Oh, shit, shit, shit. He was guilty. He had to be.
No, you’d never do something like that.
Or would he? With the demon inside him, he was capable of anything, and last night that demon had been out of control. And it had been blood hungry.
But he didn’t want to tell any of that to Aimee. "Nothing. Do you know what time the murders took place?"
"The humans no. Greg died about two A.M."
Images of an Arcadian panther flashed as he saw himself attacking one. The guy had been human, then panther, then human again as they clashed. "What was Greg?"
Maybe her doubt about his innocence wasn’t so misplaced after all. It was beginning to look like he was guilty. "I gotta go."
"What are you going to do?"
"I’m not sure."
"Fang. Be careful. Please." That was sincere and it touched him deep.
She might have doubts about his moral fiber, but she still cared about him. "You too."
He hung up and slid the phone into his pocket. Leaning back against the redbrick wall behind him, he raked his hands through his hair as he tried to sort out what had happened. Nothing was clear. All he could remember were the emotions. The rage. The hunger.
What have I done?
Suddenly, he felt as if someone or something was watching him . . . looking around, he saw nothing out of place. Either with his eyes or his senses. At least not until a large raven landed on the black wrought-iron door gate catercorner to him. It angled its head as if watching him intently.
Yeah . . . a bird. A friggin’ bird was putting him on edge.
I am definitely losing my mind. And still the feeling of being watched persisted while there was nothing around him to warrant the sensation. The rising sun had even banished the shadows that had been there when he awoke. No one could be watching him from where he sat. Not without being someplace he could see them too.
Except for the bird.
But for the fact there were no Were-Hunters of that species, he’d think it sentient the way it watched him. Gah, how pathetic am I that a bird is unsettling me?
Then he heard the sound of a loud bike thundering out on the street. It had a hell of an engine and he could hear the quickness of the gears changing as the rider accelerated. Someone knew how to drive. The sound grew louder and louder, until it was almost deafening.
Damn, dude, get a new muffler.
At least that was his thought until it came screaming into the alley in front of him. A gleaming 2000 Honda F6C Valkyrie, it had a throaty sound of pure raw power and a customized paint job of flames painted over the glossy factory black.
The rider wore a solid black Aerostitch-armored suit with a jet-black helmet. The only color on his body came from silver vambraces that ran from wrist to elbow and matching silver panels on his biker boots.
He looked at Fang as he shifted into neutral and the engine went into idle. "You might want to run."
"I don’t run from shit."
The man shook his head as he turned the bike off, put it on its stand and swung one long leg over it. "Suit yourself."
Then Fang heard it. . . .
A sound that had haunted him every minute of his time spent in the Nether Realm. One that had made his blood run cold. It was unmistakable and clear, and it brought out the rage that was boiling inside of him now.
The sound of a Reaper. . . .
No, not one.
That sick tug of dread filled his stomach. He’d thought those battles were behind him. But it was obvious this newcomer not only knew of them. He was getting ready to fight them. "Who are you?"
"Zeke." He held his hand out and his motorcycle transformed into a bright oversized sword unlike anything Fang had ever seen before.
The raven flew from the fence. As soon as it reached Zeke’s back, it turned into a woman dressed in a tight leather catsuit, corset, and a long black coat. Her short black hair fell in a sleek bob that framed perfect features and coal-black eyes. Sleek and deadly, she was stunningly beautiful.
She snapped her arms down and as she did so, claws and armor covered her hands.
Zeke looked at her over his shoulder. "She’s Ravenna and this is your last shot to get out while you can."
Fang shook his head. "I’m in."
Ravenna raked him with a disbelieving stare. "You a fool, wolf. I’d run if I could."
Then all hell, literally, broke loose as the Reapers arrived. Out of the brick walls and street below their feet, they came out en masse. At least two dozen, though it was hard to differentiate among them. They fought as a cohesive unit and their typical strategy was to overwhelm their opponent, knock him to the ground, and then rip him to shreds.
