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March From Darkness

Summary

"I'm an assassin, goddammit. I shouldn't be here. I should be going insane. I'm willing to go insane and pay my dues! Let me pay for what I've done!"

    
         Demitri Folkos is an assassin in his prime, a man with no mercy for the human filth of the world. The young man does not believe in a god or an afterlife, so when he winds up dead after failing his last order, he thinks he is being played when he wakes up surrounded by people who claim to be fae, gods, and other creatures of myth. But there is one man, the craziest of them all, who intrigues him, a man who calls himself Phrer.

     Phrer is the son of Tyr, Norse god of justice and war, and a human maiden, making him a demigod in the most blatant sense. He rules over parts of Glitnir with his cousin, Forseti, becoming a handler of minor disputes between his pantheon and the rest and a judge for the placement of souls who do not believe in an afterlife. However, when a new soul arrives in the land of Glitnir, his rational nature will come into question as Phrer and Demitri fight the battle brought with this hardened soul.

     Will Demitri's past catch up to him? Or will he be strong enough to overcome the darkness inside of him to be the Saviour the Universe has created him to be?
    

    [WARNING: ADULT THEMES, ABUSE, SELF HARM. PLEASE READ COPYRIGHT AND DISCLAIMER FOR FULL LIST]

COPYRIGHT AND DISCLAIMER

© 2017 by Ethlain and associated persons. All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any written, electronic, recording, or photocopying, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted by any means without the permission of the publisher or author (Ethlain and associated persons). That includes summaries, prologues, epilogues, chapters, worlds, etc. The exception would be brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews, critical articles or reviews in general, and pages where permission is specifically granted by the publisher or author, all in accordance with the copyright law.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Alright, enough legal jargon. Seriously, though, if you see this work on anything that is not Wattpad, it is not me. If you see it, please report it to me and I will contact the persons responsible. This work is available on Writersky (will also now be available on Inkitt and Wattpad under the same title and user.)

Another thing: this book is highly stress-inducing via certain aspects of the plot. These aspects may include but are not limited to, the mentioning, reference, and description of the following: self-harm, physical/mental/sexual abuse, suicidal thoughts/tendencies, depression, PTSD, addiction, sadism/masochism, and tortures of various types. If you are not okay with these themes, or if you find them to be triggering in any way, shape, or form, I highly suggest that you do not read. I do not want potential readers to wind up disturbed and possibly having a mental issue concerning these themes, so please keep that in mind.

There will also be (very few) graphic depictions of gay sex. Please be advised that they will not be marked any different than the other chapters. If you don't want to read it, you can skip over to the next chapter.

Other than that, I hope you enjoy reading this story. I know I've had a lot of fun writing it so far (as it had now been over a year since I've started writing and posting this story)

PART ONE: FADING

"Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before."

-Edgar Allan Poe, "The Raven"

 

ONE

Goddammit!

I knew this was going to happen, and I didn't do a damn thing about it!

I looked around, trying to figure out how to get out of this chair I was tied to.

I'm going to curse those bastards when I get out of this mess.

I was alone in a room made of concrete, chain, and steel piping. I had only woken up what I assumed was an hour ago, judging by the darkened sky that now hung outside the small window near the top of the room. I had been looking for a way to get out of this chair for an hour and, somehow, I still could not manage to break anything. Whatever tied me to this chair, whatever kind of rope was digging into my skin, was way too strong; I had a feeling that even if I had been able to reach the knife that was now lying flat underneath my foot in my boot, I would not be able to cut through this. Something about it was not right.

Furthermore, I still did not know what I had done to get caught or how they had managed to get me here. I was stalking my target, making sure to stake everything perfectly, and suddenly, I wake up here. I did not remember falling asleep, and there was no pain anywhere aside from my wrists, meaning I had not been sniped or stuck with something. And it had already been dark during my order, meaning I had been out for nearly twenty-four hours, at the least.

I struggled to break the bonds again, pulling my arms so hard that I heard, and felt, one of my shoulders pop. Pain shot up my arm, but it was not dislocated; I had just yanked too hard. I tried standing, but the wooden chair seemed bolted to the ground.

 What the hell is going on?

As I struggled to wiggle my wrists enough to try to loosen the rope yet again, there was a sudden, quick, blaring beep as the metal door to the room clicked several times, unlocking. The door pushed itself into the concrete wall and in walked... someone who was not my target. Or should I say several people that were not my target.

 Four men walked into the room and made their way towards me. I did not talk, just glared at them through my hair that had fallen from my ponytail down to the seat of the chair. Two stood in front of me while one grabbed a hold of my arms to make sure that I did not move. I stared at the two in front of me, my green eyes narrowed into daggers that would have killed them if it was possible. While they were trying to hide it, I could see that it made the one on my right a little uncomfortable, so I simply smirked at him. His eyes narrowed a little bit and I chuckled to myself before there was a sudden pain in my jaw and my head snapped to the side. Pain radiated throughout my head at the force of the punch, making my ears ring so loudly that I barely heard the one behind me on my left say something along the lines of "You won't escape this time, assassin."

I groaned to myself before stiffening as I heard the unsheathing of a knife. There was an overly long pause, probably caused by the man trying to find the best place to stab me that would cause me to die the slowest. I was ready for it, but the pain never came. Instead, there was the sound of something slicing through the air and my wrists were freed.

 One of them grabbed my neck and forced me to look forward as the other kept a tight hold on my right arm. They pulled me up before the two that had been in front of me turned their backs to us and made their way through the doorway. One of the guys' knees was shoved into my back, moving me towards the portal, and as we made it through the doorway and down a long hallway lined with other similar doors, I plotted how I was going to get out of this.

Do I even want to get out of this?

It took us ten minutes of walking down long corridors and up a couple flights of stairs before the guys in front of us stopped and quickly knocked a rhythm on the door before it opened inwards, leading to what looked like a study. Unfortunately, I did not get to see much of it before my head was shoved down by the guy who still had his hand on my neck.

 "Keep your head down," murmured the one to my left. I complied quietly, it would give me more time to think, anyway.

We walked forward, and the slight slapping of boots was muffled by the plush red carpeting underneath our feet as we entered.

I was stopped a couple of feet in front of a wide red-oak desk, the symbol on the front a symbol of the Wolfpack, a group of crime bosses and big-time drug dealers throughout the European Union. I was about to comment on the new golden ring around the insignia, but I was quickly forced to my knees, not after some struggling from me and another knock to the head. I heard the nearly silent steps of the man as he walked around to the front of his desk, stopping as close to the desk as he could get.

"So," he chuckled, "this is the man that Arder sent to kill me." His voice was chilling, and my legs tensed up ever so slightly. He must have signalled for one of them to pull my face upwards because the hand on my neck quickly grabbed my hair at the roots and yanked it, causing my head to snap back so I could see the man I had failed to kill.

Granted, if he was not such a piece of human trash and a murderer, I would be somewhat attracted to him. He was probably in his late thirties with a lilting Irish accent with dark blonde hair and icy blue eyes. His face was permanently bent in a scowl, and his body language gave off a no-nonsense aura that I knew was directed at me for the time being.

He reached out and brushed a lock of hair from my face and I had to resist the urge to bite his hand or flinch away. "So sad, too, because you're not bad looking, either," he commented before he produced a handgun and pointed it at my face, right between my eyes.

"Any last words, Demitri Folkos? Maybe a plea for me to spare your family?"

I laughed in his face at that. What family? I had no family; they had been dead, literally and figuratively, to me for years. No one would miss me if I died, except maybe for Arder, but that moron was going to die soon anyway.

 I had no one, I wanted no one, I needed no one.

So, instead of fighting him and saying something cocky, I decided then and there: what was the point? I had done so much in the twenty-five years I had been alive, why should I go on for any more than that? Maybe then I would not feel pain anymore; I did not believe in a God, a Heaven or a Hell, so where would that leave me? Maybe in a pitch-black darkness that engulfed my soul and made me numb.

That sounded nice.

I brought my head closer to the barrel of the gun, making it touch its target as if daring the man in front of me to pull the trigger. "Tell Arder thanks for me," I told him, my voice harsh and defiant before I worked up all the spit I could and aimed for his face.

I would never know if it reached its target.

Time itself stopped; there was no pain in my head, no anger, no sadness, no numbness, either. Everything just stopped.

I closed my eyes as I felt a webbing form over where the bullet would have entered, spreading across my head in all directions before I felt the warmth of my own blood dribbling down my nose. It did not hurt, though, it was just warm, like the afterglow of sex without the pleasure. There was a sense of fineness to it, like nothing else mattered except for that warmth.

I felt my body lay itself down, not as if it had given out, but as if it had been laid gently down before being sent to flow down a river. What had I done to deserve no pain? To deserve this inexplicable warmth? I was an assassin, a murderer, a person who took mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters.

What did I do to deserve this peace in death?

 

I opened my eyes only to shut them again at the brightness of the world around me. When had the darkness faded and turned into light? I was still warm, but now I was also laying on something solid and soft. I turned my head to the side slowly, my mouth open a bit as I took in the warm, fresh air that surrounded me, trying to conjure up enough saliva to wet my cotton mouth. I opened my eyes a little bit, having to blink a couple of times before the green blurriness turned into... grass?

I narrowed my eyes and slowly, very slowly since my arm still did not want to fully cooperate, picked a piece of grass and held it to my nose before inhaling. It smelled alive.

But why?

I slowly turned my head back to face what I could only assume was the sun. I laid there, staring at the spotless blue sky, only marred by something that looked like stars. But it was day out, it must be the light and being conscious for the first time in who knows how long messing with my vision. I finally felt strong enough to sit up, and when I did, I froze.

Where the hell was I?

Everything was green and gold, lush and beautiful. I turned my head to the right to see a line of trees bordering the open land I was currently sitting in. To my left was a break in the short grasses, leading to a dark purple stream that I did not trust at all. Water was not that colour. In front of me lay a path that looked like it led right to a small city, although from the few buildings I could see, it was not modern. Slowly, I turned around to see what was behind me and my eyes widened for the first time in a long time.

The building behind me was magnificent, practically oozing with power and wealth. Its white walls and pillars reminded me of Roman architecture, but the similarities stopped there. The roof was domed, painted on the outside with blues and golds of every shade imaginable, and probably some that I had never seen. The extreme beauty of it almost had me cowering in fear; I quickly righted and mentally slapped myself.

I looked down at myself and saw I was not wearing the clothes I had been shot in. Instead, I was wearing a black robe made of what I could only assume was silk, with threads of blue mixed in at the borders of the material; I was barefoot, meaning that my other weapons were probably gone as well, meaning I had no means of defending myself.

Great.

I slowly got up and turned towards the building. There were dark blue letters that were carved into the area above the door, and while they were large, I was unable to read them. They did not even look like letters; they looked like symbols. The doors were large and magnificent, as well, painted a deep red colour and inlaid with golden imagery that looked like vines. The dirt path led to the front of the building, the softness of the soil surprising against my feet.

I walked up to the doors and looked for a handle to push so I could enter, but instead, the doors simply swung inwards slowly, not making a sound as the natural lighting from the windows in the top of the dome lit up the area, making the one room seem even larger. The inside of the dome was painted silver, shining like the full moon, and the pillars in here were rose gold, bright and unnaturally intriguing.

