“Do I really need to do your job for you?” William shrugged wide shoulders. “Fine. I will. There might be a whole pack of you guys on their tails, but that doesn’t mean you’ll find them. So, put a bounty on their heads. Even their mothers would turn them in—if they had mothers, of course.”
Every warrior instinct he possessed rebelled. “And take the kill out of my own hands?”
“But the job will be done, so I don’t really see the problem.”
Of course William saw no problem. He thought only of the goal, not the collateral damage. “The job may be done—but it may not. I wouldn’t know for sure, since I had no part of it. And demons lie. They are never to be trusted.”
The girl finished with the foil, and William waved her away.
“If I fail to destroy their forces,” Thane added, “someone else will step into their role. Their plans must be stopped at the root.”
This is one of the many reasons I kill demons. This right here. No, William wasn’t actually a demon. He’d even fought and escaped hell, allowing light to shine in the darkness of his soul. But he’d since begun to race down the road that led back into the darkness. So, he qualified.
“Look. I have a feeling you’ll be a little too busy shopping for bras to set a trap for the demons you want killed,” William said. “You’re a what? Forty-two C? Lakeysha over there will give you hers, I bet, freeing up your time and allowing you to do as I suggested.”
Thane had to admire his courage. “As I said, demons lie. Demons cheat. I will never trust them to do the job for me. I or someone I trust will make the kill. What can you do to aid me?”
Perhaps the warrior would reconsider. “I know you have always desired to know who your real parents are.”
William stilled, and for a moment, he appeared to stop breathing.
“I can help you with that,” Thane said. “Aid for aid.”
A sharp inhalation of breath, proving the action hadn’t malfunctioned permanently. “Fine. I’ll set a meeting with Maleah. You’ve heard of her, I’m guessing?”
Maleah. Who hadn’t heard of her?
Once a Sent One, she had been the most decorated soldier in their realm of the skies. She had been so decorated, in fact, that scheduling a meeting with her had been harder than scheduling a meeting with the king. Then, one day, she was gone, fallen, and no one had known why or what had happened.
“Set the meeting,” Thane said. “As for the information I owe, check with the Sent One named Axel. I think you’ll discover something very interesting during your first conversation.”
THANE, BJORN AND XERXES armed themselves for war.
The meeting with Maleah was scheduled to happen in half an hour. William had worked fast—and the childish male would have snickered had he heard Thane’s thoughts on the matter.
Thane had returned home with just enough time to bed a new female in an effort to clear his mind and ease the growing pressure to succeed. Afterward, he had alerted his boys. At least Kendra wouldn’t be bothering him again. Yesterday, he’d done the unthinkable.
He’d given her to her people.
The number of Phoenix had severely declined over the centuries, since very few of their women were able to conceive. That was why the males continually hunted the females. If one was ever found, she was immediately whisked to a Phoenix camp—and kept there forevermore.
By now, Kendra had been wedded to a warrior. By now, she was once again a slave.
He probably never would.
“I’ve felt the tension in this realm of the heavens, as well as the earth, and knew it was a prelude to the coming war,” Bjorn said. “I knew an enemy was planning some kind of attack, but I assumed that enemy would spring from the Titans trying to overtake and rule the world.”
Not much. “I wouldn’t be surprised to find out they’re working together.”
Thane finished snapping the metal on his arms, each etched with number after number to represent the Most High’s promise for strength, then tugged on his gloves and smacked his friends on the shoulder. He preferred this armor over that formed by his robe. “No one comes to our territory and hurts our people. The demons wanted a war, and so we will give them a war.”
“He hadn’t yet finished his course,” Xerxes said, “but he’s now at peace, his spirit in the Most High’s realm of the heavens. A far better place.”
They shared a moment of silence, each remembering the good the king had done them over the years.
Together, they stalked out of their suite and to the roof of the club. Thane flared his wings. A darkened sky stretched all around him, stars glittering prettily.
“And now we will finish our course.” Thane dived into the night, heading down, down, down, and angling west. Air whipped against his skin, tangled his hair, becoming warmer the closer he got to the ground, even when the snowcapped Sierra Nevada came into view. There was a wealth of pine trees, and a lake as clear as crystal. Human ski huts. Humans trudging through the snow.
