Chapter 1 ~ Hades
A headache pounded behind my eyes. Maybe it was because we’d been alone for so long, but I was finding this new vision of Olympus to be more boisterous than I was expecting. Another shout of laughter echoed down the staircase. I flinched and sought the silence I craved deeper in my labyrinthine shrine to all the knowledge the world had to offer.
I inhaled the smell of my books and tried to force myself to relax. Impossible, you fool. I slid my book back into its place on the crowded shelf and trailed a finger through the thick dust that coated the dark wood in front of me. I glared at my finger angrily and swiped at another mound of dust that had gathered nearby.
When our marriage had been fresh, and Persephone had been eager to gain my favor, she would sometimes dust my library. When she first arrived for her six-month visit and was still filled with the vigor of summer, she glowed with the love her mother bore her, and she would be all too eager to please me. Those first weeks of our reunions were always sweet and wonderful, and I reveled selfishly in the pain it caused her mother, Demeter, to let her go. It would fade in time, that joy she had in seeing me, and by the end of her six months in the Underworld, I would be glad to be rid of her.
Her golden hair would fade to a dull brown, and her sparkling eyes would be hollow and angry. Our conversations, something I would look forward to with something bordering on eagerness in her absence, would change in that time as well—from interesting light-hearted banter to heated arguments over the smallest thing… It was as though Demeter wanted me to hate her daughter, and by the end of our six months together I would not argue or fight the decision that Zeus had made so long ago.
The goddesses always got their way. That much was true.
At least it had been… until now.
Zeus was the first of us to act upon the prophecy I had deciphered. The translation was not something I had done willingly or labored long over. If anything, I had hoped that it would keep Zeus occupied for a few more centuries… but he had found Cameron right away and wasted no time in his efforts to rebuild Olympus and spite Hera. I suspected that most of his efforts were fueled by his anger towards the goddess we once called Queen of Heaven. I even doubted that my younger brother had ever considered a deeper emotion than lust.
That Zeus, the Thunderer, could be faithful to any one being seemed preposterous. That any one of us could make such a promise… could I? I wiped another finger across another dust-covered book.
“What in Tartarus am I supposed to do about it?” I muttered aloud.
“About what?” A voice said from behind a shelf.
I smothered a yelp of surprise and peered around a stack of books to see Zeus’ mortal… Cameron. He brushed his hair out of his eyes and smiled at me nervously. One hand rested on his swollen belly and the other reached out tentatively to rub across the thick spine of a book. The mortal was short and willowy, and the swell of his advancing pregnancy was impossible to ignore. He would be coming near his time very soon, which would account for Zeus’ bold strutting. There was no doubt that Cameron was beautiful, and I could see why my brother had been drawn to him—but I supposed the young man’s divine heritage had contributed to some of the initial appeal.
Cameron’s skin glowed with health and his new divinity, and from what Zeus had told me, he seemed to have adjusted to life on Olympus well enough. But I had no patience for wide-eyed questions. I frowned down at him and tried not to smile as he swallowed thickly. Even though he was immortal, Cameron had retained his fear of the power he knew we represented. Then again, everyone feared me. Whether they knew it or not.
“What do you want?” I growled.
Cameron licked his lips nervously and pushed at his hair again. “I was just thinking that… well… no one ever comes down here and you might like some company.”
“No one comes down here for a reason,” I said sharply. Cameron flinched just a little and I smiled, knowing that the effect did nothing to soften my features. I had to be careful. If I scared the lad too much he would run to Zeus and I’d have to listen to my brother’s lectures about welcoming the mortals all over again. He had already warned me to “lighten up” around them, but I don’t think he really appreciated what a ridiculous request that actually was.
“Oh,” Cameron said. He was silent for a moment, and I crossed my arms over my chest. “Can I borrow a book? I was in the middle of a class on The Bacchae—”
“I don’t have it,” I lied, cutting him off. Even though it made Zeus laugh, Dionysus hated that play, and I tended to agree with him. “You may as well ask him about it yourself.”
Cameron blinked at me. “Ask who?”
“My nephew, of course… your step-son now, if you want to be technical. Your child will be his brother.”
Cameron laughed thinly and rubbed his hands over his stomach protectively. “I keep forgetting,” he said quietly. I regarded him carefully and wondered how much of the reality of this new world had really sunk into the young man’s mind. That he had accepted Zeus and his own role in the rebuilding of Olympus was one thing; but when it came to family, there was quite a bit more to digest.
“You’ll have a chance to meet them all soon, I have no doubt. Now that Zeus has proven that the prophecy is real, those who doubted will be returning to Olympus. No doubt Zeus will make a big deal of the arrival of his child.” I turned away and walked down the aisle as I spoke.
“Why aren’t they here already?” Cameron’s voice followed me as he struggled to keep up.
