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

Once Darkness Falls

The worst case scenario has happened: Reno NV has fallen to demons.

Someone at the Office of Preternatural Affairs fucked up.

As the lead of a secret internal investigations team, Agent Cesar Hawke needs to discover who is responsible.

And then he needs to kill them.

Excerpt:

I woke up to my phone ringing. That was a sure sign that I was about to have a bad day.

See, I don’t do the girlfriend thing, and I don’t have much by the way of man-friends either. If someone’s calling me in the middle of the night, it can only be my employers—the Office of Preternatural Affairs. It can only mean I’ve been volunteered for overtime. And the OPA doesn’t want to pay overtime unless shit’s going down.

The instant the ringing phone shattered the dream of being served fancy drinks with umbrellas by Rihanna, my gut told me that shit had gone way down.

It wasn’t like I’d developed magical powers of precognition. I’d just been conditioned to feel powerful dread whenever I was woken up with a phone call.

I know what follows middle of the night phone calls.

Hint: it doesn’t involve a sexy singer from Barbados bringing me a Mai Tai.

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I was rolling out of bed to get dressed even as I answered my phone. “Agent Hawke here,” I said, handset pinned between my chin and shoulder as I stripped my sweat pants.

“Come outside.”

That wasn’t the voice of the woman who worked in dispatch—who I wasn’t actually sure was a real woman at all. The same individual seemed to work twenty-four-seven and her voice was a monotone, so I’d always harbored the theory she was a robot. Probably a magical robot, knowing us.

No robots for me tonight. The voice on the other end of the line was my best friend-slash-partner in crime-slash-guy who had recruited me to work for the OPA-slash-the director of the Magical Violations Department, Fritz Friederling—the one and only blond Jet Li of Beverly Hills.

I froze with one leg in my slacks, the other balanced on the edge of my bed. It freed up a hand for me to switch the phone to the other ear.

“What’s up?” I asked warily.

The OPA doesn’t call in the middle of the night unless something’s wrong, but Fritz might call for fun. Billionaires have some weird-ass quirks. The guy has been known to drive a cherry-red Bugatti around Westmont, for fuck’s sake.

“You heard me the first time, Hawke.” He hung up.

“Fucking fuck,” I grumbled under my breath, along with a few other select words that no decent guy says. I’m not real decent, though.

I finished getting dressed. Whatever Fritz wanted was gonna involve wearing the monkey suit, whether it was a job related to the OPA or one of his special tasks. Like the time he’d picked me up on a weekend to act as his bodyguard at the races. Not horse races—demon races. Turned out that chisavs could run faster than the wind when motivated by the right kind of meat. And the dress code at the races was strict as any government office.

Jesus, I hoped I wasn’t going to have to follow him around the races again. I hadn’t had to block that many knife attacks before in my life.

But by the time I was shoving my feet into loafers that hadn’t seen better days for at least two years, I heard the sound. That thumpa-thumpa-thumpa of a helicopter descending.

That told me we wouldn’t be going to the races.

See, I hear helicopters all the time in my neck of the woods. I’m a government employee. Unlike Fritz, I can’t afford rent in Beverly fucking Hills. Just the nature of the job.

It was also the nature of my job that I recognized the sound of an Apache.

Cops around here didn’t fly those. Bad as gang bangers might be, LEO still didn’t need air-to-ground missiles to handle criminals.

At least, not the human ones.

That dreadful churning in my gut was getting stronger. Almost as strong as that choking feeling I get whenever I’m stuck somewhere with a nightmare demon, like I’m about to drown in fear.

It was the dread that got me turning on the TV while I grabbed a protein shake out of the fridge.

I clicked over to the news. When I’d turned off the TV last night, it had been set to Adult Swim. I’d always been an anime fan, and I stayed up way too late to watch it on nights when I should have been resting for work.

“—bringing all kinds of problems. Buildings have collapsed. There are reports of people trapped in buildings that came down around them. They have made desperate calls to 911 asking for help, but rescuers aren’t able to get to them.” The news anchor, January Lazar, was looking blank in that way that talking heads only do when there are bodies on the ground. It was a tense blankness, afraid to show any emotion in case it was inappropriate, in case it hurt ratings.

The camera flashed away from her to footage of Reno, Nevada—a city just a couple hundred miles north of Los Angeles. It had never been a pretty city, what with all the old casinos past their heyday and the river that ran dry most days of the year. But now even the old hotel towers had collapsed under a black fog. Rubble peppered the streets.

From the looks of it, someone had dropped a bomb on Reno.

“It’s too dangerous for rescuers to venture into Reno south of McCarran Boulevard, so thousands of residents and tourists are still believed to be trapped,” January Lazar went on. There was a faint magical buzz to her words. The broadcast must have been arranged by the OPA. We had an entire team of people dedicated to throwing spells over the airwaves so that viewers’ opinions would shift whichever way we wanted.

That night, it seemed like we wanted everyone to believe there had been a volcanic eruption in Reno.

The sound of the Apache got louder.

I tossed my protein shake in the sink and flung my door open.

My jacket was whipped open, tie lashing around my neck. The chopper had landed close enough that the rotors blasted me with wind. The noise was going to wake up everyone in my apartment complex. Considering that the OPA didn’t officially exist, we must have been in a real hurry for secrecy not to matter.

The door was open. Fritz hung halfway out the side, arm hooked into the straps of a seat, Blackberry glued to his ear. He was wearing a suit like I was, along with sunglasses, and he was waiting for me impatiently.

Whatever had happened to Reno, it wasn’t bombs, and it wasn’t a natural disaster.

The Office of Preternatural Affairs doesn’t get called in for boring shit like that, after all.

My name is Cèsar Hawke.

It wasn’t that long ago that I worked for myself as a private eye. Yeah, that’s a real job. It’s not something invented by Hollywood explicitly for black-and-white noir movies.

The job is real, and a hell of a lot boring than you’d think—lots of following cheating wives to Pilates class, tracking the internet activity of people who jumped bail bonds, shit like that.

Shit that involves mortals.

Humans.

I’m not a private investigator anymore.

And I don’t deal with humans very often.

These days, I’m an agent for the Office of Preternatural Affairs, which is a secret government agency that you’ve never heard about. We’re not even mentioned in the fine print of bills that pass through the Senate. We silently siphon money out of other parts of the government, soaking up tax dollars in the name of public safety.

Officially, I work in the Magical Violations Department of the OPA. We’re all witches who track down other witches—the ones who break our unwritten laws. We clean up messes left behind by nasty spells. We enchant and disenchant and sing to the fucking moon if that’s what the job calls for.

Unofficially, I’m still an investigator, albeit a different kind than I used to be. I take all the odd cases that don’t fit anywhere else, the sensitive jobs.

Demon things.

Fritz had put me on his special team after I proved that I was trustworthy. At least, proving that I was someone he could trust. Fritz had always had agendas hidden in agendas, and only some of those agendas aligned with the OPA’s. I aligned with Fritz, so I did whatever he told me, whether it was above-the-desk stuff or the kind of case that led to fistfights next to the cashier’s cage at the chisav races. We’re bros like that. We’re tight.

Even though Fritz and I both work for the Office of Preternatural Affairs, our relationship doesn’t have a lot to do with them anymore.

See, we’re kopis and aspis now. You’ve never heard of those titles, just like you’ve never heard of the government agency that I work for. The long and the short of it means that Fritz and I are bound for life as partners. He fights demons with his super-strength as a kopis, and I protect him magically.

It also means if one of us dies, the other goes, too.

So yeah, I do what Fritz tells me.

He says, “You’re running a special investigation,” I say, “Yes, sir.”

That’s life with the Office of Preternatural Affairs.

That’s life with Fritz Friederling.

You’d think I’d be used to it after all these years. And sure, if you’d have asked me a week ago, I’d have said it was getting easier.

But a week ago, Reno hadn’t been blown up by demons.

COLLAPSE

Ruled by Steel

An Urban Fantasy Mystery

Book Cover: Ruled by Steel
Editions:Kindle - First Edition: $ 4.99 USD
ISBN: B00G7A6PGA
Pages: 391
Paperback - First Edition: $ 14.99 USD
ISBN: 1493547496
Size: 8.00 x 5.00 in
Pages: 390
Audiobook - First Edition: $ 24.95 USD
ISBN: B00SU4ZO1S

Only a demon can save the souls in Hell.

