The demon glared at Viper, who crossed himself. "What are you?" he asked, his tone threatening.
"She’s a demon," Danger explained. "And what the hell are you doing? Why did you attack him?"
Viper turned on her with a glare. "He killed Euphemia tonight."
Danger covered her mouth at the mention of the Greek slave woman who was stationed in Memphis with Viper. Euphemia was a beautiful blond woman who’d been viciously funny and smart.
"Efie’s dead?" Alexion asked. "When?"
Viper’s hate-filled gaze narrowed on him. "Don’t play stupid with me. Stryker has told me all about you." He turned on her with a curled lip. "And you’re helping him."
"Yes, I’m helping him because he’s not killing anyone. Stryker is."
But Viper wasn’t listening. He tried again to reach Alexion, but Xirena went after him with a hiss.
"Xirena, return to me."
The demon now hissed at Alexion. She looked less than pleased before she returned to shadow form and drifted back beneath his clothes.
Danger cocked her brow. That was an interesting talent.
"You know I didn’t kill her," Alexion said in a calm voice to Viper. "You’re upset and you want to blame someone, I respect that. But you know Danger would never be a part of hurting another Dark-Hunter."
She saw the anguish in Viper’s eyes. The grief. He’d known Euphemia a long time and this was obviously killing him emotionally. "They cut her head off."
Danger pulled him into her arms to offer him comfort. "I’m so sorry, Viper. I am."
His arms were tense around her as his grief reached out to her and brought tears to her eyes. "How could they do that to her?"
Danger didn’t understand it. She never had. "I don’t know."
Alexion moved to stand within striking distance. "Do you really believe we’re responsible, Viper? Honestly?"
She could see the indecision on his face as he pulled away. He cut a venomous look at her. "Danger, tell me the truth. Did you have anything to do with this?"
She knew he knew the answer to that. But she could understand and respect his need for confirmation. No doubt he felt betrayed enough. "When did Efie die?"
"Three hours ago."
Danger reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out her receipt for the restaurant and the movie stubs. "As you can see, we were here in town the whole time. There’s no way we could have been in Memphis."
He looked at the tickets and nodded. "Then Stryker is lying to us. Why?"
"He’s a Daimon," she said simply. "He wants us all dead."
Viper shook his head. "I’ve known Kyros for centuries. I trusted him."
"Kyros isn’t thinking straight right now," Danger said. "But we have all got to get our heads on straight or we’ll lose them."
He nodded. "I didn’t believe them when they started their crap. Ash has been too helpful to me over the years. I don’t often misjudge someone."
"And you didn’t," Alexion said.
Tears brightened Viper’s eyes as a muscle worked in his lean jaw. "Efie didn’t deserve what she got. Man, it’s a waste of a good woman." His agonized gaze came back to hers. "I want the ones who are responsible. I want to feel their blood on my hands."
"We’ll get them," Danger assured him.
Viper looked at Alexion. "I’m sorry I attacked you."
Alexion shrugged it off. "It’s understandable, given the circumstances, and forgiven."
Danger offered him a smile. That was part of why she loved him so. He understood people in a way few did.
Viper took a deep breath as he looked Alexion over. "I only have one question. If you’re not Ash’s destroyer, why are you here?"
Alexion’s answer was dry and sarcastic. "To make friends and influence people."
Viper frowned as Danger laughed.
"The influencing people is true," Alexion said stoically. "But I really don’t care about friends. What I do care about are the Dark-Hunters. Kyros and Stryker are right about-"
Danger cleared her throat, interrupting him as she recognized from previous Dark-Hunter encounters where this particular speech was heading: disaster.
Alexion might understand people’s emotions and actions, but he didn’t know how to talk to them. "Did we not have a discussion about the ‘or else’ bit?" she asked him.
He gave her a peeved stare. "Okay, then what do you suggest I say?"
She patted him playfully on the stomach. "Watch and learn." She turned toward Viper. "How long have you known Ash?"
"Like you, since the night I was made a Dark-Hunter."
She nodded. "Right, and what did Ash tell you the night you met him?"
Viper fell silent for a minute as if he were reliving the event in his head. "Basically, he said that he was there to show me how to survive."
"Right. And if he meant that then why would he send someone out to kill you now?"
She saw the truth in Viper’s eyes as he realized it. "He wouldn’t."
"No, he wouldn’t." She touched his arm sympathetically. "Don’t feel bad. I forgot that part myself, but that is the spiel Ash gives every Dark-Hunter when he first meets them. Then he spends the next few weeks teaching us how to fight and how to live. More than that, we get all the money we can spend, great homes, and servants. If we were just his expendable pawns, in his army, why take such good care of us?"
Viper laughed darkly at that. "You’re right. I gave my loyalty, blood, and sweat to the Spanish armada and they didn’t give a damn what I ate or where I slept. And my pay stunk."
"The only Dark-Hunters I have ever killed were the ones who preyed on humans," Alexion said emphatically. "That is the only thing Acheron will not stand for. And it’s the reason I’m sent in. If you’re willing to leave the humans alone and let bygones be bygones, so is Acheron. You can go home in peace. But if you think that he’s lying to you and that you can do whatever you want to the humans without fear of retribution, then you go home in pieces."
Danger saw Viper’s eyes flash at the threat. She half expected him to attack Alexion again.
To her relief, he didn’t.
After a few tense seconds, Viper stepped back. "Kyros is calling together the Dark-Hunters in the area the night after tomorrow. He says he has something to show us about Acheron that will prove his guilt above everything else…" He looked at Alexion. "I won’t be there."
Danger smiled. "Good man."
