The darkest night, p.16

The Darkest Night, page 16

 part  #1 of  Lords of the Underworld Series

 

The Darkest Night
 


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CHAPTER SIXTEEN

 

  The time for war had arrived.

  Aeron was glad. He seethed with the need to battle, to slay. Maybe, if he maimed a few Hunters, he would stop imagining his blade slicing through Danika's neck, followed quickly by her sister's. . . her mother's. . . and lastly, her grandmother's.

  He hadn't told the others, but the need to kill was more than an ignorable flicker inside him now. It was beginning to color his every thought and make him crazed. The gods had not exaggerated. The beast inside him was eager to follow the order he'd been given.

  Worse, the stirrings seemed to increase with every hour that passed.

  And they would only grow stronger, he knew. They would grow and grow and grow until at last he destroyed those four innocent women.

  He worked his jaw. Hopefully he could suppress the thirst for blood, if only for a little while. I'm a monster, as bad as the spirit inside me. If the warriors failed to think of a way to save those women, well, Aeron knew he would have to kiss the last remaining vestiges of himself goodbye. He would be a demon.

  Aren't you already?

  "Think Maddox's woman is out here?" Paris asked, interrupting his brooding thoughts.

  "Could be. " They hadn't been able to find her and had soon given up their search, coming into the city anyway. He was furious that Bait might even now be on the loose.

  Had the Hunters already been warned of the Lords' arrival?

  Lucien had flashed into the cemetery first, but hadn't seen anything suspicious. Still, Torin had been sent in afterward to wait, watch and take surveillance pictures with a few of his toys. Sending him had been a last resort. He'd protested, but in the end had agreed to go. At least the cemetery's inhabitants were already dead, rendering Disease harmless.

  Now Aeron and the others moved swiftly through the cobbled streets of Buda. Without Ashlyn, they had to draw the Hunters out another way. They had chosen to be the Bait themselves.

  Midnight might have come and gone, but the city was far from ready to sleep. People sat at lighted tables, the innocent playing chess, the more jaded selling a few hours of fun. Buildings towered on each side, a symphony of curves and points. A few cars meandered past.

  Humans jumped out of the warriors' way, snatches of gossip and speculation drifting through the moonlight. The angels have come down from their mountain. . . think they're after those men who were asking about them, the ones at Club Destiny. . .

  "Men were asking about us," Aeron said, teeth clenched. Even as he spoke, a woman crossed the street to greet them, her expression glazed as she stared at Paris.

  "A kiss," she beseeched him.

  "Always. " Paris smiled and lowered his head to grant her request.

  Aeron barked, "Later. Take us to this Club Destiny. " If Promiscuity started kissing, Promiscuity would not stop kissing until clothes were shed and passion-cries were ringing.

  "Next time," Paris told the woman, regret in his tone, and moved on, leading the way to the club.

  "Promise?" she called. But she snapped out of her lust-haze when Lucien passed her, blanching at his scarred face.

  A few minutes later, the warriors stood just inside the club's entrance, surveying the scene. A crowd of humans danced in a fast, gyrating rhythm, multicolored lights pulsing around them. Those who spotted them gasped. Most backed away - angels, indeed. A brave and foolish few stepped closer.

  Standing there, Aeron could sense. . . something. A slight hum of power, perhaps. He frowned.

  "See them?" Reyes asked, gaze scanning. His posture was tense. Pain seemed more on edge than ever tonight. His hands were swollen, as if he'd followed Maddox's lead and ruined an entire room.

  "Not yet, but I know they're here. " Aeron fingered the blade hidden at his side. Where are you? Who are you?

  "Hello, heaven. Look at those sweet little morsels," Paris said, his voice husky with arousal.

  "Mind out of their pants," Reyes snapped.

  Aeron wished that were his only worry. Needing sex. Human females regarded him with fear, like the blonde who'd nearly popped a vessel today at the thought of being touched by him. And he was happy about that. They should fear him. He wouldn't mean to, but he'd chew them up and spit them out in a single bite.

