A cold feeling of dread settled as a knot in the pit of her stomach. "Nice. Could have told me this before we got here."
"Would that have changed your mind?"
Geary looked at Arik and felt the love inside her swell past the unsettling lump. "No."
"Good, then I didn’t waste my breath."
Geary shook her head at Kat before she turned back to Arik. She wanted to touch him so badly that she ached from it. But that would be impossible until they freed him. "Lead on, MacDuff."
"I’m leading, but I can’t look back, either. So stick tight and remember, stay on the trail. Don’t worry about anything that comes at us. Just pretend we’re in a haunted house and don’t get distracted."
"Ooooo, scary." But even though she was making light of this, she knew just how serious it was. One misstep and all three of them would pay dearly for it.
Kat led her off into the bitter darkness that was so oppressive it made her eyes ache. The only way she could tell Kat was still in front of her was that she could hear her breathing. At least she hoped that was Kat. In the dark, Geary’s imagination was playing havoc. For all she knew, it was some creepy beast bent on eating her.
"I’m right here. Keep your eyes forward."
Something slithered beside her. Geary squeaked in dismay and had to force herself not to jump away from it. C’mon, girl, you’ve been on dives with sharks and eels swimming around you. You can handle this. This is nothing. Stay your course …
But in the water, she wasn’t this blind.
"Don’t look back," Kat warned again. "They’re trying to get you to glance behind you and see Arik. If you do, it’s over."
That was easier said than done, especially since something seemed to be glowing in her right peripheral before it drifted back, away from her. And she was desperate to know if Arik was still there. There was no sound or sign of him.
Nothing. For all she knew, they’d grabbed him and pulled him away from her.
And to think she’d always thought Orpheus was an idiot for checking to see if Eurydice was behind him.
Now it all made sense. No wonder the demigod had been so paranoid. No doubt they’d been tormenting him every step of the way, too.
What if Arik became distracted? What if he’d fallen and needed help?
Suddenly a light flashed before them. It was followed by a shriek and a green face so horrendous that Geary actually screamed out loud. Instinctively she started to turn to Arik, but she caught herself as the loud shrieking continued. "What was that?"
"Gorgon," Kat shouted. "Stay to the course and ignore them. They guard the barrier between the Underworld and the Outerworld. Their job is to keep us in here. Don’t let them."
"Don’t try, Geary, succeed."
She intended to.
And as they walked, more and more gorgons appeared. They marched alongside the trio, shrieking and lashing out. Feinting toward them. But the gorgons never touched them. They only did it to make them flinch.
The gorgons were every bit as hideous as the stories had foretold. Their green skin was scaly like a
snake’s and they had red eyes that glowed in the darkness. There was a shuffling, slithering noise that followed them through the cavern.
But the worst was their breath that would make toxic waste proud.
"He’s not there, human," the gorgon to Geary’s right said evilly. "You’ve lost him already."
"Shut up, Euryale," Kat snapped. "Leave her alone."
She hissed at Kat.
Geary did her best to distract herself from them. "I thought people turned to stone if they looked at a gorgon."
"Only men do."
A new fear went through her at Kat’s words. "Arik?"
"I said men , Geary. Not gods or Shades. He’s safe. Just keep moving forward and don’t try to check on him."
That was so much easier said than done, especially when her mind was going wild with what-ifs. "Are you sure?"
"Well, are you stone?"
Not yet, she wasn’t, but if Kat didn’t take the condescension from her tone, Geary might "stone" her. "I don’t mean me. I meant Arik."
"If you turn around to see, Geary, you will lose him."
"I know." But the compulsion was so strong. It was unnatural.
"She’s lying to you, human. You’ve lost him in the caverns. He’s weeping for you, wanting you to help him."
Geary shook her head to dispel the image in her mind of Arik doing exactly what the gorgon said.
"You’re the one who’s lying to me."
The gorgon bared her fangs before she moved to walk directly beside Geary.
"Megeara, help me." It was Arik’s voice coming from behind her.
It’s a trick; it’s a trick.
"Please, Megeara. I need you. Don’t let me suffer here…"
"Stop it!" Geary said from between clenched teeth. "He’s a Shade. I know I can’t hear him and Arik would never beg like that. You’re just trying to piss me off."
One of the gorgons behind Geary clucked her tongue. "Poor Arik. See, she doesn’t love you at all.
She’d let you suffer rather than endanger herself."
Then she heard the muffled sound of a masculine cry that sounded like it could be Arik.
She clenched her fists, struggling not to turn around and check on him. She had to know he was okay…
"Kat," she whimpered. "Help me."
"Don’t listen, Geary. Sing a song and drown them out."
"Sing what?" she asked in frustration.
"What’s your favorite song?"
Geary plugged her ears with her fingers and started singing Gloria Gaynor’s "I Will Survive."
Now it was the gorgons’ turn to scream out in pain as they shirked away from Geary. Realizing that they couldn’t stand her off-key harmony, Geary sang even louder.
"Stop! Stop!" they begged.
But Geary refused. It was time someone returned the favor to them and let them exist in torment for a while.
After she finished Gloria’s song, she broke out to Wild Cherry’s "Play That Funky Music" and then
To her misplaced delight, the gorgons continued to writhe and moan in agony, which caused Kat to help her serenade them with more disco tunes.
Geary was just finishing the Bee Gees’ "Staying Alive" when she finally saw light ahead. Her heart pounded as raw excitement filled her. They were almost done.
A few more steps…
Her singing faltered as she struggled to hear some sign of Arik behind her. There was nothing.
