Authors: Pippa DaCosta
What if the surprise is my brother?
With a flick of my fingers to shake out the slither of power, I jogged after Allard.
his hand against the basement door. The glyphs flared white hot and dissolved with a dramatic lick of smoke. Had he bothered to look over his shoulder, he would have seen my impressed gawk, but he simply swept the door open and stepped to the side. I couldn’t say I wasn’t curious. I’d never seen anyone use the basement door, and Allard had never mentioned it. Still, there was something sinister about the cool stairwell.
The hotel had settled around us. Most of the demons preferred the night and were likely prowling the shore. Perhaps it was that unusual quiet that had my instincts all jumpy. Whatever it was, I hesitated to pass Allard.
“Really, Gem. If I was going to hurt you, we both know I wouldn’t have to go to these lengths to cover it up.”
I forced a bright, utterly fake smile onto my lips and strode past him, chin up.
you hiding down here?”
“Patience, half blood.”
His voice echoed down the stairwell, sinking into the bowels of the building. The door slammed shut behind us. I flinched, glanced back at Allard, and shivered at the sight of his too-black eyes.
Great, I’m heading into a basement with a demon at my back. What a fantastic idea, Gem.
I wasn’t backing out now. To do so would tell Allard how I was indeed a frightened little half blood quaking in her boots.
“This is a great honor. Only the select few know what I keep hidden below this hotel.”
Okay… So why show me? And why now?
I ran my hand along the handrail and jogged down the bare concrete steps. Allard’s element pushed at my back, a constant reminder of his power. But as we descended deeper into the cold, another element leeched out of the air. It shifted, loose and light, like the ghost of a demon’s touch. All elemental touches are invisible to human eyes, but this one was so weak, it could easily have been imagined.
I gave the glyphs painted on the walls the side-eye. They were sloppy, spray-painted symbols. Demon symbols. The Institute knew a few of them and had gone to great lengths to ward their buildings with protection glyphs. These were unfamiliar.
“The King of Hell originally designed them.” I jumped at Allard’s voice, too close in my ear. “As a way to control the elements and his princes.”
I hadn’t known that, and the fact Allard knew about the origins of the glyphs had me wondering about his status in the netherworld. Vanessa had called him Azazel. I’d heard the name during the Institute’s endless research sessions, but there were a lot of demons with a lot of names, many reused and altered over time. Much of the truth about demons had long ago been corrupted by religion. Trying to filter the truth from fiction was a full-time career at the Institute. Allard
powerful. That much was true.
“Do you know much about the king?” I attempted to make it side like an idle question. Allard had never volunteered information before. But then, we’d never really talked. He ordered, and my brother and I obeyed. That was how it had always been.
“Only that he fled after the princes killed the queen.”
In the netherworld, kill or be killed. The fact their own king ran from them says a lot about the princes.
“The king, the hierarchy—none of that matters in this, the new world. When the veil sealed shut, it severed our connection to the netherworld and my allegiance to any court.”
“Do you miss it?” I asked then wished I hadn’t. Of course, he didn’t miss it. He was demon. He didn’t feel much of anything besides fulfilling his wants and needs.
“I find it…freeing. The hierarchy among our netherworld kin was stifling.”
He sounded almost whimsical, like he was surprised by his own admission. I couldn’t imagine Allard following anyone’s orders, but what did I know about demon hierarchy? Only that I was at the bottom of it.
“What do these glyphs mean?” I passed another swirling, rippling stamp of power.
“If you didn’t have your demon shackled, you’d feel them. These are containment glyphs, like the ones used to keep the stock subdued.”
I felt the glyphs and how they pushed and pulled on my demon, but I had no intention of sharing that knowledge with Allard. He’d likely use the glyphs against me if he realized I wasn’t immune to them.
Clearly then, he was keeping a demon down here. Was that the slippery whisper of an element I sensed? What kind of demon needed to be hidden underground and subdued by countless glyphs?
We descended another flight of stairs and came to a heavily glyphed door. Allard placed his hand against it, as he had the first, unlocked it, and opened it. Electric lights buzzed on, illuminating what had once been an underground parking garage. All the bays were empty, and the exit ramp had collapsed, sealing off the outside world.
In the dead center of the garage, caged in what looked like an old wrought-iron elevator car, hunched a demon.
“Go on,” Allard urged, his grin wide.
I wet my lips and approached the cage. The demon had all the appearances of a man. His virtually hairless skin shimmered a true ebony, so dark and smooth he could have been dipped in ink. But it was the burned wings that gave him away as demon. A smattering of silky black feathers clung to ragged bits of crisped sinew and pale bone. I couldn’t see his face. He’d hunched over, burying his head under his arms, hugging himself into a tight crouch.
