As the god of Life, and therefore Death, it’s not out of the ordinary for me to travel to the Underworld. It’s the domain where all souls are judged and those worthy are given my gift of reincarnation. Thus, I belong here as much as I do anywhere.
It’s just… when I appear on the Bridge of Judgment, I feel like a stranger despite the fact I was raised here for the first twenty-eight years of my life. It’s empty right now, all souls for the day apparently having been adjudicated.
To my left is the city of Otaxis, made beautiful by magical tweaks from the current king of the Underworld, Amell. The buildings are whitewashed, the streets clean and lit with glowing lanterns, and overhead a midnight sky full to bursting with sparkling stars. Under the bridge flows the Crimson River—red, orange, and yellow swirling—and directly ahead of me is the obsidian castle that rises so high I can’t quite see the top.
I should leave, but I’m restless and I don’t know what’s wrong. I’m an introvert—loner by nature—yet here I am, feeling the need for connection.
I chose to come to Amell rather than my sister, Finley, because I’ve known him longer. While Finley is my identical twin, I’ve only known her for a year.
I’ve known Amell for close to twenty-nine.
Really, since the day I was born.
It doesn’t mean that Amell is more trusted than Finley. In fact, he was instrumental in the plot to hold me captive in the Underworld to help Kymaris, then queen of the Underworld, breach the veil that separated her world from the mortal one so she could wreak havoc and subjugate.
And yet… he’s my friend.
It’s completely dysfunctional, but I’ve learned over this last year that the world is dysfunctional.
No, really… the entirety of the universe is batshit crazy.
I tug on the long braid hanging over my left shoulder, a nervous habit indeed. My curly hair is snow white, hypothesized to be this color from the terrible magics I absorbed for years and years. Finley’s is fiery red, and I suppose mine would be the same had I not been stolen at birth and brought to Hell.
Dropping the braid, I chastise myself. “You can’t be nervous. You’re the freaking god of Life and Death. You’re one of five gods who rule the universe, and every being in this realm could be reduced to ash if you merely wished it so.”
Temporarily buoyed by my personal pep talk, I walk across the bridge and into the castle where Amell resides with his bride, Nyssa.
The minute I enter through the double doors that stand two stories high, I realize I have no idea where to go. I normally materialize right into Amell’s rooms, but with him being newly married, I don’t want to be intrusive.
A bustle of creatures moves about the great hall. Numerous Dark Fae, those fallen angels who God expelled from heaven for their treasonous plans to overthrow him, and daemons—the offspring of Light and Dark Fae mating. Not as populous, but still, many choose to live here. There are even some humans in servitude, having volunteered their time in exchange for something they needed, or having been sacrificed.
“Excuse me,” I say to a woman in brown burlap passing by with a tray of empty wooden cups.
She turns my way, needing no more than half a second to recognize me for the deity I am, and shrieks. The tray falls with a loud clatter, cups rolling askew, and the woman drops to her knees, going prostrate before me. That attracts the attention of everyone in the hall, and in a massive wave, everyone follows suit.
Down to their knees, arms stretched before them, and noses pressed to the floor so as not to gaze upon me.
It’s utterly ridiculous, as I don’t require such acknowledgment, although I’m guessing my predecessor did.
“Stand up,” I snap irritably, and without meaning to, my voice booms through the hall as if speakers surround us. I learned about the miracle of surround sound from Finley’s husband, Carrick, and he helped me outfit my own home entertainment system with it.
Everyone scrambles to their feet, but the poor woman before me looks like she’s about to pass out.
I glance around, trying to find someone who appears brave enough to look me in the eye, and I’m lucky when a Dark Fae walks my way. He doesn’t cower or lower his gaze, and in fact looks supremely confident as he approaches.
He’s beautiful in an evil, Underworld sort of way. Bluish-tinted skin bulging with muscles, silver hair, and shimmering azure eyes that look like faceted jewels. I know him well—he’s Amell’s best friend.
“Truett,” I say with an incline of my head. “It’s good to see you.”
“It’s good to see you as well,” he says, bending at the waist. “If you’re looking for Amell, he’s not here.”
I cock an eyebrow because Amell has been banished to the Underworld and prohibited from leaving. He previously disobeyed the gods’ command not to interfere in a matter and this is his punishment.
“He’s not here in the castle,” Truett clarifies. “He and Nyssa have traveled to Kasdeya for the day. I could go there now and fetch him for you.”
Kasdeya is one of a few large cities in the Underworld and Amell rules over all of them. It’s not unusual for him to visit, but my timing is disappointing.
I manage a smile. “No, I don’t want to interrupt. This is an informal visit and of no importance. I’ll come back later.”
“Are you sure I can’t—”
I hold up a hand. “No. It’s good. Just tell him I came by.”
“As you wish,” he says, another bend at the waist, but then he fades away as I travel through the veil that separates the Underworld from the First Dimension.
I appear on the front porch of Finley and Carrick’s cliff-side home overlooking the Pacific Ocean outside of Malibu. They recently moved here, having left behind their lives in Seattle.
It was a necessity since technically, Finley is dead to the world. She died of an aneurysm unforeseen by me or any of my brethren gods, but I managed to snag her soul before it left her body. With power I didn’t even fully understand, having only been a god myself for a few weeks, I was able to reform her.
It wasn’t a reincarnation, but a creation. She’s the same Finley, complete with all her memories intact, and she even bears the same scars accumulated in her mortal life. After I breathed new life into her, my brother and sister gods, Cato, Veda, Circe, and Onyx, all channeled enough power into her to grant her the same immortality as her husband, Carrick. However, given she was dead and then brought back to life after the announcement to the world she had died, it was necessary for them to start over with new identities.
