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CHAPTER 8. Jericho dressed himself and Delphine immediately




:
  1. CHAPTER 1
  2. CHAPTER 1
  3. CHAPTER 1
  4. Chapter 1
  5. CHAPTER 10
  6. CHAPTER 10
  7. Chapter 10
  8. CHAPTER 10
  9. Chapter 11
  10. CHAPTER 11

 

Jericho dressed himself and Delphine immediately. He started to launch himself at the gallu, but Delphine caught him and pulled him back. "You can't. One scratch or bite where your blood mingles with their spit or blood and you're under their control. Think about it."

But it wasn't in him not to fight.

Growling with rage, he covered himself in black body armor. "They better be able to penetrate Kevlar."

Delphine was stunned as he went for them. He caught the first one with a punch so hard, it lifted the gallu three feet into the air and sent him slamming into the wall behind him. The second one tried to take a bite out of Jericho, but he caught the gallu by his shirt and flipped him over his shoulder. In one swift move, he pulled his dagger out and went for the third.

Delphine gasped as the one on the floor got up and rushed toward her. Without armor or her powers, she was defenseless. She looked around but there was nowhere to go. No way to outrun him.

She was trapped.

Just as the gallu would have reached her, he rebounded off an invisible wall. It took her a second to realize what had happened.

"Ha!" she said triumphantly as he smacked it with his fist. Jericho must have used his powers to shield her.

The gallu wasn't happy as it opened its mouth to show her two rows of serrated fangs. She lifted her chin and gave him her best "neener, neener" smile.

"Sooner or later, you're mine," he promised.

She scoffed at him. "Careful, baby, I bite back." Just not today and not without her powers. Lucky for him because when it came to fighting, she seldom had an equal.

Jericho, on the other hand, was in his glory as he beat them down. She'd never seen anyone enjoy a fight more. At least not until five more joined the first three. Undaunted, he kept going, but she wasn't so audacious.

Even the strongest of the strong could be overrun and killed when this badly outnumbered.

One bite. One scratch. He would be gone forever.

"Jericho, please!" she begged as they attacked him at once. "It's not worth the chance. I don't want you to get hurt. Please stop."

Jericho hesitated at the anguish he heard in Del-phine's voice. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw the concern on her face as he punched one gallu and then scissor-kicked another. Her hand was splayed against the invisible wall he had around her. Her brow was taut as her eyes begged him to listen. She looked so upset.



Most of all, she cared . . .

For him.

Such a simple, unbelievable thing. Only Nike had ever shown that to him and never with the kind of passion that Delphine was showing now. It gave him pause.

A shadow crossed in front of him. It was Noir.

Noir looked around at the gallu with a disgusted sneer. "Do I have to do everything for you bastards? Stupid, worthless dogs. Hold him down and bite him. How hard is that?" Noir sent a blast straight at Jericho's chest.

There was no way to avoid or deflect it. Jericho cursed as it sent him reeling and skidding across the floor. The pain of it caused him to drop the shield around Delphine.

She kicked the gallu back as it ran for her.

Jericho rolled to his feet. His instincts were to attack the gallu in front of him and then go after Noir. Instead he dodged the gallu and went for Delphine, who had no way to protect herself.



The moment he touched her, he teleported them out of the room and back to his apartment to keep her safe.

Or so he thought.

Noir and the gallu followed them and flashed into the room right behind them.

Jericho looked at Delphine's panicked expression. And he knew what he had to do. There was no other way.

Delphine's heart sank at the number of gallu at Noir's command. Where had they come from? They didn't stand a chance against them.

But she didn't have time to think about that as Jericho faced her. She was waiting for him to right them. Instead, he pulled her closer to him. Before she could ask him what he was doing, he reached for her neck.

And pulled her collar off.

Stunned, it took her a minute to realize what he'd done and why. He didn't want her hurt. He was putting her safety above his own.

Warmth spread through her.

"Go," he said, his eyes tormented. "Get to safety."

"What about you?"

"They're just going to follow me wherever I go." He kissed her lightly on the lips. "Leave." He gently pushed her away, then turned to confront the demons.

Nothing had ever touched her more than what he was doing.

For her.

She met Noir's gaze and saw his next intent plainly. He was going to use her to get at Jericho. Every part of her wanted to stay and fight, but she knew she couldn't. She was a liability he couldn't afford to have.

There was no way to win this.

But she wasn't going to leave Jericho at their mercy. Not like this. He was way too outnumbered and even with armor, he wouldn't be able to hold them for more than a few minutes.



Rushing Jericho from behind, she wrapped her arms around his taut, muscular body and teleported him out of the room and to Olympus.

The moment he realized where he was, he turned on her, his face a mask of fury. She could tell he'd rather be eaten by the gallu than spend one second in the Oneroi hall. "'What did you do?"

"I saved you."

His expression was furious. "Saved me. my ass. I can't be here. I don't want to be here."

