The doors of the throne room fly open and everyone inside stills as the chamber fills with an inky blackness. The Keres quiver as their Master enters surrounded by a foreboding thundercloud of obsidian. Hades is the only entity in the universe the Keres will bow to and their respect for the God makes them his most fatal weapon.
The scowl adorning their Master's face sets the Keres on edge and a bloodthirsty hiss rises up from their ranks as they imagine ripping into the skin of Hades' enemies. As the God of Death strides toward his throne the power rippling off of him fills the room making all of his servants shiver with fear.
The name is a demand that is as sharp as a whip from Hades' tongue as he snarls for his third in command, the leader of the Keres. The female shoulders through her ranks and makes her way to his side as he settles onto his throne. He watches her with a stony face, barren of all emotion except for the rage radiating from him, as she stalks toward him.
The leader of the Keres' skin is dark brown that glows bronze when the faint light in the room shines across the panes of her body. Her hair is a direct contrast to the hue of her skin, flowing in a river of snowy silver between the black-feathered wings protruding from her shoulder blades. Her limbs are long and muscular, always tensed in the anticipation of a threat and her pale blue eyes scan the room never missing anything. To cover her body she wears only an engraved breastplate and a leather skirt because she does not need any other protection. The Ker's clawed hands and spear are her weapons and her viciousness is her armour.
"Master." Lorelei's voice is a rumble from the back of her throat as she kneels unnaturally before Hades and dips her head.
"Rise." Hades reveals nothing of his thoughts but he tracks the Ker's every movement as she fluidly lifts to her feet once more. They watch each other for a minute and Lorelei's sisters behind her shift in anticipation. When the Keres are not serving Hades in the Underworld they scour Ares' battlefields looking for survivors they can feast upon and send the souls to their deaths. The females born of night and darkness thirst for only blood and pain. Every moment they stand and wait for command goes against their very nature and it is a tribute to how powerful the God of Death is that they would wait for eternity if he asked it of them.
Finally, Lorelei gives in.
"Master, what can we do to serve you?"
"Did you do what I asked?" Hades leans forward and places his elbows on his knees. His piercing gaze and complete attention is too much for the Ker and she turns her blue eyes downward in respect.
"Yes, master. He is safe and guarded."
"I want him to be completely inaccessible to anyone other than me, you and Thanatos. Do not leave him unattended ever or it will be you who answers for the crime. I want your best warriors guarding him at all times." Hades looks away and rubs his hand across his mouth already lost in his own thoughts, but Lorelei watches him. The female has known Hades her entire existence and has served him for thousands of years but it is difficult for even her to read him.
But nothing slips her notice.
"Master, I mean no disrespect but how much of a threat could Aphrodite pose to you."
Her question is bold and Hades' gaze snaps back to her; to her credit she doesn't flinch.
"Aphrodite," Hades says her name with a growl, "Is an Olympian and it would be a fantastic mistake on my part to underestimate her. I would lose before her attack even came if I did not take precautions against her, for I suspect the Goddess of Love would be a formidable opponent."
Lorelei does not speak for she cannot imagine how Aphrodite, who gets everything she wishes for in life through her deceiving appearance, could possibly harm Hades but she does not argue with her Master. She nods her head obediently and steps back.
"I will ensure he is guarded at all times. No one will reach him." The Ker swears.
Hades sits back and some of the stifling tension in the room releases. The darkness crowding the corners of the room begins to seep away.
Until the throne room doors blow open for the second time and a torpedo of white spirals towards Hades.
The God of Death is on his feet a split second before the Keres react to make a living shield of annihilation around their ruler but he waves them away. The Keres separate to allow Hades to walk through them and meet the male dropping to his feet with haste in the middle of the throne room.
Enormous white wings block the owner from view but with a snap the appendages fold and Hades' second in command appears.
"Thanatos." Hades says in recognition but stops walking toward the Personification of Death when he notes the expression on his face. Something is wrong; he can see it in the rapid rise and fall of his Second's chest and the alarm in Thanatos's eyes.
"What is it?" Fear strikes painfully through Hades chest as his mind immediately jumps to the worst possible scenario: Aphrodite found what he was trying so desperately to keep hidden. He spins around to face Lorelei, to demand how it could be possible, when Thanatos interrupts him.
"It's the souls in the Fields of Asphodel."
Hades glances over his shoulder in confusion. Immediately, the God of Death accesses the part of his mind that allows him to see every corner of his domain. He has the ability to know what is occurring at any place in the Underworld and he can see that Thanatos is right.
