Of Fire and Storm – D. G. Swank, Denise Grover Swank

“I hate doing these at night,” I mumbled as I looped my messenger bag—full of ghosthunting supplies and demon-killing daggers—over my head, letting it settle on my right hip. My friend Rhys chuckled. “A ghost hunter who’s afraid of hunting ghosts at night. I’d say that should be your new catchphrase, but it’s not much of a selling point.” The dark look I shot her only made her laugh more. “That glare might work on Hudson, but I learned long ago your bark is worse than your bite.” She grabbed her own bag, then shut the trunk lid. “Come on. Let’s go.” Light poured from every window in the two-story house, but it did nothing to ease my mind. I wouldn’t be here right now if the homeowner hadn’t been so frantic, insisting this was an emergency. From what she’d gotten across through her hysterical crying, objects and furniture were being moved and violently thrown around, which sounded a lot like a poltergeist. Oh, yay. I couldn’t help wishing Jack were here. But Jack, an Episcopal priest who had helped me evict one poltergeist and who knew more about demons than I did, was in Charlotte, considering his appointment to a new church.

Not that he’d told me face-to-face or even over a phone call. Over the past two weeks, he’d limited our contact to texts only. I hurried up to the door, eager to get this over with. A young woman answered, her eyes wide with fear. I almost asked her why she was still in the house if she was so terrified, but sometimes people did inexplicable things. While there was a chance she was lying, and this was some elaborate ruse to catch me making a fool of myself, the frenzied look in her eyes suggested otherwise. “Beth?” I asked, half hoping she’d tell me no. She nodded. “Are you Piper?” “That’s me,” I said with a forced smile, then pointed over my shoulder. “This is Rhys.

She’s here to help.” “Thank God. That thing is upstairs.” Better there than in the kitchen, with all the knives and glass. “You said it’s been throwing things around?” She lifted her shaking hand to her mouth and nodded. I raised my gaze to the second-floor windows. As if sensing my attention, whatever was up there made a loud banging noise. “Why don’t you come outside, and we’ll talk out here?” She started to cry. “I can’t.” I gave Rhys a we’re going to have to baby this one look, then turned back to Beth.

“It’s okay. You can hang out in my car if you like. Or you can go somewhere else, and I’ll let you know when we’re done.” She shook her head. “You don’t understand. I can’t walk through the doorway. Something is holding me back.” Oh. Shit. I was supremely unqualified for this job.

Sure, I’d been a ghost whisperer for the past six and a half months, but up until two and a half weeks ago, I’d been faking it. I wasn’t proud of it, but at least I’d helped many of my clients move on from the loss of a loved one. I hadn’t charged people, but I hadn’t been opposed to accepting tips—which sometimes involved cash, sometimes a case of homemade strawberry jam. Beggars couldn’t be choosers. Then, two weeks ago, Kieran Abel had blown into my life. My abilities had begun to manifest before Abel showed up—I’d started hearing whispers from ghosts, something I’d written off as a brain glitch—but the necklace he’d given me had opened the floodgates. Within days, I could not only see ghosts, but could also see and feel nearby demons. Not a skill I was excited to possess. But my new ability and my recently discovered demon-killing daggers had not come with the special knowledge of what I was dealing with or how to get rid of demons. Jack had become my go-to resource for that.

And now he was two hours away. I had no idea how to get Beth out. I had no idea how to get rid of the thing going bump in the night upstairs. But I was still her best hope, and that meant I couldn’t just walk away. “Okay,” I said, surprised at how calm I sounded. “I’m going to have a little chat with Rhys. Then we’ll tell you what we’re going to do.” “Okay,” Beth said with a hopeful look in her eyes. I grabbed Rhys’s arm and dragged her to the middle of the front yard. “I don’t know what I’m dealing with here.

I need help.” You need Abel. Despite myself, I was drawn to the irritating and dangerous Kieran Abel. One scorching kiss and suddenly I was obsessed with the guy, although, to be fair, supernaturally feeling his presence every second of the day for nearly the past two weeks hadn’t helped. Who would have guessed exchanging a blood oath would bind our souls? But it wasn’t the oath that had linked us. It was our exchange of blood—he’d licked the blood from my palm after the oath, then fed me his blood to save me from bleeding to death. He’d done it only so that I could fulfill my side of the oath I’d blindly agreed to. He’d saved me so that I could kill him. Kieran Abel was one complicated man. But more to the point in this situation: Abel wasn’t here either.

