Hey guys, I'm a terrible person (or maybe just terribly disorganized, maybe? Let's be nice here, lol). Here are the final chapters of The Demon Code!
The icy night air bit into my skin as I walked down the deserted alley. I could feel the promise of snow in the breeze, though it wasn't likely to stick much at the lower elevation of the shopping district. The nearby mountains, however, would be a pristine white come morning.
I couldn't hear any of the wolves nearby, just the faint chatter coming from the main thoroughfare. Allison would be a few streets over, pretending to be drunk and reeking of booze. The wolves would be watching, their scents masked by Audrey's glamour. She'd masked my scent too. If these vampires had been working with Sam, they'd recognize the scent of a demon, and it would probably sound more alarm bells for them than a few wolves lurking about.
I continued walking down the alley, remaining alert in case anything jumped out at me from the dumpsters and piles of refuse. No wolves were keeping an eye on me, but I could handle myself . . . hopefully.
I tensed at the sound of a woman's shriek, but it was followed by laughter. Someone on the main street having fun with her friends.
Footsteps sounded at the other end of the alley, drawing my attention to Chase, his shoulders hunched in his heavy green jacket.
I waited for him to catch up to me.
"Are you feeling as useless as I am?" he asked.
I shrugged. "A bit, but the wolves will scent out the vamps long before we'd spot anything out of the ordinary. Devin will call if anyone catches a whiff so we can relocate."
Chase nodded. "I hate that they're all risking themselves for this."
I glanced at him, wishing I could see him better. The clouds obscured the moon, and the lights of the city were a little ways off. "They'd be doing this regardless. The vampires are currently more of a problem for them than they are for us."
He nodded again, then gestured for us to keep walking. "Yeah, but if Sam was selling them demon magic, they'll be a much bigger problem than they would have been otherwise."
We continued down the alley, then looked both ways at the end. A chain-link fence barred our path to the left. The right was open, though the alley was a little too narrow for comfort. If a vampire attacked us in there, it would be difficult to fight or escape.
Not seeming to notice my hesitation, Chase led the way to the right. "You know, I've been meaning to ask you—“ his words cut off at the sound of a scream, this time not followed by any laughter.
"Allison," I gasped, then started running in the direction of the scream, hoping I wouldn't reach a dead end. The wolves were in place to protect her. Rationally I knew she'd be alright . . . but it would only take one wrong move and a vampire could kill her. If people were already missing, the vampire might not hesitate to do so.
Chase followed after me. "Go right," he huffed. “I walked that way earlier.”
I veered right. There were lights at the far end of the vacant street. If I could reach them I could run down the main street to where Allison was supposed to be.
A group smelling of beer and cigarettes gave me an odd look as I came barreling out of the alley, but I quickly passed them by, intent on my destination. My worn-down sneakers barely gripped the damp sidewalk as I turned again. If I was going to keep getting myself into these situations, I really needed to invest in some proper running shoes.
I hurried down the next street with Chase keeping pace at my side. With his longer legs he could probably outrun me, but he didn't. I opened my mouth to tell him to run ahead, then spotted several figures moving in the darkness.
I kept running, only slowing when I was near enough to hear the grunts of struggle. There were too many bodies in the cramped space, only as wide as a one-way street. I quickly realized only about half of them were wolves.
I turned with a fireball in my hand as someone ran up behind me and Chase.
Audrey took a step back, staring at the fire. "It was an ambush," she explained. "Call the other wolves."
I tugged my cell from my pocket and shoved it into her hands. "You call."
I turned away from her and ran toward the fight. It was too dark and chaotic to really see who needed help, and I didn't see Allison anywhere. Chase was suddenly at my side.
"Find Allison," I ordered, then summoned another ball of flame to my hand.
I fed power into the flame, increasing it until it was about the size of a basketball. "Everybody freeze!"
Everyone kept fighting. There were a few bodies on the ground, but I didn't dare look too closely, not yet. A male vamp whirled on me, his muscular arms bare to the cold night air in his black tank top and jeans. He saw the flame and backed up, but it was too late for him. He hadn't attacked me, but I needed a way to stop the fight.
I tossed the fireball at him as he turned to flee. It hit him in the middle of the back, igniting his clothes. He shrieked, but fell to the ground and soon put out the fire. I needed a vamp with more clothes.
I saw a woman with a long linen trench coat, some dark color unidentifiable without more light. I tossed another fireball her way while her back was turned.
She started screaming as her hair and coat went up in flames. She didn't react as quickly as the male vamp had. The male vampire in question, now recovered, tackled her to the ground and rolled her across the asphalt.
It didn't matter. Everyone was now looking at the new ball of fire in my right palm. The wolves still standing regrouped to one side.
I widened my stance, feigning bravery though I felt ill at the thought of the bodies on the ground. "Unless one of you wants to stand as tribute," I called out, "you might want to tell me where I can find your leader."
As if sharing a communal silent thought, the remaining vamps went utterly still for a single heartbeat, then fled in all directions.
"We only need one!" I called to the wolves, spotting Devin and Lela among them.
The wolves gave chase and I let them. I wasn't fast enough to play in this part of the game. Chase and Audrey reached my side as I watched the last of the vamps scatter, wolves hot on their heels.
"No Allison," Chase said. "I think she was already gone by the time we arrived."
My gut clenched. Gone? I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans. "We need to check the bodies, then we need to get the hell out of here." I didn't hear sirens yet, but it was only a matter of time before someone happened upon the scene.
I stepped toward the nearest form and knelt down, pushing on the body's shoulder to roll it onto its back. It was a man, and one I didn't recognize as one of the wolves. Cringing, I put a finger to his lip and lifted, revealing his right fang. He was a vampire, and he was dead. Despite popular literature, they don't turn into dust when they die. They leave a very real corpse.
I stood and went to the next body as Chase and Audrey started checking the others. There were only five, but five was enough. The next one I checked was an older woman I recognized from Devin's house. Guilt washed over me. This was supposed to be a simple recon mission. No one was supposed to die.
“I should have called in the demons,” I muttered as I stood.
Audrey was at my side, handing me my buzzing cell phone. I took it, though I felt like I might vomit. I pushed the call button on the screen. “Hello?”
Devin’s voice answered, “We have one. Rendezvous at the location.”
“Sure,” I replied, then ended the call.
The location was an abandoned warehouse. We couldn’t risk bringing whatever vamp they’d captured to Devin’s house.
“What about the bodies?” Audrey asked.
I stared at the bodies in question. “They’ll be taken care of. The werewolves are efficient.”
She huffed out her nose. “And you wonder why I want nothing to do with the vampires and wolves. They dump bodies often enough that it’s standard protocol.”
She was right, so I didn’t argue. “Let’s get out of here. I don’t want to be around if the human police show up first.”
“No sirens yet,” Chase observed.
I looked up at him, wondering if the bodies bothered him as much as they bothered me, or if he’d become a hardened criminal in his time with Sam.
He looked a bit green around the edges, and it made me smile. “Small blessing, that.”
He nodded, likely thinking I was referring to the lack of sirens, when really, I was referring to him.
The vamp they'd managed to snag was the first one I'd lit on fire. Tonight really wasn't his night. His eyes darted from me, to Devin, to Jason, then back again. His hands flexed where they were bound with chains to the metal chair arms, probably longing to wring our necks. A wooden chair and ropes wouldn’t be enough to hold any vampire. Some could break through the metal too, but this vamp was new. He wasn’t all that strong yet.
Part of me wanted to kill him where he sat. We still hadn’t found Allison. Half the wolves were still out looking for her, and tracking the other vampires. It made me sick to not be out there looking for her too, but with my human speed and sense of smell, I was utterly worthless. I was physically stronger than a human, but that didn’t help until we found someone to beat up. Our vampire captive claimed he didn’t know why any of the vamps would take Allison, that no one would care about one measly human, but we were about to get to the bottom of things.
I took a final scan of the warehouse, spotting Chase leaning against a far wall with a worried look in his eyes. Probably feeling guilt over Allison.
There were other wolves milling around the large warehouse, keeping an eye out for any more vampires. For once, I didn't envy their keen sense of smell. The warehouse reeked of mildew, garbage, and other unmentionable odors. There hadn't been any humans there when we arrived, but it was obvious some had been staying there recently. We'd need to be careful.
"Who told you we'd be in that alley tonight?" I asked. We had plenty of pressing questions, but that one was bugging me the most.
"No one," he answered. "We smelled wolves in our territory and came to clear them out."
It was an obvious lie. Audrey had glamoured away everyone's scents, but the vamp didn't know that. He was probably too stupid to realize he couldn't smell any of us now.
I summoned a fireball into my palm. "You already know what I can do with these, and I’m running out of patience. You might want to talk."
