- The Darkest Surrender
“Of course she’s yours, though not the one in the never-ending. She belongs to no one. Unless she does, in fact, belong to you.”
The three cackled.
“Good one, sister mine. I’ll have to remember that for the warrior’s next summons.”
“Who does or doesn’t belong to me?” he asked, gaze darting from one hag to the other. Next summons?
“Irresponsibility, of course.”
“Irresponsibility,” he echoed. As in, the keeper of Irresponsibility? Kane knew the immortal was out there. There’d been more demons in Pandora’s box than naughty warriors, so the gods, desperate to contain the leftovers, had given them to the prisoners of Tartarus. Irresponsibility was one such leftover.
He’d even looked for…her. Shit. He’d always assumed the keeper was a man. His mistake, and one he wouldn’t make again. He and his friends wanted all demon-possessed immortals on their side. Which meant finding them before the Hunters did.
After all, Galen, keeper of Hope and the Hunters’ leader, could convince anyone of anything. And the last thing the Lords needed was for him to convince their brethren to destroy them.
“Didn’t I just say that?” one of them asked.
“You just said that.”
“You’re not too bright, are you, boy?”
“How do I get her out of the never-ending?” he asked, ignoring the question. He might not want a girlfriend, but he wanted to find this female demon-keeper. What could she do? What powers did she wield? “What is the never-ending, anyway?”
“How does he not know the answers to these questions?”
“Didn’t we tell him these answers already?”
“Perhaps our time line is off again,” Klotho said.
Again? How often did that happen? Better question—what were the consequences when it was off?
“Should we rewind?”
“Should we leap forward?”
Dear gods. Neither option seemed wise.
“Yes,” they said in unison, shaking the tapestry they were working on. A moment passed in silence, then another.
Then, “What are you doing here, boy?”
Kane found himself blinking again. Nothing had changed. Not his surroundings, not the women. Everything was the same as when he’d first entered the room, yet they’d forgotten he was here?
Had they rewound? Had they fast-forwarded? Shit. If so, what did that mean for him? “You summoned me,” he croaked out.
“Yes, yes. We summoned you.”
“Only this morn, too. Good of you to come so quickly.”
They must have rewound thousands of goddamn years. When he left this temple, would he return to ancient Greece? His stomach clenched.
“Such a worrier, you are.”
Could they read his thoughts then, as well as manipulate time? He really should have taken their advice and left the way he’d come. This was…this was as messed up as he was.
“As if we would disrupt the fabric of time for you.”
“You will return the way you came.”
Thank the gods. “You mentioned a female.”
“I didn’t mention a female. Did you mention a female?”
“Not me. I don’t mention a female to the keeper of Disaster for thousands of years.”
“Perhaps our time line is off again.”
Again, they shook the tapestry in their hands. He waited it out through several heartbeats of silence, his mouth dry, his knees knocking.
“I—I think I’ll leave the way I came,” Kane said, backing away inch by inch. He couldn’t take any more of this. They simply weren’t capable of giving him a straight answer, their minds unable to differentiate between the past and the future. “I thank you for inviting me, though, and for your hospitality. If you could just point the way out…”
Atropos, her eyes so white they resembled a blanket of snow, lifted her head from her scissors and seemed, impossibly, to be peering over at him. “Finally, you present yourself to us. After all this time, we had given up.”
He massaged the back of his neck. Did everyone who was summoned go through this? “Yes, finally.” He backed up one step, two. “I apologize for your wait and I thank you again for your time, but I really must—”
“Quiet.” Lachesis glanced up, as well, though her gnarled fingers never stilled. “We always know what happens, but never why it happens. You have made us wonder and wonder, and we would at last like an answer.”
“An answer to what?” he asked, pausing, unsure he wanted to know.
The third hag, Klotho, did not follow the others’ lead and glance at him. She simply said, “We want to know why you began the Apocalypse,” and continued spinning her threads without a care.
“LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT,” Kaia whispered fiercely. “When you said scout the competition, you actually meant scout the competition?”
Strider cast her a quick glance as they used their elbows to pull the weight of their bodies along the twig- and dirt-laden ground. The moon was high and full, but with the canopy of leaves above them, its golden light skimmed the branches, never quite reaching them. No prob, though, because he’d trained his eyes to cut through darkness and zero in on the details that mattered.
