We trotted into the empty chapel and sat in the front seats. Angelic power swirled around me like a deadly mist. I unsheathed Ruin. It shimmered as it hungrily absorbed the angelic poison. It wouldn’t be enough but something is better than nothing.
Amelia looked from the sword to me, and then glanced around the chapel. I followed her eyes. It wasn’t much of a building, just old and dusty, with a tiled floor that looked as if it hunted mops for a living. That didn’t last, however, because something amazing happened. Amelia’s mere presence started to bring this place to life. Wilted roses stood up again, fully healthy. Dust started to vanish. Brooms marched out of the janitor closet and had a ball. Dusty paintings shined again. Murky glass windows became crystal-clear.
That’s when something else happened. In front of the podium, a black cloud of dust fizzled as it grew into a six-foot-tall human-shaped figure. Two yellow human-like eyes appeared on where the face would be. A raspy voice filled the air.
“You are not welcomed here. I claimed this old church as my territory.”
Amelia and I stood up and faced the creature. Dust-devils were evil spirits that formed from negative vibes and emotions left in the area, sadness mixed with dust and filth being the most potent way of them forming. Add a little power, and boom, the spirit from Hell has found himself a new vessel.
And yes, humans can leave behind emotion. Suicide spots, to dirty places, prisons, hospitals——these places leave impressions.
“Your territory? Amelia said. “I don’t think so.” Winds burst from nowhere, as her angelic white wings appeared on her back. Golden, heavenly-light outlined her.
“You are a goddess, I knew this. But it does not matter. You’re in my place of power. I’m at the advantage, but I’m a generous spirit. Leave now and you live.”
“You dare defy me?” Amelia said.
“Perhaps you are under the impression that I’m bluffing, goddess, that I cannot kill you. Then I shall show both of you.”
I shook my head. “I believe we have a pissed-off goddess here. Think I’ll sit this out and let her tear you apart.”
With Ruin still unsheathed, I picked it up and went to the back of the chapel. Whew, shit was getting real. I didn’t want to be near Amelia’s wrath as it stirred. I sat down and propped my feet up. Let the show begin.
Just then, the dust-devil attacked. It didn’t even move its legs to run, just sort of insta-glided toward Amelia. A smoky, thick ring of black wrapped itself around her, squeezing both arms shut as it lifted her into the air with a single hand. Amelia tried to wiggle free but the spirit’s grip was too strong. It smashed her to the ground several times before letting her go. She didn’t move. The dust-devil looked at me.
“Now do you understand, godling?” it said. Its voice sounded ancient. Smug too, the bastard.
“If you think a weak attack like that is going to down an ex-steroid heavenly hunter, then you’ve got a surprise coming,” I said.
At that moment, several arrows fired into the dust-devil’s back as Amelia stood up. The dust-devil shimmered then bust into fiery particles before dissipating. She sighed.
“Was that necessary?” I said, waggling my finger at her.
“What?” she asked.
“Giving that thing a false sense of security before killing it in one move.”
Amelia smiled. “Just hurry and finish charging your stupid sword.”
The following morning, I awoke to a poke on my cheek. My eyes shot open to see Amelia and her friends surrounding my bed, smiling. They were dressed in casual clothing.
“Happy birthday!” they chorused, startling me to the core. I honestly didn’t know what to say. It reminded me of childhood, how Amelia was actually the only one who always wished me a happy birthday. Well…I did the same thing. From age five to eight. My ex-clan, Helios, or my family, didn’t really give a shit about that kind of thing. They saw it as a human tradition, especially for corporations. Which isn’t entirely untrue. Then in Hell, it was nothing but brutality. But you know that, already.
Then the embarrassment started. The women all started singing that fucking annoying Happy Birthday song. I ducked under my blankets to cover my blush. I could feel it burning like the surface of a volcano.
Amelia yanked the covers off as they reached the last verse, and kissed me. This was actually the first time she had made it clear that I was her territory. Her friends let out a group “aw.”
“Come on, get dressed,” Amelia said. “We’re going out. Mall first, then the aquarium, and after that, I’m going to introduce you to angel-balling.”
“You’ll see. It’s lots of fun,” Keisha said.
“I know, right?” Jade said.
“It’s not really my thing,” Amanda said. “But it is cool.”
“Sounds interesting. Well, I’m going to shower and get ready. Should we skip straight to it afterwards?” I said.
“Nope.” Amanda said.
Fuck. I really wasn’t up for the mall. The aquarium sounded interesting, though. I’d never been to one.
After getting ready for the day, I met with the others and off we went.
Traffic sucked as usual when Amanda drove us downtown. Her road rage was a little tamed today. Somehow, along the way, I convinced them to do the mall thing last. The aquarium was a real piece of work, I’ll give it that. Since it was only eleven in the morning, the place wasn’t overly crowded. I watched some seahorses swim by at the first stop, then we moved on. There were a lot of awesome marine life that I had only read about or seen on TV, from large turtles to sharks, and even a dolphin or two. The aquarium was cool, overall, but not what I looked forward to the most. We spent maybe an hour or two there then decided it was time for the real fun.