He stared back at me. Defiant.
I turned my attention to Devin. "Vampires can still talk with their hands and feet burned off, right?"
Devin stroked his chin in thought. "It won't kill him, so I imagine he'll be able to speak once he recovers from the searing agony."
I turned back to the vamp, fireball still in hand. "Speak, scream, what's the difference?"
"I don't know who told us!" he blurted. "I was told where to go, and that's it."
Well that was easier than expected. "You haven't been dead long, have you?" I asked.
His face shut down again, but his reaction was enough. This man was very new to the vampire world, even newer than I’d suspected, which was worrying. It was risky turning humans into vampires. Many didn't survive. How many humans had the big bad boss vampire gone through to get the "success" strapped to a chair before us?
"Who told you to go there?" Devin asked. When the vampire sealed his lips into a tight line, Devin gestured once more to my fireball.
The vampire's broad shoulders rose and fell with a heavy sigh. "His name is Stanos. He calls all the shots. That's all I know." He looked to Jason, standing silently between me and Devin. "You better report to him soon. He doesn't allow vampires in his territory unless they answer directly to him."
I furrowed my brow. With our scents disguised, he shouldn't have been able to tell what Jason was. "How did you know he was a vampire?" I asked. "Could you smell him?"
The vampire's gaze turned suspicious. "I can't seem to smell anything right now, so no."
"He was one of the ones who attacked me at the inn," Jason explained.
"Did Stanos order you to attack Jason?" I asked the vampire.
He nodded. "Like I said, no vamps allowed unless they answer to Stanos. He’ll collect the demons next.”
I extinguished my fireball and crossed my arms. "Got it. Now just tell us where to find this Stanos and we can all be on our merry way."
The first hint of real fear leaked into his eyes. "No way. He'll kill me if I tell you."
"Xoe will do worse than kill you," Devin countered.
He shook his head. "I'll take my chances."
Well great. I wasn't really prepared to torture him. Throwing fireballs in battle was one thing, igniting a vampire tied to a chair was quite another.
I sucked my teeth. "You know, we could just keep you here until you starve."
He shook his head again. ”You wouldn't risk a human coming by. The Werewolf Coalition doesn't need any bad press."
This was getting tiresome. I looked to Jason and Devin, who both shrugged. If our little friend wouldn't talk, we could always trace the scent of the other vamps from the scene of the fight, but it would be better to know the location before we stormed the castle.
Suddenly I had an idea. If I was going to be in with the Demon Council, I might as well make the most of it. "I can take him underground," I offered. "There won't be any vampires or humans walking in on us there."
The vampire snorted. "We have demons on our side you know. They'll rescue me."
I highly doubted that. Not the demons on their side, but that they'd rescue him. Most demons didn't give a flying fart about other supernatural races unless they proved valuable assets. This vampire was most definitely not a valuable asset.
Devin seemed to think about it, though I suspected it was mostly an act for the benefit of our new friend. "Yes, I think that's a wise plan," he said to me. "I'm assuming the Demon Council has a dungeon? Perhaps they'd be willing to keep him there, now that you're one of them.”
The vampire struggled against his bindings, drawing our attention back to him. Once we were all looking, he stopped. "Don't take me underground," he pleaded.
I walked back toward him. "Why not? I thought all your friends would just rescue you?"
He glared at me. I'd lit him on fire and was now threatening him. This was probably a vampire I wouldn't want to release back into the wild. He was young and stupid, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t dangerous.
He was the first one to look away. "Stanos is scary, but the demons he works with . . . if they hear I'm anywhere near the Demon Council, they'll torture me for centuries. I'll tell you where to go."
I raised my brows at him. Should have known he'd be more afraid of criminal demons than anything else. The Council will just execute you. Rogue demons, at least the few I'd met, tended to be ancient and had a sick sense of humor to their violence.
“Do you think Allison will be at there?” I asked.
“Your human friend? If they took her as leverage over you, that would be the safest place to keep her.”
I sure as hell hoped that’s why they wanted her. If they wanted to use her as a bargaining chip, they’d need to keep her alive.
"You have to do something for me too though," he continued.
I crossed my arms as Devin and Jason both came to stand at my back. "Name it.” I didn’t like working with someone who’d just attacked those I cared about, but if it would get Allison back . . .
His eyes darted between the three of us, unsure we'd keep our word, most likely. "You have to get me out of Shelby. I can't be anywhere those demons can find me."
I tilted my head. "Why are you willing to give everything up and run now? You weren't just a moment ago."
He licked his cracked lips. "If it's between being trapped in the underground waiting for the demons to find me, or being free to run away as far and fast as possible, I choose the latter."
I turned to Devin. "Can we accommodate?"
He nodded. "The Coalition will see to it."
I turned back to the vamp. "It's settled then, tell us everything you know."
Our captured vampire, Steven, became nice and chatty once he had a secure way out of town. I was beginning to suspect this Stanos didn't treat his people very well. While Devin instructed a group of wolves to escort Steven to another location where he'd await safe transport, I searched the warehouse for Chase, eventually finding him peeking out an open sliver in a boarded up window.
He turned toward me as I approached. "Please tell me we know where Allison is. If she gets hurt because of this—“
I held up a hand to cut him off. "We have a location, but I'm calling in demon backup for this. Steven is very afraid of some bad demons the head vampire is working with. I'm not going to take any wolves into that sort of fight."
"You're not keeping me out of this," he said before I could even mention it.
If I wasn't so tired and worried, I might have smiled. "I wasn't planning on it. I want you there in case you recognize anyone who knew Sam, but you can't come in with whoever the Council sends. I don't want them to question why a demon on trial for murder is there. You'll follow at a distance, watch with binoculars if you have to."
He shook his head. "I don't like you going in without me to watch your back."
This time I did smile. He was exhausted, and frankly, looked like hell, but was still just worried about me. "Ethan is a powerful demon, and I imagine anyone else he brings in will be powerful too. You're just going to have to trust me on this, just like Jason and all the wolves are going to have to trust me. I'll get Allison back, and get to the bottom of what Stanos is planning."
He watched me for several long moments, the only light the lantern near Steven's now vacated chair. "Okay," he agreed, "I'll hang back, but if it seems like you're in trouble, I really don't give a damn if the Council sees me."
I held out my hand. "Deal."
He took it, and we shook.
I released his hand and pulled my phone out of my pocket. "Can you find Audrey and tell her she might want to hightail it back to her inn before the demons arrive? I'm going to call Ethan."
Chase watched me for a moment more, nodded, then went to find Audrey.
Ethan answered on the second ring. "I didn't expect to hear from you so soon."
"I found the vamp hideout," I explained. "And I also learned their leader is working with demons scary enough to make lesser vampires tremble in their boots, so I'm going to need that backup."
"My you are efficient. Where should we meet you?"
I gave him the address of the warehouse. It was as good a place as any for a group of demons to appear unseen.
"We'll be there in twenty minutes," he replied, then hung up.
A moment later, Chase returned with Audrey.
I glanced around the warehouse, then turned back to them. “The Demon Council is on the way, they’ll be here in twenty minutes. You both should go.”
Audrey straightened her coat. “Fine by me, but what about your human friend?”
My gut clenched. “Hopefully we’ll find her at this hideout. I’d rather keep her away from the Council too, but since she’s human they shouldn’t be overly interested in her.”
Audrey nodded. “Will all of your wolves be going?”
I shook my head. “No, I want to keep as many of them away from the Demon Council as I can, not to mention we’ll be charging into a lair of rogue demons, and at least one ancient vamp. I won’t risk them.”
Her eyes were calculating. “You really aren’t like any demon I’ve ever met.”
I shrugged. “I was raised human.”
She looked toward where Devin was talking with a few of his wolves. “I’ll stay with your leader. I’m sure some of those vamps recognized me. I’d rather not be left unprotected now until they’ve been dealt with.”
“Good idea.” I turned to Chase. “Are you sure you want to do this? It’s a risk putting you near the Council.”
“I’m coming with you, Xoe.”
I sighed. I knew Jason was gonna say the same, but if this Stanos had it out for him, I didn’t want him anywhere near the whole affair. “Fine, but binoculars, that’s it. You and Jason will both stay far enough away that no one can smell you if the glamour wears off.”
Jason approached as I said the last. “I think we can all live with that.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, that’s the point.”
Audrey cleared her throat. “Well, this has been a lovely evening, but it’s time for me to take my leave. Have fun with your Demon Council.” She turned away, her boots clacking as she walked toward Devin.
I looked from Chase to Jason, then back again. “It’s time for you two to hide, and when we leave, keep your distance. I’d rather have you lose us, then have the demons realize you’re following.”
“Xoe!” Devin called across the warehouse.
