Chapter 1: cast members as gods/goddesses
this is just a dumping ground for the picspams/moodboards i've made for the casting of each character :) x
reggie mantle as zeus:
“Do not explain the laws of life and death to me, brother!” Zeus thunders, pushing Poseidon away with a harsh shove. “Or I shall show you right here and now how exactly a god may kill another god?”
sweet pea as hades:
“Do they forget that I am also the god of invisibility, the god of riches?!” Hades slams his fists into his throne, cracking it. The divine properties of the throne allow it to repair itself before Hades even takes another breath. He seethes through his teeth, “I am not a mercenary to further their cause. Do these incompetent mortals not understand that a god cannot directly kill a human? Do they not know of the law?”
jughead jones as poseidon:
Poseidon shrugs his shoulders, calm as ever with a gentle smirk, “The Oracle does not speak half-truths, brother. Should you do this, know that it will not solve your problems forever. But do not forget – only a god can kill a god.”
veronica lodge as hera -
“Oh you poor thing,” she sighs, framing the girl’s face with just her fingertips. Hera shakes her head as if it were the saddest thing in the world before sobering up and standing tall over the mortal, “It is such a shame that you are not as brave as you are beautiful, or else I might find you more intimidating.”
josie mccoy as aphrodite -
“Look at you,” Aphrodite coos. She grazes over the skin of his face with her hands, drinking him in like ambrosia. Her eyes flutter closed as she remembers the taste of his lips and skin. She smirks, eyelids ducked in a seductive stare, “You turned out to be quite the handsome god, Hades. How can I help you today?”
betty cooper as athena -
The goddess of wisdom ponders the pair for a moment, raking her eyes over their bodies as if weighing them on a scale. Finally, she steps down from the marble throne and puts her hand on the woman’s shoulder, “You have lost much in this life, little mortal. It would seem the odds have not favored you. Why don’t we even them out a bit?”
archie andrews as apollo -
apollo strums his fingertips against the strings on his harp, lids shading golden eyes as his warm hair falls over his forehead. he smirks with full lips and his fingers stall, “ah, yes, you need to know where my beloved oracle has gone. sing me a song, and her whereabouts are yours.”
cheryl blossom as artemis -
her hair was bright against her pale skin, a large quiver strapped tightly against her back, filled to the brim with arrows made of bronze and silver and gold. she tilts her head up after digging her boots in the ground, “i cannot help you, mortal. the ways of men are a concept in which i cannot translate, and have chosen to actively avoid.”
hermione lodge as nyx -
the goddess of the night runs her fingers through her dark hair, stars falling as her tresses tousle. she takes a breath before raising a brow, considering the pair in front of her. nyx’s hands twirl in front of her body and a nebula forms, bright lights glittering and glowing in the dark of the night.
alice cooper as nemesis -
“you probably deserved it,” nemesis snarls, “and if you think i’m going to help you after everything you’ve done, you’re wrong.” her hand hesitates over the crystal knife strapped to her hip, fingers aching to the bone to grab the blade.
penelope blossom as achlys -
the redheaded goddess twirls a bone in her potion bottle, sniffing the fumes that waft from the glass. she smirks across the table, “i wouldn’t drink the tea if i were you.”
Chapter 2: the prophecy & the outcast
i would like to preface this with: forget pretty much EVERYTHING you know about mythology. i have provided a cast list at the end of the chapter for those who don't want to be spoiled yet :) if you have any questions, please let me know! also - persephone is re-personified by an original female character who you will meet VERY soon ;) thank you for reading, and i hope you enjoy it as much as i have. xx
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Long ago, there was a prophecy foretold. One of great fortune, but also of great demise.
Zeus, after hearing this prophecy, was in great duress, unsure of how he should react. He confided in his younger brother, Poseidon, and together they came to a conclusion.
“No one must know,” Poseidon whispers, careful that little brother Hades does not overhear. He pulls on Zeus’s tunic, “If we are to do this, then not another soul shall be wary of the prophecy, brother. You cannot tell even Hera of our plan. The Others would never trust you again.”
“Do not consider me a fool,” Zeus snaps at his brother. He narrows his eyes and lightning bolts race around his irises. “There is a place we can send him. Away from us, where Mother and Father cannot follow him. It is forbidden should a Titan step foot there.”
“And how should we explain this banishment?” Poseidon wonders.
Zeus takes a short step away from his brother, “Oh brother, it’s simple – we don’t. We send him to the Depths and keep him busy guarding the souls. He shall never know of the prophecy, never understand what is to come. It is what is best for us all.”
“Given the prophecy,” Poseidon considers, “maybe I should be on his side.”
“It would not be wise to oppose me, brother,” Zeus snatches him by the collar. “It would not be wise.”
Poseidon shrugs his shoulders, calm as ever with a gentle smirk, “The Oracle does not speak half-truths, brother. Should you do this, know that it will not solve your problems forever. But do not forget – only a god can kill a god.”
“Do not explain the laws of life and death to me, brother!” Zeus thunders, pushing Poseidon away with a harsh shove. “Or I shall show you right here and now how exactly a god may kill another god?”
“What are the two of you discussing now?” young Hades rumbles, his voice deep and his eyes deeper. He crosses his arms over his chest, “Did Aphrodite turn you down again? Or was it one of those mortals this time? Pesky little cretins, they are.”
Zeus reaches out and touches his brother’s cheek with his fingertips, a sad smile on his lips, “Oh, brother, I do pray that one day you will forgive me.”
“Forgive you?” Hades questions. “Zeus, what ever do you mean?”
There is a sad smile drawn over his brother’s lips, but Hades only gets a glimpse before the whole world turns black.
There was a time in her life where she opened her lips for no one.
Now, it seems, she cannot force them shut.
“Add Ares to the list,” she says with weeping breath. She wipes at her eyes, insatiable tears flowing like a river, “He claimed my brother today. Well, actually, likely not today. But today is the first I’ve heard of it.”
Her mind wanders to her first time visiting this devil in the night, when she was but a young girl with pain gouged in her heart like a spear.
“What is wrong with them?” she cries, digging her hands into the dirt. “The gods are supposed to be powerful, just beings who only strike humans for justice or for mercy. This is not mercy!”
“What did my father ever do to Poseidon?! What did he do to wrong the god of the sea?” She sniffles, ignoring the tears and snot collecting on her face. Instead, she looks up at the statue made of marble, terrifying in the night, and whispers: “How do I fix this? He is your brother, is he not? Surely you can speak to him?”
When the statue does not answer, and there is no sign of the ground opening to bring her father back to the land of the living, she slams her hands into the ground again. She prays he can hear it, prays that maybe he is connected to the life force of the ground and that she has punched his very soul.
“Do you have a soul?” she asks, tilting her head as if expecting the statue to respond. “I’ve heard stories of you, Hades. Stories that you do not answer to prayer, yet here I am despite the fact.”
She kicks the base of the statue and snarls, “So much for god of the underworld.”
“First my father,” she whispers as if the words will make him appear only to be dragged away again. She wipes under her nose, her lip trembling as she brings her eyes to meet his, “Then my mother’s fields…”
“Your brother is an absolute heathen!” she shouts, stomping her feet against the tiled floor of the temple. Her hands shake and she knows that if she had the power to move mountains, she would be at Olympus in the blink of an eye.
She throws her arms up in the air, the wind biting at her in the eve of night, “Throwing a lightning bolt at our field?”
“First, the middle child takes my father from me, then the eldest steals away our means to life. When will you wrong me, youngest brother?”
Her eyes water and her belly rumbles. She covers her stomach with her hands and wills it to quiet. It feels like something will eventually claw its way out from inside of her, bringing the death and destruction she feels to befall the earth she lives in.
“That grain was supposed to supply us with enough gold to make it through the harvest,” she whispers. Tears drip from her cheeks to the marble where her toes curl against the stone. “We may have to sell my horse just to tide over until next season.”
She reaches out to touch the foot of the statue, the stone cool to the touch. “Please, I don’t know how we will conquer this hardship. Please, give me strength. You’re all I have.”
She laughs at the memory, her chuckle thick with emotion. She looks up at his statue, those same emotionless eyes staring back down into her soul. Someday she knows she will look upon his face and be able to reach out and touch him, her skin met with something other than cool marble.
Instead of lingering, she retracts and chews on her lower lip until it cracks and bleeds. She swallows, her throat bobbing, “They pushed me again today.”
Hot tears crawl down her cheeks and she roughly pushes them away. She knows he wouldn’t care for her tears, he’s had enough of them. He’s seen so many, he’s likely tired of her weeping.
“What good is she if she can’t protect a fair maiden from the sickness of love’s first bite?!” Her shoulders rack with sobs as she shares in her friend’s heartache. “She is meant to protect and keep sacred the idea of love, the idea of romance! How is this protecting anything?! I had to hold her as she cried into my arms until she was bone dry, her soul sucked out of her through her tears. Where is Aphrodite now?!”
She stomps around until dirt cakes her sandals, her ankles sprinkled with soil. She crumbles in front of him, a mess of limbs, and sighs, “I’ve decided men aren’t worth my time, let alone hers. I will keep her safe from them. Should they come near us, I will bite them at the neck so they bleed.”
She laughs at her own naivety, her arms wrapped around her waist as she reminisces.
“I just don’t understand,” she looks up at him for some kind of answer even though she knows there won’t be one. Her nostrils flare as she attempts to keep her lip from trembling, “I show up in a black dress instead of a white one and suddenly they are jesting that I am really Lilith the Evil One reincarnated.”
She blinks the tears away, “You know what? I wish I was in fact Lilith the Evil One so I could choke them with my mind and make them bleed until they breathe no longer.”
She clenches her grimy fist and imagines her oppositions’ throats between her fingerprints. The idea alone makes her tears melt away and a smirk tug on her lips. She purses her lips and looks up at his statue, wondering if she is making him proud with the evil thoughts rolling around in her brain.
“I am tired of living here, Sweets,” she grumbles. She looks up at his statue and tastes the name on her tongue again, remembering the day she gave it to him.
She paces around the temple, her eyes darting to each of the angels guarding the King of the Underworld. She runs her fingers over the beveled columns, daring to get close enough to him that the chill from the marble tingles against her skin.
“Hades,” she murmurs, rolling his name around on her lips. She bends down to her knees, knowing full well that this is how you pray to the gods, even the one who keeps the dead contained. She shakes her head, “You deserve a better name, one separated from your dwelling place.”
In doing so, a small batch of pink and purple sweet peas blossoming at the base of his statue catches her eye.
She leans over to run her thumbprint over the petals of a singular flower before looking back up at the figurine loitering over her. A smile pulls on the corners of her lips and she nods, “Oh I just love these little sweets, Hades. They’re so pret-wait.”
Picking a blossom, she rises back to her feet and pushes the pink flower behind the statue’s ear and murmurs, “Sweets – that’s what I will call you. You’re every bit deserving and it’s much more beautiful than Hades.”
Her upper lip curls in mock disgust before she starts to giggle. She picks a few more of the flowers and brings them home with her, finding a small vase to keep them captive in. She knows they will only live a few more days, but it is worth it because every morning before she walks to town, she’s reminded of him and the companionship she has found in the Lord of the Undead.
“One day you will take me away from this horrid place, I just know it.” She smiles with her teeth and wonders if he’s listening. “You will rise from the Depths and take me home with you. I am unfit for this earthly plane. They do not appreciate me here.”
The familiar sound of snake bellies in the grass makes her giggle. She leans down as the two black serpents slither from behind the statue. The smaller of the two wraps itself around her arm, traveling up toward her neck.
“Hello little one,” she whispers, running the pad of her index finger over the female serpent’s head. “Tell your Maker that I say I’m waiting on his response. I still have yet to hear back from him.”
The thicker of the two snakes slithers around her ankle and rests his head on her toes. He flicks his tongue out and it brushes the knob of her ankle, so she bends down to show him the same affections with a light giggle.
“Oh, you’re jealous, darling. Don’t worry,” she reaches down and runs the backs of her fingers down his nonexistent spine. He takes the opportunity and ravels himself around her arm, mirroring the smaller serpent on her right bicep.
The smaller serpent flicks her tongue out against her cheek, making the young woman laugh. She kicks back her head and squeezes her eyes shut while the bubbling sound tumbles from her lips.
“I will see you both soon,” she promises, pressing her palms flat to the ground so they can unwind themselves from her. She touches the tops of their heads one final time and goes to speak when a voice in the distance distracts her.
“That’s me,” Lilith tilts her head downward to look the serpents in the eyes. “Tell Sweets I say hello, won’t you?”
**some of these are genderbent to provide parts for the RD cast to play
persephone - lilith (oc)
hades - sweet pea
zeus - reggie mantle
poseidon - jughead jones
hera - veronica lodge
artemis - cheryl blossom
apollo - archie andrews
dionysus - fp jones
athena - betty cooper
aphrodite - josie mccoy
hermes - kevin keller
ares - hal cooper
hephaestus - fred andrews
demeter - (no riverdale character, she is played by herself!)
hestia - mary andrews
achlys: the goddess of poison - penelope blossom
aether: the god of light and the atmosphere - TBD
aion: the god of empirical time - TBD
ananke: the goddess of inevitability, compulsion and necessity - hiram lodge
khaos: the goddess of the chasm - chic
chronos: the god of time - TBD
erebus: the god of darkness and shadows - TBD
eros: the god of love - TBD
gaia: the mother earth goddess - TBD
hemera: the goddess of daytime - TBD
hypnos: the god of sleep - TBD
nemesis: the goddess of retribution - alice cooper
nesoi: the goddess(es) of the islands - TBD
nyx: the goddess of the night - hermione lodge
ourea: the goddesses of the mountains - TBD
phanes: the god(dess) of light and goodness - TBD
tartarus: the god of the inferno - TBD
thanatos: the god of death - TBD
uranus: the god of the heavens - TBD
some of these gods and goddesses will not be mentioned too far in depth, but i did want to try and cast every person in riverdale for at least a minor god/goddess! if you have any suggestions, feel free to drop a comment!
Chapter 3: the downfall
The first months after Hades learned of The Prophecy, he swore that he would be content being the ruler of his own dominion. He knew the consequences and the privileges that come with ruling over a kingdom of your own, even if it is full of dead people. He swore he would be grateful to his brothers for the gift they’d given him. After all, it’s not every millennia that you get your own dominion.
“My apologies, little brother,” Zeus helps his youngest brother sit up when he comes to.
When Hades can see again, he holds his brother by the bicep to steady himself. He blinks slowly, eyes bleary as he gazes around, “Zeus, where are we?”
“The Depths,” Poseidon answers on behalf of the eldest. He swallows thickly, across at his two brothers, “We brought you here for your own safety, Sweet Pea.”
“You know how much I hate that,” Hades pushes himself away from his brothers. He swipes at the ash and dust on his tunic to busy his hands and then kicks his boots against the ground. “What do you mean ‘for my safety’? Am I not safe on Olympus, with the two of you by my side? None of this makes sense.”
“No, brother, you are far from safe.” Zeus crosses his arms over his chest and looks his youngest brother in the eyes, “There has been a horrible prophecy foretelling your downfall. We have brought you here to keep you safe. Only those whom you permit to pass are allowed in.”
“Brother-Mantle, what is going on? I-I want to go home.”
“I know, Sweet Pea,” Mantle puts his hands on his brother’s cheeks and tries to hide his own fear. He swallows, his throat bobbing, “But this is your home now. You can make it your own – do whatever you like with it! Rule it with an iron fist, make those who would come across you into your subjects. It’s a beautiful gift.”
Sweet Pea angles his head towards him with tears in his eyes and the eldest brother feels the knife in his chest turn just enough to hurt. It is not every day that you banish your brother to the Underworld. Mantle wraps his brother in a hug and pats him on the back, reassuring him with gentle whispers in his ears, no matter how false they may be.
It did take time to get used to living by himself, guarding the wayward souls and keeping the Underworld safe from outsiders. Charon watches The River, and The Guardians are his second-in-command. The Judgers send the souls to their respective fields, leaving Sweet Pea with little to actually do. Roaming the Underworld is tiresome and boring after a few repetitive years, and there’s only so many times you can play chess with yourself.
There once was a time when Sweet Pea would visit the other realms, Olympus and Earth alike, but those days have long since passed.
“Brothers and Sisters!” he shouts as he pushes his way up the stairway to Olympus. He chuckles, out of breath, “I know it has been a few years, but I-ow!”
Sweet Pea’s body flies backward, knocking the breath from his lungs when he lands. He rolls over, cradling his throbbing abdomen. It is only when he glances up at just the right moment does he notice the shimmering field protecting Olympus from Outsiders.
“Zeus?” he shouts in panic. “Poseidon! Aphrodite?!”
Anxiety overwhelms Sweet Pea’s body and he brushes his hand through his hair, trying to calm himself. The sweat glitters on his brow as his forehead crinkles in confusion. He attempts to make sense of it all – why would the shield bar him from Olympus? From his family?
The shield only comes on when there are intruders, those banished from Mount Olympus.
Sweet Pea wonders, theorizes, that he has been labeled as exiled, unable to return to the Heavens because his name is on The List of The Forbidden. To test his theory, he boldly reaches out with one palm and swats where the field is glimmering. His palm stings as it snaps back to his body, pulsing.
It makes no sense that he would be barred from Olympus. He has not completed any of the Abhorred Acts; he has done nothing to warrant exile. Sweet Pea begins to rack his brain to try and understand what might explain why he has been banished from Olympus. Exiled.
‘The Prophecy,’ Hades remembers. He ducks his head and forces himself away from the steps that would usually take him home, take him to his family, and instead he walks down to The Surface. ‘Mantle is protecting me from The Prophecy.’
The Surface is just as haphazard as it was the last time he visited. There are humans lying on the edges of the roads, their bones showing through gaunt faces as they beg for spare coins with an empty bowl.
Sweet Pea reaches to hand him a drachma, but the skinny man withdraws his cup and scatters like a rat. The young god tilts his head in confusion but puts his coin back in his purse and continues his exploration of The Surface.
It seems that every time he shows his face to a mortal, they are quick to run away from him, or they begin to form groups and he can hear their whispers as he passes by. The weight of the world sits on his shoulders as he makes his way through the marketplace of The Surface. He has never felt this sense of dread hanging between his brows before. As if it were palpable, but just barely out of his reach.
“E-Excuse me,” a small voice pipes up from his side. Sweet Pea turns to look at the young woman dressed in little-to-nothing who is currently draping herself over his arm. He smirks and leans his body down to meet her halfway, “Yes?”
“I-uh, I need a favor,” she drops him a wink.
He nods in response and she bites her lip, “Well, you see, Lord Hades, I-I have someone who needs to be taken care of. And I’ve heard you do that sort of thing – could you help me?”
Sweet Pea narrows his eyes and disentangles himself from the harlot, “Excuse me, woman?”
“I-I’m sorry, my lord,” she ducks her head, “I was told that you were the Lord of the Dead, I-I thought you could assist me in my-”
“I am not a killer,” he seethes, snatching her by the arm. She cowers in fear and he watches as her pupils envelope her blue irises. He can smell the fear taking over her body and so he lets her go with a quick thrust of his wrist.
“Do you not know that it is against the law of the gods to directly murder a mortal?” he asks her indignantly. She whimpers before turning on her heels and running off to hide behind a street corner.
Sweet Pea scoffs, rolling his eyes as he makes his way further into the marketplace. The eyes boring into him from all angles makes it even more difficult to walk in a straight line. He can smell their fear – it is palpable in the air and it sticks to his nostrils as he breathes it in. The stench of their fright courses through his airways and pushes his hair upward at the follicle.
Finally, he can bear it no longer and he turns on the mortals, growing three times in size to better reach them all. His figure towers over them and they cower in fear.
“Is that how you see me, mortals?!” Hades’ voice bellows. He looks down at the people, his arms held out in vulnerability. “You see me as some almighty executioner?”
As to be expected, none of them answer and he is left with mere silence.
“If that is how you wish to be, then so be it.”
Hades waves his arms, dark smoke twirling around his body as he reduces himself back to his human-size. The onlookers grow in numbers as the smoke spins like a tornado, picking up nearby carts and merchandise. The mortals hold on tightly to the nearest object to avoid being swept up into his deathly cyclone. Then, after another moment, the smoke slowly dissipates into nothingness, only a shadowy figure standing in its place.
And then their worst nightmares are realized.
Screams echo from the crowd, piercing cries splitting lips as fingernails are digging at their eyes. Hades crosses his arms over his chest as he looks into the fearful minds of those around him. If the fear was not palpable before, it is now. The emotions coat him like a blanket, searing into his skin as he looks at them panicked before him.
The man in front of him sees a terrifying beast foaming at the mouth, it’s skin burning into flakes as it’s white eyes glare deep into his soul. A woman to his right sees a tall figure with blue skin and burning hair, worms crawling from his teeth and snakes slithering around his arms like bracelets. A young child sees a black shadow with white fangs, a golden crown seated atop his head – a true prince of darkness.
“There you go,” he whispers in defeat, his head hanging. Despite the chaos, he pushes through the crowd and marches back to the entrance of Hades. Sweet Pea loads into his chariot, his beautiful black stallions bucking at his arrival. He pats their backs and settles into his seat, the reigns between his fingers.
“Let’s go home,” Sweet Pea murmurs as he slaps the reigns.
The horses thunder down the road until the ground splits open and swallows them back into The Depths.
Now the god of the Underworld sits on his throne built from ash and obsidian, and he looks down at the dominion he’s been given charge of. The River flows through, dark and dangerous, as Charon floats his passengers to their respective dwellings. The Guardians – Grief, Anxiety, Diseases, Old Age, Fear, Hunger, Need, Death, Agony, and Sleep – hold steady at the entrance to Hades.
Even though he has this entire domain to rule as he pleases, and minions to order into submission, Hades is lonely.
Sweet Pea spends his time reminiscing on his life from Olympus – and it seems so far away now. It feels like it was eons ago that he, Zeus, and Poseidon would wander through the clouds and banter with one another; that he would feel Aphrodite’s touch upon his cheeks as her warm skin radiated against his own.
Instead, it was eons ago that he was confined to The Depths. Even though it was for his own survival, his own safety, Hades cannot come to terms with the exile. He is falling down a hole from which he fears he can never claw out of.
Hades stands from his black throne and walks down the pile of bones to the path that leads to Nowhere and Everywhere all at once. His sandals trudge through the ash of those long past, kicking their remains into the air only for them to settle once again.
The path takes him through a winding hall, built to the top out of the bones of the mortals who now reside in Hades. Truth be told, he is no longer sure of where this place begins and he ends. He caresses the wall, looking up into the soulless eyes of someone who once had a life and a purpose, something to live for.
“There is no purpose here,” he echoes somberly as he opens the door to The Forbidden Chamber.
When Zeus and Poseidon locked him away in The Depths, they told him of this chamber. They told him of it’s great power, and how he was to never allow another soul to enter it, for inside The Forbidden Chamber was The Forbidden Fruit. There are none who know of its full potential, of its full power, but Zeus did warn him that if there was to be a soul who ate from it, they might be trapped in The Depths for eternity, and whatever follows after.
The door gives way to the warmest room in The Depths. There is light here, and Hades believes that it is all because there is a soul living in The Forbidden Fruit. He swears he hears its heartbeat the closer he steps towards to The Fruit.
He recalls when his brothers first brought him down to this room; he remembers walking these halls with them as they warned him of the treacherous fruit that resided there.
“The one who eats of the fruit will be doomed to this place forever, Sweet Pea,” Poseidon warns as they break through the doors. “The number of seeds you ingest is the number of months per annual cycle you are beholden to this world. Those who want you in danger or out of their way will try to use it to poison you, to force you to eat of the fruit. This is precisely why you must never tell another of this place. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Jughead,” Hades uses the name like a weapon. He cuts his eyes at his brother, “I think I understand.”
Poseidon rolls his eyes, scoffing, “I swear, I get my head stuck in a wine jug at one festival, and the two of you can’t-”
“At least it isn’t Sweet Pea,” Hades argues, crossing his arms over his chest. He takes a look at the fruit and becomes somber at a memory of the origin of his name. “I couldn’t help it that I loved those flowers, they reminded me of Mother.”
Sweet Pea brushes his hand over the glass that contains the powerful fruit, a seemingly innocent object that could be his very undoing. Should anyone find it, should anyone understand of its power, they could chain him here forever.
A many years later, after Hades has seen countless souls pass through The River, the loneliness that began to plague him has yet to subside. There have been attempts to take The Underworld from him, but he has quelled them with the slashing of his sword and the flick of his fingertips, unleashing his dark magic on those who would oppose him. He enjoys the game, the bloodshed, and he does not fear for he has kept The Fruit hidden.
“We need a new protector,” he thinks to himself as The Guardians clean up the wreckage from a recent attempt to break a demigod from the pits of Tartarus. Hades walks around the planes of the Underworld, dragging his boots through the caked ash as he ponders.
He smirks before waving his hands through the air, contorting his fingers in all directions as incantations fall from his full lips. A dark being materializes from nothing, starting as a shadow and turning into something else. Hades pulls on thin air, teeth and hair and blood emerging from a tiny shadow wavering in thin air. Dragging his arms further and further apart, Hades creates what will soon be known to the mortals and gods alike as Cerberus, the Three-Headed Protector of the Underworld.
“C’mere boy,” he climbs onto the back of the middle head, scratching the dog behind his ear. “Let us show them what we are made of.”
Even still, as he and Cerberus wreak havoc on The Surface, it is not enough. The carnage and the retribution are not enough. Cerberus is an animal, incapable of speech no matter how much feeling he reciprocates with the looks in his eyes. Hades loves the beast, but he does not satiate the void for kinship, even if the animal can quench his bloodlust.
Years following the birth of Cerberus, Hades wanders the earth in search of a companion. He cannot find another who reciprocates his diplomatic sense coupled with the need for chaos and vengeance, but in his search, he does find a serpent at his feet.
He knows the animal is hated, feared, all for no reason other than its defensive mechanisms. He picks up the animal by its throat and stares into its eyes. Upon seeing into the void, he smirks and drags the animal back to the Underworld with him, strangling it in the process.
Hades buries the dead animal in the dirt beside The River and takes a deep breath, digging his hands into the soil. His eyes roll back in his head and a soft spell falls from his lips as he imbues the ground with the body of the snake, and the blood of his magic.
“Rise,” he speaks finally, his eyes opening to see a group of dark spirits in front of him, growing by the minute.
They smile in unison, revealing fangs and black eyes, “Yes, Maker. How may we be of service?”
Hades allows the demons to roam the earth confined in their natural form, that of a serpent. When they return to The Depths, they are free to walk as human-like creatures, with bodies that can be either male or female.
“Why did you pick a serpent?” his favorite of the demons asks one day.
“Fangs,” Hades smiles and extends a hand to his friend’s face, the skin cold and scaly to the touch, “Serpents are hated on The Surface. They are avoided like a plague, treated as monsters. I saw them and I sympathized with them. And so, the one begat many.”
“And the many is us,” another female serpent raises her voice. She crosses her arms over her chest and flicks her tongue out before approaching Hades on his obsidian throne which burns endlessly, “Right, Maker?”
“Correct, Topaz.” Hades confirms with a sly grin. “And I allowed you to choose your own names because I believe in freedom. That is also why you are allowed to roam The Surface in your serpent form.”
Hades runs his fingers over his neck, which brings Fangs and Topaz’s attention to his skin where an image of a continuous serpent is burned into his flesh.
“That is where our essence resides, is it not?” she asks, unsure if she wishes to know the true answer.
Her Maker nods, a somber look in his eyes, “With every curse, every magic act, one must pay a price. When I created you, I lost a part of myself, the symbol of your existence stitched onto my skin for eternity.”
And so, the serpents and their Maker reside in peaceful amnesty. They grow close, forming bonds that will last more than lifetimes of the mortals who live above them. They tell him what has become of the earth, for as more time passes, Hades retreats further away from civilization and society.
Despite his newfound family, Sweet Pea grows bitter as the years pass. His family, his blood, do not visit, they do not call out to him. The mortals become increasingly defamatory of his name, blaming the Prince of Darkness, the Lord of the Underworld, for their loved ones’ deaths. They blame him for the wrongs of the world, the sins that they refuse to atone for.
And if they are not blaming him, they are praying to him. He hears pleas echoed with bloodlust and trickery. The only prayers that come to his ears are that of murder and wrong doing.
