The Descent Series Complete Collection

Elise Kavanagh was born to be a living weapon known as the Godslayer. She's tried to deny her destiny. She threw down her sword after one too many near-losses against the demons she kills. Now she's been retired in hiding for half a decade, and she's beginning to believe that she might be able to have a normal life. Until an ancient enemy rises to strike Elise again. Fighting the Hand of Death makes shockwaves like an arrow pointing out Elise's hiding place. Once one old enemy finds her, the others begin to find Elise, too.

The only person she can rely on is James Faulkner, the witch who has always protected her mind and body. Despite untrustworthy allies and unpredictable foes, James is a constant who never changes--someone who would never betray her. Someone whose past is cloaked in secrets that even Elise doesn't understand...

Elise must descend into the infernal to battle the angels who hunt her. She must become the very thing she's spent most of her life fighting: a powerful demon that feeds upon human flesh. A creature that might survive slaying God.

This collection contains all seven books of The Descent Series, as well as three short stories interspersed with the books.

THE COMPLETE SERIES

  1. Death's Hand
  2. The Darkest Gate
  3. Deadly Hearts
  4. Dark Union
  5. Damnation Marked
  6. Death Scream
  7. Dire Blood
  8. Defying Fate
  9. Dying Night
  10. Paradise Damned

Paradise Damned

Elise Kavanagh is being held captive without weapons or allies. The only way out of the garden is to kill God Himself.

James Faulkner's son has been taken by Metaraon, but James is caught in Limbo and helpless to save him.

An army of half-angel, half-demon hybrids is converging on the gates of Heaven, where the Union prepares for a final battle.

The end has arrived.

Excerpt:

Kansas – June 1989

Elise received her first mortal wound when she was eight years old. It happened during her second hunt without Mom, which should have been an easy fight; they had another local kopis backing them up, and chupacabras that migrated so far north were more of a livestock threat than a human one. But Dad had made a mistake. Since he had thought they were on the trail of a goat-eating monster, he didn’t have any silver weapons ready when the werewolf attacked.

“A werewolf in Kansas?” he muttered as he dragged Elise’s bleeding body out of the line of fire. He set her next to the back wall of the restaurant. Fidel, the territory’s local kopis, was still grappling with the beast. “There are no damn werewolves in Kansas!”

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The six-inch gashes on her stomach begged to differ. Elise clutched her falchions to her chest, gasping for air. The leather-wrapped hilts and steel blades weren’t as soothing as usual.

Dad shoved her arms out of the way so that he could look at the injury. Her eyes were too blurry to make out his expression, but she could tell that the damage was bad by the way he clicked his tongue. If it had been anything less than fatal, he would have told her to walk it off.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” he said, closing her arms over her chest again. She hugged the falchions like teddy bears.

“Where are you going, Dad?” Elise asked, craning around to watch him stepping around the Dumpster. “Dad? Don’t leave me—it hurts!”

“Don’t whine,” he snapped.

He was right. She was whining.

Her mouth closed, fists clenched on the hilts of her swords, and she practiced the breathing exercises he had taught her to get through pain.

The fighting could have been miles away, as far as she could tell. The werewolf’s claws sounded like chisels digging into the pavement.

Men grunted. A beast growled.

Then she heard a gunshot—and everything went silent.

It was quiet for so long that Elise thought that her father must have been killed. She acknowledged that possibility with a calm sense of inevitability. He had warned her it was likely to happen sooner rather than later, and her instructions for that scenario were to stay calm and focus on escaping. She needed to make sure that Mom was safe.

Elise hurt too much to want to move, but Dad never accepted injury as an excuse for failure. She rolled onto her stomach and crawled out from behind the Dumpster, seeking confirmation of her father’s condition.

Dad wasn’t dead. He stood over the immobile body of the werewolf, Fidel’s gun in hand. A pool of blood spread underneath the furred beast.

She would always remember how he looked framed by the light of the full moon, the long muscles of his arm taut as he continued to aim. He was waiting to ensure the werewolf was dead. It didn’t move.

