Trial By Fae – Linsey Hall

MY BLADE SANK into the demon’s chest like a fork through a perfect piece of cheesecake. Except grosser. I crouched over his collapsed body and twisted the dagger, grinning into his sneering face. “And that’s what you get for trying to eat children in my neighborhood.” The dagger tore up his heart as it moved. His mouth slackened and his eyes went dark. The big body beneath mine went totally limp. Dead. Good. I climbed off of him and left the blade in his chest. “You can keep that.” It was his, after all. The way I saw it, there was poetry in killing demons with their own blades. And I’d been a demon slayer for a while now, so I needed a challenge to keep things interesting. The city street was silent as I made quick work of checking his body for charms or weapons.

Demons often carried valuable loot, and I wouldn’t leave it behind. I patted down pockets and even flipped him over, wincing at the pain in my shoulder. He’d landed a good blow earlier, but it would heal by morning. My hand landed on a small lump in his pocket, and I pulled out the little stone. “Bingo.” I shoved the transportation charm into my pocket and hopped up. I put a hard butterscotch candy into my mouth and sucked. My sister called them my old-lady candies, but I didn’t care. I’d quit smoking, and they kept me sane. “You get him?” Aeri, my sister, called from the other side of the street.

I turned, spotting her stepping out from a shadowed alley, her white ghost suit speckled with blood. The ghost suit was just sturdy white tactical trousers and a top, but it had the ability to make her invisible. Totally badass. Aeri’s pale hair whipped in the wind, and her blue eyes met mine from across the street. This part of Magic’s Bend was called Darklane—named for the dark magic practitioners who lived here. Aeri and I had made it our home ever since we’d escaped Grimrealm as kids. I gestured to the demon at my feet with both hands and said wryly, “Ta-da. Dead and dusted. You get yours?” “Nabbed the bastard at the end of the alley.” She strode across the street to join me.

“I got what info I could out of him. I think they were the only two stalking the city.” “Good. Nothing like a job well done.” I’d report to the Council of Demon Slayers that we’d finished the job they’d given us. I swung an arm around her shoulder. “Now I need a drink. The sun is coming up, and it’s just about my bedtime.” A grin tugged at her mouth. “Let’s do it.

Fates know we earned it.” I gave the demon at my feet one last look. His body was already starting to disappear. If anyone else had killed him, he’d return to the underworld from which he’d come. Eventually he’d probably try to get back to earth. But not this mean bastard. He was dead and gone forever, because I was a demon slayer, granted special powers by the Council. Aeri and I walked toward our house, which was only a few blocks down from where we’d finally found the demons. The houses were quiet and dark as we passed, the Oliver Twistian street lamps flickering golden in the darkness. Most Darklaners were in bed, tucked behind the grimy facades of the ornate Victorian row houses that this neighborhood was famous for.

We reached our place, a grime-covered, once-purple Victorian structure that looked almost haunted. In our defense, we weren’t slobs. Dark magic gave off a sooty substance over time, and it coated every building on the historic street, giving it a haunted Olde England feel. The buildings were all squished so close together that most of them shared walls. In the sun, you could see hints of the colors that the houses had once been, but that was rare. It suited Aeri and me. I led the way, climbing the short flight of stairs to the front door and disengaging the protection charms. I stepped into the elaborately decorated foyer of the main house. This was where we greeted visitors and did our Blood Sorcery business—a little side gig to the demon slaying—and the black velvet floral wallpaper suited the look. In reality, Aeri and I each had secret apartments on either side of the main house.

Almost no one knew about them, not even our friends. To say that we were secretive was an understatement, but we had good reason. We were Dragon Bloods—rare supernaturals who could make new magic. Any kind of new magic—stuff so powerful it could destroy the world. So rare that we were myths to most people. The downside was that the government would happily toss us in the Prison for Magical Miscreants because we could be a threat. That was, if they didn’t try to capture us and force us to use our powers for their own benefit. Turning us into weapons that could potentially destroy the world. Just like my aunt and uncle had tried to do before we’d escaped. Just like our childhood friend had tried to do when we were teenagers.