“Do they forget that I am also the god of invisibility, the god of riches?!” Hades slams his fists into his throne, cracking it. The divine properties of the throne allow it to repair itself before Hades even takes another breath.
He seethes through his teeth, “I am not a mercenary to further their cause. Do these incompetent mortals not understand that a god cannot directly kill a human? Do they not know of the law?”
Eventually, Hades makes the decision to curse his own ears so he can no longer hear the greedy human’s prayers. He removes himself from his temples, refusing to listen to their cries of death and mischievousness.
Their evil thoughts plague him no longer, and he refuses to admit that he sometimes misses the idle chatter of the insolent beings of The Surface.
The demigods visit him to try and trick him into releasing the objects of their quests from the pits of Tartarus. Every time, he gives them the option to turn around, to keep from crossing him, and yet every time, they choose to swing their blade.
The serpents notice the callouses growing on their Maker. He is becoming cruel, increasingly judgmental as he throws souls into the Fields of Asphodel, cursed to wander there. They fear for their own existence, for if their Maker cannot satiate his lust for injustice with the mortals of The Surface, what is to stop him from taking out his hatred on them?
There is a day, a long while after Hades begins to set like concrete, where his façade falters and he smiles for the first time in decades. Topaz notices it first, and she alerts Fangs. They watch together as a grin turns his lips skyward as he sits idly on his throne, a musical instrument in his hands.
“I do not understand,” Fangs whispers, his lisp catching the word. He looks up to his female counterpart and blinks, “I-Is everything okay?”
She nods, sneaking a glance at their Maker. Topaz swallows and reaches out to cup Fangs’ cheek, “Something is changing.”
A few months pass before it happens again. Hades is feeding Cerberus when Joaquin, another serpent with brown skin and blue eyes, notices the slightest of upturns of his Maker’s lips.
Immediately, he confides in his serpent family, whispering in their ears about how he’s never seen Maker’s teeth unless he was shouting at a wayward soul.
“I believe that Aphrodite has been visiting,” the tallest of the Serpents speaks with a smirk. Topaz waves her hand, “Regardless of who is visiting, it is none of our business to meddle with The Maker. Let him have his happiness.”
And so, the Serpents leave well enough alone. It is only when Hades has smiled for the third time that Topaz begins to question things. She has been by his side most days, also accompanied by Fangs, and so she knows there is no way a goddess could be slipping into his bed.
“We need to go to the surface,” Topaz whispers to Fangs one night after the other Serpents have slithered into their bed holes. “There must be an enchantress trying to lull him into some sense of calm before she lays claim to the throne of Hades.”
Fangs takes a deep breath before nodding, “I’m right behind you, my friend. Lead the way.”
The ground opens up near the Statue of Hades, and the two serpents slither out from it. They disentangle themselves from one another and move around from the back of the statue, surveying their surroundings.
In the distance, they see a small girl picking flowers, but she is the only human presence they can sense for miles. Even so, Topaz leads Fangs further into The Surface, and together they search for any potential threats to their Maker.
It takes hours, but the only mention of Hades from the mortals is that in passing, mentions of how to accuse the god of the underworld for their misfortunes. They finally return to the underworld, both agreeing not to speak a word of the possible threat to neither their Serpent family or to their Maker.
There is a lapse in time where the Serpents can feel their Maker’s temper begin to flare again. He has returned to his calloused ways, his judgment swift and the punishment unfair. For a fleeting moment, Topaz and Fangs wish the threat would return even if just so they can be reprieved from their Maker’s unkind behavior.
The moment is fleeting, but the Maker is taking a trip down The River when Topaz sees the warmth of a smile spread over his cheeks, his eyes averted to the bottom of the boat as he soaks in the feeling. She wonders if he even knows that his expression betrays him, but there isn’t time to ponder over such things.
“Surface. Now.” Topaz orders to Fangs.
They slip between the crevice in the ground, slithering to the front of the statue. They wander through the temple, searching for any signs of danger. To their surprise, they are met with a womanly figure, her hair braided away from her face and a plethora of flowers in her dark hair.
“Sweet peas,” Topaz speaks to Fangs in a language only they can hear. “Look familiar?”
Fangs glances up at the girl aging into a woman and he is sure that she is just as familiar as the flower. It has been years since their last trip to the surface, but he distinctly remembers the backside of a young woman fading into the smoke.
The backside of his tail flicks to hit Topaz, “She is the girl.”
Topaz turns to look him in the eye, her tongue flicking out from between her fangs. She cocks her head in questioning, but he merely gestures with a glance to the young woman sitting in the temple, singing a familiar song.
The song was written when Hades cut himself off from the world, disallowing humans to speak to him directly through prayer. Lyrics speak of death and dismay and she sings them with a smile on her face while twirling a sweet pea stalk in between her fingers.
Topaz and Fangs expect her to try and stomp on them, to snap them at their necks. But what she does next surprises them.
“Why hello there, little ones,” she smiles with bright gray eyes. “Are you lost?”
Fangs turns to his serpent friend and then back to the human in front of them, completely dumbfounded. Hades had told them that serpents were cursed on The Surface, that humans detested them.
“Oh don’t worry,” the young woman reaches down to touch the tops of their heads with just the pads of her fingers. “I won’t hurt you. You’re too pretty.”
Later, when Topaz and Fangs return to the underworld, they still feel her warm touch bleeding from the crowns of their heads to the bottoms of their feet.
Fangs shakes his head, “There’s no way. The Maker cannot hear prayers. She wasn’t praying, she was just-existing. How is this-”
“Coincidence,” Topaz interrupts him. She shakes her head, “It is merely coincidence. Nothing more.”
It takes years for The Maker to smile again like he used to. In the midst of the time between his last smile and his next, Topaz and Fangs scour The Surface to find the source of the warmth. They visit every spellbound place, every spot on The Surface that is imbued with magic. Their search always has them return emptyhanded, no less confused than they were when they began.
This time, his smiles are consistent. It is twelve days in a row with the soft expression on his face before Topaz pushes her way back to The Surface again.
She sits, waiting for the next day that someone will grace the Statue of Hades.
It is another three days before a woman with dark hair and grey eyes returns to the statue.
“Oh hi, little one,” she reaches down and pats Topaz on the top of her head ever so gently. She grins, “I have missed you and your friend these past weeks. Do you wish to stay with me while I talk to him?”
Topaz flicks her tongue as she considers the young woman’s words. She smiles with bright white teeth, sharp at the edges, and sits down on the temple floor, “He is the only one who understands me, little one. Sweets and I are the same.”
And suddenly it all makes sense.
Chapter 4: the surface
"wow, it really is you"
"I grow tired of this world," she complains, digging her feet into the dirt. She looks up at his statue, glaring into his eyes, "I think you're scared of me, Prince of Darkness, Lord of the Shadows. I think that is why you will not come and find me."
Lilith shakes her head and a laugh bubbles from her lips, "I am glad to have you during this time, though. Mother is growing tiresome. She continues to tell me to be just like the other children, but I will not do it. I will not succumb to their weak-willed conformities."
She runs her fingertips over the engraving at the base of his statue, admiring how his name looks dug into the marble. Lilith tilts her head as the familiar sounds of her serpent friends distract her from her monologue.
"Good evening, darlings," she reaches out to the smallest serpent and allows her to crawl up her forearm and lick her face. Lilith giggles before petting the thickest serpent, scratching gently on the underneath side of his head.
Lilith lays down in the dirt, looking up at the night sky, "How can such terrible gods create something so beautiful?"
The bigger serpent slithers up her chest to look into her eyes. She smiles at him and he opens his mouth as if to reciprocate the expression, but he is still limited to his own body and therefore looks more intimidating than he means to be. Even still, Lilith rubs her index fingertip over the top of his head down to his tail.
"I wonder if Sweets knows that his nephew is throwing a party down here on Earth," Lilith raises a brow at the smallest serpent. "I wonder if he will attend?"
The Serpents stay until Lilith has to return home. They slip back to The Depths and morph into their human forms before seeking out their Maker.
"He's not going to listen to you," Fangs seethes as they approach The Maker's chambers.
Topaz shrugs, "It has to be worth trying."
The Maker looks down from his ashen throne and smiles at the Serpents down below. He materializes in front of them as a puff of smoke, a grin on his lips.
"Yes? Is there something you need, my friends?"
"Maker," Topaz starts, her clawed hands crossing together in front of her scaly body, "your nephew, Dionysus, will be-"
Hades shakes his head and holds his palm up, "Is this another ploy to get my back to The Surface?"
Fangs steps forward, tilting his head to implore his Maker, "Lord, we just want to see you get out of this bleak place now and again. It cannot be healthy."
"I will not listen to this," Hades waves his hand. "The humans do not appreciate my presence on The Surface. It is better for me to stay here, but the two of you are welcome to go and taste the wine of my nephew."
Topaz and Fangs glance at one another one final time before bowing their heads and stepping away from their Maker.
Together they spend days traveling back and forth to and from The Surface, spending time with Lilith, waiting on their next opportunity to try and convince The Maker to return.
"I do believe your Maker should attend this festival," Lilith gushes one day a few weeks later. She rolls around in the sweet peas, laying on her belly and looking the snakes in the eyes. She grins, "I think he would love this festival. We are all gathering together to send coins down to The Underworld for the souls who have yet to pass down the River Styx."
She runs the pad of her finger down the back of the smallest serpent, "Won't he like that? It will send the wayward souls down The River, allowing him some sort of peace. Don't you think?"
The young woman with dark hair and gray eyes sits quiet, waiting for them to responds. The serpents' flick their tongues out in some sort of answer, and it makes a giggle split her lips. She purses her mouth and pushes her tongue between her teeth to mirror their actions.
"I will go and wait for him there," she tells them, "even if he does not come, I'll be there. Will you tell him?"
The serpents slither back into the grass and Lilith is left on her own once more.
They are quick to deliver the news of the event to The Maker.
"Good for them," Sweet Pea responds with a wave of his hand. "It will be nice to have a new rotation of wandering souls at the base of The River."
Topaz rolls her eyes and thrusts her hands towards the god, "You cannot go on like this forever, my lord."
"Oh, Topaz," he smirks in a devilish way, "you underestimate me."
Lilith twirls a sweet pea stalk between her fingers, a girlish grin on her lips. She stares up at the marble statue, her savior of sorts, and sniffs the floral bud.
"I suppose I should stop telling you about these festivals to try and get Sweets to show, huh?" she asks the small serpent in front of her. Her smile falters slightly as the heat of tears wells up in the back of her eyelids, but she forces herself to pick up the pieces and continue on anyway.
"This one would be spectacular," Lilith explains. She rests the flower atop the tiny serpent's head, and watches as she tries to balance it on her scales. "It is a celebration in honor of Sweets himself. The whole city is gathering to celebrate the day he birthed the Underworld."
The serpent tilts her head and then coils around Lilith's arm, tightening around the appendage to steady herself. Lilith rubs her cheek against the serpent's head, closing her eyes at the motion.
"I understand why he keeps himself locked away in that prison," Lilith tells the serpent, her voice quiet. She has sadness hanging in her eyes, "He is so poorly treated here on earth, and in Olympus. All the other gods are clearly not supporting him like family should."
She shakes her head, dark hair falling over her shoulders. Lilith gives the serpent a half-smile, "I will take a sip of blackened wine in his honor, little one. I know you're trying your hardest to bring him to our land for a visit. He will come, but the stubborn god will have it be on his own time."
Topaz grabs Fangs by the collar and practically drags him across the Underworld floor. He tries to push back against her, but it's no use – she's much stronger than him.
"Maker!" she shouts as Hades begins to walk down The River.
Sweet Pea looks over his shoulder and smirks, "Yes, Topaz?"
She huffs, her serpentine tongue flickering between her teeth. She crosses her arms over her chest, "There's a festival tonight, on The Surface."
"The Surface, you say?" he asks, sarcastically entertaining the idea. He tilts his head in the serpent-girl's direction, "I would like to see how you try and coerce me into attending this time, Topaz."
"I-It's a festival in your honor, my Lord," Fangs supplies, reaching out to touch Sweet Pea on the shoulder. He smiles, "They're going to be drinking black wine and eating dark fruits. There will be fires made and animals sacrificed in your honor! Tonight is all about you, Maker."
Sweet Pea rubs his face which has grown stubbled in his negligence. He chuckles, a deep rumble that shakes the very ground they walk on, "The humans do not wish for my presence on The Surface, my friends. They may claim this festival is in my honor, but I do not think I would be welcome."
"How could you not be welcome at your own festival?" Topaz sneers, narrowing her eyes in questioning. Fangs looks at her with widened irises, a warning in his gaze.
"The humans see me as they want to see me, serpents," Hades explains. "If I go, all I will do is frighten them."
"Not all of them," Topaz supplies in a high-pitched voice, avoiding her Maker's eyes.
Hades sighs, running a hand through his dark locks. He shakes his head and fights the smirk on his lips, "If you insist, my serpent friend. Ready the horses, we will leave soon."
He walks up the hill to greet his canine companion, his grin growing with every step he takes further into the ash, "Come, my pet. There's no reason you cannot join us as well."
Topaz turns her head in confusion, skin glittering as the fire permanently ablaze in the underworld glints off of her. Hades begins to twirl his fingers and Cerberus' body starts to contort, shrinking down into the dirt.
"Holy you," Topaz stares in awe at the single-headed, normal-sized dog loiters in front of her, licking at his Master's fingertips. He bounds around, dark eyes staring up at the both of them, waiting for some sort of affection.
Hades scratches behind his ears and looks up at Topaz, "I think we are ready to go."
It is sunset when the black chariot from the underworld finally splits through the ground. There are lanterns hanging in the sky, burning blue to represent the fire of the underworld. As the chariot rides past, Hades watches from the distance as people drink from black chalices, their lips stained dark with wine.
He chuckles, "I would expect Dionysus is at the root of this."
"It's beautiful," Topaz hisses from around his bicep. The Serpents are still not allowed to show their humanoid form on The Surface, but they can still communicate with Hades despite their restrictions.
"It's something," Fangs echoes, twirling his head every which way to take it all in. He flicks his spiked tongue between his fangs and crawls onto Hades' shoulder to look out at the scenery.
Hades brushes his fingertips through Cerberus' hair, smiling down at his canine friend. The chariot halts and the god steps down onto the earthen ground. He then turns his head to glance at each of the serpents before pushing his way through the crowd gathered around a large fire.
The stench of hot blood and flesh fills his nostrils as the god walks closer to the pyre where the offerings are burning. Hades can feel the sacrifices make their way to the underworld; his body feels refreshed, restored. He opens his eyes and coils his fists, a triumphant smirk on his lips.
He pulls his cloak further around his face as he begins to weave through the crowd, Cerberus held on a leather rope attached to the god's wrist. The serpents hide under his clothing, tightening around his biceps and resting their heads in his collarbones.
As Hades passes, people grasp at their throats and bellies, complaining about a churning and a bubbling suddenly sparking in their bodies. He tries to steel his spine against their reactions at his arrival and wills himself to disregard the negative aura he's surrounded with. The serpents literally clutching his muscles does help to sober him as he feels his godly blood pumping in his own veins. Cerberus continues to guide him towards a fountain so he may drink from it, tongue parched from the heat of the Underworld.
Sweet Pea licks his lips and guards his face from those who might identify him, keeping his back to as many passersby as humanly possible. He swallows as he gets closer to the heart of the event, more humans crowding him and making him sweat.
"It must be the wine," he hears an older gentleman gripe. "Dionysus must have given us an old batch, uncured and rancid. I think I'm going to be sick."
The god refuses to pay mind to measly mortals. He huffs, thinking: They probably just can't handle the amount of alcohol Dionysus keeps. They'll be fine in the morning. Or they'll be dead. I guess I'll be the first to know.
Cerberus sniffs people's feet, drawing some attention but only to himself. The crowd loves to reach and pet behind his ears, and Cerberus has an equal desire for the affection. In his smaller form, his ferocities are fewer and he craves the human touch. Hades wishes that he were the same.
"I don't feel so good," he hears a small child whine from beside him. Their parent picks them up, holding them around the waist and shushing them.
Sweet Pea pushes closer, feeling stronger as the offerings grow in number. Prayers press against his ears, but he tries harder not to hear them. He grips the leather strap holding him to Cerberus tighter, the worn material biting into his palm and giving him some sense of clarity amongst the chaos.
Another woman turns as soon as he brushes past her shoulder, "Adrian, I am suddenly unwell. Do you think we might turn in early?"
The god hears voices such as this all around him, complaining of their sickened bellies and their rancid wine. He is suddenly so overwhelmed with the fearful thoughts of those around him that he doesn't pay attention when he bumps into a young woman, causing her to stumble.
He reaches out, accidentally touching her elbow as he steadies her. A swift apology passes his lips before he turns his back to her so she is unable to identify him as the monster she sees.
"It's quite all right," she chuckles, even though he's already dismissed her. "This wine is getting to my head as well."
Her mother, Hades assumes, reaches out and grasps her by the shoulders, "My love, I believe the wine has been poisoned or poorly prepared. Are you not sick like the others?"
Sweet Pea pushes past her just as he hears: "No, mother, I actually rather liked the drink."
The god tucks his hood further around his chin, hiding his true face from those around him as a crowd gathers to the bonfire.
"Tonight we celebrate the Prince of Darkness, the Lord of the Underworld, the god of The Depths!" A man stands tall in front of the crowd, his arms gesturing wide, "Tonight, we lift up our prayers to the most evil Lord Hades in hopes that he will turn his ear towards us and heed our cries! He has sworn off prayer, that much we know, but it is possible that if we can prove to him that we are worthy of his affections, he may open his mind to us all once more."
Suddenly, all around him, people begin to fall face first into the dirt, their hands raised above their heads as they recite prayers and passages under their breath. They dig their fingers into the ground and whisper to the god of death, eyes shut as the fire beats down on top of them.
The voices all come at him twice - once directly and once again indirectly. The amount of prayers pushing through the field of the underworld makes him dizzy and cold. He wraps his arms around himself in an attempt to hold his body together.
"I pray you will punish my husband," one woman requests with gritted teeth.
"Please, Lord Hades, help me rid myself of my awful wife," a man pleads with tears in his eyes.
"Oh, great god," an older man speaks, "please heed my cry and take my life. I am in far too much pain to stay here another day."
It is all so overwhelming. Sweet Pea's mind begins melding at the flood of voices and words and emotions coming through all at once. He blinks hard, trying to rid himself of all the negative, dark thoughts he is wading through.
"I think we should leave," Topaz whispers to her Maker, tightening around his bicep. Fangs gives him another squeeze, seconding her request, and Hades grasps Cerberus around the rope and tugs him away from the scene.
"I don't even know why I'm here," he hears another voice say. "None of them truly understand you, sweets."
The words make his toes dig in the dirt, his body halting as the nickname hits his ears. He looks around frantically, wondering if the source of the voice is one of his kin. Sweet Pea fights a smile at the idea of seeing one of his brothers again.
When he turns his head, all he sees is the backside of a young woman, dark hair covering her shoulders like a curtain. The spit in his mouth turns sour at his hopefulness. He scowls, and Hades pushes the thought of his family out of his mind. Hades begins forcing himself to walk further and further away from the gathering. People try to grasp him by the arms and legs and beg him to pray to himself, but he shakes them off and continues through.
His body is somehow weakened by the time he returns to his temple, legs shaking under the strain of being in a human form for far too long. He gasps, digging his palms into the dirt so the Serpents have a way to slither back down into the dirt.
"I need a moment, my friends, if you would be so kind," he manages to push the words through his white teeth. Sweet Pea sits on his knees, staring up at his very own statue, the marble looking back at him with soulless eyes and a broken heart.
"This is all they think of me," Sweet Pea whispers. "They think of me as some mercenary they can offer burnt rabbits to in exchange for my taking of a soul. I am nothing but a transactional god to them."
His lower lip trembles and he looks up to the heavens, "Zeus and Poseidon were right. I will always be in danger here, everywhere."
He beats his fists into the ground, cracking the stone he kneels upon. Tears drip onto the marble and he seethes curses through his teeth. Nothing can repair his damaged heart, his broken mind, not now.
Sweet Pea stands to his feet and the Serpents guide him to the chariot. Cerberus climbs in the front, awaiting his master. The horses buck, ready to return to their home. Their black hair gives way to a burning red mane, the heat from their flaming extremities warming Hades' face.
"Let's go home, my friends," he whispers, grasping the reigns and sitting back in his seat.
The horses are quick to pick up speed as the ground opens beneath them. The Serpents can morph into their opposing forms as soon as the grass grows back from where they once came. Topaz gasps for breath, the transformation still strange as it mutilates her bones and stretches her scaly skin.
Fangs lays his head on his Maker's arm, "I am sorry, Lord Hades. They do not deserve you."
The ride into The Depths is silent, save for the clambering of the horse hooves and Cerberus' occasional barking. Hades keeps one hand on the reigns and the other on Cerberus' neck, scratching him with his thumbnail.
They land with a thundering of hooves and a burst of flames as the chariot makes contact with the obsidian ground of the Underworld. Sweet Pea steps out, pulling Cerberus by the leash as the Serpents exit on the opposite side.
Sweet Pea bends down to unhook the leather from around Cerberus' neck when he feels the shift, the change in the atmosphere. Suddenly, the Underworld feels much-warmer.
He turns to ask Topaz and Fangs if they feel it too, but he's interrupted by a voice he's heard only in his dreams.
"Wow, it really is you."
Chapter 5: part four: the awakening
it is only the untangling of cerberus from his earthly form to his hellish three-headed self that breaks the trance set between the god and the mortal.
The Lord of the Underworld tilts his head, taking in the young woman in front of him. She approaches him in a swift stride, her dark hair flowing in waves over her shoulders. Gray eyes consider him as her slender neck bends to further support her exploratory gaze.
Gentle fingertips graze over his jawline, her eyes wide as full lips hang open, slightly parted to give way to soft puffs of breath. The edges of the woman’s mouth twitch in the promise of a smile when she realizes the god will not shake from his stance. He’s rooted in the blackened earth of the Underworld, ankles unbending and unforgiving.
The grays in her eyes are many, darkness and light swirling around one another as the blue fire of Hades glistens against them like a mirror, tainting her irises cobalt. Her dark hair hits her shoulders, small curls winding near her temples and drawing his attention from her pupils. She has deep tan skin, freckles sprinkled across her body like constellations.
The warmth of her palm hits his cheek and her thumb brushes over the corner of his full, pink lips. A gasp parts his mouth as a tingling heat washes down his entire being. The woman feels his tanned skin, full cheeks betraying his normal depiction in the ancient texts. He is not gaunt; no, quite the opposite. He is warm and soft, in both eyes and skin alike.
Sweets has gentle brown irises that skim over her face, taking her in just the same as she is taking him, drinking one another in like aged wine. The edges of her fingernails brush over his dark hair at the nape of his neck and she wonders what it would be like to thread her fingertips through it, to pull on it to hold him close.
She steps nearer to him, their chests brushing. Her breath hitches at the feel of him, and he takes note. He blinks once, slowly, and she wonders what he’s thinking. Can he hear her mind?
Every nerve in his body is on high, so much so that he can feel lightning in his fingertips. For some reason, he can’t find it in himself to move, and so she lays waste to his body with her eyes. Her pale irises wash over him time and time again as if committing him to memory. He lets himself wonder for a second if she is terrified or marveled at the sight of him.
It is only the untangling of Cerberus from his earthly form to his hellish three-headed self that breaks the trance set between the god and the mortal.
Lilith pulls her body away from the god of the Underworld to rush towards the beast who is astronomically larger than her. Despite the gargantuan creature’s terrifying appearance, she gushes with a smile on her face, “Oh gods, is this Cerberus?”
Cerberus stays stoic as she approaches him, all six of his eyes wandering over the tiny mortal’s frame as she laughs into his fur. She tumbles against the beast’s chest, scratching at his underbelly while completely inept at concealing her giggles. Her eyes squeeze shut and Hades is confused as Cerberus dips his middle head down to sniff her hair before nuzzling her with his large snout.
“What in my name is going on here?” Hades bellows, turning his eyes to the Serpents. “H-How did she-she’s a mortal.”
Topaz flickers her tongue between her dark lips and shrugs, “You drove the chariot through the gates willingly, my lord. That’s the only way she could have gotten through.”
Sweet Pea blinks blearily, clearing his eyes so he can watch as she kisses Cerberus on the nose, stepping up on his paw to get a better look. He shakes his head, “No, no. She did not just stumble into the Underworld, you snake. How did you bring her here?”
“Hey,” the young woman narrows her eyes at the god, stepping down from Cerberus’ paw to stalk across the ashen ground. She pokes her finger into his chest, the warmth from earlier returning as soon as her skin makes contact with his tunic.
“You don’t need to be so ugly to them,” she says with a fire in her eyes that he can feel. Hades watches as she grasps him by his elbows and looks him directly in the eyes, something no other mortal has ever been able to do without quivering at the ankles. “They get enough of the judgment on earth, don’t you think? Or is that not why you chose them?”
The calm that spreads over his skin like a balm alarms him, and so he shakes her off, unwilling to repeat his enraptured trance from before. He grinds his teeth together to ground himself, “What are you, some sort of sorceress? I will not have you touching me, not if you’re going to make me feel like, like-that.”
She tilts her head as if trying to understand, but he does not allow himself to consider the action attractive or endearing. Instead, he takes another step back to put more of a distance between their bodies. The warmth leaves him and he is enveloped in the cold air of the Underworld once more.
“Like what?” she asks, unwilling to relent as she matches his steps back for opposing steps forward.
Hades shakes his head, his cloak falling away from his face entirely, “I-I feel calm-what are you doing to me?”
Lilith smiles when she sees his face, light bouncing off of every angle. She barely has time to process what he has said before he turns away from her and steps toward the man and woman huddling near the chariot.
Her eyes travel to where she meets the gaze of the young woman, and suddenly it clicks into place. She bursts into a grin and runs forward to throw her arms around the dark-skinned woman with blackened eyes and full lips.
“Little serpent,” she breathes into the woman’s neck, noticing the heat of her breath bouncing off of scales so small they appear as skin. She grins as she pulls away, draping her hands across the serpent’s cheeks.
The serpent-woman smiles, revealing fangs and a forked tongue, “Hello, my mortal friend.”
“You two know each other?” Lord Hades roars, the tips of his hair catching fire as he stands between the two women. He crosses his arms over his chest, eyes turning darker as the realization dawns on him.
“They visited me,” Lilith looks between the two serpents before turning her gaze back to the god stood in front of her. The skin of her forehead wrinkles as she narrows her eyes at him. “They were my friends when I visited the temple.”
The flames in his hair quell, turning his tresses from a bright red back to black. He swallows thickly, his throat bobbing as he looks down at Topaz, expecting some sort of answer in regard to the young woman’s tale.
“The temple?” he inquires.
“Yes,” the young mortal steps forward, “your temple.”
The closer she gets, the warmer he feels. Sweet Pea’s heart is hot in his chest and he can’t breathe, so he puts his hands in the air, stopping her before she can get too close.
“I need you to go with Topaz. She will show you a place that you can stay.”
Thankfully the young woman does not put up much of a fight, but Sweet Pea suspects this behavior is not her usual temperament.
He walks down a hall, one parallel to the hall of The Forbidden Chamber. His heart sits heavy in his chest, his dwelling place bearing down on him and making him feel small. He waves to open a door, one leading to a room filled with marble statues.
The god pans his hands over them, closing his eyes as he searches for the girl’s voice.
He touches the knee of a statue and his whole body is overwhelmed with a searing heat, his eyes rolling back in his head as her vocals surround him tenfold.
“Add Ares to the list,” she whimpers.
“No one understands me like you do.”
A sniffle, “What did my father ever do to Poseidon?!”
“I cannot believe that these gods are the ones that others worship – how can they? They’re cruel creatures feeding on the humiliation and belittlement of us humans.”
“I know that if you were here, you would agree with me. Wouldn’t you?”
“I have no one left but you, Sweets,” she whispers, “I wish you were here so I could speak with you in person. I need you.”
Hades yanks his arm away from the statue, the emotions covering him like a blanket are too much, suffocating him at the throat. He wipes at his face furiously, unwilling to admit the affect she can have on his soul.