Madre de Dios,” Fidel said. He sat beside the furred corpse with a hand pressed to his shoulder. “That was no chupacabra, Isaac. You were fucking lucky I had silver bullets with me, else I woulda gotten a lot more than bitten.”

“It bit you?”

“Yeah. Look at this.”

Dad bent to look at the other kopis’s wound. Fidel’s borrowed gun was a small cannon—a Desert Eagle. It glistened in the moonlight, as graceful and deadly as Elise’s swords. It was strange to see it in Dad’s hand. He said that guns were beneath them. Inelegant. He preferred to kill with his bare hands.

Elise’s vision blurred with pain. She grunted and pressed a hand to her stomach. So much blood.

When she looked up again, it was just in time to see Dad shoot Fidel in the head with his own gun.

Mom was waiting for them in the truck. It had been parked outside a 7-Eleven a safe distance away, where Dad’s quarry wouldn’t be able to hurt her. She cried when she saw Elise, drawing her into her lap like she was a much smaller child. “What happened to you?” she sobbed, pressing her lips to Elise’s cheek.

“Don’t coddle her,” Dad snapped. He was drenched in his daughter’s blood with Fidel’s gun at the small of his back. “Every kopis does this a few times. She’ll be fine if we’re fast enough. You know that, Ariane. I can’t believe I have to tell you again.”

He pushed Elise into the backseat, tossed a jacket over her, and gunned the engine.

Elise was embarrassed by her mother’s show of weakness, even as much as she longed to be in Mom’s arms. She tried not to make any noise.

“The hospital is that way,” Mom said.

“We can’t afford it. You know where we have to go.”

“Please, Isaac. We can’t take her there yet. She’s too young.”

If he replied, Elise didn’t hear it. She drifted in and out of consciousness, alone with the pain.

She replayed the fight against the werewolf in her dreams.

It had moved like lightning—a blur of fur that was impossible to focus on, much less attack. Elise had been shocked to stillness at the sight of it. None of her practice fights against Dad could have ever prepared her for a beast the size of a horse that moved with supernatural speed.

So she had failed. She tried to jump left too slowly; the werewolf’s claws had been waiting for her. Elise hadn’t gotten a single blow in before it knocked her down.

No wonder Dad was so disappointed.

It hurts so much.

Ma fille,” Mom whispered, smoothing her hand over Elise’s forehead. She murmured words of comfort, separated from Elise by the seats of the truck and Dad’s will. None of Mom’s French made any sense to Elise in her dazed condition, but it was nice to be touched.

She slipped into unconsciousness again.

What if she had jumped right instead of left? What if she had brought up her falchion in time, the way that she had originally intended? The blades weren’t silver, but surely a werewolf couldn’t survive decapitation.

If only Elise had gone right, she wouldn’t be pouring blood all over Dad’s truck. He wouldn’t be so annoyed with her. Mom wouldn’t be crying.

Je t’aime,” Mom said, her words punctuated by Isaac’s grunt of irritation.

Elise wished that Mom would stop babying her. Real kopides didn’t get babied by anyone.

Failure.

She drifted. She bled.

Elise woke up fully healed with the sour aftertaste of magic lingering on her tongue. “There,” said the witch, sitting back on her heels. She was an elegant older woman with gray-streaked hair sleeked into a bun, and she wore a silk bathrobe, like she had just stepped out of a spa.

“Thank God for you, Pamela,” Mom said.

Pamela grimaced. “Well, don’t do that. You never know who’s listening these days.”

Elise peered at her mother through bleary eyes. Mom’s cheeks were wet and her nose was running, but she still managed a grateful smile for the witch named Pamela. “I would have taken her to the hospital. I know we should have. But Isaac thought that—”

“You did the right thing. We’re far too invested in Elise to allow her care to fall to mundane doctors.”

“Will she become a werewolf?”

“No. Claws don’t transfer the curse. Many kopides are immune anyway.” Pamela finally noticed that Elise had opened her eyes. She wiped the blood off of Elise’s stomach with a damp cloth, and the skin underneath was undamaged. “How do you feel, Elise?”

“Fine,” she said, because Dad would have hated it if she had complained about her sore back and the strange taste in her mouth.