He was, in fact, on the other side of the world, though he hadn’t bothered to let me know first. The day after Abel had saved my life, he’d texted me to tell me only that he was turning my training over to two of his guys, then left me to figure out he was gone through our bond. Rhys couldn’t do much more than offer moral support, which meant I was essentially on my own. Surprisingly, Rhys didn’t look all that worried. “So what are you going to do?” “I think I need to prioritize things. Most important is to get Beth out, but I have no idea how to do that. I suspect the only way to free her is to get rid of whatever’s upstairs.” “What do you think is upstairs?” That was the question of the hour. “My gut says a mischievous ghost, but I can’t rule out a demon.” Rhys’s eyes grew wide.

“Demon? Wouldn’t we have heard if more demons had made their way down Beaucatcher Mountain? Surely we’d have encountered some during our ghost appointments.” I shrugged, trying to look more nonchalant than I felt. “The demons might have purposely kept quiet to hide.” Suddenly, Rhys didn’t look as excited as she had when we’d first gotten here. “Maybe you should see if Jack can come help.” “And leave Beth inside? Even if he agreed to come, he’s two hours away. I can’t wait that long.” “But what if you get stuck in there too?” Rhys had a great point. “Then I guess I’ll have to make sure I deal with whatever’s up there.” She looked unconvinced.

I offered a compromise. “Call Jack. I know it’s late, but he might be able to figure out what I’m dealing with and give me guidance over the phone.” She nodded. “Okay. Do you want to wait to hear what he says?” I spun around and studied the homeowner, who was silently crying in the doorway. “No. I don’t know enough about the situation to describe it to him yet. But maybe get him on the phone and I’ll relay what I find through you.” “Okay.

” I took a deep breath, then walked up to the front door. My left hand began to tingle and sting, not a good sign. I splayed my fingers wide and examined my palm, which was now decorated with supernatural tattoos—a circle contained in a square, surrounded by a few other symbols—that had emerged with my new powers. I was grateful for what I didn’t see.…yet. When a crescent moon appeared, it would mean I’d have to make good on my oath to kill Abel. “How are you doin’, Beth?” I asked as I stood in front of the threshold. “I’m scared.” I gave her a reassuring look, the kind my gynecologist gives me right before she does my Pap smear. “That’s understandable, but I’m gonna get you out of there.

Before I come in, I need you to help me with a few things. Can you try to walk out?” She shook her head. “Something shocked me when I tried to go out. Twice.” Whatever was in there clearly wanted to keep Beth in. It also might want to keep me out. But what was it? The stinging of my hand suggested a demon. I’d killed two demons on Beaucatcher Mountain, but I’d almost died doing it. At least I had a new advantage this time, or more like two advantages—Davis and Rupert, the guys Abel had hired to kick my ass for three hours twice a day, every day. I knew how to handle my daggers now, and I could do some wicked mixed martial arts moves.

Okay, maybe not wicked. Not yet. But hopefully it would be enough. First, I had to get inside. “When did you notice you couldn’t walk out of your house?” I asked. “Right after I called you. About forty minutes ago.” “Has whatever’s up there tried to talk to you?” Most people could only hear ghosts when our plane of existence overlapped with theirs, something that had been happening more and more frequently. The spiritual world had gained a firm foothold in ours just over two months ago, after the curse keepers—two fools I’d never met—unlocked the main gate to hell in Manteo, North Carolina. It started a chain reaction, opening other, smaller gates, like the one on Beaucatcher Mountain.

The first sign something was badly wrong had been the sudden reappearance of the Lost Colony of Roanoke, something I still didn’t totally understand. “No, but sometimes I hear crying. Like scared crying.” That didn’t sound like a demon. That was good. “You might be dealing with a petulant teenager who just realized he or she is dead.” She gasped. “Oh dear.” “That’s actually good news. I can deal with that.

” Except I’d never heard of a ghost creating an electric force field. I’d only felt a strong electrical current when I was close to powerful ghosts, like Helen of Helen’s Bridge fame. I’d never heard of a demon doing it either, but then there was my whole lack of experience issue. Basically, I didn’t know crap. Of course, it wouldn’t reassure Beth to hear that. I reached out a hand and slowly pushed it through the doorway, not feeling a thing. “Give me your hand.” Beth did as I asked, her fingers trembling as they reached out to me. I slowly started to pull her hand through the opening, but as soon as her fingertips were over the threshold, she screeched and jerked back. “That hurt!” I glanced back at Rhys.

