Hellbound – Chapter 1

hellbound

Chapter 1

“Well, Mac. What’s it going to be?” Mammon, the demonic Prince of Greed asked as he loomed over me, one hand holding his glowing pimp staff like he was trying to decide whether or not he wanted to brain me with it. “Are you going to kill her?”

I glanced from him to Jenna. My ex-girlfriend lay unconscious on the ground a few feet away, and as much as I wanted to kill her and make good on my promise to end her, now that I was standing here in front of Mammon, I knew I couldn’t. Even after she’d shot me in the gut a couple times and left me for dead. I just couldn’t.

I’m not sure if that made me sad and pathetic or just plain stupid, but there was no way I was going to kill my ex because deep down, I knew it was my fault she was in her situation. If I’d been a bit better, I could have kept her from getting involved in all this. I could have saved her.

So no, I couldn’t kill her. I had to make things right between us if it was the last thing I did. Killing her while she lay unconscious on the rooftop of a crappy building in Hell was just not in the cards. Yeah, that’s right, I said Hell.

When she’d fallen into Hell, I’d gone after her, and no sooner had we landed on what looked like the demonic version of Las Vegas, Mammon had reared his ugly demonic face and demanded I make good on our deal. That wasn’t going to happen, but I didn’t want him to know that just yet.

For one, I wasn’t sure if there was a way out of Hell, nor if I could actually take on Mammon while in Hell. I mean, I’d gone into Hell before when I’d faced Beleth and Baphomet, but I’d had an entire team of bad asses with me then, one of which was currently unconscious next to me. I’m sure I’d faced worse odds before, I just wasn’t quite sure when.

I was also pretty sure I wasn’t getting out of here alive without her help. Mammon might say he’d honor our deal and let me go home once I axed Asmodai, the demonic Prince of Lust and Mammon’s rival, but I was pretty sure Mammon was a lying sack of shit. No, I couldn’t off my own ally. There had to be another way.

“I need her help, Mammon. I cannot kill Asmodai without her.” I stepped closer to the demon and glared up at him. He was tall and gangly, and he towered over me like a basketball player at a midget convention, but I ignored his awe inspiring height as I curled my black as soot right hand into a fist. The demonic tattoos scrawled across my flesh began to glow with crimson energy, sparking to life like I’d called upon my power, only I hadn’t done that. Weird, definitely, but I didn’t have time to worry about it now.

“I don’t believe you.” Mammon replied, staring down at me. His face had settled into a scowl that made the blood run cold in my veins, but I ignored it. Power rose off of him in waves that fell all around me, but I wasn’t worried about that either. He might be able to incinerate me with a touch, but I had ways of dealing with psychic mojo. What I couldn’t deal with was getting my skull caved in by his stupid magically-enhanced cane.

Cotton candy pink sparks leapt from the diamond tip as he stepped back, probably to give him more room to swing his pimp staff, which was one of the reasons I’d moved closer. Call me crazy, but I wanted as much advantage as possible if we threw down.

“Why would I lie?” I asked, raising an eyebrow at the demon. “It makes sense if you think about it.”

“I am the Prince of Greed,” Mammon replied and his voice brought with it the chill that proceeded the bleak night. “You will do what I ask or you will pay the consequences. We had a deal. You were to kill Asmodai, Prince of Lust and his Council of Seven. She is the last of the Seven. ”

“Yeah, you’re right,” I said as I decked him in the face. Well, sort of. I threw an uppercut at him like I was Mike fucking Tyson. My right fist lanced upward through the air, catching him under the chin and snapping his head backward with a sickening crack.

He wobbled, his hands going out in front of him in shock as I stepped into him, grabbed his wrist and twisted. He cried out as the bones in his hands snapped and the cane toppled free of his grip. I snatched it as it fell and whirled as he started to recover. The glowing end of the staff hit him square in the side of the temple and the sound was like a cannon going off. Mammon’s head exploded in a fountain of gore as he toppled sideways under the force of the magic.

Unfortunately, the blow hadn’t killed him and that was bad. Very, very bad. It meant he could get back up and kill me. Call me crazy, but pissing off an all-powerful Prince of Hell seemed like a bad fucking idea while in Hell. I just wished I had a better option. That was part of the problem. Lately, it felt like I’d been dragged from one situation to another with no time to rest, and every time I tried to get out of it, more shit just fell on me.

Now I was literally trapped in Hell and had no idea which way to swim to even get to the surface. I mean, I was going to try, and by try, I meant kill the fuck out of everyone in my way, but at the same time, I was kind of getting over this. I mean, fuck, I had a girlfriend, and I hadn’t even taken her on a real date. Let’s just say if Lucifer himself came to me right now and offered me a chance to walk away from all of this, I’d take it in a heartbeat.

Unfortunately, I seriously doubted that was going to happen, so I was going to have to take matters into my own hands.

“Watch your step,” I said, kicking him in the center of the chest as blood dripped down from the caved in side of his head. He flew backward, the air rushing out of him with a whoosh. I knew the kick wouldn’t hurt him much, but as he stumbled backward under the force of the blow, his heel slipped off of the roof and he toppled from view. “That last one’s a doozy.”

Adrenaline pounded in my veins as I spun on my heel and raced toward Jenna. She was breathing, but wasn’t otherwise moving. I’d have to be quick. I snatched her up under the arms, and as I did, I shut my eyes, calling upon the cat demon residing in my skull. Only, instead of being able to contact her like normal, I got static. I could feel her there, sort of like I was alone in a dark closet and had the feeling something monstrous was in there with me, but no matter how I flailed mentally, I couldn’t contact her. Fuck.

“Okay…” I whispered as the sounds on the street below stopped. No one was screaming which was sort of sad even if we were in Hell. I mean, okay, for whatever reason, this part of Hell sort of looked like Las Vegas and there were dozens, if not hundreds, of people on the boulevard below. Surely someone would think it odd the Prince of Greed had just done a swan dive off the top of a casino.

Then again, maybe he did it for fun. How the fuck was I to know? The one thing I did know was I did not want to be here when he came back. I wasn’t sure on how good his ability to find me in Hell would be, but I wanted to at least try to evade him if I could.

“Jenna, wake up,” I growled, hauling her to her feet and throwing her over my shoulder in a fireman’s carry. I didn’t have a gun, but I had the pimp staff. Hopefully, it would be enough. Then again, I was sure that unlike the two of us, most of the people here were already dead, and I wasn’t sure how to kill them if I needed to.

Still, bridges and crossing. Or water and bridges. Who the hell knows?

I turned my attention toward the door at the far end of the roof and scrambled toward it. Jenna wasn’t exactly a swimsuit model by any stretch. She wasn’t fat, rather she was all dense muscle, and moving across the roof was harder than I expected. I was breathing hard by the time I reached the door.