And, at the centre of the room, sat two of the most beautiful men I had ever seen.

One of them, who appeared to be older than the other, sat on the top throne. His long, curly blonde hair was pulled back into what I assumed was a bun at the middle of his head, but it was not pulled back so tightly that it looked painful. A couple locks of hair fell in front of his face, falling just next to two bright hazel eyes that shone like gems. He had a strong face with strong features, and I could see some of his leaner muscles from under his dark blue robes that were almost a copy of mine.

The other, while the first was beautiful, was almost painfully handsome. He was a contrast of the first man and appeared to be a couple years his junior. He had mahogany brown hair, so dark that it was almost black, and it was cut a bit shorter than the first, reaching about his shoulders. It was wavy, and he was a bit bulkier than the blonde man. He was dressed in a grey V-neck t-shirt and black jeans, but what stood out were his eyes. They were as silver as the ceiling, bright, calculating, and a bit cold. They made me nervous, but equally intrigued, and I silently cursed myself at my train of thought.

I kept my eyes on the pair as I made my way towards the centre of the room. I did not hear the doors close behind me, but I saw the light fade just a little bit from the room. When I stood about ten feet away from them, I was finally able to feel the power radiating off these two men.

I stopped as far as I did because I was sure that if I got any closer I would collapse from the auras.

The blonde man lifted an eyebrow at me before speaking with a slight northern European accent, something that instantly made me even more curious as to where I was.

"Demitri Folkos, twenty-five years old, born to Mira and Haben Folkos of the United States. Do you understand where you are or why you are here?"

I shook my head, unable to speak. Why did they know me?

The blonde man sighed softly before continuing. "You are here to stand before my cousin and I to plead your case as to why you should not be sent to Hel."

I narrowed my brows in confusion, pushing my hair behind my ear. "Hell? But I don't believe in-"

"We understand that, Demitri," the dark haired one stated, his voice washing over me. I had to grit my teeth to keep myself under control and not do something stupid at the nearly condescending tone. "However, we do not mean Christian Hell, as you see it."

"Hel, or Helheim, is much different," the blonde one stated. "Well, not extremely different, I suppose, but there is enough of a change that it would suit you more, anyways." I simply stared at him in confusion. "Helheim is not a burning place where you are tortured forever, nor is it like Tartarus. Helheim is a cold and barren place, ruled by Hel herself. And we are not Christians."

"We are part of the Norse pantheon," the dark-haired man finished.

I stood there, dumbfounded. What the hell am I doing in the Norse pantheon? Wait, is that even possible?

"We are somewhat of the last call for when someone doesn't believe in an afterlife but their soul still needs somewhere to reside," the dark-haired man answered again. "You do not believe in a Christian God, or any god, for that matter, so you kind of got stuck with us."

"Now," the blonde one started again, "how do you plead?"

TWO

How did I plead?

How was I supposed to plead?

I wasn’t innocent, I knew that much. I had killed so many, some for money, some for survival, but a couple were just out of sheer sick pleasure because I knew they got what they deserved.

“But you no longer enjoyed it near the end, did you?” the dark haired one questioned, making me look at him in confusion and irritation. Did he read my mind?

“There’s no need when you practically shout it at us with your expressions,” he answered again.

“Then you already know what I’ve done, so why even bother with my opinion of where I should be sentenced?” I shot back, glowering at the two.

“Because Odin likes democracy in his legal systems,” the blonde one deadpanned. “This happens to be it.”

I scoffed at that. “And what makes this democracy? It can’t be you two, or you’d never get anything done.” The blonde raised an eyebrow and the dark haired one just stared at me.

“You do not look carefully enough, young brother,” the blonde one stated. “All around you reside the souls of the bravest warriors of Valhalla, observing your every action and decision along with us. They will make the final decision on whether or not you deserve to reside here or with Hel, taking into account your past and what would have been.”

This made no sense, none whatsoever. If I was dead, why couldn’t I see them?

“Because they are not allowed to show themselves until they reform as a jury during the final decision,” the darker haired one explained, exasperated. “Now, for the third time, how do you plea?”

Well, if I was honest, I might as well make this easier on the other souls and these men sitting before me, seeing as I was more than sure they would send me to the freezing depths of Hel regardless. So, I said what I truly believed.

“I plead guilty to 219 accounts of murder,” I stated, lifting my head a little higher as I said it, trying to not show just how much that number twisted my stomach. I saw the blonde one flinch a little bit at the statement of number; I guess the numbers hadn’t been in whatever profile these people managed to have on me.

The dark-haired man, however, continued to sit there, his head cocked just slightly to the side, his brows narrowed thoughtfully.

There was something in both of their eyes as they gazed at me, and I didn’t like it one bit. I recognized it; it was the same look my former partner had given me when I told her about me, the same look the psychoanalyst gave me when they brought me in the for my first, and last, visit.

Pity.

I could take anything but pity. Fear, cowardice, anger, resentment, regret, hatred, fury; whatever, I could deal with those.

But pity... it was like the poison ivy of emotions. It stung and it made my skin crawl as if it was covered with unseen little bugs that burrowed under my skin until I had to resist the urge to tear it off. It meant that their sympathy had finally reached its limit and they could no longer understand my ways.

It made me seem weak, and I hated being weak.

I continued glaring at them as I felt the air in the room become a bit colder, making me shudder a small bit before I got control of myself. The presence of the room got a little denser, I felt like it was a bit harder to breathe, and it only got worse when the darker haired man slowly stood and made his way over to me.

As he got closer, I realized just how tall he was. I wasn’t that short, just under six-foot, but this man still towered over me. His aura got stronger as he got closer and I struggled to stay standing when he got within a foot of me. I had to tilt my head to get a good look at him, and I resisted the urge to swivel my head as he walked around me.

He returned in front of me, his enrapturing silver eyes glaring into my soul. I felt something in the back of my brain, like it was being tickled, and I immediately and instinctively stepped away from him. That was not okay.

His stoicism only deepened as he snapped his fingers and a scroll materialized in his hands, my name in bold, black scripture on the part of the parchment that was facing me.

I felt something in the air shift again, and I glanced to my side to see a large group of people, men and women alike, staring right back at me. Some looked solid, like humans, and others were translucent, as if being materialized was a task. Several were rather large in height, even larger than this man, whose name I still didn’t know.

There were some that looked like they wore armour, chest plates adorned with a coloured engraving of an arrow that was missing its feathering, pointing towards the sky.

He looked over it for a moment, scanning the scroll, the souls staring at me, judging me as I stared at them. Were these really the warriors of Valhalla? There was a quiet chatter amongst them, no more than a whisper, like quiet white noise. It halted as soon as the man in front of me sighed, causing me to look back up at him as he narrowed his eyes at me.

“You are lucky, young one,” he said, the scroll disintegrating in his hand as he put his hands on his narrow hips and leaned forward slightly. “Do not make me regret this,” he whispered to me.

He quickly turned before I could say anything.

Regret what?

“The brave and virtuous spirits of Valhalla have decided to allow Demitri Alexander Folkos to stay in the realm and to be given a fresh start here,” the dark-haired man said, his voice loud and clear, almost ringing in the emptiness of the room. He turned back to me and glared at me.

What?

Cries of outrage and shock rang out in the room suddenly as spirits protested the decision. their voices rang out over each other, stumbling to make their displeasure at the verdict known. One of them stepped forward and shouted to the dark-haired man. “How could you let this happen, Phrer? You know that that was not the verdict or majority rule!”

The man, apparently known as Phrer, turned towards him. “You were evenly split down the middle with half of you saying that there was a reason to banish him to Helheim and the other half stating reason to send him to Valhalla. Forseti is a judge and cannot vote in on your ruling, but I can.”

Oh.

The shouting rose even further, a few people screaming, although most of it was directed at Phrer rather than me, although I did receive a couple of disgusted looks. A couple were shouting at the blonde man, Forseti, to step in and intervene. He apparently had enough of the fighting, smacking a gavel on the chair of his throne as he yelled, “Enough!”

Everyone froze, not daring to move or speak. Forseti, who was a lot taller than I had expected, stepped down from his place and came forward, speaking as he walked.

“While that may be true, Phrer,” he said calmly, all previous hints of irritation gone, “I am still the ruler of this realm. Besides, you know what happens when there is a perfect split, no matter if you weigh in or not.” He made it to where Phrer was standing and stared at him for a few moments before continuing to me. “Young Demitri was not the murderer you see before you today, was he?” he asked, directing the question at me.

I scoffed at the question. “Unfortunately, while I understand what you are trying to do, I don’t remember what I was as a child. I only remember after I turned fifteen.”

He chuckled as he bent down so I wouldn’t have to tilt my head back to stare at him. “But you do, young one, even if you do not remember right now. It is repressed; however, I will explain what happens when there is a split in the vote.” I struggled to stand still as his voice loomed over me, his hazel eyes warm and smiling while his face remained calm.

“Despite what Phrer thinks and would like to have happen, he is not the final say in this. You are.”

I narrowed my eyes for a second, not understanding before I felt them widen and I stepped back a bit. What? I... I had to choose my own fate?

“But I already plead guilty!” I said, my voice shaking. Why was I allowed a decision? I knew what I did, I knew what I deserved!

“Simply because you plead guilty, Demitri, does not mean that you want to suffer in Helheim,” he proclaimed, watching me carefully. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes so I could hide the terror that sat in them instead.

I knew what I deserved.

I had killed people, I deserved to suffer. I understood that what I had done was wrong, but I wasn’t sorry for it. If he was telling me to repent, like they tried in the Christian places I had been, I wouldn’t do it. I was proud of what I had done.

But why was I proud? Was it because I was a sick bastard that couldn’t stop killing people and did it for money? Was it because I only killed those of bad will that meant to hurt others? Or was it something entirely different?

I didn’t know, and I didn’t really care; just thinking about it hurt my head. So, instead, I blurted out an answer without thinking about it, my hands clenched so hard at my sides that I was sure I was going to have crescent cuts in my palms.

“I want to suffer! I deserve to suffer for what I’ve done!”

I could see Phrer’s face redden slightly at my proclamation, obviously angry since I probably broke the rule that he was trying to get me to follow. But Forseti just sighed. “Which means that my job got a whole lot harder,” he said mostly to himself as he straightened and walked back to Phrer to stand at his side before he turned towards the spirits.

“As there is now an extreme tie, we must continue this at a later date! For now, I will send word to Asgard and let the gods know about the decision. This case has been dismissed for the time being!”

Continue at a later date? Extreme tie? So, what the hell was going to happen to me until then?

The spirits, looking even more pissed than before, simply looked at me as a large group before vanishing one by one. Once they were all gone, Phrer ran after Forseti, who managed to get near the back of the room to leave out the door back there. I simply stood there for a few moments, contemplating what in the world had just happened.

This Phrer had decided that I should be worthy of a chance at Valhalla, half of the spirits that had been present hated me, half of them liked me, and now my case was to be dropped until a later date. When was later? What was I going to do until then?

I was shaken from my thoughts as I heard a door slam, making me realize I was alone in this giant temple. I looked around, suddenly cold, before I decided that it was probably best if I follow the two men.

