Hammering my fist against the back
of my closet wasn’t one of my more pleasant dreams. Actually, it
kind of hurt. The mild pain broke through my comfortable somnolent
haze of sleep, and I felt the primitive part of me that never slept
coolly measuring my slow gathering of will as I tried to wake up.
With an eerie feeling of disconnection, I watched it happen, even as
in my dream, I tore the clothes off the rod and threw them to my
Something, though, wasn’t right.
I wasn’t waking up. The dream wasn’t passively shredding into
hard-to-remember bits. And with a jolt, I realized I was conscious,
but not awake.
What in hell? I thought,
and the functioning part of my brain decided something was really,
really wrong. Instinct sent a pulse of adrenaline thorough me,
demanding I wake. But I didn’t.
My breath was quick and ragged,
and after I emptied the closet, I dropped to the floor and tapped my
knuckles on the hardwood for a secret compartment I knew wasn’t
there. Frightened, I grasped my will, and forced myself awake.
Pain reverberated through my
forehead. I sprawled, all my muscles going flaccid. I managed to
turn my head, and my ear stung instead of my nose breaking. Hard
wood pressed into me, cold through my pajama shorts and top. My cry
came out as a gurgle. I couldn’t breathe! Something . . .
something was in here with me. In my head. Trying to possess me!
Terror smothered me like a
blanket. I couldn’t see it, couldn’t hear it, could hardly sense it. But my body had become a battlefield—one I didn’t know how to
win. Possession was a black art, and I hadn’t taken the right
classes. Damn it, my life isn’t supposed to be like this!
Utter panic gave me strength. I
tried to gather my legs and arms under me and push. I managed to
rise to my hands and knees, then fell into my bedside table. It
crashed to the floor and rolled to my empty closet.
Pulse hammering, the fear of
suffocation took me. I managed to fall into the hallway, looking
for help. My unknown assailant and I found common ground, and
working together, we took a breath that escaped in a choked cry. Where the devil was Ivy? Was she deaf? Maybe she hadn’t yet
come in from her run with Jenks. She’d said they’d be late.
As if bothered by the cooperation,
my attacker gripped harder and I collapsed to the floor. My eyes
were open, and the red sheet of my hair stood between me and the end
of the dusky hallway. It had won. Whatever it was, it had won, and
I panicked as I found myself sitting up with an eerie slowness. The
thick scent of burnt amber hung in my nose, rising from my skin.
No! I cried in my
thoughts—but I couldn’t even speak. I wanted to scream, but my
possessor made me take a slow, sedate breath instead. “Malum,” I heard myself curse, my voice carrying an odd accent and a
sophisticated lilt that had never been mine.
That was the last penny in the
jar. Fear shifted to anger. I didn’t know who was in here with me,
but they were going to get out. Right now. Making me speak in
tongues was just rude.
Falling into my thoughts, I felt
the barest brush of someone else’s confusion. Fine. I could build
on that. Before they could figure out what I was doing, I tapped
the ley line out back in the graveyard. Stark, foreign surprise
filled me, and while my assailant struggled to break me from the
line, I formed a protection circle in my thoughts.
Practice makes perfect, I
thought smugly, then braced myself. This was going to hurt like
I opened my thoughts to the ley
line with an abandonment I’d never dared before. And it came.
Power roared in. It overflowed my chi and poured into my body,
burning my synapses and neurons. Tulpa, I thought in agony,
the word opening the mental channels to spindle the energy. The
rush would have killed me if I hadn’t already burned a trail of
nerves from my chi to my mind. Groaning, I felt the power sear anew
as it raced to the protection circle in my thoughts, expanding it
like a balloon. It was how I spindled ley line energy to use later,
but at this flow rate, it was like diving into a vat of molten
An internal yelp of pain resounded
in me, and with a mental push I mirrored with my hands, I shoved
away from myself.
A snap reverberated through me,
and I was free of the unknown presence. From the church’s belfry
above came the sound of the bell tolling—an echo of my actions.
Something rolled and bumped down
the corridor to crash into the wall at the end of the hall. I
gasped and pulled my head up, then groaned in pain. Moving hurt. I
held too much ley line power. It felt as if it had settled in my
muscles, and using them squeezed the power out.
