Fear the Darkness
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At one time, they’d been too easily seduced and manipulated by the other gods and had allowed themselves to be used by Wink, Hades, and the others in private jests and wars.
Until the day Zeus had put a stop to it once and for all. Funny how he’d only punished the tools and not the ones who’d wielded them.
But then, Zeus wasn’t known as a god of justice.
“And if I want to keep the serum?”
Wink arched a brow at that, then tsked. “Come now, Arikos, you know the rules.” His face sobered. “You also know what happens to those who don’t cooperate.”
Of course he did. All of his kind knew. His back bore more scars than the sky held stars. There were times when he suspected his grandfather Hypnos, who oversaw their physical punishments, was nothing more than a sadist who could only feel pleasure when he was doling out pain to others.
How cruel was it to send the Skoti in to drain humans of excess or pent-up emotions, then punish them when they didn’t want to leave because they nally experienced something other than pain?
But that was the way of it.
After his “chat” with M’Ordant, Arik had known it would come to this. There was no use in arguing. Wink had been sent to retrieve the Lotus serum they used on humans, and all the bribery on Olympus wouldn’t sway him. Wink was only a pawn who served the sleep gods.
Arik pulled out the small vial and handed it to Wink, who took it with a stoic smile.
“Cheer up, old boy. There are plenty of other dreamers out there for you to play with. Mankind is generous to you that way. They live for their dreams and are possessed of them constantly.”
Yes, but none of those humans held the type of uninhibited, vivid dreams of Megeara. It made Arik long to know what she’d be like outside the dream realm. What she would be like as a human...
Arik watched as Wink withdrew, then left him in the dream chamber to face the darkness alone.
Perhaps this was just punishment after all. A son of the god Morpheus, Arik had originally been one of the Oneroi. As was customary for such, he’d been assigned humans to watch over and protect against the Skoti who sometimes preyed on them. In those days, he’d spent his life monitoring his subjects, making sure the ones under his protection had normal dreams that would either help them work through their problems or inspire them.
Until that one fateful night.
He’d gone to help one of his assignments who was ill. Because of her sickness, her dreams had become extremely vivid and emotional—so much so that one of the Skoti had latched onto her. Such a thing was common and even tolerated. Skoti fed from human emotions, but so long as they kept it under control and didn’t lead the dreams or interrupt the human’s life, they were allowed to drain humans. It was only when the Skoti began to return repeatedly and took control of the host that they were punished.
Humans held fragile psyches. A returning Skotos could easily turn human minds and either drive them insane or make them homicidal. In the worst case, a Skotos could even kill the human, which was why the Oneroi monitored them. If a Skotos spent too long with their host, then it was the Oneroi’s place to step in and drive them out.
If all else failed, the Oneroi would kill the Skotos.
At one time, Arik’s life had been dedicated to protecting his humans. To feel nothing and to only follow the orders of the elite Oneroi. In his day, he’d vanquished numerous Skoti without understanding or caring why they sought humans the way they did. Why they felt a burning need to risk their lives for their quest.
And then one night...no, one encounter had changed that and brought with it a clarication that still resonated within him.
Born of a human mother and the dream god Phobetor, Solin lived on earth, but at night he ran amok in the dreams of other humans. Completely amoral, he didn’t care what he did to others so long as he enjoyed himself.
For centuries, the Oneroi had been trying to stop and trap Solin. He was one of the few Skoti who’d warranted a death sentence. His voracious appetites and ghting skills were legendary among the Oneroi who’d been unfortunate enough to confront him.
And Arik had been one of them. Still young by their years, Arik had thought to take Solin on his own.
Most of the Skoti ed at the approach of an Oneroi. The Oneroi had full backing of the other gods to do whatever they had to do to control the Skoti. Since a Skotos could drain emotions from any human, they normally left without issue and didn’t waste time ghting when they could simply move on to someone else.
