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PART ONE - BERANABUS
Chapter 1 THE SNATCH
A demon shaped like a giant scorpion digs its stinger into a woman's eyes. As they pop, it spits eggs into the bloody sockets, then watches with its almost human face as the eggs hatch and wriggling maggots feast on her flesh.
Another demonic beast-it looks like a cute rabbit, though it has an ugly bulge on its back-vomits over a man and his two children. The acidic liquid sizzles and dissolves them down to the bone.
A third footman of the Demonata runs after an air hostess. He has the body of a young boy, but his head is larger than an adult's, he has a wig of living lice instead of hair and fire burns in the holes where his eyes should be. He also has two extra mouths in the palms of his hands. The teeth of both are eagerly snapping open and shut as he chases the screaming air hostess.
All the people on the plane are screaming-except those who've already been killed-and it's music to the ears of the demon master, Lord Loss. He hovers in the aisle, mouth twisted into a sad smile, red eyes distant. A few of his eight arms twitch in rhythm with the screams, like a conductor's at an orchestra. Then his eyes snap back into focus and he turns his gaze on me.
"You should not have humiliated me, Grubitsch," Lord Loss says, still furious about the time I beat him at chess. "You should have fought fairly, faithful to the spirit of the contest, and won or lost on merit alone. You ruined chess for me. For many centuries it was my only other source of joy. Now I have just the agony and torture of humans to keep me amused."
He slowly drifts down the aisle towards me, the strands of flesh that pass for his legs floating a few centimetres above the floor. The tiny snakes in the hole where his heart should be are writhing, hissing hatefully, spitting venom in my direction. Blood is flowing from the many cracks in his pale red skin. The holes above his upper lip-he has no nose-quiver wildly as he gleefully inhales the stench of terror from the doomed passengers. His dark red eyes are dilated with morbid pleasure. All eight arms are extended. Some of his mangled hands brush the heads and cheeks of humans as he passes, as if he is obscenely blessing them. The white-haired, pink-eyed albino traitor, Juni Swan, is behind him, smiling serenely.
A woman clasping a baby falls to her knees in front of Lord Loss, sobbing painfully. "Please!" she cries. "Not my child. Have mercy on my baby. Don't kill him. I beg you!"
"Suffer unto me the little children," Lord Loss murmurs blasphemously, taking the baby with three of his hands. He strokes the boy's face and the baby laughs. Lord Loss passes him to Juni. "For you, my darling swan."
"You are generous to a fault, my lord," she smiles, then kisses the infant.
"No!" I scream. But it's too late. A moment later she tosses the grey remains of the baby aside, having sucked his fragile life from him. The child's mother chokes, eyes wide with disbelief and horror. Lord Loss bends and breathes in her sorrow, sighs contentedly, then moves on, leaving her to the lesser demons.
Sick with fear, I back away from the approaching demon master. There are several empty rows behind me-the other passengers have fled to the tail of the plane. Lord Loss makes a small humming noise. "At last you move. I thought I might wring no sport from you today."
"Leave them alone," I snarl, hands knotted into trembling fists. "It's me you want, so let the others go."
"I cannot do that, Grubitsch," Lord Loss sighs. "My familiars are hungry. I promised them food. You would not ask me to break my word, would you?"
"My master always keeps his promises," Juni chuckles.
I focus on her. The fair-faced but black-hearted cuckoo in the nest. She acted like my mother. I loved her. I let her steal me away from Dervish. And all the time she was plotting against me. "Harpy!" I sob. "What the hell are you-a demon in disguise?"
"I don't have that honour," she replies smoothly. "I'm merely a human like you. In fact I'm from the same family tree, believe it or not. But unlike you and your fool of an uncle, I chose to serve those greater than ourselves, rather than vainly battle with them."
"You sold us out!" I shout. Then confusion kicks in. "But... I don't understand. In Slawter, when we trying to escape from the demons, you helped us."
"No," she smiles. "That was all a pretence. When I first visited your house with Davida Haym, I used magic to convince Dervish to come to Slawter and bring you and Bill-E with him. On the set it was my job to win your confidence. I found out your secrets, so we could use them against you.