Amanda took us onto the interstate.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“To the game location,” Amelia said. “We can’t play angel-ball out in the city for everyone to see.”
We drove a half-hour to the middle of nowhere —a wide-open grassy area consisting of a few trees, some small hills here and there, but no people. Amelia pulled out a large cooler filled with ice, water bottles, Gatorade, and a plastic container of sandwiches from the trunk and sat it on top of the car. I guess now would be the perfect time to mention that it was spring and hot. Not hot as Hell, so it didn’t bother me much, but still uncomfortable. The only things that I like heated are my showers, food, and hot chocolate. Not me.
Jade passed everyone different colored bookmarked-sized flags with straps on them. My flag was red.
“Strap them to your waist or belt loop or something,” she said.
“You said this is angel-ball,” I said. “Where the hell’s the ball?” I held up a hand before a smiling Jade could answer. “The real ball.”
“Just be patient,” Amelia said, then addressed me. “First, let’s get about thirty feet apart.” We made our way to the center of the grassland and did just that. A cool breeze brushed across my face. Amelia raised a hand into the air. It shimmered. From the sparks, a basketball-sized sphere of white light formed just inches above her hand. “The rules are very simple and straightforward. First of all, the goal is to get everyone’s flags. Easy, right?” She was addressing me, if that wasn’t obvious enough.
“Yeah, but ——”
She continued, interrupting me. “Well, here’s the catch. You must push this ball into someone. That person will be stunned. That is your chance to snag the flag. You cannot take someone’s flag unless they’re stunned. Of course, the spell on the flags will prevent you from doing so anyway.”
“So, the ball temporarily shuts down the spell, giving us the chance to swipe it?” I asked.
Amelia nodded. “Right. Which is why we’re spread out. When we start, it will move in a random direction on its own. It is up to anyone to get it, shove, and hit your first target.”
“Sounds fun, let’s give this a go,” I said. Amelia hurried to her position, clapped her hands once, and that’s when the ball began to move.
I burst into a sprint toward it, moving like the wind, eager to be the first to shove it. And Amelia was my target. Too bad she beat me to it. I barely dodged her ball; I could’ve sworn it moved almost a hundred miles an hour. Amanda gained control of it and once again, I found myself dodging, though the ball was much slower. That seemed like a pass to Keisha. Guess what? I had to evade it. These bitches were deliberately targeting me! I decided this area was a kill zone and sprinted about twenty feet away. Keisha had Amanda’s flag in her hand when I faced their way again.
“Eliminated,” she said and then turned her gaze my way, smug smile on her face. She barely dodged Jade’s ball.
“Don’t let Epex get away,” Amelia said, laughing.
“Oh, fucking come on,” I muttered, letting out a laugh myself. Before I knew it, I was back to dodging, but this time it didn’t take long to find the opening I needed. I shoved the ball at Keisha. It connected. I didn’t waste any time and snagged the flag. She groaned in defeat and marched off the field seconds later, toward the cooler. When Amelia shoved the ball in my direction, I dodged it by a hair. Two times, three times —whew, I found myself sweating and panting. Amelia seemed to be just getting started. She passed it to Jade. Jade launched it at me. I saw that chance—Jade’s hand didn’t fully connect with the ball. Big mistake. The speed, angle, and trajectory was just right and that put me back on the offensive, taking out Jade. Now only Amelia and I were left. The ball was already sort of floating in her direction, its anti-gravity properties flexing without a care in the world.
She beamed at me.
I sprinted away and dove behind a tree just as the ball sailed past me.
Whew! That was close.
But it wasn’t over just yet. I bolted after the damn thing but Amelia quick-ascended to it.
“That’s so not fair,” I said, unable to contain my grin.
She shrugged. “So?”
She rocketed the ball at me, breaking the fucking sound barrier. I dove to the side while charging force. If she wanted to play this game, then fine. Unfortunately, Amelia didn’t stop the quick-ascensions. She nearly hit me several times. Her friends hooted and cheered, getting off on this. “You can’t dodge forever, Epex. While you’re exhausted, I’m just getting started.”
I inhaled softly and then exhaled and waited patiently. She spiked the ball at me, breaking the sound barrier, ready to end the game. I used force. It worked. Amelia’s eyes widened as the ball damn-near teleported to her, smacking her in the rack. I casually walked over to her, big fucking grin on my face, and snatched her flag. She sighed. “First time playing our game and Epex wins.”
“Well, how about that.” I said. “But in my defense, if you would’ve kept it fair, you probably would’ve taken this one.”
I helped her up, trying not to gaze at the sweat that trickled down to her breasts. Amelia glared at me, barely hiding a tiny smile. I smiled unapologetically.
“Let’s eat, go home, get showered, and head to the mall. I think birthday boy’s ego needs to be put back into check.” Her friends nodded, smiling, and voicing their agreements.
After we left Amanda’s house the second time, we sadly drove to the mall. I expected to be holding their bags as punishment. But, instead, we stopped in front of Sin and Amony in an awkward stare-down. Shit.
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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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