M’Ordant closed his laptop as he faced them. "He’s right. We should hand him over to Hades. We don’t want to cross the god of the dead. He’s a nasty bugger."
M’Adoc scoffed at them. "And when Hades kills Arik and his immortal soul is stripped bare while Hades tortures him in Tartarus, don’t you think King Badass is going to discover the fact that little Arikos can feel something other than pain without having a human host to sponsor those emotions?"
A rivulet of shock went through him. What was M’Adoc saying? Arik froze as he began to suspect that the emotions he’d thought were residuals left from Megeara’s might have been his own after all. "What’s going on?"
"Shut up, Arik," M’Ordant snapped angrily.
M’Adoc glared at his brothers. "We can’t take a chance of them learning the truth. Ever." His gaze bored into D’Alerian. "Of everyone in this room, Neco, you have the most to lose. Don’t let your compassion for him stop you from doing what needs to be done."
Pain flickered across D’Alerian’s face before he gave a subtle nod.
There wouldn’t be any mercy given to Arik, not that he had expected any. Honestly, his welfare didn’t matter. "I don’t care what happens to me," Arik said to M’Adoc. "Just remember you promised to take care of Megeara."
One corner of M’Adoc’s lips twisted up into a mocking smile. "Oh, don’t worry. I fully intend to take care of her. Immediately."
D’Alerian scowled. "I don’t like that tone, adelphos ."
M’Adoc cast a belittling smirk at him. "No one gives a damn what you like, Neco. She’s a liability to us.
She knows the location of Atlantis and she knows we exist. Would you have me leave a threat like that out there?"
He was going back to kill her. Arik knew it with every ounce of his being.
"You swore to me, you lying bastard." Arik turned on M’Adoc, intending to fight, but as soon as he neared him, he felt something hot and solid pierce his stomach. Pain tore through him.
Arik staggered back and looked down to see a long, bloodied dagger in M’Adoc’s hand. He couldn’t believe it as his knees weakened from the agony of his wound.
M’Adoc moved toward Arik with a merciless glint in his eyes. He buried a fist in his hair as his empty, cold gaze burned into Arik’s. "Sweet dreams, Arik," M’Adoc said an instant before he stabbed him again and everything went dark.
GEARY WAS NUMB AS THEY RETURNED TO THE DOCKS. Over and over she kept going through everything with Arik. But deep inside, she knew Kat was right. Arik had loved her. In spite of everything or maybe because of everything, they’d fallen in love with each other, and she’d just thrown him to the wolves.
She should have trusted in him. Arik wouldn’t hurt her, she knew that. He might have had bad intentions in the beginning, but he wasn’t like that now. Why hadn’t she given him the benefit of the doubt?
"What am I going to do, Kat?" she asked as they tied the lines.
Kat sighed. "There’s nothing to do. He’s gone."
Geary straightened up to stare at the taller woman. "I can’t accept that. I can’t."
But Kat was immune to her pleading look. "You’re going to have to."
"Why?" Geary asked.
"Because sometimes life just basically sucks, and this is one of those times."
"And if I don’t want it to?"
Kat shook her head. "When has it ever listened to you?"
She did have a point. But it didn’t stop the pain inside Geary from hurting. How could she have let M’Adoc take Arik? She should have fought. Should have told him she loved him.
Instead, she’d just stood there as he was taken and done absolutely nothing.
Damn me, I’m such a fool. She’d waited her entire life-time for love, and then when she’d finally found it she’d cast it aside in one moment of hurt anger. How could she have been so stupid?
"This can’t be how it ends."
Kat’s features softened as she neared her. "Geary, look. Arik sacrificed himself to keep you safe. Don’t ruin it by putting yourself into danger and dying. Let him go."
She stared at Kat. "If someone you loved were suffering because of you, could you let him go?"
Kat screwed her face up as if she was in pain. "This isn’t about me," she said in an anguished tone that answered Geary. "Oh, okay, so I wouldn’t stand by and let the man I love suffer when I was the one who caused it… Damn."
"Yeah. Damn. We have to find some way to help him."
Kat raked her hand through her hair as if irritated beyond her tolerance. "I don’t even know how to begin to fix this."
Geary put her hand to her temple as she heard Apollymi’s voice in her head. " Not now please."
"Don’t dismiss her," Kat said out loud. "Apollymi’s probably our best hope right now."
"You know about…" Of course she did. "You hear her, too?"
"All the time. She has a bad habit of nosing her way into pretty much everything I do. She’s terribly nosy that way, but she’s always a friend to me." She smiled before she addressed Apollymi. " Mibreiara, have you any suggestions that don’t involve one of us letting you out?"
"That is the suggestion I prefer."
"Yes, but neither Geary nor I will do that. You got anything else?"
"Yes, but it’s tricky. Listen to me, my girls. You’re about to have an important lesson in men and god politics."
Solin cursed as he heard Arik’s voice in his head. " I have nothing to say to you."
"Fine. I don’t want to hear it anyway. What I need is for you to listen."
"Listen, my ass."
" I need your ears, Solin," he said wryly, " not your ass."
"Go to hell."
"I’m already there."
Solin paused as he felt something odd brush against his collar. It was the touch of the dead and he knew it even though it’d been centuries since he’d last felt one. "What?"
A Shade of Arik appeared before Solin. His features were ghastly white, his eyes dark and pain filled.
He wore nothing but a pair of tattered pants. "M’Adoc killed me."
Solin couldn’t have been more shocked had he been the one who’d died. "How?"
"I surrendered myself to him to protect Megeara. Now he’s reneged on our bargain and is heading for her. I need you to protect her from him."
Of course he did and Solin was through being the dupe in this. Why should he put his life on the line for anyone? Who would he go to for help once he was a Shade? No one. "Do you think I even care?"
