Room in Hell chapter 33.

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I woke up to the sound of birds chirping and flapping around outside my window. Good to know my apartment hadn't moved while I was asleep. Maybe it couldn't, now that I knew; maybe I was keeping it on Earth subconsciously. If so, that was a good thing.


There was steaming coffee by my bedside, and a plate of toast. The blinds were drawn to let the sunlight in, and after my eyes adjusted (which took longer than I liked) I could see the sparrows and pigeons squaring off against each other. The pigeons were winning of course.


I drank coffee and nibbled toast. I could hear Grex doing something in the kitchen, but I wasn't about to get up and check until the pain radiating from my head to my arm to my legs subsided. A little white pill would fix that problem, and the bottle was right there, so I took one and lay back.


When I woke up again, for the second time, the pigeons had won. and were cooing at each other and the toast and coffee were gone. But I felt like I could float over the pain, so I did... all the way to the couch, where Grex was waiting.


There was a full bowl of M&M's on the table. Or at least they looked like M&M's.


"Grex answer truthfully; are those normal M&M's?"


"They are indeed my Mistress. The meat-bag you call Cords delivered them from a local grocery store last night, along with some other things."


Right, Cords had been here. He'd left and come back, and we watched television.


I was still a little muzzy; of all the ways to get paid time off, this was the worst. I wanted to just go ahead and fix it, but that would be too suspicious. Suffering when you didn't have to sucked. I grabbed a handful of the M&M's and scarfed them down.


"More coffee Grex."


"Of course my Mistress." Grex flipped on the T.V. before he left. And of course, it was on the local news. And of course, the local news was covering yesterday's attack.


The news was covering it as if it was a demon attack, a sort of demonic landmine that I triggered which blew up the building; there are no more mines and no more danger, nothing to see here, move along. I doubted anyone believed that - that entire area would be avoided as much as possible, and people were probably already trying to sell their property along that street and failing. I wished them luck with that.


The news was making me look terrible of course; I should have seen the mine, and how was my training being conducted if I missed something like that, and were we truly safe on the streets, etc, etc.


The talking heads could raise all the fuss it wanted; the government wouldn't fire me. They couldn't in fact, we were too shorthanded. Besides I think that summoners had tried in the past to be useless in an effort to get drummed out... and all it had gotten them was sent to the front quicker.


Grex plunked the coffee down in front of me and changed the channel. Now there was a zombie on the screen, being piloted by a demon in order to kill a bunch of teens... as if the demon would bother or care. Well, unless he was very very bored. 


I snagged a handful of M&M's.


A blink and the movie was over, and someone was knocking on the door. "Grex, the door."


"As you command, my Mistress."


Yellow flowers were pushed under my nose; I looked up to find a very nervous looking Cords holding them, vase and all. They did smell nice. 


"Tulips, for you. Something to brighten this gloomy apartment."


Didn't Cords hate it here? Hate this entire building? "My apartment isn't gloomy! I just prefer darker colors. Thanks for the flowers, though."


Cords set the vase down on the table. "I just came by to see how you were doing before work."


"I'm fine. A little floaty from the meds, but fine. I should be okay here for now."


Cords shuffled his feet; it was almost cute. "Right. Call me if you need anything, alright? Don't hesitate, and I'll see what I can do."


Poor guy - he had it bad. the joke was on me there, though. I would not be following in my mother's footsteps, at all. But letting him know that was proving hard. 


"If I need you I'll call. Thanks for the flowers."


"You're welcome. See you later, okay? I'll drop by after work if you don't mind."


I did mind; I wasn't helpless. But maybe I needed to socialize more outside of work. "Sure. I'll be here."




The flowers looked nice on my coffee table... but I had to move them to see the T.V.


The next movie was one of the grade B aliens versus demon movies that seemed to roll around every few years; they always shared the same common theme; either the aliens wanted to invade and kill all humanity only to be stopped by the demons or the aliens joined us in our war against the demons and we won. This one was one of the first types, and the best that could be said about it was that it was amusing.


