SUBBASEMENT, MABON CITY CAMPUS, MABON CITY
For the briefest of moments, all my senses were assaulted with a riot of impressions. Then everything was simply right. My vision was sharp and clear enough, even in the dark, to count the stray hairs that peeked out from under Anjie’s cowl. I could hear the subtle differences between her footfalls as she approached, babbling on about revenge. The combined stenches of the Shadows and fresh paint was, much to my displeasure, overpowering and unavoidable. I even felt the thrumming and invisible tension of the circle I was trapped in. Despite all of that, all I could think was: Damn! It’s good to be back!
Now all I had to do was get out of this circle by pulling off a trick I’d never done before, beat the snot out of a conceited, little witch, take her two minions out of the picture for good, bust up the Mirror of Souls—wherever they were hiding it—and rescue Aiden.
Sounds simple enough. My biggest problem would be figuring out that whole Jump thing with nothing to guide me. Well, that, and finding the Mirror. I just had to trick them into showing me where they put it.
Anjie was still droning on about her plan when I finally tuned back in. Her two Shadow friends merely observed, though, to me, they seemed to be growing increasingly impatient.
“That’s the problem with villains these days,” I muttered to the smaller demon, earning a quick look. “Get ’em talking about their plans and they’ll never shut up.”
It snorted; maybe even in amusement.
“What the hell does your plan have to do with me?” I demanded, effectively cutting off Anjelah’s annoying yammering. Woo boy! Did she look like she could spit nails.
“Didn’t your mother ever teach you not to interrupt people when they’re talking?”
“As a matter of fact,” I crossed my arms defiantly “she didn’t.”
“Enough!” The larger Shadow roared. Anjelah bowed out of his way, giving me a quick look at her altar. It was just a bunch of candles and an iron pot sitting atop a black tablecloth. There was enough room within the semi-circle of candles for the Mirror to rest, but it wasn’t there.
Where else could it be?
“You have but one option to get out of here alive, Half Breed.” The larger Shadow jerked the chain, forcing Aiden to lop sideways with a pained yelp. “I suggest you take it.”
I rolled my eyes, already aware of the demons’ sales pitch. I had more important things to worry about than some too-good-to-be-true offer from the Netherworld’s lackeys. The worst part about it was that they’d keep coming, again and again, making the same offer over and over. I should give them a signed note.
Wait! Maybe I didn’t need a note; I just needed the Law of Threes. And I hoped it would work in this situation.
The Shadow continued trying to talk my ear off. “… you could command armies, conquer kingdoms.” Its grin stretched in a perfect mimic of the Cheshire cat’s. “Slay Taboo.”
I looked it dead in its ruby eyes. “Anyone ever tell you that you sound like an infomercial?”
Its grin melted.
“Since you Shadows seem to have a void where your brains should be,” their growls rumbled like a raging storm, “let me be perfectly clear. I. Will. Never. Join. The Netherworld. Twice more I’ll say it, and be done.” I felt the same weird, little pop of energy that happened last time. The demons went insane with rage. Whatever that Law of Threes thing was, it really seemed to pack a wallop among parathropes.
“Then you leave us no other choice!” bellowed the larger of the two. “Kill the wretch!”
“A moment please, my lord,” Anjelah said, her voice thick with hollow flattery. That revealed something I hadn’t thought of before now. All this time, I thought she had been in charge of this whole train wreck, but it would seem she was merely the Shadows’ peon.
“Allow me to feed her soul to the Mirror.”
It took the Shadows maybe half a second to approve the idea. I watched in a mix of awe and dread as the smaller Shadow reached into the dark, melding perfectly into the shadows for a moment. Then, slowly, it began to pull back. With its fist came a twisted and pitted sculpture with black glass at its heart. The temperature of the room took a sudden dive, and I shivered in realization.
The Mirror of Souls.
Anjie muttered something, and my arms suddenly had minds of their own. They rose as if I was trying to reach the ceiling, and stayed there. I tried bringing them down, but it felt like I had a Bowflex machine on the highest resistance setting.
“You should feel honored, Jinx,” said Anjelah. I felt a shimmering ripple of energy rush away when she reached over the border of the circle, breaking it. She pulled a dainty knife from the sheathe clipped to her belt. With a satisfied grin, she jabbed the blade into the middle my forearm and dragged it down, carving out a path about three inches long. The edges of the wound sizzled like bacon on a hot stove.
She held the knife there until my blood coated the blade in crimson, and backed away. “Your soul will make the Mirror more powerful than it has been in centuries.”
“Why am I not excited?”
Angie backed away, muttered another word. My skin started to crawl as every hair on my body stood on end. The air around me felt like a lightning bolt was about to strike. There was a sudden change in pressure, and my arms were freed from whatever force had held them. I held my hand over the wound to ebb the flow of blood and watched as Anjie accepted the Mirror from the Shadow.
“You never answered my question,” I said. She paused to glare at me. “What did I do to wind up on your shit list?”