Except tonight, he was concentrating on all the details that didn’t matter.
Unimportant: Kaia looked sexier than ever. His own personal GI Jane doll—the X-rated edition. She’d painted her face black and green to better blend into the night, and wore a black bandanna over her mass of red waves. Her short shorts had Booty Camp stamped across the ass.
Strider kept envisioning the vigorous de rigueur training at such a camp. The hands-on instructing. The type of discipline dished out to the attendees who misbehaved.
Just what he needed—his dick as hard as a steel pipe and rubbing against the ground, leaving a telltale trail. That damn kiss had ruined everything. Had he kept his tongue to himself, he could have continued thinking of Kaia as a friend and only a friend. Now, he just wanted to convince her that blow jobs were a mandatory part of their arrangement.
Don’t you dare speak up, he told his demon.
Whew. “You’re damn straight I meant we’d scout them,” he finally said. A sharp stone scraped his stomach and he welcomed the sting. Helped clear his perspective. A discussion about goals—good. Fantasizing about his companion—bad. So, so wonderfully bad. “What’d you think I meant?”
“Well, duh. I thought you wanted to hobble them.”
Wait just a sec. “So it’s okay to bust your opponent’s kneecap before a competition, but it’s not okay to steal the grand prize for your…your…consort?” He almost couldn’t say the word. Doing so made their arrangement seem permanent, rather than temporary.
She stopped to gape at him. “I can’t believe you just asked that. Busted kneecaps are expected among my kind. Even encouraged.”
“I thought you’d never participated in the Harpy Games before?”
“True, but I watched my mother when she did.”
“Fine,” he grumbled. “You can do some hobbling.” Meanwhile, he’d stick to his original plan. While she decreased the number of her competitors, he would study the Harpy campsite. Layout, sentry placement, response times. “Use your hands, though, because knifing them seems a bit harsh.” Actually, he just didn’t want to accidentally track the blood inside the tents, leaving evidence of his intentions behind.
“Say no more. I came prepared for a little nonslashing action.” She slid one of her elegant hands down her…panties? She did. Sweet heaven, she did. Right in the center, where she was probably warm and wet, ready for his mouth, his cock. “I’ve got something I think you might like.”
Hell, yeah, she did. Stridey-Monster got real uncomfortable real fast, and yep, there was definite snakelike trailage behind him. Then Kaia shocked him by sliding her hand back up and holding out her palm. In the middle rested a small silver bar.
Disappointed and surprised, he frowned. “What’s that?”
“Watch.” She gripped one end and flicked her wrist. Snap. The bar grew several inches. Another flick, another few inches, until the damn thing resembled an oversize police baton. Or Stridey-Monster.
“I want one of those,” he said.
Her eyes glittered with relish. “I know, right. But hands to yourself, demon boy. This one’s mine. Now, come on.” She skidded back into motion.
“Hey. I’m your consort. What’s yours is mine, Harpy girl.” And what’dya know? Saying the title hadn’t been such a chore that time.
He crawled after her. Finally they reached the edge of the makeshift camp, as evidenced by the fire crackling in the heart of the grounds. In his early days here on earth, his hunting of Hunters had very often led him to camps just like this one. Multiple tents, boulders acting as chairs, and fowl roasting over the flames. Only, there’d always been soldiers patrolling the area.
“No one’s here,” he whispered.
“I know,” Kaia replied. She sighed, despondent.
The occupants had left in a hurry. The scuff of their boots in the dirt was evidence of that, as though they’d been moving too swiftly to pick up their feet. The fowl was burned, charring more and more with every second that passed, plumes of black smoke wafting toward the sky. There was a water bottle lying flat, liquid gushing from it.
“I heard them abandoning ship,” she added, “but I hoped there would be a few stragglers. Doesn’t anyone defend their turf anymore?”
She’d heard them? When he, a trained soldier, hadn’t heard a goddamn thing? No need for an ego check. He sucked. Don’t forget Mission One. The Rod—and not the one in your pants. “I’ll give the place an inspection. You stay here and act as lookout.”
“No way. I’ll give the place an inspection. You stay here.”