Authors: Christina Bauer
Tags: #kickass.to, #ScreamQueen
First Published by Ink Monster, LLC in 2014
Ink Monster, LLC
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Newton, MA 02464
Copyright Â© 2014 by Ink Monster LLC
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Dedicated to Prince Lincoln Brezina, Heaven's Sweetest Angel
Ring, ring, ring. Five o'clock in the morning and my kitchen phone won't shut the Hell up.
A dull ache of worry pulses through my drowsy brain. Someone calling at this hour? Most likely, it's bad news.
I sleep-shuffle into the kitchen. Yawning, I pick up the receiver and set it to my ear. “Myla Lewis speaking.”
“Is this the Great Scala?” The voice is young, female, and borderline hysterical.
My anxiety level kicks up a notch. Based on that tone? Definitely bad news.
“Yup. That's me.” I only gained my Scala powers a few months ago, but already, my old Myla Lewis self is fading into the background. People only want to talk to the Great Scala, the sole being who can move souls to Heaven or Hell. Most assume that Myla's my nineteen-year-old secretary or something. It's really weird.
I stifle another yawn. “What's going on?”
“I'm calling about the eighteen million souls in Ghost Tower Six.”
“No, you're not. There are 3,325,932 souls in Ghost Tower Six. 18,873,264 in all of Purgatory.” Give or take a few. Since it's my job to move them all to Heaven or Hell, I like to keep tabs on these things. “Still, that didn't answer my question. What's the problem?”
“Code-red failure, Great Scala. Ghost Tower Six is ready to blow.”
Now, I'm wide-the-fuck-awake. Ghost Towers keep angry, confused and homicidal spirits off the streets while we sort them into Heaven or Hell. There hasn't been a code-red failure in ten years. Electric jolts of panic course along every nerve ending I've got. I grip the receiver so tightly, I'm surprised it doesn't snap in two.
“When did this start?”
“Thirty minutes ago. Your phone rang and rang.”
My mouth falls open with a mixture of rage and shock. “A half-hour ago? Why didn't you send a runner to my house? I live two blocks from your Tower.”
“The rules say to call you on a code-red. Please don't be angry with me. Please don'tâ”
“Send you to Hell? No, I won't.” Though, I'm sorely tempted. “I'll be right over.”
“Thank you Great Scala, thank you, thank you. May I say how honored I am to have been able toâ”
Thus begins the usual kiss-assery that comes with being a demi-goddess. For the first few weeks it was fun, now it's a major time suck. And I have a Ghost Tower about to explode and release three million homicidal spirits all over Purgatory. I hang up without saying goodbye and high-tail over to the Tower.
The building is almost in my backyard, but even if it wasn't, Ghost Tower Six would still easy to find. The place is massive, rectangular, windowless and made of concrete. I rush towards the only door, a round metal portal. A stocky guard in
ninja-style body armor stands nearby. Like all natives of Purgatory, the guard and I are quasis, a mix of human and demon.
I shoot him a quick wave. “Hey, Harold.”
“Great Scala, thank Heavens you've come.” Harold sets his bare palm onto an input pad by the door. A series of clicks sound as the locks release. “It's a code-red failure.”
“I know, buddy. I'm on it.”
A muscle twitches by Harold's eye. “The Cloud Carriers are close to rupture. Maybe we should follow the ghoul-rules andâ”
“If you say move the souls to Hell, I'll kick you in the kneecaps.” Since I grew up fighting demons gladiator-style in Purgatory's Arena, those kicks would hurt, too.
Harold's face takes on a terrified look that I can only describe as âplease don't send me to Hell'. “I meant no disrespect, Great Scala.” He keeps standing there, cowering and not opening the door.
“You, open, portal, now.”
“Yes, Great Scala. Right away, Great Scala.”
Sure, I could scold Harold for even suggesting Hell, but it wouldn't do any good. Twenty years ago, the King of Hell invaded our lands, toppled the Quasi Republic, killed off anyone with a brain or spine, and set up ghouls as puppet government. For the next two decades, the ghouls brainwashed quasis like Harold into mindless, submissive, rules-worshipping slaves. I kicked the ghouls out, but their brainwashing has stayed.