The souls in the Fields of Asphodel are rioting, barely a heartbeat away from outright attacking one another. Their shoving and cries are knocking other souls into the rivers and the problem is rapidly grow out of control. Never before has Hades seen the souls confined to the meadows of Asphodel react with more than vacant disinterest.
Something was extremely wrong.
Snapping back to reality in the throne room Hades takes control. Turning to Lorelei he begins yelling demands.
"Lorelei, go check that he's secure in my rooms and stay with him. Take your strongest warriors with you but the rest come with me to the Fields. Thanatos, monitor the Palace and don't let anyone enter on any conditions unless you hear from me directly."
When Hades has finished speaking Thanatos and the Keres all launch into the air with haste to see to their responsibilities. The God of Death disappears from his throne room and transports to the Fields of Asphodel.
He is the first to arrive at the scene and in the few moments it took for him to organize his troops the chaos has grown. The souls are physically fighting and the ones who had fallen into the river are pulling themselves out. Screams, wails and cries grow in volume until the noise is an overwhelming cacophony.
Hades levitates into the air until he's looking down on the anarchy below him and sends a pulse of dark energy to explode over the crowd so that the souls quiver like strands of wheat in the wind. As Hades' power flows over them, they turn one after another to stare at the Lord of the Underworld in stupefied awe. Most of them have never seen the God who rules these lands and knew him only by name in life and death.
The shock of seeing him before them and feeling his demanding presence in their very essence has stilled them all for now.
"What is the meaning of this?" Hades' voice shatters over the meadow but only silence responds. He scans the billions gathered before him but his thoughts are interrupted by the screeches of the Keres. They've arrived at the Fields and the souls cower in terror at the sight of the Death Spirits; they know the Keres are to be feared even in death. The female spirits drop down to land between the souls and the riverbanks and begin herding the dead closer together.
Hades is about to demand an answer to his previous question when Lorelei shoots out of the sky and makes a crater in the ground next to him as she lands. The souls nearest to her gasp and frantically try to back away but she ignores them. Her attention is focused solely on her Master.
"Is something wrong? Why are you here?" Hades doesn't take his eyes off the dead before him but he speaks to his third in command quickly.
"He's safe in your rooms. No one will reach him, I made sure of it. I thought maybe you could use backup here."
Hades' eyes flash with anger that she disobeyed his direct order on something so important. Lorelei flutters her wings nervously making her silver hair float off her back, but Hades' temper quickly subsides. He understands the torture it would be for her to stand guard while he is off dealing with a riot in the Fields of Asphodel.
Sudden activity in the middle of the crowd begins to draw Hades' attention but he glances back at the Lorelei next to him when he hears her hiss loudly with disdain.
"What it is?" He asks as he tracks the movement drawing closer to them through the crowd.
"I smell my sister." Lorelei jumps into the air next to Hades and angles her spear at what Hades can now see is a person pushing towards them through the dead.
Not a person… a God indicated by the faint glow of their aura.
Hades doesn't wait for the deity to make their way to him and in a heartbeat he and Lorelei are clearing a space in the Fields to confront the invading Goddess before them.
"Nemesis." Lorelei scowls at her sister with contempt at her sudden appearance in the Underworld.
Nemesis pushes aside the souls who waver too close for her liking and the second her fingertips brush against their essence a cool anger overcomes them. They bare their teeth at anyone nearby and their temperament rises with Nemesis's proximity. Hades waves his hand and his power reverts them back to normal but he can feel his own rage growing.
"Leave now, Nemesis." His tone is harsh and absolute, which makes the Goddess glance up at him through her eyelashes. A wicked smile spreads across her face like the dawning of bad news but she flutters her eyes suggestively. Lorelei grips her spear so tight her knuckles turn white.
"You heard my ruler, leave." The Ker steps forward and Nemesis throws her head back to laugh.
"Oh Lorelei, how I've missed you. But not actually, because you're the same boring, mindless slave you've always been."
Nemesis dismisses her sister by turning her shoulder away and giving Hades her full attention. The look in the Ker's eyes is so full of wrath she appears only a heartbeat away from running her sister through, but Hades holds up a hand to ward her off.
Nemesis saunters toward him and the smile on her face makes Hades nauseous. The corner of his mouth curls up when the Goddess languidly runs a hand down the front of his chest. He catches her stray fingers and throws them back at her.
"Leave. If you think you can come into my domain and cause a riot in my kingdom, you are sorely mistaken. I will throw you into the deepest pits of Tartarus if you aren't out of my sight in five seconds."
