A paranormal agency in tatters
A critical alliance that must not fail
A betrayal in their darkest hour
The demon Ekhmez ripped out the heart of America’s supernatural defenders and strengthened their foes. The agencies of the Omicron branch of the US government face a newly expanded threat with their resources stretched to the breaking point.
To hold the line, newly promoted Commander David White of ONSET is sent to forge an alliance with the Elfin Conclave, a supernatural organization with its own history, grudges and politics.
When violence wracks the Conclave and guts the allies they sought, David White must hunt the Elfin’s foes across the Pacific northwest, taking any help that comes his way—because when the world is on fire, can you turn away your enemy’s enemy?
Demons were messy.
Demons in a downtown Manhattan apartment building were a catastrophe—and an all-too-common occurrence in the aftermath of a high-court demon breaking through the Seal keeping its kind out of the world a month beforehand.
Gunfire echoed down the hallway, and the two demons, things barely four feet high that looked more like sketches of a human done in silhouette than anything else, came apart as silver bullets ripped through their forms.
They collapsed into heaps of ichor on the floor as Commander David White, leader of the Office of the National Supernatural Enforcement Teams Strike Team Thirteen, strode forward. A heavily muscled man of average height, he wore a black armored bodysuit and carried a modified M4 assault rifle that he swept around the corridor for more signs of the little monstrosities.
“We’re clear here,” he reported. “Hellet, move up. Pell, how’s our perimeter?”
“NYPD has a blockade up keeping the locals out, and I’ve taken control of the parking garage’s contents,” the machine-animator who flew ONSET Thirteen’s helicopter reported. “If any of them try to break out, they’re going to get run over.
“Does insurance cover that?” he asked after a moment.
“We will if it doesn’t,” David responded as the raven-haired and black-armored form of Kate Hellet, his team’s Mage, moved past him, sweeping the hallway with a pistol in one hand and a glowing blue orb in the other.
“The summoning portal is on this floor,” she told him grimly. “Northeast corner.”
“Stone, keep your watch on the elevators,” David ordered the last member of his four-man team. Chris “Stone” Johnston was his heavy weapons specialist—and the man’s heavy machine gun was David’s backup plan if their current sweep missed something.
“Hellet, on my six,” the Commander ordered, following her gesture while searching the future for potential threats. Among other talents, he could detect an attack several moments in advance: a critical advantage in this kind of room-sweeping mess.
His prescience flashed, and he twisted left, taking a fraction of a second to study the aura on the other side of the door before firing. The aura was a twisted thing of black and red, malice and anger. No human was that simple in their emotions.
A three-round burst of heavy silver slugs shattered the cheap apartment door, blasting the demon to bits of black gunk that splattered across the walls. Cleanup was going to be a problem, and David was grateful that he couldn’t see further into the apartment.
His aura vision was enough for him to know that the occupant was dead. He wasn’t sure why the demons had decided to show up in the middle of the day, but it had probably saved dozens of lives—though everyone who’d been in the top half of the building had been dead before the NYPD started evacuating.
“We’ve got a civilian fatality in there,” he noted aloud for the recorders. “Flag for the follow-up team.”
His poor harassed controller didn’t even bother to reply. Given the Office’s shortage of personnel, that worthy was also acting as their liaison with the NYPD and Homeland Security, running a job normally meant for a team of six on their own.
“The portal is pulsing again,” Hellet warned him. “We’ve got to keep moving—this one is bigger.”
A bigger magical pulse from the portal could mean a lot of things—and none of them good. David could sense the pulses himself, but Hellet had ten years’ more practice at understanding magic than he did.
When they turned the corner of the hallway, however, he didn’t need his gift of inhuman perception to identify which of the six apartments along the way contained the portal. The wall to one of the units was gone, ripped apart piece by piece.
Another half-dozen of the little shadow demons filled the corridor. As they turned toward the two ONSET Agents, Hellet made a small throwing gesture and launched her blue orb down the corridor. It flared to life as it passed David, expanding to fill the entire corridor with searing blue light as it crashed through in a wave of power.
