Soul in Darkness (Page 51)
Venus clenched her jaw, her eyes filling with moisture. “Choose your words carefully, Cupid. I am eternal, and I am your mother. The choice is clear.”
“I choose my wife!”
A vicious, howling fist of power surged through Cupid. The roar that tore from his throat shook the entire estate, blasting the bars off his prison cell. His power crushed the wards Venus had erected, throwing her off her graceful balance, onto her backside where she scrambled back against the wall, eyes wide.
The god of love was breathing hard, stepping over the threshold, his eyes bold and blazing as he peered down at his mother. She lifted an arm as if in fear. Indeed, his smile was wicked. The day had finally come that his immortal magic exceeded hers. Never again would she be able to keep him from his heart’s desire.
He had nothing more to say to her. Cupid left his mother cowering as he lifted into the air and flew toward the mortal lands and the Tower of Taenarus. A deep part of him knew it was too late. Humans did not enter the underworld and leave again. Oh, his beautiful soul. The thought of what she had seen and been through since leaving his palace ripped at his heart. Why had it taken so long for his power to overwhelm Venus’s hold and break him free? Why had he doubted it was even possible? His love for Psyche had set him free, but it was too late. He would forever lament the events of the past year.
Cupid lost the only soul he had ever loved. He had failed her. She had died alone, suffering in fear, and he was to blame for allowing his ego to agree to that accursed bargain.
Cupid’s mood was grievous when his eyes landed on the tower in the distance. Despite the bright sun shining over the sea, the scene felt dark and foul. Waving an arm as he flew, clouds were pulled from surrounding cities, cramming together over the waters to blot out that blinding sunshine and turn the day gray.
He made it to the edge of the cliff and swooped downward at a sharp angle. There was the ledge and the long line of spirits being led into the underworld. Suddenly, his breath caught, turning to fire in his chest. A small body lay near the entrance. Cupid dived, lowering his feet to land in a crouch by the broken, feminine body.
His keen eyes took in the sight, but his mind denied what he saw.
This human’s soul was dim, nearly dormant, and as gray as the storm clouds he’d gathered, lacking hope and joy. Her hair had been roughly chopped, covered in dirt and dust. Her body was frail, her chest barely rising and falling. Scratches and bruises marred her skin, her nightgown torn and filthy. One of her ankles appeared swollen and purpled, turned at a slightly odd angle.
A shock of varying emotions kicked Cupid between the ribs as he swooped down, kneeling at her side.
Her face was turned down with an arm draped over top of her head. His mother’s box sat open near her fingers, the glow of goddess beauty ointment shedding a light that would cause the sleeping death to any mortal who beheld it. But Psyche would never have opened it. She was too cautious for that. She must have tripped and fallen, the box accidentally opening.
No matter. She was alive, though barely, and he would tend her. He knelt and closed the box, shoving it aside, and reached under her arm to lift her head.
“I am here, beloved. I am—” His voice hitched as he glimpsed her face. Unrecognizable. Her eye was nearly swollen shut, skin discolored by a deep scratch up her cheek. He wanted to kill something. When he got his hands on Sadness and Sorrow, they would wish for death.
He placed his wife’s head in his lap and set to work. First, he healed her face, relaxing a fraction when she began to look like herself again. Then he held her ankle until it mended, and the swelling receded. His hand roamed her skin, stitching up gashes and scrapes that would have stung any warrior. Lastly, he closed his eyes and concentrated on the curse that wrapped around her soul. For him, it was as simple as sponging away a layer of grime from her being, but he concentrated hard, wiping his hands over her face, his fingers rubbing her eyes, clearing away every last vestige of sleep. When he finished, her chest rose in a deep intake of air, and her eyes fluttered open. Most importantly of all, her soul lightened, though it was not nearly as bright as usual.
He could only imagine what feelings she carried within that would cause the dimming of her soul. More than anything, that hurt him. But she was alive. She was gazing up at him in confusion, and he wanted to squeeze her. Instead, he held her head in his hands, rubbing his thumbs across her ashen cheeks.
“I have you, Psyche. You are going to be all right. You did it.”
