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Prologue

The Marquis of Hell Prologue continued . . .

Then nothing.

With no moisture left in his mouth to swallow, Josef bit his lip. Trickles of sweat ran along his temples, and the drum of his heart picked up speed until he allowed his finger to feel the switch. The golden light chased the tightening out of his chest and the shadows retreated into their cages.

You’re such a coward. A crybaby.

His shoulders slumped. Josef had disappointed himself yet again but couldn’t bring himself to switch off the light. He drew the cover over his head as the clock ticked past 1 a.m.

Let the Hour of the Wolf begin.

The Leinkraum house wailed with old age. The wind brushed the corners of the yard. Leafless branches rattled in the garden. There was no traffic at this hour to remind him of the safe world humans created with their everyday bustle. Josef still felt the primordial fear of prey which senses the beast lurking behind the wall of darkness. He repeated the prayers he had learned at the Synagogue and let the providence of God escort him into the restless realm of dreams.

The vibration which awakened him started as a distant echo. He glanced at the alarm clock on the nightstand. The hands pointed to 3

a.m. He got up on his bare feet as the whole building shook. Dust from the ceiling landed on his pajamas and an explosion bathed the corridor in a white flash. Smoke erupted from upstairs as Josef leaned over the stairway railing to look up. The smell of a lit match lulled among the raining ash. The door of Papa’s study had flown off its hinges and allowed Josef to peek in.

Felix’s voice sang into the void that had formed within the circle of salt. “Lord Satan, by your grace, grant me, I pray thee, the power to conceive in my mind and to execute what I desire to do, the end of which I would attain by thy help…”

Five purple candles had capsized, and their flames had gone out. The jugs of milk and honey had spilled their contents. Salt jumped on the floor when another explosion sent ripples through the walls.

Beads of sweat formed on Josef’s upper lip as a pair of glowing embers appeared from the depths of the black hole above the pentagram. Josef grabbed the hem of his pajamas white-knuckled, his chest rising and falling rapidly as tears were forced from his eyes.

“Papa!”

But his father didn’t look at him. He stood in the middle of the pentagram. The foul smell…he’d used blood from the corpse of a lamb lying outside the five-battled star. Felix clutched a golden medal—a seal with Hebrew writing—in his left hand. Everything Josef witnessed in the office conflicted with Papa’s goodness.

Why are you doing this?

Felix wore a purple robe, and his face was hidden beneath a velvet hood. He raised a dagger which glimmered silver in the moonlight. His voice echoed as he spoke. “I entreat thee to inspire Marchosias, The King of Killers, to manifest before me that I may accomplish my desired end, provided that it is proper to his office. This I respectfully and humbly ask in Your Name, Lord Satan, may you deem me worthy, Father.”

A fireball bleached the walls while the smoke condensed into a figure of a black wolf with blazing eyes. Fire dripped from its tongue onto the floor. The animal sat in the middle of the pentagram and panted clouds of sizzling hot air.

The smell of sulfur made Josef gag.

The wolf stretched his front legs and dug his nails into the wood as the hair ruffled on his neck. He flapped his enormous wings as Felix said, “Thank you, Great and Mighty Marquis Marchosias for answering my call. I need your guidance and help. I ask you to take human form so I can explain myself.”

Saliva dripped from the animal’s mouth. The burning coals—the demon’s eyes—focused not on Felix, who bowed his head and kneeled, but on the boy who stood petrified in the doorway.

“Very well,” the wolf growled. “The magician’s wish is my command.”

The enormous animal bared its teeth in an imitation of a smile. Its eyes never left Josef as the hellfire molded a human figure who stepped out of the circle. He sat on Papa’s armchair, an indifferent blue settling onto Marchosias’ gaze. He leaned forward, exposing the attractive features of a young man.

“Why did you summon me?” he asked.

“Papa, who is he?”

Felix’s hand gestured for Josef not to move a muscle and his eyes reflected alarm. Josef’s breath stuck in his throat as he swallowed. Marchosias rose and crossed the floorboards without a sound. A trail of smoke followed him like a cloak. The pages of the spell book on the desk flipped on their own. Josef ordered his feet to back up, but his muscles didn’t obey. Hot tears made their way down his cheeks.

The young man’s lips never moved, but his voice engulfed Josef as he towered above him. “Josef—this name means God will increase. A fitting name for a Hebrew Soldier of God.”

“Please, Lord. Leave my son alone,” Felix begged. “Your business is with me.” He seemed unable to cross the boundary of the circle.

Marchosias paid no attention to Felix. He lowered himself to the boy’s level and placed his tanned hands on his shoulders. Josef flinched as the electricity of the demon’s touch shot through him. The fire in his eyes forced Josef to meet the stare of the Boogeyman. “Josef, tell me which one is worse—the demon who kills or the man who orders him to kill?”

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