Authors: Sherrilyn Kenyon
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As always, a big thank-you to Kim, Julie, and Nancy for all the hard work you ladies do on my behalf. I have no idea what I would do without you.
For my fans, the LOS and the RBLs, who add so much pleasure and support to my world. Thank you!! You have no idea how much you all mean to me. To my family, who is forever understanding of why Mom has to spend so many hours locked in her small office. To my friends, who are always there through the good times and the bad.
To my baby brother, for all the laughter you give me when I need it, and to his wife, who takes such good care of him for me.
And most of all to my mother. Thank you so much, Mom, for giving me the love of vampires and of all things paranormal. I owe you more than can ever be repaid and there's not a day in my life that goes by where I don't feel the loss of you deep inside my heart. I miss you, Mom. I always will.
All my love to all of you. Thank you so much for taking these trips into the unknown with me.
Mississippi University for Women
She was dead.
Melissa's heart was pounding from her rushing adrenaline as she scrambled to reach the safety of Grossnickle Hall. Two hours ago, she'd foolishly told her friends to leave her at the library while she finished researching her English paper.
Lost in the misadventures of Christopher Marlowe's life, she'd spent more time there than she'd meant to. The next thing she'd known, it was late and time for her to head back to her apartment-style residence hall. She'd briefly considered calling her boyfriend to come get her, but since he was working tonight on the stocking crew, that seemed a moot issue.
Without another thought about the stupidity of a twenty-one-year-old woman walking alone, she'd gathered her books and headed home. But now as she ran across campus being chased by four unknown men, she realized just how idiotic she'd been.
How could someone lose their life over one bad decision?
And yet it happened to people every day.
It wasn't supposed to happen to me!
“Please help me,” she screamed as she ran as fast as she could. Surely there was someone who saw her? Someone who would call security out to help her.
She rounded a hedge and ran straight into something. She looked up at the man in front of her.
“Pleaseâ” The words died as she realized he was one of the four blond men chasing her.
He laughed evilly, showing her a set of fangs.
Screaming, Melissa fought his hold. She threw her books against him, and shoved with every ounce of strength she possessed.
He let go.
She darted toward the street only to find another blond man waiting there. She drew up short, looking for somewhere else to run to.
But there was nowhere to go that one of them couldn't catch her.
Dressed all in black, the newcomer stood as if completely nonchalant to the danger or her terror. His long blond hair was pulled back into a ponytail. He wore a pair of dark sunglasses that completely shielded his eyes from her and it made her wonder how he could even see in the darkness.
There was something timeless about him. Something all-powerful and frightening. He seemed to be cut from the same cloth as her pursuers and yet there was something about him that was entirely different. Something more powerful. More ancient.
“Are you one of them?” she choked.
One corner of his mouth twisted up. “No, precious, I'm not one of them.”
She heard the others closing in on her. Turning her head, she watched them slow down as they neared her and caught sight of the man she was standing with.
Fear was etched plainly on their handsome faces as one of them whispered the word “Dark-Hunter.”
They stayed back as if debating what they should do now that the other man was there.
The newcomer held his hand out to her.
Grateful her nightmare was over and that this man had finally stopped them from hunting or hurting her, Melissa took his hand. He sneered at the ones who had been chasing her as he pulled her closer to him.
Every piece of her was trembling in relief that he had come to her rescue. “Thank you.”
He smiled at that. “No, precious, thank you.”
Before she could move, he grabbed her into his arms and sank his fangs into her neck.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
The Dark-Hunter tasted the life and emotions of the co-ed as he drank her life's essence into his body. It was pure and untaintedÂ â¦ She was a scholarship student who'd had a bright future ahead of her.
C'est la vie.
Reveling in the taste of her, he waited until he could hear and feel those last few faint heartbeats that would cease when she died. She went completely limp against him. Poor child. But there was nothing sweeter than the taste of innocence.
He picked her body up in his arms and walked slowly toward the Daimons who had been chasing her.
He gave her over to the one who appeared to be their leader. “There's not much blood left, guys, but her soul is still intact.
Death was ever swirling through the halls of this nether realm that existed far beyond the reach of mankind. It didn't haunt here. It lived here. In fact, it was a natural state of being. As the Alexion for Katoteros, he had long grown accustomed to its constant presence. To the sight, sound, scent and taste of death.
