This is a post to celebrate a momentous occasion: I MADE IT TO ROUND TWO OF THE AMAZON BREAKTHROUGH NOVEL AWARD!!!!!
I am so FREAKING happy! I really didn’t think I’d make it, and I did. Just look at it! It’s right there! Rebecca Leviton.
Anyway, that’s all I wanted to say. I’m so excited that I’m going to post the prologue and chapter 1 of Hellbound right here, right now. No Word of the Day even. Just book.
One quiet night in September finds a pair of bloodied hands drawing occult symbols in an abandoned plot of dirt. Not a sound can be heard except for the frenzied breathing of the person to whom the hands belong. Knowing it is wrong, knowing that it violates the very core of nature itself, this person persists in going through with the ritual.
Symbols done, the fingers move from the ground to the spell-caster’s own pale forehead, drawing a pentacle of blood and dirt on the sweaty skin there.
The moment the last point of the star is completed, a scream unlike any other ever heard rents the air. It rips through the quiet stillness of the night, speaking of untold tortures, years of torment, and, above all, rage. Rage so loud, it makes the spell-caster clap those dirty hands over assaulted ears.
As quickly as the scream came, it is gone, and standing in the middle of all those symbols on the ground is a shadowy wisp of a figure. It narrows cavernous eyes on the trembling human before it and asks the words of the ritual.
“You called for me?”
Dry lips are licked before the rest of the words are spoken.
“I need you to do something for me.”
Aiden woke up to the sound of screams, as usual. They sounded more outraged than normal, which he knew meant bad news for him. He blinked and stretched, stood up and shook himself. It was dark, and he had no idea what time it was. Clocks were hard to come by in Hell. Working clocks even harder. Without the use of a light, he found his way to his dresser, pulled out clothes, put them on. It was the same old routine. Strangely enough, he knew something was going to break up the monotony of his life very soon, and it was that fact that made him dread leaving his room. So he did what any normal teenage boy would do – he stalled. Running his fingers through his light brown hair, he looked absently around his room for a mirror before he remembered he didn’t have one.
He stooped to look under his bed as he called his pet’s name again.
“I know you’re here, Kairn. Quit dicking around.”
The expressions of the twenty-first century were fairly new to him, but he had to admit he liked them. If there was one good thing about the constant influx of souls in Hell, it was that he was able to keep up with the times by listening to their various speech patterns.
A large, red gecko with black spots skittered down from the ceiling and turned its black eyes on Aiden’s back. Its footprints glowed in the pitch darkness, creating enough light to catch Aiden’s attention.
“There you are,” he said, standing. “I need a mirror.”
The lizard cocked its head at him. Aiden scoffed.
“I don’t owe you a reason. Maybe I just want to remind myself of what I look like today.”
Kairn raised his shoulders in a shrug and turned into a small, round mirror with an ornate gold frame that was encrusted with rubies.
“Dude, come on,” Aiden moaned. “I’m not exactly in the mood.”
A head appeared out of the top of the mirror to look questioningly at Aiden.
“I’m going to get a new assignment today,” he grumbled. “Now could you give me a less girly mirror, please?”
Kairn made a kind of sympathetic clicking noise and then quickly rearranged himself until he was a full-length mirror with a simple, black frame.
Aiden stood in front of the mirror and looked at himself. He did that for about fifteen minutes, standing as still as a statue, too nervous to even remember to blink. His reflection stared back at him with his own golden yellow eyes.
After another five minutes had passed, someone knocked on Aiden’s door so hard that it jostled bits and pieces loose from the stalactites on the ceiling.
“What?” he called.
“You know what,” came a bored, female voice. “Your father’s waiting for you in the foyer. Get your butt up there within the next thirty seconds or I’ll lock you in the serial killer ward and watch the carnage unfold while I eat my breakfast.”
Aiden didn’t respond. He wasn’t sure if he didn’t actually prefer that threat to whatever his father had in store for him.
“Move!” the voice on the other side of the door barked.
Aiden sighed at Kairn, who was back to being a giant gecko, and walked out of his room. He didn’t expect anyone to be outside when he got there, and he wasn’t disappointed. Whatever attendant his father had sent to fetch him had already flitted away to her next errand.
The dull roar of screams that he had managed to block from his mind until that point rose into a crescendo of rage again. They had sensed his presence and were shouting their disapproval already.
Aiden closed his eyes and took a deep breath before stepping through the archway at the end of the hall. The noise was deafening. Not wanting to deal with the jeers and hisses, Aiden took on his true form. It didn’t help one bit. Long, boneless arms still reached out through the bars to swipe at his legs, his neck, anything they thought they could reach. He ignored them. Part of their Hell was that they could never reach. No matter how long their limbs got, they would always be just a few inches too short to grab hold of anyone or anything on the outside.
“Going topside again, are you, boy?”
Aiden turned towards the only creature in Hell that wasn’t attempting to strangle him. The shadowy figure sat in the back of his cell, bright eyes and toothy grin turned in his direction. Aiden felt like he was staring at a demonic Cheshire cat.
“Don’t get too attached to the fresh air, mind,” the gravelly voice continued. “No matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise, you’re still a prisoner here just like the rest of us. You’re no freer than I am.”
Aiden didn’t respond, only finished crossing the Infinite Cavern, switched back to human form, and stepped through the doorway that led to the foyer. His father was waiting for him there, his face red with anger while some minor servants danced around him trying to fit him in his new suit.
“You’re trying my patience, Re-di-Tor,” Satan snarled. “You have a job to do and I expect you to do it.”
“Yes, Tor,” Aiden sneered. “What will it be this time, Tor?”
“I like that tone. You remind me of your mother. Keep it up.”
He raised his arms so that the servants could measure their length.
