Guess what I just got from the editor? That’s right, Cursed 2! Here’s the first chapter, enjoy.
As I stood there staring at my wall, trying to process how the hell I was going to finish a job I couldn’t remember by the end of the day so some kidnappers would release my sister and her son, someone slipped a garrote over my head. My left hand shot up, barely getting between the piano wire and my throat. As it pulled tight, the loop bit into my flesh, slicing open my palm while my attacker tried to pull me backward off my feet.
Instead of trying to retain my balance while simultaneously keeping the garrote from slicing into my carotid artery, I opted to throw us both backward with everything I had. My assailant stumbled as the combination of weight and momentum sent us crashing into the drywall hard enough for my brain to rattle in my head, but thankfully, the wire loosened just enough for me to catch a shallow breath that burned like cheap whiskey and cigar smoke.
Blood pounded in my temples as I drove the back of my skull into my attacker and was rewarded with a satisfying crunch. The loop loosened further, but not enough for me to escape. Pain and blood spilled from my left hand as my assailant regained his hold from beneath me. I brought my right hand up and fired my gun awkwardly behind me. The sound was deafening in the tiny room. A cry I could barely hear over the ringing in my ears erupted from behind me as the wire fell away.
I spun, jerking the garrote free while pointing my Desert Eagle at my attacker. He was bone white and as far as I could tell, had shaved all the hair off his body, probably so he wouldn’t leave evidence behind. Well, judging by the scarlet spray on the wall behind him, there was little chance of that happening.
This guy was no doubt some kind of professional hitman, and I didn’t think that just because he was bald and wearing a tailored Italian suit with a red tie. No, it was because his eyes held the flat, dead stare of a crocodile. Those were eyes that had watched a million men die, and if given the opportunity, would watch a million more.
Crimson slowly spread out from the bullet holes in his chest, staining his crisp white shirt scarlet. As I leaned in close to him, my pistol still pointed at him, his blood-splattered lips opened and closed slowly, reminding me of a fish’s futile gasps for air on dry land.
“Who sent you?” I growled, shoving the gun up under his chin even though it was sort of pointless because even if he was on a surgeon’s table right now, he wouldn’t be living for more than a few minutes. Still, I was betting he didn’t know that, and if he did, maybe he’d do me a solid. The day was young, after all, so anything was possible.
The man smiled at me, revealing a mouthful of scarlet teeth. “Pierce Ambrose sends his regards.” His grin grew wider as his white-gloved right hand fell to the floor. A grenade spilled from his grip, rolling across the tile toward me.
As my eyes widened in shock, my heart went absolutely schizophrenic in my chest. Was he seriously going to detonate a grenade to take me along with him? The sound of his choking laughter seemed to fill every inch of the room as I spun on my heel and sprinted toward the big window along the far wall. I fired at the window, reducing the glass to shards as I dove threw it, tucking myself into a ball. A blast of heat and sound erupted from the room as I cleared the frame. The force of the explosion caught me in mid-leap and flung me through the air like a ragdoll. My back slammed into the concrete deck and agony shot through every last vertebrae in my body as I tumbled haphazardly into the pool.
The sudden cold shocked me back to my senses, and I nearly sucked in a lungful of water. I managed to clamp my lips back together as flame washed over the top of the pool. My feet touched the cement bottom a second later, and as debris began to rain down through the water overhead, I marveled at how I was still alive. Chunks of me should be splattered across the backyard, but somehow I’d survived. Someone up there must like me, or more likely, someone down below.
Lungs burning, I pushed myself off the cement, propelling myself toward the surface. The water around me erupted with gunfire. Bullets sliced through the space all around me, leaving trails of bubbles in their wake. The only thing that saved me from becoming a holy corpse was the depth, which robbed their ammunition of the force to puncture my thick trench coat. I pulled up short of the surface, halting myself as the blurry faces of over half-a-dozen bald men in suits appeared overhead.
I cried out in shock, but the only thing that really came out of my mouth was a huge bubble. My lungs screamed for air as I tried to figure out what to do. If I didn’t do something quick, I was going to blackout. If that happened, well, I didn’t want to think about what that would do for my chances of survival.
