Authors: Courtney Cole
Tags: #Fiction, #Fairy Tales; Folk Tales; Legends & Mythology
“Brennan can will things into existence,” she reminded me. “Use that. You will need to replenish your strength- so drink from each other. Then act, while you are at your strongest.”
“But Zeus took our abilities,” I reminded her quietly.
“Empusa, are you or are you not Hecate’s daughter? Are you or are you not Hades’ daughter? It is being whispered that you might just be the most powerful goddess that any of us have ever seen…just as soon as you realize your full potential. Why do you think that Zeus is so intent on punishing you in your mother’s stead? He wants to ensure that you will never become a threat to him. He knows that Hades will use you against him at the very first opportunity.
“But that’s neither here nor there right now. Right now, you need to realize that while Zeus is powerful, you might be more so. Concentrate on your powers. Bring them back. Have Brennan do the same. Mind over matter is a very powerful thing. Have Brennan will you into the Underworld. Hades will be waiting and you can take your rightful place at his side. You don’t have to die.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. This girl had been trying to outmaneuver Hades for thousands of years. And here she was wanting me to stand at Hades’ side. I was just shaking my head with bewilderment when the little clearing lit up like a football stadium.
I blinked hard, trying to see. My eyes had been away from light long enough that the presence of it now was blinding. But before I could see, I could hear.
A blood-curling scream.
A ring of Olympians came into focus, all standing in a circle around the clearing. Zeus was in the front, Apollo and Hera at his sides. Their brightness was indeed blinding, beginning with their silver eyes and silvery clothing. White light seemed to emanate from their very persons. Harmonia and Cadmus stood nearest to me, with my mother next to them. They watched me anxiously. Helplessly. I watched their eyes move from me to a spot over my head. I looked up and gasped.
Gaia hung suspended in mid-air over the altar. She had materialized and no longer looked ghostly. She looked as flesh and blood as I did. Her bare feet were shaking, her skin as pale as mine. She was terrified, but defiantly jutted her chin out as she hovered in the air.
“Empusa,” Zeus boomed. “This is what happens when someone tries to circumvent my wishes by way of devious means. This girl’s blood is on your hands.”
I watched in horror as Gaia exploded into flames. Her tortured shrieks filled the night and I tried to pull her out of the sky, but Brennan pulled me back. There was no way I could help her.
I pushed my face into Brennan’s chest until Gaia’s last scream had faded. I hesitantly turned around in time to see Zeus snap the lid down on an ornate black box.
The box of murderous souls.
I had heard legends of it. The box contained the blackest souls of the most heinous mortals. And now, it apparently housed my friend Gaia’s. Her charred remains were motionless on the altar, the acrid scent of burning flesh still heavy in the air. I squeezed my eyes closed again.
Gaia had been so terrified of the Underworld. And now, because she had tried to help me, she would forever be imprisoned in a box with the worst mortals that the world had ever known. Guilt pressed on my heart and I knew I would struggle with it forever.
“We’ll fix this,” Brennan told me firmly. “We’ll fix this.”
“You cannot, son of Apollo,” Zeus called. “It cannot be repaired. It is done. The traitor’s transgressions have been punished. All that is left is for you to finish the game.”
The game. The wretched, twisted game. I was tired of it. My weariness caused me to lose any sense of caution. Whirling, I faced the crowd of Olympians.
“Take me now, Zeus. Just kill me now. You know that’s the outcome that you want, anyway.”
“Empusa, no!” My mother stepped forward, her hand help up in caution. But too late. My mouth was already open and Zeus was listening.
“Kill you now?” he asked, his lip curling in thought. “Right now? But that would be so unfair. I revel in justice, moon princess.”
I swallowed my ire and walked to the edge of the clearing, standing almost nose to nose with the ancient god. Only the invisible wall separated us. I ignored my mother’s protests and Brennan’s calls from behind me.
“Kill me now,” I implored Zeus again. “Please.”
I held my hands palms up, signaling that I was not a threat. I was surrendering without a fight. Zeus smiled.
