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The damned the unearthly.., p.1
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       The Damned (The Unearthly Book 5), p.1

           Laura Thalassa
 
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The Damned (The Unearthly Book 5)


  Table of Contents

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Epilogue

  Prologue

  Eons and eons ago, the fates decided to fashion a woman for an untamable god. One saw it as a gift to honor his greatness. Another saw it as a curse to bring destruction on his house. The third saw it as a chance for the world to evolve.

  They planned and plotted the woman’s birth and death and spoke of her far before she breathed life.

  And the god, he was intrigued.

  The eons came and eons went, and the world forgot. But the god didn’t.

  And when the time came, Nona spun his intended into existence. Whether by accident or by plan, the fate grabbed the thread of the god’s undying creation—a vampire—along with the dark god’s own, and she twined both cords to that of his betrothed.

  All three forever to be bound.

  The god’s intended and his creation found each other, for a time, and the thread that bound them pulled tight. Then their time ended, and another began.

  And so the woman became the dark god’s and the dark god became hers. Heaven and earth revolted, and now hell will pay.

  Chapter 1

  Gabrielle

  “Welcome to hell, my queen.”

  The roar of the crowd was thunderous. Their moans, their screams, their exultations blended with the crackle of fire. I couldn’t even say what emotion rode the hordes that stared back at us. Excitement seemed too pleasant a word. Blood-hunger seemed better—the kind of fervor that fueled mobs. It stared back at me. It wanted to devour me.

  I stood outside on a castle balcony, the devil at my side. Scorching flames rose all around us, as far as the eye could see, yet I felt none of the inferno’s heat.

  My hand shook in the devil’s, and his thumb began rubbing circles on my skin. Perhaps it was meant to relax me. It did the opposite.

  “Enough,” he said to his subjects.

  Hades, I corrected myself, I have to think of him as Hades.

  He hadn’t raised his voice, but the crowd quieted. If you could call it that. Out there, in the land of eternal suffering, nothing was quiet.

  “Meet my consort, Gabrielle Fiori, Regina Inferna, Queen of Hell.”

  Gabrielle Fiori, a thousand different beings whispered, testing my name on their tongues. I could hear them even over the shrieks of the burning souls, and I could feel their intrigue brush against my skin.

  Demons. Demons whispered my name.

  “You are to give her the respect a queen deserves. Anything less will be met with …” the devil paused for effect, “severe punishment.” He didn’t need to smile to alert every single being in that room that he’d love nothing more than doling out more pain.

  On that sobering note, he tugged on my hand. “Come, consort. We have much to discuss.”

  My palm sweated as he led me back up the stairs.

  I am in hell. I am in hell. I am in hell.

  “Yes, you are,” Hades said, answering my thoughts. Our footsteps echoed ominously in the abandoned castle. “Finally, you’re here with me. The centuries I have waited for this. And now the waiting is over.”

  So this was how it all ended. Here in this damned realm that felt so crowded yet so lonely, and me trapped by this man’s eyes and our bond. I should’ve known the first time I saw him, standing amidst the flames of my burning house, that this would be how it ended—in another house of flames.

  “There are two areas of hell you must know about,” the devil said. “The inside and the outside—the palace and the fields. We are, as you might’ve guessed, currently on the inside, and you have glimpsed what is on the outside.

  “The palace is where you’ll be staying for most of the time.”

  I looked up at the ceiling, feeling the walls of this place close in on me. Stuck here, confined to a palace. It might be large, it might be vast, but it was still a prison.

  The devil must’ve read my thoughts for he said, “Of course, if you wish to join me in punishing the damned, you are always welcome outside.”

  As he led me through the castle, he gestured to some of the doors we passed. “Torture chamber. Torture chamber. Conference room. Torture chamber.”

  “I’m noticing a theme here,” I said.

  The devil smirked but said nothing. His shoes clicked against the stone floor. I’d come to hate the sound of them.

  The walls here, made out of the same dark stone as the rest of the castle, were carved with faces of gargoyles and demons, and if I stared long enough, I could swear those faces moved.

  We halted when we came to an elaborately carved door. Hades pushed it open and stepped aside so I could enter.

  The room was hexagonal, just like the one I woke up in, and, like the rest of the palace I’d seen so far, it was decked out in black. On the far side of the room, the walls opened up to an opulent balcony. And in the center of the room was a canopy bed. Gauzy swaths of semi-transparent material hung from each post.

  “Another torture chamber?” I asked.

  He stepped in close behind me, his lips a breath away from my ear. “Not quite. This is one of our bedrooms.”

  My stomach dropped at his words while my connection … my connection flared to life.

  “What’ve you done?” I whispered.

  He came around to face me. As he did so, our connection throbbed. The devil’s—shit, Hades—and mine. “Many things, little bird. Elucidate me on which you’re accusing me of.”

  I edged away from him and clutched my heart, which thumped beneath my hand. I had no time to marvel over the fact that I once again had a heartbeat. “Why do I feel you here?” I asked.

