Second Chances Read online
A shiver ofdeja vu crawled down Ash’s spine as he walked along an eerie, fog-filled hallway he’d hoped to never see again. The nether realm ofTartarus was reserved for those who were being punished in the afterlife for crimes committed in a human lifetime.
The screams of the damned echoed off walls as black as Ash’s own soul. He would give Hadescredit, the ancient Greek god definitely knew how to make people suffer.
Moments like this, Ash hated being a god. It was unbearable to know he had the power to stop and change things, and the profound responsibility to let nature take its course. Human free will should never be altered. His own damnation was a constant reminder of exactly why.
Still the reality of it ate at him constantly. How he envied Artemis, Hades and many of the other gods who could shrug off human suffering as par for the course.
But having once been human, Ash wasn’t immune to it. He understood what caused people to make the bad decisions they would spend the rest of eternity paying for. And that human part ofhimself wanted
desperately to ease their pain
It was a bittersweet gift his mother had given him when she had made the decision to hide him in the human world. To this day he wasn’t sure if he should thankher or curse her for it.
Today, he wanted to curse her.
“You don’t have to do this. ”
He ignored Artemis’s voice in his head. He did have to do this.
It was time.
Ash stopped at a doorway that was covered with an iridescent slime. It shimmered like a rainbow oil slick in the dim light. To his surprise, there was no sound coming from inside. No movement. It was as if the occupant was dead.
But unlike the others who lived inTartarus , this particular person couldn’t die.
At least not until Ash did and since he was a god. . .
He used his powers to open the door without touching it.
It was completely black inside the small, dingy room. Horrifying images of his human past slammed into him at the sight. Long-buried emotions ripped at him with daggers of pain that lacerated his heart.
He wanted to run from this place.
He knew he couldn’t.
Grinding his teeth, Ash forced himself to take the six steps that separated him from the man who was curled into a ball in one corner. An identical replica ofhimself , the man had long blond hair that was gnarled from the time he’d spent here and hadn’t brushed it.
But Ash never willingly wore his hair blond. It was a wretched reminder of a time in his past that he wanted hisdamndest to forget.
The man on the floor wasn’t moving. His eyes were clenched shut like a child who thought that if he made no sound, no moves, the nightmare would end.
Ash had lived a long time in just such a state, and like the man before him, he had prayed for death repeatedly. But unlike his prayers that had gone unanswered,Styxx’s would be answered.
“Styxx,” he said, his low tone echoing off the walls.
Ash knelt down and did something that had disgustedStyxx when they had been human brothers in ancientGreece. He touched his brother’s shoulder.
“Styxx?” he tried again.
Styxxscreamed as Ash broke through the brutal memories of horror thatMnimi , the goddess of memory, had given toStyxx as punishment for trying to kill his brother. It was a punishment Ash had never agreed with. No one needed the memories of his human past. Not even him.
He could hearStyxx’s thoughts as they left Ash’s past and returned toStyxx’s control.
Knowing his brother would be disgusted by him, Ash let go and stepped back.
As humans, he andStyxx had never been close. Styxx had hated him with an unreasoning passion. For his own part, Ash had aggravated that hatred.
Ash’s human rationale had been that if they were going to hate him anyway, then he would give them all good cause for it. He’d gone out of his way to repulse them. Out of his way to antagonize them.
Only their sister had ever given him kindness.
And in the end, Ash had betrayed her. . .
Styxxstruggled to breathe as he became aware of the fact that he wasn’t Acheron.
I amStyxx . Greek prince. Heir to. . .
No, he wasn’t the rightful heir to anything. Acheron had been. He and his father had stolen that from Acheron.
They had taken everything from him.
For the first time in eleven thousand years,Styxx understood that reality. In spite of what his father had convinced him, they had greatly wronged Acheron.
The Greek goddessMnimi had been right. The world as PrinceStyxx had seen it had been whitewashed by lies and by hatred.
The world of Acheron had been entirely different. It had been steeped in loneliness and pain, and decorated with terror. It was a world he’d never dreamed existed. Sheltered and protected all his life, Styxx had never known a single insult. Never known hunger or suffering.
But Acheron had. . .
His body shook uncontrollably asStyxx looked around the dark, cold room. He had seen such a place in Acheron’s memories.
A place they had gleefully left Acheron to face alone. Only this place was cleaner. Less frightening.
And he was a lot older than Acheron had been.
Styxxcovered his eyes and wept as the agony of that tore through him anew. He felt Acheron’s emotions. His hopelessness. His despair.
He heard Acheron’s screams for death. His silent pleas for mercy—silent because to voice them only made his situation worse.
They echoed and taunted him from the past.
How many times hadStyxx hurt him? Guilt gnawed at him, making him sick from it.
“I’ll take them away from you. ”
Styxxflinched at the voice that sounded identical to his own, except for the soft lilting quality that marked Acheron’s from the years he had spent in Atlantis.
YearsStyxx wished to the gods that he could go back and change. Poor Acheron. No one deserved what had been handed to him.
“No,”Styxx said quietly, his voice shaking as he gathered himself together. “I don’t want you to. ”
He glanced up to see the surprise on Acheron’s face.
It was something Acheron hid quickly behind a mask of stoicism. “There’s no reason for you to know all that about me. My memories have never served anyone well. ”
That wasn’t true andStyxx knew it. “If you take them from me, I will hate you again. ”
“I don’t mind. ”
No doubt. Acheron was used to being hated.
Styxxmet that eerie swirling gaze of his levelly. “I do. ”
Ash couldn’t breathe from the raw emotions he felt as he watchedStyxx push himself to his feet.
They were so muchalike physically and yet polar extremes when it came to their past and their present.
All they really had in common was that they were both longed-for heirs. Styxx was to inherit his father’s Greek kingdom while Acheron had been conceived by anAtlantean goddess to destroy the world.
It was a destiny neither of them had ever fulfilled.
To protect him from the wrath of theAtlantean gods who wanted him dead, Ash’s true mother had forced him into the womb ofStyxx’s mother and then tied their life forces together to protect Ash. Ash had been born human against his will. . . and against the will of his human surrogate family, who had somehow sensed he wasn’t really one of them.
And they had hated him for it.
“How long have I been here?”Styxx asked, looking around his dark prison.