Bringer and the Bane

Protecting humans is the Bringers’ duty. Sending demons to the Shadow World is their pleasure.

In one night, Ravyn’s life plunges from barely tolerable to deadly. Forced to flee the only home she’s known, she stumbles headlong into a world she never knew existed, a world of demons, death, and intense desire.

When Rhys realizes the woman he’s rescued from the Demon Bane is no mere human, his obligation as the last of his people, the Bringers, compels him to protect and train her in the ancient ways of the mythical warriors. He’s unprepared for his intense desire for the fiery Ravyn, but to surrender to his need may mean her death.

As the Demon King’s thirst for ultimate power escalates, Rhys and Ravyn must quest to unite the last of the Bringers and rid Inness of the deadly demon horde. The lines between friends and foes, love and hate blur, leading them to the brink of destruction, and into each other’s arms.

Chapter One

Menda Abbey, Itta Territory, Inness

One Thousand Years after the Bane War

The demon’s gaze narrowed. “Let me see her.”

Beautiful and horrifying, Icarus moved toward Brother Powell with frightening grace. Sinewy muscles rippled under taut, black skin as he prowled toward the crumbled wall of the abbey. His leathery wings scraped the tree branches overhead and waves of ebony hair, banded with rings of gold, cradled two spiraling horns that jutted upward.

Powell glanced away, refusing to gaze into the mesmerizing, reptilian eyes.

The demon’s deep purr poured over him. “What troubles you, Brother? Are you not happy to see me?”

The monk ignored the question and swiped the cold rain from his eyes. He held the hissing torch higher to reveal a young woman. She stood unnaturally still, compelled by the monk’s hypnosis—a spell taught to him by the demon. Her thin shift clung to her bony frame, and her dull eyes stared ahead. Angela had been lovely once, but like so many, she hadn’t been woman enough to withstand the honor of his attentions. They never were, always crying and pleading to be left alone. Lucky for them, the Demon Bane preferred their sacrifices pure.

“This is not what I asked for.” The deadly calm of Icarus’s voice belied the danger of his statement. “Where is the other woman—the gifted one?”

“In her cell. She doesn’t trust me.” Powell stroked Angela’s limp, blonde hair. “But she’ll not be able to resist the cries of her closest friend.”

“For your sake, monk, I hope you are right.” Icarus held out his hand. “Come to me.”

The compulsion whispered past Powell, sweeping across his skin with the promise of pleasure. He slipped his hand under his robe and adjusted his erection.

The demon’s call slithered toward Angela and wrapped around her like a sensual net. Before the force could ensnare him as well, Powell released his hold and backed away. She glided forward.

He watched, immobilized with morbid fascination. Her progress faltered when she reached the holy ground’s boundaries. He leaned toward Angela, willing her to cross the invisible barrier.

“Come to me,” Icarus repeated.

Weak of mind and body, she lumbered forward through   the open gate and away from the protection of the abbey’s sanctified ground.

The demon stood before her and grasped her frail arm. With the smooth curve of his talon, he caressed Angela’s cheek.

She didn’t move.

Powell cringed, excited and repulsed at the same time. He ached for a taste of the power Icarus would give him one day.

“So pure,” Icarus crooned. He trailed his talon down her neck. “So sweet.”

Powell squeezed his holy medallion, its ornate embellishments biting deep into his skin. The pain kept him present and protected against the call of the Bane, a call he wanted to answer. Riveted, he held the torch higher, trying to shed more light on the black demon.

Icarus slid his claw lower, coming   to rest between Angela’s breasts. His energy pulsed and reached for its prey. The compulsion grazed Powell’s mind. The medallion slipped from his grasp, the chain catching on his fingers to hang loose. Forgotten.

“Awaken, little bird, and let me see your fear,” Icarus whispered. Like a parting veil, Angela’s deadened expression cleared. She gasped, frozen by the sight of the towering demon before her. She twisted and fought for her freedom. Bare heels dug into the soggy earth, but the slick grass provided no traction. Icarus jerked her hard, his hold unbreakable.

“No!” Her scream shattered the silence of the night, its echoes hanging in the air like a heavy mist.

He pressed his fingers against her heart and pricked her delicate skin.

She convulsed, her strangled cry dying in her throat. With whispers as soft as the lightest breeze, the silvery essence of her soul sighed and bled from her body. Gossamer threads slithered around Icarus’s hand like small, white snakes, encircling his arm and swirling along the planes of his rounded biceps in an achingly slow, erotically sublime dance. The demon tilted his head and closed his eyes. Angela’s shimmering purity crept up his neck and hovered at his lips. He inhaled and drew her in, stiffening as if in the throes of passion, absorbing every delicate wisp.

The intimate union between predator and prey mesmerized Powell. He crept forward, forgetting the danger. The seductive and deadly act held a perverse beauty. Powell stroked himself, dragging the rough material of his robe over his erection, losing himself in The Taking. Time had no place; the tap, tap of rain on the leaves the only disruption brave enough to break through the reticence of the night.

When the   sparkling vapor faded around her heart, Icarus retracted his talons and released his hold. Angela’s body slumped to the ground, dead. He stretched and smiled, his fangs glimmering in the torchlight. “That’s better.”

Powell’s heavy breathing punctuated the quiet. His body quivered from the demon’s feral presence. As the pleasurable effect began to fade, he opened his senses and scrambled to ingest the lingering scraps of Bane essence. Its pure power raced through his body and filled his veins with an intoxicating fire.

Icarus bent and scooped up Angela’s body. Four powerful strides brought him to the abbey’s border. He heaved his burden at Powell. The monk shrieked and jumped back, his euphoric haze evaporating. Bones snapped as the body landed in a crumpled heap at his feet. Bile rose in his throat. For a fraction of a second, remorse pawed at him, but, just as quickly, the sentiment disappeared.

“Bring me the other—now.” Icarus’s wings   unfurled and stretched behind him. “Do not fail me, monk.” He crouched and pinned Powell with a yellow stare. “Or I won’t be as kind to you as I was to the girl.”

Powell glanced at the broken body at his feet and swallowed hard. Meeting the demon’s stare, he nodded.

With a powerful leap, Icarus launched into the sky and was instantly swallowed by the darkness.

***

Ravyn jolted upright in bed. She pushed her mass of black curls out of her face and looked around. Had somebody screamed, or was it only her nightmares?

Darkness blanketed her cell, and rain pounded a steady beat against the ledge of her narrow window. Shivers crawled down her spine like a dozen tiny spiders. The abbey, the wind, and the rain had a natural rhythm she had come to know. Like an off-key note, she heard the wrongness of the night’s cadence.

She closed her eyes and released her awareness. It flowed down the dark corridors of the ancient abbey, seeping into the corners and rooms, making its way toward the chapel. Malevolence strummed along the mental threads of Ravyn’s consciousness as it ghosted across the chapel door. Heat skittered along her arms, awakening the protective fire within her. She flexed her fingers and relaxed into the sensation. Always the awareness was bittersweet. The same power that made her an outcast with the Sisters now rallied to protect her from the evil housed inside the supposed holy space.

