"What the fuck ..." Sebastian said.
Ilya pushed Blake away from Kevin and turned Kevin to face him, his fists white-knuckled around handfuls of Kevin's shirt. "Who was it?" he snarled. "Tell me the name of your wish granter before I rip it out of your head."
Blake grabbed Ilya's arm but immediately let go as if touching Ilya hurt. "Back off," he said. "The cops'll be here any minute. You don't need to get arrested, too."
Ilya ignored Blake. "Who was it?" He slammed Kevin against the dumpster. Kevin grunted and scrabbled weakly at Ilya's wrists. "Who was it?"
Kevin stammered but didn't get a name out.
Ilya leaned in close, their noses almost touching. Kevin kept trying to turn his head, but Ilya wouldn't let him break eye contact. "Tell me who gave you that wish."
"Ilya," Sebastian said. "Stop it."
They could hear sirens in the distance.
"Darya," Kevin said. "She said her name was Darya."
Ilya let go of Kevin and turned away.
Kevin sat down on the ground, covered his face with his hands and began to weep.
* * *
The cops didn't quite buy that the stabbing victim had fled the scene, but with five witnesses saying the same thing, they didn't question it too deeply. They would search the area, find nothing and chalk it up to one of those things they just couldn't explain.
Blake left with the cops after getting Sebastian to promise to call him if they found Eliot. He seemed to honestly believe that Eliot had run, which was probably for the best.
Sebastian eventually coaxed Ilya and Jordan up to the apartment. He didn't like having to take charge, but Jordan was paralyzed somewhere between shock and grief, and Ilya was too stonily angry. Sebastian had never seen Ilya that angry. It wasn't pretty.
He shoved Jordan into the bathroom to wash the blood off his hands, made Ilya sit down and went into the kitchen. Once he had washed his own hands and wiped the blood from the mask, he made tea. The three of them sat in the living room, not drinking the tea and not speaking.
"Is he dead?" Jordan asked after a while.
Ilya scowled. "I don't know," he said. "I don't think so. He simply doesn't exist any more."
"Kevin wished for Eliot to be the way he was before. He didn't specify before what. Before Eliot was alive at all, he was the mask."
Jordan looked at the mask lying on the coffee table and said nothing.
"So what are we supposed to do?" Sebastian asked. "Can we get him back?"
"Darya can't reverse the wish or undo it. She has no control over how it manifests."
"Can we talk to Darya?" Jordan asked.
Ilya shrugged. "Wish for her to show up. She might actually do it."
"What if we all wish it?" Sebastian asked.
"I can't, but there's no reason the two of you can't."
A moment later, the room went dead cold. A tall, slender blonde woman appeared near the front door. Her resemblance to Ilya was apparent. When she smiled, it was the same heart-stoppingly charming smile Ilya had.
"Well," Darya said as she walked into the living room. "I didn't expect to see you here, brother."
Ilya was in no mood for pleasantries. "Sit down, Darya," he said.
Darya sat and looked at their grave faces. "What's the matter?"
"You granted a wish that's taken a life."
Darya frowned. "There's a difference between the boy being dead and not existing, Ilya. I would never allow one of my wishes to kill."
"And yet that's essentially what's happened." Ilya picked up the tragedy mask and handed it to Darya. "This is what became of Eliot when his ex made the wish you granted him."
Darya turned the mask over in her hands. "Lovely piece of craftsmanship, but there's no life in this."
"What does that mean?" Jordan asked. "Do you mean he's just ... just gone, like he never existed in the first place?"
"People are wished out of existence all the time. And back into it as well. But if Eliot was ... I'm not sure I understand this, Ilya. What was Eliot?"
"Does it matter?" Ilya asked.
"It may. If people come back from being wished away, they must go somewhere, yes?"
"How the hell would I know?"
"How did a mask become a man?"
"Aphrodite," Sebastian said.
"Ah." Darya put the mask down gingerly. "A god, then. Demi-god at the very least. That's ... tricky."
"Can we get him back or not?" Jordan asked.
Darya looked at Jordan, studying him silently for what felt to Jordan like an inordinately long time. Finally, she stood up. "Let me make some inquiries," she said and was gone.
"Did that go well?" Sebastian asked. "I can't tell. She wasn't helpful, but she didn't say she wouldn't do anything."
"It went well enough," Ilya said. "I think we should all get some sleep now. Jordan, stay here, please. I would feel better if you did."
He didn't sleep, though. He couldn't stop thinking about Eliot. He held the tragedy mask in his hands, stared into its empty eyes and wished he had at least had the chance to say goodbye.
