Not out of cave yet. But since the world might end soon, I thought I’d schedule in a little excerpt to carry you through the apocalypse. Or maybe this is a Christmas present? Either way, avoid the zombies!
SPOILER WARNING – ESPECIALLY FOR THE END OF DEMON MARKED!
This is from Chapter 1. Taylor is in Hell, being used as bait to bring Michael back. Standard disclaimers: It’s unedited, might change in the final version (I know it will, because I already removed a fun spoiler for other events in this chapter), includes mentions of penis, etc.
The dragon stepped forward. Taylor flinched back against stone, instinctively cringing away—but he wasn’t coming closer. He seemed to be retreating. Leaving? Oh no. That wasn’t part of the plan.
But the “Wait!” that jumped into her throat stuck there. Michael wasn’t leaving. Instead he was shape-shifting into a human form, decreasing in size. Within the space of a second, he crouched less than twenty yards away. Relief joined the surreal realization that a huge dragon could shrink into a man-sized body. She’d seen some crazy things since learning about Guardians, but this had to be one of the weirder events she’d witnessed.
And despite Taylor’s doubts, Khavi apparently did know his nature. Michael had protected her. That shouldn’t have been surprising. Even when Taylor had hated him for it, Michael had always protected her.
But of course he did. If Taylor died, then his body in her hammerspace would be destroyed, and he’d be stuck in Hell forever. Protecting her life was the same as protecting his own.
Oh, now her cynicism was showing. She should give him more credit than that. Back when she’d barely tolerated the Guardians, she’d still admired how they watched each other’s backs. Just like cops did. Just like Taylor and her partner always had. And Michael, the first Guardian and their leader, watched everyone’s back. So the only real surprise was that, after months of evading the Guardians, he hadn’t flown off again—despite knowing that Khavi had a spear and a plan. Perhaps he was as eager to get out of Taylor’s head as she was to be free of him.
That idea didn’t please Taylor as much as it should have. Instead, thinking that he was ready to be rid of her started an ache in her chest. So stupid. She was so messed up. Getting him out of her head was exactly what she’d wanted, and it looked like she was about to get her wish. This called for celebration, not cynicism and regret.
But when Michael rose to his feet, the smile she forced to her lips locked into place. Unease squirreled its way down her spine.
He appeared more human—but not completely human. And not like Michael. Overlapping scales plated his body, a warmer amber than the dark bronze of his skin. Stretched over a frame of segmented bones, membranous wings arched over his head instead of his own black feathers. A demon’s horns curled back from his temples. And he’d always been big, but not like this. Michael had a warrior’s body, strong and tall. The first time she’d seen him, Taylor had pegged him at six-four and two-twenty. Now he stood at least seven feet tall and a hundred pounds heavier—a good portion of it in the caveman’s club of a dick hanging between his thighs.
And he was walking toward her.
A panicked laugh gurgled up her throat. She swallowed it before a sound emerged. Michael was in her head, so he had to know she was scared, but she refused to show it.
She focused on his eyes, instead. They were pure obsidian—no whites, no irises—but that was normal, not frightening. Michael’s eyes had often looked like that before he’d sacrificed himself.
“Okay. Hi.” She raised her hand in greeting. “I’m glad you’re looking at least a little human again.”
His smile revealed two rows of sharpened teeth and pointed fangs. Oh, God. Not normal.
“Human again.” He spoke with exaggerated care, as if tasting each syllable against those razored teeth. “Andromeda.”
Another tremor of fear rattled her. That wasn’t Michael at all. Not the one she knew. His voice usually created a beautiful harmony, like a chorus of voices singing together. Now there was only one voice. Dark and hollow, like the echo from an abyss.
He continued walking toward her. Thirty feet away. Coming closer.
“Okay, that’s close enough.” And when he didn’t even slow down, fear ratcheted up to terror, shaking through her. “Michael, stop!”
He didn’t. She called in her gun from her hammerspace. Her clammy palms felt slick on the grip, but she held the pistol steady and aimed at his forehead.
A bullet to the brain wouldn’t kill him. But it’d drop him to the ground for a few minutes.
He still didn’t stop.
“No, Michael. Just stay there.” She didn’t want to shoot him, but he had to know she would. “We can talk with this distance between us. So just stop. And listen. The Guardians need you back on Earth.”
He was still coming, still smiling. “You need me?”
“Yeah. Caelum has fallen apart.” The Guardians’ realm lay broken, nothing but piles of shattered marble where a beautiful city had once stood. “Khavi says it’s because you were tortured, but that you can put it back together by singing or something.”
With a forefinger tipped by a sharp talon, he touched the center of his forehead. “Caelum isn’t here anymore.”
He wasn’t linked to the realm anymore? Great. “Okay. But there’s more. The spell that broke you out of the frozen field strengthened the barrier between Hell and the Chaos realm, but Khavi still sees Lucifer finding his way into Chaos. And from Chaos, into Earth. If he does that, he’ll bring along dragons and who knows what else. We can kill one or two dragons, but more? God knows how many people might die. So we could really use your help back on Earth. But to do that, you need to return to your body.”
“What help would that be? A dragon could kill me in that body. One has killed me before.”
“Well, yeah. But that’s what Guardians do, right? We try to help people even if it’s dangerous. And you set that standard, so you don’t get to wimp out on us now.” Thousands of years ago, sacrificing himself to kill a dragon was why the angels had offered him the powers of a Guardian. That was Michael, the big damn hero. But this was a different Michael—and he was only ten feet away. “You have to stop now. I don’t like the way you’re smiling. I don’t like the way you sound, and you’re scaring the shit out of me. One more step and I’m shooting a ball of lead through your skull.”
He stepped, damn him. Taylor fired.
She barely felt the recoil. The report cracked in her ears—followed by a dull clink! The bullet flattened against the scales armoring his forehead and fell to the sand.
Michael didn’t even flinch. His long stride never faltered.
“Oh, shit,” she whispered, and stumbled back against the boulder again.