And there was Maleah’s place. A cabin comprised of stone and ice, hidden in a cliff. Sent Ones liked to dwell in the elements, and the fallen female must have clung to the habit.
Thane misted through the walls and found himself inside a room lacking any sort of comfort. There were computers, TV screens, radios and all kinds of other equipment, but no couches, cushions or blankets. No photos.
A female he’d heard about but never seen manned everything with a sharp eye and a constant tapping on a keyboard. She looked like a Goth princess, with her white skin, long white hair, multiple tattoos and piercings. A thick sweep of bangs hid her forehead and framed her big blue eyes.
Bjorn and Xerxes landed beside him.
“Pretty,” Bjorn said, looking her over. “I hadn’t heard that fact.”
If she cooperated, perhaps he would take her to the Downfall for a few days of fun. If not...
He couldn’t kill her. That would be against the rules. But he could do other unpleasant things.
“I expected you sooner,” she said suddenly. Her chair swiveled around, and she pinged Thane with an unwavering stare.
She shouldn’t have been able to sense him. Just then, she was human.
And pretty failed to do her justice, he realized. Her features were bold, sensual. She had a thick fan of white lashes, and heavy-lidded eyes. A strong nose, with a piercing curling from both nostrils. Well-defined cheekbones. Lush lips, with two barbells beneath the lower. A stubborn chin.
He stepped into the natural realm. “Impossible,” he said. “You knew exactly when I would come.”
“I knew when you were scheduled to come. I thought you’d be in a bit more of a hurry.” Her gaze swept over him, taking him in. Whether or not she liked what she saw, he couldn’t be sure. Her hardened expression never changed. “William said you were a cocky one.”
She hadn’t heard of him while she’d lived in the skies. He was somewhat offended. “Are you his lover?”
She chuckled with genuine amusement—but she never confirmed or denied.
Bjorn and Xerxes joined him in the natural, and she gave the warriors the same once-over. Again, her expression remained blank, unreadable.
“Armed for war, I see,” she said. “Against me?” There was no fear in her tone. Only acceptance.
Another chuckle bubbled from her. “Yeah. Watch me as I don’t talk about that.”
Very well. He would find out later. “What do you know of the six demons—”
“Now hiding here on earth?” she asked, one brow arched.
He stepped toward her, hands fisting. “Yes.”
“I’ll show you.” She turned back to her monitors, began typing. “New York is a high crime area, right, but it ebbs and flows, and there’s very rarely a huge and sudden spike. Things usually build. Well, last night there was a spike unlike any I’ve before seen. Murders, rapes, thefts, beatings, but most happened in the privacy of human homes and have gone unreported. And it wasn’t just in a select area, but widespread.”
She snorted. “As you know, the mere presence of a demon causes the very atmosphere and energy of a place to change.”
“True, but that doesn’t mean the spike was caused by demons.”
“Whoever killed your king would now be weak. Germanus would have fought, and fought hard. The demons would have known you guys would soon be on their heels, and so they would have wanted to rebuild their strength quickly. As they fed on evil, they would have sent their minions to do the most damage possible.”
Stunning and smart. Yes, he wanted her. “So they have spread out.”
“Definitely.” She pointed to a map of the world on a separate screen, tapping her finger against the reddened areas. “Each of these places had a similar spike.”
“There are twelve places,” Xerxes said, “yet only six demons.”
She rolled her eyes, saying, “You know as well as I that we aren’t unwise to the schemes of the enemy. They would have known we could track them this way, and they would have wanted a way to circumvent that. Hence the minions I mentioned.”
We, she’d said, as if she were still part of an army. “You think they’re commanding their forces to attack other areas, away from them, to divide our efforts.”
He, Bjorn and Xerxes shared a look. She was probably right—and they should have figured that out on their own.
So where do we start? Xerxes asked, his voice whispering through Thane’s mind. They could communicate with every member of Zacharel’s army this way—if they so chose—but they preferred to speak only with each other.