Elise pushed her mother away and sat up on her own. She was surprised to find, as her senses returned to her, that she was outside in a forest. The only light came from a bonfire that Elise glimpsed through the trees. Silhouettes of dancers flitted around the flames to the slow beating of drums.

“It’s Litha,” Pamela explained at Elise’s confused expression. “Midsummer. My coven is celebrating the sabbat tonight. Would you like to see?”

“But the hunt,” Elise protested. “The werewolf’s body—I have to get back.”

“Your father has returned to take care of the dead,” Mom said, smoothing her hand down Elise’s hair. “We have nothing else to do there.”

Elise hung her head.

Isaac had left them rather than wait for his daughter to be healed. He must have been even more disappointed than she feared.

She nodded, resisting the urge to wallow. Dad wouldn’t have wallowed.

“I’m going to join the circle,” Mom said. She stood and—to Elise’s surprise—began to strip.

She abandoned her skirt and blouse on a tree, like the branch was a hanger. She fluffed out her curls, smiled at her daughter, and stepped into the clearing.

Pamela washed Elise’s blood off of her hands with the remaining water.

“Many rituals are performed skyclad,” the witch explained. Pamela sounded like what Elise imagined a teacher would sound like, though Elise had never been to school. “It helps witches feel connected to the elements. Young and old alike participate. Strange as it seems to the uninitiated, it’s not sexual.”

The idea hadn’t even occurred to Elise, but having Pamela mention it brought heat to her cheeks.

“I’m not getting naked,” she said, folding her arms tightly across her chest. She didn’t have any of her mother’s physical features yet—and, hopefully, never would—but she wasn’t prepared to advertise their absence, either.

Pamela rubbed her back. “You’re not a witch. Nobody would expect you to join the ritual. But you can’t stay in the trees unsupervised, and I’m not babysitting you. Come, you can sit on this log over here.”

Elise would have preferred to face another werewolf than enter that clearing. But Pamela drew her onward, guiding her to a fallen tree at the edge of the meadow, and sat her down on the tree.

Mom had jumped in with the other witches as if she belonged there, and they greeted her with cheers of joy. The coven already knew her.

The shouts and cheers of the coven sounded a lot like the yipping of the werewolf as they had hunted it through the Kansas strip mall. The witches were more animal than human. Beasts of the earth and trees. Mom’s magic had never been like that before—it was a sedate, passive thing, best for making potions and poultices. Elise wondered if it was her mother who was strange, or the coven itself.

That was Elise’s first real impression of witchcraft: naked bodies dancing around the fire to the beat of primal drums, with the taste of blood and magic at the back of her throat.

But not everyone around the circle was a joyful participant in the bacchanalia. A man stood on the opposite side of the bonfire, occasionally visible through the licking flames. He wore a button-down shirt. His hair was charcoal black, like Pamela’s must have been when she was younger. And he was deep in argument with a naked old man whose skin was like leather.

“Who’s that?” Elise asked, tugging Pamela’s sleeve.

Pamela turned to see whom Elise was referring to. The younger man was shaking his fist in the face of the older man, silently threatening, even though Elise couldn’t hear the words over the drumming.

“That’s my nephew, James,” Pamela said. There was a strange expression on her face. Somewhere between wistful and worried. “I think you’d like him. Would you like to be introduced?”

How could Pamela possibly know what kind of people Elise would like? They had never even met before.

As frightening as the coven’s weird ritual was, the contrast between their joyous shrieks and James’s anger was stark. Among all of them, this was the man with the real power—the only one of them that didn’t succumb to the crowd’s energy, and was unafraid to stand apart. Of all the witches she faced that night, he was the one she would least want to fight.

“No,” Elise said. “I’m staying here.”

Pamela looked relieved. “Probably best, for now. Plenty of time for that later.” She let the robe fall from her shoulders, then joined the circle again.

Power drifted into the sky, gathered from motion, dance, and drums. Elise sat on the log and tried not to show her fear.

The next time she looked through the flames, James was gone.

Dad came back for Elise the next morning. The Desert Eagle was gone. The blood had been scrubbed out of the truck. And the first thing he said to Elise was, “What did you learn last night?”

