The Bow

Chapter 1 - VANESSA

The joy of sleeping in Grey’s arms in the clocktower penthouse is cut short when I’m yanked off the bed and hit the floor. Hard.

Something scrabbles at my ankle, flaps a hot breeze over me and four small feet land on my head. PK? I have got to be dreaming.

I sit up, almost unbalancing my winged headdress, and realize it’s awful hot around here.
A fountain of molten fire spurts and falls into a lava pool, lighting the surrounding cavern walls of glimmering black rock.
Where the hell am I?
I’m on a rough carpet the color of blood, hopefully not blood. The runner leads from where I sit — legs folded tightly against my naked chest — across the vast chamber to an impressively shiny black throne. The cavern is mostly empty, save for a few bare-chested guards holding scythes and a few similarly clad attendants with not quite as impressive pecs.
On the throne sits a woman — a woman I suspect I should be very afraid of. But the way her flame-red hair floats around her head, like it’s underwater and on fire at the same time, is just so weird that I’m tempted to giggle.
This is a dream, after all.
Isn’t it?
“All finished having fun with my son, are you?” the woman asks, sounding more than a little irritated, her voice carrying the earthshaking undertones of an immortal — make that a seriously pissed-off immortal.
Suddenly, I get this really bad feeling I’m not dreaming and this woman is Grey’s mother. And she’s having a really bad hair day.
Add to that my naked state and could this get any worse?
I will protect you, Vanessa, Grey said.
Famous last words. Where the hell is he? And more important, where the hell am I? In Hell, obviously, but not in Elysium, the place where Grey said he could protect me.
This location has a certain Tartarus edge to it, with the lava features, and a much more pungent brimstone odor. The scythes definitely add an element of deadly to the decor, come to think of it.
“Um…” I rub my head, dislodging my hairpiece.
PK flutters her giant moth wings into the air and comes down to land on my ankle, adding a little cover to my butt-naked form. Not that my ass is any better concealed, but that part of my anatomy isn’t currently facing the Queen of the Underworld. Fortunately, her minions have pinned their gazes elsewhere.
Blinking sleep from my eyes and still not one-hundred-percent sure I’m awake, I smile, wave, and say inadequately, “Hi.”
Steam doesn’t quite hiss out of her ears, but neither does she look impressed by my response.
Grey said his mother’s power was strongest in her throne room and this was an extremely good reason not to visit her there.
Given this lady is sitting on a throne, I’m guessing this is the place he was dead set on avoiding.
Not that I was given any choice in the matter.
“Adonis’s vessel,” the lady with the weird hair says scathingly.
There is that. However, I take exception at being referred to as a vessel, especially by another woman.
“The temptation that talked Zagreus into breaking his covenant.” Her voice isn’t loud but sends a shockwave through the room that agitates the lava fountain and pricks the hairs on my arms.
I assume by covenant she means Grey’s vow of abstinence, which, technically, I didn’t talk him into breaking, even if I participated in its termination.
“The bringer of color,” she grinds out, “to Zagreus’s city.”
I can’t think of a single reason why bringing color to a place is a bad thing.
“And the producer of illegal substances in the Underworld.”
Okay. What the hell is she talking about? I’ve never so much as touched illegal substances, let alone produced them. I shake my head at the queen in confusion. “What?”
She leaps to her feet, hands fisting. “Cookies!” she yells, making the air quiver as if it’s as terrified as I probably should be, and would be if I weren’t so annoyed about being unjustly accused of manufacturing drugs.
The guards on either side of her jump to attention and adjust their scythes.
Okay, so now I’m afraid because I’m very attached to my head and don’t want to lose it.
The queen relaxes her hands and looks down her nose at me. “If I didn’t have a use for you, you’d already be obliterated.”
Um, good to know. Okay, Grey. Now would be a really great time for you to show up and defend my ass before your mother executes her single-use plan for it.
He doesn’t answer.
“Use?” I foolishly say because my question makes her smile. And that can only be a bad thing.
She flips her wrist, and a glass vial with a cork appears on her palm. “I require a minion to go to the Overworld and fill this vial with water from a so-called Waterfall of Youth. Make sure you take it from the source, at the top of the waterfall. That is very important.”
Waterfall of Youth? Sounds familiar. Raef’s mother had such a thing, but that can’t be what the queen is talking about. Can it?
Back to the task, Vanessa. “Um, okay.”
“Once filled, you will bring this back to me. The ferryman will deliver you to the Overworld and return for you exactly one day later. If you do not come back with him, it will mean the worst for you.”
