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CHAPTER 10. Terrified, Delphine was thrown into a drak cell by one of Azura's handmaidens
Terrified, Delphine was thrown into a drak cell by one of Azura's handmaidens. The door slammed shut, sealing her inside with a sickening thud. There was no light whatsoever, and in the oppressive darkness she could hear something breathing. Where was it?
More importantly, what was it?
Worse, Azura had returned the containment collar to her neck. All she had was her bare hands for protection. Never had she felt more vulnerable.
"I'm getting really tired of being grabbed and tagged." For thousands of years, she'd fought without ever failing. Now she couldn't seem to move without screwing up.
Delphine spun around, ready to battle. "Who's there?"
"Me." The voice was so weak that at first she didn't recognize it.
She followed the sound of the heavy breathing to find him somewhere on the ground near her feet. Now that she was closer, she could tell that the sharp breaths weren't from anger. Rather they were gasps of pain.
Afraid of stepping on him, she paused.
Still she couldn't see even the faintest of outlines for his body. "Are you all right?"
"Just peachy," he said in a tight tone that betrayed the excruciating pain he was in.
She reached to touch him only to have him let out an agonized curse. It felt as if there was blood on her fingers and when he'd jerked, she heard some kind of heavy chain rattle.
"Don't touch me."
"I'm sorry," she apologized. "I can't see."
"Just. . . stay . . . put."
"Is there any light here?"
He coughed. "You don't want it lit."
She heard something skittering across the room. Terrified, she turned, trying to see it in the darkness. But there was nothing there at all.
"Trust me, child. You don't want to see what's in here with us."
Something rattled around the door, making the hair on the back of her neck rise. She didn't like this. Not even a little. "Are you chained?"
"Can I free you?"
"No. They have the chains embedded through my body."
Her stomach clenched. How horrifying. Most of all, how could he stand the pain he had to be in? "Why are we here?"
"To be fed to the things that call this place home."
Raw, unmitigated terror filled her. "What?" She panicked even more.
"Calm down, Delphine. You have to."
She heard the skittering again. Turning around, she tried to locate it.
"They attack when they sense fear. You must control your emotions. I know it's hard, but concentrate."
Her heart pounded so hard, she was amazed it wasn't flying out of her chest. It didn't help when she stumbled and fell over a broken skeleton on the ground. The moment she did, something unknown touched her leg.
"What? Who's here?"
"Shhhh," M'Adoc breathed soothingly. "Calm down."
If he said that one more time, she would scream. "Why won't you tell me the answer?"
"Because I'm trying not to scare you more. Just breathe slowly. Think about something comforting."
Delphine closed her eyes. In the past, her mother would have come to her mind. But today, it was an image of Jericho smiling at her that made her feel safe. Protected.
The skittering backed away.
"That's my girl."
She pushed herself up slowly. "Is there anything I can do to help you?"
"Keep the monsters from winning this war. You have to make sure that Noir is stopped no matter what."
That's what she intended to do. "I'm trying, M'Adoc."
She heard him curse in pain before he spoke again. "You're a brave woman, Delphine. You always were."
She rubbed at the chills on her arms. "I don't feel brave, especially not right now."
"That's what bravery is, especially for a woman not used to having emotions. When you feel deep, paralyzing fear and you don't let it stop you, that is true courage. There's never bravery without fear. Just as there's no love without hate."
She wasn't sure if that was true or not. Her experience with emotions was too recent. The concept of bravery seemed beyond her understanding. "Why did they put you here?"
"I wouldn't give them what they wanted. I refused to convert and join Noir's plans. Besides, Zeus was more cruel than this when he rounded us up to punish us for his dreams. Noir and Azura have nothing on him. Beatings and torture I can take."
Delphine shivered as she remembered some of her own beatings. Though Oneroi were immune to emotions, the ability to feel and experience pain had stayed with them. For one thing, it wasn't truly an emotion, it was a physical response to being hurt, and for the other, it allowed Zeus and the other gods to punish them when they stepped over the rules. "What about the others? Did they convert?"
