To settle her debt with the tax demons, Eden promised them ten jobs, but she didn’t think the demons would cash in on her vow so quickly.
When she discovers her target is a powerful mage in charge of The Righteous, a group dedicated to freeing New Hel from demon rule, Eden is torn between her promise to the tax demons and her loyalty toward the humans in her battered city.
But the Righteous and their leader don’t have humanity’s best interest at heart. If The Righteous win this war, New Hell will be in the hands of a magically powerful dictator. If they lose, the backlash from the demons will cause even more death and misery among the residents of New Hell.
As tensions rise between the humans and supernatural beings Eden is caught in the crossfire of loyalty and betrayal with the winner taking all—including LA.
Release date: November 30, 2021
Publisher: Debra Dunbar
Print pages: 286
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The Devil Went Down to Glendale
“They’re demons,” Telaney whispered.
“I know,” I muttered, watching the six humanoid forms doing a smash-and-grab down Cordova Avenue. One demon was slowly driving down the road while the others tore off various car parts, tossing them in the back of the truck. Car alarms were going off all over the place. Homeowners were peeking out their windows at the commotion, only to quickly draw their curtains and shut off their lights. Broken car glass could be fixed. A demon incinerating you in the middle of your own damned lawn couldn’t.
This was a decent neighborhood in Glendale, so I expected the militia to arrive at any minute. Or a gang. It wasn’t a swanky enough neighborhood to expect private security, but the residents here were sufficiently wealthy to afford protection from whoever the local muscle was.
Telaney and I had just finished up a job with disappointingly slim pickings. We were cutting through this neighborhood on our way to Telaney’s car when we’d run smack into the middle of this demonic shit-show. Demons didn’t usually provide much in the way of Vulturing opportunities. They took everything they could find. Even if the militia showed up and somehow managed to kill them, the homeowners would reclaim their car parts. If there was anything left to claim, that was. I’d discovered in the last week that quite a few demons had a habit of exploding upon their death.
Which really sucked if you were hoping to race in after the action and rob the dead, of if you’d positioned yourself inside the blast radius.
“I fucking hate demons,” Telaney muttered. “I wouldn’t shed a tear if some meteor came down and wiped them all out. Or if a deadly demon-specific plague swept across the land.”
I winced. “They’re not all like these guys,” I told her. “Some of them are…well, kinda okay.”
I thought of the Lows from the gladiatorial fights. They were crass, annoying and gross. They probably wouldn’t hesitate to rob someone blind, steal their car, or vandalize their property, but that wasn’t the sort of crime I’d award the death penalty to.
And then there was me. I’d been trying to wrap my brain around the fact that I wasn’t human, that I was a demon. Would Telaney wish me dead as well if she knew?
My friend grimaced. “Kinda okay? Seriously? What demon have you ever met that was kinda okay? Certainly not that Desiree bitch who was happy to make a profit selling kids to pedophiles. Certainly not the tax demons who forced you into a shitty bargain, even when you proved you weren’t the one who took those bullets.”
I thought for a second. “Blister is okay. She’s a Low working at the tax office. I think you’d actually like her. She’s snarky. She likes booze. She’s…kinda okay.”
Blister would probably attack anyone who looked at her wrong, but that wasn’t any different than what most of the humans living here in what used to be Los Angeles would do.
Telaney shot me a weird look. “Okay then. Your demon friend Blister gets to stay. The rest of them get wiped out like the dinosaurs, though. That’s my fantasy and I’m sticking to it.”
There would be no changing her mind on this one, and I couldn’t say I blamed Telaney for feeling this way about demons. It made me realize that she could never know what I was. It would mean the end of our friendship. What was worse, losing my closest friend, or having to forever hide the truth about myself to keep the friendship? It wasn’t something I wanted to contemplate now, or really ever.
Telaney and I each took a quick peek around the barrier. The demons shouted to each other in a strange language, one of them pointing to a silver Nissan Maxima.
This one next.
I shivered, not sure how I’d just understood what the demon had said. Was knowledge of their language genetic? Because there was no other way I should have understood that.
“There’s some group that’s been targeting demons and trying to take back the city,” Telaney said as we ducked back down again. “The Righteous. Mages teaming up with fighters to form some sort of vigilante army. The demons haven’t managed to kill them yet, so maybe they’ll be that salvation I’ve been praying for.”
