Zacharel gaped at her, but he asked no questions. He leaped into motion.
He quickly caught one of the Nefas and threw him in Nicola’s direction. She acted immediately, swinging her sword. The tip slashed through the being’s middle. He collapsed on the cave floor, writhing. She struck a second time, taking his head.
Zacharel sped back into motion. Determined, she marched forward. A male swooped in from the left, morphing from human to black smoke in seconds—before reappearing just in front of her, reaching for her. Again she swung the sword. He ducked and straightened. His hands fit around her neck. But at the moment of contact, he flew backward, as though she’d pushed him.
Was she...shielded again? By her tattoos? Even though she wasn’t staring at them? Maybe. Maybe she had memorized the numbers, and they were now a part of her. Maybe there was another reason. Either way...this rocked.
He hit the ground, hard, losing his breath, allowing her to simply drag her sword up his middle as she walked past.
Nope. Three...four...five down. Zacharel and the others constantly threw the Nefas at her and she easily ended their lives, never missing a step.
Six, seven, eight.
After that, she lost count.
She saw that tents had been erected at the far end of the cavern, a little river winding through the center. The man from the park, Koldo’s father, rushed out of the biggest one, with another male and Sirena at his sides. Their eyes widened when they spotted Nicola and her sword.
Axel and Koldo stumbled from another tent. Both were covered in blood and bruises, their faces swollen, and they had to lean on each other to remain upright. Rage and concern nearly dropped her where she stood, but Nicola pushed the emotions back. Now wasn’t the time to indulge.
The group of Nefas paused a few feet away from her, just out of striking distance.
Sirena opened her mouth to speak. Nicola leaped forward and struck without issuing a warning.
The girl’s head fell to the ground, and her body followed.
Unlike the girls in the late-night movies, Nicola wasn’t interested in taking time to discuss what was about to happen, what problems they had with each other or anything like that. She was simply doing what needed doing to save her man.
Koldo’s father peered down at the blonde’s motionless body and shouted with fury. His gaze jerked up, landing on Nicola, and he pounded toward her—only to hit the same wall the other male had. He didn’t fall, but stumbled back a few steps before catching himself.
As the remaining guard gaped, Nicola was able to strike at him.
Koldo’s father hurtled a mouthful of vile curses at her. “I’m going to remove my son’s intestines through his mouth and force you to watch as he dies.”
She laughed. “You’ll do no such thing. You’re surrounded. Your army is defeated.”
He launched at her again, but again, he flew backward. When he straightened, he shook his head, as if to orient his thoughts. “How are you doing that?”
“Aw, is the evil man confused? Does he not understand he picked the wrong side?” One step, two, she approached him.
Paling, he backed up until he could go no farther, the jagged walls of the cave stopping him. “Stay away, or I’ll find a way to rip out your throat.”
Hardly. “I bet you wish you’d stayed in hiding,” she said, continuing her forward march. “All your scheming and fighting, and you have to die knowing the good guys came out of this far stronger than when it started.”
“I’m unarmed,” he said, raising his palms. “You don’t want to do this.”
A lie. He was always armed with evil. And she really wanted to do this.
She struck, but he bent low, avoiding contact. The momentum spun her, leaving her back to him. He charged her, but hit that invisible wall for a third time and stumbled backward.
“That’ll never get old,” she said, and spun back around, facing him.
He tried to dart right, but Zacharel stopped him.
He tried to dart left, but another soldier stopped him.
“You did this to yourself,” she said, and struck.
This time, he had nowhere to go. Her sword sliced through his stomach. Blood and intestines spilled out.
His knees collapsed, and he hit the ground. His mouth opened on a pained moan.
“With pleasure.” Another slash of her arms, and his head was rolling toward her feet, minus his body.
The Sent Ones erupted into cheers. Someone patted her on the shoulder, nearly drilling her into the ground. She let go of the sword, and it vanished.
“Koldo,” she said, and raced toward him.
KOLDO BLINKED OPEN his eyes. His pain was gone, his strength having returned. He frowned. How was that possible? He was no longer in the cave. Instead, the white walls of his ranch surrounded him.
