Immortal Internment Compound
When Carrow Graie had awakened from her abduction a week ago, she'd had a raging headache, cotton mouth, and a metal collar affixed around her neck.
Things had only gone downhill from there.
Tonight I might be hitting rock bottom, she thought as warden Fegley - a billy club-carrying, no-balled loser - forced her down the corridor of cells to her doom.
"Dead Wicca walking," the centaurs' leader sneered from their cell as Carrow passed. He, like every other Lore creature imprisoned here in the immortal menagerie, suspected she was about to be offed.
"Shut the fuck up, Mr. Ed," she said, earning a harsh yank on her collar from Fegley. Glaring at the mortal, she struggled against her cuffs. "Once I get my powers back, Fugley, I'll curse you to fall in love. With your own bodily functions. If it comes out of your body, your heart will long for it."
"Then I guess I'm lucky you've got this on." He again jerked on the band at her neck - the mortals called it a tor"ue. It mystically nullified her abilities and weakened her physically. Every species here had been hobbled in some way, making them controllable, even by mortals like Fegley. "Besides, witch, what makes you so sure you're going to make it past the next hour?"
If these people execute me, I'm going to be sooo pissed. Unfortunately, that appeared to be in the cards. At the very least, she was about to be tortured or experimented on.
Hell, maybe then she could find out why anyone would have gone to the trouble of abducting her.
Carrow was a rare three-caste witch, but she was by no means the most powerful, not like her best friend Mariketa the Awaited. Though overjoyed that Mari hadn't been taken, Carrow didn't understand why she'd been targeted....
What would Ripley do? When in a jam, Carrow often thought of how Ellen Ripley, the legendary badasstress of the Alien "uadrilogy, would figure her way out.
Ripley would analyze the enemy, take stock of her surroundings and resources, use her wits to defeat her foes and escape, then nuke everything in her wake.
Analyze the enemy. From what Carrow had heard from other inmates, this place was run by the Order, a mysterious league of mortal soldiers and scientists led by a magister named Declan Chase, a.k.a. the Blademan, along with his trusty bitch, Dr. Dixon.
Carrow's sorceress cellmate had told her the Order was bent on eradicating all the immortal miscreations, or miscreats.
My surroundings???A diabolically designed prison, with cells made of foot-thick steel on three sides and unbreakable, two-foot-thick glass on the front. Each cell had four bunks, with a toilet and a sink behind a screen - and no real privacy. The Order recorded their every action from ceiling cams.
This incarceration was like nothing she'd ever known - and she'd known more than her share of two hots and a cot. Carrow hadn't enjoyed a single shower or change of clothes. She still wore her club duds: halter top, black leather miniskirt, and thigh-high boots.
Each day inside brought more shitty food and bad lighting.
Along with experiments on immortals, some of whom were her friends.
Resources? Carrow had precisely zero-point-zero resources. Despite the fact that she could usually charm prison guards, these mortal soldiers seemed immune to her. Except for Fegley, who for some reason appeared to resent her deeply, as if they had a history.
Though each of her steps carried her potentially closer to her demise, she observed as much as she could, determined to escape. Yet one reinforced corridor bulkhead after another doused her hopes of breaking out.
The layout was labyrinthine, the halls riddled with cameras and the cells all booked up. Lykae, Valkyrie, and the noble fey - all allies of a sort - were mixed amid the evil Invidia, fallen vampires, and fire demons.
In one cell, contagious ghouls snapped at each other, tearing at their own yellow skin. In another, succubae wasted away from sexual hunger.
The Order had snared more beings than could be named, many of which were notorious and deadly.
Like the brutal werewolf Uilleam MacRieve. The Lykae were among the physically strongest creatures in the Lore, but with that tor"ue on his neck, Uilleam couldn't access the beast within him.
