Authors: Jana Oliver
Tyra Mitchell Burton
who found her very own
‘The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you figure out why.’
– Mark Twain
‘What could go wrong?’ Riley Blackthorne muttered under her breath. That wasn’t the kind of question she should ask while on a demon trapping run in one of
Atlanta’s train stations.
What could go wrong?
She and two other trappers were stalking a Pyro-Fiend, a Grade Two demon whose Hellish job was to set fires. So far, it’d been having a grand time dropping fireballs in front of the MARTA
trains, setting alight trash containers and, in one case, firing up a train car.
Usually Riley was all about capturing demons. Her late father, Paul Blackthorne, had been a legendary master trapper so it was in her blood. She should have been jazzed about this trapping
Not so much.
Not when she was working with two guys who didn’t want to be anywhere near her.
They were both in their early twenties, blond and handsome, but there the similarities ended. The one to her right, her blue-eyed ex-boyfriend, wasn’t quite as hostile as he’d once
been. In fact, Simon Adler hadn’t tried to splash her with Holy Water or accuse her of working for Hell during the twenty minutes they’d been on site.
Simon’s battle with a ravenous demon had left him mortally wounded, and if it hadn’t been for the deal Riley had cut with Heaven he’d be in his grave. Then one of Hell’s
most deceptive archangels had played hockey with his mind and his deep Catholic faith. When he’d finally found out who’d been pulling his strings and about her deal with Heaven,
Riley’s ex had gone into free fall. The result was one confused guy who didn’t know what to believe or who to trust.
At least you’re not yelling at me anymore.
That privilege belonged to the guy on her left: Denver Beck, the muscled ex-military South Georgia dude who had served as trapping partner to Riley’s father until her dad’s death.
Beck was usually a cool guy to work with. Today he was opting for total butthead.
He glowered over at them. ‘So what are we waitin’ for?’ he snarled. ‘Think the demon’s just gonna come up and introduce itself to y’all?’
‘It’ll show up soon enough. They always do,’ Riley replied, trying not to lose her temper. Then Beck would win.
‘Why would you think that?’
‘Because I’m here,’ she said. ‘Demons can’t resist trying to kill me.’
That earned her a sidelong glance from Simon.
‘Hey, it’s true. It’s not because I work for Hell, OK?’
Well, not entirely.
‘I didn’t say a word,’ he murmured.
‘You were thinking it.’
‘You two done?’ Beck demanded.
Riley shot the senior trapper a scathing glare and it came right back at her. Beck had been this way ever since he’d tossed her out of his house in a fit of self-martyrdom. Just when
they’d grown so close, something in his past had caused him to push her away. This time Riley wasn’t going quietly, not when she knew she loved the guy.
Pushing ahead of the others, she worked her way through the crowd. It was a good time to be down here – in a few days the trains would be packed with people headed to or from the
basketball games, all dressed in their favourite team’s colours. Or in the case of Clemson University, orange and black tiger tails.
Folks waiting for the next train gave her a concerned look. That wasn’t surprising since her face had been all over CNN and the newspapers in the last few weeks. It also might have had
something to do with the small white sphere she was carrying.
‘You guys trappers?’ someone called out.
‘Sure are,’ Beck replied.
‘Time for me to take the bus,’ the guy said, turning on his heel and heading for an exit.
Riley sighed. Maybe it would have been better to evacuate the train station, but if this turned out to be a false alarm there’d be hell to pay at City Hall. As she continued down the
platform, a train pulled in and passengers exited, including one man carrying a giant stuffed panda wearing a football helmet.
Sometimes it was best not to know the real story.
A thin plume of white smoke curled out of a nearby trash container, catching Riley’s notice. Could it be the Pyro-Fiend? She shot a glance towards Beck and he shrugged in response.
The trappers positioned themselves on either side of the container.
‘Ready?’ Beck asked. When they nodded, he kicked the can over and trash tumbled out, along with a pile of burning napkins. Apparently someone had tossed a lit cigarette inside and
now they had a mess to clean up. Plus MARTA passengers laughing at them.
Riley stomped out the fire, then kicked the junk back into the can. As she worked, Beck bitched under his breath about how this whole run had been a screw-up. As she bent over to nudge an empty
doughnut box into the container, she felt the prickle of something touching her mind. Something demonic.
, the voice called.