“Ow,” I panted, very aware that
something at the end of the hall was standing up. But at least now
it wasn’t in my head. My heart beat, and it hurt. Oh God, I’d
never held this much power before. And I stank. I reeked of burnt
amber. What the Turn was going on?
With a pained determination, I
squeezed the protection circle in my mind until the energy slipped
back through my chi and into the ley line. It hurt almost as much
as taking it in. But when I unspindled the ever-after from my
thoughts to leave only that which my chi could hold, I looked up
past the snarls of my hair, panting.
Oh God. It was Newt.
“What are you doing here?” I said,
feeling coated in ever-after slime.
The powerful demon looked
confused, but I was still too out of it to appreciate the shocked
expression on its face: either a smooth-faced adolescent boy, or a
strong-featured female. Slender of build, it stood barefoot in my
hallway between the kitchen and the living room. Squinting, I
looked again—yeah, the demon was standing this time, not floating,
its bony, long feet definitely pressing the floorboards—and I
wondered how Newt had managed to attack me when I was on hallowed
ground. The addition to the church, where it stood now, wasn’t
sanctified though, and it looked bewildered, wearing a dark red robe that
looked somewhere between a kimono and what Lawrence of Arabia might
wear on his day off.
There was a soft blurring of black
ley line energy, and a slender obsidian staff as tall as I was
melted into existence in Newt’s grasp, completing the vision I
remembered from the time I had been trapped in the ever-after and
had had to buy a trip home from Newt. The demon’s eyes were
entirely black—even the whites—but they were more alive than any I’d
ever seen as they stared unblinking at me down the twenty feet that
separated us—twenty tiny feet and a swath of hallowed ground. At
least I hoped it was still hallowed ground.
“How did you learn how to do
that?” it said, and I stiffened at the odd accent, the vowels that
seemed to insert themselves into the folds of my brain.
“Al,” I whispered, and the demon’s
almost nonexistent eyebrows rose. Shoulder against the wall, I
never took my eyes from it as I slid upward to stand. This was not
the way I wanted to start my day. God help me, I’d only been asleep
for an hour by the looks of the light.
“What’s the matter with you? You
can’t just show up!” I exclaimed to burn off some adrenaline as I
stood in the hallway in the skimpy shirt and shorts I wore to bed.
“No one summoned you! And how could you stand on hallowed ground?
Demons can’t stand on sacred ground. It’s in every book.”
“I do what I want.” Newt peered
into the living room, poking the staff over the threshold as if
looking for traps. “And assumptions like that will kill you,” the
demon added, adjusting the strand of black gold that glinted dully
against the midnight red of its robe. “I wasn’t standing on
hallowed ground—you were. And Minias . . . Minias said I wrote
most of those books, so who knows how right they are.”
Its smooth features melted into an
annoyance at itself, not me. “Sometimes, I don’t remember the past
right,” Newt said, its voice distant. “Or maybe they simply change
it and don’t tell me.”
My face went cold in the pre-dawn
chill. Newt was insane. I had an insane demon standing in my
hallway and roommates coming home in about twenty minutes. How
could something this powerful survive being this unbalanced?
But unbalanced seldom equaled with stupid, though powerful did. And
clever. And ruthless. Demonic.
“What do you want?” I asked,
wondering how long until the sun would rise.
Newt exhaled with a troubled look
to look almost harmless as it stood in my church, trying to figure
something out. I didn’t think it was an act, but that didn’t mean
Newt wasn’t a threat. “I don’t remember,” it finally said. “But
you have something of mine. I want it back.”
While unknown emotions flitted and
cataloged themselves in Newt’s thoughts, I squinted down the dusky
hallway, trying to decide if it was male or female. Demons could
look like anything they wanted to. Right now, Newt had pale
eyebrows and a light, absolutely even skin tone. I’d say it was
feminine, but the jaw was strong and those bare feet were too bony
to be pretty. Nail polish would look wrong on them.
It was wearing the same hat as
before—round, with straight sides and a flat top made from a
scrumptiously rich red fabric and gold braiding. The short,
nondescript hair just below the ear gave no clue to gender. The
time I’d questioned what sex he or she was, Newt had asked me if it
made a difference. And watching Newt struggle to place a thought, I
had a feeling that it wasn’t that the demon didn’t think it was
important, but that Newt didn’t remember what parts he or she had
been born with. Maybe Minias did. Whoever Minias was.
