"That'll never happen. Powerful men in history have tried shit along those lines and ended up with their heads on pikes."
"Men have tried. Never an Unseelie king."
Tired, he rubbed his eyes. "Show-and-tell time, Malik. Let's see what you've got or I'm leaving."
"I was getting to that before our little debate about what constitutes evil. And I happen to know that a bit of sacrifice is necessary for the greater good." He held up a hand before Kalen could voice further argument. "We'll put the super-shifter issue to rest for the evening. Follow me."
"Where to now?" he muttered.
But the other male didn't answer. Kalen followed the Unseelie through the house, turning over in his mind all the stuff Malik had told him. He still couldn't grasp, well, any of it.
Jesus fuck, he was Fae. Like Sariel, Malik's half Seelie-half Unseelie son and the Pack's good friend. Maybe he could trust the guy to answer some questions for him discreetly. Once Sariel recovered and got over the fact that Kalen had been seduced into letting the witch loose, who then almost killed Sariel on his daddy's orders. Yeah, the Fae prince would be happy to have a heart-to-heart with Kalen, become best buddies.
Right. That would happen.
Kalen was brought out of his thoughts when Malik reached a doorway off the kitchen. The doorway opened to a flight of stairs that led down. Right into a dark, creepy basement, it appeared.
Kalen balked. "You want me to go down there with you? I've seen this movie, and it didn't end so good for the stupid hero."
"I'm not going to harm you. You have my word."
"I'm sure that promise is worth framing and hanging on the wall."
Malik descended the steps, waving a hand as he passed. Several lights came on, and at least Kalen could see to the landing at the bottom. With a sigh, he went after the Unseelie. If he was making a mistake, this would likely be his last.
Kalen was completely unprepared for what he found.
In the center of the basement floor, hanging with his arms bound above his head, was a man he recognized. A big son of a bitch he'd met just once before-
That night, weeks ago, when the guy and his hick asshole buddies had attacked Kalen at the Cross-eyed Grizzly.
Billy Beer Gut.
"What the fuck's going on here?" Kalen looked from the frightened man back to the Unseelie. "Why do you have this shithead tied up in your basement?"
The shithead in question darted his gaze from him to Malik, eyes bulging in fear. The sharp stench of urine reached his nose. It permeated the room, and a dark stain was visible at the crotch of the man's dirty jeans.
"I see you remember Billy," Malik said pleasantly, as though they were getting reacquainted over a nice dinner of wine and lobster. "He's been kind enough to join us for a brief reunion."
"Listen, I don't know what you're playing at, but Billy is good and scared now. Right, Billy?"
"Y-yeah! I got no beef with either of ya'll!"
"See? I'm sure that's what you wanted, and you've had your fun. Let him go and I'll wipe his mind. He won't remember this ever happened."
"What would be the point in that? He has to know what he's done wrong."
Before I kill him went unspoken, but Kalen was suddenly, dreadfully sure that's what Malik had planned. "He knows. Isn't that so, Billy?"
The man found his voice, nodding emphatically. "H-hell, yeah! R-right! I recognize the purty fella here, from that night at the Grizzly." He laughed nervously as though sharing a joke. "We don't git many dudes like him in our neck of the woods and we was just havin' us a little fun, that's all! I swear we wasn't gonna hurt him or nothin'!"
"As though you could." Malik scoffed in contempt. "Fat slug of a human."
"H-human?" He glanced around in confusion.
"Malik, please. Let him go."
"He must pay, my pet."
"For what? Him and his buddies ganging up on me? It's not the first time that's happened, and you can't go around killing everyone who tries to walk all over me. . . ."
He trailed off, seeing the catlike expression on Malik's handsome face. The triumph. And in that moment he realized two things.
First, the hapless Billy wasn't leaving this basement alive.
Second, Malik had killed on his behalf before. When? How many? Every single person in the entire time Malik had been following him, since he was a homeless teenager?
"Yes," the Unseelie answered his thoughts. "Every last one. And they were delicious."
"Christ." Kalen pushed a hand through his hair, feeling sick. Helpless. He couldn't think of that now. "You can't do this."
"I really can. More important, you won't stop me."
"You think not? I'm just as powerful as you, and I'm fully capable-"
"But you won't. My boy, this is why I brought you here-to show you that essentially there is no difference between you and me." He gripped Kalen's shoulder and brought their foreheads so close they almost touched. Kalen didn't pull away as Malik went on.
"You want this scum dead for what he did to you," Malik intoned gently. "He's a symbol of all those who've hurt you again and again throughout your life. You want him to pay, don't you?"
"No! Killing is wrong."
"You've been beaten and worse by men like this, when you were little more than a boy. Before you fully came into your powers. Am I correct?"
"Yeah," he said bitterly.
"Just once, you want to feel what it's like to show one of them what it means to be completely at your mercy."
"Yes." The word emerged in spite of his resolve to deny it.
The bound man started blubbering, tears and snot running down his fleshy cheeks.
"He's no innocent, Kalen," Malik soothed. "He has raped and murdered, left many battered and broken. Including his wife and three children. Like the slime you called 'father.' Look."
