Book Description: Cast to hell as a sacrifice, Stella meets Apollo, a ghost-like demon. He saves her life, but at a price. She must give him her soul and become his servant. He asks her to take him to the surface world and promised to use his magic to create a perfect life there she never had.
But the sorcerers banished Stella’s silver-tongued demon master for good reason and releasing him on the surface may have catastrophic repercussions.
Excerpt from the Gateway: Stella’s Demon
Cloaked in crimson, Stella proceeded down the platform. Surrounding her was a pool of black liquid giving off a pungent, metallic scent. Her nostrils burned as she inhaled the unholy odor.
Stella was still a child, yet she carried herself in a manner that aged her. She lost her childhood the day her mediator training started.
Holding out her hands, she halted. The long sleeves of her robe fell back and revealed the milky white of her sheltered skin. Her oversized hood blocked out everything but the task in front of her. She had to contact the demons of the Underworld or her teachers would kill her.
Closing her eyes, she begged in a soft whisper, “Please, hear me.” She recited her spell in a hushed tone.
But the minutes passed with no word from the demons below.
As her teacher approached, his footsteps were but a whisper in this world, but sounded like booms in Stella’s head. When he got close, Stella ended her spell and spun.
She stared at the ceremonial blade in her teacher’s hand. She took one step back, but stopped at the edge. She failed.
She glanced at the dark liquid around the platform. One slip and she would fall to the Underworld. The demons would feast on her screams, and the fires separating this world from Hell would strip her flesh from her bones.
“Please,” Stella pleaded with hands clasped. Her hood bounced as she fell to her knees. “Let me continue. I beg you.”
He grabbed the thick fabric of her robe, yanked her to her feet, and ripped down her hood. He yelled, “Hear me, my king! I sacrifice this girl in your name!” He took hold of Stella’s shoulder, bracing himself against her, and plunged the blade deep into the tender flesh of her stomach.
Stella’s scream pierced the thick silence, its shrill sound awakening the surrounding pool. The demons now responded to her, but not in the way she had wanted.
The water raged, its color now a sparkling green. It lit up the darkened room and illuminated the icy blue of Stella’s eyes. Now, she saw her attacker’s grin as he feasted on her pain.
Twisting the knife, he forced a grand scream from the young girl. “May this small gift bring you happiness in the Underworld.”
He retracted the blade, and she collapsed to her knees. Blood covered Stella’s fingers and fell like rain from the gaps between them. The man chanted, but she couldn’t make out his words, the sound muffled. As she lost consciousness, she begged for death to meet her here, instead of at the gates of Hell.
Her teacher stabbed her several times and as her blood fed the pool, the liquid grew brighter. She felt the light’s warmth, but her vision was clouded. With her last gulp of stale air, she passed out.
* * * *
Stella fell through the darkness between the surface world and Hell, and her body pulsed with a soft, white light. Long, translucent wings tucked around her.
She broke through the gates of Hell, her body falling like a dead weight to the land below. Dust churned around her like a smoky screen, the earth of the Underworld grey, like the ashes of the dead. The fragile wings that surrounded her shattered into sparkling specs of dust that disintegrated when they hit the cold earth.
Howls and shrieks pierced the air, the stench of rotting flesh poisoning it. She laid on a pile of skeletons. This was the resting place of the sacrifices that came before her, the bones still wet.
Slimy goo now covered her, and her hair soaked up the ashy earth. She lay still for a few minutes, a pool of blood staining her bed and spreading out around her.
Feeling water drip onto her face, Stella tried to force her eyes open, but could only manage a squint. A beast hovered over her.
The creature resembled a cross between a bear and a canine, sharp teeth lining his jaw. Behind him was a pack of similar demons and they all eyed her with hunger. Her face scrunched as she struggled to move.
Her rousing angered the feral demon, and it screeched. He lunged for her, and she closed her eyes as she prepared for the attack.
She felt a rush of wind, followed by the low growl of a lion. She peeked at a panther-like demon standing in front of her, his midnight fur standing on end. He attacked her pursuers. Ripping the flesh of the demon’s neck, the cat shook the dog until its neck snapped. He tossed its bloodied corpse to its pack.
Instead of fighting back, the dogs scurried off.
“What have we here?” A man chuckled as he circled her. He regarded her like a foreign body dropped from the heavens. “A live human? Here in my Underworld? No. It cannot be.”
He whistled, and the cat came to his side. He addressed the beast, “Samson. Turn her over.”
The cat sunk his teeth into the fabric of her damp robe near her side, tugged, and flopped Stella onto her back.
The pain radiating through Stella was unbearable. “Help me,” she wheezed.
“Ah…” Letting out a hearty chuckle, the man didn’t pity her. “What a treasure I have found in the boneyard.”
Stella mouthed the words, but couldn’t voice them, “Please.”
“Let’s make a deal.” Kneeling at her side, the man studied her face, his neon blue eyes locking on hers. “Give me your soul and become my servant. Only then, will I save you.”
