One Silent Night (Page 17)

One Silent Night (Dark-Hunter #16)(17)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

Then he felt it. That moment when the last gasp of life left and the body went limp in his arms. He held the demon’s chest against his heart-the center of his being-and waited for her soul to merge with his. Normally the absorption was a small shock that was followed by a sense of profound invigoration.

This time it struck him like a lightning bolt and caused him to drop the body and stagger back. He cried out as it ripped through him, blackening his skin. He struggled to breathe, but it was impossible. Over and over he saw lights flashing around him and heard the sound of his blood pumping through his veins. It was like staring at the fabric of the universe. The power coalesced inside him, heating his body and making his senses swirl.

He cast his gaze around the room and noted the way his men shrank back. Suddenly Zephyra was there.

She took his face in her hands. "Look at me, Strykerius. Focus."

He did and as their gazes locked his heart slowed down. His vision and hearing cleared.

A slow smile curved her lips an instant before she ripped his shirt open. He frowned as she placed her hand over his heart, where there was no longer a black mark denoting where the soul exchange took place. Stryker stared at the unblemished skin in confusion. The moment an Apollite took a human soul into their body to elongate their life, a black mark appeared over their heart where the souls merged.

His was gone.

"I don’t understand."

"When a Daimon merges with a demon, you have the strength of both species. They are immortal. Now so are you."

He was aghast. "How is this possible?"

She smiled evilly. "Gallu blood is potent. Whatever it is that makes it infectious merges with our DNA and strengthens us. You’re free from having to take souls in."

He turned to look at Davyn and Illyria, who were now standing over the bodies of the gallu they’d killed. "We’re not gallu slaves?"

Zephyra shook her head. "Not once your master is killed. It’s a new world, Stryker. A new dawn."

And Zephyra had given it to him. Nothing could have meant more.

"The only thing that will kill you now is decapitation."

He wanted to shout out in joy. "How many Daimons can we convert with one gallu? If we feed the blood to several and then kill the demon, will it convert all and then free them when we kill it?"

She shrugged. "There’s only one way to find out. Try it and see."

Stryker laughed as he looked around at the Spathi who’d gathered. "You heard the lady. Let’s hold an experiment and see what happens. If it works, we feed from and then kill them and we no longer have to take human souls to live. I think it’s time we had open season on the gallu." He laughed again at the very idea of turning the tables on Kessar and his people. "Who’s hungry?"

A roar went up.

Stryker turned toward Davyn. "Open a bolt hole and let’s grab us one more gallu to test my lady’s theory."

Davyn bowed his head and saluted him. "As you wish, my lord." He motioned for Illyria and two more Spathi to join him.

Stryker returned to his throne, where he sat with a whole new outlook on the future of his people. The dawn of the Daimon was just beginning, and he intended to rain hell on the humans before all was said and done.

Gazing down, he curled his lip at the three gallu bodies on the floor. They were as repugnant to him as his father. "Could someone clean up the mess? Take those outside and burn them."

A small group came forward to obey him as Zephyra ascended his dais.

Ignoring his people who watched, he took her hand into his and kissed her knuckles. "Thank you, Phyra. You could have kept that bit to yourself and allowed me and my people to die."

She cast her gaze to the room. "Regardless of how I feel about you personally, I am Atlantean and an Apollite." She swept her hand out to indicate his soldiers. "We are the last warriors of our kind. Be damned if I’m going to stand by and watch the gallu prey on us. They’re inferior maggots. We are the children of the gods. We bow to no one."

Stryker smiled at the confusion on the faces of his people. "It just occurred to me that no one knows who you are, my love." Standing up, he turned her to face the crowd. "Daimons. My brothers and sisters, allow me to introduce Zephyra. My queen."

Zephyra tensed at his proclamation. "Aren’t you being presumptuous?" she asked under her breath.

He leaned forward to whisper in her ear. "If you kill me, my people will need a leader. After this I trust you will do what’s best for them. Whether married to me or not, you are my queen and my equal. There is no one else I would trust to lead and protect my people."

She inclined her head to him.

Stryker held his hand out toward Medea. "And this is my daughter. I trust you will all show Medea and Zephyra the respect and deference they deserve." He quirked a wry grin. "If not, I’m sure they’ll painfully make you regret any slight you give them."

Medea looked less than pleased by the cheers that rang out around her. But Zephyra didn’t seem to mind their adulation.

As Stryker took a step toward his daughter, Davyn returned with a gallu. He threw the demon toward the two Daimons who’d accompanied him. They set on the gallu with a fervor born of desperation and were joined by three more Daimons who helped in the feeding. The demon did his best to fight, but he was no match for the Daimons who held him down and preyed on him.

Stryker watched with a morbid fascination as the Daimons started converting. Would this work? Or would they have to put his men down?

The answer came as Davyn killed the gallu. The demon gave one last scream of pain and then died on the floor below. The first Daimon, Laeta, grabbed the soul and took it in. Her eyes glowed red as she leaned her head back and cried out.

An instant later, she rose to her feet and lifted her shirt. Her Daimon’s mark was gone.

And so were the marks from the others who’d fed on the gallu.

Stryker wanted to shout out in joy as he realized they’d found the key to their survival. The key to their salvation.

Overcome by happiness, he snatched Zephyra up and twirled around with her. "You are brilliant!" he said, laughing.

Zephyra couldn’t breathe as she saw the boy she’d loved inside the man she loathed. This was the same Strykerius who’d stolen her heart. Closing her eyes, she savored the feel of him holding her. It felt so good to be held again. To feel like she was a part of something and not just going through the motions of life. For so long she’d been numb.

But right here, right now, she felt whole. Like she’d given something to the world that mattered. And to the Daimons who no longer had to scrounge for souls she had.

