I walked around Urania’s gallery one last time, making small adjustments to the Moroccan lanterns on the tables. I’ve never thrown a party for my family, but I think I’ve done well. The enchantment required for tonight’s illusion took the most time, but I’m pleased with the results. The wine in the pitchers on the buffet seems to shimmer, hinting at the magic inside.
It was short notice, the party. Besides almost dying myself, nearly losing Dinlas to the Minotaur hit me much harder than I expected. The thought of never seeing his face again…no more nights knocking on his door for whiskey and inappropriate conversation…losing one of the few I trust to always have my back, no questions asked…I feel the sting of tears and blink them back before they ruin my eyeliner.
Gods are far worse than mortals about taking things for granted. Impermanence makes things precious, and as immortals, we pretty much give Death the finger straight out of the womb. For all our passions about trivial things, we can get rather complacent about our ability to die.
The last few months have certainly changed that. The Titans are once again incarcerated in Tartarus. My sister, Atë, is in a cell alongside them, as she should be. Olympus is miraculously hale and mostly whole, though that story could have easily been penned with a different ending. The fact that so many of my family are attending the party tonight means I wasn’t the only one feeling the need for some frivolity.
As uncomfortable as I may be with my role of hostess, I feel in my skin. Wanting the evening to be an exotic escape, I themed the party around the Arabian Nights. My tribal belly dancing attire is black and gold, like dark myrrh and frankincense, like my eyes. The cool kiss of the night air on my bare midriff is as sensual as the heavy weight of the coin scarves tied about my hips. I look and feel untamed, something I hope Hades notices after my recent retreat in his office.
I make one final adjustment to my veil and seek out Nike. The Goddess of Victory graciously agreed to help me welcome my guests, and I can’t think of anything more fitting on a celebratory evening such as this. I meet Nike at the door just as Urania arrives.
“Everything looks absolutely magical, Hekate. You’ve really outdone yourself!” Urania says as she takes my hands.
“Thank you again for the use of the gallery. I don’t believe I’ve ever thrown a party before. Not for family.”
“Well, you’ve created an amazing vision.”
Urania wanders inside as more guests arrive. Seeing that Nike has everything in hand, I return indoors. Everyone looks lovely, from Artemis in flowing spring green to Nemesis in her diaphanous crimson and black. Eros and Clio are quite the matched set, which makes me smile. Even Dinlas dressed for the occasion. I’m so glad to see him, I can’t bring myself to give him shit for actually coming in costume.
Morpheus arrives, and I wave him over. I need him for tonight’s illusion to work. As Morpheus and I discuss the final details of the magic we’ll be working together, Nike’s voice rings out.
“Announcing Hades, Lord of…well, you know.”
Who else can get by on notoriety in a room full of gods? I think with a sigh.
As Hades enters the room, his eyes meet mine for a moment. The briefest flicker of a smile crosses his lips, sparking the memory of our last encounter in his office. In a tailored black suit complete with cufflinks, he’s the only one here not in costume, like he decided that part of the invitation didn’t apply to him. As if reading my thoughts, Erebus stops him, complaining about the seemingly optional dress code.
“Maybe when you are a King, Erebus,” I hear Hades say. “Until then, you will wear what you are told, I suppose.”
Hades catches sight of Persephone arriving and turns back toward the door. I feel my hands clench as I realize my party may be the first gathering they aren’t attending together. But they are mirror images of propriety, greeting each other like the royalty they are, if not warm, at least not cold. Persephone crosses the room to greet me.
“It’s beautiful here, Hekate. You did amazing!” she says, dropping a kiss beside my cheek. In her blue flowing skirts, adorned with colorful flowers, she looks like a sunlit garden pool teeming with lotus blossoms. My exact opposite, as always.
“Thank you, Seph. I’m glad you decided to come.” I return her kiss. “If you’ll excuse me, I think I need to get the party officially started.”
I glide to the center of the room, coins jingling with every barefoot step I take. Eventually, everyone stops mingling and falls quiet, waiting for me to speak. I nod to the Lampades, the willowy torch-bearing nymphs who serve me. At my cue, they take up their pitchers and begin to glide among the guests, filling glasses with the enchanted wine.
“Welcome, family, and thank you for coming. And a special thanks to Urania for the use of her gallery. We’ve come through trying times, but we have come through together. I thought we could all use a little magic, a little beauty, and a little more time to enjoy each other’s company.”
Closing my eyes, I summon a thread of power, spinning it out to touch the contents of the pitchers. The wine begins glowing like a desert sunset, swirling amber, purple, and red. My voice shifts into the tone I use for incantations as the room darkens.
