"Knowing Tabitha, I’m not even going to ask about that one," Ash said, rubbing a hand over his eyebrow.
Ash went suddenly rigid. Tabitha could sense his dread.
"What happened?" Ash whispered without acknowledging her. It was as if he were talking to someone else.
"You two stay here and do not leave this house again tonight." He vanished instantly.
She looked at Valerius, whose frown made a mockery of her own. "What was that about?" she asked.
"I don’t know, but I have a feeling it’s not good."
Ash entered his home in Katoteros with a whirlwind maelstrom flowing behind him. The fifteen-foot-tall, solid oak doors echoed menacingly as they slammed shut of their own accord in his wake. The minute he crossed the elegant threshold, his clothes changed from his modern-day Goth to ancient Atlantean. The seams of his jeans turned into tightly woven, crisscrossed laces that held the tight black leather pants perfectly sculpted to his lower body. His shirt and jacket dissolved away into a heavy black silk foremasta, a long duster-like robe that was left to flow regally around his lithe, muscular body. On the back of the foremasta was embroidered the emblem of a golden sun pierced by three silver bolts of lightning.
It was his personal symbol of power and it marked everything he owned.
Without stopping, he walked directly across the large black marbled foyer that held the same design in the center of the floor.
There was no furniture in the circular foyer, but the golden domed ceiling above him was supported by sixteen columns that had been carved into statues of the most prominent of the Atlantean gods.
Gods who had once made this realm their home. In those days, they had gathered affectionately here in this hall to share time with each other as they watched over the human world and protected it.
But those days were long gone.
The ancient gods themselves were long gone.
Ash headed for the throne room that faced the main doors. The doorway to it was flanked by the likenesses of Apollymi the Destroyer and her husband Archon Kosmetas, a surname that meant Order. At one time, the two of them had presided over the nether realms of Katoteros and Kalosis and in one fit of anger, Appolymi had laid waste to all who dwelled here.
All of them.
Not a single Atlantean god had remained standing after she had swept through this temple in her violent fury. Ash had never understood what could possess her to do such a thing.
But as he entered the throne room of the ancient gods, he was beginning to have enlightenment.
"Urian!" he growled, summoning his servant to him.
Urian popped into the Atlantean throne room ready to take on the devil himself. He drew up short as he caught sight of Ash’s true form while the Dark-Hunter stood before the gilded dais that contained two gold thrones that were carved into the shape of dragons.
Urian was still having trouble dealing with Ash when the man looked like this. The blood-red, flaming eyes were enough to make even a demigod like Urian cringe, and Ash’s iridescent blue-streaked, marbled skin tone…
But the most disturbing thing was the deep, vicious scar that ran from Ash’s navel to his throat where someone’s handprint had been branded. It looked as if someone had once held the man down by his throat as they sliced him open.
Urian had learned from Alexion on the day he had arrived at Katoteros that while the hand scar came and went, the vertical scar was only visible in this realm and that he should never react to it.
Not if he valued his life, anyway.
Ash’s unbalanced temper was present in the lightning bolts and thunder that crackled and sparked outside the leaded windows of the temple.
There were very few things in life that frightened Urian. The extremely powerful man before him was one of them.
Not even Ash’s pet pterygsauri would come out to be with their master in this mood. Unlike Urian, the small winged dragon-like creatures had stayed wisely hidden.
"What have you to report?" Acheron asked him, his voice thick with his Atlantean accent.
"Basically that all hell is breaking loose in hell."
Acheron looked less than pleased by the news. More lightning shot across the sky outside the floor-to-ceiling windows behind the thrones. It gave an eerie glow to Acheron’s body. Thunder clapped ominously as it shook the temple floor where Urian stood.
"What is happening?"
Urian bit back his sarcasm as he started to point out that the weather in Kalosis mirrored the weather here in Katoteros. That would most likely be suicidal.
"I don’t know. Desiderius came back to the hall with his son in tow a little while ago. I was told that he said something to Stryker that caused him to reward Desiderius by giving him the ability to reincarnate. Apollymi the Destroyer is locked inside her temple and no one is allowed to see her. Apparently someone did something wrong and she has since sent her Charonte demons off on a blood hunt throughout Kalosis to find the perpetrator. There are Spathis dropping like flies all over the place and everyone is pretty much wetting their pants in fear of her wrath."
"And your father?"
Urian tensed at the reminder that Stryker, the leader of the Spathi Daimons who were controlled by the Destroyer, had fathered him. "I don’t know. The minute Desiderius left, he flipped out in the main hall and has been tearing the place apart ever since." His face hardened. "He keeps screaming out my name and I don’t know why. Maybe he learned that I’m alive."
Acheron looked away from him.
"What’s up with all this, Ash? I know you know."
"No, I don’t. The Destroyer is silent to me. I hear nothing from her and that’s what concerns me most. She’s never silent in our battles."
