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Authors: Meljean Brook

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BOOK: Demon Night
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That psychic blindness made him uneasy—as did the symbols' origins. A year ago, only Lucifer had known how to cast the spell. The tyrannical ruler kept his demons ignorant of the symbols' power, so none would dare threaten his position on Hell's throne.

But one demon—Lilith, Lucifer's daughter—inadvertently learned of the spell when she
had
dared to rebel against Lucifer. Ethan had fought in that confrontation, and when the dust had settled, Lucifer had been forced to return to Hell and close the Gates to that realm for five hundred years. Locked in there, as it were, embroiled in a war—and defending his throne against an army of rebels led by the demon Belial.

Though Belial had promised his demons a return to Heaven and their former angelic status, a demon's promises weren't worth the air used to speak them, and Ethan would prefer to see Lucifer's and Belial's armies annihilate each other. Particularly as the Guardians' own ranks had been reduced—not by war, but by an Ascension. A little over a decade before, thousands of Guardians had chosen to move on to their afterlives, leaving less than fifty Guardians in the corps. Five hundred years would hardly be enough time to rebuild the Guardian corps and prepare for the demons' return through the Gates.

As it was, before the Gates had closed, hundreds of demons had escaped Hell, guaranteeing the Guardians plenty of trouble. So much so that Michael, the Guardians' leader, and Rael—one of Belial's demons and a U.S. congressman—had made arrangements with Homeland Security and developed a new law enforcement division, Special Investigations. Located in San Francisco, SI had but three directives: to train novice Guardians and act as an Earth-based center of operations for all other Guardians; to track and slay the rogue demons; and to conceal otherworldly activity from the general human population.

Otherworldly activity, such as magic spells.

And three months ago, only Guardians—and a few vampires recruited by Special Investigations—had known of the symbols. But a demon threat to the vampire population in San Francisco necessitated sharing knowledge of the spell with the vampires, and the use of it had quickly spread to other cities, other vampire communities—and to demons.

Ethan suspected demons had been responsible for the attack on Charlie, but there was only one way to be certain. With luck, the vampires wouldn't have dared leave the safety of their hidey-hole yet. But dawn arrived in less than three hours, and they'd succumb to the daysleep as soon as the sun rose. They'd have to poke their heads out eventually.

Ethan would be waiting.

 

Son of a bitch.

Ethan clamped his jaw tight and took a cursory glance at the bakery's interior. Excepting the window the vampires had broken to enter the building, nothing had been disturbed.

The faint scent of vampire blood clung to the three symbols carved on the sill with splintered glass. The protective shield had fallen when they'd left, but Ethan dug the tip of his dagger through the shapes. The Seattle police might tie the vandalism here to the destruction of Cole's gate two blocks distant—vampires still had fingerprints and DNA, after all—but Ethan wouldn't leave evidence of the spell for them to find. They likely wouldn't suppose it was something otherworldly, in any case.

Peculiar, that Charlie did. In those rare instances humans spied a vampire's teeth or a Guardian's wings, they assumed it was a person dressed up in a costume. The feather she'd found hadn't been reason enough for the fear and certainty lurking in her psychic scent when she'd passed off truth as exaggeration.

The Lone Ranger. A white hat would never sit easily on him; she'd be a fool to think otherwise. But a reluctant smile tugged at his mouth as he crouched and cast around for the vampires' trail.

The light rain enhanced scent—as did the concrete, slightly warmer than the surrounding air. One vampire had leaned or brushed against the corner of the coffee shop at the end of the block. The odor was mostly human, with an undertone of metallic blood and wet leather. Not a revolting smell, but Ethan preferred green apple and cocoa butter.

He'd taken quite a liking to the combination: sharp and sweet, warm and mellow. It'd be a damn shame if it changed.

And it was strange that it hadn't. Of the nine scientists Legion Laboratories had recruited in the past year—three geneticists, four experts in blood diseases, and two researchers who specialized in artificial blood—only Jane Newcomb hadn't had a close relative transformed into a vampire.

Ethan figured it was pure luck that had delivered Dr. Milliken and her husband to him two months before, and that had let the husband escape the vampires who had attacked and transformed him. Ethan had taken both back to San Francisco, to Special Investigations and the vampire community there—but whatever purpose had been behind the transformation, Dr. Milliken hadn't learned.

If he had to guess, Ethan thought that, given another day or two, the demons who owned Legion Laboratories would have offered her an ultimatum. It hadn't taken long to discover the pattern in the other scientists' families—but after two failed attempts to approach them and offer help, Ethan had backed away.

