The demoness had taken refuge in one of her sanctuaries centuries ago, before Apollo had cursed the Apollite race. At first Artemis had wanted to turn her out, but sympathy for the woman had swayed her. She, too, had been betrayed by men, and at the time Zephyra had begged her for shelter Artemis had been angry at Apollo and had wanted to strike back at her arrogant brother. In a rare moment of sympathy, she’d allowed Zephyra to stay in Greece.
Little had she known how beneficial that decision would one day be.
"Zephyra?" she said, summoning the woman to her.
She instantly appeared in the room.
Where Artemis was extremely tall, Zephyra was petite. Even so, her preternatural powers gave her an advantage over any except those who were divinity. Her long blond hair was braided down her back, and to the uninformed she looked like any twenty-seven-year-old woman and not the eleven-thousand-year-old warrior she was.
She lowered her head respectfully. "My goddess?"
Artemis narrowed her gaze on the smaller woman. "I have a mission for you. One I think you’ll enjoy."
"And that is?"
Lifting her chin, Zephyra’s black eyes widened. "The son of Apollo?"
He was also the man who had betrayed Zephyra centuries before. And while he was Artemis’ nephew by blood, she had no more love for him than he had for her. The two of them had battled too long and too hard for there to be anything other than hatred in their hearts.
It was time to finish it and him. "Yes."
Zephyra’s obsidian eyes glowed with relish. "Show me where he is, goddess, and I will make you proud."
STRYKER HELD THE BOLT HOLES OPEN, CALLING out to his Daimons the world over to summon them to Kalosis. Apollymi thought he did it in accordance with her orders to protect Acheron. The truth was Stryker intended to use them as pawns to get at Nick and Acheron. If nothing else, they’d keep the two of them occupied while War slit their throats.
Blood for blood.
Nick had killed Stryker’s beloved sister and Acheron had to die because it wasn’t in Stryker’s nature to let that bastard win after all these centuries. Apollymi had destroyed him. It was only fair he return the favor to her. She had taken Stryker’s son. Stryker would take hers.
Another flash of light denoted a new arrival. Stryker waited to see the mettle of this Daimon recruit. As typical, the Daimon landed flat on his back with a loud, "Oof!" Then the man actually whimpered like a child as he writhed on the floor, whining over his pain. "I think I broke my arm."
Stryker let out a long, agitated breath. He missed the old days when the Daimons and Apollites were warriors. When they would appear in his hall on their feet, ready to battle. These new generations were almost as pathetically weak as the humans they fed on.
It was a supermarket world with a supermarket mentality. Since mankind no longer trained for war and huddled together in cities where loose morals made them easy pickings, today’s Daimons didn’t have to fight for food. All they had to do was stroll into any bar or nightclub, find a drunk woman or man, and take them outside to rip their stupidly willing soul out of their body to feed themselves. There was no fighting. No coaxing.
Fast food even for them.
The only challenge they had left was avoiding the Dark-Hunters and Acheron in particular.
It was why Stryker had trea sured his sister so much. Aggravating to the extreme, Satara had always been plotting something. Always trying to betray someone or screw them over. Even him. It had kept him on his toes and sharpened his skills.
Now he would grow as worthless as all the others.
Weary of their weakness, he turned to find Kessar approaching his throne. A Sumerian gallu demon, Kessar looked more like a human fashion model than the lethal killer he was. Even his brown hair was swept back from his red eyes in a manner so perfect he could run for po liti cal office. His features were finely boned and as razor sharp as the demon’s cruelty. Like Stryker, the demon used his good looks to his advantage whenever he stalked human prey.
Human women were weak. Susceptible. They would do anything for the attention of a handsome man. Gods, how he loved the weak-minded. They all deserved the painful deaths they got.
He looked over at Kessar. "If you want to make that one your lunch, I won’t stop you."
A slow smile spread over Kessar’s face before he flashed across the room, grabbed the Daimon up from the floor, and ripped out his throat.
Survival of the fittest. Stryker’s people had been very Spartan in their beliefs. If you weren’t fit to fight, you weren’t fit to live. Simple and perfect. Just like Stryker’s new plan.
Kessar cursed as the Daimon he’d tried to feed on evaporated into dust. "I hate that gritty taste between my fangs-like feeding in a sandstorm. Not enough blood in the world to clear the palate after that."
Stryker shrugged. "It’s what you get for being greedy. You know what happens when you kill one of us. You should have just drunk his blood and left him breathing."
Kessar spat on the floor. "You’re in a foul mood. Someone piss in your blood?"
Before he could answer, the light flashed again. Stryker ground his teeth in expectation of the next round of Weak and Pathetic Losers.
At least that was what he thought until the blur of black landed on the floor in a deadly crouch. He could barely make out the fact that she was female before she attacked him with a ferocity and vigor that would have made a rabid tiger proud. Her first kick knocked him out of his seat. He barely had time to grab her wrist before she decapitated him with the oversized dagger in her hand.
She head-butted him hard, knocking him back. Stryker shook his head to clear it. She shoved him into the wall. He caught her arms and rolled with her, throwing her away from him.
Exposing his fangs, he was just about to rip her throat out when his swirling silver gaze locked with her black one.
In that one instant, he was taken back eleven thousand years ago to the day they first met. The sea air had been blowing her blond curls around her delicate face. Slender and small, she’d been as beautiful as a goddess.
And when he’d reached for her, she’d turned on him with a curse more foul than any man’s as she’d kneed him in the groin for daring to touch her without an invitation.
Which she again tried to do. But this time he was expecting it. He barely moved out of the way of her knee as emotions tore through him. Happiness. Anger. Joy. Confusion.
All these centuries he’d assumed her dead.
