Chapter no 3

Hell Bent

It turned out taking dictation letter by letter from a reanimated corpse took a long time, and it was 2 a.m. when they finally finished the ritual.

Alex wiped away the chalk circle and made sure to stay far from the eyeline of the high priest. She didn’t think it would be good for her new and improved make-no-waves policy if she kneed some esteemed alum in the nuts.

“Calista,” she said quietly, flagging down the delegation president.

“Thank you so much, Alex! I mean Virgil.” She giggled. “It all went so


“Jacob Yeshevsky might disagree.” She laughed again. “True.”

“What happens to him now?”

“The family thinks he’s being cremated, so they’ll still get his ashes. No harm done.”

Alex cast a glance at the crate where Yeshevsky’s body had been stowed. When the general had gotten his answers and the ritual concluded with a final strike of the gong, the body hadn’t simply collapsed. They’d had to wait for it to tire, clambering over the letters. Whatever it was saying, no one was bothering to transcribe it, and the sight of that corpse dancing frantically over the floor, building word after word, maybe gibberish or a cry from beyond the grave or the recipe for his grandmother’s banana bread, had somehow been worse than anything that had come before.

“No harm done,” Alex echoed. “What was he spelling out there, at the end?”

“Something about mother’s milk or the Milky Way.”

“It doesn’t mean anything,” the high priest said. He’d removed his veil and robes and was dressed in a white linen shirt and pants as if he’d just sauntered off of a beach in Santorini. “Just a glitch. It happens. Worse when the corpse isn’t fresh.”

Alex slung her backpack over her shoulder, eager to be gone. “Sure.”

“Maybe it was a reference to the space program,” Calista said, glancing at the alum as if for approval.

“We’re having drinks in the—” the high priest began.

But Alex was already shoving her way out of the temple room and down the hall. She didn’t slow her steps until she was free of the Book and Snake tomb and the stink of roses, the air still warm with the last gasp of summer, beneath a starless New Haven sky.



Alex was surprised to find Dawes waiting at the Hutch, sitting cross-legged and barefoot on the rug in cargo shorts and a white T-shirt, her index cards arranged in neat piles around her, her hair tucked into a lopsided bun. She’d placed her Tevas neatly by the door.

“Well?” she asked. “How did it go?”

“The body got free and I had to bring it down with the Phantom Loop.” “Oh God.”

“Yup,” Alex said as she headed into the bathroom. “Lassoed that thing and rode it all the way to Stamford.”

“Alex,” Dawes scolded.

“It went fine. But…” Alex stripped off her clothes, eager to be rid of the smell of the uncanny. “I don’t know. The corpse kind of ran down at the end. Started in about the Milky Way or mother’s milk or milk for his undead cereal. It was fucking grim.” She turned on the shower. “Did you tell Anselm we can’t meet with the new Praetor on Saturday?” When Dawes didn’t answer, Alex repeated the question. “I can’t meet with the new Praetor on Saturday, okay?”

A long moment later, Dawes said, “I told Anselm. But that only buys us a week. Maybe … Maybe the Praetor will have an open mind.”

Alex doubted it. There were plenty of rogues in Lethe’s history—Lee De Forest, who had caused a campus-wide blackout and been suspended as a result; hell, one of the founders, Hiram Bingham III, hadn’t known anything about archaeology and had still scurried off to Peru to steal a few artifacts—but there was no chance Lethe had chosen some kind of maverick to serve as Praetor now, not after what had happened last year. And not with Alex in the mix. She was too much of an unknown, an experiment they were still waiting to see play out.

“Dawes, trust me. Whoever this guy is, he’s not going to sanction a field trip to hell.”

She lit the censer filled with cedar and palo santo and stepped under the water, using verbena to wash away the stink of the uncanny.

In their months of searching, she and Dawes had found exactly one clue to the location of the Gauntlet, a cramped bit of text in the Lethe Days Diary of Nelson Hartwell, DC ’38.

Bunchy got drunk and tried to convince us some of Johnny and Punter’s friends built a Gauntlet so they could open a door to the fiery furnace, if you please. Naturally I demanded proof. “No, no,” says Bunch. “Far too chancy to leave any record.” They swore each other to secrecy and all they let slip was that it was built on hallowed ground. A bit too convenient, I say. Bet they all just skipped chapel and ended up well sauced in a crypt somewhere.

