Kai lifted his hands. Ezra slumped onto the grass, motionless, smoke rising off his clothes. No crimson power glowed over his hands or face.
As I panted for air, I realized Kai’s attack had only lasted seconds, though it had felt like so much longer.
A bloodcurdling laugh snatched my attention away from the mages. The winged demon still had Fenton’s demon on the ground. In a silent charge, the shorter, heavier Keys demon bowled into the winged beast. The winged demon lurched around and swung the bone-crushing plate on the end of its tail like a mace.
Aaron and Kai grabbed Ezra by the arms and dragged him away from the battle. Getting a better grip, Aaron heaved the limp aeromage over his shoulder and skirted the demons, heading toward the car.
I leaped out of the driver’s seat and rushed to the passenger door. I folded the seat down just as Aaron reached me.
Fenton yelled in furious dismay. Aaron, Kai, and I looked over.
Fenton’s demon was on the ground in a puddle of gleaming blood, and Burke’s demon was locked claw to claw with the winged beast. Clustered dangerously close were the Keys mythics. Halil stood protectively in front of the contractors with his sword in hand.
“Get up!” the younger contractor yelled at his demon. “Get up, get up!”
The creature stirred weakly, then slowly pulled its torn limbs under it. Holy shit, it was still alive? How?
The other two demons pushed into each other, fighting for dominance—and the stronger adversary was obvious. Burke’s demon slid backward, its clawed toes scoring the damp grass.
Aaron shoved Ezra into the backseat, urgency sharpening his movements—and I knew why. The Keys were losing, and once they were defeated, that demon was coming for us.
As Kai raced to his motorcycle, I fumbled to straighten the seat so I could get in. Useless coupe! We needed a van like the Keys had.
Aaron pushed me aside and pulled the lever with steady hands. The seat snapped upright. When had I started shaking so badly?
Leaning into Burke’s demon, the winged beast laughed again. A circle of crimson light erupted around its feet. The magic rippled out, and runes appeared among the spreading lines—a sorcery-like spell taking form in seconds. Power rose off the markings, singeing the air.
“Demon magic!” Halil yelled. “Get back!”
The Keys scuttled frantically in retreat. Burke’s demon jerked away, but the winged demon held onto its hands, talons piercing flesh as the crimson magic built to a horrific crescendo. I clutched the car door—we were too close, the car was too close, there was no time to get away—
A dart of movement in the night.
Someone flashed between Aaron’s car and the Keys’ van. Dashing straight for the winged demon and its spell, the stranger spun around in mid-step and landed in a backward skid as he dragged his hand across the crimson spell.
The glowing circle tore, the lines and runes breaking apart. The magic shuddered, then burst like a shattering damn. Red power exploded outward.
The concussion threw me back into Aaron, who hit the car’s side panel. Kai ducked behind his bike as dirt showered him, and Burke’s demon was hurled to the ground. The winged beast roared furiously, battered by its own failed casting.
The new arrival had sprung nimbly away, dodging to safety as though the detonation had been moving in slow motion. Illuminated by the car’s headlights, he paused in a ready crouch, waiting.
It was a demon. A fourth demon.
It was the smallest one yet—shorter than Kai and barely taller than me. Its build was lean, but defined muscles warned of strength. If not for its reddish toffee skin and long thin tail, I might have mistaken it for a human.
Before I could see more than that, it—he?—leaped into motion again. He shot past the winged demon, and the beast spun clumsily. The new demon ducked, pivoted, and rocketed past the winged demon again—and blood sprayed in his wake. The winged beast shrieked. The new one whirled and sprang. He landed lithely on the winged demon’s back, his claws flashing, then he leaped away.
Fast. So fast. The winged demon had seemed impossibly swift and agile, but this opponent was leaving it in the dust.
More blood spilled from gaping wounds torn in the winged demon’s back by the new demon’s claws. Roaring, the winged beast grabbed for its attacker and completely missed. Thin tail lashing, he darted under the swing, cut behind the larger beast, and grabbed the back of its leg just above the bulging calf muscle. He ripped his claws out again.
A pained screech. More blood. The winged demon dropped to one knee.
