Dear Readers,

I’m super excited to share some of the newest Myla-Lincoln adventure! Check out Chapter One from THE BRUTAL TIME (Angelbound Origins Book 6), which releases on October 29, 2019. 

To Order: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo / Apple Books / GooglePlay

Christina

The Brutal Time – Chapter One

Time to kick some old lady butt.

And no, I’m not kidding.

Right now, I pace inside a hallway of the Sunset Retirement Community for Quasi-Demonic Women. Like most of Purgatory, this place is all chipped walls and threadbare carpet. A sign at the corridor’s end reads:

Quilting Contest with the Great Scala
Activities Room, 10:30 AM

It’s true that I’m the Great Scala—meaning the only person who can move souls to Heaven or Hell with my igni—but saying this event is hosted by the Sunset Retirement Community?

Not exactly. 

Truth is, this building houses a powerful coven of quasi-demonic witches called the Bloody Knights of the Round Table. These ladies can see the future, which they think involves yours truly ending the world in a great demonpocalypse. So I volunteered to judge this contest … and will instead uncover the coven’s plans.

A lady tips her head out into the hall. “Are you the Great Scala?”

I want to reply, how many chicks have red hair, a dragonscale tail, and wear white Scala robes? But I need to keep a low profile. For the purposes of today, I am a bubbleheaded demi-demigoddess.

Blinking hard, I imagine my body’s filled with sunshine, moonbeams, and large air pockets. “Why, yes. I’m the Great Scala.”

For the record, I’m also the Queen of the Thrax, wife to Lincoln, mother to Maxon, daughter of Purgatory’s President, and recent winner of the annual Quasi Enquirer award for the sexiest demon alive.

But I digress.

“We’re ready for you.” This woman is on the shorter side with shiny brown eyes and a wrinkly smile. Her white hair wraps about her head, cotton-candy style.

“Perfect.” I flash her a grin that hopefully says, don’t worry about me. I’m totally not here to snoop. 

Entering the activity room proper, I find a boxy chamber with cinderblock walls and—surprise, surprise—more frayed carpet. A dozen ladies sit at a circular table that’s covered with fabric, scissors, and spools of thread. Each woman holds a little quilt that’s about three feet square.

So far, so good. Then I notice a surprising lack of snacks. As in, there aren’t any at all. Good thing I sent my latest assistant, Alli-something, off for cookies already. With any luck, she’ll arrive with chocolaty stuff and soon.

“Thank you for coming here today, Great Scala.” The speaker is Rose, the same woman who greeted me before. Up close, I can see how she—and everyone else here—sports a great little invention called the name tag. It’s a life saver considering how 1) I’m terrible with names and 2) these women all kinda-sorta look alike. In related news, I’m also craving cotton candy.

I slap on another smile. “Happy to be invited.”

“Each of us created a mini-quilt,” explains Rose. “Today you’ll review them and declare a winner.”

I shoot her a thumbs up. “Ready.”

Rose turns to the woman beside her. “How about starting us off, Lucy?”

“Here’s my entry.” Lucy holds up a mini-quilt that’s sewn from bits of red cloth. “My muse was Colossus.”

“Colossus, eh?” I scan the quilt, careful to force my face into a blank of confusion. “Do you mean the King of the Archdemons?”

“That’s the one.” Lucy pats my hand like I’m a toddler who just shoved peas up my nose. “You know how your father is one of the nine archangels?”

Blink, blink, blink. “Sure!”

Lucy holds up craggy fingers as she counts off the archangels in question. “There are seven archangels to battle each deadly sin, then an eighth to fight a combination of lust and wrath … that’s your father. Finally, the ninth archangel is their king, Lucifer. Or it was Lucifer. The King of the Angels is now imprisoned. Ring any bells?”

My honest reply? Hells yeah, that rings a whole chorus of bells. Best to keep playing dumb, though. Looks like these women might spill their secrets via quilting. Sweet.

I puff out my lower lip. “No bells,” I lie.

“There are also nine archdemons,” continues Lucy. “Only they got unruly, even for demons. Colossus was their ruler. Ages ago, a human king named Arthur locked them into magical dungeons. Didn’t anyone tell you?”

“King Arthur? Doesn’t sound familiar, either.” Which is another lie. Everyone knows the Arthurian legends. Sword in the stone. Merlin in the house. Lancelot in Guinevere. “So why is your quilt all red?”

“Colossus has no physical form,” answers Lucy. “He must possess others, usually his archdemons, when he wishes to kill or cast spells. Yet Colossus can also take over humans. At those times, the archdemon king explodes them from the inside-out in a shower of blood.” She twiddles her fingers to show said blood-rain in action. “That’s why my quilt has little red triangles.”