Tiny glyphs throbbed where they’d been scratched into the metal. Although small, their combined effects made my skin want to crawl off my bones and scurry into a corner. The weight of those glyphs against the demon must have been immense.
I stepped closer, pushing against the repelling glyphs. My stomach squirmed, along with my demon. Those wings... What had happened? He had to be in terrible agony. But he didn’t tremble, didn’t mummer, barely breathed.
Whoever he was now—for Allard to have gone to such extraordinary lengths to keep him caged, hidden from the world, and subdued beneath what probably equated to tons of power—this demon had to be something,
“He’s really quite the specimen,” Allard said from beside me. If the sight wasn’t enough to convince me, Allard’s reverent tone certainly was.
“He is,” I agreed carefully. Allard was clearly hunting for compliments. Here was his grand prize, his big secret. It would be an insult if I projected anything other than absolute admiration for Allard’s prowess. Why then did I feel the need to reach out and tear the cage apart, freeing the demon? I was supposed to kill demons, not set them free.
“How long has he been here?” I whispered.
“Since the Fall.”
I clamped my teeth together, stopping the gasp before it could break free. Six months hunched in an elevator cage. It would have killed most demons. This
was not a typical demon.
“Who is he?” I asked, my voice small.
Allard smiled. He stretched the pause, relishing his moment of anticipation. And then, each word smooth and precise, he said, “He has many names and just as many titles, but his chosen name is Li’el, the Prince of Pride.”
a Prince of Hell in his basement. Either he was insane, or he had a plan. Why else would he keep a ticking bomb?
I sat on the sloped roof of the house neighboring Torrent’s, arms draped over my drawn-up knees, worrying my lip between my teeth. After Allard had told me the demon’s name, I’d spent a few painful minutes gawking at his prize and excused myself before I said or did something that would insult Allard, and/or get me a trip to the white room all over again.
That had been at least an hour ago. I’d wandered out of the hotel grounds, my mind awhirl and no destination in mind, until I’d wandered onto Torrent’s street. The lights were off inside his house. I’d considered breaking in again but figured he’d expect me to. Besides, the
wouldn’t be there.
I should have already gone back to Fairhaven, found Joseph, and demanded to know exactly what steps he’d taken to find my brother. Instead, I’d scaled the rear wall of Torrent’s neighbors’ house, found a spot where I could observe any comings and goings, and that’s where I sat, wondering why in the netherworld-hell Allard would keep the Prince of Pride.
He couldn’t hope to sell a prince. That was ludicrous, even for a demon like Allard. He was many things: sometimes vicious, often enterprising—but stupid wasn’t on that list. So why? As a trophy? That would make sense if he had the prince on display.
How had he even captured a prince? It’s not as if they went down easily. They were immortal, for one. And once Pride got free—which he would; if an immortal demon has nothing else, he’s got time—I sincerely doubted he’d kill Allard quickly. He wouldn’t stop there either. He’d likely wipe out every single demon in Fairhaven just because he could. Including me.
I began to wonder if all those glyphs were enough.
“You just can’t stay away—”
I’d shaped the stiletto of ice, twisted, and launched it straight at Torrent’s chest in less than a blink. I couldn’t miss. He only stood a few strides behind me on the crest of the roof. He lifted a hand, froze my icy splinter, and plucked it out of the air as easily as picking a flower.
“Would you stop throwing these at me?” His green eyes narrowed with irritation, and the quick smile was gone, leaving his lips in a hard, stubborn line.
He wore his tattered brown coat. It had been leather once. Now, it wasn’t much more than a used-up chamois, all buffed and worn raw in places. His black pants and dark blue tee were in better condition but only slightly. He looked ragged and worn out. I read all of this in a glance and shot to my feet. A few roof tiles slipped under my boots. They skittered off the roof and smashed out of sight.
“How?” I blurted. Why did my ice miss him every time?
He closed the melting ice-shard in his hand, turned it over, and when he opened his fingers, melt water pooled in his palm, and my ice was gone. “You’re good. You’re quick. You think on your feet, and you know your demons.” He flicked the water away, his lips lifting in a faint, tired smile. “I saw you deflect the
bile. Not many demons know how flammable that shit is.”
I scowled, a dirty, vicious scowl. There was a
“But you lack experience.” He tipped his head to the side. “Watch the edge.”
I knew where the damn edge of the roof was, thank you very much. “I told you, I don’t need your help.”
He blinked, perplexed for a moment. “Huh?”
Playing dumb. What an ass.