She yanked her senses back and pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes, trying to steady herself against the draining presence. Only one evil dwelled within the abbey: Brother Powell.

Ravyn threw off the worn blanket and crammed her feet into the only pair of slippers she owned. She stood and tiptoed across her room. The cell’s heavy oak door loomed before her. Pulling on the iron handle, she prayed the hinges remained quiet for once. A soft squeak of protest pierced the silence and she flinched. Hopefully, the other girls were sound asleep. She poked her head into the corridor. Empty. Good. Their safety was one less problem to worry about.

Two sparsely placed torches threw small circles of light around themselves but did little to illuminate the passage. Ravyn darted from her room and blended with the shadows. To most, the dark passages appeared empty, but for her, people and memories of the past whispered around her, longing to tell their tales. Despite the Sisters’ efforts to beat this evilness out of her, knowing and listening had always felt right.

The   spirit of a young woman materialized in front of her. Dressed in The Order’s habit, she was immediately   recognizable to Ravyn as Sister Amalee. She smiled, but the ghost did not smile back. Instead, Amalee stood close, wringing her hands and shaking her head. Ravyn stepped around the spirit, not wanting to experience the staggering punch of emotion she felt when passing through the dead.

Blackness pulsated around the edges of the chapel door as Ravyn approached. The sensation of a thousand biting needles abraded her skin. She rubbed her arms, trying to scrub away the sting. The assault was all too familiar.

Powell waited inside.

She shook her arms. Tonight, his presence felt more caustic than usual. He was a venomous snake coiled within the delicate flowers of a garden.

Amalee slid forward and blocked Ravyn’s path. “Move,” Ravyn whispered.

The ghost shook her head and held her hands out in a silent plea.

“I have to go in.”

Amalee threw her slightly transparent arms across the opening. “You can’t stop me.” The spirit’s attempt to protect her was touching, but she needed to get inside the chapel. “Please move.” Amalee bowed her head and folded her hands in front of her chest. Her mouth moved with a silent tirade of prayers. Without looking up, she floated forward and passed through Ravyn.

Waves of distress flowed from the center of Ravyn’s body and out toward her limbs, unbalancing her. She bit her lower lip and silently cursed, trying to calm the spirit’s tumultuous essence. After a few seconds, she shook her head and opened her eyes. She was alone.

Blackness bled around the edges of the door, reaching for her. The Sisters sealed the chapel after evening prayers and, not surprisingly, as she shoved against it the door yielded to her push. She’d learned long ago evil had a way of unlocking what should be locked, and unbinding what should be bound.

The groan of the old hinges announced her entry and echoed through the chapel. She grimaced, knowing now she was exposed to whoever waited. The prickling sensation on her arms increased.

Torches burned in their sconces. She swallowed   hard and stepped inside. This hallowed chamber had never felt welcoming. She glanced up at the altar. The carved and still faces of The Sainted Ones scowled down at her.

“Good evening, gentlemen.”

Their sightless eyes seemed to judge her, finding her unworthy to enter such a holy place. Their condemnatory glares followed her, but like always, she ignored them and drifted deeper into the chapel.

She scanned the shadows. Madness and the taint of evil seethed at the edges of the light. Her search tracked along the darkness, coming to rest on a crumpled body between the benches.

She gasped. “Angela.”

Sweet, naïve, and ready to believe in the good of others—that was Angela. Ravyn caught up her skirt and ran, the need to protect her friend blotting out the danger.

“Angela.” She dropped to her hands and knees and gathered her friend’s soiled and drenched body in her arms. “Angela!”

At first touch, a crushing blackness crashed into Ravyn. Unable to hold on, she released the body. Her stomach twisted in tight coils of pain. She clutched her throat, trying to tear through the feeling of drowning. The blackness choked and smothered her. She clawed at the stones of the floor.

Air. She needed air.

Heat spread through her body, her defensive fire once again flaring   to life. It pushed against the dense darkness fighting to consume her. The evil’s grip loosened. A brutal hand seized her hair and yanked. She tipped backward, sharp knees driving deep into her spine. Wetness spattered her face. Please don’t let that be blood. Her hands pawed her cheeks and frantically brushed the droplets from her face.

Brother Powell towered above her, hair dripping with rain and lips twisted in a contemptuous smile. Before she could scream, he jerked her head at a painful angle and wrapped his hand around her throat.

“Well, well, well. Look who’s come to save the day. I’m afraid

you’re too late. And just to let you know,” he whispered in her ear, “Angela died an incredibly painful death.”

Shadows darkened the edges of Ravyn’s vision. The foul stench of his breath assaulted her. He shouldn’t be this close. He should never be this close.

She struck   out with her elbow and landed a blow to his stomach. A grunt huffed behind her and the pressure on her head eased. She scrambled across the stone floor, trying to regain her footing, but the dense blackness sucked at her strength.

Curses and footsteps echoed from behind. Her desperate grab hooked the back of a pew, but weakness caused her fingertips to slip from the wood and she collapsed to the floor. Her lungs ached. Darkness crept through her body. She shoved against it, fighting to keep its invasion at bay, refusing to give in so easily.

Powell’s boot pressed into her behind, and with a hard thrust, he sent her sprawling across the aisle. Bent on deflecting his attack, she rolled to her back and kicked at him. His hand wrapped around her ankle. With a yank, she tried to break his hold, the feel of his fingers against her flesh making her skin crawl. His mouth stretched into a wicked grin as he dropped her foot and straddled her. He fisted two handfuls of hair and jerked her to her feet. She slapped at him, hoping for a solid hit, but her hands sliced through empty air.

He released her hair and backhanded her across the face. Pain shot   through her jaw as her head snapped sideways. Her body crashed into a wooden bench and tumbled over the top. Tangled in her gray wool dress, she lay on the floor, unmoving.

Powell’s words penetrated her muddled haze. “Oh yes. Icarus will reward me well for you.”

She slowly rolled over and sat up. Bursts of heat sparked in her veins. She shivered at the commands of her powers as they pushed against her barrier. She wanted to give the fire its freedom but clamped down the urge. The coppery tang of blood coated her tongue and she swiped the trickle at the corner of her mouth. “What’s wrong, Brother? Are you tired of tormenting me?”

“That’s a pleasure I’ll never weary of. Unfortunately for you, somebody has made me an offer I cannot refuse.”

He was on her in five short strides, latching onto a handful of hair to drag her across the chapel floor. She’d not cry out and give him the satisfaction of knowing he hurt her.

Fire surged through her body. She shuddered against the force of the inferno, struggling to keep it restrained. Unlike him, she was no murderer. Blindly, she grappled   with both hands for Powell’s arm and found his wrist. She twisted, digging her heels into the uneven stones and pulling her and the monk to a stop. She leapt to her feet, knocking the monk off balance. He released her hair and pivoted to face her but Ravyn held tight to his arm.

