“Lock and load.” Tay held out her hand, and he pressed one of two syringes he’d prepared into her hand. The contents would knock him out for about five minutes, long enough to get his human ass through the Harrowgate. He’d been generous with the dose—he didn’t want to be out longer than necessary, but he definitely didn’t want to wake up midjump. If he was going to die, he’d rather go in battle than inside a Harrowgate.
“You all know how this works, right?” she began, addressing everyone. “Once we’re out of the gate, I’m going ahead. I’m sure the bastards will be expecting me, so I’m going to get captured. You guys follow, and once I’m inside the castle, you attack while they’re busy with me. Got it?”
Ky didn’t like the idea of Tay sacrificing herself, but they had little choice, and murmurs of assent rose above the dim hospital noises. Gem hefted a duffel of weapons onto her shoulder. Tay had various weapons stashed on her body, as Roag would expect. Ky was weighed down, as well, the tug of his full weapons harness a familiar comfort. In addition, he carried a medic kit.
Ky grabbed Tay’s wrist before she could dose him. “If I don’t regain consciousness within four minutes after arriving in Ireland, have Gem stick me with the episol in my kit.”
It was a risk, taking the epinephrine-based stimulant Eidolon had developed for use in human-demon hybrid patients, but Kynan needed to be on his feet immediately.
“You got it.”
Abasi, a huge male lion shapeshifter, stepped behind Ky as Tay injected the syringe into Ky’s arm. Instantly, Ky’s vision went black, and the last thing he was aware of was Abasi catching him as he fell.
Shade was almost lost to her. Runa couldn’t take her eyes off him, couldn’t keep the tears from spilling down her cheeks. Eidolon told Shade not to look at her, because doing so seemed to make his transparency worse, but he kept stealing glances anyway. The pain in his eyes sliced at her, and God, she wanted to scream until she lost her voice and her mind.
“It’s ti-ime.” Roag’s singsong sent a shiver down Runa’s spine. He led his zombified girlfriend into the dungeon and sat her on one of the autopsy tables he’d set up after he’d tortured Shade and Eidolon. “And I have a present for you.”
The sounds of struggle and chains came from within the stairwell, and as Runa watched, three demons dragged a bloody humanoid female into the dungeon. The devastation on Eidolon’s face said this was Tayla.
She must have been extremely strong, because the three demons, though twice her size, were struggling to keep her under control.
“I’m so glad you could join us,” Roag said. “Took you long enough. I was beginning to think you didn’t care.”
“If you touch one hair on her head, you won’t get what you want from me,” Eidolon swore, and Roag snorted.
“You’ll change your mind when my minions are raping her.” He pointed to the corner, where a hulking thing with tusks jutting out of its mouth watched, a look of pure evil—and lust—in its eyes. “He goes first.” Roag walked over to Runa and released her from her bonds. “Of course, I don’t want this one to feel left out.”
A burning sensation seared her shoulder, and through the spots in her vision she saw why. Roag had impaled her with something that resembled a silver knitting needle, obviously to keep her from changing form. It also left her too weak to fight, and she hated how limp she was as he dragged her beside his zombie girlfriend.
Clamping Runa’s wrist to a massive stone table, Roag wheeled away to grab a wicked, serrated scimitar off the wall. Smiling, he tested the edge.
“This is going to hurt, Runa. It doesn’t have to, but where’s the fun in that?” He licked the blade, tasted it almost lovingly before speaking again. “See, my darling Sheryen needs your blood, but she also needs your heart. While it’s still beating, of course.” Roag lovingly stroked Sheryen’s cheek.
He returned his gaze to Runa, and in that moment, Roag encompassed everything she’d grown up believing about demons. Evil madness raged in his eyes, a deep hatred for everything good, a love for everything unholy and wrong.
“Master!” A green, antlered thing stumbled out of the stairwell, clutching a bloody stump of an arm. “We’re under attack!”
From above, the sound of metal on metal and fists on flesh joined screeches of pain. All hell broke loose as a flash of light nearly blinded Runa, and then, standing where Tayla had been, was some sort of creature. Something that resembled Tayla, but was bigger, with batlike wings and scaly skin.
Not to mention huge teeth and claws. The chains holding the beast disintegrated, and it leaped for Roag.