He could barely get his bearings over the reality of her being alive and well. She’d survived Apollo’s curse and managed to live out eternity . . . just like him.
"What are you doing here?"
She answered his question with a stroke of her dagger that narrowly missed his throat. "I thought we’d catch up on old times. Maybe play Parcheesi."
Stryker caught her arm and spun with her, pinning her to the wall again. He tightened his grip until she was forced to drop her dagger. Closing one hand around her neck, he held her in place. "I can think of much better games to play." He was about to say, Strip Poker, when something hit him hard across his back, knocking him away from Zephyra.
He turned with a feral growl on his new attacker, intending to kill whoever was dumb enough to interfere with him, then froze as shock riveted him to the spot. It was an exact duplicate of Zephyra. Same blond curls. Same black eyes. Same height and weight.
He would think her a twin sister, except that he knew for a fact Zephyra was an only child.
"Get your filthy hands off my mother."
"MOTHER," STRYKER REPEATED UNDER HIS breath an instant before Kessar grabbed Zephyra’s daughter. The demon opened his lips to taste her throat. Stryker barely had time to call out to the demon before he killed her. "Stop!"
The demon’s red eyes flared bright before he curled his lip and released her with a snarl. "Let them tear into you then. Not like I give a shit if you live or die."
Zephyra ran at Stryker, drawing a hilt that she extended to a sword to stab him. Stryker took a step back as he used his powers to manifest a sword of his own. He caught her blade with his. The sound of steel rang out, echoing through the room as she met him stroke for stroke. Every parry, every thrust. She was there as if she knew exactly what he was going to do.
Stryker smiled. It’d been too long since he’d fought someone other than Acheron who could match his skills. Yet here she was, the daughter of a peasant, fighting with the expertise of a trained soldier. He wondered who had taught her so well. "I always knew you were good at handling a man’s sword, love, but I had no idea that extended to those made of steel, too."
She growled an instant before she kicked at him, catching him in the side.
Stryker grunted at the pain that simple move caused. But to be fair, she held her temper.
"At least this sword doesn’t disappoint. I don’t have to worry about it going soft on me."
"I never went soft on you."
She rolled her eyes as she blocked his slice. "Trust me, baby, you weren’t that good. I was just a better actress than you were actor."
"Ew!" her daughter groaned as she gave them more room to fight. "No offense, Mum, I don’t want to know who you’ve slept with. Kill the sexual bantering and him before I go deaf from it."
Zephyra’s eyes darkened as one side of her mouth quirked up into an evil smile. "You shouldn’t be so prudish, Medea. After all, you’ve always wanted to meet your father. Happy Birthday, baby. Sorry the reunion’s so short. But trust me, he’s no loss."
Stryker staggered under the weight of the news. His attention deflected from the fight, he glanced at his daughter and her startled expression to take in the subtle differences in her features from her mother’s. That lapse cost him, as Zephyra stabbed him straight in his chest, narrowly missing his Daimon’s mark. . . . Had she been a single millimeter up, he would have burst into dust.
As it was, it hurt like hell.
"Stop!" Medea cried as she ran at her mother and pulled her back.
Stryker cursed as he covered the wound with his hand and tensed against the pain.
Zephyra shoved Medea away, moving back toward him. He brought the sword up, ready to fight. Medea shot between them again and forced her mother back.
"Is he really my father?"
Zephyra threw the sword at him. Stryker quickly moved out of the way. He felt the heat of the blade as it skimmed his cheek to bury itself in the wall behind him.
Furious, he went at her.
Medea turned on him with an expression so purely Urian that it stunned him completely.
Urian. His most trea sured child. The one son who’d meant everything to him, and in that moment he knew that Zephyra wasn’t lying.
Medea was his.
That one reality slammed into him and almost drove him to his knees. He had a daughter and she was alive. . . .
Medea swallowed as she studied him. "Are you Strykerius? The son of Apollo?"
She started for him only to have her mother grab her arm and pull her to a stop. "Don’t you dare embrace him. Not after he left us for dead."
"I never!" he snarled. "You’re the one who lied and told me you’d lost the baby."
"Because I didn’t want to tie you to me. I wanted you to stay because you loved me. But I alone wasn’t good enough for you, was I? You went belly-crawling to your father and for what? So he could curse everyone who held a drop of Apollite blood in their veins? I told you then your father didn’t give a damn about you. You should have listened to me."
She’d been right, but that didn’t excuse her lie. Her betrayal was every bit as great as his father’s.
"You kicked me out."
She rolled her eyes. "You were always such an idiot."
Kessar laughed out loud. "Finally, someone who agrees with me."
Stryker glared at the demon, whose presence he’d completely forgotten about. "Why are you still here?"
"The entertainment value of this is beyond mea sure. I’ve never seen a man get his ass kicked so badly by a mere woman." He’d barely finished the words before Medea slung her arm out. Something black flew from her hand and it wasn’t until it wrapped itself around Kessar’s throat and dropped him to the floor that Stryker realized what it was.
Asfyxen. Reminiscent of a bolo, it was much smaller and much deadlier.
Medea stalked toward the demon with a warrior’s lope. She snatched one of the golf-sized black balls and pulled the demon toward her while he choked and gasped, trying to loosen the wire that was strangling him. "Never underestimate a woman, demon. In this world, we rule."
Stryker felt a chill go down his spine. She was Urian . . .
He couldn’t be prouder.
Shoving Kessar back, she jerked the wire free with a graceful arc. "Next time, think before you lose your head."
Kessar’s eyes glowed with his fury. "You and me, little girl, are going to dance again. One day soon."
She tucked the asfyxen back down her sleeve. "I’ll bring the music."
Medea turned back to face them with a satisfied smile.
Stryker hid his amusement. "You do know he is the most dangerous of his kind."