She was dead. Kadence was dead. And there was nothing he could do to save her. He knew it as surely as he knew he would take his next breath. An unwanted, hated breath. Those stinging tears slid down his cheeks, mocking reminders that he lived - and she did not.
She had wanted his help to save the wall, to save her. She had wanted his help to keep the Demon Lords inside hell, yet he had failed her on all counts.
"I am so sorry, Geryon."
At this newest sound of her voice, he blinked. What the - as he watched, her spirit began to rise from her motionless body. Hope fluttered inside his chest. Hope and joy and shock. Her body was destroyed, but her spirit would live on. Of course. He should have known. Every day he encountered such spirits, though none had been as pure as hers.
He pushed to his feet, facing her, heart drumming madly. She smiled sadly at him.
"I'm so sorry," she repeated.
"Why?" When he'd never been happier? She was here, with him. "You have nothing to be sorry for."
"I failed you. Had you been stationed at the gate as you had wanted, this would not have happened."
"That isn't so. The demons would have ruined the wall, and thereby ruined you, but I would not have had the opportunity, no, the pleasure, of bonding with you. I cannot regret what happened." Not anymore. Not with her spirit just in front of him. "What of the demons?"
"I suppose the gods will attempt to gather them, bemoaning me as a failure forevermore."
He shook his head. "You are not a failure, love. You did everything within your power to stop them. Most would never even have entered the gates." His head tilted to the side as he studied her. She was as lovely as ever, like a dream of her former self. Before her, his life had been a wasteland. A moment without her would have been...well, hell.
"Thank you, sweet Geryon. But even if the wall is repaired, even if the demons are somehow captured, I fear the gods will be unable to contain those demons here." She sighed. "They will always fight to escape."
"The gods will find a way," he assured her. "They always do." He reached out to hug her to him, but his hand misted through her and he frowned, some of his happiness draining. Touching her was a necessity; he would not be able to live without her warmth, her softness.
That's when realization hit him. He closed his eyes for a moment, steeped in quiet agony. "You are free, Kadence. Free from hell, free from the gods' commands. You can go anywhere you desire, do anything you wish."
"Yes. But I do not have you." Tears filled her eyes. "I will leave you and wander the earth alone," she said with a firm shake of her head. Those tears splashed onto her cheeks. "I know gods and goddesses are allowed to choose where they wish to reside in the afterlife, but I have no desire to return to heaven or stay in hell. Unless...are you staying here? Would you like me to stay with you?" she asked hopefully. "If you would rather not have me, a being you cannot ever hope to feel, I will understand, but..."
As she spoke, an idea sprang into his mind. A wild idea he did not discard, but rather embraced. "When I bonded to you, it was forever and another eternity. I will not give you up now."
"But you will never again be able to touch me. You will never - "
"I will. I promise." And with that, he sank his own poisoned claws into his chest, felt the toxin burn him, blistering, scorching. He screamed at the anguish, black winking over his eyes.
When the pain eased, the blackness faded. His eyelids fluttered open and he saw that his body was gone, a pile of ash, his spirit floating beside Kadence. So many times over the centuries, he'd considered taking just such an action. Anything to end the monotony of his existence. But he had clung to life, for Kadence. To see her, to imagine caressing her and hope for the chance.
Now, that chance was a reality.
"I, too, am now free," he said. "Truly free."
"You gave up your life for me," she sputtered through tears - and a grin she could not hide.
"And I would do it again." He jerked her into his arms, grinning, too, because he could feel her again. "You are my everything. I am lost without you."
"I love you so much," she said, raining little kisses all over his face. "But whatever will we do now?"
"Live. Finally, we will live."
And they did.
When the gods realized that the wall between earth and hell had been breeched and a horde of Demon Lords let loose upon earth, they sent an army to repair the damage - but no one could catch the fiends. And even if they could, the gods knew that locking them back inside hell would merely invite another rebellion.
Something had to be done.
Though the stone barrier had fallen, the goddess of Oppression's body was still bound to the wall of hell. And so the gods built a box-sized prison from Kadence's bones, confident that the powers she had tapped into hours before her death still resided deep in the marrow.
They were proven right. Once opened, the box drew the demons from their hiding places, holding them captive as even hell had been unable to do.
The gods were pleased with their handiwork. If only they had not given the box to Pandora for safekeeping...but that is a story for another time.