Stoned – Layla Frost

“EXPLAIN TO ME AGAIN why we’re here,” I said, adjusting the uncomfortable puritan skirt. There were too many layers, and all of them were itchy. I knew why we were there, though. To serve our purpose. To do what we were created and put on earth to do. Find souls and kick ass. Okay, finding and protecting souls was our actual purpose—the kicking ass was just an added bonus. We’d been doing it for… gods, too long. And things weren’t slowing down. No, it was the opposite. The world was evolving and so was the evil. My brothers and I used to patrol—and when needed, fight—together. But there was just too much, so we’d split the world into territories, zeroing in on the locations where black magicks had surged. I did not envy my eldest brother. He’d drawn the short straw in a big way.

Everyone in his small Massachusetts town was uptight and judgmental. Seeing a little ankle never killed anyone. Granted, I’d shown up in a sarong and bandeau top, but that’d never killed anyone, either. Unlike my brother, I’d lucked out with my placement. Voodoo practices, sacrifices, and soul bargaining had brought me to a beautiful cluster of islands. I spent my days in the sun, swimming in crystal blue water and enjoying the loincloth clad eye candy. In between all that paradise, my temper got to come out and play. Although, with my blasted effectiveness, those opportunities happened less and less often. Boomerang magicks was a helluva deterrent. If the spell was fueled in black magicks and evil intent, it would bounce off the intended recipient and hit the priest or priestess who cast it.

Hard. A few priests were roaming the island as livestock—not the worst… at least, until someone got hungry. Others blasted their own ass to who knew where. And a few were dead. I couldn’t hold back my small smirk as I thought about the priestess I’d handled before travelling to the land of uptightness and itchy layers. She’d preyed on the desperate—the starving, the suffering, or the families of them. The ones who were willing to sacrifice everything. After promising miracles, the priestess had received payment in the form of not only their worldly possessions but also their souls. And then she’d done little. Snake oil with a smile.

The kick in the crotch—and what had earned her my wrath—was she could’ve helped. Maybe not the miracles she’d promised, but she could’ve eased their suffering. Lessened their pain, put them on the right path, or given them finality that would lead to acceptance rather than false hope. Though not my level of powerful, she was still one of the strongest practitioners I’d encountered. But she and her black soul had simply chosen not to save anyone but herself. I’d stalked her for days, waiting patiently until she’d cast her spell. Only rather than immediate results, I’d set the boomerang on a delay. An hour later, as she’d stood in the middle of the village, bragging to her cult-like following, her soul had been violently ripped away. Her screams had been a lesson for the rest. Forced as it may have been, peace had begun settling in the lands.

I’d hoped to hang around for longer to ensure the change stuck. And if that meant being forced to dine on fresh foods, drink fruity wine, and swim in crystal clear waters… well, that was a sacrifice I’d been willing to make. Unfortunately for me and my island tan, I’d been poofed to puritan hell, and I still had no clue why. “Did you uncover something?” my brother Dubhloach asked. Thanatos looked between us. “Joseph Martin. High member of the church, and higher member of Absolve. He is who we are after.” The familiar buzz of excitement and adrenaline surged through me. “Are you sure?” He nodded, gesturing down to a stack of books.

I knew each word had been handwritten by him, and his notes would be meticulous. “Everything connects back to him.” “Then let’s go kick his ass. Where is the dumb motherfucking douche?” Thanatos’ brows raised, his head cocking to the side. “What?” I gestured around my head. “Sorry, my brain keeps pulling things from the future.” “It does not sound like a future I wish to experience.” You poor, sweet bastard. You have no idea how wrong you are. My ability to read into the future had always been limited.

The world was ever-changing, each action causing a different reaction. But some things, fates which were set in stone, I could easily see. For then, at least. There’d come a time when I could see even less. Large gaps were already beginning to form, stretching for years and years. When I did get glimpses, they were hazy and random. My gift. My burden. It would soon be gone. “Sister of mine,” Thanatos whispered, gaining my attention as he studied me.

“What has you so upset?” I shook my head. “Nothing.” He knew I was lying. He could read emotions with ease, as if they were written on a page. Based on the way my other brothers watched me, it didn’t take his skill to pick up on my sadness. “I miss the beach,” I muttered, compounding my lie. “This place is depressing, and the clothes make me sad.” He shook his head but let me off the hook. “We need to devise a plan.” “Burn the place.

