“I really hate that bastard.”
“Now, now Archie, don’t be hating just because Urian kicks your ass every time you step into the arena with him.”
Archimedes shoved at Davyn so hard, Davyn staggered back into Paris. Both of them burst out laughing. When Archie moved to strike his much smaller friend, Urian caught his hand.
“You want to hit someone, brother. Step back onto the field and pick up your sword again. I’ll be more than happy to knock you down a few more times until your temper’s spent. But you’re never to lift a hand to Davyn.”
“Screw you, Urian!” Archimedes charged at him.
“Archimedes!” Their father’s furious shout quelled his anger instantly. “What are you doing?”
“You’re always yelling at me for my temper . . . why don’t you ever go at him—” he jerked his chin toward Urian— “for his arrogance?”
Their father cut a steel glare toward Urian who arched a brow in response to it. “I would, if he were in the wrong. Now go cool your heels or else I’ll be the one you’ll face in the arena.”
That succeeded in calming down the massive brute who was second in size only to their father.
Even though Urian was almost full grown due to his Apollite blood, he still lacked a few inches of being as tall as the two of them, and doubted if he’d ever measure up completely. While his muscles were well-defined and honed, he tended toward a leaner, faster build than his father’s, Paris’s and Archie’s bulkier forms.
As did Davyn.
The two of them were about half the girth of the rest of them. Still, they could hold their own. What they lacked in all-out brute strength, they made up for in speed and dexterity.
Satisfied that Archie was done shoving Davyn around, Urian retrieved his shield from where he’d dropped it when he’d rushed to protect his friend.
“Halt!” The fury returned to his father’s voice and froze him to the spot.
Urian didn’t move as his father came over and pulled his shield from his arm. Too late he realized why. It was emblazoned with a black phoenix rising and encircled by a Greek key pattern with the words, I defend written above the phoenix’s head.
Shit, I should have changed that emblem more . . .
His father’s eyes and nostrils flared with anger. “This is the emblem of the Stygian Omada. The army that belonged to the Prince of Didymos . . . Styxx of the House of Aricles.”
For the merest heartbeat, he considered lying. But he’d always been honest in all things, especially with his father.
Judge me for what I do, not for the lies you hear from my lips or from those of another about me . . .
That had always been his motto. He wasn’t about to change it now.
“I know, Solren.” Urian had stopped calling Stryker Baba a long time ago. Baba was for children and Solren was what men called their fathers.
“He was an enemy to Atlantis! You know this, Urian. Why in the name of the gods, would you choose to fight under such a banner?”
True, however . . . “He was one of the greatest military commanders to ever live, Solren. One who was barely older than I am now when he won his first battle at Halicarnassus, and that was against the gods, themselves. And he was an enemy of Apollo. Just like us.”
“And our akra hates him as much as, if not more than, any of those gods. If you value your life, boy, burn that shield and never say his name around her. Do you understand me?”
“Aye, Solren. I’ll—” Urian’s words broke off as someone screamed out.
They all turned to see a large, burly male covered in blood. His eyes wild, he was obviously out of his mind and seeking any victim he could find.
Urian cringed as the cry went up among their people. Cursing, his father shoved Theo aside, drew his sword and headed immediately for the deranged man. Paris and Davyn did the same.
He picked up his shield and went to lend a hand with the others who were rushing to defend their people. The trelos began attacking any, and every Apollite he could reach. And with every bite, there was always a risk he could prematurely turn one of their people into a Daimon like him—one who no longer needed Apollite blood to live, but had to rely on human or Apollite souls to elongate their lives.
Which was what had driven him insane. For that was the chance every Apollite took whenever they decided to thwart Apollo’s curse in the manner that Apollymi had taught them. It was the risk no one ever mentioned or talked about, except in hushed whispers or fearful tones whenever they thought the goddess or his father couldn’t hear them.
It was hard enough to make the decision to become a true predator who lived off the lives of other sentient beings. To consume their souls so that you could live one more day past your curse.
It was quite another once you realized that every soul you consumed came with the very real possibility that it could drive you insane and turn you into this crazy, mindless beast that might cause your friends and family to be forced to put you down, with extreme prejudice.
But his people had no choice. Once the trelos madness took hold, there was no way back.
Death was the only option, as a new soul only worsened the madness of the previous one.
The trelos Daimon posed as much a risk to their population as he or she did to the humans. They were akin to a rabid animal, who killed indiscriminately. Without mercy, compassion or comprehension.
“Where is that bitch!” the trelos screamed. “I want the throat of the goddess who turned us into this!”
Stunned, Urian drew up short as he heard lucid words. It was the first time a trelos had said anything remotely sensible while in this state.
His father moved to cut off the trelos’s path to Apollymi’s quarters.