“While I appreciate the gesture, Empusa, killing you would be too easy. You need to figure out a way to die all on your own. But you need to hurry, time is ticking. If you don’t figure it out, I’m sure you will be overcome with temptation and will kill your lover. You don’t want that, do you?”
I stared into his cold silver eyes and I’d never hated someone so much. Anger filled me up in waves and I suddenly saw red. My fury burst several trees that were still standing around the clearing into flames. I thrust my hands into the wall. I had almost reached Zeus, I could feel the thick material of his clothing, when I was thrown backward with unfathomable force.
I hit the opposite wall on the other side of the clearing and slid to a crumpled heap on the ground. I saw a fuzzy outline of Brennan kneeling over me, murmuring to me, but I couldn’t understand his words.
Then there was blackness.
I opened my eyes.
Was I dead?
I was in a shadowy place; dark and safe. There was no sound but for a faint trickling of water. I couldn’t see its source. I was lying amid grass and wildflowers and freesia. There was a garden to my left, filled with violet blossoms on long, flowing vines. The night fell on my skin like velvet, like the softest silk. I sighed, half in resignation and half in relief.
I must be dead.
“No, you’re not.” Hades’ smooth voice came from nowhere and everywhere. He stepped out from behind a willow tree and was beside me in a millisecond. His dark hair hung just-so over his eye and he flipped it away casually.
“Where am I then?” I asked, looking around once more. “Am I in the Underworld?”
He shook his head. “No. We’re in your mind. You summoned me. You’ve managed to tap into your immortal strength and break the barriers that Zeus built around your abilities.”
“How did I do that?” I asked. “And if we’re in my mind, then my body must still be in the clearing. We’re at an impasse. What will I do?”
I couldn’t believe I was asking Hades for advice. But truly, I didn’t know what else to do. I was at a loss and I was so ready for it to end.
“You got angry,” he shrugged. “You caused another forest fire. Zeus threw you across the clearing where you hit your head. You’re now unconscious, but you broke the mental barrier surrounding you. When you awake, you can finish this.”
“But how?” I whispered. “I don’t know how.”
“Yes, you do,” Hades insisted quietly. He stepped closer to me and I felt his normal charismatic pull. It made me want to step closer to him, to allow him to comfort me. It was like being sucked into a magnetic vortex. He smiled at my thought.
“I’m glad your views about me are changing,” he commented wryly. “At least you now acknowledge that I might have a few redeeming qualities.”
“I’ve never doubted that,” I answered carefully. “What I doubt are your motivations.”
Hades threw back his head and laughed, his hair shiny in the dark. There was a moon here and I reveled in its energy, watching it shimmer across my arm. I sighed again.
“Empusa, you are my child, a child after my own heart. Surely you can see now what Zeus is capable of. I will stand with you. Come with me- take your rightful place by my side in the Underworld. All you have to do is awaken and finish this.”
I was suddenly considering the inconsiderable.
It didn’t seem so bad to me now, a life in the serene quiet of the Underworld. Perhaps Gaia had been right. Maybe my magic would eventually become even stronger than Zeus’… which meant that I would always be in danger until I learned to stand up for myself. For that, I would need an alliance.
“And so you have one,” Hades answered my thought, bowing slightly at his trim waist. “I’m at your service.”
Staring into his eyes, I knew it was the only thing I could do. And oddly enough, rather than feel trapped, I felt at peace. Comfortable. It felt right, like it was where I belonged.
Hades smiled and held out his hand. I took it, grasping his long fingers as he leaned forward and kissed my forehead lightly.
“Awaken, daughter,” he murmured. “Finish this so that you can begin your new life.”
“And Brennan?” I asked softly, my eyes trained upon my father’s.
“You’ll bring him, of course,” Hades answered simply. “And we’ll exact revenge upon Zeus and Mormo for everything they’ve done to you.”
Satisfaction welled up in me and I nodded.
“Awaken,” Hades said again.
So I did.
I opened my eyes and I instantly felt differently than before. I was stronger, that much was true, but it was a mental strength that buoyed me. I knew it immediately. Brennan crouched beside me, holding my hand. He was worried and as beautiful as he’d ever been. My stomach tightened with the love I felt for him.
