Time Untime (Page 34)

Time Untime (Dark-Hunter #22)(34)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

After they’d fought the Primus Bellum that almost destroyed the earth and all humanity, those gods had slept for a long time. Until Nick’s premature ascension to his Malachai powers. Then two of the dark ones had awakened. Noir and Azura.

They were scouring the earth in search of their missing half-sister, Braith, while never knowing that Braith sat imprisoned in the Atlantean hell realm. That she had given birth to a son …

"I can help you, Nick."

"Yeah … then bring my mother back."

To those who didn’t know better, that sounded like a whiny child. But that wasn’t what Nick was saying and Ash knew it. Nick was a creature of destruction. While his powers were virtually infinite, they were not without some limitation.

The Malachai-the nuclear bomb for evil-was a tool of annihilation. He couldn’t create or restore life. He could only take it.

Nick couldn’t walk through time, not without a tool such as the time stone. Nor could he identify a god until he was either sent to kill it or it revealed itself to him. Nick could tell it was paranormal, but not what degree. However, once identified as a god, Nick had all the power he needed to kill it and take its powers.

And Artemis had sent Nick in to guard the Ixkib….

He would laugh if it wasn’t so typical of her. How could the twin sister of Apollo-a god of prophecy-suck so badly at seeing the future?

"I can’t get your mother back now, but if you can trust me again…"

Nick let out a sinister, bone-chilling laugh. "Trust? My father trusted and what did it get him?"

Ash shook his head. "Trust had nothing to do with it. Your father died because he sired another Malachai. Had you not been born, he would still live."

"I still won’t trust you."

"Fine, just stop trying to kill me."

Nick sighed, and for a second, he was again the smart-mouthed Cajun kid Ash had welcomed as a friend. "I can’t promise that either, boy … have you not been listening to me? I’m speaking English here. I can’t stop my true nature. It’s like asking the moon not to rise or the ocean to quit making waves." He spat each word out separately. "My nature is death. You’re alive. That sheer fact, regardless of any other, makes me want to kick your ass and kill you. This is why I need help, and I can’t go to a therapist. I just might eat them and I don’t like the taste of human…." Ash didn’t even want to know how Nick knew he didn’t like the taste of human. "At least Artemis has a fighting chance if I go bad on her."

"We will get through this."

"You better be right, Ash. ‘Cause if you’re not…"

Ash’s mother would finally win and the world of man would lose everything.

Chapter 17

Ren took a moment to study Kateri while she napped on his bed. A bed he’d never shared with anyone before. One he’d never even dreamed of sharing with another.

Yet there she lay, nak*d and entwined in his dark brown sheets. Her long dark brown hair spilled over his pillows. She had one hand curled beneath her chin and one leg bent and jutting out from beneath the sheet.

Her right arm dangled over the side of the bed. Kneeling down, he touched her wrist and leaned down to inhale the precious valerian scent that she wore. A scent that would haunt him forever, along with the gentleness of her touch.

"I love you," he whispered as he pressed his lips to her wrist, then nuzzled his cheek against her palm. They had spent the last few hours together, exploring every inch of each other’s bodies.

And he was definitely ticklish.

She thought this was the beginning of their future together.

He knew it was the end. It had to be. There was no choice. Grizzly would devour her and laugh while he did it. Worse, he’d make Ren watch.

I will miss you. Always.

His only hope was that one day she’d find a man worthy of her love, and that he’d make her as happy as Ren would have tried to had he been lucky enough to keep her with him.

But it wasn’t meant to be.

You know, Ren. My grandmother always said that life isn’t about knowing who you are so much as it is about knowing who you’re not. Who you are can always change. We strive to be better, and we should greet every day we live with a desire to make it better. But who you’re not never changes. And you, my precious, are a hero. Even when you were hurt and angry, you only went after the ones who hurt you. Never the ones who didn’t. Because you’re not that man who kills for no reason. You are not the person who lashes out against the innocent and hurts them. You will never be that man. And that is why you are a hero in my eyes, and why you will always be one.

He would carry those words for the rest of eternity and let them offer him comfort while Grizzly rained down misery on him.

Rising, he leaned over her and kissed her head. With one last look, he changed into his crow form and left her to the protection of his friend and allies.

Due to the coming storms, the night winds were against his wings. It felt as if they, too, were trying to destroy him, and drive him into the ground far below. In just over twelve hours the equinox would arrive and the path would open and unleash its hell.

Unless Kateri reached the Valley by 3 A.M.

She’d make it. The others would make sure. His job was to make that trip as easy as possible for them.

Dreading what he’d find on his arrival, Ren flew to the one place where his brother would feel safe. The cave where Coyote always retreated to whenever he wanted to draw strength.

Ren came in low to survey the landscape before making his presence known to his enemies. The shaft was empty. He took a second to transform into a man and cover himself with his armor. The Coyote was ever a trickster. He should never be underestimated.

With the same stealth he’d once used to track elusive game, Ren crept down the shaft until it widened into an earthen room. The red walls were decorated with ancient glyphs. Some appeared to be space aliens, but he knew they were ceremonial masks taken from the collective memory of the demons that had long ago been banished from this realm.

Before man taught himself science and reason, he had sought to blend in with demonkyn, hoping that the demons would be fooled into thinking he was one of them and would leave him alone.

It’d never worked, but it had been a nice effort and it had given the demons countless hours of entertainment as they laughed at the stupid humans who tried to mimic them.

Ren drew up short as he saw Choo Co La Tah tied against the wall. Thank the gods, his friend was still alive. Though, judging by the horrendous condition Choo was in, Ren was pretty sure his friend wasn’t thanking anyone for the fact.

Least of all him.

As silent as a wraith, Ren crossed the room and touched Choo’s hand.

