This keeps getting better and better, I thought jadedly. We hadn’t brought anyone with us because we didn’t want to draw the Law Guardians’ attention, and now we were outnumbered by a lot.
The leader of the group, a tall African-American with biceps thicker than my thigh, stepped forward.
“Give us the child,” he ordered.
“Fuck you,” flew out of my mouth before I realized that (a) I seriously needed to watch my language now, and (b) diplomacy would be the better tactic. I might be able to wipe the floor with them if I utilized my borrowed powers, but we were trying to prevent a war, not start one.
“Um, I meant fudge sticks,” I backtracked quickly, “and you don’t need to take the child. Your queen agreed to call you off.”
Trove appeared more shocked than the ghouls. “She what?”
I couldn’t resist a smug smile. “Oh, so you weren’t following us when we went to see Marie? We came to terms. All we have to do is hold up our end of the bargain, and she and the ghouls leave us alone.”
Our end was to release a video of Katie supposedly being killed—Marie had said nothing but a public execution would cut it, and the Internet was public—but I wasn’t about to tell Trove that. Or the other surprise we had in store for him.
The burly ghoul pulled out his cell phone, dialing.
“My queen, it is Barnabus,” he said moments later. “I am with the vampires, and they have the child. They claim that they . . .” Pause. “Yes, I understand . . . if that is your command, Majestic.”
He hung up. The other ghouls looked at him expectantly. Trove almost hopped up and down in impatience. My fangs slid out, ready to draw blood, if needed.
“Well?” the demon demanded.
Barnabus stared at me, frustration stamped all over his features.
“The Reaper speaks the truth,” he said, almost spitting out the words.
I didn’t move, but inside, I was letting out a whoop and pumping both fists in the air. Marie had come through! She was renowned for keeping her word, but to say I was worried that she’d make an exception in this case was to put it mildly.
“We have been ordered to leave,” Barnabus continued.
Can I get a Hell Yeah? rang in my mind, though again, I stayed perfectly quiet. I didn’t even crack a smile. Go me.
Trove, however, reacted like he’d gotten a face full of salt.
“You have to be kidding me!” the demon seethed. “After decades of planning, the same thing your species nearly warred over twice is right here, and you’re agreeing to walk away instead of fight?”
Grumblings from the ghouls agreed with his assessment. My good mood vanished. Maybe, despite Marie’s keeping her word, this wasn’t over yet after all.
“I’ve said it forever—if you want something done right, you need to do it yourself,” Trove went on in disgust. Then he approached the ghouls while his arm flung out in Katie’s direction.
“Even if your queen is too blind to see it, that child is your doom. Vampires already have more abilities than ghouls, but you’ve kept them from subjugating you because you’re harder to kill. She changes that power dynamic! Through her, vampires can create a new race. One loyal to them, with all your immunity to silver and all their fancy tricks! When that happens, how long do you think it will be before your people are in chains? One century? Two?”
Bones’s voice rang out, covering the louder grumblings from the ghouls.
“This sod could give a rot about your kind. He’d like you to believe he’s being ever so helpful, but all he wants is for our races to kill each other, starting with the lot of us here.”
“Apollyon tried to warn you,” Trove stated darkly. “He said if she was allowed to live, ghouls would suffer. And what happened? The vampire council murdered him, yet here stands proof that he was right! Behold, her daughter, the first of many in a new line of your conquerors!”
From their hardening expressions, Trove was hitting a nerve. Apollyon might be dead, but the damage he’d done still lingered. Figures a politician would be an expert on using distorted rhetoric to his advantage, no matter how false or paranoid.
“Marie told you to stand down,” I reminded them. “Do you want to disobey your queen?”
“Oh, yes, obey,” Trove immediately mocked. “But who is it you’re really obeying, if you leave the child with them? Do you think it coincidence that your orders changed after she paid a visit to Majestic? Can’t you see? Your subjection to vampires has already begun!”
Oh, shit, I thought when several knives cleared their sheaths at that. Looked like Trove had succeeded in changing their minds.
“And here we go,” Ian muttered.
