At first, the sweet scent of Eurydice’s cooking masked the tang of blood in the air. Then came the uneven. stumbling footsteps outside. The nymph turned her head to see Prince Zagreus, bloodied and battered. The ‘Eternal Spear’ Varatha, as she’d heard through the grapevine, dragging at his side. Its elegant teal blades dripped deep, jet black liquid across the brimstone.
“Zagreus-“ Eurydice took a step forward. “-Gods…”
The chiton he wore was frayed, threads coming loose and tears littering the otherwise plain red-grey fabric. Blood, definitely not belonging to the common wretches, caked on his face. It cracked in places, dry. Flaking.
“Megaera was less than happy to see me,” Zagreus chuckled nervously, wobbling on unsteady legs. “Gifting her nectar didn’t change much, eh?”
“Please, come sit down,” She hurried to the top of the steps and held her arm out; Zagreus accepted and she pulled him up into her home. Eurydice ushered him towards the bed tucked into the corner.
“I don’t want to get blood on your things.” Pale, he frowned down at the sheets. Eurydice tutted. She pushed him again, urging the prince, but he stood surprisingly steady.
“Oh, please! Sheets can be replaced.”
“As can I…” Zagreus muttered cynically. Eurydice huffed and pushed again. Reluctantly, he stumbled and fell onto the sky-blue bed covers. Red and inky black trickled from his body and Varatha; puddling on the floor, staining the sheets. Eurydice didn’t pay it much mind.
“Here.” She turned to grab a bowl of something. Anything. Food was comforting, and the best Eurydice could do for now. She shoved the bowl of—what was it? Pom-porridge— into Zagreus’ shaking hands. “Eat up, Prince. You look worse for wear.”
“Thanks. You’ve inspired limitless confidence in me.” He said dryly. The corners of his mouth twitched up into a wry smile. A short, surprised laugh escaped Eurydice’s throat.
“Wow. Just— Wow.” She chuckled mirthlessly. Zagreus kept smiling tiredly.
“May I get a, uh, spoon please? Eurydice?”
“Oh Gods, of course. Sorry, Prince.” She bustled around the kitchen, peering past the cabinet sized pots. “Here!”
“It’s so nice here. I never mentioned it before.” Zagreus took the spoon weakly. His mismatched eyes stared down at the bowl. Eurydice crouched before him, curious. The shadows under his eyes looked unhealthy, even for a God. Zagreus continued to ramble, poking at the porridge with the spoon. “Like… It’s so homely, unlike the rest of Asphodel. I can imagine someone spending eternity here. It’s warm, obviously, but it’s not hot like the rest of this place. Like warm feelings? Not feeling warm.”
“I understand.” She said gently.
“Yeah… My chambers, well, they feel cold. Not because of the lack of lava. I never even sleep there anymore, and I haven’t tidied it in forever. I don’t want to be in that house anymore. Nyx and Hypnos and Cerberus, we get along and all but having Hades against me, with all the power over the house, it’s like an uphill battle. I tried getting his approval. I tried…”
“It’s ok, Zagreus. He’s not here.” She moved to sit cross-legged on the rug. Zagreus’ eyes had begun to glaze over in pain and exhaustion. The blood of creatures Eurydice preferred not to imagine dripped from his spear. A slow, sure measure of time. She nudged the bowl in his hands. Shakily, he raised the spoon to his mouth.
“I j’st-“ He said tearfully, mouth full. He paused to chew, looking back at the door in shame. Reflections of flames glistened in his tears. They gathered at the corners of his eyes and threatened to spill over.
“You don’t have to force yourself to say it, Prince. I think you need a break.” Eurydice hummed sympathetically. Zagreus shrugged and swallowed the sweet porridge.
“M’not going back. Imagine the walk of shame. I’m definitely not going back the painful way either. I’m close to getting back to Elysium and finally besting Theseus and the Minotaur.”
The Minotaur? Plus Theseus? Eurydice cringed. Hesitantly, she reached to place a hand on the Prince’s knee. He didn’t even seem to notice. It was hardly fair on Zagreus; the odds were all stacked against him. Two versus one, fighting the Furies. The Hydra, too, he told her about it last time. This was the price for his freedom… Personally, she thought it was more akin to torture.
“Then rest here. Lay down. I’ll have to change the sheets anyways, with all the blood.” Zagreus sheepishly avoided her gaze.
“I really am sorry.” Eurydice shook her head and stood up.
“Nonsense. I told you to. Now eat the porridge, it won’t heal you but it helps the spirit.”
“At least.” Zagreus joked darkly. Eurydice paused midway through lifting the lid of a pot. Zagreus paused, almost entranced by the smell of the cooking food inside.
“Hush!” She playfully jabbed at him with the ladle.
