Part XI Highway to Hell
Yunomi landed on her back hard, knocking the breath out of her. She heard a soft whump to her left and
turned her head. Kane had landed on his feet, as always. Damn, he must be part cat, Yunomi thought. Kane
looked around, then offered Yunomi a hand up. “Where are we?” she wondered.
Yunomi surveyed the desolate landscape. A gray, featureless plain went on in all directions. Far off on the horizon to her left, she could see storm clouds hovering over a ruined tower of some sort. Far to the right, smoke rose from what appeared to be an industrial complex, or refinery. The sky was a slightly lighter gray than the stony ground.
Kane was shaking his head and kicking at the rocks beneath his feet. “This is bad. I miscalculated. I tried
to direct our descent, but I’m off target. We need to be over there.” He pointed to the storm clouds.
Yunomi understood. She remembered Sandia telling her that she found Kane’s scars strangely beautiful, as if some were deliberate patterns. “All right, let’s get this done,” she agreed.
Kane studied her for a minute or two, then seemed to decide something. He led her to a large rock, had her sit down and roll up her right sleeve. Holding her by the elbow, he passed his hand over her bicep. “Here. An armband. That will give you the most protection, but it will be painful. I’ll try to work quickly.”
Yunomi studied the storm clouds they would be heading for as Kane went to work on her arm. She could hear the sizzle and smell the burning skin. He was right, it was painful. She gritted her teeth and kept looking away. Then she heard a sound in her mind, like singing. No, chanting. Kane was chanting spells in his mind as he worked, and Yunomi could hear them. She began listening hard, even chanting along in some places. Kane nodded. The pain lessened when she concentrated on the chants.
Kane worked his way around her arm, drawing with fire. At last he was finished and began healing. The
healing was also painful, because scarring had to take place. “Lady, it’s done.” Yunomi peered at her arm. It was
encircled with an armband about four inches wide of intricately woven figures. It wasn’t quite Celtic, not really
Polynesian either, but something very different. And it was beautiful.
“Okay,” Yunomi said, “where are we going, and why?”
Elsewhere in Hell, Carnivean arrived with the two Seraphim in tow. He immediately gathered the Thirteen, his most able and trusted Demons, and explained the situation to them. “Kill the whore on sight, but bring Kane to me,” he instructed. The Demons scattered to look for the pair. Carnivean sighed. “Kane knows his way around Hell, and the whore is very resourceful. I wonder what they’re up to.” He signaled the Seraphim to follow him, and waddled off on his own search.
Yunomi and Kane had walked for miles, and seemed no closer to their goal. They still had not seen
another creature. Yunomi was bored. This was not what she had expected Hell to be like. She started questioning
Kane about flaming lakes and brimstone.
Kane shrugged. Yunomi’s loyalty was almost beyond his comprehension. All his life he had known only mistrust, pain and treachery. But the Lady had shown him kindness and friendship. He trusted her, almost against his will. They walked in silence for a while, each wrapped in their own thoughts. Kane was right, Yunomi had been happy with her Lord until Kane was freed. But she would not make Kane’s freedom the price of her happiness.
Kane was thinking of Sandia, and how good her love made him feel. She told him he was beautiful, and did wonderful things for him. She wanted him, and that made all the difference in the world. He was shaken from his reverie by something on the horizon. He stopped and stared at the far sky. Yunomi stopped and looked, too.
Dark shapes were flying from the direction of the storm clouds.
She took off into the sky, searching for a thermal that would lift her above the oncoming Bone Breakers. She found one, and rode it up in a spiral, cawing out wild raven laughter. Yunomi soared over the larger birds and counted five of them. She began diving at them, pecking each one on the back except one. She harassed the big birds, causing them to try and evade her. The one she did not bother continued on toward Kane, going into a dive to catch him in it’s grasp.
Kane stood still, and as the bird reached him he ducked behind it’s grasping talons and held fast to it’s legs. The startled bird took off, carrying Kane with it. Yunomi then turned her attention to this bird. She followed and herded it in the direction of the temple. Miles were covered in minutes instead of hours. The other birds stayed nearby, but did not interfere. Before long they came to the edge of the storm clouds that surrounded the temple. Yunomi began driving the Bone Breaker down with savage bites to it’s back.
Reluctant to fly into the clouds, but unable to retreat, the huge bird neared the ground. A few feet above the plain, Kane released his grip and dropped down. Freed of it’s cargo, the Bone Breaker shot up and away, the others following. Yunomi glided to the ground next to Kane, and resumed her usual shape. She collapsed in exhaustion, gasping for air. She could not draw power from Hell, and her transformation and flight had drained her of strength.
