Stygian (Dark-Hunter Book 29)By: Sherrilyn Kenyon
For Ian who is the strongest man I know. Your journey is only beginning, but you will go far and wide. Just mark my words.
And for Madaug and Cabal.
And for Steven who has walked through the fires of hell and come through them ever stronger, and who will rise like a phoenix to heights unparalleled. Let no one ever tell you who you are. You know and you will defy all those who stand in your way.
Tears blinded Braith as she stared through the bars to see what they’d done to her once proud husband. While all the Sephirii beings were ethereal and beautiful, none were more so than her precious Kissare. Yet they had beaten him to the brink of death. Had sliced his white wings from his muscular body and left him a broken shadow of the fierce warrior he’d been.
Even so the fire of life returned to his warrior’s gaze the moment he saw her through his matted white hair. Empyreal hair that contrasted sharply with the blackness of hers.
“Apollymi,” he breathed, using an endearment that in his language meant “the light of my heart.”
From the moment they’d first met, he’d refused to call her anything else. Unlike the others who scorned and mocked her for a monster to be feared, Kissare alone knew her for something more than the pit of utter darkness that would devour the world whole, and laugh while she did it.
And they were right. She hated everything and everyone.
Except for him.
He smiled at her in spite of his pain. “You shouldn’t have come here.”
“I had to.” Choking on her grief, she cupped his face through the bars. “I drugged Atticus and have stolen the key.” She released him so that she could pull it from the folds of her cloak and unlock his prison to free him. “We can—”
“Nay,” he said, cutting her off. He placed his bloodied and bruised hand over hers to stop her from setting him free. “I cannot leave. It’s the only way to protect you and Monakribos.”
She sobbed at the mention of their young son, who’d been crying himself to sleep every night as he asked after his absent father. Kissare and Monakribos were so close. From the very hour of Monakribos’s birth, Kissare had been there for him. Had never missed a single night of tucking their son into his bed to sleep—provided the babe hadn’t fallen asleep while nestled in his father’s arms.
Until the other gods had learned that Kissare was the father of her child.
Damn Kissare’s brother for his loose, treacherous tongue! A tongue she’d nailed to the ceiling over the betrayal that had caused Kissare’s arrest.
Not content to stop there, she’d also nailed both of Tisahn’s testicles beside his tongue as he screamed out for a mercy she’d refused to show him. Then she’d grown him two more balls just so she could rip those off and nail them up as well. Pity the weakling had died before she’d had a chance to give him a third set.
Worse still, her pathetic sister had hidden his corpse from her so that Braith couldn’t resurrect him and torture him longer.…
Wretched bitch! She’d get Cam back for that one day, even if it was the last thing she did.
While it was fine for the male gods to have children with the female Sephirii, or any other whore they dredged up from the lowest pits for that matter, it was considered sacrilege for a male Sephiroth to impregnate any goddess he served.
But in her heart, Braith had only loved Kissare and their son. In all these centuries, Kissare alone had been the one who’d made her laugh. His had been the sole company she’d sought. Whenever she’d been despondent, he’d comforted her. When she’d needed friendship, he’d always been there. No excuses. No delay.
Her best friend.
Her only friend.
“I don’t know how to live without you, Sare. I don’t want to live without you.”
“Shh,” he whispered before he placed a tender kiss to her cheek. “You are a goddess. The most beautiful of all. You lived centuries before my birth and you were fine without me.”
“No. I survived and endured. I was cold and unfeeling. The last thing I want is to be cast back to that lonely hell I used to call home.”
“And now you have a baby who needs his mother.”
She choked on a sob. “He needs his father, too.” How would their son ever learn kindness without Kissare? She could teach him nothing save murder, torture, and hatred.
Those were all she understood.
He buried his hand in her dark hair and locked gazes with her. “The other gods will never leave us in peace, Polli. You know that. We’ve broken their sacred law, and they are a hateful lot. My execution will make amends. Better they punish me, alone, than you and Kree.… But I will come back for you. I swear it. No matter what it takes. Death can’t keep us apart. Nothing can. I love you too much to stay away.”