  He took another step forward. “You were made for me.”

  Not an answer.

  “But, Andre—”

  “Do not speak the vampire’s name to me,” the devil hissed.

  How could this happen? Making a deal with the devil, coming to hell, that was one thing. But to be bonded to this man, to have a part of me joined with him …

  Sickness rose within me. My body had betrayed me in the most fundamental way.

  “Come, my queen.”

  “No.”

  He took my hand without asking and our surroundings disappeared, only to be replaced with those of a grand dining room.

  Hades led me to an intricately wrought chair. I sat, thinking he would take his own seat, but instead he knelt in front of me.

  “I will take care of you and cherish you the same way I do my power,” he said.

  I searched his eyes. They were beautiful, just like the rest of his features. Beautiful, foreign and frightening.

  “Why?” I asked. The devil wasn’t supposed to have a caring side. He was sadness and despair and loneliness and anger and violence and—

  He sighed. “I can burn away a soul but apparently not your human
misconceptions. You think I’m incapable of anything but hate and pain.”

  You are.

  “I am everything and nothing,” he continued. “Cultures have never agreed on a definition of me because I exceed language and logic. But, know this, Gabrielle: I am not the devil. Not with you.”

  “Then what are you?”

  “Your soulmate.”

  That word implied so many things. I sorted out which ones I thought the devil meant and which he probably didn’t. The result left me cold.

  “I know what you want from me,” I said.

  The subarctic temperature of the room warmed. Literally. The devil’s eyebrows rose. “I’m no human man, but yes. I would take your flesh along with your heart and soul.”

  He saw my terror, and I swear it looked like someone slapped him before he recovered his composure. Then the expression was gone as fast as it appeared, leaving me wondering if my eyes had played tricks on me.

  “What do I call you?” I asked, pretending to go along with his declaration that I had things all terribly wrong.

  Our connection throbbed. His face gave nothing away, but I realized as I stared at him that the pulse came from satisfaction. His. He liked that I asked, that I wanted his opinion on something.

  “When we are alone, you may call me ‘Asiri.’”

  I’d never heard of that name. “Did you just make that up?”

  He laughed, and the sound rose the hairs on my arms. More disturbingly, it also seemed to caress me like soft velvet. I enjoyed the sound of his laugh.

  This situation was so messed up.

  “No, I did not. Men and women who lived and died thousands of years ago addressed me as such. They liked me better then. They liked you too—not as much, but we can’t all be favorites.”

  That didn’t even deserve a response.

  “Asiri.” I tried out the word. It echoed in the cavernous room, and hot, phantom winds ruffled my hair, then resettled. In this realm, the word itself had power behind it.

  I might call him this. So long as he didn’t piss me off. Otherwise, it was back to the usual gauntlet of names. Only I’d find which one annoyed him most, and I’d use that one over and over again.

  The devil—Asiri—smiled at me, whether from my thoughts, which he sometimes heard, or my saying this archaic name.

  There was something intimate about the name he gave me. Asiri. A name no longer spoken by humans. It was mine and his alone. My heart beat faster. I knew he could hear it because he reached up and covered the skin over it with his hand.

  “Are you nervous?”

  Staring at this beautiful, evil thing? This ageless god who shared a secret name with me?

  “I’m petrified.”

  He smiled, not unkindly, and kept his hand on my chest until the thump of my heart went back to normal.

  “Better?” he asked.

  “No. Your hand is still touching me.”

  “It is.”

  I could feel the heat from his palm seeping into me. Our bond tugged at us, beckoning us closer. Before, when the cord connected me with Andre, my soulmate had fought to keep his physical distance, fearing that if he didn’t, he’d rush me and I’d regret it.

  Now that my bond had somehow attached itself to the devil, I found myself pulling away, fighting this force of nature that tried to eliminate the distance between us.

  I could tell as the devil leaned forward, something wondrous and hungry in his eyes, that he’d never come across anything like this bond.

  Just then, a woman—demon?—came in with a tray bearing two champagne glasses. Celebratory drinks.

  I exhaled, my body relaxing at the distraction.

  “Ah, here we are,” Hades said, taking the flutes from the tray and handing one to me.

  Mechanically, I wrapped my hand around it.

  The woman bowed to Hades and left, leaving us alone once more.

  “To us,” he said. He clinked his glass to mine and took a sip. I watched him, fascinated. He drank … champagne. So weird.

  I glanced back down at my own glass, twirling the bubbly liquid. “Aren’t I not supposed to eat or drink here?” In the myths, Persephone trapped herself in the Underworld after she ate the food. I may be dense when it came to these things, but imbibing anything seemed like a bad idea.

  The devil brought his glass away from his lips and stared at me for a long moment. Then he threw back his head and laughed. “You’re already here, consort. I’m not trying to entrap you. Just trying to get you drunk while I whisper sweet nothings in your ear in hopes that I might get lucky.”

  Ewwww.

