Acheron's human death unleashed an unspeakable horror that almost destroyed the earth. Then, brought back against his will, he became the sole defender of mankind. Only it was never that simple. For centuries, Acheron has fought for our survival and hidden a past he'll do anything to keep concealed. Until a lone woman who refuses to be intimidated by him threatens his very existence. Now his survivaland ourshinges on hers, and old enemies reawaken and unite to kill them both. War has never been more deadly...or more fun.
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May 9, 9548 BC
"Kill that baby!"
Archon's angry decree rang in Apollymi's ears as she flew through the marbled halls of Katoteros. There was a fierce wind blowing down the hallway, plastering her black gown against her pregnant body and whipping her white blond hair out in spiraling tendrils. Four of her demons ran behind her, protecting her from the other gods who were more than eager to carry out Archon's orders. She and her Charonte demons had already blasted half of her pantheon back. And she was ready to kill the rest.
They would not take her child!
Betrayal burned deep inside her heart. Since the moment of their union, she'd been true to her husband. Even when she'd learned Archon had been faithless to her, she'd still loved him and welcomed his bastards into her home.
Now he wanted the life of her unborn child.
How could he do this? For centuries she'd been trying to conceive Archon's son—it was all she'd ever wanted.
A babe of her own.
Now due to the prophecy of three small girls—Archon's jealous bastards, her child was to be sacrificed and killed. Because of what? Words those little brats had whispered?
This was her baby. Hers! And she would kill every Atlantean god in existence to keep him.
"Basi!" She shouted for her niece.
Basi flashed into the hallway before her and staggered until she braced herself against the wall. As the goddess of excess, she was seldom sober—which fit Apollymi's plan perfectly.
Basi hiccupped and giggled. "Did you need me, Auntie? By the way, why is everyone so upset? Did I miss something important?"
Apollymi grabbed her by the wrist and then teleported them out of Katoteros where the Atlantean gods made their home down to the hell realm of Kalosis where her brother ruled.
She'd been born here in this dank, forbidden place. This was the only realm that truly scared Archon. Even with all his power, he knew the dark was where Apollymi reigned supreme. Here, with her powers fortified, she could destroy him.
As the goddess of death, destruction and war, Apollymi kept a room in her brother's opulent ebony palace to remind her of her station.
That was where she took Basi now.
Apollymi locked the doors and windows to her room before she summoned her two most trustworthy demon protectors. "Xiamara, Xedrix, I need you."
The demons who resided on her as tattooed marks pulled themselves off her body and manifested before her.
In her current incarnation, Xiamara's everchanging skin tone was red, marbled with white. Long black hair framed a pixieish face where large red eyes glowed with concern. Xiamara's son Xedrix shared her features, but his skin was marbled with red and orange, something it often did when he was nervous. "What do you need, akra?" Xiamara asked, addressing her with the Atlantean term for lady and master.
Apollymi had no idea why Xiamara insisted on calling her akra when they were more like sisters than master and servant. "Guard this room from everyone. I don't care if Archon himself demands entry, you kill him. Do you understand?"
"Your will is ours, akra. No one will disturb you."
"Do their horns have to match their wings?" Basi asked as she spun around the bedpost while eyeing the demons. "I mean really. You'd think to be so colorful, they'd have more variety. I think Xedrix would look better if his were orange."
Apollymi ignored her. She didn't have time for Basi's stupidity. Not if she were to save her son's life.
She wanted this child and she was willing to do anything for him.
Her heart hammering, she pulled her Atlantean dagger from her dresser drawer and held it in her hands. The gold hilt was cold against her skin. Black roses and bones were entwined and engraved down the steel blade that glowed in the dim light. It was a dagger meant for ending life.
Today it would be used to give it.
She winced at the thought of what was to come, but there was no other way to save him. Closing her eyes and gripping the cold dagger, she tried not to weep, but one tear slid from the corner of her eye.
