Yet Geryon had walked away from her, just as the others had.
Am I so terrible? So horrible a person?
More than the others, she had wanted Geryon to find pleasure with her because he meant more. She liked who she was with him. Liked how she felt when he was near. Worthy. Precious. Instead, she had…disgusted him? Repelled him? Failed to arouse him in even the slightest way?
“Stay by my side,” he said as he shoved open the tavern’s swinging double doors. They were the first words he had uttered since reminding her of their quest. “And keep your hood over your head. Just in case. Actually, are you versed in glamour?”
His voice was deep and rough and caressed every one of her weeping senses. Surely she did not disgust him. Surely she did not repel him. He had held himself back during their kiss, had stopped it, but when he looked at her, he made her feel as if she were the only woman in the world. The most beautiful, the most desired.
He paused before entering. “Kadence?” Cleared his throat. “Goddess?”
“I will glamour myself and stay by your side,” she told him, though inside she beseeched, Tell me why you continually push me away. She only wanted to draw closer.
He didn’t, of course. He nodded and stepped forward. She stayed close, as promised, mentally projecting the image of bones and scales. Anyone who glanced in her direction would think they saw one of their own. She could only hope her fear was masked as well. They would not hesitate to devour one of their own.
Taunting laughter and pain-filled cries immediately assaulted her ears. Gulping, she sent her gaze around the room. So many demons…they came in every shape and size. Some were like the image she projected, bones and scales. Some were half man, half bull. Some were winged like dragons with snouts to match. Yet all of them crowded a stone slab. A moving slab?
No, not moving, she realized, horror claiming her in a bruising grip and nearly crushing her lungs. Human spirits were atop the slab. The demons were ripping them apart, eating their insides. Dear gods.
Unfortunately, there was no peace for the damned. Only endless torture.
“Disgusting,” she couldn’t help but breathe. “How can we defeat a horde of these?”
“All we can do is try.”
Yes. Sadly, they had no guarantee of success. But I told Geryon I would protect him, and I will.
“Over here.” He edged them to the side and out of the way, and she knew it was so that they could observe the happenings without drawing notice. “The creatures you see here are minions, soldiers and servants. They are not what we will be fighting.”
That’s right, she thought, stomach sinking. Violence, Death and the like were Demon Lords. While minions enjoyed their prey’s agony, their main focus was the fulfillment of a single, basic need: hunger.
The Lords cared only for the agony. Prolonging it, increasing it to the depths of insanity. And the more agony they inflicted, the more screams they elicited, the stronger they became.
Oh, yes. They were far worse than anything here.
She would never be able to keep Geryon safe.
“SSSMELL GOOD, LIKE FEAR,” something suddenly growled beside Kadence. “Mmm, hungry.”
Startled, she gasped. I’ve already given myself away? She’d just decided to do something, anything to force Geryon to return to the gate. Now this. Hell. No, she thought.
Geryon tried to pull her behind him, but she resisted. This time, she wouldn’t sink into the background, forcing him to do all the work, take all the risks. This time, she fought.
“Move away or die,” she told the demon.
It frowned at her. “Look like me ssso why you sssmell so good?” It licked its lips, saliva dripping from the corners of its paper-thin mouth. It was covered in yellow scales and only reached her navel. And while it appeared lean, she suspected unyielding strength rested underneath those scales.
A tremor moved through her. Remember who you are. Remember what you can do.
It stepped closer. “Tassste.”
“You were warned,” she said, bracing herself.
“Wait outside, Kadence. Please.” Geryon tried to move in front of her. “I will handle this.”
She blocked him, not facing him. “No. You will not fight them alone.”
As they spoke, the demon continued to inch toward them, its claws lengthening.
“Please, Kadence.” Geryon tugged at her. “I need to know you’re safe. Otherwise, I’ll be distracted, and a distracted warrior is a defeated warrior.”
Defeat would not be theirs. “I cannot act the coward. Not anymore. Besides, if this works, you will not have to fight him at all.” She was Hell’s warden; it was past time she acted like it. Past time she ruled rather than merely observed.
“If isn’t good enough. Not when it comes to your safety.”
