Band of Demons (The Sanheim Chronicles, Book Two)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Band of Demons

 

 

By Rob Blackwell

Copyright 2012 by Rob Blackwell

Cover copyright: Travis Pennington

 

All rights reserved

 

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.

 

This work is entirely fictional. Any similarity between characters and persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and pretty much all in your head. The sole exception is the winner of my “I want to die horribly” contest, who hopefully won’t sue me. While Leesburg and Loudoun County, Va., are real places, I have taken liberties with the geography.

 

 

For my mom, dad and sister

Prologue

 

 

February 2008

 

The man tried to ignore the sound of screaming as he walked down the hall. He hated being here. On the outside, he looked calm and collected, like he belonged. God knows he had been much worse places. But every fiber in his being wanted him to turn around and leave.

There was more shouting from down the hall and the sound of something heavy hitting a door. He flinched in spite of himself.

That’s not going to cut it
, he thought.
You can’t seem nervous. 

Two orderlies ran out of the room behind him and sprinted past. He was relieved when they ducked into the first room on the right. As he passed, he could see them grabbing an older patient, pushing him to the ground and attempting to restrain him. The man in their grasp looked wild, his eyes practically bulging out of their sockets. Spittle flew from his lips, and he began screaming again, the sound echoing out through the door and bouncing along the hallway.

“He’s coming for us!” the man screamed. “I saw him! He’s coming! He’s…”

One of the orderlies looked up, shut the door and the sound was mercifully cut short. You could still hear it, of course—the rooms weren’t soundproof—but it sounded less… the man searched for a polite word. Finally, he gave up.
Crazy
, he thought. There was no polite word for crazy.

He stuck his hands in his white lab coat and kept walking down the hall. After what felt like forever, he reached his destination. In contrast to the others he had passed, where he could hear patients screaming, calling or fuming, this room was disturbingly silent. He knocked lightly on the door.

When it opened, he was greeted by two men in similar white coats. The man   checked his memory to make sure he had their names right.

“Doctor Gasink,” he said to the one on the left, extending his hand as he walked through the door. He turned to the other doctor in the room and repeated the gesture. “Doctor Miller. Thank you both for seeing me on such short notice.”

The first doctor nodded his head.

“How could we refuse?” Gasink said. “You made a powerful case, Doctor…”

“Collins,” the man said. He handed over his credentials, which were fortunately only briefly inspected. “The patient’s case came up in a related matter. It seemed only natural to pool our resources.”

The man looked at the figure in the chair. The patient didn’t return his gaze, but stared dumbly at the table. The man noticed that the patient’s arms and legs were restrained.

“Is that really necessary?” he asked, nodding toward the restraints.

“The patient is catatonic now, but… we’ve had incidents,” Doctor Miller said. “It may look draconian, but we assure you it’s necessary.”

“Are you familiar with the details?” Doctor Gasink asked.

The man nodded his head.

Here we go
, he thought.

Without taking his eyes off the patient, he rattled off what he knew they wanted to hear.

“Patient has been diagnosed as schizoid, with frequent lapses into a delusional state,” he said. “The delusion is quite detailed.”

“You said you had seen this particular delusion before?” Doctor Miller asked. “That’s what we found so intriguing.”

The man forced himself to look at the doctor, fought to keep himself calm.

“Yes,” he said. “I had a patient that said much the same thing. Called himself the ‘Prince of Sanheim.’ Insisted that he had supernatural powers, but only around Halloween. After November 1, those powers disappeared.”

“Fascinating,” Doctor Gasink said. “This patient maintains the same. Outside of the news stories of the past few months, we could find only a few references to it in existing literature. We assumed it was entirely invented.”

“It’s an old Irish legend, doctor,” the man replied. “According to myth, a man and a woman can gain the powers of the Celtic God of the Dead. The man must face his darkest fear. If he defeats it, he is able to take the shape and abilities of that creature. The woman takes on an entirely different form. They are linked telepathically. I’m happy to give you my notes on it. I think you will find a number of interesting details.”

