This story is told from Eva’s point of view, rather than Odette’s like in the core Spellcasters Spy Academy Series trilogy.
The rotting floorboards creaked beneath my feet. Behind me, my trial partner swore softly. I bit back a smirk. Silly Alex. It’s not like the demon doesn’t know we’re coming.
We’d been tracking the woman possessed by a monster through Portland, Oregon, for an hour. Eventually, she’d led us to a run-down area in the southeast quadrant. It was unclear why the academy had set this as our Samhain Trial. Usually, spies in training took on more diplomatic tasks for trial. But this was what we’d been dealt, so we were rolling with it.
A rat scurried out of a hole in the wall, and a shiver tore up my spine. I held my breath as we tiptoed down the long hallway, peeking into each room. What sort of dumbass demon would choose this place over the cute, historical craftsmans or the newly built homes we’d passed on the way here? This questionable choice made me assume we were chasing a fenrir or an angul, since neither race was particularly bright.
“Are you positive that she entered this house?” I asked Alex after I passed yet another empty room.
As if in answer, the whine of rusted hinges came from somewhere further down the hall.
“It came from the right,” Alex whispered.
I pressed my body up against the wall. As we approached the next doorway, a glow, soft and flickering like a flame, became noticeable. My breath hitched, and I waved Alex forward.
We reached the door. I motioned for Alex to ready himself and inched my head around the corner.
A fireball zoomed past my ear, and I jumped back.
“An ifrit!” I screamed, and we sprang into action, barreling into the room with shields of yellow and crimson magic blooming in front of us.
The fire demon was still encased in its human shell. The poor possessed woman’s eyes glowed red, and flames licked at her fingers, surely causing irreparable damage to the skin of her fingertips.
“We need to exorcise it,” Alex grunted as a stream of flames tore past us, nearly catching his sleeve.
“Evellam!” I screamed the exorcism incantation, and my power poured from my hands to hit the woman in the chest.
She convulsed, and a groan rang from her. Right away, I knew my magic had overpowered the demon’s will to remain in the woman’s body.
Sure enough, the fiend surged up the woman’s torso and squeezed through her neck, so it looked like she was about to vomit out a tennis ball. I pressed my lips together, knowing what was coming. A grotesque moment later, a creature resembling fire flying on the wind zoomed out of the woman’s mouth, unfurling its blazing ghostlike body as it soared straight for us.
Frantically, I searched for an object with which to trap the ifrit. But nothing looked strong enough to bind the demon so that we might take advantage of the wishes ifrits were known for granting.
Fine. Screw the wishes.
“Nex!” I cast the spell we’d learned to kill lesser demons.
It missed, but forced the ifrit backward. That was good; I didn’t want the hellfire creature getting too close. No burning insides for me, thanks.
Alex mimicked me, and for a few glorious minutes, we worked like a well-oiled machine, one of us attacking while the other maneuvered themselves into a better position. I was poised to strike, but instead of defending itself, the demon did something I wasn’t expecting and rammed straight into Alex.
My partner fell to the ground, and his head smacked against the wood with an awful crack.
I scrambled toward the door as the demon rushed me next. I couldn’t leave Alex here, but I also couldn’t expose myself to the fire monster by going to help him either. Once it latched on, which was all too easy for something that did not take a corporeal form, it would possess me.
“Or I can take him,” the ifrit said, as if reading my mind.
I didn’t respond, only shot a blaze of yellow magic between the ifrit and Alex.
It darted away, and I ran to position myself between the demon and my partner, hoping Alex would wake up soon. We parried back and forth, me hurling magic, the ifrit throwing fire that was slowly but surely lighting up the place. After one close call that singed off a chunk of my hair, I was done messing around. I let out a war cry and charged the damn thing.
I was ten feet away when he blasted three lines of flame. One came straight on, while the other two caged me in, flying past my sides. I dropped to the ground and curled into a ball. After one perfectly executed forward roll, I leapt into a crouch.
“Nex!” I screamed the death incantation and shot a beam of magic at the beast.
His eyeholes widened, but there was no way he was escaping my assault. It hit him dead-on, and my power seared through the demon. A high-pitched wail ripped from his mouth as he disintegrated on the spot, leaving only the scent of brimstone behind.
I rushed to Alex and shook him. “Alex! Are you okay? We did it! We can call the warphole! The Samhain Trial is over!” I glanced around, taking in the pockets of flames that were eating up more ground by the second. “We really should get the heck out of here. This place will be a tinderbox soon.”
Alex coughed as his eyes fluttered open. “What happened?”
“The ifrit knocked you out. But don’t worry, I kicked its fiery ass. Are you okay? Can you stand?”
Alex shook his head. “I’m fi—”
“Don’t even say ‘fine,’ witchling,” a voice growled.
I froze. Who the hell is that? I already got rid of our demon. The trial should be over.
Alex was staring straight behind me, his blue eyes wide. In their reflection, I saw a figure move in the doorway, coming closer. I spun and let out a gasp. With creamy, pale skin, long black hair, ruby-red lips, and curves that didn’t quit, the creature was one of the most lovely beings I’d ever set eyes upon.
Except for her garnet flashing eyes, which screamed of her demonic nature and freaked me the hell out.
“Eva, call the warphole,” Alex whispered. “It’s a greater demon.”
“Succubus,” she hissed and twirled a lock of raven hair. “And to clarify, the higher-up demons like myself, actually prefer the term ‘generals of Hell’.”
“But, how did you . . . ?”
My words trailed off as the succubus lifted both her arms. Manicured nails grew into claws and began dripping a poisonous green substance.
“No time for questions, little witchling. Now let’s see, which one of you was I sent here for?” she mused as a stream of chartreuse shot toward me.
I lunged up, and a strangled scream left my lips as I gripped the burning scars on my face.
“Sugar! Eva! Are you okay?”
I sucked in a breath and twisted to find my boyfriend, Hunter Wardwell, in bed next to me. His green eyes were full of concern, and his hands raised in a gesture of surrender. He knew better than to touch me right away after a night terror. My power had reacted instinctively and poorly to his kindness twice before.
“Eva? Was it the dream again?”
My heartbeat slowed as Hunter’s voice pulled me back to myself—to the place where I was no longer being attacked by the succubus who’d disfigured me months ago. I was in Portland again, but this time, I was safe.
I flung myself onto the mattress and wrenched my eyes shut. “Fine. Yes, it was the same dream.”
Hunter’s soft hand found my shoulder, and I turned to press my face into his chest, needing comfort.
“I’m sorry, sugar.” He stroked my red tresses. “So sorry this happened to you. I promise I’m searching my mentor’s potion books for any remedy that will help you sleep.”
My heart clenched. My boyfriend was one of the sweetest men I’d ever met. Not only had he chosen to complete his academy-mandated, post-first-year internship here, because I had come to Portland, but he’d also chosen an internship that could benefit me—potions.
“I know you’re trying your best,” I whispered.
The burning sensation from my scars, a feeling I experienced as a result of PTSD whenever I thought of last Samhain, began to dissipate and my breathing calmed.
We stayed like that for a few moments, until the scent of bacon wafted into our bedroom.
“Odette’s up.” I gestured toward the door.
“She has a hard time sleeping if Alex isn’t here,” Hunter said. “I heard her walking around a few times last night. The night before too. Thank goodness he’s coming back Thursday. He calms her. The Beltane Trial screwed them both up.”
I could relate. My best friend and I were strong women, but I had to admit that having Hunter by my side made me feel stronger. I knew Odette felt the same about Alex—perhaps even more so, considering the strange circumstances involving their magical totems.
“I feel bad that I never hear her wake up at night,” I said. “She might want to talk.”
“You need all the sleep you can get, especially with how these dreams have been affecting you.” Hunter kissed my shoulder.
“What time is it, anyway?”
Hunter glanced at the phone on the nightstand. “Almost eight.”
My heart rate spiked, and I leapt out of bed. “Oh my God! I have to go!”
