Simone and Xypher turned and there on the sheet behind them stood three extremely tall, well-built men. One was lean with jet-black hair that was short in back, but longer in front where it fell over his eyes. The other two were auburn haired and built like weight lifters. But for the orangelike scent of their skin and their strangely do wins eves, they would have appeared human.
The dark-haired one drew closer. "Misafy... "he hissed dangerously as he raked them with a hostile glare. "What brings you here?"
Simone leaned closer to Xypher. "Did he just insult us?"
"Depends on whether or not being called 'half-blood' offends you." He locked gazes with the Charonte. "I saw what the gallu did to one of your people. I was looking for you to find out why."
The Charonte moved closer to them with an impressively lethal gait.
"Xedrix," the one on her left said in warning. "We know nothing of them or their powers."
Xedrix ignored him as he drew closer to Simone. Leaning down, he took a deep breath in her hair.
Xypher shoved him back.
Xedrix's eyes flashed dangerously as he refused to back off. "Katika?" he asked Xypher.
Xedrix went down on one knee before her.
Completely baffled by what had happened, Simone looked to Xypher for an explanation. "Katika? What is that?"
The demon rose up. "You are his owner."
Both of her brows shot up in surprise. She owned Xypher? In what alternate universe would that ever happen? "I am?"
Xypher gave her a look of warning not to say anything else before he turned his attention back to Xedrix. "Pieryol akati. We come without war. Neither of us has an alliance with the gallu."
Xedrix scoffed. "No? You reek of our worst enemies. Greek and gallu. And you expect me to believe that you mean us no harm?"
The demon on Simone's right stepped forward. "My brother lies dead. I say we kill the male to retaliate."
Xedrix cast a glare that was malevolent enough to be felt over his shoulder at the demon who had spoken. "You know the laws of our people. He's owned by one who hasn't declared herself our enemy."
"I will not serve a human-gallu misafy!"
Xedrix threw his hand out and the demon came flying toward him to land in his fist. "You have forgotten yourself, Tyris. The female comes to talk peace, we will listen. We may be brutal but we are not savage." He looked back at Xypher before he released Tyris. "One war like move from you and, Katika or not, we will kill you."
Xypher folded his hands together and held them up to his eyes for the Charoute to see. "No war so long as my Katika isn't threatened."
"Then we have an accord." Xedrix stepped aside and swung his arm out so that they could pass. "Pieryol akati."
Simone scowled. "What does that mean?"
"Peace is our journey, my lady." Xedrix fell ill behind her. "If you'll follow Tyris."
Tyris led them toward the building on the left where a small door opened on the other side of a Dumpster.
Simone blinked from the heavy darkness as they entered what appeared to be the backstage area of a club. Everything back here was painted black, including the floor. Gathered black curtains separated the area where they stood from a stage that had the sign CLUB VAMPYRE hanging above it.
The irony wasn't lost on her. "Nice name."
Xedrix's eyes flashed red in the dark, "I may not be human, my lady. It doesn't mean I don't know sarcasm when I hear it."
As Xedrix led them to the other side of the curtain, Simone gasped. There were at least two dozen more Charonte, and unlike Xedrix and his two companions, these looked like demons. With horns coming out of their heads, their skin was a myriad of colors, usually two per creature, that were marbled in such way as to actually be attractive. Their eyes ran from yellow to white to red or black. Likewise their hair colors ranged from black to brown or auburn. Large, brightly colored wings jutted out of their backs, giving them a strange angelic appearance that was belied by their fangs and battle-honed physiques.
Simone stepped back and bumped into Xypher, who appeared to find what they were walking into totally copasetic. "I think I left my keys outside."
"Relax," Xypher said, wrapping his ami around her waist to keep her from fanning. "You're not the one in danger."
"How you figure?"
He indicated the group with a tilt of his chin. "By nature the Charonte are an extremely matriarchal race. The males are always subservient to females, which is why I told them you were my owner. That's the world they understand. And luckily for us, the males usually aren't as warring in nature as their females are."
He nodded. "Since there's no female present, I'm thinking we're relatively safe. Unlike a female Charonte, the males will only attack when ordered to or threatened." One corner of his mouth lifted. "Word to the wise, don't threaten them. I'm good, but they seriously outnumber me right now."
"Don't worry. I'm not about to taunt the entire pride in its den." Xypher released her. "Where is your Katika?" he asked Xedris.
Xedrix crossed his arms over his chest. "We are without."
"Did she die?" He shook his head. "We are Dikoniai."
"Male warriors," Xypher whispered in Simone's ear so that she'd understand.