Elise Kavanagh failed to prevent the Breaking, and now Hell is spilling onto Earth. She’s delved deep into the City of Dis in an attempt to stop the infernal armies–but even the legendary Godslayer is unprepared to face Dis’s fiercest demons, not to mention the responsibility of liberating the humans they’ve enslaved.

On Earth, rogue angel Nash Adamson is wing-deep in damage control after the Breaking, and his fellow angels don’t want to get involved. War is approaching the werewolf sanctuary. If Heaven won’t help them, he’ll have to turn to Hell for salvation.

Everything hinges on who can control the City of Dis. Elise and her allies have no choice but to rule by steel…

Excerpt:

Belphegor selected the slave because she wouldn’t look at him. There was mystery to seeing only the tip of her nose under her hair, the hunch of her shoulders, her shins peeking out from behind the protective armor of folded arms. There was so little mystery in his life these days.

“That one,” he said, pointing at the cage. It was only one cage in a row of a hundred on that floor. The capacity of the kennels could accommodate a thousand slaves when filled.

Bek tu?” asked his attending fiend in the infernal tongue. The words were stilted, the syntax poor, but Belphegor understood the meaning. Are you certain? It tentatively went on to say, “Pach ohk nati.There are better slaves here.

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The fiend was a stupid, slobbering creature; it cringed when Belphegor glanced in its direction. His pale fingers stroked the throat of his high-collared shirt, tracing the edge of his steward’s pin. It was a meaningless decoration now that the Palace had fallen, but one he wore with pride.

“Your concern is noted,” Belphegor said. He replied in the higher form of the demon language, which only those with the education and proper mouthparts could pronounce.

Another cringe. The fiend nodded, fumbling to untie the leather cord holding the cage door shut. There was no lock. The slaves never made more than one attempt at escape.

This slave did not cry, nor did she attempt to shrink to the rear of the cage. She simply bowed her head to her knees and seemed to grow smaller.

Without the mesh door between them and the mortal immobile, Belphegor could admire the little details: the lines of every rib from her shoulder down to the place her waist cut in too shallowly from malnourishment, the dust caking her hair, the delicate twist to her bony toes.

The slaves always looked so miserable in the mornings, after a full quarter’s rest; there was no avoiding the brutal air of Dis. It wreaked such havoc upon tender mortal tissues. But the baths were being sharpened, and she would soon be gleaming and tender, as befitted such delicate creatures.

Ah, she did not even tremble at his gaze. He wondered if she had attempted escape before. He thought he would have recalled the pleasure of bringing her back.

“This one will do,” Belphegor said with a nod.

He flourished a hand into the kennel. She simply shifted onto all fours and began crawling toward him without ever lifting her head. He couldn’t help but notice that one of her hands was bandaged. She was already broken.

Exquisite.

Her head remained lowered when she stood beside him, utterly naked but for the smears of crimson clay upon the swells of her breasts. Even with her body hunched, he could see that she was in good condition: svelte but muscular, young but hardened by life. He rubbed a lock of her hair to clean away the clay. It would not stick to his waxy skin, so it crumbled to the floor of the slave pens without staining his flesh. The slave’s hair was black underneath.

“Come,” Belphegor said, not unkindly, as he took her elbow.

Many of the other cages had already emptied. Lines of mortals shuffled toward the dry baths. They curved around him as he led her through their ranks, as if pushed away from him by force of gravity. The fiend limped at his side, dragging the blunted blade of his sword.

The usual stations of daily maintenance waited on the black slopes beyond the kennels. The House of Abraxas was a fortress built upon the slopes of Mount Anathema, and the rear of the property butted against a nearly sheer cliff face. A few iron trees jutted from cracks in the stone, thrusting toward the sky with sharp fingers, as if hungering for the slaves that walked past them.

Belphegor performed a casual inspection upon the guards as he approached the pit, ensuring that the fiends were in the places he expected and handling the slaves with the utmost care.

The lines were led past a pit where the slaves were instructed to relieve their bladders and bowels of what had not already been eliminated in their cages overnight. Then they were taken to the dry baths, where fiends waited with brushes and stones to scrape away the stink of mortal sweat. They would be fed after that—quite the hassle, since so many of the slaves began refusing to feed themselves after a few months. Manual application of nutrition was necessary for these fragile slaves.

Daily maintenance for the full complement of the House of Abraxas’s slaves took almost a full quarter, from the time they woke up on Second Monday to the end of Second Friday. But Belphegor’s hand-picked selection was lucky that day. She would bypass the lines and be given first priority for maintenance so that she might spend the rest of the day in the House with Belphegor himself.

The sky in Dis was violet that day—a strange color that he hadn’t seen in his millennia of service. The fissure didn’t reach the sky directly above the House of Abraxas, but Earth’s light was strong, and it changed the entire atmosphere of the place. Belphegor found it distasteful, but great reward required great sacrifice. If an easy access point to conquer Earth required tolerating the occasional moist bite of a spring breeze in Hell, he would tolerate it.

Belphegor strode toward the pit with the slave at his side. He did not need to push aside the line to make room for her. The slaves shied away from him.

He stepped to the edge, holding her arm to steady her.

“Empty your bowels,” he said.

Without ever lifting her head, she did as instructed, teetering somewhat precariously on the tip of the outcropping in a squat. There were several other outcroppings, all of which were occupied. The scent of human waste mingled with Dis’s sulfuric breeze. It was impossible to distinguish the sounds and smells of each individual mortal.

Once she rose, he took her elbow again.

They ascended to the dry baths: stone platforms on which the fiends scrubbed the slaves with wire brushes to scrub them. They were elevated to allow the lines of waiting mortals watch. Belphegor helped position her upon the table on all fours.

“We will give special attention to her hair,” he instructed the fiend, tapping his fingers on his chin thoughtfully. “And attend to her teeth, as well.”

The fiend hurried to offer the brush to him. Belphegor took his time scraping at the smears on her rear and legs, pressing hard enough that it would leave raised welts on the skin of most slaves. Her skin was firmer than it looked. Broken or not, she must have been thoroughly nourished to be so strong.

He attempted to lift her head to brush her teeth, but she would not comply with the hand on her chin.

“Come,” Belphegor said. “Allow me to clean you.”

Her chin remained lowered to her chest, lips pinched shut, eyes invisible under the fall of hair.

Not so broken after all.

Belphegor rubbed the pin of his stewardship again. It was cold compared to the heat of the air. Annoyance turned his mouth down at the corners.

He enjoyed struggle. He did not enjoy defiance.

But perhaps the struggle was to come. Some mortals responded strangely to their time at the House of Abraxas. Mourning the lives they had lost seemed to be a lengthy emotional process; perhaps this one simply had some fire left.

If there was despair within her, he would find it by the time daylight fell on Earth above.

The teeth could wait.

“To the feedings,” Belphegor said after brushing the clay from her hair.

She was as compliant taking her breakfast as she had been relieving herself into the pits; she ate everything without ever lifting her eyes. Belphegor rubbed his hand through her silken hair as she chewed and swallowed the serving of protein, which was culled from the organs of obsolete fiends. It was iron-rich and would fuel her well for the day to come. He daydreamed of it while separating her soft locks into sections, only to let them fall into place again.

They sat at the front of the dining hall, looking down upon the other slaves as they moved through their breakfast routine. They ate as they were bathed: on all fours, under the watchful eyes of fiends. Scarred bodies trembled as they dipped down on their elbows to lift flesh from the troughs with their teeth.

Belphegor did not make his slave eat with the others. She remained on her knees, and ate off of a plate in his lap. A fond smile crossed his lips as he continued to stroke her hair. She knew to use her mouth properly; there was no need to muzzle her.

The anticipation was too great. He was beginning to tremble with excitement by the time the last bite of raw meat slid between her lips. The wet sound of swallowing thrilled him.

A fiend approached Belphegor at the head of the room.

Tu nati omak?” asked the fiend. Will you be on the first run?

The slaves were entertained and exercised by two walks through the City proper each day. He liked to accompany them, sometimes. But not that morning.

“No,” Belphegor said, perhaps a little too quickly. “We will not be attending the run.”

He stood. The slave followed suit.

Together, they approached the noble House of Abraxas.

The entryway gleamed and black and proud. Jagged teeth adorned the arch of the doorway, which was thrice Belphegor’s height. A true wonder to behold.

