Well, that answered that.
As the men headed back up the hill, Susan couldn’t help looking around the alley. There was no sign of a battle having been fought here. Not one. Not even dust from the Daimons, not a trace that Belle had ever lived…
A gentle breeze stirred down the narrow alley and everything looked oddly peaceful and quiet. This was a tragic life the Dark-Hunters lived. They gave their lives for mankind and no one even knew they were here. And when they died, they vanished into nothing.
It brought everything home to Susan with painful clarity. How many battles like this had Ravyn fought over the centuries? How many injuries had he tended without Acheron there to fix them? He really was alone with no one there for him.
Good God, Ravyn would have died had she not gone to the shelter and taken him out. That thought made her ache for him.
She looked up at Ravyn.
"You okay, babe?"
Nodding, she headed for them and took his hand, needing to feel a physical connection to him while her emotions were so raw.
Acheron gave her a look that said he knew exactly what she was thinking.
"Can you help us stop the humans from attacking the Dark-Hunters?" she asked Ash as they headed for Phoenix’s car.
Ash opened the car door for her. "That’s a loaded question, Susan. And not as easy to answer as you’d like."
Ravyn paused by the driver’s side. "Will you be at the club later?"
"Yeah. I’ll catch you guys then."
Susan got into the car. Ash closed her door at the same time Ravyn closed his.
She watched Acheron step back from the car and turn back toward the hill. As Ravyn started to pull away, she could swear Acheron evaporated into the mist.
"That is a strange man."
"Yes, he is."
"Can’t he just kill off all the Daimons like he did tonight?"
"Then why doesn’t he?"
Ravyn glanced at her as he shifted gears. "I have no idea. I guess it comes down to what Ash would say. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. There’s a lot of stuff in this world that doesn’t make sense. I would imagine the Daimons and Apollites are in some kind of balance with the rest of us and if he killed them all off, it would destroy it. "
"But you don’t know that’s true."
"No. I’m only guessing."
Susan considered that as they headed down the dark streets.
It seemed like hogwash to her, but then what did she know? She was only a reporter who up until two days ago knew nothing of their existence.
"What do you think the Daimons will do now that Acheron is here?" she asked Ravyn.
"I don’t know for sure, but if I were them, I’d run for cover."
Acheron let out a long, tired breath as he flashed himself to the alley behind the Serengeti. He could feel a presence inside the club that saddened him to the deepest part of his consciousness.
Acheron hadn’t seen him since the night Nick had killed himself and Ash had removed him from Hades and Artemis’s clutches. Nick hated him and he had every right to.
In one fit of anger, Acheron had been the one to curse him to his death. The guilt of that festered inside Acheron like an open wound he knew would never heal.
And because of Nick’s hatred, Ash had been unable to train Nick and so he’d sent him to live with Savitar. He didn’t know why Savitar had freed him to this time and place. No doubt Savitar knew, but he would never share that information.
He was even better at keeping secrets than Ash was. How he wished he could see Nick’s future. But Ash was forbidden to see his own future, or the future of anyone he cared about.
"No need to postpone the inevitable," he said under his breath. He wasn’t a coward.
Steeling himself for what he knew was coming, Ash entered the club through the back door.
He met Dorian first as the Were-Hunter was taking a box of bottles from the storeroom.
"Ash," he said, his eyes wide. "You’re in town."
"Hi, Dori. How’s the mate?"
"She’s fine. How’s Simi?"
He could feel his Charonte demon in tattoo form crawling up his biceps to lay herself over his shoulder where she liked to sleep. "Same."
"Is she with you?"
Simi was almost always with him. "She might pop in later."
"Give us a little warning and I’ll have Terra stock up on barbecue sauce."
"You got it." Ash moved past him, into the kitchen. He called a greeting to Terra and the cooks before he pushed his way through the door, into the club. The hip-hop music here was loud. It was "Grillz" by Nelly.
Ash was surprised Nick could hang out with that playing. Personally, Ash liked all kinds of music, but Nick didn’t really care for hip-hop or rap. He only listened to metal and Cajun Zydeco.
And Ash knew the instant Nick saw him. The hatred went up his spine like an electric shock.
Dreading the encounter, Ash turned to find Nick standing just behind him. Gone was the good friend who used to tease and laugh with him and in his place was an enemy Ash knew was plotting his death even while he faced him.
Nick’s face was completely stoic. "Well, look who the leopards dragged in. I’m surprised you bothered."
"Fuck you." Nick knocked back his glass of whiskey, then glared at it. "You know what I hate most about being a Dark-Hunter?"
"The fact you can’t get drunk?"
Nick put the glass on the tray of a waitress who was passing by. "It’s having to deal with you."
Ash shook his head. It was still too soon for this. Nick needed more time. "I’ll catch you later."
Nick grabbed Ash’s arm as he started away and spun him around to face him. "You’ll catch me now, you bastard."
Before Ash could move, Nick punched him in the jaw. He staggered back from the force of it. And if Nick had been paying attention, he would have realized something significant. Ash didn’t feel the blow he’d just been given. Dark-Hunters couldn’t strike each other. But then Ash wasn’t like the others.
His first instinct was to strike Nick back, but Ash caught himself before he did more damage to the Cajun. The crowd around them cut them a wide berth as people moved to get away, while the Weres looked around in nervous debate about whether or not they should come between two Dark-Hunters, or more importantly, if they should interfere with Ash.
Nick’s face was contorted by rage. "How could you destroy New Orleans?"
Ash frowned at him. "What?"
"You heard me. Wasn’t it enough that you killed me? Did you have to punish all my friends and family, too?"
"Nick, get a grip."
