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Chapter 12 A MAN'S GOTTA DO

Dervish is hooked up to all manner of machines. He's wealthy, so he gets his own room and the best possible care and attention. The machines are incredible, so intricately designed, capable of detecting tiny flaws that Banba and I never could have, no matter how strong our magic. When the doctors and nurses aren't busy, I ask about the various consoles and monitors, memorising their answers. If I was ever granted the freedom to pursue a normal career, I'd work day and night to master these machines and become a modern-day healer.

It's been four days since Dervish's heart attack, three since we brought him to the hospital. The doctor who first examined him was furious that we waited so long to admit him. But she was soon replaced by a surgeon who knew of the Disciples and Sharmila was able to explain the reasons for our delay.

Dervish's room is on the fifth floor, two floors down from the top of the hospital. It's close to an elevator shaft. There are armed guards stationed outside, but they keep their weapons hidden discreetly. Sharmila arranged for them to be here. The Disciples have many useful contacts.

Most of the guards are cold and distant, focused on their watch. But a couple chat with me during the quieter moments and one-Kealan-is outright friendly. Kealan's one of two trained medics who alternate shifts. They're more closely involved with us than the other guards-if we have to move Dervish in an emergency, Kealan or the other medic will handle any medical complications.

Sharmila or I have been with Dervish the whole time, except when his doctors are examining him. A cot has been set up in a corner of the room and we take turns sleeping there.

Dervish has flickered into consciousness a couple of times, but never for long, and he hasn't said anything or showed signs of recognition. His doctors aren't sure what state his brain is in. They don't think he suffered serious mental damage, but they can't say for certain until he recovers. If he recovers.

Sharmila has discussed the situation with her fellow Disciples. She considered going straight after the Lambs, but we're still not absolutely certain they were behind the attack. And even if they are directly involved, we don't know who they're working with or what we might walk into if we go after them. Better to wait for Beranabus.

I don't mind waiting. This is the calm before the storm. I'm sure the peace won't last. We'll soon have all the action we could wish for, and more. I'm enjoying the lull. In my previous life I was eager to leave the confines of my village and explore the world. If I could do it all again, having seen the terrors of the wide blue yonder, I'd probably stay at home and keep my head down. Not the most heroic of responses, but I never wanted to be a hero. I'd much rather lead an ordinary life. Normal people don't know how lucky-how blessed-they are.

Sharmila is talking to Dervish, chatting away as if he's listening to her every word. You're supposed to do that with people who are comatose. Doctors say it can help, and even if it doesn't, it can't do any harm.

I've tried speaking to Dervish, but what can I say? I don't want to tell him about Bill-E-that period of our relationship is over-but we don't have much else in common. I've shared some of my previous life, described the rath where I lived, my people, our customs. But I don't know how interested Dervish is in ancient history. I worry, if he can hear, that I'm boring him.

Sharmila's reminding Dervish of their adventures in the demon universe when they were younger. She recalls their encounter with Lord Loss, Kernel surprising them all with his knack of opening windows, the loss of Nadia Moore-who would later resurface as the treacherous Juni Swan. I've heard most of it before and I'm feeling restless.

"Do you mind if I stretch my legs?" I interrupt.

"Not at all," Sharmila says. "I will call if I need you." She gave me a walkie-talkie a couple of days ago, so we could keep in touch. Mobile phones aren't allowed inside the hospital.

Kealan is on duty with three other guards outside the room. They don't ever seem to get bored, even though they just stand and stare at the corridor all the time. Kealan asks how Dervish is, then if I want to play a game of cards.

"Maybe later," I smile, "if you're still here."

"Where else would I be?" he chuckles wryly. Kealan's the only guard who looks unsuited to his job. I'm not sure why he got into this military business. I think he'd be much happier just being a medic. Maybe the army trained him and he has to serve a number of years with them before moving on.

I stroll through the various levels and wards of the hospital. I know the building well by this stage and many of the doctors and nurses have got to know me. They give me treats and make small talk if they're not busy. It's been quiet here since I came and some of the staff consider me a good luck omen. I'm even allowed into areas which would normally be off-limits, like the maternity ward on the second floor. It's my favourite part of the hospital. I love watching cute, wrinkled babies, gazing into their innocent eyes, most the colour of a clear blue sky.

But I head in a different direction on this foray, winding my way up to the roof. I've been stuck inside all day. I need fresh air. I'm also hoping to see a helicopter. It's exciting when one lands. I'd love to go up in one, but I suspect even good luck omens don't get to hitch rides in hospital helicopters.

It's evening. An overcast, patchy sky. I spend a long time watching the sun vanish and reappear from behind drifting clouds. My old teacher, Banba, thought you could read signs of the future in the movements of clouds, but I've never been able to predict anything from them. Still, when I've nothing else to do, I like to try.

"Where are you, Beranabus?" I whisper, hoping the clouds will answer. "How long will it take you to come?"