The god closes the chamber doors and begins his walk to the serpent den. He laces his fingers together in front of his torso, watching his boots hit the ground as he makes his way to their hangout.
Fangs and Topaz are sitting just outside the front gate, chalices in either hand. Sweet Pea approaches them, reaching to take one of the bottles of wine for himself.
“You owe me an explanation,” he speaks as he uncorks the bottle and puts it to his lips. “You may begin whenever you’re ready.”
Topaz wrings her hands together, standing with the stain of alcohol on her mouth, “L-Listen, my lord. We wanted to tell you, but-”
“But?” Hades echoes.
Fangs steps in, “We weren’t sure if you would even believe us, or if you would do something to further sever yourself from The Surface. We couldn’t risk it.”
“But you could risk her life?” Sweet Pea bellows, throwing the half-full wine bottle at a nearby jagged rock. The bottle shatters into a thousand glittering pieces, but it does not deter the god. “You did know that she might have burnt up upon entry into the Underworld, did you not? If I had been in a slightly different mood, one less willing, she might have been here as a soul instead of a mortal!”
“I think you would have protected her,” Topaz speaks up. She stands to her feet and her obsidian eyes glitter up at Hades, “The two of you are connected. I’m not sure how or why, but you are.”
Hades shakes his head and rips his hands through his hair, the ends flittering in the air, alight with red flames. He sighs, “If you were so sure we were connected, why did you not bring her to my attention before?”
“You had sworn off humans,” Topaz shrugs. She licks her lips with her forked tongue and reaches out to take him by the elbow. “I was worried that you would fear that she was part of The Prophecy.”
“And what if she is?” he quips, eyes narrowed.
Topaz’s eyes soften and she touches her Maker’s face with a gentle hand, “I know you’re angry, my lord, but you should be open to the possibility that she does care for you.”
“You would know this?” he asks, voice faltering as his eyes give way to the emotions plaguing his body. “You would know better than to think she is here for solely selfish reasons?”
“If that were the case,” Topaz removes her hand and takes a step backward, “then she would have made it here years ago. She has been visiting you since she was a girl. There are emotions in her heart that I cannot even begin to understand.”
The god sighs and rubs his palms over his face, “If she is all part of an elaborate plan to kill me, I won’t let you hear the end of it.”
Topaz smirks, “I would expect no less, my lord.”
Sweet Pea finds her sitting on the docks, her legs dangling over the edge of The River, expression unwavering as her toes get too close and then swing back again. She is quiet, a specific calm about her that he can’t quite put together.
“Is this plank taken?” he asks, tapping the toe of his boot against the spot next to her.
She tilts her head upward and those gray eyes glitter in the dark of the Underworld, a wide smile splitting her lips. She chuckles, “Depends on whose asking.”
He unties his boots and works them off his feet, mirroring her as he lets his legs hang over the edge of the dock. Their bodies are not proportional to each other, so his feet do dip into The River. Unlike her, he is lucky enough to have rule over this place, and The River cannot take his soul away.
“I would apologize for sneaking down into your world, but I can’t, not if I’m not sincerely sorry.” She looks at her reflection in the black water of The River, “However, I am sorry for hurting you. That was not my intention when I snuck onto your chariot.”
The natural pull to her is strange, something unlike he has ever felt before. The radiating warmth from the temple is here again, his shoulders decompressing as he lets the weight of his world leave his body for the moments that they spend together.
“I have wanted to meet you for some time now,” she babbles on, using her hands to talk. “I met you when I was young, when the gods first began to make a spectacle of my life. Ares, Poseidon, Zeus, Aphrodite…you name them, they have disrupted my life in some way. I could not find fault in you, though, and so we became friends of sorts. I suppose it was rather one-sided.”
The young woman looks up at him and he cannot force himself to look away, the captivating paleness of her irises luring him in and begging him to stay. She is closer than he would like, but he is glued in place, held down by an invisible rope.
“I confided in you,” she admits, a bashful blush painting her dark cheeks pink. “I knew you could not hear me, because you had closed yourself off to prayers. So, instead of praying, I made conversation with you. I figured you would be a man more interested in conversation anyway, of course. But, my mother was not very keen on me speaking with the god of the dead, so-”
“How do you see me?” he interrupts.
She turns to look at him again, her hands in her lap. Her head tilts in silent questioning and he has to rephrase himself.
“What do I look like to you? I-I don’t understand,” he emphasizes with his hands, spreading his fingers. “To others, I am-”
Hades blinks once and it is all the confirmation she needs.
“I have heard of the stories of the god from below,” she explains. “I have heard of a god with the face of a beast and the body of a man. I have heard tales of a god with blue skin and blackened teeth. I have heard about the one who tamed the three-headed beast and commands the dead.”
She licks her lips and looks up at him earnestly, honesty in her eyes and tone, “That’s not you.”
He shakes his head, unsatisfied with the way she’s making him feel. “You have yet to answer me, maiden. What do you see when you look at me?”
It looks as if she wants to reach her hand up to touch his face again, but she withdraws her fingers to her lap where she tucks them between her thighs. She takes a breath and slowly pushes it out of her nose, considering her words carefully.
“I see someone beautifully misunderstood,” she says finally. “Your skin is warm and your cheeks are pink. Your eyes are dark, but not in the way that everyone else believes. I can tell there is a heavy weight on your shoulders, but it is not the chains they say you bear around your neck. I think it is the weight of the world – Atlas be damned.”
He cannot do anything other than stare at her in awe. How is this what has become of the god of the Underworld?
“You have bowed lips and a strong jaw. Your lashes are dark and I can tell you hide muscle beneath your cloak.” She laughs to herself, looking out over the water, “I do not see a monster, if that is what you were wondering. I see someone just like me.”
“How?” He pushes her, his words strong but his resolve stronger now. His brows knit together as the skin of his forehead wrinkles. Sweet Pea leans into her side, “How is that what you see?”
She raises a brow and dares to look him in the eyes with a smirk on her lips. “What do you mean, how? Did I not just explain it to you?”
“I do not trust you,” he says simply.
The young woman shrugs, “You do not have to trust me. If I were a liar, I would not still be standing. I would be balled up with my fists in my mouth, nightmares running through my mind and tears dripping down my face.”
Silence stretches between them and neither is willing to bend the knee.
Finally, Hades eyes soften and he almost looks sad.
“Are you here to kill me?” the god questions.
She bends her brows together, crinkles creasing her forehead, “And why would I want to do that?”
“Killing the god of the Underworld would make you practically a god yourself,” he boasts, crossing his arms over his puffed-out chest. “That must be how you see me in my true form. Are you a god?”
“I wish,” she snorts, unceremoniously blowing a breath past her lips. She laughs, “My name is Lilith, by the way.”
The name is familiar in a way that he cannot explain and doesn’t wish to, so he moves on.
“Only a god can kill another god,” she says, tilting her head. Lilith glances up at him, trying to decipher what he’s insinuating by the look in his eyes. “I suppose that is why you were asking if I might be a god?”
He nods in a silent answer, staring down into her irises as if he could pull the truth from her pupils. She smiles, stretching her full lips, “Trust me, if I wanted to kill you, you’d be dead already.”
“You are a god, then?” he counters, his gaze hardening. Hades tries to ignore the stirring in the pit of his belly at the certainty held in the tone of her voice. He’s never had someone so directly but casually threaten his life. Is she threatening his life?
Lilith smirks, her tongue parting her mouth, “You would enjoy that, would you not? I know that you do not associate with mortals. Unfortunately, I am but a mortal. However, if you would like to pretend otherwise, I won’t complain.”
“A human would look upon my face and crumble.” Hades argues, his jaw muscles rippling under the pressure of his locked teeth. “The only ones who can see me for who I truly am are-”
“-the ones who are unafraid?” Lilith supplies with a knowing lilt in her voice.
The god sneers down at her, huffing a breath through his nose, “And you are not scared of me, mortal?”
“What do I have to fear?”
Hades’ hair catches fire, then, turning bright red as his eyes are swallowed by his pupils. He grows tired of her insolence and lets the rage he holds for humanity wash over his heart. His hands grip the planks of the deck tightly, nostrils flared as he glowers down at her.
“I am the Lord of the Depths, the god of the Undead. You would do well to show me the respect I am due.”
Lilith reaches out and touches his cheek with her hand, the pads of her fingers gentle against his scalp, “You are wasting your energy trying to make me fear you. I respect you, but I do not fear you.”
He is close enough to her that she can feel his breath on the bow of her lips, and it settles a warmth in her belly she feared would be there upon their first meeting. She removes her hand from his cheek and drops it into her lap, breaking their gaze and focusing instead on her fingernails.
It takes a moment, but the swirling dark energy that once twirled around him in a haze quiets and his hair returns to its calm color. His hands shake in his lap as he attempts to process the mortal girl sitting next to him, beautiful and ferocious at the same time, and what it all means.
“Tell me,” he leans to get in her line of vision. He is close to her face, but he does not mind, “I do not trust you, but I am intrigued by your presence here. Tell me about yourself.”
She smiles sadly and voyages into her tale.
“I have always been different, even when I was born. I came from my mother’s womb with a head full of hair and bright gray eyes unlike any other in our family. The healer claimed I was imbued with dark energy, that one day I would be the downfall of our family.” She laughs, shaking her head, “Some seer she was, that woman. She conveniently left out that I would be one of the last of my family left.
“My brother was much older than me, and he joined the war when I was but a toddler. He would come home at times, but his life always hung in the balance and we wept over him daily,” she picks at her fingernails and swings her feet back and forth just above the edge of the river. “Finally, news came that he had been slain in battle. Ares finally got the best of our family that day, claiming my brother.”
Lilith scoffs, looking up at the endless void that is the ceiling of the Underworld. She shakes her head, “My father was claimed by Poseidon during a fishing trip. He was going further out into the ocean to fish in different waters. We had already overfished in the seaside closest to our home. My father was merely trying to provide for his family and Poseidon killed him for venturing too far out into his precious ocean.”
Sweet Pea finds himself drawn to her and her tale, the ferocious way her lips curl into a snarl around her teeth shaking something in his core. He fists his hands in his lap and refuses to reach out to her as her anger grows.
“As the years passed, every god I could think of had wronged me. I grew up with an unloving mother – Hestia could have helped me, could have put her warm hand to my mother’s heart, but instead she let my mother crumble under the weight of our family tragedy.”
Lilith licks her lips as her voice grows thick with emotion. “Aphrodite first wronged my friends by distorting their view of love, and then she wronged me by allowing them to be taken from me with kisses and sweet words. I was left alone after they all left to be with their lovers in different cities.
“Zeus torched our fields, Dionysus infected our town with liquor, Ananke sparked darkness in their hearts, causing them to turn on one another.” Lilith grits her teeth and hot, angry tears spill over her cheeks. “Everywhere I looked, gods were destroying my life and the lives of those around me. There is nothing left that they have not tainted with their blasphemous hands.”
She unclenches her fists to see blood drawn in the center from her nails. Without pause, Lilith licks the blood lean off her fingers, rolling her tongue between her teeth before speaking again, “I realized quickly that the only person I could rely on was myself, and then I stumbled onto your temple.”
Lilith’s throat bobs and it’s like there is a storm cloud in her irises as she looks up to the god, “I realized that the only god I could trust, that I could rely on, was you.”
Sweet Pea’s throat grows dry, the tension between their bodies pulling them closer. She is a magnet and he is the metal, unable to control himself as she reels him in with her words and expressions.
“I knew eventually we would meet, but until then the serpents and I became friends when they visited.” She smiles at the thought of Topaz and Fangs curled around her arms and neck like jewelry. Lilith looks up at Sweet Pea, “You are lucky to have them. They love you.”
“And how do you know this?” he snaps.
She responds coolly with a far-off look in her eyes, “I can feel it. I could always feel it.”
He cannot allow himself to be sucked into her game, and so instead he asks her the question he fears most the answer to, “Who do you want me to resurrect, then?”
Lilith whips her head to stare at him directly, that fire igniting in her very soul the same way it did when he spoke ill of Topaz and Fangs.
“What do you mean?”
She sounds hurt, if he’s not mistaken, almost as if his assumption has wounded her. Sweet Pea refuses to let her create a chink in his metaphorical armor, and instead presses on in his interrogation.
“You tell me of all your fallen loved ones, so that must be why you’re here.” He looks skyward, wondering if he will ever grow accustomed to feeling used. “You must want me to resurrect one of them for you, do you not?”
“I do not,” Lilith snaps without missing a beat. She crosses her arms over her chest and glares at him, her nostrils flaring, “How dare you think so little of me?”
“Can you blame me?” Sweet Pea glowers. He huffs a breath through his nose and looks away from her.
Lilith spits on the dock, grinding her teeth together as she stares up at him, “Death is a part of life. I am no stranger to it, nor do I wish to undo it.”
Another silence pushes the two of them apart. Lilith skims the edges of her toes over The River as her feet swing back and forth like a pendulum. Every time the base of her big toe creates a ripple, Sweet Pea’s shoulders tense despite his suspicion she is here to use him.
“You do realize that is a soul-sucking river, do you not?” he asks incredulously, staring as another ripple upsets the natural calm of the river.
She raises a brow as if challenging him, “Life is short, Sweets. Might as well live it on the edge.”
The name sends a thunderous ripple down his spine, his heart hot as it beats in his chest. He gapes down at her – how could she know my name? – but he does not have time to react because the Underworld gapes wide open and a man drops through. He rises slowly, heroically, with his sword in his hands and a shield draped over his opposite forearm.
“Hades, Prince of Darkness!” he shouts, holding his sword in the air. “Show yourself, demon!”
Sweet Pea snaps his fingers and materializes out of thin air in front of the young man, arms crossed over his chest. He raises a brow at the gentleman, sure that he knows exactly why he’s here.
“I am here to retrieve a soul from the pit of Tartarus, and you are going to grant me safe passage or else I will-”
“Or else you will what?”
The man’s eyes flicker from Hades’ form to one much smaller, much more feminine. He tilts his head like a confused animal and she steps between the two male bodies, her arms crossed over her chest. The gauzy dress she dons does little to keep the hero from distraction, but he forces himself to look back into her cold eyes.
“I am here to retrieve the soul of Astrid, daughter of Theon. She was my wife. You will take me to her or else I will slit your throat with this cursed blade from the gods of Olympus,” the hero drones, pointing the glowing white and gold blade at Hades’ throat, just over Lilith’s shoulder.
“And why are you here to retrieve her soul?” Lilith asks, deadpanning.
Hades pushes her from in front of him and waves his hand, pushing the blade back into the sheath at the hero’s side. He sighs, “Excuse her, but my apologies, young hero, I cannot bring the soul back. Once it has entered this place, it cannot be returned.”
“Liar,” the hero seethes. “You have let many a soul pass back through the barrier. I will fight you if that is what you need.”
“I’m actually more of a diplomat,” Hades raises a brow and begins to circle the young hero. “But I do enjoy a good sword fight when I can find one. Who is it you say enchanted this blade?”
“P-Poseidon,” the hero stutters.
Lilith wants to rush forward and slam the dagger into the hero’s belly, but she stands still, watching as Sweets stalks around the young man with a devilish look in his eyes. She feels that same fire ignites in her belly, dripping cinders down into her toes and pushing smoke up her throat.
“Ah, my brother again,” Sweets taps his chin. “In that case, my answer is no. To your soul-retrieval and to your duel. I have more pressing matters to take care of.”
Sweets waves his hand and the Underworld peels back to The Surface, birds flying overhead. The god smirks and takes a step back, “It is your lucky day, hero. I will let you leave with all your limbs intact. Take your gift and leave while I still have patience remaining.”
The hero takes a step back, his eyes wavering between the god and the maiden, his hand hovering over the hilt of his sword. Lilith’s hair stands up on the back of her neck, prickling her skin.
“Hades, I do not-”
Lilith braces her spine and stands tall in front of the hero, “I suggest you take your leave and his graces, hero. Have you forgotten you are in his domain, his kingdom? He is the god, the ruler, of this place, and you would be wise to heed his advice.”
She swallows, taking a short breath, “Now, go deal with your trauma instead of trying to relive the past.”
Sweet Pea is caught off guard by her warning, his eyes fleeting from the mortal to the demigod hero. The beginning of a smile tugs at his lips, but it is withdrawn when he feels the tip of the hero’s enchanted blade begin to pierce his tunic at the waist. The fabric tears and Sweet Pea chastises himself for being so careless.
Lilith cries out in both fear and anger. She withdraws the dagger Sweet Pea keeps enclosed under his cloak to thrust it up into the belly of the hero. She slams her elbow against the hero’s wrist, the sword glowing with raw godlike power clattering to the ground.
“You fool,” she seethes, her eyes white-hot with rage as she glowers down at him. Lilith’s whole body shakes as she slowly guides the dagger deeper, “I told you to heed his advice.”
She pulls the blade upward through his belly, jaggedly cutting into the hero’s chest. Lilith grips the dagger harder, so hard until her knuckles turn white, and turns the blade once it reaches his heart. She slams it all the way through until the hilt catches against his ribs, his blood coating her fingers.
There is an unceremonious gasp that parts the man’s lips and then the hero’s body topples to the ground. Blood curdles in his mouth as he begins to cough and choke. He clutches at his stomach as his body convulses.
When Lilith rises from the hero’s limp body, she yanks the dagger from him and wipes the blood on the skirt of her dress. She wipes at her face to push the hair out of her eyes, streaking her dark skin with crimson in the process. She swallows, weak with effort, and shakily breathes before looking the god in the eyes.
“You warned him,” she smirks, wiping her mouth and staining it red.
Hades finds himself faltering, stepping away from her as he takes her in slowly, enjoying the view. Her hair is as wild as her eyes, cherry red lips matching her hands. There is a self-satisfied look on her face as she glances up at him, waiting for him to say something.
Somewhere deep inside of him, something stirs. A feeling he has long since forgotten.
“All right,” he concedes, letting out a breath, “maybe I’ll trust you now.”
Chapter 6: part five: the disparity
Lilith holds tight to the skin at the back of Cerberus’ neck, guiding him through the tunnels of the Underworld. For the past three days, Lilith has found Cerberus in the mid-afternoon, climbing up onto his back and walking him throughout the halls and caverns of The Depths.
“Good boy,” she grins, scratching behind his massive ears with both hands. She chuckles before sliding down his neck to the ground. Lilith steadies herself and looks up at him, “How about a treat, huh?”
Lilith plucks three filets of meat from the barrel that Sweets keeps hidden under the floor and tosses one to each of Cerberus’ heads. They gobble it up and she smiles before walking towards the Serpent Den.
The walk is quiet until she gets closer to the hangout, the sound reverberating so loudly that it shakes the ground. A serpent’s hiss opens the door, Fangs clambering out of the den with his arms raised high, a chalice between his fingers.
“Lilith!” He wraps his arms around her and kisses her cheek before dragging her into the hangout. “We weren’t sure when you were getting back from your walk with Cerb, so we started the festivities early!”
The young mortal laughs, her eyes creasing at the corners, “We took an extra lap around, he had some energy to work out. I’m here now, though.”
Topaz rounds the corner, two chalices in her hands and a smirk on her mouth. “I was drinking for you while you were gone.”
“Oh, little serpent,” Lilith kisses Topaz’s temple and takes both chalices from her hands. She dips one back against her lips and drinks until it is dry. Lilith comes back up for air with cherry-stained lips a devilish grin, “The party has just begun.”
The group is a few drinks deep before Lilith breaches the topic of Sweets. She puts her seventh chalice down on the tabletop, grinning at the tender as he sweeps it away to clean the glass.
“So,” Lilith drags her fingertips over the length of Topaz’s forearm, watching as the scales ripple under her touch. She looks Topaz in the eyes, admiring her dark irises and how they glint in the fire of the serpent den. “What brought you all to The Depths?”
Topaz rests her hand over top of Lilith’s and licks her lips, “The Maker, of course. We were born here, we have no reason to be anywhere else.”
“Sweets birthed you?” Lilith screws her lips up in disgust.
She narrows her eyes as Topaz begins to laugh. The serpent shakes her head, “No, no, silly mortal. He created us here. Hades brought a serpent from The Surface and buried it in the Underworld. He imbued it with his dark magic, and thus the one begat many.”
“And the many are all of you?” Lilith gestures to the many dark shadows slinking through the serpent den.
Topaz nods with a bright grin on her face. She squeezes Lilith’s hand, “Hades calls us the Serpents, but we call one another family.”
“Is that why there is a mark on his neck that resembles a snake?” Lilith inquires, leaning into the bar, closing the space between her and the serpent-woman.
“With every magic act, there is a price to be paid. The Maker had to pay with a pound of his own flesh in order to bring us into the world.” Topaz smiles, her eyes sparkling with the story. “Our essences are trapped there. We only partially belong to this world, but we wholly belong to our Maker.”
“It feels that at some point, we’re all beholden to him in our own ways,” Lilith murmurs before finding a full chalice and gulping the wine in it until the liquid coats her throat. She swallows, her eyes crossing slightly, “So it is just the serpents, Cerberus, and Sweets that live down here?”
“Yes,” Topaz answers. “We are allowed to travel to The Surface whenever we like, but only in our serpent form. Our demon form is too much for the mortals above to handle.”
“I could handle it,” Lilith counters. She does her best to straighten her spine despite the alcohol coursing through her veins. “I looked you in the eyes when I came to the Underworld and I did not waver.”
“You have also looked the god of the Underworld in the eyes without blinking.”
Topaz chuckles, putting her chalice to her lips. When she puts it back on the table, she looks the mortal in the eyes, “You are not an ordinary mortal, Lilith. That much I have always known.”
It is hours later when Lilith finally stumbles out of the serpent den. She can still taste the wine lingering on her lips as she drags her fingertips over the bow of her mouth. Her feet take her to where she’s been staying the past few days – an abandoned cavern that once housed a wayward demon, but Sweets has long since ran him out of the Underworld.
Lilith drags her feet through the ashen ground of The Depths, smiling at her reflection in The River. She watches as the waters ripple when Charon pushes his oars into the water, moving new souls down to be judged. Cerberus barks as she passes and she waves to him with a grin on her lips.
Her eyelids are heavy as the drunken stupor turns into a sleepy haze. Lilith takes a deep breath and blinks hard, trying to force herself to stay awake long enough to find the way home. Her foot catches on a rock and she goes tumbling forward, jutting out her hands to try and stabilize her as she hits the hard ground.
The crash never comes, but instead a warm body steadies her with hands on her biceps, holding her upright.
“Careful,” he grunts.
Lilith grins, focusing on tan skin and brown eyes. She giggles, “Sweets!”
Her arms waver around until she successfully lands on his chest. Lilith’s palms spread over his taut pectorals, her irises widening at the feel of his muscles. She snickers and goes to open her mouth when suddenly she’s cold.
“What are you doing out here so late?” he asks, stepping away from her with a blank expression on his face.
Lilith stumbles forward anyway, a bright grin on her lips as her hands grasp for his tunic, “I just left from Topaz and Fangs’ hideaway! It’s so beautiful in there and everyone is so nice and-”
“They’re demons,” Sweets deadpans.
“They’re nice demons!”
He takes a deep breath to try and calm himself when he feels that same warmth from before spread throughout his body, beginning as a pin prick where her fingertips slide under the sleeves of his top. Her fingernails graze over the flesh of his arm and it is like lightning has struck his soul.
“You shouldn’t spend so much time with them,” Sweets warns. He takes another deep breath and attempts to focus, “Demons are not for mortal consumption.”
“I’m not consuming anything yet,” she laughs, leaning into his side. “Would you mind walking me to the cave? I’m afraid I may fall into The River, and we wouldn’t want that!”
Sweet Pea hates to admit it, but he wouldn’t want that. He actually quite likes having her around, in the strangest of ways. She is good to the Serpents, keeping them busy and friendly. She pays attention to Cerberus, walking him around the Underworld and feeding him so Sweets doesn’t have to worry about it.
The only problem he has is the warmth.
Every time she gets close to him, every time she touches him, the warmth spreads like a plague. It overtakes his body and makes him forget his place before he separates himself from it. He has to physically remove himself from her for the pulsating heat to go away. And even still, so long as she’s close, he can feel it beating in his pulse, sending heat under his skin.
“Why do you stay here?”
Sweet Pea looks her in the eyes and hopes that she’s too drunk to remember her question. She doesn’t, based on the way her gaze bores into him as she expects an answer.
“I am here to protect the others,” Sweet Pea shrugs. “If I leave, who will stay here and keep everyone safe? There won’t be anyone to enforce the law of the underworld.”
“You’re lying to yourself, Sweets.” Lilith falls further into his side, wrapping an arm around his waist and leaning her cheek on his pectoral as they get closer to her makeshift home. She sighs, “You aren’t here protecting anyone but yourself. But it’s okay, I understand.”
“Shh,” she drunkenly pushes her index finger against his full lips.
The action makes his breath hitch but she barely notices as she pushes him forward. She grabs the arm currently dangling at her back and pulls it across her shoulders, circling her fingers around his wrists to hold him there.
Fire blazes through his bones at the action, burning up his arm and to his chest. However, he can’t find it in himself to extract himself from her, reeled in by her very presence. In the moment, he forgets that he’s the god of the underworld,
“I waited for years for you to come to earth,” Lilith murmurs, her words muffled by the fabric of his tunic. “I get why you didn’t now.”
They arrive at the entrance to the cavern and she twirls on her bare feet, her dress swaying as she does so. Lilith pushes herself onto her tip toes and presses her mouth to his cheek. For a fleeting moment, Sweets is lost in her trance.
Lilith squeezes his shoulder as she comes down to stand on flat feet, “Thank you for the walk, Sweets. Sleep well.”
As Sweet Pea turns to walk away from her, his fingers drift to touch the spot on his cheek where her lips seared their mark.
They are taking the chariot through the Underworld, visiting the Asphodel Meadows when he finally broaches the topic.
“So, when should I prepare the chariot for your ride back to The Surface?”
Sweet Pea asks her in a way that is casual, nonchalant, and he does not even tilt his head in her general direction because he cannot bear to see the look in her eyes when she understands what he is asking.
“Oh, I do not wish to return to that dreadful place,” she smiles, waving her hands in the air to dismiss the topic. Lilith curls her legs under her backside rather gracefully. Leaning into the edge of the chariot, she looks over at the beautiful green meadows filled with the most righteous of souls. “I am quite happy here.”
The silence returns and Lilith does not seem perturbed at all by his inquiry. Instead, she sits a little straighter, her back rigid as they ride through the Meadows. Sweet Pea grips the reigns between his knuckles so tightly that they turn a ghostly white. He grits his teeth and shakes his head, unsure of how to breach the conversation politely.
“I, well, you see, Lilith,” he starts, stammering over his words. “It’s just that, well, mortals aren’t exactly-”
“The way I see it,” she interrupts daintily, “you could use the help around here. The Serpents are much happier now that they have a female to play around with. And I think Cerberus quite likes the treats I’ve made him. You even seem to be a bit cheerier as the days go on.”
Sweet Pea licks his lips and makes sure his voice has a finality to it when he speaks next, “It is not a request, Lilith. I was merely being polite.”
Ah, there it is.
Lilith’s face contorts into something of terrible beauty. Her pale eyes gaze up at him, a sad storm swirling in contrast to her deep skin, “You’re telling me to leave?”
“I don’t think it’s healthy for you to stay down here,” he answers, covering her knee with his palm. Warmth shoots up his arm like a fire and he welcomes it as it may be one of the last times he feels it until she’s gone. “Mortals cannot be in the Underworld for too long before it does damage to their bodies. I have tried to be lenient, letting you stay here for a few weeks. I will not be responsible for you any longer.”
“No one asked you to be responsible for me. I can take care of myself,” Lilith spats. She crosses her arms over her chest and her nostrils flare. “If you plan on sending me back to that awful realm, then you will have to drag me there yourself.”
Sweet Pea scoffs, “Awful realm? You do realize you’re currently in hell, where people go to die? Everyone here would beg for another chance to go back to The Surface-”
“Even you,” she speaks quietly. Her voice is chilling - quiet and calculated as she stares him down. “This is your ruling place, but you want to be anywhere but here. But, who can blame you? Your brothers are constantly sending puny demigods down here to try and kill you.”
His hand flies from her knee as if he’s been burned. Sweet Pea’s jaw quivers as he grinds his teeth together, “You should heed your place, Lilith. Do not speak ill of my kin, or else I will not be so kind as to escort you out of this place.”