With a push, Malik shoved several of Billy's memories into Kalen's head. They rolled like old, grainy footage of a home movie, and the scenes were real. The bastard grabbing a waitress from the Grizzly, forcing her to blow him behind the bar, knowing she wouldn't tell or else he'd spin his own tale through the town, ruining her reputation. Other scenes were of Billy and his buddies burying a body outside town. Someone they'd killed for owing one of them less than a hundred bucks.
But the worst were the kids. He'd abused his children horribly, beating them with his belt and scalding them with cigarettes, hot water. Just last week, the little one had spilled something on the greasy carpet, and the bastard had forced the child to drink half of a bottle of carpet cleaner. In their backwoods craphole of a shack, the boy had almost died. The man promised his terrified wife they were all dead if she breathed a word to anyone.
Disbelief and horror at what Malik had planned here tonight became eagerness. Morphed into a terrible, seething rage that demanded justice for the ones Billy had hurt. Killed. Especially the children. And it was justice. No one else would do anything about this piece of filth.
"Do you see?" Malik asked.
"Yeah. He's a piece of shit." Power surged through his veins. The need for blood sang through him.
"What shall I do with him, boy?"
"Show him what hell really looks like," Kalen said coldly. "Then kill him."
* * *
Miles away, in the darkness of his quarters, Nick's pacing in his bedroom was brought up short by an awful vision.
He'd been restless tonight, just as he always was when one of his own was suffering. And this man was in agony.
"Kalen," he whispered hoarsely. "No."
But he couldn't stop what was happening. There was no way he'd find Malik's hideout without Kalen's help, and the Sorcerer was already there.
Kalen's storm was on the horizon now, the thunder rolling. Lightning just beginning to flicker in the sky. The choices he made tonight, and the ones to come, he'd have to live with for the rest of his days.
However few those were.
The vision intensified.
Show him what hell really looks like. Then kill him.
"Oh, Jesus. No! Don't do it!"
But it was far too late. The Unseelie had finally managed to get his talons into Kalen, and the seduction had begun. The gradual slide into the pit of hell.
God help them all.
* * *
"No, no, please! I-I'll leave town! My wife and kids won't never have ta look at me again!"
Malik smiled, and his canines lengthened to protrude over his bottom lip. "They won't have to do that anyway."
With that, the Unseelie began to change. Kalen barely had time to register that Malik had dropped his glamour before his clothes disappeared and his form began to grow. His skin darkened to a grayish purple hue, and his straight black hair cascaded to his waist. His ears grew long, pointed at the tips, and his facial features sharpened to cruel angles.
His height quickly towered to at least seven feet. But the most frightening and impressive of all were his wings. Unlike Sariel's beautiful, feathered wings of electric blue, his father's were dark and leathery, almost black. They spanned nearly the entire basement in width, some fifteen feet.
The whole package that was Malik, undisguised, was cruelly magnificent. Something straight out of a nightmare.
And now he was Billy's nightmare. The man stared up at his tormentor, mouth open, no longer making a sound. He was learning now, at the very end of his existence, just how pathetic and insignificant he was in the grand scheme of the world. How powerless. A mindless bug headed for a zapper.
Kalen almost felt sorry for him. Except when he thought of what the asshole had done to his own kids.
"I'm not from hell, Billy," Malik said, his voice much lower and more gravelly than before. "I am hell. I have existed since before mankind walked upright, and for too long I have watched as many humans evolved to be not much more intelligent than the primates before them. You are one such substandard example of humanity. Are you following me, ape?"
The ape was beyond speech, his eyes fixed on the Unseelie in horror.
Malik reached out a hand, extended his index finger, and ran one razor-sharp claw down Billy's fleshy cheek. A thin line of blood trickled from the slice, over his jaw and down his neck. "And as a piece of undisputed filth, unworthy of being loose among even the weakest of humans, I cannot allow you to live. Even you with your limited cognitive ability can understand this by now, I'm sure."
Totally entranced, Billy nodded.
The Unseelie moved so fast, Kalen hardly saw what happened next. His arm shot out and he stabbed his claws deep into Billy's stomach. The man screamed, a high-pitched keen of sheer terror that bounced off the walls and became a gurgle as Malik thrust up, effectively gutting him.
Then Malik used his other hand to grab Billy's scraggly hair and yank his head back. The cords of the man's neck were exposed, and the Unseelie licked his lips in anticipation. And then he lowered his head and struck, tearing into the vulnerable throat of his captive, ripping it out. Drank and slurped, grunting in satisfaction.
Feeding on his prey.
The weak feed the strong, and the strong survive. That was Kalen's thought as he watched, transfixed by the sight of the powerful, muscled creature taking his fill. Why wasn't he horrified? Afraid? But he just wasn't. There was something darkly beautiful and primal about the scene before him. It called to his blood, to the dark power residing within him. Tightened his groin deliciously, stiffened his cock.
Abyssus abyssum invocat, Beryl had whispered to him a few days ago. Hell calls hell.
Now he knew why. The witch had been preparing Kalen for this night. For joining Malik, embracing his destiny. He never had to be helpless again, as he had been at fourteen. Never again had to endure the mockery of those like Aric. Never had to be alone. Because Malik understood.