“Salvation until they wind up dead with their charred corpses displayed along Sunset Boulevard,” I warned her. Were there enough mages in LA to band together in a sort of magical army? I remembered Mathias and the cursed necklace he put together, and rethought my stance. Maybe they’d last a few months instead of a week. Maybe they would actually make a difference here. That was something I could definitely support.
Telaney shrugged. “The governor’s been on the news lately saying he’s meeting with the head demon sometime this week. They’re supposed to hammer out a set of laws governing both the humans and the demons.”
I snorted. “Sounds like some political reelection bullshit to me. I’m sure the meeting will be postponed or cancelled. There’s no way the demons will concede anything—not when they’ve got all the power. And if the governor is stupid enough to meet with them, he’ll be dead before lunch.”
“That’s what I thought, but maybe that Righteous group can put enough pressure on the demons to bring them to the table. If they hit enough demon businesses, kill enough of them, they’ll be ready to negotiate. We need to do something to make the demons respect us and see us as more than just weaklings to victimize. All they understand is violence. If we give as good as we’ve been getting for the last two years, they’ll leave us alone.”
There was such hope in Telaney’s voice that I hated to reply with any of my pessimistic comments, so I just kept my mouth shut.
We both looked over the barrier again to see the demons still at work, tearing apart the silver Maxima.
“Are they going to scrap every car on the block?” I blew out an exasperated breath. “I really don’t want to hang out here all day.”
“We could go around the long way,” Telaney suggested.
We could, but if we wanted to evade these guys and any looming conflict, we’d need to go close to a half mile out of our way and make a mad dash across a four-lane boulevard before looping back. Telaney might be up for that, but I’d rather just hunker down and wait it out.
I sent up a quick prayer. “With any luck this will be over in an hour, tops. I’m hoping once they’re done with the Maxima, they’ll move on and we’ll be able to make a break for it.”
The roar of a large engine not a block away told me that my prayers were not answered.
“There’s gonna be a fight,” Telaney hissed, ducking low behind the concrete fence where we’d been hiding.
We’d witnessed plenty of fights, but I understood her concern. Bullets flying everywhere was always a hazard. Add demons with their supernatural abilities into the mix and I wasn’t sure we’d be safe behind a foot-thick fence of pink-painted concrete.
Shots rang out. Humans shouted. Demons roared and shrieked and screamed. A bullet pinged off the concrete fence, spraying us with pink dust. Taking an absolutely stupid risk, I stuck my head up to see what was going on.
There were two tactical vehicles blocking one end of the street and one blocking the other. Dudes in SWAT attire were spraying bullets in a sweeping motion, which was incredibly reckless given that their buddies were on the other side of the demons, in the line of fire.
Several demons were hit, but they appeared to be unbothered by the bullet holes dotting their bodies. One opened his mouth and shot out a stream of fire. I felt the heat from clear across the street. The metal on one of the tactical vehicles warped and buckled. A man in the direct path of the fire melted like a pool of butter, combat vest, helmet, and all.
“Fuck,” I breathed out, shocked at the scene. Up in the Valley we’d seen some demon activity, but we hadn’t borne the brunt of demon-rule like those in downtown LA. And we’d certainly never seen anything like this. These demons were the stuff of nightmares. These demons reminded me of how very precarious human existence was in New Hell.
“Get down,” Telaney hissed, yanking on my shirt, but I couldn’t turn away.
The fire demon approached the two vehicles, taking an obscene amount of direct hits from the men shooting. Bullets went through him, spraying blood on entry and exit, bouncing on the ground once they’d cleared demon flesh. The creature opened his jaws once more and fire erupted, coating another of the other tactical vehicles. The guys inside decided to bail, two of them emerging from the vehicle. One caught fire as he exited, staggered a few steps then fell to the ground, a burning lump on the pavement. The other one ran for it, somehow managing to avoid the fire. A demon took off after him with inhuman speed, catching up less than ten yards past the burning vehicle. The demon dragged the struggling man back to where the salvage truck sat while others demons descended on the remaining tactical vehicle, peeling the panels from its sides with talons that sliced through the metal. One by one they pulled the men from inside, snatching and bending their rifles like they were soft taffy before gutting the humans.
