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Upon the Midnight Clear (Page 1)

Upon the Midnight Clear (Dark-Hunter #13)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

PROLOGUE

Dolor smiled as he finally felt the call of his summoning ring. For countless centuries he’d been asleep-cursed to wait for another human to grow enough testicles to awaken him. How he hated the dream goddess, Leta, for her abilities to trap him to this fate. To make him the lapdog of a mere mortal. Now the bitch would pay.

But first he’d have to deal with this pathetic mortal who had temporary power over him.

Leaning his head back, he allowed the conscious part of himself to travel through the darkness until he appeared as an apparition before his summoner.

"See! I told you it would work!"

Dolor frowned at the small, round male who had beady blue eyes, glasses, and a bald scalp that gleamed under the grueling fluorescent lights. He stood next to a taller human whose blond hair was cut close to his head. His green eyes were feral with madness and anger.

And those green eyes narrowed suspiciously on Dolor. "Who are you?"

Dolor snorted at the asinine question. "You summoned me. Don’t you know?"

The human gaped as the smaller man pushed his glasses back onto his nose with his forefinger. His jowls flapped as he looked up at the taller man. "See, I told you, Donnie. The book of spells and ring worked just like Mark said it would. I told you Mark was a genius about all that weird occult stuff. He’s never been wrong before. Now you tell the pain god who you want punished and he’ll do it."

"For a price," Dolor added, reminding them that there was more to bringing him back from stasis than just reading the lines from his book and wearing his binding ring. Right now, most of his powers were still bound by Leta’s curse.

The blond man crossed his arms over his chest and gave him a tough, smug grimace. "What price?"

Dolor shrugged nonchalantly as if the steep price was nothing at all. "The price of all vengeance-blood sacrifice. I will need you to kill someone in order to awaken me from my slumber."

The one called Donnie nodded as if he agreed to the terms. An instant later, he pulled a small shiv from his back pocket and cut the throat of the man beside him. The smaller man tried to scream, but the cut was too deep to allow it.

Dolor lifted an eyebrow as the shorter man fell to the floor, clasping his neck and jerking until death finally claimed him. Donnie merely watched him die without a single sign of remorse or feeling for the person who’d been his cellmate for the last two years.

Good. Dolor needed someone this soulless to help him.

Smiling, he applauded the human. "Nice gesture, but not what I needed."

Donnie curled his lip. "What do you mean?"

"There is a ritual, you fool. I don’t come back without…" Dolor hesitated at revealing too much lest he frighten the human away, "certain requirements."

"And they are?"

Again, Dolor hesitated, but there was no other way for the human to awaken Dolor’s powers. Hopefully the human would continue to be heartless and cold. "The blood of a loved one. You must offer me someone important to you and you must utter my curse while you bleed them. When the words are spoken and they lie dead, my powers will be unbound and I’ll be able to enter this world."

There was a little more to it than that, but the human didn’t need to know the rest until the time came for it.

First things first. If Dolor could get this sacrifice, the rest would be easier… provided the human was serious about his vengeance.

Donnie scowled as if skeptical. "How do I know you’re not lying to me?"

"Why would I lie?"

"Because everyone does."

And he would know. It was lies and deception that had landed this piece of trash in prison. Dolor gave him a soothing, if not insincere, smile. "True, but I want my freedom as much as you do."

Donnie scoffed. "And I’ve seen this movie a few times. You’ll kill me once you’re free, won’t you?"

Dolor laughed. "My venom isn’t for you, little human. I have my own person to bleed. Because of her, I have to do what you order me to first. Then and only then will I be free to exact my own revenge. Trust me, you’ll live a long time once I’m gone."

Because living with the actions he’d have to take to free Dolor was the worst thing Dolor could do for this human and since he was the god of pain…

Dolor smiled and this time he meant it.

Donnie stepped over the body to approach his shimmering ghost form. "I’ve been waiting for this for far too long. Since the day I was first arrested, I’ve been trying any- and everything I could and nothing has worked. What I want more than anything else in this world is my kid brother dead and I want him to suffer unimaginable misery before he dies. We’re talking pain of Biblical proportions. The kind that has him screaming out for mercy and begging me to kill him to end it while I laugh at his agony. Can you do that?"

"That is my specialty."

Donnie smiled as the insanity flared deep in his eyes. "Then tell me what I have to do to set you free. I will do anything to see my brother suffer and die, and I do mean anything.’"

Two days later

Dressed in a long, flowing,s white Grecian gown, Leta came awake with a sharp gasp. It took her several seconds to acclimate to her surroundings. She was still in her cushioned pod, asleep in the hall of mirrors on the Vanishing Isle.

But something was wrong. She could sense it. The dark hand of evil slithered over her body with an unmistakable touch.

Dolor, the most vile of all gods, had been summoned back into the human realm which had triggered her own waking. The god of pain had been trapped centuries ago by Leta, who had fought him until they’d both been bloody and spent. Forbidden by Zeus to kill him outright, she’d been forced to trap him so that he would never do to another what he’d done to her.

And once he’d been trapped, she’d placed herself in stasis to heal and await the moment when he would stir.

Now someone had found Dolor’s hidden ring and uttered that which was never to be uttered again. Sucking her breath in sharply, she allowed her buried memories to assail her.

Morons! The stupid humans had no idea what they’d unleashed. Pain wasn’t content to attack just the one person it was sent after. No, it was bloodthirsty and ruthless. Dolor respected nothing and no one was immune to Pain.

Sure, he’d stalk and kill the one he was sent after, but once that was accomplished, Pain would return to the one who’d summoned it.

May the gods help the summoner then. His torture would be without end.