"I try most nights." Viper inclined his head to them. "I better go. We’re now short one DH in Memphis, and Danger is draining the shit out of my powers. Not to mention, the last thing I need is to breeze the dawn."
She nodded. "Vaya con Dios, Sebastian," she said, using Viper’s real name.
"Hasta la vista, frances." He looked at Alexion. "Y tu, weirdo."
Alexion laughed. "Adios, mi amigo."
Danger watched as Viper returned to his car. As he drove away, a deep sadness claimed her.
Euphemia was dead…
The pain of the thought ached deep inside her. "How many more Dark-Hunters are they going to kill?"
Alexion came to her and held her close. "It’ll be all right."
"Will it?" She held on to him as morbid thoughts and grief for her comrades poured through her. "What bothers me most is that they got to her in Memphis. How could Stryker attack there and be here to-"
"Bolt-hole," Alexion said, interrupting her. "He can command them any place and any time. One minute he can be here at your house and in the next, Moscow."
"Then how do we stop him?"
He gave her a tough stare. "You don’t. That’s my job."
"And if you fail?"
"Not an option. We’ll get him. I promise."
And yet even as he said those words, Danger had an awful premonition that they wouldn’t. She felt something cold and sinister deep down inside.
Good didn’t always win. She knew that better than anyone.
Ash paced the floor of his throne room restlessly. His emotions in turmoil, he tried to block out the images that haunted him.
"I will not interfere." It was a mantra he’d been chanting all day, and yet how could he not?
The lives and well-being of people he cared about hung in the balance.
He held his hand out and the monitors on his left flashed images of his human life. The horror of it all. The humiliation. The pain and terror. And all because two women had sought to "save" him.
He wouldn’t do that to Ias. To interfere with fate or human free will…
It was disastrous.
The monitors went blank and he froze as he heard a voice in his head that he wasn’t expecting. "Savitar?"
"How many people you got in this head of yours that you have to ask that question?"
He laughed at the man’s dry humor. Savitar knew better than anyone else exactly how many voices Acheron heard at any given time.
An eerie blue mist hissed in front of him. Two seconds later, it coalesced into a man who stood almost even in height to him. Only Savitar would dare enter his domain without an invitation… well, he and Artemis, but Artemis was a whole other nightmare.
Physically appearing around the age of thirty, Savitar stood before him with a wry grin and his arms crossed over his chest. Dressed in a pair of white beach pants and a short-sleeved blue shirt that was worn over a white T-shirt, he looked nothing like what he really was. Nothing like a being who held the wisdom of the ages and enough power to give Ash a good run for his money. Then again, Savitar might actually be even more powerful.
There was only one way to know for sure, but Ash respected him too much to find out.
Lean and muscular, Savitar hadn’t changed much since the day they’d first crossed paths-except for his wardrobe, but Ash’s had changed a lot more.
Colorful tattoos covered Savitar’s forearms. His wavy black hair hung just past his ears, and he wore it in a casual, easy style. His eyes were a vibrant shade of lavender. Those eyes were timeless, powerful, and even a little corrupt.
No, they were a lot corrupt.
Ash was never sure which side Savitar would fall on. Only Savitar knew that one and he didn’t always share it.
"How’s Simi?" Savitar asked.
Ash pulled a corner of his formesta back to show him Simi’s tattoo. "Fine. She’s resting now. I kept her out too late."
"You shouldn’t abuse your demon so. She needs her rest."
Ash ignored his comment. They both knew he would never really abuse Simi.
Savitar walked around the room, his gaze seeking out every corner and crevice. "Very sterile place you have here."
"I’m sure yours is a study in hedonism."
Savitar laughed, then sobered. "You can’t go to them, Atlantean. If you do you will kill Stryker."
Ash closed his eyes, wishing he could see his own future as easily as Savitar did. But at least Savitar was willing to share his visions for once. "Are you sure?"
"As sure as I’m standing here." Savitar flashed from before the throne to stand directly behind Ash’s back. "Maybe I’m not there after all."
Ash immediately turned around so that Savitar wasn’t at his back-more than anyone, Savitar knew how much he hated for anyone to come up behind him. "Don’t push me, Savitar," he growled. "I’ve long ceased being a neophyte."
"No, you’re not. But if you want to attack me, so be it. I can’t interfere with your free will any more than you can interfere with theirs."
Savitar held his hand up and spread out his fingers. Colors danced and swirled in vibrant patterns in the air around it. They danced around his fingers. "Everything in the universe is changing right now. Realigning. But then you know that. I know you can feel it."
Ash ground his teeth as pain swept through him. He knew exactly why the universe was still shifting to accommodate what never should have happened. "I made a mistake."
Ash nodded. "I cursed him to die and I altered numerous other lives in the process. Lives of people I love."
Savitar gave him a hard stare. "And now you know why I love no one. Why I never have and never will." He lowered his voice. "Heed my words well, little brother. Love only destroys."
Ash refused to believe it. He knew better. "Love saves."
Savitar scoffed. "Love has destroyed you how many times now?"
Ash smiled bitterly at those memories. "That wasn’t love. It was stupidity."
"You still haven’t learned your lesson, Atlantean. So long as you feel like a human and love, you are crippled. That is why, eleven thousand years later, the Greek bitch still has her claws into you. Scrape her off and seize your destiny."
"No," Ash said emphatically. "My compassion is what keeps me from doing something even more imbecilic. Without it… You don’t want to live in the world that would exist if I ever seized my destiny."
"Are you so sure?"
No, he wasn’t. Savitar could be brutal and callous at times. "Love is always salvation."
"Then you can keep it. I have better things to do than pace a room, debating what to do." His form started to fade.