include_once("common_lab_header.php");
Excerpt for Recumon: The Third Couplet by , available in its entirety at Smashwords






RECUMON


THE THIRD COUPLET




MICHAEL R.E. ADAMS




ENCHANTED CIPHER





RECUMON

The Third Couplet

Copyright © 2019 Michael Adams



Recumon: The Series Website

Discover more enchanted drama, the series reading order, and opportunities for discounts!



All rights reserved.

This book is licensed for personal reading only.

All aspects of this work are intended as fiction.


TABLE OF CONTENTS


Title

Copyright


Love Ardeidae

Son Hominidae


About the Author





LOVE ARDEIDAE


I.


The industrial SUV tumbled down and lumbered up the hills, bouncing on the rocky dirt trail carved through the jungle. The towering treetops darkened the world in shade. A thicket of bushes and grasses covered the forest floor. Mossy vines swung overhead from tree to tree. Every five miles, the vehicle drove past a pay phone in a splintering wooden box staked on a rusty metal pole. Every five miles, the phone gave a tinny, hammering ring.

‘Should we answer it?’ Norton Amparo asked the nameless and silent driver, who responded with a shrug. ‘That is the third time, it can’t be a coincidence.’ The diabolist saw a rock in the trail and held the handle above the window. He braced himself as the car sped over the impediment. The bump jettisoned him into a small hop. His body hovered weightless for a fraction of a second that felt like a possible eternity of peace, but his earthly existence returned him to a depressing norm as his safety belt snapped taut across his hips and crashed him back down to the leather seat.

‘Stop being such a douche,’ said Abel Carraway. His best friend, Nathan Somerwalder, chuckled. They sat in the back seat. The driver smiled discretely. Amparo peered back at his exorcist, hoping to communicate some sense of his authority. He found his subordinate’s sunglasses impenetrable. The dark tinted lens froze Abel in a stalwart preppiness that made the researcher release his resentment. He straightened his turquoise Hawaiian shirt speckled with turtles, gripped his support as the car swerved around the colossal buttress roots of a jungle tree, and settled into a determination to resolve the latest case as quickly as possible.

He had considered ignoring the politics of this excursion and accepting this assignment as a vacation. However, the idea of witnessing Abel and his bro committing all kinds of drunken antics in an untouched wonderland and then returning to a career burdened and crushed under an ever thickening and lowering of the glass ceiling renewed his vigor to fight. He had found contentment in claiming a paradise as a consolation for losing a profession. He had imagined quitting modern life, finding a beautiful, free-spirited girl, and settling in the valley town. Why did a life need a purpose? He would find fulfillment in being a useless creature in Nature’s flow. Abel and their chaperone reminded him that alphas and their oppressive goons were everywhere. The only way to neutralize them was to rise above, and every station up high resided in a glass or ivory tower. He laughed, to the surprise of his companions, who did not think he would take Abel’s offense so lightly. They did not know his outburst came with a thought: of course, Abel would find his home in a jungle. The pack leader. Amparo was foolish for allowing a little bureaucracy to derail his passion for knowledge and ascension. Every day, his choice to be a man above men tightened his grasp on the lives of animals like Abel. He could sooner maneuver through office politics than he could a frat house.

‘Why the hell did you even bring me just to check out a plant?’ asked Abel.

‘It’s the prophetic Convallaria majalis that has again made its appearance,’ replied the greasy-haired intellect.

‘I think even you could hack it down.’

‘You don’t hack the lily of the valley. You observe it to make sure it’s not here to usher in the apocalypse.’

‘Should I be hearing this?’ asked Nathan.

‘You shouldn’t be here altogether,’ replied Amparo. ‘As far as I’m concerned, you’re invisible.’

‘Then stop talking to him,’ said Abel.

Snickers. Amparo shook his head.

Abel saw an armadillo on the side of the road: ‘You don’t seem very concerned. That’s all, man.’

