Cackling softly, the demon opened its other hand. The amulet fell to the ground with a clink, then light swept over the beast’s body. Dissolving into a luminous blur, the crimson spirit hurtled toward me.
I stumbled back as the demonic spirit plunged into Burke, claimed his dying soul, then faded out of this world.
A sob crawled up my throat and made my lungs heave. I burst into an unsteady run, racing to Ezra’s side. Hands outstretched, I dropped to my knees beside him.
This close, he looked even worse—clothes torn, cuts and lacerations leaking blood, blue-black bruises darkening his skin. But it was the three piercing wounds in the right side of his chest that had me shaking so hard I couldn’t breathe. The demon had driven its claws in deep, and blood flowed steadily from the punctures.
Wet, ragged breaths trembled through his lungs. His head twitched, then his eyes cracked open.
“Tori,” he rasped. His left eye shone with a hint of red.
“Ezra!” I reached for his arm but hesitated, terrified that even the gentlest touch would hurt him more. “Ezra, I—”
His hand fumbled for my wrist, and his fingers closed in a surprisingly powerful grip. “Tori, get away.”
“Get away. Run away.”
“The demons are gone, Ezra.”
He sucked in a horrible, gurgling breath. “Get away.”
His eyes rolled back, and his fingers slipped off my wrist. His hand thudded lifelessly on the floor.
He was still breathing—barely. More blood than air filled his lungs. He drew in another tremoring gasp. His eyelids flickered, showing nothing but the blank whites of his eyes, then closed.
For a long moment, he didn’t move. Didn’t even breathe. Then his eyes snapped open—and both irises were consumed by glowing crimson that deepened to near black in their centers. Two circles of hellish, inhuman magma.
The temperature plunged. Ice coated everything nearby. The heat left my body in a trembling wave and I fell backward out of my crouch, my butt landing on a lumpy fragment of debris. My whole body quaked with violent shivers. The light vanished, and only Ezra’s demonic eyes, glowing with power, existed in the consuming darkness.
More crimson light sparked—runes appearing on his chest. Lines spread from them, coiling over his torso and sinking into his body. A luminescent circle flashed to life under him, filled with runes. I shoved myself backward, away from the glow.
Scarlet light brightened and deepened, burning black at its core. His red eyes were wide and staring, but concentration tightened his face.
Then he spoke—and his voice was a guttural growl, deep and rough. The words rose and fell in an unbroken stream, and I recognized the cadence of an incantation. The magic he had conjured blazed brighter, then drew inward like water flowing down a drain—except the magic was draining into the punctures in his chest.
Ezra arched off the pillar, hands clenched and teeth bared in agony. He shuddered violently as the final wisps of power melted into his flesh. With a gasp, he slumped again, head falling forward, limbs sagging to his sides. The frigid cold lessened and the blanket of unnatural darkness lifted, allowing the faint light from the artifact on the mezzanine to illuminate the loading bay again.
“Ezra?” I whispered.
The mysterious spell was gone—as were the punctures in his chest. The three marks from the demon’s claws no longer wept blood. They no longer looked like gory holes.
“Ezra?” I tried again.
He didn’t react, his chest rising and falling with slow, smooth breaths. Barely daring to hope, I inched closer. Beneath smears of blood, the deep punctures had transformed into three jagged-edged scars.
Shivering from lost body heat, I hesitantly peeled apart the blood-soaked tears in his shirt. Not only was his chest whole again, but the other slices and claw marks had healed, leaving fainter scars, and the bruising had faded to reveal unmarked bronze skin.
In awe, I lightly touched a new scar. The speed of the healing eclipsed anything I’d seen the Crow and Hammer healers accomplish. My stare dipped to the old scars that raked up his side and stomach, then I sat back.
That hard fragment poked my backside again. I slid my hand under my butt, searching for the debris to toss it away.
Ezra’s chest rose in a deep inhalation. His shoulders went back, his spine straightening, and he raised his head. His eyes opened—and his irises glowed like crimson fire.
My empty lungs froze. His gaze slid over the bay, touching first on Fenton’s body, then Burke’s, then lingering on the demon amulet lying on the ground a yard away. Finally, his stare turned to me. My hand closed around the small object I’d sat on.
