Authors: Sherrilyn Kenyon
His breathing ragged, Zavid shook his head. When he spoke, his voice was thick with raw, unshed tears. “My sister’s dead. She died a long time ago.”
Caleb’s eyes shone with his own sympathy for the Hel Hound. Like them, he’d lost everything that mattered to him, and it was hard to make it through the day, knowing you’d never see your loved ones again. “Grim must have resurrected her for some reason.”
His jaw slack, Zavid snapped his attention to Caleb. “You saw her?” There was so much agonized hope in those words that it brought tears to Kody’s eyes.
“I did. She was trying to free you from Hel.”
A single tear slid down his handsome cheek before he angrily wiped it away. “My sister was everything to me.”
Kody had to look away as unwanted memories flooded her with pain. She knew that tone of voice. Had heard it from her own overprotective brothers on more than one occasion. “She was younger?”
He nodded then wrapped his arms around himself as if he had a sudden chill. “I swore to my parents when they were killed that I’d never allow any harm to come to her.” He swallowed hard. “I failed them all.”
Caleb stepped closer to him with a pose that said he wanted blood from the ones who’d harmed a woman. A throwback to the day he’d lost the only woman he’d ever loved to the hands of his enemies. “What happened?”
A furious tic started in Zavid’s sculpted jaw. “She fell in love with an idiot, and when he ran afoul of Hel, she sold herself to the goddess to save him from his stupidity. Needless to say, it didn’t work out for either of them.”
Kody winced as she realized what had happened to the poor Aamon demon on the floor. “You went in her stead?”
He nodded. “I knew what slavery meant for our kind. I couldn’t let my sister do that. I knew she’d never survive it.”
And given the scars on his body, he was right. Nick had told her that the Norse gods had used Zavid for gladiatorial matches where they’d bled him to the brink of death. That they had dehumanized him to the point that he hadn’t even remembered his own name when Nick had met him.
They had called Zavid “Beast,” and a beast was what he’d become. All he’d known. Only Nick had seen through the feral hatred to the heart of the man.
Nick, alone, had saved Zavid when anyone else would have put their head down and kept going, leaving the Hel Hound to die. Especially after the way Zavid had attacked Nick and Caleb.
“How did your sister die?” Caleb asked quietly.
Zavid swallowed hard before he answered. “Zarelda tried to free me from the goddess.”
In that moment, Kody finally saw the true heart inside Zavid that had called out to Nick. The Malachai was always able to see straight through someone’s façade. To know their weaknesses so that he could destroy them more easily. Up until Nick, every Malachai had used that knowledge to hurt and to wound.
Nick used it only for good.
There were so many reasons she didn’t want to kill Nick, even though she had every right to demand his head on a platter. Even though she was under orders to do so …
Trying not to think about that or her past, she met Caleb’s frown. “You think Zarelda might know something about Grim’s plan?”
“No. But she might know something useful.” Caleb shifted his gaze to Zavid. “You’re the only one of us who can summon her.”
He laughed bitterly. “No. I can’t. Hel stripped that power from me as punishment after Zarelda tried to release me. I have no telepathy whatsoever. Haven’t had it for centuries.”
That closed that door effectively. Running out of ideas, Kody turned back to Caleb. “Know any necromancers?”
Caleb gave her a wry grin. “Actually, I do. Talon can commune with the dead.”
“The Dark-Hunter?” Kody asked to make sure they were traveling along the same idea path.
“You know anyone better?”
Yes, but she’d purposely avoided Acheron. For many reasons. “How’s Talon going to react if we show up at his cabin in the middle of the day? As far as he knows, we’re human kids who hang out with Nick.”
“Point taken.” Caleb growled. “I’m out of ideas, then.”
That left her with only one other option and it was the closest thing to Acheron she dared approach with something like this—Acheron’s demon daughter. “Let me see if I can contact Simi.”
Caleb laughed. “Good luck with that.”
“Don’t scoff, oh ye who has no better idea.”
He held his hands up in surrender. “Fine. Call me if she starts to eat you. Maybe I can stop her.”
From anyone else that might sound odd, but since Simi was a Charonte demon with a ferocious appetite, it
a possibility. “I think I’ll be all right. Just don’t let Cherise find out she has two unexpected house guests and that her baby boy isn’t her baby boy.”