“Consciousness is the enemy of dreams, and a pleasant dream is what we need now, more than anything. This wine is enchanted to lull your conscious mind into a state of submission so the dreaming mind may come forward.” I watch my family take glasses in hand, some drinking, some hesitating. “Therefore, I ask that you trust me. Drink and share a dream with me, all of us together, before the waking world demands our attention again.”
To demonstrate good faith, I take a glass of the enchanted wine and drink it all at once. I feel the weight of Hades’ eyes on me. He is swirling his wine, watching me as I hand off my empty glass. His gaze wanders over my body, lingering wherever fabric gives way to flesh. His eyes slowly return to mine, and he drinks, placing himself in the hands of my magic for the night. The flush of heat I feel is not the wine.
Seeking out Morpheus, I make a graceful curtsy, bending my body all the way to the floor. “Morpheus, if you will take us into the Dream.”
I rise and back away, giving the Dream King the floor. Morpheus holds up his hands for quiet in the room. His voice is seductive, a spell in and of itself, drawing all of us into the illusion he and I have prepared for the night. Murmurs and gasps of delight reach my ears as Urania’s gallery disappears. A Bedouin tent, arrayed in jewel-toned luxury and bewitching to the senses now surrounds us, courtesy of the Dream King.
“Now that the scene is sufficiently set,” I say, stepping forward again, “I have a small favor for each of you.”
The Lampades set down their pitchers and begin distributing small white boxes wrapped in bright ribbons. Ribbons flutter to the floor as my family opens their gifts. Butterflies in prismatic hues fly from the boxes, their vibrant wings shimmering in the light. The sounds of laughter and surprise bring a smile to my face. This isn’t even an illusion, and yet, everyone is enchanted. Then, I see Clio pull a tiny brass genie lamp from her box.
“This is beautiful!” Clio turns to show the lamp to Eros as I look around to see who else received the other two lamps hidden among the butterfly-filled boxes.
Clio. Persephone. And…Eris. I take a deep breath at that last one.
“Three lamps, three dreamers, three wishes,” I tell the trio as they step forward. “Tonight, I am at your command.”
A low murmur of shock rolls through the room. Eros looks at me, then at Eris, shaking his head. I intended the lamps to be given at random. I did not intend for Fate to crash my party and make me a servant of Chaos. But Fate is a three-faced bitch. If anyone would know, it’s me.
“To each of you, I grant a single wish that is within my power to give. You may not wish for more wishes, or to change the rules or anything that would violate my nature. You must use your wish tonight before the party ends.” I give Eris a small smile. “Though generous, I am no fool.”
Eros snickers. Trust him to take pleasure in impending mischief—especially mischief he can’t get blamed for. I see Hades lean forward in his chair, elbows on knees, watching me with keen interest. I wonder if he knows I lay my uncharacteristic recklessness at his feet, one more symptom of the maddening effect he is having on me.
I bow low to the three lamp bearers. “Ask, and you shall receive what your heart desires.”
I hear Eros give Clio a warning as she returns to his side, obviously thinking she is planning some kind of mischief with that lamp at his expense.
“Oh! Oh, I have an idea!” Clio says, turning. “We should play a game. And I know just the one.”
Everyone looks confused except me. I know exactly which game she wants to play: Naked Truth, a combination of Ask Me Anything and Strip Poker. That game has left me naked in more ways than one the last few times we’ve played it late at night in the Lounge.
“With all due respect, Mistress,” I say, “we will not be playing anything you suggest tonight.”
“But why not?” Clio pouts. “It’s perfectly harmless.”
I give her a look that says I know it’s anything but that.
“I have a game, Katie,” Eros offers.
“Fine, Eros. Anything but what Clio wants to play.”
Eros stands up and gives me a wicked smile. “Not nearly enough of us have made out. As God of Love, I can’t allow it. So, I suggest a mortal game. Spin The Bottle.”
Heads begin turning like pennants in a breeze, telling me who wants to kiss who. There’s a fair few who don’t like the idea any more than I do. I give Eros a sweet smile I don’t feel.
“Something else, Eros.”
He gives me an infuriating smile, leveraging my careless words. “Too bad, you said anything. Spin The Bottle.”
I take a deep breath and unclench my fists, focusing on keeping my palms flat against my thighs. “The game has been named. Eros, do you wish to explain the rules?”
“It’s very simple. We take turns spinning the bottle. The spinner kisses whoever the bottle points to when it stops. Of course, what kind of mischief God would I be if I used a simple bottle?” Eros steps forward, drawing a long golden arrow from his clothing. He gives me a grin sharper than that arrow point as I take a reflexive step backward. “Spin The Arrow has a much better ring to it.”
“I think it’s only fair that Clio goes first,” I say, hoping to derail this insane idea. But nothing derails Eros. He places the arrow on the table as people gather closer.
