Chapter One: Once More Back into the Swamp
"What we need now is a cheer weasel!" My brother Erasmus pulled his boot out of the thick ooze with a sucking pop. Mud spattered across his dark green breeches, his justaucorps, and the hem of Mab's trench coat. Erasmus winced. "Sorry about that, Company Detective. This not-letting-go-of-each-other business makes things rather cramped." He lifted Mab's right hand, which he held in his own. "Still, beats being led astray by demonic illusions, I suppose."
"What in Tarna..." Mab muttered in his Bronx accent. He glanced nervously at the infernal landscape that stretched around us in all directions: the dreary swamps, the cypresses dripping with dead moss, the lurid red sky, the Wall of Flame burning in the far distance. His left palm, slick with sweat, was slippery in my grasp. "What in Creation is a 'cheer weasel?'"
"It's something Mephisto says when people are glum: 'Nothing a good whack with a cheer weasel won't fix!'" Erasmus tentatively stepped onto a shaggy gray hummock. The lump of dead grass sank beneath his weight. Pulling his foot back, now dripping with more goo, he made a face. "I have no idea if it's a modern pop culture reference or an invention of my brother's deranged brain. Either way, I think I might benefit from a whack of the old cheer weasel about now. Might increase the appeal of being trapped in Hell, searching for my lost family members with my brother the former pope, an Aerie One trapped in a human body who thinks he's Humphrey Bogart, and the sister I hate."
"Not Bogart," Mab glanced up at his fedora - he would have pulled it low over his eyes, but he did not have a free hand. Under his breath, he muttered, "Well... maybe Philip Marlowe."
Erasmus, Mab, Gregor and I moved slowly through the Swamp of Uncleanness - where dwelt the souls of those who had fallen prey to the sin of lust. Walking hand-in-hand was easy enough on a paved road. When the ground underfoot was spongy and sinking, it became both treacherous and aggravating, particularly for those of us who were in the middle. We could not wipe sweat from our faces, nor pinch our noses to block out the horrendous stench.
It was so hot here that steam rose from beneath our feet. Apparently, there was a reason why this place was called the Inferno.
Worse than the stench were the sinners themselves. Yet, we could not lower our eyes and ignore them, as if wearing imaginary blinders. Instead, we had to peer into every nook and cranny, searching for our missing brother.
And our presence here was entirely my fault.
On my other side, my brother Gregor stuck his staff, a length of ebony carved with blood red runes, under his arm, and gave my hand a comforting squeeze. His crimson cardinal's robes, with their billowing half-cape, stood out against the landscape, a bright spot in the literally God-forsaken gloom.
For most of his life, Gregor had been a bulky, almost brutish bully of a man, consumed by hatred, mainly toward the Protestants. Our youngest brother Ulysses, to save himself from the demon Abaddon, imprisoned Gregor for many years. Yesterday, we discovered this and rescued him. We found him a changed man. The new, more contemplative Gregor was slender. He had dark, shoulder-length wavy hair and a calm, almost saintly, expression. What sparked this change in brother Gregor, we did not yet know. I had to admit to myself that I was curious about what had happened during his imprisonment to bring about this transformation. It had to be something more significant than losing four stone of weight.
Gregor slipped his arm up so that our elbows were hooked together. This freed his hands, which he cupped around his mouth with its close-trimmed black beard.
"Mephisto!" Gregor shouted for the umpteenth time. Lowering his hands, he spoke, his voice hoarse and breathy due to a magical mishap in his youth. "I do not see him anywhere. Are you certain he is here, Miranda?" Then, looking across the swamp, he called out again, "Mephisto! Mephistopheles Prospero!"
Excerpted from Prospero Regained by L. Jagi Lamplighter. Copyright © 2011 by L. Jagi Lamplighter. Excerpted by permission of Tor Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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