He cocked a single brow. "Really? And who has you so angry that you’re sending a demon for them?"
"What do you care?" She closed her eye and continued her chant.
If they’d had a loving relationship, Stryker might have left her to it. But he was far from a loving brother and she was ever his bane. Snapping his fingers, he made the light in the hall blinding. "If you want to kill someone, I know a few gallu demons who are dying to eat."
She let out a shrill scream before she opened her eyes and stood up from his throne, "Like they’d do anything I ask. You’re an idiot for allowing the gallu to stay here. It’s the same as sleeping with a pack of feral wolves at your feet. Sooner or later, they will attack and you’ll be dead."
As if he were afraid of some Sumerian castoffs. "Kessar and crew don’t frighten me." His sister’s insatiable ambition did. There was nothing she wouldn’t do to get what she wanted and he knew it. "Who Are you after?"
"Hades let that bastard Xypher out of his hole."
The name was vaguely familiar, but for his life, he couldn’t remember who it was. "Xypher?"
Satara rolled her eyes. "Oh, how could you forget him? He was the first Dream-Hunter I coaxed away from his duties and turned."
Stryker shook his head as he remembered the god who’d been a handful the instant he started sniffing around Satara’s heels. It’d taken a number of gods to run the bastard down and kill him. "Speaking of wolves at your throat. Did I not warn you about him?"
"Oh shut up."
Stryker rudely moved her aside so that he could take his seat on the throne. "You know, little sister, I’d be playing nice right now if I were you. After all, you’re the one in hiding … in my house."
"I’m not in hiding."
"No? Then why are you here? Shouldn’t you be on Olympus at the beck and call of Auntie Artemis?"
The fury in her eyes told him he’d struck a chord. Good. He lived to piss off people.
"Xypher has to be stopped. He will kill me if he has a chance."
"You think? You coaxed the man from his cushy god-life, caused him to be limited and then killed and tortured for eternity. I can’t imagine why he’s not bringing you roses and lasses."
She curled her lip at him. "Well, at least I didn’t slit open the throat of
my own son."
Stryker thrust his hand out and brought her into his grasp with his demigod powers. He tightened his hold on her throat until her eyes bulged and he felt her larynx start to crush. "Xypher isn’t the only man you should be afraid of." He shoved her away from him.
Satara caught herself and choked while she glared furiously. "I’ve given everything to you, Strykerius. I’ve spied for you and told you things no one else would. Now I ask for a modicum of protection and what do you do? Threaten me. Fine. I’ll leave, and when Xypher kills me, I hope you’ll think back on this and remember that you’re the only reason you’re alone in this world."
Stryker rubbed his brow, grateful he couldn’t get a headache from her whiny tirade, "Oh, stop the dramatics. I’ve never been one for the theater. You’re welcome to hide out here and release as many demons into the human world as you like, But before you completely annihilate my food source, might I offer a suggestion to you?"
Stryker manifested a set of golden bracelets in his hand-one of three pairs that had been uncovered just two years ago. One of his generals had found them and brought them to him, not knowing what they were.
But Stryker knew, and he was reserving one pair for a very special "friend."
He held the bracelets out to her.
Taking them, she grimaced as if they were made of coal and not Atlantean gold. "What do I do with these?"
He sighed in weariness. There were times when she was brilliant and other times when he had to lead her about as if she had the intellect of a five-year-old goat. "How do you kill a god?"
"You strip his powers."
He nodded approvingly. "If you can’t do that?"
"You seduce a Chthonian and tell them that the god attacked you then laugh while the Chthonian sucks the life out of him. But I don’t have time for that. Xypher is one step away from storming his way down here and killing me."
Stryker growled at her in irritation. "Stop thinking like a whore for a minute. The best way to take out an enemy is to attack his weakest point."
She put her hands on her hips. The bracelets dangled precariously from her right hand as if they were cheap knockoffs and not worth more than a human kingdom … or her life. "He doesn’t have one."
Stryker narrowed his eyes on the bracelets. "You put one of those on him and he will."
Finally interested in what he’d put in her hands, she inspected them. "What are you saying?"
"What I’m saying, Themis, is those little gold bracelets in your hands are his Achilles’ heel. Pass those along to one of my Spathi Daimons and have him secure one to Xypher and the other to a mortal and all your troubles are over."
She smiled as she finally Understood the significance of the bracelets. "They bind them . . . Kill the mortal and Xypher dies."
He inclined his head to her. "Even better than that, if the mortal gets more than twenty feet from him, the human dies . . . and so does he."
She laughed evilly before she approached his throne and kissed him on his cheek. "I knew I loved you for a reason."
Stryker wasn’t stupid enough to believe that for even a moment. His sister was incapable of loving anyone except herself. But he’d won her over as an ally for a few days more.
Satara tossed one bracelet up and caught it in her hands. "I can’t wait to see his face when he learns what these are." Then she vanished before Stryker could give her one more piece of advice.
"Choose your human wisely." The last thing she needed was to find one who actually knew how to fight them.
By the time Simone finished teaching her afternoon class and reached the alley, it was nearing dusk. There was an unseasonable biting chll to the breeze as she got out of her white Honda and stepped up on the curb. She pulled the collar of her wool coat up higher on her neck and shivered. She never liked approaching crime scenes, especially after they’d been cleared. Right now, there was nothing to mark this as a place of violence. It looked like all the other alleys in town.
That was what disturbed her most.
Gloria’s life had ended abruptly right here and only Gloria and her family would ever know it. Hundreds of people would wall; right past this spot without being aware of the fact that one young woman had been dumped here like so much rubbish. The thought of it made her livid and it reminded her of her own mother.
"You okay?" Jesse asked.
