Kynan had to admit that after a shaky start in The Aegis, Tay had turned out to be an excellent Regent.
Kynan ground his molars at the sound of Wraith’s voice as he snipped the thread of the last stitch he’d put into his patient. The Neethul had been remarkably quiet during the procedure, even though her species’ standard mode of operation seemed to be stuck on snarl. Neethulum weren’t his favorite species of demon to patch up, but they focused their cruelty on other demons, not humans, so he had no problem sending the Neethul back into the general demon population.
Besides, this one had been injured when she was attacked and raped by a posts’genesis Seminus demon, and he wanted her to find the bastard and rip him apart. She was probably pregnant, but there was nothing he could do about that.
Kynan looked over at Wraith, who was looming in the cubicle doorway, his cocky grin begging to be knocked right off his face. “What do you want?”
“Mainly? To irritate you.”
“I swear to God—”
“Uh-uh.” Wraith waggled a finger at him. “You can’t do that in a demon hospital.”
Ky breathed deeply and counted to five, something Eidolon said helped him deal with Wraith. It might help E, but then, Wraith hadn’t slept with his wife. Sure, Wraith denied screwing Lori, but Wraith wasn’t exactly Mr. Straight and Narrow. And if he was this bad now, before s’genesis hit him, he was going to be seriously off the rails afterward.
“If it weren’t for the Haven spell, I’d kick your ass,” Ky snapped.
Wraith laughed, because it was an idle threat. Kynan was a trained fighter, both for The Aegis and before that, the Army, but the Seminus demon was not only a master of every fighting method known to man and demon, but, at ninety-nine years old, he had about seventy years of experience on Kynan. Wraith could wipe the floor with him without breaking a sweat.
“You crack me up, human. I’ll let you keep breathing,” Wraith said, as he said every day, in that deceptively easygoing way of his. “Has anyone heard from Shade?”
“No.” And that couldn’t be good. Last night, Eidolon had sent a team to find Shade and Skulk when they hadn’t returned from an ambulance run and hadn’t answered their radio or cell phones. The team had arrived at Shade’s last known location, but hadn’t found a trace of the paramedics. “Can’t you sense him?”
“If I try hard enough. But unless he’s trying at the same time or in severe enough pain—” Wraith broke off on a gasp. Dropping to his knees, he clutched at his gut, doubling over. His blond hair concealed his face, but his misery was obvious in the way his voice cracked. “Fuck,” he moaned. “Oh, holy fuck.”
Kynan spun, hit the intercom button. “Eidolon! ER two, STAT!” He kneeled next to Wraith. “Hey, man, what’s wrong? Tell me what hurts.”
“Shade.” Wraith lifted his head, his blue eyes, so different from his brothers’ dark ones, watering. “Shade hurts.”
“You bastards!” Shade lunged at the robed sonofabitch, the chains jerking him up hard. Raw, grinding grief flayed him open like a slayer with a stang. It had been eighty years since he’d felt this, since his actions had cost the lives of all but one of his Umber sisters. Now that one survivor, the sister he’d sworn to protect, was dead.
“Who are you? Show yourself, you coward.”
“Who am I?” The robed thing moved forward. “Do you really want to know?”
Again, snarling, Shade leaped against his chains. “No. I asked to hear myself talk, you fuck.”
“So dramatic.” Robe Man reached up and removed his mask, a nasty thing made of hide and hair, but his face was still concealed by the cowl.
“Who are you?”
Slowly, the figure pushed down his hood. “I’m your brother.”
Heart pounding wildly, Shade looked into Wraith’s face. His blue eyes. His sun-streaked blond hair. His cocky grin that exposed vampire fangs. But the vibe was wrong. As before, when Robe Man was torturing Shade, the vibe was muted. “You aren’t Wraith.”
“I never said I was.” He flicked his tongue over one fang in a move that was pure Wraith. “But if it’s any consolation, it was Wraith I was after. Not Skulk. Why was she on duty instead of him?”
