“You’re doing a virtual Britannica of that?” somebody prompted. “How long can it take? Even Baskin-Robbins only has thirty-one kinds.”
Rhage shot a hard stare across the peanut gallery. “Baskin-Robbins has over thirteen hundred entries in their flavor profile, you provincial fuck-tart. And I’m talking all ice creams from all makers. I’m going to call it Wiki-licks.”
V flicked his hand-rolled into the logs. “You better be careful that URL isn’t taken up by someone with a different agenda on their tongue—”
“Focus!” Wrath barked. “Jesus Christ, you people are like Google without any direction. And meanwhile, we’ve got a problem we don’t have any clue how to contain—”
“That’s not correct,” Lassiter said. “We can lock it down.”
As all eyes returned to the angel, he was very fucking serious—and Rehv had a thought that as annoying as Lassiter could be when he was normal-nighting it, the flip side of the jokey-jokey was so much worse.
And frightening, even to a symphath: Lassiter had access to things no one else in the room did, and some of that shit made the Omega look like nothing worse than a two-year-old in a temper tantrum.
“You have what you need under this roof,” the angel announced.
“We’re going to get Rhage to eat the Book?” someone chimed in.
Hollywood raised his dagger hand. “I just need the right condiment and I’ll choke it down somehow. I swear, I can do it.”
“I vote we light the angel on fire and catapult him at the damn thing,” V countered. “And I volunteer to toss that match.”
“What weapon do we have that we’re not seeing?” the King demanded.
“Follow me.” Lassiter opened the study doors and walked out.
To his credit, V was the first one to get with the follow-the-leader shit. “I’m not saying I like him,” he said as he marched for the stairs. “But I’ll use any weapon we’ve got. Even if he’s the asshole putting it in our hands.”
Rehv stood up with the rest of the fighters and the King. And as they all filed out of the study and descended for the foyer, he felt like he was in school and going on a field trip.
Assuming school was a martial arts academy and the student body was made up of kids who could deadlift two Teslas with one hand.
Lassiter led the parade all the way through the dining room and out into the kitchen—where it was nearly impossible not to have a dessert tray, a traveler with coffee, or an entire leg of lamb pressed into your palm from the nervously helpful doggen.
Naturally, Rhage accepted a turkey sandwich like it was a football passed into the end zone. And a liter of Coke. And a bag of M&M’S.
Just as Rehv was wondering where the hell this was leading, Lassiter proceeded out into the garage—and that was when the math added up.
“Fuck,” Rehv muttered as he stepped into the vast, unheated open space.
Rubbing his face, he glanced around at the gardening equipment and the bins of grass seed and fertilizer—and wondered whether he should be here at all. This was some private Brotherhood shit going down.
’Cuz ain’t nobody here for the John Deere.
Sixteen coffins. Stacked two high and four deep.
The casings for the dead were made out of different kinds of wood, and they had aged in different ways—but what was inside them had something in common.
They were the remains of the damned.
Brothers who had not been granted proper Fade Ceremonies. Or could not be granted them.
Wrath had spilled the backstory one night when he and Rehv had been sharing-and-caring about how much “fun” it was to be King.
“Are we where I think we are,” Wrath asked after a moment.
Lassiter strolled along the lineup of coffins—and then paused in front of the second to the last one on the top row. As he put his palm on the lid, he said, “Yes, you are.”
Each of the coffins had inscriptions running down the sides and across the tops, and the Old Language symbols were not just names and dates. They were warnings.
Not to disturb the damned.
“There’s no proof it wasn’t just a coup for land and resources,” Wrath murmured. “It could merely have been the glymera making another power move.”
“Or that story was a ruse,” Rehv said. “Because, hey, the aristocracy never lies or misrepresents historical events, do they.”
“What the fuck are you two talking about?” V demanded.
Rehv held his breath as Wrath looked over his shoulder as if he could see the Brother. “A warlock.”
Vishous’s eyes narrowed, the tattoo at his temple distorting. “I didn’t know we had one of them in here.”
The King turned back in Lassiter’s direction. “So I guess the rumor was true.”
The angel spoke softly and patted the coffin. “We need what’s in here. Even if it’s not easily controlled.”
“’Scuse me,” Tohr said. “That brother is long dead. So aren’t his personality defects kind of a moot point? Just like anything he could do to help us?”
“It’s not him we’re interested in,” Lassiter countered. “It’s what’s in with him that we’re after.”
“We’re not opening up that coffin here.” Wrath shook his head. “There aren’t a lot of protocols I give a shit about, but if we’re exposing the body of a brother, that’s only happening in one place. Even if he was damned in death.”
Lassiter inclined his head. “I agree.”
As the other Brothers nodded their heads and fell silent, Rehv looked around at their fierce faces, their strong bodies . . . their resolute wills—and felt a deep honor, as an outsider, to witness the living, breathing tradition of the Black Dagger Brotherhood.
All of these males, the King included, were part of the venerable history of service unto the race. And though the details and nature of that past were by definition untouchable and immutable, every once in a while, that which had gone before reached forward through the filaments of minutes and hours . . . to touch the present.
Something that had been killed a couple hundred years ago was going to be called into service now. And that was worthy of a moment of silence, of respect.
And there was another reason for the hush that permeated the garage’s cold confines: These coffins were a reminder that those who were here now would sometime in the future be among those who had gone before.
To be mortal meant one had to die.
As a chill that had nothing to do with dopamine rippled through Rehv’s mink-clad body, he thought of his beloved Ehlena—and had to look down at the concrete floor. Absently, he noticed that his Bally loafers, which were woven and black, were the perfect complement to his fine black slacks and the double-breasted jacket under his fur duster.
Normally, he would have been pleased to admire his wardrobe.
Now . . . all he could think of was dressing alone in that walk-in closet he shared with Ehlena. She had had to go into the clinic early. And she had forgotten to kiss him goodbye because she’d been in such a hurry—
A sudden, clawing need in the center of Rehv’s chest drew him backward, away from the assembled. Away from the coffins. Away from the problem that he had brought to the Brotherhood’s front door. Literally.