My first real friend on the outside world, and she’d revealed our secrets to those who would hurt us. Because of that, no one outside of our tiny, trusted circle knew what we were. No one could ever know. I’d lived that life before, and I’d die before I’d go back. “I’ve got time for a quick drink,” Aeri said. “Then I’ve got to meet Declan.” I turned to her and waggled my eyebrows. “Big date?” She grinned. “Yep. Brunch.

” Last month, Aeri had met the love of her life, a fallen angel. I liked him a hell of a lot, and if I missed Aeri when she went on her dates, I sure as hell didn’t say so. She deserved to be happy. “Then come on. One quick one and you go get cleaned up for your date.” I shuddered dramatically. “In the morning.” “Just because you’re nocturnal doesn’t mean we all are.” I laughed and led her toward my apartment, which hid behind a door that no one but she or I could see. Inside, each piece of furniture was a random antique and every bit of fabric a different color.

Since I generally wore all black when out in the world, it was a nice change. There was a pile of knitting on the couch, which was one of my closest held secrets. It really didn’t fit with my outside image, but everyone needed a hobby, right? Aeri and I settled in the cluttered little kitchen, and I whipped up our drinks. I grilled her on her plans with Declan, enjoying our time together. For years, it’d just been me and her against the world. I was glad Declan was around, but I liked our sister time as much as ever. By the time we’d finished our drinks—a Manhattan for me, a martini for her—I was ready to get my beauty sleep. Aeri split for her place, and I headed into my bathroom, then stared into the mirror. Fates, I look rough. Though my eyes were tired and my skin pale, my black eye makeup was still impeccable, thanks to a special spell.

It streaked around my eyes and over the bridge of my nose, sweeping back toward my temples like a mask. A bit like Zorro, really. And that was the point. It was meant to hide me. Hide me from the past. From the family who had kept me and Aeri captive as children because of what we were. They’d forced us to use our Dragon Blood powers for their purposes. They’d try to do it again if they found us. Others would as well—we knew that from experience. We were the perfect weapons.

I shook away thoughts of the past and climbed into the shower. It was the one part of the apartment that I’d cared enough to modernize—all stone and chrome with a waterfall showerhead. Ten minutes later, I climbed out of the shower, hearing Aeri shout goodbye and slam out of the house. How she had any desire to go places in the morning, I had no idea. I slipped into a robe and headed for the bedroom. I took my time putting away my fight wear and finally settled into bed. I fell asleep almost immediately. For some fate-forsaken reason, the dream came almost immediately. On the bad nights, it always did. I’d done everything in my power to forget the past.

Aeri and I had left it behind in Grimrealm when we’d escaped at fifteen. I wanted it to stay there. But it would creep out in the night, when my defenses were down. It started how the dreams always started…me, kneeling in the cold stone cell. Grimrealm was underground—right beneath Magic’s Bend—so everything was cold and dark. All the time. But the cell was the worst. The only light came from the window in the door, and most often, it was blocked by my aunt’s leering face. “Do it,” she hissed. “Do it, or I will tell her what you really are.

” “Please,” I begged. I was only eleven, but boy, did I know how to beg. “Don’t tell. Please don’t tell.” I couldn’t lose my sister. “You’re evil, little Dragon Blood. Your blood is black and dirty. Now spill it and make some magic.” Through teary eyes, I looked down at the dirty knife in my hand. My other hand lay on my knee, palm up, pale wrist exposed.

This was what my aunt wanted—if she even was my real aunt. My Dragon Blood gave me the ability to make magic. It was the rarest power in the world. The most valuable. The more blood I spilled, the more powerful the new magic would be. If I lost enough blood—nearly all of it, nearly dying—I would create a new, permanent power. A magic that would change my own signature forever. Enough new magic, and it would become clear to the world what I really was. Every supernatural would be able to sense it. It might even make me as evil as my mother.

Then I’d have more to worry about than my aunt. More than the secret she held over my head like an ax. Every day of my life, she’d threatened me with it. The bogeyman in the dark. “Do it, or your secret is no longer. Aeri will forsake you when she knows the truth about your dirty blood.” “No!” I wasn’t just a Dragon Blood like my sister. I was half something else…half something dark. Evil. I didn’t have pure, pearly Dragon Blood like Aeri did.

