The long hike back to our cabin seemed to take forever. Byron was almost back to being his old self by the time we set foot on our wooden deck. Jack sat on one of the plastic chairs that came standard with the cabin. His biker, boot-clad feet rested on the plastic table. I stole a glance at Byron to check for any reaction.
No, he didn’t see Jack. Byron walked right passed him and unlocked the glass sliding door.
“What the hell do you want Jack?” I hissed once Byron was inside and out of earshot.
“You’re about to have a visitor.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Carol will be here shortly, and her intentions are highly questionable,” he said.
“Why is she coming here, Jack?”
“She thinks you can give her answers.”
He nodded and disappeared, once again leaving me to answer impossible questions. Sinking down into the chair that Jack had occupied moments before, I tried to quiet my mind. I had no clue what I could possibly tell Carol. I wasn’t even sure if I could help her, but I had to try. She was a woman in trouble, and even if she’d never been particularly kind to me, I couldn’t turn my back on her. Could I?
Then there was the question as to why Jack was allowing her to see me. I had no doubt that if Jack didn’t want her talking to me, she wouldn’t get within ten feet of my location. What was he up to? It wasn’t just about making me get rid of Byron or Carol getting answers. Something else had to be going on.
“What you still doing out here?” Byron’s voice was hoarse but happy as he peered around the sliding door at me.
“Just resting my weary bones,” I said with a forced smile.
“Well, come inside,” he said. “I’ve got the fire going. If you hurry, I might even throw in a foot rub.”
The grin on his face when he said it made me want to sob. I wanted to tell him to run, to get as far away from me as possible. I was cursed, and as long as he was with me, his life was in danger. The problem was, he wouldn’t believe me. He’d look at me as though I were stark raving mad and then he’d try to save me when he should be rescuing himself. No matter which way I looked at the situation, Byron and I were fucked.
It didn’t take the old farmer and his son long to change her tyre and get her back on the road. Her body tingled with adrenalin as she drew closer to her goal.
The turn-off for Crystal Springs was shrouded in mist, and Carol almost missed the turn. She hit the brakes and pulled hard left. Her tyres screeched, and the back of the car slid; luckily there wasn’t anybody else on the road. The tar disappeared and turned into a dirt road with a steep incline. The pine tree plantation on the right was dark and spooky. She put the car into second gear to get up the hill. As she crested it, she saw the entrance gate for the resort. Her heart pounded in her chest. She was so close to the answers she needed and wanted. Jack couldn’t stop her now.
“Really?” The sound of Jack’s voice startled her. “You honestly think that I couldn’t put a stop to this nonsense of yours if I wanted to? Then you really are in for a rude awakening, my dear. If I really wanted to, I could end you like this.” He clicked his fingers and was gone. Carol’s heart took a dive. What was she doing? Had she thought this through? Before she could focus on one thought, a security guard stood at her window, holding a clipboard. She wound down the window, and the clipboard was thrust at her. The pen on top of the board fell off before she could grab it and landed on her lap. Her clumsy fingers managed to get a grip on the pen, and she filled in her name, ID number, and registration details. The guard demanded her driver’s license, which he scanned along with her car license disk on the windscreen.
“How do I get to number two?” She asked when he handed her licence back to her.
“Turn left,” he said, gesturing towards the narrow paved road that led immediately to the left from the gate entrance. Carol’s stomach grumbled. She hadn’t eaten anything since leaving Johannesburg; hopefully, Sarah would have some food and booze. She really needed a drink. A few more minutes and she’d be face-to-face with the one person who she hoped had all the answers.
The overloaded truck trailed its load of sand on the narrow secondary road. Michael tried to see around it, but it took up almost the entire street. Every time he tried to pass, he ended up having to tuck back behind it in a hurry. Who knew these small roads could be so busy? He didn’t have time to sit behind the lorry. Carol was probably already there, and god only knew what he’d find when he eventually caught up with her.
His phone interrupted his mumbled swearing and cursing his luck. While keeping his eyes on the road, his right hand found his phone between his legs. His thumb found the answer button.
“Hello.” He raised his voice so he could be heard over the sound of his engine and the wind blowing through the open window.
“How far are you?” Mark’s voice was a welcome distraction.
“Hello, honey,” he said with a smile. “About an hour still to go.”
“Drive carefully, Mikey,” the softness of his voice sent a shiver down his spine. “I’ll miss you tonight.”
“I’ll miss you more.”
“No, you won’t. You’ll be too busy dealing with those two psychos.”
“Sarah’s not psycho, and you know I don’t like that word when it comes to my patients.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way. I don’t really know Sarah that well, but let’s face it, she’s not that well upstairs. I mean, who goes on Carte Blanche and tells the country about that stuff?”
