"Yes, but you were the one who invented the whole war between him and his supposed mother. I think Apollymi would be highly offended to learn that you dared to say she had birthed one of Artemis’s servants."
The smile froze on Stryker’s face. Little did Trates know, that was exactly what he suspected. Although Apollymi refused to admit it, he had begun thinking she was Acheron’s mother the night Urian had died. Why else would Apollymi forbid him from killing Artemis’s servant?
Artemis held Acheron’s soul. Acheron was sworn to her service and spent all of his time fighting the very beings who served Apollymi. Given the Destroyer’s profound hatred of Artemis, it would seem only natural that they would be sent out to kill Artemis’s favorite boy toy.
And yet the only time one of Stryker’s Daimons had hurt Acheron, Apollymi had viciously gone after all of those responsible. Even now his people lived in fear of reawakening her wrath. Not that he blamed them. Apollymi, much like him, lived for brutality.
Of course, he had no real proof of his suspicion where Acheron was concerned. Not yet. But if he was right and Acheron was Apollymi’s lost son, then Stryker would have the power to finally destroy the ancient Atlantean goddess. With her gone, he would rule Kalosis and all the Daimons who made this realm their home.
He would have unrivaled power. There would be no one to stop him from enslaving the humans.
The world of man would be his…
He could already taste the sweetness of victory.
"Apollymi isn’t to learn of this," Stryker said sternly to Trates. "I will tell her about the Dark-Hunter insurrection after they are all dead."
Trates frowned. "Why wouldn’t you tell her now?"
He feigned nonchalance. "She has her mind on other matters. I think this should be a surprise for her, don’t you?"
His minion paled at the thought. "The goddess doesn’t like surprises. She was rather upset with us over the ‘surprise’ destruction in New Orleans."
That was true enough. Stryker had sent in his Spathi Daimons and they had wrought terror for a few weeks, only to have Acheron save the pitiful humans in the end. Damn him. He’d cost Stryker many a good Daimon that night, including Desiderius. But it wasn’t the destruction that had made Apollymi angry, it’d been Desiderius’s attack on Acheron she reacted to.
But Trates didn’t know that. Only Stryker knew the real source of Apollymi’s anger.
"Yes, but she’s calmed down and is now quite content again."
Trates looked less than convinced as he returned the sfora to its gilded stand. "So what are your orders?"
"For now, we continue to play nice with the Dark-Hunters. Let them see our good side."
"We have good sides?"
Stryker laughed. "No, but as you said, the Dark-Hunters are too stupid to see otherwise. They will believe our lies for now and allow some of our newer members to hone their skills."
Trates nodded, then took a step back as if to leave.
"There is a new priority though."
Trates paused to look back at him. "And that is?"
"Kill the Alexion."
Trates looked startled by the order, but he quickly recovered himself. "How?"
A slow smile spread across Stryker’s face. "There are two ways. We can either make him kill himself or we let the Charontes do it."
Neither method would be easy. And he could tell by Trates’s expression that his second-in-command was weighing both courses of action with equal trepidation.
"How do we get the Charontes to kill him?" Trates asked.
"That’s the tricky part, isn’t it?"
Stryker considered his options. Unless he could get Apollymi to cooperate with him by allowing one or two of her pets to leave the Atlantean hell realm that made up their home, there was no way to get them to the Alexion. That would be damn near impossible. The Destroyer seldom allowed her Charontes out of Kalosis.
Then again, there were some of the Charontes who held no love whatsoever for the goddess who controlled them. Some who might be willing to do his bidding for a chance to be free…
Trates didn’t even acknowledge that option. "How can you make someone kill himself?"
Stryker gave a short laugh at that. "Normally, you would have to destroy their will to live. Or give them a damn good reason to die."
Trates looked even more confused. "What could make an Alexion want to die?"
"Kyriay ypochrosi," Stryker said, using the Atlantean term for "noble obligation." "He is as soulless as the Dark-Hunters he protects. If you inject a strong soul into a Dark-Hunter, it will take him over, but if you inject a weak one…"
"He will hear it begging for mercy."
Stryker nodded. That was the hardest part about turning Daimon and it was one of the reasons why they avoided weak souls. The constant whining for compassion was enough to drive even the strongest of them to madness.
But his people had a slight cushion; they still possessed their own souls that could silence the whine. Alexion and the Dark-Hunters didn’t. They had nothing inside to overcome and quell the invading soul.
Nothing to absorb the new life force.
The pathetic cries would incapacitate the Alexion, who would have no choice except to either kill himself to free the soul or condemn that soul to die.
If nothing else, it would be an interesting experiment.
Would the Alexion stand by and let the soul die or would he end his own life to save an innocent?
Danger stood in the hallway of her house, watching Alexion who was in her kitchen. She’d excused herself to go to the bathroom-not that she had to go so much as she just needed a break from the intensity of his presence. And to be alone while she sorted through all the information he’d dumped on her.
She didn’t know what to believe and she hated that feeling of insecurity. All her life, she’d prided herself on being able to strip back the bull to see the truth.
But when it came to this…
She didn’t know who or what was right. From what she’d seen of Alexion, she didn’t doubt that he could kill her if he wanted to; that he could kill all of them. So far, he’d refrained from doing either, which added some credibility to his story that he was there to protect them.
Damn, I really hate indecision.
Should I run to warn the others or stay and keep an eye on him?
There was no easy answer.
Rubbing her hand across her face, she paused as Alexion picked up the large Hershey chocolate bar from her counter and sniffed it. He ran his hand over the edge of the brown wrapper as if he’d never seen one before. Then he traced the edges of the chocolate through the wrapper as if he enjoyed the tactile sensation of it.
