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Trey Laporte entered the kitchen of the luxury Docklands apartment that was home to Charron Industrial Inc., the motley collection of family, staff, humans, and nether-creatures dedicated to ensuring that the human realm was kept safe from the dark forces of the Netherworld. It was a little after nine o'clock--the time that Tom had asked him to be there. The sunlight pouring in through the huge glass doors made him wince and throw his hand up in front of his eyes, his eyelids narrowing to little more than wafer-thin slits. He mumbled his good-mornings and made his way over to the fridge. The room's other two occupants watched as he shuffled along, stifling a yawn with the back of one hand while reaching for the refrigerator door with the other.
When he finally turned round, a now open carton of orange juice held up to his lips, he nodded first at the tall Irishman standing beside the table, noting the inevitable steaming mug of tea in his hand, then at the other occupant of the room: a small boy. Judging from the size of him, Trey guessed that the youngster was no more than ten or eleven years old. The boy was sitting in the chair to Tom's left. Trey frowned; it was unusual for them to have visitors in the apartment, but he guessed that the boy might be one of the housekeeper Mrs. Magilton's, many relatives--perhaps the precocious nephew she was always talking about.
Trey looked at the boy. He was short. Even sitting down and hunched up as he was it was obvious to the teenager that the visitor would hardly reach to his chest. He wore a hooded anorak that was zipped up to his chin, his hands stuffed deep inside its pockets. His hair was neatly combed, and held flat by some kind of gel that gave it a slick and greasy look. There was something slightly unsettling about the boy; even though he was clearly young, he had an old face, and he didn't blink once as he met Trey's stare with a bland and unreadable look of his own.
"Where is he then?" Trey asked Tom over the top of the drink carton.
"Who?" the Irishman replied.
Trey rolled his eyes. "You know, the person that you were going to introduce me to."
"The person that I was going to introduce you to?"
Trey frowned. He had to be careful what he said in front of Mrs. Magilton's relative. He looked Tom in the eye before very deliberately looking at the visitor. "Yes," he hissed. "You know..." He rolled his eyes again in frustration. "The guide. The one that is supposed to be helping me in my..."--he paused--"forthcoming...er, outing." He frowned to himself, wondering why Tom was being so obtuse and whether he had mistaken the time that the Irishman had asked him to meet. He lifted the drink carton to his lips and was about to take another swig when the penny finally dropped.
Trey slowly lowered the drink, meeting the Irishman's amused look, before switching his eyes back to the boy sitting at the table.
"Trey, meet Dreck. Dreck, this is Trey Laporte," Tom said, waving his mug in the general direction of them both.
The boy stood up and took a hand out of his pocket to give Trey a small wave, accompanied by a brief, nervous smile.
"Dreck," Tom corrected.
Trey shook his head, scanning Tom's face for any signs that the man might be joking.
"Him?" Trey said loudly. "This is supposed to be my guide through the Netherworld?"
The Irishman's only response was to take a loud slurp of tea.
"He's..." Trey paused. "He's not exactly what I was expecting to help me battle the dark forces of the demon realm." He nodded in the boy's direction. "Nothing personal," he said with a shrug.
When Dreck spoke, his voice perfectly matched his appearance. "If it's any consolation, you aren't exactly what I was expecting either."
Trey puffed out his cheeks. "This isn't a joke, is it?"
"'Fraid not," Tom said, putting his mug back down on the table. "Dreck was the best person in our organization that we could find at such short notice." The Irishman nodded down at the small boy, a warm smile on his face. "To be honest, even if we'd had more time, which we do not, I think we'd have been hard-pressed to find anyone as good. He knows the area of the Netherworld that you'll be going to like the back of his hand."
"I'm guessing it's a very small area then," Trey said.
"Actually it's not," Dreck said, pulling himself up to his full height. "And there are a lot of unpleasant characters there that I can help you avoid." He raised his chin as if defying Trey to contradict him.
"Madness," Trey said. He returned the juice to the fridge and crossed the room to stand in front of Dreck. He looked the youngster up and down before turning to address Tom.
"You scoured the organization for the ideal nether-creature to lead me through the Netherworld, and the best you could come up with was that?" He gestured in Dreck's direction.
"No offense, Tom, but I think there has been some mistake. Maybe you were meant to bring his dad up here or something?"
