Talon answered for Ash. "When a god ceases to be worshiped, their powers diminish. If a god is defeated by another god, then a chunk of his powers is absorbed by the victor and he loses his ability to regain his former position."
Eric nodded. "Okay, one last thing. What happens if they do regain their powers?"
Ash looked away. "Let us hope we don’t find out."
"Because according to Atlantean myth, the Destroyer is supposed to be the one who will bring about Telikos-the end of the world. No doubt Dionysus and Camulus are thinking that Apollymi will be so overcome with gratitude when they release her that she won’t think twice about joining them and sharing her power with them.
"What they don’t know is that there was a really good reason why Apollymi was imprisoned by the Atlantean gods. Even the other gods feared Apollymi’s wrath, and in the end, she killed them all. Whatever we do, we can’t ever let her escape. If they free her tonight, everything you know about this existence will change. Everything."
"Gotta love saving the world," Talon said. "Another day in the life."
Ash took a deep breath. "And on that note we have things to do."
Talon nodded, but in his heart, he wished he could see Sunshine one more time.
He didn’t want to die without seeing her face again.
Duty, how it reeked.
Valerius headed out first.
Talon, Nick, and Eric went out through the back door with Ash pulling up the rear.
As Ash left the house, the back door slammed shut, catching the tail end of his long black coat.
Ash jerked to a stop and cursed.
Nick howled with laughter at the sight of Acheron trapped. "Don’t it take the bad-ass right out of you?"
Ash arched a brow.
The door opened by itself, freeing his coat, then it slammed shut again.
Nick sobered instantly. "And that puts it right back in you."
Ash ruffled Nick’s hair like an older brother. "Watch our backs and soothe Amanda’s nerves until Kyrian returns."
"You got it."
Ash and Talon left the ornate courtyard and headed into the crowd of tourists and locals who were as thick as fog.
There were hundreds of people out. Hundreds who had no idea that the very fate of the world rested in the hands of the two men dressed in black who were making their way slowly through them.
Two men who were tired tonight. Weary.
One because he had long ago ceased feeling anything except the heavy burden of his responsibilities.
Ash wanted nothing more than one single day to just lie down and rest. One day to find a moment’s worth of comfort.
He’d spent eternity waiting for a second chance.
Waiting for an escape from the wreckage of his past and the damnation that made up his future.
Tonight, he had to face his brother for the first time in eleven thousand years.
The two of them had never been on equal footing. Styxx had hated him since the moment of his birth.
For Ash, this was going to be a long, long night.
Talon’s thoughts were on Sunshine. On the gentle curve of her face. The beauty of her touch.
Was she in her loft painting?
Was she thinking of him?
"I love you." Her words tore through him.
Talon clenched his teeth, wishing he were touching her. Hoping that at the end of this night she would be safe from Camulus forever.
"Faith, Talon," Ash said as if he knew his thoughts.
Talon took a deep breath.
His death didn’t concern him. It was Sunshine he couldn’t allow to die. Right or wrong, he would see this through, and come morning she would be safe.
No matter what it took.
Sunshine followed Zarek’s directions to the Warehouse District, but getting there in the heavy traffic wasn’t easy. They probably could have walked faster.
Normally the traffic wouldn’t have bothered her; however, Zarek wasn’t exactly friendly, and between his sour mood and the drunken revelers on the street who kept staggering out into the road, her nerves were pretty much fried.
She wasn’t really sure why they had to go out tonight, but Zarek had assured her that Ash wanted her moved for safety’s sake.
He’d promised her that Talon would be able to fight better knowing she was hidden away from Camulus and Styxx.
"So how long have you been a Dark-Hunter?" she asked, trying to do something to ease the tension between them.
"You don’t care, so why do you ask?"
"Well, you’re just Mr. Warm and Fuzzy, aren’t you?"
He looked at her coldly. "When you kill things for a living, it tends to take the warm and fuzzy right out of you."
"Talon isn’t like that."
"Well, bully for him."
She growled as she slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting a man dressed up like a bull. He pounded on the hood of her car and yelled, then dashed across the street.
Sunshine moved forward again, even more slowly, through the bumper-to-bumper traffic. "You don’t like Talon, do you?"
"Wish him dead every time I see him."
She frowned at Zarek’s blase tone. "I can’t tell if you mean that or not."
"I mean it."
"He’s an ass**le and I’ve had enough ass**les in my life."
"Do you hate Ash too?"
"Baby, I hate everyone."
He didn’t answer.
Sunshine didn’t bother him after that. There really was something spooky about Zarek. Something cold and unreachable. It was as if he took pleasure in the fact that he shoved everyone away from him.
At least twenty minutes passed before Zarek shocked her by asking a question of his own. "You love the Celt, don’t you?"
"Why? What is it about him that makes you care for him?"
She sensed Zarek was asking something much deeper than that. It was as if the concept of love were so alien to him that he was struggling to make sense of it.
"He’s a good man who makes me laugh. He looks at me and I melt all over the floor. When I’m with him, I feel like I can fly."
Zarek turned his head away from her and watched the Mardi Gras crowd outside.
"Have you ever been in love?" she tried again.
Again, he didn’t answer. Instead he directed her to a warehouse on St. Joseph Street.
The place was dark and forbidding. "Is this where we’re supposed to be?" she asked.
She parked in an alley behind the building, and they left the car.
Zarek led her in through a back door and up a series of stairs. He opened a door at the end of the hallway and let her enter first.
Sunshine stepped inside. At first glance, she thought the tall blond man was Acheron with a new hair color. But when she saw Camulus standing by his side, she knew it wasn’t.