Caleb visibly cringed. “On second thought, I’d rather go with you and take my chances with Simi.”
“Sorry, slugger. Cherise at least knows you. We can’t risk her running into the other two on her own.”
“Fine, but the next time something puts you on its menu, I
“Yeah, yeah.” Smiling, Kody flashed herself back to her house.
Her smile died the moment she saw the large recurve bow on her wall, over her bed. It was so hard to be with Simi when Kody knew what would one day become of them all. It was an ending they kept speeding toward, and one way or another, Kody had to derail it.
And while Simi knew Kody wasn’t human, she had yet to guess the truth of who and what she really was.
And why she was here.
Most of all, Simi had yet to realize that they were related. Every time Kody saw the demon, she wanted to hug her. To crawl into Simi’s lap like she used to do when she was little and have Simi rock her and tell her that the Simi wouldn’t let anything bad happen to her. That she was the Simi’s precious akra-belle.
But those days were long gone.
And there was much more at stake than just Kody and her family.
“Simi?” Kody called, reaching out with the power she’d been taught as a toddler. Like her uncle, she had the ability to summon any Charonte, from any realm. She could even control them, but she wasn’t into that any more than her uncle had been. She didn’t believe in taking away anyone’s free will. Not for any reason.
Within a few seconds, Simi appeared before her, yawning so wide she exposed her fangs. Her black and red hair was rumpled around her small horns and as she stretched, her wings expanded.
“Were you napping?”
Simi shook herself and rose to tower over Kody. “No, silly semi-human. The Simi was sleeping. I know it daylight here, but in Similand, it the middle of the night and I was barbecuing dream sheep in my sleep.” Simi cocked her head as she took note of her surroundings. “Where’s Akri-Nick?”
Kody bit her lip. “We have a bit of a problem with that.”
“You done broke up again? No, Akra-Kody. Say it ain’t so.”
“It ain’t so.”
Simi formed a small O with her lips as she considered the alternatives. “You lose him? Where was he when he got lost? You know, you gots to be careful with them boy-people. They wander off and do all kinds of strange things. Akri once accidentally wandered off and left the Simi alone in a whole field of moo-moos and forgot to tell the Simi that they weren’t to be eaten. They’s good, but off menu. Made that old Poseidon god very angry.”
Kody laughed. “I didn’t lose him like that, Simi.”
“Oh. Then what’d you do?”
“I left him to sleep, but I think while he was sleeping he was sucked into another dimension and into the future, and someone else is now here, in his body. Can you time travel?”
Simi sucked her breath in sharply. “Akra-Kody, that’s a bad bad idea.”
“But can you do it?”
“The Simi can do lots of things, and as Akri say, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. But in this case … not without Akri, and he won’t never let the Simi do that. He’d sooner give the Simi people to eat.”
Kody sighed as she realized she’d have to go this alone. Not like that was any different than what her existence had been, but still …
She’d hoped to have some form of backup when she went into the unknown. “Then I’ll have to do it myself.”
“Alone? What? Why would you want to go and do that?”
“I have no choice, Simi. It has to be done. Nick can’t stay unprotected.”
“How you find him when you don’t know where it is you lost him?”
“I have a general idea where he is. Kind of.”
Simi quirked an eyebrow at that. “What if he moves? Boys tend to do that. A lot. They not real stationary creatures, especially when they young and virile.”
Kody laughed in spite of her fear. Simi had a valid point. “Without his powers … I don’t know if anyone can find him. We have nothing to use to pinpoint him with. But I have to try.”
Pursing her lips, Simi tapped her forefinger against them. “Why don’t Akra-Kody go ask Menyara? She always knows where Akri-Nick is.”
Honestly? Because Menyara was the one being who had the powers to see through Kody’s guise. To recognize her. Even though Kody was shielded, Menyara was also the Egyptian goddess Ma’at. And as such, her powers were infinite.
Since the day she had been sent to stop Nick, Kody had been very careful to fly below Mennie’s radar. To never look her in the eye for fear that her great-aunt would see Kody’s mother in her. Sense the bloodline they shared.
