My night with Henry went smoothly. We were both on our best behavior, trying not to upset the delicate balance of a second try. Henry was having problems adjusting his internal clock after being in the White. He woke up at three and quietly headed to the shower. I was still awake, so I joined him.
It’s a unique experience showering in pitch blackness. Henry claimed the shower tricks his mind into believing it’s nighttime. I relied on Henry to move me out of the glass walls, into a towel, and back to his bed. All my problems seem to melt away when I’m under his control. Henry fell asleep shortly after four, but I saw five-fifteen before passing out.
The alarm sounded at six-thirty. Henry got ready for work and wished me good luck meeting my second father before kissing me softly and heading to his office.
I made coffee and a list of my most pressing questions to ask Dagen. Having only a few clothing items with me, I chose my most American outfit, blue jeans, a turquoise colored henley, and my Ariat boots. I felt honest in the outfit—it didn’t misrepresent who I really am.
At seven forty-five, I got a text from Dagen, “I’m early.”
“Good, I’m ready,” I replied.
A conspicuous SUV with dark tinted windows pulled in front of the townhouse. I hurried to grab my list and lock the doors. As I reached the car, the passenger door pushed open.
Dagen held out a paper coffee cup and a small white bag. “Americano and two plain croissants.”
“Shut up, that’s perfect. How did you know?”
“Don’t be mad. I’ve been following you the past few days at your father’s request. He’s concerned about the demon that wants you dead. We all are.”
“I’m too numb to the whole mess to be mad at anyone. I enjoyed an effortless life before all this. Damn math class.”
“What?” Dagen fiddled with the navigation screen to set his route home. I was somewhat shocked by how easily he used the touchscreen. My father still has problems setting the trip app on his truck.
“In your long lifetime, how much technology have you kept up with?”
“All of it. From the invention of the wheel through today.” Dagen was laughing and talking about navigating the sea with a sexton and a hand-drawn map. His eyes sparkled when he spoke about his adventures from eons ago, but his skin looked no older than Henry’s.
Something about his voice or his proximity triggered my mind to wander and my eyes to close.
“Horses are snorting, and men are shouting, prideful, joking, happy tones, metal clinking, and heavy hooves pounding into the dirt. The chocolate brown behemoth is kicking rocks down to the spring creek—on purpose. The animal knows your every move and is waiting to tear off after anything. It’s so green, and the air is,” I took a deep breath inside the new space. “sweet citrus and ginger. My God, where is this place.”
I opened my eyes. Dagen parked the car on the side of the freeway. His eyes were rimmed in red but dry. “That was the Grove. One of the first days I rode with your father’s Clan.”
“How long ago was that?”
“Sixteen eighty, several lifetimes ago.”
“From horseback to leather seats and Satellite navigation.”
Dagen huffed, “I prefer the horse. That animal you saw was a rare gift—a warrior long before I was made into one. You don’t need to touch people to see.”
“Usually, but strange shit happens to me every day now. I can run flat out and not get tired. I jumped up and grabbed this nasty blue jay that was badgering a set of doves protecting their nest.
“Oh, and I almost choked out my little sister. She called me a whore, but I completely blacked out and lost my grip on reality. I need to go into the White and not come out. I’m turning into my monster.”
Dagen nodded his head and took a measured breath. “There is a great deal I can explain, but first. You need to realize we use that option as a last resort, and it helps to know it’s available, but you leave everyone you know behind. Now ask your first question.”
I contemplated what I wanted to know first. The map app showed the trip would take another forty-five minutes.
“It takes hours to get to the city.”
“By car. I keep a small plane in a hanger outside of Boston. We won’t have to spend all day traveling.”
“You can fly a plane?”
“Small planes. The airplane was the most exciting thing ever built by man. It took me decades to find the time and money to learn to fly. It was the one passion that focused all my efforts. I started two of the businesses I own today so that I could buy my first plane.”
“It must be nice to have clarity of purpose.” All my drive and ambition left me the day I bit Henry. “Okay, first of many stupid questions. I gave a vial of my blood to Chris from First Acquisitions.”
Dagen let a brisk huff escape his mouth before cracking his neck from side to side.
“I know she’s undead, but why does my blood excite her so much?”
“Next time you are compelled to share your blood, call me first.” Dagen grabbed the steering wheel tight. “Chris is a type of lessor demon that feeds on life. The life force in your blood is supercharged. She will crave more of your blood and will take it by force if necessary. The vessel she inhabits is dead. She can only keep it for a short time—years at best.”
