Made In Hell – Celia Kyle

I tossed back a shot of demonic moonshine, enjoying the scorching burn of the alcohol sliding down my throat. I licked the rim of the glass, capturing the last drop, and then slammed it down on the table. A spider web of cracks slithered up the side. It wasn’t the first time I’d broken that glass, and it wouldn’t be the last by the time the night was through. I called for a flick of hellfire, just teasing the first circle of Hell, and used it to smooth out those fractures. The move also sent the last tiny bits of alcohol bursting into flames, sparks of black and red leaping into the air. Bonus, the ritual gave me a chance to recover a little. The stuff made my head spin like nothing else—the demonic part of the moonshine was literal, not metaphorical. It was brewed in vats heated by the flames of Hell itself, tainted by a touch of sulfur, and then seasoned with the screams of the damned. Tasty. It would drive mortals crazy if the scent even teased their noses. It’d kill them if they actually drank the stuff. The creature sitting across the table wasn’t any more human than me. Eh, probably less. I was technically one-sixth human.

But since that bit came from my sword swinging, immortalized holy warrior from the crusades daddy… I’m not really sure how “human” that part really is. My drinking partner—opponent—was part dem and part vamp. Maybe even a little dragon on the side since he had that vertical slit in his eyes thing going on. Okay, I wasn’t totally sure and I definitely didn’t care. Because regardless, he had the stamina of a demigod and there weren’t many who could drink him under the table. I was pretty sure I could since I was Satan’s niece and all that. Uncle Luc’s blood had to give me an edge somewhere, right? Carl—what the fuck kind of name is Carl for a dem? —picked up the next shot in the line and kicked it back, flashing me a black-toothed smile when he was done. A sizeable pile of money sat on the table between our two rows. Carl needed it for a fancy new motorcycle. I needed it to cover my kid’s tuition.

What? Like parents in the tween—the land between On High and Hell—didn’t do the same shit. There was nothing wrong with gambling with a demon in a poisonous drinking game to pay for my son’s education. Carl swooned a bit, swaying in his seat, but managed to still swallow another. He flicked his forked tongue between his teeth and his smile widened. Fucker thought he had me. Okay, truth was, he was pretty close. And I hated telling the truth. Human liquor usually gave me a light buzz and nothing more—being inhuman gave me a kickass tolerance. But this hell-brewed concoction? It could knock me on my ass after enough drinks. I was actually quickly approaching the point where I wouldn’t be able to handle more.

Good thing I was cheating. Sure, cheating was wrong and I should play fair and blah, blah, fuck-off-and-die, blah. My uncle was the devil. If someone challenged me and didn’t think I’d cheat, they were an idiot. I was already a little damned anyway since my mom was Satan’s sister. And if all the adultery, pride, spite, murder, and tax evasion wasn’t going to send me to Hell, I doubted cheating a dem out of some money would make much of a difference. I picked up another glass, giving him a little smirk and a wink as I pressed it to my lips. I tipped my head back and let it sink down my throat. But instead of a scorching burn that scraped my esophagus, I got a nice river of cool liquid. I had to love my Papa Finn and his powers of purity.

One of my five dads—we do not discuss the magical gang bang that my mother enjoyed in order to get pregnant—was a unicorn. (But he wasn’t rocking hooves and a horn when they banged—if they did in fact bang, which was still up for debate. I said no. My fathers told me there was only one immaculate conception and it wasn’t me. My uncle just cackled.) Anyway, his bit of purity kept me from being fully damned and gave me a touch of magic. Not a lot. Mainly because I didn’t practice. Lazy, thy name is Caith Morningstar. No, wait, that wasn’t my name this century.

It was… Caith Mountainass? No, Caith Morningfart? Dammit, I really hated that I couldn’t cleanse every drop of the alcohol from my system. Sure, it helped keep up the pretense, but I was not looking forward to falling out of my chair. “Murray!” I sat up straight, smiling widely. Wait, I might have blurted that out loud. Joy lit up Carl’s eyes. Well, shouting may have made me sound like an idiot, but it bloated the guy’s confidence, so that was good. Though, when I sort of listed right, I added “practice magic” to my list of to-dos. I tended to use hellfire to scorch my enemies, or I’d empower my body with Papa Eron’s connection to the Earth to give me the strength and durability of stone. (Not many could say that Father Earth was actually one of their fathers.) While Carl gloated, I kept pulling and tugging on my unicorn magic, cleansing more and more of the unholy booze from my system.