"Grex, fetch me the spellbook I was reading four days ago."


Grex sighed, but got up and retrieved the book from the shelf without complaint. I started in, reading more about how to cast lightning because who wouldn't want to be even more like Emperor Palpatine? I mean I was already wearing the bathrobe daily.


Not every summoner could cast magic, of course, it had to be in the contract. Most did try to bargain for it, but not everyone pulled it off; most found the price to be paid too high. But Karen had hers and I wanted to be able to match her; lightning did seem to be very effective against demons, for whatever reason, if past statistical data was anywhere near accurate.


Lightning seemed complicated; I had to take variables like barometric pressure and humidity into account before trying anything. If I didn't I could fry myself, and that would be embarrassing on top of potentially lethal.


I also needed to find a work around for carrying a sword in public. I was sick of fighting that guy with only an athame and speed. Registering a sword would cause some raised eyebrows, but finding a sword capable of standing up to something that could carve through a building like a Christmas roast was something else. Grex had one, I could always ask him where he got his... but I wanted to try and solve the problem myself if I could.


Besides Grex's sword was probably forged from the blood of innocents on an altar of the damned using the tears of sinners or something.


Then again, maybe I didn't need a blade. Maybe something more modern was the way to go. A souped up crossbow might be able to carry banishment seals or other payloads, and with my own talents, I could make the bolts fast enough to hit what I'm aiming at.


I'd been meaning to look into that, but I'd gotten sidetracked. Oh well, I had time now.


I grabbed my tablet as the phone rang. It was Karen.


"What's up, Karen?"


"I just had a follow-up question about the attack, for the report. Were you aware there were barrels of refined diesel stored in that warehouse?"


Uh... what? "No, I wasn't No one told me anything like that, and I'd just started my own search. Why, there was?" 


Assuming she was talking about the big drum barrels of gasoline or diesel, those were hard to get. I hadn't seen anything like that written on the report, and if they had been there, they should have been collected as evidence long before I arrived. Had someone dropped a ball, or was something more sinister going on?


"Alright, well the investigation continues. The warehouse was basically a total loss; portions of it kept burning for a few hours due to the gas. So if you have any pics of your own to share that would be a great help."


"Sure, I'll forward what I have."


"Great, thanks."


As Karen hung up I pondered how badly burned I'd be by these turn of events. They certainly didn't look good for me; no I wouldn't be accused of setting the fire on purpose or blowing up the warehouse, there were enough witnesses and evidence to prove otherwise... but incompetence was harder to disprove. 


And if I were Karen or the Chief, then I would definitely be looking twice. It wasn't even a question of incompetence really, just on whose part; either it was mine for not moving the fight realizing the diesel could go up, or it was CSI for not finding or moving it.


Whatever. They weren't going to fire me regardless, the worst it could be was a black mark.


Maybe it was petty of me, but I didn't want a black mark of any kind on my record. I wanted to join the police after my ten years if possible... not that I'd be ADTF if I did. Simple homicide was looking better and better. Maybe arson? I was bound to get a lot of experience with fires.


I could also work theft. Many a criminal would probably pee themselves if they knew a former summoner was working their case. For that matter, so would many a murderer.


It was too early to be making plans... I had to survive first. I grabbed my tablet again and started looking up crossbows.


Most of them were too small, too delicate, and made to fire things small enough to be considered darts. The ones best suited for my purpose were older models from the renaissance or middle ages. The absolute best was a design so old the original came from China; the repeating crossbow.


The problem was no one made a modern version. The best I could hope for is probably finding someone to modify a normal crossbow, so until that happened I was stuck. Maybe Cords would know someone? I really needed to expand my circle of friends... but it felt disingenious to make friends knowing my line of work. The angel had almost killed me, for all my power. When I was shipped out, the odds were against survival, for all my power. And making friends despite that, in true 'eat drink and be merry' fashion, felt irresponsible of people's feelings.