Enough! She roared at herself as she angrily wiped it away. This was a time for action, not emotions. Her son needed her.
Her hand trembling from fury and fear, she went to the bed and lay down. She pulled her gown up, exposing her belly. She ran her hand over her distended stomach where her son was waiting, protected and yet in danger. Never again would she be this close to him. Never again would she feel him kick and turn in restlessness as she smiled in tender patience. She was about to separate them even though it wasn't time yet for Apostolos to be born.
But she had no choice.
"Be strong for me, my son," she whispered before she sliced open her stomach to expose him.
"Oh, how disgusting!" Basi whined. "I'm—"
"Don't you move!" Apollymi roared. "You leave this room and I'll rip out your heart."
Eyes wide, Basi froze.
As if knowing what had happened, Xiamara appeared by her side. The red-and-white-skinned demon was the most beautiful and loyal of all of Apollymi's army. In silent understanding, Xiamara lifted the baby out of her and helped Apollymi seal herself shut.
The demon removed the blood-red scarf from around her neck and wrapped Apostolos in it before she held him out to Apollymi and bowed low.
Apollymi pushed the physical pain aside as she took her son into her arms and held him for the very first time. Joy spread through her as she realized he was whole and alive. He was so tiny, so frail. Perfect and beautiful.
Most of all, he was hers and she loved him with every part of herself.
"Live for me, Apostolos," she said, her tears finally .owing. They fell like ice down her cold cheeks, glittering in the darkness. "When the time is right, you'll return here and claim your rightful place as king of the gods. I'll make sure of it." She placed her lips to his blue forehead.
He opened his eyes then to look at her. Mercurial and silver, just like hers, they swirled. And they held within them a wisdom far beyond even hers. It would be by those eyes that mankind would recognize his divinity and treat him accordingly. He brushed her cheek with one tiny fist as if he understood what was meant for him.
She sobbed at the contact. Gods, it wasn't fair! He was her baby. She'd waited a lifetime for this and now . . .
"Damn you, Archon, damn you! I will never forgive you for this."
She held her son close and never wanted to let him go.
But she must.
"Basi?" she snapped at her niece who was still swinging around the bedpost.
"Take him. Put him in the belly of a pregnant queen. Do you understand?"
She let go and righted herself. "Um, I can do that. What about the queen's brat?"
"Merge Apostolos's life force with that of the queen's child. Let her know by oracle that if my child dies, so does hers." That would protect him more than anything else.
But there was one more thing to be done. Apollymi jerked the white sfora from her neck and held it to Apostolos's chest. If anyone suspected he was her son or any god detected his presence in the human realm, they would kill him instantly.
His powers would have to be bound and locked away until he was old enough and strong enough to fight back. She placed the orb to his chest and watched as his godhood slid from him to the sfora. His tiny body turned from blue to the pale skin of humanity.
Now he would be safe. Not even the gods would know what she'd done.
Clutching the sfora tight in her hand, she kissed his brow one more time before she held him out to her niece. "Take him. And don't betray me, Basi. If you do, Archon will be the least of your fears. So help me, I won't rest until I bathe in your entrails."
Basi's brown eyes widened. "Baby in belly. Human realm. Don't tell anyone and don't mess up. Got it." She vanished, instantly.
Apollymi sat there, looking at the spot where they'd been. Her heart screamed out, wanting her baby returned.
If only . . .
"Xiamara, follow her and make sure she does as she was ordered."
The demon bowed before she vanished.
Her heart broken, Apollymi remained in her bloodied bed. She wanted to weep and to scream, but why bother? It would do no good. Her tears and pleas wouldn't prevent Archon from killing her child. His brats had him convinced that Apostolos would destroy their pantheon and replace Archon as the king of the gods.
So be it.
Her body aching, she pushed herself from the bed. "Xedrix?"
Xiamara's son appeared before her. "Yes, akra?"
"Fetch me a stone from the sea, please."
