- The Darkest Passion
“Such a tone will earn you nothing but discontent, Violence, for your enemy wants what you want. The Paring Rod.” The Unspoken One splayed her arms, her nails so long they curled back into her fingers. “We will choose whom to bestow such a blessing upon.”
Maddox popped his jaw before bowing his head. “My apologies.”
“What do you want from us? Name it, and it’s yours.” Strider didn’t care what they desired. He would give it to them.
She smiled, as if she’d expected nothing less. “If you wish to acquire the Rod, you will bring us the head of your king.”
There was another beat of horrified silence.
“Wait. You want…Cronus’s head?” Gwen swept her gaze over the Lords. “The god king?”
“Yes.” No hesitation.
Could Strider give that to them? The god king had helped him win several battles. The god king was on his side and would do anything to destroy Galen and the Hunters. So…kill him? Kill the most powerful immortal ever to live? And if he failed, make an enemy of him?
“Just how are we supposed to do that?” Kane demanded.
“I told you it wouldn’t be simple. But though he is a god, and destroying him will prove the most difficult task of your existence, he is very much like you,” the Unspoken One replied. “More so than you have realized. Use the knowledge to your advantage.”
Kane shook his head, and a lock of hair slapped his eye. “But he’s on our team.”
“Is he?” Another cruel laugh. “Do you not think he will slay you the moment he no longer has need of you? Besides, if you do not bring us his head, your enemy will. And they will receive our prize.”
Strider’s eyes widened, another answer finally sliding into place. This was why Galen would try for Cronus’s head. This was why Danika had predicted what she had.
They couldn’t allow Galen to curry favor with these beings. The consequences could be too great—far greater than pissing off Cronus. Shit. Damn it! Fuck. No curse word seemed strong enough.
“Why do you want him dead?” Strider asked. As Sabin always said, knowledge was power. Perhaps in the answer, they could find redemption.
The creature’s teeth gnashed together. “He has made us slaves and we will not tolerate such a fate. Surely you understand.”
Understand, yes. For too long, he’d been a slave to his demon. But there was no redemption in her answer. These beings were determined. They would not be swayed.
What would happen if they were freed? Roaming unfettered? Nothing good, that much he could guess.
“You need time to think,” she continued. “Time we will grant you. And to prove our magnanimous intentions, we will even give you another gift. Enjoy. I know we will.”
Her eerie, smiling face was the last thing Strider saw before he and the others found themselves transported to another location, a jungle—Hunters suddenly surrounding them.
OLIVIA AND LEGION circled each other. When the little demon had lunged, Olivia had jumped out of the way, and Legion had slammed into the wall. Now, Olivia studied her foe. She’d seen this type of being—a minion, also known as a demon servant—defeated before. All angels had, even those whose sole purpose was to bring peace and joy to the world. But of course, she’d never fought one herself.
Destroying them had never seemed like much of a battle for the warrior angels, though. Not really. They had merely stretched out their arms, their swords of fire appearing. Once those flames—which hadn’t been created in hell, but had instead sprung from her Deity’s mouth, his breath far hotter than the blazes all demons so loved—made contact with scales, the demons disintegrated. This, well, this would not be anything like that.Kaia and Cameo were still on the ground, still writhing, their skin now a light shade of green. As an angel, Olivia would have been able to soothe them, taking their pain into herself and dispatching it. But trapped as she was in this feeble body, she could do nothing.
Nothing but watch. And fight.
If she hoped to survive, she needed that which she’d never experienced or embraced before: fury. That was what strengthened humans, after all. Wasn’t it? They seemed to expand, destroy, defeat when they hosted the emotion.
So…what made her angry? Her time in hell, definitely.
Though she would rather have plucked out her eyes, Olivia allowed the memory of her time in hell to play through her mind. The flames…the stink…those oozing, roving hands… Sickness churned in her stomach, fear and disgust blending with that first spark of fury. After that, instinct took over and her shock at Kaia’s and Cameo’s mistreatment joined the fray, numbing the fear. Only, thankfully, the fear.
“You die thisss day, angel.”
Her hands curled into fists. I’m strong. “You can never be with Aeron the way you desire, demon,” she said, knowing the truth in her voice had to be distasteful to a creature raised among liars. “I tell you this not to be cruel, but to—”
“Ssshut up. Ssshut up!” Legion swung out her arm, claws bared.
