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The Demon Hunt
By Kris Greene
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2010 Kris Greene
All rights reserved.
"Redfeather, are you still with us?" Asha snapped Gabriel out of his daze. He had been sitting completely motionless for the last ten minutes and it unnerved her.
Gabriel blinked and looked around as if seeing the faces surrounding him for the first time. "Yeah, I'm good," he lied.
Ever since he had come into possession of the Nimrod he had been slipping into trances and seeing things through the eyes of the Bishop. For the most part the visions were jumbled and he could make no sense of them. The Bishop was trying to tell him something, but he had no idea what.
Gabriel ran his fingers through his thick black curls but it didn't help his appearance. His delicate hands were bruised and covered in blood, some of it his, but most of it coming from the friends he'd lost the battle the night before.
The fuel light on the dashboard blinked, but they dared not stop until they were out of Manhattan or the sun had fully risen.
It was sheer luck that they had survived the initial onslaught of the dark forces, and in their present battle-worn conditions not even luck would save them from a second attack.
The forces of hell had nearly destroyed them along with Sanctuary. The stretch Hummer drew more than the occasional glance as it rumbled down the FDR en route to the Queensboro Bridge. It wasn't every day that you saw a modified Hummer with a religious emblem etched into the hood and doors. The cross sat in the center of three rings, which represented man, demon, and spirit. The ancient symbol once struck fear into the hearts of the enemies of the order, but that morning it served as a grim reminder of all that had been lost.
Each passenger's face bore a different expression, but their eyes all held the same weariness. In what felt like the blink of an eye, several totally different people from different walks of life found themselves thrown together by one common object, the Nimrod.
The Nimrod was not just a trident, but a thing of pure magic that was neither good nor evil and was empowered by the imprisoned spirit of a man known as the Bishop. During the Seven-Day Siege it was the Bishop whom the Nimrod had called master, until Titus the Betrayer slew him in an attempt to claim his weapon.
Because of the warped love affair between weapon and master, the Bishop was denied the peace of the grave. The Bishop's displaced soul lay nestled in the bosom of the thing he had loved most in life, waiting for the moment when he would walk the earth again, cleansing it of its impurities. But to execute his plan the Bishop needed a willing vessel, which is where Gabriel came into the picture. The Bishop had expected the Nimrod to corrupt Gabriel as it had done with him centuries prior, but Gabriel's will was stronger than either of them had anticipated.
With his tattered clothes and mussed hair, you'd have hardly taken Gabriel Redfeather as someone who, only a few hours ago, had been living a bland life. He was a bookish-looking young man with pronounced Native American features and curious eyes, whose biggest thrills came from deciphering ancient languages and Thursday night chess club. He and his grandfather had lived a quiet life in a brownstone in Harlem until the day he met De Mona Sanchez and lost everything he had, including his free will.
To everyone's, especially Gabriel's, surprise, the Nimrod had responded to his touch and stirred the spirit within it. The Nimrod had bound itself to Gabriel's flesh while the Bishop invaded his heart, constantly tempting him with promises of power. For the most part Gabriel was still in control, but there was no denying the strength in the Bishop's words. Gabriel looked over at De Mona and cursed her for the hundredth time for coming into his life.
De Mona rested her head against the window and stared blankly out at the pinkish sky. The bubble-gum effect as the increasing light played on the clouds took her back to when her mother and father would buy her cotton candy at the carnival. That was before she found out that she was the real freak. De Mona walked in two worlds, those of men and demons. Her father had been a retired professor turned antique dealer who fell head over heels for a demon. Her mother, Mercy, was a Valkrin, a race of demons whose sole purpose was to wage war. Next to the goblins, the Valkrin were the most feared creatures in service to the dark lord, but that all changed shortly before De Mona was born.
Mercy had been the first of the Valkrin to cross over to the light, but she hadn't been the last. Soon others came seeking peace from the war that had been raging since the beginning of time. They found that peace within the walls of Sanctuary, but it wasn't to last. Not long before the anointed weapons began resurfacing, the Valkrin and some of the others began disappearing. No one knew what caused the withdrawal, but when a Valkrin was connected to the mass murder of the inhabitants of a missionary village in Guam, the reason had become clear. The dark lord had put out the call to arms and the Valkrin had answered.
De Mona ran her fingers through her hair and winced when she nicked her scalp. She held her hands in front of her face, almost expecting to see the smooth knuckles and frail digits she'd known for the first eleven years of her life, but she didn't. She hadn't called the change, but her fingers were gnarled and twisted with shiny black nails that looked like spearheads. Sucking in a deep breath, she tried to banish the demon that was inching toward the surface, but the best she could do was smooth out the skin on the back of her hands. Since coming in contact with the Nimrod she had been having difficulty controlling her changes. It was as if the demon inside her was becoming more pronounced and the woman less so. She didn't like it.
