For those of you new here, the Skeleton Key blogvel was started by my ever talented friend, Michelle Simkins, who's always full of good ideas. With a few pleas and much bribery (hehe! Not really), she got us to sign up for a chapter each week. And now it's my turn. You can check out the list of chapters here to follow this blogvel's progress.
Chapter 14 was brought to us by Kellie M. of Tighty Writie, and Chapter 16 will be up next Monday at Riley Redgate's blog In the Jungle.
Happy reading and I hope you enjoy my chapter! <3
The greenish sludge coats my throat and I resist the urge to vomit. I turn to my guide, or should I say, clown, and ask, “How do I get back to the world of the living?”
Greg guffaws and slaps his knees with his big, meaty hands. The gatekeeper smirks at me.
“What?” I run my tongue over my teeth, checking for stuck remnants of the nasty drink. These two may be dead and not the kind of guys I want to impress, but still. I haven’t lived down the spinach-on-teeth episode last year at Dex’s family Christmas party. “What’s so funny?”
“See, hon, once you get to the Underworld, there’s no elevator to take you back up.” Greg points to the ceiling. “The fastest way outta here is through the Rebirth center. Sure you’ll have to spend years growing up all over again, but hey, maybe you’ll get lucky the second time around. Maybe you won’t get acne through your teen years, or maybe you’ll get born to Paris Hilton. Who knows? Either way, it’s better than hanging around Starbucks forever.”
My hand goes to the zit under my chin. I think of my college loans and how I’ve always wanted to pursue an Art degree instead. A nice art studio, all quiet and zen-like, sounds really appealing right now. Or maybe I could be born in a supermodel body. I’ve been running for half a year and the scale hasn’t budged in my favor. Damn chocolate cupcakes with their yummy pink frosting! Well, I suppose it is partly Genevieve’s fault…
The door opens and my stomach drops.
I squeak, “Genevieve?”
There’s no mistaking those bright green eyes. Genevieve frowns and wrings her hands as she approaches. “Rebecca, I thought you’d gone back to life by now. What are you still doing here?”
“Me? What are you doing here? Did you take the meta essence too?”
Greg slicks back his hair with his palm. “Who’s the hottie?”
Genevieve ignores my guide and shakes her head at me. “Rebecca, you need to get back up there now! If you stay here too long, you’ll mimic death until you’re truly dead.”
“What?” Oh shit. This is so not cool. “Seriously, next time you guys send me on a mission to the Underworld, would you please give me an instruction manual?”
Genevieve’s frown turns into a grimace. She grabs me by the elbow and steers me into the ladies room.
“We’ll be here when you get back, love,” says Greg, wolf-whistling after us.
Genevieve locks the bathroom door. “Listen Rebecca, things are getting really bad. Right after you left, I had the vision again—the one of you and the killer—only this time, the mist had cleared and I could see his face. But then I died.”
“You’re dead?” The air seems to get sucked out of my lungs and I stagger toward the sink. The mirror shows my skin turning paler, and it’s not because of Genevieve’s news. “H-how?”
“I’m not sure. I think Mr. Harvey did it. It happened so fast…I saw the vision and the next thing I knew, I was riding some Ankou’s golf cart. I’m so sorry, Rebecca. I’m not going to be of much help to you anymore.”
It seems absurd to cry about death while in the Underworld but I hug Genevieve anyway and sob on her shoulder. “Bossman’s so going to pay for this.” I can’t believe he lost control of his needs like the others did, and turned on Genevieve like that. What was he anyway? A cat man? Do they eat people?
She pats my back. “Don’t worry about me. I’m hoping to get reborn somewhere nice and peaceful.” I let go of her. Genevieve smiles. “But you…you have a mission to finish, a world to save. Be careful, Rebecca. Mr. Harvey is not what he seems.”
I blow my nose on a two-ply sheet. “How do I get out of here?”
“Do you still have the Hummer? It’s not only a tracker but it can act as a guide. If you concentrate really hard, you’ll be able to find Hadriax’s signal. The Hummer will lead you back to him.”
Great. I remember my burnt hands and the metal sticking to my skin while tracking Ax in Tokyo. As if reading my thoughts, Genevieve says, “Not too hard. Just enough to connect you to his essence.”
His essence. Riiiight. The tips of my ears warm up.
“Good luck, Rebecca. I’m so glad to be your friend, if only for a short time. I must go now. The Rebirth Center closes at six.”
After Genevieve leaves, I hold the Hummer up and think of Ax. Of the way steam issued out of his ears the first time we met. I smile. His beautiful amber eyes used to regard me with indifference, as if I was a puny human he didn’t want to waste his time with. Oh-ho, I proved him wrong, didn’t I?
The Hummer’s not working. I shut my eyes. Concentrate! I remember the feel of Ax’s broad shoulders under my fingertips, his warm lips on mine…. I remember the gentle way his arms held me after Angelica took my sister; how mate or not, I’d always be painfully aware of his presence because now I care. My chest constricts. I do care! I’m falling for the dragon man.
I gasp. The Hummer thrums, vibrating in my hands. It glows red, like an iron poker left lying in the hearth. Oh shit! I may have overdone this essence thing. Ax’s gonna kill me when I come back with Hummer ashes. But there’s no buzzing this time and my hands do not burn. The glow transforms into blinding white light until I can no longer look at it. I turn my face away and squeeze my eyes tight.