The man saw the look pass between the two doctors. They were certainly interested—they could probably see a nice paper in it for an academic journal. A little macabre, of course, but fascinating nevertheless. The man almost felt badly for lying to them. He had no intention of giving them anything.

“But first,” he said, “I’d like to talk to your patient, if I could.”

“I’m afraid it may prove futile,” Doctor Gasink said.

“I came all this way,” the man said. “I don’t have much time. I’d like to at least try.”

“Be our guest,” Doctor Miller said.

The man turned his gaze back to the patient in front of him, noting for the first time the unkempt appearance, the way the hair was tangled and clearly unwashed.

He walked forward and took a seat at the chair opposite and waited. For the first time since he arrived, he wasn’t entirely sure what to do.

“I need to talk to you,” he said.

The patient didn’t respond, but kept staring at the floor. 

“Can you hear me? I need to talk to you about the Prince of Sanheim.”

The patient didn’t stir.

The man decided to try another approach.

“I need you to tell me what happened at Ball’s Bluff,” he said.

The patient moved at that and looked up. The man gazed into the patient’s eyes, looking for some hint of recognition. Instead, he saw only a vast sea of emptiness. And pain. He saw plenty of that too.

“The battlefield?” the patient said.

The man could sense the two doctors tense behind him. Whatever they were expecting, it wasn’t this.

“Yes,” the man said. “Do you remember what happened?”

The patient stared past the man like he wasn’t even there.

“It was Halloween night,” the patient said.

 “Yes,” the man nodded. “It was four months ago. Do you remember?”

The patient kept staring into the distance.

The man shifted tactics again.

“Do you know your name?” he asked.

“Yes,” the patient replied.

“Can you tell it to me?”

“Quinn,” the patient said. “Quinn O’Brion.”

Behind him, he heard the doctors scrambling now, taking notes. He knew he had probably achieved more in five minutes than they had in weeks.

“Who are you?” the man asked again.

“My name is Quinn,” the patient said, the voice sounding uneven.

“Are you the Prince of Sanheim?”

“Yes,” the patient replied. “I remember now. I’m the Headless Horseman, aren’t I? You are what you fear.”

“That’s right,” the man said. He heard one of the doctors cough behind him, knew they didn’t approve. “What else do you remember?”

“I killed the Headless Horseman. And then I became him,” the patient said. “And then… No. No, that can’t be right.”

“What?” the man asked. He hated to press, but it had to be done.

“No,” the patient said, seemed to strain against the restraints.

“What do you remember?”

“That night? How many people were there?” the patient asked.

The patient’s eyes registered something else now. Anger, hatred. And guilt.

“More than three dozen,” the man replied.

The patient’s blue eyes flicked up, met the man’s and seemed to see him for the first time. They widened in shock.

“Do you know what happened to them?” the man asked.

“Yes,” the patient responded slowly. “I killed them. I killed them all.”

Part I

 

 

November 1, 2006

 

Dear Sheriff Brown,

 

Some of what we tell you will be lies. This is necessary to protect us both. We were the ones who killed Lord Halloween—that part is no lie, we assure you. Where you failed, we succeeded. Let me be clear up front: we will tolerate no further incompetence from you or your staff. You have let dozens of people die at the hands of a madman. You can claim victory over Lord Halloween—we bear you no ill will if you want to hog credit—as long as you understand that you had nothing to do with it. Without us, he would still be out there. Without us, he would still be killing.

Why are we writing to you? Because you are going to hear stories, lots of them. Stories that do not make sense; stories about monsters and ghosts. Some know these stories already—just ask your own son. These stories will be true. In the absence of divine intervention from above, Loudoun County will receive assistance from down below. The monsters are out in force. Continuing the ban on Halloween will not stop us.