“Get down before they see you,” Telaney urged. But the demons weren’t paying the slightest bit of attention to me; they were too busy dismembering the militia.
I’d seen a lot of carnage over the last few years. Life as a Vulture meant I got to witness the violence of people killing each other. I should have been used to this sort of thing, but this scene sent chills down my spine.
I wanted to leave, to get out of there and put this nightmare behind me. The long jog around the neighborhood and quick dash across the four-lane boulevard were the wisest choice right now. I didn’t want to watch the demons kill these people. I wanted to run away from the supernatural slaughter. I wanted to run home and hide and lock my doors.
But instead of running, I was frozen in place. Watching. Unable to move.
A curtain twitched at a window. A shocked face appeared, then vanished.
That, the demons noticed.
One of the monsters tossed the mangled body of a militia guy aside and ran for the house, diving through the window with an explosion of glass. A scream sounded out from inside the house, and the door flew open. The demon dragged a teenage boy out by one leg as the kid struggled and screamed.
I caught my breath. And then I finally moved.
Telaney gasped “What are you doing?”
“Getting myself killed,” I told her as I vaulted the pink cement fence and took off running.
The demon hauling the teenager eyed me with an amused expression, not letting go of his quarry. The others stopped ripping apart the corpses of the militia members and watched, no doubt thinking they were in for an entertaining five seconds before I ended up a bloody smear of torn flesh on the pavement. I wasn’t sure they were wrong.
My gun had been in my hand with one in the chamber the second Telaney and I had seen the demons. Even though the earlier bullets had done nothing to slow these guys down, muscle memory took over, and I put a nice nine millimeter grouping right in the demon’s chest.
He laughed. The others laughed. I kept running for him, holstering my gun because it was clear that nothing human was going to stop these guys.
Good thing I wasn’t really human.
Normally I would have gone for the whole electricity thing, but I was pretty sure that hitting this dude with a lightning bolt wouldn’t do much except fry the kid whose leg he was holding. So I opted for something different. On the run, I grabbed a stop sign, snapping it off at the base with supernatural strength. Flipping it around, I threw it like a javelin. It impaled the demon in the middle of the chest.
He looked down at the sign, still holding on to the boy.
I skidded to a stop, frantically trying to think of something I could do that might actually kill this guy.
“Bitch. That fucking hurt.” He gripped the sign with his free hand and yanked it from his chest, tossing it aside. His eyes glowed bright yellow, and something formed in his hand. It looked like an opaque ball about the size of a grapefruit.
I had no idea what that thing was, but I knew it wasn’t good.
The demon threw the ball at me, and I yelped as I deflected it with my telekinesis. The ball hit the truck the demons were using for their stolen car parts, and blew the entire bed off. I hit the ground as chunks of scrap metal flew everywhere, rolling and springing to my feet in an attempt to not only evade the shrapnel, but whatever other demonic weapons these guys might launch at me.
“She blew up our truck,” one of them shouted—which wasn’t completely true. I wasn’t the one who’d thrown the ball of supernaturally explosive stuff.
But that didn’t seem to matter to the demons. All six of them attacked me at once with more of the opaque-energy stuff. I managed to dodge two and bat away three with my telekinesis, but I didn’t move fast enough to evade the one that hit me in the thigh.
Just like when I’d gone off the roof of that downtown high-rise, time seemed to slow. Fear and adrenaline spiked through me along with regret and sadness about all the things I hadn’t yet done in my life, all the people I loved that I wouldn’t be able to see one more time. I tensed, waiting for the explosion that would tear me apart, a bit relieved that at least it would be over quickly.
But I didn’t explode. Instead I absorbed that ball of demonic energy like I was some sort of supernatural sponge. It vanished, but I could feel it, warm and powerful somewhere deep inside.
I was so shocked that I didn’t even attempt to dodge the next round of attacks. Six opaque balls of energy hit me, and I absorbed them all. One guy with particularly bad aim, launched his attack at a point about four feet from me. I reached out my hand, and pulled. The energy made an abrupt right turn, zooming into me.
