HERE I GO AGAIN

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New Orleans, 2010

 

She had needed to get away, somewhere that no one knew her, somewhere where she would be known as she wanted to be, not for the problems of her past.

The coven hated her now, seeing her as a traitor and a disgrace to their name. it didn’t matter that she was the most powerful Witch to have been born in more than a century, or that having her as their high priestess was the biggest kudos they could ever have, they had still expected her to toe the line, to be a good little figurehead and do as she was told, when she was told, without having a single thought of her own in her little head. Like that would ever happen.

The mantle of High Priestess was a heavy one, ostensibly it meant you were the head of the coven, the boss, the big cheese, not the little puppet that they had tried to turn her into.  The Clements family had been involved with the coven for centuries, but they had never advanced much past general dogsbodies, just loyal followers that filled the ranks. They were never rich enough or powerful enough to be anything else. That was until she had been born.

From a young age she had surprised almost everyone with her unique mixture of abilities. You see, each Witch in the world is born with something called a core power, I’m talking natural Witches, not their pagan or wiccan cousins that practice a religion as well as the craft. No, natural Witches are something else entirely.

A Witch’s core power is like a special talent that they have stronger than anything else, an affinity to an element, an ability to command a certain breed of animal, a gift of the magical kind like premonitions or the like. Something that is rare and special. Of course, they have the usual gifts that Witches have, divination, basic control over the elements, and spell work. But a core power is something more.  And Willow didn’t have just one, she had many, so many that they still hadn’t discovered them all. It seemed that when she had a need for a gift, it manifested itself. Simple as that. No training nor power channelling could compare.

The coven had had a choice, bring her in deeper, elevate her higher and use her to their advantage, or risk her overshadowing and overpowering them all in a few short years. They made their choice. At 18 she was the youngest High Priestess in the history of the coven.

And now, at 25 she was away from home for the first time, disgraced, with her powers bound to a bare minimum and nothing but some a few investments to live off of. She had wanted, no, needed to be as far away from her magical community as possible, but still within one. Magic users, in fact all supernatural beings, usually looked out for one another, and she needed that stability more than anything.

She had chosen the one place that was full to bursting with people like her, where she wouldn’t stand out as unusual or weird, where she wouldn’t be picked on for her beliefs or abilities. She had cashed in a few shares and boarded a plane, one way, heading to New Orleans.

She had found herself a room in a kind of boarding house for recent imports, a place where beings from the hidden world could stay in safety. There was no fighting allowed there, it was sanctuary of sorts, called a neutral ground, where everyone was welcome. She knew there was other such places, like a Casino in Vegas, and all around the world, but this place had called to her. Something in the back of her mind had told her this was the place to be.

As a Witch belonging to the coven, she had been forbidden to interact with anyone else from the magical community, so being in a building where a Demon was her next-door neighbour and she had to fight a selkie for the bathroom was an experience that had taken a bit of getting used to. Yet the place felt like home, immediately she had loved it, loved the city, loved the people, loved the atmosphere and the acceptance. She was where she belonged.

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The shop bell jingled behind her as the door closed. Wills loved late night shopping, especially when it was witchy shopping. The herbs and oils she had just purchased were to be the base of her latest spell, one to open the third eye. Even though she had promised the coven (one of the conditions of her being allowed to leave) to not try to break her bindings in any way, yet the temptation was just too great. She felt wrong, like she was running on half battery all the time, no matter how much sleep she got, how well she ate, how much she communed with nature, she still felt like she had the beginnings of a cold, but permanently. She was out of their jurisdiction now, and hope that even if they did catch on to what she as doing, they wouldn’t be able to do anything to stop her.

She was a wise girl for her age, one that had always felt like she had more knowledge than she had ever been taught, buried just below the surface of her mind, and with this came the desire for even more. She researched everything the second she left the rigid rules of the coven. And she was so glad she did.