The doorbell rang.


"Grex, get that."


Grex got it; he opened the door and then I heard a scuffle. Was someone breaking in? And past Grex? If so, how?


All my short lived questions were answered when my Mother came down the hall like a shot, her yoga pants starting to work their way down and her sports bra about to pop. She skidded to a stop in front of the couch, placed perfectly to block my view of the television, knelt before me, and solemnly stated:


"You're in Hell."


"Usually. So are you; Hello Mother."


She blinked, then looked down at herself. "Perhaps I should have dressed better."




Slow measured steps from down the hall resolved themselves into my father, puffing furiously on a cigarette but otherwise showing no emotion. I knew how to read him, however, and saw the tension. I waved with my good hand.


"See Samantha, she's fine."


Mom reached out and poked me. "She's well enough to call. Why didn't you call, Maeve?"


Well, that explained what Mom was doing here. And Mom being here explained Dad.


What that didn't explain was why I didn't call. Why hadn't I called? I mean I knew Dad would be told my condition at the office, but I should have made the effort, and instead, it didn't even occur to me. I had an inkling, however; if I had called Mom and said I had been hurt, would she have understood what I was saying, or would she have been detached from reality again? My Mom wasn't exactly what you would call dependable.


"I'm not sure why I didn't call. I have no excuse, other than a taking a head injury. I'm sorry." Hopefully, that was good enough as excuses go - head injuries did odd things to people.


Dad nodded, but Mom poked me again... and then hugged me, hard.


"Ow, Mom, stop! You're aggravating something!"


She relented but slapped my leg. "Scoot over, I want to try your couch."


I scooted as best I could; I was a little stiff. Grex brought over a footrest and I switched over to it gratefully.


"So, what's broken?" Dad asked, sinking down into one of my plush chairs. 


"Some ribs, my skull, and my arm. All hairline and not a big deal. No lasting tissue damage, just some cuts and bruising."


"How long are you down for?"


"Two to three weeks, probably." Yes, the doctor had said a month, but that was bullcrap. I could probably reverse time on myself and still heal faster.


"Good. So what are you doing then?"


I held up my book with my good hand. "Learning never stops."


Mom had see-sawed her head back and forth as though our conversation was a tennis match and she a spectator, but now she decided to chime in.


"Do you want me to kiss it better?"


I barely managed to stop the facepalm. "No Mother, that's quite alright."


Mother stared into my eyes, her gaze soulful. "Are you sure?"


"I'm sure. I'm fine, Mom." I was a big girl now.


She settled back in beside me, but half draped herself on me. Luckily she avoided my hurt side.


"Grex, get some coffee for my parents. Standard rules apply; no special additives."


"Understood." Grex stated, bowing and heading toward the kitchen.


"I'm jealous," Mom said, watching him go. "I never had him so well trained. He was always... difficult."


"Don't be fooled," I replied. "It was a lot of work closing loopholes. My contract is a bit tighter than most though; he's on call 24/7 365, and my orders can layer until all loopholes are closed."


Mom's eyes sparkled - as an old hand, she knew what that meant. She snuck a glance at my book.


"Lightning, huh? I used to throw that stuff."


Sigh. "I know, Mom."


She couldn't do anything like that anymore. She couldn't even teach, though I wasn't sure why; it was a notation on her file. 


I mean, I could guess; she WAS insane after all. She would probably tell fresh summoners they could fly, and escort them to the cliff to try it out. I put the book down; clearly, it upset her, at least a little.


Grex came back with the coffee, black for Dad, and cream and sugar (actual cream, since Mom was picky) for Mom.


Mom took a sip, sighed, and set the cup down... and then buried her head in my side.


"Mom, wounded here." I managed to get out. Was it too early to take another pill? 


