Acheron (Page 79)

Acheron (Dark-Hunter #15)(79)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

"How you doing, Dev?" Ash asked.

"Good." Dev arched a brow at Tory and the other women who were approaching. "Nice of you to beautify the bar for us. Appreciate it greatly."

Ash shook his head. "We need a quiet corner."

"Upstairs to the right. The whole area’s cordoned off this time of day. I’ll have Aimee head up to bring drinks."

"Thanks."

Tory smiled at the blond man who winked at her as she followed Ash. She’d walked past this place dozens of times, but since heavy metal wasn’t her shtick, she’d never gone inside. It was huge-much bigger than it appeared from the street.

There were three levels with sections set aside for a bar area, a billiards section, a stage and dancing floor, and a restaurant. It was rustic and at the same time rather homey-except for the coffin in a corner by the bar that had a small plaque on it reading THE LAST GUY WHO ASKED AIMEE OUT-it had a dismembered skeleton in it.

Obviously Aimee was someone visitors were meant to keep their hands off of.

Tory followed Ash upstairs to a large round table in the rear, against a wall. He walked to the back so that he would be against the wall and waited for all of them to be seated before he sat down.

Once everyone was situated, he inclined his head to them. "All right, ladies, let’s piece this puzzle together."

"It’s not hard," Katherine said. "Since Tory’s family first started poking close to the Atlantean ruins, we were assigned by the goddess to watch over them and make sure that the humans didn’t offend her with their actions."

"Your goddess?" Tory asked.

Katherine smiled. "Apollymi the Great Destroyer. Our Order goes back to the days when Atlantis was the ruling power on earth. After Atlantis was destroyed, under the protection of our goddess who saved us from the great fall, we went to Greece and set up our Order where it’s been maintained in secret ever since."

"We were one of the great Amazon tribes," Justina said. "Only where the others were Greek, we kept to the Atlantean ways."

Katherine smiled with pride. "And we were the strongest of them. But since the moment our foremothers escaped to Greece, we’ve been hunted by the Atlantikoinonia. A group founded by the goddess Artemis. Their mandate is to eradicate all evidence that Atlantis and Apollymi ever existed."

"Which means killing all of you," Tory whispered.

Katherine nodded. "Another reason we’ve been in hiding for centuries."

Justina pulled her jacket off and put it on the back of her chair. "But for Apollymi’s protection, we wouldn’t have survived so long."

Tory admired the way they spoke-the loyalty they showed to their goddess. "You speak as if she’s real."

Justina smiled. "To us, she is."

"Did anyone read the journal?" Ash asked, changing subjects.

"No," Katherine said quickly. "To our knowledge, no one knows the language it’s written in. Our oracle told us to bring it to Tory and that’s what we’re doing. It’s foretold that she, like the ancient Atlantean Soteria, will be its guardian."

Tory was caught off guard by the use of her formal name. "Excuse me?"

"It’s an old legend," Ash said. "When Atlantis was being destroyed, the head librarian of the national archives tried to save as much of their work as she could. It’s said that her Shade now oversees the treasures of Atlantis and keeps them safe from plunder."

Katherine indicated the entire group with a wave of her hand. "The Apollymachi are her Shades. We are the guardians and the Atlantikoinonia are the destroyers."

Ash looked at the bag that Tory still held against her chest. "Perhaps in this we should be the destroyers."

Tory shook her head. "I want to know what the book says before we destroy it."

"No one can read it," Katherine repeated.

Tory shook her head. "Ash can."

The women looked at him with surprise etched on their faces.

Justina exchanged a glance with Katherine before she spoke. "Is that why the oracle said to deliver it to the Elekti?"

"Elekti?" Tory asked, not understanding the word.

"It means chosen one," Justina explained.

Tory scowled-that could be rather ominous. "Chosen for what?"

Katherine pushed the sleeve of her jacket back. "Our Order speaks of a man in every generation who bears the Destroyer’s grace. He’s known by her ring that he bears on his right thumb."

Tory looked down to see a thick gold band on Ash’s thumb. It bore the same sun symbol that marked the women’s jackets and his backpack. "What are you not telling me?" she asked Acheron.

"Lots." He turned back to Katherine. "So what are your orders now that you’ve delivered the book?"

"We are to guard Soteria and to follow the orders of the Elekti."

"Why?" he persisted.

"Because it’s the will of the goddess."

Ash scoffed at her words. "You should never blindly obey anyone. Take it from someone who knows. Your goddess isn’t infallible."

Katherine sucked her breath in sharply. "That is blasphemy."

Ash didn’t respond but something in his features led Tory to believe that he knew a lot more about their goddess than he was letting on. "These Atlantikoinonia. They’re human?"

Katherine nodded.

Tory was confused by his strange question. "What else would they be? Turnips?"

Ash shook his head at her sarcasm. Though to be honest, it amused him. However, that didn’t change the predicament they were in. "Does anyone else know you have the journal?"

"No," Justina said assuredly. "Dimitri wouldn’t have broken his word."

He hadn’t detected that either. "Then for now, we need to get Tory back to bed to rest."

"I feel fine."

He arched a brow at her protest. "You just had surgery. You need to be in bed, resting."

Tory hated to admit he was right. "Fine. Take me home."

He looked down at the bag and shook his head. "I don’t think that’s wise given today’s adventures. Whoever is after you knows where you live and I for one don’t think we ought to make it easy on them. Let the bastards have to search to kill you." He stood up as an attractive blond woman reached them. Dressed in a skimpy black Sanctuary T-shirt with a howling wolf on the front, she was carrying a serving tray.

Pulling her off to the side, Ash talked to her in a low tone.