Urian cursed at what that signified. "What could have set them both off at once?"
The muscle in Acheron’s jaw beat an impressive staccato rhythm. "My guess is Stryker sent Desiderius out with a test for me. Once Desi saw that it was effective, he reported it back to Stryker, who had all the confirmation he needed."
"Confirmation of what?"
Acheron’s gaze cut through him. "What he really is to Apollymi."
Urian gave a low whistle. "Yeah, that would freak him out. Maybe we’ll get lucky and he and the Destroyer will kill each other."
Acheron shot him a look that made him take a step back.
"Sorry," he said quickly.
Acheron started pacing. With his robe flowing eerily out behind him and his silver-soled boots clicking against the black marble floor, he was a spooky sight.
"Why would Desiderius try to take over Tabitha’s body?"
"What do you mean?" Urian asked.
"He tried to take over her while I was there. After I blasted him out of her, he came for me."
That didn’t make sense. How stupid could… well, it was Desiderius, after all. "Why would he attempt that if he knew what you were?"
Ash gave a low, ominous laugh. "I don’t think Stryker shared that information with Desiderius. He wouldn’t dare. It would undercut his own authority in Kalosis if he did so."
Good point. "So I guess the real question is who will be the body donor."
Acheron cocked his head as if he just realized something. "He’s after Kyrian and Amanda. Since he couldn’t get either Tabitha’s body or mine, he’ll probably go after someone else they know and trust. And that’s the next bit I need you to find out. Stryker has me blocked so that I sense nothing in regard to Desiderius."
"For the record, I’m beginning to feel like cannon fodder here. There are a lot of people in Kalosis who rejoiced the day Stryker cut my throat. If one of them finds out that I’m there spying on them, they’ll send me back to you in pieces."
Acheron gave him a wry, wicked grin. "It’s okay. I’ll just put you back together again."
"Thanks, boss. And I find that thought even more disturbing. Humpty Dumpty here doesn’t want to fall off the wall, okay?"
Acheron’s face hardened once more. "Go, Urian."
Inclining his head, Urian stepped back and willed himself to Kalosis.
Acheron stood silently in his throne room, listening. Still, he heard nothing from the other side. More lightning clashed outside as the winds whistled against the glass panes.
"Talk to me, Apollymi. What are you doing?"
But for the first time in eleven thousand years, she was utterly silent.
The only sound he heard in the deafening silence of his mind was his sister’s faint voice. "Be careful what you wish for, little brother. You will get it."
Tabitha hung up the phone from talking to Amanda. Kyrian and Julian had been in the process of taping up Nick’s ribs while she’d warned her sister about Desiderius’s attack just outside of their house.
"I’m scared, Val," she said as she put her phone down. "Really scared. I keep hearing Amanda’s voice telling me about her dream where she and Kyrian die. I know you hate the man, but-"
"I don’t hate Kyrian, Tabitha. He hates me."
She nodded as Valerius pulled her into a tight hug that she really needed. He held her carefully against his chest while one hand played in her hair.
She inhaled his rich, welcoming scent, which soothed her even more than his touch.
"Acheron won’t let her die," he said comfortingly. "You know that."
"I hope so, but her vision…"
"Those can be altered. Acheron is always saying that fate is helpless against free will. What she saw was one possible outcome."
Tabitha choked on her tears as she thought about what life would be like without Amanda. It was more than she could stand. "I can’t lose my sister, Valerius. I can’t. We’ve always had each other."
"Shh," he breathed before placing a gentle kiss on the top of her head. "I’m sure she feels the same way about you, and I swear on my life that neither one of you will ever have to fear losing the other. Not on my watch."
Tabitha was amazed by his tenderness when it was obvious he’d never been shown any himself.
She pulled back to look up at him. "How could your brothers have ever killed you?"
He released her instantly and took three steps back. By the look on his face, she could tell her question had hurt him deeply.
"I’m sorry, Val. That was insensitive of me."
"It’s all right. Things were different in those days."
That seemed to be his answer for everything, and it seemed too easy for her to accept.
"I shall call Otto and have him bring us dinner. I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry."
Tabitha nodded and gave him the reprieve she sensed he needed. Without looking back, he left her alone in his library.
"Whatever do you see in that bastard?"
She turned quickly at the sudden voice behind her to find a man of Val’s height, staring angrily at her. Dressed in black jeans and a black T-shirt, he was incredibly handsome with a neatly trimmed goatee, short, jet-black hair, and electric blue eyes. "Who the hell are you?"
The unexpected name caught her off guard. So this was the infamous whipping boy who had lived in Valerius’s Roman home. Offhand, there wasn’t much other than the dark hair and height that marked them as brothers.
Tabitha folded her arms over her chest as she faced him. "So you’re the dirtbag with the lightning bolt."
He laughed evilly at her insult. "I’d be careful if I were you. There’s n