Working for the DevilLilith Saintcrow
Copyright © 2005 by Lilith Saintcrow
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First eBook Edition: July 2007
About The Author
Kitty And The Midnight Hour
SOMETHING NASTY WAS ON MY FRONT STEP
I reached over and curled my fingers around the sword. I touched the door, spreading the fingers of my right hand against smooth iron. My rings rang and vacillated, reading the flow of whatever was behind the door.
Oh, gods above and below, I thought. Whatever it is, it’s big.
I unlocked the door and stepped back, my sword half-drawn. The door creaked slowly open.
Standing on my front step was a tall, spare, golden-skinned man dressed in black jeans and a long, black, Chinese-collared coat. The bright silver gun he held level to my chest was only slightly less disconcerting than the fact that his aura was cloaked in twisting black-diamond flames. He had dark hair cut short and laser-green eyes.
Great. A demon on my doorstep, I thought, and didn’t move. I barely even breathed.
“Danny Valentine?” he asked.
HELLBLAZING ACCLAIM FOR
WORKING FOR THE DEVIL
“WORKING FOR THE DEVIL has a fast-paced story, interesting characters, and a bittersweet romance that tugs at the heart. A fun read.”
—Anne Bishop, author of The Black Jewels trilogy
“I have to say this book just blew me away. I ate it up! I loved, loved, loved this book. Couldn’t put it down. Darkly compelling, fascinatingly unique . . . A fantastic ride I never wanted to end.”
—Gena Showalter, author of Awaken Me Darkly
“What a great read! The world-building is rich, the action exciting, and it doesn’t take one of Saintcrow’s psions to predict this book will be a big, big hit with fans of urban fantasy.”
—Emma Holly, author of The Demon’s Daughter
To L. I.
I keep my bargains.
Writing is a solitary endeavor—and yet, no book is created in a vacuum. My thanks must go first and foremost to James, Maddy, and Nicky. Without them, the drive to create would be not nearly so strong in me—and the bonds of love that keep me together would not exist. For James, then-“Bananas.” To Mom and Dad: bet you never guessed all those books would end up like this, huh?
Thanks are also due to Linda Kichline, one of the first to believe in me; Betsy Gallup and Ann MacDonald for the inception of AnotherChapter.com and for their editing, kindness, and great humor. The world of Danny Valentine would literally not be without them. Thanks to the best literary agent in the world, Miriam Kriss; I must also thank Devi Pillai at Warner, one of the best editors I’ve ever worked with. Without Miriam and Devi’s enthusiasm and care, this book would be much worse and probably unpublished to boot. Special note to them both: thank you for putting up with this neurotic writer.
A roll call of the people who kept me sane while I wrote this book: Joe Zeutenhorst, who can always be counted on for a good time and a sharp tongue, who also gave me the key to unlock Jace; Chris Goodwin, who danced with me at the Alibi Room; my sisters Alison and Tricia (always and forever, you know); Jess Hartley, who has been a true-blue friend ever since we met; Jeff and Janine Davis for putting up with one mad forgetful writer (special thanks to Jeff for long talks about the nature of ghosts); Josh Carter for his clarity (pop!pop!) and Andrzej Karwacki for teaching me so much about my own characters; Akira, Lenore, and Sideeffekt at DeadJournal, and Jonas Secher, who I will probably never meet face to face.
To Nicholas Deangelo, my heart still remembers your name. Thank you for teaching me about honor.
Big thanks to those creative people I’ve never met but who have informed the world of Dante Valentine: Joy Division and New Order, the Eagles, Moby, Mandalay, Garbage, Quentin Tarantino (who will never recognize himself in my books), Alex Proyas (who I want to direct some movies if we ever find the time), Jacqueline Carey (best damn fantasy author in the last decade), Jacques Cazotte, John Milton (of Lucifer’s party without knowing it), and many others who must remained unnamed.
Lastly: thank you to everyone who reads my work and calls it good. You are who I write for. And to those who read my work and call it bad: thank you very much. You inspire me to keep going just to prove you wrong.
Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
che la diritta via era smarrita.
Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed
In one self place, for where we are is hell,
And where hell is must we ever be.
—Mephistopheles, by way of Marlowe
My working relationship with Lucifer began on a rainy Monday. I’d just settled down to a long afternoon of watching the holovid soaps and doing a little divination, spreading the cards and runes out on the hank of blue silk I’d laid out, when there was a bashing on my door that shook the walls.
I turned over a card, my lacquered fingernails scraping. The amber ring on my left middle finger sparked. The Devil card pulsed, landing atop a pile of flat runestones. I hadn’t touched it. The card I turned over was blank.
