CHAPTER 9

After having seen her teach her students. Xypher was even more impressed with Simone than he’d been before. “It’s a good thing you’re not a demon.”

“Why?”

He took her satchel and books as she left the lab and earned them for her back to her office. “With your knowledge of human anatomy, you would be terrifying . . . and deadly.”

She scoffed. “ I’m harmless enough.”

“Yeah, not from what I saw. I seem to recall you threw that Daimon to the ground and made him feel it. Where did you learn to do that by the way?”

“Self-defense classes. Tate insisted, and I agreed. If you’re going to do my job, you need to be able to handle yourself around overbearing creatures.”

He rolled his eyes at her obvious snipe at him. The strange thing was, he didn’t really mind it. He was glowing accustomed to her teasing and actually enjoyed it. “You know . . . Come to think of it, there are a couple of demons I’d like to see you dissect.”

“If one of them is your brother, I concur. He’s a nasty ogre.”

“You have no idea. Just be grateful you weren’t raised with him knocking you around. Bloodletting Mayhem should have been his middle name.”

“Ouch, I’m sorry.”

He shrugged. There was nothing really to say. Kaiaphas was a demon. Causing pain to those around him was his nature.

She unlocked her office, led him inside, then took the books from his hands and put them away. “You told me last night that we were going to summon something evil today. Not that I want to rush to my demise or anything, but are we still on for that?”

“No.”

“No? Why? What happened?”

“The big evil showed up at your house last night, and I fed it my blood.”

She passed a chiding look at him. “I really wish you’d stop joking about that before I never sleep again.”

He probably should, too, but for some reason he couldn’t resist. “Well, the blood wasn’t the only thing he wanted. He also requested that I do a favor for him.”

Fearful doubt was etched on her brow as she turned toward him. “Requested?”

She was right to be fearful. With Jaden one never knew when a request from him could turn fatal. “Yeah, more like a request that can’t be refused.”

She crossed her arms over her chest. “And who is this Godfather-like character whose dubious request carries such weight?”

“He’s called by many epitaphs. Al-Baraka—the Broker. Kalotar—the Summoner. Demon-Heart. Katadykari—the Damned. But as far as anyone knows, his real name is Jaden.”

“And Jaden is a demon?”

Xypher hedged, “Not exactly sure.”

She cocked her head as if trying to solve a puzzle no one had ever solved before. “How do you not know what he is?”

“Easy. Jaden isn’t very trusting or talkative. We know how to summon him, and we know he draws powers from the primary source of the universe, but no one knows how he does it. Who, if anyone, he answers to or where he comes from or vanishes to. He’s a total enigma.”

“I’m confused. Why would anyone summon him, then?”

“Simple. Jaden can and will do anything without conscience, prejudice, or hesitation. And I do mean anything. If you’re willing to pay his price and bear the consequences of the bargain, he can give you any dream you’ve ever had, no matter how impossible it may seem.”

Simone scowled. “What is he? Satan?”

Xypher laughed evilly. “No. Lucifer deals with humans. Jaden baiters with the source for demonikyn.”

“Demonikyn?”

“Demon kith and kin. Humans and others can call him, but if you’re not demonspawn, he won’t answer. That being said, it takes both human and demon blood to summon him. Again, no one knows why.”

She seemed to take that a lot better than he would have thought. “And he drinks blood?”

Xypher nodded.

“So does that make him a vampire?”

“He walks in daylight. But, like a demon, he’s weaker then. He seems to have the powers of a god, but no followers. What would you call him?”

“I wouldn’t call him anything that didn’t make him deliriously happy.” Xypher smiled. “See, I knew you were a wise woman.”

Simone wasn’t so sure about that. This Jaden still sounded an awful lot like the devil to her. The idea that he’d been in her house and drank Xypher’s blood made her want to invite a priest in to cleanse it. “So what’s this favor we have to do for him?”

“See a woman on Royal Street who works in a doll shop.” That hit her like a blow in the stomach. “You mean Liza?” Xyplier was aghast. “You know her?”

Simone nodded, “She’s a longtime friend of mine and Tate’s. I met her back when I was a kid. I love her store. It’s really cool.”

“Can we go now?”

She checked her watch. “I have an afternoon class so we should have time. Arc you sure you’re not going to hurt her?”

“Yes. Jaden wants a necklace she has. That’s it. Once he has the necklace, he’ll remove our bracelets.”

Simone wasn’t so sure about that. “And if Liza won’t give it up?”

“She’s your friend. You’ll have to talk her out of it. Otherwise I will steal it.”

Simone let out a sound of disgust. “You can’t so around stealing things, Xypher. That’s wrong!”

“And I can’t tell Jaden no once the bargain is set. For whatever reason, he wants this amulet. I promised it to him, and Jaden is one creature you don’t renege on. Trust me, neither of us would live long enough to regret it. Why do you think I didn’t go to him in the beginning to remove the bracelets? Jaden is always a last resort.”

