This was surreal. “Who are you?” I asked.
“I’m Teddy Jo.”
“You’re the man who called me about Raphael running from Cerberus?”
“I called Kate,” he said. “You answered the phone. Do you have the bracelet?”
“Doulos’s bracelet. You have it?” He saw the bracelet on Raphael’s arm. “Oh good then. We’re in business.”
Lynn squirmed on the grass and began to cry. “What is happening to me?”
Teddy Jo glanced at her. “You’ve brought this on yourself.”
Raphael lunged at him. His clawed fingers closed about Teddy Jo’s throat, the bracelet glinting with steel on his forearm. “What are you doing here?”
“Well now, you might want to rethink that,” Teddy Jo said, raising his arm. His sleeve fell back, revealing an identical bracelet, but made of gold. “Given as we’re on the same side.”
Magic slammed my senses. Teddy Jo’s eyes turned solid black. The flannel shirt ripped on his back and two colossal black wings thrust into the night. Fire ran from his bracelet down into his hand and snapped into a flaming blade.
“Thanatos,” Lynn squeaked.
The angel of death clamped Raphael’s wrist and squeezed. Raphael bared his teeth and crushed Thanatos’s throat.
Lynn’s stomach twisted. She howled as if cut. Alex’s nephew jerked.
“Stop!” I barked at the two men. “There’s a kid in shock sitting behind that ward, locked with whatever is about to crawl out of Lynn’s gut! Raphael, break the damn ward. Teddy Jo, I swear, you don’t let go of him this instant, I’ll rip your wings off!”
The two of them stared at me.
Teddy Jo let go. Raphael thrust his arm into the ward and the wall of gold drained down, revealing the shrine.
I leapt inside and swept the boy up into my arms. “Listen to me.”
He stared at me with empty eyes. To him I was a monster.
I opened my hand and showed him the car. He touched it gently and I handed it to him. “I won’t hurt you. Uncle Alex’s house, do you know where it is?”
“I want you to run to it and not look back. Okay?”
He clutched the car in his fist. I set him down and he ran.
Raphael snarled at Teddy Jo. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Teddy Jo shrugged his massive wings. “I’m here to set things right. I serve Hades just like Doulos, except that he was a priest and I’m something other.”
“Where were you until now?”
“Look, fella, I follow the rules. I would have liked to come down earlier and start chopping people’s heads off, but I have to sit on my hands and wait until someone bites the damn apple. I’m the emergency brake here. That’s what makes me the good guy.”
“And there she goes,” Teddy Jo said.
Lynn’s stomach tore. A slithering green mass spilled forth, and as it boiled out, Lynn was sucked in, almost as if her body had turned inside out. The mass grew larger and larger, bigger than a house, bigger than Cerberus. Scales formed on its surface. Magic roiled inside it, whipping my senses into overdrive.
The mass flexed and uncoiled. An enormous reptilian body thrust across the clearing. Three dragon heads snapped at the air with wicked teeth, jerking on long necks.
The dragon tasted the night and roared.
Teddy Jo shot straight up and hovered, his sword a beacon of light. “I’ll take the center head. You two do as you please.”
Lynn the dragon whipped about and I saw her eyes: cold and green, devoid of any humanity or feeling. Something inside me snapped. Fury drowned the world, flushing the rational thought. I was very angry. She had stolen the body of a man, denying his mate her mourning. She had tortured that man. She had kidnapped and terrorized a child. She deserved to die.
Teddy Jo swept at the dragon. The flaming sword carved through her neck like it was butter. The head tumbled down in a whiff of scorched meat. Then the stump quivered and split in half, and two new heads sprouted in its place and lunged for Teddy Jo.
“A hydra! Gods damn it!” Teddy Jo veered out of the way.
I smelled her flesh, waiting for me just beneath her scales. My fingers flexed. My tongue licked my fangs. Rage warmed me from the inside, hot and sharp and so very welcome. Andrea, the knight of the Order, would have to sleep through tonight. Tonight I was beastkin, the daughter of a hyena.
The dragon’s flesh beckoned, elastic and smooth, coiling before me, begging for a taste.
The world went red. I charged.
Blood. Rip, claw, rip, rip, more, dig, dig into flesh.
A huge, pulsating sac swelled before me. I sliced into it, laughed when blood drenched me, and kept ripping. All around me, wet, hot redness shuddered.