“You are all actually playing this?” Dinlas asks. It strikes me how much he sounds like Hades these days, how Nyx has settled him.
Clio gives Eros a nervous look. “Are there…rules for the kiss?”
“No,” Eros replies.
Of course, there are no rules, I think. Eros doesn’t do rules.
“A kiss should have meaning. Is this really what we want to be doing?” Hades is a voice of reason, not that anyone listens.
Clio bends down and spins the arrow. Despite the protests and disdain, I notice nearly everyone leans in, unable to look away from the train wreck getting ready to happen. The arrow slows its lazy spin and lands on Erebus. Everyone is aware of the tension between Erebus and Atë, and that tension has now spread to Clio. I can see it on her face. Hades frowns, unpleased.
I frown and mouth at Eros, Are you happy now?
Not until you kiss Hades, Eros mouths back.
I sometimes forget just how much I hate him.
“Is that it?” Dinlas complains as Clio gives Erebus a chaste peck on the cheek.
Erebus grabs Clio by the shoulders and kisses her full on the mouth, which earns him Dinlas’s approval. A dark look flies across Erebus’s face as he turns to Hades and says something. With all the excitement in the room, I can’t hear what they’re saying. A few moments later, Hades stands up and looks at me.
“We must step out for a bit,” he says as Erebus stands. “I will try to return before the night is over.”
“Katie, it’s your turn,” Eros says.
Eros’s words barely register over the confusion I feel about Hades leaving. It takes me a moment to realize what I’m feeling is disappointment, because, stupid game or not, I wanted an excuse to kiss him. Hades winks at me, almost like he knows what I’m thinking, then he and Erebus leave.
I come out of my daze and look at Eros. “It’s what?”
“Your turn. Spin the arrow,” Eros says again. When I protest, he adds. “I mean, you’re not scared, are you?”
Dinlas rolls his eyes. “I thought we dropped this. Wasn’t once enough?”
But I know Eros. He isn’t going to shut up until I do it. Gritting my teeth, I walk to the table and give the arrow a vicious twirl. I step back and watch it spin, annoyed, impatient. The arrow comes to a stop and, with it, my heart.
“No!” I hear myself say as Eros starts to laugh.
Dinlas looks up and realizes the arrow is pointing at him. He takes a long drink from his glass and shakes his head. “Oh no, no, I said I wasn’t playing.”
“Rules are rules, brother,” Eros says.
Dinlas gives me a look that sets my bones on fire, then looks at the arrow and back to me. “J-just spin it again, Hekate.”
I sigh with relief, unaware that I was holding my breath, and step forward to spin the arrow again, but Eros won’t allow it. Dinlas and Eros begin arguing, bargaining, but their conversation is as distant as my thoughts. My body is standing in this room, but the rest of me is lost in a memory. And if that memory is a tree, Dinlas is its forbidden fruit.
Eros is bribing Dinlas to kiss me, offering him one of his coveted flasks from Dionysus. Dinlas and I realize about the same time that the only way this is going to end is with a kiss. No one else in this room knows what happened between us, but we’re pressing back against it so hard, I know the questions are already flying. I can see it in the hungry looks on the faces around me.
Dinlas looks at me and waits. I realize he’ll keep fighting if I want him to. I nod at him, once, and tell him, “Let’s just get it over with.”
He puts his glass aside as he stands up, then crosses the room to where I stand, his eyes never leaving mine. I’m grateful for that. That steadiness is all that’s keeping me on my feet, his willingness to do what must be done. He takes me gently by the arms and leans down, touching his lips to mine.
This kiss may be the first time I’ve known Dinlas to be tentative about anything. Maybe it’s because he can feel me trembling like a leaf in a storm. I feel his hands slide up my arms and stop, like the line we drew between us all those years ago begins at the curve of my bare shoulders.
And suddenly, that line is gone. His long fingers slide up my neck and tangle in my hair as every bit of hesitation between us goes up in flames. There is nothing in the world at that moment but his mouth, demanding an answer from mine. Desire uses his tongue to twist me, teasing an aching moan from my throat. I press myself against him in surrender, unable to pretend anymore that this is just some stupid kiss in Eros’s stupid game.
“Announcing Ares, God of War!”
Nike’s voice cuts through the fever dream, waking both of us up. Dinlas lets go of me like I am hot coal. To be fair, I’m no less gentle with him. I back away, realizing that the entire room is silent, staring in shock. Dinlas swipes his mouth with his sleeve like it can remove the feel of me. It hurts, but I understand. If I could do it that easily, I would.
Mischief achieved, Eros tosses Dinlas the flask he owes him. I’m jealous, thinking he gets to drown this in Dion’s best, until Eros tells him it’s the sober flask. Either way, it doesn’t matter whether it’s Dion’s best or cheap wine.
All I want to taste is him.