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Authors: Scarlett St. Clair

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BOOK: A Touch of Chaos
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It had taken time, but Hades had been patient. He had brought her magic to life while showing her that divinity was more than power—it was kindness and compassion and fighting for the people you loved.

The thought brought tears to her eyes.

She paused to clear her throat.

“It was not my intention to cause hurt or harm, and I am sorry if you feel deceived by my actions. I know you must now think us worlds apart, but for the longest time, I truly only ever felt mortal. Even now, I am not asking for sacrifices or altars or temples built in my name. I am only asking for a chance to be your goddess, to prove I am worthy of your worship. Thank you.”

Persephone stepped away from the podium as a chorus of voices shouted.

“Persephone, who is your father?”

“Show us your divine form!”

“When did Hades discover your divinity?”

“Lady Persephone will not take questions,” Sybil said into the mic as Mekonnen and Ezio blocked her from view and Leuce stepped to her side.

Though the crowd was loud and most of the voices unclear, a few vicious words reached her ears—a chant that made her blood run cold.

“Death to all gods! Death to all gods!
Death to all gods!

CHAPTER VIII
HADES

Hades flexed his fingers around another stone, his joints stiff from mud and overuse. His back ached as he carried the heavy brick from the ancient floor to the high labyrinth wall where he added it to the final row of steps he had built. He hoped they would hold his weight long enough so that he could reach the top of the wall and get his bearings to plan his escape.

He was not sure how long he had been at this, but he was fueled by the taste of Persephone on his tongue. He did not care to think long on how she had come to be before him, but if Theseus had intended to torture him, her visage had the opposite effect.


I will pry a stone from your lover's ring each time you stop
,” he'd threatened.

In truth, Hades had never ceased to work; he had merely chosen a different project. One would have thought Theseus would be far more careful with his words. Though it was not as if he were a man of his word.

Despite this, Hades was under no delusion. He knew the reputation of Daedalus's labyrinth. Even the famed architect could barely escape his own creation—such was the folly of man, to create the thing that destroyed him—which was why Hades had not entered the labyrinth.

It was better to observe as much from above than to get lost attempting to navigate a nearly impossible trap.

And he imagined Theseus's maze would be even more challenging.

Perhaps he had not even made it escapable.

But Hades had to try.

If only he was at his full strength…

If you were at full strength, you wouldn't be here
, he snapped at himself.

It did no good to think of what he could do with magic. With this net draped around his body, he was essentially mortal.

He had never been so aware of physical pain, never so aware of the weight of anything, save Persephone.

Always
Persephone.

His wife and queen.

He grew anxious thinking about her. Theseus had said the last time he had seen her, she'd faced Demeter. What had come from that confrontation? He hated that he did not know, hated that he could not sense anything beyond this prison. It would not even matter if he were free of the net. This place was made from adamant, and it suppressed his magic.

Theseus had thought of everything when he'd laid his trap, and perhaps that was what worried Hades the most, because he knew Persephone would come for him. Theseus knew that too, and Hades would never
forgive himself if she ended up in this hell.

That thought renewed his determination, and he began his ascent. He'd made the steps steep, and they wobbled beneath his feet. The higher he went, the more he clung to the next stone as if it might keep him from falling. It was another thing he had never thought much about but now dreaded—the fear of falling, of feeling pain.

His muscles tightened as if anticipating his failure.

When he reached the highest step, he rose to his trembling feet, palms sliding over the coarse stone, stretching until he could reach the top of the wall. He tested his grip and lifted himself, arms shaking. When he managed to get his upper body on the top of the wall, he led with his injured side.

“Fuck!” he barked, the pain sharp and biting. He seethed between clenched teeth as he dragged the rest of his body onto the wall and collapsed.

He lay there for a moment, breathing hard and sweating before he sat up, pressing a hand to his side, slick with blood, and looked out over the labyrinth.