It was his turn and he quickly swallowed the liquid like so many times before. His eyes went glassy, pupils large and gaze unfocused, and I knew it’d be his last. This time, he swayed in his seat and then leaned so far left that I knew he was going over. I grinned and reached for the pile of money, mentally calculating how much I’d won and how far it’d go to secure my son’s future. Kids were fucking expensive. “Hold on!” Carl’s bellow vibrated through the bar. He reached for my hand, but only snatched at air. Even if I was drunk off my ass and reciting dirty limericks from the fourteen hundreds, I wouldn’t be that easily caught. I stretched out my other arm, pointing a single finger, and gently tapped the center of his chest. It was the tiniest shove—in my head anyway.

He tipped backward, knocking his chair over, and fell flat to the ground with a thunderous boom. The audience in the bar applauded and cheered, though some grumbled and shook their heads—sore losers. Money exchanged hands, snarls filling the air, while a local phoenix— Adara—argued with the dryad Treeson twins—Flora and Fiona. I really hoped they didn’t get into shit. There was only room for one flame-throwing chick, and that was me. Drinking games in Hell’s Chapel drew side bets between patrons, and some were dumb enough to bet against me. It looked like Adara was on the losing side this time and I almost felt bad for her. Sure, her flames could hurt the dryads, but the Treeson twins were batshit crazy. I gathered my winnings along with a few extra bucks from people who had bet me I wouldn’t be able to beat Carl. I shoved all of the money into a paper bag I’d labeled in black marker—Bryony’s School Money.

I went ahead and added a bit of protection to the thing, too. Anyone touched it and they went poof. Except for my BFF Jezebeth, who was also the baddest bar bitch around. Or my mate Samkiel, who was really my mate-ish and the reason my relationship status on social networking sites was “it’s complicated.” Or… Gah, I would have loved to open a bank account, but the school only took cash. So archaic. Brownies—my kid is a brownie, fuck off—were the least-assimilated of all creatures in the tween. Some tweeners blended easily with humans using glamour or disguises to hide their “uniqueness.” They held jobs, paid taxes (occasionally), and got parking tickets (but didn’t eat the officer) like any other human. Brownies were more reclusive.

They had unseen lives, hidden in the shadows and out of human sight. Heck, I had my own little family in my house. They cleaned and performed maintenance, and I could sometimes go weeks without seeing them. They came out while I was at the bar or when I slept, the only evidence of their existence being my clean underwear. Over six hundred years old and I still had washer issues. As in anxiety about how much laundry detergent—exactly—should go into the wash? What was the difference between a medium and high load? They didn’t exactly give me a weight or measurement when I bought the washing machine. Assholes. The guys who wrote instruction manuals? Yeah, they were definitely demons in tight with my uncle. Definitely. But the brownies dealt with it for me, which meant I was fine with dealing with their little quirks.

Like no bank accounts or social security numbers. I didn’t bitch about their cashonly policy and they didn’t complain when it smelled like cigarettes, liquor, and occasionally puke. I waved off the patrons, some glaring at me while others slammed their fists into my shoulder. I staggered beneath one troll’s punch, and I gave him one back just because I could. He did a little more than stagger. More like, slid across the finished concrete floor until he hit the wall and drywall dust rained down on him like snow. I snatched a couple of glasses from the table, stacking the ones that weren’t broken and nudging the ones that were cracked to the ground for the brownies to clean up later. I had to give them something to clean, right? The alcohol still made me a hint dizzy, but that purifying magic continued to work its way through me. Before long I’d be stone-cold sober and ready to beat at my liver again. My cell phone rang and I dug it out of my pocket, the leather unwilling to release the fucking thing.

Loved the painted on look of leathers. Hated doing anything other than standing around looking pretty when I wore them. I propped the phone between my ear and shoulder to free up my hands. “Hello?” “Ms. Morningstar?” I mentally groaned, recognizing the snooty voice in an instant. It had that nasally, high, “I want to stab you in the eye” pitch. “This is Midnight Lotus from the Earthen Hearts School for Brownies.” Crap. Someone calling from Bry’s school could only mean there was trouble. “Yes? Is everything okay?” “Well…” Midnight Bitchtus drew the word out and I narrowed my eyes, pretending I could burn her with my stare.

