"You summoned me, akri?"
Stryker turned away from his window, which looked out onto the city in Kalosis where daylight never shone. The lights there sparkled like diamonds in the darkness, while his people lived in fear of the gods who had cursed them and the one god who had saved them.
Being one of the first who was cursed, he, unlike the majority of the others here, knew what it had once felt like to have sun on his skin. He remembered the time when he’d loved his father, Apollo, when he would have given his life for him.
And then in a fit of anger over a Greek whore, his father had cursed the entire race he’d created. Every Apollite adult, every Apollite child… even Apollo’s own son and grandchildren had been cursed so that they could never walk in daylight again.
Stryker’s wife, who had been Greek, had been spared the curse. But his sons and daughter hadn’t.
Strange how after eleven thousand years he couldn’t remember what Dyana had sounded like, but he still recalled his daughter’s precious face. She’d been lovely until the day she had died on her twenty-seventh birthday, cursing her grandfather’s name as she disintegrated into dust. To his eternal pain, she had refused to turn Daimon and be saved.
His sons hadn’t. They had followed in his footsteps and had sworn allegiance to Apollymi, the Atlantean god who had shown them how to feed on human souls so that they didn’t have to die. For centuries his family had been virtually intact.
Until his aunt Artemis had created her damned Dark-Hunters.
One by one, his sons, her blood nephews, had been destroyed by the Dark-Hunters she sanctioned.
Except for Urian…
The pain of that thought was enough to drive him insane. He wanted his son back with a need and grief so strong that it was crippling.
Now it was just him. He, alone, was left. So much for his dreams of eternity spent with his family.
But life seldom turned out the way one planned.
"Akri?" Trates said again, drawing Stryker’s attention back to his second-in-command.
Stryker focused his gaze on the tall Daimon. "I want you to gather together the Illuminati." They were the strongest and bravest of the warrior Spathi Daimons. "Tell them they are going to have a treat."
Trates looked confused by that. "A treat?"
He nodded. "If I know the Alexion, and I do, he will pull all the Dark-Hunters together to deliver his ultimatum before he dies. I think we should have a little surprise waiting for him when he does."
"But if all the Dark-Hunters are together… they’ll kill us."
Stryker laughed evilly as he patted Trates on the shoulder. The poor fool was not half the strategist Urian had been. "You forget, Trates, that when they are together, the Dark-Hunters weaken each other. In that form, they will be easy pickings for us."
Still Trates didn’t join his humor. "What if the Alexion doesn’t kill himself? He has the power to kill us even without Artemis’s servants."
Stryker clenched the hand on Trates’s shoulder, digging his fingers into the Daimon’s flesh.
Trates pulled away with a hiss.
"Don’t you think I’ve thought of that?" he asked Trates, who stood rubbing his bruised shoulder. "The Alexion has one major weakness."
"And that is?"
"The Dark-Huntress he travels with. She is our key to destroying him."
He looked horrified. "She’s a Dark-Hunter, she’ll kick our ass."
"I don’t think so."
"And why is that?"
Stryker went to his desk where a black wooden box sat. He opened the box and pulled out the deep red stone medallion, then cradled it in his palm. "Because I have something I think she’ll want returned to her."
The Daimon’s eyes widened at the sight of what should never have fallen into Stryker’s hands. "How did you get her soul?"
"I have my ways." Stryker laughed again. "If she interferes or if the Alexion refuses to do the right thing, then they can both suffer eternal torment."
It was one of the most incredible nights of Alexion’s extremely long life-but then all of his time with Danger was special.
Even so, he’d never seen anything like this. To be sitting in the middle of people as if he were no different from them… there were no words that could describe that miracle. He’d heard them laugh at the movie, take a deep breath at tense parts, and even talk around him. Unlike the other moviegoers, the talking hadn’t bothered him in the least.
For a time, he’d been one of them.
No wonder Acheron sought this out. Now he understood completely.
Hell, he even liked his feet sticking to the floor of the theater. But the best part was when Danger pulled the armrest up so that they could share her tub of popcorn. She’d leaned her head against his chest and there in the dark they had cuddled.
"So this is what being normal feels like, huh?" he asked as they left the theater in the middle of the crowd.
"Yeah. Kind of nice, isn’t it?"
Alexion nodded as he watched groups of young adults and teenagers veer off together. He draped his arm over Danger’s shoulders. A touch of magnolias filled his head-he adored this woman’s scent.
"Do you see a lot of movies at the theater?" he asked her.
She wrapped her arm around his waist as they left the building. There was something unbelievably intimate about this. "Not too many. I spend most nights at home when I’m not culling the Daimon herd."
He couldn’t understand such forced solitude when she, unlike him, had a choice in the matter. "Why?"
"It makes me lonely to come out." She indicated a couple to the side of the building who were kissing in the parking lot. "It reminds me of what I don’t have anymore, and what I won’t have again after you leave."
Alexion pulled her to a stop and held her close. He cradled her body with his and closed his eyes, wishing both their lives were different. "If I could, I would give you what you want."
"Thanks. I appreciate it."
He tilted her chin up so that she was looking at him. "I will always be with you, Danger."
Danger could see the sincerity of his words in his eyes. That meant a lot to her. Yet it wasn’t enough. "But I won’t know it, will I?" His eyes darkened with remorse, making her regret her words. The last thing she wanted to do was hurt him. "It’s okay, Alexion. I didn’t mean to bring the moment down. I’m just grateful we had tonight."
"Me too." He gave her a squeeze before taking her hand and leading her toward her car.
