The Newcomer’s Guide to Hell.
That was the title of the book that Natchez held in his hands. He had found it among the desiccated remains of a woman, clutched to her breast like a starving babe. When he pried the book out of her hands, the woman’s eyelids fluttered, opening to reveal black pits full of writhing red maggots.
Natchez had screamed and jumped away from the woman, who remained still. He did not realize until later that he was clutching the book like a talisman.
Now he stared at the book. It was covered in supple brown leather with a curious golden finish that glimmered in the harsh light. The title was picked out in gold thread.
Swallowing, Natchez opened the book.
The first line of black script read, Welcome to Hell.
Natchez shut the book. After a moment, he opened it again and continued to read.
The first thing you need to know is that this is not a dream or a trick or a psychotic episode. If you are reading these words, you have died and gone to Hell.
“Oh fuck,” muttered Natchez.
The second thing you need to know is that no one in Hell cares about you.
You are on your own.
It was all written so plainly, so matter-of-factly, that Natchez did not doubt the author for a moment.
The third thing you need to know is that you cannot trust anyone in Hell.
Or any thing.
The book continued in that vein and Natchez kept reading.
* * * * *
Kizamatza found the man, lying on his side, little more than bones wrapped in flesh.
The scavenger snorted and knelt. He was a big man, six feet tall, with piss-yellow eyes and scarred skin mottled by multicolored tumors. In his right hand, he carried a bone knife, in his left, he carried a satchel.
Kizamatza prodded the dry man with his foot. The man did not move or utter a sound.
He knelt and saw that the man clutched a book to his chest.
Frowning, Kizamatza plunged his bone knife into the dry man’s skull. With an audible pop, the man’s spirit exploded from his flesh. It circled the body in confused circles, a sickly green will-o-the-wisp, barely visible in the bright cancerlight.
Kizamatza pulled a spirit-catcher from his satchel, and swatted the confused soul with it. The soul mewed pitifully as it was caught in the spirit-catcher’s web. Casually, Kizamatza shoved spirit-catcher and prize back into his satchel.
He examined the body, but there was nothing there worth taking. Not really. The skin might have been worth something, but Kizamatza’s skinning knife had broken two nights ago. Scowling, he started to stand, when he remembered the book.
He pulled it free of the dry man’s fingers and examined it. Bound in fine human skin. Decorated with real thread-of-gold. Kizamatza could feel the prickle of necrotic energies under his fingertips.
“I could sell you for a pretty price in the markets at Dis,” rumbled Kizamatza. “If I got there.”
Snorting, he tossed the book aside, unopened and resumed his trek.
Behind him, the book glittered like gold.