HOW DID I GET HERE?
I didn’t know how many days, weeks, or months had passed since they kidnapped me from Minneapolis and brought me to this hellish place. I never saw myself coming back here. Well, that was my intention when I gathered my things and left years ago.
I spent most of the time in this building located in the outskirts of San Diego in a small room with a twin-size bed, one desk, and one small window. Although the walls were thick and made from concrete, I could still hear the voices on the other end and the rickety elevator from down the hall. The building was vast with seven floors, two above ground and the rest underground. Each floor had its own specific purpose. From what I remembered, the second floor housed researcher offices and the second floor below ground held the archives. How else could the researchers here document the daily on-goings of Deamhan throughout the world?
I knew more than I wanted about the Brotherhood. Both of my parents were avid members. I was raised in it and at one point, I saw myself following in their footsteps. That all changed when my mother disappeared. My father did everything he could to bury her legacy and I wasn’t having any of it. To him, she opened Pandora’s Box when she decided to sway away from the rules and regulations set down by the organization. To me, I didn’t care. She was my mother and through blood, sweat, and tears, I found out what really happened to her.
She fell in love with one of the most powerful Deamhan in the city of Minneapolis at that time. I exposed that truth along with my father’s implication in her death, but that didn’t cause the Brotherhood researchers to leave the city in droves. In fact, it barely made a blip on their radar, thanks to my father who had the power to bury my findings and further dehumanize my mother’s legacy.
Now things had come full circle. I was back at the place where it all started and all I could think about was Blind Bluff Manor—my real home. There I felt safe but that was an oxymoron. How could I feel safe when I stayed under the same roof as Deamhan? Still I wondered about what happened when the Brotherhood ripped me from my life there. Did they survive whatever onslaught they faced? Most importantly, did Nathan, the only other human who lived there, survive the uncertainty?
Three times a day, I had the pleasure of being visited by an older male who brought my breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He remained mute when I questioned him about who oversaw my imprisonment. He didn’t bother to look me in the eye. Once a day, an older woman came with her squeaky cart. She handed me fresh toiletries and a stack of Brotherhood journals. She too said nothing when I demanded answers.
Being part of the organization required constant training, reading, and researching. I didn’t consider myself a member but because of my father, I knew I would always be tied to the Brotherhood. I had no desire to scour through journals written by those who came before me and to recount each page verbatim. Through these writings they came to understand Deamhan behaviors, their lifestyle, and most importantly, how dangerous these creatures could be. I knew firsthand how dangerous they could be.
A few weeks ago, a woman with short auburn hair entered my room. Dressed in a white blouse and dark slacks, she looked fairly young to be part of the Brotherhood but I wouldn’t put it past its members to start their indoctrination early. At first, I honestly didn’t know what to think about her. Unlike the other two who came regularly, she told me her name, Miranda, and that all my questions would be answered soon. In the meantime, she wanted to know if I was being treated fairly and to bring up any other issues I had so she could address them.
Oh, I had many issues and I didn’t know where to start. “I want out of here,” I said. “They can’t keep me here against my will.”
She clasped her hands together. “The Brotherhood doesn’t abide by any laws outside of the organization.”
“I don’t care. I’m not a member. I never was.”
“You’re an Austin. You always have been since birth.” She callously walked around and observed every inch of the room, as if she was the one in charge of my entire ordeal, but she wasn’t.
Only one person in the Brotherhood could keep someone, for this long, against their will inside this dreadful building. “I want to talk to Mr. Alvaro.”
“He is preoccupied.”
“You will speak with someone soon.”
“No, I want to speak to someone now.” My demand went in one ear and out the other.
“And you will. Tomorrow.” She left the room and locked the door behind her.
She returned the next day with a change of clothes. “You must put this on.” She tossed the white shirt and loose pants at me and then closed the door.
I refused to do anything until I knew exactly what was going on. Five minutes later, she checked in on me and seeing I wasn’t dressed, she stepped into my room and closed the door. “Veronica, please put those on.” She wore a low-cut white shirt with a black leather jacket and black jeans. Her hair was pulled back into a tight bun. It wasn’t typical researcher attire which included a black trench coat but lately, the Brotherhood had relaxed their clothing rules.
“I’m not leaving this room until you tell me what’s going on.”
“I’m not in the position to say.”
“Then who is in the position to say?”
“I will take you to him but first, you must get dressed.”
“Are you going to take me to speak to him?”
“I said before, he’s preoccupied.”
“Then I’m not leaving this room.” I remained steadfast.
She folded her arms. “There’s a lot you don’t know.”
“Oh, I think I know enough.”
