Sam fell silent as she remembered what she’d seen last night through the slug demon’s eyes….
The demon on the floor as the Daimons fed on him. Oh my God. In that one moment she knew exactly what’d happened.
"Daimons did it."
He frowned. "What?"
She ignored his question as a wicked premonition went through her. There was no doubt in her mind what had happened and who this message was meant for.
"Can Acheron get me a photo of the demons they found?"
Dev scowled. "Why?"
"I have a bad feeling. I saw the Daimons kill a demon in their hall and I’m wondering if it was one of the two the police found on the street."
He frowned. "What are the odds of that? I think it’s a long shot."
"What if it’s not?" What if they really did want her to know what was going on? It could be some kind of head game or something else entirely.
Either way, she had to know.
Dev pulled out his phone and started texting. Less than a minute later, he received a text back. He checked it, then held the phone up for her to see. "Look familiar?"
The pictures expanded until she could clearly see the two vics on the ground. Their pale features were contorted by the last few horrific moments of their lives. Their faces were a permanent mask of their torture. The worst part was that she recognized one of them.
Oh yeah, this was really not good for them.
Sam met Dev’s gaze. "The one on the right. I saw the Daimons killing him."
The color drained from Dev’s face as he looked at the picture. "You sure?"
She nodded. "The slug demon was his servant. There were several Daimons feeding on him until he died. I saw the whole thing…. Well, not his actual death, but that I felt as the slug demon so there’s no doubt that the Daimons feeding on him are what killed him. They did this."
Dev cursed. "They’re taking demon powers the way they take a Were-Hunter’s."
"That has to be what allows them to walk in daylight. It has to be. Nothing else makes sense."
Still there was doubt in his eyes. "But they don’t get that ability when they take down one of us, and we walk in daylight."
"Why else do it then? The Daimons basically have the same powers as most demons. More so most of the time…except for daylight. There’s no other reason for them to target the demon population. Not when humans are such easy prey for them. You know a demon doesn’t just lie down and let them feast. Not without a brutal fight, hence the bruising on the bodies."
Dev considered that. She might be right. Why else would the Daimons feed on a demon? "You think that’s why they were trying to get to you? See if they could pull some powers out of you?"
"No. Dark-Hunter blood’s poisonous to them."
Oh yeah, he’d forgotten that. "Then why come after you?"
"I have no idea. Maybe because I saw them?"
"How would they know that?"
Dev tucked his phone in his pocket as he tried to think of what the Daimons could want from Sam. But he kept hitting a wall. "Did they say anything to you when they showed up in your house? Did you pick up on anything from them?"
"What I picked up was useless. Friggin’ pansy Daimons. More worried about their love life than me. The only thing they said was that they were taking me to Stryker."
"The Spathi commander?"
"Yeah. Or it was someone else sitting on his throne surrounded by Daimons in their command center."
Dev let out a low whistle. "You’re in trouble. That is one seriously messed-up man with a hard-on for Acheron and Apollo in the worst way. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do to kill either one."
"I assume he hates Ash for being the Dark-Hunter leader. Apollo because he’s Stryker’s father."
Sam gaped at the last thing she expected to hear. "What?"
Dev nodded. "Apollo created the Apollite race intending to use them to take over the Atlantean empire, then Greece and finally the Olympian pantheon. He wanted to rule the world and displace Zeus as the king of the gods. But when the Apollites killed Apollo’s mistress and child, he went postal on them and in his madness forgot he was cursing his own half Apollite child and grandchildren too. Stryker never got over it and he’s been looking for a way to kill his father ever since. Damn that whole vengeance quest. Not that I blame him. I’d be looking for blood too if I had to watch my children die because my dad was a flaming moron who couldn’t keep his dick in his pants."
Sam held her hand up as she tried to digest everything he was telling her. But it wasn’t making any sense. If what Dev was saying was true, Stryker would be…
Acheron’s age. Which would be over eleven thousand years old.
No. It wasn’t possible. "Wait. There aren’t any Daimons that old. Most of them drop after a few decades. Some lucky ones every once in a blue moon might make it to a hundred or better. But they never–"
"Stryker has a whole army of people who are thousands of years old."
Sam refused to believe it. "Bullshit." How would that have failed to make the go-round in the Dark-Hunter gossip mill?
Dev shook his head, his gaze burning into hers with his sincerity. "No, for real. I know this for a fact. The Spathi Daimons are all thousands of years old."
She still found that hard to believe. She was five thousand years old and in all that time she’d never seen a Daimon more than a few decades old. The Dark-Hunters were too proficient at hunting them. They always found their prey. "How?"
"They’re real good at what they do. Killing humans and surviving."
"No, not that. How do you know they’re out there? It could all be a lie or like the Dread Pirate Roberts where it’s one guy saying he’s this Stryker while the real Stryker has been dead for centuries."
Dev grinned as if he appreciated her Princess Bride reference. "One of Ash’s servants happens to be Stryker’s son and is over eleven thousand years old himself. I’ve had many a talk with Urian about his father and their history."
That hit her like a punch in the gut. "And Acheron has never seen fit to tell us about this?"
"And risk you freaking out? Why would he?"
Because Daimons with that kind of training had to be brutal to fight. "Don’t you think we need to know this?"
"You’ve lived how many centuries without it?"
Yes, but knowledge was power and they had a right to know who and what they were fighting. "You’re just like Acheron."
"I’ll take that as a compliment."
"It wasn’t intended as one."
"I know. But it irritates you that you’re not irritating me." His grin widened. "I can live with that."
She rolled her eyes at him. "What ever."