And what was that warm thing pressed up against him? He looked down, and saw the spread of Nicola’s strawberry curls over his chest. Her beautiful face was tilted up, toward his, and her eyes were closed. Her breathing was even. The confusion magnified. He’d been trapped in that cage with Axel.
Axel! That’s right. The warrior had been beaten, as broken as Koldo, and yet, after hearing the sounds of battle, he and Koldo had somehow found the strength to tear the cage apart. Together, they had walked out of the slave tent. That’s when he’d seen what he’d assumed was merely a hallucination: Nicola, holding a sword of fire, forcing his father to back down.
Then nothing. He must have passed out.
Then cheers had rung out, waking him, and he’d heard little bits of conversation.
“—never expected a former human to fight like that,” someone had said. “And the fact that you have the tattoos, creating the force field, is even better. You better believe I’ll be getting an outward sign of the Most High’s promise, too.”
“You can be my battle partner anytime.”
“Nicola,” Koldo said now, his voice rougher than he’d intended.
Like him, she blinked open her eyes. Then, she jolted upright and faced him. “You’re finally awake.”
No. He had failed her, then. Had failed the love of his life. And Laila, too. “I’m so sorry, Nicola. I tried—”
“I know you did.” She offered him a soft smile. “I’ll never be able to thank you enough for all you endured on her behalf.”
“No. Don’t do that to yourself. We don’t even know if she would have accepted the gift. And she’s happy now. She’s with Robby, and they’re both so happy.”
Koldo reached up with a hand shaky from disuse and caressed her cheek. Soft, warm. “I love you,” he said.
“I love you, too. So much.”
He breathed her in, savoring what he’d thought to never have again. “Tell me what happened.”
“Well, for starters, the two demons you warned me about attacked me, trying to infect me with more toxin, and I killed them with a sword of fire. Then, the Most High adopted me. Or maybe He did before, and I just didn’t know it. Then, I managed to kill your father and save the day. In a nutshell, I totally rocked it!”
“You...are a Sent One?” He’d had that one moment of suspicion, and yet, he was still shocked to his soul.
He could barely process the knowledge. It was just too amazing.
“Thank you,” he said, to the Most High, to Nicola. Like the sword of fire, she was a gift from above, and he would be forever grateful for her. He kissed the line of her jaw. “We’re in Panama, aren’t we?”
“Yes.” She angled her head, ensuring the next kiss was on her lips.
“Two weeks, and a lot of things have happened.”
“I can imagine. But wait. You helped me, and you shouldn’t have helped me, love. It’s against the—”
She placed a finger over his mouth, silencing him. “It’s okay. I’m a part of you, and you’re a part of me. It was like you were helping yourself. Clerici said so. And guess what? Your hair is growing back.”
He frowned as he moved his hand to his scalp, and sure enough, there was stubble on his scalp, tickling his palm. “That’s impossible.”
“Nope. Clerici isn’t fond of some of the rules the Council came up with. Rules that go against the Most High’s desires. So, he’s cut a few. He even ruled that all sacrifices for the Water be returned.”
As Koldo moved, something dug into his back. He reached around, felt—
“Wing buds,” he said, his shock deepening. His wings were growing back, too. He would no longer be bald like his father. He would once again be able to soar through the skies, taking his woman wherever she wished to go. “What could be better?”
A slow grin lifted the corners of her lips, but her amusement didn’t last long. “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you have to be told. Bjorn is missing. Thane and Xerxes are going crazy as they search for him. Zacharel and the others are helping. And some guy named Kane was spotted in New York, but then he vanished again, and it’s got everyone in a tizzy.”
Kane. One of the Lords of the Underworld, and the keeper of the demon of disaster. He’d been lost in hell for weeks, though rumors of his torture had surfaced. The warrior’s friends had come to the Army of Disgrace, asking for help locating him. A promise had been issued, but no one had had any luck, until now.
“I must help my people,” Koldo said. “With Kane, and with Bjorn.” And the six demons responsible for Germanus’s death were still out there. Finding and dealing with them, before they could infect all of humanity, had to be a top priority.