‘The Tolesect wants us out of the house so they can go through our rooms–or at least pretend to. They already know everything, most likely, concerning some of our more off-book adventures, but they need to put up a farce. As for our flower, tapestries have always said that the arrival of a strange Convallaria would be a kind of breaking of the first seal.’

‘Isn’t that something to worry about?’ asked Nathan, looking to Abel with concern. The exorcist shrugged. Nathan fell back. The only two people assigned to protect humanity from extinction were unsettlingly indifferent.

‘Every year for decades–centuries–diabolists are sent out to investigate another appearance of the flower,’ continued Amparo. ‘And, unfortunately, we’re still here.’

‘Not a very reassuring attitude from the man who’s supposed to be our savior,’ replied Nathan.

‘If you think your survival or even a concern for your safety is why I wake up and do what I do for a living, then you are not a good judge of character. If the daemil had just opened the gates to hell and swallowed us up generations ago we never would have had to enter this misery called existence. I do what I do because I love it. If it saves you so that you can make the greatest achievement an average man can of adding to our problem of overpopulation, then so be it.’

Nathan felt the epiphany of his smallness lurking outside the door of his realization. Then he had a thought that brought clearer skies. He was not a skeleton in a closet. He was flesh and blood and stood with his best friend in Eden. He smiled broadly:

‘Man, we’re going to have so much fun. I get it now. We check out some plant, and then get on with the real mission.’

‘And what would that be?’ asked Amparo.

‘The ladies.’ Nathan slapped Abel’s arm with a fling of his hand. ‘Our boy has spent years waiting for the right lady. And when she came, she left him high and dry. We’re here to swipe a V-card.’

Amparo adjusted in his seat to face Abel as if a pertinent conversation were to take a place. ‘Is that true?’

‘What happens in the valley, stays in the valley,’ replied Abel.

‘No, are you really a virgin?’

Abel removed his sunglasses and leaned over. ‘Why are we being investigated?’

‘Answer my question first.’

A moment of silence, a game of chicken–Abel buckled. ‘Yes.’

Amparo scoffed.

‘Screw you.’ Abel once again covered his eyes with the shades and continued surveying the various animals. After the armadillo, he had seen a pigeon hopping about some mushrooms at the base of a tree. He had heard the crackling of a breaking branch and expected to see a monkey. Instead, a jaguar walked to the end of a tree limb that bowed under its weight. No one commented. Only he saw these daemil.

‘I almost respected you,’ said the diabolist. ‘I was momentarily impressed that someone like you could value sex, that you could show regard for something other than physical sensations. Abel Carraway used to once care about love. He used to once think that it was worth waiting for. He used to believe that tenderness was not only an added benefit but an essential to an experience, an experience he would have the sublime way or no way at all.’

‘You have no right to lecture me. All the girls you talk about banging and–’

‘No one I have ever been with would have been my first if I could do it again. Your first time is either a funny anecdote you tell after a little herbal soothing or a revelation that silences the unbelievers. They can love you for being a fellow pauper or hate you for building the starlight castle.’

Abel looked to Nathan: ‘What do you think?’

‘What the hell do I know?’ replied the wingman. Out the window, he saw a rolling fog aglow with sunlight. ‘You’re still a judgmental douche, Amparo. We just came to hang out, get away from it all, but you’re putting all this baggage on everything. What happens will happen.’ He did not see the same armadillo that stood on the right of the street now walk down the left. Abel had seen it through the front windshield.

‘So why are the Tolesect on our cases?’ he asked.

Amparo turned back around and sighed. ‘The little recipe you gave me wasn’t original. They think I plagiarized documents that I should not have had access to. They are investigating leaks.’

‘Is this going to be a problem?’

‘I asked them to send you along because I assume your monkey friends intended this.’

‘You think this plant is the real deal then?’

‘Perhaps. I think something awaits us in Hyacintho. It does not necessarily have to be a Convallaria.’

