New Orleans, 2009
Delphine paused to get her bearings as she looked around the old buildings with iron work balconies or elaborate wood trim, many of which had boards over their windows. What a strange city… but then she wasn’t used to being in the mortal realm except through human dreams.
This place baffled her.
She jumped as a loud sound startled her while a car went speeding past.
Phobos grabbed her arm and yanked her to stand beside him on the uneven sidewalk. â€œBe careful. If a car hits you, it will hurt.â€
â€œSorry. I wasn’t paying attention.â€
He nodded before he glanced about the street where several cars were parked before a row of houses that were so close together, she wondered if they didn’t share a common wall. â€œThe garage should be that one over there.â€
She looked to where he was pointing. Landry’s Garage, Detail and Repair. â€œAre you sure he’s there?â€
Phobos gave her a droll stare. â€œHis presence isn’t what’s in doubt, his reception of us is.â€ He wiped his hand over brow to remove some of the perspiration. But it was quickly replaced by more.
She’d never been in a hotter place in her life. Poor Phobos, wearing all black clothes, wasn’t exactly dressed for it either. He looked as miserable in the heat as she felt. She’d always thought of him as one of the more attractive gods with dark hair and sharp features.
His job was to inspire dread and at one time he and his twin brother Deimos had wreaked havoc on ancient battlefields. In more recent centuries, they’d become warriors for the Furies.
Until two days ago when everything had changed…
â€œHow did we get chosen for this again?â€ she asked him.
â€œWe weren’t there when Zeus banished him and therefore he shouldn’t hate us as much as he hates the others.â€
That was comforting…
Not even a little.
And it didn’t mean Cratus would listen to them, never mind actually help them. â€œYou think we stand a chance?â€
â€œNot really, but he was born of the same primal powers that birthed Noir and Azura. Without him on our team, we’re screwed.â€
She still wasn’t sure about this. Zeus had sent them here to beg a favor from an ex-god who most likely would gut them as soon as they appeared. She’d never met Cratus, but his nasty reputation was legendary.
He had mercy on no one.
His brutality had only been matched by his zealotry and his single-minded determination. Even though Zeus had removed his god powers, the other gods continued to fear him. That alone said it all about his â€œwinningâ€ personality. Hephaestus himself had warned her that there was no reasoning with Cratus.
The man was angry and mean.
And that was before his punishment had driven him insane.
â€œAre you sure there’s no other way?â€
Phobos’s features darkened. â€œHalf your brethren are dead and every time mine go out, they get their hides kicked back to the Stone Age. Believe me, belly crawling to this asshole is the last thing I want to do.â€
But it was a necessary evil.
â€œZeus is the one who should be doing this,â€ she groused as she wiped the sweat from her own brow.
Phobos snorted. â€œYou want to tell him that?â€
She narrowed her eyes at him. â€œThis was your bright idea, Phobos. You lead the way.â€
â€œWhat are you? Scared?â€
She gave him a nasty glare of her own. With her half human blood, she did have more emotions than most of her Dream-Hunter brethren, but they were muted compared to mankind’s. â€œIf I were capable of hate, I would probably hate you.â€
He sucked his breath in sharply between his teeth. â€œYou know, you get the best sex from a woman when she’s angry and hating.â€
â€œSince I’ve never had sex with a woman, how would I know?â€ She shoved him gently on the shoulder to move him forward. â€œWe’re on a mission, Dolophonos. Remember if we fail, your twin dies.â€
â€œBelieve me, I haven’t forgotten.â€ He crossed the street.
Delphine followed in spite of the bad feeling she couldn’t shake.