“Never underestimate,” she replied promptly.

She didn’t just mean the werewolf that they had failed to anticipate. She couldn’t shake the image of her mother with those pagans, or her father calmly shooting Fidel in the face. She understood now that there were many things she didn’t know about her parents and the world at large—and many of those things were likely to be bad.

“Good,” Dad said. “Very good.”

COLLAPSE

Defying Fate

Elise Kavanagh has exorcised demons, slain gods, and come back from the dead. And she’s done it all with the help of James Faulkner: a powerful witch, and the only person Elise has ever loved or trusted.

But now the worst has happened. The Treaty protecting humanity from war between angels and demons has fallen. Elise has been taken by her greatest enemy and imprisoned in madness. And James may be responsible for it…

Excerpt:

California – May 2010

Conan O’Brien cracked a bad joke on TV. The audience’s responding laughter was shrill, harpy-like, almost screaming. Hannah wanted to throw the remote through the screen. But late night programming was the only thing had kept her son quiet lately, and she couldn’t afford to replace the television, so she only dug her fingernails into her palm, gritted her teeth, and tolerated it.

Spring in Half Moon Bay smelled like saltwater and seaweed. The steely ocean rippled outside her window, unsettled by a coming storm, and the wind was just on the wrong side of cold. Hannah didn’t close the guest house’s window. She hadn’t been in Hell for months, but she still hungered for cool, moist air.

Another joke, more shrill laughter. Her nails dug into her hand.

“What do you want for dinner?” she asked.

Nathaniel didn’t respond.

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She stepped into the kitchen. In the refrigerator, she had an open box of baking soda, half a liter of milk, a few slices of bread. The coven would have plenty of food if she wanted it—they were only a phone call away. But admitting that they had run through Hannah’s paltry savings was more than she could handle.

Hannah braced her hands on the granite counter and let her head hang between her shoulders. She could see a sliver of the television through the doorway. Conan O’Brien was dancing. The audience roared, but Nathaniel’s expression never changed. He had spent all night, every night, sitting in that same position. The couch had all but molded around his body now.

Zoning out was still better than what he had been doing with his days.

The phone rang, startling Hannah.

“Phone, Mom,” Nathaniel said without looking up.

A corded handset was mounted next to the refrigerator. She pulled it around to the dining room. The table was covered in books, papers, stones, crystals, pens, candles—everything a growing witch needed to cast magic.

She pressed the phone to her ear. “Hello?”

“It’s me, Hannah,” replied a man, whose voice she recognized.

She let out a breath that she hadn’t realized she was holding. Hannah hadn’t heard from James Faulkner, her former fiancé and father of her son, since she had left him in the City of Dis last December. After so long without word, she had started to think he must have been dead.

There was a time that Hannah had fantasized about James getting killed—the times when she was trapped at home with Nathaniel when he was a raging toddler, and James was off saving the world. But Nathaniel wasn’t a child anymore. He was an almost-teenaged witch who was drawing runes in his own blood. The idea of losing James—maybe the only witch powerful enough to control Nathaniel—had been haunting her for weeks.

“Where are you?” she asked in a low voice, gripping the receiver in both hands until the plastic creaked. “I thought you were going to contact us as soon as you got back.”

“You need to meet me at Pamela’s old house in one week. We’re going to go to the Haven.”

Hannah glanced at the wall calendar. Below the picture of an ocean sunrise, Nathaniel had been crossing off days. One week would be the end of the month.

Swallowing down the last vestiges of her shriveled pride, Hannah asked, “Could you meet us here instead?”

“I won’t be available for another week.”

“Why?”

“Because,” James said. “I’m about to be arrested by the Union.”

The phone slipped an inch before Hannah realized that her fingers had gone slack. She caught it, put it back up to her ear, leaned around the doorway. Nathaniel was still transfixed. She whispered anyway. “Arrested? For what?”

“That’s not important. They won’t keep me for long. My parents have agreed to hide you, and they won’t tell Landon you’ve returned. Don’t worry about it.”

“I’m not worried about it for me. I’m worrying for Nathaniel.”

He sighed. “Yes. I am, too.”

