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The Death King (The Dark Kings Book 5) by Jovee Winters (1)



The Day of the Curse

I watched her as she watched me. My love. My lover. My best and truest friend. We’d just sent Rayale into the void of time, both of us following a compulsion that said something monumental was about to take place in the world we called our own.

The sham of the “love games” was over, and we were both feeling the pull back to our home away from home. Not to Olympus, where the rest of our pantheon lived, but the place to which we’d dared to escape and create a new life for ourselves. A place of wonder and magic and fairy tales. Kingdom, our true home. The only place to which Caly and I could go to when we needed to feel… sane.

Calypso was in her goddess form—a tower of water manipulated into the shapely dimensions of a lovely woman. Her tentacle braids flowed behind her back, and her smooth, glass-like countenance was calm and composed, so unlike the tempestuous female she normally was.

For a year, we’d been waiting for this day. Waiting and planning and knowing it would come and with it, the end of all we knew and loved. Neither of us had known exactly what was coming, only that it could spell the end of all we’d built for ourselves.

We stood upon the cliffs of Never. Her Seren waters sparkled below us. With the way the sunlight glinted on the surface, it looked like colorful diamonds winking in the glow of fire, every color of the rainbow reflected back at us.

The air here smelled of salt and ocean, brine and… her. This was my Caly’s smell—fresh, intoxicating, alluring.

I clenched my jaw, having so many words to say yet. But all of them rested on the tip of my tongue.

“Did we do right, do you think, Bubble Butt?” she asked me, and I chuckled despite the heavy tone of her words that hinted at the deep and terrible anguish we were both experiencing.

She was in agony, but she was trying to lighten the mood because that was Caly’s way. She’d once told me she loved nothing in the worlds so much as to see me smile. And by the way her finger traced the curve of my jaw, I knew she still felt the same.

At our backs, a ripple was forming in the very fabric of the heavens, a line of deepest, almost jeweled blue, and it rolled with the might of a heavy and terrible curse resting upon it, waiting for just the right moment to be unleashed upon us all. Only a few in Kingdom would have power and intellect enough to know what it was, and they’d likely already begun to make preparations for whatever came next.

This was what we’d been sensing all along, what we’d known would come. Not even the gods would be spared this curse, and I had to wonder what kind of power existed in the cosmos that could affect even us this way. Something greater, that was certain.

But I’d pondered on this all I could—or would. Now was the time for goodbyes, though I dreaded the very thought of it with every fiber of my being.

Closing the scant space between us, I didn’t answer my dark heart’s question. Instead, I studied her. I watched how she breathed and how she moved. Even in her glass-like state, with no color in her, she was the prettiest thing I’d ever known in the entirety of my existence. I framed the delicate column of her neck with my large palm. To an outsider, it might appear as though I wished to crush her swan’s neck, but in truth, it was how I most preferred to feel the beat of her heart. She leaned deep into my touch as her long lashes fluttered like moth’s wings upon the tops of her glassy cheekbones.

“I wish you to know something, Thalassa,” I said, using her true and primordial name so that she would know what I said now mattered and that she must hear me.

She nibbled on her clear bottom lip with her clear, strong teeth, and my heart lurched in my chest, aching fiercely. I knew that though I could not die from the pain of what was to come for us, I would very much wish that I could.

Her gown, which was little more than a clear pane of water in the shape of a dress, with thousands of swimming beta fish of every color, suddenly turned a shade of deepest red as the fish reacted to their goddess’s internal anguish.

Calypso could affect marine life with but a thought, for she was their mother, the life-giving waters of all. And if she was angry, so were they. Below us, the Seren Sea began to churn.

After trailing my fingers down her neck, I reluctantly removed them from that strong column and grasped her hand. It was cold and smooth, like marble to the touch, but even so, I shivered with a delicious heat. My body tingled as I remembered all that we’d done to one another this morning in our frenzied need to imprint ourselves on each other’s skin, mind, and soul.

“Do not be angry, my beloved,” I said slowly. “And whatever you do, do not lose heart at what is to come.”

She closed her eyes, shook her head, and then gave a heavy shudder. I wrapped her in my arms, pressing her delicious coolness against my larger frame, and rocked her gently.