Thankfully it didn’t have a handle, just a piece of rectangular silver metal with the word push stenciled vertically across it where a knob should have been. I shouldered the door open and was met with a stairwell filled with what seemed like miles of fucking stairs. Low light emitted from emergency lights set into the stairs, but it was otherwise dark. Awesome.

“Don’t say I never did anything for you,” I grumbled, hoisting the unconscious Jenna up as I began making my way down into the depths of the stairwell.

All Wrapped Up – Chapter 1

As is customary when I get my novel back from the editor, I am going to post the first chapter here. Welcome to Werewolves vs. Mummies 2 – All Wrapped up. My editor says it’s awesome, though she’s sort of paid to say that. You’ll be able to buy it on Amazon 08/25/15.

**

Chapter 1

“Have I ever told you about the time I was waist deep in muck and how awesome it was?” Khufu asked as he pulled one foot out of the brown, goopy swamp and placed it on the shore with a wet-sounding squelch that turned my stomach.

“Are you talking about right now?” I asked, arching an eyebrow at him as I reached my hand out to help him out of the slime. “Because I think you’re talking about right now.”

We were standing on the bank of the Nile River in ninety plus degree heat, which was part of the problem. The river was filled with about a thousand tons of mud so the water had turned into a sludgy mess that smelled like a cross between raw sewage and rotting fish. I’d like to say this sort of thing was uncommon, but unfortunately since Apep had banished Ra from the face of the earth, it wasn’t.

Khufu smirked at me, his stupid toothy grin spreading across his face like warm butter across toast as he reached out to take my hand. Just as his fingers were about to touch my palm, I pulled my hand back and ran it through my long brown hair before flinging my sweaty fingers at him. Spattering him with my sweat was strangely satisfying, but not as much as the look on his face.

“Too slow,” I called, spinning away from him and walking away from the swollen river, my sandals squeaking on the wet, muddy sand with each step. Behind me, I heard Khufu mutter to himself as he hoisted his mud-splattered body onto the bank.

I half expected him to stand there sucking in gulps of air, but that would have been silly since he was a mummy, and therefore didn’t need to do silly things like breathe or eat. I put my hand to my stomach as the thought of food made my mouth water. When was the last time I’d had some good old fashioned sustenance? I couldn’t even remember. We’d need to remedy that soon because my inner werewolf was starting to get pretty hungry. This was a bad thing because as much as the idea of chowing down on fish that had been left dead in the sun for a few days made my stomach slosh, my wolf was starting to lick its chops at the sight.

“That joke got old like fifteen times ago,” Khufu said, sidling up beside me and matching my brisk pace with ease. “And cut your damn hair, you freaking hippy.”

“I will not cut my hair. It’s a werewolf thing. We’re supposed to have long hair. Besides, I’m Native American, having long hair is part of my mystique.” I shrugged at him, but he didn’t seem to be listening to me anyway. “So what’s the plan, anyway? We’ve been tromping around in the mud for two days, which isn’t exactly helping us do anything unless you’re trying to give me trench foot.” I wiggled my toes in my sandals, spreading mud around on the hard leather soles. They were a step up from the straw ones I’d had before, but not significantly more comfortable.

“I told you I’m looking for something. Do you think I want to be frolicking in the mud with you?” Khufu replied, spinning around in front of me. His eyes went wide as he reached down, grabbing the hilt of the curved saber attached to his belt. “Get back!”

“What? What is it?” I cried, whirling around as my heart hammered in my chest. Only… only I didn’t see anything. A snarl crossed my lips. “Are you just screwing with me?”

“Who? Me?” Khufu said from behind me, humor lacing his words. “Would I do a thing like that?”

“I’m this close to losing my ability to even,” I said, turning on him and narrowing my eyes.

“To even what?” he asked, one dark eyebrow quirking up on his forehead. His face went pale, and he jerked the khopesh free of his belt.

“Um… Thes…” Khufu swallowed, pointing back toward the river. “Get ready for trouble.”

“Oh no, I’m not falling for that one again,” I replied, putting my hands on my hips and leveling my best ‘I will totally eat you because I’m a werewolf and we do stuff like that’ stare at him.

“I’m serious,” he replied and his voice sounded, well, serious.

“I swear if you’re lying to me…” I trailed off, glancing off toward where he pointed. Off in the distance, a platoon of snake-headed men with skin the color of molasses advanced on our position in their gleaming ruby armor. So they had found us already.

“Apepians…” Khufu murmured, whirling back around and jogging away from the river, not even bothering to look back to see if I was following him. Which I was because our last encounter with the snake-faced minions of evil hadn’t exactly gone well. For whatever reason, when they died, they turned into whirlwinds of razor-sharp black dust. And let me tell you, that stuff gets into crevices I didn’t even know I had.

“Great,” I muttered as I sprinted after him. “Just great.”

Ever since Apep, the Egyptian deification of darkness and chaos, had risen and locked his adversary, the Sun God Ra, away in God knows where, he had been systematically taking over Egypt quarter by quarter. We’d tried to slow the process down by interfering whenever we could, but our resistance never seemed to matter very much in the end. Darkness was sweeping over Egypt, and thus far, we’d had little luck staving it off.

To make matters worse, his goons had been hounding us left and right while we tried to find whatever sacred object Khufu was convinced would help us. We were now on magical artifact number thirty-seven, and every single time we found one, well let’s just say the results had been less than spectacular.

Honestly, I wasn’t surprised since Apep had more than enough juice to squash us like bugs if he wanted to do so. Why he hadn’t yet was still a mystery to me. Still, his minions, huge eight foot tall men with rippling biceps and heads like cobras, were more than a little annoying.

“So uh what’s the plan?” I asked as a trumpet call exploded through the air, shattering my hearing and making the resulting silence of the desert overwhelming and oppressive.

“We get the hell out of here, regroup, and come up with a new plan,” Khufu called over his shoulder.

“That’s the same plan we’ve been using for the last three weeks.” I exhaled sharply through my teeth. “I think it’s time we found a new plan, don’t you think?”

“Um… if you want to fight all those snakes for no apparent reason, be my guest,” Khufu snapped, glancing back at me over his shoulder.

“That’s not what I’m saying,” I replied as he ducked into a little hut and paused just inside the doorway. Why he had picked the only hut in the vicinity to hide inside was beyond me. It’d be the first place the snake creatures would probably look for us. Even still, I ducked in behind him and found him fiddling with a secret hatch in the floor. He had the big iron ring in his massive hands and was pulling on it so hard, his muscles corded with the effort.

Next to him, an old threadbare rug lay bunched in the corner, but there wasn’t much else inside. Was the whole purpose of this shack to cover the trapdoor? And why was there a trapdoor in a hut in the middle of nowhere?

“Can you help me?” Khufu asked, releasing the ring, and the solid stone trapdoor crashed back down the couple inches he had managed to lift. I swallowed and took a deep breath. Most mummies were strong enough to bench press a tractor, and Khufu was no exception. I wasn’t exactly sure what he expected me to do to help him. Offer moral support?