The silence between them carried a lifetime of secrets. Hannah had a thousand questions, but nothing to say—not over the phone. She didn’t even know where to begin. Thoughts of archangels, conspiracies, and deicide vanished as quickly as they occurred to her. She shut her eyes. Pressed her forehead against the wall.

“Here’s the thing, James: I don’t have any money left. I can’t afford to go to Colorado.” It was physically painful to confess that aloud. “And don’t tell me to ask the coven here for help.”

“I wasn’t planning on it. It’s not necessary anyway—I’ve added you to my bank account. You’ll be able to withdraw whatever you need from the local branch. But move quickly; my transactions are likely to be monitored, and they’ll be looking for you.”

“Who?” she asked.

James gave a low, mirthless chuckle. “Everyone.”

“This week is going to be bad. Isn’t it?”

“Very bad. But after that, you’ll be safe. You and Nathaniel. You’ll never have to worry again—not about money, your safety, or any covens. I promise you that.”

“You’ve made promises before,” Hannah said. The laughter from the living room abruptly stopped as Nathaniel turned off the TV. She was out of time for questions. “I’ll see you in Colorado.”

She hung up the phone.

COLLAPSE

Dire Blood

Elise Kavanagh died while killing the mother of all demons, and her fight should be over. But nothing is ever that easy where the Godslayer is concerned. Elise has been resurrected–and she came back as a demon.

Now the most powerful witch in the world, James Faulkner, has been dragged to Hell and accused of violating an ancient treaty. The punishment is eternity in Hellfire. Elise is the only one who can save him. But it means following him into Hell to face inhuman urges, the secrets in her past, and the horror in her future.

The Godslayer’s fight isn’t over yet. It’s only just beginning…

Excerpt:

It was almost midnight on a cold, snowy evening, and Gary Zettel was patrolling the Union warehouse’s perimeter. Leather gloves and a black scarf protected him from the chilly wind, and his gun, vest, and slacks blended in with the darkness of the night. Only the white, six-inch letters stamped on his chest in reflective tape caught any light.

He shifted his grip on the gun to keep his fingers limber as he headed down the south side of the fence. The dirt had been packed down and laced with pressure-sensitive wire that could pinpoint the position of an intruding mouse, but beyond the barbed wire was nothing but wild, unguarded desert. Sagebrush and sparse trees made formless shadows that Zettel could imagine as a hundred hostile beings—a mob of angry human survivors, possessed demons, or some other foe they had yet to face.

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But the night was quiet. An icy breeze whispered through the sagebrush. His footsteps crunched on the dirt, and his leather gloves creaked as he checked his gun’s safety yet again.

Zettel reached the corner of the fence, swiveled, and headed in the other direction.

His aspis, Allyson Whatley, hurried out of the building. She was bundled in a heavy jacket zipped to her chin. He felt her approach an instant before he saw her; he always knew where she was, even when they were in different states.

Her square face was triumphant. “I did it.” She faced the cold desert as she spoke, and she barely moved her lips. “I finally did it.”

Zettel turned off his earpiece. “Let me see.”

She removed a scrap of cloth from her pocket. A complex symbol was embroidered in the center of the white linen square and stained by a bloody thumbprint. From her other pocket, she took out a folded piece of paper on which she had drawn the same symbol.

“Watch,” she said, and she flicked the paper in the air.

It burst into flame and turned to ash in her hand. The paper was gone so quickly that Zettel almost didn’t believe that he had seen it.

Allyson had finally replicated written magic.

“Does this mean you can make the wedge?” he asked, pulse speeding.

“I’ve already started.”

Zettel struggled to suppress his excitement, but the implications of this were dizzying. He punched his fist in the air. “Yes,” he hissed. It was the only moment of celebration he would allow himself.

“I’m going to finish it,” she said. “You can contact HQ when you’re ready. But…quietly.”

He nodded. Yes, quietly. Nobody could know what they had found. Not yet. And especially not his commander.

“I have two hours left on my shift,” he said. “Do you think you’ll be done by then?” She hesitated, and then nodded. “Good. Great. I’ll see you in two hours.”

“We’re so close,” Allyson whispered.