“Not exactly. We’d like you to come speak with us at the end of the school day.” “What’s this about?” “We can discuss that when you get here. School lets out at three.” As if I didn’t know when my kid got out of school. I’d only forgotten him once. Or twice. Five times and that was it. I rolled my eyes and refused to acknowledge her reminder. Whatever the problem was, it couldn’t be that urgent if the school was willing to wait until the end of the school day.

Plus, if they didn’t need me now, it meant Bry hadn’t burned down the school. He was still a little iffy with the hellfire Uncle Luc gave him when I’d decided to keep the brownie and never let him go. I was possessive like that. Bryony wore a charm around his neck that protected anything he touched from being burned, but he was still a kid. And kids liked to set things on fire on purpose because fire was pretty. Or maybe that was just me because I used to do it all the time. “Ms. Morningstar?” Oh. Right. I was talking to someone.

“I’ll be there.” I straightened my neck, catching my phone and keeping it steady. “But Bryony’s okay, right?” The last time I’d gotten a call at Hell’s Chapel about Bryony, it’d been because he’d ingested a dem drug tainted water. It’d nearly killed him—and half of Orlando—before we found a cure. I didn’t ever want to face that kind of shit again. “No, no, he’s fine,” Lotus assured me. I wasn’t sure I believed her. “It’s just… well, a behavioral issue we’d like to discuss with you.” Behavioral issue? It couldn’t be that big of a deal. Brownies had very conservative ideas about a child’s behavior, but Bryony wasn’t any child with any mother.

A kid raised by Satan’s niece wasn’t exactly gonna come out well-behaved. Just sayin’. As long as he didn’t start a war during his angsty teenager phase, I’d call it a win. Though, in my defense, the war had been tiny. Not even worth noticing, really. I’d almost call it forgotten… if it wasn’t listed in most history books. Right. “Yeah, I’ll see you when I see you.” I didn’t wait for the woman to reply and simply tapped at the screen with my thumb to end the call. I carried the tray of glasses to the back of the bar, ducking behind the curtain and heading to the dish room.

My friend Jezze—self-proclaimed best bar bitch in the world— was in the back room counting inventory. After I dropped off the glasses, I filled her in on the call. “I’ll need you to keep an eye on things while I’m gone. I shouldn’t be long.” Jezze snorted and shook her head. “He’s already working his way up the juvenile delinquent ladder, isn’t he? Like mother, like son?” I curled a lip at her, my wolf—because of course one of my dads was a werewolf—pushed to my feet and padded forward. The beast didn’t like anyone talking shit about my pup, and Bryony—for all his brownie-ness—was my pup. The animal’s growl filled my mind, rolling through my body as it tried to assert itself. The bitch wanted me to put Jezze down, to show her what’d happen if anyone so much as gave Bry a hint of attitude. But I pushed her back, kicking and shoving at the animal until I had her pinned and under control.

The wolf was on edge, had been ever since that mess with Silaran. The demon drug was out of my town, but the dem responsible for the mess, Silaran, had survived the debacle. He’d been sent back to the bowels of Hell, and we hadn’t heard a peep out of him. That made the protective animal uneasy, and an uneasy, fairly evil, powerful wolf was not a good thing. Wolf under control—barely—I returned Jezze’s teasing tone with one of my own. “I was never a juvenile delinquent.” Jezze snorted. “Because you grew up before the dawn of the industrial revolution and development of modern justice systems.” “My point still stands!” My friend just laughed and shook her head. “I’ll be fine.

Just don’t bring back any demon drugs for us to deal with.” “No promises.” The guy was gone, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t still manipulating things behind the scenes. I was sure he was just biding his time, waiting for the right moment to strike. I just hoped this time I would be ready for it. I might be Lucifer’s own flesh and blood and a badass bitch straight out of Hell, but there were still some things I couldn’t handle. Like demons who were just a hint less evil than Uncle Luc. And downtown Orlando traffic during tourist season. I had to remind myself I couldn’t go scorched Earth in the middle of mouse town. A hundred times.

I had to remind myself a hundred times. I was more than fifteen minutes late getting to the school thanks to bumper-to-bumper traffic. Under different circumstances, I would have taken my motorcycle and split lanes like a pro. Or driven down the sidewalks if I had to. But I was bringing Bry home after the meeting, and I couldn’t exactly put a toddler on the bitch seat. When I walked into the classroom, I spied Bry sitting at a small desk off to one side, crayons clutched in his little fists. I smiled and gave him a little wave. “Tempmomma! You here!” He grinned, that sweet smile wide and with snippets of hellfire lurking in his eyes. Man, I loved that dangerous as hell kid. I turned my attention to his teacher and ignored her strange look.

