Tate shivered before he led them a couple of steps away from the body and from where two detectives were talking. The last thing they needed was to have one of them overhear this particular discussion.
He gave Xypher a cutting grimace. "I'm getting all warm and fuzzy inside at the prospect of these demon things roaming the street, preying on us. Just how many of them are we talking anyway?"
Xypher was completely nonchalant about the tenor they were facing. "There are seven of them in existence. Only one has escaped to the human realm."
Tate locked gazes with Simone. "I love the way he says 'human realm.' "
Yeah, so did she. "I don't know. I'm still stuck on the 'they limit and kill us' part. And the 'dead walking.' I don't think I like that."
Tate snorted. "You and Nialls. I'm sure he's still having a swell time over it. Poor guy. No one's ever going to believe he's not crazy . . ." By the expression on his face it was obvious he was having a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I moment.
Shaking his head as if to clear it, Tate turned his attention back to Xypher. "What does the Dimme want? Why is it killing people?"
Xypher shrugged. "Basic demons are interesting in that they don't usually want anything. They just are. You get in the demon's way, you die. If it has to feed and you're on the menu, it eats you. Simple, really. They're not big on playing games or having ulterior motives."
Cursing, Tate moved them even farther away from the body as a photographer came forward to take pictures. "Things don't kill just to kill. That doesn't make any sense."
"Sure it does," Xypher said dryly. "Demons were created to be weapons or tools of various entities. You have the Charonte who served the Atlanteans . . . Actually, they were one of the few demon races that weren't always subservient. Until they were defeated and enslaved, they were the masters of the earth. Then there are the gallu, who were created to fight the Charonte, and the Dimme, who were made so that if the Sumerian pantheon was destroyed and its gallu with it, they would essentially eat the world and avenge their dead masters. It's what makes the solitary Dimme so dangerous. All she knows is how to kill." Xypher cast a meaningful glance toward the dead man on the ground.
Tate didn't appear to be digesting this news well. "Are there other demons in the world?"
Xypher nodded. "Every culture has its own set of demons. But the ones I mentioned are the ones you're dealing with over this matter." Xypher inclined his head toward the body. "It's possible a gallu attacked him. But generally the gallu are a little more circumspect. They know to dispose of the body after they kill it or they keep the body to use for some purpose-like a zombie. Such as to draw out an adversary or to troll for more victims. They learned a long time ago that a zombie usually returns to its family. If they follow the zombie back, they have more food."
Tate groaned as if that knowledge pained him. "You sure?"
"Unless they're renegades. Or neophytes. Which is what the Dimme would be. She would be lost in the modern world and would be trying to find her own land. The Dimme and gallu have a hive mentality. They don't like to function independently. So whether it's gallu or Dimme, it's roaming the streets, looking for others of its kind and food . . . which would be human in nature."
Again, Tate cursed. "How long has she been out?"
"A few weeks."
"And she's just now feeding?"
Xypher laughed bitterly. "She had to get here from Vegas. I imagine there are other victims along the way."
Tate exchanged a disgusted look with Simone. "So how is it you know so much about demons anyway?" he asked.
Xypher's eyes flared to a bright, flickering red. "I am one." Tate took a step back, as did Simone. Even Jesse.
"Um, Sim," Jesse said, stepping behind her. "He can do that freaky eye thing because he's a god, right? He's just screwing with us about being a demon . . . right?"
She wanted to believe that. It made sense . . .
But every instinct in her body told her that Xypher didn't have that land of sense of humor.
Xypher's eyes faded back to that eerie blue. "My mother was a Summerian demon whom my father seduced and I was raised with her people so I have a little more insight into the gallu than most."
Simone crossed herself Was he serious? And yet she knew the truth. She just wanted to hear him say it in no uncertain terms. "You're a gallu?"
"Genetically speaking, yes. But I don't crave or live on blood. Well, my enemies notwithstanding."
He's a demon . . .
Simone didn't know why that was harder for her to accept than him being a Greek god, but it was. Probably because of the reputation demons had. The thought of being attached to one really didn't sit well with her.
She glanced at the body on the ground and shivered. Had Xypher ever done that to an innocent?
Was that why they'd killed him and sentenced him to Tartarus?
It was then it dawned on her exactly how little she knew about the creature she was now bound to. What he was capable of.
How had her life been put into his hands so callously?
Tate gestured toward the body. "Can you kill whatever did this?"
Xypher gave a subtle nod. "But why should I?"
Tate was aghast. "To stop innocent people from dying."
Xypher scoffed. "Innocent? That man on the ground was a rapist and a murderer. When you learn his identity, you're going to find that he got off light. I assure you, I would have done a lot worse to him."