“No, no, you don’t. What you know is what you want to believe, but he… he will show you the truth.”
I eyed her. “Who?”
“Mr. Luzier, the president of the West division of the Brotherhood.”
She was right. There was a lot I didn’t know.
“I can only tell you what I’m allowed,” she said as I followed her down a dark hall with bare white walls.
And she did tell me. While the Brotherhood kept me confined for years in their facility, the supernatural world had been rocked on its axis. Supernaturals were at each other’s throats, including Dorvo vampires with the backing of their Dorvo queen, Ruby, who had taken refuge in Minneapolis. Her goal was to annihilate Deamhan and to do so, she went after the Dark Curse tablet. At that same time, Amenirdis, the Dark Mother and a queen in her own right, attempted to release the remaining first Deamhan from Limbo with a ritual consisting of incantations from the same tablet. However, the Brotherhood somehow managed to thwart both plans, which dealt a huge blow to Deamhan and a victory for themselves but not without a few casualties.
All I could think about was Nathan and the others.
We reached the elevator and she pressed the up arrow. Moments later, the doors opened, and I followed her in. As the elevator sped up to its designated floor, she continued to explain what I missed. The Brotherhood staked their claim, once again, in the northern city. They had just opened the doors to their chapter location. “You know how it once was, Miss Austin,” she said. “We weren’t safe there but now that’s changed.”
I remembered the friction between the Brotherhood and Deamhan as if it happened yesterday. They blamed my father and his cronies for interfering, thus starting an underground war between themselves and other supernaturals. Throughout this, they managed to remain unknown to humans throughout the city, but they came close to exposing themselves, due to their actions. Whatever the case, being able to re-open their chapter meant that once again, the Brotherhood claimed their top spot. Now I wanted to know how in the hell that could have happened.
The door opened, exposing a huge and extravagant office, made specifically for someone in a high status in the organization. A medium-height man with dark hair sat in a leather chair behind a large polished-oak desk with matching oak bookcases stacked against the wall behind him. The air smelled of hazelnut coffee. “Thank you, Miranda,” he said as he stood from his chair and readjusted his dark tie. “I can take it from here.”
It wasn’t every day members were invited to a meet and greet with one of presidents in the Brotherhood. If I remembered correctly, it was considered an honor to be called upon. Members were expected to show up regardless of their schedules, show respect, and to only speak when they were given permission. That was how my father saw it before he rose to that rank. Many researchers obeyed his command without as much as a thought. They threw themselves into the fire without thinking of the consequences and repercussions. That was the Brotherhood way and I had to play along if I wanted to get out of there.
“Veronica, please have a seat.”
I left the elevator and didn’t look back as its doors closed behind me. “Mr. Luzier, correct?”
“You’re the one who’s kept me locked up here against my will?” I stood with my legs apart and my hands on my hips.
He didn’t hesitate to answer my question. “No.”
“But you’re the president of the West division?”
“Yes, but I’m not the headmaster. I’m not Mr. Alvaro.” He nodded. “Please, have a seat.”
I wasn’t buying it. The headmaster was the Supreme Being, so to speak, of the entire organization but that didn’t mean Mr. Luzier didn’t have any say in what went on around here. He was just as important, if not more, especially in the western part of the United States. Like the headmaster, his word could either end a career in the Brotherhood or boost it to heights unimaginable.
Still, that wasn’t enough to make me cower or show him an ounce of respect. I believed respect had to be earned and no one in the Brotherhood earned mine. “I know you have more pull than you let on.”
“In some cases.”
After I sat, he rested his elbows on the table and drummed his fingers on its surface. “When you were brought here, it wasn’t my call on how long you would stay. My only responsibility was making sure you recovered and were as comfortable as possible.”
“I wasn’t comfortable in that tiny room you kept me in.”
“That was the only room available at that time,” he replied. “It’s the safest place in this entire building.”
I smacked my lips. “So, are you going to let me out of here or what? Or is this just a game?”
“No game.” He held up his hands as a sign of throwing in the towel. “Actually, I was the one who pushed for your release. I was against the idea of having you brought here in the first place but as we say, the Brotherhood takes care of its own.”
“You don’t expect me to believe that.” I laughed at the absurdity of it all.
“No. I’ll prove it to you.”
I leaned forward. “I’m not and never will be a researcher, regardless of my last name.”
He leaned back in his plushy black swivel chair. “Let me convince you otherwise.”
“There’s nothing you can say to convince me.”
“Let’s just start with what Miranda already told you. The Midwest division is in shambles and the president of that division and region leader positions remain opened.”
