Summary: Ashlevarnis has enjoyed a blessed existence in the Pit, where he is the favored lover of Erusidamus, the Master of Gold. He is content with his life, but Franciscus has been his friend since childhood and pleas with him to flee to the human realm – a world where Franciscus will no longer be a serf and they can enjoy an unheard of freedom.
In the human realm, Ashlevarnis is known as Ashley Valentine and must find something to assuage the pain he feels over the loss of his Master. And so he joins a band and sets out to make music and build a future for himself.
Unfortunately, just as his band has begun to approach commercial success, the Master of Silver Ignipatros sends Her devils to kidnap Ashlevarnis as leverage against Erusidamus.
There was something almost nice about being all alone. There was no one telling him what to do, and he didn’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations. He could just be himself, alone.
He left dirty clothes tossed all around his bedroom and hadn’t done any dishes in a week and a half. The house was a real wreck and he didn’t even care. It didn’t bother him in the least, and he was completely comfortable living in his own filth. He was fine.
He sipped from a cup of strong black coffee and read the best part of the newspaper: the comics. A small smile twitched his lips as he read, occasionally eating dry Life cereal from a bowl. There should have been something rather ironic about it all.
This was yet another lazy day and he was appreciating it. Nothing to do today but watch TV and let the world slide by. He didn’t have to care about anything. He was even thinking about going back to bed until tomorrow and it was just barely mid-afternoon.
When he heard the car pull into the driveway, he knew suddenly that the fun was almost over. He sighed heavily and drained his cup, his tongue tingling from the burn of the hot coffee. He then began carefully folding the newspaper with razor precision, his ears listening closely for the sound of footsteps.
The doorbell rang. It was a somehow impatient sound, the world barging in on the peace of the moment.
“Come in,” he called. His stomach was already tensing up for bad news. He knew instinctively that something unhappy was approaching.
Ashley came in and his heart began to soar as it always did when Ashley was near. His palms began to sweat and a knot formed in his throat. Every time he saw Ashley was like the first time–the affect only grew stronger.
“Ashley!” he said. “What are you doing here?”
The boy shrugged. “I know I said I would probably need more time, but I have to talk to you.” Ashley sounded a little odd. He came fully into the small house and Franciscus followed him, looking a bit squirrelly and uncomfortable, his eyes touching everything but Scooby. He knew what was up, and if his expression said anything, it was that there was going to be some serious fallout from whatever was said.
“Hey, guys,” Scooby said, pushing his chair back a little. “Do you want some coffee? I just made a fairly fresh pot.”
Ashley waved him off.
“Nah,” Franciscus made a face, “I’m not that coffee fond.”
They sat down across from him, two very good-looking people. Sometimes he wondered if he should feel jealous. He knew for a fact that he wasn’t exactly spectacular in the looks department and being surrounded by people that were kind of highlighted his lack in a not-so wonderful way.
Ashley licked his lips. “There’s something important I have to tell you.”
There was something in his voice that told Scooby that something really important was about to be said, something that might affect the whole course of history, or whatever. In response, he stared with simulated absorption at the handmade pottery cup with its dark blue glaze. He couldn’t look up. If he met Ashley’s eyes everything would change forever, when all he wanted was for it to stay the same.
He couldn’t help himself. He lifted his eyes and looked at Ashley.
Idly, he wondered why both Ashley and Franciscus always wore sunglasses. Ashley wore a pair of orange-tinted glasses while Franciscus wore black shades. Together they never showed their eyes, hid those windows of the soul from everyone.
“Remember the… the man that visited me in my dressing room after that last show?” Ashley asked.
Unease went through Scooby. “You mean the guy that caused you to cancel the rest of our tour?”
Ashley looked at him, surprised, but nodded. “Yes. He wanted me to come home. I told him that I needed time to think.”
Scooby swallowed, a hard fist tightening in his gut. “What… what are you going to do?”
He knew what he himself would do if he were ever given a choice between going home or becoming famous, but Ashley was different. He had seen the look on Ashley’s face and the way he had acted when that guy was around. Anything could happen here, and any choice Ashley made was going to hurt someone.
Ashley twisted his fingers in front of himself, his eyes locked on the tabletop, avoiding Scooby. “I’ve decided to…”
What he was going to say was broken off by the strangest thing Scooby had ever seen. It was like something out of a sci-fi movie.
A swirling, smoky gray portal appeared in the air. A gray circle that looked into some darker aspect of infinity, a vision of perdition just slightly out of synch with everything that he knew, but completely understandable to some deeper part of his soul. It was huge and accompanied by a burning smell.
