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The scent of blueberry pancakes wafted into the dining room as the kitchen door swung open, giving way to Blythe and Sella. The nymphs smiled brightly as they carried in trays laden with breakfast. Hades and Lexi were hosting Melinoe and Hecate on this particular morning, a ritual they observed monthly as an informal means of communion.

Bloody Marys were a staple on the mornings Melinoe sat at the table. Of course, Melinoe only graced the palace with her presence when Persephone was absent, which became more frequent once Lexi took up the baton. Since then, Melinoe seemed determined to find topics to annoy her future queen. Today however, Melinoe appeared to be giving Lexi a reprieve as she made Hades her first target.

"I have a message from the forest nymphs, my lord," she said as she fortified herself with half the contents of her goblet. "They claim to have seen no trace of Poseidon's son, Ink. I assume you have not received word to the contrary?"

"I have not." Hades enjoyed a large bite of food as he leaned over his plate. On these mornings, he made a point to eat his fill before conversation got underway. Otherwise, the litany of prosaic dialogue turned his breakfast cold.

Melinoe nodded as she stabbed her pancakes repeatedly without lifting any to her mouth. "Do you not find this odd? The nymphs know these forests better than anyone, yet they have not seen the god since his disappearance."

"It has not been that long." Hades gulped his drink, anticipating the heartburn that was sure to follow his meal. He did not see the need to contemplate the missing god. He trusted Ink to return once he had his fill of vermin. Ignoring Hades' neutral stance on the matter, Melinoe continued.

"From what I understand, the centaurs have discovered evidence of Ink's presence, but they have been unsuccessful in tracking him. It appears the young god possesses an uncanny ability for deception, or for coercion."

Despite the fact that Melinoe's arched eyebrows were barely visible beneath her veil, Hades clearly read the innuendo in her tone. He abandoned his plate to stare at her across the table. "What are you suggesting, Melinoe? That my subjects are conspiring against me?"

Lexi gasped, and she too stared at Melinoe. As usual, Melinoe seemed unruffled by the reaction and pressed on.

"Your words. Not mine. I would never suggest your influence over your subjects is anything but fair and benevolent. I will remind you however, that nymphs are naturally curious, and they may be enjoying the company of a handsome god, swearing to keep his whereabouts secret so they can continue the practice." Melinoe finally skewered a section of pancake, slipping it under her veil and into her mouth.

"Speaking of underworld inhabitants," Hecate interjected, probably to add to the burn in Hades' chest. "I hear a satyr has been given refuge here after being ostracized by her herd."

"That is true, Hecate," Lexi said, taking the burden from Hades while he hydrated with a goblet of water. "Pesca is a friend of mine and she came to Hades and me for help. We are making plans to build her a shelter in the forest. Somewhere close to the palace so she will have the support of a herd, so to speak."

Hecate's gaze flicked to the ceiling, a sign she was in judgment mode. She had always accused Hades of leading with his heart instead of his head, a practice she believed to be difficult to maintain long-term, although it had served him well for some time. "While I feel your intentions are noble, do you think it wise to play favorites with this particular satyr? You may find your foyer filled with needy citizens pouring out their pitiable stories. It is not coincidence Zeus has maintained control over Olympus this long, and I believe we can agree it is not due to his charity."

Hecate's attention had been focused on Lexi as she delivered her sermon, and this enraged Hades. While he respected Hecate's opinions and valued her loyalty, he took exception when it came to Lexi. Before Lexi had a chance to answer, Hades had his say.

"I appreciate your insight, Hecate, and I agree that we must remain diligent when it comes to maintaining power within the realm. However, Lexi and I have discussed this matter extensively, and we are both ready to defend our actions should it provoke further questioning from those parties concerned."

Silence fell over the room, which extended to the nymphs, and Sella started tiptoeing around the table as she refilled glasses and removed empty plates.

"As always, I defer to your enlightened judgment, my lord," Hecate finally said as she nodded pointedly at Hades. Then she reached into the pocket of her robe and withdrew a rolled parchment. "I intercepted a message for Lady Lexi which was delivered to the gates this morning." She extended her hand to Lexi, who took the scroll and began untying it eagerly.

"I'll bet this is from Artemis... about the agenda."

Hades downed the remains of his Bloody Mary as he watched Lexi unravel the parchment. Her expectations tended to be more optimistic than his when it came to the gods, and as she read to herself, Hades pushed away his plate, knowing he was better off leaving that last pancake untouched. When Lexi came to the end, the grim news was written on her face as she shared with the table.

"The message is from Zeus. He says the agenda was passed to every council member, and they suggest Odessa and I abort our efforts to pursue the legacy council at this time, but they agree to revisit it at the next council meeting in September." Lexi's complexion had paled as she looked up from the scroll, giving her attention to no one in particular. "I need to remember that Artemis is terrible at keeping secrets."

While Hades had not been surprised by the council's response, he felt the word 'abort' had been used in poor taste, and the sickened expression on Lexi's face made him livid with rage. He suspected Z was behind it. His brother may have maintained control over Olympus for centuries, but the price had cost him his compassion. More and more, Hades felt a separation from his brethren in Olympus.

When Lexi found her voice again, she turned to Hecate to question her. "Did you know about this?"

"Of course, I sit on the council, as you well know, and I will not withhold my opinions from you, Lexi. I agreed with the other council members that a solution to the plight of Gaia and the titans should be revisited at the next meeting. It is a mutually held belief among the gods that Phoebe cannot remain unbiased in her interpretations of Gaia's messages. I am sure you will learn to recognize this over time."

"I see." Lexi sandwiched the scroll under the lip of her plate as she caught Hades in her gaze. "Hades, I've been thinking. Would you mind if we celebrated my twenty-first birthday here at the palace?"

"I wouldn't mind in the least," he said, waiting for her judicious brain to impart the idea she was undoubtedly contriving.

"Great. I think it's time we show the younger generation of gods what they've been missing down under."


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