This had been a mistake.
How could I have been so stupid, to think that all of this was alright, to think that it wouldn't be a problem for her to be here, in the Underworld? Wherever I had gotten the brain cells to make that decision, it had been a trashy one, and now I was dealing with the consequences thereof. I couldn't even be upset about it, because no matter how much I wanted to lay the blame on someone else, all of this was to blame on me. And as if the situation wasn't already bad enough, I was going to have to deal with the problem of Persephone returning to the Underworld in a few weeks. It was as if that piece of vital information had somehow just managed to slip past my senses, like it didn't matter.
What had I done?
I was on my way to Cerberus, knowing that I needed to send him up here as soon as possible. Every minute that she spent alone and unguarded, was a minute that she was at risk, a minute where I had no idea what was happening to her. Even though the cage would do a pretty good job of keeping anyone who wanted to attack her away from her, it wouldn't make much of a difference if there was more than one person trying to get in.
It was made of a special mineral that would keep any of the Underworld beings out of it as well as it would have kept them inside of it. It had been designed specifically with the purpose of ensuring that any of my residents who did something that they had been specifically ordered not to do, would be punished in a manner where they actually felt like they were being punished, because they were actually being contained. There were five of them placed at various different places throughout the Underworld, and if anyone dared to go after Dilara while she was being contained in this one, I might need to have more constructed.
I hadn't even begun to consider what was going to happen on the surface when the real world started to figure out that she wasn't there. I knew that she had an entire life of her own, but I felt like that didn't mean anything to me at the moment. But the problem was that it meant a lot. As soon as too many people on the surface started to ask questions, there would be bound to be someone from the realm of gods who would hear those questions. And I was willing to admit that I was far from being willing or prepared to put up with the questions and interrogations from another god. I wasn't even going to have the patience to deal with Persephone, let alone anyone else. And if Ares dared to get involved too, that was going to be the cherry on the cake. And I still wouldn't have learnt my lesson.
“Cerberus better not be on the surface…”
“He is. Are you looking for him?”
It took every ounce of my self control to stop myself from literally jumping at the sound of the voice that spoke to me. When I spoke, I had done so with the mere intention of speaking to myself, and now, it turns out that there was someone who had overheard me. And of all the people that it could have been, it was Cerberus’ handler. I would have been able to deal with it if it had been anyone other than her, but that wasn’t going to be the case at the moment. It wasn’t going to be the case at all. I wasn’t going to be able to avoid her.
But if Cerberus was on the surface like she said that he was, what other option did I have? None. I had none. I needed to make good use of this conversation with her. And I believed that her loyalty to me would allow her to comply with what I was going to ask her.
“I am looking for him, but obviously I’m not going to find him. You’ll have to step in for him.”
I didn’t waste any more time. I grabbed a hold of her upper arm and started leading her back the way that I had come. I was thankful that this part of the Underworld was virtually empty, because everyone who usually came here was looking for me. Which brought my attention to the fact that there must have been a reason why she had come here, but I didn’t get a chance to ask my question because she started speaking before I could.
“With all due respect, sir, I’m more than willing to walk with you. I feel like it is not necessary to drag me around like this.”
I let go of her arm, realising that she must have had a point with what she was saying. I didn’t even know why I had been holding her in the way that I had, but I guess that it had been done to make sure that I was able to make her come with me. And I would also then be able to keep her away from Dilara in the event that she decided that she was going to be hostile. But I doubted that she would be…
But I had been wrong before. I just hoped that this wasn’t one of those occasions.
“My apologies. But it is essential for you to come with me. Why are you here?”
I didn’t miss the confused expression on her face, but I guessed that it had something to do with the fact that I had changed between the two topics so fast and so easily, despite the fact that they were unrelated to one another.
“I’m here because I came to look for you, sir. I’m aware that it might be out of my place, but I came to find out whether or not you had allowed Cerberus to go up to the surface to stay with that human again.”
“No, I didn’t. I wasn’t even aware of the fact that he wasn’t here—it’s why I was looking for him.”
“Oh. Alright. I’ll have to go and find him then, if he isn’t back within the next hour. He’s already on the verge of missing his curfew. But what would you like me to do? I assume that I’m going with you for a reason.”
I had to admit that the amount of attention that she paid to everything around her was uncanny, but I guessed that that was why I had made her Cerberus’ handler. I believed that there was no one better than her fitted for the job, especially since she had seemed to have a good bond with him, despite the fact that he hadn’t actually needed a reason to be bonded to her. Not like he had with Dilara and Persephone.
“Yes, there is a reason.”
I didn’t bother saying anything or trying to explain myself because we were outside of the doors that would take us back into the chambers where Dilara was being held. There was a moment that passed where I hesitated and wondered whether or not what I was doing was working in favour of Dilara’s safety, but before I could allow myself to overthink the situation, I opened the door and walked in with the woman who I was literally allowing to see something that could cause an uprising here in the Underworld.
