“The price you want for your soul is for Mencheres to be alive?” he got out in between guffaws.
“Ian, please, don’t do this! Mencheres would never want this for you,” I tried again.
He shot a glare at me that actually made me back up a step. “Not another word, Leila. I like you, but I will kill you if you ruin this for Mencheres. Now, Dagon, I agree that this is foolishly, hilariously sentimental of me. However, if you’re quite finished with your giggles, do we have a deal?”
Dagon straightened, his mirth gone. Now a predatory, bone-chillingly anticipatory look took over his face. “You don’t get the usual waiting period before I collect. That is for people who have never crossed me. You made a laughingstock out of me, so you only get one year before I come for your soul.”
“One?” Ian blanched, then recovered quickly. “Yes, you have a right to be pissed, so let’s make it an even twenty, and that’s a mere tick of the clock for a vampire.”
“One,” Dagon repeated.
I wanted to do something to stop this, especially considering the smile that Dagon flashed at Ian. If evil could form into flesh, it would look just like that. But what could I do? I’d already cut the demon’s head off, and it had done nothing except make him scold me. Furthermore, Ian threatened to kill me himself if I interfered again.
Ian made an exasperated noise. “All right, you drive a hard bargain. Ten years, not a moment less, and that’s a deal you can brag to Hell itself about.”
Dagon shoved Ian forward until their mouths were close enough to kiss. “My best offer is two years. Take it, or I kill you now with no deal.”
“Don’t do it!” I shouted despite Ian’s threat.
“Done,” Ian replied in a shockingly calm tone.
I sucked in a breath out of horror. As soon as Ian said that single word, something shimmered around Dagon, as if his aura had become visible and its color was pure black. Then it fell to his feet and began streaming toward Ian as if it were tiny, incandescent snakes. They curled around Ian’s feet until they stretched out and rose in the same darkly gleaming mass, shimmering around Ian in the way they had haloed Dagon.
The whole mass wavered for a moment, as if fighting against something unseen, then it began to swirl together until it formed one long, continuous swath. That swath suddenly rose high and then plunged itself into the right side of Ian’s crotch. Ian shuddered, his lips flattening as if he were trying very hard not to scream.
“Hurts, doesn’t it?” Dagon’s voice was back to that deadly, caressing purr. “That pain is only a taste of what’s to come when I return for you in two years. Until then, I will smile every time I think of my brand being where the warding tattoo used to be.”
The last of that dark stream disappeared into Ian’s body. He shuddered violently before sagging forward, as if all his strength had left him. Then, he forced himself upright and flashed his teeth in something that wasn’t a smile.
“Your turn,” Ian said, gesturing to Mencheres’s body.
Dagon began to laugh. Not those hearty guffaws that had bent him double or even those childlike giggles. No, these were low, satisfied chuckles that oozed with malevolence. My skin began to crawl and I found that I’d started backing away again.
“My part in this bargain was for Mencheres to be alive,” Dagon said with luxuriant hatred. “Already done, because the dead man over there isn’t Mencheres.”
“What?” I exclaimed.
Ian’s jaw dropped with disbelief. The demon gave him a friendly chuck under the chin. “See you in two years.”
With that, Dagon disappeared.
Everything was a blur of motion in the next moment. Marty lunged in my direction, fire flashed out of Vlad’s hands, and through the large hole in both sides of the farmhouse, I saw Maximus running flat-out toward us, his blond head bloody.
But what registered the most was Ian’s face. It was filled with all of the shock I felt, not to mention a growing sense of dread that I couldn’t even begin to understand because I had nothing to relate it to. After all, what could possibly compare with finding out that you’d bartered your soul away for nothing?
“Put your fire out, Vlad,” I hoarsely told him. “And while you’re at it, tell me who the hell you just killed, because it sure wasn’t Mencheres.”
Vlad swung an amazed look my way. Marty skidded to a stop right before reaching me. Maximus was so stunned, he tripped and did a barrel roll in order to avoid faceplanting in the snow.
“How did you figure it out?” Vlad asked in a flintlike voice. “His glamour hasn’t begun to fade.”
Glamour. That’s how he’d tricked us into believing that the man who’d arrived was Mencheres! But why?
“How did we figure it out?” Ian snarled, striding over to Vlad and hauling him up by the shirt collar. “At the cost of my soul, that’s how!”
“Don’t!” I shouted when Vlad smiled in a dangerously genial way. “He has a really good reason for being upset, trust me!”
Vlad looked at me, then back at Ian. “Explain,” he bit out.
Ian let him go in disgust. “Why? You didn’t explain anything to us. No, you had a whole bloody plan worked out in order to fox Mircea’s captors into believing you’d done their bidding when you had no intention of complying. And I should have known! This isn’t the first time I’ve witnessed a doctored execution. That’s where you got the idea from, isn’t it? Is that Denise over there? Damn you, Denise, is that you?”