Li cursed under his breath and turned. “Yes? Do I know you?”
The man who spoke was taller than Li’s six and a half feet. Looking at the black and white uniform with red insignia patches, Li knew this demon was high level.
“I thought as much,” the man said dryly. He smirked at Li.
“What do you want?” Li started backing up, and the man advanced.
“You are required to return home.”
“Home?” Li shook his head, not once looking away from the coal-black eyes staring through him. “I no longer have a home.”
The man pulled out a small square card and handed it to Li. “Your service is requested.”
“Something tells me this isn’t a volunteer thing,” Li remarked. The man simply laughed. Then he was gone in the blink of an eye.
* * * *
Skulking on the outer fringes of Caeunial, Cody stayed well away from its demon populace. He had his own agenda to take care of, and the thirst for vengeance had led him here. It fucking figured it would be the one place Cody really didn’t want to be. Keeping a low profile in the midst of demons, as a human, wasn’t the easiest thing to do. Sitting in front of the small fire he’d set to ward off the chill of the coming night, Cody stared into the black flames.
“I thought I might find you here.”
Cody didn’t freeze with the sound of the voice, but he refused to turn around and look at the speaker. He knew who it was. “That’s odd. I didn’t think I would find you here.”
“I was on my way to…work.” The speaker emerged from the shadows and knelt across from Cody, on the other side of the fire. “You look worse for the wear.”
“You were called in to deal with the zombie problem, weren’t you?” Cody’s gaze remained on the fire as he reached into the pack near him. Pulling out a can, he opened it and drank his dinner. “Are you going to provide additional incentive from the Counsel to hire me on?”
“How do you know any of that?”
Shrugging, Cody tossed the empty can back into the pack. “They already tried to hire me. I told them ‘no thank you’. I just didn’t think they would bring you into it.”
“I don’t know what they’ve called me in for. And I guess it’s safe to assume that you’re still pissed off.”
“Now why would I be pissed off?” Finally looking over at Li, Cody gave his ex-lover a bland look. Li hadn’t changed one bit. The demon still was one of the most incredibly handsome creatures Cody had ever seen. From the top of his golden blond curls to the innocent looking features of an angel, Li had eternal youth and extraordinary good looks on his side.
“Why else would you storm out?” Li asked him. “Why else would you turn away from everything?”
“Things change. Didn’t anybody ever tell you that? I learned the hard way myself.” Cody had found out in a hard way exactly what Li was. In the lesson, he wasn’t given a chance to choose, either by Li or the demons who’d damn near killed him.
“Fair enough.” He stood and ran his fingers through his hair. “For what it’s worth, I haven’t changed, Cody.”
“That mean you still don’t tell the truth?” Cody stood and went to a pile of small sticks. Picking up several of them, he turned back to throw them into the fire.
“Never mind. Water under the bridge, Li.” In a more conversational tone, Cody asked, “So, are you going to wade into the zombie problem?” Internally, Cody cursed the Counsel. Whether it was deliberate or not, sending Li into it would be an excellent way to drag Cody in as well.
Li eyed him dubiously. “If that’s what my orders are, then that’s what I must do.”
“Never one to do what you want to do, or what you really should do, are you, Li?” Cody tried to keep his own personal issues out of it, but it was hard to do. “You’re on your way to the Scarlet Chapel, then.”
“Excuse me?” Li stepped closer and glared at Cody. “I went against laws you have no concept of, just to be with you!”
Those laws had been beaten into his body by a group of extremely angry demons, and Cody had precious little use for them. Reaching back into his pack, Cody drew out two more cans. “Want one?” As he asked he tossed the can to Li.
The infuriated look on Li’s face gave way to sheer confusion. Catching the can, he slumped back against the nearest tree. “I don’t know what else to say, Cody. I’ve spent the past year trying to figure out why the fuck you just up and walked out, but I’m coming up blank here.”
“It was time for me to move on. Why else would I ever have left, Li?” Cody directed a mildly questioning look at him. Yeah, they had some issues. Only Li didn’t know what they were, and Cody wasn’t sure he gave a damn anymore. The thought itself was a lie, and deep down inside him, Cody knew it.
“So you left, just like that,” Li said. “No reasons, no goodbyes, nothing.” He nodded. “All right. I see this is fucking pointless.” He tossed the unopened can back to Cody. “See you around, babe.” With that, he turned and walked away toward the gates to Scarlet Chapel.
* * * *
“Kulisael, you must take him with you.” The older demon was stiff in his demeanor, ever mindful of his own position.
Li whirled around. “Why? Because the Counsel finds it amusing to use me as leverage to get the best mercenary in Caeunial on the roster? I think not.”
The second they turned the corner, however, Li came to an abrupt stop. There was Cody Slate, sitting in the outer office and in clear earshot.
“Didn’t think he’d go for it.” Cody doffed his hat and nodded to the High Lord. Tossing a small velvet bag at the Counsel member, Cody smiled then slid off the edge of the small desk. “If you guys are done with me, I’ll be going back to my own plans now.”
“We know what you have been doing, Cody Slate. Up until now it has been allowed, but that will change unless you remain.” A threatening undercurrent echoed in the High Lord’s words as he stared at Cody.
Altering his tone to a more conversational level, he added, “Now, I’m sure no introductions need to be made between the two of you.”
Cody’s lips compressed in a thin line before he answered with an abrupt nod of his head.
Blinking, Li took in the situation and realized he honestly had no idea what was going on. “Okay,” he said, throwing his hands up, “I give up! What’s behind the charade? What the hell have I missed here?”
“Seems I’m in for the duration. You along or not?” Folding his arms against his chest, Cody ignored the small bag near him.
“I apparently don’t have a choice,” Li grumbled under his breath.
Narrowing his gaze on Li, Cody muttered, “That makes two of us.”
“Excellent.” The High Lord sat at his desk and tossed a set of photos beside Cody. “That’s what you’re both up against.”
Glancing down at the pictures, Cody studied them. The creatures in the photos were humanoid in appearance, or at least that was the impression. Better described as zombies, they fed on flesh and blood, and some on souls.
“What area are they infecting now?”
“East Outlands,” the High Lord said. “We’ve had steady reports on the disease spreading.”
“Disease?” Li moved closer to Cody and leaned in to look at the pictures.
“They’re spreading a disease that seems to attack the central nervous system. When the victim becomes a vegetable, the creatures move in for the kill.”
“How do they spread the disease?” Li asked.
“An unknown strain of bacteria thrives in the creatures’ mouths. It’s transferred to the victim by bite. Our healers are working on isolating the bacteria, and hopefully devising a cure. But as of now, we have nothing to stop the progress of the disease in mortals. In most cases, we’ve contained the flesh eaters, but the soul eaters are swifter-moving and far more aggressive.”
“Sounds lovely.” Li glanced up at Cody and found himself staring into a pair of painfully familiar gray eyes.
“Who else did you con into going along for the ride?”
Ignoring the snide tone of Cody’s question, the High Lord said calmly, “There’s a legion of specially trained demons waiting outside the Chapel. Both of you will lead them. The creatures must be contained.”
Li chose to ignore the pain; it would do neither of them any good. Cody had made it clear there was nothing left. “Then we best get moving,” Li said quietly. And if his damned heart felt like it was ripping in two all over again, well, so be it.
“The consecration will take place when the moon has reached the second line of the Scarlet Tower. I will leave it to you whether or not you’ll attend, Kulisael, but the soldiers are required to do so. Afterwards the legion will break camp.” Settling back, the High Lord looked extremely pleased with himself.
Sliding off the desk, Cody shot the Counsel member a disdainful look before he turned to head from the office.