There were three of them, looked to be nineteen, maybe early twenties. Hot. They let out a shout of joy as they rushed to Amelia, smothering her with hugs. I tried to shy away but Amelia grabbed my arm before I could take a step back.
“Girls, this is Epex, my fi—”
“Friend,” I interrupted. “Nice to meet you.” I was nonchalant.
“Hi,” they chorused, smiles on their faces.
Amelia gestured toward the black girl with long, curly, black hair. “That’s Keisha.” She pointed at the ginger with wavy hair. “Amanda.” Finally, she gestured at her Hispanic friend, short dark-brown hair, great rack. “Jade.”
I don’t know what came over me, but something within signaled that these three women weren’t normal. The respect they gave Amelia was just too damn high.
“Let’s not waste any time, it’s going to be a long six hours.”
I gazed at their vehicle. Some kind of fancy Nissan. I guess this could work. Read enough about these cars. Personally, I wanted to ascend. Why spend six agonizing hours in a full metal deathtrap when I could get to the place in a matter of seconds. If only I knew where we were going. I silently shook my head as we got into the car, Amanda driving, Keisha on the opposite side. I had the window side behind the driver, Jade in the middle, and Amelia on the other side. She tried to get the middle, but Jade refused her for some reason.
The ride sucked. The girls never stopped talking, asked too many goddamn questions, and sang along to every goddamn song on the radio. WHY THE HELL IS THE SINGER WALKING A THOUSAND MILES TO SEE SOME DOUCHE? I wanted to die. To kill myself. Worst of all, some of the songs got stuck in my head. I glanced at Amelia. She was cheery, having the time of her life, and occasionally laughing at my indifferent expressions. I began to think that Hell could actually get worse if it were run by these three humans.
I tried to fall asleep but one of her friends would pester me with a question, poke my arm, converse. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the pop songs weren’t trying to burst my eardrums. Jade by far asked the most questions and, in fact, talked to me more than her friends. I based lies off my childhood, obviously. Can’t go around telling humans I spent the last eight years in Hell. Nope. Trying to give myself a fresh start. Trying.
Jade was so close to me that I could smell her perfume. Amelia either noticed and overlooked this or pretended she didn’t see anything. I felt some tension in her power.
After about four hours, we stopped at a restaurant. Jade tried to get me to walk with her, but I used the bathroom excuse to get away. It was for her own good. She really shouldn’t provoke a fucking goddess. Even if she had a death wish.
Just then, everything froze. People, cars, animals, even insects—everything stopped moving. The air grew still. My heavenly-being senses burst into a rage. Amelia, fortunately unaffected, rushed over to me, manifesting her bow and quiver of arrows.
Three misthangers oozed from underground, whispering, “Justice shall be executed, Epex the traitor.”
Unimpressed to say the least, I chose to manifest a sword, ready for them this time.
I dashed ahead of Amelia, speed much faster than a human, and swung at the first misthanger in my path.
It seemed to be enough. I sliced right through the bastard and dashed for the other. Amelia’s arrow beat me to it. The misthanger let out a yell before falling.
The last one got into a crouching stance, armed with two of its sharp daggers. A loud, explosive pop rang through the air. The misthanger stiffened, as a bloody hole appeared in its forehead. It fell, melting into blood, seconds later. I spun to see Amelia’s friends smiling. Jade blew at the tip of her pistol and placed it in her purse.
“Okay, what’s going on?” I said to Amelia as I dissipated the sword. “Humans shouldn’t be able to move through a time stop, or see misthangers.”
“My friends are special. They’re my followers, so I blessed them with psychic enhancement.”
“You really do make a girl melt in the inside,” Jade said. “Are you implying something with that big sword of yours?” Amanda and Keisha joined in on the laugh. I blushed, then ignored them.
“I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to get them involved,” I hissed. Amelia pulled me off to the side.
“These girls have hunted with me for years,” she said. “You really have got to catch up from eight years ago. Things aren’t the way they used to be. Every hunter has his or her own way of catching criminals. My friends helped me land a spot in the top six.”
I froze. “You’re one of the fucking super elites?”
For the first time, I actually felt ashamed. “You gave all of that glory up just…for me?”
“Of course,” she said, moving in closer.
“Amelia…” I paused. “You do know how terrible of an idea that was.”
“I don’t care. You didn’t get a chance to live life, to see the world, to make decisions. How is it fair for you to be condemned without getting a chance to make things right?”
“Well, I did blow up the earth like twice, ripped the time-space continuum into pieces, and blew reality itself into space goo.”
“You were a child, who could barely control such vast power. Nor did you understand it. Your father didn’t even try to help you, clinging onto the ways of the old. Everyone else just seemed to abandon you, some of them caring only about the throne. I’m not like them. I believe in good but only the true sense of good. If we can’t help one of our own, then we try harder.”
I studied Amelia and saw pure truth in her eyes. She would’ve made a good queen. Maybe.
“Are you two done?” Keisha called out. “We’re going inside to order.”
Time began to move normally again.
“We’ll catch up in just a bit,” Amelia told them. Keisha nodded, and away they went.
I decided I needed to be certain of something. “Amelia, do you really care, or is this just the imprinting doing the talking?”
Amelia’s expression darkened. She narrowed her eyes. “Epex, imprinting is destiny, not mind control. And it only works at the first harbored feelings of love. Mine happened twelve years ago. Didn’t know much about it as we were just kids.”
I nodded. “Alright, I won’t question your loyalty again. I trust you.”
Amelia smiled, moving closer as if for a kiss, but I turned away. Something about doing that so soon bothered me. Just because Amelia imprinted, didn’t mean I was obligated to her. Nevertheless, amidst all the bullshit of Paradise Realm, my only friend still trusted me. Maybe destiny did bind me to her.
Still, I needed time to think, to get used to not being in Hell, to be able to look over my shoulder again without fear of getting my balls crushed.
I paused, thinking about the situation at hand. Then it hit me. We needed to get the fuck out here.
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Alvin Atwater is a man of humor, a starving author. With a unique writing style that can outshine even Jim Butcher, Patria Briggs, or Kevin Hearne, he is a character-driven lovable lump of mass. Born in Florida, he's on a mission to defeat his arch nemesis, Florida Man, once and for all.
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Author of the Blood for Soul series and a secret coming-of-the-age epic fantasy. Lover of anime and manga: so yeah, weeb shit? Fun. Sue me haha.
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