I received permission from the mods to ressurect this thread, I'm a licensed necromancer today!

Not sure whether anybody is really interested in restarting the writing and critique posting, but there's no harm in trying I guess. I've re-written the stuff I posted very early on in the thread, and added a few more chapters to boot. Up until I went back to this I hadn't written for something like eight months, so critique is always good, right? I have a little more written, but I'll stick at three chapters so I don't intimidate any potential commenters with Big Walls O'TextTM.

Inner Demons (5000ish words)
Chapter 1

Spoiler
Show
The crypt was deathly cold, despite the summer warmth outside. It had been a blistering July day, and it was still humid even with the sun half dipped behind the horizon, but the sun’s rays had done nothing to thaw this particular place. A crypt like this would never thaw, not whilst the gate remained open far below. It was a bit of a mystery really, how the gates made places so cold, especially when you considered what they opened onto. The man in the cream suit stretched out a pale hand and placed it on one of the large grey slabs that lined the walls. The stone was almost freezing, it chilled and numbed his hand in the few seconds between him touching it and pulling away.

“Frigid today, aren’t we?” Markus Pewter smiled to himself and strolled over to the three stone coffins that sat against the far wall, each engraved with the names and epitaph’s of the supposed interred. He read the inscription on the tarnished brass plate of the middle coffin, just as he had so many times before. Edward Arch, for him the Gate is always open. It was strange as far as epitaphs went, and no lifespan, no clue as to how old the coffin or the crypt around it actually was. The dull grey stones of the crypt were ageless and gave away nothing. The cemetery itself was supposedly at least three hundred years old, but local records were notoriously sketchy at best, erroneous at worst. True or not, the gate had always been here in some form, and that was what mattered. The other coffins were apparently home to Alice and Victor Arch, also without age, and apparently not important enough even for a tagline. It wasn’t them Pewter was interested in though, it was Edward that he had come to see.

“Hi again Eddie, care to share some hospitality?” He moved to the head of the coffin and gave the lid a light tap. Immediately the heavy stone slid towards the foot of the casket, as if on a cushion of air, revealing a cold and sterile interior. Pewter doubted the stone casket had ever been occupied, and he was pretty sure Edward Arch had never existed either. Even if he had, he’d never taken up the option of this particular bit of eternal real estate. Alice and Victor on the other hand, they might well be around, though he’d never opened up the other coffins to find out. The dead had earned their rest after all, and he wasn’t about to disturb them without good reason. There were too many troubles in the living world without delving into the land of the dead.

The lid stopped silently almost halfway down the coffin, about where the resident’s waist would have been. Pewter stepped in and sat down, sliding his legs down into the darkness. When he was comfortable he lay back and closed his eyes as the coffin lid slipped soundlessly back over him, cutting him off from the world outside. That was alright though; it wasn’t anyone in this world that he wanted to talk to.

* * * * *

It was all a matter of concentration really, just one little thought and you were there. You just had to know what you were doing. Before he even opened his eyes Pewter knew from the dramatic change in temperature that he was there. Dry heat raked harshly at his exposed skin and he immediately started to sweat in his suit. He stood up and dusted himself down as best he could, though the parched red earth seemed to stick like glue to pretty much everything. He was standing on a small patch of ground surrounded by a crowd of jagged black rocks that towered over him on all sides. The rocks bathed the tiny area in deep shadow and blocked out most of the watery grey light of the place, making it feel like night. A narrow trail picked a path through the rocks to the east, where the ground started to fall away sharply towards a dried up riverbed far below. He’d been down there a few times before, but there was no need today. The reason for his trip was much closer to home.

“Come on out my little friend, I know you’re here.” Something shifted behind one of the smaller rocks off to the left, but kept itself hidden. Pewter smiled. “If you’re going to hide you at least need to make sure you stay quiet.”
He slipped a hand into the breast pocket of his jacket and bought out a battered yellow and red badge, its pin bent and broken. There was a rough face printed on it, the yellow half smiling, the red half scowling with rage. Both halves were marred by spots of dried blood. He held the badge between thumb and forefinger, then flicked it onto the ground several yards away from him. He waited.
“A-an offering?” The voice that came from behind the rock was high and cracked, like a young girls sing-song voice made hoarse by grief or fear. It was weak and needy, every syllable seeming to reach out and grasp for attention, for reassurance. Pewter said nothing, just waited patiently, a knowing smile playing across his sharp features.

