Artemis and I found a set of invitations to a party when we returned from Nympheum. It appeared innocent enough, and we knew Dion was back in town, so we thought nothing of it as we exchanged a look, confirming we both wished to attend.
“We should invite Thanatos. He’s been in isolation too long.”
Artemis wrinkled her nose at me. “Maybe he needs more time, Seli. Losing a family member, especially by your own hand, can be quite…unnerving.”
“I am aware.” My thoughts went back to Helios being drug off after the war and the most recent trade of Eos, damning her to eternity in Tartarus before I returned my gaze to hers. “Which is precisely why I think he does not need to be alone for too long. I speak from experience when I say that it isn’t always good for one to be alone for too long.”
She sighed and nodded, knowing I knew the effects of isolation better than most, and conceded the point. “Just don’t pressure him, okay?”
“I will not, but I will try to show him he is not alone and that I understand him more than he realizes.” She kissed my cheek and nodded as I turned to leave the flat. I made my way to the elevators, taking them all the way down to the Tartarus welcome center. I closed my eyes and centered myself as the doors opened. It had been quite some time since I had been here, and the echoes of Eos’s screams of betrayal still rattled around in my head. Thanatos needed me, someone, and I would not let my own turmoil stop me from helping my family in their time of need.
I stepped out and made my way to the shores of Lake Aveinos and Than’s little black cottage. He sensed my presence and barked in his raspy tones before I could even knock, “Who goes there?”
I let myself in, and the sight of him hit me like a tonne of bricks. My heart lurched within my chest as I glided across the room, embracing the disheveled God of Death. He stiffened under my touch, but I only hugged him harder. He became as still as the dead, unblinking in my arms. My mothering instinct took hold, and I stroked his spiky, unwashed hair. He hissed in reply, unaccustomed to touch, especially one so endearing. “There, there, Than. You are not alone.”
“Release me at once, Titaness,” he growled, still unmoving.
“Everyone needs hugs, Than.” He breathed heavily, struggling to control his rising anger. Unphased, I continued, “You need a friend right now, dear one. I am here for you.”
Having enough of what he deemed my shenanigans, he evaporated into shadows escaping my grasp and reformed by the kitchen stove, laughing maniacally. I chuckled and shook my head. “I will take a mint tea, please.”
“Okay,” he said sharply and busied himself in the kitchen, muttering to himself. I smiled at his ability to be a gentleman and gracious host, even when my presence was clearly not wanted. I sat elegantly in the large chair near the window, crossing my ankles. He glanced sideways at me. “That’s my chair. You sit in another one,” he snarled.
“My apologies.” I stood and crossed to the chair abreast of his. He nodded emphatically as he finished preparing the tea. Than brought over the pot, cups, sugar, cream, and sandwiches that he pulled from the fridge. He sat the tray on the table between the chairs and poured the tea, watching me suspiciously. I sipped my tea graciously and nibbled on a sandwich. “Why are you looking at me like that, Than?”
“No one except my sister and mother make their way to see me in my abode. Why have you come, Titaness?” He sipped his tea after adding copious amounts of sugar and cream, glaring at me over the rim of his cup.
“Arty and I heard there was a party and thought you could use a pick me up. So she asked me to come and invite you.” I fibbed a little, knowing he had once had a soft spot for Artemis.
“Party!? You mean leave here and be with other people whilst I still grieve?”
I glanced at him over my teacup. “Precisely. I do fathom the grave loss you feel. I do, Than. but being alone is not good for you either, dear one.”
“I have been alone most of my life. What difference does it make now?”
“The difference is the loss you are feeling is something you have not felt before. Now is paramount to your well-being, Than.”
“Bah balderdash! I can cut open a rift, go wandering again…go anytime…anywhere…alone. I just don’t want to.” He took a large bite of his sandwich, still cutting daggers at me with his gaze.
“I know you do not want to, Than. I am just here to let you know that I would be here for you. You do not have to be alone. I do only wish for your best interests.”
