Descry the baboon-faced monster loped down the street outside Ajax’s house. A pack of other monsters followed it, monsters that Ajax could now remember clearly. They were smaller than Descry; the largest was the size of a small bear while the smallest was the size of a small dog. But taken as a whole, the pack was a large mass of needle-tipped tentacles, dripping fangs, clawed feet and red eyes.
Ajax clenched his fingers on the windowsill, disgust roiling his stomach. All his life, these things had been chewing on him. Seth said a strong anima attracted Awakened Darkness, said Ajax had one of those. Had these things been responsible for the disintegration of every home Ajax had ever valued? His memories, while full of the monsters, weren’t clear enough for him to be sure.
“Boything,” Descry screeched, as it came to a halt on the curb right before Ajax’s house. “I smell the Guardians here! Not my intention, boything! They are not for you. Choose correctly, or I will eat you.”
“Didn’t you choke last time?” Ajax called.
“This time, I will start by ripping your arms off.” Descry stood up on his back legs.
Seth said, “I’ll be around,” and darted out of the room.
Natalie nodded and leaned out the window. “Hey, Cambion. Where did you come from? Who made you?”
It laughed. “Interesting questions, Guardian, but what good would answers do the dead?” Descry’s voice lowered to a purr. “Your only hope is if the boything chooses correctly. I will carry him away, hungry, to fulfill all his dreams.” It clapped its paws together and turned its gaze to the pack of Awakened around it. “A thought! Listen, seedlings. We will hold his eyes until we’ve ripped the arms off the Guardians. Then he can choose again.”
Natalie’s eyes were wide, and she was breathing fast. Ajax looked at her, concerned. “Hey, you fight these things all the time, don’t you? It’s just big talk. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“You don’t understand,” she whispered. “The Awakened don’t talk. They’re mindless. Like simple animals, or machines. And I don’t usually fight more than one, either. They don’t like to share territory. That you’ve had so many…” She shook her head, as if trying to dislodge a stray hair.
Ajax shrugged. “Monsters are monsters.” He looked out the window again. Descry was still inspecting his troops. Ajax thought there were more than there had been just a moment before. And something was dangling out of Descry’s mouth. Ajax just had time to identify it as a clawed paw before Descry slurped it down.
“What the hell?”
“Monsters are monsters,” said Natalie flatly.
Ajax raised his voice. “Hey, Apething. I gotta say, these Guardians aren’t very convincing.” Natalie gave him an alarmed look, and Ajax jerked his head in the direction Seth had vanished.
“And why should they be? What do they have to offer, except a lifetime of tragedy? But come with me and ah! Delicious madness and a chance to change everything.” It shuffled closer, batting aside an Awakened that got too close.
“What do you mean, everything?” Ajax asked, and he didn’t have to fake the note of curiosity in his voice.
“Oh, the power! To take what you want, destroy what you do not.”
“But there seems to be quite a bit of pain in hanging out with your little friends. I don’t know…” Ajax’s voice dripped with doubt and uncertainty.
“Oh, pain! What is pain to one of the chosen? A tool only. You do not regard pain. Look at how much you’ve endured already. Some it makes brittle but you are strong.” Descry crept even closer. “Still, we could do away with so much. They who would take away from you will know what it’s like to lose. They take your time, they take your pleasure, they take your family. Come with me and make a child, and turn it upon them. Take, as you were born to do.”
“Shut up,” said Ajax, without thinking. Natalie’s eyes were fixed on Descry, but her head was tilted toward Ajax, listening closely. He didn’t like it, didn’t want anybody listening in while this monster looked inside him.
He looked around his room, then grabbed a baseball bat from under his bed and pointed it at the Cambion. “I’m tired of this bullshit discussion. Time to go back to the nightmare you came from.”
As he stretched out his arm, the wound in his side started oozing again. Descry’s giant nostrils flared. “The Guardian taints you, Boything. Too bad. But more deliciousness for me!”
It leapt from halfway across the front yard onto the side of the house. At first it seemed to be trying to squeeze through the window, but it was much too big for that. So instead it tore the window off the side of the house. The pack of Awakened swarmed forward, crawling on top of Descry and squeezing past him. One, the size of a border collie, wiggled into the room then leap straight at Ajax.
Ajax swung his bat at the Awakened, and overbalanced as the bat passed through the little monster like it was made of mist. Then the creature was on him, and for all that it was insubstantial to the bat, its teeth were very sharp.
“Mine,” growled Descry, and bit off the back half of the Awakened. The remaining half exploded into clear wetness. Ajax stared at the baboon face as it chewed up another of its minions. The huge dark eyes seemed to fill the whole world, looking at him, looking in him.
Once again, there was no place to run.