The Haunting Hour (TWH #2)

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ii. arcade

The Ark

Unknown Location

AMALIA KNEW SHE was going to get an earful from former Counselor Supreme Andromeda Cassius as soon as she, Ross, and Samuel stepped over the threshold of the main administrative tent of the Ark.

Sitting around the large circular table was the remainder of the supernatural world’s leaders: Andromeda, the head of the Polaris coven, Thalia Johnson, the representative head of the Storm coven, Cassandra Storm, and several other former Counselors and DSD leadership that stood against Marcus and the Circle.

Andromeda was sitting at the head of the table and had a clear view of when Amalia sulked into the tent behind the boys. Her mesmerizing green eyes flicked from her to the seat Amalia was supposed to occupy with leadership as she was the representative head of Winterstorm.

The look was very much akin to the look a mother would give their child when they were misbehaving in public. The one that said, “I can’t deal with you now, but I will later”.

Steeling herself against the curious glances of the adults in the room, Amalia took a seat in between Thalia Johnson and Devyn Adler, Zara’s guardian and now named head of the Division of Supernatural Defense--or what’s left of it.

“Before we discuss the problem at the border,” Andromeda began once the latecomers were settled around the table. “We have a few updates from the mortal realm and the Hell dimension. Cassandra?”

Zara’s aunt cleared her throat and looked around the table with her hazel eyes before beginning. “As of now, the supernatural population in New Orleans remains safe within the mortal realm. My son has determined that Marcus’s forces are not presently interested in dealing with Bernard Francois’s territory.”

“What happens if that changes?” One of the ex-Counselors, Glenn Blake, presses. “Most fear the savagery of the French Quarter, but with a standing army, Marcus can take over the region and gain some of the most formidable witches across the dimensions.”

Devyn shook her head from next to Amalia, blonde strands falling out of her messy ponytail when she does so. “That may be so, but Marcus would lose a substantial amount of his army just trying to get in. Bernard and his witches will burn any non-Voodoo practitioner to the ground if they are within a five-mile radius of the Quarter.”

“I’ve done a large amount of research on how Bernard keeps tight control over the quarter,” Richard Wrath adds from the other side of the table. “Only four people in the world know how to slip into the Quarter undetected and the only two people that have ever done it are dead.”

From the way his voice broke at the end, Amalia knew he was referring to his wife and daughter. She tried to ignore the stab in her chest at the mention of Zara and the room shifted in an uncomfortable beat of silence.

Richard sulked back against his seat and held his gaze on the center of the table. Amalia knew he hadn’t been coping well, and before she had left, Richard was drinking heavily, talking to himself, and refusing to attend these meetings.

Something must’ve changed in the two weeks Amalia was gone.

“We’ll closely monitor the situation in the Quarter,” Andromeda finally spoke, maintaining her air of professionalism. “If need be, Cassandra, you’ll have to be the one to talk to Bernard about a temporary alliance.”

Cassandra let out a careful sigh, “It won’t be easy, but I’ll see what I can do.”

Andromeda nods once at her response. “Any other news from the mortal realm? What’s our status update on the Winterstorm Palace?”

Amalia shifted uncomfortably at the mention of her home. Thanks to the information Amalia, Ross, and Samuel had given Amalia’s mother, Winterstorm was one of the few supernatural strongholds with Circle members that couldn’t be spelled and taken over. When Amalia arrived at the Ark, she’d expected her mother to be here but instead, it was her uncle.

He told them that Aleksandra Romanov had secured her stronghold in Moscow, but couldn’t leave it undefended in the case that there was a need to have another Ark operation running in the mortal realm. Andromeda agreed to the plan, but right before Amalia left, Winterstorm had gone dark and was no longer responding.

“Nothing yet,” Devyn sighed. “We might need to send a small recon team to Russia if Aleksandra is refusing to respond.”

Andromeda hummed and turned to Amalia, “We need to talk, but if your mother doesn’t reach out within the next two days, I’d like you to lead the recon team to Moscow.”

“With all due respect,” Amalia began to protest but was quickly cut off by Andromeda’s cool stare.

“It wasn’t a suggestion, Romanov,” Andromeda warned. “Samuel and Ross will go with you, considering that they’re familiar with the castle.”

Great, Amalia thought sarcastically. The last thing she wanted was to go and see her mother, the one that couldn’t be bothered to check if she was alive or not.

“Nikkole,” Andromeda shifted her attention over to the Erinyes twins sitting next to their father. “Have we heard anything from Lillian?”

The black-haired, darker-skinned girl nodded but didn’t seem to be a bearer of good news. “Lil’s doing everything she can to figure out what Leviathan’s doing and what he’s planning, but it appears he went underground about a week and a half ago.”

Andromeda’s jaw ticked in annoyance. “What about Asmodeus?” If Amalia didn’t know any better, the name of Berith’s brother left Andromeda’s mouth with an air of familiarity.

“Berith’s still tracking him,” Nikkole informed her. “They’re down to his last possible location, so we might hear something in a few days.”

“I know things are more complicated down there, but Lillian needs to get us a hit on Leviathan’s location,” Andromeda paces in front of the room. “Knowing where he is can help us figure out what he’s up to and how he’s communicating with Marcus.”

Amalia tried not to roll her eyes when Zander interjected. “Figuring out how the two are communicating is a priority right now,” He says from his spot next to Samuel. “If we can break that line of communication, we can slow them down.”