She stepped inside with no hesitation, and I truthfully found myself somewhat surprised by her actions. For all she could have known, she could have been walking right into a trap, could have forced herself into a position where she had sealed her own fate. But I didn’t think that crossed her mind once. If it had, she hadn’t shown it. I followed soon after her, not wanting her to realise what she was looking at before I was given the chance to begin explaining. If she decided to make a run for it, I was going to find myself in a lot of trouble.
I already found myself in a lot of trouble, and I hadn’t even realised it yet.
“What in the name of…”
I wasn’t even remotely surprised when she trailed off, her eyes widening as she took in the sight of Dilara. And just like that, I was almost certain of the fact that I would have been six feet underground if it had been up to her. The way that her head had snapped in my direction had been more than enough to warn of me of that, her scowling eyes highlighting her distaste towards this situation. Her eyes were blazing, and I could have sworn that I saw the reflections of hellfire in her eyes. It wouldn’t have been a surprising situation to find myself in if she decided to do something that I wasn’t going to like, and if anything, I was prepared for it. I wouldn’t allow her to outwit me. Not in this situation.
I would do everything that I could to make sure that I avoided it as best I could.
“You can’t be serious. You genuinely can’t be serious. You brought her here? Do you have any idea what all of this is risking? Did you even bother to consider the consequences?”
I didn’t like the tone of her voice. I didn’t like it at all, and I was almost certain of the fact that she was going to to continue speaking to me in this manner. She hadn’t even been using my title, or any form of respect towards me. It was triggering me in ways that I was not often triggered, but I had no choice other than to remind myself of what was happening around me, no choice other than to remind myself that this was a situation where I needed to be calm.
Having an outburst wasn’t going to get me anywhere.
“I’d advise you to keep in mind who it is that you are talking to—I don’t take kindly to your disrespect. And even though it does not seem like it, I am well aware of why the consequences for doing this will be.”
“Are you sure? Because believe me, that’s not what it looks like to me. You’re keeping her in a cage, for gods sake.”
The irritation in her voice seemed to be intensifying by the minute, and I had no doubt in my mind that she was going to continue talking to me this way, despite the fact that I had warned her now. She should be well aware of the risks that she was taking, and if she was, then it didn’t look like it. She had no business criticising me when she was doing the exact same thing.
“I’ve considered the consequences. And I am dealing with them.”
“Is that so? How are you dealing with them, because at the moment, it seems like you’re trying to avoid them. Do you think you’re going to be able to keep her in this cage forever? Do you think that this cage is going to protect her forever?”
Her words were like a knife to my heart, and it felt nearly as bad as it would have felt if it had been Dilara who had plunged the dagger into me. I didn’t like what she was saying, and I had a suspicion that the reason why I disliked what I was hearing, was because it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.
Could I be blamed?
“Oh, please. Obviously, I don’t plan on keeping her here forever. I’m not stupid. This is a temporary solution.”
“Until I can think of a way to ensure her safety.”
“That’s not possible. You of all people should know that. This is the Underworld. The Underworld. Has that slipped your mind? Do you think that she’s not going to be shredded to pieces the moment that she is seen?”
I couldn’t resist the temptation to look at Dilara, and I was glad that I did, because the look on her face hadn’t improved since I had walked out of here earlier. As a matter of fact, it seemed to be doing even worse, because not only was I being forced to acknowledge how unhappy she was, but I was being forced to subject her to hearing all of these bad things about the Underworld. At this rate, whether I tried to make sure that everyone would make her feel at home here, it wasn’t going to make any difference as to whether or not she was going to feel safe enough to step out of the cage.
If I was her, and I was overheating all of these things, it wouldn’t even cross my mind. All of her earlier complains about being locked up had been silenced, for the had probably disappeared by now. I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to be thankful for that, or whether I needed to be worried. Either of the two would be fitting for this situation.
“That. Is. Enough. You will speak to me with respect, or you will deal with the consequences. Do I make myself clear?”
There was a moment after I had finished speaking that it seemed like she was going to say something to me, but it seemed like she second-guessed her decision, because she didn’t say anything. I was visibly able to pick up on the way that she clenched her jaw, and the way that she also happened to be squaring her shoulders was also noticeable. I wasn’t sure whether she was aware of the fact that I was reading her like a book, but it didn’t matter.
Not at the moment, at least.
“Did I make myself clear?”
“Good. Now, I’m not going to tell you again—I am dealing with this situation. One thing at a time. For now, my main focus is ensuring that she will be safe while I am gone to deal with the next thing, and in this situation, that happens to mean that I need to make sure that there is someone else here to protect her. To buy some time.”
If I had thought her to be upset by what I was saying to her earlier, then there were no words for me to explain what she seemed to be feeling now. It was obvious that she was far from happy with what she was hearing.
“And, I am that person.”
“Indeed. Indeed, you are.”