Everything mortal died.
For that matter, Alexion himself had died twice only to be reborn to his current state. But as he stared into the eerie red mists of the sforaâan ancient Atlantean orb that could see into the past, present and futureâhe felt an unfamiliar twinge of emotion.
That poor woman-child. Her life had been too abbreviated. No one deserved to die by the hands of the Daimons who sucked the souls out of humans so that they could artificially elongate their short lives. And certainly no human deserved to die at the hands of the Dark-Hunters who had been created solely to kill the Daimons before those stolen souls perished from the universe forever.
It was the job of all Dark-Hunters to protect life, not to take it.
As Alexion sat quietly in the dim light of his room he wanted to feel outraged by her death. Indignant.
But he felt nothing. He always felt nothing. Just a cold, horrifying logic that bore no emotions whatsoever. He could only observe life, he couldn't live it.
Time would march on and nothing would change.
It was the way of things.
But her death was a catalyst for something greater. With Marco's actions, he had set into motion his own demise, just as the girl had the moment she'd decided to study late.
And just like the girl, Marco wouldn't see his own death coming until it was too late for him to avert it.
Alexion shook his head at the irony. It was time for him to return to the dimension of the living and do his duty once more. Marco and Kyros were drawing together Dark-Hunters and trying to convert them to their misbegotten cause and they wouldn't stop until he forced them to.
Their plan was to rebel against Artemis and Acheron. And Alexion's job was to kill any who refused to see reason.
Standing up, he started away from the orb when he saw the images on the wall around him change. Gone were the Daimons and Marco.
In their place was
Alexion paused as he saw the French Dark-Huntress fighting another group of Daimons not far from her own home in Tupelo. She was intrepid and quick as she danced around the male Daimons who were trying to kill her. Her movements were beautiful and swift, like a frenetic dance.
She laughed defiantly at them, and for an instant he could almost feel her passion. Her conviction. She reveled in her life so greatly that her feelings were able to reach out across the dimensions that separated them and almost warm him.
Closing his eyes, he savored that fleeting twinge of humanity.
Her name was Danger and there was something about her that almost touched him.
And for some reason he didn't comprehend, he didn't want to see her die.
But that was foolish. Nothing could ever touch the Alexion.
Even so, he could hear Acheron's voice in his head.
Some of them might be saved and those were the ones Acheron wanted him to focus on.
Save what you can, my brother. You can't decide for anyone. Let them choose their own fates. There is nothing to be done for the ones who won't listenâbut for the one who doesÂ â¦
It's worth it.
Perhaps, but what concerned him most was how little he cared whether or not they lived anymore. Duty. Honor. Existing. Those were the things he knew.
He was becoming unsalvageable. How much longer until he refused to even render a choice? It would be easy, really. Pop in, strike them down, and come home.
Why go through the motions of trying to save anyone when the Dark-Hunters were the ones who damned themselves to begin with?
No, he wasn't Acheron after all. His patience had run out long ago. He no longer cared what happened to any of them.
But as he watched Danger slay the last of her Daimons, he did feel something. It was quick and fluttering, like a dull spasm.
For the first time in centuries, he wanted to change what was to comeâhe just didn't know why. Why should he care?
Holding his hand up, he banished the images from his walls.
Even so, he continued to see the future clearly in his mind. If Danger continued on her course, she, like her friends, would die during the Krisiâthe judgment Alexion would soon deliver. Her loyalty to them would be her death.
But she wasn't the only one who could perish by Alexion's hand. Alexion closed his eyes and summoned another Dark-Hunter into his mind.
He was setting the course for the downfall of not only himself but for all the others too.
This time, there was no mistaking the pain Alexion felt. It was so unexpected that it actually made him flinch. It was the last remnant of his humanity and he was relieved that he still held even a tiny ounce of it.
No, he couldn't just stand by and see the man die. Not if he could help it.
“Nothing is ever truly set by fate. In one blink, everything changes. Even though it should be a clear, sunny day, the softest whisper into the wind can became a hurricane that destroys everything it touches.”
How many times had Acheron told him that?
Everything was coming to a head again and Alexion wanted to change what was meant to be.