HELL BOUND, Andrew P. Weston's diabolical and horrific new novel of the underverse from Perseid Press...
Frederic Chopin, Dr. Thomas Neill Cream, and the most despicable souls ever cast into hell face Daemon Grim, Satan's bounty hunter in HELL BOUND, the Heroes in Hell novel by bestselling author of The IX, Andrew P. Weston.
Perseid Press invites you to meet Daemon Grim, if you dare...
"You should know by now how dark my soul is. Even in the best of times...
I can't be tempted or reasoned with.
I don't feel sorrow or remorse. And never express a shred of sympathy for anyone I'm sent to reap."
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By Andrew P. Weston
Perseid PressCopyright © 2015 Janet Morris and Andrew P. Weston
All rights reserved.
No Rest for the Wicked
A hollow, rhythmic reverberation imposed itself upon ancient solitude.
Ching! Ching! Ching! Ching!
Penetrating the rocks, each resonant chime grew in pitch and volume. Grit and shingle that had lined the roof of the vault for an age became dislodged, adding its substance to the layer of dust and grime already coating the floor.
The assault continued. Disturbed from their rest, heavier pebbles fell from once sturdy emplacements. Inevitably, the growing cascade attracted larger clods of mixed earth and stone. A hole appeared, illuminating the interior with filtered gray and yellow phosphorescence. Ruddy overtones and sporadic roaring from beyond the makeshift ocular indicated conditions outside the cavern were far from ideal.
The rim widened and a hand encroached into the sanctuary, armed with a long cylindrical object.
A bright concentrated ray of light stabbed down. After circling the chamber once, it withdrew, only to be replaced by the weighted end of a rope ladder. Knotted rungs squeaked under the weight of the new arrival, and their protests created a tremulous counterpoint against deeper grunts of physical exertion.
Nearing the bottom, the intruder interrupted his descent to survey his surroundings.
Like an ethereal searchlight, the beam from the torch washed across the interior of the room until it came to rest on the goal of this day's efforts.
"Well, well, well," an incredulous voice spluttered, "the dreams would appear to be accurate after all. And there's me thinking I'd finally gone and lost it."
Chuckling, the adventurer released his grip and dropped the final few feet to the floor. Slight of build and dressed as he was in nineteenth-century garb, his formal jacket and bowtie seemed oddly out of place with his environment.
With a reverential air, he walked toward the bizarre image before him. As he did so, he subconsciously flexed his fingers and massaged his hands, as if his exertions had cost him dear.
Arriving at his prize, he paused to contemplate the scene.
A huge effigy, over twelve feet in height, dominated the center of the cavity. Depicting two giant beings locked in mortal combat, it looked as if they had been impaled upon an incredibly long weapon of mystic origin.
Hmm. It appears to me that my friends were fused together at the moment of their deaths. Calcified bone to carbonized flesh, the perfect congruence of good and evil.
The explorer staggered as a shockwave from another eruption pulsated through the region. Once it had passed, he reached out to caress the device that had immortalized the pair forever. His gesture disturbed a skin of ash overlaying the metamorphosed relic. The crust crumbled at his touch, revealing the gleaming hilt of a huge sword. A jewel in its pommel flared in the dark, filling the cavern with a cold, electric-blue radiance.
Can it be true?
Closing his eyes, the overawed soul grasped the gem in both hands. In moments, the power contained within the artifact had imbued him with a hint of its potential.
He released it and backed away, grinning.
"Oh my," he hissed to himself, "with this, the success of my aspirations is virtually guaranteed. Not only will it mean I'll be able to stay one step ahead of His Infernal Asshole's bounty hunter, but it confirms that my intelligence about Grim himself is correct. I'll bait him and tempt him and dangle him on a string until he explodes with frustration. Then, once I've led him to me, I'll have the luxury of a choice ..."
Elated, the mystery intruder fingered the unusual bracelet adorning his wrist.
"Then we'll be reunited at last."
A rare moment of lucidity heightened the reality of the situation he faced.
"Of course, the execution of my plan is fraught with peril and unseen hurdles. But now I know I can trust the visions, perhaps the other, more arduous route will also furnish me with the outcome I desire. After all, Cream has served his usefulness ..."