That couldn’t be right. “My father is still the president of the Midwest division.” I thought for a moment.
“No, he’s not.”
I scoffed. “Let me guess. Mr. Alvaro fired my father?”
“No, your father wasn’t fired.”
This wasn’t making any sense.
“Your father, while overbearing, had the right intentions for you. He cared for you more than you know.”
“Cared? He didn’t lift a finger to help me get out of here. He didn’t even bother to see how I was doing.”
“He couldn’t.” He opened the top drawer, pulled out an envelope, placed it on the desk, and slid it toward me. “There have been casualties.”
“This is a researcher report about your father.”
I pushed it back in his direction.
“Please, read it.”
Part of me didn’t want to know the truth. I didn’t want to know if my father was one of these so-called casualties he mentioned. My hatred for him ran deep, but not deep enough to not care if he died. But I overcame this uncertainty and tore open the envelope. I pulled out a piece of paper and unfolded it. It wasn’t my father’s handwriting and I asked him who authored it.
“Johanna Rahn,” he answered. “She was a researcher in Minneapolis around the time you were injured and brought back here.”
“Was?” Her last name didn’t sound familiar. Last names proved status in the Brotherhood and ‘Rahn’ wasn’t one of them. I sped through the first paragraph, written in cursive. From what I gathered, Johanna wrote in explicit details about the fight at a warehouse building in Minneapolis and how Kenneth betrayed Anastasia and Remy in acquiring the piece of the Dark Curse tablet. If this was true, the situation in Minneapolis was much worse than I thought.
Betraying someone like Anastasia wouldn’t blow over so easily. She was a Ramanga, the Deamhan with the teeth. She was also a fierce and brutal killer who didn’t back down from anyone or anything. In her four hundred plus years, she was responsible for the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands of humans, Deamhan, and other supernaturals. She hated Kenneth and the Brotherhood with a passion.
On the other hand, Remy wasn’t as old and violent. Lamia Deamhan usually weren’t but when it came down to it, he could get down and dirty with the rest of them. He preferred obstacles that didn’t directly interfere in what he loved to do: swooning women and pushing Anastasia’s buttons. He too hated Kenneth and the Brotherhood.
The letter continued with Kenneth who was determined to end all Deamhan once and for all. That was why he had a piece of the Dark Curse tablet.
“Did he find the other half?” I asked Mr. Luzier.
“No, he didn’t.”
I placed the paper on the table. “So, why are you showing me this?”
“Why? I don’t know who this Johanna is.”
“That’s not the point I’m trying to make. All you need to know is that she was promoted to president of the Midwest Division after Kenneth was demoted from that position.”
“Who made Kenneth the president of the Midwest division?” I had to process the information.
“And he thought that was a great idea?” I couldn’t believe what he just told me. “Kenneth has always and will always do what’s best for him. He’s never cared about anyone but himself. Allowing him to be president was the worst thing you all could have done.”
“That was learned soon enough.”
“So, he was promoted and then demoted? This is classic.” I lounged back and enjoyed the misgivings of this chaotic organization.
“Yes and after Johanna took his place. However, she was killed during a failed raid at Blind Bluff Manor but that isn’t important. It’s what she discovered you should worry about.”
“And that is?”
“She found out that your father was dead.”
“Shortly after Kenneth stole the piece of the Dark Curse tablet your father went missing. Johanna was assigned to search for him and later she found out what happened. He’s gone, Veronica. I’m sorry. I know how much you cared about him and you should. He was an Austin, after all, and like you, his last name meant much around here.”
I didn’t know what to say and what to do. The estranged relationship I had with him was due to what he did to my mother and his involvement in the Brotherhood. Yet still he was my father and that would never change.
“This is why I’m here, isn’t it?” I fought back tears. Mr. Luzier wouldn’t see how much this affected me.
“Yes, and that is why the headmaster wanted you to stay until you recovered. He wants you to accept the role your father left for you, the role Kenneth stole from you.”
“First of all, Kenneth didn’t steal anything from me. You handed it to him. And second, that’s not me and it never will be.”
“It is you,” he said as he sighed. “Although you never got along with your father, he was a brilliant man. He was always two steps ahead and that made him a very valuable member of the Brotherhood. He knew if you went to Minneapolis, you would get involved with them, just like your mother did. At that time, we needed an insider and my dear, he chose you to be that insider. But in the end, it was his love for you that killed him.”
“His love for me?” Angered, I shot out of my chair. “No, it was his loyalty to all of this that killed him.”
“He didn’t expect the Lamia to become infatuated with you.”
“Remy?” My mind wavered.
“Yes, and that led to his death. This Deamhan who charmed you is the same who killed him.”