But let us be clear: the innocent have no reason to fear us and we will give them none. Only those that lurk in shadows to strike at others have a reason to panic. To those that murder without cause, we are their worst nightmare. To those that desire retribution, we are their greatest ally.

There are times in life when one must make a stand. We intend to do so. Our medium is the one best understood by every being on this planet, from the lowly maggot to us—fear.

We will be the thing people fear. Our name already sends a shiver down the spine of the guilty and soon it will be synonymous with the creeping darkness.

We are night. We are October. We are flesh torn and rent. We are the rider that was promised long ago, the harbinger of fall. We are death, riding on a black horse.

You can call us the Prince of Sanheim.

 

Chapter 1

 

 

April 2007

 

Quinn was at the party less than ten minutes when he realized that someone was following him.

Since he entered the mansion, he’d felt a growing sense of unease. He had chalked it up to nerves at first—covering charity parties was always an awkward affair—but instead of dissipating soon after he arrived, his anxiety had steadily increased.

Everything about the party appeared off. For starters, all the other attendees were significantly better dressed than he was. He had worn his best suit—okay, his only suit—but all the men he saw were in tuxedos and the women were dressed to the nines. By itself that might not mean much, but some of the outfits looked old-fashioned, more appropriate to Victorian England than the 21
st
century.

The house was also fancier than he expected. Instead of the usual hotel ballroom reception, this one was in a castle. Quinn hadn’t even known there was a castle in Loudoun County. The décor was medieval style, from the chandeliers lit with real candles to the tapestries hung on the stone walls.

Quinn also had the uncomfortable feeling that some of the guests were watching him. It was nothing obvious. Most seemed to be sipping red wine and talking to each other. But he thought he saw several sidelong glances in his direction.

You’re being paranoid
, he told himself.
Why would they be watching you?

But once the thought had entered his head, he found it tough to shake. He had the distinct feeling he wasn’t welcome. Covering a party like this was always tough—nobody wants to talk to a reporter—but this one was beginning to feel decidedly hostile.

I need to find Kate
, he thought.

Quinn pushed his way through the throng of guests and looked for the next room. Along the way, he noticed that several people weren’t just sneaking looks at him anymore, but also nodding to each other and pointing. His sense of paranoia increased. He had the impression that somewhere in the midst of the crowd, someone—or something—was lurking.

Quinn walked quickly through the vaulted archway in front of him into the next room, casting several looks behind him as he went. It was no good trying to reason himself out of it. He felt a swirl of fear in his gut, gnawing at him from the inside.
HHhhk
He could hear the faint sound of a flute playing somewhere—and the tune sounded more fit for a funeral dirge than a party.

The room he was now in was even more bizarre than the first. It looked like some kind of hunting room. There were different animal heads on the wall: a lion, tiger, hippo and… he stopped in the center of the room and looked up. Was that a horse?

Who the hell hunts horses? As he looked higher, the trophies became even weirder. There were animals he had never even seen before, including one that was all fur and sharp teeth. Further up were creatures that were better suited to nightmares than decorations.

Quinn decided enough was enough. He was now officially creeped out and wanted to get the hell out of there. He began to push more rapidly through the crowd.

As he did so, he heard a noise behind him and saw guests pointing in the direction he had come. When Quinn looked behind him, however, he saw nothing but a quick movement as if a figure had been there, but had just ducked behind some guests. The music was growing louder and more ominous.

Quinn kept moving through the mass of people, who now seemed to be crowding him.

“Excuse me,” he said.

But instead of letting him through, the guests seemed to be hemming him in even more. The man in front of him simply gave Quinn a cold stare and stood motionless.

Quinn didn’t hesitate and shoved the man aside. Whatever was going on here, the crowd was clearly against him. The man stumbled back, knocking into several other guests. Several wine glasses fell to the floor. Quinn ignored their shouts of protest and kept moving forward.

He suddenly realized he was dreaming. The castle, the décor and guests finally registered with him as unrealistic. There was no party to cover—just a nightmare to escape. The fact that it was a dream wasn’t important. He knew better than most that dreams had power.

