I rested back against my heels, cradling baby Thano in my hands. I stared into the deep ebony of his eyes, gazing at his beloved face as he cooed up at me. I smiled down at him, love for this precious child filling my heart.
I flinched, my body stiffening as I cradled Than close against my chest, Hypnos’s voice whispering through the room.
“Kill Than. Kill Than.”
I rose to my feet in one easy motion as I looked around, trying to locate the source. The voice grew louder with each repetition, “Kill Than! Kill Than! KILL Than! KILL Than!”
My breathing quickened, and I held the baby closer, my wings coming forward to wrap protectively around him. I spun in place, panicked and disoriented. The voice vibrated the room, and I felt the booming bass of it through the soles of my boots. Baby Thano wiggled against me, but I hardly noticed. The weight of him was nothing in my hands.
I scanned for the threat as Hypnos’s voice grew ever louder, “KILL THAN! KILL THAN!”
I hissed and crouched as the walls grew red with heat. The shadow of a large man and beast passed over my vision. Ky’Elli’s voice joined with Hypnos’s, breaking through the cacophony. It was only then that I realized I was screaming the same litany. The smell of fire and Ky’Elli’s voice snapped me back, and all went silent. I opened my wings to peek down at baby Thano, Hypnos’s voice still resonating through my cells. A scream of horror ripped from my throat, and I fell to my knees. The baby’s blank eyes stared up at me with accusation, his tiny crushed body silent in my hands. The sound of Hypnos’s laughter rumbled through the room.
My vision changed, and I knew my eyes had gone black. Pain, horror, and guilt ripped through me at my loss of control. Emotions I experienced so seldomly and yet felt keenly. They were devastatingly sharp, ripping and tearing at my soul. I threw my head back and screamed to the sky, something inside of me breaking.
I cradled the lifeless form of my brother and cried out my rage and pain. My power tore from my constraints, a torrent of shadows and violet lightning. I felt a pulse of heat reaching for me, the echo of that voice pounding at my shields, urging me to pull back. That voice drew me. His voice. It tugged at me, and I wanted to follow it. Track him. I needed to track him. He was mine, and I wanted him. The baby in my hands caught fire, and Hypnos’s voice ripped through my thoughts, “Kill Than. Nem, you need to kill Than. Nem, you did kill Than.”
I threw my head back and screamed as ashes filled my hands and drifted between my fingers. My power mantled around me, echoing my cry as I released my hold on it. My every sense sharpened as the predator that I was slipped between the cracks of my shattered control. I felt the two beings stalking me, heard their calls to trap me. Hypnos’s voice became my own, insidious and vile. I turned slowly, eyeing the two that thought to contain me, to stop me.
They were calling to me, and I knew these voices. I could feel the vibration of a bond, a scream of fear that made it through the maelstrom that filled my mind. It was a plea for me to come back, to listen. And then Hypnos’s voice was there, and it was my voice, commanding that I destroy this threat. “Kill Than! Kill Ky’Elli! Do it, Nemesis! Do it now!”
“Thanner!” I heard myself say, a smile curving my lips. I saw the shock and pain fill Thanatos’s eyes, his body rocking as if he had taken a blow.
The two launched themselves at me in unison, and with a flick of my power, I sent them sailing backward. The sounds of their bodies hitting the wall, the air leaving their lungs, and Ky’Elli’s cry of pain ripped me from the grip of the nightmare.
“No!” I screamed. The nightmare, the loss of Thanatos, hurting Ky’Elli and Thanatos again. The violation of my mind. That was enough. Now I had a direction. I had a scent. No more would this continue. I would end this now, I would end this tonight, and I did not care if I burned the world in the process.
I heard the echo of Hypnos’s laughter.
I looked at them once more to make sure that they were still breathing before ascending to the world above. I threw back my head and howled in wrathful ire. The sound echoed over the land. Birds took flight, and all creatures went silent. The pulse of the planet seemed to still for just a moment. They knew something dangerous had been let off its chain. Vengeance stalked the land tonight, and she had unleashed something terrible.