She probably didn’t approve of Bryony’s name for me, but I didn’t ask her. I’d originally picked it because I hadn’t felt right taking the place of Bry’s real mother, who’d been murdered. He’d been the only one I was able to save that day, and I didn’t want to erase her from his mind. Since then, the name sort of stuck and it was too late to do anything about it now. “Ms. Morningstar?” Lotus drew my attention, standing off to my right in the doorway to her private office. “Come with me, please.” I followed her, ducking under the doorway as I moved into her office. Brownies were small tween creatures and they didn’t tend to build things to human scale. I felt like that wizard from that book with the invisibility ring thing… I wasn’t much of a reader.

I eyed the small chairs in front of Lotus’ desk and decided to just sit on the floor, not sure they’d support my weight. Carpet was probably safer. “So, what’s the problem?” I cut right to the point. Lotus folded her hands on the desk and peered at me over the rims of her tiny glasses. “I wanted to discuss your son’s writing with you. Have you been practicing with him at home?” “Yeah.” I shrugged. I hadn’t done a ton—I was more swords and daggers instead of pens and pencils. But we had flash cards and wooden blocks along with plenty of crayons and construction paper. We worked on the alphabet, spelling his name, and we definitely didn’t get into spelling curse words.

Mainly because Papa Leth—Letholdus—had told me even he wouldn’t teach such a young one those words. The boy had to be at least four. Holy warriors, what are ya gonna do? Am I right? “Then perhaps you can explain this.” The brownie slid a piece of paper across the desk and I grabbed the tiny sheet between my fingers. I stared at it, frowning and trying to see what had Lotus calling me down here. At first, it looked like my kid’s normal scribblings, but after studying it a moment… The shapes formed letters, but not from any language I recognized. My mind immediately defaulted to blaming demons, my inner wolf agreeing in an instant. The last time I had demonic writings front and center in my life had been when Bry had gotten sick. They’d been etched into his skin and the house, cursing him with every line. Of course, we eventually learned it was because the dem Silaran was trying to pull Bry into a Hell dimension.

It’d sure scared the Hell (kickass pun intended) out of me. Yet this didn’t quite look demonic. Maybe. I couldn’t be sure. If I turned it on its side and squinted, it looked similar to some of the arcane writing in Jezze’s spell books. It could be some obscure language like Alicornic. Don’t even get me started on the alicorns. Fuckers were unicorns with wings and thought they were so much better than unicorns or Pegasus. I was glad the jerks were long forgotten. “I don’t know what this is.

” I shook my head and placed the paper down. “Well, he refuses to write in anything else.” Lotus studied me, pointed frown tightening her lips. “We worked on basic spelling today and the only languages students in my school are permitted to write in are English, Spanish, and Brown-tongue.” I could understand that rule and I didn’t even laugh at the name for the brownie language. But seriously, English and Spanish were spoken all over Florida. As for Browntongue… it was rarely used outside brownie homes. I supposed it was their way to hold onto their own culture while so many others pressed in from all directions in the tween. “I’ll try and talk to him.” I didn’t know what else I could do.

The kid was stubborn… like his mom. “I certainly hope you do.” Ah, the whiny bitch voice was back. “I wouldn’t want to have to take any sort of disciplinary action, but I do need to make sure Bryony receives a proper education. A brownie education.” I bit my tongue to keep from snapping at her. She’d made it clear, without saying the words aloud, that she didn’t approve of me raising a brownie child. Not because I was Satan’s niece, but because I wasn’t a brownie. Like they were all so superior. I was part human, werewolf, dem, unicorn, pixie, and nature, but not a drop of brownie blood.

Top that, brownie bitch. I fought for calm, breathing deeply and trying to soothe the wolf. She was really on edge and had me aching to snap at someone. That couldn’t be Midnight Lotus. At least, not until Bry graduated. Sure, she didn’t approve of me raising Bry, but no one could do anything about it either. They weren’t registered citizens and they didn’t have the magic to take me on. Sure, I didn’t know everything I needed to know about raising brownie kids, but I had my housekeeper—Blooming Aster—and my brownie crew to help me out. Which was good considering I’d been totally caught off guard when Blooming told me it was past time for Bry to start school. He was barely two! But, apparently, in brownie years that almost made him a first grader.

.

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