I turned as he chucked his keys at me. Jason’s hand shot out and caught them before they could reach me. Just as well, I inevitably would have fumbled them. He turned and handed them to me. “Be careful.”
“I’m always careful, how many times do I have to tell you that?”
He smiled. “Just a few more.” He turned to Chase. “Let’s go, we’ll wait in my car on the street.”
They followed the wolves as they filtered out of the warehouse, eventually leaving me alone.
The space became far too quiet for my liking. Every tap or groan was a demon or vampire in disguise. When the last car had driven away outside, I walked toward Steven’s vacated chair, jingling Devin’s keys in my hand as I went. I sat, then leaned my elbows on my knees.
“What an odd place to meet,” Ethan’s voice said from behind me. I hadn’t heard him arrive. I hadn’t even felt a shift in the air.
Remaining seated, I turned toward him. “Don’t tell me it’s just you. Weren’t you supposed to bring back up?”
He walked toward me. “They’re outside, I want to make sure we’re not followed.”
I resisted the urge to squirm. Had they spotted Jason and Chase outside?
Ethan offered me his hand.
Ignoring it, I stood. “Let’s get this over with. I’ll drive.”
Ethan caught up to walk at my side. “Why not just travel? I can give you a free pass while I’m here.”
I reached the exit. “I only have an address, I’ve never been to this place,” saying that, I wondered how Ethan had managed to travel to a warehouse he’d supposedly never visited. I shook my head. “And I’d like to approach slowly. I have no idea how many vampires and demons might be waiting. Heck,” I added, walking out into the quiet night air, “they might even have witches. There could be demon wards. They won’t bother me,” I looked him up and down, “but I have a feeling they might bother you.”
“Yes, I am nearly full-blooded demon.” He said it like it was something to be proud of, which I’m sure he thought it was. For me, half demon was more than enough.
Three more demons waited outside. Two women, one tall and thin with short black hair, and the other petite with what looked like mousy brown hair, though it was hard to tell in the dark, and one man, stocky with his dark hair buzzed closely to his scalp.
They didn’t seem terribly scary. “Well at least we’ll all fit in the car.”
Ethan only smiled. “Trust me, we are more than a match for rogue demons, and an ancient vampire or two.”
I started walking toward Devin’s SUV, parked near the perimeter surrounded by a chain-link fence. “What about three?”
Ethan reached the SUV at the same time as me, claiming the front passenger seat while I climbed into the driver’s side. The other three demons piled into the back. I put on my seatbelt, started the engine, and backed away from the fence.
“Now three ancient vampires,” Ethan said, continuing our conversation, “three I fear would destroy us all.”
The male demon in the back chuckled.
I put the SUV into drive and headed toward the open gate. “Demons really have the worst sense of humor.”
The demon in the back laughed again, thus proving my point.
I hadn’t seen Jason’s car anywhere on the way up, but I was pretty sure I’d spotted his headlights a few times as I drove, following the directions from the GPS on my phone.
There was nothing out of the ordinary about the house we approached at the end of a long paved drive, at least as far as human eyes could see. I parked about thirty feet back from the wrought iron gate.
I turned to Ethan. “Do you sense any demon wards?”
His eyes on the moonlit gate, he shook his head. “No, but I sense . . . something.”
His three cronies were silent in the back seat.
“Something . . . demonic?”
“Perhaps.” He opened the door and stepped out.
Shaking my head, I did the same. I glanced in the direction we’d come, wishing I’d known if Jason and Chase were parked nearby, or if they’d fallen behind. They had the address at least. They could find it on their own. While I wanted them to stay out of this, I’d have felt safer knowing they were nearby.
I followed Ethan up the driveway while his three cronies tagged behind us. Ethan walked up to the wrought iron gate, examined it, then pushed it open. It was just an old school gate, with no alarm or electric sensors that I could see.
Ethan continued leading the way up the drive, and I had to jog to catch up with him. “So I guess we’re not worrying about the element of surprise?”
He kept walking. “They are vampires. They already know we are here.”
“Well that’s comforting,” I muttered.
“It wasn’t meant to be.”
The male demon behind us chuckled, and would be henceforth labeled Chuckles in my head since I didn’t know his name. The two women I’d already begun to think of as Legs and Mouse.
So it wasn’t terribly creative, but if people failed to introduce themselves, they couldn’t complain about the names I’d give them.
We approached the house at the end of the drive. It was an old Victorian, not well-maintained, which wasn’t surprising given the overgrowth of the yard. It was like walking through a jungle. Ominous, since whatever might be lurking in the trees was far more dangerous than lions, tigers, or bears.
Ethan reached the front door, then knocked on the peeling paint.
I stayed back with the other three demons. If someone was on the other side of the door with a gun, I’d let Ethan deal with it. Any of the demons would probably survive a gunshot better than I would.
To my surprise, someone actually answered. He was tall and thin, and careful to keep his lips sealed as he smiled. Vampire, not demon, was my guess.
Ethan stood only a few paces away from him, close enough for the vampire to rip out his throat in a flash, but he didn’t seem worried. “We’d like to speak with the master of this household. Bring us to him.”
The vamp’s eyes flicked to me, and he held my gaze for a little too long. If I had to guess, he recognized me. I was becoming too popular for my own good.
After a moment’s consideration, he stepped back and opened the door wide. Ethan led the way inside.
I looked to Legs, Mouse, and Chuckles. “After you.”
Legs and Mouse walked inside, but Chuckles just stared at me until I went first.
Once we were all inside, the vamp shut the door behind us, then led us deeper into the house, his polished loafers barely making a sound on the dirty wood floor. The first room we reached was a moonlit kitchen with an open floor plan. Windows lined two of the walls. I glanced out them as the vampire went through an adjacent door. No movement outside, nor headlights.
We all continued through the house, and I almost got bored. It was just a rundown old house, not what you’d expect for the lair of an ancient vampire. I’d at least been hoping for some spooky candelabra and spiderwebs.
The vamp reached another door and opened it, revealing dark stairs leading down. Gre-eat. We were going to the basement.
Ethan went down ahead of the vamp. If he could be brave, I guess I could too, though I didn’t like it. I especially didn’t like that Allison could be somewhere down in that basement, in who knew what condition. I could at least hope that she was still alive, for now. If the vamps just wanted to kill her, they would have done it before. No, they took her because they wanted leverage over me, or leverage over Devin.
I went down the stairs after the vampire, but before the other three demons. The old wood creaked under my weight. A dim glow became apparent as we neared the bottom, flickering, not steady. It seemed I was going to get my creepy candelabra after all.
I reached the landing, then looked to my right where the vampire and Ethan had gone. Two men and three women waited for us in the candlelit basement. One of the men, Stanos I presumed, was seated in a high backed chair, fancy enough that it looked like a throne. The other man and the three women all stood behind him. The set up would have seemed ridiculous, with the leader in his throne with his four lackeys at his back, if only the leader weren’t so utterly terrifying.
Long hair, so blonde it was almost white, reached the shoulders of his finely cut black suit. Dark eyes stared out of a gaunt face with a strong nose and jaw. He smiled, flashing fangs, but it wasn’t the fangs that were scary. I’m not great at telling supernatural creatures apart, but when there’s enough power, I can feel it. And I could really feel it.
He stood. “I am Stanos, welcome to my home. I have been waiting a long time to meet you, Alexondra.”
I moved so I was standing beside Ethan and not behind him. “Funny, I’d never even heard of you until tonight. Where is Allison?”
“Ah, the human girl.” His voice was deep and smooth as butter. It seemed strange coming out of such a gaunt face. “I must say, I’ve always had an affinity for blondes.”
I clenched my hands into fists. The worst part about any creature that lived more than a couple hundred years was that they loved to play games. Life probably got too boring otherwise. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“Your human is fine, I only wanted to see you. But I must admit I’m a bit offended by your demon entourage. I’d assumed you come with wolves.”
Ethan cleared his throat. “You’re working with rogue demons. You had to expect the Council sooner later.”
Stanos splayed his arms. “I see no demons here, other than the ones you have brought with you. Your accusations ring hollow.”
I glanced back at the other demons, only then realizing that the vamp who’d led us down was gone. Just what had he run off to do, and how many more vamps were in the house? He could be running off with Allison while we all waited stupidly in the basement.
I turned around to find Stanos and the other vamps had moved closer. I hadn’t seen any of them move, it was like I’d lost time.
I reached out for my magic, building it up inside of me. If the vamps could move without me noticing, I needed to be ready to summon fire in a heartbeat.
Stanos tilted his head. “Now Alexondra, we have offered you no violence. We would not dare attack the Demon Council.”
My palms itched with the need to physically manifest my magic. Plus I just really wanted to light this guy on fire. “If you don’t want any violence, then stop trying to move around without me noticing. I came here for Allison. Now where is she?”