“Yeah, sure,” I mumbled, throwing one last look outside. The snake-men were only a few yards away, and from what I could tell, there were over a dozen of the oil-slick creatures coming after us. I jogged over to Khufu and grabbed the ring along with him and tugged.

It was like trying to lift the planet, and honestly, I’m not sure how we managed it, but we did. Maybe it was the black as the pit of hell arrows zinging through the air that pushed us to raise it the last few inches, though I’m not going to swear to that.

Either way, we were inside the secret passage just as the first Apepian breeched the door, blackened spear in hand. The trapdoor slammed shut as we flung ourselves inside, sealing us beneath a thousand pounds of stone and pitching us into near darkness.

I took a deep breath, calling upon my inner wolf to help me see in the dark, but I needn’t have bothered. There was nothing in the long dark passage as Khufu began moving forward, his khopesh in hand. Then again, being able to see never hurt anyone.

Above us, I heard the creatures struggling with the trapdoor. I wasn’t sure how strong they were, but with so many of them present, I wasn’t exactly confident they wouldn’t breach the hatch above our heads.

“All I’m saying is maybe we need to come up with a slightly better plan,” I said as I stepped up behind Khufu and tossed one last look at the trapdoor, straining my ears and listening for the sounds of the Apepians breaking through. Fortunately, I heard nothing. “One that doesn’t involve constantly running away from snake monsters.”

I turned back around and glared at the back of Khufu’s bald head. The hallway wasn’t wide enough for us to walk next to each other, though that was more to do with the mummified pharaoh being built like a professional linebacker than the passage being abnormally small.

“We have a plan, find a sacred object that actually works and use it to stop Apep’s reign of terror.” Khufu snorted, his gilded armor jangling with the movement. “I like the plan. It’s my plan and, therefore, a good one.”

“Look, I’m not trying to dismiss your plan because it hasn’t worked the last thirty times we’ve tried to use some kind of magic doohickey to stop the snake god, nor will I bring up how the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” I let out a slow breath as he bristled in front of me, the muscles of his huge back tensing as he gripped his khopesh even tighter. “I’m just saying while we’ve been frolicking in the mud for the last couple weeks, my friend Connor has been stuck without his soul, and Sekhmet has been captured by Imhotep. He’s probably doing all sorts of horrible things to her.”

“Look, I know you’re concerned about your girlfriend’s purity and what not,” Khufu replied, ignoring my comment about Connor as he spun around to face me. He kept walking… backward. Evidently he wasn’t worried about something coming down the hallway and, oh I don’t know, rending him limb from limb. “But Sekhmet is an Egyptian war deity. She’s probably fine.”

I rubbed my temples with one hand as I shook my head. “My point is you supposedly know where Imhotep is located and instead of doing something productive like rescuing Sekhmet and getting me home, we’re doing what has amounted to nothing.”

“I really wish you’d stop bringing up the whole Sekhmet thing.” Khufu shook his head as he eyed me carefully. “I’m starting to think you don’t enjoy my company, or is it something else?” He raised his eyebrow in the super annoying way he did. “Is it because I don’t look like a nineteen-year-old swimsuit model with enormous breasts?”

My cheeks burned as I stared at him, willing myself to not take the bait. If there was one thing I’d learned over the last few weeks, it was that Khufu resorted to name calling and teasing in order to get out of talking about things he didn’t want to talk about. Well, this time, I was getting a good answer from him because I needed to get home to save Connor, and honestly, I didn’t want to leave until we saved Sekhmet. I wasn’t exactly sure what Imhotep was doing with the goddess, but deep down, I was pretty certain it wasn’t all puppies and chocolate bars.

I reached out, grabbing Khufu by the collar with one hand and hauling him forward so I could look down into his face. It was fairly easy to do because I was over a foot taller than him. Ah, the joys of being six and a half feet tall.

“No, that’s not why. And if you don’t explain your plan right now, I’m going to eat you.” I smiled, letting my canines show. “Are we clear?”

Khufu huffed out a breath that let me know two things. One, he hadn’t brushed his teeth in, well, ever, and two, he wasn’t even slightly afraid of me eating him.

“You won’t eat me. I’m too tough.” He crossed his arms over his chest which was altogether ridiculous because I had him hauled up on his tippy toes.

“Do I look like the purple people eater to you?” I asked, letting him go and smirking as he stumbled.

“I don’t know what that is,” he replied, brushing himself off before turning and making his way down the hallway. “Here’s the problem, Thes. Apep is strong. See, when we empowered Ra with the staff, it also increased Apep’s power by an equal measure. There’s that whole balance thing. Remember?”

“Are you seriously telling me that by empowering Ra to stop Apep, we made Apep stronger too?” I asked, following him as he turned down a corridor. Torches burned along the jade walls, making monstrous emerald shadows leap across the floor.

“Basically.” He reached out and grabbed one of the torches, pulling it from the sconce on the wall and using it to light his path. “And because Ra is trapped in who knows where, Apep gets to walk around with all that extra juice because the universe thinks everything is in balance. He pretty much played us for fools.”

“I still don’t see why that means we can’t find Sekhmet,” I replied as he put his hand on the wall and traced one stubby finger against a carved picture of a man with a red-headed dog face.

“You wouldn’t,” Khufu said, pulling his hand away as the wall began to glow with crimson light. “But you’re about to find out.” He turned, smirking at me as the wall behind him crumbled to the ground in a cloud of scarlet dust. “Because Imhotep’s hideout is right through there.”

“What’s the catch?” I stared at him for a long time, trying to decide whether or not I should be happy Khufu had finally decided to go after her. Something about his sudden change in motives was a little unnerving to say the least. “You’ve been going out of your way to ignore Sekhmet’s plight, so what’s the deal?”

“The catch?” he replied as a monstrous roar from the room within shook the corridor and my resolve. A smile curled across his lips. “That would be the catch.”

Under Wraps – Chapter 1

I just got this back from the editor last night. Enjoy!

**

Chapter 1

Hot.

Burning. My skin was burning.

I opened my eyes.

Bright. Too bright.

I tried to turn, to roll away, but I couldn’t move. Not well. Not quickly.

I swallowed… tried to swallow.

Throat too dry.

I raised one hand, trying to blot out the sun. Pain shot through me, gnawing at my flesh like a thousand fire ants.

It was bright… so bright.

I stared at the sky through my splayed fingers, eyes squinted nearly shut.

My mouth was dry… so dry. I tried to lick my lips, but my tongue stuck to them. The taste of blood filled my mouth. Sour and metallic like dirty nickels.

My stomach sloshed, twisted, turned, revolted.

Bile rumbled upward, raging up my throat like a river. I rolled, somehow, someway.

Vomit splattered across the sand. The hot, burning sand.

My stomach hurt, muscles clenching so hard it choked off the breath from my body.

Sand. So much sand. I put my forehead against the white sand and lay there unmoving.

The sun beat at my back, scorching and relentless. I could feel it scalding my flesh. I shut my eyes, trying to figure out where I was.