I’d had a lot of weird shit happen in my life, but this topped it all. Frowning, I looked at my hands, then down at where the explosive energy had hit me. The stuff had C4’d the bed right off that truck, but hadn’t even singed my clothing. I was absolutely unharmed, and the energy I absorbed was just sitting there inside me, waiting, expectant, ready.
While I was musing over this whole thing, the demons changed tactics. One continued to pummel me with the opaque energy, no doubt trying to keep me occupied while the other four pitched car parts at me. I absorbed the energy attacks, frantically trying to bat the car parts away telekinetically before they hit me.
The demon holding the boy let go so he could use both hands to attack me. The kid ran for it, and thankfully all of the demons were too busy with me to chase after him.
As I watched the kid round the corner, my attention slipped and I took a fender to the shoulder. Pain lanced through my arm and I missed deflecting another car part. The headlight smacked me in the stomach. I doubled over, which meant the tire iron sailed over my head instead of straight into it.
Fuck this shit. I grabbed the fender, and wielded it like a bat, knocking aside the car parts that I couldn’t deflect telekinetically. Gunfire sounded from behind me, and out of the corner of my eye I saw Telaney shooting at the demons from over the pink concrete fence.
The fire demon turned toward her and opened his mouth. I panicked, remembering what that fire had done to the armored vehicles. That pink concrete didn’t stand a chance. Telaney didn’t stand a chance.
The energy I’d absorbed churned inside me and burst forth in a blast, slamming into the fire demon. He exploded, spraying bits of flesh and blood everywhere. And as his physical form blew apart, something inside me tugged, reabsorbing the energy I’d unleashed as well as the demon’s own explosive energy.
Turning to the other demons, I did the same to them, killing four more. When I spun around to take out the last one, I found him standing in front of the pink concrete fence. Telaney was a human shield in front of him. His one hand was around her neck, his fingers now ending in knife-like talons.
“One more step and I kill her,” the demon hissed.
A thin line of blood trailed down Telaney’s neck. Her terrified eyes met mine, but I wasn’t sure what I could do to help her. Electrocuting the demon wouldn’t do shit except probably kill her. If I tried to rush him, she’d be dead before I took more than two steps. I could telekinesis something and whack him in the back of the head, but if the blow caused him to tighten his grip, then Telaney was dead as well.
“Let her go, and I’ll let you go as well,” I told the demon. “I won’t kill you. I won’t chase you. I won’t hunt you down. Let her go unharmed and I’ll pretend this whole thing never happened.”
The demon stared at me with his beady yellow eyes, and I suddenly remembered something from a few months ago—some weird vow demons and their associates kept insisting I make.
“I swear upon all the souls I Own that if you let her go unharmed, I’ll let you leave here unharmed and will not hunt you down or retaliate against you in any way for today’s events.”
The demon tilted his head. “Deal.”
He released Telaney. She dropped, rolled, then sprang to her feet, yanking out her pistol and backing away to put some distance between her and the demon all while keeping him in view. I held still, knowing that any threatening move on my part might cause the demon to spring for Telaney once more. After a few seconds, the demon took a step backward.
I heard a twang, and a crossbow bolt nailed the demon right between the eyes. I held my hands up, trying to show him that the projectile hadn’t come from me. Hopefully he’d realize I hadn’t gone back on our agreement, and when he yanked the thing out of his head, he’d go after whoever the shooter was instead of me or Telaney.
But instead of pulling the bolt from his skull, the demon opened his mouth and let out a piercing scream. As I watched, he disintegrated from the head down until there was nothing where he once stood except a pile of what looked like sand.
And a crossbow bolt that now glowed bright crimson.
This demon hadn’t exploded upon death. I hadn’t needed to absorb any of his energy as I had with the others. I glanced at the projectile, thinking this was clearly more than just a standard issue crossbow bolt.
“Don’t touch it,” a voice called out.
“I have no intention of touching it,” I replied. Then I frowned, because I recognized that voice.
Turning around I saw a figure wearing a black hooded cape. As he walked toward me, he pushed back the hood.
“Eden?” he asked, staring at me in shock.
I was pretty sure I had the exact same dumbfounded look on my face. I hadn’t seen this man in seven years. I hadn’t seen him since he’d turned eighteen, walked out of Bea’s front door and out of our lives forever. But it was him. I was positive it was him.
Standing there in front of me was my foster-brother, Drew.
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