Olivia bowed her back, leaning out of reach. Without her wings to balance her, she stumbled and nearly fell to the floor.
“Aeron lovesss me. He told me ssso.”
Most of her fury drained, and there was nothing she could do about it. Compassion was hardwired inside her, as was the need to give happiness rather than heartbreak. They desired the same thing, she and Legion. “And it’s true. He loves you, but he doesn’t love you as a man loves a woman. He loves you as a father loves his daughter.”
“No.” A stomp of a foot. A hiss. “I’ll marry him one day.”
“If that were the case, I probably wouldn’t have given up my entire way of life to come here and save him. I wouldn’t have wanted to be with him.” She spoke as gently as she was able. Emotionally wounding the demon wasn’t her goal. For whatever reason, Aeron did like the…thing. But Olivia knew how demons operated and knew Legion would berate and undermine her unless she was made to understand. “Already I’ve slept in his bed, curled into his side.”
Legion didn’t accuse her of lying. How could she? Angels never had the need, and the little fiend knew it. Rather, she stopped and gaped at Olivia, her breathing choppy, shallow. More poison dripped down her fangs.
“You want what you cannot have. You envy, you crave. That’s your nature,” Olivia said, “and I understand that nature better than I ever did before because that is the very reason I am here. I envy, I crave. But what you don’t realize is that your leaving hell to be with Aeron has sentenced him to death. You are the reason I was sent to him. You are the reason I was ordered to kill him. You are the reason another assassin will be sent in my place.” She drew in a breath. “You are the reason he will die.”
“No. No! I’ll kill the next dirty angel just like I plan to kill you now.”
That was the only warning Olivia had. One moment Legion was in front of her, the next she was on top of her, and they were falling…down, down. Olivia took the brunt of the impact, her skull cracking on the ledge of the hearth and oxygen shoving from her lungs like a heat-seeking missile. Bright lights winked over her vision, but not enough to obscure the teeth descending toward her neck.
Lysander had begun training her for her new warrior duties the very day that golden down appeared in her wings, so Olivia knew to jam her palm into Legion’s chin and shove, grinding the demon’s teeth together painfully.
She’d never relished the thought of battling demons. Especially when Lysander told her that warriors had to distance themselves from their task completely, leaving only a hardened determination to take down their prey. Could she?
A shock of cold bloomed in her fingers and spread up her arms…into her chest…and that cold numbed more than fear this time, destroying what little remained of her fury, right along with the compassion and disgust.
Yes. She could, she realized. Shocking.
Do what you must, a voice whispered through her head. You are angel. She is demon. Let your instincts guide you. Let your faith flow through you.
For a moment, she thought Lysander was beside her. But then Legion growled, snapping her from her sense of relief, and it didn’t matter. Olivia was ready. Rather than using emotions she had no experience with, she allowed that which was natural to her, faith and love, to consume her, as the voice had instructed. This was true strength.
With a flick of her arm, she tossed Legion across the room. The demon slammed into the wall and slid to the floor. All the while, those red eyes remained narrowed on her.
Olivia jumped up and pressed her back into the hearth. The new position limited her range of motion, but she needed something to balance her when—
Legion sprang at her.
Olivia ducked and once again the demon hit the wall. As she ricocheted backward, plaster dusted the air, filling Olivia’s nose and making her cough. Still, she didn’t hesitate to kick out her leg and propel Legion to her bottom. Faith—she could win this. Love—good against evil. The heel of Olivia’s foot must have somehow cut past those scales because crimson seeped from the demon’s breastbone.
“I will not allow you to hurt me, demon.”
“You won’t be able to ssstop me.”
Again Legion leapt up. Again she threw herself onto Olivia, clinging like a vine. Teeth snapped and nails clawed. Olivia punched left, right and forward, working one knee between them to preserve some distance, but barely managing to keep herself upright. Legion shifted her head from side to side to avoid impact, but she wasn’t always successful. A cheekbone cracked. Her nose broke.
Across the room, glass shattered. Then a dark winged figure was there, wild gaze searching…landing on the still-struggling women. Aeron. Their eyes met, and time suddenly seemed suspended. His lips were pulled back in a tight scowl, and his tattoos were so black they were like shadows on his skin.
A bubble of excitement burst through her and Olivia lost her focus. Her hand collided with the demon’s mouth, an area she’d been avoiding; Legion took full advantage and bit, those razor-sharp fangs cutting deep, thick poison dripping straight into her veins.