I was an Orange County guy. I was used to the sun, to the heat, to the sand. But not like this, not the relentless burning of this sun, this sand. So hot I could feel my skin baking.

I opened my eyes and stared down at the sand. Where was I? I looked around, but there was nothing but sand. I shut my eyes.

I opened them again.

Nothing but sand. Endless sand.

I shut my eyes and concentrated. Was I dreaming? Was I dead?

No… No it hurt too much to be dead, to be dreaming. So where was I?

The last thing I remembered…

What was the last thing I remembered?

Flashes of light? The flaring in my brain like a lens on a badly taken photograph. Hot and distilled down to a pinprick.

I remembered… I remembered pain. I’d been hurt, been bleeding.

I sat up on my knees and ran my hand over the spot on the right side of my chest. It was fine, good as new. The skin puckered a raw pink color. Had it healed? How had it healed?

I reached down, feeling my body for injury, but the only pain was a strange stiffness, a tense ache, like a cramp all over my body.

I was naked. Where were my clothes? What had happened to my clothes?

I looked around.

Sand. Only sand.

I stood up. Naked in the unrelenting sun and stared at the sky.

I remembered. I remembered the mummy. The mummy, Khufu. He had risen, had attacked us.

An explosion throwing me backward. Statues crumbling. The tomb caving in.

I stared at my hand. I remembered breaking it. Could feel the rocks falling on top of me, crushing my bones.

Was I dead?

I took a step forward, my bare feet padding on the super-heated sand.

I needed to find someone. Needed to find out where I was.

I gripped my head.

Think.

Think, think, think.

Visions of a fictional bear crossed my brain, sparking something. Blonde.

There had been a girl. Not blonde. Dark-haired.

Dark-haired like my sister.

I swallowed with my dry throat and licked my cracked lips. They tasted like blood.

My sister. My sister would be worried.

She didn’t know I’d been trapped in the Egyptian tomb.

I needed to find her, needed to find my way home.

Why had I been in that tomb? I remember…

To find something important.

The mummy had risen. Khufu. Khufu the evil pharaoh. The one who built the pyramid of Giza.

He had wanted something. I had wanted something.

He had wanted… he had wanted to go back.

I had wanted… I had wanted to go back…

Why? Why had I awakened the mummy? Why did I want to come back to the time Giza was built? Why did I want to come back four thousand years?

Was that where I was? Was I in Egypt? Was I four thousand years in the past?

I took another step. My legs gave out. Too weak.

Thirsty. I was so thirsty.

I got to my feet.

I stumbled.

I fell.

Sand.

So much sand.

Why was I here? What had I come for?

A soul.

That’s right.

That’s right. I had come for a soul.

My friend Connor’s soul had come here.

It had been sent back. Trapped. Lost in time.

I needed to find his soul.

I needed to find it and bring it back.

Back to my time.

Only Khufu knew where it was. Khufu the mummy.

The one who had sent us back.

It made sense.

I had wanted to be sent back.

I had wanted… I had wanted to find Connor’s soul.

I stood again and took a few steps.

I swallowed.

My mouth was dry. So very dry.

I stumbled.

I fell.

The sand was hot.

The sun was burning me.

I crawled.

The heat beat at my back.

I collapsed.

Pursuit – Chapter 1

I, um, just realized that I never posted the first chapter of Pursuit. So here it is…

Chapter 1

Masataka Mawara stared at me with flat, emotionless sea-green eyes that reminded me of a shark circling its prey. The fingers of his right hand inched backward toward the trident strapped to his back. I bet if I moved suddenly, that trident would pass through the spot my head occupied so quickly I’d have trouble dodging it.

Behind him was an army of Dioscuri. They all wore the same black cowl over their heads that blocked their features from view so that I couldn’t tell who was who. Not that I’d have known who many of them were anyway because their identities were one of Lot’s best kept secrets. Why? Because each and every one of them was a royal guard, and as such, they could not be influenced.

“Lillim!” My mother called, breaking rank and striding toward me so quickly that it made me take a step backward. She was wearing her black Dioscuri fighting suit and nothing else. Where was her kimono? I swallowed as a sinking feeling filled my stomach. I’ve never seen her without one of her kimonos.

The cat suit clung to her body so tightly that it was very clear my mother’s body had held up remarkably well despite being older and having had a kid. I glanced down at myself in my blue jeans and red sweatshirt and fought the urge to poke myself in the tummy. Maybe I should stop with all the candy…

“Diana, know your place,” called a broad-shouldered man to her left. He was bald and sported a short black beard that reminded me of the devil or a pirate. “Do not break rank.”

“Stuff it, Reath,” my mother said over her shoulder as she came up to me. She wrapped her arms around me, pulling me into a tight hug that crushed me against her body.

I swallowed, suddenly confused and embarrassed, and tried to push her away as heat spread across my cheeks. “Mo—” I started to say as she put her lips to my ear and whispered, “Run!”

She released me, stepping back and staring at me with her cold brown eyes. I glanced around. I was still standing in fairy, just a couple inches from the border Kishi and I had crossed so long ago. Behind me, the sweltering heat of the Summer Court beat at my back, baking me in my clothes. At least I had a pass from the Summer Queen and was able to wear all my clothing. This would be really embarrassing if I was still in my underwear.

My mother looked down at the border just an inch shy of her toe and back at me. She nodded almost imperceptibly.

“Where is my daughter?” Reath thundered as he shouldered my mother out of the way. He stood in front of me in that hulking way big men do when they are trying to be intimidating.

“You’re Kishi’s father?” I asked, taking a nervous step back. His arms had to have been as big around as my thighs and his neck was like my torso. “What do they feed you, a herd of buffalo?” I blurted.

His face reddened and twisted into a snarling mask. Behind him, my mother suppressed a grin. “Yes, I am Kishi’s father,” he growled, narrowing his emerald eyes into slits. “Where is my daughter? If something happened to her… so help me.”

“She’s fine,” I said with a shrug. “She’s back at the Summer Court with the Queen of the Hot and Bright. You can go see her if you want. She’s being lavished by pixies. I hear there are bonbons and palm fronds involved.”

Reath glanced back over his shoulder at Masataka. When he nodded, Reath turned back to me. “You’re not lying.”

“Why would I be lying?” I asked, fixing him with my best glare. “I don’t exactly make a habit of it. In fact, if they gave out trophies for honesty, I’d have three.”

“I don’t know why you would be lying, but if I had to guess, it would have something to do with why the fairy queens revoked our free travel privileges into fairy.” Reath grimaced, showing entirely too many teeth. “Why are you here by yourself? Why is my daughter not with you?”

I opened my mouth to reply, but as I did so, my mother shook her head minutely.

“Diana, please excuse yourself,” Masataka said, taking a step forward. “You are influencing the suspect.”

My mother turned, and though I couldn’t see her face, her tone told me she was fixing him with the look she used to make vampires hide under the bed. “She is not a suspect. She is my daughter. You will show her more respect, Masataka.”

