Shattered Dawn by Georgia Lyn Hunter
Bells tolled midnight, their dissonance ringing in the New Year as snowflakes floated down. Distant cheers resonated from central New York, miles away to where Nik roamed a dank alley in the Fish Market area.
For the denizens of this world, it represented a time for renewed resolutions, expectation, and optimism, a shining future to look forward to.
Him? Same shit, different year.
Sulfur. Hunt. Kill.
But with most of the festive mortals congregating in Time Square, demoniis were a no-show in the alleyways. The soul suckers were probably hibernating for the night, given the lack of prey in these passageways.
Uninterested in hanging around and listening to the humans’ merriment, Nik headed deeper into the slushy alley. But having to fit in with humans togged to their eyeballs, he retrieved his skullcap from his coat pocket and pulled it over his buzzed hair.
An eerie sensation slid over his already iced-up psyche. Nik slowed. The chilly night air tasted acrid…sulfur. Demons. Perfect.
Nik dematerialized and followed the strain, taking form in the industrial area and near a war zone. Shrieks from humans and demons fighting ricocheted off the brick buildings and blasted his ears. The dark energy residing within him stirred in anticipation. He stood there for a second, watching some of his fellow Guardians wading through the ruckus like bare-knuckled boxers, unable to use their mystical weapons or powers with humans about, to kill the supernatural shits.
Good thing they still had fists, and Nik relished in getting up close and personal.
With preternatural speed, he blurred and dove between two scuffling figures. He sent the human stumbling away with a mind-shove and rammed his fist into the demon’s face.
What’s all this about?he telepathed Týr.
Who the hell knows with these dumb shits?“Fucking hate this time of the year!” the Norse growled out loud. “You think they would simply enjoy the New fuckin’ Year and chill since they chose to live on this realm, but no, the dickheads just have to stir up shit—”
“Fuck you, too,” the Otium demon snarled. “No one gets in on our turf and swings their dicks here.”
“Oh, motherfucka,” Týr taunted, an evil grin spreading. “Bring it on.”
His danger radar buzzing, Nik spun around with an airborne kick, sending the demon hurtling at him face-first into the brick wall.
Gang wars were the bane of the city’s slums, and these Otium idiots always ended up dragging the Guardians into their territorial fracas with the humans. He scanned for Dagan. Where the fuck was he?
Nik telepathed him. Need to clean up this shitfest and do a mind sweep of humans fast before the local authorities wind up here. Heducked a knife flung at him. Or we’re in a fuckload of trouble—
Dagan appeared, moving through the chaos faster than a speeding bullet, his bronze features molded in stone.
The humans instantly detached themselves from the fight and strolled off as if without a care. Yeah, Dag was ace in mass-clearing the memories of idiotic mortals who had no clue as to what they went up against in these battles.
But the demons remained, seeking vengeance.
Grunts and thuds ricocheted in the frigid backstreet as the fight continued. A sinister hiss sounded, Nik pivoted and ducked a hellfire bolt flying past him, inches from demolishing half his skull. Growling, he flashed and grabbed the demon’s arm, twisting the appendage behind the idiot’s back. “Really?”
The scourge’s thin face darkened, lips twisting, eyes streaked red. “As long as you’re dead, I don’t care.”
“You wanna test that theory?” Nik bent the arm harder, and the demon shrieked. “Here’s the thing. Unlike my fellow Guardians, I don’t give a fuck who sees me destroying you. Unfortunately for you. I. Cannot. Die.”
In the gloomy alley, Nik let his corporeal self morph into a gray, misty shape, becoming one with the darkness. One of his weird-ass abilities—to take on a smoky serpentine shape—courtesy of his mātā’s protection spell as an infant. Wispy tentacles slithered around the demon, trapping him.
“Try to leave…”Nik’s voice lowered, indistinct amidst the uproar. “I dare you. And I’ll show you how easily I can sssuck the life out of you fuckersss,” His sibilant tone became eerier in this form, his amorphous hold constricting the demon like a smoky boa.
“No, no…” His teeth clacked. “Let go…”
“Just so you know, dark sssouls are my delicacy,”Nik lied. “Enlighten me as to why you’d bring notice to yourself in thisss realm?”
“It’s over t-territory,” the demon whimpered. “They accuse us of trespassing on their turf.”
