The hunt was on.
I threw myself down the city street, arms pumping at my sides, legs just a flash of jeans and heels against the dappled pavement.
My long black hair bounced around the stiff fabric of my jacket, shifting rhythmically from shoulder to shoulder as I continued to throw myself forward with all the unstoppable force of a marathon runner.
I wasn’t out of breath. And I wouldn’t become out of breath. You could ask me to chase after a cheetah, and I’d run that damn thing down without breaking a sweat.
I was in full attack mode, and until I grasped the necklace that always hung around my throat and switched the dial to the right, I would be practically unbeatable. With important emphasis on the word practically.
I suddenly skidded to a stop, my five-inch black heels dragging hard across the pavement, the force and strength of my move scratching two lines through it as if someone had dragged blades over the asphalt.
My hair buffeted around me as a slice of wind made it down the twisted laneway. It didn’t stop me from pressing my eyes open wide, a few knotted strands beating back and forth over my face like a flag caught in a gale.
I tilted my head back, my neck muscles straining, becoming taut like ropes. They would be framed by the dim moonlight making it in from the night sky above. Every spring-like muscle would be touched with that silver glow – the only illumination feeding the city tonight.
You see, there was a citywide blackout. They were common in these parts. The ordinary human population blamed it on the wind and an unreliable power grid.
I knew better.
Evil spirits that could possess weak human minds and use their hands to eke out the will of the Devil himself.
That was why I, Celeste Ming, was here. It was the very reason I’d turned the dial on my soul necklace, despite the consequences it always brought.
I sniffed, my nostrils spreading wide, pumping like bellows as they drew oxygen deep into my lungs.
There, I could taste it. Laced along the wind, it was like dragging my tongue through a toxic mix of crude oil, paint thinner, and orange spice.
I jerked my head back down.
I could sense an enemy close by, and as I swept my head to the left and right, I picked something up in the building to my side.
A flicker of black lace-like wings. Just at the edge of my awareness – always at the edge of my awareness. Even in full attack mode, I would only ever be able to see demons when I either injured them sufficiently or if they chose to allow me to view them.
They only ever did the former when they had a message from their General. And that bastard was never dumb enough to contact me these days – he knew better than to waste my time and attempt to pluck at my sense of loyalty.
There was nothing left for him. Nothing but hatred, that was.
I used a burst of that anger now to fuel me, to push me forward as if I was a car that had just injected NOS into its engine. Blue flame didn’t spit out behind me, and I didn’t roar or anything. But it was in the sheer power and speed of my form as my heels clicked like a whole forest grating in the wind.
I threw myself around another turn in the laneway, the move so abrupt, I had to plant my heel into the wall and shove off. I got some air time, the move so damn powerful, I flipped up, landed with a thwack, my hair bouncing around me, then pushed off again.
Timing was everything when you were hunting demons. They didn’t quite exist in the same world that man did. The Church might tell you that Hell is below and Heaven is above, but that is an overly simplistic, childish view. If you kept digging, you wouldn’t reach the Devil himself and his legions of demons – you’d reach the core of the Earth. And if you kept reaching up through the sky, you’d punch out of the atmosphere – you wouldn’t find the gilded halls of Heaven.
Instead the realms of light and dark existed beside the human dimension. Think of them like two hands pressing into reality from both sides – like pincers that ensured the realm of man could not spill out but instead had to travel in a straight line.
That was the point, see? Of both Heaven and Hell. They existed to control human destinies.
Me? Once upon a time, I’d had a grand destiny of my own. Now my sole purpose was to mop up both the dark and light. When they strayed too far into the realm of man, I was there to push them back.
That neither made me good nor bad – it made me exactly in the middle.
I threw myself forward so quickly, I was starting to wear down the heels of my shoes. No matter, I could replace them. I lived on a shoestring budget, only capable of accepting donations from people who knew my worth. But at the very least, if I was lucky, I could find some discarded footwear next to a dumpster.