"Down!" Kat shouted an instant before a blast of fire darted over their heads.
Geary squeezed her eyes shut and prayed with everything she had. She wanted desperately to touch Arik.
He had to be. Trusting in Kat and in Arik, she opened her eyes and saw that Kat was already moving forward again.
It took some doing to make it up the sharp rocks that led to the small opening above them.
"I can’t help you up, Geary," Kat said from in front of her. "Like you, I can’t turn around, and you can’t
turn to help Arik up, either, understand?"
"Okay. Remember, we have to get clear and you have to wait right beside me, facing the east. Got it?"
As she neared the opening, Geary’s foot slipped. She slid back and cursed as the rocks cut into her hands and knees. Before she could stop herself, her head turned, but she again slammed her eyes shut.
Would the gods count that?
Surely not. But if she opened her eyes to double-check it would be over.
Counting to ten, she straightened her head and looked forward. "Don’t let me down, Arik. Do you hear me? You better still be there."
With a deep breath, she started climbing again even though her cuts stung and her body ached from the fall.
It seemed to take forever before she was clear of the cavern. Kat was outside, waiting by a small clearing that overlooked the sea.
Geary joined her. "What now?"
Kat turned her head slightly to look at Geary with a frown. "What the hell happened to you?"
Kat screwed her face up in distaste and pity. "Sorry."
So was Geary, especially given how ferocious the pounding pain was.
But Geary stood there, silently waiting. After a few minutes, her panic set in. "Where’s Arik?"
"Don’t look for him."
"I’m getting sick of that warning, Kat. He’s not here…"
"Be patient, Geary." Her tone was placating and calm, and it was pissing Geary off more and more.
"We’re in daylight. We’re clear. Why isn’t he here with us?"
"What if he’s right behind you now and you turn to look? You’ll send him right back into hell."
Geary pressed her hands to her eyes as she wanted to weep in frustration. This was cruel and mean and it made her hate the gods for it. "Don’t die, Arik, please."
And then she felt it. It was a cold touch against her cheek. Light and gentle. She’d know that touch anywhere. Lowering her hands, she saw Arik next to her, but he was still pale and gaunt.
Even so, he was the best-looking thing she’d ever beheld. Before she could stop herself, she pulled him to her and kissed him senseless.
Arik growled as he tasted Megeara again. And the longer she kissed him, the warmer he grew. He held her tight against him, reveling in the feel of her warm body next to his. In all his life he’d never felt anything like this.
He could swear he could fly without wings right now. Never once had he even dreamed she’d come back for him, and the fact that she’d saved him…
Megeara pulled back to look at him, then laughed. "You’re back!" She rained kisses all over his face.
His own joy filled him as he savored every touch of her lips on his flesh. "I can’t believe you came for me."
"Are you kidding? I would always come for you."
And that was why he loved her so dearly.
"Uh, guys," Kat said, clearing her throat, "no offense, but this is getting awkward for me. You two take care and I’ll see you around."
Before either could speak, she vanished.
Arik laughed as he picked Geary up and twirled around with her. "I can’t believe you’re really here and this isn’t a dream."
"Me? Look at you…" Geary frowned as a weird thought went through her. It was a question she hadn’t even thought to answer before. "What are you now?"
Arik paused at the sound of D’Alerian’s voice. He set Megeara down, expecting a fight. "What do you want?"
D’Alerian held his hands up in surrender. "I just wanted to make sure Megeara made it out alive. Now that you’re together, I thought I’d take you both back to her home to celebrate."
"And we’re supposed to trust you why?"
Geary put her hand on his arm to calm him down. "Don’t, Arik. We owe him everything. He’s the one who called in a favor from Persephone so that I could free you."
He gave her a confounded look, then turned it toward D’Alerian, whose face was completely stoic.
"Why would you do that?"
"Because I lost what I loved, Arik, and I don’t want anyone to know that pain. You two have earned the right to live in peace."
Arik scoffed at his good wishes. "M’Adoc will never allow that."
"Yes, he will. We’ll make sure of it."
Geary didn’t miss the ominous note in D’Alerian’s voice. "What are you going to do to him?"
"Don’t worry. We won’t hurt him. We’re taking him someplace where he can learn compassion. It’s a simple emotion, but it escapes so many. He needs to relearn it."
Then D’Alerian held out his hand and a bright flash of light encompassed them. One moment they were outside the Underworld, and in the next they were in her flat.
Geary glanced around in disbelief. It seemed like a lifetime had passed since she’d last been here.
D’Alerian gave them a gentle smile. "Treasure each other."
Geary nodded. "Don’t worry. We will."
He inclined his head to them, then dissolved.
As soon as they were alone, Arik leaned his head down and nuzzled her neck with his warm lips. "I love you, Geary."
She smiled as he used her nickname without her forcing him to use it. "I love you, too, babe." She reached to take his hand into hers and pull him toward her room.
"What are you doing?"
She glared menacingly at him. "I’m going to make you suffer like no man has ever suffered for the lies you’ve told and for putting me through so much."
His mouth opened and closed as he looked a bit shell-shocked. Finally, he clenched his teeth and narrowed his eyes on her before his features settled down to resignation. "And what do you plan to do to me?"
A slow grin spread across her face. "First I’m going to strip you nak*d and then I’m going to bend you like a pretzel and lick your body until you beg me to stop. I’ll have you begging me for mercy in no time."
"Hmmm," he breathed. "That sounds positively awful."
"You’ve no idea… My tongue has been known to let blood on four continents."