I stared in horror at the three pairs of jowls drooling over me, three jaws snapping together aggressively millimeters away from my face. My heart was in my mouth as piping hot saliva dripped from the demon’s lashing tongues. I couldn’t even scream, despite how hard I tried, I opened my mouth but I was so terrified no sound escaped my lips.
I had never laid my eyes on anything like it. It was a dog, I think. I tried to unsuccessfully distinguish features as it towered above me, its long talons holding me down, paralyzing me to the ice-cold ground. I struggled under its weight, panting in exasperation and beads of sweat, or was it more sputum, trickled off my brow and through my hair.
The beast was massive. It was built like a grizzly bear but it didn’t have any fur, instead it was covered from heads to toe with a rock hard shell that was rough to the touch, almost like a rhinoceros. It’s tail was formed from scales of a serpent but was in the shape of a lion’s, with flames rippling abominably at its tip, and each of its three tongues were forked, snake-like, slithering across the rows and rows of razor-sharp teeth that filled it’s horrific mouth.
Its muzzle wasn’t soft, it was prickly like a cactus and as it grazed the skin of my cheek I cried out in agony, it stung as the grit and glistening sweat crawled its way into the exposed cuts on my face. The beast didn’t attack me, I knew it wouldn’t.
The beast was Cerberus, the Hell hound.
The Shadow in the garden had summoned an army of its demon friends. Alexander and I had fought hard, using our spelled daggers to no avail. Every Shadow we hurt, another took its place and eventually we were disarmed then beaten and dragged into Hades’ abominable castle. We were overpowered.
Alexander was lying in a limp heap on the floor to my left, I knew he wasn’t dead I could hear his breath stutter as he exhaled. His chiseled face bruised, bashed and his hair matted.
“Trying to break into my home?” Hades chuckled deeply, “If I’d have known you were coming I would have made the effort to make it a little nicer for you.”
I couldn’t answer him, I knew that I should, that I must, but I couldn’t bring the words to physically leave my mouth. I was fixated on the jowls of Cerberus, looming over me ready to bite my head clean off my shoulders if I were to disobey his master again.
“Ivy,” Hades sounded impatient, his anger bubbling as I refused to reply, “I wouldn’t ignore me if I were you.” His words were powerful, commanding, each one surged through me and filled me with dread, I was scared. For a long, long, long time I hadn’t even been bothered by Hades’ minions coming for me, that I was used to, but in that moment, I was frightened I would die here. “Cerberus hasn’t feasted on live meat in such a long time, it would be a shame to break his diet now,” Hades flared sarcastically.
I tried to turn my head, but the weight of the heavy demon on top of me was pressing menacingly onto my spine, testing it, pushing it a little further and further down threatening to shatter it into a thousand tiny pieces. I managed a strangled, “Urgh...”
“Oh for Heaven’s sake!” I could feel the God rolling his eyes, “Open your mouth and talk to me girl, it’s not difficult.”
“I’m sorry,” I croaked, it was all I could push out of my raw throat.
“That’s better,” He mused, “Much more polite, this is my house after all.”
I glanced up, past the snapping dog, at the stalactites pointing to the ground precariously, as if they were ready to shatter and crash down if someone dropped a pin in this cave, “It’s lovely,” I groaned through gritted teeth.
I heard the smile in his voice as he said, “Why thank you, I have tried always my best to make guests feel welcome.” After a pause, “Cerberus, release the child.” The weight lifted off my chest almost immediately, I sat up and took an automatic deep breath, gulping down the air greedily.
“The Urn of Hades,” Hades chortled, turning it around in his hands, “The closest thing I have to a soul.” He met my eyes, “Nice try, Ivy.” I watched, my mouth open in horror, as he let the jar fall to the ground and shatter into a million pieces.
I was doubled over, clutching my stomach with one hand where one of Cerberus’ big, heavy feet had been resting for the past few minutes, bursting my spleen. All I could muster was a weak nod, wincing as I did so. My neck was sore and my knees were raw, I could smell the blood that was oozing from my burnt flesh but I didn’t look.
“Darling!” Hades called, “They have your little cup!”
