Leading up to the release of The Demon’s Daughter on August 4th, I will be release a few free sample chapters. Today I’m going to start with the Prologue.
The old wooden stairs leading down to the basement groaned under Turel’s feet. The knife, which he had forged himself with a blade of sterling silver and wrapped with a handle of his own hair, felt unnaturally cold in his hand. It was heavy—far too heavy for the weight of physical materials alone to account. And it seemed to drain light from its surroundings, rendering the already poorly lit basement oppressively dark. It had to be an effect of the enchantment he applied to it, but his grimoire had made no mention of it.
He paused at the bottom of the stairs and looked at the child, his child, whom he was there to kill.
It was being held by her mother, of course. Sarah had hardly let go of the girl ever since she had given birth to it. If only he had insisted on the abortion. It would have been so much easier on her—on both of them really—but Sarah was so adamant in her refusal. The chances that she would bear the foretold one seemed so remote at the time. He just hadn’t been able to bring himself to break Sarah’s heart over them.
It was a foolish decision. He had not needed Sarah’s consent to do what he had known was right. He could have done it while she was sleeping, just reached into her womb with a tendril of will and snuffed out the fledgling light inside. He could have blamed it on a miscarriage, and they would have mourned their loss together.
But he hadn’t. For truly, as much as he was loath to admit it, he had wanted the child, too. Desperately. A progeny of his own creation, and a manifestation of his love for Sarah—he could not conceive of any concept more wonderful. The temptation was too great for him to resist.
It was for that sin, a transgression of both hubris and greed, for which he was now forced to most painfully atone.
Anger suddenly flared within Turel, and for a moment the knife felt not cold but scalding hot in his hand. Why should the sons and daughters of Adam be the only ones to reproduce? What was so wrong with the D’Jinn that they were forbidden to propagate themselves? Oh, how he wished he could use the knife not on his precious daughter, but on the tyrannical Creator himself.
He realized with a start where his wandering mind had taken him and roughly pushed the thoughts aside. That line of thinking was dangerous.
“Give the child to me, Sarah,” he said softly. He tried to keep the pain out of his voice, hoping to be a source of strength for Sarah during this difficult time, but he failed miserably. He’d been failing a lot recently.
He needed to do better for Sarah. She was the most beautiful creature of all Creation, but right now she looked like hell. Her eyes, usually filled with such joy, stared at him blankly and were framed by puffy red lids. The slight lines around her eyes, which used to appear as part of smile too extraordinary to be contained by a gesture of the mouth alone, just made her look old. Her cheeks were stained by trails of mascara from tears that had long since been exhausted.
“Come on, my love,” he urged. “Let’s be done with this.”
Some spark reignited within Sarah. She hugged the baby tightly to her bosom and recoiled from him, as if finally seeing him for the monster that he was. He knew that Sarah understood why he had to kill the baby, at least in so much that she could correctly articulate the reason. She could intellectually justify it. But true understanding occurs at a much deeper level than intellect, and no mother could ever understand the need for her child to die.
“You’re wrong about her,” she said, her voice trembling with the vibrato of determination.
“No, I’m not.” It hurt him deeply to say so, but it was undeniable. “We’ve been through this, my love. I have seen it.” He shuddered as the images from his prophetic vision came unbidden to his mind. The sight of his daughter, standing next to Iblis himself, watching dispassionately as the entire world was consumed by flame. Mykael, humanity’s great protector, lay dead at her feet. There was no doubt. She was the cambion—the half-human offspring of a demon—of whom Iblis himself had foretold. The one who would give him the power to destroy creation. Unless Turel destroyed her first.
Sarah shook her head. “No. I don’t believe it. Just look at her, Turel.” She held the baby out so that Turel could see it. “How can anything so innocent be evil?”
Turel’s resolve softened as he gazed upon his daughter. She was beautiful. But Turel knew better than most that looks can be deceiving. He himself could change his appearance to be anything he wished. “I’m sorry, but she is who she is.”