He nodded stiffly as she stuffed the cloth back into her jacket again. It took all of his strength not to follow her as she spun on her heel and returned to the building. Instead, he stared at the flakes of ash settling on the tightly packed earth and felt his stomach flip-flop. Not with nerves—Zettel didn’t get nervous—but with anticipation.

So close.

But not for a few more hours.

He flicked his earpiece back on. Composed his features. Resumed walking the perimeter of the fence.

Zettel was so distracted by the heady, dizzying sense of impending victory that he didn’t feel the tingle at the back of his neck until it was almost too late.

A pale flash caught the corner of his eye—too far to the south to be a guard at the nearest watchtower.

He froze, watching for another hint of motion.

The night was still.

Scanning the compound’s exterior, he took inventory of everything that was meant to be there: spotlights focused on the outside of the warehouse, a man patrolling the opposite fence in the same black uniform he wore, the waiting SUV that had been left with the driver’s side door open.

All quiet. Unremarkable.

Unease crawled over him. Zettel wasn’t skittish, and he didn’t imagine things. Especially not people that weren’t there.

He picked up his pace and headed toward the SUV, putting two fingers to the bluetooth headset in his ear. His excitement was suppressed by a rising sensation of something gone awry. “Mack? Anything registering on the pressure sensors?”

A buzz, and then, “Just you and Mason.

There were shadows on the ground on the other side of the SUV—two dark shapes that looked like feet.

“What’s Mason’s position?” he asked, lowering his voice to a whisper.

Another buzz. “Northeast corner.

Nowhere near the SUV.

Zettel lifted his gun. “Suspected intruder by the garage. I’m going to engage. Verify reinforcements.”

Negative, Gary. There’s nothing with you.

Then who was standing on the other side of the SUV?

He stood by the hood for a moment, taking measured breaths and preparing to engage. His pulse thudded in his throat and temples.

Zettel leapt around the vehicle and brought his weapon to bear.

Nobody was there.

The ground was empty, and the door stood open. There was no sign of what had caused the shadows. The earpiece was buzzing again, and he put his fingers to it to hear the transmission. “I repeat, Gary: do not engage. There’s nothing there.”

He pushed the talk button. “Roger.”

Zettel scanned the door into the garage, the open land, the total absence of unusual shadows. He wasn’t the kind of person who imagined things, but maybe the stress of surviving the apocalypse was starting to get to him. Just a little bit.

Lowering his sidearm, he put a hand on the SUV’s driver’s side door to shut it.

A blinking blue light caught his eye. Whoever had driven the vehicle last had removed their earpiece and forgotten it in the cup holder. That was the kind of laziness that their new commander, Malcolm, was letting the unit get away with. When Zettel had been in charge of the unit, he would have brought swift, harsh retribution upon whoever was stupid enough to lose their equipment.

But Zettel wasn’t in charge anymore—for the time being.

Muttering a few choice swear words, he leaned in to grab the earpiece.

Black eyes stared at him from the backseat.

Adrenaline rushed through him, slowing time to a crawl and making his vision sharpen. Zettel took a step back. Reached for his gun.

He couldn’t move fast enough.

A white flash rushed through the air and connected with his chest. They both hit the ground. His head bounced, blurring his vision and making his ears ring.

The sensitive wiring in the ground should have registered someone sitting on top of him and made his earpiece blow up with chatter. He could see her—pale face, black eyes, black hair, lips peeled back in a grimace. He could certainly feel her, with her hands digging into his vest and knees pressing against his gut.

But there were no alarms. His earpiece remained silent.

She ripped the gun from his hands and flung it across the ground. And then she vanished into midair, scattering into shadow like a flock of ravens.

A buzz. “We’re registering unusual activity in your sector. Did you fall over?” The tiny voice had a hint of laughter to it. The dick in the control booth was laughing at him. Nobody fucking laughed at him when he had been commander. When the Union put him in charge again, Mack was going to be the first on latrine duty.

He tried to punch the button his earpiece and missed. He hit it on the second try.

“I just got attacked,” Zettel said, scrambling to his feet and grabbing his gun. “There is an intruder, and it’s not registering on the sensors.”

