Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Shape of Things by Mychael Black

Devon rolled over and groaned when the room didn’t stop moving after he did. He gripped his head and forced himself to open his eyes. He stared up at the dark stone ceiling and fought to suppress the last of Ty’s blood when it threatened to come back up.

“Ah, yer ‘wake.”

He turned his head and peered through his fingers as they lay splayed over his face. A man sat on a stool beside the door and gave Devon a toothless grin. Devon closed his eyes again.

“Where am I?”

“Not ‘sposed t’ say,” the man ground out. Devon swallowed another rising bit of blood at the disease-riddled answer. He didn’t want to see what else the man was missing in addition to his teeth.

“Well, can you tell me how long I’ve been here?” He winced and swallowed hard as his question was answered by a hacking, wet-sounding cough.

“‘Bout two ‘ours.” The man finished his cough and spit. Devon nearly lost his battle with the rest of Ty’s blood when the product of the cough landed on the stone floor with a sickening, wet smack.

A few minutes later, the locks on the door slid open and the door creaked and groaned. Devon wasn’t sure if he wanted to open his eyes at that point. When he did, he was grateful it wasn’t the old man.

“You’re to come with me,” a young woman said to him. He sat up and braced himself to give the room a chance to stop spinning. “Sorry about your head, but we aren’t stupid enough to drag you here when you’re conscious.” He nodded, despite the fact that she didn’t sound the least bit apologetic.

“Sure. Whatever.” He stood and waved his hand forward. “After you.”

“Oh, no,” she countered. She pushed him forward and he felt the unmistakable sensation of a steel point in his back. “After you.”

The woman led him at knife-point down a series of hallways, lit only by the occasional fluorescent light on the ceiling. He had no idea where he was, but from the moisture in the air, he knew they had to be underground. When the woman gripped his shoulder tightly, Devon stopped. They stood before a closed door. The woman entered a series of keystrokes on a computer panel and the door slid open. Devon blinked at the rude light pouring into the dimly-lit hall.

“Go.” The woman pressed the knife into his ribcage.

“Jesus,” he hissed. “I’m going.” He turned when the knife left him and watched as the door closed between them. Then he turned back to the empty room. A single camera was positioned in one corner near the ceiling and a flat screen monitor hung on the wall opposite the door.

“Sit down, please, Prince Hart.”

Devon gritted his teeth; he knew that voice. He sat down in the only chair in the room and faced the monitor. An image flickered on the screen and he gazed into the dark eyes of General Sterling.

“I should have fucking known,” he growled.

The general simply smiled. “Perhaps next time you will listen to your instincts, Prince Hart.”

“Why am I here?”

“An understandable question. You see, with you gone, no one stands in the way of a new regime.”

Devon gave the screen a short, sardonic laugh. “And what of the others? Vicar Benedict is going to ask questions when I fail to return.” Devon felt his blood run cold when the general gave him a cryptic smile.

“Ah, but we already thought of that, my Prince. Benedict was a tough one, but truth is, he was not one of us. Once the blade made it through the first layer of skin, the rest was a piece of cake.” Devon felt sick again. “But I must say, he put up one hell of a fight for an old man. Was that part of his training? Or did you teach him some of your knight tricks?”

“Fuck you,” Devon hissed. He gripped the arms of the chair and ground his teeth together.

“No thank you,” the general replied. “I don’t do men.”

“What the hell do you want, Sterling?”

“Absolute rule. You’re a pushover, Hart. You’re too lenient on the lords and the people. You don’t charge enough in taxes; you could be rich if you did.”

“I have no desire to be rich. I have enough.”

“You had enough. Your ruling days are over, I’m afraid.”

“Then why keep me alive?”

“Why indeed.” The general snapped his fingers and the door opened behind Devon. “Nadeen, take him to the border and get rid of him. If the exposure to the sun doesn’t kill him, the shifters will.”

Devon didn’t bother to resist as the woman from before—Nadeen—brought the knife in her hand up to his throat.

“Don’t fuck with me. I have no qualms about slitting your throat. Go.” She turned him around and shoved him out the door.

Devon led the way as Nadeen steered him with the aid of her knife in his ribs. When the hallway opened out into a garage, he stopped. She pressed the knife harder and pointed to an armored truck. He sighed and walked over to it. With the push of a button, the back opened up. Nadeen shoved him inside and the door closed once more.

Devon had no idea how long they had been riding, but quite a long time later the truck stopped moving. The back opened and he looked out into the blackness of the forest that acted as a natural border between D.C. and the outlying lands of the shifters. Nadeen was nowhere to be seen, but he knew his ride was over. He stood and walked out of the truck. He had barely touched the ground when the door closed. The truck’s tires squealed as Nadeen made a hasty retreat to the safety of the city. Devon turned and looked at the forest.

If there was anywhere more dangerous for the Prince of the Vampires to be, he had not seen it. Beyond the forest, and most likely within it, the enemy waited. It wasn’t a war of his choosing, but he knew the shifters wouldn’t bother to hear his side of things, either. He looked to the east and took a deep breath. The sun was beginning to rise. Then a movement from the trees drew his attention back to the forest. Seconds later, creatures surrounded him on all sides. He held up his hands to show he was unarmed.

“This is not good,” he muttered under his breath. “I am unarmed,” he said to the shifters. A young man walked out and stood before him. In his hand was a hefty length of wood with a sharpened end.

“You are not welcome here.”

“I didn’t come here out of choice,” Devon answered.

“Who are you?”

“My name is Devon Hart.” A flurry of whispers drifted around the circle.

“Prince Hart?” the young man asked.

“Yes.”

“Very well. Come with me.” The young man nodded and several creatures came to bind Devon’s hands and arms. A strip of cloth was tied around his head and lodged in his mouth. Smart, he thought. When they were done, he followed the young man into the forest with the entourage of others at his back. No, this was definitely not good.