IV

o0o

Like all of his siblings, Hades learned to explore and apply various aspects of his Gift. In the pit, the siblings had extremely limited venues with which to try to augment their innate abilities, but once they were out in the world, their opportunities seemed almost limitless.

It was easy enough to find refuge in caves, thickly-forested areas, or at night, using the shadows to keep himself and his siblings concealed, but when he was in sunlight, it was almost like another world entirely. It was much more difficult to shroud himself in shadow as there was very little of the darkness to start with, like under blades of grass in a meadow, and that in itself made him noticeable. Shadows belonged in certain places, and if it went where it did not, it was immediately obvious.

He was only able to make his trips to Crete during the night, when he could command his shadows to take him across the water. Once dawn broke, it became more difficult to use his Gift, especially as the sun rose and the shadows became shorter. It was a relief for him when the end of day approached, the shadows elongating during the evening before night took over completely.

This was a problem for Hades when he was in open spaces during the day, so he tended to avoid these situations, a decision that most would see as prudent.

However, Hades recognized this as a weakness. If he were to overcome his enemies, current or potential ones, he would have to find a way to compensate for this apparent shortcoming in his Gift.

o0o

He would come out of hiding during the evenings, and with his Gift, he was able to cover much more ground than any of his siblings could within any given time-span. Using the darkness, he was able to eavesdrop on any conversation he wished, whether it be nymph or mortal. From the mortals, he was able to learn just how difficult Kronos made life for them.

The King of the Titans was a demanding god, one who required many tributes and sacrifices to keep sated – just barely. It was almost hard to believe that the reign of Kronos had once been seen as a golden age. Cities that had once flourished in the beginning of the Titanomachy had become little more than nests of despair, where humans turned onto one another in a desperate attempt to stay alive.

The nymphs lived in constant despair as well, because they were not free from the violence of Kronos' reign simply because of their divinity. Kronos let his brothers and nephews roam Hellas freely, having their pleasure of nymphs at will, though mortal women were all too often the victims of their games.

His Gift was a blessing, but also a curse because it enabled him to hear and see much more than most people ever could, and this included ugliness he'd never before imagined existed.

o0o

Hades cursed himself as the shadows shortened with each moment, leaving him more and more vulnerable. Normally he was much more careful in keeping track of time and ensuring that he was safe in whatever refuge was designated at the moment, but he had been so distracted that he had not noticed the pre-dawn sky. Even after the sun started to rise, he could still navigate the numerous shadows that were afforded during early morning, he had made a gross miscalculation this time around.

His safe haven, and his sisters were still many leagues away, and he was trapped in a forest that was more sparse than he would have liked, especially during a cloudless morning. He squinted, shielding his eyes as he saw the sun between the trees, knowing his trip home would be a lot longer, unless he found a hiding place and waited for night.

Suddenly, he heard a scream, and stilled. A moment later, there was a yell, almost a roar.

"It's useless to run, but if you lie down, I might be nice!" said the origin of the roar, which Hades quickly surmised was a male. Whether he be human, or monster, Hades was not sure of. He'd heard stories of various monsters that Kronos had unleashed unto Hellas.

Hades quickly hid behind a tree, his heart pounding. He'd never faced down a monster before, and he had no real weapons training.

God he might be, but he was still young, not yet three decades old. For a mortal, that would be considered fully grown, and he knew that many mortal men would be fathers by now. But for a god, three decades was almost a baby, especially compared to those of the age of Kronos and his siblings.

Let it be a mortal, he silently prayed. Kronos was responsible for a great amount of evil and suffering, to be sure, but mortals could be capable of the same. Some did it out of desperation, others did it out of malice.

Though he did not have the same gifts for divining as his sisters, he sensed that the hunted was a nymph, due to the faint magical aura she had. The aura of her pursuer became clearer as he approached, and Hades realized with dismay that it was a god. If it was one of Kronos' siblings, he might very well meet his demise.

He had two choices. He could either remain under the shadow of the tree and use it to conceal himself, or he could try to help the nymph. The smell of smoke reached his nostrils, and he peeked around the tree, eyes widening in dismay as he saw a rapidly-approaching wall of flame.

The nymph saw him, and their eyes met. He stepped from behind the tree and started running, occasionally looking over his shoulder at her, beckoning her forward, hoping she would catch up. His heart pounding, he felt no small amount of relief when he saw the trees thinning out, and he finally burst out into a field.

The nymph was not long in catching up, and he reached out to grab her. She started to scream, but he placed his hand over her mouth.

"Sh. I will not harm you." he whispered, willing what few shadows he could see and feel to come to him as the flame approached the edge of the forest. He saw a shadow in the flame, and a tall, young man burst through it, evil intent scrawled across his features. He was a handsome one, but the cruelty in his eyes and smirk would give an admirer pause. With the raging inferno behind him, he seemed like malice given form, and Hades shuddered when the Titan looked at them.