He'd hoped from here he might have an idea of how to escape this fucking pit, but what unfolded before him was a vast network of tunnels that stretched for miles, disappearing into the darkness. This place did not appear to have an end or beginning.

Still, it seemed better to go over the labyrinth than through it.

He was going to have to pick a route and pray to the Fates.

Gods, he was really fucking desperate.

He rose to his feet and considered his next move.
He tried to guess the direction of the cells based on how far he'd walked with Theseus, but there was something disorienting about this place. Not to mention that the walls were a lesson in strategy as they varied in thickness and distance—some were narrow and close while others were wide and farther away.

He decided he would try for a straight path through—or as straight as he could manage.

Looking down at his feet, he assessed the distance between himself and the next wall.

The first jump was not so difficult as it was about the length of his stride. The second, though, looked like a chasm stretching before him, and there was nothing below but darkness.

He had always felt at home in the shadows, but not here. This was not his darkness. It was born of some other kind of evil—one he did not wish to be consumed by or let out into the world.

He jumped, landing on the very edge of the wall. He wavered for a moment before falling forward on his knees. The impact was jarring, but he was growing used to the pain. He rose to his feet again, holding his side, and prepared himself for the next jump.

There was a part of him that worried he was only fooling himself. Perhaps all he'd done by scaling these walls was provide entertainment for Theseus and his men, but even if that were true, at least he'd tried to fight this fate.

At some point, he paused to look back but found that the path behind him looked the same as the one before him.

This place was fucking maddening.

He faced forward again and then jumped, his foot sliding as he hit the wall. He fell, catching himself with one hand before he could plummet into the depths of the labyrinth, grunting as his weight jerked his arm painfully. He hung there a moment, digging his fingers into the stone before he swung his body, reaching for the edge with his other hand, but his fingers slipped.

“Fuck!”

But his curse was drowned out by a low, vibrating growl. Hades looked down into the gleaming eyes of a massive lion before it launched itself at him.

“Fuck!” he said again and dropped down into the labyrinth. As he hit the ground, his legs buckled beneath him. The lion bounced off the wall and landed behind him.

Hades scrambled to his feet, and the two circled each other.

The lion bared its white teeth and roared, its breath a sickly breeze that carried the stench of death. It turned his stomach and made him wonder what exactly it had been feeding on.

He knew this lion.

It was the Nemean lion, famous for its impenetrable hide and its silver claws, sharper than swords.

Even if Hades had weapons, they would not help him here.

The lion pounced and Hades moved, shifting out of the way at the last second. He started to run, only to feel the lion claw his back. A pained cry escaped his mouth, and he stumbled and fell to his hands and knees.

It took him a moment to realize that the net was on the ground. The lion had managed to cut it with its
claws. He ignored the burn down his back and tried to scramble to his feet, but before he could, the lion sank its teeth into his ankle. Pain roared through him, consuming him like fire as he was jerked down again.

Hades managed to roll onto his back, his leg twisting uncomfortably within the lion's mouth as he shoved his other foot into its face over and over until it released his leg from its viselike jaws.

When he was free, he got to his feet. The monstrous lion stood opposite him, and they circled each other before the lion charged again. This time, it batted at him with its large paws and long, silver claws. He managed to dodge each deadly swipe, and when the creature grew frustrated, it gave a violent roar. Hades's stomach turned at the rancid smell of its breath, but he charged at the lion, vaulting into the air and landing on its back.

Again, the lion howled and then took off at a run. Hades gripped its fur and shifted forward, hooking his arms around the lion's neck and squeezing with all his might until he shook. Beneath him, the lion slowed, its panting more of a wheeze.

Finally, the creature staggered and fell to the ground.

Hades rolled onto his back, breathing hard and covered in sweat. For a long while, he stared up at the ceiling and took stock of his injuries. His foot throbbed and his back burned, but neither of those injuries hurt as much as the wound Theseus had inflicted in his side. That one made him nauseous.

