"You will find love one day, daughter. And you will understand. I only hope that when it comes for you, you’re able to grow old and have decades together." Those had been the last words her mother had spoken to her.
Arik had brought her here three days later.
Since the day of her arrival on the Vanishing Isle, Delphine had given up on ever understanding what her mother had tried so desperately to explain.
And when it had finally come for her, she’d found it in the most unlikely of places. In the arms of a god of hatred…
Who would have ever imagined?
She propped her head up on her hand to stare up at his beautiful eyes. "That was incredible."
He laughed gently as he brushed his fingers through her tangled hair. "I’m pretty sure you broke me."
She jerked up, concerned over what he meant. "What? Did I hurt you?"
"No. I’m just too content now to move."
She returned his smile. "You’re so wrong."
Jericho wrapped his arms around her and held her tight against him until she protested. Never in his life had he felt like this about another being.
No anger. No pain.
At least until a sharp crash sounded outside their doors. He could hear angry voices and something that sounded like breaking glass.
Anger destroyed his hard-won peace. "I should have known it was too soon to be feeling satisfied," he groused, dressing himself.
"Let’s at least hope it’s not a gallu."
He scowled at her, and the tone of her voice that said it was the worst thing she could imagine. "Why? They’re not all bad, in a smelly, skanky, need-to-be-killed kind of way."
"My point exactly." She dressed and joined him by the bed.
Jericho took her hand and led her from the room, making sure to keep himself between her and the possible threat they were heading toward.
By the time they reached the hall, three Oneroi were holding Zeth back while M’Adoc brushed at his clothes. It appeared that Zeth must have attacked him.
But at least M’Adoc was looking better. Some of the bruises had healed, and he wasn’t nearly as pale as he’d been earlier.
"I want his heart in my fist," Zeth snarled.
M’Adoc gave him a patient stare. "As do we all. But for now, we’re blocked out of Azmodea. The best we can do is prepare to fight until we find a way in."
Zeth struggled against the men holding him. He let loose a battle cry that echoed around them.
"Easy, tiger," Jericho said, letting go of Delphine to join their small group. "I don’t want that shit ringing in my ears. If it does, you’ve got a much worse problem than Noir. I’ll be the one beating your ass."
Zeth shook the others off him. He straightened up to give Jericho a knowing once-over. "I remember you. You tried to get through the drugs to talk to me."
Jericho inclined his head. "You were definitely out of it." He looked around at the Skoti and Oneroi. . . and remembered a time when the two groups had seldom interacted. "You guys all good now?"
M’Adoc shrugged. "Depends. Now that we have emotions again, some of us are harboring grudges and hard feelings." He passed a meaningful look at Zeth. "While others just want to kill because they can’t handle their anger."
Jericho scoffed. "Sounds like a regular walk in the park for me."
M’Adoc gave a sarcastic laugh. "We’re trying to restructure our duties, and some of us are in disagreement about who the new leaders should be."
Zeth curled his lip. "The Skoti need their own rep. We don’t trust you ass**les. Too many centuries of you killing and stalking us."
M’Adoc growled low in his throat. "Excuse me? You were the ones who provoked us. None of you could behave, and you were one step away from bringing the wrath of Zeus down on all of us. Having been one of the original ones he tortured, I can tell you we were kinder on you than he would have been on us."
Zeth rolled his eyes. "Whatever."
Jericho cast a sideways glance to Delphine, who seemed as bemused by their argument as he was. Not to mention he really resented being pulled out of her arms for something so stupid. They were lucky he was feeling a bit mellow right now.
Delphine looked about the room of gathered Oneroi and Skoti. "You all appear a lot more clear-headed than you were earlier. What else have you decided?"
M’Adoc indicated several of the Oneroi around him. "We’re getting rid of the nomenclature Zeus forced on us."
Jericho scowled, not understanding. "The what?"
"M, V and D apostrophe names. Zeus gave them to us as a punishment and to strip out our individuality. Our real names were forbidden, and he used those letters to further humiliate us by reminding us that we were his obedient servants and not our own entities."
Zeth’s blue eyes glowed with hatred. "Each letter designated a job we were supposed to perform. M were those who policed the Oneroi and Skoti-basically the narcs of the group. The V’s helped humans through sleep and the D’s helped the gods and the Dark-Hunters. It’s why one of the first things Skoti do when they rebel is to revert to the names we were given at birth. In most cases. There have been a few such as V Aiden who didn’t. But I’ve always thought he was an idiot anyway."
Madoc glanced to Zeth. "And we’re now one force reunited. Right, Zeth?"
"Bite me, ass**le."
The Oneroi standing behind him popped him on the back of the head. Zeth turned to attack, but didn’t manage more than a step before Madoc had him in a headlock. "Don’t try my patience, Zeth. It’s running perilously thin." He let out a deep sigh as he glanced back to Jericho. "It really makes you wonder how Ash manages to handle the Dark-Hunters, doesn’t it?"
Jericho laughed. "So what name do we call you?"
He released Zeth, who snarled, but thought better of attacking him again. "I’m sticking with Madoc. It’ll remind me of why we can never let Zeus or anyone else ever subjugate us again."
"I can respect that. And I think I know how Ash handles his crew." Jericho pulled off the whip that Azura had given him and handed it to Madoc.
But as he did so, a thought struck him.
"Sonofa. . . I know how we can get inside Azmodea."
Madoc’s eyes lit up with the same excitement he felt. "How?"
"Asmodeus!" he shouted, summoning the demon to him.
The demon appeared instantly. "You rang, Mino- well, you’re not really the Minor Master anymore, are you? What should I call you?"
Jericho narrowed his gaze threateningly. "Think of a polite term, demon."
Asmodeus’s eyes widened. "Mister Master it is. What can I do for you?"
