The Dark Lands – Christina Bauer

A perky female voice sounds in my ear. “Great Scala, you’re on in thirty seconds.” Blinking sleep out of my eyes, I snap up my head and look around. “What? Who? How?” After a few seconds, I realize where I am. My husband Lincoln and I sit on the sidelines of the set for Good Morning Purgatory, the number one television show in my homeland. Our baby Maxon was up all night—and he’s now with my parents—so I’ve had zero rest. I must’ve fallen asleep on Lincoln’s shoulder. There’s even a drool spot to prove it. The perky girl in question looks in her early twenties. She’s average height with olive skin, brown eyes, and long black hair. “I said, Great Scala, you’re on in thirty seconds.” Her gaze flicks to Lincoln. “And you too, Consort to the Great Scala.” Lincoln nods regally. My guy is also King of the Thrax and an expert demon killer, but my people only think of him as Consort to the Great Scala.

He digs it, actually. Says it’s better than getting fawned over as king. “You know the drill?” asks the girl I’ve decided to name Perky. I yawn. “A refresher would be great.” “You’ll be interviewed by our new host. She’ll ask you fun questions about your baby and that’s it. There’s no way she’ll ambush you with some surprise just so she can get an exclusive.” “What a very specific thing for her not to do,” says Lincoln dryly. Perky keeps right on grinning.

“Great, then you’re all set. After your segment, we have on Cissy Frederickson, Purgatory’s Senator for Diplomacy.” Perky bobs on the balls of her feet. “I can’t wait to meet her. What a natural for television! Have you ever seen her face to face?” “Yes,” I reply. “She’s my best friend.” Perky laughs. “That’s so funny.” I’d say, no she’s really my best friend, but I’ve found it’s not worth my breath. My people see Cissy as Mom’s ally in the Senate.

Guess that’s the side effect of having your mother be Purgatory’s President. “Well, I’ll leave you to it,” says Perky. “Miss Frederickson is in make-up. Can’t wait to introduce myself to the Senator. Wish me luck!” Perky steps away and as she leaves, I make note of her cat’s tail. She’s a quasi demon (part human and part demon) like me. All of us have tails and a power across one of the seven deadly sins. I’m guessing this girl’s power is pride. She really seems pumped about her job. Good for her.

A voice sounds from the set. “And now, please welcome the Great Scala and her Consort.” That would be Becky Tizzle and yes, that is her real name. Lincoln stands and offers me his palm. “We’re on.” I lace my fingers with his and together we enter the set. Immediately, I squint under the heavy lights. Massive cameras the size of water buffalo slowly roll across the floor, taking in me and Lincoln. For a moment, I picture how we must look to all the viewers out there in quasi land. Lincoln is tall and broad shouldered with sharp cheekbones, brown hair, and the mismatched eyes that mark him as a demon-fighting thrax.

He’s wearing a black suit today, which is his Consort look. So handsome. I’m in my form-fitting Scala robes, which are white and fall to my ankles. Other key points are my long red hair, big blue eyes, and curvy body. The viewers probably see exactly what they expect. It’s not like Lincoln and I vary our Purgatory style much. My tail pops up over my shoulder to wave at the camera because of course it does. What a ham. I’m part Furor demon, so I have demonic powers over both lust and wrath. My tail is long, black, covered in dragonscales, and all around badass.

Lincoln and I sit in the loveseat across from Becky’s chair. For her part, Becky has short blonde hair, thick-rimmed glasses, and a peacock tail, which tells me her demonic power is pride; it’s a popular sin with people who work in television. Today Becky wears a tweed suit and a predatory smile. I recall Perky’s not-a-warning. Uh oh. “Welcome, Great Scala and Consort,” says Becky. “Glad to be here,” I offer. Lincoln shoots a thumbs-up to the camera. Polls show quasis like it best when he sits there, looks handsome, and doesn’t say much. I thought Lincoln might be offended, but he’s turned it into a game.

How long can he go without saying a word? Last interview, he got away with only saying ‘hey nonny nonny’ and that’s it. In case you’re wondering, he was answering a question about the middle ages (his people are stuck in them) and I guess ‘hey nonny nonny’ was a catchphrase back then. “Let’s start with a few questions about your baby,” says Becky. At the mention of the word baby, the studio audience lets out a long ooh. Everybody loves babies. I glance down at the television monitors by my feet. These things are out of camera range, but they’ve been placed so that Lincoln, Becky, and I can see the same things as the viewers at home. The picture of a cherub-like Maxon comes on the screen. My boy is all big eyes, chubby belly, and toothless smile. “Isn’t he adorable?” asks Becky to the audience.