“They have their reasons,” I said with a dark chuckle. “We all still have work to do. Even if mankind has forgotten us, the seasons still turn, men still die…”
“I still don’t understand what happened,” he said.
“Neither do we,” I replied stiffly. The lie stuck in my throat. We all knew the reason why Hera had plotted against us, but not all of us had accepted it the way Poseidon had. Hera’s curse had been a personal vendetta, but the goddess was as hotheaded as her husband, and had tarnished us all. Poseidon had taken the whole mess more personally than he should have… but my own experience was much different.
It had been the beginning of Persephone’s six-month stay in the Underworld. As always, she was sweet, caring, and always seeking to find ways to please me. She began in my library, dusting and organizing, and lamenting the state of some of her favorite tomes. She kept me company as I read—bringing me food and drink, trying to make me smile with songs and stories she had heard during her months spent in the summer sun.
“Hades,” she had said, the lilt of her voice telling me that she was about to ask me for a favor that I might not be inclined to grant. “These books are in a dreadful state, and I worry that you have neglected them in my absence.”
It was a preposterous notion; I should have known that something was amiss as soon as the words had left her crimson lips. But instead, I took the bait.
“Are you questioning my care of this library?” I asked as mildly as I knew how.
Persephone’s tinkling laughter flitted towards me; sometimes I can still hear the sound of it in the depths of the library, so many centuries later. “Oh no, husband, I am merely suggesting that your lack of care is beginning to show… and on my favorite books too…”
I remembered how the tone of her voice had settled over me, and how it had infuriated me that she would even suggest such a thing. “What are you trying to say?”
Persephone had sniffed in her elegant way and plucked a book from the stack. She opened it with languid fingers and began to turn the pages. The leather binding creaked softly as her hand caressed it and I could only grind my teeth in frustration as she stayed silent, pretending to read the carefully inked words. “I am only your wife for six months of the year,” she said thoughtfully.
“You are my wife all year,” I said through clenched teeth.
“Is that so?” She said without meeting my eyes. “My sisters tell me that you spend a great deal of your time on earth, consorting with mortals…”
“Yes,” she interrupted me. “My sisters. Perhaps they chose rightly to remain unmarried. At least they will not be disappointed in their spouse...”
“You begin to sound like your mother more every day,” was all I could say. “I do not need to prove my fidelity to you. Nor would I if you asked.”
Persephone slowly tore a page from the book; the sound of the parchment fibers separating from the binding grated on my spine; hot anger burned in my chest as I watched her drop it unceremoniously to the stone floor. She took another page between her slender fingers and repeated her action. Tearing the page slowly from the ancient book, one that I recognized as a gift I had given her many years ago.
“No… you have always been absurdly secretive about your conquests. Not like your brothers,” she said. Her voice was calm and she tore another page and dropped it onto the floor with the others.
“Now I wonder if you have been speaking with Hera,” I said. I could hear the strident, angry, voice of my brother’s wife in every word Persephone spoke. This was her argument, not my wife’s. The candlelight glittered off the crown of golden wheat that adorned Persephone’s brow. A crown she usually set aside when her time with me began. How had I not noticed?
“What if I have?” she asked. “What words did you last have to speak to the Queen of Heaven?”
I gritted my teeth and glared at my wife. I would never bow to Hera, and she knew it. They all knew it.
“She knows very well the last words I spoke to her,” I said with a smile. I remembered them well… “Get the hell out of my library, wench.”
“Perhaps you should have been more careful,” she said, closing the book sharply.
“And what is that supposed to mean?”
“Hera’s memory is long, and she is quicker to anger than she is to forget.”
“Enough of this cryptic nonsense!” I roared. Persephone had the good sense to look frightened as the candles that flickered among the books flared brightly with my anger. The book she held slipped out of her hand and fell to the floor with the pages she had torn from its bindings. “Say what you mean or I will send you back to your mother, but I have a feeling that is what you want.”
Persephone stood before me with defiant eyes, but her hands trembled ever so slightly as they plucked at her robes and smoothed her golden hair. “It has been too long that your brother has dishonored his Queen,” she began, seeming to find some confidence in her own voice. But I could still hear Hera’s bitterness behind it. What care did she have over the state of Zeus’ marriage? We, all of us, knew how Hera raged behind closed doors at him. Her anger had been no secret.
There was a crash from the stairwell and I could hear Cerberus’ sharp bark of surprise. “What is the meaning of this?” I said, my voice deadly quiet.
Persephone’s steady, violet gaze never left mine, but then the smell of smoke hit my nostrils and the unease I’d felt suddenly blossomed into panic as the sound of crackling flames reached my ears.
With the faintest smile on her face, Persephone reached out and tipped a candle off the shelf and onto the floor. The flame licked at the dry pages she had dropped there and I stamped them out with a shocked cry. The flames crushed, I gripped my wife’s arms and shook her. “What have you done?” I shouted in her face. But Persephone didn’t even flinch, though I must have hurt her with the strength of my grip.