"M'Ordant's dead." She heard the tears in his voice as he said that, and her own heart ached at the loss. M'Ordant had been a stickler for the rules, but at the same time, he'd been a good Oneroi. And a great friend.
Any time she'd needed backup, he'd been there to help. She would miss him greatly. 'They killed him days ago when he refused to eat their poison."
She didn't want to ask the next question and yet she had to know the answer. "What about D'Alerian?"
"I don't know. I haven't seen him since we were captured. Part of me hopes he's dead, too, rather than being tortured like I've been. I know they'd never get him to convert, either. May the gods help him wherever he is."
She groaned in frustration. "Why are they doing this to us? There are other pantheons out there."
"But not with the Oneroi. It's our powers they crave. More than that, Zeus banning our emotions made the Skoti an easy target. Noir was able to infiltrate our ranks by promising to return their feelings to them. Stupid, gullible bastards believing his lies."
"It's not entirely their fault. He's drugging them."
"I know. They tried to drug me, too."
"And still you didn't convert?"
"No. I'm not stupid enough to call that prick master. Better I should live out eternity in this hole being eaten alive than help him."
Delphine. . .
She gasped as a demonic voice spoke her name. It reminded her of her mother. Help me, Delphine. Please.
"Ignore them," M'Adoc snapped.
"What are they?"
"The souls of the damned. If you answer them, you'll take their place in this hell forever, and they'll be free to wander the mortal realm."
The calls were louder now.
Delphine plugged her ears and made herself hear Jericho's voice. She closed her eyes and imagined being with him. Holding him.
That's it. . .
Laughter rang out.
Suddenly, light poured through the room. Delphine screamed as she saw the ghastly white specter in front of her. Its face was hollowed out. Its eyes sunken in darkness. Wisps of dirty gray hair floated around a bloated face as it reached for her to pull her close to it.
"I will not fear you!" she shouted. "I fear nothing. Nothing!" She prepared to battle it.
The ghoul launched itself at her.
Delphine ducked its punch, expecting it to attack her. But just as it reached her, it screamed and pulled back.
It was Jericho.
He had the creature by the neck. "Get Delphine out of here," he shouted over his shoulder. With one swift move, he cut the creature's throat and slung it away just in time to catch an assault from another one.
Phobos ran at her and pulled her toward the door. "Wait!" she said, trying to stop, "M'Adoc is here, too."
"We've got him." Phobos shoved her into the hallway.
Asmodeus was outside, waiting.
Delphine drew up short, expecting him to be against them. "What are you doing here?"
"Being counted among friends. But for the record, you guys better not lose. I don't want my ass fried over this, or any other body parts, either."
"Why would you help us?"
Asmodeus shrugged. "I hear stupidity is a fatal disease. Doing my own experimentation to see if that's true or not. If I survive, we'll know it's not. If I die . . . well, it'll suck. Bad. And I won't be happy."
Phobos came out of the room with M'Adoc leaning heavily against him. M'Adoc's face had been beaten to the point she barely recognized him. His clothes were torn and showed her a body rife with bleeding wounds. "C'mon."
She had no chance to argue before they left this realm. The next thing she knew, she was in a huge, white room with Tory and several other Oneroi. A man and a woman were tending the wounded while they lay on the floor in utter agony.
Three Charonte popped in with more wounded, whom they laid on the floor before vanishing again.
"What's going on?" she asked Tory, who was helping one of the Skoti drink a glass of water.
"Ash, Jericho, Jared and Phobos are pulling as many of the prisoners out as they can."
Still, Delphine was confused. "Why bring them here?"
"It's the safest place until we can regroup. Ash wants to count the survivors first."
Delphine looked around at the small handful who were here. It really didn't look promising. But at least they weren't fighting them. The Skoti appeared too weak to do anything other than lay on the ground and groan.
It sickened her to see them like this.
"Here. Let me help you."
She turned to find a petite woman by her side. "Help me with what?"
She smiled kindly. "Remove your collar. Relax, my name is Danger, and I'm one of Acheron's stewards. You're safe here, I promise."
