Xypher instinctively stepped between Simone and the window where Kaiaphas floated, glaring his hatred at them. Long black hair twisted around a repulsive face covered with boiling skin.
Screaming out, Kaiaphas tried to blast through die window, but the salt deflected the blast back toward him. He dodged it, then cursed.
He curled his lip at Xypher. "You don't really think something so simplistic will save you from me, do you?"
Xypher gave a low, evil laugh. "Am I blind or did it just kick your ass? Must suck to have something like salt assault you. Guess that's what happens when you're part slug."
Kaiaphas raised his hands as if he intended to blast the window again, but caught himself. "You can't stay inside there forever."
"True, but I can stay here long enough to ruin your best day."
Kaiaphas hissed at him. His gaze slid past Xypher to Simone, down to where Xypher had his hand protectively on her waist. "Fascinating . . . you've now progressed from frightening to protecting humans. If you really want to keep her safe, come outside and I'll take your life and let her live."
"That would work if we weren't wearing the bracelets Satara sent over. I die, she dies. Separate us and I might consider your offer."
Kaiaphas tsked. "Don't you trust me?"
That single word took him back to his childhood. Barely more than a toddler, Xypher had been so hungry he would have done anything for food. The winter had been harsh, wiping out all the crops. Xypher had found a bit of bread cooling on a building ledge, but he hadn't been tall enough to reach it. He'd tried for an hour to find something to either stand on or knock down the loaf But it continued to be out of his reach.
Frustrated, he'd cried and gone home, starving. Kaiaphas had come to him. "What's wrong, brat?"
He'd foolishly told him about the bread. "Tell me where it is and I'll share it with you."
"It's my bread!"
Kaiaphas had tsked at him. "Your bread will be eaten by a human. Isn't it better to have half a loaf than none at all? Trust me, brat. I'll share."
Xypher had agreed. After disclosing the location, he'd watched as Kaiaphas took the fresh bread and ate it while he cried. The worst part was, unlike him, the bastard didn't live on food. Kaiaphas needed blood. He'd eaten it just for meanness and nothing more. When Xypher had gone to his mother to complain, she'd backhanded him hard enough to bust his lip.
"If you're not demon enough to get it on your own, you don't deserve it." That had always been his mother. She'd mused him on venom and hatred.
Trust was for a fool.
And he would never trust Kaiaphas again. "Not a bit. Give me the key, and once she's free, we'll fight."
"I don't have it."
Xypher gave him credit for not lying about it. "As I thought. No intention of carrying out our bargain. You never change, brother."
Kaiaphas charged the window. His face illuminated the entire pane. "I'm going to enjoy killing you."
Xypher walked slowly toward the window and grabbed the cord. "Give Mom my worst." He dropped the blinds.
Simone didn't know what stunned her most. The fact that she had one seriously ugly demon floating outside her window or that said ugly demon was the brother of the hot piece of cheese in front of her. "He's not really your brother, is he?"
"Can't you see the resemblance?"
"Since your skin doesn't boil and your eyes aren't normally bloodied, no."
"Neither are his. It's all affectation designed to scare humans. He's such a fucking rookie."
"You could do better?"
Before she could blink, he spun up toward her ceiling and transformed from a man into a black seeping shadow that filled half her room. Fangs shot out of his mouth as his eyes turned a sickly fluorescent yellow. Fire rippled over every inch of him.
Simone stumbled back.
"Yeah," he said, his voice demonic and terrifying. "I can do a lot better."
In a flash he was human again. "My father is Phobetor. The Greek god of nightmares. Kaiaphas's father was some flesh-eating demon that Ares used to set loose on his enemies for shits and giggles. My brother
has no flair. No panache. Complete rookie poser who flunks a deep demon voice and some scary red eyes will make everyone wet their pants in fear."
His rant was oddly amusing. "Yeah, okay . . . that's some sibling rivalry you two have."
Xypher scoffed. "He doesn't rival me. Ever." A muscle worked in his jaw. He tapped his thumb against his thigh as if he were contemplating something and not finding a satisfactory answer. "Satara knows he's not powerful enough to kill me. Why would she summon him after me, then?"
