An Extract from The Guardian
The Guardian is available to buy in bookshops nationwide from 3rd November 2011.
“All men while they are awake are in one common world. But each of them, when he is asleep, is in a world of his own.”
Hell had many meanings. Each one as unique as the individual who defined it. To one person, the idea of being trapped for eternity in a Michael Bolton video was the epitome of horror. To another, it was being stuck on an elevator with someone talking too loud on the cell phone and not being able to slaughter that person.
To Lydia, hell was the darkness surrounding her that echoed with the screams of the damned being tortured. It wasn’t just their loud misery or their pleas for mercy to the ones who didn’t care that made it so bad, it was the memories those screams evoked. The terror of something she never wanted to think about again. Long buried, those flashbacks of that one night and the bleeding emotions they exposed still had the ability to bring her to her knees.
Don’t think about it.
How could she not? That night had been the last time she’d had a family who loved her. Then, like now, she’d only been able to see the oppressive black that had made her eyes ache. The darkness had pressed so hard against her that she’d feared herself blind as well as mute. And when she’d finally breached it, all she’d found was blood and terror…
You’re not a pup anymore.
No, she was a jackal full grown. More than that, she was a well trained warrior with a thousand years of hard combat training behind her. There wasn’t a single soul in Azmodea who could harm her.
You forgot about Noir.
All right. There was one.
What about Azura?
Okay, two… She’d had much worse odds more times than she could count. Yeah, but they didn’t have the powers of a primary god.
Mind? Are you trying to turn me coward?
I’m trying to talk sense into you. We haven’t lived this long by being stupid- not with all the people out to kill us. And for what? A friend? What kind of idiot are you?
Apparently one of a limitless supply of stupidity. If it’d been anyone other than Solin trapped here, she’d have never agreed to this.
But she owed him too much. He’d taken her in when no one else would. Had trained her and stood by her. Taught her how to survive and how to fight. Without him, she would be dead.
Even he would call you stupid for this.
And he would too. Kindness is a rotten fruit that poisons anyone who partakes of it. Throw it in the face of your enemies and let it ruin them instead. How many times had he said that?
Yet, in spite of the hatred he’d carried and voiced, he’d raised her like a beloved daughter. Never once had he been stingy with his love, patience or kindness.
The human personality is defined by its inconsistences. Another favorite Solin quote. It’s what makes us unique and who we are. The sound of his voice in her head was enough to make her smile in spite of the danger she was in.
I’ve got to find him.
He would come for her if she needed it.
Lydia froze as her hyper hearing picked up on a slight sound to her left. Her nostrils widened as a new scent hit her. Male. Demon.
Don’t breathe… Don’t breathe…
Not because she didn’t want it to detect her. But because the stench would be sickening for a human. To a half breed Were-Hunter it was beyond painful. She clamped her fingers down to block it from getting in. Still, she could smell it.
Did they bathe in a pond of excrement? What was it about demons that made so many of them nauseating?
“My, my… what have we here? Didn’t realize I’d ordered delivery. How nice of you…” his words ended as she grabbed him by the throat.
To die for me. She finished his sentence in her head. But when she moved to stab him, he vanished from her grasp.
Lydia turned a small circle in the blackness, trying to get her bearings. She could no longer smell or hear him.
A piercing shriek drowned out the cries of the others. She clamped her hands over her ears. Just what I need. Bleeding eardrums. The shriek grew louder.
It was getting closer.
Something hard struck her back, knocking her down.
Even though it killed her, she dropped her hands and pulled her other dagger out. Here, demon, demon… come get a taste of steel.
The sound of slithering moved on her right. She ran for it, lashing out in a hope of striking whatever foe was there.
Instead of drawing their blood, she drew her own the minute she slammed into a door. Sonofa… She hissed at the pain exploding through her skull. Blood poured from her nose. She kicked at the offending door.
To her surprise, it slammed open, rattling on its hinges. Light flooded into her tiny space, temporarily blinding her. She blinked until her eyes adjusted then frowned at the sight of some luminescent tubing that provided the light. How weird. It vaguely reminded her of a glowstick, but this fluid was thicker and a vivid blue.
