Demon Slayer – Linsey Hall

Magic’s Bend, Oregon Population: 60,000 Magica, Shifters, and Things That Go Bump in the Night “Aeri? Answer me! You better not be dead, or I’ll kill you.” My sister’s voice whispered out of the enchanted charm around my neck. I slapped my hand to it, muffling the sound. “Shut it, Mari!” I hissed. “I’m still tracking him.” And this demon was fast. He’d led me on a chase through the city streets all the way to the cemetery entrance. Which was actually quite thoughtful of him. Here, I could kill him without witnesses. I’d have to remember to thank him before I sent him back to the Dark World. “Aerdeca, you listen to me!” Mari said. Oh dang, she’d used my full name. That meant she really wanted me to pay attention. “Danger coming from behind.” “But the demon is in front of me, going through the cemetery gate.

” Nerves prickled along my skin as I peeked behind me. On the other side of the street, a tall shadow moved. A man? Maybe, but that was a problem for future Aeri. Right now, I had a demon to catch. And even if someone were there, he couldn’t see me. Not as long as I wore my ghost suit, which made me nearly invisible. The simple white fight suit with a hood and veil made me look like a slight shimmer in the air, and no one knew to look for that. “Mari?” I whispered. “You gotta be quiet now. I’ve almost got him.

” She grumbled, but I could hear the agreement in her voice. Just in case, I tapped the comms charm at my neck, lowering the volume, and sprinted toward the cemetery gates. The demon had escaped the Dark World two hours ago. It was my ordained job to catch him, and damned if I’d fail. Especially since he was of the baby-eating variety. At the cemetery entrance, the heavy wrought-iron gate had swung shut behind the demon. I darted left, scrambling over the stone wall that circled the cemetery. Right before I dropped down on the other side, I caught sight of the shadow I’d seen earlier. It was a man. Tall and broad shouldered, with a face like a fallen angel.

A shiver of awareness raced over me. He was headed right toward me, and it sure as heck felt like his gaze was glued to mine. Shit. Could he see me? No way. Which had to mean he was hunting demons, not me. I hoped. I dropped down behind the big stone wall and turned, crouching low to the ground as I surveyed the rows of graves and the mausoleums beyond. Tendrils of fog snaked around the headstones, giving the place a totally haunted feel. Which was accurate, since it actually was haunted. Ahead, the demon slipped behind one of the small white buildings, his body huge and gray.

Massive horns rose from his head, and dozens of weapons hung off his leather vest, making him look like a violently decorated Christmas tree. I darted toward him, drawing my mace from the ether. Depending on the circumstances, I also used a sword or dagger, but I was in a smashing kind of mood today. The heavy spiked ball on a chain would be perfect. The weapon glinted white under the moonlight. The demon stiffened, as if he sensed me nearing, then turned. His flame-red eyes searched the area around where I stood, finally landing near me. I grinned, knowing he couldn’t see me. “Who’s there?” His voice sounded like two huge boulders scraping against each other. He raised a hand that gleamed with blue magic.

I crouched, ready to dodge. He couldn’t see exactly where I was, but he was looking in my general direction. “Who’s there?” He sounded even more annoyed. “Your worst nightmare.” I gave it my best Batman impression, grinning. My sister Mordaca—Mari, to me—would say I should be more cautious, but I needed the challenge. After years as a demon slayer, it was getting to be a bit old hat. The demon scowled and hurled his blast of blue magic. It flared brightly as it flew through the air, headed straight for me. I dodged, sliding along the damp grass.

The magic plowed into a headstone behind me, and the enormous stone structure shattered. I covered my face as the shards of rock pelted me. A piece sliced my hand, and pain flared. I looked up, catching sight of the demon hurling one more sonic boom—right at me. I scrambled away, my hands digging into the damp grass. The magic crashed into my side, slamming me against a headstone. It felt like a punch from a giant fist, and tears smarted my eyes. I groaned, rolling onto my side. My mace lay next to me. How had that bastard seen me? My gaze caught on a long section of grass that looked like it’d been crushed.

