That was true except for the one fatal flaw caused by Zeus that made Jericho just a little too easy to kill. "What is Noir’s weakness?"
Jericho scowled at the unexpected answer. "What do you mean?"
Deimos winced as if pain cut through him before he answered. "If we free Jaden, we can put both Noir and Azura down. He has the power, but right now he’s enslaved to them and forbidden to do them harm."
And freeing him would be next to impossible. By now Noir would have clamped down on his prized pet.
Jericho looked at Delphine before he spoke again. "So the easiest thing to do to keep Noir from gaining more power is to kill the Malachai."
Deimos snorted. "You would think. But there’s a major problem there. His life is tied to Acheron’s. You kill him and Acheron drops right after him."
Delphine let out a frustrated breath. "If Acheron dies, the Destroyer is released and the world ends."
Jericho cursed. "Who thought that was a good idea?"
"Ash, when he didn’t know Nick was the Malachai."
Flippin’ figured. Jericho would condemn him for his stupidity had he not done dumber things himself. Starting with having saved the woman next to him.
Well, maybe that wasn’t so dumb after all. . .
"So what are we going to do?" Delphine asked.
"Right now the most pressing thing is to either kill or reclaim the Dolophoni, Oneroi and Skoti working with Noir. So long as a single one serves him, we’re screwed."
Yeah, the last thing they needed was to be that vulnerable while they slept. No one needed a Freddy Krueger reenactment.
Jericho crossed his arms over his chest. "How many do they have on their side?"
"About a hundred."
Delphine glanced up. "But we have more. We can fight and bring them home."
"Or kill them," Jericho added. Personally, he preferred the latter. If they hadn’t come over willingly, in his mind they couldn’t be trusted. Better to take them out than take them in and be sorry.
Delphine gave him an irritated glare. "We need to launch another attack on them."
"You’ll need a leader," Zarek said as he joined them. "One massive, concentrated attack from the hall of mirrors to catch them while they’re in the dream realm, and another for those who are awake."
Jericho nodded. "It’ll be bloody, but Zarek’s right. We have to sober the Skoti and heal the others so that we can finish this."
Delphine shook her head as she considered it. She wasn’t sure they stood a chance as the situation was currently. "But who’s going to lead? M’Adoc-"
"He’s not a military commander," Deimos said, interrupting her. He looked up at Jericho. "You’re the best shot we have. You can monitor the Source for activity and ride herd on Noir and Azura when they draw from it. Plus you have command experience and know how to best comer enemies and execute them."
Zarek looked less than pleased. "He can’t do it alone. How many Source gods do we have?"
Astrid answered. "Four. Jared, Acheron, Nike…" she paused as she cut a sideways glance to him, "and Jericho."
"There are two more," Deimos said. Astrid frowned. "Who?"
‘The Sumerian god Sin and his twin brother, Zakar."
Now it was Delphine’s turn to be baffled. "Why would they fight with us?"
"Sin is Acheron’s son-in-law."
"Oh," she said as she understood. That changed a lot. "That might work, then."
Zarek scoffed. "Or it’ll blow up in our faces."
A devious glimmer lit Jericho’s eyes. "Well, the other alternative is to wake a few Titans and break ass on all of them."
Zarek’s evil laughter rang out as if he had a good image of that in his mind. "Zeus would shit kittens."
Jericho shrugged. "Do any of us care?"
Delphine and Astrid raised their hands.
Astrid cleared her throat. "In case you guys forgot, the Titans are just a tad upset about their eternal imprisonment. You let them out now, and I think we’ll have a worse problem than just Noir. Plus there’s a lot more of them."
Delphine nodded. "What she said and then some."
"I have a better idea." M’Adoc flashed in beside them.
Delphine was surprised to see him here and even more that he’d been eavesdropping on their conversation.
But he was still unsteady on his feet and didn’t last long before he collapsed.
Jericho caught him before he fell and helped him sit on the floor.
M’Adoc took a second to steady himself before he explained his idea. "Our weakness was the Skoti. Noir got to them by promising to restore their emotions. Once there-"
"He’s been drugging them," Delphine finished, remembering Zeth’s warning to her and the biting effects of the food.
M’Adoc nodded. "So long as he keeps them like that, they can’t fight him. But if you get Zeth sobered, we can reunite the Skoti with the Oneroi. With our emotions intact, the indignant fury of what’s been done to us will fuel our tight. And more than that, Noir will have nothing more to offer them. Especially since he’s now attacked all of us."
Jericho was still skeptical. It seemed somehow too easy. "Are you sure about that?"
M’Adoc nodded. "We need their sense of loyalty and fairness restored. With the ban lifted, we’ll be back as we were."
"Can we do that?" Delphine asked. "I thought once a curse was given it was eternal."
"Not always. But it has to be removed by the god who delivered it. Besides, this one’s already weakening. The emotions you have, Delphine, haven’t you noticed they’ve grown stronger?"
"I thought it was residuals from battling the Skoti."
M’Adoc shook his head. "Zeus isn’t the power he used to be. As with Noir, the fewer people who worship him, the weaker he’s become."
Deimos nodded. "And unlike Apollo, he doesn’t have a race of Daimons believing in him to feed his powers."
"Exactly. He has the ability to rescind the curse. Unlike Apollo’s, his isn’t fatal and can be undone."
Jericho stepped back. "Then I’ll go have a word with thunder-ass."
Delphine turned on him with a panicked expression that warmed him. "You can’t. He’ll kill you."
"Does it matter?"
"It does to me."
Jericho smiled as he cupped her cheek in the palm of his hand. No words had ever meant more to him, and it stunned him that she was so sincere. "It’ll be all right." He nudged her next to Zarek. "Keep an eye on her until I’m back."
