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*****


Previously in Heaven Bent: At the mercy of the late movie star A.E., Stag confesses his role in A.E.'s death. When he admits to walking away from A.E.'s fatal drug overdose, A.E. whisks him out of the silver spire and straight to Hell to pay for his crime. After undergoing over a century of torture at A.E.'s hands, Stag finally experiences true remorse and receives absolution. But when he gets back to the spire, he finds his time in Hell only lasted a few hours of Earth time. The misty entities pulling the strings gave his soul accelerated purification because time is running out on the mission they've set aside for him. The entities want Stag to stop Heaven's civil war and unite rulers and rebels alike to activate the Empyrean Engine. The Engine, otherwise known as the silver spire, can transform the entire world into paradise on Earth...but only Stag has the right combination of abilities to harness its might. The entities plunge into him, promising to infuse him with the power he'll need to stand up to the warring sides. As soon as they enter his body, he collapses, overcome by a firestorm of agony...


As I writhed and shrieked on the floor, a wave of scalding pain roared through me, roasting every rational thought and normal sensation in its path. Even for someone who'd been through 115 years of pure Hell, it was impossible not to be crushed by the force of this cresting wall of destruction.

I felt like I was on fire, burning alive from the inside out. Thrashing and howling, I was too consumed by the blazing pain even to muster a conscious wish for it to end. I was reduced to a billow of sparks, unaware of anything but the heat of my own sizzling flame.

Then, I felt another force rise up within me and catch hold of the firestorm. Like mercury in a thermometer tossed into a bonfire, the pain soared rapidly, spiking to its highest intensity yet. Then it stopped and reversed course, dropping back along the peak it had just scaled. Slowly, awareness filtered back to me, reborn like pale green sprouts in a smoldering slashed-and-burned landscape.

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