“But your internship doesn’t start until nine, and it’s right down the road.” Hunter watched me pull on leggings and a tank top.
“Master Exeter asked me to come early today. He wants to do an excursion through Mount Tabor and thinks that if we go earlier, there will be fewer humans around.”
“Oh, okay. See you at dinner?” Hunter asked, sitting up in bed. With his blond hair tousled sexily from sleep and his washboard abs on display, it was almost impossible to leave.
But I had to.
I settled for pressing my lips to his, savoring his masculine scent as we kissed. “Of course, honey bunch. It’s my night to cook. I’m making my famous lasagna, so show up hungry. See you later.”
“You know I’m always hungry.” He swatted my butt playfully, and with a grin I rushed out the door.
I dashed inside the bungalow my mentor called home, right outside Mount Tabor, a city park in Southeast Portland. “Sorry I’m late, Master Exeter! I slept in!”
“Well, isn’t that a surprise, Evanora Proctor,” my mentor’s jovial voice called from the kitchen.
I winced. He was right. I’d been late nearly every day of my internship. It was unlike me, but since I’d returned to the city of my attack, my sleep pattern had been awful.
“Sorry,” I replied, unwilling to give details.
Of course, he knew about the attack. It felt like half the witching world did. But I kept the night terrors to myself. This was a professional internship and one that, unlike my enrollment at Spellcasters Spy Academy, I actually wanted.
While my parents had the power to keep me at Spellcasters by holding the promise of fully paid tuition to my choice of a college and a grad program over my head after I graduated spy school, my internship was different. I’d chosen this course of study for myself. Master Exeter was on the forefront of studying other magical cultures, like the fae and the demons of Hell. It was anthropology for magicals, and that was so my jam.
“No matter.” The gray-haired master poked his head out of the kitchen. “The coffee’s finished. It’s the good beans from down the street. What do you say I make you a thermos, and we’ll get on our way?”
I shot him a thankful smile and set the to-go cup Odie had made for me on his console table. Odette was a great friend, but the girl couldn’t make a good cup of coffee to save her ass. When I joined Master Exeter in the kitchen, he was already pouring the liquid gold into thermoses, so I sat at his table and took a second to take in my mentor’s kitchen for the millionth time.
Swords hung on the wall from fae who had come over from the Faerie realm and needed favors to fit in. Claws from a shifter friend who had passed away were displayed lovingly by the knife block. Stakes with vampire blood discoloring the wood hung in the shape of an X over the doorway. The cloak from a powerful black witch who’d tried to spellbind an entire town in Romania was one of my mentor’s favorite items and was showcased by the table.
“So, what exactly are we doing today?” I asked, realizing that my mentor was watching me.
His face lit up. “I’ve sensed unprecedented energies building for the last couple of days, but yesterday, they became very noticeable. They seem to be coming from Mt. Tabor, and I want to examine them. You’re staying in the area—have you noticed anything strange?”
I bit my lip. Master Exeter had been at this for decades. For a wizard of his capabilities, it was easy to discern whether a fae or demon had opened a portal and entered our realm. He could even determine if a vampire had taken his fill of blood within the neighborhood. Every instance of magic left a precise energy footprint behind and Master Exeter knew how to tell them apart.
Unlike my mentor, I rarely noticed irregular or unique energies. My first week in Portland, he’d sensed an open faerie hole from half a mile away, whereas I’d only felt the magic from the faerie hole when I stood in front of it.
“I can’t say I’ve noticed anything off,” I admitted, heat rising in my cheeks.
“No worries, Miss Proctor. You’re still a babe in the woods. That talent will come with time.” Master Exeter winked at me, reminding me of my boyfriend—if Hunter needed a cane, and his golden-blond hair had faded to silver.
I quickly decided that wasn’t a bad thing. If we were still together in sixty years, and Hunter was like Master Exeter, I’d probably be having a blast.
“Here you are.” My mentor handed me a thermos that smelled like heaven. “A two-second pour of cream and two sugars in yours, just how you like it. Now, what do you say we go find what’s causing the magical disruption?”
From Master Exeter’s house, we walked to Mt. Tabor and climbed the hill. All around us people jogged by—tennis players enjoyed the courts, slack-liners walked from tree to tree, yogis meditated, and Portlanders enjoyed nature. After a ten-minute trek, we reached the public restroom next to a playground, and Master Exeter stopped.
“The energy is coming from that direction.” He pointed right, far away from the main trails that led to the top of the hill, which boasted a spectacular view of downtown Portland. Then, arching a bushy gray eyebrow, he pointed the other way. “And that direction.”
“Together or separate?” I asked.
Master Exeter winked conspiratorially. “How would I test your skill if we proceeded together? Send up a stream of sparks if you come across something suspicious. People are always setting off fireworks around here in the summer. No one will bat an eye, and I’ll be able to find you.”
“I’ll go this way.” I started walking.
I turned onto a random trail about one hundred yards away and was immediately surrounded by lush greenery. Moving a few more yards in, I closed my eyes and attempted to focus on the energy my mentor had felt.
The vibrations of nature, human activity, and magic buzzed all around me. Those were normal, pleasant. My lips quirked up as I walked deeper into the woods, moving aside for a runner, before resuming my hunt for a unique resonance.
Blocking out the sounds of children yelling and screaming as best I could, I kept inching down the trail. Two minutes of ridiculously slow walking later, I latched on to something odd.
Humming—almost ethereal in nature.
Memories of the day my first-year Faeology class had gone searching for faerie holes in the woods outside Spellcasters Spy Academy instantly came flooding back. My bestie, Odette, and her boyfriend had heard humming that day too, right before they ran into a fae.
Had it sounded so creepy, though? I shivered as the sound hit me again—harder this time.
Pulling myself together, I walked toward the humming. Master Exeter would be so excited if I found a faerie hole here, practically in his backyard. Maybe he’d write me a great letter of recommendation. Getting a leg up before our second year at Spellcasters was appealing. After all, the academy didn’t call it “the Grind” for nothing.
The sound intensified, and I followed it. Turning down a smaller path, I found myself in a dark patch of woods. The sunlight did not seem to penetrate the canopy as strongly in this area, and an unnatural cold permeated the air.
I shivered. Was the cold what Master Exeter meant by “strange energies”? If so, I was close.
Closing my eyes once more, I zoned in, and for the first time, I felt something . . . off. Whether from the cold or my fear, the demon scars I’d earned last Samhain began to tingle.
I gasped and my eyes flew open.
Right in front of me, something glinted against the rough bark of a tree. I squinted. Whatever I was looking at was magical—and probably sinister—but it didn’t resemble a faerie hole.
“It looks like a rune,” I said to myself, as I inched forward and the symbol clarified.
Two lines horizontally crossed an M shape, and wavy embellishments flowed off the horizontal lines.
There were thousands of runes, and I’d only been studying them for two weeks. Before that, the only rune I’d ever seen had been carved into a dead classmate’s torso—not something I liked to remember. Still, even with my limited experience, the rune looked familiar.
I walked right up next to the symbol and practically pressed my nose against the tree. A tangy, metallic scent filled my nose, and I furrowed my eyebrows.
“What are you?”
As soon as I voiced the question, the rune glowed.
I leapt back with a squeal. The symbol had taken on a red tinge, and I realized what the metallic smell was.
“Do not touch it, Evanora,” a voice boomed, startling me. “That’s a fae symbol. It might shift you through to Faerie if you lay a finger on it.” Master Exeter came up behind me, his walking stick clamoring over stray rocks and roots.
I hadn’t even heard him approach, which told me the rune had called to me by locking onto my personal resonance. I’d almost let it shift me through to Faerie.
Ice flew through my veins. “Thanks for warning me,” I said, working to commit the rune to memory.
“As soon as we parted, I knew something was amiss. I did not mean to interfere with your learning experience, but first and foremost it’s my duty to protect my pupil.”
“I’m not offended. I’m glad,” I assured him, although that wasn’t the whole truth.
I was also flabbergasted and full of questions. The most pressing of which being, why did darkness seem to follow me?