Three things happened at the same time: I whirled, shoving Katie into Tate’s arms with an urgent “Get her out of here!” plea. Bones’s power crashed around the ghouls, freezing them in place. Trove disappeared, reappearing an instant later behind Bones to wrap him in a crushing embrace.
I felt the power drain from Bones, as suddenly as if he’d been staked with silver. He hadn’t, though. Trove’s hands were empty, fingers splayed as they dug into Bones’s chest while the demon shuddered with what looked like rapture.
“You’re not a meal, you’re a banquet,” he moaned.
With a snap, the invisible net Bones had cast over the ghouls broke. They’d only been confined for seconds, yet that seemed to be enough to take them from angrily determined to murderously enraged.
“Kill the vampires!” Barnabus howled, raising his silver knife.
“Run,” I urged Tate, mentally cursing when Katie twisted out of his grip. At least she ran in the opposite direction of the ghouls, Tate following close behind her. Then I yanked one of my knives from my coat. I’d worn this duster in the heat of summer for a reason. Instead of charging at the ghouls like Ian did, I slashed my arm with a long, wide cut.
My call reverberated through the boiler room, echoing back to me with a new, eerie chorus. Ice shot through my veins, its bone-chilling effect welcome because of what it heralded. Right as Ian clashed knives with Barnabus, Remnants shot up from the floor and fell on the ghouls.
Their screams joined the howls that filled my mind as well as my ears. Unlike before, I didn’t have enough strength to fight off being swallowed up by the encompassing power. The part of me that could still think hated what was going on because Remnants were unbeatable. I was all for stopping people who wanted to kill me, but unleashing Remnants was akin to showing up at a knife fight with a nuclear bomb.
The rest of me was too attuned to the Remnants to care about fairness. With the door to the other side now wide open, their hunger consumed me. They were slivers of the most primal emotions people shed when they crossed over, sharpened by the passage of time and frenzied by endless denial. As they attacked the ghouls, lips and teeth that had turned to dust millennia ago finally got to feed again, and for brief, brilliant moments, their excruciating need was assuaged. Then, like addicts chasing their next high, the Remnants tore into the ghouls with more viciousness, seeking the shards of relief that their pain brought.
Ian wasn’t channeling grave power, yet he showed less concern than I for the unfairness of our advantage. While the ghouls were focused on the seething shadows that tore into them, he hacked off heads left and right. I wanted to tell him to stop, that I intended to call off the Remnants and give the ghouls another chance to reconsider, but I couldn’t speak. All that came out of my mouth was a long, keening wail that grew louder the stronger the Remnants became.
Then, with the suddenness of a door slamming shut, my connection to the grave was severed. The glorious iciness running through me turned to cold ashes, and the voices echoing in my head silenced. One by one, the Remnants disappeared. As the infinity loop of need inside me cleared, confusion rose.
What had happened?
“Release her,” someone snarled.
That’s when I realized I was held in a tight embrace from behind. Not by Bones, as a glance down showed thicker, hairy arms across my midsection instead of taut, pale ones. By Richard Trove.
The demon shuddered in way sickly reminiscent of release.
“That’s by far the best I’ve ever felt,” he murmured into my ear.
Disgust cleared away the last of the grave thrall. At some point, Trove had grabbed me and begun feeding from my power. Judging from how weak I felt and the last of the Remnants slithering back into the floor, he’d cleaned his plate.
Once again, three things seemed to happen at once: Bones lunged for Trove, his movements slow and clumsy. I bit my lip to call the Remnants back, but nothing happened except another rapturous shudder behind me. And the ghouls who still had their heads staggered to their feet, picked up their silver knives, and started toward us.
“Bugger,” Ian said with deep conviction.
Trove sidestepped Bones’s lunge, tripping him as he staggered past. Instead of recovering with his usual grace, Bones landed in a heap near the advancing ghouls. From the ragged feel of his aura, Trove had sucked out all of his power with his punishing embrace. Bones barely had enough left to move, let alone defend himself.