“She said she would eat like a king for a year. I thought that was pretty odd.”
“Mmm, yes. What else have you done to imperil your life this week?”
“My grandmother found three witches for the next round. Oh, and I can’t sleep for more than a few hours. I need to eat constantly. My mother gave me this potion that holds the blood lust at bay. I’m almost out, though. I kinda hoped Malou might have something for me.”
“Wait, the witches are good. No sleep is bad. The constant eating is bad—the potion is worse. Do you know what’s in that crap?”
“My mother gave it to me. Oh, great, she’s trying to kill me too? I did tell her I would leave the Clan if I couldn’t keep Leo.”
“What? You can’t leave your Clan. You both will be hunted down.”
“But I said that after the potion, and before we figured out Leo doesn’t have enough magic in his blood. You know to keep me from,” I put up my hands like claws. “Grrrr,” I growled.
Dagen stared between me and the road. His mouth was open, but no words were coming out.
“I’m fucked, aren’t I? Oh, and Henry wants to disappear into the Yolk so he can play angel permanently. So, there’s that. I just want to run until I pass out and then hit things really hard. Is that normal?”
“Normal is wildly overrated, but I think in your situation, running and hitting things may be very beneficial.”
“When I got ready to leave the White, I cut my way out of my monster. I looked over, and there was my wolf. I picked her up, and she melted back inside my skin. Is there a way to take her out and have two of me to control at one time?”
“Not that I know of, but my wolf never leaves me. My flesh and bone body was in the Grove so long I can change into wolf form in this realm.”
“Really, that’s so wild. Does it hurt?”
“Like nothing, I ever want to feel again. It’s painless in the Grove, and your mind is trained to change, but you change here, and it feels like every molecule melts and reforms. It’s part of why so many of us stay in the Grove for so long. But my point is maybe you can learn to separate from your wolf with enough practice in the Grove or the Yolk.”
“There’s a point when you are in a greater demon’s mind, and you find their flaw—see how to kill them, but it takes time. I want to have my wolf in the Yolk hunting when I’m occupied in the demon sphere taking those minutes to find a weak spot.”
“Demon sphere? I’ve never experienced that. I’ve been run through, bit and mauled but never trapped in their minds.”
“Last time, one grabbed me. It showed me inside a massive library with a cozy fireplace and a good-looking man sitting waiting for me to join him. I was all dressed up. I felt elegant and refined, superior because of my education and my mind.
“I needed to find a thread to pull so I could target the actual demon. It ended up being the books. I cut off the man’s head with my sword as he sat by the fire and burnt the massive shelves of books with a white flame.”
“I’ve never heard of anyone escaping a mind trap.” Dagen looked me up and down. Probably trying to decide what was different about me.
“Pax trained me to kill them. I’ve destroyed nine of them so far—six out of the Yolk and three inside. Some of the scenes they invent are painful to burn down. They look so real, and they feel real.”
“Outside? outside where?”
“I don’t really know. I was upset about a fight with Henry and went to sleep. Pax brought me to an underground dungeon with six demons that showed me different realities. I killed a few with a dagger, the rest with white flames.”
“Who else knows about this trip. Me and you and Pax. Malou knows a demon was training me. Jordan saw him retreat from the tub I was soaking in. My grandmother tried to read all of my thoughts. I pushed her out of my mind when it got to some of my time with him.”
“Don’t repeat the content of those lessons to anyone but me. It’s not accepted in our Clan lore. It’s just not done.”
“I understand,” I conceded quietly.
“I think you understand very little, my friend.”
“That’s why I’m asking you these stupid questions. No one else will tell me the truth.”
Dagen’s tense grip on the steering wheel loosened, and the rigid stare left his face. He pulled into the tiny airport and stopped the car just inside the gate.
“I will never lie to you. But you scare the hell out of me with the things you so casually mention. I understand why the demon elite is targeting you. No one’s told you what you can’t do, so you do what you want.”
I snickered. “Pax isn’t some run of the mill demon, is he?”
“No, it’s not, but I’m not sure what it is.”
“I’m going to tell you something, and if you repeat it, I will call you a liar to anyone listening.”
“Okay,” Dagen looked angry. I found his button—the word liar.
“I know his true name. I memorized it. He claims it won’t give me power over him, that it only focuses all his attention on me.”
“Then he is not a Pax demon, and you should never use the name. It would be better that you suffer in agony than to call out his true name.”
“Hmm, that’s kinda what I thought.”