He had barely slammed the door when tears spilled down my cheeks. Going to my bedroom, I lay down on my bed, ready for a good cry that never came. No more tears issued forth, in spite of my mixed feelings of despair and relief. Part of me wanted to call Roman back right now, make him return to me; the other part coolly warned I now had clear reason to cut Seth off as soon as possible before things escalated.
Good Lord, why did it seem I was always hurting people I cared about? What was it about me that made me repeat this cycle over and over? Roman's devastated face still hovered in my mind, but I took comfort in the fact that he hadn't been traumatized as much as Kyriakos. Not nearly as much.
The discovery of my affair with Ariston had led to condemnation from both our families and an impending divorce coupled with the loss of my dowry. I think I might have been able to handle that scorn, even the hateful looks. What I could not handle was the way Kyriakos had been stripped of all life and caring. I almost wished he would turn angry and lash out at me, but there was nothing like that within him. Nothing at all. I had destroyed him.
After several days of separation, I found him sitting on one of the rocky outcroppings overlooking the water. I tried to engage him in conversation a number of times, but he wasn't responding to any of it. He would only stare out at that expanse of blue, face dead and expressionless.
I stood by him, my own emotions writhing inside me. I had reveled in being a forbidden object of desire with Ariston, but I also wanted to be one of love with Kyriakos. I couldn't have it both ways apparently.
I reached out to wipe the tears from his cheeks, and he slapped my hand away. It was the closest he had ever come to hitting me.
"Don't," he warned, leaping up. "Don't ever touch me again. You sicken me."
I felt my own tears now, even if his anger meant he was still alive. "Please... it was a mistake. I don't know what happened."
He laughed hollowly, a terrible, mirthless sound. "Don't you? You seemed to know perfectly well at the time. So did he."
"It was a mistake."
He turned his back to me and walked over to the edge of the cliff, staring out at the sea. He spread his arms out and tipped his head back, letting the wind blow over him. Gulls cried nearby.
" Wh-what are you doing?"
"I am flying," he told me. "If I keep flying... right over this edge, I will be happy again. Or better yet, I won't feel anything at all. I won't think about you anymore. I won't think about your face or your eyes or the way you smile or the way you smell. I won't love you anymore. I won't hurt anymore."
I approached him, half-afraid my presence would make him go over. "Stop it. You're scaring me. You don't mean any of this."
He looked at me, and there was no more anger or cynicism. Only grief. Sorrow. Despair. Depression blacker than a moonless night. It was terrible and frightening. I wanted him to snap at me again, to yell at me. I would have even let him hit me, if only to see some sort of heat in him. There was none of that, though. Only darkness.
He gave me a sad, bleak smile. The smile of one already dead.
"I will never forgive you."
"You were my life, Letha... but no more. No more. I have no life now."
He walked away, and even as my heart broke, I exhaled in relief to see him moving away from the cliff. I wanted to run after him but gave him his space instead. Sitting down in his spot, I drew my knees up and buried my face in them, half wishing I was dead.
"He'll come back here, you know," a voice suddenly said behind me. "The pull is too strong. And next time, he may go over."
I jerked my head up, startled. I hadn't heard anyone approach. I didn't recognize the man who now stood there, odd in a town where everyone knew everyone else. He was slim and well-groomed, dressed in clothes more elegant than I usually saw around here.
"Who are you?"
"They call me Niphon," he said with a small bow. "And you are Letha, Marthanes ' daughter, formerly wife of Kyriakos."
"I still am his wife."
"But not for long."
I turned my face away. "What do you want?"
"I want to help you, Letha. I'd like to help you with this mess you've gotten yourself into."
"No one can help me. Not unless you can undo the past."
"No. No one can undo the past. I can make people forget it, though."
I slowly turned back to him, assessing his bright eyes and dapper manner. "Stop joking. I'm not in the mood."
"I assure you, I am most earnest."
Staring at him, I suddenly somehow knew he was telling the truth, as impossible as it was to believe. Later I would learn that Niphon was an imp, but at the time, I had only sensed that he had a strange air about him, the whispering of power that promised he really could do what he said.
His eyes gleamed, not unlike Hugh's when he was on the edge of a major deal. "To erase the memory of what you've done is no small feat. It carries a price."
"Can you make me forget too?"
"No. But I can make everyone else forget. Your family, your friends, the town. Him."
"I don't know... I don't think I could go back to them then. Even if they didn't remember, I still would. I couldn't face Kyriakos like that. Unless..." I hesitated, wondering if it might not be better never to come in contact with them again. "Can you make them forget me altogether? Make it like I've never been born?"
Niphondrew a sharp, excited breath. "Yes, oh yes. But a favor like that... a favor like that carries an even higher price..."
He'd explained it to me then, what I'd have to give in return to completely blot me from the minds of those I'd known. My soul was a given. I'd carry it as long as I walked the earth, but it would have a lease on it, so to speak. That was the standard price for any hellish deal. But hell wanted more of me: my eternal service in the corruption of souls. I would spend the rest of my days seducing men, fulfilling their fantasies for my own gain and for those whom I served. It was an ironic fate, considering what had brought me to this point.
To aid me, I'd gain the ability to take any form I chose, as well as the power to enhance my own charm. And of course, I'd have eternal life. Immortality and invulnerability. For some, that might have been benefit alone.
"You'd be good. One of the best. I can sense it within you." Imps had the ability to look into a person's soul and nature. "Most people think desire is only in the body, but it's here too." He touched my forehead. "And you would never die. You would stay young and beautiful forever, until the earth perishes."
"And after that?"
He smiled. "That's a long way off, Letha, whereas your husband's life is at stake now."
That had been what sold me. The knowledge that I could save Kyriakos and give him a new life, a life free of me where he would have a chance to be happy once more. A life where I could slink away from my disgrace and maybe even be rightfully punished. My soul - which I barely understood anyway - seemed a small price. I'd agreed to the bargain, first shaking on it, then putting my mark on paperwork I couldn't read. Niphon left me, and I returned to town. It was eerily simple.
When I returned, it was exactly as he had promised. The wish had already been carried out. No one knew me. Passing people - people I'd known my entire life - gave me the glances reserved for strangers. My own sisters walked by me without recognition. I wanted to find Kyriakos, to see if it was the same for him, but I couldn't muster the courage. I didn't want him to see my face, not ever again, even if he didn't recognize it. So I spent the day wandering, trying to accept the fact that I was gone to these people. It was harder than I thought it would be. And sadder.
When nightfall came, I retreated again to the outskirts of town. I had nowhere to stay, after all. No family or friends. Instead, I sat in the dark, watching the moon and stars, wondering what I was supposed to do now. The answer came quickly.
She rose almost from the ground, at first appearing as nothing more than a shadow, then gradually coalescing into the shape of a woman. The air vibrated with power around her, and suddenly I felt suffocated. I backed up, terror filling every part of me, my lungs unable to take in air. Wind rose from nowhere, whipping my hair and flattening the grass around me.
Then, she stood before me, and the night was still again. Lilith. Queen of the Succubi. Lady of the Night. The First Woman.