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CHAPTER 2. Delphine staggered back in horror
Delphine staggered back in horror. She tried her best to flash into Cratus's room to stop them.
She couldn't. Azura had her blocked and wasn't about to let her in.
"No!" she shouted at them. But it was too late. They were gone from his apartment, and he was now in the hands of ultimate evil.
What were they going to do?
How could this have happened?
Most of all, why couldn't she have stopped it from happening? She shouldn't have waited for him to go to sleep. She should have let him know she was here and stayed on him no matter his protests. They should have kept him in their sights until he caved.
But that was neither here nor there. Would'ves, could'ves, should'ves didn't change the fact that Cratus would now fight against them.
There was only a tiny handful of gods who could draw power from the Source and most of them had already defected to Noir's side. Out of the ones left on their side, none could touch Noir's skill. Only Cratus had been strong enough to fight against them. Worse, she'd now have to face Phobos and Zeus with her failure.
She'd be lucky if they didn't kill her.
But she wasn't a coward. Things had unraveled and she needed to let them know as quickly as possible so that all of them could adequately prepare for the war that was coming.
And their inevitable defeat.
Look on the bright side. You'll most likely be dead in a few minutes instead of imprisoned for eternity.
Swallowing, she wanted to run and hide. To find one place of safety in the world.
If only she could. But there was no safety now. Noir and Azura were back, and they wouldn't stop until they had all of them in chains.
Until they had the world of man conquered.
Her heart thundering in fear, she left her small room to travel to Olympus. To the hall of the gods, where Zeus and the others usually gathered at this time of day to eat, gossip and plot. As a demigod, she'd mostly avoided the place. She'd never felt welcomed there. The gods had their cliques and she tried to stay out of the line of fire, especially since so many of them had horrific jealousy issues. She'd heard of lesser gods being turned into all kinds of monsters for no other reason than one of the gods happened to look at her while his wife was present. Not wanting to become a gorgon, deformed spider or some other such, Delphine had avoided the place at all costs.
Swallowing a fear a Dream-Hunter shouldn't be feeling, Delphine pushed open the doors to see over three score gods gathered there. Apollo played on his lyre while Aphrodite and Ares shared a bowl of ambrosia. Hermes was with Athena, playing a game of chess with miniature live pieces.
Zeus rested contentedly on his throne while Hera sat beside him, talking to Persephone. It was a cozy scene that she really hated to disturb.
As she walked forward, Phobos appeared and pulled her to a stop. "What happened?"
"Cratus defected." She could have sworn she'd whispered those words, but all sound and activity paused in the hall as if she'd shouted.
Zeus stood up slowly, his eyes flaming with the weight of his fury. Tall and blond, he would have been very handsome were it not for his nasty disposition and tendency to kill anyone he took even a minor dislike to. "You are not about to tell me that you've failed to bring Cratus here."
Not while you 're looking at me like that, I'm not. She had to bite her tongue to keep that quip inside. Given his mood, he wouldn't be exactly kind and take it.
Phobos's eyes widened to caution her to silence—-as if she needed it—before he turned to Zeus and defended her. "Minor setback, my lord. Really."
That did nothing to appease the king of the gods. "Are you willing to take her place beneath my axe?"
"Do I have to?"
Zeus bellowed his anger. "I am not amused by either of you."
As Zeus started toward them, Nike stepped forward. "My lord?" she asked quietly. "Might I have a word with them?"
He looked at her as if she might be the next to get blasted—right after he finished with them. "Make it very short."
Nike nodded before she descended the dais where Zeus's throne was set. Apollo sneered at her, but she paid him no attention as she made her way to Del-phine's side.
Nike pulled her close. "Tell me what has happened."
Again, Delphine spoke in only the quietest of tones. "Azura got to him before I could. She promised him freedom and revenge if he'd join them."
Zeus cursed. "I shall have you both killed for this!"
Nike stepped in front of Delphine. "My lord, please bear with me. I'm the goddess of victory, and Cratus is my brother. Believe me, if there's anyone in this room who knows how to reach him and sway him, it is I."