  "Five minutes," Paris said, the words thick with pleasure. "That's all I need. "

  "Later. "

  "Now. "

  "What are you, a child? Your cock is not a toy, so stop playing with it for one damn night. "

  "Gods. It can't be," Lucien suddenly said, his stunned tone ending the squabble. He motioned to the back of the club with a grim tilt of his chin. "Look. "

  Every gaze followed his to a group who stood near the back of the club, watching them.

  Aeron hissed in a breath and palmed one of his blades. Seemed the day's surprises weren't over. "Sabin. " He had never thought to see Doubt again. The man he'd once considered a friend had held a knife at his throat, had cut and cut deep. "What's he doing here? Why now - " His words jammed to a halt as the answer hit him. "He's still warring with the Hunters. He probably brought them to our doorstep. "

  "Only one way to find out," Lucien said, but none of them moved forward.

  Aeron knew why his own feet had turned to lead. That dark, fateful night was playing through his mind.

  "We have to kill them," Sabin had screeched. "Look what they did to Baden. "

  "We have done enough of that," Lucien had replied in that calm voice of his. "We have caused them and their loved ones far more pain than they have brought us. "

  Cold rage had washed over Sabin's face. "Does Baden mean nothing to you, then?"

  "I loved him just as much as you did, but more destruction will not bring him back," Aeron had spat, turning his back, unable to stand the pain in Sabin's eyes. Pain that was mirrored inside him. "I cannot take much more, for my heart grows blacker every day. I need peace. Sanctuary. "

  "I would rather die than allow a single Hunter to live. "

  "We killed the man who removed his head. Let that be enough. "

  "Enough? I held Baden's lifeless body in my arms, his blood seeping all the way to my soul, and you want me to walk away? You are worse than the Hunters. " Sabin had attacked then, the blade embedded before Aeron ever sensed it coming.

  A fair fight, he could have forgiven. An attack from behind? Hell, no.

  After Aeron had fought him off, he'd just wanted to leave. Leave Greece, the war, the hated memories. But Sabin and a few others still had wanted more blood.

  That was when the Lords had divided. Irrevocably.

  He studied them now, these warriors he knew but didn't. They appeared the same, though their attire had changed with the times. Gideon had blue hair, an unholy gleam in his electric-blue eyes - a gleam that was more than feral, more than predatory. Reminded Aeron of Lucien the one and only time he'd exploded in a temper, nothing and no one able to restrain him.

  Cameo was still the prettiest woman he'd ever seen, but damn if he didn't want to stab himself in the heart just from looking at her. Strider was still handsome, though the years had etched ruthlessness on the planes of his face. Amun had discarded his robes for a black shirt and jeans.

  Where was Kane? Had the Hunters gotten him, too?

  Sabin and the others began a slow, steady approach. He kept his eyes on them as he and the others finally moved forward, as well. The two groups met in the middle of the dance floor, humans quickly scrambling out of their way.

  "What are you doing here?" Lucien demanded. Aeron noted that he spoke in English, probably so that the dancers would not understand him.

  "I could ask you that, as well," Sabin replied in the same language.

  "Here to stab someone else in the back, Doubt?" Aeron asked him.

  Sabin popped his jaw. "It's been a couple thousand years, Wrath. Ever heard of a thing called forgiveness?"

  "That's funny coming from you. "

  A muscle ticked below the warri
or's right eye. "We didn't come here to fight you. We came to fight Hunters. They're in town, in case you hadn't heard. "

  Aeron snorted. "We heard. Did you lead them here?"

  "Hardly. " Sabin ran his tongue over his teeth. "They learned about you before we did. "

  "How?"

  Sabin shrugged. "Don't know. "

  "I highly doubt you'd travel all the way to Budapest to fight. You could have stayed in Greece for that," Lucien said with the slightest hint of bite in his tone.