Kane lay down next to Yunomi and wrapped his arms around her, holding her close. She could feel power
flowing back into her body. Kane was channeling from Hell directly into Yunomi. After a while, her breathing
slowed and she began to stir.
Kane agreed. He pointed out a trail that led toward the top. Yunomi got her pack and sword, which Kane had carried on his flight for her, and started up the trail. Kane followed. The trail was not difficult at first. It wound around the crag, growing steeper and more challenging with each turn. They were halfway to the top when the rain began.
It was a hard, cold rain that stung as it hit. Yunomi muttered darkly, but kept on climbing. She knew how much Kane hated water, but he climbed silently behind her. Yunomi finally reached an overhanging rock and stopped, just wanting to be out of the hurting rain for a few minutes. Kane was not behind her. Concerned, she back tracked and found him sitting in the trail, covering his head with his arms. The rain was not just making him miserable, it was killing him. Yunomi pulled on his arms, urging him to get up. “Damn it, Kane, why didn’t you say something? Come on, there’s shelter just ahead.”
Kane struggled to his feet, and leaning heavily on Yunomi, made it the last few yards to the overhang. He
collapsed there, shaking hard. Yunomi quickly got her cloak out of her pack and began mopping water off of him.
His skin felt icy, as cold as her Lord’s. Not normal for a Fire Lord, she thought. She rubbed his hands, trying to
ease the effects of the killing rain. Slowly, Kane began to respond. Being out of the rain seemed to help a lot.
Kane was silent. There seemed to be no way around this obstacle. Yunomi thought hard, then had an idea.
She got Kane’s cloak out and began changing the spell on it. It was not too difficult to make a light-proof cloak
water-proof also. Satisfied with her work, she coaxed Kane into the cloak. He was still very weak and cold. “Why
is this happening to you?” she asked. “What can I do?”
Yunomi thought another minute, then began adding a protection spell to the water-proof spell on Kane’s
cloak. As the spell took hold, Kane stopped shaking and the color began to return to his hands.
Yunomi stuffed her cloak back into her pack. She was drenched anyway, and the rain didn’t bother her that much. Kane led the way now, stumbling occasionally but forging ahead. They reached the foot of the ruined tower. It took both of them to push open the heavy door. Once inside, Yunomi was astounded at the size of the place. A soaring, vaulted ceiling had collapsed in places, but the nave protecting the mace was intact. The mace itself was encased in crystal, on an altar of bronze and bone.
Kane removed his cloak and handed it to Yunomi. She watched in amazement as he assumed his Fire Lord aspect. He was dressed in tight fitting red and black leather, the pattern representing flames. His mask bore the same design. His dark red hair moved as flames would, writhing around his face and shoulders. He wore black leather gauntlets and boots.
Whoa! He’s awesome! Yunomi thought. She had not expected this.
Kane strode directly to the altar and raised his arms. In his ruined voice he rasped “I am Kane, Fire Lord, brother of the Lord of Darkness! I claim the Mace of Thanos in our names!” With that, he brought both fists down, smashing the crystal. He pulled the mace from the shards and turned to Yunomi. “Lady, the shroud.”
Yunomi quickly pulled the shroud she had made out of Kane’s pack and handed it to him. Kane slid the mace into the bag and tied it tightly. He then resumed his regular look of jeans, red shirt and plain leather mask. “We have to move fast. Carnivean will realize what we’ve done and come after us. It’s not far to the Styx. I know a place where we can cross into limbo. We can get back to the Dark Side from there.” They left the temple the way they had come in. The rain had stopped.
Carnivean jerked his head up, startling the Seraph behind him. “No!” he cried. He had been questioning
an imp who thought it had seen something unusual in the sky over the outer reaches.
After descending the temple peak, Kane set a rapid pace across the wasteland and Yunomi was again
trotting to keep up with him. He carried the mace in his pack, carefully wrapped in it’s shroud and the cloak
Yunomi had enchanted. They moved silently, not wasting energy on conversation, mental or otherwise. After
many miles of traveling, the cliffs of the Styx came into sight. Kane stopped, and Yunomi caught up to him. “This
is where they will try and stop us. A narrow trail leads down to the river. If we reach the water, we can float
downstream out of the canyon and over to Limbo.”
Only seven of Carnivean’s Thirteen had arrived at the cliffs accompanied by the second Seraph. Carnivean and the other Seraph met them. “Conceal yourselves. They haven’t gotten here yet. And hope that the rest of you arrive before Kane does, or we won’t have enough to take him.” Carnivean then angrily turned to the Seraph beside him. “You should have done what I told you. Never send an Imp to do a Seraph’s job.”