“Interesting,” I said, gooseflesh rippling up my back. Then I hauled myself up off the red threadbare carpet and padded barefoot out into the hallway. My rings flashed, a drift of green sparks snapping and popping down my fingers. I shook them off, frowning.
The lines of Power wedded to my front door twirled uneasily. Something nasty was on my front step. I hitched up my jeans, then reached over and curled my fingers around the sword hanging on the wall. I lifted it down, chucked the
blade free with my thumb against the guard.
The peephole in the middle of the door was black, no light spilling through. I didn’t bother looking. Instead, I touched the door, spreading the fingers of my right hand against smooth iron. My rings rang and vacillated, reading the flow of whatever was behind the door.
Oh, gods above and below, I thought. Whatever it is, it’s big.
Bracing myself for murder or a new job, I unlocked the door and stepped back, my sword half-drawn. The blue glow from Power-drenched steel lit up my front hall, glimmering against the white paint and the full-length mirror hung next to my coatrack. I waited.
The door creaked slowly open. Let’s have some mood music for effect, I thought sardonically, and prepared to sell myself dear if it was murder.
I can draw my sword in a little under a second and a half. Thankfully, there was no need to. I blinked.
Standing on my front step was a tall, spare, golden-skinned man dressed in black jeans and a long, black, Chinese-collared coat. The bright silver gun he held level to my chest was only slightly less disconcerting than the fact that his aura was cloaked in twisting black-diamond flames. He had dark hair cut short and laser-green eyes, a forgettable face and dreamy wide shoulders.
Great. A demon on my doorstep, I thought, and didn’t move. I barely even breathed.
“Danny Valentine?” he asked. Well, demanded, actually.
“Who wants to know?” I shot back, automatically. The silvery gun didn’t look like a plasgun, it looked like an old-fashioned 9mm.
“I wish to speak with Danny Valentine,” the demon enunciated clearly, “or I will kill you.”
“Come on in,” I said. “And put that thing away. Didn’t your mother ever teach you it was bad manners to wave a gun at a woman?”
“Who knows what a Necromance has guarding his door?” the demon replied. “Where is Danny Valentine?”
I heaved a mental sigh. “Come on in off my front porch,” I said. “I’m Danny Valentine, and you’re being really rude. If you’re going to try to kill me, get it over with. If you want to hire me, this is so the wrong way to go about it.”
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a demon look nonplussed before. He holstered his gun and stepped into my front hall, peeling through the layers of my warding, which parted obediently to let him through. When he stood in front of me, kicking the door shut with one booted foot, I had him calculated down to the last erg of Power.
This is not going to be fun, I thought. What is a Lord of Hell doing on my doorstep?
Well, no time like the present to ask. “What’s a Lord of Hell doing on my doorstep?” I asked.
“I have come to offer you a contract,” he said. “Or more precisely, to invite you to audience with the Prince, where he will present you with a contract. Fulfill this contract successfully, and you will be allowed to live with riches beyond your wildest dreams.” It didn’t sound like a rote speech.
I nodded. “And if I said I wasn’t interested?” I asked. “You know, I’m a busy girl. Raising the dead for a living is a high-demand skill nowadays.”
The demon regarded me for maybe twenty seconds before he grinned, and a cold sweat broke out all over my body. My nape prickled and my fingers twitched. The three wide scars on my back twitched uneasily.
“Okay,” I said. “Let me get my things, and I’ll be happy to attend His Gracious Princeship, yadda-yadda, bing-bong. Capice?”
He looked only slightly less amused, his thin grim face lit with a murderous smile. “Of course. You have twenty minutes.”
If I’d known what I was getting into, I would have asked for a few days. Like maybe the rest of my life.
The demon spent those twenty minutes in my living room, examining my bookshelves. At least, he appeared to be looking at the books when I came downstairs, shrugging my coat on. Abracadabra once called me “the Indiana Jones of the necromantic world,” high praise from the Spider of Saint City—if she meant it kindly. I liked to dress for just about any occasion.
So my working outfit consists of: a Trade Bargains microfiber shirt, dries quickly and sheds dirt with a simple brush-off; a pair of butter-soft broken-in jeans; scuffed engineer boots with worn heels; my messenger bag strapped diagonally across my torso; and an old explorer coat made for photojournalists in war zones, with plenty of pockets and Kevlar panels sewn in. I finished braiding my hair and tied it off with an elastic band as I stepped into the living room, now full of the smell of man and cologne as well as the entirely nonphysical smell of demon—a cross between burning cinnamon and heavy amber musk. “My literary collection seems to please you,” I said, maybe a little sardonically. My palms were sweating. My teeth wanted to chatter. “I don’t suppose you could give me any idea of what your Prince wants with me.”
