“Shut up, asshole, or I’ll cut out your tongue.”
That’s when William began sobbing like a child. If Aeron hadn’t known better, he would’ve thought the warrior was truly scared. But he did know better. This was all part of the role William had volunteered to play. And by “volunteered” he of course meant “caved to Anya’s threats to burn his book if he didn’t cooperate.” They’d hoped it wouldn’t come to this, to what was about to happen, but deep down they’d all known it would.
William couldn’t free himself and run; that might raise their suspicions, put them on guard. He had to take whatever was dished, and let the men walk away afterward.
The guards rounded a corner and hurried down a back alley, out of sight. Even though Aeron could no longer see them, he could hear what was happening through his earpiece.
When they reached their destination, their footsteps tapered to quiet.
“I didn’t mean any bloody harm,” William cried.
“Sorry, pal, but you’re a liability now.” Next there was a slide of metal against leather, followed by the rip of flesh and muscle. A grunt. Another rip, another grunt.
William had just been stabbed. Twice.
Aeron flinched in sympathy. To take whatever was dished, just to leave an enemy unsuspecting, required guts—guts William was probably spilling all over the pavement. He’d survive, though, and he’d be able to repay the favor. They all would.
He heard clothing rustle, then a thump. William must have dropped to the ground and slumped over as if dead. The footsteps started up again, and then the two guards—smiling now over a job well done—were once more rounding the corner. They headed back inside.
Strider kept the hidden car trained on Stefano and the workers even now boarding up the hole. Finally, they finished up.
“Fuckers,” William grumbled in his ear. “Those two are mine. They went for my sweet, innocent little kidneys.”
There was nothing sweet or innocent about William. Not even his kidneys.
“Just a few minutes more,” Aeron promised.
“I want two guards at this door until morning,” Stefano barked. “The rest of you go back to what you were doing. And for fuck’s sake, someone contact Galen. Better we tell him what happened than he hear it from someone else.”
The two who’d stabbed William nodded and claimed their posts.
So Galen wasn’t there. Disappointing.
As Aeron watched, the rest of the Hunters filed out of the lobby, through the club and down a hallway. Strider stared at the monitor as he maneuvered the car silently behind them. In that hallway were several doorways. One, the camera showed, led to a room where a few Hunters were relaxing in front of a TV. In the second room, a few were peering at screens and clicking at computer consoles, much like Torin did. In the third, bed after bed stretched. Several Hunters were clearly sleeping in them.
Stefano entered the fourth, an empty room. There were no people and no furnishings. There was only a rug. A rug that had been flung aside to reveal a dark, yawning void. A void into which Stefano descended.
An underground tunnel.
Digging their way to the fortress?
Planning to sneak inside, never having to deal with the traps on the hill?
“We have the location of their hideaway,” Strider said smugly.
Go time. For Aeron at least.
“You know which way you have to go?” Strider asked.
“Yes.” As he’d watched the monitor, he’d memorized his path.
Strider patted his shoulder. “May the gods be with you, my friend.”
“And you.” Aeron pushed to his feet. He hadn’t worn a shirt because he’d known he would be flying. With a single mental command, he popped his wings free from their slits. Grateful for the freedom, they stretched to full length.
“Good luck, my man,” Paris said.
“Be careful,” a few others echoed.
“If anything happens to me,” he said to no one in particular, “make sure Olivia returns home safely.”
Aeron didn’t wait for their replies, but shot into the air.
He soared high…higher…moving so quickly he would be no more than a blur to any camera in the area. Even one that could cut through shadows. Finally, he leveled out and hovered.
Below him was the club. He searched the darkness, but there were no Hunters on the roof, and he couldn’t see the Lords he knew were scattered nearby.
Tonight, victory would be his.
My pleasure. “Descending now.” Down, down he fell, wind whipping over his skin, wings tucked into his sides, increasing his momentum. When he reached the building, he flattened out and burst through the wooden slats that had just been erected. They brutalized his wings, cutting and breaking them, but they also knocked down the guards.
Aeron didn’t pause, but flew through the lobby, the dance arena, and then the hallway. Hunters had heard the newest crash and were springing into action, but they were doing so behind him, too slow to catch him. Only when he reached the room with the rug did he finally stop.
