"Of course you do." Artemis never told the whole truth about anything. "And before I commit myself to some disaster, I want to know everything about it."
Artemis’s face hardened. "Are you telling me that you refuse to help me after all I’ve done to you?"
That actually summarized it well. "I think you mean ‘for me’, Matisera, not ‘to me’."
"As if I care. Now answer me."
Wow. For a woman asking for help, Artemis had a wonderful way of expressing it. But then that was her nature, and Kat would be suspicious if Artemis was anything less than authoritative. "What do you want me to do?"
"What do you think? Kill him."
Kat was aghast. "Matisera! What are you asking?"
"I’m asking for you to save my life," she snarled, "which is the very least you could do for me. Especially after all I’ve given you. He will kill me if he gets a chance and take all my powers. Who knows what he’ll do to mankind once his godhood is restored. How he’ll make them suffer. I’ve already gone to Acheron and he has refused to help me in any way. You’re the only hope I have."
"Then why don’t you kill him yourself? I know you’re capable of it."
Artemis sat back in a huff. "He has the Tuppi Shimati. You do remember what that is, don’t you?"
"The Sumerian Tablet of Destiny, yeah, I remember it." Whoever held possession of it could render another god powerless. It could also used to strip a god of their powers entirely thereby allow the possessor to kill any god they chose. Not exactly something the gods wanted in the wrong hands.
Artemis swallowed. "Who do you think Sin will come after now that he has it?"
No-brainer there. Artemis. "And with that you have my undivided attention. Don’t worry, Matisera. I’ll get it from him."
Artemis actually looked relieved. "I don’t want anyone to know our past. You of all people understand how important it is that it remain hidden. Don’t fail me this time, Katra. I need you to fulfill your word to me."
Kat flinched at the reminder of the one and only time in her life she’d failed in her mission to Artemis. "I will."
Artemis inclined her head before she vanished.
Kat lay back in bed, thinking of what had just transpired. On the one hand, she had no doubt that Artemis was telling the truth about the Tablet of Destiny. Sin’s pantheon had been the one who’d created it. If anyone knew how to find and wield it, Sin would be he.
But Artemis was still Artemis.
Which meant some important parts of this story were most likely missing and before Kat went traipsing off after another god, even a fallen one, she wanted to know as much about him as she could.
Reaching for her cell phone on the nightstand, she flipped it open and noted the time. It was one A.M. for her, but in Minneapolis it would be midnight. She pressed the 6 button and waited until she heard a soft, feminine voice answer.
Kat smiled at the sound of her friend’s greeting. "Hi, Cassandra, how ya doing?" At one time, she’d been Cassandra’s protector for Artemis. But since Cassandra had become immortal and was married to the ex-Dark-Hunter Wulf, Kat had been reassigned… and then traded off to the Atlantean goddess Apollymi.
Even so, Kat was still close friends with Cassandra and made it a habit of visiting her friend whenever she could.
"Hey, baby girl," Cassandra said with a laugh. "We’re fine. We were just finishing up a movie. But I can tell by the tone of your voice and the time of this call that you’ve got something more on your mind than checking in with me."
Kat smiled at her friend’s intuition. "Okay, I’m busted. There was a point to this call. Can you put the big guy on the phone for me? I have a couple of Dark-Hunter questions for him."
"Sure. Hang on a sec."
Kat raked her hand through her tousled curls as Wulf came to the phone. When she’d first met him, he’d been a Dark-Hunter. They were immortal protectors who’d sworn their service to Artemis in exchange for an Act of Vengeance. Their job was to kill the Daimons who preyed on human souls and to spend eternity in Artemis’s service protecting mankind.
But Wulf had been granted his freedom and now he lived happily with his son and daughter and wife in Minneapolis. And he policed the Daimons only when the Dark-Hunters in his area needed an extra hand.
"Hey, Kat. You wanted to speak to me?" Even after all these centuries, his voice still held its thick Nordic accent.
"Yeah. Do you happen to know the Dark-Hunter named Sin?"
"I know a couple who have that name. Which one are you referring to?"
"The fallen god?"
"That would be he."
Wulf let out a speculative breath on the other end. "Personally, no, I don’t. But I’ve heard rumors about him. They say he’s crazy as hell."
"Everyone. Any Dark-Hunter who’s ever been in his area. Any Squire who ever made the mistake of crossing his path. He’s a vicious bastard who tolerates absolutely no one near him."
Well, that didn’t sound promising. But it did corroborate Artemis’s fear. "You know anyone I can call who knows him personally?"
Yeah. There were two problems with that. One, Artemis would flip out if Kat ever went near the Atlantean god, and two, Artemis would flip out if she ever went near the Atlantean god.
"No," Wulf said firmly. "Let me reiterate that he’s completely antisocial and will not interact with anyone. They say he once let a Dark-Hunter die at the hands of a Daimon and laughed while he watched it happen. You can log into the Dark-Hunter bulletin boards at dailyinquisitor.com/bbs and see if you can find someone he might have let into his inner circle. I seriously doubt that from what little I know about him, but that would be your best bet."
Great. Just great. "Cool. Thanks for the help. I’ll let you get back to your movie. You guys take care."
Kat hung up the phone and then grabbed her laptop from under the bed and followed Wulf’s advice, but after a couple of hours on the bbs and on the Dark-Hunter.com Web site reading profiles, she gave up. They didn’t tell her anything except Sin was a loner and a psycho.
Apparently, he didn’t even go after Daimons. According to one story, he’d walked past a group of them once while they were feeding and didn’t even grimace. There were also numerous stories of him inflicting burn wounds on himself and cursing anyone who came near him.
Boy, he sounded like a warm, fluffy bunny. She couldn’t wait to meet him. Obviously he wasn’t a people person, which was fine by her. As an only child, she didn’t always play well with others either.