Stella’s eyes fluttered open, her lips struggling to form the words.
“Hurry, my little one.” He glanced at the puddle of blood under her. “You have little time left.”
“Take it.” Stella’s hot tears stung her eyes.
“Say it or I cannot help you. Give it to me.”
“I give you my soul.”
“Good girl.” He laid his hands on her shoulders, but she couldn’t feel them. She stared into his eyes and awaited relief from her hurt.
His lips met hers, but she couldn’t feel the flesh of his kiss. Ice spread from her lips and consumed her body. It was an amazing feeling—tingling, like the taste of mint, and pushed every ounce of pain away.
Her eyes shot open when she he drew back. She hopped to her feet, touched her belly, and wiggled her fingers through the hole in her robe. She bore no wounds, only the wet blood staining the fabric remained.
Now that she was more alert, she inhaled the pungent scent of death. Covering her mouth, she vomited. It was a violent reaction and Stella held her stomach as she struggled to breathe.
The man laughed at her reaction, but didn’t seem bothered by the stench. “Ah, the boneyard.” He motioned to the mountains of bones that lay before him. “The welcome center of the Underworld. I forgot how weak you humans are. You cower at something so insignificant.”
He motioned for her to follow. Now doubled over, Stella dry heaved like a cat, as she hobbled along behind them. When they got away from the boneyard, the smell dissipated enough for her to speak.
“Thank you.” Overcome with gratefulness, Stella rushed to hug him. But to her surprise, she fell through him. Jumping back, she put a shaky hand to her lips. “You’re a ghost?”
“Who are you?” Stella stammered as her frantic gaze bounced over his cloaked frame. His face was in shadow, his thick hood hiding it.
“Did you hear me calling? Is that why you came?”
“Yes. You have a very piercing voice.” He gave a sideways smile and appeared annoyed. “Angelic. The infernal screeching made me wince.”
“It was annoying,” he snapped. “Just like those winged rats that infest Heaven. That’s all I meant. With such noise, sleeping is impossible.”
“I’m sorry if I have angered you. But I thank you for rescuing me. If it weren’t for you, I—”
“No need.” He held a hand up to silence her. “You will repay me for sparing you. I do nothing for free.”
“What do you ask of me, my lord?” Stella’s words shook as they left her lips. She scratched her back, the fresh tattoo there showing her bond to him. All those that sold their souls to demons got one.
She knew what it meant to make a soul contract with a demon. She was his slave. Forever. Now that she was fully conscious, she had doubts about her choice.
“Your name.” Apollo took a step closer, resting his hand on her shoulder.
“Stella.” Even though Stella couldn’t feel him, the invisible touch of his fingers made her shiver.
“Welcome to my prison, Stella.” Opening his arms wide, he gestured to the dead land around him.
“There’s no way back to the surface world, is there?” Stella rubbed her arms as she scanned the desert-like landscape.
“There is, and you’ll help me find it. And I thank you for waking me.” He sent her a grin when she looked his way. “It has allowed me some much-needed air.”
He walked, Stella hopping to his side and following suit. He continued, “I have been sleeping for a long time. Your voice has been the only one to reach me for many years.”
“But you’re a ghost.”
Apollo stared into the distance, a heavy sigh escaping his lips. “No, I’m not a ghost. The vision you see in front of you is a projection of myself. The Guardians have cursed my body to sleep forever in one of the seven towers.” He motioned toward the horizon. In the distance, a few towers loomed and laid in the center of a slow-moving river. “But you can break the spell that binds me there.”
“With magic.” He put his hands on her shoulders.
“But the Guardians and the Gateway conjured those seals.” She put a hand over her heart and doubted his plan. “There’s no way I can do something like that.” Her voice dipped and showed her hurt. “I can’t even pass the exam to become a mediator. I’m not capable of a feat so great.”
“You are not a common girl.” Apollo chuckled. “And you are destined for something greater than becoming a lowly mediator.”
“Yes. You are the Gateway and you will get us back to the surface.”
“I will?” She still doubted his words.
“How do you think you came to Hell in one piece? No human can pass through the gates without dying. The only humans here are those serving out their punishment of eternal pain here in Hell.” He motioned toward the river. “And they will never escape. But you—you are special. Heaven has blessed you with the power of the angels, and with your Gateway powers, you can pass between the realms. You will use those powers to help us reach the surface.”
“I’m not the Gateway. There must be some other explanation.”
“You are the Gateway. You just haven’t grown into your powers yet. I will help you with that. I have much to teach you before we practice invoking the great powers of the Gateway. Come.” He walked again, his pace faster than before. “Let us take shelter for the night.”
Stella nodded as she scanned the horizon. When she heard a few high-pitched whines from an animal getting tortured, she moved closer to Apollo. He glanced at her and snickered.
“Don’t worry. I will protect you.” He pulled down his hood and revealed his handsome face. His words slipped off his lips in a soft whisper, “My treasure.”