To prevent the escape of indoor staff, the front door had to be unlocked from the exterior by guards. Belphegor waited patiently as the pair of fiends assigned to the duty operated the levers to either side of the door. It lifted, baring a foyer carved of pit glass and a spiral stair beyond.

As soon as they stepped through, the door slammed shut behind them.

The House was an impressive manor exemplifying the artistry of the finest infernal architects to have passed through Dis. Parts of it had been cut directly from the solid stone of the mountain; other parts had been carved from imported chisav bone, slaughtered en masse to near extinction in order to provide enough materials for the wings. The entryway itself was decorated with pit glass: a crystal-clear substance that glowed with light, but not heat.

The slave’s tender feet slapped gently on stone as they crossed the foyer. There was no hint of curiosity within her; despite the glory of the House, she never lifted her gaze from her feet. She hadn’t even taken her arms from behind her back since leaving the dining hall.

Belphegor dwelled in a room with simple trappings near the center of the House. It was better described by what it was not rather than by what it was: he had no keepsakes of his long years of service, no bed in which to sleep, and no decorations that might please more common eyes than his. It was merely a black box with a single window, a desk, and a switch controlling the front gates. It required a demon with Belphegor’s unusual strength to operate that lever; it could unlock every guard tower along the wall in case of emergency, and they would not trust it with anyone else.

The only other remarkable thing in the room were the chains on his wall.

They dangled in sensual silver lines, tipped with hooks and spurs and corkscrews that gleamed wickedly in Hell’s half-light. He had bolted them in various positions on the wall, low and high, to accommodate entertaining a slave of any height, in any position. He had left room only for a shining steel cabinet in the corner, which held his accessories. They did not match the chains so much as compliment them.

Abraxas had once tauntingly called Belphegor’s office a “play room.” Derisive as the intention had been, the steward found it to be an adequate descriptor.

“To the wall,” Belphegor told the slave, closing the door behind them. The bolt made a heavy, satisfying sound when it settled into place, signifying the privacy they were to enjoy. “Arms above your head, palms flat to the wall, legs spread.”

She stood in the center of the room, head down, and did not go to the wall.

More defiance.

Belphegor was uncertain if he wanted to break her when he had been hoping for a slave that was already shattered, but now they were there. His choice had been made. He was as resolute as he was hungering.

Pale, deft fingers loosened the collar of his shirt.

“To the wall,” he said again. He rolled the wrists of his sleeves back. The forearms underneath were shrunken and skeletal.

The slave finally lifted her head and looked him in the eye.

Her face was as beautiful as her body, in that human sort of way. Her lips were full and red. The curve of her jaw to her cheekbones and forehead formed the shape of a blunted spade—pleasingly youthful, though decidedly ageless. Her eyebrows were slanted, giving her an angry expression.

“No,” she said.

Familiarity swelled within him, though he could not determine why, exactly. He didn’t think it was because she had tried to escape before.

“To the wall,” Belphegor said.

She went to the wall—but she did not spread her legs. She wrapped her hand in one of the chains and snapped it from its moorings with a jerk of her arm.

The slave whipped the chain in a wide arc, snapping the spurs at his knees.

You go to the wall,” she said.

Her voice did not have that raw quality characteristic of slave voices. Whether screaming for mercy or whispering a prayer, they spoke as though their delicate mucus membranes had been stripped by granite. The dry air was brutal to a mortal’s system. Their entire bodies cried out from the endless agony of it. But hers did not.

It stood to reason, then, that she was not mortal at all.

“Who are you?” Belphegor asked.

She snapped the chain at him again with a powerful twist of her arm. “Palms to the wall. Spread your feet.”

It was absurd. Like a dog asking its master to roll over.

He reached for her with the intention of positioning her body by force. She ducked under his hand, flinging the chain like a whip to wrap it around his forearm. The tip of it tug into his sleeve and caught.

The slave wrenched it back, almost pulling Belphegor off of his feet. He was surprised by her immense strength. He actually staggered.

She had behaved so well. She had defecated on command, allowed her hair to be brushed, ate the meat without her hands. This creature was nothing like the thing he had led from the cage.

It wasn’t anger in Belphegor. He didn’t have those kinds of shallow emotions. But there was a sense of resignation—the cold realization that he had erred in some way, or that a fiend had, and that he was facing punishment for that error now. Instead of a blissful day in seclusion, he would have to terminate the problem. Killing her was not how he had hoped to pass the hours. Far from it.

The spur of the chain had dug into his flesh and scratched him. Ichor welled to the surface.

Rather than attempting to remove it, he seized the chain and used her grip on it to pull her toward him.

“Who are you?” he asked again. She struggled against him at first, digging in her heels, but her feet found no traction on the stone.

She released the chain as he advanced on her. A quick side-step put the desk between them. It was an obelisk at the center of the room and made an excellent barrier.

“I’m the one who’s taking the House of Abraxas,” she said.

Sit. Stay. Beg. Roll over.

Belphegor weighed the chain in his fist, dragging it behind him like a tail. Metal slithered against the stone flooring.

It did not matter, he supposed, who this woman was. The priority was rectifying his mistake swiftly—or perhaps not swiftly at all.

Perhaps he could still enjoy the day the way he wanted.

She would need to die. They didn’t have the facilities required to contain slaves that were not mortal, nor was there any need to keep a dangerous creature when the helpless ones served Abraxas’s purposes just as well. But he could chain and enjoy her before the death. Not as much as he would have enjoyed a mortal, unfortunately, but it had been a long time since Belphegor had broken anything with such spirit; he believed that he could salvage the day with creativity.

With a mere thought, he crossed to the other side of the desk, seizing the woman’s throat in his hand and using his grip to slam her into the window. If it had been made of ordinary glass, it would have cracked. He expected her skull to break instead.

Her head bounced and left no blood.

He tightened his fingers—and his hand closed into a fist on nothingness. Her throat, and the rest of her body, had disappeared.

Belphegor turned in time to see her launching a kick at his face. He tried to grab her ankle. Her leg vanished before it contacted his hand, yet the hard edge of her foot struck him along the temple—just as solid as her leg had been untouchable.

Selective incorporeality. Definitely not mortal.

“We will not conduct this fight on your terms,” Belphegor said, ducking under her second kick as he walked toward his desk. He stepped around her jabbing elbows and thrusting fists without breaking stride. She may have been able to disappear and reappear at will, but she was still not as fast as Belphegor.

He slapped a hand on his desk. Red light flared within the room.

“I have activated a ward,” he went on. “You will no longer be able to turn incorporeal.”

With that announcement, he snapped the chain at her. The hooked edge caught her skin. Blood welled to the surface where he expected to see ichor—not the sweet crimson blood of mortals, but an amber-colored sludge.

The slave tried to free her wrist, but the motion only made the hook dig deeper. He flicked his wrist and wrapped the chain around her forearm.

Again, he said, “To the wall.” He punctuated this by kicking her in the back. The woman stumbled and caught herself on the play room wall.

She wasn’t nearly as fast without the ability to phase. The woman turned, but he seized the back of her neck and smashed her face into the black bricks between chains, slamming twice. A crack suggested that her nose may have broken.

A shame to damage such a pristine face.

He did it again.

Belphegor didn’t react to her foot slamming on his instep, nor did the elbow in his solar plexus have any effect. He bound both of her arms together with the chain, hook firmly entrenched in her wrist, and attached them to a pulley. With two pulls on the rope, the slave’s arms were jerked over her head, stretching her naked body tall and long. A third pull lifted her to the tip of her toes.

She grunted, jaw clenched.

“I have other spells built into the mortar of my office,” Belphegor said, as emotionlessly as ever. “It is sound-proofed, and, yes, energy-proofed. If our interaction hurts you, please feel free to leak all of your infernal powers in panic. It will harm nobody within the House.”

“Thanks for the information,” she said. She still was not afraid, bound to his wall and warded into corporeality.

Belphegor removed a drawer from his cabinet and set it on the edge of the desk. He had a delightful mix of tools within the drawer: studded phalluses and corkscrews and jagged-toothed pliers. There were many things that might be able to put the fear into her.

He selected a leather gag with a spiked mouthpiece and turned to face her again.

While Belphegor had been distracted, she had used the strength of her arms and her feet against the wall to lift her body, bringing her bent arms level with her face. She chewed at the bandages on her hand with her canines. Cloth ripped, and the bandaging fell free.

Light flared on her hand where the flesh had been concealed. Colorful runes slid over her knuckles, between her fingers, and down the inside of her wrist. Now that they had been freed, they marched down her arms like insects.