Negative, Gary—”

But control was cut off by jangling alarms. They shattered the air, echoed over the plains, and made his eardrums vibrate. The spotlights on the building turned red and began to flash.

A dozen voices began speaking in his earpiece simultaneously.

Something just entered the garage level—”

“—registering a bogey, moving fast—”

What did you see? What is it?

Zettel felt a surge of satisfaction that was almost as strong as his confusion. He pressed the talk button as he ran toward the door, but he didn’t know what to tell them he had seen. The pale skin, dark hair, and how it had vanished into the shadows—those things always meant a demon of some flavor, like a nightmare or a succubus.

But what he had seen couldn’t have been a demon. It couldn’t.

Mason rushed to meet him at the side door, which stood ajar. The lights inside were on alarm, too, and black shapes rushed through the halls as sleeping kopides began to awake and mobilize.

“Jesus, what was it?” Mason asked.

I think it was a ghost.

That would have sounded insane, so all Zettel said was, “I’m going after the bogey. Drag Malcolm’s drunken ass out of bed and have him find me.”

And then he slammed through the door and entered total chaos.

The screeching alarms were worse inside the warehouse. They rattled and bounced off of the walls, and the pitch made his eardrums tremble. The alarm lights were red, so it took no time for his eyes to adjust after the darkness outside.

He was surrounded by shipping trucks and the crates they had been carrying, each turned to black cubes by the strobes.

Nobody was working in the garage that late at night. The only active personnel should have been patrolling, just like Zettel had been outside. But as far as he could see, the room was empty.

Footsteps banged on the metal walkway above. He whirled to follow the sound, raising his gun.

The runner vanished before he could target.

Swearing under his breath, he launched himself up the ladder and onto the walkway. The shadow had already reappeared on the opposite catwalk, shoved open the swinging doors into the hallway, and passed through.

Ragged breaths tore through his throat as he chased the disappearing and reappearing shadow. The chatter on his earpiece fuzzed in and out of static.

The shadow swept through the halls ahead of him, darkening a few feet at a time, like a black hand was moving over the lights one by one. Doors slammed around him, opening and closing of their own volition.

Occasionally, he saw a flash of a hand, a slender throat, a face glancing over a shoulder—like he was chasing a beautiful ghost through a forest of fluttering darkness.

He was never going to catch up.

“Issue a quarantine protocol on my level!” he shouted into the earpiece.

Mack moved fast. The fire shields began to slide over the hallway doors.

Zettel slid under the nearest one just in time to see the shadow pass around the next corner, near the armory. He could cut it off if he reached the next level first.

He leaped up the stairs, taking them two at a time. His shoulder bumped into a kopis as he passed his quarters. He recognized the cry of protest, even under the blaring alarms—Malcolm.

Then the shadow swept over them.

For an instant, it was utterly black. Something cold washed down Zettel’s spine. The back of his neck itched and crawled.

It was gone an instant later.

“The hell?” Malcolm asked. He slept naked, like he was still a bachelor at university, but he had his clothes bundled under one arm and a gun in the other hand. What a goddamn pig.

Zettel hit the button on his earpiece. “This level also needs to be closed, control. I think the bogey must be going for artifact storage.”

The commander tried to follow him down the hall, bouncing on one leg to pull on his pants. “Oi! Gary! What bogey?”

Between control’s shouts on the earpiece and the blasting alarms, the rest of the units in the warehouse were mobilizing, but it was too late. Men stepped into the hall seconds after Malcolm had already run past them, and the shadow was already long gone.

That meant that the lift would be too slow, too. Zettel launched himself up the stairwell, Malcolm just a few steps behind with his trousers around his knees.

He got out on the fourth floor. Went two halls down.

There was nobody in sight, and the door into artifact storage was still closed. Totally silent. No shadows, no ghosts, no intruders.

Uttering a silent thanks, Zettel punched his access code into the panel to check the logs. Text scrolled past on the screen, but he wasn’t sure what he expected to find. If the door was locked, then even a shadowy bogey wasn’t going to be able to break through three inches of heavy steel without leaving some traces.

No attempts at opening the door showed on the log for six hours. He had beaten the bogey there.

