10 February 1865

I have far greater comfort engaging the supernatural than I do the violent.

Since my employment in Kraken Moor began, I have become accustomed to the things that haunt the waking world, but I a, yet to find comfort in the world of punching and kicking and firing.

Such was the tenth of February, the day worlds collided.

The day began in the bathtub.

There was no pretense today, no porch, no smile from Jackson, no Patricia Valmont pretending to be me.

There was just myself and Kadul inside a demonic palace. The structure was made of stone. Columns dominated the large, rectangular, one-floored palace, and there were no walls, only blood red curtains draped between the gray stone. A hot breeze drifted through the palace, and if you pushed the curtains aside, you look down and out over Kadul’s corner of Hell. The rocks were largely red or black, and the torture pits were in full effect. Screams rolled up the mountain to us, but I was beyond worrying if Jackson Dereks was down there, yelling in pain as whips took the flesh from his back.

There were elongated sofas of crimson and black, and I felt as if Kadul’s palace had been designed by the stolen soul of a Roman.

The goat demon reclined on one sofa, a goblet of liquor in one hand and the other idly bring cheese from a plate to his mouth. I entered the dream on the opposite end of the long room, and thus had an abundance of time in which to take in Kadul’s image.

Perhaps with more confused and less driven women, the image of the “knife” that protruded from just below his waist would have been a distraction, but I was not come to Hell with an addled mind or weakened soul.

When I approached, Kadul glanced to his manhood and asked, “Shall we seal our deal, Miss Sharper?”

I kept my eyes focused on his eyes – eyes blacker than the face that surrounded them – and replied curtly, “Put it away, demon. I am not here to rut with a man so afraid for his own life that he threatens the lives of women and children. If we make a deal, it will not be sealed with your seed.”

Kadul’s nostrils flared and he tossed his cup aside as he rose to his feet. “That is the only way we will seal any agreement, human,” he threatened, lording his height over me. His eyes burned a dark purple and I could hear literally hear the energy sizzling on his face. “Or is your purity not worth the lives and souls of your parents, of Jackson Dereks, of Lady Coraline, of Gretchen Haupt, of-?”

I made a show of folding my arms across my chest. “I would gladly exchange my purity for any one of their lives, Kadul,” I informed him, “but not when I do not have to. We will find another way to bind this agreement.”

We will not!”

Do not think me a fool, demon,” I shot up at him, refusing to back down, “and do not overplay your hand. You need what I can provide more than I need what you will give me.”

I give you the lives of your friends and loved ones.”

And you take the life of my future child,” I replied. “On that score, we are even.”

I do not-!”

You do not understand that I know why you want out of Kraken Moor,” I informed him.

Kadul scoffed, but turned away from me.

You fear the Kraken.”

I had expected Kadul to turn angrily and deny my accusation, but instead of anger he reacted with reserve. His hooves clacked on the stone floor as he moved to pick up his flung cup, and he brought it back to place on the table with the plate of cheese. Though he remained nude, he had … softened more than his stance towards me. The goat demon moved to a curtain and pulled it aside to look out over his domain.

The Brutes were to be locked away forever,” he said in a low voice as he looked away from me. “When Lucifer conquered them and took control of Hell, he sealed them away inside the deepest pits inside the darkest caverns. I am one of the few demons that has seen the doors that hold them, and in truth, Miss Sharper, I cannot conceive of any force in the universe short of God’s own hand that could open them. And yet … they have opened.”

Though I knew I could not adequately conceive of the scope of Kadul’s words, I could certainly understand the idea and recognize their effect on the demon before me. “How many?” I asked.

All of them,” he answered, his head bowing slightly. “Lucifer refuses to shut them, though he swears it was not he who opened them. ‘It is time,’ he told us, ‘for the demons of Hell to stop waiting for me to save them at every turn of Fate’s hand.’ We have been lucky. To this point, the Kraken is the only Brute who has ventured from his prison. The rest are … unaccounted for, though no one would dare venture into those caverns to find the real truth.”

So you want to take my child to run like a coward.”

Is it cowardice to run when the staying brings certain death?” he asked, turning his head to look at me over his gray shoulder.

Deciding it was time to play my hand, I walked to stand beside Kadul. “You understand, of course, that humans are no more desirous to see a Brute come to Earth than the demons of Kraken Moor.”

Kadul chuckled low in his throat and he looked to me with bemused disgust on his face. “An alliance?” he asked. “Madness.”

Common enemies make for uncommon allies,” I suggested.

Even if we could come together,” Kadul murmured, “we would have no hope of success against a Brute.”

There’s always a way.”

Kadul scoffed. “Sayeth the young woman who solved her problems by running away.”

I had no answer, so I said nothing on that point.

What do you want, Miss Sharper?” Kadul asked, turning to me. “I offer you an eternity of luxury … your own family, your own palace, your every desire. Jackson becomes a general, you become his wife, and your child grows up as an immortal.”

