He’s almost an angel and she’s pure temptation.
Niall leaned against the cement statue of one of the founding fathers of State University and observed the newest Guardian Squad recruit, Mark Kepler. Mark prepared to send Charles Janes to Hell.
Three centuries had passed, and in all that time, Niall had met few humans who deserved to go to the first level of Hell as much as this one. Janes worked in higher education, influencing students with his wicked ways, intimidating his staff to the point that two out of three were on a depression drug. Niall didn’t drill into the professor’s mind to find out what methods Janes used to mistreat his wife and children. Although Mark had searched Charles’ past.
Janes was a tall, white-haired, gray-skinned perp. As he leaned against the brown wall of the university’s library, his frayed gray and black hound’s-tooth jacket and dark gray trousers didn’t stand out in the night. He’d chosen an excellent location, behind the statue, with limited lighting.
Scratch…hiss…scratch…hiss added a sick melody as his rough hands scraped the brick. Scratch, up slid his hands. Hiss, down slid his hands. And, in cadence, Janes pumped his cock in and out of the lovely co-ed. The scent of salty musk from pre-ejaculation caught in the midnight breeze, filtering into Niall’s nose, making him want to gag.
Groans and moans came from beneath the instructor of misdeeds. He had the young woman locked between his diseased penis and the hard concrete of the wall. Janes stopped pumping and peeked behind him. Even in the presence of a higher being, Janes’ cocky attitude continued.
Mark glanced into the man’s left eye, the only one visible from their viewpoint. “Charles Janes, this will be the last time you’ll exchange sex for grades and psychologically abuse the only people who by God’s grace care for you.”
Janes continued to bump and grind.
Niall wanted to laugh at Janes’ audacity. Didn’t he realize he was eyeballing a messenger from the highest deity?
“Miss Zico Newman, grab your book bag and leave.” Mark nodded.
Miss Newman shoved the pimping professor, pulled her jean mini-skirt down and wiped her mouth. She jerked her canvas sack onto her shoulder and softly padded along the cement path toward the parking lot.
A zipper’s grinding teeth disturbed the silence. Janes fastened his trousers and turned to face them. His lips twisted into a smirk. Mark flung out a pointed finger.
“Evil seeps through your pours. But no more. He who bewitches, the malevolent, and the evil eye. The sorcery of evil conjure it. Spirit of Heaven, conjure it. Bite the fire, bite the fire. ‘Tis between the Father of thee, the Son with me, and the Holy Spirit. So mote it be.” Mark’s vow came with a snap of lightning.
There wasn’t a chance of pleading or repentance. Charles Janes’ red soul went deep into the blazing pits of Hell and nothing but the pungent scent of sulfur and a few flakes of ash remained, blowing in the fall Arkansas breeze.
“You changed the incantation a little.” Niall unfolded his arms and shoved away from the long coat of the cement statue.
“Hope that’s okay. Henri never said anything, and I think Holy Spirit is more age specific than holy ghost.” Mark wiped his face where ashes had splattered on him and mumbled, “I know, keep up wind.”
Niall shrugged. “It works for me, evil twice, bite, fire and now spirit, kind of balances it out.”
He wasn’t surprised Mark had a strong streak of independence. According to his mentor, Henri Chambers, Mark had been able to delve into his psyche. Mark’s intuitiveness was the main reason he had been selected for the Guardian Squad. However, prying into the mind of one of God’s troops was unheard of—until Mark Kepler accepted the position of scythe-wielding grim reaper.
All American in appearance and only thirty years old, Mark was an infant. He made the correct decision to send Janes to Hell, and he got the transmission correct, but he wavered. A Guardian had to judge and charge justice in a moment’s time. If Mark had been prepared and had considered the facts using his mind instead of his heart, there wouldn’t have been a delay.
Niall shook off a smidgen of ash. “You hesitated for a second, which bothers me. When you created your Roll Call list, and you printed each name, did you delve into the mind of the person determining their true character?”
“Yes, of course. How else would I know their spirit?”
