I fumbled desperately at my waist, at my belt and pockets, searching for a weapon, even though I knew I had none left. As my hand ran roughly over my hip, something jingled, the sound almost lost in the clamor of battle between Ezra and Fenton’s demon.
The belt’s pouches were empty, but there was something in my pocket?
My fingers dove into my jeans and met fine links, the metal warmed by my body heat. I whipped it out: a dark metal chain with a round disc. The amulet I’d taken from the winged demon’s corpse.
A wail of despair rose in my throat that it wasn’t a weapon, but I lifted it anyway, the amulet swinging wildly.
Claws flashed for my neck.
The swinging amulet landed on the demon’s hand that gripped my jacket—and the creature froze. Its claws hovered inches from my jugular.
Magma eyes blazed. The vacant mindlessness in the demon’s expression vanished, and its reddish skin contorted—its brows drawing down, lips pulling back, nose wrinkling in a snarl.
An expression of absolute bestial fury.
From above, a shocked gasp escaped Burke. The demon’s claws were dangerously close to my throat, but it still didn’t move. Staring into its eyes, I knew that a living, thinking being stared back. Seeing me. Judging me with sinister intelligence.
Terror liquefied my innards and my hands jerked convulsively. The amulet slipped off the demon’s wrist and swung on the end of its chain like a pendulum.
The moment the amulet broke contact with the demon, the rage on its face melted back into blank nothingness. The intelligence in its eyes died. Burke shouted something, and the demon drew back its arm a second time, ready to repeat the strike it had failed to perform.
I slapped the amulet against the demon’s wrist again.
Life flared in its eyes, and that rage reappeared. Its claws curled, and muscles bunched.
“Don’t move!” I gasped. “Or I’ll take the amulet away again!”
The demon bared its sharp fangs—but otherwise, it didn’t move.
“Put me down—slowly.”
It lowered me until my feet touched the floor, but it didn’t release my jacket. Probably a good thing, because I wasn’t sure my trembling legs could hold me up.
We stared at each other, the scant seconds stretching out as I thought frantically. The demon was assessing me with equal intensity, those intelligent eyes gleaming. Its claws were still poised to strike.
Somehow, the amulet’s power had severed Burke’s control over the demon’s will. Holding the front of my shirt was a demon in full command of itself.
A very, very angry demon.
It could kill me in an instant, but if the amulet broke contact with its skin, it would fall back under Burke’s power. It didn’t seem eager to take that risk.
“Listen,” I said, my voice shaking. “Let’s make a deal. I’ll give you the amulet if you get rid of the other demon—and d-don’t kill me.”
The demon stared at me, then its mouth curved into a vicious grin. Did that mean it agreed?
A blast of red light from Ezra blinded me, and I didn’t have time to find out. I yanked the amulet off the demon’s wrist and shoved it against its other palm.
The demon’s fingers snapped over the amulet, claws scoring the back of my hand. It released my jacket and I crumpled at its feet, my legs turned to jelly. The demon glared down at me—then turned away.
My jaw hung open. It—it hadn’t killed me? It was honoring our deal?
Amulet clutched in one hand, the demon sprang forward. But it didn’t go for Fenton’s demon, which had just slammed Ezra into the floor. Instead, Burke’s freed demon took aim at the other human.
In three loping steps, it grabbed Fenton in its huge, powerful hand—and ripped out his heart.
The unsuspecting contractor didn’t have a chance to scream. Bones crunched, blood gushed, and his body collapsed to the floor.
A screeching laugh erupted. Fenton’s demon had stepped back from Ezra, its mouth gaping as it cackled, its delighted stare fixed on its slain master. Red light gushed from its hands and whooshed over its body. Its form dissolved into a blur of crimson power that shot for Fenton.
The light rushed into his body, making it glow like a scarlet light bulb, then it faded. The crimson radiance blinked out, leaving an empty, lifeless corpse splayed on the blood-drenched concrete. The scaled demon was gone.
I was too shocked to move. Had that final moment of possession been the demon stealing Fenton’s soul and using it to escape this world?
Gasping harshly, Ezra braced one hand against a broad pillar. His left eye still glowed, but most of the red magic had faded from his arms. He stared at Burke’s demon—and fear edged his expression.
“What are you doing?” Burke roared from the mezzanine. “Obey me! You have to obey me!”
