Read A Touch of Chaos Online

Authors: Scarlett St. Clair

A Touch of Chaos (4 page)

BOOK: A Touch of Chaos
8.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

As much as she loved them, they were not Hades.

“Tell me of those who escaped,” she said, the dread in her chest thickening.

There was a moment of heavy silence.

“There were few, my lady,” said Thanatos. “But among them, Cronos.”

Cronos was the God of Time, but specifically he had influence over its destructive nature. She did not know what that meant for the world above, but she would worry about that later. Right now, they had to make plans for present threats.

“And the others?” she asked.

She noted how Thanatos seemed to hesitate as he answered. “The others are my brother and Prometheus.”

Persephone's brows rose at the news, though she could not say she was surprised that Hypnos had taken the opportunity to flee the Underworld. She had only recently met the God of Sleep, and he'd made it clear that he did not live in the Underworld by choice. He'd been relegated to its darkness by Hera, who blamed him for her failed attempts to overthrow Zeus.

“Everyone else who escaped Tartarus was captured,” said Charon. “Many of them made it no farther than the Styx.”

Persephone was not surprised. The river was not crossable except by boat. She had found out the hard way when she'd attempted to swim it upon her first venture into the Underworld. The dead who lived there had dragged her into its dark depths. If it hadn't been for Hermes, she would have drowned.

Persephone looked at Hecate, who knew the Titans best.

“What does it mean that Cronos and Prometheus have escaped?”

“Cronos is a vengeful god, but he will not act quickly,” said Hecate. “He needs worshippers to be effective, and he knows this. Prometheus is harmless, mostly. The real concern is how the Olympians will react when they learn of their escape.”

Persephone did not imagine they would react well. While quite a few had fought alongside her and Hades, half had stood against them, though she did not think they were all motived by the same thing. Some, like Ares, merely sought battle to satisfy their bloodlust.

Zeus, on the other hand, had wanted to put a stop to his oracle's prophecy. Pyrrha had said that Persephone's
union with Hades would produce a god more powerful than Zeus himself. Though the God of the Sky had managed to foil similar prophecies, she wondered now if he had failed to understand this one. Was it Cronos who was destined to become more powerful than Zeus upon his reentry into the world, his wrath a product of his imprisonment in Tartarus?

“How much time do we have?” Persephone asked.

“If I were to guess, I think it is likely Theseus will try to use Hades to lure Cronos out of hiding,” said Hecate. “The sooner we find him, the better.”

Dread filled Persephone's heart. She did not want to imagine what that meant for Hades.

“Theseus has my ring,” Persephone said. “Can you track it?”

“I will try,” Hecate said.

Do more than try
, Persephone wanted to say, but she knew Hecate was just being cautious. The goddess did not want to overpromise given that she already could not sense Hades's magic.

Persephone looked at the others.

“In the meantime, I want Theseus's men,” she said. “I'll torture my way through them until one of them tells us where Hades is.”

“We're on it, Seph,” said Apollo.

“We will bring him home, my lady,” said Ilias.

She swallowed hard, her eyes watering.

“Promise me,” she said, her voice trembling.

“Hades is my king and you are my queen,” said Ilias. “I will go to the ends of the earth to bring him home for you…for all of us.”

“Just one question,” Hermes said as he drew his
blade, a menacing expression on his face. “Do you want them dead or alive?”

“Let them choose their fate,” she said. “Either way, they come to me.”

Those words trickled down her spine. They were similar to ones Hades had spoken to her the night they'd met.

Darling, I win either way.

This time, she shivered.

Hermes grinned. “You got it, Queen.”

Everyone left, save Hecate, who approached and took her hands. “Will you rest, my dear?” she asked.

Persephone was not sure she could. She didn't even wish to face their chamber, to face a night without Hades.

“I think…I should see my mother,” she said.

“Are you certain?”

It seemed like the better alternative. If she was alone, her thoughts would play in an endless cycle, reminding her of every way she'd failed and what she should have done differently—not only to save Hades but also her mother.

