- The Darkest Lie
Truth mixed with smug superiority.
Zeus had told some of the Lords why they’d been given their demon. Lucien received Death because he’d opened Pandora’s box, nearly leading to the demise of the world. Maddox received Violence because he’d killed the most soldiers in his quest to reach the box. Paris had seduced Pandora to distract her, therefore he’d received Promiscuity.
Why, though, had Gideon been given Lies? He’d been a good warrior for the king. He’d helped steal Pandora’s box, yes, but his part had been minimal because he’d felt so damn guilty for betraying his creator.
With that line of thinking, another question arose. Why had Scarlet been given Nightmares?
Lies began to purr.
Gideon frowned. Why purr? That spoke of affection. I thought you were over Scarlet, you fickle bastard. Not mine, Lies said. Which really meant, All mine.
You can’t do that, you little shit. You can’t keep changing your mind like that, wanting her one minute, discarding her the next. Not mine.
I should ask her demon to—
Wait. What? Her…demon?
His eyes widened as everything finally slid into place. Had the two demons been…lovers while inside that box? Or maybe inside hell?
The purring increased in volume, and he could only shake his head in wonder. All this time with his demon, and he hadn’t realized such creatures could form connections like that. But Lies and Nightmares must have done so.
That explained so much. Why Lies had wanted to stay with Scarlet, but hadn’t cared about Scarlet herself. Why Lies had been willing to do something abhorrent to him, like tell the truth, just to keep Scarlet nearby. Why Lies had responded to Rhea when she’d looked like Scarlet. The demon had only seen the packaging and had assumed Nightmares was inside.
Perhaps Zeus had known of the connection. Perhaps Zeus had also known of Scarlet’s desire for Gideon. Perhaps he’d given Gideon the demon of Lies as a…gift.
And you were trying to find a way to kill him. He might just owe the deposed king a big fat thank-you. He would rather kiss Scarlet, though. Damn it, where was she? What was she doing?
Would she go for his throat the next time she saw him? She thought he was screwing her bitch of a mother, after all. Or would she try to avoid him for the rest of eternity?
Even if she wanted to, she wouldn’t be able to do so. She was tracking NeeMah and would eventually discover that the woman’s trail led here. So they would meet again. He would just have to make sure he was prepared. Fingers crossed she didn’t kill him while he slept or remove his head before he’d had a chance to explain.
Fingers crossed she even wanted to hear his explanation.
“Speaking of memory loss…I think it’s funny that you and Scarlet met again.”
NeeMah’s voice drew him from his thoughts, and he arched a brow at her. “Not—” whispered “—again?” Loudly.
“You probably don’t remember—” she smiled at that, fleeting, but there all the same “—but you came looking for her once. Well, a little boy you discovered was actually a girl. She was grown by then and you clearly liked what you saw.”
Fire ignited in his chest, then spread to his limbs. At first, Gideon didn’t know why. Then he realized Lies was storming through him, so agitated the turmoil seeped into Gideon. Why? “Do you remember?” the goddess asked him.
He remembered that little boy, and now knew that had been Scarlet. Yet he didn’t remember ever encountering an adult version Scarlet. Had his memory been screwed with?
“Anyway, for some reason, you never returned. You left her there.” She offered him another false grin. “Such a pity.”
He hopped up, panting with the force of his sudden rage. On. Off. On. Off. She had screwed with him.
“Oh, do you wish to remember? Give me your hand, and it’s done. Even with my collar, I can get inside your head.”
“One day,” he snarled, gripping the bars, shaking, the lighter clinking against the metal.
“Yes?” she asked, clearly thinking there was nothing he could do. She sat up, gaze never leaving him. “One day? What will you do?”
“I will—I will—” Nothing sounded violent enough.
“Will you kill me? Will you torture me? What can you truly do to harm me? Tell me I’m ugly? Tell me I’m powerless? Do it, then. And see how I punish Scarlet in turn. We both know she’ll return for me. I’ll convince her to hate you. I’ll convince her to kill you. I’ll convince her to sleep with man after man. I’ll convince her to kill herself. And there’s nothing—”
A roar, loud and long, echoed between them. Through out the entire tirade, Lies had prowled and paced, a caged predator filled with rage. At the mention of Scarlet’s death, the demon had erupted.
Before Gideon knew what was happening, the demon exploded from his body, a dark vision of scales and horns and bones. Of evil.