Of course, it will. And I’m pretty confident that worst is her preference when it comes to meting out punishment.
The corked vial disappears from her hand and reappears a few feet in front of me, rolling down the possibly blood-soaked carpet.
PK takes flight when she sees the approaching object, but once I pick it up, she lands again.
The queen smiles without so much of a spark of pleasure in her eyes, which are decidedly cold for such a hot place. “I’ve included a timer on the side of the vial, so you’ll have no excuse if you miss your rendezvous with the ferryman.”
I twist the glass container and see the digital clock displaying 24:00.
“Countdown starting…now,” the queen announces.
The display changes to 23:59 while I’m still staring blankly at the numbers.
The queen claps sharply, snapping my attention back to her. “All right. Off you go.”
The cavern disappears, replaced by mirror reflections of me covered at the front by PK, but all other sides display multiple aspects of my nakedness. Meanwhile, the diamond shapes on the brushed chrome flooring are imprinting into my butt.
“Vanessa?” says a shocked male voice. My father’s.
All muscles tighten instinctively to shield as much of my skin as possible. PK flutters and lands on my knees, creating full coverage for my front.
“Is that a chameleon moth?” he asks.
“Yes.” Finally, something I know the answer to.
“And she’s yours?”
I glance awkwardly up at him. “So she says.”
He nods, showing the first signs of approval since my abrupt arrival. “Well, that will save you some embarrassment, at least.”
“It will?” I can’t think how.
“Yes. If she’s yours, she can make you invisible.”
I pull back my chin. “She can?”
“That’s what the chameleon in her name is all about. She can make herself disappear in any setting. And if she’s yours, she should be able to do the same for you.”
“Did you hear that, PK?” I ask.
“Disappear you,” she answers with a super squeaky voice, totally unlike her much lower hungrrry one.
“Done,” my father says.
When I look down at myself, I can still see me and PK, but in the mirrors, we’re not there. How cool is that?
“She’s your wings,” he says.
“Are you suggesting I can fly?”
“No,” PK answers me. “Disappear you.”
Even if I am invisible, taking flight while completely naked does not excite me, so I’m far from complaining. A moth of invisibility sounds a heck of a lot better. It’ll make sneaking into wherever this Waterfall of Youth is and snatching a vial of water from it a snap.
Of course, what the Queen of the Underworld has in mind for me after that is anyone’s guess. Hopefully, Grey will have realized what’s going on by the time I return and will be ready to save me.
A twang in my chest knocks me flat, and my sense of Grey is gone. Damn it. Guess I just passed between realms via the Styx of the Betwixt. But at least it didn’t tear my soul to shreds.
Whatever Grey did when he pulled me back from the Betwixt — with its promise of eternal boredom — strengthened our connection, maybe even made it bulletproof.
The elevator rattles to a halt, and the doors open.
“We’re here,” my father announces.
I stand and cross my hands over my chest while PK flaps onto my head. “Where?”
“The Overworld.”
I’m home! I almost jump with glee, but the thought of my boobs bouncing up and down kills the temptation.
Is there any chance I could see Mom and Piper? Maybe Raef. I shake my head internally. Not with the Mad Queen watching the clock. Perhaps I could steal someone’s phone and call Mom. Tell her I’m okay and warn them about Dorian. Grey said he’d take care of it, but the sooner Mom knows Dorian’s a drug dealer, the better.
PK hops from my head onto my shoulder and positions herself on my back, legs clinging to my neck and shoulder blades. She flaps as I turn my head to check her out. Heh! I totally look like I have wings.
All I wish for are a few clothes. I feel so exposed.
“Do you know where in the Overworld we are?” I ask my father.
“Fox Tower. The service elevator. You’ll exit on the top floor. That’s all I can tell you. But whatever the queen wants you to do, the location you need to visit should be close by.”
Fox Tower. Raef. His mother’s Waterfall of Youth. I tighten my grip on the vial. What could the queen want with a sample of its water?
“Be careful, Vanessa. And don’t eat or drink anything while you’re here,” he warns.
“Why not?”
“Because you’re a soul. You can’t take anything back to the Underworld with you, including what’s in your stomach.”
I picture vomiting my way through the Betwixt. Incentive enough not to let a morsel pass my lips.
My father looks out of the mirrored wall at me. “I’ll return for you in twenty-four hours.”
Eyes back on the timer embedded near the top of the vial, I say, “You mean in twenty-three hours and fifty-seven minutes?”
Piece of cake. I mean — seriously — how long can climbing to the top of a waterfall inside a high-rise building take?

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