- The Darkest Lie
Still Amun held on.
Soon, lack of oxygen began to fuzz his brain. He opened his mouth, accidentally swallowed a mouthful of that terrible, rotting liquid and gagged. Death crawled through him, destroying him cell by cell, filling him with decay. Weakening him.
Charon wiggled loose.
The boatman kicked his way to the surface. Though Amun’s vision was dotting over with black, he fought his way up, too. Before he could discover whether Aeron and William were safe, Charon batted him back under with a hard elbow to the top of his head. Stars flashed behind his eyes. More of that disgusting water slid down his throat and into his stomach. A stomach now churning and burning with nausea.
Again, Amun fought his way up. The moment he broke the surface, he sucked in as much air as he could. Good thing, too. His boat was out of sight, and Charon was pissed and now determined to end Amun. Demon or not.
As Amun treaded water, their eyes met. The souls were swirling, faster and faster, white blurs that hypnotized. And yet, Amun didn’t lose his soul. Somehow, his demon kept him grounded.
Punish, punish, punish, the creature was thinking. He grabbed Amun by the hair and shoved him under. This time, Amun wasn’t strong enough to free himself. He could only flail, sucking in gulp after gulp, dying a little more with every second that passed.
Dear gods. Was this it for him? His muscles seized, preventing all movement. Yes, this was it. The end. His body was shutting down. He’d lived so long, he should be happy about that. But he’d never fallen in love, cherished anyone the way his friends cherished their women, and found that he mourned the lost opportunity.
Inside his head, Secrets roared. Roared so loud and long his muscles twitched back to life. Can’t give up. Can’t. Give. Up.
His demon had never spoken to him before.
Though it required every last bit of his strength, Amun kicked Charon in the chest, shooting them apart, and swam up and away. He glanced left, right, and spotted the shore because William was holding some type of glowing stick and waving him over.
Determined, he breast-stroked toward the light. Until Charon grabbed hold of his ankle and stopped him. Secrets roared for a second time. Must…fight…
Secrets even reached a mental claw toward the boatman and unleashed a stream of images inside his head. Good images. The few happy secrets Amun possessed. Secrets that had saved human lives. The giving of money. The giving of organs. Love from afar.
Charon released him and clutched at his own bony temples. Panting, still dying inside, Amun worked his way to the shore.
William reached for him, but Aeron stopped him. “You can’t touch him. You’ll weaken, too.”
Amun fell upon the ground, sharp rocks digging into his bare, blistered back.
“Open your mouth,” Aeron commanded. He was thinking: Never seen a man in this condition. Will the water be enough to save him? Oh, gods. How could I have brought him here? If he dies, it’ll be my fault.
Amun didn’t have the strength to obey. The cool water Aeron tried to pour into his mouth dribbled over the side of his face. And damn it! That had been more than a drop.
“Open, or I’ll do it for you,” William growled. He meant what he said.
Amun finally managed to unhinge his jaw, prying his lips apart, and a second later a cool stream was dripping into his mouth, slowly chasing away the weakness and the burn.
“That’s enough,” William said. “There’s hardly any left.”
“He’ll be fine. Look, the charred areas of his skin are weaving back together.”
“Yeah, but how long—” Abruptly, Aeron stopped talking.
A few yards away, voices cackled. Amun didn’t have to see to know multiple pairs of red eyes peeked around a bloodstained boulder. He could already hear their thoughts: Fresh meat.
BACK ON MY FEET and in fighting form, Gideon thought the next night. Well, perhaps “fighting form” was too strong a phrase. Barely-hanging-on-but-forcing-himself-into-action was a much better description. He led Scarlet through secret passageway after secret passageway in Cronus’s palace, stumbling over his own feet every couple of steps.
“Sure you’re good?” Scarlet asked, squeezing his hand.“Of course,” he lied smoothly. No way he’d turn around and go back to that bedroom. One, he’d make love to her. There wasn’t time for that, and worse, she’d have to do all the work and he’d look like a jerk. More of a jerk than he already was. And two, vengeance waited.
“Great. You’re doing horribly. We should turn around and—”
“Argh! You’re so frustrating. Well, are you sure you know where you’re going?” she asked next.
She wasn’t a woman to suffer in silence.
“Nope.” Thousands of years had passed since he’d last been inside this heavenly citadel, but he remembered these hidden hallways. Gods knew he’d once used them enough, having been one of Zeus’s trusted elite. He’d had to sneak the king to his mistresses and the mistresses to the king, all the while listening for plots against his majesty and watching for spies. Then and now, it helped that many of the walls were made of two-way glass.
