Magic Trials (Half-Blood Academy #1)

He had long, dark horns, black eyes, and red lips.

This was a grade three demon in their power hierarchy. The highest rank was ten, and that would be Lucifer. I blinked, not sure why suddenly I had this knowledge, since it was the first time I’d seen a demon so close.

His obsidian gaze met mine, and shock flitted by his eyes.

He sniffed the air, and a dark mass swirled out of the pits of his eyes, hunger and craving sparking like hellfire in them.

He fixated only on me, not bothering to even glance at Circe or Jasper.

They’d both spotted the demon and frozen in fear.

“Retreat slowly,” I whispered and led by example as I backed toward a tree.

Circe blinked, as if waking up from a trance at my order.

“Conceal. Uttar Sloan Samish Rota conceal,” Circe murmured her chant frantically, trying to get us to melt into the trees and thus avoid the demon’s detection.

The demon grinned at me and uttered a demonic word, which blurred into the black wind. It sounded familiar, but any chance at comprehension was drowned out by the pounding rhythm of my frenetic heartbeat in my ears.

Circe’s concealing spell evidently had no effect on the creature since he kept stalking toward me, sniffing the air as if it was filled with nectar.

Stop! Demon, stop! I hissed silently.

The demon halted for a second, as if confused or uncertain.

Circe repeated her chanting and tossed out a few spells, which appeared around us in the shapes of balls and stars. The demon shrugged them off and flicked his claws to show us what he had.

A demonic power, also familiar, like something once featured in my nightmares, exuded from him. Its dark force drew us toward him, like a spider that intends to numb its victims before consuming them.

If a third degree demon could do this, what chance did we have to fight a full-blown demon? Horror flickered through my mind. Vi hadn’t been wrong to warn me to stay clear of Lucifer’s pawns.

Circe and Jasper now both glided toward the demon as if in a dream. The Hell-creature widened his grin.

“What on Earth are you two doing?” I yelled at them. Our cover was blown anyway. I pinched Circe on the arm and swatted Jasper’s snout. “Run! Like your asses are on fire.”

If the demon possessed any one of us, all three of us would be done for.

I dragged Circe and kicked Jasper. Relief wound through me as they returned to their senses, and three of us darted away between the trees in a mad dash.

The demon gave chase, giggling.

He zoomed in on us.

Jasper raced beside me, keeping up, but then we both realized that Circe had lagged behind. Terror hit me, and I turned just in time to see the demon rake his claws toward Circe’s neck.

“You won’t hurt her!” I screamed in rage and flung up my hands toward the demon, even though I was ten yards away and had no magic.

It was an instinct, a reflex. I reacted in panic.

I’d lost Vi. I couldn’t lose either Circe or Jasper. They were all I had.

A blast of dark flame materialized above the demon, descending upon him before he could flee. The fire engulfed the creature.

It shrieked, and I clenched my teeth as his screams beat into my eardrums.

“Shut the fuck up and die!” I yelled.

The blaze plunged to the ground, sinking under and dragging the demon with it. Or maybe the flame actually burned the demon to ashes.

I didn’t see a pile of cinders on the forest floor, though there was a circle burned into the ground, indicating where the magical conflagration had taken down a demon.

I sprang toward the young witch.

“Are you all right, Circe?” I asked, sounding like a mother even to my own ears.

She threw herself into my arms, trembling.

I stroked her back gently.

“Shush, you’re safe now,” I said. “We’re all safe. Now let’s get out of here.”

I pulled Circe to sprint with me since her legs wobbled. Seeing the demon had shocked her. I didn’t blame her. The appearance of the demon had shattered me as well.

Jasper kept pace, guarding and protecting us. His piercing wolf eyes darted around, his ears pricking backward as he scanned for any new danger.

I didn’t allow us to slow down, even though the scent of smoke lingered on my tongue and the air burned in my lungs.