Everyone was ready to not talk anymore. With a heavier gravity, they immersed their senses in the untamed green of the old world. The air smelled mossy. As the car slowed and sped up, they felt the heat settle on them like a blanket and whip about them in streams. Nathan established for himself a purpose. He would help Abel have a good time, whatever that meant. He had felt ashamed that Amparo, someone Abel did not like, had read his best friend so profoundly. Guys did not talk about love as being something special. It was something that came along, and, until then, you fooled around. You had fun. Some girl at a party had pulled him upstairs, giggling, into a room. She pushed him on to the bed, climbed on top of him, peeled her shirt off, and they did it. He never thought Abel, or any guy, was different. He wondered if it was worth thinking so much about everything. Why should he feel bad about something he did not care that much about at the time? Why should he tear up every memory tile of his life’s path to make himself miserable? He did not need to wonder if he had made a mistake, but he did not want to be that guy who pressured his friends into stuff. He did not need Abel to make the same decisions he had in order to make him feel better about his own choices. If Abel wanted love, he would help him avoid temptation. If Abel wanted to let it all go, they would get blasted and fly.

The trail emerged from the forest and unraveled under a corridor of sky. Clouds that seemed more of dusty ash than white vapor billowed through a violet and burning sky. Day had abruptly turned into evening. The vehicle crept up to a phone booth. It did not ring. A shrill scream. The entourage leaped from the car, ran to the hill’s crest, and saw a man on fire. He ran... staggered... crawled... and fell in the road below.

The driver lowered his head and closed his eyes. He touched his forehead, his chest, and each shoulder, drawing the cross. ‘He is free. He is at peace.’

‘Free from what?’ asked Nathan. He had not intended to speak.

‘The Malkardara. Nature’s curse.’

‘The daemil?’ inquired Amparo.

The driver nodded. Abel watched as a deer approached the blazing corpse. It bowed to nuzzle the man’s nose with its own and disappeared into the forest.



II.


From the top of the next hill, the travelling party saw Hyacintho nestled in the valley of the forested mountains. Clusters of square, stone buildings, painted white, were stacked along both shores of a muddy river. There was evening then night as the car rolled to a chugging stop before the town, its passengers asleep. Abel was the second to open his eyes, hearing the driver shut the door. Amparo stared outside, appearing to watch a specific occurrence. Abel nudged Nathan, who stirred awake. Their gazes fell upon the town of white blocks and white steps, the windows lit with a harsh pale glow. The driver approached a man under a streetlight holding a wooden board that supported an olive rotary telephone, its cord running along the ground and through the town’s main stone path. The phone rang a sharp, shrill ring. Amparo rushed from the car. Abel and Nathan followed at a more lethargic pace.

‘I’ll answer that,’ said the diabolist. The driver stepped to the side. Amparo cleared his throat, picked up the handset, and pressed it into his ear to muffle any sound. ‘Hello?’ He debated whether to relay his name and station. A click, the phone disconnected. He nodded authoritatively as if accepting orders and hung up the phone.



III.


Through the nameless alleys and steps, they were led to their rooms. Nathan peered through the windows, but the more his mind tried to probe the silver haze the more he lost his concentration. He gave the occasional restless huff that soon turned into a petty exasperation. The self-conscious etiquette of a stranger in a strange land could no longer stifle his frustration. Every building had an arched wooden door, and none of these doors marked their destination. When their pace slowed, when it seemed they were coming to a stop–they only turned a corner. He stopped trying to maintain a sense of direction. He was lost.

After walking up a flight of thirteen white steps... down a flight of five white steps... and over a white bridge, a river churning through a chasm of darkness below, he made his peace with the never-ending lethargy. He was not concerned with heading towards a terminus. He was relieved to be moving away from the agitated blackness. The guide stopped at three doors on the left. Nathan moaned. Lost in a maze of dead stone, left abandoned at the River Styx, he felt betrayed. Abel’s promise of a tropical retreat was a mission to stop the rising of the apocalypse in the town of the pale horseman.

