How Brother Jed Smock met Vex Harrow.


She drew her umbrella and opened it with a pop while stepping over the edge—whispering a prayer to the wind that snapped into her mind the moment her foot landed in nothing. There she found the air as solid as a staircase and she rushed down its steps, umbrella leading the way, with her black coat fluttering behind her with angry purpose. She didn’t stop running when she hit the ground, but pulled it closed as she waved around a stunted tree.

Brother Jed and the crowd surrounding barely had a moment to notice her as she passed him—his arm still extended with the staff, keeping it out of Nathan’s reach.

Vex’s hand flashed out and she wrenched it from his grasp as she lowered it like a lance. She touched the glyph of immateriality drawn on the umbrella a moment before she collided with the surprised mob and passed through them like a black breeze between reeds. Reaching the opposite side of the assembly, the glyph rubbed off beneath her fingers and her body flooded back to substance again.

Behind her, she could hear shouting, but she focused on the cadence of her boots against the pavement. She let her legs fall into the sprint, the muscles rolling with her adrenaline as they drove her onwards towards one of the buildings a short distance across campus where she knew she could proceed uninterrupted.

As she suspected might happen, Brother Jed gave fast pursuit and she hoped her preparations could handle his inclusion in the matters at hand.

* * *

Three hours earlier, Vex stepped out of her cab and stared momentarily into the distant blue sky as she steeled herself against the very palpable sense of anxiety that permeated the campus. The sense of foreboding had not changed and the anxious uttering of the voices sprang back into her mind the moment she came clear of the wards that protected the cab. They tugged at her, drawing her gaze deeper into the campus buildings—some asking her to destroy the intruder, some suggested she take the newly arrived power for herself, others simply urged her to act on their behest.

If nothing else seemed clear: something evil had arrived in Tempe and she needed to deal with it.

“I brought what you needed,” Nathan said, hefting the black grocery bag in his hand.

“Good,” she said, heading to the back of the cab. “Can you hang onto that for a moment?”

She popped the trunk open and threw aside a heavy blanket to reveal a carefully placed series of weapons: a magickally runed crowbar, a baseball bat carved with the Tree-of-Life and seven angels, and sledgehammer with hellishly bent sigils twisting about its black-steel head. She grabbed the hammer and dragged its weight out of the trunk.

“Yeah, sure,” Nathan said, letting the bag droop again. He eyed the hammer with some trepidation. “Bringing out the big guns? What do you need with seventeen rosaries anyway…that was pretty expensive, you know. There’s also a bag of sea salt, ‘sodium sulfate’ laundry detergent, and

She examined the surface of the maul head of the hammer. It had once been an ordinary chunk of metal, fashioned from cold-iron and painted red until time and use had worn it into its current shape. Then, through fate or accident, it fell into the hands of a railroad worker with a penchant for demonology and an urgent need to destroy his workplace for laying him off during an economic downturn. The etched designs that played across the black metal surface still belied the red paint the hammer once held now it radiated a destructive potence that few wards could forbear.

She twirled the hammer in her hands, its colossal heft felt right in her hands—it felt proper to be the devastator—the will of the weapon yearned to be used.

“I’ll bet you bought them just so that you could see what I intend to do with them,” she said, letting the hammer fall to her side. She could feel it hum with barely bridled expectation: today would be a destroyer’s day. The cab’s trunk slammed with a little more force than she planned when she pulled it closed—the intent within the weapon had already begun to affect her. “Didn’t you say you get thirty-percent off at your Christian supply store anyway?”

Nathan didn’t reply directly, he just shrugged his shoulders. “Where are we headed anyway?”

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