A moan escapes my lips as Erebus’s hands tangle further in my hair. The cold granite countertop digs into my back and my legs wrap around him tighter with every thrust he makes. Without Hind’s blood blocking my powers, it feels even better than before. It’s like every nerve ending I have is on fire.
“Seriously? Are you going to dream fuck him again?”
The voice catches me off guard. I tilt my head back and see the upside-down version of Melinoë. She slams the fridge door closed with one hand, placing the other on her hip. I sit up straight, Erebus is suddenly gone, and reach down to cover myself only to see I am fully clothed. Melinoë stalks around the kitchen, stopping in front of me, noticing the confusion on my face.
“What?” I start, then stop. I haven’t seen Melinoë since before my stint in Tartarus. She is one of my best friends, always has been. Now she is in my kitchen with her silver and black hair in waves and her signature edgy goth style. I shake my head again, trying to clear my thoughts. I hop off the counter, stepping forward to hug her.
“Mellie, how are you here? Actually, no, why are you here?” I pull back. “Am I dreaming?”
She smiles slightly, but the light in her eyes is dull. “More or less.”
My brows furrow. “What does that mean?”
“Well, this,” she steps back, waving her hand around the kitchen. It slowly changes from the well-lit, clean version to a place that looks like a tornado went through it, “is more or less your nightmare. At least, it starts that way. You and Erebus get home from the baby shower. Which, by the way, rude I wasn’t invited.” She stops, clearing her throat. “Also, when did you two even get together? I mean, I am not surprised since you both have had this weird back-and-forth thing for fucking ever. Oh my gods, Atë, did you know he made my hair fall out?”
Her words make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. No, not again. I grab her arms, shaking her slightly. “Mellie, focus. What happened here?”
She shakes her head. “Well, you did. This is where it starts. You and him, then,” she pauses, “Hell.”
I didn’t hear anything else she said. That sinking pit in my stomach forms again. The room shakes as the floor beneath me opens and swallows me whole. I let out a loud grunt as my body hits the hard stone floor of my cell. I sit up, the familiar rotting stench filling my nostrils. My ears begin ringing as the screams and wails return tenfold. I scurry to my feet, grabbing my pain-filled ears.
No, no, no, no. It’s not real. It’s not real. I keep stepping backward, waiting for the wall to stop me, but nothing does. I trip over my feet, landing on my ass. My eyes fly open as I take in my new surroundings. Wind blows softly here as twin pillars greet me. I know where I am. I don’t need to look up to see the cracked ceiling. Old Olympus. I swallow as I sit up and get to my feet. I adjust the dirty, black, tattered dress I wear in Tartarus, then walk toward the balcony. My heart drums loudly in my chest as I step forward. This is the same place I always end up. Every time. I haven’t told anyone about this. Why would I? This is where all my nightmares end up, no matter what I dream.
The brisk air greets me, lifting parts of my hair as I grip the edge of the balcony with both hands and look over. Clouds form, spreading out beneath the mountain as sunlight dances on my far left. Closing my eyes, I lift myself upward and place my feet on the rails to steady myself. It only hurts for a second, and then I’m free. Then I wake up.
My breath leaves my lungs in a blink of an eye as my back hits the column behind me.
“Oh, we are so not doing this again, “Melinoë snaps, cutting through my subconscious.
I groan, picking myself up from the floor. I adjust my dress and squint as Melinoë comes more into view. “Mellie? What are you doing here?”
She rolls her eyes, apparently frustrated. “Oh, for the love of Nyx.” She steps forward, dragging me to my feet, and slaps me hard across my face. “Snap out of it. Whatever this forsaken loop you have going on in your brain needs to end.”
“Ow, you bitch!” I snap, rubbing my cheek. But it seems to work. My head doesn’t feel as foggy as before Mellie.
“If you ask why I am here again, I will slap you again. Listen to me. You’re stuck in some weird nightmare dream-loop and have been for days. Every time I think I am getting through to you, you send me away. I think it has to do with you literally not sleeping since you got out. Now, after your wild sexcapades with Erebus, you finally sleep, but it seems you’re stuck.” She lets out a breath. “Or, at least, that’s my theory.”
“I’m stuck?” My brows furrow as I look between her and the balcony behind her.
She follows my gaze and looks back at me. Her eyes soften. “Atë, honey, why do you keep jumping? Why do you keep coming back here?”
“Because I have to.” I shrug out of her grip, walking back toward the balcony.
“What do you mean you have to?”
“This is where it should have ended. Where I should have—” I stop, swallowing the lump in my throat as tears prick my eyes. This is where my nightmares always end. The same place they always start. The balcony.
She grabs my hands, turning me to face her, as I reach for the edge once. “Hey, listen to me. Is this why you are having recurring nightmares? Your friends have forgiven you. Your father, sorta accepted you back. Since, you know, he hasn’t,” she pauses, making lightning noises and gestures across her throat with her free hand. “Besides, Erebus clearly feels something for you. So, why every night am I dragged back here?”
