The asphalt flows beneath the wheels of my Triumph Bonnie like the Styx — black, harsh, winding. I like to ride — slowed and bound by mortal time, it gives me a chance to think. The passage of a hundred miles is a godsblink of time for an immortal. More than enough time to turn my thoughts loose and run them down.
The rhythmic thunk-thunk-thunk of the pavement seams drums beneath my bike as I slip from the map forty-six miles north of Lafayette, Louisiana. I look to the side as the Veil parts around me, straight into the eyes of eight-year-old Mikayla Davenport. I smile at her as the night rips me out of the left lane and hurls me down an invisible on-ramp. The look of shock that crosses her face is priceless.
There’s a girl that will believe in magic for the rest of her life.
I speed along the hidden web of highways that few know how to travel anymore. Alone on the Netherroads, I open her up and wing my way through the darkness. Night has substance here. I can feel her tugging at me, replacing the drag of the wind I can no longer feel.
Streetlights in the physical world glimmer like foxfire here, winking out as I race past. Gas stations and dive bars cast spectral shadows on the roadside and disappear in my side views. Through the Veil, neon signs discolor the fog, bleeding red and blue and amber. When the Crossroads Diner appears ahead, its clean lines cut sharply through the haze of half-real things, reminding me why I’m here.
There are more vehicles here tonight than I remember seeing in times past. Then I remember it’s the dark half of the year. Mortals often stumble into places they shouldn’t when the Wheel is slowing down. The temptation of a cracked door is impossible to resist.
I roll back into a space and kill the engine. As I throw my leg over and take off my helmet, I notice something peculiar inside the diner. Nearly every booth is occupied — on the right, a mortal in a state of duress, and on the left, the same tall man in a well-cut black suit and red tie. His dark beard is trimmed close to his jaw, its dark lines as sculpted as the brows arching over his red eyes.
I open the door to the diner and kick it wide with a booted foot. A dozen mortal heads swivel in my direction, sensing that something more than human has just walked in. A single iteration of the man in the suit looks at me and frowns while his clones stare straight ahead, negotiations paused. With a snap of his fingers, everything goes still — humans freeze, coffee stops mid-perk, ceiling fans stop their lazy whirl.
The man stands up and straightens his red tie. “I heard a rumor you were back.”
“This time, the rumors were true,” I say, placing my helmet on the counter.
“Coffee?” he offers.
“Whiskey,” I counter, pulling a flask from my pocket. “And I brought my own.”
He jerks his head toward the empty booth in the corner. I follow him, admiring the clean cut of his jacket, ignoring the tar-black film of dried blood on the edges of his Italian leather shoes. He motions for me to sit first, then slips into the booth across from me.
The devil is nothing if not a consummate gentleman.
“To what do I owe this unpleasant visit?”
I feign a pout at his jab, then smile. “Professional courtesy. Just letting you know I’ve updated my status to Active.”
“I see,” he says, drumming his manicured fingertips on the table. “Hades is actively recruiting now? I don’t believe that was the arrangement.”
“Do I look like Hades’ bitch, Lucifer?” I growl through a perfect smile. “If business is bad, I suggest you take it up with Hollywood. It’s not my fault people binge-watch their mythology now.”
He wags a finger. “Business is fine. Matter of fact, everything has been just fine since your kind decided to retire up the old mountain. What happened? Zeus get tired of forced adoration? You don’t look like the worshiping kind.”
I shutter the flames in my eyes, every trace of warmth vanishing from my face. If this is how the Angel of Morning wants to play, I can clip his wings a second time.
“Is that how you spend your time? Imagining me on my knees?” I trace an ancient symbol on the table between us.
The lights in the diner strobe as I blur and separate the strands of my spirit into three Forms. Part of me settles in on either side of Lucifer, flanking him — a storm-eyed Katai on one side, a maelstrom-eyed Díni on the other. He stares across the table into my eyes, seeing only the immovable blackness of earth.
His laugh is nervous. It should be.
Lucifer squirms in his seat as my twins run hands up his thighs, along the back of his neck, pinning him down. “This is some secret you’ve been keeping from me, Hekate.”
“Oh, we don’t show it to everyone,” Katai whispers, lightning crackling beneath her fingertips.
Díni’s voice crashes like a wave in his ear. “Just those that make the mistake of thinking us the plaything of some god.”
“That’s not what I said—”
“You’ve had a good run, Lucy,” I interrupt, smiling when his lip curls back — that nickname’s gonna stick. I take a sip from my flask and screw the lid back on. “But the crossroads were mine, long before I loaned them to you.”
His eyes flash with the warning glow of hellfire. “You saying you’re shutting me down?”
“Did we say that, girls?” I ask Katai and Díni.
Lightning crawls over the surface of Katai’s eyes. “He’s putting words in our mouths.”
“We should put something in his mouth. I think he’d like that.” Díni grins, tracing his hard lips with a taloned fingertip. “I’d like that.”
“Enough, you three-headed gash!” Lucifer growls, jerking his head away. “I get it. You’re back!”
With a snap of my fingers, Katai and Díni blur, phasing back into alignment with my flesh. I roll my shoulders, feeling the reconvergence of power in my core. Lucifer glares at me, nostrils flaring. I can’t tell if he’s disappointed or relieved — either is acceptable.
“See how easy that was?” I stand up, pull my gloves from my pocket, and put them on. “You may continue your…operations, of course. But your days of skimming the take are done. If I catch a contract mark on a single Hades-bound soul…”
I let the threat hang in the air.
“Is this where you tell me there’ll be hell to pay?” Lucifer leans back against the booth and lights a cigarette. The scent of cloves and tobacco wafts through the room.
I zip my leather jacket and lean over him, palms on the table. “Hell is nothing more than a flea-market Tartarus, darling. But, by all means, take what’s not yours. See what happens. I’m sure Hades can arrange a nice long vacation for you in the Pit.”
Turning on my heel, I head for the door, snagging my helmet from the countertop. I feel bad for the humans in their frozen state, the leg and arm cramps they’ll be suffering later.
“You can take your meaningless threats and shove them up that unfortunately fine ass of yours,” Lucifer says with a feral grin. “You can’t touch me. We exist in two totally different mythological worlds, remember?”
I pause at the door and give him a saccharine smile — cloyingly sweet and fake as all fuck. “So? It works for Marvel. I think the kids these days call it a crossover.”