XXXVII - In Death's Grip

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It's an unremarkable room. Smooth plaster, monotone mosaics in moss green and peachy-pale beige. A fire roars cheerfully in a massive black-marble fireplace. A long table with fourteen chairs runs down the center of the room. A bank of windows makes up the far wall, overlooking lush gardens. Wine has been left out on the table, as well as a platter of some fruit, dates, cheeses, and bread. Golden honey swims in a copper pot, ready to be slathered on the bread and drizzled onto the cheese. My mouth waters.

"They're guarding you," I observe, my observations catching up with my mouth. I point over my shoulder to where four guards wait for the end of our conversation in the hall.

"No, my dear, they are simply waiting for you. I'm surprised you haven't blasted me to bits by now."

"Don't think it is out of the realm of possibilities."

Hades smiles, the feral, bewitching smile I've known for my entire existence. The warmth and promise of relief found in that simple twisting of lips. There's no ghostly, golden comfort emanating off of him, but he's still the person I've confided in since the dawn of my creation.

"What are you doing here?" I ask. "You're wicked to me in public but charming in private? Who's side are you on?"

A crack of tragedy splits his smile into a grimace. "Yours, of course."

"The fuck, Hades. Really? Don't play games with me. I am tired, I am hungry, and I am more powerful than you." I angrily pull out a chair and collapse into it. I rest my head against the chair back and squeeze my eyes shut with the remaining dribbles of patience and understanding I have left.

A chair screeches across the floor and I hear Hades shuffle into the seat next to mine. His hand lays gently on my shoulder. "We're all bound by the rules of play here, Eris. Aphrodite spoke true that initial day in the throne room. You can't just have a world outright. It has to be earned. We're orchestrating the easiest way for you to get it."

"A head's up would have been nice," I grumble.

"How exactly were we supposed to tell you, hm? I can't communicate with you outside of mortal means. Was I supposed to send a messenger?"

I open my eyes and stare at him in disbelief, "Well killing tens of thousands of people seems to be on the opposite end of a very wide spectrum for potential communication."

"This is about speed. You don't have a lot of time. If Zeus finds out the prophecy is fulfilled...it is, isn't it?"

"Yes." I reluctantly answer. I narrow my eyes, letting him off the hook for his violence. For now.

"Then you're unprotected. Without the prophecy protecting you, any of us can come and go as we please from this world. We thought betrayal might be the quickest way to whip you into gear."

"The mob?"

"That's their real emotion, but we need it. The easiest way to protect Adras and keep Ceris out of Zeus' hands is for your mortal to die a martyr."

"How is that the easiest way?" I am bewildered by this turn.

"Do you love the mortal, Eris?"

The choked sound of derision was my only answer, "Please," I add for good measure. "That's a terrible way of changing the subject."

"Aphrodite thinks you do."

I eye hades, slicing the air with my gaze as effortlessly as cutting Jell-O, "Aphrodite thinks everyone is in love with everyone else."

"True...but there are some things you can read without powers."

"Hades stop it." I shift uncomfortably in my seat and reach for the plate of refreshment, anxious to look at anything, to think about something other than this conversation.

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