“Sorry. I didn’t realize you’d be so jumpy. I forget that teenagers are like puppies. High-strung and nervous for no apparent reason. I guess we’re all lucky you didn’t soil the carpet, huh?”
“Ha, ha. More like you, T. rex, were born before doors were invented and don’t know proper protocol. Just to clarify. You knock before you come into a room.”
Ash let out an aggravated breath as he swiped his brow with his middle finger. “For the record, we did have doors eleven thousand years ago. Like many other things you guys erroneously take credit for, you did not invent them.”
Nick snorted. “Uh-huh. That’s what all ancient people say. So what are you doing here?”
Ash tucked his hands into the pockets of his motorcycle jacket that had a skull and crossbones painted across the back of it. “Responding to that wigged-out text you sent me from school. Why are you suddenly curious about demonology?”
There was something about Ash so trustworthy that Nick almost told him everything. But Ambrose had been emphatic that he keep Acheron out of his life as much as possible … for Ash’s sake as much as his own. And while Nick didn’t really trust his future self, he had no reason to doubt Ambrose’s warnings. Especially since Ambrose knew the future and exactly what would happen to Nick if he didn’t change things.
So he opted for a partial truth. “We had one loose in my school so I thought, given that I’m now in the middle of this oh-so-fun world of yours, I ought to educate myself on it in case another one decides to use St. Richard’s or me for a playground.… So do you know any good books about it?”
Acheron laughed deep in his throat. “Now there’s something I never thought to hear coming out of your mouth. At least not unless it involved hentai or manga.”
Nick slapped his knee in a grandiose, sarcastic gesture. “You’re so hilarious. You know, if this whole Daimon-slaying gig doesn’t work out for you, you should really consider being a comedian. The bright Barney hair color would just add to the overall entertainment factor.”
Acheron smiled, flashing a tiny bit of his fangs. Over eleven thousand years old, Ash knew pretty much everything about anything. But unlike most of Nick’s teachers, he wasn’t arrogant or condescending about it. And when he explained the past to you, it was actually interesting, especially since you knew he’d lived through it and was speaking from personal experience.
“And one day, kid, that sense of humor of yours is going to get you eaten by something foul.”
“So they keep telling me.”
With an expression that said he was less than amused, Ash ran his thumb along the edge of his lips. “The best book I know is bound in human flesh and written in blood. Not sure you’d want it if I gave it to you, and even then, it’s written in cuneiform.”
“Exactly my point, Nick.… Cuneiform. Ancient Sumerian. Not exactly something they teach in high school these days.”
That figured. Nick scowled at him. “What good is it, then?”
“A lot. It’s the definitive book on all subspecies of Eurasian and African demonkyn. There’s not a breed on those continents that isn’t well documented, right down to how to trap and kill them. But it has nothing about American, Australian, or Antarctican demons.”
That last one floored him. Was Ash serious or joking again? “They have demons on Antarctica?”
“Yeah,” Ash breathed. “It wasn’t always covered by ice, that was just a precaution when they buried them. Not to mention, there are a few sunken small continents around it, such as Mu, Asmayda, Lumeria, Vlaanderen, and the aptly named Satanazes, which translates to the Isle of Demons. There’s a really good reason no human wants to live on the South Pole. And why many have never returned from their trips there.”
Nick narrowed his gaze at Acheron. “You’re screwing with me, aren’t you?”
“No. There’s a lot of human history that wasn’t written down. Sometimes for good reasons, and there are tons of things the powers-that-be don’t want humanity to remember or rediscover. And even what’s written isn’t always right. People skew things all the time to make themselves look better.”
“Well, if you ask the god Apollo what happened to Atlantis, he’ll tell you he sank it. Plato, on the other hand, blames the sinking on Poseidon. The Keetoowah say it was a blond-haired demon who annihilated it.”
“And the truth?” Nick asked.
Acheron shrugged. “Don’t know. I was temporarily dead when my home was sucked into the ocean. I keep watching the History Channel hoping for enlightenment, but so far … nada.”
Nick laughed at his dry tone. “You’re lying to me.”
Acheron arched a brow. “What makes you think that?”
“I don’t know. It’s a feeling I have that tells me you know exactly what happened to your homeland, but that you don’t want to share.”
Acheron’s stance and expression gave nothing away. Man, to have those evil poker face powers. “What can I say? I have a long history of not playing well with others.”
Knowing Acheron was even less likely to share than Caleb, Nick changed the subject. “So how many classifications of demon are there, anyway?”
“Thousands. Every culture has its own group.”
“You can’t be more specific?”
Ash shrugged. “If I thought about it, but really? Who cares?”
“I do. So what’s the exact number?”
“Nine thousand, two hundred and twelve subcategories.”
Now that was a lot, and Nick was one of them. No, Nick was the king of them, or would be one day.
But Acheron didn’t know that. And Nick wasn’t about to enlighten him. Especially since Acheron made a habit out of killing one particular demon class of beings.
Still, it was impressive that Acheron could pull the exact number out of the ether. His powers really were terrifying. “Do you know them all?”
“Not personally. Contrary to what you think, not all preternatural beings hang out at the local Supernatural Pub looking for humans and dates.”
Nick let out an irritated breath. “That wasn’t what I meant. Do you know all the different kinds?”
“Yes, and we’ve talked about this before. Would you like the list alphabetically, regionally, or chronologically?”
