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The Price of brimstone

chapter 1 preview

I burst out of the warehouse at a dead sprint. Tires screeched and slid violently around on the asphalt behind me, echoing from the open metallic bay door. There were several crates covered in brown tarps sitting to the side of the gravel yard outside the warehouse. Scaling one tall crate, I almost lost the small sack I held in my right hand. My pursuers were in a car, and since mine was still a few blocks away, I needed to use the terrain to my advantage.

In hindsight, I should have guessed the warlocks would have extra security around their precious idol, but it was glimmering on the altar in the corner. How could I not just pull a smash-and-grab? Using the extra height the crate gave me, I vaulted over the chain-link fence. My knees ground hard into the dirt on the far side before I continued my forward momentum, rolling back to my feet. I sent a wave of magical energy out behind me as I finished the roll, propelling me forward again without losing any speed from the tall fence. 

The car behind me, fish-tailed into a turn, and came after me, but it wouldn’t be able to fit down the Alleyway I used as an escape route. After popping out on the next main street a few seconds later, I yanked open the brown sack and inspected its contents. The idol still seemed to be in one piece. That was good, because who knew what kind of malevolent magics would burst out of that thing if I broke it. 

Sweat beaded on my forehead from the run, and my hair bobbed irregularly in a long braid down my back as I made it to the car. Tossing the sack in the truck first, I looked around for the next step of my getaway plan before jumping in the car. There were old tissues, fast food bags, and hamburger wrappers all over the dash and floorboards. At some point, I should really clean up, but that wasn’t the time or place. Turning the key in the ignition, the engine flipped over and purred. “That’s my baby.”

I spun the steering wheel hard to the left to avoid a dumpster and make the turn down a side street. The last thing I needed to do was make a wrong turn and end up in a cul-de-sac or a dead-end or something. Getting cornered with a pack of pissed off warlocks on my tail would be bad news. “I hate this city,” I murmured to myself and stomped on my car’s gas pedal, just missing a truck passing in the other direction.

Technically, it wasn’t my car. It was Jonathan’s black Impala, but he had been missing since we took down my witch of an aunt. I meant that literally. My aunt was a witch, not the devious and evil, Wicked Witch of the West kind, but the blast you with spells kind. Actually, thinking about it, she was totally the devious and evil kind too. Either way, Jonathan was an angel, but him being probably the worst angel ever created, he spent more time in trouble up in the heavens than down here, so I stole his car.

A big gray SUV made the corner I had just pulled away from. It didn’t have the turning radius the Impala had and had plowed into the dumpster sideways. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw the whole passenger-side door dented and scratched up. “That’ll probably make them so much happier with me,” I mumbled again.

This dialogue wasn’t just because I was batshit crazy. I mean, I was crazy, being held hostage in Hell for a few months did that to a person, but I was used to having conversations with myself before that. I had a demon sharing my head with me. “You’re going to have to do better than that, Beth. They’re gaining on you. Let me out,” I said, although the words came from my demon.

“Shut up,” I growled and spun the Impala to the right and down another side street to break my pursuer’s line of sight.

A second car packed full of angry warlocks waited for me on this street. Somehow they had flanked me. I briefly wondered how many red lights they had blown through to get far enough ahead of me to make the turns needed to face me down here. This one wasn’t an SUV. It was a BMW with a sunroof, which I discovered when it opened as the driver floored the car in my direction. The street wasn’t wide enough to go around them. They were trying to box me in.

Instead of playing chicken, I threw the manual transmission in reverse and pumped the clutch down and up as my other foot slammed down onto the gas. Pumping the clutch that fast should have killed the engine easily, but the reason I liked Jonathan’s Impala so much is that he had somehow enchanted the thing never to die. Oh, and it only needed gas every six months. The angel was an idiot most of the time, which got him into some major league hot water, but occasionally he had a good idea.

The BMW kept coming at me, and a warlock popped his head up from the sunroof and started waving his hands in some mystical gestures that were sure to make me have a terrible day. Since I hadn’t made it very far down the street, I rolled down the passenger side window and ripped the wheel around to the right while still moving backward. The twist put me into a backslide to the left.

The SUV with the busted door appeared in my rearview mirror again, and it was getting way too close for comfort. The ninety-degree reverse turn put me going in the right direction on the previous street and lined up a shot through my lowered passenger window towards the oncoming BMW. I picked up my bright blue painted sub-compact pistol and fired three rounds at the BMW’s tires.

I slammed the Impala back into first and then just as quickly shifted up to second and third as I tore off. I didn’t stick around to see if I had hit my target on the BMW. I knew I did. Those bullets were super expensive because of the enchantments on them. They didn’t miss whatever target the shooter desired, as long as there was even a slim possibility they could hit. They were my lucky rounds. I only had a few more, but they were worth the price. I always kept a magazine of them on hand for just this kind of situation. This kind of situation seemed to happen a lot more to me than I thought was fair.

