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.
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.