“Cupid?” Her whispered voice was scratchy. He needed to get her water and food immediately. But to his surprise, as she became aware, she turned and buried her face in his lap, curling in on herself, covering her head and crying miserably. “Please do not look upon me!”
Sour bile rose within the god at this reaction.
“What is this?” he said. “Why would you ask that of me? I am your husband!”
“Cupid, please!” She pulled her head from his lap and placed her forehead to the rough ground, bowing before him as low as possible. “I am not worthy of you. My regrets are too heavy, my shame too great. I was a vain fool to try and take a drop of your mother’s ointment. I was not in my right mind!”
Now his face twisted as a grave sensation caught him.
“You opened the box?” He grasped her arms, trying to lift her though she struggled against him, hanging her head. “You thought to take some of the goddess beauty for yourself? But why, Psyche?”
“Why do you think?” she cried, frantically meeting his eyes. “Look at me!”
His eyes never left hers. “I am.” Cupid released her arms and took her face in both hands. She closed her eyes as her body shook with wracking heaves, and he whispered, “Open your eyes, Wife.”
Eyes still shut, she cried, “How can you still call me that?”
“Open your eyes.”
She did, but slowly as if afraid.
“Do you still fear me?” he asked.
“N-no. It is not that. How can you not see? I am so far beneath your station. I had to beg in the streets!” The words came out in strangled anguish.
“And was there anger in your heart while you begged?”
She stilled at the question. “No.”
“Did you go into the underworld, Psyche? All the way to the palace of Pluto, and back again, as no mortal human has before you?”
“Y-yes,” she whispered.
Cupid pulled her to him, burying his face in this miraculous mortal’s neck, and she embraced him too. They trembled as they clung together at the edge of the bluff.
As if coming back to her mind, she said, “But you deserve the best. Everything about me is…breakable.”
He reared back, a look of anger causing her to gasp and drop her eyes. Cupid lifted her chin roughly. “Do not look away from me. Hear what I say, Wife, and do not dare to question my words.”
She swallowed, her eyes wide as she gave a tiny nod.
“It is your soul I love. I am a god. If I wished, I could mold your body, cause your hair to grow, change color, cover your skin in a flush of sunshine.” He gripped her harder, putting his face close to hers. “It was never your face that drew me. Not your hair. Or the curve of your hips. It was your soul. And you are not broken. Even after everything! You have no need to doubt.”
Her eyes clouded as hot tears streamed unbidden down her cheeks. “But…I hurt you with my mistrust. I didn’t declare my love when I should have. I…” She gritted her teeth. “I allowed my vanity to cause me to open the box. Even my soul is tainted now.”
He grinned because as she admitted to those wrongdoings, her soul lightened before his eyes. Not as brightly as it had the carefree day at the market but glowing in a way that caused his own heart to swell.
“Still gorgeous,” he whispered. “With each life experience, you will make a choice. You will react. You will decide if you hold on to anger, regret, and hurt, or if you will embrace their counterparts. I think I know which type of person you are.”
The ghost of a smile flitted across her dry lips. She placed a hand over her lower stomach and looked down at the flat expanse, then back up to his face. Joy rocked through him at the reminder of their progeny, such a powerful emotion that the clouds split in the sky and sunbeams flowed over them, causing Psyche to squint and shiver in his arms.
“Will you take me to your mother?” Psyche bent and lifted the box. “I am ready to see this through.”
Cupid smiled and gathered his wife into his arms, holding her close and relishing the feel of her soft cheek against his shoulder, then he took to the skies.
Even with my husband at my side, I was terrified walking into the home of Venus. We had first made a stop at Cupid’s palace, where I quickly ate, bathed, and dressed, taking time to pet a very excited Mino as Spinx wound herself over and over through my legs, calling up to me with her meows. Oh, how I’d missed them!
I declined Cupid’s offer to regrow my hair, clinging to that facet of my mortality, and opting for a silk scarf over my head instead.
I had seen in Cupid’s eyes that he did not want to leave just yet. His seductive gaze lingered over me, landing back on my eyes, and a curl of heat burrowed at my core. He really did want me. In his full glory, wings draped regally behind him, it was nearly impossible not to slip right out of the gown I’d just donned and climb into his strong arms.