"I know." she said, trying to soothe him, "but it gives us a breather from Noir. He can't come here and he damn sure can't bring the gallu into our domain."

Jericho growled at her. It was true, and he knew it. However, it didn't change the fact that this place brought back vivid memories that he wanted to keep buried.

He hated it here.

Delphine cupped his face in her hands. "It's all right. Jericho. Forget the past. Things have changed."

Had they? "We're in the hall of the Oneroi. It looks the same now as it did then."

"It might look it, but there are no Oneroi here now. It's just us."

And Phobos, who came through the door looking astonished. "I can't believe it. You're back here . . . together. I was sure I would never see you again. What the hell did you do?"

"Don't ask," Delphine said sheepishly, making Jericho wonder if she hadn't known Phobos would be here.

Jericho's open hostility didn't bother the god at all as he came forward to stop in front of Delphine. "Did you see Deimos?"

Jericho was going to refuse to answer, but he knew how close the two of them were. And while he had a grudge against Deimos, it was no reason to be a total dickhead to Phobos. "He's in bad shape, but alive."

The relief on Phobos's face was tangible. "Is there any way to get him out?"

Delphine shook her head. "I don't know. We barely made it out. And now we have gallu after us. Along with Noir."

Phobos's expression was total astonishment. "The Sumerian gallu demons?" She nodded.

He let out a disgusted sound as he turned his attention to Jericho. "Damn, Cratus, do you have to piss off everyone you meet?"

Intending to thoroughly trounce the bastard, Jericho took a step toward him only to find Delphine in his way.

"You're not going to hurt him."

"Wanna bet?"

She planted herself firmly in his path, hands on both of his shoulders. "Yes, I do. And I will win."

Jericho looked down and paused. Anyone else would have been hammered for daring to stop him. The fact that she was so tiny in comparison to him just made it all the more laughable. He could crush her and not even feel it.

And yet, he wasn't about to take her on, which was probably the funniest part of all. What was wrong with him that he had no will when it came to her?

Stepping back, he narrowed his gaze at Phobos. "Say thank you to her, Dolophonos. She just kept you from getting your ass handed to you."

Phobos arched a brow and stepped forward.

"Stop it!" Delphine snapped, turning on Phobos and forcing him back a step. "One more round of Grand Testosterone and I swear I'll geld you both where you stand."

Phobos held his hands up in surrender, which made Jericho feel somewhat better. He wasn't the only one intimidated by a Chihuahua.

The Dolophonos looked over her head to meet Jericho's gaze. "Any idea how to get my brother out of there?"

"Dynamite. With any luck it might blow the bastard up, too."

Phobos wasn't amused.

Delphine let out an exasperated breath before she answered him. "Jaden told us to find someone named Acheron Parthenopaeus. Do you know him?"

Phobos choked. "Yeah, I do. I'm surprised you don't."

"Why?"

"He's an Atlantean god, known as Apostolos. He used to spend a lot of time with Artemis, but we don't talk about that. Tends to make the sour redhead even surlier than normal, and it sends Apollo off into a screaming fit."

From where Jericho stood, that could be entertaining. He wouldn't mind beating the shit out of Apollo for a few rounds.

Delphine scowled. "I don't spend much time in the hall of the gods or with Artemis. I try to avoid any nuclear fallout that comes from that entire crew."

"Yeah, well, at six foot eight, Acheron's a hard man to miss. Anyway, he's a major badass. But I don't know if even he can take on Noir and win."

Jericho shrugged. "Jaden thinks he can."

"Then let's go see my buddy and see what he thinks."

Jericho crossed his arms over his chest as Phobos took them to a small shotgun house in the French Quarter. Oddly enough, it was only a few blocks away from where he had been working at Landry's.

Delphine frowned at the well-kept, unassuming place that had pretty, white lacework trim. It blended in perfectly with all the other houses on the street. Nothing marked it as anything special. More than that, she didn't sense anything out of the ordinary. No powers or anything else. "A god lives here?"

Phobos laughed at her tone. "Believe it or not. And this is a much nicer and bigger place than the apartment he used to have here in Nawlin's."

Still, she was skeptical. She just couldn't imagine an all-powerful entity calling this . . . home.

"If you say so," she said in a singsong tone.

Phobos smiled. "And I do. I also say follow me." He walked up to the door and knocked.

"Why didn't we just pop in?" Jericho asked as he allowed Delphine to ascend the stairs first.

Phobos made an amused choking sound. "You can't. He has it shielded. Besides, he's a god and can be a nasty one if you upset him. You try popping into any place where his beloved wife is and you'll get fried faster than chicken at KFC. He doesn't have a sense of humor when it comes to her. So wipe the frown off your face before you hurt her feelings and get gutted for it."

Given that extensive warning and the passion in Phobos's voice, Delphine was expecting a goddess to answer the door. Someone who would make Aphrodite tremble in fear and shame.

