Dream Warrior (Page 27)

Dream Warrior (Dark-Hunter #17)(27)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

"They’re testing a new venom on us to see if they can infect one of us during a fight without our knowing we’re infected. So that once we return home, we can spread it to others."

How insidious-plus it would make them all suspicious of each other even after they’d fought.

Zarek cursed. "How do we fight this?"

"You have to kill the one who infected them."

They turned to Jared, who’d spoken in the most deadpan of tones.

"What?" Madoc asked incredulously.

"Zephyra discovered it," Jared explained. "If you kill the gallu who sired the zombie, the zombie reverts to normal."

Eros sputtered. "Well, that’s just stupid. Who would have done that?"

"The Egyptian goddess Ma’at. The gallu invaded her domain centuries ago, and she modified them to give her people a fighting chance."

Madoc shook his head in disgust. "Peachy, just peachy."

"Yeah," Eros agreed. "By the way, no one here better tell Ma’at I said it was stupid. She has a nasty temper, and I don’t need a smack-down from her."

Jericho ignored his random paranoia. "So how do we determine who infected her?"

Zarek shrugged. "Let’s kill them all and let Hades figure it out."

Crossing his arms over his chest, Hades gave him an unamused glare. "For the record, I don’t clean up after you bastards. And no gallu is coming near my domain. That’s all I need is a realm full of infected dead. That has Cesar Romero all over it."

Eros held his hand up. "Uh, Hades, that’s George Romero. Cesar’s the one who used to play the Joker on the ‘Batman’ TV show."

Hades gave him a flat stare. "Do I look like I care? And how do you know that?"

"Psyche and I go to the movies with Acheron. He’s a major zombie junkie."

Ignoring their sniping, Asmodeus stepped forward sheepishly. "I’ll find out who infected her."

Jericho frowned at Asmodeus’s offer. "What?"

"I can get in there without any suspicion. Hopefully, I’ll find the gallu and kill it."

Delphine shook her head. "Asmodeus-"

"Look, it’s all right," the demon said, interrupting her. "I know it sounds corny as hell, but all of you have made me feel like part of a team. I’ve never had that before. And I want to do my part to help. If any of the rest of you go in, Noir will kill you. Me… he’ll only torture. Maybe gut and insult. Maybe even some bitch-slapping. But I’m the only hope you’ve got."

Delphine passed a worried look to Jericho before she returned her gaze to Asmodeus. "We can’t send you in there alone."

"Eh, I’ll be all right. Noir hates me anyway."

"But if he suspects you, he’ll kill you."

The demon shrugged. "Who wants to live forever? Well, for the record, I do, but I want to do this for you."

Jericho stopped him before he left. He slid the ring off his finger and handed it to him. "Take this."

Asmodeus curled his lip as he shrank back from it. "I’m not about to marry your ugly ass, boy. No offense, but you ain’t my type. I like my dates with less body hair… and with female parts attached by nature."

Jericho let out an aggravated growl. "It’s not a wedding ring, ass**le. It’s Berith’s ring. You get into trouble, you can summon him to help you get out of there."

That completely changed his attitude. "Oh, hey, that could be worth an engagement to you." Asmodeus grinned as he palmed it."If I’m not back in a few hours… well, I don’t want to think about that. I might change my mind about doing this. I’m thinking happy thoughts. Creamed dog innards and rotten steak. Yeah. Yum." He vanished.

Delphine wrapped her arm around Jericho’s and did her best not to think about Asmodeus’s parting imagery or the fact that he might really call that cuisine. She didn’t know why, but she strangely liked the demon. He was like their socially stunted illegitimate… cousin. "You think he’ll be all right?"

"He’s not the one we should be worried about."

They turned toward Hades. "How so?"

"You’re not done with Zeus. I’m sure of it. He won’t attack today, but you guys have publicly embarrassed him and if there’s one thing I know about my brother… he doesn’t deal well with that."

"It’s all right," Madoc said. "We’re going to solidify our place here."

