Demon Apocalypse

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PART ONE - BERANABUS

Chapter 1 THE SNATCH

A demon shaped like a giant scorpion digs its stinger into a woman's eyes. As they pop, it spits eggs into the bloody sockets, then watches with its almost human face as the eggs hatch and wriggling maggots feast on her flesh.

Another demonic beast-it looks like a cute rabbit, though it has an ugly bulge on its back-vomits over a man and his two children. The acidic liquid sizzles and dissolves them down to the bone.

A third footman of the Demonata runs after an air hostess. He has the body of a young boy, but his head is larger than an adult's, he has a wig of living lice instead of hair and fire burns in the holes where his eyes should be. He also has two extra mouths in the palms of his hands. The teeth of both are eagerly snapping open and shut as he chases the screaming air hostess.

All the people on the plane are screaming-except those who've already been killed-and it's music to the ears of the demon master, Lord Loss. He hovers in the aisle, mouth twisted into a sad smile, red eyes distant. A few of his eight arms twitch in rhythm with the screams, like a conductor's at an orchestra. Then his eyes snap back into focus and he turns his gaze on me.

"You should not have humiliated me, Grubitsch," Lord Loss says, still furious about the time I beat him at chess. "You should have fought fairly, faithful to the spirit of the contest, and won or lost on merit alone. You ruined chess for me. For many centuries it was my only other source of joy. Now I have just the agony and torture of humans to keep me amused."

He slowly drifts down the aisle towards me, the strands of flesh that pass for his legs floating a few centimetres above the floor. The tiny snakes in the hole where his heart should be are writhing, hissing hatefully, spitting venom in my direction. Blood is flowing from the many cracks in his pale red skin. The holes above his upper lip-he has no nose-quiver wildly as he gleefully inhales the stench of terror from the doomed passengers. His dark red eyes are dilated with morbid pleasure. All eight arms are extended. Some of his mangled hands brush the heads and cheeks of humans as he passes, as if he is obscenely blessing them. The white-haired, pink-eyed albino traitor, Juni Swan, is behind him, smiling serenely.

A woman clasping a baby falls to her knees in front of Lord Loss, sobbing painfully. "Please!" she cries. "Not my child. Have mercy on my baby. Don't kill him. I beg you!"

"Suffer unto me the little children," Lord Loss murmurs blasphemously, taking the baby with three of his hands. He strokes the boy's face and the baby laughs. Lord Loss passes him to Juni. "For you, my darling swan."

"You are generous to a fault, my lord," she smiles, then kisses the infant.

"No!" I scream. But it's too late. A moment later she tosses the grey remains of the baby aside, having sucked his fragile life from him. The child's mother chokes, eyes wide with disbelief and horror. Lord Loss bends and breathes in her sorrow, sighs contentedly, then moves on, leaving her to the lesser demons.

Sick with fear, I back away from the approaching demon master. There are several empty rows behind me-the other passengers have fled to the tail of the plane. Lord Loss makes a small humming noise. "At last you move. I thought I might wring no sport from you today."

"Leave them alone," I snarl, hands knotted into trembling fists. "It's me you want, so let the others go."

"I cannot do that, Grubitsch," Lord Loss sighs. "My familiars are hungry. I promised them food. You would not ask me to break my word, would you?"

"My master always keeps his promises," Juni chuckles.

I focus on her. The fair-faced but black-hearted cuckoo in the nest. She acted like my mother. I loved her. I let her steal me away from Dervish. And all the time she was plotting against me. "Harpy!" I sob. "What the hell are you-a demon in disguise?"

"I don't have that honour," she replies smoothly. "I'm merely a human like you. In fact I'm from the same family tree, believe it or not. But unlike you and your fool of an uncle, I chose to serve those greater than ourselves, rather than vainly battle with them."

"You sold us out!" I shout. Then confusion kicks in. "But... I don't understand. In Slawter, when we trying to escape from the demons, you helped us."

"No," she smiles. "That was all a pretence. When I first visited your house with Davida Haym, I used magic to convince Dervish to come to Slawter and bring you and Bill-E with him. On the set it was my job to win your confidence. I found out your secrets, so we could use them against you.

"I played you like pawns," she boasts. "I had you thinking I was one of your pathetic group, a trusted ally. I let you make escape plans and even allowed you to act on them-it would have been more delicious if you failed with freedom in sight. At the end, just before you breached the barrier, I meant to reveal my true self and turn you over to my master. And I would have, except..."

"You were knocked unconscious," I gasp, remembering the dying demon who clubbed her in its death throes.

Juni nods bitterly. "By the time I recovered, it was too late. I paused to silence Chuda Sool-he knew the truth about me-then departed to join my master and plot our next approach."

"We had not planned to strike so soon," Lord Loss says. He's come to a stop three metres away, enjoying my growing understanding of how we were betrayed. "I could sense the magic within you, even though you hid it masterfully. I didn't want to move on you until I knew precisely what I'd have to deal with. But then Juni had a vision."

"I catch glimpses of the future," Juni says smugly. "I saw you change into a werewolf a few months before it happened."

"I could not wait any longer," Lord Loss sighs. "I wished to punish you while you were human-there would be no satisfaction in killing a senseless animal. So I set a watch on you. I'm a fine judge of werewolves. I was confident of timing it so that I struck just prior to the final turning-I liked the idea of letting you suffer the agonies of the impending change for as long as possible."

"It all fell neatly into place in the end," Juni smirks. "I was planning to come to Carcery Vale, looking for an excuse to explain my return. When your friend died, I donned my psychologist's disguise, disposed of William Mauch and replaced him. You and Bill-E couldn't have been more welcoming. And Dervish... Well, he was positively overjoyed to see me."

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