Delphine lifted her hair up so that Danger could unfasten the collar and restore her powers . . . again. She was getting really tired of losing them. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." As Danger pulled it off, a sharp sting went through her.
Grimacing, she pulled back. But it took her a minute to realize it wasn't from the collar coming off.
It was her powers warning her that Jericho was in serious trouble.
Jericho left the pit to return to Ash and Jared, who were fighting demons, gallu and other creepy things, in the main hole where most of the prisoners were being kept. He couldn't take a step without being hammered by them.
But that was all right by him. He was getting a lot of pent-up aggression out. Poor them for being the recipients. If he wasn't enjoying it so much, he'd actually feel sorry for them.
As it was . . .
He cut a demon in half.
Phobos popped back in by his side. "Has anyone seen Deimos?"
Jericho caught another gallu, threw him on the ground and plunged his dagger between the creature's eyes to kill it before he answered. "He was with Jaden."
"Hanging on a wall."
Phobos gave him a harsh glare. "Can you show me?"
Leaving Ash and the Charonte to fight, Jericho led Phobos and Jared down the same hallway he'd taken earlier with Asmodeus. One of the best parts about his returned powers was being able to remember little details such as this. He'd missed the flawless memory of the gods.
Once they returned to the room, they had to kick the door in to enter. Something that wasn't easy, but they were determined.
Jericho paused as soon as he saw the gory remains of the Oneroi inside the room. It looked like someone had recently torn them apart. Worse was the stench of their bodies.
Damn Noir. He couldn't believe he'd ever been dumb enough to even think of following him. What an idiot he was.
Phobos made a cry deep in his throat as he ran toward his brother, who lay limply against the wall. There was no sign of life.
But it was the look on Jared's face that held Jericho completely transfixed. There were no emotions evident, and yet his yellow and orange eyes spoke of unfathomable anguish.
Without a word, Jared went to Jaden.
Jaden lashed out until he saw who had touched him. Disbelief etched itself across his battered face. "Jared? What are you doing here?"
Jared responded with a feral snarl as he slashed the chains holding Jaden to the wall. It didn't succeed in cutting him loose, but the chain did loosen with each sword stroke. "I'm getting you out of here."
Jaden grabbed him by the shoulders and gave him a harsh, penetrating stare. "You. Can't," he repeated forcefully.
Pulling away, Jared's growl of frustration echoed through the dankness.
Jaden leaned back against the wall, panting from pain, nursing his right arm. "Get the others to safety and don't worry about me."
"I won't leave you here."
"You can and you will." Jaden's snarl matched his. "For once in your life, listen to me and do as I say. Get out of here and stop wasting time arguing over in-consequentials."
Jared grabbed the cloth over Jaden's left shoulder and clenched it into a tight fist. "You're not inconsequential. Not to me."
Jaden touched his hand. "In this battle I am. They won't kill me. Now go. Save as many of the others as you can."
Jericho didn't know what to make of their confrontation as Jared pulled Jaden into his arms and held him close and tight. The way they held each other . . . they were either brothers or lovers . . .
Or really close friends.
"I will fix this," Jared said, releasing him. "Somehow, I'm going to make this right. I swear to you."
Jaden shoved him away. "Dammit, go!"
Jericho turned his attention to Phobos, who had Deimos cradled in his arms.
"He's alive," Phobos said. "Barely." "Get him out of here."
Phobos didn't argue. He teleported out immediately.
Jared was another matter. He lingered as if he couldn't bear to leave Jaden. Guilt, fear and pain were clearly etched onto his face.
But as a rush of demons assaulted them, Jericho's attention was turned from Jared to survival. He clotheslined the first gallu to reach him, then grabbed the next one. They rolled to the ground. Jericho punched him hard in the face before he rose to catch the next one who was descending on him.
He blasted that one back with his powers, but not before the demon delivered a blast of his own. It caught him hard in the chest and sent him reeling.
Jared cut the demon down with one fierce sword stroke.
As Jericho rose to his feet, he felt a chill down his spine.
Noir was here.
He sensed it even before the god appeared in the room, three feet from him.