What felt like a soft whisper of wind touched her honey-colored cheek and she immediately knew what it was ... magic. She turned her hooded brown eyes toward the rear of the transport, where the mage and the witch sat watching her intently, whispering together. When they noticed her watching them watch her, they averted their eyes. For this she was glad, because there was something about the starry flakes in the mage's eyes that made her uneasy.
"Why don't you take a picture or something?" De Mona snapped.
"Somebody woke up on the wrong side of the bed," Asha said with a crooked grin. Her familiar, Azuma, bristled on her lap, but he dared not go near the demon. While De Mona's form was hidden to human eyes, Azuma could see her for just what she was, and it frightened him.
"You'd be in a pissy mood too if you'd been getting sucker punched by demons all night," De Mona said.
Asha rolled her eyes and folded her arms. "Try getting blown out of a third-story window. You ain't the only one who's had a trying night." The Blood witch replied. Asha represented a darker side of the coin than her sisters of the coven. Because of her mixed blood she was rejected and feared by her peers.
"I think we've all been through a lot over the last few hours, so why don't the both of you cool it?" Rogue interjected.
His ribs were still busted to hell, but at least he had gotten the bleeding to stop. He hadn't heard a peep from the demon he shared his soul with since he'd taken shadow-form. Normally the demon encouraged Rogue to tap further into his shadow magic, but never to attack one of its own species. Using his shadow-form, Rogue had managed to destroy Moses Shadow Master's host body, but the victory was a temporary one. You couldn't destroy a real shadow, only hold it back, especially one as powerful as Moses. The demon had been around since the early days, close to the time when the shadows first learned to think and move outside the collective.
"You're one to talk. I don't even know you well enough to be giving me orders, dude. So please tell me why your opinion should count for a damn thing?" De Mona asked defiantly. She hadn't known Rogue more than a few hours and still wasn't sure where he fit into the mystery.
"Because if it hadn't been for him we would all be dead." Gabriel spoke up unexpectedly, drawing the attention of everyone in the Hummer. De Mona hadn't noticed it before but there was something different about him. He seemed somehow older than he had been when they'd first set out. "Rogue saved my life so I could be around to save yours, even though I don't know why I bothered since you caused all this."
"I don't think pointing fingers is going to help us much," Jackson said from the passenger seat. His leather jacket was ripped, but other than that he seemed in better shape than the rest of them. His incredible resilience was one of the upsides of surviving a vampire attack. The downsides hadn't shown themselves yet.
"Let me be the judge of what's helpful and what isn't, since I'm the one with a centuries-old relic bound to his arm." Gabriel flashed the tattoo on his arm, which was pulsing slightly.
"And how did you manage such a trick?" Morgan asked from behind the wheel. "My hammer has been with me since I was a boy and it's never done more than open the overripe skulls of demons and vampires. I fancy myself somewhat of an authority on these weapons, but I've never heard tales of the trident or any of the other anointed weapons merging with the wielder's flesh."
"As soon as I figure it out you'll be the first to know," Gabriel said sarcastically. He had been in a foul mood since being dragged onto the supernatural roller coaster.
But Morgan had asked the sixty-four thousand dollar question. Since he had come into possession of the Nimrod, Gabriel had learned a great many things, but its darkest secrets were still kept from him by its true master, the Bishop. When it suited him the Bishop allowed Gabriel to taste undreamed-of power, but the more powerful Gabriel became the more of himself he seemed to lose to the addictive properties of the magic he wielded. The rational side of him said that he should get rid of the trident and the vengeful spirit as soon as possible, but there was a little piece of him that craved the old magic, the same piece that seemed to be steadily growing. Knowing that he was his grandfather's only hope was the only thing that kept him from completely falling into the Bishop's thrall.
Azuma sat curled in Asha's lap, studying the lump of bound flesh in the shadowed corner of the Hummer between the door and rear seats. The creature did not move when Azuma ventured closer to him, but he kept his reptilian eyes glued on the monkey. Azuma reached his hand out cautiously and the creature snapped its razor sharp teeth, barely missing the monkey's fingers. Azuma shrieked and raked his nails down the side of the goblin's face before scuttling back into Asha's lap.
"Vermin!" Gilchrest hissed from the corner. He struggled against his invisible bonds, but even his heightened strength was no match for Asha's spell. He'd been taken hostage when his brother Orden and his troops had been forced back into the sewers by the blinding light of the trident during the battle at Sanctuary.
"I'd be quiet if I were you," Jackson snarled at the goblin. He'd wanted to kill the thing, but Jonas thought he might still be of some use to them.
"Be careful how you speak to me, I would," Gilchrest warned.
"You sure pop a lot of crap for something that's barely three feet tall," Gabriel mocked Gilchrest.
