Two steps behind them was a man who had to be a minimum of seven feet tall. His blond hair was short and he was built like the Terminator, with a demeanor that would make the cyborg look weak. This man’s face was rugged and harsh, and it was obvious he lived to bathe in the blood of others.
The last man was lean and wiry. Steel spikes were wrapped around his arms and over his hands. He wore tall biker boots with flames rising up from the toes to meet at the skulls at the top of them. Shirtless, he had the body of a ripped gymnast.
All of them wore an expression that said they were here for war.
One of the two women was even taller than Geary, with black hair streaked with bright green. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and the green seemed to be snakes. They slithered around her shoulders, coiling about her neck as they hissed and snapped.
The other woman was much shorter but no less lethal. Trim and lean, she was corded with muscles and had bright red hair and sharp features.
Geary scrambled for her clothes, not that the others even seemed to know she was there. Their attention
was only on Arik.
"Who sent you?" Arik asked defiantly.
The man with the gun answered by firing it straight at Arik. He recoiled before he backflipped to the left and threw his hand out. It functioned as a gun and returned the bullets to them. He "fired" more bullets with his other hand.
The group dodged them before the woman with red hair threw out a circle that exploded all over Arik. It knocked him flat on his back and sent shooting sparks into the air around them.
Arik hit the sand with a force so lethal it shook him to his bones. Damn them. His senses were rattled, but he’d battled enough in dreams to know that this was his domain. He might be mortal while awake, but in here he was still a god.
And they were f**king the wrong Skotos.
No one took him out in his realm.
Growling, he flipped himself back to his feet and manifested a whip. He slung it out for the woman who’d stunned him and caught her about the waist. The cord bit into her and would have cut her in half had she been anyone but a Dolophonos.
As it was, it only cut deep and sent her to the ground.
The green-haired man paused to look at her as she writhed.
"You’re strong," he said, betraying a set of vicious fangs. "Not many people get a shot off on Alera."
Arik swung the whip again, causing them to dodge it. "First mistake. I’m not a person. I’m a god. You want to fight in this realm, you need reinforcements."
The bald one dove at him so fast all Arik could see was the vapor trail. He caught Arik about the waist and they went down hard. Arik rolled with him, slugging him before he kicked him away. Before Arik could regain his feet, the other woman was on his back. He flipped her over his head and punched her in the chest. Without missing a beat, she sliced at him with a dagger that narrowly missed him.
The one bad thing about the weapons the Dolophoni used was that they were made by Hephaestus and that was one god who knew how to forge a weapon that hurt.
More to the point, he forged weapons that killed other gods.
Arik caught her around the neck with his whip, but before he could hurt her, one of the men kicked him from behind.
Letting go of the whip, Arik twisted around to confront him. But first Arik had to dodge the bald man’s ax. Arik caught it in both hands and kicked the giant back.
He didn’t budge. All he did was laugh.
"Laugh at this, ass**le," Arik snarled, head-butting the giant. He staggered back, releasing the ax to
Instantly the other man swung his staff at Arik’s feet, then his head. Arik dodged, then countered with the ax, which the man deftly ducked. He brought the staff up and planted it in Arik’s ribs.
Arik felt the bite but didn’t react to it other than to swing the ax. The man dodged it again, but one of the twins came in with invisible block of some kind that shattered the ax into shards.
Cursing, Arik barely rolled out of the way of the staff swing. The man lunged at Arik’s feet.
Arik jumped up, then caught the staff with both hands. He snatched it right, unbalancing the man before he swept his feet out from under him. Wresting the staff from the man’s hands, Arik sank one end of it into the man’s chest.
Screaming, he disintegrated on the sand.
One down. Nine to go.
Arik twirled the staff around and tucked it under his arm as he turned to face the others, who treated him with more respect. They weren’t as cocky now as they’d been on arrival.
Their faces were marred with disbelief as they appeared to be speaking to one another mentally. Let them. Arik didn’t need to hear their thoughts to know they planned on mangling him.
Arik backed up as they circled around him. They were sizing him up and he knew it. Feinting at him only to back away to test his reflexes and assess his weaknesses.
He toyed with them. Giving them false impressions. False reactions. Be damned if he was that stupid. He hadn’t lasted this long in dreams by allowing others to get the better of him.
One of the twins came at Arik’s back. He twirled with the staff, into a crouch so that he could swipe the man’s feet out from under him. Arik rose to his feet to finish the attack, but before he could the other twin knocked him back with a punch so raw it lifted him off his feet and sent him flat on his back in the sand.
Arik swung the staff at the same time he rolled back to his feet. He ducked the knee the bald man sent toward him and turned away from the sword the woman was trying to skewer him with.
Geary could barely think as she watched the deadly dance of Arik with the others. She’d never seen anything like it.
Arik used the staff to lift himself up from the ground and drove his feet into the man with auburn hair.
Then Arik swung around to attack the bald man and the twins at the same time.
But she couldn’t leave him to this on his own. Even for a dream, this was getting bloody, and honestly, this wasn’t what she wanted in her subconscious.
Wanting control again, Geary walked over to them. "Excuse me?"
Arik paused at her call, which allowed the bald man to deliver him a staggering blow to his face. He
twisted back before snarling at her. "Run, Megeara."
"Run from what? They’re circus freaks, and while this is mildly entertaining, I’d like to go back to what we were doing before they interrupted us." She waved her hands at the others. "So you guys, go poof."
The twins approached her slowly. "This isn’t a game, human. Listen to the Skotos and go. We’re not bound by the laws of the Oneroi. Killing humans is nothing for us."
Was that supposed to scare her? Yeah. What had she eaten for dinner that it was manifesting like this?
