A Touch of Darkness(8)

By: Scarlett St. Clair

“Looking for Hades?” Adonis joked, and Persephone’s gaze snapped to his.

“Oh, no—”

“I heard he was here tonight,” Lexa interrupted.

Adonis laughed. “Yeah, he’s usually upstairs.”

“What’s upstairs?” Persephone asked.

“A lounge. It’s quieter. More intimate. I guess he prefers the peace when he’s negotiating his terms.”

“Terms?” Persephone asked.

“Yeah, you know, for his contracts. Mortals come here to play him for things—money or love or whatever. The fucked up part is, if the mortal loses, he gets to pick the stakes and he’ll usually ask them to do something impossible.”

“What do you mean?”

“Apparently he can see vices or whatever. So he’ll ask the addict to remain sober and the sex addict to be chaste. If they’re meet the terms, they get to live. If they fail, he gets their soul. It’s like he wants them to lose.”

Persephone felt a little sick. She hadn’t known the extend of Hades’ gambling. The most she’d heard is that he asked for the mortal’s soul, but this sounded much, much worse. It was...manipulation.

“Is...anyone allowed up there?” Persephone asked. She was curious—how did Hades choose which bargains to accept? And how did Hades know these mortals weaknesses? Did he consult the Fates or possess this power himself?

“If you’re given the password,” he said.

“How do you get the password?” Lexa asked.

Adonis shrugged. “Hell if I know. I don’t come here to bargain with the God of the Dead.”

Though she had no desire to enter into a bargain with Hades, she did wonder how people came by the password. How did Hades accept a wager? Did mortals offer their case to the god who then deemed their case worthy?

“Persephone, bathroom,” Lexa said and stood, grabbing Persephone’s free hand.

She dragged her across the crowded floor to the restroom. While they waited at the end of a long line, Lexa turned to chat about Adonis.

“Have you seen a more attractive male?” She asked dreamily.

Persephone would have liked to inform her that while she was ogling Adonis, she’d missed the man who deserved the term. Instead, she said, “You’re smitten.”

“I’m in love,” she said.

Persephone rolled her eyes. “You can’t be in love, you just met him!”

“Okay, maybe not love,” she said. “But if he asked me to carry his babies, I’d agree.”

“You are ridiculous.”

“Just honest,” she said, grinning. Then she looked at Persephone seriously and said, “It’s okay to be vulnerable, you know?”

“What do you mean?” Persephone’s question was snappier than she intended.

Lexa shrugged and then said. “Never mind.”

Persephone wanted to ask Lexa to elaborate. What had she meant about being vulnerable? But before she could, a stall opened up and Lexa left. Persephone waited, sorting through her thoughts, trying to figure out what Lexa might have been talking about when another stall opened up.

After Persephone used the restroom, she looked for Lexa, expecting her to be waiting, but couldn’t find her. She looked toward the balcony where Hades supposedly made his deals. Had her friend wandered up?

Then her gaze met a pair of sapphire eyes. A woman was leaning against the column at the end of the stairs. Persephone thought she looked familiar, but couldn’t place her. Her hair was like gold silk and as radiant as Helios’ sun. She had skin the color of cream, and she wore a modern version of a peplos in the color sea green.

“Looking for someone?” she asked.

“My friend,” Persephone said. “She was wearing red.”

“She went up,” the woman said, and tilted her chin toward the steps. Persephone followed the woman’s gaze and the lady asked, “Have you been up?”

“Oh, no, I haven’t,” Persephone said.

“I can give you the password.”

“How did you get the password?”

The woman shrugged. “Here and there,” she paused. “So?”

Persephone couldn’t deny she was curious. This was the thrill she’d been seeking—the adventure she craved.

“Tell me.”

The woman chuckled, her eyes glittering in a way that made Persephone wary. “Pathos.”

Pathos meant tragedy. Persephone found it horribly ominous.

“T-thanks,” she said to the woman and headed up the spiral steps to the second floor. As she topped the stairs, she found nothing but a set of dark doors embellished with gold and a gorgon standing guard.

The creature’s face was badly scared—evident, even with the white blindfold covering her eyes. Like others of her kind, she once had snakes in place of hair. Now, a white hooded cloak covered her head and hid her body.