Dante Valentine has been through Hell. Literally. Her body shattered and her mind not far behind, she's dumped back into her own world to survive--or not--as a pawn in one of Lucifer's endless games.
Unfortunately, he's just messed with the wrong Necromance. And this time she's mad enough to do something about it. This time, the Devil will pay.
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December 31, 2007
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Excerpt from To Hell and Back by Lilith Saintcrow
Darkness closed velvet over me, broken only by the flame of a scar burning, burning, against my shoulder. I do not know how I wrenched myself free, I only know that I did, before the last and worst could be done to me.
But not soon enough.
I heard myself scream, one last cry that shattered into pieces before I escaped to the only place left to me, welcome unconsciousness.
As I fell.
Cold. Wherever I was, it was cold. Hardness underneath me. I heard a low buzzing sound and passed out again, sliding away from consciousness like a marble on a reactive-greased slope. The buzzing followed, became a horde of angry bees inside my head, a deep and awful rattling whirr shaking my teeth loose, splitting my bones with hot lead.
The buzzing faded, receding bit by bit like waves sliding away from a rocky shore. I moaned again, rolled over. My cheek pressed chill hardness. Tears trickled hot out of my eyes. My shields shivered, rent and useless, a flooding tide of sensation and thought from the outside world roaring through my brain as I convulsed, instinct pulling my tissue-thin defenses together, drowning in the current. Where was I?
I had no prayers left.
Even if I'd had one, there would be no answer. The ultimate lesson of a life spent on the edge of Power and violence--when the chips are down, sunshine, you're on your own.
Slowly, so slowly, I regained my balance. A flood of human thought smashed rank and foul against my broken shields, roaring through my head, and I pushed it away with a supreme effort, trying to think. I made my eyes open. Dark shapes swirled, coalesced. I heard more, a low noise of crowds and hovertraffic, formless, splashing like the sea. Felt a tingle and trickle of Power against my skin.
Oh, gods. Remind me not to do that again. Whatever it was. The thought sounded like me, the tough, rational, practical me, over a deep screaming well of panic. What happened to me?
Am I hungover?
That made me laugh. It was unsteady, hitching, tired hilarity edged with broken glass, but I welcomed it. If I was laughing, I was okay.
Not really. I would never be okay again. My mind shuddered, flinching away from . . . something. Something terrible. Something I could not think about if I wanted to keep the fragile barrier between myself and a screaming tide of insanity.
I pushed it away. Wrestled it into a dark corner and closed the door.
That made it possible to think a little more clearly.
I blinked. Shapes became recognizable, the stink of dying human cells filling my nose again. Wet warmth trickled down my cheeks, painted my upper lip. I tasted spoiled fruit and sweetness when I licked my lips.
Blood. I had a face covered in blood, and my clothes were no better than rags, if I retained them at all. My bag clinked as I shifted, its broken strap reknotted and rasping between my breasts. I blinked more blood out of my eyes, stared up at a brick wall. It was night, and the wall loomed at a crazy angle because I lay twisted like a rag doll, pretty-much-naked against the floor of an alley.
Alley. I'm in an alley. From the way it smells, it's not a nice one either. Trust me to end up like this.
It was a sane thought, one I clung to even as I shivered and jolted, my entire body rebelling against the psychic assault of so many minds shoving against me, a surfroar of screaming voices. Not just my body but my mind mutinied, bucking like a runaway horse as the something returned, huge and foul, boiling up through layers of shock. Beating at the door I had locked against it.
Oh gods, please. Someone please. Anyone. Help me.
I moaned, the sound bouncing off bricks, and the mark on my shoulder suddenly blazed with soft heat, welling out through my aching body. I hurt everywhere, as if I'd been torn apart and put back together wrong. The worst hurt was a deep drilling ache low in the bowl of my pelvis, like the world's worst menstrual cramp.
I could not think about that. My entire soul rose in rebellion. I could not remember what had been done to me.
The rips in my shields bound themselves together, tissue-thin, but still able to keep me sane. The scar pulsed, crying out like a beacon, a flaming black-diamond fountain tearing into the ambient Power of the cityscape. The first flare knocked me flat against the ground again, stunned and dazed. Successive pulses arrived, each working in a little deeper than the last, but not so jolting.
Breathe. Just breathe. I clung to the thought, shutting my eyes as the world reeled under me. I made it up to hands and knees, my palms against slick greasy concrete as I retched. I don't usually throw up unless poisoned, but I felt awful close.