I fancied myself a bit of an expert on hate.
In my tiresome existence, I'd seen it in its boundless forms. I'd seen good people reduced to savage beasts by their blind hatred. Embarrassing, really, what hate could do to a human being. Yet endlessly fascinating. I knew the ins and outs of it, I could spot the roots of a person's hate upon sight. Envious hate. Fearful hate. Vengeful hate. And so on.
And I knew now, without a shadow of a doubt, that if my current wife hadn't hated me before (I was previously ambivalent on the subject), she certainly hated me now.
But what did it matter?
Upon her arrival, I'd sensed something in her. She was different from any of the past wives I'd had. And I'd had many. Many more than I cared to have. It had been relatively amusing at first, some were very, very beautiful. But they were all the same in death. Useless. And Nyx, as it turned out, was proving herself to be not so different after all.
I'd been angry.
Angry at myself for daring to hope. Angry at myself for becoming so boyishly distracted by her. With her long, long ink-black hair that looked like it would stain my hands, should I run my fingers through it. With her sharp, feral eyes that clawed into me like talons when I incensed her, which I often did, usually by simply entering a room she occupied. And I'd been distracted enough to let her wander about this treacherous place as she pleased. How had I not foreseen her blundering into the one place she truly oughtn't? I scoffed as I stared up at the ceiling. The image of her swirled in my mind's eye, ink-haired and wolf-eyed and nothing but trouble.
She was not very, very beautiful.
Not like some of my past wives. But she was different. That was the important part. Different not only from them, but different from any of the humans I'd observed for so long in my many years of bargaining. There was a fire inside her. It warmed me to be near it. It did not matter, in the end. Beauty and grace or quick wit and charm hadn't saved any of my wives before her. Fire would not save Nyx.
My darling lady wife, I laughed bitterly.
I'd had prettier wives, yes. But she was still quite lovely. And the more I saw of her, the more darkness that she tried so desperately to keep locked up inside her began to spill out all around her jagged edges, the more lovely she became. In truth, I had allowed myself a passing fantasy every now and then, of a time when my wife had grown tired of trying to kill me. There were much more productive uses of her time, after all. And perhaps, I sometimes furtively thought in bursts of wild delusion, the two of us might share some sort of...proper life together. She wasn't entirely abhorrent to be around, much as she tried to be, and she did amuse me so.
There would be no chance of my idiotic fantasies coming true now, not after what I'd done. Another woman might be terrified of me after being dealt such a cruel, twisted punishment. Nyx would be insurmountably furious. The thought, ironically, made me smile. How would she greet me the next time she saw me? I could already feel her rage, her hot breath on my face, damning me to Tartarus ten times over. She'd threaten me with that silly knife again, I was sure of it. Assail me with her own two fists, no doubt. I could already see her lips curling back from her teeth, snarling at me like a rabid thing. But this time, when she spit her venom at me, she'd mean it.
If only she could understand, I mused airily.
I supposed I could attempt to explain myself, while I was dodging blows and crockery, but it would change nothing. I hardly understood anything, myself. And Nyx might be safe for the night, but she would be soon just as dead as the wives who came before her. It was no good to dwell on the possibility of any other outcome. I closed my eyes and willed sleep to claim me. I no longer wished to think.
I was nearly asleep when I heard it.
A hollow, reverberating sound tugged me back toward consciousness. I blinked slowly, confused. A long moment of silence passed. I was all but content to decide I'd imagined it. Then, again. That sound. What was it? My heart reacted quicker than my mind, icy dread needling into it from all sides.
Something was wrong.
I went completely still, straining to hear it again, more clearly. I closed my eyes, blocking out everything around me, focusing on nothing but the sound. When the sound came again, it was clear as a bell. Children's voices. They were singing.
Three for the prisoners in this house,
We will eat them all, oh.
My eyes flew open. I sprang up out of bed and bolted out the door. No, I thought furiously. This couldn't be. How could she possibly have gotten out of that room? It was, in all senses of the word, impossible.
But it wasn't impossible, I thought as I bounded down a corridor. It was Nyx.
I silently commanded myself to the scene and, sure enough, there they were. Nasty little bastards. And Nyx, slumped in a heap on the floor. Her skin was covered in bright pink welts. She oozed black shadow. All at once I was filled with rage. She was dead, I was sure of that, but I wouldn't let them have any more of her. In an instant I was at her side, scooping her body up with one arm and setting my sights on the Children of Typhon.
They scurried away as I roared them into submission, their awful wailing voices like scraping metal. I cursed under my breath as I held Nyx's limp body in my arms. A foreign, uncomfortable sorrow gnawed at me. She shouldn't have died like this. In such a ridiculous, pathetic way. I hadn't given much thought to how she would go, it wasn't very amusing to pass the time with. But this was too soon, too sudden. I felt her death in the pit of my stomach. Why couldn't she have just stayed in the damn room? I'd told her, rather unkindly, that she was just as foolish as my other wives, and she'd die just as foolishly as they did. But I hadn't wanted it to be true.
And then her body seized.
Snapping out of my thoughts, I turned to see Nyx's body writhing against me, her hands stretched out, clawing toward where the Children slipped away. Her head snapped back, black shadow streaming down her face, her eyes bloodshot and crazed.
She was alive.
Or rather, she wasn't dead. If looking upon the Children of Typhon had not killed her, it had certainly driven her mad. My eyes wide with confusion and awe, I pinned her back against the wall by her wrists. She continued to fight me, shadows pouring out of her as she flailed. She was trying to follow the Children. She may be a drooling madwoman for the rest of her days, but I wouldn't allow her to destroy herself completely.
"Nyx Triskelion," I growled, looking directly into her wild eyes. "I command you to stay."