That seemed obvious to her. "To kill me since I'm the weaker of die two of us."
"No, there has to be more than that, and why only send one demon? She could summon more. Why hasn't she? Something's not right." He returned to the window and snatched open the blind.
Kaiaphas was gone.
"I need my full powers," Xypher snarled. He dropped the blind again.
"If you need an oracle-"
"No. I need something a lot more powerful than Julian."
That was an extremely frightening thought for her, "Given what I've seen today, I don't think I like the way that sounds."
"You're going to like it even less come tomorrow." "Why?"
"Because tomorrow we're going to summon something so evil, it makes the earth itself weep."
Kaiaphas stood across the street, watching the window where he knew his brother was.
A gallu couldn't breach the salt restriction and a Daimon couldn't enter the apartment without an invitation. Damn the gods for their stupid rules. But for that, he'd already be inside, tearing them apart and appeasing Satara.
He cursed at the thought of having to face that bitch with failure. Of all his masters, she was the nastiest and that was truly saying something given the lowlifes he'd served in his lifetime.
Just once, couldn't the person summoning a demon be nice? Was that really too much to ask?
His thoughts turned back to his brother. "What are you planning, Xypher?"
That bastard was smarter than he'd given him credit for. Not to mention his skills had improved. But for Hades having weakened Xypher, he wasn't sure he'd have wounded him earlier . . .
Kaiaphas cursed as the slave band on his upper arm heated to a painful level. It was Satara summoning him.
If he had to listen to her mewling, pathetic . . .
He shot a blast at a car on the street and shattered the glass in it. An alarm began squalling so he shot it again. It faded into a broken gurgling noise.
If only it were Satara's head.
But that wasn't meant to be so long as she held his soul. A soul he'd traded for . . .
He didn't want to think about that. He'd made the deal and he would be bound to it throughout eternity.
Or would he?
A slow smile curled his lips as he considered an alternative. It was insidious, but it might work and it would solve both of his problems.
He cursed as the band blistered his skin. The cowardly bitch could wait until he was ready to face her. Shaking it off, he transformed himself into a human and headed down the street in search of a victim.
As he rounded a corner, he spotted a woman out walking her dog. Perfect. Just what he needed . . .
The small brown canine started barking as soon as it caught a whiff of his inhuman essence.
Kaiaphas knelt down on the sidewalk, "Here, poochie, poochie." The dog continued to snarl and bark.
He laughed before he blasted the animal into a ball of flames. The woman screamed and took off running.
She didn't get far.
Kaiaphas ran at her and swept her up into the air. His large, black wings fanned out as they soared above the homes The human fought and cried, begging for his mercy.
As if he had any.
Holding her tight, he skimmed the landscape below until he found what he needed. A large, old oak tree. Completely isolated, it looked black in the night, shrouded by mist and stretching out toward the sky. In centuries past, mankind knew to take care of their trees and to guard them well from creatures like him.
How he loved the ignorance of the current generation.
An oak was a portal that could be used to summon the blackest of spirits. Kaiaphas smiled as he recalled the Englishman in Alton Towers who once chained the branches of his tree in an effort to thwart the evil it could conjure.
But evil would never be denied.
"Help me!" the human woman screamed.
"Oh, shut up," he snapped at the simpering human. For the cowardice alone she deserved to die.
"Please, let me go."
"Oh, I will, lovely. I'll let you go in just a moment." He dove for the tree.
As he swooped in, he took a moment to survey the area. There was nothing around him. No witnesses.
He landed a few feet away. Holding his sacrifice under one arm, he stalked toward the tree. The light of the full moon whispered through the bare branches. It was cold enough that he could see his breath in the air around him. He inhaled the crisp weight of it.
The woman struggled against him as he raised one arm to sever a single limb from the tree. He could hear the oak screaming as he cut through the wood. Loud. Strong.
Thank the gods it was healthy.
The limb landed at his feet.
"Shut up." He slung the woman against the tree so hard, she died on impact.
A human sacrifice wasn't necessary for what he intended but human blood was, and since he doubted the woman would have let him cut her without more whimpering and pleading, this sufficed. Using the claw from his right hand, he opened the human's throat and let her blood flow into the tree and soak the roots.