Danger cocked her head, puzzled by his actions. She loved chocolate as much as the next person, but she’d never before molested a bar of it. Something about his caress reminded her of a lover’s touch and it made him seem strangely vulnerable.
Yeah… she was losing it.
"Should I leave the two of you alone?"
He looked up as if startled by her question, but made no comment about her sarcasm. "What does chocolate taste like?"
Her frown deepened at his unexpected question. "Open it and see for yourself."
He sighed heavily before he set it aside. "It wouldn’t do me any good."
"I can’t taste anything."
That surprised her. She couldn’t imagine going without her tastebuds. God knows, she certainly got a great deal of pleasure from eating Hershey’s and other things that would most likely harden every artery in her body if she were still human. "Absolutely nothing?"
He shook his head as he looked back at the Hershey’s bar. "I know Simi likes to eat chocolate. She talks about it all the time, but she’s never brought any home for me to see. She only eats barbecue and popcorn around me, which she says is very tasty and really salty."
If she didn’t know better, she’d swear he became instantly uncomfortable, as if he’d slipped up by mentioning the name. Without answering her, he picked up her coffee can and smelled it too. She could tell that was about as productive to him as eating the chocolate he couldn’t taste.
Which made her wonder about something really important. "So if you can’t taste food, what do you live on? Blood? Souls?"
He gave her a bored look as he pushed the can back into place. "I told you, I’m not a Daimon."
"Yeah, but when I stabbed you, you poofed like a Daimon. You’re blond and you don’t eat food-"
"I’m not a Daimon," he repeated.
"Uh-huh, ever heard the saying that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck-"
"It’s not a Daimon."
Well, he was quick with that one. She had to give him credit there. "Then what do you eat?"
He gave her an intense, hot once-over. "Woman al dente."
Danger’s jaw dropped at his unexpected vulgarity. She made a disgusted face at him. "That was uncalled for."
"Then stop asking me questions."
Charm was most definitely not his forte. But then he didn’t really need it. There was such a deep sadness in his eyes that it actually made her ache for him in spite of her common sense, which said she should stake him again… just for good measure.
She moved closer to him so that she could study the handsome lines of his face.
His features were perfect. Manly. The dark blond brows were arched perfectly over those eerie eyes of his. His cheekbones were high and dusted with a hint of stubble. It was the kind of stubble that made a woman want to stand up on her tiptoes and nibble it until her lips were raw from it.
It was then that she realized something…
Alexion, unlike her and the rest of the Dark-Hunters, didn’t have fangs.
How could that be?
But at least it marked the Daimon question firmly off the list. No full-blooded Daimon could live without feeding.
"What are you?" she asked. "Really?"
He looked at her as if the question bored him "We’ve already had this discussion."
Yeah, but they’d never finished it. "You have asked me to trust you. Fine. I’m willing to give it a go. But if I do, then I deserve the same amount of respect in return." She gave him a meaningful stare. "Trust me with the truth of you."
She saw the debate flashing across his green eyes before he finally responded. "Let us just say that I am ‘other.’ I’m truly unique in this world. I’m not a human. I’m not a Dark-Hunter and I’m not a Daimon or Apollite. I’m just me. Plain and simple."
She fought the urge to laugh at that last statement. There was nothing plain or simple about this man.
His gaze narrowed on her and a deep-seated hunger sparked in his eyes. He moved his hand toward her face.
Danger instinctively moved her head away.
His eyes continued to burn her with the intensity of his powerful stare. "Would you let me touch your cheek, Danger?"
She would have said no had it not been for the peculiar note in his voice. If she didn’t know better, she’d swear it was one born of needful longing. "Why do you want to?"
He dropped his hand and looked away as if trying to banish a nightmare. "Because I live in a place where there is no human to touch. I miss the warmth of a woman’s skin. The softness." He closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath. "The heady, feminine scent that is unique to all women. You’ve no idea what it’s like to crave human contact to the point that it permeates your entire being with a need so strong that at times it makes you wonder if you’ve gone mad and that your whole life is nothing but a f**ked-up delusion brought on by the insanity."
Now that was a scary, intense thought. So much so that she had to force herself not to back away from a man who made Norman Bates seem normal. All he needed was Mother in the rocker.
Good thing she wasn’t blond and preferred a bath to a shower…
You’re rambling, Danger.
You think? I got a lunatic in my house sent to me by Ash. Thank you, Ash. Any other loons you want to offload on me? And I thought my aunt Morganette was insane. At least she only thought her cat was Uncle Etienne who she kept dressed in breeches and knee coat. That was almost cute, but this…
Oh, yeah, send me the straitjacket, Ash. You owe it to me.
Yet even in the midst of her mental rant, something he’d said struck her and calmed her down a degree. "What do you mean that you live someplace where there aren’t any humans?"
His eyes were an almost normal shade of hazel. "In a realm far away from here."
"Is that like in Star Wars? A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away? Want to tell me where your Tatooine is located? Is it anywhere in this universe? Near Toledo maybe? The one in Ohio or Spain? I’m not picky. Can I MapQuest it?"
Alexion laughed bitterly. "You know the biggest difference between men and women? Whenever I was sent to a male Dark-Hunter, he never asked me any questions. I simply told him that I’d been sent by Acheron and he either accepted it or tried to kill me. If he accepted it, then he went about his life as if I weren’t there, but you… you want to know every little detail of my life and being."
She gave him a miffed stare. "Gee, you think? Here’s an interesting tidbit about me. I don’t let strangers into my house. Ever. So if you expect to sleep here, then you owe me some answers about who and what you are. Now let’s get back to this realm thing where you live. What is it?"