She had killed Demeter.

She could not even recall how it had happened. She only remembered how she'd felt—angry and desperate to end her mother's assault on the world.

But neither thing was an excuse for
murder
.

It did not even seem real, and she was not sure yet how she was supposed to live with something so terrible, but perhaps seeing her in the Underworld would help.

“I will see her now.”

Hecate gave a solemn nod, and Persephone had
a feeling she did not argue because she knew her thoughts.

She let Hecate teleport her.

Persephone had not considered where her mother might end up in the Underworld. When Tyche had died, Hades had told her gods come to him powerless, and he often gave them a role within his realm based on what challenged them in life.

Tyche had always wanted to be a mother, so she had become a caretaker in the Children's Garden. Demeter had also wanted to be a mother, but granting her a role beside Tyche seemed too much of a reward for everything she had done. Still, Persephone wasn't sure she wanted Demeter to face a sentence in Tartarus either, but perhaps that had more to do with the guilt she had in being responsible for her death.

She decided she would prepare for that, but when they appeared, it was in the golden grass of the Elysian Fields. She looked at Hecate and then out at the vast, open land, dotted with lush trees. Here, the sky was a bright blue. The souls who were scattered about the plains were dressed in white and wandered about in a near-aimless existence with no memories of the life they'd lived in the Upperworld.


It is necessary
,” Thanatos had said, “
to heal the soul
.”

Persephone had learned exactly what it meant when Lexa had come to the Underworld. She had been lucky to see her just as she'd crossed the Styx, and she cherished the few minutes she'd gotten with her best friend before she'd drunk from the Lethe and become someone else.

“Hecate,” she whispered, her throat full of an emotion she had not anticipated. “Why are we in Elysium?”

She asked and yet she knew.

“There are some traumas a soul cannot live with,” Hecate said. “Even in death, even as a god.”

Tears trailed down Persephone's face. She couldn't stop them, couldn't even decide what they meant.

“What could she not live with?” Persephone asked, the taste of salt on her lips.

The version of her mother she had confronted at the Museum of Ancient Greece had no remorse for the harm she had caused. She did not care that her storm had killed hundreds, did not care that her magic was responsible for Tyche's death.


I will tear this world apart around you
,” she had said.

Hecate did not answer, though Persephone supposed she did not need to. What either of them had to say about the life Demeter had lived was moot. The fact was that the judges recognized that her soul had withered beneath the guilt of her decisions.

Persephone wasn't sure why, but knowing that somehow hurt worse. It showed just how lost Demeter had become.

Had her spiral begun with her rape by Poseidon? There was a part of Persephone that wished to know, that wanted vengeance for the mother she had lost and the one Demeter had become.

“It will do you no good to seek answers for how your mother lived,” said Hecate.

“How do you know?” Persephone asked. She did not often question the Goddess of Witchcraft, but in this, she did.

“Because you already know all there is,” Hecate replied. “As her soul heals in time, so will yours.
Perhaps then you will come to understand or at least accept.”

“Where is she?” Persephone asked, gazing over the golden plain.

Again, Hecate did not speak, but she did not need to because Persephone had found her mother. She recognized her long, straight hair, the color of the golden grass at their feet. She looked slight and small, having lost the command of her presence.

Persephone left Hecate's side and went to her. She kept her distance, making a wide circle around her until she could see her face. It was the first time she had seen Demeter without that critical glint in her eye, without the harshness that had carved her features into a severe mask of disdain.

Demeter's gaze shifted to Persephone. Her soft lips turned upward into a gentle smile. Despite the show of warmth, none of it touched her eyes—eyes that had once turned from brown to green to gold as she moved through various stages of anger. Now they were simply a pale yellow, the color of wheat, and they possessed no recognition.

“Hello,” she said softly.

Persephone tried to clear the knot at the back of her throat before she spoke, but her voice rasped anyway.