"Oh, sorry. I forgot. You're pretty comfortable though." Well, that tore it; she probably wasn't going to get up until Dad made her. But she did ease up a little, so that was something.


I looked over at Dad to find his mouth turned up in as near to a smirk as I've ever seen. So no help there, unless I appealed to his sense of duty.


"So, how's work?"


"Long and boring, lately," Dad replied, settling back and clearly signaling he wasn't going to help.


Still, it was curious. "Slow in homicide?"


Dad nodded gravely. "The regular troublemakers have all gone to ground for some reason, and the regular murders seem to be dropping lately."


Regular meaning jilted lovers, crazy stalkers that no one takes seriously until they go to town with a gun, or black widows.




Dad nodded again. "I think everyone is keeping their heads down due to recent events. Kind of good for business but...."


I knew what he wanted to say there; he wasn't sure if the cost was worth it. I couldn't blame him, I wasn't either. But the cost of saying it out loud and upsetting Mom was definitely not worth it. She was currently fascinated by the movie on television, but she would pay attention to us if we said one of her buzzwords.


....Was she sniffing me?


"I haven't showered, I know, calm down."


I didn't feel like standing in the shower; my legs ached more than a little.


"It's okay. You just smell different is all."


Whatever. I wasn't about to ask; I just shared a look with Dad.


We spent the movie in comfortable silence, but when it was over Dad stood up.


"Well, I got to get going. Lunch hour is over."


Lunch hour had been over for at least a half hour by any stretch of the imagination.


I nudged Mom a little... and she tightened her grip. 


This time Dad was with me. "Come on Sam, we got to get going."


"Maeve can take me back when I'm ready to go."


I shook my head at her. "No, I can't. My car is either parked outside a shattered warehouse, or in police impound. So even if I were cleared to drive, something I'm not sure on, I can't do any driving."


"Poo, I knew I should have taken my own car." Mom pouted as she untangled herself and stood up.


Dad gave me the 'you can thank me later' look as he collected Mom.


For my part, I reclaimed my couch. "Have a good day, and drive safe."


Dad nodded as he dragged Mom out of sight. I heard the door close and turned to Grex. "Check it and make sure."


Grex nodded, and I waited for him to take the fourth step before I called out: "And more coffee, please! Standard rules apply!"


He shot me a dirty look as he returned to snag the cup. But vengeance for my family was vengeance, no matter how petty. Seeing Mom always made remember how much I owed Grex for.


Sometimes I was weak, and forgiveness was farther out of reach than the past. 


The best part was when I didn't actually drink the coffee he brought back but kept reading. He settled in to watch the next movie, which was another demon themed thing. Something else for him to laugh through.


Mom had snuck half the bowl of M&M's when Dad and I weren't watching.




I hadn't expected to fall asleep again, but boring books were boring.


The knock on the door woke me. Grex stopped hovering and answered it. I could tell immediately from the tread that it was Cords - better than Karen, I guess.


"So, someone liked the M&M's."


"Yeah, my Mom. She was here earlier."


"Well, that sucks. I'm sad I missed her, she's... interesting."


He plunked down in the chair across from me with a sigh and grabbed a handful of the candies for himself. "It's okay, I have more. So, you never checked your tablet today."


Whoops. I bet Cords had been bored to tears. Wait, had anything happened today? "I fell asleep reading; did something happen today? Was there another attack?"


Cords waved that off. "No, nothing like that. In fact, it was the first real peaceful day in weeks; the raid at the warehouse at least made that summoner lay low. No, I sent you something I thought you might be interested in. If you want we can look over it now."


I didn't see my pad anywhere. "Grex, fetch me my pad please."


I was stiff now, and I wasn't about to move.


Grex went into the bedroom silently, found my pad, and brought it back; had I left it in the bedroom? I must have, right?


I didn't think I did. "Grex, were you using my pad?"


"No," he replied, but I could tell there was more there. 


"Has anyone else been using my pad?"


"No," he replied again, with the exact same inflection.