Lilith rolls her eyes and kicks her feet up onto the front of the chariot, crossing her legs at the ankles. She chuckles sarcastically, “Yet, here I am, saving you from the very invaders that your family send to try and seek your demise. I have driven a sword through five attackers and I’ve only been here for two weeks.”
The gray of her eyes looks forward, unable to face him. Her belly turns sour and she cradles her hands against her skin there. “Your family, your brothers, are sending people to try and kill you. How is it that you trust them more than you trust me?”
She snarls, “You need me.”
“They are liars, you’re a liar,” Sweet Pea yanks on the reigns and the horses halt. The chariot skids across the ashen ground and sends Lilith reeling. She gathers herself and stands in the chariot, glaring down at him with icicle eyes that any person would be afraid of.
Sweet Pea is not just any person.
She drives her fingertip into his chest, pressing against his muscled pectoral, “You’re blind, Sweets. You cannot see what is right in front of you because you’ve barred yourself from the truth.”
Lilith steps out of the chariot and storms towards her cavern. Sweet Pea is quick to follow, grasping her by the elbow to turn her around to face him.
“Do you not know who I am? Have you forgotten in your time here?” He shakes his head and searches her with his irises. His grasp on her joints hurts, but she does not flinch even though her skin turns red.
“Have you forgotten?” Lilith counters, stepping closer to her. “You are the god of the Underworld, the Prince of Darkness. Yet here you are, letting your family send mercenaries down to this place and threaten your very existence.”
“My family are not the ones sending these demigods,” Sweet Pea argues.
His eyes betray him, though, as they falter to look down at his feet the moment he speaks. Lilith reaches up to grasp his face between her fingers, squishing his cheeks with her thumb and index.
“You know it to be true,” she seethes, her heart breaking a little at the sadness in his eyes. “I have no reason to lie to you.”
Sweet Pea slaps her hand away from him, the back of his palm connecting with her wrist. The ends of his hair turn a deep blue, curling against his neck as he grits his teeth.
“You hate the gods, of course you have reason to lie. You would have me march to Olympus and end each and every one of them, if it suited you.” Sweet Pea’s throat bobs as he swallows, “They are my family. They sent me here to protect me. Why would they send heroes down here when they could have done it long ago, before I was banished here?”
Lilith shrugs, pursing her lips, “Maybe they changed their minds. Maybe something changed. As if I would know what goes on up at Mount Olympus.”
“You’re right, you wouldn’t,” he bites.
She glowers up at him, eyes a pure storm that back the rage in her voice, “At least I’m here, with you. They have not bothered to visit you once during your exile.”
“It is not an exile, Lilith!” Sweet Pea’s fingers turn to fists and he can feel his hair growing hot on his neck. His jaw quivers under the strength of his teeth.
Lilith scoffs while shaking her head, disbelief washing over her features like the waves of the sea. She swallows before pursing her lips, “If it is not an exile, then why are you barred from Mount Olympus?”
Her voice is so simple but it jars him to the very core, hot lava churning in his stomach. And yet, despite the look on his face, she pushes on and presses him further.
“If it is not an exile, then why do they not visit you? If they are truly your family, and your claims that they are protecting and loving you are true, then why have they not even tried to contact you once in your time here?”
Footsteps bring her closer to him, fists at her side, “I have known you for such a short time, and yet I can see what you cannot. How could this be?”
“You’re right,” Sweet Pea grits his teeth, “you have known me for a short time. And that time has come to an end.”
Lilith huffs a breath through her nose and she bears resemblance to a dragon, what with her fiery spirit and dangerous expression. “You are so insufferable!”
“Good,” he shrugs, “now I’m just like every other god.”
Her voice breaks, “But you’re not.”
“I told you when you arrived here that I did not trust you.” Sweet Pea looks down his nose at her, dark eyes never wavering. “And now you expect me to put you before my own blood? The gods who saved me from my very own father, and gave me this land to rule?”
“They gave you this realm to sequester you!” she shouts, throwing her arms in the air.
She steps as close as she can to him, his body impossibly warm as his hair grows hotter, the flames licking up his scalp and turning his surroundings a pale blue color.
“Have you ever heard the stories from The Surface? The tales of the god of death?” she asks him quietly, imploring him to listen to her. Lilith reaches out and takes his arm by the wrist, “There are stories the gods gave to the mortals to spread. Have you heard of them?”
Sweet Pea knows she’s lying – she has to be. Surely his brothers did not send him to The Depths for his protection only to make the mortals fear him. No, he cannot trust her; Lilith would say anything to force his hands against the gods who she so blindly thinks betrayed her in her youth.
“I did not start this conversation to have you recite children’s tales to me,” he snaps when ponder the thought anymore. Sweet Pea’s fingernails dig into his palms as he squeezes his fists tighter. “Now, I’m taking you back to The Surface, despite how you might feel about it. I am not beholden to you.”
“So you haven’t heard, then?” Lilith tilts her head in questioning.
He says nothing, but his eyes never waver from her.
Lilith takes his quiet for an answer and squeezes his wrist, trying to get his fist to release. She manages to push her fingertips between his knuckles and hold his palm tightly in her own; so tight that it hurts her smaller hand.
“We were told you were banished to the Underworld as a punishment for the crime of attempting to kill your brothers.” Lilith’s voice is powerful as she grits her teeth holds her fists tight at her side. Her eyes are a hard silver as she stares him down, “The story the gods gave mortals all those years ago says something along the lines of Hades tries to storm Mount Olympus and murder every god and goddess in his sight because they only allowed him to be invisible.”
Lilith pauses, and it allows Sweet Pea a moment to hear how his god-name sounds in her mouth and he realizes it makes his stomach sour. She does not back down even as he stares directly back into her pupils.
As he looks longer, there is a pain settled in her irises that he cannot quite comprehend, “Then, after you were unable to kill them and take the throne of Olympus yourself, Zeus decided to spare your life out of familial love. Instead of killing you by his own hand, he banished you to the Underworld to serve an eternal sentence as the lord over the dead, forever to rot in a prison of death.”
Lilith takes a pause to squeeze his hand and hover closer, their chests brushing as they breathe. She wants to reach up and touch his cheek but she knows he has boundaries now, boundaries that he might not have had prior to this revelation.
“The gods told humans of that tale,” Lilith reiterates, praying that he understands. “Zeus told them.”
“You act as if there is a line between you and them!” Sweet Pea’s voice shudders. The muscles in his jaw quiver with the intensity of his voice, and the vein on his neck pulses. “You are a human. You are a mortal! You are no different.”
Rage and pain flashes forward in Lilith’s eyes in the form of tears. Her upper lip wobbles as all the color drains from her face. A single droplet trails down her cheek as she drops her head so she no longer has to look him in the eyes.
“You are deflecting your pain onto me,” she whispers. She wipes at her cheeks with shaking hands before looking back up at him with storm-torn irises, “You know I am telling the truth. Even you did not disagree with the hero when he said the blade was enchanted by your brother, Poseidon.”
“Heroes steal enchanted blades all the time,” Sweet Pea rationalizes, waving his hand at her. He shakes his head, “Just because the blade was enchanted by my brother does not mean it was destined for my flesh.”
“And what if it was?”
Sweet Pea does not respond, and she has to wonder if this truth has broken him down to his soul. This time she does not grasp for him, instead holding her hands by her sides like there were ropes around her arms. Her teeth chatter with the hope of his belief in her.
“You’re lying,” he whispers unfeeling.
She steps further into his space, fire in her eyes and ice in her heart, “Look at me.”
He doesn’t, and so she grabs him by the jaw and pulls him down to her level. For some reason, he does not rebuke her.
Sweet Pea’s eyes dart to hers and she can’t help the whimper that escapes her lips when she sees his glassy irises. She swallows and takes a shallow breath, lips pursing as she tries to keep a sob sewn between her lips.
“My brothers would not do this to me,” he tries again. There is a low rage in his voice, but it is blanched by the whispers of betrayal.
Lilith releases his face and brushes her thumb over the red marks on his skin that she branded him with. Her head tilts as she waits for him to make his next move.
Sweet Pea swallows and it makes his throat bob, “They would never do this to me, Lilith. They love me. You are a lying mortal.”
She does not take the words personally; she cannot. Lilith wraps her arms around her waist to try and hold herself together and back all at the same time. She parts her lips to let a sigh break through but follows with words, “Have you ever heard the prophecy?”
Sweet Pea shakes his head, “Not for myself, no.”
“And yet you wonder how they are so easily manipulating you!” Lilith laughs sardonically, throwing her hands in the air. She rolls her eyes, “They are abusing you. They are keeping you holed in here, unable to interact with the other gods on Olympus, making you hate yourself because of a lie they’ve told everyone on earth. What a perfect plan.”
“Be quiet,” he barks, eyes narrowed.
“Let us find the Oracle, then,” Lilith challenges, standing taller. She braces her spine and curls her fists at her sides, “If you hear the prophecy for yourself, you’ll see that your brot-”
Lilith’s face falls and her hands drop to her sides. She takes a step back, protecting herself from what he’s about to say, but pushing him anyways. His voice is so cold, so quick, that she for once is actually minutely worried about what he might do.
“No?” Lilith asks incredulously, unwilling to let fear take over. She chuffs and rolls her eyes, “What, are you afraid of what you might find?”
“Lilith,” Sweet Pea holds a finger in the air to silence her. He shakes his head, “You would be wise to understand there are things you do not toy with. Sacred things.”
She spits on the ground and surges forward, taking his wavering finger in her fist, “Then teach me.”
He considers her for a moment, taking her in with his eyes, and pauses. There is a livewire between the two of them, hot and sparking with tension. She does not waver, as always, and looks him directly in the eyes with a tense jaw and unrelenting spirit.
Sweet Pea chooses to speak, “The Oracle only tells your prophecy to others. One cannot hear a prophecy concerning themselves. Once they do, there is a diversion or an interference with the prophecy that changes the meaning.”
“Then I will listen to it,” Lilith offers. “Alone. I can write it down and read it back to you so you can’t hear it directly from the Oracle, but you can hear it line-for-line as the truth.”
Lilith pleads with him, her eyes earnest and sad as they look at one another. Sweet Pea is quiet, his hair calming from bright blue flames to a deeper, somehow sad, sapphire color. He puffs a breath through his nose, “Even if I say no, you will pursue this on your own once I take you to The Surface, will you not?”
She raises a dark brow and there is a mischievous glint in her gray irises when she looks up at him, “And here I thought you didn’t know me at all.”
Sweet Pea sighs and rakes his hand through his hair, trying to keep the smirk off his face at her taunting tone. He glances down at her with amusement – this mortal has yet to prove herself to be anything but offensive and interesting. And still, he cannot find it within himself to keep her away.
“I will only accompany you on this journey because I know that if you die when interfering with the gods or the Oracle, I will put it on my conscience when I see your soul come wafting down The River.” Sweet Pea takes a deep breath, straightening his spine. “And I want to see the look on your face when I prove that you are indeed wrong, and my brothers have only placed me here to keep me safe.”
She smiles and he swears she’s the most beautiful thing he’s seen, “I appreciate the gesture, but I’ll be fine on my own.”
Lilith turns to walk away but he grasps her by the elbow, his tone firm when he speaks, “I was not asking, Lilith. I was merely being polite.”
The grin on her lips morphs into a smirk, as if this was her master plan all along, and she twirls on her toes to walk back to her makeshift home.
“Better get packing, Sweets!” Lilith calls over her shoulder, “It’s going to be a long trip!”
Chapter 7: the twins
“Last I heard, The Oracle was on her way to the Twins’ temples.”
“How do you know about The Oracle, mortal?
“Don’t sound so surprised, Sweets,” Lilith smirks as she glances across the chariot at him. “I’m a cultured mortal.”
The god scoffs and wraps his fingers tighter around the reigns, gritting his teeth, “Regardless – if we’re going to do this, we need to lay out a few rules.”
Lilith tilts a brow up at him, a smirk on her lips as she waits for his next sentence.
“For one, no more grabbing my face,” Sweet Pea narrows his eyes at her, but she can tell the anger in his tone is empty. Despite it, his lips are pulled in a tight line, “And when we are dealing with all-powerful beings, you let me, also an all-powerful being, handle it. You, the mortal, will not talk.”
“I will not let you silence me,” Lilith snaps, eyes alight with fight.
Sweet Pea closes his eyes as he takes a deep breath. He holds it a moment before letting it blow past his lips, “I am not silencing you, Lilith. I am trying to keep you safe, you intolerable human.”
“Intolerable, huh?” she muses, pursing her lips as she roots her way into the corner of the chariot, making herself comfortable. Lilith tucks her knees against her chest, the hem of her dress pooling around her waist and draping just enough over her thighs. She’ll take intolerable, for now. There will be a way to change the god’s mind soon enough.
Lilith grins up at him, “Anyways, the Twin’s temples are where The Oracle is headed. Apparently, she goes back there around this time of year to recoup with Apollo. I’m sure we can catch her before she moves on to her next destination.”
“I can only push through The Surface from my temple,” Sweet Pea explains as the chariot pushes upward, the sky splitting open above them. “The Twins’ temples are a few days ride from there.”
“I still can’t believe you wouldn’t let Cerb come along,” she huffs, crossing her arms over her chest. “He’s going to be all alone in The Underworld!”
Sweet Pea raises a brow to her, unsure if she is serious or merely jesting. The pout on her full lips is both arousing and comical, so he pulls his gaze away from her and sets it on the tear in the sky that will bring them to Earth.
“Hellish beasts are better left in the black belly of our home, Lilith,” Sweet Pea explains. He whips the reigns against the backsides of the black horses pulling the chariot towards The Surface.
She doesn’t tell him how the words ‘our home’ spilling from his lips makes her belly feel.
The horses’ hooves still sound like they are beating into the ground even as the chariot tilts upward and breaks through the open sky. The chariot settles as they reach ground and Lilith watches over the back of it as the hole to The Underworld sews itself back up as if it never even happened.
Biting her lip, she gazes upon the sealed ground as it fades into the distance, the horses’ galloping taking them further and further away from the familiar site.
As they continue on, Sweet Pea notices that the ground beneath them seems to be turning a brighter shade of green, and small multi-colored flower buds push their way up from beneath the ground. He narrows his eyes, unsure if he is seeing clearly or if the mortal world is affecting his mind.
Lilith leans her head against the edge of the seat and smiles as she watches the world pass by in front of her. The warmth begins to pulsate at the back of Sweet Pea’s neck, spreading up and down his body like an infection. For a moment he wonders in irony if he’s been wrong about this mortal from the beginning.
“Who did you say your parents were?” Sweet Pea asks, attempting to be casual. He wraps the remainder of the reigns that are loose in his hands around a knob at the front of the vessel.
“My mother’s name is Demitria and my father’s name was Arel,” she answers, never turning to look him in the eye.
Sweet Pea feels the names around on his tongue, something sounding familiar but nothing making sense. He watches the ground again, but the colors and shapes are passing by too quickly and it makes his head spin, so he settles back into his seat and takes a few breaths.
The first day is met with mostly silence. Lilith falls asleep curled up in a corner of the chariot despite the wind flowing through her hair and the coolness of the night. Sweet Pea doesn’t sleep, so he finds his eyes and his thoughts wandering to the mortal gently snoring next to him.
She shivers, her shoulders shaking against the hard material of the blackened chariot, and Sweet Pea manages to materialize a black blanket from smoke to drape around her body. When she smiles, the warmth spreads through his chest and he has to turn away from her, despite how much he wants to drink in her grin.
Sweet Pea forgets himself, remembering that he is still frustrated with this girl, this nuisance. She has been nothing short of a thorn in his side since she stepped into his Underworld.
It would make sense for her father to be Ares, he thinks to himself as he guides the horses towards the temples of Apollo and Artemis. She is always eager for a fight. Her name even recalls The Evil One spoken about in the stories. It would all make much more sense if her father were to be Ares.
And so, Sweet Pea thinks he has it figured out. Ares must have swooped down into her village and taken a bride to bear him a child. Once the god realized for the umpteenth time that he could not be with a mortal, Ares left the woman alone to care for the child and afterward she sought a mortal husband. Together they raised new children and the demigod child, and they told her that the human man was her father, pulling off one of the greatest tricks of all.
Really, Sweet Pea feels rather satisfied with himself for figuring it out.
When she is awake, Lilith spends her time braiding her own hair and watching the sky turn colors. She does not speak to Sweet Pea, knowing that he is still reeling from their argument that led them to this quest of sorts. She tries to be respectful by not bringing up his family, specifically his brothers. And yet, the deepest parts of her cannot help but to be inquisitive.
“Before you became the ruler of the Underworld, how often would you come visit the human world?” she asks a few hours into the night. The shrouded blanket covers her shoulders, held tight by warm fingers.
Sweet Pea tilts his neck to consider her, wondering if he should even reply. He rolls his lips together before parting them with an answer, “Not often. I did not have much time between being rescued from my father’s gullet and then given the domain to rule. I was always a dark presence, and so the mortals never much cared for me.”
He chews on his lip, looking out into the distance at the sky and the sea. His voice is far off as he murmurs, “And how could they, when they had such better beings to worship?”
“That is all a matter of perspective, Sweets,” Lilith leans against his arm to smile up at him. She pulls away and wraps her arms around her knees, hugging them tightly against her chest.
Sweet Pea has somehow managed again to forget himself, to forget his place. This mortal has some kind of adverse effect on his mind, and he needs to control himself better around her. He needs to remember how powerful he is, and how weak she should be.
Oh, but she makes it so difficult with that devilish grin and the storm in her eyes.
Another two days passes until they are coming onto the green fields where the god of archery, music, and healing keeps his temple.
In the distance, far off in the woods, there is the howl of a wolf and Sweet Pea knows Artemis is near. She never strays too far from her twin.
There is a gentle melody floating down through the meadow, lifting Lilith’s spirits and forcing her to her feet. She sways in the grass, the blades growing up her ankles as she dances.
“Lilith,” Sweet Pea calls to her, speaking for the first time since she asked about his trips to the mortal realm. He turns his palms to fists at his sides, “Do not be turned by his musical charm. Follow me.”
The words of the god of the Underworld are far more authoritative to her ears than the sweet melodies of the golden god. She walks behind him, a few feet between their bodies, and the god comes into view.
He smiles as Hades comes into view, “Ah, Uncle!”
“Apollo,” Sweet Pea nods his head, courteous yet calloused.
Lilith takes a moment to consider the god. Apollo deftly holds a large golden harp in his hands, fingers traipsing over the strings to play a gentle melody. He wears a smirk on his pink lips, ginger hair glinting in the sunlight. He truly is beautiful, like all the stories tell, his teeth a bright white and his eyes warm and inviting.
“Uncle, can we forgo the pleasantries?” the god asks, setting his harp down, a stool materializing under the instrument as his fingers release it.
Sweet Pea swallows before releasing the tension from his shoulders, “Archie, look – we’re here to request information from you.”
“Ah, I see,” Archie grins, nodding his head with a knowing glint in his eyes. “I never seem to get a pleasantry visit from the gods save my sister. What shall your request be, Sweet Pea?”
Lilith steps forward and it’s like Archie is seeing her for the first time. He tilts his head, considering her with that familiar smirk tugging on his full lips. Dimples slot into his cheeks, making him look more boyish.
“Does it have something to do with this lovely maiden?” Apollo seems to sniff the air before opening his mouth again, “She’s a mortal, then. Do you need a song played at your nuptials?”
Sweet Pea’s nostrils flare, eyes turning copper in anger. He steps closer, dangerously close to Apollo, and begins to speak to him in Ancient Greek.
“Ήσυχο ανιψιό,” he warns.
Lilith’s ears perk at the words, trying to process the language she doesn’t quite know how to speak. The language he uses predates even her eldest kin.
Archie seems to understand this warning, but instead of heeding it, he continues to jest with his family, “Ο θείος, ρωτούσα μόνο γιατί έχεις θνητό μαζί σου. Ξέρω ότι δεν τους αρέσει.”
“You do not have to spare me from your chatter,” Lilith snaps, crossing her arms over her chest. For the first time, Apollo notices the dagger hanging at her waist. He raises a brow to her, wondering if she really were all mortal.
“Είναι όμορφη και γεμάτη με αγώνα. Βλέπω γιατί την συμπαθείτε.” Apollo chitters, his never ending smirk painting his lips.
Whatever words he spoke must have angered Sweets, because it takes Lilith’s palm on his bicep to pull him away from the redheaded god. Sweet Pea grunts, shaking her off of him, and stands tall in front of his younger counterpart.
Before she can speak, Lilith hears a rumbling in the woods and smells fresh cedar in the air. She turns her head and is met with a girl not much older than herself carrying a quiver on her back.
“I must apologize for my dear brother,” she speaks and her voice sounds like an order and a woodland song simultaneously. “Above all else he is still a man, which can make him insufferable at times.”
Lilith bites her lip as she takes in the goddess one feature at a time, beginning with her dark red hair and shining blue eyes. She’s taller, built in all the right places, with bulging muscle and sinew pressing tightly against her clothing.
She tilts her head before reaching a gloved palm out to Lilith, “I’m terribly sorry, I forgot to introduce myself. The namesake is Artemis, but everyone who knows me well enough calls me Blossom.”
“Blossom,” Lilith rolls the name around on her tongue while she shakes the goddess’s hand. “My name is Lilith.”
Artemis does not recoil at the name, but does obviously take note of it. She bites her cherry red lip, letting her eyes roam over the mortal stood in front of her. Blossom sighs disappointedly, “And what exactly is it you need from my brother?”
“The Oracle spoke a prophecy many, many years ago. I need to ask her to repeat it,” Lilith explains, forgetting the other gods in the room and focusing solely on this beautiful woman. She reaches out and touches Blossom by the wrist, praying that she isn’t making the wrong move. “I knew that she came to Apollo around this time every year, but it seems she has already passed by. Is there any way that you could tell us where she is going?”
Apollo stands to his feet, materializing in front of her dressed in a white tunic laced with gold bands. He has a laurel in his hair, making the red look even more like gold in the light of day.
“I am not the Oracle’s keeper,” he informs. “She is beholden to me, but I do not control every word that spills from her lips, not anymore. I quite enjoy the stirring she gives young heroes like you, human.”
“Surely you’re not saying you’ve lost her,” Lilith fights a smirk. She wraps her arms around her body to make her seem smaller, “We really need to speak with the Oracle about the prophecy.”
Apollo’s chest inflates at the accusation and Lilith knows the emotion flickering around in his irises is defiance. The god is not known for his tumultuous emotions or a hotheaded temper – that stereotype is left to another god. And yet, Lilith is sure that even Apollo’s wrath would be something to fear.
“The Oracle belongs to me. I cannot lose her.” Apollo states, standing taller so he towers over the mortal. He crosses his arms over his chest and the god who was boyishly playing the harp when they arrived suddenly looks much more intimidating.
“Nephew,” Hades warns, meeting the golden god halfway with a palm against his shoulder. “She is an impudent mortal, do not heed her taunts, you will only encourage her. Unfortunately, she is right about our audience with the Oracle. You do not have to call her back home, but if you can tell us which direction she is headed, we will board my chariot and be on our way.”
“Ah, yes,” Apollo takes a breath and a calm washes over his face. He smiles at Sweet Pea, patting his hand over top of his uncle’s. “Mortals can be so arousing yet so infuriating.”
Lilith would step forward to defend herself except she watches Sweet Pea’s hand form a gesture that she thinks means something akin to leave it be.
“Unfortunately, I cannot dispel the Oracle’s location. She is headed to her next prophecy location, her next hero to frighten with her silver tongue.” Archie brandishes his harp and begins to pluck a tune while he speaks.
“Do you know any of the lines from the prophecy?” Lilith asks, defying the god of the Underworld and speaking before spoken to.
“Which prophecy, my darling?” Apollo croons like a melody. He grins, almost as if he forgot that just earlier she was accusing him of losing his plaything. “The Oracle has spoken countless.”
Lilith opens her lips to answer Apollo, but Sweet Pea steps forward and intervenes with an apology. Apollo lets a knowing smirk cross his lips, “Ah, that prophecy.”
Artemis picks blood off of her arrows as she kicks her boots up onto one of Apollo’s marble statues. She rolls her eyes, “Sweet Pea, I really don’t know why you’re going down this path again. What’s done is done.”
“Blossom, you would do well to mind your own,” Sweet Pea snaps, eyes alight with flames in his dark irises. The tips of his hair burst into tiny flames of red and orange, licking at his neck.
“Leave my sister be, Pea,” Apollo waves his hand. He licks his lips, “And I do not know any of the lines from that prophecy. Oracle is right to keep some things from me. If you know too much of your future, it can be perilous.”
Sweet Pea notices the way that Lilith stiffens, so he steps in front of her to glare down the two redheaded gods with harsh eyes. “If you do not know the lines, then you will guide me to the Oracle. It is simple, Archie. Do not make me repeat myself again.”
“All right,” the musician rolls his eyes, “but you know that everything comes at a price. Sing me a melody worthy of the god of song, and I will tell you where the Oracle may be.”
There is a hesitation because Sweet Pea hasn’t sang since he was with his mother. He balls his hands to fists at his side and goes to argue, but there is already a sweet song curling its way around their limbs and sinking into their bones.
Lilith steps forward with her palms facing upward, a heavenly melody spilling from her lips. She sings lyrics of sadness and loss and death, but the lines that sink knives the furthest into Sweet Pea’s chest are the ones of loneliness.
She reaches out and frames Apollo’s face with one of her palms, still singing the chilling song. Lilith smiles, but it does not reach her eyes, as she recalls her brother and her father and all of the ways the gods have hurt her. She weaves the tale into notes of deceiving happiness, unwilling to bend the music to her sardonic tendencies.
Sweet Pea feels something swirling in his chest. Usually, it is the warmth, but now it is this cold, dark thing gripping his heart and squeezing it until he cannot breathe. Tears surface in his eyes and so he turns away, walking towards his chariot to try and avoid her sad song. His jaw quivers as he tries to hold back a sob, the words striking his heart like celestial bronze.
Lilith closes her song by holding a note for a moment longer than necessary, tugging on the heartstrings of each of the immortals surrounding her.
“Holy Hera,” Apollo whispers, playing a short melody on his harp as tears stream down his cheeks. “With a voice like that, I may just steal you away from my dear uncle.”
Hades murmurs something akin to a warning in the ancient language, and Archie takes a step away from the mortal. He chews on his lip in consideration before speaking, “The Oracle is headed to see Ares. He sought after a prophecy of his own and I granted it to him.”
“Thank you, nephew,” Sweet Pea nods his head and pushes Lilith by the base of her spine towards the chariot before she can make any new rash decisions that either anger or excite another god.
“Heed my warning, uncle,” Apollo calls from atop his temple. He begins to grow in size, his harp turning a shimmering gold as he towers over the hillside. “There was a reason your brothers were the ones to hear the prophecy, Sweet Pea.”
“And there’s a reason they are the ones spreading the details of his exile,” Artemis shouts while re-threading her bow. She smirks, “Zeus told the story very vividly.”
Lilith parts her lips, but Sweet Pea has ushered her into the chariot before she can speak.
Chapter 8: the warning
Sweet Pea knows the route to Ares’ familiar hideaway all too well.
The cove is only a few hours away from the Twins’ temples, and they take the ride in silence. Still, he can tell that she is on the edge of her seat with words boiling at the tip of her tongue. He is merely waiting for the pin to drop.
And so it does when they are moments away from their destination.
“It irritates me that you would let them speak to you like that.”
Sweet Pea takes a breath, as he often does before speaking to Lilith. “If I were to go around slashing at everyone who angered me, there would be none left.”
He wants to chuckle because of course Lilith wouldn’t understand nor care as to the consequences of those actions. Sweet Pea holds the reigns tighter around his knuckles, chewing on his lip as he formulates his answer.
“I do not wish to be the ruler of all godkind, my little mortal. I did not want my domain in from the beginning, but I took it with my brothers’ blessings and have ruled it as well as one can.” Sweet Pea squints as the sun sets in the distance, a golden hue washing over the valley, “I would love to raise a sword against each of the gods or men who have angered me even in the slightest. It is my basic nature, but I do have to fight it often, or else I would be as seedy as Ares.”