Hot air rushed at my face as I pulled the lasagna out of the oven. I beamed, taking in my creation. It was perfect, the cheese bubbly and browned, and the sauce oozing over the side of the casserole dish, promising piping-hot goodness inside. My stomach rumbled, and I obligingly set the dish on the stovetop and fanned the pan to cool it faster.
The door to the condo we were renting flung open.
“Oh my God! That smells amazing!” Odette flew inside.
My eyes bulged. Her long brown hair looked like a rat had been dancing in it, and dirt caked her clothes. There was even a faint smudge of mud between her soft brown eyes. She must have gotten a lot of strange looks on her walk home. “What the heck happened to you?”
Odette set her bag on the floor and rolled her eyes. “I created a warphole—one of my first since Beltane—and I misjudged my exit location and landed in a mud pit outside my mentor’s house.” She glanced down at her filthy jeans and off-the-shoulder top. “I hope I can get all the stains out.”
“There’s stain remover in the laundry area. Do you want me to do it?” I offered, as I cut tomatoes and threw them on our salads.
Odette had grown up with maids, and Spellcasters did our washing while we were at the academy. Because of this, I’d never seen her do a single load of laundry, and suspected that she didn’t know how.
“That’d be great, but can you show me how to work the machine? It’s about time I learn,” Odette said, confirming my belief. She peeked into the living room. “Where’s Hunter? He’s usually home before me.”
The second she finished her sentence, the doorknob twisted, and Hunter rushed inside. “Sorry I’m late! Oh! Hey, ladies.” He ground to a halt, and his green eyes narrowed as he took Odie in with interest. “Looks like someone else had a hectic day.”
“How about we talk about it over dinner?” I kissed him and gestured to the pan of lasagna. “I’m freaking starving.”
My friends ran to wash up, and I set the table. The moment they returned, we filled our plates and dug in without saying a word.
Silence at the start of our meals had become our routine. Much like Spellcasters, our summer internships were a massive drain of energy. But unlike academy courses, we weren’t acclimated to them yet. It was only after Odie and I had inhaled almost our entire meal, and Hunter had gone back for seconds, that I felt energized enough to chat.
“So, Hunter, you had a day too? What happened?”
“What didn’t happen? A potion exploded in my face. Luckily it was meant for your scars, so the worst that will happen is I might peel and it will make my skin even more radiant.” He winked flamboyantly, causing Odette to roll her eyes and me to chuckle. After receiving the reaction he desired, Hunter continued with a grin. “The other mishaps weren’t so fortunate. Right before lunch another concoction burned through the bottom of my cauldron. My mentor insisted I scrub the entire floor, which took over an hour because his warehouse is massive. Then, to top it all off, Mom called. It seems that Alex’s dad said something dumb that she didn’t like. Trite shit, really.”
Odie and I leaned forward simultaneously.
“Please don’t tell me the Wardwell clans are fighting again?” I shook my head. After all their sons had been through during our Culling-year at Spellcasters, to resume a family feud seemed idiotic. The Wardwells should be cherishing each other, not fighting over trivialities.
“Yup.” Hunter popped a tomato into his mouth. “She didn’t seem too indignant though, so maybe it will blow over fast. Either way, I told her to get over it.” He rolled his emerald-green eyes. “What about you two?”
Odette launched into the escapades of her day, and I laughed about her warping mishap and her mentor, who, unlike Master Exeter, was uptight but comical in her own way. Then Odie mentioned that her parents had called, and my spine straightened in anticipation of what was coming.
“Mom says they’re still investigating how demons were linked to our Spellcaster trials by talking to old spy friends. But guess what they found out already?”
“What?” Hunter asked.
“This last year, a record number of spies went missing. Or at least, their friends think they’ve disappeared.” Odette arched her eyebrows. “No one has heard from the missing people. Like, no one. My parents say that’s odd. I guess it’s common for spies to tell at least one other person about their missions—you know, just in case.”
In case something goes wrong.
“How many?” I asked.
“A dozen that Mom and Dad know about. Two kids who would have enrolled in our Culling-year at Spellcasters—had their families not declined the Legacy invite—died too.” Odette set her fork down and pressed her lips together tightly.
My hand landed on hers. “You can’t blame yourself for any killings that happened. Obviously you and Alex are part of this prophecy thingy, but you’re not the ones murdering people for . . .” I trailed off because we really didn’t understand why kids our age were being killed yet. “This is the work of evil. All we can do is try to figure out their motivations and defeat the darkness.”
Odette gave me a thankful smile, and I squeezed her hand before delivering my news. “And speaking of evil, I saw something totally creepy today.”
I told my friends about the rune on the tree, and how after we found the first one, Master Exeter had done a thorough search of the woods and discovered three more. He’d closed them up using a powerful incantation which had exhausted him so much that I had to help him walk home.
“So he closed them, but what do they mean?” Odette asked after I finished my story.
I shrugged. “He wasn’t sure, except that they were fae in origin but done in a unique style. Their runes are usually enhanced by magical flairs. Using blood is darker.”
“Demonic,” Hunter agreed. “Now that I think about it, potions specific to demons always require a blood sacrifice. Demons love blood. They lap that shit up.”
“Didn’t Professor de Spina say a blood sacrifice was necessary for demons to cross from Hell to our world?” Odette asked, her face tightening with worry. “The bigger and badder the demon, the more blood they require, right? Like a royal demon would need way more juice than lesser or greater demons?”
Hunter leaned forward. “That’s why the Beltane Trial was so astounding. I don’t even want to think about how much blood it took to get that royal demon into this world.” He shuddered.
“But why are the runes appearing here?” I asked, trying to steer the conversation away from the events of the last academic year and back to the present. “Master Exeter said that Faerie holes were common enough in Portland, but he’d only ever read of fae runes in books. And he’d never heard of a fae rune that required a blood sacrifice.”
Hunter and Odette remained silent.
I stood to take their plates. “Guess that’s one more thing for us to figure out.”
“Whoopee,” Hunter and Odette said at the same time, before rising to help me clean.
I slumped against a tree. A short distance away, Master Exeter was tramping through the graveyard, trying to discern where the strange energies he’d felt again just earlier that day had originated from.
Normally, I wouldn’t still be at my internship at ten o’clock at night, but my mentor had requested my presence during this outing and promised me the next day off for going the extra mile. It was too good a deal to pass up.
“Evanora! Would you come over here, please?” Master Exeter called, and I pushed myself off the tree trunk to go to him.
“Look at this mark here,” he said as I approached. “What does it remind you of?”
I bit my lip. He didn’t need help. This was a test. For the past couple days, he had been making sure that runes and symbols and even a few Egyptian hieroglyphics—which he had never mentioned before—were on my radar.
I squinted at the scratchings in the tree’s bark. “It looks kinda similar to what we saw the other day—but very sloppy. And obviously there’s no blood.”
Master Exeter nodded. “Very good. Now, can you sense its odd energies? They’re slightly different from the other day, but similar enough.”
In answer, I closed my eyes. Searching for errant energies was always easier without visual stimuli. Master Exeter made a soft noise of approval at my use of the tactic he’d taught me.
Once again, human vibrations were prevalent. No surprise there. The graveyard was off a busy street close to Mount Tabor. Homes dominated the area, and people walked about at all hours. As always, magic was in the air, and nature’s resonance clung to this area too. None of this was strange or of note, so I searched harder.
After a minute of searching, a cold chill washed over me, and I shivered.
“It feels cold again.” I shook my head. “That’s all I can sense, to be honest.”
Master Exeter shifted so his back was to me. For the first time, I noticed that one of his hands clenched his walking stick tightly, while the other grasped his totem, a wand I’d never seen him bring on our expeditions.
Wands, like all totems, were amplifiers of magic. They enhanced the powers a witch already possessed. If a witch had the good fortune to bond with a totem, it became one of their most precious items. That my mentor had brought his with him tonight spoke volumes.