He turned away from my bookshelves and shrugged. Demons shrug a lot. I suppose they think a lot of what humans do deserves nothing more than a shrug. “Great,” I muttered, and scooped up my athame and the little jar of blessed water from my fieldstone altar. My back prickled with fresh waves of gooseflesh. There’s a demon in my living room. He’s behind me. I have a demon behind me. Dammit, Danny, focus!
“It’s a little rude to bring blessed items before the Prince,” the demon told me.
I snorted. “It’s a little rude to point a gun in my face if you want me to work for you.” I passed my hand over my altar—no, nothing else. I crossed to the big oak armoire and started flipping through the drawers. I wish my hands would stop shaking.
“The Prince specifically requested you, and sent me to collect you. He said nothing about the finer points of human etiquette.” The demon regarded me with laser-green eyes. “There is some urgency attached to this situation.”
“Mmmh.” I waved a sweating, shaking hand over my shoulder. “Yeah. And if I walk out that door half-prepared I’m not going to do your Prince any good, am I?”
“You reek of fear,” he said quietly.
“Well, I just had a gun shoved in my face by a Lord of Hell. I don’t think you’re the average imp-class demon that I very rarely deal with, boyo. And you’re telling me that the Devil wants my company.” I dug in the third drawer down and extracted my turquoise necklace, slipped it over my head, and dropped it down my shirt. At least I sound good, I thought, the lunatic urge to laugh rising up under my breastbone. I don’t sound like I’m shitting my pants with fright. Goody for me.
“The Prince wishes you for an audience,” he said.
I guess the Prince of Hell doesn’t like to be called the Devil. On any other day I might have found that funny. “So what do I call you?” I asked, casually enough.
“You may address me as Jaf,” he answered after a long crackling pause.
Shit, I thought. If he’d given me his Name I could have maybe used it. “Jaf,” however, might have been a joke or a nickname. Demons were tricky. “Nice to meet you, Jaf,” I said. “So how did you get stuck with messenger duty?”
“This is a sensitive situation.” He sounded just like a politician. I slipped the stiletto up my sleeve into its sheath, and turned to find him watching me. “Discretion would be wise.”
“I’m good at discretion,” I told him, settling my bag so that it hung right.
“You should practice more,” he replied, straight-faced.
I shrugged. “I suppose we’re not stopping for drinks on the way.”
“You are already late.”
It was like talking to a robot. I wished I’d studied more about demons at the Academy. It wasn’t like them to carry guns. I racked my brains, trying to think of any armed demon I’d heard of.
None sprang to mind. Of course, I was no Magi, I had no truck with demons. Only the dead.
I carried my sword into the front hall and waited for him. “You go out first,” I said. “I’ve got to close up the house.”
He nodded and brushed past me. The smell of demon washed over me—it would start to dye the air in a confined space, the ps
ychic equivalent of static. I followed him out my front door, snapping my house shields closed out of long habit, the Power shifting and closing like an airlock in an old B movie. Rain flashed and jittered down, smashed into the porch roof and the paved walk. The garden bowed and nodded under the water.
I followed the demon down my front walk. The rain didn’t touch him—then again, how would I have noticed, his hair was so dark it looked wet anyway. And his long, dark, high-collared coat, too. My boots made a wet shushing sound against the pavement. I thought about dashing back for the dubious safety of my house.
The demon glanced over his shoulder, a flash of green eyes in the rain. “Follow me,” he said.
“Like I have another option?” I spread my hands a little, indicating the rain. “If you don’t mind, it’s awful wet out here. I’d hate to catch pneumonia and sneeze all over His Majesty.”
He set off down my street. I glanced around. No visible car. Was I expected to walk to Hell?
The demon walked up to the end of the block and turned left, letting me trot behind him. Apparently I was expected to hoof it.
Carrying a sword on the subway does tend to give you a certain amount of space, even on crowded hovertrains. I’m an accredited and tattooed Necromance, capable of carrying anything short of an assault rifle on the streets and allowed edged metal in transports. Spending the thirty thousand credits for testing and accreditation at the Academy had been the best step I’d ever taken for personal safety.
Although passing the final Test had turned a few of my hairs white. There weren’t many accredited Necromances around.
The demon also granted me a fair amount of space. Although none of the normals could really tell what he was, they still gave him a wide berth. Normals can’t see psychic power and energy shifts, but they feel it if it’s strong enough, like a cold draft.
As soon as we started down the steps into the underground, Jaf dropped back until he was walking right next to me, indicating which stile to walk through and dropping two old-fashioned tokens in. I suppressed the shiver that caused—demons didn’t usually pay for anything. What the bloody blue blazes was going on?