Monsters are coming, allies are turning, but she has evolved.
Travelling for work is brutal, especially when your job is hunting demons. Fortunately, Esme’s magic is now limitless. Together with Owen’s team, Esme battles malevolenci across the country, closing rifts along the way. But why aren’t the demons attacking at full strength? Esme knows she must learn more about the enemy, but her investigations only lead to further mysteries.
Meanwhile, Owen has his own problems. While he rules from the road, the paranormals within the Order grow restless. The jinn are dabbling in civilian politics. The fairies demand an impossible return to their home world. Rebel vampires claim the Capiti healers are slaves. Age-old tensions rise, and civil war is looming.
One thing might unite the Order – telling them how close they truly are to losing the war and what that will mean for the alt-worlds. But should Owen break eighty generations of secrecy? If the paranormals rally, Esme’s power will give them a shot at survival. And, if they find the malevolenci’s weakness, they could defeat the demons once and for all. How much hope dare they have?
With old friends, the queen mother, and unexpected allies joining the fight, Esme and Owen search for answers in ancient texts, dark caves, and blood memories…
But some things are meant to stay buried. Uncovering the truth about malevolenci might win the war, but will it tear apart everything the Order believes?
The autumn night was cloudless and unseasonably warm, but Central Park wasn’t tourist-friendly at the moment.
“Left!” Owen shouted to Benja as he fired his silenced gun at a swooping chiroptorx. “A few went left behind those rocks!”
Benja’s black cavali helmet turned. “On it!”
Owen watched Benja run up the rock formation, lift her magic-casting hand, and wave her fingers into a blur. This created a shockwave that caught the pterodactyl-like chiroptorx as they flew around the rocks, and the demons slammed into the ground.
A high-pitched shriek brought Owen’s attention back to the playground where he fought his own demons. Owen raised his gun just in time as a spidery spindlox jumped from the playset beside him. His shot struck the spindlox right between its gaping pincers, and its head exploded. Owen sidestepped to avoid the demon’s body as it fell dead to the ground. He shot three more shrieking spindlox as they scuttled across fallen leaves, but once these were dispatched he saw no more on the playground.
In the distance, Tank’s deep growl rumbled as the half-troll fought off demons that had escaped the playground before the team arrived. Lamplight shone on Dax and Max farther down a sidewalk, and the brothers fired up at a flock of circling chiroptorx. Benja had disappeared to the other side of the giant rock formation, and a fire spell shot into the sky where she’d chased chiroptorx stragglers.
Where’d Esme go? thought Owen as he climbed the high rocks and looked around the lamp-lit park.
Fortunately, the scouts who’d first spotted the rift in Central Park had been quick to alert their conjuri partners. The conjuri had arrived even before Owen’s team, and they’d placed illuso spells around the playground so citizens would see a construction zone and nothing else. This rift was smaller than many they’d encountered over the past several months, and few malevolenci had time to invade before Esme performed the termino spell that closed the rift. The swarm of spindlox had consisted of only twenty. The flock of chiroptorx was giving them more trouble, but Owen saw that his team had it under control.
Good thing we put off leaving another day, thought Owen, still scanning for his alterni. It’s not easy to hide rifts in this city, and a rift here in the open would’ve been a problem. It was lucky we stayed so Esme could close it… Where the hell is she?
Benja, finished with the chiroptorx, panted as she climbed the rocks to stand with Owen. The jinn woman’s long brown braids hung from under her helmet and swayed as she turned her head to scan the area. “Any left?”
“I don’t think so.” Owen pointed to their right. “Tank’s over there somewhere, but he sounds like he’s got it under control.”
Max and Dax, guns still raised and ready, jogged over from the dead pile of chiroptorx they’d left on the sidewalk. The brothers climbed to stand in Owen’s huddle, and everyone kept alert as they looked around.
“Where’s Esme?” asked Dax, the bigger and older of the Hoffman brothers.
“Not sure.” Owen, his concern growing, scratched his forehead under his helmet. “Last I knew, she’d destroyed the rift and was using a whirlwind spell to trap the chiroptorx. We got separated when the spindlox swarm tried to make a break for it across the playground.”
Max pointed back the way they’d come from the city streets. “I saw her take that sidewalk. A handful of chiroptorx were trying to escape, and she was chasing them down.”
Owen nodded with relief. “Alright. Somebody get Tank, and we’ll go find our alterni.”
Benja climbed down from the rocks and trotted in the direction of their troll team member.
Max motioned to the dead demons. “Leave these for our conjuri friends to burn?”
“Yeah.” Owen picked his way off the rocks and started toward the sidewalk Max said Esme had taken. “The conjuri who put up the illuso can dispose of these carcasses easily enough. Mind calling them, Max?”
“No problem.” The big man reached into his cavali uniform where he’d tucked his phone.
While his brother made the call, Dax walked beside Owen. “The conjuri better clean up this mess quick. Night or day, New York is busier than anywhere back home. Demon corpses would be sure to cause a ruckus.” He added with a sarcastic sneer, “Wouldn’t want any citizens to discover their perfect world isn’t such a utopia after all.”
Owen made a noncommittal grunt of agreement and picked up the pace when he saw Benja and Tank jogging to intersect their path and join them.
It’s our job to make sure citizens stay oblivious, thought Owen with a sense of lifelong responsibility. We fight the malevolenci in secret precisely so those outside the Order can live in a utopia. But that’s the thing about utopias – if your world is at peace, somewhere deeper down it’s hell for other people.
The majority of his team together now, Owen hurried back to the street so they could search for their most important member. He wasn’t overly protective of Esme anymore – not since that day on the mountain when he’d told her the truth and they’d come to a shared understanding – but the woman still tended to get herself into trouble.
Owen grinned with pride.
She’s been frustratingly brave since she got here. If anyone else was this reckless, I’d say they had a death wish. But Esme’s all-in committed to fighting for us. And she’s damn good at it. Now that she knows the truth… It’s amazing how much better she’s made my life. I never had a partnership this strong with her other alterni. Telling her the whole truth and telling her my personal crap – it’s made all the difference. And she’s different, too.
He scowled at the sidewalk.
I love her. Even if she doesn’t want to hear it, I do. This agreement we made is so stupid…
Owen’s focus shifted as the team reached the corner sidewalk between Central Park and Columbus Circle. On this sidewalk, beside a fountain monument, lay a pile of ash. This might’ve gone unnoticed to untrained eyes, but Owen realized it was a destroyed chiroptorx corpse.
Yeah, Esme went this way.