Saint City Sinners (Dante Valentine Series #4)by Lilith Saintcrow
Now, one call from an old friend will bring her back to investigate a murder too close to home for anyone's comfort. But the one person she trusted has just betrayed her.
Sometimes revenge is best served
Saint City has always been Dante Valentine's home. It's where she grew up, it's where her dead are buried, and it's where she learned to hunt.
Now, one call from an old friend will bring her back to investigate a murder too close to home for anyone's comfort. But the one person she trusted has just betrayed her.
Sometimes revenge is best served demon-hot...
Dante Valentine Novels
Working for the Devil
Dead Man Rising
Devil's Right Hand
Saint City Sinners
To Hell and Back
Dante Valentine (omnibus)
For more from Lilith Saintcrow, check out:
Gallow and Ragged
Trailer Park Fae
Bannon and Clare
The Iron Wyrm Affair
The Red Plague Affair
The Ripper Affair
The Damnation Affair (e-only)
Jill Kismet Novels
Jill Kismet (omnibus)
A Romance of Arquitaine Novels
The Hedgewitch Queen
The Bandit King
Blood Call (coming August 2015)
Read an Excerpt
Saint City Sinners
By Lilith Saintcrow
OrbitCopyright © 2007 Lilith Saintcrow
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCairo Giza has endured almost forever, but it was only after the Awakening that the pyramids began to acquire distinctive etheric smears again. Colored balls of light bob and weave around them even during daytime, playing with streams of hover traffic that carefully don't pass over the pyramids themselves, like a river separating around islands. Hover circuitry is buffered like every critical component nowadays, but enough Power can blow anything electric just like a focused EMP pulse. There's a college of Ceremonials responsible for using and draining the pyramids' charge, responsible also for the Temple built equidistant from the stone triangles and the Sphinx, whose ruined face still gazes from her recumbent body with more long-forgotten wisdom than the human race could ever lay claim to accumulating.
Power hummed in the air as I stepped from glaring desert sun into the shadowed gloom of the Temple's portico. Static crackled, sand falling out of my clothes whisked away by the containment field. I grimaced. We'd been on the ground less than half an hour and already I was tired of the dust.
One worn-out, busted-down part-demon Necromance, sore from Lucifer's last kick even though Japhrimel had repaired the damage and flushed me with enough Power to make my skin tingle. And one Fallen given back the power of a demon pacing behind me, his step oddly silent on the stone floor. The mark on my left shoulder-his mark-pulsed again, a warm velvet flush coating my body. My rings swirled with steady light.
My bag bumped against my hip and my bootheels clicked on stone, echoing in the vast shadowed chamber. The great inner doors rose up before us, massive slabs of granite lasecarved with hieroglyph pictures of a way of life vanished thousands of years ago. I inhaled the deep familiar spice of kyphii deeply as my nape prickled. My sword, thrust through a loop in my weapons rig, thrummed slightly in its indigo-lacquered scabbard.
A blade that can bite the Devil. A cool finger of dread traced up my spine.
I stopped, half-turning on my heel to look up at Japhrimel. He paused, his hands clasped behind his back as usual, regarding me with bright green-glowing eyes. His ink-dark hair lay against his forehead in a soft wave, melding with the Temple's dusky quiet; Japhrimel's lean golden saturnine face was closed and distant. He had been very quiet for the last hour.
I didn't blame him. We had precious little to say now. In any case, I didn't want to break the fragile truce between us.
One dark eyebrow quirked slightly, a question I found I could read. It was a relief to see something about him I still understood.
Had he changed, or had I?
"Will you wait for me here?" My voice bounced back from stone, husky and half-ruined, still freighted with the promise of demon seduction. The hoarseness didn't help, turning my tone to granular honey. "Please?"
His expression changed from distance to wariness. The corner of his mouth lifted slightly. "Of course. It would be a pleasure."
The words ran along stone, mouthing the air softly.
I bit my lower lip. The idea that I'd misjudged him was uncomfortable, to say the least. "Japhrimel?"
His eyes rested on my face. All attention, focused on me. He didn't touch me, but he might as well have, his aura closing around mine, black-diamond flames proclaiming him as demon to anyone with otherSight. It was a caress no less intimate for being nonphysical-something he was doing more and more lately. I wondered if it was because he wanted to keep track of me, or because he wanted to touch me.