“No, Remy would never do that.” I slowly retook my seat. “Why would he?”
“You know the answer, Veronica. It’s what Deamhan do.” He stood from his chair. “But if you’re so inclined to know, maybe you should ask him when you go back to Minneapolis. And while you’re there, you can also find out why a Deamhan you know snapped Nathan’s neck.”
“What?!” The only Deamhan in Minneapolis that mattered were those who lived at Blind Bluff Manor with him. I knew Anastasia looked after him as well as Hallie and Remy. Not to mention that Lambert, the vampire owner of Dark Sepulcher, considered Nathan his closest friend. Nathan wasn’t unprotected. “Who?”
“Think. What Deamhan is violent enough to turn against their friends?”
For the life of me, I couldn’t come up with a name. Eventually, he answered his own question.
“No, she wouldn’t do that. She admired Nathan. She protected him and looked after him.”
“She did. She killed him.”
Mr. Luzier thought I could fall for it so easily, that I would grow angry and renounce anything and everything having to do with the Deamhan in Minneapolis. No, that wouldn’t happen. The Brotherhood was damn good at lying and twisting the truth. “You’re lying.”
“I am telling you the truth. As they say, the truth hurts, and it should.”
It was like my entire world crumbled around me.
“Again, it’s what they do.” He walked around his table. “Once again, Deamhan have taken away those you love the most.” He leaned against its edge. “Your mother, your father—”
“I’m going to have to stop you there.” I held up my hand. He was playing a game, the same game my father played regarding my mother’s demise, and I wanted no part in it. “If you’re trying to use their deaths to rile up any hatred I have for them, it won’t work.”
“Not hatred. I’m trying to make you understand the bigger picture in all this,” he quickly defended himself. “Nathan’s family has always teetered on the edge of catering to Deamhan while upholding their duties as Brotherhood members. You know what happens to humans and others who put their trust in Deamhan? Collateral damage, Veronica. I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase before. You’ve experienced it. You should know better than the rest of us that you can’t trust them or any supernatural for that matter. Your father made the mistake of jumping into the fray to save you from them. And your mother”—he shook his head—“she made the mistake of falling in love with one of them.”
“You don’t know a damn thing about my mother and what my father put her through, what this organization put her through!”
“But I know what Deamhan have put you through. Remy, a Deamhan, killed your father. Anastasia, a Deamhan, killed Nathan.”
“What do you want from me?” I asked in a low grumble.
“The Brotherhood wants you to take up your father’s role,” he answered. “That’s all we want.”
“And like I said, I don’t want it. Why don’t you just offer it to Kenneth again? You know how much he loves that type of power. Once a member, always a member, right?”
“That’s impossible. He’s one of them now.”
“Like I said, there have been many casualties during your recovery.”
“Who’s the Deamhan responsible for turning him?”
“Anastasia.” He stepped up to me. “She made him into the thing he hates the most and right now, he’s out there, perhaps plotting his revenge against her and against us.” He placed his hands on the arms of my chair. “I know you and this organization haven’t had the best history, but what’s happening right now, is bigger than the hatred you have for the Brotherhood.” He faced me and whispered in my ear, “As I said earlier, the Brotherhood takes care of its own. Not only does that go for you, that also goes for those we’ve lost and those who’ve betrayed us.”
“How can I betray an organization I’m not part of?”
His lips pulled back into a contorted smile that made me shiver in my seat. “I’m not referring to you directly, Veronica. Think about the ones you’ve lost since you started on this peculiar journey. Think about Sean.”
My eyes billowed. “Sean?” He had my attention. I hadn’t seen Sean since he left my apartment at Palm Oaks so many years ago. It wasn’t easy for me to grow up in the Brotherhood after my mother’s disappearance, but he was there for me. He was the one who pushed me to find the truth about my mother. Even as my father forced him to spy on me, he later reneged and placed his position within the organization on the line. I knew they had taken him back to San Diego afterwards to pay for his betrayal. That’s what the Brotherhood did to traitors.
“He’s alive,” Mr. Luzier said. “He’s here and I can help free him but first you must listen to what I have to say, and pay attention to what I have to show you.”
I lowered my face and dug my chin into my chest.
“Right now, we’re the only people you can count on. We’re here to support you and protect you against them because God knows, you will need it for what’s to come. Through all this death and misery, you’re the only one to come out unscathed and that makes you a very special woman, Veronica. We would hate to lose you.”
With my legs shaking underneath me, I followed Mr. Luzier to the elevator. “Are you taking me to Sean?”
