T W E N T Y - T H R E E
I woke up with a raging headache, foggy brain, and a throbbing cheek.
I laid back on my couch...
Why the hell was I on my couch?
A memory tried to break through my hazy brain but for some reason, my stupid brain wouldn’t compute it.
I groaned, clasping my hands in front of my eyes.
A wet nose touched my side, where my shirt rode up.
I peeked through my clasped fingers and smiled.
“Hi Shadow” I said, rubbing my Hellhound’s head “Where have you been?”
He nuzzled my ribs again and I smiled as his fiery fur licked my skin, the flames tickling my side.
He rose to his full height and look back towards the door where I saw a smaller, and female, Hellhound gazing at us.
I raised an eyebrow and Shadow nipped my skin playfully.
My hound, the size of a panther with the bulk of a lion, sat down next to me and growled for the female.
She took a hesitant step in and sniffed my floor rug, her obsidian eyes shining with curiosity.
“Oooh...” I chuckled, wincing when a sharp pain went through my head “Someone has a girlfriend.”
My hound snarled, fire dripping from his mouth and scorching my carpet.
I just patted his head as the female hound took a weary step in front of us.
I held my hand out and she took a hesitant sniff.
When she deemed I wasn’t a threat, she crept up next to Shadow and curled her body against his.
I raised an eyebrow and puffed out his chest proudly.
“What’s her name?” I murmured softly as the pain in my head became more prominent.
I put my hand on his head and he used his limited knowledge of language to communicate one word with me.
Shadow barked in agreement.
“Shadow, I need you to do me a favor” I murmured to him as one particular gut wrenching memory came back to me.
He snarled in response and I raised an eyebrow.
“Considering that I needed you for a whole month while you were...finding yourself...I would really appreciate it if you could do this one favor for me.”
He barked and Midnight yipped at him.
“I need you to follow my girl around for a while” I asked “And keep Cerb away from her as much as you can.”
Shadow barked and ran out of the room, Midnight hot on his heels.
I fell back against my couch, my cheeks burning as last night’s memory slowly returned to me.
I was outside working on identifying indigenous herbs in Persephone’s garden when I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
I turned and my eyes widened when I saw this black creature watching me, fire coming out of his mouth as he panted.
“What is that?” I squeaked out to Persephone, careful not to spook the predator, and glide closer to her.
She look up from her leather-bound notebook and spotted the creature, a faint smile gracing her face.
“That’s Shadow” she said “Zephyr’s Hellhound.”
“Why is it watching me?”
“Zephyr must have ordered him to keep watch over you.” She said, going back to writing in her book.
“Why?” I asked, watching in fascination as the creature tracked my every movement.
She shrugged “Shadow’s the only one Zephyr trusts to guard his precious things when he’s indisposed. Guess he felt like you needed some guarding.”
I snorted “I can take care of myself.”
“While I would agree with you if we were back on Earth,” she smiled “I can’t say the same thing now. You need protecting down here, especially with how tense things are.”
“Tense?” I asked, picking up a Kaio seed and inspecting it “You’re telling me things aren’t always so...”
“Crazy?” Persephone supplied.
“I would have used Chaotically stressful” I shrugged “But crazy works too.”
Something nudged my thigh and I literally jumped up.
I looked down and found a smaller, most likely female, version of the Hellhound staring at me with pretty obsidian eyes.
She nuzzled my thigh again and wrapped her tail, made out of freaking fire, around my ankle.
I tensed, expecting my skin to burn, and surprisingly found that her tail felt like one of my fuzzy socks I wear during the winter time.
“Uhh...” I said “Who is this and what is it doing?”
Persephone cocked her head to the side, a contemplate look on her face.
“Huh, interesting” She said, a small smile gracing her face “But I shouldn’t be surprised.”
I patted the Hellhound hesitantly on the head and she purred, smoky tendrils falling out of her mouth.
It was really creepy but really amazing at the same time.
When she removed her tail, I saw words branded on the inside of my ankle.
I gaped, jumped on the end of the flower bed table, and crossed my legs, lifting my right one to see what was marked there.
‘Astra inclinant, sed non obligant.’
“What the heck is this?” I asked, touching the pink raised skin.
"The stars incline us, they do not bind us.” Persephone said, reading the words off my ankle.
“But what does this mean?”
“You’re hers.” Persephone patted my thigh.
“And what does that mean?”
“The Hellhound has claimed you as her own” she said “She will protect you from these lands.”
“Why?” I asked, still shell-shocked “Why me? She doesn’t even know me! I’m not even from here!”
“Besides, I already have a wolf” I added.
“She must deem you as worthy”
“Do you have one?” I question.
Persephone laughed “No.”
“Because Hades didn’t gift me one” At my confused look, she explained further “When the boys were born, Hades gifted each one of his son’s a companion to keep them company in Hell so they wouldn’t get lonely. Zephyr was gifted Shadow, the most loyal hellhound that Hell has ever seen.”
“And he can control him?”
“Not control per say” She touched her chin “They’re more like soul bound partners.”
“Soul bound?” I asked “Like me and my Wolf?”
“Kind of” she explained “But he can’t shift into Shadow.”
“But they’re bound?”
“Shadow’s life is bound to Zephyr’s.” She nodded “If Zephyr dies, so does Shadow.”
“And vice versa?” I asked
Persephone shook her head “No, it would make Zephyr an easy target if it worked that way, particularly since Shadow doesn’t like to be cooped up too long. No, if Shadow dies, Zephyr gains another Hellhound.”
I frowned “That doesn’t seem fair.”
Persephone nodded sympathetically “It really isn’t”
“So how do Hellhounds come to be?” I asked, curious since no one really talked about it in the movies.
“Believe it or not, animals get a peaceful afterlife too” she said “Specifically the ones that are abused or been through a rough life. Hellhounds are chosen when a brave animal, usually some type of canine, dies doing something heroic for the ones they love.”
“They get a second chance at life” A soft voice said from behind me “If they want it, that is.”
I turned and found an embarrassed Zephyr grazing at my Hellhound, his face flushed and his eyes never meeting mine.
“I’m sorry for interrupting” he said, still avoiding eye contact “But I need to talk to Sin about something rather important.”