* * *
Jordan woke up to a gust of cold and the smell of coffee. He sat up, groggy and sore from sleeping on the couch.
Darya was sitting in the armchair across from the couch. She had the tragedy mask in her hands and was staring down at it. She put it down on the coffee table when she saw Jordan sit up. "Good morning, Jordan," she said. "What's left of it anyway."
Jordan picked up the steaming mug of coffee Darya had made for him. The heat felt good on his hands. "Thanks for the coffee," he said. "What time is it?"
"Somewhat after eleven. Ilya and his pet muse are still asleep."
"Should I -- "
Taken aback by Darya's curtness, Jordan made no reply. He sipped the coffee and stretched his legs. His right knee creaked and then popped loudly.
"Is that ..."
"It's fine. It sounds worse than it is."
Darya glanced down at the mask again. She seemed uncomfortable in its presence, and Jordan wondered why.
"What is it you don't want Ilya and Sebastian to know?" Jordan asked.
"It's not that I don't want them to know. It's that I'm certain of their reaction, and what they would want is impossible." Darya looked up from the mask and fixed Jordan with such a serious expression that it verged on comical. "What is Eliot to you?"
"He's my partner."
"Partner as in ... lover?"
Jordan didn't answer.
"Do you love him?"
"Yes, but what does that -- "
"Is there anything you wouldn't do for him?"
Jordan put the coffee mug down on the table to keep himself from flinging it in Darya's face. "Do you know where Eliot is?" he asked as calmly as possible. "If you do, just fucking tell me so I can go get him."
Darya flinched. "Please," she said, holding her hands up.
"You're pushing quite a bit of rage at me. I understand you're only very slightly psychic, but strong emotions intensify the ability. You may not be aware of it, but for a creature like me, perpetually sensitive, it's a very ... very palpable thing."
"Sorry. I'm not ... look, just tell me."
"I can't tell you exactly where. He's in Hades, but from what I understand, it's not a fully mapped realm. I can get you close, but you have to find him on your own."
"Fine. Let's go."
"It's not a free ride."
"Fine. What's the cost?"
"Are you sure?"
Jordan deliberately pushed his anger at Darya as hard as he could.
Darya leaned back and put her hands up again. "All right, all right."
"What's the cost?"
"It's not me you're paying. It's Charon, and I don't know what he'll want. Something that's dear to you, I'm sure."
"They already have Eliot."
"I just want you to understand what you're getting into."
"I get it, Darya. And I don't give a fuck. Let's go."
There was no physical sensation of movement. Instead, it was a friction against Jordan's psychic sense, and it gyrated like a manic tilt-a-whirl. As soon as it stopped, he dropped to his knees and vomited.
Darya crouched beside him and rubbed his back. "There, there," she murmured. "It's all right." She drew a handkerchief from her pocket and handed it to Jordan.
"You could have warned me," Jordan said.
"Would it have made a difference?"
Jordan wiped his mouth and looked around. They were on a rickety pier of rough, grey wood, and a river flowed beneath the boards like black glass. Above them was a ceiling of stone studded with massive stalactites that looked like pebbles in the immense space of the cavern. Jordan couldn't see the far shore and couldn't tell if the river was too wide or it was just too dark. He stood up.
Darya handed Jordan his cane and a silver flask. "Rinse your mouth out," she said. "It's vodka. I wouldn't try to drink the water here."
"Which one is it? Styx?"
Jordan uncapped the flask and took a mouthful of vodka. He'd never been fond of vodka, but this was good. He hated to spit it out. He took another mouthful and swallowed before handing it back to Darya.
"Keep it. And the handkerchief."
Jordan tucked the flask into his coat pocket. "Thanks."
"This is as far as I can go. You're on your own now. Good luck."
Darya was gone before Jordan could say anything.
Jordan hobbled to the end of the pier and looked both ways. Styx flowed past in utter silence. In that silence, he heard nothing else. He saw nothing either, so he sat down to wait for Charon.
He tied the handkerchief around the head of his cane and dipped both into the water. He wasn't sure what the result would be. An invulnerable handkerchief? Well, maybe that would be useful. It would be better than nothing.
He didn't have to wait too long. He soon heard the splash of something moving through the water. A tiny, dim light was coming straight at him. It looked a long way off, but by the time he got to his feet, it was closer by half, and then Charon was poling his boat up to the pier.
Charon peered up at Jordan. In the deep shadows of his hood and the dim lantern light, he looked frail; not skeletal but the shadow of a skeleton. His black eyes were sunk deep in their sockets, and his cheekbones were prominent under his grey, parchment thin skin. "You're not dead," Charon said. His voice was soft but far from frail. More shadows. Cobwebs on black velvet.