So when the door opened to show her a very average-looking woman with nondescript brown hair that was pulled into pigtails, she was confused. The only thing the woman had in common with most goddesses was her tall height and beautiful hair. The rest of her appeared completely human.

Dressed in a long, beige skirt and green sweater, she gave them a bright, friendly smile. "Hey, Phobos, what are you doing here?"

Phobos returned her smile. "Hi, Tory. We're here to see the big guy. Is he around?"

"Sure." She stepped back and opened the door for them to enter.

Phobos walked in first, with Delphine two steps behind and Jericho pulling up the rear. The house was very normal. Quaint and orderly, it was decorated in neutral tones: dark browns, golds and a little rust. Again it was nothing out of the ordinary, except for maybe the Greek artifacts and statues of the Olympian gods that were sprinkled throughout nooks and crannies. There were also happy family photos scattered about and a small Bengal cat in the corner napping on the floor while a sunbeam warmed its exposed belly.

Delphine's gaze stopped dead on one picture in particular. It was a younger Tory in the ruins of an ancient Greek temple with a blond woman and a dark-haired man. . . . A man Delphine knew very well.

"Arik?" she said in stunned surprise.

Tory cocked a brow. "You know my cousin's husband?"

"I'm not sure . . . He looks like someone I used to know."

"It's the same Arik." That had to be the deepest voice Delphine had ever heard, and it was tinged with an accent she hadn't heard in centuries.

Atlantean.

Turning in the direction it came from, she saw an extremely tall man sitting in an armchair with a black electric guitar in his lap.

His hair was dyed a deep purple shade and his eyes were a peculiar swirling silver color. Dressed as a human goth, he didn't look any older than his early twenties. But the aura of power that enveloped him set off every warning bell in her body. This wasn't a human being.

This was an extremely powerful immortal.

One who looked to be the complete polar opposite of the woman who smiled at him. And when he returned the smile to her, the look in his eyes said that Tory was his entire world.

Gods, what she wouldn't give to have a man look at her like that.

Tory moved to stand behind him with one hand on his shoulder. The god appeared relaxed, and yet Delphine had no doubt that if they made a single move he didn't like, he would snap them down to burnt toast in a heartbeat.

"What's up, Pho?" he asked Phobos.

Phobos laughed. "Like you didn't know before I knocked on the door." He turned to indicate them. "Delphine and . . ." Phobos hesitated on what he should call him.

"Jericho," Jericho said from between clenched teeth.

Phobos didn't respond to the anger in his tone. "Jericho and Delphine, meet Ash Parthenopaeus and his wife, Soteria. Tory for short."

Delphine was surprised by the introduction, especially since she knew this wasn't the same Soteria from Olympus. "You're named for the Greek goddess of safety?"

Soteria's face lit up, then quickly turned into a concerned "oh." "You're one of them, aren't you?"

"One of whom?" Delphine asked.

"Ash's"Tory made quotes in the air with her fingers"special friends. No one else ever knows who I'm named after. It's too obscure." She looked down at her husband and shook her head. "No wonder she knew Arik. Makes total sense now. Do all the Greek gods know each other?"

Ash laced his fingers with hers on his shoulder. "Not always and definitely not intimately. It's a rather large pantheon. Delphine is an Oneroi. Hence her acquaintance with your cousin Geary's husband. Jericho you would know better as the god Cratus."

Both of Tory's brows shot up. "Prometheus Unbound Cratus?"

Ash nodded.

"Oh," Tory said slowly, looking Jericho up and down with a gaze of appreciation and fear. "I'm sure you're still a very nice . b. . god, right?"

Jericho wasn't amused, but he wasn't about to pick a fight with her over it. He wasn't afraid of Ash, but he knew a god this powerful wouldn't be an easy one to fight. Win, lose or draw, it would be bloody.

And long.

Tory looked down at Ash. "Why are they here?"

"Noir is after them." The fact that Acheron knew that without them having to tell him said it all about his powers.

But it didn't answer Jericho's main question. "Why would Jaden send us to you?"

Ash grinned roguishly. "'Cause I'm a genuinely nice guy who plays a mean guitar."

Tory laughed. "Spoken only by someone who doesn't know what a grump you are in the morning."

Unamused, Jericho gave them a droll stare. "You know, that might be funny if the situation wasn't so dire. You do realize Noir could be here any minute."

Ash let go of Tory's hand to idly strum a chord as if he didn't have a care in the universe. "No, he can't. I mean, yes, he could in theory. But it would get bloody fast and while he may or may not be stronger than I am, he won't risk the repercussions of taking me on."

"Why not?"

"He might have the gallu. But I command the Charonte demons. If he wants a battle, I can give it to him, and in numbers that would ruin his best day."

Jericho was adequately impressed. "I thought the Charonte vanished with Atlantis."

"You were mistaken. They're alive and well, and more than eager to feast on gallu meat. For that matter, there's an entire club of them here in town."