Kane and Yunomi approached the trailhead. Kane stopped abruptly and sent “They’re here.” Yunomi felt
them, too. She had been in too many battles not to sense the enemy. Kane sent her a secret about the Seraphim.
She stepped forward boldly, standing a few yards away from the boulders surrounding the trailhead. Kane stood
behind her with his arms crossed.
Much to Carnivean’s chagrin, the two Seraphim stood up from their place of concealment. Yunomi grinned savagely and drew her sword. Kane shot a fireball past her, instantly engulfing one Seraph in flames. The other quickly ducked down.
“Attack!” Carnivean screamed. “Go! Now!” Seven Demons leaped from their hiding places.
Carnivean’s plan was for three to distract Kane, since there weren’t enough to take him alive, while the other four
killed Yunomi. The four spread out, to attack from all sides. They rushed her at once. Yunomi spun, katana
flashing. Two Demons died instantly, their heads rolling in the dust. The third raked it’s claws across Yunomi’s
stomach, then leaped in joy.
The remaining Seraph was urging Carnivean to join the fight. The Demon Lord motioned for Huena to attack Yunomi again, while he took on the aspect of a Hell Hound. As Yunomi faced Huena, Carnivean leaped at her from the opposite side. She flung her right arm up instinctively to fend him off, and he sank his canines into her forearm. She pushed her arm up and back, rather than trying to pull it free, which would have torn the flesh from her bones. Carnivean was caught off balance and fell back, leaving one of his canines imbedded in Yunomi’s forearm. Huena slashed at her legs, causing her to stagger. At that instant, the Seraph shot a beam of light, catching her squarely in the chest and sending her flying backwards over the cliff.
Kane was handling the Demons attacking him easily. One was writhing with a broken back, another had been tossed over the cliff. The third was reluctant to attack again, but Kane caught it with a fireball. He looked up to see Yunomi fall. “Lady, no!” he roared, and shot another fireball at the Seraph, catching it on fire. Carnivean had slunk off to hide, whimpering and holding his broken mouth.
Yunomi hit several times on the way down the cliff, and landed on the rocks by the river with a horrific sound. Kane leaped agilely from boulder to boulder until he reached Yunomi’s side. It was bad. Her right leg was almost torn from her body at the hip. Blood flowed from her nose and mouth. Kane knelt beside her and passed his hands over her body, then rested his hands on his knees and shook his head. By some wonder, Yunomi was still conscious. She coughed, spitting blood.
“I’m dying.” she sent. Kane nodded. There was nothing he could do. She coughed again, her lungs
rapidly filling with blood. “Give my katana to Reaper. Tell him I tried.”
Reaper cruised through the Badlands on his bike. Yunomi and Kane had been gone for over a week, and he had spent most of that time in the Human Realm. Now he was returning to the Dark Side to renew his power. Suddenly, he felt something wrong. He stopped his bike, and went into his own mind. His mind link with Yunomi was flickering, and then abruptly went out. Reaper sat silently for a while, watching the rising moon. He knew what this meant, in fact had been expecting it. He drew his grief deep inside himself, adding it to the pain behind his heart. Then he started his bike, and continued on to the Dark Side.
Sandia sat up in bed, breathing hard and sweating. Something was terribly wrong. She searched her mind. Her link with Kane was still strong, but he was in pain. She could feel an overwhelming sorrow. “Yunomi,” she thought. She rose and dressed, then went in search of Reaper. Late that afternoon, she still hadn’t found him, so she went to el Camino hoping to get consolation from her friend Laura.
When Sandia entered the bar, she saw Reaper at his table calmly drinking beer. She stalked up to him. “Yunomi’s dead, isn’t she.”
Reaper looked at her over the top of his beer mug. “Yes,” he said, then drained it. Laura was standing at the bar, watching Sandia and Reaper. Bob came down the bar with a questioning look. “Yunomi’s dead,” Laura whispered to him.
Sandia slammed her fist on Reaper’s table. “Damn it, she was my friend! You did this, you bastard. You
knew she would die and let her go anyway. She loved you! Don’t you give a shit?”
Sandia made a disgusted noise and spun on her heel, storming out of the bar. Laura shot Reaper a nasty look and followed her friend out. Reaper looked up to see Bob watching him, and raised an eyebrow as if to ask what he intended. Bob went back to polishing the bar, and Reaper poured himself another mug of beer, pretending not to notice that Bob was polishing with an angry intensity.
Carnivean sat whimpering behind a boulder, Huena tending the broken tooth and jaw of the Demon Lord.
Carnivean pushed him away. “Go see what’s happening.” he commanded. Huena peeked over the rock.