“Sorry, sorry,” He laughed tiredly and continued eating. His chiton slipped further, revealing bruised and abused skin. Eurydice felt anger boil within her at Hades. His own son, sentenced to death the second he stepped out of the house. And for what? Feeling the urge for freedom that all living creatures— Immortal or otherwise— felt? What a disgrace!
“I wish we had proper water around here.” Eurydice murmured as she stirred the pot. In her peripheral vision, Zagreus turned his head and stared at her confusedly.
“I commissioned fountains in Asphodel. They have normal water. It heals me, too.”
“Well yes, but the chambers shuffle around. I don’t want to go too far, y’know? Gods forbid I lose my way.”
“It’d all just evaporate if I brought it back, anyways.” Eurydice looked back down at the injured prince. “Well, sometimes I do see a blueish light beyond the Phlegathon. I risk going then since it’s not too far, get some water to cook with. You know.”
“Oh, well that’s nice. I’m glad someone else could make use of the fountains.”
“I’m sure I’m not the only one, Zagreus. You just haven’t seen many of the sane people of Asphodel. No one wants to be near those crazed things Hades put up to fighting you.”
“That’s fair.” Things quietened down again as Zagreus scarfed down the rest of the warm porridge.
“Are you finished?” Eurydice asked eventually, when the prince stopped and sighed.
“Yes just… One minute, please.” Zagreus rubbed at his eyes as the nymph waited and watched. Dried flakes of blood peeled off the skin of his face. Eurydice paused.
Oh, to Tartarus with it.
“Hang on,” She murmured as she reached for the trio of skulls over his shoulder, “Those can’t be comfortable.”
Zagreus once again laughed mirthlessly. “They’re not.” He stifled a yawn. Eurydice found the clasp and lifted the skulls. A weight was quite literally lifted off of his shoulders, and Zagreus sighed in relief.
“I really do owe you one, Eurydice.”
“Oh, give over!” She huffed. “I’m doing what any decent nymph would!”
“…Thank you, again.” Eurydice chuckled and shushed him.
“Prince, you’re very much welcome. Now rest, you look completely drained.”
“M’ok, but if you insist—“
“Which I do.”
“—then alright.” He relented. Zagreus fumbled with Varatha to prop the weapon up against the wall; Eurydice took the chance to pull back the bloodied sheets.
“When you’re ready to continue, I think I did see the blue light of a fountain off in the distance.” She whispered. Zagreus hummed lethargically in acknowledgment. He stretched, clumsily smacking his arms against the wall above him. He hissed, muttering a curse, and finally got comfortable. Eurydice took note of how the prince bunched up the blankets to hold onto, like a human child held stuffed animals. For comfort.
She turned back to her usual business. Singing quietly, so as to not disturb the boy. Cooking. She set aside his empty bowl to wash later. All in due time. Over the soft bubbling and steady slicing of pomegranates, Eurydice heard Zagreus’ breathing even out.
She paused her singing just long enough to murmur ‘goodnight’ to the exhausted prince.
Time was fickle to define in the Underworld, with no sun or sense of urgency. However, it wasn’t long before Zagreus returned. Eurydice could determine what was vaguely ‘long’ or ‘short’, at the very least. This time, he was in much better shape. Blood, dark as the night sky, still coated Varatha’s blades, but the prince was in better spirits. He grinned from ear to ear and hurried up the stairs to greet Eurydice.
“Back so soon, Prince?” She asked teasingly. Zagreus laughed, thoroughly enjoying himself.
“I had to give you a thank-you gift,” He held out a glass bottle and swirled around the golden liquid within. Nectar. Eurydice brought a hand to her mouth.
“Again? Oh, you shouldn’t have!” She took it gratefully as Zagreus turned to leave the dirtied spear outside.
“Come on, now. After last time you’re more than worthy of a treat!” Eurydice laughed breathlessly at his dedication, inhaling the dry Asphodel air she was so accustomed to.
“Fine, fine, I accept. But take this for your troubles! And take care of yourself out there, Prince.” She pressed a considerably cooler glass of nectar back into his free hand.
“Wh- It’s practically the same thing as I—“ He began to protest but Eurydice held a finger to her lips.
“I think you’ll find it’s better served cold.” Zagreus sipped at it hesitantly, before gulping the rest of the glass down eagerly. A shimmer washed over his almost ashen skin.
“It’s great.” He finally said, returning the glass to the table. “You’re so kind to me. I really do owe you.”
“It’s nothing, Prince Zagreus, really. Good luck.” Zagreus nodded with a mischievous smirk and rushed to pick up Varatha.
“Hopefully I see you later, rather than sooner!” The prince called playfully, leaping across a stream of lava and bounding towards the raft of bone. Eurydice waved as the raft bobbed in the water, sending ripples through the lake of fire, and began to drift away.
She’d miss having the kid around, when he made it out.