I quickly picked up the lower half of the robes I had been dressed in and ran after them, my feet slapping the white marble as I moved.

As soon as I opened the back door of the temple, I saw the two yelling at each other, or rather Phrer was yelling at Forseti while Forseti stood there with a bored expression.

As soon as I got in earshot, I slowed down as I heard Phrer say, “He is meant to be in Valhalla, cousin!”

“I am aware of that, thank you for reminding me for the fifteenth time,” Forseti said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Look, you know where he wants to go. He doesn’t see the good in himself, which is his own decision. Until Odin and Tyr manage to look over the case file and call a final hearing, he cannot go to Valhalla!”

“But you know how they will react to the situation, For!” Phrer said angrily. “What happens if there is a third tie? What happens then, huh?”

That question gave Forseti pause, long enough for me to clear my throat before I realized what a mistake that was. Both turned to me, Phrer narrowing his eyes like he was three seconds away from killing me, Forseti smiling as he waved me over. Unfortunately, before the kinder of the two could speak, Phrer began yelling again.

“What did I tell you about not making me regret my decision!”

That made me narrow my eyes. “Look, I don’t know who the hell you think you are, but I understand where I need to go! I decided that I want to burn or freeze or be tortured in Hel than be treated like the hero I’m not,” I proclaimed, the iciness making Phrer’s silver eyes glint with a fire akin to that of a forest fire, before I turned to Forseti. “And what kind of democratic court system allows the convict to make his own decision in the process of choosing how he will suffer?”

“One of the afterlife, child,” he said calmly, smiling at me. “This kind of case hasn’t happened in nearly two millennia, so I apologize for the inconvenience. However, since we don’t know how long it will be until Odin and Tyr get the case files and you are technically not allowed in either of the afterlives, you will have to remain here in Glitnir.”

“So, what, does this place turn into purgatory or something like that?” I asked.

“No,” Phrer said, his voice still hard and strained. “You will not be judged here until your case reopens, and you will remain with the other souls that have taken up residence here. There are a couple towns here, the one down the hill from the temple is the main village, and these souls have chosen to stay here or are forced to stay here until it is their time to leave.”

“However,” Forseti interjected, his eyes shifting between myself and his cousin, “I do not think it wise to allow you to live in either of the towns for now. You would be an unassigned soul, and therefore would have nowhere to stay until the system manages to place you here. So, since I would rather not have you homeless, you will be staying with Phrer.”

“What?” both I and Phrer shouted at the same time before looking at each other. He seemed somewhat displeased, but I was confused. Why couldn’t I just be left to suffer? Why couldn’t I be homeless for now? Why? There was no goodness in me, so there was no reason for me to remain here!

“Do not question me, cousin,” Forseti warned, his voice a bit lower and sharp now, obviously not used to being contradicted. “You may be the demigod of justice, but you are still lower rank than I or your father. I will make the decisions until he is released for a new case file.”

He left his cousin seething at the reprimand before he turned back to me, his eyes softening back to their natural hazel warmth as he smiled at me. “This is the best I could do right now; again, I apologize for the inconvenience. If you have any further questions, Phrer will be able to take you to my home or you can come here to the temple.”

Before I could say anything to him, even a thank you or a noise of displeasure, he vanished in a whirl of blue mist. I slowly turned my face towards Phrer, who looked me up and down slowly while he narrowed his eyes and made eye contact with me, his silver eyes blazing. “Well,” he said at last, “let’s get going.”

Again, I didn’t even have time to make a sound before he grabbed my hand and I fell into a hole of swirling colour. To say that teleportation was completely unlike what most fantasy and science-fiction writers imagine it to be was an understatement.

I felt like I was being squished and pulled apart at the same time, my eyes burned, and my skin felt like it was being torn apart while being stabbed with millions of needles. It hurt to breathe in this vortex, it was as if there wasn’t any oxygen present in this hole at all.

Then, just as suddenly as it started, it stopped, and I appeared in front of a large home, Phrer still grasping my hand. And the experience was just as quickly forgotten as I took in my new surroundings.

It was beautiful, just as the temple was beautiful, but it was much more modern. It wasn’t elaborate on the outside or wide, but it was four stories and almost reminded me of a plantation home that a person could see in the southern United States. The outside was made of wood and stone, but it was painted a light blue with dark green trim. There was a wrap-around porch with a couple chairs, but that was about it for the outside of the house. Once we entered the house, I realized how much larger it was on the inside than it appeared on the outside.

The front room held a large desk with a couple of people sitting behind it tapping away on computers.

Both were males, and they looked almost identical. They were pale and short, maybe around five feet tall, with short hair that fell over black eyes. They wore dark blue tunics with black trim, and the only way to tell them apart was that one of them had white hair and the other had brown hair. They both looked up and greeted Phrer, their voices somewhat high and song-like with a lilting accent that I couldn’t place, but when they spotted me, they stopped and stared at me.

“Docri, Marshall, this is Demitri. He will be staying with us for a couple of weeks until his case is reopened,” Phrer explained to them. The brown haired one nodded at me, and the white-haired one stared at me openly, raking his eyes up and down in a way that made me feel exposed and immediately uncomfortable.

Noticing my discomfort, thankfully, Phrer led me away from them and up the stairs to the second floor, even though I could still feel the white-haired one’s eyes on me as we walked. As soon as they were out of earshot, Phrer spoke. “I’m sorry about Docri,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck, “he’s a bit... overt, when he sees something he likes. Well, they both are, but they’re fae, so it’s to be expected.”

I simply shook my head, even though he couldn’t see since I was behind him, but it made me curious. Fae? There were more creatures than demigods, gods, and spirits here? I was versed enough in certain mythology, but if those creatures were real, then did demons exist as well?

The thought made me shudder, but the warmth of the second floor surprised me since the floor below us was freezing. It was a somewhat open space with another stairwell leading to the third floor, but he stopped at one of the rooms near the end of the hallway. “This will be your room for the time being,” he informed me, pushing it open and causing me to pause before I entered.

Everything was so... rich in colour. The walls were painted a deep ocean colour, and the accent colour was white. The bed was large and looked like it was downy as hell; there was a dresser and a wardrobe across from the bed up against the wall, and there were large French doors that overlooked the garden at the back. There was a second door in the room, and I assumed it either connected to one of the other rooms or a bathroom. The carpeting was plush and a dark sandy colour, the lights hanging from the walls resembled old candelabras.

“I hope everything is to your liking for now,” Phrer said softly, making me turn around. I nodded slightly.

“Thank you,” I said, my expression becoming neutral once again, something that I was very used to. He seemed to notice this and frowned.

“Anyways, the kitchen and dining area are upstairs on the third floor, as is the living room and library. My office is on the fourth floor, and should you ever need anything, you can ask one of the fae downstairs or my PA if you cannot get to me,” he explained. “I usually spend most of my time there, but since I now have a guest to entertain, I suppose I will be spending more time down here.”

The last comment irked me a little bit. Why was I in need of being entertained? I wasn’t a guest, I was basically a convict with no placement.

“Don’t let me interrupt your work,” I said quickly. “I shouldn’t be entertained. I’m a soul awaiting judgement, why should that mean comfort?”

He narrowed his eyes slightly before the calculating look came back and he stepped forward. Again, I felt that tickling sensation at the back of my brain and I glared at him. “And I would appreciate it if you would stop doing whatever the hell you’re doing to my head.”

He smiled evilly, stepping closer as I stepped back before I fell on the bed, the momentum causing me to lie down rather than remain sitting. Unfortunately, before I had time to sit up, Phrer was leaning over me, giant hands on the bed at either side of my head.

“And what would that be, little one?” he said, his voice low and feigning innocence.

I silently gulped, my eyes wide as I struggled to keep my expression normal. I could feel his breath, warm against my face, see the little flecks of black and white in his eyes; he was so close to me that it was almost unnerving. I wanted to slap him for his stupidity; he knew exactly what he was doing and he was toying with me about it. I grinned evilly to myself. If he was going to mess with me, then I might as well toy with him.

I leaned up onto my elbows, getting in his face, causing him to falter a little bit as my expression became bored. “Quit trying to read my mind,” I whispered before lifting a hand and shoving him away from me. I caught him off guard and quickly moved away from the bed, walking over to the other door that ended up leading to an en-suite bathroom and shutting the portal. I quickly locked it before I slid down the wall, catching my breath and willing my body to calm down some.

Why was my body acting this way? It’d been so long since it’s acted like this; I was so warm and still so confused.

Wait a minute.

My eyes snapped open and I quickly stood up in front of the sink and ripped my robe off. I gasped as I ran my fingers lightly over my unmarred skin. There were no puckered welts, no scabs, no scars, no burned tissue, no nothing. I ran my tongue over my teeth, happily surprised to feel that I was no longer missing a molar. But I looked down at myself and smiled. I was complete, intact, with no blemishes or things I hadn’t been able to get rid of in my time on Earth. I turned around and the skin there was the same as that on my front: no scars or blemishes, no cuts, no holes.

I gazed at myself for a long time before I decided to go back out into the room. I picked up the robes, tied it loosely and unlocked the door. I peeked my head out to see if Phrer was still there, which he wasn’t, thank God. I moved to the wardrobe and pulled out a pair of black jeans and a black t-shirt before walking over to the dresser and pulling out a pair of clean boxer briefs. As soon as I put everything on, I realized, with a shock, that everything fit perfectly. How curious.

I stared at myself in the mirror in the bathroom for a minute, brushing my teeth with a new tube of toothpaste and a new toothbrush that I found under the sink.

My grey-green eyes looked a little dull, a trait that I had always had, and my long brown hair hung down to the centre of my back after I pulled it back with a clear band. My jawline was still a bit sharp, my cheeks still a little too full for my liking, but I was intact; even the scar I had had that struck through my right eyebrow was gone, though the hair there still hadn’t grown back, nor did I really want them to. The few freckles I had had were gone now, much to my liking, but I knew that would change if I went out in the sun for too long.

I decided to look around a little more before I got settled completely, the sun already setting. I went up to the third floor, and the smell of meat cooking was heavenly.

It was even warmer up here than it was on the second floor, and I could feel myself start to sweat just a little bit. I entered the living room first, a large space with a felt, L couch, a couple of chairs, a television, an entertainment centre, and a fireplace that was currently roaring. A glass coffee table sat in front of the couch, and there were magazines and a few coasters sat on it.

I decided to walk in the direction of the smells and wound up in a large kitchen with two more people working in it. The man working at the stove was taller than the two fae downstairs, maybe about six-foot-five, with short black hair, dark olive skin, and a white uniform. The woman working beside him and running back and forth from the pantry and fridge to the stove and countertop was about an inch shorter than the man, her long auburn hair kept up in a bun, her bangs falling just above lime green eyes.

She was the first to see me, and she almost froze for a second before she smiled. “Ah,” she said, her Scottish accent obvious, “you must be the guest that Phrer told us about! I was about to come get you and let you know that dinner is going to be ready in a few minutes!”

This scared the man at the stove, who jumped and turned around, his blood red eyes startling me for a second before his voice calmed them. “It’s nice to see you about,” he said gently, his Middle Eastern accent heavy. “I do hope you enjoy the food.”