Something—or someone—had scared the piss out of each of them. Each had been convinced talking with Ethan meant death…though he didn't think they were concerned about their own lives. After all, demons couldn't kill humans—but they could kill vampires.

And Ethan didn't know if the vampires who'd gone after Charlie were the same who'd transformed Milliken, but he'd have wagered a trainload of money they were.

Ethan lost their trail a block further on. They'd doubled back toward Cole's, then crossed the street toward a parking garage, where they must have left an automobile. He stood on the darkened ground floor, took stock. A security camera near the exit had been demolished, the cable ripped from its moorings. There'd likely be nothing on the tapes, but he'd make a point to collect them the next afternoon. His Special Investigations badge ought to be good for something; and if it wasn't, he could steal them easily enough.

He turned to go, then halted, his muscles tensing in anticipation of an attack. Instantly, his crossbow and sword appeared in his hands.

The hairs on the back of his neck prickled, and a dark psychic presence slithered across his mind.

Demon. An almighty powerful one, too. Unless Ethan was reaching out with his psychic senses, a demon's psyche typically didn't
feel
like a physical touch. He'd only experienced something similar from Michael, the oldest and most gifted of the Guardians—but the Doyen's psyche hadn't felt like scales on a snake's belly.

A psychic scan revealed nothing, but that meant all-fired nothing: every demon could block a mental probe. Ethan stopped breathing. Listened and watched.

The vehicles formed rows of silent, colorful lumps; outside, a car rolled down the wet street. The garage's overhead lights glared against the windshields, but none were tinged with the glowing crimson of demon eyes.

Ethan had no doubt the demon had deliberately exposed itself. Why wait to engage him, then? Unless it simply wanted to let Ethan know it was aware of the Guardian's presence in Seattle.

A hiss resounded through the garage, formed a single word:
Murderer.

His fingers clenched on his sword, but the creature had apparently decided to retreat…to play with Ethan another day. It had obviously found something in his mind to torment him with—and though demons were notorious for lies, for twisting the truth, there weren't nothing false in the name it had called him.

CHAPTER 3

Ethan flew into San Francisco with the dawn.

On the eastern side of the city, tucked just northwest of an abandoned naval shipyard and the shoreline of the bay, a ramshackle warehouse stood, surrounded by a fenced-in parking lot of cracked and buckling asphalt. For almost a year now, it had served as Special Investigations' headquarters. The fence wouldn't keep demons out—or the neighborhood kids—but the run-down façade would keep both away. Demons, because appearances meant everything, and the appearance of wealth and power was the most critical; and kids because, from outside, there was no indication that the building housed anything worth investigating or stealing.

In the old days, Ethan would have taken one look at the tiny security cameras and infrared sensors posted around the perimeter—that was, if they'd had cameras and sensors in those days—and known it was a building worth cleaning out.

Then he'd have high-tailed it the other way, because folks who went to that much trouble and expense to hide what they had were often too dangerous to trifle with, and more than prepared for someone like him.

But there was no need to break in; even if he didn't have his Gift, he had a keycard. He didn't bother with swiping it. After landing at the back entrance to the warehouse and vanishing his wings, he touched his mind to the wide cylindrical pins anchoring the four-inch-thick steel door into the reinforced wall, slid across the electromagnetic locks, and disengaged both.

Inside, the empty white walls along the corridor hid an array of sensory equipment and defensive measures: face recognition systems, tweaked to detect the slightest alterations in a familiar person's size and form; temperature gauges, to determine if the entrant was a vampire, demon, or Guardian; and hellhound venom-filled darts, to paralyze any unwelcome demon.

At the end of the corridor, clad in his finest butler's gear, Jeeves sat behind a bulletproof shield and watched his approach. Ethan tried to probe his psyche to find out who lay behind that stiff upper lip—each Guardian undergoing training at the facility shape-shifted into Jeeves's form and took a turn guarding the entrance—but Ethan couldn't penetrate this one's shields.

One of the older novices, then, and likely a few decades into his one hundred years of training.

Jeeves's formal greeting was followed by a polite instruction to step up to the retinal, voice, and fingerprint scanners. Even if a demon had managed to fool the sensors to this point, one likely wouldn't have shape-shifted down to such detail.

Ethan could have unlocked the door that slid open when Jeeves approved his identity, but it was simpler to follow protocol—and less likely to bring a phalanx of Guardians down on him. He passed through the security area, then paused when Jeeves met him in the hallway and lowered his shields.

Jake. Ethan glanced past him, into Jeeves's station. It couldn't be left unmanned. “You got a minute?”