All my senses heightened, and the darkness seemed more black, more menacing. I shuddered as the chill in the air ran across my skin again, raising goosebumps in its wake.
“Well, feeling chilled is a start. And Evanora, why would this rune exist in conjunction with the cold sensation you’ve been experiencing and a lack of blood?” My mentor’s eyes darted from side to side. Something was about to happen.
My gaze went back to the tree. A lump formed in my throat as I recalled my conversation with Hunter and Odette about demons loving blood. “Either no one has applied it yet, or more likely, it’s been used up to bring a demon over from Hell.”
Master Exeter’s head jerked in a nod, and reluctantly, I turned my attention from the tree to the large graveyard.
That was when I saw it, a hand reaching out from the ground not twenty feet away. I moaned as horrible, traumatic memories flooded my mind and the cold transformed to a blistering heat that seared across my scars.
Master Exeter gripped my wrist. “Do you remember your demonic incantations?”
“Yes,” I croaked.
“Good, you will need them.” He whipped around and pointed his wand at the tree. “Occludo.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the rune close, but a second later a more violent movement seized my attention.I held back a scream as a corpse—newly buried it seemed, and covered in bits of grass—dragged itself out of the dirt.
Master Exeter took a shuffling step forward. The noise caught the corpse’s attention, and it turned to face us.
Its eyes burned red, and my heart lunged into my throat as images from my Spellcasters’ Samhain Trial flashed in my mind, one after the other.
“Evellam!” Master Exeter shouted the exorcism spell and pointed his wand at the possessed corpse. Magic the color of orange sherbet zoomed toward the demon.
The creature dove, and before Master Exeter could pivot to deal a second blow, the demon reciprocated with onyx tendrils. The black magic hit my mentor dead in the chest, and Master Exeter toppled over with a groan.
My heartbeat hit top speed, and despite the feeling that every cell in my body wanted to run away, my training kicked in. I sprinted toward the devil.
“Evellam!” I screamed.
This time, the demon didn’t move as fast, and my attack struck him on the shoulder. I watched aghast as the corpse split in half, and the true beast within appeared.
A fenrir, I thought, taking in the shapeshifting demon that, in its natural state, resembled a werewolf, with its long, lupine snout and fur. Shit. I can’t let it touch me.
Fenrirs were notoriously stupid demons, which partly explained why this dummy had possessed a corpse instead of an oblivious human walking by the cemetery. Lesser brain functions aside, they definitely weren’t a class of demon to dismiss. Fenrirs always left a portion of themselves in those they possessed. For a corpse that wasn’t such a big deal, but if this demon possessed me, a bit of him would hide in my body until I submitted to a full exorcism. It was much more involved than shouting a spell, and I really didn’t want to undergo one. The videos we’d viewed on full exorcisms in Basics of Demonology had disturbed me for days.
“The long game it is.”
I threw a shield over my mentor, protecting his body from possession, then pivoted back to face the beast.
Sunshine yellow magic flew from my fingertips as we battled, the fenrir’s twisting, black powers against mine. He was fast, his animal form more agile than the corpse’s, and many times, I almost landed a blow, only to have him leap out of the way at the last second.
I was trying to devise a plan to trap him, but a movement a short distance away distracted me. I shot a glance to the side, and my body clenched up. Another hand poked out from a grave.
Shit! Another demon.
The fenrir roared, probably realizing he’d soon have backup.
“Nex,” I muttered, taking advantage of his distraction and sending a kill shot his way.
This time, my magic hit its mark, and the beast exploded. And not a moment too soon, because the second demon wrenched itself out of a grave. This one didn’t seem as dazed as the first and engaged me right away.
“Evellam!” I yelled. Once again, the possessed corpse ripped open, and another fenrir stood before me, all snarling teeth and sharp claws.
Sweat dripped down my face, and my scars began to sear hotter than ever, as two more hands poked out of the ground, their fingers grasping for prey in the moonlight.
“Master Exeter! I need you to wake up! Now!” I shot a glance back to find that my mentor was still passed out.
This is freaking bad.
I didn’t have time to think anymore, for the second fenrir was nearly upon me. I flung five bursts of magic at him at once, the final three all being the killing spell. He disintegrated as the last one struck him in the face, and I spun to face the other graves.
The hands wriggling out of the dirt fell limp, but that didn’t stop the demons from shooting from the dirt like rockets. These were gray and wrinkled with flat, short noses—wraiths.
A groan escaped me. Fenrirs were stupid, but wraiths were cunning and good fighters. Briefly, I wondered why they’d chosen to possess corpses, but that question was quickly supplanted by a more important one.
Can I hold off two by myself?
“Evanora! Lower your shield!”
I gasped at the sound of Master Exeter’s voice, and turned to find him pounding on the shield I’d put in place to protect him.
Without hesitation, I released him. My mentor raised his wand.
“Nex!” he screamed, and a bloom of orange magic shot from the wand, rushing over me and making my head spin.
The power flew across the graveyard, split, and hit both wraiths simultaneously. I released the longest exhale of my life as the demons dissolved where they stood.
When I arrived home later that night, Hunter was waiting for me in the living area. I threw my book-laden bag on the couch and hugged him.
“What’s up, sugar?” Hunter asked, smoothing down my wild red hair.
“Just another weird occurrence.” I leaned into his chest, feeding off his strength as he wrapped his arms around me. “Master Exeter took us to a graveyard because he felt the same energies that had been present in Tabor. But this time . . . something actually happened.” I shuddered, remembering the hands popping up out of the ground, and the torn-apart corpses.
Hunter’s arms tensed as he took in my involuntary reaction. “Like what?”
“Demons were there,” I whispered.
Hunter pulled away slightly, his sandy-blond eyebrows pulled together. “And fae runes? Like last time?”
“We actually found the exact same fae rune, minus the blood.”
Hunter sucked in a breath. “Does your mentor think the demons consumed it?”
“Yup. He’s baffled too. I mean, who’s leaving fae runes with blood tributes to bring demons over from Hell? The two species don’t mix, just like we don’t mix with either of them. They’re not even in the same world! It makes no sense.”
“No . . . you’re right, it doesn’t.”
A shrill squeal came from Odette’s room, and I cocked my head. “What’s she doing?”
Hunter rolled his eyes. “Alex came back early. His mentor had business in B.C. He graciously told Alex that as long as he did all fifteen items of homework he’d assigned, Alex could consider the free day a personal gift.”
I snorted. “How kind.”
I’d only met Alex’s healing mentor, Tiberius Thorn, twice before, but that definitely sounded like something he would say. Many celebrated Thorn as an unrivaled healer, and the guy knew it. Although even Thorn hadn’t been able to erase my stubborn-as-hell demon scars.
“When did Alex get here?”
“He arrived on the train at seven,” Hunter said. “The three of us went out to dinner because it was Odie’s night to cook. I got you something. It’s in the fridge.”
I chuckled. My best friend loved the idea of cooking and playing with recipes, but she was still new to it and not a whiz in the kitchen. “So Alex will be hanging here tomorrow?”
“Cool. I have the day off too, but Master Exeter still gave me a crapload of books to study. I need to look for the fae rune we’ve been seeing all over the place. I wonder if Alex would know where to start. He’s good at research.”
Hunter barked out a laugh. “Yeah, my cuz is that kind of nerd.” His eyes lit up. “Sugar! I forgot I have something to give you.”
He dashed into our room and came back a second later with something resembling a laundry detergent packet clenched in each of his hands.
“Umm. Are you telling me to wash my clothes? Because you try staying clean when demons burst out of graves and come after you.” I stared down at the packets, wondering if I should be offended or not.
“No!” Hunter kissed my cheek. “This is a clever, neutral package my mentor has devised for potions. That way they travel easier. These little babies are remedies. The blue one is for your scarring, and the other is to help you sleep. Just poke a hole in the packet and you can squeeze some out.”
My heart swelled. Hunter was the most thoughtful guy I’d ever met.
“Thanks, honey bunch.” I stood on tiptoe and kissed him. “After tonight’s events, I definitely want to try it.”