He glanced at his wrist and back to her face. “Is that   your attempt at escape?” He yanked on his arm but she didn’t release him. “Really, Lady Ravyn, is that the best you can do?”

The power within her billowed, demanding its freedom. She captured his gaze.

His milky gray eyes widened. Tears. Torment. Wickedness.

Her rudimentary connection to him opened a   torrent of suffering. His debauchery swallowed her. She sensed the fear of his victims, and she touched…nothing. Like a sucking void, a dense aura surrounded the monk.

Her anger swelled. She gripped his wrist tighter, determined to give him a taste of what roiled inside of her. Maybe in some small way she could avenge Angela’s death. What sweet ecstasy to burn this abomination of a man.

She concentrated her energy on his arm and forced her heat into him. The power rolled through her body. He fought to pull free but she squeezed harder, her heat increasing.

“Let go!”   He tried to shake her free, but she remained unmoving and locked. Fire danced up his arm. He clawed at her fingers. “Let go!”

“See what awaits you beyond this life, Brother?” Emotions slipped away as the trance overtook her. “The fires of The Abyss burn without mercy.”

He screamed and dropped to his knees, the fire engulfing his hand. “You are Bane!”

His words leeched through the fiery spell holding her and took coherent form in her mind. He had called her a Bane. The slur struck close to the fears she kept buried about her powers. “It would serve you right if I killed you where you kneel.”

His face paled.

But this isn’t right, is it? Ravyn blinked and tried to clear her head. She walked a thin line, she knew. Her decision to do what was right—not what felt good—was what kept her in the light.

She watched the monk’s wrist begin to smolder. The smell of charred flesh fouled the air. The fury of her power intoxicated her with its heady domination. His cries echoed off the stone walls, and she peered at him through a haze of euphoria. How easy it would be to submit to the inferno’s demand for freedom.

She stopped and stared at the   sight of his burned flesh. A mixture of repulsion and giddiness washed through her. Had she really done that? Her mind clawed its way back from the edge of insanity, an edgy, irrepressible laugh slipping free.

Powell was corrupt and evil. He deserved to die. But was she the one to take his life? She inhaled. No. This wasn’t her right. She pulled her heat back and slowly loosened one finger at a time and dropped his arm.

He crumpled and cradled his blistered wrist to his chest. Careful to keep her distance, she shuffled around him, her need to get away paramount. One more minute and she would’ve lit him up like a stack of dry wood. With unsteady steps, she retreated toward the door.

Her feet tangled in the folds of her skirt. She stumbled and grabbed a pew for balance. Rage and madness warred with her rational mind. She righted herself and continued her   backward steps, widening the space between them.

“Look what you’ve done! Look what you’ve done to me!” He struggled to his knees. “If not for Icarus, you’d feel my retaliation. And trust me, my lady, I wouldn’t grant you the kindness of death.”

“Kindness? As if you know what that word means. Let me assure you, Brother, I’d rather be burned alive than endure   any more of your kindness.”

“I’ll see you suffer. Listen to you scream as Icarus drains you.” Fire pulled at her restraints. She held his gaze and slowly

allowed the blaze to take control. There would be no talking her way out of this situation. The monk was mad. Her senses screamed a second before he lunged, but she’d already found her focus.

Powell’s movements slowed, his attack becoming exaggerated and predictable, like he struggled through viscous liquid. A blanket of silence cloaked her, dampening the angry cry he spewed. One… two…three. She counted her slowing heartbeat and concentrated on the center of his chest, sinking into a trance.

The fire took command, wielding her body as a weapon.

Her vision altered, and Powell ceased to be solid. Blues and greens swirled where his body had been. A black, snakelike entity slithered unheeded within the colors, and a ruby orb pulsed where the monk’s heart should have been.

Flame and light raced down her arm, gathering in her hand. She launched the energy toward the beating orb. The ball struck dead center and the black snake writhed as threads of lightning coursed through the colors.

Powell catapulted backward and bounced when he hit the stone floor. The swirling colors reverted to solid. He lay sprawled and unmoving.

Her heavy release of breath echoed through the chapel. Control gave way to rational thought, and her body began to shake. No line had existed between her and the fire. Never before had the power demanded her submission and compelled her to do its bidding.

Nausea washed over her. “Holy Mother.”

The sight of Powell’s   still form pulled at her and she crept forward, her muscles tense. She nudged him with her toe but he didn’t stir. Her question   remained unanswered, but The Sainted Ones’ silence held all the condemnation she could bear. She rubbed her hands over her face. “What should I do?”

Few knew of Brother Powell’s depraved character, but her strange ways and evil nature were well-known within the abbey. They would turn their accusations toward her first and his murder would be all the proof The Order needed for one of its sanctified demon hunts.

Until now, the abuse from Powell had been worth the food in her stomach and a roof over her head. Her life hadn’t been happy, but it was better than scrounging for survival in a world she knew nothing about. Inside the abbey, she was safe and she had the girls. The girls. Who would protect them?

She hauled back and kicked him in the ribs. “Bastard.” She glanced at Angela. “I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you.”

She gathered her heavy skirt and fled the chapel, racing down the dark corridors of the abbey. When she   reached the wide staircase, she took the steps three at a time, her ascent resonating off the walls.

Blood pounded in her ears. She rushed into her cell and looked around. There wasn’t much to pack. The few items she owned were shoved into a bag and within seconds, she was ready.

An ancient tome lay open to the page she’d been examining before falling asleep. She slammed the cover closed and dumped the book into her sack. The minor theft of abbey property seemed insignificant at this point.

As a last thought, she grabbed her cloak and rushed toward the outer stairs that led away from the chapel. The steps blurred before her as she spiraled down and around the stone staircase. Panic beat against her, but she tamped down the alarm and locked away her fear.

She was fleeing the only home she’d ever known.

At the bottom of the stairs, she flung open the heavy door. The night and rain hit her like a physical assailant, threatening her bravery. She slipped into the shadows and plastered her body against the abbey wall. Her breathing came in short puffs. Keep my head. I must keep my head.

Foot by foot, she edged along the back of the building, mustering her courage for her final flight. A stray curl fell across her eyes and she pushed it away with a trembling hand. The chill air ruffled against her skin, pulling the heat from beneath her cloak. She gripped   its edges and tugged the folds tighter around her, squinting at her destination.

She tucked the bag under her arm and took a deep breath. Hundreds of frantic butterflies beat inside her stomach and up into her throat. Everything familiar…gone. Ahead of her was the unknown, a faceless future…

Its now or never.

Before doubt could rob her of her courage, she pushed away from the wall and sprinted for the gate. Cold mud splattered her legs. Her hood fell back and needles of icy rain pelted her face. Her frantic breathing swelled and mixed with the driving wind.

The thump of the chapel door echoed across the courtyard. The irritating bite reengaged, chewing and gnawing her arms. She kept running.

“Stop!”