It was magic, but magic that he had never seen before.

And no demon had cast magic since the era before the Treaty of Dis.

Belphegor was becoming mildly concerned.

He seized the first thing in the drawer that he touched—the studded phallus. It was crafted from dense stone, capable of heating to a searing temperature, with metal protruding from the mushroomed head. It would make an excellent a bludgeon.

She pointed her fingers at him. At the same moment, he lunged at her, raising the phallus over his head.

The slave spoke.

It was not English or the infernal tongue that fell from her lips, but a silent word that quaked the room, making the floor tremble under his feet and his desk shudder. One of the runes ignited and vanished. He felt it punch him in the chest.

Belphegor’s back slammed into the opposite wall. The contact was severe enough to make his vision momentarily black out.

When he could see again, the woman had freed herself and stood over him with the chain still wrapped around one arm.

“I think I told you to get against the wall,” she said.

Belphegor didn’t bother responding. He instead began to swell, allowing his limbs to stretch and chest to widen. He could grow to the size of the Palace’s once-glorious tower, given enough space; he believed he would only need to be perhaps twenty feet tall to crush this woman.

She jumped behind him and wrapped her arm around his throat before he could grow more than a foot. Her rune-encrusted hand spasmed wildly over his chest. With another word of power and a second ignited wound, he felt his muscles harden.

He could neither grow nor run—nor make any other motion.

Belphegor’s concern increased fractionally.

She pulled the silver chain tight around his body. Her strength was easily equal to his when his muscles were ossified by magic, and she trussed him with the chain within moments. She dragged him across the floor, hooked him to the pulley, and lifted him off of the ground so that his stiff legs dangled uselessly beneath him.

He could only watch as she flicked a couple more runes at him, placing a wall of fire on the floor between them and reinforcing the chains. When she finished, she stepped back to study him. The woman seemed satisfied with the result.

She wiped the amber blood off of her upper lip and picked up the phallus. She registered no emotion as at its appearance, though her grip was white-knuckled.

The slave rounded on him and swung.

Pain exploded across Belphegor’s face, making his vision erupt in stars. The second strike split the skin on his cheekbone. Cold blood coursed down the side of his face, chilling his immobile flesh.

“You’re fucking sick,” she said, tossing the bloody phallus in the drawer. “How many humans have you raped?”

“One every month for centuries,” Belphegor said. His lips barely moved.

She grunted. “Guess you lose count after a while.”

With Belphegor rendered momentarily harmless—only momentarily—she turned her attention to the switch in the center of the floor. It was a simple mechanism. Moving the lever from the ten o’clock position to the two o’clock was enough to throw open the gates. They hadn’t bothered making it more difficult to open since there were very few demons that were strong enough to manually operate it, and fewer still that could get past Belphegor’s defenses.

“It doesn’t matter if you open the guard houses,” he said as she tested the weight of the lever. “The wards are linked by soul and blood to the lord of the House. You cannot invade without his compliance.”

“Soul links don’t work once the owner is dead,” she said. “And I killed Abraxas weeks ago.”

For the first time, Belphegor felt fear.

She kicked the lever.

COLLAPSE

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Oaths of Blood

An Urban Fantasy Mystery

Book Cover: Oaths of Blood
Editions:Kindle - First Edition: $ 4.99 USD
ISBN: B00F0SXP6S
Pages: 340
Paperback - First Edition: $ 13.99 USD
ISBN: 1492356522
Size: 8.00 x 5.00 in
Pages: 338
Audiobook - First Edition: $ 24.95 USD
ISBN: B00OVCJMX4

Werewolves are immune to every illness and can heal any wound. It should be impossible for one to become possessed by a demon. But that’s exactly what Seth Wilder is facing: a werewolf gone insane from possession. He has no choice but to deliver her to the only exorcist in America, Elise Kavanagh, who also happens to be a powerful demon known as the Godslayer.

Elise is in hiding when Seth and Rylie Gresham, Alpha werewolf, arrive seeking her help. She agrees, but everything has its price. What they learn about the possessed werewolf changes everything — Hell and Earth, the pack, and the future of the entire world…

Excerpt:

December 2012

It was dark on Capitol Hill that night—much too dark. There were streetlights to burn away the night, but by the time Senator Peterson reached them, they would snuff out like candles. The fountains that should have been illuminated were dark. The streets, normally bright with traffic, were devoid of life.

Dawn, and its accompanying safety, was hours away.

Until then, the senator was alone with the night.

“Light,” he gasped, pulling at the neck of his jacket. The fog of his evaporating breath billowed around his face. “I need light.” His words fell flat on the air, as if he were speaking into an invisible wall.

Harsh winter air burned at his lungs as he raced for the next street lamp. The pool of light on the sidewalk looked like the sweet promise of safety.

It blinked out the moment his foot touched it.

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Senator Peterson gave a ragged sob, no longer worried about people seeing him melt down in public. In fact, he would have been grateful for a swarm of reporters to take photos of his tear-streaked face, especially if they brought flash bulbs. Anything for a witness. Anything for light.

But there was nobody to see him there. All of the normal joggers, lawyers, security guards, and Union officials had somehow vanished.

He was alone. So very alone.

The senator ran up the stairs to his office, slipping on the half-melted snow as he attempted to pull the Bluetooth earpiece from his pocket. His hands scrabbled at the iron railing. When he caught himself, he nearly wrenched his shoulder out of its socket.

The earpiece slipped from his fingers and landed in a puddle.

“No, oh no…”

The lights in the building across the street turned off all at once, as though a power outage had hit the block. But there was no wind, no downed power line, no electrical problems.

Misty fingers of fog slid along the street, devouring everything on the ice-slicked road he had left behind.

Senator Peterson didn’t bother trying to retrieve the earpiece from the puddle.

He badged into his office building and slammed the door behind him, chest heaving. The lights were still on there. His entire body flooded with a relief so powerful that he almost fell over.

He allowed himself a pause, leaning against a wall to catch his breath and treasuring the glow of light on his skin.

“Thank the Lord,” he said.

Maybe he was safe. Maybe it wouldn’t follow him here.

He pushed the curtains aside to look through. Clouds hung in the sky overhead, heavy and violet with the promise of snow yet to come. He couldn’t see the building on the other side of the street anymore, nor could he see the sidewalk and lawn leading up to his offices. Even the stairs were being taken by that mist.

There was a figure moving in the fog.

Heart hammering, he let the curtains fall shut.

The senator turned on every light switch he passed, burning the shadows out of the corners of the hallway, behind the receptionist’s desk, in the elevators.

Senator Peterson reached his offices on the third floor to find that everyone had gone home already. His staff had been working long hours on the preternatural regulations bill, and there should have been at least an unpaid intern or two suffering at her workstation. Yet every desk was empty. The computers were powered off. He had never seen the building so empty.

He grabbed the phone off of an intern’s desk and punched in a phone number. It rang once before someone answered. “Hello?”

“Gary?” asked the senator.

“Yes, sir.”

Lucky again. First lights, now he had reached Gary Zettel. Maybe Senator Peterson wasn’t about to die after all.

“I need you to come to my office right now,” the senator said, approaching the windows that should have overlooked the courtyard. He could see nothing beyond the glass but the reflection of a pale, terrified old man with tufts of white hair and a suit too baggy for his frail form. “As quickly as possible. It’s an emergency.”

“Sir, with all due respect, we have a week to work on this bill. I have other commitments that need—”

“This isn’t about the damn bill! Someone is chasing me!”

Zettel’s voice sharpened. “What?”

How could he explain that the night was chasing him without sounding insane? No—there was no time for that. “Send a team right away. I’ll explain when you get here.”

Senator Peterson dropped the phone.

The fluorescent lights flickered.

He jumped, staring at the ceiling. The lights stopped flickering immediately, but it was enough to flood his system with fear again.

There was an antique blunderbuss over the desk in his personal office. He didn’t think it had been fired since his grandfather passed away, but he suddenly wanted to hold it in his hands very desperately.

The lights continued flickering as he staggered through the rows of desks toward his door, dripping snowmelt on the carpet. He shed his loose jacket, removed his tie. It wasn’t easier to breathe with less clothing. He still felt like he was smothering. Like the fog had taken up permanent residence in his lungs.

He jumped into his office in time for all of the lights to die.

