Dream Warrior (Page 4)

Dream Warrior (Dark-Hunter #17)(4)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

As she walked forward, Phobos appeared and pulled her to a stop. "What happened?"

"Cratus defected." She could have sworn she’d whispered those words, but all sound and activity paused in the hall as if she’d shouted.

Zeus stood up slowly, his eyes flaming with the weight of his fury. Tall and blond, he would have been very handsome were it not for his nasty disposition and tendency to kill anyone he took even a minor dislike to. "You are not about to tell me that you’ve failed to bring Cratus here."

Not while you ‘re looking at me like that, I’m not. She had to bite her tongue to keep that quip inside. Given his mood, he wouldn’t be exactly kind and take it.

Phobos’s eyes widened to caution her to silence–as if she needed it-before he turned to Zeus and defended her. "Minor setback, my lord. Really."

That did nothing to appease the king of the gods. "Are you willing to take her place beneath my axe?"

"Do I have to?"

Zeus bellowed his anger. "I am not amused by either of you."

As Zeus started toward them, Nike stepped forward. "My lord?" she asked quietly. "Might I have a word with them?"

He looked at her as if she might be the next to get blasted-right after he finished with them. "Make it very short."

Nike nodded before she descended the dais where Zeus’s throne was set. Apollo sneered at her, but she paid him no attention as she made her way to Del-phine’s side.

Nike pulled her close. "Tell me what has happened."

Again, Delphine spoke in only the quietest of tones. "Azura got to him before I could. She promised him freedom and revenge if he’d join them."

Zeus cursed. "I shall have you both killed for this!"

Nike stepped in front of Delphine. "My lord, please bear with me. I’m the goddess of victory, and Cratus is my brother. Believe me, if there’s anyone in this room who knows how to reach him and sway him, it is I."

Zeus curled his lip. "Then sway him, but that has nothing to do with their lives." He gave a meaningful glare to Phobos and then Delphine.

Delphine definitely didn’t like where this was heading, and she wanted to get out from under Zeus’s angry countenance. She also had to bite back the question of why Nike, if Nike knew her brother so well, hadn’t been sent after him to begin with.

But the point of this was to save her life, not goad them into murdering her.

"What my brother needs, I cannot give him." Nike glanced at Delphine. "But she can. Give us a chance, my lord. Please. I know we can regain his allegiance."

The fury on Zeus’s face intensified until Delphine was sure he’d strike out at her.

But after a few horrendous heartbeats, he conceded. "One chance is all you have. Azura and the others will kill their hostages in two weeks and then come for the rest of us. You have twelve days to sway him or kill him."

Delphine shook her head at his order. "Cratus can’t be killed."

Zeus laughed bitterly. "Oh, yes, he can. Even if they restore his powers to their full potential, stab him in his heart and he will die."

Delphine frowned. "How?"

The pride on Zeus’s face sat ill with her. "His immortal heart was ripped from his chest when I cast him out of here, and it is a frail human heart he has now. Pierce it and he dies, plain and simple. And there will be no resurrection for him in the morning as we’ve done in the past."

She saw pain flash in Nike’s eyes. "Come with me, Delphine."

Delphine followed the smaller goddess to the doors that led out onto a balcony overlooking the rainbow falls and the thick green foliage that surrounded the hall. When Phobos started to join them, Nike shooed him back inside.

"This isn’t for you, Phobos. Please understand."

He inclined his head before he returned inside and shut the doors behind him.

The moment they were alone, Nike pulled Delphine to the farthest corner of the balcony before she spoke in a hushed tone. "You know what’s at stake so I won’t even reiterate it. But what you don’t know is the part of my brother that only I was ever privy to. He and I bonded because he protected me from our parents, and I worshiped him for it. He’s a good man, but it’s not easy to find that part of him that he keeps guarded and that was before his punishment. You will have to remember that he’s the son of Hatred and War, and those two things are mother’s milk where he’s concerned. It’s what he does best."

Delphine didn’t understand what that had to do with her mission. His birth didn’t matter to her, only his surrender did. "And how do I defeat him?"

"You can’t. Not if he has his full strength. That’s the honest truth. Our own father tried to beat him after he’d reached adulthood, and Cratus left him a bloody heap for the effort. The only reason Zeus was able to hurt him originally was because Cratus didn’t fight back. Had he done so, he would now be the king of the gods."

"Then I shall have to kill him."

"No!" The ferocity in her tone made Delphine’s eyes widen. "My brother doesn’t deserve that. He suffers now because he spared the life of an infant. Those are not the actions of someone beyond reach. When we were children, he took beatings for me that no one should ever suffer. I don’t want you to kill him. I want you to help me save him and return him here where he belongs."

"How?"

Nike took a deep breath before she answered with tears in her eyes. "He will fight and he will die to protect what he loves. To the grave. Make him care for you more than he cares for his revenge, and he will join us on our side."

That was ludicrous. "I don’t know him and I only have a few days." It was barely enough time to kill him, never mind try to seduce a man she didn’t even know. "Why aren’t you the one going in since he’s your brother?"

Nike shook her head. "He won’t listen to me. It’s been too long, and I have never gone to see him before. Not in all these centuries. Cratus is the most unforgiving of people when he feels he’s been wronged. That’s why you must seduce him. You’re the only one, I think, who can. Often it only takes a small amount of time- remember, he knew nothing of the infant he saved and yet he destroyed his life for that one tiny being. Please, Delphine. For me, try to save him. He is a great man, but he’s not a perfect one. As the goddess of victory, there is one truth I know above all others. You only win when your heart is pure and when the victory is motivated for the right reasons. Give him a reason to live and give him one to fight with the whole of his strength, and we will all win in this."