"How do you know that?" Simone whispered.
He gave her a cold look that chilled her all the way to her soul. "Evil knows evil, It's how we find each other or, in the case of the Dimme, how you avoid being taken down by a more vicious opponent."
Jesse's eyes widened respectfully. "Wow. So you're like Satan's bloodhound?"
Xypher gave him a droll look. "Lucifer has his own demons he commands. I'm not one of them,"
"Great history lesson on demons and their feeding habits." Tate slapped his hands together. "So, out of curiosity, how do I write up my report? Random demon slaying? Yeah. That's going to read real well." He turned to Simone. "You think I can get a job as a janitor with a medical degree?"
She patted His arm affectionately. "I wouldn't mention the degree. It would make you overqualified. But if it makes you feel any better, I don't think you'll need a job when they send you off to Mandeville."
"Thanks, Simone." His tone was as dry as the desert. "I'll remember that next time you ask me for a letter of recommendation."
"And I'll remember that when you apply to be a janitor at Tulane. See if I help you find work."
"Ow!" Tate groused. "You're vicious."
"Hey, Doc?" An older police officer approached them. "Homicide wants to know if you're ready to wrap up and move the body."
"Yeah, we're done." He lowered his voice so that only Simone and Xypher could hear. "Random demon slaying. Maybe I should just write it lip as a mugging gone wrong." He paused and looked at Xypher. "You're sure about the cause of death?"
"When the body gets up in a few and tries to kill you, you'll have your answer."
Tate sighed heavily.
"What are you going to do?" Simone asked before he could withdraw.
Tate shrugged. "I don't know. I can't destroy the body. That's a lawsuit waiting to happen, followed by one major firing and public humiliation."
Xypher scratched his cheek before he spoke. "At the very least, sever the head. You'll thank me for it later."
Tate snorted. "You think 'oops' would cover that?" he asked Simone.
"Tate!" she snapped, horrified at the thought of it. "Our profession has a bad enough reputation. You can't do something like that or else we'll never live it down."
"I'm trying to be reasonable here. You know the ME test didn't exactly cover this. What do you tell your students about the odder elements of our job?"
"I don't. I merely tell them that there are some things that can't be explained."
"Yeah," Tate said with a nervous laugh, "this definitely qualifies as inexplicable." He glanced back to Xypher. "Is there anything other than decapitation or absolute destruction that will keep the body down?"
Tate rolled his eyes. "You're not helpful,"
"I didn't bite him and create this situation. You asked a question and I answered it. If you want another answer, then ask a different question."
Tate scratched his brow with his middle finger. "I'm having visions of Shaun of the Dead appealing in my lab."
Simone laughed. "You mean Tate of the Dead."
"Exactly. And let us not forget that at the end of Night of the Living Dead, they shot the black man who survived the zombie attacks. Not a good precedent and I'm having a bad flashback here, Sim."
Shaking his head, Tate clapped his hands together and started away from them as if he were heading for his doom. "Okay, wish me luck . . . and much fire power-remember not to let the sheriff shoot me at dawn." He glanced back at the victim. "At least this time I know not to assign the body to someone else."
"Bonne chance, mon ami."
"Yeah, thanks, Simone. I'd personally like to bonne your chance for this."
She stepped back as he left them and approached the body so that he could oversee the moving of it.
Simone looked away as she thought of Gloria and wondered what had happened to her. Rubbing her arms, she whispered a silent prayer for the poor woman.
Jesse cocked his head as he studied her. "What's wrong, Sim?"
"Just thinking of Gloria. I wish I knew what happened to her. I hate that we lost her."
Xypher frowned. "Who was Gloria?"
Simone gave him an irritated look because he didn't know. "She was the other ghost who was there with the Daimons when you came crashing into my world."
"Oh, the blonde." "Yes, the blonde."
Tate groaned as he returned to their group and caught that bit of their conversation. "Yeah . . . Speaking of, her family is due in any minute to claim her body. What am I supposed to tell them when we can't give the body over? Again, I don't think 'oops' will quite cover it."
"Hey!" the cop shouted. "Doc, I don't think this guy's dead. I just saw him move."
Simone paled at those words. Worse, she saw the decedent's foot moving herself. "Xypher, it's starting."
Before she could blink, he threw his hand out. An instant later, the entire body burst into flames.
The police officer shouted for help while several other cops scrambled for fire extinguishers.
She glared at Xypher. "Did you do that?"
He shrugged nonchalantly. "Sometimes my powers work. Sometimes they don't. Looks like this time they did. Yea, us."