"I know you do, Solin. In spite of your protestations, I can see the real man inside that you try so desperately to ignore and hide." He paused before he spoke again, "Please, Brother. She’s not a fighter and he won’t stop until she’s dead. Don’t let an innocent die over nothing."
Still Solin didn’t want to get involved in this. He’d made a similar mistake before and paid dearly for it.
"Do I look like an Oneroi to you? I’m not here to protect humans. Why don’t you go warn her yourself?"
"She won’t speak to me or listen. M’Adoc told her of my bargain with Hades. She hates me now."
Solin didn’t miss the tremor of pain in Arik’s voice. Nor the look of absolute misery on his face. The fact that she was hurting tore Arik apart. "You love her?"
"Obviously more than my life," he said, his voice trembling from his emotions.
Solin narrowed his eyes on Arik. "It hurts, doesn’t it? To have that one person you love learn the truth of what you are and hate you for it?"
"You have no idea."
"Yeah, I do." And instead of feeling the satisfaction he’d anticipated when Arik tasted his own misery, Solin felt nothing but more pain. There was no joy in hurting someone else. At least not for him. "Where are you?"
"I’m on the banks of Styx. M’Adoc won’t allow Charon to ferry me over for fear of Hades finding me and learning the truth. I’m sure that when Hades learns I’m dead he’ll go for Megeara to fulfill my bargain, and that I can’t allow. She’s innocent in this and shouldn’t have to pay for my stupidity. I have nothing to
give you, Solin, but please, if there’s any decency left in you, don’t let her die because of me. I’m begging you."
Solin knew that kind of love. He’d tasted it once and it’d been burning on his tongue like a bitter pill for countless centuries. "Just so you know, I’ve never had a drop of decency in me." Arik literally deflated before Solin’s eyes. "But I won’t let them hurt her. Rest easy."
Even as he spoke, he knew that would never happen. Hades wouldn’t allow Arik peace once he learned where the man was, and from the looks of it neither would M’Adoc. And for the first time in centuries, Solin honestly felt sorry for someone other than himself.
"You can trust me, Arik."
"Thank you." He inclined his head to Solin before he faded out.
Taking a deep breath, Solin leaned back in his chair. His motto had always been to help no one because no one had ever helped him. He hated people.
He hated the gods most of all.
And he had no business getting involved in this. But how could he stand by and not do something?
Megeara needed protection, and unlike him, she didn’t have the powers to fight against them and win.
They would tear through her in no time.
If he were smart, he’d contact ZT and let the Chthonian handle it.
"Nah," he said with a bitter smile. "I’d rather be vindictive than smart." And with that he flashed himself out of the safety of his home to search for a human.
It didn’t take much to find Megeara. Her aura stood out even to the waking Dream-Hunter, especially since she was in such emotional turmoil.
But what gave him pause was the air of hopeless sadness that engulfed her. It’d been a long time since he’d seen its equal. "You okay?"
She jerked around at the sound of his voice to glare at him. "What are you doing here?"
"I have no idea, but I think it’s to help."
She scoffed at him as she pulled down a book from her bookshelf, "That boat already sailed. You told us we were on our own."
"Yeah. But the amazing thing about boats is that they occasionally turn around and come back."
"Or they blow up while hosting your air supply," Kat added meaningfully.
He turned his head to see her entering the room from his left. "True, but not this one. Arik asked me to guard Megeara from the others."
Megeara gave him a suspicious look. "Why would he do that?"
"Because he’s not able to."
Still suspicion was heavy in her eyes. She didn’t trust Solin, and honestly he couldn’t blame her for it.
"And why would you do that when you’ve already made your position clear?"
He shrugged. "I’m basically doing it to piss the powers-that-be off."
"And?" Kat prompted.
"I don’t know, there just seemed to be an and attached to the way you said that."
And… for some reason he didn’t want to think about, he’d come to like and respect Arik. But that he’d never admit to. "There’s no and ."
"All right then," Kat said, clapping her hands together. "We’re trying to save Arik. You said he came to you. Where is he?"
Solin hesitated. He’d assumed they knew already, but apparently the women had no clue what’d happened to Arik. "He came to me as a Shade, Kat. M’Adoc killed him."
Geary dropped the book in her hand at the unexpected news. If Kat hadn’t reached out to steady her, she would have probably fallen.
Arik was dead.
It couldn’t be and yet she could tell by the look on Solin’s face that he wasn’t joking.
"I can’t breathe," she whispered as her tears gathered in her throat to choke her. "He can’t be gone."
"Sh," Kat said as she pulled Geary against her. "It’s okay, Geary."
But it wasn’t okay. Arik was dead and it was her fault. She hadn’t even fought for him. M’Adoc had come and she’d all but shoved Arik into the hands of the man who’d killed him.
She sobbed as her heart shattered. How could she have done such a thing, even in anger?
"Uh, ladies. I hate to say it, but I’m not through being a harbinger here. Arik came to me because M’Adoc is hell-bent on cleaning this situation up."
Kat stepped away from her. "Cleaning it up how?"
He looked meaningfully at Geary. "Humans aren’t supposed to know we exist."
That shocked Geary’s tears away as a chill went down her spine. "He’s coming to kill me, too."
Anger consumed her as she wiped away her tears. "What about Tory and Thia?"
"They don’t know anything, so they’re safe. But you, my dearest, are another matter entirely."
Well, she could handle that. Her life was one thing, theirs was another. So long as they were safe, she could deal with whatever came her way.
She bent to retrieve her book of mythology from the floor. "I can’t believe this."
Solin nodded. "It’s really quite pathetic, isn’t it? Arik gives himself up because M’Adoc swears he won’t hurt you, and then the lying bastard decides you need to die anyway."