As she was no longer a coven member, she was free from their rules, no longer answerable to them or under their control. The moment they freed her, exiling her from England and their community, she had entered the world. She had known that there were other beings out there, they had learnt about some of them, but she didn’t know that they had a Council, a governing body that both protected them and policed them. The first thing she had done was register with the council and explain her situation as to why they had never heard of her before. They had been understanding and helpful. While they had no say over the coven and what they did -unless they needed to intervene due to the secrecy act or the coven broke their rules- they had say over her now that she was free. They told her to do whatever she wanted to try to break the binding, they couldn’t order the coven to break it, and id the coven tried to enforce their rule on her, then the Council would step in. Basically, the Council was the bigger force and if pushed, they would steam roller over the coven and squash it flat. The coven would do better to just let her go and ignore her.

She pulled out her phone, sending one of her neighbours, a sweet fae named Drinda, a text to let her know she was on her way. They were meeting for dinner at a nearby restaurant and as usual Wills was running late.

Distracted by her phone she stepped out of the shop doorway and into the street, where she was almost knocked over by a blonde-haired man who was being chased by a big guy with dark hair. Neither looked inclined to stop.

Yelping, she dived out of their path and into the alley beside the shop.

“Fucking lunatics,” she yelled after them, her heart hammering in her chest from the sudden shock of almost being run down by to speeding dickheads.

Tucking her phone in her pocket she turned to pick up her bag which she had dropped sometime during her wild flying-leap to safety. She grabbed the bag and tried to hoist it into her shoulder, it was one of those big monstrosities that was more like a holdall than a handbag, big enough to hold any shopping, snacks or tools she might need, along with the kitchen sink and probably a small bathtub if she was that way inclined. The bag declined to be hoisted. Stupid thing.

Stamping her foot, she gave it a hard tug, feeling the handle tug back. Stupid thing must be stuck on something. Never one to let anything get the better of her, she yanked will all her might, giving herself a little magical boost of strength channelled directly from the earth.

The bag strap lost its fight and gave up with a whimper of defeat, snapping in the middle. The sudden release sent her stumbling backwards. Trying to steady herself she tripped over something heavy and unyielding and fell. She put her hands down to stop herself from crashing too hard into the ground, but to her horror she just kept on falling.

Feeling rather like Alice falling down her rabbit hole, she manged, with much flailing of arms and legs, to grab her bag as it sailed along next to her, and twist over so she was at least able to see where she was falling to.

The world around her streamed past her face, a disjointed blur that seemed to have no real substance at all. Up ahead she saw a bright light, so bright that at first she thought her time was up, this was the light you saw and was told to avoid by little old ladies with high pitched voices. No, no, light is bad.

She tried to turn, to kick at the light, like karate chopping the fucking thing would do the slightest bit of good. She could see it now, she’d land before a bunch of dickhead angels that were there to determine her fate and she’d come in screaming like Xena and trying to wax on/ wax off herself out of the situation.

The light swallowed her, like she was nothing, a minor being munched by a shark. The light squeezed in around her on all sides, forcing her bag into her chest where she had wrapped her arms around it. the only thought in her head at that point was that now she knew what toothpaste felt like when being squeezed out of its tube.

She couldn’t breathe, she was stifled, smothered on all sides…POP. She was launched out of the tube light as if fired from a cannon, dropping heavily onto the ground with a thud that knocked the wind out of her, leaving her dazed.

Some time later she became aware of the buzz of conversation around her and the sound of cutlery clinking against china.

 

Was heaven a restaurant?

Groaning, she lifted her head and looked around. She appeared to be in the middle of some kind of medieval hall. Rows of tables with benches took up most of the space and almost every seat was filled.

Pulling on her inner determination, she managed to lever herself up in a wobbly version of a push up, lifting her top half then getting her knees up and under until she was kneeling. There, that was half the battle right there, at least she wasn’t still spread out on the floor like a rug. Not far now, girl, she encouraged herself, just like she did when she was trying desperately to touch the floor during a sun salutation, and with a pained moan, she got to her feet.

Now that she was upright, she could see the room more clearly. The walls were cavern like, not smooth stone walls like a castles, which was what she had been expecting, but jagged and dark, like they were carved directly out of rock. There were sconces on the walls that held flickering candles, which had probably been the reason she had thought herself to be in a freaking Tudor banqueting hall, but there were strangely modern touches that ruined the image.