Nemesis's pupils dilate and she pulls her lip into her mouth to bite it. Hades sneers when she leans closer to him as if he was flirting and she wants him to continue. He glances over the Goddess's shoulder at Lorelei but the winged female looks as if she's about to burst with unreleased violence. Her blue eyes shine as they stay fixed with a single purpose on her provocative sister.
"Oh, but you don't really want me to leave do you? We could have so much fun." Nemesis's voice is so slick it runs across Hades' skin and raises the hair on his arms but not in a good way. The God of Death is a heartbeat away from unleashing Lorelei on Nemesis when the Goddess takes a step away from him. She spins in place and her long black hair swats him across the chest.
"No matter, I wasn't planning on staying long." The intrusive female turns again to face her sister and Hades one last time and lets out a playful snicker at their confused expressions.
"I did what I came to do, anyway."
The last sight Hades glimpses of the cat-eyed Goddess is Nemesis's flash of teeth when her face splits into an evil grin as she disappears into thin air. Hades immediately checks all the locations in the Underworld, thinking that maybe she transported somewhere else to wreak havoc, but it seems the Goddess of Revenge has disappeared.
Suddenly, a sinking feeling makes the world drop out from underneath Hades and his knees weaken with the realization. Lorelei notices the colour has suddenly drained from his face and she grabs his arm to steady him.
But before she can even open her mouth to ask what the problem is Hades has disappeared. There is only one reason why the Goddess of Revenge would visit him.
Aphrodite and Hermes appear in the heart of Hades' castle milliseconds after disappearing from the cliffs of Olympus. They materialize right in the center of the throne room but thankfully Hermes reacts faster than Aphrodite. Before she can even draw a breath of alarm Hermes has covered her mouth and transported them to a more private wing of the castle. Tyche, the Goddess of Luck, must be watching over them because the throne room was completely empty. That means Nemesis was doing her job by providing a distraction but it also means Hermes and Aphrodite are running out of the time they have before Hades realized their plan.
Aphrodite looks around the part of the castle where Hermes dropped them in surprise. She had expected a black fortress with blood running down the walls and tortured screams rising up from Tartarus providing a symphony that Hades fell asleep to every night. She couldn't have been more wrong.
This place is so beautiful that it steals her breath.
Not much unlike its owner but that thought makes her despise every second that she spends in this castle. She rips her eyes away from the tasteful art and sculptures lining the halls but she can't help but appreciate the vibrant colours that bring to life the walls made of onyx stone. Light fixtures hang suspended by magic from the ceiling and cast a warm and welcoming glow around the corridors. The entire castle is decorated in either white or black shades and she is shocked to find that most of what she sees is something she would put in her own home if she ever had one.
Shaking her head to clear her thoughts she hurries after Hermes who has started walking. Since he has been to the castle numerous times before she follows the Messenger across the black marble, which is so shiny she can see her reflection looking up at her. Aphrodite sees the castle begins to change the further they walk and she suspects they are growing closer to Hades' private chambers. Apprehension makes her palms itch and when her heart starts beating out of control, she realizes she's scared. If Hades finds her here before she has finished her mission there is no telling what he would do to her.
Hermes is about to turn a corner but he stops so abruptly that Aphrodite rams her nose into his shoulder blade. Reeling back in pain she grips her face but Hermes moves to cover her mouth before she can cry out. When he signals that someone is beyond the corner she forgets about her pain as adrenaline and fear come crashing down on her. The two Gods quietly duck into the first room they see and shut the door soundlessly behind them.
"Who is it? Who's there?" Aphrodite inquires breathlessly.
"The Keres." Hermes replies and his whole posture is discouraged as he looks dejectedly at the Goddess of Love. It is obvious Hermes believes she doesn't stand a chance anymore and she begins to think he may be right.
Her stomach fell out of her body at the name of Hades' demons.
Those females find their pleasure in brutally killing anyone they can get their hands on and the stories she has heard of them make her queasy. Her mission has just been aggressively stopped and she barely even begun.
Tears spring to her eyes as panic overwhelms her and she grabs onto Hermes' arm.
"Please, you have to help me! I don't know what to do."
Hermes looks sorry but not empathetic enough to risk a confrontation with the Keres.
"I can take you home but there's nothing else to be done here, Aphrodite."
She grits her teeth so hard that she hears a pop but the pain is enough to clear the tears from her eyes. Hot anger punches through her and she strengthens her resolve.