It had— when I’d slid out of the way of the first sonic boom. Clever demon. My favorite kind. Quickly, before the demon could power up some more magic, I scrambled to my feet and grabbed the chain of my mace, then charged him. My whole body ached, but I ignored it. By now, I was a pro at that. The hulking beast stood between two of the small mausoleums, little marble buildings that housed the remains of Darklane’s dead. Instead of approaching head-on, I darted right. There was a series of successively taller tombstones that led to the top of the mausoleum. I sprinted toward them and jumped onto the first, using the other ones like stairs to reach the top of the small building.

Years of practice made my footsteps silent, and by the time the demon looked up, it was too late. I leapt down upon him, swinging my mace for his head. He moved right before I made contact, and the spikes of the mace dragged against his chest instead of crushing his skull. He roared, his rage vibrating through me, and swatted at me. A big hand crashed into my arm, shoving me aside. Damn it. The demon whirled to face me, yellow eyes searching blindly. Blood poured from the wound at his chest. I raised my mace and swung for his head. The steel crashed into the side of his skull.

Shock widened his eyes for a fraction of a second, so fast I might have imagined it. Then his head jerked violently, skull crushed and blood spurting. I grinned and stepped sideways, neatly avoiding the spray. The big demon toppled to the ground, his body slamming into the grass. Quickly, I stashed my mace in the ether and drew a small glass vial out of my pocket. I yanked the cork out and knelt at the demon’s side, pressing the vial to his bleeding neck so it filled up with dark blood. Once upon a time, I might have been grossed out by the raw flesh and other squishy bits, but that was a long time ago. Now, this blood was like gold. Not only was I a demon slayer, I was a Blood Sorceress. Most of the demons I killed had liquid gold running through their veins.

I used this stuff to make spells with my sister, which we sold for a pretty penny. It was our side hustle, and also our camouflage, since no one knew I was a demon slayer except for the council who’d anointed me. It didn’t necessarily have to be a secret, but making it one helped us hide from our past. Once the vial was full, I filled a second. Then I patted down the demon’s pockets for charms. Mari and I could make all sorts, but not everything. And demons often carried cool stuff. I found a transport charm in his right pocket and shoved it into my own. Mari had transporting abilities, but I didn’t, so I loved these things. I checked the demon’s last pocket, but found nothing.

He was already starting to disappear, his body fading away. If a normal person killed a demon, they’d go back to the hell that they’d come from. Not me. I was a demon slayer. If I killed them, they stayed dead. I was basically a professional murderer, but I definitely didn’t feel bad about it. Demons weren’t supposed to be on earth—they were inherently evil. Their top hobbies included eating people and murder. So yeah, not nice. I finished with the demon and touched the comms charm at my neck.

“Hey, Mari? I’m done. Coming home.” “Good. Hurry. Trouble is coming.” Mari got her info from her seer friend, Aethelred. He was always making predictions about things to come, but they were rarely good. He never told me I was going to win the lottery or a lifetime supply of Cheetos. I stood, ready to hightail it home. As if I sensed something, the hair raised on my arms.

I got a hardcore hunted-animal feeling as I turned. A man stepped out from behind one of the mausoleums, the fog snaking around his ankles. The shadow that had been following me. Just looking at him felt like a punch to the gut. He was even taller than I imagined—probably six and a half feet. His shoulders were broad and his waist narrow. He had the body and stance of some kind of super warrior. Relaxed, but ready to kill. I recognized it, because I saw it in the mirror every morning. Even his clothes were the kind you could fight in—a battered leather jacket and perfectly cut dark pants that didn’t hide the muscles in his thighs.

But his face. Damn. He looked like some kind of sexy bruiser, with a sharp jaw and dark eyes. A nose that had been broken once but only made him hotter. And his lips. No. Look away from his lips. It didn’t matter how full they were—I had secrets to keep and this was just the kind of guy to reveal them. It was impossible to ignore his magic, though. It crashed over me like a tidal wave.

Every supernatural had a magical signature that corresponded to one of the five senses. Generally speaking, good magic smelled or tasted good, whereas dark magic was gross. More powerful supernaturals had more signatures. This guy had all five, and boy, were they strong. I backed away slowly as his magic rolled over me. It smelled of a rainstorm and sounded like the roar of a river. Tasted of aged rum—sweet and spicy at the same time— and looked like an aura of silver moonlight. But the worst—the worst of all—was how it felt. Like a shiver at the back of my neck. And not a bad one.