A chill crawled up Shade’s spine. Wraith rode the ambulance only one day a month. How had this bastard known that yesterday was Wraith’s day? Had Wraith shown up as scheduled, Skulk wouldn’t have been called in and Wraith would have been taken by the Ghouls along with Shade. So how had Robe Man known, unless … of course. Solice. How long had that vampire bitch been spying on him and his brothers?
“I’m not telling you shit.” Shade spoke slowly, deliberately, making sure every word dripped with the hatred he felt.
The Nightlash stuffed his gruesome trophy back into the bag, and Shade nearly collapsed with grief.
“She screamed your name, you know,” the fake-Wraith said. “Cursed it, really.” Smiling, he closed his eyes and breathed deeply, as though taking in the sound of her screams, the smell of her agony.
This was a creature who fed off misery, and Shade didn’t play that game. He’d had a lot of experience with demons like him, and as much as Shade wanted to tear the bastard apart, he knew he had to play smart right now.
And after he got what he wanted, he would make sure that this sonofabitch paid a million times over for what he’d done to Skulk.
Runa felt the icy-burn of hatred seeping from Shade’s pores as he held himself motionless, his weight balanced on his injured foot as though her bite amounted to nothing more than a scratch.
“Get on with whatever you came to do.” His voice, strong and deep, cracked like a whip.
The other male hissed and lunged, halting just out of Shade’s reach. “I’ve always hated you. Nearly as much as your pathetic little brother.”
Shade bared his teeth. “That might mean something to me if I knew who you are.”
For a moment, their captor stood there, a vein in his temple pulsing. He’d said he was Shade’s brother, but Shade didn’t seem to be buying it. Still, it was weird how much he resembled Shade, except for the blue eyes and blond hair. When he tore off his robe, revealing a sculpted, athletic body, she noticed other differences, mainly that Shade was broader in the shoulders, but slightly shorter—which, at around six-three, wasn’t short. The markings on his right arm were the same, but where Shade sported an unseeing eye on his neck, this other demon had an hourglass.
Suddenly, the muscle-bound demon shimmered and morphed into some sort of humanoid creature, withered and hunched over, its cracked skin wrinkled in some places and stretched tight and shiny in others. Whatever it was, it looked as if it had been dunked in a deep fryer and cooked extra-crispy.
“I can’t hold on to an adopted form for long,” he said. “A couple of hours, at most. I have all the limitations of a Seminus after s’genesis.” His gaze caught Shade’s and held it, the newly brown eyes glinting with more than a touch of insanity.
The blood drained from Shade’s face so fast she thought he might drop.
“Yes,” the thing rasped. “You know who I am now, don’t you?”
“No.” Shade stumbled sideways, catching the wall with his shoulder. He’d gone deathly pale, his skin glyphs pulsing starkly against the ashen tone of his skin. “You can’t be …”
Scarred lips twisted into a grotesque smile. “Look at me. We heal quickly and well, but look what fire does to us.”
“Fire,” Shade whispered. “Fire destroyed the Brimstone.” He shook his head, his dark hair whipping into his eyes. “But you were killed. The place was burned to the ground. I felt you die.”
“I died for a time,” the burned thing said, “so the bond we brothers shared was broken that day, but you know it’s me.”
“Shade?” Runa’s voice broke into the tense air hanging in the cell. “What’s going on? Who is he?”
“He’s my dead brother,” Shade bit out. “It’s Roag.”
Roag was alive.
Shade tried to process the information, but he didn’t get very far. Nothing was making sense. “Why? Why are you doing this?”
Roag waved his shriveled arm. “This? The demon parts harvesting? You’ll find out soon enough.”
“How long?” Gods, Shade had visions of Roag running an operation for decades, right under their noses.
“Couple of years. I’m the new kid on the block, but my operation has all but put the others out of business.”
“But why did you let us think you were dead?”
