Psychic’s Spell – Ella Summers

Next stop: Purgatory,” the intercom roared over the rumbling of the train. The announcement elicited a chorus of chortles from my fellow passengers. Looking up from the book I was reading, I glanced across the aisle. The proud owners of that merry laughter were six twenty-somethings—college guys, their matching fraternity rings told me. They looked like the sort of guys you’d expect to find flexing their muscles in some posh gym. Their shoulders were wide, their faces clean-shaven, and their haircuts straight out of an expensive New York City salon. A bunch of rich kids living their lives on trust funds and no-limit credit cards, toeing the line between doing stupid things for the sheer fun of it and keeping in daddy’s good graces. “Purgatory,” one of them snickered. He was distinguished by the tangerine-orange cowboy boots on his feet. “They have got to work on their marketing campaign,” said his companion with the tan suede jacket. It had a hundred tassels dangling from it, which was at least a hundred too many. “Paradise.” He mulled that over. “Yes, I like the sound of that.” “People don’t come out here to experience paradise,” said their friend in the blackand-white cow pattern pants.

All that was missing was an enormous cow bell around his neck. “They come here to experience the wild Frontier life.” “And the brothels,” commented Orange Boots, which elicited cat-calls from the others. An angel had once told me that rolling my eyes wasn’t becoming of a soldier in the gods’ army, so I kept the eye-rolling to myself. My hometown of Purgatory didn’t usually get many tourists. Soldiers, yes, but not tourists. That was the consequence of lying at the far end of the civilized world. But this was a special time, the one week each year when tourists left the comfort of their cities and flocked to the edge of the Frontier for the Party at the Wall festival. Tourists and townies alike partied at the base of the towering wall that separated civilization from the plains of monsters. “I can see it,” declared Suede Jacket.

They all gathered in front of the large, wood-framed window, each one trying to catch their first glimpse of Purgatory. The window was like a looking glass that took you back in time, back to a rougher era. It was a world of rugged charm and frontier justice, a world of cowboy boots and big belt buckles—or so the tourists thought. In reality, no one out here dressed like that. One of the college guys had peeled away from the others. He was standing in the aisle, a concentrated squint to his eyes as he swung his gun between his fingers. The gun was glossy silver, so shiny that it reflected off the swaying iron lanterns that hung from the ceiling. Cow Pants glanced over and commented, “Hey, you’re pretty good at that.” “I’ve been practicing in front of the television,” Gunslinger told him. While watching old cowboy movies, no doubt.

That was how they saw the Frontier, like one big cowboy movie marathon. Gunslinger’s grip slipped, and his gun let out an impressive, thunderous boom. “That hurt!” Suede Jacket yelped, clutching the back of his jeans as he hopped around. Luckily for him, his friend’s gun didn’t shoot real bullets. It just shot cartridges filled with potions that dissolved upon impact, leaving the unlucky victim with a mild burning feeling. Suede Jacket’s friends were laughing at all the fuss he was making, but there was nothing funny about shooting people, not even with fake bullets. Guns were designed with a single purpose in mind: killing. They weren’t toys for boys playing at being men. Right now, I didn’t have to resist rolling my eyes. This time, I was resisting the urge to grab these jokers by the collars and clunk their heads together, to knock some sense into them, to show them that pain was no joke.

They were naive, irresponsible even. They’d never seen the world outside their mansions and penthouses, and it was high time someone taught them a lesson. I stopped myself at that thought. Gods, I was thinking more and more like an angel every day. So I didn’t grab them and clunk their heads together, nor did I pull out the gun in my backpack or the knife tucked inside my boot. I couldn’t say I wasn’t tempted, though, especially as they continued in their foolish games. They were now pretending to shoot one another in their vision of a Frontier shootout, the kind you’d see in an old cowboy movie. And this time when one of them shot another, it wasn’t an accident. It was a game. They’d come to the Frontier to play out their fantasy, hitting all the stereotypes, then they would return to their normal lives of comfort, none the wiser.

