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AS: Excerpt


It was too early in the night to be breaking a sweat. Not that he did. But the faint odor of sulfur Aethan had been tracking was fast dissipating in the frigid air of late fall. He had no plans on losing the demonii’s trail but with mortals still about, it became damn difficult to end them.

With a burst of inhuman speed, he cut through a dingy alley on the Lower East Side and pulled up short. The stench of decay from the mile-high trash bags piled on the street hit him square in the face. His breathing shallow, he scanned the buildings. There, in the shadows of the looming warehouses, he could clearly see the two, hauling a whimpering female with them.

The tattoo on his biceps pulsed in agitation, demanding release to do the job it was created for. He ignored the call, hoping for a hands-on fight. Demoniis were a damn menace to humans. Always drawn to a mortal’s life force with a constant fix needed to sustain their decaying bodies.

“Let the female go.”

The pair swung around. Their eerie red eyes glowed in the dark.

The terrified female turned. She took one look at him and shrieked louder. He couldn’t blame her if she thought he was one of those deadbeats. Dressed all in black, he probably looked like the killer he was, unlike those two who had doubtless seduced her into leaving with their pretty-boy faces. Too bad for her, she chose wrong.

The demonii punched her in the jaw, silencing her. Smirking, he grazed the unconscious female’s neck with his fangs. “Leave, or I’ll kill her.”

They thought to bargain with him?

“Before you reach us, I’ll chew out her jugular. There’s little you can do, Guardian.”

“But how long would her soul last? Mine’s far better. Lasts longer, too.” Aethan held out his hands to show he was unarmed.

Their eyes slitted. He could see the wheels turning as they contemplated how fast they could kill him for the coveted prize. Dumbshits.

The dark-haired demonii lowered his gaze to Aethan’s belt. “The dagger, throw it here. And anything else you have in your pockets.”

With a shrug, Aethan tossed his obsidian dagger onto the dirt-encrusted asphalt near the demonii’s feet. It landed with a dull thud. Then he emptied his pocket of a few sticks of gum.

The demonii laughed, kicking the obsidian away. The blond flung the female aside, and they came at him like unleashed bullets. Dodging the attack, Aethan lashed out, his fist connecting with a jaw. A roundhouse kick and one of them crashed into a wall.

A fiery missile zinged past his face. He jumped back. Shit, too close. A hit by a demonii bolt, and he might as well lie down and let them have his soul.

“Not so brave now, are you?” The dark-haired one advanced, sporting a macabre grin at how easily they’d cornered a Guardian. Another hellfire bolt forming in his hand.

Damn scourges. Too bad they didn’t fight fair. He’d been quite prepared to extend their lives by a few more minutes. Willing back his obsidian, and in a move so fast, Aethan released the blade and nailed the dark-haired demonii in the chest. A raucous snarl filled the backstreet.

Aethan summoned his weapon. The tattoo on his biceps shifted. A tingle ran down his arm. He lunged after the blond scourge as a six-foot long obsidian sword took form in his hand. Spun around. His blade hissing in a deadly arc, he decapitated the demonii set on fleeing. It disintegrated within moments. Just a thick, black glutinous mess remained for a second before it, too, disappeared. He didn’t bother looking for the wounded demonii, knew he’d flashed out of the alley.

“What a waste of a good fight.” Aethan let his sword shimmer and settle on his biceps, willed back his dagger, catching it mid-air, and walked over to the female lying on the ground. Lowering on his heels, he examined her for injuries but she appeared to be fine, except for the light bruise on her jaw.

So why were those dumb assess hustling off with her, instead of just consuming her soul?

He scanned her for a psychic vibe. Nope. Nothing. Not even a hint of a spark. She didn’t possess the pyre and rime abilities he’d been searching for the past few weeks. Damn, he’d hoped she was it and he could be done with this job. Scrubbing her memories of the last hour, he woke her and willed her on her way.

Brief flashes of lightning brightened the dismal backstreet, revealing the faded graffiti decorating the grimy walls. As he straightened, his shoulder twinged from the injury he sustained last night in a fight with demoniis. A damn pain in the ass since those wounds took longer to heal despite their quick healing abilities. Ignoring his discomfort, he headed out of the alley and up the street.

In the distance, opposite Club Anarchy, he spotted a tall familiar figure. Týr’s pale hair gleamed under a streetlight. His fellow Guardian might be easy on the eyes, but the warrior was as lethal as the blade tattooed on his biceps.

Once a god from the Norse pantheon, Týr’s virulent rage towards demons and their altered brethren, the demoniis, was all that kept his jets going. Couldn’t blame him when he’d been at their mercy imprisoned in the deepest pits of Tartarus for centuries. But judging by the way the females obstructed his path, and the easy grin on his face, the warrior had found a way to ease his nightmares.

Unlike him. No matter how many demoniis he took out in the name of protecting mortals, his nightmares never ceased. Just the thought and his shields fractured. Pain seeped through the cracks.

A’than!’ The childish whisper tore into his heart. He staggered to a halt, images flashing through his mind. The ground drenched with blood…so much blood.

