Ethan awoke with a jolt. He moved to sit up and fell back with a bark of pain. He had almost lost his fight with the demon clawing its way through him. Each and every claw mark throbbed. Ethan coughed and was alarmed at the spray of blood on his palm. He knew without turning his head that the demon taking up residence in Nadya was watching him from the shadowy corner of the room.
Ethan couldn’t believe what he had done. What the hell was I thinking? The only thing that he could point to was feelings of abandonment which he had refused to acknowledge. Ethan knew he only had himself to blame. He did urge Andrea to go on without him. Still, some part of him had hoped that she would refuse to leave his side. He was more than a little disappointed by her decision to take off with the others.
When the demon appeared to Ethan on his sick bed, he was feeling hurt and impotent. His shock at coming face-to-face with an otherworldly being was quickly overcome by the intensity of his resentment. Ethan tried to recall what the being had looked like and found that his recollection of the ordeal had already begun to fade. What stood out in his mind was the eyes. The intense, hypnotic quality of the being’s gaze.
Looking into those tiny pools of darkness, Ethan spontaneously and inexplicably knew things. In his mind’s eye, he saw Nadya’s underhanded tactics which had lead to the demise of Marko’s family. Wanting to lash out at someone, he used Nadya’s betrayal of Marko to justify unleashing the demon and allowing it possess her. It hadn’t even occurred to Ethan that she would suffer.
He lay back down. The fever incubating inside of Ethan had sapped his strength. Without the power of the demon surging through him, he felt weak and sickly again. All Ethan wanted to do was close his bleary eyes and rest his achy body, but he needed to get going.
Not knowing where to go or what to do was an overwhelming feeling. Who knows where Andrea is now? No doubt she’s already fallen under the spell of Marko’s smoldering good looks. Once she sees him cast or deflect a spell, that’ll be all she bloody wrote won’t it? Women are attracted to powerful men. He’s also got that whole rebel-without-a-cause thing going for him. What do I have going for me? Bollocks, that’s what! The first time we get attacked and I get bitten.
That had been the real reason he told Andrea and the others to go on without him. He hadn’t wanted Andrea to see how weak he had become. Ethan sighed and struggled to his feet. He stood swaying in place for a moment, fighting back a wave of nausea. Disturbingly, he heard the demon’s voice inside his head.
“That’s right get up worm. It’s time to go.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you. The deal was…”
“Voided when you stopped others from getting through. Now you must join me and find another to make a third.”
“Go with you where…to hell? I’m not dead yet, although I came pretty damn close, thanks to you trying to sneak your mates through. Please don’t tell me that you expect me to go on some twisted mission with you.”
“You will accompany me.”
“I ain’t going nowhere with you. I don’t care if I have to live inside this bloody circle.”
“A worm foolish enough to adorn himself with slave tattoos should not disrespect his betters.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The eight pointed stars on the backs of your hands.”
“Oh those? They don’t mean anything. I just got them because they looked cool.”
“Let me show you how foolish it is to adorn yourself with things you don’t understand.”
When nothing happened, Ethan snorted his derision. He was about to make a sarcastic comment when a burning sensation on the backs of his hands distracted him. It was alarming to see the tattoo ink on them begin to smoke and then glow like hot embers. The pain drove all thoughts out of Ethan’s mind.
An involuntary scream escaped through his gritted teeth. It took a few moments for coherent thought to return. His demands and supplication for an end to the torture fell on deaf ears. The creature appeared to be deriving intense pleasure from his pain. Ethan coped with the agony by unleashing his anger. He glared at Nadya’s face concentrating on an image in his head, murmuring between anguished gasps what he would like to do to the demon. A single word coalesced in his mind and he spat it at the demon.
The torture stopped abruptly as the creature was forcibly ejected from Nadya’s body. She fell unconscious to the floor. Ethan had the presence of mind to step out of the circle and scoop her up, falling back inside the protective ring before the creature could recover. Cradling Nadya’s head in his lap, he sat and marveled at how insubstantial the creature appeared to be without her body to house it. Looking at it was like looking through a piece of cellophane. It lunged at him and was repelled by the boundary of the circle. Reassured, he chanced a look down at Nadya.