My hand reaches out to the doorbell, but I hesitate. Finley is probably the person I should have come to first, but I didn’t because I knew I wouldn’t like her answers. As my sister, she has unconditional love for me and with that comes unconditional truth.
I’m not ready for it.
My hand starts to fall, but to my surprise, the door swings open and Carrick is standing there. I can’t help but jump with a tiny yelp which is totally unbecoming of a god.
“Sorry,” he says with a roguish smile, and I know he’s not sorry at all. “Saw you standing out here in all your indecisive glory and decided to take matters into my own hands. Come on in.”
He steps back, inviting me over the threshold. With no choice now, I enter the house and shoot him a sour look. “I could smite you, you know.”
“You love me, so no, you couldn’t.”
I don’t affirm or deny that statement. I don’t know if I love him or not. It’s one of the reasons why I’m so out of sorts. I’m trying to balance twenty-eight years of mortal life weighed against a year of godly existence. The more time that passes as an Almighty the more removed I feel from emotion, and it’s bothering me. I mean, I wasn’t the warmest and fuzziest person to begin with, but that’s what happens when you’re raised by Dark Fae in the Underworld.
I’m having a hard time reconciling that sometimes I feel deeply while other times I’m numb. I can’t ask my fellow gods because they’ve never been human. They’ve always been as they are, since the dawn of time. They can’t tell me what it feels like to be different, just as I’m sure they can’t tell me if I’ll completely ice over.
Finley can’t tell me that either, but she might have words of wisdom.
She’ll definitely have support and love.
The question is, do I have the guts to straight-up ask her?
“She’s in the kitchen,” Carrick says, and I follow him through the sprawling open-design floor plan. The western-facing side is nothing but floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over the ocean. The views are gorgeous, but they don’t rival the ones from my home.
At least in my humble opinion.
“Zora,” Finley exclaims when she sees me. She drops her sandwich, wiping her hands on her pants, and rushes around the kitchen island to hug me.
I’m relieved by the flood of warmth and tenderness as her arms encircle me. I love her, I’m sure of it. I told her as much right before she plunged a knife into my heart—literally, not figuratively—and killed me.
It was this whole thing to save the world from the evil queen of the Underworld, and it seems like it was eons ago. But so much has happened since then.
“Come sit. I’ll open a bottle of wine. Are you hungry? I can make you a sandwich, or hell… you could use your power to whip us up a five-course meal if you want. I’ve got fancy china I can pull out.”
Laughing, I shake my head. “Not hungry. But I won’t say no to a glass of wine.”
Carrick moves to Finley and kisses her temple with a hand around the back of her neck. “I’m going to be in my office so you two can have sister time.”
I watch carefully as Finley gazes at her husband. There’s a mixture of regret that he’ll be leaving her presence, utter adoration that he’d be so thoughtful, and a hint of pure gratitude to belong to him. In fact, it’s not just her expression that tells me all that.
I can feel the vibe from her and it’s so intense, I wonder what it would be like to feel that way for someone. While I have tenderness and care within me, my formative years were warped. I was never given unconditional love, so I don’t know if I’m capable of giving it myself.
Another question to ask Finley in the long list I’m mentally compiling.
Carrick kisses her again, and she sighs. Her exhale says, “If I died right now, that would be okay.”
But it wouldn’t be okay with me or Carrick, so that’s not happening.
Shooting me a wink, Carrick heads out of the kitchen, grabbing an apple from a bowl on the island. Finley stares after him until he’s out of sight and then turns her besotted gaze on me.
“You’re pathetic,” I mutter.
She gives me a dopey grin. “Can’t help it. He’s perfection.”
I roll my eyes, prepared to point out that he’s a little egotistical, but there’s a huge bang from behind me.
Finley gasps and I spin fast on the kitchen stool, ready to launch power at whatever is threatening us. It bubbles hot, ready to erupt, and then fizzles when I see Maddox standing there.
And I’m sorry, but no demigod has a right to look as good as he does. I’ve thought that from the very first time I gazed upon him when he helped liberate me from the Underworld. His long hair is dark blond, and while Finley and I have been told repetitively we have the most beautiful eyes in the world, Maddox gives us both a run for our money. His are a shimmering green, the color of Irish rolling hills. Tattoos cover his arms, which are thick and muscled, as is the rest of his body. He’s shaved his beard. The last time I saw him, it was full but well-trimmed.
I turn my back on him, indicating he’s not worth my attention, but I didn’t miss the dirt and blood covering his arms, chest, and face, or the fact he holds a battle-ax in his hand.
“Hey, hey, hey,” Finley yells at Maddox as she grabs a towel and a bottle of cleaner from under the sink. “You’re dripping entrails on my kitchen floor.”
She hustles his way as he mutters, “Sorry.”
I can’t help but glance over my shoulder. The ax is gone—presumably Maddox sent it somewhere that’s not here—and Finley is wiping up the floor.
Those green irises land on me, and something glimmers within. I get a trademark Maddox smirk as he moves past me to the cabinets.
“Don’t,” Finley snarls as she rushes toward him. “Your hands are nasty. Don’t touch anything.”
He gives her a grin that would disarm mortals. “Can I bother my sister-in-law for a glass of water? War is hard work.”
“Yes,” she says, her expression softening somewhat. “But don’t move. Just stand there and don’t touch anything.”
As Finley gets him a drink, I ask, “Where did Onyx have you this time?”
Onyx is my sister god, and she reigns over Conflict, which encompasses war and peace. The demigods were created to serve at the whim of the gods and given that Maddox looks like he stepped off the battlefield, I assume it’s at her behest.