“I’ve been doing the best I can, reading up on the Hell dimension,” Ross adds from Zander’s left. “But it’s been hard to separate fact from fiction and I could use a set of eyes that have more experience with this stuff on it.”

“Okay,” Andromeda says as the gears turn visibly in her head. “Nehemiah can help you with your research and Richard as well. When Lillian figures things out with Leviathan, we’ll ask her to come back to the Ark for a debrief.”

“What about the border?” Devyn asks. “We can’t leave here until we have a solid plan on how to handle the growing attacks.”

“My question is how the hell did anyone figure out that the Ark’s here in the first place?” Samuel asks gruffly. “This place isn’t charted--no one should’ve been able to figure our location out.”

Andromeda sighs, “We have to consider the possibility that the recent attacks could just be a coincidence. Marcus has taken control over every major part of the Second Plane, his demons could just be aimlessly wandering.”

“Or not,” Thalia Johnson counters tactically. “We could be dealing with an information leak, or worse, bad luck. We’ve been here for six months--Marcus could’ve ordered an expedition across the entire realm which could be done in that timeframe. We need a plan.”

“I agree,” Conner adds from directly across the table. “We need to either start prepping for a full-scale battle or come up with a mass evacuation plan.”

“Evacuate to where?” Ross asks exasperatedly. ”This was Plan B. The mortal realm is not safe and we can’t go to the Hell dimension.”

The room immediately burst into several overlapping conversations about the pros and cons of leaving or starting a war with Marcus on the Second Plane. Amalia tried not to get overwhelmed by it all, but she couldn’t think about anything other than the information she’d gathered from the outside and all this bickering was not helping her process.

“Okay!” Amalia cried out over all the voices. She didn’t expect everyone to stop talking at the sound of her voice but they did. Which was pleasantly surprising.

“What if,” Amalia began carefully. “What if we slowly took back all of the major covens, houses, and wolfpack strongholds across the globe?”

She hadn’t really thought this plan through, but now that she was saying it aloud, she felt more able to process her thought process. “We know Marcus can’t be everywhere at once. He’s likely taken each supernatural stronghold and left it in the charge of a demon he trusts in his army with a small battalion.”

Devyn caught on to what she was saying. “If we can stealthily take one stronghold, we can slowly move refugees into those places which won’t raise any alarms about large portal jumps. It’ll be like fighting smaller battles instead of a full-scale war where we’re more likely to lose.”

Amalia turned her head to see Ross giving her a proud smile and she felt her stomach flutter.

“Not bad Romanov,” Andromeda comments with a ghost of a smile. “We need to start identifying which strongholds we’ll need to get back and how we’re going to do it. Take the rest of the night off, we’ve got a lot of work to do tomorrow morning.”

Phlegethon Castle

Seventh Circle of Hell

“I swear to God,” Lillian huffed as she followed Thanatos down the winding stairs of the older castle. “If you tell me the Storm girl is not going to wake up, Berith will kill us both.”

He suddenly stopped at the bottom of the stairs and spun around to face the impatient girl. Thanatos threw a haphazard glance over his shoulder towards the large wooden door Zara had been behind for the better part of six months.

“Remember when I told you there might be some ill effects to Zara staying in the Hell dimension for too long?” Thanatos asked her, holding Lillian’s gaze.

She raised an eyebrow, “Yeah, but what does it matter? She’s still asleep.” She paused as she gauged his expression. “She is still asleep? Right?”

Thanatos heaved a sigh, “When I went to do my morning round of soul harvesting, she was the same. Not moving, not breathing, still dead.”

“And now?”

He swallowed uncomfortably, “She’s entered some form of catatonia.”

Lillian’s eyes widened at the news. “Wait, so she’s alive? This is a good thing, Than. So, why do you look like you’ve seen a ghost?”

She pushed past him and rushed down the end of the stone hallway to open the wooden door.

Once the whole room was in view, Lillian knew exactly why Thanatos was worried.

The entire bottom floor of the Phlegeton castle was used as a quartering space for Berith’s elite soldiers, a group of female spirit assassins Lillian commanded known as the legendary Guerrieri. So, it was a modest room. A twin XL bed against the wall with a small window, a small loveseat, and rug in the middle of the room, a card table in front of the seat, and on the other side was a desk with paper.

In what appeared to be a hurry, Zara, who was now carving away at the stone wall next to her bed, had destroyed the room in search of something.

Lillian stepped into the room, Thanatos following behind her, and glanced at the repetitive, unfamiliar carvings etched into the wall. The symbols were nothing she’d ever seen before and while drawn in a hurry, there was certainly a method to the madness of the girl who was intently using a splintered stone to draw more.

“What the actual fuck, Thanatos?” Lillian turned around and hissed at him. “You said she might go a little power-hungry like Laura did, nothing more than that. You did not mention that she’d lose her goddamn mind!”

His brown eyes widened and he gave her a look of disbelief, “I told you, I told both of you, that there would be side effects to doing this. I also warned that if Zara woke up, there are a multitude of other spirits that could’ve switched places with her and could come back instead.”

Lillian eyed the concentrating girl, “You think that’s what happened?”

“No,” Thanatos says a little calmer. “No one has ever done this and can recall what happened to them on the other side. No one even really knows what the other side even is. If something big is happening to her over there, she doesn’t want to forget it.”

Lillian caught on. “She’s writing down what’s happening to her. She knows she’s gonna wake up.”

Lillian couldn’t help but smile at Zara’s antics. Atta girl.

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