” My suggestion went ignored, my jump to violence and destruction expected. Pf t. Violence is always the answer. “We need to be mindful of the innocent people around,” Lenuson said, again surprising no one. Lenuson was my exact opposite, physically and mentally. He was tall, while I was… size-efficient. His coloring was fair, my own was fiery. Where I called for well-deserved destruction, his focus was on protecting others. And, in that moment, while I bounced on my toes, ready to kick some ass, he was calm and cool. The only tell of his anxiety was the coin he flipped between his fingers, passing it along his knuckles over and over again.

Thanatos shuffled through his books, pulling one from the pile. Fanning out the pages, he grabbed two loose pieces of paper and brought them to his large table, unfolding each and carefully laying them out. Whoa. One was the layout of the town, each building and landmark labeled. And, from the looks of it, drawn to scale. The other was a detailed, hand drawn blueprint of a church, including numerous hidden doors. Dubhloach came to look over my shoulder. He reached around me to point out three entry points. “We should part ways.” “No.

” Lenuson used his finger to circle a spot near the church. “Too many people gather here. We can send them away, but that does not guarantee more will not come while we are inside. We cannot risk it.” I rolled my eyes. “This would be simpler if we could just transport inside,” Dubhloach said. Thanatos didn’t look away from his papers as he shook his head. “I have made attempts, but there is something in the church that prevents it.” “I’ll still try,” I said. Though my brother was the strongest of us, my magicks were more advanced.

“But we need another plan, too.” Lenuson tapped two of the entrances. “Descend from each side.” “Why, brother, would we not utilize all three? We tell people to leave, and they will,” Dubhloach said. “Especially if Thanatos is giving the order.” “Parting into two is just as good.” “No—” I started, but Lenuson and Dubhloach were locked in a sibling bickering match. Despite his calm exterior, the coin began to move faster across Lenuson’s knuckles. “We need to think about—” “We know, we know,” Dubhloach snapped. “We need to think about the safety of the townspeople.

Yes. That is why we must hastily take down the threat. Splitting up three ways will allow us to do that, even if—” “Do not speak your next words, brother.” As their argument heated, I looked to Thanatos. He often acted as peacekeeper and, when that failed, referee. But his focus was on the maps and notes, his lips turned down. Growing concerned and annoyed, I stood on a wooden stool. Even with the added height, I wasn’t as tall as my brothers, but it helped. “Enough!” The only sound in the suddenly silent room was the clang of Lenuson’s heavy coin falling to the ground. Landing on its edge, it rolled along the stone floor.

I watched, breath held, waiting to see how it would land. Heads or tails. Good luck or bad. When it finally stopped, it didn’t fall. It stayed perfectly on its side, and not because it was caught in a crack or crevice. “Well, ain’t that some shit?” I muttered. “What?” Lenuson asked. “Nothing.” I shook my head to clear it before getting back to the topic at hand. “We kick down the front door and go in together.

” “That makes us vulnerable,” Dubhloach said. “It also makes us more powerful. A united front.” “But—” “No,” Thanatos interrupted Dubhloach. “She is correct. We need all the power we can get.” “Splitting up is advantageous because of the element of surprise,” I pointed out. “But as soon as we breach the entrance—and likely before—we lose that advantage anyway. He’ll know we’re there and will have time to prepare. If we’re separated, he’ll have a shot at picking us off one by one.

We’re not talking about a regular man. Not anymore.” Dubhloach tipped his head, silently conceding. Hopping off the stool, I turned the map so I could see it better. I studied the layout and rooms before pointing to a smaller one. “Here.” “You think that is where Martin is?” Lenuson tapped a large room. “Two exits and more space.” “Two exits also means two entrances. And the large windows leave him exposed.

” I grabbed a carved figure and set it on the map, right in the center of the small room. Taking another figure, I touched it to my lips as I thought. My brothers remained uncharacteristically quiet, letting me do my thing. “Here.” I put the figure on the side entrance, moving it as I spoke. “We take this path. Once we’re in, we need to be prepared for anything. He won’t go peacefully.” And I can’t fucking wait. For the next few hours, my brothers and I went over every contingency we could imagine.

We planned for the unplannable. The thrum of adrenaline grew to a constant flow the closer we got to sundown. Standing and stretching my tight muscles, I looked out the window. Dusk had settled, just a peek of sunlight still on the horizon. A few kids played outside, likely to be called home before long. Small clusters of people milled about, but they’d be heading home any minute. In puritan hell, being out after dark was scandalous. The devout and righteous retired to their separate beds early to ensure they lived sin free, wasting the gift of life they’d been given. A gift I’d kill for. A gift I had killed for.

When The Four were sent into the world to do the dirty work, we’d been promised an eventual reward. Our other halves. The holder of half our souls. Our one true loves. The whole fated-mate, written-in-the-stars thingy. It wasn’t as romantic as it sounded. Living with half a soul made me keenly aware of what I was missing. It was lonely. Painful. Frustrating AF.

