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Authors: Laura Thalassa,Dan Rix

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BOOK: Blood and Sin (The Infernari Book 1)
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“C’mon, c’monnn,” I muttered, white-knuckling the wheel.

I burst clear onto an overgrown trail, wrestling the Hummer back up behind him, riding his ass hard.

My eyes narrowed on the speedometer.
The hell . . . ?

The needle crossed twenty . . . then twenty-five . . . then thirty . . .

This guy was freaking Seabiscuit.

His legs pumped faster and faster, whipping back with inhuman speed, driving him straight toward a thicket at the end of the trail.

He topped out at 45 mph—the speed of a thoroughbred racehorse. No, even demons couldn’t run that fast.

He was being helped.

And demons didn’t run in straight lines.

Normally, they zigzagged, ping-ponged all over the place, skittered back and forth like spiders, never straight lines. They knew better.

I sensed it then.

Trap.

I slammed on the brakes just as the demon vanished into the thicket.

The Hummer blasted into it and careened through a tunnel of vegetation. Once the vegetation fell away, I got a good look at what lay ahead of me.

Open air.

Fifty feet away, land ended. Now thirty. The Hummer was eating up the distance far too quickly. Twenty feet remained. I gritted my teeth as my foot held steady on the brakes.

Ten feet.

At last, the vehicle shuddered to an agonizing stop, the front wheels crunching over the edge of a cliff. I could only stare as the demon soared off the sixty-foot drop, arms and legs spread-eagled before it landed on a slab of bedrock at the bottom of a ravine, bounced into a roll, and hit the ground running, utterly unharmed.

Bitch had been leading me toward a cliff.

Clever animal.

I had one more shot at this. Seconds left before he slipped out of range.

I punched the roof hatch open and from behind the seats dragged out my
coup de grâce
—the six-barrel machinegun I’d paid a fortune for—and locked it in place on the roof mount, my ammo belt clanging against the metal.

Then I lit up the ravine.

The weapon blazed like a torch, firing off a constant stream of bullets. Down below, the bedrock erupted in a shower of sparks. Screaming my lungs horse, I fired the shots across the demon, then back again, cleaving him in two, in four, ripping him to shreds.

He fell to the ground, his flesh flayed under the onslaught. His clothes caught fire, yet what remained of him continued to writhe.

Still, my finger crushed the trigger, still I sprayed bullets. After a minute of continuous fire, the gun fell silent, its smoking barrels glowing a dull red as they finally spun to a stop.

Out of ammo.

But the creature was dead at last. There could be no regenerating from this.

I panted from the exertion, ears ringing. I’d probably go deaf by age thirty.

But to be sure, I should go down and burn the body—

The impossible happened.

Out of the shredded body parts, the demon rose again. His spilled blood and guts withdrew back into his body, his torn skin resealed, and his broken, dislocated limbs straightened with a series of sharp cracks. He stood slowly, now stark naked, and threw a final look back before he loped away, spry as a gazelle.

My jaw tightened.

No. Fucking. Way.

Glaring after his receding form, I bellowed at the top of my lungs, “Go on, tell them! Tell them Asher’s back!” I wheezed, then yelled again. “Tell them I’m coming . . . and tell them I’m going to burn every last one of you!”

My voice echoed back to me. The demon dropped into a crevice and vanished.

I wiped off my mouth with the back of my hand.

I was so fucked.

That shouldn’t have happened—him healing like that. Demons heads didn’t fuse back onto their bodies in five seconds flat. They didn’t get pulverized only to reform before your eyes.

It didn’t work like that.

As far as I knew, this particular demon didn’t have an affinity for accelerated healing. Sure, he would have healed eventually, but only marginally faster than a human.

He’d been helped.

My gaze went back to the dark forest, now creaking with night sounds.

Instinctively, my nose wrinkled.

There was another demon in these woods. Operating behind the scenes.

I should have known.

But to have healed one of its kind from a distance . . .

I’d never encountered that kind of power before.

I needed to capture it. Tonight.

Come tomorrow, I would have the entire race of demons hot on my scent and I would be a dead man for sure.