  "Fine. You want the truth?" Strider splayed his arms, showing he was weaponless. "We need your help. "

  "Hell, no. " Paris shook his head. "We don't even need to hear how or why, 'cause the answer won't change. "

  You don't really think you can beat these men, do you? The uncharacteristic doubt whispered through Aeron's mind, quickly solidifying and raking sharp claws in his thoughts.

  "We are not the same warriors we used to be," Cameo said, drawing attention to her sad eyes. "Hear us out, at least. "

  Everyone cringed. She spoke as if every sorrow in the world rested on her delicate shoulders. Probably did. Listening to her, Aeron wanted to sob like a human baby.

  "We do need your help. We're looking for dimOuniak. Pandora's box. Do you know where it is?" Sabin asked tightly.

  "After all these years, you want the box?" Lucien seemed bathed in confusion. "Why?"

  If you engage them, you might be killed. Or maimed. Why not give them what they want and return to life as normal? Aeron's fists tightened. Damn it. He was strong and capable. There was no reason to doubt himself like this. Doubt. . .

  A growl rumbled in the back of his throat as he recalled his former friend's ability. "Get out of my head, Sabin. "

  "Sorry," the warrior said with a weak smile. "Habit. "

  He should have launched his dagger then and there. "So you're the one who tried to lure us to the cemetery unarmed. " Not a question. "I thought you didn't want to fight us," he added dryly.

  Sabin's smile became sheepish. "Wasn't sure of my welcome and didn't want to tempt Fate. And since I failed to draw you there, Kane's going to have a boring night with the corpses. What are you doing here, by the way? Did you hear the Hunters would be here, too?"

  "We sent Torin to the cemetery, so Kane's night will be anything but boring," Lucien told him, gaze scanning the club. "And yes, we tracked the Hunters here, though I don't see them. "

  "Disease is with Kane?" Frowning, Sabin whipped a black box from his pocket. Even as he did so, Reyes had a knife pointed at his neck, obviously thinking the man was going for a weapon. When Reyes realized it was a walkie-talkie, he lowered his blade.

  Frown deepening, Sabin raised the radio to his mouth and said, "Kane. Stand down. Friendly fire. "

  "Roger that. I know," was the staticky reply.

  Sabin returned the radio to his pocket. "We good now?"

  "Not even close," Aeron snapped.

  Strider stood there shaking angrily, his blistering gaze circling the area. Several people had begun dancing again, high on alcohol and lust as they writhed against each other. "Do you know about the Titans?"

  Lucien looked at Aeron before nodding. "Yes. "

  Cameo bit her lip. "Any idea what they want from us?"

  Gods, Aeron wished the woman would keep her mouth closed. "No," he answered before someone could speak for him. He didn't want anyone else knowing what he had been commanded to do.

  "Listen, old friends, I know you hate us," Sabin said. "I know we want different things. But one thing we all have in common is a will to live. About a month ago we learned that Hunters are searching for Pandora's box. If they find it, our demons are in danger of being sucked inside. That means we're in danger of dying. "

  "How do you know it hasn't been destroyed already?" Reyes asked with a frown.

  A moment passed, the erratic pulse of muscle the only sound.

  "I don't, but I'm not willing to take a chance that maybe it's gone forever. "

  All these years, Aeron had given the box very little thought. His demon had been inside of it, now it wasn't, and he'd accepted the consequences of his actions, end of story.

  Now he thought back to the fateful night of his demon's release, trying to remember what had happened. He had helped fight off Pandora's guards while Lucien had opened the box. The demons had sprung out, seemingly unstoppable as they flew at the guards, devouring their flesh.

  The scent of blood and death had infused the air, blending with the screams. Something had wrapped around Aeron's neck - a demon, he knew now - and he'd lost his breath. He'd fallen to his knees, no longer able to hold his own weight, and crawled through the entire chamber, searching for the box, desperate to find it. But he never had. It had vanished as if it had never been.

  Lucien ran a hand through his midnight hair. "We don't know where it is. All right?"

  A woman suddenly smashed herself into Paris, licking at his neck. Paris closed his eyes and Reyes shook his head, "We should take this conversation elsewhere. "

  "Let's go to your fortress," Sabin suggested. "Perhaps, together, we will remember something about the way it was taken. "

  "No," Aeron and Reyes said simultaneously.

