The Darkest Touch

By: Gena Showalter

“You are so powerful, pet,” he’d announced one day. “But that power is unstable. You could accidentally hurt me...unless we ward you and mute the worst of your abilities. Only then will I be safe from you. And I want to be safe. I want to spend my eternity with you. Don’t you want that, too?”

She had loved him, and she’d also agreed with him. Her powers had been unstable. Bad things happened every time her emotions had gotten the better of her—whatever the season, the weather had responded in kind. Tsunamis. Hurricanes. Polar vortexes. Tornados. Wildfires. If ever she’d harmed the male she was to wed, she would have wanted to die.

When she’d pointed out he could be safe from her power by scarring himself with brimstone, negating her power over him specifically, he’d pointed out that his people would never be safe, and she couldn’t expect everyone under his command to go to such lengths, now could she?

So reasonable.

Such a manipulator.

Hades, the fiercest warrior in existence, the male with hundreds of demon armies at his command and quite literally the ex from hell, had feared her power had become greater than his own, nothing more and nothing less. He simply hadn’t been able to bear it.

But the scars weren’t even the worst of his crimes. After he’d weakened her, he’d sold her to Cronus—for a barrel of whiskey.

There are two things I’ll never forget. The crimes committed against me—and my power. And Hades is going to pay so hard. She planned to cut off his head and scoop out his brain. I’m thinking pumpkin innards at Halloween. She would set up a booth in the lowest level of the skies and allow everyone he’d ever wronged to come and use his skull as a toilet.

In a word: magical.

Keeley hissed as the shiv came out the other side of her arm. Unsteady, she set the weapon aside and lifted the newly shaved hunk of branded skin. As blood leaked to the floor, she studied her arm in the light. Would this last scar return?

She waited, one minute ticking into another. Her skin wove back together—without scarring! She’d...done it? Succeeded?

It couldn’t be....

She pressed a hand to her chest where her heart hammered erratically. I’m me again? Centuries of work, finally finished? She lumbered to her feet, expecting a sudden surge of power to hit her any...second....but there was nothing.

Miss it so much.

She also expected an overwhelming sense of triumph but...she didn’t feel that, either. Resolve filled her up, leaving no room for anything else. There was so much more for her to do. Kill Torin. Kill Cronus. Kill Hades.

Mourn Mari.

She stuffed the hunk of skin she’d just removed into the pocket of what remained of her gown. My trophy. She would have to be careful not to touch it since the brimstone would weaken her upon contact. But she also couldn’t discard it and allow just anyone to find it and perhaps use it against her.

She walked to the bars of her cell, each step more confident than the last, her mind clearer. She attempted to push out the barest stream of power—the metal widened instantly.

I really am me again. Giddy anticipation replaced her resolve, and without pausing in her steps, she picked up Wilson.

“If you had stayed with me,” she told him, “I would have protected you. Now? Forget about it.” With a squeeze, she turned him to dust and focused on Mari’s cell. Another stream of power caused those bars to widen, as well.

The enclosure was the same size as Keeley’s, the walls smoother and unmarked by blood. In the center was a coffin-sized mound of dirt.

Anger shot through her—and as it did, bolts of lightning exploded from her pores, crackling all around her. Yes! This! A second later, she was yanked off her feet by a gust of wind, her skin sizzling deliciously and her blood fizzing as she hovered in the air.

The entire dungeon began to shake, dust and debris raining from the ceiling. All too soon, the havoc was too much for the aged walls to bear. They crumbled, one by one, the bars of the door bending, then crumpling, the ceiling cracking, then falling.

Not a single piece of rock or concrete dared brush against her.

Calm...steady...don’t want to destroy the entire realm.

Not yet anyway.

Deep breath in...out.... The shaking slowly faded, then stopped, the dust gradually clearing. Keeley floated down, down, the dungeon nothing but a heap around her. She landed on a boulder, wind whipping at her hair.

Closing her eyes, she basked in her first taste of freedom in forever. The sun peeked out from behind a wall of clouds, stroking her face despite the winter chill. Glorious.

The snap of a twig echoed, and she stiffened, scanning the forest surrounding her. Blackened trees, scorched ground. Wafts of smoke and ash.

Welcome to the Realm of Wailing Tears, where happiness comes to die.

When it rained without the aid of Keeley’s emotions, it rained, waterlogging the entire realm. She’d lost track of the number of times she’d nearly drowned inside her cell.

Once the home of Cronus, currently the home of the Unspoken Ones, a race of creatures so bloodthirsty and vile hardly anyone dared speak their name.

And yet the Unspoken Ones fear speaking my name.

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