STRYKER SMILED AS HE WATCHED ACHERON turn blue and for once it wasn’t his natural skin tone. The bastard was one gasp away from death.
At least until the Chthonian Savitar flashed into the room with twenty Charonte demons to attack War and drive him away from Acheron. Stryker’s anger ignited as the winged demons attacked en masse. They lifted War up from the floor and slammed him against the wall even as he blasted at them.
Savitar ran to Acheron to revive him.
And it seriously pissed him off.
“Strykerius!” Apollymi’s shrill scream ripped through the air, piercing his ear drums and making the hair on the back of his neck stand at attention. An instant later, she was standing in front of him with her white blond hair flying around her beautiful face. Like him and Acheron, her eyes were a pale, swirling silver. And they were filled with fury as she glared at him.
He should probably be scared, but it wasn’t worth the energy it would take to rise to the occasion. Besides, he’d had the worst things done to him. Torture, dismemberment, and death would be a welcome relief to his current state of nothingness.
“Is something . . . wrong?” he asked nonchalantly, knowing the tone would only enrage her more.
Apollymi wanted to shriek at his patronizing tone. She wanted to blast the bloodsucking Daimon lord before her into oblivion. If only she could. But for an act of weakness on her part centuries ago, she would free herself of him once and for all. However, he’d been fatally wounded by his father, and to strike back at Apollo she’d shared her blood with Strykerius and fortified him. While that act had saved his life, it had also tied their life forces together.
If he died, she died. It was why her son would never really harm Strykerius no matter how angry the Daimon made him.
It was why she couldn’t kill Stryker herself.
Ironic, really, she was a goddess known for lacking compassion and the handful of times she’d actually shown some had come back to bite her harshly.
There was nothing to be done for it now. Her real son was under attack and her adoptive one, Stryker, was most likely to blame for it.
“What have you done?” she demanded.
Stryker leaned back in his chair and folded his hands behind his head as he eyed her cautiously. “Mulling mostly coupled with a shot or two of reminiscing and a drop of regretting a few past decisions. Some might even call it moping, but I’d kill anyone so stupid as to suggest that of me.” He was more a plotting kind of Daimon.
Her hair rose even higher around her like ribbons twisting in a strong wind, letting him know she didn’t appreciate his sarcasm. “Apostolos is under attack. Did you provoke it?”
He didn’t know why it bugged the shit out of him for her to call her son Apostolos when the rest of the world knew him as Acheron, but it did.
And honestly, he hadn’t provoked dick. He’d directly caused it.
However, he wasn’t stupid enough to tell her that. Their life forces might be tied together, but when it came to her real son and his well-being, Apollymi lost all self-restraint and sense of survival.
She’d kill them both to protect Acheron.
“No,” Stryker answered honestly. He slid his gaze down to the sfora that was hidden from Apollymi’s view. The moment Stryker focused on it, he saw War surrounded by the Charonte demons who were actually doing damage to the spirit. Acheron was on the floor coughing and wheezing. A little worse for the wear, but alive nonetheless.
Careful to shield his expression, he returned his gaze to Apollymi’s. “So what can I do for you, Matera?” he asked, using the Atlantean word for mother.
Apollymi drew a long, slow breath as she tried to detect the truth from him. Strykerius had always been a convincing liar. At one time the two of them had been a united force against Apollo. But those days were gone and now the two of them danced around each other in a complicated battle of one-upmanship.
She would cast him and his Daimons out of here, but for all their aggravation, they provided her with company and an army that allowed her to still have power to affect the human realm. Not to mention the small point that so long as they worshiped her, they fed her powers.
Unlike her small group of priestesses who still lived and served in the human world, the Daimons held much more power. They could provide her with a means to protect Apostolos.
“I want your Daimons to subjugate War. Immediately.”
“It’s daytime and until the sun sets he’s beyond our reach. You wouldn’t want one of
She wanted to knock that smug look off his handsome face. Unlike the rest of his blond Daimon horde, his short hair was as black as his heart. Perfectly dyed to keep him from looking exactly like his father. “Protect him, Strykerius. Your existence hinges on his. Remember I
Stryker forced himself to wait until she was gone before he curled his lip in repugnance. He couldn’t believe that he’d ever been dumb enough to think that Apollymi loved him as a son. That she would protect and care for him the same way she cared for Acheron. And every year that had passed since the moment Stryker took his own son’s life to prove himself to her and had been forced to see the truth of his relationship with “his” mother had only made his bitterness grow.
