May 1st will see the release of the fourth book in the Demon Squad series – Echoes of the Past. Leading up to this event, author Tim Marquitz has been kind enough to provide us with the cover art and short excerpt from his new book. You can find out more information at his website here. Enjoy.
I could feel the power emanating off the figure as it watched me from outside. The drunks weren’t the only thing scrambling for the rear exit.
Human-ish, but formed entirely out of mystical energy, the figure—which I guessed was a specter, a spirit leashed and turned semi-tangible—had the body of a man but the head of a Jackal. Dressed in Egyptian garb, flowing Schenti leggings and sandals, it was naked from the waist up except for an ankh-shaped necklace that looked like it was made out of poorly hammered gold with an outline of green gems. It carried an oaken and decorated staff that it held at the ready. The specter looked vaguely familiar, but damned if I could place it beyond its general mythos. It was Anubis or Set; one of the puppy gods.
A low growl rumbled from its throat. It hovered a couple feet off the ground, but the specter probably stood about six feet and change. Thin and wiry, it crooked its fingers at me to draw me out.
“Do you work for the DSI?” I asked.
Another blue fireball was my answer. Since I saw it coming this time, it was easier to avoid. I ducked low and dove toward the window. The magical energy flew past and exploded behind me, engulfing what was left of the bar in shimmering blue flames. Fortunately, everyone had taken my advice. The place was empty.
“Was that a yes or a no?” I couldn’t recall having pissed off any Egyptians recently, so I was more than a little curious why Mutzilla was trying to take my head off.
I rolled through the wreckage and leapt out the empty window frame as the specter hurled more fire about. In the street, I ducked behind a parked car and cast a quick glance around. The specter followed.
Downtown was a graveyard. Baalth’s premature incineration and the recent storms had the whole town spooked. At the first hint of supernatural hijinks, everyone within spitting distance disappeared; except for me, of course. At least that meant I’d be the only one to die if I didn’t take the specter out. That was just one more heroic quote in a long line of possible epitaphs waiting to be engraved on my headstone. Whoever buried me was going to have a hell of a time choosing one.
The roof of the car went up in flash, black smoke swirling as the vinyl top burst into flame. Once more I jumped away, my eyes scanning for anyone else who might be around before I was forced to engage the spirit. No more than puppets, specters were the equivalent of a supernatural video game. Whoever summoned it, and held its leash, controlled its actions. More often than not, the summoner was the weaker of the pairing, the energy needed to tether the spirit but a fraction of that possessed by the specter.
People with real power didn’t often hide behind such magical parlor tricks. Why send a poodle to do a pit bull’s job? That said, I couldn’t risk get caught up tangling with the spirit. It only takes a little bit of concentration to control, so, while I was busy scrapping with the sock puppet, I could be taken out by its master.
As quick as I could, I unleashed my senses, but the specter didn’t give me time to decipher anything. Its wooden staff whistled in the air above and I just barely got out of the way. It clacked against the asphalt, a burst of heat following in its wake. The blacktop bubbled, drops of scalding tar flung about as the specter whipped its staff back to ready.
I grinned. At range, tossing fireballs at me, the specter could have kept me on the defensive, giving me the hot foot until it wore me down. Up close, that was a different matter. Certain I couldn’t hurt with my bare hands, it was time to improvise. Still a novice with my newfound magical powers, I didn’t have a lot of experience at using them on the fly. Fortunately, magic is all about imagination and willpower, and I‘ve plenty of both.
Falling back on what I do know, I closed on the specter and threw a left hook, right straight combo, willing my power to envelop my hands like mystical boxing gloves. Well, more like comfy-fitting cinderblocks. My left crashed into the specter’s jaw. It felt like punching a ’57 Chevy, but its head snapped to the side, and it stumbled back a step. My right caught it flush on its cheek and sent it flying.
The staff flew from its hand and vanished in a crackle of energy as the specter hit the ground. The spirit slid a few feet across the asphalt, roaring as it dug its fingers into the blacktop and brought itself to a stop. Before it could get back up and resume its ball-tossing, I followed after it. A shield of energy encasing my right foot, all the way up to the knee, I soccer kicked the specter in its head. My shin went numb when it hit, a crack of thunder sounding at impact.
I struggled to keep my balance as the specter was flung into the air, shrieking. It tumbled head over heels, about ten feet up, but the thing wasn’t out just yet. With nothing resembling aim, it loosed blue fire from its hands, eyes, and mouth. Tendrils of power spewed in every direction like a teenage boy experiencing his first erection. Too much magic being flung about, I ducked behind a car to wait it out. I heard the meaty thump of the specter hitting the ground, but the assault continued.
All around me the street was taking an ass-whuppin’. Bolts of energy tore into the nearby buildings, blasting through stone and cement. Windows shattered across the block, a storm of rock and glass showering all around. It felt like I was romancing a fire ant mound, millions of fiery bites erupting across my skin. Car alarms screeched, adding to the avalanche din of collapsing building facades.
It didn’t take me but a second to realize I couldn’t just sit back while the specter leveled the block. I threw a shield over me like an umbrella, and jumped from behind the car. The specter was getting to its feet, a feral grin on its wolfen face. It clearly had no intention of stopping its barrage, though it seemed intent on zoning in on me.
Wishing I had my gun, though not really sure it could even hurt the thing, I improvised. I flung a fistful of magic at the specter, willing it to explode like jagged buckshot. Sharp spears of power ripped through the specter and drove it back on its heels. It crashed into the crumbling wall at its back, bringing pieces of it down around it. The specter growled and swatted the falling debris away. That gave me all the time I needed.
My fist once more encased in energy, I shaped it into the form a spike and threw an overhand right with everything I had. The spirit looked up at me as I closed. I sunk the point into its widened eye. My hand tore through its skull and the specter vanished in a disappointing crackle of energy. The spirit gone, my fist crashed into the building, and sank in to the shoulder. Unable to stop my momentum, I looked away just before the wall scraped away a couple layers of skin from my cheek and chin.