"And you will need to cage us," another of the Skoti said. "We’ve done enough damage on Noir’s behalf. We don’t want to do any more."

Jared and Madoc caged them while Delphine considered everything that was happening. She wanted it to slow down, but there was nothing she could do.

It was getting scarier by the minute.

"I’m so sorry about Nike."

Jericho stared at her, his eyes sad. "Me, too. Dammit, I shouldn’t have been distracted. I should have stayed in Azmodea until I located her."

"You can’t blame yourself."

"Then who do I blame? I was the one who left her there."

"Because you were worried about me," Delphine whispered. "Had I not been there, you wouldn’t have gotten sidetracked."

He pulled her against him. "This is definitely not your fault, baby. I made the decision and I abandoned her. I have to have faith in Asmodeus."

Hades approached them. "I’m returning to the Underworld. Let me know if you need me."

"We will. Thanks."

Hades inclined his head before he vanished.

Jericho watched as the others set about cleaning the hall and restoring it to its former beauty. But it was the sadness in Madoc’s eyes that bothered him.

Releasing Delphine, he went to check on the Oneroi. "You okay?"

Madoc started to nod, then shook his head. "I miss my brothers. I’ve never been here without them and I keep wondering what D’ Alerian would do if he were here. What he’ll say when he comes back."

If he comes back. But Delphine had taught him not to be callous enough to say that out loud.

"You’re doing a great job." Delphine came over and patted Madoc’s arm. "Really. No one could do better, and I know D’Alerian would be proud of you and what you’ve done to protect us."

"Thanks." He looked down at her and smiled sadly. "By the way, I spoke to Zeth about what Jericho suggested. We’d like for you to be our third leader."

Delphine was surprised by his offer. "Me?"

Madoc nodded. "But for you, none of us would be here now. You’re the one who saved Jericho and helped to liberate us. Without you, I’d still be chained to the floor."

Maybe, but Delphine wasn’t used to being a leader of any kind. "I don’t know."

"You’d be great at it," Jericho said with a confidence she definitely didn’t feel.

She didn’t know why, but coming from him, the praise meant more than anything. "All right. I’ll try it. But if I screw something up, one of you better help me fix it."

Madoc laughed. "And we’re going to try something else a little different."

"What?"

Madoc looked over to Zarek. "We’re going to add two generals. Zarek and Jericho."

"Oh, goodie," Eros said sarcastically. "Could you have chosen two surlier people?"

"That’s why they’ll be in charge of our army. May the gods have mercy on whoever pisses them off, because Zarek and Jericho will have none for them."

Zarek cleared his throat. "You’d better be glad I’m flattered by that. Otherwise I’d gut you."

Jericho agreed with an angry glower. "Ditto."

Delphine was smiling as Astrid appeared with a crying toddler. He had eyes so bright a blue she would have thought him a Dream-Hunter had he not had Astrid’s blond hair and looked just like his father… minus the goatee.

Her face distressed, Astrid handed him off to Zarek. "Menoeceus wants his father."

Zarek glared at her. "Bob is crying because he wants his mother to stop calling him that crap-ass name." Zarek cuddled the small boy to him as he rocked him gently against his shoulder while he continued to wail. Loudly. "It’s all right, Bob. Daddy’s got you now. I’m saving you from Mommy’s bad naming taste. I’d be crying, too, if my mom named me after an idiot."

"Menoeceus is a great name," Astrid said defensively.

Zarek snorted. "For an old man or a feminine hygiene product. Not for my son. And next time I get to name the kid and it won’t be something that sounds like meningitis."

Astrid stood with her hands on her hips, toe to toe with her husband. "You keep that up and next time you’ll be the one birthing it, and don’t mess with me, bucko, I have connections in that department. A pregnant man is not an impossibility in my neighborhood."

She started away from him.

"Yeah, well, I’ll be glad to birth it if it means I can name him something normal," Zarek called after her.

