Authors: Natalie Herzer
By Natalie Herzer
This is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to business establishments, or actual persons, living or dead or even undead, is entirely coincidental.
eBooks by Natalie Herzer
An extraordinarily huge
goes out to my better half. You inspire and amaze me every day. You’re a blessing I didn’t see coming. But most of all…you love kicking my ass, and I’m grateful you’re so good at it.
To all the book bloggers who spread the word and help authors in so many ways. Keep up the great work!
Last but not least: a big thanks to my editor for smoothing the rough edges.
And of course, you, the reader. I really hope you will enjoy this one.
Here is a list of songs that gave some scenes that little bit of extra when coming alive in my mind (in no particular order):
“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult
“Free” by Rudimental feat. Emeli Sandé
“Lose Your Soul” by Dead Man’s Bones
“Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison
“Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey
“One Of Us” by Joan Osborne
“Use Somebody” by Kings of Leon
“To Be Torn” by Kyla La Grange
“Runaway Train” by Soul Asylum
“Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac
“Walking In Memphis” by Marc Cohn
“Where I Sleep” by Emeli Sandé
“More Than A Feeling” by Boston
“Catch Me” by Bandits
“Ich Kenne Nichts” by RZA feat. Xavier Naidoo
THE ROAD TO HELL IS PAVED WITH GOOD INTENTIONS
“I am good, but not an angel. I do sin, but I am not the devil. I am just a small girl in a big world trying to find someone to love.”
- Marilyn Monroe
Purgatory was a bleak world on a good day, but when it was raining its black and white became downright miserable. Becca braced her elbows on the railing of the back porch and watched as the downpour washed away the last traces of blood that had been spilled on the lawn only a couple of days ago. Red wine stains on your favorite dress were nothing compared to the sulfuric mess of a lower demon’s essence. It was on the grass, in the air, everywhere. Back at her place, in her own backyard, the air would be heady with the scent of herbs she only recently bought and planted, whereas here it was finally cleansed of the iron and sulfur. Their bitter burn at the back of her throat so familiar – and so very much despised.
Not even a month had passed since Quinn and she had escaped Hell’s grasp. A cold shiver ran down her spine as she thought of the blood-red realm and their life there. She remembered the heartlessness, noise and laughter. The unbearable endlessness of it all. Becca still couldn’t believe that in the end it was her enemy who had given her hope and a real chance at a normal life.
As if beckoned by her memories, she heard the familiar rumble of a Dodge over the rush of the rain. Pushing away from the railing, Becca turned and made her way through what Heaven referred to as a safe house. As always she crossed her fingers, hoping the ramshackle ruin wouldn’t come crashing down on her.
She opened the door and watched a couple get out of the sleek black first generation Challenger. An angel and an Ivory. The man was tall and walked with power and confidence. The young, dark-haired woman was half human and half angel, a creature trained to protect humans from the soul-stealing demons creeping in through hellholes. She had eyes that had seen too much for her age.
According to the rules of their world they were her enemies, and the last time she had seen them blood had flowed on the lawn in the backyard. She should have fought, should have run, but instead Becca shook her head while stepping back to welcome them inside. Yes, her life had recently become rather…well, ‘unusual’ wouldn’t cover half of it.
“Lillian. Raz. Good to see you again,” Becca greeted with a smile curving her mouth before she followed them into the ramshackle.
In the middle of the room, Lillian suddenly turned on her heel and stood with her hands on her hips, facing Becca. Given how tense she looked, Becca was surprised the air around the Ivory didn’t crackle with energy. After blowing out her cheeks and expelling a long breath, Lillian opened her mouth but then closed it abruptly. Since Becca knew that the Ivory was not into imitating stranded fish, it caught her attention immediately. Whatever the reasons for their secret meeting, it must have been huge to get Lillian into such a state. The woman usually didn’t have to search for words.
Lillian started again, but must have changed her mind on the way from brain to mouth. “So, how you’ve been?”
Becca went with it, deciding to give her friend the time she needed until she was ready to spit it out. “Fine. We have a cat now. His name is Claws.”
Raz and Lillian looked at her in a way that told her they weren’t quite sure whether she was kidding or not.
