"No sign of him, Ma'am. I'm with Father Gregor, here. Are we sure this is where the Harebrain landed?" Mab muttered. His "this" sounded like "dis."
"In the vision the angel showed me, his besetting sin was lust." Sweat ran into my eyes. I blinked rapidly. The heat still was oppressive, but the memory of the angel and the sense of peace she brought momentarily lifted my spirits. "That means the Hellwind would have dropped him here. So, he's here... somewhere. Unless he's found his way out on his own."
We glanced across the tremendous expanse of swamp that stretched out in every direction as far as the eye could see.
"It's hopeless," sighed Erasmus.
* * *
Around us, fetid quagmires, dotted by bracken-covered islands, stretched beneath a lurid sky crisscrossed with bands of steely gray. Souls damned for excessive lust floundered in the muck, crying out for succor - until they were dragged down by their more licentious compatriots. On the larger islands, groups of the damned engaged in massive orgies, more closely resembling a battle than any erotic acts. Others clambered onto smaller islands, upon which great corpulent demons disported with them. On one nearby isle, a six-horned demon whipped the damned until they dropped to their knees and performed acts of obscene obeisance.
The whole sordid scene, with its noxious gases that left the four of us reeling and retching, was made even worse because we now knew that the liquid in the swamp was not water but the accumulated drippings of the wanton desires of those on Earth. Qualities that were merely spiritual on the material plane had a physical nature here. Just the memory of having had to swim through the stuff left me queasy, and here I was, voluntarily walking into it again.
I would not have done it, not for any price, had there been another way to find my missing siblings and rescue our father. But there was not, and I could not leave my family stranded in Hell forever.
Gritting my teeth, I choked back my gag reflex and forced myself to scour the unseemly landscape, searching each passion-contorted face for the features of my brother Mephisto... the brother who held the crystal ball that could lead us to the others and to Father.
Beside me, Gregor bent his head in low, breathy prayer, "Lord Jesus, hear my prayer. Help us in our hour of need."
"Don't be ridiculous," Erasmus scoffed. He stood ankle deep in reddish mud waiting for the rest of us to jump onto the next hummock. His staff was strapped diagonally across his back. His Urim gauntlet hung on his belt. When we first set out, he had worn it in order to be ready in case of attack. But since he could not use the Staff of Decay while standing so close to the rest of us, he eventually decided there was no point in wearing the hot, unyielding gauntlet. "God does not heed the prayers of those in Hell."
"Why shouldn't He heed ours?" I countered. "We are not damned. We're still alive."
"Gregor may not be damned," Erasmus granted, "but sisters who betray their family are another issue."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Surely you don't expect me to believe you summoned up the Hellwind by mistake? I will remind you that Abaddon warned us there was a traitor in our family."
"Careful, Professor Prospero!" Mab jerked his head, trying to push back the brim of his fedora, which was now falling across his eyes, "it does not pay to listen to demons!"
"That's what you told us," my brother replied mildly, "right before your Miss Miranda, here, scattered our family to the four quarters of Hell. Or perhaps I should say to the Nine Circles of Hell."
"It's not like she did it on purpose," Mab countered.
"I fear, Spirit Detective, my dear sister has deceived you as to her nature and intent. Either that, or you plotted with her." Erasmus turned his head and regarded our other brother through his lank dark hair. "Really, Gregor. Out of our whole family, the only other person you managed to save was Miranda? Couldn't you have given her a push and rescued someone worthwhile?"
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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