When it faded, the demons were gone—not even ichor remaining.
“Thank you, Agent,” David said calmly. “How many times can you repeat that?”
“Twice,” she replied, her voice strained. She wasn’t a particularly strong Mage, after all.
“Ready another one and follow me.”
The eerie blue light flickered to life again in her hand as he led the way forward toward the wrecked wall. His prescience flashed a warning and he stepped sideways, yanking the Mage aside as well as a bolt of shadowstuff cut through the space they’d occupied.
More streams of blackness filled the air and a trio of larger shadow demons strode out of the wreckage. Their arms were longer proportionately than their smaller brethren, and they threw bolts drawn of their own black flesh.
David opened fire, walking bullets across the right-hand demon. His first three-round burst threw the creature back, but it lunged forward again as it recovered. His second burst took the demon in the throat, severing its head and leaving the rest of the monster to disintegrate into goo.
The other two were still closing, charging down the corridor, and David smiled as he accelerated to meet them. The fire that burned within him readily flared to life now, and the world slowed around him as he casually stepped into the demons’ path.
A burst of silver bullets ripped the center demon’s head to pieces, thick black blood spraying across the floor as David kept moving. At this speed, the cycle time of his rifle actually slowed him down, and he discarded the weapon as he moved into the third demon.
The gun had barely hit the floor before his fist slammed into the demon’s center of mass. The creature might lack organs, but its body still obeyed the laws of physics. Momentum flung it backward, and he caught its arm before the creature could spawn another bolt of shadowstuff to fling it at him.
With a moment of exertion, he ripped the arm off, the flesh turning to ichor in his hands as it disconnected from its controlling intelligence. The demon tried to bring its other arm around, but he was already moving, ducking under its wild swing as he broke the frame of its leg, scattering shadowstuff everywhere as the demon collapsed. His fist smashed into the creature’s falling head and the entire thing shattered into ichor as he crushed its “brain.”
Covered in demon gunk, he got his first look into the apartment that had started this whole mess. The occupants had apparently set out to summon something, the paraphernalia of the ritual magic of half a dozen minor religions and low-magic paths scattered around the room.
The presence of a ram’s skull and several other items more typically associated with Hollywood Satanism than actual magic, however, implied that the idiots hadn’t had a clue what they were doing.
They’d died for their ignorance, the local weakness of the Seal created by the efforts—and mere presence—of a high-court demon weeks before allowing them to accidentally open a dimensional tear.
The two dead men in the room, however, weren’t dressed in anything resembling ritual wear. Both looked like low-level retail workers, about to head out for work when the tiny shadow demons had come charging through the tear and ripped their throats out before eating their entrails.
“Close the portal,” he ordered harshly. He didn’t like it, but the sight inside the apartment didn’t even make the top-ten list of worst things David White seen since joining ONSET.
“I’ve got another pulse!” Hellet exclaimed as a wave of energy slammed into David, the discolored tear floating in the middle of the room flashing as it threw him away.
Unlike the shadow demons who’d come before, this creature could almost have passed for human—almost. Its skin was the night sky, the glitter of stars on its flesh a reflection of the heavens above. A line of pure white horns circled its head, forming a crown of bone that only added to its impression of inhumanity.
Black fire kindled around its hands, bolts flashing out to drive Hellet back from the portal only she could close. The demon clearly recognized the Mage as the primary threat…a fatal mistake.
David drew his sword.
He was only person in all of the ONSET Teams to carry a sword, and it was no ordinary blade. Memoria was demon-forged from the souls of a team of brave supernaturals who’d died trying to save Earth. It could not be unmade by mortal hands, and the souls of those warriors had demanded that David wield it in the same cause they had died for.
The leaf-shaped blade glittered with red fire as David flashed across the room with Empowered speed and cut the portal. The strange tear in reality resisted the blade for a moment, then split. It hung in the air for an instant, two halves of a magical disaster, neither complete on their own.
Then both collapsed with an ear-crushing double thunderclap and the demon stared at him in shock.