Hallowed ground. That was all she and Dawes had to go on, a single paragraph about a drunk named Bunchy. But that hadn’t stopped them from trying to visit every graveyard, cemetery, synagogue, and church built before 1938 in New Haven, hunting for signs. They’d come up empty, and now they’d have the new Praetor looking over their shoulder.

“What if we say fuck the Gauntlet and try Sandow’s hound-dog casting instead?” she called over the rush of the water.

“That didn’t go very well last time.”

No, it hadn’t. They’d almost been eaten by a hellbeast for their trouble. “But Sandow wasn’t really trying, was he?” Alex said, rinsing the soap

from her hair. “He thought Darlington was gone forever, that there was no

way he could survive a trip to hell. He thought the casting would just prove Darlington was dead.”

It had been a horrible night, but the ritual had brought back Darlington, or at least his voice, to accuse Sandow.

Alex turned off the water and grabbed a towel off the rack. The apartment seemed impossibly quiet.

She almost thought she imagined it when she heard a faint “Okay.” Alex paused, wringing the water from her hair. “What?”


Alex had expected Dawes to protest, start throwing up obstacles— it wasn’t the right time, they needed to plan, it was too dangerous. Had she spread her tarot cards out in front of her in the living room? Was she reading something other than calamity?

Alex pulled on a clean pair of shorts and a tank top. Dawes was in the same spot on the floor, but she’d pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them.

“What do you mean, ‘okay’?” Alex asked.

“Do you know what the Greeks called the Milky Way?” “You know I don’t.”


Alex sat down on the edge of the couch, trying to ignore the sliver of cold in her gut.

Galaxias. Galaxy. Was that the word the corpse had been spelling out again and again?

“He was trying to reach you,” said Dawes. “To reach us.”

“You don’t know that.” But it had happened before. During the prognostication ritual the night that Tara was murdered, and again during the new moon ritual when Darlington had tried to warn them about Sandow. Was that what he was trying to do now? Warn her? Blame her? Or was he crying out to her from the other side of the Veil, begging for her help?

“There’s … something … we could try.” Dawes’s words came in stutter stops, Morse code, a distress signal. “I have an idea.”

Alex wondered how many catastrophes had begun with those words. “I hope it’s a good one.”

“But if the Lethe board finds out—” “They won’t.”

“I can’t lose this job. And neither can you.”

Alex didn’t intend to think about that right now. “Do we go to Black Elm?”

“No. We need the table at Scroll and Key. We need to open a portal.” “To hell.”

“I can’t think of anything else.” Dawes sounded desperate.

They’d been trying all summer and had nothing to show for it. But had Alex really been trying? Or had she felt safe tucked away with her research at Il Bastone? Walking the streets of New Haven, searching for churches and sacred places, seeking out signs of the Gauntlet and finding nothing? Had she let herself forget that somewhere Darlington was lost and suffering?

“Good,” Alex said. “Then we open a portal.” “How do we get into Scroll and Key?”

“I’ll get us in.”

Dawes chewed on her lower lip.

“I’m not going to hit anyone, Dawes.”

Dawes tugged at a strand of her red hair, gone curly in the heat.

Alex rolled her eyes. “Or threaten anyone. I’m going to be real polite.”

And she would be. She had to find a way back to the game of pretend she’d played last year, had to find a new sea level. They would bring Darlington back. They would make everything right again. As far as the Lethe board knew, she was just a student who’d had a very bad freshman year. They didn’t know about the grade bump Sandow had granted her, or the part she’d played in his death, or the kills she’d racked up one awful night in Van Nuys.

But Darlington did. And if he wanted to make a case against her, that would be the end of it. What would she do then? What she always did. Locate the exits. Get out before the real trouble sticks. Nab a few expensive artifacts on the way out. That litany had become a kind of comfort, a chant to keep her fear of the future at bay. But it was all more complicated now. Her options had been bleak before, but now they were downright ugly, and

she was all out of places to run. Because of Eitan. Because whether Gauntlet or gate or bus to the beyond, there was always hell to pay.

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