“Newt,” I said, hoping my shaking
voice wasn’t too obvious. “I demand you leave, going directly to
the ever-after from this place and don’t return to bother me again.”
It was a good banishment—apart
from my not having put it in a circle first—and Newt raised one
eyebrow at me, its puzzlement set aside with an ease that spoke of
much practice. “That’s not my summoning name.”
The demon jerked into motion. I
shrank back to invoke a circle—paltry as it would be, seeing as it
would be undrawn—but Newt stepped into the living room, its hem the
last thing I saw slipping round the doorframe. From out of sight
came the sound of nails being pulled from wood. There was a sharp
crack of splintering paneling, and Newt swore colorfully in Latin.
Rex, Jenks’s cat, padded past me,
curiosity doing its best to fulfill its promise. I lunged after the
stupid animal, but she didn’t like me and so skittered away. The
caramel-colored kitten paused at the threshold with her ears
pricked. Tail twitching, she sat and watched.
Newt wasn’t trying to pull me into
the ever-after, and it wasn’t trying to kill me. It was looking for
something, and I think the only reason it had possessed me was so it
could search the sanctified church. Which boded well as far as the
grounds still being holy. But the damned thing was crazy. Who knew
how long it would ignore me? Until it decided I might be able to
tell it where it was? Whatever it was?
A thump from the living room made
me jump. Tail crooked, Rex padded in.
The sudden knocking on the front
door of the church spun me the other way to the empty sanctuary, but
before I could call out a warning, the heavy oak door swung open,
unlocked in expectation of Ivy’s return. Great. Now what?
“Rachel?” a worried voice called,
and Ceri strode in, fully dressed in faded jeans with dirt-wet
knees, clearly having been in the garden despite it being pre-dawn.
Her eyes were wide with worry, and her long fair hair billowed about
her as she paced quickly across the barren sanctuary, tracking in
mud from her garden-inappropriate, elaborately embroidered
slippers. She was an elf in hiding, and I knew her schedule was
like a pixy’s: awake all day and night but for four hours around
each midnight and noon.
Frantic, I waved my hands,
alternating my attention between the empty hallway and her. “Out!”
I all but hissed. “Ceri, get out!”
“Your church bell rang,” she said,
cheeks pale with concern as she came to take my hands. She smelled
wonderful—the elven scent of wine and cinnamon mixing with the
honest smell of dirt—and the crucifix Ivy had given her glinted in
the dim light. “Are you all right?”
Oh yeah, I thought,
remembering hearing the bell in the belfry toll when I had pushed
Newt from my thoughts. The expression “ringing the bells” wasn’t
just a figure of speech, and I wondered how much energy I had
channeled to make the bell in the tower resonate.
From the living room came the ugly
noise of paneling being ripped from the wall. Ceri’s pale eyebrow
rose. Crap, she was calm and sedate, and here I was shaking in my
“It’s a demon,” I whispered,
wondering if we should leave or try for the circle I had etched in
the kitchen floor. The sanctuary was still hallowed ground but I
didn’t trust anything but a well-drawn circle to protect me from a
demon. Especially this one.
The questioning look on Ceri’s
delicate, heart-shaped face went hard with anger. She had spent a
thousand years trapped as a demon’s familiar and treated them like
snakes. Cautious, yes, but she had long since lost her fear. “Why
are you summoning demons?” she accused. “And in your sleepwear?”
Her narrow shoulders stiffened. “I said I’d help you with your
magic. Thank you very much, Ms. Rachel Mariana Morgan, for making
me feel worthless.”
I took her elbow and started
dragging her backward. “Ceri,” I pleaded, not believing her
delicate temper had found a way to take this the wrong way. “I
didn’t call it. It showed up on its own.” Like I would even
touch demon magic now? My soul was already caked with enough
demon smut to paint a gymnasium.
At that, Ceri pulled me to a stop,
steps from the open sanctuary. “Demons can’t show up on their own,”
she said, the flicker of concern returning as her pale fingers
touched her crucifix. “Someone must have summoned it, then let it
The soft scuff of bare feet at the
end of the hallway cut through me like a gunshot. Heart catching, I
turned, Ceri’s attention following mine an instant later.
“Can’t, or don’t?” Newt said. The kitten was in its arms, paws kneading.