Jade Kendell made a promise to find Luc Le Daun, and kill him. It’s an act of pure and simple vengeance for her sister―or what’s left of her sister’s soul as it sinks further into the realm of the Bane. Demons. Only killing Luc Le Daun isn’t as easy as Jade thought.

Luc spent fifteen years hiding from what he was…and what he did. Against his wishes, he’s been brought to his destiny, and is now a full-power Bringer―imbued with mystical powers with which he must protect humankind. Worse still, he’s been partnered with the woman who tried to kill him in order to embark on a journey into the Shadow World.

There, in the midst of death, danger, and darkly-kept secrets, Jade and Luc discover an attraction that could redeem them…or lead to unspeakable betrayal.

 

Chapter One

The Shrouded Forest, Outer Faela, Inness

“Come out, come out, wherever you are.” The demon’s taunt circled through Jade’s veiled hiding place. “You can’t escape.” Leaves rustled, shuffling under the demon’s feet. Its call drew closer. “You can never escape.”

Jade ground her teeth together and squeezed her right arm, cringing against the searing bite racing up her limbs. After all these years, she’d still not gotten used to Bane burn, as she called it. Her gaze darted around her small hiding spot inside the hollowed tree trunk, searching for something to draw the demon’s attention away. Dampness seeped through the seat of Jade’s pants and sent an involuntary shiver up her spine—whether from cold or anticipation, she couldn’t say.

A stone lay half-buried beneath the layer of rotting leaves. Careful not to make a sound, she picked up the rock and let it drop into her palm.

“You know I’ll find you,” the demon called from farther away.

With achingly slow movements, Jade scooted low enough to get a clear shot through the branches. She waited, listening. Nothing. Cursed demon. The stretching silence chipped away at her patience. Not a single leaf fluttered beyond her cover, but the needle-like bites on her skin told her the demon huntress was near.

Jade drew her hand back and focused on a spot several yards away. Concentrating, she closed her eyes and sought the ancient words. An earth magic chant, normally dormant until she needed it, filled her mind and rushed from her lips in an indistinct hiss. She snapped her wrist forward and released the stone.

As if thrown with full force, the rock sailed through the opening in the branches and disappeared into the shadows of the surrounding woods. A small crack echoed when the stone hit what must have been the trunk of a tree.

She held her breath but didn’t have to wait long. Three running steps thundered toward her hiding place. She tensed, ready to fight. The loud thump of the demon’s wings extending was followed by a rushing uptake of air. The dark shadow soared above her and headed toward the sound of the rock. It banked left and disappeared into the wall of trees.

Not waiting to see if her ruse worked, Jade scrambled from her spot, the twigs tearing the green kerchief from her head and scoring her back with their sharp points. She didn’t stop to retrieve the material or examine her injuries. Escape was her only thought.

Any second, the demon would realize she’d outsmarted it and return to the hunt, more determined than ever. Jade raced in the opposite direction, never running in a straight line for too long. She snaked a path through the trees in an all-too-familiar pattern meant to throw her pursuer off her trail. The woods blurred. Her chest tightened and her breathing became labored, but she didn’t stop.

Prickles nipped at her skin, which meant the danger was still near. A stitch of pain jabbed at her side. She wrapped an arm around her waist, but it didn’t help stem the discomfort. She craned her neck to look over her shoulder. Only the dark woods yawned behind her—empty—demonless as far as she could see.

Hope jabbed at her, teasing her into slowing her step, mocking her with the possibility that she’d actually eluded the Bane. She scanned the canopy. Still no demon. Her jog slowed and finally stopped. Blood pounded against her chest like a drum, ricocheting into her ears. She dragged in a deep breath, willing her body to recover.

A rivulet of sweat ran down the back of her neck, beneath her loose and tangled hair. She pushed the damp strands from her face. Her gaze raked the trees and sky for movement. Nothing. The demon lived for this kind of challenge. It loved to taunt its prey, which was her at this moment, into doing something stupid, namely standing around like an idiot the way she was now.

Jade began to jog again, ignoring the pinch in her side but not ignoring the raw burn that swept across her skin. Pain was the one thing that could divide her attention and make her lose focus. Over the years she’d mastered tolerance for many of life’s discomforts— cold, hunger, loneliness—but pain refused to be conquered.

She massaged her ribs. Just a little farther and she’d reach the sanctified grounds of the small chapel.There she’d be safe and could rest.

The throbbing pain suddenly flared, her only warning before large talons wrapped around her upper arms and lifted her from the ground. Jade screamed, her stomach lurching toward her feet. Her body swung wildly, the demon’s wings pulling her higher, cresting the tops of the trees.

Nausea rolled through her. “Put me down!”

A high-pitched cackle erupted from above.“Are you sure about that?”

Next to pain, she hated heights most. Vomit crept up her throat and she swallowed hard, fighting against the demon’s hold. Swirling air from the flapping wings battered her.

“You promised, no flying!”

The demon cackled again. “Promises are meant to be broken.” “Damn it, Rell, put me down!”

“You’re no fun.”

Jade bit her tongue when the creature flipped its body to point head down. The sting had hardly registered before they fell into a spiral, plunging toward the earth. Her stomach slammed into her throat. Heartbeats hammered against her chest as the ground raced up to meet her.

Please, Sainted Ones, let me die now.

They circled low over the smooth rise of a hill.Without warning, Rell let her go and Jade suddenly found herself toppling through the air. A scream ripped from her throat but turned to a heavy grunt when she hit the ground hard and tumbled across the rise in a tangle of limbs. Stiff vegetation scraped a layer or more of flesh from her arms. A thorny bush blocked her path and she crashed into it, its sharp branches enveloping her. She groaned and rolled away from the plant’s painful embrace to lay with her arms and legs thrown wide.

Stinging cuts licked her body. “Fucking demon,” she muttered. The wild pounding in her chest slowed as the shock from hovering ten feet above the tree line faded. Jade rolled to her stomach and kissed the wet grass. Thank the Sainted Ones. She lay with her face pressed against the cool ground for a few seconds before pushing to a sitting position, babying her battered ribs.

The demon circled and flared its green wings, alighting on the top of a boulder. Curled black talons rasped along the stone.

“I’m going to kill you,” Jade said.

“That’s not a very nice thing to say.” The creature folded its green wings behind its back and gave a feminine pout. “Besides, you can’t. I’m invincible.”

Jade struggled to her feet and pulled a dagger from her boot. “You know I hate flying.”

“Yes,” the demon drawled. “I do.”

“Then why did you throw me to the ground from ten feet up?” “You told me to put you down.” The demon shrugged. “I was only doing what you asked.”

“I could have broken every bone in my body. Where’s the fair fight in that?”

“Bless the Sainted Ones, but you complain a lot. Whoever said being hunted by a demon was fair?” A wicked grin spread across the creature’s face. Its tiny spiked horns flicked toward the knife clutched in Jade’s hand. “Are we going to fight now?”

