Acheron (Page 34)

Acheron (Dark-Hunter #15)(34)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

There was nothing more they could do to hurt him. Soul sick, he crawled deep inside himself and swore that he’d never again open himself up to anyone.

September 2, 9528 BC

Artemis sat alone on her chaise, wanting to weep. Apollo had told every god on Olympus about Acheron and his claim to be her consort.

They’d all been laughing at her ever since.

"You should gut him on the floor of your temple," Zeus had said to her last night while she was visiting his hall.

Apollo had scoffed. "Can’t. His life is tied to his twin brother and they both die which would ruin my fun for a while. But it’s hysterical what lies these humans tell."

Aphrodite had rolled her eyes. "I can’t imagine a whore thinking he could claim a relationship with Artemis of all the gods. Has anyone checked his mental state?"

"He’s definitely insane," Apollo had said. "I knew it the first time I saw him."

After that, Artemis hadn’t gone near any of the others. But even worse than their laughter was the sick lump in her stomach over the pain she knew Acheron was in.

He deserves it.

It was true. His betrayal deserved a painful death and yet all she wanted to do was hold him. She missed the way he made her feel. The taste of his lips . . .

When he was with her, she smiled all the time. There was something about him that made her happy. Nothing else really mattered except the two of them.

He betrayed you.

That was something she couldn’t forgive. He’d made her a laughingstock. The only saving grace was the fact that none of the others believed his claims.

Yet even so, all she wanted was to go to him . . .

Artemis, I summon you to human form." Ryssa held her breath inside Artemis’s temple, afraid the goddess would ignore her. She glanced about, making sure again that she was all alone. "Goddess, please hear my call and come to me. I need to see you."

A shimmery haze appeared to the right of the altar. Ryssa smiled as the mist thickened to form an incredibly beautiful redhead. Artemis’s features were very similar to Apollo’s, except the goddess’s face was more finely boned.

"What do you want, human?"

"I’m here on behalf of Acheron."

Artemis’s eyes flamed with anger. "I know no one by that name." She began to fade.

"No please . . . It wasn’t his fault. He didn’t tell anyone. I did."

Artemis rematerialized as those words ripped through her. She glared at the petite blond beauty who carried her brother’s child. "What?"

Ryssa took a step forward, her eyes shimmering with unshed tears. "Acheron has never once breathed a word about you to anyone, not even me. I saw the bite wound on his neck and I knew it had to be you. Please, if I was wrong, then forgive me. But if I’m right, I didn’t want you to be angry at him for something he didn’t do."

Artemis glared at her swollen stomach. "You better be glad you carry my brother’s son. It’s the only reason you’re still alive. You ever link my name to Acheron’s again and by the River Styx I will have your hide mounted on my temple wall."

Artemis flashed herself away, but she stopped herself before she returned to Olympus. In truth, her heart was singing over the fact that he hadn’t betrayed her. Her Acheron had been true . . .

Relieved, she went to see him.

Naked, he was lying on the floor of his room in front of his bed. She frowned at the sight of his bald head and the savage wounds that were still carved all over his body. But the one that appeared most painful was her own symbol that was still raw on the back of his skull.


He opened his eyes, but didn’t speak.

She reached to heal him. Before she could touch him, he caught her wrist in his hand. His grip surprised her. She wouldn’t have thought he’d have such strength in this condition. "I want nothing from you."

"I thought you’d betrayed me."

"I don’t break my word, Artemis. Ever."

"How was I to know?"

He laughed bitterly. "What? You think a few lashes are enough to break me? You’re a goddess. How can you know so little?"

"You have no idea how hard it is to be a god. The sniveling voices that are always crying out for help for the smallest things. ‘I want a new pair of shoes. I want more grain at harvest.’ You learn to turn it off."

"Those things may be petty to you, but to some humans even something as innocuous as one moment of peace can make all the difference in a life. One smile. One tiny act of kindness. That’s all it takes for us."

"Well, I’m here with my kindness."

Acheron scoffed. "I’m tired of being your pet, Artemis. I’ve nothing left inside to give you."

His anger ignited her own. "You are a human. You don’t order me about."

Acheron sighed. She was right. Who was he, a worthless maggot, to say anything to her? Besides, he was in no condition to argue with anyone. "Forgive me, akra. I forgot my place."

She smiled and brushed a hand over his bald head. "That’s the Acheron I know."

No, it wasn’t. This was the Acheron who was bought and sold. The hollowed out shell who performed for the amusement of others, but who felt nothing inside. How pathetic that his heart meant so little to anyone, that she couldn’t even recognize the fact that it was missing.

Releasing her hand, he lay still as she healed him. For once he tolerated the pain.

Once done, she sat back to look at her handiwork and then grimaced. "Oh, this baldness has to go. I like your hair too much."

It grew in perfectly and still Acheron didn’t move.

In a tiff, Artemis folded her arms over her chest. "Can you not at least say thank you to me for healing you?"

Given the fact that she was the reason he was beaten so badly, the mere thought of thanking her stuck in his throat. But then he was used to such things as this. "Thank you, akra."

Like a child who was unaware she’d broken her favorite toy, she smiled in satisfaction. "We should hunt today."

Acheron didn’t speak as she took him to her private forest and dressed him in red as if he was her doll and not a flesh and blood man. Her face was bright as she handed him a bow and quiver. He slung the quiver over his back without comment and followed her as she headed off in search of deer.

She chattered away about nothing in particular while he did as she asked, and tried his damnedest not to feel anything at all.

"You’re being awfully quiet," she said once she realized he wasn’t participating in her conversation.

