Demon Riding Shotgun
by L.R. Braden
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Mira darted across the open space between the buildings and crouched under a glassless window opening. Voices drifted out.
“. . . area is claimed. You’re drawing too much attention.”
“There’s plenty to go around.”
They’re . . . talking?
Mira rolled her eyes. Or rather, the demon riding shotgun in her soul did.
<We can speak, you know. Well . . . most of us.>
Since when do rifters stop to chat with their victims? Besides, it seems like that old guy is leading the conversation. Mira peeked over the lip of the wooden frame. The construction worker had his arms crossed over his Day-Glo vest. His face was twisted into an unhappy scowl that created deep creases in the skin around his eyes, but his flesh seemed intact—no signs of puppet strain, as Mira called the marks usually created by demon possession. Could he be a rifter, too?
<If he is, he’s hiding deep.>
<Don’t get your hopes up. What we have is not normal.>
But not impossible. She bit her lip. If there’s another pairing like ours . . .
“This is your only warning.” The construction worker uncrossed his arms and widened his stance, planting his feet. “We won’t let you upset our plans. Find somewhere else to gorge and die.”
This guy definitely knows what he’s facing. And did he say “we”?
The rifter sneered, his upper lip rising just enough to reveal grayish teeth and black gums. “Make me.”
The rifter Mira had come to kill launched forward, striking the construction worker in the chest. The second man took the impact, leaning forward slightly to keep his feet as they slid a few inches across sawdust-covered plywood.
<Definitely not human.>
Whatever he is, I want to talk to him. Mira vaulted the window frame, calling her magic. She landed in a crouch, one knee touching down in sawdust. Both men turned to look at her. Energy swirled through her, pulled from the air and focused, with the help of her hitchhiker, into a glowing ball on her palm. Tendrils of blue static cracked around a white center. The presence that was always with her but not quite a part of her swelled.
Picturing the result she wanted, Mira flicked her wrist and exerted her will. An arc of pale lightning connected her to the rifter she’d tracked, resting for a moment against his chest before he was blown off his feet. Two-by-fours splintered as he made a new opening in the skeletal frame of an interior wall.
Mira didn’t rise from her crouch but pivoted to face the second man. Maybe another rifter. Maybe a practitioner. Maybe someone like her. . . . “Who are you?”
The man’s gaze shifted between Mira and the broken wall. He pursed his lips. Then he stepped through the doorway behind him that led deeper into the building.
The downed rifter sat up amid snapped beams and a cloud of dust.
She’d come to end him—she needed to end him—but what she’d overheard from the mysterious construction worker had raised more than a few questions, and Mira wanted answers.
Racing past the stunned rifter, she darted after the second man.
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L.R. Braden is the bestselling author of the Magicsmith urban fantasy series, the standalone novel Demon Riding Shotgun, and several works of short fiction. Her writing has won the Eric Hoffer Book Award for Sci-fi/Fantasy, the First Horizon Award for debut authors, and the Imadjinn Award for Best Urban Fantasy (twice). She was also honored to be a finalist for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers 2021 Writer of the Year award. She and her family live in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies, where she spends her time writing, playing, and weaving metal into intricate chain mail jewelry that she sells in her Etsy shop.