Senator Peterson slammed the door and pressed his back to it. It was pitch black inside his office, but it wasn’t the tangible darkness that had been chasing him outside. That was on the other side of the door. Moonlight streamed through the window in silvery rays of hope.

His hand fumbled for the light switch.

The ceiling lights didn’t come on, but his desk lamp did. It illuminated the blunderbuss on his wall, the mess of paperwork on his desk, and the leather executive chair facing his window.

Senator Peterson took two steps toward his desk before the chair spun around.

A woman sat at Senator Peterson’s desk, and she had brought the night with her. Her hair seemed to melt into the black void of her leather jacket, isolating the white circle of her face, the spheres of her breasts lifted by an overbust corset. She was unaffected by the bite of winter. She was the bite of winter.

“Oh God,” he said.

The woman’s expression was almost pitying, but her blood-red lips curved into a frown.

Did she fear religious relics? Could his cross protect him? He fumbled to extract the rosary from underneath his shirt. “Begone!” he cried, shaking the crucifix at her.

She lifted an eyebrow. A bone-white finger drummed on his desk impatiently.

“Really?”

The rosary slipped from his trembling fingers. It bounced under his desk where he couldn’t see it. The woman didn’t even flinch. She stood smoothly, getting between Senator Peterson and his blunderbuss.

“I just—you didn’t—can’t we talk about this?” he asked, ashamed at how quickly his tone became whining.

“The time for talking has passed, Senator,” she said.

He screamed. She shattered into shadow.

COLLAPSE

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Damnation Marked

There’s something in the earth deep below Elise Kavanagh’s territory. A shadow is falling upon local demons to devour their flesh and harvest their souls. And it’s coming for Elise next.

The Union has an easy way out. They want to send Elise into hiding again with her former partner, James Faulkner. All she has to do is surrender the territory and trust that they can protect the ethereal ruins, the dark gate, and the city she’s come to know as home.

Greater powers have other plans for Elise and her fabled power as Godslayer–plans that mean surrendering her life and blood to the most powerful demon alive. But if she descends, there’s no turning back. Once she gazes into the abyss, it will gaze back into her…and Elise will be damned forever.

Excerpt:

Rick used to make a living selling medicine to plague doctors. He once watched a patron stuff his beak with camphor, rose petals, and laudanum using gloved hands, while explaining that the aromas would spare him from miasmatic air. The doctor had spoken with confident authority, and Rick believed him. It seemed to be as good an explanation for the plague as anything else.

The doctor slid the mask over his face, donned his fedora, and departed to treat the dying.

A few weeks later, Rick passed a pyre of bodies and saw his former customer at the top of the pile. The doctor’s neck below the mask was riddled with buboes. His robes curled with flame. The mask’s long beak was cracked.

It was about then that Rick realized that humans were deeply stupid creatures.

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He avoided Earth for a few hundred years after that. The market for human trinkets was good in Hell at the time, considering that there was no reliable way to travel between the dimensions, and he eked out a decent living.

The next time he set foot in a mortal city on the planes of Earth, those deeply stupid animals had somehow created heavy machines that could drive at unimaginable speeds, and they allowed anyone to do it. It was lunacy. Or idiocy. Or very possibly both.

He wanted nothing to do with them.

But his passport had expired, so it was too late for Rick to go back to Hell. He picked a town, bought a shop, and hadn’t left it since—not once.

Rick watched through the window as his newest assistant accepted a shipment, gnawing on his claws with jagged teeth. Jerica was taking her sweet time signing for those crates. She was a nightmare too, though much younger than Rick, newly substantiated and still marveling at the wonders of her corporeal form. She seemed to enjoy using it to flirt with the delivery driver.

What if that blasted truck rolled over and killed her? It had been hard enough finding one assistant. He didn’t want to find a replacement, too.

The shopkeeper kept an eye on the empty street as Jerica continued to talk with the driver, who didn’t seem concerned about the possibility of being killed on the sidewalk, either. She pointed at the boxes, then tipped her head back and laughed. Laughed!

Rick couldn’t watch. He just couldn’t. It was too much for his constitution to handle.

He returned to the counter of his drugstore and took a shot of cactus juice to settle his cramping gut. It tasted like ass, and Rick knew ass. They considered human anuses to be a gourmet treat in Hell. The cactus was definitely worse. But it did good things for his stomach.

Moving away from the window didn’t keep him from worrying over his assistant. He could watch Jerica on the blurry monitor hanging over the locked case of condoms. And watch her he did. Rick worried about that girl.

Eventually, after what felt like hours, the bell over the door chimed. His nightmare assistant backed into the shop carrying one of the crates on her shoulder.

“What is this? It’s heavy.” Jerica crouched to set it on the cracked linoleum.

He wrung his hands. “Do you think you took long enough?”

“What, are you having a rush of business in here?” She popped a bubble of gum and sucked it into her mouth again. “Relax. Being nice never hurt anyone.”

“You would be surprised,” Rick said darkly, thinking of plague doctors and blackened extremities. Jerica moved to open the crate, but he slammed a hand on the wood to stop her. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Checking the shipment. Don’t you want to make sure we’ve got everything?”

“Not up here, where we can be seen through the windows,” he hissed. “Downstairs!”

Rick took the first crate to the basement while Jerica retrieved the other two.

The space beneath his shop was dim, narrow, and had a low ceiling. He still occasionally smacked his forehead on the beams, even after seventy-five years. His desk and reclining chair occupied one corner; the rest of the floor was filled with boxes of inventory.

He kicked a space clear for the crates and directed her to stack all three on top of each other. Then, and only then, did he lift the lid on one to examine the contents. It was filled with egg cartons, each of which protected twelve small, glowing cubes.

“Lethe?” Jerica asked, sounding wholly unimpressed.

“Mind yourself. This is a special order.”

She jutted a hip. With her asymmetrical haircut, scalloped tunic, and cocky stance, she looked more like an abstract geometric painting than a teenage girl. “Rick, man, you know I love you…”

He smashed the lid onto the crate again. “Ha.”

“…but anyone making special orders of lethe is not someone you should be dealing with. I mean, drugs? Demon drugs? You know what this stuff does to people?”

“It does nothing to people,” he said, unfazed by her attempt at showing concern for him. “Only demons. I don’t question the orders, and neither should you.”

A quick scan showed that every cube was in its proper place, and in good condition. Rick still had an intake bracelet somewhere, probably at the bottom of his laundry pile. Maybe the client would want to drop a couple together. He hadn’t been on a trip in a long time—literally or figuratively.

His assistant watched him replace the lids with disapproval. “Rick…”

“Get on out,” he said, shooing her upstairs. He locked the basement door behind them. “Go on. Get.”

She sighed. “Maybe I should stay and help you with this.”

“Your shift ends in fifteen. I’m not paying overtime. I told you, get on out.”

“You don’t have to pay me.”

But he pushed her toward the door, and she could hardly fight against him. Especially when he exerted the strength of millennia against her dozen or so years. “Careful on your way home. Stay out of the streets. And watch for those cars!”

Her lips stretched so wide from ear to ear that he could see the wad of gum pressed between two yellowed molars. “Nobody’s going to run me over on the way. But if you’re really worried, you could walk me home.”

“You’re funny. Just so fuckin’ funny.”

He shut the door in her face, but considering it was a glass door, it didn’t do much good. He saw her mouth moving on the other side: Be careful. Okay?

Then Jerica faded into the shadows, slipping across the street without touching the pavement, and reappeared under a streetlight. She waved at him before dancing into darkness once more.

Rick sat on his stool behind the counter and found his paperback under a folder of ledgers. Since he didn’t sleep, all he had was free time, and Rick read a lot. Despite being dumb animals, humans were good with stories. He was in the middle of “The Billionaire’s Busty Bride.” The pages curled under his long fingers.

Soon, he was so absorbed that he didn’t look up when the bell over the door jingled. Footsteps shuffled in.

“Leave your bag outside,” he said, licking his thumb to turn the page. “No backpacks.”

The silence that followed his order had weight to it. Rick glanced up. The customer was a tall guy in a leather jacket with a spiked iron band wrapped around his forehead. He was ugly, even by a nightmare’s standards: smashed nose, sausage lips, lined face. Flecks of dried blood were peeling off his leathery skin like he hadn’t washed his face since his last meal of manflesh.

Zohak slammed his fists on the counter. “Where is it?” He had been on Earth for months, but his accent was miserable. Everything was still pronounced in the back of his throat, like he was about to spill out a tirade of Hell’s native tongue.

