Return to the beginning.
“Quickly,” Galen shouted, “there’s no way to know how much time we’ll have.”
The mist in the air conformed to Arturus’ will. He could shift it, move it to one side, or make it thicker elsewhere. The stone had become natural, and there was no evidence that any of it had been cut or worked over, even by Hell’s architect. Flashes of blue light would illuminate the caves at random intervals. Arturus watched his feet cut through the supernatural mist.
The mist that obeys my mind.
He remembered Galen’s warning about being this close to Sheol. He remembered how thoughts here could subtly affect reality, how hellsong might bend to his will—and how a moment’s fantasy might be enough to kill.
The passageway opened up to the Erebus, the river of darkness.
This was the second time Arturus had seen it, but he was no less in awe for having experienced it before.
The river itself was a dimness that filled the chasm between the two Hells Arturus had heard called Gehenna and Sheol. Through the darkness swam cords, thick as trees, made out of a blue light so intense it hurt to look at them. Those cords swept across the chasm, breaking, forking in two before binding together again, weaving themselves into a tremendous tapestry that hung down from the infinite heights above to dangle into the infinite depths below. Their light cut through the dim water-like vapors that were the
Erebus, creating pockets of visibility around themselves through which Arturus could see the stone shelf of Sheol—the Hell beyond his own. The place that, unless the stories were mistaken, he was destined to go to if he should die here. A place where every Carrion born he’d ever killed might be waiting for him. A place where Saint Wretch lived.
There was a howl, distant, but louder than anything else he’d heard in Hell.
“It’s like a train,” Aaron said.
Galen moved out onto the ledge that had formed where the tunnel ended, looking around. “There!” he shouted, pointing upwards. “Look! If we climb there, the Minotaur will not be able to catch us.”
Arturus looked to Johnny. The man had been burnt badly and was nearing a state of shock. Dakota swayed where he stood. His eyes were still unfocused, and he didn’t seem to have a good understanding of what was going on. Avery seemed unnaturally pale, but at least he was alert.
We might lose any one of them in this climb. Any one, or all three.
The howl stopped, but only for a moment, and when it came back it was louder. Arturus saw them, two Furies, coming up the Erebus. They were distant, two tiny lights on the edge of his vision.
Or all of us.
Arturus looked up the rock face to the opening where his father had pointed. It was about fifty yards up. The gradient of the slope was steep, but it wasn’t completely vertical, and there were many handholds. It would have been an easy climb had they not been saddled with wounded and forced to reckon with the threats of the Furies and the Minotaur.
Arturus leapt up to the stone and started climbing.
“Don’t worry,” Galen said. “The rocks are steady and easy to hold on to.” At first Arturus could hear the others behind him while they climbed, but as the Furies got closer, he could no longer hear their grunts, nor the sound of displaced pebbles skittering down the side of the cliff.
He looked back to the Furies. They were closer now, but not by much.
We might make it.
He looked down when he’d made it halfway. Galen had climbed off to one side, perhaps so that he could come across and help anyone in need. Johnny was keeping up, and the danger of the climb seemed to have given him focus. Avery was lagging behind, though. Arturus waited for him to get a little closer. Avery’s pants were stained with fresh blood.
His stitches must have opened again.
Dakota was the worst off and the farthest down. Kelly was just above him, trying to coax him upwards.
The gradient of the climb for the second half was more forgiving, and Arturus was glad for it. As he gauged the distance of the oncoming Furies, he felt that they would need to make better time on the second half.
“He’s here!” Kelly shouted.
Below, on the ledge they had stood on just five minutes before, the Minotaur stood, looking up at them. There were dyitzu there too, flanking him. Arturus could tell, instinctively, that they were afraid, though he could not remember having ever seen them fearful before.
The calls of the Furies mixed together, becoming loud enough to hurt Arturus’ ears. For a moment one was silent.
“Take cover!” Galen was shouting. “There are dyitzu below!”
