Authors: Rebecca Levene
An Abaddon Books
First published in 2010 by Abaddon Books
, Rebellion Intellectual Property Limited, Riverside House, Osney Mead, Oxford, OX2 0ES, UK.
Editor: Jonathan Oliver
Cover: Pye Parr
Design: Simon Parr & Luke Preece
Creative Director and CEO: Jason Kingsley
Chief Technical Officer: Chris Kingsley
The Infernal Game
created by Rebecca Levene
Copyright © 2010 Rebellion. All rights reserved.
The Infernal Game
, Abaddon Books and Abaddon Books logo are trademarks owned or used exclusively by Rebellion Intellectual Property Limited. The trademarks have been registered or protection sought in all member states of the European Union and other countries around the world. All right reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
THE INFERNAL GAME
"Are you ready?" Nicholson asked.
Tomas shrugged, because really, how could you ever be ready for this? He looked at the soberly suited crowd, heads hunched against the fine, chill drizzle, but all the eyes that had been fixed on him darted away, embarrassed. Hidden behind gathering clouds, the sun was beginning to set, day fading into twilight around them. They'd already told him this was when it needed to be done. He'd thought midnight, but no, they said that the magics fed off the symbolism, the death of the sun mirroring his own.
And its resurrection, or so they all hoped.
"It's not too late to back out," Nicholson told him. "This is a choice, you know." He looked at Tomas without the usual laughter in his eyes, his wide, smiling mouth turned down. He hadn't wanted Tomas to do this, had tried to talk him out of it, but Tomas had been quite sure.
"We have to know if it works," Tomas said, fighting to keep his voice steady. "After all this time, we have to find out for sure. And the mission to Warsaw would be impossible for anyone who isn't - who hasn't done this. They've got heat sensors everywhere, electrified fences."
Nicholson didn't look convinced and Tomas managed a smile. "It has to be done, and I'll only be... gone for three days." Three days underground. He shivered, despite himself.
Nicholson rested a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. "It has to be done, Tomas, but not by you."
For some reason, a line from a poem kept wandering through Tomas's mind.
Had we but world enough and time...
It was something he'd read to Kate once, when he'd asked her to marry him and she'd told him
, just like she'd told him the last two times he'd asked.
Had we but world enough and time, this coyness, Lady, were no crime
. That's what he'd said, and she'd laughed, lying naked and sweating in his arms, and asked him just what his hurry was. He hadn't been able to think of a response back then. Now, when he knew the answer, it was too late.
Your quaint honour turned to dust
They'd told him yesterday that Kate's MIA had been officially upgraded to a KIA. There were no remains to bring home, but then he hadn't expected any. Kate had been deep behind the Iron Curtain when she'd gone missing, her cover blown and all her contacts already rounded up. They could hardly ask the KGB to send back her body for a decent burial.
There is some corner of a foreign field...
But that was a different poem, wasn't it?
Tomas looked at the ground for a long time, then back up into Nicholson's sympathetic eyes. "Everyone else has something to lose," he said. "I don't."
Nicholson nodded, shoulders slumping in defeat. He'd known Tomas long enough to know when his mind was made up.
A man was approaching them now, black robes flapping from his shoulders. Tomas thought he looked absurd, this balding white executive dressed up like some voodoo
. But the man held his head high, apparently proud of the role he'd been chosen to play.
"You'll need to wear this," he said, holding out a necklace made of human teeth, dried brown blood on their broken roots.
Tomas took it without a word and hung it around his neck. His hands were shaking, but no one commented. When the necklace was on, the
dipped his fingers into a bag at his belt and pulled them out covered in a greasy white paste. He smeared it over every inch of Tomas's face, the tip of his tongue caught between his teeth as he concentrated on the task.
"Now if you'll..." He gestured at the coffin, lying open and empty beside a freshly dug grave.
Tomas hesitated. "Is there anything... anything at all I need to do, before?"
"No. Your role in the ceremony is mostly passive. The rest is, well..." The man coughed uncomfortably.
No more excuse to delay, Tomas dragged reluctant legs over to the pine box, the cheapest they could buy. No point splashing out on something more fancy.
"If you'll..." The
gestured again, meaning that Tomas should climb in. Tomas wanted to shout at the man to finish the goddamn sentence -
if I can do it, you can say it!
- but he kept his mouth shut. His colleagues were all watching him, men and women who'd risked their lives to save his on more than one occasion, and he wanted to die with dignity.
The wood of the box pressed hard against his shoulders. He hadn't realised what a tight fit it would be and he had to suppress a semi-hysterical laugh as he wondered what they would have done if he'd been claustrophobic.
He thought they'd put the lid on immediately, but they kept the coffin uncovered as the other agents stepped forward, lifted the ropes attached to the side and began to lower him into his grave.
Around him, the ceremony was beginning; he could hear chanting in Creole and other languages he didn't recognise. He saw that Nicholson had shrugged on his own robes, pulled tight in the front over his paunch. Then Tomas lost sight of him, and all he could focus on was the ground passing by on each side of him, and the rectangle of dying daylight above, shrinking by the second.