Tate wrinkled his nose as he watched the police running around. "I'm not sure I should thank you for this or not . . . you think they'll believe there was some land of gas in the body that made it move, then spontaneously combust?"
Simone let out an elongated breath as she silently wished him luck on that one. "If anyone can make it work, Tate, you can,"
"Yeah, here's seeing you at the unemployment office soon." He left them to aid the officers in putting out the flames.
Simone watched them work as the true honor of it all sank in. "So that man really was eaten by a demon."
"You didn't think I made that up, did you?"
"No." She dragged the word out. "Not exactly, anyway." She frowned as she raked her gaze over that body that was made for sin up to those clear, breathtaking eyes. No one would ever guess Xypher was anything other than human, yet she knew better. "Are you really part demon?"
"Why would I lie?"
"I don't know. Sometimes people do, for no apparent reason."
"But I'm not human."
His being demonspawn at least explained some of his acerbic personality. It also excused it ... almost. Then again with him being a demon, she was lucky he was housebroken and not trying to scare everyone they met on the street.
I am bound to a demon ... It sounded like a bad sci-fi movie.
Baffled, befuddled, and just plain confused, she went to get his bags where they'd left them on the ground. Right now, she just wanted to go home and get her bearings.
She led them away from the scene, toward her condo.
"Buck up, Sim," Jesse said cheerfully. "At least the demon didn't eat you."
"Yet, you mean."
Xypher took the packages from her hands, "Don't worry. I won't let you get hurt."
"Not unless it means you get a shot at your enemy, right? Then I'm fair game for death."
He didn't comment.
"All righty then," she said, trying to lighten the mood and not flunk about the fact that he would most likely sacrifice her to aclueve his goal. "Let's make our way back safely, shall we?"
Xypher nodded as he tried not to think about the fact that he wasn't so Sure he wouldn't protect her even at the expense of his vengeance. While he had demon blood in him, he wasn't completely heartless. Even at his worst, he had a code of ethics and those ethics would not allow Simone to get hurt in the crossfire.
Damn me for it.
Pausing, Jesse gave him a look that told him the ghost didn't think much about him. He was used to it. The Greek gods had given him the same look once they realized a Sumerian demon was genetically attached to their pantheon.
The moment Xypher had learned to infiltrate dreams and shown his god powers, Zeus had sent his minions out to drag him to Olympus in chains.
Even though Xypher was barely more than a child, Zeus had tried to kill him. But Poseidon had stopped his brother from making that mistake. "The Sumerians are looking for a reason to call out the Chthonians on us. You kill that boy and we'll all have to answer for it."
The Chthonians were essentially the gatekeepers of the universe. They made sure that the pantheons didn't war among each other since such things tended to lead to the ultimate destruction of the earth and everyone who called it home.
Zeus had curled his lip at his brother. "Then what would you have me do with him?"
"Strip his emotions and train him like the rest of Phobetor's brats. There's no longer anything to fear in an Oneroi. And once he's trained, we'll be able to use him to spy on the Sumerians for us."
And so Xypher's brutal training had begun.
Young and stupid, Xypher had actually thought his father would come to his rescue.
He hadn't. In fact, it'd been his father who'd helped to beat him and strip his emotions to prove his loyalty to Zeus, If Xypher had been a full demon, they wouldn't have been able to subjugate him. Unfortunately, he had too much of his father's blood in him for that.
They'd broken him on a hot summer's day when he'd decided it would be easier to give in to the training than to suffer any more abuse. AH of his emotions had bled out of him until he was numb to everything. No taste, no smell. Nothing that could induce an emotion.
Honestly, he'd welcomed it. All the years of pain were gone. And at least the Greeks weren't quite as bloodthirsty as the demons. They hadn't made him fight for every morsel. Bleed for every comfort.
To be a demon meant to take and destroy. Food was only given to those who could kill for it.
I should have stayed an Oneroi.
Things had been so much simpler then. All he had to do was monitor the sleep of humans. Make sure other Skoti didn't fixate on one particular human too long. The gods permitted the Oneroi and Skoti to exist so long as they didn't disturb the balance of the universe or make the human host insane from their dreams.
Whenever the Skoti came too close to breaking those two laws, the Oneroi were sent in to either drive them away or kill them.
It'd been a cushy life.
Until Satara had come to him. A handmaiden to the goddess Artemis, she'd been as beautiful and alluring as any immortal. She'd summoned him into her dreams and there she'd shown him kindness and the softer emotions he'd never experienced before. They'd made love like they were on fire. Her every breath, every touch, had given him pleasure.
When she was with him, he felt alive . . .
