Tim Marquitz

At The Gates

Chapter One

It had only been two weeks since I helped to raise the Anti-Christ, so when my cousin Scarlett showed up, beaten to within an inch of her life, telling me Heaven had fallen, I can’t say I was happy to see her.

The words out in a breathless rush, she fell into my arms, a rag doll of crusty blood and blackened scabs. Chunks of her golden hair were missing, ripped out from the roots. Streaks of reddened ooze stained her scalp and sporadic burns covered her skull, the flesh bubbled and peeling. The acrid scent of seared meat invaded my nose, settling thick on my tongue. My stomach roiled.

Her eyes lolled back in their sockets as she tried to focus through lids encircled by sunken black rings. She clutched to me with piercing fingers, one of her hands obviously disfigured. Her desperation lent her strength, despite it all.

As I bent to scoop her legs up, I saw a close trio of deep gouges that ran the length of her neck and came to a jagged stop at her chest. The tar-like seep of a supernatural wound filled their depths. I could see bone.

Though horrific, her injuries didn’t stop there.

I saw evidence of a losing battle everywhere I looked. Bruises tattooed her skin in swaths. Burns and ragged cuts covered her like gory paint upon a canvas. Her clothes were shredded. Muted yellows and bluish-blacks peeked out from beneath the torn leather.

The hilt of her sword, Everto Trucido-loosely translated as Demon Slayer-was crusted in dry, flaky blood, so much so the design was lost in the thickness of it. The lower half of its sheath was cracked and there was a piece missing, the stained point visible through the hole.

Though Scarlett and I had our moments when it came to getting along, often butting heads over the stupidest of things while I snidely wished her bad luck, it sickened me to see her like that. My face flushed as I carried her to the couch. A boiling knot of fury welled up in my guts to replace the sickness. Since Lucifer moved on, whatever our differences, she was the only family I had left…

…and no one fucks with my family.

In a crimson haze, I left her on the couch and hurried to retrieve a vial of my departed uncle’s blood. Just a couple of drops would heal Scarlett in minutes, but before I got two feet from the couch, a wave of cold insistence peppered my senses and raised the hackles on my neck. My eyes went to the open door.

Out in the street stood three figures, little more than darker shadows against the backdrop of night. Whoever they were, they must have followed Scarlett. If they were the ones who’d hurt her, things were about to get interesting…for them.

No time to batten down the hatches and get my cousin into the mystical bomb shelter of the basement, I decided it best to go out to meet our uninvited guests. Exhausted as I was from trying to whip my newfound magic into shape, my anger provided me with a nice pick-me-up, energizing me with adrenaline and fury. Who needs caffeine when you’ve got rage?

“Call for backup, CB,” I shouted over my shoulder to Chatterbox, my zombie-head roommate. As I ran outside, I snatched my pistol off the end table.

“ Roggggggggerrrrrrrrr, Dodddddddgggggggerrrrrrrrr.”

I’d taught him a few basic codes so he could relay emergency messages to DRAC, and even set up the speed dial on the phone to make it easy for him, seeing how he only had his tongue to work with. Given my track record, I’d probably need all the help I could get. If nothing else, I’d need a cleanup crew.

The only downside to letting him use the phone was the rancid trail of spit he’d leave across the number pad. It was a good thing I didn’t make many calls.

Once outside, the door slammed shut of its own volition and I felt the protective wards go up, sealing the house off. They were good in a pinch, but they wouldn’t hold against a determined assault; they were more of a speed bump. Though in the mood I was in, they wouldn’t have to do much.

“Who’s first?”

The trio spread out a little, making it harder to hit them all at once. They knew what they were doing. That fact sobered me, and I was glad I’d thought to get a call into DRAC. My anger dropped off a few degrees as I looked them over, my senses drifting out to take their measure.

The one in the center was a woman-or something vaguely resembling one. Easily six foot and a handful of change, she was built like a professional wrestler; powerful. Her broad shoulders and huge arms were barely contained by the skin-tight workout shirt she wore. The muscles of her stomach were defined in granite underneath. Her sandy blond hair was cropped short, helping to emphasize the more masculine traits of her face; the squared jaw and slightly protruding set of her forehead. Her linebacker thighs were encased in Spandex and the narrowness of her waist would have made Charles Atlas proud. If it hadn’t been for the pair of double-D’s strapped tight to her chest, I would have thought she was a man had we passed on the street.

Her gray eyes met mine, her stare icy. On each of her hands she wore what looked like modified brass knuckles with three sharp, jagged spikes protruding from them. They looked like a perfect match for the wounds on Scarlett’s chest. That got my blood boiling again.

Though she didn’t appear afraid, she did seem hesitant. She set her feet without advancing. I’d apparently screwed up whatever they had in mind. I’m good at that.

The guy to her right was the polar opposite. Rail thin and pale as milk, he stood five feet tall, if he was lucky. His face was narrow, with sharp cheekbones and a hooked nose. I could have opened a can on his face. Weasel eyes stared out at me from under a mane of long black hair.

He wore a Nine Inch Nails T-shirt, which hung off him like a bed sheet, and a pair of way too tight black jeans, which only emphasized his genetic failings. He carried twin, twelve-inch daggers to compensate.

The last of the motley crew was a public service announcement for the wrongs of a fast food diet. Tipping the scale somewhere close to six hundred pounds, he was a behemoth with stubby limbs. His massive head was shaved bald and I saw the rolls of his neck peeking out from behind his ears. Round, and far from what anyone with eyes would call attractive, his face bore a close resemblance to a Bassett hound. Mottled jowls hung loose and sagged into his wattle. Even his eyelids looked fat. I’d bet money blinking was an aerobic exercise for the guy.

His clenched fists were empty, but seeing how they were the size of canned hams, he probably didn’t need a weapon. He didn’t look like the kind of guy you wanted to cut in front of at the buffet. You’d probably lose a finger or two.

After a few moments of tense silence, the woman spoke, her voice a profound basso. “Our feud is not with you. Give us the angel.”

“Sorry, sweet cheeks. You want her, you’re gonna have to try a little harder than that.”

While I would normally be more cautious when facing down an unknown enemy, my senses weren’t registering these guys as world-beaters. They had some power between them, no doubt about that, but after all I’d been through in the last few months, it felt like I was swimming in the kiddy pool.

That told me one thing. There was no way these three were responsible for taking down Scarlett. They could finish her off, weak as she was, but it hadn’t been them who laid the real beating on her. They’d picked at the scraps though, and that was enough for me.

Big boy looked to the woman, apparently waiting for her to decide their next move. The gesture told me who to hit first when things went south. Chivalry be damned.

“Let’s just kill him, Venai,” the pale one demanded, his words like razors. Though he spoke brave, he stayed in place, waiting for orders.

“Be quiet, Zellick.” Venai squared her stance to reinforce her command, the other two seeming more than happy to follow her lead. “This is your last warning, demon. Turn over the angel or face the consequences. We will not be denied.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. So I did. A lot.

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