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Authors: Laura Thalassa,Dan Rix

Blood and Sin (The Infernari Book 1) (20 page)

BOOK: Blood and Sin (The Infernari Book 1)
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If we didn’t get her antibiotics soon, she would die.

As if to confirm my diagnosis, she keeled over and just had time to grab a plastic bag before she vomited.

Lana

“Heal yourself,” he
ordered. Something entered his voice, something I was too fatigued to muse over.

I could taste my death on my tongue, could feel it slithering through my lifeblood. I’d used up the last of my magic trying to heal it, but the foreign spirit still slipped through me,
killing
me,

“I can’t, I tried. I don’t know what this is.” I actually felt hot. That was a first on this cold planet. But only moments ago I’d been freezing.

“Blood poisoning, that’s what it is.”

Blood poisoning. It seemed both fitting and ironic for me to be killed by the very blood that was supposed to save my people.

My people . . .

“It’s not of my world,” I said weakly. “My magic doesn’t work on it.”

Asher swallowed as he stared into my eyes. “Lana,” he said, and now his voice was as gentle as I had ever heard it, “you’re going die if we don’t fix you.”

I swallowed thickly. “I already tried fixing me. It didn’t work.”

Asher cursed. He pulled out his phone, his eyes flicking over to me every few seconds, like he couldn’t help it. “Then I’m going to.”

A moment later, he announced, “There’s a pharmacy close by. We’re going to get you antibiotics—medicine that will make you feel better.”

He pulled back onto the road.

Human medicine. Asher wanted me to put it in my body. The proud part of me revolted at the thought, but the dominant part of me, the instinctual part that desperately wanted to survive, it was willing to give the medicine a try.

“Why bother saving me?” I mumbled.

My enemy was demanding that I live when he could just let me die. It would be easier. Asher had the information he needed. A wily human like him could track down the portal from here. He didn’t need me.

I felt his gaze on me, burning, burning.

“Why?” I said louder, straightening in my seat. Even my eyes ached, but I forced them to focus on the hunter next to me.

The engine of this metal beast screamed as we flew down the highway.

Asher’s muscles strained beneath his skin and his jaw was locked, his brows sitting heavily upon his eyes. “Live and I’ll tell you.”

I stared at him for a moment longer, something soft and delicate unfurling in my stomach even after another wave of chills swept over me.

“I’m holding you to that, Jame,” I said softly.

He looked over at me, a lock of hair falling across one of his worried eyes before he nodded and faced the road once more.

I’d been sick a couple times before this. Blood colds as we called them. They were mild, gradually setting in and quietly leaving.

There was nothing gradual or mild about this.

I groaned as we took an exit turn far too fast, my earlier car sickness rising from the momentum of it. My left arm was stiff and painful, and every second that went by, I got hotter and hotter until the car seemed as though it was smothering me.

“Air,” I whispered.

Asher’s gaze was on me. I could practically feel his icy resolve, forbidding me to die.

A moment later, the windows rolled down, and a cool breeze blew over my feverish skin.

I closed my eyes, savoring it.

Maybe I nodded off, maybe I didn’t.

A dense thump sounded as some large object fell onto the roof, and my eyes snapped open. I looked up at the dented metal roof above my head.

“They found us,” I breathed.

Asher’s upper lip curled, and he yanked his gun from its holster.

“Hiding in the fucking trees, the bastards . . .” he muttered.

He thrust his gun out the window, elbow cocked, and blindly shot at the roof of the car.

Bang—bang-bang-bang!

He gritted his teeth as he steered, one-handed. The car veered back and forth across the road as he tried to shake whomever clung to the roof of the car, but they held on.

He cursed and kept firing, glancing out his side view mirror as he did so.

I scented the air, hoping to catch a whiff of blood, but all I caught was smoke.

“Keep shooting, keep shooting!” I shouted. “You haven’t hit them yet—”

It was precisely then that I felt warm arms snake around me. I barely had time to yelp before I was yanked up and out of my seat through the open window.

Right into the waiting arms of an Infernarus.

Chapter 16

Asher

When I looked
over at the passenger seat, it was empty.

