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CHAPTER 4. This tome Jericho found Noir in the war room with no sign of Azura
This tome Jericho found Noir in the war room with no sign of Azura. Dressed in his burgundy armor, the primordial god was sitting in a chair with his legs propped up on the table and his ankles crossed. His eyes were half-opened, his fingers laced as his hands rested on his stomach.
If Jericho didn't know better, he'd think Noir had been napping.
"You want something?"
Jericho paused at the gruff words. Even though Noir hadn't added an insult to the end, they were said with enough contempt that it was more than implied.
"Azura told me I was to lead an army. I would like to meet those soldiers."
Noir smirked at him. "Do you understand what we're asking you to do?"
"Kill Zeus and bring the Olympians down."
Noir's face was impassive and cold. "You think you can do that?"
Jericho wasn't one to be intimidated. While he knew Noir was the more powerful of the two of them, he really didn't give a shit. "I'm a Titan and I fought with Zeus to imprison my brethren for him. What do you think?"
"I think if you stand by those brave words, you'll be a worthy ally."
"You doubt me?"
Noir shrugged before he yawned as if the conversation bored him. "I doubt everyone. I have yet to find one person I can't corrupt and/or own. Everyone is for sale. It's just a matter of negotiating the right price."
"Then I probably should have asked for more."
Noir laughed. "Yes, you should have. I expected you to be harder to sway, but then I didn't take into account your immense hatred of Zeus." He took in a long, savoring breath. "I so love the smell of hatred and revenge. It's the headiest of concoctions."
Jericho disagreed. "I personally feel that way toward blood. No better smell in the universe than when it's combined with the aroma of those fearing death."
Noir sucked his breath in sharply as if he was getting a sexual thrill from Jericho's description. "Oh, I do like you. True kindred spirits are hard to find."
"You forgot who and what birthed me."
Noir nodded as he twiddled his thumbs. "I pity those born of the lighter side. They have no understanding of how seductive cruelty is. The music made out of screams and pleas for mercy. Mmmm. Nothing better."
Jericho swore he could feel the blade at his side tremble, but whether in approval or fear, he couldn't tell.
"Asmodeus!" Noir shouted suddenly. "Show yourself."
A dark cloud formed at Noir's side. It slowly solidified into a being that reminded Jericho of a tall elf. His sharp features leaned toward pretty, yet his dark gray eyes showed nothing but cruelty. Dressed all in black, the demon looked sinister and emotionless. "You called me, Master?"
Noir gave him a cold stare. "I would never call you master, slug." He jerked his chin to indicate Jericho. "This is our newest ally. I want you to show him to Zeth and the rest of the Olympian dogs who fight for us."
Asmodeus bowed low in true sycophantic form. "Anything else, Master? Lick your boots? Wipe your ass?"
Noir shoved him roughly, but didn't rise from his seat. "Piss me off, worm, and it'll be the other way around."
Asmodeus's eyes widened as he straightened. "And on that note, Master, I'll be taking him to Zeth." He paused beside Jericho. "Come with me, Minor Master. I'll show you the way." The demon headed for the door.
What an absolutely bizarre creature. Jericho hesitated in his place for a moment longer as Noir continued to stare at nothing.
"Is there anything else?" Noir asked from his half-lidded repose. Even though it looked as if he were oblivious, Jericho had a feeling nothing escaped Noir's attention.
"Just curious. When you rule the world, what do you plan to do with it?"
"Enjoy it. It's been too long since we were last revered by the masses. Once you get a new taste of it, you'll understand. And you'll remember. We are overlords. It's mother's milk to our kind."
Noir was right. Jericho couldn't remember the last time someone had shown him any kind of respect or even common decency. He'd spent years of his past locked in prisons, in dungeons and other hell holes Zeus had dumped him in. No part of him had been left unviolated.
It was why he wanted to be sticky with the blood of the Olympians. Why he wanted to lick it from his fingers . . .
Inclining his head to the ancient power, Jericho turned and followed Asmodeus out of the room and down the hallway that seemed to glow. How very strange.
"Where does the light come from?" he asked the demon.
Asmodeus glanced up, then looked back at the floor as they walked. "Um, I don't think you want me to answer that, Minor Master."
"It might upset you."
"Then upset me."
Asmodeus hesitated another few seconds before he finally answered. "It's from the blood of the Cali, not the goddess Kali, 'cause let's face it, bleeding her would just anger her and that's not a smart thing to do since she's pretty damn powerful—you probably knew that. Rather it's from the little harmless Cali demons who were created when she pricked her finger on a rose. Those Cali. Apparently their blood glows. Who knew, right?"