More oohs follow, this time with a few ahhs thrown in. More photos go streaming by. In all of them, Lincoln and Maxon look adorable. I always have something stuck in my teeth or one eye closed. Whatever magic I have, it’s not with the camera. Even so, I settle into my loveseat and enjoy the picture show. Maybe this won’t be an ambush interview. After all, how can things go downhill after Becky leads off with baby Maxon? The camera cuts back to the studio. Becky starts in again. “We heard your parents, the President and First Man, have set up a baby room for little Maxon.

” “That they have,” I wave at the camera. “Hi, Mom and Dad! Thanks for watching Maxon today!” “How old is he now?” “Six months. But he’s as large and smart as a toddler.” “You’re the Great Scala, so Maxon’s the Scala Heir, isn’t that right?” You think? “Yes, I’m the Great Scala, the only being with the blood of an angel, demon, and human, in case any of your viewers missed it.” Not sure how that would happen, but this is Becky’s show. I just answer questions. “I’m also the only one who can move souls to Heaven or Hell. Maxon also has the blood of an angel, demon, and human, which makes him next in line. As the Scala Heir, my boy develops a little differently from other children.” “That is so precious,” coos Becky.

She adjusts her glasses and pulls up a clipboard from beside her chair. I’ve seen that clipboard raising routine before. Danger sign. Ambush ahead. “This just in,” announces Becky. “We interviewed a new victim of the vicious criminal who’s been terrorizing the after-realms. This fiend is as mean, slippery, and vicious as a snake, which is why he’s called the Viper. Roll the tape, Fred.” On the screen by my feet, a video of an older gentleman appears. He wears a toolarge suit coat with thick glasses and a fedora.

“Someone snuck up on me from behind,” says the older guy slowly. “Knocked me right out. My demonic power used to be gluttony. Now, I don’t want to eat anything. Doc says I’m traumatized.” The video of the older man vanishes. The cameras focus back on Becky. “For months,” says Becky. “The Viper has been stealing valuables and attacking the innocent. Victims are knocked out from behind and left weakened.

I’m here to ask what every quasi in Purgatory wants to know.” Becky focuses on me. “How will you stop the Viper?” I tap my chest. “Me?” “You’re the Scala Mother to our people. The logic here is obvious.” Two things about Becky’s last statement. One, the logic here is not obvious and two, I hate being called Scala Mother. So creepy. “Not following you, Becky,” I say. “Let me try this another way,” says Becky.

“You are a supernatural being, right?” “Sure.” “Roll the tape, Fred.” Another video appears on screen. It’s the streets of downtown Purgatory City after I went into labor with Maxon. People are camped out on the asphalt with sleeping bags, candles, and signs. For days, my people blocked traffic while partaking of questionable substances. I quickly spot some of my least favorite placards. Heal Yourself Great Scala Bring Forth The Baby Don’t Die On Us Becky raps on her clipboard with her knuckles. “Your followers held a vigil, asking you to have a healthy baby and not die. And that’s exactly what you did, isn’t it? That was a supernatural response to a quasi request.

How is that different from what I just asked regarding the Viper?” I shrug. “Having a baby is more of a natural woman thing, rather than any special powers related to magical crime solving.” “Oh, I’d say having a baby is magical.” Becky raps on her clipboard again. Crud. She’s on a roll. Lincoln leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees. I know that pose. My guy is getting in the game. Yes.

“You’re leading up to something.” As he speaks, Lincoln’s voice turns low and packed with menace. “What have you found?” True fact: when Lincoln asks a question this particular way, people always answer. It’s the king thing he’s got going. “New information has come to my attention.” Becky holds up her clipboard. “The Viper has somehow broken into the supernatural prison of none other than Lucifer.” The studio audience gasps. “Once there, the Viper poisoned one of the guards. It won’t be long before Lucifer escapes.

Isn’t that right?” Lincoln and I share a confused look. “The Great Scala and I have received no such information. Are you certain it’s valid?” “We received this data from a ghoul named WKR-7,” explains Becky. “He’s supposed to be very reliable.” “Walker?” It’s an effort not to screech the name. “You got this intel from Walker?” “Why yes,” answers Becky. “Have you heard of him?” “He’s my honorary older brother and Lincoln’s best friend.” “Then you know this information is valid and the threat is real. Need I remind you why Lucifer was jailed? Roll it, Fred.” Again, fresh video shows on the screen.

