The fourth and final installment in the Death Touched series.
The end of the world approaches. Nena can feel it in her bones. It’s a deep ache that calls to her dead soul, pleading with her to avert the disaster that threatens to engulf everything in a horror the world has never known.
Nena and her friends are the only ones who can stop the coming apocalypse. The trail of information leads them through the Underworld and into the bowels of evil where more than danger awaits. Another, more terrible truth lingers in the shadows.
It’s the realization that Nena must face her father one last time, for one last battle, and she isn’t sure they’re both going to come out of the confrontation even undead. Not without terrible changes. Changes that might mean the end of both of them.
“What a lousy shot!”
“Miss Nena, if you wouldn’t be so hasty!”
The screams and cries came from Nena’s friends. They stood in one of the lower floors of the Agency in a large, empty room the width and length of a football field. The walls were made of solid steel, the floor of two-foot thick concrete, and the ceiling was steel beams with concrete atop those. A single metal door stood in the center of one of the ends, the only entrance and exit into the room.
Nena stood on one end of the ‘field’ while her four friends stood opposite her some thirty yards away. They were Jack, Peter, Doc, and the newest addition to their team, the aged witch Catherine. The length of the steels walls and floor between them sported black scorch marks.
The old woman wore her usual black dress with a shawl, but the shawl hung askew over her shoulders and she had her dress hiked up over her tall black boots. “Terrible!
That was all terrible!”
Nena was bent over and panting for unneeded air. She held her gun at her side in her limp arm, and a little bit of white smoke slipped out of the barrel. “This would be easier if you guys would just hold still!” she snapped.
“We’re supposed to be moving targets,” Jack reminded her.
“Perhaps you should aim the gun before firing,” Doc suggested.
Nena glared at her ‘friends.’ “How come I have no trouble hitting Scratch’s guys, but you guys are almost impossible?”
“Give us a little more credit,” Jack pleaded.
Catherine glanced at him and snorted. “I don’t believe you should be offered that credit, phantom.”
“The name is Jack, hag, and Nena hasn’t touched me,” he defended himself as he spread his arms out on either side of him to show off his unscathed clothing. “See?”
A sly smile slipped onto the old woman’s lips. “Would you like me to give you form for a few minutes to show how greatly she hit you?”
Jack cringed and dropped his arms. “Touche, hag. Touche.”
“We should be focusing on this training exercise,” Peter spoke up.
Nena straightened and winced when her body complained. “Why am I trying to shoot you guys again? I mean, if Scratch really is the one behind Project Endzeit than won’t I just have to deal with his goons?”
Jack’s humor fled from his face as he jerked his head toward the left hand wall of the large room. “You’ll have to deal with them, too.”
Nena followed where he pointed and winced. Along the wall were piles of tarry corpses the size of overgrown rats with concrete rubble all around them. They were the remains of Scratch’s eavesdropping pets. Their tar-like bodies left black stains on the floor, and above them in the ceiling were large holes in the concrete where Peter’s silver pieces had shot threw and ended their miserable lives.
“It is rather unusual that Scratch does not attempt to hide their existence from us,” Peter commented.
Jack shook his head as he drew a cigarette pack from his pocket. “It’s easily explained by the fact that he doesn’t care. That’s an ill-omen for us. A devil who doesn’t care thinks he’s holding all the cards.”
“How do you think he’s making them?” Nena wondered in a quiet voice.
“Take one little demon, add a touch of Corruption, and a dash of insanity,” Catherine mused.
Doc rubbed his chin in one hand as he studied the creatures from afar. “As far as Catherine and my research has shown, that is the gist of what Scratch does.”
“But have you figured out how he’s controlling them?” Jack asked him.
Doc dropped his hand and shrugged. “My professional opinion is that he retains the same control over them as he did the demons.”
Jack arched an eyebrow as Nena approached her friends. “Do you have another opinion?”
Doc raised his eyes to Jack and revealed a face of anger and disgust. “That he distorts their very souls to his image in a blasphemous imitation of God’s work.”
“Ah,” Jack replied as he lit the cigarette. “And on that high note I think we should end this for the day. We’ll pick this up tomorrow-” There came a knock on the door.