“In your house, when I tried to kill you, you told me if I walked away, you couldn’t help me.”
His confusion tightened into a scowl. “I didn’t say I was trying to help you. I was asking you for help.”
“Wait?” He stepped forward, forcing me back, then paused, noticing the edge again. “You’d just broken into my home. Why would I want to help you?” He huffed like it was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard, but the humor in it soon died. His curiously green eyes flared, and in the dark, they glowed. “You have no idea how much I paid for losing that artifact.”
I swallowed, feeling the ghost of Allard’s marble-white hand around my throat. “You’d be surprised.” And with that, I stepped back, dropping off the roof to land in a satisfying crouch.
It was only as I walked away that I wondered why he’d been asking me for help. I’d believed he’d been dying at the time, but that hadn’t happened, and as he’d clearly demonstrated, my ice was at the mercy of his water.
I could have kicked myself for that idiotic mistake. No wonder he knew when my ice-blades were coming in sharp and fast. He could sense them and to some degree, control them. That changed things. No more using my element on him. Not that it mattered. I’d already bloodied him several times. I could kick his ass.
He waited up ahead, leaning a shoulder against a streetlight. Its washed-out glow circled him in a halo of orange light. He’d moved fast to get off the roof and circled around in front of me, but he wasn’t breathing hard. I knew he was quick. He’d streaked across his garden wearing just a towel and tackled me in a few seconds.
I stepped into the road and walked around him. If I ignored him, he might go away.
“You’re not going to help me then?”
I shrugged. “Why should I?” I had enough to worry about. Besides, we were technically enemies. His owner despised my owner. There really wasn’t much to talk about.
“Because…” He sighed. “I don’t have anyone else to ask.”
I paused on the sidewalk, hands planted in my pockets, shoulders bowed. The hollow, empty tone of his voice had done it.
Don’t go there, Gem.
Too late. I was already comparing his life to mine. I’d always had Del. My brother had kept me sane, kept me safe when there was nothing left. His arm would settle around my shoulders, he’d pull me close, and nothing and nobody could touch us. It didn’t matter what I’d done or what had been done to me. Del never shied away.
I was betting Torrent was alone. Maybe it was a stretch to assume that from one little sentence, but I’d heard the raw and reluctant admission in his words.
When I turned and looked at him, standing in the light, he didn’t look like the guy who’d fired a crossbow bolt into my shoulder and left me pinned to his fence. He just kinda looked like someone waiting, like maybe there was a little hope in his eyes.
I shook my head and sighed. I had enough to deal with already.
“C’mon, you help me, and I’ll give you the
Well, damn. That was tempting. But for him to offer such a prize meant whatever he wanted help with wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. I raked my gaze over him again, reading everything. His crossbow hung at his hip, half hidden beneath the coat. He appeared to be a few years older than me, maybe mid-twenties, but demon appearances were deceiving. I knew he could fight, and I knew he likely had less obvious scars than those I’d seen on his body. Just because he was a half blood, it didn’t make us alike, and it didn’t mean I could trust him. Still, there weren’t many of us, as far as I knew. He was either created at the Institute, like me and Del, or born in the netherworld. But those, from what I’d read, rarely survived the constant torture of a life among demons. Was he Institute like me?
I lifted my chin and faced him. “What’s so important that you’d trade for the
He hesitated, probably running all the things he knew about me through his head. His hand went to his pendant. He touched the winged key. “Will you come inside without trying to stick your ice in me?”
A little smile tugged on my lips. “Will you tell me your real name?”
I expected him to smile back, but instead, his brow creased, the confusion bleeding back into his gaze. “I can’t.”
“Why?” I chuckled. “You know that whole demon names having power thing is a myth, right?”
He wasn’t laughing or smiling. In fact, his shoulders had dropped, and a tight muscle fluttered in his jaw.
“Forget I asked.”
He turned, and with a flare of coat, stalked back to his house. I should have let him go. But the thought of going back to Fairhaven and sleeping in a bed a few floors above an imprisoned Prince of Hell trailed little shivers down my spine. I did need the
so I could get back on Allard’s good side. I wasn’t winning any favors by failing his every task.
I trudged back to Torrent’s house and pushed open the kitchen door to find Torrent busy with cups and plates. A small countertop machine gurgled, spewing steam.
Now that I wasn’t in a hurry to steal from him, I settled back against the countertop and admired his kitchen—and him. His jacket and crossbow had gone. A display of trust? Mistakes like that could get him killed.
