Authors: Jordan L. Hawk
Tags: #Gay & Lesbian, #Literature & Fiction, #Fiction, #Gay, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Genre Fiction, #Gay Romance, #Demons & Devils, #Psychics, #Vampires
“Why is he still here?”
“The NHE in him just ignored me. Like I wasn’t even there.”
John winced. Sure, Sean hadn’t gotten the top score at the Academy—that honor had gone to John—but he hadn’t washed out, either. To fail to pull an NHE out of an unwilling host, only a few hours after it had forced its way in and set up shop…well, it was like taking a hot guy home and not being able to get it up for him. Except it happened in front of your boss and all your coworkers.
“Everybody has an off night,” he said, clapping Sean on the shoulder. “Listen, I’ll take care of this, then we’ll go grab some coffee and breakfast.”
Sean’s mouth thinned. “I’m serious, John—I’ve never seen anything like this before. You ask me, we should just drop a bomb on this place and forget we ever saw it.”
Damn. Was Sean getting spooked? John glanced at Kaniyar to see if she’d noticed, but she didn’t even blink.
Fine. Two could play the game. “What’s your take on this, chief?” he asked. She was an exorcist, too; he had the right to ask for her assessment of the situation.
Her black eyes betrayed nothing in the dim light. “McNamara is right. We have an unusual situation. Therefore I’m giving you a choice: go in now and perform an exorcism, or wait until we get a full Emergency Containment Unit in to deal with it. Oh, one more thing before you decide. The possessed’s name is Caleb Jansen.”
“Jansen? As in Ben Jansen?”
“Younger brother. It’s Ben’s body upstairs.”
It didn’t make sense. “Ben Jansen was killed by an early-stage lycanthrope. I examined the body myself. There was no trace of etheric energy left on it.” No way could he have been wrong, not about an ordinary lycanthrope mauling.
Shit. Now it was his reputation on the line. “I can handle it, ma’am. No reason to call in the ECU.”
Kaniyar pulled the gun from her shoulder holster and checked the ammo. “I’ll give you backup.”
Great, now Kaniyar was getting spooked, too. “Yes, ma’am. Just have the disposal team standing by.”
Kaniyar disappeared inside. John started to follow her, but Sean grabbed his arm. “Some day your luck is going to run out, John. You’re going to find yourself face-to-face with something you don’t know how to deal with. Then what are you going to do?”
John suppressed a sigh. This thing, whatever it was, had really messed with poor Sean’s head. But John had never met an NHE he couldn’t handle, either through exorcism or a bullet. He didn’t see any reason for things to change now.
Caleb sat on the rotting floor of the abandoned house, his head bowed and his eyes closed. This wasn’t happening. None of it was real.
Except the opposite was true: everything was real, painfully so. The breath in his nose, full of rat droppings, dust, and dried blood, mingled with stale car exhaust and his own sweat. The rough texture of clothing against his skin. The ancient grain of the hardwood floor as he slowly dragged his fingertips across it, trying desperately to distract himself from the most real thing of all.
The monster inside him.
The urge to hunt lived in his chest like a trapped falcon, its wings beating frantically against his ribs. The miasma of rot and corruption teased his nostrils, revolting him…but calling to the thing inside him like it was a fucking filet mignon. The scent was fading though, and they had to get up, had to go after it, had to hunt and feed—
Oh God. The demon had killed Ben and now it was trying to drive him crazy.
“Why would I kill your brother? Mortals are not prey.”
“Shut up,” he whispered through dry lips. “Shut up, shut up, shut up.”
It stirred in him, and there weren’t any words for the sensation. It was like being in a lightless room with a very large, very dangerous tiger. Even though he couldn’t see it, he could feel its presence…and sometimes it brushed up against him as it padded around, a little reminder it could kill him any second. And maybe it wasn’t hungry right this moment, but as soon as it got peckish or bored, it would jump on him and—
Startled, Caleb opened his eyes. His glasses lay a few yards away beside his smashed cell phone, the frames bent and the lenses shattered. But it didn’t matter, because everything was perfectly clear now, his vision better than it had been with the glasses.
It—the demon—had changed him. Fixed his imperfect eyes.
What else would it change?