At the sound of my voice, she went limp again, slumping back against the wall and going still until all the shadows were gone.
"Nyx," I said her name softly this time. She showed no sign of response, simply blinking slowly, like she was coming out of a dream. I let go of her slowly, to see if she was able to keep herself upright, and marveled at the fact that she could.
"Are you alright?" My voice was hoarse. A human could not survive what Nyx had just endured. It was impossible.
No. It was Nyx.
Suddenly frenzied, I slapped my hand across her face as lightly as I could."Listen to me!" Listen to my voice, you maddeningly impossible creature. Come back to me. "Can you speak?"
The sound of her voice sent a wave of shock through me. I hadn't been at a loss many times in my existence. But this. This was simply unfathomable. Nyx Triskelion. My stubborn, foolish, idealistic wife. Looked upon the Children of Typhon. And said, yes.
All at once, I wanted to kiss her.
Instead, I looked down at her arms. The pink welts were already fading. This was not a woman who stood before me, this was an unstoppable force of nature. She was like no other creature I had ever met in all my existence. She was different, after all. "I do believe you'll live." I paused, and in my manic euphoria I couldn't stop myself from goading her by adding, "Tonight."
I'd done it, then. Her fury tumbled out of her like a thousand daggers and she hurled them directly at me. She shouted, shoved me away and I could only tease her further still. I wanted to laugh. She was alive.
Could anything kill Nyx Triskelion?
I exhaled slowly, my breath scratching painfully in my throat. In my heroic fervor, I'd made myself known to the darkness. And I'd stayed here for too long. I tried to keep my voice light, no point in terrorizing my lady wife any more tonight. "And now it's past my bed time." I swayed on my feet as the darkness began to devour me. "You will help me to my room," I ground out through my teeth, hot pain searing into me, making it very difficult to breathe.
Nyx simply crossed her arms defiantly. "Why?"
I blinked in surprise. Surely she could see what was happening to me. How could she just stand there?
"Why should I help you anywhere?" I'd never heard her speak so coldly.
"Well," I managed to hiss as I slumped against the wall. I felt my skin erupt in sizzling red welts. "I did save your life."
The pain was unbearable. The darkness tore my flesh open, slithered inside me, burning me from the inside out. I fell to the floor, gasping.
"You killed my mother." Nyx said slowly. "You enslaved my world. And as you pointed out, I will live here as your captive till I die. Tell me, my darling lord, why should I thank you for my life?"
In spite of the pain that wracked my body, I wanted to laugh again. Oh Nyx, darling, now is simply not the time. I will welcome your contempt in the morning, my dear. Just help me to my room now.
But I wasn't able to say any of that. My vision went black, there was nothing but the pain now. Finally I choked out one last plea, completely sincere, entirely vulnerable. The only word I could think of. "Please."
Nyx's face appeared, blurry, and inches from mine. She smiled down at me, her wolf eyes gleaming with terrible delight. "Do you think you are safe with me?"
Then her face disappeared from view and I heard the sound of her footsteps, walking away.
For a moment, I just lay there, baffled. Then, I did laugh. I'd underestimated my lovely lady wife. She was as cruel, as sharp, as deadly as I was. This was the thing that made Nyx so singular in my universe, not only how different she was from all the others, but how much she was just like me. My chest felt tight and empty. This time it had nothing to do with the darkness I was being eaten alive by. Rather, I realized I might be in love.
I was not able to tell how much time had passed. I drifted in and out of consciousness, each time I became aware more painful than the last. I did not think I could die like this, but there was a possibility that I might remain in this narrow hallway for the rest of time, in nothing but darkness and pain. So much pain. I could not be numbed from it. It was relentless. Nausea churned inside me, I dry heaved more than once. Then, an indiscernible amount of time later, miraculously, the pain ebbed. For just one glorious moment. A far away voice sliced through the darkness.
I was able to crack one eye open, which felt about as pleasant as slicing my skin with a heated blade. Nyx. Nyx was looking down at me, saying things. The pain returned tenfold. I closed my eye. I felt Shade's presence now. Even in my fragile, near-death state, annoyance bubbled up inside me. Get away from her, I wanted to snarl. I could hear them talking. I couldn't make out what they were saying. I started to tremble, my body unable to weather the darkness any longer. Was I truly dying? I wondered wildly. What's one more impossible thing to add to tonight's list of events?
Suddenly I was being lifted. Carried. My body dropped and landed against something soft. Bed. I was back in bed. I felt Shade's presence evaporate. Hands were on me again, moving me about.
I reached out blindly and captured her wrist with my hand. She was so close, so lovely, so awful and wonderful and close. "Please stay."
It hurt to speak, like rocks in my throat. She jerked her wrist out of my grasp. I'd never said that word before, not to anyone. And now, I was saying it for the second time in one night. I'd say it again if it would keep her here.
"Just for a little," I heard her say, then felt her weight sink against the bed. I reached out again, finding her hand with mine. She didn't pull away. My heart beat inside my chest like a wild animal. I did not care that I was in immeasurable pain, that my life was not my own, that I was but a slave to my masters, that I understood nothing and raged at everything. For now, I only cared that Nyx stayed close to me. Nyx Triskelion. My wife. Alive, against all reason. I felt her movement as she lay down beside me. With the last bit of strength I possessed, I rolled over to wrap myself around her. Her soft back pressed up against me most pleasurably. My arm snaked around her waist. I buried my face into her neck. She smelled like fresh earth and wildflowers. Her fingers wound around mine. And in my somewhat delirious haze, I allowed myself to imagine the burning pain inside me was simply from being pressed so close to this impossible woman, who set fire to anything that dared touch her. And with that sweet, torturous notion in my head, I was able to drift, quite happily, to sleep.