Like our father did. Mine had been polluted by my mother. Aeri didn’t realize what my oily, midnight blood meant, but I did. It was proof that I was evil, like the mother I’d never met. My aunt had made that clear, and worse, I could feel it inside me. A darkness that threatened to rise up and take me. It meant that I wasn’t my sister’s true sister. We’d never known our parents, and Aeri thought we shared both a mother and a father. We only shared a father. My mother was an unknown species of evil supernatural with a magical signature of brimstone and putrid night lilies.

It was all I knew about her. All I wanted to know. I also knew that Aeri was the only thing I had in the world. The only person I loved. I couldn’t lose her. Aunt had promised I would lose her if she knew. Part of me didn’t believe it. I was eleven, and I wasn’t stupid. Aunt would do anything to get me to make more magic. She would use me and use my fear.

But still… What if she were right? The proof of my evil was in my black blood, even if Aeri didn’t realize it. She would when Aunt told her though. It was right there for anyone to see. I dug the blade into my skin. Pain surged, and I liked it. I could focus on it, instead of my fears. The blood welled, midnight black. It poured over my arm and onto the floor. I switched the blade to my newly weakened hand and clumsily carved into my other arm. More pain.

I smiled. More blood. It flowed to the stone around me, pooling warm at my knees. As it cooled, so did I. “That’s it,” Aunt hissed. I hated her. Hated her so much that I could have stabbed the dagger into her heart. But she never gave me the chance. These were the only chances she gave me—make magic, become a weapon, so I don’t take the only thing you love. As my body cooled and my heart slowed, I imagined the power that I would create.

Aunt wanted me to create a mind power that would allow me to control others—she, of course, wore an amulet to protect herself. Well, I’d create that power. But in a way to save Aeri and me. I would learn to appear in other people’s minds…that’s what I would do. Then I would send a message to someone on the surface to come save us. I squeezed my eyes shut and focused on the vision. My head spun as my life seeped out onto the ground. I swayed where I sat, my breathing shallow and my skin cold. Almost there. Almost there.

I had to almost die for this magic to become permanent, or otherwise it would just be temporary. Creating permanent magic was the only way that aunt would keep my secret. This wasn’t the first time I’d done this, and it wouldn’t be the last. I fought unconsciousness as death threatened to take me. Once enough blood had flowed from my veins, I poured out my magic. I forced out every drop of power within my body, my head growing hazy. It mingled with the black blood, forming something new. Something different. My stomach turned. Heaviness settled over me.

Then the magic changed. It glittered all around me, crackling with life and ferocity, then flowed back into my body. Strength surged through me, replacing the weakness. My mind cleared, my breathing eased. My veins filled with blood and my body with magic. New magic. Permanent magic. And my aunt laughed. When a banging sounded at the front door, I jerked awake. Heart thundering, I gasped, then tried to drive away the memory of the dream.

It was the worst of my past. I’d worked to forget—and I’d never told Aeri the truth about my lineage. I’d meant to. Once I’d gotten out from Aunt’s thumb and breathed the fresh air of the real world, I’d realized she wouldn’t forsake me. I didn’t doubt that now. Not as an adult. But I’d had fifteen years of brainwashing, and once we’d escaped, I hadn’t wanted to think about it. Not talking about it meant not thinking about it. Because I didn’t want it to be true, even if I knew it was. Even if my midnight blood proved it was.

Ignoring it meant I didn’t have to face it. I didn’t know who my real mother was anyway, and I controlled any genetic darkness inside me. Blood didn’t matter after all. Actions mattered. And I was Aeri’s true sister. We shared a father, and that was enough. If the truth sometimes bothered me in the dark, I couldn’t worry about it. If deep down I wanted to know the truth, I ignored it. The pounding on the door continued. I groaned and turned to look at the clock.

It was only ten a.m. “Who the hell visits Darklane at ten a.m.?” No local ever would. Even those who lived in the rest of Magic’s Bend and kept normal hours wouldn’t dream of coming to a shop on this side of town at this ungodly time of day. I covered my ears. The banging continued. Shit. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to ignore it, but whoever was out there really wanted to get in.

“Fine.” I smacked my pillow and climbed to my feet, then pulled on my robe and stomped out of my apartment and into the main house. When I reached the front door, I peered through the peephole. My eyes widened. “Holy fates”

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