“Tear him apart, War,” he said, glancing back to the sfora. He wanted blood. Unfortunately, there was nothing there. No sign of War, Acheron, or Savitar.
Growling in anger, Stryker slung the orb against the wall, shattering it. Where the hell had they gone?
“WAR’S BROKEN OUT.”
Artemis looked up at Ares’ angry declaration as he appeared in the center of the Hall of the Gods where she and the rest of the Greek pantheon were having a small feast.
Her father, Zeus, cursed as he rose off his throne. “What have you done?”
Tall and blond, with muscles honed by his daily training, Ares held his hands up in surrender. “I did nothing. It was Apollo’s son, Strykerius, who released him.”
Artemis felt the color fade from her face at the mention of her nephew. If Stryker was involved, there was only one target he’d have.
And like as not, Acheron’s mother along with Acheron would blame
Athena shot to her feet. She moved so fast that her actions startled the owl on her shoulder, causing him to take flight to the hall’s rafters. Gold armor covered her instantly as she turned to face Zeus. “We should summon as many of the other pantheons as we can muster. It won’t be long before War turns his sights on us again.”
Zeus nodded in agreement. “Fetch Hermes and send him to them. As for the rest of us, let’s prepare for war.”
Artemis ignored her father’s pun as she made her way out of the Hall of the Gods to her own golden temple. As soon as she was alone in her bedchambers, she used her powers to locate Acheron. He was alive but in pain. She let out a breath in relief.
Though he hated her and was planning to marry another woman in a few weeks and she wanted desperately to hurt him for that, she still loved him and the last thing she wanted to see was him killed after all they’d shared these past centuries. Their daughter’s heart would be broken if Artemis allowed him to die. But how could she protect him when he wouldn’t even speak to her?
No sooner had the question entered her mind than she knew how to stop Stryker once and for all. . . .
The demoness had taken refuge in one of her sanctuaries centuries ago, before Apollo had cursed the Apollite race. At first Artemis had wanted to turn her out, but sympathy for the woman had swayed her. She, too, had been betrayed by men, and at the time Zephyra had begged her for shelter Artemis had been angry at Apollo and had wanted to strike back at her arrogant brother. In a rare moment of sympathy, she’d allowed Zephyra to stay in Greece.
Little had she known how beneficial that decision would one day be.
“Zephyra?” she said, summoning the woman to her.
She instantly appeared in the room.
Where Artemis was extremely tall, Zephyra was petite. Even so, her preternatural powers gave her an advantage over any except those who were divinity. Her long blond hair was braided down her back, and to the uninformed she looked like any twenty-seven-year-old woman and not the eleven-thousand-year-old warrior she was.
She lowered her head respectfully. “My goddess?”
Artemis narrowed her gaze on the smaller woman. “I have a mission for you. One I think you’ll enjoy.”
“And that is?”
Lifting her chin, Zephyra’s black eyes widened. “The son of Apollo?”
He was also the man who had betrayed Zephyra centuries before. And while he was Artemis’ nephew by blood, she had no more love for him than he had for her. The two of them had battled too long and too hard for there to be anything other than hatred in their hearts.
It was time to finish it and him. “Yes.”
Zephyra’s obsidian eyes glowed with relish. “Show me where he is, goddess, and I will make you proud.”
STRYKER HELD THE BOLT HOLES OPEN, CALLING out to his Daimons the world over to summon them to Kalosis. Apollymi thought he did it in accordance with her orders to protect Acheron. The truth was Stryker intended to use them as pawns to get at Nick and Acheron. If nothing else, they’d keep the two of them occupied while War slit their throats.
Blood for blood.
Nick had killed Stryker’s beloved sister and Acheron had to die because it wasn’t in Stryker’s nature to let that bastard win after all these centuries. Apollymi had destroyed him. It was only fair he return the favor to her. She had taken Stryker’s son. Stryker would take hers.
Another flash of light denoted a new arrival. Stryker waited to see the mettle of this Daimon recruit. As typical, the Daimon landed flat on his back with a loud, “Oof!” Then the man actually whimpered like a child as he writhed on the floor, whining over his pain. “I think I broke my arm.”