The next morning, I woke up feeling like myself. For the first time since I’d been in Portland, I’d slept through the entire night and hadn’t had a nightmare. I smiled, thankful for the much-needed rest. Hunter was already hard at work at his mentor’s potions shop, but I couldn’t wait to tell him that his potions had worked.
At least, one of them had.
As I stared in the mirror, examining my succubus scars, I couldn’t say they looked any lighter or smaller. I rubbed more of the concoction on them. Maybe they need more time.
I skipped down to the kitchen and made a pot of coffee, a couple of eggs, and some toast before sitting down with the books Master Exeter had instructed me to go over that day. Sipping my coffee, I cracked open a tome, and flipped through the pages. Searching for runes was an easy, if time-consuming, job. Luckily, easy was what I needed that morning.
The activities of the previous week, and the restless nights, had worn me thin, but because Alex was in town, Odette and Hunter would want to go out later. Even though we were only nineteen, the fake IDs that Spellcasters Spy Academy provided to grant us more access on our missions had always worked to get us into any club or bar. And Odette’s family money ensured that no one ever wanted to kick us out.
I snort-laughed, remembering how, last weekend, Odette had ordered four bottles of champagne for the table, and invited everyone and their mom to hang out with us. She claimed Hunter and I were a wild couple, but if Odette wanted to show people a good time, she pulled out all the stops.
“What’s so funny?” a deep voice said.
I turned to find Alex in all his tousled hair and wrinkled clothes glory. At first glance, one might write him off as a hot mess college student . . . until they caught sight of his eyes. Then they would know Alex was on alert, just like everyone else in this house.
What group of friends is constantly on the lookout for demons coming to attack them? Oh, that’s right, ours. Jesus, that’s sad.
“Nothing really. Just trying to get some work done before we go out again.”
Alex chuckled. “I told Odie that I’m here to see you guys, not the city—although it’s great. I’m happy hanging out in the living room too.”
“I’m sure she realizes that.” I gave him an understanding smile. “But I think Odette kinda misses her flashy LA life. Since Spellcasters is so strict, she probably feels like she has to live it up now. We can’t take that away from her. We’re only here a month after all.” I paused, remembering something Odie said a couple of days ago. “Plus I think she really wants to try this new pizza place. She’s been craving Hawaiian.”
“Pineapple on pizza.” Alex murmured and shook his head. “Sometimes she has such questionable taste.”
I laughed. “It’s not my favorite either, but Hunter would disagree. Between the two of them they can put down a whole large pie by themselves. It’s crazy.”
A siren outside blared, shattering the morning calm and interrupting us for a moment. I wondered what was going on out there.
“So,” I said when it passed. “I heard you have homework to do today too. Are you off to a coffee shop? Or do you want me to make room for you?” I gestured to the table on which my books, pens, and journals were sprawled, leaving little room for anything else.
“I’ll work here, if you don’t mind. Tiberius gave me so much stuff to do, I’m regretting sleeping in.”
“Don’t. We deserve all the rest we can get.”
He ran to get his books, and I made space for him. Minutes later, Alex and I were sharing the table and engrossed in our own work. The hours passed as we studied. Although I’d been through the fae chapters in half my books, I still hadn’t found any rune that resembled the one on the tree. After reaching the end of yet another chapter, I slammed the book shut with a huff.
“Research not going well?” Alex asked.
“You could say that. Did Hunter tell you what happened at my internship?”
“I saw Odette off this morning before crashing for a couple more hours. Hunter was up, too, and he filled me in. Is that what you’re looking for? The rune that drinks the blood?”
“Yeah. Have you ever researched runes?”
Alex shrugged, but I wasn’t buying his nonchalance. Before our Culling year at the academy, Alex’s mom and dad had drilled him like no other initiate’s parents had. He entered our first year at Spellcasters as one of the top students, and over the course of the year even sat in on a few second-year seminars in his limited spare time.
“Really? Not even medical ones?”
As Alex’s parents were witches and physicians, I didn’t buy that he’d never seen a medical rune.
“I’ve seen a few, but I warn you, I’m not very good at rune identification. Why don’t you draw the one you’re talking about? It’s easier than describing it,” he suggested.
I pulled a sheet of paper near me and drew an M and the two slashes across it. I added the embellishments to the slashes, set my pen down, and leaned back to make sure it was right. It was.
“This is it. Or as close as I can get from memory. Imagine it dripping with blood and glowing, if you need a better—or more disturbing—visual,” I teased, but Alex had clearly not heard my joke.
All the blood had drained from his cheeks, and his blue eyes were wide.
“Alex?” I leaned halfway across the table. “Do you recognize this?”
Slowly, he nodded. “Yes . . .”
My eyes bulged. How did my mentor, the man who knew everything about every random magical culture on this planet, not know what the rune was, but my best friend’s boyfriend did?
“Well, are you going to tell me what it is?” I asked after Alex fell into silence.
“The thing is,” Alex’s voice was hesitant, “I know what it means. But it makes little sense, paired with your story.” He picked up the page, squinted at it, and flipped it upside down, examining it at every angle. After another second, he set the paper back down. “This rune, or at least the way I’ve seen it, isn’t necessarily fae. Actually, it’s old, and no one knows where it came from. But the meaning whenever it’s used is always clear.”
“You’re the most dramatic man I have ever met, Alexander Wardwell! Will you please just spit it out?”
“It’s an arcane rune for healing,” Alex said. “Some say it means to make whole. Like mending something broken.”
My back fell against my chair. Healing?! There were about a million other words he could’ve said that would’ve made more sense than healing. A rune for healing that, combined with blood, brought over demons . . . it was so messed up, unfathomable.
“Yeah, I agree,” Alex said, reading my expression. “It doesn’t add up. Are you going to tell your mentor?”
I shook my head. “No. Hopefully he finds something more logical. It’s possible that another culture picked it up later and decided it meant something else.”
That had to be it.
A sigh gusted out of me as I opened another book and began researching.
Even after my friends arrived home from their internships, I still had not found a solution or any clue as to what the rune meant. Relieved that I had a distraction, I pushed all the research and confusion from my mind and we hit the town. Once again, Odette insisted on taking us out for dinner before drinks. She’d even made reservations at a swanky spot atop one of the tallest buildings in downtown Portland. The food was delicious, and the view of the eastern half of the city was unrivaled.
After dessert, Hunter proposed we go down to Second Avenue to check out new bars. We usually hung out in the Pearl or inner Southeast, so I was game to try something different.
We were walking down the sidewalk, happily taking in the night, when someone hobbled out of an alley up ahead. They looked scary—drunk and rough—so we paused, letting them get further ahead.
“So, Eva,” Odette said as the man walked away, “have you put more consideration into regular college?”
I took a deep breath. My best friend wanted me to join the Paranormal Intelligence Agency after we graduated from Spellcasters, but my dream had always been to continue school and become an archaeologist. The summer internship with Master Exeter had been an interesting sweet spot between both worlds, but it had also definitely gotten Odette’s hopes up that I’d chosen the spy route.
Although I hadn’t admitted it to anyone, I had begun to entertain the idea of a career in espionage alongside Hunter, Alex, and Odie. But I wasn’t ready to make that choice just yet.
“I think about it a lot,” I said, trying to be diplomatic. “But I’m not convinced yet.”
Odette’s face fell, and Alex slithered his arm around her shoulders. “Well, we still have two years at the academy. A lot can change in that amount of time.”
“That guy went around the corner,” Hunter said. “Let’s get moving.”
Two blocks later, we were on Second Avenue, and we walked into the first bar we came across. It was a local watering hole rumored to have entrances to the tunnels running below Portland. I’d heard that groups toured parts of the tunnels, although the whole system was too vast and sketchy to travel unless you were a professional.
“Hey,” I said, inspired by the bar’s name. “What do you guys think about doing one of those tunnel tours this weekend? It would be something different. They might even have a ghost one!”
