The Darkest Touch

By: Gena Showalter



“Yes,” he croaked. And in return, Cronus had promised to set her dearest friend free—the woman currently grilling Torin for answers.

No big surprise Cronus had lied.

At least he got his in the end.

Torin had wanted to haul ass to a hospital the moment he’d realized Mari was sick, but that stupid curse had bound her to this prison with invisible chains. She’d had to return. Left with no other option, Torin had held on to her as she’d moved from one location to another in a blink, traveling with her. He’d tended her to the best of his ability.

But his best hadn’t been good enough. Would never be good enough.

“I don’t care about the whys,” the female said. “Only the outcome. What is Mari doing right now?”

Decomposing.

Can’t say it, just...can’t. Silent, he removed his gloves and used his hands as a shovel, throwing scoop after scoop of dirt over his shoulder. Not the first makeshift grave I’ve dug, but I hereby vow it will be my last. No more impromptu friendships. No more hopes and dreams for what could never be. I’m done.

“Ignoring me?” she asked. “Do you have any idea the being you provoke?”

Torin never paused in his task. He would bury Mari. He would find a way out of this hellhole. He would continue the job he’d abandoned when he’d chosen to come with the girl. The search and rescue of Cameo and Viola, who’d gone missing several weeks ago—friends who comprehended his need for distance.

“I am Keeleycael, the Red Queen, and I will be more than happy to take a coat hanger and fish out all of your internal organs...through your mouth.”

Disease went still and quiet.

That, too, was a first.

The Red Queen. The title was somehow familiar to Torin. From a children’s storybook, yes, but there was more to it than that. He’d heard it...where? An image flashed through his mind. A dilapidated bar in the skies. Yes, of course. While working for Zeus, the king of the Greeks, he’d tracked many fugitive immortals there. The words the Red Queen had been whispered behind the trembling hands of fearful men and women, right along with insane and cruel.

He’d always enjoyed pitting his skills against the strongest and vilest of predators, and such a visceral reaction to the supposed Red Queen had intrigued him. But when he’d asked the whisperers who she was and what she could do, they had gone quiet.

Maybe this prisoner was the one they’d spoken of, maybe she wasn’t. Hardly mattered anymore. He wouldn’t be fighting her.

“Keeleycael,” he said. “That’s quite a mouthful. How about I call you Keeley instead?”

“An honor reserved solely for my friends. Do so at your own peril.”

“Thanks. I will.”

A soft snarl from her. “You may call me Your Majesty. I’ll call you My Next Victim.”

“I usually prefer Torin, Hotness or The Awesome.” Nicknames to help smile through the pain. Should probably have gone with Proctalgia Fugax—meaning a literal pain in the ass.

“Why has Mari gone silent, Torin?” Keeley asked as if they were discussing nothing more important than tomorrow’s dinner menu. (Rat casserole.)

She knew Mari was dead, didn’t she? Making him admit it was some sort of punishment.

“Before you reply,” she added, “you should know I would rather save the enemy who tells me the truth than the friend who tells me lies.”

Not a bad motto. Lie and die happened to be his.

And, really, if the situation were reversed, he would have wanted the same thing: answers. But again, if the situation were reversed and she had led to the demise of one of his friends, he would have moved heaven and earth to administer justice. But trapped as they were in these cells created for the strongest of immortals, there was nothing she could do but stew in her rage, helpless as the emotion grew darker and darker, perhaps even driving her mad. It was a cruel fate.

It was also an excuse.

Time to put on my big-boy panties. “Mari is... Dead. She’s dead.”

Silence.

Such oppressive silence and, with it, darkness, as if they’d somehow fallen into a sensory-deprivation tank.

He spoke in a desperate bid to dull his mounting sorrow, explaining, “Since you know about Cronus’s deal with Mari, you must know I’m a Lord of the Underworld. One of the fourteen warriors responsible for stealing and opening Pandora’s box, unleashing the demons from within. As punishment, we were each cursed to house one of those demons inside our own bodies. I was given Disease, the world’s worst SSTD. Skin-to-skin-transmitted disease. I make people sick. That’s what I do, and there’s no stopping it. She touched me, like I said. We touched each other. But that’s all it took. She died. She’s dead,” he repeated hollowly.

Again silence.

He locked his jaw to prevent himself from admitting the other Lords hosted baddies like Violence, Death and Pain. That thousands of innocents had died at their hands, and thousands more had lamented the vileness of their deeds. That, despite everything, none of his friends were as wretched as Disease. They chose their victims. Torin did not.

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