- The Darkest Secret
Just as before, the black hood was drawn over his face, shielding his features. But in the midst of the shadows, she could see the glowing red of his eyes.
Slowly he lifted one arm, a single gnarled finger extended in her direction. Rage pulsed from him, so much rage, enveloping her in malevolence. Hate fol owed. So much hate.
The eeriness of his presence jolted her out of her quiet horror, and she screamed. Screamed and screamed and screamed. She couldn’t stop herself, even though each new wail scraped her throat raw.
She pressed her palms over her ears. That didn’t help. Stil the screaming ravaged her.
The creature floated toward her, and she at last quieted. So close…almost upon her…she scrambled backward until she hit the wal . Just before he reached her, several black-clad men stormed from the terrace and into the room, their weapons raised.
“There!” one of the men cried.
“He was right! The demon’s here!”
Demon? He? How had “he” known?
They pounded toward her nightmare, blades raised, ready to hack him into bits, just as he’d done to her husband. Oh, God. Her husband. Maybe the creature hadn’t kil ed him after al , because there were others just like him in the room, and now they exited the shadows, their eyes glowing bright red.
The creature disappeared before either the humans or the others could reach him.
Beside her, the curtain swished open. Haidee’s knees gave out as Leora and the guards that Solon had ordered to remain nearby stormed inside. There were so many of them, and in their haste to discover what had happened, they failed to see her. She was kicked forward, Solon’s blood soaking her beautiful gown.
The guards attacked the men from the terrace and the shadows, clearly blaming them al for their master’s murder.
Metal whistled through air, swords clanged together, skin popped as it ripped and men grunted in pain.
Then another set of warriors flew into the room. They, too, came from the terrace. They must have scaled the side of the house. They were far bigger and more muscled than any of the others—
and their eyes glowed that same shade of evil-red as every one of Solon’s possible kil ers.
“More demons!” someone shouted.
“These must have fol owed us!”
“Hunters,” one of the new warriors growled, the word somehow echoing with a thousand other voices.
Each of them tormented. “Die. Wil die.”
A new battle began, this one a macabre dance of glinting silver and sharpened claws, and body after body fel around her. Even the aged, defenseless Leora was struck down, a dagger protruding from her chest. There were more grunts, many agonized moans and brutalized screams, each blending with the renewal of her own. She couldn’t breathe, had to breathe. Had to escape.
More servants and guards rushed into the room, but they, too, quickly became victims of the bloody battle. Breathe, breathe. Haidee tried to scramble away, to hide, but the floor was so slippery, blocked by al the fal en, and she gained no ground. And then someone fisted the back of her robe and dragged her to her feet. Oh, God. This was it, the end.
In reality, Haidee braced herself, knowing what came next.
She tried to distance herself from the scene, to pretend she was only watching a movie. That the people dying around her were actors, that their pain was faked.
That’s when the scene slowed, and, through Amun and his demon, she was able to see things she’d never noticed before. Suddenly, the players had names, faces she recognized. There was Strider—Defeat—lost to his demon and slashing at a Hunter. There was Lucien—Death—his mismatched eyes colder than the ice storm inside her.
She’d seen pictures of him over the years, and knew he was now scarred. But he wasn’t scarred as he fought with lethal menace, and his beauty was breathtaking. Or would have been, if someone else’s blood hadn’t dripped from his mouth. He’d just ripped a man’s throat out with his teeth.
Sabin, Kane, Cameo. Gideon, Paris, Maddox. Reyes.
Baden, his red hair actual y crackling with living flames.
Aeron, his black wings outstretched, the ends as sharp as daggers. Al but Torin and Amun were there.
No, not true, she realized as her gaze caught on the man who had grabbed her robe.
Amun. Amun held her.
So dark, wild in a way she had never seen him before. His eyes, like twin rubies plucked from the fires of hel . His lips, etched into a permanent scowl. His teeth, sharp and white and almost…monstrous. His cheekbones were sliced open, bone revealed.
He had one arm anchored around her waist, preventing her from bolting. Not that she could have. Her muscles were paralyzed with fear. Even as a Hunter leapt toward them, sword raised.
Amun swung her behind him—and a sword that had been arcing toward him cut her from one side of her throat to the other. A scream of agony gurgled from her as her legs gave out. But she didn’t drop to the floor; Amun stil held her. He turned then, and the real Haidee registered the glint of shock that suddenly consumed his features as he saw what had happened to her.
