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

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