“Any luck with Jack?” She shook her head with a frown. “I left him a voicemail and texted. I’ll let you know when I know something.” She paused. “Maybe you should call Abel for advice.” I hated the way my heart skipped a beat at the thought, but I wouldn’t give in. I hadn’t reached out to him since he’d left, and I didn’t intend to now. Still, I found myself tapping into our connection. When he’d been here in Asheville, I’d been aware of his moods and when he was awake and asleep. The connection was much fainter now that there were so many miles between us.

Maybe he’d left to get away from me. “I’m not calling the bastard.” Even if I broke down and called, his advice wouldn’t be helpful. He’d just tell me to leave whatever was upstairs alone and go home. I smiled at my alarmed client. “He’s not very helpful. We’re fine.” To prove my point, I walked through the opening into her living room. “Can you come out?” Rhys asked in a worried voice from the middle of the yard. I reached a hand toward the opening and felt an electric jolt.

“Um…” No turning back now. “Beth, you wait down here and don’t come up. Hopefully I’ll get this settled soon.” She nodded and hovered close to the front door, obviously eager to leave the second she could. A quick glance around her house led me to believe it had been built a century ago and remodeled within the past few decades. The kitchen screamed eighties, and the living room and dining room were sparsely furnished, but cute. I headed up the stairs, taking inventory of the few framed photos on the wall. It was nice to keep track of the items that might later be flung at me. When I reached the top, I stood at the end of a short hallway and waited. Sometimes the ghosts greeted me on their own.

Sometimes they had to be coaxed. “Hello,” I said in a warm, cheery voice. “I’m Piper and I’d love to meet you.” Silence. I pushed open the first door on the right and discovered a small guest bedroom— double bed, dresser, nightstand, and lamp. Bare-bones decorating. The door on the left revealed a craft room. I thought I felt a presence inside, but a noise at the end of the hall caught my attention. When I turned to face it, I saw a creature that looked like a threefoot-tall dog. An ugly one.

Horns poked out of the top of its head and down its back, and its skin was a mottled gray. Definitely a demon. Dammit. “Rhys,” I shouted as I slowly slipped my hand into my bag. “I’m facing a giant gray dog.” Scaring Beth with the knowledge that a demon was camped outside of her bedroom door didn’t seem like a good idea. Especially since she was trapped inside her house with it. “I don’t have a dog,” Beth shouted from downstairs, sounding confused. “I’ve been waiting for you, demon slayer,” the creature said in a low growl. I pulled out both daggers.

The handle of one was adorned with an intricate design of flowering ivy and a monster. I’d nicknamed it Ivy and chosen it for my right hand. The second blade was less intricate, but the etching had sharper ridges. It depicted an angel on horseback carrying an upright sword. It reminded me of the stained-glass art I’d seen in Jack’s old church, specifically of the panels portraying St. Michael vanquishing evil. I’d nicknamed it St. Michael. “Rhys, if you get a hold of Jack, be sure he knows the dog said it’s been waiting for me.” “Can ghost dogs talk?” Beth asked.

I ignored her and turned my attention to the demon. “It’s late. I’ve had a long day, and I have to get up early tomorrow morning. What do you want?” It opened its mouth, displaying a double row of teeth. “To play with you.” I didn’t like the sound of that. “We’ll play soon enough,” I said, shifting my weight to the balls of my feet. “Why are you so far down from the mountain?” The newly emerged demons had been stuck up on the mountain while they regained their strength, and last I’d checked there wasn’t much wildlife up there to feed on. “Looking for you, but he wouldn’t cooperate, so I decided to call for you myself.” Could it be talking about Beth? Demons had no gender and they’d been locked up for the past four hundred years.

Maybe being around genderless beings for so long had confused the demon. “Why keep the homeowner inside?” It grinned. “It made you come up to see me, didn’t it?” The demon had me there. “What’s your game called?” Its grin spread. “Kill the human.” Then it ran into the bedroom, after which I heard the sound of shattering glass. Oh my God. It had jumped out of the second-floor bedroom window overlooking the front yard. Panicked, I ran after it. “Rhys!” I screamed as I leaned through the jagged opening.