Her hands slid up my back.

I might be the god of death, but her touch always brought me back to life.

“We should have told them.” Her words were so soft and filled with sadness. “Those in the games. We should have told them what we sensed, what we… felt. Was it fair not to?”

I sighed. “We weren’t certain of anything then, Caly. We had only dreams. Dreams that told us to build the games.”

“Love games,” she scoffed. “What do we know of love?”

I frowned. “More than most, I’d wager,” I said meaningfully, holding her gaze steadily. Behind us, her waters calmed and turned radiant.

And though I saw the pinch of exasperation around her eyes, she gifted me with a warm smile. “I suppose you are right, Death.”

Leaning up on tiptoe, she moved her face so close to mine that I had to close my eyes. She did not kiss me, though I felt the comforting warmth of her nearness tingle upon my mouth. Instead, I heard her inhale the breath I’d just exhaled. A rumble tore through my chest as I clenched my fingers around her biceps, holding on to her so tightly that if will alone were enough to keep her with me always, I’d never have to lose her.

“You are in me, Hades.” Her voice was a husky drawl, and I felt her pull back enough so that I could open my eyes.

I nodded, knowing that to be truth.

“But we’re gods,” she continued, staring up at me through her thick lashes, and though she was a woman without color, I had no problem reading the anguish in her eyes. “We… we should have said something. Why didn’t we try harder to tell the others? We should have tried, even if it killed us.”

I cocked my head, thinking back on the days leading up to this moment, from the very first dream she and I had shared, to the very last one we’d had just a few nights past. We were bonded for all eternity, my Calypso and I, but it wasn’t common for gods to share one mind as we did.

Something had changed for us, and it had all started about a year ago.

“You know as well as I that we could not have. I do not think we were supposed to, Calypso. We were merely instruments leading to this moment, nothing more. We couldn’t even speak of it to Dite, and you know how many times we tried. Always, our mouths were kept sealed if we even dared to broach this subject with anyone else but each other.” I shook my head. “You must sense that this is a power greater than anything we’ve ever seen or known before, and this”—I spread my arm to encompass our surroundings and each other—“wasn’t our secret to tell. I do not know what will come of us, but I know that we are exactly where we are destined to be.”

I brushed at the tears that slid down her cheeks as she took in a shuddery breath. “I just…” She hiccupped. “I feel we could have done more, should have done more. We—no, I—failed them all.”

“No.” I gripped her by the shoulders and gave her a gentle shake. “No. Not even the Fates could change this path we’re on. We did all we could. We followed the prompting of our dreams, we created these games, we gave them all the matches that could best see them through what’s to come, and now we have to trust that it was enough.”

She shook her head before resting her cheek upon my chest and kissing me just above my rapidly beating heart. We held one another for what felt like an eternity. Neither of us spoke much, content just to hold on for however long we had left to us.

After several moments, she said, “Hades?” She spoke so softly that I almost didn’t hear my name on her tongue.

I frowned and stared down at her, imprinting her features onto my long and eternal memory. She appeared perpetually youthful, with her heart-shaped jaw and slightly upturned nose. Her high cheekbones and those exotic, slanted eyes of hers snared me like a fish on a hook whenever I looked at her. I traced her cool flesh with the pad of my thumb. “Hmm?”

“I lied to you.” She thinned her lips, and my skin ran cold.

“What? But you never

She squeezed her eyes shut and pulled out of my arms. My pulse raged like a rocket within me, making me feel dizzy and lightheaded. We never lied to each other. It was our one sacred rule. In all our many lifetimes together, we’d always told the truth no matter how unpalatable the telling of it would be. We’d always been honest.

I took a step back. “What are you saying, Caly?”

Wrapping her arms around herself, she turned to the side, and a beam of sunlight shot through her, making her shimmer in much the same way as her waters below us did.

“I… I told you that my dreams were exactly like yours. I said that I would mostly remember what came next but, but…”

She turned to look at me, and the emptiness in her gaze left me reeling. I was sick to my stomach and clutched at it with cold, numb fingers. “Say it.”

She winced.

