~61~

28.6K 1.8K 154

Hades had been worried about getting both cribs ready before his babes arrived. He knew twins tended to come early, which gave him less than two months to finish his task. Fortunately, Kade and Ink were willing to pick up tools and help in this endeavor, and as they labored, Hades allowed his mind to become distracted with conversation.

"So, Ink, how did you manage to live so long undetected in the underworld?" Kade asked as he set a rivet in place.

"It wasn't easy. I'll admit to that. I had to move locations every night, but once I discovered I could change my form, things got easier."

"Well, that explains how you were able to get into Tartarus," Kade offered. "Did you disguise yourself as a centaur or a hellhound?"

Ink chuckled. "A centaur. I have no interest in growing three heads."

"How were you able to come to this realization?" Hades inquired as he worked skillfully to etch a swan into the headboard of a crib.

"Well, I knew Poseidon was able to take other forms, so this was in the back of my mind, and I had been hearing a series of words in my dreams. Not English words, which is the only language I know, so I didn't think anything of them until I had an epiphany one night. Maybe the words were needed to help me change forms. So, I studied the centaurs and tried different methods for morphing. There was a lot of trial and error, and I had to live with a set of hooves for a day, but I finally managed a full metamorphosis."

"The words you were receiving was your mantra," Hades explained. "Did you attempt this with the satyrs and minotaurs as well?"

"Yes, but I stopped taking the minotaur form after I was sighted and relentlessly pursued by a pair of them. I didn't realize they carried such lethal weaponry."

Kade laughed but his mirth was cut short when Hades lifted his gaze to glare at him through his goggles. When Kade returned to his rivets, Hades was left to wonder why the minotaurs had not reported seeing a rogue in their forest. Of course, he wouldn't hold it against them. Their alliance was still new. Blythe's petite form shadowed the headboard as she stepped up to Hades, her eyes lowered to her feet.

"Pardon the interruption, your grace." Her voice shook, as if she had run all the way, and Hades raised his goggles to take in her slouched pose. She still had not lifted her head to look at him.

"Speak freely, Blythe. Is there something troubling you?"

When she finally looked up, his question was quickly answered. Her eyes were wet with tears, and she bit violently at her lip. This made his gut seize like an anchor had been dropped into it.

"I just received a message from the palace," she croaked. "There has been an accident involving Lady Lexi. She was... She was crushed under a tree at the hands of her father. I'm afraid she has not yet revived."

Although Hades' body surged with anger like he had never felt before, his knees gave out as if they were made of cotton, and he let the crib fall away as he stumbled into Kade. His lungs also felt like they had taken on water, and he began gasping for air.

"I have to go to her," he choked out. "I have to see her."

"I will take you to her," Kade said. "No matter the obstacles. Blythe, contact Heracles and ask him to meet me at the gates."

"At once, sir."

Blythe disappeared from Hades' watery view as Kade continued to take command. "Ink, I need you to maintain a presence here at the palace while Hades and I are away. I expect Lisbon will need consoling."

"Of course. Don't worry about a thing."

Kade assumed his winged form, encircling Hades in his muscular arms and taking to the sky in one swift movement. They flew for the gates at speeds Hades didn't know Kade could accomplish, and soon they were soaring through the tunnel. Despite the eons that had passed since Hades beheld the majesty of his home, the splendor of Olympus was lost to his grief as he took it in through tear-soaked eyes. The snow-capped mountains only served to remind him of the trip he and Lexi made to Western Patagonia, and the turquoise blue lake made him think of the migration he and Lexi witnessed at Point Pelee. Nothing held any beauty for him, only the vision of his beloved and her warm smile.

Heracles looked terrible when he met them at the gates, and he immediately pulled Hades into a suffocating embrace. "My friend," Heracles breathed into his ear. "I am deeply sorry. Surely, all will be well with our Lady Lexi. She is the goddess of resurrection. Surely..."

Heracles stumbled back and righted himself on a pillar. Although Hades had spent most of his years speaking with the spirit form of Heracles, he had never seen the god so weakened by sorrow.

"Do you have news of her?" Kade asked. "Has Lexi revived?" Kade held Hades steady as he spoke for him. Not only had Hades lost his gift of speech, he had lost his equilibrium as well.

Heracles shook his head gravely. "Not as of yet, but Hecate will know. I will call the infirmary and request she bring us news."

Heracles walked to a scrying mirror on the other side of the pillar, and silence fell between them as they waited for Hecate. Hades dried his eyes with his sleeve, smearing sawdust into them. As he blinked the particles away, he walked toward the gates, pressing his head to the solid gold spokes. On the other side, Hades was greeted by his past; the statues hewn from marble, the topiaries pruned in the image of horses and swans, the terra cotta roofs covering massive bleached stone buildings.

And the gods and goddesses who dwelled behind the gates... they were there too, moving toward him in a slow procession. Some faces he recognized; Phineus, Jules, his own daughters, Kylie and Jocelyn, but there were many he had never seen before. Soon the inner courtyard was filled with gods, and they all wore the same sober expression. Some sobbed openly, while others hid their sorrow behind trembling lips.

Hades glimpsed Hecate hurrying along the outskirts of the crowd. She was accompanied by Persephone, who held tightly to the hand of her young son, Alex. When they reached the gates, Persephone grasped Hades by his shoulders through the bars, her emotions pouring forth as she spoke.

"Oh, Hades. I am bereft beyond consolation. Know that my heart is breaking for you."

Hades used the strength of her grip to keep him righted as he slouched, all the oxygen having been flung from his lungs. He glanced at Hecate, whose blue eyes were hidden behind swollen lids, her skin beyond the palest shade of stone in Olympus. He licked his lips, tasting sweat and sawdust as he prepared them for speech. "What news have you of Lexi?"

Hecate inhaled the breath Hades wished he could take before she spoke. "She is still non-responsive, but her heart beats. There is hope yet."

Hades took the scrap of good news and used it to rally his strength. "And what of the babes?"

Hecate's gaze dropped, taking Hades' hope with it, and his handhold slipped on the bars of the gate. "Hera has been diligent in her attempts to find signs of life, but she has not been successful at detecting their heartbeats."

Stunned to the point of exhaustion, Hades descended to his knees, too overcome to even weep despite his strong desire to do so. A murmur amid the crowd replaced the rushing of blood through Hades' ears, and he lifted his head to see the bodies separating to allow a red robed figure pass though. Fury ignited inside Hades' chest as he stared into the face of Zeus, a god he once counted as his equal, as his comrade. That would never again be the case, but now was not the time to take revenge. Hades had not even an ounce of strength to spare. His heart had been shattered, and as he held the stoic gaze of his omnipotent brother, all he could do was wait to be dealt the final blow.

Lexi's Promise {Book 3}Read this story for FREE!