“Not just yet.” He looked over his shoulder and shot me a smile. “What I want to show you is located deep within the building. Something the Brotherhood has been working on since your father’s death.”
When the elevator descended, I heard several sounds that sent chills throughout my entire body. Screams, hissing, and metal clanging against metal—so loud it almost ruptured my eardrums. Voices in different languages mingled together and I heard male voices cursing and other voices begging for death. The moment the doors opened, heat blasted onto my face, followed by the smell of rotting flesh.
“What is this?” I covered my mouth.
“This is what I wanted to show you.” He exited the elevator.
We proceeded down the metal walkway and into the heart of this enormous room and what I viewed around me was more than enough to startle my already nervous mind. I saw people, dressed in long white lab coats, picking and prodding individuals strapped to gurneys and long metal tables. Only when I saw one of them stuff a metal contraption into a woman’s mouth, forcing it open, did I realize these victims were Deamhan.
Gripping metal pliers in his right hand, the researcher stood over the Deamhan and ripped the right fang from her gums. She screamed, and he covered her mouth, all with a serious look on his face.
Then I saw another Deamhan strapped on a dissection table to my right with soiled towels wrapped around his wrists and nubs where his hands used to be. To their right, two researchers scraped what looked like remains from the floor. After death, the body of a Deamhan didn’t remain intact. Just like the body of a vampire, it melted like ice cream on a warm sunny day, leaving behind pieces of flesh and bone mingled together in a bloody soup-like paste and whatever clothing they had on at the time of death.
They experimented on Deamhan like lab mice.
“These past few weeks, we’ve been overrun with Deamhan. Most of them literally threw themselves at our feet, if we promised some form of protection.”
“You call this protection? This is torture.”
“They can take the pain.”
“If they came here for help, the Brotherhood should help them.” My blood boiled at the ungodly site around me and I didn’t know how long I could observe their repulsive actions and do nothing. “You all are about observing but never interfering. If they didn’t want to help, then fine. Don’t help, but this is interfering.”
“We are helping. Veronica, the situation in Minneapolis turned dire and we were left with no choice but to speed up our little project.”
“You call this,” I gazed around the room, “a little project?”
“I admit, it’s hard to stomach but we do what we must to face what’s coming.”
The rancid smell stuck to my nose and I covered my lower face. “And what is coming exactly?”
The idea that something like dark magic existed in the world made every person in the Brotherhood uncomfortable. No one knew its origins—if it was man made, had no creator, or had a creator that was too construed for the human mind to comprehend. What they all knew was that it was an unusual force in the universe that one human managed to manipulate thousands of years ago to create Deamhan and other supernatural creatures.
“Dark magic isn’t new to you,” I said. “What’s so different now?”
We ventured on, revealing more bizarre sights. Many of these researchers appeared to enjoy their tasks, smiling at one another and mocking their Deamhan victims as they cried out in misery.
“Do you remember when you were attacked in Minneapolis the night before you were brought to San Diego?”
“Not really.” The events of that night remained clouded and out of reach. The last thing I remembered was confronting Anastasia about releasing the Pure Deamhan from Limbo. After that, everything remained a haze.
“Kenneth brokered a deal with Anastasia and Remy in exchange for the Brotherhood’s help.” He stopped in front of two large metallic tubs sealed behind a large, thin glass case. “We were to help them secure the Dark Curse tablet, but Kenneth betrayed them and took it for himself. From then on, everything changed, and we’re now forced to interfere. These are dangerous times.”
“The Brotherhood thrives in dangerous times.” I also noticed the large tubs that didn’t fit quite right in the cruel environment around us.
“Not like this.” He placed his hands on the glass and peered in. “When that Deamhan queen released more dark magic into this world, she awakened something else and that something has made Deamhan and many other supernaturals scared.” He stepped back. “It also doesn’t help that many Ancient Deamhan have died just in the past three years alone.” He pointed to the tub on our left. “This is where the queen, Amenirdis’ remains are kept.” He then pointed to the one on our right. “These are the remains of the two humans who served her.” He looked at me. “You do remember them, don’t you?”
How could I forget? They were memorable and downright scary. When Remy took me to that desolate cave just outside of Minneapolis to ask them about my mother, I didn’t expect them to be so powerful. I assumed Amenirdis had endowed them with enough dark magic to take out an entire city.
What I also remembered was that Amenirdis had three, and not two humans, who served her. “Where’s the other one?”
The corner of his mouth pulled back into a half-cocked smile. “We stopped them with her help.”
“So, you’re working for her or is she working for you?”
“She sees the dangerous we all face.”
He didn’t answer my question. “Are we done here?” I had enough of this macabre spectacle. “I want to see Sean.”
