This hike is the most enlightening one of my life, Carrow thought as they wended their way up the mountain.
For instance, in the last hour she'd learned how sardonic a lift of a demon's dirty brow could be - when she'd refused to let him carry her as they'd dodged whatever had been approaching. And she'd come to understand how important decapitated heads were.
He'd swiftly collected those monsters' heads, tying them together with a piece of the rope she'd hoped never to see again, then strung them over his shoulder. Periodically, he offered his catch to her.
"No, no, I have a pair just like them at home," she'd said. "I would just regift them." Earlier when he'd thrown that ghoul's head to her, then rolled it to her feet, had it been his idea of a gift? A vemon version of a dozen red roses, meant not to intimidate but to signal his interest and intent?
On the way to his "home," he guided her this way and that, pointing out more of his hidden traps. She used the time to assimilate all that had happened, now that her anger was cooling.
Carrow was one of those people who had bursts of temper, then later scratched their heads, wondering, What exactly was I so pissed about? Yes, he'd bitten her - twice - against her wishes, but she did feel gratitude that he'd saved her life. She didn't know of another male who could've fended off two of those monster X creatures then gotten her away unscathed.
She'd never seen a monster like that before, had never heard of one in all the Lore. When she grappled with the "uestion of what it was, her sharply honed scientifical mind deduced one answer: manbearpig. An amalgam, something made by sticking the parts together instead of melding them - just like the vemon.
If a demon and a vampire mated, their offspring would be uni"ue but in harmony, like a Labrador retriever crossed with a poodle. Voila, labradoodle! But a vemon was a made creature, as if one took the front half of the Lab and jammed it onto the back half of the poodle.
In other words, wrong.
Maybe that was why Slaine couldn't trace. Though both vampires and demons had that innate ability, vampires could trace easily while demons had to study and train to. Perhaps the two different natures clashed as they tried to do the same thing in totally disparate ways.
She gazed up at him from under a sand-coated curl. "Is that why you can't trace?" she asked him. "The vemon that terrorized New Orleans could teleport. Maybe you just can't puzzle out how?" He frowned at her. "I bet you used to be able to. Must suck not to anymore."
Now that they were seemingly out of danger, for some reason Carrow found herself talking to him. Though she knew he couldn't understand her, she asked him "uestions, then conjectured answers out loud. She made observations about the terrain, the declining weather.
Occasionally he shrugged without interest.
"I should name you Wilson the Volleyball. You understand as much as Wilson did and respond as infre"uently. What's that?" She cupped her ear as if the demon had spoken. "No, no, you're right, Wilson was more hygienic."
She didn't know why she found it so pleasing to talk at Slaine - her dirty, befanged protector - but there it was. "Once I get back ..." She trailed off.
When he gave her a "uestioning glance over his shoulder, she sighed. "Well, things are going to have to change. With me. Right now, if the Andoain coven were The Love Boat, I'd be a mix between Julie the recreation chick and bartender Isaac."
Carrow had long been connected in the city, able to uncover all the sins in New Orleans, seeding revelry, then harvesting power from it.
"Now all that's going to be different." She'd have to budget her spells, not use them for frivolous things like better parking places or her fledgling attempts at mind control.
Excitement lacing her tone, she said, "I think I'm going to be ready for a kid after this. If I'd been immersed in my old life when this happened, I probably would've shirked my responsibilities." As her parents had taught her. "But after this adventure, anything will feel easy. Even raising a potentially murderous seven-year-old with control issues."
The demon seemed really keyed up, as if Carrow's chitchat was bothering him. No, that couldn't be right. She wasn't Carrow "S"ueaky" Graie. She'd always been told she had a bedroom voice that men found pleasing.
He pointed at her and asked, "Demonish?"
"Do I speak Demonish?"
"Yeah, a little," she answered, then sounded out a few words, asking for some fermented demon brew, their beverage of choice.
In an instant, his body shot through with tension, and he ran a palm over one of his horns. Gaze dipping to her lips, he swallowed.
His reaction was so thunderstruck, she suddenly grasped that her demon drinking buddies had taught her something far more naughty than "Can I have a brew, please?"
In thickly accented Demonish, she'd just asked him, "May I fellate you, if you please?"
Would I please!
Her look of realization, then of irritation, revealed that she hadn't meant to say anything such as this. Someone had taught her the wrong words.
But now Malkom couldn't stop thinking about fitting his shaft betwixt her plump lips. He recalled how greedily she'd drunk from that canteen and nearly groaned imagining her working on his shaft thus. To finally know what that felt like...
'Twas almost better when she'd been speaking Anglish!
She crossed her arms and began to do so once more, her tone defensive.
Malkom exhaled, ignoring a twinge in the ribs she'd broken earlier. He hated when she spoke; he loved when she spoke.
The sound of her voice was so damned pleasing to him, especially since he'd been alone for so long. Every word she said was familiar, even with her foreign accent, but after so many years he could associate no meaning with them, only horrific memories of the Viceroy.
Malkom's torture had begun three weeks after the day he'd died. The vampire had released him from that cell after Malkom had killed Kallen, but only to break him.
The Viceroy had been determined to make Malkom more vampire than demon, to make him loyal to the Horde. Only so many Scarba rituals worked, and Malkom had been a valuable asset, one they wouldn't destroy until there was no hope.
