“Quite the view, isn’t it?”
Hades murmurs it in a much too silky tone as I dig my fingertips deeper into my bare arms. I refuse to look at him and gaze blankly out the window instead.
I’m beyond numb. I think I’m dead. All I can feel is endless icy pain. Knives of despair stab at my insides, all the way down to the invisible depths of me. If I still have one, it’s never been clearer who it belongs to—the devil whose soles click slowly across the bloodred marble toward me. The god whose voice echoes seductively off the massive room’s stone walls and gothic arches.
I shudder hard at his slightest touch, the hand of the devil himself, warm and gentle over the ball of my bare shoulder.
“Oh, Kara, my love, you’re freezing.”
It’s not like I can freeze to death, but I’d rather feel like I am than accept his comfort.
Despite this, the fire in the room’s wide hearth roars to life. I keep my teeth clenched tightly, but the sudden heat melts some of my raging resolve. Until now, I’ve held on to it like a death grip, watching the hours pass with no change, no hope.
There’s no time here. No sunrise or sunset. Just a never-ending landscape of misery. The grim, formless city lies beneath a gray roiling sky, both seeming to stretch over eternity.
“There…” He presses his lips tenderly against the place where his hand was.
When I tense, he grips hard enough that I feel the pinch of his rings and the edge of his nails into my warming flesh.
“Now, now. Don’t be difficult. We don’t have much time. Let’s not waste it.”
I whip my stare to the ruthless blackness of his. “What are you talking about? All we have is time.”
He releases his hold on me to stroll the few paces to the fireplace. The fire’s amber glow deepens. Its flames blaze beyond the hearth, as if reaching for their lord.
“Not so,” he mutters. “Only a couple of weeks. After that, you’ll no longer be the lady of my house.”
I piece his meaning together quickly. Time may not exist here, but back in LA, hints of autumn were already beginning to show. “Persephone.”
“I long for her half of my days.” There’s a faint but discernible crack in his voice. “Once she returns, I intend to give her all of my attention.”
A hard gulp swells in my throat. “Then what happens…to me?”
He shrugs, and the light shimmers off his expensive crimson jacket. “Then you’ll go where you should have gone all along. Before Maximus’s memories of you called to me so strongly, I wouldn’t have given the matter a second thought.”
I fix my focus on the canals snaking around the base of what I can only assume is the castle of this terrible kingdom. Below us, nothing’s changed. The distant drone of souls in pain—the indistinguishable but unmistakable sound of pure agony—is only interrupted by the boats thudding against the moors and their gaunt captains bellowing at each other in every imaginable tongue.
Hades draws near again, following my gaze below, then higher.
“I really do enjoy the view from here,” he says lightly.
I don’t want to share words with him, or a moment more in his presence, but curiosity wins out.
“Where are we?”
“The capital, of course. Every kingdom has one.”
“Dis,” I supply.
He shrugs again. “Judecca. Dis. This place has many names. I call it home. For now, you will too.”
“And the rest?”
“Oh, there’s much more.” With his finger, he traces the visible edge of the city where the miles of canals and structures break with a wide river. Beyond it, barren land stretches endlessly in varied states of emptiness. Trees rise out of charred fields like smoking sepulchres. A broad expanse of black mud appears alive with the tired crawl of Hades’s subjects blanketed in its filth. In the far distance, mountains of jagged rock cut into the bleak sky, and without being able to see those ridges up close, somehow I already know some degree of torture is being carried out in those places too.
My hunger to know more is insatiable now. I can’t escape the disgusting but pressing need to understand this new place. “Are there circles?”
Hades crosses his arms and leans casually against the window’s edge, bringing himself into my view. “More like districts—each one designed for the brand of punishment that fits the crime of the damned.”
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