I sat on the couch, my feet tucked underneath my knees. I was focused on the pages of my book as Thanatos and Hypnos played on the floor. The sounds of the Underworld drifted through the open windows, and I could hear the loud tick of the clock over the laughter and squeal of the babies.
I looked up as my mother, Nyx, entered the room. She was glorious in her dark beauty and even more so when dressed to go out. She wrapped her cloak around her and laughed as Thano flapped his wings excitedly when he saw her. She hugged each of the boys before turning to me.
“Boots off the furniture, Nemesis,” she said with a wave of her fingers. “Remember to feed the boys and make sure that Thanatos does not get out any of the windows. Hypnos should sleep soon, but keep an eye on him. He sometimes sleepwalks. I shouldn’t be too late. I have a meeting with Zeus and then need to attend an event. Port to me if you need anything.”
I slipped my feet off the couch, the high pigtails on either side of my head bobbing as I nodded my head. “Yes, Matera. Do not worry. We will be fine.”
She smiled and brushed a kiss along my forehead. “I know, my darling. Have a good night. I will see you soon.” The scent of her lingered as she kissed the babies once more and swept out the door.
The clock ticked as I tucked my feet back up under me, and the boys resumed their play. I startled when Thanatos let out a shrill cry of pain. Dropping my book, I saw that Hypnos had him in a headlock and was punching him. I bounded off of the couch and grabbed Hypnos, pulling him off of Thanatos. Hyp growled and squirmed like a wild little animal, fighting to get free. I set him into the crib that much more resembled a cage in the corner. I gave him a stern, “No!” He went silent and stood staring at me, still and calculating. The sly flash of satisfaction that filled his black and gold-flecked eyes made me pause. I studied him, unease creeping up my spine. I was reluctant to let Hypnos out of my sight, but could no longer ignore Thano’s cries of pain.
I knelt before Thanatos and made shushing noises, wiping the tears from his face. The bruises left by Hypnos were already beginning to fade. I smiled at him as his ebony gaze met mine, and he calmed. I stroked my palm down his cheek and then pulled back and slapped him. We stared at each other in shock for a moment before his face crumpled, and he let out a scream.
Horrified, I looked at my hand as if it did not belong to me, only then noticing the thin black rope looped around my wrist. I sat back on my heels, lifting my other hand to rip the rope away only to find I couldn’t. My breathing quickened, and panic rose in me, seeing that my other wrist bound as well.
My gaze followed the lines of rope. They met with others and looped over a beam in the ceiling and then pulled behind me. My mouth gaped to see that Hypnos held them. His eyes flashed with satisfaction as he laughed. He pulled a string, and my mouth snapped shut. Another and my back straightened, one more, and my head turned back to Thano. My hand rose. I knew what was coming, and I fought it. I used all my strength, resisting his control. It was inconceivable, but my brother had made me his puppet! My hand fell again and again, and Thanatos cried out with each blow.
I wanted to scream. I wanted to be sick. I wanted to die. This was not me! I would not do this. I loved him. I loved them both. I would not hurt Thanatos, and yet I did. I could not close my eyes, but I could look away. And as cowardly as it felt, I did. I could not see the act I was committing. I could not watch, and shame filled me as I left Thano in the one way that I could stay with him.
My gaze fell on the clock on the wall, and its ticking seemed to get louder. I looked closer, seeing it was in the shape of a cat-like creature with wings and swirling blue eyes. The pendant hanging from its collar was the face of the clock. It stared at me with apparent disapproval, its voice drowning out Hypnos’s laughter.
“Flaming Tartarus’ balls, Kiri. What are you doing? Why are you hurting the Thano?”
I felt bites of pain, my skin burning everywhere a rope touched. Horrified, I watched as the strings burst into flames and disintegrated, leaving blistered skin. Hypnos howled in rage as the ties that bound us disappeared.
My eyes flashed back to Thanatos as his cries stopped, my hands gripping him by the shoulders. He met my gaze, and in his deep, raspy adult voice, said, “I am concerned with the small beast’s language, Nem.”
Another voice, this one deep and resonant, echoed from the walls. “Prime of Revenge, what trick do you play? You are not a trickster god. You are not a dream god. Why do you send me your pain? You do not belong in this place. This is not you.”
I scrambled to my feet, my entire body quivering as I searched the room for the source of the unfamiliar male voice. I shook my head, fear ripping through me, the anguish tearing at my soul.
“Your pain beats at me, goddess! Wake!”
My eyes flew open, the echo of his voice hanging in the air. I scrambled at my wrists, trying to rip away ropes that were not there. No tears wet my face, but each sobbing breath was like fire in my lungs. My knees sank into the soft ground as I ran my hands over my arms and batted away imaginary strings, still halfway caught in the nightmare. I looked around frantically, not understanding where I was and how I had gotten here. I sunk my hands into the ground, fingers curling, trying to anchor myself in the present. I threw back my head and cried out to the night, like a child seeking its mother in the dark. And maybe I was.
The tree towered over me. Its humming increased with every rapid beat of my heart until it pulsed in the same ragged rhythm. I sank back on my heels, my face lifted, watching the ebb and flow of the lights through the leaves. The whoosh of the waves lapping at the shores of Lake Fovos added their harmony to the night sounds.
I struggled to my feet and turned toward the water, my teeth gritted as the pulse of the tree slowed, taking my heartbeat with it. Despair nagged at me, and I could not banish the image of Than’s fear and pain at my hands.
I could see the glitter of the waves through the glow of the leaves, the blood-red water reflecting the light, and the black sand shining wetly. I stumbled from the sheltering branches and collapsed on the shore. I allowed the icy chill of the waves to wash over me, hoping the cold would clear my mind.
More and more. This was happening more and more often. I checked the thread connecting me to Hypnos again. He was still locked away, but I could swear these nightmares held the flavor of his power. It felt like worms eating away at my mind. In their wake, they left gaping holes that burned with despair, pain, and rot.
The nightmare nudged at me. Whispers, insidious and hypnotic, stole their way through the labyrinth of my mind. I pushed them back, searching for a distraction, a thought, a memory, anything to blot out the cajoling tones that lured me into insanity. I clenched my hands into the sand, watching as my fingers made furrows in the grainy black, revealing the red below. The voice grew louder, hissing vitriol, murmuring to me that I was alone. I would always be alone. No one wanted me near. Even the other gods abhorred me and saw me as nothing but an aberrant monster.
Ky’Elli popped into reality next to me, her eyes wild with concern. I felt the touch of her mind against mine. She whispered as she climbed into my lap, “You will never be alone. I want you. You are my monster.”