Soul in Darkness (Page 50)
Not yet, I told myself. We are so close.
I couldn’t seem to catch my breath. We moved up the darkened tunnel on the enclosed river, and my body started to shiver violently against my will, as if the shock of all that had happened was crashing down on me.
We had barely pulled ashore when I was clambering out, falling to my knees and pushing up with my free hand. I had to shove through the throng of souls, their hopelessness enveloping me and threatening to turn me back. I focused, pushing forward, turning to the side to slide more easily along the dirt wall. Once I was through the crowd, I spied the giant gargoyles at the arch where I had entered, and the mass of souls passing through was even thicker.
Filled with terror, I approached the gargoyles with the box held up for them to see. Their eyes followed me as I pushed through the throng of souls and edged myself against the wall, pressing in despite the objections of the spirits. I let out a sharp breath when I passed the gargoyles. My body begged to let go and be swept off where I could stop struggling and sleep, but my mind fought.
So close, so close.
An animalistic sound of desperation tore from my throat when I saw the cave’s entrance covered in briars. A last burst of energy rushed through me, pushing me forward until I was through the throng, shoving the faux sticker brush aside, and collapsing on the thin ledge of the cliff. The feel and sight of the spirits were gone.
I let myself lay there and sob, my body wracked with a myriad of pains and an overload of emotion. I was alive! All at once, I realized I would be returning to Venus. I had made it through her tasks. My life was spared, and I would soon be a mother. Oh, the glory of it! Could it really be true? Gratefulness, like a fragrant flower, flowed through me.
But what would this mean for Cupid and me? Would he be proud of my accomplishments or was it too late? The look of hurt and disappointment when he’d woken to find me staring at him would forever be scarred into my memory. My husband in all of his immortal perfection. How I’d betrayed him. Me. A mortal woman who didn’t deserve the attention of a god, much less his love. I had horribly hurt him, and now look at me!
I touched my face, swollen now on both sides, and my hair. Oh, gods. Disgrace pummeled me. I was hideous. The irony of it cascaded heavily around me. I had always resented the fact that my appearance was the only thing people found worthy about me. But now, my head spinning with the hiss of self-doubt and paranoia, I couldn’t help but wonder: Who was I without my beauty? A torrential firestorm swirled in my head, loud and painful, and I gripped my shaggy hair.
Cupid could have any woman, mortal or immortal. After what I’d done to him, and what had become of me since, what could possibly make him want me now? The thought of his disappointment stung deep within my abdomen, digging upward toward my heart like a dagger ready to pierce. Desperation coated my every thought and emotion, making it impossible to grasp anything beyond it.
As hopelessness gripped me, making me tremble, a warm reverberation began to sing to me from my lap. My eyes drifted down to the box. In a hazy blur of pain, I pushed to sit up, cradling the box in my lap. I could scarcely hear the sound of waves on rocks below through the rush of blood in my ears.
The box. The box. It wanted me to open it. It called to me, enticing me, the way the nectar in the goblet had. I wanted to throw it to the sea, but I had to bring it back to Venus.
You are ugly. I tried to swallow, to shake the voice from my head. But you do not have to be. Your beauty can be restored by one miniscule swipe of my contents.
No, no, no. I couldn’t! The contents were meant for gods, not mortals.
Nobody will know.
“I will know,” I whispered, my teeth clenched. I just had to stand. But weakness overcame me; the toil on my body had been too much, my mind not far behind it.
One look at you, and he will question it all. He will see your mortality. Your haggard future appearance.
My chin dropped to my chest in defeat, because I believed it. What I’d had—what I had ruined—had been too good for a mere mortal. The desperation inside me spoke louder, every self-doubt and fear rising to a shouting crescendo in my soul. I clutched the box, taking a deep breath into my chest and holding it.
One tiny drop will not hurt a human. Take it. Restore what little dignity you have left, and go about your life, renewed.
Cupid would never want me again, but I had to face him and his mother. As it was, I couldn’t walk, my wits had left me, and I was hideous. Useless. Unworthy.
My fingers trembled at the edge of the clasp.
