To mark the release of All Who Wander Are Lost, the second book in my Icarus Fell series, I will be offering the new book for only $0.99 until July 31. For anyone who can’t afford it, or wants to be sure it is worthwhile to spend that much on a book, here’s a sneak peek of what to expect.
Despite the footsteps I’d heard, Marty and Todd stood only a few paces behind the murderous priest. They looked like overweight dancers from the set of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, with decaying flesh hanging from their cheeks and pus oozing out of more places than my stomach could bear counting.
“Hey guys, looking good.”
I went to stand but Father Dominic planted his foot squarely in my gut. Air whooshed out of my chest and I crumpled to the ground gasping for breath. Marty made his angry face and took a couple of steps forward like he wanted to add his size twelve to my midsection but the priest extended an arm to hold him back. I’d rarely felt thankful for anything that bastard did, but I extended him the courtesy this time, though I wouldn’t have told him so, even if I possessed the ability to speak.
“Leave him,” Father Dominic grated. “I had you bring him so I could make him pay for what he’s done.”
To put an exclamation point on his words, he kicked me again. The sliver of thankfulness I’d felt melted back into the pool of hatred I carried in my belly for the man. I promised to get back at him by groaning and drooling on myself.
Marty backed off a step and the three of them stood staring at me like I was some sideshow attraction at the local freak show. Slowly, I unfolded myself from the fetal position the priest’s kicks put me in and clawed my way to kneeling while remaining wary of Father Dominic’s feet. This wasn’t the first time he’d kicked me—that distinction dated back to my childhood and had been renewed a few months ago—but I was determined to see it afforded a good chance of being the last.
While I was distracted watching for kicks, he reached out, grabbed the front of my shirt with both grubby hands, and hauled me to my feet. He stood a few inches shorter than me but still lifted me high enough the toes of my shoes scraped the ground.
“It seems like you’re still upset with me, Father.”
In answer, he shook me and showed his teeth.
“It’s not my fault. I didn’t make you kill anyone.”
“If you’d taken my soul like you were supposed to, none of this would have happened.”
His statement was a finger-poke to an open wound. If I’d done my stupid job, he wouldn’t be here, Beth, Tony and the others wouldn’t have been here, and neither would I.
Neither would Trevor.
The priest glanced over his shoulder at his two disheveled minions lurking behind him.
“Go find something else to do. Leave Icarus to me.”
“Ric. I really prefer you call me Ric.”
He shook me hard, rattling my back teeth together and leaving me a little dazed. As my eyeballs settled themselves back into place, I watched Marty and Todd slouching away. I raised my hand and waved bye-bye, but they weren’t looking.
Father Dominic lowered my feet back to the ground and pulled my face close to his, then opened his mouth to speak. His breath smelled like Hell. I clenched my teeth and pulled my face back in readiness for his tirade, or perhaps a head butt to the face.
“Take me back.”
I blinked twice rapidly and shook my head to clear it. Instead of swearing, cursing, calling me names or verbally degrading me, I thought I’d heard him say ‘take me back.’
“I know why you’re here.”
“Wish I could say the same thing.”
“You’re here to rescue souls sent to Hell because of you. I’m one of those souls. Take me back.”
His grip on my shirt front loosened and he backed away a couple of steps. The expression on his face changed from leering menace to a look of desperation, longing.
“After everything you did to me, I’m supposed to be your salvation?”
For a second, he looked like I’d punched him. For years, I’d often wished I had, but I resisted the urge—it seemed like there might be better ways to hurt him right now.
“This could be your own salvation, Icarus.”
He added a sibilance to the last letter of my name, highlighting the fact that he refused to call me Ric—one more reason to leave the bastard rotting away in Hell, like he deserved. I didn’t regret letting Azrael take his soul because of what it meant to him, only because it caused harm to others.
I stepped closer, feeling like I possessed the power now. I had what he wanted.
“Forget it. You got what you deserved.”
He grasped the front of my shirt again, but this time with no violence in the action, only pleading.
“You have to take me to Heaven.”
“No, I don’t.”
He released my shirt and sank to his knees looking up at me, clenched hands held in front of his chest.
I suppressed a smile.
“Please take me.”
I made a show of rubbing my chin, considering my options. I shifted from one foot to the other, scratched my head, then went back to my chin again.
“And you think you deserve to go to Heaven?”
“I am God’s servant.”
“And God’s servant kills people?”
“That wasn’t my fault.”
He looked over his shoulder like a man expecting someone behind him, listening in. I glanced around, too, but there was nothing but flat plains for miles in every direction—no way for anyone to sneak up and eavesdrop.
“He made me do it.”
I had a pretty good idea who he meant, but I wanted him to say it.
“Who made you do it?”
The priest shook his head and dropped his gaze to the ground. He may have whispered something but, if he did, it was too quiet to hear.
“Tell me and I’ll think about saving you.”
He shook his head harder, refusing to speak the name. What’s the big deal? I knew Azrael was behind it; he’d orchestrated Father Dominic’s murderous rampage to steal my soul back from Mikey.
Why won’t he just tell me?
“What’s the big deal? Why won’t you just tell me?”
