Time Untime (Page 13)

Time Untime (Dark-Hunter #22)(13)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

His features perfect and chiseled, Acheron held the swirling, silver eyes of a true ancient. "Life is messy, Ren. It’s not easy and it’s definitely not for the timid. Everyone has a past. Things that stab them right between the eyes. Old grudges. Old shame. Regrets that steal your sleep and leave you awake until you fear for your own sanity. Betrayals that make your soul scream so loud you wonder why no one else hears it. In the end, we are all alone in that private hell. But life isn’t about learning to forgive those who have hurt you or forgetting your past. It’s about learning to forgive yourself for being human and making mistakes. Yes, people disappoint us all the time. But the harshest lessons come when we disappoint ourselves. When we put our trust and our hearts into the hands of the wrong person and they do us wrong. And while we may hate them for what they did, the one we hate most is ourself for allowing them into our private circle. How could I have been so stupid? How could I let them deceive me? We all go through that. It’s humanity’s Brotherhood of Misery."

Ren had locked gazes with the Atlantean youth. "Tell me, Acheron. How do we find peace again when we have wronged ourselves and others?"

"If we’re lucky, we find the one person who will hold our trust and keep it sacred and safe against all attackers. That one soul who will restore our belief that people are decent and kind, and that life, while messy, is still the most wondrous gift anyone can know. But until that day comes, we have to try and remember that home isn’t a specific place or person. It’s a feeling we carry inside ourselves. That touch of the divine that lights a fire inside us that burns out the past and consumes the pain until nothing is left but a warmth that allows us to love others more than ourselves. A warmth that only grows when we do right even while others seek to do us wrong. Peace is knowing that one life, no matter how trivial it seems, touches thousands of others, and learning to respect that about all people. While you may not mean much to the world, to those who really know and love you, you are their entire world. And it is the knowledge that no one can hurt you unless you allow them to. The only power they have isn’t something they’ve taken or demanded. It’s what we give them by choice. And while it is imperative that we value the lives of others, it is equally important to value our own."

Even though he’d wanted to believe Acheron’s words, Ren scoffed. "You make it sound so easy, Atlantean."

Acheron had let out a short, bitter laugh. "The truth is always simple, but the path to it is overgrown with thorns and lined with traps. Our fears and our emotions cloud even the brightest day and the clearest truth. Talk is cheap, but actions are bloody. You can’t plant the garden until you’ve overturned the soil. And nothing new can grow until the old dies. Lay your past to rest, Ren, so that your future can grow unimpeded by those ghosts. We can’t change what we’ve done, but we can always change what we’re going to do."

Those last words had branded themselves into Ren’s heart and he had carried them through the centuries.

And tonight, he was going to protect the woman by his side with everything he had.

Kateri’s features went pale as she surveyed her dismal surroundings. Never had she seen a more frightening place. A huge sallow moon hung over a town that reminded her of a Tim Burton landscape. Mournful cries for mercy and tortured screams echoed all around, many punctuated by the sound of insane laughter as if someone or something took pleasure from their pain.

A chill of foreboding ran up her spine. "Is this hell?"

"As close to it as I want to get." Ren stopped, then gently tugged her into a shadowed alley.

When she started to speak, he placed his finger over her lips. Only then did she hear the sound of something slithering by the area they’d been in only a heartbeat before. Bug-eyed, she held her breath until it vanished and all was relatively quiet again.

"I have to get you out of here," he whispered in her ear.

She couldn’t agree more. "And you, too."

He glanced to his wounded shoulder. "I’ve been tagged. I won’t be able to leave now. Wherever I go, they’ll follow and drag me back."

Her heart ached at the sad resignation in his voice. It was as if he accepted the fact he was going to die here, and that she had no intention of allowing to happen. If she was nothing else in her life, she was loyal to a fault. "It’s not right to leave you here alone to face them."

"I’ll live."

