The apocalypse didn’t arrive quickly, nor with the ferocity of a punch to the face. Instead, it crept in quietly, a crimson sky oozing over the earth until it blanketed every continent.
Frankly, I’d have preferred a punch to the face. I knew what to do to people who were punching me. I did not know how to handle a world gone mad, bloodthirsty and irrational. Especially when the real hell had yet to break loose.
“Seems to me that discretion might have been a better choice.” Claudius wrinkled his nose at the airport’s exhaust-filled terminal and waved a careless hand in the direction of the five Gryphons filing out of their SUVs. “Dezzi and I are the only ones who need to be here. And you, I suppose.”
Behind Claudius’s back, the long-suffering leader of Boston’s satyr domus rolled her dark eyes. She did not, however, contradict him. Preds, regardless of their race, rarely showed their disagreements in front of Gryphons. Also, Claudius outranked her. It was more Dezzi’s style to challenge his authority in subtle ways.
I bounced from foot to foot. I was wired on adrenaline and the human anxiety that permanently buzzed throughout the city, and trying to keep my distance from the satyrs’ Upper Council member. Claudius had only been bumped from the top of my shitlist because a certain fury had murdered one of my friends. That said, I wouldn’t put it past Claudius to reclaim his place at the top if given enough time. The arrogant, flowing-haired jackass had almost gotten me killed once already.
“Discretion failed us in Phoenix and Paris,” I said, casting a wry glance at Gryphon Agent Tom Kassin. “The fury prison is open, the sky is bleeding, and the time for sneakiness is gone.”
Tom nodded in agreement, which was almost as eerie as the crimson sky or the mostly deserted airport terminal. I could probably count the number of things Tom and I agreed on with one hand. Although, unlike with Claudius, I’d recently developed a grudging respect for the blond-haired, baby-faced Gryphon.
It was Tom’s fraternity—Le Confrérie de l’Aile or the Brotherhood of the Wing—that I wasn’t so certain about. Call me petty, but I couldn’t entirely get over how they’d performed secret experiments on my teenage self that had turned me into a magical anomaly. Sure, their intentions had been good, but we all knew where good intentions led.
In our case, hell might be more literal than figurative. We’d begun referring to the creatures who had been locked in the magical prison—known as the Pit—as demons, and it was for more reasons than just ease of distinguishing them from the modern furies who’d freed them. Our ancestors had called them the same, and they scared the shit out of super-powerful preds like Claudius.
In the past three days, not only had the red sky spread from its origin above where the furies had opened the Pit, but the frequency of thunder had increased too. We had every reason to believe this was a sign that the Pit’s inhabitants were moving about, gaining in power now that they could feed off the negativity and fear generated by the six billion humans on this planet.
Fear, which the preternaturally red sky obviously made worse.
People—be they human, magi or pred—seemed to have had three types of reactions to the sky changing color. A few were trying to carry on as normal. Others were hunkering down, stocking up on gas, water and ammunition, though not necessarily in that priority. Finally, the most annoying ones were taking to the streets in Boston and cities around the world. This third group was a scary mix of angry conspiracy theorists, religious fanatics and a rapidly growing segment of the population who were known as anti-magers because they believed any use of magic by any race was evil and the cause of our current problems.
Claudius voiced his skepticism about the need for our Gryphon escort with a grunt. I took my cue from Dezzi and simply rolled my eyes as I wandered away. Ever since I’d had a magical collision with Raj, one of the fury ringleaders and the bastard at the top of my shitlist, my ability to get angry had been muted. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but since furies fed on anger and fear, I suspected it wasn’t good.
On the other hand, it probably was a boon to my blood pressure given how much time I’d had to spend in Claudius’s company lately.
A lone cabbie drove by our spot in the passenger pick-up lot, and the taste of the driver’s grapefruit-flavored fear shot over my tongue. It faded as he passed from my sight, but I pulled a stick of gum from my pocket anyway. Lately, I’d taken to chewing a lot of the stuff or munching on breath mints in order to deal with the constant sour taste of that particular emotion.
“You okay?” Lucen came up behind me.
I wanted to snark at him for asking such a dumb question, but I held my tongue because he meant well. He knew it wasn’t just the situation with the Pit being open that had me on edge. It was being forced to deal with more satyrs from the Upper Council. Alas, Claudius, though a jackass of the highest order, had finally made himself useful and convinced the rest of the highest-ranking satyrs that they’d better help our tentative Boston-based alliance. That was why we were here. After intense political negotiations with the Gryphons, the satyrs had admitted that they held the fifth Vessel of Making.
We had the other four, which meant once we had the satyrs’ Vessel too, we could unite all five and relock the Pit, preferably before the creatures inside escaped. Or that’s how the theory went. How that would actually work, well, that was something we were struggling with.