Exhaustion and aches battered her body, but Jade ignored them. She might not be able to best Rell, but getting in a few good punches would help cool her ire. “Oh yes, we are most definitely going to fight.”

“Oh goody.” The demon’s grin widened to a fanged smile. It jumped from the boulder and the scrape of talons against rock whispered across the clearing. “This is my favorite part.” Muscular legs rippled under the thin iridescent fabric that clung to her legs with each step the Bane took toward Jade. “I love your misplaced hope of beating me.”

“That’s the wonderful thing about being human, Rell—my optimism.” The demon edged to the side, trying to work its way behind her, but Jade knew this maneuver. Tensed for the attack, she backed in a circle, keeping the demon in front of her. “Remember hope, Rell?”

She stressed the demon’s name, trying to distract it.

The creature turned its head and spit, and then tracked its yellow eyes back to her. A sneer curled across the full upper lip, daring her to continue.

Not taking the warning, Jade spouted some of her best verbal barbs. “The joy of a new day? The feel of the sun on your face?”

Fangs glistened in the gloom of the darkening woods. “You humans are consumed with feelings.” Rell’s voice rose to a mocking whine. “Is this right? Is that wrong? I don’t have to worry about any of that now.”

“I know you.” Jade pointed the knife at the demon. “You miss being human.”

“And you talk too much.” The demon crouched. “Let’s fight.” She attacked. Jade dove to the side and swiped her knife in a wide arc as she came to her feet. The blade grazed the demon’s arm, but Rell only laughed. With a powerful leap, the demon launched onto the boulder and spun to push off, hitting Jade full force and taking her down. The blade flew from Jade’s hand. A smooth green arm slid around her neck and tightened like a large snake crushing its prey, cutting off her air. She gasped and clawed at the forearm and elbow, but the pressure didn’t ease.

Blood pounded against Jade’s skull and black dots danced in front of her eyes. She kicked and flopped, trying to get free.

“Why would I miss being a weak human female?” Rell whispered. “I serve no man. Answer to no master.”

The zing of a blade being drawn sang through Jade’s descent into unconsciousness.

“Release her,” a strange voice said.

Rell’s grip eased enough for Jade to suck in a partial breath. “Release her,” the voice demanded.

The demon’s imprisoning arm loosened and Jade fell to the ground. She rolled to her back and coughed, gulping in the cool, blessed air. The black dots faded and her vision cleared enough to see the silver tip of a blade pressed against Rell’s neck.

“We’ve got company,” the demon said, staring down at her. Jade struggled to her feet. A young man of about seventeen held the sword. His eyes were wide with fear but his hand remained steady. The knot at his throat bobbed up and down with compulsive swallowing, his jaw clenching and unclenching.

“Run,” he said. “I’ll deal with the demon.”

The creature laughed. “Yes, run along, Jade, so the boy can deal with me.”

Jade’s gaze cut to Rell. “Don’t hurt him.”

“Run,” the young man said again. “This abomination needs to die.”

The demon laughed again. “It’s too easy.”

“Rell.” Jade whispered the demon’s name, holding the creature’s focus on her.

Rell’s eyes narrowed, pinning her with their yellow intensity. With slow movements, Jade gripped the point of the man’s sword and moved it away from the smooth, green neck. The blade sliced her hand but she didn’t release it.

The man fought her. “What are you doing? Run, you stupid cow.”

Anger blazed in the reptilian eyes, and before Jade could act, Rell spun. Like a striking snake, the demon knocked the blade from the man’s hand and closed black talons around his throat, lifting him off the ground. His toes dangled an inch above solid earth, kicking, searching for a foothold. He choked and sputtered.

“Rell!” Jade shouted. “Put him down!”

The demon’s lips pulled back in a snarl. “Why should I?” “Put—him—down.” She enunciated each word, trying to pull Rell from the blood lust, but the demon didn’t budge. “Please.” With a soft touch, Jade laid a hand on the demon’s wrist. “Please. Don’t give in.”

Rell’s nostrils flared, seeming to struggle against her plea. “But the pull is so strong.”

“Fight it.” Jade took Rell’s face in her hands and forced the demon to look at her. “Fight it.” Her fingers caressed the smooth and delicate cheek of the demon. “Let him go.”

Sable brown brows furrowed against the inner struggle so apparent on the demon’s face. Rell stared for several long seconds, the man’s efforts to escape weakening. Yellow eyes swirled to green and back to yellow. With an anguished cry, the demon tossed the man across the clearing. He landed with a grunt and lay on his back, wheezing. Jade didn’t move to help him, but instead lowered her hands, holding the demon’s gaze. This was the most dangerous time.

“Go,” Jade said quietly to the man.

He coughed. “You control the demon?”

She opened her mouth to tell him to shut up but before she could utter a word, Rell shot across the distance to tower over him. “Nobody—” Talons clawed the ground next to the man’s leg—“controls the demon.”

He scrambled backward. Jade raced across the clearing and jumped between them, bracing her back against the demon’s chest to stop another attack. “Go! Now!”

His gaze darted from her to Rell. Finally jumping to his feet, he fled into the woods. They stood, back to chest, watching until he’d disappeared.

Jade released a heavy breath and turned. “I’m proud of you.” Rell gave a snort of disgust. “You should have let me kill him.” “Why? Because it feels good?”

A fanged   smile pulled across the creature’s mouth. “No, because the jackass called you a stupid cow.” The demon reached and brushed a sweaty strand of hair from Jade’s face. “Nobody calls my sister names—but me.”

 

Rell has lived in the Shadow World for thirteen years as a Demon Bane, the formerly vivacious young woman now the demonic enemy of the immortal Bringers. But when she is given the chance to become human again—and a full-powered Bringer—Rell isn’t sure if it’s better to be a demon in the Shadow World or to risk her life for her humanity.

For two years, Siban had been tortured in the Bane prison, only to fall in love with the beautiful demon who helped him escape. Tormented by the thought of never seeing her again, he maintains a life of solitude. So, when Rell’s human body is rescued from the Shadow World, he will do anything to be with her—even if it means challenging death to become a Bringer, too.

But once their Bringer transformations and training are completed, Siban and Rell must join a mission to go deep in the Shadow World to rescue others trapped by the Demon Bane King. And what they discover destroys everything they knew about the Demon Bane. The lovers must learn to trust themselves, each other, and their new powers if they’re going to make it out alive.

Prologue

A thousand years ago fire scorched the earth and the rivers of Inness ran red with the blood of humans, Bringers, and the soul-sucking Demon Bane…

The Bringers, an ancient race of powerful people from Bael, fought a war against the demons called the Bane. The Bringers were victorious over the Bane, freeing humans from the demons’ deadly grasp. Though the Bringers had won the war, the Bane were not so easily defeated. Vile, a power-thirsty demon, claimed the Bane throne. Gathering forces deep within the icy caverns of the Shadow World, he bided his time until he could rise up against the Bringers again.

