“If there are any more, you run as fast as you can. You use those guns and Cerberus. You get to my car, and you stay there,” Hades orders Clio, grimacing at me.
I’ve stopped feeling my injuries at this point, which is probably a really bad thing, but at the moment all I can think about is Clio.
I glance at my uncle, nodding solemnly in agreement, “You leave us behind, Aren. Is that understood?”
She’s going to push back on this, but I’ll play my ace when she does. Unsurprisingly, she shakes her head fervently, “But, I can’t…”
My uncle cuts me off before I can speak, a sense of almost comical disbelief in his voice, “Clio, do you really think the Lord of the Underworld is going to die in a basement in the blasted deserts of L.A.?”
A snort escapes me before I can stop it, the sound making my wounds suddenly feel pain. Okay, avoiding that again. “We can’t leave her alone again, no matter what.”
My eyes glow slightly in the darkness as I look at Clio, and I know she immediately knows what I’m talking about.
Hades, however, does not. “I am aware, Nephew.” He focuses back on the stairs as we climb higher. “I will be taking that banner to Zeus as soon as we get back.”
“I’m not talking about Clio.”
Hades stops as we reach the main level, looking at me. “Then who?”
Cerberus pushes the door open with his nose, allowing us to make our way to the courtyard, the SUV swimming in and out of my vision. Well, that can’t be good.
“Our daughter,” Clio answers for me. She tucks one of the guns into the back of her pants, holding the other out, scanning for any lingering thralls.
“Ah,” Hades acknowledges, helping me through the door before shouldering it shut. “May I suggest adding more protection then as well? Cerberus can stay with you.”
Pushing away from my uncle—though I’m not sure why I do, my mind is not quite clear, and my vision is swimming—I look for the SUV. A glint off the dark paint gives me a direction and I stagger forward.
“What about you, Uncle?” Clio asks, still scanning for approaching opponents.
“Cerberus is my most faithful companion. He can be spared for this. I will be fine,” my uncle murmurs while forcing me to loop my arm back over his neck, supporting me as we approach the car.
I’m not going to admit it openly, but I’m not sure I could have made it the next couple of steps without him. I might be more injured than I thought. I also might hear the sound of one of my broken wings dragging in the dust behind me.
Broken like this, I can’t pull them back in. They can’t turn back to the tattoos they normally are on my back. I don’t feel the injuries right now, so they must not be that bad. Right?
Denial is not just a river in Egypt.
Clio sprints in front of us, yanking the door to the back seat open and helps me inside. They settle me in the back seat, laying my wings around me, a little cocoon of golden ichor and stained white feathers. I glance passively at the damage.
They’re still there. They’re still there. I can deal with anything short of that. I’ll heal.
Clio climbs into the passenger side. “If you insist.”
My uncle shuts her door, and Clio turns in her seat, looking back at my injuries worriedly. All I can focus on is her face. She’s safe. For now, at least.
Through my swimming vision, I can see the outline of Hades through the windshield, peering up at the hotel. There’s a loud echo through the busted window on the driver’s side, as my uncle claps his hands together. There’s a slight rumble in the earth, and I force myself up onto my elbows, my vision getting spotty as I do. The desert surrounding the hotel folds in on itself and over the hotel, crumbling and burying the entire structure in the span of a minute.
The distant sound of vibration makes me pull my eyes from the outside to the floor of the car. Dropping down, I find my phone on the floor, it must have dropped from my pocket when I climbed through the sunroof.
Gripping the device, I fall onto my back, my hands shaking as I light up the screen, my focus going in and out.
4 Missed Calls from Womb Mate.
10 Missed Calls from Night Light.
Well, Din and Nyxie know something is wrong.
My uncle gets back in the car, starting the engine. “Din knows something is wrong.” Closing one eye lets me focus more on the tiny screen. “He’s going to be pissed we went without him.”
Hades flicks his wrist, a large portal opening wide. “I’ll deal with your brother.” He puts the car in drive, glancing at us. “Hold on, please.”
Hades drives us through the portal, and my hand drops to my chest, the phone resting on my shirt, the swirling lights of the portal soothing me. I slowly close the other eye, my head dropping down heavily on the back of the seat.
I should close my eyes for just a moment. My open eye suddenly closes, the comforting blackness enveloping.
I wake up to the feel of cold air. My eyes flash open, finding my uncle at my feet. He’s reaching his hand forward to wrap around my upper arm, pulling me into a sitting position, helping me out of the SUV.
It takes a moment before I realize where we are.
“Ugh, the Underworld,” I groan, leaning heavily on my uncle.
Want to know a little secret? I. Fucking. Hate. The. Underworld.
Not sure why, but I do. The place gives me the fucking creeps. But beggars can’t be choosers, and since I think some of the shock is wearing off. I’m starting to feel my injuries again, and I’m at the rate of begging.
“What’s wrong with my home, Eros?” My uncle grunts, shouldering my weight, his slightly unsteady steps leading us into the palace ahead. “Come in and make yourself at home, Clio. My staff will take care of his wings.”
Clio reappears at my side, her voice distracting me from the pain leaching into my bones, “Do you need any help?”
Hades pauses at the massive double doors in front of us, and I know, that were I to look, there would be beautiful gardens and a pond stretched on either side of the entrance. Still, the Underworld.
“Yes, can you get the doors, please?”