She shot up into a standing position. ‘It’s close. It name-checked me.’ There was the crackle of paper at her feet and a red demon crawled out of the trash. It was about eight
or so inches tall, with forked tail and sharp teeth. A flame flickered on its right palm.
‘Trapper!’ it cried, and lobbed a fireball directly at Simon. He dropped and kissed the dirty concrete as the roaring flames shot over the top of his head.
‘Hey, dumbass!’ Beck shouted, but the demon ignored him. It generated another flame to toss at Simon.
Riley stepped in its way, heaved a white sphere heavenward and waited for the snow to fall. Instead there was a cracking sound and then a shower of sleet: the magic inside the sphere had
misfired. Cold rain pelted down on them and it set the demon to howling. Distracted, the fiend dropped its ball of flame and it rolled across the platform like a fiery tennis ball, past a wooden
bench and two startled onlookers.
Demon or flame?
Riley ran after the fire, fearing it would spread throughout the station if she didn’t contain it. Above her another snow globe cracked open and its contents swirled
down like a North Dakota blizzard. The falling snow made the concrete slippery and she slid, cracking her knee. The flame ball kept rolling towards a train car and its open door.
Panicking, she stripped off her jacket and threw herself on the ball of flames. Riley pounded at it with her hands as the fabric began to smoulder from the intense heat. The flames faltered and
Despite all the drama, people walked around her, one clipping her elbow as they hurried past to wherever they were headed. One couple laughed as she knelt there in the snow, her hair a mess and
her jacket smoking. Someone began lobbing snowballs. After the train doors had closed, a small kid pressed his nose up against the window, eyes wide, watching her intently. She winked at him and to
her surprise he shyly waved back as the train departed.
Maybe life doesn’t suck after all.
When she regained her feet, she found Simon holding a bait box containing the Pyro-Fiend and enough dry ice to keep it from playing firebug until they sold it to a demon trafficker. True to
form, the thing was painting the station blue with its curse words.
A quick check around proved the train platform was devoid of gawkers except for a lone fellow with a cellphone busily recording their run. He’d probably have uploaded the video to the
Internet before they left the station.
‘That was sloppy,’ Beck complained, hands on his hips. It was his ‘I’m gettin’ in yer face and you’d best listen’ pose. ‘What’s up with
Riley would love to tell him exactly what was wrong if the guy with the cellphone hadn’t been nearby.
Simon managed a weak ‘Sorry.’
When Beck glared over at her, expecting her to apologize, Riley shook her head. She jammed her roasted jacket into his hands and whispered, ‘Bite me.’
Once they were on street level and away from the phone dude, Riley flipped over her hands to check for burns. Next to her, Simon took a sharp intake of breath. ‘Where did
those come from?’ he asked, eyes wide.
She’d forgot about the dark inscriptions on both her palms. At this point she didn’t care if the other trappers knew what they meant. Riley raised her left palm and
pointed to the black crown. ‘This one’s from Heaven.’ She switched hands. ‘And the faming sword is from Hell,’ she explained. ‘Yeah, I know, it’s wacked to
When Simon frowned, she braced herself for another torrent of accusations about her being Lucifer’s Minion of the Month.
Instead, his frown deepened. ‘Won’t they ever leave us alone?’ he asked, his voice trembling.
‘Maybe someday,’ she lied.
Riley really wasn’t paying attention as she walked to her car, eager to get away from Beck and his attitude before they got into a shouting match in front of her
ex-boyfriend. That would be the ultimate humiliation.
She’d just reached her car when someone called out to her. When Riley turned, two girls approached her. They were about her age, wearing modest dresses and coats in deference to the
February chill. Their hair was primly tucked into tight buns. Even more telling, they were loaded down with a Bible, a big bottle of Holy Water and a cross.
This wasn’t the first time she’d been confronted by someone keen to save her soul.
Though the Vatican and their Demon Hunters had tried to keep the cemetery battle off everyone’s radar, in particular the whole Hell vs. Heaven part, Atlanta’s citizens knew something
major had happened. Some citizens claimed to have seen angels, which was probably the case. You couldn’t have a near miss with Armageddon without a few well-armed Divines fying around.
Coupled with the recent demon attacks at the Tabernacle and the Terminus Market, all the blame seemed to stick to the trappers for some reason. Since Riley was always in the news for something or
other, she’d become the focus of that wrath.