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The Demon Within (A PeaceKeeper Novel Book 1)(4)

By:Stacey Brutger



All without coercion.

Determined to follow her findings through to the end, she raised her hand. Her fingers hovered above the image of the executioner then traced the line of blood. The wall wavered beneath her fingers as if the river of blood still flowed after all these years.

The next glyph revealed the blood draining directly in the temple to be collected by the demons and inspected.

Whatever they expected to find, they were disappointed. With each failure, the human was killed until there were none left.

The chill in her heart spread, seeping deep within her bones until they felt brittle. Caly racked her mind for an explanation, but nothing in all the folklore or legends she researched explained anything about this ritual.                       
       
           



       

The last image revealed the guards as they entombed themselves inside the temple. She snuck a peek at the skeletons. It looked like each guard had simply lain down and never bothered to get back up again. There was no sign of a struggle, broken bones or any indication that they had been restrained.

There had to be a reason, something important she needed to learn from the images, but part of her mind just didn't care. The slim hope she'd been nurturing to find an answer about permanently kicking the demons out of her life came to a brutal death.

"I bet some museum would pay a fortune for this." Whirling, Caly's hand settled on her blade, only to spy Henry lift a skull off the nearest platform and toss it from hand to hand. A flash of metal distracted him, and the skull hit the floor with a sickening crack.

Like a bloodhound on a scent, Henry bent over the corpse. He rooted around, plucking a gold medallion from the desecrated body. The chain snagged. With a tug, it came free, along with a plume of fine dust. The bones clanked on the stone but thankfully, remained intact.

She resisted the urge to reprimand him. It would only make the animosity between them worse.

With a furtive glance at Oscar, Henry flicked his wrist and the chain disappeared within his pocket. He replaced the skull and gave her a wicked smile as if it had never happened. Caly studied the floor behind the altars, sickened by his disrespect for the dead.

An odd smell like rotten vegetation left too long in the field drenched the air. The same smell as outside. A slight taint hovered in the stones as if it rose from the very ground.

A grimace crossed her face as the truth rolled over her. Tainted blood saturated the soil. The contamination undoubtedly prevented plant growth and would for centuries to come.

Every instinct leapt to life, hummed along her skin, blaring a warning for her to leave.

The urgency mounted, and she belatedly realized it wasn't just unease. Something was coming.

Her hands tightened on the knife pommel, unaware when she'd unsheathed it. Legs apart, knees bent, Caly narrowed her eyes and surveyed the room for a target. Pinpricks moved over her arms and across her neck. She cocked her head and swore she heard the screams of the past call out to her.

One step, then another, Caly drifted toward the entrance when the truth struck home.

The voices were not of the past, but her team.

Cunningham!

Tension snapped her body taunt. Her heartbeat skyrocketed and she took off, bracing herself for a brutal run. She increased her stride as she neared the entrance.

Oscar swung his spear in her path, too fast for her to dodge even with her reflexes. The impact slapped her across her chest, knocking her on her backside and leaving her gasping for air, a string of fire in its wake.

"You can't help them now. Poor bastards." Bushy brows lowered as Oscar turned toward the mouth of the entrance. "You'd best prepare yourself. They'll be heading this way next."





Chapter Three





When the last of the life-draining light dimmed on the horizon, the stone encasing him softened agonizingly slow, regardless of the fact it could've only been seconds. A roar escaped his throat, and his limbs snapped free from the stone's perpetual hold.

He lifted his head and arched his back until the stretch and pull of muscles screamed for mercy.

The terrible pain was delicious after decades of nothingness.

As if he'd rolled in a pile of nettles, his skin burned and tingled with enough force to yank the breath from his body.

Freedom!

He knelt and touched the pool of congealed blood near his boot. Lifting his hand to his nose, he inhaled deeply, memorizing the smell of his savior, the one person guaranteed to free him.

If he didn't fuck it up again.

