The mezzanine stretched another twenty yards, then ended without so much as a safety railing. Two figures stood at the edge, lit by a blocky artifact on the grating between them that glowed like a dim lantern. They were looking down into the space below—where red light blazed and something banged against a metal surface.
The silhouettes belonged to Burke and Fenton—and below them, on the ground level, their demons must be battling Ezra. No wonder Halil had felt safe leaving the contractors unprotected. How was Ezra supposed to reach them from twenty feet down?
Swallowing my terror, I grasped Ezra’s pole-arm like a baseball bat and charged.
My clanging footsteps announced my arrival, but Burke scarcely glanced at me before refocusing below. Fenton, however, turned sharply and scrabbled for something in his pocket. He whipped out a wooden ball carved with runes.
I swung the pole-arm at his head. He ducked, and I brought it down on his arm with a sickening crack. The artifact popped out of his hand and bounced over the floor’s edge.
In the open space beyond the mezzanine, yellow crane machines with heavy chains were affixed to huge steel tracks that crisscrossed the high ceiling. Along the walls were stacks of unfinished machinery, each piece as large as a car, and massive pillars thicker than oak trees supported the building’s roof. Thirty-foot-tall overhead doors lined the farthest wall.
Suffocating darkness engulfed the loading bay. Icy mist rose from the floor, frost sparkling across every surface. And in the open space where workers had once loaded trailers with machinery for shipment, Ezra battled the two demons.
Crimson magic veined his arms and semi-transparent spines jutted from his shoulders. Two small red horns had reformed above his glowing left eye, and his fingers were tipped with scarlet claws that looked lethally solid instead of eerily translucent.
Fenton’s tall, scale-plated demon stood statue-still in the middle of the bay, its body crisscrossed with ugly wounds from the winged demon’s earlier attack.
Burke’s short, squat demon, its back bristling with spikes, swung at Ezra’s face. He caught the demon’s arm, but it wrenched free and slammed Ezra with its other fist. Ezra staggered back, blood splattering the floor.
Too much blood already marked the dark concrete. Ragged tears in Ezra’s clothes revealed where the demons’ claws had found his flesh. He was moving slow and favoring one leg, his left arm tucked against his side. From my single training session with Aaron, I knew his stance was all wrong. He was hurt and trying to protect his injuries.
At the sound of the pole-arm hitting Fenton and his pained howl, Ezra’s head snapped up. His mismatched eyes—one crimson, one brown—found me on the ledge.
“Ezra!” As I screamed his name, I hurled his pole-arm off the mezzanine.
I knew it wouldn’t reach him—I was a terrible throw—but he snapped a hand into the air. Red runes spiraled over his fingers and a streak of crimson light shot for the pole-arm. The magical wire whipped around it in midair, then retracted like a fishing line. His weapon smacked into his palm.
At the same time, Fenton’s hand closed around my arm and he yanked me toward the platform’s edge.
Shrieking, I snatched for any part of him I could reach—which ended up being his head. He bowed forward, flailing for balance, then wrenched back. The motion pulled me away from the edge, and I broke free from him.
Below, Ezra had split his pole-arm into two short swords, and crimson magic flowed down the steel. Burke’s gaze was fixed on the scene below, his face tight with concentration as his demon circled Ezra, searching for an opening. Fenton’s demon still hadn’t moved.
Snarling, Fenton tackled me. I hit the grating, his weight landing on top of me. He jammed his forearm into my neck. I cried out and scratched frantically at his wrist, but he was bigger and far stronger than me. He pressed harder into my throat and cut off my air. Black spots popped in front of my eyes. I scrabbled at my belt and pulled out my fall crystal, but I needed air to speak the incantation.
Fenton spotted the artifact and jerked back like it was a live bomb, freeing my throat. Saved by his idiocy, I gasped in a breath. “Ori—”
He grabbed my wrist—and bones ground under his fingers. My vision went white with agony. He tore the leather tie out of my hand and threw it. The small crystal fell through the grating.
“Finish her!” Burke barked. “The boy is armed and I need your—”
Crimson power exploded, shaking the mezzanine. Fenton twisted to look behind him. Gasping for air, I grasped my last alchemy bomb and threw it at the back of Burke’s head.
I scrunched my eyes closed as the glass sphere burst with a blinding flare and a crack that jolted through my chest. As I opened them, Burke pitched to one side and almost fell off the mezzanine.
