‘The Feeders are the most violent of Demons, because they can survive only by consuming living flesh. Serious injuries, acts of violence, cannibalism and murder: these events are the bread and butter of the Feeder. Many a person who went missing and was never recovered demonstrates a case in which the Feeder simply finished their meal.’
– Blood Dweller’s Guide to the Underworld, Chapter 1 (Demon Haunted World)
Dale had a boat anchored by rope to the pier, hidden far below the island as an emergency escape. He hadn’t told anyone else about it, and once they’d rappelled the length of the rope and walked the narrow deck, Calvin was duly impressed, though not because of anything to do with Dale’s foresight. ‘I must admit, God Man. You’re more devious than I gave you credit for.’
‘Deviousness had nothing to do with it,’ Dale said, striding across to the mast to untangle the rigging. The winds of Hell could be unpredictable, and a false knot or torn sail could leave you in the void if you weren’t careful. Luckily, the currents were slow and steady today. ‘It would have been foolish not to have an escape.’
‘Of course,’ Calvin said, untying the anchor rope with his nimble fingers. ‘But not telling us about it? You weren’t afraid one of us would sabotage it in order to corner you, were you?’
Dale said nothing. Once the sails were ready, he headed to the cramped quarters at the stern. Everything inside was dusty, untouched for years now, but all was still in its place. In the top drawer he found everything he would need to navigate to Mort City: a sextant – modified for use in Hell – a crudely drawn map of visual landmarks and angles, and a telescope. He grabbed the latter and headed back to the foredeck to plot their direction. Now untethered, the ship was beginning to drift from the sheltering island above them.
Smirking, Calvin went into the cabin to deposit the two bottles of souls in the bar, and Dale grimaced at the sight, uneasy. ‘We should have left Darla a flask, at least.’
‘Oh, she’ll survive,’ Calvin said. He rummaged in one of the cupboards until he found what he was looking for: a dusty Atlas of Hell that was at least a century out of date. ‘She’s as resourceful as they come, believe me.’
‘Hmm. I wonder if the boy will see it the same way.’
‘In what way?’
‘If you need to ask that, Calvin, you’ve been here too long. What has it been, now? Fifty years?’
‘Sixty, Earth time.’
‘Sixty. Well, not one day ago, Earth time, young Will was a teenage boy, alive, with a healthy, happy family. I wonder how he’ll take to watching Darla feed once or twice. We run the risk of turning him away.’
‘I see your point, of course. But he won’t turn away – even if he hated us. He needs us to retrieve his sister’s soul.’
Dale tightened the lens on the scope and wiped some dust away with his thumb. The last time he’d used it he’d been sailing with Darla and a slick criminal by the name of Renard, who loved to tell people he’d died by guillotine. Loyal, if not moral, and that was how The Angel had gotten him in the end. Glancing at Calvin’s sly face, Dale didn’t think he’d have that problem, this time.
‘And then? When he has her?’
Calvin shrugged. ‘They can reclaim their lives on Earth until their natural deaths. They can secure a distant piece of land in some far corner of Hell, and live happily ever after.’ He spoke mildly enough, but his voice carried the slightest hint of sarcasm.
‘No, my friend. Whether he knows it or not, Dale is tied to this fight forever. If he takes his sister back, he won’t last a day on Earth alive. I’ve seen The Angel drop a demon into a cage of monsters just for skimming a bottle of evil souls from a shipment. I shudder to think what he would do when a mere boy steals something as valuable as a Seer from him.’
Dale put the scope up to his eye and scanned the blackness. Mort City had the brightest known flare in this part of Hell, an eternal red fire that burned atop the tallest building, but even so it was nothing more than a flickering red dot in the dark. It was lower down than they were, which would make it easy to anchor, but the quickest way would take them over the snow plains of the place known as Niffleheim – somewhere Dale would rather not go.
‘I’m more worried about what he’s going to do when he finds out we have the other Seer in question,’ Calvin said.
‘No need to worry about that. We’ll be long gone by the time they reach us.’ Dale said. He was scanning for alternate routes, but he knew the only quicker way would be through the Maze, and he couldn’t bring himself to visit that nightmare place again. Demons used it all the time, of course, but they didn’t know what could go wrong. They didn’t know –
‘I wish I could agree with you, God Man,’ Calvin said, and something in his voice made Dale look around, worried. ‘What is it?’
Calvin had climbed to the lowest spar halfway up the mast to get in position to release the mainsail, but he’d stopped in a half crouch, staring at a point somewhere above them, near the island. Dale turned and aimed the scope, squinting into the glass and wishing he had Darla’s eyes.
When he saw it, his guts contracted into a tight knot. He forced himself to relax. If you let your fear direct you, you were as good as damned. A ship made of bent and soldered scrap metal and lined with spikes and chains – a creation that could only have come out of Mort City – was headed straight for the island. Dale focused in on the foredeck, trying to make out the leader of the expedition, and the knot in his stomach twisted again when he saw another demon with a telescope of his own, fixed not on the house, but on Dale.
‘Release the sails.’ He said, lowering the glass.
‘What direction are we headed?’
‘It doesn’t matter. We just have to get moving as fast as possible.’
‘That bad, is it?’ Calvin said, unfurling the mainsail and dropping back to deck to secure the ropes.
Dale positioned himself in front of the wheel and gripped the spokes a little more tightly than he needed to. He’d recognised the other captain – even after all these years there was no mistaking a face like that: skin as white as paper and lidless red eyes that hadn’t known life in far too long.
‘If they catch us,’ he called back to Calvin. ‘Jump the side. It will be worth the risk.’
Calvin did not reply.