Chapter IX

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Boise Idaho, Present Day

THE SHOTGUN BLAST SHOULD have killed the thing. 12-gauge, point-blank to the face. But it seemed like all it did was make it angry. John let off a little emotional steam with a blasphemous curse. He pumped the slide, jacking another shell into the chamber.

The beast hissed, "I know your name. But do you?" It roared, slamming a fist the size of a football through the wall. "Do you, Derackson?"

John squeezed off another shot in the darkness at where he supposed its face to be and then backed away. It had little effect, so he pumped the slide again and took aim. "Wrong house, idiot. Who is Derackson? What are you?"

Laughter. "You are afraid. Good," it said. Its voice was like listening to swine rooting through rotting scraps. Each time the tail of the thing collided with the walls or the ceiling, the frame of the house shook.

Then another, smaller, slithered from the darkness and flapped its wings, hissing. "We are not lost. We know what we were sent here to do."

John lowered the muzzle, jabbed forward with it as if it were a sword, and unloaded the chamber into the beast's midsection.

Now this produced a result.

It fell away from him but only for an instant. It made a grab for the gun as it fell backward, but John managed to hang on to it.

He backed away again, racking the slide once more. He wasn't sure how many shells remained in the mag; he had lost count. He was down to his last one—maybe two—shells. The beast was gathering itself together for a lunge; it was renewing the attack. John decided he'd better burn another one, even if it was his last. I'll go down fighting you, whatever in hell you are. And when I'm out of ammo, I'm going to bash your ugly fangs in with the butt stock.

The fountain of fire that issued forth from the Mossberg, illuminating the scene, now only served to compound John's fears. He really was not hallucinating. He was actually battling with what looked like a freaking carnivorous dinosaur, and there were two of them, real-life black dragons in his own house, for crying out loud.

But he had injured the bigger one, and it went down hard this time. He racked the slide once more and heard his last shell slide into the chamber. He stepped toward the small one and shot it in the face. With a shriek, it flopped down like a fish and John barely managed to get out of the way of its tail. And than it was gone, crashing down the stairs, screeching like a wounded cat.

The big one languished on the floor, a dark shape that writhed in agony, hissing and spitting at him in rage.

John couldn't see much of anything, but he aimed for dead center mass because of how effective the shots he had taken there had been. "What are you? What do you want from me?"

The beast's laughter broke him from his reverie. Its movements began to slow. "You do not know, Derackson? How can you not know?" It growled out a curse and dug its claws into the floor.

"You die now!" John yelled. He thrust the muzzle forward, angry that this thing could find anything to laugh about at this moment. "Why are you laughing at me?"

"It is in your blood." It gagged in the dark, probably choking on its own bodily fluids. "You were thinking right. It's in your blood."

John was horrified. Did this thing read my mind? He clamped his jaw shut in rage and, furious, yanked on the trigger one last time.

In the aftermath of the explosion, all was finally still. He had overcome the monster. His ears were ringing and he was drenched in his own sweat. As his system dumped excess adrenaline into his bloodstream, he began to shake violently.

There in the hallway of his house, right outside his daughter's bedroom door, in a cloud of cordite, among fumes that reeked of rotten egg, he crumpled to the floor and began to weep.

And than the power came back on.

When his eyes had adjusted to the brightness, he practically leaped out of his skin trying to get away from what he saw. The house was quiet, but he forced himself to go after the other one.

He had to make sure it was dead. No rest for the wicked.

* * *

Elsewhere

I CAME BACK TO myself in a high meadow surrounded by wildflowers. At first, I didn't recognize where I was.

There was a great ring in the wild grass, a path made by walking. That much I recognized from dreams I'd had. But I didn't recognize what I saw next.

At the center of the ring stood a beautiful complex of buildings, all of them brand new and gleaming under silvery tiled roofs, the walls made of white stones that were a little translucent, a little luminescent.

I entered the buildings and explored them for what felt like sometimes, and then I came upon a great big open room. It was an atrium closed in by a dome of crystal glass at least a hundred feet across and three stories tall. The sun poured in through it and ran wild over ferns and shrubs and trees. Hummingbirds flitted from flower to flower, and as I looked up, smiling, I saw it.

The round window, high above, now not just a naked hole but a beautifully adorned sheet of stained glass, changed my perspective for me. These were the ruins of my life? Now they were whole and new, magnificent in every way.

As in a dream, I rose up on nothing and stood in the air before the round window and beheld the glowing, colorful image portrayed in it. A flying woman trailing a streak of blue light held a sword in both hands. She was dressed in pure white and darkness fled from her far below, at the bottom of the circle. The sword she carried was adorned with a great shimmering diamond at the hilt.

The sword was unique, but it wasn't quite the Sword of Light. I knew that Sword well—it didn't have a massive diamond studding the hilt like this one did.

Still, though, I knew who the woman was.

It was me.


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