Okay. Eew.

“Ah, I get it.” And by this I mean, I get how these women would surely love a demonpocalypse-style bloodbath. And with Colossus running the show, all the after-realms could be wiped out in nasty and painful ways. I shiver at the thought.

“Here’s mine.” A woman named Edith hands me a mini-quilt that shows a hooded figure. “This is the Crimson Scourge. Soon this mage will help free Colossus.”

“Wow.” I stare at the square carefully. “You totally stitched the image of, uh, some mage in a red cloak riding a white horse. Go you.”

Note to self: track down the Crimson Scourge. Clearly, the coven has an outside accomplice. Looks like it’s this mysterious mage.

Another woman—her name tag reads Florence—slides her mini-quilt over. “This is my creation. Can you guess what it is?”

“Um, a mountain?” I ask.

“Not just any mountain,” corrects Florence. “Lucifer’s laboratory is hidden in here.” She taps some runes at the bottom. “I added the exact coordinates on Earth. Inside this lab lies a signet ring that the Crimson Scourge will use to free Colossus. It’s called the Band of Epochs, and it empowers the wearer to travel through time.”

“Interesting.” I scan the table. The remaining entries are more of what I’d call, Gruesome Colossus Kill Porn. “Did anyone not get inspired by Colossus?”

“Oh, me!” cries Rose. “Mine’s a fading angel.”

I do a double-take. “Did you say a fading angel?”

“Yes, dear.” Rose slips me her mini-quilt. Sure enough, it shows a frowning dude with droopy wings and a ghostly body.

That’s a fading angel, all right.

And they’re my biggest worry these days. Why? Fading angels are spirits who enter Heaven even though they’re only mostly pure of heart. Sure, they don’t deserve Hell. But sending these souls past the Pearly Gates isn’t a great idea, either. Once in Heaven, fading angels go all mopey until they disappear. And by disappear, I mean die. Permanently.

“What do you think?” asks Rose. “That’s what a fading angel looks like, right?”

“Oh yeah,” I say. “Nailed it.”

And with that, the snooping around portion of the morning is over. I’ve seen all the quilts. These creations are more of a request to team up than an actual contest. It’s time for some honesty.

“Let’s talk,” I state. “This isn’t a real contest.”

Rose blinks innocently. “It isn’t?”

Let the record show that I use the same blinking-routine … and I’m much better at it.

“Absolutely not,” I repeat. “You ladies are the Bloody Knights of the Round Table coven. I knew you had visions of the future that involved me and a demonpocalypse, but after what I saw today? You’ve also roped in Lucifer’s lab, Colossus, the Crimson Scourge, and the fading angels. And you want my help. Now am I right or am I right?”

Everyone starts fiddling with their sewing stuff and avoiding eye contact.

“So that’s a yes,” I say. “Spill.”

Quasi-demons all carry an animal-tail-slash-power from one of the seven deadly sins. Mine’s a badass dragonscale number with an arrowhead-shaped end. After my last statement, the ladies’ tails all curl over their respective shoulders to reveal their animal origin. Rattlesnake. A creepy noise fills the air as a dozen rattlesnake tails do their thing.

The ladies’ irises blaze with demonic red energy. No question what that means; they’re accessing their wrath power. The air takes on an electric charge. Magic. Quilts and sewing things fly off the table to whirl around the chamber.

“You must go to Lucifer’s lab.” The women speak in a unified monotone. Not gonna lie; it’s more than a little creepy. “There you will find a ring called the Band of Epochs. Use it to visit King Arthur in the past; he will help you build your own knights of the round table in the present day. Do as we command and you shall save the fading angels. It is the only way.”

I frown. Is this combination of magical display and otherworldy to do list supposed to entice me to join them? Nuh-uh.

“Wow,” I state. “What total B-S.”

At these words, the magical show of spinning sewing supplies comes to a screeching halt. Scraps of fabric, quilts, and other stuff all tumble onto the table. The ladies’ eyes return to normal as they stare at me in disbelief.

Rose is first to speak, and I’m happy to report the icky monotone-thing is toast. “What?” she asks.

“Here’s my take,” I state. “This has zero to do with helping the fading angels.” I gesture across the tabletop. “You’ve got blood-n-guts images on your quilts. Clearly, this coven wants to bring about a real-life slaughter fiesta.”

“Only a little,” mumbles Rose.

“King Arthur locked up all the archdemons. If I grab that time-travel ring from Lucifer’s lab? There’s a chance the Crimson Scourge will snag it, journey to the past, and free Colossus. By using me—and the Crimson Scourge—to change history, you’ll get a carnage party today. Am I right or am I right?”