Instead of the wooden platters and bowls she had expected, there was, as she had heard, proper dinner sets on the tables, real china and silverware. There were candles dotted here and there along the center of the tables too, but mobile phones sat beside plates, and she could now hear music coming from speakers attached to the walls.

Where the fuck was she?

“Where the hell am I?” she demanded, looking all around.

 

Raucous laughter was her answer.

“Am I speaking English?” her hands found their way to her hips as she raked them all with her best glare. Not that they seemed to give a shit. A range of sizes, races and sexes, the assembled beings, for she could feel a steady hum of power filling the room like a low level fog, didn’t seem to care that she had dropped out of their ceiling… she glanced up to see nothing but rock, just like the walls, how the fuck had she come through that relatively unharmed?

“What did I fall through?” she asked out loud, more to herself than for want of an answer.

“Hell Gate,” someone piped up, making her jump. She spun around, seeing a tall female Demon, her skin as pale as milk with fiery red hair that Wills was sure was a lot more natural than her own red and black locks, but it was her bright red eyes that gave her away for the being that she was.

“A Hell Gate? As in an actual gate into actual Hell? You’re fucking kidding me. This is all I need.” She threw her hands up in disgust. Only she could be stupid enough to fall through a fucking Hell Gate and end up in an actual Demon infested Hell. Really, she was too dumb to live sometimes.

The Demon didn’t seem inclined to continue the conversation, ignoring Willows dramatics, pushing past her to take a seat at one of the long tables, grabbing at a chicken leg which she began to gnaw on.

“Nice table manners you have there,” Wills commented, earning her a glare from the Demon. That’s great, Wills, she berated herself, piss off a room full of Demons, that’s the way to get help.

Biting her lip to stop any more sarcastic remarks from spilling forth, she tried another tact.

“Who’s in charge here? There had been some mistake, I don’t belong here, for one this isn’t my pantheon that I can tell, if I was to die I should be meeting with Charon, not falling through a hole in the ceiling like a bag of rubbish tossed down a garbage chute.”

Again, she was ignored.

“Hellllllo, am I talking to myself?”

Apparently, the answer to that was yes.

“Fine,” she huffed, tying the broken strap of her bag together and slinging it over her shoulder. “I’ll find my own way out, or at least the person in charge. Believe me, the Council will be hearing about this.”

The Demons seemed not to care about the Council or anything they could do to them, not that Wills really blamed them. From what she could gather she was in a different realm entirely, and that meant a different ruling body, the Council had no jurisdiction there.

Having made her big announcement, she had no choice but to carry out her threats, forcing herself to walk out of the hall and into the corridor outside. The walls were again made of stone, looking to be carved out of a mountain or even the earth itself.

One corridor seemed to lead to another, the whole place like a rabbit warren, twisting and turning back on itself, designed to confuse any visitors that weren’t supposed to be there.

Try as she might, she couldn’t find a way out.

She pulled her phone out of her pocket, checking the time, it had been six hours since she had text Drinda, so probably about the same since she had been stuck in the Hell realm, and in all that time she hadn’t seen anything that looked like an exit.

Tired, both physically and mentally, and having no other choice, she sat herself down on the floor, her back against the wall. This couldn’t be the end for her, there was no way. She hadn’t escaped a controlled, limited life just to become a prisoner in another way. Honestly, she’d rather die than be stuck at someone’s mercy again.

“Think, Wills, think.” How did you get someone to free you? Well, apparently the coven was done with her when she had become more trouble than she was worth, when she hadn’t toed the line, hadn’t done as they commanded. In short, when she had begun to think for herself.

Could she do the same here? Would it be possible for one little Witch to piss off an entire realm of Demons so much that they would toss her back out of their realm to save their sanity? She guessed anything was possible if you put your mind to it. It was that or they might kill her, but really, she could wait to die down here, or go out with a bang, surely a quick death was better than starving?

                                                                                                                                ***

Havoc, thy name is Willow. And look where it had landed her. She looked around the room in which she had been tossed, the door firmly locked behind her.

