A bullet lodged in Strider’s lower back, another in his thigh. He stumbled, slowed. Shit. At this rate, he’d bleed out before he got the cape around his shoulders.
Win, win, win. A whimper now, pained and unsure. A pain that radiated through Strider.
“Don’t give up yet,” he muttered. “I’ve got this. I promise you.” Both arms shaking now, he managed to drape the Cloak over himself and jerk the hood in place. In the next instant, his body disappeared from view and even he couldn’t see it. An odd sensation.
He leaped from the path he’d been taking, stopped abruptly and turned. The Hunters slowed, each frantically searching the thinning crowd for any sign of him. They’d put distance between themselves, but now edged closer to each other.
“Where’d he go?” one rasped.
“He used the Cloak. Damn it! We’ll never find him now.”
“Think he’s still running or do you think he’s waiting nearby, planning to follow us?”
Winning! Defeat said again, happy once more though not completely satisfied. No one had died.
“He’s a demon coward. He’s running.”
“We can’t know that for sure. Which means we can’t return to base.”
“And we shouldn’t talk, either. Damn it!”
None of the Hunters had looked to their feet yet. Had they, they would’ve seen the blood that left the protection of the cape and materialized on the stones. Strider eased to the dirt, careful to avoid bumping into anyone and giving away his location.
“So what do you want us to do?” the female asked, speaking up for the first time. Husky voice, a hint of smoke.
“Split up,” the tallest of the group said. He was clearly the leader. He had dark hair, dark eyes and dark skin. And he looked so much like Amun, Strider was momentarily struck senseless. Surely he was merely seeing things. “Just roam the city until I call you and tell you otherwise. But move as fast as you can. He’s injured, and won’t last long out there.”
Each of them nodded, broke apart and kicked into gear. Well, except for the leader and the girl. They shared a loaded glance. Silent. A muscle was ticking in the guy’s jaw.
He leaned down, pressed a quick kiss to the girl’s mouth, muttered, “Stay safe,” and moved away from her.
Interesting. And profitable. Clearly, the two were lovers. The leader would probably do a lot to get his female back.
Rather than find shelter and patch himself up, Strider followed her. New challenge, he told his demon.
I will. She was petite with shoulder-length blond hair. Mixed into the blond were streaks of bright pink. She wore a white Hello Kitty tank top and ripped jeans. Weapons were probably hidden all over her curvy little body. There was a silver stud in her eyebrow that matched the gray of her eyes, and one of her arms was sleeved with tattoos.
There was something familiar about her. Something that caused a wave of…hatred to hit him. Yes, hatred, he realized with shock. There was no mistaking the dark emotion for something else. How odd. He didn’t remember meeting her. Not in any of the battles he’d had with Hunters. That didn’t mean he hadn’t met her, though. Only that she’d been insignificant at the time.
Why the hatred, then?
Worry about who she is later, asshole, he told himself. Short as she was, she was able to move faster than he would have expected. He wouldn’t be able to keep up, as weak as he was becoming.
I told you. I will. She’s as good as mine.
When the girl wound around a corner and headed toward a crowded building, Strider grabbed her by the hair and jerked. A low blow, but necessary. As she fell, she yelped in surprise. A second later, though, she was on her feet, two daggers palmed.
“Bastard,” she snarled. “I knew you’d come after me, the perceived weak link. Well, that was your first mistake.”
Several humans turned to stare at her, obviously wondering who she was talking to.
Strider didn’t reply. Just darted behind her and smashed his hands against her carotid, cutting off the blood supply to her brain. And shit! She was cold. Like a block of ice. He almost pulled away. Almost.
“So what was my second?” he asked smugly.
At first, she struggled, tried to spin. “What the—” But then her knees buckled, and her eyes rolled back into her head.
Just like that, she was out.
We won. We won!
Too easy. Still. As the pleasure began to wash through him, Strider grinned. The grin only widened as he picked up the girl, shivered—because damn—then hid her within the confines of the Cloak and carried her away.
SIENNA DRAGGED herself from her bed, the chains around her neck, wrists and ankles rattling, cutting. When she stood to shaky legs, those chains pulled taut, cut deeper, preventing her from moving away.
