Tears pricked the back of my eyes, and I felt Robin shift along my side, obviously sensing my whirling emotions. This was not right, not fair at all.
Still holding the back of Cayman’s head, Roth closed his eyes briefly, and then let go, pivoting to face the witches. The hard set of his jaw would’ve sent many a wise man scurrying away.
“She will not be harmed,” Serifina insisted, attempting to appease us. “She will be treated like a queen.”
Hearing that didn’t help, because we didn’t know them, and Bambi—it wasn’t like she belonged to us. There was so much Bambi had done for us—for me, and now we were supposed to just hand her over to strangers? She was a part of us and they were asking that we give her up—that Roth get rid of her.
I walked over to Roth, unsure of what to say. Our eyes met for a moment, and the hard glint was gone just long enough for me to see the true extent of the turmoil he was feeling. I placed my hand on his arm, and he nodded.
“Bambi,” he said, his gaze still holding mine. “Off.”
I didn’t want to see it, but like all the times before, Bambi came off his skin and spilled into the space beside him, rapidly piecing together. Bambi rose, twisting her neck toward the witches before nudging Roth in the hip.
She had to know. I knew that, because that was how the bonding worked, and my chest ached as she stretched over, poking my arm with her snout. Tears blurred my vision as I reached out, running my hand on the soft scales between her eyes.
“There has to be some other way,” I said hoarsely.
“There’s not,” he said, his voice low. “Cayman is not at fault. He did what he was supposed to do.”
“And I will not do that to him,” he continued. “When demons die, it’s not like humans. It involves the pits.”
That wouldn’t be fair either, and even though Roth and Cayman had gone at each other yesterday over me going to Hell, those two were friends. Frankly, I was pretty sure Cayman was Roth’s only friend outside of me, and Roth had to choose between two bad options. Give up Bambi to a coven of witches or sentence his friend to death.
Bambi turned to Roth and rose up to her full height. She rested her head on his shoulder, and when she lifted it, Roth pressed a kiss between her eyes. “Which one of you is she supposed to go to? I doubt that you plan on walking out with her in this form.”
“No.” Serifina smoothed her hands over the dark trousers she wore. “That’s why I’m here.”
“Is it?” Roth asked, and then he raised his eyes to her. When she nodded, he smiled cruelly. “If you so much as cause her a drop of pain, I will know. And I do not care what consequences I will face, I will hunt not only you down, but your entire coven.”
“No harm will come to her,” she promised.
Roth looked down at Bambi, and he tried to smile, but he failed. “Go.”
But the familiar hesitated, and Roth had to tell her to go again. A very real pain ripped through me as I reached up, brushing the back of my hand across the wetness gathering on my cheek. Finally, after what felt like my heart being cut out of my chest and tossed on the floor, Bambi slithered away from us, her head down.
Roth stepped forward, as if he was going to go after her, but stopped himself. Walking up behind him, I wrapped my arms around his waist. His hands settled on my arms, but instead of pulling them away, he held on to them.
Pushing up the sleeve of her thick sweater, exposing her arm, Serifina waited with trepidation clearly oozing out of her. About a foot in front of her, Bambi came apart, forming a thick shadow that settled onto her arm.
Serifina jolted as Bambi melded onto her skin, clenching her jaw as Bambi disappeared under the sweater. The girl jerked and then twisted, doubling over at the waist. A second later she straightened, her back bowing as Bambi appeared, circling around her neck.
Paul cursed, gripping Serifina by the arms. Bambi let up, though, and I figured it was her little warning that she wasn’t very cool with this. The snake disappeared back under the sweater, and by the sudden way her face flushed, I doubted Bambi was currently making herself at home in a very comfortable place.
It was done.
Neither of us could have predicted this. I got why Cayman hadn’t said anything up to this point, because I believed knowing that this was coming would’ve been a harsher blow. Or maybe not. Loss was bitter whether it was expected or unanticipated.
And this was a loss.
“Get. Out. Of. Here,” Roth growled, eyes flashing an intense crimson.
There was a moment of hesitation. Paul and Serifina moved more quickly than they probably ever had. They pivoted around, and I watched them go, wanting to grab her brown hair and pull her to the floor, demanding that they give Bambi back to us.
But I couldn’t.
A demon did not go back on his promises.
Serifina halted at the doors and turned back to where we stood. Paul dipped his head, speaking too low for us to hear. Serifina drew a breath and looked at each of us in turn. “We understand how serious the issue with the Lilin is. Please do not think that we don’t. It’s why we need the familiar.”
“Because Bambi will help you survive the apocalypse?” I laughed hoarsely. “She’s amazing, but even she can’t do that.”
Pain pinched her face. “That’s not what we think, but she will make us stronger. You know that. And she will protect us from all sides, including his.” Her gaze darted to Roth briefly. “He will make sure no harm comes to us, not when we have her.”
Dammit. She was so right and yet it felt so wrong. “So, she’s a hostage instead of a queen?” I fired back.
“Let’s go,” Paul urged. “There’s no use in reasoning with them.”
“Yes, go.” Roth stepped forward, chin tipped down. “Go before I regret my actions.”
Serifina appeared torn, but she held her ground. I had to admire her for that, because Roth looked murderous, and I was sure I didn’t look that different. “The Lilin has not gone far,” she said, stepping away from Paul when he whirled toward her. “There is a darkness gathering in the city, one that we’ve never seen before, but we can feel it.”
A chill skated down my spine as she continued. “We do not know what it is, but what else could be the cause? Something unnatural is occurring there.”
“The city is a pretty big place,” I said. “That doesn’t really narrow it down for us.”
She looked at Paul pointedly. “Tell them.” When he hesitated, she raised her voice. “If they don’t stop the Lilin, there will be very few places any of us can hide. Tell them.”
Disgruntled and red-faced, Paul drew his shoulders up. “We’ve been keeping a close eye on the Church of God’s Children for a while now.”
Oh man, I’d all but forgotten about them, which was insane, but a lot had been going on. The Church didn’t belong to any mainstream sects and they were some of the worst kind of human beings I’d ever had the displeasure of meeting. Not only did they hate demons, they loathed Wardens.
And they really disliked me.
I tried not to think of the day two of them had followed us into the parking garage, or how I’d lost my cool, doing something really horrible that involved a bible and a man’s face. My actions had led to one of their deaths, and although they were really terrible, knowing I’d caused the death of a human was hard to swallow.