Amanda nodded. "Okay, I know where humans come from, what about the Apollites?"
"Aeons ago, Apollo and Zeus were walking through Thebes when all of a sudden Zeus declared the greatness of the human race. He called humans the ‘earthly pinnacle of perfection.’ Apollo scoffed and said there was a lot of improving to be done. He boasted that he could easily create a superior race. Zeus told him to prove it. So Apollo found a nymph who agreed to bear his children.
"In three days the first four Apollites were born. Three days after that, those children grew into adulthood, and three days later, they were ready to be rulers of the earth."
Amanda wiped her lips with her napkin. "So the Apollites are the children of Apollo. Gotcha. Now what makes some of them Daimons?"
"Would you wait? I’m the one telling this story," Julian said patiently in the voice she was sure he reserved for his college students. "Because the Apollites were so superior to humans in intellect, beauty, and strength, Zeus banished them to the island of Atlantis where he hoped they would stay peacefully. I don’t know if you’ve ever read Plato’s Dialogues-"
"No offense, but I spent my entire college career avoiding liberal arts courses."
Julian smiled. "Anyway, most of what Plato wrote about Atlantis is true. They were an aggressive race who wanted to dominate the earth, and ultimately Olympus, as well. Apollo didn’t mind since he would become the supreme god should they win."
Amanda knew where this was headed. "I’ll bet that made old Zeus happy."
"He was delighted," Julian said sarcastically. "But not half so much as the poor Greeks who were being hammered by the Apollites. Fed up with it, they realized they were fighting a lost cause. So they devised a scheme to seduce Apollo to their side. They chose the most beautiful woman ever born to them, Ryssa, to be his divine mistress."
"More beautiful than Helen of Troy?"
"This was a long time before Helen, and yes, accounts claimed she was by far the most beautiful woman ever born. Anyway, Apollo, being Apollo, couldn’t resist her. He fell in love with her and she ultimately bore him a son. When the Apollite queen heard of this, she became enraged and sent out a team of assassins to kill mother and child. The queen told her men to make it appear as if a wild animal had killed them so that Apollo wouldn’t retaliate against the Apollites."
Amanda whistled low as she guessed what happened after that. "Apollo found out."
"Yes, he did, and it got ugly. You see, Apollo is also the god of plagues. He destroyed Atlantis and would have destroyed every single Apollite as well had Artemis not stopped him."
"Why did she do that?"
"Because the Apollites are part of his flesh and blood. To destroy them would be to destroy him and the world as we know it."
"Oh," Amanda said, her eyes wide. "That’s a big, bad thing. Glad she stopped him."
"So were the rest of the pantheon. But still, Apollo wanted vengeance. He banished the Apollites from the sun so that he would never again have to see one of them and be reminded of their treachery. Since they had made it appear as if a wild beast had killed Ryssa, he gave them animal characteristics. Fangs, honed senses-"
"What about their strength and speed?"
"They already had that, along with psychic abilities that Apollo couldn’t take from them."
Amanda frowned at that. "I thought gods could do anything they wanted to. Isn’t that the point of being a god?"
"Not always. They have laws and such they abide by, same as us. But in the case of psychic powers, once that channel is opened, it can never be closed. That’s why Apollo didn’t take his gift of foresight from Cassandra when she spurned him, but rather made it so that no one would believe her prophecies."
"Ah, that makes sense." Amanda took a drink of her Coke. "Okay, so the Apollites are psychic and strong, and can’t come into contact with sunlight. What about drinking blood? Do they do that or not?"
"Yes, they drink blood, but only if it comes from another Apollite. In fact, because of Apollo’s curse, they have to feed from each other every few days or they die."
"Ew," she said, wrinkling her nose. "That’s nasty." She shivered at the thought of having to live that way. "Some of them do drink from humans, right?"
Julian hedged a bit. "Not exactly. If they turn Daimon, they will drain the blood from humans, but it’s not the blood they’re after so much as the human soul."
She arched a brow as a tingle went down her spine. Kyrian hadn’t been joking about that aspect of them. Great. "Why do they need to steal our souls?"
"Apollites only live thrice nine years. On their twenty-seventh birthday, they die a very slow and painful death in which their bodies literally disintegrate into dust over a twenty-four-hour period."
This time she cringed visibly at the thought. "How horrible. I guess the moral of this story is not to tick off the god of plagues."
"Yeah," Julian said grimly. "To avoid their fate, most Apollites kill themselves the day before their birthday. Others decide to go Daimon. As Daimons they cheat their sentence by taking human souls into their bodies. So long as they maintain the soul, they can live. But the problem is the human soul can’t live in an Apollite body and it starts to die almost as soon as they take it. As a result, the Daimons are forced to continue preying on humans every few weeks to sustain themselves."
Amanda couldn’t imagine how horrible it must be for the people killed by the Apollites-to lose both their life and their soul. "What happens to the souls that die?"
"They’re lost forever. That’s why we have Dark-Hunters. Their job is to try and find the Daimons and free the souls before they expire."
"And they volunteer for this?"
"No, rather they’re drafted."
Her frown deepened. "Drafted how?"
Julian took another drink of tea. His gaze fell to the floor and she saw a strange light in his eyes as if he were remembering something out of his own past. Something painful.
"When someone suffers a horrible injustice," he said, his tone low, "their soul makes a scream so loud that it resonates through the halls of Olympus. When Artemis hears it, she goes to the one who cried out and offers them a bargain. For a single Act of Vengeance against those who wronged them, they will swear allegiance to her and fight in her army against the Daimon predators."
Amanda breathed deeply as all the information swam in her head. "How do you know all this?"