I'm not sure what we'll do if he doesn't find us soon. We can't wait forever. Where will we go when Dervish recovers or dies? Back to Carcery Vale? To stay at Sharmila's home or with other members of the Disciples? Into the universe of the Demonata to search for Beranabus?

I feel guilty when I think about Shark and Meera, and the mission I sent them on. It was necessary to summon Beranabus. If the attack happened because I'm part of the Kah-Gash, he needs to know. But how likely is that? Maybe I secretly sent them to get him because I was missing my old friend.

A breeze blows in from behind me, tickling the hairs on the back of my neck. I shiver with delight and snuggle into the wind as if it was a giant cushion. Then I pause. This is a warm breeze, not like the cold blasts which whipped across the roof the other times I've been up here. And it's coming from a different direction. It feels unnatural.

I focus, senses locking on the currents of air, mentally tracing the breeze back to its origins. I wasn't good at this in the past, but my talent has blossomed since I died. My mind bounds off the roof like a magical hound and hurtles towards the ground. As it draws level with the first floor, it veers through a broken window, one that's been shattered from the inside out.

It comes to a halt in the centre of the room and my eyes snap open. There's a mage, a man of weak magic, but strong, evil intent. And in front of him stands a panel of light-a window into the universe of the Demonata. As I probe it with mental tendrils, I sense figures hurtling through. As much as I wish otherwise, it's not Beranabus or his Disciples. I'm a long way removed, but even from up here I'm able to tell that the creatures setting foot on our world aren't human. They're demons!

I'm on the walkie-talkie before I take my first step. "Sharmila! Answer! It's an emergency! Over."

She replies as I'm taking my third step. "What is happening? Over."

"Demons. On the first floor. Move Dervish."


Racing down the stairs, I feel the air fill with magic, flooding up through the building from the open window. That's good for me-more power to tap into-but it's also good for the Demonata. I try keeping track of the window, to get an idea of how many demons we'll have to deal with, but it's hard when I'm running. I'd have to stop and concentrate, but there's no time for that.

"Hey," a nurse shouts as I hit the fifth floor and race towards the elevator shaft, where I spot Sharmila, the four guards and Dervish. "No running!"

I don't stop. I reach Sharmila a few seconds later. The elevator has arrived. The guards are rolling Dervish in on a hospital trolley. I'm relieved Kealan was able to unhook Dervish from his banks of machines so quickly.

"Where are they?" Sharmila asks.

"I'm not sure. They entered on the first floor, but I don't know-"

"How many?"

"Give me a moment." I step into the elevator after the guards and Dervish. I focus as the doors close... my senses seep down through the building, searching for demonic targets...

With a gasp I jam a hand between the doors just before they close. The panels slide apart automatically.

"What are you doing?" Sharmila snaps.

"They're in the shaft," I hiss. "Three of them. Climbing the cables."

"Out!" Sharmila barks at the guards. As they roll Dervish back into the corridor, the nurse who shouted at me hits the scene.

"Where are you going with that patient? You can't move him without a doctor's orders. I'm calling the-"

Sharmila waves a hand at her. The nurse's eyes flicker, then she turns and walks away.

"The stairs?" Sharmila asks.

"More of them there. Eight or nine."

Her face pales. "Can we fight them?"

"If we have to. They're not strong. But there are so many of them..."

Balazs-the smallest of the guards-is on his walkie-talkie, talking softly but quickly. He finishes and clips it to his belt. "The roof," he says calmly. "A helicopter will be with us in five minutes."

"Bec?" Sharmila asks. "The elevator or stairs?"

I concentrate. The demons in the shaft are making fast progress. Those on the stairs are moving slower, pausing to pick off a few unfortunate nurses who get in their way.

"The stairs," I decide, hurrying ahead of the guards to open the door.

Gabor and Bence-the other two guards-push the trolley to the foot of the stairs, then each takes an end. They raise the wheels off the floor and start up the steps. Kealan moves alongside them, monitoring Dervish.

"You two go ahead," Balazs says to Sharmila and me, taking out a pair of pistols. "I'll hold off the demons."

"You cannot kill them with bullets," Sharmila says.

"I know," Balazs says softly. "But I can slow them down."

Sharmila starts to object, then nods curtly and flees up the stairs, no longer limping, using magic to move freely and swiftly.

"Do you want me to stay and help?" I ask Balazs.

"No," he says. "You'll serve more good if you stay with Dervish."

"You'll die," I note sadly.

"Dying's my job." He grins bleakly. "Now get the hell out of here and let me do what I'm trained for."

I stand on my toes and give him a quick hug. I get flashes of his mother's face. She was mauled by a demon. It took her several hours to die. A slow, painful death. Balazs is determined not to suffer as she did.

Releasing the doomed guard, I chase after the others, feeling the demons close on us from beneath.

