Time Untime (Page 14)

Time Untime (Dark-Hunter #22)(14)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

He inclined his head to her. "That monster’s name was Apollymi. A goddess from Atlantis."

But that didn’t make any sense to her. "Why would an Atlantean goddess destroy our people?"

"Vengeance over a wrong done to her."

"What did we do?"

"Nothing, other than having a gate on an island that was near Atlantis. In her mind, our inaction was the greatest sin of all. But her anger wasn’t really for us, we just got caught in the cross fire. Her fury was for the Greek god Apollo. Most of all, it was against her own family."

Her frown deepened. "Why?"

"She had a son who had been ordered killed by her husband. To protect her baby, she hid him in the human realm to be raised as a prince. Instead, he was abused and then brutally murdered by Apollo. In retaliation, she put down her entire family and then sank her Atlantis into the ocean. Still not appeased, she vowed to see the whole earth destroyed. And so she went on a rampage that brought her here. Not because we’d harmed her, but because none of us had been there to help her child."

Kateri gaped at the irrationality of that. Honestly, she expected better from a goddess. "But if they didn’t know-"

"It didn’t matter to her, Kateri. Trust me. Her rage and loss, I completely understand, and I don’t hold that against her in the least. There is no worse feeling than to have your entire world shattered when there’s nothing you can do to stop it. To be in complete and utter agony and misery, and to look around at a world that truly doesn’t give a shit about you … It hits you on a level I am grateful to the gods that you can’t understand or imagine. Because no one should ever know that place in hell. You are lost to the pain, and inside you’re screaming at the top of your lungs for help, and no one hears you. No one cares. They go on with their putrid lives, oblivious to your agony. And when that moment comes that you realize just how alone you really are-how little you matter to anyone else, you lose all higher cognitive functioning. You devolve into a rabid animal. All that matters then is that you make them understand your pain. That you shake them out of their blind complacency so that they share the hell that is yours. In that moment, you want to feel their blood on your hands. To taste it on your lips. To bathe in it until you’re drunk and pruny. There is this place of insanity that lives deep inside everyone. Most people might tap at it, once, maybe even twice in their lifetime, but they never breach it." His eyes burned her with his sincerity….

And madness.

Something that absolutely terrified her. She wasn’t even sure what kind of creature he was. Demon, god, or other. Yet here he was, livid, and she hadn’t done anything to provoke him.

"Others are like animals who have been abused one time too many," he continued. "They have suffered and been hurt to a level that doesn’t understand anything except cruelty. The rage takes hold and it drives out everything else that makes them human. All they want is to make the world pay for what it’s done to them. I cannot imagine the pain and brutal betrayal Apollymi felt as she held her son’s lifeless body in her arms and saw what had been done to him. Truthfully, I can’t even begin to comprehend a love of that magnitude. But I do understand the need for retribution that drove her across the ocean and made her attack us."

His gaze turned darker, but the anger was gone now.

Kateri’s heart ached in sympathy at the torment she saw in his obsidian eyes. In that one moment, his heart was bared to her. This wasn’t a fierce immortal warrior standing by her side.

He was a man whose heart had been shattered.

She wanted to hold him and make it better, but she knew it wasn’t that simple. Only in early childhood could everything be cured by a kiss and a hug. That was the saddest part about growing up. The biggest loss.

Some scars went too deep to ever be fully concealed. While you might succeed in hiding them from time to time, they always came out and reopened a wound that never fully healed.

And his were massive.

Ren moved his club to his other hand before he spoke again. "In a matter of minutes after reaching their shores, Apollymi destroyed the Keetoowah homeland and sank their island to the bottom of the ocean. But because of their superior skills and technology, many of them escaped to the mainland, where they sought shelter." He had a bitter catch in his voice.

"What happened?" she asked, knowing it had to be bad.

"Within a few weeks of setting up their new town, they were attacked by seventy tribes who blamed them for the destruction Apollymi had wrought. At least that was what they claimed. The truth was, they were jealous. They felt that the Keetoowah were more favored by the heavens, and since the Keetoowah were weakened by Apollymi’s attack on them, the others saw it as a rare opportunity to go after them and kill them off before they had a chance to replenish their numbers."

That was beyond cowardly. But as her grandmother had so often said, envy was the root of the greatest evil in the world. Since the dawn of mankind, it had been used to fuel the worst acts of cruelty.

And while she’d heard a different version of the story, she wondered if one part had been true. "My grandmother told me that the Keetoowah won because of the Spirit Warriors who aided them in the fight."

A wry grin twisted his lips. "They weren’t Spirit Warriors."

"What were they?"

Ren paused as they reached the end of town. He scanned the dark forest in front of them, wondering if it would be safer or more dangerous than to try and hide among the city dwellers.

The number of demons who lived here was staggering, both in the city and the outlying areas. But at least in the forest he’d feel more at home.

As a child, he’d spent hours upon hours hiding in the woods, pretending that he would never have to go home again.

But this wasn’t the time to think about that.

Hefting the club, he used it to beat a trail through the thick foliage so that they could find shelter and give his body a chance to heal and his powers a chance to charge. "On the island that Apollymi had destroyed, the Keetoowah’s main city was directly below the Pleiades constellation. Because of that, the seven goddesses who called it home were able to look down and watch them go about their daily lives."

He paused to glance back at her to ensure himself that she was safe and still following him. "One of the Pleiades, Sterope, fell in love with the chief’s son…. She must have hit her head or something to give herself brain damage to love that bastard, but what the hell do I know?" he mumbled bitterly. Then louder, he continued, "For years, she watched over him, dreaming of a time when they might be together. And when the tribes attacked his people, she saw it as a prime chance to win his heart."