“If I were a god,” Lilith starts, her hands balling into fists in her lap, “I would be sure the others respected me enough to fear me, and-”
“Lili, you cannot go around just swinging a sword and-”
“-I would be kind enough to those who deserved it.”
Somehow, Sweet Pea knew this. He has seen her with Cerberus and Charon. He has watched her with the Serpents and the Souls. He knows she has kindness in her heart, but there is a chain of ruthlessness that binds around it.
The stench of bodily musk and blood wafts into Sweet Pea’s nose and he knows that they are near enough for Ares to sense them.
“Please, Lilith,” Sweet Pea grabs her by the shoulders and she swears she sees concern in his eyes, “let me handle this.”
A spear whizzes past the chariot, lodging into the tree trunk behind them.
“Ares!” Sweet Pea roars, yanking the spear from the wood of the tree and positioning it in the opposite direction. “Be still, nephew!”
Sweet Pea launches the spear and it lodges in the middle of a tree trunk about one hundred yards away. Lilith feels the hair on her body prickle at the sight and she fights a smile, remembering that they’re still at odds with one another.
When the pair walk over the crest of a hill, they are met with a burly, muscular figure dressed from head to toe in Ancient Greek battle gear. He has a spear strapped to his back and two swords strapped against his hips. There are long, bronze plates covering his extremities, only making his muscles look bulkier.
As soon as Lilith steps within a few hundred feet of the soldier, she feels a burning in the pit of her stomach and a fire light behind her eyes. She bares her teeth and her jaw quivers under the stress of the bite of her mouth.
“Ah, Sweets,” Ares curls his upper lip in semi-disgust, semi-admiration. “What a pleasure it is to see you in the mortal realm. What brings you to my resting place?”
Sweet Pea steps in front of Lilith, disregarding her, “I see you’ve taken a younger form, nephew. It suits you.”
It is true, Lilith notices. Even though he has a figure full of muscles, strapping around thick, dense bones, he looks young in the face. There is a shadow of stubble across his cheeks and down his jawline, paired with youthful, murderous eyes. If she were to look close enough, Lilith believes she would find literal fire glowing in his irises.
“Well, I need to appeal to the other young men who are running into battle,” Ares smirks, crossing his arms over his breastplate. It looks rather uncomfortable, but Lilith would argue that just spurs on his anger and hate. “They are more agreeable when they see me fighting alongside them, spurring on the heels of war.”
It is as if the word war sent a new shockwave of ferocity and pain down Lilith’s spine. She was in such awe of the god that she forgot his war was what took her brother’s life.
“Ares, you muttonhead,” Lilith points her finger in the air, her other hand hovering dangerously close to the dagger at her waist. “Your heels of war takes away the precious gift of life, and-”
“I like this one,” Ares grins, tilting his head as if to consider the mortal. He turns his eyes to Hades, “She has much anger in her soul, much fight still left in her. A darkness settled on her soul, though. It taints her spirit.”
Lilith grabs for her knife and Ares laughs, snapping his finger and the dagger returns to her hilt, “Young maiden, are you sure of your lineage?”
“Why do you all keep asking me this?!” Lilith spits, grabbing for her knife again. Every time she gets it out of her hilt and into her fist, it returns when she blinks. “Why does it matter who my family is?”
Ares’ eyes glint like firelight and a smirk crooks his lips upward, “If you’re a demigod, child, it is important to know which of the gods claims you. What powers do you possess?”
“Powers?” Lilith blanches. She rolls her eyes and tries to snatch the dagger again, but just as she raises it to Ares’ throat, it vanishes back into the hilt. She groans in frustration, “Listen – we came here for a reason, god of war, and it was not to discuss my lineage.”
“I really like this one.”
Sweet Pea gets an uneasy feeling in his stomach at the god’s comments, so he takes a step in front of Lilith and uses his fingertips to brush her hip and guide her behind his taller frame. The god of war notices this and the gleam in his eye grows brighter.
“Uncle,” he begins to saunter towards the god and the mortal, “what exactly is it that you’ve come to me for?”
Hades clears his throat, “Ares, we were told that the Oracle would be traveling to you for a prophecy. We need to consult with her, and you know she cannot travel to my realm.”
“Oh, so you need the Truth Teller.”
“Yes,” Sweet Pea answers. He chews on the inside corner of his lip, “I know the Oracle travels fast. Has she already spent time here?”
Ares walks around Hades like he’s stalking prey. Every time he circles closer to Lilith, she feels her hair on her neck stand vertical and her heart starts beating quicker. She wonders if she balled her fists, if they might burst into flames. What was it Ares had said about powers? She might find if she dug deep enough, tapped into enough rage, that she possessed some sort of power. As long as it brought Ares to his knees, Lilith did not mind.
“You know information comes at a price, Uncle. I cannot just give you the information regarding the Oracle. Apollo would have my head.” Ares’ armor clanks as he paces around, hand brushing over the harsh line of his jaw.
Sweet Pea’s jaw locks under the pressure of his own teeth, “Ares, you know those rules only apply to mortals.”
“The girl is at least half-mortal, is she not?”
Lilith balls her fists up so tight that her fingernails cut half-moons into her palms. She surges forward, “I am no half of anything, you brute.”
The god of the dead snatches her by the elbow, pulling her back so she stumbles into his chest. Ares watches as he murmurs something into her ear and her posture relaxes. He licks his lips, careening around her like she were his meal, “You would be wise to heed your place, child.”
“I am no child, Ares,” Lilith speaks and it sounds like a warning. If he were being honest, the god of war did feel wary at her threat. Still, he pushes his chest out and presses the heels of his palms to both swords at his waist, “You are a child to me, mortal. Does Hades allow you to talk to him this way?”
Sweet Pea falters and Ares has all the information he needs.
“Ah, he does.”
Ares now stalks Hades as if he were prey. He curls his upper lip as he considers the god, tilting his head to take him all in. After a moment of silence, he speaks, “I knew you were a weakling, Uncle, but I did not take you for a fool. Ever since Aphr-”
“Do not speak her name to me, nephew,” Hades glowers, his hands turning to fists. He knows that his kin is goading him into a fight, but now it does not matter. He is the elder god, must more seasoned than Ares. But the god of war has his own ruthlessness and anger fueling him.
“Oh, so even the name of a lost lover makes you cower?” Ares taunts. He chuckles sinisterly and Lilith catches a flash of fire ignite in his eyes. “How else do you allow this mortal to affect you? Does she crawl into your bed at night, replacing all the other true gods who might satisfy you? None of them have come to visit, have they? Too busy enjoying the spoils of Olympus, I’d think.”
Lilith roars and charges forward, the flicker in her irises reflecting that of the god across from her. Finally, she is able to rip her knife out from her belt and slam it into whatever part of Ares she can find. The grass underneath her feet becomes more solid, it would seem, evening out her foothold and keeping her steady.
The god raises his shield and her sword clangs against it, bronze glinting against Olympian gold. She bares her teeth and holds onto the weapon so tight, her knuckles pale.
Ares laughs, the sound coming from his belly, “You petty mortal. You’re full of fire, but you are unwise.”
“Sounds like someone else I know,” Sweet Pea jabs from where he now stands a mere foot away from Ares. He grabs the god by the throat and hoists him in the air, pushing Lilith away with the wave of his hand. She stumbles, but does not fall.
Ares’ nostrils flare, eyes wide with ire, “You are a sad blur in the Olympian story, Hades. Your life brings our family nothing but shame. Zeus should have killed you when he had the chance.”
“A god can kill another god, my nephew,” Sweet Pea’s hair turns into bright orange flame, licking at his neck and burning Ares’ face. Welts begin to appear on the god’s skin, bubbling and searing red. Sweet Pea brings the god closer, so close that their noses might brush, “Should we show the mortal how I send a soul to Tartarus?”
Ares goes for his swords, but Hades has rammed his knee into the god’s gut before he can get a good enough grip on the weapons. Ares totters back, “Does she not know of your lover, Sweets? Or of how she abandoned you when you were sent to that rotting stink hole?”
“Is this how low you must stoop, nephew? This is a centuries old story,” Sweet Pea shakes his head and takes a deep breath, collecting some sort of shadowy substance in his hands. “It always angered you how she loved me. Pretending as if she ever cared for you will not change the outcome. You were never enough.”
Sweet Pea throws the shadow to Ares and it immediately morphs into a set of slithering chains, dragging the god to the ground. Ares is able to slash through them, sending little worms writhing into the dirt.
“I am stronger than you!” Ares bellows, slashing his sword. Hades steps out of the way of the blade, turning his body with every blow. “You know you cannot best me, Uncle, and so you cower away like a mortal.”
“I did not come here for a fight, my nephew. I only came for information.” Sweet Pea materializes a glittering obsidian sword from thin air, brandishing it with a confidence that shakes even Lilith to her core.
“I am the god of death,” Sweet Pea boasts. “If you do not think I can kill you, then come forward.”
Ares smirks as if he’s already won, “I will tell you where the Oracle is gone to if you can pin me in battle.”
“And suddenly there is a line drawn before death?” Hades taunts, grinning like an animal. He licks his lips and waits for Ares to charge first.
Lilith watches as the two fight with their swords, gold glinting against blackened steel. Her fists shake with every blow that lands too closely to Sweet Pea’s body, knowing full-well that Ares could kill him if he strikes in just the right spot.
Her fingers twist in the air and she’s not sure what happens, but when she opens her eyes, Ares is pinned to the soil with Sweet Pea’s blade at his throat. Around his legs are vines, dragging him down under the earth so only his upper body is aboveground.
“The little demon intervened,” Ares cries, stabbing his swords in the ground. He tries to pull himself up, but the earth does not waver.
Hades shakes his head, “She is but a mortal, nephew. Lilith cannot intervene.”
“Lilith,” Ares temper flares, his eyes ablaze with molten fire. He snarls up at his kin, “I will remember that name.”
“I should think this encounter would be one that’s hard to forget, Ares. Now, the next location of the Oracle, please.”
The memory of why they came to him in the first place jars the god of war and his scowl turns into a frightful smirk, eyes cooling from a bright red to a warm orange. He chuffs out a laugh, breathing heavy through his nose, “You’re going to enjoy this, Uncle.”
Sweet Pea raises a brow, not speaking but silently waiting for his answer.
“The beautiful Aphrodite has requested the Oracle for a prophecy. That is where you will find the Truth Teller next.”
The ground swallows up the god of war, and Hades turns back to the chariot without another word.
Sweet Pea’s hair does not ever stop burning, but Lilith notices that the color changes. As soon as they are far away from the place where they met Ares, it turns from a bright red flickering into a soft blue. Lilith admires it as it burns from the tips upward to his scalp, engulfing his dark hair in the beautiful colors.
She turns in on herself when Sweets catches her looking. Instead of spending her energy on him, she turns and watches the sun set off in the distance. The sky bleeds oranges and purples and pinks and blues. Stars blink off in the sky, forming constellations as day turns to night. She sighs and rests her head against the edge of the chariot, wondering what it must be like to hold the power of the universe in the palm of your hands.
It takes another two days to get to Aphrodite’s temple.
The temple is centered in a meadow, statues made of marble dancing around the fields, all in different positions, all mostly naked.
There are beautiful flowers with fresh petal scents wafting in the air, bushels of them all of different colors. Fruit trees are ripe with specimens, aching to be plucked and eaten. The air smells of honey and roses.
Lilith swears she notices a nostalgic look cross Sweet Pea’s face. The flames on his neck burn pink, blending in with the blush on his skin.
Girls with pink skin and silver hair approach the chariot, seeming to know exactly who Sweet Pea by their winks and giggles. They take him by the arms and guide him up the marble steps towards the temple, leaving Lilith behind to fend for herself.
She ravels her skirt in her hands and marches up the steps, trying not to feel bitter at being forgotten. There are many stairs, but along the way there is a river running on both sides, pomegranate trees sprouting from the shoreline and big, beautiful shells shimmering in the riverbed. Lilith swears it smells like salt water.
“Darling,” she hears a voice coo as she reaches the top of the stairs.
As soon as she sees the dark-skinned beauty, she feels a warmth rush over her skin. Her stomach starts to do flips and her heart beats faster. Suddenly, Lilith is conscious about how bare her face is and how her body is not precisely how it should be. Her shoulders are too broad, she thinks, and she has too many freckles. Did she ever notice before how strange her eyes were?
“Aphrodite,” Sweet Pea greets, but his voice sounds sour.
Lilith is preoccupied with a set of rose bushes varying in color. She touches the petals and they burst with perfume, forcing a haze over her mind and so she dumbly walks to the next bush and does the same.
“You know you don’t have to call me that, baby,” she muses, her voice smooth like molasses, eyes wandering over his body while she speaks. She stands to her full height, a gauzy pink dress billowing down to her toes. It shimmers in the sunlight, glittering like gold has been spun into the fabric.
Aphrodite steps toward him and runs her fingertips over his muscled arms, feeling him all the way down to his wrists, “Might I say, the Underworld has done you a service. You look,” she eyes him while biting her lower lip, “handsome.”
Lilith turns her head in just enough time to see the way the goddess plucks at his body as if he were some sort of specimen. With a shaking of her head, she comes to her senses and stands by his side.
Sweet Pea notices the look that Aphrodite sends her way, and so he does what he always seems to do whenever Lilith is in trouble; he steps in front of her body to shield her with his own.
“Josie,” it sounds like the word pains him, “I need to speak with the Oracle. I was told she would be visiting you sometime soon.”
Josie-Aphrodite?-waves her hand as if the matter were unimportant entirely, “Oh, she’s already passed on to her next victim. You just missed her.”
Hades curses in Ancient Greek and Lilith pushes herself onto her tip-toes to peer over his shoulder. She thinks she should smile at the goddess, and a dopey grin tugs on her lips, “You’re pretty.”
“Thank you, my dear,” Aphrodite smiles, showing off a perfect set of pearly white teeth. She walks past the pair toward the balcony, her dress whipping around in the wind behind her.
“Lilith,” Sweet Pea cups her elbow, “the Oracle has already been through here. We should probably get going.”
“But it’s so nice here,” Lilith whines, dropping her head to his chest. “Can’t we eat the nice fruit and talk with the nice ladies? They remind me of Topaz. I miss her.”
Sweet Pea stifles a laugh and does not notice Aphrodite’s bristling at the two talking. He squeezes the mortal’s arm and nods his head, “I know, little mortal. She will have missed you as well. I will ask-”
“Sweet Pea!” Josie calls, beckoning him over with a bite in her voice. She tilts her head, “What is it you need the Oracle for again, honey?”
The god licks his lips, considering if he should divulge his secret. He could trust her, couldn’t he?
“Listen, Jos, I don’t think it’s safe for me to tell you yet. It’s a big prophecy and you know how those go.” He shrugs and puts his hand on her shoulder, brushing his thumb over her collarbone. “It’s just something I have to do.”
Aphrodite gives him that startling smile that always brought him back to her and she runs her fingernail over the vein on his forearm, “Is it the prophecy your brother told me about all those years ago?”
The blood in Sweet Pea’s veins turns to ice.
“Something about a child of the dark or something like that?”
It seems that her words have brought about the reaction she was seeking. Josie smirks as she circles the god of the dead, her hands traipsing over his body as she does so. She pinches his thigh to break him from his trance.
Lilith appears beside him and notices the tension in the air. Her hand hovers over her weapon, fingers itching to grab it by the hilt.
“Now, now, little mortal,” Aphrodite coos, but Lilith decides she doesn’t like the way the words come out of her mouth. “Sweet Pea and I go way back, there’s nothing to fear.”
Sweet Pea blinks hard, “Josie, which of my brothers spoke to you about this prophecy? And what did they say?”
“To be honest with you,” she starts in a flippant voice, eyebrows raised as if it were hard for her to recall, “I don’t remember much about the prophecy, just that he was always worried about it. Terrible pillow talk if you ask me, honey.”
Lilith can sense the way this conversation is making Sweet Pea feel and she narrows her eyes at the goddess, curling a hand around the hilt of her weapon.
“Pillow talk?” Sweet Pea echoes.
Aphrodite waves her hand in midair, shrugging at the topic, “Yes, yes, Zeus always had to prattle on about it before he was willing to hold me. It made him too nervous otherwise.”
“Zeus?” Hades repeats.
“Why, yes. Oh dear, you didn’t expect me to get with that sea slug of a brother you have, did you?” Josie giggles, her hand over her mouth as the smile reaches her eyes. She shakes her head in disapproval, “No, no, love, I know better.”
Josie turns her head, glaring with glittering purple eyes at the mortal who had spoken.
Lilith has her arms crossed over her chest, a judgmental look in her eyes. She purses her lips and takes a step towards the goddess, “All you are doing is toying with his emotions, just like you do to everyone else. You poison them with the idea of love, only to rip it away in the end.”
“Excuse me?” Aphrodite balks, her hand wavering in the air.
“I did not stutter, goddess,” Lilith speaks clearly. “You torture mortals with the idea of true love and then break their hearts when they finally fall. And those who do succumb to the natural pull leave all that they know behind for a man or woman they’ve just met. You attach the name true love onto it and suddenly they believe it’s a quest they must embark on to prove themselves.”
“So you’ve been burned by love, have you my dear?” Aphrodite coos like a dove. She raises a brow and tilts her head, “Because surely you’re not insulting me without reason.”
Lilith’s facial features harden and Sweet Pea is too stunned to move. She bares her teeth and plants her feet, “I do not need to have been burned by love to know that it is a fire you do not play with.”
“Ah,” Aphrodite speaks as if she knows the answer to the universe. “So you have been ignored by love.”
This seems to strike a nerve. Lilith surges forward with her white blade drawn, the crystal blade glimmering in the filtered sunlight. Aphrodite does not move, but it is Sweet Pea who stands in the way of the girl.
“I need to know about the prophecy, Josie. It’s important.”
“Zeus knew you would be a joy-killer after spending all that time alone,” she muses, running her dainty dark fingers over her cheeks and through her hair. Josie licks her lips, “I do not know the prophecy, Sweet Pea. I only barely know lines from it.”
“Anything can help,” he argues, his voice keening on the edge of desperation. He reaches out and takes her by the hand from habit alone, “Any of the words, phrases. Or at least tell me where the Oracle is going.”
Aphrodite brushes her fingers along the skin of his cheeks, “Oh, Sweet Pea. Unfortunately, I do not owe you a thing.”
She walks away from him, down the marble stairs out to her meadow. Sweet Pea follows, the ends of his hair flickering a dark purple color. He grits his teeth, “Josie, you owe me plenty. Now tell me of the prophecy. Or does the time we spent together mean nothing to you?”
“That was eons ago, Sweet Pea!” she shouts, turning and throwing her hands in the air. She giggles as she turns to look up at him as he comes down the stairs. “And it was a good time, don’t mistake my words. But that’s all it was.”
“If it was such a good time, why didn’t you visit?” Lilith barks from atop the hill. She has her arms crossed over her chest, a look of disgust curling her upper lip.
Aphrodite’s face morphs into one of repulsion, “Visit that nasty place? It’s full of death and decay, nowhere for the goddess of love.”
“Careful, Aphrodite,” Hades warns. “You speak of my home.”
“Your home was Olympus, until that stupid prophecy came about.” Josie shakes her head and runs a fingertip along a pomegranate hanging in the air. She plucks it and peels the skin back, taking a few of the jeweled beads between her lips.
“Listen, Pea, we had what we had and then we didn’t.” She licks the red juice off her lips and tosses the fruit into the meadow, where another tree sprouts up in the blink of an eye. “You didn’t think I could be tempted into that dark hole you call a domain, did you? It just wasn’t worth it.”
Before Hades can open his mouth to give some sort of sad reply, Lilith is baring her teeth in front of the goddess, knife in hand. The crystal glints in the light of the afternoon sun.
“He was a means to an end for you,” Lilith gathers, her nostrils flaring.
The goddess shrugs, “Sometimes, love just isn’t in the cards, my dear.”
Lilith narrows her eyes, pushing the blade closer to the woman’s throat, “Maybe I should cut out your heart and see how much love you can feel then, hm?”
“And what if I place a curse so horrible on you that even Hades himself cannot hold your soul in the Underworld?” Aphrodite counters, confidence ringing true in her tone. She smirks, “You do not mess with the goddess of love, my dear. I have too many forces on my side.”
Lilith shakes her head, “I don’t care about your forces, temptress. And it appears that all you care about is putting something between your legs. He meant nothing to you, in the end. So much of nothing that you were willing to land in his brother’s bed.”
Aphrodite’s eyes turn a brighter color and incantations begin to fall from her lips.
Lilith tries to turn the blade of celestial bronze in disguise against the goddess’ neck, but she finds herself wilting to the ground before then.
“Josie, stop!” Sweet Pea runs forward, covering Lilith’s body in his own.
The goddess turns her eyes to him, “She is a pest, Hades. She needs to be dealt with. And if you will not deal with her, I will. She will not taint my ideology of love.”
When he realizes that Aphrodite will not stop, he repeats an incantation of his own in Ancient Greek, then bursts forward, “Aphrodite, she is under my protection!”
Josie’s eyes stop glowing and her hands fall to her sides, a surprised look on her face. She wilts back against the staircase railing, her body weak from the incantation and the interruption. Her jaw drops as she realizes what he has done.
“No wonder they threw you out into an exile,” she mutters, watching as he picks up the limp mortal from the ground. He holds her too gently for it to mean nothing. “You are foolish, Hades.”
“At least I am not so easily intimidated by a mortal swinging a knife.”
Aphrodite shakes her head and lets one last giggle fall from her lips, “Oh, Pea. You’re only not intimidated because you are something much worse.”
Sweet Pea cradles Lilith’s body against his chest, her head lolling dangerously limp. He looks up at Aphrodite one last time, “Is there not any information you can give me regarding the Oracle? I need to find her.”
“What the Hera,” Aphrodite waves her arm. She takes a breath and looks off into the sunset, “Should the child of darkness grow in strength; Zeus’ reign will have reached its length.”
He nods, turning to walk back to the chariot. Aphrodite calls to him one last time, “You can find the Oracle in the woods near the mouth of the river. She is visiting the spirits there.”
Aphrodite forces a smile onto her face as he walks away with the mortal in his arms. She murmurs just loud enough for him to hear, “Heed my warning, Pea: you may not like what you hear.”
Sweet Pea sends a smile over his shoulder and he swears he sees a flash of sadness cross over the goddess’ face.
As soon as he sets Lilith down on the bench of the chariot, her skin turns green and she starts to foam at the mouth. And when he calls to her, she does not answer.
Lilith’s life is slowly slipping from his hands.
Sweet Pea holds his palm over her chest, forcing breath in and out of her lungs with the wave of his fingers as he wards off death with his words. He takes deep breaths as he tries to focus long enough to pull the poisoned words from her body, but his magic is not strong enough to rival the curse of Aphrodite.
“Η κατάρα του Ολύμπου,” Sweet Pea mutters, forehead breaking out in sweat.
He knows the curse that Aphrodite placed on the mortal slowly dying in his arms all too well. It is one that she uses often to sicken humans, given that gods are not allowed to be directly involved with mortal deaths, it’s one of the eldest laws. The curses the gods choose, however, usually weakens a person to the brink of death and then a natural illness takes them in their final moments, thus absolving them of any guilt but also giving them the satisfaction when the mortal dies.
Aphrodite’s curse roots itself in the heart of the nearest living thing and turns their own emotions against them. The curse binds around the negative feelings and lashes out at the body internally, emphasized only to the extent of the negative aura emanating from the host.
Lilith’s body has been poisoned so fatally due to her disdain for the gods and the resentment she holds for those who have scorned her. Her hate runs deep, and it is that very hate that is poisoning her body to the point of death.
“Πήγαινε στα κοράκια, την Αφροδίτη.” Sweet Pea grunts in frustration, sitting back in the chariot. He looks down at the ground beneath them, the lush green grass almost waving in their direction, begging for her body to be returned to it.
Bubbles like seafoam dribble down from her mouth and Sweet Pea knows that it is a desperate move, but it is the last one that he has. He can hold off her death, but he will be strung out for the remainder of his life trying to keep this mortal alive, if one could even call it that.
He picks her body up daintily, cradling her head and legs as he steps down from the chariot and into the green field around them. Sweet Pea lays her body on the ground and the grass leans up to greet her.
“Παρακαλώ, γιαγιά, να θεραπεύσετε αυτό το θνητό. Απαντήστε στις προσευχές μου,” he murmurs as he brushes his hands over the ground. Sweet Pea squeezes his eyes shut and rests his palms on her body, repeating the prayer until his lips turn dry.
Small strands of green wrap around her fingers and ankles, flowers bending towards her skin. Bit by bit, Sweet Pea can feel the curse lifting as his struggle to keep her breathing lessens. He holds his hand over her chest nonetheless, warding off her death until the Mother of Earth can work her own kind of magic.
It takes hours, but finally her skin turns back to it’s beautiful, rich color, and the bubbles cease from foaming down her lips. A gasp parts her mouth and she sits up, breaking away from the chains of the earth with small snapping sounds. Flowers fall into her lap and settle in her hair.
“Σας ευχαριστώ, γιαγιά,” Sweet Pea whispers as she bumps into his chest. He wraps the mortal in his arms to be sure that she is steady.
The feel of her breath against his shoulder relieves the weight he has carried for the better part of a day. Her hands tremble against his tunic, holding tightly as if to be sure that he is real.
“What is going on? Where is Aphrodite? Did she hurt you?” Lilith spouts, looking up into his eyes with such ferocity that he’s afraid she might march back up the hill and get herself killed again.
Sweet Pea chuckles as he shakes his head, “No, my little mortal, she did not harm me. How are you feeling?”
“Like I tried to drink ambrosia,” Lilith swallows. She blows a breath out of her lips and sighs, “What happened?”
He takes a breath, deciding whether or not to tell her of the curse Aphrodite placed on her heart. He cannot risk her running away to put her knife to the throat of the goddess who almost killed her.
“If I tell you, you must promise me you will not act.” Sweet Pea speaks sternly, brow pulled in tight. Lilith does not answer, but the look she gives him is enough. He sighs, “Aphrodite cursed you when you angered her. The curse feeds off of the negative emotions in your heart. Your emotions were so strong that you nearly died.”
Lilith swallows thickly, her throat bobbing. She runs a hand through her hair before pressing her palms to her face. “I’m sorry, Sweets. I just didn’t know what to do when she started speaking to you in such a way.”
“I’ve told you a thousand times and it seems I’ll tell you a thousand more – I can handle my own against my family, Lilith. You, however, can be at a serious risk.”
She licks her lips, and her voice is earnest when she apologizes, “I’m sorry.”
“I know you are,” Sweet Pea nods. He brushes a few blades of grass from her collarbone and allows his thumb to linger for a moment too long against her skin. “Hopefully this will have taught you that you might should listen when I give you a warning.”
Lilith turns her head so her cheek is pressed to his knuckles on her skin, “You know me better than that, Sweets. I never listen.”
“It will be your undoing,” he answers, a ghost of a smile on his lips.
“The mouth of the river is not far from here,” Sweet Pea tells her as he pulls on the reigns. The horses’ hooves plunder deep into the ground, forcing them forward at god-like speed. “We’ll be there in a couple of hours, you should rest.”
Lilith glances up at him from her corner of the chariot. She holds the blanket of darkness tighter against her body, the shadow-like fabric giving her comfort. “The Oracle is there? At the mouth of the river?”
“Yes, that is the information the goddess gave me before I left her temple,” Sweet Pea answers. He looks off into the distance, the rocks in his belly piling high as the reality of what they’re doing settles further into his stomach.
“And you believe her?” Lilith deadpans.
Sweet Pea shrugs, “I had no other choice. Your life was at stake.”
There is a pause of quiet, but Lilith’s eyes never leave his face. She studies him in his pensive thoughts; jaw tight, muscles quivering. His eyes are dark and hard, almost onyx like with their jeweled appearance.
“Did you save me?” she asks after too many moments of silence.
He turns to look her in the eyes, watching her as she watches him. There is nothing but curiosity in her irises, the deft look of a little animal settled in her expression.
“I believe my grandmother saved you,” he answers simply.
Lilith shakes her head, determination settling into her jawline. She swallows, “No, I felt something while I was dying. I-I felt you.”
Hades’ brows knit together, small creases appearing on his forehead as he plays dumb, “And how might you think that you felt me, little mortal?”