“She is a fugitive charged with the kidnapping of Kishi Al Akeer. Besides, she isn’t even your real daughter,” Masataka snarled. “She is an unauthorized reincarnation of Dirge Meilan masquerading about in your daughter’s body like some kind of parasite.”

“Why don’t you tell me how you really feel, Masataka?” I asked, fighting the simultaneous urge to throttle him and to cry.

“Step over that line, and I will, Lillim.” His face was set in grim determination as he swept his hand back in a grand gesture to show me the way past him.

“Come over here and make me, Masataka.” I stuck my tongue out at him and made a face. “Oh, that’s right, you can’t.”

“Your mother has protected you from me in the past, Lillim. But no more. If you do not come over here, I will step over that line and take you back to Lot. If you resist, I will hurt you.” Masataka’s face closed off so that it reminded me of a cold, unfeeling stature. He knelt down, picking up a handful of dirt at the border and letting it run through his hands. “I hope you resist.”

I glanced from him to my mother. She had a look on her face that betrayed nothing, and the sight of it sent a chill hopping down my spine like an icy toad. My mother wasn’t exactly good at controlling her emotions or facial expressions. When you’re the strongest person in the room, people tend to give you a pass on stuff like that. But, right now, my mother was trying… That was not good. What could make her do that?

“Lillim Callina, the charges against you are serious. You will return my daughter immediately and surrender yourself into Masataka’s custody,” Reath’s low baritone warbled through the air, and I glanced at him. I guess I should have been threatened by him, but I’d just killed a death god a few hours ago. Reath had nothing on Crom Cruach.

“Go find her yourself. She’s about half a day’s journey that way!” I pointed toward a cactus behind me with a particularly large vulture sitting atop it. “Aside from that, I’m not turning myself over to you.”

“Surely you have noticed your mother’s lack of adornment, the lack of her people here. Only my people are here,” Masataka said as he stood, hands motionless at his sides. “She cannot help you.”

“Mom, what’s going on?” I asked, turning toward her. “Warthor said you were coming with a squad, so I came to tell you we handled it already.”

My mother replied with a sigh. “I tried to get troops and people to come help, to come rebalance fairy but no one would listen to me. The council refused to authorize it. That is… until they realized Kishi was with you. Suddenly, I had these guys willing to come along. The only catch was, I couldn’t come, at least not in my capacity as head of the Dioscuri.”

“So you’re here as a subordinate?” I glanced at Masataka. “To him?”

“Yes,” Masataka said with a grin. “Until we return to Lot, I am the lead. Even your mother has to do what I say.”

“I feel like I should buy you a cake,” I said with a shrug. “You know, to celebrate you finally being in charge of something more important that your brother’s birthday party. Mitsoumi does still let you plan that, right?”

“Once we bring you back and have you executed for treason, I’ll make a cake from your bones.” Masataka grinned, and for the first time, well ever, I saw his eyes twinkle. “Won’t that be a dainty dish to set before the king?”

I turned and ran, sprinting back down the dunes as fast as my legs could carry me. I’d barely made it twenty feet when my mother screamed. It was a short, horrible sound that stopped me in my tracks. I whirled, swinging my body around so fast I lost my balance, tripping over my own feet and smacking into the sand.

I shook my head, spitting sand from my mouth as I scrambled to my feet. Masataka Mawara had my mother, the leader of the Dioscuri fighting forces, on her knees in front of him. With one hand, he jerked her head back by her hair and put a seven-inch black-bladed knife to her throat. It was a Becker BK7 and was thick enough to pry off a car door.

“Take one more step, Lillim. I double dog dare you,” Masataka called, his voice strangely genial. “Let’s see how much you love your mom. Part of me hopes it isn’t very much.”

“Lillim, keep running, don’t stop he can—” Masataka cut off my mother’s words by smacking her across the face with the butt of the knife. Her jaw went slack, and even from there, I could see it fall at a disjointed angle. Then her bones began to twist and writhe beneath her skin, sewing themselves back together.

“You know what’s awesome about people with supernatural healing?” Masataka asked, and the sight of his smile chilled me despite the relentless heat of the Summer Court. “You can torture them over and over, and just when they are about to die, they heal and you can start all over. Healers get all squeamish when you ask them to heal someone just so you can beat the tar out of them again, but when it’s natural… well…”

“You’re a freaking psychopath!” I screamed, and despite my better judgment, took a step toward him. “If you hurt her, I will kill you!”

Masataka drove the blade deep into my mother’s shoulder, hitting the spot just behind the collarbone. My mother screamed as he tore the blade out in a spray of red. He held it in the air in front of her eyes as my mother’s face twisted in pain. Drops of blood flowed down the knife, dripping off the tip and splattering against the sand in front of them.

“It probably goes without saying, but I can do this all day.” He drove the blade into her side, and my mother gasped. “And thanks to her demonic healing, well, she can too.”

“No!” I screamed. The air around me surged with power. The desert around me exploded into a rolling, seething ocean of sand as I charged straight at Masataka.

My hands ripped the twin blades of Shirajirashii from their sheathes as my mother looked up at me and shook her head. It hit me a second later. The moment I touched Masataka, I’d be declared a rebel and his entire army could come down on me like a hammer. I wanted, no needed to get her away from Masataka, but if I did, I’d be facing off against all of them… and my mother wanted me to run. Did she have a plan or was she just being noble?

I stopped, my body skidding in the sand, thanks to my momentum. Unfortunately, I slid over the border line and came to a stop just a few inches beyond it. The twin blades of Shirajirashii throbbed in my hands, and as I looked at the katana and wakazashi throbbing in my hands, I realized something.

Masataka Mawara had been waiting for the opportunity to kill me since the day I was born. He had put that trident through my chest when I was just a little girl. I still had a scar from it. I’d been the bigger person then. I’d saved his miserable life, and this, this was how he repaid me?

“What do you want from me?” I screamed as tears filled my eyes and spilled down my cheeks. He swallowed, adam’s apple bobbing up and down as he released my mother, pushing her to the side. Her body hit the ground with a thud as he stood before me.

He wasn’t very tall, standing only a few inches taller than me, but when you’re only five feet tall like me, everyone seems tall. Still, I could tell he wasn’t used to looking down at people. His gazed shifted to each of my swords and back to me.

The weapons quivered in my hands. I could take off his head before he could do anything to stop me. I was fast dammit. So fast. And… I swallowed. The pit in my stomach dropped into a huge chasm. Where was Mattoc… where was he to tell me what to do? I swallowed and blinked back the tears filling my eyes again.

Mattoc was gone. He’d given his life so we could save fairy and this jackass wanted to persecute me for it? I swung my head to the side and glared at Reath. His eyes were filled with rage and confusion as he watched me, his face set into a sort of bewildered mask.