I teleported to the highest point, standing balanced atop the mountain. My power swept out, gleeful and free as I sent it hunting. I knelt and thrust my hands deep into the earth, tapping into all those connected to it. I would find him, and I would destroy him.
The world spun around me, and I felt my form shift, shedding my mortal visage. My wings flared wide, smoke curling from each filament of my feathers. I was a maelstrom of nebulae, shadows, and lightning. Unfettered by flesh, I felt the connections snap into place, my mind processing and discarding each thread. At my careless touch, the person or god was met with their due. Revenge and vengeance fed from themselves, one act creating the need for more. In the hands of mortals and gods alike, it was a neverending cycle of destruction and despair. It was only by my touch that balance and justice were achieved through revenge. And only because I wrought it so, only because I thought and knew the price, only because I controlled my power.
I hissed in delight, the feel of loosening my grip such relief, like relaxing a muscle too long held tight. I heard his voice whisper into my mind, leaving a slimy trail in its wake, “Yes, Nem. Destroy them all. They deserve it. There is not one among them, god or mortal, that is not deserving of your wrath. Make them your slaves and then come release me.” All of my attention snapped toward that open channel, and only in this state, in my pure form, did I see it. I froze as his words sank in. I looked at what I was doing. I felt what I was doing. I could hear the wails of despair and fear. I reined in my power, never taking my eyes off of that one shining thread. The door he must have built into my mind while he held control over me. This was not me. This was not what I did. This was not who I was. I would not become his puppet.
Like a spider, I spun and crawled along that thread, the one that tied me to him. What he had failed to realize was that it tied him to me as well. He began to struggle, trying to sever the connection. But I had it now, and I always caught my prey. I loomed over him, and he shrunk from me. I could feel the fear blossoming in his mind, and I savored it. But it was not enough.
“You thought to use me as your weapon, little brother? You thought you could make me your slave? Your assassin? You forgot who you were dealing with. You forgot what I am. Let me refresh your memory.”
I gathered up all the emotions from my first horrified realization of what he had done to me. The despair at knowing I had nearly killed Thanatos, the guilt and horror at the violation of my mind, the fear and grief with each and every nightmare, the terror of thinking I was losing my sanity, the pain and sorrow I would have to live with in the aftermath of tonight. I took them all, and I thrust them into him, looping them over and over. “You are incapable of empathy, Hypnos. You will never understand until you feel it and live it for yourself. This is my judgment, this is my vengeance, and this is my revenge.”
Hypnos screamed, tears welling in his eyes. “You bitch! Stop! Stop!”
I sank back into my own mind, severing the tie between us, putting safeguards in place to make sure he could not reform it. I withdrew from the earth and reformed my mortal shell before recalling my power. It draped itself over my shoulders like a cloak, satiated after its romp.
I knelt there on the mountain top with the wind pulling at my unbound hair. I could nearly feel the shocked despair left in the wake of my wave of vengeance. It had rolled over the land like a tsunami, destructive and pitiless. I had proven once more that it is the mortals that pay the true price when gods war. Regret and exhaustion filled me, and I covered my face with my hands.
The first sob took me by surprise, and I dropped my hands as the second shook my entire body. I reached instinctively for the darkness of night, for the shadows. As I had when I was a child, I wrapped myself in their comfort, hiding myself and my power from the world. My vision clouded with black, and I felt the hot burn of tears slide down my cheeks. They poured from me, punctuated by shaking sobs. With them, they took the sharpest edges from my grief and guilt, cleansing the wounds of the last months.
The bubble I had created contained the maelstrom that raged around me as I released the terror and anger. I knew that if I kept them close, they would eat at me and turn against me. They would take control of me much more completely than Hypnos ever had. With my heart blackened and my soul without mercy, I would truly become the monster.
I did not know how long I knelt there, raging into the night, ripping wounds open so that they could heal properly, ensuring that I did not find myself entangled in a web of revenge of my own making. Eventually, the tumult eased, and my demons quieted, once more under my control. I stared up at the night sky, taking deep breaths as I wiped the black streaks from my face. I struggled to my feet and was just about to port home when my mountain top was invaded by Thanatos, Ky’Elli, and…him?