Jericho cocked one brow. "Are you serious?"

"Like the grave."

For the first time, Jericho let out a relieved breath. Things were starting to look up for them. The Charonte were natural enemies to the gallu and best of all, they were immune to the gallu's bites. With them at their side, they at least stood a fighting chance.

At least until Ash spoke again. "The other reason Jaden sent you to me . . . I'm training the Malachai."

Jericho couldn't have been more stunned had Ash stood up and hit him with the guitar. "Are you out of your mind? Why would you train an instrument of destruction?"

Ash shrugged. "We all choose our destinies. Our birth doesn't dictate our future unless we allow it."

Jericho rolled his eyes at the laissez-faire attitude. "How naive can one god be?"

Tory smiled indulgently. "Acheron is the Harbinger for the Atlantean Destroyer. Prophecy said he would be the one to destroy the world, and yet he's one of its fiercest protectors. Even though he was conceived to be the tool his mother would use for annihilation, he's never once given in to his destiny." She looked down at him and shook her head. "And the gods know he's had more cause to wish the world to end than anyone else I know."

Acheron kissed her hand. "So you see, I know a thing or two about training a destroyer and teaching him how to fight his natural urges. We're only in trouble if we leave the Malachai on his own and then Noir gets his hands on him."

Jericho still had his doubts about that. "So say you. You have no way of knowing if, once he's trained, he'll follow you or Noir."

"True. But then again, you're here when just a few hours ago you were willing to fight to the death at Noir's side."

"The bastard betrayed and attacked me. No one turns me into a mindless supplicant. He should have known better than to try."

"And I believe when the time comes, Nick will make the same decision. He might hate me, but he doesn't follow anyone too blindly."

Since Jericho didn't know the Malachai personally, he wasn't willing to put that much faith in him. "Do you know that for sure?"

"Call me optimistic, but I'm going to say yes." Ash held his hand out to indicate the chairs behind them. "To quote my wife, cop a squat. We need to figure out a way to rescue the Oneroi and Skoti before Noir turns them into gallu."

Delphine went cold at the thought. If that were to happen. . .

Mankind would be completely doomed.

"Do you think we can free Jaden, too?" she asked as she sat down on the couch next to Jericho. Phobos sat on the other side of her.

Acheron shook his head. "Unfortunately, Jaden's lost to us, but he's still an ally when he can be."

Tory frowned as she continued to stand behind Acheron. "What about Jared?"

Delphine duplicated the expression. "Who's Jared?"

Ash's answer amazed her. "The last Sephiroth." The Sephirii had been created to fight Noir and his army of Malachai back in the time before man and recorded history.

Delphine was extremely confused. "I thought after Noir and the Source had their war that all of the Malachai and Sephirii were put down."

"They were," Ash explained. "All except for the one Sephiroth who betrayed his brethren. He was damned to an eternity of slavery. Since the universe is real big on balance, one Malachai was spared to rain death on the Sephiroth should he ever go free. That Malachai still holds all the power needed to realign the entire universe that would put Noir at the top of the food chain."

Jericho glanced at Delphine before he turned back to Acheron. "Why is the Malachai not with Noir?"

"Nick's father had a break with him. No one knows why. Centuries ago, the elder Malachai went into hiding with Noir and Azura chasing him every step of the way. A couple of decades ago, he decided to lay an egg and our current Malachai was born. As soon as Nick reached an age to replace his father, the old Malachai died."

Delphine still didn't quite understand. "So why has Noir been unable to find this Nick?"

"Nick's powers were bound to protect and shield him from Noir and give him a chance to be turned from his original purpose. It wasn't until a Source god attacked him that those powers were unlocked so that he could defend himself. I've been attempting to train him ever since."

Tory gave a scoffing laugh. " 'Attempting' is right."

Jericho narrowed his gaze as he honed in on that one word and its implications. The last thing they needed was a trained Malachai at their throats. "He's resistant to it?"

Ash shook his head. "Not to the training or his destiny. The problem is, he hates my guts. It's a personal problem we have to resolve."

Tory let out an undignified snort. "They're working on it. . . slowly."

"Great." Jericho sighed. "So where does that leave us with the Sephiroth?"

"Well, the biggest problem is his current master just happens to be the Daimon queen. Since I and my Dark-Hunter brethren hunt and execute her Daimons, she's not really inclined to be on our side or do us any favors. But who knows? We might catch her on a really good day."

Yeah, right. "Not bloody likely."

"My thoughts, too."

Delphine let out a tired breath. "We're completely ruined. My brethren are in the hands of evil, about to be turned into mindless predators, and the only hope we have is an untrained Malachai who might leave us to fight for them and a Sephiroth in the hands of the Daimons."

Daimons were a vampiric race who lived by stealing and destroying human souls. Best of all, they adamantly hated the Greek gods since Apollo was the one who'd cursed them to drink blood and die painfully and horribly at the age of twenty-seven. The only way to survive beyond that was to take human souls.