"I played you like pawns," she boasts. "I had you thinking I was one of your pathetic group, a trusted ally. I let you make escape plans and even allowed you to act on them-it would have been more delicious if you failed with freedom in sight. At the end, just before you breached the barrier, I meant to reveal my true self and turn you over to my master. And I would have, except..."
"You were knocked unconscious," I gasp, remembering the dying demon who clubbed her in its death throes.
Juni nods bitterly. "By the time I recovered, it was too late. I paused to silence Chuda Sool-he knew the truth about me-then departed to join my master and plot our next approach."
"We had not planned to strike so soon," Lord Loss says. He's come to a stop three metres away, enjoying my growing understanding of how we were betrayed. "I could sense the magic within you, even though you hid it masterfully. I didn't want to move on you until I knew precisely what I'd have to deal with. But then Juni had a vision."
"I catch glimpses of the future," Juni says smugly. "I saw you change into a werewolf a few months before it happened."
"I could not wait any longer," Lord Loss sighs. "I wished to punish you while you were human-there would be no satisfaction in killing a senseless animal. So I set a watch on you. I'm a fine judge of werewolves. I was confident of timing it so that I struck just prior to the final turning-I liked the idea of letting you suffer the agonies of the impending change for as long as possible."
"It all fell neatly into place in the end," Juni smirks. "I was planning to come to Carcery Vale, looking for an excuse to explain my return. When your friend died, I donned my psychologist's disguise, disposed of William Mauch and replaced him. You and Bill-E couldn't have been more welcoming. And Dervish... Well, he was positively overjoyed to see me."
"You betrayed us," I snarl, blinking away angry tears.
"You were easy to betray," she murmurs. I can see the wickedness in her eyes. How did I ever miss it? "Dervish fell for my pretty pink eyes and cool white skin. He never looked into my heart. I didn't even have to use magic on him-he fell in love with me of his own accord. The sap."
I feel magic flare within me when she says that. Howling, I bring my fists up. Energy shoots from my knuckles, a ball of pure, invisible power. I direct it at Juni, meaning to blast her into a million fleshy pieces.
Alarm ripples across her eyes. She starts to cast a protective spell, but it's too late. I'm going to destroy her, rip her atoms apart and...
Lord Loss sticks out four of his arms. He blocks Juni from the force of my blow and absorbs the energy. Flinches, staggers back a few metres, then rights himself and smiles.
"You are powerful, Grubitsch, but untrained. Perhaps, if you had spent more time learning the ways of magic, you would be able to control that great force and defend yourself and these other unfortunate victims. But you ran from your responsibility. Therefore you-and all around you-will die."
I scream at him, then unleash a second blast of magic energy, more powerful than the first. It strikes him in the middle of his chest, drives him back several metres. He knocks Juni to the floor and almost loses his balance. But then he straightens and laughs. Brushes away drops of blood as if cleaning fluff from a jacket.
"Have you finished or do you want to try again?" he asks. "Maybe you will be luckier the third time. What do you think, Miss Swan?"
Juni's getting back to her feet, irate at having been knocked down. "I think we should take him now and drop the games," she snaps.
"'Take me'?" I repeat. "Take me where?"
"My realm," Lord Loss says. "You surely didn't think I'd kill you here, along with these meaningless others, quickly and cleanly? Dear me, no. You robbed me of my great joy in life- chess. You must pay properly for that, in the universe of the Demonata, where time passes oh so slowly, where I can torture your soul for a thousand years... maybe more."
"A bit harsher than detention after school, wouldn't you say?" Juni sneers.
"Artery," Lord Loss calls. The child-shaped demon with fire instead of eyes pulls his head out of the air hostess's stomach cavity and looks up, guts dribbling down his chin.
"Spine," Lord Loss says. The giant scorpion sheathes its stinger and regards its master from the ceiling, where it's hanging upside-down.
"Femur," Lord Loss finishes, and the rabbit dike demon hops on to the head of a corpse, acid frothing from its lips.