He squinted through the reinforced glass. There were no alarm lights inside the secure storage room, so he could barely make out the shelves of crates and containers inside as the strobes behind him flashed.

A strobe momentarily illuminated the aisle between the shelves. A woman stood at the end, wearing the shadows like armor.

Cold shock washed over him. For a moment, all he could do was stand with his mouth agape, face pressed to the glass. The intruder glanced up at him as she pulled a box off of the shelves. It was the size of a suitcase, and marked with the Union insignia.

How had she gotten inside?

Zettel inputted his access code, but it took a few seconds for the whirring locks to disengage. He slammed his fist into the door, as if that could make it go faster.

“You bitch!” he yelled, spit flecking on the door.

The woman saluted him with two fingers to her temple.

Click. The locks released. Zettel flung the door open.

Everything went black.

The heavy hand of darkness pressed against his mouth and nose, squeezing into his throat, down his chest, and gripping his lungs. The rattle of alarms filled his skull. An impact rocked through his spine.

And then the darkness was gone—and so was the bogey, the box, and any sign of her shadow.

Zettel had somehow ended up sprawled out on his back, and he wasn’t sure how or when it had happened. Maybe that had been the pain he’d felt. The bitch must have pushed him.

Before he could get up, Malcolm ran out of the stairwell, one hand hanging onto the pants around his thighs and the other holding a 9mm. He jerked his trousers over his hips and belted them. He was still shirtless and barefoot. He must have abandoned the rest of his clothing somewhere in the stairwell.

“Did you see her?” Zettel asked, scrambling onto his hands and knees.

“Her who?” Malcolm grimaced and pressed a hand to his temple. “God, that shrieking—someone turn that shit off. Hear me?” When the alarms continued, he put a hand to his earpiece. “Come on, you bastards, turn off the bells!”

Silence flooded the hall. Control was still chattering away, the useless fucks. Zettel turned the volume down on his earpiece.

“We’ve got a problem, sir,” he said, getting to his feet.

“We’d better have a problem, if people are waking me at midnight when I was having a good dream. What in the seven burning hells is going on, Gary?” His Irish accent was even harder to understand when he had been woken up from a drunken stupor.

“Intruder. Thief. We’re under attack.”

“What?” He blinked stupidly as the red spotlights cut out and turned white again. “What kind of intruder? Nightmare? Succubus?” He gave a low chuckle. “A succubus would definitely explain the dream.”

Zettel took a deep breath. Let it out. “She was on me for a second. I only saw a glimpse, but I think I recognized her. And considering what she took…”

“Hang on. Back up a few steps. Who is ‘she?’”

He braced himself for the ridiculous, impossible truth.

“It was Elise Kavanagh.”

Malcolm only stared at him, as if waiting for the punch line to a joke. It never came. “Elise Kavanagh’s body is in cold storage,” the commander said.

“I know.”

“She’s been dead for weeks. You were there when we picked up her body.”

Zettel nodded. “I know.” That day was permanently emblazoned on his memory—the first sunrise that touched Reno after days of darkness, the swirling snow and ash, the decimated buildings. Elise had gone down after killing Yatai, the mother of all demons.

She had already been cold by the time they’d found her. And what sweet satisfaction that had been. It was Elise’s fault that Zettel had been demoted.

He had watched the video of the autopsy with great pleasure. Had seen the mortician weighing her organs. Had read the report on her unusually low body fat and blood volume, her missing reproductive organs, her severed arm.

Elise was definitely dead. But she was also, almost as certainly, the thing that had attacked him.

Malcolm strode for the stairs and hit the button on his earpiece. “Control, I need you to get in touch with Union HQ and have someone check the refrigerators. See if there are any missing bodies.”

A buzz, and the response piped over Zettel’s earpiece, as well. “Roger that.” They jogged down the stairs to the garage, and it didn’t take long for control to respond—nobody ever slept at Union HQ. “Everything is intact, sir.

“Shit,” Malcolm said. He jumped in the first SUV they came across and waved to Zettel. “You’re coming with me, Gary. Let’s get the bitch that stole Elise’s face.”

COLLAPSE