I myself have lived in Mort City for many years, and Magic City before that, and in a few smaller villages and estates spread across the endless leagues and rises of hell during my travels. You will find few demons, in other words, who are as long dead and prosperous as I, save perhaps The Angel himself. By all rights I should live up on Earth, where a rich demon might keep sufficient reserves to keep from Turning. But in time I have come to love the underworld, strange as that may seem, and I have found many ways one can grow wealthy without raping the precious souls of the innocent living. This chapter may provide you, in other words, with a way to be less evil than is necessary.
– Blood Dweller’s Guide to the Underworld, Chapter 6 (Diamonds Are Forever: Hell’s Sordid Economy)
Philip had never hoped for his own damnation, but as the enormous beast of a demon carried him over one shoulder at terrifying speed across the landscape, he couldn’t help but root for the bloodthirsty hounds that pursued them.
He wasn’t any kind of fool. He knew what was going to happen when they reached that Recall Spot. This Gorrilla – Meal – was going to torture him until he agreed to transport both of them through the portal to Freya’s house, and then he would damn Freya and turn Will’s body – and that of his sister – into mincemeat. Philip himself would be the last casualty, just as soon as he brought Meal back to hell.
Well you’ve got yourself in a fix this time. This isn’t like the war, either. Stakes are higher now. Now you haven’t even got heaven to hope for, ya knucklehead. He was talking to himself the way he used to, back when he was only a lad trying to survive on the front lines. He’d gotten a shrapnel wound once and spent a week or so fighting the infection and chastising himself constantly like a madman: now come on, ya dummy! Why’d you do that to yourself? Any more wise moves trying to be a hero like that and I’ll shoot you myself, y’understand?
He felt like an infant, his upper body bouncing up and down, draped over Meal’s hairy shoulder. Meal was travelling like no demon Philip had ever encountered, making leaps that could have cleared houses. He was weaving in and out of the buildings, and the contingent of hounds that had broken off to chase them down was diminishing with each turn.
At long last, Meal found them safe haven in the rubble of a collapsed building a league or two off course. Philip couldn’t even pretend to be lost – everyone knew that Reapers had an instinctive knowledge of their own Recall spots. When Meal jabbed his meaty thigh with the point of his knife, Philip could do nothing but curse and point the way.
The cries of the hounds grew ever more distant as they moved, and when at last the red star and circle of the Recall spot came into view the concrete fields were eerily silent. Meal dropped Philip in the middle of the star, pinning him on his back with one foot on his chest. He hefted his short sword over one shoulder and Philip couldn’t help but wonder where he’d gotten such a thing: it reminded him so much of the bayonets they’d used in the War. The very same, as it happened, that had taken his life.
‘I won’t do it,’ Philip said, but there wasn’t a hint of fight in him. He knew very well that he would do it, soon enough. But every minute he could delay them was one more for Freya to realise that something had gone wrong and prepare. He’d have to put up with as much pain as he could. ‘I’ll let the hounds have me before I take you back to Earth you damned monkey.’
Meal stared down at him, motionless, and an uneasy doubt entered Philip’s mind. He got the feeling that Meal was waiting for something. Nothing moved behind his large brown eyes, no thoughts flickered – he might as well have been a statue. When he spoke next, his words sounded half formed, as though he was a child reading aloud a book he didn’t understand: ‘You will take me through the portal. Now. Fat worm.’ And his flat face twisted in a goofy fat-lipped grin.
Ah, hell, it’s not worth it. You’re going through one way or the other. But a minute longer was a minute longer. He took his time to answer, and when he couldn’t bring himself to say the words aloud he just shook his head slowly. Then he collected the last of the tobacco flavoured saliva in his mouth and spat onto Meal’s leg.
Meal’s grin faded, and he waited again. His eyes flickered.
The bayonet came down so quickly Philip registered it as nothing but a grey blur. He didn’t even know it had cut him until his head started rolling across the hard ground, stopping only when Meal placed a foot on the side of his face. He screamed, but instead of air only black blood gushed from his open mouth, and that was soon nothing but a trickle. He was in shock. Air whistled through his severed wind pipe, and white spots flashed in the corner of his vision. What? What?
Meal took hold of Philip’s right ear and lifted his head off the ground so that he could see his chubby yellow body lying beneath him. Incredibly, he realised he could still feel the foot on his chest. He moved his left hand to grab Meal’s thick ankle, and felt the wiry hair between his fingers.
But Meal was not done.
While Philip watched, too shocked to notice the stinging flames of pain that crept up his neck, Meal leaned over and slit his belly open like a bursting sack. Black liquid spilled from the wound. It stunk like strong coffee and cigars. Meal sheathed his sword and then reached into the cavity. He searched for a minute until he found what he was looking for and tugged it free with enough force to shake Philip’s whole body. It was an organ: a rotted, barely beating heart.
He turned Philip’s head to face him, almost twisting his ear off in the process, and then forced the heart into his mouth, dislocating his jaw and muffling his screams, deeper and deeper until it lodged somewhere in his wind pipe. Panic rose in Philip like an ocean tide, threatening to drown him. He tried desperately to recall the words of advice he’d once read in Blood Dweller’s Guide, about how a body in hell was not a living body, and that it could be changed and transformed entirely by the mind. It was impossible. He could no more have calmed himself or eased his pain at that moment than he could have sprouted wings and flown away.
Meal held him steadily, observing hi struggle with curious eyes beneath a heavy brow. Then he spoke again in the same, childish slur: ‘You will take me through the portal. Now.’ He paused.
‘Or I eat your body.’
Philip closed his eyes, using every shred of will he possessed to bring his thoughts under control. The idea that things could get worse than this was incomprehensible, but there it was. There was no fighting this thing – this Monster. And, in a horrifying flash, Philip realised that that was exactly what he was dealing with – a true monster. It was impossible, but Philip so the truth in Meal’s blank eyes: The Angel had somehow found a way to harness this thing – this embodiment of chaos itself – for his own purposes. The implications were apocalyptic.
This terrible truth struck Philip in the space of a half second, and was then devoured by the horror of his situation. He was back in the War, in the trenches, in the worst of it with all the blood and screaming, and he was never coming back. His heart sat in the back of his throat like a cane toad, beating fit to burst. Meal watched him, blankly.
Philip did the only thing he could do: he opened the portal, and they soared for Earth.