He growled at me again, “If I say yes, will you leave me to my mourning?”
I nodded curtly, setting down my cup with a small smile. “That is all I ask, Than. Give it an hour, please?”
“We’ll see…” I stood, crossing to him, and planted a small kiss on the top of his head. “Now, take some sandwiches and go before the thunderstorms roll in off the lake and trap you here until they pass,” he snarled.
“Thank you, Than.” I chuckled, grabbing some sandwiches for Artemis. “I am sure Arty will enjoy the sandwiches…if Sayeh does not steal them first.”
Thanatos grumbled some more and muttered, “Mmm hm.” I headed back out, humming softly. Fat drops of rain began to fall sparingly, just as he predicted. I stretched out my unencumbered hand, enjoying the rain, but hurried to leave the Underworld before it picked up.
Just as I predicted, Sayeh gobbled the cucumber bites from my hand as soon as I entered the flat, nearly pouncing me to the floor in her exuberance. Her dog form was adorable, and she kept the kits in check more often than we did. Yoru and Eechee instinctively knew she was a drackon, regardless of form, and obeyed her out of respect and a healthy fear. She tossed a sandwich to each of the kits and settled back on the doggy bed in the corner.
“Well? How’d it go with Than?” Artemis asked as I joined her on the sofa.
“He will come for an hour or until duty calls.” She nodded and continued her notes, preparing for her next hunt.
The night of the party had arrived. Artemis was waiting for Thanatos and me to join her in the Mercedes. Artemis greeted Than warmly as we slid into the car. Than was dressed in a black suit jacket, black jeans, and he had actually washed and combed his hair. It was a refreshing sight from when I last saw him.
I pulled my flowing grey, backless maxi dress into the car and closed the door before peeling off and heading to the address on the invitation. Than’s eyes bulged in their sockets as I sped through the streets, Artemis giggling as the wind whipped through her hair. We arrived outside an old abandoned warehouse and quickly became suspicious. Dionysos was normally much classier in his gatherings, so we proceeded with caution.
As we stepped inside, we were caught up in the decor. The derelict walls were covered in black silk, giving off the impression of a high-end tent, and small tables were elevated for standing. There were three different bars, fully stocked with nearly any drink you could ask for. The only illumination was provided by the twinkling lights wrapped around the steel beams and a few lanterns hanging from the ceiling. A handsome man walked around with drinks on a tray, and I quickly grabbed one as we walked by, Artemis on my arm. She looked absolutely ravishing in her dark green halter and jeans. Damn, I loved the way they hugged her ass.
Zeus, Clio, and Eros were already here, and I felt Artemis tense at the sight of her father. “Unhand me moon wenches,” Thanatos protested as Artemis and I dragged him into the party. Thanatos hung back by the door in an attempt to make a quick break when I was not paying attention, so I kept half my attention on him, hoping he would hold up his end of the bargain for one hour of social time. I quickly finished my first drink, just as Artemis brought me a second one. I smiled softly at her and graciously accepted the glass. Zeus made a toast as usual and excused his absence on some half-baked reason for hiding in his office for the past few months. Nike, Erebus, Ate, and Eris, as well as Adrestia, Athena, Amphitrite, and Dionysos were there, each asking who the host was. Even Poseidon, Hekate, and Dikê soon arrived, joining in the merriment and suspicion.
As suspected, Thanatos tried to sneak out, and I shouted above the clamor, “THAN! I see you. It’s not been thirty minutes yet.” He froze in place like a deer in headlights, eyes wide. My shout drew Eris’s attention.
“Thannnnny!” they crooned as Thanatos rolled his eyes in annoyance. Soon after, the lights lowered, and the sound of loud chanting came through hidden speakers. Voices overlapped, and magic surged all around us. The black silk wavered around the warehouse before falling. Glowing mirrors lined the interior. I was uncontrollably drawn to one with a crescent etched on it, then nothingness.