"A few human years back our Katika was under attack. There was a Greek"-he spat the word out as if it were the most disgusting thing he could imagine-"god who sought to release her from her captivity. She sent us to protect her child and to fight the Greeks who wanted to harm him. We came and we fought. Many of us died and before we few survivors could return home, the portal closed, locking us here in this realm,"
Tyris curled his lip. "And now we're being assaulted by the gallu. May they all burn and perish in the ashes of a dragon's scaly ass."
"Oookay," Simone breathed, but she had to give them credit, it was a good curse to give someone you didn't like. The imagery said it all.
"Why are the gallu attacking you?" Xypher asked. The males refused to answer.
Xypher shook his head at them. So, they knew, they just weren't willing to share it with him. Perfect. Just perfect. "Let me try this again. What do you have that they want?"
The males moved to stand shoulder to shoulder with their arms crossed. A unified wall of staunch machismo.
Simone shook her head at the sight. "Is it just me or is anyone else getting a case of testosterone poisoning?"
Xypher grimaced "What?"
She held her hand out. "Look at them. Ready to fight to the death rather than answer a simple question . . . you know there's only one thing I can think of that would make men, especially those who are from a highly matriarchal society, willing to lay down their lives without speaking."
"And that would be?"
Xypher paused as he realized that she was right. It would be the one thing that they'd die to protect. But who was it?
"Where's the female?" Xypher asked.
Xedrix stepped forward to glare at them. "Get out!"
"It's all right, Xedrix." The voice was gentle and quiet, and named with the most lilting song-like tone. "I'm not afraid of them."
The male demons began parting as a tiny figure pressed through their center.
When she finally broke through, Simone gasped at the fragile beauty dressed in jeans and a large green sweater-it was the same woman who'd moved into a condo near hers a few weeks back.
Barely five feet tall, she looked like one of the china dolls Liza made. Her skin and lips were so pale as to be luminescent. Long, silvery white hair flowed around her tiny, yet voluptuous body. The only color she had was her silver-gray eyes that glowed against a thick fringe of jet-black lashes.
She couldn't look more harmless or beautiful.
But the newly awakened demon powers inside Simone sensed the lethal capabilities of the tiny woman. This was the gallu Dimme.
"I'm called Kerryna."
Xypher put himself between Simone and the Dimme. "The gallu and Charonte are vicious enemies. How is it they protect you?"
Kerryna held her hand out to Xedrix who went down on one knee by her side before he clasped it and held it against his heart.
Warmth spread through Simone as she realized that the two of them were in love.
But that didn't change the fact that Kerryna had killed Gloria and others-
"No, I didn't."
Simone blinked at Kerryna's soft words. "What?"
"I didn't kill Gloria. I've only killed two men since I was freed, and I assure you, they both deserved what happened to them. Even you would have ended their lives."
Xypher shook His head in disbelief. "I'm really confused. I was there when you broke out of your cocoon in Nevada."
Kerryna nodded. "I remember you and the god Sin and his woman, Katra. The other god, Zakar, chased me for days on end until I was able to finally escape him and hide. He is a persistent beast. And it was hard. I knew nothing of this world or its people and their languages."
Xypher could understand. Parts of it eluded him even with his god powers and having been here to help Katra and Sin. "Why did you come to New Orleans?"
She indicated Simone with a tilt of her head. "We are cousins. Her father was the brother to mine. It is my nature to need my family with me, but once I met her, I knew she wasn't ready to accept herself or me. Her powers had been bound. Her scent hidden. She believed herself human and I thought it best to leave her with that delusion."
"You know," Simone said, stepping around Xypher, "for an indiscriminate killer, she's remarkably lucid and thoughtful."
Kerryna smiled. "Out of fear, my sisters and I were locked away so fast that no one bothered to learn anything about us. While we are born of the gallu, we are not gallu. The goddess Ishtar gave us the gift of compassion and understanding. I think she knew what was to happen and wanted to make sure that we didn't destroy the world as our creator intended. That being said, should all of us be freed, I don't know what will happen. Two of my sisters are not so kind or caring. They do crave blood above all things."
Xedrix stood up and draped a protective arm around her shoulders. She lifted her hand to stroke his forearm affectionately. He held her back to his front while he glared his mistrust at them. "The gallu want to take her and use her. That I won't allow."
Kerryna leaned back against him. "They kill to draw me out."
Simone sighed. "You know, the more I learn about the gallu, the less I like them and the more I really hate sharing a genetic link with them."
Keriyna nodded her agreement. "The males are hard to take at times. Unlike the Charonte, they're domineering and cruel. To them women are only breeders or food."
Simone cast a meaningful look at Xypher over her shoulder.
He was completely unrepentant. "I can't help it if I resemble them. We're all creatures of our birth. But at least I listen from time to time."
