I opened my eyes to the smell of bacon and bright sunlight filling the kitchen. I was in my apartment at the God Complex. Ky’Elli sat across from me, surrounded by plates heaped with bacon, eating hungrily. Behind her, Thanatos stood at the stove, the sound of meat sizzling in a large cast iron pan. I tried to stand and realized that I could not. Looking beneath the table, I saw that my legs had gone missing. There was nothing left but two stumps.
Ky’Elli looked up from her eating. “Those are gone so you do not run away, Kiri.”
“Because there is no escape. He is coming, Kiri.”
“But…but, mikros, you have already had bacon today.”
Ky’Elli sighed heavily. “Yes, but I require more.”
Thanatos shouted, “More!” He did not turn around, and his voice was robotic.
I startled at the unexpected yell, and looked at my brother. Concern for him filled me, but my gaze kept shifting back to Ky’Elli.
“I am a growing Elli!” Ky’Elli crowed proudly.
“Growing!” Thanatos yelled in that same odd tone.
“Who is coming, mikros? Who?” I said, looking between Thanatos and Ky’Elli.
Ky’Elli munched on another piece of bacon. “The protector. He is at the door.”
“The door!” Thanatos blurted.
Ky’Elli looked at Thanatos, her normally trilling voice going hard and commanding. “Silence and cook the bacon!”
“Bacon!” Thanatos responded loudly.
Ky’Elli met my gaze. “Joren. He is at the door.”
A steady knocking came from the front door.
I tipped my head, confusion filling me. “But…but…but I am not ready, and you already had bacon today.”
“I was still hungry, Kiri. So I made the Thano cook for me. He did not want to, but I convinced him,” Ky’Elli explained, her tone smug.
“The Thano!” Thanatos repeated robotically.
The knocking on the door grew louder and more insistent.
Thanatos finally turned from the stove. His eyes were the same swirling, unearthly blue as Ky’Elli’s. He held the cast iron skillet in his bare hand, the fiery heat of it making the flesh of his palm smoke. On it, sizzling and popping was one of my feet.
I gasped and could do nothing but watch as Thanatos placed it before Ky’Elli, and she began to nibble at the toes.
“Kiri, your bacon piggies are delicious!”
“Ky’Elli, what did you do to Thano? There is so much bacon!”
Ky’Elli took another bite and sighed deeply again. “I did not want to, Kiri, but he left me no choice.”
Thanatos yelled, “Choice!”
My other foot was on the skillet now, the scent of bacon overwhelming. My heart was pounding, and I wanted to scream. I wanted to leave. I wanted to run to the door and the insistent knocking. I was held in place, bound to the chair. Externally I was calm and carrying on as if this was all perfectly fine. Inside, I was screaming and thrashing and panicking.
Ky’Elli continued, “I told the Thano to look into my swirly eyes of blue and I will tell him what to do!”
Thanatos yelled, “To do!”
Ky’Elli looked at me with a sly grin. “Do you not wish to look, Kiri?”
I shook my head and replied in a tiny voice, “Mikros, no, please.”
Thanatos looked back over his shoulder at me. Ky’Elli’s eyes became Hypnos’ black and gold-flecked ones. The pounding at the door now filled the entire room as a scream caught in my throat.
Ky’Elli tried to catch my gaze and, in a blend of hers and Hypnos’ voice, shouted, “DON’T YOU WANT TO LOOK AT THEM! LOOK AT THEM!!!!”
I threw myself to the floor, and the chair collapsed into pieces around me. The words whispered now, slithered into my mind. Ky’Elli’s beloved tones mixed with Hypnos’ sly voice was obscene. I pulled myself across the kitchen floor towards the front door as Thanatos broke into gales of robotic laughter. The pounding on the door was like a heartbeat, a drum, a song of salvation. I knew that if I just reached the door, I would be safe.
“Oh, Kiri. You are so silly! Where do you think you will go? There is no escape.”
I shook my head and continued dragging what remained of my useless legs as Thanatos cheerfully repeated, “No escape!”
