Dark Mercy (Preternaturals #0)

Chapter 5

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Hadrian thought that was an odd reply. “Then why am I the only one in here? Don’t hundreds of thousands of people die every day? Where are they?”

“You humans all think the same way. You’re so used to being bound in place and time, you have no idea the vastness of what is out there. Yes, many others are just dying and are encountering their own version of this room. Do you think we’re so poorly organized around here that we’d have you all in the same place, waiting some indefinite amount of time to be dealt with? Besides, this could all be happening in your mind, couldn’t it?” The man stepped down from the podium, collecting a large book that had been resting open upon it.

As he passed by, Hadrian could see the book had his name on it, and he wondered if the stories inside were mostly good or bad.

“There’s nothing for me to do here, so I’ll be on my way. I might as well take a break before my next assignment.” The short man grimaced. “It’s such a waste of time when they do this to me, but you know… for a little while, it can go either way. But the choice has been made, and there’s nothing I can do for you.”

His gait was uneven as he shuffled across the floor to one of the golden doors and slipped a key inside the lock. As he pushed the door open he turned back to Hadrian. “Don’t try any of the doors. We have a better security system than it might appear on the surface. Oh and… when you get back there, try not to think you’re too invincible. Some day we’ll be having another conversation, and it would be a shame to have your evolution slowed unnecessarily by this little detour.”

“Wait!” Hadrian’s voice echoed off the walls. His plea was useless. The door shut and the lock turned back into place, and he was left alone in the room. Was this all happening in his mind? It must be.

Most likely his body was somewhere in or near the church, waiting for this transition to complete and his essence to come back. So where was he? Locked inside his head, while he thought he was locked inside this too-bright room? Or was he somewhere else entirely?

Only a few moments passed in existential crisis before a thick, black smoke started to form in the center of the room near the podium. As the smoke grew thicker it made a hissing sound, then it started to spin like a cyclone until it transformed into something that looked solid enough—a demon.

The demon was a large, shiny black, and strangely dressed like Father Hadrian. The beast was larger than him by almost a foot in height and who knew how much in breadth? His eyes glowed a fiery red, and inside his mouth were the nastiest, sharpest teeth Hadrian had ever seen.

The priest felt around in his pockets for a cross, to no avail. He held a hand up to the demon and started to chant.

“Exorcizo te, immundissime spiritus, omnis incursio adversarii, omne phantasma, omnis legio… ”

The demon laughed. “That won’t work on me. I’m you.”

What? Father Hadrian was beginning to lean toward dream. Perhaps he’d eaten something very strange, a bad burrito from the Strip. Maybe the part where Angeline had revealed herself as a vampire and bitten him had been a dream as well. And the sex. The sex had been a dream. It was just one long dream. None of this could be real.

The hulking monster moved toward him at a swift pace, his footsteps echoing much as Hadrian’s voice had only moments before. Ordinarily Father Hadrian wasn’t the type to run from a fight. Even as a priest, he could and had stood his ground. Not that most had wanted to mess with him having both an intimidating presence and God on his side. But he had no weapons, and the one demon-fighting ritual he knew appeared to have no effect, so he ran.

The doors seemed to go on forever even though that couldn’t be true since the room was a circle. He could see the whole thing and yet it expanded as he moved through it, growing bigger and more impossible to travel the whole circumference with each stride he took.

Each door he encountered was locked. He banged on a few, yelling for the old man to let him in. He was like a gladiator left alone in an amphitheater with an angry lion. But the demon didn’t look angry. He looked amused. In fact, he was no longer chasing him, just standing near the podium with his arms crossed over his chest.

“I could chase you down, but it’s too schizophrenic for me. You’re smart. You’ll figure this out and get tired of trying to bust down the gates. The rules won’t be ignored or changed for you. You aren’t that special.”

Hadrian paid him no heed and continued to go from door to door praying someone might have accidentally left one unlocked. It could happen. There were an uncountable number of doors, growing ever more uncountable by the minute. One had to be unlocked. It was a statistical certainty.