“I saw myself this morning when I awoke. I was dead within, Hades. Dead. Empty. I had nothing inside of me anymore. And everything that made me me was all gone. I was just a shell. Nothing. It took me lifetimes to gain some form of humanity. When this curse rips through our world, I fear I could revert, and I do not think I can

“No!” I thundered and clutched at her arms with the preternatural strength of a god.

She gasped, but she did not move. It was fear that gripped me now, fear of losing her, of losing our children, of what came next. I’d been somewhat okay knowing that we’d be in this new world together, but I’d be damned if I lost her.

“No! You hear me? No!” I repeated, pressing my face to hers. She was sobbing openly now, and the sound she made ripped my soul in two. “I won’t let this happen to us, Calypso. I won’t let it.”

“You won’t have a choice. You don’t know who I was before because you didn’t care about me then. In the beginning, your love was for Persephone alone. You did not know me, Hades, and I do not blame you for that. But I am an ancient goddess, a primordial, older even than you.”

She bit her quivering bottom lip, looking at me with eyes that pleaded for my understanding.

But all I could do was shake my head. I would not believe this. I would not entertain this. Ever.

“Primordials. We are not like you.” She gave me a tight smile full of pain and heartache. “You are the shimmering, golden ones, the most humane of all the pantheons. You think and act as someone with a soul should.” She shook her head and clamped her mouth together, apparently unable to continue talking.

Her jaw clenched, and I dug my fingers into her shoulders. From the corner of my eye, I could see the blue glow beginning to spread. Soon we would be forced to return to our granddaughter’s castle, where my dreams had showed me the beginning of the end would start. It was where we had to be. But I couldn’t leave like this, couldn’t whisk Caly away just yet. We needed more time.

“I know who you are, Calypso,” I whispered, voice breaking as she tossed herself back into my arms, holding me so tightly that not an inch of space existed between us.

She trembled like a sapling in a strong wind, and I held her, rocking her slowly and letting her sob, allowing her the luxury of weakness, one she never showed to others. Calypso was the strongest person I knew, god or otherwise, and only with me had she ever allowed the façade to drop. It was a gift I treasured above all else.

“You don’t know what I was, Hades. When we met, I had learned to be almost human. I am afraid of who I will become again. I did not reason as a god when I was first born, or even as a human. And the truth is…” She took a deep breath before lifting her face to look at me, and her eyes, which had been clear as cut glass, were now a deep shade of black. “There is more. A secret we primordials have killed to protect.”

“Tell me,” I whispered heatedly. My knees felt so weak that a strong gust of wind might knock me over.

She bit her bottom lip, looking at me through her now dark eyes. “You won’t like it.”

I grinned, though my heart was grieved and sore inside me. “I am ashamed to admit that I would do great things, terrible things even, Calypso, if it meant securing our future together.”

She closed her eyes, and anguish was written all over her face. The lines of her forehead were thick with grief, and even her jaw trembled. “What I am about to tell you, Hades, none other but me and my sisters know. We are dual natured.” She finally opened her eyes, and her look pleaded that I should listen and not interrupt.

Cold zipped down my spine. I’d never seen Calypso this fearful, and I worried greatly about what I might hear next.

“My”—she cleared her throat—“my sisters were always better able to control their dual nature than I was. I am loath to admit it is the one area in which I am weaker than they are. That is why it took me many lifetimes to become the woman that I am today. I had to battle with that part of me, the part that wants to kill and hurt and drown beneath the depths of my waves for no other reason than to watch it happen.”

Tears slid down both her cheeks, and I lovingly stroked them away with the pads of my thumbs. “Oh, Caly, my heart. Do you think I fear the darkness? I am the god of it.”

A small, barely even a hint of a smile graced her beautiful mouth before flitting off. “It’s not that, Hades, though I thank you for telling me so. It does help. But there is more. And if you do want me back, then I must be honest with you. When this curse strikes, if my mind is reset as I believe it will be, that dual nature could be stronger than ever after many centuries of suppressing my inner darkness.”

“Only tell me what to do, Thalassa, and I vow to you, my lover, that it will be done.”

“Oh, Hades,” she murmured brokenly, and it pained me to the core to see her this way. I wanted to take the pain from her, make her believe in us the way that I did. But whatever was wrong with my female, she was truly terrified.