As a result, the Daimons weren't big on helping anyone except themselves. Not that she blamed them. They had been royally screwed by her pantheon.

Delphine was ill with their predicament. "It's not a good day to be human, is it?"

"It's not a good day to be us, either," Phobos added sarcastically.

Delphine couldn't agree more. "You think Noir will team up with the Daimons?"

Ash shook his head. "Stryker, while screwed up, won't fight with them. They have no code. Stryker and his people aren't fighting to kill, they're fighting to survive. We're lucky in that. He only allows his people to take the lives they need to . . . and that of any Dark-Hunter they can find since we're his biggest predators. While I'm sure he wouldn't shirk at world domination, his priority is the survival of his people. Noir, on the other hand, kills for pleasure and wants to overthrow all pantheons and take over. Neither Stryker nor his wife are big into following other people. They will fight him until they're dead."

Jericho scratched his cheek. "Maybe we ought to let the two of them fight it out."

Phobos snorted. "That's got pay-per-view all over it. Unfortunately, we'd get caught in the crossfire."

"I still think they might team up with Noir," Delphine insisted. It would make sense. The Daimons could take the humans while the gallu took the rest of them.

"No," Ash said adamantly. "I know Stryker, and besides, the gallu were with him up until a few months ago when they tried to eat him, his wife and his daughter. Being the most unforgiving of souls, he's not going to welcome them in any time soon. As a result, the Daimons are having open season on them. For now, we're safe in terms of that."

Jericho still wasn't fully convinced. "But screwed in terms of everything else."

"Not entirely." Ash looked at Phobos. "How many of your people do you have left?"

"Couple dozen . . . maybe."

Ash nodded thoughtfully. "We can work with that."

"What about the gallu?" Jericho asked.

"I can get the Charonte to help with them. It just leaves one thing .. ."

"The Sephiroth," Jericho said. Even though he was a Source god, Jericho couldn't handle Azura, Noir, the Skoti, and the gallu alone. They needed help. "I think we need to talk to the Daimons."

Ash inclined his head. "I couldn't agree more."


 

CHAPTER 9

 

Jericho was descending into hell. Well, more like an Atlantean hell realm called Kalosis, but still. . . why argue tit for tat?

Hell was hell, no matter the pantheon.

Delphine had stayed behind with Phobos, after much argument. But Acheron had agreed that the fewer people asking, the better chance they would have.

Stryker and his wife. Zephyra, would respect a single emissary. Two or more, they might consider lunch.

Tory led Jericho down a black marble hallway holding a light stick over her head. It reflected off the walls with an eerie luminescence that would be haunting if he were human. As it was, he found their distorted images fascinating.

They were heading toward Stryker's reception hall.

Since Acheron couldn't come here without starting the apocalypse, Tory had volunteered to guide Jericho and make the introductions. Apparently part of Acheron's duties as Harbinger was to release his mother from her prison . . . which happened to be the realm they were in.

If Acheron so much as made a tiny appearance here, his mother would go free and destroy the world, so he could never see her.

Would have been tragic if Jericho were capable of feeling sympathy for someone else. He could appreciate it, but frankly, he didn't care.

Tory smiled at him. "It's really noble of you to risk so much for the Oneroi."

Jericho snorted. "I don't give two shits about the Oneroi. My plan was to fight against them with Noir, but he decided it would be easier to sic the gallu on me and control me that way. He declared this war, and I'll be damned if I'm going to let the gallu attack me in my sleep. I've spent enough of my life with other people in control of me. I won't spend one more moment that way. Noir wants a fight, I'm going to give him one. And I will not lose."

Tory let out a slow breath. "I forgot you're the son of Styx and Pallas."

He inclined his head to her. "Yeah, and I'm full of both their venom. Don't start no shit, won't be no shit. My goal is to get the Oneroi and Skoti back on their feet, and then take out the gallu as quickly as possible. After that, it's open season on the Olympians."

"Does that include Delphine?"

He saw red at the mention of her name. Delphine was something he had no intention of discussing with anyone. "She's none of your business."

Tory gave him a placating look. "Sorry. I wasn't trying to offend or pry. I was just pointing out that you seem to care for her."

Yeah, but the problem was he didn't understand why. One touch, one whisper and he was undone by her.

Why Delphine, when no one else had ever made him feel like this? What was it about her that cut through his anger and made him feel. . .

Warm.

Human.

Whole.

In all these centuries, he'd never felt like he did whenever she touched him. She held more power in a single caress than any entity he'd ever known.

She alone had the power to bring him to his knees.

Unwilling to think about it, he changed the subject. "How is it you're able to come and go from this realm?" It seemed odd that Stryker would tolerate her here.

"My mother-in-law gave me total freedom to visit her whenever the urge strikes me, especially since Ash can't come. While Stryker might want to bind me in chains and feed me to his Daimons, he wouldn't dare. Apollymi can be a little hard to defeat."