They didn’t say much as they headed back to her house. It was an average, quiet night. As they drove past the tiny white house where Elvis Presley was born, Danger glanced over at him. "Do you know who Elvis is?"
Alexion smiled. "King of rock and roll, baby. Of course I know him. Simi adores him."
She laughed. "One day I have to meet this Simi." She indicated the house with a tilt of her head. "He was born right there, and I rode past this house a dozen times when he was only a few weeks old, never realizing the infant inside would have so much impact on American culture."
"Yeah. That’s the weirdest of Acheron’s gifts. He would have known exactly what was coming for the child."
What she wouldn’t give for that ability. It would be the best, to be able to see into the future "Can you tell?"
"Not without the sfora. Acheron doesn’t let me channel powers that he thinks I can’t handle."
Danger frowned. "Why doesn’t he think you can handle that one?"
"Because there are times when even he can’t."
Alexion expelled a long breath and was quiet a few seconds before he answered. "It’s hard to know that serious ill-fortune is about to strike someone and not intervene to make it better for them."
"Then why doesn’t he intervene?"
"Because people learn from their mistakes, Danger. Pain and failure are a natural part of life. It’s kind of like a parent who watches their child fall down while learning to walk. Instead of coddling the child, you set them back on their feet and let them try again. They have to stumble before they can run."
She shook her head in denial. It seemed callous to her. "I don’t know about that. It seems cruel to me. Most people get a little more injured than just a skinned knee."
"Life is cruel sometimes."
True. She knew that better than anyone. Her heart clenched as she saw the faces of her family.
They had been on their way to Germany when her husband’s garrison had overtaken them.
Danger closed her eyes as she saw that day so clearly in her mind.
"No, Michel! He is my father."
There had been no mercy on his face, no compassion in his steel-blue eyes. "He is an aristo. Death to them all."
"Then kill me too. I will not let you take them while I breathe."
And so he had shot her… straight in the heart that had loved him so dearly.
"Aristo whore," he had snarled as she lay dying while her father held her. "Death to you all."
The last sound she’d heard had been the shot that took her father’s life as well.
Anger and pain swelled inside her as those old memories coalesced with her rage over what would happen with Alexion. She still couldn’t believe she had learned to trust another man. But now that she had, she didn’t want to let him go.
"Do you really believe that we need to have our hearts ripped out?"
His answer was automatic. "A flower can’t grow without rain."
"Too much rain and it drowns."
"And yet the most beautiful of the lotus flowers are the ones that grow in the deepest mud."
She snorted at his words. "You’re not going to let me win this one, are you?"
"There’s nothing to win, Danger. As John Lennon once said, ‘life is what happens while you’re making other plans.’ It is messy and heartbreaking, but at the same time, it’s a thrill ride."
She shook her head. "It amazes me that you know so much about our culture and icons."
He shrugged. "I have a lot of time on my hands."
Danger felt for him. There were times when her life was monotonous… she could only imagine how more so his was. But since it was obvious that the two of them had differing views about how much strife humanity needed, she returned to their original topic.
"You know, I’ve always wanted to go in and see Elvis’s birthplace museum."
"Why haven’t you?"
"They close before dark. But they do have an Elvis Festival in June. That’s a lot of fun and there’s usually a Daimon or two in the crowd."
He laughed. "The way you say that it makes me wonder which part is business and which is pleasure."
She smiled. "I like being a superhero. Not many people are lucky enough to help others."
As she drove, Danger got a strange feeling. "Are we being watched again?"
Alexion shook his head. "I don’t know why, but Stryker seems to be on hiatus."
Still, her precognitive powers kept ringing, telling her something weird was going to happen.
It wasn’t until they reached her house that she understood why. In her driveway, waiting for them, was a black Aston Martin Vanquish.
That was a car she’d never seen in her neck of the woods before.
"What in the world is Viper doing here?" she asked.
Alexion frowned. Viper was a Dark-Hunter assigned to Memphis, Tennessee-two hours from Tupelo. "That’s a good question."
As Danger pulled in and parked beside the Aston Martin, a tall, handsome black-haired man got out of the car. Even though they were banned from sunlight, Viper still had an olive complexion that looked nicely bronzed-something he’d inherited from his mother’s Moorish background.
One of the original Thirteen of Glory who had gone with Pizarro to the Inca city of Tumbez, he’d come to America almost five hundred years ago in search of gold and fame. The Incas had written of Viper and his party, "These men were so bold that they did not fear dangerous things… the strangers traveled across the sea in large wooden houses."
To this day, Viper feared nothing.
Danger couldn’t imagine what had brought him so far from home. She’d only met him once in person, but had spoken with him online and over the phone a few times.
Like most Dark-Hunters, the Spaniard was dressed all in black. He had on a pair of pleated black slacks and a skin-tight T-shirt. His hair was short and stylishly trimmed. As he waited for them to leave the car, he pulled his sunglasses off and tossed them into his seat.
"Hola, Viper," she said in greeting as they left the car. "Como esta?"
He didn’t answer her. Instead, he headed straight for Alexion. Without a word, he buried his fist into Alexion’s stomach, then backhanded him.
"Stop!" Danger snapped as she ran to them.
Alexion straightened with a look on his face that threatened Viper’s life. For an instant, she half expected him to kill the Spaniard.
Luckily, his restraint held.
But when Viper moved to hit Alexion again, he was thrown back by nothing at all. Xirena came out from under Alexion’s sleeve in her shadow form as if ready to kill.
"No, Xirena," Alexion said forcefully. "It’s all right."