Arturus climbed so that a large jut was below him. With that, and the change in the slope of the cliff, the dyitzu wouldn’t be able to get a clean throw at him. Aaron was coming up next, and Arturus waved him on.
“Keep this rock. . .” Arturus shouted, but the noise of the Furies was so intense that he couldn’t hear his own voice.
He waited until one was quiet. “Keep this rock behind us! They can’t see us.”
Aaron nodded. Then he climbed by.
Dyitzu fire spun upwards into the chasm above. The fireballs passed freely through the dark portions of the Erebus, lighting up the stones and the blue cords around them with their red firelight. When they touched the blue cords, they exploded, raining down droplets of liquid fire. Arturus had never seen a sight more terrifyingly beautiful.
Galen was firing one handed back down the cliff with his MP5. Avery and Johnny, one bloody and the other burned, came up around the jut next. Arturus climbed to one side so he could look down.
He searched for Kelly, but he couldn’t see her.
“Where’s Kelly?” he screamed at Avery and Johnny.
Waves of dyitzu fire swept past the jut Arturus was using for cover.
That was close. As they climb higher, they’ll have better shots at us.
“She’s with . . .” the rest of Avery’s sentence was blocked out by the twin calls of the Furies.
“Dakota. The bitch is with Dakota.”
The Furies were getting ever closer. They seemed to be made out of the same kind of effervescent substance that he might have imagined angels were made out of—except these things were no angels.
Arturus climbed to one side so that he could see Kelly. He saw a dyitzu far below, climbing up the rock. It formed a fireball. Arturus drew his pistol, but the thing had already hurled its fire at him. Arturus climbed over to his left, firing downwards. One bullet caught it in its face. The dyitzu fell backwards, bouncing off a stone and tumbling into the Erebus, spinning through the dark gaps between the blue cords until it touched one—the dyitzu’s corpse erupted into a shower of blood.
Arturus holstered his pistol, climbed a little farther, and looked down. There Kelly was, side by side with Dakota. She was shouting at him. They had found a fissure that was keeping them safe from the dyitzu fire. In a moment where one Fury’s call ceased, he heard more of Galen’s gunshots.
Arturus looked up to their destination. Aaron was already there, standing on the ledge.
I could be with him in a second.
Aaron bent down and helped Avery up. Johnny was nearly there too.
Arturus looked back to the Furies.
They were larger than he expected. The light that made them was shaped like warrior women, each one perhaps twenty feet tall—it was hard to tell at this distance—but their light spread out behind them on all sides in wing-like streams.
Maybe a thousand more yards?
Kelly and Dakota were rushing up through a part of their climb that left them vulnerable to dyitzu fire. The fireballs tore through the air around them. One impacted with the rock next to Kelly and sent its burning droplets across her. She didn’t slow down at all, but climbed on.
Galen was coming towards Arturus.
Arturus climbed farther up, stopping again to look. Dakota had slipped and was falling back down towards the fissure. He was going to die.
Kelly went back for him.
“No!” Arturus screamed down to her. “Kelly, let him die. There’s no time.”
But the sound of the Furies was too intense and there was no way that she could have heard him.
A few of the dyitzu crawled onto a stone ledge. From there they threw their fire more rapidly and with better accuracy. Arturus redrew his pistol and fired. He dropped one, but the others moved so that the jut which had saved him earlier was blocking his line of fire.
Kelly had been forced back into the fissure to avoid them as well.
Galen was beside him now. “Go!” Arturus had no trouble hearing his father’s voice over the Furies’ call.
“I can’t!” Arturus shouted back. “Kelly!”
“I love her!” Arturus paused for a moment after he shouted it.
Did I mean that?
Galen’s face went pale. “Climb, son.”
“I said climb!”
