Clio’s frantic voice stops me halfway across the Tower Lobby. Frowning, I rub my hand as I wait for her to catch up with me. My knuckles are still tingling after punching Eros. I bet that’s what this is about. Me, decking her husband.
“What is it, Clio?”
“We need to go to the garden,” she pants. “On the mountain. The secret one.”
“What the hell for?” I see her flinch and soften my tone. “Seriously, Clio, it’s been a fucktastic day. Maybe some other time?”
Clio chews her lip, trying to figure out what to say. “Eros is up to something. I don’t know what. He just said to meet him in the garden, and I… I’d find out about the plan then. He said he needed my help.”
“So, go make mischief. You don’t need me for that.” I turn to go.
She grabs my arm. “It’s about you, Hekate! I thought he went too far upstairs, but he’s about to go farther!”
“What do you mean?”
“I-I-I don’t know!” she stammers. The look on my face must be murderous. “He would be so upset if he knew I just told you. But I didn’t know what else to do!”
“You did right, Clio. And I’m sorry.”
“For what? For punching him? No, he deserved that.”
“No,” I tell her coldly. “For only punching him once.”
She gives me an uncomfortable look as I take her wrist in my hand. “I’m sorry, too, Hekate.”
I teleport us to the woods at the edge of the garden. The path has long been overgrown and impassable, but my anger didn’t get the memo. Using my magic, I blaze a trail, quite literally, with fire. As I push through singed branches into the clearing, the glint of metal catches my eye. Something gold.
That fucking arrow. Fucking Eros and that fucking arrow. I get ready to light into him when my eyes register other shapes in the twilight. The dark shadow that is Thanatos. A confused Persephone, fussing with her sun hat. And Hades.
My heart lurches to a stop in my chest. I feel Clio’s hand on my back and whirl on her, speechless at my gullibility. I didn’t even suspect her.
She looks up at me, wincing. “I said I was sorry?”
“You lied to me, Clio!”
“Actually, I didn’t. Not once,” she says with a smile I’ve seen on Eros’s face.
“What is the meaning of this?” Hades asks, hands in his pockets. “Why are we all here?”
“It’s nothing,” I say through gritted teeth. “Eros is just being his usual dickish self. Maybe a little more than usual.”
Persephone’s eyes narrow. “So, this has nothing to do with Atë’s freedom?”
“Atë’s what?!” I shriek, giving Eros a hellish look.
Hades looks to me and back to Eros, then crosses his arms, frowning. “Start talking, Nephew. And might I suggest choosing your words carefully?”
Eros twirls the arrow again, pointing it at Persephone. “One, I can get Atë out. Two, this is about me being a devious sonofabitch and earning Katie’s hatred by forcing her to finally do what she’s too scared to do.”
My gaze darts to Persephone, to Hades. Oh, gods. “Eros…please. Don’t.”
“It’s your choice, Katie.” Eros shrugs, giving me hope before snatching it away. “Do you want to tell them, or shall I?”
Persephone blinks with confusion as Hades turns to me, eyes glowing. “Hekate? What is my nephew talking about?”
Clio joins Eros and takes his hand, leaving me alone to answer Hades’ question. They’re all looking at me, waiting. I tilt my face to the sky and take a deep breath that burns my lungs.
The mortals have a saying: If you’re going through hell, keep going.
“I need to tell you something. Both of you. I don’t want to, but I don’t suppose that matters anymore.”
Hades moves to Persephone’s side. “You can tell us anything.”
Persephone lays a hand on Hades’ arm with a subtle shake of her head. “Hekate, you don’t have to do this. Not like this. I would not want you to feel–”
“She’ll be fine,” Than interrupts from the darkness of his hood. “Eros is right. It’s time, Kate. Tell them.”
“Not you, too, Than,” I whisper.
My heart breaks a little at his words, crack widening when I look at Hades and Persephone. The sight of them together is almost too much to take. Here I am, falling apart, and he went to her side, not mine. The pain of that realization tightens my throat, makes me choke on my words.
“I don’t think I can say this…without breaking. Clio, can you…?”
“Help?” She looks at Eros before stepping towards me. “Yes, I can. I haven’t tried this before, but maybe I can project the memories for everyone to see?”
I remember what she did with the book, with Ostasus, how she bled afterwards. I shake my head. “I don’t want it to hurt you, Clio.”
“What if you helped me?” she suggests.
Nodding, I kick off my shoes, opening myself to the magic, letting it climb my body. Clio gives me a comforting smile and takes my hands. Tendrils of fire wind down my arms, crossing the bridge of our wrists before twining up Clio’s forearms as I feed her power.
“That should work,” she says, closing her eyes. “Just focus on the memories. I will pull them from your mind.”
Nodding, I close my eyes and begin unlocking doors never meant to have a key. A tingling sensation washes over me as Clio draws the images from my mind. Figures appear around us, blue and shimmering. The first one that comes into focus is Atë.