There was a red film over her eyes, coloring her vision, painting everything she studied in crimson. Fitting, since she wanted everything in the room to be bathed with blood. Hers, Cronus’s. She craved it. Dreamed of it. The velvet curtains, the flowers blooming from the walls, the polished wood and the alabaster statues of too-tall men with too many muscles……all dripping…
Enough! Must reach Paris, she thought. Or maybe the thought belonged to the demon. Wrath. The enemy inside her. The enemy she should despise but couldn’t; just then, Wrath was her only link to vengeance. And salvation.
Paris will help. This time, she knew exactly who the words belonged to: the demon. Paris can guard you until you’re strong enough to attack Cronus.
Maybe Paris would guard her. Maybe not. Moments before she’d died, she’d told him how much she hated him. And she had. Hated him. She was pretty sure she still did. Or didn’t. God, she was so confused. The more the demon spoke about Paris, the more her dislike faded.
Paris will help.
“I heard you the first time,” she snapped.
Part of her—the human part—thought she might try to kill the warrior when she reached him. Part of her—the female part—thought she might kiss his beautiful face. Only thing she knew for sure was that she was going to find him, and she was going to use him, as Wrath had suggested. He, too, was possessed by a demon, and while he guarded her—if he would—he could teach her how to control this new, darker side of herself.
And once that happened…bye-bye Cronus.
Determined, urgent, she stepped forward again. Or tried to. Those damn chains yanked but held steady. Her body burned with rage, with hate, and the wings still growing between her shoulder blades flapped wildly.
Each emotion gave her strength. She jerked again. And again. Skin sliced open and vessels burst. The pain, the pain, the pain… Paris, her mind shouted, giving her strength…and finally, one of the chains cracked…
AMUN STUMBLED through the smoky cavern, William and Aeron holding him up and keeping him from kissing the bone-laden ground. They’d fought countless demon minions to get here, to this forgotten valley of death. They were as injured as he was. He shouldn’t add to their burden, but he couldn’t help himself.
Crunch, crunch. Sweat poured from him, draining him. His skin was sliced like a Christmas ham, but that wasn’t the worst of his torment. Too many secrets…they were bombarding him, consuming him. Evil secrets, vile secrets. Thefts, rapes and murders. Oh, the murders.The souls decaying in this underground prison had killed their brethren in the most heinous of ways, enjoying every bit of torture they inflicted. And now, the demons who lived here were enjoying every bit of the torture they inflicted. Retaliation, they found it so sweet.
The demons, at least, didn’t keep secrets. They were happy to share the disgusting details of their lives. But Amun could also read their minds and knew their basest thoughts. He could feel their desire to steal, to rape and murder. Could see through their eyes as they did so.
Never had he felt so dirty, and he doubted he would ever be able to cleanse himself of this. Secrets loved it, though. Loved every moment of it. Was humming, soaking up each new revelation like chocolate through a straw.
“Nothing on Legion?” Aeron asked for the thousandth time.
He shook his head and winced at the ensuing ache.
“We can’t keep roaming this place blind,” William said. “We’re each cut up and bleeding from our last go-round with those minions. They’re small, but damn, they’re wily. I thought I was going to lose my balls.”
Lucifer might be afraid of the warrior, but his servants were not. They’d attacked William as staunchly as they’d attacked Amun and Aeron.
“You’re going to have to steal a demon’s memories,” Aeron told Amun grimly. “It’s the only way. William’s right for once. The longer we’re here, the more we’re forced to fight and the weaker we become.”
No, Amun thought, even as he nodded. He’d known it would come to this. He’d hoped otherwise, and had resisted for as long as he could. If things were bad now, they were going to be impossible after he stole a full set of demon memories. There would be no purging himself later.
They would be a part of him forever.
Why are you doing this again? he wondered. Because he loved Aeron. Wanted his friend happy and knew his friend couldn’t be happy any other way.
And what of your happiness?
He ignored that question. He might talk himself out of what he was about to do, and couldn’t allow himself to do such a thing. Find a demon, he signed. Bring it to me alive. The higher up the caste system it is, the better.
“You want a High Lord?” William asked, incredulous. A High Lord was what possessed each of the Lords. They were the most powerful of the demons and the most knowledgeable of what was happening down here, but there were only a few left within these depths. A few that hadn’t tried to escape with the others. Like Secrets.
Amun nodded. If possible. They would also be the hardest to capture.
His friends led him to the shadowed mouth of the nearest cave and eased him down. Every muscle in his tired body sighed in relief, basically liquefying. He closed his eyes. Rest, he’d rest for a moment.