When she came to a stop, her back and legs screamed in pain. She sat up, shoving boxes off her, and rubbed her head.
No alarm sounded. Good, her powers were holding and still interfering. The last thing she needed was the police. If they came, it’d only make her job that much harder.
She really wanted to kill this demon, but that wouldn’t help her one bit with VIPER. All she had to do was contain him, then call Sen, who would teleport the demon to headquarters, where they could extract answers. She didn’t know how Sen interrogated, but Tzader and Quinn said the word was Sen could get answers out of hell.
All she had to do was hand him the Birrn. To do that, she’d have to blind the thing.
The demon roared and pounded the last few steps across the parking lot, then jumped up to the loading dock. Now up to full size, his head just cleared the fifteen-foot-high opening left by the wrecked loading door.
The inked designs continued down one half of his body, but now she could see the shapes better. The scrolled lines were a Celtic weave …
What the …?
Birrns were Nigerian in origin. There shouldn’t be anything Celtic on him.
On the other hand, there were millions of demons from all over the world. Sometimes things weren’t listed, and as she’d learned the hard way, many research websites sucked.
Not wanting to think about that, she had to stop him from getting too close so she could set up for her attack. Birrn demons were dangerous, but stupid.
Best of all, they hated to be mocked.
“You don’t even know why you were sent here, do you? Poor little bait demon.” She laughed sarcastically, slowly moving up to sit, then sliding forward until she was on her knees. He’d think she was acting submissive.
Must have worked.
He stopped to answer, probably because he couldn’t walk and think at the same time. “Do, too.”
“Yeah, right.” She rolled her eyes. “If you knew, you’d say. But you don’t. Forget I even asked. I didn’t mean to insult your lack of intelligence.”
“I do too know.” The demon sounded as though he was going to pout, which would be funny if not for the jagged teeth and claws curving out of thick fingers.
“Awww, don’t feel bad, little demon.” She softened her voice to one she’d use with a three-year-old. “Nobody expects a Birrn to know why they do anything. You’re only a gofer demon for someone else.” She smiled good-naturedly, keeping his attention on her face and not the subtle movement of her hand to her dagger.
Blind a Birrn and he was at your mercy.
His horns dropped low over his eyes when he frowned. “I do know. Looking for the Alterant.”
Those words jolted her. Who was after her?
More to the point, why were they after her?
“Who sent you?”
When he shook his head, she raced through what had happened and how she’d ended up here. “Did you … know that I’d find the other Cresyl?”
Smiling seemed to be his yes, so she took his smirk as an affirmative. “Did you put a spell on the Cresyls?”
“Your master did.”
He puffed up with pride and nodded.
Feeding his ego was working, so she stroked it again. “Okay, that’s impressive, but the female Cresyl didn’t eat the human. She made the death look like a beast attack, but I doubt your master’s spell could have made her do that. Killing the human that way was clever. Had to be the Cresyl’s idea, right?”
“No. My master’s.”
That’s what she needed. If he’d tell her that, then Sen should be able to squeeze the same confession out of him. Plus the Birrn had said he was here looking for the Alterant, which confirmed someone was targeting her. Definitely not paranoid. “How’d you know to grab the two male witches to get me to come here?”
The demon’s mouth opened, then he shook his head. “No more talking.”
“But we’re getting to know each other. Who’s your boss?” She rocked back on her heels like a runner at the start line. Except she was preparing to go for his eyes instead of sprinting and hoped she hadn’t underestimated his power or overestimated hers.
He bent his head back and bellowed an unearthly howl that slammed from wall to wall, echoing through the building. Birrn demons also liked to posture. When he faced her again, his eyes glowed, red embers with yellow centers. He raised his hands and murmured words she could barely hear.
Time was up. She hoped that what she’d read about blinding a Birrn was more than some urban legend. She took three steps and leaped into the air.
Something invisible grabbed her body in midair and held her ten feet off the ground.
No one had told her a Birrn could do this.
She better not find out Tzader and Quinn knew.
Getting caught in the demon’s power wasn’t ideal, but she didn’t think he’d eat her if he was supposed to deliver her alive to someone else. If that happened, she’d meet his master … who wanted an Alterant for what?
She hoped Parcheesi, but since she couldn’t play …
The demon flipped her back and forth like he was shaking a toy. Then her body started floating toward him.
Oh, come on. …
She tried to use her telekinesis to drop a chunk of the ceiling on his head.
For once nothing happened.
She called to Tzader telepathically.
He had her powers blocked … This was bad. Very bad. The scent of burned rubber filled her nostrils. Could there not be one single demon who didn’t stink?
The demon’s power was filling the warehouse, closing in on her.
Not looking good for the home team.
Her only hope was to distract him. “Oh, I see. You just don’t know who your master is. He won’t tell you, huh? Sucks to be you. And I hope you just made up the part about looking for an Alterant. Because I’m not one.”
Her body stopped floating toward him.
“Yes, you are.”
“Nope. You got the wrong person. I’m just a witch. What’s your master going to say when you show up with a witch instead of an Alterant?”
She’d stumped him to the point of being mute. Go back to the important detail of who was hunting her. “No one important is looking for an Alterant or word would be all over the city.” She tried to shrug, but she couldn’t move her shoulders. “You’re good at what you do. You should find a master you deserve, one with a higher rank on the food chain.”
The demon had a puzzled look, as though trying to decide if telling her would win this game. “He’s powerful.”