Jordan couldn't find his voice.
Charon held out a long, thin hand. "Step down, son. I know why you're here."
Jordan took the offered hand and stepped down into the boat. Charon's hand was cold and bony but strong. Don't fuck with the ferryman, Jordan thought.
"Sit," Charon said.
Jordan did and stretched his right leg out.
Charon pulled the pole up and laid it in the bottom of the boat. He sat down across from Jordan, leaned forward and studied Jordan with those fathomless eyes. Jordan wondered exactly what Charon saw.
After a moment, Charon leaned back. "You're not the only one to come down here to try to rescue a lover, you know," he said.
Jordan said nothing.
"They don't succeed."
"I'm not going to fail."
Charon chuckled. "They all think that. They all think the power of their love will overcome even death. It never works. They don't follow instructions. They make mistakes. They're so smug in what they perceive as victory that they believe for just that instant that the rules don't apply."
"This is different."
"They all say that, too."
"They weren't me."
"Turn back, Jordan. Even if you find him, you can't get him out. All of Hades is against you."
"Fine. Bring it on."
"You're a fool."
"I won't argue with that."
"Is love really all that important?"
"I don't know. I don't care. I want Eliot back."
"Because you couldn't save your wife and daughter?"
Jordan tightened his grip on his cane as his hands began to tremble. He hadn't thought about what he was doing in terms of trying to make up for his failure to save Leda and Zoë, but he was well aware that he would never stop trying to do something that would balance their deaths.
Charon laughed. It was a dry, airy sound. Mummified. "You're a stubborn son of a bitch. I like that."
"Eliot isn't dead."
"I know who and what he is. I know how he ended up here. Do you think all I do is push this boat around?"
"Of course not."
"His mother is beside herself but resigned. And Ganymede ... I'm surprised you got here before him. I'd have turned him away, though."
"Are you turning me away?"
"You can't do this, Jordan."
"I don't even get a chance?"
"I'm trying to save you the trouble. You're going to fail. They all do."
"Fine. Then I at least want to find him and say goodbye."
Charon laughed again, tossing his head back so the hood of his cloak fell and his throat was exposed.
Jordan thrust the head of his cane into the soft underside of Charon's jaw. Charon stopped laughing and froze.
"Are you ... are you threatening me?" Charon asked.
Jordan felt the vibration of Charon's vocal chords in the shaft of his cane. Charon wasn't afraid; what was Jordan going to do? Charon was surprised, though. "I don't want to threaten you," Jordan said. "I'm willing to pay whatever price you ask. I'm not looking for negotiation there. But I am demanding that you tell me your price and accept what I pay and take me where I need to go so that I at least have the opportunity to search for Eliot."
"You're only inviting more grief if you do this."
"That's my choice. I appreciate you trying to spare me, but I don't want to be spared."
"You love him that much?"
"It's not just that. Melpomene would have killed me if he hadn't stopped her. I owe him my life."
Charon slowly pushed Jordan's cane away from his throat. He could have grabbed it and yanked it out of Jordan's hand. He didn't. "Most of them offer sappy, weepy tales of how much in love they are. Orpheus sang to me, and yes, I'm moved by those entreaties. I've got a soft heart. But never, ever has anyone had the balls to demand passage. It's a refreshing change of pace."
Jordan almost wanted to apologize, but he said nothing. He laid his cane across his lap and waited for Charon to quote his price.
"You don't have coin, so ... how about I take your first impression of Eliot?"
Jordan remembered the day Eliot had walked into his office and how instantly he'd been attracted to Eliot and how easily they'd connected and, especially, how hard it had been to let himself enjoy Eliot's company. But that, he had realized later, was his second impression.
He took his sketchbook from his pocket and flipped to the sketch he'd done when he'd talked to Ilya for the first time. The face he'd found on that page was Eliot's. Ilya's presence had agitated Jordan's psychic ability, and he must have sensed what would happen there two days later. It was only after Aphrodite had brought Eliot back to Jordan's apartment that he realized what he'd been picking up at the Lost Tree.
He'd never shown the sketch to Eliot. Not for any particular reason; he just hadn't, but he looked at it often, especially when he started feeling guilty for falling in love again. He tore the page out and handed it to Charon.
Charon looked at it for a moment and then nodded and tucked it into his robe. He pulled his hood back up over his head, picked up his pole and stood up. "Shall we?" he asked.
One last chance to back out, Jordan thought. "Yes," he said.
To be continued ...