Chapter 23: Scratching in the dark
Something scurried off to Chloe’s left. There was something about it that frightened her. This was not a rat; she was not afraid of rats or mice. They had been her only company for many years. This was something else, something evil. Not sure why she was pursuing it instead or retreating to the conservatory, Chloe continued on. Passing through plaster, studs, and plumbing, she followed the clicking claws behind the walls. The closer she got, the more she became aware the creature’s squeaking and growling was more than just noise. It was speaking.
“He is asking too many questions,” it croaked. “Master needs to know. Too many questions.” Through the creature’s panting and scratching, she could tell the voice was now moving above her. If it went upstairs, she would be too close to Edgar. The moment of indecision was smashed as the creature spoke again. “The boy must go. Yes, yes, the whole family. But should I kill them, Master?” Years of dirt and dust fell through Chloe as she sped after the voice. She couldn’t let it hurt Alex. The thought surprised her.
Kerlvin had heard them talking in the conservatory. They were talking about things that were not meant to be discussed. It was why he was here, to keep the secrets, and the boy was learning too many. Kerlvin ran, hunched over and small, through the wall. He liked the sound his claws made as he ascended the pipe to the second floor. The closer he got to the aperture, the more complete he felt. He had been away for a long time. Slowing, he began muttering to himself, “I could let him find out. Then maybe I could finally go home.” He sat on a cross beam, tapping a slender black talon against his inky lip.
Chloe pressed into the wall. Half-in and half-out of the plaster, she stood watching. The creature she pursued was sleek, scaly, and the color of midnight. It adjusted unfurling leathery wings that wrapped back around its body like a cape. It continued to tap its mouth and mutter. Chloe could not make out what it was saying. Words like kill and death grabbed her attention. Very slow and cautiously, she rose inch by inch closer to where it sat. Straining, she tried to make out what it was saying. Suddenly its head spun in her direction. Red eyes burned as a hiss exposed the glistening white pointed teeth. In a flash it scampered up a pipe, the rust flying, claw marks leaving shiny trails in the metal. Had she been seen? Chloe followed as fast as she dared until she knew there was no reason to pretend.
The chase stopped. Crouched, ready to strike, Kerlvin sat just out of her reach. “Why does the dead girl chase Kerlvin?” Chloe heard as red eyes glowered down at her. Without waiting for an answer, a black tail slashed the air as it disappeared through an impossibly small hole in the wall. Chloe was alone and hesitant. Cursing under her breath, she followed him, materializing in a hall that stood thick with disuse. Several feet away stood the demon Kerlvin. He stood two feet tall on crouched legs. His claws ripped at the battered runner, his small hands held out in front of his red-black body, the fingers flexing. Blood-red eyes stared at her while the long dagger of a tongue flicked across his lips. Leathery black wings erupted from his back. Dust swirled as they flapped. “What does the dead girl want of Kerlvin?”
Chloe wondered how her stomach could be so twisted while she knew she didn’t have one, how her knuckles cracked as she twisted her fingers. She was so consumed by these thoughts, she did not realize the creature was staring at her. His head cocked, brows knitted, he watched her movements. Dropping her hands, she spoke in a tone much braver than she felt. “Who are you?” she demanded. He blinked back at her, his eyes becoming black pools reflecting her pearly appearance. “What are you doing here?” she shouted.
Immediately Kerlvin held a spindly finger to his lips. “Don’t arouse Edgar,” he hissed.
“Aren’t you Edgar?” she demanded yet in softer tones. She thought for a moment, studying the small devil. “If you’re not Edgar, would that mean you’re just a foul little demon from hell?
“I am not Edgar, dead girl. I am Kerlvin. I am not a foul little demon; I am a grand demon,” he explained grumpily. His wings slumped; a sneer curled his lip. “Well, I am a minor demon,” he corrected in a mutter.
“Are you Edgar’s…pet?”
This question earned Chloe a glare that reignited the glowing red eyes that were barely visible through the cloud of dust swirling in the wake of Kerlvin’s wings. “I am no one’s pet, dead girl! Edgar is my pet. He was given to me,” he spat angrily.
Hushing Kerlvin, she hissed back, “My name is Chloe!”
“I care not for what your name is. I care only about how much longer it will be.” The demon growled as his feet touched down in another swirl of dust.
“What do you mean, how much longer? Who gave him to you?”
“Questions, questions, too many questions. Dead girl asks too many questions.” He was in the air again, hissing and growling.
“My name is Chloe!” She matched his anger.
They stood glaring at each other across the hall. The anger ebbed away as Kerlvin’s brows knitted and furrowed. He frowned at the look on Chloe’s face. Her transparent eyes were huge. Heart starting to race, Kerlvin turned to see what she was staring at.
Black smoke was billowing from under the door at the end of the hall. Chloe could feel the hatred and sorrow seeping through the air. The hall was cold, the air heavy with pain. Chloe was backing slowly into the wall. Through the swirling black, Edgar’s face appeared. His eyes locked onto Chloe’s; she could feel the hate burning through them.
“Why won’t you leave me alone?” he bellowed. The black mass flew toward her; Chloe squeaked, throwing her arms over her face. Nothing happened. Slowly she opened an eye. The swirling cloud was held fast, billowing and storming as if behind glass.
With a snap of his fingers, Kerlvin hissed, “Away, my pet; I am talking with the dead girl.”
“Chloe,” she muttered.
Ignoring her words, he explained without her asking, “I am here to watch over Edgar. My master charged me with keeping him here and safe,” Kerlvin explained. “It is all very boring. We can’t leave this house. I am away from my realm.” The demon continued talking more to himself than to Chloe. “My claws don’t tear; my teeth don’t rend; my eyes do not bring fear. I miss the screams; I miss the pain. I miss my home.”
“Is there something I can do to help you get home?” Chloe asked. Kerlvin jumped as if he forgot she was there.
Scratching a claw on the scruff of black hair on his chin, he appraised her. “Only the one who holds the tokens can release me,” Kerlvin grumbled nodding. “If the tokens were found and returned to the dead, then I can collect the guilty and take them to my castle in hell.” He saw the look on her face. “Oh yes, I may be a lesser demon, but I still have a castle; my clan has held the lands of the blood hills for millennia.”
“Oh, um, is it nice there?”
“The hills run with blood; the screams of the damned howl throughout the endless storm of burning rain. The land squelches underfoot as it is made of organs ripped from the bodies of captives. They feel each claw as it cuts and scratches, each tooth as it tears and eats. The air is filled with the smell of rot, vile, and putrefaction,” he explained.
“Oh…I’m uh—” Chloe began.
“It is glorious,” Kerlvin interrupted, a look of pure bliss on his face.
“Right, so where can I find the tokens?”
“I can’t tell you.” He shrugged. “Don’t know.” With a snap of his fingers, Edgar evaporated back under the door. Kerlvin rose in the air under the heavy beat of his leathery wings. Flying up through a crack in the ceiling, he glanced back. “I will keep Edgar confined while you look, you and your human friends,” he called, disappearing into the dark.