Simone turned around to look out the shop windows. Sure enough, there were four men who appeared ready to fight outside on the sidewalk, staling in. Though to be honest, they didn't look like demons to her. Tall and lean, they were rather handsome. Dressed in jeans and leather jackets, they had sunglasses to shield their eyes and didn't appear any older than their late twenties, early thirties.
"Maybe they're customers."
Liza snorted. "For a doll store? Yes, I can just see them now ... I'll take the frilly pink baby doll." She patted Simone's shoulder. "No, lion. They're not customers. They're demons being repelled by the salt I use to keep the riffraff out of my shop." She let out a long sigh before she moved to her counter. She put on her glasses, then pulled out a small weapon that looked like a hand-sized crossbow. "You know how to use this?" she asked Xypher.
"Good. Give me back the amulet for safekeeping."
He obliged without another word.
Liza put it around her neck. "Now, wait here a second. There's something else you can use."
Simone was shocked. She'd known Liza was a Squire and a little odd, but she was seeing a whole new side to the tiny woman. Liza was fearless.
A second later, Liza returned with a gold broadsword. "This one's easy to use. The pointy end goes into their body."
"Thanks," he said dryly, "I'd hate to get that confused."
"Yes, you would, sweetie. Now, go kick some demon ass."
Simone arched a brow at that. "You know, the police station is only a couple of blocks down. Isn't this dangerous? What if they see the fight?"
Xypher snorted. "They won't live long enough to call it in."
Simone was horrified by his dry tone. "You can't kill them, Xypher."
"I won't have to. Demons will do it for me. Now, if you'll move closer to the door, I've got some fighting to do."
Simone followed him to the entrance and held her breath as he walked out into the street to face them.
The tallest demon moved forward. His brown hair was laced with blond highlights. He had a goatee and crystal blue eyes. Dressed in a pair of jeans and a brown leather jacket, he'd look like just another guy on the street to any casual observer. As would the other three. Like the tall one, they were handsome and dressed the same as anyone you'd see in public. It sent a chill down her spine to realize that such evil could exist without drawing attention to itself.
How many times had she sat beside a demon and not known it?
Xypher swept the group with a look that said he didn't consider them much of a threat. If only she could be so confident.
"Kaiaphas," he greeted, surprising her with the fact that the tallest one was his brother. Wow, without the boiling skin, the demon was rather prime. "I see you finally made some friends. You must have learned to use a toothbrush at last. You know it's the whole up and down, back and forth that confuses people ... or demons."
One of the demons opened his mouth and displayed two rows of serrated teeth.
Xypher curled his lip. "You really should see a dentist about that. I hear they can do wonders these days."
"Kill him," Kaiaphas snarled.
Xypher caught the first one with an upper cut of the sword. It sliced through his stomach. But before he could withdraw it, one of the other demons tackled him to the ground.
Simone hissed as she saw Xypher hit the side wall. "I can't watch this and do nothing."
"You can't fight a demon, Simone," Liza said. "You've no idea how strong they are. The best thing we can do as humans is stay out of it and let them fight. Don't become Xypher's weakness."
Liza's words reminded her of Acheron. She looked down at her wrist where she still wore the leather band. "Actually, I think I can."
Before Liza could stop her, she ran out to the sheet and shoved the demon away from Xypher, The moment she touched him, something went through her like an electrical current. The demon went flying, literally. He hit the building so hard that it jarred loose the masonry.
"Holy crud," she breathed, amazed at what she'd done. Acheron had been right. She had superhuman powers.
She jerked around to see Kaiaphas rushing her. She caught his arm and flipped him to the ground. Unfortunately, he didn't stay there. He sprang to his feet and delivered a staggering lack to her ribs. Simone hissed from the pain of it.
He bit her arm, then backhanded her. She tasted blood. All of a sudden, Xypher was there. He caught his brother and slugged him so hard, the force of the blow lifted Kaiaphas off his feet.
Simone felt so strange . . .
Her vision dimmed, and everything went hazy. Another demon came at her, but to her, he appeared to be moving in slow motion. He started to hit her. She dodged it, then elbowed him hard in the back.
He spun around and sank his teeth into her arm. She screamed as unbelievable pain tore through her. "No!" Xypher shouted, rushing to her side.
She couldn't really understand or see anything after that. Everything was a blur. She heard someone screaming out in pain, and the next thing she knew she was in the doll shop again.
"Oh, no," Liza was whimpering. "No, no, no. What are we going to do?"
Xypher couldn't breathe as he saw the bite marks on her skin. Unlike a Daimon, who couldn't convert humans into vampires, the gallu could. Because he was part demon, he was immune from their infected saliva.
Something hit the window, shattering it. "What's the matter, Xypher? You tired of playing with us?"
He rose to attack, but Liza pulled him back. "Simone needs us. Leave them be."
That was easier said than done, but in the end, he complied. Killing Kaiaphas could wait. Simone couldn't. Not to mention that so long as she was down, he couldn't go outside without killing them both.
