Then he would kill her himself.
"HOW’S HE DOING?"
Tory looked up from where Ash was lying on the bed, resting, to meet Savitar’s lavender gaze. Strange, she could have sworn his eyes were green earlier. . . .
He was out of his wet suit and dressed in a pair of white linen pants with an open beach shirt that showed off his sculpted torso. His long brown hair was swept back from his handsome face.
"War tore him up pretty badly, but-"
"I’ll live," Ash said, rolling over to look at them. He propped himself up on the pillows and then brushed his black hair back with his fingers. "Believe me, I’ve had worse beatings. Just not recently."
Tory gave him a chiding stare. "I don’t know, you did get run over by a car not that long ago. . . ."
Ash snorted as he laced his fingers with hers. "In my defense, I was preoccupied by a certain"-he gave her a meaningful glare-"human having a near-death experience. That doesn’t count."
Savitar ignored his jibe. "Well, the good news is we routed him. The bad news is-"
Ash finished the sentence for him. "He’ll be back."
Tory swallowed as fear seized her. "Should we start making preparations here?"
Savitar looked completely offended by her question. "Punk-ass won’t come to my island. He knows better. You don’t tap on the Dev il’s shoulder unless you’re willing to dance to his tune."
Ash cleared his throat and gave Savitar a droll stare. "Actually, Tory, there’s a reason the island moves all the time. Sav is a bit paranoid, so the island is heavily shielded from paranormal types. You can’t get to Neratiti without a special invitation from our host, which is why Alexion brought you here. We knew it would be the only place War couldn’t get to. Me and mine have a standing invitation that doesn’t extend to the rest of the known universe."
Savitar bristled. "And even if he could find it, he wouldn’t dare bring his loserness here. I’d kick it back to the Stone Age," Savitar said with humor dancing in his eyes. "And don’t knock my paranoia, grom. It’s what saved your hide, now isn’t it?"
"Yes, and thank you."
Savitar inclined his head to him. "You’re welcome. But don’t get into trouble again. Your mother has turned nagging for pain into an Olympic sport and she’s been making my head ache over you. I’d tell you to go let her sit on you until you hatch, but I don’t want the world to end. Suck ass though it is. However, if the nagging persists, I might change my mind and take you to her myself."
Ash laughed. "I’ll keep that in mind. So any leads on who woke up our new friend and told him to come play with me?"
Tory gave them a sullen look. "My money’s on Artemis."
Savitar made a buzzer sound. "I’ll take that bet, because you lose. Word from Artipou herself. She didn’t do this, which is more good news for you two since it seems she’s acclimating to the idea of not being Ash’s girl anymore. Not happy about it, but she’s not issuing death warrants on you two, either. Small victory, true. But better than none at all."
Tory frowned. "Then who-"
"Our boy Stryker unleashed him."
Ash cursed. "Figures. Where is War now?"
"Off the grid, which means he’s probably back in Kalosis to report his spectacular failure to Stryker."
Ash’s eyes narrowed with concern. "Is my mother safe?"
"Judging by the noise in my head over you, that’s a definite affirmative. But don’t worry. I had the Charonte rally around her. She’s not happy about it, but for once she’s being reasonable. Her main concern is your safety. And she said for you to do what you have to to keep yourself healthy. Her life be damned."
Ash snorted. "I’m not going to kill Stryker and then bury my mother. Why the hell did she tie their life forces together?"
Savitar shrugged. "She lacks our ability to see the future. Her powers are destruction, not prophecy. I’m sure had she known he would one day threaten you, she’d have killed him herself. And now you know why I take pity on no one. All compassion does is come back and bite the fat of your arse."
Ash pulled the covers back from the bed and started to rise.
Tory caught him and pushed him back toward the pillows. "You should rest."
He kissed her hand. "I can’t. There’s a lunatic on the loose and probably hiding in my mother’s home." Closing his eyes, he manifested clothes on his body. "We have to prepare. Find a place where we can face War without a high bystander body count."