Oh yeah. Crab cakes. Those never really agreed with her. She’d eaten two of them. Maybe that was why there were twins. Or she was just tired, which was the most likely explanation.
At any rate, she was tired of this part of the dream.
"Well, aren’t you all scary in black? Oooo. What are you two masquerading as? Evil Man and his trusty sidekick Bad Boy?" She let out a tired sigh. "Look, this is really annoying me. I want my dream back and that means all of you have to go now."
One of the twins reached to grab her, but before he could, Arik was there. He pulled her by the arm, away from the others.
He paused to send a fiery blast back toward them as they ran forward. "You have to go, Megeara."
"Not without you."
Arik wanted to curse the fact that she couldn’t distinguish reality from her dreams. If she died on this plane, she died in her world, too. Same as him.
She stopped and grimaced. "Why are you playing with them? Just snow them in."
He didn’t understand what she meant until she snapped her fingers and blocks of ice encased the Dolophoni. His jaw went slack as it stopped them dead in their tracks.
A human shouldn’t have that ability. "How did you do that?"
"It’s a dream, silly. I’ve always had control in my dreams. As a kid I used to pretend I was watching TV
and if I didn’t like the dream, I just changed the channel. Like this."
Suddenly the beach was gone. They were in a summer meadow with no sign of the Dolophoni to be had.
Arik’s jaw slackened even more as he felt the sharpness of solar heat and smelled heather and wheat.
How was this possible? Humans couldn’t control dreams like this. If he didn’t know better, he’d swear she had Oneroi blood in her.
But she didn’t. There was a scent and aura that all the gods had-even those who only held a bit of god blood. Megeara had none of that. She was fully human.
Before he could ask how she’d gained control away from the Dolophoni, she captured his lips with hers.
For a heartbeat all he could sense was her. With every part of him.
Unfortunately, he had more to focus on than how good she tasted.
"Please, Megeara. I would love to stay with you, but I can’t."
She frowned up at him. "What are you talking about?"
He kissed her on the forehead before he pulled away. She had gotten them away from the Dolophoni, but they were still out there, looking for him, and they wouldn’t stop until he was dead. They wouldn’t care who got in the way. All that mattered to them was completing their mission.
The last thing he wanted was to see Megeara hurt.
"I’ll be with you soon."
And with that, he pulled out of her dream.
Arik awoke in the hammock to the taste of blood in his mouth. His entire body ached to the point he could barely draw breath.
What was going on? None of this should be happening.
He didn’t know why the Dolophoni had been sent after him, but then the why didn’t matter. All that counted was the fact that they wouldn’t stop until he was dead.
They’d found him in the dream realm.
It wouldn’t take them long to find him in the human world, too.
Holding his breath, he rolled out of the hammock and fell to the deck. He groaned as pain assailed him.
He tried to stand, but his body wouldn’t cooperate. With no choice, he lay on the deck, looking up at the stars that twinkled silently in the sky above.
And as he watched them, bitter laughter filled him. How absolutely apropos.
His dream had just turned into a nightmare.
GEARY WOKE UP AT DAWN FEELING INVIGORATED. SHE’D had a restful, dream-free sleep the night before and now she was anxious to be about the excavation. It was time to get cracking and set fire to the world.
Tory was already up and dressed, sitting in the corner with a flashlight as she reviewed pictures of their site. She looked like an eerie specter in the darkness.
"What are you doing?" Geary asked.
Tory pushed her glasses up on her nose and gave Geary a wistful look. "Wishing I could dive with you.
It would be so cool to be down there and be the first on site, touching everything."
Geary nodded, at two hundred feet down, it was far too deep for Tory, who was only a recreational diver. Not to mention, it was just too dangerous for her to chance. Both Jason and Tory’s father had died during diving accidents. That was one family legacy Geary had no intention of bequeathing to anyone.
Tory sighed. "Yeah. Just keep the live feed going so that I can see it and pretend I’m there, too."
"Yes, my queen. Anything else you’d like?"
Tory grinned. "A million dollars and Brad Pitt."
As Geary threw back the covers and left her bed she laughed at Tory’s stock answer. "You forgot world peace."
"I’m feeling a bit selfish today. Teenage hormonal overdose, I think. Or just general excitement."
Geary rolled her eyes as she went to brush her teeth. It didn’t take her long to get dressed. As eager to get started as Tory, she all but sprinted to the upper deck. The sky was just starting to lighten. Pink was laced with the blue as orange broke through in ribbons that spiraled above her, promising her good weather for the dive and excavation. Closing her eyes, she inhaled the fishy scent of the sea and smiled.
It was a good day to be alive.
And grateful to the man who’d given her this dream, she went to the hammock to wake him.
Only Arik wasn’t there. He lay on the deck with his back to her. Afraid he was ill, she rushed over to him and knelt by his side.
He groaned ever so slightly as she shook him. Rolling onto his back, he opened his eyes, and she saw a slight bruise on his forehead.
"What are you doing on the deck?"
Arik gestured to the hammock above him. "I fell out of the hammock while I was sleeping."
"On your head?"
"Apparently. Good thing it’s hard, huh?"
She grimaced at his misplaced humor.
Arik’s breath caught as she gently brushed the hair back from his brow to examine his cheek and
forehead. The look of concern on her face was enough to make him want to bruise himself again to see if she’d duplicate it.
Luckily, he wasn’t that masochistic.
"You need to be more careful."
"I intend to," he said honestly. He wasn’t about to let the Dolophoni get the drop on him again. While on the boat he was semiprotected, since they wouldn’t cause a commotion in front of a group of humans.
At least that was the lie he was telling himself. The problem with the Dolophoni was that they didn’t really have a set of rules to follow that anyone knew. You merely hoped they’d abide by the ones set down for everyone else.