For a moment, it looked as if the Tayla-thing was going to kick major ass, but as Roag’s minions joined in, Tayla began to fall beneath their pounding. Roag, bleeding from a gaping shoulder wound, snarled as he brought his blade down with both hands. Tayla screamed and flashed back to her human form, the blade buried in her abdomen.
Eidolon let loose a keening cry that echoed through the dungeon. A tomblike cold draft accompanied the sound of his anguish, both carrying on long after they should have faded away.
The battle drew closer, but Runa couldn’t look away from the sight of Eidolon’s mate writhing in pain on the floor.
“See what’s going on up there!” Roag barked at one of his demons.
The male who’d been waiting for his turn with Tayla hoofed it—literally—to the stairwell opening as dozens of demons spilled out. Runa watched helplessly as Kynan, Gem, and an assortment of demons, some wearing hospital scrubs, engaged in bloody, violent combat. When Gem took a blow to the head and collapsed to the floor, Kynan whipped a pistol from his leather jacket and blew a fist-sized hole through the chest of the demon that had struck Gem.
Still, even with Kynan’s impressive arsenal of weapons, Roag’s minions gained the upper hand and were slowly but surely beating down the good guys. Roag stood on the sidelines, hovering protectively over Sheryen.
Time slowed, and Runa felt a punch to the gut each time a friendly demon went down. Her pulse pounded in her ears, muting the screams of pain and the clank of metal on metal. In the cages, Shade and his brothers threw themselves against the bars and kicked at the doors.
She barely heard the voice, was too engaged in a downward spiral of despair. Roag was winning. She was going to die a horrible death, and Shade was going to suffer for an eternity.
“Runa! The curse …” Kynan swung an odd-looking weapon, a double-ended S-curved blade, at one of the demons he was fighting, cutting a deep gouge in the creature’s side. He worked his way toward her, fierce concentration in his expression.
But whatever he intended to tell her would have to wait, because the sharp bite of a blade bit into her breast, and Roag loomed over her, evil intent burning in his gaze.
“No more stalling,” he snarled. “It’s time to take your heart.”
“No!” Shade slammed his entire body against the door of his cage, terror and adrenaline fueling his strength.
The door bowed, but it held. The cages had been made to hold the strongest of demons, and the spaces between the bars were too narrow to squeeze through no matter what species he shifted into.
Roag looked up from where he loomed over Runa and gave Shade a bone-chilling smile.
Kynan elbowed aside a Darquethoth, getting close enough to Runa to backhand Roag. Roag’s head snapped back and blood sprayed from his shriveled nose. The Darquethoth leaped onto Kynan’s back, but the human bared his teeth and lunged forward. Shade held his breath, praying to any god who would listen to let Kynan help Runa.
But the Darquethoth seized Kynan by the arm and dragged Kynan away. He shouted at Runa, his words muffled, but whatever he’d said made her eyes go wide. With one last, monumental effort, Kynan leaped, arm outstretched, his blade coming down so close to Runa’s wrist that Shade expected to see her hand separate from her arm.
Instead, the chain fell away, and she was free. The silver rod in her shoulder crippled her, but she rolled to the side, catching Roag with her legs. Snarling, she kicked, propelling Roag toward Shade.
The gods had answered, and he wasn’t going to disappoint. He caught Roag’s arm as his brother hit the cage door. The bars were narrow and his body was fading; he had little chance against Roag, but dammit, he was going to f**k up his big brother as much as he could.
“Family!” Runa’s voice cut through sounds of fighting as he yanked Roag against the cage so hard Roag’s skull cracked against a bar. “Your curse! Arik!”
Runa was making no sense. “What?”
He could hear the harsh rasp of her pained breaths as she struggled to her feet next to the altar Roag had put her on. “He found another translation for your curse. Loved one … or family.”
He’d been over this with Wraith. He could be rid of the Maluncoeur only if he transferred it to a loved one …
Family. Or … family …
Hell’s bones, could it be true? He didn’t take the time to think further. He had hold of Roag, and even as his brother started to slip from his grasp, he uttered the words Wraith had wanted him to say.
“Solumaya. Orentus. Kraktuse!”
Nothing happened. Fuck.