“With a name like that, can you blame them?” Nik grunted, reforming once more. “Now, the real reason. Lie, and I will snuff out your pathetic life.”
Terror leached the color from the demon’s face. “Their women have gone missing. The Vipers claim we took ‘em.”
Nik pinned the demon with a bored stare, running his tongue piercing against the roof of his mouth. Truth.
He let him go, and the skatá took off like the wind. Nik was aware of homeless kids being abducted, but not females.
Thwack!The dull sound of a gunshot, one muffled with a silencer, echoed.
Seriously? Gun wounds weren’t lethal to Guardians or demon-kind, merely irritants, but to humans, they could be fatal.
A female moaned in pain, distracting him. His gaze snapped toward the cry just as a swish sounded. Nik jerked back, barely avoiding the dagger swinging inches from his carotid. He flung out his hand, releasing an ice spear, nailing the pest in the torso.
The demon stumbled and glanced at the lance sticking out of his chest. Snorting, he grabbed the ice, broke off the end, and laughed. “Is that all you have, Guardian? This useless ability? At least it’s not the Detonator or the one with the Blitz.”
So, the idiot knew of Blaéz, and Aethan. That didn’t surprise him. The former killed with a thought, and the latter leveled everything to ashes in seconds with his power of whitefire.
“I have a casualty—” Týr’s clipped voice drifted from afar. “I’m getting her outta here.”
Nik’s focus remained on the smirking demon. “Then you should have wished it was one of them who got you. Me…” He shrugged, watching the piece of ice sticking out of the demon’s chest burrowed into him like a worm. “I like the time it takes to die.”
After all, he’d died many times, each one slow and agonizing.
The demon’s brow scrunched. A spasm of coughing broke free. Terror twisted his face. He scratched at his throat, struggling for breath. Nik watched impassively as the demon slowly froze into an icy statue, crimson-streaked dark eyes taking on the cloudy hue of death.
Nik walked up close, and with a flick of his finger, the statue shattered. A dark, churning fog slid out of the ice-crushed demon, hovered—shit. Nik hastily leaped out of the way, but the soul slammed straight into him instead of being pulled down into Purgatory.
Fuuuuck, he grunted, lurching back, panting like he’d run the planet a million times over as the rest of the fragmented ice, mixed with gore and plasma, began to dissipate into the ground.
He just had to be the one bastard who drew dead demon’ souls like a fuckin’ sponge. It was why he usually avoided standing in direct line of the departing life-forces. With no way of getting rid of them, his body twitched and shuddered. Shit. Nik rubbed his face, struggling to tighten his psychic shields before the ones he already harbored escaped.
As the commotion in the alley died down, Blaéz’s hard voice cut through the endless, agitating darkness consuming Nik. “This is worse than we thought. Someone from those damn gangs is abducting human females and selling them to demons.”
“The Arc’s gonna go batshit,” Dagan grunted.
“A great way to welcome the New fucking Year,” Aethan growled.
“Greek, anything from the asshole you decimated?” Blaéz called out.
“Nothing.” Nik dropped his hand. “Later,” he rasped. Teeth gritted against the malevolent souls battering his mind, he dematerialized before the others sensed something was off.
Hell, he was a walking hazard—a fucking time bomb. And this was why he preferred working alone. If he did shatter, then no casualties.
* * *
Nik reformed again. A sharp breeze blew, sending flurries swirling, enveloping him with a chill he didn’t feel. The crisp smell of greenery and fir crowded his nose. Head lowered, his mind held in a haze, he tramped across the snow-covered ground, his boots crunching through the layer of white while he tried to get his thoughts back on track, hoping the silence here would override the perilous agitation within.
Tall trees surrounded him, edging rows upon rows of tombstones. Only two places he ended up after nights like these when his mind felt as if it would explode into fragments. Here at the East River cemetery or the old ruined church in Hudson Valley.
A handful of humans remained huddled near headstones.
Dammit. With him teetering on the edge of his sanity, he needed the place to quiet down—didn’t want to sense their beckoning bright souls when his own was undoubtedly as dark as the ones trapped in him.
Nik slowed his steps. There, in his spot, three rows down, near a gravestone, stood a human.