Zeus curled his lip. "Then sway him, but that has nothing to do with their lives." He gave a meaningful glare to Phobos and then Delphine.
Delphine definitely didn't like where this was heading, and she wanted to get out from under Zeus's angry countenance. She also had to bite back the question of why Nike, if Nike knew her brother so well, hadn't been sent after him to begin with.
But the point of this was to save her life, not goad them into murdering her.
"What my brother needs, I cannot give him." Nike glanced at Delphine. "But she can. Give us a chance, my lord. Please. I know we can regain his allegiance."
The fury on Zeus's face intensified until Delphine was sure he'd strike out at her.
But after a few horrendous heartbeats, he conceded. "One chance is all you have. Azura and the others will kill their hostages in two weeks and then come for the rest of us. You have twelve days to sway him or kill him."
Delphine shook her head at his order. "Cratus can't be killed."
Zeus laughed bitterly. "Oh, yes, he can. Even if they restore his powers to their full potential, stab him in his heart and he will die."
Delphine frowned. "How?"
The pride on Zeus's face sat ill with her. "His immortal heart was ripped from his chest when I cast him out of here, and it is a frail human heart he has now. Pierce it and he dies, plain and simple. And there will be no resurrection for him in the morning as we've done in the past."
She saw pain flash in Nike's eyes. "Come with me, Delphine."
Delphine followed the smaller goddess to the doors that led out onto a balcony overlooking the rainbow falls and the thick green foliage that surrounded the hall. When Phobos started to join them, Nike shooed him back inside.
"This isn't for you, Phobos. Please understand."
He inclined his head before he returned inside and shut the doors behind him.
The moment they were alone, Nike pulled Delphine to the farthest corner of the balcony before she spoke in a hushed tone. "You know what's at stake so I won't even reiterate it. But what you don't know is the part of my brother that only I was ever privy to. He and I bonded because he protected me from our parents, and I worshiped him for it. He's a good man, but it's not easy to find that part of him that he keeps guarded and that was before his punishment. You will have to remember that he's the son of Hatred and War, and those two things are mother's milk where he's concerned. It's what he does best."
Delphine didn't understand what that had to do with her mission. His birth didn't matter to her, only his surrender did. "And how do I defeat him?"
"You can't. Not if he has his full strength. That's the honest truth. Our own father tried to beat him after he'd reached adulthood, and Cratus left him a bloody heap for the effort. The only reason Zeus was able to hurt him originally was because Cratus didn't fight back. Had he done so, he would now be the king of the gods."
"Then I shall have to kill him."
"No!" The ferocity in her tone made Delphine's eyes widen. "My brother doesn't deserve that. He suffers now because he spared the life of an infant. Those are not the actions of someone beyond reach. When we were children, he took beatings for me that no one should ever suffer. I don't want you to kill him. I want you to help me save him and return him here where he belongs."
Nike took a deep breath before she answered with tears in her eyes. "He will fight and he will die to protect what he loves. To the grave. Make him care for you more than he cares for his revenge, and he will join us on our side."
That was ludicrous. "I don't know him and I only have a few days." It was barely enough time to kill him, never mind try to seduce a man she didn't even know. "Why aren't you the one going in since he's your brother?"
Nike shook her head. "He won't listen to me. It's been too long, and I have never gone to see him before. Not in all these centuries. Cratus is the most unforgiving of people when he feels he's been wronged. That's why you must seduce him. You're the only one, I think, who can. Often it only takes a small amount of time— remember, he knew nothing of the infant he saved and yet he destroyed his life for that one tiny being. Please, Delphine. For me, try to save him. He is a great man, but he's not a perfect one. As the goddess of victory, there is one truth I know above all others. You only win when your heart is pure and when the victory is motivated for the right reasons. Give him a reason to live and give him one to fight with the whole of his strength, and we will all win in this."
"And if I can't?"
Her eyes turned even darker as she let out a sadness-tinged breath. "You know the answer, and you know what Zeus will do to you both if you fail."
