Ren inclined his head to him. "Good, ’cause you’re the only reason I’m here, and I’d hate to think I uprooted myself needlessly." When Jess had been transferred out here a few weeks back, Ren asked to come, too. "Don’t make me have to spirit-walk to cut your throat."
Jess snorted at the threat. "Got to say, dying would really wreck my best day. Been there, done that, and now that I think about it, Artemis forgot to give me the T-shirt."
Ren rolled his eyes. "You’re psychotic."
"And we’re down a Hunter, so we need to get patrolling before the Daimons start feeding."
Ren waved his hand in front of him and spoke a blessing in his native tongue.
Jess didn’t understand it, but he appreciated the gesture. "Same to you, di-na-da-nv-tli." And with that, he started for the infamous strip, which was teeming with clueless tourists just waiting to become a walking Happy Meal for a Daimon.
Jess kept his pace leisurely as he used every sense he had to feel for any unnatural predator that was out and about. There was a strange vibe to the city, and it made him wonder about the depletion of the DH here.
The owner of the Ishtar Casino, Sin, he discounted from that list. Sin had fallen in love with one of Artemis’s handmaidens and been redeemed from their service. So his was a happy exodus.
Lionel, Renee, and Pavel had all died over the last few months. Supposedly by bad luck. Lionel and Renee by not making it home before dawn. Pavel had been decapitated in a freak car wreck. At least, that was the official story.
After what Andy and Ren had said, Jess now wondered how accurate that was.
Two other Dark-Hunters had been moved in to replace those killed in action. Syra, who was better known as Yukon Jane, and Rogue, an Englishman whose proper speech belied his extremely psychotic ways. That boy definitely wasn’t right.
Made him wonder who they’d move in to replace Lionel.
Guess I’ll find out.
A pretty blonde walked past him on the street with a come-follow-me-cowboy look that grabbed his attention away from that line of thought. He let out a slow appreciative breath at the sass in her walk. He’d always been a sucker for a woman who knew how to handle herself and, more to the point, handle a man who was aching for her.
She smiled at him over her shoulder.
You got work to do, boy.
Yeah, but she was delectable.
Work, Jess. If Andy’s right, there’s a killer on the loose, and you need to find it and stop it.
He actually whimpered at the fact that he couldn’t follow after the blonde. In Reno, doable. Here …
Too many Daimons.
Yet another reason they needed killing.
Sighing, he crossed Spring Mountain Road, heading north on Vegas Boulevard. He’d just passed the entrance to Neiman Marcus at the Fashion Show Mall and was nearing The Cloud when that familiar tingle went down his spine. One that was unmistakable.
There were Daimons nearby.
But where? People were all over the place. Hard to pinpoint a Daimon in a crowd this size. Not to mention the bright lights, even with his opaque sunglasses on, were hard on his light-sensitive Dark-Hunter eyes. Since Dark-Hunters were created long before the modern lightbulb, Artemis had given them incredible night vision that really hated anything bright. It was downright painful.
Closing his eyes, he focused his other senses. At first he was overwhelmed by everything he heard. But after a few seconds, it settled down so that he could pinpoint what he needed.
They were in the underground parking lot on his left.
Jess headed for it, making sure to keep himself away from any street cameras that the police might use for surveillance-that was one thing Rogue was the best at, since he’d come over from England, where their streets had more cameras than a fully stocked mega Best Buy store.
He ducked into the lot that was full of cars and vacant of people. At first he didn’t hear anything more, and then …
To his right.
Pulling out his daggers, he kept them in his sleeves, just in case he happened upon someone who wouldn’t understand why a tall, dark-haired man wearing really dark sunglasses and unseasonably warm clothing would be armed to his fangs. Really, Officer, I was trying to protect humanity by killing these things that suck human souls out to live past their twenty-seventh birthday just didn’t cut it. Why no one would believe that, he couldn’t imagine. Really, the audacity of modern courts and judges.
Jess came to an abrupt stop as he found something even more grisly than he’d expected.
There were four Daimons on the ground, literally feasting on what must be a demon of some kind. At first glance, it appeared human. But there was no missing the odd skin tone, slightly off from normal, and the smell of it.
That body wasn’t human.
One of the Daimons looked up at him as if he’d sensed Jess’s presence. "Dark-Hunter," he growled.
Now, normally, Daimons would do that and run away. That had been the standard operating procedure for the last 139 years.
These didn’t run.
Well, not true. They ran toward him. Last time that had happened was his brief stint up in Fairbanks, Alaska, with Syra and a couple of others. And that hadn’t gone so well for him. It was even worse for the other Dark-Hunters who had died there.
Jess caught the first one to reach him. He kicked the Daimon back and plunged his dagger straight into the Daimon’s heart.
It didn’t explode.
It just pissed the Daimon off.
Aw, now, wait a minute….
"What the-?" His words ended as the Daimon picked him up and threw him against the far wall, where he slammed hard against the concrete. Pain exploded through his body. Been a while since he hurt this much. It brought back many an unhappy memory.
Still, he didn’t take a lickin’ and not give one back. No, sir. After flipping to his feet, he shrugged his coat off in one fluid movement and ran for his attacker.
Don’t let them bite you."
Jess glanced over to where Sin had joined the fight. Almost a head taller, Sin wore his black hair cropped short. Dressed in black like Ren-something they all did, since it helped camouflage bloodstains they might collect in fights, and face it, it was a lot easier to look badass in black than in baby doll pink-Sin tossed him a new weapon, which was similar to a small scimitar.
He caught it just as the Daimon realized what was going on. The Daimon’s eyes widened at the sight of the weapon. Now, that was what he was used to.
Well, really fear, but he’d take it.
