- The Darkest Lie
With other women, human women, well, it was too difficult. He knew what they were thinking every minute of every day. He knew when they found another man attractive. He knew when they said something nice to him but were thinking something cruel.
Aeron sighed, drawing his attention back to the present. I’m here. I might as well ask him, the warrior thought.
Amun straightened. He’d known Aeron would approach him sooner or later with the coming question, but hadn’t known how to respond. He still didn’t. Don’t ask me, he signed. Not yet.
A muscle ticked beneath his friend’s eye. “I hate when you read my mind.”
Then conceal your thoughts. He didn’t think there was a way to do so, though. No one had ever managed such a feat.
“I can’t,” Aeron confirmed. “Which means you already know that Olivia and I are leaving tomorrow.”
Actually, no. That wasn’t true. Aeron planned to leave Olivia behind, she just didn’t know it yet. The warrior was desperate to keep her safe. Which, in his mind, meant leaving her here, even though she would be pissed.
Where are you going? he asked, though again, he already knew the answer.
“To hell,” Aeron replied. It wasn’t a metaphor, either. The man meant exactly what he said. “We want you to come with us.”
Legion, the little demon Aeron viewed as a daughter, was currently trapped in the fiery realm, and Aeron had ever intention of rescuing her. Had the warrior asked Amun to go anywhere else, he would have said yes without hesitation. But hell…he shuddered. His demon had lived there, once upon a time. That same demon had fought to escape, had succeeded, and had been punished for that success.
But the memories of that place had never faded. The heat, the screams, the rank odors of sulfur and rotting flesh that permeated the air. Disgusting. Add in the vile thoughts of the demons still living there and the tormented thoughts of the souls suffering there, and it was a new kind of hell for Amun.
What about Baden? he asked. Another of Aeron’s pressing burdens.
Aeron arched a black brow. “You know about that, too. Great.”
Baden. Once their best friend. But thousands of years ago, Hunters had beheaded him. Unlike Aeron, he hadn’t been given a second chance at life. He hadn’t done anything to deserve one, apparently. But Aeron, who had recently spent a little time in the afterlife, had seen him. Talked to him.
Baden was out there. Baden could be freed, returned to them like Aeron. They just had to find a way to convince any deity who would listen to bring him back to life.
Aeron had kept this information to himself. But then, that was a habit they shared. Aeron liked to weigh all the facts, find any possible solutions, before mentioning a potential problem to the others. That had never been more evident than now. Aeron no longer suffered but all the others did, and he didn’t want to add to their suffering until he could offer a resolution.
“Once Legion is safe,” Aeron said, “I’ll tell the others about Baden. We can then concentrate on freeing him. But Legion has to come first. She’s suffering. He is not.”
And the Hunters? The artifacts? Pandora’s box? Will you forget those? Now that you’re without a demon, they must not concern you anymore.
A scowl darkened Aeron’s face, shadows seeming to seep from his eyes. “You’re wrong. They concern me greatly. I don’t want to watch my best friends die because I allowed my enemy to find the artifacts. I don’t want to watch my best friends die because I wasn’t there to protect them. But I love Legion, too. She’s being tortured down there and I can’t stand it. I have to free her, or I’ll be no good to anyone.”
Even after what she did to you?
“Yes,” Aeron replied without hesitation.
Olivia nodded. “Yes. Me, too.”
Amun expected such forgiveness from Olivia. She was an angel and, as he’d already realized, didn’t know how to hate. She couldn’t even hold on to a good anger. But Aeron? Forgiving a female for making a bargain with the devil, nearly ruining his life by almost killing his angel? Shocking. But maybe forgiveness came more easily to him now that he was without his demon’s need for vengeance.
“The sooner we find her, the sooner we free Baden, and the sooner I can concentrate on the artifacts and the Hunters,” Aeron added.
Many reasons to go, yes, but none overshadowed Amun’s reasons for staying behind. Are you asking anyone else to go with you?
The back of Aeron’s head banged against the tree, once, twice, and he peered up at the ocean of sky. “No. I hated even asking you. I don’t want to leave the fortress unprotected or task the warriors with something else to do.”
So, why me? Aeron had never thought the answer outright, and Amun had never pulled it from his friend’s mind, so he honestly didn’t know. The other warriors were just as strong as he was, just as skilled at warring and killing.
“Secrets,” Olivia said with a sad little sigh. “Your demon will be able to learn where Legion is being held.”
That made sense, and Amun nearly moaned. Because it meant they needed him specifically. Not for his brawn, but for his demon. No one else would do. How, then, could he tell them no? He couldn’t.
