Fear the Darkness
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That alone should be a warning to Arik...
But the brave and the desperate never heeded such.
Arik slowed his ight as he entered the main chamber of Hades’ domain. This was the only room in Hades’ opulent palace that was open to outsiders....But there was a lot more to his home than this one room.
Arik knew that because no one was immune to the powers of a Dream-Hunter. No one. All gods were vulnerable whenever they rested, which was why they feared the Dream-Hunters so, and it was times such as those that Arik had ventured here to see what Hades kept so secret.
Now Arik faded to invisibility and rose up toward the black ceiling that glittered eerily in the dim light. Hades sat below, alone, on his throne. Made of Titan bones, his black throne had been polished until it gleamed like steel. Hard and intimidating as the god had intended, it dominated the dais where it sat. Beside it was a much smaller chair. One made of gold and cushioned with pillows the color of blood. It was where Persephone sat whenever she was home with her husband.
Hades stared at her throne with a look of such longing that Arik could almost feel his grief. And it wasn’t until Hades moved that Arik realized the god held a small, delicate fan in his hand. One made of lace and ivory.
Closing his eyes, Hades held it to his nose and gently inhaled the scent.
Then he cursed and tossed the fan back to the throne by his side.
A heartbeat later, he got up to retrieve it and place it more carefully in a small holder on the right arm. Obviously that was where Persephone kept it.
Hades froze and cocked his head as if he was listening for something. “Who dares to enter my hall without summons?”
Arik lowered himself to the oor and materialized. “I do.”
The god turned about slowly and narrowed his amber eyes on Arik. “What brings you here, son of Morpheus?”
There was no need to hide what he wanted. “I would like to bargain with you.”
“I wish to be human.”
Hades’ evil laughter rang out in the hollow hall, echoing around them. “You know how to be human, Skotos. Stop eating ambrosia and drinking nectar.”
“That would only make me mortal and I don’t want to die. I want to feel, and for that I need to be a human and not a god.”
Hades approached him slowly until he stood just before Arik. “Feel? Why would anyone in their right mind wish for that? Feelings are for fools.”
Arik glanced to the fan. “Even you?”
Hades bellowed in rage as he ung out his hand and pinned Arik against the wall with his powers. The jagged bones bit into Arik’s back, tearing the fabric of his clothes.
Arik fought the hold, but there was nothing he could do at the moment except bleed.
“For a god who doesn’t wish to die, you speak of things you’d best not address.”
The force holding him receded so fast that he barely had time to recover himself before he fell. He hovered over the oor for a heartbeat until he placed his feet on the ground.
Hades raised his brows in surprise. “You’re faster than most.”
“And in my realm, I’m capable of even more feats.”
“What are you saying?”
Arik shrugged. “Only that a god of such power should be careful. Even the great Hades has to sleep sometime.”
“Are you threatening me?”
“I’m only stating a fact.” Arik looked pointedly at Persephone’s throne. “And reminding you, my lord, that there’s nothing worse than allowing a Skotos to know of a weakness.”
Hades narrowed his eyes before he again broke out into laughter. “It’s been a long time since anyone dared such boldness in my presence. Look around you, Skotos. Do you not see the remains of the people who have pissed me off?”
“My name is Arik and I see everything, including the beauty and comfort of the palace you hide behind this facade of death. But in turn, I would ask you what good does it do to threaten someone who can’t feel fear?”
Hades inclined his head. “Point well taken. So tell me...Arik, what bargain do you wish to propose?”
“I want to live in the realm of the humans as one of them.”
Hades tsked at his request. “That’s not so easy to attain, dear boy. No Olympus-born god can live on earth for very long.”
“But we can live there for a time. I would go there now, but there would be no point, since I could only witness what’s around me and not experience it. It’s the experience I want.”
“What good is this experience when you’ll only forget it once you return?”
What the god didn’t know was that Arik wouldn’t forget. He’d remember and he wanted that memory. Unlike M’Ordant and many of the others, Arik had no knowledge of true emotions or sensations—they’d been beaten out of him so long ago that he’d completely forgotten what it was like to feel. He wanted to know how much more intense feelings could be when not blocked by the curse.
“Does the why really matter?”
Hades considered that for a moment. Folding his arms over his chest, he frowned at Arik. “For what you want, there would have to be a steep price.”
“I expected nothing less. Just tell me your fee.”
“A soul. A human soul.”
That was easy enough. Taking a human life wouldn’t bother him. They lived nitely anyway and very few of them even bothered to appreciate the beauty that was the human existence. He, however, would savor his brief time as one of them. “Done.”
Hades clucked his tongue at Arik. “Child, how naive of you. You agreed too soon. It’s not just any soul I want.”
“I want the soul of the woman who has compelled you to make a deal with the devil. Surely she must have a magnicent soul for you to come here and barter with me, the most despised of all gods.”
Arik hesitated. Not out of feelings for Megeara but rather because he wasn’t sure he would be through with her by the time he was forced to return. “And if I fail to complete this bargain?”
“It will be you who suffers here in her stead. If you fail to deliver her to me, I will kill you as a man and keep your soul in Tartarus. The pain you’ve felt to date will be nothing when compared to what you’ll suffer then. And before you reconsider, remember that you’ve already agreed to this. There is no going back now. Our bargain is set.”
“How long will you give me?”
“Two weeks and not a day more.”
Arik had no time to even twitch before a strange thick blackness covered him. One moment he was standing in the middle of Hades’ throne room, and in the next he was encircled by wetness.
It was water...
And unlike in dreams, his body was heavy. Leaden. Water poured in through his mouth and nose, causing him to choke as it invaded lungs that weren’t used to really breathing. He tried to swim, but the water was too thick. It seemed to be sucking him down deeper into the sea.
Panic consumed him. There was nothing he could do.
He was going to drown.
“Geary, quick! There’s a body overboard!”
Oh good God, who had Thia attacked now?
Aggravated, Geary looked up from Tory’s notes at Justina’s call. Geary’s second in command was pointing over the side of the boat. As Geary rushed to the side to peer over, she handed the notebook back to Tory. Sure enough, there was someone struggling in the waves. And by the looks of it, he was quickly losing his battle.
“Christof!” Geary shouted for the boat’s captain. “We need...” She paused as the body sank down below the hungry waves.
There wasn’t time.
Her heart pounding from the rush of adrenaline, Geary kicked her shoes off and dove over the side. The coldness of the water stunned her as it covered her completely. Kicking her legs, she swam upward until she broke the surface so that she could look about for him.
Even though the water was clear, Geary had a hard time nding the guy below the surface. She had to keep diving down, then returning for fresh air before she dove back to search for him. Thank God she was a strong swimmer who was trained as a lifeguard and a certied diving instructor. But then, it was expected of her as an underwater recovery expert. She had to be as nimble in water as a sh.
She just wished she’d had time to get her gear before she’d come in after him. If she didn’t nd the guy soon, he’d be dead, especially since he hadn’t resurfaced.
Her lungs burned from holding her breath as she dove under the water again. Her ears were buzzing and popping from the pressure as images of him drowning consumed her.
Geary had been twelve years old when Tory’s father had drowned only a few miles from this very spot. Images of her father trying to save Theron’s life tore through her now as she remembered her father diving for him. Her father pulling Theron out of the water and doing everything he could to resuscitate him.
It’d been awful and the last thing she wanted to do was relive it.
C’mon. Don’t you dare die on me. Where are you? She slowed her speed and turned about as she oated weightlessly in the sea. The light refracted and danced in the blue and green water, highlighting various sh and foliage, but there was no sight of the man she sought.