Kane found Yunomi’s sword in the rocks nearby, relatively undamaged. He returned to her broken body
and eased the pack off, then sheathed the sword and wrapped it in her cloak. He stood uncertain of what to do next.
More Demons would surely be arriving soon, and he had to get the mace out of Hell. But he was reluctant to leave
Yunomi’s body for the Demons to use as a trophy. He had seen what they did with others. Kane could feel his rage
rising. He wanted to strike out, to kill, to burn. He desperately held the rage back. He had to finish this quest, for
the Lady. He looked up at the cliff to see if more Demons had come, then glanced out over the river and froze.
Four gray, vague shapes were floating over the water toward him. Kane had never seen their like. A calm, serene
voice sounded in his head.
Kane felt all resistance melting away. He looked over to see the other three shapes lifting Yunomi’s body, but felt no need to stop them. A calming fog blanketed his mind, and he drifted off to sleep.
The remaining members of the Thirteen arrived at the cliffs. Carnivean hoisted his bulk up to greet them.
“It’s about time! Do you think seven of you can manage to capture Kane? He’s by the river.”
The Demons climbed down and began searching. They found nothing, not even a blood trail. “He must have entered the river!” one shouted up to Carnivean. A cold fear crept into the Demon Lord’s stomach. He would have to tell Iuvart that he had not only lost the mace, but two Seraphim as well. And he had no proof that Yunomi was dead. Kane had outdone him at every turn. Carnivean cursed the Fire Lord with vehemence.
Yunomi felt pain, terrible pain. She was struggling to remember what had happened. She knew she was
dying, and Kane was beside her, but when she opened her eyes only a gray fog met her gaze. “Kane?” she
mindspoke. The pain was subsiding. A soft, peaceful voice came into her mind.
Kane sat vigil for Yunomi. He couldn’t tell what the gray beings were doing, but was sure it was healing
of some sort. Yunomi’s body was shrouded in fog. At one point he thought he heard her call him, but the beings
reassured them both. At last the shapes moved away from Yunomi. The one that had entered Kane by the river
came to him.
Kane was familiar with the process, he and his brother had gone through something similar when they
became Lords. But he had never seen these beings before, and had no idea who they were. The mace and
Yunomi’s sword were still in his possession, he guarded them carefully. He wanted to mistrust the serenity he felt
enveloping him, but it was impossible. “When can I see her?” Kane asked.
Yunomi opened her eyes and smiled up at her friend. “Hey,” she mindspoke.
The gray being floated off, Kane following behind. Yunomi watched them disappear into the mist and felt
totally alone. Her mind link with Reaper was gone, and Kane seemed to be in the grip of these creatures. She had
noted that Kane still carried the pack with the mace and her sword. That gave her hope that they could escape this
place and complete their quest.
“Your body was damaged so badly that we had to rebuild it. Unfortunately, your hip had been injured and
healed poorly before your fall. We were unable to correct it completely. It will cause you pain from time to time.”
The gray ones vanished, and Yunomi looked at herself more closely in the mirror. Her once blue-gray eyes were now a cold, dark steel color. Her mouth was still scarred where Reaper had knocked her into a wall during their last fight. She touched the scar and smiled ruefully. Our future relationship will be tempestuous? she thought, and continued noting the changes in herself. She was at least a half foot taller, a little over six feet now, she guessed. Her red-blond hair was now dark red shot through with gold, and hung past her shoulders. Her torso and limbs were long and athletic. Three long, nasty scars ran across her stomach from under her left breast to her right hip-a reminder of her final battle on the cliffs of the Styx.
Her tattoos were still in place-Reaper’s black heart on her breast, the circling crows on her left forearm, and
Kane’s branded armband on her right bicep. Yunomi was quickly becoming comfortable with her new body. There
was enough left of the old to be familiar. She noticed a new scar on her right forearm, where Carnivean had bitten
her. Two tear marks about six inches apart showed where his fangs had entered her flesh. She stared at the scar,
trying to remember exactly what had happened.
Yunomi had never worn jewelry. In her Ninjitsu training, jewelry was considered a dangerous extravagance, a liability to be avoided. Uneasy with them at first, the rings and earring rapidly became comfortable to her.
“Rest now, Lady. Soon you will begin learning your new powers,” the voice soothed.
Silence met her demand, but soon Kane appeared through the mist. Yunomi robed herself as he
approached, then ran to him and hugged him hard.
Yunomi stared at him for an instant, then laughed, too. She looked hard into Kane’s unmasked face. “They want me to rest, but I don’t want to be alone here. Please stay with me,” she pleaded.