Shocked or not, the creature reacted as he charged at it. Blades of black flame flashed into existence around both of its hands, and it parried David’s first strike with practiced ease. A mid-court demon, the creature probably had hundreds of years of sword training to the ONSET Commander’s weeks.
David was faster, and Memoria was no respecter of dark power. The flame blade that parried his strike flickered out of existence a moment later, its power drained into the blade.
The demon tried to parry with the other blade, but it wasn’t fast enough. Memoria slammed through the monster’s chest, red flame flaring brightly as the blade sank into the demon’s form of ichor and will…and drained away its power.
Like the lesser demons he’d fought to get there, the creature collapsed into harmless shadowstuff, leaving David studying the space where the portal had stood—and the hole in the floor beneath it.
“Stone, Pell, at least one bunch of them went down,” he warned his team. “The portal is sealed. Hellet and I will sweep down, cleaning any that we missed. Watch for escapees—we can’t afford to lose track of one of the little bastards now.”
The sound of machine-gun fire echoed down the apartment building corridors as David and Hellet dropped down through the hole in the floor. A heavy slug punched a hole through the wall near them, whistling across the room to come to a final resting place in someone’s massive antique wardrobe.
Setting off at a run, David made for the sound of the guns. He knew Hellet was behind him, but the Mage couldn’t keep up—and there was a decent chance the other Empowered on his team wouldn’t be able to stand up on his own to however many demons had escaped.
Leaping over an already-shattered door, David felt his prescience flare a warning. He ducked on landing, just barely dodging a burst of silver bullets as they ripped apart one of the larger shadow demons.
Stone stood in front of the fire escape, his torso and lower body magically transformed into the granite that gave him his nickname. As his unimaginably heavy and tough body absorbed the recoil, his still-flesh arms walked the fire of his modified M60 across the hall, shredding the twenty-or-more-strong swarm of shadow demons running at him.
The big gunner’s weapon had been modified to feed from hundred-round drums, but he still had only so many bullets—and there were still demons intact when he ran dry.
Swords, however, had the admirable quality of never running out of ammunition. David hit the demons from behind as they reached Stone, the long blade flickering through their silhouette-esque forms with crude but deadly strikes.
Two demons reached the gunner, only to be crushed into ichor by suddenly granite fists. He paused, taking a moment to clean his hands on a cloth, then began switching drums.
“Thank you,” Stone said as he loaded, an old scar on the tanned man’s throat twisting his voice into a hoarse, high-pitched tone. “That was looking uncomfortable.”
“You’d have been fine,” David replied. “It would probably have taken all of them to hurt you.”
Hellet caught up to them as the gunner was shaking his head, passing David’s M4-Omicron rifle back to him.
“Figure you’d want this, boss,” she told him.
“Thanks,” he agreed. “They threatened to start docking them from my pay.” He tapped at the touchscreen on his forearm, triggering a series of commands in his augmented reality wargear. “Pell, any sign of hostiles on the exterior?”
“Negative. Pendragon scanners show you as the only movement in the building.”
The Pendragon was the very expensive armed and enchanted helicopter that ONSET used to shuttle its troops around.
“Thanks,” David replied. Another series of commands linked him back to ONSET HQ. “Control, let Warner know the situation is under control and the building is secure. We’re going to need a cleanup team.”
“Those are even more backlogged than strike teams,” he was calmly informed. “We’ll pass an order to the NYPD to seal the building and provide hotel and food vouchers to the residents. You need to get moving; that warrant isn’t going to deliver itself.”
“We got called to deal with an Incursion,” David pointed out with a wince. “Wasn’t someone else detailed to deliver the warrant?”
“There’s no one else to send, Commander,” a new voice interrupted. Major Traci Warner was the second in command of ONSET, the woman responsible for the day to day deployment of the strike teams. “I tried to find someone—anyone. But you’re the only people in New York State equipped for a supernatural high threat warrant.
“Sorry, David, but it’s still on you. Clean up and get moving; Deveraux isn’t going to stay still for long.”