She did not have time to bask in his beautiful concern. Any moment the creature would cease its stalking and spring. She knew it, felt it. Kadence reached inside herself as she angled her chin to stare deep into its eyes, surprised to find her power easily accessible. She shouldn’t have been surprised, though. She might try to suppress it, but it was always there, never silent, a churning sea inside her.
Hadn’t Geryon’s earlier fight proven that?
“Stay,” she said, and the creature locked in place, its mind still active but every part of its physical form hers to command.
For a long while, she simply drank in her handiwork, amazed. I did it. Not once did the fiend try and approach her again—even though murder gleamed in those beady eyes.
“Something’s happened,” Geryon said, sounding confused.
“I happened,” she said, proud of herself. “Watch.” To the demon she said, “Raise your arms over your head.”
Instantly, it obeyed, shooting both arms into the air without a word of complaint. But then, she had possession of its mouth, as well.
Joy burst through her. For once, she had used her ability for good: to save someone she greatly lo—admired. Dear gods. Love? Did she love Geryon? She loved being with him, loved the way he made her feel, but did that mean she had given him her heart? Surely not. Surely she was not that foolish.
Soon they would part.
“Look, Kadence.” Geryon pointed to the slab. “Look what’s happened.”
She followed the direction of his finger and gasped. Every demon had frozen in place, their hands in the air. Even the spirits had stopped writhing. There was no laughter, no cries. Only the sound of her own breathing could be heard.
“You did this?” Geryon asked.
“I am amazed. Awed.”
Her joy intensified. He admired her. Was perhaps even proud of her. “Thank you.”
“Can they hear me?” When she nodded, he slowly grinned and shouted to the creatures, “Hear me well. Go forth and tell every Demon Lord the Guardian is here and that I plan to destroy them.” To Kadence he added, “You may release them now.”
“Are you sure? I could command their bodies to wither and die.” And those bodies would obey. Power…so sweet…
“I am sure. They are here to punish, so they do serve a purpose. More than that, they will now bring the Lords to us.”
Though she wanted to protest, Kadence did as he’d asked. In less than a blink, the creatures were racing from the building as fast as possible, leaving her and Geryon alone. “We must prepare,” Geryon said gravely.
There would be no taking him back, she realized. Unless she ordered him to return. Which she could do, and he would now be forced to obey. Power… But he would return, she was sure. Too much determination rested in his smoldering eyes.
You can protect him now, she thought next, and grinned.
“War,” she said with a nod. “That sounds fun.”
GERYON FORTIFIED the building against attack as best as he was able, given the lack of supplies and tools. Kadence remained at his side, lending a spiritual touch whenever needed, forcing the planks and stones to bow to her will. He noticed she grew paler with every minute that passed. A paleness all the more stark when compared to the authority she’d wielded over those demons.
Why was she weakening?
Did he have the right to ask? She was a goddess, after all. But that growing paleness did not speak of typical fatigue; it spoke of something more. Something deeper.
“What’s our battle plan?” she asked when they finished, settling against the far wall. The only place without blood or…other things on it.
Keeping you alive, by whatever means necessary. He joined her, careful not to touch her. One touch, and he would pull her back into his arms. He needed to be alert, on guard. “The moment they enter, you’ll lock them in place and I’ll slay them with my poison.”
“Quick and easy,” she said with a ring of satisfaction in her tone.
He was surprised she was not more fearful, despite her show of power. Maybe because he wanted her fearful. Just a bit, just enough. That was the only way to keep her out of the action. Safe. “But we must wait until they all arrive, otherwise they will hear of the devastation we have caused and run. And if they run, we might never be able to find them.”
She absorbed his words. “How long do you think we have before they begin arriving?”
“A few hours. It will take a while for news of my arrival and intentions to spread. Longer still for the Lords to gather their forces and plan an attack.” Geryon raked a claw across the floorboard to mar the curse etched there, shards flying into the air. “I have a question for you.”
Did he dare?
Yes, he thought, glancing at her beauty. He dared. “I understand why Lucifer wishes you to destroy the demons trying to leave Hell and thereby prevent all other demons from following them, but why does it matter so much to you? You were born in the heavens. You could be frolicking there, in the clouds and amid the ambrosia.”