It was Styxx who was standing between Camulus and a brunet man she didn’t recognize.
Sunshine turned to run.
Zarek closed the door ominously and took up a blocking position before it. The look on his face told her that he had no intention of letting her pass through him.
"Come in, come in, said the spider to the fly," Camulus said.
Sunshine lifted her chin as she faced the men. Camulus was extremely handsome, but he had a smile that was pure evil.
Even more so than Zarek and that was hard to accomplish.
The man she didn’t know was humongously tall with light brown hair and a goatee. He had an extremely refined, well-bred look to him.
"I’m going to take a wild guess that you are Dionysus," Sunshine said, remembering what Selena had once told her about the patron god of Mardi Gras.
He smiled as if flattered she knew him. "Guilty."
Camulus let out a long breath. "She’s so bright. It’s almost a shame to kill her. But… oh well."
"You can’t hurt her," Zarek said from the door. "You promised me she wouldn’t be harmed if I brought her here."
"So I lied," Dionysus said. "Sue me."
Zarek started for the god, but Sunshine stopped him. She wasn’t really sure why she did that, it just seemed as if he were the closest thing to an ally she had in that room.
She turned back to Camulus, knowing exactly how he planned to hurt Talon tonight. "I’m not going to let you kill me in front of Talon."
They all laughed. All except for Zarek.
"You can’t stop us," Camulus said.
Zarek glanced down at her, then did a double take as his dark gaze fell to her necklace. "Uh, gods, I think you’ve forgotten something."
Dionysus curled his lip. "We forget nothing."
"Oh, okay," Zarek said sarcastically, "then you must already know that she wears a Marking Medallion."
They sobered instantly.
"What?" Camulus snarled.
Sunshine pulled her grandmother’s necklace out of her shirt and held it up to them. She couldn’t really believe it might help her, but hey, anything at this point was worth a try. "My grandmother said that the Morrigan would always protect me."
Camulus cursed. "Oh, this ain’t right." He cursed again.
"This thing really works?" she whispered to Zarek.
"More than you know," he whispered back. "He can’t kill you without making the Morrigan angry."
"Well, who knew?" she said, amazed by the knowledge. "Cool."
"Yup," Zarek concurred. "Better than a cross with Dracula."
She beamed. "Does it work against Dionysus too?"
Oh, this was good. Very, very good. "Okay, then, let’s talk."
"Talk about what?" Dionysus hissed.
"Not you. Him." She indicated Camulus with a nod. "I want to talk about Talon’s curse."
Camulus’s eyes blazed at her. "What about it?"
"I want you to lift it."
She held her medallion out to him. "Do it or…" She gave Zarek a sideways glance. "Does this have any power to hurt him?"
"Only if he hurts you first."
Damn. What kind of protection was that? She needed to have a talk with whoever came up with these things.
A calculating glint lightened Camulus’s eyes. He sighed as if bored. "Oh well, since I can’t kill you, I guess I’ll have to content myself with killing Talon instead."
Terror consumed her. "What?"
Camulus shrugged nonchalantly. "It’s rather pointless to let him live happily ever after with you when my intent was to make him suffer. Since you can’t die, he’ll have to."
Her hand shook as she held the medallion in her suddenly sweaty grip. "Won’t Artemis be mad if you kill one of her soldiers?"
He looked at Dionysus, who burst out laughing. "Artemis, darling that she is, would most definitely care. However, she won’t start a war with the Celtic pantheon over it. Unlike me, Cam is safe from her wrath."
"Doesn’t it just reek?" Camulus asked. His happy smile belied his dire words.
Sunshine wanted to cry. This couldn’t be happening.
By saving herself, she had condemned Talon to die.
No! She couldn’t let this happen. "Okay, there has to be another way."
Camulus narrowed his eyes as if thinking about the matter. "Perhaps there is. Tell me, Sunshine. How much does Talon’s happiness mean to you?"
"Everything," she said sincerely.
"Everything. Well, that certainly is a lot." His look turned steely cold, frightening. "Does it mean as much to you as your own soul?"
"Sunshine," Zarek said. "Don’t."
"You, heel," Dionysus snarled.
Zarek cracked his knuckles. "Don’t tell me what to do. I don’t like it."
Sunshine ignored them. "What are you saying to me, Camulus?"
He tucked his hands into his pockets and acted as cool as someone chitchatting about the weather, not sealing the fate of her immortal destiny. "A simple trade. I lift his curse. You give me your soul."
Sunshine hesitated. "That seems easy."
"So what are you going to do with my soul once you have it?"
"Nothing at all. I’ll keep it with me, just like Artemis keeps Talon’s."
"And my body?"
"A body doesn’t need a soul to function."
Zarek put a hand on her shoulder. "Don’t do it, Sunshine. You can’t ever trust a god."
"Sure you can," Styxx said. "Trusting them is the best thing I ever did."
"I don’t know," she breathed, searching her heart and mind, trying to decide what she should do.
Acheron and Talon stood on the crowded street. There were people everywhere, most of them drunk as they celebrated Mardi Gras.
Talon did a double-take as a man danced by him wearing a large diaper and a fake pair of gold wings. His long blond hair was tied back in a gold cord and he held a crossbow in one hand and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s in the other. Drunk, the man was arbitrarily shooting his golden arrows at the people he passed by.
"Eros!" Talon snapped, grabbing the bow from him. "What are you doing?"
Acheron raked a less than amused stare over Eros’s "costume."
"What’s with the get-up?"