The ancient city shook with pandemonium, a frightening culmination of buildings collapsing and mortal screams ripping through its streets. Blood painted the ground and tainted the air.
Nikolas jumped back in alarm. “Where did you take us?” he yelled over the clamor.
“Into my unconscious mind,” I explained. “Where my memories are. Nothing can harm you here.”
He watched the chaos with widened eyes. “Why did you bring me here?”
“I did this,” I murmured, right as my ancient self appeared around the corner. I wondered how Nikolas perceived what I saw. A hardened woman that looked as if she was etched out of marble, black eyes like polished obsidian, sparks of radiant purple pulsating beneath her porcelain skin, dark hair fluttering behind her as she trudged forward in ivory robes. I felt her pain—my pain—as she marched past. “I was three-sided back then, three goddesses in one.”
“Maiden, mother, crone?”
I was surprised. “I thought you didn’t follow religion.”
“Did you think when I found out you were a goddess, I wouldn’t read up on you?”
I didn’t reply, turning back to face my ancient self. “In the old days, several temples were built in my name, one served by a full convent of priestesses. They were all fiercely independent, strong women whom I adored as if they were my daughters.”
We watched as Ancient Hekate caught a man who sprinted past her, lifting him high in the sky with her power. She barely moved her hands to throw him against a building, the force so hard, his head splattered against the stone, leaving a streak of blood and brain matter as he slid to the ground.
“I’d fallen for someone who wanted to possess me,” I continued. “I was young and more obstinate than I am now, so of course we didn’t last very long. He was not pleased. He gathered a group of mortals together, convincing them to attack and deface the temple. He used my own heart to distract me. While we made love, his men attacked. They beat and defiled my priestesses before setting the temple on fire. They bolted the doors and windows shut so they could not escape. I felt their pain like a knife to my heart, but by the time I realized what had happened, I was too late to save them.”
Before us, Ancient Hekate found another victim, lifting him into the sky as she’d done the other, swiftly tearing his skin away from his flesh.
Nikolas blinked, his face white.
“This is what I am capable of,” I whispered sadly.
The carnage dissipated before us. Particles fell away like a storm of sand, only to merge back together to create an entirely different picture. It was once again my ancient self but stripped of power, the punishment I’d received for the massacre. My ancient self speaking with my ex.
Ancient Hekate was furious, her eyes wickedly black. “How could you?” she hissed.
Zelus wore a smirk as he leaned against the wall and shrugged. “I simply made the men jealous. I had no idea they would attack your priestesses in such a way. But who honestly cares? I mean, come on, Hek. That temple was ridiculous.”
Ancient Hekate spoke through gritted teeth. “I have been stripped of my powers and banished to the Underworld, you vile creature. Over your damn jealousy! You are entirely to blame for this!”
Zelus simply smiled. “You are the one who has been entertaining mortal men. Did you think I wouldn’t find out?”
“As if you never entertained mortal women,” she snapped back. “Besides, I thought we were over. You agreed it best we go our separate ways. How could you do something so wicked?”
Zelus snorted. “I believe you knew exactly what you were getting into by fucking the God of Rivalry. You should not play with the hearts of men, dear Hekate, let alone a god’s. The priestesses’ blood is on your hands.” He ported, leaving Ancient Hekate shaking with rage, powerless to do anything to stop him.
Nikolas had grown quiet beside me, staring at the ghost of my past. I could hear her thoughts where he could not. I recalled this exact moment, the one where I decided I’d never love again.
I let the memory fall away, bringing Nikolas to our final stop, the Underworld, my island of Propalyia as it originally stood. A dismal, barren wasteland of moaning souls trapped between life and death, not quite shades, but not quite human. They hurtled themselves at the impenetrable gates. Some managed to climb over, only to be impaled gruesomely on the spikes below. They cried out in agony until they died an Underworld death, appearing back on the other side where they began.
Ancient Hekate sat broken and alone amongst the pitiable dead. “Eventually, I would realize I maintained my powers in this realm,” I narrated for Nikolas. “I took pieces of it back with me each time I visited Earth, which would become the world’s first witchcraft.”
Before he could respond, I ported us to the cave where Nikolas and I first met. The thunderstorm from earlier was now raging outside. Taking us there wasn’t intentional. I supposed, subconsciously, I wanted to make the transition smooth for him. He loved this cave.
“Do you see?” I told him gently. “Do you see how I am? You should not love someone like me.”
Nikolas turned away.
I bit my lip, regretting I’d pushed him so hard. He was a mortal, after all. It had to be overwhelming to witness the things I had shown him, to see me as I really was.
He took a deep breath before he finally spoke. “If I were a god and could show you my past, I would, and you would be appalled. I am no angel either.”
“Then we are both unlovable.” I quickly decided for us, eager to end our show-and-tell session. “Now, if you’ll just grab my hand, I can port us back to the house.”
He turned to face me, causing me to take a step backward. His eyes had grown intense, flecks of radiant gold reaching out of the swirling browns and greens. “Oh no, I’m quite sure now that I love you.”
I was stunned. “How could…how could you possibly?”
He took a step forward, kissing me with soft human lips that once more melted my steel resolve. He broke away, my face in his hands. “I wish I could have been there to love you back then, too.”
Something broke in me then, like a dam had burst, spilling out centuries of sorrows. They were swept away by the current created by his passionate hands exploring my body with frantic fingers. I was lost in the taste of his mouth, the smell of his hair, the way he artfully, lovingly, took me into his world. He stoked the fire inside me until it almost burned us both before bringing me down in cool, gentle waves.
We lay panting on the cave floor, a pile of limbs. He pulled me into the crook of his neck and kissed my head. I didn’t speak, but I allowed him to hold me until he drifted off to the sounds of the rain, waves, and wind that crept into the cave.
I slipped away. Pulling on my black sweater and jeans, I fished out a bit of Underworld dirt from my pocket. I sprinkled it on an old pile of driftwood, instantly transforming it into a roaring fire. I covered him with the blanket I’d also produced, then ported back to my earthly house.
I could still smell him on me as I fell into bed alone, my hounds apparently out for the evening. They sensed my return, their howls soon echoing in the distant forest. I stared at the enchanted ceiling of my bedroom, watching the stars and planets swirl and soar above me. Though the visual always comforted me, I knew I wasn’t going to fall asleep that night.
I had done the one thing I’d promised myself for centuries I’d never do.
I’d fallen hopelessly in love.