For once, his father was no obstacle. With an astounding ease of motion, the Daimon knocked his father aside and slammed Archie into Davyn. Then he picked up Paris and threw him into Theo. Both of them crashed to the ground, tripping three others in the process.
Urian barely cut him off before he reached Apollymi’s doors. “No, you don’t.” With a move he’d learned from studying Styxx’s journals and diagrams, he used his shield to press the Daimon backwards.
The Daimon slung him to the side with the unexpected force of a Titan. It was so great, that for a moment, Urian feared the bastard had torn his arm from its socket.
Urian hit the ground hard, but refused to stay there. Rather, he quickly rolled over with his shield, and in one fluid motion sprang to his feet. He held his ground, but he knew his legs were wobbly. He only prayed that it wasn’t obvious to anyone else. Especially the beast he faced.
With a loud, furious roar, the Daimon moved to wrest the shield from his arm. Afraid that this time he might actually lose his limb, Urian let it drop, and stabbed him in the side. The trelos screamed and staggered back. His breathing labored, Urian unsheathed his kopis and stepped forward to slice upward with a stroke that landed straight in the center of the Daimon’s chest.
It pierced the black mark in the center of the Daimon’s chest where the human souls he’d feasted upon had gathered to form a giant stain over his heart. Instantly, the Daimon burst apart, showering them with a fine golden powder.
More relieved than he wanted to admit, Urian barely suppressed his nervous laughter. Mustering as much bravado as he could, he used his arm to wipe away his sweat, and tried his best to act nonchalant about his victory. As if he did this kind of thing all the time. Instead of it being his first real battle victory.
But inside, he was turning cartwheels.
Who’s the Daimon-slayer? I’m the Daimon-slayer. Kiss my ass, bitches!
Archie began cursing him while the crowd around them, cheered his name. His father smiled proudly. But in all honesty and in spite of his relief, Urian was more shocked than anything. Stunned that he was still standing and that it’d worked.
Given the size and strength of the Daimon, he was lucky he wasn’t bleeding on the ground, lying next to his shield in pieces.
Come to think of it . . .
Where was his shield?
Urian scowled as he realized it was nowhere to be seen. What the. . . ?
“You were amazing!” His father clapped him on the back and hugged him.
As did Davyn and several others who rushed to congratulate him.
Until they realized that Apollymi and her Charonte stood in the open door of her palace, glaring at them.
That cut short everyone’s revelry.
Even Urian swallowed hard as that was not a pleased expression on the goddess’s face.
“How did that Daimon get so close to my domain?”
His father rubbed nervously at his neck. “He came through the portal.”
She folded her arms over her chest. “You were supposed to be monitoring it, were you not, Strykerius?”
“I was, akra. Forgive me.”
Her gaze narrowed dangerously as a wind began to stir through Kalosis, warning them of her temper. “It appears these trelos are becoming problematic for us. We need someone who hunts them, and makes sure they are dealt with before this happens again.”
“Agreed.” His father glanced to Trates.
Apollymi also turned toward Trates, who shrank back from her stare as if she’d shot fire from her eyes at him. “Gather forty of your best warriors, and designate them as an elite force to hunt them down.”
“I will, akra. We’ll have an Illuminati guard you, and the portal to make sure no other comes this close again.”
She nodded. “And make sure Urian is among them.”
His father’s eyes widened. “But he’s just a boy, akra.”
“A boy who succeeded where the rest of you failed. Do not underestimate your son, Strykerius. Even at his tender age, he’s already among the best of your fighters.”
Great . . .
Urian could already feel the ass-kickings that were headed his way as he met his brothers’ angry glares. Single me out, Goddess. Not like they don’t already resent my father’s favoritism that he never seeks to hide. By all means, add yours to it, and put another target on my back.
If his father wanted to know why he was such a good fighter, all he had to do was start by counting how many sons the man kept producing whenever he dropped his loincloth. Sons who took aim for Urian’s head whenever they were left alone. Even their sister was known to take a whack at him from time to time, if he let his guard down around her.
Oh to have been an only child . . .
But no, he had to be born to a fertile father.
Theo shoved his shoulder into Urian’s back as he walked past, letting him know they would have “words” later.
There were times when he truly felt as if he were an outsider in his own family.
This was definitely one of them. Especially when he caught the snarled up grimace that contorted the features of his own twin, as everyone began dispersing.
Damn. It was bad when even Paris resented him. Davyn passed him a sympathetic stare before he followed after Paris.
Urian . . .
He didn’t react to a summons he’d learned long ago only he could hear.
Taking care to make sure no one saw what he was doing or where he was headed, he made his way through a hidden back door, into Apollymi’s palace and down the hall that led to her garden where she spent most of her time by her pool.