To break some of my silence, here’s an excerpt (well, the draft of the first chapter) of one of my projects, the Hellbound series.
No Turning Back
Giant, heavy gates stand before me. They are covered in figures, intricate, complex figures that run across the iron surface of the doors, so real I can almost swear some of them are reaching out to me. The voices in my head scream impossibly loud and I take a hand to my temples to steady myself. The taints had never responded to something this way before. These are truly the Gates of Hell.
“From this plane, there are two ways to get into hell,” says Balammintur. “One is when you die and your soul belongs there; the other is to simply cross the Gates.”
I look at him from the corner of my eye. Even though we haven’t been travelling for more than a couple of days, my cloak and clothes are completely covered in dust and my skin is dirty, whereas he looks immaculate from head to toe. “Is there a way into Heaven?” I ask.
“Heaven is full of self-righteous beings who believe you shouldn’t have a physical way to get there. Only after you die and if your soul belongs there can you reach Heaven.” The disgust on Balammintur’s voice is evident as he speaks. Like all devils, he hates celestial beings. There’s only another kind of beings he hates more and it’s demons. He can’t really help it—it’s been infused in his nature, a long time ago, by the Gods. To stop the creatures of Hell from rising against them in Heaven, they split them in half and gave each part a taint: a taint that would drive them to murder one another.
I guess it doesn’t help Balammintur that I’m half demon. Earlier today, he even confessed to wanting to kill me these past two days. He just can’t help the urge to close his hands around my throat and squeeze the life out of me. The only reason he didn’t is because, aside from being half-demon, I’m also half-devil and while a part of Balammintur tells him to kill me, the other tells him to protect me.
It’s a complicated duo, the taints I have within me. At all times, they’re whispering, screaming, shouting. Right now, one’s begging me to kill Balammintur, while the other is ordering me to stop. The voices are in my head, at all times, andthey’re always like this, always at odds with one another. Sometimes, I’m not sure which one is which, nor of who is telling the truth and who’s lying. They’re always there, always whispering and screaming and commanding, one lying and the other telling the truth. It’s maddening, really. Most of the time, I just want to claw my face out and tear the hair off my head. Often, the voices lead to fits, where I shout nonsense and roll on the floor. Thanks to those spells, my classmates back in New Gewnnpoint had even taken to calling me Iriae, Lady of the Mad.
Yes, I had trouble with the voices—and that had been in the Primal Plane. Now, I’m in Purgatory, ready to cross the Gates of Hell and throw myself into a land where the taints reign supreme. The madness in me will increase and I don’t know if I’ll even be able to walk. However, I have to try. For my parents, who have surrendered themselves – my mother to the devils, my father to the demons – to keep both factions of Hell away from me. I have to know if they’re still alive and if that demon invading my school to hunt me wasn’t a fluke. I sincerely hoped he was. The opposite would mean my father was now dead and the demons could come after me whenever they wanted.
Therefore, the first order of business was to find if my parents were alive. The second one was to find a way of freeing them from their bonds and taints.
I turn to Balammintur and examine his profile for a moment. He has sharp, strong features, hair as black as ink and if his red cat-like eyes weren’t so spooky, he’d be completely handsome. “So, I just cross them?” I ask, taking a hand to the metal of the doors, touching a sculpted head.
“Yes,” Balammintur replies.
I push softly and the door opens just a slit under my fingers. I hold my breath and widen the opening. I knew the theories behind portals, but I’ve never been through one. As I look beyond the door, which is now halfway open, and I see only a plunging tunnel. I turn back. Balammintur’s spine is set very straight and his arms are crossed over his broad chest. One of the voices reminds me he’s a powerful devil, and it makes me think. I’ve actually been pretty curious as to why he’d personally bring me here. He could’ve just dumped me in Enoch and tell me to go to Hell—and I would have found a way to go, literally.
However, he’d come all this way with me. I ask him why, my voice surprisingly steady and strong.
“You are the future of Hell,” he says, a smirk on his face. His words startle me and so does his expression. He has very sharp teeth, and I can’t help but think of a tiger, ready to strike. He looks that predatory.
“What do you mean?”
“There is an old story,” he tells me. “One about the true child of Hell, the one which will unite demons and devils under her banner. She will make them one again and she’ll guide them to a war against Heaven. Are you familiar with it?”
I have never heard of such a tale—and the taints have taught me many. “No,” I answer truthfully.
“Well, you should be, little Iriae,” he says. He has called me ‘little Iriae’ from the day we met. When I asked him about it, he said it’s because I’m so young. It’s true, in a way. Sixteen is young, especially when your mother’s an elf. However, I’ve never felt young. Not with the voices I constantly hear in my head, voices whose sounds have cost me a childhood.
“Why?” I ask.
“Because I believe you’re at the heart of it.” He is so certain when he tells me this, so unwavering in his conviction that, for a moment, I believe him. One of the taints does, too, but the other denies it with all its might.
I smile faintly, tired of this constant fight over my brain. “I highly doubt that. The taints tend to agree when the central aspect of a discussion is my well-being. They don’t now.”
“Ah, but that’s the thing,” Balammintur says. He steps towards me then, his figure towering over mine—which is a considerable feat, seeing that I’m pretty tall—and puts a hand to my cheek. It’s both a caress and a plea. My body is conflicted about shifting away from his touch and staying there. It’s not because I’m attracted to Balammintur, not really. The urge to both stay and go is also a byproduct of the taints within me, the demon and the devil, never agreeing.
“Your taints don’t see it now. But they will, soon. And when they do, little Iriae, they will both tell you what to do and you must listen to them.”
I scoff. “There’s no way the taints will agree to anything.”
“When you’re ready, they will.” He withdraws his hand and pats me on the shoulder. “Now go. Your parents are waiting for you.”
“You claim I’m this special child and yet, you’re letting me go into Hell all by myself,” I say, sticking my chin up in defiance.
He grins, his pointy teeth even more evident. “Do not worry, little one. The moment you really need me, I’ll be there.”
With that, he just pivots on his heels and begins walking away from the doors. I feel my whole body tense. If there’s a point where I can turn away from Hell and my insane plot, where I can cower and go back home to my aunt, this is it. If my resolve was any weaker, I do believe I would have taken this window of opportunity.
I watch him go until he is nothing but a mere dot in the horizon. When Balammintur’s figure starts being hard to see, I adjust my backpack and tighten the cloak around me. I grit my teeth and breathe in deeply. This is it. This is when I go down to Hell and start the journey to find and free my parents.
I take a step into the tunnel and another and another. Soon, I’m immersed in deep darkness. I raise my left hand, palm up, and whisper a few words in the Gods’ language. A small flame sparks to life, casting a dim light across the tunnel.
For a while—minutes, hours, I’m not sure,—I walk, but it gets to a point where I feel hungry and have to stop. The taints are ever-present and I want nothing more than to scream them out of my head. When I cut into the cheese, my hands are trembling so much I nearly cut myself. I eat and go on. I go on and on and on until the smell of fire and soot invades my nostrils. I see an opening, a light at the end of the tunnel and I run for it. Ahead, I can see the flames, the heavy black fog rising in the air, forming dark clouds in the horizon.
I have reached the first Circle of Hell.
At that moment, I thought my parents’ warnings about me getting too close to Hell had been unnecessary. My head didn’t feel any worse than it usually was. The taints were speaking a bit louder than usual, true, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.
I step out of the darkness and the moment my thick-soled boots touch the sand on the other side, I lose control of my body.