Thanatos’ easy laugh fell on my ears as I approached him, his sister standing beside him with a grin on her face and a dark twinkle in her eyes. They turned to me simultaneously as I came within earshot, and I couldn’t help but smile. Though they are far grown and mature by now, it was hard for me to not still see Thanatos’ chubby cheeks or Nemesis’ sweet smile from when they were younger. I pulled them into a quick hug, kissing both their foreheads, avoiding jostling their drinks, and beamed at them.
“Are you two enjoying yourselves? Staying out of trouble, or mostly, I hope?”
Thanatos started to answer, but Nemesis snorted and cut him off with a wicked smile. “As much as we can, Mother. It has been a chore trying to keep Than from hovering in a corner somewhere. Not one of your more sociable children, unfortunately.”
I raised an eyebrow at my son, who took a quick drink before smiling at me. “But I’m not, so no need to carry on.”He gave Nemesis a pointed look. “You look radiant, Mom,” he gestured to my outfit of navy blue silk and black fur, and I kissed his cheek.
“Thank you, dearheart, I appreciate it. You both look as wonderful as ever, and I am so pleased that you could make it. I hope my invite wasn’t too last minute,” I added, suddenly worried. “I know you’re both busy, but I had hoped…”
Nemesis shrugged while Thanatos shook his head. “It sounded really important to you in your letter, Mother. If it’s important to you, then, of course, we’ll be here.”
“Well, thank you both for making time for it. But you should know, I didn’t come over here to just check in on my kids.” I saw them share a covert look, clearly forgetting I was their mother and not some random goddess. I hid a smile and turned to my son first, taking his hands in mine. He seemed surprised at the sudden contact.
“I know I was…angry with you. I still am, if I’m being honest. There’s no need to rehash it, yiós, really,” I said quickly, seeing him open his mouth. “I was being a mother who was empty nesting, and it wasn’t fair of me to demand you to communicate with me. You are your own person, and I forgot myself. I’m sorry, Thanatos.” He didn’t seem to know what to say, looking to his sister for help, and receiving a shrug in reply.
“That is not all I wished to tell you.” I released one of his hands and twirled a finger in the air, a leather pouch dropping softly into my hand. It was brilliant bright red with scrollwork done across it in black and white, and I pressed it into his hands. “These are for you.”
Thanatos looked at me curiously, before loosening the drawstrings and pulling out a pair of smoky black kid gloves. He looked them over once, before sliding them on and flexing his fingers. “They fit well, but…what are they for?”
I turned around and tapped a passing waiter on the shoulder. “Excuse me, do you have a moment?”
“Of course, Lady Night.” He stopped beside me and looked around at the three of us – I’m sure we made quite the little goth trio. I took Thanatos’ hands and placed them on the waiter’s chest. Nemesis watched in amusement as Than jerked back suddenly with a yelp, startling the waiter into almost dropping his tray of canapes.
“Wait…you’re still alive,” Thanatos whispered, his eyes wide at the sudden realization. The waiter checked himself, looking pale.
“Ahh, yes? Am I not supposed to be?” He gave me a side glance, moving back a few shuffles.
“No, no! You are, don’t mind me…” Thanatos said, staring at his hands. I thanked the waiter and he left quickly, still touching his chest, as my son looked up at me. “I didn’t kill him. Is that what these are for?”
I nodded once. “You wear those, you can touch mortals. I know you’re enjoying spending time on this plane and whatnot, and none of us can be killed from your touch, so…”
He pulled me into a tight hug, squeezing me as I wrapped my arms around him. “Thanks, Mom. Really.” I kissed the top of his head as he released me, going back to look over his new gloves, still flexing his fingers as if something would happen if he did it enough times.
“You don’t have to get me anything, Mother,” Nemesis started, and I chuckled.
“I knew you would say that. Luckily, what I want to give you is not really a physical gift. I was hoping you would have dinner with me.”
She blinked, an owlish look on her face. “Dinner? With you, you mean?” She clasped her hands in front of her, her thumb rubbing her wrist. “Mother, really…”
I sighed, and rested a hand on her shoulder. “Nemesis, I know I have most likely felt distant, maybe even forgetful or neglectful, of you. I’m not perfect, but neither am I making excuses for myself. I would hope, in the future, you will tell me if I’m out of line,” I added, glancing at Thanatos, who nodded. “But I do want to start over, and be more of a good mother, and not…whatever I was to you before.” I watched emotions run rampant across her face, and added, “It can be whenever, wherever you wish. You just tell me where you want to start and I will be there.”
I always forget how my children can surprise me, so when she stood on her tiptoes and kissed my cheek, a small grin on her face, I had to fight back a laugh of delight.