“Call off your dog before I put him down,” I snarled, and my voice was so cold that it could have chilled a glacier. “I’m not in a very good place right now. I feel like I’m about to snap, and the absolute last thing you want me to do, is get really angry.”

Masataka looked me straight in the eye, and instead of speaking, he smiled. It was one of those creepy smiles that sent a chill hopping down my spine because it meant one thing. He wanted me to attack him.

Fairy Tale – Chapter 1

Hello again. It’s me, though I don’t know who else it could be. I’d like to let you all know that I got Fairy Tale back from the editor yesterday (it’s at the formatter now) , and in honor of that and as per usual, I’m going to post the first chapter below.  Be forewarned, Fairy Tale is the first book I experimented with longer chapters. Enjoy!

**

Chapter 1

The “No Accidents Since 1908” sign crashed into my front door, narrowly missing me as I leapt to the side and slammed haphazardly into the remains of my blackened husk of a couch. I tucked my body into a roll that left me covered in ash and debris and came up on my feet, fists raised in a fighting stance. The only thing that greeted me was the burned out shell of my apartment.

The beam the sign had been attached to creaked and groaned. I grimaced as it broke free of the ceiling and smashed into what was left of the bathroom wall, tearing a sky-light-sized hole in the ceiling.

“That’s it,” I growled. “It’s time to punch the Fairy Queen in the face.”

Just because she was like four inches tall and all sparkly, didn’t mean she could ignore a job she agreed to do. Since I’d contacted the pint-sized pixie to rebuild my apartment three weeks ago, I’ve been randomly dropping in to see what progress they’ve made. The short answer? None. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

I glanced at the safety sign impaled in my front door. “Well, they’ve hung a sign, that’s progress right?” I asked no one in particular because the place was empty, again.

So far, I hadn’t managed to catch them working even once. Every single time I called, the line just rang and rang or went straight to a voicemail that was full. How voicemail boxes even got full nowadays was completely beyond me.

I sighed and tapped at the device on my wrist. It glowed with soft white light, humming like one of those portable, electric fans people carry around on hot days. Just like that the scene around me melted away.

Sunlight streamed through the window to my left, hitting me square in the face. I glared at the window and flopped onto my borrowed bed, annoyed. Originally, I’d thought I’d chosen a poor place for my bed, but all of the beds were arranged so that sunlight always streamed into your face after first light which was at some stupid hour like before noon. I firmly believed that the sun did not come out until well after mid-day.

I grumbled and rolled onto my bed, stripping off my clothes in the process. It was like trying to get comfortable on cement. I bunched my pillow around my head and tried to ignore the relentless rays of sunlight determined to keep me awake, despite the fact I was out fighting monsters all night.

This was part of the reason I was so angry at the damn fairies. Since my apartment had been thoroughly destroyed when Grollshanks threw a car through my front door three weeks ago, I was staying with my mother. This sounded worse than it was.

For starters, I was only seventeen years old. Most seventeen year olds lived at home so I was fairly sure that this reduced my coolness factor to about normal. Secondly, my mother ran a supernatural army known as the Dioscuri, and I was only borrowing a bed in one of the barracks. This was a big deal for me, personally, however. I couldn’t remember the last time I stayed for even a few minutes in the Dioscuri headquarters in the floating city of Lot.

I was mostly a run away from home and hide type of girl. If you grew up like I did, you would understand why. Part of it was that I still hadn’t quite come to terms with being the reincarnation of one of the most powerful Dioscuri the world has ever seen.

But, more importantly, I was used to having my own space and stuff. I was not used to sharing a dormitory with a bunch of other girls. Granted, there was only one other girl in this particular barracks, and since a good two-thirds of the city was badly damaged from a fight with a clan of orcs, non-destroyed space was in especially high demand.

Most of the other barracks were so packed to the brim with people it was common for girls and boys to share. The thought of being stuffed into a thirty bed room with a bunch of smelly male teens made my stomach twitch. The thought that they might be trying to sneak peeks or, worse yet, watch me sleep, made the hair on the back of my neck stand up straight.

I wouldn’t be in this position if those little fairies got their stupid butts in gear and rebuilt my apartment. I hadn’t even seen one damn fairy since I commissioned them. And now that I thought about it, the fairies have been doing a pretty shoddy job for a while now. The two months prior to the event with the giant, car-flinging orc, were so bad that I actually did a load or two of laundry myself, and if you knew me even a little bit, that was saying something. Cleaning was something Lillim Callina did not do. It was right there with cooking and homework.

I sat up in my way too hard little bed and nearly smacked my forehead on the underside of the bed above me. I managed to stop myself only inches from the solid iron bed frame and swallowed with relief. That would have hurt.

I scrambled out of the bed and nearly tripped over my nest of blankets. I took three rather awkward steps trying to right myself before a hand grabbed me by the shoulder and steadied me.

“What’s got you all in a rush, Lillim?” Kishi, the girl I was sharing the barracks with, asked in her songbird voice. She was one of those ancient beauty types. The kind that were frequently sequestered inside castles waiting to be saved by princes.

Her long, dark hair flowed down her back in a silken wave, and her bright green eyes sparked like jewels in the noontime sun. It made her look radiant even though she was dressed in a red, hooded sweatshirt and jeans.

I’ll be the first to admit that when I stood next to her, it made me a little jealous. Being around her when a group of guys walked by reminded me of one of those movies. You know the kind where everyone else fades from view and the hero can only see the heroine? I was one of the fade-away girls, and there were times when I hated her for it.

“The fairies are in trouble. I have to go see what’s wrong,” I gasped, already throwing off her hand and rushing toward the door.

“Maybe you want to put some pants on first.” She laughed, a cute little sound that reminded me of puppies and sunshine.

I grumbled at her as a blush spread across my face. “Fine!” I snapped because well… she was right and I wasn’t about to go adventuring in my underwear. I rummaged through my duffel bag for something to wear as Kishi sat on her bunk watching me, which was a little odd because I was half-dressed.

A few minutes later I was clad in jeans and a forest green t-shirt, and as I moved to walk past her out the door she got up to follow me.

“I don’t really like fairies very much,” Kishi said. “They get everything all dusty. Sometimes, after they clean, you have to go behind them with a vacuum. I always wind up re-cleaning the whole place anyway.” Kishi shook her head as she followed me toward what was left of the transportation center.

“That must be a profitable side business. I heard that stuff is more valuable than gold,” I said with a smirk. Just imagining someone following after the fairy cleaners with a dirt devil trying to clean-up the nearly non-existent amount of fairy dust left behind made me smile. I would never, not in a million years, be able to even notice the dust, let alone be bothered to clean it up.

“I wouldn’t know. I turn it straight into R and D,” she said with a smile before covering her mouth and leaning toward me conspiratorially. “Have you ever tried it?”

“Tried what? Fairy dust?” I asked, glancing at her. This was a side of Kishi I’ve never seen before. Well, to be honest, being that she was a councilman’s daughter meant that I’d have little contact with her anyway. I didn’t know any side of her, so maybe this was the normal side of her.

