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Authors: Scarlett St. Clair

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BOOK: A Touch of Chaos
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Persephone teleported to the edge of the Asphodel Fields. Alone, she took a moment to observe the chaos.

She had often been aware of her faults but never so much as she was at this very moment. The mountains of Tartarus were nothing more than piles of rubble, the beauty of Hades's magic was marred by patches of scorched and smoking earth from the Hydra's venom, the air smelled like burning flesh, and amid all this, the souls still fought the chimeras. Hermes wielded his golden sword against the Hydra while Apollo sent rays of blinding light to cauterize the wounds and prevent the heads from regenerating. Iapetus continued to rock the Underworld, fighting beneath Hecate's magic.

Persephone took a breath and closed her eyes. As she did, she felt the world around her go quiet. Nothing seeped into her space save her anger, her pain, her worry. Her ears rang with it, her heart pumped with it, and she used it to draw on the darker part of her magic. It was the part of her that ached, the part of her that raged, the part of her that no longer believed the world was wholly good.


You are my wife and my queen
.”

Hades's voice echoed in her mind. It sent chills down her spine and cradled her heart. The sound brought tears to her eyes and made her chest feel tight, stealing the air from her lungs.


You are everything that makes me good
,” he said. “
And I am everything that makes you terrible
.”

She swallowed the thickness that had gathered in her throat. Before, she would have balked at those words, but now she understood the power in being feared.

And she wanted to be dreaded.


Where are you
?” she asked, desperate for him to manifest at her side where he belonged, but the longer she remained alone, the darker her energy became.


Waiting to carry you through the dark if you will bring me to the light
.”

Her heart felt so heavy, a weight in her chest.

“I need you,” she whispered.


You have me
,” he said. “
There is no part where you end or I begin. Use me, darling, as you have for your pleasure. There is power in this pain.

And there was
pain
.

It radiated through her, a bone-deep sorrow that had become so much a part of her that it almost seemed normal. She could not remember who she was before the hollow ache of grief had carved a spot in her heart.


You are more now that I am gone
,” said Lexa.

Persephone squeezed her eyes shut against her best friend's cruel words, though she knew they were true. Strange that life granted power in the face of loss, stranger yet that the person who would be most proud was not here to witness it.


I know your truth
,” Lexa said. “
I do not need to witness it
.”

Something cut through Persephone then, a pain so deep she could not contain it, and when her eyes opened, her vision was sharpened from the glow of her eyes. Her power waited, obedient to her will, a flame wreathing her body. For a moment, everything stilled, and she felt Hades's presence as if he had come up behind her and wrapped a possessive arm around her waist.


Feed it
,” he commanded, and with his warm breath on her ear, she screamed.

Her anguish became a real and living thing as her power gathered around her. It flooded the Underworld, darkening the sky. Shadows flew from the palms of her hands, turning into solid spears, impaling the chimeras and the Hydra. A cacophony of shrill screams and pained roars filled the air, and it fueled her, made her dig deeper until the earth began to tremble and the ground beneath the Hydra and the mountains of Tartarus turned dark and liquid. Thick tendrils shot out from the pool, latching onto the Hydra's large, clawed feet and what remained of its heads, dragging the monster down into its depths until its screams were suddenly silenced.

Her magic rose in dark waves over Iapetus too, aided by Hecate, whose power drove the Titan farther into his cell in the mountains, though he fought against it, arms stretched out, reaching for the still-open sky. Her darkness continued to climb, matting his hair and blinding his eyes, spilling into his open mouth. He wailed in anger until his throat was full and he could no longer speak, and when he was covered, the magic hardened, and the mountains of Tartarus shone like glistening obsidian against the dark horizon.

From the tallest peak, which was the tip of Iapetus's hand, now frozen in hard stone, her magic continued to build, mending the broken sky, and when it was finished, she dropped her hands, and her magic reeled back, ricocheting through her. She trembled but remained on her feet. She felt something wet on her face, and when she reached to touch her mouth, she found blood.

She frowned.

“Sephy, you were amazing!” Hermes said as he appeared before her. He swept her into a tight hug.
Despite the way his armor dug into her body, she welcomed his embrace.

When he set her on her feet, it was before Apollo, Hecate, and Cerberus, who was still fused into a large three-headed monster. He ambled forward and nuzzled her hand gently, all three sets of jowls dripping with saliva and blood.

She didn't care and stroked each of the heads anyway.

“Good boys,” she said. “Very good boys.”

In the meadow below, the souls cheered. Their enthusiasm would normally lift her heart, but instead, she felt dread.

Would her magic hold? Could she keep them safe?

Her gaze shifted to the horizon and the strange tower that now connected the mountains of Tartarus to the sky. She had no idea how she'd created it, but she knew what had fed her magic. She could still feel those emotions echoing inside her.