None of us knew how to spirit walk or talk yet—that was a third-year class at Spellcasters—but the idea intrigued me. I was fascinated by the notion of learning from ghosts.
The boys nodded, and Odette shrugged. “I’m game.” She snuggled deeper into Alex’s shoulder.
“Cool. I’ll look up reservations tomorrow morning.”
Time ticked by, and we shared drink after drink. A haze eventually came over me, and I realized I needed to slow down.
“Does anyone else want water?” I asked.
Everyone did, so I went to get it.
I was filling the first glass when every muscle in my body stiffened. It was faint—probably muddled by all the human vibrations in the bar—but a familiar, cold sensation was creeping over me. Setting the glass down, I ran back to the table and nearly knocked over everyone’s drink glasses as I skid to a stop in front of it.
Hunter stood at my approach. “What’s wrong, sugar?” His green eyes were full of apprehension.
“Did you guys sense something off? Weird energies?”
Just because I couldn’t exactly feel what Master Exeter could discern, didn’t mean my friends were inept.
“Um, we’re kind of tipsy, so no,” Alex said, his tone light and teasing. “Is the beer getting the better of you?”
I slammed my hands down onto the table. Both guys jumped, and Odette’s eyes opened wide.
“I don’t think she’s kidding.” Odette closed her eyes.
The guys followed suit, trying their best to tune in, despite their inebriated state.
It took a full thirty seconds, but Odette’s eyes popped open first. “There’s . . . something. It’s dark. And different. Muddy.”
My heart rate sped up. “We need to get out of here,” I responded. “Outside. Maybe you can get a better read.”
We paid our tab and emerged on the sidewalk. Fresh air filled my lungs and helped clear my mind.
“They’re here too,” Odette said, her brown eyes taking in everything, from the people walking by, to the ravens flying above, and cars driving on the road. “I can’t pinpoint where they’re coming from, though.”
“I think you’re feeling the same thing Master Exeter did, before we found the runes.” The image of a fenrir coming at me flashed in my mind, and predictably, my scar tingled and grew hot, dimming the chill of the energies I sensed. “All I feel is cold, but he always insinuated they felt different—odd—to him. Still, maybe I can work with that. I’ll close my eyes and try to find where it’s coming from.”
“Let me help.” Odette extended her hand to Alex. “You guide me.”
We must have looked ridiculous, Odette and I, being led around like two blind mice by our boyfriends. Luckily, it didn’t last for long, because Odette stopped dead in her tracks about three blocks later.
Hunter guided me to a halt, and I opened my eyes in time to see Odette’s gaze turn to me.
“My demon mark is burning,” she said.
I gasped and looked down at her ankle, where a royal demon had touched her. “Did it just start?”
Briefly, I questioned if hers was acting like mine, but no . . . Our scars originated from different classes of demons, and Odette’s was probably much more sensitive. Ghost sensations from being in the same city as my first attack definitely seemed a more likely explanation for the tingling and warming of my scars.
Odette shook her head. “I’m not sure. I was paying more attention to my surroundings before, but then I got a sharp stab of pain. Like being tossed in the ocean after sitting in a sauna. The energies are definitely demonic, and everywhere, but nowhere that we can see.”
Hunter stiffened at my side. “Sugar, didn’t you say that those tunnels run all throughout Portland?”
My mouth fell open. Hunter was right. The reason we were feeling vibrations everywhere and all at the same intensity wasn’t because demons were everywhere, but because they were below us.
“Odie! Can you make a warphole to the tunnels?”
If she couldn’t, by the time we found an entrance, hours might have passed. Demons could cause a lot of mischief in that length of time.
Odette pressed a fingertip to her lips. “Probably. It’s easier if I can see where I’m going, or have seen it in the past. But as long as I can use my totem—and Alex’s—I think I can do it.”
I released an exhale I hadn’t realized I’d been holding and pointed to the right. “There’s an alley that way. Let’s do it in there so we don’t draw attention.”
The four of us scurried into the dirty alley. Immediately, Alex stood at Odette’s side and took her hand in his.
“Do you want help?” he asked.
Odette gave him a grateful smile. “Our totems will let me access a different space, but I need a ton of raw power to make it happen.”
Warpers, which Odette was training to become, were rare in witching society. My best friend had only recently discovered she had the potential to magically transport people from one place to another. She still required a lot of help from her totem to actually create a warphole.
She inhaled a massive breath and closed her eyes. “As soon as it’s large enough, step through. I need to keep my eyes closed, so Alex will guide me. I’ll seal it once we’re on the other side.”
We agreed, and Odette began to work. The shifting of energy began right away. Both totems, her moonstone necklace and Alex’s ring, glowed fuchsia and crimson. Then they began flashing through every color of the rainbow, lighting up and connecting to each other in their synchronicity.
Hunter and I shared an uncertain look. We were a close couple—in fact, I could barely imagine my life without him—but Alex and Odette had something else. Something my boyfriend and I didn’t have, but to be honest, I wasn’t sure I’d want it. Their connection was too . . . intense for people who weren’t even twenty.
A dot of fuchsia popped into existence and slowly expanded. A minute later, a warphole, inky in the middle and bright fuchsia along the perimeter, hovered in the alley.
Odette loosed a strangled breath, her eyes still closed. “Is it big enough to walk through yet?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “Let’s go.”
The dank smell that enveloped me after entering the tunnel left no question that we were below ground.
“You can close it now, sweets,” Alex said after everyone had passed through.
Odette released the warphole, leaving us in complete darkness.
Without speaking, the four of us called our magic, and beams of crimson, green, yellow, and fuchsia light flooded the tunnel. My gaze traveled up and down the underground shaft, but I spotted no sign of demons.
“Anyone inclined to go one way or another?” I asked.
Alex, Odette, and Hunter shook their heads, each looking totally at a loss.
Dammit. Didn’t foresee that. I bit my lip. “Do you guys think it would be better if we went back up to the surface and tried to feel around for a better place to enter the tunnels?”
Odette’s eyes narrowed. “Eva, I can make warpholes, but not all day long. I don’t have that kind of stamina yet. If we’re gonna go back up and search, we have to be damn sure we find the exact location we want before coming back down.”
Alex shook his head. “I don’t think that’s smart, anyway. We know there are strange energies down here—probably demonic. What if we need Odie to create a quick exit for us?”
“I get that, but—”
A sound like a can kicked down a road came from somewhere behind, and all four of us whirled around. The noise slowly petered out to nothing, leaving only the sound of my blood thrumming in my ears behind.
Hunter inched forward, and everyone else followed. We made it only twenty feet before a figure emerged at a T up ahead, its gait shambling, and its eyes aimed at the ground.
I sucked in a breath. I recognized that person as the man who had popped out of the alley earlier. “You guys, that’s—”
The man jerked about to face us, his hand hitting the side of the tunnel with a loud whack, making me jump. My eyes locked with his and my stomach lurched. They were lit up and deep crimson.
“He’s possessed!” I yelped as the man charged our way.
His fingertips glowed, and a memory from the Samhain Trials came roaring back with a vengeance. My knees buckled.
“An ifrit.” Alex pushed me behind him and ran forward to meet the demon.
Hunter followed his cousin, but I couldn’t move if I tried. My feet were glued to the floor.
“Are you okay? Eva? Is it the demon?” Odette shook me.
Unable to speak, I nodded.
“Crap! It’s the exact same kind as Samhain, isn’t it?” She pressed her lips together, and a line formed between her brows. Then a look of resolve crossed her face. “It’s okay. The guys will take care of it. We’ll have their backs from down here.”
A lump rose in my throat. I was a spy-in-training, a soon-to-be Grind-year Spellcasters student, and one of the most elite magic users of my age. Was this going to happen every time I came across a demon? Or just ifrits? Would my fear be even worse if I saw a succubus?
But Odette was right. The guys were able to exorcise the ifrit from the possessed man, who fell to the floor, and then they made easy work of killing the creature moments later.
Odette and I ran to the man.
“He’s alive,” I said, “but unconscious.”