That didn’t change one thing. She was Liza’s friend. “Swear to me that Liza won’t get hurt.”

“You have my word, Simone. I won’t hurt her,”

Simone had a moment where she doubted him, but she quickly squelched it. Xypher had never been anything except honest with her every step of the way.  She would trust him in this, but if he was wrong.

Jaden would be the least of his problems.

She grabbed her purse and led him back to the hallway.

Xypher tried not to think about what the amulet could be that Jaden would make such a bargain to have it. Normally the demon wanting the deal made an offering, and Jaden either accepted or rejected it.

For Jaden to pick the payment. . .

It set off every alarm inside him, but to have His powers completely restored and to remove these bracelets made it worth it. At least he hoped. For all he knew, the amulet could unleash the Atlantean Destroyer, the Dimme, or any one of numerous disasters.

  You should have asked for clarification.

Yeah, right. Like Jaden would have answered. The entity answered nothing. No one who valued their existence questioned him.

Simone got into her car and waited for Xypher to join her. He was being strangely quiet, which concerned her.  “What aren’t you telling me?”

“That we could be ending the world by doing this.”

“Is that humor?”

“God, I hope so.”

Not sure if she should encourage him or not, she drove over to Liza’s shop. Since the road was closed this time of day to traffic, she parked on Toulouse, and they walked two blocks down Royal until they reached the Dream Dolls Boutique, The picture window was; filled with the reproduction antique baby dolls and custom-made Barbies that Liza designed.

Simone’s foster mother had brought her here for Christmas the first year they’d adopted her and bought her the porcelain doll that she still kept on her dresser at home. Even now Simone remembered the way Liza had looked the day they first met. Liza’s hair had been dark back then, her eyes shining with warmth and kindness.

 “What a beautiful little girl you are. Pick out a doll, baby, and we’ll make its eyes look just like yours.”

Liza had fed her cookies and tea while she made good on that promise. There for an afternoon, Simone had felt like the queen of the universe. It was a feeling Liza always managed to duplicate every time Simone visited.

Smiling, she pushed open the teal-blue door and entered the store.

There was a young woman with blond hair standing behind the glass counter that was filled with doll clothes and pieces.

“Hi, there,” Simone greeted. “Is Liza around?”

Before the woman could respond, Simone heard a happy cry from the back room.

“Simone, my china doll! How have you been?” Liza came out from behind the curtain and approached her with a giant smile. Simone hugged her close. “It’s been too long since I was last here.”

“Don’t I know it.” Liza pulled back. She looked at Xypher, and the smile faded from her face. “You’re unnatural.” Her voice was barely a whisper when she said those words.

Xypher held his hands up. “I’m not here to hurt vou.”

Liza’s eyes darkened with suspicion as she stepped back and turned toward the girl behind the counter, “Beth? Why don’t you take your lunch break, sweetie?”

Beth looked up with a frown. “It’s kind of early. You sure?”

“Yes, please. I’ve got the store.”

Beth set down the doll sweater she’d been folding. “Okay. You want me to bring you something back from the deli?”

“A chicken salad sandwich. Make sure to get the money out of the register.”

Beth smiled as she complied. “One Liza special coming up. I’ll see you in a few.”

Liza waited until the girl was gone before she spoke again. For once, there was all-out hostility in her eyes as she looked at Xypher. “You reek of death.”

Simone gaped. “How do you know he’s died?”

“She’s an oracle, like Julian,” Xypher explained. “She can sense the fact that I defy normal existence.”

Liza nodded. “And you can’t have what you’re here for. I won’t let you.”

“If you know what I need, then you know why I need it. You also know I can take it from you, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.”

Simone put herself between Xypher and Liza. “But I can and I won’t let you hurt her.”

This wasn’t the tender Xypher who teased her. This was the same Xypher who’d shoved her into her car. “Noble. Stupid, but noble.” His lethal gaze went over her shoulder to Liza. “If I don’t get it, Simone is the one who’ll pay the price. Jaden said so.”

Liza glared at him. “Why would you make a deal with the devil?” No sooner had the words left her lips than her eyes widened with understanding.

“Exactly.”

Simone scowled. “What?”

“Nothing,” they said in unison.

Liza hesitated before she pulled the green amulet out from under her shirt and lifted it over her head. “My family has protected this from evil for nine generations. I can’t believe that after all this time, I’m the one who’s handing it over to a demon,” She closed her fingers around it. “Do you know what this does?”

Xypher shook his head.

“You put it over the heart of a god and it paralyzes him … or her.”

Xypher scowled at her words. “Why would Jaden want that?”

“He obviously has a god he wants to immobilize. The question is which one and why.”

Yeah. That was the question. Depending on the god, that could put a major rift in the universe. “Will it affect demons?”

“No. Which is a damn shame.”

“Why?” Simone asked.

“Because there are four of them currently waiting for you outside my store.”

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