“She was trying to help other women and trying to open the public’s eyes to what goes on in some of those places. You have no idea what she’s been through or what some of those government hell holes are like.” His voice rose an octave higher than he’d intended.
“I’m not going to argue with you, Mikey. I realise I don’t know the full story and that she’s an old friend and you care about her, but you have to admit she attracts trouble and she always drags you into it.”
“No, she doesn’t.” Michael took a deep breath. “You know what, I’m not going to have this conversation with you right now. We’ll talk when I get home.” His thumb slid the disconnect icon on the screen. He missed the days when slamming a phone down on someone was more dramatic and far more satisfying.
His hands shook as he gripped the steering wheel. He knew that Mark didn’t have fond feelings towards Sarah, but it always irked him whenever he voiced those feelings. Sarah hadn’t asked to be raped by her attending psychiatrist. She hadn’t gone looking for any of the things that had happened to her. Sometimes bad things happened to good people and Sarah, unfortunately, had been one of those people and the fact that Mark didn’t understand that was cause for concern.
The truck that had been delaying him and a string of other cars, turned onto a dirt road, lined with Stinkwood trees, leading to an old farmhouse. The way ahead was clear, for now.
The council was summoned. Lilith was the only one besides Bael who could command them to attend. Usually, she stayed out of the business of keeping things running smoothly beyond the veil. Lilith spent most of her time playing with the Princes in her bed or manipulating events on the other side. Perhaps that was why she was allowing that little upstart to continue his games. They had created him, they should be controlling him, not the other way around. Why Lilith was allowing him so much leeway was a source of confusion and contention. He paced the width of the chamber as he waited for the other members of the council to arrive.
He’d arrived before all the others as was his usual way. Lilith sashayed in disturbing his pacing. Her white as snow eyes seemed to read his every thought. The smile on her lips told him she found his concerns amusing, but she didn’t say a word about them. She merely stood, aloof, and watched the other council members rushing in and take their seats as though their very lives depended on how quickly they took their places.
It irked Bael that the council members had responded to her call a lot faster than they ever did to his. It was incredibly insulting since he was the head of the demon council, after all. He was also perfectly capable of ripping their heads off. Granted, he probably wouldn’t look as fashionable doing it, but the overall effect would still be the same.
The rain pelted down, once more, outside. Thunder split the sky behind Lilith as she looked from one council member to the next. Her cold glance was enough to freeze the boiled blood in their veins.
Paimon sat to Bael’s left. Thankfully he’d left his dromedary outside. It had a habit of shitting everywhere. Paimon’s sycophantic face beamed a smile at their Queen. Next to Paimon was Beleth, his pale horse was tied up next to Paimon’s dromedary. Bael wasn’t sure that was wise since the animals fought with each other as much as their owners did. Then again, Beleth and his horse, when not fighting everything, had a tendency of seducing it. Chances were that his horse would probably mount the poor thing after it had ripped the camel’s flesh. Beleth winked at their Queen, perhaps hoping to replace Gaäp as her favourite toy. He’d already taken Gaäp’s place on the council. His ambition knew no bounds.
Purson, sat next to Beleth, had refused to leave his bear in the rain. The beast now prowled the passages growling at any demon who had the misfortune of crossing its path. Purson’s one earing, a remainder from his time carousing with Pirates, glinted in the candlelight.
Asmoday, his three heads swivelled around the room. His human head stared down at the pack of cards he was shuffling, while his bull head argued with Purson on the best way to cheat at cards, while his rams head eyed Lilith’s cleavage. It was a surprise that he’d taken a break from running his gambling dens and whore houses on either side of The Veil to attend the meeting.
Vine’s great Lion head roared as he yawned. His black horse was stabled in his chambers, well away from any of the other animals and where it could stand guard over Vine’s magical items and texts.
Balam’s serpent’s tail swished under the table, a sign of his anxiety. Even his wit seemed to fail him. Bael hadn’t heard him make any smart-arsed comments since he’d arrived. His silence was most worrying.
Zagan too, sat in silence. His gryphon wings tucked in tightly while he entertained himself by turning water into wine, the wine into blood, and then back into water. He gulped down the goblet of wine and then conjured more liquid. Bael almost asked if he could conjure a cup for him, but decided against it. He needed to keep at least one of his heads clear.
Belial was the final member of the council. His grey robe and beard belied his true nature. Everything about Belial was a lie. Bael wondered if an honest word had ever crossed his forked tongue. His honeyed voice fooled anyone who heard it. He’d trained many a politician in the art of duplicity.
Lilith tilted her chin and silence fell across the table. All eyes on their queen. They all waited with anticipation, except Bael. He already knew what she would say. The only thing he didn’t know was who she would send as an envoy to the one who called himself Jack.