"You keep saying that. But-"

"I’m immortal, Kateri," he said, cutting her off. "You’re not. Your duty is to save the world and my only duty now is to save you. I have to get you back to the human realm so that you can fulfill your sacred role. It’s that simple."

She shook her head at the ludicrousness of those statements. And nothing was ever simple. Rubik’s Cube had taught her that when she was four years old and had arrogantly boasted that it couldn’t be that hard.

Yeah, that had learned her.

"You know, Ren, twelve hours ago, I’d have called you nuts for talking about sacred roles and all of this." She gestured at the bleak, twisted buildings surrounding them. "Luckily, I’m a little more open-minded now. Not sure if that’s a good thing or not, but … At least I’m not wasting time with denial anymore. I accept the fact that the weirdness in my life has just shot up the epic scale of redonkulous."

After all, what more could happen?

Death and dismemberment notwithstanding.

Yeah, okay, maybe she shouldn’t test the bad-luck fairy since the bitch was already gunning for her. But dang …

Didn’t they deserve a break tonight? And not one on their bones.

All of a sudden, one corner of his mouth quirked up as if he was amused by her comments. "We have to get off the street and find a safe place to hide until I recharge my powers enough to get you out of here."

"Okay. But I still don’t understand why it has to be me to do whatever it is I’m supposed to do. How did this chore fall to my bloodline anyway? What did we do to be so cursed?"

"It’s not a curse. Your ancestor stood strong before the gods when no one else would."

There was an answer she hadn’t expected. "What do you mean?"

Ren grimaced as if his wound pained him, then rolled his injured shoulder. He led her back to the dark street. Keeping to the shadows, they headed in the direction that, given the moon’s position, she assumed would be east. "Before recorded time, there was a god who came to this realm and-"

"What god?" she asked, cutting him off. While her people believed in an overall divine being, and other paranormal entities, they didn’t think of the Great Spirit as a god in the traditional sense of the term. It was extremely hard to explain their beliefs to others who came at it with preconceived notions.

And the way he used the word "gods" …

It didn’t make sense to her.

"Ahau Kin was, for lack of a better term, the Mayan god of their underworld and of time," Ren explained. "It’s why he’s usually shown at the center of their calendars."

She scowled as she remembered seeing the image all over the Yucatan last summer. "The guy who looks like a jaguar or has a jaguar face?"

He nodded.

Fernando would be so pleased that she recalled that. But her happiness died instantly as she remembered her friend’s death, and grief went through her all over again.

Clearing her throat, she waited for Ren to continue.

He didn’t. Rather he seemed to be lost in either thought or memories.

After a few minutes, she prompted him. "You were saying?"

Ren ground his teeth as his thoughts went back to his youth-to a time and place he hated with every part of his being.

Even now, he could see himself running through the bright summer forest of his island home, chasing after the buck he’d been hunting. The beast had been elusive and it’d led him to a clearing where a woman bathed alone in a pond that was at the base of a whispering waterfall.

Never had he seen a more beautiful maiden. Her long black hair had fanned around features that were perfection incarnate. Her dark, tawny skin had been so flawless that his mouth had watered for a taste. And even though he was invading her privacy, he’d been unable to tear his gaze away from her.

Completely nak*d, she was floating on her back, her eyes serenely closed while her br**sts jutted out from the water. Her hands had moved through the water in a mesmerizing dance that was in synch with the pleasant, gentle tune she was humming.

His prey forgotten, he’d moved closer, taking care to be as silent as possible.

All of a sudden, as if she’d sensed his presence, she opened her eyes and pinned him with a harsh glare. Narrowing her gaze, she rose out of the water to show him her entire nak*d body as she walked toward the land where he stood, gawking.

Ashamed and embarrassed that he’d spied on her, he’d felt his face heat up. Turning away, he tightened his grip on his bow and started to run.

"Wait!"

Her unexpected command had literally frozen him in place. Before he could think better of it, he stopped moving. With his back to her, he’d heard her leave the pond and make her way over to him.