Be unseen. A faint tingle stirred in the back of his head, almost at the base of his tongue as the Titan approached them. His hair and eyes were dark, and Hades recognized an echo of the features that his brothers and himself possessed.

Be unseen. He felt the nymph's body against her own as she shivered, trying to flee his grip. The tingle became stronger, and he saw confusion flash across the Titan's features as he continued his approach.

Be unseen.

"Where did you..." The Titan looked at where they were standing, pausing for a moment before approaching again. Instinctively, Hades scooped his companion up with his other arm and stepped to the side, so that their pursuer walked through where they had been standing.

He did not dare lift his hand away from the nymph's mouth, but gave her what he hoped was a reassuring squeeze as he took several more steps back.

"Where did you go!' the young Titan roared, spinning around in fury. "Dammit, where did you go! What trickery is this!"

Hades simply continued to back away slowly. Since the ground was sparsely vegetated, he was able to avoid stepping on grass. The ground was so dry and hard that the footprints he left would have been difficult to discern even to those actively looking for them.

"Come out, come out, wherever you are!" the Titan yelled as the fire continued to burn behind him. The trees in the forest were already sickly, many of them dry or dead, so the fire raged on brilliantly, sending plumes of smoke into the sky. The flames seemed to rise with his rage and frustration.

Hades could not help but be impressed, for Hestia had never created fire of this magnitude. If the rest of the Titans were this powerful, it was no wonder that Kronos' minions were able to terrorize Hellas so well. The heat was making him uncomfortable, and he continued to make his retreat as silently as possible.

o0o

The buzzing in the back of his head had become painful by the time he made his way over a small hill and to the foot of it at the other side, completely obscuring him from the Titan's view. He set the nymph on the grass gently, able to feel her even if he could not see her.

"I am going to release you. You still need to be quiet though, I do not know how well he can hear, and I would rather take no risks." he said, his voice barely a whisper. He felt her nod, and slowly lifts his hand.

As soon as he broke physical contact with her, she became visible. He closed his eyes for a moment, wishing the pain would stop, and it did. He heard a soft gasp, and opened his eyes to see her staring at him.

"How did you..." she asked softly. He shrugged, and they stared at one another for several moments, studying one another. She has dark brown hair, and dark green eyes, with light olive skin. Her tunic is torn, revealing a breast, something he had not taken note of before. Quickly, he averted his eyes.

"Thank you for... saving me."

He nodded slowly, still hearing wariness in her voice. Given what he had learned of the world, he would be cautious if he were her, as well. She might very well have been rescued from one potential abductor only to fall into the hands of another one.

"Stay here." He willed himself to be unseen again, this time prepared for the tingling at the base of his tongue before he rose to his feet, climbing up the hill to see the Titan make a wide berth of the clearing, sending wide arcs of flame in all directions. He dropped down just as a jet of flame burst towards the hill, moving from left to right, passing through the spot where he had been standing just moments before.

Obviously still angry, the Titan finally decided that his prey had eluded him, and with an angry growl, ran back to the wall of flame, disappearing into it.

Hades flopped back onto the ground, becoming visible again. The nymph remained where she was, several paces, away, eying him curiously.

"He's gone."

She closed her eyes and let out her breath in a slow exhale before taking a deep breath.

"Who was that?" he inquired.

"Kelos. Though he was not always know by that name."

"What do you mean?" They were still whispering, even though Kelos was gone.

"He used to be a river-god. But then he went over to Kronos, and he was... changed."

Changed. Hades mulled over that, considering the implications. The children of Okeanos and Tethys were many, but as far as he knew, none of them had any Gift for fire. He briefly imagined Poseidon and fire, and was unable to effectively place the two together. "How does this... change happen?"

"I do not know. But all who go over to Kronos and swear allegiance with him, they change. He makes them stronger, and sometimes he even changes their Gift."

As disturbed as he was by that implication, he set that aside, assessing the fact that he had just learned something new today. This nymph could be a valuable source of information.

She sat up and climbed up the slope, staring at the still-raging inferno in dismay. "My home is gone."

Hades considered his options. He could simply leave the nymph on her own, to find a new place to live, or...

"You could come with me. I know a place that is safe for nymphs."

"You would do that?" She sounded surprised, almost as if she didn't expect such kindness from a man. What had she been through, he wondered.

"You can't remain here, obviously. And it would not be right of me to... just leave you to possible danger. Kelos might come back, or someone else."

"Of course. But... what is your name?"

Oh, of course. They didn't even know one another's names! "I am Aidoneus." He and the others thought it best to not use their given names, lest Kronos catch wind of them. If any of their assumed names ever reached his ears, he would not suspect they were his progeny. He had chosen the name because it represented him so well – it meant 'hidden'.

"And I am Leuke."