I was seventeen and three-quarters when I had first walked into the Irish-Celtic shop called The Raven Maiden’s Perish and met the three dark siblings, each with porcelain-pale skin and fiery orange hair and eyes the color of radiant gem stones. They introduced themselves as Rath, Furii, and Fyre.

“Can I help you find anything?” Fyre asked, coming up silently behind me and causing me to jump. Her violet eyes glimmered. “A crystal ball, spell book, wand? Maybe… a love potion?”

The green-eyed boy, Rath, appeared beside his sister and lifted a strand of my hair, toying with it, followed by the turquoise-eyed Furii. As the three siblings surrounded me, the air seemed to grow hotter and hiss in my ears. The air around me was pressing and cloying, suffocating. I wiped my clammy hands on my jeans and rubbed my eyes. “I’m just looking,” I managed to gasp out with short breath and a pounding heart.

Furii smiled, playing with the hem of her shirt, twirling it around her finger. “Well, if you need us, just give a shout.” With that, they disappeared. I could hear the door open, the bell ring, and the door swing closed again.

I turned back to the shelves with countless objects I had no name for. Instantly my eyes were drawn to a beautiful jade slate engraved with what looked like an old language, ancient Greek or Egyptian writing and symbols, maybe, etched in a spiraling circle around a picture in the middle. A large engraving of a dog or wolf with eagle wings, hooked talons for claws, a snake’s head for a tail, a human’s head with a crow’s beak and fangs with a forked tongue hanging out. For some reason, it called to me.

It’s magnificent… I turned it over. My eyes widened enormously. And way too expensive. I sighed in longing, gazing at the gorgeous green board.

“You like?” Furii asked, making a motion as if to pet the surface of the slate. “It’s a rare thing, you know. The Time Traveler’s Tablet.”

“Oh, yes.” I breathed in awe, but one look at the price tag again and I snapped out of my trance. “But I could never afford it. Three thousand, one hundred twenty-five is well out of my budget.”

“How much do you have on you right now?” Furii queried.

I searched my pockets in dismay. “Twenty-two dollars.”

“That’ll do.” Rath grabbed the money, seeming to materialize out of nowhere behind his sister. The two siblings ushered me up to the checkout counter and handed Fyre my money, then pushed me out the door. I frowned and began walking away. Then I thought to thank the siblings for their help.

I turned back, but all that faced me was an empty alleyway with only abandoned, run-down buildings, rats, and no Irish-Celtic shop. The Raven Maiden’s Perish was gone. Vanished into thin air, as if it had never been there in the first place.

I spun on my heels and hurried home as fast as I could, humming under my breath to relax my muscles and lift my spirits a bit. Once in my room, with my door shut and locked, I pulled out the slate to inspect in further. For good measure, I placed a chair under the doorknob to jam it. I ran my fingers over the symbols and letters, admiring its intricate details and designs. Suddenly, I started to feel dizzy. My head was spinning and the room was tilting dangerously.

The last thing I remembered was a pain in my back and skull, and staring up at the ceiling, then a dim grayness overcame my fuzzy vision and I faded into a foggy, dream-like, comatose state of numb nothingness.

*

I blinked open my eyes and looked around, squinting. I realized I was lying on the ground, blinded by the sun. I sat up and discovered myself beside a road with a group of people gathered over me.

“Are you alright, miss?” A man in an overcoat asked, peering at me through a pair of spectacles, shooing the other onlookers away.

Another person, a young man of about eighteen, stuck out a hand and helped me to my feet. I stood on the road and noted my surroundings. I looked the brown-haired boy up and down, taking in his heavily accented voice as he repeated the old man’s question. Definitely England, I thought. I laid eyes on the boy and found that I couldn’t look away. I felt an unexplainable, inexplicable pull towards him. I wanted to reach out and stroke his smooth, velvet-looking cheek.

“Hello, my name is Sithan Gallaei. Who are you?” He said aloud then added in a soft undertone, “This is 1810. What year are you from?”

“Erin Chaillen from 2013.” I said, confused. Was it just my imagination, or did he just cringe?

“Shh” Sithan hushed me, his eyes alight at the sound of my name. “Come,” he beckoned and led me to a pub called The Dancing Pony. “We can talk in here.

We entered and he found us a private booth at the back of the bar. I was surprised when the old man with spectacles followed us and sat down beside me.

“So, how much do you know?” Sithan asked, looking at me expectantly.

“What do mean?”

“You’re a Space Jumper. Tell us what you know about it.”

“Okay, I think you’ve got this all mixed up. I’m not a Space Jumper— I don’t even know what that is. I just found this tablet, fell asleep, and ended up here.”

“A Space Jumper is someone— namely, you—who jumps through the space-time continuum. They leap through the vortex of space and time to another dimension.”

“Like a time traveler?”

“Precisely.” Sithan nodded. “Now tell me more about this tablet, for it sounds like the bind.”

