My uncle straightens himself in his seat, glancing over at Clio and me, his voice betraying none of the rough journey. “Are you alright?”
My hand grips Clio’s tighter, and I shoot a shaky smirk at my uncle. “I’m fine, nothing compared to a day with Dion.”
“Right,” my uncle nods, “we’ll be there in about fifteen minutes.”
Should have forced her to remain home, I repeat to myself for the seven…teenth time since we left Greece. Should have tied her up in the office or something, anything, but take her into this battle.
Clio’s head hits the headrest with a gentle rustle, her hand still tightly gripped in mine, her soft voice murmuring, “What should we expect?”
“An angry horde,” was my uncle’s short response.
“My favorite kind,” I remark, squeezing her hand tightly before releasing it and unhooking my bow from its usual place on my quiver.
“I prefer them dead, but we can’t have everything,” Hades remarks dryly, his steely glance in the mirror observing Clio. “Do you require a weapon? Or do you want to stay in the car until the threat has passed?”
Should. Have. Tied. Her. Up.
It would be worth her never forgiving me, so long as she was safe. She whispers, “I-I can help.” Hades’ expression doesn’t change, even slightly. If my grandmother invented the phrase resting bitch face, my uncle invented deadpan. “Please elaborate. I will not have my niece wandering into battle unarmed.”
“I just need a w-weapon,” she stutters.
“She has my sword, and it comes with my armor. I’m fine with my bow.” Better than fine, actually. The only archer in the world that surpasses me is Artemis. Love has a sure eye.
Hades grunts, “Good.” He pauses, even as he continues the drive through the desert. “Hmm. I wonder.”
With little – read no – warning, Hades pulls the car to a stop at the side of the road and gets out. My brows come down, and I lean toward the open car door, shouting at my uncle, “The fuck? DO I LOOK LIKE A DITCHABLE PROM DATE TO YOU?!” Clio hits my arm from the backseat, hushing me.
My uncle stands in the middle of the desert road for a moment before letting out a shrill whistle that makes even me flinch. An enormous black blur crashes into Hades, and my lips twitch with amusement as the venerated king of the underworld is tossed exuberantly to the side of the road.
“Cerb’s bigger than I remember,” I snicker to Clio, who’s watching the interaction.
She giggles at the sight. “What a good pup.”
The chances of us suddenly ending up with another animal just increased exponentially. The woman has a thing for animals. I’m going to end up with a menagerie. Inwardly, I shrug as I’m helpless to deny her anything.
Muted from outside I can hear my uncle talking to Cerberus, “By the knots in Zeus’ beard, calm down, boy–yes, I’m glad to see you too, let me get up -”
Hades staggers to his feet, taking the time to scratch behind each of the three heads’ ears, before heading back to us. He slides into the driver seat, shutting the door. “He will follow us.” The galloping feet of Cerberus behind the SUV as it resumes its path confirms his statement. “There will be a courtyard, through the lobby of the hotel. We are going for the center.”
I strum my bowstring idly, wishing again I had somehow convinced my willful wife to remain behind.
“Eros, I…” Hades murmurs, and from the way his voice hitches slightly with emotion, I can tell this is a conversation that should not take place as we are about to storm a complex with an unknown amount of non-human assailants.
“After the fight, Uncle.” Looking up, I press the sunroof button, the pitch-black glass slowly receding. “I like to make an entrance. We’re almost there?”
Unbuckling my seatbelt, I shift, stepping on my seat, and catch the low sound of Hades’ murmur, “Nearly.”
I grip the sunroof of the car with my free hand, pulling myself up. Standing on the center console, I nock the first of my arrows. The bow is a familiar weight in my hand, an extension of my arm. Leaning down to be heard, “Uncle? How dead can I make them?”
Hades doesn’t even glance up at me as he answers, “I need one, maybe two, alive. And anyone important looking. I already killed their leader.” He finally glances up at me, a flicker of malice in his eyes. “So, very dead.”
Smirking evilly, I roll my shoulders. “I need to vent some rage.”
I wonder, pausing in thought, I pull out the five Void arrows Nyx had given me at Christmas. I hadn’t had the opportunity to use them yet, and there was no time like the present.
The ‘Vacant’ sign swims into view, and I replace the nocked arrow with a void one.
My uncle slams on the brakes and nods at Cerberus. The massive animal bounds ahead, monstrous snarls ripping from his throat. The front doors of the hotel burst open, strange creatures flooding out. I release the arrow, which lands in the head of my target. There’s a moment of eerie silence before the body is sucked into the void, the arrow disappearing with it.
I fucking love Nyxie.
“Fuck, yes!” I yell at the sight.
My uncle’s car door swings open, his guns out and already firing at the swarm of people. The first shot breaks the window so he can shoot out. Stringing another arrow, I glance down at Clio, still wishing I’d left her tied to a chair in her office. “Stay close to me.”
She opens the door of the SUV and hides behind it. Pulling out my golden sword, holding it with two hands, “Okay.”
Hades hits two more, the bodies falling back on their brethren, blocking more from coming out. The barricade enables me to continue nocking void arrows and launching them. “I,” another enemy sucked into the void, “fucking,” a solid black arrow disappearing, “love,” another arrow strung, “Primes!”
I will never again secretly compare Nyxie to Aslan when she gives out gifts during Yule. But I mean, can’t you imagine Nyx as a giant talking lion?
“Where did you get those from, Eros?” Hades calls up to me, taking a moment to reload.
“Aslan!” I shout back, still stringing my regular arrows and releasing them with a maniacal chuckle.
Hades continues shooting, looking over his shoulder at Clio. “Who?”
The first thrall gets close enough to Clio, and she blocks the swing with my sword. “They are from Nyx,” Clio informs him, swinging the sword again.