Sin flipped the Daimon nearest him flat onto his back and, in one swift stroke, beheaded him. He met Jess’s gaze. "Now you know how to kill them."
"Whatever you do, Jess, don’t let even one of them escape."
Jess didn’t. Of course, it took a little running, a near miss getting beheaded himself by a low-lying parking deck beam, couple of bruised ribs ’cause Daimons knew how to give a kick that counted, and more acrobatics than a man his age should be capable of, but he ran down the last one and made sure the Daimon took no more human lives.
Panting and sweating, he stood over the grisly body with a puzzled frown.
Sin grinned as he joined him. "That, I have to say, was highly impressive. You run like a jackrabbit. Too bad you were born before football. You, my friend, would have gone pro." He raked a hard stare over Jess’s body. "They didn’t bite you, did they?"
"Nothing not a willing female bites me, and definitely nothing without an explicit invitation." Jess indicated the body with a jerk of his chin. "Care to tell me why they’re still here?" The one thing you could always count on with Daimons was the fact that they were self-cleaning. Kill one, and it exploded into dust. They didn’t normally lie on the floor in a pool of blood, looking all grisly and nasty like that.
Sin kicked at the body. "Guess these haven’t reached Reno yet."
"Daimons who walk in daylight."
Ah, hell no …
This couldn’t be good. "Come again?"
"We had a little bit of a problem here a couple of years ago. There was a hive of gallu demons who were preying on the tourists. I don’t suppose you know what a gallu is."
"I’m a gunfighter, Jim, not a demonologist."
Sin moved past him so that he could burn the body on the ground. "Nice Bones impression. Roddenberry would be proud." He jerked his chin toward the burning body. "Gallus are my pantheon’s contribution to the nightmare list. Vicious and amoral, they don’t care who they kill, and they are virtually indestructible."
"You have no idea. I had them contained here for a while. Unfortunately, they escaped."
That figured, and it was just like he feared. Suck City Limits was looming in the headlights. He should have known better than to take a detour from Normality. "So how many are running around now?"
"You miss the point, Dark-Hunter. They’re not just here anymore, and they’re spreading. Unlike a Daimon, one bite, and you become their slave. They can make more of themselves. That was bad enough. Then the Daimons realized they can feed on the gallu."
Jess shook his head. "Why do I have a feeling this is really about to piss me off?"
"Because it is. Once the Daimons feed on a gallu, they become immortal and absorb the demon’s essence and powers into their bodies. As I said, Daimons can then walk in daylight, and the only way to kill them is to behead and burn them."
"And one bite, and I’m their slave?"
Jess cursed. "And who thought this would be a good idea?"
Sin held his hand up. "Don’t get me started. There are idiots in all pantheons. Some days, I think the Sumerians had more than their fair share, and I only hope the idiocy is congenital and not something contracted later in life. Otherwise, I’m even more screwed." He accelerated the burning of the body. "But back to what needs to concern us most. So far the outbreaks have been containable."
That was one way of looking at it, he supposed.
"You know it might help if you’d actually told all of us about them before we run across them. Had you not shown up just now, I’d have been locked in a useless game of Whac-a-Mole, trying to kill them with a knife through the heart. I could have been gallu Daimon kibble. Really not cool, Sin."
"Hey, I just found out about these earlier today, and I was going to tell you about them."
"When? After they bit me and turned me into a Dark-Hunter gallu zombie?" Now, there was a horror movie in the making. He just didn’t want to be the star of it.
Sin narrowed an angry gaze on him. "You left before I got down to you."
"I’m not that psychic, amigo. How was I supposed to know you wanted to talk to me?"
Sin scowled. "Didn’t the valet tell you to wait?"
It was Sin’s turn to curse.
Obviously the Apollite hadn’t been as friendly as he pretended. Jess tsked. "That’s what you get for living with your enemies, Slim. Notice they don’t flinch from stabbing you in the back."
"Neither do friends."
Jess grimaced at the touche. "Now, that’s just cold, Sin. True," he admitted, "but cold."
"Yeah, well, I was trying to get your attention on the street. It’s why I followed you down here. I wanted to warn you about them before you got into a fight with one."
That gave him pause. "You were following me?" And he didn’t know it?
Jess frowned at that. "Why didn’t I sense you?"
"Maybe the blonde distracted you."
It didn’t work that way. Never once had he failed to notice someone on his tail. Unless … "What are you?"
Jess raked a look over him, trying to find something to confirm his suspicion. "You can’t be human, and I know you’re not a Daimon or Apollite." Daimons, unless they partook of Clairol, were blond with lighter skin than Sin had. "You’re no longer a Dark-Hunter, so…"
Sin gave a wicked half smile. "You’re right. I’m none of those."
"What, then? Are you a god?"
Sin’s smile went full blown. "Remember, Ray, whenever someone asks you if you’re a god, the correct answer is always yes."
Jess snorted. "I saw that movie, and I think you misquoted it."
"The sentiment’s the same."
Which meant Sin wouldn’t answer. Fine. Jess wouldn’t press the issue. He more than understood wanting to keep some things to oneself.
"Did you tell Ren about them?" Jess asked.
"Yeah. I caught him when I came down, then I went for you."
Thank God for that. He glanced at the scorched stain on the pavement that was the only thing left of the Daimons. He met Sin’s gaze. "I appreciate the assist. And I have another question. Since I can’t throw flames out of my hands like you did a minute ago, how do I dispose of these new Daimons we’re fighting after I kill them?"
"We haven’t worked out the kinks quite yet. But if you drop one, call me and I’ll send out a cleanup team."
Jess shook his head. "Damn, you really can get anything in Vegas."
Sin laughed. "You have no idea."
No, but Jess was beginning to.
"Since you have so many of the enemy working in your casino … Have you heard of a human working with Daimons to kill Dark-Hunters?"