It was clear he didn't want to say what was going on in mixed company. Cords for his part flashed Grex a very nasty smirk. Very odd, I thought Cords was afraid of Grex? Did he get over it that quickly? Even odder, Grex stayed silent about it.


Well as long as they weren't actively trying to kill each other, I didn't really care. I unlocked my tablet to find the message from Cords waiting for me, and time stamped for when I was asleep. Inside it were pictures. Pictures of the warehouse - the original walkthrough with evidence collection, before everything was taken out.


One of the shots clearly showed a lack of anything resembling gasoline barrels where Karen had told me she found the remains of several stacked. The others all showed stuff I hadn't seen yet.This was major.


"Isn't sending these to me illegal?"


Cords shrugged. "You're cleared to see them, so I thought why not?"


Translation: it was, and I wasn't just misremembering.


"Don't worry about it," Cords told me with a smile. "It's only illegal if you get caught. So, what does shot three show? I didn't recognize that symbol."


Shot three showed a shot of a glyph that acted as an appeal to a demon lord directly... usually used as a sort of suck up title to get a demon to grant the writer power. And the demon being addressed was the lord of lies himself; never let it be said our perpetrator didn't have an ego.


"An appeal for power from Lucifer himself; our perp thought pretty highly of himself."


Cords whistled. "Straight to the top, huh?"


It might explain much. "Well rogues are normally a solo lot; they don't work well with others. But this guy was strong enough to summon multiple demons and command them for weeks. Whatever appeal he made, it seemed to have been answered and then some. There was even some talk of this being the work of a small coven, but this evidence seems to support lone kook more."


Though how he got all this take out I was seeing in photo five was beyond me; from what I saw of him just five minutes in the open air would have had every concerned citizen calling the cops or us directly while running as quickly as they could in the other direction. So there was a support network somewhere.


The question was, how big and would they try anything? Could they spring him from maximum security? Could they hide him if they managed it? It must be hard to hide crazy, especially crazy with the rampant taste for Chinese this guy obviously had.


"What about this one?" Cords asked, bringing up another photo.


The picture was a good glamor shot of what looked like a silhouette of an angel... if angels were female. A succubus or eriynes? Under the silhouette (which appeared to be painted in blood) there was writing, and that was far less clear. I didn't recognize the language.


"I don't recognize that at all, or the writing."


"Well I do. The writing is German, kind of. 'Long live the queen'. I don't think it's referring to the queen of England."


I decided it was past time to get up. I suppressed the groan - mostly - and managed to get upright.


"You okay?" Cords asked with a wary eye; I was pretty sure he was plotting how he was going to catch me if I fell, which was silly. I hadn't staggered that much.


"I feel alright, just the full body bruise making itself known."


I snagged my notebook and started writing notes on the points of interest in each photo. Cords looked on.


"You know, I originally just sent you these so that you could clear your name." He finally said around photo fourteen.


"Maybe, but if the barrels just appeared there we need to know how. If someone was giving this summoner Chinese food while he was killing people we need to know who and why." This rabbit hole was much deeper than first appeared, and we needed to find the bottom.


"A good point," Cords admitted reluctantly. "But I don't think the summoner with a head injury should be the one doing the police work."


"Maybe, maybe not." I couldn't admit that I couldn't trust anyone else to do it; not even him.


I wanted to know the truth, the whole truth... I had a feeling these photos and files would be buried at management's earliest convenience. And it would probably be past my clearance, like the locked and warded file cabinet in the dungeon was. It might even be already since the writing here was German; anything dealing German summoners and German methods were usually classified as a matter of course.


There was probably good reason for that; as disgusting as these runes are (even removed from context) I could already see new ideas or possible new ways of doing things from them. Even knowing what they were it was dangerous... blasphemous. As if the architecture, the mere structure of the designs were changing how the world looked... or how I thought.


Cords caught my shudder. "Yeah, me too the first time. You get used to all the bodies... kind of."


