’s territory is a werewolf, he has been here the second longest. He is mad, completely mad, but he was that way before he arrived.”

“Do you know the names of any of them?” I asked.

“Yes,” Dantalian said. “But I want an extra-large deluxe from Cassanova’s and a spicy chicken sandwich from that place with the red girl, if I gave you actual names.” I smiled at that. I was willing to do it, I just wasn’t sure why Dantalian couldn’t call it Wendy’s, he always called it the place with the red girl.

“Deal,” I said.

“The vampire’s name is Umpira. The werewolf is Reginald. There is a witch named Esmeralda living in the same castle as Mammon, which disgusts me greatly. The fourth we call the wanderer; they have been here the longest. Their real name is Cavendish. I do not know if that is a given name or a family name. Do not forget our deal, an extra-large deluxe from Cassanova’s and a spicy chicken, make sure it’s fried, not grilled, from the place with the red girl. If you want to throw in a bonus for being extra helpful, I’d also take a chocolate frosty or some French fries or a pitcher of that thing you all call soda.”

“I will consider the extras,” I said. “Do you have any idea how long they have been there?” I asked.

“The werewolf was around, before you started exorcising me. And you have summoned me twice since the vampire arrived.” Dantalian seemed to think. “I also believe the wanderer was here before you started exorcising me.”

“Thank you Dantalian, I will have your food tomorrow, I don’t know what that translates to in Stygian time.” I said.

“No matter, I will wait with salivating expectation. You are welcome, Soleil. Tell me, have we helped you since we started this little arrangement?”

“You know you have, but I do not have time to renegotiate terms with you or anyone else.”

“I do not want to renegotiate. I love our arrangement, but if we are not helpful, you will end it, so I want to do everything I can to ensure you are happy with it.” Dantalian said and tipped an imaginary hat to me. I sent him back across.

“Maybe you should start stipulating that you need to know about the living and the dead,” Jerome said to me. The doorbell rang. Jerome and I hurried out to get our food and instead found Magda in my living room. I sighed. Yes, someone did need to know outside my family about the demon search and rescue mission in the Stygian. But that didn’t make it any easier to face explaining. Until now, I had always lied and said the dead were delivered to me by Leviathan and no one seemed to think much about it. I wasn’t convinced Magda would think it was wonderful, even if I could bring back a starving vampire who somehow accidentally entered the Stygian. I sighed again.

“Spit it out girlie, whatever your second message was about that you don’t want to discuss, just spit it out. It’s a lot fucking easier if you do. Could I still get a cheeseburger from you? I am starved.” Magda said.

“We have pasta on the way from the Romance Room, you can have some of it if you want, I have to get a pizza from Cassanova’s later, so I can share my pizza.” I said.

“The Romance Room and pizza from Cassanova’s, doing a lot of magic today?” She eyed me suspiciously.

“The pizza isn’t for me.” I sighed again and then I blurted it all out. Even the bit about Umpira the vampire being in the Stygian and gave her the other names Dantalian had given me. Our pasta showed up as I explained all of it. I hadn’t expected it to take more than few minutes, but once I started talking, I seemed to drone on for hours about it, assuring her repeatedly that I only ever paid them in food and that I tried not to summon them very often, having messages passed to me through Leviathan. And then explaining ad nauseum about my trips to the Stygian to recover the bodies of the dead and how I would need to go to get Umpira, but I was unwilling to go after the others, except maybe Esmerelda. Not even a flock of bennu birds would get me into Belial’s territory or convince me to go searching for someone associated with Azazael.

“Holy shit, girlie,” Magda said forking in a mouthful of my pasta. “I expected you to tell me you’d used magic to get into the police station or something, not that you had demons scouring the Stygian looking for dead bodies and reporting back on any living people there.”

“Yeah,” I said sheepishly.

“Who knows?”

“Only my family and it is kept in the strictest confidence,” I said.

“Holy shit,” Magda sighed. “The AESPCA has reports you’ve summoned Leviathan and Lucifer a few times, we didn’t realize you were organizing demons to work for you. And I am of the opinion, they don’t need to know. A handful of AESPCA personnel would like nothing better than to skin you alive for summoning demons, they don’t because a demon told someone that demons remember who they were when they were alive when you are near. They believe if that’s true your summoning of Leviathan and Lucifer makes sense as you try to understand your powers as well as Jerome’s. If they found out about the rest of this though, they would shit bricks. Holy shit, BEDR would have a field day with that information, so you tell no one else. When you recover Umpira, and you will, if it gets hairy, I will say you asked my permission after Leviathan told you about her, in some kind of telepathic message.”