"Get us into Azmodea."
The demon sputtered in disbelief. "Why in the name of smelly feet would you want to go there again? What good could possibly come from that?"
"We need to get Jaden out."
Jericho turned as Jared approached them. He must have teleported in right after the demon. Still dressed in black, he looked remarkably fresh and undamaged given the fight they’d all been through.
"What do you mean?" Jericho asked.
Jared’s eerie eyes were sad. "Jaden willingly consigned himself to their service. You take him out of there without their permission, and he dies. Believe me, if I could have carried him out of there, I would have."
Delphine sighed. This was getting worse. Thanks to Zeus they couldn’t send Jericho in and now they couldn’t even use Jaden. "Then how do we stop Noir and Azura if we can’t get to Jaden?"
"You’d have to send in Cam and Rezar. Only they have the power to imprison Noir and Azura."
Delphine glanced around, grateful to see she wasn’t the only one who thought Jared had lost his mind. "Who?"
Jericho answered in a cold, dead tone. "The original gods of the sun and of fire. They are said to be the most powerful of all the creation gods."
Jared inclined his head to him. "Exactly. They alone have the powers to negate Azura and Noir." Air and darkness. Those could only be extinguished by sun and fire.
That at least gave Delphine a degree of hope. "Where are they?"
Jared shrugged. "No one knows. After the first war, they, disgusted by what they’d seen from the gods and humanity, withdrew into hiding."
Jericho cursed foully at the news. "You’ve got to be kidding me."
Jared shook his head. "The only person who could find them or even identify them is Jaden. Or Noir and Azura. Since I’m relatively sure they don’t want them found, I wouldn’t put money on the two of them helping us."
Jericho expelled an agitated breath. "So there’s no way to completely defeat them."
"They’re gods, Jericho. You’ve already fought that war, and how many centuries did you and the Olympians fight? Taking out a god isn’t easy. The best you can do is trap them, but that takes stealth, and since they’re both on guard now…"
"So what do we do?" Madoc asked.
"You’ll have to negate the gallu threat. Protect the humans and wait for the Malachai to mature his powers-praying the whole time he doesn’t join ranks with Noir." Jared looked around at the Oneroi gathered. "And keep them out of our dreams. I’m sure with the gallu, they’ll be attacking on that front. Zarek’s plan is the best bet you have. Reclaim, neutralize or kill every Olympian who stands with them. Show them no mercy."
Zeth frowned. "But you’re still saying that we can’t win this."
"No-we can… eventually. It won’t be this week or this year and definitely not today. But if we assemble the right team and make no mistakes, we can defeat them and put them in a place where they’ll never be able to harm another person or god again."
Delphine swallowed at the dire prediction. "And if we fail?"
Madoc sighed. "It’ll suck to be human."
"It’ll suck more to be us," Zeth said in a surly tone.
"I can’t believe I was ever stupid enough to trust Noir. Come to the dark side. We have cookies," Zeth grumbled.
Jericho clapped him on the back. "Don’t be so hard on yourself. It wasn’t the cookies that tempted you."
"No. When you’re denied basic necessities, you’re willing to do anything to get them."
Jericho met Delphine’s gaze. "Believe me, I know and I almost made the same mistake you did. Evil is seductive. It’s what makes the two of them so dangerous."
"No," Jared said, his tone dire. "It’s our willingness to believe their lies and to see what we want to see that makes it so dangerous. Even when we know better, we lie to ourselves and that’s where the tme betrayal is."
Zeth nodded. "As the great poet once wrote, ‘To thine own self be true.’"
They all stared at him aghast.
"What?" he asked in an offended tone. "You don’t think a Skotos can be literate? I happen to love Shakespeare. Hamlet is one of my faves."
Jericho snorted. "I’m not touching that one with tongs and a gas mask." He looked back at Madoc. "What other changes have you guys decided on?"
Madoc indicated him and Zeth. "We don’t know if D’Alerian lives or not. I’m going to keep hoping, but until we know for sure, we have to have someone to lead the Oneroi and help them adjust to what’s going on." His eyes sad, he hesitated before he spoke again. "M’Ordant’s dead, and our hierarchy is in shambles. As much as it pains me to admit it, I think Zeth is right and it’ll help to have him in as a commander. He’s been leading the Skoti for a while now and they tend to listen to him."
Zeth scoffed. "For the record, I was his third choice behind Solin and Xypher."
Madoc gave him an unamused stare. "And all things considered, you’re probably the more sensible one anyway. Xypher’s more demon than Skotos, and Solin… he’d only be interested in monitoring and helping our women."
Deimos gave a short laugh of agreement. "Phobos and I are still in charge of the Dolophoni. Nothing changes there, except we’ll be assisting the Oneroi more now than we have in the past."
It all sounded great to Jericho except for one minor concerning detail. "Have you run this by Zeus?"
Madoc shook his head. "Not yet, but I don’t think he’ll oppose it. So long as we keep his dreams clear, he should be all right with it."
Zeth didn’t look as convinced. "What if he takes our emotions again?"
"He won’t," Jericho said with total confidence.
Still, Zeth was skeptical. "How can you be so sure?"
Jericho wasn’t about to tell them of his bargain with the ass**le. No one needed to know what he’d relegated himself to for their benefit. "I put a safeguard in. If he goes back on his word, it won’t go well for him."
Asmodeus wrinkled his brow as he looked back and forth between the group. "So where does my demon self fit into all this?"
Deimos draped an arm around his shoulder. "Technical advisor. Since you know our enemies so well, we’re going to pick your brain."
Asmodeus’s eyes widened. "I’ll tell you what you want to know. There’s no need to torture me for it."
Deimos looked around, his face a mask of befud-dlement. "Huh?"