After a few moments a dark shape detached itself from the shielding bulk of the boulder and scuttled cautiously over to where the badge lay on the ground. It was a small creature, about the size of a Labrador, bipedal but hunched over so that its arms dragged across the floor. More than anything it looked like a cross between a hedgehog some nightmare primate, all bony spines and long wiry limbs. Its pock-marked skin was midnight blue, except for the places where red sores and lesions opened like infected wounds, weeping with yellow puss. Its face was surprisingly human in a bestial kind of way; two beady little red eyes peered out from underneath a protruding forehead studded with horns and sores. It snuffled around the badge then looked up at Pewter, its eyes glowing like fiery embers. Pewter’s smile faltered, but he held his ground. As grotesque as the creature looked, he’d met with the Wretch class demon enough times to know it was utterly spineless. It snatched up the badge in one long fingered hand and retreated a few yards.

“What you want White Suit Man? Longing been good, very very good! Stay away from crypt, just like Longing told! Longing stay this side, not cause more trouble Longing swear!”
Pewter laughed a little, he couldn’t help himself. The little demon was terrified of him; it was actually quite perverse when you compared the threat posed by his kind to all humanity with the complete and utter spinelessness of this particular creature. It was hard to believe that the only difference between Longing and the most powerful of the Conclave was the strength of the emotion that had spawned it. He wasn’t even sure he truly believed it himself. “It’s cream actually. I’m not here about that anyway, I know you’ve been a good little boy. I’ve got far more important things on my mind.” The creature rubbed its hands together nervously and stared up at him, seemingly unconvinced. “What’s going on down here, someone pour boiling water down the anthill?”

Longing shifted on its splayed bird-like feet and looked down at the ground. “Masters are restless. Disturbed. All demons on edge, smaller one’s forced out cities. Consumed even! Longing scared...something big happening.”
At least that explained why his workload had gone up so much recently. There was one obvious question to ask, so Pewter asked it. “What’s happening then Longing? It’s bleeding through into our world, in the last few weeks there’s been more of your kind coming through the gates than there have for years. It’s only a matter of time before one slips through the net, and some poor drunken bastard sees something. There are only so many sightings of the Baleford Cemetery Cougar that people can take before they start asking questions. More importantly, I’m starting to run out of bullets.”
The threat wasn’t lost on Longing. The little demon began to gibber and quail, and held its spidery hands up in a gesture of surrender.
“Longing not know! Longing not know! Longing nothing! Masters ignore, pick on, not tell anything! Please, Longing good! Tell White Suit Man all Longing knows!”

Pewter sighed and shook his head. Longing wasn’t lying. The poor Wretch didn’t have it in him, there wasn’t a malicious bone in his twisted little body. The demon had the higher level intelligence that most of his kind lacked, but none of the physical strength or predatory and murderous instinct. He was also an awful liar and a hopeless coward. All in all, Pewter had been very lucky to come across a demon weak and spineless enough to be threatened into being an informant, and bright enough to actually articulate what he’d seen. “Have you got nothing for me little guy? Think for a minute, work that grey matter a little.”

The demon nodded, eager to at least seem helpful. Pewter waited patiently while Longing doodled on the ground with a ragged claw and muttered to himself. Just as he was about to give up Longing squealed in triumph, his beady red eyes glowing. “Longing remember! Master pass through city…two lights ago. Towards other gate, one Longing go through in big stone building. Longing ate lots of skitterlegs!” Pewter nodded. The demon was talking about the gate under Stanford Castle in Yorkshire. Having been alerted to a rash of missing and mutilated pets and cattle in the surrounding area he had tracked down the demon within the castle walls, gnawing on a dead rat. In Longing’s vocabulary skitterlegs were pretty much anything topside that didn’t walk like a human, like vermin, sheep and cats. That was when they had come to their agreement. He looked back down at the demon and saw it was reminiscing just like he was. A tapered blue tongue flicked around its lips, no doubt tasting the blood and crunchy bones all over again. The Wretch noticed Pewter’s glare and carried on quickly. “Longing follow to gate. Think might bring skitterlegs back, offering even. Hound with Master, big big. Hound went through gate, Master stay in city. Master say something to Hound before go. Master speak quiet, but Longing hear!” The demon pointed at himself proudly and clapped his long spindly hands, like a dog wagging its tail after performing a trick.
Pewter felt his blood run cold. If the Conclave were intentionally sending Hounds topside it could only mean one thing. They were hunting something in the mortal world, something important. If it was important to the Conclave…
“Longing…it’s very important you tell me exactly what the Master said. Think.”