Jericho paused as he looked up. The Cali were a benevolent race of demons who helped mankind. Since he'd never fought them, he'd had no idea their blood was blue or that it glowed. The blood flowed through the tubes, reminding him of a glow stick. "How many did it take to illuminate the hallway?"
Asmodeus visibly cringed. "Well, you see the problem with blood is that it often dries out, and so you have to keep a constant supply of it, which is really not something we're supposed to talk about and why I said you didn't really want me to answer your question. I was right, huh?"
Jericho's stomach churned at the thought of the cold brutality of killing a species just to use their blood for light. Then again, humans pulled fireflies apart for the same exact reason. He couldn't count the number of people he'd seen who had smeared the poor insect's abdomen over their skin to make it glow and then laughed about it.
He supposed it was basically the same principle, really. Jericho continued after Asmodeus. "How many demons and people are enslaved here?"
"Define slavery." Asmodeus hedged.
"Kept against their will."
"Good definition." He scratched his chin in thought. "Counting me?"
"Probably a couple of million . . . you know it's really hard to count to a million, plus they're always dying and new ones are coming in. I tried to count once, but it got really depressing so I stopped. The constant adding and subtracting. Not my forte, really."
It made Jericho wonder what the demon's forte was. Then again, it was probably best not to ask. "How long have you been here?"
"Don't know. Again, tried to count once, got depressed so I stopped. I find it easier to just go with the flow. Ease with the peas."
Jericho frowned. "Ease with the peas?"
"Yeah," he said slowly, "that's not a happy memory, either. Let's forget I mentioned it." He stopped outside a door. "Here we are. Maybe I should warn you before we enter."
Jericho stepped past him and threw open the door.
"Or maybe not. Let's just barge in and be surprised, shall we?"
Jericho was definitely surprised by what he found. There were drunk Skoti everywhere. Some entwined in scenes the Kama Sutra would appreciate. He had to pause at one couple. The sheer flexibility required to do what they were doing was amazing . . .
Damn, they would both need a chiropractor later.
If it didn't kill them first.
"They're blood-drunk," Asmodeus explained as he tugged on Jericho's arm. "Appears they've never celebrated their victories before. Personally reminds me of a bunch of drunk frat boys, but what do I know? I've only seen the movie Animal House. At least none of them are pretending to be zits." Asmodeus shuddered.
Jericho scowled at the rambling demon. "Are you always this random?"
He nodded glibly. "Mostly. It really irritates Noir, which is just an added bonus for me. At least so long as I can outrun him."
Jericho gave him a hard, unamused stare. "Add me to that list of people you annoy."
"Oh." He looked a bit stricken. "You're not going to singe my testicles over it, are you?" Jericho admired the even, dry delivery of a question that was obviously near and dear to the demon's heart.
"No plans to."
Asmodeus cheered up immediately. "Good. We can be friends, then."
Friends? Given the demon's personality, he wasn't so sure about that. But Asmodeus seemed rather harmless and a font of information. Perhaps it wouldn't be too bad to keep him around.
Provided he could calm down. There was something about the demon that reminded him of a wound-up Jack Russell terrier.
Jericho turned his attention back to the horny, out-of-control Skoti. "So who leads them?"
"That one." Asmodeus pointed toward a couch where a male Skotos was entwined with two half-naked females. "I think they're having trouble adjusting to the emotions they have outside of their dreams. At any rate, they keep acting like demented teenagers from a porno version of a John Hughes film."
Jericho frowned. "How are you so up to speed on pop culture?"
"You ever been trapped in a hell hole? When not being tortured by psychos, there's not much else to do. Besides, I like Molly Ringwald. She has this demon look about her that really turns me on. Wish I could get her out of her panties for a few minutes."
Yeah . . . well, at least it explained much about the demon's insanity.
Jericho watched the Skotos, who was oblivious to the fact that there were unwanted guests here as he kissed his way down the female's body. "Head guy is Zeth?"
Asmodeus grinned. "Oooh, someone was paying attention in class. Yes. Zeth. I would introduce you but he doesn't like me, either. And since he's one of those kids who likes to pull the wings off demons—"
"You don't have any wings," Jericho reminded him.
"Anymore. Key word there."
Jericho winced in sympathetic pain. He wasn't sure if he still had his own wings or not. As a human, they'd been taken from him. And since his powers had been restored, he had yet to try them out.
Not wanting to think about that right now, he made his way through the floor of passed out or entwined bodies to the couch where Zeth appeared as drunk as the rest of them.