Wrath laughed, images flashing through Aeron’s mind. The sins of his targets. Beatings, stabbings, kidnappings. So much violence, so much hatred. These men deserved what they got.
He hid his wings—or tried to. Once again they were too mangled to fit into their slots. No matter. He strode toward the repositioned rug just as Hunters reached the doorway. A bullet cut through his back, but he didn’t slow. He simply spun as he walked, withdrawing a gun from his underarm sheath and firing, sending several men ducking for cover.
A reprieve. He threw back the thick, colorful mat.
“Bastard!” Another bullet whizzed behind him and slammed into his side.
He returned fire.
Amid the new gunshots, he heard his friends pounding into the building. Soon there were grunts and screams. Shattering glass. No time to rejoice. Yet another bullet hit him, this one in his thigh, dropping him to his knees.
“Some help,” he gritted into his earpiece. He continued to fire, sending the Hunters back into hiding. He couldn’t hold them off much longer. The gun’s clip was—empty. Shit. He tossed the now-useless piece to the floor.
Punish. More. More!
“Almost there,” Strider panted as the shooting started up again.
Aeron withdrew a second gun just as his friend arrived. Within moments, bodies were falling forward, motionless, then Strider was peeking inside. Blood splattered his face, but his eyes were gleaming brightly and a smile kicked up the corners of his lips.
“Get everyone out,” Aeron told him. “It’s about to blow.”
Strider nodded and was off, shouting warnings to their fellow warriors.
Aeron jerked at the latch on the tunnel door; it held. Though his arm was throbbing, trembling, he squeezed his weapon’s trigger over and over until the metal splintered apart.
“Now!” Strider’s shout echoed through their earpieces.
Aeron didn’t allow himself to wallow in the pain he felt—pain that would soon intensify. He didn’t allow himself to acknowledge the drugging lethargy even then working through his bloodstream. Courtesy of the Hunters’ poison, he was sure. He simply grabbed a grenade from the pouch at his waist and pulled the pin with his teeth.
He tossed open the door—multiple guns fired at him simultaneously, hitting, hitting, peppering his body with holes—and, pushing himself into the air with what strength remained in his legs, he dropped the grenade.
Wrath uttered another of those joyful laughs. Punish!
The ensuing blast of air sent him crashing through the roof. When he stilled, he grabbed another grenade, pulled the pin, and dropped it through the void he’d created.
Wood and glass shards soared in every direction, cutting him further, knocking him off course. Still he persevered. His wings were now so broken they barely flapped, but he managed to work himself higher. At a safe distance, he stopped. Hovering, though, proved impossible.
As he fell, he swept his gaze around the surrounding area. Plumes of black smoke shielded the building. But through them, he could see crackling gold flames licking their way toward the sky.
None of the humans could have survived this kind of carnage. He, however, was unwilling to leave anything to chance. He withdrew the third grenade and as he closed in on the building, he dropped it.
Once again, he was shot upward. The new flames made contact, singeing his skin. He twisted midair, letting his back take the brunt of the damage before twisting again, changing direction and finally falling and hitting the ground where he’d first waited with Strider.
His friend was already there. “I could kiss you,” was the first thing the warrior said. “Even though you look like shit.”
Aeron would have laughed, but he’d inhaled smoke and his throat was raw and swollen. He was barely breathing. His eyes teared from the burn, and he didn’t have the strength to swipe the drops away.
“I’m sure you want a report,” Strider added, helping him to his feet. “William managed to cut the throats of the guys who cut his guts. Paris took a bullet to the stomach, and Reyes got hammered in the kneecap. They aren’t faring so well, so Maddox and Amun are helping them home. Exactly where you need to be. Lucien’s gonna remain behind to escort the dead souls to hell, and Sabin’s gonna stay with him just in case he has to leave his body behind. Or there are survivors. If the tunnel is deep enough, those who ran could have been protected from the blast. And you know how Stefano likes to run.”
Dizziness swept through him, mild at first, then raging, flooding, and if it weren’t for Strider’s arm snaking his waist, he would have fallen. Worse, darkness was descending.
“They used poisoned bullets, definitely,” Strider said, mirroring his earlier thoughts. “Like the one that almost killed you. How’d you survive? What did you do? We should have asked before, but with everything else going on…”