But the tales of his self-mutilation concerned her. What kind of creature was he that he’d continually do such a thing? Had his sanity been lost when he’d been drained of his god powers or had he always been like that?
Sighing, she closed her laptop and forced herself to get up out of her comfy bed and dress. It was only three in the morning… still a couple of hours before sunrise, which meant Sin was probably on the streets, wandering about aimlessly as he bypassed Daimons in need of death.
Kat closed her eyes and concentrated until she found what she was looking for…
But it wasn’t where she’d expected to find him. Instead of being in Las Vegas, he was in New York… Central Park to be precise. She frowned at the sight as she shimmered in the shadows in a transparent Shade form. No one would be able to see her, but if the light were to hit her just right, it would catch a luminescent outline of her body. That was why she was keeping to the shadows-out of sight and reach of an insane ex-god.
Her research had said that Sin was stationed in Las Vegas.
About half an hour outside of town.
What was he doing in New York in the middle of the night? How had he gotten here and when?
But that wasn’t the really important part. It was the way he walked through the dimly lit area of the park. "Stalking" would be a more apropos term. He was like a bloodthirsty beast trailing after the scent of its prey. He had his head bent low, his eyes barely more than a slit as he skimmed the area around him. Dressed in a long black leather coat that rippled and flared with his movements, he was an impressive sight. His shoulders were wide and his short, curly jet-black hair barely brushed the collar. Unlike other Dark-Hunters, his eyes weren’t black. They were a golden brown-like the color of a lion’s eyes. Topaz. And they glittered like ice against his darkly tanned skin.
His features were perfect in form, but since he’d been born a god, it was expected. As a rule, gods weren’t ugly people. And even if they were, they usually used their powers to fix that. It went with the whole god-vanity thing that could be quite off-putting at times.
Appearing no older than his mid-thirties, Sin moved with a fluid, timeless grace. His black eyebrows were drawn together in a stern frown, and at least two days’ worth of whiskers dusted his face.
Truly, he was exquisite, and a part of herself that she wasn’t acquainted with took extreme notice of his dangerous masculine lope. Something about the way he moved went through her like a hot, heady wine. It made her dizzy and breathless.
Made her want to reach out and touch the very creature she knew would kill her if he had a chance. He was mesmerizing and engaging.
Suddenly he stopped dead in his tracks and cocked his head in her direction. Kat held her breath as trepidation pierced her heart. Had he heard her? Sensed her? He shouldn’t be able to, but then he was a god… or at least had been one before.
Maybe he did have that power.
But as she saw the slight shadow to her left, she realized that he wasn’t focused on her Shade form. He had his attention firmly rooted to the trees in front of her. And whatever was there was whispering in a language she’d never heard before. It was low in tone, with a sinister sound that was like some strange combination of grinding gears and a bone-chilling screech.
"Erkutu," Sin whispered in a voice that was laden with power.
In one fluid motion, he dropped the coat from his shoulders to show a body so corded with power that it actually sent a shiver over her.
He wore a sleeveless black T-shirt and black leather pants with buckled biker boots. But what stood out even more than the deep, perfect indentations of his muscles was the set of knives strapped to his biceps and the ancient hilt of the dagger in his left boot. He had a silver vambrace on each forearm, and as he approached the shadows he unwrapped a long cord from his right wrist. On each end of the cord was a metal ball about the size of a golf ball. The balls flashed in the light and made a slight tink in the night as he walked.
It was obvious he was gearing up for battle, but there were no Daimons anywhere near them. If there were, she’d be able to sense them.
And still that strange whispering continued.
Kat crept through the trees, trying to see where he was headed. Without warning, something was hurled at Sin’s head. He ducked it and rose, twirling the cord over his head like a cowboy with a rope as he moved. The balls whistled in the air a moment before he released them and they flew through the foliage.
A scream tore through the night.
Kat froze as she saw what had caused it. At first it looked like a pretty human woman, until she opened her mouth and showed a double row of serrated fangs. But worse than the fangs was the blood that dripped from her chin. Human blood that matched the redness of the creature’s eyes.
And she wasn’t alone. There were three of them in total-the woman and two stocky men. Kat had never seen anything like them. They definitely weren’t of the human species even though they had human bodies. They communicated with one another in that ferret meets-Flipper language of theirs.
As one unit, they rushed to Sin. He ducked and sent the first one to reach him flipping over his back. In a smooth, fluid move he pulled the dagger from his boot and sliced at the second male. The demon caught his arm and sank his fangs into Sin’s hand.
Cursing, Sin kneed the creature in the stomach hard and twisted to confront the woman. The female demon jerked back a split second before his dagger would have slit her throat.
The first male pushed himself up and rushed at Sin’s back. Sin turned and hit the ground so that the demon would fall into the arms of the one who had bitten him. He uncoiled another string from his left arm, then rose and wrapped it around the throat of the female. She screamed an instant before her head fell free from her body.
Kat turned away and cringed at the grisly sight as bile rose in her throat.
The other two demons shrieked, then ran. Crossing his arms over his chest, Sin jerked the knives from his biceps and threw them straight into the backs of the fleeing beasts. The knives landed at the bases of their spines with an unerring accuracy. They fell instantly to the ground, where they writhed and screamed in agony.
After one last cry, they each went still. But continued to whine. Kat was horrified by what she was witnessing. It was grisly and intense, and there was something about Sin that said he was enjoying it a lot more than he should. It was as if he took pride in inflicting as much pain on them as he could.
He’s a sick bastard.
Sin watched the men for a few seconds more before he went to check on the human they’d been feeding from. But it was too late for her. Even from her distance, Kat could tell the human was dead as her glassy eyes stared up at the star-filled sky. Her entire body was ravaged from their kill.