People up there were crying out in confusion, and everyone was in a mass panic. Ushers had already reached the girl who had tried to jump, who was holding her head like something was trying to come out of it, thrashing in a seat with Max trying to hold her down. Jacob was nowhere in sight.
I ran over. “They have her!”
Max nodded and in his eyes I saw that same look that was in Jacob’s when he told me the story about Yvette and how he had failed her. Max had failed Dawn. We’d all failed her once again.
When another usher and what looked to be a medic of sorts had reached the girl, Max let go, confident that they would be able to restrain her. I looked around me frantically, my heart breaking piece by piece at the utter helplessness I felt. “Where did they take her? Where’s Jacob?”
He looked at me blankly, overcome by his failure. Like fuck I’d let him feel sorry for himself now. I reached over and punched him hard in the chest. That woke him up. He took a step back and knitted his brows together. Finally he said, “I think I know.”
He ran out of the crowd, and I followed hot on his heels. We escaped into the stormy night. Signposts were swining in the wind and people were huddled under dark coats. Max didn’t slow down once; he just kept running down the slippery stone streets, dodging cars and people until we turned off onto a narrow, curving lane.
“Where are we going?” I called out after him, surprised I wasn’t out of breath yet.
“I’m not sure,” he said over his shoulder.
“That’s fucking great.”
“I can feel where Dawn is,” he said. “She’s been bonded to me.”
Well, that was fucking great, too. I should have been bonded to her. I should have been the one to “feel” her. I had to shake those thoughts out of my head, though, because this was not the time to get jealous. This was the time to get her back. To save her as she once saved me.
We kept going until the adrenaline was wearing off and I was finally feeling the strain in my muscles and lungs. “How much farther?” I asked.
He stopped so suddenly that I nearly ran into his back.
It looked like we’d run to the outskirts of town, where the buildings tapered off into bombed-out remains of buildings and overgrown weeds. The river snaked nearby, the water roughed up from the wind. There was a small graveyard in front of us with toppled-over tombstones. Behind it were three white walls standing up and a door half off the hinges. It was the skeleton of a church before it had been blasted from above, probably from World War II.
“Did you purposely pick the creepiest place in all of Prague?” I asked uneasily.
He turned to face me, his face half-covered by shadows. “You haven’t seen anything yet. Come on and be quiet.”
We walked slowly, carefully through the nest of weeds, picking our way toward the front door. “How are they inside?”
“They’re not,” Max said as he was about to step into the church. “They’re underground. In the crypt.”
Inside the crumbling walls of the old church, nature had started to take the building back. There was nothing left, save for a few pews that were covered in layers of grime and mold, which shone dully in the glow of the lights by the river. Max examined the remaining standing walls, peering up at them then at the floor, which was both stone and earth. Having a flashlight would have made things a lot easier.
“Here,” Max whispered. He was standing where the altar would be. Behind him there was no wall, just a straight shot view to the dark and gleaming river. The breeze funneled off the water and messed up his hair.
I walked over and tried to see what he was looking at. There was a square of wood in the earth, part of it moved to the side so you could see a black slit. If I concentrated really hard, I could almost see a light flickering somewhere.
Max knelt down and carefully picked up the wooden slab. He put it to the side, and we both stared down into a black pit. A rotten stench billowed up from it and I was right, I could see a very faint light wavering from deep below.
“We’re going down there?” I grimaced, trying not to breathe in the smell.
“It’s where Dawn is,” he said. “And most likely Jacob.”
I took in a deep breath. Max slowly lowered himself into the pit, finding the rungs of a ladder, and I followed right after him. The ladder was moist and cold to touch, old rotted wood that I hoped would carry our weight.
I heard Max drop to the ground, the sound echoing around us. I let go after my feet left the last rung and looked around. It was black around us, and I could feel the walls were close. I stuck my hand out and hit something rounded and smooth.
Max walked toward the light and the closer we got, the more I could see we were in a tunnel of sorts. The light was coming from what looked like hundreds of lit candles in an open cavern dead ahead. And with that illumination, I could see the walls more clearly. I had touched bones earlier. The whole tunnel was made out of bones, bodies after bodies of grinning skulls and pelvises and hands and femurs and ribs, sometimes skulls inside of rib cages, and it was all around us.
I stopped, taking it all in, trying to breathe, but Max touched my shoulder and nodded forward to the entrance to the cavern. He put his hand to his ear, motioning for me to listen.
I could hear voices. Whispers at first but growing louder. Finally a laugh, a high-pitched squeal. There was nothing funny about it.
Max and I crept forward until we were at the entrance then dropped to the ground, my head right beside a macabre-looking skull with jewels below its jaw, buried here with a necklace that was probably worth a fortune. I wondered how long this crypt had been here and if anyone else knew about it. You’d think that grave robbers would have already cleaned out the place. Perhaps it didn’t even exist on the map…or in the world.