“Hi,” she said.

“Are you the lady of this realm?” Demeter asked.

“I am,” Persephone said. “How did you know?”

A line formed between Demeter's brows. “I don't know,” she said, and then her gaze shifted—cast off across the field. When she spoke again, her voice was filled with a note of wonder. “It is peaceful here.”

Perhaps selfishly, Persephone wished that she felt the same.

Abruptly, she left Elysium and found herself in the dim chamber of her and Hades's bedroom. There was no fire in the hearth to warm the air or eat away at the darkness, and in that cold room that had no life to speak of, she crumpled to the floor and sobbed.

CHAPTER IV
HADES

Hades woke to a sharp and burning sensation in his side. He roared in pain as he tore his eyes open in time to see Theseus remove two fingers from the wound he'd inflicted with Cronos's scythe.

“Good,” Theseus said. “You are awake.”

Hades gritted his teeth, glaring at the demigod, his eyes watering. He wanted to speak, to curse him, but his words were lodged in his throat, tight with pain.

“Forgive me,” the demigod said, gaze falling to his two bloodied fingers. “But you were not roused by my calls.”

It wasn't until Theseus rose to his feet that Hades realized he was in a different position than he had been when he'd fallen asleep. He was no longer hanging from chains but sitting on the floor. The massive net that had draped his body was gone, replaced by one that fit more like a shirt. Despite the difference, Hades could still feel its weight and the strange way it seemed to drain his energy—like it had teeth sinking into his very soul.

“Come, Olympian,” Theseus said. “You must earn your keep.”

Hades had to fight his compulsion to remain where he was. He did not like being commanded, especially by an arrogant demigod, but he could not deny that he was curious about where exactly he was and wanted any opportunity to observe and devise a plan for escape.

He rose to his feet, though his limbs trembled.

Theseus did not immediately lead him from his cell. Instead, he studied him, his critical eyes burning along his frame.

“Admiring me, Theseus?” Hades hissed, breathless.

“Yes,” the demigod said and then met Hades's gaze. “Have you ever felt so weak?”

Hades scowled, and Theseus offered the barest smile before turning to open a nearly invisible door.

“Even you must admit to being impressed by our technology?” Theseus said as he passed into a narrow passage that was no brighter than Hades's cell.

Hades could feel the grit in the air, and a musty smell filled his senses, seeping into the back of his throat, making it even harder to breathe beneath the net.

“Yours?” Hades countered. “It looks like Hephaestus's work and smells like Demeter's magic.”

“What is technology but the evolution of what already exists?” said Theseus.

“I didn't know you were a scholar,” Hades muttered. He would have spoken louder, but the tone of his voice correlated with how badly his lungs hurt, and he preferred to save his strength.

“There is a lot you do not know about me, Uncle.”

Hades cringed at the use of the familial title, though
he knew Theseus only used it to mock him. He felt no bond to the demigod, not an ounce of affection, but Hades said nothing and instead focused on his surroundings.

They were in a long corridor, and Hades could only see a few feet in front of him either way he looked. A cloudy orange light hung like mist in the air, creating pockets of darkness. The floor was sandy, and the walls were made of smooth stones, stacked high into the dark above. What he was most aware of, however, was the cold. He was familiar with the way it clung to his skin and seeped to the bone.

He was in the labyrinth where he had fought the Minotaur.

“Daedalus was a genius, no?” Theseus commented.

“He was a man who made himself useful,” Hades said, following Theseus at a distance.

Certainly at the time, Daedalus was considered one of the most brilliant inventors of his age. He had been commissioned by King Minos to build this labyrinth as a prison for the Minotaur, a half-bull, half-human creature Minos's wife, Pasiphaë, had birthed. A creature that only existed because he had also built the wooden cow that allowed her to mate with a bull she had been cursed to lust after by Poseidon.

“He saw opportunity,” said Theseus. “Even you must respect that.”

“I do not have to respect it,” Hades said.