In order to keep both Bael and Inness safe, the Mystic Arch between the two worlds was sealed. A few hundred Bringers— Shields who are protectors, healing Redeemers, and Tells who are endowed with the Knowing were left on Inness to protect the humans from the threat of the Demon Bane. For a millennia humans lived in peace. The legends of the Bringers and the Bane fell into myth. Truth became lost and stories of the Bringers valor and the Demon Bane’s treachery became nothing more than tales to be spun around the campfire.

Still the Bringers watched and protected, ever vigilant. But like a brewing storm, the Bane’s return was heralded by nothing more than a quiet breeze. One by one, Vile assassinated the Bringers who had stayed on Inness, until only one remained— Rhys Blackwell.

Believing he was the only full-blooded Bringer left, Rhys scoured Inness for humans whose bloodline had been mixed with the Bringers. Together they formed a rebel band of mixedblood soldiers whose goal was to subdue the Bane threat that was spreading across the lands.

When their fight seemed desperate, a new hope appeared on the horizon. In search of the kidnapped Bringer King, new full-blooded Bringers emerged from beyond the Mystic Arch. Joining forces with Rhys and his followers, the group strengthens the Bringers’ fight against the Demon Bane. In a fortunate twist they discover the bodies of several of their brethren frozen deep within the Shadow World. One body saved was that of Rell Kendal.

Set upon by the demons thirteen years ago, Rell had been transformed to a demon and forced to live among the monsters that had stolen her life. Fearful that her younger sister would meet the same fate, Rell saved Jade and secretly raised her within the caverns of the Shadow World. But as the years passed, the taint of the Bane threatened to steal what was left of Rell’s humanity.

With the arrival of the full-blooded Bringers came the revelation that transforming Rell back to human might be possible. Captured and held in a Bringer cell Rell learned that one of her captors is the man she had helped escape from the Bane prison—the man she loved, Siban.

Chapter One

Siban lifted his chin toward the gray sky and inhaled. Crisp air filled his lungs, clearing his head. The time had come for him to take his place among his people, the Bringers. Past time, actually. They needed him in the fight against the Demon Bane—a fight the Bringers seemed to be losing.

He exhaled and walked to the closest outbuilding. His hand hovered on the cold metal of the door handle, his determination wavering. Could he go through with the ceremony that would finally bring him to full power as a Bringer? Perhaps if he hadn’t seen Luc’s conversion firsthand, hadn’t watched the blade drive into his friend’s chest, and hadn’t felt the life draining from Luc, he wouldn’t feel so anxious now. But there was no turning back. Hopefully he’d be able to control the power that came with being a Bringer Tell. Endowed with the Knowing, he would sense things more strongly. Would know truth from a lie. Saints willing, the darkness that still tainted his soul from his years of imprisonment in the Demon Bane’s Shadow World wouldn’t grow stronger as well.

Chilly wind whipped his hair, bringing with it the smell of fall and the hint of snow. The sky echoed his mood. For a year he’d been dealing with the dark memories of being held captive the only way he knew how—alone. But now he’d found Rell again and she needed him to be strong. He’d been the one to change her mind about being put to death by one of the immortal daggers of the Bringers. As the only weapons that could vanquish a Demon Bane, it was the only way to kill her, but Siban wouldn’t let that happen. For too long he’d grieved the loss of her. Nothing would stop him from helping her survive the healing that would transform her from a Demon Bane back into her human form—and into a Bringer.

Inside the building waited the other full-blooded Bringer warriors, newly transformed and ancient, planning to face down Vile, the Demon Bane’s King, and his efforts to overrun Inness with his Bane. No longer could Siban avoid his destiny—or his past.

He yanked on the door but the wind beat it closed again, as if sensing his apprehension. He pulled again, this time opening it and slipping inside. A cloud of warmth and the smell of lavender and sage enveloped him. All eyes turned toward Siban, the Bringers’ conversation halting. He closed the door behind him and exhaled softly, stilling his urge to turn around and walk back out. Dozens of candles lined the wall and burned on every available surface, lending a calming, golden glow to the room. But the ambiance did very little to reassure him about the impending pain he was about to experience.

“You came.” Rhys Blackwell, his best friend, approached and held out his hand. “I was afraid you’d change your mind.”

For years Rhys had thought he was the only full-blooded Bringer left after his parent’s had been assassinated by Vile. He’d roamed Inness, protecting humans against the Bane and building a small army of mixed-blooded Bringers, those whose bloodlines had been diluted by humans. Thankfully, Rhys had recognized Siban for what he was and had taken him in, even though he was tainted by the Bane’s evil darkness. Since then Siban’s loyalty had never wavered. He gripped Rhys’s forearm in a show of solidarity. “And miss all the fun?”

“My apologies for doubting you.” Rhys laughed and released Siban’s arm. “Come, Gregory has everything prepared.”

Gregory, the King of the Bringers, met Siban halfway, a smile creasing his face and brightening his eyes to the color of liquid silver. “You look like a man facing his own execution.”

“It feels a bit like that, yeah.” Siban scanned the room. Most of the faces he recognized, but there were a few new Bringers he hadn’t been introduced to yet. That could wait until he was through the transformation. Siban nodded and exhaled. “All right then, let’s get this over with.”

“Of course.” Gregory placed a hand on Siban’s shoulder and guided him toward a long wooden slab in the center of the room.

A smaller table had been erected about four feet from where he was to lay. A white sheet covered it. Siban stopped and stared at the form pressed against the cloth. The outline was of a woman—Rell’s human form lying in perfect repose.

“We thought your transformation would be easier if you remembered what you were fighting for,” Ravyn said from beside him.

“Thank you.” He glanced at her. Ravyn watched him with understanding. She’d already gone through the transformation to become a Bringer and understood the risk. He looked back at the body on the table, refraining from voicing the fact that the person on the table was a stranger to him. His Rell was a Demon Bane with smooth green skin, leathery wings, and small delicate horns. He released a heavy breath, pushing aside the dark thought that he might not be able to accept her as a human. It had been the demon who had risked so much to help him escape the Shadow World. Would the human female be different from the demon he’d fallen in love with? “I’m ready.”

“Remove your shirt.” Gregory turned to examine the immortal dagger lying on a small table. Siban slipped his tunic off and handed it to Ravyn. Shivers from the chilled air ghosted across his skin. When Gregory lifted the dagger, Siban’s heart began to pound. I can do this.

Ravyn spread a linen blanket over the wooden slab and placed a small pillow at the head. “Lie down, please.” She patted the table. “I promise we’ll take good care of you.”

Without replying, he slid onto the table and rested his head against the stiff pillow. The blanket did little to cushion the hard wood pressing against his back, though he doubted he would have been able to relax. Unsure where to place his hands, he interlocked his fingers and rested them against his bare abdomen. He shifted his shoulders, trying to find a more comfortable position and ignoring the awkwardness of being everybody’s focus.

Four Bringers he didn’t know approached, each carrying two small sacks. In evenly spaced positions they emptied the contents of the bags onto the table.