Down the path, he saw closed doors and shining windows. However, on the right, there was a singular instance where the doors were open. A dingy yellow light, the drift and shimmer of dust and smoke, filled him with the warmth of a freshly baked apple pie. Nathan snatched his key from the guide and followed the beacon. Standing in the portal, he saw the scuffed floors, the wobbly tables, the polished bar, the glistening bottles on glass shelves, and, more gloriously, he smelled cigarette smoke grounded with the bright yet earthy body of whiskey. The smoke billowed. He entered. A dark skinned woman with auburn hair and violet eyes released a funnel of smoke from between her puckered lips. Her strapless mini dress was a glittering black. She looked at him with a glare of her eyes, and in an accent with a slight lisp, she said:

‘What the hell are you staring at, foreigner?’

Nathan smirked. ‘Give me a taste.’

She held the newly rolled cigarette before him. He raised his hand–she slapped it away. He leaned in, putting his lips around the hemp paper and took a drag. He coughed with his mouth closed, determined to preserve his dignity and to savor the charred nothingness that lightened his head and warmed his chest. How a substance could turn the invisible into something so heavy and still so heavenly was a magic he often contemplated. He never wanted to know the answer. He blew out the smoke and heard, like angels ringing bells, the sound of thick glass clanking and being smacked down. Three shot glasses on the bar, Abel waving him over–the night had just begun. They did not ask her name. She did not offer it. The shots commenced. Their glasses seemed enchanted. Once emptied, they blinked and were refilled. She slinked over to the jukebox, and, with a touch, a band took her requests. To the restless flirtation of gypsy flamenco guitars, the militant passion of a violin and snare in tango, the paso doble charge of trumpets and strings, they danced. Nathan submitted willingly, stumbling to her as if her hand’s slender fingers had conjured and pulled a chord tied around his waste. Abel hesitated. She released her leash and pouted. Nathan saw his buddy turn back around to face the bar and grasped him by the collar before once more being reeled in. They took turns pulling her in, swaying in circles around the room. She pulled them close, their heat pulsing, and she danced around them, clapping. Nathan pulled his best friend in by the neck. ‘You want a piece of this?’ he asked. He made a point to disconnect and look at Abel sincerely, indicating he had no obligation to say yes. Abel shook his head. Nathan jokingly pushed his friend away, grabbed the young woman as she swept past and lifted her up, spinning in circles. She laughed. He looked into her eyes, falling into their mystery. She lowered her head. He brought her to her feet. They kissed. They smirked. And they were gone.

Abel returned to the bar. He had played his part. He moved a single finger over the three glasses, and the bartender complied. Three shots down, a knock on the bar, another three down–and Abel felt a little better, a little less alone. He had wanted to just go to sleep. He did not want to follow Nathan to the bar, but he was on friend duty. When two guys went on vacation what else were they supposed to do but drink and hit on girls? Why did this seem like such a fun proposition when he invited him? While they danced, Abel felt off. Nathan and his new love existed in a world where heroes tamed bulls and bowed under a shower of roses. His friend was the champion. He was the animal posing as the monster, waiting to be defeated for a moment of glory. Nathan laughed as if this life was the only life he wanted. He danced as if he did not remember there was another world outside, its walls closing in. Abel used the alcohol as an excuse for his jerky bastardization of movement that was to pass for dancing. He used an obligation to a friend as a reason for pretending there was not something wrong with him. They saw romance. He saw a stage. He felt in tune enough to feel her, to see his comrade, but was always just out of sync, out of phase, feeling as if he was being pulled to somewhere else. He could not completely seal himself inside of the dream. He danced with his best friend and a beautiful girl, wanting it to be over. Now, he did not know what he wanted. He did not want to sit alone. He did not want to drink. But he sat. He drank. He wanted no one. He wanted someone.

His phone lay next to him. He picked it up. He stared, his gaze wandering the space between him and the device. It was someone he wanted to reach for, but in the blur of his swishing mind he could not remember who his person was. He was supposed to call Ilanya, but he thought that he had pushed past this. There was someone beyond her, but the idea of this person, a figure he sensed but did not see, made him embarrassed. Thinking there was a purpose to all of this–to living, to dancing, to knowing people–made him aware that he wanted such a thing, and being aware that he wanted such a thing–hope, love, a friend–made him aware of how alone he was. And being aware of how alone he was, made him aware of how pointless he was. Why did he wake every morning?