The Party at the Wall was just a moment in time for these city folk, a brief escape into another world, the wild Frontier of civilization. They’d romanticized the rugged look, the cowboy justice. But they had no idea what it was really like out here, where magical resources were spread thin, most of them going to powering the big Magitech wall that separated humanity from the plains of monsters. I stretched out my legs, which were eager for a walk. Thank goodness we’d be arriving in Purgatory soon. You wouldn’t know it from the nostalgic wood benches and soft red velvet of the carriage interiors, but this train was as modern as you could get, crossing the five-hundred-mile distance between New York City and Purgatory in only an hour. The bundle of bells over the door jingled as three women with identical high ponytails entered the carriage. They were wearing what I could only describe as cheerleadercowgirl outfits, leotard tops with short denim skirts and tasseled suede boots. More roleplayers taking part in the Frontier fantasy. The college guys immediately stopped shooting one another with magic pellets.

Frozen, mesmerized, they watched the cheerleaders walk down the red velvet runway. As the women passed by, one of the guys, a fellow clad solely in a tan leather vest and matching pants stepped into their path. “Hey there,” Leather Vest said in a slow, lazy drawl. The head cheerleader looked him up and down and coolly declared, “Not interested.” Leather Vest’s friends chuckled and slapped him on the back. “Not any of you either,” said the cheerleader in the red leotard. “Oh, that’s cold,” Cow Pants said, trying to keep a smile on his face. “Yeah,” agreed Gunslinger. “What’s wrong with us?” The cheerleader in blue glanced at his play gun and declared, “You’re not real cowboys.” Then the three ladies continued down the aisle toward the exit doors.

The train was slowing. We’d be stopping at the Purgatory station soon. The college guys watched the cowgirl-cheerleader squad go. They too had come here to live out some fantasy, to meet rugged, rogue cowboys. The sort who wore ass-hugging jeans, thumping boots, big hats, and nothing else. The sort who went around shirtless in the scorching Frontier sun. They would be sorely disappointed. Purgatory was not the home of sexy, single cowboys just waiting to give their hearts away to some special lady. It was the home of bartenders and grocers. Of mechanics and tailors.

And some more bartenders. We had a lot of bartenders. Purgatory was a little more fun with a side order of hard liquor. I got up and made my way toward the exit. The college guys perked up as they noticed me for the first time. During the journey, I’d used magic to mask my presence, to make myself a little less noticeable. It was the best way to get some peace and quiet while I finished my book. The one wearing the enormous yellow hat glanced at the book, then met my eyes. “Good book?” he asked in a practiced, polished voice. “Very.

” “The Secret World of Angels,” Cow Pants read aloud the title, amusement sparkling in his eyes. “You’re interested in angels?” Yellow Hat asked me. They were all trying hard not to snicker now. As though my fantasy was worse than theirs. “Isn’t everyone interested in angels?” I countered. He nodded. “I know a fellow who can get people into Heaven,” he said, moving in closer. “You know the place?” “The Legion of Angels club in New York.” “Exclusive club,” he said. “It’s the favorite watering hole of top members of the Legion.

Including angels.” Watering hole? He sure was getting into his cowboy character. I wondered what the angels I knew would think of their exclusive club being referred to as a ‘watering hole’. I swallowed a chuckle. Yellow Hat must have mistaken my amusement for a purr of glee because he was moving in even closer. “This guy I know could get us in. I could take you there. What do you say?” He went in for the kill, wrapping his arm around my shoulder. I flashed him a grin. “I would love to pay Heaven another visit.

” He froze at the realization that I’d been there before, his play ruined. He must have been wondering how I’d gotten into Heaven because his offer was completely bogus, a cheap pickup line. He might not know it, but the bouncers at Heaven wouldn’t let in any Legion soldier under level five, not without an invitation from a higher level soldier. They wouldn’t let in a human period, not even if an angel invited them. I patted his arm. “But right now, I’m looking to meet some authentic cowboys.” Winking, I shrugged off his hand. “See you around.” Then I pushed past them and took the exit. As I walked away, I could feel the guys’ eyes glued on me.