“So you say. But I’m betting he’s so insignificant I’ve never even heard of your master.”
She might have pushed him too far with that. The pressure around her chest tightened until she could hardly breathe. Even if he didn’t mean to eat her he could crush her.
Flames licked at the corner of the Birrn’s mouth, and his eyes flared solid red. “My master is powerful,” he said so low that she almost couldn’t hear him. “He is called—”
Bright light erupted behind the demon on a loud blast.
A bolt of power shot a hole through his middle, barely missing Evalle’s feet. The invisible binding that had held her body captive fell away and she could feel the demon’s power withdrawing.
She hit the ground and stumbled backward, but kept her footing. The demon remained upright for the ten seconds it took his body to suck into itself and disintegrate into a pile of smoldering black chips that reminded her of manure … right down to the stench.
She cursed at the bad timing. She’d been a slip of a second from finding out who was directing the demon, and now she had nothing to give VIPER.
All her evidence gone into one steaming pile of demon sludge.
And she wanted blood for it.
As the smoke cleared, Evalle looked up to find a brute of a man standing where the door had been before she went through it. He held a black-and-silver weapon that looked like an oversize six-shooter with a cylinder big enough to hold six hand grenades.
He started toward her with purpose, weapon aimed straight at her chest.
Crap. It was Dr. Doom, and she was now the patient.
“Who are you?” Evalle widened her stance, ready to fight and bash in his head, since he’d destroyed her Birrn and ruined her chances for an easy alibi.
But the two most important questions bubbling through her worries were: What was that weapon he’d used to take down the demon and was he going to use it on her?
She didn’t have time for more company. Daylight would break in less than an hour, and while she had a suit in her bike that would protect her in an emergency, it wasn’t comfortable to be in anything black that covered her from head to toe during Georgia’s dog days of summer, when the temperature usually hit ninety-four degrees by 8:00 a.m.
The man walked forward with an arrogant stride. The closer he came, the more she could see of his Mack truck body, wide and bulked up beneath a black outfit that resembled an ACU—Army Combat Uniform—with Kevlar plates. His sleeves were rolled up over bulging biceps. Obviously he wasn’t afraid of demonic acid spit.
He wore a night-vision monocular, which allowed him to see her just as easily as she saw him in this cavernous building with no light. All in all, he was a handsome man in a lunatic, over-the-top, I play way too much Call of Duty and Resident Evil kind of way.
“You okay?” His lips barely moved, then returned to a tense line. The short black hair fit his abrupt personality.
Didn’t sound like he was a threat, but he definitely looked like one.
And he hadn’t lowered his weapon.
“Fine. You are?”
“Isak.” He gestured with the tip of his weapon toward her sunglasses. “You blind?”
She got that a lot because of her tendency to keep them on even at night. Her sunglasses had been custom-made by a friend of Tzader’s, who’d used a lens that would allow her eyes to be seen in low light but shield their freakish color. Let’s hear it for special variable tinted lenses—if she could only get something like that for her skin with SPF 5000. “No. I see fine in low light, right down to your Batman belt buckle.”
His eyebrows moved slightly at the dig, as if questioning how sensitive anyone’s eyes could be in this pitch-black warehouse. But obviously she’d seen enough to out his strange taste in belts. “What’re you doing here?” he asked.
Like she was going to tell him that … “What are you doing here?”
Dang, that was brutally honest. Most people who hunted demons didn’t blurt that out to strangers for fear of an all-expenses-paid visit to the local psycho ward.
Was this guy an unfamiliar VIPER agent? Agents, she didn’t mind, unless they got in her way.
Or killed a Birrn she needed to capture.
But if he was an agent, she didn’t sense power coming off him.
No. Definitely human.
Weird and gorgeous, but human.
“Who do you work for?” she asked.
Her stomach clenched. He could be a merc, anybody … especially with that superblaster. Just what her already-screwed-up night needed.
Isak kept visually sweeping the area around them, then paused to look her over again. He finally shifted his weapon to hold it across his chest. “What’d that demon want with you?”
Yeah, this was an odd conversation to have with an unknown civilian.
“Dinner and a movie. How’d you know he was here?”
“Smelled ’im a mile away.”
Too bad the twins hadn’t.
She searched again with her powers but still felt no unusual field of energy from this guy. Nothing to mark him as anything other than a human with a demon-killing fetish.
And where had he gotten that wicked weapon?
She glanced over at the pile of stinking demon dung. She couldn’t use her powers to clear that out of here with Isak present. Nor could she call VIPER for a cleanup team until she had a plan that would keep her head off their chopping block.
And there was no way in hell she was touching that with her hands. She’d managed to walk away fairly clean from the Cresyl, but this would be harder to clean off her skin than skunk odor. Not that she had any interest in getting frisky with a man, but stink like that would ensure her peace and solitude for months on end.
More important—VIPER would smell Birrn demon on her.
“Did you have to kill him?” she asked.
He arched a brow suspiciously. “What? You friends or something?”
She returned her gaze to his face, then looked up to eyes so impervious to emotion a shiver of warning ran up her spine. Isak didn’t seem surprised she knew about demons.
What was his story?
And what had the demons done to him? The average human didn’t track and kill demons.
What could she possibly say that wouldn’t end up with her dead or exposing VIPER … which still might mean her dead? This guy walked, talked and shot like a vigilante. She knew the type. If you didn’t uphold their hatred, you needed killing, too.