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Surrender to Dawn, Page 2

J. Kenner

  "What are we going to do?" Rose said.

  "Defend ourselves," I said. I raised my crossbow. "Ourselves, and the Oris Clef.”

  So far, our only advantage was that Penemue had slowed down. At first, the building had been crumbling around us. But when Deacon had disappeared, so had the demon's tentacles. He'd returned, but his ascent was so slow that I had to wonder if he was half-in and half-out of some other dimension.

  "You need to go," Rose said. "Pick something, use your arm, and just go."

  I kept my eye firmly on the crossbow's sight. "One, it's not that simple. Two, I'm not leaving you." I'd cozied up to hell—literally—to save my sister, and there was no way I was going to throw her to the wolves. Or the demons.

  A long wail filled the room, and we both stared at the gaping hole that was the demon's rising mouth. His eyes were like fire, and his tentacle thrust up, then slammed back down again only a few feet from us, rendering bits of broken concrete into dust.

  "Shit!" I cried, bracing my body against the useless elevator. "Something's going on. There's no way he should have missed us."

  Something was going on, and my heart lifted a little when I realized what it had to be: Deacon. He was down there fighting. Buying us time.

  He was giving us a gift, and we damn well needed to use it.

  "I'm going to check the weapons cabinet," I said.

  "Right now?" Her voice was high, squeaky, and terrified.

  I didn't expect to find anything to kill Penemue with, but maybe I'd find something to help me open the elevator. For that matter, if I could get to Zane's office, maybe he had some sort of override button. I didn't know. All I could think about was not wasting the chance that Deacon was giving us.

  "He'll catch you!" Rose said, as I started in that direction. "He'll knock you in!"

  "I'll be careful," I said, but even as I spoke, the tentacle burst free, along with the shoulders of the beast, making the floor buckle and tossing me onto my ass. Penemue lashed out, and it was clear he was aiming right for me. I fired, the arrow shooting true—embedding itself right into that slimy, sickening skull.

  Fabulous, I thought. And then amended the thought to Holy freaking shit, because my arrow was ejected immediately, thrust out of the demon's flesh by the intense force of a horrific column of fire.

  I threw myself sideways, missing the bulk of the blast, but it still scorched my jeans.

  "Lily!" Rose called.

  "I'm okay!" I held on to the crossbow as I scooted along the floor, abandoning my plan to head to the cabinet. Instead, I had a better idea.

  "Get down," I shouted, then raced toward the elevator, the crossbow aimed at Penemue. "The ground, Rose! On the ground!" The tentacle swiveled and turned, and I dodged it. The head had disappeared beneath floor level, but I needed to see it again, and I took a chance and yelled for Deacon. "Let him go! I have an idea!"

  I heard a low rumble like an oncoming earthquake, so deep and menacing it made my insides tremble. And then the demon burst up, the slime-covered head breaching the shattered floor, as if someone holding him down had suddenly let go and the beast had been overwhelmed by his own velocity.

  I aimed. I fired.

  And as soon as the arrow was free, I threw myself to the ground, barely missing the burst of fire that shot from Penemue's punctured skull. The blast shot over both me and Rose, slamming exactly where I'd hoped—right in the middle of the elevator gate.


  The gate didn't open, but it didn't matter because now there was a giant hole in the metal mesh.

  "In," I shouted to Rose. "Get in!"

  Rose didn't need my encouragement. She was already climbing through the hole and calling for me to follow her. I didn't have to be told twice, and I scrambled in that direction, over a floor that was buckling and moving again beneath my feet as the beast surged up, pissed off and determined to stop me.

  The damned tentacle shot up again. Only this time it was followed by two more appendages and the entirety of the beast's head. His mouth burst open, and millions of flies emerged, swarming around me, getting in my eyes and my hair and my ears and my face. I swatted at them, ducked my head, and tried to run—tried even harder not to be grossed out—but the truth was, I wasn't fast enough. The bugs did their job, and as I tried to shove through the dense, living mass, I felt something thick and cold lash itself around my ankle.