They entered the office of the garage to find a small girl who was doodling on a sheet of paper and a woman around the age of thirty sitting at a beaten up desk. The woman was pretty enough, with small brown eyes and dark hair. Her smile was bright as she saw them. â€œCan I help you?â€
Phobos stepped past Delphine to approach the desk. â€œWe’re looking for a guy named Cratus.â€
She frowned. â€œI don’t know anyone by that name. Sorry. Maybe he’s at the garage down the street.â€
Phobos scratched his head, obviously as baffled as Delphine was. â€œI know for a fact that he works here, in this garage.â€
The little girl wiped her nose and pushed a pair of glasses back with her knuckle. â€œDid they lose their friend, Mommy?â€
â€œDo your homework, boo.â€ She turned her attention back to Phobos. â€œLook, I’m really sorry, but I’ve never heard the name Cratus before. I’ve worked here for five years and I assure you that none of our guys are named that. It’s not exactly a name you’d forgetâ€“ you know?â€ The phone started ringing. She put her hand on it. â€œIs there anything else I can do for you?â€
â€œNo.â€ Phobos stepped over to the large window that looked out from the office into the garage area where men in coveralls were working on various cars.
Delphine followed his lead and froze as she saw the man they sought.
No one could miss him.
Little wonder he was the god of strength and the son of war… That power and formidableness bled from every pore of his body. Standing well over six feet tall, he rippled with well defined muscles as he wiped grease from his hands with a dark blue cloth. His gray coverall suit had been unzipped, and the sleeves wrapped around his lean waist, leaving his torso covered only by a black tank top that only made those muscles more apparent. Black tribal tattoos decorated both of his arms from the wrists to his shoulders.
But it was his face that made her gasp. She’d never seen a man more beautifully made, except for the jagged scar that ran down the right side of his face, hairline to earlobe. His right eye was covered with a black patch and from the depth of the scar, she wondered if he’d lost the eye completely to whatever injury had caused it.
Yet it in no way detracted from his handsomeness. If anything, it added to it. His jet black hair was sweaty and curled slightly around a face that was chiseled from steel and dusted with dark whiskers.
Fierce power emanated from every inch of him. Strong and lethal, it said he should be on a battlefield, sword in hand, killing and maiming. He was everything she’d heard and more.
May the gods help them…
If he didn’t kill the two of them, she’d be stunned.
Phobos glanced at Delphine over his shoulder. â€œHe is definitely here.â€
The secretary frowned as she hung up the phone. â€œYou’re looking for Jericho?â€
Phobos faced her. â€œYou mean Cratus.â€
She pointed at the man Delphine had been ogling. â€œThat’s Jericho Davis. He’s only been here a couple of weeks. Is he in trouble with the law or something? If you’re here to serve process-â€œ
â€No. Nothing like that.â€ Phobos gave her an almost charming smile. â€œWe’re old friends.â€
She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. â€œWell if his name isn’t Jericho Davis, we need to know. Landry is a stickler about his people toeing the line. We don’t take in convicts or riffraff here. This is a respectable business and we intend to keep it that way.â€
Phobos held his hands up. â€œDon’t worry, I’m sure he’s not a felon. I just need to talk to him for a minute.â€
The secretary snorted. â€œI thought you said you knew him.â€
â€œThen how are you going to talk to a man who’s mute?â€
Phobos snapped his attention to Delphine who was as shocked as he was by that disclosure.
Surely Zeus wouldn’t have been that cruel…
What was she? Insane? Of course he would.
Sick with the thought, Delphine looked back to where â€œJerichoâ€ had his head under the hood of another car. What exactly had been done to him? Getting his help was looking less and less likely by the second.
â€œYou stay here,â€ Phobos said as he put his hand on the knob of the door that led from the office to the garage.
No problem there. She’d rather confront a rabid lion than try to gain a favor from a man the gods had screwed over so badly. Why on earth or beyond would this man ever help them?
Hoping for the best, she walked to the window to watch Phobos. She closed her eyes and opened herself up to the ether so that she could hear their conversation.
The shop was loud with mechanical noises and a radio playing Live Your Life by T.I. Several of the men were chatting and joking while they worked.
Phobos paused by the white Intrepid where Cratus stood.
