The water droplets fell free from my nose and chin, and I opened my eyes slowly to stare down at my reflection. I looked paler than usual. A black tear dripped from the corner of my eye. I blinked. Perhaps my eyes were blurry? I rubbed them, then continued to stare. But my reflection only worsened.
“Really?” I asked him, completely shocked. “Now?” I motioned around at the shadow that was so close we could smell it—if you could smell shadows, of course. “My taste in decor can wait. Besides, this is the Underworld where dead people live. What do you expect?
The crowd held their breath. One of the reasons mortals came to Nox was to be in the presence of a goddess or god, but watching a man burn alive was not what many had bargained for. Even many of the well-adapted bartenders quivered. Horrors of this kind were not typical. Nicholas stopped checking his phone and watched with full attention.
“You have not changed, old friend.” I chuckled. “Enjoy your drink. I am sure we will bump into each other again soon.” I drank my scotch and straightened my suit jacket, brushing it down with my hands and patting my hair to make certain it was not messed up. I have to look my best for the big return.
Take me to Arion. I willed the portal to open, and the bark began to peel away, revealing a small, glowing gateway. Taking one last hasty glance around me to make sure I wasn’t being watched, I stepped through. I re-entered the Grieving Gardens. Only now, they were deathly quiet. The children were gone. A soft nicker interrupted the stillness, and I turned to see Arion approach me. He set his muzzle against my hand, and I was glad for the kind greeting.
She stood up tall and leaned her head back, letting out a scream so loud it could be felt. A small spark ignited on the tip of her nose, causing her entire body to burst into flames. An inferno of energy exploded from her chest. She had become the light she sought. She became the power that struck fear into others.
His magic brought it to life, giving it an internal red glow that grew stronger, forcing it to shudder out a single beat. Then he dropped it into my gaping chest. It immediately attached, as if grateful to be reunited with its goddess.
Giving of my time and efforts came so naturally to me. I’d seen no harm in it. At least, that’s how I used to be. I had eventually learned how my generosity could be used against me. And there was never enough that I could do to satisfy the needs of the mortals. Nor the immortals.
I don’t shift, only run. Run as fast as I can as I hold the sides of my dress. Run up the winding stairs toward her room as tears begin to fall. I know what I have to do and what I have to give up. He was right, a heartless bitch I’m not. At least not yet. I’d made enemies, so many enemies, and now they are coming for the ones I hold dear.
He would die a mortal death, and I would let him, drachma on his eyes so he would rest in peace. But the day finally came, and I’d held him in my arms as he took his final breaths. I knew we’d made the right decision, but it took everything in me to allow it to be.
“You got it, partner.” Her eyes lit up at my request, and she pointed a finger at me knowingly. “I got just the thing for you, and it hasn’t been festering in the bowels of an animal or come out of one’s backside.” She turned and began fiddling with one of the machines. It looked complicated for just coffee.
The air burns my skin and pierces my airways. Normally, I’d travel through the night or with the aid of my wings. However, I am too tired to command much of anything at all. I must walk and wander as if I am another soul seeking the unknown exit. I am seeking the comfort of a past life and normalcy. What could be more mortal than that?
I can’t remember the last time he’s wanted to run like this, I thought, slightly worried. But I saw no point in trying to slow the stallion down. His legs pounded away at the ground, and I could do little more than hope he would stay on the road until we cleared the Dead City. His desire for speed was absolutely ferocious. Luckily, I’d always liked to ride fast, and we had a lot of ground to cover.
“That’s probably a good thing,” I muttered as I reflected. “You get married, have kids, and then you get attached to the smallest things.” I rolled my eyes. “Family trips, presents…then the kids grow up and leave, and all that you have left of them are the things they leave behind or gifted to you. Then one day, you may find yourself roaming the streets with a bossy muse looking for said gifts.”
“Get me the Tartarus out of here, Charon.” I went to step aboard, but he thrust his oar in front of me. “Oh, the bloody greed of you knows no bounds. What do you do with these coins, anyway? You never bloody go anywhere to spend them.” I thrust a coin at him and pushed him aside to get on board. He never answered me, as usual. He just pushed us away from the foggy bank and took us across the Styx.