Page 28

My unease grew with every passing moment. I was waiting for it to happen, and when it finally did, Seth swore loudly.

A loud pop thundered through the air, following by a whoosh as the ground trembled under the hooves of our horses. The sky lit up, bleeding red and orange as a ball of flames shot up, spreading first into fiery wings, and then the jaws of the dragon opened, emitting the horrifying scream that stuck with us. The fiery dragon swooped back down, its tail flaming as the ground shook once more.

“Holy shit,” Seth said, eyes wide. “What in the hell was that?”

“Tartarus’ welcoming party,” Hades replied. “Get used to it. I have a feeling you’ll see it up close and personal more than once.”

Seth snorted, as if the very real possibility of him ending up in Tartarus wasn’t a big deal, but my stomach roiled at the thought. I looked at him as we rode on, remembering quite clearly where the Solaris’ First was currently located.

Did Seth deserve eternal damnation for his actions?

He glanced over at me, his expression unreadable. Our gazes locked. His perfectly pieced face was emotionless, but something churned in his eyes. Seth?

There was no answer. Instead, those amber eyes, so much like my own, flicked back to Aiden. “Hey, Saint Delphi.”

Oh, Lord.

Aiden stiffened behind me. “Yes?”

Seth guided his horse beside us, and I wondered where both of them had mastered horseback riding. “If you find yourself needing some extra space on that horse, I have more than enough room on mine.” Seth’s tight smile grew as I stared at him. “We could…share.”

Heat roared off of Aiden. He hadn’t missed the innuendo. “Not going to happen.”

One shoulder rose in response. “It was just an offer.”

“Can you not talk?” Aiden retorted.

“Hey, all I’m saying is, for a while there, we really did share—”

“Seth!” I hissed, my cheeks burning.

“What?” he replied innocently, and if I wasn’t so afraid of being stomped to death, I would’ve jumped off this horse and beaten him senseless.

Our little quarrel hadn’t drawn the attention of Hades or his guards, and I sure hoped it stayed that way. Besides being annoying, this was as embarrassing as the time I nearly broke someone’s neck doing a take-down incorrectly in class. Mainly because I had messed up then, and I also had messed up when it came to Seth and Aiden.

Aiden’s voice was deceptively calm when he spoke. “You never had her, Seth. We weren’t sharing anything.”

“Hmm. That’s not how it seemed to me. You know, there’s a reason why I call her Angel.”

“Oh, for the love of the gods,” I muttered, glaring at Seth. I was damn sure he’d been calling me that long before any parts of our bodies had touched. “Knock it off. Both of you.”

Seth winked.

He finally quieted down, but Aiden was stewing. I could feel the tension in him as we rode on, but there was nothing I could do, because I had a feeling anything I said to calm him down would only instigate the butthead beside us. Besides, my mind went elsewhere.

A huge part of me had hoped to see Caleb, but as we galloped past the Plain of Judgment, heading straight for the eerie red glow of Tartarus, I knew I wouldn’t get to see him this time. As if sensing my thoughts, Aiden dipped his head and kissed my cheek. Squeezing my eyes shut, I allowed myself to fully relax into him since it didn’t appear like the mammoth beast underneath us was about to eat us.

Tracking time in the Underworld was difficult. What felt like an hour here could be only a half-second above ground, and it seemed like we’d been on the damn horses for longer than an hour. But the scent of sulfur grew, and the sky darkened into an ominous mixture of orange and deep blue, like the sky before a violent storm at dusk.

As we traveled on, the grass was replaced by a fine trail of fire that smoldered along the ground, following the road to Tartarus. The group of people traveling along the road was heavily guarded, and I wondered if that was why Hades’ guards had appeared.

Those on this road wore ragged, torn clothing. Their chins were tipped down, and their progress was slow as they shuffled along, chained at the ankles and wrists.

The dragon made another appearance, and this time I could feel the heat of the morphing fire.

A heaviness permeated the air as we passed under a crudely-built stone archway, and I shuddered. Bare trees stood, their branches thin like bones, stretching toward the sky. Up ahead, a rocky hill rose sharply, and beyond the crest, the glow of orange was stronger. Aiden’s arm tightened around me as the horses slowed, whinnying softly. The atmosphere shifted dramatically, and it was more than the fact that night had descended like a heavy, suffocating blanket. The only light was from the thin rows of fire and the glowing torches posted every so many feet. A sour tang of bitterness coated the inside of my mouth, and a fierce bite of hatred choked my heart.

Seth was staring at something to our left, and my gaze followed his. The river Styx had reappeared, its murky waters flowing swiftly, but it wasn’t the river he was staring at.

Dozens of women in bloodied white gowns were near the bank of the river. Some were bending, reaching into the dark waters. Others carried jars away. The jars were leaking. By the time they were a few feet from the road, the jars were empty.

The women silently turned back to the river.

“Who are they?” I whispered.

“They are the daughters of Danaus,” Aiden said. His hand rested over my stomach, and his thumb moved in absent, smoothing circles.

“They murdered their husbands on their wedding nights, at their father’s request. This is their punishment.”

