Apocalypse Happens

The Phoenix Chronicles (Volume 3)

Lori Handeland

St. Martin's Paperbacks

CHAPTER 1
They are free.
Those words had whispered through my head only a few weeks ago. Taken out of context, the phrase should be uplifting.
Freedom’s good. Right?
Unless you’re talking about demons.
The earth is full of them. They’re called the Neph­ilim. They’re the offspring of the fallen angels—or Grigori—and the daughters of men.
Yes, the angels really fell. Hard. Their story is a perfect illustration of why everyone should toe the proverbial line. Piss off God, wind up in Tartarus—a fiery pit in the lowest level of hell.
Word is God sent the Grigori to keep an eye on the humans. In the end, the angels  were the ones who needed watching. So God banished them from the earth—bam, you’re legend—but he left their progeny behind to test us. Eden was a memory. We’d proved we didn’t deserve it. But I don’t think we deserved the Nephilim either.
Fast-forward a million millennia. The prophecies of Revelation are bearing down on us like runaway horses. Perhaps four of them? No matter what the forces of good do to prevent the end of the world, nothing’s working.
And that’s where I come in.
Elizabeth Phoenix, Liz to my friends. They call me the leader of the light. I got dropped into the middle of this whole Doomsday mess, and I’m having a hel­luva time getting back out.
For reasons beyond mine or anyone  else’s compre­hension, Tartarus opened; the Grigori flew free, and now all hell has broken loose. Literally.
“Dammit, Lizzy! Duck!”
I ducked. Razor-sharp claws swooshed through the air right where my face had been. Not only did I duck, but I rolled also. Good thing too, since seconds later something sliced into the ground right next to me.
I’d come to Los Angeles with Jimmy Sanducci, head demon killer and my second in command, to ferret out a nest of varcolacs. Eclipse demons. Kind of rare con­sidering they hail from Romania, but I’d seen stranger things.
Sure, the smog in LA could be blamed for the dark splotches that kept appearing over the moon and the sun, which is what everyone around here believed. But I knew better.
The varcolac tugged on his arm, trying to free the needlelike appendages he used for fingers from the desert dust. Part human, part dragon, varcolacs are ru­mored to eat the sun and the moon, thus causing said eclipses. And if they ever succeed in actually devour­ing those celestial bodies, the end of the world is nigh. Since I’ve been trying to prevent that, I dragged Jimmy to LA and we started hunting.
Before the varcolac could use his other arm to kill me, Sanducci sliced through his neck. When you’re dealing with Nephilim, head slicing usually worked. At the least, being without a head slowed down even the most determined demon.
Jimmy’s dark gaze met mine. “Get up,” he ordered, before turning away to dispatch more bad guys.
I tried not to let the chill in his eyes bother me. Sanducci would never allow anything to hurt me; he’d loved me once. Right now, however, love was no lon­ger on the table, and I had no one to blame for that but myself.
I did a kip, from my back to my feet in one quick movement—the skills that had garnered me a state champion medal in high school gymnastics had been coming in very handy lately—then retrieved my own sword and went back to hacking.
Once Jimmy and I  were in LA it hadn’t taken us long to find the varcolacs in the desert. Most days they appeared human. They lived their lives; they blended in, only going dragon beneath an eclipse.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The dragon eating the moon or the moon going dark and bringing out the dragon? Hard to say.
What I did know was that as soon as the Grigori flew free, all the Nephilim stopped hiding. Their time had come. And things, for me and my kind, had be­come a bit dicey.
Previously, each demon killer had worked with a seer—someone who possessed a psychic gift to see past the Nephilim’s human disguise to the demon that lay within.
I’d been a seer once myself, but things had changed.
Oh, I was still psychic—always had been. Since I was old enough to talk, maybe before, I could touch animate and inanimate objects and I’d know things— what people had done, where they’d gone, what they thought.
But later, when I’d become the leader of the light, I’d inherited the ability of the woman who’d raised me. As Ruthie Kane died in my arms, all her power transferred to me. I’d wound up not only psychomet­ric, but suddenly I could channel too. Ruthie might be dead, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t hear her, talk to her, sometimes even see her. She became my conduit. Whenever a Nephilim was near, I heard about it in Ruthie’s whisper on the wind, and when they were up to something major—they always were—I received a vision that told me all about it. At least until recently.
“Too many,” Jimmy muttered.
We were covered in varcolac blood. We’d hacked up a dozen, but a dozen more had appeared. We needed help, but there  wasn’t any to spare.
The federation—that group of demon killers, or DKs, and seers who’d been charged with fi ghting this supernatural war—had been seriously depleted after Ruthie’s death, and we couldn’t just pick up a few new demon killers at the demon-killer superstore. They had to be trained. New seers had to be discovered. I hadn’t had time to do much recruiting, even before the  whole Tartarus-opening, Grigori-escaping inci­dent. And now . . . 
Now I  wasn’t going to have time to do much but ride the runaway train to Armageddon. Basically, we were fucked. But that didn’t mean we were going to quit. Besides, I had a secret weapon. What I liked to call a vampire in a box.
I lifted my arm, traced my fingers along the magic jeweled dog collar that circled my neck. As long as I wore the thing, I was me. But if I took it off—
“No, Lizzy.”
I glanced at Jimmy. He’d seen me fi ngering the necklace. Even if he didn’t know me better than just about anyone, it didn’t take a genius to figure out what I’d been contemplating.
One of the varcolacs charged, dragon wings fl ap­ping, talons outstretched. Jimmy hacked off his head with only a token glance in that direction. Jimmy was good. I still needed to put a bit more effort into killing things.
I let go of the collar, faced the next varcolac with both hands around my sword and did what needed to be done. I lost track of Jimmy for a while. The damn demons seemed to be multiplying. For every one we killed, two more came out of the darkness. Their wings flickered against the silvery light of the gibbous moon, reminding me of the night the Grigori had fl own free, their spirits darkening what had then been a perfectly round orb.
Jimmy cried out, the sound making my heart jolt, my head turn. One of the varcolacs had speared him through the shoulder with a talon, lifting him clear off the ground. Blood dripped into the sand, turning the moon-pale grains black. Jimmy’s sword lay at his feet.
There appeared to be an army of dragon men be­hind them. Their scaly wings flapped in syncopation, filling the sky with a morbid ticktock. Dragon heads and arms, human legs and torsos that sprouted drag­on’s wings.
“Surrender, seer.” The varcolac snorted fi re from his nose. Jimmy hissed when the flames started his pants on fi re.
“No.” I lopped off the nearest varcolac head, which hit the ground with a dull thud, rolled a few feet and disintegrated into ashes along with the still-upright body. If you killed a Nephilim correctly, cleanups weren’t any problem at all.
“You can’t win,” the varcolac said. “We are legion.”
He was probably right, but giving up . . . 
Just wasn’t my style.
 
Excerpted from Apocalypse Happens by Lori Handeland.
Copyright © 2009 by Lori Handeland.
Published in November 2009 by St. Martin’s Paperbacks.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.