Her name was Lilith, and she was an evil succubus. His name was Yenrieth, and he was a good angel.
After hundreds of years of seducing humans, Lilith got bored. So she set her sights on Yenrieth, the ultimate challenge. He resisted. She pursued. He resisted some more. This went on for decades, until the inevitable happened. She was, after all, beautiful, and he liked his wine a little too much.
No one knows what happened to Yenrieth after their night of passion, but nine months later, Lilith gave birth to four children, three boys and a girl. She named them Reseph, Ares, Limos, and Thanatos. Lilith kept the girl, Limos, with her in Sheoul, and she planted the males in the human world, exchanging them for the infants of wealthy, powerful families.
The boys grew into men, never suspecting the truth about their origins. At least, not until demons rose up, spreading terror and seeking to use Lilith’s sons against the humans. Limos escaped from Sheoul, found her brothers, and revealed the truth about their parentage.
By this time, the brothers had seen their lands and families destroyed by demons and, blinded by hatred and the need for revenge, Lilith’s children encouraged (manipulatively and forcibly, sometimes) humans to help them fight violent, never-ending battles against the underworld abominations.
This didn’t go over well in the heavenly realm.
Zachariel, an angel of the Apocalypse, led a legion of angels to Earth, where they met in battle with demon hordes. When the earth and waters ran red with blood, and humans could no longer survive on the poisoned land, Zachariel struck a deal with the devil.
Lilith’s children were to be punished for slinging mankind to the brink of doom in their selfish bid for revenge. Because they had nearly brought about the end of days, they were charged as the keepers of Armageddon. Defenders or instigators; the choice would fall on their shoulders.
Each of them was given a Seal, and with each Seal came two prophecies. Should they protect their Seals from breaking until the prophecy laid out by the Bible came to pass, they would save their souls—and mankind.
But should they allow the Seals to be broken prematurely, as written in the Daemonica, the demon bible, they would turn evil, and would forever be known by the names Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death.
And thus were born the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Six Months Ago…
“Mmm… I love the story about how you came into existence. Doesn’t it give you shivers when you hear it?”
Ares, seated at the bar in an underworld pub, tried to ignore the female behind him, but the rub of her br**sts against his back and the slide of her dainty hands from his waist to his inner thighs weren’t easy to tune out. Her heat burned right through his hard leather armor.
“Yeah. Shivers.” Some idiot read the legend aloud from the plaque that hung on the wall every time he was in here… which was often. The tavern, kept in business mainly by Ares and his siblings, was his second home, was even known as the Four Horsemen, and for the most part, male demons melted into the background or scurried out the back door when Ares arrived. Wise. Ares despised demons, and that, combined with his love of a good fight, led to… bad things… for hell’s minions.
But the opposite sex was a little braver—or maybe hornier. Female demons, shifters, weres, and vamps hung out twenty-four-seven in hopes of getting their hands, paws, or hooves on Ares and his brothers. Hell, Ares couldn’t swing his dick without hitting one. Usually he was a little more receptive to drinking, gambling, and general mischief, but something wasn’t sitting right today. He was on edge. Twitchy.
He was never like that.
He was even in danger of losing the chess game he was playing with the pudgy pink Oni bartender, and Ares hadn’t lost any game of strategy in… well, ever.
“Oh, War.” The female Sora demon, Cetya, ran her tongue along the top of his ear. “You’ve got to know it makes us hot.”
“My name,” he gritted out, “is Ares. You don’t want to be around on the day I become War.” He moved his rook, tossed back half his ale, and was about to signal for another, when the female’s hand dropped between his legs.
“I still like War better.” Her voice was a seductive trill, her fingers nimble as they sought the opening at his groin. “And Pestilence… such a sexy name.”
Only a demon would think “Pestilence” was a turn-on. Ares peeled her red hand away. She was one of Reseph’s regular bedmates, one of hundreds of Horsemen groupies who called themselves Megiddo Mount-me’s. They even subclassed themselves according to who their favorite Horseman was; Ares’s groupies liked to be called Mongers. War Mongers.
The bartender made a foolish move with his knight, and Ares hid a smile in his mug.
The female, who looked like a cartoon devil, traced a long, black nail over the stallion tattoo on Ares’s forearm. “I love this.”
The horse was as much a part of him as his organs, whether Battle was on his skin or under his seat, and Ares stiffened at the sensation of both his arm and scalp being stroked. Any contact with the glyph sent a shock of sensation to the corresponding parts of Ares’s body, which could be a real pain in the ass. Or it could be inappropriately pleasant…
Ares spun his mug down the length of the bar top and slid his queen into striking position. Triumph sang through him, filling that space in his soul that was always hungry for victory. “Checkmate.”
