The Bet (A short story by Ruthanne Reid)

The Bet

She’d won. She’d won! He had got it wrong, but she’d won. No way was she going to pass up collecting. Dis was nothing if not thorough.

She skipped her way to father’s throne, through the decrepit ruins. Her shadow danced over jagged remains of statuary, castellations born of destruction and too much time. Her syncopated steps tapped by themselves down halls occupied only by dust and shadows. The breeze was her own, and she took it with her from room to room.

Color meant nothing now, bled of its variety and vibrancy by the blue-gray light she breathed. Dis twirled as she skipped, inventing a song immediately forgotten. Conveniently, her back spun toward the ruined throne that sat in geometric desolation. She ignored its empty angles and strangely dust-free planes, facing instead arched windows that opened to nowhere, doors that gaped in darkness her blue light could not pierce, rubble that once represented glory and that no feet but her own came near. Her forgotten song picked at crevices but left them unchanged, and she did not slow until she came to the final empty chamber.

A curtained bed crouched here in squalid splendor. Alone among the ruins, it stood whole, reduced to neither kindling nor splinters. Only the curtains were torn. The stains were barely visible.

“I won, father, and the world still lives,” said Dis, no longer dancing, her spooky-little-girl form waxen in her light, eyes hidden in shadow and teeth the same hue as her lips.

There was no reply from the bed, no ripple of answer from the torn and stained curtains.

“I took your bet, and I won,” Dis whispered, and her skin warped, pulsated, threatened to twist and change into an alternate form.

But she did not change. “I won,” Dis said a third time, and threw.

A single stone arced from her hand onto the bed, and when it landed, its target snapped with a crack so sharp it cut through the silence like an axe. Brittle, ancient bone did not just snap, but erupted, sending puffs of strange white and black clouds to settle on colorless brocade. The white clouds ate into the fabric, sizzling as the threads died, but the black clouds renewed them—just as colorless, just as faded, just as brittle and old.

Dis saw none of this. Her shadow danced back up the hall, forgotten song exploring cracks and doorways before evaporating forever. She skipped higher, arms raised with pointless victory.

She’d won.

It didn’t matter how long it had taken.

She’d won. And she’d broken her father’s bones.

Dis left through ways and weirs only a daughter of Cronus would know, and she took her light with her. Her song—forgotten—died as the empty palace closed its eyes for one final time.

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