“Shot down again, cowboy,” Suede Jacket snickered. “Oh, shut up,” grumbled Yellow Hat. As they tried to get back into character by shooting one another again, I went to go chat with the conductor. He was standing on the platform, watching the passengers disembark the train. “Hey, Jon.” “Leda, good to see you again,” he said, his wrinkled face drawing up into a warm smile. Dressed in a navy sweater vest over a dress shirt and a pair of heather-grey wool pants, he looked like everyone’s favorite grandfather. A golden pocket watch even dangled from his vest. Unlike the collegiate cowboys and cheerleaders, I wasn’t a tourist. Though I lived in New York now, this town, for better or for worse, was home.

It had been a year since I gave up my life to join the Legion, but I could never really give up my family and those I loved. I smiled back at him. “Good to see you too.” He glanced down at my big bag, tensing. “Is trouble brewing here?” “Not this time. I’m just here to visit.” His shoulders relaxed. “Good to hear it. You don’t come back home often enough.” Though the trip from New York to Purgatory was only an hour with the high-speed train, I hadn’t been back for an actual visit since I’d left.

I’d only passed through a few times when my work for the Legion of Angels brought me to the nearby Black Plains. But I needed a little down time from the constant training and endless battles, from fighting monsters and chasing supernatural conspiracies. And there was no place like home to kick up your feet and breathe in the Frontier air. “You’re too busy saving the world to pay us a visit, I suppose?” Jon asked me. “It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it,” I replied with a smirk. His lips spread into a smile, drawing up the wrinkles around his eyes. “You’re a good girl, Leda.” “Well, when I want to be anyway.” Then I walked off to the sound of his chuckles. The tourists poured out of the train, flooding the station’s single platform.

I could smell the slick city on them; I could see the innocence in the twinkle in their eyes as they stepped out into a whole new world. Purgatory was the end of the line. Literally. It was a small town that sat on the doorstep of the Black Plains, where monsters ruled and civilization ended. The Earth had been overrun by monsters centuries ago, and humanity had been caught in the crossfire of the war between gods and demons ever since. I followed the swarms of tourists out of the station, watching them stare around in starry-eyed wonder. The citizens of Purgatory had gone all out for the festival. They’d decorated the town to appeal to the tourists’ wild Frontier fantasies, the tick box for every stereotype nicely checked. It looked so different than it usually did. There were old wooden signs, carved and painted, that hung outside the doors of each and every business in town.

The signs were one of the things the tourists wanted to see—expected to see—but they were not a part of everyday life here. In reality, the extreme, constantly-shifting weather out here, so close to the Black Plains, would have ruined the lovely, handmade signs in no time. We often had summer and winter in one day—a mismatch of hard rain and snow, of storms and sunny skies, of scorching heat and extreme humidity. That was the consequence of the monsters, their close proximity throwing all magic and nature out of whack. The people of Purgatory were a practical bunch. Once a year, they brought out the signs and donned the costumes for tourists who came for the Party at the Wall—and the money they brought with them. And it worked. Mesmerized by the cowboy spice, enamored of the rugged charm, the tourists saw only the signs, the Frontier charm, the cowboy outfits. Some of the braver souls even sampled the local moonshine. Sadly, the homemade alcohol wasn’t a stereotype.

It was a fact of life here, a staple of the Frontier existence. The tourists didn’t see beyond the pretty facade. They didn’t see the monsters lurking on the Black Plains beyond, nor did they hear the soft, persistent grumble of white noise, the hum of the monsters beyond. The monsters on the plains were restless. I could feel it. The influx of people was drawing them closer. In anticipation, the golden Magitech barrier had been turned on. It was so bright that you could see the magical glow from every part of town. The tourists certainly appreciated that glow. If they’d all been a little less drunk, they’d have appreciated it for something much more than as a light show.

