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Local weather report for today: sunny with a chance of scattered minion parts.
I spin, my sword slicing off the minion's arm. His eyes flare, round saucers in a shocked face. What did he expect? Me to roll over and stop fighting?
Fat chance, buster. Shouldn't have hosted the demon's essence.
Minions might be super-charged on a demon's essence, but they still feel pain. And whacking off an arm causes pain.
While the minion grabs his bleeding stump and whimpers like a kicked dog, I pull back my sword for a fatal blow. One I should have administered instead of one-arming the minion.
A swing later and the whimpering stops, courtesy of the minion's head rolling across the ground. Score!
"Good job." Aidan Smythe, my guardian mage, mentor extraordinaire, and current lover, nods at the dead minion.
I draw in a deep breath, standing a little straighter. When I first became the world's newest Justitian — or demon huntress as I like to call me and my twelve fellow sword-sisters — I sucked at killing demons. Now, I'm Gin Crawford, super- awesome demon huntress. A feat continuing to impress me.
If only my demon-killing employer was as impressed. Then again, in my book the Agency isn't exactly known for its intelligence.
I place my special demon and minion-killing sword, or justitia, against the gray mist escaping from the severed neck. While Smythe can kill a minion with his mage magic, only a justitia can destroy the demon's essence. Kill enough of the demon's essence and you kill the demon.
Of course, whacking off the demon's head would also get the job done, but unfortunately, the wily creatures aren't always around to kill. Good thing too. Minions are evil. Demons are a whole different level of evil. And they often come with special powers like telekinesis and teleporting, making a demon fight a load of fun.
The last of the gray mist sizzles against my justitia while Smythe kicks the minion's sword away from its body. Yeah, minions carry swords. Usually in a back sheath. Lacking the magic a demon possesses, they make up for it by buying and using swords in abundance.
Which makes me wonder if there is a Swords-4-Minions online retailer.
While Smythe calls in the cleanup crew I walk around the office space, checking for other minions. Since my justitia remains in sword form instead of changing into a bracelet, I assume another demonic presence hangs out behind a closed door.
It's not every day I track minions into an office building, up three flights of stairs, and into a space usually populated by a financial advisor. Fortunately, it's after closing hours and empty of innocent humans. Thank goodness. I hate needing to call the cleanup crew to wipe the minds of innocent bystanders. An often necessary side effect of my job.
The snick of a door closing draws my attention farther down the hall. My thick-soled leather boots barely make a noise on the carpet as I press myself against the wall, sneaking toward the sound.
Minion. On left. The eerie voice of the entity in the justitia echoes in my mind.
Until recently, the thing remained quiet, giving me no glimpse into its being. That all changed a little over a week ago when it opened up, telling me about its past. Well, sort of telling me. More like giving me visual glimpses while talking in circles. But whatever. At least it talked.
And still talks. And talks. And ...
I jump as something topples to the floor in the office on my left. Minion. Taking a deep breath, I push down on the door handle, give the door a shove, and step into the room. As I thought, a minion faces me, a bunch of you're-about-to-die written on his face. How do I know he's a minion? Most normal humans wouldn't be pointing a sword at me.
At least not in a financial advisor's office.
The minion stands about six feet tall, brown hair cut short, his clothes the latest business fashion.
"Damn Justitian. You're ruining my plans."
"Bummer." I waggle my fingers at him in a come-hither motion. "Come and get me." Okay, so maybe I should stop bitching about bad lines demons throw my way in the thick of a fight. I seem to be struck with the same problem.
The minion does as I ask, just like his dead friend did earlier, without a word or taunt thrown. Unlike most demons, who continue to brag about their abilities throughout the entire damn fight.
My brain cuts to the fight, my eyes watching minute movements of the minion as he charges me. Not used to handling a sword, he swings downward, like an axe chops wood. No finesse at all. I dodge the blow, pull my sword back, and cut off his head before he turns.
The flat of my blade catches the escaping gray mist, turning it to ash. Two minions in one night. While not a record, it's pretty good for me, considering I royally fucked things up not too long ago. The outcome I'm still dealing with on an emotional level.
Tonight's fight proved I can still kill minions. That I'm worthy of the title Justitian. A little confidence never hurt anyone. A rush of pride warms my chest. But only for a minute. Confidence is good. Pride can get you in a lot of trouble. Something I know firsthand.
"Gin!" Smythe yells, heavy steps drawing closer.
"In here! Found another minion."
Smythe steps into the doorway, filling it with his muscular six-feet- five-inches, his black brows rising for a second as he stares at the headless minion. "Good job. Two of them. What do you think they were doing here?"
"No clue. I didn't ask." Maybe I should've been a bit more curious about what plans I ruined for the minion, but why talk with evil when you can kill it?
"I'll let the cleanup crew know another one is back here." He turns, takes a step, then turns back. "You think it has something to do with the demon in the Agency?"
