“Would Aeron have done the same for you?” Lysander asked. “No. Do not answer. Just think about all I have said.”
She nodded. She would be able to do nothing else.
“Be prepared, sweet Olivia. Aeron could very well be injured like this again. I fear Rhea has given the Hunters water from the five rivers of the Realm of Hades.”
Olivia flinched. Such water used as a weapon meant certain death. A sip, a touch, and goodbye forever. Even the soul withered. The only way to combat the vile poison was to drink from the River of Life. A river even she didn’t know how to find.
“They’ve been making their own bullets and each of those bullets contains a single drop of that water.” He withdrew a small vial from his robe. “Aeron needs only a drop of this to heal. The rest I would hide. Just in case. Use it carefully, however, for when it’s gone, you’ll receive no more.”
River of Life? Hand trembling, she claimed the vial.
“But don’t think, even for a moment, that this will save him after his head is taken. And it will be taken, Olivia. An assassin will come.”
Her gaze fell. Lysander knew her well; she had been thinking along those lines. No matter. She shook her head, tossing away her disappointment and renewing her determination. She would simply find another way.
“I thought you meant to petition the Council for him.”
“And so I shall. We know the results such a petition will wield. He does not. They were lenient with you, but then, you are one of us. He is a demon. There will be no leniency.”
Would telling him do any good?
“How you worry me, Olivia.” Lysander sighed. “I will leave you to your task.”
GIDEON, KEEPER OF LIES, tossed and turned atop his bed. His boxers were glued to his sweat-soaked skin, his bandaged hands—or lack thereof—throbbing painfully. Blood had beaded on those bandages and as much as he’d healed, that hadn’t happened in weeks. Regression?
He was asleep but still aware, which was weird as shit, and trapped in the thickest darkness he’d ever come across. Again weird, if not technically true. Not for his demon, at any rate. The darkness inside Pandora’s box had been just like this, suffocating and maddening. Something Lies hadn’t stopped screaming about since entering the strange realm—screams that blended with the ones layering the darkness. Thousands and thousands of discordant shrieks, each one more tortured than the last.Clawing his way out proved impossible.
“Gideon. Gideon, man, wake up. You’re not supposed to sleep.”
He heard Paris’s voice, wanted to obey, but again, he couldn’t. The darkness was too cloying, wrapping around him, holding tightly, nearly drowning him. And then he did drown, losing that thread of consciousness altogether. Can’t breathe…
The gloom parted, and he sucked in a greedy breath—only to scramble backward. Oh, hell, no. Spider!
Don’t calm, his demon told him.
You don’t calm! Panting, trying not to screech like a pussy, he flattened himself against the wall. The monstrous spider followed, those eight hundred legs stabbing into the ground, those beady eyes practically peering into his soul.
Enemy, Lies said. Meaning, friend.
Hardly. Shit, shit, shit. Every brain cell he possessed—all of which were trapped in that shit-haze of panic—suddenly let him know, in high-def detail, that he would be this creature’s dinner. He’d rather be set on fire. He’d rather be hanged. Hell, he’d rather be gutted.
“I’ll be so tasty,” he said desperately. Truth was, he’d taste like shit, but then, even in his dreams, he couldn’t say what he meant. At least, he didn’t think so. He’d never tried it. And wouldn’t. The consequences could be just as devastating as when he did so in real life. Pain, pain and more pain.
Memories of his last tangle with truth were fresh in his mind. A few weeks ago, he’d told a Hunter what he really felt—hate—and what he really wanted to do—hurt, maim, kill. All because he, who could spot a lie from a few thousand miles away, had been tricked into believing Sabin, keeper of Doubt, was dead, slain by Hunter hands. Stupid of him. But as the pain racked him, he’d thought what’s a little more and had volunteered himself for torture to save his friends from having to endure it.
That’s when he lost his hands to a hacksaw. They were now stubs with a few fingers. Even in his dreams. Therefore, he couldn’t defend himself properly against Mr. Hungry—who was still eyeing him as if he were a slab of beef as he tripped from one corner of the dream room to another.
Those corners closed in on him, the space shrinking.
Hell. No. “Come closer!” Stay away! “You want to do this.” You don’t want to do this.
Don’t calm, Lies repeated.
There was no time to analyze his demon’s odd behavior. One of those hairy legs swiped out. The tip was sharp, bladelike, and sliced his thigh. Maybe that tip had been dipped in poison, because the sting that next exploded through him sent him to his knees, causing his muscles to lock onto his bones, nearly breaking them in half.