“Lana!” I slammed on the brakes and skidded to a stop on a gravel turnout. In the rearview mirror, a shadow dropped through the cloud of dust kicked up by the tires, and it loped toward the dense brush bordering the road.

A demon.

It had snatched her right through the open passenger window.

Cursing, I leaned over Lana’s seat to see better. A palm frond scraped against the side of the car, like nails on metal. The demon could be anywhere, and not knowing where made my skin crawl.

It darted into the trees.

All I glimpsed, before the surfboard-sized leaves of a philodendron swished back over the brief gap in the foliage, was a flash of blue fish scales.

Then nothing.

No sounds but the quiet swish of wind through palm fronds.

Blue fish scales?
I had a hunch what demon this was. I only prayed it was wrong.

It had taken Lana. Sick, dying Lana.

My earlier restlessness ratcheted up.

My fault.

I hadn’t been paying attention. And now she was gone, because of my own carelessness.

The guilt stung. Beneath it, something else burned. Something that put fire in my veins.

In her current state, Lana wouldn’t be able to resist or fight back. She was vulnerable, helpless, defenseless. And now that I knew Lana’s magic couldn’t heal her . . .

Disease wasn’t like other injuries that afflicted demons. Bodily injury they could recover from—broken bones, severed limbs, gunshot wounds—given enough time, or enough magic, a demon could heal from any physical damage. As long as any cell still lived, the demon still lived.

But infection was different.

Infection rotted the body from the inside out, it staged a viral attack on the cellular level, hijacked the body’s own resources, devoured all tissue in its path until the organism was more bacteria than animal.

I thought that a healer would have been able to reverse the infection, but in the wake of what Lana told me, I had to face another possibility—that rapid healing accelerated the decay.

And Lana had been pouring her magic into healing.

That’s why the onset was so rapid.

A late-stage infection, like what Lana had, would kill a demon every time.

What she needed was penicillin, and she needed it within the hour.

Or she would die.

Every minute that demon had her was a minute less she had to live.

At the thought, a terrible fear took hold low in my gut, sinking in like claws—a fear I hadn’t known in two years.

Fear for another’s life.

Fear for Lana.

In the five days since White Sulfur Springs, I had gone from her captor to her reluctant ally. At some point in the last twenty-four hours, I had become her protector.

Maybe it was seeing her sick and hurting, the pang of sympathy every human feels for a wounded creature, maybe it was seeing her own kind turn on her, or maybe it was the fact that she’d helped me find the portal.

All I knew was I couldn’t let her die.

Not now, not like this, not at the hands of the very demons she had sworn to protect.

That just didn’t seem fair.

I reloaded my Glock, then dug under the backseat for my sawed-off shotgun.

Locked and loaded, I muscled my way into the foliage, following the trail of trampled grass.

Low ferns scraped my bare calves and wedged under my flip-flops, while the sun winked through a high canopy of palms and broad-leafed hardwoods. As I pushed into the underbrush, the shadows deepened.

I imagined what would become of Lana. Demons didn’t understand antibiotics. Nor did they care. They would let her die, unable and unwilling to help her.

The ground began to rumble.

I paused to listen, knuckles tight on the shotgun’s pump-action handgrip.

It built like a slow thunder, vibrating up through my knees. On the ground, pebbles danced and settled into quivering piles. A wet breeze blew in from the side, whipping the broad leaves to and fro and popping my ears.

I spun toward the approaching thunder.

My hunch had been right; I knew exactly which demon I was up against.

Fuck.

A wave of water crashed through the trees, splashing around their trunks and uprooting bushes, rising ten feet over my head. The wall of seawater slammed into me, dragged me backward, tore the gun from my hand and flooded my nostrils.

Then I was tumbling like a rag doll, dragged under by the currents, pummeled by rocks. My head broke the foamy surface, and I gasped for breath. A swirling vortex slammed me into a low tree branch, and I clung to it for dear life as the flood swept past me, finally draining to rivulets and puddles. With a groan, I dropped to the ground, soaking wet and bruised everywhere.

Then, from out of the dripping trees stepped the demon.

Clad in a skintight suit made of blue fish scales, she had long, flowing blonde hair and watermelon-pink eyes. The demon was more mermaid than girl.

Aecora, tamer of oceans.

Major affinity: controlling water.