Being afraid of the archangel in life, I understood, but when you’re already in Hell, how much worse could it get? Not for the first time, I wondered if more was going on here than I realized.
Father Dominic’s shoulders trembled and I thought he might be crying.
“Are you crying?”
He raised his eyes and glared at me, the tears on his cheeks shimmering in the red-orange light. The muscles in his jaw bunched and released, bunched and released.
“Take me with you.”
His voice was low and firm, lacking the begging tone smothering it a moment before. He lowered his hands, held them at his side clenched into fists. He didn’t stand.
I looked him directly in the eyes and saw the hatred he felt for me burning deep inside them. Pictures of me as a child being punished, degraded, abused seemed to flicker across their bloodshot surfaces. The look on my face must have given away the fact I’d seen them dancing in his irises because the bastard smiled.
“No.” I crossed my arms in front of my chest. “Burn in Hell.”
The priest jumped straight from his knees to his feet like a child might have been made to do in P.E. class. I snapped into a fighting stance, ready for him and looking forward to kicking his ass all over Hell, but he disappointed me. Instead of coming at me, fists flailing, he threw his arms up in the air, hands open, fingers crooked. I stared, confused. For a second, nothing happened except for Father Dominic looking melodramatic, then the ground trembled beneath my feet.
An earthquake in Hell? A Hellquake?
Probably not terribly unusual but the timing to go along with the warped priest’s gesture threw a scare into me. I stumbled back a step out of surprise and Father Dominic repeated the gesture. The ground shook harder. I looked around, frantic, searching for the nearest doorway under which to cower like we’d been taught as kids but, of course, there were none. There was nothing at all.
Until the rock walls rose out of the ground.
They pushed straight up toward the sky, each looking like a daisy growing in the spring, filmed in time-lapse photography on the nature channel. I blundered in a rough circle, buffeted back by the rock walls on all sides. They rose up twelve feet, fifteen feet, twenty, their sides sheer and smooth like unpolished marble. The rumble of rock grinding against rock rattled my eardrums and I threw my hands against the sides of my head to protect them.
Above it all, I heard the priest cackling like the maniac I’d always known him to be.
When the ground’s reverberations ceased, I stood hunched with my hands over my ears for a few seconds, waiting to see if the ground would quake again. It didn’t, so I lowered my hands and glanced around.
I wasn’t surrounded on all sides, but close enough. The gray clouds roiled above my head, a misty whirlpool in the sky. A stone hallway stretched out before me, the demon-priest standing twenty feet away, leering at me, yellow teeth exposed, black eyes gleaming.
“What have you done?” I attempted to sound unconcerned. I didn’t. I wasn’t.
“You should have agreed to take me back.”
“What have you done?”
The maniac smile clung to his face like a baby gorilla hanging on to its mother for dear life and, to really piss me off, he threw in an equally maniacal laugh. It did the job.
I lunged forward, legs pumping as my feet churned and slipped in the fresh scree created by the growing rocks. They found purchase after a second and I shot forward, determined to tackle the priest and show him how I really felt, in case I’d missed making it obvious up to this point. Dominic’s evil smile broadened and he tensed, readying to receive whatever I threw at him. I decided on a roundhouse punch.
My fist looped forward and, at the last second, the priest waved his hand and the air in front of him shimmered then went opaque. My fist and face ran into the freshly minted rock wall at approximately the same instant and I fell back on my ass, dazed.
I lay on my back, watching the ugly sky as a trickle of blood ran down the side of my face from a nose I wouldn’t need a doctor to tell me was broken. At least it distracted me from my throbbing hand. When the world stopped spinning, I saw Father Dominic perched atop the wall, staring down at me. With some effort, I climbed to my feet, though I must have looked like someone fresh off the Mad Hatter’s teacup ride at Disneyland.
“What did you do?”
The priest spread his arms, gesturing at the area around me.
“Take a look,” he said. “I think you’ll find I’ve done a fine job.”
I did as he said and glanced at the walls on all sides of me. The one I’d run into was solid, but the others all had openings. A long passage ran from one; the second had a short corridor which took a hard left and went out of sight; the third ran for fifteen feet finishing in a dead-end. It took a few seconds for my addled brain to clear enough to realize what I saw.
“That’s right, Icarus. A labyrinth. A maze. There’s a way out, but it might take you eternity to find it.”
He stood on the top of the wall towering twenty-five feet over my head, looming, laughing.
“I was your last chance. You’ll never get out of Hell now, priest,” I said feeling silly and impotent shaking my fist at him.
“Neither will you. Bet you wished you had wings now, don’t you, Icarus?”
He jumped down to the opposite side of the wall, laughter trailing after him. I gritted my teeth and clenched my fist then cringed at the pain both caused. After a few deep breaths, I opened my mouth, intending to make fun of the priest for screwing up his mythology—the labyrinth was on Crete, a maze meant to keep the minotaur for King Minos. Nothing to do with Icarus. The words burbled near my lips when I remembered my own readings: Daedalus built the labyrinth—Icarus’ father.
I hate Greek mythology.
If you haven’t got the first book yet, On Unfaithful Wings will be free for your Kindle July 19-21. You know that’s worth paying!