All eyes turned to the entrance. Jack strode over to the door and opened it. On the other side in one of the Agency’s many white hallways stood Azazel, lieutenant to the devil, Scratch. She had a sickly sweet smile on her lips and a small white envelope in her long, red-colored nails.
Azazel held out the envelope to Jack. “This came for you, Mr. O’Kent.” The addition of the title sounded more like a threat than an address.
Jack smiled back at her and bowed his head a little as he took the envelope. “Thank you, Miss Azazel.”
“You do know the rules about outside communications, don’t you, Mr. O’Kent?” she asked him.
Jack tilted his head back and looked up at the ceiling as he tapped a corner of the envelope against his chin. “The rule escapes me.”
“As does a great many rules, Mr. O’Kent,” she mused. “But since I haven’t the time to wait for you to remember, I will remind you that I’m supposed to see the communication before you.”
He shrugged and held out the envelope to her. “All right. Knock yourself out. In the literal sense, of course,” he requested as she accepted back the message.
“You’re too funny, Mr. O’Kent,” she commented as she sliced the envelope open with one of her fingernails. The paper cut like butter beneath her finger and she slipped a folded note from the envelope. Azazel unfolded the paper and glanced at the contents. She arched an eyebrow before her eyes flickered up to Jack. “Mr. O’Kent, you have a strange pen pal.”
“It’s hereditary, now my I have my letter?” he requested as he held out his hand.
Azazel pursed her lips, but set the envelope and note in his palm. “Don’t let this happen again, Mr. O’Kent, or Scratch will have to intercede.”
“And we wouldn’t want that, would we?” Jack teased.
The demoness’ lips tightened and her face hardened. She turned on the heels of her high-heels and marched out of the room, slamming the door shut behind her.
Nena wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. “That was a cold conversation.”
“Let’s see what made her so angry,” Jack mused as he inspected the contents. A smile slipped onto his lips. “Just as I thought. We’ve got a lead on Archimedes.”
Nena’s eyes widened. “Then he really is alive?”
Jack rejoined the group and nodded. “Yeah.” He held up the folded paper. “According to this note, one of my contacts in the Underground swore he saw him the other day in one of the lesser-used sewer pipes.”
“Why didn’t that make Azazel mad?” she asked him.
He held the note out to her. “Take a look for yourself.” Nena accepted the note and studied the contents.
Thought you might want to know that I found a penny yesterday down by the under river. It was a little tarnished, but otherwise looked okay. Hope it brings you good luck!
She wrinkled her nose before she looked up at Jack. “What is this?”
“Code for what I just told you,” he revealed. “The penny is Archimedes-”
Catherine tilted her head up and sniffed the air. “A mildly ingenious nickname for a tarnished man.”
“-and the ‘under river’ part means one of the sewer pipes near the river. They aren’t used as much since that place became more industrialized two decades ago,” he finished.
“How did you suspect he would be seen?” Peter wondered.
Jack shrugged. “I wasn’t sure, but since he’s still human I figured he had to eat, so I had all my contacts keep their eyes out for him.”
Nena held up the note and smiled. “So this is the detective work you mentioned after I woke up in the infirmary, isn’t it?”
He grinned. “Yes. Do you want to come along to a dirty sewer with a couple of undead guys?”
“It’s not the ‘undead’ part that worries me, it’s the ‘guy’ part, specifically one guy,” Nena quipped as she handed the note back to the guy.
Jack tucked the note into his pocket and bowed low to her. “I will endeavor to behave myself on this trip.”
“There is also the problem of leaving the Agency three weeks prior to our being allowed,” Peter reminded them.
Jack shrugged. “No problem. I’ll just have a talk with Scratch about letting us out early on account of good behavior.”
“Wouldn’t he like the opposite?” Nena pointed out.
“He wouldn’t trust the opposite, not from us,” Jack argued.
“You mean not from you,” Doc mused.
“What reason will you give for our going out?” Peter asked him.
Jack wrapped an arm around Nena’s waist and drew her against his side as he grinned at the others. “I’m going to tell him we’re going to use Nena as bait to catch Death.”