His mind made up, the tomb raider removed a simple pocketknife from within the folds of an inside pocket, and advanced upon his prize once more.
* * *
For one of my regular nightmares, this particular dream was incredibly realistic. Both focused and lucid, it was so vivid that a full range of everyday sights, sounds and sensations washed over me.
Despite this, I knew it was only a fantasy. It had to be. For in it, I commanded legions of angels with a mighty hand. Flying above a battlefield of utter ruination, I led a charge that unleashed death and destruction upon God's foes. Thunderbolts raged through the heavens. Screams of outrage and terror pierced the clamor, and the distinctive aroma of ozone and incinerated quintessence filled the air.
Nothing everyday about it at all, really.
This nightmare was glorious. But it was anathema. Recoiling from my dilemma, I fought against the tide threatening to sweep me away. A tongue of vermillion flame blazed from the darkness, sundering my connection to the vision. Free at last, I fought my way back to consciousness.
Heart thudding, my eyes snapped open. The darkened but familiar surroundings of my bedroom met my eager gaze.
I've been away too long. Once I'm up and about, I'll check in with the guys and then arrange with the Boss for a dose of Bãlefire. There's bound to be a whole pile of new contracts waiting for me, so it'll be best to resume my duties with all guns blazing.
I was about to relax again when I noticed the drapes curling indolently in the breeze. Then a stronger cool draft of air intruded, and teased the hairs along the exposed flesh of my torso and legs.
I don't remember leaving the shutter open ...
Intrigued, I slid quietly out of bed, padded buck-naked across to the window, and drew back the curtains. Sure enough, one of the stained glass vents had been unclasped and jammed open with what looked like a folded piece of card, allowing the soothing gloom of a brand new day in the underworld to filter, unhindered, into my room.
I wasn't too concerned. My suite took up the entire top floor of the southeastern corner of Black Tower, in what mortals would call the Tower of London. But that was a literal lifetime away. In the netherworld, we call this ancient fortress the Den of Iniquity — or the Den for short. Located at the center of the sprawling edifice that was Olde London Town, within the Juxtapose level of hell, it was a fitting tribute to one of the greatest symbols of oppression ever completed by William the Conqueror, for here my department and I wielded authority.
As Satan's bounty hunter, it was my job to run rebels down and reel them in. For those especially difficult assignments, I'd employ the services of my personal posse of trackers: Nimrod, Champ Ferguson, and Yamato Takeru. Known collectively as the Hell Hounds, the mere mention of their names struck fear into the festering hearts of Juxtapose's every denizen. And well it should, for my team was ruthlessly efficient and showed no mercy.
But as infamous as the Hell Hounds were, there was another section under my jurisdiction which the simpering masses feared more.
On those occasions when someone gained unauthorized access to sensitive information, or was stupid enough to really piss off His Infernal Majesty, their reassignment would most likely be deferred. Such instances were rare, true, but when they happened the Boss usually allowed the Inquisitors to come out to play.
And play they did.
The extraction of information — as well as teeth, blood, nails, and all manner of other bodily fluids and appendages — was their business. They were very good at it.
Sequestered in Blood Tower along the inner ramparts of the southern wall, the Inquisitors ensured only the darkest and most despicable standards of foul play were meted out. So enthusiastic were they in the application of their arts that very often there was hardly enough essence remaining in their victims' mutilated remains for the Undertaker to work his magic.
Yes, an ambiance of morbid dread saturated these environs, and the regular serenade provided by the ululating shrieks and screams of those being tortured only exacerbated the atmosphere.
No wonder the rank and file avoided this place like the plague.
Thus, as I looked across the smog-laden, filth-stained rooftops toward the city itself, I wasn't too concerned that someone might have gone to the bother of breaching my inner and outer defenses, scaling the walls, and opening a window, just to scare me. I get death threats all the time. They come with the job.
"Death threats." I snorted in barely restrained contempt. "Bloody idiots! Most of them still think we're alive in some way, and cling vainly to what remains of their humanity. As if that will ever count in their favor in a place like this."