“I like it,” said Hermes. “It's art. We'll call it…
Iapetus's reckoning
.”

Persephone thought it looked more like a scar, a blight on Hades's kingdom, but perhaps he would fix it when he came home.

Something thick gathered in the back of her throat, and she couldn't swallow. She turned to look at everyone, searching each face as if one of them might hold the answer to her greatest question.

“Where is Hades?” she asked.

CHAPTER II
HADES

The burn in his wrists woke him. The headache splitting his skull made opening his eyes nearly impossible, but he tried, groaning, his thoughts shattering like glass. He had no ability to pick at the pieces, to recall how he had gotten here, so he focused instead on the pain in his body—the metal digging into the raw skin on his wrists, the way his nails pierced his palm, the way his fingers throbbed from being curled into themselves when they should be coiled around Persephone's ring.

The ring
. It was gone.

Hysteria built inside him, a fissure that had him straining against his manacles, and he finally tore open his eyes to find that he was restrained in a small, dark cell. As he dangled from the ceiling, body draped in the same heavy net that had sent him to the ground in the Minotaur's prison, he knew he was not alone.

He stared into the darkness, uneasy, aware that whatever magic existed there was his own, and yet it felt
somehow foreign, likely because though he called to it, he could not summon it.

“I know you're there,” Hades said. His tongue felt swollen in his mouth.

In the next second, Theseus appeared, having pulled the Helm of Darkness from his head. He cradled the weapon in his arm, smirking.

“Theseus,” Hades growled, though even to him, his voice sounded weak. He was so tired and so full of pain, he could not vocalize the way he wished. Otherwise, he would rage.

“I'd hoped to make a more dramatic entrance,” said the demigod, his aqua eyes gleaming. Hades hated those eyes, so like Poseidon's. “But you always were a killjoy.”

Dread tightened Hades's chest, though he worked not to show a single ounce of fear. He hated that he even felt the threat of such an emotion in the presence of Theseus, but he had to know how the demigod had come into possession of his helm.

“How did you get it?”

“Your wife led me right to it,” Theseus said. “I told you I only needed to borrow her.”

Hades had many questions, but he asked the most pressing.

“Where is she?” he demanded.

“I must confess, I lost track of her,” Theseus said airily, as if he had not been in possession of the thing Hades loved most in this world.

He jerked forward. He wanted to wrap his hands around Theseus's neck and squeeze until he felt his bones break beneath his hands, but the weight of the net made movement nearly impossible. It was as if he were
suffocating instead. His chest heaved as he worked to catch his breath.

Theseus chuckled and Hades glared at him, his eyes watering from exertion. He had never felt so weak. In truth, he had never
been
this weak.

“Last time I saw her, she was fighting her mother in the Underworld. I wonder who won.”

“I will kill you, Theseus,” Hades said. “That is an oath.”

“I have no doubt you will try, though I think you will have a difficult time given your current state.”

Hades's rage ignited, burning him from the inside out, but he could do nothing—not move or summon his power.

This
, he thought,
must be what it is like to be mortal
. It was terrible.

Theseus smirked and then held up the helm, studying it.

“This is an intriguing weapon,” he said. “It made it entirely too easy to enter Tartarus.”

“It sounds like you wish to boast, Theseus,” said Hades, glaring. “So why don't you get it over with?”

“It is not boasting at all,” Theseus replied. “I am paying you a courtesy.”

“By breaking into my realm?”

“By letting you know that I have released your father from Tartarus.”

“My father?” Hades repeated, unable to keep the surprise from his voice. He could not describe exactly how he felt, only that this news left him feeling numb. If he'd had the energy to move, it would have stopped him in his tracks.

His father, Cronos, God of Time, was free, wandering the Upperworld after nearly five millennia locked away. Cronos, the man who had envied his own father's rule and took him down with a scythe that had recently resurfaced in the black market. The man who had feared the fated uprising of his children so much that he had swallowed them whole as they were born.

It was Zeus who had freed them from that horrible and dark prison, and when they had emerged, they had been fully grown and full of wrath. Even now, Hades could recall how he'd felt, the way anger had moved through his body, the way vengeance had crowded his mind, fed every thought. After they'd succeeded in overthrowing the Titans, those feelings followed him, bleeding into every aspect of his reign and rule.

It did not seem like so long ago.

“I do not know who else managed to escape with him,” Theseus said. “I must confess, I had to leave, but we are sure to find out in the coming days.”

“You
imbecile
,” Hades seethed, his voice quiet. “Do you know what you have done?”

It was not as if Cronos had been asleep for the last five thousand years. He'd spent all his time in Tartarus conscious and planning revenge just as Hades was doing now. He worried over what his father would do first with his freedom. His thoughts turned to his mother, Rhea.