Kane was taken aback by the note of desperation in her voice. Something was very wrong here-the Lady
was fearless, but this place made her afraid. He had felt only peace here. The creature that accompanied him was
helping him control his rage. Seeing the perplexity in Kane’s face, Yunomi misunderstood his reluctance.
Reaper roared along the forest road on his bike, deep in thought. Yunomi had been dead nearly a month, and he had been unable to find out where or how she died. Both Hell and the Light Realm had been unusually quiet. Iuvart and Carnivean had dropped out of sight. Vague rumors of the Mace of Thanos being stolen and of the Thirteen being decimated had reached him, but he could confirm neither. Yunomi’s body was not being displayed as a trophy in either Realm, which surely would be the case if it had been recovered. And no one had seen or heard anything of Kane. The mystery was so deep that Reaper had tried to re-establish his mind link with Yunomi on the off chance that she was alive somewhere. It didn’t work. He knew his brother was alive, but couldn’t reach him either.
Wrapped in his own dark mulling, he was startled to find himself in the clearing around Yunomi’s house. He had not meant to come here, but parked his bike and went in anyway. He wandered through the empty rooms into the kitchen, where this had all started. There was still beer in the ice box. Tasting one tentatively, he found it wasn’t skunked yet. Beer in hand, Reaper entered Yunomi’s room. His eyes lit on the CD rack, and he smiled for the first time since Yunomi’s death. He liked her music, and she had always been bringing him CD’s to listen to. He would often “borrow” ones that he especially liked from her, and she knew where to find them when they were missing.
Reaper looked over the rack, then pulled a pillowcase off the bed and began putting CDs in it. He took most of them, leaving only a few techno and dance ones he had never developed a taste for. Taking another pillowcase, he returned to the kitchen and put the rest of the beer in it. After a final look around, he left the house and started his bike. He rode off a few yards, then stopped.
The Dark Lord stood staring at Yunomi’s house, then reached a decision. Electricity crackled in his eyes and fingertips. He pointed at the house, and a bolt of lightning struck it, exploding it into flaming ruin. Reaper leaned on his bike, drinking beer and watching the house burn. As he finished each beer, he hurled the empty bottle into the flames. By the time he finished the last one, the remains of the house were glowing embers. He threw the last bottle, then opened the sky, letting a heavy rain wash the ashes away. Reaper mounted his bike and took off down the road, enshrouded as always in his own darkness.
Yunomi awoke to the soft voice in her head. “Come, Lady, we will show you your strength.” Kane was sleeping pressed against her back, with his arm over her side. Yunomi was reluctant to leave him and ignored the voice, snuggling deeper under the blanket and closer to Kane. “Lady, come with us,” the voice insisted. Kane stirred and turned over, the voice called Yunomi again.
“All right, all right, I’m coming,” she muttered. She found herself in a dojo, her katana floating in the mist.
Time passed. It was hard to judge anything in the gray place. Yunomi grew stronger and more aware of her role as the Storm Child. She was finally putting it all together. She and Kane were creatures of chaos. The Gray Gods were teaching them control, but Kane was being difficult. He was growing more restless and uneasy. Yunomi had an easier time, having trained in the martial arts most of her life. She found that all of her abilities were enhanced-magic use, healing, speed and strength. And one final thing, she could now throw lightning. It was a limited ability, using it would take most of her strength. But it was available as a weapon of last resort.
Although the gray ones had kept Yunomi away from Kane as much as possible, he found his way to her.
Yunomi agreed. She had a firm grasp on her new powers, and a suspicion that the gray ones were not telling her something. The quest had been delayed too long, and she was ready to return to the Dark Side. As if on cue, the gray one she had come to think of as Kane’s handler came and led him away. The other three Gray Gods approached Yunomi.
“Lady Yunomi, the time has come for you to return to the Dark Lord. You are comfortable with yourself
and your powers, and you understand what needs to be done to restore balance. We have high expectations of you.”
Now Yunomi stood silent. This was what she had expected. “We will finish our quest. I will not be
parted from Kane.”
The gray ones went into a conference, with the fourth floating over to join them. After some apparent
argument, they seemed to reach an agreement. They approached Yunomi again. “Our brother says that Kane was
controlling his rage on his own when we found him, and has made considerable progress here. You also have a
great influence over him. We will trust him in your care, Storm Child.”
As they disappeared, one gray being turned to the others. “You should not have let him go, they love each
other too much. The Dark Lord will destroy them.”
Yunomi Book Two, first page.
Yunomi Book Two, second page.
Yunomi Book Two, third page.
Yunomi Book Two, fourth page.
Yunomi Book Two, fifth page.
Yunomi Book Two, sixth page.
Yunomi Book Two, seventh page.
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