- The Darkest Whisper
Sighing, Sabin eyed the rest of the warriors, trying to decide who was good to go and who needed to remain behind. Maddox—Violence—was the fiercest fighter he’d ever known. Right now the warrior was as blood-soaked as Sabin and panting for breath, but he’d already moved beside Amun, ready for action. His woman wasn’t going to be any happier with Sabin than the others.
Slight shift, and the lovely Cameo came into view. She was the keeper of Misery, as well as the only female soldier among them. What she lacked in size she made up for in ferocity. Besides, all she had to do was start talking, all the sorrows of the world in her voice, and humans were likely to kill themselves without her ever having to lay a finger on them. Someone had sliced at her neck, leaving three deep grooves. It didn’t seem to slow her down as she finished cleaning her machete and joined Amun and Maddox.
Another shift. Paris was the keeper of Promiscuity and once upon a time, he’d been the most jovial among them. Now he seemed harder, more restless with every day that passed, though Sabin couldn’t fathom what had caused the change. Whatever the reason, he currently loomed in front of the Hunters, huffing and growling and so keyed for war he vibrated with brutal energy. And though there were two gushing holes in his right leg, Sabin didn’t think the warrior would be asking to rest anytime soon.
Beside him was Aeron, Wrath. Only recently had the gods freed him from a curse of bloodlust where no one around him had been safe. He’d lived to hurt, to kill. At moments like these, he still did. Today he’d fought as though that lust still consumed him, hacking at and mauling anyone within his reach. That was good, except…
How much worse would that bloodlust be when the next fight ended? Sabin feared they would have to summon Legion, the tiny, blood-hungry demon who worshipped Aeron like a god and was the only one who could calm Aeron during his darker moods. Unfortunately, she was currently doing surveillance work for them in hell. Sabin liked to keep up-to-date on Underworld happenings. Knowledge was power and one never knew what one would be able to use.
Aeron suddenly slammed a fist into a Hunter’s temple, sending the human to the floor in an unconscious heap.
Sabin blinked at him. “What was that for?”
“He was about to attack.”
Doubtful, but just like that, Paris cut whatever invisible tether had been holding him in place and swooped through the rest of the huddle, methodically punching the Hunters until every single one of them was down.
“That should keep them calm as Amun for the time being,” he rasped darkly.
Sighing, Sabin switched his attention yet again. There was Strider, Defeat. The man couldn’t lose at anything without enduring debilitating pain, so he made sure to win. Always. Which was probably why he was digging a bullet out of his side in preparation for the battle to come. Good. Sabin could always count on him.
Kane, keeper of Disaster, walked in front of him, ducking as a shower of pebbles fell from the ceiling, plumes of dust spraying in every direction. Several warriors coughed.
“Uh, Kane,” Sabin said. “Why don’t you stay here, too? You can help Reyes watch the prisoners.” A flimsy excuse and they all knew it.
There was a pause, the only sound to be heard the scrape of stone against sand as the doorway continued that slow glide. Then Kane gave a clipped nod. He hated being left out, that much Sabin knew, but his presence sometimes caused more problems than it solved. And as always, Sabin placed victory above his friends’ feelings. It wasn’t something he enjoyed doing, wasn’t something he’d do in any other situation. But someone had to act with cold-blooded logic or else they’d always lose.
With Kane out, that made the coming battle seven against seven. Totally even. Poor Hunters. They still didn’t stand a chance. “Anyone else want to stay behind?”
A chorus of “No” circled the chamber, eagerness dripping from the different timbres. An eagerness Sabin shared.
Until Pandora’s box was found, these skirmishes were a necessity. But it couldn’t be found without those damn godly artifacts to show the way. And as one of the four relics was supposedly here in Egypt, this particular skirmish was more important than most. He would not allow Hunters to claim a single artifact, for that box could destroy Sabin and everyone he held dear, drawing the demons out of their bodies and leaving only lifeless shells.
Despite his confidence that he would win this day, he knew he would have to work for victory. Led as the Hunters were by Sabin’s sworn enemy, Galen, a demon-possessed immortal in disguise, those “protectors of all that was good and right” were privy to information humans should not have been privy to. Such as the best way to distract the Lords…the best way to capture them…the best way to destroy them.
Finally the stone ceased sliding, and Amun peeked inside. He waved a hand to signal it was safe to enter. No one stepped forward. Sabin’s men and Lucien’s had only just resumed fighting together, having been separated for over a thousand years. They hadn’t yet learned the best formation.