“Bind?” I echoed.

“Yes. It holds you, ties you— binds you— to your time when you Jump. It can send you to any time and helps bring you back while linking you to your present-day time so as not for you to get lost in the black hole of space between times.” The old man explained. “I’m sorry, I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Gerard Sterling, Sithan’s grandfather on his mother’s side.”

“And how do you two know so much about Space Jumping?”

“My… father was a Space Jumper.” Sithan said. “He found a bind of his own. It was an old, leather-bound book full of ancient writing. It had a picture of a canine—”

“With wings and a human’s head.”

“Yes.” Sithan’s gaze was questioning.

“My tablet had that same picture.” I explained. “Maybe it’s like, I don’t know, the symbol of Space Jumpers. Some kind of time travel organization or cult.”

“Hmm.” Sithan mused. “That symbol is on my… father’s grave and I’m pretty sure it was imprinted on his chest when my mother found his body…”

“How’d he die?”

“Jumped too much. Eventually he just wasted away. Deteriorated inside his body. He became a walking corpse. Empty and no longer able to think, let alone move.”

I shivered involuntarily.

“Creepy, huh?” Sithan leaned forward across the table toward me, looking me directly in the eyes. With a shock, I realized his eyes were red. The pupils were jet black with crimson irises ringing them flecked with gold and green and blue and purple.

I nodded mutely, not able to breathe or daring to trust my voice.

Sithan smirked, as if he knew my thoughts, and leaned back against the booth.

“Do you know how to go back to your time?”

I froze. Stupid, stupid! I scolded myself. “No. I… I hadn’t thought of that. I mean, it’s not like I planned on time traveling or even that it was possible.”

Sithan grinned. “If you need help, you’ve come to the right place.”

“And who says I need your help?”

“Well, seeing as how I’m the only one who can help you, I guess you really have no other choice, now do you?” Sithan shrugged, nonchalant.

Damn, he’s right. But I wasn’t going to admit that. Especially not to him. “Say you could help me. What then?”

“So you do want my help.” Sithan wiggled his eyebrows in victory, grinning triumphantly.

“No. I just want to get back to my time—”

“And you need my help.”

“What makes you so sure you can help me?”

“I’ve been in your position and you know you need my expertise.”

I snorted. “I don’t know you and I don’t need your help.” I stood up and marched off. I could hear Sithan say behind me to Gerard “She wants me,” and Gerard’s grunt of agreement.

“Hey, wait up, Erin!”

I whirled around and impaled Sithan with a glare of disgust. He stumbled back a few steps. “I hate people telling me what to do. I don’t want you or your help so just back off!”

“Ouch.” Sithan actually looked hurt. He placed a hand over his chest above his heart. “Watch it, I’m fragile.”

I wanted to pull away and storm off in a rage, but I couldn’t. The pull between us was too strong for me to turn away. My attraction to him was almost tangible. I could taste it, feel it, humming in the air.

“Please, Erin. Another chance?” Sithan stretched out a hand with an apologetic expression.

I noticed a thick black obsidian ring on his finger with the canine bird carved into a large ruby surrounded by a ring of sapphires, diamonds, garnet, topaz, emeralds, and pearls. “What’s that?”

Sithan looked down and then away, heat creeping up his neck to color his cheeks. “My Space Jumper symbol.”

“What do you mean?”

“Every Space Jumper has a symbol. A ring, tattoo, necklace, anything really. Sometimes it was even branded in their eyes when they were born, giving their parents quite the shock.” Sithan said, embarrassed.

“And you didn’t think to mention this before?”

“It doesn’t mean anything… Much.” Sithan rubbed the back of his neck.

“Sithan…” A warning tone crept into my voice. My heart skipped a beat at the sound of his name escaping my lips.

He looked up directly into my face. “I’m not human, Erin.”

“W— what?” There’s no way I heard him right.

He waited patiently until that sunk in.

“Not… human? What are you, then?”

“I have another confession, too.”

“What?” I asked, eying him warily.

“Sithan… That’s not my real name.”

“What is it?” Why on earth would he lie about his name? There was something about someone who lied about something as little as his or her name that I instantly mistrusted.

“It’s Hades.”

I started to laugh, but the look on his face cut me off. “You’re not serious. But you seemed so nice a minute ago, a word I’d definitely not use to describe Hades…”

“Afraid so. And another thing, I’ve been searching everywhere for you. A long, long time. Centuries. Eons.”

I’m not that old. I thought of the three siblings at the store. I don’t think it was a mistake I found them… “Me?” I squeaked. Or they found me.

Sithan/Hades nodded. “I sent the Fates to sell you the Tablet and send you here. Ever since I first heard the prophecy of your birth, I was desperate to meet you.”

I gulped. The God of the Underworld has been trying to find me. Reality came crashing down. I gasped and tripped back.