Gilchrest turned his hooded eyes to Gabriel and snickered. "Make sport if you will, but I have last laugh. You stink of magic, even for a mutation. The shadows of death follow you like second skin. Bound for the Jihad we all are for long as you stay."
Jackson snatched Gilchrest off the floor and pressed his face against the UV-resistant tinted window of the Hummer. Slowly he started to roll it down, sending a swift breeze through the vehicle. "Now, I've read a thing or two about what direct sunlight can do to you suckers, so unless you shut your damn mouth you're gonna get a real good view of this sunrise."
"Destroy me and risk wrath of entire goblin empire!" Gilchrest threatened nervously. He could see the pinkish sky beginning to turn blue.
Jackson flicked one of his blades out and pressed it against Gilchrest's throat. To Gilchrest's surprise the blade pierced his rock-hard skin and drew a trickle of blood. "Bullshit. What would make me think that those nasty sons of bitches would give a rat's ass if a toad like you went missing?"
"Law say any who murder royal family meet slow death. Prince Orden not take kind if baby brother killed by man-things. Eat you I think he will, after boil you alive."
"That is a goblin prince?" Asha poked him mockingly, which caused Gilchrest to snap at her hand. "Keep that up and I'm gonna show you some of my nastier spells." Asha's eyes sparkled as the small gash on Gilchrest's neck began to bleed more freely.
"Filthy witch!" Gilchrest shook his head from side to side in an attempt to stop the pain spreading across his face.
Rogue placed a soothing hand on Asha's shoulder and the bleeding stopped. "If this thing is a goblin prince we may be able to use him as a bargaining chip to get Gabriel's grandfather back."
"Goblins never barter with topsiders, especially demons posing as humans." He glared from Rogue to De Mona. Something about the way the goblin looked at her made De Mona uncomfortable. "Why you hide your true face? Afraid they see you for what you really are — a whore of Belthon?"
"That's it, I'm offing this fucker!" In a flash, De Mona was across the Hummer with her claws fully extended. Even if Gilchrest hadn't been bound there was no way he could have moved faster than De Mona. Just before her claws tore into his pocked flesh, De Mona found herself wrapped from fingertip to elbow in shadow.
"Enough," Rogue said evenly, holding the shadow restraint in place like a horse's reins. "He's worth more to us alive than dead, so why don't you cool it, or would you rather have to worry about every goblin within a hundred miles gunning for a piece of your hide?"
De Mona bared her fangs. "I can handle myself."
"That remains to be seen," Rogue told her. "You and Gabriel handled yourselves like real troopers earlier, but this is a whole different fight. No more limping dead men. They're gonna bring out the heavy guns."
"And they'll get dealt with too," she challenged.
Rogue shook his head in frustration. "I don't know if you noticed it or not, girlie, but we're in the shit here. This ain't about egos anymore, it's about survival and you can bet as sure as my ass is black that we're all on the short list of who Titus wants whacked. You're free to play the tough-ass loner if you want, but I'm thinking there's strength in numbers. We've gotta stick together if any of us plans to make it out of this alive."
"I agree." Lydia spoke up. She stroked Fin's head affectionately with one hand and ran her thumb over the runes on her spear with the other. Her long black hair was mussed and her face dark. "We are all that's left of the Great House and we must uphold what it stood for. Whether we are five hundred or five we must keep the darkness at bay." Lydia and Fin were both orphans who were taken in by the order so the fall of the Great House hit them harder than the others.
Jackson stared at Lydia quizzically. Even though she was blind she still displayed more courage than most when it came to tackling the dark forces. The gesture brought a smirk to his face. "Though I feel like a fool for saying so, I'm with the young lady. Look, each of us has been fighting his or her own battle, be it with the dark forces or our own souls" — he glanced at De Mona when he said this — "the point is that going at it solo ain't working, so maybe it's time we clique up and put an end to this."
Gilchrest scoffed. "Impossible to put an end to something older than you or I. This war go since first blood shed in Eden. This war go on forever, or until goblins rule all."
"Now that's a world I could do without," Asha said.
"Then we're all agreed. We regroup and put a plan together to get our people back," Rogue said.
Gilchrest laughed. It sounded like a sick wheezing when it belched from his chest. "Man-thing, no need plan for death, only hold on to prince and it come find you soon enough."
"Goddess, why don't you shut up already?" Asha waved her hand and an invisible strap clamped over Gilchrest's mouth.
"Plan? Why do we need a plan when we've got this?" Gabriel pulled up his sleeve and exposed the pulsing tattoo. "If this thing is so powerful, why don't we just use it to find my grandfather and then go get him?"
"Didn't we just establish the fact that we don't wanna die?" Asha asked sarcastically.
Excerpted from The Demon Hunt by Kris Greene. Copyright © 2010 Kris Greene. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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