“Your new assignment,” he began, “is in a school. Some foolish teenager has actually invoked the Rit-di-Malos. I need you to find out which insolent child the escaped soul is inhabiting and bring it back. Promptly.”
Aiden could barely believe what he was hearing. It was almost too good to be true.
“You mean I actually get to go to school?” he asked. “I’m going to have to interact with other kids my age and socialize and live a normal life?”
“Your age? Kids your age? There are no kids your age. You’re three hundred and seventy-five years old!”
“Three seventy-six, dad. You missed my last birthday.”
“The point is, you cannot hope to lead a normal life among these petty mortals, Aiden. You will never be like them. You have powers they can’t even dream of. And you have a deadline. I expect you to return here with the escaped soul in no more than two months, understood?”
“Yes, father,” Aiden said, bowing.
He waited until he was out of sight before flying back to his room. Not even the screams of the damned could bring him down now.
“Kairn!” he shouted as he burst through the door.
The gecko lifted his head from his bed and looked at Aiden.
“We’re going to school!”
Kairn made a surprised noise and began to emit a faint red glow.
“It’s unbelievable, I know. No more screams waking us up, no more of that burnt toast smell, no more hours and hours of boredom! We’ve got two months up there, and if I have my way – which I will – we’re going to have way more than that!”
The gecko nodded eagerly with everything Aiden was saying.
“Get ready to go, buddy. We’re leaving right now.”
Aiden didn’t actually need to pack anything because he’d be able to summon anything he needed once he was on earth, as long as no one saw him.
Someone knocked on the door, which startled Aiden, a very unusual occurrence. But in this case, he thought, it was perfectly understandable. He answered the door and saw his mother standing on the other side of it, or rather, one of the many copies of her that his father had made to act as his personal attendants. His real mother, the human, had died in childbirth, which happened nine times out of ten when a human gave birth to a new Re-di-Tor.
“Your father sent me here to get you prepped for your trip,” she said in an annoyed tone. “Are you ready?”
“Definitely. Come on Kairn.”
The gecko ran up and hopped onto his shoulder, clicking happily.
His mom-clone had a clipboard in her hands, and Aiden dutifully followed the tall, blonde woman as she led him through the familiar preparations.
“You’re going to be living in California. It’s usually pretty warm there, so you’ll feel right at home. We’ve set it up so you can live in a house that’s close to the high school, but you’ll still need to drive there. I assume that won’t be a problem.”
Aiden looked to his shape-shifting pet and shook his head.
“Nope, no problem.”
“Good, not that I would’ve cared if it were. The pact was made…”
She actually paused while she checked her clipboard, and that surprised Aiden; she’d never stopped before, not once in the hundreds of years that he’d been doing this with her.
“A year ago,” she said slowly. “That can’t be right.”
“A year?” he repeated. “Why are we just now doing something about it?”
“It says the pact didn’t come to our attention until just recently, meaning it didn’t come into effect until just now maybe?”
She actually looked to him for confirmation, but Aiden was as baffled as she was.
“I’ll look into it while I’m there,” he told her. “Maybe I’ll come up with something.”
She began walking again.
“Okay, you’re a senior in high school, in the same class as whoever it is that invoked the Rit-di-Malos.”
“That better be accurate. We don’t want a repeat of Barcelona.”
“We sent one of the better trackers out for this one. The information is good.”
“Alright, go on.”
“You’ve got two months to complete this job, and two months is underlined twice, so I think you get the picture.”
“I think that’s pretty much it. I’ve got the information for your new school all written down. They’ll be expecting Aiden Reditor to show up for class tomorrow, so make sure you get there.”
“Do I have a schedule and everything?”
“You go to the main office to check in and then they’ll give you everything you need. You’ve got transcripts from your old high school all sent in.”
“Did I get good grades?” Aiden asked.
“Good enough. Now get going.”
She pulled the papers out of the clipboard, slapped them into his chest, and flicked his forehead. Aiden blinked, and he was standing inside a big, empty house with Kairn still on his shoulder.
For the first few minutes he was there, all he did was take deep, satisfying breaths of the fresh air.
“When was the last time we made it up here?” he asked Kairn. “1953?”
Aiden observed his surroundings. Thankfully his room down in Hell stayed pretty up-to-date, so he was able to recognize the modern lamps and appliances. The one thing he failed to remember from his last trip to earth was the little rectangular lever on the wall. It was smaller than his thumb, but it still looked important. Curious, he flipped it, and the room suddenly flared with light. Aiden shouted out from surprise, covering his eyes with one arm while blindly groping for the little switch of death with the other. He managed to turn the lights back off after a second, and when he uncovered his eyes, there were white spots in his vision. A disgruntled clatter drew his attention to a chair in the corner of the room, under which Kairn had buried himself. He was now chattering angrily at Aiden as he squeezed out from his hiding space. Aiden hadn’t even felt Kairn move.
“Sorry, man,” he said. “I forgot about these things.”
Kairn chattered a little more sympathetically as he walked onto the wall and began to explore his surroundings, his glowing footsteps leaving echoes of his presence wherever he went.
“What do you think?” Aiden asked after a while.
He, too, had been looking around his new home, but he’d stopped once he’d realized that his room had a window; after discovering that, he didn’t need anything else to make him happy.
Kairn wandered down from the ceiling and made a few contented clicking noises.
“You think high school will be hard?” Aiden asked him.
Kairn gave him a look that said, “How the hell would I know? I’m a gecko.”
“Yeah, I know.”
He flopped back on his bed and marveled at how soft it was.
“Well, whatever it’s like, it can’t be worse than Hell.”
Kairn crawled onto his stomach and lay down. Aiden looked up at the ceiling and smiled. His time up there may have been limited, but he was planning on making the most of it, starting by avoiding doing his job at all costs.