Lord Loss points beyond me to where the majority of the survivors are huddled, terrified and weeping. "Make quick work of them. We must leave soon, before our window home closes."
The familiars laugh horrifically, then race towards me. I flinch as the monstrous creatures draw level, but they veer around and leave me untouched. Screams behind-then awful ripping, munching, stabbing, sizzling sounds.
I don't look back. Part of me wants to. Maybe my magic would work against the familiars. Perhaps I could kill them. But I dare not turn my back on Lord Loss. The demon master is the greatest threat. If I let him attack me from behind, I'm definitely doomed.
Hell, who am I trying to kid? I'm doomed anyway. He's shown he can take my worst and shrug it off. I might as well surrender and get it over and done with. And if he promised me a quick death, maybe I'd take that way out. But I don't like the sound of a millennium of torture in his webbed, wicked world. I'm not going to willingly sacrifice myself to such a miserable fate. If he wants to turn me into one of his long-term playthings, he'll have to fight for me.
"Come on then, you lumpy, ugly amateur!" I yell, backing away from him. "You think you can take me? You're wrong. You'll fail, just like you failed to beat me at chess and kill me in Slawter. You're pathetic!"
Lord Loss's face twists. His arms extend towards me. Power crackles in the air as fierce magic gathers in his misshapen fingertips. I bid farewell to life and steel myself to die.
Then his expression mellows and his arms drop. "No, Grubitsch," he chuckles. "I won't be provoked. You hope to goad me into killing you swiftly. A clever ploy, but I shall not fall for your trick. I came to take you and take you I will. I'll kill you later, when we are..."
A burst of heat to my left makes him pause. It's coming from the wall of the cabin. I glance at it, expecting another of Lord Loss's familiars to appear. The wall's glowing with a white, hot, magical light.
"Master?" Juni says uncertainly as Lord Loss draws to a halt.
"Quiet," he snaps.
They don't know what it is!
I move closer to the light, ignoring the heat, figuring if this is something Lord Loss isn't controlling, it can only be good news. Maybe the plane is coming apart and this is the start of a giant explosion. If so, I want to be caught square in the blast. That would wipe the smirk from the demon master's wretched mush.
An oval hole appears in the side of the plane. About two metres from bottom to top and a metre wide. I see a man through the hole, outside, clinging to the wing of the plane. It's the tramp! He's been following me for the last few weeks, waiting to see if I turned into a werewolf. He was lurking near my house last night when I burst free of the cellar where Dervish had me caged. I thought he was one of the Lambs-werewolf executioners par excellence-but now I'm starting to have doubts.
The tramp half leans into the cabin and stretches out a hand to me, holding on to the wing of the plane with his other hand as a fierce, unearthly wind whips at his hair and clothes. "Boy!" he shouts. "Come with me. Now!"
"No!" Lord Loss and Juni scream at the same moment.
Lord Loss's arms snap up and he unleashes a magical shot of energy at the tramp. But the white light around the edges of the hole absorbs the power and disperses it in a shower of crackling sparks.
I'm staring stupidly at the tramp, jaw slack, mind in a spin.
"Boy!" the tramp shouts again. "I can't take another blast like that. Come now or die."
I look from the tramp to Lord Loss and Juni. Their faces are filled with hate. Juni's muttering a spell, lips moving incredibly fast. Lord Loss is readying himself for a second shot at the tramp.
A quick look in the other direction. Artery, Spine and Femur are rushing up the aisle, desperate to pin me down.
I face Lord Loss again, grin and flip him the finger. Then I dive towards the tramp, sticking out my right hand. The tramp grabs it and hurls me through the hole. He shouts a word of magic and the hull of the plane starts to close. I hear Lord Loss bellow with fury. Then the hole seals itself and there's only the roaring howl of the wind.
I realise I'm clinging to a tramp on the wing of an aeroplane, thousands of metres above the face of the earth. I have a split second to marvel at the craziness of that. Then the wind grabs us. We're ripped loose. The plane soars onwards.