"And yet Apollymi tolerates you?"

She smiled. "She hates humans, but adores her son. There's nothing she wouldn't do for Acheron."

"Except leave the humans alone."

"Well, there is that." She walked down the glistening hallway with one hand on the wall. "I know it doesn't make sense. But she declared war on the humans and refuses to back off. However, Ash and anyone he loves is supposed to be immune from the Daimons she controls."

There was a note in her voice that set off Jericho's alarms. "Supposed to be?"

Her expression turned dark and sad, letting him know that she felt deeply for all involved. "Nick's mother was very close to Ash. She died from a Daimon attack a few years ago, which is why Ash and Nick are now at war with each other. Nick blames Ash for it and won't let it go. It's very sad, really, and breaks my heart to see them fight. But I'm told they're getting better, which concerns me. If what they have now is better, I'd hate to see worse." She drew up short as a blond woman cut off their path.

Petite and lithe, and dressed in a black leather catsuit and corset, the woman narrowed a vicious glare at them. "What are you doing here snooping around, Tory?"

Instead of reacting to the woman's angry tone, Tory cocked her head. "I didn't think I was snooping. It didn't feel like a snoop. I have snooped before and can honestly say this isn't it."

The woman glared at her.

"Relax, Medea," she said in a calm, even tone. "We've come to see your mother."

She narrowed her eyes. "Your funeral."

Tory smiled good-naturedly. "It's always so good to see you, too. You're just such a ray of happy sunshine, I so look forward to all our interactions."

Medea sneered at her. "You should be glad you helped save my life. It's the only reason you're alive right now."

Tory snorted. "And my living has nothing to do with the fact that you'd be toast if you touched me. right?"

The glare Medea cast at her should have been lethal.

Jericho didn't speak as they followed Medea into an empty office. Decorated in dark golds and burgundy, it was obviously designed to intimidate. Not that it worked on him. There wasn't much that intimidated him.

Or more to the point, there was nothing that intimidated him.

Medea paused in the doorway. "Wait here. I'll get her." She shut the door and locked it, which seemed ridiculous given the fact that they could pop out of here at any minute. But far be it from him to point out the obvious.

As soon as they were alone, he faced Tory. "I take it Zephyra is her mother?"

She nodded.

"You think we stand a chance with this?"

Tory shrugged as she looked around. "We won't know until we talk to her. I think she might, and I use that word with all applicable optimism, help us."

"Help you do what?"

Tory snapped around to see Zephyra, who had flashed herself into the room behind Stryker's desk. Tory frowned intently at the demonness. "You're looking rather tan for a nocturnal creature."

Zephyra ignored her.

Almost identical in looks to Medea, she was unbelievably beautiful with lush curves that were heightened by her tight black dress. "Have you a point to this visit? Or should I just kill you now and start a war?" She looked past Tory to Jericho. "And I really resent your bringing a god into my domain."

Jericho winked at her, which only seemed to make her angrier.

Unable to see his gesture, Tory smiled. "You know I wouldn't do it without a really good reason."

"And that is?"

"We need Jared."

Zephyra laughed incredulously, then sobered so fast he wondered if he hadn't hallucinated the laugh. "You're wasting my time. Get out."

Damn, she was a surly bitch. It made him wonder how Stryker tolerated her.

"Oh, come on," Tory said, "it's not like you're using him for anything. Really, what is he doing right now?"

"One thing he's not doing is pissing me off, which is more than I can say for you."

"Children," Jericho said, stepping forward. "Let's try this again. We have a gallu problem. Led by Noir and Azura, they are planning to convert Oneroi and Skoti into gallu so they can attack unfettered in our dreams. When that happens, no one is going to be safe. No one," he reiterated coldly. "And by that I mean you. Since the gallu are just as likely to eat a Daimon as they are a human, you might want to think about it."

Zephyra narrowed her gaze threateningly. "And people in hell want ice water. Something they're a lot more likely to get than you are my Jared."

Jericho clenched his teeth to control the urge he had to shake the stubborn woman. "We're up against Noir and Azura. Have you any idea how bloody this is going to get?"

Zephyra didn't speak.

"What do you want in exchange for him?" Tory tried.

"There's nothing you have."

Suddenly a loud crash sounded from outside the room. Zephyra went rushing past them to throw open the door that was opposite of the one they'd come in through.

Jericho's eyes widened as he saw a Daimon in the center of a large hall. Only he wasn't a Daimon any longer. He had the milky eyes and skin tone of an infected gallu victim. The other Daimons were backing off, giving him space. He would lunge, and they would run. That was the beauty of the gallunot only could they turn people into zombies, their zombies could make more zombies.

If they were ever loose, they could kill everyone in no time.

Jericho looked at Zephyra. "You were saying?"

She exposed her fangs at him and hissed. "You brought him here?"