If this one was smart—and it must be smart, since it hadn’t shown its face—then it would probably head straight for the portal.

Lana

We call it
misfortunate magic.

Just as an animal must give its life to feed you, so too must creatures pay a tithe for the magic that sustains us. It’s all part of the circle of life. Why the victims must pay that debt is the mystery of the ages, but that is the way it’s always been.

And now, somewhere in the world, twenty-six blood donors would be having a very bad day. I murmured my thanks for their sacrifice, unwilling though it might be.

I rose silently to my feet, listening to the sounds of the night.

I knew Fidel escaped—that much I could sense through our connection. Which meant that somewhere out there, the most formidable human known to Infernari just lost a kill.

He would be angry.

He would ask questions.

He would figure out Fidel had help.

He would hunt me.

He would kill me.

I whispered a prayer to the Great Mother, and then I sprinted for dear life toward the cave entrance.

If I died, my kind would be doomed. That was how tenuous our existence was.

I paused just inside the cave’s mouth, where the ground fell away and plunged deep into the darkness below. Salvation lay somewhere down there.

I threw a glance over my shoulder. My ears twitched.

Utter silence.

I faced forward again, took a deep breath, and jumped.

The trip down wasn’t particularly smooth or pleasant this time. I was too fraught with panic for much finesse, and I hadn’t thought to save much power for myself to make up for it with magic. Foresight was a skill better suited to humans than Infernari. And still, despite my hurried movements, the descent felt like it took ages.

The cave narrowed abruptly, and my hands slapped the wet, gummy walls as I lowered myself. The cave opened once more, and I knew I was getting close to the bottom. So close.

Even in the deep darkness, I saw the cave floor far beneath me. A mass of stalagmites covered it, several thicker at their base than the tree I’d hid behind.

Abruptly, I released my hold of the wall, dropping down. I landed in a crouch between two large spires, my excitement mounting.

I’d be home in less than a minute.

I stood, casting a glance far above me. No sign of Asher.

Jame Asher
.

No wonder I had been so intimidated by him even before I learned his identity. On some level I knew, I
knew
, how formidable the man I stared at was. And then, to see him in action . . . He managed to turn the portal master into nothing more than raw meat. Twice.

I had to tell the others that Asher was alive. That he was just as powerful and ruthless as the stories made him out to be. No human should have been able to capture, let alone kill, a portal master.

But he had.

I headed towards the lapping water, towards the portal.

That’s when I felt it—or rather, when I didn’t feel what I should’ve.

The alluring pull of the gateway was absent; the cave lacked its usual breath of magic.

My heart pounded faster, forming a melody of sorts with the dripping water. I moved through the cavern, the chill of the place seeping into my bones. So achingly cold down here.

My gaze roved over my surroundings. If my magic couldn’t find the portal, my eyes would.

There.

Next to the shallow pool, I recognized the familiar cluster of columns from some of my earlier trips. I had thought at the time that they looked like the most ancient, abandoned castles of my homeland, their walls rounded and smoothed by thousands of years of wind and rain.

Only now, now these pillars lay scattered in fragmented heaps.

I strode over to them, not daring to breathe, not daring to
believe
.

Something crunched beneath my boot. I lifted the heel of my shoe. Several sharp, porous shards had embedded themselves into my shoe sole. I picked one between my fingers, brought it to my nose.

Bone.

Only the most residual magic still clung to it. But I could tell the difference between a human bone and an Infernarus. This was the latter. And I knew from my studies that portal masters often used our ancestors in the creation of these gateways. To find the bones smashed to pieces . . .

I walked over the area where the portal should’ve been. My surroundings did not melt away, and the fusion of magic that came with crossing never washed over me.

Cold dread coiled low in my gut.

The portal had collapsed, doorway irreparably smashed.

I was marooned.

Panicking, I spun back toward the cave exit, just as a blinding light blazed out of the darkness, forcing me to squint and shield my eyes.

“You creatures never learn,” said Jame Asher, his shadowy face hidden behind the glare.

Chapter 4

Asher

The demon darted
behind the stalagmite, where I caught only the faintest flicker of red in its feral eyes before it shrank into the shadows. Gave me the willies. I’d tracked this one—a female—back down the throat of the cave to the portal chamber, where her gateway now lay in ruin.