I pulled myself the last few feet, gripped the doorknob, and turned. Throwing the door wide, a wall of heat and flame met me.
My eyes flew open, and my wings exploded from my back. My breath was coming in labored gasps, my heart pounding like a drum, and my skin soaked with sweat. I spun, trying to orient myself.
I was outside, but I did not know how I had gotten here. I could smell water nearby, and the distinct sounds of the night creatures of the Underworld told me I had not left the realm. I felt a deep thrumming pulse, a hum that resonated through my cells, and I turned to the source.
Night did not impede my vision. I saw as well in pure darkness as I did in full sunlight. I stood beneath a towering tree. Its bark looked like ebony, the trunk braided and twisted upon itself in complex, but graceful knots. The canopy of red foliage drew my gaze upwards. It had a graceful curve to its shape, the outer branches just feet above the ground, forming an almost perfect half-circle. Each vein of each leaf glowed with deep ruby sparks, like fireflies in the night. I could feel the tangle of roots, deeply anchored in the soil, a mirror to what existed above. I knew this tree. I had spent hours sheltered within its shadow. It grew on the shore of Lake Fovos in the middle of my island.
My body trembled as adrenalin left my muscles, the remnants of the nightmare continuing to terrorize my thoughts. I took a few shaky steps, sank to my knees, and leaned my forehead against the cool bark of the tree. I drew my wings forward, instinctively seeking the comfort of their shelter. I searched my memories and kept finding blank spots, periods of time where nothing existed. My mind felt as if something was eating away at it, leaving gaping wounds in its wake.
My last memory was of reading in the library of my Underworld home. I had curled up with a cup of tea and a book. I did not want to sleep. The nightmares were debilitating, and I had planned to spend the hours immersed in the pages of other lives. I remember looking over at Ky’Elli and then nothing but the nightmare until I woke here. What had I done? Where had I gone?
I feared for my sanity, and the thought of the carnage I would wreak if I lost control of myself terrified me. The last thing the world needed was an insane Goddess of Revenge. I felt the hum from the tree again, that soothing vibration that I wanted to sink into. My breathing had just slowed when I felt a presence port in behind me. I went still until the soft, familiar voice filled my mind.
“Kiri? Are you ok?”
“I do not know, mikros.” Even my mental voice was shaky.
I did not move from my position, pressed against the smooth trunk. The hum feeling as if it was anchoring me, keeping me from flying apart. It felt like a cool balm against my burning, aching mind. Ky’Elli approached and pushed her way through the soft, heavy darkness of my feathers. Her eyes glowed witchy blue as she looked into mine. I was ashamed to admit that I flinched from her gaze.
“Kiri?” Her voice was small, filled with pain and uncertainty. “Kiri, why are you afraid of me?”
My breath hitched on a sob without tears as I forced the words along our bond. “Mikros, you cannot make people do…things? Force them to do stuff they do not want to do? Take away their will?”
I could feel the shocked horror, the concern, and the fear vibrate through her. “No, Kiri! Do not be silly! Only your bad brother could do that, and he was evil, and I am good…I am good, Kiri.” Her voice trailed off at the end, small, sad, and filled with pain.
I closed my eyes, sliding to lie on my side on the soft ground. I trailed my hand along the silky bark of the tree, maintaining contact with that grounding hum. Her pain doubled as it echoed along our bond. The doubt I had planted in her, of who she was, devastating to us both. We were linked on such a visceral level, that if I believed something of her, she would begin to see it in herself. My voice, filled with sorrow and regret, was a whisper, even mind to mind, “I am sorry, mikros. I am so sorry.”
Ky’Elli rested her head against my forehead, her breath soft against my face. “I would never hurt you, Kiri. I love you. You are mine, and I am yours.” She rumbled deep and low against me. Her purr and the continued vibration of the tree humming nearby filled my mind. I could feel Elli wrap her presence around our bond, and the dual-layer of sound shut out everything else, soothing me back to sleep.