"You know," Deimos said, pushing himself up to sit. "I’m thinking she might not be too far off. You might want to have some backup before you go talk to Zeus."
Knowing the bastard, that would just piss him off more. Zeus didn’t like an audience whenever he was wrong. This would take some serious finessing that would only work if there was no other witness to it. "I stood at his right-hand side for centuries. I know how to talk to the man."
Deimos snorted derisively. "You also got yourself one of the harshest punishments from him."
"Which means I know how to push him too far. Don’t worry. I won’t make that mistake again."
Delphine turned a worried look to M’Adoc. "M’Adoc, talk him out of it."
"I don’t know if I can, Delphine. You’d have a better shot than me."
"And not even you can." Jericho started to leave, but Delphine stopped him. "You be careful. Please."
Treasuring those precious words, he inclined his head before he teleported himself from the Vanishing Isle straight into Zeus’s private temple.
Jericho went cold as old memories assailed him. He and his siblings had once stood guard here while the father god bathed or slept with whatever nymph or goddess had caught his fancy. Only a tiny handful of other gods had ever been admitted here.
And in all these centuries nothing had changed. It was still the same cold, marbled hall it had always been.
Closing his eyes, Jericho reached out with his powers to locate Zeus.
He was in his bath, hopefully alone.
Jericho took a moment to return the patch to his eye and manifest his body armor. He articulated the fingers of his right hand back to his metallic claws and freed his wings.
There wouldn’t be any begging. He was here merely to state his case and argue it if need be.
If Zeus wanted a fight, there would be a fight.
Jericho left his hair to flow freely down his back as he made his way through the golden-and-white marble hall to the back of the temple. The bathing room was a huge atrium with a waterfall at the far side that fed the tub, which was the size of a, pardon the pun, Olympic-sized pool. Steam floated off the water, letting him know it was hot and soothing.
Zeus lay on the opposite end of the waterfall with his eyes closed while a nymph sat on a nearby stool playing a lyre for him. From this vantage point, he looked completely relaxed and unaware of the fact that Noir was basically one step away from his throat. Stupid bastard.
The nymph looked up and gasped at the sight of Jericho.
Zeus jerked upright. Cursing, he turned in the water to face him. "What are you doing here?"
"I’ve come to visit. . . Father."
Zeus curled his lip before he barked at the innocent nymph. "Peia, leave us."
The nymph vanished instantly. Her lyre fell to the ground and rang on an off-key note.
Zeus reached for his long robe and tied it around him while he was still in the pool. Using his powers, he rose straight up before he stepped on the concrete so he could approach Jericho. "Have you lost your mind?"
Jericho ignored his snarling tone. "It feels like that some days. But no. I’m sane and I’m here to talk to you."
"What you’re going to do."
Zeus narrowed his eyes threateninglv. "And that is?"
"Free the Oneroi."
Zeus raked him with a scathing glare as he stopped right before him and tugged the belt of the robe into a tight knot. "You are insane."
Strangely there was a calm serenity inside Jericho that didn’t react to being goaded. How odd. Normally such a dressing-down would have had him going for Zeus’s throat.
Maybe Delphine was rubbing off on him because he swore he could hear her telling him to calm down.
"No," he said slowly. "The only insanity would be for you to ignore me. The Skoti and Oneroi need their emotions in order to effectively fight against Noir."
Zeus shook his head. "They’ll turn against us. You can trust me on that."
How stupid could one god be? Was he blind? "In case you haven’t noticed, they’ve already done that. And they’re picking apart your pantheon one god at a time. The Oneroi and Dolophoni are almost nothing more than, pardon the pun, a bad dream."
Jericho crossed his arms over his chest confidently. "If you give them back their emotions, their loyalty to the pantheon might win out over their current lust and ambition. Plus, Noir will have nothing left to offer them. The only reason they’re there now is to have the emotions you banned from them. Restoring them is the only hope you have."
Zeus curled his lip. "How do you know?"
"You’re still alive right now, aren’t you? Even though I have dreamed of nothing but slaughtering you for all these centuries. Even though I hate you with every piece of me. You’re still alive because of the loyalty I have to being Greek. And the hatred I feel for Noir having tried to use me. That’s what we need to reawaken in them."
Zeus scoffed. "None of that motivates me to spare them."
"Then tell me what will."
Zeus narrowed his eyes as he considered it. Jericho swore he could hear the gears grinding in the god’s mind. "What exactly are you offering?"
Don’t do it, you idiot. Tell him his life.
But he knew threats wouldn’t get him what he needed. Zeus was the only one who could lift the ban. This wasn’t the time or place for arrogance or bluster.
They needed this.
Do it for Delphine’s future…
This was her freedom he was asking for. Her life. Somehow that made it easier for him. "Whatever it takes to end the curse you should have never given them."
Zeus cocked his head as if he heard Jericho’s thoughts. His gaze darkened threateningly. "This is over that little Oneroi I sent after you, isn’t it? You don’t care about the others. You only want her to be free." He laughed mockingly. "I’ll be damned. The mighty Cratus brought low by a common sleep god. Sending that hot little ass after you actually worked."
"Don’t call her that," Jericho growled. It was all he could do not to attack over it. Delphine wasn’t an object and be damned if he’d let even Zeus reduce her to one.
Zeus laughed again, making Jericho want to punch the arrogance right off his face. "You think if she has her emotions back she’ll be able to love you, don’t you? Care about you. Nike told me she’d be the one weakness you couldn’t deny. And she was right. There’s nothing like a pretty face to weaken a man, especially one who was banned from sex as long as you were."
That was probably the last thing Zeus should have reminded him of because right now he was holding on to his temper by a very narrow margin. "Leave her out of this."