It was little more than a cell, no windows obviously, but then she hadn’t seen one window in the entire place since she had fallen down there. There was a rickety army style camp bed in the corner with a thin, itchy looking blanket and a pillow so flat she wasn’t entirely sure that it had ever been puffy. A chamber pot sat under the bed, but so far she had refused to use it. she hadn’t eaten or drunk anything in days, or so it felt like. Her phone had died within hours of being there, constantly searching for a non-existent signal had run the battery down in record time. She had rummaged in her bag, managing to find a couple of cereal bars and a half-drunk bottle of cherry coke. Not exactly a feast, but at least it was something. She had managed to make her meagre rations last for a long time, by eating only a bite at a time and taking one sip of the drink, but they had long since run out and she was getting desperate.

Pissed off, she got up and stomped her way across the room, which took her all of two seconds, really it was the tiniest room she had ever been in, four steps and she had reached the door.

Using her fists, she hammered on the door, taking out all her frustrations on it, yelling and pounding until her hands were stinging, her skin feeling bruised and raw.

“If you aren’t going to let me out, the least you could do is FEED THE FUCKING WITCH!” she screamed the last, hoping that anger would stop her from bursting into tears.

“Here.”

A voice from behind her made her jump as if she had been shot. Spinning round she saw a tall man standing there, taking up almost all of the spare space the little room had to offer.

“How the fuck did you get in here?”

“Well that’s rude. I came bearing gifts and all you care about is where I came from.” His voice was like nothing she had ever heard before, it was a rich, deep baritone that held an accent that she just couldn’t place. Each word he uttered was precise and fully formed, although they held a touch of sharpness to them, much like the Demons in the hall had.

He’s a Demon. She wanted to run, but honestly, the door was still shut, there was no where to go even if she had wanted to, unless she wanted to run around the room like something from a cartoon. Even she had more dignity than that. If he, or anyone there for that matter, had wanted to harm her they would have done it already. She hadn’t made things easy for them, it must have taken them hours to clean up the mess she had made in one of the few bathrooms she had found. Wet toilet paper was a bastard to get off any ceiling, let alone one made of jagged, rough rock. She smiled evilly to herself as she recalled the flooded floors, the toilets having been stuffed with paper towels and then flushed repeatedly, the toilet paper unravelled and draped everywhere she could reach, all of the soap dispensers pumped until empty, covering the sinks and then dripping down to the floors. Teenage girls in school had nothing on her.

So really, she didn’t think she had that much to fear from the being in front of her. he radiated power, waves of it lapping against her skin like a warm caress. He was taller than she was, which was something she had never really seen before she had come to New Orleans and joined the supernatural community, being 5ft 11 she had been used to towering over almost everyone in the coven. She guessed he had to be somewhere in the region of 6ft 8, maybe more.

He had broad shoulders, but not so big that he reminded her of the hulk, she didn’t like that bulging type. His face was what she would call classically handsome, and by that she meant that he had the old-fashioned air that so many immortals carried, like he belonged in another time, even though he wore jeans, a Metallica t-shirt and a heavy looking leather jacket.

His skin was the colour of a pale latte, his hair a dark, dark brown that looked almost black, but she could tell that in the right light it would display a rich blend of colours.

His face was all harsh angles, his nose long and his cheekbones and jaw sharp. Dark, angled eyebrows sat above eyes so amazing she could barley look away from them. They held her captured, the colour not the red of an average Demon, but a pale grey, almost silver. She could see so much wisdom and experience in those eyes, more than she could possibly fathom. Who, or what, was he?

“You said something about a gift?” she asked, careful of her words. Beware of strange being bearing gifts, it was something to live by. Demons very rarely, if ever, gave something for nothing, a gift was practically unheard of for them.

The man held up a bag of cookies in one hand a large bottle of milk in another.

She loved him! She didn’t care what he was or where he had come from, at that moment in time he was the best thing that had ever happened to her!

Without thinking, she launched herself at him, leaping up to wrap her legs around his waist, her arms winding around his neck. Before he had a chance to blink or do what any sensible person would do and fling the mad Witch away, she dropped her lips to his, kissing him with everything she had. She felt him stiffen in her embrace, but she was far too grateful to care.