Minor affinity: conjuring stupid glass structures.

A human would imagine a million uses for that minor affinity, but Aecora used it for one purpose and one purpose only: creating bubbles to drown you in. Back during Brad’s and my mercenary days, we’d had a few run-ins with her nasty tricks.

She kicked Lana forward into the clearing she’d made, and my whole body tensed up.

Lana landed in a heap, her hair dripping. Slowly, she raised her wounded eyes to mine, and then her elbows buckled and she slumped over. She was sickening fast.

My jaw clamped, and I drew my Glock, aiming it at Aecora’s head.

Before I could squeeze off the shot, a wave rose out of the dirt behind me and broke over my back. I sprawled forward, and the gun tumbled out of my grip and splashed at Lana’s feet.

Hold onto your fucking guns, Asher!

“Too slow, Jame,” Aecora taunted. “Much,
much
too slow. My, you’ve lost your touch.”

I climbed to my feet, wiping water and silt from my mouth. “Alright, Cora, you got me. Let’s make a deal. You let me live, I let you keep Lana. You have my word I won’t kill you.”

I had no intention of honoring that deal, but Aecora didn’t need to know that.

I had to steel myself against the wounded look Lana gave me.

My gaze flicked to the gun, lying a foot from her hand. A yard from mine.

“Now why would I trust your
word
,” Aecora said, “when you’ve never kept your word before in your life? And why would I even make that deal, when I can just kill both of you right now? Which option sounds smarter to you, Jame?”

She had a point. I focused back on the demon. “How about you spare an old friend, huh?”

“An old friend,” she scoffed. “How about you die with some dignity? Or is that asking too much from you?”

I raised my palms. “Cora, come on, I’m unarmed . . . you know you won’t get glory from killing me like this.” Unable to help it, I peeked at Lana again, who looked sicker by the second.

I needed to get her to a pharmacy
now
.

“My gods, did you come to rescue her, Jame?” Aecora cocked her head. “I’m not sure which one of you is the bigger traitor. It’s too bad I don’t trust your word. There are others who would allow you to surrender and keep your life, and for Lana to keep hers . . .
no one
would have to die.

“The trouble is,” she continued, “I am not one of them. You have no honor. You’re an animal, no better than a mangy cur . . . and what you do with a cur that keeps trying to bite your hand? You put it down. You kill it. You don’t try to
reason
with it.”

“Lana’s infected,” I said, trying a different tack. “You touched her, Cora, which means you’re infected too. Only way you live is if I get you the antibiotics. Your choice.”

Aecora drew back from Lana, her lip curled.

That was the best opening I was going to get.

I dove for the gun.

“Nuh-uh-uh—” Aecora raised her hands, and out of thin air, a glass bubble materialized around Lana and the gun.

I thunked into it.

Behind the thick glass, the gun was unreachable. Inches away . . . yet so far.

Trapped inside the bubble, Lana scrambled backward, hit the other side, and frantically slapped the walls with her palms, her eyes wide.

Then, it began filling with water.

My breath left me in a rush.
No . . .

I skidded to my knees in front of the glass encapsulating Lana, raised my fist, and punched the surface. My knuckles split open, leaving a smear of blood. Too thick.

I hit it again, elbowed it, kicked it, but to no avail. I’d seen Aecora kill before; you couldn’t punch your way through her creations. My pulse pounded in my temples, rang in my ears.

No use. It was no use.

I laid my hand on the fishbowl. I could do nothing but watch as Lana’s wet fists thumped the inside of the dome. The water moved up to her chest, and then it lifted her feet off the ground, filling the container far too quickly.

She gave up trying to shatter the glass as her beautiful face pressed against the top of the dome and she took her final breaths of air.

I was going to have to watch her drown.

She opened her sad, solemn eyes underwater, and they found mine immediately. I swear forgiveness flashed through them.

Forgiveness. For all the killing. For the violence. For taking her. For everything. Because demon or not, her heart was pure.

Lane stopped battling the water. From the other side of the glass she pressed her palm up against mine. And then she simply watched me. I knew that moment; I’d seen it often enough. When someone accepts their death.

Lana had the audacity to give up.

I could feel my face contorting. Good people always died while evil fuckers like me and Aecora got to keep our insufferable lives.

