Read an Excerpt
You have found them, vassal. Now I want them dead.
From the third-story fire escape, Warren Schimmer gazed down at his prey and tried not to think of them as human. Not that it would have mattered too terribly much. With his life in the balance against theirs, he would save his own life every time. That was how he'd done things for the last four years.
Do not hesitate or your own life will be forfeit.
The deep, rasping voice in Warren's head belonged to Merihim, a demon who had chosen Warren as one of his pawns in the demonic wars playing out over England. To disobey orders would be to die in a most horrible fashion.
Warren was afraid of dying. He'd nearly been killed by his stepfather when he was a boy. His stepfather had just succeeded in killing Warren's mother. The sound of the gunshots still haunted him at night.
But those dreams were less scary than the ones of the demon.
The five people below moved cautiously. Four of them, three men and one woman, were security guards. Warren knew that from the way they moved and the weapons they carried. They also wore hard-shell Kevlar vests and Kevlar helmets.
The fifth person was a man in his middle years. The others had bundled him up in body armor, too, but he moved uncomfortably in it. He clutched a package tightly to his chest.
Merihim wanted the package.
Warren didn't know what it was. He rarely knew what Merihim sent him after. During the last four years, the demon's primary command had been to watch and grow stronger in his powers. Warren knew that Merihim often watched through his eyes. The demon's flesh bound them.
Occasionally, when Merihim's guards were down, or because Warren was growing stronger in his powers, Warren sometimes got glimpses of the things the demon saw. When Merihim caught him spying, as he did most of the time, Warren ended up getting migraines that left him sick and hurting for days.
Worst of all, those episodes left Warren defenseless. He'd had to rely on others to keep him safe. Dependence had never come easily to him. These days he hated it worse than ever.
Control had always been a big part of Warren's life. Now, what little control he did have was just an illusion. Merihim controlled him. But he also protected him.
It was a suitable trade-off. Most of the people Warren had met over the last four years had died hard deaths. Living, even as a demon's vassal, was better than dying.
Even when it meant killing others.
The five men entered the alley and walked beneath Warren's position. A small object, no larger than a racquetball, trailed them from a discreet distance.
Warren gestured. The object changed course immediately and came to him. He caught it in his right hand, the demon's hand that Merihim had given him after he'd lost his own in battle against a Templar named Simon Cross. It was the hand that bound Warren to Merihim so tightly.
Covered with silvery-green scales, the hand was proportioned to his own. In the first few months he'd had it, it had changed. Except for the coloration, the scales, and the black nails, most wouldn't give it a second glance. Unless they'd heard the stories about him.
The object squirmed inside Warren's hand.
"Stop," he said softly, too quietly for the men below to hear.
The thing stopped trying to escape.
Warren opened his hand and examined it. The object was an eyeball he'd plucked from a dying Blood Angel. As the demon had expired, Warren had worked the binding spell that Merihim had coached him in.
When he'd finished, the eye had been his and he could see through it as Merihim could see through his eyes. Over the years, he'd made more of them. He'd created other things as well. They sometimes moved and jerked in the demonhide bag he carried slung over one shoulder.
None of the other Cabalists he knew had been able to make such things. Of course, none of the others were bound to a demon.
He pushed the Blood Angel's eye into the bag and shook off the attempts of the other things in there to get free. None of them could escape the bag. His power bound them there.
Do not fail me.
Warren summoned the power within him. He felt strong. On those occasions when he directly obeyed the demon's orders, he had discovered that his reservoirs of power were a lot bigger. Tonight he felt especially strong.
He threw the demon's hand before him, fingers outspread. Force shimmered against his palm. He felt it, and he saw it as a rippling wave of smoke. With a flick, the force shot from his hand and struck one of the two rear guards.
The man went down without a sound. He sprawled in a loose tangle of limbs.
The other rear guard shouted a warning, then hunkered down into a half-crouch with his weapon raised in his hands. It was some kind of machine pistol. Warren knew that from countless online First-Person Shooters and RPGs he'd played.
One of the other two guards clapped a hand on the man's shoulder and jerked him into rapid motion. The man, overburdened by the body armor, almost tripped and fell. The guard managed to keep him upright and moving.
The other guard half-crouched as well and looked around the alley. His eyes drifted up and locked onto Warren. Too late, Warren saw that the man had flipped down lenses from the Kevlar helmet. Obviously they offered some kind of infrared or night-vision capabilities because the man had no problem spotting Warren.
Even as he felt the man's gaze on him, Warren leaped from the third-story fire escape landing. No human could have survived the drop without serious injury. Warren landed and barely flexed his legs to absorb the shock.
A line of bullets, interspersed with red tracer rounds, slammed into the fire escape where he'd been. Metal clanged and shrieked under the barrage.
That's going to draw demons, Warren thought sourly. Maybe the police.
Incredibly, ragged remnants of the London Metropolitan Police Department continued to live inside the city. In the beginning, they'd tried to keep order in the streets, thinking that the military would put things to rights in short order. When that hadn't happened, most of them turned as mercenary as everyone else trying to survive in the city.
But they still investigated disturbances. It was in their nature. Also, they'd claimed weapons taken from military stockpiles. Normally they weren't armed. Times changed. Equipped with the new weapons, the police officers had become more dangerous.
Warren held his fist out and popped it open suddenly. Flames jetted from his hand and enveloped the security guard with the quick trigger finger. The man surged up, dropped his weapon, and batted at the flames as he ran as though he could leave the fire behind.
"James!" the guard holding the civilian yelled. "Don't run, mate! It only feeds the fire!"
If the burning man heard his friend, he gave no sign. He careened into the wall and fell into a pile of debris that also caught on fire.