Then he opened up his own wrist as he chanted the ancient demonic words that would awaken the Primus Potis-the first power. Before there was light in the world, there was darkness. Chaos.
And that power slept. Now it was time for it to reawaken and help him.
"I summon you forth with voice and blood. With the weight of the moon and the strength of the sacred wood. Oh darkness, come to me. So say the dark oh mote it be . . ."
As he chanted, the wind picked up speed. It whispered around him as ancient forces gathered to awaken the one he called.
The tree began to shake as a black mist from the earth rose to encircle it. Kaiaphas looked up to see a pair of glowing eyes-one vibrant earth green and the other dark earth brown-materialize in the center of the mist The air swilled faster, rising up like a geyser that began to form the shape of a tall, lean man standing on a large limb.
Black hail rose up, tangling in the wind before it settled over broad shoulders, It was followed by a rippling white that formed a shirt, then black pants and a brown, stitched leather jacket. The last to form was a face that was as handsome as it was brutal.
A thin gold band encircled the man's throat and there at the base of his neck rested a stone as green as his inhuman right eye.
As quickly as it'd come, the wind stopped. The mist evaporated.
Now the man and the tree stood out crisp and clear against the backdrop of night.
Those fierce duo-colored eyes seemed to penetrate Kaiaphas. Suddenly, something hard wrapped itself around his neck and squeezed it closed. Choking, Kaiaphas fell to his knees,
"There now." The voice was deep and evil as Jaden jumped to the ground. He landed on his feet in front of Kaiaphas before he lacked him onto his back.
Unable to speak for the pressure still wrapped around his throat, Kaiaphas stared up into the very face of evil. Not human, not demon, not a god, Jaden was born of the first power.
Al-Baraka. He was the go-between for the highier powers and demonkind.
Jaden cocked his head as he studied the demon lying before him. "Kaiaphas . . ."He let the name roll off his tongue. In one heartbeat, he knew everything about the demon. His past and his questionable future. "Why have you awakened me?"
"I need your help."
Jaden laughed at the desperate plea. "Aye, you do. Tell me what you'll give for my services."
"Three unbaptized virgins."
He scowled at the demon. What was this? The Middle Ages? "Three?"
"Is it not enough?"
It depended on the virgins . . .
And their skills. In this day and age, virgins could be more talented than the sluts of the past.
"Perhaps." Jaden hissed as he felt his arm burn in response to the summons that constricted Kaiaphas's band. "You dare call me while your mistress summons you?"
Jaden blasted him. "Go, you maggot. In one moon rising you'll have my answer."
The demon vanished instantly.
Jaden stood there in the cold stillness under the shelter of the oak, getting his bearings on this time and place. He lifted his head to smell the blood that tainted the air around him.
Turning, he saw the body of a woman in her late twenties. Her lifeless eyes stared in honor.
He went to her and knelt before her. "Sleep in peace, little one," he whispered, closing her eyes.
It was a most unnecessary death. Strike one against the demon.
Jaden paused as he caught something else in the wind. The tree was whispering to him, telling him what he needed to know. Kaiaphas wasn't the only one thinking of him.
There was another . . .
Xypher lay on the cold pine floor as he listened to Simone breathing. She'd fallen asleep about an hour ago while Jesse was in his room, playing records way too loud. He didn't know how Simone could sleep through the same Altered Images song playing over and over again, but unlike him, she seemed immune.
Of course, he'd gotten used to not sleeping. In Tartarus, part of his punishment was someone beating him every time he closed his eyes to rest.
He tensed at the whispered call. The voice was a deep baritone laced with a demon's sharp accent.
It was a voice he hadn't heard in centuries. "Jaden?"
The demon lord appeared before the closed door in a crouched position.
"Salt?" Jaden laughed. He stood up, walked to the window and licked his finger. His smile was cold as he lifted the digit to his mouth and sampled the salt they'd put there. "I know you weren't trying to keep me out with this."
"I know better. How is that you're here?"
Jaden didn't answer as he walked to the bed where Simone continued to sleep, oblivious to the fact that one of the most powerful entities in existence was close enough to touch her. "She's pretty enough. Is she your offering?"