He gives a careless wave of his hand. “Some dimension on the verge of political collapse. Apparently, one side has offered up major sacrifices to Onyx, so she sent me there to turn the tide.”
Some dimension, he says, as if this is normal talk, and I suppose it is for him. But this new world of magic and alternate realms is still a shock to my senses.
Finley hands him a glass filled with ice water. He downs it in several long swallows. I watch the way his throat rhythmically moves, making a tattoo of a snake that climbs up the side of his neck writhe from the motion.
“I’ll make you something to eat,” Finley says, moving to the refrigerator.
The minute the fridge is open and she’s rooting through it, Maddox turns his attention to me although he speaks to my sister. “I’m going to take a shower.”
“Okay,” Finley says as she grabs ingredients. “I put fresh towels in the downstairs guest bathroom this morning. When you’re done, put them right in the laundry room.”
“Sure thing,” he voices out loud to her, but then mouths silent words to me as he jerks his chin, his eyes turning dark green with desire. “Join me.”
My gaze snaps over to Finley as my body flushes with heat, but my sister isn’t paying attention. I look back to Maddox, who looks like he’d eat me whole if we were alone. I shake my head furiously, glaring at him. It’s a completely timid human move, the insecure woman in me not knowing how to handle someone so alpha and domineering. It’s been that way from nearly the beginning and hasn’t abated in the year we’ve been sleeping together.
If I were truly a god, I’d snap him into another dimension for his temerity, but instead, all I can do is bear the weight of his smirk.
His hand reaches out, a silent demand for me to come with him. I can imagine, with utter clarity, all the things he might do to me in a hot shower, and it’s not because I have a good imagination. I’ve had my fair share of hot showers with this demigod.
But that’s done in private and not under the potential view of my sister.
It’s my secret. No one knows what I have with Maddox.
He steps toward me, and I lurch up from my stool. “I’ve got to go,” I blurt out, tearing my eyes from him and looking over at Finley as she pops out from behind the refrigerator door.
She stares at me in surprise. “But why? You just got here.”
I throw a thumb over my shoulder, not at anything in particular. “I forgot I didn’t let Uorsin and Mattia out.”
Finley frowns but doesn’t question me. “Um… okay. Why don’t you do that and come back? I’ll have this big oaf gone by then.”
I don’t dare look at said big oaf. His smirk will have intensified with satisfaction for having discombobulated me, a god. I should turn him into a lizard or something, but I keep my cool.
“Maybe,” is all I offer to my sister and steel myself against the disappointment on her face. I don’t come by often enough to see her. “If not today, then tomorrow. I promise.”
At least tomorrow, Maddox will most likely be gone. He doesn’t have a home that I know of and roams the realms, staying wherever he chooses and for however long he wants. Much of the time, though, he stays here in a guest room.
Finley deposits the food items she pulled out onto the counter and moves around it toward me. I brace as she puts her arms around me and pulls me in for a hug.
“I love you,” she says.
I respond by squeezing her. It’s too hard for me to say those words out loud, but she knows how I feel. I gladly gave up my life for her once and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
She hasn’t even fully released me when I bend distance from her home to mine in Switzerland. I appear in the living room of what is an entirely too modest chalet for a deity, but I love it. My windows have an amazing view of the Bernese Alps capped with snow, and the Lauterbrunnen Valley spreads below me in various shades of patchwork green.
Uorsin and Mattia come barreling out of the kitchen where they’d most likely been sleeping on the cool tile floor. Their nails scrabble on the hardwood as they race to me, fluffy black tails tipped in white wagging furiously.
I crouch and accept their warm tongues on my face as I wrap my arms around their thick-furred bodies. I love them with all my might, and I wonder why it’s so easy to admit that about dogs but not people.
“We’ll take two more.” I motion to the bartender between my empty beer mug and the empty wineglass of the woman sitting next to me.
“Thank you,” she says, touching my arm and licking her bottom lip.
“Sure thing,” I reply, my gaze going back to the television screen mounted on the wall behind the bar. There’s a hockey game on and it’s a sport I very much enjoy in this modern world. My favorite team by far is the Pittsburgh Titans. They said “Fuck you” to the Fates when their plane crashed and they had to rebuild from nothing.
“So, what do you like to do for fun?” she asks, trying to start a conversation. We’ve exchanged some words as we sit beside each other drinking, and she’s been a nice diversion.
“Slaughter demons,” I say without a second thought.
I like that more than slaughtering demons but I keep that to myself.
She thinks I’m joking, of course, and she’s more than a little drunk. As a mortal human, she could never hope to comprehend all the dark and scary things that exist in this same dimension with her. “Ooooh, demons! Tell me more.”
I let my gaze slide to my drinking companion. She’s very pretty and I could easily have her. But I decide to tell her about my world instead. “Truly, there aren’t many demons that walk in the First Dimension—your mortal realm—but there are plenty of evil Dark Fae.”
“And you kill them?” she asks, feigning true belief.
“I do. And other nasty creatures.”
“Are you like… a superhero?”
I suppress the urge to roll my eyes because Batman and Iron Man are pure fiction. “A demigod, created to serve at the whim of the gods.”
“There’s more than one?”
“Five. Gods of Life, Fate, Conflict, Humanity, and Nature.”
She frowns, tipping her head. “But I thought there was one God?”
I shrug. “I suppose there is. Never met him or her, but there are rumors that God expelled a slew of angels from the heavens for plotting a rebellion. Some fell to Hell and became Dark Fae. Some fell to this mortal realm and became Light Fae.”
Resting her chin on the palm of her hand, she smiles. “Do they have powers or something?”
“Some do.” I pick up my refreshed mug of beer and take a sip. “Most magic comes from a meteor that crashed to Earth a long time ago. It was chipped away and those who possess it can do amazing things.”