“Thank you, Mother. I appreciate it,” she said, just as Thanatos reached out and grabbed a waitress by the wrist, marveling at how she was still standing there.
“Than, maybe the corner would have been a better spot for you to experiment in,” Nemesis commented, throwing me a look that I couldn’t help but snicker at. “He’s never going to take those off now, you know that, right?”
I shrugged, crossing my arms and watching my son’s errant delight as the waitress walked away quickly, before I spotted the next two immortals on my list. I squeezed Nemesis’ shoulder quickly.
“I’ll see you two later. Keep an eye on your brother, I don’t want him upsetting Noel over a new toy.” My daughter laughed as I glided away from them.
The tell-tale yelp of another victim to Thanatos’ new-found “power” had me chuckling as I caught up with Hestia and Demeter. Both had whiskey glasses in hand and were engrossed in conversation while people watching until Hestia spotted me making my way through the crowd towards them.
“Hello, darlings,” I said, hugging each of them before snagging another flute of champagne from a passing tray.
“Hi, honey,” Demeter said. Hestia kissed my cheeks and made room for me to join them. Both of them always have such a warm, homey demeanour about them. A feel and a smell that is sometimes a welcome change to Tartarus. I glanced around briefly before turning to Hestia.
“Did Connor not come with you?”
Hestia shrugged, looking around. “No, he’s here somewhere. Probably drinking and talking someone’s ear off.” Demeter chuckled, and I did another once over of the room, before turning my attention back to them.
“I’m sure he’ll be just fine. It seems everyone’s on their best behaviour so far, which has been a gift all on its own.” I took a sip of champagne, and gave the ladies a warm smile. “I’m glad I could have a moment with you two; I have gifts I want to give you both.”
“A gift?” asked Hestia.
Demeter looked uncomfortable. “Nyx, dear, I didn’t get you anything.”
“Stop, both of you,” I chuckled, then continued. “My intent this evening was not to give and expect a return in exchange. This is my new tradition, a time of the year when I want to let those in my life know what they mean to me. All of us,” I added pointedly, watching Zeus walk by with Hera, before giving them both a sideways grin. “Besides, I get plenty of brew and pie from both of you all year long. Allow me to give to you for once, hm?”
That made them laugh, and I shrugged nonchalantly, turning to Demeter first. “Dem, I do not think I tell you enough how much of a gift you are to us all. Your work with sacred and modern law is a credit to all the wild and wicked things we have done throughout the centuries, and I am exceedingly glad to know a soul such as you.”
A slender, silver key popped into my hand, and I handed it to a bemused Demeter. “Try not to lose that, I only have two made right now.”
Demeter eyed it curiously, before giving me a questioning look, and I smiled.
“When you get home, there will be an air-tight container sitting outside your door. Take it inside before you open it, and try not to damage it – I’d have to kidnap a god of time to go back and have Ur-Nammu rewrite his laws, and I have a feeling he might not like that.”
Her eyes went wide and she raised an eyebrow at me. “Are you yanking my chain, Nyx? You didn’t really…” My growing smile made Hestia chuckle and Demeter hugged me tightly, head in my shoulder. “Thank you so much. I’ll treasure them.” She released me and took a swig of her drink, looked excited. “I can’t wait to read them!”
I glanced at Hestia, who gave me her best “Really, Nyx?” face, and I couldn’t help but laugh. “I promise it won’t be a sappy gift, as long as you don’t make a fuss about it.” When she rolled her eyes at me, I conjured a rich leather bridle and handed it to her.
Hestia smirked at me. “Do you maybe want to take me out for dinner first, Nyx?”
I snorted and grinned. “I’m not your type, Hes. Wrong equipment or something. No, that’s for the lovely ass outside. I hope you don’t mind gold.”
“The golden ass? Really?” When I only smirked at her, she laughed and clapped me on the shoulder, kissing my cheek again. “You are impossible, thank you! I won’t ask where you got it from, I don’t think I want to know. Can I go see now, or… ?”
“If you wish,” I said, amused. “But it’s probably feeding time, so maybe wait until after the speech before going out there.”
Hestia nodded, fingering the leather with a fond smile, when the languorous pull of lust caught me unawares. I frowned and turned to see who had arrived, only to find Erato and Tyche engaged in conversation near a champagne fountain. I turned back to the goddesses and gave them a short bow.
“Ladies, I will see you later, enjoy your evening.”
They waved me off as I stepped between two servers, nimbly dodging a third staff member as the sound of tinkling glass echoed in the hall. I gave a half glance in the direction it came from, but no one seemed fussed, so I redirected my attention to Lady Luck and the muse. Erato saw me first, and to my great amusement, he bowed low before me as Tyche realized what he was doing.