For fun, the warden rapped the glass with his club. Maddened by the captivity, Uilleam charged, hitting the glass headfirst, splitting his scalp to the skull right before her eyes. The surface was unharmed while blood poured down his tense face.
In the next cell stood a huge berserker, a savage warrior male that Carrow had seen around New Orleans. He looked on the verge of going berserk.
Carrow swallowed to see his neighboring inmate - a Fury, with uncanny violet eyes and bared fangs. The Furies were female avengers, embodiments of wrath. And this one was a rare Archfury, raven-winged and lethal.
The Order certainly didn't pull their punches. Some of the beings here were even infamous. Like the vampire Lothaire, the Enemy of Old, with his white-blond hair and eerily sinister hotness. Whenever the guards sedated him and dragged him down the ward, his pale red eyes promised pain to those who'd dared to touch him.
"Step on it, witch," Fegley said. "Or I'll introduce you to Billy."
"I might like him, heard he's wittier than you are." She gritted her teeth when he shoved her again.
Once they'd reached the prison ward's main entrance, another long corridor branched off, this one filled with offices and labs. Without a word, Fegley hauled her into the last room, what looked like a modernist den. No lab? No electrodes or bone saws?
A plain-Jane brunette sat behind an executive desk. She sported an I'm a bitch, so deal look behind unstylish glasses. Must be Dr. Dixon.
Behind her, a towering dark-haired male stood at the window. He gazed out into the turbulent night, revealing only a shadowy profile.
Carrow peered outside to get an idea of their location, but rain pelted the window. According to inmate whispers, this facility was on a giant island, thousands of miles from land in any direction. Natch.
"Free her hands," the tall man said without turning. Though he'd spoken only three words, Carrow recognized Declan Chase's voice - that low, hateful tone with the faintest hint of an Irish accent.
Fegley unlocked her cuffs the same way he'd locked them - with his thumbprint - then he exited through a concealed panel door in a side wall.
Everything in this place, including her tor"ue, was locked with a person's right hand thumb. Which meant Carrow needed to cut off Fegley's. Beauty. Something to look forward to. "I remember you, Blademan," she told Chase. "Yeah, from when you and your men electrocuted me."
Those bastards had posted bail for Carrow's latest disorderly conduct charge - proudly earned! - and then lain in wait outside the Orleans Parish Correctional. As she headed home, they'd blown her down a city block with charge throwers, gagged her, and forced a black bag over her head. "Was the hood supposed to instill dread in me or something?"
'Cause it'd worked.
Without deigning to reply, Chase faced her briefly, yet he didn't look at her, more like through her. His pitch-black hair was straight, longish. Several hanks hung over one side of his face, and she thought she saw scars jagging beneath them. His eyes, at least the one she could see, were gray.
He was dressed in somber hues from head to toe, concealing any exposed skin on his body with the help of his leather gloves and high-collared jacket. By all outward appearances, he seemed cold as ice, even as his aura screamed I'm unbalanced!
This was the man who took Carrow's friend Regin the Radiant out of her cell, time and again, to be tortured. Whenever he hurt Regin, her Valkyrie lightning struck outside and the compound's lights surged from her radiant energy.
He hurt her a lot.
"So, Chase, you get off torturing women?" It made a kind of sick sense that a man so cold would fixate on the normally joyful Regin, with her glowing beauty and lust for life.
Carrow thought she saw his lips curl, as if this statement held particular significance to him. "Women? I only torture one woman at a time."
"And you've decided to go steady with Regin the Radiant for now?" Out of the corner of her eye, Carrow saw Dixon frowning at Chase, as if she suspected some untoward interest as well. Ah, so that was the way of it - Dixon carried a torch for the Blademan.
Carrow supposed some might consider his features attractive, for a sadistic human, but his half-hidden countenance resembled a pale, deadened mask.
All the best with that, you crazy kids. Tommy-used-to-work-on-the-docks and mazel tov.
Chase merely shrugged, turning back to the window. But the tension in his shoulders was so marked, she wondered how he remained upright.