I have this weird sensation of whirling around and being grounded at the same time. My stomach churns, and just when I think I’m about to spew out the green sludge I drank at the bar, the motion stops. My arms rendered weak from the effort, the Hummer falls with a dull clank on the stony floor. Where am I?
The cavernous room is dimly lit by torches held in brackets. Very Medieval, and yet, there’s a computer desk pushed against the stone wall. There’s even an iPod charging on a docking station. A massive bookcase spans the length of another wall, with titles written in strange characters and rune-like symbols next to Marketing Strategies manuals and Violin for Dummies. Violin?
In another corner, there’s a loveseat, a mini-bar, and a huge plasma TV mounted on the wall. The most curious thing, however, is the middle of the room where there’s…nothing. Just a great, oval rug that’s probably more expensive than my life and my college loans put together.
The ceiling rumbles above me. Bits of rock dislodge and clatter on the floor. Another rumble, this time coming from the heavy wooden door. I pick up the Hummer and back away from the source of the noise. My knees tremble.
Ax bursts in through the door, half of him encased in dragon scales, the other half still human. His golden eyes have red slits now, and they look about him wildly.
“Ax!” I run to him, but stop midway when he growls at me. “Ax, it’s me. Rebecca.”
At the sound of my name he shakes his head like a wet dog. I take a step closer and hold out a hand. Finally he says, “Rebecca?”
He winces as I throw my arms around his neck but he doesn’t hesitate when I tilt my face upwards. His kiss is hard, demanding. Hungry. As if it’s all we can afford at the moment. Or maybe it’s all we have left for the room begins to shake violently.
“Ax, what’s happening?”
He cups my face with his human hand. “Rebecca, I didn’t think I’d ever see you again. Angelica…the visions…” He grimaces. “She’s gotten a lot stronger through the years. I saw you dead in my mind. And it felt so…real.”
“It’s okay. I’m here.” I touch his face. “But what’s going on? Genevieve’s dead and I saw her in the Underworld. She said…she said Mr. Harvey killed her.”
Ax swears under his breath. “I should have known. Damn traitor! But I was too busy fending off Angelica and her brother Damien. They’re here and we’ve been fighting them since you left.” He rummages through the desk. “You need to get out of here, Rebecca. They’ll be coming after you next.”
“No! I’m staying with you.”
Don’t argue with me. I’m trying to keep you safe.
Get out of my brain, Ax!
He turns around. “You can do that? In your human form?”
The door breaks into a million splintery pieces. Ax saves me from being turned into shish-kebab by shielding me with his body. I feel him shudder as his human part gets jabbed with wooden spikes. Greenish-blue blood drips from his arm. “Shit,” he whispers. “I thought the magical reinforcement I placed around this room was going to hold for a while. A long while.”
Mr. Harvey strolls in through the doorway.
Ax stiffens and growls. “What do you want, Gene? Why are you doing this?”
The bossman grins, his teeth elongating.
Ax’s human half begins sprouting scales until he’s covered with them, though he doesn’t resume his full dragon shape. Mr. Harvey claps his hands, his cat-like eyes beaming as if this were a regular circus show.
“My turn.” Mr. Harvey rears back his head. His smooth scalp bubbles, its surface first shifting into ridges then a series of peaks. Two black horns sprout, breaking the skin around his temples. His torso contorts and writhes. Mr. Harvey’s expensive suit breaks apart at the seams. A pair of bat-like wings unfurl behind him. His shoulders grow, expand, his obsidian skin stretched taut against bones and muscles. Mr. Harveys’s face elongates until it resembles a mash-up between a horse and a bat.
“Ohshitohshitohshitohshit,” I mutter, cowering behind Ax.
“Ba’al Azabub.” Ax’s voice quakes with anger.
Mr. Harvey, or Ba’al whats-it, roars. “I’m more popular as Beelzebub.” He points a talon at me. “Give me the key, human. Your time on Earth is over. I’ve been building the portal to Hell for decades while gathering strength. Once all of the portals are closed, Hell will open its doors for me. My children will aid me.”
Angelica enters the room, followed by her brother Damien whose mouth is clamped around the HR lady’s neck. He tosses her body away.
Ax hisses at me. “Get back, Rebecca.” I scramble away as Ax transforms into his dragon form. He opens his mouth, jetting out fire at the demon.
Beelzebub doesn’t flinch. He laughs, the sound akin to an avalanche. “You should have completed the mating ritual, then you’d be at your full strength.”
Angelica steps forward. Ax’s body writhes on the ground. His scales retract and grow again, as if he can’t keep his shape. I stare at him.
Rebecca! Ax’s thoughts enter mine. I feel his pain, each wracking spasm of his unstable body. My eyes blur with tears. I didn’t sign up for this.
Damien grabs my arm and drags me into the center of the room. He shoves me down in front of his father. Beelzebub grins at me and flicks a finger. A ring of fire encircles us, just like in Genevieve’s vision.
“You killed Margeurite,” I say.
“Yes, and I will kill your boyfriend too, if you don’t give me the skeleton key.” He sweeps his arm and the floor crumbles, widening into a chasm between us. “Look at all those souls yearning for a better kingdom.”
I gasp. Demons, monsters, and skinless things crawl along the sides of the pit, but an invisible barrier is keeping them from reaching the top. Hell’s doors.
“Give me the key.”
Ax’s voice drifts in my mind. Rebecca, no! I flinch as an image of Ax convulsing on the floor appears before me.
“He will die,” says Beelzebub. “But you can save him. Give me the key.”
My fingers curl around the skeleton key in my pocket.