The Goddess Hunt

Page 3


“You need rest,” said Casey to Lux. “Go to bed, and we’ll figure out where James and Kate will—”
“Stop.” Lux tensed, and he turned toward the door. Several seconds of silence passed, and he whispered, “Did you hear that?”
I expected Casey to brush aside his concern, but instead they stood together. “Come on,” said Casey, and he fetched a pair of backpacks from the corner. “If we leave now we might be able to—”
A chorus of howls shattered the quiet night, and Lux swore. Loudly. “Artemis. I told you,” he growled. “I bloody told you.”
James jumped to his feet, and I joined him. “What’s going on? Is everything okay?” I said, and he shook his head.
“Ella’s out there.”
Ella, another member of the council. And according to the twins, another person who wanted them dead. My stomach dropped, and I peeked through the threadbare curtains. Sure enough, Ella stood bathed in moonlight not fifteen feet from the cottage door, and several hulking silhouettes loomed over her. Even in the darkness I could see the bow in her hand and the quiver of arrows slung over her shoulder, and she glared at the cottage as if it had personally offended her.
A rough hand grabbed my wrist and yanked me away from the window. Lux. “You did this, didn’t you? Somehow you told them.”
“Are you crazy?” I tried to pull my arm away, but my newfound immortality was the only reason his grip didn’t shatter my wrist bones. “How could I have possibly told anyone? I would never—”
“Of course you would. Look who you married,” he snarled.
“Lux, shut up.” Casey rammed his shoulder against a seemingly solid part of wall, but the wood groaned, and a piece half the size of a door came loose. An exit. One big enough for us to squeeze through. “Are you coming?”
Lux hesitated, apparently wavering between exacting vengeance on me or going with his brother. Finally he yanked me along with him. “Like hell I’m letting you go back to them. You’re staying with us.”
I hurried along and gave James an anxious look, but his face was drawn. Would he have somehow told Ella where we were? Or was Lux right—was Henry watching 220ry watcme, and was that how he found out?
We burst into the cool night air, and the four of us took off at a dead sprint. Running with my arm attached to Lux was damn near impossible, but every time I stumbled, he pulled me up with inhuman strength, and we kept going.
At last, once we were so lost I wasn’t even sure which direction the cottage was in, we all stopped. I was the only one who was breathing heavily. The others were too immortal or too dead to care about oxygen, but my body was still adjusting to the changes.
“Did we lose them?” said Casey, his cool demeanor all but gone. Instead he looked like a hunted animal, his eyes wide and his muscles flexing with the need to keep moving.
Lux hesitated. “I’m not—”
Suddenly an impossibly huge dog burst through the trees, snarling and snapping at us. Saliva dripped from its razor teeth, and its eyes glittered with the need to catch its prey. To catch us. I shrieked, and the four of us took off all over again. The dog tried to follow, but its large paws kept getting caught in the underbrush. At least that gave us a chance to get out of there.
This time I was the one leading Lux through the woods. Another dog appeared, somehow even bigger than the first, and Casey and James veered off to the left.
Where were they going? “James!” I shouted, and even though there was a canine the size of a Honda in our way, Lux turned sharply to follow them. The first dog skidded through the dirt and turned a tree into splinters, but that didn’t seem to faze it at all. Instead it changed course with ease, snapping at our heels.
I ran as fast as I could, dodging trees and roots and only looking as far ahead as I had to in order not to trip. Lux guided us down James and Casey’s path, and another set of snarls echoed through the woods ahead of us. But we had more pressing matters to worry about, like the dog that was about half an inch from taking off our legs.
“Lux!” I screeched. Instead of running faster, he let go of my wrist and whirled around. Without warning, he sent his fist flying into the dog’s jaw, and the resounding crack made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. The dog howled, and Lux howled right back.
“Piss off, you hairy beast, before I break your skull.”
To my astonishment, the pair of them stared each other down for the space of several heartbeats, until at last the hound whimpered and ran in the opposite direction. How the hell had he done that?
“Was it absolutely necessary to hurt it?” I said. Lux’s skin glistened with sweat, and his eyes were practically on fire.
“Yes, else she would’ve used us as a chew toy. It’s an old trick. Works every time. Let’s go.”
He didn’t need to tell me twice. We took off running together in the direction Casey and James had disappeared. “Casey?” he called. “Casey!”
Sprinting through the woods, I kept my ears peeled for the sound of snarling, but I heard nothing. Just our feet as we crashed through the forest, making no effort to hide our path. Lux’s shouts grew wilder and wilder, until the desperate way he yelled his brother’s name broke my hearr oroke myt.
At last he stopped, breathing as heavily as I was. His eyes were crazed, and his hands reached out for something that wasn’t there. “Casey!” he screamed, the name long and drawn out.
“Lux—Lux, he isn’t here.” I touched his elbow, but he jerked back, raising his fist as if he were going to punch me, too. Our eyes met, and after a long moment, he lowered his guard.
“This is your fault. You’re the reason we got separated.”
“No, I’m not,” I said, but he was beyond reason. He leaned against a tree, slumped over and pale with exhaustion. At least now I understood why Casey had been trying to get him to rest. He could barely stand up.
“It’s your fault,” he whispered, sinking to the ground and digging his nails into the soil. As he squeezed his eyes shut, tears slid down his cheeks, carving a path through the smudges of dirt. “He’s gone, and it’s your fault.”
I was silent. There was nothing I could say or do short of producing Casey that would make this any better. My insides ached with worry, but Casey was with James, and he wouldn’t let anything happen to him. He couldn’t.
With a gut-wrenching sob, Lux turned his face up to the star-filled sky and screamed, the sound of it reverberating through my very being. I closed my eyes. After everything they’d been through, this would not be the end. I would make sure of it.