The wedding feast is worse than the ceremony. They’re so happy. I should be happy. What kind of person isn’t happy at their best friend’s wedding? Atë keeps going on about the wedding night. She can tell it bothers me, even if she doesn’t know why. I want to send Atë swimming in the River Lethe. Maybe she’ll forget how to be a bitch.
Thanatos sits beside me, my hand in his. Here I am, clinging to Death to keep me alive. How pathetic. Without another word, I leave the feast and return to my room. Pulling Eros’s arrow from its hiding place, I prick my finger with the sharp tip, reminding myself whose mischievous meddling is to blame.
Than comes to check on me. He’s glad I’m here, in the Underworld, with him and Dinlas. He tries to make it better, tells me I’ll get used to it, being Below.
But the mirror doesn’t lie. I’m just one more dead thing among the Dead. I’ve become pale, thin. My eyes are no longer silver and bright. They are leaden, as dark and dull and heavy as my heart.
Seeing them together is killing me. How long before someone notices? Before I break, and it all comes out, and I ruin everything? For everyone? I thought I was strong enough to do this, but I’m not.
I reach for the fire, drawing all I can. It overtakes me, blackening my grey gown, setting it on fire. My skin cracks like a broken lava flow as the tide of power rises in my body, burning out everything. Every memory of every word, every touch, every kiss. Every want, every hope, every dream.
I watch the fire leap into my eyes, devouring the traces of my mother’s elegant light, replacing it with shadow and flame. Then, it flares one last time as I feed my heart to the fire and watch it burn.
Thanatos is horrified by my transformation, but the beautiful and terrible creature in the mirror pleases me. I don’t know why he’s so upset. Things change. Things die. He’s Death, for fuck’s sake. He knows.
“The princess you loved is gone, Thanatos,” I tell him. “But if it’s any comfort, in death, she is yours forever.”
Than twitches as he watches the scene, controlling his emotions.
Hades’ arms drop to his sides. He looks down at Persephone with wonder, and then to me, then back to the memories.
Eros’s eyes don’t even glance at the scene unveiling. He’s already seen this. His gaze is trained on Clio, her eyes still closed, nose scrunching as new figures appear.
The palace guard escorts me through Hades’ garden. I didn’t think this through, prowling around the Underworld, looking for Kore. But I have to know if I’m right.
Oh, Gaea. I’m right.
There she is, standing in the gazebo, bent back in Hades’ arms. He’s kissing her like he kissed me. No, more. He breaks the kiss. Kore laughs. He laughs with her. I’ve never heard him laugh.
Hades looks up as the guard pushes me forward. His blue eyes are cold as he asks who I am, what I am doing here. I open my mouth to answer his question when Kore squeals with delight and runs to me, throwing herself in my arms. The ice of his gaze melts, seeing Kore so happy. She pulls back to look at me, bouncing on her toes.
That’s when it hits me. It all makes sense now. The flowers in the garden. The arrow. Who Eros was crowing about that night.
They’re in love.
I feel the world tilt beneath me as it starts to spin on a different axis. Kore asks me a question. She has to ask it twice because I don’t hear it the first time. Hades watches us with a warmth in his eyes that I know is not for me. The look he gives me tells me what he hopes my answer will be.
So, I utter it. For him. For her.
“Yes, Kore, of course. I will stay here with you.”
Hades stares at the memory until it fades. His hands clench and unclench, his mind still coming to grips with this new reality. He turns to Persephone, mouth straining for words that won’t come.
I’ve never seen a King speechless before. I can’t even enjoy it.
“I don’t understand…” Persephone’s voice cracks as she steadies herself on Hades’ arm. Then, Clio squeezes my hands again, drawing on my magic as the next memory plays.
I’ve barely seen Kore for weeks. She’s been avoiding me for some reason. I’ve covered for her, of course. Demeter is beyond overprotective, and whatever Kore is doing seems to require enough privacy that she can’t even tell me, her best friend.
But something is wrong. It’s the middle of the night. Demeter is distraught. She has looked everywhere for her missing daughter, asked everyone. Even the plants and trees have not seen her. Demeter says she can no longer feel Kore in the mortal world and fears the worst.
She begs me to help. I know all the hiding places, she says. I don’t have the heart to tell her I know as little as she does, so I agree. It can’t hurt to look. If I can find Kore first, I can help her come up with a good story.
After searching the palace, I decide to check the gardens, starting with the one where I was supposed to meet Hades before everything went wrong. Thanatos has not been able to get Hades alone long enough to arrange another meeting. Right now, that’s the least of my worries.
I step into the clearing. No Kore. Demeter’s words echo in my mind – she can no longer feel Kore’s energy in the mortal world. And then it hits me. The timing, all of it.
Drawing the shadow blade from my dress, I slice through the Veil the way Thanatos taught me and step into the Underworld.