“Not yet.” He took a deep breath. “There’s one more thing.”
Again, we were on the move. I followed him to another part of the building that looked brand new. Just like the atrocities occurring in the basement, I assumed he wanted me to witness just another one of the Brotherhood’s ‘projects.’
If my father was still alive, he would never have approved of such things. Sure, he had his dark side and I didn’t trust the man, but what Mr. Luzier had planned was beyond anything he would do. It didn’t feel like progress. All of this felt more like revenge.
“You’re quiet,” he said to me as we walked down a hallway with bare walls.
“What do you expect me to say?” I responded. “In only a few hours, I just found out that the only person I trusted in Minneapolis was killed by a Deamhan who he trusted, and my father was murdered by a Deamhan I also knew. Not to mention, you’re dissecting them because you can.”
“No.” He held up his hand. “We’re dissecting them, as you put it, because we have to.”
“Regardless of whatever excuse you want to use, you’re still dissecting them.”
He slowed his walk. “I find it rather peculiar that you’re still defending them, after all that’s happened to you.”
“I know what you’re trying to do, and it won’t work,” I said. “I know how this organization twists truths. I know how you pit researcher against researcher and researcher against Deamhan. That might have worked for others. It did work for Kenneth, but not me. I still have no interest in being president of the Midwest division.”
“You may not have a choice. The Austins—one of the great families in the Brotherhood, alongside the Tiernans, Dearhorns, Alvaros, Luziers, and Pavels are the founding families of this great organization. As an Austin, your last name has weight around here.” He continued down the hall. “I understand it’s going to take more than words to make you see the real threat. If you want to protect the helpless, the best thing you can do is accept reality and the position. Why not do what you failed to do when it came to your father and your mother?”
“No, you won’t do that to me.” I put my hand on his shoulder and forced him to face me. “You will not use what happened to my parents to justify what’s going on here. Do you hear me?! The Brotherhood has been doing horrendous things years before I was born.”
“And those horrendous things have kept people alive.”
“Keep believing that false narrative. You know it’s nowhere close to the truth.”
“You want the truth?” He stepped up to me. “People are dying out there and many researchers have given their lives for the cause while you’re too busy lamenting and complaining about what your father did to you years ago. You’re so stuck up on why he tried his hardest to keep your mother’s betrayal from you. In all that time, have you even wondered why?”
He towered over me and for the first time that night, I felt myself shrinking in his dominant presence. But the fight wasn’t over yet. “You want to talk about researchers? What about Sean?” I jabbed my finger in his face. “The Brotherhood kidnapped him and brought him back by force here because he did what none of you had the balls to do. He stood up to them, to the presidents… to you!”
“Sean betrayed the organization and he knew the consequences.”
“Every time a person goes against what the Brotherhood wants them to do, they’re branded as a traitor.” I slapped myself on my forehead. “It’s getting old, Mr. Luzier. I’m not the same girl from before. You can’t feed me that crap.”
“Your father cleaned up that ‘crap’ you made in your pursuit for the truth,” he argued back. “And how well did that go for you? How did you feel when you found out your mother fell in love with one of them? Did it ever cross your mind that she was on the verge of leaving you and your father for one of them? HAS IT?”
A large vein in his forehead protruded and his demeaning eyes drew into me. He didn’t blink, nor did he appear to breathe. He looked like a statue with the face of a hardened man, trying to get his point across.
Finally, he moved back and swiped his hand through his hair. “Your father isn’t here to fend for you. The Lamia, Remy, made sure of that. Do you care?””
“Yes, I care.”
“Then act like it. One killed your mother and now another one has killed you father. What will it take for you to see they are the enemy?” He continued forward. “While I’m not related to your father, he was like a brother to me and unlike you, I’m quite capable of seeing the truth and accepting to use whatever means necessary to make sure no one else dies at the hand of a Deamhan.” He approached a large metal door at the end of the long corridor. “I don’t want what happened to your parents to happen to anyone in this organization, not even you, Miss Austin.” He knocked three times before it unlocked and creaked open.
Miranda stood in the doorway, dressed in the exact same, long white lab coat I saw earlier when viewing their dissection lab.
“Is everything ready?” he asked her.
“Yes, they’re ready.” Her eyes reverted to me.
Mr. Luzier waved at me to follow and I had no choice not to. The further we trekked down this long corridor, the brighter the environment appeared to me. Soon, I realized we were in a skyway which extended over a large room below. I looked down through large glass windows and saw a landscape that looked staged. There were various large and broken machinery, long and thick tree branches, rusted cars and car parts, and replicas of single-family homes.
