The Trouble with Demons (Raine Benares #3) - Page 59


“It’s packed with weapons.” My lack of enthusiasm was evident.


“Yes.”


“Is there another way in?”


Mychael nodded once.


A room with weapons was good for me since I didn’t have any; but it would be bad for all of us if the demons got to them first, which they probably had. Just because they had claws, fangs, and horns didn’t mean they wouldn’t take anything hanging on the walls—like those demon-slaying, green-bladed, hooked spear thingies. I swallowed. Killed by demons with weapons that were made to kill demons. Irony sucked.


A faint clinking came from the darkness, not just inside the doors, but farther into the room—much farther than I wanted to go without knowing exactly what was in there.


“Chains,” Mychael said before I could ask.


I arched a brow.


“Attached to punching bags,” he clarified.


Oh.


I wondered if the demon queen knew that we’d destroyed her only way home, and now her situation was all or nothing, do or die, kill or be killed. She was cornered and we had no choice but to go in after her and however many Volghuls were sharing the dark with her. The queen had the Saghred and the Scythe; and if she managed to stab the former with the latter, she’d have all the backup she needed, and we’d have Hell on earth—thousands, maybe millions of souls looking for new bodies, and the inhabitants of Mid would be just the beginning. And the four of us would be at the front of the line. It was up to us to stop it all, and my hands were as empty of blades as the day I was born. We didn’t want to rush in, but it only took a second for a demon to stab a rock.


The whole situation had suicide mission written all over it.


I didn’t need to project my thoughts to Mychael and Tam; I was sure they’d arrived at the same gloom-and-doom conclusion.


“Stay here,” said Mychael’s voice in my head.


I didn’t have to say or think “like hell”; my expression said it perfectly.


Mychael gave me a look; you know the one. Then he handed me the best gift I’d ever gotten from any man—a knife. Actually it was more like a short machete. I loved it. It didn’t increase my confidence level in where we were going, but it went a long way toward making me feel better about not dying immediately when we went in.


“Tam, you and Vegard go in through the locker rooms,”


Mychael said.


I felt Tam’s magic power up. “Veils?”


“The best you’ve got. Whoever gets to her first takes her down.”


Tam grinned in a flash of fangs, but there was death in his eyes. “Race you.”


“Raine, you’re with me,” Mychael said.


If Tam didn’t like that arrangement, he didn’t say or think anything. I didn’t care who went with whom; I didn’t like the idea of splitting up, period. Demons with an evil rock of power and the means to open it didn’t seem like the best time to divide forces. But Mychael didn’t get to be paladin by being a crappy tactician, so until something jumped out of the dark and started killing us, I’d go along with his plan.


Mychael gave Vegard and Tam half a minute to get to where they were going. Then looked down at me, his eyes dark and unreadable in the faint light. “Can you veil?”


Damn. I had a feeling he was going to ask that. I’d never done it before, but thanks to the Saghred, I

could do pretty much anything I put my mind to. Problem was, I’d never put my mind to wrapping myself in a veiling spell, and now wasn’t the time for a screw up.


Mychael took my hesitation as an answer. He reached out and took my hand, and once again, his magic ran up my arm and into every part of me. Instantly, it felt as though I were still there but not quite. I looked down at myself and up at Mychael. We were both still there.


“No one can see us,” he assured me. “Including demons.”


“You sure?”


“I’ve done it before.”


We slipped silently—and hopefully invisibly—around the corner into the gym. The hand-holding thing worked out well. I was right-handed and Mychael was a lefty, so our respective weapon hands were free. I was holding the knife Mychael had given me; Mychael’s weapon hand was empty. Though considering what he’d done to the demon queen earlier, his empty hand was a lethal hand. But if anything came at me, veils and hand-holding were history.


We weren’t alone. I couldn’t see the proof, but I sure as hell sensed it. The room smelled like a gym was supposed to, with two notable and gut-wrenching exceptions—blood and brimstone. Blood in a gym wasn’t unusual, but this was fresh, and it hadn’t come from a demon. Brimstone meant we were in the right place with the wrong people.


The demon queen didn’t want to kill us. Usually someone wanting to keep you alive was a good thing—unless that someone was the queen of demons. In that situation, given a choice between taken dead or alive, I’d go with dead. And if I died, I was taking as many demons as I could down with me.


