- The Darkest Secret
That is the truth. I’m sorry.
Dead. Micah was dead. And he’d been kil ed so cruel y, thinking she loathed him. Even though she had never truly loved Micah, she found that she mourned his loss. He’d had many flaws, but he had fought for what he’d believed in.
“Have you nothing more to say, dead Haidee, before I kil this warrior, too? And I wil , you know. I wil force you to watch—unless you give me what I seek. Now, now, now.”
He would, too, which meant they’d run out of time. Her gaze shot to Amun. Have you learned the way to kil him without fighting him yet? Please, please, please.
A muscle jumped in Amun’s jaw, and several seconds ticked away. No.
That hesitation… He was lying. And suddenly, even without touching him, she knew what he was keeping from her, what he’d tried so hard to prevent, so desperate to find another way. And she couldn’t believe she hadn’t thought of it before. Removing his demon completely wil kil him the same way it would kil you. Won’t it?
His head whipped in her direction, his eyes giving the briefest flare before he refocused on Hate. Haidee.
You cannot do that. Because there are only two possible outcomes. You’l be stuck with al of Hate, perhaps losing yourself to him, or, when Hate is final y put back together, you’l expunge him and die.
I don’t care. If I die, I’l come back.
And I don’t want your hands on him.
She didn’t want her hands on him, either. Didn’t want to touch the being that had slaughtered her family.
For Amun, though…anything.
“Al right. I’m wil ing to give you what you want,” she said to Hate.
Haidee, Amun warned.
She continued anyway. “For me to return your demon to you, you’l have to let me touch you. And as you know, I can’t touch you without hurting you. That tiny piece of the demon hurt you coming out, right, so it stands to reason it’l hurt going back into you. So don’t fight me, okay?” Because she wasn’t going to give him the demon. She was going to take it. Al of it.
No matter the consequences to herself.
A long while passed in silence, Hate rigid as he pondered whether or not to trust her. Final y, perhaps realizing he could not have what he wanted any other way, he nodded. “I wil let you touch me.”
She experienced another beat of hope. Until—
“After I ensure your cooperation,” he finished. “Betray me, and your warrior dies. See?”
Hope, completely dashed. And there was no more time to think, to prepare. One second Hate was in front of them, the next he was behind them, just as she’d feared. He shoved her out of the way, careful not to connect with her skin, and slammed a mighty fist into Amun’s head. Her warrior stumbled to the side but was quick to right himself—and just as quick to spin, blade slashing out.
Hate anticipated the move and dematerialized, reappearing behind Amun. Again. The creature had no weapons, but then, he’d never needed them before, so why would he now? He always used his claws.
He slashed those claws at Amun, scraping the back of the warrior’s neck.
Amun howled inside his head, no sound escaping his lips.
He spun, launched himself at Hate a second time. That black robe swished as the creature danced out of the way, and an eerie laugh fil ed the cave.
“You are stronger than the others I kil ed on Haidee’s behalf, but like them, you wil fal . I won’t slay you, though.
No, I’l just keep you close to the brink. And afterward, when I have al of my demon, I’l let you go.”
A lie. She knew that soul-deep. He had no plans to let either of them go.
Haidee narrowed her eyes on the creature responsible for so much of her pain. He was Hate in its purest form. And she had a piece of him inside her. She had Hate. She drew on the emotion now, letting it fil her, consume her. The ice always churning inside her blossomed in her veins, turning her blood to sludge.
Good. Yes. This was her purpose, after al . This was what the goddess had wanted her to do.
The warriors continued to fight, lashing out, connecting, blood spraying. Amun was faster than she’d realized and managed to land several blows. In fact, the more he fought, the faster he became, until he seemed to anticipate exactly where Hate would reappear. Soon Amun was landing more punches and slices than his enemy.
Stil . That wouldn’t stop her from doing what needed to be done. Final y, she would end this.
The two slammed into the rocky wal s of the cave, dust pluming around them. One would throw the other, and they would spring apart, only to fly at each other again. Snarls and growls reverberated, fol owed by the crack of broken bones, the sick whisper of flesh splitting apart.
She would have to jump into their midst.
A strange turn of events, one she’d never seen coming.
She’d fought al her life to stay alive, to avoid the sting of death and rebirth. Not this time, though. Better to die herself than to al ow Hate to live. Better to die herself than to al ow Amun to be hurt. She’d hurt him enough. She loved him more than her own life. More than that, she owed him. Hel , she owed his friends. They’d lost one brother because of her. She wouldn’t be the cause of Amun’s loss.