  I lowered my glass. “I’m too young.”

  “To drink? Or to bang?”

  “‘Bang’?” I couldn’t stop my scowl.

  “Forgive me—to make sweet tender love to your nubile body.”

  “Ugh, you can stick with bang.”

  I stared at my drink again, until the devil removed it from my gasp. “If you don’t want to drink perfectly decent champagne, I’m not going to force you to.”

  “You won’t?” The words slipped out before I could help myself. But seriously, the devil’s M.O. had changed since we were last together.

  Take it or leave it, Gabrielle. He’s being decent when he could be bashing your skull in.

  The devil’s lips twitched. He had to have heard that thought.

  I worked my throat. “What do I call you when we’re not alone?” Which would be always if he kept looking at me like he was.

  “Pluto or Hades is fine,” he said, his eyes focusing on my mouth.

  He’d avoided his Christian pseudonyms. Those were the especially depraved ones. Interesting.

  “And what would you like me to call you in private?” he asked.

  “Gabrielle is fine.”

  “Not … ‘soulmate’?” He’d clearly said the words to goad me, and damnit if the endearment didn’t lance right through me.

  “Do you even have a soul?” I asked.

  He flashed me a secret smile, his eye glittering. “Maybe. Maybe not. It’s a mystery I’ll enjoy watching you unravel.”

  He rose and pulled me up with him. “Secret names and cordial conversations. It’s not Rome, but it is a start.”

  I eyed him warily.

  “Soon,” he said, placing a finger at the hollow of my neck, “you’ll crave the chance to say my name. To hear my opinion.” He ran his finger down. There were holes in the webbed lace of the dress I woke up in, and I felt that finger slide over bare skin. “To feel my affection.” His finger kept going, only stopping once it reached my navel. “And my touch.”

  Never. I’d never forget all the heinous things he’d done to me and those I loved.

  “But until then, there is much you need to know. And while I’d enjoy watching you struggle to learn about your new powers and position, I cannot afford to have you look weak.”

  The power he spoke of thrummed beneath my skin. I’d acquired new abilities as the queen of the Underworld. I knew, for instance, how to place a new soul into hellfire and forge him into the devil’s weapon, and I could command the devil’s legions.

  “Not, my sweet, without my approval.”

  My chest rose and fell, faster and faster. The devil—Lucifer—Hades, damnit—stepped closer, his eyes transfixed on my chest. Either my boobs or my fear pulled him in. Neither alternative made me feel better.

  I stared down at my hands, as if they held the answers I sought. “What am I?”

  “You’re Gabrielle Fiori, queen of the Underworld.”

  “That’s not what I’m asking.”

  “I know that’s not what you’re asking. You want an identity when there’s none to give. You’re Ereshkigal, the Mesopotamian queen of the great earth, goddess of the Underworld. You are Hel, the beautiful Norse goddess whose embrace men ran to their deaths for—though, if they were wise at all, they will think twice about that. I don’t take kindly to interlopers.” The way he looked at me when he said that made me
feel like I needed another layer of clothes on. He took one of my hands. “You are Mania, the Roman goddess and mother of the dead. And, finally, you are Persephone, the woman I stole from earth and laid claim to.

  “You are all of them and not quite any of them. You can cross worlds, drink blood, beguile men with your voice, and reign—second only to me—a legion of souls. You can do all that and more. The power you wield is near limitless because it is bonded to mine.”

  I narrowed my eyes at the devil. “You don’t share your power. You’ve said so yourself.”

  “I am known as the Deceiver. I have said many things in the past that you should not believe, wife.”

  “I’m not your wife,” I said sullenly.

  Wrong thing to say.

  His hand tightened on my own. “Yes,” he agreed. “In the most archaic of terms, you are not. I am willing to rectify that, immediately.”

  I swallowed.

  “Or—” he said, “you can agree with me and save the rectifying for a time you truly want it.”

  That would be never.

  The devil suddenly looked beyond me, towards the door out of the dining room. “I need to go. Explore on your own. I’ll be back later.” And then he winked out of existence.

  I spent the next several hours—at least what felt like hours—wandering through the castle. It had great halls, cavernous rooms, and staggering towers, each area more oddly beautiful than the last, and each barren of life. From what I could tell, the palace was sprawling. It would take me weeks to learn this place.

  The floors, walls and vaulted ceilings all appeared to be made out of obsidian—volcanic glass. The faces of gargoyles, screaming souls, and horned, snarling beasts all twisted their way up the walls, their faces pressed against the stone’s surface as though they were trying to break free. I’d glance away for a moment, but when I’d look back at the wall, I’d swear those faces changed shape. The place seemed alive, and I got the distinct impression that these walls did in fact talk.

  Now I stood halfway down a long hallway fitted with narrow windows that looked out over the kingdom of fire. I stepped up to one.

  The flames began just beyond the wrought iron gate that circled the palace grounds. They stretched as far as the eye could see, popping and hissing as they burned through their human fuel.

 
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