Urias! He squeezed his eyes closed, shutting off the memories.

“You okay, man?” Týr asked, coming up beside him.

Shit. No one should be able to creep up on him like that. Another reason he preferred the vacuum he lived in. “Yeah, fine.” He continued up the alley, edginess riding him hard. “Anything on the psychic female Michael wants found?”

At the mention of their latest job, Týr shoved his hands in the pockets of his leathers. “Enticing as they are, scanning all the females in this city for abilities of pyre and rime is not my idea of a good time.”

“Yeah. Flat on their backs is more your thing.”

“Not just that. Up against a wall, bent over…I’m flexible. Or they usually are.” A smirk rode Týr’s face. He stepped around a suspicious looking puddle. “What’s so important about a female possessing powers of fire and ice, anyway?”

“Can’t say. Maybe he just wants to stop her from burning down the city.”

“Michael’s too tight-lipped when it comes to shit like this. Who the fuck are we gonna tell? The demons?”

Aethan shrugged. He really didn’t care for the latest job Michael had dumped on them. Being among mortal females was not on top of his to-do list. “Maybe Michael just wants to stop a prophecy or some such disaster. It’s the first time he’s thrown a job at us—”

“Without the ritual meet and greet,” Týr finished, his eyes narrowing thoughtfully. “A prophecy? Damn! It would make sense, wouldn’t it?”

Laughter drew Aethan’s attention to the queue forming alongside the faded graffiti walls of Club Anarchy. This early in the night, the popular nightspot for mortals and demons teemed with party revelers. Beneath the stench of garbage, the faint odor of sulfur drifted to him. He could easily follow the smell to its source, but since it led to the Otium demons waiting to get into the club, he didn’t bother. Several of them chose to live among the humans now, preferring a quiet life—unlike their turned brethren, demoniis, who trawled clubs like these looking for their next victim.

“Humans,” Aethan muttered, sidestepping an overflowing dumpster. “Can’t understand their fascination with danger.”

“Never understood them myself,” Týr agreed. “But the females sure are one helluva temptation.” He shot Aethan a shit-eating grin that didn’t reach his eyes. “You called one to slake off that edge, yet? Just say the word and I’ll cover your patrol.”

“I’m fine.”

“Yeah, rrright.”

Aethan bit back a retort. He didn’t need the reminder of how close to the edge he was, and worse, that Týr noticed. While he now had total control over his powers, the same couldn’t be said for the restlessness pushing at him. Damn feeling had plagued him for days now. He had no idea what the hell it was.

He reached into his coat pockets. Dammit, he’d thrown away his gum. He rolled his taut shoulders, the ache there flaring again. The fight earlier had done little to ease the power roiling beneath his skin. A constant reminder why he could never escape what he was. A crack in his psychic shields, he’d not only flatten the entire island of Manhattan but take every single life with it. Not something he cared to remember.

“I don’t get you, Empyrean.” Týr pulled a pack of M&M’s from his jacket pocket and emptied several into his palm. He sorted through the colors. “What’s wrong with being with a human? Find a female. Get that power-level down to green. It’s a helluva lot more fun than running your feet to stumps.”

Perhaps. But another faceless person? Another bout of empty sex? His belly churned at the thought. He’d rather have stumps. “I don’t need a female. I need to find the demonii asshole who escaped me earlier.”

A limousine cruised to a halt in front of the club. The doors opened to a dissonance of voices, music, and laughter. Males and females stumbled from the car and the acrid odor of illegal dust floated to him.

Týr popped several of the yellow candies into his mouth, his attention on the noisy humans. “They make it so easy for trawling demoniis to hunt them.”

Aethan turned away, only to find a female obstructing his path.

She was an incitement for dark pleasures, all right. His gaze skimmed over her. Big breasts, covered in a leather Band-Aid, were teamed with a crotch-short skirt beneath her long coat. Her waist-length red hair fell around her face in wanton disarray. A seductive smile tilted her mouth. Heavy on the cosmetics, her hot blue eyes swept over him with avid interest.

“Can’t hide that angelic shit, after all.” Týr’s annoying murmur rang in his ear. The bastard was enjoying this.

Being an Empyrean, he could do nothing about the way he looked. But if any of the angelic allure his race were born with leaked out, the humans would be unable to resist the pull—the very thought had him tightening his psychic shields. He was the farthest thing from the humans’ concept of an angel. Hell, he didn’t even have wings. So why was he cursed with this crap?

“I’ll tell you a secret.” The female raised her sultry peepers at him. “I can see the future. It’s your lucky night, handsome.” Her husky voice dropped an octave. She stepped closer and slowly ran her hand down his chest. Her gaze wandered to the grinning son-of-a-bitch next to him and her smile grew. “Or we could all go someplace else…”

Aethan breathed in the scent of her arousal. A muscle worked in his jaw at the temptation she presented. He pushed back needs that had no place in his life, scanned her for a psychic vibe and found nothing.

“Trust me, you don’t really want me.” Not unless you have a death wish.