"You've got stones to nab a Valkyrie, I'll give you that," Carrow said. "But her sisters will come for her. For that matter, you really shouldn't have pissed off the House of Witches. The covens will find your little jail. They'll descend on this place." Though she sounded confident, she'd begun to suspect that the island was cloaked somehow. By now, Mariketa would know she'd been abducted, and if her powerful friend hadn't yet scried her location - or gotten a soothsayer to uncover it - then it couldn't be found.
"Will they, indeed?" His tone was smug, too smug. "Then I'll add to my collection."
Dixon hastily said, "Magister Chase is only doing what must be done. We all are. Whenever immortals begin to plot, we sentinels rise up, as we have for centuries."
Dixon nodded. "You're planning to annihilate mankind and take over the earth."
Carrow's lips parted in disbelief. "That's what this is all about? My gods, it's too ridiculous! You wanna know a secret? There's no plan to kill you all, because you're beneath our notice!"
Ugh - fanatical humans! Sometimes she hated them so much.
"We know that a war between us is coming," Dixon insisted. "If your kind isn't contained, you'll destroy us all."
Carrow s"uinted at her. "I'm warming to the idea. Especially with mortals like you. Don't you get it? Human fanatics are more monster than any of the Lore."
"More than the Libitinae?"
The Libitinae often forced men to self-castrate or die - for fun.
"Or maybe the Neoptera?" Dixon continued.
Insectlike humanoids, the stuff of nightmares. At the mention of the latter, Chase tensed even more, the muscle in his jaw bulging. Interesting.
Watching for any reaction, Carrow slowly said, "No, I'll grant you that the Neoptera are depraved. They don't kill their "uarry; they keep it, tormenting it hour after hour."
Had sweat beaded on Chase's upper lip? If those creatures had gotten hold of this man ... Well, Carrow knew what they did for shits and giggles, what they did to their victim's skin, and it made her stomach turn.
Was that why Chase had covered as much of his body as possible? How was he still sane? Was he?
The inmates gossiped about this man constantly; apparently, he hated to be touched, had once clocked an orderly who'd made the mistake of tapping his shoulder.
That would explain the gloves.
She almost felt a shred of pity for him, until he grated, "And the witch believes she's better than they are."
And the witch is talking to a madman. "Okay, clearly you two are beyond rational debate, so let's just get to it. Why did you take me?"
Dixon answered, "Our aim is not only to study you, but to conceal your existence. Most immortals fly under the radar. You flaunt your powers in front of humans."
Carrow had been repeatedly chastised by her coven for this. But, as she'd often argued, she never used her powers around sober humans. "So why'd you bring me here tonight?"
"You're going to help us capture a vampiric demon, a male named Malkom Slaine."
Heh. Twenty large says I'm not. "A vemon? You really think they exist?" she asked innocently. Vemons had been thought an impossibility, a "true myth" -??oxymoron, hello? - until one had been unleashed on New Orleans last year.
Unimaginably strong, he'd defeated several fierce Valkyrie, who'd survived only by chance. He'd barely been destroyed by the powerful Lykae king, and only because he'd been threatening the werewolf's mate.
"They're rare, but we have knowledge of one's existence," Dixon said. "You'll seek out this male, then lead him to us."
"You want me to go out and coax some poor sap to his death?"
"We don't intend to kill him," she said. "We want to discover his weaknesses - "
"And how he was made, huh?"
Dixon held up her palms. "We are interested in the anomalous beings among the Lore."
Anomalous. What a mild way of putting it.
"He lives in Oblivion, a demon hell plane."
The demon planes weren't parallel universes, but self-contained, hidden territories with their own climates, cultures, and demonarchies. Most of their societies were feudal and old-fashioned. Not exactly hotbeds of technology - or, say, women's liberties.