I saw, out of the corner of my eye, an exquisitely slender woman saunter over to Hades on his throne. Her hair was long and golden, swaying round her waist elegantly. Her dazzling face looked like it was carved from smooth marble and she was an expensive statue in a museum, her lips were plump and ruby red, her eyes were almond-shaped and the brightest of blues. I gaped at her, she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.
“Ivy, meet my wife Persephone,” Hades wrapped his hand around the Goddesses waist and she grimaced, practically flinching away from his touch. “The Chalice of Persephone, used to trap my mind and body.” Hades mused, running his fingers over the stem, “Why did you have this forged again, dear?”
Persephone folded her arms stubbornly, her perfect eyes alive in anger, “Because I hate you and I want you dead.”
Hades let his arm drop from her side. “I love you too, dear.”
“Let the poor girl go.” Persephone gestured to me, her movements so graceful they could have been mistaken for art.
Hades rubbed his chin mockingly, pretending to be deep in thought, “Let Ivy Taylor go?”
“You’ve tortured her enough,” Persephone’s voice was like a bird’s singing, “Give her back her friends and let her leave.”
“Darling, with all due respect... I have been waiting a very long time to kill this girl,” Hades mused patiently, “Do be a doll and don’t spoil it for me.”
“You vile, twisted snake!” Persephone spat, marching away from him.
Hades rolled his eyes, “Oh, piss off back to your chambers to sulk darling. Don’t embarrass me in front of our guests.”
Persephone turned back to me, tears rolling down her perfect cheeks, “I’m so sorry, Ivy.” She whispered before vanishing behind a column.
I took the chance to do a full sweep of the area, checking for anything I could use to hurl at Hades, anything large enough that would cause him some harm. My eyes found nothing, I had no weapon, no strategy. I wanted more than anything to rush to Alexander’s side to make sure he was okay, but I stayed put – not wanting to show Hades any sign of weakness.
“Now... where were we?” I watched uneasily as Hades stroked his pointy chin, then he clicked his fingers in a malicious manner, “Ah!” His eyes twinkled, “That’s right, I was going to kill you.”
I slowly got up to my feet, feeling vulnerable, as if I would fall back down at a moment’s notice, “Wait, please!” I whispered hoarsely.
The Lord of The Underworld cocked his head to the side, his eyebrows raised slightly in surprise, “Excuse me?” I could tell he was holding back laughter, “You; little Ivy Taylor, want me; Hades, the King of this world, to wait?”
Hades threw his head back and cackled, the noise boomed around the cavern and as it echoed off all surfaces I heard the stalactites wobble, clinking together dangerously. I eyed them carefully, ready to leap out of the way if one did decide to let go of the ceiling.
“Oh my dear child, you have so much left to learn about oaths. I cannot wait, you have been avoiding me far too long for me to listen to your pleas.” He waved his hand lazily, not meeting my eyes.
“Please,” I struggled on, “I am here to make a new bargain, a better one.”
Hades stopped grinning and turned to face me, “A new bargain you say?”
Again I replied with a meek nod, barely moving my head, “Yes,” I swallowed, my throat was so dry it felt like somebody was hacking brutally at it with a chainsaw, “Two souls, for the price of mine.”
The God was silent, the quietest I had heard him be since we arrived, he was pondering over this deal carefully, slowly.
“I have made my decision...” He went over each word gradually, taking his time.
I jolted upright, “And?” I couldn’t keep the anticipation away from my tone, “Will you prolong my life?”
“You can prolong your life...” I would have jumped for joy if I didn’t know that wasn’t the end of his sentence, but I knew there was more. “Or you can prolong... his.” Hades’ long and bony finger outstretch and indicated to the man lying on the stone-cold floor beside me.
I scurried over to Alexander, like a scuttling beetle and gazed, distraught at his bruised and bloody face. The Shadows had got him bad, they hadn’t taken as much care with him as they had with me... He was merely baggage, another soul for Hades to add to this Hell.
I lowered myself gently behind Alexander’s limp body and I placed his head in my lap. I wiped his dirty brow with my sleeve, I looked down at his beautifully carved features in adoration. I stroked his hair back from his face and ran the back of my hand across his cheek whilst he lay there.