“Seriously, you should see him. I bet a puppy locked up in the house would do less damage. Furniture, little birdies…nothing is safe.” With a shrug, Becca added, “Hence the name.”
“But I doubt that question is the reason for your visit. For that the phone could have worked just as fine.”
Lillian relaxed, cocking her head at Becca. “I guess I needed that, hey?”
Raz nodded and looked at Becca with something akin to thanks in his eyes. She guessed he still needed some getting used to working together with a witch. However, they’ve come a long way, given the fact that during their first encounter he’d held his sword to her throat. After all, age-old doctrines were not as easily chucked as a coat.
“And maybe a coffee would be welcome too? You guys look like you could use it.”
“Oh, yes. Pleeeease,” nodded Lillian.
Becca looked from one to the other, noticing the fatigue that still lingered around their eyes. “Rough night…or rather days, I take it?”
“You could say that.”
Lillian’s edginess made Becca curious but also apprehensive. While she motioned for the two of them to sit, she went about the kitchen. The word was actually quite an exaggeration for a room that only sported a couple of old Formica covered counters, a sink and a stove. Fortunately it was a gas unit, otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to make themselves something as simple as a coffee. It seemed Heaven didn’t allow the luxury of electricity in the house. She filled a pot with water and set it on the flame to boil. Soon the scent of coffee teased her nose and Lillian still hadn’t said a word.
When the coffee was done, Becca set the mugs in front of them. “Just spill it.”
“You’re right. Okay. Here it goes.” Lillian took a deep breath. “I know we’ve only been out of your hair for a couple of days, but we have news. Incredible news.”
Becca listened quietly as her guest recounted what had happened since the last time they had seen each other. Lillian and her Guard of Ivorys had fought for their lives against the corrupt and depraved angel of the divine plan – and won, attracting the attention of God himself.
“He just popped up out of nowhere. And started to piss me off the moment he opened his mouth. You should have seen him, Becca. It’s a game to him.
are a game to him.”
Becca barely had time to process her friend’s words, when the next ones reached her ears. Her jaw almost hit the floor. Had she heard right?
“You said what?” Her gaze flicked to Raz, whose grin radiating love and pride told her that she was not imagining it. She had trouble getting the words out but eventually managed, “I can’t believe you had the courage to talk back at
Blushing lightly, Lillian shrugged. “What did I have left to lose? Our souls are already hell-bound.”
“Still.” Becca slumped back in her chair, staring at Lillian, incredulous. “Damn, you have balls, girl.”
Lillian’s gaze changed, her dark eyes turning serious and even a bit sad. “There is more you need to hear.”
A feeling of foreboding crept up her spine, but Becca wasn’t one to scare easily. “Okay. Shoot.”
After Lillian was done, Becca sat in silence for a moment, letting the words sink in. When she looked up, her gaze traveled from Lillian to Raz and back to her friend. “So…you guys want me to go to hell, is that it?”
“Quite literally, I’m afraid. Yes.”
Lillian rubbed her hands across her face as if trying to rub away the lingering fatigue, and then ran her fingers up into her hair. After blowing out her cheeks and expelling a long breath, she went on, looking directly at Becca with a mix of sadness and desperation and hope in her eyes, “Look, don’t get me wrong, Becca. Of course, I don’t
you to go back to Hell, especially not after all the trouble you went through to get away from it in the first place. Not to mention Quinn. I mean…” The light in her eyes dimmed and Lillian slumped back in her chair. After a moment she suddenly moved to get up. “Shit, this was a bad idea. Coming here and dumping-”
“I understand, Lillian. You guys can’t go there, but I can. It’s as simple as that,” Becca cut in, her voice and eyes calm. “I will do it.”
Becca had never met Him, but given the fact that she was a demon, a witch to be exact, it didn’t come exactly as a surprise. However, that God was of a mood to change the rules of the age-old game between good and evil, that definitely was one. She thought of Quinn, thought of his beautiful soul which was damned to Hell despite his innocence. Just the possibility that things might change for them, the sweet taste of hope in her heart, was enough of a reason to make her agree. Becca only had to find a way to make sure she wouldn’t end up being more than burnt to a crisp at the end of this particular stunt.
“There is just one thing you have to understand,” Becca explained. “I can’t walk into Hell on my own. I would be toast in a heartbeat.”