Our promised mates—the keys to finally being whole—were carrots the bosses dangled in front of us. And, jackasses that we were, we kept chasing, hoping to finally catch them. But no matter how well we did our jobs, our rewards were always just out of reach. We were puppets. The powers that be pulled our strings, we did the song and dance, and ‘when the time’s right’ we’d get our other half. I’d damn sure be getting mine, even if it meant kicking a little angel ass. But first, I’d be kicking Absolve ass, taking down evil, and rescuing souls. “It’s time,” I said, a slow smile spreading across my face. The tightness inside me loosened, the menace flowing freely through my veins. Fueling me.

Amping me up. Giving me questionable and, frankly, inappropriate tingles in the region covered by painfully itchy bloomers. But whatever. Fact was, I was heading out to do what I was made to do. And I couldn’t fucking wait. My brothers and I didn’t gear up in protective armor. Nor did we pack our bodies with weapons. We didn’t need them, and they would do nothing against our enemy. Filing from the house, we began the short walk to the church. Dubhloach and Lenuson took the lead, bickering about something.

I slowed my steps until I was next to Thanatos. Glancing up at my brother, I expected to see joy. Anger. Excitement. Morbid anticipation of death. Instead, his lips were pressed in a tight line, his jaw was clenched, and his brows furrowed. “I bet you’re anxious to be done with this place,” I said. He jolted slightly, as if he hadn’t realized I was there. “Whoa.” I stopped, grabbing his arm so he would, too.

“Is something wrong? Are you doubting the plan? Because we need your head in this. It’s not too late, we can pull back and regroup.” He shook his head, and the rage I’d been expecting took over his features. Sinister to my menace. “It is far too late,” he practically growled. “Now that we have him, I wait no longer.” “Then what’s wrong, brother of mine?” Some of the edge left his expression. Staring across the town to our destination, he seemed a million miles—or hundreds of years—away. “I thought I would find her.” “Her? Your other…” “In my home… It was the oddest thing.

I could feel her, though she was nowhere close. I expected to come home to find her waiting.” There was a shadow in his eyes. Loneliness. Pain. Frustration. The four of us bore the same shadow as we carried our burden, waiting for the powers to fulfill their promise. “But she is not here,” he said as we began walking again. “Not in this place. I do not even think she is of this time.

I… I cannot describe it.” “I’m sorry,” I whispered, unable to say more. I wanted to, so badly. But the future was my burden. “We’ll kick some ass and then celebrate. Maybe one of these women will show you a little ankle.” Although he rolled his eyes, his lips tipped up. It kept growing as we neared the church, twisting into a sinister sneer. His eyes were sharp, and his head was back in the game. It was almost time.

Reaching the doorway, I closed my eyes and tried to poof inside. My body tingled before I slammed into a figurative wall. Ouch. Discreetly, I rubbed my tits because for a figurative wall, it sure as hell hurt like a real one. “I told you,” Thanatos said. “I have never experienced anything like that.” “On the islands, the churches and holy grounds were warded. They knew what magicks were capable of, and so they blocked all of it—not just the dark.” “Will we be able to defeat him if our powers are useless?” Lenuson asked. “Together.

As I said.” Shaking my head, I muttered, “You act like I’m not the smartest one here.” “And the most bothersome,” Dubhloach added. We fell silent as we followed the path I’d set on the map. The closer we got, the harder walking became. Each step was like fighting against a strong wave, and then like trudging through thick molasses, before finally each step seemed to pull us back like quicksand. The hair on my arms stood, an electrical current zipping up and down my spine, stealing my breath. Hate filled my heart. Darkness filled my head—intrusive thoughts fighting to take me down. But our power was stronger.

Lighter. Reaching the door, I grabbed the handle and stopped. Froze. Like lightning through my head, each thought shot by in a blur. The room. The fight. A world in ruin. Blackness. So much blackness. The coin on its side.

“Juno, what is it?” Thanatos asked, prying my hand from the handle to exam it, checking for injury. “Evil will not win tonight,” I said, my voice void of emotion, “but neither will good. Like a coin on its side, we’ll be stuck in purgatory.” “Should we retreat?” I shook my head. “If we do not fight this night, evil will conquer all. Unspeakable horror awaits the world if we fail.” Despair filled my chest, my sanity haunted by the image of the world in ruin. “We will prevail,” Lenuson vowed. “We have no other choice.” Looking at each of my brothers, I wondered if it would be the last time I saw them.

This isn’t a battle. This is war.

.

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