He had food, he had come to help her, he was the first one to even talk to her and he had food! Talking of food. She tore her lips from his and dropped down to the ground, grabbing the bag of cookies which still dangled from his hand and scuttled off to sit on the camp bed.

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Z stood there, blinking slowly. Very rarely was he ever rendered speechless, but this Witch had managed to do just that. She obviously had zero clue who he was, or she wouldn’t have gone near him, no one ever did unless they had pain in mind.

Her body, from what he had felt of it as she squashed herself against his chest, had been luscious, soft and curved in all the right places, and warm, so warm. He could practically feel the goodness inside her, she radiated a purity of spirit that he hadn’t seen in years. She reminded him of someone very dear to him, something about her excited exuberance and lack of inhibitions called to him in the same way. He licked his lips, catching a trace of her sweetness lingering there.

He couldn’t remember the last time that someone had kissed him like that, not voluntarily anyway, or without some ulterior motive, he never kissed his sexual partners or those he fed from. He should stay away from her, to do anything else would be to encourage her, he knew what women were like, but no matter what his head said, his body didn’t seem to be listening.

His legs carried him the few steps from the center of the room to the cot on which she sat, her legs curled up yoga style and she had the bag of cookies cradled in her lap like a baby.

He knew she hadn’t eaten in days, he’d heard of her antics around the realm and what she had done to force them to toss her in this hole, but instead of stuffing the cookies in her mouth like the ravenous beasts he must be, she was savouring them, nibbling delicately.

He’d been watching her for days, not that she would know that, and had found her rather amusing. Her antics had given him the first real laugh he’d had in years. The Demons of the realm had despaired, and Ereshkigal had now sent him to ‘deal with the Witch’ he knew that she meant for him to just kill the Witch and be done with it, but he didn’t see the need to go that far. She hadn’t done anything to deserve death, even though he knew that in the past he had killed for much less. something was drawing him to her and he didn’t know what it was. Which confused him and pissed him off in equal measure, he wasn’t used to not knowing everything about a person or a situation. Yet he couldn’t seem to force himself to turn around and leave.

Without knowing why, he sat down beside her, stretching his legs out, leaning back against the wall. He reached for a cookie, but she grabbed at the bag, holding to her chest, her possessive growl of warning giving him the surprising urge to laugh.

“Urghh, fine,” she offered the bag to him, allowing him to take a cookie. “You did bring them, so I guess the least I could do is share.”

“Thank you,” he took a bite of the cookie, chewing before he spoke again. “You could say it too.”

Wills looked at the guy, one eyebrow raised. “I did.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“I so did, I gave you a kiss, that’s better than words any day.” She finished the cookie she had been eating and held out her hand. “Pass the milk?”

He handed her the bottle.

“Now will you say it?”

She glared at him over the bottle as she took a sip. “I thought we just covered that.”

She was getting annoyed, he could tell, her tone filled with attitude, yet it didn’t bother him like it would with anyone else. He was used to people cowering before him, begging his indulgence, offering him anything in exchange for his help. But not this one. She showed zero fear, and oddly enough, he found that he liked it.

“One kiss for one bag of cookies.”

“So what, you want a blowie for some milk?” she snorted, taking another cookie, handing him back the milk bottle.

Well, that suggestion raised some interesting thoughts in his head.

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Wills watched as a sly grin formed on the male’s lips, showing that he might be taking her suggestion more seriously than she had intended him too.

“Not that I was offering,” she added quickly, hoping he didn’t get the wrong idea. She took a deep breath, realising that she was probably pissing off the one person that had treated her semi-decently since she had been there. “Thank you, for the milk and the cookies.”

He inclined his head in response to her thanks and took another cookie.

“So, anyway, thanks for taking pity on me, you’re the first person to talk to me in days. I’m Willow by the way.” She held out her hand in greeting, which he dutifully shook, even though the look on his face said eh might be doubting her sanity. She supposed he might have a point, most people didn’t kiss first then shake hands after, but honestly, she hardly ever did things by the book. Since she had left the coven she went out of her way to be as contrary and wild as possible. To her, this was the start of her life and she was determined to enjoy every second of it.