“Well, you do put yourself into these predicaments — no one to blame but yourself. Let me out, and I’ll get you out of it,” my demon suggested.
“I thought I told you to shut your trap.”

The SUV was still on my back bumper. I had to do something about that, but I couldn’t risk knocking my ride out of the fight either. This pack of warlocks had more resources out there, and I couldn’t afford to get caught with my pants down in the Atlanta suburbs. The car was the best chance I had to get out of town undetected. That was the glory of the city; there were a whole bunch of small highways into and out of town. I just needed to get to the loop and out of these stupid suburbs.

The windows on the SUV lowered and rifle barrels poked out. “Oh, shit.”

“I can’t let you die. I’m in here too, remember. Let me out. I’ll take these assholes,” the demon pleaded.

“Not a chance,” I replied and kicked the Impala into a series of swerves as the warlocks opened up with the rifles. I heard several dings of the jerks putting holes in my back bumper and trunk. I felt a little guilty about some of the extra dings and scratches that had appeared since Jonathan had left, but I needed the wheels. Besides, that part of my guilty conscience was in the minor leagues compared to some of my other character flaws.
“But Beth,” my demon said, this time mentally since I was concentrating on driving too hard to speak.

I turned out onto a two-lane street with a grass median in the middle. I hopped the curb and went over the median. There were a few cars on the other side, and I knew if they kept their speed, I’d be fine, but the SUV would lose momentum going around them. The curb cut my speed and made the suspension groan, but the plan worked. The SUV had to drive in the grassy middle for three seconds more before they found an opening and cut over to me. Those seconds gave me enough time to weave back into traffic going the wrong way.

Horns blared at me, and I saw a pair of police cars idling at a gas station. Both kicked their lights on and came to life as I passed. I knew this main road would take me straight to the highway, but I wouldn’t make it with both the police and the warlocks on my ass. I had to figure something else out.

I weaved around a sedan and flew through a red light going the wrong way. Luckily it wasn’t a super busy intersection, and I made it. However, the police noticed my pursuing SUV still had its rifle barrels pointed in my direction. The police shouted over their loudspeaker, ordering the SUV to pull over. Of course, the warlocks ignored it and kept firing at me. 

I turned and cut across a gravel parking lot and hopped another curb. The SUV attempted to follow me, but one of the police cars decided they had enough of the gunfire and tapped the SUV’s rear right fender just as it hit the gravel. It spun out and caught an abnormally large rock which kicked up and put a hole in the police car’s windshield. I grimaced, hoping they were alright. The SUV couldn’t correct its spin in time and overcompensated. The momentum carried it up and over its side, and it slid on its driver’s side about fifty feet, digging a deep furrow into the parking lot. The second police car pulled up next to it, and I lost sight of them as I continued.

I heard the third vehicle before I saw it. That was because it was roaring like my demon trying to claw its way out. Flares of green light splattered on the street in front of my car. They immediately dug deep potholes as an acid ate away at the asphalt. The car then came out of a side street and pulled up beside me, matching my speed.

One warlock leaned out the window. “Give us back the idol,” he screamed over the wind. I flipped him the bird and smiled. “Have it your way,” he said and fired one of the acidic green blobs at the Impala. I figured he would do something like that. People don’t tend to take kindly to rude gestures after you’ve stolen something from them. Besides, that idol was locked in the trunk. How did he figure I would give it back to him even if I wanted to? I definitely wasn’t going to pull over and hand it to them. The whole stupid group would probably chop me into pieces.

The acid blob sailed clear over the top of my hood as I slammed both of my feet on the brake pedal. I had made it to my getaway spot. Maybe that wasn’t the right word. It was more of a hideaway or a bolt hole. It was a small pocket dimension I had set up the day before, just in case I needed to keep a low profile on my way out of town. There was a tear, in reality, one block east of here. It was only detectable by practitioners, but even though they could sense it, they couldn’t open it without the pendant I had used to create it. In a way, it was locked. Lucky me, I had the foresight to put the entrance and exit in different locations, so even if they monitored this one, they wouldn’t see me come out. The exit was right next to an entrance ramp to the highway out of town.

I cranked the wheel around, fished the pendant out of the glove box, and floored the gas pedal one more time. With a word and a slight push of power, I opened the dimension, and one block later the Impala sailed inside. I stopped the car and closed the opening before the warlocks could follow me in. Using my power left me slightly nauseous. My demon tried to force itself out every single time my mental defenses weakened, and using my power to open and close the portal definitely weakened my defenses, at least momentarily.

