—most fun I’ve had in a while…

—too bad we have to kil him…

—girl might be useful, though…

The other demons cackled, a thousand wind chimes in a storm. They weren’t so loud that they overpowered Amun’s other thoughts, and they weren’t so stalwart they overwhelmed him with dark urges. Oh, he could feel the things they wanted him to do. Taste the Horsemen’s blood, cause their screams. They’d been locked away so long, they were desperate. They also sensed Haidee was nearby, the frost of her skin like an invisible tether, and so they behaved. He could deal.

“You want safe passage from this realm,” Red said, a statement of fact, not a question.

“As with everything here, you must buy that passage,” White added, her voice as lilting and delicate as a snowfal .

Black smiled at him, al teeth and menace. “I hope you’re ready for this.”

Green, he noticed, never spoke a word. Just watched them al through enigmatic eyes. Amun felt a momentary sense of kinship.

He nodded at each of them.

“We’l play two hands,” Red said. “No more, no less. If you lose, you wil give me a hand. And I don’t mean a round of applause. Feel me?”

Behind him, Haidee choked on a breath.

I’l be fine, sweetheart, he told her, even as he arched a brow at his opponents. Ask them what happens if they lose to me.

She obeyed, her voice strained. He was proud of her. She was scared but unbending, used to being in control, but al owing him to lead.

Red shrugged one of his massive shoulders, his attention never veering from Amun. “If I lose, I’l escort you out of this realm myself.”

Secrets released an uneasy sigh. Over the centuries, Amun had learned the subtle nuances of his demon and knew Secrets sensed something amiss but hadn’t yet figured out what.

So now came the real negotiation. Ask them what happens to you during—and after—al of this, he told Haidee. What happens to you if I win, and what happens to you if I lose.

Once again she obeyed, and al four of the Horsemen grinned.

“Why does the woman speak for you?” White asked in that snowflake voice, ignoring the question. She was frowning, clearly unable to think up a logical reason on her own.

“Tel us what we want to know,” Haidee insisted, ignoring the question.

Good girl.

Black lost his battle to hide his amusement and gave them another toothy grin. “We keep you no matter the outcome, of course.”

Amun leapt to his feet and slammed his dagger into the middle of the deck, causing the table to rattle.

“Do you need me to interpret that?” Haidee asked with false sweetness.

Rather than angering them, Amun’s outburst and Haidee’s insult increased their enjoyment. Chuckling, Red waved him back in his seat. “Fine, fine. The girl wil share your fate. If you lose a hand, she loses a hand. If you win, she wins and leaves with you. Happy now?” Hardly. Tel them if I lose the first game, they may take both my hands but neither of yours.

Of course, Haidee did not obey.

Mine wil grow back, woman. Eventual y. Tel them.

Stil she remained silent.

He couldn’t turn back and glare at her; they would suspect he communicated with her telepathical y. Not knowing what else to do, he signed the words, hoping one of the Horsemen knew the language. To his astonishment, al of them did, for they al nodded with satisfaction.

“Very wel ,” Red said, “we wil take both of yours and neither of hers. But then there won’t be a reason to play a second game. We’l have what we wanted. Both of your hands.”

Why did they want them? Just pick a different prize for the second. Like…my feet.

Haidee growled low in her throat, a predator ready to pounce. He knew she could hear his thoughts as he signed, but there was nothing he could do to comfort her. “I don’t agree to those terms.”

Everyone ignored her.

“Yes.” Red nodded. “Your feet wil be a nice addition to our col ection. We accept. Two rounds wil be played, after al .”

“Amun—” Haidee began.

Amun held up his hand for silence, and he could feel the malevolence pulsing off her. Later, she would make him pay. But she would have the necessary appendages to do so, so he wasn’t too concerned. To the Horsemen, he signed, What are the rules?

They looked at each other, genuinely perplexed by his question.

“Rules?” White asked, blinking.

O-kay. Clearly the Rainbow Brigade lived by a code of its own making.

Secrets confirmed the suspicion. Suddenly Amun knew that there was no black and white with them, only shades of gray, and they wouldn’t hesitate to lie, cheat or trick to get what they wanted.

Trusting them in any way would guarantee his loss. Use the backpack to produce a new deck of cards, he told Haidee.

A few seconds later, she was strol ing to his side. Secrets whimpered, the other demons cried out in pain, and then utter silence claimed his head. She angrily slapped the deck into his hand and stomped back to her post without a word. When they were once again distanced from each other, al of the demons peeked from their hiding places.