  As Rose screamed, I rolled over, slashing at the tentacle, half-terrified that I'd miss and get my leg, and the other half of me not caring if I lost all my limbs so long as I got free.

  It wasn't any use.

  Penemue was dragging me back toward hell.

  I reached down, grabbing onto the tentacle and trying to-pry it off with my fingers. As I did, I looked up, and found myself staring into the demon's face. Into its eyes.

  Oh, fuck.

  I felt the snap—the sharp tug when I was pulled into another creature's thoughts. Another little gift of mine, and one that I really didn't welcome at the moment, but I had no choice, because I was in and the horror was around me, the fires and the pain and, oh God, my skin—my skin was burning, the flesh curling, turning to ash as I watched, as I suffered and cried, then starting all over again, the pain so intense I swear it was alive, and I couldn't do anything except scream and scream and scream and—


  The connection broke. I'd shut my eyes in terror, the reflex freeing me from the horror. A horror, I knew, that would be mine if I did what needed to be done. If I played the martyr. If I stepped up and saved the world.

  I breathed deep, trying to control my trembling.

  Dear God, how could I ever find the courage?


  Rose's voice cut through my fear and self-loathing, and I reminded myself that I didn't need that courage now. Now I just needed to get out of there.

  With a fresh burst of determination, I rolled to my side as the tentacle tugged on my leg, this time thrusting my knife into the ground and trying with all my might to halt our progress toward the abyss. I slammed it down hard, shoving it into a crevice in the concrete, then closing my hand tight around it. With my free hand, I grabbed a protruding metal beam, my muscles straining as I tried to pull myself up.

  "Nothing's happening!" Rose called. "The buttons don't work!"

  Okay, I confess I wasn't completely interested in the state of the elevator at the moment, although I did want my sister to get out of there. Pretty soon, I figured she was going to have plenty of time to escape. Because once the demon had me and the key, it really wasn't going to give a flip about her.

  But the other thing I was afraid of was that the demon would realize that she was the way to get to me. Take her hostage, and I was going to be Cooperation Girl. I knew it, and so, I feared, did the demon.

  My fears were borne home when the pressure of the tentacle around my leg let up, and I screamed out in both anger and fear as the appendage lashed forward to close around Rose's waist.

  She howled, using her knife to hack uselessly at the tentacle that refused to let go. I rushed forward to join her, thrusting my blade in and twisting, but the demon's tentacle seemed immune to pain.

  "It's getting tighter! Lily, oh God, make it stop!"

  I stabbed my knife down deep into the spongy flesh, and started sawing, wishing the blade was serrated, because I was damn well going to saw through all fifteen inches of flesh if that was what it took.

  But I had to saw fast, because she was struggling, her mouth open, her breath coming in gasps, and fear pounding behind her eyes.

  I was going to lose her. Oh God, oh God. I was going to lose her. Rose. My little sister. The little girl I'd risked everything—including the Apocalypse—to save.

  I felt numb. I felt raw. And I felt wholly and completely impotent.

  And then, as her eyes began to dim and I could barely see the dent I was making in the demon's flesh from the tears floating in my eyes, I heard it.

  Low at first, then build
ing up strength. A deep, terrifying wail.

  I turned, saw the demon's eyes go wide, the black shifting to red. I turned back fast, and acting solely on instinct I grabbed Rose around the waist, then spread my legs, my feet anchored inside the elevator, one foot on either side of the hole that had been blasted in the cage door.

  It was the right move. The tentacle pulled back, retreating, and trying to take Rose with it.

  But it couldn't. Not easily, anyway. Not with me holding on to her.

  And damned if it didn't let go.

  I didn't completely understand why. All I knew was that whatever had produced that horrific wailing noise had scared Penemue. And he'd retreated into the darkness.

  I figured it would be a good idea to get out of there, too. Because even in my limited experience in this world, I'd already figured out that it's a good idea to run from things that disturb massive beasts from hell.

