The Damned (The Unearthly Book 5)(4)

By: Laura Thalassa

He rose and pulled me up with him. “Secret names and cordial conversations. It’s not Rome, but it is a start.”

I eyed him warily.

“Soon,” he said, placing a finger at the hollow of my neck, “you’ll crave the chance to say my name. To hear my opinion.” He ran his finger down. There were holes in the webbed lace of the dress I woke up in, and I felt that finger slide over bare skin. “To feel my affection.” His finger kept going, only stopping once it reached my navel. “And my touch.”

Never. I’d never forget all the heinous things he’d done to me and those I loved.

“But until then, there is much you need to know. And while I’d enjoy watching you struggle to learn about your new powers and position, I cannot afford to have you look weak.”

The power he spoke of thrummed beneath my skin. I’d acquired new abilities as the queen of the Underworld. I knew, for instance, how to place a new soul into hellfire and forge him into the devil’s weapon, and I could command the devil’s legions.

“Not, my sweet, without my approval.”

My chest rose and fell, faster and faster. The devil—Lucifer—Hades, damnit—stepped closer, his eyes transfixed on my chest. Either my boobs or my fear pulled him in. Neither alternative made me feel better.

I stared down at my hands, as if they held the answers I sought. “What am I?”

“You’re Gabrielle Fiori, queen of the Underworld.”

“That’s not what I’m asking.”

“I know that’s not what you’re asking. You want an identity when there’s none to give. You’re Ereshkigal, the Mesopotamian queen of the great earth, goddess of the Underworld. You are Hel, the beautiful Norse goddess whose embrace men ran to their deaths for—though, if they were wise at all, they will think twice about that. I don’t take kindly to interlopers.” The way he looked at me when he said that made me feel like I needed another layer of clothes on. He took one of my hands. “You are Mania, the Roman goddess and mother of the dead. And, finally, you are Persephone, the woman I stole from earth and laid claim to.

“You are all of them and not quite any of them. You can cross worlds, drink blood, beguile men with your voice, and reign—second only to me—a legion of souls. You can do all that and more. The power you wield is near limitless because it is bonded to mine.”

I narrowed my eyes at the devil. “You don’t share your power. You’ve said so yourself.”

“I am known as the Deceiver. I have said many things in the past that you should not believe, wife.”

“I’m not your wife,” I said sullenly.

Wrong thing to say.

His hand tightened on my own. “Yes,” he agreed. “In the most archaic of terms, you are not. I am willing to rectify that, immediately.”

I swallowed.

“Or—” he said, “you can agree with me and save the rectifying for a time you truly want it.”

That would be never.

The devil suddenly looked beyond me, towards the door out of the dining room. “I need to go. Explore on your own. I’ll be back later.” And then he winked out of existence.

I spent the next several hours—at least what felt like hours—wandering through the castle. It had great halls, cavernous rooms, and staggering towers, each area more oddly beautiful than the last, and each barren of life. From what I could tell, the palace was sprawling. It would take me weeks to learn this place.

The floors, walls and vaulted ceilings all appeared to be made out of obsidian—volcanic glass. The faces of gargoyles, screaming souls, and horned, snarling beasts all twisted their way up the walls, their faces pressed against the stone’s surface as though they were trying to break free. I’d glance away for a moment, but when I’d look back at the wall, I’d swear those faces changed shape. The place seemed alive, and I got the distinct impression that these walls did in fact talk.

Now I stood halfway down a long hallway fitted with narrow windows that looked out over the kingdom of fire. I stepped up to one.

The flames began just beyond the wrought iron gate that circled the palace grounds. They stretched as far as the eye could see, popping and hissing as they burned through their human fuel.

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