Authors: Eric Asher
Tags: #vampires, #demon, #civil war, #fairy, #fairies, #necromancer, #vesik
Some part of me knew there were more creatures
attacking our group, but if I turned away for even a moment, the
talons on the thing’s hand could gut me. I snapped a precise kick
at the demon’s head, and it batted my foot away effortlessly.
I raised my left hand.
incantation caught the demon in the chest, and he doubled over,
wings snapping out only to smash themselves on the stone walls. I
flipped the pepperbox and grabbed it by the barrel, bringing it
down as hard as I could on the thin bones of the demon’s wing.
The thing screamed as its body cracked beneath the
blow. The wing’s gray membrane slackened, and thick blood leaked
from the wound.
It could bleed.
It could die.
Shards of ice riddled the demon. My aim wasn’t
perfect, and I saw one of the werewolves flinch when the
dagger-like hail cut into its hide. I couldn’t focus on the wolves.
They remained golden lights in my periphery as I dodged a blow from
the wounded demon.
Its leg bent at an impossible angle. I braced for the
impact as best I could, but the sweeping blow caught my left arm
and part of a rib. Crashing into the side of the canyon didn’t
soften the blow.
The next attack came on the heels of the first.
The shield formed slowly—the odd
variances in the magic here coming at the worst possible times—but
it still allowed me to deflect the second kick. The demon stumbled,
and I hit it with another ice incantation before screaming
The demon screeched as it dug its talons into the
sides of the canyon. Its backward momentum stopped. It launched at
me again. For every blow I evaded, it landed two. Even glancing
blows sent a world of pain into my limbs. I watched the creature
spiral off my shield into a tight, spinning sweep. It caught my
ankle and slammed my head into the rocks.
The demon leapt, a wicked-looking blade extended for
a killing blow.
Vicky hurdled over me as a soulsword solid enough to
be the sun erupted from her fist. She bounced from one wall of the
canyon to the next, each movement ending with a severed piece of
the demon flopping off in a random direction. Blood sprayed across
us both as the creature crashed to the earth beside me, a confused
look etched across its face.
I slammed a speed loader home and fired two quick
shots into the demon’s head. It didn’t move again.
I crawled to my knees, wincing at a pain in my wrist
that told me it was likely broken. Vicky bounded over the
werewolves, and I could only stare.
Gray bodies split open and spilled their lives upon
the stone. Vicky leapt from wall to wall, a spinning ball of death
to everything around her. Heads fell to the earth before the
creatures so much as knew they were dead.
The demons’ bodies tumbled, twitched, and collapsed.
The next died before the first fell. Vicky was silent, the click of
her boots on rock louder than anything save the Ghost Pack’s war
By the time she slipped past Maggie, the rest of the
demons were running for their lives. The retreating adversaries
cast glances over their shoulders, while the child who would become
the Destroyer stood watch. Vicky held up a soulsword and pointed it
at the farthest creature.
A blade of light a quarter mile long snapped out of
her fist, and the demon exploded in a distant puff of blood and
gore. Vicky calmly repeated the process, annihilating every
creature that had dared to attack us one after another.
“Pathetic,” she snarled before turning back to
It was perhaps that moment when I truly understood
what Vicky could become. If we didn’t free her, she’d become the
Destroyer. She’d have the power of soularts and a well of darkness
to draw from, older than history itself.
She stopped at each wolf, asking if they needed any
assistance or healing. There I saw the little ghost girl I’d come
to care for. A tenderness lived in those tiny golden flashes of
healing. Vicky gently lifted Jimmy’s arm, turning his palm over
before healing a long gash that bled luminescent.
It wasn’t long before she got to me.
“Nice work, kiddo.”
“That?” she asked as she glanced over her shoulder.
“Those are the foolish demons from the third circle. They don’t
know their place.”
“I mean the healing.”
“Oh!” She smiled. “It’s a neat trick, right?” She
poked at my ribs, and I winced at the last touch. “That one’s
cracked. This is going to hurt.”
“Doesn’t it always?” I said. The question cut off in
a grunt when the cracked bones in my chest regenerated in a burst
of healing light. Vicky moved on to my wrist and forearm.