‘Are you okay?’ Her voice. She had returned. It was dark. He was not dialing a number on his phone. He had his head down on the counter, buried in his folded arms. He looked up.

‘Just tired, I guess.’ He wiped his hands over his face. It was not her. A twin. Her eyes golden, her hair black, her dress an innocent lace that flared into a skirt–he wanted her to offer him her hand. And she did. She smiled and held out her palm. He cried a tear and placed his hand in hers.

His room was bare. It reminded him of the janitor’s closet at his school. A skylight funneled a square patch of moonlight into the center of the space. In the dark, he saw the white porcelain sink with a large brown chip connected with a rusted pipe. Along the back wall was a cot. His companion walked around him and pulled a hanging chain–a light bulb turned on. She stood in front of the cot and reached behind her, unzipping her dress.

Abel pulled the chain again, returning them to darkness and milky moonlight. He picked up her dress from the floor and hung it on her shoulders. He slipped off her silver flats as she sat on the thin, sinking mattress. The springs creaked with every shift of their weight. She lay. He got on top of her, unbuttoning and unzipping his pants.



IV.


She said it was okay. ‘It happens to everyone.’ Abel laughed at her. He had been relieved. She was a chestnut of movie tropes, the instant nurturer who would reassure him and help him become a more loving, more open, man. He did not feel comforted.

‘I don’t feel less of a man just because I couldn’t pork some random girl whose name I don’t even know.’ He felt the need to say this. She needed to understand her insignificance in the grander panorama of his concerns. She could tell everyone. The town could stand along the streets, laughing and jeering, and he would not consider this a walk of shame. He did not respect people. He did not believe in them. Their judgments were petty. They would never face the demons he faced. They refused to even see them.

He sat on the cot. She lay behind him, her chin resting on his shoulder. She stroked his hair. At first, it was nice; now it felt patronizing. He was not her pet. He stood, buttoned and zipped himself up, and went for a walk.

Dusky puffs of clouds floated over the full moon. The air was humid, but the stars looked cold. He lived in summer, knowing that fall was all around them. A shadow moved over the street, and he saw a brown monkey. He smiled. He waved. The monkey ran up to him, leapt on his knee, and tugged on his clothes, climbing up to perch on his shoulder. It pointed. He followed. They left the village, returning to the jungle. A flickering trail of floating fireflies led him to a moonlit spot at the foot of a tree. A gathering of monkeys slumbered in a circle. Abel crept amongst them and lay. His escort curled up under his head, a pillow. He slept, and when he awoke, he awoke in a dream, a silver swamp where palm trees grew. The stars fell from the sky in blazing trails. The wet earth was cool under his feet. He peered into the glistening waters and saw ripples fanning over the surface. Carmine Lassiter swam between the tree trunks and then dipped into the depths. Abel hastily kicked off his shoes, peeled off his shirt and shorts, and ran into the water, diving in. Frogs and fish dove and darted through beams of light. He swam to where he last saw Carmine and found him with his back against a trunk. Overcome with a lightness, a brightness, an implicit certainty, Abel approached, taking Carmine in his arms, and kissed him. Carmine placed his hand on the back of Abel’s head, lowered the other hand under the band of his boxers, and Abel pushed off the trunk. They floated. Abel whispered a voiceless thank you and sunk deeper into the ecstasy that curled his toes, a love that pooled into a sparkling tear.



V.


Morning. Abel returned to the real world, a world he no longer wanted to claim. Abel wondered if he and Carmine could have created a new universe, the water an ocean of twinkling tears, joy like air, an infinite force breathed without will. The paradise of Hyacintho was a lie he could not tolerate. He needed to get back home. He wanted to go to school and sit with Carmine, hearing him go on about festivals, and gourmet bake sales, and promotional campaigns, and quarter exams. He realized that those moments sitting in the rotunda and in class, in front of the window overlooking the sprawling lawn and amphitheater, alone before the teacher started lecturing–he realized these were good moments. And that was his life. His life was good.