I leaned across the sill and inhaled the fetid stench of rot and decay. Up above, the dusky glow of Paradise fought to pierce the gloom but, as usual, its pathetic attempts only served to halo the clouds in a repulsive golden-yellow backdrop. Down below, a flock of ravens took flight as a plaintive howl issued from the dungeons.
Someone's started work early.
The cry rose into the air before being snatched away on the breeze.
Thank purgatory I'm back where I belong. I took another deep breath and smiled. This is where I was meant to be.
That same gust of wind knocked the window shutter against the ancient granite of the tower's buttress. The impact caused the wedge holding it in place to fall loose. Dropping to the floor, it bounced once with a crisp scrunching noise and came to rest against my feet.
I glanced at the offending article and noticed it wasn't card at all, but thick, expensive paper.
Are those letters?
Retrieving the parchment, I unfolded it, marveling at its texture.
Hey! This stuff is luxuriant and hard to come by. Most of those wanting to make a statement in New Hell go for vellum made of human skin. But this? This looks handmade. And the characters are exquisite.
Written in blood, the words of a poem called to me:
I will catch these stars of midnight black,
Of foulest thoughts
In mirrored halls of polished sheen,
Where exquisite acts of murder sublime
Foster rose-blood gardens,
Reaped upon a sea of bitter dread.
I know what you are, chrysalis,
And what you purport to be.
For scarlet blooms and accusations
Shadow your every step,
And memory's ancient wrath
Will seal the fate of your immortal coil.
"Yup," I chuckled, "another death threat, and a prosaic one at that. Where do they get this drivel?"
I was about to toss this latest waste of time into the bin when I noticed something distinctive about it. Holding the passage up to the light, I confirmed my suspicions.
Look at that! The writing markedly deteriorates as the verse progresses. It's almost as if the author was in a rush to finish, or something marred his hand.
My deliberations were interrupted by a soft growl of frustration from the other side of the room. "Are you coming back to bed, or what?"
All thoughts of intrigue forgotten, I dropped the note and looked toward the source of the query: Strawberry Fields. She lay like a goddess, curled across my black satin sheets, where her venetian-blonde hair had fanned out to form a halo of fire about her. A heat matched only by the color of her lips and the first flush of arousal now gracing the surface of her radiant and incredibly curvy flesh.
Among the elite of Hellonian society, we were allowed the luxury of unrestrained sex. Just as well. Strawberry was one of my best Inquisitors, and one of the few people I could make physical contact with. Her appetites were as inventive as they were demanding.
Not that I minded. The Boss had imbued me with a whole arsenal of arcane and physical attributes; among them, increased reactions, stamina, and strength, as well as the ability to heal quickly. Such enhancements were necessary to allow me to fulfill my duties unhindered.
Of course, at times like this, I had a whole host of additional perks to enjoy.
Green eyes blinked open, and an insidious look crossed a set of impeccably formed features. Strawberry uncoiled herself from the covers, exposing flawless porcelain skin and perfectly formed breasts.
"Get your body over here," she purred. "My first interrogation isn't for an hour yet, so we've just got time to — "
Her most welcome invitation was drowned out by the shrill interruption of a phone ringing.
Hellfire! Whoever that is better have a damned good reason for calling.
Without shifting my gaze from the bittersweet promise of perversion and pain before me, I stomped across the room, fiddled for the deck, and then snatched it from its cradle.
"Yes?" I snapped. "Who is this?"
"Ah, Daemon Grim," announced an oily, nasally whine. "I thought I might find you still ensconced within the splendors of your most magnificent castle."
I recognized the smug, arrogant bastard on the other end of the line straight away. We hated each other with a passion, and his voice always reminded me of nails grating down a chalkboard. He realized that, and used his advantage as often as he could, for he knew I would never willingly communicate with him telepathically.
When I didn't reply immediately, he continued: "With a lady friend, are you? Do apologize to Strawberry on my behalf for interrupting her meal, but I'm afraid she'll have to satisfy her urges elsewhere, and at another time."
Is he daring to read my mind?
"What the fuck do you want?" I growled, slamming my mental barriers into place at the same time. "I'm busy."
The disdain in his reply was evident. In fact, I could envisage a sneer stretching its way across his ugly mug right this second.
