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Celestial Magic: Celestial Marked Series Book 1 (Ebook)

Celestial Magic: Celestial Marked Series Book 1 (Ebook)

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Book 1 of 5: Celestial Marked

Devi Lawson has a talent for breaking the rules. It's second only to her skill at hunting down demons -- too bad the angelic guild of celestial soldiers didn't appreciate her efforts. In fact, they kicked her out.

And now she's being accused of murdering one of their own.

To clear her name, she must work hand in hand with the demons she used to hunt, including the enigmatic warlock Nikolas Castor. Not only is his magic entirely too close to the killer she's pursuing, but he seems to think Devi is marked by a demon, too.

Before long, Devi is neck-deep in trouble. Distrusted by her former allies and in serious danger of the real reason she left the guild making it into the light, Devi must catch the killer before he unleashes a literal hell on Earth.

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“I have a question,” said the vampire, leaning on the bar next to me. “If you screw a celestial soldier, does that guarantee you a place in heaven?”

“No,” I said, “but I can offer you a one-way ticket to hell if you take one more step.” I lifted my hand to show the celestial mark on the underside of my wrist. It was shaped like an arrowhead, and his proximity—like any preternatural being—brought out a flash of white light underneath the tanned skin of my wrist. If I turned the power up to max, he’d probably go up in flames. The vamp’s cocky grin slipped, and he quickly slunk away back to his mates on the other side of the bar.

I switched off the light and took another sip of my drink. On reflection, this wasn’t the type of bar you went to if you preferred to avoid attention. Even if I hid my tattoo, my aura was visible to certain people—piercingly white, like the Divinity who’d given me the mark. It didn’t fit with my cheap tank top and jeans, but I’d deliberately played down my appearance. The trouble with places like this is that if you’re not one of them, they catch on pretty fast. Still, a job was a job, and my client had offered a reasonable bonus… if he ever showed up. I’d been here an hour and had burned through my patience when it came to rowdy vamps playing drinking games and knocking glasses over. Whoever thought vampires were a bunch of ancient stiffs had never been to the Royal Arms at Happy Hour.

Tapping my foot on the edge of the bar stool, I ordered another drink. As I did so, a man sidled over to me. I stiffened, ready to flip my wrist over and flash the mark again, but he sat without a word. His red-tinted eyes and the glowing undercurrent to his dusky skin indicated his vampire status. If the curved incisors visible when he opened his mouth weren’t enough of a clue.

“Are you Devina Lawson?”

Ah, shit. The client was a vamp. I liked to avoid working for vamps, or warlocks, or weres… basically, anyone with preternatural abilities. But he’d seen my ad and apparently ignored the strong hints that I preferred to deal with humans who’d ended up in some magical dilemma or other. Not the people who were more likely to have caused a magical dilemma.

“Yes,” I said. “I am. Are you Mr Evans?”

He’d called me this morning and asked for help catching a thief. No hints at anything weird. I should have known something was up when he’d suggested meeting in this preternaturally inclined bar. The vamps in the corner were about the least threatening group of bloodsuckers I’d ever seen, but if ever there was an opportunity to pounce on me and force me to kill someone again, this was it. Raucous laughter came from the corner, where one of the vamps had brought a keg filled with some sort of blood cocktail mixed with tequila. Good luck to the poor sod who had to clean the carpets afterwards.

“As I said, something valuable was stolen from me last night,” he said, in a raspy voice. He cast an irritated look at the vamps, who were now drunkenly singing along to Queen beside the old-fashioned jukebox and getting half the words wrong. Vampires looked ageless, but these ones were apparently stuck in student-aged party animal mode forever. You’d think they’d get bored eventually, not that I’d know. Celestials weren’t immortal, and the Divinities’ elite soldiers had no time for earthly pleasures like going to bars and having fun. Apparently.

“Stolen by whom, exactly?” I asked warily. I didn’t generally turn down a job, but if it involved stepping into the middle of the vampires’ ongoing feud with the warlocks, forget it. This dude looked too sensible to be involved with that, but I needed to get all the facts first.

“A demon.”

Of course it would be. It was apparently that sort of night.

“A demon mugged you,” I said, making it sound like I didn’t believe him. If word made it back to the celestials that I was helping vampires out with anything, netherworld-related or not, then I could expect a stern phone call at the very least. It wasn’t illegal, just a swift ticket to trouble. I might need the work, but there’s a limit on how many risky cases you can take on before trouble starts snowballing around you and the next thing you know, there’s a Grade Three demon on your tail. I’d like to avoid drawing the attention of anything big in the netherworld if I could help it.

“Yes,” said the vampire. “Stole my wallet from my back pocket. Maybe four feet tall, and covered in scales.”

“Oh.” I released a breath. “A magpie demon. No problem.”

Chthonian lizards—otherwise nicknamed ‘magpie demons’ because of their attraction to shiny objects like coins—were responsible for a fair proportion of crimes when amateur occultists summoned them into this world. It takes balls to rob a vampire, but they weren’t particularly advanced on the common sense front either.