Rhea, who had tricked Cronos into swallowing a rock so that Zeus might live to overthrow him.

It was she who would receive Cronos's wrath first. Hades was sure of it.

“Come on, Hades,” said Theseus. “We both know I do not make rash decisions. I have thought about this for a while.”

“And what exactly did you think? That you would release my father from Tartarus and he would be so indebted to you that he would join your cause?”

“I am under no such delusion,” said Theseus. “But I will use him as I imagine he will use me.”

“Use you?” Hades asked. “And what do you have to offer?”

Theseus grinned. It was an unsettling smile because it was so genuine.

“To start,” he said, “I have you.”

Hades stared for a moment. “So you will what? Give me as a sacrifice?”

“Well, yes,” Theseus said. “Cronos will need offerings to feed his power and strength. Who better than his son and a usurper too?”

“Your father was a usurper. Will you sacrifice him?”

“If the occasion calls for it,” Theseus said.

Hades was not surprised by the demigod's answer. His honesty was also likely an indication of his belief that Hades would never leave this prison.

“What happens when you both decide the other must die?” he asked.

“I suppose it is good then that I am fated to overthrow the gods,” said Theseus.

Hades knew the demigod was referring to the prophecy of the ophiotaurus, a half-bull, half-serpent creature whose death assured victory against the gods.

Theseus had been the one to slay the monster, and he assumed that meant he would overthrow the Olympians,
but the prophecy never specified how or whose victory would come about.

His arrogance would be his downfall, but Hades was not about to argue. Theseus could face the consequences of his hubris, as all inevitably did.

“You are not even invincible. Do you think you can win against the gods?”

Perhaps he should not have said it, but he wanted Theseus to know he knew his greatest weakness—that he could not heal like other gods. Dionysus had discovered as much when he was trapped on the island of Thrinacia. Hades wished more than anything that he could test it himself, and one day soon, he would.

Shadows darkened the lines on Theseus's face, and an evil Hades had never seen before lurked behind his eyes. The demigod dropped the helm and drew a knife. Hades barely saw the gleaming blade before Theseus plunged it into his side. For a moment, his lungs felt locked, and he could not take in breath.

Theseus tilted his head up to meet Hades's gaze, speaking between his teeth.

“Perhaps you can tell me what it's like,” he said, twisting the blade before tearing it from Hades's body.

Hades gritted his teeth against the pain, which was sharp and almost electric, radiating down his side. He refused to make a sound, to let the demigod know how he hurt.

Theseus raised the knife between them, stained with his blood. Hades recognized it as his father's scythe. Part of it anyway. The end was missing, having been found in Adonis's corpse after he'd been attacked outside La Rose. He had been the first victim of Theseus's campaign against
the Olympians, a sacrifice made to antagonize Aphrodite. Later, Hades would discover the Goddess of Love had been chosen as a target by Demeter for her influence over his relationship with Persephone. It was the price she'd asked for in exchange for use of her magic and relics.

“Well, look at that,” said Theseus. “You bleed like I bleed.” He took a step away as if to admire his work. “You would do well to remember that beneath that net, you are mortal.”

Hades had never been more aware as he struggled to breathe, his chest rising and falling sharply. He felt cold, his skin damp.

“You think you can make us all mortal?”

“Yes,” said Theseus. “Just as easily as I can become invincible.”

The demigod did not explain what he meant, but Hades could guess. There were only a few ways to become invincible in this world. One was through Zeus who, as King of the Gods, could grant invincibility. Another was to eat a golden apple from the Garden of the Hesperides, Hera's orchard, and since the two had formed some kind of alliance, he assumed that was the avenue the demigod would take.

Theseus sheathed the bloody knife and then picked up the Helm of Darkness before reaching into his pocket to withdraw something small and silver. Hades's heart squeezed at the sight of it.

“This is a beautiful ring,” Theseus said, holding it between his thumb and forefinger, twisting it so that even beneath the dim light, the gems glittered. Hades watched it, his stomach knotting with each movement. “Who would have guessed it would be your downfall?”

Theseus was wrong.

That ring was Hades's hope even if he could not hold it, even if it was in the hand of his enemy.

“Persephone will come,” he said, certain. His voice was quiet, his eyes heavy.

“I know,” Theseus said, his fingers closing over the ring. He spoke with a dreadful glee that made Hades sick, though perhaps he was only feeling the weight of the net and his wound.

“She will be your ruin,” Hades said to the demigod, his chest tightening with the truth of those words.


You would burn this world for me? I will destroy it for you
,” she had said right before she had torn his realm apart in the name of a love she thought she had lost.

Theseus considered their love a weakness, but he would soon discover how wrong he was.

BOOK: A Touch of Chaos
12.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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