I did not trust myself enough to tell Hades what was happening with me. I didn’t want to tell him I was losing my mind. Or at least, I suspected I was. I needed actual proof first. I needed reliable evidence. I needed it from somebody I trusted, someone who wouldn’t run to Hades and talk about me behind my back. I needed a friend.
Thanatos was the obvious choice.
The God of Death could have been anywhere at this time of day, so I decided to try contacting him the only way I knew how. I touched an object he’d given me for my last birthday, a small pendant in the shape of a rose. After a moment of concentration, a gateway opened before me. It flashed with circular lights and had vines growing from it. I closed my eyes and stepped through.
Thanatos sat on the other side of his desk smoking his pipe in his office at Mr. T’s in Chicago. I recognized the location after a few moments, but only because Thanatos had described his office to me in the past. I smiled, hoping I hadn’t surprised him, and bowed my head slightly.
“Hello, Thanatos, I hope this isn’t a bad time.”
He looked up, regarding me with his obsidian eyes as a small smile touched the corners of his mouth.
“Ms. Persephone, it is always a good time for you, dear one. Take a seat,” he said softly, gesturing to the chair across from him.
“Thank you, my friend. I’m technically not supposed to be here,” I said, taking the seat offered and shifting my skirt around my knees. “I’m in a bit of trouble, and I’m not yet comfortable informing Hades of it. I would like to understand the nature of my problems before I discuss it with him. I’ve come to you because I think you can help me.”
He arched an eyebrow before he put his pipe down. He reached over the desk, took both my hands into his, and held them.
“I will do what I can. Tell me what troubles you so, dear one,” he said gently.
Relief flooded through me, and I smiled at him thankfully. He had no idea how grateful I was to be so quickly received.
“A few weeks ago, I met some children, twins actually, in my grieving gardens. They were looking for their mother, and so I offered to help. I believed she hadn’t yet crossed over to the Underworld, so I opted to visit the mortal realm and find her. If nothing else, I had hoped it would ease the fears of the children. But when I visited, I found no trace of her. My tracking abilities have never led me astray, so I found that odd. Then, weeks later, the children revisited me after having completely disappeared for a time. They explained to me they had been detained, and I thought nothing of it. That is until one of my guards asked me who I was speaking to and… well. He couldn’t see them. He thought I had been talking to myself the whole time. He couldn’t see or hear them. I thought he was playing a trick on me, but the next time I looked at the twins, they were gone, completely gone. After that, I must have fainted because I woke up in my room with guards posted by my door. They reported my illness to Hades, and we spoke briefly. But as I said, I don’t want to explain anything to him until I better understand what is happening to me. Do you think you could search for the twins? Tell me if they are real? Or if they’re figments of my imagination…”
I dropped my head in shame, scared to think my reality could be so fragile. But I knew if anyone understood what it was to be in two places at once, it would be Thanatos. He dealt with death on a daily basis, and I knew the concept of two realities was not hard for him to grasp.
He sat silently, just holding my hands, taking me in with his ancient face before he squeezed my fingers tightly. A reassuring smile broke out on his face as he slowly rose from the desk, still holding my hands as he walked around to the other side.
“Ms. Persephone, this is most troubling, most troubling indeed. I will investigate, but I wish you would stay here in my office and make yourself comfortable until I return,” he said, letting my hands go.
“Thank you. I should tell you too, the children’s names are Lila and Luke,” I said as he readied himself. “I don’t have a surname for them, but they are both caucasian and blond. They look a lot like me.” I frowned after I spoke, finding it strange that had not occurred to me till now.
He slipped off his suit jacket, nodding at my words, and unfurled his wings as he stepped to the center of the room. He drew the shadows of the room to him, and they circled him as he folded his wings around him and vanished.
With my friend gone, I sat back further into the chair, slouching. I scanned his office walls and glanced over the items on his desk. Folding my hands, I tried not to worry. If anyone could discover what was going on, it would be Thanatos. I took a deep breath, steadying my nerves, but I could not expel them fully. What if he didn’t find the children? What if they were figments of my imagination? What should I think of myself then? What would Hades think? I hung my head and restrained a sob. How unfitting would it be for me, a therapist, to be the one to lose her mind?
You have to stop this, Kore. Stop thinking this way, I scolded myself. You are stronger than this. Have a little more faith.
The clock on the wall ticked, and I sat, listening to it in silence. The fate of my world hung, swaying with the pendulum. Then the clock stopped, and the air grew heavy. I froze like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming truck as Thanatos reappeared in the center of the room. He held three items. The potted plant from my room, containing the black branch from the strange bush in my garden. In the other hand, he held two shades, lost wandering spirits, by the collars of their garments. The shades twisted and turned in his grasp, but Thanatos held them fast.