“Enough!” A force clamped me and tossed me aside. I flew through the air, landed on all fours, and charged my assailant. He tripped me and I fell. The air burst from my lungs in a rush. My head swam.
The reality came back with ponderous slowness. I lay on my back in the grass, my body slick with reptilian blood. Slowly the rage faded and I saw Raphael.
“Are you hurt?” I asked him.
The dragon’s corpse lay on its side, a dozen half-formed heads sprawling like the stalks of some disgusting flower. A big hole gaped in her gut. It looked like someone had tunneled through her. Teddy Jo stood bent over near her, breathing hard.
“Did I do that?”
Raphael nodded. “You ripped apart her heart. That’s what finally killed her.”
“The apples.” I tried to get up, but my legs refused to obey.
Raphael scooped me up. “Are you okay?”
“Overdid it.” Drowsiness swept over me. My muscles turned to cotton. I stuck my ugly head against his neck. I felt dirty and awful. My stomach clenched.
If he hadn’t pulled me out, I would’ve cut and sliced until I passed out.
Slowly it sank in: we won.
“I’ll take care of the apples,” Teddy Jo said. “You take your lady home.”
Raphael looked at him. “Good fight,” he said.
“Yeah,” Teddy Jo answered. “We didn’t do too bad. I live down in the Warren. Look me up if you wanna have a beer some time.”
Raphael carried me off.
“Don’t forget the boy,” I whispered.
“I won’t. We’re going to get the boy and drop him off with my mother. Then I’ll take you to my house. I have a garden tub. We’ll get nice and clean and then crawl into our bed and sleep until noon. Would you like that?”
“Very much,” I said and licked his neck. “Raphael . . .”
“I killed them. The boudas who tortured me and my mother. I went back after Academy, and I challenged them and killed them all one by one.”
He licked my cheek. “Come home with me,” he said simply.
I held on to him and whispered, “You couldn’t keep me away.”
No matter what job a man has, he always ends up hating parts of it. Now, I loved my job, the sword, the wings, the chopping off the evildoers’ heads and all, but I bloody hated flying down to Savannah. Every time I swung this way, I hit wet wind off the ocean flying through Low Country. It ate its way through me all the way to the bone. Enough to give a man the liking for one of those dumb-looking paratrooper jump-suits.
It took me a bit of time to finally find the right house in the predawn light, a small place with white siding and green roof, nothing special except for the damn industrial-strength ward on it. I circled it once and felt the magic defenses go down: Kate had seen me. Nothing to do but land, which I did, right on the path before the porch.
Kate sat on the porch with a book on her lap. She was on the pretty side, tan, dark-eyed, dark-haired. Exotic, even. Didn’t look like she was from around here, but then who did nowadays? Her sword lay next to her, a pale sliver. I paid attention to her eyes and the sword. She was a bit quick on the trigger with it.
“I always knew there was something odd about you, Teddy Jo,” she said, nodding at my wings.
I felt the magic coil about her. Too much power there. Way too much. She hid it well, though.
“How did it go?”
I shrugged. “Killed the snake responsible. Everybody’s alive. Your friends are in one piece. I expect they’ll celebrate in bed once they sleep it off.”
She arched an eyebrow. “They were together? Like together-together?”
“Looked that way to me.”
A grin bent her lips. Why now, she had a pretty smile. Who knew?
“I’ve got something for you here,” I said, and showed her a sack of apples.
She closed the book and set it aside. The title read, Lion, King of Cats: Exploring the Pride. I handed her the sack.
“Couldn’t find anybody else immune to Persephone’s immortality?” She chuckled.
“You guys don’t exactly grow on trees. I tried burning them, but fire does nothing to the damn things.”
“That’s because they are meant to be eaten or sacrificed.” She picked up her sword, cut a small chunk, and popped it into her mouth. “Tart. Think they’ll keep for a week? I’ve got company coming next Friday, and I’d like to make them into a pie.”
“Can the company handle Persephone’s Apples?”
I made of note of that he. Didn’t know there was anybody else in the area immune to Persephone’s Gift. If I had to put money on it, I’d bet it was the Beast Lord. Magic was a funny thing. The older it was, the stronger it was. True, Hades’ fire-power was of an ancient variety, but the magic Kate threw around was so much older, it gave me a start the first time I felt it. Now, I’d seen the Beast Lord once. He’d passed by me and I about choked. The magic that rolled off him was even older than Kate’s flavor. Primeval—not your regular shapeshifter. Enough to give a man a complex.