Through the pain, she believed him. If he said it, it was true. He’d never once lied to her. It wasn’t in him to do such.
“How will I know it’s you?”
He took her hand into his and placed it over his heart so that she could feel its fierce, strong beat beneath her palm. “You will know, and you won’t doubt me. Ever. You’ll see.”
“Then I will wait for you. No other shall ever touch me. You will forever be my only heart.” She turned her hair snow white to match his and to honor him and his noble sacrifice.
For her and their son.
Never again would her hair be any other color, and she would sit in black—to mark her darkness—until his return.
He gave her a sad smile. “You will always be my precious Apollymi.” He kissed her lips. “Now go before they find you. Raise our son and never let him doubt how much his father loves him. One day, I will return for you both. You can count on it.”
Her heart shattered as she nodded and let go of his hand. “I will wait for you! Forever!” She turned and walked away, fearing the future. And knowing what she would do if the gods dared keep them apart.
June 25, 9527 BC
Apollymi the Great Destroyer burst from the depths of her hellish prison to set fire to the entire earth, intending to scorch it back to its primordial ooze.
Her wrath was implacable.
And no one was immune.
Waves crashed over continents and sank them overnight to the bottom of the oceans. Roiling black clouds obliterated the sun. All life upon the human earth was threatened with extinction.
Even the very gods trembled in fear.
Why? Because those gods of old had banded together once more to take from her the one thing she’d loved above all others. Again. The only one she’d allowed them to lock her in prison to save.
Her second born son.
The sole child she’d hidden in the world of man, hoping to spare him from their cruelty and slaughter.
And like his brother before him, he had been persecuted by the gods. No mercy had been shown him.
Instead, her own pantheon had allowed humanity to abuse him and had gone out of their way to stalk him until they’d succeeded in brutally murdering him just after the eve of his twenty-first year.
As with Monakribos before him, he’d been deprived of his father’s love.
Deprived of his mother’s protection.
She would have her vengeance!
In a furious blood quest for atonement, Apollymi had set upon her own pantheon first, annihilating every god who’d cursed her child.
Until she reached the final two in Katateros.
There, the ancient goddess sent the force of her winds to knock both Symfora and her daughter, Bet’anya, into the bright foyer of the theocropolis where the Atlantean gods had once held their immaculate parties, and their meetings that determined the fates of mankind, along with those of Apollymi’s beloved sons and husband. She stalked them like the predator she was, intending to feast upon their souls for what they’d done.
“You killed him. All of you!”
Symfora—their goddess of death and sorrow, who was as dark in coloring as Apollymi had been before they’d interfered with her first and only love—shook her head. “We didn’t kill your son. He still lives.”
Narrowing her swirling silver eyes as her white hair cascaded around her lithe body, Apollymi curled her lips. “My Apostolos was slaughtered this morning by the Greek god you invited into my lands.” A god who had killed her son and then cursed all the Apollite people to die painfully at age twenty-seven.
Symfora’s eyes widened in terror. “I never welcomed Apollo here. That was a decision made by you and Archon.”
“Shut up!” Apollymi blasted her into oblivion for speaking a truth that speared her with guilt. She refused to be blamed for what had happened to her child.
The gods had betrayed both her sons, Monakribos and Apostolos! And she was done with them.
Now alone in the wake of her mother’s fate, Bet’anya faced Apollymi without any help whatsoever. Her dark caramel skin turned pale. The Atlantean goddess of wrath, misery, and the hunt was the last one standing.
She would be the last one to fall.
But as Apollymi reached for her, she hesitated at the sight of Bet’anya’s distended belly. The much younger goddess was pregnant. About to give birth any day by the looks of her.
In that moment, rage and pain warred within her heart. Most of all, compassion flared deep as she felt the pangs of a mother who’d lost her child, not once, but twice. How could she deliver such pain to another?