CHAPTER 6

“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.”

Savitar nodded.

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.”

“Why?”

“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.

“Jared?”

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.”

“Very.”

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.”

The demon clutched the small pink bunny to his chest and frantically shook his head no. “Nim stays with Jared. Those are the laws.”

A muscle twitched in Jared’s jaw. “I should have never saved your life.”

Ash felt his pain and understood what Jared was doing. Since Ash had a demon of his own, he knew what a weakness they could be. And what a responsibility. Even though the demon appeared to be around the human age of twenty, his actions said he was even younger than Ash’s Simi. “Nothing worse than adolescent demons.”

“You have no idea.”

“Actually, I do.” Ash approached Nim slowly, like he would a small toddler. “Nim, you can come with me and I promise nothing will hurt you.”

Nim gave him a mean, sullen stare. “I don’t know you.”

Jared tried to push him toward Ash. “He’s a good man.”

Nim bared his fangs at both of them in a vicious hiss. “He’s been with the Charonte and they hate me. They hurt Nim and make him bleed. I want to stay with Jared.” Nim immediately returned to sleep as a small dragon tattoo on Jared’s neck.

Jared let out a long, aggravated breath. “Is there any way to get him off me like this?”

“No.”

“Figures.” His eyes shimmered with gold flecks that flipped until his eyes were a solid golden amber. “One day my master is going to kill him if I don’t find him a new home.”

“I think you need to tell him that.”

“He says he’d rather be dead than leave me. According to him, we’re family. I guess that makes me the psycho uncle no one wants to talk to. And he’s the kid with only imaginary friends for company. Normal Rockwell, here we come.”

Ash smiled at his twist on the paint er’s name. Honestly, Ash felt for Jared, but there was nothing either of them could do. “Then it’s his decision.”

Jared gave him a harsh stare. “Would you feel that way if it were Simi?”

“You know the answer.”

“And you know why I have to get him off me.”

True enough. There was nothing worse than having an exposed weakness that those around you preyed on. One they used to control your actions and subjugate you. Ash knew that better than anyone. And he felt sorry for Jared’s situation.

Sighing, Ash changed the subject to something he could perhaps control. “So why were you ordered to kill Nick?”

Jared shrugged his coat back on. “He’s the last of the Malachai bloodline.”

Ash laughed at the absurdity of that idea. “Nick Gautier is a Malachai? C’mon, Jared. Lay off the crack.”

“I’m not joking. He’s the last of their breed.”

Stunned, Ash actually gaped. Nick Gautier? And yet as ludicrous as that seemed, it strangely made sense. Nick’s unfounded powers. Ash’s inability to control him . . .

Shit.

How could he have missed it?

You weren’t looking for it. Who would have? They were an extinct breed.

“Don’t feel so bad,” Jared said softly. “His powers were bound and hidden much the way yours were when you were human. It wasn’t until War attacked him that they kicked in.”

“Does Nick know what he is?”

Jared shook his head. “My job is to kill him before he learns it.”

“I can’t let you do that.”

“You have no choice and neither do I.” He vanished before Ash could even draw breath to speak.

“Jared!”

The Sephiroth ignored him completely. “Damn it!” If Jared found Nick before he did, the boy was deader than five o’clock roadkill.

“YOU’RE LOOKING ENTIRELY TOO SMUG WITH yourself.”

Stryker glanced over his shoulder to see Zephyra eyeing him. “I have you here. Why shouldn’t I be pleased?”

“I can think of a million reasons, starting with the fact that I want to kill you more than I want to breathe. As for the others, would you prefer them in order of importance or alphabetically?”

He laughed. “Tell me honestly . . . didn’t you ever miss me?”

“No.”

Those words struck him hard. “Not once?”

She folded her arms over her chest. “You know what I remember about you, Stryker? It was the last words you said to me. ‘There’s no reason for me to stay.’ Then you walked out of my house and never looked back. No reason for you to stay, you said. None.” She narrowed her eyes dangerously at him. “You severed my heart with those few words. I’d have rather you hit me.”

Stryker paused as he saw that night so clearly in his mind. She’d stood before him with tears in her eyes. Not a single one had fallen. A tribute to her strength. He’d wanted nothing more than to pull her into his arms and tell her that he didn’t give a damn about his father. That she was the only one he loved and that he’d die to protect her.