He ran into the next room, now more desperate than ever to find Kate. He was almost blinded by what he saw. He had heard of the concept of a “rainbow room” before, but this was insane. The entire room was decorated from floor to ceiling in a bright spectrum of colors. The effect was disorienting, like Quinn had stumbled into a demented preschool.

Quinn kept his eyes on the floor and looked quickly for the exit. He chanced a look back to see that the crowd had now parted and stood in two distinct groups on either side of the room. In the path that they had created, a solitary figure strode forward with a ferocity that alarmed Quinn. He couldn’t see a face, nor any defining characteristic. Clothed in black robes, the figure wasn’t running, but was moving forward rapidly.

Quinn didn’t stop to get a better look. Instead he started running through the next few bizarrely-decorated rooms as he looked for Kate. The trouble was that no matter how quickly he ran, all he found were more guests, who had dropped any pretense of disinterest in his fate. They stood watching him with a unified look of disgust. Quinn had the unsettling feeling that very soon, the guests were going to either join the figure’s chase or forcibly stop Quinn from running.

Looking back, Quinn saw that the figure was now close behind him. Instead of getting a better look, however, all he noticed was that the figure’s hands were red with blood. Quinn searched the room frantically. There had to be somewhere he could go. He spotted a door to the left and sprinted for it.

Once through, he slammed the door behind him. Surprisingly, he found a deadbolt and locked the door just as someone slammed into it from the other side.

“Quinn?” a voice behind him said. “Are you okay?”

Quinn wheeled around to find Kate standing in a small hallway. For a split second, Quinn forgot that someone was chasing him and noticed how beautiful she looked. She wore a red silk dress that was elegant yet incredibly sexy, with a slit on the side that showed off her gorgeous legs.

But Quinn didn’t have time to savor her for long. Behind him, there came another crash at the door. It now sounded like multiple people were trying to break through.

“We’ve got a problem,” Quinn said.

“Is someone chasing you?” Kate asked, looking at him with concern. “I’ve been trying to find you.”

“Someone’s here,” he said. “He’s trying to get us.”

 “Who?” she asked.

“No idea,” he replied. “All I know is this…”

 “Is a dream,” Kate finished. “I figured that out when I found the rainbow room.”

Another crash came from behind them. Quinn looked to see the door bending under the impact. He heard wood splintering.

“We don’t have a lot of time,” he said. “And I have no idea how to get out of here.”

“I saw a staircase this way,” Kate said.

She pulled him along as they heard more pounding at the door. Quinn and Kate ran through a maze of rooms until they came to a dead-end. Kate turned around.

“I thought it was this way,” she said.

Both of them looked around in desperation. Quinn heard another crash and this time he was sure the door behind them had finally collapsed. Whoever was chasing them was coming.

“Quinn, over here!” a voice called.

Kate and Quinn ran back into one of the rooms they had passed through to find a short man with straight black hair and brown eyes. He was standing at the far end near a room with a small staircase.

“Janus!” both Kate and Quinn said in unison.

They rushed toward him. Behind them, they could hear a crowd of people coming through the rooms they had left. Quinn started to hug Janus, but his deceased photographer shook his head.

“No time for hugs and kisses, mate—get up the damn stairs!”

He ushered Kate and Quinn through a door and slammed it behind them. Quinn watched as he lowered a heavy wooden bar across it just in time for someone to crash into it. There was a pounding on the door—the sound of dozens of hands furiously beating against it. The door held firm.

“Damn,” Janus said. “You guys know how to party, don’t you? I didn’t get a good look, but it seemed like half of Manchester United is chasing you. What did you do to them?”

Janus gave Quinn a cockeyed grin.

Quinn rushed forward and hugged him.

“Okay, okay,” Janus said, hugging him briefly before pulling back. “Let’s not get all emotional. It’ll hurt my rep.”