  I slapped Rose's face, heard her moan, and sighed with relief. I didn't have time to do more, though. So I let go and let her fall to the floor of the elevator car. She coughed, and rolled over, and I knew that for the moment at least, she was safe.

  I jabbed at the elevator buttons, but Rose was right—they didn't work. We needed out of there, though, and I tilted my head back, searching for the emergency door that was standard in all elevators. Including, apparently, those installed by minions of hell.

  I used the broken metal of the cage as a makeshift ladder and managed to get up there, then pulled the trapdoor down. Then I hopped back down and made a stirrup with my hands for Rose to step in. "Can you manage?"

  She lifted her head, looking a lot like a girl who badly needed a nap.

  "Rose, please. We've got to move."

  She opened her mouth, but no sound came out. To her credit, though, she did stand. As she did, her eyes darted toward the hole in the elevator door and out toward the chasm. I knew what she was thinking, because I was thinking the same thing: Unless I'm dead or broken, I'm getting the hell out of here.

  I held out a hand to steady her as she came over, then re-formed the stirrup for her. "Grab my shoulders," I said.

  "I'm okay." Her voice was weak, but she meant what she said, and even before I had time to worry if she'd have the strength in her arms to pull herself up, she was through the hole, and I saw her peering down, waiting for me to join her.

  I was just about to do that very thing when the tentacle thrust toward me again. I leaped, trying to get through the trapdoor. Rose grabbed the back of my shirt and tugged, trying to help me up, but it wasn't enough. Despite my strength and her valiant effort, the tug of the tentacle that had lashed around my waist kept me from climbing through the escape hatch.

  It would have pulled me all the way back to hell with it, if it wasn't for a coal black, winged creature that burst from the gorge. It shot forward as if fired from a cannon, flame dancing over its body, not as if it were on fire, but as if it was fire.

  And the fire-creature roared straight for us, the flames dissipating as it grabbed me under my arms, then shot straight up into the elevator shaft, effectively pulling my lower body free of the tentacle, which had loosened only slightly, as if shocked to see the creature.

  It slowed enough to grab Rose with its other arm, then it put on a fresh burst of speed and rocketed straight up, up, up—at least until we jerked to a stop, flipped over, and started moving in the opposite direction. In other words, back toward Penemue. Which really wasn't where I wanted to go.

  I called out in protest, but it was no use. Penemue was down there, two floors below, and we were heading right for him. The demon's bulbous body filled the elevator shaft, that black pit of a mouth sucking us in, as if we were the very air he needed to breathe. As if we were caught in some damned sci-fi tractor beam, and we were moving backward, toward the gaping maw.

  I screamed and struggled in my captor's arms, desperate to get me and Rose out of there. A reaction that was, of course, idiotic, because if I got free, gravity would send me hurtling down into Penemue's waiting mouth. And once that little fact registered in my head, I clung more tightly to my winged rescuer. I didn't know who he was or what he wanted, but at least until he got us out of the elevator shaft, he was my new best friend.

  And right then, my friend was fighting dirty.

  He thrust his torso and legs up, so that his head was pointed down, and Rose and I were pulled in close to his side. And then, as I watched, he let out a wail that came straight from the deepest pit of hell and emitted a burst of flame from his mouth so hot that I had to close my eyes and twist my face away. But when it dissipated, I turned back, then sucked in air at what I saw—the entire elevator shaft had melted away, and Penemue had retreated, leaving one burned-off tentacle behind, the flames still snapping at the crispy flesh.

  "He will be back." The low voice rumbled through me, rough and inhuman and yet also somehow familiar. My breath caught, and warm fear flowed through me as my mind filled with horrible possibilities.

  I had no time to ponder those fears, though. Not then. Not as he shifted direction in the shaft, and we began shooting upward, so fast I feared that we'd slam into the masonry and die from massive hematomas.

  Not that I had to worry about that. As we approached at breakneck speed, our savior released another burst of flame and melted the floor above us, along with the ceiling above. Handy trick, that.