The agile demon struck three times so rapidly his movements were a blur—tearing strikes into the winged beast’s back. It screamed again, lurched onto its feet, and sprang into the air with its wings beating frantically.
Head tilting back, red eyes glowing, the new demon watched his adversary flee as though considering his options. Then he braced his feet, coiled his body, and leaped.
He might look human-ish, but no human could jump that high.
He slammed into the winged demon in midair and they plunged back to earth—right toward me and Aaron. We scrambled backward as the demons crashed feet from the open car door. Heel catching on a clump of grass, I stumbled and fell on my butt.
That moment of klutziness might have cost me my life, but it didn’t matter. The battle was over.
The only movement came from the winged one’s head—namely, its head rolling across the grass and coming to a stop at my feet. Its eyes were dark and empty, and gooey icky stuff leaked from the stump of its neck. My stomach attempted to abandon ship.
The new demon crouched over the head he had ripped off—putting him about a foot away from me. His red eyes stared into mine with narrow, vertical pupils. His features were disturbingly human, and terror burst through me, weakening my joints and shaking my hands. I gasped in a shallow breath.
For an instant so brief I might have imagined it, a grin flashed across the demon’s face, pointed canines bared in delighted savagery.
Then he rose to his feet, his expression a vacant mask with zero animation. Turning woodenly, the demon walked past the winged corpse. The Keys contractors watched him—no, it amble past them, heading toward …
I peered into the darkness.
… toward a short human silhouette standing between two trees at the park’s edge. The contractor. Stepping into the glow of the vehicles’ headlights, the newcomer waited for his demon.
Er, actually … her demon.
If I’d had a chance to think about what sort of badass contractor commanded that demon, I would’ve pictured someone like Alistair—older and experienced, tough as old leather, all casual confidence and unshakable attitude. Someone who matched the insane lethality of a demon that could tear the winged beast down without getting so much as a scratch.
But this super-killer demon’s master was nothing like Alistair. The contractor was a girl.
Like … a girly girl.
Short, waif-like, her brunette hair cut in a shoulder-length bob, dark-rimmed librarian-esque glasses perched on her nose. Her tough-as-shit contractor outfit consisted of skinny jeans with a pink flower embroidered on one hip, a white tank top, and a purple zip-up sweater, half undone to reveal the infernus pendant resting just below her slim chest.
The demon walked sedately to her and stopped. It was only a couple of inches taller than me, but it towered over her. She barely cleared its shoulder, putting her at, what, five feet? Maybe five foot two?
Not that short people can’t be tough. It was just, you know, she looked as threatening as a librarian’s assistant. Not even the librarian. An assistant.
She stared first at the Keys, who stood in a cluster with Burke’s demon guarding them; Fenton’s demon still hadn’t gotten up. Then she looked at us—me sitting on the ground, Aaron standing close by, and Kai holding his bike. Ezra, unconscious in the back seat, was hidden from view.
Then she glanced at the lovely demon corpse oozing gore all over the grass in front of my toes.
After a long moment where no one said anything, she twitched her shoulders in a slight, awkward shrug, then slipped her hand into her pocket. She pulled out a phone, and we all watched her dial a number and lift it to her ear.
“Um, hello,” she said into the phone, her light alto voice less than confident. “Yes, um … this is Robin Page, from the Grand Grimoire. I’d like to report the unbound demon, please.”
I blinked. Please?
“Yes … um. It’s in Oppenheimer Park. Mm-hmm. Uh … no, the demon is dead.” She pushed her glasses up her nose, her demon standing motionless at her side. “Yes, I’m sure. It’s definitely dead.”
The girl listened for a moment. “Okay, I’ll wait here. How long will MagiPol take to arrive?”
At those words, the Keys jolted into motion. Both their demons dissolved into red light, and with their pendants still sucking in the power, they strode for their van. Burke’s deep-set eyes dropped to mine and he smirked evilly.
I knew exactly what that smile meant: This isn’t over.
They piled into their van, the engine started, and the vehicle peeled away, tires skidding on the grass. The van’s nose barely missed the back of Kai’s bike.
Something cold touched my leg and I started. The pool of thick demon blood under the dismembered head was soaking into my pant leg. I yanked my feet away—and glimpsed a shiny object amidst the bloody grass.
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