"Tell me of these new Dark-Hunters," he said. "Why did you create them?"
"I told you, you need help."
He curled his lip in anger. "I need no such thing."
"I and the other Greek gods disagree."
"Artemis . . ." he growled her name, knowing she was lying about this. He was more than able to control and kill the Daimons who preyed on the humans. "I swear . . ."
He clenched his teeth as he thought about the first days of his new life. He’d had no one to show him the way. No one to explain to him what he needed to do.
How to live.
The new ones would be lost without a teacher. Confused. Worst of all, they were vulnerable until they learned to use their powers and there was no way Savitar would teach them.
"Where are they?"
"Waiting in Falossos. They hide in a cave that keeps them from the sunlight. But they’re not sure what they should do or how to find the Daimons. They are men in need of leadership."
Acheron didn’t want to do this. He didn’t want to lead anyone any more than he wanted to follow someone else’s orders. He didn’t want to deal with other people at all.
He’d never wanted anything in his life except to be left alone.
The thought of interacting with others . . .
It made his blood run cold.
Half tempted to go his own way, Acheron knew he couldn’t. If he didn’t train the men how to fight and kill the Daimons, they would end up dead. Dead without a soul was a very bad existence. He, of all men, knew that one.
"Fine," he said. "I’ll train them."
Acheron flashed from her temple back to Simi and ordered her to stay put a little longer. The demon would only complicate an already complicated matter.
Once he was sure she would stay, he teleported to Falossos.
He found the three men huddled in the darkness just as Artemis had said. They were talking quietly among themselves, grouped around a small fire for warmth and yet their eyes watered from the brightness of the flames.
Their eyes were no longer human and could no longer take the brightness that came from any source of light.
He had much to teach them.
Acheron moved forward, out of the shadows.
"Who are you?" the tallest one asked as soon as he saw him. The man was no doubt a Dorian with long black hair. He was tall, powerfully built, and still dressed in battle armor that was in bad need of care and repair.
The men with him were blond Greeks. Their armor was no better than the first man’s. The youngest of them had a hole in the center of his breastplate where he’d been stabbed through his heart with a javelin.
These men could never go out and mix with living people dressed like this. Each of them needed care. Rest.
Acheron lowered the cowl to his black chiton and eyed each man in turn.
As they noted the swirling silver color of his eyes, the men paled.
"Are you a god?" the tallest one asked. "We were told a god would kill us if we were in their presence."
"I’m Acheron Parthenopaeus," he said quietly. "Artemis sent me to train you."
"I am Callabrax of Likonos," the tallest said. He indicated the man to his right. "Kyros of Seklos." Then the youngest of their group, "and Ias of Groesia."
Ias stood back, his dark eyes hollow. Acheron could hear the man’s thoughts as clearly as if they were in his own mind. The man’s pain reached out to him, making his own stomach tighten in sympathy.
"How long has it been since you men were created?" Acheron asked them.
"A few weeks for me," Kyros said.
Callabrax nodded. "I was created about the same time."
Acheron looked to Ias.
"Two days ago," he said, his voice empty.
"He’s still sick from the conversion," Kyros supplied. "It was almost a week before I could . . . adjust."
Acheron stifled the urge to laugh bitterly. It was a good word for it.
"Have you killed any Daimons yet?" he asked them.
"We tried," Callabrax said, "but they are very different from killing soldiers. Stronger. Faster. They don’t die easily. We already lost two men to them."
Acheron winced at the thought of two unprepared men going up against the Daimons and the horrific existence that awaited them when they’d died without souls.
It was followed by the memory of his first fight . . .
He blocked the thought out of his mind. Though Takeshi had been a great teacher, he’d never fought a Daimon. And the one thing Acheron had learned was that both he and Savitar had failed to tell him everything. Those first years had been hard and brutal.
"Have the three of you eaten tonight?"
"Then follow me outside and I’ll teach what you need to know to kill the Daimons."
Acheron worked with them until it was almost dawn. He shared with them everything he could for one night. Taught them new tactics. Where and how the Daimons were most vulnerable.
At the end of the night, he left them to their cave.
"I shall find you a better place to hide in daylight," he promised them.
"I’m a Dorian," Callabrax said proudly. "I require nothing more than what I have."
"But we’re not," Kyros said. "A bed would be most welcomed to me and Ias. A bath even more so."
Acheron inclined his head, then motioned for Ias to join him outside.
He stood back as Ias left the cave first, then directed him away from the others’ hearing.
"You want to see your wife again," Acheron said quietly.
He looked up, startled. "How do you know that?"
Acheron didn’t answer. Even as a human, he’d hated personal questions as they most often led him into conversations he didn’t want to have. Pricked at memories he wanted to keep buried.
Closing his eyes, Acheron let his mind wander out, through the cosmos until he found the woman who haunted Ias’s mind.
She was a beautiful woman, with hair as black as a raven’s wing. Eyes as clear and blue as the open sea.
No wonder Ias missed her.
The woman was currently on her knees, weeping. "Please," she begged to the gods. "Please return my love to me. Please let my children have their father home."
Acheron felt sympathy for her at the sight and sound of her fears. No one had told her yet what’d happened. She was praying for the welfare of a man who was no longer with her.
It haunted him.
"I understand your sadness," he said to Ias. "But you can’t let them know you live now in this form. Humans will fear you if you return home. Try to kill you."