A glowing sense of pride grows in my chest at my ferocious Aren.
With a slight jump, my ass hits the top of the car. I pull my legs through the sunroof, firing the entire time. Hopping to my feet, I storm down the hood, stringing more arrows.
Cerberus rips three thralls apart while my uncle’s bullets take down two who make a beeline for me.
Rushing forward, I quickly run out of void arrows. With a slight pout, I switch back to my regular ones and plow ahead. The battle fever is getting to me, the adrenaline coursing through my veins, making my thoughts muddled even as I fire more arrows.
My mind whispers, and like a bolt from my grandfather, the battle fever lowers, reminding me that she insisted on coming with me. She’s here on the battlefield, while I went charging full speed ahead like an idiot.
Spinning on my foot, I turn in time to hear Hades order Cerberus, “To her!” The massive beast clears a trail of thralls, coming to a stop in front of my wife, his paws planting firmly on the ground. A hiss of relief escapes me, Cerberus won’t let any threat come close to Clio.
I turn back to the hotel as a thrall drops from above, my attention divided with Clio in danger. My back hits the ground hard, losing the arrows I nocked. Gripping my bow on either end, I string the being’s head through the middle and yank it forward.
“Thanks, but no thanks, my wife is a very jealous woman.”
My uncle appears, boot kicking the thrall in my arms, enabling me to disentangle my bow from him and roll out from underneath. Hades drops three more with shots between the eyes.
“Thanks.” Popping back to my feet, and picking up several of the arrows that I dropped, I kiss each one before slipping them back in my quiver.
Nyx is the best. Damn, I need to get her a good gift.
With the crowd thinned, Cerberus trots closer with Clio at his side, patting him. “Good pup.”
Hades glances over his shoulder, surveying the empty lobby. “It looks like the rest are waiting for us below.”
Clio places her hands on her knees, breathing heavily.” How many do you think?”
“Aren?” With my bow still nocked and ready, I assess my wife. “You okay?”
Hades frowns into the hotel, patting Cerberus’s nose.
Clio smiles at me, nodding excitedly. “Yeah, I’m good. I got one!”
The way her face lights up with pride at her accomplishment makes my heart beat even harder in my chest. Gods, she’s beautiful.
“Well done,” Hades praises, a rare sign of approval from him.
“My little hellion!” I smile. Why didn’t I want her to come again? To my uncle, I ask, “Ready?”
She nods excitedly at me, “I’m ready.”
Hades looks between us, patting his leg, Cerberus coming immediately to his side. “Follow my lead and do not get lost.”
He heads cautiously inside, and I string a couple more arrows, rolling my shoulders in preparation. “Stay close, Aren.”
Following my uncle inside, I keep Clio close behind me, my eyes and my aim looking for the next enemy to come from the shadows. Hades prowls down the hallway, and I impassively notice the mess that was leftover from his last visit. Bodies and soil are upturned, and the door to the room below is cracked open.
My uncle stops by one of the side windows, pointing to the chambers below. “You see that? That’s where they are.”
My aim follows his finger, my bow and arrow ready. Clio comes closer, gripping the back of my shirt, and it reassures me that she knows I need silent confirmation that she’s okay.
“We are going to head around it, not rush it. They will be down there, and are most likely waiting for us.” He looks over his shoulder at Clio and me, “Do not barrel in there. I am serious.”
Clio releases the back of my shirt, gripping my sword in her hands. “Wasn’t planning on it.”
“We go quietly and together. Ready?”
I nod slowly at Hades, glancing at my wife, whispering harshly, “If you get hurt, I will be very upset.”
She smiles at me, indulgently, “I know, I know. I’ll be fine.” To Hades, she whispers, “I’m ready.”
“And if either of you are injured, I will never forgive myself for letting you come.” In all honesty, I was not going to give you much of a choice, Uncle.
Hades turns on his heel and prowls down the hall. Cerebus keeps pace with him, sniffing everything. They pass the stairs and stalk toward the door leading to the courtyard. My uncle pushes the door open, Clio and I following behind. Music comes from the chambers we viewed from the window. Hades glances back, gesturing Cerberus to take the rear. He nods at us before stepping inside and disappearing into the dark.
Clio and I step carefully inside, and I pause for a moment, letting Clio find and grab the back of my shirt, guiding her through the dark. We follow the winding staircase down until light starts against the walls. Hades halts, signaling for us to do the same. I freeze, Clio bumping into my back. My uncle places a finger to his lips and points to the stairs before he steps into the light.
Clio and I wait for Hades to nod the okay for us to follow. Stepping into the room, my gaze darts to the corners, looking for enemies. Finding none, I survey the area openly. Enormous black and red banners with stylized owls hang on either side of the room, torches lining the walls, three doorways on each wall.
To my uncle, I mouth, “Tacky.”
Hades half shrugs and nods then proceeds to sweep silently into the room.
Clio releases me, coming to my side, observing the room around us, and walks over to the wall, running her fingers along one of the hanging banners.
A ripple of awareness comes over me, making the hair on the back of my neck rise. “I feel like we’re being watched…”
“We probably are,” Hades mutters, glancing at each doorway in thought before finally pointing to the middle door.
Moving past my uncle, I place my back on the wall next to the door. Preparing for someone to try and come from the side, I gesture for Hades to go first. Clio lines up next to me, tugging on my shirt to get my attention.
“Something doesn’t feel right,” she mumbles, and I silently agree with her, blanching.
I harshly whisper back to her, “It feels like a trap…” My eyes move for a moment to look at her, though my bow is still strung tight on the doorway. “Why couldn’t you just stay home?”
She glances at the open door, “I’m just as stubborn as you, you know that.”
Tied. Her. Up.
“Enough.” Hades’ cold reprimand breaks my thoughts, turning my attention back to the open doorway.