He still felt that way about them.
In fact, the garage at his house was a forge. Since he could fly and teleport, he had no use for a car. There was no need in wasting prime space when he could use it for the only thing that gave him real comfort.
"Say something," Coyote snarled.
"Sorry. I was lost in thought for a moment."
"Are you insane?"
Ren laughed. "Given our genes? It’s a safe bet." He sobered and narrowed his gaze on Coyote. "Tell me something … do you remember that time when I was nineteen and for my birthday, I made a matching set of knives as a gift for you and Father?"
"Do you remember what you did?"
"No. I don’t even know what happened to them."
Of course he didn’t. Why should he? "I remember it." With a clarity he would give anything to purge out of his memory. "I gave you yours first, and you convinced me that Father wouldn’t take his from me. That he would criticize it as being inferior. So I allowed you to give it to him while I watched. He assumed you’d made it, and he embraced you for the gift."
"Father was bad that way."
"No, Anukuwaya, you were always bad that way. You’re a shadow walker. A treacherous creature from the dark that pretends it’s from the light. It’s shimmery and beautiful, but it has no substance. No loyalty. When we were human, I never saw it in you, because I cherished you as my brother. I didn’t want to see it. And Father, even after Buffalo told him I was the knife’s creator, said it was the best one he’d ever seen. It was the only time in my life he looked at me with anything other than contempt. But you couldn’t stand it. The jealousy ate at you. And you couldn’t let me have those two minutes of his affection. Instead, you thermal-shocked the blade so that it would snap, and then showed it to Father, who thanked you for saving his life from my incompetence. Angry at me for having given him a defective knife, he threw it at me while I ate dinner alone in the kitchen."
Ren opened the front of his shirt so that Coyote could see the scar on his shoulder where the knife had hit him while he sat unaware of his father’s rage. Their father had thrown the knife so forcefully, that it’d knocked him off his seat, and laid him out on the floor. Stunned, Ren had stared in horror as his father curled his lip and cursed him. "It was a fine weapon. It tore through my flesh and sinew and muscle like they were butter, and the tip embedded in my bone. If nothing else, you should remember that. It was over a year before I had full range of motion in my arm again." Though to be honest, there were still some things he couldn’t do with that arm.
He held the knife up for Coyote to see it. "It’s been one of the best weapons I’ve ever owned. Eleven thousand years and the blade is still as strong as ever."
"Why would you keep it, you sick bastard?"
His anger rose up in his throat to choke him, but Ren shoved it away. This wasn’t about fury. It was about retribution for a lifetime of misery Coyote had served him. "Because I wanted to make our father proud, and you happy, I melted down my mother’s necklace as part of the blades. The cost of a gift is never important. The important part is that it comes from the heart, and that it holds emotional value to the giver. There was nothing I treasured more than her necklace … except you and Father. So I keep this knife that I used to remind myself to be humble and to never, ever trust another with my life. To make sure I always knew where other people stood in relation to my position at any given moment, so that no one would ever stab me again while I was being inattentive to my surroundings."
Moving closer to him, Coyote rolled his eyes. "I miss the days when you stuttered. You never rambled on back then about bullshit."
"After tonight, you’ll never have to suffer my presence again. And never again will you take, harm, or threaten those I love."
Coyote scoffed as he came to rest right in front of Ren. "You can’t kill me. I’m your brother."
Ren pulled Coyote against him into a brotherly hug, then the instant he felt Coyote relax, he stabbed him through the heart. "From another mother," he whispered in Coyote’s ear as he held him in his arms. "And the Keetoowah only count relations through their mother’s bloodline…. He is no brother of mine. And I owe him nothing." Those had been the exact words Coyote had said to the priest when he’d asked his brother how Coyote wanted Ren buried.
More than that, Coyote had added, "He is not a true Keetoowah and he died with no honor. I don’t care what you do with his body, but do not insult or desecrate our beloved dead with a foreigner’s remains."
Instead of having a funeral fit for a chief’s son, Ren’s body had been dumped in the pit they used for garbage. And Coyote would never have thought of him again had Artemis not restored Ren’s life.
Gasping for air, Coyote reached up with his hands, trying to choke Ren as he died.
Ren shoved his brother away, and let Coyote fall to the floor where he writhed for a few more seconds. Once Coyote was dead, Ren did what Coyote had done to him all those centuries ago. He stepped over his body and went about his business.
At least he tried to. But he’d only taken three steps when his necklace heated up, and burned his skin.
While Coyote had tried to choke him, their mingled blood had touched the demonstone.
The Grizzly would now be freed.
And I am owned. Forever.
Sick to his stomach, Ren rushed back to where he’d left Cabeza battling Chacu, to find his friend standing alone in the center of the room.
Ren slowed. "Where’s Chacu?"
"Little puta ran home for his mother. I swear … one day I will drink the blood from his heart and eat it…." He jerked his chin toward the blood on Ren’s shirt. "Et tu?"
"The Coyote howls no more. The bastard is forever silenced."
He nodded in understanding. "I am sorry, and I am happy for you."
Ren let out a short laugh. "Yeah, that sums it up, doesn’t it?"
"It does, indeed, my brother."
Ren took a moment to savor that last part. The only time Coyote had claimed him as a brother was to manipulate him. But the ones who meant it when they said it to Ren had no blood relation to him whatsoever.
He would miss them while he served Grizzly.
Not wanting to think about it, he chucked Cabeza on the arm. "Shall we save the rest of the world now?"
"Sure. Why not? If everyone dies, I’d have to cook my own food, and I cook like shit. How about you?"
Ren laughed. "Only fry bread and okra, and I make no claims to the edible state of either."
"Then we’d best be saving the rest of the world."
