March till death hellson.., p.1
March till Death (Hellsong Book 3), page 1
PRAISE FOR SHAUN O. M CCOY AND THE HELLSONG SERIES
"March till Death is McCoy at his best. A heart-pounding adrenaline rush with characters deeper than the Hell they are damned to."
—Matt Michaelis, Author of Kids Summon the Damndest Things
"McCoy caps off his series with a work of pure brilliance. In this volume Hellsong goes from being a captivating read to a life changing one."
—Monet Jones, Author of the Captive Youth Trilogy
"McCoy's unrivaled setting meets its match in a tightly woven plot and some truly extraordinary character arcs. In a genre rife with tropes and forgettable stories, March till Death stands out as being both unique and powerful."
—Thomas the Younger, Author of These Windows
"McCoy is a talented and bright young writer. Knight of Gehenna is a new kind of novel—a page turner in the truest sense—wrought from equal parts brawn and brain."
—B. Butler, Author of Murder in Cairo
"McCoy is a brilliant writer; insightful, intelligent, articulate, imaginative, and funny."
—McKendree Long, Author of No Good Like it is
"In Knight of Gehenna, McCoy masterfully creates characters, scenarios and the Hell where they live. He writes with a passion, layering emotion on fantasy and science fiction, drawing in readers from beyond his genre."
—Ginny Padgett, President of SCWW
"Shaun is the real McCoy."
—Laura Valtorte, Filmmaker, Author of Family Meal
"With the visionary aptitude of such writers as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein, McCoy further illustrates his unique underworld that has produced the spiritual vagabond Arturus in this sequel to Even Hell Has Knights. Arturus' quest for purpose in Hell is not unlike man’s quest for purpose on Earth."
—Len Lawson, Author of City of David
“McCoy has a queer ability to highlight the most delightfully horrific details imaginable. I grimace, suck air through my teeth and squeeze shut my eyes. Then I open just one so I can keep on reading.”
—Fred Fields, Author
“In Even Hell Has Knights, McCoy depicts dark landscapes filled with fiery fury. His characters are soulful, at times wonderfully craven, surprising us with their humanity and evoking our laughter in unexpected ways.”
—Chris Mathews, Author of GARGOYLES
“McCoy writes with a passion for action. He introduces us to graphic characters and takes us on a hair-raising journey through crumbling underground landscapes where battles rage to protect a magical child. This is a borderlands for where the quest for survival has never been so grueling.”
—Bonnie Stanard, Author of Master of Westfall Plantation
OTHER WORKS BY SHAUN O. MCCOY
HELLSONG SERIES: ARTURIAN: CARRION TRILOGY
Even Hell Has Knights
Knight of Gehenna
March till Death
HELLSONG SERIES: ARTURIAN: HELLWAR
Book IV (2015)
HELLSONG SERIES: INFIDELS
Affliction (Coming Soon!)
The Eden of a Lesser God (Coming Soon!)
Digital Muse (Coming Soon!)
SHAUN O. MCCOY
For Rusty Hess
Arden awaits you!
While I was writing this book, a fan of the series and friend of the family, Anders Kaufmann Sr., passed. For some ridiculous reason, I felt terribly guilty for having left him at a cliffhanger in book two—and I feel guilty still—although I’m sure that the worries held for fiction seem fickle indeed to a person dealing with the rigors of life and death.
I no longer believe in places like Heaven or Hell, but if there is such a place where people live on in some meaningful way after death—and if in such a place people still do things like read—I would beg some angel pass him a copy.
This is a work of fiction. The damnation portrayed in this novel is fictitious, and similarities between it and any actual damnation are strictly coincidental.
MARCH TILL DEATH
Copyright 2014 © by Shaun McCoy
All rights reserved.
Editor-in-Chief: Matt Michaelis
Associate Editors: Leigh Thomas, Justin Williams, Jody Mobley
Consulting Editors: James Mobley, Gabrielle Olexa
Title art: Thomas the Younger
Title Layout: Kirill Simin
A Sisyphean Publishing Book
First Edition May 2014
Printed in the United States of America
0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2
TABLE OF CONTENTS
When I was alive, I had always believed death would bring me answers. I think we all thought that. Then maybe you can understand that my greatest disappointment was not then that I was damned, but that death only brought more questions.
The greatest gifts the gods ever gave us were our enemies, for we must better ourselves to defeat them.
From Gehennic Law: The Sadist and the Jew
Herod the Great, Ruler of Judea, enjoyed nothing more than torturing the children of Yahweh. One day, as his charge lay dying, Herod noticed that the man was smiling.