  "Well, I could happily stay here all night," Gideon said, obviously irritated.

  Aeron had forgotten how quickly Gideon's lies could rub his nerves the wrong way.

  "Your fortress?" Sabin prompted. "I'm ready to leave when you are. "

  "No," Aeron said again.

  "Fine. We'll stay here. Just give me a moment to send everyone home. " Sabin closed his eyes, expression growing intense.

  Aeron watched him carefully, gripping his dagger, not knowing what to expect. The music stopped abruptly; the dancers ceased moving. Uncertainty fell over each of their features as they began muttering and walking toward the doors. In a matter of minutes, the entire building had emptied out.

  Sabin's shoulders slumped and he expelled a long, exhausted breath. His eyelids cracked open. "There. We're alone. "

  Amun, who hadn't spoken a single word during the entire exchange, tilted his head to the side and stared at Aeron intently, his eyes like a laser beam into his forehead. Amun's face was unreadable, and that made Aeron uneasy. Possessed as the warrior was by Secrets, could he guess what Aeron guarded deep in his soul?

  Amun's gaze suddenly met his, and there was regret and knowledge in his dark eyes. Aeron stiffened. Oh, yes. He could guess.

  Sabin's chest expanded as he clearly fought for patience. "Why don't we strike a deal? We'll take care of the Hunters who have invaded your city if you'll help us find the box. It's a fair exchange. We've battled them for years and know just how to strike. "

  "I found one earlier and interrogated him," Strider said. "That's how we knew to come to the club, but so far we've seen no trace of the rest. "

  Aeron caught a flash of movement in the far shadows and frowned. "Someone stayed behind," he muttered. Everyone stiffened.

  That's when Aeron saw the outline of four more humans, all male and all well-muscled, even in silhouette. His frown deepened as he drew in a whiff of gunpowder. "Hunters," he growled. "How's that for a trace?"

  Even though they had killed Baden, Aeron had been prepared to leave them alone. He'd caused them just as much pain centuries ago, after all. But they had come here. They would start a new war if given the chance.

  Realizing they'd been spotted, one of the humans stepped forward.

  The strobe light was still spinning, spitting those fractured beams of light in every direction. They danced over the mortal's young, determined face. He was smiling. He rubbed his right wrist with his left thumb, and in the wild light Aeron could just make out the symbol of infinity he traced.

  "Who would've thought we'd get all the world's evil together in the same room at the same time?" The man held up a small black box, two wires hanging from its sides. "Seriously, is it Christmas?"

  Several of the warriors growled.
Some withdrew guns, some preferred their sharpest daggers. All were ready to battle. Aeron didn't wait - he found that he couldn't, didn't want to, was eager to act. Wrath had already judged this man and found him guilty of the crime of killing innocents in his quest to kill Lords.

  Aeron tossed his blades, end over end, and both embedded to the hilt in the man's chest.

  His eyes bugged and that white-toothed grin froze on his face. He didn't die immediately, as he would have if this had been one of Paris's movies. He fell to his knees, panting, in pain. He'd live for a while yet, but there was nothing anyone could do to save him. "You'll pray for death when we're done with you," he gasped.

  "Burn in hell, demon!" one of the other mortals shouted, tossing a dagger of his own.

  One of the warriors fired his gun as the blade pierced Aeron's chest. Aeron frowned. Gazed down at the pearl handle winking in the light. His heart continued to pump, slicing open with every beat. Ouch. They had quick reflexes. He would have to remember that.

  Lucien and the others sprang forward.

  The Hunter didn't back down. "I hope you enjoy the fire," he said, swiping up the black box his fallen friend had dropped. Boom!

  An explosion rocked the entire structure, blasting through stone and metal. Aeron was lifted off his feet and thrown into the air like a sack of feathers.

  Defeated by humans. Unbelievable.

  It was the last thought to drift through his mind before his world went black.
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