"Yeah. Bad chicken at lunch."
"You ate a ham and cheese sandwich."
"Oh, shush, smarty-pants. Stop being so attentive." She reached into her purse and pulled out a pair of latex gloves just in case she might find something. It would also protect her from any stray genus that might be lingering. That was one thing she continually limped on with her students. Any clothes worn to a crime scene should be tie ate d as biohazard. In the last few years she’d brought home more contagion than she even wanted to think about and that alone made her glad she lived alone. The last thing she wanted was to make a significant other ill.
She opened her trunk and tossed her purse inside before she pulled out her ME toolbox that contained everything she’d need to preserve any evidence that might have been overlooked by the police.
Gloria cocked her head as she stared into the alley.
Simone’s stomach tightened in sympathy. "You remember something?"
"There was a weird growling …" Her voice was quiet. Distant.
Gloria nodded. "It was deep and feral, but not really like an animal."
"Was it like this?" Jesse made an inhuman ghost noise.
Gloria scowled at him. "That sounds like Darth Vader choking on a chicken bone. No."
He passed an indignant glare to Simone as she burst out laughing. "Well, it did."
"Fine, see if I help anymore."
Simone shook her head at him before she pulled out her flashlight and headed to the area where she’d seen the body photographed. There were buildings on three sides and a glitter in the center. The walkway all around was broken up. Typical alley with a lot of sheet traffic around it. Not to mention, anyone in the buildings could easily look out the window and see right where they were standing.
It made her wonder if there’d been a witness who’d seen the killer . .
She glanced over to where Jesse was doing the Michael Jackson Moonwalk while he surveyed the alley and street. All the boy needed was a red leather jacket with gold studs and a sequined glove.
"Excuse me, Mr. Thriller or Beat It or whatever video you’re sadly reliving … Is it just me or is this area way too exposed for this to be a Daimon attack?"
After giving her a hate fill glare, Jesse agreed, "There’s too much movement around here and they wouldn’t have minded a little blood on the ground. Them bastards are sloppy eaters."
"Yeah, that’s what I’m dunking, too. I believe Tate had it right when he said she died somewhere else. But the claw marks on her neck . . . that’s not human. If not a Daimon, what killed her?"
"Excuse me, people," Gloria snapped. "I happen to be standing right here. Do you mind?"
Simone cringed at her insensitivity. Normally she was much more care fill around her spirits. "Sorry."
Jesse approached Gloria. "But you remember being here, right?"
Gloria nodded. "I heard the noise and then tried to cross the street to get away from it."
"Good," Simone prompted. "You remember anything else?"
Gloria shook her head. "I really don’t think I’m dead. I mean, I know you went through me with your hand earlier, but I remember this movie I saw with Reese Witherspoon-"
"Just like Heaven," Simone supplied.
"Yeah, that was it. Even one thought Reese was a ghost, but she was just in a coma. Maybe that’s me."
Simone really wished that were the case. She looked at Jesse, hoping he could help her make Gloria comprehend that this was final and there wasn’t any coming back from it no matter how much they all wished otherwise.
He gave Gloria an understanding smile. "I know how you feel. That disbelief that keeps telling you it’s a dream, but you have to face the fact that you’re not in a coma."
Simone sighed as she skimmed the empty alley. There was only a piece of paper and a crushed Starbucks cup. Nothing else.
"I really don’t see anything helpful," she said to the ghosts. "The police must have gotten everything. Let’s head back to Tate and see what his people have unearthed."
As she took a step toward her car, she heard a tsking sound behind them that sent chills over her. No one had been there before . . .
"Surely you don’t want to be leaving us so soon. After all, we just got here . . . and we’re looking for a good bite to eat."
Simone tinned her flashlight on the man speaking. Collection, it wasn’t a man. It was a Daimon. And he wasn’t alone.
Jesse’s cheeks paled. Not that, as a ghost, he had much color to begin with, so whenever he lost what little he had, it scared her.
He gave her a cheesy grin. "Looks like I was wrong about the Daimons choosing this spot, hull?"
Simone stepped back. "Yeah, Jess, bad call."
The Daimon turned toward Jesse and smiled. "How thoughtful. We have three for the price of one, guys. Guess Apollo is in a good mood tonight."
As the Daimons made a move for Gloria, Simone pulled her stun gun from her pocket and rushed them. There was no way she was going to let them hurt the poor ghost. "Stay away from her!"
The first Daimon dodged the electric prongs that flew from the stun gun toward him, and knocked her back. Before she could counter attack, he had the stun gun out of her hand. "Don’t be jealous, baby. We’ll get to you in a jiffy."
"Jiffy?" The malevolent, mocking tone sent a shiver down her spine. "What land of pathetic wuss uses the word ‘jiffy’?"
Simone froze at the voice that was so deep she felt it resonate inside her bones.
Out of the darkness moved a shadow so large, it dwarfed her. An instant later, the Daimon went flying over her head to slam into the wall next to Jesse. The Daimon hit it so hard, she was amazed he didn’t splatter like a bug. And he was quickly joined by another Daimon who landed on top of him.
"Open the portal," the stranger growled at the third Daimon he now held in his fist.
"I ain’t opening shit."
The Daimon joined the other two.
The shadow bore down on her like a mountain. Sinister. Angry. Cold. Determined.
She shone the light on him and felt her breath leave her in one sudden gasp. Easily over six feet tall, he had long, black hair that was tousled around Features as perfect as any actor she’d ever seen and eyes so blue they all but glowed in the darkness. He had his jaw set as if he were attempting to keep his fury leashed, and failing miserably. Every surew of his body rippled like a feral beast on the prowl. He was seduction and he was death.