I offered Lucen a stick of gum. “I’m fine.” Then I wondered if that was a lie, and if so, could my misery-feeding boyfriend detect it?
Lucen declined the gum with an expression of comical distaste. “Sure you are.”
“Hey, if you don’t like my answers, why ask the question?”
“Habit?” He smiled impishly. The combination of the terminal’s yellowish lighting and the ever-present red tinge from above gave everyone a creepy hue, but in that moment his blue-green eyes twinkled as bright as ever.
It was a good thing Lucen’s appearance was only the third sexiest thing about him, following his sense of humor and protectiveness. Otherwise, I’d feel pretty shallow for the way I could lust after him no matter what the situation.
Even now, I longed to rest my head on his broad shoulder and breathe deeply of his cinnamon-scented pheromones. The summer night was exceptionally humid, and imagining the taste of the thin layer of sweat on his skin teased me. It wasn’t even about sex. I just wanted him to hold me and lie to me and tell me everything was going to be okay. But this was neither the time nor the place. An unfortunate rule of the apocalypse was the more you craved comfort, the less opportunities you had for it.
“You’re only asking out of habit?” I pretended to pout. “And here I thought you were genuinely concerned for my mental well-being.”
Lucen took my arms in his hands and kissed my forehead. “Always, little siren.”
Someone purposely scuffed their shoes against the asphalt as they came up behind us. Since I couldn’t detect any emotions, it had to be Dezzi or Claudius. With my luck, the latter.
Indeed, my luck held. Claudius reached out with his power and lightly brushed my mind. Despite my unwillingness, my body reacted to the sensation and I shivered. Lucen could sense my stronger arousal too, and he tightened his grip on my arms.
“You know it’s impolite to eat in front of the rest of us.” Claudius leered at me.
I clenched my jaw, and Lucen responded before I could. “She is a satyr. Lacking horns doesn’t change her race.”
“Stop it,” I whispered to Lucen. Picking fights with Claudius was more dangerous for him than it was for Dezzi. Claudius already had it in for Lucen, mostly because he thought Lucen was slumming it by being with me, and Lucen rose to the bait every time the topic arose. It was only because Lucen was currently Dezzi’s acting lieutenant that he was here tonight. Usually, Dezzi tried to separate the two men.
“Being an abnormal human does not make her one of us. If I can feed on her emotions, if I can addict her”—Claudius’s smirk broadened—“then how can she be?”
The memory of Claudius in my head, of how I’d hated him even as I was begging for his touch… It hit me all at once with a searing heat, like a salamander’s bite to the brain. Suddenly I was reliving that moment, the way I’d clung to Lucen’s railing and spread my legs for the arrogant bastard in front of me.
All the rage I’d felt then exploded inside me. The unnatural calm I’d been experiencing was gone, replaced by a red-hot fire. Damn it, I might not be able to punch the apocalypse, but I could whale on a jackass of a satyr.
I spun around, slipping Misery from the sheath at my hip as I did so. The knife’s black salamander fire-forged blade was beautiful in my grip and so easily lethal. Just a single nick would make Claudius bleed out. None of his power could save him from that, and while I held the weapon in my hand, I felt every bit as powerful as he must have when he’d lorded his control over me.
Claudius’s eyes opened wide in surprise as I raised the blade toward his annoyingly handsome face. Oh, how I’d love to see it scarred.
Vaguely, I was aware of Lucen calling my name and the Gryphons pausing whatever they were doing and turning my way. But hot blood raced by my ears. I didn’t care what they thought, just as I didn’t care that threatening an extraordinarily powerful satyr whose help we needed was not a smart idea.
I didn’t fucking care about anything except giving in to the fury boiling in my veins. The world had gone mad, bloodthirsty and irrational, and at last, I’d gone with it.
“Back the hell off.” My body was so tense it hurt my jaw to speak. “I don’t care what you think I am or what you think of me. But if you ever invade my head that way again, I’m going to tie you up with your own intestines.”
Hell, I didn’t know why I shouldn’t do it anyway. My hand trembled with the urge to drive my blade into Claudius’s throat. No satyr healer could close that wound before he bled out, and wouldn’t that be oh so satisfying.
Claudius could probably use his magic to force me to drop the knife, but maybe he didn’t want to chance that I could move faster than he could mind-fuck me. He kept backing up, and he cast disdainful glances at Dezzi and the Gryphons as he did. “You need to learn to control her.”
“Fuck you!” My vehemence echoed off the terminal’s filthy concrete walls. “I’m not a satyr or a Gryphon. Nobody gets to claim me or control me, and you certainly don’t get to define what I am.”
Then I lunged at him.