Had he stayed with her, his father would have killed her, no doubt. And if Apollo hadn’t, he would have sent Artemis in to do the honor as Zephyra birthed his child and then he would have lost them both. Apollo was grotesquely vindictive that way. Stryker had tried to explain it to Zephyra, but she’d refused to listen.

“Then I will die loving you.” That had been her answer to his arguments.

It’d been a sacrifice he hadn’t been willing to make. He thought it best that she hate him and live rather than she love him and die.

If only he’d known then what was waiting for them in the future.

“I didn’t mean those words.”

She scoffed. “Of course not. You were thoughtless, et cetera, et cetera. I really don’t care anymore.”

“If you really didn’t care, you wouldn’t remember them.”

“Don’t flatter yourself. I wrote you off the same way you wrote me off. Unlike Medea, I don’t need closure. I just need you dead.”

“So we’re back to that.”

“We will always come back to that.”

Stryker would curse and rail, but honestly, it was what he deserved. She was right. He’d walked out and never looked back.

No, that wasn’t true. He had looked back. Often. He’d remembered their time together. Remembered the way she looked first thing in the morning when she’d been snuggled up beside him. The way she’d shyly glance at him as if she could eat him alive.

He’d hated himself for giving that up. For giving her up.

Sighing, he moved toward the door. “I have duties to attend. Should you need anything, call for Davyn.” Without another word, he was gone.

Zephyra watched as he left her alone in his room. The look of hurt in his silver eyes had made her ache, and she hated herself for that weakness. Why did she still want to hold him after what he’d done to her?

Yes, she wanted to claw out his eyes and stab him until he was dead.

But underneath that anger and hurt was the part of her that still loved him. The part of her that she tried so hard to bury and ignore. He was a beast and a coward.

He’s the father of your daughter.

So what? A biological donor who’d left them. That didn’t make him a father. It made him an asshole. Her fury renewed, she glanced about the room that he slept in. It was rather plain. Burgundy coverings on the bed. No windows. A small chest of drawers and nothing hanging on the walls.

“You live like a bear in a cave.”

There wasn’t even a book on the nightstand. Which begged the question of why he had one. Then again, the top drawer was slightly cracked open. Perhaps there was one inside. Curious, she walked over to it and opened it.

Her breath caught in her throat.

In the bottom of that drawer was the last thing she had ever expected to see again. It was the hand-painted tile that he’d commissioned of her as a wedding present. Memories slammed into her as she stared at the faded image of her in ancient Greek clothing, her blond hair bound up as curls fell around her face. Large green eyes were set in the countenance of utter innocence. She’d forgotten all about this tile’s existence.

But Stryker hadn’t. In spite of everything, he’d kept it. And underneath it was another tile and pictures of men who bore a striking resemblance to him. One picture in par tic u lar caught her attention. It was three men, similar in face and form, dressed in clothes from the 1930s. They had their arms slung over each other’s shoulders as they smiled happily.

His sons.

Over and over, she found pictures of them.

The only other tile in the drawer was that of a girl who looked almost identical to Medea. A chill went down her spine as she ran her finger over the faded writing in the lower right hand corner. Tannis. She must have been his daughter, too.

She flipped it aside to find the most recent photo in the drawer. From the looks of the quality of the picture and the black clothing, she would guess it was no more than ten years old. It was of a young man with white-blond hair that was pulled back into a ponytail—the middle of the same three brothers from the 1930s. Even though his features were masculine, they were so close to Medea’s as to be eerie. And as Zephyra tilted the photo in the light she realized something.

The stains on it were from tears.

“No,” she breathed, unable to imagine Stryker crying over anything. He’d always been rigidly unsentimental. She’d seen him brutally wounded in sword practice and his eyes hadn’t even misted.

The only time she’d known them to cloud was . . .

The night he’d left her.

And yet as she ran her hand over the stains, she knew nothing else would have caused them. Who, other than him, would have held this photograph in his room and cried? No one. They were his and he’d kept all of this in a place where he thought no one would find it.

“Dear gods.” The bastard had a heart. Who knew?

“I will love you forever, Phyra. Never doubt that or me.”