“Treachery,” he growled. He threw the pot against the wall, smashing it to pieces. I flinched. Then he threw the shades at my feet.
“Explain it to her, and I will ease your passing,” he growled again. The two shades writhed on the floor before me, twisting and moaning as if in agony.
“We are innocent!” the spirits cried.
“Lies!” Thanatos roared. Their faces were twisted, and I could hardly recognize who they were. But their identities became quickly clear.
“We were sent. It was not our idea,” one of the spirits shuddered as if expecting me to kick it. My jaw dropped.
“Luke?” I asked.
The spirit cried again, “It wasn’t me!”
“He’s right! We were made to! Bound to! We were stolen from our home,” the other spirit, Lila, whined. I blinked, then shook my head.
“And where is your home?” I demanded. The male spirit shivered but lifted his head to speak.
“We are bound to the Tree of False Dreams. We are tied to its essence. We must carry out its will,” the male spoke. I took a deep breath, fear seizing my chest and making it difficult to breathe. I flicked my eyes to Thanatos.
“What is the Tree of False Dreams? Why have I not heard of it?” I asked.
“You didn’t plant it, Ms. Persephone. Finish the explanation shade,” Thanatos growled and gave a swift kick to the shade’s backside.
The spirit Luke cried out, and Lila flinched as the old Primordial lorded over the cowering shades.
“It was Minthe! Minthe!” the male shade cried. Hearing that name again was like a swift kick to my own backside. I hadn’t thought of that nymph in decades. I had believed her safely imprisoned.
I shook my head. “That’s impossible. She was trapped. I-I,” I stuttered, then hesitated. “I trapped her,” I admitted, though I hated to do so. It had not been one of my finer moments.
Thanatos leaned in close to the shades and spoke, “Is there anything else you would like to tell the queen?” Thanatos asked coldly.
The shade that had called itself Lila was the first to speak this time. “You must understand, my queen, we did not want to harm you. It is our nature. And when we are set upon a victim, we must devour it, at all costs.”
I stepped back quickly. “What do you mean? Explain yourself! I still don’t understand. What is the Tree of False Dreams?”
“We are monsters, your majesty,” Lila answered, “bound to the tree. It keeps us contained in the Underworld. But when a branch is cut, some of us go with it. Minthe came to the tree and took a branch. She planted us in your garden, my queen. We did not know you would be the first to come upon us.”
I swallowed and looked to Thanatos, hoping he could confirm this tree truly did exist. I was ashamed to think I’d learned nothing of it in all my time here.
Thanatos, as if reading my mind, nodded slowly. He then reached down into the two shades. They froze, stiffened, white light filling them. They let out a scream each and turned to small piles of black dust at Thanatos’s feet. He looked at the piles in satisfaction before turning his obsidian eyes to me.
“So I wasn’t crazy?” I asked, hopefully.
“No, dear one, you weren’t crazy,” Thanatos said. Before I could prevent them, tears burst from my eyes. I threw myself into Thanatos’s arms, hugging him with all my might.
“You have no idea how thankful I am. How troubled I’ve been. How tormented! It’s over!” I rejoiced, crying unabashedly.
He embraced me and held me close, folding us up in his massive black wings. He didn’t say anything, just held me and let me cry until I was finished. When I finally regained my composure, my thoughts turned to Mynthe. I squeezed Thanatos once more and pulled back, wiping the tear tracks from my cheeks.
“But Minthe, how did she get free? And why hasn’t she confronted me herself? If she’s still upset… this isn’t over.”
“I know not, my lady,” Thanatos said.
“Should I tell Hades? Or do you think I should look further into this myself? I know last time he—well. Hades was not pleased with how I dealt with Minthe. I would rather not disappoint him again,” I confessed.
“Telling Mr. Hades of the return of Minthe would be a wise decision. Perhaps the two of you will come to a better solution. As for me, I have business with a labyrinth and an immortal inventor,” Thanatos said.
“Of course! I’ve taken up too much of your time already,” I said, squeezing his arm one more time. “Please know how sincerely thankful I am for your help. Without you, I don’t know what I would have done.”
“I serve your house, dear one. I am always there when you need me. You never waste my time, not since you were little, Kore. All you have to do is whisper to the shadows, and I will be there as always,” Thanatos said, smiling.
“Thank you. Thank you so much. I will tell Hades of all you’ve done for me,” I promised, smiling back. After a moment, I stepped away and lifted my hand. My portal to the palace swirled back into place, and I stepped toward it.
“I hope to see you again soon, Thanatos,” I said and nodded farewell.
He raised his hand, offering a solitary wave goodbye as the portal closed, taking him from my sight.