I stared at them, puzzled. Why were they being nice? Were they trained to be nice? They couldn’t have wanted to be nice to me, but I suppose maybe they were just trying to get me out of the kitchen so they could finish. “Oh, yeah, I guess,” I answered. “My name is Demitri.”

“Well, master Demitri, would you be able to go get Phrer for me, please?” the woman asked.

“Uh, i- it’s just Demitri,” I responded, rubbing my hand against my pant leg. “You don’t need to call me ‘master’.”

“Oh! Okay!” she complied. “Well, just Demitri, my name is Soria, and this oaf here is Sri.”

I nodded my understanding and quickly turned away, leaving the room. As I made my way back towards the stairwell, I could hear Soria humming a little tune, probably a folk song from the upbeat sound of it. I quickly made my way to the fourth floor and stopped halfway up. Why did it keep getting progressively hotter as I went further up? It was sweltering up here, like I stepped into an oven.

I quickly made it up the stairs to see that the room was almost exactly like a smaller replica of the first floor. There was a lobby, although it was hardwood this time like the second and third floors, and there were a couple plush seats and a circular glass table sitting in front of a smaller desk.

A woman, maybe in her mid-twenties, was sat at the desk, typing away at a keyboard in front of a large monitor. She was pretty, looking almost exactly like Soria, except her eyes were electric blue and her hair was shorter and curly. She looked up as I entered and smiled at me.

“Uh, I’m here to let Phrer know that dinner should be ready in a few minutes,” I said, unsure of what to really say to her aside that.

She simply nodded and got up from the desk, walking over to a door that I’m assuming led to his office. How she was wearing black leather pants, combat boots, and a royal purple long-sleeved turtleneck without dying was beyond me, but I didn’t judge. She knocked once before entering and closing the door behind her. A few seconds later, she exited and was followed by Phrer, who, somehow, was also not dying from the heat.

She simply sat back down and waved goodbye to me as I turned to follow Phrer down the stairs. While she didn’t talk to me, I wondered why; she was the first person, aside Docri, but he didn’t count because he was basically drooling over me for our brief introduction, that hadn’t talked to me. But she still smiled at me.

“Don’t worry,” Phrer said to me, responding to me unanswered question yet again, “Talia does that with everyone. She’s a siren, so she’s not allowed to speak unless it’s for safety reasons. You’ll get used to it.”

...this place just keeps getting weirder and weirder.

THREE

I don’t remember when the last time I ate like this was. Maybe three years ago during an assignment that required me to appear wealthy and I had been forced to use a good portion of the money I’d saved from other jobs to attend a fancy dinner so I could poison my target’s food. But even then, the food hadn’t been this good.

But this... this food was amazing. Everything tasted so rich, everything so warm and fresh. There were various selections of meats, vegetables, a small selection of shellfish, and a few pomegranates that were cut into chunks with heavy, blood red seeds. And what’s more, Soria, Sri, Talia, Docri, and Marshall sat with us. I found it odd at first, no one I had ever met with power or money let their servants dine with them, but as I observed the ways that these... creatures?

I still didn’t know what to call them; I was hesitant about calling them people, because they technically weren’t. They were mythical creatures that all happened to be in the same universe and were talking with me, as crazy as it sounded. Granted, it was because of my unwillingness to really call them people that made me wonder if this was just a fever dream I was experiencing in a coma. Maybe I hadn’t truly died, maybe my killers were keeping me alive so they could torture me whenever I came out of it.

Anyways, as I observed these creatures interact with each other, I realized that they interacted more like close friends than servant and master, maybe with an even deeper connection. Phrer kept his stoic expression, but there were times when I caught his lip twitching every now and then, and the light in his eyes when he spoke with them was much brighter, more life-like than the strange, forced light he had when he spoke with me or Forseti.

I did manage to discover that Soria and Talia were, indeed, half-sisters, sharing the same mother but a different father. Soria never told me what her other creature traits were, but I found out, through Sri, that Talia was half-Siren and half-lindworm, which was apparently a bipedal dragon with no wings that had a venomous bite.

So, technically, in my book, at least, she was half-snake. I shuddered at the thought and made sure to store that in my memory so as warning to never piss either of them off.

Sri was a fire daemon from the land of Styx, a place in the land of the Greek underworld, which apparently existed, as well. “In fact, young one,” Sri told me before stuffing a piece of pork into his mouth, “every single pantheon that you could ever imagine and was ever worshipped exists. The Greeks, the Romans, the Aztecs and Mayans, the Egyptians, all of them. They all exist, with varying distances from here. Our closest are the Japanese, the Sumerians, and the Aborigines of New Zealand and Australia.”

Okay, now I really had to be in a fever dream or something.

“You’re not,” Phrer told me, rebutting my unasked assumption for the third time today, causing me to clench my teeth to refrain from yelling at him to stay out of my head. “You really are dead, but because you didn’t believe in anything and the Sumerians refused to take the Wanderers after they were almost wiped out a few hundred years ago, your soul ended up here.”

Soria and Sri looked at me, but before they could say anything to me, Docri spoke up. “Well, we’re lucky to have you here. More eye-candy for me!”

I grimaced at that. He was overtly sexual, and it kind of freaked me out. I wasn’t used to getting this kind of attention and it bothered me that it happened to be from someone who was most likely just looking for a one-night-stand before I left.

Marshall groaned, his black eyes staring at Docri, unimpressed. “Do you have to try and seduce everyone you see within ten meters of you?”

Docri flipped his white hair, his bangs almost hitting Marshall in the face. “Aww, you’re just upset that you won’t ever get any of this because I don’t like you.” Marshall appeared to gag at that, his expression filled with disgust.

“Gods, I’m ecstatic that you don’t hit on me. News flash, you’re not as good-looking as you think you are, moron,” he hissed.

“We’re fae, we’re all sexy!”

“Oh, so you admit it.”

Marshall looked smug as hell and Docri looked like he was about to scream at being tricked into saying that and out of outrage of being questioned, so Soria jumped in instead.

“So, Demitri!” she said quickly, swallowing whatever she had been chewing. “If you didn’t believe in anything, what did you do instead? Who did you pray to or ask for help in a time of need? Sorry if any of that’s rude, I just don’t really understand.”

That made me pause. I didn’t really pray to anyone specific. Sure, I said, “thank God” or “Jesus Christ” during moments of elation or something like that, but that was just because it had been ingrained in me by modern language. “I’m... not sure,” I answered, feeling weird about not actually being able to give her a genuine answer. “I didn’t usually do anything. I used to wish for things to go well, but I stopped doing that a while ago ”

She cocked her head to the side at that, her eyes wandering off to the side as she thought about that. “So, you just... threw wishes around?” she asked, her eyes betraying her confusion.

“Isn’t that really dangerous, Phrer?” Sri asked. I looked to Phrer for an answer and surprisingly, although he didn’t show it, his eyes were glaring at me, like he was angry at my answer. What the hell was wrong with that answer?

“Technically, no, since he wasn’t throwing prayers, but if someone ever did answer his wish when the Destinies didn’t already decide it, then it could be dangerous later on,” he answered, his voice a little harder than usual.

“I’m sitting right here, you know,” I interjected, sarcasm dripping from the phrase, picking at the food before staring at him again. “How the hell was I supposed to know it was dangerous?”

“Mortals usually don’t, which inherently makes it dangerous,” he retorted, returning to his food. “If you mortals just thought about what you were doing or saying for one second, you wouldn’t be in so much danger all the time, and you certainly wouldn’t be killing each other at the rate you do. Granted, gods aren’t any better at thinking, but they still form good alliances and don’t start random wars anymore.”

“Yeah, it’s a good thing you tacked on ‘anymore,’ or I’d have to lay into you about the Trojan War again,” Soria said, her eyes lighting with a fire that made me wonder if she really was dangerous.

“Okay, most gods don’t start random wars anymore. The Greeks are still morons through and through, and the Romans aren’t that much better, but they really do need to get a hold of God so their people don’t die from poverty and famine...” he trailed off, staring off into space for a moment before shaking his head violently and returning to his food.

Was I really the only one feeling awkward about that last part?

No one else seemed to be as they simply continued to eat, and Soria and Sri started to clean up. I offered to help, even though I wasn’t really feeling it, but Soria shooed me away. It was only after I entered the hallway to go back to my room that something didn’t feel right. I wasn’t sure what it was exactly, but I suddenly had the urge to find the library instead of turning in for the night. I quickly backtracked my way upstairs and followed the hallway down a bit further until I reached a pair of wooden double doors. I hesitantly opened the doors and was shocked at how large the room was.

It seemed to lead into the floor above, and there was a small staircase that led up to the second level. There were dozens upon dozens of shelves, and there were thousands of books, ranging from classics with titles that I couldn’t even begin to pronounce to modern texts that I recognized as some of the best-selling books from the past decade. Some of them didn’t even have real covers and were simply held together with strings because that was simply how old some of these were.

There were several of stacks of paper in glass cases, and upon closer inspection, I realized that they were collections of origin stories and mythologies from various gods, creatures, and religions. But the one that caught my eye had a title that I really couldn’t pronounce if I tried. Why did the Viking language have to be so damned difficult to pronounce?

“It translates to the Book of All, and no, you cannot read it,” a voice said behind me, causing me to jump and spin around, running almost face first into Phrer’s chest.

I hated the fact that I had to look up at him; I was six-feet tall, dammit, I was not short, yet somehow, I still managed to almost tilt my head all the way back to make eye contact. His silver eyes shone in the soft light of the room, the last rays of the sun reflecting off them like opals.

“And why can’t I read it?” I questioned, already knowing damn well by the blatant title what it was and why I couldn’t read it, but I hated being told what to do.

“Because Fate would flip his shit and kill you,” he answered coldly. “He’s very particular about who reads that, and even I’ve been barred about reading certain sections of it.”

“But you’re supposedly a god!” I fought, “Couldn’t you technically overpower his wishes?”

“No, because A, Fate is one of the most powerful entities in the universe and he could kill a god with one will if it’s destined by the Destinies, and B, it’s rude. You seem to forget that I am a god of justice and rationale,” he stated, crossing his large arms over his chest as he stepped away slightly, so he didn’t touch me. “I’m not going to disobey the wishes of another entity, especially one of the First.”

I stared at him and wondered hard if he was just putting on this bravado for the sake of being an ass or if he was just really this focused on morals. If what he said was true, then those were really the only two choices.

“Do not question my natural morals, little one,” he warned.

“And stop digging around in my head!” I accused. “If you’re so high on morals, then you should understand that digging around in someone’s head is a breach of privacy!”

He simply raised an eyebrow as his eyes snapped coldly, the darkness around them settling now that the opalescence was gone with the faded sun. “It’s pretty hard to do when you shout all of your thoughts so loudly that it’s as if you’re yelling in my ear, little one.”

I grimaced at that, grinding my teeth. I had a name, goddammit, and it wasn’t my fault that my thoughts were so loud. It’s not like I could control it because no one had ever informed me it had been a damned issue until now.

“I am aware you have a name,” he teased, his voice laced with a little bit of malice. “But since you insist on pestering on as a child, ‘little one’ fits well, don’t you think, Demitri?”