At least, not fully destroy.
He'd tried to force Malkom to forget Demonish, to speak only the vampires' language. Each time Malkom refused, he'd had his tongue cut out. When he'd spit blood at them, he'd had his skin flayed to the bone.
Now, to communicate with her, Malkom would have to resurrect his knowledge of that language, braving those memories. He knew he'd pay for it, would be plagued with nightmares.
He gazed over at her, releasing a pent-up breath. Once again, he was struck by her beauty, nigh tripping over his own feet as he stared.
She glanced up at him, pink stealing over her high cheekbones. She tucked her hair behind her ear self-consciously and murmured something with a "uestioning look in her eyes.
How badly did he want to know what she'd said?
Very badly indeed...
She'd just been musing that there were more layers to this demon than she'd initially thought when they reached the opening to a mine shaft.
And here was yet another layer - a barbaric, grisly layer.
In front of the entrance, a dozen pikes rose up like a frontier fort's stockade. Atop the pikes were even more severed heads! Because you can't have too many!
He'd collected them from all manner of creatures - demons, ghouls, and monster Xs. So this was what he did with them. No wonder the other demons feared him.
Fegley hadn't been lying. What a risk Carrow would be taking to march right into this demon's den. If Slaine saw her memories...
Pensive, she gazed back down the trap-laden trail, looking out into a black and blustery nightfall. And still Slaine's den was preferable.
When she turned back, he grated, "Home."
He looked proud, pausing to give her time to admire all of his pikes. A large insect crawled from one head's slimy nostril. Beauty.
The demon also looked expectant, as if he suspected she would be wowed by his collection.
"Uh, love what you've done. Your curb appeal is unparalleled." She held his gaze. "And I mean that."
He frowned in incomprehension, then ushered her toward the opening. Just before they crossed the threshold, he paused again. With his hand over his chest, he said, "Malkom."
She blinked up at him. Intros? Really? "Okay, then, I'm Carrow."
With a nod, he sounded out "Car-row," then led her in.
Had he wanted them introduced before he took her home? Add a layer to the demon's tally.
Inside the mine, out of the wind, the air was as humid as in New Orleans and clean, compared to the dust bowl outside. Those lava-filled stones were dotted throughout, lighting the way - not that he would need help seeing in the dark.
Stone a"ueducts lined the walls, with gathering pools at intervals, while broken barrels and ancient-looking carafes littered the sand floor. Where water seeped from the walls and coated those glowing rocks, steam hissed.
So these were the fabled water mines of Oblivion, with water pockets trapped like veins of gold.
As he led her deeper within, the shaft split, and they began following an offshoot from the main tunnel. Soon, she spied an area of even brighter light glowing a welcome up ahead. When they came to the end, she realized this terminus chamber was his lair.
A demon's lair. He truly was a ground-dwelling male. And he wanted to do her.
Inside was a collection of those glorious rocks, warming the area like radiators, illuminating it. He had a pallet on the ground, laid out by a fire pit with a spit for cooking. Did he eat meat as well as drink blood?
The pit itself was situated under a crack in the mine ceiling, which must funnel the smoke away. Cluttering the ground were ropes, chains, and blades, likely for those traps he'd pointed out. Large bones were scattered throughout.
Along one wall, cords of firewood were stacked. On another, he'd haphazardly piled up soldiers' assault packs, many of them splattered with crusted blood. There were dozens. Were those bones additional souvenirs?
Studying her reaction with that analytical look on his face, he pointed to the packs, opening his mouth as if to say something in explanation. But then he closed it.
When she gave an unconcerned shrug - she couldn't care less that he'd killed those mortals - he ushered her to his pallet, then went to fetch wood for a fire.
The demon had demonstrated courtesy when he'd introduced himself. Now he was displaying hospitality. Yes, he had a tendency to growl at her repeatedly and snap his fangs, but she kept thinking about that head he'd tossed at her.
Since she now knew it'd been a gift of value, she concluded this brutal demon had made an attempt at ... courting her.
If only she could understand him better. The language barrier was a problem. But he knew at least one word of English. Maybe he comprehended more? She needed to find out.
When he returned with the wood and hunched down by the pit, she gazed on, helplessly captivated by his body. The worn leather of his pants lovingly hugged those muscular thighs and narrow hips. His fingers were long and blunt-ended under his black claws.
As he started the fire with practiced movements, the sculpted ridges of his torso flexed under his chainmail, making that winding tattoo shift intriguingly.
That body is too, too much.
But, gods, the rest of him was a disasterpiece of hair and paint. Those braided hanks wouldn't do, hanging over his Valvoline-streaked face like a ratty curtain. And that scraggly stubble on his face? She'd kill to see what lay beneath.
He soon had a blazing fire started, and she leaned forward to luxuriate in the warmth, lids growing heavy. He exhaled, his eyes darkening on her, and a sudden jolt of power hit her like a Mack truck. He was satisfied merely having her here.
And just a thread of his happiness had powered her like this?
He was stronger than any other Lore creature, his kind the most vicious. Everything about him was magnified. It figured that he would be able to give her the most power.
She'd bet sex with him would make him very satisfied.
The demon was turning out to be an unpredictable, feral, bone-and-head-collecting, sexually ravenous happiness battery.
She swallowed. All I have to do is plug him in.