“Empusa,” he breathed. “You’re alright?”
“How long have I been out?”
“A few minutes,” he answered.
I glanced around him.
“They’re gone,” he told me. “Something is different. What happened?”
“I’ll explain later,” I answered. “For now, we both need to be as strong as possible.” I lowered my voice to a mere whisper in his ear. “You’re going to will us into the Underworld, alright?”
He pulled away and stared at me. “I don’t know if I can,” he said uncertainly. “I haven’t mastered that yet. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”
“You’re going to try your absolute best,” I whispered. “And I know that you can do it. But first, we need to be at our strongest. We have to act soon before this eclipse kills us both.”
Brennan glanced overhead at the red ring of the sun.
“Zeus said before he left that the mortal world was going to be affected soon. Crops would begin to die from absence of light. The tides would stop moving because of the absence of the moon. He also said that the absence of tides and light would trigger the fault lines to begin moving. We’re going to cause an apocalypse after all, I’m afraid.”
“No, we’re not,” I replied bitterly. “Zeus is. We aren’t doing this. We’re not taking responsibility for it.”
Pulling him down beside me, I twisted around until I was straddling him. Bending, I kissed him, softly at first and then more fiercely. His mouth tasted like honey. He groaned and pulled me to him, his hands clutching at my back.
“Let me see your wrist,” I whispered against his mouth. I pulled my own to my mouth and bit, breaking the skin. I offered it to him. “We have to,” I told him. “It doesn’t matter anymore what we hurt or if we stay in control. It really doesn’t matter. Drink now and restore your strength. We can do this, Brennan.”
“I trust you,” he told me, his amber gaze frozen on my own.
Without hesitation, he drank from my wrist. I could feel the blood gushing in my arm toward his mouth. I picked up his wrist and drank as well. Just as it had happened last time, it happened again. As our blood mingled and mixed, I felt an overwhelming sense of strength and power. It surged in my veins, filling me up in swells. The sensations that coursed through me were almost unbearable, they were so strong and fierce.
Brennan stopped drinking and looked up at me, his eyes slightly unfocused as my blood streaked down his chin.
“This is incredible,” he uttered. I nodded, unable to speak, unable to stop drinking his oh-so-succulent blood. He was the most delicious thing I had ever tasted. He was the sun and the earth and everything pure and good in the world. And I so wanted every bit of him inside of me.
Without another thought, without even thinking it through, I dropped his wrist and kissed him again, hard. His mouth tasted metallic, like my blood, mixed with his own sweet taste. I plunged my tongue into his mouth and his hands were suddenly everywhere. He needed me as much as I needed him.
I couldn’t breathe.
I couldn’t see.
I couldn’t think.
All I knew was that every cell in my body needed this man. I needed to touch him, taste him, feel him, consume him.
I took a ragged breath and stripped off my clothes. His heat enveloped me and I ripped his shirt to remove it. His skin pressed against mine and I could no longer form any coherent thought. I knew that the Olympians could see, but I suddenly didn’t care. All rational thoughts faded away as the colors of the rainbow exploded around us as our auras materialized to me. Normally, this would be where I stopped, where I forced my hands to still so that I didn’t take Brennan’s soul.
But today, I felt stronger than I ever had when I really should be at my weakest because of the eclipse. I didn’t know what internal well I was drawing from, but I wasn’t going to question it.
I kissed Brennan, all of the fire in my veins transferring into my kiss as I bit his lip.
“I want you,” I told him hoarsely. “Right now.”
From the corner of my eye, I could see the trees on fire again and the oranges and yellows of the flames swirled into the colors our auras. My own fire raged within me and I innately knew that only one thing could quench it. And at this particular juncture, we didn’t have anything to lose anyway.
Brennan’s hands were everywhere, his breath on my skin. His tongue licked the soft skin of my neck, right before he bit. He drank more of my blood before dragging his mouth to mine. I felt weak with wanting him, but stronger than I’d ever felt at the same time. We were meant to be one. It was as natural to us as breathing. It was what we were both racing toward now. There was no turning back.