Closing her eyes, she reawakened her dormant powers. She let her thoughts drift until she found Pain’s target.

The target had his back to her, but even so she could tell he was tall and broad shouldered. His blond hair was tousled and wavy as it fell to the top of his black collar.

As a dream god, she could feel his bitter emotions calling out to her. They were so strong she could even feel them as her own.

"Yeah," he said, his deep voice filled with malice. "It never fails to amaze me how a single lie can undo an entire lifetime of good."

And it was then she realized something. This man didn’t need Pain. It already lived inside him right alongside Bitterness and Rage. They had him nestled tight against their bosoms and from what she sensed they had no intention of letting him go.

Then she heard it…

That deep, blood-chilling laugh.

"Leta…"

She flashed herself from her sterile pod to stand on the cold marble floor. A bitter wind plastered her gown against her body, exposing her bare feet to the ankles. It made the gold bands on her upper arms bitingly cold. The walls around her were white; no pictures or curtains or anything else to break its sterile quality.

Still she felt the presence of the god of Pain.

"Where are you, you bastard?"

Dolor appeared behind her. Before she could move, he grabbed her by the hair and wrenched her head back against his shoulder. "You didn’t really think you could keep me trapped forever, did you?"

She tried to fight, but he released her and vanished. "This isn’t over, Dolor," she said, her voice filled with the weight of her promise.

His laughter filled the room. "No, it isn’t. You bound me to this curse, and before this is over, you will pay for it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a human to torture and kill."

She felt him receding all the way down her spine and there was nothing she could do to stop him. By the order of Zeus, her own emotions had been drained. Yet she felt something… some remnant emotions from the past perhaps?

She wasn’t sure.

But one thing was certain, there were enough emotions inside her that she wasn’t about to allow Pain to hurt another soul if she could help it. It was a solemn vow she’d made and it was one she would keep. So long as she had life in her veins, she would fight.

And as she started forward, Dolor’s target turned in the mirror to face her.

Leta froze as she saw the man’s features. He was as beautiful as an immortal. Through the mist that separated the Vanishing Isle from the human plane, she could see every curve and line of his perfect face. Sharp brows arched over eyes that were a pale green. Searing with intelligence, they showed her a soul that was tainted by betrayal. One completely devoid of trust.

And in that one single moment, she felt his sorrow inside her own heart. He wanted to trust someone. He wanted to reach out. But he’d forgotten how.

Alone and cold, he was pain personified.

Cocking her head, she realized something else. That pain that burned so fiercely within him was exactly what she needed to use in order to defeat Dolor. If she could channel it, it would meld with her powers and give her the advantage. There was no stronger emotion than rage…

He’s been hurt enough…

It didn’t matter. She couldn’t see his pain for her own. Dolor must be defeated at any cost and if this human paid the price, so what? The life and soul of one would never be worth more than the lives and souls of many. Aidan O’Conner would be her sacrifice and her past would finally be avenged. Pain would be defeated by her hand and laid to rest for all eternity.

CHAPTER ONE

Leta was completely baffled by the human world as she stared into the mirrors around her that showed the daily events taking place in the realm of man. Her gaze chased from mirror to mirror as she tried to make sense of the flickering images of people from all over the world. She was beginning to suspect that she’d made a horrible mistake by putting herself in stasis while waiting for Dolor to stir. Everything had changed.

Everything.

There were complicated contraptions-machines-that she couldn’t even begin to fathom. And the languages had changed so much… She had to focus to understand the rapidly spoken words, which were riddled with colloquialisms and slang that flew past her understanding. Her head ached from the strain of it all.

"Give yourself time."

She turned to find her older brother M’Adoc behind her. For a creature whose emotions had been brutally taken from her, she felt her heart stirring at his approach. It was a muted joy that only reminded her of what real happiness had felt like. But phantom emotions were better than no emotions at all.

Tall and lithe like her, M’Adoc had black, wavy hair and eyes so pale a blue they were almost luminescent.

She held her hand out to him. "It’s good to see you again, brother."

There was the subtlest of softening in his gaze as he took her hand and brought it to his lips.

Leta flinched as an unbidden and unexpected image of his being tortured went through her. Even after thousands of years, she could still hear his screams.

And her own.

As if he knew her thoughts, M’Adoc gathered her into his arms. He cupped her head in his hand and held her face against his shoulder. Leta gasped as he passed onto her the knowledge of the changed world and how it worked.

"You have set yourself a herculean task, little sister," he breathed against her hair. "You should have stayed with the rest of us and not isolated yourself."

"I couldn’t." It had been too painful to see them all emotionless when she remembered the way they’d been before Zeus had punished them. The only emotion Zeus had left them with was pain, so that he could control and punish the gods of sleep, and that never-ending pain had eaten a hole inside her.

It was a cold world she’d been forced to live in and that as much as anything else was why she’d been just as content to sleep through eternity.

She stepped back from M’Adoc so that she could meet his gaze. "I have to stop him."

"He’s not the only god of pain. Pain permeates everything in our world and that of man."

"I know. But he is ultimate suffering. It’s not enough to make his victims cry. He destroys them, mind, body, and soul. You weren’t there, brother… you didn’t see."

Still, he flinched as if he could in fact see her memories. "Everyone does what they feel they have to do. I respect you for your choices. Doesn’t mean I agree with them." His gaze sharpened before he spoke again. "Dolor will kill you if he gets the chance."

She let one side of her mouth curl up into the semblance of a bitter smile. "Good. I relish the fight just as I will relish the feel of his heart in my fist as I crush the life out of him."

M’Adoc inclined his head to her. "Then I leave you to your plans for revenge… except for one thing."

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