“Tell me, Thalassa. Speak your truth, my heart.”

She shivered and gripped me tight.

“Understand that in my primal form, my moods will be as mercurial as the shifting tides. What made me the woman I am today took lifetimes to create. I do not think there can be a reset button for me. That is not how gods’ minds work, as you well know. So either I will be as I am now or I won’t. And if I’m not, you must know that what comes next for me could be monstrous. A true evil. A nightmare. And if that is the case, then I… I give you permission to kill me.”

“Calypso!” I gripped her tight, so fearful that my words came out sharp with anger. “How dare you demand that of me!”

She shook her head and reached into her own form, gently pulling out an object I hadn’t known she’d kept hidden on her person. Then she looked at me, clutching a long silver blade in her hands. It gleamed like smooth steel and was inscribed with ancient runes that not even I could understand. Her fingers shook even as she glided them along the smooth edge of the steel.

“This is my soul blade,” she said in a low tone, but she did not look at me, only stared in fascination at the object of her destruction, “attuned only to me, the only weapon truly capable of stopping me.”

“Calypso, you are scaring me,” I gritted out between clenched teeth, refusing to take the blade as she repeatedly tried to hand it to me. “No. No, I don’t want this. Are you mad! I will find another way!”

“Dammit, Death Boy!” she snapped, grabbed my wrist and, using her enormous strength, opened my palm before setting the wicked-looking stiletto in my grip. “Do you think I want to give you this? No! But I would be a fool if I didn’t. A great fool. My love for you goes beyond sanity, reason, or even self-preservation. I’m not saying you must use this, but I am saying that should you need to, you can stop me. You do not know who I am, Hades. None of you ever truly did.”

I shook my head, hating the bloody blade, and wished I could release it, but Calypso had always been stronger than me. Than any of the Olympians. She was a primordial, one so ancient and powerful that when I thought about the type of destruction she could unleash if she so chose, it made me breathless with fear. But

I held her gaze with mine. “I do know you, Calypso, formerly Thalassa of the ancient world. And I do not care one whit about your darkness, because the one constant between us is our great and deep love. I will take this cursed blade, but only because you have forced my hand. I will not need to use it.” And to punctuate my statement, I concealed it in a hidden pocket in my jacket. I would not look upon it again, not if I could help it. There would be no need for this ridiculous weapon, but if it made her feel happy, then I’d pretend along with her.

She cupped my cheek with her small, cool hand, and I melted beneath her touch. I might be the taller of us, and the physically most imposing from the outside, but I’d always known and understood that if she’d really wanted to, she could have crushed me to dust beneath her dainty heels. It was part of what made our relationship so exciting for me. As an Olympian, I was powerful in my own right, far more powerful than most of my peers. With a mere touch, I could just about stop the heart of anything I cared to except the Titans, our forefathers, and her kind. Feeling so small in comparison to her it had always given me a secret thrill.

Because with Calypso, I’d learned I did not have to always be the strong one, I could be weak with her. I could be myself, my real self. It was a gift no one else had ever given me, and I worshipped the ground she walked on because of it.

“I will always save you, my priestess,” I murmured, and spread my thighs so that I created a kind of living shield around her, wishing that mere desire alone was enough to stop this from happening to us.

“You will try, my Hades. And for that, I think I could not love you more. But do not let your love for me twist you into believing an invention of your own mind. I am not like the humans whose memories might be reset. Mine will likely not be, and I do not wish to give you false hope. I might well be as different to you as the sun is from the moon.”

I grabbed her flailing hand in a fierce hold and brought her fingers to my lips, giving them a hard, almost bruising kiss. She gulped, trembling in my arms but not trying to pull back from me.

With my other hand, I framed her cheek, cupping it and memorizing every line and plane of it. I didn’t know how much I would remember in the next life, but I knew that my will was strong enough that, curse or no, I would never stop searching for her.

“Never. Even if you hate me, I will never leave you alone. You are mine, Calypso, as surely as my dark heart will always be yours. You are the one, and you always will be. And if in the next life you abhor me, just know that I will never stop loving you.”