Nick rolled his eyes again. “I would accuse you of being sarcastic, but I have a feeling you actually could name them all in those orders.”
“Yes, I can. But that being said, I don’t know everything about all of them. Some of them aren’t in the human realm so I’ve never had the chance to cross their path. Some are extinct and were so even when I was born. Others are major pains in my posterior more times than they should be.”
A weird chill went down Nick’s spine at that last bit. It was something Ash said about him. A lot. Could Ash possibly know what he was?
No, there was no way. Ash wouldn’t have been so lackadaisical about it if he knew. In fact, given his devotion to humans, Acheron would most likely kill him if he ever learned Nick was a Malachai.
“Acheron? I didn’t know you were still in town.”
Ash turned as Kyrian joined them in Nick and Rosa’s office. At six foot five, Kyrian didn’t look up at many men, but Ash was one of the few. Blond, well muscled, and with features a cover model would envy, he had a presence every bit as fierce as Acheron’s. His blond curls were slicked back and wet from his shower, but he was dressed in his usual all-black high-fashion designer style.
In his human life, Kyrian had been a renowned Greek prince and general. That aura of commanding nobility still bled from every precise gesture he made. Even his stance said, “bow down before me or get your throat cut.”
Ash shook Kyrian’s hand. “Given the strange vibe we encountered last night, I decided to stay on for a bit longer.”
Nick frowned. “What strange vibe?”
Kyrian rubbed at his shoulder as if he’d been injured the night before. “We found a group of Daimons who actually fought back with a great deal of skill, instead of running away like they normally do.”
“Did you get them?”
“No,” Acheron answered before Kyrian had a chance. “Which is another reason I’m staying a little longer than planned.”
Kyrian glared at Acheron. “You know, Acheron, I led entire armies up against Rome’s finest. I think I can handle this without a babysitter.”
“And when you were going up against Rome, I daresay you had more than you, Xander, and Talon in your army.”
“I really hate it when you use logic against me.” Kyrian crossed his arms over his chest.
“Xander?” Nick asked Acheron, wondering about the unfamiliar name.
“Another Dark-Hunter here in New Orleans.”
Nick gaped. “There’s a third Dark-Hunter and you’re just now telling me this?”
“We actually have four here,” Kyrian said. “But Rogue speaks even less than Xander does.”
Nick looked back and forth between them. “And … why am I just now finding out about this?”
Ash shrugged. “Need to know … and you didn’t.”
Yeah, it said a lot about how secretive they were and the fact that as Kyrian’s human Squire, Nick was supposed to be privy to all Dark-Hunter details, especially those that concerned or mattered to him. “Aren’t you guys afraid I’d see one of them and stake them by mistake?”
“Nope,” Ash said. “They’re not blond. That’s the only reason we told you about Talon. We figured if you ran across Xander or Kit, you’d think they were some other species.”
That was the thing about Daimons, since they didn’t intermingle with other species, they were all natural blondes.
“Who’s Kit?” Nick asked with a frown. “Is that another one?”
Kyrian shook his head. “Rogue’s real name isn’t Rogue. His parents weren’t that cruel. It’s Christopher Boughy, or Kit.”
“Why does he go by Rogue, then? Is he an X-Men fan?”
Ash sighed. “FYI, I wouldn’t crack that joke around him. I doubt his High Surliness would be amused and he tends to be fast with a blade to the throat. Back in the eighteenth century, he was an English highwayman known as the Black Rogue. Rogue for short.”
“So, Acheron,” Kyrian said, hijacking their conversation. “What happened to your car? I saw the busted fender on it. How unlike you to crash into anything.”
Nick cringed as Acheron turned toward him with an arched brow.
“Hey now,” Nick said, holding his hands up in defense of himself, “it was not my fault. I was minding my own business when that trash can went suicidal, came out of nowhere, and jumped in front of the car.”
“It was on the curb, Nick,” Ash said drily. “Along with a number of screaming pedestrians, running for their lives.”
“That’s your story. I’m sticking to mine.… And there ought to be a law about homicidal trash cans, and fines for the people who put them on the street. They’re really dangerous.… Just saying.”
Kyrian shook his head. “And you wonder why I haven’t volunteered to teach him how to drive?”
“I know why you haven’t volunteered. I, on the other hand, need a psych eval for being so stupid.”
“No comment, for I have never been quite so stupid as to intentionally insult you.” Kyrian pegged Nick with a grimace. “So, kid, did you get—”
“Right here, boss.” Knowing what Kyrian wanted without his finishing the sentence, Nick pulled the RAM out of his pocket. “I’m going to install it first thing. I also texted Kell about your boots and he said that his Squire mailed them back yesterday, but it’ll be a week on your sword. He’s waiting for a shipment of the titanium he uses to smelt the blades. So then, I checked with Liza to see what she had in inventory. She said that she has a smaller short sword if you want to try it while you wait for your replacement. If you’re interested, I can pick that up before you head out tonight, and I asked Kell to make four more swords as backups so that you won’t have to wait in the future should your primary and secondary get busted.”
Kyrian inclined his head to Acheron. “Worth every penny of his salary.”
“Yeah, I’m thinking about cloning him. We could make a killing selling Nick PAs.”
Kyrian laughed, then gave a nod to Nick. “I shall leave you to your duties and go work out until the sun goes down. If you’d like to join me in a bit, I can show you more sword-fighting techniques.”