Julian looked up and his gaze scorched her with its vivid intensity. "Because my soul made that sound the day my children died."
She swallowed at the hatred and pain she saw in his eyes. It was so raw, she hurt for him. "Did Artemis come to you and offer you the bargain?"
"Yes, and I refused her."
He looked away. "I needed vengeance against another god and I knew she couldn’t allow that."
Amanda knew the story of Julian’s entrapment inside the book all too well. But what interested her more was Kyrian. "Kyrian traded his soul for vengeance against his wife, didn’t he?"
He nodded. "But don’t judge him too harshly."
"I’m not," she said honestly. She didn’t know what Kyrian had been through, but until she did, there was no way she would hold his decision over his head.
"Tell me, Julian, is there any way for Dark-Hunters to get their souls back?"
"Yes, but almost no one succeeds, and each test is unique to every Dark-Hunter."
"Which means you can’t tell me how Kyrian might be freed."
"Which means I have no idea how he might be freed."
Amanda nodded until her thoughts went to another matter. "Do Dark-Hunters have to drink blood, too?"
"No. Since they began as humans, they don’t have to. Plus, if they had to worry about finding blood, it would interfere with their ability to track the Daimons."
"Then why do they have fangs?"
"In order to effectively track and kill the Daimons, they were given the same animal characteristics. The fangs are part and parcel of what goes with it."
That made sense to her. "Is that why the sunlight is deadly to Dark-Hunters too?"
"Sort of, but in the case of the Dark-Hunters it’s more a matter that they serve Artemis, the goddess of the moon, and are an anathema to Apollo."
"That doesn’t seem fair."
"The gods seldom are."
Hours later, Kyrian sat in his car, damning his treacherous thoughts.
He could still see Amanda. Hear the sound of her soft, gentle voice. Feel her body against his and her soft breast in his hand.
It had been so long since he’d wanted a woman like this. He thought he’d banished that part of himself the night he’d become a Dark-Hunter.
As the centuries passed, he’d felt only an occasional stirring for a woman, but he’d learned to control it. Learned to bury it.
Now those long-forgotten needs had been awakened by the touch of a temptress who was lethal to his well-being. Thoughts of her distracted him. Tormented him.
He wanted her in a way that bordered on desperate.
Why? What was it about her that he craved so much? He knew nothing about her except that she had a great sense of humor and held incredible grace under fire.
And yet he yearned for her as he had for no other woman. Not even his wife.
It made no sense.
Turning his car off, he got out and entered his house. He tossed the keys on the kitchen counter and paused. The house was completely silent except for a light, clicking noise coming from upstairs.
Kyrian walked through the dark rooms and up the ornate, mahogany staircase until he was upstairs, outside his office. Light spilled out from the closed door, across the Persian runner.
Silently, he turned the knob and opened the door.
"Nick, what the hell are you doing here?"
Cursing loudly, his Squire jumped out of his swivel desk chair.
Kyrian had to stifle a laugh at the sight of a six-foot-four human ready to kill him. Nick’s blue eyes snapped fire as his jaw, which was badly in need of a shave, twitched. Nick brushed his hand through his shoulder-length dark brown hair. "Jeez, Kyrian, would you learn to make some sound when you move? You scared the hell out of me."
Kyrian shrugged nonchalantly. "I thought you were going home early."
Nick righted the chair and returned to sit in it, then scooted it back under the desk. "I was, but I wanted to finish up the research into Desiderius for you."
Kyrian smiled. Nick Gautier might be a hotheaded, smart-mouthed pain in the ass most of the time, but he was always reliable. It was why Kyrian had chosen him to be a Squire and had initiated him into the realm of the Dark-Hunters. "Learn anything new?"
"You might say that. I’ve learned he’s about two hundred and fifty years old."
Amazed, Kyrian arched a brow. To his knowledge, no Daimon had ever lived so long. "How is that possible?"
"I don’t know. Dark-Hunters keep going after him and he keeps killing them. It seems your little Daimon friend likes to make you guys suffer." Nick returned to the computer. "There’s nothing in Acheron’s database about his exact modus operandi and when I talked to Ash earlier, he said he had no idea where Desiderius came from or who all of his targets have been. But we’re looking into it."
"Oh, by the way," Nick said, glancing over his shoulder, "you look like hell."
"Obviously so, since everyone I’ve seen tonight has said that to me."
Nick smiled until he saw what Kyrian was wearing. "Why aren’t you in your bad-ass, Daimon-killing clothes?"
Kyrian didn’t feel like going there. "Speaking of, I need you to buy me a new leather coat today."
Suspicion clouded Nick’s blue eyes. "Why?"
"The old one has a hole in the shoulder."
"I got attacked. Why else?"
Nick looked less than pleased by the news. "You okay?"
"Don’t I look okay?"
"No, you look like hell."
There was no hiding from Nick. "I’m fine. Now, why don’t you go on and sleep in one of the guest rooms? It’s four o’clock in the morning."
"I will in a little bit. I want to finish this up first. Besides, I’m in the middle of finding out what Sundown did to piss off Ash."
Kyrian heard the "uh-oh" sound that alerted Nick he had a new instant message on the computer. "Tell Jess to lay off taunting Ash before he gets toasted."
Nick frowned. "Jess?"
"Sundown’s real name is William Jessup Brady. I thought you knew that."
Nick laughed. "Hell no. But I know a few Squires who would pay me lots of money to learn that." His blue eyes turned speculative. "Rogue isn’t Rogue’s real name either, is it?"
"No. It’s Christopher ‘Kit’ Baughy."
Nick made a delighted noise. "Now that one is really worth some serious cash."
"No," Kyrian corrected. "It’s worth some serious ass-kicking if Rogue finds out you know it."