“Do you have a name?” she prompted.

He looked like he wanted to refuse, but eventually he answered.

“Z.”

“Z? Just Z, one letter? Like Cher or Madonna?”

“Zagan, my name is Zagan, but most call me Z.” He pronounced it Zay-gan and she picked up on that.

“Can I call you Zay?”

Again, he looked like he wanted to refuse, but eventually he nodded. “I feel like I have little choice in the matter, I’m sure you would call me much worse if you felt the urge.”

She shrugged, that was probably true, so why deny it?

She couldn’t help but stare at him as he took a swig from the milk bottle, seeming unconcerned to be sharing it with her, though since they had just shared a kiss, she doubted a drink would be a problem.

The thought of their spontaneous kiss brought her attention to his mouth. It was a firm mouth, one that looked like it could twist into a sneer with very little encouragement, in fact, his whole demeanour gave the impression that he was very much a badass, like messing with him would be a very big mistake and likely the last one you would ever make. She should fear him, she should be cautious, but she found it almost impossible.

There was something about him that felt almost familiar, sure there was an air of danger about him, but she felt…safe. That was the closest word she could find. He was perfect to look at, well, to her at least, just the kind of man that she could look at for hours.

Having him next to her on the bed was close to torture. Shifting, she handed him the bag of cookies, now almost half empty and stretched out, mimicking his pose. His legs were longer than hers, which was difficult for most people to achieve, but she liked it. She could actually wear heels with him and not feel like a mum taking their kid to school as she always had on the few dates she had actually been on.

Why was she thinking about dates with this man? She didn’t even know him. But she was unable to deny that there had been an instant attraction for her, something that made her feel all gooey inside, made her tummy flip every time he spoke, sent a shiver up her spine every time he moved and his arm brushed against hers, even through the layer of leather that separated them.

She wanted to kiss him again. It was crazy, but there it was. She already knew that his lips were gorgeously soft and inviting, even though he looked the type to be hard all over. Those hard lines to his jaw, hard rasp to his voice, stubborn curl to his lips when he had argued with her about her lack of gratitude, and the way he stiffened when she touched him. Wills was a very physically expressive person (point proven by the fact that she had thrown herself at him the second he offered her food) and an empath, one that relied on her psychic skills to tell her what people were thinking or feeling, so she often touched someone on the arm or held their hand in an effort to get read on them. But each time she touched Zagan he pulled away, physically flinching from her. It was almost like he was sacred to be touched.

                                                                                                                                    ***

Z wanted to kick his own arse for being so stupid. What was he doing sitting eating cookies and drinking milk with a Witch that had fallen into the Hell realm that he called home? The longer he sat with her, the more he talked to her, the more drawn to her he became, and that was all kinds of dangerous. He had to get her out of there, away from the realm and him.

He sent the cookies and milk away with a wave of his hand, noting with interest the way her eyes widened in surprise. Was that the first time she had ever seen something like that? It was a very mundane act to one such as him, the equivalent of a mortal pulling a coin from behind a child’s ear or stealing their nose. She was obviously a natural Witch, he could feel the power inside her, although it was well hidden, so she would have grown up around other supernaturals. She was way too sweet and innocent for her own good. He needed to get her away from this place, and fast.

He stood up, holding out his hand to her.

She looked at it like it might explode, then up at him, her large blue eyes staring into his own.

“Where are you taking me? Was that my last meal before I’m put to death or something?”

“Well, you did let all the Hell hounds out of their cages and lead them to the kitchens- “

“They were hungry!”

“And you did delete all the music from the sound system and replace it with polka tunes- “

“The Demons needed to dance, all they did was sit around and eat.”

“And you did paint purple hearts on half a dozen swords using what appears to be nail polish- “

“I was making them pretty!”

“So really, I do think the best thing I can do with you is get you out of here before you cause any more trouble.”

“You can’t do that! I won’t let you…” she paused, letting his words sink in. “You’ll get me out of here? Won’t you get in trouble for it? What do you want in return? I really was joking about that blowjob.”