“How can you say that!” she screamed at him, her voice cracking with anger. “She’s your daughter.”
He could actually believe any ill of his own spawn. The hard part was believing a child of Sarah could be anything but pure, even if it were his as well.
He was going to argue with her further. He had to make her understand, if only so that she did not hate him for what he had to do. But then he sensed the approach of others of his kind, and suddenly he had no time.
He hastily conjured a ward and got it up just in time. A pair of souls tried to translocate directly into the room, but his will was stronger and his ward kept them out. He recognized the touch of Lamia, a powerful mentalist from his own clan, though she herself was incapable of the translocation he had just thwarted. It must have been the doing of the other, a cambion unknown to him. He had heard rumors that Lamia had also sinned and created a progeny with strong locational abilities, but he had not wanted to believe them.
He gritted his teeth as his magical strength was once again tested, this time with physical blows to the ward-reinforced door. It felt as if the pounding of concentrated will was striking directly against his head. He would normally have no problem staving off such attacks—his will was far greater than most—but much of his concentration was bent towards maintaining the enchantments he had placed on the blade. He was stretched thin.
He heard curses from the other side of the door as their attempts to intrude failed. “Stop, Turel!” Lamia’s muffled voice cried out. “The prophecy can’t be what it seems. Don’t do this.”
“Listen to her!” Sarah screamed at him hysterically.
He wanted to. More than anything he wanted to yield to their judgment and let the child live, but the consequences were too great. The life of one girl, no matter how precious, was not worth all of Creation.
“Give her to me now,” he said to Sarah, his voice harsh with the full weight of his conviction. His physical ward was weakening, and he could feel tendrils of Lamia’s will probing against his mental defenses looking for a weakness, trying to lower his resolve. He no longer had the luxury of feeling compassion.
Turel was taken aback. It was near impossible for a human to deny a determined D’Jinn, even one stretched thin as he. They simply lacked the resolve. His relationship with her had up until that moment been one of profound agreement. He never before had reason to test her will; he wouldn’t be doing it now if not for such extreme circumstances. He looked at her—her chin raised at him defiantly, her arms wrapped around the baby protectively—and realized he had never beheld a being so noble, nor understood that he could love a woman so dearly.
But it left him with no choice. He was forced to commit yet another atrocity for the sake of the greater good. He reached out with his will and possessed her.
Her eyes went wide with shock for a moment, then slowly lost focus. All emotion drained from her face as he robbed her of her free will, the Creator’s most precious gift. As Turel watched Sarah transform from the intelligent strong-willed woman he loved to a mindless puppet, he drowned in a deluge of self-loathing. It felt almost physical, as if all his vileness had manifested itself and covered him in a thick foul taint that seeped into his every pore.
He bid Sarah to set the baby down, choosing the top of an old burnt out CRT television to act as his altar. She complied, moving with an ungraceful mechanical movement. She plopped the baby down without care as if discarding a ragdoll. The baby cried, but she offered it no comfort. He had not told her to. Her last order finished, she merely stood there blankly waiting for another.
Turel felt as if he would vomit. He had not known that he was capable of such defilement. Perhaps it would be best if he submitted himself to Mykael’s righteous wrath after all.
But not yet. He had a job to do first.
He ordered Sarah to stand aside and took his place before the child. The pounding to break his will had risen to a frenzied pace.
He began the final incantation. His words melded with the enchantments he had already laid on the knife and brought them to life. The etching in the blade began to glow. It consisted of the Creator’s name written backward and would allow the blade to undo what He had done.
The baby could not just be killed. A simple death would not be sufficient, for being half human the baby had a soul which would enter into the afterlife. The prophecy did not mention the exact mechanism of Creation’s doom, and his vision had been too vague. It was conceivable that it could be wrought from the other side of the veil, and Iblis had a tendency to snatch a few souls as they crossed over. Therefore the baby had to be completely unmade, erased as if it never existed. It was the safest, most logical course of action.