I shook my head, deciding the question was useless. He probably wouldn't tell me, anyway.
Was it wrong, not to hold it against him?
I heard Lucas Villalobos's voice again. Take what you can get. Good advice? Honorable? Or just practical?
Tiens, the Nichtvren who was yet another Hellesvront agent, would meet us after dark. Lucas was with Vann and McKinley; Leander had rented space in a boarding house and was waiting for us. The Necromance bounty hunter seemed very easy with the idea of two nonhuman Hellesvront agents, but I'd caught him going pale whenever Lucas got too close.
It was a relief to see he had some sense.
Then again, even I was frightened of Lucas, never mind that I was his client and he'd taken on Lucifer and two hellhounds for me. The man Death had turned his back on was a professional, and a good asset ... but still. He was unpredictable, impossible to kill, magick just seemed to shunt itself away from him-and there were stories of just what he'd done to psions who played rough with him, or hired him and tried to welsh. It doesn't take long to figure out so many stories must have a grain of truth.
"Yes?" Japhrimel prompted me. I looked up from the stone floor with a start. I'd been wandering.
I never used to do that.
"Nothing." I turned away, my boots making precise little sounds against the floor as I headed for the doors. "I'll be out in a little while."
"Take your time." He stood straight and tall, his hands clasped behind his back, his eyes burning green holes in smoky cool darkness. I felt the weight of his gaze on my back. "I'll wait."
I shook my head, reached up to touch the doors. The mark on my shoulder flared again, heat sliding down my skin like warm oil.
He was Fallen-no-more. I would have wondered what that made me now, but he hadn't even told me what I was in the first place. Hedaira, a human woman given a share of a demon's strength. Japhrimel just kept saying I would find out in time.
With Eve to save and Lucifer looking to kill me, I just might die before I found out. Wouldn't that be a bitch and a half.
I spread my hands-narrow, golden, the black molecule-drip polish slightly chipped on my left fingernails-against rough granite, pushed. The doors, balanced on oiled mag-hinges, whooshed open easily. More kyphii smoke billowed out, fighting briefly with the burning-cinnamon musk of demon cloaking me.
The hall was large, all architectural space focused on throned Horus at the end, Isis's tall form behind him, Her hand lifted in blessing over Her son. The doors slid to a stop. I bowed, my right hand touching heart and forehead in the classic salute.
I paced forward into the house of the gods. The doors slid together behind me, closing Japhrimel out. Here was perhaps the only place I could truly be alone, the only place he would not intrude.
Unfortunately, leaving him outside meant leaving my protection too. I didn't think any demon would try to attack me inside a temple, but I was just nervous enough to take a deep breath and welcome the next flush of Power spreading from the scar.
Another deep breath. Panic beat under my breastbone. I told myself it was silly. Japh was right outside the door, and my god had always answered me before.
Still, ever since the night Anubis had called me out of slumber and laid on me a geas I couldn't remember, He had been silent. Losing that compass left me adrift in a way I'd never been before. If I'd ever needed direction and comfort, it was now.
Cairo Giza had been Islum territory in the Merican era, but Islum had choked on its own blood during the Seventy Days War, along with the Protestor Christers and the Judics, not to mention the Evangelicals of Gilead. In a world controlled by the Hegemony and Putchkin Alliance, with psions in every corner, the conditions that gave rise to the Religions of Submission have fallen away. After a brief re-flowering of fundamentalist Islum during the collapse of petroleo use, it became just another small sect-like the Novo Christers-and the old gods and state religions had risen again.
The single biggest blow to the Religions of Submission had been the Awakening and the rise of the science of Power. When anyone can contract a Shaman or Ceremonial to talk to the god of their choice, and spiritual experiences becoming commonplace-not to mention Necromances proving an afterlife exists and Magi definitively proving the existence of demons-most organized religions had died a quick hard death, replaced by personal worship of patron gods and spirits. It was, in all reality, the only logical response on humanity's part.