Problem: this wasn’t their home dimension, and getting answers from a netherworlder would be a long way from a low-profile case. On the other hand, I could summon one in my sleep, and I needed the money.

“Are you certain?” he asked me. “I didn’t know celestials dealt with demons.”

So he did know what I was. It wasn’t mentioned in my ad, so for some reason, the mark didn’t bother him. Strange. Most vamps were at least wary of us, if not outright terrified. After all, the celestial soldiers were living proof of the Divinities’ presence, even if the angel-like beings never set foot in this realm. Like the arch-demons, they had more important things to be getting on with. But like weres and warlocks, vamps were demonically aligned, and therefore distrusted us on principle. Or, occasionally, wanted to score with us.

“I don’t ‘deal’ with demons,” I informed him. “But banishing and killing them requires knowing how to summon them, too. If it was recently in this dimension, it can’t have gone far.”

“What level did you reach?” He eyed the celestial mark, the permanent tattoo the Divinity had put on me when they’d brought me back from the brink of death after a drunk driver had smashed into my parents’ car when I was sixteen. Not a destiny I’d chosen, but one I’d been pushed into by the fates. I didn’t detect any malice in his tone, and celestials had a kind of celebrity status in certain circles. Something clicked into place—he must be a new vamp, turned not long ago. No wonder he didn’t hang out with the rest of them, or pick up the hints in my ad.

“Three,” I told him. “I don’t work for them anymore. I’m a freelancer.”

“And it’s just you?”

I gave him a false smile. “Yes, it is. Shall we get on with it, then?”

As I rose from my seat, one of the vamps vomited blood all over the carpet. I don’t believe in signs, but it wasn’t an auspicious way to begin our job. 

As summoning demons in public places was frowned upon, to say the least, we had to find the nearest location away from prying eyes. Luckily, the pub had an alleyway for that very purpose, near the closed beer garden. Rain lashed the pavements, soaking my shoes. I needed a new pair, but hadn’t been able to scrape together the cash. I’d been in a permanent state of financial crisis since I’d quit working for the celestials, and as this client had oh-so-helpfully reminded me, things weren’t going particularly great at the moment.

The alleyway was cramped and smelled of a combination of piss and rain with a hint of brimstone. A poster peeled off the wall, one of many depicting the face of Faye Carruthers, the most notorious ex-celestial of all time. I might not have left the guild on the best of terms, but unlike her, at least I hadn’t summoned a demon and killed a bunch of people on the way out. The brick was marked with dark sooty lines from warlock spells, suggesting I wasn’t the only one who used the alley for nefarious means.

“Can you really find the exact demon who stole from me?” asked the vampire. “I thought there were hundreds of them.”

“It’ll be difficult,” I said. “As I’m sure you’re aware, summoning netherworlders isn’t something my people often have reason to do.”

He nodded along, falling for the act. I wasn’t lying. If any of my former tutors knew how often I consulted the nether realms these days, they wouldn’t be amused to say the least. But there was nowhere better to get netherworld gossip than from the mouths of minor demons, even if I couldn’t find the one who’d robbed him.

I pushed up my sleeve to reveal the celestial mark, and muttered under my breath. The muttering wasn’t necessary, but it sounded good, and I needed to scrape together some credibility. 

Celestial light shone from the arrowhead on my wrist as I directed it at the wall. Crisscrossing lines formed a pentagram shape against the brick, which would keep the miniature demon caged. The glowing white edges burned out evil and sin, apparently.

I stepped back from the wall. “It’s tuned into the creature’s home dimension. Now we wait for someone to answer.”

The vamp peered dubiously at the pentagram. “What if something stronger comes out?”

“It can’t. The trap’s only big enough to draw in smaller fiends, and besides, the bigger ones aren’t interested. I’d need to offer them a worthwhile price.” Like my immortal soul, for instance. The vampire stared at me in awe, while I pointedly watched the pentagram instead of giving him an opening to bombard me with questions.

Finally, a bald, horned head poked out of the pentagram.

“Hey, Dienes,” I said. I spoke in lower Chthonic, the unofficial language of his home dimension.

The demon spat against the circle. “More of your tricks, celestial. You look like hell warmed over.” He grinned at his own joke.

“Hilarious,” I said. Come on, I didn’t look that bad. Okay, my clothes had seen better days. And shoes. My hair had grown back somewhat after a moth demon had eaten holes in it, though I usually looked like I could use a nap. Maybe he had a point.

“What do you want this time?” he asked. 

“I need to find someone.” I glanced at the vampire. “A magpie demon recently committed a robbery, basically right here. Anyone take a little trip over into this dimension recently?”

“You’re a real demon,” said the vamp, sounding a little faint. “Are you—?”

“Don’t ask the demon questions,” I told him. “Not if you want to leave with your soul intact.” Not that vamps had one, according to the celestials’ doctrine. Same with demons and weres. Warlocks were more complicated. There was nothing like celestial training to make you into a total bore at parties.

“That’s impossible,” said the demon. “Magpies are impossible to track.”