Already, my vision was starting to go dark around the edges. As I searched my mind frantically for some kind of plan, the demonic cat who had cursed me looked up at me from the shadows of my brain, causing me to remember a critical piece of information. I had devil magic. I glanced from the men still filling the pool with hot lead to my black as night right arm before settling my gaze back on the shooters. They were about to learn a valuable lesson on confronting Mac Brennan.
“Ignis!” I yelled with all my might, and even though it was more a soundless stream of bubbles in the water, the scarlet tattoos emblazoned on my right arm flared like the sun. As the water around my hand turned to steam, the pool exploded in a burst of scarlet light. Crimson hellfire sprang to life in my right palm. A grin spread across my lips as I flung it at the closest of my attackers.
The fireball hit the man in the chest, burning through him in the space of a heartbeat and leaving a plainly visible hole in his torso. He slumped forward onto his knees, face distorted in a strange mixture of pain and shock. He toppled forward into the water as his companions scattered, taking cover from the weirdo in the pool with the flaming hand. Which was me, so it worked out.
I burst upward through the pool’s surface just as my lungs were about to explode. Water cascaded down around me as I conjured more hellfire and brandished it like a weapon. Their faces were awash with confusion and fear, cementing one tiny factoid in my brain. These guys hadn’t known I was a Cursed and had sold my soul to a demon in exchange for magic. After all, who in their right mind would attack a guy with a flaming hand with a piece of piano wire? Besides, I’d had my powers all of a day. There was no way they’d have known, especially since this was my first trip to this house since I’d lost all my memories.
Still, a bullet to the brain would probably kill me just the same, and I wasn’t quite ready to meet Death upon his pale horse. So what did I do? I threw myself out of the pool and ran like the dickens while flinging fire around the backyard like it was going out of style. Some for you, and you, and oh, I didn’t forget you, you little scamp.
I reached the black wrought-iron gate set into on the cinderblock wall a second later, and instead of trying to fiddle with the lock, I did the only sensible thing I could. I punched the hell out of the gate with my blacker than the hair on Satan’s ass fist of fury. The fancy wrought-iron crumpled inward with a shriek that was like nails on the chalkboard of my brain before it tore free of the cinderblock in a spray of stone and debris. It struck the well-manicured lawn and gouged a swath into the sod that made me hope this wasn’t actually my home. If it was, the repair bills were going to be nuts. Then again, I was pretty sure I’d have to be alive for it to matter. Something told me there were no lawns in Hell.
Bullets ricocheted off the stone next to me as I dove sideways through the blown-out gate. I landed hard on the dirt beneath a twenty-foot-tall cherry tree. The air burst from my lungs as my entire right side went a bit numb. Even still, I scrambled to my feet and took off running, a fresh surge of adrenaline rushing through me. My chest heaved with effort as I rounded the corner at the end of the block, afraid to look back and see how many of them were chasing me. Hopefully, it wasn’t all of them.
It only took me less than a minute to make my way out of the neighborhood and onto the main street, which was good because across the street, I could just make out what looked like a swap meet filled with people. I could definitely hide there, assuming, of course, I didn’t get shot in the back or hit by a car.
I took a deep breath before sprinting for the entrance. My wet feet slapped onto the concrete a moment later. It was a good thing too because that was when the guys who had redecorated my house in postmodern war zone burst from the neighborhood. Evidently, they weren’t deterred by hellfire. Good to know.
I ducked in front of a large black man in a clown costume who was messing with a bunch of red balloons and hoped I wasn’t making him into a human shield. When he wasn’t immediately perforated, I breathed in a sigh of relief and ducked into the nearest booth to catch my breath.
“Can I help you?” asked an old Asian man with spectacles as he looked at me from across a wide variety of cabbages and other assorted vegetables way too ethnic for me to identify.
“Yeah, just let me catch my breath,” I said in between gulps of sweet, sweet air while I leaned on the corner of a table for support. I couldn’t stay here long. If I did, this place would turn into a blood bath. Unfortunately, my body felt like it had been pushed to its limit. Evidently, throwing around hellfire willy nilly while sprinting away from bad guys was physically taxing. Who knew?
“You should hide in Harper’s, over at the other end,” the old man said, giving me one last, dismissive glance before going back to his magazine. “If you aren’t going to buy anything, please leave. You’re dripping all over my floor, and the absolute last thing I need is for some jackass to slip and sue me.”
I was about to make a snarky reply when gunfire burst through the side of the stand, cleaving a swath of lead death through the cabbages in front of me.