The creature had been understandably traumatized to find herself cornered.

“I’ve never seen a demon heal like that.” I pushed myself off the wall, keeping my flashlight trained on her hiding spot. “You’re doing, I assume?”

The echo of my voice faded into silence.

I flared my nostrils to take a slow breath. She’d covered up her ashy scent with cheap bubblegum perfume—probably bought at a toy store; they never knew how to fit in—but her smell was still there. The cave reeked of it.

“Demon, I’m talking to you,” I called. “Show yourself.”

Again, no reply.

I panned the light around the cave, making sure she was alone.

Good.

The other demon had busted my thermal scope, leaving me no way to see them in the dark.

“These yours?” I cast the empty blood sacks I’d found topside into the pool. They floated on the ripples, clouding the milky water red. “From a blood blank, huh? I liked it better when you bled us yourselves . . . gave us the dignity of knowing why our lives ended up cursed, at least.” Before I came after her, I’d scrubbed all Fidel’s blood off me so she couldn’t use it against me.

Still no answer.

“Demon, I know you’re hoping and praying and crossing your fingers I didn’t see you, but I saw you. I smell you. I
sense
you. I’m not just shining my light at that limestone dick you’re hiding behind because I like the way it looks. So why don’t you come out so we can chat about that little healing power of yours.”

Another flicker of those red eyes. Just a peek. Then she flinched back.

“I don’t have time for games,” I said. “Demon, you listening to me? Demon, I’m talking to you—”

“It’s
Infernarus
,” she said, breaking her silence. “We are
Infernari
.”

Her voice surprised me. Higher pitched than I’d expected. Younger. Softer. Even when hardened with fury.

“Very good,” I said. “Now step out where I can see you.”

“We call your species by its chosen name,
human
,” she spat. “Call us by ours.”

“Why should I?” I sat down on a low mound of minerals and laid my gun on my lap, instead removing the Taser I’d taken from my glove compartment. Whether she could heal herself with a bullet in her brain remained to be seen, but I wasn’t taking any chances. Electricity scrambled nerve impulses just as well in demons.

Had I known my earlier pursuit would end in failure, I would have reached for it first.

My mistakes tonight were costing me.

She chose silence again, so I continued, “I’ve never seen a demon heal like that. You tell me how you did it, I let you live. You don’t . . .” I let the threat hang in the air, taking the moment to pick dirt out of the grooves under the slide of my gun.

“You filthy liar. You swore that exact oath to Fidel, and you broke it.” She stepped out from behind the stalagmite, chin held high. “There. So you can look me in the eye when you lie to me, Jame Asher.”

Like humans, demons came in all shapes and sizes. Fidel—the demon I’d tried to kill earlier—had had an ugly mug.

This one happened to be quite the opposite.

Tall, lean, distractingly pretty. Her long dark hair seemed to fluoresce as I panned the flashlight over her, emitting a rainbow of greens and blues.

Just a trick of the light.

“I get it, you guys are sensitive about the lying,” I said.

“You have no honor, Jame Asher.”

“Yeah, that’s what your boy out there said too. Let’s try to move past it.” I stood up, holstering my gun. “So, you some kind of healer?”

“I can kill, too,” she said. “And I don’t need your pathetic
machines
to do it.”

I shined the flashlight in her eyes, which reflected a cat-like gleam. Like other nocturnal hunters, bright lights unnerved them.

Her eyes, I noticed, weren’t actually red. More like violet. If I hadn’t known what to look for, she might have passed for human . . . save for the stench of evil rolling off her in waves.

Often the prettiest things were most poisonous.

“You healed him without touching him,” I pressed. “How? How’d you do it? How far can you go? Can you do it between our realms?”

“How does that human gesture go?” She tilted her hand, raising each finger in turn until she got to the middle one, which she extended my way. “For you, Asher, I like this gesture.”

Trying to bait me into anger. I ignored it. “You’re powerful; how come I haven’t heard of you?”

Her gaze flicked to the cave’s exit behind me, mind on one thing only—escape.