“You can’t escape me, Erin. You’ve felt the link between us. Don’t deny it.”

Help!

“I won’t hurt you.” Hades stepped forward, reaching out and brushed a finger along my cheekbone. A zinging zap tingled up my spine and warmth flooded me. Hades retracted his finger, sucking in a breath of surprise then clapped his hands in glee. “So. It really is you.”

“So, I take it you lied about your father. He didn’t die like that at all and the marks weren’t on your father or his grave.”

Hades nodded. “Not my father, no.”

“What about Gerard? He’s not your grandfather?”

“No, he is most certainly not.”

“Who is he then?”

Hades eyed me cautiously before saying carefully, “My brother, Zeus.”

I thought Zeus and Hades hated each other. “What about Persephone?” I asked quickly, desperately changing the subject, trying to distract him. Anything to distract him and keep me from freaking out.

Hades sighed in irritation. “She’s just a myth, Erin. No such woman or goddess exists. And even if she did, my heart has been looking for you.”

Persephone isn’t real? “Heart, you say?” I snarled. “I’ve read all about you, and you have no heart.”

Hades growled. He snapped his fingers and a small flame appeared, dancing along his palm. “Don’t mess with elements you don’t understand. Didn’t your mother ever tell you that if you play with fire, you’ll get burned? Erin,” he sighed as he realized I was scooting slowly away from him. “Stop. Don’t resist, please.”

The temptation, the urge to kiss him, to touch him… It was all too much. Stay, a voice whispered the command in my head.

“Please don’t run, Erin, my love.”

I squeezed my eyes shut. When I opened them, Hades was still gazing at me with anguish.

“You need help returning to your time. Allow me to be of assistance?”

I hesitated, one word resounding in my head to describe him. Heinous.

“Erin.”

Despite my loathing of this god, my body didn’t listen. My stomach flip-flopped and my heart did somersaults in my chest at my name rolling off his tongue. “Fine.” I snapped, breathless.

Hades smiled sweetly, seeming almost shy. But then he turned the full power of his strange eyes on me and I saw the burning man in their depths and I knew the truth.

I took his hand, delighting in the pleasure of the zaps and sparks shooting through me, not entirely sure I wouldn’t do anything for him in that moment. I gathered strength from the pressure of his hand in mine and followed him out of the pub. “Where are we going?” I asked when I’d finally found my voice.

“To get you back to the future.” Hades replied, gripping my hand to offer support. He kept pulling me along and finally came to a stop at the back of a dark alley. “We can’t have anyone witness this.” He explained. “Close your eyes. Relax. Think of the tablet and your body. Picture yourself well and in your room. Now take both of my hands.” He held his other one out and I clasped it in mine. “Great, now repeat after me: Devil’s thorn and cinder ash. Shadow ghosts and pools of blood. Stars align, send me home. Leave this place, now close the door. Shut the lid and bring me back. Vanish from sight, and open my eyes. I awake now to myself, distant from this unearthly rise.”

I copied his words in a grave voice. The wind whipped around me, drowning out any other noises, whispering in some ancient language as all went black.

*

With a gasp and a mental yank, I jackknifed awake and bolted to my feet from where I’d collapsed on the floor when I’d passed out when touching the tablet before, breathing fast and hard. It felt like a stampede of horses was galloping across the inside of my chest. I looked down and found myself wobbly, but safe and in my room clutching the tablet tightly to my stomach in aching fingers.

“Hello again, sleeping beauty. Glad to see you’re alive and in one piece. Sometimes people don’t make it through the journey back with all their parts intact.”

I jumped and spun to see Hades reclining in a chair next to the far wall. My heart sped up and my eyes dropped to his lips. I looked away awkwardly, ashamed.

“Hey, hey.” Hades was suddenly beside me, wrapping his arms around me, voice soft and fingers gentle as he lifted my chin to look at him. “What’s wrong?”

“How’d you follow me here? Why?” I avoided his probing stare.

“I have no idea. I didn’t think it worked that way. It was only supposed to send one person back.”

“So you didn’t try to follow me? Didn’t want to?” I sniffled, starting to pull away.

“Erin.” Hades guided me back in his arms, looking at me intently. “I’d sell my soul, my body, my everything to be with you. I’d even give away my immortality if it would mean I could stay here with you.”

“That’s… intense.” I said, not quite positive how to respond to that declaration.

“Yeah, well, it’s a god thing. We fall in love way faster and stronger than humans. We know what we want and we go for it. I saw you and ever since, I couldn’t look away. You’ve plagued my thoughts and my dreams. I love you, Erin, and that will never change.”

“Really?” I gazed up at him hopefully, unsure and mildly disbelieving.

“Really. Truly.”

“Why?”

“Love is a funny thing, angel. There’s no choosing who you love and no asking why.”

“True or false,” I said, safe and confident in his embrace. “You’ll love me forever?”

“True, my precious, I am yours. Forever and always.”

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