Deleted Prologue From Prince of Shadows
What a waste.
Ganelon watched the creature fall, body twisting, claw-tipped fingers grasping, as if the thick, hot air might save it from the white-capped flames that lay in wait at the base of Hell’s pit. It didn’t scream during its decent, just that one brief screech as flesh met fire and then the audible pop as the flames consumed it.
A puff of steam rose in billowy chuffs of gray from the chasm. Ganelon contemplated that puff of cloud, tipping his head as it rose above him, and fought back the scowl when it was embraced into the curtain of the liege lord’s membranous wings and enfolded with the pulsing orb of living energy already cradled against the lord’s blackened breast cavity. Everything seemed to hush, a pause in the fabric of existence as the sacrificed soul gave over its purpose to the will of the dark lord. And though Ganelon knew better than to think he could sense such an event from down in these depths, it still seemed to him that the entire world above stilled for a second, a moment of silence to honor the lost soul. Which was ridiculous: no one was going to miss the soul of the being that had just been sacrificed in the liege lord’s flames.
“And now the last,” Lucifer murmured, his eyes still closed, hand stroking the churning tendrils of raw power he cupped within his curled wings.
The creature beside Ganelon swallowed audibly, his voice raspy and desperate as he grasped at Ganelon’s cloak. “Please, father.”
Ganelon blinked down at the five-jointed fingers clasping his arm, sparing a brief glance at the asymmetrical face of its owner. An experiment gone wrong and one he regretted. Copulating with the demon that was its mother had been a task requiring much fortification and ultimately not worth the results. Weak of mind and body, with a tendency to cringe and grovel rather than fight this…offspring’s…usefulness was highly in question. The creature was useless for Ganelon’s army, ergo its loss an acceptable one.
“You honor our liege above all others with your sacrifice.” But even as he said the words they seemed hollow.
Thirteen sacrificed. Thirteen souls snuffed out of existence as if they never were so that one might be reborn from Hell’s fire. Considering seven of those souls had been his— even if disappointments such as the one that stood before him now —Ganelon thought it incredibly unfair for this particular purpose.
It wasn’t him that wished the incompetent bastard back.
“Bring the last forward.” Impatience tinged the liege lord’s words this time, compelling Ganelon more than anything else could have. What they did here today may indeed be against his advisement, but now with the decision made, any show of reluctance on his part would be a surefire way to guarantee loss of favor with Lucifer.
“Our liege has asked you to step forward,” he reminded his son, edging him forward with a push of power that brought the young merker to the cusp of the edge. It tried to turn, and in true graceless fashion slipped, clawed feet digging for purchase in the lip of the gaping pit. Ganelon stood dispassionately as the edge crumbled, feet slipping, body sliding into the maw. For a moment he thought—hoped—it was over, but at the last second the merker managed to snag a handhold in the cracked surface.
“Father, please!” it cried, clinging with one clawed limb as it stretched out its other hand imploringly.
Ganelon cringed, disgusted; both with the creature and with the fact that there was such an association to call upon. Across the room Lucifer made a sound of impatience. “I can see why you chose this one. Its lack of enthusiasm for our cause is disappointing.”
Ganelon stiffened at the indirect rebuff, and stepped forward, raising his leg. All he had to do was bring his foot down to end the creature’s torment. One sharp strike and it would end his mistake. No, not just end: eradicate. Destroy as if it never had been. Its very soul erased from existence.
There were a lot of mistakes Ganelon would like to go back and erase. This one, at least, he could do.
If only memories were so easy.
With a roar of frustration he smashed his foot into the creature’s face, the blow snapping its head back with an audible crack. And still it clung, its head rolling limply on its neck as its claws dug further into the chasm’s lip.
“Would you. Just. Let. Go. Already!” Ganelon raised his foot again, brought it down. Again and again and again, the skewed features no longer even recognizable when finally, finally, the damn thing let go. Breathing heavy, Ganelon turned, ready to make his way back to his position at his liege lord’s right side, but was drawn up short by an anguished cry that wafted up from the pit behind him.
“Faaattther—” Another hiss. Then silence as his son’s last plea for mercy was consumed by the fires.
Lucifer chuckled, shaking his head as he enfolded the steaming clouds of released power into the rest. “Pleading to the last. I suppose one has to admire the tenacity in that. In fact, I think I will infuse some of the same in the fabric of the soul to be reborn. Yes, tenacity would be good for him.”
Ganelon ground his teeth, but nodded, stepping up to Lucifer’s side. It happened between one breath and the next. Lucifer scraped his clawed hand across his chest, black blood beading and mixing with the mist as he murmured some words, and though Ganelon strained to hear them, their meaning became undecipherable in the vast roaring of Hell’s fabric tearing as it gave up the requested soul. From out of the raging chaos came a twist of dark laughter as the lost soul grasped to it the potential of the sacrificed thirteen, molding and sculpting their power into the new shell formed of Lucifer’s blood and will.
The creature roared, throwing his arms out and flinging his head back as he tested out the new body. Larger than the last and covered with rippling muscle, it was a far cry from the sinewy grace of its former shell, though it still had a devilishly handsome quality of the face that spoke of his original heritage. In fact, with the olive-toned skin and black as night hair there was little resemblance to the last flesh-born son of Lilith that Ganelon had come to know and abhor.
“Does the new body please you, son?” Lucifer asked, causing Ganelon to frown. The liege lord spoke in general terms, of course. In fact he tended to use such forms of address for any of the souls in his keeping, but something about the way he said it now struck a nerve with Ganelon and he felt himself edging closer to the liege lord’s right side as a reminder.
The creature took his time answering, twisting his neck first one way then the other, testing out the power and flexibility of each limb before eventually nodding, bending his body into an impossibly elegant head to knee bow.
And all right, some things hadn’t changed. The worm still groveled with the best of them.
But he’s not a general. Will never hold such a place of honor. Not with his headstrong rashness.
“Aren’t you going to welcome me back, brother?” Christos’s lips peeled back into a fang revealing sneer. Ganelon wanted to wipe that sneer off his face or, better yet, push the stupid bastard backwards into the hungry fires of the pit he stood so negligently in front of. Instead he dipped his head, offering his prodigal brother the most of a bow he’d ever gift him.
“It is good to have my brother in purpose by my side once more,” he said, but all he could think was: What a damn fucking waste.