But as she heard the storms outside picking up strength as the darkest powers gathered, she knew Simi was right. They didn’t have time to play around and avoid uncomfortable situations. She had to go see her great-aunt and face the past.
Her vision swam as tears gathered in her throat to choke her.
“Is Akra-Kody okay?”
No. She hadn’t been fine in a long, long time. But she didn’t want to share that. Not even with Simi. Thanks to the Malachai, she was alone in this world, and stronger than any being should ever have to be.
“I’m fine, Simi. I’ll go ask her like you suggested.” As she started to flash away, Simi took her hand and squeezed it so that she could teleport with Kody. As much as she wanted Simi with her, she knew better. What she’d need to say to Menyara, Simi couldn’t overhear. If the demon ever learned who and what Nekoda really was, it could cause unbelievable damage to the time sequence.
Kody patted her hand. “I need to do this alone, Sim. Is that all right?”
Smiling, Simi nodded. “The Simi wait here then.” Without a second thought, Simi headed to Kody’s bed to lie down with her feet running up the wall. Simi’s toes almost reached the bow Kody had received from her mother.
Kody laughed as she remembered being a small child and sleeping the same way. It had driven her parents to distraction.
Are you a Charonte simi, too?
she’d always answered back, proud to sleep like her favorite aunt. Many times, she’d napped on Simi’s stomach with her legs propped on top of Simi’s, while Simi kept her arms wrapped so tightly around Kody that it had been hard to breathe. Even so, Kody had never complained. Every child should be enveloped in such love. And so long as Simi held her like that, she’d known that nothing and no one could ever harm her.
Not without Simi eating them whole for it.
And both Simi and her husband had died while protecting Kody from the Malachai. Even now, Kody could see the horror of that night in her mind. She’d barely been school age when the Malachai’s army had found their hiding place. Simi and her husband had stayed behind to hold the Malachai back while Kody’s brother had run with her into the night.
Ari had used his own powers to shield her from their demonic pursuers. “I will keep you safe, Belami. Always. Nothing’s going to hurt you so long as I live.”
And just like Simi and her husband, Ari had fallen to the Malachai. Everyone Kody loved had been destroyed by the beast Nick was destined to become.
How can I fight for him?
You have no choice. Only Nick can defeat the ušumgallu.
She had to save him. He was the only hope they had.
The time sequence couldn’t stop here. It had to go forward. Too many lives depended on her, as well as the fate of the entire world.
Determined, she flashed herself to the front porch of Menyara’s small duplex condo that Menyara had once shared with Nick and his mother.
Kody took a moment to compose herself. Because Menyara was her blood family, it was always hard for her to be around Menyara and not betray herself. Every time Kody saw the petite primal goddess, she wanted to throw herself into her arms and cry. To tell Menyara who she was and what was to come.
But she couldn’t, not without destroying everything.
With a ragged breath, Kody knocked on the door and braced herself to meet her aunt.
Dressed in a light yellow cotton dress, Menyara opened the door and arched a brow at her. Today, she had her sisterlocks curled about her beautiful face.
Kody ached to bury her hand in them like she’d done as a child. Back then, whenever Menyara visited, she’d rock Kody and sing ancient Egyptian lullabies to her. Kody would twist her fingers in Menyara’s hair and bury her face in the rose-and-hyacinth-scented strands until she fell asleep, nestled in Mennie’s warmth.
How she loved this woman.
Menyara smiled at her. “Miss Kody, to what do I owe this honor?”
Kody opened her mouth to tell her what had happened to Nick, but no sound would come out. Suddenly, she couldn’t breathe at all. Her throat tightened as if someone was choking her. Tears gathered in her eyes.
Then everything went dark.
Nick came awake to the sight of Amanda and Tabitha standing over him. His cheeks stung as if someone, probably Tabitha, had slapped him a few times in an attempt to revive him.
Amanda let out a relieved breath.
Tabitha snorted. “We’re in luck, T. He’s not dead … yet. We didn’t kill him. Hallelujah! We don’t have to call the lawyers or hide another body.”
Scared of that thought, Nick scowled at the familiar raven-haired Goth queen who was decked out in black leather pants and a black bell-sleeved shirt. This was what he knew. Thank God, he was home. “What’d you do, Tabitha? Run me over again?”