I had standards, but not about those kinds of things. Shoes with suspicious stains that smelt like week-old garbage were fine by me as long as they were cute. The good and dark leaching into man’s mind and controlling the actions of humanity?
I couldn’t allow that.
There. Right ahead of me. I picked it up again. As I jerked my head wildly to the side, I picked up a glimpse of demon wings in the left of my peripheral vision. It moved so quickly. It was really nothing more than a spark. A single flash of black. If you didn’t know what you were looking for, you would dismiss it as something pressing on your eyeballs momentarily, or nothing more than an afterimage from staring at a blinking light.
Problem was, I knew exactly what I was looking for.
I shoved forward again, swinging my head to the side, tracking the demon through the building.
It was some kind of clothing store, and fortunately, being the dead of the night, it was closed.
If it hadn’t been closed, the hapless humans of this city wouldn’t have been treated to the view of the demon rushing through their midst. Instead, they would have felt it. For every single person the demon would’ve rushed through, would have grown sick or inexplicably violent, or some mix of the two.
I’m not saying that every single case of the sniffles or assault is caused by demons. Humans don’t get off that lightly. Neither the dark nor light can make it into people’s minds without their permission. They create a hole, fixate on some concept, and end up getting possessed.
Still, find an invisible demon running through you, and your body will react. Maybe with the flu, maybe with a head cold, maybe, if you’re really susceptible, with a sudden and fatal heart attack.
But fortunately it was night.
I couldn’t dally, though. Take too long in mopping this guy up, and he would find out.
And who was he? Thanatos, the colossal mega bastard who was the Devil’s main emissary in Soullake City. I might not hate him as much as I hated the General, but it was close.
Thanatos Jones technically had a real job. He was an investment banker, a broker for not just money, but opportunity. You make the right deal with Thanatos, he’ll give you what you desire.
You might not like what you have to pay ultimately, though.
Thanatos was matched on the side of good by Father Butler. And as you could probably already guess, I hated that guy just as much as Thanatos.
I had no preference for Heaven over Hell. I understood that both simply used humanity and controlled their destinies.
But right now, it was time to mop up the demon.
And I was close.
But the jerk was faster than me. He knew I was chasing him, even though I was outside. As I kept a lock on him in my peripheral vision, practically making my head spin from the stress of staring out of the corner of my eyes, I appreciated he kept whipping his tail and wings toward me.
He put on a burst of speed.
I heard a crash from the front of the store, and seconds later, as I burst through the laneway and skidded to a halt, I saw shards of glass and metal covering the pavement.
The shop’s alarm started to blare, and got all of about two notes into its warning song before it was switched off.
While demons could choose to be insubstantial, and could easily pass through any man-made material, it was up to them when they became solid.
“Fine. You want to play? Then we play.” I had the time to spit out just as I watched the demon clutch up a long flat section of metal.
The demon moved so quickly, I could barely track it.
As it was, I kept my gaze locked to the left, only just picking up the swipe of its claws as it swung that metal toward me.
I had several options, but this had been a shit night, and it was time to brute force my way forward.
So I shoved toward the metal pole. I brought my arm up and I collected that pole right on my elbow.
Pain had a fraction of a second to pulse through me. The pain of broken bones, torn flesh, of a human arm ripped to shreds by metal moving at the speed of sound.
But the pain didn’t last. It couldn’t. Not when I was in full action mode.
That would be a technicality. As soon as it appeared, it disappeared.
I would have to deal with it later.
For now, I twisted my wrist to the side, clamping my fingers around the steel pole and yanking just before the demon could swing at me again.
It screeched, the pitch of its voice so loud, it blew out two more windows of the shop beside us. Glass hailed inward, covering a display, knocking over several mannequins, and shredding their clothes.
The security footage of this incident would make no sense. To human eyes, at least. They would see the door of the store blasting outward, and a minute later windows shattering, seemingly of their own accord.
