Dance With The Devil (5)Chapter 1. Acheron Parthenopaeus was a man of many secrets and powers. As the firstborn Dark- Hunter and leader of their kind, he had set himself up over nine thousand years ago to be the buffer between them and Artemis the goddess of the hunt who had created them. It was a job he seldom relished and a position he’d always hated. Like an errant child, Artemis loved nothing more than to push him just to see how far she could go before he called her down. Theirs was a complicated relationship that hinged on a balance of power. He alone possessed the ability to keep her calm and rational.
At least most of the time. Meanwhile she held the one source of food that he needed to stay human. Compassionate. Without her, he would become a soulless killer even worse than the Daimons who preyed on humankind. Without him, she would have no heart or conscience. On Mardi Gras night, he’d bargained with her to exchange two weeks of his servitude so that she would release Talon’s soul and allow the Dark- Hunter to leave their service and spend his immortality with the woman he loved.
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Talon was liberated from hunting vampires and other demonic creatures who stalked the earth looking for hapless victims. Now Ash was restricted from using most of his powers while he was locked inside Artemis’s temple where he had to rely on her whims to keep him informed about the progress of Zarek’s hunt. He knew the betrayal Zarek felt and it gnawed inside him. Better than anyone, he understood what it meant to be left completely alone, to survive on instinct and to have only enemies around him. Ash couldn’t stand the thought of one of his men feeling like that.“I want you to call off Thanatos,” Ash said as he sat on the marbled floor at Artemis’s feet. She lay across her ivory colored throne that had always reminded him of an overstuffed lounge chaise.
It was decadent and soft, a pure study in hedonistic delight. Artemis was nothing if not a creature of comfort. She smiled languidly as she rolled over onto her back. Her white, gauzy peplos displayed more of her body than it covered and as she moved, her entire lower half was bared to him. Uninterested, he lifted his gaze to hers. She trailed a hot, lustful glance over his body that was bare except for the tight black leather pants he wore. Satisfaction gleamed in her bright green eyes while she toyed with a strand of his long blond hair that covered the bite wound on his neck.
She was well fed and content to be with him. He was neither.“You’re still weak, Acheron,” she said quietly, “and in no position to make demands on me. Besides, your two weeks with me have only begun. Where is the subjugation you promised?”Ash rose up slowly to tower over her. He braced his arms on each side of her and lowered himself until their noses were almost touching. Her eyes widened a degree, just enough to let him know that in spite of her words, she knew which of them was the more powerful, even while weakened.
Call off your pet, Artie. I mean it. I told you long ago that there was no need of a Thanatos to stalk my Hunters and I’m tired of this game you play. I want him caged.”“No,” she said in a tone that was almost petulant. Zarek is to die. End of symphony. The moment his picture became the nightly news event while he was killing Daimons, he exposed all the Dark- Hunters to danger. We can’t afford to let the human authorities ever learn about them.
If they ever find Zarek- ”“Who’s going to find him? He’s up in the middle of nowhere per your cruelty.”“I didn’t put him there, you did. I wanted him killed and you refused.
Start by marking “Dance with the Devil. but the stories in between that book and Dance with the Devil had left me feeling underwhelmed and less than satisfied.
It’s all your fault he’s banished in Alaska so don’t blame me.”Ash curled his lip. I’m not about to put a man to death because you and your siblings were playing with his life.”He wanted another fate for Zarek.
But so far, none of them had cooperated. Damn free will anyway. It got all of them into more trouble than any of them needed.
She narrowed her eyes at him. Why do you care so much, Acheron? I’m beginning to get jealous of this Dark- Hunter and the love you have for him.”Ash pushed himself away from her. She made his concern for one of his men sound obscene.
Of course she was good at that. What he felt for Zarek was kindred brotherhood.
Better than anyone, he understood the man’s motivation. Knew why Zarek struck out in anger and frustration. There were only so many kicks a dog could take before it turned vicious.
He, himself, was so close to turning that he couldn’t fault Zarek for the fact he had gone rabid centuries before. Even so, he couldn’t let Zarek die. Not like this. Not over something that hadn’t been Zarek’s fault. The incident in the New Orleans’ alley had been a set up by Dionysus for no other reason than to expose Zarek to the cops and to cause Artemis to call out a blood hunt for the man’s life. If Thanatos or the Squires killed Zarek, then Zarek would become a bodiless Shade who was doomed to walk the earth for eternity. Forever hungry and suffering. Forever in pain. Ash winced at the memory.
