“Of course, you had no idea. He was still trying to make a Nemesis puppet. We are here now because you missed! You, of all the gods, missed! How could you have missed?!”
I sat at the edge of Lake Fovos, Thanatos’s words echoing through my mind. The tree rustled behind me, whispering wordless comfort as I watched Ky’Elli paddle happily through the red waves. It had been a few weeks since I severed the link that Hypnos had formed between us. I had freed myself from his power, but it had left a nasty wound on my psyche. Then I had felt the moment Thanatos ended Hypnos’s life, creating a void. Thanatos’s anguish was a living, breathing thing made of loss, betrayal, and guilt.
It ate at me that I had not been able to protect Thanatos or Hypnos. They had been my babies, as much as Nyx’s, and I had let them both down, Thano most of all. He never should have had to take Hypnos’s life. He had been right. I had missed, and I had failed.
The wind brushed a soft caress across my face as I fisted my hands, my fingers digging red furrows in the black sand as I sought to anchor myself. I was slowly healing and finding my center again. Finding the balance and control that was so vital to who I was and what my powers demanded of me. As I carefully breathed in and out, Ky’Elli hurried from the water, sensing my distress. She got close and then shook. Icy droplets flew through the air and showered me before she climbed onto my lap. She was getting so big. She was at least 40 pounds now and stood 2 feet at the shoulder. “Kiri? Are you okay?”
“I am, mikros. I am just tired and worried about Thano.”
She holds my gaze, the swirling sapphire of her eyes intense and serious. “It was not your fault, Kiri. This was not your task. You know that. And you know that you weakened Hypnos so that the Thano could eliminate the threat he was.”
I smiled softly but didn’t say anything more. I lifted my hands to touch her and saw ichor seeping from my palms where my nails had pierced the skin. The glittering, ebony blood mixed with the black and red of the sand. I draped my wings around both of us, and we watched as constellations formed in the pooled ichor.
Somewhere in my youth, my blood had changed color. It went from the typical gold ichor to the ebony black that flowed through my veins. We had no idea why it changed, and it seemed to have no impact on me. As the centuries passed and nothing came of it, everybody just assumed it was a side effect of my growing powers.
I heard the echo of childish laughter on the wind. Tensing, I scanned my surroundings, but relaxed when I realized it was just the remnants of a memory triggered by the sight of my blood. I was unique among the gods until that day long passed. It was a memory that filled me with warmth and ultimately revealed the answers to an eons-old mystery.
“Will you tell me the story, Kiri?” Ky’Elli looked up at me, the swirl of her eyes mirroring the magic in my blood.
Her presence washed over my mind, sharing my thoughts. She was a cool balm against the burning in my brain. The memory nagged at me, and I let it come, needing to find peace here and desperate to quiet the echo of Thanatos’s words. I nodded and began to tell her mind to mind, not wanting to break the fragile peace.
From the moment Thanatos could do so, he followed me wherever he could. He would spend days at my house, exploring the island. He loved the shore of this lake, the way the black of the sand gave way to crimson when he dug in it with his toes. The blood-red water stained his pale skin as he teased the waves, running from them with a childish delight.
One day I was handling some business topside when I received an urgent message that Thanatos was missing. We knew he had the ability to hop realms and were concerned he had lost his way. I tracked him here and had to pull him from the bottom of the lake. That was the day I decided I needed to teach him how to swim with wings. I hauled him to the shore while he coughed and sputtered, struggling to tell me about his watery adventure. I looked into his eyes, lit with life and excitement. His youthful joy was contagious, and I could not remain cross with him.
We spent that day laughing and playing in the lake. I taught him how to float and streamline his wings, instead of allowing them to become waterlogged weights that pulled him into the depths. That evening, hungry but victorious, we ported back to the house. It was a few weeks before we realized our adventure had an unexpected side effect.
I was in the middle of a sparring session when Thanatos burst through my door. His ebony eyes were panicked, and black streaks stained his pale features. He was quiet, but I could feel the distress pouring from him. I dropped my sword, and the weapon disappeared before it hit the floor. I rushed to him, catching him up in my arms, inspecting him for damage.
“What is wrong, Thano? What has happened?”
He clung to me, his voice a whisper against my neck, “There is something wrong with me, Nem. My blood is wrong. It is black. It used to be gold like Miteras’s and Hyp’s. But now it is black.”
I lowered to the ground with him in my arms, sitting him on my lap. I tipped his chin up and brushed his hair away from his face. “Let me see.”
He tipped his head back, and I saw the dried ichor smeared across his face. It looked like he’d had a bloody nose, probably from tussling with Hypnos. The bleeding had stopped, but it did look black. I pulled out my dagger and held out my hand.
“Give me your hand, Thano.” He placed his small hand trustingly in mine, and I whispered, “Just a little poke.” I quickly pricked his index finger, watching as a bead of black ichor formed.
Maybe it was seeing the ichor form on his skin, or maybe it was just having another perspective, but the sight of his blood reminded me of something that had happened years earlier and was the reason I now kept wards around the lake.
Fovos means dread, and for mortals, and most spirits, that was exactly what they felt when they got too close to the lake. An overwhelming sense of fear. It was so strong that most would simply turn and walk away. If they did persevere, they would often panic and flee before they were in sight of the water.
A few centuries before, one of the mortal servants from my household was chased through the forest by a creature of the Underworld. His panic was enough that it obscured the natural warning emanating from the lake. He fled straight into the water, escaping the beast but discovering a new horror. The moment the water touched his flesh, he began to scream. By the time he made his way back to the castle, he was rabid. He attacked two other members of the staff before I was able to put him down. When I removed his head, his blood spilled black.
To protect my people and any others that might wander onto the island, I set the wards and renewed them at least once a century. Now, no mortal could pass through the barrier, they would simply bounce off. Animals and immortals seemed to experience no ill effects, and I had no reason to keep them out.
I had spent my childhood playing on the island. It was why I had chosen it as my own. The lake and the tree that grew next to it drew me. It had been eons since my blood had changed. It never occurred to me that there was a connection until I saw that drop of ichor swell on Thanatos’s small finger.
I flipped the dagger, pierced my finger, and an identical drop appeared.
“We are the same, Thano. There is nothing to fear. I think maybe our lake changed us a little, but there is nothing wrong with you, adelfos.”
I hugged him, then cleaned his face, and we went to the kitchens for a snack. After I had him settled back with Nyx, I went to the lake. I stood at the edge and remembered the days I had spent swimming in it. It seemed that both Thano and I would forever carry a part of the Underworld with us.I could feel Ky’Elli’s pleasure in the story as she shared in the remembered joy of the memories. She looked up at me, her mental voice soft and pure as she said, “The Thano is going to be okay, Kiri. He is strong, just like you.”