She runs her finger around the edge of her wineglass, fully invested in what she believes is a fictional story. “And do you have part of it?”
“The meteor?” I ask. She nods with doe eyes. “Don’t need it. The gods have given me immeasurable power and immortality, along with powers to conjure and bend distance.”
“Pulling one physical place to me so I can step into it.” Her brow furrows in confusion. “It’s kind of like teleporting.”
A grin breaks out on her face, and she nods in understanding. “Like… beam me up, Scotty.”
Not like that at all, but I smile. “Exactly.”
Her expression turns coy for a moment, then determined. Her hand comes to my arm and she walks two fingers up it. “How about we get out of here, and you can show me what a demigod could do to a mere mortal woman like me?”
My eyes warm with empathy for her. It’s a come-on most men in here would jump at, but I’m not a man at all. Taking her hand from my arm and giving it a squeeze, I shake my head. “I’m sorry, love. But there’s only one woman I want.”
I get a pout in return. “Then why aren’t you with her?”
Why indeed? There’s absolutely no good reason I’m sitting here and not with Zora.
“It was a pleasure,” I say, standing from my stool and throwing a hundred-dollar bill on the bar. “Have some more drinks on me.”
“Wait,” she calls out as I walk away, but I don’t look back.
Outside the bar, I turn down the nearest alley and bend distance straight into Zora’s house in Switzerland.
I could be well-mannered and bring myself to her front door where I’d ring the doorbell politely.
But I’m not a polite being most of the time, so I opt to appear inside her dwelling because if I give her the choice of whether or not to let me in, there’s a chance she’ll deny me. Zora is completely unpredictable in that way.
By coming right inside I have a bit of a chance she’ll let me stay.
I manifest in her living room by the door that leads out onto the deck. It’s night when I arrive but house lights twinkle down in the valley, so it’s not overly late. The living room is dim, lit only by a healthy fire in the hearth and a small table lamp at one end of the couch.
Zora is there, curled up reading. She’s got her knees drawn in with a book resting there. I quickly take in Mattia, one of her two Bernese Mountain Dogs, curled at her feet. I don’t see Uorsin anywhere.
I stand perfectly still, using this unfettered opportunity to watch her. I met her a year ago when we weren’t sure if the world was going to end. She was a mere human when we first fucked and still a human when I started losing my heart to her.
Back then she was so closed off and wary of everyone. She’d lived in Hell for her entire life and didn’t understand the brightness and complexities of the First Dimension.
She most certainly didn’t understand relationships. Even basic friendship was a conundrum to her.
Zora did understand sex though. She’d had plenty of it with Amell, once she was old enough, a fact that causes rage to burn within me. I hate that motherfucker for having her first and for still having a piece of her heart, whether she admits it or not.
The woman is a complete mystery, but she doesn’t try to be. She’s someone who’s been shot through dimensions like a pinball slamming against bumpers, having her life turned upside down over and over again. Zora’s been a god for a year now, gifted that status in recognition of her sacrifice, and she’s like a lamb just learning to walk.
The ironic thing is, if she truly had confidence in herself, she could easily make me crawl.
A loud woof sounds behind me, and Uorsin comes barreling out of the kitchen and heads straight my way. Zora’s head pops up, going first to her dog, then to me with narrowed eyes.
I don’t have time to see much more as I turn to face the hundred-and-twenty-pound beast flying at me. I brace, open my arms, and the dog jumps up. He’s a big boy, but his paws and head still only reach chest level as I’m nearly six-foot-six.
“There’s my boy,” I say, using my hands to rub his neck and ears vigorously while his tongue lolls out the side of his mouth. I don’t have to look at Zora to know she’s irritated.
She can’t stand that her dogs love me, and they only love me because over the last year she has let me into her life… her home, her bed, her body.
I wait to see what she’ll do now.
With a sigh, she closes her book, and I shove Uorsin off. Mattia jumps down from the couch, stretches, and pads over to me for an ear scratch.
“What are you doing?” Zora asks with a tired sigh.
She’s absolutely magnificent in the warm firelight. Her hair, the color of frosted snowcaps, is loose and curls around her face, pouring down her back and over her shoulders. It’s too dark to see much more than the shimmer in her irises from the fire, but could I see them, I’d be dazzled by the rings of gold, green, and blue.
Zora’s wearing a heavy sweater and leggings, her feet warmed by thick socks.
I step toward her, out of the shadows and into the ambient light spilling from the fireplace. “You know what I’m doing.”
“I’m not in the mood,” she says, pushing off the couch. She picks up an empty glass and attempts to move past me toward the kitchen.
My hand shoots out, grabs her upper arm. “Little liar.”
This is the point where the rest of the evening will be decided. As a god, Zora could wish me out of existence, and I would simply be no more. She’s that powerful.
She’s also my deity, the one I worship and to whom I’m bound to follow every order she gives. I shouldn’t even be touching her without permission.
But I know something about Zora that no one else has figured out, and I’m not about to tell her.
She might act like she doesn’t want my advances, but the truth is, she likes it when I take control. I think it’s the only time in her fucked-up, spinning, swirling, tilting life that she feels grounded. When she can allow someone else to make the decisions and call the shots.
It doesn’t mean she submits to me every time because sometimes I catch her when she’s too cranky to give it up to me.
I can see the acquiescence in her eyes before I feel it in the laxity of her arm within my grasp. I could pick her up right now and carry her to her bedroom, and she’d merely wrap her arms around my neck in capitulation.
But Zora gives me so little outside of the bed I’m going to take some more for myself. I pull her in closer and her head tips back to stare up at me. “I need you to tell me you want it.”