  We burst out into the dead of night, rising high above the city, all of Boarhurst before us and the lights of Boston proper twinkling in the distance.

  He dropped down then, and, as my heart pounded in my chest, the beast landed us softly on a patch of grass, his arms releasing us as he stepped back, wings folded, head down, crouched there in front of us.

  Beside me, Rose was breathing in and out fast as she scrabbled backward, crablike, away from him.

  Me, I stayed put, holding tight to my knife.

  But I didn't attack. I knew this creature. I was certain of it.

  And when he lifted his head, I saw it in his eyes.


  Something dark flashed in those eyes, and he lunged, teeth bared, mouth open as if another burst of flame was coming.

  Rose screamed, and I tackled her to the ground, then rolled over and thrust out my knife, wondering what the hell use it could possibly be against a demon who could breathe fire as Deacon did.

  "Go," he said, his muscles practically trembling with restraint.

  I didn't. I just stood there, awed and shaken and—yes—more than a little freaked out.

  "Go," he repeated. "Find the last key. Find it," he growled, "before it's too late."


  “What did he mean by that?" Rose asked, not nearly as winded as I'd expect after running so far. Apparently she was getting the benefit of Kiera's fabulously fit body. "'The last key'?"

  We were in a park several miles from where Deacon had dumped us, having raced away before Deacon lost control of his inner demon and decided to bite our heads off.

  I grimaced, the mental sarcasm I so often fell back on in a crisis feeling heavy and wrong. Because the only reason Deacon was in a stereotypical demonic form now was because of me—because he'd given up his own chance at redemption in order to save me. If he'd given me up, he'd still be the man, not the beast, and guilt settled over me, heavy and cloying.

  I squeezed my eyes shut, remembering what had happened right before we'd ended up in that basement with Penemue. We'd been trapped in a chamber, and Gabriel had found me there. The archangel had been dogging my steps for a while, and this time, when he finally captured me, he also explained why: I was a key, too. I could lock the gate and keep the demonic hordes at bay. All I had to do was tumble into hell when the convergence came.

  All I had to do was suffer forever in the fiery pit.

  And Gabriel intended for me to do exactly that.

  When Deacon made it clear that he wasn't down with Gabriel's sacrifice-Lily plan, the angel promised him redemption—the very thing that
Deacon had sought so hard, the promise that had given him the courage and resolve to claw his way up from hell and keep him on a path that totally defied his own nature.

  But despite being offered exactly what he had strived for, Deacon had said no. Because of me.

  Because he believed that he and I could find a way to close the gate together and save both our souls.

  He'd given up everything he'd been fighting for, then paid the ultimate price.

  "Lily?" Rose's voice was as soft as the gentle touch of her hand on my arm. "Lily, what did he mean?"

  "What he's always talked about," I said. "That there's still one key out there. One key that can lock the Ninth Gate shut tight and prevent the demons from coming across."

  She licked her lips, then shifted on the ground, wincing as she did so. I frowned, leaning in to look at the nasty cut on her leg. "Do you think he's right?"

  "I don't know," I said. "Hold still." I'd sheathed my knife in the holster on my thigh, so I pulled it out and sliced the tip of my finger. Rose's eyes went wide.

  "A gift from Zane," I said, referring to my former trainer. A long story, but because of him, my blood had the power to heal. At least, I assumed it did. I hadn't yet successfully taken that particular skill for a test-drive on someone else.

  I traced my bloody finger along the slash in Rose's thigh, then breathed a sigh of relief when the flesh started to knit in its wake.

  "Wow," Rose said, and I had to agree. "But the key. You really think Deacon's right?"

  I didn't know. My fear was that he had been right—but that the mysterious missing key had been found: me.

  That would suck, because the idea of a third key was something that had my heart dancing in an excited little rumba rhythm. Because if there was a key, that meant that if I found it, I could pick door number three: Use the key, stop the Apocalypse. Forget sacrificing myself or putting on the black crown of demonic royalty. I'd have an easy out.