“Why do you smile?” Herod asked. “I have ripped out your guts, and you are about to perish. Soon I will do the same to your entire family. How could you be happy?”
“Because I am a sinless man,” the Jew answered. “I and my Rabbi performed my sacrifices and propitiations in accordance with the scriptures. After you slay me, I will be resurrected at the end of time to be by the side of my God.”
Herod was enraged and became determined to find some way to stop the resurrection of his victims. Seeking advice on how to do this, he called for the wise Rabbi Hillel to dine with him. During a public dinner, he interviewed Hillel, and the Rabbi gave him this advice: “Place your Jew in a room, leaving with him only pork. He must either choose to eat the meat—a sin—or he must starve to death of his own will—a sin. Then he shall not be reborn at the end of days.”
Herod thanked the Rabbi and took his wise council. He would place a Jewish man i
Many Jews he tortured in this way. To a man, they refused to eat the pork and died. Herod was happy since his torture would not now reward its subjects to a second life.
But one day a child of Yahweh was put in the cell who did eat the pork.
“Why?” Herod asked. “Why would you eat the pig knowing that you are to be damned?”
“The inevitable is inevitable,” the Jew replied, licking his fingers between lusty bites, “but it hasn't happened yet.”
Alice must think I’m dead.
Magma had once poured down these spiraled corridors, filling the complex of chambers below with a knee deep layer of molten rock before solidifying into the stone rivers and lakes upon which Arturus now stepped. The stone itself was grey and pitted with an unfathomable number of tiny holes. Aaron had likened them to crab dens in a beach’s sand. Above the now solidified floor were black and purple hellstone bricks, each one about six inches in length, rising up to form the low hanging domes and narrow arches which surrounded him.
And in a way, Alice would be right.
They had gone so deep into the Carrion that they had almost come out the other side. Even now the shores of Sheol, where this afterlife was separated from the next, was only a half hour’s walk from him—but he was dead in other ways too. The Arturus who eagerly joined the Harpsborough hunters with dreams of a heroic rescue had most certainly perished.
He couldn’t quite pinpoint when he’d lost himself. Maybe it was when Maab picked him in her ritual. Maybe it was when Patrick died. Maybe it was when he killed Pyle. Maybe it was when he’d stood idly by when they’d abandoned Kyle to his death. Maybe it was when he’d slit the throats of those helpless dyitzu.
I’m a killer now. Killers don’t need fond memories of pretty girls. Killers don’t need hope. Killers need victims.
Those victims were nearby. Somewhere in this hellacious wilderness of frozen lava and spiraled corridors were Tamara’s captors. It was possible that the men of the City of Blood and Stone had broken her already. If that were the case, the City’s soldiers could even now be marching on Calimay’s sanctuary. That meant Calista, the girl who was supposedly carrying his unborn child, would be killed. That meant they would never meet the person who was to guide them down the river Lethe. That meant that Arturus would never get home.
I have to find Tamara.
Galen had split them into two groups. The wounded Avery and Dakota were left with Johnny to watch over them in the aqueduct. The healthy members, which included himself, Kelly, Aaron and Galen, had split up in these halls with hopes of intercepting Tamara’s captors as they made their way back to the City of Blood and Stone.
But if I find her . . .
Galen had made it clear that rescuing Tamara was only one possible way to keep her from talking. The other should have been unthinkable—but it wasn’t. If Arturus saw her, if he had the shot, he was going to take it.
I’d spare her their torture. Would that be merciful?
“Kelly,” the priestess announced her presence as she entered the room. “Galen spotted them. Tamara’s not with them. He thinks they may have already left her at the prison or . . .”
Her black robe was wearing thin. There was a hole at one of the elbows, and the cloth was nearly see-through at the other. Even so, she cut a striking figure. Her black hair was pulled back into a ponytail behind her pale face, and her sharp features and dark blue eyes were entrancing.
“Or what?” Arturus asked.
“There’s a chance Tamara was important enough to take her straight into the heart of the City of Blood and Stone. Then again, we could just have the wrong group.”
We’d better not.
There was a pocket around the city where the dyitzu and the hounds weren’t so thick, and it was here that Galen set up their perimeter. But traveling this close to the City of Blood and Stone also meant that they were constantly ducking the city’s combined devil and human patrols. Arturus could not count the number of human slaves he’d watched pass by in single file lines. That sight, at least, had broken through his wall of apathy.
I’m still a little human.