Her lips part, and a tiny whiff of breath escapes. I hold her tight, my gaze lasered onto hers, and wait her out.
Finally, she whispers, “You know I do.”
It’s not the exact words I demanded, but they’re good enough. I crush my mouth onto hers as my hands go under her ass to lift her up. The glass falls from her hand, but before it can shatter, she makes it disappear. At least I don’t hear a crash, but it’s forgotten as I walk to her bedroom. I could bend distance, get us there faster, but she feels too good wrapped around me.
Zora’s body is slight, her skin pale, and that’s from living twenty-eight years without good food or sunlight. While she’s got the power inside her to destroy a planet, she always seems frail when she first submits to me.
Our kiss turns ravenous once I set her down, both of us tearing at each other’s clothes. Either one of us could magic away the garments, but we like the buildup.
I can’t recall the number of times I’ve fucked Zora since we met, but every time has been better than the last. It’s a total annihilation of all our sensibilities, giving in to lust and passion and dirty words. Zora may have been inexperienced in the ways of the world, but she’s a quick learner when it comes to sex. Sure, she knew enough from Amell, but there are things I do to her that I know he never did by the shocked sounds I can elicit.
My fingers sift into her long curls, and I grip them tight at the back of her head. I pull her away from me, my gaze roaming her face. Her lips are swollen, eyes glazed, and her skin flushed.
She’s a fucking goddess, and I’ve never wanted anything more in my life.
“Maddox?” she murmurs hesitantly, her expression clearing to watch me warily.
Heart slamming in my chest, unable to decide which of a hundred ways I could have her, I grip her hair tighter. “Get on your knees for me, Zora. Want your mouth on me.”
Heat flashes in her eyes, and it’s not of the offended variety. It’s hunger, and she willingly kneels before me. My cock aches, and my demigod strength is called into question when she takes me deep into her wet mouth.
“Fuck,” I groan, my head falling back as she works me in a way she knows drives me so crazy I doubt what’s happening is even real.
I drop my head forward, stare down at her through the fog of lust. I push her hair away from her face so I can get a better view of her bobbing before me, and when those blue-green-gold orbs lift up to stare at me, I latch onto that connection. I don’t get it often from her, but I feel it now.
Feel it a little too well as my balls start to tingle.
“That’s enough,” I say gruffly, hating to break the tether between us but unable to control the voracious need I have for her.
I toss her on the bed, not all that gently, and come down on her hard. Zora’s legs spread, knees press into my sides, and I drive into her.
I don’t know what Heaven feels like, but I imagine it can’t feel as good as this.
I withdraw slowly, then press back into her with restraint.
Zora growls low in her throat and digs her nails into my shoulders hard enough to draw blood. “More,” she says, a plea and not a command. “I need more, Maddox.”
Mmmm. The way she says my name, as if she’ll die without it.
I have no choice but to give it to her.
Time ceases. Our bodies spin out of control as we fuck like animals, and yet, I feel almost human when I’m inside her. Like I could easily be destroyed by this creature.
Not physically, but thoroughly, and in all ways.
“Maddox,” Zora gasps as I drive into her. “Please.”
I squeeze my eyes shut. It trips my fucking heart that she needs something from me.
“I’ve got you,” I promise, and gather her in close. My hips slam against hers, and she thrashes in my embrace.
When she comes, she calls out my name as she scores my back. My own orgasm breaks free, and I swear it must transport me to another dimension, because I almost black out.
When my vision clears, I find myself staring at Zora and she looks desperate, as if I know some secret she’s trying to figure out. Her hands cup my cheeks, her jeweled eyes flicking back and forth between mine. They eventually darken with frustration because I have no answer to an unasked question.
“You okay?” I ask.
She nods, and the curiosity in her gaze fizzles. I can still feel the aftershocks of pleasure causing her muscles to quiver around me, and another shudder rips up my spine.
“Mmm.” I lean my head into one of her palms still cupping my cheek as a cat might demand to be petted.
To my surprise, she sifts her fingers into my hair while her other hand strokes my cheek. “You shaved.”
“You’re handsome either way,” she replies dismissively, which makes me laugh.
I roll us to our sides, hauling her leg over my hip so we remain connected with our torsos pressed against each other. I slide a hand down to her ass so she can’t wiggle away, and I revel in the softness of her body. She’s loose and utterly pliant which is something I treasure. I’m surprised when her hands slide up my shoulders to wrap around me.
Leaning in, I nuzzle my face against her neck. “I can’t prickle you with my beard anymore.”
She doesn’t say anything but gives me a squeeze, and within that embrace, I feel as if she might want to say something.
I lift my head so I can look into her eyes because that’s where truth resides. For one brief moment, yes… I can see she wants to say something, and I wait for it. I watch war rage in the colorful depths as indecision battles courage, but to my frustration, her expression goes blank.
With her hands to my chest, she gives me a push. “You should get going.”
I don’t budge an inch. “Don’t feel like it.” I bend down, brush my lips over hers. “Want to fuck you again, and you want it too.”
I want so much more than that, but that’s all I have a reasonable chance of getting right now. There are times when Zora will begrudge me more time in her bed, not just for sex, but for casual talk. When she’s in the mood, we’ve had many a great conversation and even shared some laughs.
And there are times when she goes dark and doesn’t want anything from me but the pleasure I dole out.
She hesitates, but then pushes again. “I said you need to go.”
Rearing back, I take one of her hands and hold it between us. “What is this? Why do you always push me away?”