This time, angels in silver armor fly across a gray sky, their swords held high. These warriors swoop and dive over a retreating crowd of ghouls, quasis, and humans. Angels ruthlessly cut down the innocents. Blood is everywhere. Text at the bottom of the screen says ‘re-enacted history’ but that won’t matter to most. The facts are true, even if the footage is faked up. Lucifer was a bloodthirsty maniac. The video switches to show one angel close up. He has golden everything: hair, armor, and wings. Lucifer.

He paces before a line of fresh angelic troops. “My Brimstone Legion,” declares Lucifer. “All was peaceful in the universe until the Almighty created ghouls, quasis, and humans. Then we were asked to help these lesser beings. I won’t have it! Non-angelic life is worthless. Now take to the skies and destroy what should never have been created.” The angels unfold their wings and rise up into the air. The video ends; the feed returns to the studio. Becky rounds on me. “Now, what do you say? How will you save us when the Viper releases Lucifer?” I have no idea what to say, but I do know what to think.

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. T C H A P T E R 2 here’s a long moment where Becky’s question seems to echo through the air. “How will you save us when the Viper releases Lucifer?” The studio audience waits breathlessly. Becky holds her clipboard so tightly, I’m shocked it doesn’t snap. All eyes are on me. Thank goodness I spent my formative years sneaking out of ghoul-school. I have a deep reservoir of ways to leave sucky situations like this one. Lifting my wrist, I point to my non-existent watch. “Oh my, look at the time! Lincoln and I have to rush and investigate all this. It’s been so nice seeing you, Becky.

Let’s do this again.” “But-but,” Becky stutters. “You need to share your plan for taking down the Viper and saving us all from certain death at the hands of Lucifer. It was supposed to be a Good Morning Purgatory exclusive.” Lincoln wraps his arm around my shoulder and guides me to stand. “We’ll get back to you.” What follows is a lot of pushing through crowds and avoiding of direct eye contact. At one point, I’m pretty sure that Perky grabs my wrist and tries to drag me back on camera. I might have tripped her with my tail. Okay, I totally tripped her with my tail.

Finally, Lincoln and I make it into the limo we have waiting outside. For the record, I’ve never been happier for the invention of tinted windows. Once the door slams shut, I turn to Lincoln. “What the Hell was that?” My mouth starts moving without too much guidance from my brain. This happens when I’m both sleep-deprived and freaked out. “My mother is the President of Purgatory. Saw her this morning. No warning about Lucifer. How does she not know the Viper’s trying to free him? And my best friend Cissy is our Senator of Diplomacy. Hello? She has the best spy network in Purgatory and she was sitting in the same freaking building.

Again, no intel. How is she not aware of this?” Lincoln opens a water bottle and takes a slow sip. He won’t reply. We both know I’m not done yet. “And Becky says that the Viper somehow got into Lucifer’s prison and poisoned a guard? And that happened somehow? Please! We both know how it works when Lucifer is involved. His magical crap turns up. It all started when Lucifer’s Orb stopped me from sending souls to Heaven or Hell. Then Lucifer’s Coin appeared. That thing could’ve opened a portal out of Hell and let Armageddon escape. Don’t get me wrong—we took care of both situations—but that was a total pain in the ass.

” I lean back onto the leather couchie thing in the back of the limo. “Okay, I’m better now.” Lincoln raises his bottle. “Want some water?” “Only if you run it over coffee grounds.” Lincoln presses the intercom button. “Please take us to Princeton Alley and drive through a Starbucks on the way.” Yes, even in Purgatory, we have Starbucks. Go us. A note about Princeton Alley. In Purgatory, all the yuckiest places have the fanciest names.

Princeton Alley is a little strip of nothing in downtown Purgatory City. Walker has a secret Pulpitum transfer station hidden in there. I wasn’t lying about having to jet off for a meeting. Lincoln and I are supposed to meet Walker in Princeton Alley and then visit some farm together. The details are a little sketchy, but that’s how Walker rolls. Which brings me back to Walker. I try to muster up some of my previous freaky energy, but I’ll need caffeine for that. “I forgot about Walker,” I say in a super calm voice. “What’s he doing tracking people who jail Lucifer, let alone giving that intel to Becky Tizzle?” “We’ll find out soon enough.” My eyes widen.