But seriously, what idiot puts a portal in a cave with only one exit?

“Answer me, demon.”

Her glare snapped back to me with a vengeance. “If you think I’m
ever
going to betray my people, then you’re stupider than you are wretched. And my name is Lana.”

“Don’t give a fuck what your name is, demon.” I angled the light right in her eyes, relishing how she shrank back. “We’re going to play a game now. I call this game, ‘Tell Asher what he wants to hear.’ The rules are simple: you have exactly five seconds to tell me how you healed your boy out there, or I start hurting you.”

Her jaw clamped. “How about you put away that weapon,” she said, “I’ll put away mine, and we can fight hand-to-hand, like the gods intended.”

I chuckled. “It’s called a flashlight, demon. It’s not a weapon.”

“Oh yeah? Then see how you fight without it,” she taunted.

I opened my mouth to respond—

She dropped into a crouch and in a single fluid motion, swiped a stone off the floor and whipped it toward me.

Her aim was perfect.

The projectile knocked the flashlight from my hand, and it cracked against the wall. The bulb popped, plunging the cave in sudden, terrifying blackness.

Shit.

A flurry of her footsteps echoed in the darkness, impossible to trace.

I scrambled for the spare pen light on my belt and went for my Glock out of reflex, leveling the gun over my flashlight hand.

Once clicked on, the feeblest little crap beam illuminated the stalagmite where she’d stood a split-second earlier . . . and of course, she was gone.

Skin crawling, I backed against the wall, jerking the pen light around.

Shadows swooped behind every stalagmite, movement everywhere. And I’d just given away my location.

Tonight was an off night for sure.

In my periphery, a figure darted between two mineral spires.

I spun and squeezed off two shots. The flashes lit the cave like a strobe light, and the echo stung my ears as an avalanche of brittle limestone crumbled into the pool, dislodged by the bullets. But she’d vanished again.

I ducked and edged around the pool in the opposite direction, moving in jerks so she couldn’t aim another rock. Hunting a demon by flashlight in a cave half a mile underground . . .
not
how I’d planned this evening to end.

Right now, I was supposed to be toasting a Scotch to bringing the number of demon portals down to single digits.

I’d underestimated her. She’d looked too young to be dangerous. Early twenties, maybe.

A juvenile.

Should have known she’d be unpredictable, reckless.

Another scuffle sounded across the cave. I yanked the light to its source, where a rock fragment skittered to rest at the base of a lumpy spire. No sign of her.

Then a splash yanked my gaze to the pool, still rippling from all the disturbance. Then another splash, closer.

As in . . . chunks falling from the ceiling.

The ceiling?

Slowly, I lifted my gaze.

Moving in a blur, the demon was moving along the roof of the cave, weaving between the hanging stalactites like a chimpanzee.

Oh, come on!

I jerked the gun up.

Her leg swung down and kicked it out of my hand, along with my second flashlight. Crap. I went for the Taser next. Swinging again, she landed a kick square on my chest, knocking me onto my back. Jagged rock crunched underneath me, making me wince.

Freaking gymnast, this one.

The pen light, made with a sturdier LED, had mercifully stayed lit. In its weak glow, I just made out her silhouette as she dropped from the ceiling, body unfurling in midair as she drew a blade from a thigh holster.

I pointed the Taser straight up and squeezed the trigger.

The bolts of electricity hit her square in the chest, and her convulsing body landed on me, her blade clattering harmlessly off to the side.

Wasting no time, I looped my arm around her neck and, while the Taser continued to immobilize her, I squeezed her windpipe until she stopped breathing, until her heart stopped beating, until by all human standards she would be clinically dead.

But I knew better.

I should finish it this time. I should.

Burn her to ashes.

But I still didn’t understand her power. And what I didn’t understand, I wanted to study.

This one, I was going to keep.

Asher

Back on the
highway, I jammed my fingers through my hair and dragged my palm down the back of my neck, exhaling slowly through flared nostrils. Then I cursed and punched the steering wheel.

I had been hunting demons for two years, and I had survived purely because no demon had ever seen me alive . . . and lived to tell the tale.