I ran my gaze over his back, noting how the shirt fabric shifted against his shoulders. He had impressive strength in his arms, enough to hold the crossbow steady for a considerable length of time. There was a leanness about him too, the honed kind, like a favored weapon. He’d clearly been dealt a few blows and was likely sharper for it.
“What’s it like,” Torrent said, filling the quiet, “living with Allard and his demons?” He poured hot water into his cup. “Coffee?”
“No,” I said, maybe a little too harshly.
How could I explain Fairhaven? It beat being locked in one room or tied to an examination table for days on end while being pumped full of toxins or running the maze or not knowing where to bed down for the night or if I’d ever be rid of the hunger pangs again.
I darted my gaze away, pushed off the counter, and wandered to a rectangular machine sitting on the countertop. Its clock flashed, waiting for input. It had a door, so I assumed something went inside. There were a few odd little machines like that one. I should know what they were, of course. But the Institute hadn’t taught me how to live, only how to kill.
“Vanessa has a house, right on the cliffs, overlooking the bay. I’ve yet to figure out why she chose that spot. She hates water, naturally.”
. I wondered why she had a water elemental as a half-blood pet. Or maybe that was the point. She probably got off on owning a pet of her opposite element. Did she give Torrent his cuts?
“What does this do?” I asked, hoping to steer my thoughts away from what I’d seen of Torrent’s scars.
He glanced my way and frowned when he saw what it was I was looking at. “Are you kidding?”
I bristled. “Is my question funny?”
His brow furrowed, and he twisted his lips, confused all over again. “You don’t know what a microwave is?”
“What? I—of course I do.” I wished I hadn’t asked and glared at the
“Where did they keep you, in a cave?”
Heat burned my cheeks. I turned away from him and headed for the door.
His fingers settled on my arm, snaring my attention and freezing me rigid. I shot him a warning growl, and the cool slither of his ethereal touch unfurled from where it had knotted on my leg.
He quickly let go and stepped back. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”
I shouldn’t be here. If Allard suspects I’m talking with this half blood instead of killing him, he won’t be happy, even if it is to get his stupid rock back.
I set my jaw. “Just because we’re half bloods doesn’t make us friends. I’ll help you if you give me the
. That’s it. Don’t ask me about Allard or my life. It’s not important. What is important is the other part of your deal, so start talking.”
He blinked and ran a hand through his chestnut hair. “Fine.” He backed up and shrugged off my icy tone. “Help me get free of Vanessa. Do that, and I’ll give you the
I smiled, showing too many teeth. “The fire demon? She nearly roasted me alive yesterday. Even if I say yes, what makes you think I can help you?”
He glared back at me. “Like I said, you’re the only one I can ask.”
He was desperate. And I was a damned fool if I even considered going toe-to-toe with a demon like Vanessa. But Allard could.
“Don’t make me beg,” he snarled.
That was hardly begging.
“Oh, would you stop?” I should walk away, but I had to get that stone back.
Torrent leaned against his counter, arms crossed. “Well?” He tapped his fingers on his upper arm.
If I said no, would he let me walk away? My ice had yet to hurt him, but if I summoned enough of it and flung it all at him, some of it would get through.
“I’d like to help you. I would…”
He didn’t move—apart from the tapping fingers. Those paused for a beat and started up again.
“If you want to be free of Vanessa, you’d basically have to kill her, and that’s assuming she’s not one of the long-lived variety. I can’t kill her, Torrent.”
“You tried to kill me. You didn’t hesitate then. So why not her?”
“You’re the water elemental. You have a better chance—”
He smiled, but it wasn’t a pleasant smile. It cooled the warmth in his eyes and set my teeth on edge. “Don’t you think I’ve tried?”
“I want to help you. I just… It’s complicated.”
“You’re afraid.” He made a
A little shiver of anger stirred my element. “Don’t think you know me. Fear doesn’t factor into this. I was killing demons twice my size when I was six years old, so don’t you dare assume you know what I fear.”
“Then help me.”
“Why not?” The smooth, liquid sweep of his element rose around us.
“If Allard discovers—”
He clamped his hands either side of him on the edge of the counter, locking himself down. “What’s his hold on you? Why don’t you just leave?”
“Why don’t you?” I snapped back. He ground his teeth. “I can’t leave,” I hissed. Why was I even arguing with him? “I get it; I do. I know, okay. I
what she’s doing to you.” At least I had a pretty good idea, given Allard’s twisted affection for me.
He glared, but the sharp glint of green in his eyes had dulled. When he realized I wasn’t about to agree, he sighed and bowed his head. A shudder ran through him, rinsing his element away. “Damn it. I can’t—” He stopped the words, even choked on them a little. “You ever been trapped in every possible way?”