Delphine nodded. They would lose without him. They needed his strength and his powers to combat Noir and his army. As for her fate, she would be lucky to get off as easily as Cratus did. "Should I get Eros to shoot him?" That would be the easiest way to seduce him.
Nike shook her head. "Those powers wouldn't work on Cratus and the attempt would only infuriate him. Trust me, that's the last thing you want to do. He will have to be won over honestly."
Oh, that was going to be easy . . .
"How can I seduce him? I have no emotions."
"That's not true and we both know it," Nike whispered. "You have all that you need. You're not completely Oneroi. You still have a human spirit and emotions inside you. They will guide you through this." She lightly nudged her on the shoulder. "Now go and win him over."
Win him over. She made it sound like it was easy. But as Delphine watched her leave, all she could see was her own doom.
And that of all the other gods who were relying on her. This was impossible.
Phobos joined her on the balcony. "You okay? You look more pale now than when Zeus barked at you."
Truthfully, she felt more ill now. More scared. "How do you seduce a man?"
He laughed at her question. "I think I'm offended that you're asking me that. What? You think I have some kind of expertise on the subject?"
She gave him a droll stare. "I'm serious, Phobos."
"As am I," he said, offended. "Seducing men isn't exactly something I have a lot of experience with. Nor is it something I spend time thinking about." He glanced at the door to make sure it was shut completely. When he spoke, it was a barely audible whisper. "You might want to ask Zeus that."
She rolled her eyes. If the stories were true, all a woman needed to seduce Zeus was to be female. They didn't even have to be breathing. "You're not funny, Phobos. I need help here. Real help. What do men like?"
"That depends on the man. I like breasts myself. A nice rack goes a long way in getting me to do just about anything. Even stupid things."
She let out a frustrated growl. "You are so offensive!"
"Oh, please," he said unabashedly. "I'm ten thousand years old. You're lucky I'm not more chauvinistic than I am. Babe, I've come a long way."
And he wasn't helping her in the slightest. "Just go"
Phobos hesitated as if he wasn't sure it was the best thing to do.
She gestured toward the door.
He held his hands up in surrender. "All right. I'm going. But if you need me . . ."
"I'd rather gouge out my eyes."
He took that with a good-natured smile. "As the personification of dread fear, I often have that effect on women. Maybe I should look into changing places with Himerus. I've been told women rip off their clothes the moment he appears. Definitely better to be the god of lust than fear."
She shook her head at his glibness as he headed back inside. How she wished she was more like him. Nothing ever seemed to get to Phobos or rattle him. Honestly, she was scared, and even muted, that emotion was bitter.
Alone, she looked out over the lush landscape and considered her next course of action.
Cratus was with their enemies . . .
And she was charged with seducing him or killing him. What a great conundrum for her.
As she contemplated a way to reach him, Phobos reappeared, his expression furious and worried. "Noir's Skoti are attacking in the hall of mirrors." He grabbed her hand and teleported her back to the Vanishing Isle before she could so much as blink.
Sure enough, there was a group of Skoti smashing the portals they used to monitor human sleep and join the sleepers. The entire glass hall was in shambles. Pieces of glass and mirror were littered all over the floor as a handful of dream gods tried to fight them off.
Delphine manifested a sword to attack the Skotos nearest her.
The Skotos laughed. "Wanna play, little girl?"
She lunged at him, showing him exactly how lethal she was. And it removed the smile instantly from his face. Say what he could, she was deadly accurate and had practiced the whole of her existence to battle the demons who preyed on humans as they slept.
There were very few Oneroi more accomplished than she.
Phobos was fighting two more, trying to protect the remaining portals. While they could technically do their job without them, it wasn't nearly as easy. Nor as effective. The portals needed to be saved.
Just as Delphine was about to run her opponent through, someone grabbed her from behind. A rough hand clutched her throat, paralyzing her entire body.
There was nothing there but a deep, black mist. The aura of evil was tangible. It was Noir.
And she was in his clutches. Something cold caressed her cheek an instant before he twisted her head and the darkness invaded every part of her.