They would have realized that barrier was all that stood between them and being eaten by monsters. “Leda!” I turned to find Carmen Wilder, the daughter of Purgatory’s sheriff, running toward me. Dressed in a green tank top and very tiny denim shorts, cowgirl boots and a cowgirl hat with sparkles, she was all dolled up for the festival. Slim, tall, and sweet, Carmen was always popular with the tourists. She squeezed me into a tight hug. Her caramel hair, braided in two pigtails, smelled like strawberries. I knew that shampoo; there weren’t many hair product choices in Purgatory. Strawberry was one and the other was vanilla. And then there was a neutral, noncommittal scent that just smelled like plain old soap. “What you’re doing for Zane is so brave, Leda,” Carmen said.

She was referring to last year. She’d been out on a date with my brother Zane when they were attacked and Zane was abducted. He disappeared without a trace. So I joined the Legion of Angels to gain the rare magic of telepathy, to link to his mind and find him. But telepathy, the power known as Ghost’s Whisper, was high level magic. Before I could gain that power, I would need to become an angel. I still had a long way to go. We later discovered that Zane had been taken by the Guardians, who were supposed to be the peacekeepers of the original immortals and all-around good people. But only fools believed everything they heard. There was always more to the stories.

I wanted to see Zane for myself, especially since the Guardians would not allow him to leave their realm. That bothered me. This time-out from Earth was supposedly a cleansing to balance his magic, but just because he couldn’t leave, that didn’t mean I couldn’t go see him. “The sacrifice you made to find Zane—” Carmen said. “He’ll be all right,” I cut her off. You never knew who was listening. There were a lot of people trying to find Zane for his magic, gods and demons among them. I started walking toward the festival again, and Carmen matched pace beside me. “Gods, I missed that smell,” I teased, looking around. She laughed.

“It’s not so bad right now. It rained last night.” Purgatory was rough around the edges. It smelled like wilderness and metal and magic, courtesy of the glowing Magitech wall. And thanks to last night’s rain, the smell was almost pleasant, like a forest after a storm, which covered up the inevitable sweaty stench of so many people in such a small space. But the rain had done nothing to cool down the town. Though the day was closing in on evening, it was hot. No, make that scorching. The weather reminded me of last summer, of how I’d started the night with a mark to catch and a bounty to collect. Then it had all gone downhill from there.

My brother was abducted and then before I knew it, I was joining the Legion of Angels. “I’m glad you survived, Leda,” Carmen told me, squeezing my hand. I smiled at her. “Thanks.” Half of my initiation group hadn’t survived the first sip of Nectar. Six more had died when we’d drunk the Nectar again, their wills crushed, unable to absorb the magic that tore through our bodies like a firestorm. The survival rates had gotten a little better after that. A certain sadistic angel excepted, the Legion tried not to push its soldiers up for promotion before we were ready. It did no one any good if we died. The Legion’s soldiers were the gods’ army on Earth, and we were therefore bestowed with supernatural powers, the gods’ gifts of magic.

We trained long and hard for each and every level. It was literally a matter of life or death. Each gift of magic—each promotion ceremony in the Legion—was marked by an increase in power, or you failed and died from the Nectar. The strongest soldiers, the most powerful of us, became angels. They commanded territories on the continents and led soldiers to protect the Earth from threats, mortal and immortal alike. “What does it feel like? The Nectar?” Carmen added shyly. “Why? Thinking of joining the Legion yourself?” “I’ve always wanted to have magic,” she admitted, chewing on her lower lip. “But I don’t think I’d survive. I would be one of the bodies on the floor at the end.” “Don’t underestimate yourself.

You’re strong.” I could see it in her, a strong-willed resolve. She had a decent chance of surviving the initiation ceremony. “You think I should join?” Her voice was quiet, full of reverence, as though I’d just told her she was everything she ever wanted to be. I turned to face her, setting my hands on her shoulders. “No, I think you should live your life, staying far away from the world of angels.” “Is it so bad?” “Sometimes. The training, the pressure to perform, to succeed. The battles, the beasts. The Legion breaks you, Carmen.

And then they leave it to you to put yourself back together again.” “And the angels?” she asked, her voice hardly above a whisper. “The angels might just be the scariest part of all,” I said honestly. I took her arm. “Come on.”

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