It took only a second to absorb everything about him, but it felt like ages. Since he couldn’t see me, his dark eyes traced over the demon at my feet. His jaw was set in hard lines. “Damn it.” His voice was low and rough, annoyance echoing in the tone. Then his eyes traveled up, sweeping over the graveyard, no doubt looking for whoever had killed the demon. They landed on me, and he frowned. My heart thundered so loudly he could probably use it as a homing beacon to find me. “That’s the trouble,” Mari whispered, so quietly I could barely hear her. And she was so right.

This guy was trouble. I turned and sprinted, racing away. My footsteps were silent on the grass, and I turned back only once to look at him. His gaze continued to sweep over the cemetery. Oh, thank fates. There were a few rare supernaturals who could see through my ghost suit. Not him. I turned left, cutting through the cemetery and leaping over smaller headstones. As I neared the cemetery wall, the air quieted. The man’s signature disappeared—I’d left him far enough behind.

“Does he know what I am?” I whispered to the comms charm. “Is that why he’s trouble?” “I don’t know. Aethelfred can’t tell.” No matter what, I didn’t want this guy knowing what I really was. My big secret. I have dragon blood. In theory, I could create new magic—if I was willing to risk it—but that was totally forbidden. The only person who knew was my sister, Mari, because she had it, too. The world knew us as Mordaca and Aerdeca, the sophisticated, creepy Blood Sorceresses who lived in Darklane. What they didn’t know was that we had a secret life.

Even our closest friends didn’t know. I sprinted toward the cemetery wall and leapt over it. My boots slammed onto the damp cobblestones, and I raced down the narrow street. It was bordered on either side by ramshackle wooden houses that were boarded up. As usual, yellow eyes peered out at me. I waved, unable to help myself despite the fact that my heart was beating a mile a minute. The yellow eyes belonged to city trolls, and they were generally total jerks. They hissed at me to prove it. “Love you, too,” I said. Music blared from the pub up ahead.

I was almost home. I turned left at the Banshee’s Revenge, catching sight of the revelers through the window, and turned on the main avenue that cut through Darklane, the dark magic neighborhood of my town. Magic’s Bend was the largest all-magic city in America, with a population of over sixty thousand. No humans lived here, or even knew it existed. The Great Peace, one of the most amazing pieces of magic ever created, kept us hidden from humans. If they approached Magic’s Bend, they’d be compelled to turn back without ever realizing why. The main street through Darklane was busy at this hour. Here, nighttime was when people really came out to play. Though the rest of Magic’s Bend was like a normal city—if you ignored the Fae and shifters and other monsters—this neighborhood was downright creepy. Not everyone here was evil—Mari and I weren’t—but a lot of them were real iffy.

I slowed so I could easily avoid people, sticking to the edge of the sidewalk, right up against the buildings. I was still invisible, and in the hustle and bustle of the city, no one would notice me. I’d been slipping unnoticed through these streets for years. No one would mess with me if I showed myself, but I just didn’t feel like talking to anyone. I rarely did. Most of the buildings here were three stories tall, built back during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The fancy Victorian architecture and formerly bright paint was now covered with a layer of grime—the remnants of dark magic hanging in the air. I passed by shops selling all kinds of magic, from potions to shrunken heads, and restaurants where witches made deals over tiny glasses of strong black wine. A dark Fae with gray wings slipped by me, her eyes scanning the area where I walked. As expected, she kept going, unable to see me.

Once she passed, I pressed my fingertips to my comms charm and whispered, “What kind of trouble was that guy back in the cemetery?” There was a pause, perhaps as Mari talked to Aethelred. Finally, she spoke. “The kind that will change your life forever. And he can’t tell if it’s in a good way.” Eek. We’d gotten our life to a really good place—I wanted it to stay that way. There was really only one thing to do in this situation. Ignore it. I was a champion avoider. “It doesn’t matter,” I said.