“Who says you’re on my list?” She shot a glance at the larger of the two Shadows.
I pointed at it. “Oh. It’s your list. Were you the one I shot full of holy water?”
It snarled something I could only guess was an insult.
“That reminds me.” My attention returned to Anjelah, and I tried to ignore the sick feeling that settled in the pit of my stomach as she let my blood drip into the cauldron. Disgusting! “What were you doing at Cynthia’s mansion? You already had the wonder twins here,” I gestured between the two Shadows, “steal the Mirror, and I know you had no interest in the junk in the safe. So, why were you there?”
She was silent a moment, working on her spell, then she glanced at me over her shoulder. “Funny. I thought a psychic would have known that.”
“Think, Cybil.” Anjie set the tiny knife on the altar. “What one thing did the alley, the mansion, and the festival all have in common?”
Son of a monkey!
How did I not realize it sooner? Of course, I was their target! Both Duncan and Quinn had warned me that Netherworld agents would be coming after me, and that those agents would do everything and anything in their power to try to recruit me. And I just handed myself over to them all willy-nilly. How freaking stupid could I be?
“Figured it out, have you?” Anjelah murmured, regarding me with a serpentine smile plastered on her face.
In a low, ice cold tone, I told her, “I’m going to make you eat that smile.”
She scoffed. “I’d like to see you try.” With that, she turned her back to me to begin whatever twisted ritual the Mirror required.
It was the moment I had been waiting for.
Anjelah’s voice cut through. “Maledicti invoc—”
I heard her, but I was too focused on my task to care.
There was a sudden flash of darkness. The feeling of weightlessness. For a moment, I felt like I was adrift in a dream. I thought I saw doorways. Countless doorways. All lining a long hallway that stretched on for eternity in either direction.
Then it was gone.
“—abo.” Anjie uttered the last syllable of the word she had been on. However long I had spent floating in the nothingness had been less than an instant here. In that split second, I had crossed twenty feet and now found myself directly behind Anjelah.
A giddy wave of exhaustion shuddered through me. I shoved it aside. Before Anjie could take a breath, I punched her square in the middle of her back. She crashed into the table with a yelp of pain and surprise. The candles toppled, spilling wax and flame onto the tablecloth. I grabbed the back of her head and slammed it against the table top as hard as I could.
The Shadows—probably just now realizing I was no longer caged—bellowed ear-splitting shrieks.
I snatched the Mirror with one hand, freed my water gun from its holster with the other. At least, that’s what I tried to do. My hands were shaking so bad from the adrenaline rush that I just ended up yanking the whole thing off my ankle. It didn’t matter; one shot from the gun would send the holster flying.
Anjelah was trying to get up. I kicked the back of her knee and heard a satisfying crack. She crumbled to the floor, striking her chin on the table’s edge as she went.
I whirled around to face the Shadows.
In the handful of seconds I spent dealing with Anjie, the demons had almost closed in on me. I pointed the gun at the closest and fired. The holster passed harmlessly through the Shadow’s head. The water bullet that followed right behind it didn’t. The demon’s head snapped back at the force of the blast, and the monster burst into a cloud of mucus-like goo. The fluid splashed to the floor with a violent hiss.
The remaining Shadow froze in its tracks, gaped at me.
I stared, mystified, at the rapidly evaporating puddle.
Anjie screeched a word. The water gun flew out of my hands and clattered to the floor several feet between me and a cowering Aiden. I reeled around to strike Anjelah down, but she was already shouting another word. My arms suddenly felt heavy, as if they had been weighed down with anchor chains. The Shadow glommed onto me from behind and wrenched the Mirror from my grasp. I struggled to pull its arm away from my throat before I was choked out.
“I’ll kill you!” Anjie snarled. I caught a glimpse of her face before she hammered punches into my ribs. The right side had been caught in the spilled candles, and the flames and molten wax had taken their toll. Where her skin hadn’t been blackened by the burns, enormous blisters and strips of dead flesh remained. She would never heal from the trauma. I probably should have felt guilty, knowing I had been the one to cause it, but right now, I didn’t give a flying rat’s naked, purple butt.
The Shadow may have had a good hold on me, but it was powerless to stop me from completely fighting back. I slammed my foot into Anjie’s already injured knee, and it caved with a crunch. She screamed in agony and fell sideways, but I was quick to follow up with a kick to her face. I felt her nose burst before she was thrown backward, missing the blazing table by a hair, and landing in a heap on the floor. The ethereal weight on my arms abruptly vanished.
“We tried to make your death quick,” the Shadow grumbled in my ear. “Now you will suffer.”
Its hold around my neck tightened, and I suddenly felt myself being lifted off my feet. I thrashed uselessly against the hold. When that failed, I reached up to rake the demon’s eyes. The Shadow only squeezed tighter. My heartbeat hammered wildly in my head. For a moment, I thought I heard voices. I would have screamed for help if I could.
I fought to keep my senses, but the darkness was closing in.
And the world went black.