Noir tsked as he raked him with a repugnant glare. "You have no idea what you've started."
Jericho sneered at him. "Neither do you, asshole. All you had to do was play nice with me. But you thought it would be more fun to kick me around, drug me and turn on me. Bad move on your part."
Noir laughed. "Turning on you is what people do best. Haven't you learned that yet? You have no friends. You have nothing."
Against his will an image of Delphine went through his mind.
"Her?" Noir said derisively as if he could read his thoughts. "Delphine doesn't care about you. She was sent by Zeus to either seduce you to their cause or kill you."
Those words slammed into him. It couldn't be. She wouldn't do that. She was above it.
"It's true," Noir insisted. "Ask Jaden.*'
Jericho turned to look at Jaden, who then glanced away as if he couldn't bear to tell him the truth.
Noir laughed. "You're such a gullible fool. So much for the brave Cratus. You're pathetic. You sacrificed yourself for a woman who betrayed you. One who will always betray you. She is nothing, and neither are you."
Pain shredded Jericho's abdomen. Looking down, he saw the sword that Noir had stabbed him with.
Noir grabbed his chin, holding it in a tight grip before he jerked the sword out. Jericho gasped at the raw fire that ripped through him.
"I should have known you'd be nothing but a waste of time. So much for commanding my army."
Jericho staggered back as Jared ran forward to attack.
The two of them went at each other like Titans. Jaden started for him.
"Stay out of it, maggot!" Noir warned.
Jaden didn't listen. But as soon as he reached Jericho's side, a light flashed. One that pierced Jaden, lifting him off his feet to pin him to the wall like some sort of sick lab experiment.
Jaden cried out in pain as he glared at Noir. "If I ever get this collar off, you are so fucking dead."
Those words barely registered in Jericho's mind as he tried to use his powers to heal himself.
It didn't work.
How could that be? Grimacing, he tried again, and again nothing happened.
Noir shot a blast at him that sizzled over his body. "You're pathetic."
Jericho tried to stand, but something knocked him back down. He armored his body.
Not even that helped.
Jared couldn't get to Noir—Azura had flashed in to block his way. The two of them locked swords and clashed as Noir stalked toward Jericho.
I'm not going to die like this. . ..
By all the power in the Source, he wouldn't go down in this hell hole.
Noir stabbed him through the back, pinning him to the floor. "Ah . . . did I miss your heart?"
Jericho hissed as Noir jerked the sword out of his spine. Rolling, he tried to kick him off. It was useless. He closed his eyes and summoned all the power he could from the Source.
Noir laughed at him. "You didn't really think we'd fully restored your powers, did you?" He stabbed him through the chest, narrowly missing his heart.
Jericho cried out in pain.
Twisting the sword, Noir yanked it out. "This time, I won't miss." He plunged it down.
Just as it would have struck him, a blur whizzed past Jericho, catching Noir about the waist and knocking him away.
It was Delphine.
She manifested a staff and used it to drive him back. Jericho was in awe of her as she engaged Noir as an equal. Every time he lunged, she parried and struck a fresh blow. Her movements were a symphony of grace and agility, and her successful hits were pissing Noir off.
She planted the staff on the ground, then used it to vault her entire weight into Noir's stomach. He grunted, falling back.
Delphine mshed back to Jericho. "Hold on, baby," she breathed before she teleported him to Ash's home in Katoteros—the Atlantean heaven realm.
He lay on the floor with Delphine above him, her brow knitted in worry. Noir's words rang in his ears.
Was everything about her a lie? Had she betrayed him?
"Why did you come back for me?"
She looked incredulous at his question. "I didn't want to see you hurt."
"You don't even know me."
She spoke to him then, but he couldn't hear her words for the pain of his body. Instead, he felt the darkness creeping in, swallowing him whole.
Delphine felt her heart clench as Jericho's eyes rolled back in his head and he expelled a long breath.
Terrified he was dead, she leaned down, trying to feel for a heartbeat. There wasn't one. . . .
No, wait. It was there. Barely. His breathing was faint, but it, too, was audible.