Kelly must have noticed his distress. She came close to him, too close. “Come on,” she breathed, her lips only inches from his. “We’ve got a plan to execute.”
Chains clinked as Kelly pulled a set of shackles out from under her robe. “Help me get these on.”
The irons had been warmed by her body. They were heavy in his hands. Kelly turned around, holding her arms behind her. The shackles were hinged along their sides and could be tightened by a pair of adjustable screws. The locking mechanisms clicked as he closed them, one after the other, around her slender wrists.
“Do you like me better chained?” she whispered.
Arturus started. “What?”
“Do you like me better chained? I mean, after what I did to Avery, I thought you might enjoy it more if you felt like you were in control when we—”
“I was fine with Calimay’s daughters.” Arturus had hoped the statement would put her off a little, but Kelly seemed unaffected.
“Yes,” she answered, the corner of her lip curling up slightly, hinting at a smile while she looked back over her shoulder at him, “but you didn’t have any choice in that. I want us to be different. Untie my hair, would you? I don’t think a prisoner would look so well groomed.”
Her hair had been bound with a black strip of silk. Arturus noticed his hands were shaking as he untied the knot in the smooth fabric.
I’m nervous—probably because we’re about to meet those soldiers.
But he wasn’t nervous about that, and he knew it.
The shackle on her right wrist slid off. Kelly wasn’t nervous. Her hands were as steady as rocks.
Kelly laughed as he bent down and picked up the fallen restraint.
The adjustable screws wouldn’t tighten while the shackle was closed.
“Damn,” Arturus said.
“Key’s in my pants,” Kelly informed him as she turned around.
Arturus reached in through her robe and felt around for a pocket. She moved closer as he did so. Arturus felt his heart quicken.
“Galen and Aaron,” Arturus’ father announced as he and Harpsborough’s Lead Hunter entered the room. Each was wearing a black uniform with a dark red, upside down cross sewn into the right shoulder. In theory, wearing the uniform of the City of Blood and Stone was supposed to help Galen gather information about Tamara.
Galen paused for a moment, regarding Arturus and Kelly. “Am I interrupting something?”
They would come in at this exact moment.
Arturus felt a flush on his cheeks. “I’m just getting the key for the shackles.”
“Wrong pocket, love,” Kelly said.
For some reason, her use of “love” as a term of endearment only embarrassed him further. He rifled through her pockets awkwardly until he found the key.
Aaron had a bemused smile on his face.
“Hurry,” Galen said, “there’s not much time.”
Marcus felt uneasy guarding the entrance to Harpsborough. He’d felt uneasy when he’d woken up this morning. He’d felt uneasy the entire fitful night he’d spent in his hovel.
It wasn’t the battle he’d had with the corpsemen. Nor was it the gaping hole in the Carrion barrier that even now was open to whatever horrors Hell had to throw at him. Or rather, it wasn’t just these things. It was also the strange type of corpse which Martin had fought. It was the way the bullets had dropped off it like lead beads of sweat. It was the thing’s black eyes.
It was the fact that the thing had once been Kyle.
If ever Marcus needed confirmation that Aaron was dead and that Julian would
“You alright there, Marcus?” Tucker’s voice startled him slightly.
Marcus had been so focused on his fear he’d almost forgotten the other hunter was there.
Tucker laughed. “Little jumpy there, man.”
Marcus shook his head, trying to clear it. He put his 700 Remington down, leaning it against the rock wall before running his nervous fingers through his hair. After a moment, he took a deep, shaky breath.
“I’m all fucked up, too, man,” Tucker said. “That raid on the corpses, I can’t get it out of my head. What could convince so many people to become lepers? Something wasn’t right in that place.”
“No shit, Tucker.” Marcus said, picking his rifle back up.
“And it don’t feel right, that Carrion barrier being breached. We should be out there building it back up right now. And I mean right fucking now. I don’t care what Mike says. Was he there? Did he see that black-eyed thing laugh at our bullets?”
Marcus shook his head. “It ain’t safe, and you know it.”
“I’ll tell you what ain’t safe. What ain’t safe is leaving that barrier open.”
“What if another column of corpses came while we were trying to build it back up? What if something came in from the Carrion? Scouting is the right way.”
Tucker shook his head, turned away from the exit and looked Marcus in the eyes. “Every second that barrier is down is another moment when one of those Kyle-things can come through and get us. Fighting Kyle was tough enough, what if the next one is Aaron? There’s a reason Michael Baker is scared shitless of the Carrion. There’s a reason none of the Citizens talk about that place without flipping out.”
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