At this question, all the ladies start fiddling with the gunk on the table again.

I roll my eyes. “And that’s another yes.”

Rose shakes her head. “Ignore our visions at your peril. We brought you here under false pretenses, it is true. But we only did so to share our wisdom. You must gain your own knights of the round table.”

I rub my neck. “Let’s step back here. Why do you think I need my own knights?”

“You only work alone,” explains Rose. “That’s why you’re a failure when it comes to helping these unpure souls. Fading angels are too big of a problem for any one person to solve.”

“Hey, I get help.”

“Every time you have trouble as the Great Scala, you rely on your friends and family. Yet they have other things—as in whole realms—to worry about. Such assistance is simply not the same as your own knights.”

Ouch. I’ve taken gut punches that hurt less than what Rose just said. Sure, I have leadership issues with folks I’m not related-slash-married-to, and I’m working on it. I’m just not making any progress, that’s all.

I sigh. “You have a point.”

“So you’ll aid us in our scheme?” asks Rose.

“Ah, no. It’s like this. Lucifer has a long history of creating junk that causes mega-trouble. If you have his lab’s coordinates, someone else probably knows them too. Which is why I’ll go explode the place ASAP.” To emphasize my point, I grab the map-slash-quilt in question. “Later, I’ll create my own knights of the round table situation without leaving the present day. Bing, bang, boom, done.”

Plus, it’ll be hella fun to detonate Lucifer’s lab and shred all his magical crap. 

Rose rises. “If you take that map and leave now, we shall not stop you. But know that you are dooming the fading angels to death. One way or another, magic will not allow that to happen.”

“So your magic will force me to help you?” I make little quotation marks with my fingers when I say the words, force me. “Good luck with that.”

The ladies all share knowing looks. It’s as if they have the inside skinny on how to enchant my ass to do, well, anything. Meh. Better covens have tried and failed. Enhanced magical immunity is one perk of being the Great Scala.

The door swings open. Yay, a distraction! My assistant Alli-something slowly shuffles in while holding a large tray. She’s got big eyes, a small frame, and a snail’s tail. Why I thought it was a good idea to have an assistant with sloth as her mortal sin, I don’t know.

I take it back; I absolutely know. I go through assistants like a hot knife through brownies. Finding replacements isn’t easy. Honestly? I’m lucky to have sloth girl. It’s more than a little depressing.

Years ago, I was an invincible Arena warrior. Best of the best. I never met a demon—or an evil soul—that I couldn’t take down. Now, I’m the Great Scala. It’s a much bigger job, yet I’m bottom-feeding with assistants. How did it come to this?

My shoulders slump as I realize the truth. For the first time in my life, I’ve run smack-dab into something I really want to do—meaning create what Rose called my own knights—and yet I seriously suck at it.

An unfinished scrap of quilt catches my gaze—it shows me in my Scala robes. My heart sinks. That’s my life, right there. I’m more a fragment than a leader. Forever disconnected. Nothing larger ever gets created or healed, especially the fading angels.

My assistant taps my shoulder, snapping me out of my thoughts. Huh. I must have been off for a while there. It’s not like sloth folks move quickly.

“Do you need me, Great Scala?” she asks. At last, her full name pops into my mind. Allimari.

“Yes,” I reply. “Please deliver this map-quilt to King Lincoln STAT. Tell him to meet me at Lucifer’s lab as soon as possible.”

“What?” Allimari pales. “The ghouls always gave us checklists. Don’t you have one for this task?”

Sheesh. My assistant is being a total wiener. Ghouls used to rule Purgatory and they had rules and checklists for everything. Not my bag.

“You don’t need any checklist.” I jam the mini-quilt onto her hands. “This is easy peasy.”

In my experience, the most important part of assistant management is this: walking away before they can corner you and ask a million questions. All of which is why I speed-march toward the door.

With every step, a heavy sense of dread seeps into my bones. A magnetic pull rises from my soul; its force draws me back to Allimari. A calm female voice whispers in my mind.

Return to Allimari. Talk to her. 

My igni chatter in my mind like frantic children. This new speaker is older, calmer, and like nothing I’ve heard before. Is some fresh entity rolling around my soul? What the ever loving Hell?

In the end, I do what any sane person would in this situation. Ignore the fuck out of the weird voice in my head, wave everyone goodbye, and head for Lucifer’s lab.

Blowing things up. That’s a much better way to spend my morning. And I already have an idea how to derail this wrath coven’s demonpocalypse train.

Maybe.

Possibly.

Okay, I really have no idea.

But I’ll still go blow shit up.

–End of Sample–

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