The Darkest Pleasure

By: Gena Showalter

CHAPTER ONE




REYES STOOD on the roof of his Budapest fortress, five stories up, his feet balanced precariously on the highest ledge. Above him, moonlight seeped red and yellow from the sky, blood mixed with fickle gold, dark mixed with light, wounds freshly cut in the endless expanse of black velvet.

He gazed down at the gloomy, waiting void beneath him, the taunting ground opening its arms as if begging to embrace him. Thousands of years, and I’m still reduced to this.

Frigid wind blustered, ruffling his hair in every direction, tickling his bare chest, the hated butterfly etched up onto his neck and the remembered lifeblood splattered there. Not his blood, though. No, not his, but his friend’s. Every stroke of hair against that phantom evidence of life and death was like kindling thrown into the fire of his blazing guilt.

So many times he’d come here, wishing for things that could never be. So many times he’d prayed for absolution, relief from his daily torment and the demon inside him responsible…relief from his utter dependence on self-mutilation.

His prayers had never been answered. Would never be answered. This was what he was, what he would always be. And his agony would only increase. Once an immortal warrior to the gods, he was now a Lord of the Underworld, possessed by one of the many spirits formerly locked inside dimOuniak. From favor to dishonor, beloved to despised. From happiness to constant misery.

He ground his teeth. Mortals knew dimOuniak as Pandora’s box; he knew it as the source of his eternal downfall. He and his friends had defiantly opened it all those centuries ago; now he and his friends were the box, each holding a demon inside himself.

Jump, his demon beseeched.

His demon: Pain. His constant companion. The tempting whisper in the back of his mind, the dark entity that craved unspeakable evil. The supernatural force he battled every damned minute of every damned day.

Jump.

“Not yet.” A few more seconds of anticipation, of knowing most of his bones would shatter on contact. He grinned at the thought. The razor-sharp bone shards would cut his injured, swollen organs and those organs would burst like water balloons; his skin would rip from the excess fluid and this time the lifeblood that drained would be his own. Agony, such blissful agony, would consume him.

For a little while, anyway.

Slowly his smile faded. Within days—hours, if he failed to hurt himself badly enough—his body would heal itself, totally and completely. He would wake up, whole again, Pain once more a commanding force inside his mind, too loud to be denied. But oh, for those few blessed ticks of the clock before his bones began to realign, before his organs began to weave back together and his skin to reconnect, before blood once more pumped through his veins, he would experience nirvana. The ultimate paradise. Rapture of the sweetest kind. He would writhe in the exquisite pleasure the pain brought with it—his only source of pleasure. The demon would purr with utter contentment, so drunk on the sensation it was unable to speak, and Reyes would experience such blissful peace.

For a little while. Always, only, a little while.

“I do not need another reminder about how fleeting my peace is,” he muttered to drown the depressing thought. He knew how quickly time passed. A year sometimes felt like nothing more than a day. A day sometimes felt like nothing more than a minute.

And yet, both were sometimes infinite to him. Just one of the many contradictions of life as a Lord of the Underworld.

Jump, Pain said. Then, more insistently, Jump! Jump!

“I told you. Just a few seconds more.” Once again Reyes glanced at the ground. Jagged rocks winked in that bleeding moonlight, the clear puddles surrounding them rippling in the wind. Mist rose like ghostly fingers, summoning him closer, wonderfully closer. “Plunging a blade into your enemy’s throat kills him, yes,” he told the demon, “but then it’s over, done, and you have nothing left to anticipate.”

Jump! A snarled command, impatient and needy, a child throwing a tantrum.

“Soon.”

Jumpjumpjump!

Yes, sometimes demons really were like whiny human children. Reyes shoved a hand through his tangled hair, a few strands ripping from his scalp. He knew of only one way to shut his other half up. Obedience. Why he’d even tried to resist and savor the moment, he didn’t know.