Darkness formed over the mouth of the river. Its shape was the outline of the dragon. Its wings stretched from swamp to river, as water oaks disintegrated in the presence of fallen royalty. Its macabre black scales and claws etched the riverbed with its DNA until its long, serpentine body wound a water path to the massive iron gates—the entrance to the netherworld. Ebony stone seraphim guarded the gates, and live gargoyles perched atop—waiting.
Within the gate, the land loomed with craggy mountains of black sapphire and onyx that housed the inhabitants of the underworld. Inside the center of one habitation was the courtroom of hell, in which the hordes acted as judge, jury, and prosecutor. The eerie voice of an attorney spoke from the center of the cavernous room. “Judge Malevolent, it has come to our attention that a congregation in Green Cove has started to dismantle our plans in the region, and they are being led by”—he paused and spat upon the ground—“the Gnat. Our Southeastern Wickedness Council has chronicled their exploits, and we need them eliminated.”
The judge growled from the bench.
“In addition, Your Dishonor, the Gnat’s niece, Julie, has reached the age of Awakened Gifts. If you remember, sir,” he smirked, “we eliminated her grandfather before he could train her properly, but . . . our Watchers have heard her discuss snippets of memories from her early years, and . . . she has heard the demonic realm speak to her.”
The judge tapped his gnarled black finger on the podium and glared at the attorney before roaring, “Send a missive to the legacied ruler over the land. Who’s available in the region? We need an experienced handler for this assignment. The Gnat is persistent, and we’ve never been able to get rid of her. Even when we had her new husband killed on the battlefield a week after her marriage, she would not bend her knee to our king. She kept praising and worshipping the First King.” He shook his head in disgust and quietly said with poison in his breath, “Yehovah, when will you stay out of our affairs?”
The courtroom filled with shrieks. Loud thuds echoed as every creature fell to the floor at the sound of the name of Yehovah.
“Sir,” spoke the shriveled prosecutor from the floor, “Mugwort is available. He has been trained well by the hands of his uncle.”
“Excellent. In the missive, relay the typical assignment about seers and prophets, but also give them the background on the Gnat’s family. And have the Familiar Spirits meet with the uncle. Tell the Familiars to fill him in on the interactions we’ve had with that family for the past one hundred years.” He stroked his wiry beard. “We need a human agent to infiltrate the congregation, too,” he said pulling at the grizzly hair growing from his chin. “Hmm . . . Lock Ward still lives in the region, doesn’t he? Get someone from his family to help.” He paused as a cruel smile curled his lips. “And then—just for my viewing pleasure—add in a Code Green.”
“Yes, Your Dishonor. It shall be as you will.”