Her throat tightened as she looked down at the tile of herself that she’d put on the tabletop. Had he really missed her? Pined for her?

Don’t be ridiculous. He probably planned this for you to find.

Planned it? He’d thought her dead. Why would he hang on to her image all these centuries unless she meant something to him? She certainly had kept nothing of his.

“Don’t you dare weaken,” she snarled at herself. “He’s nothing.” Determined to stay hard, she put the pictures back, then froze as she saw something she’d missed earlier. It was a small green frayed ribbon.

The same ribbon she’d worn twined through her hair on the tile. And there, tied in the middle of it, was the wedding ring she’d thrown in his face when he’d told her he was leaving.

Her eyes teared as she saw the ancient carving on the band. S’agapo. “I love you” in Greek.

“Damn you,” she growled as she weakened even more in the face of his obvious love. He had cared about her. Through all these centuries, he’d kept her as close to him as he could.

Unable to stand it, she left his room and went in search of his study. She hadn’t gone far when Davyn appeared.

“Can I help you?”

“I want to see Stryker. Now.”

“He doesn’t like to be disturbed when he’s in his study.”

“I really don’t care.” She stepped past him.

Davyn sighed heavily before he passed her and then led her to the correct destination. He knocked on the door. “My lord?”

“What!” Stryker barked.

Zephyra stepped around Davyn and threw open the door to find Stryker sitting at his desk, looking into a small round ball. No, not just looking, he was fixated by it.

“What are you doing?” she asked, her voice rife with her agitation that she used to cover the tender feelings inside her.

He glanced up. “Trying to find Gautier. What are you doing here?”

Truthfully, she wasn’t sure. She didn’t want to be here and yet . . . “I wanted to see you.”

“Leave,” he ordered Davyn, who obeyed instantly. As soon as they were alone, he looked back at her. “I thought you’d seen more than your fair share of me.”

She had and . . .

He’d kept a tile of her. How could something so insipidly stupid weaken her? She’d always thought herself above such petty sentimentality.

Apparently she was wrong.

Before she could stop herself, she moved to his side. “Why didn’t you go after Gautier yourself?”

“I tried. The little bastard is fast and extremely resourceful. Not to mention his powers aren’t anything to laugh at. I stupidly thought he received most of that from our blood exchange. Now that I know what he is, it makes even more sense why I was having such a hard time controlling him. I should have been feeding from him and taking his powers.”

“You couldn’t tell?”

“No. Whoever bound his powers did one hell of a job. Case in point, I can’t find him anywhere. Even though we’re supposed to share sight, he’s off my radar completely.”

“That’s impossible.”

He gave her a dry “duh” stare. “I know that. Yet here I am, completely blind to him.”

She stepped around his desk to look into the sfora. “When was the last time you had a visual?”

He looked aghast at her. “Are you helping me?”

She refused to give him the satisfaction. “Shut up and answer my question.”

A slow smile spread over his face and the teasing gleam in his eyes set her ire off. “You are helping me.”

“Don’t get used to it. I’m a woman of my word, and since I can’t kill you it’s not in my nature to crochet and do nothing. Why are we going to kill this man anyway?”

“He murdered my sister.”

That was a good reason. “Bastard scum.”

Stryker nodded in approval. “I had him in my sights a couple of hours ago before War went after him.”

“Then he’s probably in hiding.”

“My thoughts exactly. But where?”

“The best place to hide is in plain sight. The bugger is there. We just have to figure it out.”

NICK RAKED HIS HANDS THROUGH HIS HAIR AS he stared at the tiny African-American woman before him. She was a woman he’d thought he’d known his entire life and here in the last few minutes he’d learned that he had never really known her at all.

“I don’t understand this. My father was a psychotic criminal who beat the hell out of my mom whenever she was dumb enough to let him into our apartment between his unfortunate incarcerations.”

Menyara shook her head. “Your father was a demon who preferred prison because it was the last place the people who would kill him would think to look for him. Not to mention it allowed him to feed off their evil energy. He drew power from all their negativity.”

Nick refused to believe it. It just wasn’t possible. “You’re wrong. My father was human.” A corrupt, mean, and vicious man, but human through and through.