“You did good for such tight quarters,” Carter said
as he leaned onto the canyon wall beside Vicky.
I rubbed at my wrist and looked up at the wolf. “Is
that a common thing?”
“The attack?” Carter asked. “We run into small
ambushes fairly often.”
Maggie stepped up next to him. “Do you need to rest?
This trail will be safe with the demons dispatched.”
I didn’t much feel like camping out in the small
puddles and pools of blood. When I looked for the nearest demon, it
was gone. “What?” I said, looking around the canyon. “They’re all
gone. Are they still alive?”
“In a sense, I suppose,” Carter said. “Mike can
explain it better.”
I took a step forward and my leg cramped. I winced
and looked at Maggie. “Maybe just a minute.”
She nodded. “Take your time. You’ll need to be mobile
if we get hit again.”
Footsteps sounded behind me and my heart leapt into
my throat. A quick glance showed me Happy in his human form. The
old samurai rounded the bend in the canyon, trailed closely by
“Who the hell is that?” Jimmy asked.
“It’s Happy,” Carter said.
“The panda bear?” Jimmy said, his voice rising. “You
were serious? He’s a shapeshifter?”
“My name is Shiawase.” His hand rested on the hilt of
his sword. A leather guard—one that did not seem to fit with his
samurai armor—graced his upper arm. When he shifted his shoulder, I
could see the panda stitched into the black band.
“Nice panda,” Vicky said.
I raised my eyebrows at her rather cutting sarcasm.
Shiawase laid a finger across his lips and smiled. Vicky quieted,
but a wide grin lit her face.
Carter eyed them both and then looked down at the cu
sith. “How did she do?”
“Bubbles destroyed their flanking maneuver the
instant they entered the canyon,” Shiawase said. “She is a
“Good,” Carter said. “That’s very good.”
Bubbles scrunched her face up and sniffed before her
tongue rolled out and splatted on the ground.
“Terrifying,” I said flatly.
Bubbles sucked in her tongue and chuffed at me,
wiggling her way past Shiawase before settling in next to me. I
scratched at her ruff.
“The fire doesn’t burn you?” Jimmy asked.
I glanced down at the flame-like fur running all
around Bubbles. “Doesn’t seem to. I actually rode on her back most
of the way here.”
“Like a panda,” Vicky said.
I flashed the samurai a grin. “Yes, exactly like a
panda. So noble a steed was never had before, in legend nor
“Damian,” Shiawase said with a put-upon look. “Shut
Maggie snorted a laugh. “He’s only saying what we all
wanted to say.”
Vicky crossed her legs and settled onto the rock
beside me. “Why didn’t you use a sword when the demons
I slid my backpack off and rooted through it for some
jerky and a Frappuccino. “I did on the other side of the forest. My
soulsword was as long as the ones you used to kill those running
demons. I didn’t want to risk hitting you or one of the wolves in
She nodded. “You’re pulling too much energy. Pull
less, except when you want to stick something at a distance. All
magic works differently here.”
Carter and the other wolves and the samurai made for
the end of the canyon while I rested. Shiawase pointed into the
distance, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying.
Vicky rearranged herself beside me. “Why did you save
A wind howled in the distance, roaring ever louder as
it ripped through the canyon. I waited for the sound to pass while
Vicky kicked at the stone with her heels.
“I didn’t save you, kiddo.”
She frowned. “You took me to Happy. He’s the best
friend I ever had.”
“He’s a good bear. Samurai. Whatever.”
Vicky smiled and leaned back against the jagged
rocks. “You killed the last Destroyer. Why save me?”
“You aren’t the Destroyer.”
Silence greeted my words and Vicky fell still. “You
know that’s not true. I can hear her talking sometimes. I don’t … I
don’t think I can win, Damian.”
I ground my teeth together. “You don’t have to win,
kiddo. You just have to hold on while I kill some things.”
“You’re good at that.”
I didn’t argue with her as the wolves made their way
back to us. I popped a piece of salty beef into my mouth and
chewed. It was tender, and then it turned into an inferno that made
my eyes water. “That’s good.”