Fang manifested a sword, not the one Thorn had given him, but another. "Can I kill these?"
Zeke ran one through, then kicked another back. He swung a wide arc, beheading a third one in a single stroke. "Abso-fuckin’-lutely."
Fang caught the first Reaper to reach him and sliced it open. It screamed, collapsing on the ground as another came for his back.
Ravenna caught it from behind. "Don’t shift forms," she warned before she swung around to confront another.
Fang hadn’t planned on it. As a wolf, he was no match for these. He couldn’t bite into them and it left him with nothing else to do except run.
And this time, he wanted them dead. All the months of being locked in hell with them and of being bitten and clawed came boiling up through his body. He wanted vengeance and he was taking it out on every Reaper he could reach.
He slung his hand out intending to blast a demon, but Ravenna caught his wrist.
"That will only make them stronger. Reapers are special. Hand-to-hand only."
At least she told him the rules before he made the mistake. Thanks, Thorn, you bastard. Fang kicked the next one back as Zeke stabbed another. Their numbers seemed to double for a few minutes, as if they were calling in reinforcement.
At least until Ravenna made a high-pitched screech. Wanting to howl, Fang hit the deck as pain tore through his head. It was excruciating. But he wasn’t the only one who felt it. The Reapers shrank back, screaming until they finally vanished.
His ears ringing, Fang pushed himself up to glower at her for that. He wanted to rip her head off over the agony pounding in his skull.
Zeke snatched his helmet off and had a look on his face as if he felt about the same way. His dark brown hair was spiked up in front from the helmet and sweat, but the rest fell to his shoulders. With two days’ growth of beard on his face, he looked lethal in spite of the almost angelic beauty of his features. Pressing one hand to his ears, he glared at Ravenna. "How many times have I told you not to do that shit?"
"They were reinforcing. You want me to let them have you next time?"
"Depends on how long this migraine lasts. Damn it, woman, just stab me through the skull next time." Zeke flexed his jaw as if trying to clear his head.
"Don’t tempt me."
Shaking his head to ease his own pain, Fang stood up and surveyed the black birdlike bodies around them. Blood ran thick on the sidewalk as a few of them twitched from death. He dissolved his sword and caught his breath.
Zeke and Ravenna turned to face him. "Nice work," Zeke offered.
Fang nodded in appreciation as he continued to survey the bodies. "What caused this?"
Ravenna patted him on the chest, right over his heart. "You have Phrixis inside you, buddy." She gestured to the demon remains. "They want his powers, which means if they kill you, they get your powers and his. You’re the Star of India, baby."
Fang couldn’t accept that. It didn’t make sense. "How can they be here?"
Zeke held his hand out and shot out a stream of fire to consume the bodies. "They’ve always been here. You just never saw them until your unfortunate journey into their domain and you had your eyes opened. The doorway between this world and theirs is barely guarded, so coming and going really isn’t all that hard for certain species such as these."
Fang narrowed his gaze as he finally understood. "So you’re Hellchasers too?"
Zeke snorted as if Fang had just insulted him. "No. We work for the right side of this equation." He all but spat those words.
And Fang didn’t? What exactly was Zeke implying? "People, speak a language I can understand because right now, I’m lost. Last time I checked, I was one of the good guys."
Zeke shook his head. "You might be one, but the ass**le you work for certainly isn’t."
"What do you mean?"
"I answer to the archangels Samael and Gabriel. While Thorn is supposedly on our side, he is the blood son of our bitterest enemy and therefore we don’t know where his real loyalties lie. He says he’s with us, but I don’t trust him at all. Given his father and his past, it’s just a matter of time before he switches sides and leaves us with our pants down."
Zeke’s features turned to stone. "Lucifer."
Fang gaped in disbelief as that reality smacked him hard in his gut. Thorn was Lucifer’s son? Why hadn’t he seen that?