Another fucking Spec crouched a few feet away, on the other side of the chalk circle the first government drone had drawn around him earlier. This new agent was dressed in a dark suit and a long woolen coat, which pooled around his spit-shined loafers on the filthy floor. His hair was short, but not buzz-cut, its deep brown contrasting with startling blue eyes.
Actually, he was pretty damned cute, for a Spec. Which was a stupid thing to notice at a time like this.
“I’m Special Agent Starkweather,” the man said, giving him a smile as brilliant as his eyes. “You can call me John. May I call you Caleb?”
“Whatever.” He didn’t need some Spec to play head games with him. He was getting enough of that from the demon, thank you very much. Caleb almost told the guy to go fuck himself, but the thing inside him stirred slightly, as if something had caught its attention.
This agent wasn’t his friend, would drag him into SPECTR and get him on a tracking list first chance he got…but at the moment, he was Caleb’s only hope.
“Sure. Caleb’s fine.”
“Nice to meet you, Caleb,” Starkweather said, like they’d bumped into each other at a damned cocktail party. “I’m an exorcist with SPECTR. Wanna see my badge?”
“No.” Was this guy flirting with him? “There was another exorcist here earlier. Nothing happened.”
“Which is why they called in the big guns.” Starkweather’s smile was confident, lighting up his blue eyes. Shit, why was everything so bright, so vivid? “Can you tell me what happened?”
“I’ve already told you people five times!” Caleb’s voice cracked with anger, and he swallowed hard. “I just want to get rid of this thing.”
“I know.” For a moment, it seemed the exorcist wanted to touch him, but thought better of it. No crossing the chalk circle, maybe?
A circle, drawn in blood, an old man and flickering torches, their light colorless—
Caleb blinked rapidly, a whimper escaping him. What the hell? “Just help me. Please?”
“I will.” Another dazzling smile, and he was not attracted to a Spec, damn it. “Don’t worry about a thing.”
Caleb snorted. “What have I got to worry about?”
The agent chuckled ruefully. “Yeah, okay, impossible request. But there’s no reason to be afraid. You’ve only been possessed for a few hours. It takes forty days before a possession becomes truly irreversible.”
“Oh.” At least this guy knew his stuff. But it was SPECTR’s fault this had happened in the first place. If they’d just investigated when Ben’s body had gone missing, none of this would have happened. Caleb would never have gotten mixed up with Melanie’s psycho friends. Never gotten possessed. He would have spent the rest of his life off the radar. The best thing he could hope for now was being tracked and monitored like a criminal, even if they got the demon out.
As for the worst…he didn’t want to think about it.
“I’m going to help you,” the agent said soothingly.
“Pinky-swear?” Caleb shot back, because he just couldn’t keep his smart mouth shut, even when he probably should.
“Pinky-swear,” Starkweather agreed, holding up his hand and shooting Caleb a wink. “Just hang on. We’ll have this taken care of in no time.”
The agent rose to his feet and looked critically at the circle for a moment, then collected the half-melted candles the other exorcist had left behind. The other one had been a lot more like Caleb’s mental image of a Spec: humorless, unsmiling, cold. Hell, he’d looked almost afraid, especially when his chanting and candle lighting hadn’t done any good, and glared at Caleb like it was his fault somehow.
Starkweather opened the black nylon bag and took out four purple candles, placing them in what Caleb assumed to be the four cardinal directions.
Melted stubs, cold and lifeless around the sarcophagus, the mortals who had lit them long gone.
Another memory which didn’t belong to him.
Starkweather took out a knife next, its silver-plated blade gleaming. Careful not to disturb the chalk, he stepped over it, into the circle with Caleb. “This ritual’s going to be a little different than Agent McNamara’s, but don’t let it worry you,” he said. “It has more to do with focusing an exorcist’s intent than anything else.”
“I don’t care if you stand on your head and sing the twelve days of Christmas, just as long as it works.”
Starkweather grinned. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. I always get distracted by those lords-a-leaping.” Going to what Caleb thought was the eastern candle, he lit it, before drawing a shape in the air with his silver knife. Something sparked blue; squinting, Caleb could just make out an insubstantial sigil traced on the air itself.
What the hell? Could he have seen it a few hours ago, or was this yet another side effect of having a demon in his head?