She’d always thought the man holding her had used her as a human shield, but just then, she realized he’d tried to save her. Even then. Even lost to his demon.
In the vision, she sagged from his now-loosened grip, her world going dark.
That was the first time she died.
But even then, the vision didn’t fade. Amun’s memory must have picked up where hers had left off, because the fight continued around her lifeless body. She watched as an enraged Amun stepped over her and ripped into the man who had kil ed her, tearing him from limb to limb, just as Solon had been torn.
Amun made sure the rending hurt. The Hunter screamed with every new slice, horrified pleas for mercy.
But mercy wasn’t something anyone in that room would experience.
And because Amun was distracted by his task, another Hunter managed to sneak up on him and make a play for his head.
Fast as he dodged, the blade merely cut into his neck, nicking him. With a roar, he spun around, arm rising to bat the offender away. The Hunter had already repositioned himself, however, and slashed once again. This time, the blade struck true, hitting spine, and Amun’s throat opened up al the way.
Blood poured, and he col apsed, his body beside hers.
They were facing each other, and his blood mingled with hers, pooling between them, soaking into their wounds.
Binding them, from that moment on?
Seeing their friend down, the other Lords became al the more enraged—and al the more vicious. The remaining Hunters and guards were soon fel ed in the most savage massacre she’d ever witnessed. And when it was over, the warriors panting, sweating, but far from calm, they gathered Amun and dragged him from the chamber, the home.
Final y the vision faded and Haidee’s mind catapulted back to the present. She was stil seated in front of Amun, but ice had crystal ized over her skin. Either he hadn’t noticed, or hadn’t cared, because his hands were stil flattened against her temples, the only bit of heat she felt.
With a moan, he severed contact, tiny ice crystals flying in every direction. His expression was tormented, and his eyes sparkled with red. Strangely, seeing the red didn’t scare her. Even with the memory of what had happened so long ago stil playing through her head.
I’m so sorry, Haidee. So sorry. His voice was as tormented as his expression.
“Why?” The single word scraped her raw throat, her voice hoarse and broken. Had she screamed during the vision and just hadn’t realized it? “You did nothing wrong.” She knew that now. Was amazed by it. He’d done everything right.
The Hunters must have been chasing the other demon. And I don’t know if the robed creature kil ed your husband or if it was one of the Lords who reached the bedroom first. Al I know is that I was part of the group that arrived last. I wasn’t trying to hurt you, he rushed out. I swear to the gods I wasn’t.
“I know. Now.” Just as she knew he had almost died for her, avenging a veritable stranger. God, she’d wanted to absolve herself with the memory. She’d only managed to weaken her case.
She had destroyed this man for nothing. For nothing!
I never saw your face that night. I saw a frightened female and tried to move her—you—from the battle.
But I put you in the middle of it instead. You wouldn’t have died if I’d left you on the floor.
He would not feel guilty about that. She wouldn’t let him.
“You don’t know what would have happened to me, Amun.
Don’t try to make me feel better. Don’t try to comfort me.
Gods, I don’t deserve it. Don’t even deserve to be here with you. You, helping me. Me. The man who placed you in the path of a blade. A bitter laugh left him as he flexed and unflexed his hands. Al these centuries, I’ve never understood why the others al owed themselves to be fil ed with remorse over actions they hadn’t been able to control.
Meanwhile, I’m the worst offender of the lot. Because of me, you died. Because of me, you came after Baden.
That was not the reaction she’d expected or wanted.
He tore his gaze from her and pushed to a stand. If you want me to summon the angel, I’l find a way to do so. He can return you to your…friends. You don’t have to do this.
Don’t have to help me.
“I’m not leaving you,” she told him, angry now. “And you saw for yourself that you weren’t the one who kil ed me. You tried to save me. More than that, I blamed you when I—”
You blamed me, and rightly so! He swiped up the backpack, commanded it to provide clean clothes for both of them and then tossed her a shirt and jeans. The robes are good for the caves, but not for movement. You need to change. We’re leaving.
“Listen to me. I wrongly blamed you and—”
We’re done discussing this. Change. Now.
He’d never, ever treated her like this, even when they’d first discovered who the other was, and she had no idea how to reach him, how to make him understand. Shaking, Haidee removed the robe and tugged on the new clothing. “We—