The Slide into Hell
Oh, my God. I’m so stupid.
My stomach dropped as Dagen opened the door dressed in an all-black suit, his smile beaming across his face. Several well-dressed people mingled around a beautifully decorated table of food in the back of the deep room while piano music filled the air. Women in cocktail dresses laughing and draping themselves over each other and the men in the room. I was crashing his dinner party.
Dagen texted in the morning, saying we needed to go over strategy.
Henry got a car to take us to visit his family outside Boston Friday afternoon. Dagen sent another text wanting to meet and talk about volunteers as soon as possible.
I left Henry with his family and an excuse about visiting an old friend only in town for the night. Henry knew the meeting was about our trip inside.
“Your invitation sounded urgent.” Why would such an accomplished older man be interested in me? Sex in some hidden context, of course. Far from the judgmental eyes of his equally sophisticated peers. “Sorry, I should have called first.” I need to stop acting on every fuzzy feeling that runs through my body.
Dagen’s smile faded, “I hoped to see you tonight.” He set his drink down and closed the door behind him.
“I’m staying in the area. I’ll order another car. It was rude of me to show up unannounced.” I skipped down two concrete stairs. Dagen waited at the top motionless.
“I decided to take only Henry inside with me. It’s a waste of lives to include others. The demons only want me. The volunteers might not take the news well, but they will live.”
Firelight and the faint smell of meat cooking on a grill wafted from the back lawn. I resigned not to eat until I came out of the White.
“When are you going?” Dagen traveled the distance between the doorway and the third step from the street in a split second.
“Is that Jimmy Cho? It smells great on you.” I took a deep breath and found the liquor and cologne mix as inviting as the meat on the grill.
“Figured I’d try something from this century.” He scanned my face for answers to all the questions running across his.
“Late tonight—get it over with.” The breath escaped Dagen’s body like I punched out of his lungs. “No one should die because of me.”
“It’s war, Alerie. A war started thousands of years ago when the first human walked in the glory of the creator’s sunshine, and the first demon coveted his life. The look on your face when your wolves pleaded their support made me think you understood but clearly, you don’t.”
“My wolves? I don’t want control over anyone. This is my doing. I’ll pay for my mistake alone.”
“I’ve heard modern women think too much and spiral out of control, but I never watched it happen in real-time.” Dagen rubbed his forehead and balled his hand into a fist. “What mistake do you think you’ve made.”
“I failed a math class. Instead of accepting my limits, I found a tutor. I didn’t know Henry was an angel. I didn’t know being around him would change my blood.
“I wanted something real, which is impossible to find, so when that little spark lit, I went for it. Then I saved Henry’s life because the thought of him dying crushed me. I didn’t know all this would happen. My solution ties up the mess I’ve made by reaching too far.”
“You were chosen. If anything, your human-angel found you and rode your blood inside the White. Fate set this path.”
“No, that’s… I don’t mean to discount your beliefs, but people don’t justify the uncertainty of life with fables and folklore anymore.”
“What does Leo think about your plan? Are you sacrificing him too?”
“No,” I shook the image of Leo’s bloody death out of my mind. “I’m not taking Leo.” I stood tall and folded my arms across my chest.
“Jesus, Alerie. What do you think your death will do to him?”
“He’s better off. We can’t stay together in any Clan. He’s miserable now that he doesn’t have enough magic in his blood for me. After we made it through the first trip inside, I planned to leave with him, but we would be hunted. Without me, Leo has a chance at a good life.”
“Alerie, you can’t beat a greater demon alone.” Dagen sounded like he was breaking bad news I was unaware of. I scoffed and closed my eyes, letting his words settle to the floor of the armory I assembled for this task.
“I know that. I’ve read my book. After being inside once, I don’t need a witch to walk back in. I can go alone. I’ll lead Henry where he needs to go, die, and seal the portal.” Dagen crossed and uncrossed his arms as he stared at my face. “But I won’t stand outside on your steps and make a spectacle of myself.”
Several silhouettes stood close to the windows watching us talk on the street. I took a few steps into the shadows of the trees.
“I owed you an explanation after all the help you’ve given me. Tell everyone who volunteered. I appreciated what they were willing to sacrifice?”
“I’ll invite Leo to join our Clan. He’s a Kane. We will be happy to have him.”
“We,” I pointed between us. “don’t have a Clan. I know what you bastards do with the half-bloods.”
“Your father asked me to stay and watch over the MacTernan Clan until you came of age and can take it for yourself. We can allow anything you like.”
“He lied to you. He doesn’t expect me to survive.” I looked at Dagen as the truth of his involvement became clear to me. “I’m so fucking stupid.” My hands were shaking so violently I could barely use my phone app to finalize my car order.
“What did I do?” Dagen’s face turned frantic.
I darted down the remaining steps to the curb, hoping my driver would materialize out of the darkness and sprit me away.
“You’re my father’s servant.” I panted out each painful word. “I didn’t realize until right now. You were tasked with helping me. From that first day next to that hideous fucking table.”
Dagen grabbed my arm and spun me toward him. “Nobody ordered me to do anything. Rafferty told me about you and his worries. I offered to help. I told you several times to ask anything you want from me.”