The demon thought for a long moment, then his horned brow furrowed in concentration as he spat the properly spoken words out like they were poison. “You will…find and hunt the Key…all gates shall…be blown open…for the Cas-tig-at-ion. Exactly what Master say!”
This was bad. “Two lights ago you said?”
Longing nodded. “Two lights, one dark.”
Pewter stalked away without another word, his face pallid. He might already be too late.

Chapter 2
Spoiler
Show
Celeste Rothen tottered out of the club and into the cool night-time air. It did little to clear her fuzzy head, she was too far gone for that and would be in for one hell of a headache in the morning. The whole world was swimming pleasantly in front of her, and pretty much everything was hilarious. She swivelled round and waved goodbye to her two friends, they were heading to another club up the street. She watched them walk off with eyes that weren’t quite focussed. Celeste giggled and started back towards the university on unsteady legs and impractical heels. It wasn’t far back to campus, only twenty minutes even with her so much the worse for wear; she’d be fine on her own.

She soon left the crowds and noise of Stanford’s club district behind, now she passed the yawning dark glass facades of shop-fronts on either side as she meandered down the city’s main shopping stretch. The pedestrian-only street was completely deserted at 2am, the pubs were already closed hours ago and the hardcore clubbers wouldn’t be out for another hour or two. Celeste wondered past a group of phone boxes and got distracted by a blue dress in the window of her favourite fashion chain. She squinted short-sightedly through the glass to try and tried to read the price tag, but inebriation and the fact her glasses were discarded in a draw at home conspired against her. She grumbled in frustration and cupped her hands around her eyes to cut out the meagre street lighting.

Unnoticed, a deeper shadow coalesced in the darkness behind the stand of phone kiosks. It was sleek, black, and as silent as death.

Celeste gave up trying to read and started off down the street, rubbing at her eyes. The black shape made as if to leave the cover of the kiosks, but at the last second something made it hold back, a subconscious imperative it barely recognised let alone understood. Still, it obeyed, crouching back into the darkness. Thick crimson saliva dripped to the bricked pavement and immediately scorched it a dead black in ragged circles wherever it fell. The shape bided its time and watched.

Celeste spun around, almost falling and turning an ankle as she did so. Probably not a good idea to spin so fast after so much vodka, but a magnificent thought had just occurred to her. She pointed a long manicured nail at the now distant shop front and came forward a few steps for emphasis as she spoke. “Tomorrow you’re mine. You word my marks…umm…yeah!” Sod the economics text book she needed, no doubt someone would let her borrow a copy until pay day came round again. The ridiculousness of threatening a dress in a shop window suddenly occurred to her all at once. She laughed out loud and turned back in the direction of Stanford Universities residencies.

The black shape detached itself from the shadow of the kiosks and padded after the girl, finally revealing itself under the glare of a street light. Despite its size it was completely silent, the consummate predator. Not that it had to be. Celeste’s hearing was ruined from the pounding bass in the club, and she was paying almost no attention to anything around her. It was a massive creature out of the deepest depths of nightmare, a jet black killing machine of ashen horns and heavily slabbed muscle five feet tall at the shoulder. Two blood red eyes glowed brightly from a huge head that was almost entirely distended jaw and gleaming obsidian fangs. It stalked Celeste, closing in behind her, more drool pattering on the paving below. It could taste the girl’s blood already, its tiny brain filled with the sensations of bones shattering, warm flesh in its jaws, blood on its tongue. The creature made a guttural sound deep in its throat and coiled ready to pounce.

Maybe she spotted the looming shape reflected in one of the windows beside her, even through her malaise, or smelt the faint whiff of sulphur in the air. Either way Celeste managed to turn around just before the beast struck. Luck sucks that way sometimes.

She got a momentary glimpse of a massive bipedal frame and oily black skin before the nightmare creature barrelled into her at chest height, sending her flying. She hit the path hard, expelling the breath from her lungs in a harsh gasp that had been meant for a scream, a scream that may have had the slightest chance of saving her. The beast landed square on top of her, its weight all too real as her ribs snapped under the pressure, one puncturing her left lung. A laboured wheeze escaped her as she stared up at the unbelievable creature, her mind only just starting to process what was happening to her. It snorted hot damp air through fluted ducts either side of its head; its breath smelt of burnt and rotting flesh. Two glowing red orbs closed in on her as the demon lowered its wedge shaped head towards her face. The beast shivered, delaying the killing blow to soak up the fear and pain rolling off its helpless prey.