The urge to punch him in his perfect mouth was almost too much to bear. I don’t understand why I got this riled up around him, but whatever it was, it was happening. At the same time, the smallest part of me wanted to thank him for not sending me to an unknown place, but I also wanted to kill him.

“Maybe if you would just let me suffer like I’m supposed to, then I wouldn’t have to act like such a child,” I chided, seething. “I’m a murderer, all right? I killed over two-hundred men and women because it paid bills. I did it without mercy so long as I got more money for kids. Why do you keep insisting that there is no reason for me to go to Helheim?”

“Because you didn’t do it without mercy,” he spat, stepping forward close enough for me to need to take two steps back so my neck didn’t snap from the angle it needed to bend at. “You regretted every kill because you knew that it took away someone from their family and friends. You did it because you wanted to get rid of the horrible memories you had of your fa-”

Smack!

His head snapped harshly to the side as the momentum behind my backhand to his face almost threw me to the side. I hadn’t wanted to hurt him... I just wanted him to...

“Don’t you dare say anything about that!” I hissed, my voice empty except for the rage that steadily boiled underneath my skin. “I killed people because I’m a damned monster, and it’s about time that you accepted it because, guess what, I have!”

He looked like he wanted to say something, but I was on a roll that I couldn’t step back from. “I killed because it was therapy for the monster inside of me! I killed innocent people! I’m a murderer! So why won’t you let me suffer like I’m supposed to?”

We stared at each other for a couple minutes, my rage slowly dying off into cold emptiness. “I killed people, Phrer. I accept my fate. Why do you insist on seeing something good when there is nothing left but anger and murderous rage?” I asked, my voice oddly small and hollow.

And I hated it.

He just stared at me, not giving me an answer. I made my way around him, heading towards the door. As I put my hand on the handle...

“Because I know what’s hiding under the mask of hateful indifference, Demitri,” he told me, his voice echoing off the walls.

I blinked slowly, the heat brewing behind my eyes making me feel even worse as my mouth began to hurt. “Yeah?” I asked slowly, turning to see him staring at me, a red print on the side of his face. “Well, whatever you think you’re seeing died a long time ago.” I turned the handle and didn’t even bother to close the door as I left the room.

I managed to make it back to my room without incident and I only managed to close the door before I slid down it, landing on the plush carpeting. I curled myself into a ball, since the colours of the room suddenly seemed far too pleasant for my mood.

I don’t know how long I stayed there, but it was long enough for my hips to hurt and my butt and legs to fall asleep. I stood up shakily, the heat behind my eyes still dwelling there without darkening my vision.

I made my way to the bathroom and turned on the water so steam built up in the room, clouding the mirror as I stared at my face. My eyes were rimmed in red, but I hadn’t been crying. I didn’t want to see myself weak anymore, so I turned away and slowly pulled off my clothes and took the band out of hair before stepping into the shower.

The spray should have burned my skin, should have made me flinch, especially with the amount of steam spilling out of it as a testament of how scalding hot it was. But I couldn’t feel it; it warmed me a bit, but it didn’t make me feel any better. I sat under the spray until turning up the water didn’t warm me anymore then I got out and dried myself off. As soon as the water turned off, the mirror was clear again and I almost grimaced at the redness of my skin, a couple of small places on my shoulders bubbled a little bit from the water.

But I’d had worse. These would go away sooner than I would like.

I didn’t bother to put on any clothes before I crawled into the bed, the softness of it almost irritating me. I wasn’t used to this; I was used to my hard as nails bed with very little warmth, but since I was staying here, I piled on the blankets until I was sweltering. My hair was still plastered to my face and back, irritating the blisters. I ignored it, enjoying the pain, enjoying the sweat beading on my skin, and fell into a sleep filled with nightmares, dead faces, pain, and the hatred that bound me to my old life.

“Find her...”

“Kill her...”

“The slut deserves it...”

“She didn’t love you...”

“You deserve to suffer for what you did to her!”

Her face loomed in front of me, her mangled body marred with scars and blood. Her brown eyes glazed over as her mouth hung open in an attempt to taking a saving breath. Her beautiful thin neck was bent at an angle that must have been a cause of her death. She stared at me, through me.

Agony. Screaming. Anger. Regrets. Loneliness.

Hatred.

Never-ending, blinding, agonizing hatred that lit my blood on fire and made me want to kill the entire world.

Hatred...

I love you...

FOUR

My eyes popped open on their own accord, the sense of what I had come to call sleep fading immediately from my mind as I stared at the sky through the French doors. It was still dark out, and the stars were bright, the moon shining like a pale-yellow beacon in the sky. There was no clock in the room, digital or otherwise, and if I hadn’t seen the amount of technology here, I would have assumed there was none considering the intense lack of external lighting.

I wondered how cold it was outside. If this place was meant to represent what I could only assume was a purgatory for now until I was given a description, then it must be cold, or at the very least unpleasant. The heating was on, but I had a feeling that had to do with Phrer more than the temperature outside.

Without processing anything that happened before, I found myself outside on the balcony. There was a slight breeze, but I wasn’t cold, even with the lack of clothing. The garden was illuminated in the light of the moon, everything shining with the glow of healthy and natural beauty. There were tall trees, a mixture of pines and oak, and there were even two weeping willows that stood on the shores of a small lake. It’d been a long time since I had seen so many flowers in one place. I’d been to groves before, sure, but that had been years ago.

It almost seemed like a millennium to me, and the sight of so many natural things not surrounded by city and modernization was seemingly foreign.

I couldn’t tell the colours of the life around me, everything was just shades of grey. I almost laughed to myself at the irony. How fitting that the beauty I saw still had no colour to me, like someone had muted my ability to comprehend it. Even the inside of the room was just various greys now, the colours unable to process in lack of direct sunlight.

I stared at the garden for an indiscernible amount of time, but it seemed like hours before I heard something aside from the slight rustling of the leaves and blades of grass in the breeze. It sounded like... humming? Whatever it was, it was musical.

I tried to find the source of it but to no avail. I wasn’t about to jump down into the garden to find it, especially with the gut feeling that I would most likely incur the wrath of a creature that I probably didn’t want to mess with; if these people taught me anything in the short amount of time I had been here, it was that appearances certainly fooled people. Just look at me and what I could do.

I decided to go back into the room, I probably needed some more sleep anyways, but once I closed the doors, I realized just how badly I wanted to be out there. I wanted to be around that kind of nature, that kind of beauty, even if I couldn’t witness its full potential yet. I needed to be around that. I paused at that thought.

Did I need to be around that? What if I sullied it, tainted it with what I was, with the darkness that I carried around me? What if everything wilted if I even stepped near it? Or was I just that pessimistic that I wanted to stay away from anything that could try and show me something beautiful?

No, I will not be that pessimistic. I want to see something beautiful to distract me from what I was, I thought as I pulled on a pair of loose harem pants. I want to see something that didn’t remind me of death for once. Something that didn’t remind me of how ugly I was and how ugly the world was. How terrible were the things that I had done that I was terrified of destroying the things that weren’t me, terrified of corrupting them. I don’t remember how I managed to get to the back door of the home, but as I put my hand on the brass knob to open the door, I froze like a statue.

But what if I was right? What if those flowers didn’t just wilt?

What if they died?

What if they ended up like her beauty, crumpled and ragged like a forgotten doll? Broken? Irreparable?

I could feel myself trembling, no matter how much I wanted to prove to someone, myself, that I wasn’t weak, that I was proud of what I had done to benefit people.

No, I didn’t benefit people, I benefited myself. I benefited my clientele, benefited whoever wanted me to kill someone and could find the right price for their head. I didn’t benefit the majority; I tore apart families without a second thought, it didn’t matter.

Of course I was terrified of beauty; who the hell wouldn’t be if they had my life? I was terrified of everything, including myself, because I understood that, one day, everything beautiful had to die.

But evil? Hatred? Blood? No... that never died, it found its lifeblood in death.

I was proving that idea right now. I was alive, in a sense, at least. I was corporeal as far as I could tell, and that made it so much worse. Even being a ghost where people were unable to touch me and me them would make this so much better for everyone. Instead, I was trapped around people who tried to see a good in me that wasn’t there. How is that for late timing?

My heart was hammering away in my chest, I could feel myself unable to breathe again. I let go of the knob and slowly sank to the floor, curling my knees up to my chest so I could hug them, my hands digging into my scalp as I scraped my nails against it, trying to get a hold of something that wouldn’t break apart at any moment. I felt hot tears of... something linked with some emotion that I couldn’t place. I refrained from rocking back and forth, choosing instead to lock my muscles in place.

Of course I was afraid of something as simple as flowers; I was so stupid. I was surprised I could even comprehend what beautiful was anymore.

 

 

I didn’t realize that I had passed out until I slowly became aware of someone holding me.

“...found him like this,” the voice stated before drifting out again. “...panicking ...practically screaming...scratches!”

...scratches? Who scratched something? They must have done it pretty hard for the voice to be that angry about them.

And why did my head hurt? My arms hurt, too, and so did my back, but I was used to it. At least they weren’t broken.

Or maybe they were, I really didn’t know or care; if the warm person holding me continued to hold me, I’d be happy. They were solid, like a statue, but they were so soft and warm that it was almost impossible to describe the sensation. I wondered if they were as wonderful as they sounded and felt...

“...him up,” another voice said, one that sounded so unearthly beautiful that it almost outranked the one of the person holding me. It sounded more feminine than the first one, not as deep, not as gravely.

“...trying...hours now...sleep it off,” the first voice said, and then suddenly I was moving. I wanted to squirm away, a large part of me wanting to hide from these voices, but I didn’t want to leave the comfort of this person’s arms as they moved me. I ended up curling into them a little more, causing the person to pause for a moment that felt like an hour before they simply held me tighter and continued moving.

I didn’t even think I could move anymore before I wanted to, and then I was suddenly plunged into my nightmarish hell again, featuring the one person I hated the most, her body mangled and paler than snow.

 

 

I woke up with a massive headache. It almost felt like I had a hangover, something I hadn’t experienced in a while. I wanted to bring my hands up to my head to get rid of the lights that were a bit too bright, even behind my eyelids, but my arms hurt so badly that it was probably better not to move them.

I slowly opened my eyes, having to close them and blink a few times before managing to squint them open far enough for me to see that I was not in the room Phrer had assigned me.

This room was stark white, the only colour in the room was the four posters of the bed that I was currently laying on, which was thankfully a bit firmer than the one that I had been given. There was another set of French doors that were letting in a lot of the light from the sun that hung brightly in the sky now, but these ones didn’t face the garden so much and instead faced the lake head on, even though I could still see a couple of the trees that surrounded the rest of the garden through them. The drawers and the nightstands were also white with black accents, and the door that led to what I assumed was another en-suite bathroom was stained wood.

Why was I here? Certainly, Phrer wouldn’t have moved me in the middle of the night without me remembering it. That would be stupid.

I tried to lift my arms again and winced in pain when I realized they were on fire, like someone had poured hydrogen peroxide on an open wound created by a damned spear.