“Nyx, it’s so good to see you,” Tyche said, raising a glass to me as Erato straightened up.
“And you as well! I hope Par Impar is doing alright after the storms?” Tyche being so out in the middle of nowhere worried me because of such things, but she was a stalwart woman who always had a plan, so I didn’t want to push my help unnecessarily. She gave me a warm smile.
“Doing alright. Repairs are well under way, and we still have sections of the casino open, so we’re not losing money entirely. We’ll get there, I’m not too troubled.”
I felt the muse’s eyes on me, and I gave him my full attention with the smallest hint of a smile.
“Mistress Nyx.” There was a cheeky gleam in his eye as he said it, and I laughed.
“Erato.” I grabbed yet another glass of champagne as it floated by on a server’s tray and toasted both of them. “I am glad to see you both well. How’ve you been, Erato? Classes still going strong?”
He nodded slowly. “Quite well, actually. We lose people every now and again, but there is always a body or two that falls into place.”
I nodded in agreement. “I’ve been meaning to come polish my own words. Perhaps I’ll give you a call in the new year, if you have room for one more student?”
Erato smiled warmly and lifted his glass to me. “There is always room for you, Mistress Nyx. I hope things have been well for you as well? I heard your place in Scotland had a nice christening.”
“That it did, no thanks to Nike and Eros,” I sighed, glancing to see if they were in earshot before carrying on. “They should never be in the same room together, to be quite honest. Don’t tell them I said that, please,” I added, checking to make sure Nike wasn’t lurking behind the fountain. The pair chuckled and I finished my glass, sliding it onto a tray as it passed by. “Now, I hope you won’t fuss if I tell you I have gifts for the pair of you.”
“Mistress Nyx, really – I wish you had told us beforehand, how embarrassing,” Erato started, rubbing a hand on his forehead.
“It’s not an exchange, Erato,” I said. “Like I’ve told the others, this is my event – my tradition.
“But still…” he persisted, then stopped as I waved him off.
“You can be as upset as anyone else here. As I said, this is my tradition to provide gifts for my friends and guests. Now, hold out your hands.”
Tyche peered over Erato’s shoulder as he did as I asked. I waved my hands over his and a leather-bound book appeared in a swirl of darkness.
“What is this, Nyx?” the muse asked as he turned the book part way over in his hands.
I smiled at him. “Sonnets. Specifically a first edition copy of sonnets by William Shakespeare.”
It was quite something to see the muse of lyrical poetry at a loss for words. “Nyx, I know not what to say,” he started, and I waved his words away.
“There are few of us that appreciate the written word like you do, muse. I enjoy the inspiration you bring with them, even if it does get a little out of hand sometimes.”
Erato flashed me an embarrassed smile, rubbing the back of his neck. “I am flattered you think so highly of my work, Mistress Nyx. I’m looking forward to going through this, thank you.” The muse leaned towards me, hesitating for a moment before kissing my cheek. Clearly he still felt some embarrassment from our encounter a few months earlier.
“It is my pleasure, Erato.” I waved my hands back across his and the book disappeared. “It is waiting in your room, on your desk – a safer place than a liquor-filled room, as it were.”
I then looked past Erato to Tyche. “And you as well have a gift, Lady Luck.”
Tyche smiled and replied, “I heard you chastise the muse, so I will refrain from protest and merely say thank you in advance for thinking of me.”
“Good,” I said, “it makes things go much easier.” I waved my hands over hers as she held them out and a small velvet pouch appeared with a taut drawstring.
Tyche closed her hands around the pouch for only a moment before she said, “Long have I done this, Nyx, and I know the feel of a set of dice the moment they touch my hand.”
“These are special, Tyche. They are designed to be imbued with your blessing for a short period of time. You may gift them to anyone you desire. When the dice have accomplished their goal, they will automatically return to you, ready to be blessed and gifted to another. They are, for all intents and purposes, a portable form of your blessing.”
Tyche opened the pouch as I was talking to her and poured them into her hand. A handsome gold die set rolled across her palm, catching the light. The numbers had been etched into the die and set with ebony, standing out elegantly against the gold face. Tyche flashed me a beautiful smile as she toyed with them. “My Lady, thank you so very much,” she said as she admired the dice. “These will prove quite useful, I am sure.”
I offered her a small bow. “I’m happy to be of service, Tyche.” We embraced, and as I let her go, I saw Artemis gliding across the room. Her arm was linked casually with that of Urania and they seemed deep in conversation.
“Now if you’ll excuse me, Tyche, Erato” I said, “I see my next victims.”
Tyche laughed, her eyes twinkling. “By all means, hunt them down.”