NeeMah yelped with horrified panic as the fiend chomped at her—before disappearing inside her. She jerked, hunched over. Whimpered. Soon, tears began streaming down her face.
“I’m so ugly,” she cried. “So powerless. I’m unworthy of life. Oh, gods, I’m so unworthy.”
All the things she’d taunted Gideon with, things she hadn’t ever believed of herself. But now, with the demon convincing her that the lies were the truth, she believed, and it was tearing her up inside.
He could only watch, his own rage easing in the shadow of his combined shock and fascination. Lies had actually left him. Left him. And was now obviously prowling through NeeMah’s head, making her believe the lies about her beauty, her strength. How the demon had done it, he didn’t know. Why the demon hadn’t ever left him before, he didn’t know.
How the demon remained sane and Gideon alive, he didn’t know, either.
Minutes later, when NeeMah was a sobbing puddle on her cot, her entire body shuddering, the demon returned to him and settled inside his head, purring with more of that satisfaction.
How did you do that? he asked, dazed.
The demon had no idea, then. Why did you come back?
Aren’t tethered to you.
Holy hell. Can you do it again?
Let’s find out. “You might want to buckle up,” he told the goddess as he grinned. “You’re about to have a lot of fun.”
DRY, BRITTLE foliage reached out from the plethora of trees, slapping at Strider’s cheeks, scratching his skin and darkening his already black mood. He had Hadiee, aka Haidee, aka Ex, roped to him and leading the way, taking the brunt of the branch-slaps as she grumbled and complained and called him all manner of names. “Bastard” was the kindest.
Back at the hotel, he’d lain on top of her, vowing to hurt her worse than she’d ever been hurt, but in the end, he hadn’t cut her into small pieces, hadn’t even scratched her, and he was pissed as hell about it.He’d raised his blade to do so. To take a finger at the very least. She deserved it for killing Baden. But she’d gazed up at him with such courage, such challenge, wanting him to end her it seemed. So he’d stayed his hand. No way would he give her what she wanted.
As if she sensed the direction of his thoughts—and hell, maybe she did. She was immortal now, but he didn’t know how she was or what she was—she shouted over her shoulder, “You should have killed me, you stupid moron!” Her gray eyes gleamed. Her skin was flushed and dewy with sweat—that actually resembled tiny beads of ice—and her pink hair was plastered to her temples.
Even worn-out, she was a lovely sight. Thank the gods “beautiful bitch” wasn’t his type. “And end your suffering? Ha! Keep moving.”
“You’re the one who’s going to suffer. If you think I’ll keep my fury to myself, you’re stupider than you look. And you look endlessly stupid! I plan to tell you about every damn thing that bothers me. Starting with the insects. They’re eating me alive!”
For half an hour, she complained about the damn bugs. Only took five minutes, though, for his ears to start bleeding from the shrillness of her voice.
“Time-out,” she snapped. “We’ve been walking for hours, and I need to rest.”
“Time in. We’re close to where I want to be. No resting yet.”
“Time-out. Or are you too scared to rest for a few minutes?”
Scared? It was a challenge to prove himself, and one his demon accepted.
Scowling, Strider stopped abruptly. Ex didn’t realize this and kept moving until the rope around her ankle—a rope that was tied to his wrist—ran out of slack and jerked. She tumbled to her face, quickly rolled over and glared up at him.
His scowl became a grin as he dropped his backpack at the base of a tree and flopped beside it. “Fine. Time-out.”
Ex remained on the ground, though she sat up and pulled her knees to her chest. “Bastard,” she muttered.
“Touch your ankle and I’ll cut off your hands.” An empty boast—maybe—but she didn’t know that. “And here’s another bitch-slap of truth, little girl. From now on, every time you challenge me, I will view it as an invitation to have sex with you.” Nothing would disgust her more, he was sure.
The rosy flush abandoned her cheeks. “Warning received.”
Good. Now. Since they were resting “for a few minutes,” he might as well make the best of it. “Hungry?”
He unzipped his pack and withdrew a box of Red Hots.
Ex spotted them, and her eyes nearly bugged out of her head. “That’s what you brought for field rations? You idiot! Stupid is too generous a word for you. Candy won’t sustain us.”
“Speak for yourself.” He tossed a mouthful past his lips, chewed and closed his eyes at the delicious taste. Maybe even moaned.
When he next looked at her, she was frowning and holding out her hand.