My pores began to weep with fear. I felt a gut-wrenching pain that almost doubled me over. I was frozen and for a while I couldn’t speak, I had to let it all sink in.
In a split second it felt like someone had broken into my chest, ripped out my heart with their bare hands and then stabbed it repeatedly, whilst I watched the organ being reduced to nothingness. Nothingness was possibly worse than sadness, despair, pain, all of the things that I should have been feeling. Instead, I just sat there, my eyes wide, my entire body quivering, feeling nothing. I couldn’t believe it. Hades was making me choose between my life, and the life of the boy I loved.
I closed my eyes, wishing for tears. Salty tears to cleanse over my filthy skin, but none came. My breath trembled, I could barely breathe, my mind was numb. I knew I hadn’t said anything for a while, “What?” I choked finally, “No!” I hissed, my chest collapsing at the thought of Hades killing Alexander... My Alex, my one, my only.
“What do you mean no?” He pressed, his frown deepening, “Are you defying me? I am giving you a chance. The chance you have been waiting for, the one chance you will get. The option is there... You get to choose who will die this day, you... Or him.” He clucked his tongue a few times, “And please hurry; I have things to do, places to be, people to torture... Much better things to be doing with my time, don’t you agree?”
Rage boiled inside me, ready to explode, I was shuddering so violently I couldn’t control myself, “I can’t. I won’t... I won’t choose.”
Hades ground his jaw together, “Ivy,” He growled, “If you do not choose, then I will choose for you and you both shall die. Both souls will belong to me, to live an eternity here.”
I stared down at Alexander lying unconscious before me. That’s when they came, the tears I had been waiting for. Instead of washing away the pain and the sadness, they burnt hot and fierce across my face, across my skin. I could slowly feel my sanity crumbling away from me, leaving me with an empty shell.
Once more, I began to smooth over his cheeks, I ran my hands across the masculine line of his jaw. I basked in his scent, his sweet jungle scent, so natural and so... Alexander. A traumatic and excruciating pain shot through me, right in the center of my already aching rib cage. I folded myself over him, holding him closer to me as I began to sob uncontrollably, wailing in complete and utter agony. I felt my entire body shake from the force of my tears.
I couldn’t kill him. I couldn’t watch Hades murder Alexander in front of me. I couldn’t live on knowing that my selfishness had slaughtered the only man I have ever loved. This couldn’t be real, this whole thing had to be a never ending nightmare.
My paradise was Alexander. It had always been him. He had made me breathe when I didn’t want to, and he had unlocked doors inside of me that I had tried to keep shut. He hadn’t left my mind once since I first met him. All I knew was that if heaven was real, heaven was Alexander.
I opened my eyes, my vision blurred. I looked one more time at his face; his gorgeous, loving, wonderful face and kissed him hard on his forehead. I wanted to remember the feel of his skin under my lips, the steady beating of his pulse. Then I laid his head back down on the ground gently and pressed my cheek desperately against his, I let out another heart breaking sob from the very core of my chest, “Goodbye.”
I tore myself away from him and strode proudly towards Hades, sitting maniacally in his throne, his eyes gleaming. This was the hardest thing I had ever had to do, I walked with my head held high. “Kill me then,” I demanded, “Let him go and kill me... I am handing my soul over to you.”
Hades pressed his lips together excitedly, rubbing his hands eagerly, “Finally,” He breathed, like he had been waiting his whole live for this moment. He stood up majestically and swayed towards me, his robe gliding across the floor creating a sickly swish sound to creep, unwanted, into my ears.
I grimaced then I spat at his feet.
He beamed sweetly, almost looking down on me in pity, “Oh my... Oh my dear Ivy. Your time has finally come.”
I shut my eyes, picturing only Alexander. How he looked on that day he picked me up from Mr Kingsman’s office, it seemed like a lifetime ago, he was tall his hair was messy and glimmering like pure gold in the light from the chandeliers. His eyes were piercing like golden sunshine, magically entrancing, I knew then that if I looked into that iris of beautiful almond I would fall into those pools of topaz. I smiled at the memory of his laughter of his dazzling smile.
This was my fate, my destiny. I would hand my soul over to Hades and this was how I would die.
Stay safe Alex, I thought to myself, my last thought, I love you.
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