Henry slumped against his black diamond throne, and with a wave of his hand, the woman he’d spent half the day arguing with disappeared back into her afterlife. He enjoyed a good debate as much as the next person, a necessary trait when it came to ruling over the reluctant dead, but hours upon hours of irrational stubbornness in the face of logic and reasoning made him want to jump headfirst into the River Styx.
Of all the members of the council, he was the one most likely to sympathize with those who had been dealt a fate they did not want. But it was not fate itself that mattered; it was how a soul handled it that he had to judge. The vast majority of citizens in his kingdom never set foot inside his throne room, and he preferred it that way. However, for those who came to him without any idea of what sort of afterlife they deserved, he judged as fairly and without bias as he could. Sometimes it was a kind afterlife; other times it was not. But his rulings always stood no matter how lively the debate became.
“I see you have had a rough day,” said a familiar voice, and Henry glanced up. Walter stood framed between the columns that lined the aisle, his lips turned downward.
“Yes, I have,” said Henry. “And I have the feeling it is about to get worse.”
“Perhaps, or perhaps not,” said Walter. “It all depends on which you value more.”
Henry frowned. It would be one of those conversations then. Walter never missed an opportunity to lord information over other members of the council, especially the original six siblings. “Get to the point.”
“Temper, temper. I setmight decide not to tell you after all.”
“Very well, then don’t.” Henry stood, feeling every single one of his eternal years as he stretched.
For a split second, shock displayed on Walter’s face, and Henry had to hold back a smile. It never failed. Though Walter was powerful and rightly King of the Sky, the one thing he could not handle was losing control over a situation. Normally Henry indulged him, but not today. The stress of letting Kate go was difficult enough. No telling where she was or what she was doing, or worse, who she was with. And if she did not return come September—
Henry stopped that train of thought. No use thinking about it. He’d promised her privacy, and he would hold himself to it.
He was halfway down the aisle when Walter managed to regain his senses. “Tell me, brother, what would you do to get your hands on the twins?”
At first Henry kept walking. He was far too weary for riddles. But as he was about to pass into the antechamber, the solution dawned on him, and he faced his brother. “Castor and Pollux?”
Walter’s mouth twisted into a satisfied smirk. “The very same.”
“You’ve found them?”
“In a manner of speaking.” Walter gestured to the empty pews on either side of the aisle. Normally they were full of souls that awaited judgment, but Henry had dismissed the rest, sending them into a peaceful afterlife for now. He’d had enough for today.
Together the brothers sat beside one another, and Walter folded his hands, pausing in a clear attempt to regain control of the situation. He knew he had Henry’s attention, but Henry did not mind. Not if it meant finding Castor and Pollux.
“I received a tip that they are in Greece,” said Walter at last, enunciating each syllable. “Ella has hunted them down.”
“Excellent,” said Henry. “She will bring them in?”
Walter hesitated. “She has not yet managed to…er, apprehend them.”
“Of course she hasn’t.” Henry pinched the bridge of his nose. It was always something. After millennia of chasing the twins down, this certainly wasn’t the first time they’d come close, and it wouldn’t be the first time they’d lost them either. “And you have come to me why?”
“Because we’ve managed to separate them,” said Walter. “Unfortunately they were not alone when Ella found them.”
Henry stilled, and he wrapped his fingers around the edge of the pew. There was only one reason Walter would come to him instead of the others. “Kate?”
His brother nodded, and Henry swore softly. Of course she was the one to run into them after the council had spent thousands upon thousands of years searching for them. What else did he expect?
“How on earth did she find them?”
“As my understanding goes, she is spending the summer in Greece with James.”
The wooden pew turned to splinters in Henry’s grip, and his body0%"and his went cold. James. Of all the people in the world, she was spending her time away with James.
With James.
He’d been right. His day had just become exponentially worse.
“What do you expect me to do about it?” he said through gritted teeth. “She is my wife, not my charge, and it is her time off. I have promised to give her six months to lead whatever life she wishes, and I will not interfere with that.”
“I am not asking you to interfere,” said Walter, though it was clear from the defensive note in his voice that that was exactly what he’d planned on. “I am asking you to simply…be prepared.”
Be prepared to meddle in affairs that should have long been put to rest. No doubt they knew who Kate was by now; and if she were anywhere near Pollux when he’d become separated from Castor, her very life would be in danger. And once again, it would be Henry’s fault.
Even if she was not, even if fate was on their side, he had no doubt of where her loyalty on the matter would lie. She did not understand the rules of the Underworld. She did not understand the utmost importance of keeping to them. All she would see were two brothers who loved each other so much that they were willing to risk their very existence to stay together.
She would see their loyalty to each other, not Henry’s loyalty to his eternal responsibilities and obligations. And he would once again be cast as the villain, as he had been upon taking Ava’s life a second time. Now, however, there would be no easy fix.
“Do—” To his horror, his voice cracked, and he swallowed his unease. “Do you intend on upholding your initial ruling on the matter?”
“Regarding their separation? Of course.” Walter examined his fingernails, seemingly oblivious to the tension between them. He must have known though; he always knew.
“And Kate is involved.”
“You are asking me to help you knowing that it will damage my relationship with her.”
Walter arched his eyebrow. “My dear brother, as I have already said, I am not asking for your—”
“Yes, you are.” Henry stood. “You would not have alerted me to this development before its outcome is decided unless you needed me. Do not play games. Tell me what you need.”
Walter’s lips quirked into an annoyed expression, but to his credit, he rose as well and said calmly, “I need you to ensure that Castor and Pollux do not reunite. They will not stray far from the area without each other.”