He had to bite back his fury. To snap at Jaden invited instant death.
"That was a quick denial. Why do you seek me, demonspawn?"
As if he didn't already know. But that was one thing about Jaden, he always wanted you to speak your needs. "I was going to summon you tomorrow."
"In the daylight when I'm weak." He tsked. "What bargain do you wish this time?"
"I need my powers returned and I want the human protected."
Jaden arched a brow. He tinned back toward Simone and brushed her face with his hand. "Human ..."
Jealousy flared inside Xypher so that it was all he could do not to shove Jaden away from her. But that would be a fatal mistake, especially since he needed Jaden's cooperation.
"A Daimon bound us together and I can't do what I need to so long as we're joined. I need your help. I have to have my freedom and my powers unencumbered."
Jaden tinned toward him. "My help comes at a premium price. You know that. You've already paid me once."
Xypher wanted to curse at the reminder. "Was it worth it?" Jaden asked.
"I'm sure you know the answer."
"I warned you."
Indeed, he had. That was what stuck hardest in Xypher's craw. Jaden had told him at the time that such bargains seldom worked out. If only he'd listened.
Jaden drew near him. "You know the law, Xypher. You have to barter something for my services."
"I have nothing to barter with."
"Then you're wasting my time." Jaden faded.
"Wait!" Xypher snapped. "Tell me what you'll accept."
Jaden solidified once more. His gaze went to the bed where Simone was.
Xypher's blood ran cold. "Not her."
"How badly do you want your revenge?"
"More than anything."
Jaden's gaze was harsh and unforgiving. "There is an old woman in this city. Her name is Liza. She owns a doll shop on Royal Street. About her neck, she wears a green amulet. Bring it to me and I'll free you from those bracelets."
"What of my powers?"
"They'll be fully restored as soon as I have the amulet."
Xypher couldn't believe he'd take so little for his service. "Is that all?"
"Trust me, it's enough."
Relief coursed through him. Until Xypher remembered something else. "One more thing."
Jaden's eyes sparked as his fangs flashed in the darkness. "You ask much, demonspawn." But as quickly as it came, his temper fled. "But I'm feeling generous ..."
"There's a spirit I need to find. Her life was ended by a gallu and her soul partially taken. Do you know where I can find her soul and body?"
"Will you tell me where?"
Xypher moved to the dresser where Simone had a pewter medieval-style goblet. He manifested a knife in his hand before he cut his aim and let it bleed into the cup. "You need to feed. I'll give you my blood." Since he was a demon and a demigod, Xypher's blood was a lot stronger than anything Jaden could find on the street.
Jaden licked his lips as his eyes darkened to black. Xypher had been right, the creature was starving.
"Deal." Jaden's voice was husky from need. Xypher handed him the cup.
Jaden took it and downed the contents with one gulp. A tiny bit of blood ran from the corner of his mouth. He wiped it with the up of one finger before he licked it clean. "The blood of the damned. There's nothing sweeter."
"What of Gloria?"
He snapped his fingers, and her ghost instantly appeared by his side.
She frowned in confusion. "Where am I?"
Jaden caressed her cheek. "Safe, my sweet. Very safe."
"And her body?" Xypher asked. "It needs to be free from gallu control."
"I'll take care of it and leave it in the yard for you. Unless you want the stink of it in the house ..."
"No, and don't leave it in the yard to scare the innocent neighbors. Can you put it back in the alley where she died?"
Jaden held the cup out to him. "That'll cost you a bit more." Xypher ground his teeth before he complied.
Smiling, Jaden inhaled the scent of his blood before he again drank it. "Ew!" Gloria said, wrinkling her face up. "That's disgusting."
Jaden save her a cold smile. "So are sausage and escargot, but you ate your share of that, did you not, human?"
She didn't respond.
Jaden set the empty cup on Simone's nightstand. He ran his finger around the rim, gathering the leftover blood. He licked it from the pad of his finger before he spoke. "I'll be back tomorrow night. Have my amulet for me." He glanced toward Simone. "Otherwise you're going to be very sorry . . . and the woman even more so."