“It’s just…” Quinn said, looking at him. “It’s good to see you again.”

They were interrupted by the sound of another slam against the door. It sounded like something heavy was being used to knock it down.

“We better go,” Janus said. “Even this won’t hold for long.”

Shaken but unharmed, the three of them started to climb the stairs as the pounding continued behind them.

 “You want to tell me what’s going on?” Quinn asked.

“Is there another way they can get to us?” Kate said at the same time.

“No, but that won’t hold them forever,” Janus said. “I’ve bought us a little time, but not much.”

The stairs were narrow and steep. Quinn had to fight off a wave of unexpected claustrophobia and was practically out of breath.

“Who is it?” Kate asked as they kept walking.

“Wish I knew,” Janus said. “He doesn’t exactly keep me well-informed.”

 “Who?” Quinn asked.

“Who do you think arranged to send me here? I am dead, after all. It’s not easy to show up again, even in dreams,” Janus said.

Quinn was leaning on the wall as they continued to move up. Kate stopped in her tracks.

“Sanheim,” she said. “Did he send whatever is chasing us?”

“No,” Janus said. “I don’t pretend to fully understand it, but he’s trying to help you. At least I think he is. It’s tough to tell with him. Come on, we can’t stop. This ain’t over yet.”

The three of them could barely talk as they continued climbing. Behind them they still heard a booming sound that echoed up the stairwell. Whoever was coming after them was not giving up.

After what felt like forever, they arrived at the top. The doorway opened up into a large circular room. Rows of books lined the walls, except for a large door that opened onto a small stone balcony.

 “Who designed this place?” Kate asked. “It makes no sense.”

“Welcome to dreamland, sweetheart,” Janus said. “It’s all madness and lies, filled with clues. The architecture is the least of it.”

Janus opened the door to the balcony.

“Over here,” he said. “They’ll be coming up the stairway soon. And they won’t be happy.”

“How the hell can we get away from them up here?” Quinn asked.

The balcony they stood on was small, with barely enough space for the three of them. There was a low stone railing and then a wide landscape far below them. Both Kate and Quinn gasped. He couldn’t tell exactly where they were, but he knew this was no place he had ever seen or heard of, even in a storybook.

“Where are we?” Quinn asked.

“Where Sanheim rules forever,” Janus said. “But it’s not important right now. You’re in grave danger.”

“I figured that out all by myself,” Quinn replied. “What with the chasing and shouting and all.”

“Who’s behind all this?” Kate asked.

“I don’t know,” Janus said again. “Sanheim wouldn’t tell me. All I know is this: they are hunting you.”

“They?” Quinn asked. “You mean the crowd?”

“It’s not the crowd that’s important, mate,” Janus said. “It’s the people calling their tune.”

At that moment, Quinn once again heard music from far away. It was the same creepy flute that had been playing earlier. He heard a large crash from the stairwell.

“They’re coming,” Janus said.

“What did Sanheim tell you?” Kate asked.

“Just that I had to save you,” he said. “He made it clear there would be ‘consequences’ if I failed. Like I needed any extra incentive to save my best friend and his girl.”

Kate put a hand on Janus’ arm.

“Thank you,” she said. “I’m sorry we couldn’t save you.”

Janus smiled sadly.

“You tried,” he said. “At least I gave that wanker something to remember me by.”

As they talked, the door opened and a steady stream of people began to fill the circular room. Instead of charging the balcony, however, they merely filed into the room and stood still.

“We don’t have much time,” Janus said.

The flute music increased in tempo. The crowd seemed to be listening intently, their vacant expressions slowly being replaced with anger and hatred. Their eyes, normal until a few minutes ago, now burned bright red.

“Hey,” Quinn said. “I don’t mean to alarm anyone, but we are trapped hundreds of feet above the ground facing a crowd that looks like it wants to tear us apart. Sanheim didn’t by chance send you with a helicopter, did he?”

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