“Because I’m a god, and you’re a lowly—”
My hand covers her mouth, shutting off the words, and her eyes go round as saucers. Rage simmers, and I half expect her to bite me, so I say my piece as quickly as possible. “Come on, Zora. I’ve been sharing your bed for a year now, and I’ve gotten to know all your little quirks. Why do you keep me at a distance? Why can’t we lie here and talk? Why can’t you tell me what’s on your mind? I saw it on your face… you want to know something, so ask. I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”
I slide my hand away as her own gaze cuts left, refusing to meet mine. Grabbing her jaw, I force her attention back on me, which is a move that would get me killed by any other god should I try it with them.
“You know I’m your most devoted servant. I’ll do anything you ask. You just have to ask it. It’s okay to seek help.”
Once again, I see a glimmer, maybe of hope, that what I say is true. Or maybe I want to believe that because it’s gone before I can ponder it anymore.
“I command you to do something for me,” she says softly.
And while her tone suggests I could talk her out of it, the minute she says she’s commanding me it means I have to obey. A demigod must obey his creator.
“What?” I snarl.
“I want you to go see Amell. Help ensure his domain is protected from the recent uprising. There are rumors that others are plotting against him.”
Fury pulses within me, not for her refusal to open up and admit we have something more than orgasms, but for making me work with Amell. The last time we saw each other, we nearly tore apart the mountain her chalet sits upon.
But I can’t disobey. “Is that all?” I grit out.
Her gaze locks with mine, and her chin lifts. “That is all.”
I roll off her body, moving about her room to pick up my clothes. I dress as she rolls to her side and watches me with shuttered eyes.
When I’m clothed, I head out of her bedroom. I could bend distance out of here and straight into the Underworld, but I want to say goodbye to Uorsin and Mattia. I love those fucking dogs as much as I love their owner, and at least they love me back.
“Maddox,” Zora says, halting me. I turn back to look at her, tamping down hopefulness. She leans up in the bed, one elbow into the mattress, clutching the sheets to her chest. “I’m sorry I can’t be what you want.”
“You’re a god,” I say with censure. “You can do whatever the fuck you want.”
Her eyes drop away and it’s as it’s always been. She’s gone.
With a sigh, I leave the dogs alone and bend distance to the Underworld. It’s actually preferable to staying here, no matter how much I hate Amell.
As gods, we can exist and live wherever we want. If I wanted to float in outer space and live among the stars, I could. I’m beyond immortal.
But I happen to be low-key, so my small mountain home in Switzerland does me just fine. I have no clue where my brethren live. We don’t socialize. We don’t see each other outside of our Council meetings unless it’s to discuss business.
I’m still trying to figure out exactly what our business is. I’m an absolute baby—not even an adolescent in my understanding of what it means to be a god. It’s so confusing, and I struggle to make sense of everything. Sometimes I feel like I’m on a merry-go-round that keeps spinning faster and faster, and I’m trying to see things but they’re whizzing by so fast I can’t comprehend the flashes. I hold on to my bobbing carousel horse, heart feeling like it’s going to explode out of my chest. The pressure is immense—I need to perform, govern, protect, and rule—and all of it is like a colossal boulder pressing me down.
There are days where I sometimes envy the solitude of my life back in the Underworld. I had no love, no guidance, and I was used in a painful way to channel dark magic, and yet, sometimes it feels like that was easier.
Today I must meet with my sibling gods so I merely step from my house, Uorsin and Mattia watching me with tilted heads, and straight onto a dais where my brethren wait.
I don’t know what this place is, but I know to come to it when we have to meet and discuss matters. Just like I know if I thought of anyone in particular who was not a god and wished them dead, they would be so.
The thought of so much power actually scares me.
I’ve been here many times, and the scenery still takes my breath away. I know we’re not anywhere in the First Dimension, or Earth realm as some call it, as everything is too perfect. The sky is too blue, the sunshine too luminescent, and the clouds too symmetrically fluffy. The green grass spread over rolling hills shimmers, and the air is perfumed with jasmine and gardenia. I have no clue where it comes from, but I can hear a harp playing distantly—a calming melody that seems right in this place.
The dais is set under a sprawling gazebo complete with thick Grecian columns of silver- and blue-veined marble. Spread around are chaise lounges and sumptuously squishy pillows you can sink down into for relaxation and gossip.
Except as gods, we don’t do that. Instead, we sit at a round table with no head seat, as all five of us are equal.
Well, except I’m not exactly equal because I have no clue what the hell I’m supposed to be or what I’m doing.
“Greetings,” Veda says as she moves to me. Her hands come to my elbows, and she leans in for an air kiss on each cheek.
“Hello,” I say, still suffering a severe case of impostor syndrome next to the beautiful woman with pale skin and black-to-silver ombre hair. The god of Humanity looks younger than me, but she’s as old as time.
When the gods are feeling officious, we dress in Grecian-style robes with red capes, but on most occasions, we wear what we want. Today Veda is in a pair of slouchy, faded jeans that sit low on her hips, a halter top of brown suede with beads sewn in tribal patterns, and her feet are bare. Very hippie, and I’m most comfortable with her.
“Come sit with us,” she says, and whether she meant it to, that statement still suggests I’m an outsider trying to fit in.
At the table, Onyx sits ramrod straight and no one would need to guess she’s the god of Conflict. I’ve never seen her in anything but battledress of bronzed breastplates with shoulder and shin guards. Her skin and irises are as black as a raven’s wings. She’s the fiercest thing I’ve ever seen—and I’ve seen some stuff in the Underworld. The only thing that makes her somewhat approachable is her modern-day hairstyle of a vivid pink mohawk. She gives me a nod of greeting.
