"What a weird dream."
He looked at his phone. He'd gotten four texts, three of them from Vanessa.
"Damn, I forgot she invited me to come see her modeling gig."
Dave sent her an apology for missing the show and promised to make it up to her.
The other message was from Zoe. She wanted to meet for coffee and talk about the meeting between her father and the Giovannis yesterday.
He ordered room service then got out of bed and took a quick shower while he waited for the food to arrive.
After breakfast Dave stepped across the hallway to Ralph's door and knocked but wasn't at all surprised when there was no response. The chance his friend was awake was truly miniscule. Ralph slept like the dead, even Dog would have a hard time raising him.
Dave left the hotel and walked the bustling sidewalks of NYC towards the coffee shop. He smirked when he overheard people talking about the big event in Conquest.
The coffee house had patio tables with umbrellas set up outside and the place was busy.
Dave saw a familiar head of purple hair among the crowd and made his way over. She was sitting alone, checking her phone and looked frustrated.
Her back was to him as he approached the table and pulled out the chair that was next to her.
Without looking up she said in a cold tone, "I'm waiting for someone."
"Okay, I'll just go back to the hotel and get some more sleep then." He started to turn and step away but Zoe grabbed his hand.
"Hey, wait! I didn't know it was you, I've been fending off douches and wannabe-playas for the last half-hour. You didn't answer my message, I didn't know if you were coming or not."
He looked at her sheepishly, "Yeah, sorry. Got your message when I woke up and didn't stop to reply, just started getting ready. But, I made it and you're still here."
After a waitress took their orders Dave turned back to Zoe.
"So, what's going on, you said something about the meeting?"
Zoe hesitated, not sure how to start, she was still feeling awkward about what happened at the hotel and later in Conquest.
"Daddy met with the Giovannis. 'It's Just Business' wants to contract Mr. Skeletal to help the new guild with the Eastern Kingdom invasion. Tivo feels he owes you and wants to make 'amends' for what happened."
Dave shrugged, "I'm not sure how I feel about contract work. I'll think about it. I'm pretty busy right now."
"Yeah, so I hear. Everyone is talking about the latest shakeup in Conquest. So what happened?"
"Well if you've heard, you already know what happened," Dave grinned at her.
"C'mon, Dave. Tell me how it happened," Zoe poked him with a finger, her eyes sparkling, "Start talking, mister!"
Laughing, he pushed her poke-finger away, "Okay, okay, stop that. We were standing in front of…"
The undead king glowered down at the two insignificant worms, his billowing aura filled the palace courtyard, spilling through the gates and into the street. A pack of demons running toward the palace with weapons ready slowed at the sight of the glowing black energy pushing out through the broken gates.
Dave took a step back. There was no sign of recognition or even sentience from the revenant monarch. Uncharacteristically, Dog bowed humbly to the king, trying to placate the revenant.
It didn't help, the king drew his black sword, the blade that devoured light.
"He's not alright!" Samael said, glancing back at the king as he kept the demons bottled up on the stairs, "He's confused. He doesn't know who he is."
The king snapped his head around to glare at the ghoul. Then the revenant noticed the demons still flooding down the palace stairs and any hint of uncertainty in the revenant's behavior vanished. The glowing black aura writhed, becoming sharp and spiky in agitation as the revenant reacted to the presence of his ancestral enemies.
"Pet Cemetery," Dave whispered, his eyes widening.
The revenant raised a hand and clenched it into a fist. The king's barbed aura surged and all the demons in sight yelled at the same time as thousands of pinprick wounds appeared all over their bodies, as if they had been put in an iron maiden.
Then the king exhaled noisily, "Sahhhhhhhh!" and very demon in sight burst apart and fell to the ground in piles of small chunks of meat, bone and equipment. Puddles of demon ichor spread slowly from the piles as the moment after the grotesque display stretched out.
The moment was interrupted by demons appearing at the palace doors and advanced down the stairs toward Samael's position.
A vibrating growl came from the ghoul. The sound ratcheted up to a continuous bestial scream, accompanied by wet tearing sounds as Samael started growing, changing.
The ghoul grew taller as his shoulders widened, back hunched and swollen with brutish muscle. The bones of his face grew immensely thicker and heavier, showing curved fangs, the chin and jaw protruding like a steamshovel. The serene, friendly ghoul that Dave knew was gone, replaced by a savage, frenzied brute three times bigger and taller than his original form.
Samael swiped black, scimitar-length claws through the demons rushing down the stairs.
The shifted ghoul growled at Dave in a voice like crushing boulders, "Your dullahan's magic was not sufficient, the king has no memories, no persona. He is an empty husk. There is one chance to fix this. Putting the Death Heart back in place might restore the king's memory. I will keep the revenant occupied here, you go and put the Death Heart back."
The undead king slashed at Dog, but Dave pulled the dullahan away from the sword and interposed his shield. Sliding back from the impact, Dave cursed, he needed to disengage and try to get the Death Heart back to its place.
Samael's form blinked and appeared in front of the undead king. Black claws met black sword, dark lighting snapped and arced where the edges met. Samael strained against the revenant's strength. He leaned back "Please don't make me do this..." then he headbutted his king, disorienting him.
The king shook his head and roared as he lashed back at the ghoul with his sword. Scimitar claws clashed against sword, but Samael was faltering.
"GO!" the jotunn-ghoul grunted through clenched overdeveloped jaw.
"Dog, you're with me!"
Dave ran for the stairs and started climbing them with the dullahan right behind him. They went through the palace doors. There was a spiral staircase leading up to the throne room in the entryway. Two Demons waited on the stairs, swords ready.
Dave activated [Stampede] and rammed into the demons. He moved past them with Dog following close behind.
As he climbed more demons appeared, he used spectral skulls to blow them off their feet and continued past them. He used the same tactic on the next pair of demons that got in his ways
The stairs circled up all the way leading directly to the throne room entrance. His ultimate destination was a small door in the throne room that led to the roof of the tower.
Halfway up the stairs, a larger group of demons showed up on the steps above and he could hear the ones that he'd bypassed chasing them from below.
Dog crouched, palm down on the step, black sigils spread across the stone from his hand. His basilisk appeared and suddenly the steps were much more crowded. Dog grunted, pointing, and the basilisk leapt up the steps blowing away demons, clearing the way.
"Damn good idea, Dog!"
They followed after the basilisk and arrived at the top. The throne room's golden doors were open revealing the columned interior, Dave's expression turned grim when he saw the pack of ten demons inside.
Dave looked down the steps they had come from. Demons shouted insults as they rushed up the steps toward them. He had to keep the demons away somehow or they would be surrounded. He pushed the golden doors closed, but knew they wouldn't hold against the demons long.
Dave knelt and touched the floor, black sigils wrote themselves across the stone and Grumpy appeared. But, the summoning drew the attention of the demons in the throne room. Shouting, the demons came running at Dave.