Cratus glanced up and his face froze an instant before he looked back down and continued working.
Phobos stepped closer. â€œWe need to talk.â€
Cratus ignored him.
â€I don’t know what you’re doing in here,â€ an older man in a matching coverall said as he stopped beside Phobos. â€œBut you’re wasting your time trying to talk to old Jericho there. Boy can’t speak.â€ The man patted Jericho on the arm. â€œNot that he needs to. The way he works on a car is magic.â€ The man looked at the others and laughed. â€œTrying to talk to Jericho…â€ More laughter joined his before he walked off to work on a Jeep.
â€œJericho,â€ Phobos tried again. â€œPlease give me one minute of your time.â€
If looks could kill Phobos would be a distant memory. Jericho flipped the wrench in his hand before he walked over to another car.
Phobos glanced at Delphine who shrugged in response. She had no idea how to persuade him.
Sighing, Phobos followed him. â€œC’mon, Iâ€“â€œ
Jericho spun on him so fast that she hadn’t even realized he’d moved until he had Phobos slung over the hood of the car and pinned in place by a tight hold on this throat. â€œFuck off and die, you putrid bastard,â€ he snarled in the ancient Greek language of the gods as he banged Phobos’s head furiously against the hood.
Every mechanic who heard his deep growl paused to stare at them.
â€œBe damned,â€ a tall, lean African-American man said. â€œHe can speak after all. â€œAnybody know what language that was?â€
â€œNah, I think it’s German.â€
â€œDude,â€ a younger guy said, pulling at Cratus’s arm. â€œYou’re going to dent the hood and when you do, that will come out of your paycheck.â€
Grimacing, Cratus slung Phobos off the hood like a rag doll. Phobos rolled half way through the bay before he caught himself.
His features shaken, Phobos pushed himself to his feet. When he spoke, he continued to use their language so that the humans wouldn’t understand them. â€œWe need your help, Cratus.â€
As he moved past Phobos, he drove his shoulder into Phobos’s, making Phobos grimace in pain and rub his arm. He went back to the Intrepid. â€œCratus is long dead. I won’t answer to that name ever again.â€
â€œYou’re the only oneâ€“â€œ
Cratus growled at him. â€Don’t you dare say that to me. You’re dead to me. All of you. Now, I have to work. Get the hell out before you get me fired… again.â€
Delphine projected her thoughts to Phobos. â€œShould I come in?â€
â€œNo. I don’t think it’ll help.â€ Phobos turned to Cratus. â€œThe fate of the world is in your hands. Don’t you care?â€
The feral look Cratus gave him said no. Well that and for him to go to Tartarus and rot.
Delphine sighed. What were they going to do now? They needed the god of strength. One who could pull power from the primal source to combat the most evil of beings. Without Cratus, they didn’t stand a chance.
The older man walked over to Cratus. â€œSo what country are you from, anyway?â€
Cratus ignored him as he returned to work in silence.
Phobos moved to stand by his side. â€œZeus is willing to forgive you for what you did. He’s offering you your godhood back. All of it. We need you.â€
When Cratus still refused to respond, Phobos let out a frustrated breath. â€œLook, I understand why you’re mad. But my brother’s life is on the line here. If you don’t help me, Noir will kill him.â€
â€œAnd I give as much shit about his life as he did about mine.â€
A muscle worked in Phobos’s jaw. â€œFine. When the world ends and everyone here is dead, remember you’re the only one of us who could have stopped it.â€
Cratus continued to ignore him.
Phobos turned and headed back for her.
Delphine kept waiting for Cratus to reconsider and stop Phobos. But he really looked like he meant what he said.
He really, truly didn’t care.
Even she who had nothing save muted emotions had more feelings than this man seemed to have.
â€œWe’re so dead,â€ Phobos said in a dire tone as he rejoined here. “Maybe we ought to join the other team before we’re more than a distant memory.”