“Mark, sometimes their evil natures make me wonder how humans co-exist. The preliminary character analysis should be sanctified later as you approach the person, and at that time, their true character would be determined. If a change has occurred in their nefarious activities from the time you wrote his or her name to incineration, you need to discuss—”
“The process of retribution. If the individual had a desire to wash away his or her sins, I’d give him or her a moment to think about which way they want to go, Heaven’s Weigh Station or Hell.”
“Right. The key is in preparation. You need to look deep into each soul and it’s difficult with some. Older people are easier to make a judgment with, but evil is taking over earth, and the dark sides are being exposed at a younger age. Ten-year-olds are killing their parents or a neighborhood kid who disagrees with them. The world is changing and I’m afraid our job will become more complex, which means you cannot hesitate.”
“I understand. Prepare, no hesitation, and stay down wind,” Mark said with a straight face.
Was he being funny or serious? Niall couldn’t read the guy. More amazing was that Mark could block his thoughts as if he’d been a member of the Guardian Squad for centuries instead of a couple of years.
“The final phase of your certification is to approach family members and friends for recognition. We’ll visit the bar you and your sister, Tori, owned and operated and then stop over with Tori and Henri. Hopefully, all of their memories of you will have been erased. She won’t remember she had a brother. None of your friends will recognize you. Are you ready?” Niall disliked this part of the testing for a new recruit. The most difficult aspect of becoming a member of the Guardian Squad was leaving your loved ones behind. Critical to the success of a Guardian was being able to abandon people he cared about and not seek them, or any of his descendants, in the future. Heartbreaking was how he’d describe the ceremonial visit. Many times the chat with loved ones made a grown, logical man weep, as all humans seek acknowledgment.
Niall thanked his mum and da for not having genes of an empath. To observe the separation of Guardian from his family was difficult enough without feeling the emotions of loss, betrayal, and anger. Having the abilities of an empath would just about kill him—if he were alive.
“You mean I’m to see and talk to Tori?” Mark asked, hope igniting his blue eyes.
“Yes, you’ll see and talk with her. Next we’ll go to Dark Shadows. Two years have passed, and it may seem like only two days in our time, but it’s a long time in the human experience. Changes have occurred. If Echo was successful in wiping your friends and acquaintances’ memories, they will not recognize you. It is important to understand, if you hadn’t chosen to become this elite member of Heaven’s core, they would know you. They would express their love for you. Do not lose your faith because someone you hold dear sees you as a stranger and turns away.” The entire time Niall was eulogizing this key element of becoming a member of the Squad he thought of his family he’d left in Ireland in 1849. They had been poor, dirt poor. He became a Guardian in order to help them. He missed his kin more, instead of less, through the years. No doubt others felt the same way, and he hoped to prepare Mark for the reality of not existing to people he’d known his entire life.
“Henri made the point very clear. I get it.” Mark swiped evil dust off his shirt. “How long will it take?”
“Forever. You never stop thinking about the ones you love, even if they’ve forgotten you.” Niall failed to prevent his voice from seeping with sadness. He shook his head. Why did he feel so melancholy? Kepler wasn’t his first fledgling. “Your recruiter, Henri, experienced a rare occurrence. One doesn’t become a member of the Guardian Squad, then return to human life. Despite how much time has passed.”
“Why was Henri allowed to return to Earth, in human form, and age alongside my sister?” Mark crossed his arms at his chest. Standing at six foot, he was taller than Niall. But in his business, size wasn’t relevant. Niall might not have the height, but he could kick ass if needed.
“Exceptional as a swordsman and knighted by the King of France himself, Henri had gained the favor of the ancients. Despite the lack of blood flowing through the council members’ bodies, their souls continue to have hope, and they dream the dreams of mortals.” There it was. Although he displayed no outward body language, Mark blocked a piece of his thoughts, a spark of something that urged Niall to search the recruit’s mind. He was hiding an element of himself that might affect his abilities to perform as a true Guardian. “So, Henri was granted life. He retains his memories of his years of being a Guardian. The occurrence happened on a whim of the esoteric council, and they will more than likely never grant life to an immortal again.”
Mark finger combed his bright blond hair. “Could we do the bar first? I might need to recover once I see Tori, and she doesn’t remember me.”
“Yes, of course. Midnight here in Arkansas, one in the morning at Dark Shadows.” Niall held out his hand. “Lead the way.”