At last, the round portal swings open. I hurry inside.
The interior of the Ghost Tower is a concrete shell, noisy as Hell and empty of anything solid. There's a Control Room about halfway up the wall. Wardens stand at each corner, all of them in simple white uniforms. It's what fills this empty space that always takes my breath away. From floor to ceiling, the open air holds a shifting array of what look like clouds. They're actually huge vessels that enclose souls in a misty containment field. We call them Cloud Carriers.
The Lead Warden, Celia, steps to my side, her lion's tail twitching anxiously behind her. All quasis have an animal tail along with a power across the seven deadly sins. Celia's is wrath. I have two deadly-sin powersâlust and wrathâas well as a long, thin dragon-scale tail. Totes badass.
Celia yells to me over the din of our power generators. “So sorry to drag you in here again.”
I shout back my reply. “No worries.”
Total Lie. In truth, there's a ton to worry about. The Towers have had nine code-orange failures in the last week alone.
“The Carriers are unstable again,” explains Celia quickly. “It's never been this bad.”
“How do the reports look?”
“Fine.” Celia pulls an electronic tablet from her pocket. “Perfect, even.” Her features turn wide-eyed and pleading. “Are you sure you won't follow the ghoul-rules? Our old Masters were often very wise. Maybe the ghouls left the Orb here for a reason.”
At the very mention of Lucifer's Orb, my hands ball into angry fists. I kick the ghouls out of Purgatory and what do they do? Hide the ultimate source of demonic magic in my homeland so I can only send souls to Hell. Screw them.
“We've been through this before,” I reply. Celia opens her mouth, but I shut off her standard speech before she starts. “I know what you're about to say. A million new souls enter Purgatory each month. We're running out of places to put them. That's why the Towers are ready to burst. But once I send a soul somewhere, even I can't take it back. No innocents to Hell.”
“Yes, Great Scala. As you say, Great Scala.” Celia starts rapid-fire bowing, which is a new and somewhat cringe-worthy move.
“We need to stop rehashing old territory and focus on the code-red. Which Carrier's at risk this time?”
Celia points to a cloud that's resting on the floor. “That one.”
I scan the Tower from floor to ceiling. “No, I don't think so.” Lately, I can tell at a glance if a Carrier's at risk. Halfway up the walls, one cloud vibrates ominously. “Show me number thirteen.”
Celia pulls up her tablet and starts pressing buttons. Above me, the clouds shift places until a new one takes up the entire mile-long concrete floor. Number Thirteen. Celia presses more buttons and the puffy structure solidifies into a rectangular shape, ready for inspection.
I walk up to the closest wall of mist; Celia follows right behind. We could easily step inside the Cloud Carrier itself, but that's not a safe thing to do. Purgatory isn't exactly happy-fun-time for these souls, and angry ghosts can kick some major ass.
“What level are we on?” Carriers are like cruise ships, only with levels instead of decks.
“And how many levels are at risk in this Carrier?”
“All of them.”
Yipes. “That's not good.”
Our Carriers are driven by quantum theory. Dozens of levels jammed into different dimensions of the same cloud, that kind of thing. Saves us room, but it makes everything dangerously interconnected.
I move in closer until my nose almost touches the containment wall. The interior of the Carrier comes into view. It's a semi-transparent dream world. Soft grass, rolling fields, sunny sky. Spirits are sleeping under trees or curled onto blankets. Inches of space separate them from each other.
I exhale a satisfied breath. The field's crowded, sure, but the souls are calm, comfortable and safe. This is the way it's supposed to work. Unfortunately, A-Level doesn't tell me why this Carrier was moving so strangely. A memory appears in my mind's eye. We've had trouble on this cloud before.
“Show me K-Level.”
Celia clicks more buttons and a new scene appears. This time, it's a group of men and women, all ghosts, and all losing their freaking minds. Punching, clawing, pulling hair, tearing shirts, hanging from trees. Screaming incredibly
inappropriate crap at each other. I can't hear what they say, but I read lips well enough to get the gist. Rough stuff.
An anxious weight settles onto my back. All these folks should be sleeping peacefully, like the souls on A-Level. Instead, they're wide-awake, crowded on top of each other, and pissed.