The smell of sunshine filled his lungs, and he closed his eyes to savor the sensations around him.

The smell of humans lingered in the area.

Then the bittersweet stench of demon suffused him. His body snapped taut, and a wave of fury engulfed him.

He jumped off the pedestal and paused, scenting the air, then took off at a speed that blurred his surroundings. Adrenaline surged through his system, and he lengthened his stride further until his muscles burned. The path seemed to part in welcome, and he flowed over the forest floor.

No way in hell would he let his savior die before he had a chance to redeem himself.

The path diverged in two directions.

Indecision struck, and he hesitated. The scent of his charge suffocated under the foul odor of too many demons.

He couldn't choose wrong.

Not when his salvation stood in the balance.

Making a snap decision, he headed left toward the greatest concentration of demons. And one step closer to the chance of regaining everything he'd lost.





Chapter Four                       
       
           



       





Caly gaped at Oscar, her chest so tight she couldn't breathe past the pain. She knew he was ruthless, that he would go to extraordinary lengths to win a battle, but actually sacrificing the company went too far.

"You can't mean to leave them out there."

"I wouldn't wish them dead, but it doesn't change the fact it's already too late. Either way, they're of no use to us." He thumped the heel of his spear against the ground, and she barely resisted the urge to kick out and snap the blasted thing in half. "Gather yourself. This isn't the time to be weak. The battle's almost upon us, and we're not even close to being prepared."

It was pointless to argue with the truth. Numbness spread through her system like anesthesia, allowing her mind to cower behind a wall of disbelief. The last rays of the sun streaked across the horizon, the red light filtering in from the hostile world beyond the temple as darkness crept closer.

An omen of death.

Cunningham.

Her chest hurt as if the temple walls had caved in to crush her. Creaking like an old woman, Caly rose. Although the chances were slim, she hoped they'd made it out alive.

"If they head in our direction, we'll be trapped. We should leave now while we have the chance." The thought of being trapped inside the temple sent chills skittering down her spine.

Oscar shook his head and turned away. "It's much too late for that. We'd be caught out in the open when darkness fell."

His ominous words put her on edge, and she resisted the urge to yell out her anger at the unfairness. A glance over her shoulder revealed darkness would cover the land in less than ten minutes. The temperature had dropped considerably, sucking the heat from her body.

Oscar was right. Vengeance tightened its hold on her. It was time to prepare to kick some demon ass.

Caly dusted off the seat of her pants and rechecked her weapon belt, comforted by the well-worn knife handles. A sixth sense warned her she'd need all her wits and weapons about her.

Demons were the devil to kill and weapons alone wouldn't hold them back. They needed a workable defense.

Not to mention a miracle.

Restlessness ate away at her, and she paced. She needed to do something, needed to feel useful. She stopped abruptly when she faced the wall. Her brows furrowed, and she whirled to look at the temple closer. The measurements were off. The interior of was at least a third smaller than the outside. There was another room, possibly another entrance.

The floors were seamless. No dirt, twigs or leaves tossed inside from rough weather. No animals, rodents or even those pesky bugs were anywhere to be found as if sensing something she couldn't.

That left the walls.

She studied the jagged entrance, reaching out to touch the stone. The edges weren't faded from the sun. Mortar that should've long since disappeared under the elements crumbled between her fingers. "This entrance was just made."

Oscar looked up, and studied the wall. His lips pruned as if ready to spit. He hadn't noticed. The white, thinning hair on his head bounced when he nodded. "Agreed. They wanted us here. Find out why."

While they worked, Caly tried to figure out what they hoped to gain by trapping them in this spot. But what concerned her more was the possibility of a second entrance. She needed to find it and fast. It could either be an important escape hatch or a weakness they couldn't afford.

To say it was unpleasant to be surprised by a demon would be an understatement. Caly had seen the aftermath when she was a newbie on cleanup detail early in her training. It'd taken her days to get the smell out of her nose and months for the nightmares to end.

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