"Forgive me, akra. What would you like me to say?"

"Whatever’s on your mind."

"There’s nothing on my mind."

She huffed at him. "Nothing? You have no thoughts whatsoever?"

He shook his head.

"How can this be?" She stuck her bottom lip out petulantly. "You’re trying to punish me, aren’t you?"

He kept all emotion out of his voice, especially the anger he bore her. "I would never seek to punish you, Goddess. It’s not my place."

She grabbed him by his hair, making him grimace before she forced him to meet her gaze. "What is wrong with you?"

Acheron took a deep breath as he braced himself for what was to come. One thing he’d learned while living with his uncle, lust overrode anger. She might still beat him later, but if he pleased her enough the punishment wouldn’t be as severe.

Stepping closer, he kissed her.

Sure enough, she loosened the grip in his hair and melted in his arms. Strange, he felt more like a whore in this moment than he’d ever felt before and he didn’t understand why.

Perhaps because he shouldn’t have to use his body to bargain with someone he’d given his heart to. Yet here he was, using his touch to lighten her anger . . . as always.

Disgusted with himself, he offered her his neck and died the death of a coward as she took it.

But what else could he do? It was either f**k or be beaten. Though to be honest, he could no longer tell which of the two was the most painful for him. One left scars on his body.

The other scarred his soul.

September 14, 9528 BC

Acheron sat on the railing of his balcony, drinking. He was mystified at how Artemis had managed to make him feel so unclean and yet as the days passed by he felt more and more like what his uncle had made him.


He leaned his head back to see Ryssa approaching him. "Yes?"

"I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m in so much pain from the baby. Could you please do that thing you do that makes me feel better?"

He snorted at words that could so easily be misconstrued. Thank the gods his father hadn’t heard it. "It’s called a massage."

"Can you do it?"

"Sure." Like everything else, he’d been well schooled in every muscle of the human body and taught how to loosen and please it. Sliding off the railing, he had her sit down on the floor and lean forward so that he could ease the tension in her back.

"Mmm," she breathed. "That is the most magical thing you do."

Not really. He was just glad to be able to use it on someone who wasn’t going to turn around and start humping him over it. "You’re really tense."

"I can’t get comfortable. I’m aching all over."

"Just breathe then. I’ll get the knots out and you’ll feel a lot better." He went down to the pressure point and dug his nail in.

Ryssa let out a satisfied moan. "How do you do that?"

"A lot of practice." And a lot of beatings anytime he’d messed up.

"I swear we should bronze your hands."

Most people felt that way, but for many other reasons.

She glanced at him over her shoulder. "Are you planning to stay hidden until your hair grows back?"

Acheron paused as pain cut through him at the reminder. The only time he had hair was whenever Artemis showed up-even though she was the cause of it she hated the sight of him like this. The moment she left him, his hair returned to its real state.

"I have no reason to leave. Period."

"I thought you enjoyed going to plays. Yet you haven’t been in ever so long."

Not even they could ease the pain he felt inside. The betrayal. If anything, watching the plays made him even more morose. "I’d just rather stay in my room, Ryssa."

She opened her mouth to speak, but her words died underneath a sharp cry of pain.


"It’s the baby . . . he’s coming!"

Acheron’s heart pounded as he rose to his feet, then swept her up in his arms. He carried her to her room before he left to find her maids so that they could summon the midwives and his father.

"Acheron," she called as he started to withdraw. "Please, don’t leave me. I’m scared. I know you can make the pain less. Please . . ."

"Father will beat me if I stay."

She screamed out as another contraction seized her.

Unable to leave her like that, he went to the bed and started massaging her again. "Breathe, Ryssa," he said in a calm tone, applying a counter pressure where she was tense.

"What is this?"

He cringed at his father’s snarling voice. Ryssa turned to look at him. "Father, please. Acheron can help with the pain."

His father shoved him aside. "Get out."

Acheron didn’t speak as he obeyed. He passed Styxx and a line of senators in the hallway who were coming in to witness the culmination of his sister’s union with Apollo. Several of them sneered at him and made comments under their breath. A couple even made offers.

He ignored them and kept going to his room. Then he locked his doors to make sure no one followed him inside.

Wishing he could have helped his sister, he sat in his room and listened to her screams, sobs and cries that went on for hours. Gods, if this was childbirth it was a miracle any woman would endure it.

Why would they?

And yet having endured something so horrifically painful, how could a mother shun the very child she’d fought so hard, and suffered so long, to birth?

He struggled to recall his mother’s face. All he could really remember was the look of hatred in her blue eyes. "You’re disgusting." Every time he’d ever gone near her, she’d slapped him away.

But not all mothers were like that. He’d seen them in the market and in the stands during the plays. Mothers who held their children with love-like the one he’d stumbled into in Artemis’s temple. Her baby had meant everything to her.

Acheron brushed the back of his fingers against his own cheek. Closing his eyes, he pretended it was a mother’s gentle touch, that a woman was touching him so sweetly. Then he scoffed at his own stupidity. Who needed tenderness? All he had to do was walk near any human being and he’d have all the caresses he wanted.

But they were never loving and they never came without conditions and cost.

"It’s a boy!" His father’s shout was muffled through the walls and was followed by a massive shout that echoed.

Acheron smiled, happy for his sister. She’d given Apollo a son. Unlike their mother, she’d be honored for her labor.

Hours went by as he waited until he was sure everyone had left her.

Acheron headed to her room, but was stopped by the guards outside.

"We were told to keep you away. Under no circumstances are you allowed in to see the princess."