“Damian,” Carter said, “you’re crying.”
“Spicy,” I choked out as I held up the bag.
Carter took a small piece. I thought he was going to
sniff at it before he flinched away. “Gods!” He dropped it back
into the bag. “What in the hell is on that?”
“Spice.” I unscrewed the lid on the Frappuccino and
took a deep drink. I flexed my leg and wrist, testing them out
after Vicky’s healing. I felt almost whole again, normal, except
for the crimson sky and eerie shadows of the canyon.
I zipped the jerky closed and stuffed it back into
the pack. “Where to now?”
Carter turned and pointed to the massive structure
closer to the horizon. “We make for the fifth fortress, and hope
Mike is still there.”
Even at a great distance, I’d known the fifth
fortress was huge, but standing in front of it, my jaw dropped.
Stone watchtowers that must have been half a mile
high soared into the air and those were in turn dwarfed by spindly
black obelisks. It was an unfathomable, impossible structure. Its
own weight should have pulled it to the ground, and yet here it
A great black metal gate—a lattice of darkness with a
darker promise for any who would face it—blocked our path. Power
sparked through the patterns, and I had little doubt of its
“Let me guess,” I said. “You touch it and you
Carter let out a slow laugh. “You touch it and it
paralyzes you so something else can come and claim you.”
“Like I said, you touch it and you die.” My eyes
traced the wall. Carved wards glowed every few feet. The entire
structure surged with magic, but each ward lived on its own. One
could be severed, leaving the rest intact. “How do we get past
“We wait until Mike comes out.”
“I can go,” Shiawase said. “The gate will not—”
Vicky’s scream cut the samurai off. I spun to face
her, in time to see her collapse onto the gravel.
“Vicky!” I slid up next to her shaking form and
turned her over. I almost jumped away. Black streaks marred her
face. They followed her veins and arteries like an infection,
fracturing off into a web of capillaries.
When she spoke, it was with the voice of a devil.
“What now, Anubis-son? What now when the Destroyer lays claim to
your own?” Her face curled into a vicious smile, and a bellowing
laugh tore through the air.
“No more time,” I said, turning to the fortress gate
and drawing the focus.
“Damian, no!” Maggie shouted. “Breaking down a gate
would be a declaration of war against the inner circles.”
I glanced back at Vicky’s twitching body. “They
already declared war.”
I channeled and slashed with the pillar of golden
fire that raged from the focus. The gate collapsed, and the wall
behind it, and the statue behind that.
“They’re coming,” that terrible voice said. “You
cannot stop them.”
I raised my right arm and reached for the deadliest
power I could, my fingers curled into a claw for the Hand of
Anubis, twisted into my own design. I froze and sucked in a breath.
When my power reached out for the dead and the gravemakers, they
were everywhere. They were everything. The world was mine.
“Damian?” Maggie whispered, taking a step away. “What
“Stay behind me.” I hooked the focus into my belt and
raised my left arm. “We’re going through.”
The screams came first, guttural, fierce cries that
spoke of the deadly things closing on us. I felt the chaff of a
gravemaker licking at my fingertips, and I stepped forward. The
earth rose in a black wave around me, and I passed through the
Power crackled from the broken latticework, but the
shadowy mass around me devoured it. The voices inside my head
became one, with one purpose. The demons rose up in black waves,
foot soldiers sprinting forward with swords and flaming warhammers,
while winged attackers took to the sky as I stepped through the
gate. The enclosed stone courtyard grew thick with the enemy.
I smiled and closed my fists. The masonry erupted
before the demons, and two of the Hand of Anubis rose to greet
them. It was not the decayed bark-like debris I was so used to
seeing that burst from the stone floor; it was sleek obsidian
darkness. Bodies crunched and collapsed. Sickening little pops
echoed through the wide hall as the demons were smashed against the
The dead were in the walls, in the floors, and in the
very air around me. I released the Hand of Anubis and swiped
laterally with my arm. The fortress bent to my will. Stone became
blades, lancing out to impale the airborne demons that had dodged