"Yeah, yeah. This from a man who whines like a two-year-old when he stubs his toe. I’d like to see you survive ten hours of childbirth."

"I am not a wimp!" Zarek cast a menacing glare at all of them. "I have the damn scars to prove it."

"You the man," Eros said. "Not that whining over a stubbed toe is anything to be unmanned about. I do it myself."

Still the boy cried as if his heart was broken.

Bob? Delphine mouthed the name to Jericho, trying not to laugh at something that was obviously a sore spot for Zarek and Astrid. The name was as unlikely for the small golden-haired cherub as the gentleness of the fierce man holding him while he rocked him.

"I want my fluff-fluff!" Bob wailed.

Zarek looked panicked. "Fluff-fluff. . ." He handed the toddler to Jericho. "Hold him for a sec."

"I don’t think-" Jericho paused as Zarek literally tossed the kid at him. Terrified, he had no choice but to take it.

Holding the toddler out in front of him, he wasn’t sure what to do with it. He hadn’t held an infant in centuries. Eyes wide, he stared at the little guy, who was as startled by him as Jericho was by Bob. The kid was absolutely silent.

"Look what you did," he snapped at Zarek. "I broke it."

Delphine laughed. "You didn’t break him. He likes you."

Jericho wasn’t so sure about that. Swallowing hard, he brought it in a little closer and tried to duplicate Zarek’s rocking motion.

Bob pulled his hand out of his mouth and slapped it against Jericho’s scarred cheek.

Jericho made an awful face. "Oh, gah, I’ve been slimed."

Bob laughed.

Laughing, too, Delphine reached up to wipe his cheek dry. "It’s not slime. It’s a baby kiss."

"It’s slime," Zarek said as he returned with a light blue blanket that had the head of a lamb on one corner of it. He angled the head toward Bob. "Hello, little Bobby," he said in falsetto. "I’m the big bad lamb come to get a hug from you. Mwah!" He made a kissing noise.

Squealing happily, Bob grabbed the blanket and kissed it.

Delphine was aghast at the sight of two huge, fierce men coddling such a tiny child.

"We need that for YouTube," Astrid said with a wink.

"Most definitely."

Zarek took Bob back so that his son could cuddle the blanket. The little guy tucked the blanket under his cheek, which he rested on his father’s shoulder. "See, he just needed his fluff." Zarek gave Astrid a teasing once-over. "I’ll be needing some of mine later, too."

Astrid gave Delphine a dry stare. "I’m really going to strangle him."

Zarek kissed his son on the top of his head as he handed him back to Astrid. "Any time you need an expert parental hand-"

"I’ll find Jericho."

Jericho looked horrified. "Um, could you at least wait until that thing’s housebroken?"

Zarek laughed. "You know, that’s how I felt, too. You should have seen my face when she told me she was pregnant. I honestly had a moment of total hara-kiri, but once the shock passed and after a few months went by, I actually got used to the concept. Believe it or not, they actually grow on you. Slime and all."

Delphine wrapped her arms around Jericho’s waist. "Oh, come on, Jericho. Don’t you want a little miniature you running around?"

"Not really, and I can’t imagine you’d want another one of me, either."

She shoved at his back playfully before she went to join Madoc.

Zarek and Astrid left him to tend to Bob.

Alone, Jericho went back to Nike. "We’re getting help for you, Nike. I promise."

She hissed at him.

"C’mon, Asmodeus," he whispered. "Don’t fail me."

"Oh, little brother, that incompetent demon is the least of your concerns."

Jericho started at the sound of Zelos’s voice behind him. He turned, intending to greet his brother. But the moment he did so, Zelos buried a dagger deep into his chest. All the way to the hilt. . .

Through his human heart.

Gasping, he staggered back, into Nike’s arms.

CHAPTER 16

"No!" Delphine screamed aas she saw Zelos stab his brother quicker than she could react. Her heart wrenched at the sight of Jericho falling as Nike seized him and attacked him from behind. An unimaginable fury took hold of her. One she could neither explain nor temper.