* * *
Kateri cursed as she realized she was out of ammunition. Again. What she wouldn’t give for a Hollywood weapon that never ran dry while you were taking fire.
Sasha was off in the darkness alone, fighting in wolf form, trying to keep as many away from them as he could, while they were pinned down, unable to go anywhere near the cave they had to reach really soon, or all of this was for nothing.
Provided that was actually the cave they needed. There was still some debate about the exact location of where the mural was. Without Ren … Yeah, this night might not have the best ending.
She shot her last arrow at a demon that was flying straight for Sundown. "Nick! More ammo!"
They appeared instantly in her quiver. Okay, Nick was better than Hollywood. Except he couldn’t conjure C-4. Well, he could, in theory, conjure it. The problem was, none of them knew how to use it.
Nick went back to fire-balling their attackers. He shot so many so fast, it looked like a Fourth of July celebration.
Jess continued to shoot at the raven mockers and demons as fast as his shotgun would load, cock, and aim-which was surprisingly fast in his hands. The barrel of that thing had to be hot enough to raise a blister.
But for every demon they destroyed, it seemed like ten more came in to replace it.
Sundown cast an irritated glare at Nick. "Can’t you command these things to die, or something?"
"Yeah. Sure can, but, here’s the big green pickle … if I use those powers, they’ll pierce through the weakened gates, and open them instantly. I’m the top tier, Jess. That power tends to draw out other demons like Mardi Gras beads to nak*d beasts, and depending on the demon’s level, can even strengthen them. Think of me like a homing beacon of the damned."
Jess reloaded. "That don’t seem like a whole lot of fun."
"It’s a jolly f**king Barrel of Monkeys." Nick sent more fireballs to the demons.
Amused by Nick’s acerbic nature that could make light of a very dangerous situation, Kateri blew air across her wrist that was stinging even with a guard on it. Her fingers were numb and she was sure if she survived to sleep again she was going to have nightmares about ghostly fanged things screaming at her as they died.
This is hopeless. She didn’t say it out loud, but she felt it. She was sure they did, too.
None of them could move forward toward the caves. She was so exhausted from fighting that all she wanted to do was lie down, and let them have her. In fifteen minutes, it wouldn’t matter anyway.
It’d be too late.
Strange how, as a student, especially in a boring class she hated, fifteen minutes had seemed an eternity.
It wasn’t even enough time for her brief life to flash before her eyes.
She ducked as something that reminded her of a flying monkey went over her head, spitting at them. It was acidic saliva she realized as it hit the rock a few millimeters from her hand and dissolved it like sugar in hot water.
Jess stood and shot it three times. It recoiled as it was hit, but it didn’t kill the beast. "Didn’t your mama never teach you no manners? You don’t spit at no lady." He knelt to reload. "Flipping animals."
"Demons, Jess," Nick reminded him.
"Damn flipping demons." He narrowed his gaze at Nick. "Holy water work on them?"
"Only some. Remember, I still take Communion on Sundays and was an altar boy as a kid."
"Yeah, that ain’t right."
"Couldn’t agree more." Nick shielded her just as she would have been hit by another wave of flying uglies. Then he stood to open fire, literally, on the ones who’d almost killed her.
Nick would have teleported them into the caves, but since he knew so little about them, and absolutely nothing about their interior, he could slam them into a wall, and kill them by attempting it. Not to mention, they would be trapped inside, which made it easier for the demons to kill them.
She nocked another arrow. But what she really wanted to do was crawl into a hole and wait for all of this to end.
C’mon, Kateri. This isn’t just about you. She glanced around at the men who risked their lives to protect her. Jess with his new baby. He didn’t want to be here. But here he was without a single complaint. Nick who, well according to him, was only living to piss certain entities off. Sasha who had a crush on someone he wouldn’t name, but who’d sworn that if he lived through this, he was going to ask her out. Fear be damned. Cabeza who would say nothing about his life.
Most of all, Ren. He’d given her his heart … the only part of himself that still belonged to him.
The one part he’d never given to anyone else.
In that heartbeat, she saw herself as a young teen in the cemetery with her grandmother on Memorial Day. They always went there to put a red, white, and blue rose on the grave of Kateri’s grandfather. And her grandmother, who was tougher than nails, who never shed a tear for anything, would stand there and cry for the husband she’d loved so dearly.
"How will I know when I love someone like you did Grandpa, Grammy?"
"Oh baby," she’d said, brushing Kateri’s hair back from her face, "that’s an easy answer. When you know you’d be willing to lay your life down to save theirs without thought or hesitation. When five o’clock comes, and they’re not home like they said they’d be, and you panic and can’t breathe for fear they’re not coming through that door ever again. When the thought of laying them in ground hits you so hard, you can’t breathe for it. Most of all, when something good or bad happens to you, and they’re the first one you want to share that news with. That’s how you’ll know it’s love, baby. There won’t be any doubt whatsoever."
Kateri had never fully understood her grandmother’s explanation. Not until she looked into a pair of shockingly blue eyes that carved one man’s name into her heart and soul, and made her realize that her life that had seemed so perfect and happy, had one thing missing from it.
And if she didn’t seal those gates, the things it held back would come for him.
Hoping she lived to regret this blatant act of stupid, she headed for the caves. She thought she was running alone, until Nick grabbed her an instant before a ball of fire exploded next to her.
More demons came at them, cutting them off.
Crap. It was no use. All she’d done was move them from cover and left them exposed to die.
I’m so sorry.
"Need a hand?"
Her heart pounded at that deep, familiar voice as Ren appeared next to her. "You’re here!"
"Where else would I be?" Ren frowned as he surveyed the madness they were knee-deep in. "Why are you under such heavy fire?"