“And what of the demon, Nix, is it? You search for her as well?” He didn’t take another step forward, but I felt as if he was looming over me. I’d never met a vampire who could perform actual mind tricks, but it seemed I’d finally gotten lucky.
“Do you have her?” I nearly cursed at the hitch in my voice. I looked to Ethan, who was being absolutely no help at all.
He smiled, not nervous in the slightest. “You asked us here as backup, Ms. Meyers.”
Great, I was actually in charge for once, so I’d better start acting like it. I took a step forward, closing the distance between me and Stanos, though it took all of my willpower to do so. I summoned a flame in my palm. “Look, buddy, I know you took Nix, I know you had Jason attacked, and I know you’ve been working with the demons who stole the travel spheres.” I bit my tongue. Probably shouldn’t have mentioned those in front of Ethan. Oh well. I kept my eyes on Stanos. “My point is, I’m pretty tired of your crap. Now tell me where Allison and Nix are, or I’m going to light all of you on fire.”
Stanos stepped closer. Way too close. He leaned down near my shoulder. His breath stank of fresh blood, and I couldn’t help but wonder who he’d been feeding on. “Meet with me alone, Alexondra, and I will return them both to you unharmed. There are things we must discuss that are meant for your ears alone.” He lowered his voice enough that some of the vampires in the room might not even hear. “Your father would have wanted you to hear me out.”
I stepped back like I’d been bitten. Suddenly the room was just a blur of movement. I still had the flame in my palm, but I couldn’t see anything clear enough to throw it. I might hit Ethan or one of the other demons. Something grazed my side, tugging at my coat.
As quickly as the motion began, it ended, and I was suddenly alone in a room with just Ethan and the three demons.
“Well crap. I didn’t expect that to happen.”
Ethan gave me a thoroughly annoyed look. “Let’s get out of here. We won’t find them again.”
I stuck my hands into my coat pockets. My fingers grazed a folded piece of paper on the side where I’d felt something tug at the fabric during the chaos. It seemed Stanos or one of the other vampires had slipped me a note. I kept my hands in my pockets, but didn’t pull out the paper. “Why don’t you think we’ll find them? They have to be in this house somewhere.”
Ethan sucked his teeth. “Each of those vampires was just as old as Stanos. If ancient vampires do not want to be found, they will not be found. And if your friend was in this house previously, she is no longer.” He turned and headed toward the stairs, followed by Legs, Chuckles, and Mouse.
I hurried after them. “You don’t know for sure she isn’t hidden somewhere in the house. We have to look.”
“Look around if you please,” Ethan said as he reached the top of the stairs, “but you will not find her. You heard Stanos, he wants to speak with you.” He waited at the top of the stairs for the rest of us, then stood regarding me. “What was the final thing he said? It seemed to surprise you.”
“Just that if I cared about Allison, next time I’d meet him alone,” I lied.
Ethan stared at me for several heartbeats. It was difficult not to squirm under his gaze.
“Very well,” he decided. “Call me if you find out anything useful, but do not call again for backup if you’re just going to waste my time. This was obviously a meeting intended for you, and you alone.”
He held up a hand to cut me off, then pulled something out of his coat pocket. He extended it to me.
Realizing what it was, I took the cell phone from his hand, then observed it. “Um, no offense, but no one uses flip phones anymore.”
“Get rid of your personal phone. Use that the call me, and only that. Ancient vampires have many tricks.”
I furrowed my brow. “What, you think he’s going to use his mind powers to hack into my cell phone and find you?”
Ethan frowned. “No, I think he might threaten someone to hack into your GPS to follow you, and I don’t relish the thought of an ambush waiting for me upon my next visit. Leave your personal phone underground, and just use that.” He gestured to the phone in my hand. “I’ll give you a new one next week.”
I wanted to argue, but he snapped his fingers. He and the three other demons disappeared as if they’d never been, leaving me alone in the creepy vampire house. I almost thought about waiting around to see if Stanos would come back and talk to me now that I was alone, but thought better of it. He obviously didn’t want to talk in front of the Demon Council, so if the meeting were to happen, it wouldn’t be somewhere they knew about.
I looked around my dark surroundings. Ethan was right. Allison wasn’t here, and I’d have to see Stanos again, alone, if I wanted to get her back.
I found my way back to the front door and went outside, wondering why things always had to get more complicated. You’d think it would be easy. Get in, fight the bad guys, then get out. Yet the bad guys were always throwing me for a loop, and sometimes I wasn’t even sure who the bad guys were. Maybe they were all bad guys. Maybe putting two sets of bad guys in the same room had just canceled everything out.
I walked down the driveway toward the gate. I guessed the only thing to do was gather the good guys instead, and just hope I didn’t get any of them killed in the process.
Once I was safe back in Devin’s car, I tossed Ethan’s cell phone into the console, then pulled the note out of my coat pocket. On it was just an address I didn’t recognize, time—midnight of course— and a date, tomorrow. I stared at it for a moment, wondering what on earth Stanos could want with me, then put it back in my pocket. I reached for my cell phone, which I had no intention of leaving in the underground. It buzzed just as I grabbed it.
I looked at the screen, revealing Jason’s number, then answered. “Where are you? Did you manage to follow us?”
“Yes,” Jason’s voice answered, “and you’re not going to believe this, but Chase sensed something as soon as we arrived.”
A knock on my window nearly startled me out of my skin. I whipped around, but it was only Jason, still holding his cell phone to his ear.
I hung up my phone and rolled down the window. “You’ll make a girl die of fright sneaking up like that.”
He slid his phone into the front pocket of his flannel. “Chase sensed ghosts, but they started moving as soon as we arrived. I let him take the car to track them so I could stay behind to make sure you were safe.”
“He’s tracking them on his own?” I started the ignition. “Get in.”
Jason was in the passenger seat in a flash and I started backing down the driveway, looking for a point to turn around. Jason held his phone between us as it rang Chase’s number.
Chase didn’t answer.
I found a place to turn around, then sped down the driveway. “That idiot. He shouldn’t have gone alone, it could be a trap.”
“Or it could be his brother.”
I clenched the steering wheel. “His brother is dead, and Allison and Nix might soon be too if I don’t meet with Stanos.”
“He wasn’t there?”
I debated showing him the note in my pocket, but he’d never let me meet Stanos alone if he knew where the meeting was. “He was there all right, and he didn’t tell us a damn useful thing. He claims Allison is alive, but he’s not letting her go until I meet with him alone.”
We reached the end of the drive, and I didn’t know which way to turn. “Call Chase again.”
“Why would an ancient vampire want to meet with you alone?”
I clenched my jaw. It was only okay when I risked my life recklessly, I didn’t want Chase doing it. “I won’t know until I meet with him, now call Chase again.”
He called. Seconds ticked by as the phone rang on speaker. My shoulders sagged when Chase finally answered. “You guys need to get down here,” he whispered, then rattled off an address.
I looked to Jason to make sure he’d remember it, because I forgot it a second after Chase said it.
He nodded, handed me his phone, then grabbed mine to type it in.
I turned my attention back to Jason’s phone. “We’re on our way, now care to tell us why were going to this mystery place?” Following the commands of the GPS Jason had opened on my phone, I turned right onto the adjacent street in the direction of the nearest highway exit.
“I can’t be sure,” Chase’s voice answered. “It doesn’t make any sense, but I’d know the feel of ghosts like this anywhere. The only demon I know who can control them is Sam.”
I drove faster than was smart down the quiet street. “Sam is dead. His body was found. It can’t be him.”
“Well then the vampires are working with another demon just like him. Either way, you need to get down here, and bring your demon backup.”
I thought of Ethan’s annoyed expression as I turned onto the highway. “No, no demon backup until I know what we’re going into. We’ll just come and observe for a while, see if we recognize anyone.”
“I’ll see you here. Park where you see Jason’s car, I’ll look for you.”
I nodded, though he couldn’t see it. “We’ll be there soon, and don’t you dare go into that house. If we think Allison is there, we’ll call the demons and let them risk their necks.”
He hung up without saying goodbye. Devin really was a bad influence on everyone.
I forced myself to go just over the speed limit down the highway. Wouldn’t do to get a ticket and get delayed further just to save a few minutes.
Jason was silent for the start of the drive, then finally spoke. “Do you really think it could be Sam?”
I shook my head as the GPS told us to take the next exit. “No, I think Sam is dead. If anything, this is a trap.”
“I just wish I knew what Stanos wanted with you, but I guess it’s better that he wants you alive and not dead.”
I exited the highway, then took the next left. “I wish I could say he felt the same way about you, and about Allison.”
His hand landed on my knee, an old gesture. “We’ll find her, Xoe.”