“If I had died, I would have gone to your realm, would I not?” Lilith asks. She sits up, the shadow blanket pooling around her waist. Goosebumps rise on her arms, but she presses on nonetheless. “Should my soul have left my body, it would have traveled to the Realm of Darkness, to Hades. You have the power to keep souls out, or to let them in.”
She waits for him to response. One minute. Two.
His silence is her answer. Lilith bites her lip before continuing, “I think I felt you keeping me here, like a tether. It was as if a rope were bound around my body and someone was anchoring me to this world.”
“When mortals are about to die, they see and feel incredible, intense things,” Sweet Pea shrugs, looking forward. He fights the blush on his cheeks that might tell her the truth. “I would not look far into your illusions, little mortal. You may spend too much time trying to make sense of them and yet, still nothing seems clear.”
“I know what I felt,” she says decisively, narrowing her eyes at him.
Sweet Pea turns and touches her cheek with his knuckles as he flashes her a smile, “And why on earth would the god of the dead save a mortal life?”
“Maybe because you just couldn’t get enough of me while I was living.”
Lilith is teasing, and Sweet Pea knows she is teasing, but it still causes some sort of swirling in his abdomen. He retracts his hand and uses it on the reigns, holding tight. Instead of looking at her, he forces his gaze forward, watching as the mouth of the river comes closer the longer they ride.
“You do know you’re going to have to face it eventually,” Lilith breaks the silence. She drapes herself across the chariot bench with her head in his lap, picking at the wayward strands of his pants.
Sweet Pea gapes down at her, unsure of where she pulled the notion that she was allowed to do such a thing. But, she does it with such confidence that even he feels like it’s right.
“Face what?” he asks, voice uncharacteristically low as he tries to hide the surprise in his tone.
She looks him directly in the eyes, the stormy gray-purple of her irises searching him, “Zeus.”
The single word sends a chill up his spine and so he does not respond, instead only looking forward. Sweet Pea watches as the sun fades to the moon and then the sun again, the mortal asleep in his lap. She snores lightly, her dark curls whipping around her face as wind stirs the chariot forward.
He finds the easiest place to rest his hand is on her hip, as not to disturb her and to be polite simultaneously. Somehow his thumb begins to brush back and forth in a lulling motion, more for himself than for her.
Sweet Pea’s heart aches the closer they get to the mouth of the river, reality settling over him like a chill in the air. He should be used to the cold.
But somehow, the cool breeze feels nothing like home.
She hears it like a voice in a dream.
“Little mortal, awaken.”
Lilith blinks her eyes blearily, rubbing at them with one free hand. She swallows and the sunlight filtering through the trees startles her eyes. She grunts, cowering back against the firm body behind her.
“Sweets,” she gripes. Lilith slowly peels her lids back to look up, but he’s already gazing down at her. There’s a puzzled look on his face when he hears the all-too familiar nickname tumble from her lips.
“Did I do something?” she asks immediately, sitting up so she’s face-to-face with him. Her eyes never waver from his, almost as if she’s searching deeply for something he knows she won’t find. He’s too good at hiding.
“No, no,” Sweet Pea shakes his head. “It’s just-I’ve been waiting for you to call me something else.”
“Why would I call you by anything other than your name?”
He licks his lips and his brows knit together, crinkles tethering to his forehead, “So, you do it deliberately, then?”
Lilith laughs and pats his knee with her palm, “Yes, and no.” She bites her lip and leans into him, surprised at the warmth his body radiates, “I didn’t know it was your name when I started calling out to you.”
When she retracts her hand from his body, he feels cold where her touch once was. He wonders if this is the warmth playing with his mind again, forcing him to believe he feels something when in fact he is only being manipulated. He is cautious when he speaks to her again.
“I believed it was the way you mortals approached one another. An overly affectionate name, maybe, but you’ve proven you are unlike any other mortal I’ve ever known.” He allows himself to chuckle as he takes her in again. It’s as if there’s a never-ending fountain in her presence; he finds himself unable to look away, to stop drinking her in.
“I’m sure any other mortal might find that to be something other than a compliment,” Lilith giggles behind her tanned hand. She blinks, sunlight filtering like gold against her silvery irises. “Honestly, the fact that you did not throw me to the wayside has always been the biggest compliment you could have given me.”
Sweet Pea’s hands ache to reach out and touch her face, her arm, her knee. He just wants contact with her so he can feel that surge of safety she emits. Instead, he balls his hands to fists and cradles them in his lap.
“Mortals are not usually very entertaining. They all only want one thing when they come to visit me, and generally their forthcoming has something to do with trying to behead me.”
They both share another laugh and then he asks the question he’s been dying to know the answer to ever since he first heard his name from her mouth: “Why did you decide to call me Sweets?”
Lilith tilts her head, reminding the god of his pet Cerberus when he becomes confused. She bites the inside corner of her lip and her chest deflates, “It was the flowers.”
Sweet Pea mimics her motions, cocking his head and leaning closer to her. She smiles in a reminiscent sort of way as she looks up at him, “The only flowers that grew by your temple were sweet peas. I assumed you either did it on purpose, or it was a happy accident, and so I just started calling you Sweets. It seemed fitting.”
“Sweets seemed fitting for the god of the dead?” He snickers, resting his arm against the back of the chariot. “You really are a strange one, little mortal.”
Lilith shrugs, “I never planned to make my legacy about being normal.”
Sweet Pea can’t help it as he stares down at her, trying to memorize her features just in case her visit to the Oracle burns her alive. There are some mortals that do not come back from their visit with the deity, but he knows this is not something he can talk his mortal into backing away from.
“The Oracle is down by the riverbend,” he starts, unable to pull himself away from her intoxicating presence. He nods in the direction of the Oracle, “I was going to go by myself, while you were asleep, but I assumed you’d rather strike me than let me go alone.” Sweet Pea pushes her hair away from her eyes and lets his fingertips linger just a moment too long.
She nods, a fond smile creeping onto her lips, “You were right to assume.”
They stand up and Lilith smooths out her skirt before stepping down from the chariot. Sweet Pea calls out for the Oracle, and a few shadows around the river begin to shimmer in the sunlight.
“Beautiful nymphs!” Lilith practically squeals, abandoning the god and rushing to the riverbed. She gracefully falls to her knees at the edge of the water, scooping her hands through the liquid and giggling as the nymphs come out to greet her. She gushes over them and the moment allows Sweet Pea to locate the Oracle.
She is a beautiful woman with flowing dark hair to her ankles, and eyes that look wise beyond her years. They are glowing white coals, stoked by the secrets of prophecies. Her skin is warm, glistening in the sun the color of honey. She has gold bangles wrapped around her wrist and hoops dangling from her ears. Her lips are full and dark, tantalizing at the thought of hearing your future.
“Truth Teller,” Hades greets. He is gentle with his speech, approaching her slowly. “I need to hear a prophecy.”
She turns and her eyes look eerily empty, her voice sounding far away, “Oh dear of the dark, hath you no other request from me?”
“No, Oracle,” he answers plainly. He bows his head quickly, “I know I cannot hear the prophecy directly, as I do not wish to change the contents of its words. However, I brought with me a companion-”
“I can see the future, Hades, therefore I do know that you’ve brought a companion.” The way the Oracle says the word resounds like an insult to Sweet Pea’s ears. He narrows his eyes slightly as she continues, “I also know of the prophecy you seek. I should warn you that this will not end the way you think.”
“I know,” Hades grumbles, wondering when the warnings will cease. “That is why the mortal will be the one hearing the prophecy.”
“No, you do not understand, the mortal is the-” The Oracle goes to speak, but Lilith has stumbled up the hill with a laugh, interrupting her. The human girl sighs, wiping her forehead before glancing up at the deity.
“Oh wow,” Lilith gushes, “you must be the Truth Teller I’ve heard so much about.”
Sweet Pea presses his palm to the base of her back, leaning down to murmur in her ear, “Please be careful, Lilith.”
“Don’t be silly, little god,” Lilith winks, pressing her palms to his chest. She lingers her gaze on his eyes long enough to see the fear in them. “I will be fine. I’ll get to the bottom of this and then we can go home.”
All Sweet Pea can think about is how many mortals the Oracle has liquified with her truth; how many lives she has taken because her words are too heavy for the human heart and mind to bear.
He licks his lips and goes to speak, but she interrupts him with a kiss to the corner of his mouth. The god is stunned, hands hovering over her waist as she settles back to her place flat-footed on the ground.
“Be careful, or your hair might burst into flame,” Lilith smirks. She gnaws on her lower lip for half a second and the same stirring in his stomach makes Sweet Pea’s mouth burn. Lilith pulls on the front of his tunic, “I’ll be fine.”
“I know,” he answers truthfully. Sweet Pea licks his lips and touches a stray curl against her temple one last time. “Call out if you need me. I won’t be too far away.”
“Sure,” Lilith tells him. She presses her palm to his chest to push him away from her so she can look him in the eyes, “There is nothing to worry about. I’m a damsel, but I’m hardly in distress.”
He fights a smile on his face but he the memories of what the Oracle has done to some mortals makes his blood boil. Sweet Pea swallows before boldly leaning forward to press his lips to her forehead.
Neither of them speak as he pulls away. Her hand trembles at his pectoral and their eyes meet.
“Careful,” he repeats one last time before letting her go. “Please.”
Lilith nods, her lips sticking together and words unable to be formed in her throat. Her fingertips linger on the threads of his tunic, but he takes another step back and she’s forced to be free of him.
The Oracle begins to recite Ancient Greek and a shadow falls around the forest, encasing the two in a sphere of darkness. Lilith feels a chill start at the base of her spine and work its way around her entire body, freezing her extremities and drying out her mouth and eyes.
“Truth Teller,” she speaks despite the sandpaper-feeling of her tongue, “tell me the Prophecy of Hades.”
The ground begins to shake as the Oracle’s eyes glow white-hot, blinding Lilith and bringing her to her knees. She digs her hands in the dirt but does not allow herself to look away, instead focusing her gaze on the Oracle’s lips as Ancient Greek words spill like smoke into the air around them.
“You shall one day stake your claim,
choose to live or die, to kill or maim.”
The Oracle’s smoke-laden words wrap around Lilith’s throat like a vice, a barely there veil of burning smog pricking at her skin. She steps closer, watching as Lilith trembles in the dirt, hands dug into the soil at her feet.
“You can choose to cast the traitor out,
but beware this will cause both fear and doubt.”
Lilith’s legs are encased in vines now, flowers sprouting up around her knees and knuckles as she kneels in the grass. Tears flow down her freckled cheeks, stony eyes unable to focus as the Oracle moves closer.
“Should the child of darkness grow in strength,
Zeus’s reign will have reached its length.”
The tendrils of the Oracle’s words take Lilith by the ankles and the wrists, but cannot pluck her from the ground. The vines around her extremities are too strong, holding her tight like an anchor to the ground. Her spine strains under the stress of the two sides tugging her in such opposite directions. She holds in a sob and prays that the Oracle’s final words are close.
“A lightning bolt will decide the fate
of those who have come at a later date.
The family of some may have chosen the future,
but the actions of one will begin the overture.”
The world collapses and for a second, Lilith forgets how to breathe.
The Oracle retreats into the woods, off in the distance, to visit her next victim. Lilith clutches at her throat to try and find her breath again. She chokes as the air tries to enter her lungs, but it’s like her esophagus has shrunk and cannot allow her to inhale.
A familiar voice echoes her name in the distance, but she knows she will be dead long before they arrive. And so, Lilith listens to the call of the earth around her and falls on her back into the grass and looks up into the sky. The trees create a canopy around her, but she can still see pieces of the blue sky above peeking through the leaves.
Just as before, vines wrap around her body and flowers sprout between her fingers and toes. The petals beg her to breathe and somehow she finds it within her to listen.
“Lilith?!” his desperate cry comes from behind the brush of the woods. Sweet Pea is frantic when he finds her body sprawled out on the ground. He cradles her neck and brushes his palm over her cheek to try and flush some color back into her face.
A gasp parts her lips and her body arches in the air, begging for more breath.
Sweet Pea cradles her head to his chest, nose buried in her hair, “I thought I’d lost you twice already.”
“Won’t be that easy,” she wheezes into his pectoral. Lilith grips onto his tunic as if her life depended on it, knuckles turning white, flower petals still lingering on her skin.
He drops his forehead to press against hers, their eyes locking. The slightest of smiles upturns his lips and she wonders what exactly he’s thinking about, but she’s too exhausted to question it. Instead she brushes her fingertips along his jaw line briefly before whispering, “I know the Prophecy.”
"Η κατάρα του Ολύμπου."
"Πήγαινε στα κοράκια, την Αφροδίτη."
"Go to the crows, Aphrodite."
"Παρακαλώ, γιαγιά, να θεραπεύσετε αυτό το θνητό. Απαντήστε στις προσευχές μου."
"Please, grandmother, heal this mortal. Answer my prayers."
"Σας ευχαριστώ, γιαγιά."
"Thank you, grandmother."
Chapter 10: the bolt
Lilith watches as his eyes glaze over, pupils focused on something far off in the distance.
“Sweets,” she murmurs, her fingertips drifting over his cheeks and down to his jaw. His eyes snap back to her, irises blown wide as his lips part just enough to allow a breath through.
“Zeus,” he whispers, voice grating against his throat. He swallows thickly and shakes his head, “I-I don’t…I can’t…”
Lilith crooks her thumb under his chin and pulls his gaze back. Her heart churns as the black fire lights in his eyes and turns his irises to an onyx. Sweet Pea grits his teeth, “Zeus can go to the crows.”
“I never have wished to be wrong in my life,” Lilith admits with a gentle smirk. “And now I’m sorry to have been proved right.”
Sweet Pea shakes his head an licks his lips, eyes darting around like he’s searching for a weapon. He swallows and his hands turn to tight fists. “I should have known better. My brother has always been a bdelyròs.”
Lilith knows that this insult is not to be taken lightly. She turns her head, but Sweet Pea’s form begins to grow both in height and in bulk as he seethes with rage.
“It’s a shame he is keeping me from Olympus,” Sweet Pea barks, looking toward the sky as if his brother could hear. “He must have known then how powerful I would grow in my isolation. He was preparing for if I ever were to discover his treachery.”
“Then the Prophecy was right.” Lilith squeezes his biceps between her fingers, surprised at the muscle mass she finds there. She loses focus for a moment, her eyes wandering from sinew to sinew, trying to find a stopping point. “I-, that line, about casting the traitor out. Zeus fulfilled that part of the Prophecy when he banished you to the Underworld, away from Mount Olympus.”
Sweet Pea’s blood boils hot in his veins. He feels as if he just filled his belly full of ambrosia, his strength overwhelming his body as his pure fury courses down to coat his skin. He turns, his
heart racing as he steps up the hill. He shakes his fist at the sky, shrieks something in a language so ancient, even Lilith has never heard it, and then a bolt of lightning crackles in the air.
“Good,” the god of darkness mutters as he turns on his heels. “You know where to find me.”
Lilith swallows the lump in her throat. She knows she should feel fear settling into her spine, but instead she feels a heat in her chest. Her toes curl into the grass beneath her feet, eyes tracking Hades every movement as he stalks back towards the chariot.
“What’s next?” she asks him, out of breath.
He steps close to her, determination set like marble in his eyes, “We go home. And we wait.”
“Home?” Lilith echoes. Her eyes shift to a darker shade of silver and she refrains from allowing her hands to drift towards his body. Sweet Pea nods, another step closer to her now, her chest brushing against his.
She’s surprised to feel his fingers encircle her wrists, and her back bumps against the curve of the chariot as she steps away. Sweet Pea tries to fight a smirk to no avail, “Lilith, I have learned in our time together that no matter how many times I push you away, you’re always going to make your way back. It would be a waste of energy to try and keep you out of the Underworld.”
Lilith pauses for a moment, but then throws her arms around his neck and pushes herself up on her toes to hold him tightly. She buries her head into his neck and breathes him in. Her heart squeezes in her chest when she feels her toes lift off the ground as his arms circle around her waist and pull her flush to his body.
A squeal escapes Lilith’s lips when she feels Sweet Pea’s hands drift down to her thighs. He hooks his wrists underneath her knees and hoists her into the air. Her right hand sifts into his hair as she grapples onto him, legs wrapped around his waist. She giggles into his collarbone and swears she hears his own chuckle echo in her ear.
“Let’s go home,” he murmurs, sitting back in the chariot with Lilith’s body still clinging to his own. With a wave of his hands, the horses take off, thundering down the hillside and back towards the Underworld.
Lilith can’t find it within her to move, no matter how much her muscles try to seize. She can feel the shell of his heart beating against her chest, and she counts the beats with her breath, synchronizing the two. Her index finger twirls a lock of his hair, busying herself while the scenery goes by.
It doesn’t take too long before Lilith falls slack against him, her body sagging under the weight of sleep. Sweet Pea can’t help but laugh as her light snores vibrate against his neck.
“Just a bit longer, my little mortal,” he speaks quietly as he brushes her hair away from his face. He turns his head to breathe her in and repeats himself, “Just a little bit longer.”
Lilith’s mind is foggy when she finally rouses later on. The balm of nighttime has settled over the earth, warm and silky against her skin. She rubs her face against the warmth of the body next to her and the feel of her lips dragging against flesh breaks her from her sleepy stupor.
“Sweets?” she stutters out his name, their noses close enough to brush.
He smiles and it’s kind, “Good morning.”
“But it’s night,” she counters, shifting her weight in his lap. Her voice is soft and it feels like she’s having to force it from her throat.
Sweet Pea shrugs, “Ah, nuance. We’re getting close. Did you rest well?”
“Yes,” Lilith drops her forehead to his and her lips ache to find out what his mouth tastes like. Her breath hitches in her throat as his hands touch her hips, steadying her against his thighs.
Sweet Pea begins to turn his head and his eyes flutter shut, but Lilith cries out in pain and ducks her head under his chin as she bites her lip.
“Wh-What is it?” His hands roam her body as he tries to find the source of her pain. She sniffles and he feels the wetness of tears soak through his tunic.
“Dying,” Lilith mutters. “I can feel it dying.”
“Feel what dying?” Sweet Pea cannot hide the frantic nature of his voice from her, not when that horrible word is uttered from her lips. He presses his palms to her cheeks to try and stop her tears, “Lilith, please, tell me what’s going on.”
Lilith’s hand hovers over her heart, clutching at her dress, “I-I don’t know. It’s out there.”
She reaches out and points to somewhere in the horizon. Sweet Pea can barely make out a cloud of smoke in the distance. He shakes his head, “It’s a controlled burn, little mortal. No one is dying.”
“The earth,” she chokes out, tears dripping down her cheeks. Lilith swallows the lump in her mouth, her throat bobbing as she looks up at him. “The earth is dying.”
Sweet Pea tilts his head, trying to understand. Her voice is borderline hysterical as she gasps for breath between sobs. The only thing he can think of to do is to bring her head back to his chest, a palm against the back of her head as the other winds around her waist.
“It’s okay,” he shushes against her hair. “Death is just another part of life. One dies so that another may go on. Earth, man, gods. None of us is innocent, none of us is special.”
“What is this?” Lilith whispers. Her hands are cradled against her chest, pressed between their two bodies. She feels a part of her soul die as the smoke fades away into the night sky. “Why am I feeling this way?”
“You’re special, Lilith,” Sweet Pea sighs into her hair. “I haven’t figured it all out just yet.”
She shakes her head, tucking herself further under his chin, unable to speak through the remainder of her tears. The stress of the event weighs on her body and she finds herself melting back into his embrace, pouring herself into him and trying to block out everything else.
Hades pushes the nightmarish horses to go faster, hooves clobbering into the earth as they sprint towards the worshipping grounds. He presses a palm against Lilith’s back to keep her steady, the shivering of her body sending a jolt of worry down his spine.
As they approach the statue of Hades himself, the sweet peas that are scattered around the figure begin to bloom wide open. The ground swallows them whole, but Sweet Pea does not miss the way the flowers tilt toward the split in the earth, almost growing into the Underworld as they pass through.
Fangs and Topaz are there at the gates to greet them. Lilith clambers off of Sweet Pea to give her serpentine friend a hug and quick kiss to the cheek. Sweet Pea reaches out to grasp her by the wrist, “You need to rest.”
Lilith shakes her head, “I’ve rested long enough. I’ve missed this place.”
The bark of a familiar pet echoes in the cave to their left, and Lilith can’t help but smile at the sound. She nudges Sweet Pea with her shoulder, “See! Cerb missed me.”
Topaz nods, her candy-pink hair fluttering around her shoulders when she moves, “Oh, yes. He moped for the first few hours you were gone, and then he resorted to whining at night. Until Fangs fed him some extra meat, of course!”
“I will be sure to take him on our evening walk,” Lilith nods, squeezing Topaz by the shoulder. She turns to Sweet Pea, “I’m going exploring. If that’s okay?”
He’s nothing short of surprised at her request – let alone the fact that it’s a request. His shock must show on his face, jaw slightly slack and eyes widened at the pupil.
Lilith chuckles and steps forward, a gentle hand on his chest, “I can be polite, oh god of the dead.”
“Please be careful,” Sweet Pea manages. “I have tempted my brother with a fight, and I’m not sure when he plans to deliver on my invitation.”
Lilith nods and then begins her descent on the Underworld.
She passes through the Serpent Den, taking a quick drink with Topaz and Fangs. They play a round or two of table games before she tires of being around others and makes her leave.
The buzz of wine fills her head as she stalks down to Cerberus’s cavern. She climbs easily up his leg to sit behind his middle neck. She scratches him roughly behind the ears, smiling as he whines with happiness at her arrival.
“Let’s get on with it, buddy,” she coos into his ear. Lilith grasps him around the scruff of his neck, directing him out of the cavern and towards their usual route.
She waves to The Judgers and The Guardians as they pass through. It would seem she is the only one to have brought a smile to their faces during their time in the Underworld.
She has explored most of the caverns that this place has to offer, and so after bringing Cerberus back to his cavern, chewing away on a few cuts of fresh meat, she begins to tread towards the only part of the Underworld she’s left unexplored.
Her body buzzes with the warmth as she wanders further and further from the main area of the Underworld, finding a branching hall that leads to a curious doorway.
The walls of the hallway are created from bones, both animal and human alike. There is a thick coat of ash on the floor, kicked up into dust as Lilith trudges her feet along the pathway. She feels a tug towards the heat of the room, almost as if the Underworld has a heartbeat and it’s just begging her to find it.
A sweat breaks out on her forehead as her hand drifts towards the ornate onyx knob on the door. She takes a deep breath and then turns the knob between her fingers. A loud creak echoes throughout the chamber, but the steady heartbeat still thumps in her ears.
In the center of the room, is a container made of glass, encasing a bright red bulb of fruit. Lilith steps closer, the fruit calling to her somehow. She reaches out, the heat focusing on her fingertips as they land against the glass cannister.
“A pomegranate?” she marvels, unsure as to what this fruit has done to warrant it’s place here. She presses both palms against the glass, begging herself to lift the container and snatch the delicate fruit from underneath it.
The glass is just barely separated from the wooden pedestal it sits upon when she hears his booming voice echo like a threat.
“Step away,” he barks.
Lilith releases the glass container, her face paling as she pulls away like a child who has been caught stealing sweets from the kitchen.
Sweet Pea brushes past her, their shoulders touching, and he runs his fingertips over the ornate glass covering. He sighs, his head dipping so she cannot see his eyes.
“If you are going to stay here, with me, you need to know about The Forbidden Fruit.”
A hush falls over them and Lilith can tell that this is a sacred pomegranate for Sweets to be acting in such a way. Suddenly she feels very clumsy for wanting to take it without his permission. Could her stealing it have been his undoing?
“When I was brought here, my brothers took me into this room and told me of The Forbidden Fruit,” Sweet Pea begins, pulling the glass away from the pomegranate.
Holding the fruit in his hands, he gently rolls it around between his palms, “Now I know that they were lying, not to protect me, but to keep me naïve.”
Lilith’s heart breaks for him and aches to be closer. She takes a small step and tilts her head, “You couldn’t have known.”
“They told me The Fruit was what everyone would be after, why they had to sequester me to The Underworld.” Sweet Pea cradles the fruit in his palm, staring down at it as if it were going to attack him. He bites his lip, “They warned me that people would be after the fruit, because it has the power to trap a soul, mortal or god, in The Underworld for eternity.”
Sweet Pea brushes his fingers over the skin of the fruit, eyes far-off, stuck in a memory. He swallows thickly, “They told me it had to be kept here, in this room, because those who might venture down into The Depths could use it to keep me trapped here for the remainder of my days. They swore to me that once the Prophecy had blown over, they would bring me back, so long as I hadn’t eaten of The Fruit.”
The laugh that breaks through his lips is sad and nostalgic simultaneously. Lilith can’t help it when she reaches out to cup his elbow, their hips brushing at the closeness.
“Now I know that The Fruit is the prophecy’s way out,” Sweet Pea looks down at the mortal, eyes shining. He licks his bottom lip and she finds herself tracking the motion. “Every Prophecy has a loophole, as you mortals speak of it. It is so that the gods cannot manipulate it all to their liking. I-I believe I am meant to trap Zeus in Tartarus with this fruit.”
“I’m so sorry, Sweets,” Lilith murmurs, brushing her fingers along his forearm. She lingers there, eyes wide as she looks up at him. “I-I should have stayed out.”
“It’s okay,” Sweet Pea uses his free hand to cup her jaw, “I would have had to tell you eventually.”
He looks down at her, Lilith’s eyes shining but inquisitive nonetheless, “You are a curious one, my darling.”
The pet name hangs in the air as she stares up at him. Her body is drawn to him like gravity, hand on his hip as her mouth parts, a gentle breath sneaking through.
“I-I…I’m surprised you could get in here, actually,” Sweet Pea breaks the moment with his voice.
Lilith tilts her head, watching as he delicately places the fruit back into the container, sealing it shut with the gentle thud of the glass settling back into place.
“Supposedly, mortals should not be able to get through the chamber,” Sweet Pea explains, turning to face her. “Only those with god-like blood can pass through the barrier.”
Lilith shrugs, swallowing the thick lump in her throat, “Well, maybe you’re just rubbing off on me, then.”
Sweet Pea shakes his head and then steps closer to her to analyze her face as if he hasn’t already memorized her features. He presses his thumb and index finger to her chin, tilting her head as he pleases so he can get a better look at her.
“Are you sure you’re not a demigod?” he asks plainly.
Lilith grinds her teeth together, his earlier kindness forgotten, “You remind me of that rotten god Ares, Sweets! Why does it matter? And if it does matter, then no, I’m not a demigod! My mother was a farmer and my father died when I was young.”
“That’s the story you’ve been told,” he supplies, his tone bland. Sweet Pea’s fingertips drift to her jawline, aching to touch every inch of her skin. He clears his throat, but she beats him to it.
“How dare you?!” The phrase echoes in the chamber, haunting them with the repetitions. Lilith glares up at him, her lips curling into a snarl, “How long have we been together? It has been weeks, has it not? And in all that time, do you not think I would reveal to you if I was something important like a demigod?! Why I-”
Sweet Pea jerks her by the jaw, firmly, not rough, and looks her in the eyes, “I am not suggesting you are a liar, Lili. I think you’ve been lied to.”
The hollow look in her eyes chills him to the bone far quicker than any anguished cry from a dying soul ever could. His hand drops from her face and he follows her as she steps away.
“There is no part of me that could ever be god,” she whispers, but even she does not believe it.
“Think about it!” Sweet Pea implores her, a gentle smile on his face. He almost laughs as he puts the pieces together, feeling a fool for not seeing it before, “You did turn the tide in my fight with Ares! And it explains how you were able to so easily break Aphrodite’s spell back at her temple. You have the blood of the gods in your veins, little Lilith.”
She turns her head away from him, unable to bear the thought of it all any longer. She wraps her arms around herself, holding her body together so she doesn’t break apart in this very chamber.
“You felt the earth dying, Lilith,” Sweet Pea murmurs gently, approaching her again. He reaches out and turns her towards him, “Mortals cannot feel that sort of thing, not in the way you have. I-I think your parents have lied to you.”
His touch is gentle and she finds herself lost in it, “You are extraordinary.”
Just as Lilith opens her mouth to protest, there is the crackling of lightning that draws their attention away from the topic at hand and back to the entrance of the Underworld.