He raked an angry hand through his hair as he tried to flunk of something to save her. Dammit, if he'd just been able to get to Jaden with the amulet, this wouldn't have been a problem. Simone would have been free to live her life without him, and he'd be off to kill Satara.
Now she could very well end up a gallu zombie, and it'd be all his fault. "What can we do?"
Liza pulled a cell phone from her pocket. "I'm calling Acheron. If anyone has a solution ..."
"Maybe I should call Jaden."
"No!" Liza said, her eyes snapping fury at him. "I refuse to have that creature here. He's more a threat than the gallu are, and I'm not willing to pay his prices."
She was right.
Xypher nodded. "Call the Atlantean and I'll call Jesse." In the event they failed to save her, Simone would want Jesse here, and Jesse would want to be with her. The only reason the ghost wasn't here already was because he didn't like attending Simone's classes. Being dead, he didn't like healing about autopsies or seeing other decedents.
Xypher pulled Simone's phone out of her pocket and called her house As soon as the answering machine picked up, he spoke as calmly as possible. "Jesse, it's Xypher. I think ..." He couldn't bear to say it, but he had no choice. "Simone's hurt. Bad. You need to come to Liza's store immediately." The ghost was there before he could hang up.
Jesse's face paled as he saw her lying on the floor, writhing in pain. "What the hell happened?"
Jesse's eyes flared as he ran for Xypher's throat.
Xypher caught him and threw him to the ground. "Don't push it, boy. I'm ill the mood to seriously mutilate someone, and since I can't reach my brother, you might prove a worthy substitute."
"Don't," Simone gasped, reaching out to touch Xypher's leg. "Please, don't hurt him."
All his anger fled. The last thing he wanted was to hint her in any way.
They both leaned over her.
"I'm here, Sim," Jesse said, his eyes tearing. "You're going to be okay. You hear me?"
She stared at him in disbelief "I can see the auras you talk about, Jesse. Yours is white. It's beautiful. . . like you."
Jesse sniffed. "Remember, stay away from the light. Go left, Sim. Left at the light. I'll be right here waiting for you to run away from it."
"She's not dying, Jesse." Xypher swallowed as pain hit him hard. Dying would be easier. Kinder. "She's turning into a demon."
"You heard me."
Jesse growled in a voice that was almost demonic. "Do something!"
"Don't you think I would if I could? I wouldn't wish this on my worst. . . Oh, hell, yeah I would, but I'd never wish it on Simone."
Simone shivered on the floor. "Why am I so cold?"
The demon blood was infecting hers, lowering her heartbeat. . .
Xypher took her arm in his hand and rubbed her skin, trying to warm her. "Just breathe slowly. Don't take any deep breaths." At least he hoped that was true.
Suddenly, he felt a presence behind him. It was one of absolute power.
Xypher looked over his shoulder to see him standing there, watching them. "I hope you have something to say that I want to hear."
Acheron snorted. "Ironically no one ever wants to hear what I have to say about anything. They usually argue with me to the point I want to put them through a wall. Hopefully you won't be so dense."
"I'm not in the mood, Acheron, Tell me what to do to save her."
Acheron moved forward to kneel on one knee beside Jesse. His swilling silver eyes glowed in the dim light. "How do you feel?" he asked her.
Simone's teeth chattered incessantly. "Sick."
He glanced up at Liza who was standing off to the side. "You might want to get a bucket or something in case she hurls."
She went to find one.
"Is that all you're going to do?" Xypher growled.
Acheron shrugged. "You want the good news or the bad?"
Anger tore through him so ferociously that he wanted to slice open the Atlantean's throat "Don't play that game with me, Acheron, Tell me what I need to know."
He was unfazed by Xypher's threat. "Nice tone. We should rent you out to record Halloween albums."
Xypher had to force himself not to attack.
"Relax," Acheron said quietly. "She's not really converting."
Was he insane? Of course she was converting. She was pale and trembling. Her brow was damp with sweat . . . "Look at her! She's not exactly baking cookies."
"Yeah, but this isn't a human mutating, either."
Cold dread went through Xypher. If she wasn't mutating, then what was happening to her? "What do you mean?"
Acheron glanced over to Jesse. "Haven't you noticed that she's not like other women? That strange things are attracted to her?"
Simone moaned slightly.
"I'm not strange," Jesse said defensively. "But, yeah. She has always known things. Seen things that she shouldn't have. We just thought she was psychic."
Acheron shook his head. "No. She was always much more than that."
"Acheron," Xypher interrupted. "Tell me what's going on."
Acheron took a deep breath before he answered. "She's half demon, Xypher. Like you."
Xypher's jaw dropped at his words. It wasn't possible . . .
"The hell she is," Jesse said, his voice breaking. "There's nothing demonic about her."
Acheron held her wrist up so that Xypher could see the demon bite. "Smell her blood, and you'll know the truth. There's no mistaking that scent."
