Those words chilled him. She seemed so normal and yet . . . with demon blood in her, there was a lot she could be capable of. "How?"
She shrugged. "I was bitten by a gallu-the same one who owned Jared. He thought to make me his mindless sycophant, and what he learned is that I’m a lot stronger than I look. I killed the bastard."
Medea sighed. "Why don’t you tell him the truth, Mum?"
"Truth?" Stryker asked with a frown.
Zephyra cursed as she glared at her daughter. Her eyes snapping fire, she turned toward Stryker. "Fine. I traded my humanity so that Medea would live longer than her twenty-seventh birthday."
"What are you talking about?"
"Unlike you," Zephyra sneered, "I didn’t have an Atlantean goddess willing to show me how to take human souls to live. I asked Artemis to intervene on Medea’s behalf and she refused. She told me she wouldn’t countermand her brother’s curse even for her own niece. After I’d already lost my grandson and son-in-law to the humans, I wasn’t about to let my own baby die because of Apollo. So I conjured one of the brokers and promised him my soul if he’d protect her."
It sounded easy enough, but there was one problem. Demon brokers didn’t respond to Daimon requests. "You can’t do that. Only a demon can."
She gave him a highly sarcastic look of appreciation. "You’re such a brainiac, baby. And to think, I thought I married you for those amazing abs. Who knew all that brainpower was buried under those bulging biceps?"
Medea made a choking sound before she spoke again. "She allowed a demon to feed on her and convert her so that she could summon a broker."
The look of sarcasm mixed with annoyance was transferred to Medea.
Disregarding Zephyra’s prickliness, Stryker was amazed by her capacity to love. It touched him profoundly that she’d make so great a sacrifice to protect their child. It was that deep ability to care for her loved ones that had made him fall in love with her in ancient Greece.
"After I was converted, I turned on the demon and killed him. The beauty of the gallu. If you kill the one who bites you, you regain your self-control and keep the powers of the gallu to boot. It’s beautiful really, except for the annoying blood craving that was added to the one I already had due to Apollo. But life is nothing if not a series of trade-offs, eh?"
Perhaps. But it still left one unanswered question. "And Jared?"
"He was offered to me to keep me from killing the gallu demon. I took custody of him and then nailed the demon to the wall of his own home. No one threatens me or my child. Ever. And I’ll never be someone’s slave. No one controls me."
He could respect all of that. He’d done worse things to the ones who’d killed his sons.
Except for Urian.
Unwilling to think about that, he narrowed his gaze on Zephyra. "That explains your advanced age." Demons, even if they were only half bloods or converts, were excluded from Apollo’s curse. "But what of hers?" He indicated Medea with a jerk of his chin.
Zephyra crossed her arms over her chest. "I had to trade my soul for her life, which is now tied to mine. Strange how the gods love to do that. Sadistic and cold, really. But no matter. Unlike us, she doesn’t have to feed on humans to live longer-she’s still an Apollite technically. She could even have more children if she could ever find a man who wasn’t worthless."
"I did find one," Medea said, her voice breaking. "The humans butchered him."
Zephyra touched her lightly on the arm. "I know, baby. I didn’t mean to be so callous. I loved him, too." She looked back at Stryker. "It’s why I made sure I slaughtered every descendent of the families who took his life and why I relished each and every kill."
Stryker gave her a formal ancient military salute. "And that’s why I admire you so. A warrior’s code to the end." Blood for blood. Tit for tat. Life for life.
It was the one thing they’d always seen eye to eye on.
Davyn groaned from the bed as he finally came to. Lifting his head, he focused on Stryker. "How many of our men did they kill?"
"I don’t know. What happened?"
"War." His voice was weak and strained, as if pain had just ripped through him. He brushed his hair back from his face before he pushed himself into a sitting position. "He told the demons that they shouldn’t be subservient to you anymore. That they should rise up and kill us all to take over Kalosis. He said it would be the perfect demon haven, once all the Daimons were dead or converted."
Stryker growled low in the back of his throat. "Treacherous bastard."
Zephyra scoffed. "You’re the one who unleashed him."
"To kill Nick and Ash," he said defensively.
She arched one taunting brow. "What did you think he’d do after that?"
"I assumed he’d kill me, not my people."
Zephyra laughed sarcastically. "The man’s name is War. Did that not clue you in about his personality? This would be tantamount to meeting Peone and expecting the goddess of retaliation to forgive you and blithely walk away to let you live a happy life."
Medea frowned. "I thought that was Nemesis."
Zephyra gave her a droll stare. "Keep to your Atlantean gods, sweetie. Peone is retribution for murder. Nemesis is a goddess of balance. She punishes those who have too much happiness or who get away with screwing people over. Big difference between the two."
"Oh. Never mind." Medea stepped back.
Stryker inclined his head to Zephyra. "I’m impressed you still remember the old gods. But it doesn’t change the fact that I need to get back to Kalosis and kick those ass**les out."
"Why are you so suicidal?"
"I’m not suicidal. Those are my people down there and I’m not going to leave them to die without my leadership." He vanished.
Zephyra stiffened at his abrupt departure. "Did he just go back?" she asked Davyn.
He nodded. "My lord plays games, but not when it comes to invaders. He brought the demons in and no doubt feels responsible."
She tried to flash herself to Kalosis, but since she didn’t have a standing invitation, she couldn’t. "Davyn, can you open a bolt hole?"
He closed his eyes, then shook his head. "Stryker must have locked me out."
"Damn him. Jared!" she shouted, calling him back from his quest to find and kill Nick.
He appeared before her instantly. "Akra?" he asked, using the Atlantean word for own er and mistress.