We've just passed the seventh floor, heading for the exit to the roof, when the gunfire starts. We pause, even the guards who are used to situations like this. Then we press on. By the time we crash through the doors at the top of the stairs, the hail of bullets has stopped.

Bence and Gabor check their watches. Their frantic eyes reveal how desperate the situation is. Unholstering their weapons, they silently head down the stairs.

"Where is the helicopter coming from?" Sharmila asks as Kealan wheels Dervish towards the landing pad.

"Nearby," Kealan says. "We'd have kept it here, but there wasn't space. The hospital helicopters took priority."

"Nobody said anything to me about that," Sharmila huffs.

"We make our own plans," Kealan says. "We don't discuss them with civilians, even Disciples. No offence meant."

"None taken."

Guns blare on the staircase.

"How much longer?" I shout.

Kealan checks his watch. "A minute. Maybe two."

I dart back towards the stairs. "Bec!" Sharmila screams.

"Don't worry," I pant. "I'm not going to fight them."

I didn't absorb any of Beranabus's magic when we touched, but I learnt a lot of his spells. There are many I can't use-there's more to magic than knowing the right words-but some I can. Reaching the doors at the top of the stairs, I draw upon the ancient magician's years of experience and prepare a holding spell.

Bullets are still being fired on the stairs. "Gabor! Bence!" I yell. "Come back!"

There's no response. A few seconds later the guns stop. There's the sound of scurrying footsteps-but not human feet. Grimacing, I unleash the spell and block the doorway with a shield of magical energy.

The first demon appears. It has a square, bloodstained head. Dozens of eyes. Three mouths. A tiny body. It leaps at me, wild with bloodlust, but crashes back off the shield. It snaps at the web of energy, trying to tear it apart with its teeth, but the barrier holds.

I back away from the doors, focusing my power. This is the first time I've tried this spell and the effort involved is greater than I thought. By tapping into the magic in the air, I can hold the shield in place, but I won't be able to maintain it for long, especially not with demons snapping and clawing at it. But I don't need much time, just a minute. It should be enough.

I'm halfway to the landing pad when I hear the whirring sound of helicopter blades and spot the craft humming towards us. I feel a sense of triumph like a hard ball in my gut. In their own universe, some demons are able to fly. But flight is difficult here. Strong demons might manage short bursts, but the beasts who crossed aren't especially powerful. Once we're in the air, we'll be safe.

I don't let thoughts of escape make me careless. I stay focused on the shield. I'm tiring fast- there's so little magic in this world. I can hold it for another couple of minutes maybe, but that should be all the time we...

Something powerful slips through the window on the first floor. Not a demon, but not human either. A beast far more dangerous than any of the others. It snaps questions at the mage who's been holding the window open, then howls at the top of its voice. The cry echoes up the stairs and corridors. The demons struggling with the shield pause to screech in response.

The new, mysterious monster throws itself through the shattered glass window of the room, digs its claws into the wall and scurries upwards, scaling the building like a jet-propelled spider. I start to yell a warning to Sharmila, but before the words have left my lips the creature hauls itself over the edge of the roof and leers at us maliciously.

The beast has the shape of a woman, but her skin is a mass of blisters and sores. Pus oozes from dozens of cracks and holes in her jellyish flesh. Her mouth is a ragged red slit, her eyes two green thimbles in a putrid, yellow mockery of a face. A few scraps of hair jut out of her head. She wears no clothes-the touch of any material would be agony on flesh so pustulent and tender.

The creature points at the helicopter, which has almost completed its descent, and barks a phrase of magic. The blades stutter, then stop. The helicopter shakes wildly, spins around a few times, then plummets several metres shy of the building. It makes a sharp, screaming sound as it drops. Then it hits the ground and there's an explosion, louder and more brutal than any movie bang ever prepared me for. Glass explodes in all the nearby windows. A giant ball of flame belches up into the sky, turning the evening red. Meera and Kealan are thrown to the floor and the unconscious Dervish slides off his trolley.

Only the woman and I remain standing, using magic to shelter ourselves from the force of the explosion. I sense the shield give way behind me and demons spill on to the roof. But I don't care about them now. I have a more dangerous foe to contend with.

The most frightening, bewildering thing is, I know her. It's impossible-I saw her die-but I'm sure I'm right. Her voice when she cast the spell was familiar and, misshapen as she is, if I squint hard, I can make out the lines of her original face. I saw and heard her in the cave the night when I returned to life. Even if I hadn't, I'd know her from Beranabus's memories. She was his assistant once-Nadia Moore. But now she serves a different master, our old foe Lord Loss. And she calls herself...

"Juni Swan," the semi-human monster gurgles, bowing with cynical politeness. Her lips move into a jagged line as she straightens-I think it's meant to be a smile. "Delighted to kill you."

She flicks a hand at me and the ground at my feet bellows upwards in a pillar of molten, burning tar.

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