“Okay. I changed my mind. I am chasing you down. I’m not spending three days in here like this with you. It’s like watching a tiny puppy chasing his tail.”

Hadrian turned in time to see the demon charging toward him. He felt himself slammed against the door he’d just been trying to get through. The priest had expected the demon to tear him apart, but he was still standing, and the demon was gone.

Guess again.

It was his own thought in his own mental voice but sounded suspiciously like something the demon would say. Hadrian looked down at his hands and could see his human hands, but also the coal black hands with dark gray claws. Both seemed merged into one being, one laid on top of the other like a holographic image.

For a moment, Father Hadrian feared possession and wondered why the exorcism ritual had no effect. Then he almost seemed to feel a sarcastic eye-roll inside himself.

I’m YOU. Don’t you get it yet? This is the infection. You’ve been infected, not possessed. This is just how a human mind processes the change.

Then, something turned over and clicked, and new information was suddenly available to him.

Vampires can’t be in the sunlight. Regular glass needs to be blacked out, but a dark hole or windowless room is preferable during the day. Stakes kill. Holy water and crosses are problematic but not fatal. Garlic: myth. Mirrors: reflection, yes, but you want to avoid them; it shows the demon, too.

Vampire fact after vampire fact filled his head, until, exhausted from the overload, he curled into the fetal position on the floor and closed his eyes, shutting out the vision of the doors and the yellow light.

One more night before Hadrian rises.

Angeline had been careful to avoid drunks and druggies while feeding. It was important she keep her wits about her if she was to find a good first meal for her mate. She felt the warmth still in her cheeks from her last meal as she wandered the Strip.

She’d considered a few showgirls. With her dark one’s recent religious repression, a showgirl might please him very much. Then her jealousy had won out. No, she couldn’t be that generous. Besides, she had her heart set on a witch, but how would she find one?

It wasn’t as if witches were listed in the yellow pages. The closest thing to a witch that one could easily find in Las Vegas was a fortune teller. Many of them were fakes, but some truly had the gift and other gifts as well. It was the kind of power she wanted to give Hadrian to make sure he started out strong. She wanted him in her power, of course, but she hadn’t created a minion or a servant. She’d made someone to love.

Angeline looked up. Madame Tam’s Fortunes flashed in neon pink, giving off a humming noise like the light was about to go. She pushed a blue-beaded curtain aside and moved into the warmth of the little shop.

A raven gave her a dirty, beady-eyed look and began to get upset from inside his cage. A familiar perhaps? Surely a therian wouldn’t allow himself to be kept in a cage, unless it was for show and he could really come and go as he pleased.

As if on cue, the bird unlatched the door and flew out, landing on top of Angeline’s head, making clicking sounds and a deep, throaty rattle. Whether a shapeshifter with a human form or just a common bird, the thing gave her the creeps.

“Get off!” Angeline said, trying to knock the bird off her head.

Another beaded curtain in the back parted, and a young blonde woman walked in. “Henry, enough! That’s not how we treat patrons, here.”

The bird swooped back to the top of the cage where he perched, giving Angeline the evil eye and raising a fuss and squawking angrily before settling.

“I’m sorry about him. He can be a very trying bird, I’m afraid. I’m Tamara.” The woman held out a bejeweled hand. There was a ring on every finger. When Angeline took it, Madame Tam flinched visibly, then tried to cover her reaction. A look passed between the raven and the woman—some type of private conversation, perhaps?

“Would you like your fortune told?”

Angeline nodded, absently. She tried to get inside the other woman’s mind, but a solid shield was in place. This one had power—quite a lot of it. Maybe she was playing with fire. As old as Angeline was, she wasn’t completely sure she could enthrall the girl, though the blonde couldn’t be older than twenty-two. How much power could such a young thing have? Angeline just hadn’t been in the company of a witch in a while, that was all.

“Well, then won’t you have a seat?” Madame Tam gestured to a large, high-backed chair. The chair was an awful lime green with the stuffing coming out of it.


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