Without another word, I threw her aside and raced into the stacks, searching for the source of the blaze I knew was raging through my precious books.
Cerberus’ howling echoed in the halls as I ran, and I could hear my wife’s tinkling laughter and the slap of her golden sandals on the marble steps that led back up to Olympus.
I pulled my cloak from my shoulders, prepared to smother the blaze, but then the heat hit me like a wall, knocking me off balance. I crashed into a stack of books, spilling them over the floor. The fire roared in my ears as it devoured my precious books.
I threw my cloak over the nearest pile and did what I could to try to beat the flames back, but my efforts were futile and the fire raged around me. I shouted and cursed and tried everything I could think of, but the fire was enchanted by my wife’s magic, and nothing I did would deter it.
“Uncle!” A shout from behind made me turn. My nephew Hermes’ blond head bobbed between the aisles as he ran through the shelves towards me. I sighed with relief at seeing him, because with him came a cold gale that blew through the library. The flames, emboldened by Persephone’s magic, battled against the wind briefly, seeming to grow momentarily. But, Hermes’ gray eyes narrowed as he reached my side and I could feel the focus of his godly powers as the winds howled through the dark chamber and narrow corridors.
My nephew’s expression changed as the fire resisted his power, and I braced myself against the stone wall as I felt the wind begin to shift. “Persephone is behind this!” I roared.
Books and papers flew through the air as Hermes focused his winds on the flames, finally beating them back and scattering the embers over the stone floor.
My nephew leaned against a charred bookshelf, panting lightly as he surveyed the damage. “What did you do now?” he asked with a half-smile.
I glared at him and at the ruin of my library.
Centuries of collecting—‘hoarding’ she had called it—ruined in an instant. Persephone had never been cruel like this, but her mother had never forgiven me and I wondered who she had been listening to in her time away from my side.
“That was a trick question, uncle. You do enough just being yourself,” Hermes said. He set his hands upon his hips and kicked one of the blackened books that lay at my feet. “My father is looking for you.”
“Is he?” I threw a scorched book against the wall in a fit of anger. “He can fucking wait.”
“I don’t think he will.”
“Too bad for him.”
Hermes was silent, and the minutes stretched between us. “What?” I roared.
“Hera is here,” he said simply.
“Why should I care about that?”
Hermes shrugged. “I’m just the messenger,” he said, and then he was gone.
Cameron’s unsteady voice jolted me out of the past and back to my library. I ran my hand along the bookshelf—un-burnt—the library rebuilt. Centuries had passed, but my anger hadn’t faded, and I could still smell the smoke from that fire.
“What?” My voice was deadly quiet and Cameron cleared his throat.
“Nothing… I was just wondering if you were going to tell me—”
“Tell you what?” My eyes burned into his, and Cameron took a wary step back. “Tell you what happened? Tell you how Persephone and the other goddesses distracted us so that they could lay their curse upon us without our knowledge? Did you want to hear me say that it was my fault? Did Zeus send you down here for that?”
Cameron’s eyes were wide as he stared at me, but I didn’t care if I was frightening him. Rage boiled through my veins like lava and there was nowhere for me to direct my anger but at the young man who trembled in front of me. I couldn’t harm him, of course, but those mortal habits were hard to shake off.
I had blamed myself for so many centuries. If I had ignored Persephone, if I had not taken the time to argue with her, perhaps I would have known that Hera was up to no good. But after the fire, after Hermes had come to fetch me, I had sat across from the Queen of Heaven while we dined; I drank the wine Persephone poured for me and listened to Athena’s stories as my brothers smiled their approval.
I gritted my teeth and tightened my grip on the bookshelf. The dark wood cracked beneath my fingers and I glared down at Cameron. “Well?” I shouted.
Cameron yelped a little and took another step back. “N-no,” he stammered. “I just wanted to find out what happened.”
“Curiosity killed the cat,” I said darkly. Cameron swallowed thickly and plucked a book from the shelf near his head.
“I can see you’re busy…”
“Very.” I looked at the book in his hand meaningfully. “Herodotus? Good luck with that. I expect to see it back on the shelf as soon as you’re done with it. Or as soon as you give up.”
Cameron laughed awkwardly and backed away down the aisle before he turned and ran, a little unsteadily, away from me.
I allowed myself a small smile. Petty victories. My brothers could celebrate their prizes as they saw fit, but I saw no need to flaunt anything. They might believe that they had beaten Hera’s curse… but at what cost? Putting these mortals in danger, was it worth it? How cavalier, how arrogant were they to believe that they could protect their sparks from Hera’s wrath. Poseidon had come close to losing Brooke, something he couldn’t admit, not even in private, but I could see it in his eyes, and I could see the haunted look that hovered over Brooke. Even with his new cloak of immortality, the young man still held fear in his heart.
They could keep their prophecy. And they could stay away from me.