The bartender cursed, the Sora laughed, and Ares came to his feet. At nearly seven feet tall, he dwarfed the demon, but that didn’t faze her, and she plastered the entire length of her tank-topped, miniskirted body to his. Her tail swished on the hay-strewn floor, her black horns swiveled like pointy satellite dishes, and if her gaze grew any hotter his breeches were going to get real uncomfortable.
He despised his body’s reaction to demons, had never truly warmed up to females who didn’t at least appear to be human.
Some grudges lasted a lifetime.
“I’m outta here.” Despite the chess coup, his unease was becoming an itch under his skin, the way it did when a global war escalated. He needed to get back to the hunt for an ex-bedmate of his, a demon named Sin who had started a werewolf—or, warg, as they liked to be called—plague. Ares and his siblings had only recently determined that she was the key to a prophecy that, if it came to pass, would break Reseph’s Seal and turn him into the very thing Cetya wanted: Pestilence.
Sin had to die before a werewolf civil war broke out.
Unable to remain still any longer, he flung a gold Sheoulin mark at the three-eyed bartender. “A round for the house.”
With a firm grip, he dislodged the Velcro-demon and strode out of the tavern and into perpetual twilight. Muggy, hot air that reeked of sulfur filled his lungs, and his boots sank into the spongy terrain that defined the Six-River region of Sheoul, the demon realm in the Earth’s core.
Battle writhed on his skin, impatient to run.
“Out,” Ares commanded, and a heartbeat later, the tattoo on his arm turned to mist, expanding and solidifying into a giant blood bay stallion. Battle nudged him with his nose in greeting—or, more likely, for sugar cubes.
“You forgot this.”
Always ready to live up to his name, Battle bared his teeth at the Sora, who stood in the tavern doorway, her tail wrapped around the hilt of a dagger, which she dangled playfully. The blatant invitation in her sultry smile told him she’d plucked the weapon from Ares herself, but he knew that. He didn’t leave weapons behind.
Of course, he never got weapons lifted, either. The female was good. Real good. And even though he wasn’t normally into demons, he had to admire her talent. No wonder Reseph liked this one so much. Maybe Ares would make an exception to his no-demons-that-look-like-demons rule…
Grinning, he started toward her… and stopped dead.
The hairs on the back of his neck prickled in warning. With a furious scream, Battle reared up, and from out of the forest of shadowed trees a buffalo-sized hellhound leaped through the air. Ares zeroed in on the beast’s left side, seeking—and not finding—the jagged scar that would have identified the vile creature as the one Ares had been hunting for thousands of years. Disappointment rocked him even as he shoved the Sora out of the way, a stupid move that nearly landed him between snapping jaws.
Ares and his sibs were immortal, but hellhound bites were poison to the Horsemen, causing paralysis, and then the suffering really began.
He dove to the ground as Battle struck out with a powerful hoof, hooking the other animal in the ribs and sending it tumbling into the tavern door. The hound recovered so quickly that Battle’s blow might as well have been a fleabite, and it targeted the Sora, who scrambled backward on her hands and knees. Her terror was palpable, like little whips on Ares’s skin, and he had a feeling this was her first experience with a hellhound.
Hell of a way to pop that cherry.
“Hey!” Distract. Rolling to his feet, Ares drew his sword. Provoke. “I’m over here, you piece-of-shit mongrel.” Terminate.
Anticipation gleamed in the hellhound’s crimson eyes as it swung around, melting into an inky blur of evil. Ares met it head-on, with three hundred pounds of armored weight behind his blow. The satisfying crunch of steel meeting bone rent the air. An impact tremor shot up Ares’s arms, and a massive jet of blood spewed from the hound’s chest.
A bloodcurdling snarl ripped from the hound’s throat as it launched a surprisingly effective counterattack, slamming one huge paw into Ares’s chest. Claws raked his breastplate, and he flew backward, plowing into a stone summoning column. Pain lanced his upper body, and then the hellhound was on him, its jaws snapping a millimeter from Ares’s jugular.
Foul breath burned Ares’s eyes, and frothy, stinging saliva dripped on his skin. The beast’s claws tore at his armor, and it took every ounce of Ares’s strength to keep the hound from ripping out his throat. Even with Battle striking at the canine’s body, the creature did its damnedest to get a mouthful of flesh.
As hard as he could, Ares jammed his sword into the animal’s belly and yanked the blade upward. As the beast screamed in pain, Ares rolled, twisted, and brought the sword around in an awkward arc.