Chapter 18

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THE BROWN MAN WALKED to the front of the train with an indescribable focus. Inside of the first car before the engine, he stopped mid-track, slowly turned, and went back to the entry he had just left. He followed each step as instructed, literally. Morgentus stood in the stairwell, the scenery flashing behind him in a blur of colors. The man faced him, bleary-eyed from his run-in with the little duta guardian.

"Grag—you simple-minded fool," Morgentus rasped.

Grag's eyes cleared and the form he held shifted to once more emulate an el. He looked around, as though confused about where he was.

"You let a child command you away from your duty. I'll send Segrius in your place, something I should've done to begin with. Go back to Belial and tell him how you've failed him," Morgentus said, coming to the top step. He leaned close to the other atrin.

"Morgentus—"

"Don't speak my name. I'll not suffer for your mistakes. Not this close to having what I want," Morgentus hissed.

Grag stood still, watching his commander's eyes blaze. His lips parted, but his voice failed. Clacking bones behind his ear startled him. Over his shoulder, Segrius chattered his cruel teeth again. Grag frowned, knowing he had no friends so long as he was Morgentus's soldier. They would thoughtlessly betray him to get one step ahead. His mind raced as he formulated a plan to preserve his life for a while longer.

"Take him to Belial and report that I've found the human. I move to set the trap," Morgentus ordered.

Segrius cocked his head in acknowledgement. Then the serpent latched onto Grag's thick form. He hissed in his ear, telling him his time had come to an end. Segrius had sought the seat for years. Now he at last obtained it.

Morgentus smiled and said, "You're not going to get a taste of the pigeon, Grag. I would have enjoyed watching you do your worst. Why can none of you just do as I ask?"

Morgentus turned and clawed a hole in the fabric of space. A smoking tear appeared before the train exit.

"Return to me quickly—bring me back a company of your servants. We end this by tonight," Morgentus instructed his new chief.

Segrius bared his teeth and jumped through the tear. The opening knitted together behind them. Watching the blurred scenery, Morgentus plotted his next steps. Subtlety was required. He could not claim the human for his plan if he didn't take care to ensnare him. The soul was too aware of their efforts to do so. However, the nails he drove into his sattva, when he dared to take Maiel back, were already working. With a little patience from his prince, Dominic would fall into their hands without raising another finger. Unfortunately, the prince wasn't known for patience. He wanted his war now.

Morgentus entered the second passenger car and made his way through the rest until he reached the back of the train. The passengers' guards watched him pass, their eyes full of suspicion, if not fear. Standing outside the last car, he watched his quarry enjoying their last moments of peace. Dominic was busy taking in the scenery, unaware of the threat that lurked so near. His small guardian was turned around, watching a pair of old people converse and cuddle. It was a normal scene.

The demon's eyes swept the compartment, wondering if he could strike at that moment. There were only humans inside and each was protected by one pathetic guardian. He turned away, wishing at least one shadowborn had been in there. If he made a move without another of his kind to even the odds, he might find himself overpowered by the lightwalkers inside.

Morgentus stepped down the stairwell and disappeared in a whirl of smoke. While he waited for a better time to acquire the king piece from the chessboard, he would need to set the board to make everything fall into place more quickly. There was one who owed him a favor and could assure his success. He smiled, stepping out of the smoke onto the banks of the River Styx. The water steamed with icy fog. He stepped along the edge, waiting. The water stirred and he looked just in time to see something move beneath the surface.

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