"No problem," the blonde said. "Follow me."

Ash took the bag from her. "C’mon."

Irritated by his highhanded demeanor and the fact he hadn’t asked her opinion on this, Tory followed him to a door not far away. Aimee, whose name was on the back of her T-shirt, pulled out a set of keys and unlocked it. It led to a small room with another door that was locked with a palm scanner.

Tory was impressed by the security. "Get out of town . . ."

Smiling, Aimee opened it to show a large bedroom with no windows. "There’s a bathroom through the other door. It’s steel reinforced, so nothing’s going to pop through it uninvited . . . heavy emphasis on the uninvited part."

Ash inclined his head to her. "Thanks, Aim."

"Anytime." She handed him the key to the outside door. "You can leave this door open so you don’t have to use the scanner."

Ash gestured toward Tory. "You want anything to drink?"

"Apple juice would be a godsend."

Aimee nodded. "I’ll bring some right up."

Tory headed for the bed as Aimee left them alone. "Can I read now?"

Ash made a low sound of irritation. "Do you mind if I look at it first?"

"Yes, I do." She held her hand out, wanting it immediately. She was desperate to see what all the hoopla was over.

"I read faster than you do," he reminded her.

She made a strong sound of her irritation to compete with his.

Ash paused. In that moment, he wanted to tell her the truth about what was happening and why. Wanted her to know that the beautiful waitress Aimee was Dev’s younger sister . . . and a bear in her other form. He had a fantasy in his mind of Tory welcoming him in spite of it all. Of her taking it in stride without freaking out and shrieking. Of her not minding the fact that he was a cursed god.

But he knew better. He wasn’t some kid with his first crush. He’d lived long enough to know people and their reactions to things that were radically different was seldom positive.

No matter how much he might want her to smile at him and tell him none of it mattered, he knew better. How many centuries had he waited for it not to matter to Artemis? And she was a goddess who couldn’t accept him.

How could a mere mortal take him in stride? Besides, it was a dangerous world he lived in and she didn’t have the power to survive in it.

He cleared his throat. "You’ll get over your disappointment."

"Ash . . ." she said, with a note of warning in her voice, "don’t make me get out of this bed."

He grabbed the bag and was out of the room before she could reach him. Shutting the door, he sealed her in.

"Hey!" Her muffled outrage made him cringe as he felt her anger inside him. He’d been held prisoner enough to hate himself for what he’d just done.

But he had to protect himself . . . and her.

He paused inside the outer room to open the bag. There was an Atlantean seal that had his mother’s sun symbol with Archon’s hammer and lightning bolt forming an X over it. There were three priestess necklaces that could be used to summon his mother’s powers into a human body and the Atlantean dagger.

Ash cursed as he realized this was more destructive than a nuclear bomb. With this, anyone on the planet could end the world in the blink of an eye.

"Is there a reason she’s locked up?"

Aimee’s voice distracted him. "Yeah," he said, putting the items into his own backpack before he stood up. "I need her to stay there for a bit."

She gave him a sheepish frown. "You like to live dangerously, don’t you?"

He ignored the question. "Tell her I’ll be back shortly with some of her clothes."

Aimee shook her head as he she reached to open the door and confront a human who looked ready to take on a bear. Literally.

"Shouldn’t you be in bed?" Aimee asked.

Tory glared at the woman. "Are you going to make me?"

"Hopefully, I won’t have to. Ash wants you protected and I would think you’d agree with that."

Tory lifted her chin in defiance. "You always do what he wants?"

"No, but I know what it’s like to protect someone when you care about them, even when they’re being pigheadedly suicidal. So don’t make me do something you’ll hate me for later."

That took some of the steam out of Tory’s anger. That and the fact that Aimee looked pretty stout and not much shorter than her. "I don’t like being told what to do and I hate being locked in a room."

"Well if you promise to stay here and behave, I’ll leave it open. But don’t make me have to chase you down. I assure you, I’m a lot faster than I look."

Even angry, Tory understood why she couldn’t go chasing out the door after Ash. There were still people looking for her and she was recovering. So she headed to the bed and got back into it.

Smiling, Aimee handed her the juice. She opened the drawer in the nightstand and pulled out a remote. An instant later a panel opened in the wall to show a large plasma TV. "It’s not a prison. Hit the yellow button on the bottom and it’ll call for me if you need anything."

"Thank you."

"You’re welcome, and try not to kill the tall guy in black. He might be an ass**le at times, but he’s basically a good man and there are so few of them in the world that we don’t need to start weeding them out."

Tory laughed at her perfect description of Ash. Aimee was right. There really wasn’t a plethora of good people in general. "Have you known Ash a long time?"

She tucked her tray under her arm before she answered. "Since I was a kid . . . he actually saved my life."

Tory didn’t know why, but that surprised her. "He saved your life?"

She nodded. "My older brothers were killed in front of me. The men who did it were drunk on bloodlust and when they found where I was hiding, they dragged me out to kill me too. The next thing I knew, Ash was there and they were dead. He picked me up and returned me to my family. If he hadn’t found me, I know they’d have killed me, too."

Tory frowned at the conflicting images in her mind that didn’t make sense. "But you’re older than him."

"No, I’m not."

Her frown deepened. Aimee looked at least a decade older than Ash’s early twenties. "How old is Ash?"

"I don’t know exactly. I’ve never met anyone who knows his precise birthday-but I know he’s older than me. He doesn’t offer and we don’t ask. By the way, he said to tell you he’d be back with some clothes for you." Before Tory could say another word, Aimee was gone.

Tory lay in bed with those words running through her head. There was a lot more going on here than she knew and it bothered her that they all thought she was so stupid that she didn’t know it.