Choo Co La Tah flinched, then let out a relieved breath as he saw Ren standing in front of him. "It is you, is it not?"

As ludicrous as that proper English accent had always sounded coming out of Choo’s mouth, it was doubly so while his friend looked like he’d gone a few rounds posing as Mike Tyson’s weight bag.

"It’s me, Choo."

"Strange how life goes, isn’t it? One day you’re king. The next, you’re a discarded pawn. Who would have dreamed all those times I laughed at you, and allowed Coyote and others to torment and humiliate you when we were children that I’d one day be reliant on your good grace and decency to save my life."

Ren cut the ropes around his wrists. "Damn, Choo. Only you could be this chatty after being beaten to the brink of death."

Choo Co La Tah managed a bloody smile at that. "Thank you, Makah’Alay."

"For what?"

"Being the better man. It takes a great deal of courage to save the life of someone who wronged you. Badly, at times. Thank you for not holding on to grudges."

Ren scoffed as he draped Choo’s arm around his shoulders. "I do hold on to them, Choo. I kill you every night in my thoughts, and wish festering, puss-filled boils on your crotch."

Choo laughed, then winced in pain.

Applause erupted.

Ren froze as Coyote entered the room from a different shaft.

"Look who’s p-p-p-playing hero."

Ren rolled his eyes. "How many weeks did you spend thinking up that one?"

"Funny, I don’t remember you having the mental ability to conjure such witty retorts. Was that one of the powers you sucked from the tit of your demon bitch?"

Ren smiled evilly. "Oh, I sucked a lot of things from a lot of people." He gently lowered Choo Co La Tah to the floor.

Choo hissed in pain. "He intends to kill you."

"I know, Choo. It’s okay. I intend to kill him first."

Coyote arched a brow at that. "Do you?"

Ren nodded as he looked around the small room. "You’re screwed now."

"How so?" Coyote asked in that overly familiar mocking tone.

Ren manifested a short throwing spear similar to the one the Avenging Spirit had used to kill him. "You have no one here to change places with." While Ren could teleport, Coyote could only transpose. "I can’t really kill myself, and poor Snake … what was it Father used to say? Beware the cups you drink from as you are likely to fall victim to whatever disease infects those who drink with you."

"Is that what he screamed out when you cut his throat?"

Ren shook his head. "He actually died laughing."

"I can see why. The pathetic can’t attack outright. They have to resort to trickery to win."

Now that was hysterical. "I’m not you, little brother. There was no trickery involved. I told him I was going to kill him. Just as I’m telling you. He made the decision to laugh at me, instead of running. I guess stupidity does run in our blood after all."

Shrieking in outrage, Coyote ran at him with a raised club. Instead of manifesting his own, Ren jerked back, out of the way.

"Why aren’t you attacking?"

"You lived with me all those years, Anukuwaya, and yet you never once saw me, did you, brother? I guess that’s only fair, as I never saw you either. Not really."

Coyote pulled back. "What do you mean?"

"He doesn’t fight," Choo said from his place on the floor. "Ren lies low and watches his opponent exhaust himself with petty posturing. Then, once his enemy has exposed his weakness, your brother strikes once with lethal accuracy."

Coyote lunged at him. "You fought the Guardian."

"I did do that. But that’s because, unlike you, he knew me and he knew how to attack my weaknesses to goad me against my better judgment."

"I know your w-w-w-weaknesses, too!"

"No. You know my faults. They are not the same thing. In fact, the Guardian and his daughter have taught me much about myself and others." He twirled so that Coyote’s next blow missed him.

"Something other than how to speak without stuttering?"

"No. That is something I owe Grizzly. What the Guardian taught me was that we grow stronger and more intelligent as we learn to compensate for our faults. Unlike others, we have to teach ourselves to adapt quickly so that we can finally master what others take for granted. When something comes too easy for you, you never learn the skill of improvement or flexibility. Of thinking up a better, more concise way to do it. Most of all, you don’t learn determination and how to roll with a punch. That was what allowed me to fight him for a year. Because I couldn’t speak without your mockery, I learned other ways to communicate. Because you spoon-fed me a daily dose of pain, I didn’t feel his punches."

Ren ducked another blow. "And because you taught me to hate myself, I learned to value others more. I kept fighting the Guardian, not for my own well-being, but for Buffalo’s. Had it been my death solely that concerned me, I would have allowed him to take my head and end my pain. But I feared that should he defeat me, he would kill my one and only friend, and leave me alone in the world again. That is why I fought him so relentlessly. My flaws became my strength. Your mockery and cruelty were the fuel my determination needed to see me through the darkest hours of my life. For that, my brother, I am forever in your debt."

Coyote stabbed at him.

Ren sidestepped the blow and caught his arm. "But weaknesses … those are the most dangerous weapons in the universe. Weakness is not a physical trait. It’s not a stutter or a bad hand or missing leg. Weaknesses are the ones who live in our hearts. They can motivate us to the highest level and they alone can utterly destroy us. There was a time, brother, when you were my weakness. When I charged headlong into a boar, knowing I lacked the equipment to fight it-that was a weakness. I cared more for your life than mine."

Coyote sneered in his face. "You never loved me. You did that for attention. ‘Look at me! I’m the hero. I’m the better warrior.’ Everything you did, you did to show me up, and you know it. But I wouldn’t let you steal my thunder. I showed you who the better man was."

Ren shook his head. "What you showed me was a pathetic little boy, crying for every drop of attention you could grab even though it was always lavished on you. It still wasn’t enough. All these years, I have carried guilt in my heart and tortured myself over what I did to you. Did you ever once consider what you did to me?"

"I never did anything to you to warrant your torture. I was your brother and I loved you. Yeah, I played a prank or two. That’s what children do. It was all harmless."