To her left sits Cato, the god of Nature. At almost seven feet tall, he’s the largest of the gods and commands lightning bolts with a mere wiggle of his fingers. He, too, is dark skinned, but it’s more caramel colored, and his eyes are molten gold. He’s almost too beautiful to behold with his sculpted cheekbones and patrician nose. Despite his physical perfection, Cato is usually down-to-earth, and next to Veda, he’s the nicest. Cato loves contemporary clothing, especially if it’s bespoke. I don’t know much about fine clothing but I’m betting the dark charcoal suit he’s wearing cost a mortal fortune.
“Hello, Zora,” he says with an incline of his head. “I had hoped you would bring your dogs with you today.”
“My apologies. I didn’t think of it,” I say, but it actually had crossed my mind and I chose not to. I’m clinging to mortal parts of my life and want to keep them separate.
The look Cato gives me is gracious, but I can tell he doubts my words. They all know I’ve got my struggles.
“I much prefer cats,” Circe says in her breathy voice, the last of our Council. The god of Fate is a mystery I’m not sure I’ll ever figure out. At times she appears flighty, and at others, wickedly dangerous. As always, she’s in full dress and makeup, her platinum-blond curls styled à la Marilyn Monroe. Her lips bear ruby-red stain and her complexion is flawless. Today she’s wearing a retro dress of white silk with red strawberries embroidered all over. It has a fitted bodice, capped sleeves, and a swishy skirt.
I’ve got nothing to counter her comment about cats. I like them fine, but I do prefer dogs.
“Sit,” Veda says with a hand at my back, and I take the chair between her and Circe.
“Let’s begin,” Onyx says and launches into a summary of the major conflicts across dimensions, realms, and the universe. The scope of the gods’ rule is so vast that I can’t quite understand how we keep track of it all.
I try to pay attention, I really do, but some of it bores me. The only time I perk up is when Onyx mentions Maddox and his great prowess on the battlefield in some dimension called Rashtaharaman. He gave Onyx the outcome she wanted and earned immense favor with her, but Maddox was created to be a warrior. He, along with his brothers Carrick and Lucien, have served the gods in thousands of wars and battles over time.
However, as modern times brought forth more peace than conflict, the value of demigods on the killing fields has lessened. Carrick is fully retired from having to do such things, but he earned that respite when he helped Finley avert the apocalypse against Kymaris, queen of the Underworld. Maybe Maddox will be able to stop one day as well.
As for Lucien, well… he’s dead, and it doesn’t matter anymore. He was a casualty of the apocalypse, thrown into the Crimson River where his soul is being tortured for eternity. It’s something that sits horribly with me since I reign over said river, which originates in the Underworld.
I could bring him back, I’m sure of it. I mean, it’s never been done, but all I’ve been taught since becoming a god is that our power is without end, limited only by imagination.
Regardless, it makes no difference because it has been decreed that Lucien shall not be reincarnated. That was an edict passed among the Council before I ever became a god and there is nothing I can do.
When Onyx is done, Cato tells us of a dying planet in a distant galaxy on the verge of extinction because of pollution and overpopulation. He wants to extend a mercy and obliterate it with a redirected meteor.
Cato calls for a vote. “In favor?”
Veda, Circe, and Onyx all raise their hands.
I don’t want to obliterate anything, but my hand goes up too. I’m not confident enough to stand against them, not only because I’m the newest member, but because I don’t understand the greater good that supposedly comes with the gods controlling all things.
The meeting goes on and on. Humanitarian rewards are doled out, Circe appropriately meddles in the fates, and Onyx continues to bemoan that there’s too much peace, which tips the scales of balance too far in one direction.
Cato’s gaze swings my way, and those golden orbs of his are nearly hypnotizing. “And what say you of the Underworld, Zora?”
I blink rapidly and take a calming breath. I don’t like being on the spot. It’s hard enough trying to figure out my role in this complex new life of mine but for the other gods to look to me is unsettling.
My biggest challenge has been keeping the Underworld in check, which has faced some chaos since Kymaris was dethroned. Asking Amell to rule was the best decision I could have made.
“All is well,” I say, lending my most confident and authoritative tone to the words. “Amell has quelled an uprising and I’ve sent Maddox to help him fortify the veil.”
“Yes, there were rumors of breaches between the Underworld and Faere,” Onyx murmurs. “I sense a current between the two worlds, and it feels like war.” Her black eyes shimmer with excitement. “Of course, my allegiance would go to Faere,” she says, leveling me with a hard stare.
I incline my head. “And mine to the Underworld, although I wouldn’t condone an unprovoked attack by any means. Regardless, I’m confident Amell has things well in hand.”
As long as he and Maddox don’t kill each other.
I should never have sent Maddox there, for I know how much those two immortal creatures hate each other.
Their abhorrence is deeply rooted in their mutual care for me and is muddied by jealousy. I gave my virginity to Amell and we were lovers for many years in the Underworld. While Amell was my captor, he was also my protector, and eventually he stood in my corner when we fought against Kymaris. I’ll always care for him.
But Maddox is my lover now, and while a god could take many lovers, he’s the only one I want.
With nothing else to report or decide, our meeting is adjourned. One by one, we disappear from the meeting place, and I walk away with no more clarity on what my purpose is or why I even matter to the grand scheme of things.
Rather than return home, visit Finley, or even head to the Underworld to see if Maddox and Amell have destroyed it trying to kill each other, I think I’ll visit the former god of Life.
The prison constructed to hold Rune was created with powers I supposedly possess but have no clue how to wield. My four brethren gods locked him away before I’d even sacrificed my life and I had no part in its making.
But I can feel the energy pulsing from it as I approach. Rune is cross-legged inside a sphere only large enough for him to sit or lie down. His sole possession, besides the clothes he wears, is a bucket for him to relieve himself.