Alex joined and did a healing scan. “His heart is weak. I don’t think he’ll wake up any time soon. We need to shield him. After we figure out what’s happening, we’ll return and take him to the surface.”
Everyone agreed, and Hunter, the best at producing shields, placed one over the man.
Once that was done, we were back to wondering which direction to go. Now at the T-intersection of two tunnels, we stared down the three possibilities. Immediately, something caught my eye down the tunnel to my left.
“Does it seem like it’s kind of glowing down there?” I asked, unsure if I was seeing things or not.
My friends squinted, and after a few moments, Odette spoke. “It’s really faint. Like maybe there’s another T, and the glow is actually coming from another tunnel further away.”
I inhaled deeply, steeling myself for action. “Looks like we know which direction we’re going.”
The glow intensified, like my sense of unease, as we made our way toward it. We were a mere ten feet from where the tunnels met, when a telltale chill washed over me.
“I’ll peek around the corner,” I whispered.
I was grateful when Hunter fell into step behind me. A moment later, we were there and, holding my breath, I peered around the corner.
A gasp flew from me, and I shot backward into Hunter.
“What is it, sugar?” he whispered.
“Runes. The ones I’ve been seeing with Master Exeter. There are so many and they’re all lit up—someone is bringing demons over.”
My heart hammered, and my scars burned with the memory of the Samhain Trial as we walked down the tunnel, passing glowing runes slathered in blood.
“There must be close to a hundred.” Odette’s voice shook.
And yet, here we were, walking deeper into a demon pit. Hunter had suggested turning around, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
What if there were more like the man we’d found? What if we were all that stood between demons walking the streets of Portland and the peaceful spring night above? We might not be full-fledged spies yet, but we were here, and we were bound to take action for the greater good.
A rune on my right flared, brighter than any other, and I leapt back. “Did you see that?”
My friends nodded, their eyes as wide as saucers. Slowly, Alex reached his hand out.
“Don’t touch that!” Odette whispered and slapped his hand away.
“Yeah,” I added, “Master Exeter said that fae runes might shift people through.”
Alex cocked his head. “But there aren’t any strange vibrations coming off them, which makes me think it’s fine—at least for now.”
“You don’t sense anything off? No energy vibrations at all? Even though we’re right next to them?” Odette asked, her eyes darting down to her ankle, where a demon mark had been seared into her skin by the Queen of Hell herself.
Alex shook his head, and my gaze went to Hunter, who mimicked his cousin.
Odette gulped and looked at me. “What about you, Eva?”
“I feel a chill, which I relate to the odd energies you’re sensing. But I saw you glance down, is your scar doing something weird again?”
Odette chewed her lip for a moment. “I feel slight vibrations in it and it’s kinda warm.” She paused, then added, “There’s also an ache. Almost a longing that pulls me toward the demons.” Color rose in her cheeks at the admission.
My hand strayed to my scars as a wave of relief flowed through me. I wasn’t experiencing anything like that. When I felt the energies, I became cold. And my scars only grew hot when I experienced flashbacks from Samhain. Thank goodness. Being pulled toward demons would be terrible.
Odette caught the gesture. “I know you think your scars burn or tingle from PTSD. But what if it’s not from that?” Her eyes searched my face. “They said the succubus who attacked you was strong. What if your scars are acting like my mark, but less potent and powerful?”
I shook my head. “I hate to say it, Odie, but I think your mark is in a different category. Mine’s all psychological. That’s the only reasonable answer.”
Odette’s lips pressed together. “But only two people have been demon-touched by royal demons before me. And we don’t have much more to go on with greater demons. Why can’t the marks they leave behind act similarly?”
The rarity of demon scars was undeniable, and a major reason why my face was still disfigured. There weren’t enough documented cases for the healers to go on. But as much as I loved Odette, I simply didn’t believe my injury was as scary as hers. The tingles, pain, and hot flashes were all in my head; a side effect of being back in Portland and dealing with demons for the first time since the Samhain Trial.
“I get that you don’t want to go through this alone, Odie, but—”
My mouth slammed shut as a rune next to Hunter’s shoulder seared bright red and a hand shot out of it.
“Hunter!” I ripped my boyfriend away from the stone right before a burst of black smoke flew from the wall, its tendrils outstretched like fingers. Ten more runes lit up, and non-corporeal demons whooshed out before I could even take another breath.
“Run!” I screamed. Everyone flew into motion, stampeding down the tunnel between more glowing runes, toward the light we’d spotted.
“Prepare to fight!” Alex screamed.
The distance shortened, and the glowing light ahead intensified. Behind me, the guys shot off exorcism and killing spells. The sounds of demonic grunts and pounding feet lessened after each one, telling me they were hitting their targets.
That was a massive relief, because as we approached a blind corner, my gut told me we were about to run into even more trouble.
We swung around the corner, and my heels dug into the ground as I flung my arms out to stop my friends.
The blind corner led into an open space, kind of like a cavern. From where we stood a rock jutted out from the side, barely hiding us. My lips trembled as I took in a number of humans lumbering around in the cavern.
Some feasted on rats, others fought with other possessed people, but the vast majority were sitting on the damp ground, twitching and moaning, no doubt uncomfortable with the demon living inside them. Many appeared homeless, although I spotted a couple who looked like soccer moms.
There were at least twenty humans in the cavernous chamber. And four of us. Those were shitty odds.
The sound of pounding feet caught my ear, and I whipped around as a demon came hurtling around the corner.
“Nex!” I shot a beam of yellow magic past Alex’s shoulder.
It hit the demon who disintegrated on the spot.
My eyes latched onto my friends. “What do we do? We can’t hurt those people! But with so many, we have to play defense as well as offense.”
Unwittingly, hysteria seeped into my voice, elevating my pitch. A demon in the open space roared. I’d given away our location. We had seconds to come up with a plan.
Alex stepped forward. “Odie and I will exorcise them. Hunter, you shield the humans after we get the demons out. Anyone who gets a kill shot, take it.” He turned his intense blue eyes on me. “Eva, do you know the incantation your mentor used to seal the runes? There are still many in that tunnel that are ready to open and allow demons passage to our world.”
I wracked my brain, which was still fuzzy from the alcohol. “Not exactly . . . I sort of remember how it sounded. A corpse was emerging from a grave at the time, so my attention was divided. But I’ll figure it out.”
Alex gave a single nod. “That will have to do. Now—duck!”
I shot into a crouch as he hurled a wave of crimson magic at an encroaching opponent. Our group leapt into action, Alex, Hunter, and Odie running forward to meet the onslaught of demons head-on. I stayed on the sidelines, throwing beams of yellow at the demons to slow them while my friends exorcised the vile creatures from their human shells. All the while, I tried to recall the incantation I’d heard Master Exeter mutter in the graveyard.
Cludo? Ocald? Dammit, what was it? Why didn’t I remember to ask later?
A demon interrupted my train of thought by breaking through my friends’ lines and sprinting straight for me.
“Evellam!” I screamed.
My magic hit and ripped the demon from the person’s body. I identified it as a wraith, however, this one looked different from the ones I’d seen in the graveyard. The wraith’s nose wasn’t flat or short. It was more . . . human.
The creature leapt forward, and I snapped back to attention.
“Nex!” I screamed. The incantation slammed into the demon’s chest, and the wraith dissolved into dust.
My scars burned as if someone had set a hot iron on them, and my hand flew to my face as I let out a yelp.
A voice not far away shrieked, “How dare you kill the blood of His Highness!”
I followed the voice. A demon with flashing red eyes and horns sticking out of a human head sneered at me from where he leaned against the rock. He seemed to be watching the onslaught, but not taking part.
“Witches killing Lucifer’s babies will be punished—violently, gloriously so,” the demon continued.
I shook my head. “What are you? And why are you standing back like a coward?”
The demon let out a chuckle. “Generals of Hell do not fight. Cambions least of all. We are too valuable. Although when I saw you killing His Highness’s child—my little brother—I could not let it stand.”
I killed a child of Lucifer? What the hell is this guy smoking?