Xypher cursed as he remembered the bitch. Sultry and seductive, she'd made him pay dearly for wanting to be something more than what he was. It was a mistake he'd never make again.
He blinked at Simone's soft voice that interrupted his thoughts. "Never better."
"Dang," Jesse said, leaning closer to Simone. "If that's his 'never better' it makes you wonder what 'never worse' looks like, huh?"
She glanced back over her shoulder. Xypher didn't know why, but there was something utterly charming about her expression and actions.
"Shh, Jesse, play nice. Remember, he can hurt you."
"Yeah, and I want to know right now who I can complain to about that. It just doesn't seem right."
Xypher narrowed his eyes on him. "How did you get to be a ghost, anyway? You annoy one person too many and they cut your throat?"
"Ha, ha," he said sarcastically. "No, it was a car wreck on a really rainy night as I was talking my girlfriend home from work. The last thing I heard was her telling me to go left at the light. So when the big bright light came, I went left and next thing I knew, I was trapped here on earth."
Xypher rolled his eyes. "That is the most pathetic thing I've ever heard."
Jesse snorted. "Really? The most pathetic thing I've ever heard was this half demon, half god who-"
"Jesse!" Simone snapped. "Again, I feel compelled to remind you that he can hit you and make it hurt. Bad."
That quelled the ghost a bit.
Xypher frowned as he watched the two of them. They were extremely comfortable together . . . like family. He'd never been that close to anyone or anything and it made him wonder what had happened to cause that bond between them. "How did you end up with Simone?"
Jesse laughed. "See, this is where you'd say something like, none of your damned business. But unlike you, I'm nicer than that."
Xypher narrowed his eyes.
An instant later, Jesse tripped as if someone had shoved him from behind.
He caught himself and turned to glare at Xypher. "Hey, Vader, keep your Jedi mind tricks to yourself. That hurt!"
"Yeah, and next time it'll hurt a lot worse. Now, how did you end up being the personal nuisance for Simone?"
"It was the night my mother and brother were killed," Simone said, her voice betraying a subtle note of sadness, "I was in the hospital, waiting for my dad to arrive, when Jesse came to me and told me not to cry."
Xypher hated to admit it, but it was a nice thing for Jesse to do. "How did they die? Car wreck?"
She shook her head before she wrapped her arms around herself as if to provide comfort or protection from the bad memory. "It was a robbery gone bad. We were coming back from a school play and Tony wanted one of those stupid candy ring pops for a tie at. My mother pulled in to a convenience store to humor him. Since I was sleepy and didn't feel good, I stayed in the car while they went in. When they didn't come right back, I lifted myself up in the backseat to see what was taking so long. As soon as I did, I saw two men gunning them down by the counter. I was so scared, all I could do was cover my ears and crawl down behind the front seat to hide. The police found me there a few minutes later when they came. They had to take the seats out to get to me."
Xypher felt like shit. There was no other description. He saw the tears in her eyes and it made him angry that someone would do that to her.
When her gaze met his, the agony in those hazel eyes tore through him like a dagger, "Tony was only seven years old. How could someone open fire on a baby with his mother?"
Xypher looked away, unable to bear the pain and scrutiny he saw in her eyes. "I don't know."
"You're part demon. Can't you give me some insight into such evil?"
"No. As corrupt as I've been, I've never hurt a child and I never would."
Shifting the bags to one hand, Xypher pulled her to a stop. He wanted to comfort her, but he wasn't sure how. What did humans do for comfort? Touch?
He reached out to place his hand on her cold, soft cheek. "I'm sorry for your loss, Simone." What surprised him most was that he actually meant it. He really did care.
Simone saw the hesitancy in Xypher's eyes. The uncertainty. If she didn't know better, she'd think he was afraid of touching her. She placed her hand over his and gave a light squeeze. "Thank you."
He inclined his head before he dropped his hand. "I didn't offend you by touching you, did I?"
Jesse made an odd choking noise. "Yeah, but you're both offending me with all this lovey-dovey crap. Get a room. No wait, don't. Separate rooms. Both of you!"
Simone shook her head. "Jesse, stop."
Jesse ignored her as he ran ahead. "Oh, look, we're home. Goody!"
Xypher stepped back as Simone pulled a set of keys out of her pants pocket. She stopped in front of a green steel door that opened into a short, narrow alley before it led to a large courtyard.
She swung the door open and stood back. "Jesse, lead the way while I lockup."
Xypher followed the ghost into the immaculate courtyard that held a couple of stainless steel barbecue skills and a black fountain.
"My condo is straight back." She passed by them and went to a brown door with the number 23 on it.
