Delki Okello stared at the shimmering lights of the portal. In two steps she would leave her home in Nigeria and be in the United States. She always dreamed of traveling to America, but she didn't think it would be in as the new Mistress of Beasts of the North American Carnivale Diabolique. She had thought she would take her mother's place in Africa.
Was she prepared to be the guardian of the souls of people she didn't know? Was she ready to take her place among the demon hunters? She knew this day would come; she'd trained all her life for this and was prepared to fulfill her destiny. No matter what it demanded of her?
Taking a big breath she readied herself. She hated going to the portal, it always felt as if her skin was being pulled from her bones. The sensation only last a few seconds, but it always unnerved her. Closing her eyes she took those two steps and let the portal take her.
Counting to five she opened her eyes. The two guardians, Irina and Daniel bowed deeply as Delki walked through the portal into the conference room. Her brothers and Lockridge followed.
The conference room was large with the ceiling supported by huge marble pillars. Murals on the walls depicted scenes from ancient cultures, and the ceiling, painted dark blue, twinkled with stars. One whole wall contained books that rose so high she could barely see the top. The weight of time pressed down on Delki so hard she could barely breathe.
Irina cupped Delki's face with one hand. "My lady Delki, welcome." She was a pretty woman with light brown hair cut into a fashionable style. She wore a black pants suit with a red and white scarf draped about her neck. Her husband, Daniel, was tall and athletic with the clean cut appearance Delki had come to associate with what Lockridge called 'the boy next door' look.
Delki could feel power emanating from them--the kind of power that made her skin sizzle and the air around them crackle. Besides guarding the West Coast portals, Irina and Daniel had enough power to hold back most disturbances between the dimensions, but a shohar demon was out of their league.
"Thank you," Delki replied. She sat down at the round table while Daniel poured glasses of water, and then sat down next to his wife.
"We haven't had a shohar demon escape for almost a hundred years," Lockridge said. As the manager of Carnivale Diabolique, he had the knowledge and wisdom of the ages in his dark gaze.
Delki sat back in her chair and closed her eyes, thrumming with tension. A shohar demon was so rare most people had never even heard of one.
Her four brothers flanked her, two on each side. She heard the clink of their glasses as they sipped their water, the expressions on their faces alert and wary.
"We have five days until All Hallow's Eve to hunt this demon and kills its host," Irina said in a brusque, business-like manner.
All Hallows' Eve or Halloween was the one time of the year when for five days the veil between the demon dimension and the human world was thinnest allowing certain types of demons to escape their worlds. And those demons the guardians couldn't manage to force back through the portal or eliminate became Delki's job to find and destroy.
But a shohar demon was a different kettle of fish. Extremely strong and unusually rare, the shohar demon was one of the most dangerous. It thrived on bloody chaos, taking over of the body of a human child and waiting in the background until the time was right for them to begin their reign of terror.
"I don't feel prepared for this," Daniel said, "this is the first time a shohar demon has shown up in the United States. The past demons have always been in Europe."
"Uncertain times and a weak economy probably attracted it," Lockridge said. "It was just a matter of timing before one showed up here. We're building to the perfect storm. We've had a large jump in hate crimes, religious intolerance, and racial strife in the last few years. This country is at a crossroads and what happens in the next few years could determine the future and the shohar if nothing else is an opportunistic demon."
"Have you located its new host?" Delki asked, pulling her thoughts back to the problem on hand.
Irina nodded. "No, but the demon is here now."
Delki loved children and the thought of one of them hiding a demon made her ill. No child should be infested with so much evil. She stared down at her hands feeling the most fundamental of fears. Then she raised her head to look at Lockridge and the guardians. "So we shall begin the hunt."
Suddenly Lockridge smiled and Delki tried not to react in shock. Usually he was a bit on the dour side though she'd only met him a few weeks ago when he'd arrived to bring her and her brothers back to Carnivale Diabolique. The previous mistress had died along with her brothers in a fierce battle that had raged for days. In the end they'd triumphed despite the loss of their lives and now Delki has taken her place. She felt inadequate and uncertain.
"Is there any way to capture the demon?" she asked curiously. She thought about all her books being stored in what Lockridge had called her RV, a home on wheels that fascinated her. She only remembered that shohars had no form though they did have the ability to reach into a person's mind and pull forth a shape--usually something born of nightmares--for a limited period of time.
"You don't capture a shohar," Daniel said calmly. "They must be killed and you can't kill them until after they've infected their chosen victim."
Delki was unsettled at the idea. The Carnivale had never had this kind of advanced warning before. They should be able to do something about the shohar before it infested the child. She didn't think she could kill a child. Yet, her directive was to keep humanity safe. "I don't know if I can."
Lockridge gazed sadly at her. "Sometimes we have few choices, or in this case, no choice."
How did a person callously sacrifice a child? There had to be a way. Everything had a weakness. But nothing came to her as she sat at the table and glanced around at the faces gazing steadily at her. They wanted her to find the solution and instead she worried she might become part of the problem.
She didn't want to murder a defenseless child. In her heart she didn't know if she had the courage. In her logical mind she knew the price of one child did not compare to putting millions of people at risk.