Savitar rolled his eyes. "Little brother, I don’t mean to be a downer, but we’re talking about War here. There’s no way to mitigate damages. He won’t let us. I was there with twenty-five Chthonians to fight him and he spanked our hides like we were Lemurian slave women. Two of us had our hearts ripped out and shoved down our throats while he laughed, then he licked the blood clean from his fingers and came at the rest of us. I barely survived and it took me two de cades of human time to recuperate from those wounds. Don’t think I fear the bastard, I don’t. I just want you to fully understand what it is we’re dealing with."
Ash frowned at his words, but his resolve was set. They had to defeat War one way or another. "How did you trap him last time?"
"Ishtar, Eirene, Bia, and the Gigantes came to our rescue. Out of that list, the goddess Eirene is the only one left alive. And we’re down to only eight surviving Chthonians. That number includes you."
Even so, Ash refused to believe it was hopeless. "There’s always an off-switch. We have to find it."
"We will try. In the meantime, you should know that your boy Urian got word from the other side. Stryker is pulling in Daimons from all over the world, amassing numbers that would make Cecil B. DeMille proud."
"Stryker’s planning to rain hell on the humans come Christmas day. Of course Urian said you could probably offset that by offering yourself up as a sacrifice. Stryker might be willing to call the attack off if you surrender yourself to War and die a painful death."
Tory’s gaze narrowed angrily on Ash. "Don’t you dare. I swear, Acheron Parthenopaeus, if you even think about it, I’ll beat you down until you beg me for mercy."
Ash tightened his grip on her hand. "Don’t worry. Even if I turned myself in, he’d still go after the humans. It’s his nature, and I’m not stupid enough to think he’d ever show mercy. What is it you’re always saying? It’s not the hand you’re dealt that matters. It’s how you play the cards you hold." He rose from the bed. "Sav, I need you to take up residence with my mother."
He choked at the suggestion. "Are you insane? That woman hates my guts. No, she doesn’t hate me. Hatred for her would be a step up toward possibly liking me someday."
Which was something Ash had never understood, but it didn’t change the fact that he couldn’t leave her alone with Stryker and War. "Take Alexion and Danger with you and stand by her side to make sure they don’t hurt her." She’d tolerate them around her a lot easier than she would Savitar. "Otherwise I’ll have to do it, and since the point of this is to avoid the apocalypse, my presence in her home would be extremely counterproductive."
If Ash were to ever step foot in Kalosis, his mother would destroy the earth even faster than Stryker and War. "You’re the only one I trust to keep her safe from Stryker, War, and Kessar. Even though my mother and I don’t always get along and we’re on opposite sides of this war, she is my mother and I don’t want her hurt."
Savitar looked like he’d rather be gutted. Not that Ash blamed him. His mother could be extremely . . . temperamental and difficult to deal with . . . and she loved him. Savitar she barely tolerated.
"All right," Savitar relented. "I’ll go. But you owe me. Major owe, so if I ever need something, no matter what it is, I own you."
Ash snorted. "She’s not that bad."
"How you figure that, grom? Your mother’s the Destroyer. It’s a title she not only earned, but one she relishes. And you’re sending me in with only a few Charonte as backup. What did I ever do to you?"
He laughed. "Man up, Sav. You’re whining like a little girl."
"If your mother has her way, she’ll turn me into one, and I look like shit in pink. Thanks, kid."
Ash shook his head as he watched the Chthonian vanish. As Ash started across the room, he found Tory firmly planted in his way. She stood like a military commander ready for war-which boded bad for him. "What?"
"Where are you going?"
"To see Nick."
She scoffed. "Do you really think that will be productive? The man hates your guts more than Stryker does. You’ll be lucky if he doesn’t pull your spine out through your nostrils."