I was the daughter of Diana Cortez, the Sagalie Tyee of the Dioscuri, and Sabastin Callina, the leader of the judges, and still I wasn’t really good enough to “mix” with the councilmen’s children. Us fighting types weren’t exactly encouraged to mix with the “nobility.” Then again, that may have been more to do with me being Dirge Meilan reborn. Who was to say?

Anyway, for all I knew the councilmen stood around snorting fairy dust or doing whatever it was you did with the stuff.

“What is it you do with fairy dust anyway?” I asked, glancing sidelong at Kishi. “And why are you following me?”

“You eat it. It tastes divine. You’ve eaten a candy swizzle right? It makes those things taste like dog poo.” She smiled at me. It was like watching the sunrise for the first time. I shook my head and looked away.

Of course I’ve tasted a candy swizzle. In my former life, I dated the guy who created them. Hiro Hideko created a synthetic “candy” that tasted exactly like whatever you wanted most. People were known to draw blood over the things when supplies ran low. It was why they weren’t made anymore. If fairy dust tasted better than that, I couldn’t even imagine what people would do for the stuff.

A shiver ran down my back at the thought. Maybe someone following them with a hoover wasn’t quite as unreasonable as I initially thought.

“You still didn’t tell me why you’re following me,” I said.

“It took you three tries to get out of the barracks fully clothed. If I hadn’t stopped you, you’d have run out here in just your bra and panties. If something was so important that you, the queen of prudes, would forget to put on a pair of pants, I thought I should keep an eye on you,” she said before leaning close to me and whispering into my ear. “Besides, I’ve heard about your adventures. They seem like fun.”

“Fun? They weren’t fun. They were scary and terrifying and I thought I was going to die like a thousand times over.” My stomach tensed as images of being crushed by a giant dragon clashed with those of the Blue Prince flinging me from the top of a building. And that was only the tip of the iceberg. “You seriously need a new definition of the word fun.”

Kishi’s body stiffened a little at the comment, and I nearly stumbled over her. Note to self: when someone is leaning close to you and stops suddenly, be ready to avoid her if you don’t want to end up in a heap on the floor.

“You know how many times I’ve seen real battle?” Her eyes were hard, and her voice made me look around for somewhere to hide. It was like the gunshot that scatters all the wildlife.

Very slowly, she raised one hand and held up a single finger. “Once when the orcs attacked a few weeks ago.” She held up a second finger. “When Manaka sieged the city.”

I waited for her to continue, but she did not. Maybe that was the point. Maybe that was her entire point. I was going to try to argue with her, to say something along the lines of “she should be happy she didn’t have machine gun toting maniacs kicking down her door.” I probably should have told her to be glad that no one threw a car through her front door.

I did not do those things because a thought struck me. Warthor Ein, my old master, was incredibly powerful. So powerful that dragons were scared of him. Like Kishi, he was a member of one of the noble houses.

Perhaps… perhaps he wasn’t the exception to the rule. Maybe, just maybe he was the rule because now that I thought about it, Manaka was a noble too… All of the people I could think of with noble blood were really damn strong.

I couldn’t imagine having that kind of power and not being able to use it because people didn’t want me to get hurt. That would drive me crazy. I also knew that no one was likely to take Kishi seriously if her parents didn’t want it to happen. No one really wants to wind up on the wrong side of council members.

To go on an adventure, she would have to get in with someone who didn’t care about rules and had just enough juice to make punishment not really stick. In short, I was her only hope of getting out there into the real world.

“Kishi, I’m going to let you tag along. If you’re incredibly lucky all you’ll get out of it is going to be a few scars.”

Kill It With Magic – Chapter 1

Did you guys know I wrote a book? I did, I did! In the spirit of having finished all my edits, I’m going to post the first chapter of Kill It With Magic. You should read it. I used some good five cent words in there. If you don’t like it, well, you can have your nickel back. (See what I did there?)

 **

 Chapter 1

What kind of a tip do you give someone you’ve just blown up? That’s the thought that ran through my mind as I frantically rummaged through my pockets for something, anything to give the delivery boy I’d just blasted into the brick wall outside my tiny apartment.

It wasn’t my fault, I swear. It’s not like my day planner reads: brush teeth, shower, get dressed, blow up delivery boys. No, if anyone was at fault, it was him. When something that looks and smells like a rotting corpse lumbers out of the bushes beside my apartment, I freak.

It was reaching toward me with one translucent hand, splattering bits of gelatinous goo that smelled like rotten eggs. Those are not the normal actions of delivery personnel. Besides, I’ve never seen a UPS guy with an enormous, milky eye in the center of his chest before.

So what had I done? I’d taken a deep breath, forced my heart to stop trying to beat its way out of my chest, and made up a new rule of thumb. When in doubt, poke the thing in the eye. I hadn’t even waited a split second before I jabbed it in the chest-eye with my finger.

“Boom,” I’d whispered.

This wouldn’t seem like a big deal to most people, especially coming from a five foot nothing teenage girl in a gray cardigan and black skirt. Unfortunately for Mr. Tall, Green, and Disgusting, I’m Lillim Callina, and I know magic.

Yeah, that’s right, I said magic. Some people might call it different things, but I’m a simple girl. So I’ll stick to the M-word, even if it gets me horrified glances from old people feeding pigeons in the park.

That’s pretty much when the arc of electricity exploded from my fingertip. Time seemed to stop for a moment as the delivery boy turned his head to regard me curiously, as though he couldn’t figure out what I was doing. I suppose, in retrospect, he had a right to be confused as he was flung backward into the brick wall outside my apartment building with a horrifyingly wet squelch.

“And if you think that’s bad, you should see my next trick,” I’d muttered as the backlash of the spell whipped around me, threatening to make me pass out. Like always, firing magical energy off willy nilly had felt like an elf had hacked into my brain with an axe. I’d shut my eyes and taken a deep breath, trying to will the world to stop spinning.

The smell of its burned flesh, like over-cooked fish, had filled my nose and stung my eyes. Thick curls of steam rose from the creature’s body as it had hoisted itself onto its feet, anger evident in its milky chest-eye, and had spoken the words that changed everything.

“Lillim Callina! I was told to bring you a message, and this is how you treat me?” The creature’s grating speech rubbed on my nerves, so much so, that it took me nearly a full ten seconds before I realized what it had actually said.

That’s when I’d noticed the small package and a messy clipboard with a big sticker that said “sign here” on the ground next to me. I stared at the objects for a long time as various scenarios ran through my mind.

“Sorry.” I knew I was turning several shades of crimson because I could feel my cheeks burning. “I wasn’t expecting a supernatural delivery guy to leap out of my bushes.”

I sighed, wondered once more what kind of a tip you give someone you’ve just blown up, and decided the bits of lint lining my pockets weren’t going to do the job. I picked up the clipboard and signed on the line without thinking about it. This wasn’t going to be my day. I mean it was what, eight in the morning and I’d already accosted an innocent, albeit disgusting, monster.