This time when the Irishman placed his mug on the table and turned to face the teenager Trey knew that he'd gone too far. Tom's eyes had taken on a stony look, and when he spoke it was through gritted teeth.
"Now you listen to me, young man. We've got our backs against the wall at the moment: Alexa's just upped and left for the Netherworld without so much as a by-your-leave. Heaven alone knows what's happened to Lucien--weird is not the word for it--growing fangs again, behaving like...well, like a vampire!" He puffed out his cheeks and shook his head. "You and I are all that's left at the moment. Now, I understand that you are eager to get into the Netherworld and start looking for her, I understand that every day we've had to wait since she went off is like an eternity to you, and I understand that your judgement and reasoning might be a little clouded as a result." His face softened slightly, but it was still difficult for Trey to maintain eye contact with the man. "Because of all that, I'm going to ignore the fact that you have just insulted my professionalism, but what I am unwilling to ignore is your rudeness." He arched an eyebrow, waiting.
Trey took a deep breath, holding it for a moment before returning his attention to the diminutive figure standing silently by his side. "I didn't mean to be rude."
Tom remained silent, the eyebrow still held high, suggesting that more was required.
"And I'm sorry," Trey mumbled.
Dreck nodded his acceptance.
Tom picked up his mug of tea. He took a quick sip, and when he spoke again his voice had its usual cheerful but businesslike tone.
"Well, shall we get to work? I think you two should start by getting properly acquainted. I'll make us all a fresh cup of tea and we--"
"Tom," Trey interrupted his friend, "is there any chance that you and I could have a word? In private."
There was a slight pause while Tom considered this. "Of course. Excuse us a minute, please, Dreck." Tom walked through the door leading out of the kitchen, and Trey joined him in the lounge.
"What is going on, Tom?" Trey hissed.
"How do you mean?"
"I mean, why have you assigned what appears to be a schoolboy?" He glanced around the door, narrowing his eyes in Dreck's direction. "What is he? Because I know he's not what he appears to be."
The Irishman reached out and placed a hand on Trey's shoulder. When he spoke he sounded grave. "Look, Alexa went across with the Ashnon to try to rescue Philippa, so we have to assume that she is going to attempt to gain access to Molok's citadel. I know how keen you are to get going, but we are having a very tough time finding anyone willing to go over at the moment."
"Because there's a war going on over there. Caliban's power has grown to new heights. His talk of opening the portals to the human realm has attracted quite a following at a time when many of the Netherworld's denizens see the demon lords as weak and ineffectual."
"But Caliban has been so quiet of late. You told me yourself that Gwendolin's death had left him weakened."
"Quiet in the human realm. But very busy over there. The Netherworld is in a state of turmoil at the moment. It's true that without a sorceress Caliban doesn't have the access to the human realm that he enjoyed when Gwendolin was alive. But that doesn't mean that he hasn't been able to take care of business in the Netherworld."
Trey nodded, taking all this in. He gestured toward the kitchen. "So...Dreck?" He shrugged his shoulders, silently asking the question.
"With all of that going on, it's been difficult to find anyone willing to lead someone like you through the Netherworld."
"Someone like me?"
"Yes, Trey. Everyone knows Caliban is obsessed with you: that you're top of his hit list. And they know that anyone caught helping you in his backyard will be dealt with in no uncertain terms. If he is questioning the demon lords' right to rule, he must be confident in his power and support. That makes nether-creatures even more nervous than usual about going up against him."
Trey thought about this. He knew that he'd been lucky not to have encountered the vampire recently, and everything that Tom had just said made perfect sense. Gwendolin's death had come at Trey's hands, and he doubted that this had elevated his position on the vampire's Christmas-card list. Knowing what he now did, Trey had little trouble in believing that Tom might have struggled to find him a willing volunteer. He hooked his head round the door frame and gave Dreck another look. When he looked back at Tom he puffed his cheeks out and shook his head. "Okay. Your opinion is that Derek--"
"Whatever his...its name is. Your opinion is that that's our best chance?"
"Yes, it is."
Trey puffed out his cheeks again. "Okay. I'll go and be nice and make us some tea." He eyed his friend. "I hope that you're right, Tom, because I've got a bad feeling about this."
DEMON GAMES Copyright © 2010 by Steve Feasey
Posted July 20, 2012
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