“Just a drop,” I whispered, my voice shaky and hoarse. “Just a drop.”
I cracked the lid of the box. A bright flash assaulted my eyes, and all at once my exhaustion became a burden I could no longer carry. I felt my torso tilting to the side as the sun began to wink to life lazily over the horizon, and I succumbed to what I realized, too late, was the sleep of the dead.
RISE OF POWER
The god of love and desire paced his cell. His mother had been gone nearly two days. Every horrible scenario had plagued him during her absence. Where was Psyche? What was happening to her? How was she handling it? He had seen a fire in her during their time together, and he hoped her will to live was as strong in these trials.
When his ears caught the faint beating of dove wings from afar, Cupid raced to the window and shouted a beastly sound. His eyes raked the skies until he spied the chariot, but when he squinted, he only saw one soul—his mother’s.
A strong fist squeezed Cupid’s heart. “Where is she?” he shouted at the skies. Even from afar, his mother lifted her chin, her eyes going wide as she gazed upon the wing of her abode where he stood, watching. What was that expression on her face? He had never seen it before, and he did not like it.
When the goddess finally made her way inside, a soft pink frock over her shoulders, their eyes met through the bars. Cupid held his breath. His mother lifted her chin as she had done on the chariot.
“Are you thirsty?” she asked politely.
“Where is she?”
“I imagine she is nearly finished with her final task.” She set down her frock, carefully arranging it on the back of her divan, not meeting his eyes.
Cupid narrowed his eyes to slits and spoke with careful deliberation. “Which was…?”
Her eyes held his now, but she lacked the ego and vindictiveness she had possessed when he last saw her.
“What has happened?” he asked, his anxiety rising.
“You agreed to these terms, Cupid. Do not forget. We bound ourselves.”
His voice lowered to a fervent hiss. “What has happened?”
“I am afraid she is no longer the beauty you left behind.”
A slither of apprehension climbed his spine. “You hurt her?”
“I did not touch her!” Venus raised her chin again. “She would not comply with Sadness and Sorrow when they came to ready her. She should not have fought—”
“You let those revolting creatures touch her?” Cupid felt his eyes bulging as he grasped the bars tighter, shaking them. “Where is she?”
“Where is she?” he bellowed, causing her eyes to flutter closed.
“I sent her to retrieve a box of beauty ointment from Proserpina.”
The ground seemed to shift under Cupid’s feet, making him unsteady. “Proserpina?” No. NO, he thought. It could not be. “From the home of her mother, Ceres?”
Venus swallowed, her dainty throat rising and falling. “She is currently with Pluto.”
A deadly calm washed over Cupid and he felt something rising within. “You sent her into the underworld, from whence no mortal has ever returned. Is that what you are telling me, Mother?”
“I brought her to the tower, and I trust that the spirit of the structure gave her solid instructions of how to enter and return.”
“Oh, you trust that, do you?” he asked. Still, he felt the storm within himself building, a tremble beginning in his core and spreading outward to his limbs. “And you sent her to retrieve the essence of goddesses, which human eyes cannot look upon without falling into the sleep of the dead?”
Venus stepped closer, jutting out her chin in self-defense. “I gave her orders not to open the box. I told her it was not for human eyes.”
A rumble of laughter rose in Cupid’s sternum. The thing growing inside of him was filling his head now, making him feel light, clearing his mind of all but his own power.
“After all of this,” Venus whispered. “After she proved herself unworthy, you still want her? What about me, son? What about the way she and her people hurt me? I am the one who has ever been by your side. Your advocate in all ways!”
“Until I found love! And then what, Mother? You refused to listen! Psyche was never your enemy!”
“She will die in a blink, Cupid, and then what? I am trying to protect you! Love between mortals and gods is foolhardy at best! It is time for you to let this go. You have lost her. She is not for you.”
“I will love and mourn her every day,” he whispered.
“You are just a boy! I know what is best for you! Soon, all will be right again, and you will see. You will realize my love for you is steady and true, and I would never break your trust—”
“You already have! Do you not see it, Mother?”