I blinked; yes the bodies were bad, people caught, tied up so that they faced each other, and tortured slowly to death or sacrificed so that those next in line saw their own fate and the demon or demons could feed on their fear - but the geometry of those designs was nothing dreamed by mortal minds or painted by mortal hands. No wonder the summoner responsible was well beyond simply crazy.


But still, that was a lot of bodies, in various stages of deconstruction. Very bloody deconstruction. I was thankful my Dad had sort of immunized me to sights like this one... but it was still angering at a deep level.


"Have the victims been identified yet?"


"No. They are all... sort of mixed together with their fingerprints removed. The only hope right now is DNA, and that could take weeks."


Weeks without the families knowing their loved ones were dead... but they probably knew. I really hoped they didn't know how; this summoner and whoever supported him had much to answer for. 


"I really want to find out who gave this scumbag Chinese food. A gulag would be too good for them."


Soviet gulags were notorious. It was literally the worst fate I could think of before death. After death was my fate of course, which matched that of the crazy summoner in our lockup, but it was more than I could hope for on those collaborators.


A few finger taps and the collage of photos settled themselves into a pieced together image of the entire room in miniature. Nothing immediately jumped out at me... but wait.


Why were there so many circles? Even with multiple summonings, there should be at most two or three; any summoner worth their salt would re-purpose and reuse a circle before making another one, just because it decreased the risk of making potentially lethal mistakes. But this warehouse had been just littered with circles.


Something which went contrary to the lone summoner vibe I was getting from all other sources. Had he really been just that crazy?


"You okay?" Cords asked. I realized I had been staring into space for a good minute or two.


"Yes, I'm fine. Just thinking."


"Yeah, well that's enough of that then, you should be recuperating rather than solving the mystery. So let's find something nice and mindless to do for awhile."


What? "We huh? Don't you need to get home? It's getting a bit late."


The way Cords shuffled around and scuffed his left foot against my floor like a little kid wasn't endearing at all, and I'd swear that in a court of law. "Well I thought I could stick around for a little while, and we could do something. Not like that! Just maybe watch a movie or something."


I stopped giving him the evil eye. "Fine, for a little while. But I'm not playing any board games. I've seen how those movies end."


"Yeah, no. No board games. No movie?"


"Not really feeling it, I've been stuck watching TV all day. How are you on racing games?"


"Bad. I don't play video games."


Well, he couldn't be better than me then. "Time to learn. Don't worry, I'm bad too. I just haven't had much time to play."


"Yeah, that kind of fits."


Now, what was that supposed to mean? Cords was trying pretty hard to stick both feet in his mouth tonight.


"What do you mean by that, Cords?"


"Oh nothing, it's just that you don't seem to do much outside of work. I keep asking, but you don't just hang out much outside of work."


"That's because you ask me to go bowling."


He mock glared. "Bowling is a perfectly acceptable sport! Besides, you're free to make a counter-offer."


Were we really doing this now? I booted up the game system more to buy time than play. "I know. But this... all of it even just hanging out with the cops, it just all feels slightly wrong, you know? As if it's all not quite real, and I'll wake up or something, and be me again. The old me. Does that make any sense?"


Cords didn't even miss a beat. "To me? Not at all. I can't know what you're going through. I can admit however that I like you. I've only known current you, and I like her. I'm willing to wait until you figure it out; the best things in life are worth waiting for."


Wow, he had met my gaze without a blink and he hadn't even stuttered the delivery; that was some top tier smoothness. So of course, it worked, and I fumbled up starting the game, twice.


"Thank you for that."


"Sure, no problem. I said it mainly so I could show up drunk off my ass at 4 am and smelling like cheap perfume and you'd still let me crash on your couch."


I couldn't stop the laugh. "If you do that before I'm healed, no jury in the world will convict me."


Cords grinned. "That's the spirit; now show me how this thing works."







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