Jacob’s voice came loud and clear. “You know this is against the rules. That this not how the world is run.”
“She agreed to the deal,” said Alva. The sound of her made my brain feel like it was getting peeled away, layer by layer. “She made the deal. This is only fair.”
“It’s not fair,” Jacob boomed. “This goes against everything that the laws were built on.”
I inhaled long and deep, readying myself, then peered around the corner.
Jacob, Alva, Sonja, and Dawn were standing in the middle of a large, cavernous space made of human skeletons. There were hundreds of candles lit, some on shelves made of skulls, others large figures on the ground, pooling with wax. The shadows danced in the bones, making the skeletons look alive. Perhaps they were alive. Perhaps they were all watching me.
In the middle of the room was an altar made of shedding, bleeding deer antlers. Dawn and Alva were on one side, the side furthest from me, with Alva holding on to her. Dawn stared at the ground right in front of her as if in a daze. I hoped for her sake she was completely out of it.
On the other side of the bleeding altar was Jacob, Sonja’s claws in his arm. I didn’t know how she was able to keep Jacob at bay, but whatever she was doing, it was working.
“Look,” Jacob went on, determination in his brow, the kind he got when he was arguing with a promoter who had stiffed us our pay, “regardless if Dawn made the bloody deal, if she doesn’t remember it, it doesn’t stand. Someone has to consciously be in their right mind. They have to be aware of what they are doing. From the way you describe it and from the way Dawn tells it, she can’t be held responsible. She must have been in a frenzy of sorts, perhaps even sleepwalking. But you can’t act on it. You’ve done enough already.”
“And yet it’s not enough,” came the raspy, almost mechanical voice of pure Evil. I heard it—felt it—all the way into my marrow, sinking through like maggots in a ripe fruit. A tall, dark figure came out of the shadows. In fact, he might have always been the shadows themselves. It was hard to see him properly from where I was on the ground, with just my eyes peeping around the corner, but he looked to have a cloak, something similar to the Grim Reaper’s, but made from squirming black centipedes. And like the Reaper, his face was nothing but a bare skull—except for the tiny yellow gumballs he had for eyes, sitting like feverish suns in his empty sockets.
The candles nearest him went out. The whole room hushed. Even Alva and Sonja seemed quiet and submissive in his presence.
And why not? I knew it in my heart of hearts who this was. Lucifer. The Prince of Darkness. El Diablo.
And he had his putrid little eyes set on Dawn.
“What do you even want with her?” Jacob asked quietly. His face was sweating, shiny in the wavering glow. I wondered if he was becoming physically ill just standing there. I wondered when I could do something. When I had to rush in and save her and what the hell I could actually do. But I had to do something—anything.
As if sensing what I was thinking, Max reached out and grabbed my arm, warning me with his eyes. We looked back.
The man was closer to Dawn now, right behind her. Dawn was still standing, staring at the same spot with vacant eyes, though now she was starting to sway slightly.
“I want what is owed,” he rasped. “I want her soul. She may not remember what she’s done, but we do. We decided to…humor her. All she wanted, all she begged me for was for her retarded brother to get better, her lazy father to stop drinking, her whore mother to come back. She also, if you did not already know, wanted the world to remember her name. She wanted respect. And she wanted true love.” He cackled to himself, a sound that reminded me of cracking bones. “True love was something I wasn’t even going to consider. I thought I’d take her up on some of the deal since it wasn’t completely fair. But the true love came anyway. What an added bonus for me.”
My heart warmed at that. It felt odd in my chest, which had grown so black and cold.
Jacob licked his lips. “If you admit it’s not fair, then just let it go.”
The Devil’s head snapped up, spiders crawling out of the dark slashes in his nose and disappearing into the cloak of centipedes. “I can’t let it go after everything we’ve done for her.”
“Then just let it go. Let her go. Take it all away then, but just spare her life.” Jacob was practically begging now.
If the Devil had a proper face, I would have sworn he was frowning, actually considering it. The weight in my chest dissipated for just that second. Then he growled, “No. This can be a lesson then, for everyone in this rotten little world, that you have to be careful what you wish for. Dawn can go down in history as the example. Besides, I feel like we were a tad screwed over with the Sage contract.” Suddenly the Devil’s attention was on me. His jaw opened like he was smiling. Alva, Sonja, and Jacob all followed his gaze, and I heard Max sigh beside me. They’d all spotted us. There was no use in hiding, but we stayed put, anyway.
He went on, those sickly yellow spheres locked on me. I could feel him in my head. I could feel the fear of billions of souls, all dying over and over again for eternity. This was his way of telling me where Dawn was going. This was his way of showing me true fear. “It feels quite satisfying to finally take the last thing that Sage Knightly loved.”
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com