He appeared confused by her order, but he quickly complied.
When he returned, she wrapped the rock in swaddling. Weak from her son's birth and her own anger and fear, she leaned against Xedrix and held his arm. "Take me to Archon."
"Are you sure, akra?"
The demon helped her back to Katoteros. They appeared in the center of the hall where Archon stood with his daughters Chara and Agapa—ironically the goddesses of joy and love. The two of them had been born parthenogenically the first time Archon had looked at Apollymi. Together the goddesses had sprung out of his chest. His love for Apollymi had been legendary. Until he'd destroyed it by asking for the one thing she'd never give him.
The life of her son.
Archon's features were perfectly formed. Tall and muscular, he stood with his blond hair shining in the dim light. Truly, he was the most beautiful of all gods. Too bad that beauty was only superficial.
His blue eyes narrowed at the bundle in her arms.
"It's about time you came to your senses. Give me that child."
She moved away from Xedrix and placed the stone baby in her husband's arms.
Archon glowered at her. "What is this?"
"That is what you deserve, you bastard, and it is all you'll ever get from me."
By the light in his eyes, she knew he wanted to strike her. He didn't dare. They both knew who the stronger god was and it wasn't him. He ruled only because she stood at his side. To rise against her would be the last mistake he'd ever make.
By Chthonian law, one god was forbidden from ever killing another. To do so would bring their wrath down on the foolish god who'd angered them. The punishment for such actions was swift, brutal and irreversible.
Right now, Apollymi was embracing her rational thought over her turbulent emotions by a narrow margin. For Archon to strike her would push her over the edge and he knew it. It would make her forget to be afraid of the Chthonians and then she'd unleash the whole of her fury against him. She would no longer care who was punished and who died . . . not even herself.
Patience to the spider . . . She reminded herself of her mother's most favored saying.
She would bide her time until Apostolos grew into his own. Then he would rule in Archon's place and show the king of the gods what it meant to be all-powerful.
For her son's sake, she wouldn't upset the capricious Chthonians who might very well side with Archon and kill her child. They alone could permanently strip her powers and destroy Apostolos. After all, Archon and his lover Themis's three bastard daughters had been given the power of fate over everyone and everything. And out of their stupidity and fear, the Greek Fates had accidentally cursed her son.
That alone was enough to make her want to kill her husband who stared at her with a confused frown.
"You would damn us all for one child?" Archon asked.
"You would damn my baby for three half-Greek bastards?"
His nostrils flared. "For once be reasonable. The girls didn't realize they were condemning him when they spoke. They're still learning their powers. They were afraid that he'd supplant them in our affections. It's why they were holding hands when they spoke their fears. And because of that, their word is law and it can't be undone. If he lives, we die."
"Then we die, because he willlive. I've made sure of it."
Archon bellowed before he threw the swaddled stone through the wall. He reached for Agapa and Chara and began chanting.
Apollymi's eyes flared red at what they were doing. It was an imprisonment spell.
And because they united their powers, they would be able to bring her to heel.
Even so, she laughed. But most of all, she took note of every god who joined in to help her husband bind her. "You will all regret what you've done here this day. When Apostolos returns, you will all pay dearly."
Xedrix put himself between her and the others. Apollymi placed one hand on his shoulder to keep him from attacking. "They're not going to hurt us, Xedrix. They can't."
"No," Archon said bitterly, "but you will remain locked in Kalosis until either you reveal Apostolos's location or he dies. Only then will you be returned to Katoteros."
Apollymi laughed. "My son, at his maturity, will have the power to come to me. When he releases me, the world as you know it will die. And I will take you all down. All of you."
Archon shook his head. "We will find him. We will kill him."
"You will fail and I'll dance on your grave."
Excerpted from ACHERON by Sherrilyn Kenyon
Copyright © by Sherrilyn Kenyon
Published in August 2009 by St. Martin's Press
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.