Daedalus was a narcissist and had attempted to murder his own nephew when it was evident that his genius threatened his own.

Theseus chuckled. “Oh, Hades, I shudder to learn what you think of me.”

“You know what I think of you,” Hades said.

The demigod did not respond, and Hades was glad for the quiet. He hated talking anyway, but right now, it was exhausting. As he followed Theseus, he flexed his hands and realized he had movement in his arms. The net, which lay heavily against his chest, back, and stomach, did not seem to restrict his arms, and while he knew the net was impossible to escape without help, he still tried.

Theseus chuckled, though when Hades looked up, the demigod was still facing forward, moving down the corridors of the labyrinth with ease.

“You will only exhaust yourself trying to remove it,” said Theseus. “Might as well save your strength. You will need it.”

Hades glared at the back of Theseus's head, imagining what it would be like to smash it with a stone.

After Tyche's death, Hades had gone to Hephaestus to learn more about his creation, knowing that the net posed a great threat to the gods given its ability to immobilize and suffocate their power. Hades had asked the God of Fire to forge a weapon to cut it, but he'd not been able to obtain that weapon before he'd been captured.

It angered him that he'd fallen into such a trap. He had not had a second thought when he'd gone in search of Persephone, in search of the ring Theseus now kept in his possession. He tried to sense it, the familiar energies of the stones he'd chosen to represent her and their future together, but all he felt was the cold of the labyrinth, which became even more disorienting the longer they were within it, alternating between walking
for long stretches and a series of sharp turns down shorter pathways.

Hades wondered what guided Theseus through the maze. He walked with purpose, twisting and turning through the many and varied corridors. It was possible he had memorized the route—he was certainly psychotic enough.

Finally they came to a part of the maze that was in ruins, the walls broken and crumbled from age.

“Part of the original labyrinth,” said Theseus. Even in disrepair, the greatness of it was evident. “I had every intention of finishing it before you arrived, but as it is, I think it is far more fitting that you complete the prison in which you have been trapped.”

Hades's gaze slid to the demigod.

“How do you propose I do that?” Hades asked.

“I have provided all the tools,” Theseus said.

Hades stared. He knew the demigod was willfully ignoring the obvious—the net draped over his body made him weak.

“And you wish for me to do this, why?” Hades asked. “So you can watch?”

“What else are you going to do while you wait to be rescued?” Theseus mocked. “Pine after your wife?”

Hades ground his teeth so hard, the muscles in his neck ached. After a moment, he relaxed, tilting his head to the side.

“Give yourself more credit, Theseus. You have done enough to earn a starring role in my thoughts.”

“What an honor,” Theseus said and cast his eyes to the materials scattered at his feet. “You might want to get started. I've been told it takes days for mud bricks to
cure.” The demigod started to turn but paused. “I will pry a stone from your lover's ring each time you stop,” he said. “And when there are no more, I will crush them into dust and feed them to you dry.”

The demigod left, vanishing into the dark, and Hades was left alone. As much as he recognized that there were other rings Hephaestus could make, the idea of the one in Theseus's possession being destroyed by his hand felt like letting the demigod win.

That thought spurred Hades to begin.

He stared at the materials he'd been given—a trough of water, a sheaf of wheat, a bucket, a wooden box that would act as a mold for the bricks. There was nothing to cut the wheat, which meant nothing he could use as a weapon.

Everything would have to be done with his hands.

Hades recognized the futility of this work. It was not about finishing the wall at all. It was about shaming him, though Hades did not need this to feel ashamed. He had suffered with his guilt the moment Persephone had walked out the door with Theseus at Alexandria Tower.

He should have never agreed to the demigod's request for a favor, but it had been the only reward Theseus would take for the capture of Sisyphus and the return of a relic the mortal had stolen. In fairness, it was no unjust request given that Sisyphus had been using the relic to steal lives from mortals, and while Hades had thought Theseus would use the favor for nefarious purposes, he had not anticipated that he would use it to separate him from Persephone.