“He speaks to me most in dreams,” I said.

“Fine, he told you about her in a dream and you came to me and asked me for permission to retrieve her.” Magda said. “You stick to that as if your life depends on it.”

“I imagine, if it comes to that, my freedom on Earth might very well depend on me sticking to that.” I said.

“That’s true,” Magda gave a decisive nod. “Personally, I think it’s great you’ve found a way to make your connection to the Stygian work for you in a good way. I wholeheartedly approve, but it is definitely information we don’t want to hit the rumor mill. So now you owe a demon an extra-large deluxe pizza from Cassanova’s.”

“And a Spicy Chicken sandwich from Wendy’s.” I said. “Do you know who the others are?”

“Yes, and the demon didn’t lie. Reginald Bayer was mad as a march hare when he disappeared three hundred years ago, being in the Stygian maybe helped make him less crazy. Cavendish might be John Cavendish, he was a doctor, angel, and he disappeared around the same time the Jack the Ripper murders stopped, some have suspected Cavendish was responsible. He didn’t have wings and he was in London at the time. No one is going to be too upset if you leave both Bayer and Cavendish in the Stygian. Esmerelda Garcia might be the Spanish witch that started the Spanish Inquisition. The story goes that Torquemada made a pass at her and she turned him down, he got forceful, and she hexed him. He started the Spanish Inquisition in an effort to find her, without losing his standing in the Church, and get her to remove the hex. She disappeared without him finding her and he died with her hex still on him. It is up to you, whether you try to recover her or not.”

“I have an idea, that you will probably hate, but I think it is something that needs to be considered.” I said. “When living people are in the Stygian, it actually weakens Lucifer’s power. Personally, I’m fine with getting Umpira, but Ashtaroth and I have an understanding and I feel relatively safe around his demons and in his territory. I don’t feel as safe there as I do in Leviathan’s, but I think that is to be expected. If Lucifer can’t even force the living out of the Stygian, how are the demons and hell princes supposed to remain afraid of him? I think that could be why Beelzebub was able to escape four years ago. I know Lucifer has mentioned to me that he is losing power and some of our conversations have actually been about what I can do to help him. I thought my ability to command demons and hell princes, was why he was losing power, but people living in the Stygian for centuries could be doing it. It seems to me, the AESPCA might want to consider putting together a Stygian recovery team to get the living the hell out of there, for our protection. As of now, no hell prince is stronger than Lucifer, but Beelzebub is getting closer as is Leviathan.”

“Would Leviathan try to take over?” Magda asked, her face serious.

“No, Leviathan would side with Lucifer, he is nothing if not loyal. Same for Ashtaroth, he has no aspirations to greatness, BEDR keeps him plenty powerful. Even in the two years, I have been paying attention, Ashtaroth, Leviathan have both gotten larger, which means they are gaining power. This is good for those that would support Lucifer, but the same is true of all the hell princes except Mammon and the majority do not agree with Lucifer’s governing style.”

“Why?” Magda asked.

“Lucifer tries to limit the number of demons on Earth as a whole, as well as limiting the amount of demons each hell prince has available for possessions. The reason we see the same demons over and over again, is because Lucifer requires each hell prince to pick a specific batch of demons, usually their strongest, to allow on Earth for short possessions. He can’t ban it outright or all the demons and hell princes would revolt, they need the fear associated with possession the way we need food. Every demon is an extension of its sire, when that demon comes to Earth and causes someone to fear it, their sire gets power from it too.”

“Who would you support should a hell prince revolt?” Magda asked, her face serious.

“I would do whatever I needed to support Lucifer, even if it required me to enter the Stygian and directly battle Belial or Azazael.” I said.

“How would a recovery teamwork?” Magda asked.

“A half dozen certified exorcists who are also incredibly powerful would need to enter the Stygian via a portal and physically remove the living. In some instances, it might require them to battle the hell prince of the territory the living is in,” I said. “Azazael doesn’t have a territory like a hell prince, and he doesn’t have sires. I get the impression, he is more like Lucifer than a hell prince, but I do believe he has a place other demons do not enter. I know for a fact that a number of demons fear Azazael and I have wondered if that is contributing to Lucifer losing power. However, I do not believe Azazael can be removed from the Stygian.”

“Azazael isn’t a demon, he isn’t dead.” Magda sighed. “I helped exorcise his soul from his body while he was alive after the death of your brother Nicholas.”