Xypher followed her into a small lining room. The building was old, but her furniture was new. Decorated in tans and browns the apartment was neatly kept with nothing out of place.
She indicated the back of the house. "There are two bedrooms. Jesse? Will you sleep on the couch?"
He looked horrified by the mere suggestion. "No way! You're not giving him my room, are you?"
"You don't really sleep ..."
"Well, yeah, but what if I get bored in the middle of the night?"
"You can haunt around the kitchen and living room."
He let out an aggravated squeak. "You make me do that and I'm going to stack furniture and reset your alarm clock."
"And I'll find an exorcist."
Jesse narrowed his gaze on her. "That would only work on a demon," He sent a pointed stare to Xypher.
"A psychic, then. I'll go to Madame Selene's shop in the Square and have her use a banishing spell on you."
"Oh, you would," Jesse accused. "Fine, Grump can sleep in my room, but he better not drool on my pillows. Or sleep naked. The last thing I need is to go blind from it."
"I don't drool."
Jesse appeared pleased by that. "Good. What about the naked part?"
"You're not my type, Jesse."
Jesse screamed before he took off running to the back of the house.
Simons rolled her eyes at Jesse's antics. He could be aggravating, but honestly, she couldn't imagine her life without him.
She pulled her coat off and hung it up, then waited for Xypher to do the same.
Once they were down to their shirts and jeans, she indicated the back of her condo with a tilt of her head. "Follow me and I'll show you the way." She led him toward the back and through the kitchen to where there were two bedrooms "I'm on the right. Your temporary room is the one on the left."
There was a bathroom between them.
Xypher paused as he took in the small place she called home. It was nice and comfortable. Not overly posh, but the perfect size for a woman who lived alone . . . with a ghost.
She took him into Jesse's room which was painted blue. Xypher was fine with that, but there were posters of bands and monies from the 1980s plastered all over the walls. Lost Boys. Joan Jett. Ferris Bustler's Day Off. The Damned. Flash Dance. Wendy O. Williams. The Terminator. The Clash. Go-Go's. Bananarama. It was like a strange time capsule.
Three wooden crates designed for vinyl albums were stacked against the far wall and filled with LPs. On top was an old Pioneer stereo with a turntable. The dresser was scattered with odds and ends, including a Rubik's Cube, multisided dice, and Atari cartridges. It looked like a teenager's bedroom from 1987.
Xypher took a minute to let that seep into his consciousness. Most people who had a ghost force itself into their life wouldn't go to this much effort to make it feel at home. There was even an antiquated Apple computer on the desk by the crates, and an Atari hooked up to the TV.
"You love Jesse." It was an obvious statement given the room they were in.
"I do." Her eyes shone with sincerity and truth. "He stayed and looked out for me after my family was gone. He was like a big brother ..." She tilted her head and smiled before she continued. "Now he's more like a younger one. But there's nothing I wouldn't do for him."
How he wished he had that kind of loyalty from someone. His problem was there was nothing anyone would do for him.
"You can put your clothes in here." She opened an empty drawer in the bureau:
Xypher set the bags down on the floor. "You know, this might not work."
"Your bedroom might be too far from this one. We may not be able to separate."
She sucked her breath in sharply. "I'd already forgotten about that stipulation. How will we know?"
Xypher stood back. "Start walking. When you hit a spot where you're gasping for breath, that should tell us our limitations."
"Oh, joy. I can't wait to be the guppy."
"Glub, glub, little fishy. Start walking."
Simone wasn't sure about this as she headed for the door, slowly. She walked through the doorway, into the hall. After a few steps, she was less afraid. So far so good.
"This doesn't seem ..." Her voice broke off as she choked. All of a sudden, she couldn't speak or move. Everything around her was getting dark. Frightening.
Out of nowhere, Xypher was there. He scooped her up in his arms and earned her to her bedroom and laid her on her bed. His face was red as he, too, struggled to breathe.
It took her several minutes before she could breathe normally again. Xypher stayed by her side, watching her with an expression that she would have called worried if the very idea of his concern for her wasn't ludicrous.
"That was scary," she said quietly once she could speak again. "How did you make it to me when you couldn't breathe, either?"
She placed her hand on his cheek where his whiskers teased her palm. How could a demon have moments of kindness and compassion? "Thank you."
He inclined his head to her. "Now we know how little space we have."
It was true. They had maybe fifteen to twenty feet before it killed them. "What are we going to do?"
Xypher considered their options . . . none of which were very good. He cleared his throat before he answered. "We're going to find some way to get you out of this."
"What if we can't?"
Then she was going to die with him when he killed Satara. And there wouldn't be any way to avoid it.