“Zeus,” Hades mutters, his voice laced with venom. He practically growls at the base of his throat before turning back to put his eyes on Lilith one last time. He gives her a sad smile, “Only a god can kill a god, my little mortal. If this should be the last time we speak, I want you to know that I have never met another quite like you. I have enjoyed our time together.”
“Hades!” the voice of his brother bellows.
Lilith’s voice dies in her throat as he leans forward to press a kiss to her forehead. She reaches out but her fingers only to graze his tunic as he turns to go and face the one thing he never thought he’d have to.
“I’ll admit,” Zeus smirks as he steadies himself against the blackened earth of the Underworld. His fingertips spark with lightning as he approaches his younger brother. “You’ve done well with the place. It looks nice.”
Hades grits his teeth and curls his hands to fists, “Brother.”
Zeus steps to the side to reveal a partner, “Don’t forget my lovely sidekick.”
“D-Demeter?” Hades falters, brows knitting together in confusion. He shakes his head, “Why would you ever stand next to Zeus?”
The dark-skinned woman steps forward, her skin glinting like gold even in the dark shade of the Underworld. Her eyes are a warm gold, full lips upturned into a smirk, “Oh, Hades. You’ve had your turn, seated with the Big Twelve. It’s time someone else got to take your place.”
“This is all over my seat?!” Hades bellows, eyes sparking with black lightning. He can feel the warmth of his mortal approaching from The Forbidden Chamber. Shaking his head, Hades glares at his brother and his accomplice, “You are all such children! Banishing me, forcing me to believe that this was all for my own good, meanwhile you’re actually working this all out in your favor? You have been near Nemesis for too long, brother.”
Zeus steps forward, a lightning bolt forming between his fingertips. He smirks, dark hair falling over his brows, “Oh, brother, if only you knew.”
“If only,” Hades echoes, a sadness falling over his features. He steps forward and clouds of darkness swirl in his palms, “You cannot begin to understand where my heart is at, brother.”
Laughing, Zeus throws a stray bolt towards the cavern that houses Cerberus. There’s an explosion sparked from the bolt, cracking the wall to the point where it begins to crumble. He smirks, “Have you not yet deduced it all, brother? I do not care where your heart is at. All I care is how easy it will be to crush it between my fingers.”
Hades throws a shade to engulf the goddess of the harvest, making her squeal as it turns to snakes, encasing her in shackles. He maneuvers towards his brother, grabbing him by the wrists before he can fashion another bolt of lightning.
“I believed you,” Hades seethes, smashing his forehead against his brother’s. Zeus stumbles, but does not fall. The god of the dead pinches his brother at the wrists, “I allowed myself to rot in this stink hole because you told me someone was out for me!”
A billow of smoke erupts and envelopes the gods. Zeus chokes on the blackness, eyes burning even as his brother towers over him. Hades brings his knee into Zeus’s torso repeatedly, golden blood spilling from his brother’s lips.
“How stupid was I? How willing was I to believe your wisdom?!” Hades slams his elbow between the god’s eyes, “I wanted nothing more than to please you, and yet you were so quick to throw me into hell!”
In his rage, an explosion builds up in Hades’ chest, erupting as he lets loose a bloodcurdling growl. Zeus is thrown back against the wall of bones decorating the entrance to the Underworld.
Hades grows in size, muscles bulging under the strain of his more godly form, “Here’s one thing you didn’t expect, brother.”
A smirk tugs Hades’ lips upward, “I am stronger than you.”
Just as the god is about to pummel his fist into Zeus’s jaw, he’s thrown to the ground by Demeter. She pins him with her knee in his chest, allowing the god of thunder to recover. A sinister laugh bubbles up from her chest, “Oh, god of the dead, what you have in brute strength, you lack in numbers.”
The battle stalls as another enters the room.
Sweet Pea turns his head and despite the pressure on his chest, manages to muster, “L-Lilith…”
Her heart shatters and he feels the warmth around him fade to a dull ache. Sweet Pea watches as she steps forward, her hands cradled against her waist, “Mother? Wh-What are you doing here?”
“Demeter,” Sweet Pea grits out. “Demeter is your mother.”
“N-No,” Lilith shakes her head. She steps forward, her eyes swimming in confusion. “My mother’s name is Demetria. She is a farmer. Th-This thing is not my mother.”
Demeter shakes her head, the fierceness on her face faltering as she gets a glimpse of the young girl, “My name is Demeter. And you are my daughter.”
Lilith’s eyes well up with silver tears. Vines grow around her ankles and steady her in the ground, “Why are you here? Why are you doing this to him?”
Demeter never takes her eyes off of Hades, knee still jammed into his breastbone. She takes a breath, voice ragged with strain, “I was supposed to keep you from him. His child will topple Zeus’s reign.”
Lilith’s lips quiver, “Why are you so worried about his children? Zeus is a menace. He steals women and burns towns to the ground. He allowed a storm to ruin our fields, to kill our harvest. We were without for months!”
“I allowed it,” Demeter admits, her voice never faltering. She swallows and turns to look at her child, “I needed you to hate the gods. I could not risk you turning to him, falling further into his fold of darkness. So, I lied about who I was to you. I allowed Poseidon and Ares to take your father and your brother from us. It was all a part of this elaborate plan to keep you away.”
“You are the reason my father and brother are dead. You stole them from me!” Lilith’s voice shakes the walls of the Underworld, edging towards a screech. She curls her palms to fists, “I loved them. I loved you! H-How dare you?”
“There is much that you do not understand, little one,” Demeter replies. She wraps her hand around Hades throat and Lilith can feel the life draining from him. Her body vibrates with fury and she spats at her mother, “You do not get to patronize me, σκύλα! You were in so much fear of my possible interference that you allowed the gods to ruin my life!”
“You were a threat, Lilith.” Demeter spits out the words like they burn on her tongue. She shakes her head in disapproval, “I knew you were powerful the moment you were born. You were a risk and I couldn’t kill you, so I contained you. I suppressed your powers and kept you angry.”
Lilith shakes her head and grips her hair by the fistful, “A-And why am I so threatening to gods like you?”
“Look at yourself!” Demeter spats, her eyes roaming over her daughter. She chuffs, “You have rule over spring and regrowth. You emit a warmth that has even taken Hades himself by surprise. You draw people in, but your darkness scares them away. I could not take the chance that your darkness would not scare away the god of the dead.”
“You’ve miscalculated, mother,” Lilith begins, her eyes settling into hard marbles. They glow a bright white, the vines encasing her feet giving her a steadiness she did not have before, “It was your doing that I ended up face-down at his temple, begging for acceptance, begging for a friend.”
“Zeus promised me a seat!” Demeter gasps, tilting her head just enough to look her daughter in the eyes. She is desperate now, Lilith can see it in her eyes, “In exchange for my help.”
A tear wells up in Lilith’s eyelid, threatening to spill over. She glances down to Sweet Pea beneath her mother’s body, a bruise on his cheek and glittering gold blood dripping from the corner of his mouth.
“And does your help include killing him?” she asks, her shoulders shaking as she looks Sweet Pea in the eyes. Lilith forces herself to focus on her mother. “Did you really think the Prophecy could be thwarted?”
“Prophecies are like the dirt of the earth, my child.” For once, Demeter’s reminds her of the mother who told her stories to help her sleep and brought her herbal tea when she was restless. “They are easily molded if you understand them well enough.”
Lilith shakes her head, “I’ve met the Oracle, mother. I’ve heard the Prophecy. There is no way that you or Zeus will think your way out of this one.”
“You are but a child,” Demeter spats, eyes alight with a golden fire. She snaps her jaw at her daughter, “What do you know of the world?”
Lilith feels her heart burning within her chest, “I am sick of being called a child.”
“Lili,” Sweet Pea’s voice cracks as Demeter pushes her knee deeper into his sternum. “Don’t-”
A lightning bolt singes Hades’ tunic as Zeus approaches. He runs a hand through his hair, another bolt already forming at the tip of his fingers, “I grow weary of this bland conversation. We came here to kill you, brother. To seal the Prophecy’s fate with your blood.”
The mortal jumps forward at the sound of Hades’ groans, but she is pushed away by the simple flick of his hand. He looks to her and shakes his head, silently telling her she must stay away.
Demeter turns her eyes to her daughter, “Oh, my love, you have always been a child of the dark. You were born in darkness, and into darkness you have fallen. Fallen into love with the darkness, fallen into its clutches. It would seem your only purpose in life was to fall.”
Sweet Pea’s eyes widen at the goddess’s words. He recounts the prophecy in his mind, the words a jumbled mess in his weakened state. He grinds his teeth together as he pushes Demeter’s body from his own.
Should the child of darkness grow in strength, Zeus’s reign will has reached its length.
“…you have always been a child of the dark…”
It’s Lilith, Sweet Pea thinks, the Prophecy was never about me. It was always Lilith.
“Lilith,” he pants, desperate for breath, “you have to go. Now.”
The confusion is evident on her face, but the certainty and the hysteria of Sweet Pea’s voice tells her that she should run.
The god of thunder stalks towards the pair, an amused expression painted across his features.
“A child of the dark, you say Demeter?” Zeus muses, taking steps towards the now-confirmed demigod. He smiles in a way that is not kind, and Lilith finds herself pushing further into the wall, praying it might swallow her whole. He chuckles, “Does that ring any bells, mortal?”
Lilith’s eyes widen and the object between her fists begins to bleed down her forearms. She breathes heavily through her nose before firming her stance, “I cannot decide if your fear is flattering or disheartening. I thought you’d be fiercer than this, god of thunder.”
Hades takes the moment to encase the goddess in a shroud of darkness, cementing her to the ground as he clamps his fist shut. He turns his eyes to focus on his brother, “Zeus, step away from her! She’s got nothing to do with this!”
The god of the sky chuckles, and thunder shakes the ground in time with his ministrations. Lilith turns her feet in the ash of the floor and wills her body to be steady. The warmth spreads from her palms to her chest and she breathes in the sweetness of it all, willing that whatever comes next is not as horrible as she thinks.
“Oh little demigod,” Zeus croons, his fingertips sparking as he touches her face. “You were the one to hear the prophecy. You know that a lightning bolt fashioned from my hand will make an end to all this foolishness.”
The reminder of the prophecy forces her to think.
“The actions of one,” Lilith murmurs to herself, distracted from the chaos for but a moment. She turns her head and swallows, looking Sweet Pea directly in the eyes. Her palm opens so only he can see what she holds in her grasp.
His jaw drops, “No!”
Lilith smirks one last time before kicking the god of thunder in the chest, sending him flying back into the cavern she made her home.
“Lilith, no, please,” Sweet Pea cries, unable to move or else Demeter will be released. He shakes his head and she swears she sees tears in his eyes. “You know what will happen. Please, just go and let me deal with them.”
The pomegranate beats like a heart in her hands, warmth tickling her veins like a promise. She licks her lips and wonders what the jeweled beads inside must taste like.
Hades loses his hold on Demeter as he sprints forward to try and pluck the fruit from her hands. The goddess turns, her eyes locked onto her daughter, “Lilith, do not touch your lips to that fruit! It will curse you forever! You will be locked away!”
Lilith bares her teeth and juts out her free hand, vines so vibrantly green it’s shocking breaking through the blackened earth of the Underworld to encase her mother in a stronghold. She smirks, eyes alight with some sort of silver fire, “Mother, it’s only a curse if you don’t wish to hold the burden. I quite like it down here.”
“You impudent little rat. I gave you life! I gave yo-”
The vines twist around Demeter’s chest, restricting her. Her daughter walks closer and Demeter swears she sees ice in her eyes. She tries to break the vines with her strength, but she is no match for the raging fire of the newfound demigod’s powers. She is too raw, too untamed, her powers locked away for too long and now they’re exploding out of her.
“You gave me nothing,” Lilith snarls, fist curling at her side. Her nostrils flare as she steps towards the goddess, “All you did was take from me! Now, it’s my turn.”
With a twist of her wrist, Lilith guides the vines to wrap around her mother’s throat so tightly that the goddess can no longer breathe. Lilith knows she cannot kill the goddess, even with her partial blood. Instead, the goddess crumbles under the pressure of her daughter’s attack, rendering her indisposed.
Demeter gasps as her eyes roll back in her head, her body falling slack with the hold of her daughter. Lilith releases the vines so they pool around the goddess’s feet, her breath fogging in front of her face.
“Insolent mortal!” Zeus’s voice bellows from the cavern as he rises. He walks forward, brandishing a bolt in either hand, white hot and crackling with energy. He smirks, tanned skin alight with sparking electricity. “I will make sure you spend the rest of your time in this realm, with no little Sweet Pea to guard you from the demons that lurk in the dark.”
Lilith grits her teeth and roars, the sound echoing off the walls and shaking the floor. The gods watch as she rises into the air, propelled forward by a column of pink smoke. She levitates above them, eyes bright white as her hair shimmers gold.
“If you touch him,” she seethes, “I will make your life hell.”
The god of thunder cackles, eyes sparking with lightning. He tilts his head, “Mortal, you may be a formidable demigod, but you have no power over me.”
“And yet here you are, trying to kill me despite your confidence,” Lilith taunts.
She cracks the pomegranate open in her hands, blood red juice staining her fingers as the fruit drips into her palms. Sweet Pea calls out from below, his voice cutting through the sound of thunder.
“Lilith, please,” he screams, imploring her with the intensity of his voice. She turns her head and he pleads, “That will chain you here, you’ll not be able to return to your mortal life on the Surface. Please.”
The demigod shakes her head, a sad smile upturning her lips, “Don’t you know I only want to be with you?”
“Enough!” Zeus screams, lightning sparking from his body in all directions, electrifying the air to taste of sulfur. His eyes lock onto Sweet Pea’s figure, “I am sick and tired of your bleeding heart. It’s disgusting, brother. You should be ashamed.”
He stalks towards his younger brother, twirling the bolts of lightning around like dowels in his hands. Zeus smirks, “I thought when I cast you out, no one would dare to look at you even sideways, brother. And here you’ve gone, pulling a young, beautiful maiden down into your underground hovel. You always did surprise me.”
Hades brandishes his onyx blades, slinging them out from under the arms of his tunic. He snarls at his brother before lunging forward, swinging a blade directly at Zeus’s neck. The god pulls himself back before launching a small bolt into Hades’ stomach.
The blow pushes the god of darkness back, golden blood dripping from his wound as he stands back to his feet. Hades’ growls and launches several balls of darkness at his brother while running towards him. He manages to make contact with Zeus’s leg, bringing him down to one knee so he can launch a punch across his jaw.
“μαλάκας,” Zeus curses, turning his head to look at his glittering blood trickles from the wound. He turns to his brother and his eyes are murderous, white hot and sparking as he regains his strength and slashes his bolts at Hades. “You know who will win, brother! Do not drag this out. You will only further embarrass yourself!”
Sweet Pea’s nostrils flare and he’s caught off guard as a ball of purple fire flies over the top of his shoulder and towards his older brother. He watches the assault hit its’ target, sending Zeus flying back into the wall, coughing for breath. He doubles over, cradling his stomach.
“Oh, you bdelyròs,” Zeus mutters. He throws a lightning bolt haphazardly towards the demigod, but she dodges it easily.
Lilith smirks, but it falls as soon as she realizes the god’s real target: his brother.
With both Lilith and Hades distracted from the original bolt, Zeus charges, taking advantage of the moment to drive a second bolt into his brother’s shoulder. The god cries out in distress, falling to his knees as he reaches out for his brother to steady him.
Lilith drops from the sky, tumbling to the ground as she rushes towards him. Sweet Pea has enough strength left to push her away once more with the simple flick of his fingertips, and this time she cannot resist as she falls face first into the dirt of the Underworld.
Tears soak her face as she reaches out towards him, the ash of the ground sticking to her wet cheeks. She glances to the side to see the two halves of the pomegranate in front of her, and it’s more than clear what she has to do.
“Lilith,” Sweet Pea manages to croak as he tracks her line of sight. He coughs and shakes his head, “I can handle my brother. You need to leave.”
“Sweets.” The look she gives him is enough to break his heart. Her voice is small but strong, “You’ll die if I don’t.”
She stands to her full height, a half of the fruit held tightly in each of her palms. Lilith stares Zeus directly in the eyes, tempting him to walk away from his brother. She cocks her head and brings the fruit to her lips, the scent of the broken pomegranate wafting in the air.
“It is called Forbidden for a reason, darling.” Zeus yanks the bolt out of his brother’s chest, the younger god crying out against the ridges of the lightning. “I can send you to Tartarus, if you like. No need to trifle with that silly thing.”
“Γαμήσου, Zeus,” Lilith spats before spitefully biting a mouthful out of the fruit.
Just as the beads slip past her lips, she feels the heat of blood pouring from her heart. Lilith gasps, fruit and blood spitting from her mouth as she doubles over.
“Oh, little mortal,” the voice of the god of thunder croons. His fingers traipse over her jaw in a creeping way, sending a chill down her spine despite the heat of his bolt in her chest. “I realized once your beloved mother called you a child of the dark that I could not just let you live, let alone ingest that wretched fruit.”
Zeus twists the bolt as he wrenches it out of her chest, the crimson of the mortal’s blood a stark contrast to the pale white of the lightning. Lilith curls her upper lip into a snarl and reaches out, trying in one last foul attempt to clutch the god by his throat.
“I was watching you two,” Zeus chuckles. He tilts his head, smacking away her hand with ease. “The entire time – Apollo, Ares, Aphrodite…I knew every step you took. I didn’t know what you were doing, per say, but once I felt the Oracle summoned by a mortal, I knew.”
Lilith grits her teeth and tries to sit up to no avail. Her cheek hits the dirt hard, and she can feel the way her heart beats hollow in her chest, begging for more time. Zeus nudges her with his toe, rolling her body over so she’s face up.
“I can’t believe my brother ever thought a pathetic mortal like you would be a good partner for him,” Zeus shakes his head disapprovingly as he squats down on his haunches. Lilith feels too much like prey when he looks her in the eyes, blue irises sparking with light. He smirks, “I was wrong about the prophecy, that much I know now. Originally, I thought it would be my brother’s child to overtake the throne of Olympus, stealing it away from me. Oh, to find out that it would be a halfling who is destined to end my reign.”
Zeus chuckles, grasping her cheeks between his fingers, squeezing so tight that her lips purse, “How the Oracle thought that you could ever dethrone me, I’ll never know! You are a weakling in comparison to a god.”
He laughs to himself as if he were the only one in the room, tossing his head back, “Oh, I guess I’ll never have to know now. You’ll be dead soon, and it will be out of my hands.”
“Gods can’t kill mortals,” Lilith manages to mutter, her voice gritty. She swallows, trying to keep her blood in her body. “You’ll be hanged for this, you μπάσταρδος.”
Zeus cocks his head, a devilish smirk turning his lips skyward, “Oh, little mortal, I’m the one who made the rule. And I’m the only one who knows who killed who, here. And I’m not sure that I’d send myself to Tartarus just for the fun of it.”
The god’s fingertips clasp around her throat, “It will be a pleasure to kill you in front of him, you know. He cares too much and it has been his undoing.”
“Brother!” Hades’ voice is bloodcurdling as he stands to his feet, palm covering his chest wound. He snarls, throwing a dagger of darkness at his brother. It lodges in the god’s thigh, crippling him to his knees.
With a swift kick to the chest, Hades has his brother on his back. The god of death is seething as he slams his foot into his brother’s neck, “You will pay for this, Πουτάνας γιέ!”
Zeus grins despite the pain and the sky opens up above them, rain dripping down into the Underworld as thunder and lightning bellow from above.
“I’ve done what I set out to do here, brother,” Zeus smirks at his brother. “I have ended the Prophecy. It’s done. You’ll never return to Olympus. I’ll never be removed from the throne. Your little halfling will join you here as a ghost to remind you of your failure.”
“You once told me that I’d have to forgive you one day,” Hades growls, gripping his brother’s face tightly between his fingers. His nostrils flare, “I am telling you now that you will never have my forgiveness.”
Zeus swallows thickly, “I’ve been without you for a millennia, brother. I won’t go about needing you now.”
The god of thunder grins before throwing his brother off of him and snatching Demeter from her spot on the ground. They ascending upward, disappearing in the shadow of a storm cloud.
With his brother no longer a threat, Sweet Pea drops to his knees and cradles Lilith’s head against his thighs, his hands trying to find a way to seal off her wound.
“You stubborn mortal,” he groans, his face flushing bright red as he takes her in. One of his hands pushes her hair out of her face, smearing the blood from her mouth onto his palm. He takes in a short breath, “I can’t believe you.”
Lilith smirks despite her condition, “You know me, darling. I don’t list-”
A wet cough interrupts her, blood and pomegranate juice spat from between her lips as her body convulses. She turns her head once the episode has passed, pressing her cheek further into his palm as he holds her steady.
Lilith brings her palm up to touch his cheek, a soft smile turning her lips. His flesh is warm under her touch. She fears this will be the last moment she can ever feel him again. He finds himself turning into her palm, his eyes shutting as he tries to drink it in.
“It’s like he’s poisoned you,” Sweet Pea whispers, voice cracking. He looks down at the hole in her chest, “I-I can’t do anything.”
“You don’t need to do anything, Sweets. The prophecy called for a bolt, and it got one. Now that it’s fulfilled, it’s over, just as he said.” Lilith pants short breathes between her lips as her face pales in color.
“If I hadn’t baited him, he would have never come here. You would be safe. You’d be walking Cerberus right now.” Sweet Pea drops his head so their foreheads are touching, his eyes shut as he breathes her in, flowers and salt and ash.
Lilith chuckles, their lips a hairsbreadth away, “Oh, don’t go soft on me now, Sweets.”
“I’ve always been soft on you,” his voice is sad, quiet.
She sees his lip tremble and so she threads her fingers into his hair to try and steady him. Lilith forces her voice to be strong, for him, “It’ll be all right, Sweets. Everything will be all right.”
Sweet Pea cradles her head into his lap, wrapping both arms around her torso as he feels her soul leaving her body. It’s as if his own essence is being torn in two, feeling hers unravel from her skin.
“I won’t let this stand,” he growls in her ear, his breath hot on her neck. Tears are hot as they drip from his skin to hers, “I will not let my brother get away with this.”
Lilith shakes her head, “No, I wouldn’t expec-”
Another round of rough coughs interrupt her speech and she spits blackened blood out onto his tunic. Lilith feels hot tears weeping out of the corners of her eyes, swimming down her cheeks. She sniffles, her chest collapsing, “Please don’t leave me. I-I don’t want to be alone.”
Sweet Pea forces his tears down his throat, “As if you’d let me.”
They laugh together but Lilith’s turns into a fit of coughing. The rest of the color drains slowly from her cheeks and Sweet Pea feels the last bit of her life force drag away from her body.
“No, no, no,” he repeats frantically, running his palms over her body to try and feel for her soul beating gently underneath her skin. “Please, no.”
Lilith’s voice is too small when she speaks, her lips cracked, “My heart has always been yours.”
Before he can answer her, Lilith’s head lolls to side and her eyes still underneath her lids. Her lips part with the last breath she exhales and he feels his soul dying alongside hers.
Tears drip over his cheeks and land on her dress, dampening the material. His hands rip through his hair as he mutters nonsense to himself as he looks at her figure lying still in his lap.
“No, no, please,” he whimpers, running his thumb over her lips to catch a little dribble of blood in hopes that he feels her breathing. His hands cradle her face and he drops his forehead to hers, brushing the tip of his nose over the bridge of her own. His lip wobbles and a sob racks his body.
“You rotten mortal,” he grinds his teeth together, sniffling.
The strangest thing happens next – Lilith begins to disappear.
Her feet begin to dissolve like sugar in water, slipping away as if they were never there. The disappearance crawls up to her knees and nears her hips when Sweet Pea finally realizes that he doesn’t feel her soul entering his domain.
“You can’t do this,” he murmurs, gripping her shoulders to the point of bruising her. Sweet Pea shakes his head, “You can’t keep her from me, brother!”
He loses hold on her chest as it falls into nothingness, so his palms cradle her jaw, holding her until the last moment. As her neck begins the creeping into the void, he tilts her jaw so he can kiss her farewell, but her entire being has been swept away before he has the chance.
Sweet Pea’s hands turn to fists, her blood dripping from between his knuckles. A scream erupts from his throat, shaking the entirety of the Underworld. His hands dig into the ground beneath him, but all he finds is dirt and blood.
The longer he looks at the dirt where she once laid, the angrier and emptier he becomes.
Searching for her soul, he comes up empty.
The heart of the Underworld has ceased it’s beating.
The world goes cold.
Chapter 11: the torment
Hades’ fingers shake in the dirt, begging it to reform back into the shape of her body.
He does not care that tears drip down his cheeks, rage pent up and exploding the longer he scrambles. His fingernails are caked with ash, heart heavy in his chest, and he screams until his throat is raw.
“Maker?” Topaz emerges from a pile of rubble with a frantic expression on her features. She searches with her eyes until she finds his body crumpled in the dirt. Her feet cannot drag her closer to him fast enough.
“Maker, what is going on? What happened?”
Hades arches his back and composes his face before turning to look up at his serpentine friend, “Zeus, Demeter. They-”
Topaz seems to make the connection, her eyes fluttering around each corner of the Underworld to look for the missing figure. Tears surface in her big, black eyes, and Hades feels his heart ripped out before she ever speaks the mortal’s name.
“L-Lilith? Where is she?” Topaz’s lower lip wobbles and she presses her hands to her heart, nails clutching at her tunic.
His sadness comes back in waves and he has to will himself not to burst into tears as reality settles on his shoulders. Like marble, his sadness hardens into anger, and his eyes find Topaz’s.
She takes a step back at the sight of him, bedraggled and maddened. She’s never seen him so ferocious, so angry.
“I don’t know,” he answers plainly, voice grating against his throat. He swallows thickly and runs his dirty hands through his hair, “H-He-”
Hades cannot push the words through his teeth, each syllable settling in his belly like a boulder. He falls back to his knees, hands on the ground to steady himself as he drops his head in resignation.
Topaz drops to her knees beside him to touch her palm to his shoulder blade. His muscles are quivering under her touch and she’s fearful he may explode if he holds it all in any longer. She leans her head against his bicep and closes her eyes, silent tears dripping down her nose and turning the ashen ground beneath them into mud.
“What are we going to do?” she sniffles.
The hair at the base of his neck begins to burn as blue flames, eyes turning into onyx marbles. His upper lip curls into a snarl and he digs his toes into the ground, glaring upward in the general direction of his brother’s domain.
“I’m going to kill him.”
Disease runs rampant. Mortals go unhinged. Death and decay drape across The Surface like a thick blanket, suffocating those who stray just close enough towards Hades’ temples.
The seas rage, lightning strikes, darkness falls.
The three brothers are at war.
Other gods attempt to intervene. Hephaestus provides the mortals with weaponry. Ares provides the mortals with anger. Athena tries to provide them all with a clear head. Hera urges them to fight for family.
Hades does not go quietly.
He storms The Surface and his pacing leaves the ground dead, infecting the earth with his anguish. His blackened heart poisons the mortals who he almost comes into contact with. Hades finds his way up the stairs of the gods, towards Mount Olympus.
“Zeus!” Hades bellows when he gets close enough, the shimmering city in his view.
Hades beats against the barrier of Olympus, begging it to let him through so he can slaughter anyone who might get in his way, god or mortal, it does not matter. At this point, he is beyond the restraint to care.
He releases a bloodcurdling cry, the veins of his neck protruding. “Coward! Come down here so I can show you how a real god fights!”
His hands continuously come down against the electric barrier, golden blood oozing from every crack and crevice in his palms. Hot tears flood his face, “You μπάσταρδος! Get down here and look me in the eyes!”
Gold liquid glitters down the exterior of the bubble encasing Olympus from outsiders. Hade’s knuckles are raw, pulsing as he slams his fists into the invisible structure. He falls to his knees and rests his head in his palms, knuckles sticking in his hair.
Hade’s head snaps up, the feminine voice taking him by surprise.
A gentle laugh brings about a smile from the woman opposite of him, “What are you doing out here, darling?”
“Stay away from me, Hera,” Hades’ voice is a warning. He holds out his hand, the other curled by his side into a fist. “You know fine and well what I’m doing out here. Let me in so I might slay your husband where he stands.”
