Hell is divided into seven regions. The first region is designated for the purest of souls, the seventh is for the evilest. There was once a king of Hell, but the steward family has ruled for centuries.
Nora, the stepdaughter of the steward is undone when her mother and step-father take away her beloved tutor, Peter. When Nora confronts the steward and her mother, the discussion is heated and ends with the steward in inexplicable pain.
Shortly after, Nora finds herself in the Starry Wood. Peter told her of the perils within the forest, and it’s not long before the inhabitants of the wood find her.
A giant hunter named Aegis comes to Nora’s aid. He is drawn to Nora, compelled to protect her from the steward’s assassins, the giants, and the evil souls who escape the seventh region.
Together, they travel the seven layers of Hell to discover why the steward is so threatened by a teenage girl.
You could change things, the voice whispered. What, though? There would always be bad people. They would always hurt those weaker than themselves. I couldn’t stop it—no one could. The worst part was that these people were escaping to kidnap good souls to bring them to this place. What would happen when the borders fully collapsed? These monsters could overrun the guards and roam the rest of Hell freely. Nowhere would be safe.
We passed the barricade into the next portion of the city. I assumed a rival gang held the territory on this side. Aegis still held my hand firmly as we made our way through what was an empty city center. The men at the barricade watched us, and it made me nervous. They seemed to know something we didn’t.
That was when I heard more new voices, not the usual voice that was my own with someone else’s words. These voices first came as whispers and laughter. They were voices I didn’t recognize. I looked at Aegis to see if he was hearing these things, but he looked onward. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but it felt evil.
“Aegis, maybe when we get out of sight, you can run through,” I pleaded. “No one would know what they were seeing.” I had the worst feeling about the ghosted ramparts. Aegis seemed to feel the same way.
“I don’t know the way, and it would be a choppy ride,” Aegis said. “We’ve got to be at least halfway through the city. I feel like we’re being watched.”
“I know we are.” And I did know.
I didn’t know how or why, but they were waiting for us. The voices grew louder, but I didn’t have time to worry about it. I tried my best to ignore them. I couldn’t explain it, but it scared me to a point where I could no longer speak. I tried to say Aegis’s name, but nothing came out.
“Okay,” Aegis finally said, “but you need to trust me. Don’t wiggle around.” He picked me up and held me as if I were some stray kitten. Holding me close, he went into motion.
The scenery changed so fast I couldn’t make out what things were anymore. I saw blurs of dark alleys and buildings. Occasionally, he would stop at a dead end, and the world jerked to a halt before he resumed moving at full speed down the next alley. “Choppy ride” didn’t begin to describe it. I was exhausted by my attempts to hold my head up.
Aegis eventually cradled my head and neck like I was an infant, another indignation I had no choice but to endure. This sort of thing wouldn’t have bothered me a few years ago, but at sixteen, I was a woman. If anything, the older I got, the more helpless I seemed to become.
We shuddered to a halt in another dead end.
“Are you okay?” he asked me.
I wanted to answer, but I vomited instead. The remnants of dinner spewed all over my clothes and down the front of Aegis’s coat. “I’m so sorry,” I said, horrified.
“This wasn’t a good idea after all.” Aegis’s brow creased, and his eyes were sad. “We can’t afford for you to become dehydrated, not in a place like this.”
“At least it would kill me faster,” I replied.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shayna Grissom was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. She currently resides in Seattle with her husband, two children, and her beloved pets. Shayna draws inspiration for her writings from binge-watching too many shows with far too much wine. She is a lover of the macabre, the strange, natural sciences, and films that feature vivid colors and imagery. Her favorite film director is Guillermo Del Toro, and her favorite books growing up were Anne Rice novels.
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