He didn't look up until Jericho cleared his throat.
Zeth pulled his head back from the woman's throat to stare up at him.
Jericho frowned. Instead of the trademark blue eyes of the Skoti, Zeth's were jet black. So black, he couldn't even see the man's pupils. Were they that dilated or did something else cause it?
Zeth looked him up and down. "Who are you?"
"Your new commander."
Zeth snorted. "Got one. Don't need another, so piss-off."
"Too late." Jericho looked around to get an idea of how many Skoti were in the room. It appeared to be several hundred and none looked to be sober. "Are all of your soldiers here?"
Zeth leaned his head back so that one of the women could suckle his neck. "I don't know. Maybe."
Jericho pulled the woman off of Zeth, then grabbed him by his shirt and hauled him to his feet. "Focus, asshole. What is wrong with you?"
Zeth's head lolled back. "I can't focus. There's too much sensory overload." Zeth laughed as he patted Jericho on the shoulder. "You need to get laid."
Jericho had to force himself not to slap some sense into the man. But it was hard to maintain his control. "You need to sober up. How can you fight the Oneroi like this?"
"We don't need to tight them. We convert them."
Disgusted, Jericho let go of him and Zeth sank back to the couch. Without a word, Zeth rolled over on top of the other female while the first one draped herself across his back so that they could resume necking.
"Asmodeus!" Jericho called, summoning the demon again.
He appeared instantly. "You rang, Minor Master?"
I'm looking for a god called Deimos. Is he here?"
Asmodeus screwed his face up before he answered. "Define here"
"Okay, fine, don't yell at me. I don't like being yelled at. He's not here in this room, obviously, but he is in the realm, if you know what I mean."
"Take me to him."
Asmodeus looked around sheepishly. "Am I supposed to do that?"
"If you don't, you're going to have something a lot more painful than your wings pulled off."
He gaped and then cupped himself. "You're a mean, mean man."
Jericho had no intention of doing that to him, but he wasn't about to let the demon know that. "And you're about to be in pain."
"Fine. I'll take you. But if O Great Evil One comes around, I'm blaming you immediately. This is not my heat. Not my bad. I won't own it, not even for a friend. You're on your own, bud."
This time Asmodeus didn't walk. He touched Jericho's arm and transported them into a dark, iridescent pit. An unbearable stench permeated the place, as did moans and pleas for final death. Noir would definitely call it homey, but Jericho, in spite of his desire for vengeance, couldn't call it anything other than hell.
"Where are we?"
Asmodeus created a ball of light in his hand so that they could see the ravaged bodies that were chained and bleeding everywhere. "Noir's happy place. It's where he brings the beings he wants to play with."
"You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to. Would you like to see Deimos now?"
Jericho tried not to commiserate with the poor souls trapped in this dismal place. "That's why we're here."
Asmodeus pointed behind him. "He's the fifth victim on the wall. I think. Kind of hard to tell, really. Once they've been beaten enough their features start contorting and swelling, then figuring out who's who is a bitch. But he had blond streaks in his hair when they brought him in. If the blood hasn't matted it too badly, that might help you find him."
Jericho gave him a disgusted look before he started making his way over to the people who were hanging by chains along the wall. Asmodeus was right. He couldn't tell who they were and that honestly sickened him.
Enemies or not, these were people. And they had been tortured to the brink of death. Having suffered enough abuse to last out eternity, he hated to see them in the same shape he'd been reduced to on countless occasions.
As he reached the fifth one, he saw the blond streaks through the dark hair. Deimos hung as if he were dead. His swollen eyes were closed, his head resting against his bruised arm. Black stylized tattoos zigzagged from his forehead down his face to his chin. His clothes were torn and bloody. In between the tears in the fabric, Jericho could see the deep gashes and wounds.
Noir must have had an excellent time with the Dolophonos who currently bore little resemblance to his twin, Phobos.
The moment Jericho stopped in front of him, Deimos opened his eyes and lunged at him, ready to fight in spite of his pathetic state.
Jericho stepped back and almost hit him out of reflex.
Their gazes met and locked. Deimos's snarl faded as he recognized him. "Cratus?" He inclined his head.
"What are you doing here?" His gaze went down Jericho's undamaged body before he cursed. "Traitor!"
His condemnation set Jericho's fury to boiling. How dare this bastard look at him like that. "Betrayed."
Jericho curled his lip. "Now you know how I felt, brother. Remember the day you turned with them against me?"
"How could you?"