"Hell. no. From what I understand, the gallu have a score to settle with you guys on their own."

"You have no idea." She grabbed a sword from the wall and headed after the Daimon.

Jericho was extremely impressed as she rushed into the fray. The Daimon-gallu went for her. She ducked his arms, spun and in one clean stroke severed his head from his body. Without stopping her flow, she held the sword out to another Daimon. "Clean that up, Davyn, and tell Stryker we have a problem."

"I noticed."

Jericho's attention went to the extremely tall, dark-haired man who joined them. From the commanding air and deadly aura, he would guess him to be Stryker.

Stryker looked down at the corpse on the floor and sighed angrily. "What are the damn gallu doing now?"

Jericho answered before Zephyra had a chance. "They're uniting with the Oneroi and Skoti to attack us in our sleep."

Stryker cursed foully. "I should have killed the gallu when I had the chance."

Zephyra gave him a knowing smile. "Oh, baby, think of the mistake that would have been."

"What mistake?" Tory asked.

Zephyra crossed her arms over her chest. "I think we need to corral the gallu. What exactly did you have in mind with Jared?"

Tory moved forward. "Is he immune to them?"

"He's immune to most everything."

Jericho was glad to hear that. "Good. Our plan is to liberate the Oneroi and Skoti from Noir."

"What if they're already infected?" Stryker asked.

Jericho didn't hesitate. "We kill them."

Stryker smiled. "I could almost like you." He stroked his chin thoughtfully as he moved closer. "The only problem is the gallu can still infiltrate the dreams of anyone they've met."

"But our sleep is protected," Zephyra said. "With the abilities we possess, we can fight them in that realm."

"Even so, they're not as powerful in dreams as the Oneroi," Jericho added, "The combination of the two, disastrous. Even for you. One infected Oneroi or Skoti, and we're toast."

The look on Zephyra's face said that she was adamantly opposed to handing Jared over to them.

And Jericho had had enough of her indecisiveness. "Look, I'm through playing with you. We need someone who has actually fought and won against Noir. While I can fight him on my own, I want someone who knows the bastard's weakness. That would be Jared. Now hand him over."

Zephyra arched a taunting brow. "Or what?"

Jericho shot his hands out and released two god bolts that went skittering past her.

To her credit, she didn't flinch or even blink.

Jericho put his hands down. "Trust me, you don't want to find out."

Stryker curled his lip. "Those tactics don't work here. Fear is not a big motivator for us. You would do well to remember that I, too, am the son of a god and can hurl those bolts right back. . . . However, there is something I want."

"And that is?"

"A green amulet Jaden took from an old woman in New Orleans. I'm sure he still has it. We give you Jared, and you will bring us that amulet."

Every suspicion in Jericho's body hit overdrive. "What does this amulet do?"

"It's protection."

Now why didn't he believe it? Maybe because Stryker didn't seem like the kind of Daimon who needed protection from some piece of ancient hokum. Not that it mattered.

Promises today.

Lies tomorrow.

If Jericho didn't like what the amulet did, he wouldn't have to bring it here. Nothing said he had to fulfill his part of the bargain. The last time he'd kept his word, he'd paid dearly for it. Things were different now. He was different now. The most important thing was to get Jared.

"Done."

Stryker narrowed his gaze. "Don't fail me."

"You don't fail me," Jericho shot back. Tory shook her head. "So do we let you two lock horns and butt each other off the mountaintop

now?"

Stryker gave her a hard stare. "I have no idea what Acheron sees in you." He looked over at his wife. "Let them have Jared."

Zephyra made a loud noise of disagreement. "Not have, my love. Borrow. Jared is only on loan."

"Fine," Jericho said. "We'll return him as soon as we finish with him."

"You'd better. Otherwise Stryker and I will feast on your innards, bathe in your blood and I will use your eyes as earrings."

Jericho snorted. "You know, with imagery like that, you should write for Hallmark."

 

Ash had just returned to his house when he felt something strange in the air. An instant later, Phobos reappeared.

Alone.

His bad feeling intensified when Delphine didn't return with him. "What happened?"

Phobos let out a tired sigh. "We were attacked by Zelos as we gathered the Oneroi."

Ash felt ill at the news. Jericho would have a stroke when he found out his brother had taken the Oneroi. "What?"

Phobos raked his hand through his hair. "He was looking for Jericho and instead found us rounding up the others. He took both Delphine and Nike. Apparently Zelos has defected to the dark side. Noir has lost his mind."

"No. It's strategic planning on his part. He's wiping out the pantheon by using its own members. It's what makes him so insidious. With Nike and Delphine, he thinks he's castrated Jericho."

"Yeah, well, either way, we're screwed."

"How so?"

Ash stepped back as Jericho, Tory and Jared appeared. Tory, he pulled toward him just to feel her there and know that she was safe. Especially given everything that was happening. If anything ever happened to her . . .

