I gunned the engine, driving right at the violent gang blocking the street. I could take them – I could take anything, including death.
Gritting my teeth, I let magic bleed out of me and blast into my motorbike. It gave it the last bolt of power it needed. I mounted a car in front of me, shot over the top, and lunged into the air. Around me, shots blazed.
This big, beefy guy in a leather jacket that looked as if it had been made from a whole cow yanked something out of his pocket. I had a chance to see a blast of light and magic exploding everywhere, then he threw it at me.
I hauled the bike to the side, skidding around the object. It whipped past my long ponytail. I could smell the scent of nails, sulfur, and wax.
Sure enough, as it smashed into the street beside me, it gouged a meter-wide chunk of bitumen out and sent it spinning into the air like flaming kisses from the devil himself. My blood boiled from the aftereffects of the hex.
Fortunately, my blood didn’t actually boil. My heart wasn’t burned to a crisp, and my skin wasn’t seared off me. But within me, my energy recognized the magic of Hell.
Spinning the tires, I shoved the bike to the left. There was another car. Fortunately, it was a low sedan. Expensive. Luxury even, if my short glimpse was anything to go by. Well, it was about to get a bonus set of tire tracks up the hood.
Sneering again, I rammed the bike up and got plenty of airtime, my ponytail slicing over my shoulder like a whip.
The gang continued to attack, firing every spell they had in their inventories, but it wasn’t enough.
I landed again, my tires skidding. Fumes wafted everywhere. This great toxic cloud now blocked us off from the shops lining the street. Nobody was outside staring at us. There weren’t any intrepid kids on their phones catching this crazy footage for the Internet. If there had been anyone on the street when I’d arrived, they’d run for cover long ago. Nobody got involved when a Hell gang was out to make someone pay.
Well, no one got involved except for me.
The massive guy chucked his head back and yelled at me. Considering his sheer aggression and size, he had to be the leader.
Jerking back, he locked his hands on his knees, and he bellowed, spittle flying around his lips. The cry pierced through the air. I wasn’t making that up – nor was I going for dramatic overemphasis. This guy had to be a voice magician. Because with one simple, rumbling cry, he carved a doorway out of the air with nothing more than his frigging words.
Shit. Reinforcements were on their way now. As the door was carved right out of the very fabric of space-time, I saw a bony white hand stretch through. The skin glistened. It was wet and hung off the corpse like melted plastic wrap.
Feeders. I hated feeders. Their singular purpose was in their name. They fed off anything and everything in sight. That could be lampposts, chunks of the street, little old ladies, or entire school buses. If they got big – because as they grew their appetite matched their size – you ran.
I hated them more than any other hell creature – and that was saying something.
Twisting to the side, using my body to force the bike into a tight turn, I reached the big guy in a leather jacket. It was my turn to shove a hand into my pocket. I wasn’t about to hex him. I had something a whole lot more powerful. I grabbed a simple white card. Engraved on it was a mandala of power. One I’d been working on for the past two weeks. I’d painstakingly crafted it, going through every line with not just my magic, but my pinpoint concentration. It now had the power to release pure elemental force, which was exactly what happened now.
I threw the card. It spun into the air about a meter away from me. Then the paper burned off. As it singed to a crisp and flew away in the clipping breeze, it released the magical lines. They hovered there in the air until they untwined themselves like a spider web being woven in reverse.
The guy tried to jerk back, but he was way too late. This blast of light pierced through the scene. It was brighter than a thousand flares. It made every single member of the gang jerk back and hide behind their beefy arms. As for me, it was my spell, so I could look right into the heart of it and not blink once.
Fire suddenly burned out in every direction. It blasted in this random, impossible-to-predict pattern. It caught two of the gang members. It also slammed right into the chest of the leader. It sent him barreling back. He smashed into another gang member, forcing him to topple off his own motorbike. The air became thick with the particular stench of leather heating up – and skin too as my fire spell continued to burn wildly.
Realizing I had no chance to gloat, I spun the bike around. I paused on the street and revved. That Hell door was now half open. The hand of the feeder had stretched all the way through until I could see its bony little elbow. The guy was small. That did not put my mind at ease. Judging by the sheer size of the etheric energy cloaking him, he had the capacity to grow as large as a frigging truck. He’d be able to take out half the city. Not that the Demon Boys would let him, but that was another story.