“That’s the last time I deliver anything for Joshua Landers!” The slime-covered delivery creature snatched the form from my hand and vanished into nothingness. I was still grumbling as I stared forlornly at my goo-covered porch when I realized what the thing had said.

Joshua Landers. He’d said Joshua Landers. That meant, both obviously and unfortunately, my ex-boyfriend had found me. Somehow, someway he had tracked me to this apartment in Southern California. I tried to gulp, but my mouth had gone dry. This was not good. Not good at all. A tremor ran through me as I turned toward my front door and hastily unlocked it.

I’d known this day was coming since I’d run away. I had known, deep down, that no matter how far I ran, they would find me… but I’d had to try. You always have to try, right?

I slammed the door behind me and bolted all six of the locks in quick succession. I fought the urge to slump to the ground in defeat, and tried to ignore my growling stomach as I glanced around my sparsely furnished studio apartment. Beneath my tattered, threadbare desk chair, my heart-patterned blanket lay bunched up into a ball. The far wall was largely obscured by a patchy yellow and white dresser. The top drawer was so stained and misshapen that it looked almost black.

Heaped upon the dresser itself was a pile of clothing that hadn’t quite found its way inside. A doll lay lopsided against the nest of clothing as though sunning itself beneath the bright pink lamp that stood mere inches away.

Sure it was tiny, but I’d liked to refer to it as cozy. Either way, it had worked as a great hiding place until now, even if I never picked up the books that lay strewn about the floor.

My stomach rumbled again, so loud that I was sure the neighbors could hear it. I didn’t eat much, but when I did, it was usually because I was nervous. Still, I tried to tell myself that the spell made me hungrier than I’d thought. That was it… just the spell. My sudden need to chew the wallpaper off the walls had nothing to do with Joshua.

My pint-sized hedgehog, Georgie, stared at me as I walked over to the desk wedged between the front door and my messy futon. I set the package down next to his cage. My breath was starting to come out in quick, ragged little bursts. I swallowed and glanced out the blinds of the only window in my apartment. I didn’t see anyone outside. Yet.

Georgie yawned and ignored me as I turned back to the package and ripped it open. The object inside was as thick as my thumb and about as long. Even beneath its translucent wrapper, the silver candy sparkled with a mischievous sort of brilliance. A solid gold stamp in the center was emblazoned with the letters H. H. This was a candy swizzle.

Candy swizzles were probably the most addictive substance on the planet. They were like injecting concentrated yummy into your veins. That’s really saying something when all we’re talking about is vending machine candy, albeit, a magically enchanted vending machine candy.

Unfortunately, the real reason those things were so addictive wasn’t because they happened to taste exactly like the thing you wanted most. It was because emotional messages could be sent through them. Imagine biting into pure love… or something much darker, like blinding hatred, and you get the idea. Joshua had sent me trouble in a candy-coated shell. Awesome.

“Stop being such a baby and eat the damn thing already.” The voice behind me spoke in a soft, almost melodious way that reminded me of the way you’d think fairy princesses would sound if you didn’t already know they sounded like a bunch of squawking bats.

“Quiet, Matto.” I swatted his ghostly form and shivered.

My heart was already beating just a little faster than normal. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m terrified of ghosts… really, I’m not. But I certainly didn’t like them. They were icky and see through and all-around spooky. I’d never, not in a million years, not even for all the gold in Fort Knox, have asked to have a ghost soul-bound to me. I had not been given that choice. Like it or not, Hisen Mattoc was attached firmly to my soul.

“Don’t even think about it, Lil’. Just put on your big girl pants and…”

“There you go with that talking again.” I glared at him in his black sunglasses and black leather and had the sudden urge to smack the smug look off his face.

“Joshua probably needs your help with something important, or else he wouldn’t come to you, of all people. I know I wouldn’t.” Mattoc crossed his arms over his leather-clad chest and smiled.

“That’s what worries me. A guy who spews toxic gas from his wounds needs my help?” I turned away from my desk and moved into my cramped kitchenette. My stomach rumbled as I opened my fridge and found an empty pickle jar and a can of off-brand soda.

“Maybe he’s just mad that you started dyeing your hair again,” Mattoc sneered, lowering his dark glasses to give me full view of his pale gray eyes.

Joshua hated when I dyed my hair. I had soft lavender hair. It was so pale that it was nearly white. I’d taken to dyeing it black to cut down on the stares from random people. I had to do this pretty often, because, for whatever reason, my hair would start to lighten after a couple days.

I walked back to my desk, grabbed the swizzle, and even though just touching it sent shivers marching down my spine like a parade of ice cold ants, shoved it in my mouth. Flashes of flavor kicked me in the mouth. That wasn’t even the scary thing. The real kicker was the images that came with them. They were so jumbled and frantic that they nearly drowned out the flavors. Imagine biting into a lemon and being so distracted that you didn’t even taste the lemon. It was like that… times a billion.

Pain exploded behind my eyes as all of Joshua’s anguish flooded into me. I reached out, blindly searching for something to grab onto as all his torment and sadness spilled into me, dragging me down into a sea of sorrow like a boat anchor. Without thinking, I spit the offending snack onto the floor where it shattered into a zillion goo-covered pieces.

I latched onto the corner of my desk, sucking in air as quickly as I could. My legs were trembling so badly that I was pretty sure I’d topple to the ground if I let go. Even though the worst of the experience had passed the moment I’d spit the swizzle out, Joshua’s pain clung to my skin like a grimy film.

“To clarify, whatever that is… I want no part of it,” I gasped, attempting to catch my breath.

Mattoc was by my side in an instant, one ghostly hand on my shoulder, the other moving as though he wanted to comfort me. I was looking right at him, and I could see his mouth moving but I couldn’t make out the words. I shook my head and looked at the floor.

Something was wrong with Joshua. That stupid, dumb moron was in trouble. I didn’t know what was wrong. The candy hadn’t made that clear, but something clearly was not all puppies and roses in Joshua land. I was going to have to help him. That almost made it worse. He had asked the girl who had blasted him point blank with a shotgun for help.

“You know, if Joshua wanted to talk to you, he’d have done so before now.” Mattoc’s voice made me jump, and I briefly wondered how long I’d been tuning him out. I looked up at him and was surprised to see concern in his eyes. Hadn’t he just been encouraging me to eat the doom candy?

“So you think this is a bad idea, too?” I asked.

“Without further investigation, it is. You don’t know what’s going on in the supernatural world. You’ve been hiding for the last year.” Mattoc ran a hand through his black hair and pushed it out of his face. “You really need to think about it if you’re going to get involved.”

I swallowed, shoving down the dread welling up like a geyser in my stomach. “If you’re right—” was all I managed to say before my front door exploded in a shower of wooden fragments and bits of metal. Supernatural beings can’t enter a person’s home without permission. Men with machine guns do not have this problem.