Go, rip out his sssoul,the cloying voices stroked his mind. Take his light. Feassst—
Jaw tensing, Nik shoved his fists into the pockets of his leather coat. Only his ingrained Guardian oath kept his feet nailed down as he waited for the mortal to haul ass and get out. But like all prey, he remained glued to the spot, clueless of the danger enclosing him.
The human finally shuffled toward him, pulling the hoodie of his coat over his dark hair. As he neared Nik, he glanced up, revealing wet blue eyes.
No, not a man, but an adolescent. A boy of seventeen or so.
He quickened his pace, shoulders hunching as if sensing danger, which showed he possessed some common sense. Yeah, it was good the boy veered to the side of caution.
A sweet flowery fragrance drifted to Nik, dragging his attention back to the tombstone the human had visited. Fresh roses lay scattered on the pedestal.
As if on autopilot, Nik lowered to the ground, back resting against a monument, and he examined the ornate engraving of the name on the gray marble headstone.
She shouldn’t have died. Now her blood stained his hands, too.
The old echoes plowed through his ice-coated thoughts, dredging up remorse he usually never felt. At his stir of emotions, the insidious souls trapped in him rammed at his psychic shields. His momentary guilt vanished, and he clamped down on his shaky mind shields.As if he’d ever let them free to inhabit humans and cause a bloodbath again.
You think my remorse a weakness? Too fucking bad, you’re stuck inside me forever—
At the stark reminder that he would never be what he once was after being incarcerated in that hellhole, Tartarus, Nik gritted his teeth. He let his cryokinesis abilities freeze his emotions, down to his very own soul.
It made him an emotionless rock. He cared little. He didn’t need feelings to function. His only job was to destroy all evil and keep this realm and its humans safe.
Tipping his head back against the headstone, Nik shut his eyes…
Tingles of approaching dawn brought him back to awareness, the spinning darkness inside him barely tamped down. Night still cloaked the cemetery. A fine layer of powdery snow covered everything, including him. The cold didn’t affect him. He was a living, breathing entity of all that was ice and shadows.
Nik rose from the frozen ground and dematerialized back to the castle on the private landmass on Long Island Sounds, reforming on the portico of the mammoth, ivy-covered fortress, the Guardians’ home base. He did a quick scan of the snow-covered gardens and the surrounding area. All appeared quiet.
He pulled off his skullcap, removed his leather coat, then opened the massive, wooden front door, and strode into the marbled foyer decked with verdant potted plants and old armors. The soft, recessed ceiling lights underscoring the stained-glass windows etched with angels, knights, and their ladies, momentarily pulled him into a utopia where love endured forever.
But not for him.
His path lay in darkness.
Shrugging off whatever miasma had snagged his head within its whimsical clutches, Nik flashed to his second-floor quarters in the north wing. He strode through the small entrance hall and into a spacious, gloomy bedroom, tossed his outerwear on the padded end-of-bed bench, and dropped flat on the mattress. Exhaling roughly, he threw his arm over his eyes, wishing he could simply zone out. But the haze that should take him under remained just beyond his reach as usual, not that he tried very hard.
Mostly, he didn’t care. He simply existed in a space of nothingness.
No peace or hope for an effed-up bastard like him.
The roiling within him hiked, and he clenched down on his teeth. He needed to haul ass back to Romania soon. The Arc would figure out he was sliding again and that the isolation he needed for a few days would become imperative. Not much he could do about that.
Faint voices from the ground floor coasted to him, followed by feminine laughter.
Nik shut them out.
His cell beeped. All the Guardians here were mated and currently occupied. Race was back in Romania, and he didn’t give a shit about anyone or anything. Whoever it was could fuck off—
An odd sensation crept over his psyche.
Slowly, he lowered his arm from his face. Something had changed in his usually dead as a doornail quarters. A scent wafted to him…no, not the sweet-smelling roses he’d gotten a whiff of at the cemetery, but one that made the block of ice in his chest shudder. A fragrance reminiscent of spring…of wildflowers—
Nik shot up from the bed and flashed out of the room, tracking the scent. He flew down the stairs, scaling over the balustrade to land on the first floor.