I yank my arm from her, looking back toward the edge, then back to her. “Because I don’t deserve it.”
“I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve to be loved. I don’t deserve to be forgiven,” I pause, shaking my head, my voice barely a whisper, “I don’t deserve it.”
“Oh, babe. Tartarus really did a number on you, didn’t it?” Her eyes hold a brief gleam of remorse before she slaps me again. “Snap out of it! What is this, some weird redemption arc? I’ve seen you ruin countless lives and not feel a single thing. You have led men to folly and given the world eons of mischief. You’re a goddess. Who says you have to be anything but that? I know Tartarus was miserable. I have witnessed the nightmares from it. I get it, but you have to forgive yourself. You were hurt and abandoned. I think that fear is keeping you from letting go. You have to let go. I honestly don’t think you can leave this nightmare loop until you accept it.”
I lift my hand to my cheek that still stings from her slap. “I don’t know how. They want me to be better.”
“Fuck them. Fuck anyone who doesn’t love you for what you are.” A small smile curves her lips. “Are you or are you not the Goddess of Ruin?”
I nod. “Of course.”
“And who controls you?”
Her words make my brows furrow. “No one.”
“Who do you answer to?”
“No one,” I said, my voice coming out a little more controlled.
“Good. Now,” she pauses, looking at me, then back toward Old Olympus, “I’m being summoned. But look at me, you got this. You can get out, okay? Remember the badass bitch you are and get over this.” She stops looking back at old Olympus and looks directly at me. “You left prison already, Atë. Don’t make this your new one.”
She doesn’t say anything else as she disappears in a cloud of black smoke, leaving me alone. The room suddenly feels hollow and empty once more. I rub my arms up and down. I look back and forth between the balcony ledge and the farther part of the room. The gentle wind builds, increasing in speed as the lights toward my left slowly start burning out one by one. Wails and screams increase in volume as Tartus once again returns for me. Out of habit, I step back before I plant my foot. No. Melinoë was right. This isn’t real. It’s just a nightmare. I left that damned place because Eros let me out. I will use every bit of fucking freedom I have to make sure I never go back.
“No!” I scream at the howling void. “You don’t own me, not anymore.” The hairs on the back of my neck stand on end as the power inside of me builds. I am pissed. How could I let myself be kept prisoner by my own fucking mind? I have been through hell, literally and figuratively. I am done feeling any type of remorse for it. Melinoë was right. If no one can accept me for who I am, then fuck them. I didn’t need them for centuries. I sure as hell don’t need them now.
“You want to know the real reason why I was kicked out? Why I was banished?” I yell to the empty room, a new resolve filling me. “Because of power. Power like this.”
I feel the room shake as I let a wave of ruin run through me. Spider-like cracks form on the marble floor beneath me as I slowly lift my arms, releasing more. The wails and screams of The Pit seem to try to fight back, but I am not scared. Not anymore.
“You know, she was right. I was so afraid to be alone again. That Pit brought back every bad memory I had. It played it over and over in my head. But see, the funny thing is, I’m not alone. I never was.” I step forward, closer to that screaming abyss. “They didn’t come back for me because they didn’t remember me, not because they didn’t care. Kronus played off of that and made me more hateful, vile, cruel, but not anymore. Like my father said, I am no one’s pawn.
I lift my arms, letting go of every bit of rage and anger I have and throwing it toward the vision in front of me. The image of my cell waivers in and out of focus before it, too, is gone. The room echoes as parts of the ceiling start to fall around me. The ground beneath my feet shakes, no longer able to hold the weight of my destruction. It hurts but feels amazing at the same time, as if parts of my subconscious are healing themselves. I lift my head, closing my eyes, a smile playing across my features as the building and mountain crumble with me in them.
No one keeps me.
I sit bolt upright. In an instant, my eyes adjust to the room’s darkness. I rub them with the back of my hands, getting them to focus as my breath comes in short pants. The door to the room is partially open, as lights from the hallway dance. I clutch the sheet as I wait for the screams and wails to drag me back, but nothing happens. I let out a sigh of relief. It was just a nightmare. Clothes litter the nearby floor. As I stretch my feet beneath the sheets, the sound of breathing makes me cut my eyes to the side, and I realize Erebus is beside me. Melinoë said I had been stuck in the dream loop for a few days, so I am not surprised Erebus is still asleep. The last time we had sex, I think we slept for two days after. No, what is surprising is I don’t feel that overwhelming sense of dread anymore. I don’t think I have completely dealt with my demons, not by a long shot. But for now, maybe I can at least get some sleep. I lie back down, curling up next to Erebus. He stirs, wrapping his arms around me. For the first time since the cold stone floors of Tartarus, I sleep.