Secrets was a bit more subdued, afraid she would return at any moment.

The fear would have to be addressed, he realized. Secrets was a part of him. Amun relied on the beast and needed him at his best in dangerous situations. And as each new realm offered more danger than the last, that would have to be addressed soon.

Red leaned forward to study the new stack, and their fingers brushed.

In that split second, Secrets soaked up as much information as possible. Wil iam had created these creatures. Whether through conventional means or not, the demon couldn’t tel . Al he knew was that they had purged some of the darkness inside of Wil iam and they both hated and adored the man for it, at once wanting to destroy and worship him.

They were too destructive to be loosed on earth, and so they had been bound to this underworld, but those bonds had begun to wither the day Wil iam had left them, and were now worn thin. Every kindness they dealt freed them a little more. But kindness was not part of their makeup and they had to actively ponder how to be nice.

One day, they would be free of this place. One day, they would return to their creator. Until then, they waited impatiently, biding their time, amusing themselves as best they could. And they planned to use Amun as fodder for their amusement for a long, long time.

They had no plans to cheat. That was their kindness to Amun—and they’d been considering how to go about this for centuries. Centuries. Here, there was no past or future.

Only present, a present that somehow bled into that nonexistent past and future. They had known he would come. Just as they knew he would lose.

“Everything is acceptable, I take it,” Red said. “Deal.”

He had Secrets; he could win. He hoped. He nodded.

Black’s lips twitched at the corners, as if he fought another grin. “He wasn’t asking if you agreed, demon. He was tel ing you to deal the cards. You know Texas Hold ’Em, I’m sure.”

Amun gave another nod. Tense, he shuffled the deck and tossed the cards. He’d played before. Anyone who was friends with Strider had played. Defeat fed on victories, and between battles with Hunters, he often chal enged the men around him.

Amun couldn’t afford to lose, and even though his opponents were playing honorably, that didn’t mean he had to.

Secrets. I need you. What do they have? Even as he asked, he looked at his own hand. Al right. Not bad. A pair of eights to kick things off. If there was another eight in the flop, giving him a three of a kind, he just might bring home the first victory.

As usual, Secrets didn’t speak to him outright, but suddenly Amun knew that White and Black were his only competition this round. White had an ace and a king, and Black had the potential for a flush.

He knew, too, that the card he wanted for himself waited at the bottom of the deck. So Amun bottom dealt the turn and the river and ended up with three of a kind, just as he’d wanted. His excitement was short-lived, however. Black beat him with the aforementioned flush. That quickly, and that easily.

Damn. His stomach tightened with dread as he leaned back in his chair. If ever a man needed his hands, it was Amun. But he wouldn’t fight the Horsemen when they removed his. He had another round to play, after al .

A grinning Black withdrew a serrated blade from his boot.

A blade already coated with blood. “Come on. Let’s see the prize.”

“How can he play the next round without his hands?”

Haidee yel ed. “You can’t do this. You—”

“I guess you’l have to deal the next round for him,” White interjected without a hint of mercy.

No, Amun signed. If she remained near him during the next round, his demon wouldn’t be able to read the Horsemen and their cards. He would lose his advantage—not that it had helped him so far.

Haidee’s clothing rustled, as if she were moving away from her perch. I agreed to this, he told her. It’s fine. I’l be fine. I’l find a way to play. Again, he hoped. I need you to stay where you are. That’s the most important thing right now.

Thank the gods, the rustling stopped. He placed his arms on the tabletop. Gideon had had his hands chopped off twice in his lifetime. If Gideon could survive, Amun could, too. He only regretted the fact that he wouldn’t be able to touch Haidee tonight as he’d dreamed.

Before he had time to move, or protest, or change his mind, Black struck. Boom. Metal sliced through the bone in his left wrist before hitting the barbed table. Blood squirted, and sharp, agonizing pain exploded through Amun’s arm, swiftly sharp, agonizing pain exploded through Amun’s arm, swiftly traveling through the rest of his body. He thought he heard Haidee scream, then soft hands were smoothing over his back, feminine whispers drifting through his ears.

Worth it, he thought, panting, sweating. He wouldn’t have let them take one of her precious hands for any reason.

“Please, don’t hurt him again,” she was crying. “Please, take one of mine. Don’t do this to—”