Kira, Týr’s mate, emerged from the left wing, shoving back her unbound, springy auburn hair. She cut him a harried smile before hurrying down the grand staircase to the ground floor. Movement snagged his attention. A strange, dark-haired female, wearing an overlong t-shirt revealing an expanse of long, pale legs stumbled out of a bedroom. She lurched along the corridor, dragging her palm on the wall as if to hold herself upright.
Hell, he had no idea what he was doing chasing after a fragrance.
The souls within him stirred, undoubtedly drawn to the shiny bright light in her.
Not fucking happening.
About to take off, a pained moan escaped the female, and she crumpled. In preternatural speed, Nik moved and caught her before she face-planted on the floor. Guess his chivalrous instinct still floated somewhere inside his dead-cold self.
This close, her scent hit him like a fist to the gut, stunning him senseless. Wildflowers merged with an undertone of…acrid woodsmoke?
A small shaky hand pushed at his chest, hauling him back to her. “Unless you plan to fight me, female, it’s back to bed for you.”
Her head snapped up. Shiny black hair streaked with purple cascaded down her back in a silky waterfall, revealing the dressing on the side of her brow. Remnants of black make-up smeared around her striking eyes, highlighting irises the colors of a starburst, reds and blues speckling a velvety-brown background. They glittered like neon stars in her pale face.
“No—”the word tore free in a harsh breath. She thumped his chest, shaking her head impatiently as if to make him understand. About what, he had no idea. I-I have to go,” she rasped.
Her husky voice stroked his senses like a gravelly caress, throwing Nik for a loop, and he stiffened. “You can barely walk. If you plan to crawl outta here, be ma guest.”
At his acerbic tone, the claret flecks in her irises blazed. She yanked his shirt with a strength that surprised him. Buttons snapped, pinging everywhere. “You can’t keep me here, you big jerk. Lemme go!”
Uninterested in more of her theatrics, Nik scooped her into his arms, simply wanting to dump her in bed and leave. He didn’t like being touched, yet he endured the intrusion.
“No-no—” She lashed out again.
“Behave. Or I will tie you to the bed.”
She went deathly still. Fear leaked off her, sharp and acrid.
Yeah, he was a moody, psychotic asshole. Good she knew this upfront.
She whimpered and buried her face in his chest, startling him.
Hell, he wouldn’t have hurt her. He’d said that so she wouldn’t injure her hands hitting him. Then he became aware of her palm pressed flat on his naked chest. An odd sensation crawled through him, pulling at his psyche—even the rioting souls slowed their demented battering. Her touch awakened a primal need. One he’d hadn’t experienced in eons. And it nailed him square in the groin.
What the fuck?
Teeth clenched, he strode into the bedroom and set her on the mattress, willing her to sleep. He did a quick scan of her and picked up her slight psychic vibe, and nothing more. For a human, she had damn strong shields. Maybe this was what rubbed him up all wrong?
Kira darted inside, eyes widening in panic. “What happened?”
As if he could answer her when he had no damn clue himself.
He shrugged. “Found her wandering in the hallway, moments from collapsing. Who is she?”
“My friend, Shadow.” Kira set a tea tray on the side table. Worried hazel eyes briefly met his before lowering to the girl. “Týr brought her here earlier. She got grazed by a bullet.”
Hazily, he recalled a female caught in the middle of the gang war while he’d been busy playing Death. With their short life span, humans really had no self-preservation.
Kira pulled the covers to the woman’s chest and gently brushed back her purple-streaked hair.
Nik studied her pale, delicate features. Faint purplish circles shadowed her eyes as if she didn’t sleep, then he frowned at the fading yellow bruise marring her cheekbone. Someone would dare harm a fragile woman?
You failed one.
Right. His mouth thinned.
Just as well this female was Týr’s and Kira’s responsibility.
He only fucked up things.
Nik headed for the door, clenching and unclenching his fingers, the sensation of her warmth lingering on his skin. He glanced back at Kira. “What’s her name?”
“No, her true name.”
“I don’t know…” Kira scrunched her brow. “If she has one, she’s never said.”
Nik nodded and walked out.
There was something—hell, so many things about her puzzling him.
No mortal or immortal had ever affected him, because nothing penetrated the innate coldness inside him. Yet, she’d dragged him over by her scent alone. But she was human, and yet she didn’t feel like one…but something more.
He didn’t like paradoxes.
No matter, he’d find out the truth soon enough.