As soon as we shot out of the last line of trees, crossing the boundary into the town’s territory, Jasper shifted. I knew he wanted to talk and demand answers regarding the flame that incinerated the demon, but I was just as baffled as he was.

One second he was still a wolf, then the next he was a good-looking teenage boy.

I glanced at him enviously. Being a shifter must be amazing.

The monsters usually didn’t cross the boundary of the forest into the town’s land during daytime. I’d wondered if Vi ever set a ward along the boundary.

Circe tossed Jasper a stack of clothes from the outside pocket of her backpack, and he snatched them from the air. In no time, he had his trousers on and his muscled chest pressed against an old T-shirt.

The witch’s gaze lingered on his cut chest a bit too long before she tore it away. The shifter was eye candy with dark, curly hair and rich brown eyes, and he always had a good laugh.

She’d developed a crush on him after her seventeenth birthday two months ago. It was fine with me if they hooked up. I couldn’t think of a better man to protect her.

I sighed. They’d grown up, and I was getting older.

Jasper didn’t notice Circe’s heated gaze before she disguised it. His concerned, sharp expression fixed on my face, uncompromising.

I waved a hand to signal for him to let me have a break and set my palms on my knees to brace myself. I bent from my waist, panting laboriously at the ground. Circe did the same. I took a little comfort that, even though she was younger, she was breathing louder.

When I finally straightened, I grinned at them. We’d survived once again, together.

“Guys, do you want to high five or a group hug?” I asked.

My motto was that every victory, no matter how small, should be celebrated so we would prowl on through life and never get beaten down.

Circe rolled her eyes. In her delusional mind, she thought she was more mature than I. But I understood that she wanted to keep that image in front of Jasper. At some point, I might need to talk to her, as she considered me competition more often than not.

Perhaps that was the problem with only one male in a pack.

Jasper obliged me and hit my palm with his rough one for a high five before we jogged down a long street toward the old, abandoned library—our residence—several blocks away.

The metal dish glinted in autumn’s sunlight at the top of the brown building, beckoning us to return home. That was always a comforting sight.

“We’ve never had a demon in this forest before.” Jasper started, strolling to my left.

“We almost became the demon’s snack today,” Circe said, large eyes peeking at Jasper. “Did you hear its laughter? It chilled me to the bone. If any more of them come, Crack won’t be safe for us anymore. Where can we go next?”

Worry knotted in my stomach.

We’d never lingered in the forest long enough for any monsters to ambush us. Each of us played a different role—Jasper flushed out game, I shot them, and Circe used her spells to cover our scent so we could leave the scene quickly once we’d grabbed the game.

We’d never had a demon complication before.

We weren’t equipped to deal with a demon. We might not be lucky again if another Hell-creature, especially a more powerful one, showed up in town.

However, the flame had appeared out of nowhere and burned the demon. The demonic being had vanished without a trace after it screamed, as if it had been dragged back to Hell.

But the realm of Hell had already merged with half of Earth’s surface, which was Lucifer’s greatest achievement. Somehow he’d broken the seal and the boundary after eons of confinement in the endless inferno. And now he sought to bring the full Hell to Earth. Only the God of War and his four demigods held on, refusing to give up their reign on the other half of the planet.

“You have magic, Marigold,” Jasper drawled. “It was powerful enough to banish a demon. And all this time you thought you were just a human.”

“But I am a human,” I said, staring down at my hands and willing a spark of fire to manifest, to give some evidence that the flame had indeed blasted out of me and prove that I might be something more.

I’d felt energy surge through me when the flame appeared, but it could’ve been my imagination. I’d tasted fire and smoke on the back of my tongue, but it could’ve just been the burning air.

Right now, not even an ember answered my call.

I shook my head. “I couldn’t have the kind of fire that could burn a grade-three demon.”

“How did you know that demon’s power grade?” Jasper asked.

“Uh...” I blinked. “I thought everyone could tell.”

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