She’d given them life.

And now they, like Stryker, cheered her name. It was the headiest of combinations.

Smiling, she looked down into his silver eyes that shimmered with a life force equal to her own. Part of her wanted to hold on to him forever and the other wanted to beat him for not being there for her when she needed him. For not holding her hand while she struggled to bring their baby into the world. Not teaching Medea how to walk and talk.

He’d missed everything.

The war inside her was harsh and it was painful. How could he make her feel so torn?

And while he held her, all she could remember was how safe she felt in his arms. She was strong, stronger than she ever needed to be, and yet he made her weak in the knees and the heart. Made her want to lean on him even though she was more than capable of surviving alone.

Surviving. That’s exactly what she did without him. She survived.

But with him, she lived.

In this moment, she surrendered herself to that sensation. To the sound of his laughter in her ears and the feel of his arms holding her close to that hard, perfect body. Growl ing with the ferocity of her need, she kissed him.

Stryker felt as if he could fly. He didn’t know what it was about this woman, but she set fire to his soul. She always had.

"Didn’t you two just get through doing that?" Medea asked in a surly tone.

Stryker pulled back with a laugh. "Are you going blind again, Daughter?"

"Scarred for life, thank you very much. I’m definitely going to need counseling."

Stryker traced the shape of Zephyra’s lips before he gave her one more quick kiss. Then he looked back at his people. "Now that we know what we can do, let’s tear those bastards apart. Davyn, open the bolt holes."

* * *

WAR STEPPED BACK AND LAUGHED AS HE watched the Daimons and the gallu tear into each other. It was absolutely beautiful.

"You are positively evil." Ker draped one long, graceful arm over his shoulder as she watched with him. "I love it."

It was so good to have her and Mache with him again.

"We still have the Malachai to deal with."

She sighed nonchalantly. "We will find him. Ma’at protects him, but she can’t stand alone. I’ve been wanting a piece of her for quite some time. Have no fear. We’ll both be appeased."

He watched as she split into ten beings.

"We’ll find him," they said, their voices echoing. Then they took flight, leaving him alone with their source.

He sucked his breath in sharply at her ability to do that. It’d always made him hot. But there would be time for sex later. Right now they had to secure their freedom.

"Our fellow Greek gods are pulling together from other pantheons to come after us."

"Mache will handle them. He’s already back with Eris, stirring them up against each other."

Eris . . . the goddess of discord. War had spent many a night in her bed, too. Though not an official member of his band, she’d been useful to him from time to time.

He stiffened as an idea struck him. "Get Eris. I have a job for her."

"And that is?"

"We need her to feed the Greek paranoia where Ma’at is concerned."

Ker frowned. "I don’t understand."

"We convince the Greeks that she’s going to use the Malachai to destroy them. As much as they hate anyone with ties to the Egyptians, they’ll turn on her in a minute." He laughed again. "Think about it. Why else would she protect a Malachai unless her goal was to destroy the rest of the pantheons?"

"Because he’s the balance."

War rolled his eyes. "You know that and I know that. But Eris can stir them up to where they won’t think of it. Now go and feed their frenzy."

She vanished and left him to savor the scent of the bloodbath going on as the Daimons and gallu continued to clash.

This was what he’d been bred for.

It was a new world he was creating and it would just be a matter of time before he would have all of them dancing to his whims.

Now he just had one more thing to deal with and then the world would be his.

CHAPTER 10

ZEPHYRA SAT ON STRYKER’S THRONE WHILE HE and his Daimons were off fighting the gallu. She’d sent Medea with her father, then stayed behind to sort through everything that had happened in the last few hours.

She needed time alone to think and to absorb all the complications that had blindsided her. It was all coming at her too quickly, and she was overwhelmed by her emotions and by the sheer magnitude of Stryker’s presence. And his passion. But as she sat here alone in the darkness, for the first time in centuries she could see a better future.

Stryker standing at her side while they fought to reclaim their place in the world that had been so hostile to them.

Closing her eyes, she imagined what it would be like to sit here with him while they commanded his army. Now that they had the power of the gallu inside them, they could come out of hiding and live again in the world of man.

No, not the world of man.

The world of the Daimon.

A slow smile curled her lips as she saw that so clearly in her mind. With Medea’s powers, they could rout out whatever gallu were still around and corral other demons to see what powers they could strip from them and use, too. There was no limit to what they might be capable of doing.

They could even become a new breed of gods.

Why had she never thought of this before?

Because she’d been a shell of a person for far too long. She’d forgotten what it was like to have this fire inside her that wanted more. This fire that lived and breathed and consumed. The fire that wouldn’t be denied and that craved a better existence than the one she’d known.

For the first time in centuries, she was whole and she saw a future for herself and her daughter. One of power . . .

Of destruction. . . .

"You don’t need Stryker for that."

She opened her eyes to find War standing in front of her. More handsome than a god of destruction should be, he stood with his weight on one leg and an arrogant countenance that would have been devastating had she not known the truth of his lethal capriciousness. To him they were all nothing but pawns to be commanded and destroyed at his whims.

But she could never be so stupid. Rage simmered in her blood as she rose to her feet to let him know that she wasn’t afraid of him or his powers. "What are you doing here?"

"I came to see Stryker, but instead, I see the most beautiful woman ever born. Truly you are exceptional."

She scoffed. "I don’t flatter easily."

Before she could blink, he was beside her. His eyes were dark as he looked down at her with a hunger that was flattering, hot, and terrifying. A hint of a smile played at the edge of his lips. "And I don’t give it as a rule. But you . . ." He sucked his breath in sharply as he gave her an appreciative once-over. "You are enough to drive even a god mad with desire."