But I didn’t have time to muse over what the cambion said, because the next second, he lunged at me, sending me darting back into the tunnels. Black tendrils of magic flew from his palm, chasing me.
Glowing runes flashed by while footsteps sounded at my back. Shit! I need to close the runes before more of this asshole’s friends join. What was that damn incantation?
Hands outstretched, I tried the variations I’d already come up with. Power spewed from my palms and struck the runes, but nothing happened.
Suddenly, a grip from behind wrenched me to the ground.
“Think you can outrun me, witch?” the demon hissed as he straddled me, his spittle flying on my face.
A few drops landed on my scars, and I winced as they burned again.
The demon caught the reaction and stilled. “What’s this we have here? Are you demon-touched?”
I sneered. “Hell no. A succubus bitch gave me these—and died for it.”
“A succubus!” The demon’s eyes widened. “Was her skin as white as snow and her hair raven black?”
My lips parted in surprise. He knew the succubus who’d attacked me. Maybe I could use this to distract him and give my friends time to notice I was gone. “Yes.” My voice was full of spite. “And good riddance.”
The cambion slapped me, and I let out a moan. “You’re worse than I believed. Killing His Majesty’s children before they’re even born!”
“Royal demons don’t mate with other demons, you idiot,” I spat.
I might be a beginner in demonology, but even I knew that the six royal demons only reproduced with humans or magicals. If they mated with others of their kind, they risked losing their personal magic. So they left the job of populating Hell to greater and lesser demons.
The cambion roared. “We shall see who’s the idiot after we break open the occluded Hellgate!”
Occluded! Holy shit, that’s it!
I ripped my hands out from under the demon and flung them behind me. “Occludo!” More power than I’d ever mustered before burst from me, stealing my breath.
Scrambling, the demon grabbed my hands and forced them back into a position under his legs, palms down.
I couldn’t see if the incantation worked, but I watched as the demon’s eyes followed the pathway of my power. His gaze darkened with each passing second, giving me hope.
“No matter. We shall get our allies to open more, witchling. But first . . .”
He ripped a knife from a sheath I hadn’t noticed and lifted it up high. An evil grin spread across his features, and then the blade was falling toward my heart. I wrenched my eyes shut.
This was it, the end. At the very least, more demons wouldn’t show up to hurt my friends.
“Nex!” someone shouted.
A blast of magic hit the cambion, but since he was a greater demon, the incantation meant to kill lesser demons only made him wince. His neck twisted around, his black magic twirling in his hand, ready to strike my almost-savior.
“Morsultimus!” the voice—Hunter’s—screamed.
The next thing I knew, the demon’s weight disappeared, a cloud of smoke hovered over me, and ash fluttered down onto my face. A sob wrenched up my throat. There were footsteps, and then Hunter was there, pulling me off the ground.
“Sugar! Did he hurt you?”
Tears threatened to spill from my eyes. “I’m f-f-fine,” I blubbered. “How did you know that spell?”
In our initiate-year at Spellcasters, we’d learned curses to kill lesser demons, but not the greater or royal classes. Those required sacred incantations, reserved for witches who had proven they could handle them. Not for initiates. Hunter certainly hadn’t known that incantation a couple weeks ago.
“Alex. His parents broke the law and taught him. He didn’t want to make you and Odie complicit, and risk you being kicked out of Spellcasters. But I don’t give a shit about that. I only care that you’re safe.” Hunter’s green eyes shimmered, and I could tell there was a turmoil of emotion behind them. “Are you sure you’re fine?”
“You saved me just in time.”
“Maybe. But you saved all of us. Look, sugar.”
I followed his finger down the tunnel to see arms and limp hands sticking out of rock. I’d closed the runes, and not a second too soon. At least four dozen more demons had been about to emerge.
A shiver ran up my spine. “Is everyone else okay?”
Hunter nodded. “We cleaned house. Alex and Odie are making sure there aren’t any other demons hiding. Also, we found another room full of runes. They don’t look like they’ve been activated by blood, but you should still close them.”
I rose to finish the job.
Blessed fresh air filled my lungs as we emerged out of the warphole onto the street.
“We need to call our mentors.” Hunter grasped my hand protectively.
Odette nodded. “Good idea. They’ll have local connections, and the covens can decide what to do with the unconscious humans we left down there. We should call our parents, too, so they can tell their contacts what happened.”
Everyone pulled out their phones and began making calls. I dialed Master Exeter’s number first. He answered on the second ring. I filled him in, my words spilling from me in a rush.
“Evanora,” my mentor said after I’d finished. “You know what you four did was extremely dangerous, right?”
The line fell silent for the space of three breaths before he sighed. “I’ll be there in twenty minutes. Don’t leave.”
Master Exeter arrived, along with twelve other local witches. We gave them the rundown, and one who knew of an entrance to a tunnel led an expedition underground.
To my surprise, my mentor stayed at my side. After the other Portland witches left, he turned to me. “How did you find them? I thought you couldn’t sense the energetic vibrations that I described. Did something change?”
I pointed to the markings on my face. “Every time we were near the energies—or you told me we were—I would get cold. Then, when we came into contact with the demons, my scars would burn. I didn’t think the scars were a link, only a reaction from my trials, but I met a cambion in the tunnel who changed my mind. Plus, Odie helped.”
I shot a glance at my best friend. I’d already told her what the greater demon had said. She inclined her head, a go-ahead to reveal information about her.
“My friend Odette was demon-touched by a royal demon a few weeks ago. And now . . . I fear I might actually be demon-touched too.”
Master Exeter’s bushy eyebrows rose. “But you said a greater demon attacked you. The curse that the demon-touched experience has only ever been noted by those touched by royal demons. Well, in the limited cases we have to go on.”
Two cases. That’s how many there were before Odette was afflicted. If my suspicion was right, that number had doubled this year.
“I suspect that things are changing in Hell. The cambion mentioned that Lucifer was procreating, and that I’d killed a child of his blood. I think the succubus who threw acid at me was pregnant with his child, so—”
Master Exeter gripped my wrist. “When her acid seeped into your blood, so too did a bit of Lucifer.” He shook his head, astounded. “That must be why your scars are resistant to any healing aid. We shall have to research more.”
Someone cleared their throat, and we turned to find Alex.
“Sorry to interrupt.” Alex stepped forward. “But I was wondering if I could ask you something, Master Exeter?”
My mentor nodded.
“Eva was studying that rune you two found. I’m undergoing a healing apprenticeship right now and recognized it as a healing rune, but that doesn’t seem to fit. Have you come up with anything in the meantime?”
Master Exeter’s face lit up for the first time since he’d arrived. “Ah! Yes! I planned to tell you on Monday, Evanora! I have discovered what that rune means.”
My mouth dropped open. “What?!”
“Well, I’ll admit it still doesn’t make much sense, but the rune was in an obscure book on the fae. It means ‘to unite’. I can see how modern scholars would interpret that as healing. Both hint at something being made whole.”
The cambion’s words ran through my mind.
“We shall get our allies to open more.”
My blood froze. “Actually, that might make perfect sense,” I whispered.
Master Exeter questioned me, and I told him what the cambion had said.
“So the demons and one of the fae courts are teaming up, are they?” He shook his head. “And to make them even stronger, Lucifer is procreating—building an army from his own flesh. I wouldn’t be surprised if the other royals were doing the same.” His eyes dimmed with worry. “We must tell the PIA and Spellcasters. Darkness like the world has not seen in centuries is coming.”
I touched my scar—my link to Hell, to evil—and knew he was right. Something big was coming, and it was only a matter of time until it decided to make itself known to the world.
* * *
Purchase the rest of Spellcasters Spy Academy Series in e-book, paperback, hardcover, or audiobook formats
A Legacy Witch, Spellcasters Spy Academy Series #1
A Marked Witch, Spellcasters Spy Academy Series #1.5
A Rebel Witch, Spellcasters Spy Academy Series #2
A Crucible Witch, Spellcasters Spy Academy Series #3