“What the hell is that?” he asked, his voice too loud, though not quite hysterical.
Ashley leapt up and hurried around the table to grab Scooby by the arm and jerk him to his feet. “Come on, we have to get out of here!” Ashley pulled him toward the door.
Franciscus was already there, fumbling with the knob.
“Open it! Open it!” Ashley cried urgently, glancing backward.
“I’m trying! The lock has been melted solid!” Franciscus jerked hard on the knob, a foot braced against the wall beside the door for leverage.
Scooby grabbed Franciscus’ wrists and began pulling. “Turn the knob! Turn the knob!”
Scooby pulled hard and looked frantically over his shoulder. That weird thing was growing and pulsating with some unearthly heartbeat. He turned back to trying to help open the door. He wanted to run away, to run and run and run until he collapsed from exhaustion in some faraway safety. He didn’t want to see whatever was going to come through that hole in space time–whatever terror was going to rip him away from himself. He didn’t want to see anything bad today or ever. He wanted life to be boring and unchanging, an endless glaze of days. He didn’t want to die.
“Get out of the way!”
There was something in Ashley’s voice. He found himself standing off to one side, Franciscus next to him.
Ashley stepped back and raised his hands before him. There was a look of concentration on his face. Tiny beads of light appeared in the palms of his hands. They bloomed and grew, the light becoming so bright that Scooby had to look away for fear that his eyeballs would be burned out of his head.
Light shot out of Ashley’s hands and struck the door. Wood burst and shot outward. Sparks and flames littered the ground.
“Come on!” Ashley grabbed Scooby’s arm. His flesh tried to cringe away from those hands, though there was no sign of heat left in them. Franciscus grabbed his other arm and he felt himself being hustled out of the house and down the front walk toward their car.
“What was that?” he asked, his voice shaking.
“A portal,” Franciscus said shortly.
“A portal to what?”
Neither of them answered. They just dragged him along toward their car.
There was a sound behind them. It was something like air being released from a balloon, but hundreds of times louder, a high-pitched squealing sound that twinged his ears with pain and brought tears to his eyes. The ground shuddered beneath his feet, just enough to notice, yet not enough to knock him down. He was glad, because something told him that if he was captured there wasn’t going to be any chance for escape.
Someone shouted. The language was strange and almost painfully beautiful. The voice was not.
He risked a glance backward and felt a scream try to claw its way out of his throat. Urine trickled down his leg.
The creature was horribly ugly. It stood about ten feet tall and wore a shapeless gray tunic over bulging muscles and green scaled skin. It looked like a huge lizard with a whipping tail and a nostriless, flattened snout sporting long, razor-sharp teeth. Black spikes prickled all over its body, and they must have been sharp from the way some of them poked through the leather tunic. There were two nubby white horns on the top of its head.
A “mewl” escaped Scooby’s lips when that first monster was pushed out of the way and three more of them came out.
“Oh shit,” Franciscus cursed, opening the passenger side door and crawling in.
Ashley practically threw Scooby into the car and leaped in. “Go!”
Franciscus twisted the key and pumped some gas. The car squealed backward down the driveway.
Scooby held on tightly as the car spun around in the street and shot forward. He felt tears streaming down his cheeks and his jeans were uncomfortably wet. He had no idea what was happening, but he knew he wanted out of here.
They were halfway down the street when something struck the back of the car. The car stopped so fast that there was absolutely no warning. Scooby shot forward and hit the dashboard painfully with his chest. His forehead bounced against the windshield. He heard Ashley cry out beside him and Franciscus curse.
The car jerked forward again. There was the smell of burning rubber and melting plastic. Franciscus went back to his muttered cursing as he stared intently forward, his foot jammed down hard on the accelerator.
Scooby sat back and rubbed his chest. It hurt to breathe and he thought he might have cracked a rib or two.
Something in Franciscus’ voice warned him. He braced himself as the car was hit again and spun out of control to sideswipe a parked car.
Metal slammed together, and he heard himself scream from faraway. Lights flashed behind his eyes and he felt himself falling, falling.
Dimly he felt his body sprawled limply against Ashley. He could vaguely see the car they had crashed into close against the half-shattered window. There were bits of glass sparkling on Ashley, shards glittering in his hair and across his shirt and jeans. He could feel one digging into his cheek with sharp pain.
There was the scream of tortured metal and the driver’s side door was ripped off its hinges. Franciscus moaned as he was pulled roughly from the car.
The last thing Scooby saw before he finally lost consciousness were two green scaled arms with black clawed hands coming toward him. His eyes closed.