Here in Egypt those old gods have returned with a vengeance, and the pyramid Ceremonials are slowly taking on the tenor of a priesthood. Most psions are religious only to the extent that the science of belief makes Power behave itself. Necromances are generally more dedicated than most; after all, our psychopomps take the faces of ancient gods and act a little differently from the average man's deities.
Part of that probably has to do with the Trial every accredited Necromance has to face. It's hard not to feel a little bit attached to a god who resurrects you from the psychic death of initiation and stays with you afterward, receiving you into Death's arms when it is finally time to go into What Comes Next.
The debate remains-could a Ceremonial be a priest or priestess, and what exactly did the gods want anyway? Only nowadays, people aren't likely to murder each other over the questions. Not often, anyway. There's a running feud between the priestesses of Aslan and the Hegemony Albion Literary College, who say the Prophet Lewis was a Novo Christer, but only ink is spilled in that battle, not blood. I turned to my right. Sekhmet sat on Her throne, lion-headed and strangely serene, heat blurring up from the eternal fire in a black bowl on Her altar. The heady smell of wine rose; someone had been making offerings. Past Her, there was Set, His jackal-head painted the deep red of dried blood. The powers of destruction, given their place at the left hand of creation. Necessary, and worshipped-but not safe.
Not at all safe.
Japhrimel's last gift before breaking the news that Lucifer had summoned me again had been a glossy obsidian statue of the Fierce One. That same statue, repaired and burnished to a fine gloss, was set by the side of the bed in the boarding house even now. Please tell me She isn't about to start messing around with me. I have all the trouble I can handle right now.
I shivered, turned to the left. There, behind Thoth's beaky head, was the slim black dog's face of my own god, in his own important niche.
I drew kyphii deep into my lungs. A last respectful bow to Isis and Her son, and I moved to the left.
Thoth's statue seemed to make a quick movement as I passed. I stopped, made my obeisance. Glanced up the ceiling, lasepainted with Nuit's starry naked form.
Plenty of psions worship the Hellene gods. There are colleges of Asatru and Teutonica as well as the Faery tradition in Hegemony Europa. The Shamans have their loa, and there are some who follow the path of the Left Hand and worship the Unspeakable. The Tantrics have their devas and the Hindu their huge intricate assemblages, Native Mericans and Islanders their own branches of magick and Shamanic training passed down through blood and ritual; the Buddhists and Zenmos their own not-quite-religious traditions. There are as many religions as there are people on the earth, the Magi say. Even the demons were worshipped one long-ago time, mistaken for gods.
For me, there had never really been any choice. I'd dreamed of a dog-headed man all through my childhood, and had taken the requisite Religious Studies classes at Rigger Hall. One of the first religions studied was Egyptianica, since it was such a popular sect-and I'd felt at home from the very beginning. Everything about the gods of the Nile was not so much learned for me as deeply remembered, as if I'd always known but just needed the reminding.
The first time I'd gone into Death, Anubis had been there; He had never left me since. Where else would I turn for solace, but to Him?
I reached His niche. Tears welled up, my throat full of something hard and hot. I sank down to one knee, rose. Stepped forward. Approached His statue, the altar before it lit by novenas and crowded with offerings. Food, drink, scattered New Credit notes, sticks of fuming incense. Even the normals propitiated Him, hoping for some false mercy when their time came, hoping to live past whatever appointed date and hour Death chose.
My rings sparked, golden points of light popping in the dark. From the obsidian ring on my right third finger to the amber on my right and left middle, the moonstone on my left index, the bloodstone on my left third; the Suni-figured thumbring sparked too, reacting with the charge of Power in the air. The Power I carried, tied to a demon and no longer strictly human myself, quivered uneasily.
My Lord, my god, please hear me. I need You.
I sank down to my knees, my katana blurring out of its sheath. Laid the bright steel length on the stone floor in front of me, rested my hands on my thighs. Closed my eyes and prayed.
Please. I am weary, and I hunger for Your touch, my Lord. Speak to me. You have comforted me, but I want to hear You.
