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So, I thought I’d have this all planned out–a nice list I could use everyday to choose a topic and post, but I’ve been on deadline, writing my little fingers down to nubbier nubs than I already have, so Pffft! on planning anything! Then I thought, maybe I’ll just wing this day by day and pluck the first thing that comes to mind to talk about.
This morning, I’m thinking about openings. In INTO THE DARKNESS, I start with a nice little pidgeon attack, filled with details I remembered from walking around Jackson Square and wondering, “what if?”
With Nicolas and Chessa stepping out from the sidelines for this one, I wanted something stronger, more visceral–darker.
This is the opening, see if it grabs you. I think I really did set the tone for the external plot and put you in New Orleans after The Great Storm. Enjoy, and tune in tomorrow! ~DD
His brother had thought Hell a fiery abyss, but Nicolas Montfaucon knew better. It was wet, smelled like a sewer, and sounded like the rush of collective hopes draining toward the sea.
With a heartbeat as leaden as his footfalls, he followed the sound of flowing water. His rubber boots sank in the rain-soaked grass as he stepped off the cemetery’s entrance road to head toward the water’s edge. Bayou St. John’s previous sluggish ambience had given way to a torrent in the aftermath of the storm. Just as the security team had reported, the waters that breached the levee in the early morning hours spilled into the bayou, raising it well above any thousand-year flood plain.
They couldn’t have planned for a worse scenario. The mausoleum lay in the center of a newly etched basin.
A cold, tight knot of horror settled in his gut, numbing him to the elements, while a soft rain fell like God’s kiss of benediction before the coming battle. The prickling unease lifting the hair on the back of his neck was familiar, but one he hadn’t experienced to this degree since the searing heat and biting sand of Palestine over seven hundred years ago.
Quiet, muffled voices drew him deeper into the cemetery. He followed the blurred edges of a once pristine graveled path, now strewn with long tangled strands of Spanish moss and broken tree branches, around sturdy stone crypts—ones untouched by the raging storm that had drenched New Orleans and changed its landscape irrevocably.
He glanced toward the dark gray clouds giving his team cover for what they must do. At least God hadn’t added one more insurmountable burden to overcome this day.
“Erika, Pasqual?” he called softly as he approached.
They turned with dread tightening their pale faces.
He noted their quick sideways glances and knew their loyalties might be tested. Just the night before one quarry had escaped their net. Did they know his role in the deception that had allowed the newest Born female to flee?
“The crypt is submerged,” Pasqual said, nodding ahead toward the swollen bayou.
Nicolas followed his gaze and found the winged angel that graced the top of the Morel mausoleum, the bottom edge of her robe licked by foaming, lapping waves of dark water.
“We brought a pirogue,” Erika said, shivering despite the humid heat, “but the water’s so swift…”
Nicolas nodded. “I’ll go. We’ll have to tie off the boat on both sides of the bayou to keep it from being swept away.”
“The crypt was solid. The doors were chained,” Pasqual said, his voice strained. “Do you really think he could have escaped?”
Nicolas’s lips curved and tightened. “His sarcophagus was in the center of the cemetery. The bayou jumped its banks and carved a new path—straight through his prison. Do you think that’s coincidental?”
Erika’s brown eyes looked overlarge in her slender face. “How will we contain him?”
“If the doors are still locked, we’ll wait for the waters to subside to discover whether his coffin remains intact.”
“If they aren’t locked?” she continued.
He shrugged. “Then we prepare ourselves.”
“How do we do that?” she asked, a note of hysteria in her brittle voice. “No one’s got a standard operating procedure for the end of the fucking world.”
“Someone has to go into the water,” Pasqual said quietly, his expression dark and troubled.
“I said I’ll go,” Nicolas said, straightening his shoulders. “I placed him there. It’s my duty to make sure he stays.”
“Not alone, you won’t.”
Nicolas turned at the sound of another voice, one familiar and welcome.
A tall dark-clad figure stepped from behind a large oak.
Nicolas wondered if he’d just arrived or had chosen the most dramatic moment to appear.