Stryker let out a long, agitated breath. He missed the old days when the Daimons and Apollites were warriors. When they would appear in his hall on their feet, ready to battle. These new generations were almost as pathetically weak as the humans they fed on.
It was a supermarket world with a supermarket mentality. Since mankind no longer trained for war and huddled together in cities where loose morals made them easy pickings, today’s Daimons didn’t have to fight for food. All they had to do was stroll into any bar or nightclub, find a drunk woman or man, and take them outside to rip their stupidly willing soul out of their body to feed themselves. There was no fighting. No coaxing.
Fast food even for them.
The only challenge they had left was avoiding the Dark-Hunters and Acheron in particular.
It was why Stryker had treasured his sister so much. Aggravating to the extreme, Satara had always been plotting something. Always trying to betray someone or screw them over. Even him. It had kept him on his toes and sharpened his skills.
Now he would grow as worthless as all the others.
Weary of their weakness, he turned to find Kessar approaching his throne. A Sumerian gallu demon, Kessar looked more like a human fashion model than the lethal killer he was. Even his brown hair was swept back from his red eyes in a manner so perfect he could run for po liti cal office. His features were finely boned and as razor sharp as the demon’s cruelty. Like Stryker, the demon used his good looks to his advantage whenever he stalked human prey.
Human women were weak. Susceptible. They would do anything for the attention of a handsome man. Gods, how he loved the weak-minded. They all deserved the painful deaths they got.
He looked over at Kessar. “If you want to make that one your lunch, I won’t stop you.”
A slow smile spread over Kessar’s face before he flashed across the room, grabbed the Daimon up from the floor, and ripped out his throat.
Survival of the fittest. Stryker’s people had been very Spartan in their beliefs. If you weren’t fit to fight, you weren’t fit to live. Simple and perfect. Just like Stryker’s new plan.
Kessar cursed as the Daimon he’d tried to feed on evaporated into dust. “I hate that gritty taste between my fangs—like feeding in a sandstorm. Not enough blood in the world to clear the palate after that.”
Stryker shrugged. “It’s what you get for being greedy. You know what happens when you kill one of us. You should have just drunk his blood and left him breathing.”
Kessar spat on the floor. “You’re in a foul mood. Someone piss in your blood?”
Before he could answer, the light flashed again. Stryker ground his teeth in expectation of the next round of Weak and Pathetic Losers.
At least that was what he thought until the blur of black landed on the floor in a deadly crouch. He could barely make out the fact that she was female before she attacked him with a ferocity and vigor that would have made a rabid tiger proud. Her first kick knocked him out of his seat. He barely had time to grab her wrist before she decapitated him with the oversized dagger in her hand.
She head-butted him hard, knocking him back. Stryker shook his head to clear it. She shoved him into the wall. He caught her arms and rolled with her, throwing her away from him.
Exposing his fangs, he was just about to rip her throat out when his swirling silver gaze locked with her black one.
In that one instant, he was taken back eleven thousand years ago to the day they first met. The sea air had been blowing her blond curls around her delicate face. Slender and small, she’d been as beautiful as a goddess.
And when he’d reached for her, she’d turned on him with a curse more foul than any man’s as she’d kneed him in the groin for daring to touch her without an invitation.
Which she again tried to do. But this time he was expecting it. He barely moved out of the way of her knee as emotions tore through him. Happiness. Anger. Joy. Confusion.
All these centuries he’d assumed her dead.
He could barely get his bearings over the reality of her being alive and well. She’d survived Apollo’s curse and managed to live out eternity . . . just like him.
“What are you doing here?”
She answered his question with a stroke of her dagger that narrowly missed his throat. “I thought we’d catch up on old times. Maybe play Parcheesi.”
Stryker caught her arm and spun with her, pinning her to the wall again. He tightened his grip until she was forced to drop her dagger. Closing one hand around her neck, he held her in place. “I can think of much better games to play.” He was about to say,
He turned with a feral growl on his new attacker, intending to kill whoever was dumb enough to interfere with him, then froze as shock riveted him to the spot. It was an exact duplicate of Zephyra. Same blond curls. Same black eyes. Same height and weight.
He would think her a twin sister, except that he knew for a fact Zephyra was an only child.
“Get your filthy hands off my mother.”