The butler's exterior shimmered, changed; the elderly gentleman became a young, T-shirt-and jeans-wearing male, with an erect bearing and dark shaved hair that could have come fresh out of a military boot camp.

Considering that Jake had died in the jungles of Vietnam, the kid likely had been.

“More than that. I'm off.” Jake stuck a toothpick between his lips and scooted to the side of the doorway just as another Guardian darted past him, her dark form a blur. “Ten seconds late, Rebecca.”

“Fuck you,” she said as she shape-shifted. Even if it hadn't been mildly spoken, her response would have been impossible to take seriously, her feminine voice coming as it did from Jeeves's mouth. Her dour gaze lifted to Ethan's face, then narrowed on his grin. “Hey, Drifter. Laugh it up while you can;
she
asked us to let her know when you finally got your ass back here.”

Lilith. The former demon and FBI agent now headed operations at Special Investigations. A few Guardians still chafed at the thought of following her direction, but Ethan hadn't any argument with it—particularly as Lilith's partner and SI's co-director, Hugh Castleford, had been Ethan's mentor for a century in Caelum, the realm the Guardians called home. Even if Ethan hadn't trusted Lilith's judgment and two thousand years of experience, he would have Hugh's.

“Well, then, I'll be pleased to accommodate her,” Ethan drawled.

Rebecca pursed Jeeves's thin lips. “And you've screwed up the entry logs by failing to swipe your card. There's no record of you at the main door, but there's a record here at security? Red flags everywhere. And guess who has to go in and fix them?”

Ethan adopted his best
aw, shucks
expression. “I'm just keeping you on your toes, Miss Becca. Training and all.”

Rebecca spread her arms wide; Ethan could almost hear the starched shirt cracking. “Do I look like a fucking ballerina to you?” A choked laugh from Jake had her glaring in his direction. “You: Shut up. I just learned how to take my sword out of my hammerspace, and I'm not afraid to use it.”

Jake held up his hands in surrender, but his gaze centered over her shoulder and on the monitors lining the small room. “You've got a motorcycle coming into the parking lot, Jeeves.”

Rebecca turned her head; when she glanced back, Jeeves's smile was a ghastly thing. “Speak of the devil. It's Lilith,” she said and slammed the door.

Ethan's brows rose, and he looked from the still-quivering door frame to Jake. “Her
hammerspace
?”

“Her cache.” Jake shrugged and moved the toothpick from the right corner of his mouth to the left. “It's a video-game thing. We've been playing DemonSlayer in our downtime.”

“Learning a bushel from it, are you?” Ethan asked, his voice dry as desert sand. Though based on a book that accurately described Guardians, the game was riddled with errors—but, fortunately, the public assumed both were fiction.

“There's only so much porn you can download before the thrill is gone.” The toothpick bobbed with Jake's unapologetic grin. “Speaking of, that's probably why Becca's ready to snap: I think Emo Vamp always falls asleep right afterwards.”

“I can hear you, you bloody bastard.” Rebecca's reply came clearly through the door, but this time it was rounded by Jeeves's cultured voice. “And Mackenzie's worth it.”

Her vampire lover likely fed from her just before falling into the daysleep, then. Ethan didn't allow his revulsion to show; the thought of the blood and feeding didn't disgust him, but the memory of a vampire's bloodlust, and of how easily it had slipped into his own mind, left a bitter taste in his mouth. He'd done a lot of wrong in his lifetime, but what he'd done to that vampire had been one of the worst.

He'd been a Guardian with a century's training—but the overwhelming need had left him as weak as a human…or a vampire.

A hiss of compressed air and the slide of the door preceded Lilith's entrance, and Ethan made a mental amendment as she strode toward them, her long black hair coiled tight at her nape, her dark eyes fixed on his. Lilith was human now, but with the physical strength of a vampire, and “weak” described her about as well as “unsightly” described an Arizona sunset.

And nothing about Lilith was unsightly, either, though Ethan wasn't used to seeing so little of her. Perhaps in deference to the crisp morning, she'd traded in her corset for a high-necked black shirt and a jacket that rivaled his in length.

She didn't stop and offer a greeting; as she passed him, she simply commanded, “Drifter. In my office. And bring your puppy.”

Jake made a woofing sound, but Ethan was surprised that
her
dog wasn't trailing at her heels. Lilith's three-headed hellhound could make a demon quake with fear and served as her protection. She rarely went anywhere without it, and Sir Pup's absence likely meant that, wherever Castleford was, he had needed the hellhound more than she did.

Which gave Ethan an advantage he'd have been a fool to squander. Whistling soundlessly, he fell into step behind her.

