Authors: Natalie Herzer
Becca couldn’t believe her eyes. This day really wasn’t turning out as planned - first Quinn and now…this. What were the chances? Turning off the ignition, she slumped back in her seat and stared at the black-and-gold sign of the gentlemen’s club in front of them.
Then her stunned gaze went to the two Ivorys who had been waiting for her in the parking lot. Matt and Joshua leaned against what had to be a rental car, since Lillian would never part with her Dodge Challenger. While the first was blond and had this whole surfer look going for him, the other was tall, dark and handsome. Novel cover material.
As answer to her ‘what the hell’ face, she only earned shrugs from them, and so she got out of her VW.
The men nodded a greeting towards Quinn who waved back before returning their attention to Becca.
Matt’s face showed a mix of surprise, confusion and laughter that was about to burst out. “If we had known you’d bring Quinn along, we would have warned you. I thought you said you didn’t want him involved in this mess.”
Gritting her teeth, she said, “I still don’t.”
At this Joshua did laugh. Matt frowned, his mouth forming a simple, “Oh.”
Quinn snickered as well, so she stuck her head through the window to look at him, noticing the sparkle of humor and hope mixed with a healthy dose of young male excitement. It wasn’t like he’d never seen a strip club before, what with Hell being full of them, but he definitely had never set a foot in one.
“Forget it!” She told him. “You gonna stay with Betty.”
Oh, come on.
“No, Quinn. And I mean it!” It wasn’t just the matter of the club reminding them both a bit too much of Hell, but she also didn’t want him anywhere near the hole. Not after the trouble they went through to escape what it led to. “Please stay in the car until I’m back. I’m serious, promise me.”
He sighed heavily and then signed,
“Good. Thank you.” When she signed
I love you
, he rolled his eyes at her mother hen dramatics in typical teenage fashion. Straightening with an inward sigh, Becca turned towards the Ivorys. “Ok, let’s do this.”
Her gaze went to the ordinary building in front of her - she definitely wouldn’t have expected a strip club in this small and innocent-looking part of the South. But then, things weren’t always what they seemed.
Taking a deep breath, Becca put some more steel into her backbone before she walked to the door. Flanked by the two Ivorys, she stepped into another world. A realm of hunger and sin that reminded her of Hell and therefore of her purpose.
Inside, red and blue darkness wrapped around them, and the heavy and seductive beat of music tried to slip into their blood. Unfazed, Becca’s gaze took in the men at the bar and another two sitting at different tables to the side. Tables that seated six and where patrons would be served more than food and drinks in the evening. The older one of them was trying to hide his arm’s movement as he jerked off under the table.
All of them nursed their drink, a cold beer or a burning whiskey while enjoying the show on stage. It was almost comical how some basically had to pick their tongues off the floor and how others tried – unsuccessfully – to look disinterested. But in the end all of them had their eyes fixed on the girls, be it directly and shamelessly hungry or surreptitiously staring at them through one of the various mirrors covering the walls. They couldn’t resist the sultry looks, swaying hips and tempting skin which was only barely covered with teasing bits of clothes that left nothing to imagination. Though even those would disappear soon.
What they couldn’t see, contrary to Becca, was what lay hidden beneath the enticing flesh. Not human women, but two lower cast demons were performing on stage and entertaining the men’s senses. In reality they were hybrid creatures; half man and half animal, with purple scales for skin in some places. They had been human once but had lost – or given – their soul to Hell. And Hell was anything but a gentle place. Damnation and sin were slowly changing them, leaving visible marks.
Then Becca saw it. It was a swirling mess at the back of the stage behind them. The flimsy, glittering curtain and pulsating red lighting of the club was the perfect camouflage.
Knowing that the humans would have to go, less they stumble into the midst of a fight between Ivorys and demons that refuse to see the progress dangling in front of their noses, Becca decided to give them a little wake-up call. A small smile curving one corner of her mouth, she started chanting. This particular spell rode the edge between good and evil and would therefore serve her purpose without weakening her before the fight that was sure to come.
The men in the club gasped, choked on their drink and stared wide-eyed as the true form of their objects of desire was revealed. A glass shattered, having slipped from the barman’s grasp.
“What the hell?” the man at the table exclaimed, stopping mid-stroke.
Jumping into action as if the words were a hive of wasps ready for attack, the lot of them scrambled to get up and ran for the door.
Becca wasn’t worried about anyone of them telling what had happened or what they had seen. She knew they wouldn’t want to announce where they had spent this evening, and would keep their mouth shut. Even if they did, no one would believe a word they said, seeing as the men were intoxicated by alcohol and their need for easy sex.
The demons on stage were as surprised as the humans. Their gazes darted to Becca and the Ivorys at her side, only now realizing the threat in the room. In the blink of an eye the sultry looks were replaced with hatred and fear. While the men stormed for the exit, the demons whirled around, fleeing towards the hellhole. Unfortunately for them, their escape was hindered by the timely arrival of more demons eager to enter the human realm.
Becca jumped onto the stage, catching their attention while Matt and Joshua used their wings to get behind them.
“Okay, boys and girls, let’s make this quick,” Becca started. “You have exactly three options. First, go back to where you just came from and spread the word that the rules are about to change. Souls - be it angel or demon, Ivory or Ebony - will be judged by their actions and not birth any longer. Second, join us and fight side by side with Ivorys and even angels for these changes. Or door number three, which applies especially if you are still intent on preying on human souls, be ready to fight for your life. We clear?” After rattling off her speech, she looked each of them in the eyes. “Please, choose wisely.”