Rick folded the corner of his page, closed the book, and stuck it under the cash register. “All right, all right.” He shuttered the windows to block out the night. “This way.” Zohak lumbered down the stairs to the basement. His weight made the whole building creak. “No company this time?”

The demon-king glared over his shoulder. “I trust no one.”

“That wasn’t the story last time I saw you.”

“My fiends hadn’t been slaughtered last time.” Bitterness dripped from his growls.

Rick knew a subject he shouldn’t touch when he heard one. It didn’t matter if Zohak had his legion anyway. Only if he had money.

They opened the top crate. A silvery-blue glow splashed over their faces, highlighting the furrows on Zohak’s face. The demon-king’s eyes raked over the inventory.

“Is this all you have?”

“It’s all you ordered. Three stacks of lethe.”

Zohak towered over the nightmare, clenching his hands and baring his teeth. “I ordered five!”

Rick wasn’t impressed, but he was prepared. He whipped the ledger out of his back pocket and held it up. “Three stacks.”

The demon king deflated a little. Actually, he deflated a lot. He quivered, and his broad shoulders sagged. For an instant, an oily sheen obscured his red irises.

He moved to put the lid back on the crate, but Rick stopped him. “Payment?”

The king blinked, and the oily veil vanished from his eyes. “This one is on…” Zohak searched for the word. “Credit.”

Rick flapped the ledger. “No. It’s not.”

“I must sell this before I can afford to buy it.”

“What about the last batch you flipped?”

Zohak seemed to struggle with the words, but not because of the language barrier. “I… lost it.”

And with that, the overhead light bulb flickered.

A strange energy rolled through the basement, and Rick closed his eyes to focus on it. Weight pressed between the space where his shoulder blades should have been. It tasted like ancient papyrus, like the clouds in the sky, and he tried to swipe it from his tongue.

“Wait here,” he said, leaving Zohak with the inventory to head upstairs.

The intensity of the energy grew as he ascended. The air buzzed as though a low electrical current were vibrating through it.

Rick lifted the blinds. One by one, the streetlights dimmed and turned off, marching in a line from the end of the block toward his shop.

His security system beeped, drawing his attention to the monitor. The camera mounted outside his shop flickered, snowed, and cut out. Then the “Open” sign in the window turned off, followed immediately by the lights inside.

A power outage? The clouds were heavy with the promise of snow, but a single flake had yet to fall, and the air was completely still.

Tendrils of dread began creeping over him. “What in the seven hells?”

He willed his corporeal form away, focused on the window, and reappeared beside the warped glass with a thought. He peered into the night.

There was someone moving on the street. A woman.

Rick locked the door and stepped back. “Zohak! Incoming!”

The demon-king already stood at the top of the stairs, and his eyes blazed with red fire. Rick didn’t recognize the woman approaching on the street, but apparently he did.

It only took a moment for her to reach the entrance. Her hair was in a thick braid over one shoulder. There were straps at her shoulders, as though she wore a backpack. A college student?

The back door creaked, slammed, and Zohak was gone.

Rick phased to the counter. Grabbed his crowbar.

The woman rattled the door—locked. She raised her booted foot and slammed it into the glass. Shards rained onto the linoleum.

Rick shook his crowbar. “I’ll call the police!”

The woman reached behind her, and he realized belatedly that she wasn’t wearing a backpack at all. She had a spine scabbard with two swords. The one she drew had a short blade, barely longer than her forearm, and occult symbols etched into the metal.

Rick had heard of that blade, and the woman who wielded it. They called her the Godslayer.

No wonder Zohak had run.

She used it to beat away the remaining glass and ducked through.

“Didn’t you hear me?” Rick said, with somewhat less steam than before. She wouldn’t be impressed by the police. Rumor had it that they had tried to arrest her once, but she killed half the force, bewitched the others, and escaped without a mark on her permanent record.

The Godslayer straightened and shook glass out of her hair. So she wasn’t ten feet tall after all. Her eyes weren’t filled with angelfire, either. She looked… human.

“Where’s Zohak?”

He sent out a tendril of energy to sniff at her mind, but there was no hint of normal, brittle human emotions. It was like trying to penetrate a brick wall with a toothpick.

Rick wavered. Surviving in Hell for millennia had left him without a hint of pride. And Zohak hadn’t paid for his goods anyway.

He dropped the crowbar. “Out the back door. Just leave me be!” Then he threw himself behind the counter and covered his head.

That should have been it. The Godslayer didn’t want puny Rick—merely a nightmare, a petty hellborn immigrant of no great consequence—but she rounded the counter and seized him by the arm regardless. Her gloved fingers dug into the place a human would have had a bicep.

“You’re coming with me.”

She strode to the back door, kicked it open, and Rick realized what she was about to do an instant before he crossed the threshold. “No!” he cried, struggling in her grip. “I can’t—stop!”

His feet hit pavement, and he could barely breathe. Electrical lines ran through the air over his head. Dear Lord, what were those animals thinking? And there was a car parked in the alley, so who knew when it might start to roll—

The Godslayer, of course, was unimpressed by this human madness. And she wasn’t slowed by dragging a nightmare, either. She lifted his featherweight body from the ground and strode after Zohak.

She dropped Rick at the mouth of the alley. He tried to scramble back toward his shop, but she kicked him to the ground. Her boot sank into his spongy gut and left an imprint of the sole.

His back hit the car’s tire. It didn’t hurt, but he gave a strangled yell. “Please, please, I can’t be outside!”

“Where does Zohak den? Point me.”

Rick lifted a quavering finger, silently praying that she would leave him to return to his shop if he told her where Zohak lived.

But she seized an ankle and pulled him along with her.

She forced him to give directions all the way to the empty tattoo parlor Zohak inhabited. She even took him across thestreet—black pavement, orange lines, traffic lights, cars! He almost passed out.

They reached the back of the parlor shortly after the demon-king. Zohak scrambled over the chain link fence, and the Godslayer finally dropped Rick to follow.

She scaled it in two short motions, vaulted the top, and landed on top of Zohak. He grunted as they both fell to the pavement.

Rick searched wildly for another exit from the alley. Anything to get him home without crossing another street. But he was trapped, so he pressed against the wall, drew his knees to his ears, and prayed to long-dead gods for help.

He watched as the Godslayer and Zohak exchanged blows on the other side of the fence. Her strikes were fast and brutal. She went for the soft spots on his face, and when he exclaimed with pain, she ripped the crown from his head and flung it into the wall.

Fury blackened his visage. He threw her into the back door of the tattoo parlor and grabbed his crown.

For an instant, Rick could see nothing around the back of the demon-king, and then he heard a wet crunch, a feminine cry, and a guttural laugh.

Blood splattered on the asphalt inches from Rick. Mortal blood.

So she was human.

“Stupid,” Zohak said, hand clenched around her throat. “You should have known by now not to face me alone.”

Her voice was strained when she replied. “I’m not alone.”

The streetlights flickered. Turned off.

A massive shape hurtled out of the night sky and slammed into the pavement.

The shockwave rushed through the alley, expanding the air inside the dumpsters and making their lids bang open against the walls. Grates rattled. The smell of rotting produce filled the air.

Rick gagged, but not from the smell. He gagged on the energy. His throat closed as that crushing pressure weighed on him, his vision darkened at the edges, and he realized that at least some of the rumors about the Godslayer were true.

She had an angel bodyguard.

He was tall, willowy, and ageless, with coppery hair to his shoulders. Luminous blue eyes turned on Zohak as the angel straightened. Downy feathers drifted to the asphalt.

“Took you long enough,” the angel said with a delicate snort. He addressed the Godslayer. “Are you okay? You’re bleeding.”

“Don’t worry about it, Nukha’il.”

He inclined his head. “How can I help you?”

“Hold Zohak down.”

The demon-king’s eyes went wild. He darted for the fence, but the angel grabbed the back of his shirt and threw him into the Godslayer’s waiting arms.

She pinned him against the wall with a hand to his throat and her sword digging into his stomach. Nukha’il didn’t have to do anything. His presence was threat enough.

“How many times did I tell you to leave my city?” the woman asked.

Bistak,” Zohak replied.

She shoved him to the ground and used her weight to pin him. Her bicep bled where he had injured her. Barely a scratch. “Tell me where your fiends are, and I’ll have Nukha’il escort you out of the city—out of the country.”

“They are dead. You killed them.”