My breathing deepened. The blue glow began, rising at the very corners of my mental sight. I began the prayer I'd learned long ago, studying from Novo Egyptos books in the Library at Rigger Hall. "Anubis et'her ka," I whispered. "Se ta'uk'fhet sa te vapu kuraph. Anubis et'her ka. Anubis, Lord of the Dead, Faithful Companion, protect me, for I am Your child. Protect me, Anubis, weigh my heart upon the scale; watch over me, Lord, for I am Your child. Do not let evil distress me, but turn Your fierceness upon my enemies. Cover me with Your gaze, let Your hand be upon me, now and all the days of my life, until You take me into Your embrace."
Another deep breath, my pulse slowing, the silent place in me where the god lived opening like a flower. "Anubis et'her ka," I repeated, as blue light rose in one sharp flare. The god of Death took me, swallowed me whole-and I was simply, utterly glad.
The blue crystal walls of Death rose up, but I was not on the bridge over the well of souls. Instead, the crystal shaped itself into a Temple, a psychic echo of the place my body knelt in. Before me the god appeared in the cipher of a slim black dog, sitting back on His haunches and regarding me with His infinitely-starred black eyes.
I had not come here of my own accord since Jace's death.
I had wept. I had raged against Him, set my will against His, blamed Him, sobbed in Japhrimel's arms about the utter unfairness of it. Yet I know Death does not play favorites. He loves all equally, and when it is time, not all the grief of the living will dissuade His purpose.
This, then, my agony-how do I love my god and still rage against His will? How do I grieve and yet love Him?
Here I wore the white robe of the god's chosen, belted with silver dripping like fishscales. My knees pressed chill against blue crystal floor, the emerald burning against my cheek like a live brand. It was His mark, set in my skin by humans but still with His will, the gem that marked me as Death's chosen. I blessed whatever accident of genetics gifted me with the Power to walk in His realm and feel His touch.
I met His eyes. I was not bringing a soul back from Death, so I did not need the protection of cold steel-but my hand ached to close reflexively around a swordhilt. His gaze was blackness from lid to lid, starred with cold blue jewels of constellations none of the living would ever see and glazed with blue sheen. Galaxies died in Death's eyes as the god's attention rested on me, a huge burden for such a small being-though I was infinite enough in my own right, being His child. That in itself was a mystery, how I could contain the infinity of the god, and how He could contain my own endless soul.
He took the weight from me, certainty replacing the burden. I was His, I had always been His. From before my birth the god had set His hand upon me. He could no more abandon me than I could abandon Him. Though I had set my will against His, even cursed Him in the pain of my grief-and still, sometimes, did-He did not mind. He was my god, and would not desert me.
But there was Lucas, wasn't there? The man Death had turned His back on.
Thought became action instantly in this space; my question leapt, a thread of meaning laid in the receptive space between us, a cord stretched taut. The sound brushed through me, an immense church-bell gong of the god's laughter. The Deathless's path was not mine, Anubis reminded me. My path was my own, and my covenant with Death was always unbroken, no matter if I cursed him in my human grief.
I am clay-and if the clay cuts the hand of the potter who created it, who is to blame?
The meanings of His word burned through me, each stripping away a layer. So many layers, so many different things to fight through; each opening like a flower to the god. There was no other being, human, god, or demon, that I would bow my head in submission to. And so, my promise to Him. I accepted.
Excerpted from Saint City Sinners by Lilith Saintcrow Copyright © 2007 by Lilith Saintcrow. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Lilith Saintcrow was born in New Mexico, bounced around the world as an Air Force brat, and fell in love with writing when she was ten years old. She currently lives in Vancouver, WA.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I picked up this book after reading reviews from other readers saying that the series was going downhill with this book. I personally don't like to leave a series unfinished so I read it.
I loved this book. I think Dante is a more exciting character when Japhrimel isn't around to save her. I think the murder mystery subplot was well planned and was a nice break from demon hunting (even if the demons were still hunting her).
The only problem I had with this book is Dante's continuous indecision about whether or not to be with Japhrimel even after she has formally stated what she would do, however, that isn't enough to deter me from reading the next book or bring down the enjoyment of this one so I give it 4 stars!
I've read the previous 3 books in the series and enjoyed them for the most part, but this one I couldn't make it through. I kept cringing with Dante's choices thinking how all this could just be avoided with a little communication. I suppose that's part of her issues though. I'll pick it back up I'm sure but for now my rating is only 2/5 for the series going downhill imho.