“It’s coming for you!” The demon was already prowling around my friend. I ran down the stairs, terrified, but when I tried to rush through the still-open front door, I ran into the electric barrier and released a small shriek of pain. The demon laughed. “Oh my God!” Beth said, startled. “You’ve got knives!” The demon was circling Rhys, but it was a good four feet away from her. It shot me a grin and licked its upper lip, clearly toying with me. What made it even worse was that Rhys couldn’t see it at all. It was only visible to me. “The demon is circling you!” I called through the door. “I’m trying to get out.

” “Then let’s hope the salt works,” Rhys said in a tight voice. Salt? Squinting, I saw the ring of salt spread around her in the grass. Smart girl. Behind me, Beth was carrying on something fierce, but I didn’t have any time to comfort her. I considered ignoring the pain and bursting through the opening, but I’d hit resistance along with the shock. How the hell was I going to save Rhys? Then an idea hit me, and I felt like a fool for not thinking of it sooner. I held up my spelled dagger and slashed through the doorway. Sparks flew, and the resistance disappeared. The demon abruptly stopped pacing and turned to me with wide eyes. It must have felt me break the binding.

I ran toward the demon, my blades ready to inflict damage, and it leapt toward my face with its claws extended. Twisting to the side, I dropped into a crouch, then reached up to slash as it jumped over my head. The demon screamed in pain as it landed on the ground. It spun around to face me, its eyes glowing red, and released a low growl that turned into a moan. “You got through the barrier, demon slayer. The Great One said it would hold you in while I killed your friend and the woman.” “The Great One?” The demon responded by lunging for me, leaving a trail of thick, black blood. I knew I hadn’t inflicted a mortal wound, but I’d damaged it enough to slow it down. I leapt out of the way, then twisted around and plunged one of the blades into the demon’s back. It screamed and arched back, pushing the blade deeper, deep enough to reach the glowing orb I could now see in its chest.

The demon’s last scream faded as it disappeared into a pile of ash, leaving behind the small glowing orb. “Rhys,” I said in a rush. “I killed it, but come over here and touch me so you can see this.” I pointed toward the floating orb with my blade. I wanted her to see it. This was why I had to destroy every demon that came down Beaucatcher Mountain. She rushed over and grabbed my wrist. Recently, I’d learned that I was a conduit between the human and spiritual planes. My clients could see their deceased loved ones by touching me. I could only presume it would also work with demons.

Rhys’s gasp suggested I was right. “What is that?” “The souls of all the living things this demon consumed since crawling out of the gate to hell. Keep holding my wrist.” I leaned forward and pierced the orb with my blade. It burst open, and scores of tiny lights erupted from it, floating off into the night like fireflies. “They’re so beautiful,” Rhys whispered. “We saved them,” I said. “They were destined for hell, but now they can move on.” “If they can move on, then why isn’t there a white light to greet them like with the other ghosts you’ve helped?” I turned to face her, my mouth gaping. Why had I never considered that? “I don’t know.

” She frowned. “Another question for Jack.” I had plenty of questions for Jack. “We need to tell him there’s no longer an emergency.” Rhys lifted her phone and started to tap out a text. “I’ll take care of it. I know you two aren’t really talking these days, although I’m still not sure what happened.” “Neither am I.” But that was only a partial truth. Jack knew Abel had saved my life on Beaucatcher Mountain, something no normal human could have done after the injuries I’d sustained.

He also knew I had a strong connection with Abel, something I couldn’t sever. I’d tried to tell Jack I still needed him, but he’d distanced himself anyway. Hence the whole Charlotte thing. My hand tingled slightly, and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. Something was watching me. I was fairly sure it was across the street. I spun around to face it, holding my daggers at the ready, but the feeling left just as quickly as it had set in. Had I imagined it? “What just happened?” Beth demanded, now standing on her front porch. “I saw you jumping around and stabbing at the air, and then the heavy pressure in the house subsided and I could walk out.” I took a deep breath and approached her.

“The good news is that I’ve taken care of the thing upstairs.” “And the bad news?” “You were entertaining a demon.” Beth made us wait while she threw clothes and toiletries in a bag so she could go stay with a friend. Rhys and I promised to come back and meet her over her lunch break the next day to make sure the house was free of supernatural guests. As Beth pulled away from the house, I stared at the pile of ash on the ground, wondering who or what this Great One was, and what it wanted with me.

.

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