“Do that again,” he rasped. Shut up, just shut up! He rarely despised his demon. Most days, he even liked the bastard. Was glad to be a stronger, harder soldier because of the little fiend. But not now. He wanted to curse that damned spider to everlasting hell.
Why he was so afraid of spiders, he didn’t know. The fear had simply always been there.
Another swipe of that leg. Another cut, this one on his back as he tried to spin away from impact. The sting spread quickly, his muscles twisting. The bones in his arm did break this time.
“Again,” he repeated, the word like an arrow as it left his clenched teeth. “Again.”
The spider stilled, its disgusting head tilting to the side. Watching him, studying him. Damn it! He couldn’t scramble away, was now locked in place.
“Stay!” Go! The thickness of his breath, beating against the too-close walls, echoed.
“Why do you say the opposite of what your expression tells me you mean?”
The voice came out of nowhere. Or maybe the spider was talking. Except he would have thought a spider that ugly would be male, and this voice had been pure femininity. Familiar somehow. Soft, yet strong. Relax, that voice said.
Lies sighed with contentment.
“Stay!” Gideon shouted to the beast. He wouldn’t be tricked into passivity like his demon.
Slowly, too slowly, the spider faded, shimmering out of view. Another trick. You have to—
A woman stepped from the ensuing murkiness. She was tall and lean, with shoulder-length black hair that possessed not a single curl or hint of wave. There was something as familiar about her face as there’d been about her voice.
Who was she?
She had eyes like black velvet, a regal nose and lips so red they were like thousands of tiny, freshly polished rubies that had been pressed together and cut into a heart. Her cheekbones were sharp, her chin stubborn, but by the gods, she was lovely. A warrior queen.
His heart continued its frantic beat, even as Lies uttered another of those sighs. The panic left him, leaving behind a white-hot fascination. A trick? Who cared! His mind had surely used his deepest fantasies to create her.
The sweat dried on his body, and the ice left his blood as a consuming fire washed through him, blistering everything it touched. So badly he wanted to reach out, to touch her, to caress her face and run his fingers through her hair. To know if she was as soft and silky as he thought she would be.
“Why do you say the opposite of what you mean?” she asked again.
“Don’t know,” he said, meaning that he did, in fact, know the answer. He could have lied in more detail, allowing her to decipher the truth, but a single thought had stopped him. What if she was Bait, a female sent to help destroy him?
Were Hunters now so powerful they could invade dreams?
Possible. Torin had visited him earlier and told him that Galen had an artifact, that the traitor had successfully bonded the demon of Distrust with a dark-haired female and— A dark-haired female?
He stiffened. Like the one he was staring at?
“Come to the dungeon,” she said. “Alone.”
“Who aren’t you?” he demanded.
“Who aren’t you?” she shot back.
Silence slithered between them, and anger filled those black eyes. Anger and still that churning curiosity.
“Come to the dungeon, or I’ll bring back the spider.” With that, she disappeared.
Gideon’s eyelids flew open, his conscious mind propelled from that dream-state as if riding a rocket.
“Thank the gods,” a frantic Paris said. “Finally.”
Gideon was panting. Unlike in his dream, his sweat was not dried. It poured off him, drenching him. Just like in his dream, however, his arm, thigh and back were throbbing, bleeding from where they’d been cut.
“What happened?” he demanded shakily. “Small, hairless mosquito…”
“Bad dream, as I feared.”
Fading sunlight trickled in through the only window in his room, but his overhead light was on, illuminating his friend. Paris’s hair was multihued, and each of those hues gleamed brightly. His skin was pale, yet it held the shimmer of a pearl.
Now, Gideon might have acted like a pussy, but Paris looked like one, he thought with the first threads of humor returning.
“You fell asleep before we could tell you not to and must’ve met our new guest.”
The girl. “Who isn’t our guest?”
“Scarlet’s her name, and she’s a Lord of the Underworld. Or Lordess, I guess.”
They’d actually found one of the missing links and brought her here? “What’s she not a keeper of?” He would have scrubbed a hand down his face to clear away the remnants of sleep, but couldn’t.
Paris sensed his need and wiped his eyes with the edge of his sleeve. “Nightmares, apparently. Pretty thing, if you like ’em rough, but evidently she’s as crazy as the Hunters.”