Arturus moved up the wall and grabbed Aaron’s reaching hand. Harpsborough’s Lead Hunter pulled him up onto the ledge. Arturus looked back and saw Galen. His father had climbed down towards Kelly and Dakota. Galen could go no farther without exposing himself to the hail of dyitzu fire.
He’ll die. He’ll die trying to save a girl I don’t even know if I love.
The light of the Furies was illuminating the rocks around them now. Their faces were tortured, or horrifically angered, or both. One’s mouth was closed, but it opened, and she issued forth her call with a vehemence that Arturus had never before heard.
Galen’s booming voice carried over the Furies’. “Kelly listen, and listen closely. If you’re going to live, you’re going to have to do exactly what I say. Understand?”
There was a pause, and Arturus could only hope that she had been able to reply.
“Stay down,” Galen continued. “The Furies will reach the dyitzu first. When I shout ‘go,’ you have to climb, and you have to climb as fast as you can. You can’t stop to help each other. If you do, you will both die. You both have to make it. Understand?”
There was another pause.
“And does Dakota understand?” Galen asked.
“That’ll have to do.”
The noise of the Furies shook the stones beneath Arturus. He could feel their calls vibrating up through his boots to hum in the hollow of his chest. He could even feel their sound in his teeth. The twin woman warriors were only moments away, their flowing trails of light spread out behind them. They had eight arms each, and in the hand of every arm was a blade. They disappeared beneath the jut.
“Now!” Galen boomed.
Arturus watched his father scale the cliff at a pace he would not have thought possible.
The dyitzu blood splattered freely out from behind the stone jut, showering down into the abyss. Kelly and Dakota came into view, and no fire harassed them. Arturus looked back to the dyitzu. They were spreading out along the cliff, climbing in all directions, struggling to save themselves from the relentless Furies. One dyitzu threw a fireball in some pitiful defense, but the fire passed right through the Fury’s light. The Fury howled so loudly that the dyitzu clutched its hands over its ears. It fell, but before it could drop more than even a few feet, two slashing blades of light tore it into pieces.
Kelly was faster than Dakota and Arturus dropped to his belly, reaching out with his hand. Galen lay down beside him.
“When we get her, run with her back into the corridor,” Galen shouted. “I’ll get Dakota, if I can.”
Kelly was close, twenty feet away. Fifteen.
One of the Furies came over the jut. Four of her arms were stretched towards them, brandishing swords. The other four, the lower arms, had sheathed their blades and were pushing up off of the rocks as she soared upwards.
Arturus stretched his arm out as far as he could.
Ten feet. Five. He clutched at her wrist. Galen grabbed her, too, pulling her up so fiercely that Arturus wasn’t sure if he’d helped at all. Her momentum practically carried him back down the corridor. Arturus scrambled to his feet and ran with her away from the Erebus.
Galen came after, dragging Dakota as he ran. But then he dropped the man. At first Arturus thought his father was abandoning Dakota, but then his mind processed what he’d seen.
Galen had only dropped the top half of Dakota.
"March Till Death is McCoy at his best. A heart-pounding adrenaline rush with characters deeper than the Hell they are damned to."
—Matt Michaelis, Author of Kids Summon the Damndest Things
"McCoy caps off his series with a work of pure brilliance. In this volume Hellsong goes from being a captivating read to a life changing one."
—Monet Jones, Author of the Captive Youth Trilogy
"McCoy's unrivaled setting meets its match in a tightly woven plot and some truly extraordinary character arcs. In a genre rife with tropes and forgettable stories, March till Death stands out as being both unique and powerful."
—Thomas the Younger, Author of These Windows
Driven ever farther from his home, Arturus must come to terms with the fact that, as a denizen of Hell, it simply may not make sense for him to feel things like hope or love.
In a place where all that ends is ill, hope is a lie.
In a place where all who breathe are selfish, love is a liability.
But Arturus can’t help himself—his heart longs for his home and for the people he left so far behind. All men dream, didn’t you know? Even the damned ones...
Especially the damned ones.