“I’ve been too late before.” I’d been too late to save my dad, and I held no illusions that Stanos would be careful with Allison. He’d find a way to meet with me whether she was alive or dead, she was just an easy opportunity to get me to cooperate.
I took another turn, following the dim lights of the peaceful neighborhood. We drove past houses filled with families living their peaceful lives. Too bad that type of life would never happen for me.
Eventually we left the neighborhood behind and entered a remote forested area. “Of course it’s in the woods,” I muttered. “It can never be in a nice, well-lit place.”
Jason laughed. “That’s simply what you get when you deal with creatures of the night.”
It was something I knew all too well. Jason’s phone buzzed, its dim light illuminating the interior of the car.
He checked it. “It’s Devin. I was supposed to check in.”
I eased my foot off the gas, then turned off the headlights as I spotted Jason’s parked car. “Don’t answer it, I don’t want them all rushing down here.”
“They should at least know where we are in case we go missing.”
I sighed. “Okay, maybe you have a point, but let him know we’re just observing. If there’s going to be a fight, I’m calling the demons, not the wolves.”
Jason answered and relayed my message to Devin as I parked the car. I leaned forward toward the windshield, scanning the woods for Chase. I could see the outline of a small home in the moonlight, but no lights were on inside.
I opened the door and stepped out of the car, still searching for Chase. The street and the surrounding woods were utterly still.
Jason got out of the SUV and came around to my side. “You wait here. I’ll find him and bring him back to you.”
I nodded, though I didn’t like it. Jason ran off before I could think of an argument.
I had every intention of being nice and patient, but whispering off to my right caught my attention. It was opposite the direction Jason had gone.
I ducked down, hiding behind the tire of Devin’s SUV. The whispers continued. I was pretty sure they hadn’t noticed me, though maybe they’d seen Jason running off.
The whispers got closer.
I waited until they reached the street. “Whose vehicles are these?” a female voice asked.
Another female voice replied, “Does it matter? Let’s just find Nix and get out of here.”
“I’m not sure,” the first voice said, clearly just on the other side of the SUV. “We don’t know how many vampires could be in there.”
“It doesn’t matter, I can take them all out. We just have to be quick.”
It was then that I lost any doubt of who these two whisperers were. I stood, spotting them across the hood. “You know there are probably other demons in there too. If you rush in you’re going to get yourselves killed.”
Rose and Mel both turned toward me, horror clear in their expressions. They were both dressed all in black, like cliche spies.
“Don’t look at me like that. I’m not that scary.”
“She’s here to protect Nix,” Mel hissed.
I leaned my elbows on the hood. “No, actually I’m here to find Allison. How did you find this place?”
Mel simply glared, but Rose answered, “I scraped some metal from that blade. You know I don’t need much to track a demon.”
So Nix really was here. Interesting. “So what? You thought you’d just charge right over, kill Nix, and get off unscathed.”
The witches both shrugged. “Pretty much,” Rose answered. They both whirled around as Jason and Chase jogged out of the woods behind them.
Mel turned around to glare daggers at me. “You may be a demon, but don’t get in our way. I can take you.”
“I doubt that,” Jason commented as he walked past her around the hood of the SUV. He reached my side. “This whole area reeks of vampires. I think this might be the actual lair, or at least one of them. And Chase thinks Sam might be here. He can still sense the ghosts.”
“I thought he was dead,” Rose and Mel said in unison.
“Keep your voices down,” I chided. I turned to Chase. “What do you want to do? If we’re going in there, I’m calling for demon backup.”
Mel charged around the SUV. “Don’t you dare. You’re not calling any more demons in here to protect Nix.”
Chase stepped between her and me, facing Mel. “Actually, the demons she’d be calling would likely imprison her to await trial, but I don’t think we should call them just yet. I don’t want to risk Allison’s life by charging in blindly. Jason and I will sneak in and try to find her.”
I lifted my eyebrows at his back. “Like hell you will.”
“You don’t need to do that,” Mel argued. “I can knock out any vamps in a thirty foot radius. They won’t stay out for long, but long enough for you to find your friend, and for us to find Nix.”
I didn’t argue with her about Nix. One demon at a time, as it were. “Okay, new plan. We won’t call the demon backup yet. Mel,” I looked to her around Chase, “you take out the vamps. I’ll go in the front and distract any demons inside. Rose, Jason, and Chase,” I looked to each of them, “you find Nix and Allison.” I hoped my silent eye contact would be enough for them to catch my drift. One of them could get Nix out before the witches killed her.
Rose seemed unsure, but Mel nodded her agreement. “I’ll need to get near the house to make sure I get them all.” She glanced at Jason. “You might want to be far away for this first part.”
“Alright,” I sighed. “I suppose it makes sense for you and I to go together. Everyone else, be ready.”
Mel didn’t wait for me before she started walking. I had to jog after her, though I had half a mind to let her ass get killed by vamps on the way. She should have known better, even if she could handle a few vampires, because she was forgetting one important fact.
If the vamps don’t get you, the demons will.
Mel rushed on stupidly ahead of me. She might be able to disable vampires with a chant and a thought, but she obviously hadn’t dealt with a lot of them. At this rate, they’d hear her coming from a mile away. I pushed myself to run faster, then grabbed her arm, spinning her around.
Her eyes widened. I’m not as strong as a vampire or werewolf, but I’m far stronger than your average human girl.
“You better slow down, you’ll get yourself killed before you can do your little chant.”
She tugged her arm free of my grip. “I know what I’m doing.”
I grabbed her again. “No, you don’t. I may not particularly like you, but I’m only saying this to keep you alive. So stay by my side and keep quiet.” I let go and walked past her, turning my attention fully to our surroundings.
She followed silently behind me.
The house ahead was in even worse shape than the old Victorian I’d visited earlier that night. Hopefully Stanos and the other ancient vampires weren’t here. I wasn’t sure if Mel’s spell would work on them. She didn’t speak or try to take charge as we neared the house, but I knew it wouldn’t last for long. She was even more foolhardy than I was.
I stopped and hid behind a tree near the street.
Mel’s shoulder brushed mine.
I glanced at her. “This is as close as we can get without alerting anyone. Our only advantage is that they don’t know we’re coming, and I’d like to keep it that way.”
She nodded, then closed her eyes. Her voice went deeper with her chant, Latin I guessed, but I’ve never been good with other languages.
I waited while she chanted. I could feel magic curling off her, like twisting tendrils of smoke. It made me uneasy. Most witches needed a coven to perform any meaningful magic. They needed tools, ritual, and the combined power of a group. Mel was different. Hell, Mel might not even be entirely human. Too bad I didn’t have anyone to ask about it, though maybe Abel would know.
Mel’s breath hissed out at the end of her chant. “It’s done, they should be out, but we have to hurry. The more powerful ones won’t stay out for long.”
“I’ll go first. If there are demons inside I’m more likely to survive their attacks.” I stepped out around the tree and marched toward the house. The time for stealthiness was over, we needed to get in, get Nix and hopefully Allison, and get out.
I spotted the shadowy outlines of Jason, Chase, and Rose heading toward the back of the house. At least I hoped it was them. No time to find out.
I reached the front door and tested the doorknob. It was loose, the screws holding it in place worn over time, but also locked. I lifted my foot, then kicked the door in.
Mel reached my side. “I didn’t know half-demons could be stronger than humans, physically I mean.”
“I didn’t know witches could cast powerful magics without a coven.” I didn’t wait for reply. Instead I took my cell phone out of my pocket and used the flashlight function to light my way. Stupid Ethan, the phone he gave me had no flashlight. He really expected me to be stuck with only that?
The floorboards creaked loudly under my weight, loud enough that I began to worry the floor wasn’t stable. Maybe Chase was wrong, maybe he hadn’t sensed ghosts and he’d taken us on a wild goose chase. The house seemed empty.
Mel’s “Eep!” was the only warning I had before a man dove forth out of the shadows. I could’ve sworn he hadn’t been there a moment before. My breath went out of me as we both hit the ground with me on the bottom. I grabbed on to him, summoning my magic, then the place filled with the stench of burnt flesh.
He screamed and rolled off me, running toward the edge of the room. There weren’t any doors that I could see, but the shadows there seemed to swallow him.
I hurried to my feet, grabbing my cell phone where it had fallen before shining the light in his direction. Suddenly he was revealed.
“He can work the shadows to hide him,” I called back to Mel.
The demon looked side to side for a way to escape. He was young, with shaggy red hair, baggy pants, and a holey shirt. It seemed Stanos wasn’t above recruiting teenagers, though I suddenly realized I was above killing them.
“Things are about to go south, kid.” I gestured toward the door with my free hand. “This is your one and only get out of jail free card, but I better never see you again.”
He took one last glance around the room, then ran out the door.
