Chapter 11

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Sam slept fitfully in her pallet, her bed sheets in a twisted knot about her ankles. In her dreams, a woman sat at a vanity, brushing out her hair with long, even strokes. A silk, wine colored gown clung to sinful curves, the décolletage cut scandalously low. The mirror in front of her revealed a face inhuman in its perfection, the exotic tilt of her jade eyes exaggerated by thick lashes. The woman hummed softly to herself, a simple, haunting melody.

As the song wrapped around Sam like a sensual embrace, the mirror shimmered, and her reflection appeared next to the visage of the woman. She was dressed in her training getup, though as far as she could tell, she was weaponless.

The woman smiled. “Sam,” she crooned. She rose from her chair, hips swaying in an open invitation as she approached.

“Sam,” she said again, the name a caress on her lips. She cupped Sam’s cheek with a soft hand. “Who are you, Sam of Haywood?”

Sam imagined that if she were a man, she would die a hundred deaths and confess to a thousand sins for a single night in the sultry woman’s arms. Even she was not entirely immune to the woman’s siren-like allure.

Don’t trust her. A warning sounded in the back of Sam’s mind, clearing the fog from her brain. Don’t trust her Don’t trust her Don’t trust her. “I-I’m nobody,” she stuttered.

The woman’s smile grew over bright. “Nobody?” Her nails pressed into Sam’s cheek.

“Nobody,” she affirmed, with more confidence.

Sam screamed as the nails against her face became clawed, gouging her to the bone. “Tell me,” the woman snarled. “You will tell me who you are.”

Sam awoke writhing in agony, clutching at her cheek.  When she pulled her hand away, her fingers were dry; she had half expected to find them wet with blood. “Just a dream,” she whispered.

Then she sat up, and saw her.

She—or it, Sam should say—stood silently in the darkest corner of the room. From the waist up, the demon could be a twin to the woman from her dream, though its jade eyes lacked the same intelligence. Long nails as sharp as swords descended from its fingers, hovering an inch above the floor. Its bottom half blurred into the shadows, and it glided, rather than walked, towards her.

Sam opened her mouth to shout for help and then closed it, lifting her chin. She could handle this. She had not joined the Paladins to ask others to come to her rescue. She did not need Tristan’s or Braeden’s aid to fell a single demon.

Sam grabbed the dagger from the night table beside her pallet and leaped up from the bed. The demon swiped at her with a long-nailed claw. She jumped backwards out of the way then thrust her dagger deep into the demon’s gut. She drew the blade up and twisted, exposing its ribcage and still-beating heart. The demon let out an outraged howl.

Tristan’s voice echoed inside her head. They won’t die until you cut off their heads!

The demon’s howl choked off in a sharp screech as her dagger tore into its throat. Embedding the blade in its neck, she wrenched the dagger horizontally with all her strength. The demon’s head dangled from a single thread of flesh before dropping to the carpeted floor.

“Well done,” said Tristan, peering over her shoulder. Sam jumped; she hadn’t seen him wake. Braeden had woken, too, and stood by his pallet with a throwing dagger in each hand. “We need to leave now, however.”

“Why?” asked Sam. “It’s not even close to morning.”

Tristan looked sidelong at Braeden. “A demon in Cordoba is not exactly a common occurrence, and this—” he gestured at the demon’s corpse—“will incite some unnecessary misunderstandings.”

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