Because every demon believed Jame Asher had died alongside his wife and two-year-old daughter on Friday, October 13, twenty-two months ago.

Not anymore.

My gaze slid to the photo of them taped to the dashboard.

Nicole and Joy Asher.

I should have died with them. I should have been in that fire with them. I should have suffocated and choked on ash and screamed right along with them.

But I hadn’t.

I had been cursed to live on, burdened instead with this task of eradicating the demon scourge from the earth.

For twenty-two months, I had picked them off one by one as a ghost, lived as a ghost, survived as a ghost.

Demons couldn’t attack what didn’t exist.

But now, thanks to the juvenile female chained up in the back of my Hummer, they would be coming for me with a vengeance.

Again.

My fingers turned white on the steering wheel. I pried them off and squeezed my jaw, then tugged at my shirt, fanning out the collar of heat rising around my throat. I was in such deep shit.

A white minivan emerged out of the grayish dawn and crept up behind me. I tensed, and my hand slid toward my holster.

But then the minivan flashed a turn signal and veered around me.

I let out my breath.

This paranoia was only going to get worse.

I needed to get to my safe house, ASAP. Lay low for a while. Study the female. Regroup. Then track down the next portal. Destroy it. Keep going. This didn’t change a damn thing.

Plugged into its car charger, my smartphone lay in the center tray. I kept glancing at it. Rather than grabbing it—rather than giving in—I tightened my hold on the steering wheel.

The female.

Her healing power. It unnerved me, I didn’t like surprises. I liked knowing exactly who and what I was fighting at all times. But the connection she’d formed with the other demon . . . it had been invisible, and distance didn’t seem to affect it.

Whoever she was, she was powerful. Probably some warlord’s daughter, knowing my luck, and by noon I’d have fifty of her brothers coming for my blood. Could I use her as leverage?

I glanced at my phone again.

No, Asher.

Two dark objects swooped overhead. I jerked forward, craned my neck, my heart palpitating at the base of my throat—

Just crows.

Demons couldn’t track me down this fast.

My gaze flicked to my phone.

Fuck it. I picked it up and navigated to his number. I stared at his name a moment, then chucked it into the passenger seat, fuming.

There were about a thousand demons left in existence, less than twenty on earth itself. If I had succeeded in destroying all the portals before they caught on, I would have trapped their kind in their own world, ending their predation on humans once and for all. Then I would have had only twenty unsuspecting, lesser demons to kill.

Without their beloved portals, it would be like shooting fish in a barrel. Hell, they’d probably die on their own of some human borne disease before I got the chance to do the job.

But now, thanks to my sloppiness, and thanks to
her
, it would be Jame Asher versus all of demonkind.

They would come pouring up through the portals, flooding out from the gates of hell, sniffing me out like bloodhounds and feeding off human misfortune like a pestilence.

One man against a thousand demons.

I didn’t stand one dick of a chance.

Finally making up my mind, I grabbed my phone and dialed his number.

Linking with the dashboard via Bluetooth, it rang over my Hummer’s speakers.

He answered.

“Jame fucking Asher . . . you better have a damn good reason for calling me after two years, you son of a bitch.”

Brad Hawkins, former best friend, best man at my wedding, my daughter’s godfather . . . the closest thing I had to a brother and the only family I had left.

“What, you sitting by the phone waiting for me to call?” I said. “Get a life, dickhead.”

“What’d you do this time, Asher?”

I dragged my hand down my face, thinking how to phrase this right. “One slipped through my fingers. I don’t know, this stupid portal master. He knows who I am . . . he recognized me.”

Silence.

“Listen, there’s an opening at my firm,” Brad said finally. “It’s entry-level, but it’d be something to get you on your feet . . .”

“Did you hear me?” I said.

“Pay’s shit, I know, but the commission structure’s gravy. Give it a few years, you’ll be raking it in—”

“Does it sound like I give a rat’s ass about your commission structure?” I spat. “Did you hear me?”

“Yeah, I heard you. You fucked up. What do you want me to say?”

“I don’t know . . .
help me!

“I don’t do that anymore.”

BOOK: Blood and Sin (The Infernari Book 1)
2.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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