The enclosure itself is made of glowing orange-white striations of molten power that resemble intersecting sprays of lightning bolts. It’s a network of magnetic vibrations that cause my curls to pull straight and float away from my head if I walk too near, and it hums with menace if anyone gets too close. It sits in an empty room of gray concrete walls and floor with a single door that allows a demigod to come in and deliver food and collect Rune’s waste.
I don’t know what Rune looked like before he was stripped of power and made mortal, but he looks like a wasted shell of a man right now. His hair is long, matted, and filthy. His beard is shot through with gray, and his eyes are sunken. He’s slowly dying, and no one cares.
I know I certainly don’t, because while he didn’t play a part in the apocalypse, he is responsible for killing my sister repeatedly.
Finley told me the story. In the eighth century, Carrick had been ordered by the gods into service of the High King of Ireland to help defeat the Vikings. It was there he fell in love with a mortal woman named Eireann, and they married. Carrick despaired as he knew he’d continue an immortal life while she withered and died, so he stole a magical potion from Rune that would grant immortality. There was only enough for one dose, and Rune had planned on using it on a mortal woman he purportedly loved.
A fight ensued and The vial was broken, spilling the potion in the dust so neither woman could use it. Rune was so enraged, he killed Eireann in retribution, but that wasn’t enough to appease his anger. With his power over life and death, he cursed Eireann to be repeatedly reincarnated and meddled with fate to have her continually put in Carrick’s path so he would fall in love with her over and over again. He recognized her each time and was crushed with every instance of her death.
Finley is Eireann, and she was again reunited with Carrick, although this time, there was a prophecy she was fated to stop with his help. Rune hated Carrick so much, he tampered with the prophecy and tried to kill Finley before she could fulfill her duty. It was for this and other perfidies that the gods stripped him of his power, rendered him mortal, and locked him in this prison.
Carrick was offered the choice to kill Rune, but he declined. He knew a long, slow death would be so much more fitting.
“If it isn’t the new god of Life come to visit,” Rune drawls as he watches me approach. It’s not my first time here and probably won’t be my last.
In my endless search to figure out what I am and who I’m supposed to be, I’ve sometimes turned to the original in the hopes of gleaning something valuable.
This man, after all, ruled over life and death since the dawn of time and assuredly has nuggets that might be helpful.
Of course, I can’t come right out and ask him for help because that would seem desperate and weak. Instead, I have to goad him for information, but I know he doesn’t mind my visits. I’m the only creature who has talked to him in a year.
He’s thirsty for companionship but I never forget he’s evil.
“I saw Finley the other day,” I say as I draw closer. Rune’s expression suffuses with hatred. “She and Carrick are living quite the idyllic life in Malibu.”
“Neither deserving of such a life,” he hisses.
“I get why you hate Carrick,” I muse. “He killed your chance at eternal love, but I don’t get why you hate my sister.”
Rune shrugs and turns his head away, appearing disinterested. “She was a means to an end.”
“Did you mourn for your love when she died?” I ask, really getting to the heart of the reason I’m here.
Head snapping back my way, Rune narrows his eyes. “Why do you want to know?”
I hum low in my throat as if I’m not quite sure. “Just making conversation.”
Rune leans forward, baring his teeth. “When she died, I envisioned killing your precious sister over and over again. Every time she died, I laughed and laughed until my belly ached. And every tear that Carrick shed for her was a balm to my broken heart.”
That’s what I wanted to know. I had to hear it from him, but can I trust it?
“I don’t believe you have the ability to have a broken heart,” I say with a dismissive wave of my hand.
Rune slouches backward, strokes his beard. “You don’t believe a god can love?”
“I don’t know… you tell me.”
Please tell me the truth. Do I have the ability to truly love or will I lose what little humanity I might have?
“I was going to make her immortal, wasn’t I?” he demands.
I don’t answer but instead ask, “After the potion was destroyed, did you spend the rest of her days with her?”
Rune blinks at me in confusion. “What do you mean?”
“You know what I mean. Were you like Carrick, utterly devoted to a mortal woman even though she would die? Because Carrick was going to stay with Eireann—Finley—until she took her last breath.”
“That’s beside the point,” Rune mutters. “It’s enough I would give her immortality.”
My heart sinks. He didn’t love his woman.
“What was her name?” I ask softly.
Rune scoffs. “Who can remember things that long ago?”
I stare at him, willing him to give me one tiny glimpse of hope. He’s the only god out of the five that I know claimed to love someone.
Instead, his gaze drops away and he starts to pick at what might be a bit of food on his pants.
With a sigh, I prepare to leave, longing for the comfort of my small house in the Swiss Alps and the weight of furry dogs on my lap.
“You’ve got more things to worry about than love,” Rune says.
“Excuse me?” I step closer to the sphere, and the smelted streaks of power that contain him glow brighter. It causes his eyes to glitter with what looks to be madness.
“Big things on the horizon, sweet Zora.” His tone is secretive and taunting but sounds so assured. “Big things.”
“You’re going to get a new waste bucket?” I taunt.
“I’m going to kill all of you who have offended me,” he sneers, leaning forward again. He’s brought up short by the power of the sphere, and a line of spittle falls from his mouth. “Going to kill you all.”
I force myself to stand still, a mask of bland indifference on my face. He watches eagerly, wanting to know if he got to me.
“I imagine with all this time on your hands, you’ve built up quite the imagination. Good story, though.”
I don’t give him a chance to reply, flinging myself back through dimensions and distance to my home. I feel immediately better in my safe space, but my hands shake like leaves in a storm.
The Ruin of Gods is a standalone romantic fantasy novel about learning to love—both ourselves and another—within The Chronicles of the Stone Veil series. See the full details and get your copy HERE.