Redemption AlleyLilith Saintcrow
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Copyright © 2009 by Lilith Saintcrow
Excerpt from Flesh Circus copyright © 2009 by Lilith Saintcrow
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
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First eBook Edition: August 2009
Praise for the Jill Kismet series:
Books by Lilith Saintcrow
meet the author
A Preview of Flesh Circus
Hunters get backstairs funding, both from the city and county; it’s a small price to pay for most municipal or county administrations.
We also get federal funding if a paranormal incident is big enough to qualify, or if it crosses state lines.
“Defense spending” isn’t only for mundane threats.
Plus, the Church subsidizes training no few apprentices. Even if they do bar us from Heaven, they try to make sure we’re funded enough to hold back the tide of Hell. We’re usually overworked and just-barely-paid-enough, but that’s better than nothing. Resident hunters don’t need to worry about rent or their next meal, thank God.
We just have to worry about damnation.
And being psychic has its perks when it comes to investing. Mikhail had done very well for himself. Screw that “not using your powers for personal gain” bit. When you’re getting shot, knifed, electrocuted, strangled, dumped in rivers, thrown off buildings, or almost eviscerated protecting the common citizenry, the least the world can do is give you a break or two on the stock market.
Of course, living long enough to claim a retirement fund is the problem.
Praise for the Jill Kismet series:
“Jill Kismet is, above all else, a survivor, and it is her story that will haunt readers long after the blood, gore and demons have faded into memory.”
—Romantic Times on Night Shift
BOOKS BY LILITH SAINTCROW
JILL KISMET NOVELS
DANTE VALENTINE NOVELS
Working for the Devil
Dead Man Rising
The Devil’s Right Hand
Saint City Sinners
To Hell and Back
To L.I., Because I promised.
Si vis pacem, para bellum.
Bonis quod bene fit haud perit.
Right before dawn a hush falls over Santa Luz. The things that live and prey in the night are either searching for a burrow to spend the day in, or looking for one last little snack. The closer to dawn, the harder the fight, hunters say. Predators get desperate as the sun, that great enemy of all darkness, walks closer to the rim of dawn.
Which explains why I was flat on my back, again, with hellbreed-strong fingers cutting off my air and my head ringing like someone had set off dynamite inside it. Sparks spat from silver charms tied in my hair, blessed moon-metal reacting to something inimical. The Trader hissed as he squeezed, fingers sinking into my throat and the flat shine of the dusted lying over his eyes as they narrowed, a forked tongue flickering past the broken yellowed stubs of his teeth.
Apparently dental work wasn’t part of the contract he’d made with whatever hellbreed had given him supernatural strength and the ability to set shit on fire at a thousand paces.
I brought my knee up, hard.
The hellbreed this particular Trader had bargained with hadn’t given him an athletic cup, either. The bony part of my knee sank into his crotch, meeting precious little resistance, so hard something popped.
It didn’t sound like much fun.
The Trader’s eyes rolled up and he immediately let go of my trachea. I promptly added injury to insult by clocking him on the side of the head with a knifehilt. I didn’t slip the knife between his ribs because I wanted to bring him in for questioning.
What can I say? Maybe I was in a good mood.
Besides, I had other worries. For one, the burning warehouse.
Smoke roiled thick in the choking air, and the rushing crackle of flames almost drowned out the screams coming from the girl handcuffed to a support post. She was wasting both good energy and usable air by screaming, probably almost out of her mind with fear. Bits of burning building plummeted to the concrete floor. I gained my feet with a convulsive lurch, eyes streaming, and clapped the silver-plated cuffs on the Trader’s skinny wrists. He was on the scrawny end of junkie-thin, moaning and writhing as I wrenched his hands away from his genitals and behind his back.
I would have told him he was under arrest, but I didn’t have the breath. I scooped up the handle of my bullwhip and vaulted a stack of wooden boxes, their sides beginning to steam and smoke under the lash of heat. My steel-reinforced bootheels clattered and I skidded to a stop, giving her a once-over while my fingers stowed the whip.
Mousy brown hair, check. Big blue eyes, check. Mole high up on her right cheek, check.
We have a confirmed sighting. Thank God. Now get her out of here.