She wept, and everywhere her tears rained down, new life sprang up. Gardens of kelp and a plethora of jeweled crustaceans scuttled off toward the waters below.

“My destiny was to mate with life, and I always assumed that the Fates meant Persephone. It was why I so doggedly chased after her, believing in something that did not truly exist. But I know now there is only one woman in all of the cosmos that I will ever love. And it’s you, Caly. It has always been you and always will be. I will make you love me again, no matter how much you might not want to.”

She laughed through her tears. “So much we’ve hidden. So much we couldn’t say to Dite and to others. But I’m glad I always had you by my side, Hades, because you were always the one too. Water should not love, and yet I brim over with it. Without you, I am nothing, I am empty. It should not have been this way. This should not have happened.”

“We cannot always understand the why of destiny, and I do not understand why we did any of this, but I do know one thing.” I brushed my thumbs down her cheeks with reverence, cupping her pretty face with tender love and devotion. “Whatever or whoever has done this to us, they cannot make me ever stop loving you. I will find you. I don’t know who I’ll be then, either. All I know is, so long as I have you, I can be made whole again. And, Calypso, not to be arrogant, but if you have me

She grinned, and my heart felt like it would burst in my chest. “If I have you, my dark king, I will be whole again too. I may be dark, or even evil, but if you’re willing to hang in there with me, I honestly believe I can be healed. For you are the only one I will ever love. And so I will give you one other part of me.”

My heart rattled in the cage of my chest, suspecting I knew what she was about to do. If I was right, it meant she did actually believe she would be saved. I swallowed hard, fingertips feeling cold and my whole body going numb. With one last breath, she gave a nod, as if to say, “I’m ready now.”

And reaching once more into her chest, she pulled out her heart with one quick tug. A sharp cry spilled off her tongue, and she sagged in my arms.

“Caly!” I barked, clinging to her as I felt her body go limp.

She smirked, looked at me slyly, and said, “Gods, that wasn’t fun.”

And though our doom was but hours away, I laughed because she could always make me laugh. She was the spot of sunshine in my life that I would never not need. But then my laughter turned serious, and the air between us quickened with crackling tension.

I looked down at the golden, glittering organ in the palm of her hand and shook my head. That she should love me this much… the idea of it was humbling and even startling. I knew Calypso loved me, but this wasn’t just love. This was absolute and complete trust in me. She’d given me both the means to destroy her and save her in one.

“Hades, Lord of the Underworld, and ruler of my heart.” She said the words deeply as she cupped her hands around her still beating organ. “Do you promise to love me forever?”

Wanting always to be worthy of her, I squared my shoulders and studied her lovely glass-like features before slowly nodding. “Forever and a day, my darling.”

She smiled. “Then if you trust me, give me your heart too.”

I didn’t even question her. What we were doing now went deeper than any other god or goddess had ever known or felt before. We weren’t jut declaring ourselves. We were literally handing one another the very key to our personal destruction. Without a moment’s hesitation, I reached into my chest and pulled. The separation of my heart from my body burned like fire through me, and I clenched my molars together so hard that I heard them groan from the pressure. But I freed my golden heart and handed it to her. My heart was twice the size of hers.

She smiled, and the beauty of it burned like a blaze. For just a moment, I saw the flicker of blood rush beneath her glassy features, giving her a lovely tinted-pink shade. Goddess, I loved this woman.

“You will bury them,” she said, “where no magic can touch them. And these two hearts will beat as one until we find them again. In our hearts will be locked our memories, and with them, my hope that we can find our way back to one another, that you will never need to know the pain of harming me. Because I know you well enough to know that if you had to destroy me, it would destroy you too. And that is a pain I could never wish upon you. Maybe, just maybe, once we have recovered our hearts, I will become as I am now. Maybe it can work.”

I heard her doubts. She was giving me hope, but it was not hope she believed in. I shook my head. “This will work, Calypso.”

She cried through her beautiful smile. “Then lay your heart over mine and let us bind ourselves one to the other in the most absolute of ways.”

Turning my hands over, I tipped my heart onto her palm, and the moment they touched, they blazed like the sun, fusing as one just as she said they would, sparkling with threads of deepest fiery orange between them.

“It’s so beautiful,” I breathed, and she grinned up at me.