“I don’t need anything from anybody.”
“That’s a lie. Your hands are shaking.” Dagen grabbed my hands tightly. I wasn’t casually slipping them away from him. “Your skin is on fire. I bet you can hear every animal out in the darkness.” A carnival of creatures lived in the open fields around the property. I could hear all of them.
“I’m not human, and I’m not a wolf. When I lose control, all I want is to rip out someone’s throat. I’m an abomination.” I looked down at my hands. Dagen let me loose. “The drivers close.”
“You think I can’t hear the car tires down the hill?” I flashed Dagen my phone screen. The app showed my driver was a few minutes away. “I can hear and sense the same things you can. I’m not only pure blood. I’ve lived as a wolf for years. I’m the same abomination as you. I learned to control my demons.”
“I’m happy you did. I’ve never hated anyone enough to wish this kind of hell on them.”
“You can be taught to live, but you have to want your life.”
“My life? I’m at the mercy of a cosmic joke. I can’t even tell what’s real or imagined anymore.”
“When’s the last time you ate?” I shrugged my shoulders. It was hours ago, and I could feel my body begging for meat.
“When’s the last time you took any of that potion your mother gave you?”
“Ran out last night.” Dagen grabbed me around the waist and moved me toward the driveway and the smell of cooking meat.
“My car will be here any minute.”
“I’ll drive you back myself.”
“Henry will be waiting for me to join them for drinks.”
“I’ll get you a drink and call Henry.”
“You can’t do that!”
“There’s a full bar inside, and I have several phones.”
“He doesn’t know my plan,” I conceded quietly.
“You were planning to drive him to the woods and toss him inside the White?”
“He’s an angel inside the White—fiery, steel-tipped wings and four faces, invulnerable.”
“Not invulnerable. Henry’s here as a human now, isn’t he? How do you think that happened?”
Dagen and I reached a group of young men by the pool eating tomahawk steaks and drinking beers. They looked at the spectacle of him dragging me to them with wonder and concern.
Dagen motioned to one dark-haired young man and whispered something in his ear. The young man set down his beer, grabbed a t-shirt from the back of a chair, and headed toward the front of the house.
Dagen moved me toward a nearby table.
“Get her a steak and an iced tea. Don’t let this woman leave the backyard.” The looks of the young men turned to delight. “This is Rafferty’s daughter. She’s my guest for the evening.” I scowled at Dagen as he left the backyard. His phone already by his ear.
A plate of steak and mashed potatoes appeared in front of me, held by a tall teen boy.
“Here you are, Ma’am.” He offered with a polite quiver of fear in his voice.
“Did the others send you over?” I pointed to the crowd with my fork.
“Yeah, they called me a pussy. I needed to prove them wrong.”
“Well done.” I held my palm in the air for a high-five. He smacked my hand with a decent amount of force. “I’m just upset with the world. I won’t be a problem. Especially after all these carbs. I’m Alerie.”
“Meyer.” The boy offered a handshake. “What are you angry about?” He pulled a paper plate of soft dinner rolls closer. I rolled my eyes.
“I was planning on going into the White tonight, so I wasn’t eating today. Turns out that doesn’t work for me.”
“Hell no, you need to eat. You’re a wolf, right?”
I put out the inside of my arm for him to smell my skin. “What type do you think?” He looked apprehensive. I nodded my approval for him to sniff me.
“You’re not a physical, that’s for sure. You smell sweet—spectral.” He took my arm in his hand and sniffed from my wrist to my elbow. Spectral for sure, but you smell too strong.” His facial expression was true curiosity.
“I was in the White last weekend. It changed me.”
“Really, how so?”
“I can run flat out no limits. I jumped up and squashed this nasty blue jay.”
“Cool,” he interrupted.
“It was disgusting. Its little heart was still beating for a split second in my hand. I felt really bad.”
“That’s sus’ as fuck,” he confirmed, nodding and tearing a bite from a roll. “Is that it?”
“I black out when I get angry. One of my friends pulled me off somebody recently. My hands kinda hurt, but I didn’t realize what I was doing.”
“You need to find a hobby like sparing—with another wolf.” Meyer slathered butter on a roll and put it on the edge of my plate. “I was angry, but Dag showed me how to let it go. Beating the crap out of somebody that doesn’t stay hurt helps.
“Sean over there with the blue shorts, fought me bare-knuckled until he taught me to box.”
Against my better judgment, I put my hand on Meyers and looked into his mind. I experienced a loss so deep my eyes overflowed with tears. Both his parents were dead, and he was desperately alone until Dagen took him in.
“You were grieving an unthinkable loss.” Meyer nodded his head and smiled.
“Things are better now. Well, do you spar? I can teach you.” Meyer looked up and saw Dagen approaching. The look on his face changed to adoration—the boy loved Dagen like family.
“Thank you for entertaining our guest Meyer,” Dagen patted the boy on the back. Meyer hopped out of his chair.
“I hope you find a hobby. It does make things better.”
“Thanks, I’ll take your advice.” The boy ran off toward the pool and jumped in the water, soaking several people in the process.