"Give me ‘tude, woman. I live for it. And none of this is germane to why the Daimons are now after you."
No kidding. "That is the question."
Dev sobered as he gave her a look that chilled her all the way to her missing soul. "No. The real question is…how many more of them are going to come after you?"
Stryker stood over the smoldering remains of the Daimons who’d failed him. He really couldn’t stand incompetence.
Zephyra beat a staccato rhythm on the arm of her chair with her long red nails as she watched him with an amused light in her eyes. "Feeling better, love?"
"Not really. Thinking I should reanimate them just so I can kill them again."
She wrinkled her nose in amusement. "I do so love you, bunny." Only she could get away with calling him that. Anyone else would be…
Another stain on the floor.
Stryker let out a frustrated breath. "Our little Huntress knows we’re coming for her and that we have Aunt Artie’s nets…. You know the problem with sending out morons who have no vested interest in accomplishing your goals?"
"They don’t care," she answered. "But I would think breaking their eternal curse would make any Daimon have a vested interest in succeeding."
"You would think." He gestured to the steaming remains on the floor. "But obviously you’re wrong. They were more concerned about who was cheating on whom than saving our race. Pathetic imbeciles."
Zephyra didn’t comment on that. "Do you want me to go after her then?"
He would say yes, but to get Samia now would require they go into Sanctuary and drag the bitch out. That place was teeming with preternatural predators who enjoyed bloodletting as much as he did. He’d just gotten his wife back. He wasn’t about to risk her to such a venture.
He would go himself, but that would violate a treaty he had in place….
Alliances sucked. One day he’d learn better than to make them.
"No. I think I have a better idea."
Zephyra stopped tapping her fingernails. "Which is?"
"Someone who wants the Huntress more than I do. He will bring her to us. Of that I have no doubt."
Stryker only hoped his messenger didn’t dismember her first.
Sam fastened her jeans, then froze at a peculiar sound she hadn’t heard in a long time.
A little girl giggling.
She turned fast to see the door open a quarter inch then slam shut. The giggling got louder.
What in the world?
Using her powers, she opened the door gently so as not to hurt her Peeping Tom. The girl stumbled into the room in a flurry of blond curls and bright blue eyes and dimples. Around four years old in human years and dressed in a cute pink dress with some cartoon character on it that Sam didn’t know, she was absolutely beautiful.
"You weren’t supposed to see me," she said in a whispered shout. "Uncle Dev said he’d have my entire tail section if I bothered you. I’m not bothering you, am I?"
Yes. The sight of her tore through Sam viciously. It made her ache for her own daughter and was strong enough to form a lump in her throat and to cause her eyes to water slightly. It was so harshly wrong how even after all these centuries her arms felt empty and itched to pick up and hold a baby close. To have one of those precious moments back when she used to bury her face in her daughter’s curls and inhale that sweet baby scent…
I sold my soul for the wrong thing.
And that hurt most of all.
Sam offered the little girl a smile. "No, sweetie. You’re not bothering me at all."
That thrilled the little girl as she slammed the door shut and ran into the room, closer to Sam. She grinned wide as she held her hands behind her back. "Uncle Dev said that when people touch you, you can tell things about them. Can you?"
She jumped up and down in her excitement as she clapped her small hands. "That’s so neat. I don’t have my powers yet. I keep hoping they’ll come in…along with my br**sts, but so far nothing. How long did it take you to get big br**sts?"
Sam hesitated before she answered a question that strangely made her laugh. "When I was about twelve."
"Hmmm, I wonder what that makes in Were-Hunter years? I can’t ever keep that straight." She looked down at her flat chest. "Obviously I’m not there yet. At least that’s what I hope. Otherwise I’ll have to stuff my bra like my cousin does. Her br**sts look really, really lumpy. Like oatmeal lumpy. But I think it’s ’cause what she uses to stuff them with. Kara says toilet paper isn’t as good as socks. It’s really gross and it makes her papa really angry."
"Yessy! What are you doing in there?"
The little girl jumped as the door swung wider to show an older version of herself. It was like looking into a time warp to see Yessy around the age of twenty. Tall, slender, and yes, big boobed. Dressed in baggy jeans and a green pullover, the older girl was stunningly beautiful.
Yessy backed into the wall. "I’m not doing anything wrong, Josie. You’re just being mean."
Josie let out a long-suffering breath as she met Sam’s confused frown. "First thing this morning she tries to bake Remi’s Baskin-Robbins ice cream cake in the oven ’cause she thinks that’s what a Baked Alaska is, now she’s defying orders and disturbing you. I am so sorry." She looked back at her sister. "I swear, Yessy, you’re trying so hard not to live. I keep telling you, Papa eats the dumb ones."
Dev snorted as he came up behind her. "Well, that can’t be true, Jo-Jo. You’re still here."
She rolled her eyes at him in a way only someone close to Dev could do and live. "You have no idea how trying she is."
Dev scoffed. "Of course I do. I was here when you were her age."
Josie stiffened in indignation. "I never acted that way."
"No," he said in a dry, flat tone. "You never behaved like that ever. You were a perfect angel. Always. Why is there still a hole in the north stovepipe again?"
If looks could kill, Dev would be seriously wounded. "That was different. Alex was bothering me and he was the one who bought the firecrackers."
"Uh-huh. God help us and our customers when your dad decides you’re old enough to wait tables. Now get out of here, both of you, before I feed you to Remi."
Josie grabbed Yessy’s hand. "See, I told you they eat the dumb ones."
As Dev moved to shut the door, Yessy came running back in to hug Dev on the leg. "Love you, Uncle."