“Guardians of the east, Powers of the air, I call upon you,” Starkweather said. His voice was calm, authoritative without being bossy. “Protect this space with your winds; let nothing pass through.”
Holding the knife out, he traced a quarter-circle in the air until reaching the next candle. The blue glow trailed after, hanging in mid-air. Caleb wondered if he ought to mention he could see it.
Starkweather repeated the action at each candle, lighting the wick, calling on an element while drawing a sigil, then tracing another arc of the circle. Caleb sensed the thing inside him watching through his eyes, but not with fear or dismay. Just…curiosity.
That couldn’t possibly be good.
When Starkweather reached the first candle again, he joined the two ends of the circle precisely. Blue fire flashed in Caleb’s new vision, settling into a glowing barrier all around the edge of the chalk.
This hadn’t happened with the other exorcist. Maybe the demon hadn’t gotten around to changing him yet? Or maybe it hadn’t cared to watch?
It didn’t matter, so long as this worked. Finished with his circle, the Spec lit what looked like a small bundle of herbs, waving it around Caleb’s body so the smoke wafted over him. Caleb closed his eyes, drew a deep breath of dust and sage and smoke. This would work. It had to.
Starkweather halted in front of him. Caleb looked up, blinking against the light. The agent gave him one final smile of reassurance, then took out two bottles from his bag. One was labeled
. The other…
It was about the size of a beer bottle, but made of black glass, utterly impenetrable to light. Silver wire twined around its neck, hung with charms and seals of clay and lead, marked with arcane symbols.
A spirit bottle. Caleb didn’t know shit about exorcisms, except what he’d seen in the movies. If Hollywood was to be believed, Starkweather would force the demon out of Caleb and into the bottle. He’d seal it inside, where it would remain trapped until a disposal team threw it into the white-hot fire of a furnace, destroying the demon for good.
“I am not a demon.”
The sage smoke irritated his overly-sensitive nose; his eyes had started to water. The thing inside him didn’t seem thrilled by it, either. Good.
Starkweather sprinkled some drops of Florida Water over Caleb, and the scent of orange blossoms joined the sage. Great; he was going to smell like a New Age store by the time he got out of here.
The demon stirred inside him again, curiosity now mixed with irritation. Was annoying the demon a good sign? Please let it be a good sign.
The agent loomed over him, knife in hand. Blue sparks danced on its blade and sheened the silver. “Entity! You are not welcome here. Quit this man, and trouble him no more.”
As he spoke, Starkweather extended his right hand to hover above Caleb’s forehead. There came a sense of pressure, the shiver of electricity across his skin.
Then the thing inside was rising up and through him, and there was nothing else.
After Sean’s dire warnings, John had walked into the house expecting to see some terrifying hulk of a man, gibbering and cursing and one step from psychotic. Instead, he’d found a twink with a bad attitude. With his long hair, hand-knitted sweater, thin build, and ripped jeans, Caleb Jansen looked more like a hippie peacenik than someone who made experienced agents wet their pants.
Of course, the way a human host looked said nothing about the NHE inside. And true, John had been able to sense the etheric energy swirling around him from several feet away. Nothing unusual, but it made him feel better: this entity, whatever it was, had most definitely not been in Ben Jansen’s body when he’d seen it.
John finished the invocation and reached out with the psychic sense he couldn’t describe to anyone except another exorcist. It was like extending a rope barbed with hooks, but the rope and the hooks were somehow part of him, connected to his own energy and nervous system. He’d snag the NHE, drag it out of Caleb, force it into the spirit bottle, and hand it over to the disposal team.
Piece of cake.
John’s ears popped as the pressure inside the circle dropped sharply. The smell of ozone filled the air, underlain with a whisper of sandalwood and desert earth dampened by rain. A mad wind sprang up from nowhere; Caleb’s long hair whipped back from his face, and his clothes ruffled wildly. All four of the candles went out at once.
Not according to plan.
Caleb’s head snapped back; his eyes were no longer soft brown, but black as obsidian mirrors. Jagged flashes sparked in their depths.
But the outward manifestations were nothing compared to the energy suddenly flooding the circle, playing along sensitive nerves. John stood in front of an oncoming storm, a leviathan of thunder and lightning, which had the power to obliterate everything in its path.