“You know, if you keep moving like that, it’s going to hurt worse,” someone said from the side of me, and I turned to see Phrer sitting on the opposite side of the bed in a chair with a tray and a book that was currently open to the halfway point. He had glasses on now, which only made his silver eyes look even brighter, and he slowly put the book down before coming around the bed to stand closer to me.

I tried to speak before I realized that my throat felt like I’d swallowed a package of nails, causing me to have to clear my throat enough to even whisper, “Why does it feel like I got hit by a semi-truck?”

He raised an eyebrow before he crossed his arms over his chest. “You tell me,” was his cryptic answer.

I narrowed my eyes, irritated now. “Why do you think I’m asking you?” I shot back, not that it was much or even that challenging of him since I could only exude a pathetic whisper.

“You don’t remember anything at all from last night?” he questioned, his eyes narrowed as well, but he looked more confused and intrigued than I was. I could feel my eyes burning at his insolence, and his eyes widened slightly before they settled back into an exhausted glare.

He sighed. “Well, I guess I will have to explain things to you,” he concluded, sitting on the bed nearest my hips. “I woke up to the sound of someone screaming their heads off about something called Kodali or Kojimai or Kona and the sound of glass being broken. And who do I come downstairs to find curled up in a ball on the floor with a piece of the glass from my shattered backdoor in their hands with cuts and scratches all over the arms, bleeding from their scalp, and giant blisters on their back?”

I paled at that, unable to control my reaction. And suddenly, everything that had transpired came back to me. The flowers, the shower, the garden, breaking the glass, cutting myself, wanting to die, all of it. I fought the urge to curl in on myself again at the thought of it. How could I have been so stupid? Why couldn’t I have controlled myself?

“Do you mind telling me what the hell happened?” he questioned, the anger in his voice not enough to cover up the flash of worry that I saw in his gaze for a split second before it disappeared.

No, he wasn’t worried about me. He was worried about the damage I had caused to his property, the damage I might have caused to him and his employees. When I didn’t answer, he became visibly frustrated. “Do you know how long it took me to calm you down? Hell, even Talia tried to help, and you didn’t even respond to her. We had to hold you down and take away anything near you the could potentially be turned into something sharp so you didn’t stab yourself in the chest.”

I glared at him, the anger building in my chest. “I was... close to... killing... myself... and you didn’t... let me.”

Now it was his turn to glare at me, the rage palpable as he stiffened. “Of course not! Why would we? You don’t get to decide when you die, not here!”

“Oh... and you... do?”

“No, I just get to decide where the hell you go afterwards!”

“Well you... clearly don’t... do it well enough!” I snapped as best I could, the hatred making it even harder to talk. “I... am supposed to... suffer, you idiot! I killed people! I... am meant... to suffer! Why won’t you... let me suffer?”

He didn’t answer me, he simply got up and stormed out of the room. I tried to scream after him before my voice cracked and I went into another coughing fit that was louder than my ability to talk was. He was such an idiot! I could have been out of his hands, he wouldn’t have had to take care of me anymore! I could have lived in agony for the rest of eternity with the feeling of salt being poured into wounds and a throbbing headache.

Or maybe that wasn’t enough for what I’d done. It wasn’t nearly enough. Fate would just force me to live in agony for the rest of my life, knowing in my mind what I was supposed to do and who I was while the people around me tried to fix something irreparable.

What a cruel twisted bastard he was.

FIVE

I stayed in the bed for the rest of the day and most of the next; Soria brought me food that consisted of a giant bowl of some weird soup that was supposed to make the pain in my body go away and several glasses of water that I needed to keep the vile concoction down. It tasted like spicy dirt and it smelled terrible; I had ended up vomiting the first time I had tried to eat it and, unfortunately, instead of laughing at me or getting angry, she apologized, cleaned it up despite my protests, and brought me a smaller spoon and four glasses of water.

She tried to talk to me, and while I did manage to talk to her, she clearly didn’t want to talk much about what had happened. I’d only gotten a little bit more information from her than I did from Phrer’s little ranting to make me feel bad, but it was enough to piece together most of what had happened.

Apparently, she had woken up to the sound of someone crying and she ended up finding me curled in on myself on the floor of the back half of the lobby. When she had tried to talk to me, I freaked out, smashed the glass door, and tried to attack her before I supposedly stared at her like she was a ghost and proceeded to try to stab myself for all that I was worth. When that didn’t work and she managed to wrestle the piece of glass from me, I had proceeded to scratch myself with nails that I hadn’t even noticed I’d had. I’d apparently dug so deep into my scalp and pulled that I’d needed a couple stitches, which explained the slight pain in my head.

She had been about to run to go get Phrer when everyone suddenly appeared and, after twenty more minutes of me freaking out, had finally managed to pin me down and make me calm enough to carry me back upstairs to what I found out was Phrer’s room. She also commented on my lack of response to Talia’s voice, who had locked herself away for the day due to her embarrassment of breaking her sacred vow to Phrer.

“I’ve never seen anyone, gay, asexual, or anything else, not respond to a siren before,” she stated again, still puzzled over it. “And mortals usually have an even harder time, even if they’re crazier than Hades.”

I gave her a droll stare at the last comment, but I didn’t particularly care. I just wanted to get someone, anyone, to stop treating me like I was going to be okay, because I wasn’t.

She had been rambling on about something else, trying in vain to cheer me up before I blurted, “Why aren’t you mad at me?” She paused at that.

“Well, for starters, you know what I did. I’m not a good person. And I tried to attack you when you were trying to help me,” I argued. She stared at me, contemplating what I had said, to my relief. I sat there in awkward silence as her eyes darkened and spaced out a little bit.

I was beginning to think that I broke her when she finally spoke to ask the question I hated most. “Do you want me to be mad at you?”

Yes, actually, I do. I want everyone to be mad at me that way I have enough of a choice to get away from you good-doers and not taint you.

“Yes,” was my curt response.

“Why?”

“I just told you why!” I said, exasperated. “How can you not be mad that I could have killed you or anyone else in that room?”

She snorted, making my eyes narrow at her at the questioning of my abilities. “Sweetie, you were having a panic attack, I’m not going to fault you for not being in control of your own actions. You must remember that you tried to kill yourself, too, not just me. And hurt me? You couldn’t hurt me if you tried, and that’s not due to a lack of skill, either.”

I glared at her, angry now, as she continued. “We couldn’t die from anything you could possibly do to us; cause us major bodily harm, send us into a coma for a few hours due to blood loss, and try to chop us into bits, sure, but I put emphasis on the word ‘try’ there. Hell, I’ve been poisoned and tortured with the venom of a hydra and I’m still kicking.” She paused for a second, contemplating again. “Well, limping, but kicking!”

“That doesn’t change the past, Soria,” I argued through clenched teeth.

“And neither does you continuing to say that change the future,” she pointed out.

“I just want you to hate me! I don’t understand why none of you seems to get it that I deserve to be in agony for the rest of eternity! I’ve killed people for less than five-thousand dollars, and you still seem to think that I’ve done good!”

“To be completely honest, I do resent you for that,” she clarified, making me relax a little at that before I stiffened when I realized she looked sad about it. “But the amount of good you did outweighs the bad. Fate isn’t as cruel of a bastard as they make him out to be, even he doesn’t have full control over what happens; that isn’t his place. But if he allowed you to become an assassin and take the lives of over 200 people, then there has to be a reason for it.”

She stood up and made her way to the door, taking the tray with an empty bowl and five empty glasses with her. She made it to the door before she stopped and, without turning, spoke again.

“And telling me to hate you isn’t going to make me dislike you or anyone else more. I’m not that good about taking orders.”

And with that, I was alone again.

I stared at the window for a little while, the house still slightly warmer than I would have liked, but it was still hard to move my arms without causing a lot of pain. I had finally gotten to see the damage done to them and it shocked me to see the kind of gore that I forced upon my limbs.

Some of the scratches were more like open wounds, long, jagged, and deep, and the swelling around some of them would usually mean an infection in the human world, whereas here it only meant that the skin was healing itself faster than normal and was causing extreme cell build-up around the wound. My hair was still intact except for the few places that I had ripped my scalp so hard that small sections had been yanked out, although they weren’t very visible with the amount of hair on my head.

I wanted to get out of this damn bed so badly, but the last time I had tried to stand, Phrer had popped into the room and startled me so badly that I ended up falling back onto it and causing myself even more pain. He had just cursed, helped me under the thin covers, and practically threatened to restrain me if I insisted on moving anywhere that wasn’t going to be the restroom.

I didn’t understand Phrer; for being one of the gods, or demigods, I guess, of wisdom and justice, he wasn’t very good at his particular job. Oh well, maybe he’d get booted from his position for being an imbecile, and maybe I’d finally get the eternal suffering I deserved.

Could a god even get booted from their position in the world? Maybe it’d cause the world to end or something. Or maybe it’d just result in another god taking their place. I still didn’t get the whole gist of what exactly being a god entailed in the reality that they did exist, but I guess I’d find out sooner or later when my case was reviewed and I was called upon to make my plea in front of two of the main gods.

I shivered at that; I didn’t want to meet them. As much as I wanted to get out of here, I was more than worried that they would share their nephew’s sentiment and come to let me into Valhalla or, worse, pulled another tie.

I just shook it off and stared out the window for a little while longer before my eyelids got heavy and I was unable to resist the pull of sleep.

 

 

She smiled at me, her dark-brown hair cut short around her head with long bangs in the front that fell in a straight fringe in front of her bright brown eyes. She was around my height, which I appreciated, and she wore a pair of beat-up black Converse and a shirt that hung slightly over her relaxed curves rather than hugging them along with a pair of black jeans that hugged a nice pair of legs and an adorable butt.

It was strange; no one ever smiled at me, or at least not genuinely.

But she smiled at me, a pure smile with no bad intentions behind it for once. I raised my shot glass to her and she raised her cup to me. I quickly downed the shot of liquid courage before making my way over to her.

The party was crowded, and I was almost stopped a couple of times by some two-cent whores that literally pet me. I never understood why Dom was cool with them, maybe because they were good and cheap, but they looked like plastic.

This girl, this woman, was something different. She didn’t look cheap, she looked natural and almost out of place in this area. When I stopped in front of her, her smile fell a little bit and she looked away, like she was afraid of looking at me this close. I felt hurt for a moment before I realized that she was blushing and shaking a little.

Great, I found another socially awkward freak!

She glared at me playfully, her cheeks turning a darker shade of red before stuttering, “Th-thanks for that, a-asshole.”

Oops, hadn’t meant to say that out loud.

She laughed at me again. “Bet you didn’t mean to say that out loud either, did you?”

I grinned sheepishly, but her voice was so calming and smooth, a little deeper than normal for a girl, but still feminine nonetheless, and I couldn’t help but want to talk to her more.

“Yeah... sorry. I’m not very good with this, which explains the alcohol,” I said, nodding to her glass of what looked like rum and Coke. If her cheeks weren’t already fire engine red, they were now.

“I’m Demitri,” I blurted, sticking my hand out. She stared at it for a second before she tentatively took it in her smaller one and a pulse of heat shot up my arm and into my chest. I almost gasped as she looked back at me, her eyes changing into bright silver ones.

“It’s nice to finally see you in a kinder state, Demitri,” the person said, their voice deepening until they matched the timbre of someone I couldn’t place.