Thank the gods for it.
"They made one helluva mess of him."
She looked up at the blond man who worked as Acheron's steward. Alexion. That was his name. "Is there a bed I can take him to while he heals?"
Alexion scowled. "You don't want to transport him to Olympus with the others?"
She shook her head. "He hates it there. Please. I can heal him, but he needs to rest."
Alexion touched his arm and Jericho vanished.
She opened her mouth to question him about his actions, but before she could say a word, he sent her to the same room where Jericho was lying on a large, intricately carved black bed. The white linens were quickly stained by Jericho's blood.
Alexion flashed in beside her. "I don't know what to do with him in terms of those wounds. I thought he was a god." Which meant Jericho shouldn't be bleeding like this. He should have been able to heal himself.
But he was a special case and no one knew that better than she did.
"Then why's he bleeding like that?"
She wasn't sure, but she had a sneaking suspicion it had something to do with his human heart. Maybe Zeus had kept him from healing so that he could kill Jericho off at a later date. Zeus could be cold and tricky that way.
"I don't know." Though she knew Acheron trusted this man, she didn't know him at all. The last thing she'd ever do was tell him about Jericho's weakness. No one else needed to know that, and she would guard it to her grave.
"Do you need anything?" Alexion asked.
"No, thank you. I can tend him."
He inclined his head to her. "All right. I'm going to see to the others then. Call me if you need anything."
Alone with Jericho, Delphine used her powers to remove his shirt. She grimaced at the sight of his wounds and scars. Alexion was right, Noir had made a terrible mess. . .
Stabbing for his heart. One of the wounds had barely missed it.
She went cold as that realization sank in.
Noir knew. Somehow, someone had told him that Jericho could be killed by piercing his heart. There was no other reason for him to have been stabbed like this.
But who would have told him that?
If they failed to stop Noir, all of them would suffer. Olympus would fall and no one would be safe.
But as Jericho had said, most people were for sale. Those who weren't were few and far between. Maybe the god involved thought he could stay on Noir's good side and avoid being the target. Or maybe he had offered Jericho up as a sign of good faith. Or maybe he just hated Jericho that badly.
Heartsick with the thought of someone being so cold, she used her powers to seal his wounds, then manifested water and cloth to clean the blood away. As she ran the cloth over the sharp ridges of his abdomen, she paused at the sight of the scars there.
Jagged and deep, they matched the one on his face.
She winced at the sight. Zeus. She knew those scars. They were from his lightning bolts. Sickened at the pain Jericho had been through, she sat on the bed and traced the line of the scar on his face to his lips. Even while unconscious, his power was unmistakable.
And he'd come back for her to save her.
His words to Phobos rang in her ears. Yes, he'd gone to save others, but he had made it a point to come after her, too. Even before his sister. She had taken precedence. Tears of tender gratitude made her gaze hazy.
"You are so fierce," she whispered.
Yet for her. he bled. He, who'd sworn he wouldn't cross Noir, had done so. Not just because Noir had threatened him. She didn't believe that. From the very beginning, he'd protected her in a way few people had.
Jericho hated the world, yet he'd been her self-appointed guardian.
She took his hand into hers and stared at the dark, scarred skin. Rough and calloused, it was almost twice the size of hers. These were the hands of a killer and of a lover, and they belonged to a man who captivated every part of her.
His eyes fluttered open.
"Hi," she breathed, grateful to see him awake.
Anger furrowed his brow. "Am I on Olympus?"
"No, you're in Katoteros. I wouldn't let them take you there."
Jericho tightened his grip on her hand as his gaze turned stormy. "Why are you being nice to me?"
"What do you mean?"
"I have threatened and intimidated you. We barely know each other, and yet you're being kind. Why?"
"Do I have to have a reason?"
His gaze was dark and accusatory. "Everyone lies. Everyone's for sale. What do you gain by your kindness?"
She was baffled by his hostility. "I have no motivation for it other than to repay you for saving me."
Those words seemed to anger him more. "So what you're telling me is that you didn't make a deal with Zeus to seduce me?"
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