He scrubbed a hand down his suddenly tired face. Though everything and everyone inside him began screaming in protest, making him wince, he nodded. If I agree to do this, you’ll have to ask one more. To take Olivia’s place and better their odds of success. “Who?”
William was an immortal of some sort, though none of them knew exactly what he was. The man liked to think of himself as a sex god, that much Amun knew. He’d sleep with anyone—and had. A man of few standards, no question. But he loved fighting almost as much as he loved sex, and he wasn’t possessed by a demon. Therefore, the darkness of the underworld wouldn’t frighten him. And if Amun fell as he suspected he would, there would be someone there to help Aeron leave.
“I will,” Aeron said. “I’ll ask him.”
Amun sighed, as sad as Olivia had been. Then count me in.
THE BLOOD… the girl saw it in her mind, dripping, flowing, rushing. The screams…she heard them in her ears, agonized, evil. The darkness…it surrounded her, closing in tighter and tighter, nearly suffocating her.
How long this had been going on, she didn’t know. Time had ceased to exist for her. There was only pain and chaos. And fire. Oh, God, the fire. She could smell the fumes, the scent of rotting bodies and brimstone.Tears leaked from the corners of her eyes, scalding her cheeks. She was lying in a bed, knees drawn up to her chest. Over and over she shivered from cold, and yet, she was still burning up inside. Someone had carried her here. She couldn’t remember who. She only knew that the moment he had set her down, she had attacked him, unable to help herself. So badly she’d wanted to bathe in his blood. She’d wanted to hear his scream join all the others.
If he’d survived, she didn’t know. Didn’t care. Would have actually welcomed another victim, and she hated herself for it.
“How are you today, pet?”
The words were barely audible through the screams, but she understood them all the same. And she didn’t have to open her eyes to know who now stood beside her bed. Cronus. King of the gods…her master.
Can’t hurt him. Can’t allow myself to hurt him. He would punish her. Again.
Hurt him, another beguiling voice whispered through her head. It would feel so good.
Can’t. Any more pain, and she would crumble. Forever lost.
Once she’d been known as Sienna Blackstone. Once, she’d been human. Once, she’d been a Hunter. Then she’d fallen for Paris, keeper of Promiscuity, and slept with him to strengthen him. Big mistake. The empowered warrior had decided to use her—as a shield. He’d abducted her just as she’d once abducted him, allowing her own people to gun her down.
At the time, she hadn’t thought it was possible to feel such agony. Liking a man, only to discover he couldn’t care less about you. Bullets, slicing into flesh. Life, slipping away. She laughed bitterly now. How foolish she’d been. That hadn’t been agony. That had been a massage. This was agony.
Her back felt as if it had been dipped in acid and salt. Two hard things were growing between her shoulder blades, sprouting from the ruined flesh. Horns, perhaps. Or maybe wings. Every so often, she thought she felt them flutter.
“Answer me. Now.”
Punish, that beguiling voice commanded. Take all that he claims as his, and then take his head.
Though her head was already filled with more evil than she could bear, new images began taking residence. She saw all the things Cronus had stolen over the centuries: artifacts, power, women. She saw all the lives he’d taken—and exactly how he’d taken them. So many. Oh, there were so many lives cut short because of his greed. Not just his enemies, but his own people. Even humans. Anyone who had gotten in his way. Blood flowed, and the screams reached a new crescendo.
Oh, God. Moaning, she pressed the heels of her palms into her eyes. Had she known what awaited her in the afterlife, had she known what kind of person he truly was, she would not have allowed him to lead her to the heavens.
She would have stayed with Paris. A man she’d thought she hated with every fiber of her being.
That hatred for him must have anchored her to his side, because her spirit had followed him for several days after her body died. He hadn’t been able to see her, hadn’t sensed her in any way. She’d watched as he’d given her a warrior’s funeral; that had surprised her. She’d watched as he’d cried for her; that had confused her. She’d watched as he’d mourned for her; that had, unexpectedly, touched her.
Her anger with him had begun to drain. She’d thought: even though he used me, he must have truly cared about me. And if he was capable of caring, he must not be the evil creature she’d been led to believe.
But then his body had begun to weaken and Sienna had been forgotten. To regain his strength, he’d slept with some random stranger. And then another. And another. He hadn’t cared about a single one of them. He hadn’t cared that they’d wanted more from him than a mere bedding. He’d walked away afterward and never looked back. Just as he would have done to her if she hadn’t captured him for her boss.