“We going to do this or just stand here and wait for them to find us?” Aeron grumbled. “I’m ready.”
“Look at you, all unenthusiastic and shit,” Gideon said with a smirk. “I’m not impressed.”
Time to take charge, Sabin mused. He considered the best strategy. These last few centuries he’d gotten nowhere with the Hunters, rushing heedlessly into battle with only a single thought: kill. But the enemy’s numbers were growing, not shrinking, and to be honest, their determination and hatred were growing, as well. It was time for a new way of battle, of cataloging his resources and weaknesses before charging ahead.
“I’ll go first since I’m the least injured.” He curled his finger under the trigger of his gun before reluctantly sheathing it. “I want you staggered, a less injured man paired with a more injured one. You’ll work together, most injured acting as backup while the healthier takes out the target. Leave as many as you can alive,” he commanded. “I know you don’t want to, that it goes against every instinct you possess. But don’t worry. They’ll die soon enough. Once we ferret out the leader—and learn his secrets—they’ll be useless to us and you can do what you want to them.”
The trio blocking his path broke apart, allowing him to sail inside the narrow hallway without pause, then everyone filed behind him, their footfalls offering only the slightest whisper. Battery-powered lamps illuminated the hieroglyph-covered walls. Sabin allowed his gaze to rest on those glyphs for only a second, but that was long enough to burn the images into his mind. They showed one prisoner after another being ushered to a cruel execution, hearts removed while they still beat inside their chests.
Human scents coated the stale, dusty air: cologne, sweat, an assortment of foods. How long had the Hunters been here? What were they doing here? Had they already found the artifact?
The questions skated through his mind, and his demon latched on to them. As Doubt, it couldn’t help itself. Clearly they know something you do not. It might be enough to topple you. Your friends could very well take their last breaths this night.
Doubt could not lie, not without causing Sabin to pass out cold. It could only use derision and supposition to topple its victims. He’d never understood why a fiend from hell couldn’t utilize deceit—best he could come up with was that the demon carried a curse of its own—but he’d long since accepted it. Not that he’d allow himself to topple this night. Keep it up and I’ll spend the next week sequestered in my bedroom, reading so I can’t think too much.
But I need to feed, was the whined reply. The worry it caused was its greatest nourishment.
Sabin held up his hand, stopped, and the warriors behind him stopped as well. There was a chamber up ahead, its doorway already open. The sound of voices and footsteps echoed, perhaps even the buzz of a drill.
The Hunters were indeed distracted and begging for an ambush. I’m just the man to give it to them.
Are you, really? the demon began, Sabin’s threat unheeded. Last time I checked—
Forget about me. I’ve supplied you with food as promised.
There was a gleeful exclamation inside his head, and then Doubt was opening its mind to the Hunters inside the pyramid, whispering all manner of destructive thoughts. All for nothing…what if you’re wrong…not strong enough…could soon die…
Conversation tapered away. Someone might even have whimpered.
Sabin held up a finger, then another. When he raised the third, he and the warriors jumped into motion, a war cry echoing.
GWENDOLYN THE TIMID SHRANK against the far wall of her glass cell the moment the horde of too-tall, too-muscled, too-bloody warriors charged into the chamber she’d both loved and hated for over a year. Loved, for being inside of it would have meant she was out of her cell, freedom a possibility. Hated, for all the torturous deeds that had taken place there. Deeds she’d witnessed and feared.
The very men who had performed those deeds gave startled cries, dropping their Petri dishes, needles, vials and various tools. Glass shattered. Savage roars boomed, the intruders leaping forward with practiced menace, their arms slashing, their legs kicking. Down, down their targets fell. There was no question about who would win this fight.Gwen trembled, unsure what would happen to her and the others when things settled. The warriors were clearly inhuman, like her, like all the women locked in the cells surrounding hers. They were too hard, too strong, too everything to be mortal. Exactly what they were, however, she didn’t know. Why were they here? What did they want?
She’d known so many disappointments this last year that she didn’t dare hope they’d come on a rescue mission. Would she and the others be left here to rot? Or would these men try and use them as the detestable humans had done?
“Kill them!” one of the captured shouted to the new warriors, the sound of her hard, angry voice causing Gwen to draw her arms around her middle. “Make them suffer as we have suffered.”