That was laughable. "That's the same question that has haunted me since I looked at you while Zeus held me on the ground and you looked at the floor at your feet." Jericho grabbed Deimos's head and made him meet his gaze. "You held me down while my mother burned her words into my flesh. I can still feel the pain of your arm wrapped around my throat."
"You earned your punishment."
Jericho struggled not to strike out at him and add to his pain. How could Deimos not apologize even now for what he'd done? They had been friends before that. It was why he had no pity for any of them. They had none for him.
Screw them all.
"And you've earned yours," he said pitilessly. "Son of the Furies. How many people have you tortured throughout the centuries for your mother and Zeus? It sucks to be you now, huh?"
Deimos tried to head-butt him, but Jericho moved away. "Noir is going to kill us."
"I'll make sure you have a nice requiem."
Deimos shook his head. "So that's it, then? You have no remorse?"
Jericho held his arms out and shrugged nonchalantly. "We are the products of our past. But if it makes you feel any better, I do feel sorry for you."
Deimos sneered. "You'll feel even sorrier when you're hanging on this wall, too. Don't think for one minute Noir won't do this to you. He's the god who invented betrayal, and I'm sure he already has a space here with your name engraved on it."
Jericho laughed at his warning. "Oh, brother, you all have taught me well. I will never put myself in that position again. Believe me. I learned my lesson at the hands of the Dolophoni you command. I have no intention of giving Noir any reason to turn on me. I am his to command. Forever."
Shocked that someone in this hole knew his adopted name, Jericho looked to his right at the next prisoner hanging on the wall. Like Deimos, he'd been badly beaten. His dark hair hung around a face distorted by swollen lips and a black eye so severe the entire whites of that eye were red from busted blood vessels.
It took him a full minute to recognize him. It was those eyes that gave him away. One dark brown and one a bright green . . .
Jaden was the one the demons summoned whenever they wanted to barter with Noir or Azura for favors. Jericho had known Jaden lived here with them, but he would have thought the broker would have a lush place to call his own, not be caged with the rest of their victims.
Stunned, Jericho released Deimos and stepped back. "What are you doing here?"
Jaden laughed bitterly. "Do my accommodations offend you? I've grown quite used to them. Though a view of something other than mangled bodies might be nice for a change."
Jericho scowled. "You serve the Source. You're one of them."
Jaden shook his head. "I serve Noir and Azura. Word to the wise, don't ever displease them. For some reason, I can't seem to stop myself. I guess old habits die hard." He looked down at his torn and bleeding body that was barely covered by shredded clothes. "As do I. But don't worry. I'm sure they'll be kinder to you than they've been to me. I held their enmity long be fore I came here, which is part of the reason they love to gut me every chance they get."
He looked past Jericho to see Asmodeus hiding in the shadows. The light from his hand was muffled and faint. Jaden called out to him. "Mo, long time no see."
"Yeah, you looked better last time, too. I told you not to piss off Noir. One clay you're going to listen to me."
"Why start now?" Jaden asked.
Asmodeus nodded. "Ah, you're right. Bled so much now, it doesn't really matter, does it?"
Deimos curled his lip. "You all sicken me." He jerked at his chains as if trying to break them.
Jaden ignored him as he pinned those mismatched eyes on Jericho. "By the way,, your infant lived."
Jericho had no idea what the man was talking about. He didn't have a baby. "What?"
"The child you saved all those centuries ago. I just wanted you to know that you never suffered in vain. The baby lived and grew up healthy."
Bully for the brat. "Do you think I care?"
Jaden shrugged. "You gave up your godhood for her. I thought you might."
Jericho's frown deepened. "Her?" Unbelievably enough, he hadn't bothered to check the infant's gender before he handed it over. It hadn't mattered to him back then. All he'd seen was the baby's smile and its warm eyes.
Jaden nodded. "The Oneroi Delphine is the baby you saved."
Jericho was floored by the news. The air left his body as those words seared him. He shook his head in disbelief.
It couldn't be.
"You know it's true," Jaden said, his voice deep and sure. "The moment you saw her, you recognized how much she looked like her mother."
Still, he refused to believe it. What were the odds? "You're lying to me."
"Why would I?"
Jericho winced as he felt even more betrayed by this. And yet as he considered it, he knew Jaden wasn't lying. Somehow he'd known it instinctively.
He'd saved Delphine. . . .
The woman waiting in his room was the same person he'd given all but his life for.
Fury tore through him. Oh, this was rich irony.
And she owed him a debt he more than intended to collect on. Before this day was over, he was going to get satisfaction from her hide.
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