"You heard me. Think of it as recharging my batteries after a successful hunt. I'm back at work later today. If you've got a retrieval request, submit it through proper channels like everyone else."
"Ah yes, about that successful hunt. Would you be so kind as to drag your sorry ass over to my mortuary? On the double would be more than sufficient. We've things to discuss."
"What's the matter?" I retorted. "Aren't you happy with the latest batch of freshers from topside? Not good enough for you?"
"On the contrary, I've spent the last few days giving them a cursory examination, and they'll prove more than suitable. His Satanic Majesty seems enamored by one Josephine Abigail Reed in particular. How did he refer to her ...? Ah yes, 'a Black Widow among spiderlings, if ever there was one.' As much as it pains me to admit it, you did very well — "
"Good." I was becoming impatient with the obvious maneuvering by one of the biggest backstabbers in the underverse. "So what's your problem? And who do you think you are, imagining for one moment you can tell me to drop everything and come halfway around hell just to satisfy your overblown sense of self-importance?"
A moment's silence followed before the Undertaker finally revealed his hand:
"The list is — how can I say this — a little short?"
Eh? "Short? Look, I've only been back three days, and in the hectic carnival that always follows such a mission, I simply haven't had time to catch up on everything. Stop frigging about and get to the point."
"If you insist," he simpered. "While the latest recruits were indeed satisfactory, I'm afraid to say your list was missing the cream off the top."
Cream off ...? The penny dropped.
Even when alive, Dr. Thomas Neill Cream had possessed all the virtues we looked for in a potential Hellonian. Although a qualified doctor, he was nonetheless a narcissistic sociopath who'd used his skills as a backstreet abortionist to purge the dregs of nineteenth-century London with an élan both detached and merciless. His proclivity was best expressed by his habit of poisoning his victims and then staying to watch, so he could enjoy the prolonged misery of their slow and painful deaths.
Reviled as the Lambeth Poisoner, Cream had such a penchant for celebrity that he basked in the notoriety bestowed upon him by the mistaken belief he might be Jack the Ripper — a myth publicly dispelled shortly before his death by hanging in 1892.
Although we welcomed him with open arms, Cream was never one to accept the fact that, in a place like this, he'd never be top dog. So he did something monumentally stupid in an attempt to boost his standing.
Not only did Cream manage to drug Satan with one of his foulest concoctions, he also took something from His Diabolical Majesty. This item was extremely sensitive. Designed to serve as an inducement, and to lure rebellious hearts and test their loyalty, even the knowledge of the artifact's existence was a closely guarded secret, limited to a privileged few.
Cream simply wasn't important enough to be on that list.
That's where I came in. Dispatched with all haste to retrieve both Cream and the article he'd stolen, I managed to track him down and ensure that any evidence relating to the fiasco was brutally sanitized. No one else would ever discover how close the Boss had come to public embarrassment.
Of course, job done, I'd consigned Cream's sorry ass back to where it belonged.
At least, I thought I had.
Taken unawares, I gasped, "Are you saying Cream never arrived?"
Excerpted from Hell Bound by Andrew P. Weston. Copyright © 2015 Janet Morris and Andrew P. Weston. Excerpted by permission of Perseid Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: No Rest for the Wicked,
Chapter 2: Slab A,
Chapter 3: The Game's Afoot,
Chapter 4: Breadcrumbs,
Chapter 5: Perish the Thought,
Chapter 6: A Step in the Right Direction,
Chapter 7: Beginning of the End,
Chapter 8: The Sphincter,
Chapter 9: Fish to Fry,
Chapter 10: A Hard Lesson,
Chapter 11: Discoveries,
Chapter 12: Just What the Doctor Ordered,
Chapter 13: Covenant Gardens,
Chapter 14: A Moment of Clarity,
Chapter 15: Consequences,
Chapter 16: Testing the Water,
Chapter 17: An Unexpected Journey,
Chapter 18: Where Vipers Bite,
Chapter 19: Divided Loyalties,
Chapter 20: There's No Time Like the Present,
Chapter 21: Cirque du Freak,
Chapter 22: Storm in a Teacup,
Chapter 23: The Isle of Cogs,
Chapter 24: Eggs in a Basket,
Chapter 25: The Angel Grislington,