“True,” Raz agreed. The angel of mystery who had fallen for Lillian – quite literally – was leaning against the kitchen counter, arms crossed over his chest.
Lillian frowned. “So what exactly do you suggest?”
“We need to have more of an edge. We need to give Satan a reason to talk with us. Curiosity, that’s the way to go, his Achilles heel. Besides the vanity, I mean. We have to have numbers and while gathering them we need to spread the word that God wants to change the rules. Hopefully we’ll pique Satan’s interest enough to make him want to talk with us…
he kills us, that is.”
Lillian shook her head, smiling softly. “So, just another walk in the park, huh?”
“Hell, not the park. But yeah, that’s the spirit!” Becca corrected and grinned. For Quinn, she would do anything.
A few weeks later…
Stone strode through the blood-red streets that were Hell.
Ignoring the moans and cries and scents of sin flavoring the air around him, his gaze was as hard as his namesake. He could have been in any other bad part of a big human city, the only difference was that here there wasn’t the slightest chance at redemption. Here the only light at the end of the tunnel was the fiery fires of Hell, or rather the neon signs of the various clubs flourishing in it. Corrupted souls were the currency, and an economical crisis was unimaginable down here.
Trying to ignore the heavy pulse of music throbbing in his chest, he wished once again that he could have flown, but the root of his left wing still needed time to heal after a ‘difference of opinion’ less than a week ago. He pulled his thoughts back to the meeting ahead.
The job offer.
His gaze darkened even more. Stone wasn’t very picky about assignments, but the simple fact that he wouldn’t be able to decline this one bugged him. When a marquis of Hell asked for your services you didn’t say no, especially if you preferred your intestines to stay where they belonged – inside of you and not in a heap at your feet.
Stone turned left into the hustle and bustle that was Shop Street. Catering for all tastes – in exchange for the right amount of souls, of course – it never slept, and opened up like a tempting flower in front of him, leading directly towards the dark building he had been summoned to. A fancy black glass and concrete tower that reached up towards the bloody sky, it certainly didn’t look like anything a marquis would live in. But this was Hell and not the middle ages.
Geryons guarded the entrance. The giant centaurs were utterly ugly and hairy, and their razor-sharp hooves and poisonous teeth turned them into very lethal creatures. Strolling past and heading towards the double glass doors, Stone watched them out of the corner of his eyes for any funny movements.
Once inside, he walked over towards the succubus sitting behind the front desk.
“May I help you?” she asked, her voice and smile laced with a sweet promise of sex.
She looked cute, and any other time he might have returned her smile, but today was not it. “I have an appointment with the Marquis.”
The succubus turned towards her computer screen and then looked back at him. “Please take the second elevator on the left, right up to the top.”
He nodded his thanks and walked over towards the stainless steel doors. They opened with a
as if they’d waited for him, revealing a plush blue-and-gold interior which must have cost more than the apartment he called home. Stone couldn’t wait to have this over and done with. The doors
ed once more, spitting him out on the top floor.
He took in the hallway leading towards black, wooden double doors carved with intricate swirls that represented the fiery wings of the pit. An image of a dagger shot out of their midst. Stepping towards them, Stone wasn’t surprised when they opened of their own accord.
He wasn’t quite sure what word would fit better: lounge or bureau, since it was definitely a mix of both. As far as he knew, an ordinary office usually didn’t have walls covered in oil-paintings that spoke of money and class – or the pretense of it.
“Ah, Stone. Glad you could make it.”
Andras, a marquis of Hell and the commander of thirty legions, got up from behind the huge, black desk dominating the room. He looked like an ordinary thirty-something human – lean, with sandy-brown hair, wearing jeans and a button-down, the sleeves of which were rolled up to his elbows. A mate you could have a beer with in a pub after work. However, at a closer look that misleading image faded quickly. It wasn’t the giant deep red wings of a bat rising from his back, but rather the eyes that were too old for any mortal. They made for a quite unsettling contrast.
A sharp nod was all the greeting Stone gave.
Andras’ lips twitched with the hint of a smile, and he said, “Follow me.” He led the way towards another room, a plush lounge that was all leather and dark wood, before looking back at Stone. “Care to join me for a drink?”
No, he wanted to know what he was doing here. “Yes, thank you, Sir.”