Ash opened the door to the small, cramped cell where Thanatos was kept.
Part of him wanted the man's blood for Bjorn's life, which Thanatos had taken, and for the people he had hurt. Most of all, he wanted his blood for Simi and her newfound fear.
But part of him understood why Thanatos had gone mad.
He too possessed a degree of insanity. It was what had kept him alive these last eleven thousand years.
Thanatos looked up as he entered, his face pale and tormented. "Who are you?"
Ash stepped aside so that the light from outside could illuminate the poor man on the floor. "Just call me the final fate. I've come to you to grant you peace, little brother."
"You're going to kill me?"
Ash shook his head as he reached down and pulled his dagger from the sheath at Thanatos's waist. He held it up and looked at the ancient etchings that covered the blade. Like all Atlantean daggers, this one was wavy from the hilt to the point. The cross hilt was solid gold and held a large ruby at its center.
It was the dagger of a long dead people who were more myth than real. Such a treasure as this was beyond value.
In the hands of the wrong person this weapon could do more than just hurt Simi. It could destroy the very world.
A surge of rage tore through him. At times, it was next to impossible not to kill Artemis.
But that wasn't his place. Like it or not, he was here to protect her, even from her own stupidity.
Ash summoned his Atlantean powers and used them to dissolve the dagger into nothingness.
No one would ever hurt his Simi again.
And no one would destroy the world. Not while he was here to guard it.
He extended his hand to Thanatos. "Stand up, Callyx. I have a choice for you."
"How do you know my name?"
Ash waited until he had taken his hand before he pulled him to his feet and answered his question. "I know everything about you and I'm very sorry for what you lost. I'm even sorrier that I couldn't stop it."
"It was the Thanatos powers, wasn't it?" he said quietly. "The other Thanatos killed my wife, not Zarek."
Ash nodded. He had tried to erase Callyx's memory all those centuries before, but Artemis had returned the memory to the Apollite so that she could turn him into her servant.
"The humans have an old saying. Absolute power destroys absolutely."
"No," Callyx whispered. "Absolute vengeance does that."
Ash was glad to see some clarity had come to the Apollite while he'd been banished to this nether hell.
"You said you had a choice for me?" Callyx asked hesitantly.
"I have worked a bargain so that you can either be set loose in the Elysian Fields for your eternal rest or I can place you alive at your current age in Cincinnati, Ohio."
Callyx frowned. "What is Cincinnati, Ohio?"
"It's a nice city in a country called America."
"Why would I want to go there?"
"Because there's a sophomore student at Ohio State University who's majoring in dance that I think you might want to meet." Ash opened his hand and showed him a picture of the girl. She was lovely, with long blond hair and big blue eyes, and stood in a circle of friends after class.
"Dirce," Callyx breathed, his voice breaking on her name.
"Actually, she's now Allison Grant. A human woman."
Callyx's eyes were tortured as he met Ash's gaze. "But I would be an Apollite, damned to die in just a few years."
He shook his head slightly. "If you choose to be with her, you'll be human, too. You won't remember anything about being Callyx or Thanatos. In your world there won't be any such thing as Daimons or Apollites. No Dark-Hunters or ancient gods. You'll be completely ignorant of all this."
"Then how will I find her if I don't remember who I am?"
Ash closed his hand so that Dirce was no longer visible. "I will make sure you find her. I swear it. You'll be a student there yourself."
"You'll be an orphan whose rich uncle Ash died and made you the sole heir to his estate. Neither one of you will ever want for anything as long as you live."
Callyx's lips trembled. "You would do that for me even though I killed one of your men?"
Ash's jaw flexed at the mention of Bjorn. "Forgiveness is the better part of valor."
"I always thought it was 'discretion.'"
Ash shook his head. "Discretion is easy. It's finding the courage to forgive yourself and others that is hard."
Callyx thought about that in silence for several minutes. "You're a wise man."
Ash gave a half-laugh at that. "Not really. So, have you decided?"
Callyx's gaze burned into his before he spoke the answer Ash knew he would. "There's no choice. How can I know paradise without Dirce? I want to go to Cincinnati."
"I thought you might feel that way."
Stepping back, Ash granted Callyx his wish.
Alone in Thanatos's cell, Ash glanced around the dark, dank walls and fought down his own demons. Artemis had had no right to condemn him to this.
One day she was going to get her comeuppance.
But first there was the matter of Dionysus to attend to. The next time the god of wine wanted to let loose one of Artemis's pets on Ash's men, he would think twice.
He also had a few other people to take care of. There was still the small matter of deleting from Jess, Syra, and the Squires the information about the bow-and-arrow mark.
No doubt he should delete it from Zarek as well, but he'd done enough damage to him.
Zarek wouldn't tell anyone and he had more important things to occupy himself with.
Besides, if everything turned out the way Ash knew it would, Zarek would learn a lot more interesting things about him and the Dark-Hunters than just the secret of their mark.
Artemis sat alone on her throne, toying with her pillows. Acheron had been gone a long time now and she was beginning to worry.
He couldn't leave Olympus, but he could do other things...
Things that could get her into a great deal of trouble if Zeus ever learned of them.
Maybe she had been foolish to let him have an afternoon of freedom on her mountain.
Just as she was ready to go find him, the doors of her temple opened.
She smiled at the sight of Acheron striding through them.
Her Acheron was gorgeous.
His long blond hair flowed around his shoulders and the black leather pants hugged a body that had been created for seduction. A body made to please others.
The doors closed behind him.
Her body warm, she pushed herself up in sweet expectation. She recognized the feral look in his eyes.
The raw, unadulterated hunger.
Desire flowed thick and heavy through her veins as she felt the moisture suddenly pooling between her legs.
This was the Acheron she loved best.
The predator. The one who took what he wanted and didn't negotiate.
His clothes dissolved from his body as he neared her.
So did her own.
She shivered at the magnitude of his powers. Powers that made a mockery of hers.
He'd gone too long without feeding. They both knew it. Whenever he reached a certain point, his compassion died and he became amoral and unfeeling.
He'd reached that point.
She moaned as he grabbed her and pulled her close to his hard, muscular body. His erection burned against her hip.
"What do you want, Acheron?" she asked, but her breathlessness betrayed her affected nonchalance.
His hot gaze swept her naked body, making her burn even more. "You know what I want," he said hoarsely in Atlantean. "After all I'm the top of the Food Chain and you... you're the Food."
His eyes flashed to red as he parted her thighs.
Artemis groaned and came as soon as he masterfully entered her. Her head swimming, she held him close, running her hands over his smooth, muscled back as he thrust himself deep inside her over and over again in a pounding rhythm that made her dizzy.
Yes, this was what she wanted. This was the Acheron she had fallen in love with. The man she would defy even the very gods to keep.
The man for whom she had broken every rule so that she could bind him to her forever.
He made love to her furiously, his hunger building and firing her own.
Artemis leaned her head to the side waiting for what she knew was coming.
Acheron's eyes swirled like red fire an instant before he lowered himself and sank his teeth into her neck so that he could feed from her.
Artemis cried out as they came in unison. As his powers coursed through her, blinding her to everything except the powerful feel of him inside her.
She could pretend to rule him all she wanted to, but at the end of the day she knew the truth.
He ruled her.
And she hated him for that.