Cloves, lavender, and a piney scent rose up around the edge of the table. Siban swallowed and stared at the ceiling. He mentally counted the dark beams above, forcing himself not to watch the Bringers working around him. Another shudder rippled through his body. Three months ago, allowing somebody to cut or stab him would have been unthinkable. The nightmares from his time among the demons still haunted him. He pushed away the dark thoughts, unwilling to give them power over him. After having been tortured with everything from talons to shards of rusty metal while in Vile’s prison, Siban’s consent to be brought to full power was a testament to his devotion to Rell.

It helped that he’d made the choice and that Gregory’s action would be done with gentleness not malice. Still, when the man turned toward Siban bearing the knife, it took all of his self-discipline not to hurl his body from the table and flee the room.

A low, healing chant kindled to Siban’s left. The song flowing around him was one of the most beautiful Siban had ever heard. Clear and pitched surprisingly low, the notes resonated along his body and sent tingles skittering along his skin. Another voice joined the melody, deeper in tone.

The light in the room shifted, altering Siban’s sight. Ribbons of blue and white drifted from the Bringers, encircling them like lace, binding each together. The lyrical composition surrounded him and burrowed under his skin, winding its way to what felt like his soul.

More soft voices mixed with the song, and the light from the ribbons grew stronger, pulsing inside him and creating a halo of light around the table.

Ravyn and Rell’s sister Jade joined the circle and each placed their hands on one of his shoulders. When Rhys and Ravyn had brought their friend Luc Le Daun to full power, Siban had held his legs down in a similar manner. Luc had fought them, almost escaping their hold. Siban wondered how Ravyn and Jade expected to keep him restrained if his control broke.

The two women joined the chant and instantly warmth flowed into his body. Streams of light spiraled from their hands and entered his shoulders at the point where they touched. Tension eased from his muscles, the mantra lulling him into a relaxed state. Even when Gregory approached, fear did not grip Siban.

“In death there is life,” Gregory said, circling the blade in front of him in a looping pattern. “In sacrifice, return.” Heat traveled down Siban’s torso and his eyes remained steady on the king. “All barriers destroyed and evil be spurned.” Gregory lowered the knife and laid the blade against Siban’s chest, directly over his heart. Despite the relaxing chant, he couldn’t help but tense up when the cold metal touched his skin. “No hindrance remain, from our blood be renewed.” Gregory dragged the edge downward, lacerating Siban with a shallow slice. In an effort not to cry out, he bit down on his lower lip. The metallic taste of blood coated his tongue. “That which was taken, settle in those who Bring true.”

Fire danced along the cut and Siban braced himself, waiting for Gregory to plunge the dagger in his heart as they had done with Luc. Instead of stabbing him, Gregory set the knife between two piles of herbs on the wooden platform and placed his hands next to Ravyn’s. Again the king spoke, but they were words Siban did not understand.

The heat burning along the slice spread across his chest, eating up every inch of Siban’s body. Searing pain ignited his organs as if incinerating him from the inside out. He gasped for breath, but couldn’t inhale as wave after wave of pain gripped him.

The chant around him grew louder and more hands pressed against his legs and arms. His muscles convulsed. It was as if his very soul was being pulled from his body through his chest. He choked against the tightening at his throat. His mouth opened in an effort to suck in air, but none could pass.

The words grew louder and above the unified chant he heard Ravyn’s voice. Separate from the other Redeemers, she spoke the Bringer’s ancient language. Her words demanded and coaxed the darkness from inside him. His vision blurred and his head pounded as the need for air became desperate.

Ravyn placed her hands on his forehead and raised her voice, shouting, “Avec mea!”

From Siban’s throat rose a white vapor. It hovered a foot above his mouth and then descended to cover his face. The sensation of being branded scorched the skin under his lower lip. After a few seconds, the white vapor evaporated completely. Siban gasped, drinking in the cool, perfumed air, and collapsed against the table. All traces of pain and the ribbons of healing light disappeared. The blood pounded in his ears, and his heart raced. He waited, expecting another wave of agony, but none came.

Gregory stared down at him and then smiled. He touched his index finger against the skin directly below Siban’s lower lip. “A Tell.”

The spot burned and Siban flinched away, pressing the back of his hand to the area and trying to numb the sting, knowing he now bore a single black line of the Tell. “Are you finished?”

“Did you want something more?” Gregory smirked. “Perhaps you would have preferred I plunge the dagger into your heart?”

Siban’s craned his head to look at Ravyn. “Expected, not preferred.”

Ravyn cleared her throat. “It seems actually stabbing somebody in the heart isn’t required to bring a person to full power.”

“That would have been nice to know.” Luc scowled at her and rubbed his chest.

She shrugged. “Sorry. If it’s any consolation, I did it to myself as well.”

Siban struggled to sit up, spreading the herbs along the edge of the table and knocking some of them to the ground. He looked at his chest. A thin red line stretched from his sternum to his left side, but there was no blood. “What was that white smoke? I felt like I was choking.”

“Think of it as a net that encased your powers. Due to generations of Bringers breeding with humans, the Bringer essence within us becomes bound. The ceremony severs that bond.” He pointed to Siban’s cut. “It will be healed by morning and the only evidence of the ceremony will be your Tell mark.” Gregory placed a hand on Siban’s shoulder. “How do you feel?”

How did he feel? It was difficult to put into words. New vitality hummed through his body, as if a million tiny sparks had snapped against his skin, leaving their tingling reminder. Even his head felt clear, unfettered from the nightmares and dark thoughts that had been his constant companion since his imprisonment in the Shadow World. “Better.”

“You are a master of the understated,” Rhys said, handing Siban his shirt.

“Thank you.” Siban slid the tunic over his head and shook his chin-length curls from his eyes. “When will you heal Rell?”

“Tonight.” Gregory placed the dagger back on the table. “That will give you time to rest. She will need all of our strength.”

“I will be there.” Nothing would keep him from Rell’s side. “Good.”

The king faced him. “I don’t foresee her transformation to be as easy as yours.”

“I’ll give her whatever strength I have.” He scooted from the table. His legs quivered, and he grabbed the edge of the wood in an effort not to stumble. Gregory reached for him, but Siban waved him away and straightened. “I’m all right.”

“Then come to the house and eat.” Willa, Rell’s mother, stepped from the shadows. Her white-blond hair glimmered in the candlelight and her eyes sparkled with determination. “We’re all going to need to fortify ourselves if we plan on saving my daughter.”

Though he wasn’t the least bit hungry, under no circumstance would Siban contradict Willa once she’d made a command. The woman was fire and ice mixed into a tiny, unassuming package. He was fairly certain Willa would have gone into the bowels of the Shadow World herself to bring back her daughter’s body if Luc and Jade hadn’t beaten her to it. Such fierce loyalty was a trait he understood and respected.

He nodded. “I am coming, my lady.”