"I don’t understand. Why didn’t she help him with Apollymi?"

"She couldn’t. The Greeks were the ones who’d pissed Apollymi off, and they were her prime target. Had Sterope reared her head during that fight, Apollymi would have taken it and stuck it on a pike. So Sterope didn’t make her presence known to the chief’s son until he was under fire from the seventy tribes. Unlike with Apollymi’s attack, there were no gods rallying to stop the brutality. She knew if she didn’t do something, they would all die."

Kateri was impressed with his depth of knowledge. He told the stories as if he’d witnessed them. "Were you there when all of this happened?"

He shook his head. "It was before I was born."

"How do you know so much about it, then?"

"I grew up with people who’d lived through it. When the elders would get together, they’d talk about it and warn the rest of us to be wary of those who might still want to do us harm because of it all."

Kateri took a second to digest everything he was telling her. And that made her curious over something. "How old are you?"

He laughed bitterly. "By the calendar you know … over eleven thousand years."

She stumbled at that unexpected disclosure. Whoa … that was old … Even by her geology standard. "I have to say, you look great for an old geezer. What’s your secret? You bathed in Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth as a kid?"

He gave her a droll stare. "Sold my soul."

Okay, between the red eyes and the fangs …

What am I doing here?

"You’re a demon, aren’t you?"

"Not by blood."

A chill went down her spine. "What does that mean?"

"You don’t have to be born demonic. There are plenty of people I’ve met who are worse than any demon ever born."

Those words calmed her a bit. He was right. She’d met a few of those herself.

He stopped and turned to face her. To her complete shock, he laid his hand against her cheek. "Don’t be afraid of me, Kateri. While I lived at one time for no other purpose than to make the entire world tremble in my presence, I’ve long since put that battle to bed. I sold my soul, not for personal gain, but to make right a wrong I committed against the people I should have protected with every part of me."

"And did you make it right?"

He released a weary sigh. "It took a long while, but yes. I did. Eventually." He dropped his hand from her face. As he started away from her, she stopped him. He met her gaze with one arched brow.

There in the moonlight, with the play of shadows over his handsome face, he took her breath. Not because of the way he looked, but because of the vulnerability she saw in the heart of a man who seemed invincible.

"Why did you give me your moonstone?"

"To protect you on your journey." He said that like it was nothing, but she knew better.

She glanced down to his wounded shoulder. "You’re the one who’s fighting. Wouldn’t you need it more than me?"

He shrugged. "Grandmother Moon never thought much of me. I was hoping she’d like you better."

Still, it meant a lot to her that he’d done it. And she’d offer it back, but if his people were like hers, that would be the ultimate insult. When a gift was made, it was from the heart. To return it was a rejection.

And this man had been rejected enough.

"Thank you, Ren."

He inclined his head to her, then returned to cutting a path for them through the woods.

"Ren? Can I ask you something?"

He paused to look back at her. "Have you not been doing that since we met?"

"Yeah, but this is personal."

"More personal than asking about my gift or age? Or if I was a demon? I shudder with dread over the possibilities."

She smiled at his sarcasm. "Fine. Does the name Makah’Alay mean anything to you?"

He hissed as his grip on his club slipped and he narrowly missed hitting himself with it. "Where did you hear that name?"

Kateri hesitated. Talk about personal. Admitting she’d seen him in her dreams for years was kind of creepy. Could that be considered a form of stalking? She hadn’t done it intentionally. Still …

Oh c’mon, Teri. Every friggin’ thing about this is creepy. He was creepy.

Might he have the power to walk in her dreams? He was old … and he was as paranormal as anything could be. It was possible that he’d been the one to make her dream those things.

Hoping for the best, she opted for the truth. "I’ve seen visions of you, but in them you’re always called Makah’Alay."

Ren couldn’t breathe as he heard that. Why would she dream of him? Dreams had great power. They were the key to all creation.

To all life.

If he saw visions of her and she saw them of him, then that meant they were tied together.

Intimately.

Was she the tool the Grizzly would use in this time and place to destroy him? It was the only thing that made sense. It would explain how she knew his name and why he’d been warned about her.

Whatever he did, he couldn’t let his guard down where she was concerned. She was his assassin.

"And in these visions … what does Makah’Alay do?"

She didn’t flinch or hesitate with her response. "Usually, he kills me."

"Have no fear, ta’hu’la. I would never kill you. It’s forbidden."

"Forbidden by whom?"

"The one who owns me. I came back to this life to protect humans, not harm them. So long as you’re with me, I will give my life for yours. As for Makah’Alay, he died a long time ago."

That seemed to placate her. "So what does ta’hu’la mean?"

"Little one."

Kateri felt heat rush over her face at his endearment. She wasn’t the kind of woman who normally brought that out in a man. And definitely not in one who looked like Ren. Heck, her own lab assistant, who wasn’t that much younger than her, couldn’t even call her by her nickname. Wanting to cover her embarrassment, she returned to their former conversation. "I interrupted your story. You were telling me about the Pleiades. I take it Merope rallied her troops?"

"Sterope," he corrected. "Merope is actually her sister, who married Sisyphus."

"And people wondered why I had a C average in the one Classical Studies class I took in college. Who can keep all these names straight?"

"There are many who would argue that the Greek is easier to pronounce and remember than our names."

"Yeah, well, those are people who weren’t raised with our writing system … which is different than yours, isn’t it?"