‘No surprise,’ said Amparo, jarring Abel back to purpose. ‘The exorcist thinks he doesn’t need to listen. Heaven forbid he learns something.’

‘I’m listening,’ said Abel.

‘What did I say?’

Abel spontaneously replayed the last words his consciousness had recorded. ‘You said the flowers were supposed to be white.’

They stood in rubber boots and rubber overalls, waist deep in a marsh. Crimson blood grass grew from patches of soil bobbing up and down with the gentle wave of the waters. At the flood plain’s heart, from the mud, emerged a thick stalk splitting into two broad leaves. A single stem continued upward, arching over and sprouting the soft white petals, like little round cups with the edges curled back.

‘No,’ replied Amparo. He did not like talking. He imagined the algal scent seeping into his mouth. He was nauseated. ‘You had said the flowers were white, but there was a purple orb where one of the flowers should be–not to mention the other anomalies you described of how this daemil is growing. I said you most likely see a berry, and the berry should be red. If I can’t see this ridiculous flower, then it is a daemil. I’ll now have to assume that all the local reports are not just the desperately superstitious ramblings of a simple people but are in fact facts. And how long will that take, you ask, to sort through all the nonsense? Oh I don’t know, I reply, long enough for my career to die an insignificant death.’

‘The girl Nate hooked up with had purple eyes.’

‘Come here.’ Amparo gazed up at the invisible entity before him. Abel came closer. ‘Lean in and tell me if you see something,’ continued the researcher.

Abel followed the command. He saw wisps of violet light, like smoke. He reported his observation.

Amparo tapped his chin and smiled. ‘The reports did mention that at night a mysterious light led the children to this place. Unfortunately, they never made it to the flower so there are no ideas as to what this daemil’s purpose is.’

‘What happened to them?’

‘To whom?’

‘The children.’

‘They drowned of course.’

Amparo furrowed his eyebrows. Abel’s distracting line of inquiry threatened to evaporate his own, more important, thoughts, which were beginning to coalesce into a conclusion. ‘So our wonderful daemil is collecting life force. The children would have been a pure source of soul energy, but I guess it settled for the sexual vitality of a hormonal teen.’

‘A girl with yellow eyes hit on me too. They were twins.’

‘And you just assumed, as you are God’s greatest creation, that it was natural for a pretty girl from a foreign land to lust for the honor of a night with you. You never thought she could have wanted something, even if it was just to wait until you passed out and surgically remove your kidneys.’

‘The odds are usually in my favor, and I’m nothing if not a man of chances.’ He clicked his tongue. ‘I didn’t think you believed in God.’

‘I don’t believe in any force worth praying to. A greater intelligence guides Life, and our puny, selfish thoughts will not deter the divine mind from its nature. I sometimes believe you can synchronize with the frequencies of this Life source and find peace, but people are infuriatingly stupid and being a blissed out clown strikes me as ineffective and flat. I’ll take the frustration and pain that is often the afterbirth of passion.’

‘Yeah, I understand that.’

‘Do you?’

The flowers’ auras intensified, concentrating in effervescence around the blooms.

‘I think it likes you,’ said Amparo.

‘You saw that?’

‘Yes, I did.’

The diabolist smiled, awestruck. He had prayed once. He wanted life to sculpt him into someone worthy of seeing spirits. Abel wished that he could appreciate the ability to see the unseen, to somehow find a blessing in the burden. He hoped Amparo could always seize fulfillment in seeing the daemil, but, if he could see them live, then he would soon see them destroyed.

Amparo wiped away tears, feeling foolish. He remembered that he was not special and quickly found a deduction that supported his smallness. ‘It’s the aura. The power is so concentrated that it becomes visible. Anyone can see it. And we need to get you away from it. End times and all.’