She shook her head again. “Listen to me, Ambrosius. I was there when you were born. I’m the one who delivered you and used my powers to keep you hidden from the rest of the worlds—those seen and those unknown. I knew the power you would one day wield and it terrified me even then. Why do you think I’ve watched over you so closely all these years?”

“I thought it was because you loved me and my mother.”

“I do love you and I did love Cherise. She was a good woman with the heart of an angel. Never did she harm or think ill of a single person. It was why Adarian was able to seduce her. Why he was so attracted to her even when he shouldn’t have been. He chose her for the sacred honor of being the mother to his legacy. What he never counted on was me and the degree to which your mother’s purity would affect you.”

“You’re so full of shit, Menyara, you ought to be a cow pasture.”

She angled one bony finger at him. “You better check that tone, boy. You’re not so big I can’t spank you like I did when you were young.”

“I’m all-powerful. Isn’t that what you told me?”

“And I bound your powers once. Don’t think I can’t do it again. Believe me, you’re not the most powerful creature in this universe. There are many who can take you down.”

Nick pulled back. Attacking her was pointless and it made him feel like his father—something he’d always despised. She was right. She’d been there all of his life, like a second mother to him. “I’m sorry, Mennie. I’m just having a hard time with all this. No offense, but it’s a little hard to swallow.”

She placed her hand against the bow and arrow mark of Artemis on his cheek. “You tried to sell your soul to a goddess for vengeance. How ludicrous is that?”

“Point taken, and I might add it turned out really bad. I just wish I understood more about all of this.”

She dropped her hand to his shoulder. “What do you remember of your father?”

“Only the back of his hand as it fell across my face. He had ‘hate’ tattooed on the fingers of his right hand and ‘kill’ on those of his left. I don’t even really remember what he looked like. All I see is a mountain of a man with eyes filled with hatred.”

She sighed gently. “The Malachai. Corrupt. Angry. Bitter. Demons all. They were created from the worst of the universe to fight against those who were pure and caring. In spite of his flaws, your father survived longer than any Malachai before him. But he knew his time was growing short, which is why he fathered you. Each Malachai is allowed only one single son to carry on his legacy. You are it.”

“And I killed myself, so it’s all over.”

She shook her head. “You have a means to return from the dead. You can reclaim your soul and be reborn.”

“To what purpose?”

She smiled at him. “Only you can answer that question. Only we, ourselves, can define our purpose in this world. Your father’s was to hurt and punish. Mine has been to protect you. Your goal . . . ?”

“To kill Acheron Parthenopaeus.”

“And will that truly fill the bitter hole you’ve placed in your heart?”

Nick snarled at her, “I didn’t put that hole there. He did.”

“Look at me,” she barked. “You tell Menyara the truth, boy.”

Nick ground his teeth as bitter emotions swelled inside him. “Ash killed my mother.”

“A Daimon killed your mother because you came late to her job to walk her home. You know the truth, Ambrosius. Admit it to yourself. Ash would have never allowed her to die had he been able to get there. He was under brutal attack that night. Even though he was angry at you, he would have given his life to protect hers. To this day, he visits her grave to honor her even more than you do.”

Tears stung his eyes as pain tore through him. He wanted his mother back. To see her one more time. To feel her hand on his cheek as she smiled at him with pride in her kind eyes. He wanted to go back in time and save her from the vicious murder. She’d been the best mother anyone could have and she’d died brutally in the hands of his enemies.

She hadn’t deserved that.

And she hadn’t deserved a son like him, who’d been unable to protect her from harm.

Still Menyara goaded him. “You’re the one who put her in danger. Not Acheron. It was you who failed her. You who killed yourself.”

Nick roared as fury flowed through his veins. Throwing his head back, he let out the pain in what shook the room like a sonic boom. His vision changed. . . . No longer could he see colors. Rather he saw the universe for what it was. Heard the fabric of life that surrounded and bound every living creature.

He’d never known such power. Such rage and hatred. He could taste it on his tongue.

Menyara looked at him without fear or trepidation. “You now have the power to kill Acheron. Will you?”

He bared his fangs at Menyara as fire emanated from his hands and ran up the length of both his arms. “Hell yes.”

At long last, Acheron Parthenopaeus was about to die.

Contents

Обращение к пользователям