Simon Jameson’s long brown hair was plastered against his skull and touched the tops of broad shoulders clothed in a rain slicker.
“Simon, bad news travels fast,” Nicolas said, his tone dry.
Despite the dire circumstance that brought him here, Simon smiled. “A little bird told me we had trouble.”
Nicolas raised a single brow at the thought of the mage’s familiar braving the remnants of the storm. “Her wings must be sodden.”
Simon’s lips crimped in the semblance of a smile. “She’s tired and drying off.” Then his gaze turned to the sunken crypt. “I’ll go with you. You may have need of me.”
“I’ll be glad for the company.” Whatever the reason for the falling out between the powerful mage and the leader of the vampire sabat, Nicolas held no grudge against Simon. Their acquaintance was older, forged in blood and battle. “I’d appreciate any help you can provide.”
Sloshing footsteps sounded behind them as more of the security team arrived, carrying a long, slender flat-bottomed boat and poles.
Using ropes suspended between the trees, Simon and Nicolas fought the swift current to drag the boat toward the stone angel. Once the boat scraped the spikes atop the iron fence surrounding the crypt, Nicolas stripped, dropping his clothing to the bottom of the boat. Then he tied a rope around his waist and said a quick prayer.
“Hold this in your mouth,” Simon said, slipping a carved, polished red stone from his pocket. “You’ll need your hands free.”
Nicolas didn’t question why he should keep a rock in his mouth. If his friend thought it necessary, that was enough for him to know. Likely a protective amulet, anyway. He could use all the help he could get.
Urgency and dread filled him. He had to see the damage below the surface of the black water for himself. He set the cold stone on top of his tongue and clamped his mouth closed. Then he lowered himself over the side of the boat, gripping it hard, shocked by the force of the water dragging at his body. Nicolas clutched the edge of the pirogue and shot Simon a glance.
The mage stood in the bottom of the boat, coiling the rope around his brawny fists and arms, and nodded. “Catch hold of the iron bars, and I’ll let out the rope.”
Out of instinct, rather than need, Nicolas drew in a deep breath through his nostrils and submerged. The dark water roiled around him, battering him with stones and debris. He forced open his eyes against the current and grimy sediments, but could see only a few inches in front of his face.
For long seconds he held his breath then made himself relax against the urge to gasp. He didn’t really need the air to live.
The current slammed him against the iron bars surrounding the crypt. He held tight then circled the fence, handhold by handhold, until he felt the gate’s hinges. With his feet against the gate, he bent his legs and made a powerful thrust, which propelled him forward in the eddying waters, toward the door of the crypt.
He reached out, grabbing for the carved edge of the stone door frame and followed it downward to the latch. Where a heavy chain should have wrapped around the mechanism, he found only a drooping handle, bobbing with the current.
Still, the door was closed.
He braced his feet against it and pulled with all his strength to bend the handle upward and lock it closed until he could return with another chain.
At that moment, a dull pounding came from inside, then a powerful thrust slammed open the door, tossing him backward into the current, which swept him toward the gate.
Despite the murky water, he saw a pale, ghostly apparition appear in the entrance of the crypt.
Sweet Mother of God! Nicolas bit down around the stone that threatened to lodge at the back of his throat.
The monster swam in the doorway, his mouth opening in a hideous grin.
Nicolas ground his heels against the iron bars and pushed forward again, launching himself toward the demon to drive him back inside. If he had to hold him there for an eternity, he’d never let him out. He’d uphold his oath—one given over the grisly remains of his wife.
When he barreled into the demon, the creature’s body felt…less than solid…gelatinous. The pale flesh gave way beneath Nicolas’s grasping hands. His torso disintegrated in rotten bits of flesh, tugged apart by the rapid current.
Nicolas screamed around the stone while his hand reached through the disintegrating body to grasp the demon’s spinal cord.
The beast’s face remained solid for only a moment longer while his grin turned triumphant, mocking Nicolas, before the skin stripped away to reveal a skeletal grimace.
Nicolas squeezed his eyes shut as he let go his fierce grip on what remained of the demon’s prison, his body, trying to forget the familiar face the monster had stolen and worn for centuries—his brother’s.