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Howl of the Wolf

Hades' Carnival 4

by

N.J. Walters

Dedication

For my amazing husband. Thank you for everything.

Spell of the Lady of the Beasts

Lion, wolf, tiger and bear,

Be of stout heart and show no despair.

Phoenix, jaguar and serpent, all brave,

Be not afraid, though thy destiny is grave.

Warriors brave deserve a much better fate.

You shall not pass beyond Hades’ gates.

My powers I give thee to protect and to keep

From death and torture in the dark and the deep.

When Olympians’ power is turned into dust

The time will come for the righteous and just.

A chance to escape from a prison of Hell.

Listen closely to all that I tell.

Feminine power will come to your aid.

You will come to life as the curse starts to fade.

The sands of time will begin to slip by

And you will have but one day’s turning to tie.

While the demons from Hell tempt and deceive,

A life must be given, a heart received.

One step from the path and all will be lost.

Your souls will be forfeit. That is the cost.

If honor and courage win the fight,

The curse will be broken, the debt made right.

Free you will be from harm and from strife

Able to live your immortal life.

Prologue

Hades wasn’t happy. And when he wasn’t happy, every demon and cursed soul in his realm held its breath, hoping to evade his notice. When he wasn’t happy, people died.

Two enormous demons stood guard by his door. Both were twice his size, but he could end their miserable lives with a wave of his hand, and they both knew it. He could smell their fear, taste it on his tongue. It was better than the finest wine.

“Leave me.” In their haste to escape his presence they almost tripped over one another. At any other time it would have amused him greatly. But not today.

Hades stared at the gilded mirror, his window into this or any other world, and brooded. The Lady of the Beasts, the goddess he’d held captive for more than five thousand years, had managed to escape his realm. He could see her in the mirror as clearly as if she were standing right in front of him. Totally naked with her hands raised in the air, she stood in a mountain glade filled with wildflowers and birds. He could hear the birds singing and the Lady humming a jaunty tune. It was sickening really.

He turned his head away from the mirror as the picture winked out of existence and he tapped his fingers against the finely carved arm of his massive wooden chair. It was more of a throne, carved hundreds of years ago by a master craftsman. He deserved no less. Usually he found pleasure in his private rooms with their red silk walls and the plush hand-woven rug that covered every square inch of the floor. Rare gemstones winked in the candlelight, spilling out of bowls onto the shelves that housed them. Exquisite paintings adorned the walls. Today’s artists were Jackson Pollock and Van Gogh, but Hades had hundreds more by the greatest painters the world had ever known, maybe thousands.

An enormous bed awaited his pleasure, silk sheets in midnight black stretched across the down-filled mattress. He could snap his fingers and have any number of delectable female demons ready to fulfill his every sexual desire.

But today he wasn’t happy, and that bitch goddess was to blame. He had everything he could want, except the one thing he truly craved—ultimate power.

His brothers and the rest of the Greek gods and goddesses were idiots, content to fade into the mists of time, relegated to the annals of history. But not him. The world was ripe for the taking and he planned to claim it all for himself.

His only problem was he needed some help. He couldn’t exactly explode into the earthly realm with his demons in tow. No, his siblings and the others would certainly notice the surge of power and investigate. They might be weak, but if Zeus and Poseidon combined their powers with the others, they could defeat him.

Hades would not stand for defeat. Not now when he was so close to attaining his heart’s desire.

His plan was really quite brilliant in its simplicity. Years ago, the Greek gods had attacked the Lady of the Beasts, wanting what power she held. But they hadn’t killed her. First off, it wasn’t easy to kill a god or goddess, even one drained of almost all their power. Secondly, it was unthinkable for a god to kill another. That would set a very dangerous precedent indeed. If one god was killed then none of them were safe. Instead, Hades had imprisoned her in his realm.

In a surprisingly unselfish move, the Lady of the Beasts had used the last of her waning power to protect her loyal shapeshifting warriors. “Some protection,” he muttered as he surged out of his chair and walked over to a small gold cabinet. He lifted the heavy lead-crystal decanter and poured himself a shot of the finest whiskey in existence. The liquor burned on the way to his belly and he embraced the fire before slamming the glass back down. The fragile piece shattered, sending shards of crystals flying. Some of the glass nicked his skin, raising several beads of blood.

Hades raised his hand and licked the blood away, savoring the sharp tang against his tongue.

For more than five thousand years, those warriors had remained locked in their animal forms, unable to be brought into his realm. All his plans hinged on those warriors. For even though they had been trapped and powerless, their existence was present there, like a never-ending hum of energy. The other gods were accustomed to the power of the warriors existing in the human world and paid it no heed. Hades knew if he could free the immortal warriors and convince them to join him, he could easily stage his takeover of the world before his brothers took notice. It would be a done deal and he’d then have the power to destroy anyone who stood in his way.

He stalked back to the mirror and waved his hand. Immediately, a dusty back room of a junk shop filled his vision. The last remaining warrior—the wolf—sat there, a discarded animal from a carousel ride from a carnival that no longer existed.

The rest of the warriors had been released from their captivity. Mordecai had come first and been Hades’ greatest success. It hadn’t taken any convincing at all on his part to get the serpent to kill the woman who’d freed him and take his place at Hades’ side. But the next two—Stavros the jaguar and Phoenix the great fiery bird—had chosen death for themselves and their women.

Hades waved his hand again and the image in the mirror faded. He had to use this power sparingly as it

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