And to what end? He still did not completely understand what had happened in his absence, but he knew
that Theseus had managed to enter the Underworld, that he now possessed the Helm of Darkness, and that he had also released Cronos from Tartarus. And while Hades did not know what that meant for the future of New Greece, he knew he could handle it all so long as Persephone was well.

I am well
.

Her voice was so clear, his heart raced and he turned, thinking she would be right beside him, but found nothing save dust twisting through the hazy darkness.

It was ridiculous to expect her there, foolish to feel disappointment when she wasn't, yet he could not help how it crashed over him, a weight heavier than the net.

He ground his teeth, a wave of hot frustration settling deep in his bones. He would not be surprised to learn that Theseus had conjured some kind of illusion to distract him just so he could have the satisfaction of following through on his threat.

With the whisper of her words fresh in his mind, Hades swept the rubble from the jagged wall into the bucket Theseus had left to use in the brick mixture.

When he was finished, he lowered to the ground and dug his fingers into the sandy earth. The dirt reminded him of the fine, ashy silt in the Underworld, and as it lodged beneath his nails, he thought of how Persephone had knelt in the barren patch of earth he'd given her in his garden. She had been angry with him for snaring her into a contract, angrier when she had discovered the beauty of his realm. Even if it had not been real, the illusion only served to remind her of her inability to summon and feel her magic.

When she had risen to her feet, he had kissed her for
the first time. He remembered how she felt against him, how she tasted like wine and smelled like sweet roses. He had lost himself in her perfection just as he was losing himself in her memory now.

“What a treat to find the God of the Dead on his knees.”

It was Persephone's voice, and it set Hades on edge. He knew it was a trick, conjured by Theseus to torture him. He ignored the words, the way they whispered up his spine and made his chest ache. He focused harder on his task, scooping the sand into the bucket to mix with water and wheat, when he noticed something in his peripheral—the flare of a white dress—and when he looked, he was kneeling at Persephone's feet.

He stared, his breath caught in his throat. She was more beautiful than ever with her wild, golden curls spilling over her shoulders and freckles dusting her ethereal skin. He wanted to kiss each one.

“You're not real,” he said.

She laughed, her brows furrowing just a little.

“I am real,” she said, taking a step closer. He could feel the air move with her. “Touch me.”

He looked away, eyes falling to the ruins of the labyrinth.

Whatever this was, it was more painful than the wound at his side.

“Hades,” Persephone whispered his name again, and when he looked, she was still there, though it seemed that she was in another realm. There was a brightness at her back that haloed her body, as if the sun shone behind her.

“This is cruel,” he said, still kneeling, refusing to look
at her face. Instead, he stared at her billowing dress. The fabric was thin and white, threaded through with gold.

“Don't you want me?” she whispered.

He closed his eyes against the hurt in her voice. When he opened them again, he expected to be alone in the labyrinth, but she remained. He reached out and touched her gown, pinching the fabric between his fingers. It was soft and real.

How?

Hades looked up at her from the ground, worry etched across her sweet face.

“Persephone,” he said, half in disbelief. He could no longer stop himself. He rose to his feet, his lips crashing against hers, gripping the back of her head. His other hand pressed into the small of her back, his fingers splayed, holding her to him as tightly as he could.

He released her mouth and rested his forehead against hers.

“I do not know if you are real,” he said.

“Does it matter if we are together?” she asked. Her voice was quiet, and it seeped into his skin, making him shudder.

Her hands pressed flat against his chest, skin to skin, as her magic ate away at the net and his shirt. Perhaps this was more of a dream than a trick.

BOOK: A Touch of Chaos
8.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Summer on Blossom Street by Debbie Macomber
Unfinished by Scott, Shae
The Night Watchman by Mark Mynheir
Flamethroat by Kate Bloomfield
Island that Dared by Dervla Murphy
The Unveiling by Shyla Colt
Sheikh And The Princess 1 by Kimaya Mathew