Oh, how he wished it really had been a genuine offer, just the thought of her luscious lips surrounding his cock made it stiffen in his jeans. He wondered what it would be like with her? She had a foul mouth, but a purity to her that showed she was innocent in many ways, nothing like the Demons he usually bedded. He’d had a couple of humans over the years, a rare few that had broken through his defences. He could probably force her, bargain with her, a few more days here with no food or water -every Demon had been banned from going near her- she would be desperate enough to give him anything he wanted. Was he that much in need of a soft touch or a gentle kiss to do such a thing? It was tempting, oh so tempting…

“You will pay me in brownies and as much coffee as I can drink, whenever I want it.”

“Coffee and brownies? Are you serious, is that all you want? Why can’t you make your own?”

He shrugged, much as she had done earlier. “It seems that I am physically incapable of making coffee that doesn’t have the taste and consistency of mud, the one thing that I’m not perfect at.”

“Just coffee and brownies?”

He nodded. “Just that.”

“Deal,” she reached her hand out, catching his, sliding her fingers between his own to hold his hand, letting him pull her to her feet.

“How is this going to work? Because I apparently fell through a Hell Gate and it wasn’t a pleasant experience.” She reached under the bed, grabbing the mutilated strap of her bag and hoisted it onto her shoulder. “I don’t really want to know what its like to be sucked back through the ceiling and tossed back out into a dirty alley. I’ve been through enough, don’t you think? I’m very delicate you know.”

Zagan didn’t seem too moved by her theatrics, although he did drop her hand.

“Wait, no, don’t you dare leave me here!”

“Why not?” He stepped out of the way, and that was when she realised that they were no longer in her little cell, but on the street outside her building.

“What? How did you do that?”

“Just one of the perks of being me. Don’t forget our deal.”

“I won’t, I promise. Thank…” he faded from view before she had even finished speaking, “…you.”

                                                                                                                                 ***

She let herself into her room, greeted immediately by her cats, who alternated between winding around her legs, very pleased to see her, and screaming at her for food. Their crunchie bowl was empty, as was their water bowl, but their litter tray was beyond full, a couple of ripe poo’s having made their way onto the carpet.

She fed Ares and Athena first, their gulping, comping noises still audible in the hallway as she emptied their litter into a bag and took it downstairs to the garbage cans out back.

Back in the room she filled up their water bowl and then their litter tray with fresh litter, before plugging her dead phone into the charger. She had 6 messaged from Drina and one from her mother, which she ignored. Texting Drina an apology, promising to catch her up on where she had been next time they met up.

Wills was hungry, but being her, she had very little food in the shared kitchen, she had learnt the lesson soon after moving in, living in a building and sharing a kitchen with other beings meant that nothing was safe, especially when a Shifter lived down the hall, he would eat anything when he felt hungry, regardless of who it belonged to. Needing food and a strong drink, maybe several, she left the room, promising the cats that she would be back.

The ground floor of the building was taken up with a bar that served pretty decent food at a reasonable price, which would have been enough to make her a regular there anyway, but the fact that it was owned by the same family of Shifters that run the boarding house, made it all the better. She had spent almost every night there since she had moved in, meeting new people, learning more about other species and their gifts.

                                                                                                                        ***

She went straight to the bar and took a seat, pleased to see that it wasn’t too busy at that hour. She ordered her favourite drink, a black cat cocktail, and a burger with fries. She gulped the drink down as soon as the Panther Shifter placed it in front of her, then ordered another.

“Tough day?” a voice beside her asked.

She turned to see a young, blonde lady who was sipping from a bottle of beer. She had a half-eaten pizza in front of her, which she pushed closer to offer a slice.

Gratefully taking a slice, Wills took a bite and chewed before answering.

“You have no idea just how tough it’s been, I was stuck in Hell, literally.”

“Been there,” the blond commented, lifting her beer bottle to clink against Will’s glass before taking another slice of pizza for herself.

They ate in companionable silence for a few minutes before the blonde spoke again. “I’m Myst.”

“Willow.”

“So, want to tell me about this bad day?”

Wills snorted. “You sure you got all night?”

Myst shrugged. “I got nothing better to do.”