She steps as close as she can, a thin veil of golden shimmer separating their bodies.
Hera’s dark hair falls just to her shoulders in gentle waves. Her tan skin is clad in a white, gauzy dress, accented with golden jewelry and clasps. Sweet Pea thinks of how gaudy Lilith might think a white dress with gold accents would be. Surely, she’d tell him that she’d much prefer something such as purple over white.
Lilith isn’t here, he reminds himself. Reality stings in his eyes in the form of tears.
“Of course he sent you.” Hades stands to his feet and runs his hands through his hair again, this time the blood crusted over on his knuckles, his hands aching as he moves them. “He never was one to fight his own battles.”
“I am here to coax you into leaving, Sweet Pea,” she speaks kindly. Hera’s eyes are sad and he allows himself to falter for a moment into thinking she cares, into forgetting who she is married to.
Hades shakes his head, and barely growls out the next words, “He took her. He broke his own damn rules. And you’re going to try and convince me to back away? While you shelter him in your bed as he defies the rules set forth by his own mouth?!”
His eyes are ablaze with a black fire, hands sparking with his own kind of dark electricity. He grits his teeth, “Have you no dignity?”
Hera reaches a hand out as if to offer it to him, but the gesture is done in vain, “I cannot change my husband, Sweet Pea. That much you should know.”
Hera’s voice is gentle and warm, which Hades knows all too well. He’s known her most of his life, listened to her calm his brother’s unruly temper too many times. He knows what kind of appeal her silver tongue can have on a man.
“Your husband ruined any chance of me leaving as soon as he struck that bolt into her heart,” Hades flares his nostrils and tries to keep his lip from wobbling as he realizes what he’s saying. “Your husband did this to himself. Brought this wrath upon Olympus with his own hands.”
Hera opens her mouth to protest, but Hades holds his pointer finger up to her nose, the barrier the only thing keeping him from pinching her right there between her eyes. The bloodthirsty expression held in his irises chills her to the bone and she finds herself cowering from his taller form.
“You are done talking, Ronnie,” he takes a shaky breath. “The only reason I’ll feel sorry for you when I’ve taken him from you is because I know what it’s going to feel like when you know his heart has stopped beating.”
“Listen, Pea,” Hera starts, attempting to reason with him. She gestures with her hands, “I-I know that she was important to you, but she was just a mortal and you hardly knew here. You can alw-”
She’s interrupted by the crackling of electricity just millimeters away from her face. Sweet Pea’s palms are pressed against the sizzling barrier, electricity shooting every which way.
“You do not get to tell me how much she meant to me, goddess,” his voice is slurred with pain as he speaks. Slowly, he tilts his head so he’s looking her directly in the eye, the soullessness to his irises making her heart leap into her throat.
After staring down deep into her soul, he turns away from the goddess and finds his way back to the Underworld.
“It will be a pleasure to kill you in front of him, you know.”
Stinging. Bleeding. Welts. Burns.
“You impudent little rat!”
Slashing. Striking. Cutting.
“You have no power over me.”
Crying. Screaming. Howling.
“No second chances,” he barks, flicking his wrist to send the wayward soul on down the river, the shadow flying with a screech down into the depths of Hades.
The god readjusts himself on the burning throne, lazily strewn with legs sprawled out and posture slumped. He rests his chin in his palm, raising a brow as another round of souls is brought to his attention.
“Maker?” Topaz approaches, her forked tongue flicking out to wet her lips. She seems skittish, which is unusual for her.
Hades turns to look her in the eyes, his expression bland.
“A-Are you sure you’re not being too harsh on them all? This is their eternity you’re deciding.”
Topaz chews on her lip as she waits for his response. He does not hardly move, his eyes shifting just slightly as he considers her before returning to gaze down at the souls sitting at the base of the throne, their fate pending his decision.
“Shouldn’t have died,” he shrugs, deciding on an answer. His throat bobs as he swallows, scratching under his chin.
“That is not always their decision!” Topaz balks, her eyes wide.
Hades grasps her by the jaw, pulling her to look him in the eye, “If you think you know best, why aren’t you sitting on this throne?”
The tears that well up in her eyes make him release her, the mark of a serpent on his neck pulsing like her heart. He scoffs, trying to hide the apology in his eyes.
“I won’t tolerate you telling me how to do my job,” Hades huffs a breath through his nose, eyes finding something to glance at off in the distance. He leans back in his seat, legs sprawling out in front of him.
“I just don’t want you to act rashly and send someone to the wrong class.” Topaz wraps her arms around her middle, her black eyes looking over him. The scales of her skin glinting even in the darkness of the domain.
Hades shrugs, “All I hear are screams, Topaz. Whether there’s more or less, I won’t really notice.”
She knows better than to speak against him twice, no matter how much he favors her over the other Serpents. And so, she keeps her tongue between her teeth, biting down on the words that she know Lilith would have the audacity to say.
“She meant a lot to me too, you know,” Topaz whispers finally, voice breaking in the middle. Despite the pain throbbing around her chin, the ghost of his fingertips still on her skin, she smiles, “I know you’re only doing these things because you’re hurting.”
He almost allows himself a moment for his façade to crack and the heat of tears to well up against the back of his eyelids. He turns his face and tries to blink rapidly to push away the emotion.
“I feel it too,” Topaz murmurs, wrapping her arms around her waist. “It’s cold.”
Hades gnaws at his lower lip, heat creeping up his neck to paint a blush on his cheeks. Whether it’s from memories or from loss, Topaz does not know.
“I never knew,” he speaks finally, eyes tilting down to look at his friend. Sweet Pea licks his lips and swallows before finishing, “I never knew it was her. The warmth.”
Topaz cradles his cheek in her hand and she’s surprised when he leans into it, “I don’t know that any of us really knew the depths of her power.”
“No,” he whispers so quietly she’s not sure she hears him right. “I guess we didn’t.”
As she extracts herself from him and drags her way back down to the Serpent Den, she swears she hears him murmur: “And now we’ll never get to know.”
“Lilith? You mean like the demon? How fitting for you.”
Tears. Blood. Sweat.
“ Μαλάκας! You’ll never be strong enough to beat me.”
Slits. Slashes. Skinned.
“You will never be enough for them, no matter how hard you try.”
Eyes. Wrists. Ankles.
“Just give up, mortal. Just give in.”
Sweet Pea finds himself walking through The Forbidden Chamber quite often as of late. He takes his time wandering through the hallway, taking in every skeleton etched into the walls. The archway made from obsidian glints in the firelight from the torches set on either side of the hall. He wonders why he never noticed all these small nuances before.
The door opens to the room where he last spoke to her.
A pomegranate, cracked down the center and caked with blood and ash sits in the center of the room, taunting him into depravity.
“You mock me,” he snarls, wishing he could kick the thing over.
He can’t, though, because then the last bit of her would be gone.
It’s strange how at one time he questioned the warmth that radiated from this room, questioned why it felt like a heartbeat was pulsating, originating from the very fruit which has now been corrupted by Death itself. And now, he only wishes that he could have that very warmth back, pooling in his chest and dripping down his bones like syrup.
Sweet Pea cannot stay for long, it’s too agonizing for his heart to take. Instead of lingering, he turns and closes the door behind him, wandering back towards the entrance where another bout of souls await for his judgment.
As he turns to walk up the steps to his throne, he sees a flash of dark hair and light eyes from the corner of his vision. He stops, turning and searching for mocha-like skin and gray irises in the crowd.
Is it possible? Is she finally here?
His mind begins to frolic in the ideas of what he will do for her once her soul has taken root in the domain. He will be sure she gets a lovely corner in the Meadows, or maybe she can just stay with him, in his quarters. A smile upturns his lips and he goes to speak, calling out her name to the group below.
Only, none of them move.
She does not come forward.
It shouldn’t make his heart sink when he realizes that he saw another woman of similar stature and coloring instead of his little mortal. It shouldn’t make his eyes misty with the threat of tears.
She was just a mortal, after all, Sweet Pea tries to convince himself. He can’t even stomach the way his own voice sounds when he tries to pretend as if she were just another plaything for the gods. He stifles the notion and shakes his head, blinking ferociously to try and get the image of her out of his mind so he can fairly judge the souls in question.
Except he can’t shake her.
Everywhere he goes, she goes. She follows him like a ghost, her laugh echoing in his ears and her smile bright when he looks at it in just the right light.
Sometimes, she speaks.
“I didn’t know you could be so cruel,” she murmurs, her legs strewn across his lap as he sits on his throne. He holds her gently with a hand around her waist and another under her knees, keeping her steady. She smirks and trails a fingertip over his jawline, thumb against his lower lip. “Here I was, thinking you’d gone soft in your old age.”
He chuckles and leans into her touch, eyes shifting closed for a mere moment, “Oh, little mortal, you’ve only seen the beginning.”
Fangs cocks his head to the side where he slithers against the curves of Hades’ throne, “Maker, who are you talking to?”
Sweet Pea turns, snapping his jaw at the serpent, “Mind your own.”
And when he looks back, his lap is empty.
After that, she starts to haunt him.
Hades has never needed sleep before, but now he thinks he might have to start trying it.
The gray of her eyes and the fullness of her lips and the playfulness of her laugh is like a ghost in his everyday life.
When he drinks with the serpents, he hears her jesting beside him, poking and prodding at him as she tries to get him to laugh with her.
When he designates the souls on their forever dwelling place, she is hanging off of him, giving him encouragement to help him keep his head above water.
When he lies in his quarters, silk sheets around his body, she’s there, glued to his side, her lips tantalizingly close, but as soon as he leans down to brush his mouth to hers, she’s gone.
Hades closes his eyes and sees her. He opens his eyes, and there she is. It’s as if he cannot escape her. Almost as if she were spiting him even after her death.
“Lilith,” he groans one night, rolling over to face her in his silken sheets. He reaches out and cups her jaw and he swears he can feel her skin underneath the pads of his fingers.
She tilts her head and looks at him in that delicate, inquisitive way which he misses dearly, “Yes, Sweets?”
Tears well up in the back of his eyes at the sound of her voice, “Why do you agonize me so?”
A laugh bubbles from her throat as her eyes squint shut. She leans into him, tucking herself under her chin. He allows himself a moment to wrap her up in his arms because he knows that soon she will fade.
“I am of your own doing, Sweets,” she murmurs into the skin of his neck. Sweet Pea knows he should feel the heat from her breath against his flesh, so his heart drops when he doesn’t. Her fingertips drift up his waist and if she were real, he imagines she’d dip her fingers underneath his clothes and his skin would go hot at the touch. “I am a subconscious apparition. You choose when I go and when I stay.”
He buries his mouth in the crown of her hair, his eyes shut as tears flow freely from his lids. He’s quiet as he holds her, unwilling to open his eyes for fear that she may be gone when he tries to look.
“I miss you,” his voice cracks.
Lilith leans back and her warm smile makes his heart ache that much more. Her body begins to fade, but she manages one last line before she goes: “Oh, if only you’d told me when I was still here.”
“Your father is better off dead than with you as a daughter.”
“Your brother did right by going off to war, leaving his puny sister back at home.”
“You know that god will never love you. You’re but a plaything, a small speck on his eternal radar.”
Petulant. Puny. Poisonous.
Fragile. Weak. Pathetic.
Her body is tearing itself apart, seam by seam, as she rolls around in the acid pit that is her doom.
And all her worst nightmares come to life.
She cries out, her throat numb, as she feels her veins falling apart only to be sewn back together. Her skin crumbles off her bones, but as she sobs with the pain, fighting back against everything putting her in agony, the edges of her consciousness are frayed as she feels her skin patched back together.
Her body is twirling around in the void, her eyes unable to meet with anything other than her own skeleton as it’s undone and then wound back together only to be torn apart again.
And the voices – they are so loud.
“You were never going to turn the tides.”
“All that hard work for naught.”
“Puny human, taken down by a little bolt of lightning.”
When his voice begins in a chorus of insults, her heart shatters.
“Oh, little mortal,” he laughs in her ear, “did you ever think you would amount to anything?”
He is mocking her. Why is he mocking her?
Tears stream down her cheeks as she feels her fingernails tugged and her bones pulled from their sockets. She sobs, her shoulders shaking, “No, please, stop.”
She fights back, gritting her teeth and trying to kick her legs. He chuckles at her futile attempts to escape her personal torture chamber.
“I was never going to love you,” his voice is like a snarl, like an animal ready to attack their prey. “You were nothing but a means to an end for me, mortal, or didn’t you know? I needed you to fulfill the prophecy. Once Zeus murdered you, the prophecy was done.”
She chokes on her own tears. Her body aches as it’s knitted back together. She has a moment of reprieve, but it’s broken by his form appearing in front of her. He reaches out and cradles her chin in between his thumb and first finger. She wants to melt against him, to allow herself to drop all of her weight and have him hold her up.
The feel of his palm slapping against her cheek is not something she ever thought she’d feel.
Tears gather in her lids as her skin stings. She takes in a short breath as she looks him in the eye. He has soulless irises, black and never-ending.
“Fool,” he spits, saliva splattering on her face. “You craved nothing but love and acceptance, and here you are, dying alone.”
Something comes over her and she manages to rear her head back and slam her forehead against his.
He roars like a beast and turns to ash, floating away into the nothingness.
The next figure who walks up to her makes her cry upon first sight.
“Father,” she weeps, dropping to her knees on the unseen floor. She cradles her head in her hands, thankful for the moment of physical rest. “Wh-What are you doing here? Where am I? What is-”
“I haven’t got much time,” he whispers as he tilts her head up to look her in the eye.
He is exactly how she remembers him – salt and pepper hair, a short amount of stubble always lining his jaws and cheeks, and a soft, kind look to his blue irises.
“Why are you here?” she asks again, her voice barely there.
He smiles and touches her cheeks on either side, pushing her sweat-soaked hair away from her eyes, “Do not worry, my daughter. Be strong.”
“I can’t,” she shakes her head, “Not with him here.”
“Endure,” her father says with his signature warm smile. For a moment, she feels her heart beating within her chest.
And then it’s ripped out when her father dissipates into thin air.
She goes to cry, but her voice is caught in her throat as her father’s words echo in her mind.
Endure. Endure. Endure.
Endure she will.
“Maker,” Topaz murmurs, approaching him slowly. “You need to rest.”
“I am a god, Topaz.” Hades flicks his wrist and drinks from the chalice, “I do not need to rest.”
She reaches out to place a scaly hand against his forearm, “Your heart needs sleep to, Maker.”
He shrugs her off and stands to his feet, chugging the remainder of the wine in his glass. He swallows thickly and the darkness under his eyes becomes even more apparent in the light of the Serpent Den.
“I will not rest until I kill my brother.”
He is back.
“Puny mortal,” he croons, his thumb against her chin. She has taught herself how to stand strong, how to hold her own despite the darkness swirling around and threatening to suck her under.
He chuckles, laughing at her effort, “You really believe you were worthy to rule by my side?”
He paces around her, voice of velvet trickling down her spine. His laugh is like a thousand teeth scraping down her veins, ripping her to shreds with his words.
“You will die the same way you lived – alone.”
She snarls at him, biting at his face as if she were an animal. She’s not sure how much longer she’ll make it in the blackness without turning into one. Her heart beats wildly in her chest and she claws at him, reaching out only to find a shadow.
“You are nothing but a blur in the wide expanse of human existence. You were not meant to do anything in life but die.”
Her upper lip curls, “You are not real.”
“And yet here I am, mortal. Telling you how I have felt the entire time you plagued my existence. Finally, my truth is unleashed.”
“Sweets wouldn’t speak to me like this,” she whispers, tears clinging to her throat to make her voice heavy. Her lower lip wobbles but she forces herself to look him in the eyes despite her emotions running rampant.
Her body aches, creaking as she moves. Her bones have been broken, time and time again, only to be put back together. Her heart beats slowly in her chest, struggling against the strain she’s been put under for only the gods know how long. Her muscles feel as if they’re being strung out like dough, pushed and pulled by the will of the Darkness.
“I will speak to you however I like,” he barks, frightening her.
He raises his hand and brings it down across her face, leaving her skin searing. She cradles her cheek, her flesh smarting where she touches. Tears leak down her cheeks and the redness of her face stings from the salty droplets.
Silence hangs in the darkness.
She stands back to her feet, determination settling into her mouth as it draws to a tight line. She narrows her eyes and takes a deep breath, “Why are you doing this?”
“Oh, I’m not doing anything,” he laughs like it’s simple. He tilts his head, considering her with his dark eyes, “you are.”
Her blood runs cold.
His mouth splits open in a peal of sadistic laughter, “Oh, you simple mortal. This is how you see me, do you not understand? You are afraid of me. You are scared of what I think of you, how I think you measure up to the rest of the world.”
She feels fear settle into the pit of her belly, but it’s quickly replaced by the fire of her anger.
“I am not afraid of you,” she grits through her teeth. Her molars grind against one another and it strains her jaws, but she presses on anyway, “I do not need to measure up to anyone.”
“Ah, you think you’re strong enough to strike me down?” he chuckles and it echoes against the blackness surrounding them. “Come on, then, prove it to me.”
Her fingers curl into fists at her side and her whole body screams in pain, but she stands tall in spite of the fact. She looks across at him, but his eyes are cold and haunting, his smile like that of a villain. Her heart breaks as she looks at her broken image of the god before her.
She does an unexpected thing then.
She kisses him.
Her hands touch his face and her lips press to his mouth. He is cold, a dead thing that she can barely make out in the darkness. She swallows and pulls away, tears hot and fresh in her eyes.
“I don’t need to strike you,” she says, voice strong and a smile on her lips. “And I’ve got nothing to prove.”
Suddenly, the darkness around her crumbles, and she sees a light very far off in the distance. Her feet find solid ground, the balls of her heels making contact with some sort of road. She turns to look at her terrifying god, now that he’s different.
He reminds her more of the god she knows, and less of the one who has been torturing her since she woke up in this terrible nightmare of a place. He wears a dark tunic instead of a garish cloak, his skin tan and flush instead of gaunt and pale.
She can’t help but smile at the return of her god. Her heart has but a moment to take him in before he disappears before her eyes.
She reaches out to him, but finds nothing. And yet, somehow, she can still hear his voice.
Her eyes try to track down the origin of the voice, but it’s maddening how surrounding the sound is. She grips her hair in her hands and her head hurts as she continues to attempt to rationalize the frenzy that is going on around her.
“Poseidon! Ares! Zeus! I don’t care which of you comes down to face me, but one of you μαλάκας better do it!”
She can’t help but to laugh at his ferocity, his voice resonating all the way down to her core. Her head tilts and she hones in on the light shining brightly in the distance.
“I’m coming,” she manages, standing back to her feet. “I’m coming home.
“Poseidon! Ares! Zeus! I don’t care which of you comes down to face me, but one of you μαλάκας better do it!”
Hades head rests against the steps, knuckles still battered from his previous attempts to storm Mount Olympus. His body is running on adrenaline alone, unable to keep down ambrosia or nectar to replenish his energy.
“And if you send your wives down here to fight your battles, I’ll fight them too!” Hades shouts, throwing a nearby rock at the barrier. He snarls when the rock disintegrates into ash in thin air.
He doesn’t dare let a tear slip past as he thinks about how eager Lilith might be to help him break into the Realm of the Gods. She would snicker and push her way through the barrier and find some way to help him get through to the other side. He just knows she would.
Hades releases an animalistic growl before slamming his fists back into the barrier, uncaring as to how the electricity fries his flesh and brings forth another bout of blood. He screams unabashedly as he tries to lay hands into the structure, swearing that the more he hits it, the harder he hits it, he will eventually get in.
“Even I know when to call it quits, uncle!” The voice of Ares floats from across the courtyard of Olympus. He is smirking over a chalice of wine, “You should pack up before you shred yourself to bone.”
The insult only spurs the god on, sending him into a spiraling whirlwind of punches and kicks. His shins ache and his hands spasm, but he does not care. He will drill his way through to Mount Olympus if he has to.
Anything to kill his brother.
He has to give up eventually, to live to fight another day. The night falls and he finds his way back to his domain. His whole body is in shambles, golden blood pouring from so many, too many, wounds. He wonders if he can kill himself from exhaustion – a god can kill a god, why can’t a god kill themselves?
“Topaz,” he sighs, running his grubby hands over his cheeks. He looks up at the woman he’s known for what feels like an eon, “What’s the point?”
She passes him a chalice full to the brim with the strongest wine they keep in the Serpent Den. A sad smile crosses her lips, “The point is what they did was wrong. Zeus went back on his word when he killed her, not to mention he tried to manipulate the Prophecy – the Oracle – and her own mother betrayed her.”
“Is it enough?” Hades’ voice cracks. He takes a gulp of wine to cover it up.
Topaz runs her finger over the blood on his brow, “It has to be.”
She pats him on the shoulder and leaves him to his contemplation on the docks of The River. He sucks his lower lip between the bite of his teeth and considers her words, the wine creating a haze in his mind. He sighs and leans back in his seat, wishing he could close his eyes and be free of all the pain for just a moment.
She will not let him rest, it seems.
Her voice echoes in the faraway depths of his mind, stinging like the bolt that went through his chest that day. He swallows the emotion in his throat and then gulps the rest of the wine down to try and dull the sound of her voice.
It doesn’t go away.
Hades looks up to try and push the tears back into his eyelids, and catches a glimpse of her form walking towards him from the entrance to The Forbidden Chamber.
He stands up and throws his chalice in The River, the moaning of the souls underneath the surface like music to his ears. Hades shakes his head and holds out his hand, “Not today, please. I-I can’t do it today.”
When he looks back at her, she seems different.
Her hair is entwined with strands of gold, glinting in the firelight of the Underworld. Her eyes are no longer gray, but instead a striking purple color that he can see even as she is yards away from him. Her body is clad in a rich colored dress that reminds him of the seeds of the pomegranate hidden away in the chamber, and her skin shines as if someone has rubbed her down with an oil laced with gold.
She is close to him now, her voice calling his name like it always does. She’s smiling and his heart breaks because he knows it is not real, and as soon as he reaches out to touch her face, she’ll crumble like sand beneath his fingers.
“Please,” he begs the apparition, willing his mind to wish her away. He squeezes his eyes closed and he feels the heat of tears mixing with the blood on his face. The words hurt as he pushes them out his throat, “Go away.”
“Go away?” she asks him, her voice sounding hollow.
The pain that rolls off of her makes him sick. He rips his hands through his hair and he’s sure he looks insane, “Yes! I can’t keep dreaming you up like this! It’s-it…it’s too much.”
“You’re not dreaming, darling,” she almost coos at him as she steps closer.
But he’s been undone by this trick before. And he won’t be undone again.
“No!” he snaps and she cowers away. The motion forces his tears down his cheeks, gathering at his jawline before they drip to the floor. His eyes are almost on fire when he looks across the way at her again, “You will leave me be this time! My brother was right. This bleeding heart of mine has been my undoing.”
Hades notes that she is closer now, her body like a magnet to his own. His hands are trembling at his sides and he wishes the tremors away, but he does not get relief.
“Your heart is one of the reasons why I love you,” she speaks softly, her voice like velvet to his ears. A smile graces her lips and he swears it’s like the sun is shining for the first time in the Underworld.
“Will you not let me rest?” he whines, anger lacing his heartbroken tone. Hades swallows the lump in his throat and forces himself to look her in the eyes. “These dreams have become nightmares and I cannot live with them any longer.”
“I am not a dream, any more than you are not a nightmare,” she speaks, but it sounds like she’s trying to convince herself. His eyes search her face and for a moment, he falters, stepping closer to her to close the gap.
He whispers to her, this beautiful figment of his imagination, “Ever since the day I lost you all those months ago, I have tried to keep you with me, but I can’t do it any longer. I-I can’t have half of you, not knowing what all of you was ever like. This game must end.”
Her hands reach out to cup his face and he finds himself melting into her touch because he knows it will be the last time. The pads of her thumbs brush his tears away and he tries his hardest not to sob at the loss of her for what feels like the millionth time.
“I will miss you, for the rest of my days,” he speaks, his hands settling on her waist like they always do. He thumbs at the soft fabric of her dress that frames her body so nicely, a smile tugging on his lips. “But it’s time for me to let you go.”
Hades sighs, but his breath catches when he realizes – he can feel her.
His thumbs are touching her and she is not disintegrating. Her hands are on his face and he can feel her fingerprints. The heat of her body is palpable and suffocating and he feels like he might feint.
She smirks and he realizes he never knew how much he truly missed her expressions. Her hands twist into his hair and their bodies are flush with one another and fresh tears spring forward into both of their eyes.
“Told you I wasn’t a dream,” she murmurs, eyes glazed over.
He tries to stand tall so hard but fails, crumbling into her arms as he holds her close, his head buried in her neck. Sweet Pea breathes her in with his eyes closed, reveling in her presence just in case she is indeed an apparition who will leave him when he peels his eyelids open once more.
“You’re real?” he asks into the soft skin of her throat. His tears stick to her flesh but he does not care because they’re sticking, which means she’s here.
Lilith nods her head and runs her hands through his hair and down to his neck and shoulders, “Yes, I’m real.”
A small sob escapes his lips and it makes his shoulders shake, “Gods, I don’t think I could take it if you weren’t real. Not again, not anymore.”
The warmth of her presence seeps into his body, all the way to his bones. Oh, how he has missed the heat of her. She has always been a dull throb at the back of his eyes and he’s ached for the familiar sensation. His fingers itch if he tries to take them away from her, so instead he wraps his arms all around her, gripping her at the waist so his body does not think it’s losing contact.
“It has been too long since I’ve felt you,” she tells him, taking a breath to smell the musk of his skin. “I have missed your touch.”
Sweet Pea tilts his head back so he can look her in the eyes. His hands reach out to caress her face, unwilling to let go of her just yet. She looks at him with such admiration that it makes his heart squeeze within the confines of his chest.
“I was so scared you were gone from me forever. I tried for so long to bring you back, to find you in the blackness.” Sweet Pea pushes her hair away from her face and his thumbs linger on her cheeks. He smiles and it reaches his eyes, “I was worried I’d never see you again.”
Lilith laughs but it’s thick with tears, her palms flat against his chest, “Why on earth would the god of the dead try to save a mortal life?”
Sweet Pea palms at her face, trying to make sure that she’s real because he will not be tricked again. He stares directly into her eyes and the warmth slowly seeps back into his veins the longer she has a hold on him, and he knows.
She is no trick.
“Because I could not get enough of you while you were living,” he breathes with a smile.
Sweet Pea’s wrists angle to tilt her face upward, but she wastes no time in pushing herself up on her toes to bring their mouths together in a needy kiss. Lilith palms everywhere she can touch – his shoulders, back, chest, arms, face –because it’s been what feels like a millennia since she’s last felt his skin.
“It has been so long,” Hades murmurs against her mouth and she gasps, allowing him the moment to press his tongue to her teeth. His hands reach down to hook under her knees and she squeals with a smile as he wraps her around his body and begins to walk her to gods-know-where.
Lilith arches her head so he can gravitate to her neck, pressing hot, open-mouthed kisses to the sparkling flesh there. His whole body is on fire as she touches him, leaving trails of heat where she has been. The warmth explodes behind his eyelids and he finds his whole body filled with effervescent bubbles like a glass of nectar.
His body shifts and Lilith realizes that he’s sitting down now. She pulls away from him to see his blue flaming throne behind him, and something settles in her belly, lighting a fire in her eyes.
“I thought you were gone,” he mumbles as he touches her face, thumbs trailing over her cheeks and down to her lips. Heat gathers in the apples of his cheeks and Lilith knows that she’ll remember him like this forever.
Her knees settle on either side of his hips and she towers above him, her head tilted and a playful smirk on her full lips.
“Oh, little god,” she rests one hand at the base of his throat, thumb pressing against his jugular. She looks positively devilish as she considers him, “Don’t you know you could not get rid of me that easily?”
Hades’ eyes shine in admiration and want as he gazes up at her in all of her glory. His hands rest on her hips, fingertips digging into the flesh of her backside. He tilts his head and feels her touch threaten to enclose his throat and he has to withhold the desire to let his eyes flutter shut.
Sweet Pea licks his lips, “What does this make you?”
She considers him, eyes washing over his face as she ponders the question. With a shrug, she leans down to hover just above his lips, “I guess we’ll find out.”
And then she engulfs him completely.