I could not and would not rely on them.
I sneered again. I revved the bike once more. Then I shot forward. I didn’t bother to rely on another mandala card in my pocket. I closed my eyes.
So this was it, then? I would have to use that power.
When I’d woken up this morning, I’d gotten the distinct feeling that today would be one of those days.
I finally shot toward the feeder, the bike thrusting forward so quickly, it would’ve looked like a strike of blazing light.
I got airtime again, leaping a good meter into the air until I slammed back down onto the street in a cloud of exhaust. I reached the Hell door. I grabbed the ring on my right index finger, twisting it to the left. A blade appeared in my hand. As I leaped off the bike and it skidded to the side, immediately catching alight, I thrust the sword right through the feeder’s hand, pinning it back against the hell door. Energy discharged everywhere, leaping high in great clouds that would’ve made a supernova blush.
The feeder screamed. I could hear its voice reverberating through that Hell door. Soon other voices joined it, and they collected together – this cacophonous wail of the damned.
More energy built up through the Hell door. I might’ve downed the guy in charge, but he’d already cast his spell.
The door began to buckle. I could see the feeder’s face now. That ghastly apparition was pressed right up against the door. It wasn’t a door an ordinary human would be used to. It was more like this wall of wavering energy. It was as if someone had picked up water, condensed it into this thin line, and stretched it across space. Well, if water could be equivalent to the sheer burning firepower of Hell.
The feeder’s face pressed against the doorway as it tried to force itself forward and through into the real world. The crackling force field pushed toward me as the feeder’s mouth opened wide, its lips parting back as it tried to swallow me whole.
“Not today, buddy.” I shoved my sword further in, pinning the hellish creature’s hand against the door. I let power blast out of me. I dug deep, all the way. As this keening shriek kicked up from the doorway, blasting over the street like the trumpets of damnation, I groaned one last time. Then I damn well screamed. I used all the magic I possibly had. I wrenched the sword out of the door. Then I twisted it around. I thrust through the doorway, and I stabbed the feeder right through its heart.
Energy cascaded around me. The shockwave catapulted across the street. There were several parked cars. At least there had been. They were obliterated. The metal carcasses were ripped apart as if some kind of massive monster had descended on the city, Godzilla style.
The feeder shrieked. All the while, I shook, these great big burns blasting over my skin. They reached my face. I could feel my flesh being singed from my body.
But I had to hold on. If I didn’t kill the feeder, it would kill me and everyone else out here.
I still didn’t know what this Hell gang was after, but with this much muscle, they weren’t here for a picnic, if you know what I mean.
My hands were way past shaking now. They were starting to disintegrate. Right in front of me, they were just burning off as if someone had stupidly thrown a plastic doll into a live volcano.
Come on, I thought to myself. You can do this. There’s no one else.
I’ll let you in on a little secret – there’s never anyone else. It has always just been me. One woman hell-bent on one task – to hold Hell back for as long as I damn well can.
I let out another scream. Destruction was marching up my body now. It reached my chest. It was pushing in toward my heart. While the rest of my body was warm – as hot as the center of the frigging sun – my heart was frigid. It knew what I would have to do next.
I screamed once more. I pushed the blade all the way into the feeder’s body. That meant my face was pressed right up against the Hell doorway.
Nobody can survive coming face-to-face with the power of the damned, no matter how good they are with magic.
My face began to disintegrate. This pernicious, destructive force marched up my throat. I lost my mouth, my nose, my other cheek. The only thing that remained was one of my eyes.
I used it to stare at the leader just as he got to his feet. He yanked a small dagger out of his pocket, furled it to the side, and forced it to grow into this bolt of blistering magic. Then he thrust it right through my chest. It skewered me, slicing right through my heart in a blast of deadly power.
I held on for just one more second. As my hands finally broke away, turning to dust, I transferred the last scrap of my power into the feeder.
It exploded, and it took the Hell door with it. There were no more screams of the damned. There was nothing but an ugly popping sound like someone shooting a balloon with a military-grade rifle.
“Dammit,” the leader roared.
“Sorry, boys.” I didn’t even know how I managed to say that. I no longer had a mouth. For now.
I fell. I disintegrated long before my knees struck the ground.