I shoot him a get-real look. "Seriously? Why would it? We're in Dallas. The Agency demon is at the Agency in Boston. What would it be doing here?"
He shrugs. "Just a thought." His words remain as he walks down the hall toward the first dead minion.
The justitia makes a tiny pop noise as it transforms into a silver-linked bracelet surrounding my wrist, while I stand frozen in place, staring at where Smythe stood. Why would he think these minions had anything to do with the Agency demon? Talk about a stretch of the imagination. Or maybe I can't see the connection.
Finding the demon hiding in the Agency is on our to-do list. Right at the top. Smythe, my twin brother T, and Eloise, the Agency healer, are all working on it. With no luck. We all feel like we should know who the hell this demon is, but every time we try to puzzle it out, our thoughts scatter to other topics.
A clear clue there's some sort of spell or magic at work to keep this demon hidden.
We're on to him, or her. At least we will be. Once we can break a spell. If it is a spell. Maybe there's nothing happening.
What was I thinking about?
I glance at the dead minion as footsteps draw closer. Right. I was thinking about the dead minion and how it would suck to be on the cleanup crew. Wasn't I?
Well, it would suck to be on the cleanup crew and have to get rid of minion evidence. Better to be the sword that knocks them dead than the broom that sweeps it clean.
I step into the hall, gesturing at the office, as if the group of mages could miss a headless minion. They get to work, and I hightail it back to where Smythe stands by the front door to the suite. As I walk, my tight leather pants rub in places that shouldn't be chafed, but blood doesn't soak into them like regular pants, which is a win when you're on a fixed budget like mine. Blood is a bitch to get out of clothes.
Good thing Smythe gave me this pair of leather pants, a black, long-sleeved T-shirt, and thick-soled black ankle boots. I might look like a dominatrix minus her whip, but it saves my regular clothes from being tossed in the trash.
"We still —" Smythe starts to say, when his phone rings. He holds up a finger — as if I'm going anywhere — pulls the thing out of his pocket and puts it against his ear. "What?"
Yeah. Most people answer the phone with a hello, but not my mage.
As the tinny, undecipherable voice talks, Smythe's eyes widen, his mouth opens then closes in a tense line.
"What are you doing about it? Uh-huh ... she's not ready. Yes, I know. Uh-huh. As I said, she's not ready. If you're not careful, she'll meet the same fate ... What do you mean you don't have a choice? You —" He pauses, red coloring his face as white brackets frame his lips. "Fine. You're the boss, Dad. Do whatever you want." He yanks the phone away from his ear, slamming his finger against the screen to end the call.
"What happened?" Clearly something did, and it wasn't sunshine and roses either.
Smythe slips the phone into his pocket, his jaw tense. "Dad called to let us know Mila was killed by a minion."
"Mila?" I wrack my brain trying to remember who the heck Mila was and why her death was such a big deal to Smythe.
Smythe sighs. "She was one of the European Justitians. From Poland. They want to give the justitia to her sister, Tola, but Tola is too young."
"Define too young."
"Sixteen. Old enough to think she knows everything, young enough not to. That's what I was trying to tell Dad. They need to hold off giving her the justitia until she's twenty."
"You mean let there be one less Justitian in the world?"
"It's been done before. With your line when we believed it had died out. Since then, we've tried to be careful with the other lines."
"Is their line about to die?"
"No, but Tola is the last of her primary line. She has no offspring, so the direct line passed from mother to firstborn daughter dies with her. The others of her line are secondary and aren't as strong."
"What do you mean they aren't as strong? You never said anything about secondary lines not being as strong as the primary ones." After all, I was descended from a secondary line, yet wore the most powerful justitia. Which meant I wasn't a lightweight in the Justitian department.
Even if the Agency thought I was white trash.
"Direct lines tend to be stronger, we've found. You are an exception. The point is Tola shouldn't be expected to fight until she's older, but Dad wants her in there now."
I let the 'secondary lines are weak' comment slide, pursing my lips at mention of Smythe's asshat for a father, David's, insistence on forcing a teenage girl to fight against demons and minions. Even I, a newbie to the Justitian scene, know better than that.
"Does he want the line to die off like mine did, or what?"
"Why would he want that to happen?"
I raise a brow, silent speak for 'your dad's more crooked than a con artist.'
Smythe sighs. It wasn't until last week that he finally admitted David was hiding secrets. Until then, he refused to admit his dad did anything wrong. David might be a turd, but Smythe loved him, which meant it was hard for him to admit David had thrown in with the bad guys.
Smythe shakes his head. "What would Dad gain by letting Justitian lines die out?"
"Letting the demons rule earth?"
"Why would he want that?" He holds up a hand as I start to protest. "Yes, I know he seems to be pulling some shade at the Agency and definitely has a secret, or three, he doesn't want me to discover, but really, Gin, why would he want demons to rule the earth? He's not evil."