Ezra unleashed another earth-shaking blast, and beyond the mezzanine’s edge, I glimpsed Burke’s demon hurtle through the air and slam into an industrial tank.
“No!” Burke yelled furiously.
Fenton grasped the front of my shirt and heaved me off the floor. I slapped hopelessly at my belt. My remaining artifacts—the Queen of Spades reflector spell and the green-crystal interrogation spell—would be useless against him.
My fingers collided with something hard in a pouch. I yanked out Halil’s brass knuckles. With no time to put them on, I clutched them in my fist and swung at Fenton’s chest.
“Ori amplifico!” I shouted.
The air boomed and Fenton was thrown backward. He stumbled, arms windmilling, and stepped off the mezzanine’s edge. As he fell, he snatched my outstretched wrist.
He wrenched me off the mezzanine with him. A scream tore from my throat as the concrete floor rushed toward my face—then wind gusted under me. My fall slowed at the last moment, and I thudded against the floor.
Across the bay, Ezra’s hand was stretched toward me, red magic crawling over his arm.
Burke’s demon slammed into Ezra, throwing him into an overhead door. Metal screeched as it bent, then crimson light exploded out of Ezra, throwing the demon off. I lifted my head, struggling to move through the throbbing pain. Arctic cold burned my skin, and my quick, desperate breaths puffed white.
I had to get up. I had to … do something. What was I supposed to do now?
A few feet away, where he’d landed, Fenton was groaning. He sat up and fumbled for his pockets. He pulled out a tiny vial, tore the cork out, and downed it. Sucking in a deep breath, he pushed gingerly to his feet, pain clearing from his expression. His attention snapped to the demon and mage in battle.
For the first time since I had distracted Fenton, his demon moved. Fenton locked his eyes on Ezra, and his demon broke into a silent, slinking run. Its horrible wounds, inflicted by the winged demon, weren’t slowing it down.
Burke’s demon, already back up on its feet, stood with one of Ezra’s short swords embedded in its gut. It pulled the blade out, gripped the handle, and snapped the weapon in half. It too slunk forward, the demons closing in on Ezra from either side. His head swung back and forth as he gauged their approaches.
I pushed myself up. I had to distract Fenton. His demon could only fight when he was commanding it. If I could keep one demon out of the battle, Ezra might have a chance.
Both demons charged Ezra, and he whipped his remaining sword in front of him. Runes raced down the blade, and a flash of crimson blinded me. The accompanying boom thundered through my chest.
Burke’s demon landed on its back halfway across the room, spines scraping the concrete, but Fenton’s demon had dodged the blast. It swung its scale-plated fist at Ezra, who blocked with his forearms and retreated with limping steps.
Panting, I spun toward Fenton. I had to stop him, but how? I had no alchemy bombs left, my crystal artifact had fallen under the mezzanine, and I’d dropped Halil’s brass knuckles somewhere. With nothing else left, I pulled out my Queen of Spades and ran toward Fenton.
A huge shape cut across my path.
Burke’s demon, its magma eyes glowing, snatched at me with massive claws. I dove out of the way and its talons raked across my upper arm. Hot blood soaked my jacket sleeve. Gasping, I rolled over—and rolled again, barely escaping the demon’s foot as it tried to stomp on my head.
Up on the mezzanine, Burke was laughing.
Crimson magic blazed—Ezra battling Fenton’s demon. He had to be exhausted. He couldn’t keep fighting much longer. Burke knew it, so instead of using his demon to attack Ezra, he would kill me first.
I scrambled backward on my butt, panic blanking my thoughts. The towering demon, spines jutting from its back, its blank stare fixed on me and fanged mouth slack, reached for my face.
“Ori repercutio!” I cried, thrusting my card at it.
The air rippled and the demon’s arm bounced backward.
But with nothing else to reflect, that’s all the card did—it knocked its arm back. And like the last time, the demon barely faltered. It reached for me again.
“Ori repercutio! Ori reper—”
It grabbed the front of my jacket and lifted me into the air—again, just like the last time I’d faced this demon. Through the hysteria screeching in my head, I could almost hear Burke’s cruel, laughing voice—time to finish what you started, foolish girl.
I wrenched at the demon’s thick fingers, my useless Queen of Spades fluttering from my hand, its spell wasted. The demon lifted me higher, my feet dangling above the ground, and its other hand rose, fingers curled to strike.