Clio scurries forward to the door, holding it open for us. We hurry through, and for the first time, I feel the tugging sensation of losing a feather from my wings. I wince.
Okay, so feeling is back, that’s good, right?
Each step after that sends reverberating pain up my leg, to my broken wings, and finds each injury. I need a distraction. Looking down at my hands, I remember the strange red glow that they emitted when the thralls grabbed Clio. I brewed all the heartaches and pain I felt in my own chest and sent it outward, into theirs. I felt their hearts…stop.
I’ve definitely never done that before.
My uncle snaps his fingers twice, and his staff appears around the corner, pulling me back to the present. They take my arm from around Hades, supporting me.
Before they can take my other arm, I realize I’m still clutching my phone to my chest. I hold it out to Clio. “Aren, my phone, call Din.”
She takes my phone with slightly shaking fingers, and another staff member comes to support my other side.
Clio giggles softly as she scrolls through my phone, and we all continue forward. Though my vision is going in and out, I register Clio speaking into my phone, “Hey, Dindin. You probably already know something is wrong. Would you mind meeting us in the Underworld? Okay, talk soon!”
My vision continues flickering, and absently I mention to Clio, “Aren, remind me that you need to have my father teach you to fight.”
As a group, we make it to the office, the staff settling me into a chair, fanning my broken wings on either side of me. My eyes roll back in my head for a moment, the pain suddenly reverberating down my limbs.
Clio comes to kneel in front of me, pressing her soft hand on my cheek. I cover it with mine, pressing it into my face. Her face, her scent, her soul, are talismans for focus, keeping me from passing out. “That’s probably a good idea.” She frowns when she gets a look at my broken wings. “Lykos, how badly are you hurt?”
My short bark of laughter is a little more tinged with madness than I expected. “‘Tis but a scratch.”
The sound of someone sitting pulls my gaze from Clio to my uncle, who’s pulling his injured leg onto the stool next to him. “I was not aware your bones were just scratched, Nephew.”
The staff begins to rush in and out with plants, small vials of liquid, and something that smells like Vaseline. Clio pulls away from me, letting them work, chewing on her lower lip.
“He’ll be fine. They have fixed worse, I assure you. Cerberus was a handful when he was younger,” my uncle remarks dryly.
I reach out my hand to Clio, ignoring the hustle of servants as they scurry around me. I pull her back to me. “My bones will be fine. Are you alright, Aren? I…I felt helpless when they had their hands on you.”
I felt like I failed you…again. Lost you…again.
She pulls out the amulet from her pocket, laying it in the palm of her hand. Leaning to the side, she places it on Hades’ desk without releasing me. “I’m fine, Lykos. We should figure out what kind of magic is in this in case they try something like that again.”
Clio pulls away again when the staff tries to put more on my injuries, and I snap at them, “Your Liege needs help. I’ll be fine.”
“Well, we can’t touch the amulet, it seems. I’ve never seen such a thing before. Do you have the banner I asked you to grab?” my uncle asks Clio.
Clio pulls the banner out of her pocket, approaching my Uncle at his desk. “Got it.”
The staff ignores me, pressing mixtures into the feathers and bone. They step back suddenly, and from the corner of my eye, I see my Uncle lay a hand on his desk, palm up, slowly curling it into a fist.
My brow furrows for a moment, trying to figure out what he is doing. My eyes water with tears as the ointment solidifies and closes my wounds, recreating the bones of my wings. Pain courses through the newly-formed bone, and several short breaths later I blink away the tears in my eyes.
Slowly, I lift my wings out, stretching them on either side. With a short, unsteady sigh, I’m finally able to retract them into my back.
”I’ve not seen his mark before,” my uncle remarks studying the banner Clio took.
With my wings no longer leaking ichor, I’m able to focus more. Unfortunately, this comes with the realization that I am just a fucking mass of aches and pains, my wings being the only noticeable injury.
Clio takes a seat across from Hades. ”Neither have I.”
“I hope Zeus has more knowledge of it than I.” He frowns slightly at the material before tossing it on his desk. “There have been many that want the gods dead, but there are not so many mortals in the world that can actually stand by it.”
Clio shoots me a concerned look, and I hold out my hand for her, she rises from her seat and takes it. “I am concerned with what other artifacts they may have.”
“I am concerned that they may have an actual plan for what they do.”
Clio’s grip on my hand suddenly loosens, and I frown, looking up at her eyes. I notice for the first time the glazed look of shock on them.
I catch her a moment before she hits the ground.
My uncle appears at my side, glancing down at Clio. “Poor thing, she must have collapsed from the stress.”
I murmur an assent, a hiss of relief coming from me when I see her chest rising and falling.
“You’ll stay here until she wakes up,” he adds, standing and limping back to his desk.
More time in the Underworld? Hard pass.
“I’d rather she wakes up in our bed, Uncle, if it’s all the same to you,” I murmur, standing, ignoring the ache in my muscles as I do. “Do you mind?”
My uncle nods solemnly, flicking his hand and opening a portal to the lobby of the GC HQ. “What should I tell your brother when he arrives?”
Fuck, I forgot about Din. “I’m sure he’ll want to know about the events. I’ll talk to him later.”
Stepping closer to the portal, Clio in my arms, I shoot one last look at my uncle before stepping through.
He nods solemnly, looking at the remnants of the night on his desk, including the amulet that they’d put on Clio.
I almost lost her…again.