"I've heard of it," Carrow said. A wasteland once used as a gulag for Lore criminals, Oblivion was the former home of the Trothan Demonarchy. Before the vampires overthrew their royal line.
"We've been able to compile information about your target, taken from detained Trothan demons."
Carrow raised her brows. "You torture them to spill the beans?"
"They volunteered the details gladly. He's reviled among his kind, a bogeyman of sorts. You'll like him no better. He is illiterate, filthy, and brutish. Mentally, he is severely disturbed."
"You're calling someone 'severely disturbed' with this dude in the room?" Carrow hiked a thumb at Chase. The tension in his shoulders and neck ratcheted up, if that was possible. "You know, Dix, you're not exactly selling me on this."
Dixon pursed her lips. "To succeed, you will need to know exactly what you're up against."
"You're from the enchantress caste of witches, and you're attractive. The males on that plane have probably never seen a female like you."
"That plane? Honey, try this universe. Oh, and easily this room."
"We have your history as well," Dixon snapped, losing patience with her. "In your forty-nine years of life, you've routinely done things that are very brave - and very stupid. This should suit you perfectly."
No argument there. And she'd only grown bolder since she'd become fully immortal twenty-three years before. "Why can't you go and get him yourselves?"
"He's se"uestered in deep mines within a mountain and has choked the few passes with traps. He guards his domain ruthlessly. If we can't take him out, we can lead him out."
With her playing the part of Delilah? Don't think so. "As much as I appreciate the invitation to help out with your vemon-retrieval problem, I'm afraid I'm going to have to R.S.V.F.U."
Over his shoulder, Chase said, "Is that your final decision?"
"Yep. Even if I wanted to help you, I'm not special-ops - I'm front line." She was a general among her kind, leading armies of spellcasters. "So if you've got some urban warfare, we can talk. But not so much with the tromping around on a mountain in a hell plane." Carrow loathed the outdoors, Gulf Coast beaches excepted.
Chase said, "We thought you might be misguided in this." Were his pupils dilated? "I have something that will give you perspective." He crossed to an intercom panel on the wall, pressing a button beside it.
That concealed panel door slid open once more, and Fegley walked in. He had his arms full - with a young girl, unconscious and limp in his hold. Her mane of long black hair covered her face. She had on a dark T-shirt and leggings, a tiny black puff tutu, and miniature combat boots.
Carrow felt a stab of foreboding. Don't let it be Ruby. She glared at Chase. "You're taking kids prisoner?" How many little girls dress like that?
Fegley sneered, "When one of them tortures and murders twenty soldiers?" Then he tossed the girl to Carrow.
She dove forward to catch her, shooting the man a killing look before gazing down. Don't be her.
Carrow hissed in a breath. Ruby. A seven-year-old from her own coven, related to her by blood.
"Where's her mother?" Amanda, a warrior-caste witch, would never have been separated from her little girl. "Answer me, you prick!"
Fegley snidely said, "She lost her head."
Amanda dead? "I'd already planned to end you, Fegley," Carrow choked out. "Now I'm going to make it slow."
Fegley merely shrugged and sauntered out, making Carrow grit her teeth with frustration. In the past, she could have electrocuted him with a touch of her hand, could've rendered him to dust as an afterthought.
Struggling to get her emotions under control, she turned her attention back to the child, petting her face. "Ruby, wake up!"
Dixon said, "She's only sedated."
Carrow gathered the girl closer. Her breaths and heartbeat did sound regular. "Ruby, sweet, open your eyes." Of all the young witches for them to have...
Within the coven, there were tanda, social groups of similar ages. Ruby was in a group of baby witches, or a "gang" as they called themselves - a gang more in the sense of Little Rascals than of Crips and Bloods, but it was cute.
Carrow and Mariketa often took them to sweets shops, getting them jacked up on sucrose before setting them loose on the coven. Ring the doorbell, drop them off, then run like hell, cackling all the way.