But there wouldn’t be any footage. Just as the demon had already turned off the security alarm, it would’ve been smart enough to turn off the security cameras, too. Thanatos was an exacting master, and he ensured every single demon that came to work for him knew the rules of his game.
The demon screeched again, the sound blasting out, this time so loudly that it shattered windows on the opposite side of the street.
There would be a hell of a cleanup bill. Fortunately, I wouldn’t be paying it.
My services began and ended with keeping a wall between the light, the dark, and humanity.
The demon attempted to wrench the metal pole from my grip, flying forward and fastening both of its clawed forelegs around the length of steel.
It revealed its two massive wings – their span as long as a car. It flapped them back, using its power to try to pull its weapon free from me.
“Screw this,” I spat. I kept one hand fastened on the steel pole. With the other, I clutched my soul amulet.
It had modes. It was linked to my soul, though technically it was more accurate to say that it was my soul. I too had made a deal with the Devil, but that had been a long time ago. The deal had delivered me this amulet. By twisting its dial, I could access the raw power of my soul, using it to give me all the skills required to take out angels and demons.
When I didn’t require that power, I would simply turn the dial to the right, and I would return to my human form.
But not yet.
Turning the dial all the way to the left, I felt power flood me.
It was unstoppable. The brightest damn thing in the universe. The most powerful force ever to exist. It was my soul, on fast forward, turned to full capacity, raging like a star.
I watched realization pulse through the demon’s black pupils, the skin around his eyes stretching like plastic wrap.
He had time to jerk his gelatinous lips open, revealing six rows of broken, folded in, tusk-like yellow teeth. “Mercy,” he tried. “Thanatos—”
I didn’t wait around for him to finish his sentence, even though I knew exactly what he was going to say.
I attacked. Wait around to listen to what he was about to blabber, and I’d lose all legal rights to attack him. And this guy deserved only one thing – to be sent back to his maker.
With the full power of my soul blazing around me like an impenetrable white shield, I let a scream split from my lips. It shook down the street, as powerful as a bellow from a giant. I struck the demon, right in the center of its chest, giving the blow everything my suddenly super powerful form could manage.
The demon didn’t have a chance to finish its sentence. I delivered a blow powerful enough to split it right down the middle. Instantly the scent of rotting flesh struck the air. It was like smelling a pit of corpses. It was fetid, overpowering, almost impossible to put up with. But to dispel demons and hold the line, I’d learned to hold my stomach too.
Just before the fiend flickered away in a dance of black light, it locked its eyes on me. It tried to move its lips.
A thrill of fear passed through me. But before it could finish its plea, it disappeared, its body incapable of sustaining its warped soul any longer. I stood there and watched as wisps of black smoke circled around the spot where the demon had been, almost like bees who could no longer remember where their hive had gone.
I didn’t shift until every single last wisp of smoke had pressed through cracks in the pavement, returning from whence they’d come.
Then I swung that steel beam over my shoulder and pressed it against the crook of my neck. I drummed my fingers on it, the rat-a-tat filling the air as I heard sirens far off in the distance. The police would take their sweet time. They always did in this city. Though the human population had no idea of the demons and angels vying for control of Soullake, they knew exactly how dangerous the streets were at night.
I considered the mess of glass and broken metal, shoving a clump of plaster with the toe of my heel as I tutted. “Messy bastard, weren’t you?” I muttered under my breath as I discarded the steel pole, jettisoning it off my shoulder and not caring as it struck the remaining flimsy section of the door, pulling it right off its hinges and making it thump hard against the store floor. Several mannequins shook and fell over, scattering their hats and summer wear over the already trashed shop.
I shoved my hands into the pockets of my jacket and strode away. Another night in Soullake; another fight.
The city sat over a double gate to Heaven and Hell. It was hotly contested territory in the never-ending battle between both realms. It was the city – if you were to believe my warped destiny that I’d left behind when I’d started up my business – that I was foretold to destroy.
But it was the city, instead, that I would protect.
The rest of My Immortal Soul Book One is available from most ebook retailers.