 

With its walls painted a rich gold, mahogany furniture, and shelves of books, the office that Lilith and Castleford shared could have fit as easily in a nineteenth-century English manor house—although a gentleman farmer likely wouldn't have had an arsenal of weapons hidden in his library. Lilith sat lightly on the front edge of her desk; Jake dropped into one of the club chairs facing her. Ethan didn't take the seat she pushed toward him with her boot.

Though her psychic blocks were impenetrable, he felt her dark gaze as he moved toward the painting of Caelum that hung against the east wall. Columns and spires of white marble rose against a gloriously blue sky.

“Your pup ain't here,” Ethan said.

“Washington, D.C.'s vamp community was wiped out last night,” Lilith said. Though her voice was flat, she allowed her frustration and anger to slip through her shields. “Michael took Hugh and Sir Pup with him, looking for evidence. They teleported there just after dawn.”

Jake sat forward, inhaled through clenched teeth. “Was it the same as in Rome and Berlin last month? No survivors?”

“Yes. Whoever they are—and however many of them there were—they were methodical.”

As they had been in Rome and in Berlin. Ethan could hardly comprehend the organization and planning it must have taken to wipe out every vampire in a city over the course of a single night. “Nothing to show whether it was demons or nosferatu?”

Though demons and nosferatu had once been angels, the nosferatu hadn't been tossed into Hell after Lucifer's rebellion—instead, they'd been cursed with bloodlust and intolerance for daylight. Most demons and every Guardian would slay a nosferatu on sight; for that reason, they usually hid in caves, safe from psychic detection.

But not always—in the past year, Ethan had seen more nosferatu than in the first two decades of his active Guardian service. And, to a one, nosferatu despised vampires. If ever a group would want to destroy the communities, it would be nosferatu.

“I'd wager it was demons,” Lilith said, and Ethan's brows rose. She must be certain, then; Lilith didn't speak of bargains or wagers lightly. As a demon, she'd been bound by one—and the consequences for entering into a bargain or wager and then breaking its terms were severe: an eternity of torment, frozen between Hell and the Chaos realm. “Nosferatu would have left a mess, not piled the vampires' bodies up and let them disintegrate in the sun. The demons are trying to keep their activity hidden from humans—but not from us.”

“That's still a heap of ash and personal items to be concealing from the local authorities,” Ethan pointed out.

“Yes. Michael will take care of that.”

Meaning that the Doyen would vanish the evidence into his cache. She wouldn't need Ethan and Jake to go in and help with the physical cover-up, then, but there was still a community missing. So many people disappearing at once would be noticed—jobs and apartments suddenly abandoned, human family members left with questions—and, after Berlin and Rome, Special Investigations had formed a task force to handle the fallout. But neither Ethan nor Jake belonged to it.

“Is this what you pulled us in for?” Ethan asked.

“No. I want an update on Seattle.” Lilith stood and shrugged out of her jacket, throwing it across the back of the chair she'd offered him. “Milliken's transformation failed.”

Dread digging at his gut, Ethan frowned and watched Lilith round the desk and sink into her high-backed seat. When a human was turned into a vampire against his will—drained, and then forced to drink vampire or nosferatu blood—the transformation rarely took. After a long and painful degeneration, the vampire went out one of two ways: easy, like an old man in his sleep—or violently, driven mad by bloodlust.

“He's dead?” Jake yanked the toothpick from his mouth, glanced back at Ethan.

“Yes,” she said. “Colin called me last evening.”

“Did he have to finish it?” Ethan asked. If so, it would have been quick and painless; Colin Ames-Beaumont was brutally efficient with his swords.

The two-hundred-year-old vampire led the San Francisco community with his partner, Savi Murray. Both were connected to SI, and often acted as liaisons between Guardians and vampires in other cities. Ethan couldn't fathom why Savi, one of the sweetest, brightest ladies he'd had the pleasure of knowing, had developed such a powerful liking for her spoiled pretty-boy fiancé—but Ethan had to admit Colin took care of those under his protection. He'd have done everything possible to help Milliken adjust.

“Yes. They'd been watching for the snap, and Savi got Milliken's wife out—but not before she saw part of it. So Dr. Milliken isn't in an emotional state to continue assisting us—though I doubt there's much more she could tell us about Legion than she told you the night you brought them here.” Lilith steepled her fingers, pointed at Ethan. “And you came today for a purpose, Drifter, but Hugh and Milliken obviously weren't it. I
can
appreciate a man who waits and listens, gathering as much information as possible before he offers the info that
I
want—but the only man for whom I'd make the effort is in Washington, D.C., sifting through vampire ash. So talk. Now.”

BOOK: Demon Night
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