“I’ll never see him again.” I swore I could hear Aethelred chuckle in the background and scowled. He said his goodbyes to Mari, and I was grateful. She was the only one I wanted to talk to. Her, and a nice stiff drink. I picked up the pace and hurried toward my house and shop. It was just up ahead—a once purple building that was now mostly black. A creaky sign hung over the door —Apothecary’s Jungle. Ignoring the narrow stairs that led up to the front door, I slipped down the side alley and entered through the back. When invisible, it was never good form to open a door.

In a world where invisibility was pretty normal, doors opening on their own were an obvious tell. Obvious tells would get me killed. The side alley was dark and quiet as I slipped into the back garden, and then toward the rear of the house. Protection charms prickled against my skin as I touched the doorframe. My magic disengaged the charm and I entered. As soon as the door shut behind me, my shoulders sagged. I flicked my hand in front of my face, and the magic faded from my ghost suit. The hood and veil were gone—which I never really felt anyway, since they were made of magic—and I wore regular tactical wear, though it was white. My signature. It was the outfit I wore to fight battles, but only Mari knew that it could make me invisible.

I saved that for my gig as a demon slayer. Quickly, I strode through the dim corridor, calling out, “Mari! I’m home.” Our house was actually much bigger than it looked from the front. Years ago, we’d bought up the buildings on either side and hollowed them out. I lived on the left and Mari lived on the right. The house in the middle was our workshop and public area. The space where Aerdeca and Mordaca lived—our Blood Sorceress personas. But it wasn’t really a persona. I was just as much a Blood Sorceress as I was a demon slayer. I strode through the hall toward our workshop, entering the room through the back entrance.

A huge wooden table sat in the middle of the space, with a hearth on one of the shorter walls. Bundles of herbs hung from the ceiling, giving the place a lovely floral scent. Tall shelves ran along one side, cluttered full of vials of potions and ingredients. The tools of our trade—mortars and pestles, daggers and crystals—were scattered all over the room. It was the work that paid the bills. For the right price, we could use our blood sorcery to make charms and spells, performing all kinds of magic that people would pay a hefty amount for. I dug the two vials of demon blood out of my pocket and set them on the shelf. The people who came to us for spells didn’t realize what was in most of them, and I wasn’t telling. The demon blood was often our secret ingredient, and it was just a bonus that I could get it through my gig as a slayer. “Finally!” Mari’s smoky voice came from the other entrance.

“I was worried.” I turned and grinned at her. “You knew I’d be fine.” She shrugged one slender shoulder that was barely covered by her scandalous black dress. “True enough. You’re tough as an old broad with a battle ax. But still, I worry.” “I know.” And I loved my sister for it. We were a team of two against the world.

Together, we’d been through thick and thin, heaven and hell. These days were more heavenly, but our past was hell. Which was the main reason that Mari was dressed like a magical version of the vampy Elvira from that old movie. Her black dress plunged low between her breasts, sweeping the ground in dramatic fashion. Black hair was piled high over her head in a beehive, and a black sweep of makeup surrounded her eyes. She tapped her painted black claws on the doorframe as she inspected me for wounds. Sometimes Mari really dressed like this—she did like it, after all—and sometimes it was a glamour. Frankly, it was a pain in the ass to do your hair like that every morning, so the glamour was a lifesaver. But no matter what, the outside world saw her only in this getup or her black fight gear. I had a similar disguise, except white and classy.

Ice queen, was how most described it. Though it was a disguise, it was also part of me. I liked my ice queen side. Our past selves had been scrappy fighters. When we were dressed as Aerdeca and Mordaca, no one would guess that the two of us were Aeri and Mari, the two urchins who’d escaped from Grimrealm, determined never to go back. There, we’d been forced by our families to use our magic for evil. Had we not escaped, we’d be dead by now. So, yeah. No way I was going back. “Come on,” I said.

“I need a drink.” “What happened with the guy?” she asked. “Nothing. It doesn’t matter. I won’t see him again.” She propped a hand against her hip. “I wouldn’t be so sure about that.” My heart thudded. “What?” “Aethelred said you haven’t seen the last of him. And that he’s from Grimrealm.

” Grimrealm? Oh, shit.


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