Okay, so I might disagree with him about the evil part, but arguing the point seems useless.
I shrug. "I can't help the way I feel."
He gives a short head shake coupled with an eye roll. "I know."
The cleanup crew strides to where we stand. "All done," the leader says. None of them carry the minions.
"Where are the minions?"
The leader's gaze fixates on me. "Elsewhere."
Okeydokey then. I nod.
She looks back to Smythe. "We're leaving."
They nod in unison before the leader forms a portal. Two seconds later, only Smythe and I remain in the office.
"Ready?" He gestures to where the cleanup crew disappeared.
I step toward him, only to stop mid-stride as a warm brush of air blows against my back. Smythe's eyes widen at the same time the silver links of my justitia form into a sword with a small pop.
I turn, arm drawn back in readiness. My eyes widen as I stare at who stands before me.
"I knew I'd find you here, Justitian. Prepare to die."CHAPTER 2
Rahab, the demon of Pride, the demon I lost big time to — twice — stands in front of me, a shit-eating grin covering his face. An energy ball glows in his hand. Without waiting for an answer to his bad B-movie line, he chucks the thing at me. I duck. Smythe ducks. The energy ball slams into the wall, splattering drywall bits over the just-cleaned office.
Won't the cleanup crew love to know their work was for nothing.
Taking a running step toward Rahab, I'm ready to strike his ass down. Unfortunately, the demon vanishes. Dammit! I turn, on to his disappearing act. He's performed this same trick before in a fight.
This time I'm ready when he appears between me and Smythe. My sword whistles through the air, aiming for his neck. Rahab squats. The sword passes inches over his head. He springs forward, sending me flying backward with a blast of telekinetic energy.
Before I slam into the wall, Smythe conjures an invisi-mat, which cushions my fall. Instead of busting a hole in the wall, I bounce off fluffy air and land on my feet, ready for another round.
I wish I possessed the ability to throw demons into walls with a thought. My abilities lean more toward the empathic. Or as I like to call it, my little touch-and-see problem. By touching a person skin-to-skin I can read their emotions and sometimes their thoughts.
Which is great for being a nurse and knowing what my patients in the ER feel or sometimes think, but not so hot in a demon fight.
A smug look passes across the demon's face as he leers at me. "Still no good in a fight, Justitian. Don't worry, I'll put you out of your misery, like I did that Justitian in Poland. She didn't stand a chance. Neither do you."
What is it about demons and their wanting to brag about their abilities during a fight? Why can't they shut up already?
I rush him, only to go airborne right into another invisi-mat. Thank god for my guardian mage. I'd be in a world of hurt right now without him.
I bounce off the invisible cushion, only to be slammed into the ceiling. This time Smythe doesn't get his magical mat inflated in time. Something cracks inside me. Pain splinters my thoughts. At least when I drop to the floor, cushiony depths break my fall. I can't breathe. Blood pools in my mouth and I spit it onto the carpet.
Air rushes into my battered lungs. Enough to catch my breath but not enough to take a deep inhale. I no longer feel pain, thanks to the justitia. A pain receptor-blocking bracelet rocks. Unfortunately, it can't do a damn thing for broken ribs and internal damage.
I need to end this fight now.
I push up to my hands and knees, staring up at Rahab. Behind the demon, a pale-faced Smythe stares wide-eyed. But only for a second. As I attempt upright, my mentor's eyes narrow, his lips move with a silent spell.
Ignoring my feeble attempt to stand, Rahab turns. Before I can blink, Smythe flies backward, crashes through a glass window into a conference room, and lands sprawled on an extra-long table.
Maybe I got a little overly optimistic about my chances of defeating Rahab. Which is to be expected. He is the head demon of all pride demons. Being in his presence tends to give you a super-charged ego that goes way beyond self-confidence.
Been there, done that. Coming down from the pride high is a bitch.
Time to pull out the extra ability Zagan, my demon "friend," loaned me. Zagan, the demon of deceit, gave me some of his red, demonic energy to fight other demons. Sure, he has his own agenda — to become the ruler of Hell. Sure, killing Rahab would further Zagan's agenda, putting him one step closer to gaining the throne, metaphorically speaking — I have no freaking clue if Hell even has a throne. But killing Rahab means one less demon in the world.
And Smythe, not to mention me, needs a healing session STAT.
Drawing in as deep a breath as possible, I focus on tapping into the demonic energy hidden deep inside my core. The energy responds to my call, rushing outward along my limbs, driving into my sword. My justitia glows red with Hellfire.
Rahab's eyes widen. "Impossible."
"Better believe it, bud."
"You can't kill me. I only have one demon left before I rule Hell."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Devil Forget Me"
Copyright © 2019 Karilyn Bentley.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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