And then, the air between Shade and Roag began to vibrate. Slowly, Shade’s body grew solid, and parts of Roag flashed so milky-transparent that through it, Shade could see Runa’s stumbling approach. Yes! Excitement renewed his strength, and he held tight to Roag, who didn’t seem to notice that he now carried Shade’s curse.
Runa snared the key from Roag’s belt and leaped back as he swiped at her. One of Roag’s minions lunged for Runa, but Gem caught the lizardlike creature around the throat and slammed it to the ground.
“Release Eidolon,” Shade shouted to Runa. He was holding Roag too close to the door of his own cage. He couldn’t risk her getting hurt.
Once free, Eidolon put Roag on the ground with a fist to the face, and then dashed to Tayla as Runa unlocked Shade’s cage. He burst out. Roag’s minions advanced, and Roag regained his footing. In a single, smooth motion, Shade braced Runa against the cage and yanked the silver bar out of her shoulder, her strangled cry tearing through him.
“I’m sorry,” he breathed. His fingers found the wound, and he wished he had Eidolon’s gift to heal, but all he could do in the split second they had was stimulate the release of endorphins to ease her pain.
“It’s okay,” she said. “Behind you!”
Spinning, he jammed the heel of his palm into Roag’s throat. He’d love to pound the sonofabitch into a pulp, but they needed Wraith’s fighting skills. He released his younger brother and stood back. With a snarl, Wraith tore through Roag’s team like a knife through tissue paper.
A huge body slammed into Shade from the side. Caught off guard, he lurched into the wall and suddenly was fighting for his life. The demon was strong, far stronger than Shade. It gripped his throat with humanlike hands and used its wings to help steady itself as it tried to squeeze the life out of Shade.
A fallen angel. Gods, what was Roag doing with a fallen f**king angel in his castle?
The angel smiled at Shade’s futile struggles. And then, all he saw was fangs and blood. Runa, in her warg form, had ripped one of the angel’s wings off its body.
The angel wheeled away, and when Runa made to give chase, Shade grabbed her by the scruff. “Down, girl. They’re almost impossible to kill. Let him go.”
Roag’s agonized scream carried over the sound of battle. He was staring in horror at his hands. Oh, yeah, Roag had discovered the curse. His gaze locked on Eidolon, who was bent over Tayla, his dermoire glowing as he healed his mate.
Roag was going to transfer the curse to E.
Shade yanked a battle ax off the wall. In two strides, he was in striking distance.
Roag reached for Eidolon. Shade swung. “This is for Skulk, you sonofabitch.”
Sheryen’s head separated from her body with a soft whisper. Roag pivoted around, his forward momentum knocking him into Eidolon.
“Sher!” Roag screamed, and for the first time ever, Shade saw genuine pain in his brother’s eyes. Roag kept screaming, and gradually, his voice, and his body, faded into nothingness.
“And that,” Shade said softly, “was for all of us.”
It was over. With Roag gone, his minions no longer held together. Some lost their courage and became easy prey for Gem, Kynan, and the hospital staff, and the rest fled. Wraith, probably more than half insane with bloodlust and the need for revenge, pursued, disappearing up the winding staircase.
Runa shifted, and Shade hauled her nude body against his. “You okay? I’ll get E to heal your injuries.”
“I can wait. Others need help more than I do.”
Shade glanced at E. “How is she?”
Tayla stood, brushing herself off. When many demons shifted, they retained their clothes, and Tayla was one of those fortunate species. “I’m fine. Good as new.”
Eidolon seemed as reluctant to leave Tayla’s side as Shade was to leave Runa’s, but several hospital staff members who’d come to the rescue were in bad shape. Still, Shade took the time to kiss Runa, a lingering, hot meeting of mouths that promised more later. He owed her so much, and he’d spend the rest of his life making up to her what he—and Roag—had done.
Kicking into medic mode, he broke away from her. Some of the injuries were severe enough that Shade had to dip into the medic kit Kynan had brought. Fortunately, since everyone except Runa was a medical professional in some capacity, triage went quickly, though they did lose one physician assistant, a lion shapeshifter who’d been on staff for nearly ten years. Walking woundeds took the more severely injured to the Harrowgate for transfer to the hospital. By the time Shade and Eidolon had done all they could, they were both exhausted.