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Cerberus decided it was a grand idea to help Lexi and Odessa greet the party guests. Hades stood beside him, giving the appearance that his three-headed companion had the manners of a well-bred palace dog. As it happened, Cerberus' presence sparked vigorous conversation, and Hades was inundated with questions about the other creatures inhabiting the underworld. Lively music and the drifting scents of fresh baked goods lured everyone into the great room where the nymphs had spent considerable time donning the space with festive decorations.

The inquiries continued, interspersed amid consumption of food and drink, and as Hades entertained Lexi's guests, he glanced frequently at her, assessing her mood. The party had been orchestrated to celebrate her birthday, not as a question and answer session, but each time he caught her eye, she smiled warmly as if she wanted nothing more than to see him preaching the benefits of life in the underworld.

Jolie was the youngest goddess in attendance, at twenty-nine, and she appeared to be the most uninformed as far as her knowledge of the underworld. Her inquiries were only interrupted by her need to take in oxygen. "How many gods live here full-time?" she asked as she nibbled the edge of a lemon bar.

"There are seventeen gods who call the underworld home, including Lexi and myself, but only a handful take on the duties of seeing souls through the gates," Hades explained as he found himself the center of attention. "Before you leave here today, you will have met most of the underworld gods, apart from The Fates. They don't entertain visitors much."

Jules laughed. "That's no great loss. Heracles says talking to The Fates is like trying to ride a donkey while being chased by a swarm of bees."

Hades thought Jules' assessment was spot-on, but he wasn't going to hang himself by confirming it.

"Are we meeting these gods on our scavenger hunt?" Jolie asked, interrupting the laughter that followed Jules' comment. "Lexi said we would be hunting for treasure."

"We are." Lexi grabbed a handful of scrolls from a basket sitting on the buffet table and began handing them out to every guest. "This is a map of the underworld and a list of the gods we'll be meeting. The point of this exercise is for each god to ask us a question, and one of you will have to answer correctly in order to earn the treasure."

"What types of questions?" Del asked. "I'm no history scholar, unless it has something to do with past chariot races."

Being the great offspring of Persephone and an aspiring charioteer who overtook Z in the Olympic games, Hades had been especially eager to meet Del. So far, he was impressed by the young god's spirit.

"I have left it up to the gods' discretion to invent the questions," Lexi said. "But there is no punishment for a wrong answer, and you will have many opportunities to come up with the right one."

"We won't be going to Tartarus, will we?" Jolie continued her inquiry as she studied her map.

"No. Tartarus is farther than we'll want to go," Lexi said. "We're going to split up into two teams. Hades will lead one group and I will lead the other. The first team to collect their treasures and return to the palace will claim the right to gloat about their win."

"And I will award a special prize to anyone who manages to undercover the whereabouts of Poseidon's elusive son, Ink," Hades added.

"I would love another opportunity to massage his face with my fists," Tara said as she cracked her knuckles. "How long has he been missing?"

"Since early July," Hades said. "It seems he's had some practice at living off-the-grid, as the mortals say, although I expected him to have admitted defeat by now. There is only so much vermin a god can eat before his insides start complaining."

"So, no one has seen him in two months?" Gunther said, scratching his head. "Has anyone thought to look for him in Tartarus?"

Hades chuckled. "If his curiosity took him that close, the centaurs living in the area would have sent word to me. No god in his right mind would risk entry into Tartarus."

"Ink is not in his right mind," Tara offered.

"I think you're confusing crazy with bad manners, Tara," Odessa said. "Ink just needs a few lessons in gentility."

"Well, he is not getting them as long as he continues to live like a savage," Hades said. "And I am prepared to part with a pouch of eighteenth century gold pieces pilfered from a ship owned by Philip the fifth of Spain if anyone locates the rebellious god."

Jules and Gunther grinned slyly at each other as they rubbed their hands together. Perhaps Lexi's plan to cart her guests from one end of the realm to the other wasn't so ill-conceived after all, and Hades smiled as he followed everyone to the stable where Lexi organized traveling partners based on the temperament of both parties. Lexi appeared perfectly suited to assume the role of caretaker and guide, and Hades wondered how much time needed to pass before he accepted that her ideas were always insightful. Perhaps, to accept this fact was to admit how truly lost he would be without her.

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