But Solin was stronger than most. Bolder. Instead of eeing as Arik had expected, Solin had turned the human loose on him. By their laws, Arik had been forbidden to hurt the human, and Solin had known it. Arik had tried to pry her away without harm, but the moment her lips had touched his and he’d tasted her lust, something inside him had shattered.
He’d felt pleasure and arousal for the rst time in his life.
And when the human had dropped to her knees and taken him into her mouth, he’d known his war in this was lost and his conviction shattered. In one heartbeat, he’d gone Skoti.
He’d been Skoti ever since.
Drifting from one dream to the next, he’d been searching all these centuries for someone who could raise his emotions to the level of that rst night. But no one had come close.
Not until Megeara.
Only she was able to reach through the emptiness inside him and make him see vivid colors again. To make him feel her emotions. After all these centuries, he nally understood why certain Skoti refused to leave their partners.
Why they were willing to risk death.
Because of Megeara, he wanted to know what the world looked like through her eyes. What it tasted like. Felt like. And her ability to pull herself away from him was starting to seriously piss him off.
But what could he do? Even if he went to earth to be near her, he couldn’t really experience her or her environment.
He wanted her passion. Her life force.
There might be a way to touch her...
Arik paused at the thought. It was true that both the Oneroi and Skoti could take human form in the mortal realm, but because of their curse, they still lacked emotions. So what was the point? They were just as cold and sterile and unable to feel in human form as they were in their own god form.
That wasn’t what he wanted.
No, he wanted to be human. He wanted feelings and emotions so that he could experience her to the fullest extent possible.
Or was it? They were gods, with god powers. Why should such a thing be unattainable?
Your powers aren’t capable of such. Zeus had made sure of that when he punished them for tampering with his dreams.
Then again, Arik’s weren’t. But there were others whose powers made a mockery of his. Gods who could make him human if they willed it.
Zeus would never concede such a thing—he hated the dream gods too much. His children would be too afraid of him to try. But his brothers...
They were a different matter entirely.
And Arik knew which one to barter with.
Hades. The god of the Underworld held no fear of anyone or anything. His powers were more than equal to any of the others’, and best of all, he hated the other gods as much as they hated him. Because of that, Hades was always open to a good bargain, especially if such a bargain would irritate Zeus.
It was at least worth a shot.
With Megeara’s niggling emotions retreating from him, Arik ew from the Vanishing Isle where most of the dream gods resided and descended down, straight into the heart of Hades’ domain. It was dark as night here. Dismal. There were no ivory or gold halls like the ones found on Olympus. At least not until one visited the Elysian Fields, where good souls were sent to live out their eternity in paradise. Those lucky enough to attain residence there had any- and everything their hearts conceived of. They could even be reincarnated should they choose it.
But the Elysian Fields were only part of a much vaster realm. One that held nothing but misery for those who were damned to it. Especially this time of year. Three months ago the god’s beloved wife, Persephone, had been sent to live with her mother in the upper realm. Until Persephone’s return, Hades would be literally hell to deal with. From the moment she left until her return, he would spend his time torturing all those around him.
A saner god would wait to try to deal with Hades after Persephone’s return, when he was more reasonable, but Arik was desperate. The last thing he wanted was to take a chance on another Skotos nding Megeara.
No, it was now or never.
Besides, Arik had never been a coward. He’d never once retreated from battle or conict. It was what had made him one of the best of the Oneroi and what had made him one of the deadliest Skoti.
He always took what he wanted. Damned be the consequences. He had eternity to deal with those. What mattered most was the present, and that was what he focused on. Always.
As he ew past Cerberus, the three-headed dog rose up to bark at him. Ignoring it, he dove down into the catacombs made of the skulls and bones of Hades’ enemies. Many of whom had been Titans and ancients who’d had the misfortune of irritating the somber god—they didn’t even warrant Hades torturing them for eternity. He’d relegated them to nothing more than decoration.