Celeste’s eyes widened as she realised she was going to die. She was suffocating under the weight of a creature that had no right to exist, couldn’t exist. But here it was, sniffing the air out of her while she was gradually crushed beneath its massive bulk. Abby would have got a kick out of knowing something like this was a living breathing reality, it was just the kind of thing that stirred her morbid curiosity. Pity she wasn’t going to have a chance to tell her, not that they’d spoken in years anyway. With the last of her guttering strength Celeste bought her arms up to protect her head. The movement seemed to snap the beast out of its emotional feast. It growled deep in its throat and snapped her left hand off at the wrist as if it was made of paper. Blood fountained into the night as Celeste’s vision started to grey at the edges. She realised dimly that she wouldn’t be buying that blue dress after all...it was strange what you thought about in your last few moments.
As the twin spectres of shock and blood loss finally took her under, the last thing Celeste Rothen ever saw was the monsters huge dog-like head diving for her throat.

* * * * *

Pewter jogged up the exit ramp of Stanford City train station and out onto the main street. He was tired, sweaty, and had a growing sense of dread right in the pit of his stomach. He had travelled straight back topside rather than risk a trek to the other gate through Longing’s realm. That had turned out to be a mistake. The church had been empty when he had got back, and increasingly frantic mobile calls had received no response. Without the Land Rover Pewter had had to resort to late night public transport; a combination of irregular buses and the overnight train to get him to Stanford. All things considered he had made good time to get here in less than six hours, but the journey had felt like an eternity. At least in the old off-roader he would have had driving to concentrate on, to take his mind off things.

He tipped his wrap-around sunglasses lower on his nose and peered out over the dark lenses. A fading purple streamer of essence ran all the way down the street in both directions for as far as he could see, proof of a demons recent presence for eyes such as his. The trail was fresh and unbroken, but wouldn’t remain so for long. An hour later and there would have been nothing left for him to follow. Hounds were mean as hell, but as lesser demons their trails were weak and dissipated quickly. Pewter made an educated guess and followed it deeper into Stanford’s centre, the horrible feeling in his stomach growing with every step.

He found a congealing pool of blood in the middle of a major shopping street, deserted at such an early hour. A gory streak of red led to the concealing shadows of an alleyway, another trail that could only lead to no good. The body had been dragged into the mouth of the alleyway and discarded like a piece of garbage. It had been a young woman of about twenty, there was just about enough left of her to work that out. Pewter bit down on the bile that threatened to overwhelm him and looked away. He hadn’t been able to admit it to himself during the journey, but he’d known he was too late from the moment Longing had told him. Now he was going to need to work out what exactly he had been too late for, starting with why this poor girl had been hunted down and killed. More importantly, why the Conclave had invested the significant energy required to send a Hound out into the mortal realm, and what it had to do with the Castigation.

There was no-one on the main street; he had a little time. He bent over the corpse and started the grim investigation. He found a small bag still caught around the girl’s shoulder, inside he found a purse amongst the makeup, small change and other usual detritus. He flicked through the cards inside and found a pretty redhead looking out of a driving licence at him. A Stanford University ID card and several photo booth style pictures followed. Her name was Celeste Louise Rothen, turned twenty less than a week ago. The name meant nothing to him. He replaced the purse and carried on, his lips set in a grim line. He should have known he’d get no clue from her belongings, not when there was a pool of blood and a still-warm corpse to search instead.

There was a strange black mark on the girls remaining wrist, partially concealed by a watch so that he hadn’t noticed it at first. He lifted her arm up with a gloved hand to get a closer look, and sucked in a shocked breath between his teeth. “Oh ****…” It was a little tattoo, recent by the look of it, depicting two old style keys with their rings placed on top of one another, making a single key with two spokes. Pewter held up his phone in a shaking hand and snapped a picture, for what good it would do.

“C’mon, it could be nothing,” he whispered to himself, “A tattoo’s no proof of anything.” It was true of course, but it was one hell of a coincidence to find the symbol of the Gatekeeper in this situation. The only sign that could have been any direr was if the girl had a birthmark or scar or something. Pewter sighed and continued to search. It was like a bad car accident, he didn’t want to look but he couldn’t help himself. He had to know.

