Stefan bowed his head in submission as anger tore through Fury.
And in that moment, Fury knew what he had to do. . . .
Fang leaned his head back as his entire body ached and throbbed while he hung from a tree branch by a thin wire that cut so deep into his wrists, it sent rivulets of blood down his forearms. The blood dripped from his elbows straight into the murky water below and though he shouldn’t hear the sound of it, he swore that he did.
Over and over, he saw the events that had led them here in his mind and he felt like total shit.
"I’m so sorry, Vane. I swear I didn’t mean to get us killed like this."
Vane growled as he fell back from trying to pull himself up. Fang could tell his arms ached from the strain of lifting two hundred pounds of lean muscle up by nothing more than the bones of his wrists.
Fang took a deep breath, trying to ignore the severe pain of his own wrists as they throbbed and burned.
"Don’t worry, Fang. I’ll get us out of this."
Fang heard him, but the words didn’t really register. He felt too bad about this situation. It’d been all his fault. Anya’s death, their capture. He should have known his father would pull some kind of bullshit.
Why hadn’t he seen it coming?
He could have fought harder. He should have fought harder. How could he have allowed them to be jumped so easily?
Now he was going to be the death of Vane too. . . .
When was he going to learn?
Vane strained against the sharpened cord that held his hands tied together above his head, secured to a thin limb as he hung precariously from an ancient cypress tree over some of the darkest, nastiest-looking swamp water he’d ever seen. He didn’t know what was worse, the thought of losing his hands, his life, or falling into that disgusting gator-infested slime hole.
Honestly though, he’d rather be dead than touch that stank. Even in the darkness of the Louisiana bayou, he could see just how putrid and revolting it was.
There was something seriously wrong with anyone who wanted to live out here in this swamp. At last he had confirmation that the Dark-Hunter, Talon of the Morrigantes, was a first-rank idiot.
Fang was tied to an equally thin limb on the opposite side of the tree where they dangled eerily amid swamp gas, snakes, insects, and gators.
With every movement Vane made, the cord cut into the flesh of his wrists. If he didn’t get them freed soon, that cord would cut all the way through his tendons and bones, and sever his hands completely.
It would be the last mistake his father ever made.
At least it would be if Vane could get their asses out of this damned swamp without being eaten.
Both of them were in human form and trapped by the thin, silver metriazo collars they wore around their necks that sent tiny ionic impulses into their bodies. The collars kept them in human form. Something their father thought would make them weaker.
In Fang’s case that was true.
In Vane’s it wasn’t.
Even so, the collars did dampen their ability to wield magick and manipulate the laws of nature. And that was seriously pissing him off.
Like Fang, Vane was dressed only in a pair of bloodied jeans. Of course, no one expected them to live. The collars couldn’t be removed except by magick, which neither of them could use so long as they wore them and even if by some miracle they did get down from the tree, there was already a large group of gators who could smell their blood. Gators who were just waiting for them to fall into the swamp and make them one tasty wolf meal.
"Man," Fang said irritably. "Fury was right. You should never trust anything that bleeds for five days and doesn’t die. I should have listened to you. You told me Petra was a three-wolf-humping bitch, but did I listen? No. And now look at us. I swear if I get out of this, I’m going to kill her."
"Fang!" Vane snapped as his brother continued to rail while Vane tried to manage a few powers even through the painful electrical shocks of the collar. "Could you lay off the blame fest and let me concentrate here, otherwise we’re going to be hanging from this damned tree for the rest of eternity."
Fang grunted as he tried to lift himself up too, but he was having even less success than Vane. For some reason he just couldn’t manage to lift himself up very far.
Damn them for this. He looked at his brother and sighed. "Well, not for eternity. I figure we only have about half an hour more before the cords cut completely through our wrists. Speaking of, my wrists really hurt. How about yours?"
Fang paused while Vane took a deep breath and felt a tiny movement of the cord coming loose.
He also heard the limb crack.
Fang panicked at the sound of the crack and at the sight of the gator that was waiting below to swallow them whole. Unable to deal with it, he reacted the only way he could. With words. "I swear I’m never going to tell you to bite my ass again. Next time you tell me something, I’m going to listen, especially if it concerns a female."
Vane growled. "Then could you start by listening to me when I tell you to shut up?"
"I’m being quiet. I just hate being human. This sucks. How do you stand it?"
Vane rolled his eyes. It was useless. Any time his brother was in human form, the only part of his body that got any exercise was his mouth. Why couldn’t their pack have left Fang gagged before they strung him up?
"You know if we were in wolf form, we could just gnaw our paws off. Of course if we were in wolf form, the cords wouldn’t hold us, so-"
"Shut up," Vane snapped again.
Fang grimaced as he continued to try and pull his legs up, but it was useless. His whole body was going numb and he couldn’t stand the sharp stabs of pain the constricted blood flow was causing. "Does the feeling ever come back into your hands after they get all numb like this? This doesn’t happen when we’re wolves. Does it happen a lot to humans?"
Vane closed his eyes in disgust. So this was how his life would end. Not in some glorious battle against an enemy or his father. Not quietly in his sleep.
No, the last sound he would hear would be Fang bitching.
He leaned his head back so that he could see his brother through the darkness. "You know, Fang, let’s cast blame for a minute. I am sick and tired of hanging here because of your damned big mouth that decided to tell your latest chew toy about how I guarded a Dark-Hunter’s mate. Thanks so much for not knowing when to shut the hell up."
"Yeah, well, how was I to know Petra would run to Markus and tell him you were with Sunshine and that he would think that was why the Daimons attacked us? Two-faced bitch. Petra said she wanted to mate with me."
"They all want to mate with you, dickhead, it’s the nature of our species."