We moved into the room, Mychael intent on any shadow, brush of air, or sense of movement. Considering recent bad experiences, I was checking out the ceiling. Just because we didn’t hear clicking or scraping didn’t mean Volghuls weren’t dangling from the rafters like giant bats waiting to drop on us.


We didn’t have to look far to find the demon queen. She was waiting for us in a picture straight out of a nightmare.


Illuminated by a pool of sickly green light, the demon queen held the Scythe of Nen tightly against the throat of a captive Guardian, and a young blond elf lay dead at her feet—an elf in a Guardian uniform who couldn’t have been much older than Piaras. His eyes were open and fixed, and the blood pooling on his chest said how he’d died. The bloody Scythe in the demon queen’s hand said who had done the killing.


And clutched in the captive Guardian’s white-knuckled hands was the Saghred.


Oh no.


I froze and held my breath. He might as well have been holding a bomb with a lit fuse. If one drop of blood fell from the Scythe onto the Saghred, he was worse than dead.


He’d be a Saghred sacrifice.


“Do you desire this, elflings?” Either she could see us, or the bitch just knew we were there.


The Guardian she held captive hadn’t been cut. The blood on the Scythe’s blade was from the dead elf. She’d wet the blade in preparation for plunging it into the Saghred. I knew this as sure as if she’d told me—or as if the Saghred had told me.


I dropped Mychael’s hand. She knew we were here, and I wanted both of my hands free.


“Yes, elflings,” the demon queen purred when we materialized, pulling the Guardian closer. He gasped and shuddered; I didn’t blame him. Some things you just didn’t want touching you. “You all appreciate the helplessness

of your situation. Soon you will experience helplessness as you never have before. The soul of another violating your body, pushing your soul aside, taking you completely. I have heard it said that you will remain aware through all of it—the taking, the possession—for the rest of your lives.” She smiled at us, pleasant, almost human, as if she’d just given us the best news in the world. “And you will be helpless to stop anything your new master or mistress wants your body to do.”


Just when I thought I couldn’t be more scared, someone came along and redefined the word for me. Killed by what you feared the most. Laurian Berel had been killed because of a dagger; he’d been terrified of daggers. I wouldn’t be that lucky. I wouldn’t be killed by what I feared most—I’d get to live with it, and wish I were dead. No control, helpless, completely at the mercy of another. Sarad Nukpana would love to have the job. He’d love to have me. I glanced down at the Saghred held tight in the Guardian’s hands. Colors swirled just beneath the surface, flowing, circling. Souls waiting and eager to get out.


“A sacrifice to use it; a sacrifice to open it.” My voice only shook a little. Good for me. A lot better than I’d expected. Fear, mixed with an urge to run, blended together with a desire to bloody my own blade with royal demonic black.


The queen inclined her head in a single, regal nod. “One must die, so that my lord and king may live again.” She gazed down at the dead elf. “He gave himself for a noble cause. Isn’t that what you teach your young ones, Paladin? Nobility and self-sacrifice?”


“He gave nothing.” Magic spun in the air with Mychael’s words. “You took.” He was a step closer to her; I hadn’t seen him move. “And you will pay.”


The queen laughed, bright and brittle—and nervous. She stepped back, pulling her prisoner with her. “And you will make me? I think not. You will not risk losing another of your own. That is a great weakness in you—you’re unwilling to lose even one, even when you have no chance of preventing it. Defiance in the face of futility. It is a weakness that my husband’s soul inhabiting your body will cure you of.” Her gaze turned lascivious. “You will be cured of many such weaknesses—and inhibitions.”


There were a few Volghuls around her that I could see; I was sure there were more in the dark. When it came to bad guys, there were always more in the dark.


“Kuitak?”


“Your will, my queen?” said a Volghul from the shadows at her right shoulder.


“If the paladin moves or uses that magnificent voice of his again, tear out his Guardian’s throat.”


In the blink of an eye, the Volghul had the man’s throat in his claws, and the demon queen held the Scythe poised above the Saghred.


“I have everything I need.” Her smile spread as she looked at Mychael. “A strong and desirable body for my husband to inhabit, and the elfling to wield the Saghred for us.” She spoke without turning to a pair of Volghuls standing behind her. “Find the goblin. He is here; I have caught his scent.” She inhaled in pure pleasure. “Still delectable,” she breathed. “Bring him to me; do what you will to the human with him.”


One of the Volghuls ran a quick black tongue over purple lips. “We hunger, Your Majesty.”