Mel stormed up behind me. “He was a demon!” she hissed. “How could you just let him go?”
I snarled my lip at her. “He was just a kid, and just half demon, maybe less. The vampires probably forced him to work with them, just like they’re trying to force you.”
I bumped her shoulder as I walked past her further into the house, preparing myself for the next attack. The space wasn’t large, we wouldn’t have far to search, but I was really beginning to doubt there was anything to find. A true lair wouldn’t have just a young, inexperienced demon guarding the door. This was just like the last place. Had Stanos known I’d come here too?
I aimed the light of my phone at a noise down the end of a long hall. It illuminated Jason, behind him Rose and Chase.
He raised his hands in surrender. “No fireballs please, what happened? We heard a scuffle. A vampire ran past us out the back. He didn’t even try to fight.”
“Demon kid,” I explained as I approached. “No vamps in the front. I’m beginning to think we have the wrong place.”
Chase’s gray eyes seemed to reflect the light of my phone. “No, I still sense ghosts. Follow me, we have to be quick.”
I walked beside Jason, and Rose fell into step beside Mel as we followed Chase down another hall. It ended with a closed door. Chase kicked it in, then rushed down the dark stairs with Jason hot on his heels.
I looked at the stairs before rushing down. Of course it was a basement. There was always a basement.
I hurried down. If Sam really was alive, we had to catch him before he could escape with his ghosts.
The first person I spotted in the light of one dull, glowing bulb was Sam, alive and well.
Clearly startled, he looked to his brother and Jason, then to me. The witches he ignored. He turned to Nix, who stood beside him unharmed. “I told you I heard something.”
The two vampires, one male and one female, were silent behind them. The rest of the room was well-stocked. Three beds lined one wall. A mini fridge, camp stove, and large basin sink were along the other. A few duffel bags and some clothes were scattered about. This had clearly been a hideout for a while. Probably since Sam had first disappeared.
I moved to Chase’s side.
His entire body seemed to tremble. “Sam, what the hell is going on?”
Sam raked his fingers through his black hair, cut shorter than Chase’s. Their faces and eyes were similar, though Sam was a few years older, and a few inches shorter. His white T-shirt and black jeans were clean and he was well fed. He wasn’t a prisoner in this place. He was working with the ancient vamps.
Nix looked well too, if a little battered and bruised. She still wore the green flannel I’d last seen her in when Jason and I dropped her off.
Sam watched me more than anyone else as he backed away toward the vamps.
I lit a ball of fire in my hand. “Don’t even think about it. You were there at that house tonight where we met Stanos. Where is Allison?”
He smirked. “I’m a demon, Xoe, the most you’ll do with that is light my clothes on fire, and you’re not close enough to burn me with your hands.”
He was right, his demonic aura would protect him from my fireballs to an extent. I’d need to actually be touching him to do serious harm.
The room went cold as he summoned his ghosts. The gray and white phantom shapes swirled around him. You couldn’t really see them, not really. If you looked right at them maybe you’d see some mist, but if you looked out of the corner of your eye, the phantoms actually took shape.
Chase stepped forward. “I don’t think so. I’m owed an explanation.” He lifted his hands and the ghosts seemed to dissipate.
My jaw dropped. I knew he’d come into his powers a bit in our time apart. He’d been able to sense ghosts before that, but he could never control them. I doubted he had Sam’s level of control, but if he could stop him from escaping, it was enough.
Nix backed up, her eyes darting back and forth like a cornered animal. She’d clearly expected to escape with Sam, which meant she was working with the vampires now too.
“Was that phone call just a trick?” I asked. “You made it sound like you been kidnapped.”
“She was,” Sam explained, “just not for the reasons you might think. We want to work with the half-demons, not kill them.”
I let my flame go out. If I wasn’t throwing it right away, there was no point to maintaining it. “How about you get to telling us those reasons, though I’d primarily like to know how you could allow your brother to be framed for your murder. The Council would have killed him had he gone down for it.”
“They still might,” Chase added bitterly.
The two vampires, silent until now, looked at each other.
“I don’t think so,” I warned. “The time has come for answers. Where are you keeping Allison?”
“Stupid girl,” the woman said, her voice thick with a French accent. “We can easily cloud your mind. You cannot keep us here.”
I edged a little closer to the landing, just in case they tried to rush past me. “Yeah, maybe I can’t keep you here, but I have a feeling you fled here with these two when we showed up at the other house,” I nodded toward Sam and Nix, “and you’re probably not supposed to let them out of your sight.”
The woman’s pouty lips sealed into a tight line. She stepped back. “Hurry it up then. Stanos may want you alive, but he does not care about your friends.”
Rose and Mel were arguing quietly behind me. I turned, having a feeling they were about to do something stupid, but I was too late. Mel muttered a chant, then extended something long, thin, and covered in crystals that I could only think of as a wand toward Nix. There was no rush of light or sparks or anything you might expect from a witch’s wand, in fact you couldn’t see anything at all, but Nix screamed and crumpled to her knees.
Ignoring Nix’s screams, Sam stepped toward his brother. “This is going nowhere. I’m sorry Chase, I had no idea you would be framed for my murder. In fact, I framed someone else, just to make sure nothing happened to you. I infused a demon construct with my blood, and killed him with the knife I planted in the warehouse. It should have been a simply case. I don’t know who would want you to go down for this.”
Chase shook his head and stepped back. “I don’t care what you thought would happen. I was still going to go down for your death, and I still believed that my own brother was murdered. How could you do this to me?”
Nix had stopped screaming, reduced to a panting puddle on the floor. The vampires stood back and watched quietly.
I stepped toward Chase and put a hand on his arm before he could throttle his brother. Not that I didn’t want him to throttle his brother, but I had a question to ask first. I looked to Sam. “You were trying to frame Nix, weren’t you? You ran off with her money, and wanted to make sure she’d never be able to figure out you were still alive, so you planted that bloody knife in the warehouse. You knew it could be tracked back to her.”
Sam rolled his eyes at me. “Do you have to always be such a pain? I tell you, the day you and my brother broke up was a wonderful day.”
My body seemed to move of its own volition as I marched right up and punched him in the jaw.
He rocked back from the force of the blow, then dabbed at a bit of blood at the corner of his lip. “I see you still haven’t managed to control your temper any better either.”
“No. It’s gotten worse. Now where is Allison?”
He lowered his hand from his lip. “You’ll have to speak with Stanos to find her. I don’t know where the vamps took her.”
Mel was beginning to chant again. Nix still hadn’t managed to stand.
I pointed a finger at Mel. “Mel, hit her again and I will light you on fire. The adults are talking right now, so you are just going to have to wait your turn.”
“You were trying to frame me?” Nix rasped, her pained gaze on Sam.
Sam didn’t even have the grace to look the tiniest bit guilty. “You were an easy target. I really didn’t expect Xoe to take an interest in you. That put a kink in my plans.”
“That’s enough talking,” the male vampire cut in. “Stanos will tell the demon what he wants her to know.” His gaze flicked upward. “I think someone else is here.”
“Sorry, brother,” Sam said just before he cocked back his fist.
Jason was just a blur of movement, shoving Sam aside before he could hit Chase. All hell broke loose. I tried to track the ancient vampires’ movements, but couldn’t follow them. Before I knew it, the two vamps and Nix were gone.
Sam and Jason tussled on the floor for a moment, then Jason pinned him.
Sam stopped struggling. “You don’t understand.” Panic strained his voice. He turned his head toward Chase. “If the Council finds me, I’m done for. They know I stole their travel spheres. That’s a death sentence in and of itself. If they find out I’m working with Stanos—”
Footsteps sounded at the top of the stairs behind us. I doubted it was the vamps and Nix coming back. I wasn’t even the least bit surprised when Ethan, Legs, and Mouse entered the room. I didn’t know where Chuckles was, but couldn’t say that I missed him.
“Damn it,” Sam cursed.
Jason climbed off of him while Mel tugged Rose to the back corner of the basement, away from the newly arrived demons.
Ethan stepped into the room, straightening his suit coat, though it didn’t need it. “Witches, werewolves, vampires, and demons. You really do get around, Ms. Meyers.”
I put my hands on my hips. “There aren’t any werewolves here. How did you find us?”
Mouse and Legs stood behind him like double shadows. “You were supposed to call me when you had another lead.”
I stared at him, waiting for an answer. Sam had climbed to his feet, but he hadn’t summoned any ghosts to carry him away. Chase might’ve been stopping him, but I thought it more likely that one of the Demon Council was doing it. I knew even after everything, Chase wouldn’t want his brother to die.
Ethan sighed. “Fine, I’m sure you’ll figure it out eventually. I tracked you through the phone I gave you. You should have been honest with us, it won’t do for you to withhold secrets from the Council.”
