Razor-sharp claws slashed across my face before I could duck out of the way, knocking the headlamp off my head. The bulb landed with a splash in a nearby puddle, reflecting an arc of light around the storm-drain.
“Shit,” I hissed, clenching my teeth against the sudden sting.
I’d been bitten, scratched, beaten, possessed, used as a host and screwed over by the demonic enough times to know it was better to ignore the throbbing pain in my cheek. Actually, having several strands of hair yanked from my scalp by the thick leather strap of the headlamp had hurt more.
The adjy demon flashed a macabre smile.
A swift kick to the creature’s abdomen propelled it back, giving me enough room to swing my axe and chop its head off. The body twitched and collapsed beside the head a moment later, causing a flurry of rats to scatter.
I could handle rats, but these demons had to go.
Just like with the pain, I didn’t waste my time with premature celebrations because there was another one behind me.
I straightened, sucked in a breath and regained my balance. But not before my left ankle twisted after my boots sloshed in the water pooled around my feet.
Unbalanced or not, I swiped the axe across the second adjy’s throat.
A single, precise strike with just the right amount of force was enough to send its ugly melon rolling off the uneven shoulders. It landed with a bigger splash than the headlamp, or the demon before it. The decapitated body doubled over and flopped beside the head, spraying an arc of water all over my legs. Why did the rain decide to get heavier now?
Even this deep inside the storm-drain, I could hear the downpour echoing around the hollow brick walls. Gushing water wasn’t a surprise in this location, but the puddles were starting to resemble a stream.
My aunt used to say that when rain fell this hard, the gods and goddesses were angry. She’d also claimed Divinities had plenty to be mad about, since we didn’t respect them or take good care of our patch.
But I wasn’t going to think about her now. Not when the hole in my heart seemed to get bigger rather than smaller. People always said that time healed the loss of a loved one, but I was submerged and couldn’t reach the surface. I knew help was there if I needed it—from my friends, professionals and even magic—but carrying this pain reminded me of her existence. I never wanted to forget about Sally, the woman who’d raised me when my parents died.
The same woman who’d sacrificed her life so others wouldn’t have to.
It wasn’t fair that she’d died and was no longer here. The least I could do was make sure she wasn’t forgotten, and the pain helped to keep her memory alive.
I shook the thoughts away because I wasn’t done.
The gleaming puddle of light was dimming by the second, but I hoped it would hold long enough for me to see what I was doing. Killing the demonic and severing their limbs was just the first step of many.
“You can’t defeat us that easily, bitch,” both severed heads called in unison. They rolled near each other—ear over ear. Strands of gray, ropy hair dipped in and out of the puddles as they approached their discarded shoulders.
These creatures were weak and relatively easy to defeat, but they sure talked trash.
“Oh no you don’t.” I kicked one head and watched it rebound off the walls before landing nearby.
My ankle ached after holding my weight for five seconds too many.
“You fucking bitch,” the other one said when its friend’s head lay unconscious a few feet away.
It never ceased to amaze me how easily demons of every tongue and creed managed to get the knack for cursing. But I ignored what it said. No way in Hades was I going to let these demons reconnect with their bodies. Given the chance, these creatures would do just that.
While these pests weren’t a direct threat to people because they hunted vermin, they were a serious threat to the sentry demons who lived here—which they enjoyed devouring. I’d already stepped on several discarded bones, and had even grabbed a handful because they could fetch a pretty penny. As much as I disliked the thought of female sentry demons being eaten, I didn’t believe in wasting any demonic pieces. Some parts could be used for medicinal purposes or ritualistic practices, as decorative pieces, not to mention for enhancing sexual exploits.
Today, I was here to nab adjy heads and hands—one lot for a high-paying customer whom I’d supplied with plenty of demonic parts in the past. The other lot of limbs, I would keep. I didn’t make a habit of asking any of my regulars why they wanted particular bits and pieces, but I’d supplied Adela Gomory with enough body parts to know she was creating another sculpture. She specialized in taxidermy with a slant towards the bizarre.
As long as she didn’t reanimate whatever bastardized invention she was creating, it was none of my business what she did. I simply supplied the pieces, received payment and used the money to add to my own collection of obscure demonology texts, parapsychology volumes—as much occult paraphernalia as I could get my hands on. And that wasn’t limited to books.
This was the glamorous life of a demon hunter—living in the shadows, taking out the garbage while getting paid for the remains. Of course, in some cases I didn’t receive a dime, but there were always exceptions to every rule.
Hunching down near the closest discarded body, I severed both sets of hands and dumped them inside one of the many compartments within my trusty backpack.
I stood and headed for the unconscious head, but in my haze didn’t notice the other one rolling towards me until the mouth was clamped over my jeans. Damn, this was my best pair.
“Don’t be stupid, let go.”
“Or what, you’ll cut my head off?” the demon mumbled, without dislodging its sharp teeth from the denim. A millimeter more and those canines would graze skin. I wouldn’t turn into a demon from a bite, or become a host, but I could end up with a nasty infection.
“Very funny,” I scoffed, keeping my leg steady. Everyone thinks they’re a comedian nowadays.
I leaned over to yank the demonic head away but its sharp teeth pierced my skin.
“Ouch!” I smacked the wooden end of my axe on top of its cranium and the demon’s eyes rolled back. The head slid off my leg. I wasn’t in the mood for mucking around. I just wanted to shove the pieces I needed into my pack and get the hell out of here, so I could go home and fool myself into thinking I could catch a few hours of decent sleep.
Still cursing the puddles, I wrapped my fingers around the ropy strands of hair and shoved one head, then the other, into the same compartment as the hands. I had no idea why she wanted this particular head, but Adela had been adamant about acquiring one of Duke Aim’s demoniacs.
A cold sensation rippled down my spine, because this was the second legion from Aim’s territory to sneak into this patch during the last month. These two adjy weren’t the first I’d killed, but were probably the last because only a handful had snuck in. Still, with only one of the twenty-six legions already obliterated, if these idiots didn’t stop slipping in, the Patch Watchdog would send my inter-patch traveler friend to destroy their home. If any demonic territories became intent on spilling violence against other patches, the Watchdog—led by Burr Okell—would make sure they were erased from existence.
Why was Aim letting them run riot like this?
Not my problem.