I blinked and gone was the beautiful woman and the lost memory of the party, and in its place were Phrer and a room that looked identical to the one I had been in, but there was no more pain in my body. He was stilling holding onto my hand, but that same warmth that was in my chest suddenly spread everywhere else as his silver eyes gleamed with an emotion that I couldn’t understand.

“I’m never in a kind state,” I informed him quietly, looking down to the side to break the contact before trying to withdraw my hand, only to gasp when he yanked me back to him. He let go of my hand but he quickly grabbed onto my hip when I tried to pull away.

“Well, at least you’re not yelling at me to hate you,” he said gently, his eyes darkening. I was trembling at the contact; I only ever grabbed people like this, but they never did it to me, and even then, it had been overly rare. Everything felt so weirdly real, so warm...

He brushed his other hand against my cheek and, against my better judgement, leaned into it just a bit, closing my eyes as I bit down on the groan of happiness at finally feeling something other than pain and dark loneliness as the warmth of his touch spread through my head and down my spine. “Why do you insist on me disliking you so much, little one?” he murmured, causing me to open my eyes to see that he was just mere inches away from my face.

“I...” I didn’t want to answer him. I didn’t want to tell this man, dream or figment or not, that it was because I was grieving. Love didn’t exist, I knew that. She’d proven that to me. It was an excuse to get into someone’s pants so you could earn their trust before they got bored of you. And yet...

“You don’t have to tell me, vacker,” he said, the enunciation on the “a” sounding oddly comforting. “I just want to make you understand that there is nothing to be afraid of...”

Before I could say anything, Phrer leaned in and brushed his lips against mine softly. I debated protesting, but it was a dream, so why the hell not? I could control it at any time, and I needed to feel something.

I’m not entirely sure how long we stayed like that, me clinging to him slightly, just absorbing the comfort that radiated off him in waves. Everything felt so real, so natural, so…

 

 

Normal.

I shot up in bed, panting and struggling to catch my breath. I don’t know what had scared me so badly, but I had to have been having a dream. I didn’t remember what it was about, but I had a feeling it had to do with her.

I just wanted to feel normal.

And maybe my new normal was just to suffer with the fact that I might never get out of here.

SIX

I was finally allowed to get out of bed today, thank God. Things still hurt, but it wasn’t as bad as it had been the past couple days and Sri had even told me that my back was almost completely better from the blisters that I’d given myself from the shower the other night.

I really wanted to take another one, one that would’ve actually burned me instead of just causing a few blisters, but I refrained from that in case Phrer or someone else decided to turn off the hot water altogether.

The dressings on my arms were lighter now, not as thick as they had been, meaning that those were getting better, too. I just hoped these ones left scars.

I still didn’t understand why all the scars I’d had before I’d died has vanished when I’d come here, but it didn’t really matter anymore. The memories that had come with them weren’t pleasant, but I guess I still had the psychological scars even if I didn’t have the physical ones.

My legs hurt a little bit from barely getting out of bed for over seventy-two hours, but I revelled in it as I made my way to the shower so I would be able to stop smelling myself. I kept it relatively cold, a shock to my system that I wasn’t used to. I usually took scalding showers, and being cold reminded me of rain, something that I also hated. But I wanted to retain my ability to use the shower and to keep the wounds relatively happy. While I would be fine if I died, I still wanted to die a death that didn’t make me out to be a damned wimp like dying from infection would.

I quickly finished with my shower and rubbed the towel as hard as I could over the scratches that weren’t deep as hell before re-bandaging my arms and making my way back into the bedroom so I could grab a pair of sweatpants and a tank top. It wasn’t until I noticed that they were really quite large on me that I realized that these were Phrer’s. I went to take them off before deciding that I would be rude today. If he got angry, oh well, it was his fault for not putting me back in the room he’d assigned me.

Which reminded me: Phrer hadn’t come back down to kick me out of his room the entire time I’d been out of commission. It made sense, I guess, he didn’t want to sleep in the same bed as me, but he still could’ve kicked me out and used his bed again.

I was still trying as hard as I could to remember the dream I’d had last night. It was extremely rare for me to forget a dream. They were usually nightmares, so of course they’d be potent, but I wondered what I had dreamed of that made me more terrified than most of the others did.

It had to have involved her death, but I wasn’t so sure. I hadn’t cried, so I hadn’t been sad, just frightened. But what the hell was it about?

I groaned in frustration before I grasped the side of my head as my headache kicked back full force. It’d gone away sometime last night, but I guess being upset made it worse, so yippee, I was going to have a headache for the rest of my goddamned life.

I slowly made my way up the stairs to go to the kitchen, hoping to maybe be alone for once so I could grab a piece of solid food, like an apple. I would kill for an apple right now.

I rounded the corner into the room and sighed in relief as I saw the kitchen was abandoned for the time being. The space was rather large, with a double oven, a giant fridge, an industrial dishwasher and sink, a giant stove, and stainless-steel countertops with large wooden fixtures built in for cutting boards. Everything was top of the line and almost guaranteed to work perfectly, but I ended up having trouble finding the damned fruit. There was no bowl on any of the counters, there was none in the fridge, and there wasn’t any in the pantry.

What the hell? Was it too damn much to ask for a piece of fruit? And I knew there had to be some because some had been on...

The dining room table.

I backtracked to the dining room and was equally disappointed when I discovered that they weren’t there, either. God...

I squeezed my eyes shut and grabbed the side of my head, the headache throbbing again. I needed to stop getting angry over little shit like this. I opened my eyes slowly, the lights burning my eyes slightly, but when I opened them fully, my eyes widened.

There, sitting on the table, was a fat red apple where the bowl had been the other night.

I stared at it for a minute, utterly confused. That wasn’t there before, I would have grabbed it and left already if it had been. What the…?

I started to reach out and grab it, but the rational part of me stopped me. I’d seen enough B-rated horror movies in my lifetime to know what would happen if I grabbed that apple. I reeled my hand back quickly before whipping my head all around the room. Someone had to have come in and planted that in the few seconds while my eyes were closed.

There was no way in hell that that apple just appeared out of nowhere.

There were only two doorways here, and one of them led to the kitchen, a place that had been empty less than two minutes ago. The other led back out into the hallway, but there were too many possibilities for someone to hide. The hallway led both upstairs and downstairs, and quite frankly, I didn’t feel like walking all that way and probably have one of them obviously lie to me about whether they did it or not.

I stepped back out into the hallway, upset at myself that I was cowardly enough to not even grab the thing I had been looking forward to for the time being, but I decided that I would just spend some more time in the library.

I opened the doors and I was immediately struck with the familiar scent of old books: ink, paper, and a little bit of dust. God, I loved that smell, it was comforting, reminded me of the only good times I’d had during my childhood. I’d have to look very hard for the book I was trying to find here, but maybe I’d find something else that piqued my interest to go along with it.

The first shelf I came to was filled with old manuscripts in a language that I couldn’t even begin to understand. It looked almost like hieroglyphs, but there were symbols that looked like Greek letters sprinkled throughout. How odd. The shelf above it held manuscripts that weren’t as yellowed, but they were in what I assumed was Old Nordic scripture. I assumed that this entire first cabinet was just manuscripts or old texts of stuff I couldn’t read, but I had a feeling all of it was mythology of some sort. I’ll keep that in mind for later.

The next cabinet held classical texts ranging from a weathered manuscript of the Odyssey and the Iliad to a small collection of Shakespearean sonnets to copies of Oscar Wilde books.

The third looked like it was filled with homemade books, so I pulled one out, wondering why he would make these. He didn’t really seem like the type of guy to do something without a purpose, and I was almost certain that these probably weren’t for entertainment.

The first page I came to appeared to be a table of contents of some sort, and it spanned the first four pages of the book. I couldn’t read any of it, so I just flipped to a random page. It was about halfway into the book, and the layout of the page was what caught me the most.

Up in the corner was a very detailed drawing of a man’s face, so much so that it almost looked like a photograph. His features were hard and strong, his nose prominent, and he had his hair pulled back from his face, save for the few locks at the front that fell in waves next to his face. He looked rather upset, but in a very angry way, not so much sadness.

I tried to read some of it, but none of it stood out to me. What could have passed for certain words in English still made no sense, and I was damn sure that someone was drunk when they came up with the symbols for these sounds. I turned the pages until I came to the next picture, which came about ten thin pages later.

This time, it was a picture of a woman. Her features were small, sharp, almost like that of Marshall and Docri. Was she a fae, as well? Her hair was a very light blonde, a sharp contrast to her almost black eyebrows, and while her face looked angelic, her eyes held a malice that almost unnerved me, and her grimace was anything but kind. Again, I couldn’t read anything, but the first bulleted mark under her name looked almost exactly like the man before hers did. Again, I couldn’t read any of it, but everything looked so formal...

Like a report?

It took me a minute to realize exactly what I was looking at, but it made sense. These were reports, they must be. Phrer was one of the gods of justice and law, so it would make sense if these were reports.

But what were they for? I had a feeling I knew where these people went, given by their faces alone. But I wondered if all of them went there. I flipped through the next forty, forcing me to the end of the book 400 or so pages later, and I was right. They all went to the same place, and most of them still had the same first bullet point under their name.

Which got me thinking: was I in one of these records?

Surely, I was, but maybe I wasn’t. I hadn’t been sentenced anywhere, so why would I have a record? Still, the curiosity was there...

I closed the book and replaced it on the lower shelf of the three. Now that I looked at it, there were the most books on the lower shelf than on the middle or top shelves. I had a distinct feeling that the middle shelf was reserved for those still serving their time here, so I grabbed the one on the farthest end of the shelf. I flipped to the last page that was labelled, but I wasn’t there.

I put it back and pulled out the one directly above it on the top shelf. Just as I assumed, these people looked happy. There were some with battle scars, but they looked happy, free. I wasn’t in this one, either, as I had suspected.

I turned my attention back to the bottom shelf and pulled out the book that was closest to the staircase that led up to the second level since I saw that the closer I had gotten, the more modern the people in them looked. I yanked it out and flipped to the last labelled page in that one. And sure enough, there I was.

I looked almost the same, except...

The picture of me was from five years ago. I had shorter hair then, just below my shoulders, and my eyes were shining with a light that I forgot that I had once had. I looked pissed, but there was something in my eyes that made me think that I was covering up for something. My jaw was tight, I could tell, and the muscles in my neck were bulging. I frowned at that. I didn’t want to think back that far. I knew why that picture was there, but had they been watching me for that long?

Or had I already gone through this process?

My heart stopped at that thought before I pushed the thought away. No, he had simply decided to update it to where I was inevitably going to go. Yeah, that made sense.

My eyes scanned the page and they stopped on one particular section. For some reason, there was a word that looked like the others on that shelf that was crossed out and replaced with something else. What I wouldn’t give to read what that read.

I was about to check one of the other books when the door opened. I quickly shoved the book back into its place, almost certain I shouldn’t have been reading these records to begin with. I turned just in time to see Phrer walking in, his head down and tapping away on a small tablet, so I quickly sidestepped to the other shelf that was lined with classical books and feigned interest in those.