Living in Hell is not a life,” I answered.

Kadul’s eyes pulsed with energy. “Oh?” he asked. “Jackson wants to be a general. I give him that. I can give you your parents … your brothers … the entire Sharper clan living together. And you rebuke this offer because you do not like the scenery?” Kadul slammed his hands together, causing a thunderclap. “Turn around,” he ordered.

I did and saw his Hell palace replaced with the Sharper plantation. My heart jumped

I can make my corner of Hell into any image I want,” he said, moving in behind me. His powerful hands went to my shoulders and I felt his manhood press into my lower back. “All you have to do is lean forward and I will give you everything you have ever wanted.”

His hands worked my shoulders as he pressed his body forward. Would it be wrong to submit? I would get everything I wanted, wouldn’t I? And if the cost of that is the Brute begins his conquest of Earth, wouldn’t Hell provide safety for my-

No!” I yelled, stepping away from him and turning. “I will not consign the world to the Brute without exhausting all other options, Kadul. I do care for my family and I do not pretend that I would place them above the rest of the world, but the time for that decision has not yet come.”

You are a fool.”

And you grow more desperate with every passing second.”

Kadul growled. “Perhaps when you return to Kraken Moor you will find Gretchen Haupt’s carcass hanging from the front gate.”

And perhaps you should understand that you have never dealt with a daughter of the South,” I replied. “Do not mistake my running away from home as a sign that I am soft, Kadul. If you take any life inside Kraken Moor any hope of a deal with me will be rendered impossible.”

Kadul smiled. “Before your soul has been eviscerated and sent into the Void, I think you will rule Hell above us all, Beatrice Sharper.”

I pushed aside Kadul’s fortune and forced my way back to the land of humans. Poseidon moved to stand above me as soon as my eyes were open.

Come quickly,” he ordered, offering his hand and a towel.

What is it?” I asked, stepping out of the tub and taking the towel.

The Dolphinae are birthing,” he said somberly. “There will soon be squid everywhere.”

I was at a loss for words and told him so.

Yuck was the word I went with,” he said, managing a smile.

How can you smile?” I asked, feeling the first of my nerves begin to fray.

I’ve been in worse situations,” he said. “You’ve seen one of them.”

Given all that I had seen, it was still with a small bit of surprise that I so easily cast aside my Dolphinae gown to stand nude before Poseidon. Not wanting to show any sense of shame, I was happy to be hit by a sudden inspiration. “Are they deadly?” I asked. “Gail and the other Dolphinae woman died, but I didn’t.”

Poseidon cooke cocked his head to the side and shrugged. “That’s because I pulled it off of you before it dove fully into your stomach. It was a little gross.”

I stopped and turned to him. “I did not know,” I apologized.

Poseidon had no issues with my nudity, and stepped to place a comforting hand on my shoulder. “You need to start thinking of the larger issues, Beatrice,” he scolded softly. “You are smart and you are capable, but there are moments when you let the individual moment dwarf the larger issues. You completely missed the connection between Kraken Moor and the Kraken, itself, despite spending an entire day caring for Jenson Shepherd.”

I felt my skin burn hot. “Squid are not exactly well known in the Confederacy.”

Don’t use your cultural ignorance as a crutch,” he scolded, harsher this time. “There is a vast library in Marehaven. Make it a part of your life, or you will be dead before the Brute makes his appearance.”

His words were harsh but I took the rebuke in stride. Poseidon left me sitting there as he exited the room to gather intelligence, and when he returned I was thankful that he had found new clothes for me to wear from the personal items of the Dolphinae. Instead of the dress I had arrived in or the gown of the Dolphinae, Poseidon handed me brown leather pants, short and heavy brown boots, a fully-sleeved white shirt, and a hard, green jacket that was missing its sleeves.

Poseidon also returned with something far greater than new clothes – a plan for escape.

The good of it,” he explained, “is that after being born, the squid are drawn to the saltwater pool, which makes escaping through the front door our best option.”

What is the bad of it?”

The newborn squid are more drawn to humans,” he explained, revealing injuries to his arm.

Just let me finish dressing, and we can get out of here,” I said, pulling on my new pants.

Poseidon shook his head. “There’s too many of them right now. The birthing cycle will only increase over the next several hours, but it is my belief that by ten or eleven o’clock tonight, we will have our best chance for escape. It will not be easy, especially if the saltwater pool becomes untenable, but it should be easier than now.”

So we waited, giving me time to write down these thoughts. Poseidon has informed me that we will have to make our attempt at escape in a few moments. He has not opened the door to check because when he did so several hours ago, we heard several squid hurl themselves at my door. They could still be outside. They could have left. We simply do not know.

I pray to my Lord that this is not the last entry in my journal.

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