Eros’s eyes flare with concern as he watches Clio. Silent as a shadow, Than moves to stand behind her, ready to catch the Muse if she collapses. Clio’s hands tremble in mine as, once more, the figures around us change.
I’ve never hated Hera more than I do at this moment. So, I left a few books scattered through the palace? That shouldn’t earn me a sentence working in the Archives. And tonight of all nights! The risen moon has nearly cleared the tops of the trees. I’m late. He’s probably no longer there, assuming he came at all.
Still, I have to be sure.
I finish shelving the last stack of books and dart out the door. I had intended to look like a queen, but a disheveled princess will have to do. Halfway down the palace steps, I hear Eros crowing to Artemis over his latest kills. I flatten myself against the wall and listen until their voices fade. The last thing I need right now is Eros making a mess of things. Besides, I can charm the King of the Underworld on my own.
I am faster than Hermes tonight. I slip between the trees like a Shade, silent and breathless, slowing to a stop as the garden opens before me. The clearing is still and silver in the moonlight, and not a soul there but me.
A bright glint of metal in the grass catches my eye. On the ground is a golden arrow, surrounded by a scattering of wilted flowers. I bend down and pick it up, wondering what poor soul ended up victim to Eros’s mischief.
I wait a few moments longer and return to the palace, arrow in hand instead of my heart.
The silence is interrupted by a muffled choking sound. Eyes wide and a hand plastered over her mouth, Persephone stares at me, stunned into silence. Beside her, Hades is like a statue, his face drawn with shock and realization. Then, the images shift again, revealing another thing only Thanatos and I know.
Thanatos did it! He set up the meeting between Hades and me. Than smiles as he rummages through my closet. He pulls out a dress, insisting that this is the one. It’s black and clinging, and…I wonder what Hades will think when he sees me in it. If he will see a bastard princess or his future queen.
Tomorrow night cannot come fast enough.
Than looks at me for a moment and nods, as the memories come faster.
I can’t believe I just told Thanatos how I felt about Hades. What has gotten into me? Maybe it’s guilt for what happened with Dinlas. I know Thanatos just wants to fix things, to make it all better, but I never thought he would suggest setting up a meeting.
He’s looking at me with those obsidian eyes, so expectant. He wants me to do this. By the Styx, I want to do it, too. I take a deep breath and say yes, and Thanatos is gone before I can change my mind. Now, all I have to do is wait.
I hate waiting.
Than visibly tenses at his own memory of that night. Hades makes a barely audible soft sound, as he struggles beneath the weight of the truth: I was the one he was supposed to meet that night in the garden.
But there is still another secret I have to tell. Of another night. In another garden. Another set of images takes shape. His eyes flash to mine, disbelieving.
Time to open your eyes, King.
A flurry of memories with Dinlas and Thanatos and Hypnos. Nights spent running wild with them, making use of sleeping hours I don’t need.
Other memories of Kore, sitting at Demeter’s table, of stalking lessons and tracking beautiful prey in the palace halls.
Then, one last memory.
The Council Chamber door opens, and Hades exits. He passes by without seeing me. It’s a risk to stalk him, but I take it for the challenge it is. I follow him outside, into the gardens, to a moon pool silvered with moonlight.
But his senses are sharper than my skills, and he calls me out, asks my name. I lie to him, not wanting him to know who I am. That could bring all kinds of trouble if he knew. He tells me I can leave, that I can keep my secret, if I kiss him. I make him swear he will not look, that he will let me go.
“Skía, I swear to you on my heart, home, and soul…”
And there in the moonlight, in the arms of a King, I buy my freedom with a kiss before slipping away like a shadow into the night.
Clio releases my hands, stumbling backwards. Ichor trickles from one of her nostrils. Immediately, Eros is at her side, catching her, his eyes narrowing on me.
“Really? This was a better solution than saying it?”
Clio flicks a glance at Eros. “I’m fine, Lykos.”
“The hell you are.”
Clio jabs Eros’s side, continuing to bicker with him as he threatens house arrest and anklets. I step away from her. Between her condition and the expressions on the faces around me, I’ve done enough damage tonight.
Persephone stares wildly at me, the hat once clutched in her hand lying forgotten on the ground. Waves of emotion roll across her face. She can’t seem to form words, let alone make a sound. Instead, she stands rooted in place, trembling like a flower in a storm.
My memories are no longer visible, but Hades is still staring at the spot where they appeared. His face is pale, eyes flashing in the dim evening light, his mind trying to comprehend the picture now that all the pieces have fallen into place.
Thanatos sighs softly, nodding at me, our shared burden laid down at last. All these years, he has stood vigil beside me and never told a soul. A tear slides down my cheek. I dash it away and look at Hades, placing my naked heart in his hands.
“And now, you know the secret I was keeping. And why. I hope it was worth it.”