“Why?” With a roar, Roag swung the club. Shade ducked, but his chain restricted his movement, and he caught a glancing blow on the cheek. “You have the gall to ask me that? You tried to kill me.”
Blood dripped down Shade’s face in a stinging rivulet. “What the f**k are you talking about?”
“Brimstone, you dumb shit. You, Wraith, and Eidolon arranged for me to die. The only thing I don’t know is who made the final decision that I was too insane to live.”
Actually, Shade had decided that decades ago. It had been 1952, and all four of them had just spent thirty-six hours sharing a Bedim demon harem. Sated, exhausted, and still feeling a sexual high, they’d discussed what life would be like after s’genesis. Unlike E and Shade, Wraith and Roag had been looking forward to it. But Roag not only looked forward to it, he truly hadn’t cared how he’d come out of it. Sane or not, it made no difference to him.
Eidolon had been surprised by Roag’s attitude, but not Shade. He’d always thought Roag was one rat short of a plague.
“It wasn’t us. For some reason, no matter how batshit crazy you went, E looked the other way.”
“I’m not insane,” Roag snarled.
“Right. Because sane people cut up other people to sell their parts.”
That earned Shade another whack with the club, this time in the shoulder. “You dare judge me? I had nothing until after I healed from the fire and started up this operation, but now I stand to take all you and our brothers took from me.”
“It wasn’t us,” Shade repeated.
“Liar! I know it was. And for that, you will all suffer. Just like your sister.”
Roag signaled to the Nightlash, who came forward with his own club. Runa screamed, but Shade just closed his eyes. Fighting would be pointless, and Roag would get off on it. Instead, he bore the beating until his knees gave out.
At some point the blows stopped and Roag and the Nightlash left, but he had no idea how long ago that had been. Felt like days. Stones and straw bit into his knees as he knelt on the floor of the cell. His head throbbed and his mouth was dry, and he was only now coming around again.
Runa’s touch, light and feathery, might have had something to do with that.
“How long?” he croaked.
“I don’t know. A while.” She pulled her hand away. They were still chained to the walls, barely able to touch and only if they stretched.
“Son of a bitch,” he breathed, settling painfully onto one hip. “That son of a bitch.”
“That demon … Roag … you thought he was dead?”
“For three years now.”
Shade stared past her, at the stone wall that oozed moisture, but in his head, he was seeing a replay of the day he’d learned Roag had died. Only later had it come to light that The Aegis had somehow located the magic-cloaked demon pub and slaughtered everyone inside. When the Guardians were done, they burned Brimstone to the ground. How Roag had survived was a mystery, but the fire damage explained why Shade hadn’t recognized his voice, which was now so gravelly and deep that his Irish accent had been distorted.
“I’m guessing that when he looked normal, with the blond hair, he was impersonating one of your other brothers? Wraith, right?”
“Yeah.” He glanced over at Runa, wondering how she was handling all this, but man, she was a trouper, sitting there all calm and cool when Shade just wanted to go as batshit loco as Roag.
“Is … is there anything I can do?” she said softly.
“Only if you can bring back my sister.”
“I’m so sorry.”
He risked another glance at her. “I thought you hated me.”
Her head snapped back as though he’d slapped her. “I would never wish this on you.” She looked down at her hands, which were folded in her lap. “I know what it’s like to love a sibling.”
Shame shrank his skin. He remembered her brother, her devotion to him, her misery as she watched him waste away. They’d been close—she’d told Shade how her brother had been awarded custody of her when she was sixteen, after their father disappeared and their mother had been hospitalized. Arik had protected her as a brother should.
As Shade should have protected Skulk.
“How is Arik?” he asked, needing something—anything—to keep from screaming.
“He’s great.” She slid him a sidelong glance. “Thanks to you.”
Shade cranked his head around. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You healed him.” She searched his face, but he didn’t know what she was looking for. “I know you did.”
“Don’t. I know it was you. Arik was dying, and then you came over … and after you left, his condition began to improve.”