Because you were desperate. Aimee’s life had been threatened and nothing else had mattered to him. No wonder Thorn had been so secretive.
"What have I done?"
Ravenna clapped him hard on the shoulder. "You sold your soul to the wrong side, bud. Congrats."
Fang still refused to believe that. "But he fights the demons."
Zeke let out a long breath. "He has so far. Who knows what tomorrow brings. One thing I’ve learned while doing this is that people change, people betray, and the only one you can truly trust is yourself."
Ravenna gave him a harsh stare.
Zeke snorted. "Like you wouldn’t cut my throat if someone gave you the chance."
She nodded and laughed. "Oh, well that’s true. I really do hate you most days."
Fang ignored them as he tried to understand what was going on. "Wait. Could you explain all this to me? Thorn hasn’t been forthcoming with information. What exactly do we do and how do you fit into this equation?"
"C’mon, Fang," Ravenna said as if talking to a toddler who had no higher cognitive functioning. "You didn’t really think the Greek and Atlantean pantheons were the only ones still fighting the good fight, did you? Or that the Daimons were the only demons. You know about the Charonte, the gallu, the Dimme, Harvesters, and Reapers. Slug demons like Misery. . . . There are thousands of classes and all of us, regardless of pantheon or power source, have soldiers to fight them."
Fang looked at her suspiciously. "What are you?"
"Half human, half Kalios demon."
Kalios were benevolent demons. He’d learned that in the Nether Realm. The only one of their kind he’d met had been torn apart by a Harvester while trying to help him.
He narrowed his gaze on Zeke. "You?"
"Born human. Classified now as a Necrodemian, which loosely translates as death to demons or demon executioner. Unlike a Hellchaser, I have the ability to kill demons without consequence as long as I follow certain protocols which really, really blow most days."
"While we just send them back."
Zeke gave him a sarcastic salute. "You’re getting it."
Fang put his hands on his hips. "I still don’t understand how I got dragged into all this."
Ravenna patted him on the shoulder in sympathy. "The last Malachai has been tapped and with it, the oldest dark powers are uniting again to take over the earth. Our soldiers are being rallied and you, my friend, have stepped straight into this battle."
"I was only trying to protect Aimee."
"And that emotion is what has damned many a good soul."
Fang supposed so. But it still didn’t lessen the fact that he’d seriously fubarred his life. And all this because he’d wanted a beer. . . .
And ended up wanting a bear.
"So is Thorn evil?" he asked Zeke.
"He’s the son of one of the darkest powers ever known. And his father was a trusted soldier for good until he turned. Unlike his father, Thorn has resisted that temptation most of the time." Zeke let out a tired sigh. "In the end, we really don’t know. Many members of his army have been known to turn and had to be put down . . . usually after making the same mistake you did when you killed Phrixis. When the demons kill the Hellchaser, they’re made more powerful and harder for us to kill. Which begs the question, does Thorn fail to warn his Hellchasers about the demons on purpose, wanting the demons to get more powerful for his father? Or is he just that forgetful?"
Ravenna let out a derisive snort. "Or as I suspect, he’s just a mentally twisted f**k who likes head games."
Fang would like an answer to that himself. "Bet if I asked-"
"You’d get the same answer we get. He’d either put you through a wall or set you on fire." Zeke smirked. "The fire part really hurts, by the way. I don’t know what that bastard has in his fist, but it burns like nothing you’ve ever felt. For the record, stay on his good side."
Great. Just great. Stay on the good side of a man sired by pure evil. "So I’m no better off here than I was in the Nether Realm."
Ravenna laughed. "Are you insane? Of course you’re better off. You can actually sleep here without fear of being brutalized, and there is real food that is worth eating. But . . . you have a crosshair on your back that looks like the mighty Target sign off I-10. Because the demons are all about gathering more power, you’re extra-appealing to them. A possessed Were-Hunter . . . you’re lucky I’m not trying to kill you."