That alarmed me into struggling with everything I had, which turned out to be terrifyingly fruitless. The more effort I put into freeing myself, the more Trove vibrated while making happy noises. The demon was like an energy Remnant, growing stronger while I weakened under the pitiless assault of his hunger.
“No!” I screamed when a hulking ghoul easily restrained Bones and then raised his knife for a killing strike.
A blur barreled into them, snatching Bones up and torpedoing him away from that deadly blow. A second later, that blur returned, accompanied by a flash of silver that turned into an arc of red.
Ian landed hard enough to crack the ground. He whirled, holding up the head of the ghoul who had tried to kill Bones. Then he flung it at the remaining flesh eaters.
“Who wants some of me?” he taunted them.
At least eight ghouls remained, and they all took him up on the offer. Silver knives rushed toward him, but Ian was faster, flying out of their path with stunning aerial acrobatics I hadn’t thought him capable of. Every few seconds, he’d use that incredible speed to rocket into a ghoul, hacking a head off before his companions realized which one of them was under attack. Then he’d spike the head like an NFL receiver celebrating a touchdown.
To say it enraged the ghouls was an understatement. They kicked through walls in their attempts to use them as springboards to catch Ian during his midair swoops. Plaster, rotted wood, and concrete dust soon thickened the air, making it harder to see. Soon, only Ian’s taunts plus the ghouls’ threats and crashing noises let me know that the fight was continuing. Yet his incendiary antics had led them away from Bones, who was still barely able to move at a crawl.
No one better say anything bad about Ian around me after today. I officially loved that son of a bitch.
Since my struggles had done nothing, I gave up, focusing instead on slipping my hands underneath Trove’s steely embrace. I needed to reach my pockets. When the demon tightened his grip, preventing that, I slumped, pretending to faint.
I didn’t feel too far off from that, actually. My ears were ringing, and a nauseating tingle had taken residence in my limbs. I hadn’t felt this helpless since I was half-human and a vampire was feasting on my neck. Bones had saved me then, but now, it was up to me to save him. He was dragging himself toward us, expression murderous although he clearly lacked the strength to back up his intentions. And Trove might not hesitate to kill him. He’d said he wanted me alive to fuel his war. He hadn’t said the same about Bones.
I wasn’t about to risk finding out what the demon would do once Bones reached him. My full-body limpness had Trove adjusting his grip, and that allowed me to dart a hand into my pocket. When I felt the hard, slim dagger, I almost smiled except I refused to waste the energy. I’d need all I had left for what I was about to do.
After all, Marie hadn’t been the only person we visited before coming to Detroit. We’d stopped by Denise’s, too.
Trove’s head was above my own, chin resting on my skull, from the feel. He squeezed me as if I were a juice box, all the while complaining about my running out of power. He was right. Aside from gripping that knife, I didn’t exert an ounce of energy. He’d only steal it.
Bones had almost reached us. I felt rather than saw Trove eye him, perhaps in contemplation of draining the rest of what he had left, or with more sinister intent. Still, I remained limp to the point of lifelessness, suppressing my growing anger.
“Empty already? Thought you’d have more fight in you,” Trove said, his tone heavy with disappointment.
With that disparaging comment, he released me, no doubt expecting me to drop to the floor. I didn’t. My knees wobbled but held, and as soon as his energy-sucking embrace was gone, the bone knife Ian had made months ago from Denise’s lower leg flashed in an upward arc.
Aside from briefly holding my daughter’s hand, feeling the knife ram into Trove’s eye was the highlight of my week.
The demon screamed, the sound cutting through the air as though all the hounds of hell followed with it. I spun around, trying for that second, fatal strike, but he knocked my hand away. Then his Armani suit split at the seams as his body began to grow at an impossibly rapid pace. Red appeared beneath those rents of fabric. Not blood. Skin, as the demon shed his human appearance and morphed into his true form.
“I’ll kill you!” he roared, grabbing for the bone knife.
Part of me was relieved that he hadn’t used his teleporting trick and disappeared. The rest of me let out an internal uh-oh because I was in no condition to fight back. I had to try, though, and I held on to the knife with the grip of the damned as Trove tried to wrestle it away.