"And if I can’t?"

Her eyes turned even darker as she let out a sadness-tinged breath. "You know the answer, and you know what Zeus will do to you both if you fail."

Delphine nodded. They would lose without him. They needed his strength and his powers to combat Noir and his army. As for her fate, she would be lucky to get off as easily as Cratus did. "Should I get Eros to shoot him?" That would be the easiest way to seduce him.

Nike shook her head. "Those powers wouldn’t work on Cratus and the attempt would only infuriate him. Trust me, that’s the last thing you want to do. He will have to be won over honestly."

Oh, that was going to be easy…

Not.

"How can I seduce him? I have no emotions."

"That’s not true and we both know it," Nike whispered. "You have all that you need. You’re not completely Oneroi. You still have a human spirit and emotions inside you. They will guide you through this." She lightly nudged her on the shoulder. "Now go and win him over."

Win him over. She made it sound like it was easy. But as Delphine watched her leave, all she could see was her own doom.

And that of all the other gods who were relying on her. This was impossible.

Phobos joined her on the balcony. "You okay? You look more pale now than when Zeus barked at you."

Truthfully, she felt more ill now. More scared. "How do you seduce a man?"

He laughed at her question. "I think I’m offended that you’re asking me that. What? You think I have some kind of expertise on the subject?"

She gave him a droll stare. "I’m serious, Phobos."

"As am I," he said, offended. "Seducing men isn’t exactly something I have a lot of experience with. Nor is it something I spend time thinking about." He glanced at the door to make sure it was shut completely. When he spoke, it was a barely audible whisper. "You might want to ask Zeus that."

She rolled her eyes. If the stories were true, all a woman needed to seduce Zeus was to be female. They didn’t even have to be breathing. "You’re not funny, Phobos. I need help here. Real help. What do men like?"

"That depends on the man. I like br**sts myself. A nice rack goes a long way in getting me to do just about anything. Even stupid things."

She let out a frustrated growl. "You are so offensive!"

"Oh, please," he said unabashedly. "I’m ten thousand years old. You’re lucky I’m not more chauvinistic than I am. Babe, I’ve come a long way."

And he wasn’t helping her in the slightest. "Just go"

Phobos hesitated as if he wasn’t sure it was the best thing to do.

She gestured toward the door.

He held his hands up in surrender. "All right. I’m going. But if you need me…"

"I’d rather gouge out my eyes."

He took that with a good-natured smile. "As the personification of dread fear, I often have that effect on women. Maybe I should look into changing places with Himerus. I’ve been told women rip off their clothes the moment he appears. Definitely better to be the god of lust than fear."

She shook her head at his glibness as he headed back inside. How she wished she was more like him. Nothing ever seemed to get to Phobos or rattle him. Honestly, she was scared, and even muted, that emotion was bitter.

Alone, she looked out over the lush landscape and considered her next course of action.

Cratus was with their enemies…

And she was charged with seducing him or killing him. What a great conundrum for her.

As she contemplated a way to reach him, Phobos reappeared, his expression furious and worried. "Noir’s Skoti are attacking in the hall of mirrors." He grabbed her hand and teleported her back to the Vanishing Isle before she could so much as blink.

Sure enough, there was a group of Skoti smashing the portals they used to monitor human sleep and join the sleepers. The entire glass hall was in shambles. Pieces of glass and mirror were littered all over the floor as a handful of dream gods tried to fight them off.

Delphine manifested a sword to attack the Skotos nearest her.

The Skotos laughed. "Wanna play, little girl?"

She lunged at him, showing him exactly how lethal she was. And it removed the smile instantly from his face. Say what he could, she was deadly accurate and had practiced the whole of her existence to battle the demons who preyed on humans as they slept.

There were very few Oneroi more accomplished than she.

Phobos was fighting two more, trying to protect the remaining portals. While they could technically do their job without them, it wasn’t nearly as easy. Nor as effective. The portals needed to be saved.

Just as Delphine was about to run her opponent through, someone grabbed her from behind. A rough hand clutched her throat, paralyzing her entire body.

There was nothing there but a deep, black mist. The aura of evil was tangible. It was Noir.

And she was in his clutches. Something cold caressed her cheek an instant before he twisted her head and the darkness invaded every part of her.

Azura walked a small circle around Jericho asshe smiled proudly.

He closed his eyes, letting the power from the Source fill him again. It had been so long…

Too long.

He was whole once again, and it felt incredible. How he’d missed this. The sights and smells of his powers. The feeling of it coursing through him like living fire. Flexing his hand, he watched as his fingers turned into metallic claws that were razor-sharp. Gone were the words his mother had burned into his flesh, and in their place his tattoos glowed brightly in the dim light.

No one would ever control him again. He was back and he was furious. Ferocious.

And he was ready for revenge.

Azura cupped his cheek in her hand. "Would you like me to repair your face and eye?"

"No," he growled. He wanted the reminder of what being weak had cost him. He would never make that mistake again.

"Very well. You are completely restored to your god-hood. Do us proud."

He intended to.

She stepped back so that he could see himself in the mirrored wall. Gone was the grimy human who had to beg for jobs and satisfy himself with scraps of food and ragged clothes, all the while waiting for Zeus’s assassins to slaughter him at night.

His hair was no longer black. It was once again the pure white of the gods and it contrasted sharply with his black clothes.

Azura handed him a sword and whip. "Not the ones you were used to, but I think you’ll find them to your liking."

He felt the life blood of the universe in the blade. It hummed like a living being. "What is this?"

"It was forged from the pit of the Source. The very essence of the universe is inside it. That blade will cut through anything. More to the point, it will cut through anyone."