"No. I'm staying and I will not leave until I finish what I came here to do. If you will not help me then I will do it alone." She speaks so convincingly that Hermes nods reluctantly.
"Alright, then this is where we separate. You know how to get back now don't you?"
Aphrodite nods and tries to ignore the alarm making her fingers tingle at the thought of being in Hades' palace alone but she shakes it off.
"Yes, thank you for showing me how to get here." The two Gods nod grimly at one another and then Hermes is gone.
Aphrodite stares at the wall behind where he disappeared struggling to get her thoughts in order. She breathes deeply trying to come up with a plan but nothing is coming to mind. A small cry of defeat escapes her mouth but she quickly sucks it back in. She can do this.
The Goddess turns to take in her surroundings and freezes when she realizes she's in Hades' war room. Her eyes widen as she takes in the weapons stacked on all the walls, the maps spread across every surface and the plans sketched on paper. She looks around to take in the enormity of the space but something in particular catches her eye. Her gasp echoes throughout the room.
A silver helmet sits in the middle of the largest of Hade's planning tables and it calls for Aphrodite. She walks slowly toward it in utter disbelief at her luck. When she is close enough to touch it, tears spill down her eyes when her fingers brush against the Helm of Darkness.
And she turns invisible.
Aphrodite opens the door to the war room slowly and looks out to make sure no one is in the hall. She is wearing the Helm of Darkness but she is still terrified that someone will hear her or there will be something that gives her away. Her steps are light and she makes no noise but her heart is still launched into frenzy when she turns the corner and sees the hallway full of Keres.
She pauses with her eyes wide and half expects them all to hurdle towards her, but none of the females move. Their black wings don't even twitch as they continue to stand guard as if she wasn't even there.
But there are so many of them crowding the hall she would never be able to navigate through them without one of the Ker feeling her move or smelling her scent.
Aphrodite walks as close to the first Ker as she dares and then waves her hand to create an image of herself at the farthest part of the corridor for the Keres to see. She makes the image of herself appear as if she's running away and the female warriors spot her immediately. Aphrodite presses herself against the wall as every single one of them hiss with disdain so potent she's almost offended.
She watches as the monsters all jump into the air and fly towards the image of her with startling speed. It takes her by surprise how efficient and lethal they are in person. Two Keres remain behind on guard, but as Aphrodite makes her way toward them trying to think of how she can distract them, one of the demons opens the door.
Aphrodite can't believe her luck and she runs forward quietly. She can hear the Ker telling another guard inside that they spotted "Aphrodite" at the end of the hall and to be ready for the Goddess is going to make an attempt for the boy.
It's hard for the Aphrodite to stifle her snicker as she slides through the space in the door before the Ker shuts it again. Once she's inside she looks around Hade's personal chambers too quick to process anything.
Because she locates her target sitting in the corner of the room surrounded by more Keres.
Her heart bursts with malicious excitement at being so close to victory. It almost overwhelms her but she squeezes her nails into her palms for focus. She starts weaving around the winged women in the room until she stands above her prey and reaches down to grab him.
But she freezes when the small child looks up to stare into her eyes.
It feels like a bucket of ice water is being poured down her back as she makes direct eye contact with Hades' demigod son and they watch one another. The little boy has curly black hair that is too long and falls into his green eyes until he brushes them away. His eyes grow wide as he looks at Aphrodite and in that moment the Goddess decides he is the most adorable child she has ever laid eyes on. No wonder he is the only person in the entire world who Hades' heart belongs to.
But when the boy starts to speak, Aphrodite forgets how cute he is.
"Who are you?" His babbling little toddler voice echoes through the silent room and as one every Keres turns to look towards them. Aphrodite glances down to look at her body, but she sees she is still invisible. Somehow the boy must be able to see her despite the Helm of Darkness because he is Hades' heir. However, now it looks as if he is talking to the air and the Keres are unfortunately not stupid.
Aphrodite turns just in time to see the realization dawn on all of their faces and screeches of rage fill the room as they leap toward the boy as one to protect him from the hidden threat. But the Goddess of Love reaches the boy before any of the rest of them can and the second she touches the skin on his arm the Keres can only helplessly watch as their Master's son disappears.
When Hades erupts into the room moments later the Keres all sink to the ground in fear of their ruler's vengeance as he takes in the sight of the empty corner and of his missing son.
And Aphrodite stands on the edge of Mount Olympus holding the small hand of a little boy as she watches to world shake with the vengeance of the God of Death.