Poisoned Kisses

By: Stephanie Draven

The rising sun knifed through the lavender cloak over Lake Avernus, its light cutting a thin golden gash across the dark waters. Kyra didn’t like mornings. It was night that protected her—it always had. Luckily, it was still dark enough that she didn’t have to obscure her true form. Escaping from the ambulance had seemed like a good idea, but as Kyra staggered toward the little villa apartment that was her lair, she feared she’d collapse before she could make it home.

Marco Kaisaris’s blood had done this to her.

Things that killed humans rarely affected immortals this way. Then again, the poison in Marco’s blood was no ordinary kind of poison. It was the poison of a hydra. Achilles, the great warrior of the Iliad, died when he was shot in the heel with an arrow dipped in hydra poison. And he wasn’t the only demigod to die this way. Hydra blood had also killed mighty Hercules. The thought sobered her. Hercules was the son of a god, but his mother was mortal. Just like Kyra’s.

Surely she was nothing like those legendary heroes. They had died young, whereas Kyra had lived for thousands of years. They had walked among the living, whereas Kyra drew breath with shades in the underworld. She’d never thought of herself as vulnerable. She’d lived so long, and so recklessly, that death was nothing she’d ever contemplated for herself. Was it possible that Marco Kaisaris’s blood could actually kill her?

She needed to get to Hecate. Perhaps her old mistress had just enough magic left to brew a curative potion. Even if she didn’t, who else could guide Kyra over the threshold from this life into the next but the goddess of the crossroads? Yes, Kyra had to get to Hecate. Nothing else was as important. She kept going on pure adrenaline, feeling vulnerable, naked without her powers. It was disorienting to rely on normal human sight—luckily, she found the street where Hecate’s shop was illuminated by a swinging lantern at the end of a rusty hook. The worn and faded sign over the door read Notte Incantesimi: Tè e Chiromanzia.

The Night Enchantments Tea and Palm Reading shop was the last refuge of the once-powerful goddess who had—for centuries now—been reduced to fortune-telling and serving herbal infusions. Hecate’s black hounds bayed in greeting and the goddess appeared in the parlor doorway wearing an absurd embroidered gypsy robe, a sprig of yew berries in her luxurious silver hair. “My best little nymph has come to call on her old mistress,” the once-mighty goddess crowed.

Then Kyra collapsed at her feet.

Chapter 3

There was no point in disguising himself here in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a place Marco still thought of as Zaire. The militias knew him. Some even feared him. And though the corrupt government called Marco the Merchant of Death, many of the locals said he was their salvation. And that’s why he kept coming back. Why he would keep coming back as long as they needed him.

Marco’s driver—a dark West African named Benji—was waiting for him at the jungle airstrip. “That’s quite a bruise on your jaw, Chief,” the kid said, glancing at him from beneath the sweaty bandanna on his brow. “And your hand doesn’t look good, either. Trouble at the border?”

Marco didn’t answer; after all, he didn’t want to tell anyone about the she-devil that attacked him in Naples. Instead, he put his sunglasses on, retreating behind the shades as they rattled along the dirt road.

Their vehicle was a patchwork of rust, duct tape and white paint. It made a fat, slow-moving target. With all the money he made selling weapons he should be able to afford a better ride. He should be less vulnerable to his enemies…enemies like the siren who had tried to stab him.

Reminded of her, Marco flexed his hand around the disintegrating bandage. It was a deep cut that would scar, but meanwhile his blood was eating through the cloth. He couldn’t risk going to a hospital, so he’d stitched it himself in the back of the cargo plane and now it hurt like hell. It was no consolation to him that his attacker was, no doubt, hurting worse—if she was even still alive.

Who was she? No, more importantly, what was she? In the club, he’d taken her for just a rich party girl looking for a quick hookup. But in his penthouse, she’d literally transformed into another woman—one with ethereal skin, raven hair and unnerving black eyes. She’d been like an angel of death, knife at the ready. Until that moment, he’d always thought he was the only person in the world with this…affliction. But now he knew he wasn’t the only one who could change faces. The woman had the same power, and she’d used it to hunt him down like prey.

They stopped at a jungle checkpoint. These government soldiers should have tried to halt the spread of weapons throughout the Congo, but that wasn’t how things worked here. Benji simply paid the customary bribe to the guard who waved them through. Then they veered away from the city, heading into rebel territory, winding up steep roads into the mist-soaked mountains.