My aunt, Katarina Glostiva, was a nasty piece of work. Although she wasn’t able to cause any more trouble now, I was still dealing with the fallout of her insanity and ambition. I would deal with it for the rest of my life. Auntie Kat, in all her infinite wisdom, trapped a demon, but she didn’t have any vessel handy to hold on to it. So she used me instead. When I figured out what was happening to me, naturally, I went ape shit. We had a huge argument where I demanded she banish the demon and that I never wanted it. I had asked auntie Kat for power like hers back when I was young enough and naïve enough not to understand how that power came to be. She took that as consent even years later when I was in college.

Most people got pretty regular college experiences like hating boring classes, going to a couple of parties, and getting way too trashed on some disgusting punch. I had nothing like that kind of luck. My best friend, Violet, tried to get me to open up and share some of the baggage I had carried around, but when I told her, she couldn’t relate. Auntie Kat wasn’t someone an average person could comprehend. Don’t get me wrong, Violet had thought I was crazy for a good while there, but after I showed her some of the cool magic I could do, her demeanor changed. 

College had started to work out my sophomore year. I did the whole party thing that my classmates had gotten out of their system the year before, and Violet had decided on a journalism major. Her eagerness to learn all about the magical underbelly of society had spurred her on. Just as I was getting into the swing of things for the first time in my life- and right when I had my back turned- Katarina enspelled my mind and scrambled my brain before dumping me in prison in Hell. She had wanted the demon to finish me off, and then it could have complete control of my body. Her plans changed with the shifting winds, and when she saw an opportunity, she sent Jonathan to break me out and tried to repair our relationship so she could continue to manipulate me. It didn’t take, but now I was picking up the pieces.

I got my defenses back under control just in time as my phone rang. I wasn’t on the material plane. That meant if my phone was ringing, it would have to have been someone calling who could send me a message even here. That could only be a few people. “Beth Rastin, speaking,” I said as I picked up the line.


“Beth,” the voice said, smooth as silk on the other end of the line. “I assume you have the idol?”

“Yeah. I just picked it up. Where would you like me to deliver it?” I asked. The person on the other side was not one to keep waiting, and the sooner I got rid of the thing, the better off I’d feel. There was sickening dark magic emanating from it so strong I could feel it from the front seat. The warlocks used it to conduct their more advanced magics. It was the kind of rituals that a person couldn’t manage by themselves. Somehow, over a few decades, the idol had become stained with the residual magic from uncountable spells.

“It is a dark artifact. I will secure it once it is cleansed. I’ll text you the address,” Patterson said.

“How big of a deal is this idol, anyway?” I asked.

“It’s not that important. It was more useful because it scrambled the warlock’s bigger workings. It should slow them down enough for us to get a squad over there to lock down any nefarious plans they’ve got,” the angel replied.

“You’re angels. Why can’t you go immediately?”

Patterson scoffed on the other end of the line. “We’ve got a million cases piling up that outclass this one. It would have been a bigger problem if the warlocks kept the idol, but now we can afford to let it ride a little longer while the teams take care of the more dangerous and pressing matters.”
“I bet you and Jonathan could have taken care of it,” I said. I knew it was mean, but I was tired, and my demon loved it when I was exhausted. It got to force a little of its vileness through the cracks in my defenses.

“I’m stuck working the phones and riding the desk, and you know it, Beth,” Patterson said. I had hoped she would slip up and mention something useful after the jab, but she was careful as always.

“Are you bringing a kit, or do you want me to pick one up?” I asked. Patterson was Jonathan’s old partner, and even though I could tell she knew exactly what was going on with him up in heaven, she refused to tell me anything. That had put a severe strain on our relationship. She didn’t think I should be privy to Angelic business, especially since I had a demon straining against me. Although I knew she had a point, I also didn’t think it was fair for her to keep me in the dark. I wanted to know what was going on with Jonathan because if the Angel Corps sided against him, they would probably come after me too. I would like some warning if that were to happen, and Patterson was holding out on me. She told me her bosses tied her hands about it, but ever since that conversation, our friendship was in murky waters.

Don’t get me wrong, Jonathan was a friend, but he was also an angel. He’d be fine. I had to look after myself because I was much less immortal than he was. I didn’t get extra chances and new bodies every time a monster blew me to bits. The beast just blew me to bits. It occurred to me that Patterson shouldn’t even be letting me help in the small ways I had been, but it helped ease my guilty conscience about the numerous side effects of my aunt’s dark plans. The thought that she was even doing that much for me- while stonewalling me about anything else- frustrated me even more. Minor retrievals be dammed. It would take me a long time to tip the scales back in my favor doing small-time stuff like that. I couldn’t risk doing anything major league, or my demon might break free and make an appearance. That would undo everything I’d been working towards and then some.

“I’ll bring the kit,” Patterson replied and hung up on me.

I stared down at my phone for a second after she clicked off. “What a bitch,” my demon said, and I couldn’t help but agree. The phone dinged again as a text came in. It looked like I had quite the drive ahead; I was off to New Orleans.

the price of brimstone
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