Know Your Demons

Vicky Vaughn is Boston’s only professional demon killer. Most of her clients are individuals who hire her to rid them of their personal demons. Vicky exterminates three main kinds of demons:

  • Drudes: Dream-demons that cause nightmares so they can feed on the victim’s fear.
  • Eidolons: Guilt demons.
  • Harpies: Revenge demons. People sometimes pay sorcerers to conjure Harpies and send them against their enemies.

In this snippet from Deadtown, Vicky is being consulted by two homicide detectives, Stephanie Hagopian and Daniel Costello, who want to know whether one of Vicky’s former clients (who’s now dead) could have been the victim of a demon attack:

Hagopian jumped. Then she nodded and opened a notebook. She cleared her throat twice. “The death was . . . well, it wasn’t normal,” she said. “We know from documents found at the scene that you were there last night in your, ah, professional capacity. We’d like your opinion on whether Funderburk died as the result of a demon attack.”

I shook my head. “I exterminated the whole pod. Besides, demons don’t kill. They torment. That’s how they feed. If the victim dies, the party’s over.”

“What do you mean?”

“Demons are conjured entities. They don’t exist until someone invokes them. That someone can be a sorcerer out to hurt someone—that’s where Harpies come from—or it can be the victim himself.” Hagopian flinched, and I added, “Or herself.”

“People conjure demons against themselves?” She raised a plucked-half-to-death eyebrow.

“Not on purpose. But strong feelings of guilt or shame or fear can bring demons swarming to a victim like honeybees to a rose garden. Eidolons are personal demons that feed on guilt. Drudes feed on fear. They’re pretty similar, except Eidolons attack while you’re lying awake at night and Drudes invade your dreams.”

Hagopian shuddered, and I got the feeling she’d had a personal encounter with a demon or two. Too bad that now wasn’t the time to make my sales pitch. Not that she’d be buying, seeing as how my last client turned up dead. I remembered his happy, off-key humming after the extermination. Poor old George.

“Harpies,” I continued, “are revenge demons. Eidolons and Drudes can take many forms, but Harpies always look the same: They’ve got vulture bodies and Medusa heads, with snakes for hair and a beak for a mouth. They smell like garbage that’s baked in the sun for a week. Their screeching”—I tried to find a way to describe the brain-shredding noise Harpies made, but there were no words for it—“well, their screeching alone can drive a person insane.”

Both detectives were watching me openmouthed, like kids listening to a scary campfire story they didn’t want to hear. Too bad. They’d dragged me here; they deserved all the juicy details. “Harpies attack from the outside. You’re lying in bed, and suddenly you can’t move. These hideous things—worse than any nightmare—fly through the wall and land on you, tearing into you with their talons. Then they begin to feed. It feels like they’re ripping out your vital organs. The agony lasts all night. The next morning, there’s no physical damage. But you can count on them returning night after night after night.”

“What about the other kinds, the”—Hagopian consulted her notebook—“the Eidolons and the Drudes?” Her voice had diminished to a croak. Costello shot her a questioning look, but her eyes were fixed on me.

“Eidolons attack from the inside,” I answered, “like you’ve got some huge, venomous parasite gnawing on your bones. Guilt brought to life. Some victims can see their Eidolons; others just feel unbearable agony. Drudes are unpredictable, like dreams, and they’re the source of most nightmares. If you’re plagued by horrible dreams, swarming with everything you fear, you’ve got a Drude infestation.” I glanced at Detective Hagopian, who’d closed her eyes and was breathing shallowly through her mouth. Yep. Drude victim for sure. I turned back to Costello. “Demon attacks are terrifying and painful. Hell on earth. But they’re not fatal. When a victim dies, that person’s demons cease to exist. That’s why demons don’t kill.”

Of course, some demons do kill. These bigger, badder demons are Hellions, and unlike personal demons they have independent existence. They come from Hell, and their whole purpose is to wreak havoc and destruction. Vicky has a history with one particularly nasty Hellion—Difethwr, whose name means destroyer in Welsh. When Difethwr shows up in Boston, Vicky knows she’ll have to face the demons of her own past—before they destroy the city and everything in it.

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