“Becky Tizzle! We just speed-walked off her show.” Leaning forward, I start fiddling with the controls of our in-limo television set. If being called Scala Mother is one of the nasty parts of my job, then in-limo TV is one of the sweetest. I flip the dial to Good Morning Purgatory. The cameras are focused on Cissy. My best friend looks fabulous in her purple Senatorial robes. She’s so camera ready, it isn’t funny. Every time I see a replay of myself on TV, I have a chunk of hair sticking out of my head like an antennae. But Cissy looks amazing with her blonde ringlets hanging perfectly to her shoulders. Her golden retriever tail wags happily behind her.

Cissy loves TV as much as the cameras adore Cissy. “As Senator of Diplomacy, I have a unique view on Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, Antrum, and the Dark Lands.” Becky leans forward. “Tell us about the Viper’s crimes in other parts of the afterrealms.” Ugh. Becky is still riding the Viper train. “Well.” Cissy taps her cheek. “The Viper recently stole some ancient books from the Dark Lands. The Senatorial guard also reported some of their body armor went missing.

” “We received that news months ago,” says Becky. “Those crimes were early on in the Viper’s career. The body armor was standard issue for the Senatorial guard. The books were far more interesting and rare. Show the covers, Fred.” The screen fills with images of different covers. There’s Magic And Canopic Jars, Lucifer’s Creations, Seraphim Secrets, Ghoul Portals, and Ancient Poisons. I’m so enthralled by the TV show, I completely miss our limo hitting the Starbucks drive-thru. But it did. Now Lincoln hands me a venti mocha.

Ahh, sweet caffeine, chocolate, and sugar. How I love you. I return my focus to Cissy, Becky, and Good Morning Purgatory. “Look at these books titles,” says Becky. “Is it possible that ghouls have created an evil alliance with the angels?” If Becky’s eyeballs were shotgun laser beams, Cissy would have red dots on her forehead. Becky so thinks she has Cissy in her gun sights. Not gonna happen. “The purpose of shows like this one is to share hard information,” says Cissy smoothly. “Not speculate and scare viewers.” Becky opens and closes her mouth.

No words come out. It’s awesome. Back in the limo, I raise my fist. “That’s it, Cissy!” “She has such a gift with the camera,” adds Lincoln. “As fate would have it,” continues Cissy, “I have something real to share with you about angels and ghouls.” My bestie smiles sweetly. “Can you run the video I brought?” “Of course,” says Becky. The television now plays video of a new statue being erected before a towering building made of glass. That structure is the Citadel where angels are trained in warfare. My father is the angel’s General, so the Citadel is one his favorite spots in Heaven.

The white marble statue depicts a tall ghoul in angel’s robes. Under one arm, the ghoul carries a heavy book. His other hand is raised high, as if making a point to his audience. I can’t believe what I’m seeing. “That’s Walker’s brother!” Lincoln grins. “Yes, that’s Drayden for certain. I heard they were making a statue in his honor.” The television displays images of the towering statue, all from different angles. Cissy’s voice sounds over the pictures. “Drayden was the first ghoul ever accepted into the Citadel for angelic warriors.

And why? He wrote the definitive work on angelic flight and field strategy. His theories were used in the Battle of the Gates, when the archangel Xavier defeated Armageddon.” The camera cuts back to a close-up of Cissy. “This is what we should think of when we consider angels and ghouls. Not focus on the worst about our neighbors, but on the best of what we can all achieve.” I swear, I can hear thousands of quasis across Purgatory letting out a sigh at the end of that speech. “Cissy is so going to be the next President of Purgatory,” I say. “Quite,” agrees Lincoln. “And we’ve arrived at Princeton Alley.” I chug the rest of my mocha and grab the door handle.

Lincoln doesn’t move. “Are you still coming?” Lincoln shakes his head. “I’d like to send out some messages; see what I can discover about these rumors regarding Lucifer. Once I’m done, I’ll meet up with you and Walker as soon as possible. There’s a Pulpitum station not far from the farm that we’re touring.” “Great idea.” Leaning over, I brush a gentle kiss across his lips. “See you soon.” With that, I return my attention to Princeton Alley and the mountain of secrets that always seem to follow my honorary older brother Walker. One of these days, I’ll get him to blab all of them.

.

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