He shoved Ash back, into a table. "I’ve just spent the last few hours looking at the pictures… at the people. You could have stopped it and you didn’t. "
Ash felt his anger snapping. They were drawing way too much attention here in the bar. "You don’t know what you’re talking about."
Nick was relentless as he stalked Ash. "Yes, I do. I know what you are. You brought Kyrian and Amanda back from the dead. You saved their baby from the Daimons and you did nothing to help my mother. You claim you loved New Orleans and yet you did nothing to help the city when she needed you most. "
"That’s not true, Nick. I was there and I did what I could. But even I have limits and rules about what I can and can’t do. My God, you were like a brother to me. How can you think that I’d ever do anything to hurt you?"
"You killed me, remember?"
"No. I’ve loved you and your mother like I’ve never loved another human being in my entire life. I never wanted to see the two of you hurt. "
"Bullshit! One snap of your fingers and you could have deflected the storm. Talon could have deflected it. You refused to let him, didn’t you?"
Ash shook his head. Fate wasn’t that easy to control. "It’s not that simple."
"It is that simple." He shoved Ash again.
The people in the bar were getting restless now, especially the Weres. Nick was drawing way too much attention to them and he was speaking of things that no one was supposed to talk about.
"Lay off me, Nick. I mean it."
Nick grabbed Ash by the front of his coat and pulled him close enough that he could whisper in his ear. "Or what? You’ll kill me again?" He laughed at that as if it amused him greatly.
Letting go, Nick stepped back and smoothed Ash’s lapels. "You know, I’m sorry. I’m forgetting all the manners my mother tried so hard to teach me." He narrowed his eyes meaningfully. "How’s Simi doing? Has she picked up any new guys lately?"
That succeeded in breaking the hold Ash had on his temper. He bellowed in rage as he felt himself slipping. Throwing his head back, he froze everyone in the bar. Everyone. They stood silently in place as the music continued to play while he and Nick faced each other. Not as friends. As enemies.
Nick’s face actually paled as he saw Ash’s true form.
"You never knew when to shut your mouth, Cajun." His voice was a guttural demonic growl.
"What are you?"
Ash looked down at his blue hands that were marbled by silver. His gaze was hazy now from the fire that swirled in his irises and pupils.
Closing his eyes, he shoved his emotions aside and returned to his human form. How he wished he could erase Nick’s memory, but Nick was one of those one in a trillion people who were immune to Ash’s mind manipulation. It was what had made them friends.
Unfortunately, Nick wasn’t immune to Ash’s god powers, and that was what had made them enemies.
"For your own sake, Nick. Stay away from me and never say Simi’s name in my presence again."
Nick gave an evil laugh. "One day, Ash, I’m going to find a way to kill you for what you’ve done to the people I love."
"Don’t threaten me, boy. You don’t have those powers."
"It’s not a threat," he said, his eyes burning. "It’s a promise."
Ash growled low in his throat as he pushed his way through the frozen people.
"Keep walking, Ash. But remember when you feel my hand delivering the death blow to you that you’re the reason I’m here."
Ash paused and turned toward him. "No, Nick. You’re just another mistake Artemis has made that will cause me nothing but misery."
Nick grabbed a bottle from the table beside him and flung it at Ash.
Ash splintered the glass bottle before it reached him. The pieces hung silently in the air for a full ten seconds before they fell to the floor as harmless dust.
Turning on his heel, he headed for the door intent on putting as much physical distance between them as possible.
He was so intent, in fact, that he failed to notice the one person in the corner who wasn’t frozen. The one person who had witnessed the entire encounter.
As the room returned to normal and Nick went back toward the bar, the woman in a dark wig smiled evilly.
Now this was something they could definitely use…
Satara flashed herself straight into Kalosis. For once, Stryker wasn’t in the hall or "war room," as it had once been aptly called. In fact, the vast room was oddly empty, with his throne sitting alone on the dais.
The unexpected silence was eerie.
All of the Daimons who normally gathered here must be in their own homes, which lined the dark streets outside in this realm where sunshine was eternally banished.
Atlantean legend once claimed that this was the palace of Misos, the Atlantean god of death and violence. Archon, the peaceful king of the gods, created this realm to control Misos and keep him prisoner, along with all of his minions who preyed on both the Atlantean people and mankind.
Stryker’s black throne of carved dragons, skulls, and crossbones had been fashioned by Thasos (the Atlantean personification of death) for Misos himself while he ruled over all the damned who were sent to Kalosis to be punished. Ultimately, Archon had even sent his queen, Apollymi, to this realm to be held so long as her natural son lived.
After her beloved son had died, Apollymi had left her prison in this realm and destroyed all of the Atlantean pantheon-just as the Fates had prophesied. And as she made her way across Greece, bent on destroying the entire world, somehow the Greek gods had found a way to return her to her prison in Kalosis.
No one knew how they’d done it and not once, in all this time, had any of them breathed a word of it.
But it wasn’t long after her new incarceration began that Apollymi had mentally reached out of this prison and summoned Stryker to her so that she could teach him how to take human souls and save his people.
That had been a hell of a day…
And Satara was grateful her brother had lived, because through him, she had a shot of ending her enslavement as a handmaiden to Artemis once and for all. That was if she could find the missing bastard to tell him her news.
Knowing her time was extremely finite, she rushed through the rooms of the palace, looking for him.
Oddly enough, she found him where she least expected… his bedroom.
And he wasn’t alone. There were half a dozen Daimons, male and female, sprawled all over him and his bed. That wasn’t counting the two who were making out on the floor in front of her.
She didn’t know what stunned her most, the fact that it was an orgy or the fact that Stryker was actually hav**g s*x with someone. Given his coldness, she honestly hadn’t thought he’d bother.