Vane let out a relieved breath as Fang finally quieted down. His brother’s anger should give him about a three-minute reprieve while Fang simmered for a more creative and articulate comeback.
Lacing his fingers together, Vane lifted his legs up. More pain sliced through his arms as the cord cut deeper into his human flesh. He only prayed his bones held a little longer without severing.
More blood ran down his forearms as he lifted his legs up toward the branch over his head.
If he could just get them wrapped . . . around . . .
He tapped the wood with his bare foot. The bark was cold and brittle as it scraped against the soft topside of his foot. He cupped his ankle around the wood.
Just a little . . . bit . . .
Fang snarled at him, "You are such an ass**le."
Well, so much for creativity.
Vane focused his attention on his own rapid heartbeat and refused to hear Fang’s insults.
Upside down, he wrapped one leg around the limb and expelled his breath. Vane growled in relief as the weight was mostly removed from his throbbing, bloodied wrists. He panted from it while Fang continued his unheard tirade.
The limb creaked dangerously.
Vane held his breath again, terrified of moving lest he cause the branch to snap in two and send him plummeting into the putrid, green swamp water below.
Suddenly, the gators thrashed about in the water, then sped away.
"Oh, shit," Vane hissed.
That was not a good sign.
There were only two things he knew of that could make the gators leave. One was for either Talon or Acheron to rein them in. But since Talon was off in the French Quarter saving the world and not in the swamp tonight that seemed highly unlikely. As for Acheron, he had no idea where he’d gotten off to.
The other far less appealing option was Daimons-those who were the walking dead, damned to kill in order to sustain their artificially elongated lives. The only thing they prided themselves on killing more than humans were Katagaria Were-Hunters. Since the Were-Hunters’ lives spanned centuries and they possessed magical abilities, their souls could sustain a Daimon ten times longer than the average human’s.
Even more impressive, once a Were-Hunter’s soul was claimed, his or her magical abilities were absorbed into the Daimons’ bodies where they could use those powers against others.
It was a special gift to be a "nubby" treat for the undead.
There was only one reason for the Daimons to be here. Only one way for them to be able to find him and Fang in this isolated swamp where Daimons didn’t tread without cause. Someone had offered the two of them up as a sacrifice so that the Daimons would leave their Katagaria pack alone.
And there was no doubt in his mind who had made that call.
"Damn you!" Vane snarled out into the darkness, knowing his father couldn’t hear him. But he needed to vent anyway.
"What did I do to you?" Fang asked indignantly. "Besides getting you killed anyway."
"Not you," Vane said as he struggled to get his other leg up enough so that he could free his hands.
Something leapt up from the swamp into the tree above him.
Vane twisted his body to see the tall, thin Daimon standing just above, looking down at him with an amused gleam in his hungry eyes.
Dressed all in black, the blond Daimon clucked his tongue at him. "You should be happy to see us, wolf. After all, we only want to free you."
"Go to hell!" Vane snarled.
The Daimon laughed.
Fang howled as a Daimon sank fangs into his shoulder. He tried to head-butt him away. It was worthless. They swarmed over him like ants while he had no way to stop them. He tried to kick and bite . . . anything to attack them.
He was powerless to protect himself.
He was powerless to protect Vane. That knowledge washed over him like ice. He’d never known this feeling of utter helplessness. He was a fighter. A soldier.
How could he not be able to protect the very things he loved most? Anya was gone and now Vane . . .
"Get the f**k off me!" he snarled at the Daimons, trying his best to get free.
They sank their fangs in deep, tearing at his flesh. The pain of it was unbearable. He felt like he was being eaten alive.
Vane looked to see a group of ten Daimons pulling Fang down from the tree. Damn it! His brother was a wolf. He didn’t know how to fight them in human form. At least not so long as Fang wore his collar.
Infuriated, Vane kicked his legs up. The limb broke instantly, sending him straight into the stagnant water below. He held his breath as the putrid, slimy taste of it invaded his head. He tried to kick himself to the surface, but couldn’t.
Not that it mattered. Someone grabbed him by the hair and pulled him to the surface.
As soon as his head was above the water, a Daimon sank his fangs into Vane’s bare shoulder. Growling in rage, Vane elbowed the Daimon in the ribs and used his own teeth to return the bite.
The Daimon shrieked and released him.
"This one has fight," a female said as she made her way toward him. "He’ll be worth more sustenance than the other."
Vane kicked her legs out from under her before she could grab him. He used her bobbing body as a springboard out of the water. Like any good wolf, his legs were strong enough to propel him from the water to one of the cypress knees nearby.
His dark wet hair hung in his face while his body throbbed from the fight and from the beating his pack had given him. Moonlight glinted off his wet, muscled body as he crouched with one hand on the old wooden knee that was silhouetted against the backdrop of swamp. Dark Spanish moss hung from the trees and wood that jutted out as the full moon, draped in clouds, reflected eerily in the black velvet waves of the water.
Like the animal he was, Vane watched his enemies closing rank around him. He wasn’t about to surrender himself or Fang to these bastards. He might not be dead, but he was every bit as damned as they were and even more pissed off at fate.
Lifting his hands to his mouth, Vane used his teeth to bite through the cord around his wrists and free his hands.
"You’ll pay for that," a male Daimon said as he moved toward him.
His hands free, Vane backflipped from the stump into the water. He dove deep into the murky depths until he could break a piece of wood from a fallen tree that was buried there. He kicked his way back toward the area where Fang was being held down.
He came out of the water just beside his brother to find ten different Daimons feeding from Fang’s blood.
He kicked one back, seized another by the neck, and plunged his makeshift stake into the Daimon’s heart. The creature disintegrated immediately.