“For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity.” ~William Penn
“Come on, Tempest.” My sister, Rain, urged. “Let’s go before the storm hits.”
“Hold on, sis.” I said, ignoring the tug on my arm as she attempted to pull me away from the glowing embers in the deep violet fire.
“Tempest.” My sister sounded nervous. I dragged my gaze away from the dizzying beauty of the flames and stared into Rain’s anxious eyes, her eyebrows creased with worry as she watched the darkening sky and the gray clouds swirling overhead.
“The fire…” I murmured. “So pretty…”
“Looks like an ordinary fire to m—” Suddenly and without warning, Rain’s warm brown eyes rolled up into the back of her head and she collapsed with a thud.
An ordinary fire? Could she not see the purple flames licking at the embers and spitting sweet-scented sapphire smoke into the air around us? The smoke smelled of a honey-lilac-and-chocolate mix. I couldn’t tell which was the dominant fragrance, but it was strong enough to cloud my head and muddle my thoughts.
The tendrils of smoke began to wind themselves around me, snaking up around my waist, binding my arms and legs, as if they were restraining me from running to my fallen sibling.
Rain! I wanted to scream, but the close proximity to the smoke was crowding my mouth, burning my throat, and plugging my ears, stifling any noise so that it sounded as if it was coming from behind a huge thick glass wall.
Then, suddenly, the burning changed. It was still crushing, but now it was sort of a pleasant feeling. Like drifting on air. Being caressed by a feather…
Or the peaceful slumber of death.
I felt like I was drowning. I felt like I was drowning. I couldn’t breathe; I was being pulled down, down, down…
Everything was black.
In my mind, I knew that I should be struggling, fighting frantically to escape, but I couldn’t. A tiny corner of my brain registered that I didn’t want to.
The sensation changed yet again and there was the feeling of something cool stroking my blistering skin.
“Tempest, love.” Said a distinctly masculine voice from above me. A beautiful, luring voice. One that seemed to coax me out of my reveries of burning and fire everywhere… redness… A seductive voice that also had a strong undercurrent of don’t-mess-with-me-or-I’ll-kill-you-in-ways-you-can’t-even-imagine.
Blinking open my emerald eyes, I stared up at the man above me. He was clean-shaven and ash-blond. He wore a black trench coat, skin-tight V-neck t-shirt, dark navy jeans, and sunglasses. For some reason, the shades really irritated me. There was something about men who kept their eyes hidden that I didn’t trust.
The man looked no older than nineteen or twenty, and he was unearthly handsome. Godly, in some way. Regal.
Feral. Lethal. Dangerous.
“Tempest, baby. Don’t be afraid.” The man said gently, his fingers soothing my coal-black hair.
I couldn’t seem to find my voice. The smoke and the burning had receded, but I was still at a loss. My body didn’t seem capable of feeling anything other than this strange numbness.
“Tempest, babe? Can you understand me?”
I nodded, not trusting my voice anymore.
The man’s teeth flashed in a dazzling smile.
My body was numb and motionless, and my mind seemed unable to form a coherent thought.
“Tempest? Tempest Coeur?” The man knew my name. “Tempest Vârcolac Coeur?”
“Yes, My Lord?” It was a struggle to keep my voice from fading and my use of the words “My Lord” surprised me immensely. Stunned me to the point of lapsing back into continual silence.
The man smirked, a smug kind of smile and his pearly white teeth shone, reminding me of the dim glow of the full moon.
“Do you know who I am?”
“My Master.” Again, my own words shocked me.
“I am the Lord, Hades.” The man said and I could hear a smile in his voice even though I was gazing at my hand which was pale with a dim black lining surrounding me like an outline, a silhouette. “God of the Underworld and Master of Souls.”
“Hades.” I repeated, testing the word, seeing how it felt in my mouth.
“Yes, love. Don’t you see? I brought you here. Not because you’re dead, oh no.” Hades shook his shaggy head. “I have subpoenaed you to be my bride.”
“Your… bride?” I said skeptically. “What about Persephone?”
“She is no longer of use to me.” Hades said, nonchalant.
The God of the Underworld wanted me to be his bride? Okay, I wasn’t that stupid. I’d heard the tales of Persephone.
“No… use… to… you?” I echoed, confused. “How so?”
“She has become quite a… pain.” Hades’s dark, mysterious face twisted into a grimace and I hated that I couldn’t see his eyes.
“A pain?” I knew that I should shut up, but I couldn’t suppress the feeling that the longer I kept Hades talking, the longer I’d live.
“Tempest.” Hades purred, and I could sense that he wanted to change the subject so I played along. Better not to irritate the God of the Underworld.
“Y-yes?” I tried not to show how frightened I really was, but my voice shook and gave me away.
Hades smiled absently, twirling a lock of my hair between his long fingers.
“Yes, My Lord?” The words slipped out before I could stop them.
“Please, call me Hades.” He said, stroking my cheek.
A sudden thought occurred to me and I gasped.
“What is it, my love?” Hades asked questioningly.
“What happened to Rain?” I demanded, accusingly. “What did you do to her?”
Hades threw back his head and laughed outright at my concern.
I glared up at the Ruler of the Nether World until his face turned serious and he rubbed my arm soothingly.
“You have goosebumps.” He commented.
Well, duh! The man in front of me was terrifying. Not to mention that despite what they say about Hell, the Underworld is rather cold.
“I can fix that.” Hades whispered in my ear, his breath warm against my ivory cheek.
I was about to ask what the hell— pardon the pun— he meant, but then Hades’s lips were on mine. His lips moved against mine, his tongue danced with mine.
Suddenly, it felt as if all the air was being sucked out of my lungs and I couldn’t breathe. I tried to pull back from Hades, but he held me in a vice-like grip, refusing to let me escape.
My heart galloped in my chest and I began to feel light-headed.
Hades continued to kiss me. He removed his mouth from mine, trailing a line of kisses down my jaw, chin, and throat. Everywhere his mouth touched, burned. Even though his lips were no longer on mine, I still couldn’t draw in a breath to inhale or exhale.
Every time I blinked or closed my eyes, I saw red spots. Everywhere his hands touched— my face, my back, my legs, my hips— I felt a searing, red-hot pain explode and blaze into an inferno under my skin.
Hades brought his lips back to my mouth and a sharp, fierce agony tore through me, leaving me more breathless than I already was. I felt myself weaken and my body lose the fight.
My vision began to dim and became fuzzy around the edges. The images went gray before fading to black.
My last conscious thought was of a quote that I had heard once, “If you don’t have any fight in you, you might as well be dead.”