“You know them all by name and give them presents,” I said. “You told me that. Also, there’s your useful little ability. Find them.”

He grinned. “Guilty. I’ll find your fiend.”

He disappeared, and the pentagram remained, five points of light burning against the dark brick wall.

The vamp opened and closed his mouth like a goldfish. “You know that demon? You can speak to him?”

“That’s Dienes. He appears whenever I contact that dimension and has the ability to track demons by scent. Handy for jobs like this.”

“You…” He stared at me. “You’re a celestial, though. I thought the Divinities forbade you to ask demons for favours.”

“Ex-celestial, technically. There’s nothing that forbids us from talking to demons. If anything, we’re encouraged to form contacts in the netherworld dimensions. At the level I was at, I was tracking high-ranked demons every few weeks. You need contacts to do that.”

Of course, I wasn’t supposed to keep those contacts now I’d left, but they didn’t have to know.

“I need that wallet back,” he said. “See, I kept a bloodstone in there.”

I spun to face him. “You didn’t mention that before.”

“Didn’t want the other vamps to hear.”

I swore under my breath. Bloodstones. Magically charged objects in the hands of a demon were a disaster waiting to happen. Well, it’d make the demon easier to track if Dienes didn’t find him, but the little bastards got high on human energy, and that’s essentially what bloodstones were. A substitute for drinking human blood, if the vampires grew desperate.

“Is that… bad?” he asked uncertainly. “I keep it with me for emergencies.”

“Probably not,” I relented. “Unless the demon’s passed it onto someone else. We don’t want them getting a taste for humans. They come after us often enough already.”

He glanced at me. “You… you aren’t human, though, right?”

Great. Should have seen that one coming. “Yes, I’m human. Just with a few added bonuses.”

Like not being able to hide. I’d wanted to go incognito when I’d quit the guild, but when you attract netherworlders like I do, it’s only a matter of time before people start asking questions. So I didn’t bother with a cover story. Really, I ought to have got out of the city altogether, but I’d left with no money, and besides, there was work here. 

A scream came from the wall, and a pair of giant eyes pushed up against the pentagram’s surface. “There he is,” came Dienes’s voice from behind the struggling creature. Its skin was scaly and wrinkled, like a lizard, but the size of a small cat.

The small demon screamed and flailed its tiny fists. “Celestial! Please, please don’t burn me. I beg you.”

“Give back what you stole and I won’t have to.” I loomed over the pentagram, holding my arm at an angle to show the arrowhead symbol. White light clicked on.

The little demon wailed, throwing the wallet out of the pentagram, where it landed in a puddle at the vampire’s feet.

I smiled. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

The vampire bent and picked up the wallet, rifling through the contents. If the demon had taken a rush of energy from the bloodstone, it’d be hyper for a few hours, but wouldn’t cause any lasting damage.

“Everything there?” I asked, and the vampire nodded. “Awesome. Bye bye, little demon.”

The pentagram fizzled out as I muttered another nonsense phrase under my breath, switching out the light as I did so.

“He’s gone?” asked the vampire.

I shrugged. “I can banish him to his home dimension, but it’s not permanent. He’ll be back in a few months. Maybe years. Depends if someone else decides to try an amateur summoning. ”

His sharpened canines gleamed in the celestial light. “He shouldn’t come back.”

“Don’t worry, he won’t remember you by then.” I approached him. “My fees?”

He handed me a fistful of notes. Score. Now I could replace my shoes. “Thanks. I’d watch out in future. Carrying bloodstones… well, carrying anything that might be used as a demonic prop can only lead to trouble.”

He nodded. “Thank you, Devina.”

I turned to make sure the demonic pentagram had thoroughly disappeared. By that point, I ought to have known the job had been too easy. And the netherworld wasn’t finished with me yet.

Sidestepping the puddles, I was halfway out the alley when the mark on my wrist lit up again, a tingling sensation running from my palm to my elbow. Then a scream drifted over the rooftops.

That was a human scream.

I spun around and ran down the alley, which intersected with a narrow passage between the high fences of the neighbouring shops’ back yards. This area attracted more preternaturally inclined people than most and my celestial mark reacted to anyone who wasn’t human or celestial, but the brightness of the light indicated a demon of a high level. The sort that wasn’t supposed to appear in this realm.

I exited the back alley and crossed the road as a second scream tore through the night. The smell of brimstone stung my nostrils, coating the back of my throat like ash.

A man lay huddled at an alleyway’s end, writhing and screaming. White light flared up around his wrist, which bore the same mark as mine. A celestial. No demon showed itself. Just him, screaming as though tormented by terrible pain. I froze, grabbed his hand to stop him hurting himself, then dropped it as searing pain burned my palm. 

He threw his head back, revealing burning holes where his eyes had been. White light filled the gaps, brighter than the light on his hand.

I couldn’t move. Not even when movement came from behind me, and a number of figures appeared, white light shining from their wrists, pinning me under a spotlight. “Devina Lawson,” said a male voice. “You’re under arrest for attempted murder.”

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