Azura walked a small circle around Jericho as she smiled proudly.
He closed his eyes, letting the power from the Source fill him again. It had been so long . . .
He was whole once again, and it felt incredible. How he'd missed this. The sights and smells of his powers. The feeling of it coursing through him like living fire. Flexing his hand, he watched as his fingers turned into metallic claws that were razor-sharp. Gone were the words his mother had burned into his flesh, and in their place his tattoos glowed brightly in the dim light.
No one would ever control him again. He was back and he was furious. Ferocious.
And he was ready for revenge.
Azura cupped his cheek in her hand. "Would you like me to repair your face and eye?"
"No," he growled. He wanted the reminder of what being weak had cost him. He would never make that mistake again.
"Very well. You are completely restored to your god-hood. Do us proud."
He intended to.
She stepped back so that he could see himself in the mirrored wall. Gone was the grimy human who had to beg for jobs and satisfy himself with scraps of food and ragged clothes, all the while waiting for Zeus's assassins to slaughter him at night.
His hair was no longer black. It was once again the pure white of the gods and it contrasted sharply with his black clothes.
Azura handed him a sword and whip. "Not the ones you were used to, but I think you'll find them to your liking."
He felt the life blood of the universe in the blade. It hummed like a living being. "What is this?"
"It was forged from the pit of the Source. The very essence of the universe is inside it. That blade will cut through anything. More to the point, it will cut through anyone."
He ran his finger along the edge, appreciating the sharpness of it. Hissing, he saw the bead of blood that welled up. Blood that quickly evaporated as his body healed itself.
Like that of a god.
More to the point, the blade absorbed his blood as if it were feeding on it.
"You will have to feed the sword regularly," Azura explained, dragging one nail down the blade. "The sword requires fresh blood to thrive. With it, you can kill Zeus and absorb his powers." She paused and met his gaze with one as hungry as his soul that begged for justice. "You could be king of the Olympian gods. . . . Imagine, Cratus. All of them prostrate to you."
He curled his lip at her words. "Cratus is dead," he said in a guttural tone. "My name is Jericho."
She laughed. "I could think of no better name for you. Cursed and reduced to ashes. And like the mighty Phoenix, you're rising out of the destruction of your past to rain fury down on those who cursed you."
And he would relish bathing in their blood. The sword in his hand would never go hungry so long as he wielded it.
Azura stepped back. "For now, you will command my army of Skoti. We want to neutralize Olympus and use their gods of sleep to attack the ones we need to control."
"Consider it done." He was more than willing to throw Zeus and his crew to the wolves. They deserved it and more for all their cruelty.
A flash of light almost blinded him. Raising one arm to shield his eye, he frowned as the black mist formed into the only being he knew to be more evil than Azura.
Tall and dark with black hair and eyes, Noir exuded supreme merciless power. Even Jericho had to admit he was handsome in a way only the gods were. But this was one of the first beings created.
Or more likely in Noir's case, the first being spawned.
Dressed in ornate burgundy armor, Noir wore a dark red cloak that was trimmed in gold. Noir's cold gaze narrowed on Jericho until it went from him to Azura.
"Congratulations, little sister."
"I told you I could convince him to our side."
Noir inclined his head to her. "And I've scored another haul from the other side."
"See for yourself." He spread his hand to show her in his palm a dark hole where a group of Oneroi were lying in utter misery.
Jericho expected the sight to make him supremely happy. But as he looked at their torture and damaged bodies, an unwanted wave of sympathy went through him.
He couldn't imagine. The gods knew they'd never had mercy where he was concerned. More times than not, they'd laughed as they killed him. But as he scanned the prisoners, one in particular caught his eye.
Without thinking, he took a step forward.
Azura snapped her attention to him. "You see something you like?"
Jericho turned away from the woman whose face he couldn't even make out. He didn't know why she'd called out to him. It was another stupid move on his part. "No."
"Then I'll have one of my servants show you to your new accommodations. I think you'll find them much more to your taste than the hovel you were living in." Azura snapped her fingers and a young girl around the age of sixteen appeared.