Now she could see the dank walls that appeared to bleed. She curled her lip in distaste. What was that?
Bet it’s what smells.
Nah, only demon toe funk could be this abhorrent. And speaking of demons, hers seemed to have vanished.
Where are you?
More to the point, where was Solin? She’d tried repeatedly to use her telepathy to contact him, but whatever was holding him had somehow blocked that ability. She couldn’t even reach him through a dream state. Which, given both of their powers, shouldn’t have been a problem.
She hated this feeling of being completely alone. It reminded her of those weeks in her childhood when she’d had no one.
We’re always alone. You can be in a crowded room and still feel the bite of loneliness. Personally, I find that it bites deepest whenever others are around. Another thing Solin had harped on.
She turned a corner and froze.
The smelly demon was back.
And it’d brought friends…
A lot of friends. Maybe two or three dozen. And the moment they saw her, their demonic eyes lit up and radiated color even brighter than the glowing tubes. They might as well have drool dripping from their chins.
She wasn’t a coward, but only a fool would face that number without backup. And she wasn’t a fool either. After throwing her right dagger at the tallest one, she turned and ran in the opposite direction. She hoped that knife made contact. But she wasn’t going to wait around and find out.
Rule one in pursuit. Never look back.
Instead, she put her head down and kept going. She skidded around a corner, into a new hallway. Here the light wasn’t quite as bright, but it was enough to let her see where the walls and doors were.
Unfortunately, it didn’t let her see the floor. Or the thing that tripped her up.
For a moment, she flew through the air until she landed face down on the floor. Putrid water splashed in her face as pain throbbed in her knee, stomach and cheek.
She pushed herself up and wiped away at the water and blood. Even though it hurt, she forced herself to start running again.
She could flea and return again to search later. At least that was the thought until she heard something familiar from behind the door to her left.
“Fuck you and your little dog too.”
Solin. She’d know that acerbic tone and deep Greek accent anywhere. Smiling in spite of her pain, she opened the door, ready for battle.
What she wasn’t ready for was the giant… whatever it was that was trying to eat him. A mass of dark green skin with red markings, the demon turned toward her.
And this one did salivate as its yellow eyes pinned her with a salacious stare that gave her dancing heebie jeebies. Not on your best day, buster!
“Lydia?” Solin asked incredulously. He was beaten so badly that but for his voice, she’d have never been able to identify him. “Child, what are you doing? Get the hell out of here while you can.”
Not without you. She sent her thoughts to him.
“I taught you better than that. Survival Rule Number One.”
Save your own ass above all others. She knew it well. But someone following that rule wouldn’t tell a rescuer to flee before freeing them.
Raising her knife, she rushed at the demon. He moved a lot faster than something his size should be able to do. With an impressive twist, he dodged her attack completely and caught her from behind.
She tried to break out of his hold. It was like being drowned in sticky jello.
He laughed at her useless attempts. If that was bad enough, he licked her cheek. “What a tasty little morsel you are.”
She cringed. For the sake of the gods, haven’t any of you heard of breath mints?
Pardon the pun, but Altoids could make a mint down here.
She slammed her head back and at least this time he satisfied her with a deep groan.
“You’ll be sorry for that.” He lifted her off her feet and slammed her down on the floor.
Lydia flipped herself back to her feet, then winced at the fierce pain that shot through her body.
“Don’t do this, Dee. Don’t.”
She ignored Solin as she and the demon circled each other slowly. Just when she started in for another attack, the demon vaporized from in front of her. She turned to look for him, but before she could do more than draw breath, he appeared behind her and kicked her into the wall.
More agony slammed into her, dulling her sight. The demon seized her.
“It’s over for you, kitten.” He tightened his grip, squeezing the last of the breath from her lungs.
Her ears started buzzing.
Just as she was sure he’d kill her, she heard a loud shout resonate off the walls. “Release her. Now.”
Definitely not Solin. That deep, gravelly voice was unique.
The demon let go and stepped back.
Coughing, she turned around, putting her back to the wall to confront this new creature. She wiped the sweat from her eyes and focused them on the door.
Holy mother of all electronics…
I am done for now.