“What is this place?” I asked slowly. “Looks like a movie studio.”
Mr. Luzier stood with his head high. “This is where magic happens, literally.”
Miranda knocked on the glass door at a male on the ground below to grab his attention. The teenage male looked up and nodded. “Darrien is ready to proceed,” she said.
“Good. Now, Veronica, please watch closely.”
A loud siren filled the air, followed by two large blast doors on both sides of the room that opened slowly. A tall man who looked to be in mid-twenties walked out. Nervous, he rubbed his forearms and eyed the unusual room.
I placed my hand on the glass and watched as the lights in the facility dimmed and the man, now scared, ran to a nearby vacant car and hid behind it. “What is this?” I asked. “Another project of yours?”
“In order to meet a strong threat, we need stronger allies,” Mr. Luzier replied.
The terrified male peeked around the car. “Hello!” he called out in a panicked voice as the teenager, Darrien, approached the car from the other side.
Just then, I noticed something I couldn’t explain that scared me half to death. A bright ball appeared directly behind Darrien’s right shoulder. Its glow brightened the room and in response, the other male peeked over the hood. The brightness blinded him and in fear, he ran to the opposite side of the room in breakneck speed. It wasn’t hard to put two and two together. The frightened male was a Deamhan and the teenager was his pursuer.
“With blessings from the headmaster, we were able to implement a new change in our plan, a new way to deal with the growing threat,” Mr. Luzier commented while Darrien approached the Deamhan. He shot off again in a fast speed toward the blast door that closed only seconds earlier. He took off again to the opposite side of the room. With no option of leaving, he leaned against the wall with his hands in the air.
Whatever the teenager was about to do frightened the Deamhan and I’d never seen one this scared before. “That boy,” I pointed to Darrien, “what is he?”
“That is one thing your parents never mentioned to you about dark magic.”
My parents and the Brotherhood taught me that dark magic was connected to Deamhan but what I witnessed through that window proved otherwise. Darrien looked human. Nothing about him resembled what a supernatural, like a Deamhan, would look like.
“Are you saying that boy has dark magic in him?”
Defeated, the Deamhan leaned against the wall, his eyes as dark as charcoal, and pleaded for Darrien to not hurt him.
“So, he’s a Deamhan?”
“He’s a Behesian.”
The name didn’t sound familiar, but what did nowadays when it came to the Brotherhood? “So, instead of trying to contain dark magic, you’re exploiting it?”
“More like we want to use it for our benefit,” he replied. “We don’t exploit Behesians. They’re joining us in record numbers of their own free will. They understand the upcoming threat and how important it is to be ready for it.”
The Deamhan placed his hands on his head and dropped to his knees. I couldn’t see exactly what was going on but whatever Darrien did, took place underneath the skin of his victim, in the interior of his body, and it was working.
“He is just the first of many who have agreed to help us and believe me, there are many more out there.”
“By killing him?” I stared at Mr. Luzier and Miranda, only to be greeted with a wide grin on her face.
“No, by showing that Deamhan aren’t as powerful as they think they are.”
Darrien didn’t let up on his attack, even as the Deamhan fell onto his back. I saw dark blood trickle from his nostrils and his ears.
“Your father was the one who suggested this course of action. He was innovative when it came to conjuring up ways to deal with this threat. He was always thinking of the future. In this case, he wanted the Brotherhood to be prepared if Amenirdis was successful in releasing the other Pure Deamhan from Limbo.”
“But she failed. The Brotherhood stopped her. You don’t need…” I pointed to Darrien. “…this!”
Eventually, Mr. Luzier asserted his authority and ordered an end to this display of power. “Tell Darrien that will be all for now. I promised to return the Deamhan alive for further testing.” Miranda nodded and hurried down the hall.
“So now what?” I folded my arms. “Going to take me to another room to watch more Deamhan being abused for your amusement?”
“No,” he said in a slow voice. “Now I’m going to take you to see Sean.”
GAMES WE PLAY
Mr. Luzier pushed the thick steel door open and again, I was greeted with another hallway. This seemed the norm around the building: narrow pathways with naked white walls. But this one felt and looked a little different. The air smelled old and thick, and it was much darker than the previous ones we roamed through.
“You said we were going to see Sean,” I whispered, unsure if we were the only people in the vicinity.
“And we are.”
He led the way and I followed until I heard light tapping against metal and the unusual noise of someone sniffing the air.
“I want her!” a rough female voice yelled out and I jumped, startled at the outburst. That was soon followed by another sound of teeth clacking together. “Bring her here!”