He'd make Azura and Noir look like teddy bears.

Jericho frowned as he scanned the room and didn't find what he was looking for. "Where's Delphine?"

Phobos answered before Ash could tell him to soften the blow. "Your brother took her and Nike."

Ash winced at the god's bluntness, which he could tell by Jericho's expression went through him like an acid enema.

Jericho froze in place as a rage so potent he could taste it built inside him. Never in his existence had he been angrier. "What?"

Phobos had the good sense to look sheepish. "We were blitzed. Zelos came in and grabbed her before anyone even knew he was there."

Unable to bear it, Jericho used his powers to cover his hand in metallic claws. He grabbed Phobos by the shirt and shoved him into the wall so hard, he broke the sheetrock. "You bastard! How could you let him take her? I'll fucking kill you!"

Ash caught him and pulled him back before he could do more damage to Phobos. "Calm down."

"They have Delphine!" It took every ounce of willpower he possessed not to attack Acheron. Somehow even now his self-preservation knew attacking the Atlantean god would be a serious mistake.

"I heard that," Ash said calmly. "English may not be my native tongue, but I'm pretty good at understanding it." He released him.

Jared stepped forward. Dressed in a long black leather coat, his red hair was pulled back into a sleek ponytail. The most surprising thing was that his skin wasn't pale or freckled. Rather he was tanned with strong features.

Though he was nowhere near as tall as Ash or Jericho, his powerful aura was enough to make even the baddest of asses stand down. His eyes were hidden behind a pair of opaque sunglasses, but even so they seemed to glow. "Give us the sword Noir gave to you."

That succeeded in making Jericho pause. "How do you know about the sword?"

"It belongs to me. I hear her calling and I want her back."

Using his powers, Jericho released Phobos, who came off of the wall with a fierce growl. When Phobos took a step toward him, Ash stopped him by putting one hand on his chest.

"Let it go, Phobos. You got off easy in my book. Had that been Tory they'd taken, you'd be in pieces."

Ignoring them, Jericho summoned the sword.

The moment it appeared, Jared's entire demeanor changed. Instead of being stern and ready to battle, he was reverent and humble. Kneeling on the floor, Jared took the sword from his hand and placed it blade-down to stand before him.

He whispered in a language Jericho didn't know, which he would have thought impossible. One of the benefits of being a god was the ability to understand all languages. But this . . .

It was completely foreign to him.

The sword began to spin on the floor by itself. Faster and faster. A bright light emanated from the hilt, blinding them. Then it began to bend until it formed a tiny, beautiful woman, who stood no more than three feet tall. Her skin and eyes shimmered gold while black hair cascaded over her shoulders to her hips. Dressed in a flowing black gown, she had the long ears of an elf and her eyes slanted like a cat's. A small gold crown held her hair off her face in an intricate twining gold. Diamonds and rubies dangled from the crown around the shape of her face. She was exquisite.

No wonder the sword had seemed alive. It was.

"Mistress," Jared said, taking her hand. "Forgive me.

Her eyes flashed red as she removed her hand from his grasp to touch his hair. "It's been a long time, Jared."

"I am so sorry." His voice broke as if he was fighting back tears.

She knelt on the floor in front of him and removed the sunglasses to show the eerie red, orange and yellow eyes of his. "I know, couran. But I'm not the one you need to beg forgiveness from. Now stand, and together we will fight again."

His gaze was so tormented that it made Jericho's chest tighten. "I will not fail you again, Mistress. I swear it."

She smiled kindly. "I understand why you did what you did. There is no malice in me." She clenched his hand in hers and held them together in the center of her chest, over her heart. "You have others to save now. We need to be quick about it."

She released him and sat back. In one flash of light, she returned to being a sword again that stood before him.

Jared took the hilt in his hand, kissed it reverently and stood.

Jericho looked at Acheron, wanting to understand what had just happened.

Ash tucked his hands into his pockets. "The Sephirii had ten elite warriors called the Mimoroux. Each one chosen by the sword he or she carried."

Jared manifested a baldric and put it on so he could carry his sword. "Takara went two thousand years without a Shiori."

"A what?"

"A guide." Jared swallowed before he spoke again. "No one was allowed to wield her. Not until me."

Jericho didn't understand until Ash explained. "She was the most powerful of the swords. And whoever wielded her led all the other Sephirii."

Shit. The Sepherii had been betrayed by their leader. By the most chosen among them . . .

Jared shook his head. "I deserve what was done to me and worse. But this isn't about the past. We have to stop Noir." He looked at Acheron. "Do you have your Charonte?"

"They're ready when we are."

Phobos moved forward. "I have a handful of surviving Dolophoni and Oneroi standing by right now."

Jared inclined his head. "Then we attack. May the Source guide us true."

Jericho scoffed. "Screw the Source. This is about vengeance, and Noir is going to regret ever messing with me."


 


: 2015-09-13; : 7;







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