~23~

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Kade and Ink embarked on a day of exploration, equipping themselves with bows and arrows to try their luck at bagging a lesser hydra. This made for a distracting day at the gates for Hades as he pondered the number of things that could go wrong, the least of which involved a hydra swarm. At the close of day, and after detouring to the river to terminate the rumor Charon was spreading about Lexi being pregnant with twins, Hades returned home, seeking out Kade and Ink behind the hunting shed where they were disemboweling a pair of hydras. Fortunately, neither god appeared to be nursing wounds.

"It looks like you two had a successful day in the gorge." Hades' gaze shot to the balcony of his bed chamber two stories up. It was currently unoccupied, but he knew Lexi would be less than pleased when she saw what they were bringing to the dinner table.

"Ink's a crack shot," Kade said. "After he took down the first one, he managed to catch another when they swarmed."

Hades' attention was quickly diverted from his balcony to the faces of the gods. "How did you manage to avoid the swarm?"

"We were standing at the top of the gorge and took cover behind one of the outcroppings." Kade gestured a bloody hand in the direction of the hydra cave.

"Impressive." Hades couldn't help wondering how Ink had pulled of a shot like that. The angle would have left very little room for error. "How did you come to be such a skilled bowman, Ink?"

"I ran away a lot. There's a ton of wilderness in the northwest, and I learned to live off the land. I'm also decent with a slingshot."

He reached for a satchel packed to the gills, turning it over to empty the contents. An armload of pomegranates rolled out. "I picked these off without doing much damage to the fruit or the trees. It was easy to collect them once they were lying on the ground."

Hades' buttocks clenched as he pictured Ink and Kade pilfering from the minotaurs' pomegranate grove. Kade should have known better than to take Ink that close to the encampment. Lexi would have Kade's head stuffed and mounted, but Hades didn't think it was productive to chew him out in front of Ink. Instead, he left the scene before he learned anything more about their adventures. The less he knew, the less he would have to divulge if Lexi interrogated him.

Inside the palace, the nymphs prepared dinner, and Hades hid out in the kitchen for a bit, sampling from the pots simmering on the stove. It had been a while since he spent time with the nymphs, and they indulged in his company, filling a stein with his favorite brew and entertaining him with song and dance. He was still there when Kade and Ink arrived with the deceased hydras, and Fiona took over, fileting them over a board as she directed Sella to clean up the blood splattered floor.

Having lost the nymph's interest, Hades enjoyed watching the spritely creatures flit around Kade and Ink, mostly Ink. Blythe asked questions she already knew the answers to, while the lot of them furiously batted their eyelashes as if they intended to use them for flight. When Kade announced he was interested in a bath, Lacy offered to prepare it for him, rushing out of the room before any other nymph could put in her bid. While Ink instructed Fiona on the proper care and cleaning of a filet knife, Hades walked Kade out of the kitchen, speaking to him as they ascended the staircase.

"What do you think of Ink now that you have had a chance to spend time with him?" he asked.

"He's clever and headstrong, no surprise there, given that he's a god. But, he has no regard for boundaries, which I suppose could be chalked up to his godhood as well. When I told him we needed to give the minotaurs their space, he cased the perimeter and got us close enough to the pomegranate trees to practice his slingshot skills. He's damned accurate, and stealthy too. He didn't even attract the local fauna when he snuck into the grove to collect his prize."

"Well, if Lexi finds out you two were pilfering fruit from the minotaurs, she will be scorching mad. I suggest you keep those pomegranates out of sight."

Kade's response was cut off by an angry voice carrying up the stairs. Hades knew who the voice belonged to, and he and Kade hurried to the second floor railing to investigate. Below it, Lexi stood in the palace foyer, her eyes pinning Ink to the wall where he stood with his arms full of pomegranates.

"What the hell were you doing in the minotaur forest?" Lexi shouted.

"We were just exploring. We didn't even see any minotaurs."

Lexi's face swiftly took on the color of the pomegranates as she glared at him. "And who told you it was okay to help yourself to those pomegranates? Everyone here knows the protocol for exchanging with the minotaurs."

"Kade was with me. I don't know what you're so upset about. We only took a few and it didn't start any wars."

"Listen, Ink. I know you've had a rough start in life and you're used to following your own rules, but you're a grown man, and if you want to earn the respect of your peers, you'll have an easier time of it if you respect them in return."

Ink's blue eyes darkened and he released his hold on the pomegranates, letting them drop to the floor. One split in half and showered red juice across the white marble. "I don't have to take this shit. You're not my mother, or my probation officer. You're just a high and mighty goddess who makes it her business to know everyone else's business because she has a seat on the board. If this is what I have to look forward to as a god, then I'm out."

Ink blew past Lexi and yanked the front door open, storming through it and stomping across the bridge. Lexi looked up at Hades and Kade as they watched from the railing, and Kade quickly backed out of the beam of Lexi's accusing gaze.

"Well, if you will excuse me," he said hastily. "I am late for my bath."


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