The demon inside Ezra smiled. Crimson power flared over his hands and raced up his arms in snaking veins.
He lunged for me.
I flung my hand out and mashed the ruby artifact into his face. “Ori decidas!”
The screamed incantation left my lips as his claws grazed my throat. He crumpled under the spell, his muscles slack. I kept the crystal pressed to his face as he hit the ground, limbs splayed and body immobilized.
I panted, terror weakening my muscles. With my free hand, I gingerly touched my neck. Stinging cuts marred my throat and trickled blood, but since the wounds weren’t spurting, my jugular must be intact. What was it with everyone going for my throat tonight?
Under my hand, the ruby artifact glinted against his cheek. Once, an irritatingly wise druid had told me that the world was rife with mysterious magical forces that may or may not be sentient. If those forces could indeed influence a human’s puny life, then I owed them a big favor. Either that, or I was one hell of a lucky girl to have found my fall spell—dropped while grappling with Fenton on the mezzanine—right when I needed it most.
Keeping the precious artifact in place, I met Ezra’s gaze.
His demon looked back at me. Even without the crimson eyes, I would’ve known this was not Ezra. Never could he have looked at me with such primal loathing. Never had bloodlust and viciousness contorted his face like that. There was nothing of Ezra in this cruel monster that had taken over his body.
Kai’s passing comment, his unintentional warning, repeated in my head. I had to hit him hard. If Ezra had lost consciousness but the demon hadn’t …
Ezra had tried to warn me. Get away—not from our defeated foes, but from him.
The demon twisted Ezra’s lips into a cold mockery of a smile. “Such disgust on your face, payilas.”
I shuddered. Ezra didn’t sound like that—his voice was too deep, too growly, the words sharpened by an alien accent.
“Shut up,” I told the demon, proud that my voice was steady. “You aren’t supposed to talk, especially not with Ezra’s mouth.”
A soft, hissing laugh. “This body is mine. He will give it to me … soon.”
I tried to ignore the demon, but seeing the beast behind Ezra’s familiar face twisted something inside me in the most painful way.
“They did not tell you.”
“Didn’t tell me what?” I asked before I could stop myself.
“His fate,” the demon taunted. The glowing power in his eyes didn’t seem as bright as before. “He is mine. His body and his soul.”
My throat tightened. I pressed the crystal harder into his cheek.
“But you can save him.” Magma eyes blazed again. “Give me Vhʾalyir’s imailatē vīsh and he will be free.”
My gaze darted to the dark amulet lying a mere three feet away on the ground.
“Do you not wish to save him, payilas talūk?” Another laugh hissed from Ezra’s throat. The gleam in his eyes was fading rapidly. His face was slackening. “Either way … he will be mine.”
With those final whispered words, the red glow disappeared, revealing Ezra’s human eyes—one pale and the other warm brown. His eyelids drooped over his glazed, empty stare. I waited, scarcely breathing, as seconds stretched into minutes, but he was well and truly unconscious—the human and the demon.
Above me on the mezzanine, the soft light from the Keys’ glowing artifact flickered. It dimmed. Then it went out, plunging the room into darkness.
Rain pattered on the roof and leaked through cracks, dripping onto the floor. In the cessation of the life-and-death battle, the drumming filled my ears. I stared at the invisible mezzanine, my breath coming faster and faster. Why couldn’t the spell have lasted just a few minutes more?
Fingers trembling, I carefully settled the spell crystal in the hollow of Ezra’s throat where it couldn’t slip off. Then I sat back, my butt thumping on the ground, and buried my face in my bloody hands. As my adrenaline faded, pain grew—my palm full of glass, my burned and scraped neck, my broken wrist, my sliced upper arm, my strained and bruised muscles, and more aches than I could identify. I sat unmoving, fighting the pressure building in my chest.
A whimper slipped from my throat—and the dam broke. Sobs shook my body. I couldn’t stop myself. I wept from the terror, from the horror, from the dread and panic and pain.
I cried because it was so much, too much, but it wasn’t over. Somehow, I had to find the strength to stand. I had to find a way out of this building in the pitch darkness. I had to make my way back to Aaron, and I had to figure out how to get Kai out of the pit. I had to somehow move Ezra, even though I was weak and hurt, because Aaron and Kai had sustained far worse injuries.