She punched him with the hilt of her sword, and his head slammed against the pavement. One of his horns chipped. “Where are your fiends?”

“Dead!”

“He’s telling the truth,” Nukha’il said. “He believes you killed them.”

Her sword wavered. “How did they die?” she asked Zohak, and her voice wasn’t quite as angry as it had been earlier.

“Deep beneath the city. There’s something down there.” He whimpered. “Something… black.”

“Tell me.”

“It came from the earth, from the rocks. A shadow with inertia.” His voice changed, deepened, as though he were speaking through an echoing cavern. “It came upon us. One by one, it devoured them, and then…” His face twisted. “And then it took me.”

Rick had heard the rumors. Creeping shadows, a hungry darkness, a change in the Warrens. Everyone said it was the Godslayer. They said she had unimaginable power.

But she exchanged glances with the angel, and her expression was genuinely confused. She didn’t know anything. That information would be worth money—if Rick could get home without dying.

She shook his jacket. “You’re lying, Zohak. You have to be. Where are your fiends?”

Zohak responded with a groaning cry. The inky shadow devoured his eyes again. His body shuddered, and his hands reached up to close around the Godslayer’s wrists.

The demon-king jerked her hands down and plunged the blade into his heart with a sickening crack.

“Whoa!”

She struggled to free herself, but it was too late. A black fog spilled from his chest, creeping up her blade.

With a shout, she dropped the sword and leaped to her feet.

The ichor spread over the sword and fountained over Zohak as he twisted on the ground. His eyes were wide open, and his mouth yawned in a silent cry. He sat up, hands gripping his chest, and tried to get to his feet as the shadow devoured the last of his flesh. A croak tore from his throat.

Rick’s heart beat a panicked tattoo. Forget the humans. Forget their technology. Forget their goddamn cars.

The nightmare leaped to his feet and ran.

COLLAPSE

Dark Union

Every fifty years, the most powerful ethereal and infernal beings convene on Earth to resolve conflicts with mediation by kopides–humans born to police relations between Heaven and Hell. They’re meeting in Elise Kavanagh’s territory this year, and she used to be the greatest kopis in the world. But she’s not invited.

An old friend, Lucas McIntyre, asks her to attend the summit in his place. But when she arrives, she discovers that a human faction called The Union has taken charge of the summit, and they’re not playing nice. Worse yet, someone has killed a prominent Union member…and now they’re demanding blood.

Excerpt:

It was a miserable day. The temperature had reached one hundred degrees Fahrenheit, there was no wind, and Anthony Morales had been trying to sell his Jeep to random assholes from Craigslist all afternoon.

“What the hell have you done to this thing?” asked potential buyer number three, who claimed his name was “Buddy,” and was as thick in the waist as a baby elephant.

They stood in the shade of a high-rise apartment building, which funneled heat directly toward them over rippling asphalt. Anthony hoped that parking his Jeep in an alley stained with oil, covered in trash, and overlooked by barred windows might make his car look a little less offensive in comparison. Instead, the Jeep looked like it belonged in one of the big green dumpsters.

Anthony rubbed a hand down his face and left behind a greasy smear. “There were pictures in the ad.”

“Is that what I asked? No. I asked what you did to it.”

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“I told you. I’m a mechanic. This was my hobby vehicle.”

Buddy snorted. “Is your hobby beating it with a goddamn crowbar?”

Anthony tried not to feel wounded. The Jeep was his first car, and it had been through a lot with him in the ensuing years. Sure, the bumper was missing, the upholstery was ripped, and the body was thoroughly dented. That was what happened when you drove through a cemetery full of zombies. But the engine was great and the tires were new. He had put a lot of love into it.

“Do you want it or not?” he asked in a dull voice.

The buyer walked around the Jeep again, his considerable girth swaying with every step. “I’ll give you three hundred for it.”

“I’ll only take twelve hundred.”

“You kidding? Three hundred is a good deal for this piece of shit.”

Anthony’s patience was gone. “Okay. Fine. Sorry to waste your time.”

He climbed into the Jeep, but Buddy leaned on the hood to prevent him from moving to a shadier spot. “Five hundred.”

“Now you’re wasting my time.”

“Come on. You can’t seriously think it’s worth twelve,” Buddy said.

Anthony’s girlfriend came around the end of the alley at that moment, sparing him from having to think of a response that didn’t use words like “insulted” and “asshole.” Elise’s curls were pulled out of her face in a thick braid, and she wore faded shorts, a tank top, and sneakers, yet still managed to look like a Greek Fury as she stalked down the alley.

She was followed by a teenage boy and his mother—potential buyer number four.

Elise glanced at Anthony. “Is he buying it?” she asked, jerking a thumb at the fat man, who smoothed a hand over his sweaty pate as he took a long look at Elise’s legs.

“He’s trying to get it for five hundred.”

“Get out of here,” she told Buddy. “We’re done with you.” He opened his mouth, and she didn’t seem interested in discovering if it was to argue or make a counter offer. She turned the full force of her stare on him and said again, “Get out.”

Buddy waddled his elephantine mass toward the street with a flip of the bird.

Why didn’t Anthony have that kind of gravitas? Someone was always screwing with him, whether it was over the sale of his Jeep, the cost of labor at the shop, or the grades he got on his college papers. Nobody screwed with Elise.

Of course, she also wasn’t much of a salesman.

“This is it,” she said to potential buyer number four, who was watching the alley like she expected muggers to jump out at any second.

Anthony jumped down to join them. The mother had contacted him by email that morning to see if he thought the Jeep would be good as her teenage son’s first car. “Hi,” he said, wiping his palms dry on his jeans and holding out a hand. “Thanks for coming all the way downtown. I’m—”

“Twelve hundred,” Elise interrupted. “Firm.”

The mother looked doubtful. “I don’t know…”

“What happened to that thing?” the boy asked. He had braces and a Grateful Dead t-shirt.

Anthony’s heart sank. That question again. He prepared to give his response about it being a project car, but Elise spoke first. “We drove it through a cemetery of zombies. There used to be a cowcatcher on front, but it crumpled after hitting the first dozen bodies.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes.”

The mother shot Elise a long-suffering look. “Does it run?” she asked, sounding exhausted.

“Perfectly. And insurance is cheap,” Anthony said.

“Great. I’m sold.”

She pulled out her wallet as her son pumped his fist in the air. He jumped in the driver’s seat and ran his fingers reverently over the wheel, like he had just gotten his first Porsche. Anthony resisted the wild impulse to push the boy away from his car. Twelve hundred dollars was more money than he and Elise had possessed for weeks.

“You can bring it to my shop if anything goes bad in the next month or two, but it shouldn’t be a problem,” he said, exchanging a business card for a small stack of twenties. “I just replaced the tires and transmission. Everything is in perfect condition.”

“I don’t really care,” said the mother. He spread the paperwork out on the hot metal of the hood, and they each signed it. “Anything to get him to leave the house for once. Maybe he’ll even get a few friends.”

“This sound system is totally sick!” her son enthused.

“We installed it for use in a mass exorcism,” Elise told him, leaning her elbows on the door. Anthony groaned. It was the truth, but nobody would ever believe her. The miniature zombie apocalypse in May had been treated like a natural disaster in the mainstream media. But Elise didn’t seem to care. She smiled a little as the kid swung the wheel around.

“What were you exorcising?” he asked.

“Demons. Really nasty ones.”

“That is so cool.”

“Don’t encourage him. He already plays too many video games,” the mother said. “And move over, Travis. I’m driving it home.”

“Mom!”

She climbed in, and Elise stepped back beside Anthony.

A few seconds later, the tail lights disappeared around the corner. His heart twisted painfully.

It only lasted for a second. He had lost everything in the last few months: his Millennium Scholarship (because fighting demons did zero favors for his grades), his cousin Betty, and now his beloved Jeep. It was getting to the point where the pain was a constant stabbing in his chest. He couldn’t work up additional grief over his car for longer than a few seconds.

“Let me see that,” Elise said, holding out a hand. He gave her the cash. She counted it out. “Great. This is rent for two months, at least.” She pocketed a few bills and returned the rest.

“Hey,” Anthony complained.

“Do you want groceries or not?”

He didn’t really care. The Jeep didn’t belong to Elise, and she had no right to the money. But what was the point in arguing? They had gotten an apartment together downtown—a furnished one bedroom for five hundred a month, which smelled like tobacco even though neither of them smoked—and all their money was getting poured into bills and debt and Top Ramen anyway.