“Beautiful,” Scarlet suddenly gasped out, tugging at him, trying to get him to stop.
“We’ll gawk at everything later.” No, actually, they wouldn’t. They’d be too busy torturing their son’s murderer. Don’t think about that until you find the bastard. The rage would consume him, and he’d use up what remained of his energy.
She knew what he’d meant, knew they wouldn’t be coming back. “But I…I’ve never seen anything like this.”
That’s right, he thought with a pang of regret. Even though she was the daughter of a queen, she’d been treated like a slave her entire life, denied her birthright not only when all the Titans were imprisoned, but after they were freed, as well. Fuckers! He slowed his steps, allowing her to take in the stardust chandeliers, the glistening marble waterfalls, the orchids blooming straight out of the walls.
How could her mother have kept this from her? How could the woman who’d given birth to her have treated her so poorly?
Like you treated your own son?
Gideon popped his jaw. Someone stole my memory of him, damn it.
That didn’t ease his guilt. He should have remembered that precious boy. Some part of him should have, at the very least. Yet, of all the times Gideon had seen flashes of Scarlet in his mind, he’d never seen flashes of Steel. He didn’t have a single tattoo to represent and honor his dead son.
I’m the worst fucking father in the world.
Lies had nothing to say on the matter; it was as if the demon didn’t care about the boy, living or dead, truth or lie, on any level.
But Steel couldn’t be a lie. No one would fake the pain Scarlet had projected upon his murder. Not even the actors Scarlet liked to eat with her eyes.
With his free hand, Gideon scrubbed at his scalp. Even now, he couldn’t remember his life with Scarlet. Couldn’t fucking remember, even though their wedding was the most beautiful thing he’d ever witnessed. She’d glowed. Oh, had she glowed. With love, promise…hope. Just thinking of it, he was humbled.
And yeah, he wanted her to look at him like that again. He didn’t deserve it, but he couldn’t stop the desire.
He fingered the butterfly necklace once again clasped around his neck. Thank the gods Scarlet had found it and brought it to him. Even though she had every reason to hate him, she’d thought of him, looked out for him.
She truly was far too good for him.
“Can you imagine living here?” she asked with wonder. Wonder tinged with regret and sadness. “I mean, I’ve been forced to live in caves and crypts and this was my legacy. Wow. Just wow.”
“Believe me, I don’t prefer to live below.” Here, he was one of a thousand others who were just as strong as he was. If not stronger. There, he was a man of power.
He wanted to be all-powerful in Scarlet’s eyes. He wanted to be well able to provide for her.
Hell, he might just buy her a palace of her own. Actually, no. He’d build the bitch with his bare hands.
“Amazing.” She tugged free of his hand, stopped and pressed her palms to the glass. Her own necklace clinked. “People actually read in those chairs?”
He paused beside her and sighed. “Take your time. We don’t need to reach Cronus’s room, like, ASAP. He won’t be returning for me soon, and we don’t need to be long gone by then.”
“I know that, but why venture into his bedroom?” Her gaze was glued to the heavy velvet drapes and the gold-inlaid tables that filled the empty sitting room. No, not empty, he realized. Someone—a tall, blond male—was striding to the bookcase. “Can he hear us?” Scarlet whispered.
Did she want him to? “Yes.”
“Oh. Good. So we can drool in peace.”
He didn’t recognize the god, but that didn’t stop Gideon from hating the male at first sight.
“Anyway. As I was saying,” she continued. “Why can’t we just head to the prison?”
“We don’t need a slave collar to open the gates of Tartarus.”
“Hell, no! I’m not wearing a slave collar. Not ever again!”
“We have to wear it, smartie, not just hold it. Now. Do you not know who that is?” So I know the name of the next man I kill.
“Of course I do. That’s Hyperion, Titan god of Light. Gorgeous, isn’t he?”
Damn her and her attraction to blonds. “I might have known the face, but I don’t know the name. I also don’t know that Hyperion is a sociopath. He doesn’t enjoy setting immortals on fire just to watch them burn and hear them scream.”
“You didn’t meet him in prison?” he gritted out.
“Met, yes. We didn’t share the same cell, though. Unfortunately.”
If Scarlet thought to kiss another man the way she’d kissed Gideon, if she thought to allow another man to touch her the way Gideon had touched her, burning to death would be the least of her worries. Right now, she belonged to Gideon. She was his wife. He didn’t share. At least, not anymore.