At that moment, Warren lost sight of the man as he concentrated on the other one who was even then turning on him with the machine pistol. Warren brought his hand up in front of him and pushed more energy into the spell he had ready.
The guard fired his weapon. Dozens of bullets spat from the machine pistol like a swarm of metallic bees. Muzzle flashes lit the alley like miniature lightning strikes.
Despite his confidence in his abilities, fear trickled through Warren. His senses sped up so much that he could see the bullets clearly as they streaked for him. Most of them wouldn't miss.
Afraid? Merihim taunted.
Warren ignored the mocking voice. He flicked his hand open over his heart. A shimmer passed over his body several inches from his skin.
The bullets struck the barrier he'd called up and froze in mid-air only inches from him. The lead projectiles were partially melted from the heat created in the barrel, and from the impact against the shield. They hung suspended as he gazed at them.
Then he realized his left shoulder felt as if it was on fire. When he looked, he saw that one of the bullets had evidently struck him and penetrated the flesh. The sensation of blood spreading down his back let him know the bullet had gone all the way through.
It is a reminder, Merihim said. I do not want you to get too complacent. You will not take for granted what I've given you.
Silently, Warren wondered if Merihim had intentionally let him be wounded, or if the demon's powers weren't as strong as he'd claimed. The fact that he could question such a thing without Merihim knowing also proved the demon didn't have quite the hold he professed.
Of course, the possibility existed that the demon did know and only allowed Warren his misplaced confidence. Warren forced the thought away almost as soon as it dawned. He concentrated on survival.
He ignored the pain in his shoulder and focused on the guard that had shot at him. Shot me, Warren corrected.
The man brought his weapon up again. The bullets held in stasis before Warren created silvery-green waves of energy that bumped against each other like rocks in an incoming tide.
Warren swept his hand toward the man. The bullets immediately spun back toward the guard. Mushroomed and deformed from being fired, they wreaked havoc on the man's body. Impelled by greater forces than mere cordite, the projectiles ripped through the man's body armor and hurled him backward a dozen feet. He smashed against the wall behind him and slumped to the ground. Only blood, bone, ripped flesh, and shattered Kevlar remained of his face.
Warren strode to the two survivors. "Shoot me and you die," he told the guard.
The man hesitated, then dropped his weapon to his side.
Kill them all, Merihim ordered.
I don't have to, Warren thought back at him.
I have told you to. They die...or you die.
"All right," the man said. "What do you want?"
Warren stopped in front of the man and held his hand out. It hurt to move his arm, but he kept his right hand clenched and ready to unleash another spell.
"The book," Warren said.
"No," the man pleaded in a thin voice. "You work with the demons. You're one of the demon worshippers."
Warren didn't bother to correct the man. The Cabalists weren't demon worshippers. No one alive on the planet was fool enough to think that the demons bore any goodwill toward humankind. Cabalists were fools who thought they could control demons.
The man wrapped both arms around the bag he carried. "Please. How can you do this? How can you turn against your own kind?"
"My own kind?" Warren's tone turned bitter and the old anger he had reared its head. "My own kind didn't care about me. My mother had me but cared more about learning witchcraft than rearing a child. I never knew my father. My stepfather tried to kill me when I was eight. After he'd killed my mother."
The gunshots sounded in Warren's head again. He should have died that night. But he hadn't. Instead, he'd commanded his stepfather to shoot himself in the head. It was the first time he'd ever used his power like that.
"The courts turned me over to foster care," Warren continued. "I won't bore you with the abuse that I suffered there...among my kind." He took in a deep breath and shook his head. "In this world, there's only me and you. And it's a bad day for you when I have power over you."
Tears coursed down the man's cheeks. "Please. You don't understand. This is important. This is something we need to know that the demons don't."
That interested Warren immediately. Knowledge was power. Especially when that knowledge was about secrets. He'd learned that at an early age.
"The demons know everything, mate," Warren said. "You're a fool if you think they don't." He grabbed the book with his left hand to leave his right free. Pain burned through his shoulder but he worked through it. With a wrench that nearly brought him to his knees, he yanked the book from the man.
The guard lifted his weapon and tried to bring it to bear.
Growling a curse, Warren thrust his right hand at the man and squeezed it viciously. Power erupted through his body and he knew Merihim was boosting his abilities.
The guard screamed in agony, dropped his weapon, and pressed his hands to his head. As he fell backward, his head and the Kevlar helmet blew up and spread over the wall behind him.
Warren took a ragged breath. Even after the horror of the past four years and everything he'd done in Merihim's name, he hadn't been prepared for the man's grisly death.
The other man collapsed into a fetal ball with his arms over his head. "Please," he whispered frantically. "Please. Don't kill me. I'm begging you."
Warren felt bad for the man. Despite his resolve to see to his own needs first, he knew with devastating clarity how it felt to be alone and vulnerable. The man in the alley was both those things.
He was also too weak to make it back through the city without ending up in some demon's gullet before daybreak. Killing him was merciful.
Warren knelt and placed his hand over the man's chest.
"Please," the man whispered.
"Sleep," Warren said, when what he meant was die. The man's ears heard one thing, but his heart heard another. It stilled within his chest and never beat again.
You should have let him beg more, Merihim said. Begging is music to my ears.
Quiet and contained, Warren pushed himself to his feet. "I have your book. Where do you want it?"
I'll let you know. For the time being, keep it safe.
The absence of the demon in Warren's head left a vacuum. It also left him feeling dangerously fatigued. He forced himself to move and to ignore the pain in his shoulder. He wanted to get back to his sanctuary where his sentries could watch over him.
And, since he had the chance, he wanted to know what was in the book he'd killed five men for.
Copyright © 2008 by Flagship Studios, Inc.