It turned out to be a scar, high up on her left thigh. It was ragged and broken, an old scar stretched and distorted by childhood growth, but it was still obvious what it was. An old double pronged key, the prongs pointing in opposite directions. The symbol of the Gatekeeper.
“It can’t be…” Pewter sagged forward and put his head in his hands. Suddenly even the shadows of the alleyway were too bright. He felt sick deep down is his stomach, the feeling of dread down there had burst open like a rotten fruit to consume him from the inside. Behind his closed eyelids demons danced in the ruins of a blazing tower block, cavorting amongst the flames in a horrible dance of perverse pleasure. “So that’s it. The Castigation’s coming…we’re all ****ed.” Each word was dead and toneless to his ears, nothing but the pointless whispers of a condemned soul. He stayed like that for a while, eyes closed and head in hands, bent over a young woman’s body that heralded the end of the mortal world.

The closing whoop of police sirens finally bought Pewter out of himself. Someone had noticed the bloodstain out in the street no doubt, but had been too scared to follow the trail into the alleyway. A small mercy then, he’d have had a lot of explaining to do otherwise. He didn’t want to spend the last few days of his life in a police cell. He stood up and walked away, his mind a chaotic whirlpool of nightmares, regrets, and consequences. In the deepest shadows at the far end of the alleyway, Celeste Rothen’s spirit watched him go.

Chapter 3
Spoiler
Show
Pewter returned home to wait out the last few days of mortal existence, figuring it was better to die amongst friends than anywhere else. It was an unexpected but welcome surprise when over the next three days absolutely nothing untoward happened. It was a bit like hearing noises in the dead of night and finding out there actually weren’t any intruders rifling through your possessions, a massive relief and anti-climax in equal measure. The question was, why? The Castigation myth, or inevitable future if you believed the demons of the Conclave, was pretty clear on the matter. It was full-on stereotypical apocalypse stuff like you got in big Hollywood movies, almost funny if he hadn’t seen the very real and immediate danger for himself. The gates between the mortal world and Otherside would remain closed to all but a trickle of life, until something known as the Gatekeeper was discovered. Details were sketchy about exactly what the Gatekeeper was, object, place, or person, but its fate was clear. Destruction of the Gatekeeper would blow every gate between the mortal world and Otherside wide open, allowing free and easy passage between both worlds. Thousands upon thousands of demons would stream into the mortal world, intent on the kind of chaos and destruction that not even the human race could match. The mortals would fight of course, they always did, but they wouldn’t have much of a chance against such an onslaught. A double spoked key was supposed to be the symbol of the Gatekeeper, and the mark on the dead girl had been conclusive enough to Pewter, who was more knowledgeable than most on the subject. Even so, three days had passed without any kind of incursion, and a visit to the Baleford gate had revealed nothing untoward. It was rather perplexing really.

Still, no imminent Castigation meant he had a little time to pay his respects. After all, the Rothen girl’s death had been at least partly his fault. Hadn’t Ally been pleading with him to get a second car for the group for the last six months? With wheels he just might have been able to get to her in time and put the Hound down before it had chance to complete the hunt. Gatekeeper or not, she hadn’t deserved the premature and terrible death she had been dealt.

The authorities had done a frighteningly efficient job of hiding the gory details of the girl’s death, as they usually did when things happened that they couldn’t or didn’t want to explain. The murder had only managed to make Stanford’s local paper, with a story so ridiculous Pewter thought blaming the girl’s death on a demon from another world would have been more believable to the general populace. Celeste Rothen had drank the night away in the Indigo Garden nightclub, then headed for her apartment alone. On the way the alcohol in her system had taken a firm grip on her and she had collapsed in the mouth of the alleyway, unconscious but not dead. A pack of feral city dogs had then set upon her as she lay helpless, and she had died of blood loss before anyone had found her. Pewter had laughed at that, knowing for a fact there were very few stray animals of any kind in Stanford. Longing had decimated the population of strays several years before, and numbers had not had a chance to recover.

The girl’s body had been released to her family, who just happened to live in Baleford, and the funeral was scheduled for that afternoon at the city’s main cemetery, somewhere he knew with more than a passing familiarity. He wouldn’t intrude, just pay his respects from a distance before delving deeper into the whole Castigation myth. It was the least he could do.