“Well it doesn’t really matter now considering you scared the vamps and they took Nix.” I hiked my thumb in Sam’s direction. “I doubt we’ll be getting much more information out of this one.”
Ethan smiled a truly frightening smile. “No matter, we have all we need.” He gestured toward Sam. “Apprehend him.”
Legs and Mouse stepped around Ethan.
Sam lifted his hands and backed away. “Please, Chase, they’ll kill me. You have to let me go.”
“I’m not the one stopping you.” Chase’s voice was pained.
Ethan laughed. “My dear demons, no one escapes the Council for long. Ms. Myers is the only one who seems to understand that.” He glanced at the witches huddling in the corner. “You two, leave now, unless you want to be killed for hearing too much.”
Rose tugged on Mel’s hand, but Mel resisted. “We are not leaving until we find out where Nix went. She deserves to die for what she’s done.”
Rage washed across Ethan’s normally bemused expression. It was the first real emotion I’d seen from him. “Do you think it wise to threaten demon lives in front of the Council? The only reason you still live is because I imagine one of our own,” he extended a hand toward me, “would like you to remain alive. But Ms. Myers’ protection only extends so far.”
This time when Rose tugged, Mel went, but she glared at us all as Rose dragged her past Ethan and up the stairs.
Once we were witch-free, Ethan turned his attention back to me. “Now, would you like lenience administered to the sphere-stealer? Or is our business here concluded?”
Sam looked to me with Legs and Mouse on either side of him, but it was the pleading look in Chase’s eyes that did me in. He would never forgive himself if Sam died because of him, even though Sam hadn’t paid him the same courtesy.
Jason stood back, smartly staying out of demon business. Honestly, I was surprised Ethan hadn’t made him leave too.
As I looked from Sam to Chase, I realized exactly what had happened. I sucked my teeth and cocked my hip as I turned back to Ethan. “You were the one who framed Chase, weren’t you? He said one of the Council’s Sanguis Demons found the murder weapon in his apartment, but there was no murder weapon because Sam is still alive.”
Ethan laughed. “I knew I was right about you. You’ll be a valuable asset.”
“You used me to find Sam. You knew he wasn’t really dead, so you framed his brother, my ex, knowing he would come to me for help. That first demon I saw at the warehouse, then again at the inn. He was one of yours, wasn’t he?”
He nodded. “I sent Arturos to keep an eye on you. To make sure you were doing as we wished, and finding the clues we’d hoped you’d find.”
“And he went back and burned the warehouse after we’d seen what we needed to see?”
“But why?” I pressed. “You already knew I’d be helping the wolves with the vampires and rogue demons. You already had what you wanted.”
He strolled further into the room. “Ah, but I didn’t quite have it. I didn’t have a contract signed in blood, but it is forbidden for us to use illegal means to force a contract.”
I furrowed my brow. “You had me, then you lost me.”
“I could not simply threaten an innocent demon to force you into signing a contract. The Council holds Demon Law above all else. Chase would have never gone to trial, he would’ve never been executed, but Sam on the other hand,” he paused for dramatic effect, “his crimes are real. I am within my legal rights to apprehend him, I just needed to find him first. He will go to trial, and he will be executed. Only through the pardon of a contracted member of the Demon Council may his punishment be lessened.”
Manipulative bastard. He knew Chase wouldn’t want Sam killed, and he knew I wouldn’t want to hurt Chase. Just how long had he been watching me? For how many years?
A shiver went down my spine. It didn’t really matter how long he’d been watching, because he totally had me. “Let me guess, I’m the only person who would care enough to lessen his sentence, and to do that, I have to sign your contract.”
“Very good, I was beginning to think you weren’t as smart as I’d originally thought.”
Jason moved to my side. “Don’t do this, Xoe. Sam deserves to pay for his crimes. He would have gotten Chase killed, just like he got your father killed.”
“I wouldn’t have been killed,” Chase interrupted.
Jason glared at him. “But Sam didn’t know that.”
“He’s still my brother.”
I held up a hand to stop their bickering. Honestly, if I was only considering my feelings, I’d let Sam die and I wouldn’t lose sleep over it. Who knew how many lives he’d ruined? Not to mention he knew exactly the consequences he risked in stealing the spheres.
“Where’s the damn contract?” I grumbled.
Jason put his hand on my arm. “Xoe, no. Don’t let them force you.”
I looked to Chase. “Is this what you want me to do?”
He swatted at a tear on his cheek. “I know I cannot ask it of you. A contract with the Council is forever. There’s no going back.” Another tear slid down his face.
Damn it all, I hated tears. I turned back to Ethan. “I’ll ask one more time. Where’s the damn contract?”
Ethan smiled the proverbial crocodile’s smile. He had me. I knew it, he knew it, we all knew it. The only question was, now that he had me, just what did he plan to do with me?
After a thorough search, we left the lair behind, thoroughly defeated. No Allison, no Nix, and no answers except the ones I wished I had realized sooner. If I’d only refused that stupid phone from Ethan, we could’ve figured out what to do with Sam on our own, and I wouldn’t have signed Ethan’s contract in blood. Now I was an official, full-fledged member of the Demon Council, something my father had wanted me to avoid at all costs.
We reached Jason’s car and Devin’s SUV to find Mel and Rose waiting for us. Rose’s compact car was now parked behind Devin’s vehicle.
Spotting us, Mel stepped out of the driver’s seat. “We are going to track Nix again, you can’t stop us.”
I tugged Devin’s keys out of my jeans pocket and unlocked the SUV doors. “Have fun getting murdered by ancient vampires.”
Mel approached, blocking my way into the SUV. She crossed her arms. “I can handle vampires.”
I raised an eyebrow at her. “In case you didn’t notice, your spell didn’t do jack to those two old ones. They’re too strong for you to handle, but if you want to try, I mean, you’re pretty annoying, I’m not going to stop you.”
“Xoe,” Jason interrupted, “we should get back to Devin, let him know what happened.”
Rose walked up to Mel and tugged on her sleeve. “It’s time to let it go, Mel.”
Mel turned wide eyes to her. “Nix killed your sister. She destroyed your family.”
Rose threw up her arms. “Do you not understand that we almost died tonight! The Demon Council could have us killed with a single thought, and it wouldn’t take those ancient vampires much more effort.”
Mel’s jaw clenched. She still hadn’t moved out of my way. “We can’t back down to the vampires. I won’t become their slave.”
Rose turned to me as she said, “I know when to admit I’m out of my league. And I know not to make a true enemy out of the only member of the Demon Council who cares if I live or die.” She turned back to Mel. “We can’t keep making enemies just to avenge my family. Nix will get what’s coming to her one way or another.”
Mel’s shoulders slumped. “It’s your choice what to do with Nix, but I won’t ally myself with demons.”
I cleared my throat. “No one is asking you to. Personally, I wouldn’t mind if I never had to see you again.”
She leaned against the SUV. “The feeling is mutual.”
I gestured toward the vehicle. “And yet, you’re still blocking me from leaving.”
Mel pushed off the SUV, then stormed past Rose.
Rose bit her lip, despite the new hair and the new angry lover, she reminded me more of the teenager I’d known than ever. “I’m sorry I let it go this far. I’m sorry my need for vengeance helped push you into this situation.”
“Not that I’m not happy to hear it, but what changed your mind?”
“Sam might not have killed your father, but his actions led to his death.” She looked down at her feet, then forced her eyes upward. “Yet you indebted yourself to the Demon Council to spare his life.”
I shrugged. “I’ve never been praised for making good decisions. I figured I might as well keep it up.”
Rose nodded. “I’ll let go of what Nix did to me, but not because I’ve forgiven her, or I don’t think she deserves to die. I’ll let it go, because you’ve been a friend to me despite our differences, and I know if I’d been the one in danger from the Council, you would’ve saved me too.”
I wasn’t quite sure what to say, so I didn’t say anything. Mel was already waiting in the driver’s seat of their car.
Rose patted my shoulder. “Be careful, Xoe.”
I rolled my eyes and smiled. “I keep telling you guys, I’m always careful.”
I watched her leave, then turned back to Chase and Jason. I looked to Jason first. “Do you mind driving by yourself back to Devin’s?”
He gave me a tight-lipped smile. “Of course not, I imagine you have a lot to talk about.” He glanced at Chase. “I’ll see you both back there.” He walked toward his car, leaving Chase and I alone.
I gave Chase a cool look. “Shall we?”
He managed a small smile, then walked around to the passenger seat.
As I opened the driver’s side door, I debated what I’d say to him. Could I really blame him for wanting to save his brother? Would I have done the same if the roles were reversed? I wasn’t really sure about the latter. I’d never had a brother. I’d had an evil grandmother once, and I’d been just fine with her dying, but I suspected the situation was a bit different. I knew if I had needed him to join the Council for someone I cared about he would have done it. He wouldn’t have refused me, just like I didn’t refuse him. I knew he’d done the only thing he could think of given the situation, but I still wasn’t sure I could forgive him for it. He’d altered my life forever.
