Passage to Dawn

PROLOGUE
She was beautiful, shapely, and pale-skinned with thick, lustrous hair cascading halfway down her naked back. Her charms were offered openly, brazenly, conveyed to him at the end of a gentle touch. So gentle. Little brushing fingers of energy tickled his chin, his jawbone, his neck.

Every muscle of his body tensed and he fought for control, battled the seductress with every bit of willpower remaining in him after so many years.

He didn't even know why he resisted anymore, didn't consciously remember what offerings of the other world, the real world, might be fueling his stubbornness. What were "right" and "wrong" in this place? What might be the price of pleasure? What more did he have to give?

The gentle touch continued, soothing his trembling muscles, raising goose bumps across his skin wherever those fingers brushed. Calling to him. Bidding him to surrender. Surrender.

He felt his willpower draining away, argued against his stubbornness. There was no reason to resist. He could have soft

sheets and a comfortable mattress; the smell-the awful reek so terrible that even years had not allowed him to get used to itbe taken away. She could do that with her magic. She had promised him.

Falling fast, he half-closed his eyes and felt the touch continuing, felt it more keenly than before.

He heard her snarl, a feral, bestial sound.

Now he looked past her. They were on the lip of a ridge, one of countless ridges across the broken, heaving ground that trembled as if it were a living thing, breathing, laughing at him, mocking him. They were up high. He knew that. The ravine beyond the ridge was wide, and yet he could not see more than a couple of feet beyond the edge. The landscape was lost in the perpetual swirling grayness, the smoky pall.

The Abyss.

Now it was his turn to growl, a sound that was not feral, not primal, but one of rationale, of morality, of that tiny spark that remained in him of who he had been. He grabbed her hand and forced it away, turning it, twisting it. Her strength in resisting confirmed his memories, for it was supernatural, far beyond what her frame should have allowed.

Still, he was the stronger and he forced the hand away, turned it about, then set his stare upon her.

Her thick hair had shifted a bit, and one of her tiny white horns had poked through.

"Do not, my lover," she purred. The weight of her plea nearly broke him. Like her physical strength, her voice carried more than was natural. Her voice was a conduit of charms, of deceit, of the ultimate lie that was all this place.

A scream erupted from his lips and he heaved her backward with all his strength, hurled her from the ridge.

Huge batlike wings unfolded behind her and the succubus hovered, laughing at him, her open mouth revealing horrid fangs that would have punctured his neck. She laughed and he knew that although he had resisted, he had not won, could never win. She had almost broken him this time, came closer to it than the last, and would be closer still the next. And so she laughed at him, mocked him. Always mocking him!

He realized that it had been a test, always a test. He knew who had arranged it and was not surprised when the whip tore

into his back, laying him low. He tried to take cover, felt the intense heat building all around him, but knew that there was no escape.

A second snapping had him crawling for the ledge. Then came a third lash, and he grabbed on to the lip of