Ravyn was the one who finally broke the silence. "How?"
Tears gathered in Dave’s eyes as he visibly struggled for composure. "Last night, he’d run into a group of Daimons at the Last Supper Club and got seriously injured fighting them. He called me from the alley and said that he was bleeding badly. That he couldn’t drive back or go inside without exposing himself to the humans. I told him to wait behind the club and I’d be there as fast as I could. Before I could get him into my car, the police showed up and arrested us. He was too weak to fight-not that Troy would have anyway. There’s no way he’d have ever done something to hurt a human. "
Ravyn looked as ill as Susan felt. "You’re kidding."
He shook his head. "We weren’t allowed a phone call or anything. They took us to a cell on the east side of the building… no shades or anything else over the windows. I kept shouting at them to move us to another cell, but they’d just laugh and make jokes about crispy critters and toast. There was nothing we could do but wait."
He shook his head and turned so green that Susan half-expected him to be ill on the floor. When he spoke again, his voice was barely more than a whisper. "Troy kept moving out of the way of the sunlight, and I kept trying to cover the window, but by nine o’clock, it was over." He winced at the pain of his memory. He looked around the table at the Dark-Hunters. "Pray to whatever God you worship that none of you ever die like that. Forget what Apollo did to the Daimons… this is a whole hell of a lot worse. You don’t die right away. It’s slow and painful. You just smolder while your skin and bone melt until there’s nothing left. Not even ashes." He covered his eyes with his hands as if trying to banish the images that were haunting him. "He was totally aware of everything right up to the end. He kept praying over and over, between crying and screaming from the pain." Dave let out a sob. "Why wouldn’t they at least give me an ax to put him out of his misery?"
Susan covered her mouth as bile rose in her throat. She glanced around at the Dark-Hunters who were there. All of them felt the pain of what he described. All of them. It was plain on every face. But it was Ravyn her gaze settled on. In the back of her mind was an image of him in the same situation.
It was more than she could stand.
"How did you get out of jail?" Otto asked.
Dave clenched and unclenched his fist as a myriad of emotions played across his face. Rage. Hurt. Even bitter humor was there. But it was the hatred that flared so bright, it was blinding. "They were watching it. After Troy died, they came to the cell and opened the door… ‘Guess we were wrong about you. But you should be more careful about who you befriend.’ Then they stepped back and walked me out of there."
"We can get them for murder!" Erika said angrily.
Leo shook his head. "How? I’m sure by now they’ve erased whatever surveillance data they had. Even if they hadn’t, who would have believed it? Human beings don’t disintegrate in real life-only in Hollywood movies."
"And there’s no body," Otto added. "No evidence. As far as we can prove, all they did was arrest one man who they let go a few hours later. No harm. No foul. They’re untouchable."
Dave’s gaze went to Leo. "And that’s why I quit. I’m completely out of this."
Kyl got up and reached for him.
"Don’t touch me," Dave snapped as he stepped away.
Kyl’s features turned harsh. "You’ve got to pull yourself together."
"No, hell, I don’t." His face was ashen. "I’m a sixth-generation Squire on my father’s side, Kyl. Eighth on my mother’s. I grew up in the house with Troy and I never doubted what I would do with my life." He gestured meaningfully with his hands to emphasize his words. "We are here to protect the Dark-Hunters’ identities. We’re their lifeline when they’re hurt and we’re the only ones they’re ever allowed to rely on. Dammit, I failed him. And now I know the man who was like a brother to me is stuck as a Shade suffering for eternity because he tried to protect us. Where’s the justice in that?" He turned toward Leo. "I don’t care if you guys kill me. I’m done. I can’t go through this again."
"He’s right," Nick said in a deep voice. He gripped the cup of tequila so tightly that his knuckles were white. "This is just like New Orleans. The Daimons are screwing with us and laughing while they do it. There’s no telling what they’ve done that we don’t even know about… yet. " He cut a look around the table that was so cold it could freeze fire, and it chilled Susan all the way to her bones. "For all we know right now, one of you could be a Daimon who’s already killed a Dark-Hunter and who is now using his body to spy on us." His gaze stopped on Cael. "You even live with them."
Cael’s face turned to stone. "What’s that supposed to mean?"
"When a cow lives with the butcher, sooner or later he gets eaten unless he helps the other cows off to their slaughter."
"Bullocks!" Cael shouted as he came to his feet.
Still Nick didn’t back down. He merely sat there, staring at Cael as if he were trying to figure out if it was Cael or something else. "How do we know Stryker or one of his chief minions hasn’t possessed you?"
Otto scowled at him. "Nick, what are you talking about?"
He pinned that deadly glare on Otto. "You don’t remember anything about the night my mother died, do you?"
"We were attacked."
"To say the least." His voice dripped sarcasm. "We weren’t just attacked, Otto. We were f**ked over royally. Don’t you remember the phones and how the Daimons played us? I’d get a call from you, only it wasn’t you… It was them screwing with our heads."
Susan and Ravyn exchanged an eerie look. The hair on the back of her neck rose at Nick’s words.
"No one screwed with the phones, Nick." Otto snarled.
"I don’t remember that either," Kyl added.
"How could they get our numbers?" Ravyn asked.
Nick scoffed. "Do I look like a Daimon? How the hell do I know? But they did it. Night after night they led us on a merry chase through the streets as they killed us and any innocent bystander who caught their attention." He looked over at Otto. "Don’t you remember the night they almost killed Ash?"
By Otto’s face it was obvious he had no idea what Nick was talking about. "No."
Nick growled deep in the back of his throat. "Let me guess, when all was said and done, Acheron took all of you aside one by one and erased your memory, didn’t he?"
Kyl shook his head. "Ash wouldn’t do something like that."