"Nice to have Miss Merry Sunshine back again. Any other Eeyore outlooks you’d like to share?"
"Just one. If you leave here, War can find you again. What are you going to do if that happens?"
"Leave bloodstains on his best shirt."
Her eyes darkened. "You’re not funny, Ash. You said it yourself. This island is the only place safe from War."
"And I’m not a wimp, baby. I’m a god. I’m not going to hide out here because I’m afraid of getting hurt. I have to warn Nick that he has an enemy after him. I owe him that much."
She folded her arms over her chest and gave him a determined glare. "Then I’m coming with you."
Like hell. He’d tie her down before he allowed that. While she had some of his mother’s powers, she didn’t have them all, and unlike him she wasn’t used to battling for her life. "I’ll take Xirena with me. But you will stay here and not argue with me."
She growled at him. "You stubborn man."
He gave her a charming smile he hoped would melt some of her ire. "I learned from the best."
"Yeah, I know. I’ve met your mother."
LEAVING THE DEMON XIRENA OUTSIDE TO KEEP her safe should a fight break out, Ash paused inside Nick’s house as he felt for the Cajun’s presence. There was no heartbeat to be heard.
But there was an undeniable power here. Ancient and cold, it set off every warning in Ash’s body.
Ready to battle, he flashed himself upstairs to Nick’s bedroom, where it felt the strongest. As soon as Ash manifested, a tall, lean redheaded man turned toward him. Eerie yellow eyes were filled with torment and power, and set in a face so delicately chiseled it bordered on pretty. His shoulder-length red hair framed his face perfectly. Dressed in black Goth, like Ash, the man was someone he hadn’t seen in centuries.
The Sephiroth inclined his head respectfully. "Long time no see, Atlantean."
"Why are you here?"
Jared sighed before he set one of Nick’s Voodoo dolls back on his dresser. "Probably the same thing that you’re doing here. Looking for Nick Gautier. I suppose my only question to you is if he’s your friend or foe."
"Does it matter?"
His face steeled. "Not really. I just want to know how angry you’re going to be when I kill him."
Jared sighed. "Damn shame, that. But it changes nothing." He walked around the room, absorbing Nick’s essence so that he could track him.
Ash used his powers to shield Nick so that Jared couldn’t get an accurate reading. "Why are you so interested in Nick?"
Jared flicked at the black leather containment collar around his throat with his thumb. "Not my place to question why. I’m merely here to obey like the mindless supplicant they’ve forced me to become."
Ash flinched at the reminder of slavery. A common bond they shared and one he wouldn’t wish on his worst enemy. He would give anything to free the being before him, but Jared’s kind of slavery was never-ending.
"Can I ask a favor of you?" Jared said in a tone that told him how much he hated to ask for anything.
Even so, Ash was cautious. Favors seldom turned out well for anyone. "Depends on the favor."
Jared gave him a tight smile as he pulled his black leather coat off and exposed the dragon tattoo on his forearm. "Nim. Human form. Now."
Ash watched as the dark shadow twisted up from Jared’s arm to manifest into a young man before him. No taller than five-eight, the demon was dressed like a steampunk, complete with large goggles that rested on his mop of black dreadlocks and a small goatee. His fingernails were painted as black as his eyes and clothes. The only color on his body came from a small pink stuffed bunny that he had chained to his hip.
Nim’s black eyes fastened on Acheron and widened. He darted behind Jared’s back to hide. "Friend or foe?"
Jared let out an aggravated breath. "Friend. And a good one at that."
Nim peeked around like an unsure child. "He reeks of Charonte demon."
"I know and I want you to go with him."
"No!" the small demon barked. "Nim stays with Jared. Always."
Jared cursed. "Could you help a brother out, Acheron? I need you to take custody of Nim and keep him safe for me."
"No!" Nim snapped, even more determined than before.
Jared growled in response. "Damn it, Nimrod. For once in your life, do what I ask and go with Acheron."