XXXIII - Opening of the Final Act

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Xanthos, who is now within hearing range quips, "That only makes me feel marginally better." He passes me a jug of water with a flamboyant wink. He understands my need to diffuse our doom and gloom with a laugh. 

The earthenware jug is cool and slippery in my fingers. I savor the tactical sensation of a rough-hewn pot against immortal hands. I taste the silt and clay with my fingerprints, I read the story of the gnarled, grandmother's knuckles that shaped the vessel. I remind myself that this is what matters, this is what I'm fighting for. So arthritic grandmothers can live their lives in peace. I smile to myself as righteousness firecrackers across my chest, filling me with pride and ambition and the tiniest trickle of grandiosity. That drink of water is the sweetest and most refreshing of my entire existence. 

"If you're feeling better, even marginally better, then I'm feeling superb." I chirp, passing the jug to Adras.

By sunset, after a full day of hiking through empty streets, we reach the entrance of the palace. I intentionally made us walk. One, because it gave us more time to think; two, because Xanthos thought it was good PR. Get the lay of the land, see if we came across any sympathizers; use it as an opportunity to minister if we saw the opportunity.

The three of us stand at the entrance of the palace, the sun setting in golden and magenta bands in the western horizon. It colors the air with rich purple resilience and mellow trepidation. A full, heavy moon slowly rises over the mushroom-cap domes of the palace. 

Hades, Ares, and Aphrodite are waiting for us, mirroring our positions on the other side of a metal gate. They wear stony faces and their posture is rigid and formidable. The king and queen of Yehparnath stand behind them, icy and regal. Adras' brother angles himself off to the side, neither one with the gods or his parents. His hand clenches tightly around the hilt of a golden sword. The metal smolders in the ruby light. 

After a few minutes of silent assessment, I cross my arms and start the proceedings.

"Let's cut the shit, ok? Where are the people and what do we have to do to to get out out of here?" My words hang like wilted bunting in the soupy air, billowing and bouncing off of the palace walls.

"You never did tolerate ceremony, did you, Eris? Everything you do has such an angry, haphazard flair."

Hades' snide bitchery actually makes Adras laugh. 

"No making friends," I grumble.

"But he's right." Adras snickers.

"The people are in their homes, to answer your question. Though there is no doubt you already knew that." Hades says simply.

"Why?" I tilt my head and scan the three Olympians cooly. 

Hades stands relaxed and ready, a smug smile toying with his features. Aphrodite's eyes flit quickly back and forth over the three of us as if by some lingering chance she can understand the bonds and bridges of our relationships. Ares is positively glowering. His bottom lip extends in a pathetic pout and there is a brow-beaten sulk bending his shoulders. They are not the proud, unified unit I anticipated.

Good.

Hades is on my side, I can tell by the smirk and his ribbing. Aphrodite is neutral but a stickler for rules, she will present a test but grudgingly. Ares is the true threat, and whether or not he can come to heel is the question.

I think

I've never read my family well and without their powers, this is the one area where they are at an advantage: I can't feel them. Unlike the mortals pigeonholing the city's basements, unlike the king and queen and prince, unlike Xanthos and Adras beside me, I read nothing from my siblings.

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