At least that's what she looked like at first. But her tanned skin held an iridescent quality to it that reminded him of a dragon's eye.
She was a beautiful demon.
"Follow me, my lord," she said quietly.
He did and was amazed at the opulence of the golden palace that Azura and Noir called home. Unlike the Olympians, they lived in the darkest pit of the earth's core. Yet it was far from dark or gloomy.
"How long have you been here?"
She glanced back over her shoulder. "I was born here, my lord."
"And how old are you?"
"A little over two thousand years." She opened a black door with gold hardware.
Jericho let out an appreciative breath at the sight of his new room. Lush and rich, it beckoned him inside. Stepping past the demon, it was all he could do not to run to the bed and throw himself across it. It'd been so long since he'd slept in a bed that he couldn't even remember the sensation.
The girl closed the door and moved to the fireplace. Throwing a burst of flames out of her hand, she started the fire. Then she turned toward him with a calculating gleam in her dark eyes. "Is there anything else I can do for you, my lord?"
He understood her meaning immediately and had no intention of going there. At least not with a demon and not right now. "No."
She looked relieved. "If you should change your mind, call my name. Rielle. I will come immediately."
She appeared baffled by his thanks before she vanished.
Alone, Jericho set his sword down on the dresser. He moved around the room, running his hand over the finely polished wood of the bedposts. This reminded him of his bed on Olympus. Of the time before recorded history when he'd been respected and feared.
He was back.
And he was pissed. May the Source take pity on those who'd caused his mood.
Because at the end of the day, he would have none for them.
"What are you doing ?" Noir asked gruffly.
Azura paused as she had her servant lay the body of the Olympian bitch on the table before her. "Did you not see the way he looked at her?"
Noir shrugged. "She's attractive. It's to be expected."
"Yes, but we need to keep our new tool happy. The last thing we want is to have him turn on us. Without your Malachai, we will need him when we attack the Source." She dragged her hand over the woman's unconscious body, appreciating her slight stature. "She is a beauty, isn't she?"
"If you like pale, pasty women. Personally, I prefer ones with more color."
Azura smiled as he pulled her close and ran his tongue along her throat. Chills erupted over her skin. Even though they called themselves brother and sister, there was nothing that united them in blood except their mutual quest for power and hunger for death. In that, they were family.
Reality was a different story.
"Not now, lover. I want to present her to Cratus."
"Dump her into his room, then. Or kill her. Either way works for me."
Azura conjured a containment collar for the woman's powers. The last thing they needed was to have her loose in their home. Not that she could do that much. It was merely the principle of the matter.
As soon as she had the Olympian's powers restrained, she undid the woman's pale hair so that it would cascade over her shoulders. "Yes, very pretty."
Satisfied, Azura teleported to Cratus's room. He was looking out the window as if trying to find an enemy of some sort. The moment she popped in, he swung about as if ready to fight.
She had to suppress the urge to- mock him for something that was actually admirable. He was intelligent to not trust them. Most people, to their extreme detriment, did. The fact that he alone suspected treachery said much for why he was a valuable ally.
"No need to be so jumpy."
His face was absolute stone. "What are you doing here?"
"I've brought you a gift."
Jericho scowled at her, wondering what game she played—and he knew she was playing something. Her entire demeanor warned him that she was about to make him even angrier. And he wasn't jumpy. It was just that he knew the treachery that lived in the hearts of all creatures. It was all he expected of them.
No one could be trusted.
Actually, that wasn't true. They could be trusted to screw over the people around them when it served their purposes. That he would bank on.
Her smile was wicked and it was colder than ice. "Bon appetit, precious," Azura said as she snapped her fingers. The sound was still ringing in his ears when a small form materialized at his feet.
Jericho gasped at the sight of the tiny woman . . .
One who was completely naked.
Äàòà äîáàâëåíèÿ: 2015-09-13; ïðîñìîòðîâ: 4; Íàðóøåíèå àâòîðñêèõ ïðàâ