Ceri’s knees buckled, and I
reached for her. “Don’t touch me!” she shrieked, and I was suddenly
battling her as she blindly swung, pulling from me and lunging into the sanctuary.
Shit. I think we’re in
I lurched after her, but she
jerked me back when we found the middle of the empty space. “Sit,”
she said, her slim fingers shaking as she tried to yank me down.
Okay, we weren’t leaving.
“Ceri—” I questioned, then my jaw dropped when she flicked a
dirt-caked jackknife from her back pocket. “Ceri!” I exclaimed as
she sliced her thumb open. Blood gushed, and while I stared, she
drew a large circle, mumbling Latin. Her waist-length, almost
translucent hair hid her features, but she was shaking. My God, she
“Ceri, the sanctuary is holy!” I
protested, but she tapped a line and invoked her circle. A
black-stained field of ever-after rose to encompass us, and I
shuddered, feeling the smut of her past demon magic slither over
me. The circle was a good five feet in diameter, rather large for
one person to hold, but Ceri was probably the best ley line
practitioner in Cincinnati. She cut her middle finger, and I
grabbed her arm. “Ceri, stop! We’re safe!”
Wide-eyed in panic, she shoved me
off her, and I fell into the inside of her field, hitting it like a
wall. “Get out of the way,” she hissed starting to draw a second
circle inside the first.
Shocked, I pulled myself to the
center, and she smeared her blood behind me.
“Ceri—” I tried again, stopping
when I saw her intertwining the line with the first, enforcing it.
I’d never seen that before. Latin words fell from her lips, dark
and threatening. Pinpricks of power crawled over my skin. I stared
when she cut her pinky and started a third circuit.
Silent, desperate tears marked her
face as she finished and invoked it. A third sheet of black rose
over us, heavy and oppressive. She switched the filthy gardening
blade to her bloodied hand and shaking, prepared to cut her left
“Stop!” I protested, and
frightened, I grabbed her wrist, sticky with her own blood.
Her head swung up. Blue eyes lost
in terror met me. Her pale skin was chalk white.
“It’s okay,” I said, wondering
what Newt had done to cause the self-assured, unflappable woman to
lose it. “We’re in the church. It’s sanctified. You built a damn
fine circle.” I looked at it humming over my head, worried. It was
black with a thousand years of curses that Algaliarept, the demon
I’d saved her from, made her pay for. I’d never felt such a strong
Her pretty head shook back and
forth, lips parted to show tiny teeth. “You have to call Minias.
God help us. You have to call him!”
“Minias?” I questioned. “Who in
hell is Minias?”
“Newt’s familiar,” Ceri stammered,
her blue eyes showing her fear.
Was she nuts? Newt’s familiar was
another demon. “Give me that knife,” I said, wrestling it from
her. Her thumb was bleeding, and I looked for something to wrap it
in. We were safe. Newt could have the run of the back for all I
cared. Sunup was near, and I’d sat in a circle and waited for it
before. Memories of my ex boyfriend, Nick, rose through me,
“You have to call him,” Ceri
gushed, and I stared when she fell to her knees and started scribing
a plate-sized circle with her blood, tears spotting the old oak
timbers as she worked.
“Ceri, it’s okay,” I said,
standing over her in confusion.
But when she looked up, my
confidence faltered. “No, it isn’t,” she said, her voice low, her
elegant accent that gave away her royal beginnings now carrying the
sound of defeat.
A wave of something pulsed,
bending the bubble of force that sheltered us. My gaze went to the
half sphere of ever-after around us, and from above came a clear
bong of the church bell resonating. The black sheet protecting us
quivered, flashing the pure color of Ceri’s blue aura for an instant
before returning to its demon-fouled black state.
From the archway to the hall at
the back of the church came Newt’s soft voice. “Don’t cry, Ceri.
It won’t hurt as bad the second time.”
She jerked, and
I snatched her arm
to keep her from running for the open door and breaking her own
circle. Her flailing hand struck my face, and at my yelp, she quit,
collapsing to slump at my feet. “Newt broke the sanctity,” Ceri
said around her sobs. “She broke it. I can’t go back there. Al
lost a bet and I twisted her curses for ten years. I can’t go back
Frightened, I put my hand on her
shoulder, but then hesitated. Newt was female. Then my face
blanked. Newt was in the hallway—the sanctified part