The demon looked up at its shouting contractor. Lips pulling back in another hideous grin, it lifted its free hand toward Burke. Crimson runes sparked over its fingers and spiraled up its wrist. A glowing red wire shot out of its hand—identical to the spell Ezra had used to catch his pole-arm.
The coil of power snapped around Burke and yanked him off the edge. He plunged twenty feet and landed with a horrifying thwack. Laughing in a deep, hoarse voice, the demon ambled over to its former master. Leaning down, it sank claws into Burke’s shoulder and lifted him. Burke grabbed at its wrist, his face white with terror.
“N-no!” he stammered. “You must obey me! You accepted the contract!”
Another bone-rumbling laugh. With a casual flick, the demon raked its claws across Burke’s face. Blood splattered and Burke screamed. The demon dropped him.
Burke hit the ground, still screaming, and pressed his hands over his eyes as blood ran down his cheeks like macabre tears. Chuckling, the demon turned away from its master. Its magma eyes slid to me, and it offered a mocking nod of acknowledgment. It had agreed not to kill me. It was holding to our bargain.
Then it continued its turn—and faced Ezra.
My body went ice cold. I’d told the demon not to hurt me, but I hadn’t mentioned Ezra. How could I have forgotten?
Ezra shoved away from the pillar, holding his remaining short sword, but he could barely stand. His breath came in ragged pants, one arm hanging uselessly at his side. The magic blazing over his body had mostly faded, and the only bright spot left was his glowing left eye.
With bloodthirsty delight etched on its face, the demon I had freed launched its attack.
Wintry cold swept over the room. Darkness sucked at the artifact Burke and Fenton had left glowing on the mezzanine. Frost reformed over every surface.
And the demon slammed into Ezra.
It drove him into a stack of pallets with crushing force. Wood splintered and crunched. Ezra slashed with his sword, but the demon didn’t flinch when the blade parted its flesh. It had many injuries, none of which bothered it. Hadn’t Ezra told me himself? Demons could take a lot of damage.
Crimson light spiraled around the demon—magic no longer chained by the demon’s contract. Instead of fighting a slow, witless, magic-less demon controlled by a distractible human, Ezra now battled a fully powered, fully autonomous demon that could wield more magic than the demon mage.
All because of me.
I spun in a wild circle. A dozen feet away, Burke was crawling blindly, searching for an escape. My gorge rose at the sight of his face. The demon could have immobilized him with magic, but instead, it had blinded him—a far more vicious way of keeping its former master from escaping.
With an explosive roar, power erupted. Thrown backward, Ezra slammed into the central pillar supporting the mezzanine. Metal groaned under the impact, and he slumped, legs sprawled, his torso held up by the pillar. Without it, he would’ve been flat on the ground.
His short sword spun across the concrete and slid to a stop at my feet.
The demon stalked toward Ezra, its claws uncurling. He lifted his head, his left eye gleaming with faint red light. Blood ran from his mouth and dripped off his chin. He didn’t make any move to stand as the demon approached.
I looked down at the sword.
The demon stopped in front of Ezra, smiling malevolently. Four yards away, on my other side, Burke was inching along the concrete with soft grunts of pain and panic.
I had to stop the demon. I had to save Ezra.
The demon lifted its arm, thick claws glinting in the faint light as it took aim at the exhausted, injured, defenseless mage. Seconds. In seconds, Ezra would die. I couldn’t let that happen. I had to stop this, no matter what it took. I had to act.
Seconds. No time. Go! Go now!
I snatched the sword off the ground and sprinted. A scream burst from my throat—a tearing outcry of panic, of denial, of desperation. I raised the blade over my head, the deadly point gleaming.
And I slammed it down into Burke’s back.
The foot-long steel drove between his ribs. The edges scraped against bone. The hilt hit his body and he collapsed without a sound, his weight pulling the sword out of my hands.
My breath came in fast, urgent pants. I stared at him, at what I had done, then I raised my head. Crouched over Ezra, the demon gazed at me, its cold, harsh features unreadable.
Then it tore its claws out of Ezra’s chest.
The force pulled him upward before the claws came free from his body. He fell back into the pillar, limp, slumped, head lolling, blood running down his chest. My throat spasmed, another scream fighting to escape, but I’d forgotten how to make a sound.