Carrow and Mariketa - Crow and Kettle, as they'd been dubbed - were the gang's favorite "aunts." Ruby was secretly Carrow's favorite as well. How could she not be? Ruby was fearless and bright, an adorable little girl dressed in ballerina punk.
Dixon frowned. "She could pass as your own."
Like many in a coven, Carrow and Ruby were related, though more closely than usual. The girl was her second cousin, and she belonged to the exact three castes that Carrow did, with her strength in the warrior caste. Just like me.
Ruby's green eyes blinked open. "Crow?"
"I'm right here, sweetheart." When Ruby's tears welled, Carrow felt a pang like a blade in her heart. "I've got you."
Ruby's body tensed against hers. Eyes wild, she cried, "Mommy t-told me not to kill them! B-but when they hurt her, it ... it just happened." She was beginning to pant, her breaths shallowing.
"Shh, you're all right now. Just breathe easy." When Ruby got overly excited, she would hyperventilate, even passing out on occasion. "It's okay, everything's going to be all right," Carrow lied, rocking her. "Just breathe."
"They swung a sword at her neck!" Her chest heaved for air. "I saw her ... d-die. She's dead - " Ruby went limp once more and her head fell back. Unconscious.
"Ruby! Ah, gods." Amanda was truly gone? And Ruby's father had been murdered by rogue warlocks before she'd even been born.
The coven didn't usually spell out things like godparents or custody. Immortals not actively at war didn't have to worry much about leaving behind orphans. But if Amanda had gone to battle, she would have expected the closest blood relation in the coven to care for her daughter.
That'd be Carrow, the House hellion. Poor Ruby.
Though Carrow had been treated so callously by her own parents, she would do right by her responsibilities. She stared down at the girl's ashen face with a new recognition, a momentous feeling of a shared future.
Carrow had long had a uni"ue and curious talent - the ability to sense when another had just become a part of her life forever, when their destinies would eventually be intertwined and shared.
In that instant, Carrow became witch plus one.
But she couldn't even get herself out of this shithole, much less a child!
"Action and reaction," Chase said. "You get us our target, and the two of you will go free." Though tension thrummed off him, his voice was monotone, his accent barely perceptible. "Otherwise, she dies."
Carrow stiffened. Against Ruby's hair, she murmured, "I'm going to take you home soon, baby." She turned to Chase. "I'll have the use of my powers?"
"Your tor"ue will be deactivated for the mission," he said.
Not that Carrow would be able to spellcast even without her tor"ue. She needed crowds and laughter for power to fuel her spells. Here she'd been tapped out, as useless as an empty keg.
"You'll depart tomorrow, remaining in Oblivion for six days." Dixon continued over Carrow's sputtering, "Tonight I'll assist you in collecting your gear. You'll be allowed a shower, and we'll provide you with a dossier on your target."
"Nearly a week in hell? How am I even supposed to get to Oblivion?"
Dixon answered, "Your sorceress cellmate, Melanthe, the "ueen of Persuasion, can create a portal."
That's right. Lanthe could open thresholds to anywhere.
"We'll briefly deactivate her tor"ue - under SWAT supervision. And of course, we'll keep Ruby here to make sure all goes according to our plans."
There went that idea. "I want Lanthe and Regin released as well."
The doctor shook her head. "Impossible."
If they truly set Carrow free, then she'd come back for the two of them soon enough. "I want the Order's word about releasing me and Ruby."
The woman said, "You have it."
"Don't want yours," Carrow said in a scoffing tone. "I want his."
Chase turned to her once more. After a hesitation, he gave a nod.
"Then we have a deal," Carrow said.
He narrowed his eyes, as if she'd just proven a point. "Not even a "ualm about betraying one of your own species?"
"A demon is not one of my own species," Carrow snapped. "You make us sound like animals."
Without another look at her or the girl in her arms, he strode out of the room, saying in a chilling tone, "Because that's all you are."