“Why did you return?”
The darkness moved: spreading like sand before the sea. Emerald closed her eyes and tried to imagine the nightmare only half beginning. This wasn’t supposed to happen. The price had been paid. Banished forever to the shadows of Hades. Sealed by magic, when she split her soul and gave fragments to Cipher. A part of her left forever longing in the care of a creature she once called friend.
The underworld was hungry, ravenous even to consume her fully, but that wasn’t the bargain. She alone would suffer so that others would live. Others would survive and never know the horrors of Hades and the cruel overload who now ruled.
Light faded as the shadow spread. Emerald heard the shrieks nearby; the horrified whispers of her neighbors and strangers on the street. They’d never known a world without light. They’d never seen the darkness.
She unfolded her arms and walked to her balcony overlooking the entire valley. Peaks and waterfalls decorated the distance and in the center stood the shining jewel of the planet, Ethereal.
Five hundred feet high and shaped by glass, the palace stood as the crown jewel of the world. A beacon of strength. It stood as a reminder of the ancients when architects still lived. Very few knew of or felt the magic that hummed in Ethereal’s walls: a magic once powerful, but now resting in purgatory waiting for someone who no longer existed to tap into its power and awaken the core once more.
“What do you want Cipher?” She felt his fingers caress the nape of her neck. Phantom touches that sparked fire beneath her skin. She held her breath and stifled the longing even as it threatened to overwhelm her.
“You, Emerald. Just you.” He appeared then from the shadows. A man cursed in darkness. Stepped from an inky black pool into her light, his shadow in human form. Black hair framed his face and his lush mouth smirked, a cruel twist of his lips. Blue eyes, tinted with the trademark silver of Hades, met her gaze in an unwavering stare.
“You already have me.”
“A fragment. Nothing more.”
“That was our bargain.”
Fingers caressed her throat, delicately grazing her collarbone.
“Vapid witch,” he moaned. Fingers trembling, touching her pulse points. “You knew what such a bargain entailed.”
Heat pooled low in her belly and still she refused to move. Refused to play his game. This was the price. Forever longing while others lived.
“I can feel you. Every night, but only whispers. Touch only but a graze of skin before you vanish. Not whole enough to remain in my presence.”
“The bargain,” she rasped. Stifling the moan that threatened to escape. Her body quickly becoming putty in his hands. She shivered while outside the world darkened and she desperately tried to make sense of how her sacrifice went so wrong.
He laughed and his fingers gripped her throat, forcing her head back to stare into his eyes.
“Come with me, truly, fully, and I’ll leave this place. I’ll leave your world and never return.”
“But the balance –“
Lips grazed her throat. Hot. Needy. And she moaned at the sensation.