I wanted to look away from them, because I couldn’t comprehend an eternity of fruitless labor, but I couldn’t tear my gaze away as our horse rode on. I craned my neck, watching the women turn back to the Styx, slowly, sadly, their jars empty. Their appearance was significant.

We had entered Tartarus.


Tartarus wasn’t very scenic.

Imagine the worst section of any town, and then imagine that neighborhood on fire and throw in some random torture scenes between the run-down shacks. That was Tartarus.

Fire was everywhere. Bushes on fire. Trees burning. The Styx at some point had turned into a river of flames as it slithered between stone buildings. Some were standing and, of course, on fire. Others were halfway destroyed, large sections crumbling to the ground.

It was like the apocalypse happened and then stayed around.

The stench of sulfur and blood was almost unbearable, but the heat…oh, dear gods, I was seconds away from pulling my shirt off. Sweat beaded on me, rolling between my breasts.

“This would make a lovely vacation spot,” Seth muttered.

I started to respond, but my eyes latched onto a flaming…a flaming wheel? “What the hell?”

Hades glanced over his shoulder at me, those freaky eyes doing the static thing. “That’s Ixion.”

As we grew closer to the tragedy, I could see that there was a man in the center of the large wheel. “Oh, my gods.” I clamped my hand over my mouth.

“Don’t make a pass at Hera,” Hades remarked, moving along. “Zeus doesn’t take kindly to another man making a move on his wife.”

That was absolutely ridiculous if you took into consideration the fact Zeus couldn’t keep it in his pants.

“Stop staring,” Aiden murmured in my ear, and when I still didn’t look away, he reached around and turned my cheek. “I thought Ixion was located in the lowest part of Tartarus?”

I made a face. Only he would know who Ixion was. Aiden had to have been such a goody two-shoes in school—the kind of kid who’d raised his hand with the answer to every question. Dork. I loved him.

“We took a shortcut, so we’re several levels down.” Hades stopped his horse and swung down. We’d hit a dead end consisting of dark, slick-looking boulders. “There is another portion of Tartarus that isn’t spoken of in myths.”

Seth dismounted with the grace of a feline. “And that’s where we’re heading?”

“Yes. We’re going into the Tombs of Tartarus.”

“The Tombs of Tartarus?” Aiden repeated, sliding his arm off my waist.

Ha! Something he didn’t know. I cast him a look over my shoulder and then slid off the horse. I stumbled a step when my feet landed. The ground was oddly…soft and buoyant.

Hades snorted. “It amazes me that you’re an Apollyon with all your agility.”

My mouth opened to fire back, but I squinted. Something was up with the ground. I took a step and my feet sank about an inch in. Aware that Aiden had landed behind me, I bent down and ran my hand over the pale pink ground. It felt like…

I jerked my hand back and looked up, horrified. “The ground feels like skin!”

A slow smile crept onto Hades’ face. “Zeus got bored with the whole rock and eagle bit.”

Rock and eagle bit…? Then it hit me. “Prometheus?”

“You’re standing on him,” Hades remarked.

My stomach turned. “Oh gods, I think I’m going to vomit.”

“Perfect,” the god said.

Seth’s brows rose, but he remained quiet. I forced myself to walk forward, desperately ignoring my gag reflex with each cushiony step. Behind us, several guards dismounted as Hades strolled toward his right. He stopped in front of a smoothed section of the rock and placed his palm to it.

Beside me, Aiden cocked his head to the side. His dark hair was damp and curled around the temples. The wall before us trembled quietly, and then the slab of stone glided open, beckoning us into the darkness.

One of the guards stepped forward, a torch in hand. He handed it to the god and then moved back, hands on his daggers—big, wicked-looking daggers.

“We keep the Titans in the tombs,” Hades explained as he stepped forward. “They’re separated from the rest and have to be handled delicately. Their damnation comes in the form of eternal sleep.”

Cool air washed over my sticky skin as I followed Seth and Hades, and even though it was freaky to be walking into tombs, I welcomed the colder temps. My eyes adjusted quickly. The stone walls were covered in glyphs, much like the ones that appeared on Seth’s and my skin.

“Sleep doesn’t sound like damnation,” I said.

“We couldn’t handle them if they all were awake.” Hades continued down the narrow hall. “Their powers are weakened in the Underworld, but if all of them were up and moving about, it would be a problem.”

“So it works the same way as it does for the Olympians?” Aiden asked, staying close behind me. “They feed off each other’s power.”

“Yes.” Hades came to a split in the hall and hung a left. The temp dropped another couple of degrees as we headed down roughly carved steps. “Once Perses gets topside, he’s going to get some of his power back. He won’t be at a full charge, but he’ll be as powerful as any lesser god.”

“Any lesser god” meant Perses was going to be powerful. Maybe not at the same level as Hades or Ares, but he wasn’t going to be any weakling. The next hall was wider, opening up into a circular chamber. In the center was a small pool that smelled faintly of jasmine, which made me think of the pool Aiden and I had gone swimming in the last time we were in the Underworld.