He heard the mindless shriek of an animal slaughtered, the sound muted by the surrounding earth, and a second later he felt the splash of something warm and sticky against his cheek. A chicken, he guessed. Another symbolic death. The bird's blood trickled coppery into his open mouth, and he spat it out in disgust.
He tried to empty his mind of anything but Kate. The affectionate way she'd smiled at him when she thought he wasn't looking, the dimples that appeared in her cheeks when she did.
The poem kept coming back to him though, a couplet he'd forgotten earlier.
The grave's a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace.
The grave's a fine and private place...
The line was still ringing in his head when they finally lowered the lid on the coffin and began to shovel soil on top of it. The sound of earth against wood rang hollowly inside his sudden darkness, until the lid was completely covered and he couldn't hear anything any more.
What would it feel like to die? It was the question he'd been avoiding all day, and now it was all he could think of. Would he feel his lungs constricting, the ventricles bursting? Would his consciousness remain as his brain shut down, sensing his personality slowly sliding away? Oh god - would it hurt?
He couldn't help himself then. His fingers scrabbled desperately against the lid. But the space was so tight that he couldn't get any leverage, the weight already too great for him to lift.
There was only a little air in the coffin with him and he was already gasping for oxygen. If he'd had more breath, he would have tried to scream at them to let him out.
The grave's a fine and private place...
The sentence lengthened and distorted as he asphyxiated, crumbling into individual words, then dissolving into meaningless sounds. And then there was only silence.
Geraint pushed open the door quietly, hoping he'd be able to get himself ready before she knew he was home. But he heard her call out, "Is that you, cheri?" and he grimaced then smiled as he walked through the hallway into the living room.
She was still in her wedding gown, the pure white of the dress startling against her dark skin.
"Sweetheart, I'm so sorry," he said.
"Your work's important, I understand," she told him, and he knew she really meant it.
"Why don't you go to bed? I'll be with you in a moment." He tried to make his voice gentle rather than impatient.
She swallowed, then nodded, a flush high on the ridges of her cheekbones. Then she turned and climbed the stairs that led to their bedroom.
He waited till she was out of sight before he slipped into the kitchen. He felt a moment's panic as he looked under the sink, but the blood was still there, behind the detergent bottles where he'd hidden it early in the morning before they'd left for the church. The coil of coarse rope lay beside it, but that was for later.
He was pleased to find that the anti-coagulant he'd mixed with the blood had kept it liquid. He stripped his shirt off, then his trousers, dragging his briefs down with them. A quick prayer, then he began to daub the symbols on his chest, shoulders and arms. The pentagram he put on his back was crude and crooked but that didn't matter - it was intent that counted. A last trickle of gore on the thickening length of his penis, and he was done.
He left the blood a moment to dry, then pulled a baggy blue t-shirt over his head to cover the pattern. A more worldly woman might have asked why he was coming to his wedding bed clothed, but he thought her inexperience would make her glad of it. That was the advantage of a virgin bride.
Well, one of the advantages.
She smiled nervously when he walked into the bedroom, a sliver of white teeth barely visible in the gloom. She'd turned the lights down and closed the curtains but that was fine. His Lord liked to work under cover of darkness.
He pulled the sheet away from her, then stripped the nightgown over her head in one quick motion. He ignored her gasp, pinning her wrists to the bed above her head as he lowered his bulk on top of her.
Her eyes found his. "Do you love me?" she whispered.
"Of course I love you," he said, and felt the One he served gorging on the lie.
He pushed his way inside her sharply, against resistance and then a sudden release. He felt her blood trickling into his pubic hair and saw a dark stain of it on the sheet beneath her. Good. There had been a small part of him that wondered whether she really could be as pure as his plans required.
She was crying now, but he wasn't really listening, concentrating instead on the bite of his nails into the flesh of her arms as he held her down, the animal motions of his hips, letting his own consciousness drift away so that another, greater, could move in to occupy him.
It only took a few more strokes to finish, thrusting himself as far inside her as he could while his seed left him in a rush. He kept himself still for a few moments, to be sure the task was completed, then pulled out and rolled away.
She curled into a ball as soon as his weight was off her, her breath coming in sobbing hitches. It was a desperate sound, the anguish of someone who'd lost everything they cared about or hoped for, but he wasn't worried. She was a Catholic. She'd keep it, the thing his spells had ensured would come of this night. He walked downstairs and into the kitchen without a backward glance.
The rope was heavier than he'd expected and it took him three tries before he realised he wouldn't be able to throw it over the beam that ran the length of the room. Eventually, he climbed onto a rickety stool and eased the rope over.
He stayed on the stool, swaying precariously, when the rope was tied. The noose felt loose around his neck, scratchy against his late-evening stubble. He tightened it with a quick jerk, another downward to test the strength of the beam. Unnecessary, really - he'd already tried it out with the largest sack of potatoes he could find. He'd put on a pound or two in the last few years, but he didn't think his weight would break the house. He laughed when he thought it - carried on laughing, with the most intense joy he'd ever felt, because after all this time, he'd finally done it. It was all beginning.