It was true. He did, and that made him semitolerable. She smiled up at him. "Well, what can I say? You are, after all, a god."
The only clue she had that he was amused was a very subtle softening around His eyes. Not that she blamed him. When surrounded by a warrior class of demons, it was probably good not to show any land of humor.
Which reminded her of how important this was. "All right, we still have the gallu out there killing innocent people . . . and demons. How do we stop it?"
Xedrix rubbed his cheek against Kerryna's hair. "We've been trying to find a way, but as of yet there's nothing we've thought of. So long as we have Kerryna, they won't even discuss a truce."
"I won't go back to them. All of the gallu are disgusting." She looked at Xypher and blushed beautifully. "No offense."
"It's all right. I'm used to insults." Xypher cast a glance at Simone, who sputtered.
"I don't insult you . . . much,"
Xypher didn't respond. Instead he narrowed his eyes at Xedrix. "You know, I just thought of something . . . you can open a bolt-hole down to Kalosis."
Xedrix shook his head. "We've tried. For some reason, we're not able to do it."
Xypher tsked at the demon. "You're lying, Xedrix. I smell it."
"We refuse to go back," Tyris said angrily as he stepped forward. "We were slaves there. Xedrix served as the Destroyer's pet. She treated him like a simpleton, I won't be at her mercy for another day. It was a godsend that we escaped when we did. Better to die here as free agents than to return to what we were."
Simone scowled at Xypher, "The Destroyer?"
"An ancient Atlantean goddess named Apollymi. She was imprisoned in Kalosis by her husband eleven thousand years ago."
Simone wondered what the goddess had done to merit that sentence. "Nice, and you want to go visit her, huh?"
"No, I don't. I want to kill Satara."
At the mention of Satara's name, more than half of the demons made disgusted noises.
"Kill that bitch!"
"Feed her to the Destroyer."
"Rip out both their throats."
Simone was impressed by the venom. It appeared Satara and the Destroyer could both benefit from a seminar on how to make friends and influence people, or in this case, demons. "Wow, this Kalosis sounds like a rival for Disney World. Sign me up for the next trip."
"I would, but apparently a ride down there's a lot harder to come by than a spare Hannah Montana ticket in a middle school."
Simone laughed. "Nice, timely reference."
"You can thank Jesse for it. He has a crush on Hannah." Xypher met Xedrix's gaze. "What will it take for me to talk one of you into opening that portal?"
Xypher looked at Kerryna, and Simone knew exactly what he was thinking. Xedrix pulled her behind him and stiffened.
"Don't worry," Xypher said. "I wasn't thinking that. I would never threaten your woman. I was only considering how wrong I was about her."
Simone arched a brow. "Were you really?"
The offense on his face was deep. "Not you, too?"
"I'm sorry. You're right, I know better. But the way you looked at her ... in my defense, it was spooky."
Grimacing at her, Xypher turned his attention back to the Charonte. "I know there has to be some way we can help each other. Think about it. I need to get inside Kalosis."
Xypher duplicated his earlier gesture of clasping his hands together and holding them up. "Pieryot akati."
Xedrix inclined his head to him before he repeated the words.
Xypher pulled her toward the door, but before they went far, Kerryna stopped them.
"We are family," she said softly to Simone. She took the small red stone necklace from around her neck and placed it in Simone's palm. "If you need me, take the crystal in your hand and call my name. I will come immediately."
Kerryna hugged her close. "There is strength inside you, Simone. Our bloodline was one of the strongest of the gallu. Never forget that."
Kerryna patted her hand. "I will work on Xedrix for you," she said softly to Xypher. "If revenge is truly what you want, I'll find some way for you to have it."
With that, she left them and rejoined Xedrix.
Simone turned to Xypher. "Not even dinnertime and it's been an interesting day. I'm kind of afraid to see what the next hour will bring. How about you?"
"Any minute I'm not being beaten with a barbed whip is a great one in my opinion."
Her stomach shrank at his dry tone and the reminder of the world he'd left behind. If Xedrix thought his was bad, he should try Xypher's. "Do you really have to go back to that?"
"If I thought there was a way to avoid it, believe me, I would. But I've already been sentenced. And you can't run from a god."
"What if I talked to Hades?"
He laughed, "Hades isn't going to listen to you. All we can do is take the time I have and try to expel the gallu so that you'll be safe when I'm gone."
When I'm gone . . .
Those words tore through her and brought a wave of pain so severe it actually took her breath. How could he have come to mean so much to her so quickly?
And vet there was no denying what she felt. She didn't want him to leave. Ever.
Don't think about it.
She would find a way to settle this. A way for it to end without costing Xypher his freedom. She had to.
The alternative was wholly unacceptable to her.