Hell and Styx #18: Promises

Finally, Hell and Styx #18! I know I’ve been really slow recently with writing these stories. I was on vacation. Also, I’m editing my novel, so I’ve got a lot on my plate right now.

I’ll try to write faster this week.

This one picks up right where H+S #17 left off. Still the Heaven plot line. This one is getting really long–sorry. You can find the rest of the series on the Hell and Styx page.

I hope you enjoy this one! Likes and comments are always welcome.

Hell and Styx #18: Promises

Hell didn’t like breaking promises. Just having enough contact with a person to make a promise was a major event in her life. It was Hell and Styx, alone, together, and if she promised him something, it would take a cosmic implosion for her to go back on her word.

But now there was Heaven, too, and Hell had promised him that she wouldn’t get distracted while she worked. She had wanted to make this promise and she wanted to keep this promise. Spare time was suddenly more valuable than it had ever been.

Hell ducked as the dead woman before her punched at her face. She shot her arm up and blocked the hit, using her other hand to wrench the offending arm behind her, forcing the woman to double over.

The woman elbowed Hell in the gut and Hell gave a faint gasp, annoyed at her distracted thoughts when her quarry slipped out of her grasp.

“Who the hell are you?” Hell asked, circling, looking for an opening, not really curious.

“You think only men can fight?”

Hell stopped and gaped at her. “What do you think I’m doing?”

The woman, thinking Hell had left her guard down, charged.

Hell had not.

Ducking down under the woman’s grasp and twisting behind her, Hell capitalized on the woman’s momentum and gave a small, directing shove. The next second, the woman disappeared, swallowed by the walls of purgatory.

Hell turned back to the ballroom to find Styx grinning. “Not your most graceful capture ever.”

Hell grinned back. “Shut up.”

Her promise flashed through her mind. I won’t get distracted.

She forced her face flat and turned to look for the next soul. She could feel Styx frowning at her back, but this was not something she would be explaining to him.

* * *

How had Hell never noticed how much Styx talked?

He never shut up.

If he wasn’t talking about the souls in purgatory he was poking fun at Hell’s work or making inane, random comments about food.

Hell realized, also, that she was usually chatting with him. Musing about the ballroom and laughing at her violence and agreeing that pizza was good no matter if it was chain restaurant crap or a luxury meal.

This went directly against her promise.

Which was problematic.

Hell had never considered that in making a promise to one boy in her life she could harm her relationship with the other boy in her life.

And for Hell, someone who had very few people in her life, severing ties was the last thing she wanted to do.

It was hard, weighing the promise of this new relationship with the steadfast sureness of her life with Styx. Hell had never considered having anything more than her friendship with Styx, but she was a beggar who was starving for affection who had been offered an invitation to a feast. She wasn’t stupid enough to refuse it, even if she was afraid of accepting it.

Everything was too new, too complicated to deal with. Hell felt herself channeling her frustration into her disposal of the souls around her. She let herself get into fights that weren’t necessary and drew them out longer than was her style. But every time a soul vanished through a crack in a wall, Styx would talk about it, so she put that off as long as possible.

But in protecting herself from one way of breaking her promise, she was again breaking the promise. The longer she toiled with the souls, the longer she was in the ballroom.

It wasn’t a surprise when she realized that she was avoiding dealing with Heaven as much as she was dealing with Styx. They were two sides of the same coin. The same problem, no answer.

With every blow Hell delivered and received, she felt as if she were waking from a dream, as if a haze were falling from her mind. Whatever last night with Heaven was—whatever this morning was—it didn’t work. At all. It wasn’t worth the confusion in Hell’s heart. It wasn’t worth breaking promises to keep others.

Hell was loyal to herself first. Save yourself first. Then deal with the rest of the world. You can’t do that if you aren’t alive.

That she could count Styx as someone she trusted enough to save him as well was something that never sat well with her. She never meant for him to enter that tight circle around her heart, but it happened, years ago, between the jokes and the shared duties. They were as close as siblings and closer. She’d never had to consider what that meant.

That Heaven had knocked on that circle around her heart and was loitering around the entrance was something Hell could not fathom and that she wanted to be rid of as much as she wanted to open the door, just to have one more person inside.

Hell delivered a roundhouse kick to the burly man in front of her, shoving him into her domain.

“What was he?” Styx asked, refusing to admit her stony silence.

Hell answered automatically. “Dirty cop.”

“You took your time with him.”

Hell glared. “He was putting up a fight.”

“And you were looking for one,” Styx muttered.

Hell pretended not to hear, looking for her next victim, afraid that Styx would be the next fight she’d find.

In between the next two souls, Hell’s mind wandered back to Heaven, plotting a trail that hadn’t existed a week ago.

Heaven wasn’t reliable. He hadn’t existed for Hell a week ago, and he had been gone for half of that. His obsession with the human world was more powerful than Hell’s hatred of the place.

How could anyone who liked to live invisible deal with the real world enough to be anything for Hell?

He said he wouldn’t vanish, but was he as loyal to his promises as Hell was to hers? She somehow doubted it, even if she wanted to believe it.

Enough of this. Hell slammed into a teenage boy reeking with the blackness of his soul, sending him headfirst into a portion of the wall that didn’t have a crack, then twisted him sideways, into a waiting opening. She got rid of three more souls before her brain could catch up. Adrenaline pulsed through her veins and her hands shook, looking for her thoughts next distraction.

Styx, watching Hell calmly, only asked, “Pancakes or waffles?”

Hell turned around to gape at the idiot. “Waffles,” she said, exasperated.

“Pancakes, waffles, or French toast?”

Hell glared. “We are not doing this right now.”

Styx shrugged, humming to himself as they both looked around the slimming crowd.

Hell’s fists clenched as the near silence drew on. “French toast,” she said, her jaw tight.

Styx smiled to himself but otherwise ignored Hell.

When Hell returned to the remaining souls in the room, it was with a cooler head, most of her blood lust gone, replaced with an itching need to confront Heaven.

What she would say, Hell didn’t know.

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