They teleported to Cyan, Indiana. Mere seconds had passed. Niall enjoyed the rush of his molecules shifting from place to place. He never felt the heat others complained about, just a melody of dynamic lights and pleasant tingles. Mark, on the other hand, arrived a little unsteady. His face was pale, marked by the blush of red staining his cheeks.
“Accelerated pulse, heightened awareness?”
“You’d think after two years I’d be used to the reconfiguring.” Mark rubbed his thighs.
“Usually the heat and fatigue enters the fragile part of your foundation. Your thighs must be the weakest area of your body.” Niall rubbed his chin. “When we get back to the office, I’m going to add a regimen of calisthenics to your training.”
“Do you mean weightlifting or running?” Mark lifted an eyebrow and then swiped a lock of hair from his forehead.
Niall thought he was in tune with the current language, but apparently not. “Yeah, that’s what I mean. You’ll have time since your powers are stronger than most. You won’t need to go through the additional training to learn how to project items into space or discuss issues with spirits.”
Mark inhaled. “Both then. Smell that? Yeast, fried foods, the sweat of a hard-working man. Dark Shadows hadn’t changed. I’ll re-experience all the things I loved about the bar.”
“I’m hoping they’ll have a dark, thick beer,” Niall replied and held open the heavy, rounded oak door. “Your tavern looks a little medieval in nature. Your interests and tastes always seem to lean toward antiquity. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were blood kin to Henri.”
“Yes, Henri and I are alike in many ways. Let’s get a sandwich. Brandi makes the best grilled burgers in the state.” Mark rushed into the bar.
Niall entered the tavern. He adjusted to the humidity, the scents of fried onions, spilled liquor, and the beautiful sight of attractive women wearing short skirts. The servers wore tight black shirts with Dark Shadows embossed in silver calligraphy. Americans were his favorite of all the humans. They knew how to live life to the fullest, no holds barred. Niall jingled the coins in his pockets and grinned. This would be fun.
Mark found a vacant stool and rested an elbow on the brass railing. He chatted with a thin older woman with white hair piled high on her head. She gave him that hospitable customer greeting smile and moved to the tap to fill a mug with draft beer.
Niall sidestepped a robust man. By the odor coming from his breath, he’d consumed a vast amount of alcohol. The inebriated boob stumbled, slamming into people and chairs.
“Tom, you need to wait on the cab I’ve ordered. You are not, I repeat not, to drive.” A tiny black-haired beauty slipped behind Tom.
“Ah, Brandi love, dump that fireman and come live with me.” He ended the platitude with a belch.
“Boxer, come escort Tom to the curb and wait for his ride.” Brandi dragged the waddling man forward a few steps.
A balding Goliath took hold of the drunk’s arm and, nearly lifting him, rushed him to the exit.
Niall didn’t need to see the woman’s face to recognize her soul.
She pivoted, coming toe-to-toe with Niall and threw out a tiny pale hand. “Hi, I’m Brandi Sedgewick…the owner of Dark Shadows. May I get you something to drink?”
Niall took a deep breath. His heart hurt. His lungs must have collapsed because he could not release the air. Shake her hand, nimrod. With trembling fingers, he tugged his hands from his pants pocket. Coins splattered on the floor.
She gave a brief laugh and dropped to the floor. Niall joined her, picking up bits of copper and brass.
“Here you go.” Brandi handed him a few pieces of silver. Her touch sent quivers through him. She must have been equally affected, as her fingers shook. Time had passed, so much in fact, he wasn’t sure he’d recognize her if he chanced upon her. But he had. The woman in front of him causing his disabled heart to thump was his true soul mate, his wife.
Brandi clutched her hands together, and Niall evaluated the coins in his palm.
“I have one coin missing.” Niall had to find the worn gold piece. She looked at him as if he were a member of the lowest class. “It has sentimental value. Passed down through generations of Howards. The queen’s head is barely visible, but …”
“The coin is like a security blanket.”
Bam! She crushed him in one devastating blow, reducing him to an infant and depleting his manhood. Two things rushed through his mind: Echo was an exceptional eraser since Brandi didn’t recognize him after numerous reincarnations and his bride was still beautiful in form and essence.
October 1, 2010
To Purchase this dark fantasy: Dark Sun