The Darkest Torment (Lords of the Underworld #12)

by Gena Showalter

1

“Benefits to having me as your ally? You have me as your ally. Enough said.”

—Hades, one of the nine kings of the underworld

GUILT COULD NOT change the past. Worry could not change the future. And yet, both followed Baden with relentless determination. One brandished a barbed whip, the other a serrated blade, and though he had no visible wounds, he bled buckets every—damned—day.

The constant stream of pain provoked the beast. Upon his return from the dead, the creature moved into his mind. His new companion was far worse than any demon. And he should know! The fiend resented the physical cage...was starved for prey.

Kill someone. Kill everyone!

It was the beast’s war cry. A command Baden heard whenever someone approached him. Or looked at him. Or simply breathed. The urge to obey always followed...

I will not kill, he vowed. He was not the beast, but separate.

Easily said. Harder to enforce. He prowled from one corner of his bedroom to the other and yanked at the collar of his shirt, ripping the soft cotton in an effort to assuage the constant discomfort. His too-sensitive skin needed continuous soothing. Another perk of returning from the dead.

The butterfly he’d tattooed on his chest hadn’t helped the pain, quickly becoming an itch he couldn’t scratch. But he couldn’t regret getting the image. The jagged wings and horned antennae resembled the mark of the demon he’d carried before his death; now, the mark represented rebirth, a reminder that he lived once again. That he had friends—brothers and a sister by circumstance who loved him. That he wasn’t an outsider, even if he felt like one.

He drained the beer he held and tossed the bottle against the wall. The glass shattered. He was different now, it was an undeniable truth, and he no longer fit within the family dynamic. He blamed the guilt. Four thousand years ago, he’d allowed the enemy to behead him—suicide by proxy—leaving his friends to continue the war with the Hunters while mourning him. Unconscionable!

But he also blamed the worry he’d been coddling like a precious newborn. The beast hated everyone he adored—the men and women Baden owed a blood debt—and it...he...would stop at nothing to destroy them.

If ever that urge to lash out overshadowed Baden’s desire to right the wrongs he’d committed...

I will right my wrongs.

The dead can’t collect their debts. Killlll.

No. No! He beat his fists into his temples, the metal bands around his biceps pinching. He pulled at hanks of his hair. Sweat rolled between the knotted muscles in his back and chest, catching in the waist of his pants. He would rather die—again—than harm his friends.

Upon his resurrection, all twelve warriors had welcomed him with open arms. No, not twelve. Thirteen now. Galen, the keeper of Jealousy and False Hope—the one who’d orchestrated Baden’s death—had moved in a few weeks before. Everyone believed the prick had changed his evil ways.

Please. Shit sprinkled with sugar was still shit.

Baden would love to hack Galen into tiny pieces. Five minutes and a blade, that was all he required. But his friends had issued a strict hacking moratorium.

Baden, no matter his own desires, would obey their rules. Not once had they ever castigated him for his terrible mistakes. Not once had they demanded answers. They’d given him food, weapons and a private room in their massive home. A fortress hidden in the mountains of Budapest.

A knock sounded at the door, earning a growl from the beast. Enemy! Kill!

Calm. Steady. An enemy wouldn’t take the time to knock. “Go away.” His broken voice made it sound like every word had swum upstream in a river of glass shards.

“Sorry, my man, but I’m here to stay.” Bang, bang, bang. “Let me in.”

Hello, William the Ever Randy. Youngest son of Hades obsessed with fine wine, finer women and the finest hair care. He was a savage, stubborn bastard, his best and worst trait the same: He had no concept of mercy.

The beast stopped snarling and started purring like a tamed house cat. A surprising reaction, but also...not. Hades was the one who’d given Baden his new life. The king’s family basically had a Get Out of Torture Free card now. Except the eldest son, Lucifer; his crimes were simply too great.

“Now isn’t a good time,” Baden said, fearing the beast would forget the card.

“Don’t care. Open up.”

He purposely inhaled deeply...exhaled sharply. As a spirit made tangible, he had no need to breathe, but the once-familiar action pandered to his calm.

“Come on,” William said. “Where’s the brave piece of shit who stole and opened Pandora’s box? He’s the one I’m here to see.”

Brave? Sometimes. Piece of shit? Always. He and his friends ended up freeing the demons trapped inside the box. Zeus, king of the Greek gods, then punished them with a lifelong curse.

And so your body shall become the vessel of your own destruction.

Baden was possessed by Distrust.

Tainted and unworthy, the warriors were discharged from the royal army and booted to earth. As predicted, the demons soon destroyed them. Him most of all. More and more, his ability to trust eroded. He spent weeks...months plotting ways to murder those he should only succor.

One day, he reached the end of his tolerance. Them or me was the last thought to sweep through his mind as a human swung a sword at his head. He’d picked them—his family. But they hadn’t emerged unscathed. Grief had haunted them. And so had Distrust!

The moment Baden’s head fell from his body, the demon emerged, emancipated from his control. No longer was he able to check the worst of the fiend’s impulses. Invisible chains then dragged his spirit into a prison realm created for anyone tainted by the box, his only link to the land of the living a wall of smoke that revealed real-time happenings.

He had a front row seat to his friends’ spiral into a pit of agony and despair, unable to do anything but lament. The rest of his time was spent warring with Pandora, the realm’s only other occupant—a woman who detested him with every fiber of her being.

Then, only a few months ago, Cronus and Rhea, the former king and queen of the Titans, appeared in the realm. They were Zeus’s biggest rivals, and Baden’s number-one targets. How many times had the pair hurt his friends?

He’d taken great pleasure in his escape with Pandora, leaving the other two behind.

Bang, bang, bang. “Yo! Baden! The wait is ridiculous. I’m pretty sure I’m going gray.”