As he reached the incantation’s climax, he raised the knife over his head and held it tightly in both hands. He looked at his daughter one last time. She was still crying, her mouth opened wide with her bottom lip trembling. She wanted comfort, the comfort that her father should give her. She looked up at him pleadingly, and he realized for the first time that she had his eyes.
It was probably for the better. He wouldn’t have been able to go through with it if she had Sarah’s.
Turel staggered as a massive blow of will cracked his resolve. He was out of time. He shut his eyes so that he would not have to witness his own crime and brought the knife down with all his strength. There was a sickening resistance as the blade plunged into flesh.
Something was wrong. His hands were too high.
He opened his eyes and recoiled in horror. It had not been Lamia or her progeny fighting against his ward that had cracked his will. It had been Sarah fighting against her possession, and she had won. When she wrested control of her body back, she flung herself between the baby and the blade. And now it was lodged deeply into her back, undoing her.
“Sarah!” He meant it as a scream, but it came out as a choked sob instead. He pushed his hands into the wound, as if he could hold her blood inside of her. As if it would make a difference even if he could. The knife throbbed with energy, casting her from the world and into complete and utter oblivion.
“Turel,” she wheezed, her voice full of pain. She used the last of her strength to try and hold on long enough to tell him something, but was interrupted by a fit of coughing. “Don’t…” was all she managed to get out. She could not finish.
He watched helplessly as the life drained from her eyes. She was no more. Her body was but the dust and clay of which it had once been made, and the beautiful soul which animated it was gone from the world—from all worlds—forever.
The vengeance that Mykael could deliver unto him was no longer sufficient. The lake of fire would never wash his soul clean. He was too repugnant. He was not worthy of existence, not even a damned one.
He pulled the knife out of Sarah’s lifeless husk. He wiped away enough of her blood to see that the etching still glowed, then plunged it into his own heart.
The ward suddenly winked out of existence. Berith’s blow shattered the door, raining splinters of wood down upon the room below. Lamia looked over her shoulder warily at him. “You better not expect me to pay for that,” Berith said flippantly, but his wide-eyed expression mirrored her own feelings of shock and dread.
It was over. Turel would never have let them in otherwise.
Her heart sank as she tried to comprehend what it meant. Iblis had wanted the foretold child destroyed; it was the only conceivable reason that he made his prophecy known. She knew he couldn’t lie—the Creator had not granted the D’Jinn that capability—but he could have just kept his damn mouth shut and let the girl do whatever it is he saw her do unopposed. He wanted an intervention, he must have, and anything that Iblis wanted was something to be resisted.
True, every interpretation of the prophecy she could think of was pretty damning for the child, but Iblis was a tricky fellow. He could lie without lying, disguise the truth so that it did not appear as such. It’s how he managed to corrupt so many of the humans. But Turel and the others thought themselves immune to Iblis’s trickery. After a mere century of picking apart his words, they concluded therae was simply nothing to be found—that Iblis had just been gloating. It was pride on their part, and now they had played right into his hand.
She hesitantly entered the room afraid of what she would find. She had never before witnessed the aftermath of an unmaking. They were extremely rare rituals, and knowledge of how to perform them was a forbidden and closely guarded secret by a select few. Even in the hands of the well-intentioned, the consequences of such power could be disastrous. If Iblis or one of his lackeys came by it, it would mean utter ruin.
“Um,” Berith said, “You go on ahead. He’s likely to be in a bad mood, and I’m not in a big rush to meet him.”
Lamia shook her head. “You have nothing to fear from him, Berith. Not anymore. He just unmade his own daughter believing her to be the foretold one. He can’t accuse you of it without admitting he was wrong about her, and he’s not going to be willing to do that.” And though she couldn’t bring herself to say it out loud, she suspected there was another reason Berith need not fear Turel any longer. She reached out tenderly with her will, vainly trying to touch Turel’s mind, but he wasn’t there. Turel could block her touch—as he had proven moments before—but he couldn’t evade it completely.
