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"I am not dead."

Lexi tried to explain her situation to the angel of death standing at the huge wrought iron gates. She had dubbed him this based on his scowl and dismal attitude, although he had introduced himself as Thanatos. His name sounded familiar, but she didn't know that much about the minor gods of the underworld.

This guy didn't appear minor, however, and to say he was imposing would be a gross understatement. His muscles bulged beneath the simple toga he covered himself with, and he flaunted a large pair of black, feathery wings. Throw in the spooky souls floating around the entrance and the drop-to-your-death cliff at Lexi's heels, and the place could put Tales from the Crypt to shame.

"I'm a goddess. Goddess Lexi," she told him, although the title sounded strange to her ears. "My dad is Zeus, and my mom is Lilith Maxwell from Nova Scotia. Can't you tell the difference between me and the rest of these... people? I'm not transparent."

"No one gets past the gates without payment or without Hades," he said, his tone flat and final.

Misty nudged Lexi, reminding her who had delivered her. "I'm a guest of Hades. This is his horse, Misty. Don't you recognize her?" Lexi stroked Misty's neck, grateful she had at least one friend. Where the hell was Hades? Had something happened to him? Did Misty take a wrong turn? He said there would be fields.

Thanatos glanced at Misty with disinterest. "She looks like any horse. Where is Hades? He usually tells me when he's expecting guests."

Lexi gestured at the pit of darkness behind her. "He should be here any minute. He had me fly ahead on his fastest horse. We had to escape..."

"Then I suggest you wait for him over there." Thanatos cut Lexi off with a chin jut toward the milling throng of ghouls, and she pursed her lips, eyeballing the rude gatekeeper. Hades needed to think about replacing his guard. These were dead people he was welcoming into the afterlife, and most of them were probably scared to death, like she was. Thanatos might have been pleasant to look at, but he was a butthead like so many of the mortal men she'd met.

Misty led Lexi away from the gates, and Lexi whispered into the horse's ear. "I'm no expert, but I think that guy needs to get laid."

Misty bobbed her head as if she agreed wholeheartedly, and she walked Lexi to an empty corner of the cavern where a single torch burned. The gesture seemed intentional, and Lexi appreciated the horse's keen insight, but Lexi's arrival had attracted the interest of the souls, and several ghostly apparitions drifted up to her as if blown by an undetectable wind.

Despite their wispy forms, Lexi saw their lips move as they spoke in some kind of ghost language. The words came to her in whispers, with only bits and pieces slipping through, but they all seemed to be pleading with her as their faces contorted into tortured expressions.

A wave of grief came over her as she listened to them lament their loss, trigging all the gut-wrenching experiences she had during her short life. Lexi felt like a wet wool blanket had been thrown onto her back, and she dropped her head into her hands and cried; a rolling, sniveling, messy cry. Misty bent over her shoulder, snorting hot air onto her cheek, but Lexi was too lost to her emotions to acknowledge the gesture.

"What the hell is going on!" Hades' angry shout cut through Lexi's wailing as his team of horses landed on the rocky precipice and slid to a stop in front of the gates. "Have you lost your senses, Thanatos? Why did you let her stay out here?" Hades hopped off his chariot and sprinted for Lexi. The moment his arms came around her, she cowered into them like an injured bird. "I'm sorry, Lexi. This is no way to be introduced to your new home. Please, forgive me."

Hades' apology comforted Lexi, and she felt the heartache leave her like a vanquished demon. She offered him a nod, and swifter than a team of magical flying horses, he lifted her into his arms. Thanatos stepped aside as the gates opened, bowing his head as they passed through.

"We will talk later about your recurring lapses in good judgment, Thanatos. See that my chariot and horses are taken care of." Hades growled his command, and the tremor from his voice vibrated against Lexi's head. She had not seen Hades lose his temper, and she didn't think she wanted to. "Misty, come," Hades added, motioning his horse through the gates, but Misty was already trotting ahead, leading the way down a tree-lined path.

The dank darkness gave way to light, the kind of playful light that came with the dawn; a mix of purples and pinks and salmon. The pastel tones made the trees look enchanted, and as Lexi blinked at the magical landscape, she noticed her favorites, birches and elms and maples, all decorated for autumn. A stream bubbled alongside them, dotted with ferns and mossy rocks, carrying the music of a birdsong lilting overhead. It might have been Hades' close proximity, but Lexi felt her heart lighten the further they walked from the gates, and she lifted her chin to take in the unexpected view.

Hades smiled down at her. "What do you see, Lexi?" This seemed like a strange question to ask. Couldn't he see for himself?

"I see birch trees covered in yellow leaves, and maples in red... like at home. There's bright green moss on the rocks. Even the sky has color. It's like an enchanted forest. I hate to admit, but I doubted you. I didn't think the underworld would be this beautiful."

His eyes twinkled, adding to the magic. "You can thank yourself for that. You are seeing everything that brought you joy when you were... hmm. When you were experiencing your former life."

Former life? Was there really no going back? Lexi's traumatized brain quickly deciphered his meaning without turning to the dark side. "So, every dead person who takes this path sees it differently?"

"Yes. Death is not something to be feared. It is merely a transition from one experience to another. This path encourages the souls to embrace the transition with joy and peace."

Lexi definitely felt peace now that she was cocooned in Hades' arms, but she couldn't help thinking of the tortured souls they had left behind. "What about those souls waiting outside the gates? They looked like they could use some peace."

Hades slowed his pace as his eyes flickered with regret. "They will be taken care of as soon as I get you settled. I allowed myself to become distracted by a certain enchanting goddess, and I have neglected my duties."

Lexi reached around Hades' head and pulled his face toward her, planting a kiss on his lips. They were deliriously delicious.

"What was that for?" he asked, looking taken aback.

"No one has ever called me enchanting before."

"Well, it's about time you heard it, my enchanting Lexi. Abductor of my heart. Goddess of powers yet to be explored."

Lexi kissed him again, relishing his sweetness and the musky scent of his skin. Suddenly, her body ached to have him, all of him, and she broke away from his lips to whisper in his ear. "How soon can we start exploring?"

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