Suddenly a group of other Ivorys stormed into the strip club. However, since they were in full battle mode and with the wings of the two in front shielding the rest from her view, Becca couldn’t tell how many exactly.
“What are you guys doing here?” Matt and Joshua’s stunned voices, called out at the same time.
The woman in front, who Becca assumed to be Megan, and apparently the leader of this guard, was dressed all in black – ready for battle. She didn’t smile, didn’t offer a greeting of any kind. Her gaze stayed hard and dark. “Doing my job.”
Joshua frowned, “Aren’t you guys supposed to be up in Arkansas?”
Calmly raising an arm in front of her and summoning her flaming sword, she simply stated, “We are where we are meant to be.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he demanded to know, taking a step towards the Ivorys and shielding Becca.
Whether it was a deliberate move or he sensed that something was off, she didn’t know, but Becca wanted some answers. That girl’s attitude seriously rubbed her the wrong way and made the tension in the room rise to boiling point.
Turning towards the demons, she commanded. “Choose! Now!”
Well, she had asked for it.
In the blink of an eye one of the demons tried to dash passed her, but she grabbed him out of the air, pushed him on the ground and slit his throat with her blade while three others ran back into the hellhole – and all of it before she had even finished speaking.
Straightening from her crouch, her gaze went from Matt to Joshua and to the newcomers. “Uhm…I take it you all know each other?”
The Ivory ignored her, pure disgust marring her face. “How can you side with filth like that?”
Becca rolled her eyes and muttered under her breath, “Oh, charming. A fan.”
She had known that it wouldn’t be easy to change opinions that had been formed and hammered into the Ivorys’ heads an eternity ago, nor that it would be easy to break through the wall of blind judgment that had built up and hardened throughout this age-old feud. She had known that resistance from within would pop up at some point, and yet she had been naïve enough to hope it wouldn’t.
A movement behind the first two Ivorys caught her attention. Just a glimpse, but it was enough. She gasped and her heart wanted to jump out of her chest as fear washed over her in an ice cold wave.
Like a curtain opening before a play, Megan stepped smoothly aside with a small smile curving her mouth. Becca could finally see the other Ivorys – holding a struggling Quinn between them.
She saw red, but Joshua’s arm came up in front of her when she made a move towards her brother. She wanted to growl at Joshua, like a lioness trapped. His voice was calm despite his anger, the promise of a storm, and that was the only thing that kept Becca from pushing forward.
“What the hell do you think you are doing, Megan?”
“I told you, just doing my job.” The Ivory shrugged and gestured towards Quinn with a flick of her wrist. “Something you apparently forgot about, seeing as we found this trash here still littering the side of the road.”
“Megan, stop this nonsense.”
Her laughter sounded like a shot in the tense room. “Nonsense? Now see, that is rather funny, what with me coming here to ask you to do the exact same thing.” Her fake smile fell. “
stop this bullshit, or I will have to assume that you have been corrupted by Hell.”
“Well, you know what they say about assuming.”
As if on a silent command, all of the Ivorys summoned their weapons – swords, daggers, a double-edged axe, arrows and bows, all glowing and set aflame with the righteous light of Heaven.
Although burning with the need to get Quinn as far away as possible from the danger that these opinionated and dogmatic Ivorys posed, Becca knew it could be a fatal mistake to run head-first into battle, especially when blinded by rage. She searched for that familiar and yet despised calm inside of her instead. A place devoid of any emotions, and one that left her numb. Becca had hoped she wouldn’t have to return to it ever again, but in this fight emotions running high could mean the end of Quinn’s life.
It was three against eight, with a hostage caught in the middle.
“I’ll get him, distract Megan so long,” Joshua quickly whispered.
She nodded, knowing it was the best strategy. The Ivory was out for her blood, and so Becca would be the bait dangled in front of her eyes.
Don’t do anything stupid, brother heart
, she willed him in her thoughts.
Then, clearing her mind, Becca let the emptiness cover her like a well-worn coat.
Armed with a dagger in one hand and an explosive hex bag in the other hidden behind her back, she formed a line with Matt and Joshua at her side. The slow and heavy beat of the music in the club bled rhythm and opened up the dance floor for the fight. “Let’s do this.”
Becca lost no time and threw the hex bag, seeing as they were up against swords and axes which had a better reach than her dagger. It exploded at the feet of one of the guys holding Quinn. He screamed, caught up in an illusion and fighting against the worst enemy of all – his biggest fear. In the meantime she took notice of her brother trying to break the other guy’s hold.
As one, Joshua, Matt and Becca used the distraction to move forward and into the fight. Daggers blocked swords and Matt’s bow turned into an expertly wielded staff dealing out blow after painful blow. The sounds of fighting, grunts and clashing metal, singing swords cutting through air and eager for flesh blended with the music playing in the background, adding their own lethal edge to it.
Out of the corner of her eye, Becca saw Joshua making his way towards her brother. She wanted to do the same but her alert mind drew her attention back to Megan. Reading the Ivory’s movements, Becca was prepared when the woman raised her flaming sword and went straight for her. Ducking Megan’s arm, Becca’s own daggers got a fleeting taste of skin before she came up behind her attacker. It put her in the middle of the fray but she knew she could count on Matt and Joshua to warn her if anyone made a move towards her.
Over the last few weeks the three of them had fought together often enough to develop their own dance, backing the other up while distracting or going full throttle at their enemy. This time there was just one problem. Becca realized it the moment they took the first hits. While Megan and their Guard were coming at them with all teeth bared, Matt and Joshua held back. A disadvantage, but one Becca could understand even in that far away place of her mind. Bruising the other Ivorys’ pride and being careful not to get hurt too badly in the process would have to be enough.