Though she trembled, knowing deep down that this was going to hurt her more than it would hurt Hate, Haidee focused on Amun. On his thoughts. They weren’t touching, but he was too busy to block her and soon she heard a whirl of commands, absorbed his knowledge and his fury, al the while sifting though the massive influx to find what she needed—the urgings of his demon.
There! Suddenly she knew what Hate planned, three moves There! Suddenly she knew what Hate planned, three moves in advance. She watched. Waited. Amun was so focused on his opponent, he paid her invasion—and her intentions
—no heed. She counted down…stil watching…stil waiting…final y launching herself into the fray. She plowed into Hate just as he reappeared, her head connecting with his middle and her hands wrapping around his neck. They were skin to skin as they plummeted to the ground. Better yet, they were out of Amun’s range.
The moment they hit, she unleashed the cold. Hate screamed as ice formed on his heated body, connecting them, and he was unable to jerk away.
Haidee, she heard Amun scream inside her head.
She tuned him out, concentrating ful y on her task. When she’d taken those demons from Amun, she’d had to lower her guard. She’d had to stop fighting him and let him in.
Welcome him. She did that now, with Hate. Lowered her guard. Fighting him no longer.
She wanted his demon, and she would have it.
At first, the demon—that hot, hot darkness inside him, scaled, with glowing red eyes—ran from her as the demons she’d absorbed had done. She was having none of that, however, and gave chase, the ice spreading. Soon there was nowhere else for the terrified demon to run. She had consumed Hate’s entire body.
She latched on to a sharpened claw. At the first moment of contact, pain exploded through her. She wanted to balk, to jump as far away as she could, but she merely held on tighter, heaving the being from Hate’s body into hers. Tug-of-war, and she would win.
Despite the ice, Hate thrashed against her, pushed against her. Stil she held on, stil she tugged. Then that ice began to melt, leaving her. Just as before, fire bloomed in its place, spreading, and acid started flowing through her veins. Spiderwebs winked through her vision, and dizziness bombarded her.
The darkness that had been a part of her for centuries cried out in welcome as the demon High Lord slipped into her little by little. No longer did she have to tug. The demon wanted inside her now, was even aiding her, desperate to crawl in, to be whole again.
Almost over, she thought, hurting so badly tears were streaking down her cheeks.
Suddenly there was a pain of another kind tearing through her neck, her back—Amun started shouting again, perhaps crying, but she hardly noticed. Her insides were too busy burning to ash.
And then she was being pul ed away from the former keeper of Hate. She didn’t protest; she had the demon now. Al of the demon, and it was zipping through her mind, banging into her skul , fil ing her up, consuming her.
Haidee, sweetheart. Please. Let me see those beautiful eyes.
Her eyelids fluttered open, and she saw that Amun was looming over her, bathed in red. Blood? But blood had never glowed like that before.
Sweetheart, oh, gods, sweetheart. He’d never looked so tormented.
She opened her mouth to reply, but something warm flowed from her mouth rather than words. Is he dead? She didn’t have the strength to push the words into his mind, but somehow he heard her anyway.
Yes, sweetheart, he’s dead. Tears glistened in his black gaze.
You’re sad? Don’t be sad, baby. We won. She tried to reach up, to brush those tears away, but again, she didn’t have the strength.
Oh, sweetheart. Soft fingers smoothed her brow.
Her heartbeat was slowing, then fluttering, almost nonexistent. Thankful y, though, the cold was returning to her limbs, dousing the fire. Once the ice returned, she thought, she could expel the demon, right? And she and Amun could be together.
Amun had feared she wouldn’t be able to expel the demon, that he would forever be a part of her. If that were the case, she would deal.
He…fought you. He ravaged your throat.
She blinked, not understanding. Sweetheart, you’re…
Fading? The red glow bathing his face was dimming. Did that mean… I’m…dying?
No! I’l do something. There has to be something. Amun leapt into motion, dragging the backpack next to her. With shaky hands, he reached inside and withdrew bandages and other materials to try and save her. Stay with me, sweetheart. Okay?
She was. She was dying.
She tried to obey him, she real y did. Not because she feared the pain that awaited her, but because she wanted to be with this man always. She didn’t want him hurt by images of her death the way she’d been hurt by images of her family. So she fought the cold, the weakness. And while she fought, she realized she could expunge the demon, because a scaled, fanged and clawed creature rose from her skin, its eyes bright red.