"You idiot. Of course he would. None of you know Jack Shit about him. But I do." He raked his hand through his hair as his eyes burned with anger. "When you think back, is everything fuzzy? You can remember some things clear as a bell, and others are vague?"
"That’s true of any memory," Otto scoffed.
"Yeah, and do you remember when we were trying to get ahold of Ash and no one knew where he was?"
Kyl frowned. "Ash said his phone wasn’t working."
"Trust me, it was working just fine. He knew what was happening, but he stayed out of it and left us alone to deal with the Daimons, knowing we weren’t capable of fighting them without him. And then the Daimons came out and went to town all over us. While we were distracted with trying to fight them off, their leader, Desiderius, possessed Ulrich so that he could kill Amanda’s sister and my mother. As a possessed Dark-Hunter he was able to enter Kyrian’s house without an invitation. He took off Kassim’s head and then he killed Amanda and Kyrian."
Kyl rolled his eyes. "You’re the idiot, Nick. They didn’t die."
"Oh, yes, they did. Trust me. Artemis had already dumped me into Hades when Kyrian showed up. Even though he was dead, he was beside himself because Amanda wasn’t there with him. Since she was a Christian and he was an ancient Greek, she’d gone off to her heaven while he was on his way to his. Still bloody from our deaths, we stood there on the banks of the river Acheron, waiting for Charon to ferry us to the other side. While we waited, Kyrian spilled his guts to me about everything that had happened to cause his death."
"Kyrian isn’t dead," Kyl insisted.
Hatred flared deep in Nick’s eyes. "Not now he isn’t. Acheron brought him back. "
Still Kyl argued. "Ash doesn’t have that power."
"And you’re stupid if you believe that." Nick sat forward and punctuated his words by pounding his hand on the desk. "News flash, folks. Ash is a god."
Leo and Otto laughed at him.
"Nick, are you high?" Zoe asked.
He turned on Zoe like a demon looking for a victim. "No. Deny it if you want, but I know the truth. I might be the youngest Dark-Hunter created, but I’ve been in this world a long time and I know exactly what I’m talking about. The rest of you are just fools in a game that’s being played behind your backs. The Spathi Daimons that you’re up against now aren’t stupid. Until Desiderius went after Kyrian the first time, no one even knew that Daimons could live a hundred years, never mind a thousand… or more to the point, eleven thousand. But Ash knew and even when I asked him about them, he didn’t say a word. Why is that?"
Dragon narrowed his eyes on Nick. "Ash didn’t know or he would have."
"Ash is the king of secrets. You all know that. I don’t know how the Daimons are related to him, but I know there’s a link."
Now it was Belle’s turn to laugh. "What are you saying? Ash is a Daimon?"
"No. He’s a god and somehow he’s linked to them." Nick looked at each one of them. "These aren’t what you’re used to dealing with, folks. These are so much more and now they have human help, too."
Menkaura frowned. "What do they want with us?"
"They want to bathe in your blood and trust me, they will."
Erika made a rude noise. "Well, aren’t you just Mr. Sunshine?"
Nick turned his head slowly toward her like something out of a bad horror movie. Not to mention the fact that his face reminded Susan of a king addressing a peasant who’d dared to breathe his air. "Who are you, little girl, and why are you even in this meeting?"
She pointed to Ravyn. "His substitute Squire and I have no idea, but at least I’m not bringing everyone down with this doom and gloom bullshit."
Now he looked to Susan like the king after the peasant had wet his shoes… and she didn’t mean with water. "Substitute Squire? What the hell is that?"
Erika gave him a "duh" stare that had to be one she reserved for those who were a bit slow. "It’s a person who doesn’t want to be a Squire, but who got drafted into this because Mr. Kontis won’t let anyone else around him for more than twenty-four hours. I think my father has lasted longer with him than anyone else in the past because he’s half-deaf and can’t listen to Ravyn’s razor-sharp sarcasm. Something I can only tolerate because, well, he taught it to me from the crib."
Nick didn’t look impressed by her speech. "Then as a Squire you should know to sit there and keep your mouth shut."
Erika’s jaw dropped in indignation. "What do you know about being a Squire?"
"He used to run the Dark-Hunter Web site," Leo said under his breath.
She turned on him in a pique. "And that makes him an expert?"
Kyl shrugged. "He’s the one who put the Squire’s handbook online."
"So he can write HTML, so what? My grandma could do it, if she were still alive."
"Erika…" Leo said in a warning tone.
"Shut up, Leo," she snapped.
Nick hissed at her, "You don’t talk to a Theti like that."
The look on Nick’s face would have made anyone with half a brain shudder. Erika, on the other hand, appeared to be missing the part of her brain where her self-preservation should be located.
"You need to learn to respect your elders," he growled dangerously.
"Oh, yeah?" she challenged him. "Like you would have?"
"As a Squire, I always followed orders."
Cocking her head, she folded her arms over her chest and glared at him. "Yeah, right. If you followed orders, then how did you get to be a Dark-Hunter, huh? Last time I checked, we weren’t supposed to be doing that, now were we?"
"What?" she snapped at Leo.
He gave her a harsh stare. "We have more important things to discuss and we’re running out of time."
She held her hands up. "Fine. Talk. I’m going to get a sandwich." As she crossed the room, she mumbled to herself. "Like he’s going to save us with his sage bullshit-the man don’t know shite about shit. He couldn’t even save New Orleans and he lived there."
Those words went through the room like a pall as everyone sucked their breath in sharply.
Erika tried to open the door only to find it locked.
His face contorted by rage, Nick shot to his feet. "What did you say?"
Erika ignored him while she tried to get the door to open. "Why won’t this door open?"
"What. Did. You. Say?"
"Leave her alone, Nick," Otto said, rising.