“Regan Smith.” I coughed, getting a good lungful of smoke. My back burned with pain and something flaming hit the floor less than a yard away. “Your mom sent me to find you.”
She didn’t hear me. She was too busy screaming.
I grabbed at the handcuffs as she tried to scramble away, fetching up hard against the post. She even tried to kick me. Good girl. Bet you gave that asshole a run for his money. I curled my fingers around the cuffs on either side and gave a quick short yank.
The scar on my right wrist ran with prickling heat, pumping strength into my hand. The cuffs burst, and the girl immediately tried to bolt. She was hysterical and wiry-strong, choking, screaming whenever she could get enough air in. T
he roar of the fire drowned out any reassurance I might have given her, and my long leather trenchcoat was beginning to smoke. I was carrying plenty of ammo to make things interesting in here if it got hot enough.
Not to mention the fact that the girl was only human. She would roast alive before I got really uncomfortable.
Move it, Jill. I’d promised her mother I’d bring her back, if it was at all possible.
Promises like that are hell on hunters.
I snapped a glance over my shoulder at the Trader lying cuffed on the floor. He appeared to be passed out, but they’re tricky fuckers. You don’t negotiate a successful bargain with a hellbreed without being slippery. Of course, since I’d caught him, you could argue that his bargain hadn’t been that successful.
More burning crap fell down, splashing on the concrete and scattering. A lick of flame ran along an oily runnel in the floor, and the girl made things interesting by almost twisting free.
Dammit. I’m trying to help you! But she was almost insane with fear, fighting as if I was the enemy.
It probably messes your world up when you see a woman in a long black leather coat beat the shit out of a Trader, using a bullwhip, three clips of ammo, and the inhuman speed of the damned. Silver charms tied in my long dark hair spat and crackled with blue sparks, hot blood slicked several parts of me, and I’m sure I was wearing my mad face.
I hefted the girl over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes and spent a few precious seconds glancing again at the motionless Trader. Burning bits of wood landed on him, his clothes smoking, but I thought I saw a glimmer of eyes.
She beat at my back with her fists. I sprinted down the long central aisle of the warehouse, hell-lit with garish flame. Fire twisted and roared, stealing air and replacing it with toxic smoke. Something exploded, a hurricane edge of heat mouthing my back as I got a good head of speed going, aiming for a gap in the burning wall.
This might get a little tricky.
Rush of flame, a crackling liquid sound, covering up her breathless barking—she had nothing left in her to scream with, poor girl, especially not with my shoulder in her stomach—and my own rising cry, a sound of female effort that flattened the streaming flames away with its force. The scar—my souvenir from Santa Luz’s biggest hellbreed—ran with sick wet delight as I pulled force through it, my aura flaming into the visible, a star of spiky plasma light.
Feet slapping the floor, bootheels striking sparks, back burning—I’d wrenched something when I’d brought my knee up. Probably still feel better than he does. Hurry up, she can’t take much more of—
I hit the hole in the wall going almost full speed, my cry ratcheting up into a breathless squeal because I’d run out of air too, darkness flowering over my vision and starved muscles crying out for oxygen. Smoke billowed and I hoped I’d applied enough kinetic energy to throw us both clear of the fire.
Physics is a bitch.
The application of force made the landing much harder. I don’t wear leather pants because they make my ass look cute. It’s because when I land hard, something snapping in my right leg and the rest of my right side taking the brunt of the blow, trying to shield the girl from impact, most of my skin would get erased if I wasn’t wearing thick dead cow.
As it was, I only broke a few bones as we slid, muscles straining against the instinct to roll over on her to shed momentum. I managed just to skid on my right side. Spikes of rusty pain drove through each break, right leg cramping, ribs howling.
Concrete. Cold. The hissing roar of the fire as it devoured all the oxygen it could reach. The girl was still feebly trying to struggle free.
It was a clear, cold night, the kind you only get out in the desert. The stars would be bonfires of brilliant ice if not for the glare of Santa Luz’s streetlamps and the other, lesser light of the burning warehouse. I lay for a few moments, coughing, eyes streaming, while my leg crunched with pain and the scar hummed with sick delight, a chill touching my spine as the bone set itself with swift jerks. My eyes rolled up in my head and I dimly heard the girl sobbing as she stopped trying to get away. She’d be lucky to get out of this needing a few years of therapy and some smoke-inhalation treatment.