"I need you to go to Kalosis and keep Stryker from dying. Help him drive the demons out."
"Your will is mine," he said in the most sarcastic of tones. She was actually amazed he was willing to obey without argument. But an instant later, he was gone.
Medea scowled in confusion. "I thought your intent was to kill Stryker?"
"Oh, honey, after all that man has put me through, I alone deserve the honor. Be damned if some demon by-blow is going to rob me of that plea sure."
STRYKER USED A FIRE BLAST TO SEAR THE demons closest to him as he joined his men and women who were holding them off. "Where’s Apollymi?"
He turned to see her there with her eyes blazing red. "We need to get you to safety," he told her, not wanting either of them to die until he took care of this.
She arched a brow at that. "Since when does my safety concern you? I thought you wanted me dead."
It was true, he had. But not right now. "I want to renew my lease on life. At least for two more weeks."
"In that case . . ." She slung her arms out and formed a whirlwind around the demons. They shrieked and screamed as it enveloped them and lifted them from the ground.
A hole appeared in the room, sucking them into the center of it. An instant later, they were all gone.
Now that was one seriously handy skill. "And that, my friends, is the difference between a full-fledged goddess and a demigod," he said under his breath.
Her expression unamused, she turned to Stryker. "And that, unfortunately, won’t last because someone"-she pinned him with an angry glare-"gave them access to my realm. Perhaps I should feed you to them after all."
"Give me a couple of hours before you do. Right now, I need to take inventory of the damage done to my men."
"Since when do you care what happens to them?"
He didn’t answer. It was true he liked to pretend he had no feelings whatsoever. That he was above anything as petty as emotions. But he knew the truth.
He ached and he cared even when he didn’t want to. No matter how hard he tried, he was still a man.
"My men need me." He walked past an angry Savitar, who was heading toward Apollymi.
"Why didn’t you stay put?" Savitar snarled at her.
She gave him a cold, haughty stare. "I’m the goddess of destruction. Did you really think I’d stay put while they ate their way through my home?" She curled her lip. "I need you to get Sin after them. He’s a Sumerian god, he should police the creation of his own pantheon and clean up their mess."
Savitar snorted. "You know if I do that, your granddaughter will be fighting right along beside him, don’t you? The last time she fought the gallu, they almost converted her into one of them."
She hissed at him, "Why did she marry that noaccount Sumerian god? Fine. Don’t tell them." She looked around the debris. "Strykerius, I expect you and your men to clean this mess up."
Stryker started to snap at her, then caught himself. Pissing her off wouldn’t accomplish anything and they had a lot to do. "You know this isn’t over. War will be back."
"Yes, I do know that. Thank you for reminding me. In the meantime, we should make some preparations. Anyone know a good exterminator?"
No sooner had those words left her lips than Jared, looking much better than he had last time they’d met, appeared beside Stryker. Dressed in a black leather jacket, black buttondown shirt, and black jeans, Jared’s eyes were covered with a pair of opaque sunglasses. His auburn hair had been pulled back into a sleek ponytail.
The Sephiroth glanced around with a frown. "Looks like I missed a party. Good. I wasn’t really in the mood to off demons this eve ning. Haven’t had my coffee yet."
Savitar grimaced. "You drink coffee?"
His face was stoic. "No, but it was my pathetic attempt at humor."
"What are you doing here?" Apollymi asked him. It was obvious from her tone that she didn’t appreciate an uninvited creature popping into her domain.
"I was ordered to protect him." He jerked his chin toward Stryker.
Apollymi folded her arms over her chest. "Well, I asked for an exterminator and look who appears. Want to take out War for us?"
She looked less than pleased by his response. "Why not?"
"Primal Source," Savitar said drily. "Jared was created to protect those powers. No one can make him kill them."
Jared nodded. "Exactly. Not even my own er can command that."
Apollymi frowned. "I don’t understand. You can kill the Malachai. Weren’t they born of the same powers?"
Jared sighed. "The Malachai declared enmity on the Source, thereby severing those ties. Because they threatened the Source, the Sepherii were able to attack and kill them. Until War makes a like threat against the primal powers, I can’t touch him."
One corner of Savitar’s mouth quirked up. "Well, don’t you suck?"
Jared’s features softened. "Oh, believe me, I couldn’t agree more. Just be grateful it’s not contagious."
Stryker ignored them as he considered what he’d inadvertently set into motion by wanting revenge. How simple it’d all seemed. War killed Ash and Nick, then him. Now there was a lot more going on here. "We have to find some way to contain War."
Savitar gave him a droll glare. "You’re the one who unleashed him."
"Yeah, well, let’s move on from the blame game. I was having suicidal thoughts and it seemed like a good idea at the time. In retrospect, not so much."
"Most major mistakes do," Apollymi said quietly. "Not many people carry out thoughts they know going into it are stupid . . . morons not included."
Savitar laughed. "Then that leaves you out, huh, Stryker."
He glared at Savitar. "For the record, we’re not friends."
"For the record, I don’t care."
"Enough, children," Apollymi said between clenched teeth. "In case you haven’t noticed, we have a major situation playing out. We have to find and stop War, corral the gallu, protect Apostolos, and get Savitar out of here."
"Why the latter?" Jared asked.
"Because I hate his guts."
Savitar shook his head. "I hate you, too, precious."
She sneered at him. "Put on some real clothes. What is that you’re wearing and does it come in adult sizes?"
He looked highly offended by her attack on his wardrobe. "Cargo pants and a Hawaiian shirt are real clothes."
"Not in my realm they’re not, and button that shirt."
"Hey!" he snapped as the shirt closed itself. "You know there are women who would pay to see me nak*d."