He was just lucky he still had his strength, though he could tell he wasn't at his full capacity. He would take what he could get, especially since he could not call on
his magic within these prison walls.

A flash of silver caught his eye, and Hades turned his head, spotting the lion's claws. He sat up and stretched across the space between them, brushing the tip of one talon, drawing blood with barely a touch.

Claws as sharp as blades.

Hades shifted closer and started to tear strips of cloth from his shirt, wrapping them around the longest claw several times to create a buffer. When he was sure he could grip it enough not to cut his hand to pieces, he yanked it with all his might until it broke free from the monstrous paw. It was more like a sickle, slightly curved and wider at one end.

Now I have a weapon.

His eyes fell to the lion's corpse with its impenetrable fur.

And armor
, he thought as his fingers closed over the blunt end of his new knife.

Hades set about skinning the lion, a tedious and bloody task. He did not enjoy it, nor did he think it was anything the monster deserved, but he was about to enter the labyrinth, and he had no idea what he would face. There were likely worse things than this creature.

He had no salt to spread over the hide so he used sand—not that it would help preserve the skin. He merely hoped it would make it less…wet. When he was finished, he wore it like a cloak, and with his claw blade in hand, Hades entered the labyrinth.

He was not sure how long he walked, but he quickly lost all sense of space and time. There was a quiet within the labyrinth he had never experienced. It was a physical
thing that felt as solid as the walls around him.

The darkness was bitter and blinding.

The longer he wandered through the sinuous tunnels, the more he felt as though his whole body was winding and twisting too. His mood wavered. Sometimes he was angry that he felt so separate from the darkness, that he did not feel like himself. Other times, a strange peace descended on him, and he seemed to navigate through these passages with a cool detachment.

He recited poetry and then composed his own, attempting to convey Persephone's beauty, if only to cling to his own sanity.

“Her golden hair swept down upon him like rays of burning sun,” he started and then paused. “That's fucking stupid. Besides, I hate Helios.”

He tried again.

“She emerged from the dark, a sweet-voiced thing with hair that flowed like a river in spring.”

That was worse.

He moved on to singing.

“Is that… ‘Laurel' by Apollo?” he heard Hermes ask.

Hades glared at the god who appeared beside him as a small, chubby baby with white wings that fluttered like those of a hummingbird.

“I will murder you if you tell anyone what you have heard here.”

“That is very aggressive, Daddy Death,” said Hermes. “
Everyone
listens to Apollo. There's nothing to be ashamed of. He's a vibe.”

Hades decided not to ask what a vibe was.

“Why do you look like that?” he asked.

“Like what?” Hermes looked down at himself.

“Like a cherub, Hermes.”

The god shrugged. “Perhaps you should ask yourself that question. You're the one hallucinating.”

“Trust me, I would never manifest Hermes as a child. He's annoying enough as an adult.”

“Rude,” Hermes said, and then he grew taller, and his feet touched the ground. He spun and faced Hades as he walked backward down the corridor.

“You know, Hades, what you need is—”

“I need out of this fucking maze,” Hades said.

“I was going to say
fun
,” said the god.

They were coming to another break in the wall, and with Hermes walking backward, Hades thought he would miss the turn, but he was surprised when he shifted to the right and continued down another dark passage.

“You need a hobby.”

“I have hobbies,” Hades said curtly.

“Drinking and fucking don't count,” said the god.

“You're one to talk,” Hades countered. “All
you
do is drink and fuck.”

“That's not
all
I do,” Hermes said. “I play bridge once a week at the library.”

“What the fuck is bridge?” Hades asked.

“You own a gambling den and don't know what bridge is? Gods, you're really
old
.”

“I have hobbies, Hermes. I ride horses and play cards, and I dream about how to torture you on a regular basis.”

The god's brows perked. “You dream about me?”

Hades said nothing.

BOOK: A Touch of Chaos
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