“What now?” he asked dully.

“Now I’m going to run errands.” Elise stretched up to kiss his chin. “I’ll be home late. Don’t wait for me.”

She left before he could try to kiss her properly.

Anthony thought about going back to their apartment, which was just around the corner, but he found himself staring at the spot his Jeep had stood only minutes earlier.

That twinge was back.

He sank to a crouch, covered his face with his hands, and didn’t move for a long time.

II

Eloquent Blood was dark, and the sign on the alley door said CLOSED, but Elise walked in anyway. Its usual patrons weren’t bothered by heat, so they didn’t bother air conditioning the bar, but being positioned in the cavernous basement kept it temperate. The sweat on Elise’s skin cooled and made her shiver.

“Neuma?” she called, pausing by the railing to peer at the bottom several levels down. The DJ booth was empty. Three walls of a cage stood where the dance floor should have been, but it would be hours until the fights started. A demon with three eyes mopped the stage. “Hey! Is Neuma in yet?”

It nodded without looking up.

The fluorescent blue lights behind the bar were turned off. The stripper pole hadn’t been cleaned yet, so it was covered in fingerprints, sweat, and flecks of brimstone. But there was no sign of the bartender.

Elise hopped over the bar, snagging a bottle of tequila on the way. She was more than just a frequent patron of Eloquent Blood—she used to be the accountant, before getting in a fight with the owner. She had since killed David Nicholas and any chance of being gainfully employed with them again, but she still made frequent visits to enjoy Neuma’s generosity with the liquor.

She headed down the back hall. “Neuma, it’s me. Where are you?” Something bumped against the wall. Elise jiggled the handle to the dressing room. Locked. “Hey. Open up. I can hear you in there.”

“Go away,” Neuma said from the other side.

Elise’s senses sharpened. “Are you okay?”

“I’m peachy.”

“Bullshit. Open the door or I’ll kick it in.” She had done it once before, and she had no qualms about breaking the handle again.

“No, don’t do that,” Neuma said. “Hang on.”

A pause, and the lock clicked. Elise pushed inside.

The dressing room was even more of a mess than usual. Costumes were spread across the floor like a rug of latex and silver chains. One of the vanity mirrors was shattered, leaving shards of glass sprinkled over the strippers’ outfits, and half of the bottles on the shelves had been broken. It reeked of sulfur and booze.

Neuma was slumped in a chair by the door. Her skin and white bathrobe glowed in the black light, but her ink-dark hair was a shadow puddled on her shoulders. She had a hand over the left side of her face.

“What happened in here?” Elise asked.

“Nothing. Just haven’t cleaned in a long time.” Neuma’s voice was about an octave too high.

Elise sniffed the air. As if the wreckage wasn’t evidence enough, every sense told her that a powerful demon had been on the premises—from the uncomfortable pressure at the back of her skull, to the sour bite of brimstone in her nose. It was too strong to belong to Neuma, who was only a half-succubus Gray. She was mostly harmless. Her greatest threat was being a little too sexy.

The sight of the destruction was enough to trigger Elise’s protective instinct. Setting the tequila on the counter, she picked up a costume, shook out the glass, and threw it in the closet. “Your parties are getting too wild,” she said, working quickly to unclutter the floor and sweep the glass into a corner.

Neuma smiled weakly.

When Elise finished, she turned on the overhead lights without waiting for permission. The bartender flinched. She pulled her hand away from her face for an instant, but it was enough for Elise to see a massive gash running down the side of her face. Thin, watery blood poured into the collar of her robe.

“Jesus, Neuma.”

“I think I need a witch,” she whispered. Half-demons were fragile creatures. They couldn’t heal on their own—given a few hours, they could bleed to death from a paper cut. “Treeny, up in Craven’s—cocktail waitress for the sport’s bar—she can do a little hocus pocus.”

Elise pulled Neuma’s arm over her shoulder and supported her as they limped into the hallway. The facial injury wasn’t the worst of it. The robe gapped to show a missing chunk of flesh in her thigh.

They took the stairs to the manager’s office, slowly and carefully.

“Tell me who attacked you,” Elise said.

“Name’s Zohak. This thing, this demon—he took all our money, and I couldn’t do shit about it. He bit my leg and fuckinglaughed at me.”

“You couldn’t have fought?”

“I did,” Neuma said. “But half the bouncers left when David Nicholas died. There’s nobody left to help during the day anymore.”

They reached the office, and Elise helped her sit on the executive chair. The room was empty aside from a single filing cabinet and paperwork scattered on the desk. Neuma had been trying to keep up on bills and taxes, but she didn’t have the organizational skills.

“Wait here,” Elise said. “I’ll find Treeny.”

It wasn’t hard to locate the cocktail waitress. Most of the employees had worked for Craven’s when Elise and Death’s Hand destroyed half of the casino, and they were properly intimidated by her. She ordered the first demon she spotted to send Treeny to the office, and they scurried off to make it happen.

The waitress met them upstairs a few minutes later. She wore a tiny dress that barely covered her butt, hugged an empty drink tray to her chest, and trembled under Elise’s scrutiny.

“What’s up?” Treeny asked. To her credit, her voice didn’t shake nearly as much as her knees. A pentacle ring sparkled on her thumb. It danced with silver light in the corner of Elise’s vision, which meant it was enchanted.

“I’m told you can heal,” she said, wiping her hands off with a tissue. She had patched up the wound on Neuma’s thigh to slow the bleeding, but the bartender’s skin was ashen, and she could barely lift her head.

Treeny’s face lit up. “Oh. Yeah. A little, if I have time for a ritual. But I’ll need supplies.”

“You’ve got fifteen minutes to get them. Go fast.” The witch ran off, and Elise helped Neuma to the bathroom attached to the office, and the bartender washed the blood off her bruised face. “I don’t think you’re stripping tonight.”

“No kidding. That’s not sexy at all, huh?” Neuma tilted her head to study the damage in the mirror. “Forget it. I’ll have to call someone in, if I don’t die first.” She heaved a sigh. “Thanks for helping, doll. Is there a reason you came to see me? Are you covering my shift tonight?”

In the aftermath of the attack, Elise had completely forgotten that she visited Craven’s for a reason. “I got some cash, so I wanted to pay my bar tab. What am I up to this week—eighty bucks?”

“Nothing. It’s on the house.” Neuma tried to smile, and failed. Her skin had completely lost its usual glow. “It could be on the house forever if you would help me.”

Elise’s mouth twisted. Neuma had been trying to talk her into taking over Eloquent Blood and Craven’s casino—which continued to operate only by habit and the force of Neuma’s will since the overlord died—for the last several weeks. Every time she showed up for a drink, it was the same thing again. Help me, and, I need you.

It was getting on her nerves. Elise couldn’t help them—she couldn’t help anyone.

But the half-succubus’s eyes were wide and pathetic. It was getting harder to resist her pleas. “I just can’t handle this alone anymore,” Neuma whispered when Elise didn’t respond. “I thought it would be better if we could get rid of David Nicholas. I thought I could keep up on it myself. But I can’t, and everything’s falling apart. With the Night Hag gone…”

“How many times do I have to tell you no?”

Please. You could protect us, at least. This isn’t the first time someone’s rolled in to screw with us. If we could stop getting attacked for a few weeks, maybe we could find someone good to take charge. Maybe—”

Elise slapped two fifty dollar bills on the desk. It only left twenty for groceries, but she had been living off dried beans and rice for weeks anyway. “That’s for my tab.”

“Don’t go! Zohak will be back—he said he would.”

“I have stuff to do. Try not to die. I’ll see you later.”

“Elise!”

She left the office without looking back, and bumped into Treeny on the stairs. Elise didn’t need to see Neuma—that pathetic stare was stamped permanently on the inside of her skull.

It was hard being asked for help. It was even harder to deny it.

The walk to her new apartment was short—just two blocks from Craven’s. But even that distance was miserable in the afternoon sun. It was the kind of heat that melted the rubber on shoes and turned metal into a searing brand. Elise bumped the crosswalk button with her hip.

Her phone buzzed in her pocket as she crossed the street. She ducked under an awning’s shade to check the screen.

When she saw the number, her heart stopped. It took her two tries to speak. “Hello?”

“Hey, Kavanagh,” responded a masculine voice. “It’s McIntyre.”

Elise knew immediately that he was calling for help—and this time, she wouldn’t be able to say no.

COLLAPSE