I would never hurt her. I never could. It would work. It had to work.

“It is our love that makes it so.”

“Where can we bury it that no magic can harm it?” I asked her.

She shook her head. “I cannot know that. I will be water again, and my memories of you will be all but lost. My only aim will be to find my heart, and I will not rest until I do. That search for my heart will eventually lead me back here, to you.”

I clenched my jaw, determined that no matter what should come, I would fight like the fires of my underworld to ensure I remembered her. Remembered us.

“And”—she paused for emphasis and to make certain I listened well—“if you decide that you want us to be together again, then we will journey onward. Or, if you decide that you too have changed and wish for another life, then simply tell me where to find it and you will never again have to worry about me or who we once were.”

I growled deep in my chest, clinging tight to her arms. “That will. Never. Happen.”

Her eyes grew wide like saucers, and a tremor coursed down her spine.

“There will never be a day, could never be a day, that I will not want you. It is impossible.” I cupped her chin, making sure that she stared straight at me. “And just because we’ll have no hearts doesn’t mean we won’t feel, Caly. I will never stop burning for you.”

“Yes, my beloved, but water does not burn.” She shook her head sadly, and my soul squeezed.

“Then I will have to love you enough for the both of us until you do.”

“Then take it,” she said, shoving her hands at me. “Take it and bury it where I can never find it. For if I find my heart without you, I will not come back to you. This I know. I will remember, but I won’t care, Hades. I won’t. I know myself enough to know that. So if you love me at all, don’t let that happen to us. You are the only male I’ve ever loved, and the only one I ever could. Men are almost all weak, pitiful, vile beings, save for you. Save for our family. You taught me that there is more, there are better than what I’d seen and known before. You taught me to love so deeply, so fiercely, that if I could kill whatever it is that dared come against us now, I would do it without a second thought. I would end that which dares to take you from me.”

Her tears dripped again, and I brushed at them with my thumb.

“I will never forsake you, my Calypso. Not ever. I will hide our hearts in a place that will force us to journey for days. Weeks, if we must. But I will make you stay beside me, and I will make you fall in love with me again.”

Her watery lashes fluttered. “Understand, Hades, you might not want me in the next life. Who you love today, she may never be again. Are you certain that you wish to

I swooped in and stole those ridiculous words from her tongue, refusing to even let her utter them. Her tongue tasted of salt and sweet nectar. She sighed when I finally released her several seconds later.

“Oh gods, I cannot believe there could ever come a moment when I might not possibly want you. You make me crazy.” She rubbed the tip of her nose against mine, and I couldn’t contain my grin. “You are everything, my Hades. Everything.” She squeezed the words out and looked at me.

“Our story is not yet done, Caly. You could never rid yourself of me that easily.”

Her smile was weak and small, but it was also full of hope. “You promise?”

“The end is only the beginning for us, Calypso. And that is a vow sealed with a kiss.”

And I did kiss her. I kissed her like I wanted to take her sweet, precious soul and steal it for my own as I’d taken so many others before hers. I wanted to hide her, keep her with me forever. But I couldn’t do that, no matter how much I wanted to.

The time for our goodbye had come, but I wasn’t lying either. This was far from the end for us. I didn’t care what I had to do to make certain we found each other again. I’d kill the world and everything in it if I had to. It didn’t make me good to feel that way, but I did. I’d never once been selfish in my whole damned existence until I’d found her.

She was the one thing I’d fight to protect. To keep safe. To make mine always.

I braced myself against her, letting her feel in my rigid length just how badly I wanted her. At her purr, a beast was unleashed in me. In us. We attacked each other with the ferocity of the impending doom that rested heavily on both our hearts. We made love as if it was the first and last time, with claws and violence, heat, and unimaginable passion.

But when it was done, it hadn’t been enough. Not nearly. With heavy hearts, we turned from the place that had always brought us such comfort in Kingdom—the cliffs of Never—and sailed together toward our granddaughter’s castle. Our date with destiny had finally come.

And my heart had never been so dark or so empty.

I would save her. I had to, but I feared the woman she might become, the force of nature she would be. I feared that even if I found her again, Caly might not want me.

And if she didn’t, I might just die.