I moved to pull out a book whose title I couldn’t pronounce since it was in phonetic English from a foreign title that appeared to be Chinese based off the cover art, but was stopped when I heard him speak.

“Oh, good,” Phrer said, his voice rough from sleep. “You’re up and about. I was wondering when you were going to get up.”

“Well, considering you practically threatened me into staying in bed yesterday, I figured that I might as well get out today while I had the chance,” I answered, not looking at him while I took the book down. “What is this one, by the way?” I asked, changing the topic.

He strolled over to me, giving me ample time to take in his appearance. His hair was a bit messy, a couple days’ worth of facial hair showing on his face, and his silver eyes were twinkling lazily. He wore a pair of black jeans and a green V-neck t-shirt, his feet bare and silent as he moved towards me.

I hated the way my body reacted to him. He was very attractive, as gods were, I suppose, but I still wanted him to hate me. I didn’t deserve to be attracted to someone like him.

He glanced at the book before staring at me. “You’ve never heard of the Dao de Jing before?” he questioned, seeming a bit confused at my lack of knowledge at the book.

“If I had, I don’t think I’d be asking,” I responded hotly, my eyes dulling slightly. He just gave me a languid stare.

“It’s the main religious text of Taoism, based on the words of the founder Lao-Tzu,” he answered. “It’s the most translated text in the world aside from the Bible, so yes, I am a bit amused by the fact that you don’t know it.”

I glared at him. “If you remember, not exactly the most up-to-date on all things religious.”

He shook his head. “Well, I think you’d probably like it. It’s interesting, extremely philosophical and not so much religious,” he explained. I stared back at the cover. It was beautiful, a mixture of greens that created a border around the picture of snowy hills dotted with barren trees.

“What is it, though?”

“It explains the ideas and philosophies of living a good and true life. It isn’t about salvation like a lot of texts are, it’s just demonstrating how to lead a good life.”

I stared at this book, trying to mask my awe and partial disgust. It seemed intriguing enough. How ironic that the book I chose to not get caught was the one that could supposedly help me the most.

I chuckled inwardly and, book in hand, went for the door. I was a few feet from the door when he grabbed me by the top part of my arm and I froze. Memories resurfaced, and even though the grip was gentle, so unlike the persons from whom those memories stemmed, my immediate reaction was visceral, violent.

Before I could stop myself, my vision blacked out.

When I came to again, Phrer’s arms were pinned at his sides by my legs that were smashing into them and one hand was around his throat while the other was retracted, ready to… do something, although I was not entirely sure what my mind had decided for him. I could feel my face curled into a snarl, and Phrer’s eyes were wide as he struggled against me.

Something about me felt extremely off. I didn’t feel right. I hadn’t felt this amount of rage and agony in a long time, and when I realized what this reminded me of, I quickly scrambled away from him on my hands, unable to get to my feet. I was panting, my head was aching, my arms were killing me and I could feel some of them leaking blood onto the bandages, meaning I’d done something to rip the stitches. It felt like something in me was breaking and I could feel something burning the backs of my eyes, except I could not tell if it was rage or fear.

Phrer sat up, almost lethargically, staring at me the whole time. I saw scratches on his arms, one that looked like it could have been bad if it had gone any deeper on his neck, and there was a bruise already forming on his throat from where I had been holding him down. I could feel my own bruises starting to hurt, but I needed to get away from him.

I just couldn’t force my body to move.

He slowly stood up, watching me cautiously, like he was trying not to frighten me. But when he took a step forward, my body managed to cooperate with me again. I let out an involuntary “No!” before I quickly stood up and backed up, running to the door.

I barely managed to pull it open before it slammed again, narrowly missing my hand, and I was turned around to face a very confused Phrer. I tried struggling as best I could, trying to get away from him so I didn’t hurt her again. I didn’t want to hurt him like I hurt her. I didn’t want to live those memories again.

He simply held me against the door gently, pressing my shoulder into it so I couldn’t move. I don’t understand why he wasn’t letting me leave.

Just let me leave!

I didn’t want to be weak in front of this person, I didn’t want to be weak in front of myself, let alone someone else, especially someone who saw weakness and rewarded it. But I couldn’t hold back anymore and I could feel tears of frustration and guilt build up before I could stop them. I didn’t dare look at him, didn’t dare look at his eyes, knowing that he was probably just waiting for me to stop struggling so he could kill me.

Great, I managed to work myself up again and I began to fight harder, trying to hit him or do something, but he simply grabbed my wrists and pulled them together in his hands and pinned them at the sides my head so I would stop.

“Enough,” he murmured. “It’s alright. I’m sorry for grabbing you. Just calm down.”

“No!” I yelped, trying to wiggle my arms from his grasp. “I’m going to hurt her, Phrer. I don’t want to hurt her. You’re going to make me hurt her!”

He looked confused for a moment before something dawned on him. He leaned forward, closer to my face, before he said, “You’re not going to hurt Koralai, little one. The only person you’re hurting right now is you.”

I paused to stare at him in shock, making contact with those silver orbs that just stared at me with a softness that confused me even more. I could have killed him if I had wanted to. If I had just stayed under, he would have been dead. Yet here he was, still trying to calm me down.

And how did he know her name? A thought occurred to me and it made me angry, not so much at him restraining me, but at him refusing the little bit of privacy I asked for.

“I told you to stop picking around in my brain!” I cried, although it turned more into a wail at having to hear her name. He seemed to realize his mistake, thinking it would calm me, when, in reality, it just made the situation worse. “Don’t you dare ever say her name! You don’t get to say it! I don’t permit myself to say it! And stop picking around in my goddamned brain!”

I managed to garner enough strength to wrench my hands from his and shove him back far enough that I managed to get out of the room and run down the stairs and into the room that I hadn’t been in for three days. I slammed the door and locked it, knowing that it wouldn’t keep him out if he really wanted in, but the sentiment behind it was still there.

I don’t know how long I cried, muffling the tears of anger, grief, and panic with a pillow while I sat on the bed, curled in on myself. How could I have done that to him? How could I have gone so feral so quickly? I could have severely wounded him if I didn’t kill him.

Finally, the tears ran out, leaving me dry, empty, and stuffy. The sun was already setting, but I don’t know how long I was in the library before I came here, but it had been a while. My stomach growled from not eating all day, but I couldn’t care less. I looked down at my arms, peeling off the bandages that were now stuck together with blood from the busted stitches, but I just yanked them off despite the pain.

Infections be damned.

I rose from the bed, still achy, and tossed the soiled bandages in the trash can in the bathroom before pulling my clothes off and setting the heat on the shower up. 

Let them turn off the hot water. 

Let them do whatever they wanted. 

I was done fighting them, but I was also done trying.

I looked around in the drawers, feeling numb before I found what I was looking for.

Might as well add some more scars to those mangled arms...

 

 

The hot water burned my skin, the reopened wounds, and the new ones I created on my arms and stomach. The water made the wounds burn in agony, spilling scarlet water down the drain. I let the water clean the blood from the razor before putting it back down and washing my body, scrubbing as hard as I could. I loathed the pain, but at least it didn’t make me feel numb.

I threw more bandages on simply because I didn’t want to wake up stuck to the bed sheets. I didn’t even bother putting on clothes, my scalded body making contact with the sheets was enough to make me squirm in discomfort. I noticed a tray next to the bed when I had come out of the bathroom, but I ignored it and the book that sat next to it.

The weight of everything bore down on me, and, exhausted, I fell into another web of nightmares.

 

 

She stared at me when I was finished talking to her. I don’t know what she had thought I did before, but she knew now. I was waiting for her to condemn me, to call me terrible, to call me a monster and a murderer.

But she did none of those things. Instead, she looked at me with curiosity. “So, you kill people for money?”

I winced at that. When she put it like that, it made me sound like a jackass. We’d been dating for a couple of months now, and for the first time in a long time, I was happy. I’d just turned twenty, her nineteenth birthday was in a couple weeks, and she couldn’t wait to go to college. Thankfully, she would be going to the university down the street, which meant that she wouldn’t be that far from me.

“Yes...” I answered slowly, “but I usually only go after people that deserve it, the ones that threaten the people I care about like family.”

She smiled at that. “If you don’t kill innocent people, then I don’t care what you do,” she said, but then her eyes got a bit dark. “But don’t get hurt. Please.”

I smiled at that, happy she was worried for me and my safety, even if it was just so I could come back to her.

“Don’t worry, baby, I won’t,” I promised, winking at her, causing her to roll her beautiful brown eyes in playful annoyance before she walked over to me and sat at my side, throwing her legs over my lap as she buried her face in my neck. I just held her there for a few minutes before she pulled back and brought my head down a bit so she could kiss me.

She always smelled so nice, like vanilla and cinnamon, and she tasted like it, too. I groaned in my throat as I deepened the kiss, feeling her smile against my lips as I pushed her down so she was lying underneath me. She held me against her tightly, the both of us savouring this rare moment.

Something in the kiss changed suddenly, and when I pulled away and opened my eyes, she was staring at me, fear present in her wide eyes. “Kor?” I asked her, worried.

She suddenly began to scream as bloody marks appeared on her, a giant scar marring her perfect olive skin, blood bubbling from her lips as she choked on her own lifeforce when she tried to continue screaming. There was a sudden snapping sound as her head jerked to the side, but that didn’t stop her screaming.

Even though her lips stopped moving, her screams were still loud and clear. I wrenched back, terrified when I saw that her chest had been practically torn open, her body marred with cuts, bruises, and rusty red fluids.

My hands were covered with her blood, my arms warm, wet, and sticky. I could only stare as she sat up, her head still cracked at an odd angle, her eyes wide with terror as she screamed at me. “How could you? Why? I did everything for you! I protected you, you son of a bitch! Stop hurting me! Don’t you dare hurt him like you hurt me!”

I could only stare, tears of agony flowing from my eyes like a faucet, the blood in my veins like razors, my heart feeling like it was being torn apart.

I covered my ears and started rocking back and forth like a child, terrified of what was happening, not caring that I was covering my body in blood. Make it stop! Someone, anyone, make it stop!

Make it stop!

I don’t know how long I sat there in agony, but the sobs I was emitting were now the only things audible in that room. I slowly opened my eyes and uncovered my ears to see that she had fallen back, finally dead, her beautiful eyes dulled and her skin already a sickly pale grey. I got off the couch and knelt at her side, closing her life-giving orbs for the last time before I wrapped her in my arms and sobbed and wailed into her neck, my tears washing away some of the blood that spotted and stained her skin.

“I’m so sorry, Kor!” I wailed, cursing myself. “I didn’t mean to hurt you! Please forgive me!”

I knew she wouldn’t, but the fact that she couldn’t made it hurt so much worse.

I pulled my face away from her throat and screamed to whatever there was, God, a heaven, a holy being, cursing them and damning them.

My heart was shattered, the one light in my life gone.

My throat started to hurt, and soon I couldn’t scream anymore. I brought my face down to hers, kissing her cold forehead before I whispered my goodbyes to her.

“Son v nebi, lyubov moya (Сон в небі, любов моя),” I told her, my heart clenching, knowing she believed in a life after death. “Meni duzhe shkoda (Мені дуже шкода).”

And then came more tears, the breaking of my heart.