Unable to stand the thought of it, he headed for the door.“Where are you going?” Artemis asked.“To find Themis and undo what you’ve started.”Artemis suddenly appeared in front of him, blocking his way to the door. You’re not going anywhere.”“Then call off your dog.”“No.”“Fine.” Ash looked down his right arm at the she- dragon tattoo that ran from his shoulder to his wrist. Simi,” he commanded. Take human form.”The dragon lifted itself from his skin, shifted its shape into that of a young demonic woman, no taller than three feet. She hovered effortlessly to his right. In this incarnation, her wings were dark blue and black, even though she usually preferred burgundy for them. The darker color of the wings combined with the color of her eyes told him just how unhappy Simi was to find herself here on Olympus.
Her eyes were white, rimmed in red and her long yellow- blond hair floated around her. She had black horns that were more beautiful than sinister and long pointed ears. Her flowing red dress wrapped around her lithe, muscular body that she could mold into any size from one inch to eight feet tall in human form or as large as eighty feet as a dragon.“No!” Artemis said, trying to use her powers to contain the Charonte demon.
It didn’t faze Simi who could only be summoned or controlled by Ash or his mother.“What’cha want, akri?” Simi asked Ash.“Kill Thanatos.”Simi flashed her fangs as she rubbed her hands together gleefully and cast an evil smirk at Artemis. Oh goodie! I get to make the red- headed goddess mad!”Artemis looked desperately at Ash. Put it back on your arm.”“Forget it, Artemis. You’re not the only one who can command a killer.
Personally, I think it would be interesting to see just how long your Thanatos would last against my Simi.”Artemis’s face paled.“He won’t last long, akri,” Simi said to Ash, using the Atlantean term for lord and master. Her voice was quiet, but powerful and filled with a sing- sing quality that was quite musical in tone. Thanatos is barbecue.” She smiled at Artemis. And I like my barbecue. Just tell me how you want him, akri, normal recipe or extra crispy.
I’m partial to extra crispy myself. They crunch louder when deep fried. Reminds me I need some bread crumbs.”Artemis swallowed audibly.
You can’t send it after him. It’s uncontrollable without you.”“She does only what I tell her to do.”“That thing is a menace with or without you. Zeus forbid it should ever go out into the human world alone.”Ash scoffed at that. She’s less a menace than you are and she goes out all the time on her own.”“I can’t believe you’d unleash it so carelessly. What are thinking?”While they argued, Simi floated around the room, making a list in a small leather bound book.
Ooo let’s see, I need to get my spicy barbecue sauce. Definitely some oven mitts, cause he gonna be hot from being flame- broiled. I need to get a couple of them apple trees so I can have some chips so that the meat be nice and appleley tasting.
Give it that extra yumminess, cause I don’t like that Daimon flavor. Ack!”“What’s it doing?” Artemis asked as she realized Simi was talking to herself.“She’s making her list on what she needs to kill Thanatos.”“It sounds like it’s going to eat him.”“Probably.”Artemis’s eyes narrowed. It can’t eat him. I forbid it.”Ash gave a sinister half laugh. She can do as she pleases. I taught her to waste not, want not.”Simi paused and lifted her head up from her list to snort at Artemis. The Simi is very environmentally sound.
Eat everything except for hooves. I don’t like those, they hurt my teeth.” She looked at Ash. Thanatos don’t have hooves, do he?”“No, Simi, he doesn’t.”Simi gave a happy cry.
Ooo, good eating tonight. I get a Daimon for barbecue. Can I go now, akri? Can I? Can I? Can I please?” Simi danced around like a small, happy child at a birthday party. Ash stared at Artemis. It’s entirely up to you, Artie.
He lives or dies by your word.”“No, akri!” Simi whined after a brief, stunned pause. She sounded as if she were in pain. Don’t ask her that. She never let me have no fun. She a mean goddess!”Ash knew how much Artemis hated it when he won an argument with her. Her eyes smoldered with barely leashed fury.
What do you want me to do?”“You say Zarek is unfit to live, that he poses a threat to others. All I ask is that you have Themis judge him. If her judge finds that Zarek is a danger to those around him, then I will send Simi after him myself to end his life.”Simi bared her fangs at Artemis as they exchanged venomous sneers. The two of them had never been able to stand each other. Finally, Artemis looked back at him. Very well, but I don’t trust your demon.
I will have Thanatos stand down, but after Zarek is judged guilty, I will send Thanatos in to finish him.”“Simi,” Ash said to his Charonte companion. Return to me.”She looked disgusted by the mere thought.
Return to me, Simi,” Simi mocked as she shifted forms. Don’t go frying the goddess. Don’t go frying Thanatos.” She made a strange horse- like snort. I am not a yo- yo, akri.