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Blythe greeted Hades on the palace bridge with a cheerful smile and a goblet of wine. "Lord Hades, we were beginning to worry. You're quite late today."

Hades took the goblet from Blythe's outstretched hand and poured a generous amount into his mouth, swishing it around to let the fermentation saturate his tongue. Dionysus claimed the technique promoted faster absorption. "I have been late on countless occasions, Blythe. Why did you choose today to worry?"

"Well, we thought you might have waited for Lady Lexi and Hecate at the gates, which would have delayed you, but when I spoke with Ebony at the palace of the gods, she told me Hecate and our lady had not yet returned home. That is when we started to worry, your lordship."

Hades patted her shoulder. "Your lord is perfectly capable of getting himself lost in Elysium without requiring his companions to worry about him."

"Shall we draw you a map, sire? You can keep it in the pocket of your robe." Blythe forced her lips closed as she attempted to suppress her laughter.

"That won't be necessary. I used the time to think." Hades took another pull from his goblet, glancing at the palace door where Cerberus sat on his haunches, waiting for his master. Apparently, he couldn't be bothered to venture any further. Was it the fact that Lexi was not with Hades? Was Cerberus sulking?

"Are you fretting about Lady Lexi... About what we spoke of this morning?" Blythe looked up at him expectantly, her disregard for crossing personal boundaries written plainly in her bright, inquisitive eyes.

"No, I was not. But, now I am." Hades regarded her with a cautionary gaze, and she offered him an innocent shrug, waving him forward as she skipped for the door.

"A bit of food will put you right," she said over her shoulder. "Fiona has made lemon cookies for dessert."

Hades followed Blythe indoors, rubbing Cerberus behind his many ears on his way into the foyer. After topping off his goblet with more wine, Blythe excused herself to the kitchen, and Hades headed for the dome room. Lexi wanted him to prepare a space for the gift she planned to surprise him with, and he set straight to work, occupying his mind with a task.

What was this gift she was so eager to present him with? It was large enough to require floor space. Could it be a crib? Surely, she wouldn't keep their child in the dome room. Why was he letting his mind wander there? He stood by the window, sipping from his goblet as he took in the view. How long before Lexi would appear on the horizon? Was Hecate in on the surprise? Would he be the last to know... again?

As Hades' gaze ventured to the forest stretching to the west, he spotted a minotaur standing at the tree line. The distance was too great to observe any detail of the minotaur's face, but Hades suspected it was Lars. Was he waiting to catch a glimpse of Lexi, as well? Did he know she had left the palace and was due back soon? What was this young herd leader's intent with his constant surveillance? Did he harbor feelings for Lexi, forbidden feelings? Certainly, this should not bother Hades, knowing Lexi's devotion to him, but what if Lars made his feelings known to her and she had to refuse him? A rejection like that could undermine all the work she had done. Hades could only hope her plan to bridge the gap between the minotaurs and the gods would not become more personal than it already was.

And with that thought, he took a large swallow of wine, which reminded him of what he had come to do.



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