“I might actually be inclined to believe your do-it-for-the-greater good speech if your partner in crime Dorian hadn’t just tried to take the talisman from me,” Andrea snapped.
Jagathy laughed, “He is not a doorkeeper. He’s just a middle man sent to secure the talisman for his master. We stepped in when we knew you were coming.”
“For his master? That’s a weird way to put it. You make it sound like he’s…”
“A slave? That’s precisely what he is. See the devil’s mark tattooed on the inside of his left forearm? It seals his obedience and service.”
Andrea snorted derisively, “I hope you don’t expect me to believe that Dorian sold his soul to the devil. Where did they meet up, in the tattoo parlor?”
“Don’t be so literal. Just as the tattoo is symbolic, the covenant was struck via a practitioner of the dark arts who was powerful enough to call up a demon.”
“So let me get this straight. Dorian handed over his soul in exchange for what? A handful of magic beans? Three wishes?”
Dorian tried to lunge at Andrea. Jagathy placed a restraining hand on his shoulder and pressed him back down into his seat. Dorian shouted, “don’t you dare trivialize my situation! I was dying. One minute, I was healthy as a horse. Then one day I felt a pressure in my chest that got worse and worse until I went to the doctor and found out that in a matter of months I would be dead. You have no idea what that’s like.”
Dorian struggled to calm himself, “to know that nothing you do or say is going to alter your fate. Day by day, hour by hour, I could my life force was slowly draining away. I steadily grew weaker and weaker. Pretty soon, I knew I wouldn’t even be able to feed myself. I wasn’t ready to go. There is still so much that I want to do and the realization that there wouldn’t be enough time to do half of it made me angry. I was willing to do anything for more time, let alone the chance to be immortal.”
“Your soul is eternal,” said Jagathy.
“Oh yeah? How do you even know for sure that we have souls? I’ve never seen one. All I know is that I felt myself dangling over the abyss and I wasn’t ready to go. I want to stay here. Life might be a bitch sometimes but at least I know how to navigate through this world. I’m not willing to gamble on the existence of some nebulous afterlife.”
Janet got up from the floor slowly, her attention transfixed by the fear blooming on Dorian’s face. She pointed at him saying, “Jagathy is telling the truth Andrea. Look into Dorian’s eyes. I told you he was afraid of something.”
Andrea looked over at Dorian. Without the mask of bravado, she plainly saw his fear and desperation. She still wasn’t prepared to swallow Jagathy’s tale whole but grudgingly admitted to herself that there must be a grain of truth in it. No one could fake emotion with that much intensity.
Andrea didn’t doubt that Dorian worked for some nasty individual who would be pissed off, once he or she learned that Dorian had allowed the talisman to slip through his fingers. What she did doubt was that his boss had some sort of supernatural powers. It sounded a little too far-fetched for her.
If Dorian actually believed in hocus pocus then he was an even bigger moron than she originally pegged him as. Why else would he willingly get something tattooed on his body based on…on…Andrea suddenly remembered where she had seen a tattoo like that before.
“Ethan has a tattoo just like that on the side of his neck,” she blurted.
Janet’s mouth dropped open as the same realization hit her. “Is that why the shadow spirits took him away? Was it because he didn’t get the talisman back,” asked Janet.
“What did you say,” asked Jagathy.
Janet cringed. She hadn’t meant to say that out loud. She hadn’t even decided if she was going to tell anybody what she had seen. “Um, nothing. I thought I saw something when we were with my sister’s friend Ethan but that was probably because he drugged me. I’m not even sure I was fully awake at the time. It was probably just a hallucination,” Janet waffled.
“Oh no my dear, I’m afraid what you saw was anything but a hallucination.”
“Then they really killed Ethan? I saw them rip his soul from his body!”
“His fate depends upon whether or not he outlived his usefulness. They may have just dragged him off to the netherworld to answer for his failure.”
“Never mind. We don’t have enough time to get into any lengthy explanations. You two need to make a decision right now. Time has just run short. We need to be on our way,” said Jagathy looking pointedly from one to the other of the sisters.
Andrea hesitated and asked, “if we join you then what happens next?”
“You’ll hand over your weapon for safekeeping.”
“I can keep up with my own weapon.”
“You misunderstand. Palin here will seal the revolver into an evidence bag. If you back out of the mission or try to double cross us then he will process it as evidence and execute warrants for the arrests of you and your sister.”
“And if we successfully complete the mission?”
“You’ll get the gun back and Steve’s murder case will be allowed to grow cold. So which will it be?”
Andrea and Janet locked eyes, each mirroring the unease of the other. Andrea knew she had no right to ask her sister to risk her life yet again, but the alternative seemed just as dangerous. Janet suddenly walked over to Andrea and clasped her hand, nodding almost inperceptibly. Tears of gratitude sprang to Andrea’s eyes.
“We’ll do it,” said Janet.
Jagathy nodded approvingly and motioned for Palin to get the revolver. He was sealing it into the evidence bag when Jagathy swooned. Daksha rushed to his side and propped him up. She said, “We’d better get out of here. I don’t know how much longer he can sustain the protective spell he cast around this building earlier. The forces of darkness grow stronger with the lateness of the hour.”
A sudden cry of anguish from Dorian startled them. At first, they couldn’t see what was plaguing him. Then the sound of sizzling flesh drew their attention to the tattoo on his arm. It began to smoke and blacken before taking on the glow of red-hot coals. Jagathy closed his eyes and murmured incoherently, extending his arms towards Dorian. In the next moment, all of the windows began rattling with such force Janet was certain that they would shatter.
“What’s going on? Sounds like we’re having an earthquake,” Andrea shouted over the din.
Daksha rolled her eyes and glared at Andrea. “Don’t be stupid. The ground isn’t moving. Someone or should I say something is trying to get in here. Put the talisman around your neck and hide it under your shirt Janet. We’re going to have to make a run for it. Stay close behind us and whatever you do, don’t look up. Keep your eyes on the ground in front of you.”
Jagathy spoke louder. Janet still couldn’t understand what he was saying but the repetitive, sing-song nature of his intonations made it clear that he was chanting. They all took their leave through the front door, making a run for the black sport utility vehicle parked at the curb.
Oppositional as ever, Andrea couldn’t resist the urge to look up. Her stricken eyes widened, struggling to process horrifying sight before them. Her mind ground to a halt, overloaded by the grotesque tableau unfolding around them. Janet grabbed her sister’s upper arm, dragged her over to the SUV, opened the rear passenger door and shoved her inside, climbing in behind her.