Sirens pierced the night, far away but drawing closer. Here comes the cavalry. Thank God.
Unfortunately, thanking God wouldn’t do much good. I was the responsible one here. If that Trader was still alive and the scene started swarming with vulnerable, only-human emergency personnel…
Get up, Jill. Get up now.
My weary body obeyed. I made it to my feet, wincing as my right tibia and my humerus both crackled, the bones swiftly restructuring themselves and all the pain of healing compressed into a few seconds rather than weeks. My hand flicked, I had both guns unholstered and ready before the warehouse belched a torrent of red-hot air and the Trader barreled through the hole in the wall, flesh cracking-black and his eyes shining flatly, the sick-sweet smell of seared human pork adding to the perfume of hellbreed contamination.
Traders are scary-quick, not as fast as hellbreed but fast enough. I tracked him, bullets spattering the sidewalk as my right arm jolted under the strain of recoil going all the way up to my shoulders, broken bone pulling my aim off.
My teacher Mikhail insisted I be able to shoot left-handed, too. I caught the Trader with four rounds in the chest and dropped the guns as he reached the top arc of his leap, his scream fueled with the rage of the damned.
I’m sure the fact that half his meat was cooked didn’t help his mood.
My hands closed around knifehilts. Knife fighting is my forte, it’s close and dirty, which isn’t fun when it comes to hellbreed or Traders. You don’t want to get too close. But I’ve always had an edge in pure speed, being female and little. And nasty, once Mikhail trained the flinching out of me.
The scar helps too. The hard knot of corruption on the soft inside of my wrist ran with heavy prickling iron as I moved faster than a human being had any right to, meeting the Trader with a bonesnapping crunch.
The idiot wasn’t thinking. If he had been, he might have done something other than a stupid kamikaze stunt, throwing himself at a hunter who was armed and ready. As smart and slippery as Traders are, they never think they’re going to be held to account.
The knife went in with little resistance, silver laid along the flat part of the blade hissing as it parted flesh tainted by a hellbreed’s touch.
The Trader screamed, a high gurgling note of panic. My wrist turned, twisting the blade as the force of his hit threw us both, my right leg threatening to buckle under the momentum. I stamped my left heel, the transfer of force striking sparks between metal-reinforced bootheel and aggregate stones in the concrete.
My other hand came up full of knife, blurred forward like a striking snake as the blade buried itself in his chest, and I pushed him down, pinning him as the shine flared in his eyes and roasted stink-sweet filled my mouth and nose.
I wrenched the first knife free and cut his throat. Blood steamed, arterial spray bubbling and frothing as the flat light drained from his eyes. I didn’t want to kill him. I wanted to question him and find out what hellbreed he’d made a bargain with.
But you can’t have everything. Besides, I could still hear the girl sobbing, the supsucking sound of a child in a nightmare that doesn’t go away when she opens her eyes. The thought of what he must have done to her—and what he’d probably planned on doing, based on his other victims—drove my hand just as surely as the instinct of combat.
The body began to stink, sphincters loosened by death. I’d almost decapitated him. Better safe than sorry. I let out a long shuddering breath, my smoke-roughened lungs protesting with a series of deep hacking coughs. Helltaint drifted up from the corpse, the body contorting in odd ways as contagion spilled through its dying tissues, sucking the life from it. It was an eerie St. Vitus’s dance, limbs twisting and jerking as they withered.
If Traders could see what happens after one of them bites it, maybe they’d th
ink twice about making deals with hellbreed.
Or maybe not. Details, details, Jill. Get moving.
I turned on my steelshod heel. The knives slipped into their sheaths, and I found my guns, reloaded and holstered them, barely noticing the habitual movements. The warehouse was burning merrily and the girl lay crumpled on the pavement, barely getting in enough breath to sob. She looked pretty bad, and would be terrifically bruised.
But she was alive. The broken bracelets of handcuffs jingled as she tried to scrabble away from my approach. I squatted, ignoring the flare of pain in my right calf, the bone finishing up its healing now that I’d stopped putting so much load on it. My coat, torn, ragged, and now scorched, whispered along the concrete, dragging behind me like a dinosaur’s tail.