Ias’s eyes welled with tears and when he spoke, his fangs cut his lips. "Liora has no one else to care for her. She was an orphan and my brother was killed the day before I was. There is no one to provide for my children."
"You can’t go back."
"Why not?" Ias asked angrily. "Artemis said that I could have my vengeance on the man who killed me and then I would be alive to serve her. She said nothing about my not being able to go home."
Acheron tightened his grip on his staff. "Ias, think for a moment. You are no longer human. How do you think your village would react if you returned home with fangs and black eyes? You can’t venture out into daylight. Your allegiance is to all mankind, not just to your family. No one can meet the obligations of both. You can’t ever go back."
The man’s lips quivered, but he nodded in understanding. "I save the humans while my innocent family is cast out to starve with no one to protect them. So, that was my bargain."
Acheron looked away as his heart ached for the man and his family.
"Go inside with the others," Acheron said.
He watched Ias return while he thought over the man’s words. He couldn’t leave it like this.
Acheron could function alone, but the others . . .
Closing his eyes, he willed himself back to Artemis.
This time when her women opened their mouths to scream, Artemis froze their vocal cords. "Leave us," she commanded them.
The women rushed for the door as fast as they could, then slammed it shut behind them.
As soon as they were alone, Artemis smiled at him. "You are back. I didn’t expect to see you so soon."
"Don’t, Artemis," he said, curbing her playfulness before she started with it. "I’m basically back to yell at you."
"How dare you lie to those men to get them into your service."
"I never lie."
He arched a brow.
Looking instantly uncomfortable, she cleared her throat and leaned back into her throne. "You were different and I didn’t lie. I merely forgot to mention a few things."
"That is semantics, Artemis, and this isn’t about me. This is about what you’ve done to them. You can’t leave those poor bastards out there like you have."
"Why not? You’ve survived quite well on your own."
"I was never the same as they and well you know it. I had nothing in my life to go back to. No family, no friends."
"I take exception to that. What was I?"
"A mistake that I’ve been lamenting for the last two thousand years."
Her face flushed. She came off her throne and descended two stairs to stand before him. "How dare you speak to me that way!"
Acheron whipped his cloak off and tossed it and his staff angrily into a corner. "Kill me for it, Artemis. Go right ahead. Do us both a favor and put me out of my misery."
She tried to slap him, but he caught her hand in his and stared down into her eyes.
Artemis saw the hatred in Acheron’s gaze, the scathing condemnation. Their angry breaths mingled and the air around them snapped furiously as their powers clashed.
But it wasn’t his fury she wanted.
No, never his fury . . .
Her gaze drifted over him. Over the perfect sculpted planes of his face, his high cheekbones, his long, aquiline nose. The blackness of his hair.
The eerie mercury of his eyes.
There had never been a god or mortal born who could equal his physical perfection.
It wasn’t just his beauty that drew people to him. It wasn’t his beauty that drew her to him.
He possessed a raw, rare kind of masculine charisma. Power. Strength. Charm. Intelligence. Determination.
To look at him was to want him.
To see him was to ache to touch him.
He had been built to please, and trained to pleasure. Everything about him from the sleek muscles that rippled to the deep, erotic timbre in his voice seduced anyone who came into contact with him. Like a lethal wild animal, he moved with a primal promise of danger and masculine power. With the promise of supreme sexual fulfillment.
They were promises he delivered well on.
In all eternity, he was the only man who had made her weak. The only man she’d ever loved.
He had the power in him to kill her. They both knew it. And she found the fact that he didn’t intriguing and provocative.
Seductive and erotic.
Swallowing, she remembered him as he had been when they first met. The strength of him. The passion. Defiantly, he’d stood in her temple and laughed when she threatened to kill him.
There before her statue, he had dared do what no man before or since had ever dared . . .
She could still taste that kiss.
Unlike other men, he had never feared her. Now, the heat of his hand on her flesh seared her, but then his touch always had. There was nothing more she craved than the taste of his lips. The fire of his passion.
And with one mistake, she’d lost him.
Artemis wanted to weep with the hopelessness of it all. She’d tried once, long ago, to turn back the hands of time and redo that morning.
To win back Acheron’s love and trust.
The Fates had punished her severely for the audacity.
For the last two thousand years, she’d tried everything to bring him back to her side. Nothing had worked. Nothing had ever come close to making him forgive her or to journey back to her temple.
Not until she thought of the one thing he could never say no to-a mortal soul in jeopardy.
Acheron would do anything to save the humans. Her plan to make him responsible for the Dark-Hunters she’d created with his resurrection powers had worked and now he was back.
If she could just keep him.
"You want me to release them?" she asked.
For him, she would do anything.
For her, he would do nothing. Not unless she forced him to it.
"What will you do for me, Acheron? You know the rules of the gods. A favor requires a favor."
He released her with an angry curse and stepped back from her. "I’ve learned better than to play this game with you."
Artemis shrugged with a nonchalance she didn’t feel. At this moment everything she cared about was on the line.
If he said no, it would destroy her.
"Fine, they will continue on as Dark-Hunters then. Alone with no one to teach them what they need to know. No one to care what becomes of them."
He released a long, tired breath.
She wanted to comfort him, but knew he would reject her touch. He’d always rejected comfort or solace. He was stronger than anyone had a right to be.
When he met her gaze, it sent a raw, sensual shiver over her." If they are to serve you and the gods, Artemis, they have things they need."