***

The wind beat against the thick, murky glass of the window, its low howl like a consoling friend. Rell dragged her talon through the dirt on the floor, circling the point in an endless design of interconnecting loops. Though the Bringers had provided her with a comfortable bed and blankets to warm her against the nip in the air, she preferred to feel the cold. Material comforts were something she hadn’t had since she was a human and using them now somehow poked at her like a lie.

The cell the Bringers had constructed for her sat in the center of the room, out of reach of the stone walls, which had been warded to keep her in. The iron bars pressed against her back and wings like an icy reminder that though the Bringers were trying to help her, she was still subject to their decision of whether she would live or die.

“You look like a giant bird,” said a child’s voice from near the door.

Rell dragged her eyes away from her mindless scrawling and leveled her gaze on the small boy. Hayden, she’d thought she’d heard the human woman call him. His blue eyes were round and his brown hair tousled from the wind. Dirt smudged his face and the faint scent of fear mixed with unrepressed curiosity emanated from him. He’d been a regular visitor, though Rell suspected his mother didn’t know. “What kind of bird?”

“A love bird.” Hayden scooted forward a few inches, his pants scraping against the dirt floor. “Like the pretty green one in the painting in Lord Le Daun’s library.”

She cocked a brow. “You think I’m pretty?”

His head bobbed up and down. “Sometimes the light from the fire makes your skin sparkle, like jewels. And sometimes, like now, your eyes turn bright green.”

“My eyes turn green?”

He nodded again. Except for her reflection in the hot pools in the cavern of the Shadow World, where she’d raised Jade, Rell had never seen her demon reflection. Always she’d assumed her eyes were yellow, like the other Bane. The boy’s words pushed the darkness that threatened to steal through her soul back to a tolerable level. His unguarded innocence and honesty encompassed her like the warm blankets she refused to use.

“Thank you.” Besides Siban, nobody but the boy had ever made her feel like she wasn’t an abomination. Even Jade’s tireless struggle to help keep Rell’s humanity had been mired in the fact that Rell was a Demon Bane and not a normal sister. Every struggle they’d overcome, every move they had made had hinged on her being Bane. Rell’s time with Icarus, the Demon King’s son, had been based on the fact that the two of them were different from the other demons. It seemed that even among her kind, she did not fit in. “I think you would like flying.”

Hayden’s eyes widened. “Can you take me one day?”

She gave him a sad smile. He was so trusting, which would mean his death if he’d been talking to any demon other than her. “I don’t think we’ll get the chance, Hayden. The others are going to try and make me better tonight—human again.”

A frown creased his small face. “Will you still have your wings?”

Rell shook her head.

His scowl increased. “I like you the way you are.”

“Thank you.” A knot formed in her throat. “Perhaps when I am human we can hunt together. It’s not the same as flying, but it would still be fun.”

That idea seemed to placate him, but before he could answer the door swung open, bringing with it a blast of cold air and Siban. The boy scooted backward and pressed his back against the wall. Hayden stared up at Siban, the wonder in his eyes now replaced with fear.

“Does your mother know you’re here, boy?”

Hayden shook his head.

“Best run along to the house. There are warm biscuits and honey in the library.”

Hayden rose and skirted Siban’s large body but stopped at the door, turning back to Rell. “You promise we’ll go hunting?”

Her lips tightened into a smile and she nodded, unable to speak the promise she might not be able to keep. The healing the Bringers were to attempt on her had never been done before—by any of them. There was no guarantee she would survive the transition. The one consoling thought was that at least she would be free of the oppressive darkness inside her that constantly demanded she give in to its will.

Siban pulled the door closed behind Hayden and turned to face her. “It’s time.”

She pushed up from the floor of the cage and stood, ignoring the quiver in her legs that was more from nerves than fatigue or cold. “I’m ready.”

He approached the cage and wrapped his hands around the bars. “Everything is going to be all right, Rell. I’ll be there with you through the healing.” His troubled hazel gaze held hers. “We’ve already been through so much.” His voice cracked slightly. “When this is over, we’ll be able to start a new life.”

Together was left unspoken. There was no need. From the first time they’d met, their paths had been joined. She’d secretly cared for him in the Shadow World, tending his wounds after Sha-hera and Vile had tortured him for information about the Bringers. She’d fed him when, trying to break his will, they had left him to starve. She’d given him the comfort of her companionship, which she’d needed just as much as he had.

“I hope you’re right, Siban.” Rell approached the door of the cell. “But if something goes wrong…”

“It won’t.” His jaw clenched and unclenched. “I refuse to lose you again.”

She nodded, unwilling to shatter his fragile conviction to save her. “What now?”

“I’ll need to carry you to the healing room. The floors and walls are still warded, as are the grounds. You’ll be burned and drawn back to the Shadow World if you touch anything.”

Her sister, Jade, and Ravyn, had been thorough in marking the area around Rell’s cell. The wards left the walls and the floor inside her prison free of magic. Even though escape would have been impossible, Rell had not even been tempted. There was nothing left for her in the world of the Demon Bane. There never had been.

Being reunited with Siban had eradicated Rell’s urge to flee and had given her a small spark of hope that she really could be human again. Though, if they were successful in the healing, she doubted she would emerge as the same woman who had lost her soul to the Demon Bane thirteen years ago.

The dark thoughts pressed down on her. “I’ll warn you,” she said, trying to lighten the mood, “I think I’ve put on weight with the rich food my mother has been feeding me.”

He smiled. “It’s fortunate I’ve been brought to full power then. My new strength will come in handy.”

Rell cocked her head and scanned his body from head to toe. “I knew there was something different about you. I thought perhaps you’d bathed.”

“A bath?” He harrumphed and pointed to his Tell tattoo. “I’ve just gained the mythical powers of our people and you compare it to bathing?” He reached inside the pocket at the front of his tunic and pulled out the key to her cell. “I can see I’ll never suffer from an inflated ego with you around.”

A small laugh slipped from Rell, taking her by surprise. It had been a long time since she’d actually felt anything close to happiness. Interesting that the only times she could remember had been with Siban.

The key scraped against the lock, and the metal grated as the large bolt slid into its casing. He pulled the door open and stepped inside, slipping the key back into his pocket. “Your carriage awaits, my lady.”

Rell folded her wings tightly against her back and took a step toward him, stopping an inch away. He was ruggedly handsome. His features spoke of a heritage from the sand people, darker skin and sculpted cheekbones and chin. But what she liked best about Siban were his hazel eyes. Though he was a man of few words, his eyes spoke volumes.

She tilted her head. “Siban?” Her voice came out as a whisper. “Will you kiss me one last time—as Rell?”

Perhaps with the feel of his lips on hers she’d make it through the healing. If not, she’d cross through the Veil knowing he’d truly cared for her for who she had been—a Demon Bane.

He lifted his hand and caressed her lower lip with his thumb. “And I will kiss you every day for the rest of your life when this is complete.”

His head lowered to hers and his lips gently brushing against her mouth. Strong arms enveloped Rell, dragging her against his hard body. He dwarfed her, making her feel safe and giving her a sense that he could indeed chase the darkness from her soul.