A few seconds later, her hand had brushed across his shoulders, smoothing his braid. And when she’d moved it to trace the line of his jaw, his entire body turned molten. She sucked her breath in sharply as she fingered his biceps. "Aren’t you a handsome one? You know, if you’re going to spy on a woman during her bath, the least you could do is kiss her first."

Stunned, Ren hadn’t known how to respond to that. He wasn’t used to women coming on to him. All the women in his town knew who and what he was, and they either avoided him or mocked him for it.

None of them had ever tried to seduce him.

Licking her lips, she’d fisted her hand in his hair and pulled his head down for her kiss.

His senses had reeled from it, and when her tongue brushed against his …

He’d been blinded by pleasure.

Windseer had pulled back to give him a salacious grin. Then, taking his hand into hers, she’d led it to her breast so that her hardened nipple teased his palm. "You act as if you’ve never seen a nak*d woman before."

The softness of her skin had amazed him. Her body was so different from his. Supple. Sweet.

Succulent.

And he’d been long past the age most men lost their virginity … another truth that shamed him and left him open to attacks from others whose vicious cruelty rammed home why no woman would have him. Ever. Until that moment, he’d never been kissed.

She’d nipped at his chin with her teeth. "Are you not going to speak to me?"

He hadn’t dared. The last thing he’d wanted was for his stutter to betray him and leave him open to more ridicule. She’d think him stupid and push him away like everyone else.

So he’d kissed her again while he fingered her puckered nipple. Within a few minutes, he’d lost both his virginity and his will to her. After that afternoon, he’d been a f**king idiot where Windseer was concerned.

She asked. He gave.

He’d have done anything to keep her.

Even kill his own father …

Ren winced at a memory he wished with the whole of his being he could take back and change. But there was no way to undo any of it. Windseer had claimed him with her body and he had been her most willing slave.

How could anyone screw up their life so badly? One wrong move. One foul decision …

An eternity of regret.

And all because she and Grizzly had needed a blood sacrifice. Not from a worthless piece of shit like him, but from a whole-blood …

His father.

Damn you both.

But that wasn’t really what hurt him most. They weren’t the ones he hated.

Damn me for it all.

The saddest part? He had damned himself.

Sighing, he lowered his club, taking care not to let the razor-sharp glass touch his leg as he turned his thoughts to the present and what Kateri needed to understand about all of this. "Ahau Kin was the father of the Anikutani."

Kateri frowned up at him. "You mean the legendary Cherokee fire priests who were put down for their arrogance and licentiousness? How could he be their father? He was a Mayan god, right?"

He nodded. "The Maya were our ancestors. We come from common ground and people, but we split off from them centuries ago. While the Maya built their cities, the Anikutani, as the direct descendants and chosen people of Ahau Kin, fortified their posts. They were essentially gatekeepers charged with holding the darkest evil back from the world-to keep it locked in their father’s underworld realm so that it couldn’t harm humans. There are a total of eleven gates that can be opened to access it. Four main ones in what is currently the U.S. and the other seven that are spread over the rest of the world. It was their most sacred duty, and for generations, the Anikutani bred the greatest warriors the world has ever known to combat that evil should it ever escape. No one could defeat them…. Until the day the monster with white eyes came for them."

Kateri slowed her pace as she walked beside him, and dread consumed her now that she realized these legends weren’t just farcical stories made up to scare and entertain children. And this one in particular she knew well … it was something her grandmother had even written down for her. "From over the great Eastern water, the monster that was possessed of terrifying power and great evil came and laid waste to everything in its path. The attack was so vicious that Mother Earth bled and her heartbeat grew so faint that not even the little people could hear it anymore. Though it was fought off, legend says it will return one day to finish what it started. To end the world." All ancient Mesoamerican cultures described a Caucasian god who had destroyed them, or one who would return to kill them. Scholars had been debating the origins of those myths for decades.