Still, Xypher refused to believe it. "How could she be demon and not blow it?"
"Her parents were protecting her from the truth." Acheron pulled off the bracelet that he'd given her. "This is nothing but simple leather. The whole reason I gave it to her was to let her think that her powers were coming from something other than herself. The truth is, she's as powerful as any demon you'll ever meet."
"Why didn't you tell us that yesterday?"
"Because her father gave up his life to keep her roots a secret from everyone, including her. To make sure that she was hidden from all the people and creatures who would use her or threaten her. Who am I to undo such a sacrifice?"
"Xypher?" Simone breathed. "I'm scared."
Acheron took her other hand. "Don't be. Your powers are being unlocked. That's all that's happening. I know it hurts and it's frightening and shocking. But don't fight it. Just take deep breaths, and let the power flow through you."
That only made Xypher angrier. "It's easy for you to say. You have no idea what she's going through."
Acheron gave a bitter laugh. "Yeah, unlike you, I know exactly how she feels. I was human when my god powers were unlocked. Trust me, it wasn't pretty, and neither will this be."
That took the anger out of him. "What can I do?"
"Don't leave her alone. She's going to need someone to show her how to use her demon senses. You grew up with your powers, but you know how they differ from normal human functionality. You're the best teacher she could have."
Xypher cursed at the thought of having someone be dependent on him. He wasn't reliable. He didn't know how to function that way. It scared him that he might corrupt her or harm her because of Hid own ignorance. She needed a better teacher than him. All he knew was pain and betrayal. How to use Hid powers to harm others. That wasn't Simone. She was kindness.
How could an animal like him teach her what she needed to know? But he would never admit that to anyone.
"I have my own agenda here, Acheron. I can't be tied down to her."
"You have three weeks to achieve it. For once, Xypher, think of someone other than yourself."
He curled his lip at Acheron's words. He was thinking of someone else, but again, he'd never admit that out loud. "Thinking of someone else is what got me damned. It's a mistake I don't want to repeat."
Those silver eyes burned with an ancient wisdom. "You know sometimes it's by repeating our mistakes that we realize what went wrong the first time. Knowing that, we're able to fix the mistake and move past it."
Xypher scoffed at that. "Right, and the definition of basic stupidity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result, I'm not stupid."
"I didn't say to keep doing it." Acheron glanced down to Xypher's arm where his vow was branded. "Move forward with purpose. Examine what went wrong and correct that one mistake."
Why did everything keep coming back to that one phrase?
Move forward with purpose . . .
"Help her, Xypher. Right now she needs you more than you need to kill Satara." And with that, he vanished.
Xypher sat on the floor with Ash's words ringing in his head. There was truth there, but the need for vengeance was so strong . . .
Then he remembered the way Simone had touched him earlier that morning when she'd taken mercy on his pain. She'd asked for nothing from him in return.
Xypher gathered her in his arms and held her close. "I'm here for you, Simone."
Simone could barely understand those words; as her body continued to turn. Everything around her felt amplified. The colors, the scents, the sounds . . .
She experienced the world in a whole new way.
"How's she doing?" Liza's voice seemed to come from a long way away.
Type O positive. That's what Liza's blood type was. She also had a slight murmur in her heart.
And Jesse . . .
She knew his weaknesses, too. She could smell and taste them, and a tiny part of her wanted to exploit those weaknesses. That scared her more than anything else. "What does it mean to be a demon, Xypher?"
"You're not a demon."
She lifted her arm and stared at her hand. It looked like her hand and yet she felt as if she could crush steel with it. Could she? "I feel so powerful."
"It's an illusion."
Was it? It seemed real enough. The thought had barely completed itself before she felt her stomach heave. She grabbed the pail from Liza and emptied the contents of her stomach into it.
When she was finished, she no longer felt so strong. She felt weak and worthless. "I want to go home."
Xypher nodded. He paused to look at Liza. "Can I have the amulet back? I still have to hand it over to Jaden or he'll have my ass."
The reluctance showed in her eyes as she removed it one more time. "I hope this isn't a mistake."
"Me, too," he concurred.
After putting it in his pocket, Xypher pulled Simone against his chest, and the next thing she knew, she was home, in her bed. He was still beside her, "You should rest."
"Will you hold me?"
Xypher wanted to curse the tenderness those words stirred inside him. He should ignore her and his conscience.
If only he could.
Instead, he lay down beside her on the bed and pulled her close. "Get some rest."
She snuggled against him before she closed her eyes and did what he suggested. It didn't take her long to fall into a deep, restful sleep.
Lying here with her like this, he almost felt human. How ridiculous was that? They were two demons now lying together. He glanced at the photo of her parents and wondered what had brought them together that they'd tried to live an average human life.
In the picture, they looked like any other family. No one would ever have guessed the secret they hid.
It was a secret that might yet cost their daughter her life.