‘You think this is it, doom and gloom?’

‘No. I think we have been complicit in a plot more self-fulfilling than destined. The lilies of the valley are a legend that the Tolesect exercises a half-measure of caution towards. The first point is who wanted this flower to collect your essence?’

‘Maybe we should hack it down.’

‘For once, I agree with your crude instinct. But you understand we will also kill the girl with purple eyes? She is its recumon.’

The exorcist unsheathed a rugged black machete from within his overalls. He raised the blade over his head, prepared to lash, but, in the distance, he saw the amber-eyed girl in lace. She walked on the water, ripples emanating from her bare feet. Abel handed his weapon to Amparo:

‘Hack it down if I yell.’

Amparo saw nothing in Abel’s grasp. He understood his exorcist had intended to pass an object to him by the gesture of his arm. ‘I don’t see it. Is that how you’ve been killing the daemil? What is it?’

‘Do you see her?’

‘My eyes tell me we are alone.’

‘Fine. Start heading back. I’ll handle this.’

‘I’ll find the lily of the valley’s recumon. Perhaps Nathan can help.’

‘Don’t bother. She’s dead.’

Amparo did not ask how Abel had reached this inference. He sensed the gravity compounding into a smothering air and waded back through the water. The exorcist continued forward. Under the water, Abel had seen a pale snake slithering through the murky depths. A body, its skin appearing cold, draped in a glittering black dress, was in its mouth. The daemil released the corpse. It glided towards him. The demon turned around and swam in a circle. Its mistress stood at its center. She shrugged with a childish exasperation and looked to the sky as if the clouds danced. Her appearance fell away in a deluge of water, pooling around her. She stood, her skin dark, her hair braided, her eyes black. Valnesse Ibori came down from the heavens and waved to Abel.

‘You look angry,’ she said, puzzled.

‘I thought we had a deal.’

‘We do. Which is why I came to help. If this little chica had it her way, she would have sucked you dry last night.’

‘You were playing games.’

‘Girls have needs too. And why not have a little fun after being imprisoned for a couple of eternities? And don’t worry, your performance, or lack thereof, will remain between us in the interest of a healthy alliance.’

‘Why did she want me dead?’

‘Oh... any exorcist would have done. The lily of the valley believes a soul like ours can sustain its existence in our world. It can gobble up a human here and there, but sooner or later, it always dies, only to wait for another reincarnation.’

Abel hurled his blade at Valnesse. The snake threw its body out of the water, and the spinning machete sunk into its underbelly. It collapsed with a splash that rocked Valnesse.

‘That was wasteful for both of us,’ she said.

He had thought of his machete as the purest manifestation of himself. Still, it served her. Every demon he slayed gave her the power to overcome the daemil that imprisoned her. She pulled the greatest part of his self from her creature’s flesh. The water swirled around him, rushing him forth, raising him up. She plunged the edge through his gut. He screamed. She opened his incision, spilling blood over her hands. It dripped on the undulating water, and she saw, nestled in his intestines, a coiled snake asleep. She slid her hand between the scales and pulled at a pink appendage. She felt wet feathers. Gently feeling the hollow bones, she held the wing out. Abel breathed in panicked gasps. Numb, only feeling the cold of the gushing water that suspended him, he witnessed the demon dormant in his bowels.

‘I don’t know why you looked surprised,’ said Valnesse. ‘All exorcists know what they are. Although, I suppose a flying snake is a little too mythic even for my own fabled sensibilities.’

They were not recumon. They were not those who embraced the seductions of demons. They mastered the daemil as servants of Man. He had slept in a chamber for three weeks. He was fifteen. He only remembered a dream, a snake in a tree, and his life as something different–someone who lived in truth–began.

She throttled the snake, pressing her thumb against its head. Its jaw snapped open. From her braids, she pulled out a bluish-gray feather and inserted it down the snake’s throat. She returned the daemil to its bed and pulled out the blade. The rush of pain sent his eyes rolling back. He fainted. The water lowered him.


Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-18 show above.)