It was the laugh that made me snap.

Aecora let out a shrill giggle, and that, that laugh that mocked my pain and Lana’s life, that made me see red.

I charged the water demon.

She waved her hands again, and I slammed into another glass wall, this one encircling me. It, too, began filling with water. I backed away, my anger now mixing with panic. Lana and I were now both trapped, we would both drown.

Fucked three ways to Wednesday.

Smirking, Aecora knelt to watch, like death was entertaining.

This was why I hunted these assholes.

I splashed back toward the side closest to Lana’s bubble.

As she moved underwater, her heel struck the gun, which settled to rest against the glass.

The gun.

It was our only hope.

I’d shown her how to fire it. The safety was off.

All she had to do was pull the trigger.

“Lana!” I screamed, slapping the glass. Water sloshed over my knees. “Lana, the gun . . . grab the gun!”

Her brows drew together. She had to almost be out of air. Her hair swirled around her like the plume of an exotic fish, glimmering blue and violet and purple. Under stress, her inhuman side came to the surface.

“Shoot the gun at the glass!”

I made a gun with my hand and shoved it against the glass, then pantomimed pulling the trigger.

She got it. Her eyes lit up with the realization. She swam down to the bottom of her cage and felt around for the gun.

Water bubbled up to my chest.

She found it, and fumbled it around in her hands until it was pointed away from her.

“Good, good . . . now pull the trigger—”

The gun flashed and made a burst of bubbles.

She flinched and dropped the gun to clutch her ears. Underwater, the explosion would have been deafening.

The glass cracked, but didn’t break. Lana stared hopelessly, her chest convulsing as she fought her instinct to breathe.

Aecora frowned and stood up.

“Shoot it again,” I whispered. “Shoot it again, Lana. You can do it.” Water rose to my neck.

Lana went back down for the gun, aimed it at the same spot—
good girl
—and pulled the trigger again.

Her bubble shattered.

The waterfall dumped her, coughing and gasping for breath, on the muddy ground.

Still holding the gun, she took aim at my bubble, her eyes burning with fierce determination, and managed two shots before she collapsed from exhaustion.

My bubble splintered, then cracked, then burst open, and I was dragged out with the escaping gush of water.

This time, I was ready.

I hit the ground and ducked into a roll, swiped the Glock out of the mud, and darted into the trees, already swinging my arm back toward Aecora to fire. She flinched and conjured another bubble around herself, which absorbed half a dozen bullets before shattering.

She whipped her hands out, palms raised. I threw myself sideways as a glass cage clamped around the space where I had been, just missing me. I scrambled into the underbrush. Having lost sight of me, she screamed and spun around in circles, conjuring bubbles haphazardly around the clearing, then she brought another wave smashing through the trees.

This time, I was ready. I anchored myself to a thick tree root and weathered the flood. When it passed, I military crawled through the bushes.

She was moving too fast, whipping around in circles, wrapping every twig that moved in a shiny glass bubble. I couldn’t get a clean shot, and I needed a clean shot.

A headshot.

Only thing that would incapacitate a demon.

It wouldn’t kill her, no, but it would scramble her brain long enough for me to burn her.

But if I missed, I’d find myself right back in a bubble again, likely with my gun and severed hand in a different one.

Across the clearing, the bushes rustled.

Aecora swiveled toward the sound, hands raised to attack.

To both our surprise, a stark naked man stepped into the clearing, arms raised in surrender.

The man I recognized as myself.

“I give up, Cora,” he called in a gravelly voice. “I’m unarmed, I’m no threat.”

“Attagirl, Lana,” I whispered.

Well, now she’d seen me naked.

Technically, more than that. She’d
been
me naked.

Aecora imprisoned her in a bubble anyway, then sauntered up the glass, giggling. “Are you trying to seduce me, Jame? My,
my
, you’ve lost your touch. But not your body, I see. Maybe I’ll take you home and put you on display,
just . . . like . . . this
.” The words slithered off her tongue.

Sick bitch.

I tiptoed up behind her, raised the gun.

Lana, impersonating me, merely stared at Aecora with slitted eyes, giving nothing away.

BOOK: Blood and Sin (The Infernari Book 1)
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