It wasn’t the first time I’d been to hell, though on this occasion it was by my own insistence. It was also the first time I’d been here in the flesh. And I went with the girl who would later become the Voodoo Queen. It was a delicate relationship between me and Annabelle Mulledy; we hated each other, but we also needed each other. It was in her interest that I continued to deem her an asset, of more use to me than not.
They say that hell is all fire and brimstone. I’m sure parts of it are like that, but I never went there. I was more interested in the cold, dark part of hell. The place where cursed spirits roam, including the spirits of presently-staked vampires—and, thanks to a witch, my brother.
“Edwin!” I cried out, hoping my long-dead brother’s spirit might respond. He had been dead for more than a century and the better part of another. But it was his soul, cursed by the remains of my vampiric heart, that kept me alive.
A wraith darted past my face, the cold chill of the vampire spirit frosting my cheek. This was the part of hell where vampires went when they were staked. I’d sent more than my share here myself. After what had happened to me, I could never bring myself to burn their hearts—the only way to ensure a vampire never comes back. I was the only exception to that rule. More than once, hunters who had heard of my exploits tracked me down and staked my chest. The horror on their faces when I laughed and sank my fangs into their necks after they’d staked me was the real prize. It isn’t the blood itself that we vampires crave—it’s souls, and human souls cohere in their blood. The more terrified the soul is when I feed upon it, the better it tastes.
A second wraith struck me in the chest. I extended my wand and zapped it with sunlight. You can’t kill the dead, but sunlight on a vampire’s wraith makes hell itself seem like a vacation. He wouldn’t fuck with me again. Annabelle didn’t know I was also a witch—and with her, I was playing my cards close to the chest. I quickly pocketed my wand. Thankfully, she hadn’t seen it. Annabelle was here on an errand of her own, a fool’s errand my sire had effectively blackmailed her to complete. If she knew the full reason I was here, she’d hardly comply. And we needed her. She was the only person we knew who could cut a literal gate into hell. It was the only way I could come here in the flesh.
In my human life they’d given me the name Mercy. Mercy Brown. I still used the name—my first name, anyway. I relished the irony of it. In my human life, before I was turned, I’d been a witch. Only recently did I resume my practice of the Craft. As much as I relished the flavor of human souls, the dark arts gave me a different kind of thrill. Another source of power. And nothing tastes better on my palate than power. Besides blood, of course.
I could hear the wraith I’d burned with sunlight screeching in the distance. That’s right, I thought, tell the others. Let them fear me more than they already do. Hell, half of the vampires here I’d staked myself. It was no wonder they’d attack me.
There was only one I was seeking, and it wasn’t going to be a pleasant reunion. It might even be the death of me. But I didn’t have a choice.