She continued down the rickety wooden stairs, straining her senses in hopes of finding an alternate explanation to Turel’s disappearance. She sensed some life within. There was a spider spinning a web in the rafters, and some roaches hiding under some old boxes, but there was only one human and no sign of a D’Jinn.
She stopped short when she saw the body. “By the Creator!” she whispered.
It was not the sight of a corpse that shocked her so. She had seen—and caused—way too many over the millennia of her existence to be disconcerted by such things. It was that she had no idea it was there. She should have sensed it. It should have positively screamed its existence to her.
Lamia had noticed a sour metallic stench with her mundane sense of smell, but she hadn’t recognized it for what it was. She just didn’t associate lifeblood with an odor. The smell of it was such a trivial and imprecise detail compared to what she usually gained through her greater senses. She strained them once again, convinced she should be able to feel some indication of the former life, but there was nothing. She could see the body, but the only thing she felt…was the baby.
Realization set in. She rushed to the corpse and heaved it aside, revealing the baby that was being smothered beneath it. She seized the child, frantically checking to make sure the little girl was okay. The poor thing had been baptized in her mother’s blood and had turned slightly blue, but she was otherwise unharmed. A healthy scream brought fresh air back into her little lungs.
Fearing that the baby was too cold, Lamia hastily took off her snakeskin scarf and used it to swaddle the child. She hugged her close, marveling at the sensation of a tiny little life pressed against her. Lamia patted the baby’s back tenderly. “There, there,” she whispered swaying back and forth. “It’s okay. I’ve got you now.”
Berith eyed the baby as if afraid that she would bite. “What happened?” he asked.
Lamia had been trying not to think about what must have happened. “It’s obvious, isn’t it?” she said in a flat voice. “The baby’s mother was the one unmade, which apparently leaves no trace of the soul behind.” It was a disturbing, unnatural thing. There should be something. Death lingered like the smell of cat piss in carpet. It was nearly impossible to get rid of, yet her senses could not distinguish the body from a pile of dirt. “Since she was on top of the baby,” she continued, “I would venture to guess she sacrificed herself to save her daughter.”
Berith gawked a moment more at the body, then turned away in disgust. “What of Turel?”
Lamia didn’t answer at first, choosing instead to focus on the baby in her arms. She had stopped crying and was staring up at Lamia with a look of pure innocence. The poor child did not know how difficult a life it had to face. Every D’Jinn who believed in the prophecy—nearly each and every one—would seek her annihilation.
“I think you’re standing on him,” she said bitterly. She would have thought that she’d be saddened by the loss of Turel, but she was just angry instead. Turel should have seen with a single glance that the prophecy was false. That this girl was a blessing. It should have been his duty to protect her. “Or at least where he used to be,” she continued. “See how the ground is scorched? The flames of his body flared in one last blaze, then burnt themselves out.” While humans had been made by the Creator from dust and clay, D’Jinn were made from smokeless fire.
Berith leaped from the spot. “You think he…unmade himself?”
She nodded. “He didn’t intend to unmake the woman, and he couldn’t live with himself afterward.”
Berith looked back at the corpse bewilderedly. “She was just a human. He could have seduced himself another whore.” He withered slightly under her icy glare. “What? She was obviously putting out, or else we wouldn’t have gotten into this mess.”
“Not everyone is like you, Berith. Some people have feelings.”
Berith sneered. “Didn’t seem to do him much good, now did it?
“His feelings were not his downfall,” she said while running the back of her finger along the baby’s cheek. “Quite the opposite. His problems started when he refused to listen to them.”
“So what now?” Berith asked. “What are you going to do with the kid?”
“We,” she said emphasizing her choice of pronoun, “are going to protect her as if all of Creation depends on it. Because I think it just might.”