“Yeah,” I nodded. “That’s what I was afraid of. Jerome explain your theory about the time dimension and the shadow, and their crimes.” I said.

“Soleil, stop thinking what you are thinking.” Remiel whispered to me and I tried to clear my mind. Unfortunately, the seed had been planted two years ago and it had just taken root. Azazael needed to die. I was as certain of it, as I was that Lucifer needed to remain in power in the Stygian. The questions were how to do it? And who?

Jerome and Magda spent hours discussing the different time dimension, how it would work, and the crimes of the gang. If they reached any conclusions, I missed it. My thoughts had become consumed by the Winter Demon. Magda was wrong, Azazael was at least half demon, his mother had been a demon, which was weird and hard for me to understand, but apparently demons on Earth could get pregnant and give birth like any other supernatural. They could not in the Stygian, it was one of the things overthrowing Lucifer would accomplish, demon breeding. As it was now, when a supernatural died, their soul was reincarnated in the territory of a hell prince as a demonling. The hell prince took and raised it and the Hell Prince became known as the demonling’s sire. It came with a connection that included loyalty, protection, and power. Stronger hell princes ended up with stronger demonlings. However, Azazael did not have territory he could control, and he wasn’t given demonlings. He also didn’t have any demons he could send to Earth to cause possession. I suspected this was all done because Lucifer willed it. And if anyone in the Stygian truly felt the yearning to overthrow Lucifer it was Azazael, he was ready to step out of his father’s shadow and out from under his rule. Both of which would be horrible for Earth.

“Magda, does Balthazar Leopold have children?” I asked. The thoughts about Lucifer and Azazael had triggered a completely different one.

“No,” Magda said. “Not for lack of trying, he’s just failed. Why?”

“Well, Lucifer can control whether Azazael gets demonlings or not. What if the angel council can influence the birth rates of the angel population?” I suggested.

“They were low before Balthazar Leopold took a spot on the council.” Remiel said.

“But they happened,” I said. “How many times before Balthazar took over, did you have an entire year without a single angelic birth?” I asked.

“It was rare, but it did happen, I’d have to have someone check the birth records for every year in the archive, but I know they happened.” Remiel said.

“Yeah, but you have to admit in the last 150 years, it has dramatically dropped,” Magda said. “One more reason to have Helia run and win, if you are correct, if Helia takes over the chair of the angel council, the birth rates will increase.”

“Maybe,” I said. “It’s just a theory. I mean, Lucifer stopped demons from breeding in the Stygian and he won’t let the Winter Demon even have demonlings, if he can do that, maybe the angel council can influence birth rates.”

“It’s not a bad theory, if you are done trying to think of ways to kill your cousin without going to prison for a very long time, we have an idea about our shadow person,” Magda said.

“How did you know that was my thought?” I asked her, narrowing my eyes.

“You were talking about Lucifer losing power and then you started thinking about Lucifer preventing demons from breeding and even keeping demonlings from being assigned to Azazael, it’s a logical progression from there to killing him. Unfortunately, committing murder even if you think it’s for the greater good, is still a bad thing, especially premediated. If Azazael managed to get a coup together and you went to the Stygian and killed him in battle to defend Lucifer’s throne, that might be a defendable case, but as it stands now, if you did it, you’d get locked up and no one wants that.” Magda said.

“There is an assistant curator missing from the AESPCA library, she’s a fairy with red wings.” Jerome said. “She went missing in August. She just failed to show up for work one Monday morning for her shift. Her herd has attempted to find her with no luck.”

“Sure, but the murdered guy and the witness that say the person with the red wings, happened recently,” I said.

“Yes, but that may have been a projection of the shadow’s physical body because he didn’t see anyone else. We know the shadow can interact with things, why not commit murder and that would also explain why it’s been seen at the AESPCA. Maybe they were there trying to figure out how to get back.”

“Also, the guy who saw it was a soothsayer and a wizard.” Magda said. “Being able to see the future, may mean he can see other time dimensions as Jerome calls them.”

“Oh,” I said. The only things I knew about soothsaying was that it was rare, and the weatherman was more accurate. I’d met one once when I was a kid and they’d told me I would die alone. I wasn’t sure if I believed them or not. Not all glimpses of the future came true, less than half to be exact. A really good soothsayer was accurate about thirty percent of the time, which seemed like an extremely high degree of error and they didn’t help their cause by using circular logic to explain why they were wrong so often, they were of the opinion once they told someone about a future event, whether good or bad, the person began making choices to alter that path which prevented it from happening.