Question: How do you forgive someone for ruining your life?
Answer: Maybe you don’t. Maybe they just have to live with their own decisions. Maybe he actually had to suffer a consequence, which was nice, because in that, at least I wasn’t alone.
The following evening found me at the address listed on Stanos’ note. By this point I was pretty sure he didn’t want to kill me, so I went alone. I’d claimed I was going to the Council to meet with Ethan, leaving behind Jason, Chase, and the wolves to continue the search for Allison on their own. I could only hope they wouldn’t get themselves into much trouble while I was away, but considering the number one baddie was meeting with me, they should be alright.
I leaned my back against the home’s brick exterior wall. I was early.
I looked up at the moon, thinking of the mess I was in. Chase was at least safe, and Sam was in custody. While he’d still go to trial, he wouldn’t be killed. He would just serve out his sentence behind bars.
Movement to my right alerted me to Stanos’ presence. Audrey was at his side, her red hair covered by the hood of her green coat. Somehow, I wasn’t surprised to see her. Someone had betrayed our plan to the vampires the night Allison was taken. It made sense that it was her.
I watched them approach. “I’m here, now where’s Allison?”
Stanos inclined his head. “She’s being returned to your wolves as we speak.”
I pushed away from the wall. “Don’t lie to me. Where is she?”
He stopped walking a few paces away from me. “I told you she would be returned once you met with me.”
“And what’s to stop me from leaving now that she’s safe?”
He smiled. His cheeks were so gaunt, the expression looked painful. “I have faith that your curiosity will compel you to hear me out.”
I crossed my arms. “You’re killing people in Shelby. You had your goons attack Jason. You’re gathering half-demons. And you’re framing werewolves for vampire murders on the East Coast. What else do I need to know?”
He put his hands in the pockets of his black dress coat. “I knew your father for very long time.”
Yeah, he knew I would stay to listen, and he knew that was why. “I doubt the two of you were friends. He wasn’t really into the killing of innocents.”
He removed one hand from his pocket and stroked his chin as his lips curled into another painful to look at smile. “No, he was not, but he was also exceedingly pragmatic. More so than his daughter, methinks.”
“A war is coming,” he explained. “This world is going to change. The vampires and demons are stronger than the witches and wolves. It is only natural that we should rise to the top. The Demon Council will stand in our way, but they will not be able to match the strength I have gathered. It would be wise for you to join us.”
I wrapped my arms more tightly around myself. “Yeah, no thanks.”
He stepped toward me, and I stepped back. “You will not have a choice in this, Alexondra. You may value your friendships, but above all, you are a survivor. Just like me.”
I looked up the long bony length of him. “I’d say I’m nothing like you, but some of us don’t want to be walking clichés.”
He laughed. “I see you have at least inherited your father’s sense of humor. Do you still have his old books and journals?”
“How do you know about those?” I did still have them, but I hadn’t mustered the heart to ever look at them. They sat gathering dust on the shelf in my dad’s study.
“Search them. There is a leather journal I believe you’ll find quite enlightening.”
I shifted my weight to my other foot, I was getting antsy to get back and check if Allison had actually been delivered. Just then, my phone buzzed in my pocket. My real phone. Ethan’s phone had met a quick death under the tire of Devin’s SUV.
Stanos gestured toward the phone buzzing in my pocket. “Answer it. Assure yourself that your friend is alive and well.”
“Xoe,” Jason’s voice said as soon as I answered. “Allison is back. She doesn’t know why, but the vamps just dropped her off. Did you have anything to do with this?”
I kept my eyes on Stanos and Audrey. “I’ll explain later.”
I hung up the phone.
“I always keep my word.” Stanos stepped back. “Now go home and sort through your father’s things. There’s no point in us speaking further until you do.”
“Now wait just a—”
He was already gone.
I turned my attention to Audrey. “You played us. You told him our plan. That was how he knew to have Allison taken.”
Audrey shrugged. She at least seemed embarrassed about the whole situation. “I told you he was blackmailing me. I couldn’t risk being handed to the Council. At least with Stanos, I have the illusion of freedom.”
I stuck my hands in my coat pockets and rocked back and forth on my heels. “I suppose this makes us enemies.”
“It doesn’t have to.”
“Yes it does. Where will you be when the full moon comes?”
She looked down at her feet. “As far on the sidelines of this war as Stanos will allow.” She looked back up. “I am sorry, you know.”
I shook my head. “Doesn’t matter.”
She smiled softly. “I suppose it doesn’t.” With that, she walked past me, then continued on down the street.
Maybe she had a car coming to pick her up, but she could walk all the way back to her inn for all I cared. I wasn’t about to help her out.
Grumbling to myself, I walked toward the back of the house. I’d had to take a cab there to avoid the suspicions that would come with borrowing someone’s car. Now that I’d seen the house, I could travel back at a later date. Not that I’d likely need to.
Out of sight from the street, I closed my eyes and envisioned Devin’s driveway. Tomorrow, I’d go back to obeying the Demon Code. Tonight, I was tired, and Ethan and the rest of the Council could suck it.
The next morning I was back in the underground. After returning to Devin’s to make sure everyone was safe and accounted for, and to make sure Allison hadn’t been tortured—she hadn’t—I’d gone home. After an awkward goodbye, Chase had returned to his apartment to continue on with his life.
I sat on the floor in my dad’s study, next to my cup of coffee. Dory was in the kitchen making us a late breakfast. I sifted through various books and journals, wondering what the heck I was looking for. I doubted I’d find anything labeled as obvious as, Journal of That One Time I Met Stanos the Vampire.
I set one journal aside, then took up another. This one was held closed by a piece of twine wrapped around a decorative metal clasp inlaid in the leather cover. I unwound the twine, stiff with age, then opened the journal. Sheets of paper, yellow and thinned by time, fluttered to the carpet.
I picked one up just as Dory entered the study behind me. “Whatcha got there, Poptart?”
I examined the paper, feeling uneasy. I was pretty sure I already knew what it was, but I forced myself to look, holding my breath as I read it.
I lowered the paper to my side. “It’s a contract. It’s a full book of contracts my father made with mortals.”
Dory knelt by my side. “But don’t only bad demons make contracts with mortals?”
“Pretty much.” I felt numb. Full-blooded demons would often make contracts with mortals who summoned them. Most often the mortals were witches, and things never turned out well for them. Demons would use the mortals to gather power, wealth, or even for a toehold in the aboveground world. I’d always viewed demon contracts as purely evil.
Dory picked up one of the sheets of paper. “Is this what that vampire wanted you to find?” She started sifting through the remaining contracts.
“I don’t know. Maybe.” I really didn’t want to look at the contracts. My dad had been mostly demon, but he did have enough human blood to venture to the mortal world. He shouldn’t have needed to make contracts.
“Look,” Dory said, holding up one of the contracts.
I took it from her, then scanned the lines of ancient text. The bottom line was signed, Stanos Adamache. Seeing the name, I read the contract more thoroughly with Dory reading along over my shoulder.
I read the whole thing over twice, before lowering it to my lap.
Dory pursed her sparkly lips. “Did I read that wrong, or did your dad turn that man into a vampire?”
“Demons don’t make vampires.” My voice sounded hollow and far away.
“Well I think your father did, Pumpkin. But I still don’t understand why.”
I took my cup of coffee and stood, leaving the contract on the floor. “We’re not going to find the answer here. Stanos wanted me to read that so I would seek him out again.”
The front doorbell rang. Grateful for the distraction, I left the study and went down the hall to the front door and answered it. Chase stood outside, looking freshly showered beneath his green coat and jeans, but not at all well-rested.
I stepped back, making room for him to come inside. “I must admit, I’m surprised to see you so soon.”
He stepped over the threshold and shut the door behind him. “You think I’d just get you involved with the Demon Council and leave it at that?”
I took a sip of my cooling coffee, feeling overwhelmingly tired. “It’s done. Forget about it.”
He placed his hand on my shoulder. “I know what it cost you to save Sam, and I know you did it for me, even though I didn’t deserve it. I want you to know, that as long as you’re in this, I’m in this. I want to help you with anything the Demon Council asks of you, and if there are risks, I want to take them. I know I can’t make up for you having to sign that contract, but I’ll do whatever I can to ease that burden.”
“Well,” I said, thinking over his offer, “I’m not going to turn you down.”
“You act as if I’m usually terribly unagreeable.”
He gave me a very knowing look.
“Come on,” I gestured toward the kitchen. “Dory made breakfast. We’ll go over your