Wills nodded, then narrowed her eyes at the woman, engaging her psychic sight, checking that she was indeed a member of the hidden world and not just a human that had wandered in off the street as many did. The woman was definitely supernatural, but Wills couldn’t tell what branch. Shifter of some kind, judging by the way her aura swirled with a huge mix of colours close to her body, that was typical of most Shifters, but instead of those colours radiating out and growing lighter until the faded away to nothing, the rest of the woman’s aura was gold. Literally gold. A bright, shiny, sunglasses worthy gold.

“Damn!” Wills yelped, shutting her eyes to block out the blinding light as she shut down her sight.

The woman, cow that she was, started to laugh. Wills blinked blurrily at her a few times before she came back into focus.

 

“You could have warned me.”

“And miss out on that face you just pulled? No way.”

“What the fuck are you?”

Myst gave her a look that seemed like it penetrated right down to her soul, like she was accessing her worthiness. She must have been OK with what she saw because she answered. “A Dragon.”

“A Dragon?” Will’s chin almost hit the counter top it dropped so hard and fast. “As in a fire breathing, wing flapping, village burning, Dragon?”

“Well, it’s not like they didn’t have it coming.”

The Dragon ordered them another couple of drinks just as Willow’s burger arrived.

“So, tell me the whole story.”

                                                                                                                                ***

“You actually fell into Hell? Who does that?”

“Me apparently!” Wills threw her hands up in disgust at herself. “I didn’t even know you could fall into Hell, I though you just got there by being an evil shit all your life or after a very bad date.”

Myst sniggered into her beer, they were both a little tipsy now and getting drunker by the second. “When I go to Hell I manage to land on my feet.”

“You go to Hell? Well I hope you have a better time of it than I did. No one talked to me, no one told me how I could get out and once I tried to force them to help me, they threw me in a cell with no food or water for days.”

“Don’t worry, you didn’t do anything wrong, Demons are just arseholes.” Myst necked the last of her beer in two gulps.

“Hey!” a female protested from a couple of stools up.

“Oh, shut up, Leta, you know its true, you’re the biggest bitch I know. Go suck on a holy water ice pop.”

The females eyes glowed red in anger as she glared at Myst, but she didn’t move from her chair.

“Yeah, I thought so.” Myst preened as she turned back to the Witch. “She just knows that I could eat her if I wanted to.”

“You eat Demons?”

Myst shrugged. “Only when they piss me off.”

Willow started to laugh, she couldn’t help it.

The Dragon grinned. “I think I’m gonna like you, Witch.”

“I think I’m gonna like you too, Dragon lady.”

They started on their new drinks, getting their giggle on.

“So how did you get out if the Demons were being dicks?”

“Some guy came and helped me.”

The Dragon looked surprised. “Some guy? So some dude just popped his arse into Hell and whisked you away like a knight in shining armour?”

“Hardly. He appeared in the room with milk and cookies.”

“And then what happened?”

Wills groaned, dropping her head into her hands. “I kissed him.”

“You kissed him! You go girl. You fell into Hell and managed to meet a hot guy. I’m assuming he was hot?”

Wills nodded, still hiding her face. “So hot.” Her words were muffled but distinguishable. “He was just so…grrrr. You know? All hot bad boy in leather and he had food. And I was starving! STARVING!”

“I’m surprised you didn’t eat him if he was that hot.” The Dragon’s eyebrows wiggled in a suggestive manner.

“He thought I was offering him a blowjob for the milk.”

Beer sprayed out all over the bar top as the Dragon laughed.

“Damn, you work fast.”

“I didn’t mean it,” Wills protested. “It really was just a kiss.”

“Did this hunk give you his name?”

Yeah, he said his name was Z, Zagan apparently but everyone calls him Z.”

The Dragon’s eyes widened, then her face split into a grin.

“What? What’s wrong with him? He’s a Demon, isn’t he? I knew it. I snogged a Demon.”

“Witch, you didn’t just snog a Demon, you snogged the Demon.”

Wills face screwed up in puzzlement. “What?”

“Girl, you snogged the King of Hell.”

 

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