It was too dark to see, and petrified, I remained close to Mr. Luzier who didn’t appear to be affected at all. He continued forward until we came to another door. He flicked on a light switch, revealing the area around us.
There were four small cells on the left and five on the right of us. Each cell except for one held a Deamhan.
“You must have done something awful to be down here with us Deamhan.” I turned in the direction of a male voice. He partially hid in the darkness of his cell. He had long, brown, matted hair. Stark naked, he approached the bars and his deep-brown eyes showed no resentment or interest in having me as a snack. Instead, his brows scrunched as if he tried to understand why I was there.
“She’s mine, Lugat! I’ve claimed her!” Across from me, I noticed a large overweight woman. Her black-colored eyes and fangs scrutinized him. “I’ll tear you limb from limb if you take what’s mine!” She snarled and shook the bars of her cell.
The male Deamhan replied in a calm voice, “Relax. Even if I could eat her, I wouldn’t. I don’t kill humans.”
“I want that one.” Another Deamhan pointed at Mr. Luzier. “He looks tasty.”
Except for the male Deamhan, they waited for their chance to eat us.
“I doubt any of you idiots know who she is.” The male Deamhan turned away from the bars. “And if you knew who he is, you’d want to eat him instead.” He sat on a weathered cot with his back against the wall.
“I don’t care who they are,” the female Deamhan grunted.
Nowhere did I see Sean. That bothered me and at the same time, I rejoiced, knowing the Brotherhood would never keep him in such proximity to Deamhan.
But that was short lived.
“Veronica? Is that you?”
I knew that wonderful voice, even though I hadn’t heard it in such a long time. The Deamhan in their cells turned into the last thing on my mind. I ran toward the bars and in the back of the cell, I saw his outline in the darkness.
“Sean?” I never thought I’d see him again but there he was, chained to the concreate walls and covered in muck and film like some wild animal. Underneath that dirt, I got a glimpse of the cherub tattoo on his left arm. His hair had grown out and a thick, unkempt and knotted beard covered the lower half of his face. His eyes were swollen shut and dark crud covered the corners of his mouth.
“You kept Sean down here, with them?” Heated, I chided Mr. Luzier.
“All traitors to the organization are held with Deamhan. How else will they know the error of their ways?”
Fear and knowing that at any moment, the Deamhan in the cell next to you, could attack and kill you, was a mind tactic that appeared to work on Sean. Deamhan, like Metusba, could feed by only being a few feet from their victims.
“And if one of them was a Metusba?” Shocked, I asked him.
“Good thing these Deamhan aren’t.”
I turned back to Sean, praying to see the friend I knew. Instead, they’d broken him, and I felt responsible. If it wasn’t for his help, I wouldn’t have found out what happened to my mother. When I told him about my plans to go to Minneapolis, he was the only one who supported me.
“Sean, I’m going to get you out of here,” I said to him.
He struggled to open his mouth. “Don’t… come… over… here.”
“You can’t keep him here like this!”
“And nor do I want to,” Mr. Luzier replied. “That’s up to you.”
I knew what he wanted, but was it worth it? I didn’t want Sean to suffer any longer but the thought of working for the Brotherhood still left a sour taste in my mouth. “Sean, the only way I can get you out here is to work with them.”
He tried to open his eyes.
“And I will if I have to.”
“No,” he said in a coarse voice. “Don’t do it.”
I squeezed my arm through the bars, even though I knew I couldn’t reach him. “Do you trust me?”
“There’s no getting out of here. You don’t u—understand.”
“If he doesn’t want to leave, I’ll gladly take his place,” the male Deamhan interrupted.
“Be quiet!” Mr. Luzier responded in an authoritative voice.
I pulled my arm back. “You’ll release him if I accept the position?” I didn’t want to look that son of a bitch in his eyes.
“For the moment, agree to go back to Minneapolis and we’ll move Sean to a more suitable environment.”
“You want me to go back to Minneapolis?” I felt my throat tighten. “Isn’t that the last place the Brotherhood wants me?”
“Some people must look with their own eyes to see the truth. You’re one of those people, Veronica. I’ve known that for a long time.”
“So, all I have to do is go back and you’ll move him from here?” I asked again.
“And if I agree to be the president of the Midwest division, then you’ll let him go?”
“One thing at a time. First, go back to Minneapolis. Once you see and understand, you will agree to be the next president of the Midwest division.”
I rolled my eyes.
“Miranda will accompany you there,” he responded. “Go and see your Deamhan friends. See what they’ve done since you’ve been here. That’s the only way you’ll understand that they aren’t your friends after all.”
Veronica. Deamhan Chronicles #4.5 is available on Amazon
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