It’s been a few hundred years by now. I can tell because I have counted. The back walls of my cell now hold scratches along them. Every day or night, the Hecatoncheires would do their patrol, and I based my timing off that. It seemed to help keep me somewhat grounded. The nightmare still came, but after my recent transformation, I am no longer haunted by myself. At least the constant nagging went away. Either that or I have gone fully insane. The sound of metal on stone had me looking at the entrance to my cell as the door slowly opened.
“Skotadi?” Hades’ voice echoes in the cell.
I stand from my crouched spot on the wall, wiping my blooded nail on the remnants of my clothes as I hear his voice. I run, hugging him before I realize what I am doing. He’s real, and he’s not dead. The tea party nightmare replays in my head, reminding me how they all died.
He frowns as he returns the hug tightly, before reaching behind him and shutting the door. “Are you all right?”
I look from him to the door expecting someone else to be with him. He always has someone with him. But no other person follows him in. He’s alone. And here? My chest tightens again at the last visitor I had, and I turn back to him.
“You’re here?” My voice cracks. “And with no visitors this time? Why?”
“To check in on you,” he replies, moving closer to my side. Hades glances around quickly, before sliding down the wall and sitting. “I understand that was difficult.”
I tilt my head, confused. “Difficult?.”
Images flood my muddled mind as I remember all those who came with him. The last time Hades was here was when he brought Erebus, but that had been years ago. Difficult? He doesn’t know the half of it. It was painful. Excruciating. Like a hole had been punched in my chest, and nothing could fill it. I sent Erebus away because I had to, and now his shadows don’t even keep the nightmares away. I don’t know what part of my brain clicked and forced that thought, but it was the most coherent at the time. Time felt like it slowed once Hades entered my cell, and it seems like it gave my brain time to catch up.
I need a change of subject. I can’t think of him anymore. It only makes my prison sentence here unbearable. My nostrils flare as I get a scent of something I remember from a long time ago, and it isn’t the smell of rotting flesh in Tartarus.
My eyes hone in on Hades. “You smell like a witch.”
A crooked smile flashes over his face. “I suppose I must. That is not why I came, though.” He hesitates a moment before taking my hand. “Atë, is there anything I can offer you right now? I dislike seeing you here, but…”
I look from the door to Hades and back. I know what I want to ask, but I need to work up to that. I want one thing and one thing only. My freedom.
I move to slide against the wall, sitting next to him like old friends. “So how long has it been? Ninety years by now, or am I close to a hundred yet, maybe two?”
Hades frowns, then relaxes slightly, regret easily seen on his face. “It’s only been a few days, skotadi. Time does not run the way it should within Tartarus.”
It feels like the wind is knocked out of me. No, that can’t be right? My eyes close as I tilt my head back when the sudden realization hits me. Days. He said days. I turn back towards him, biting my lower lip as I shake my head. That’s impossible, I mean he can’t be right. Right?
“Funny.” I force a short burst of laughter. “You tell jokes now.”
He doesn’t respond.
Ice fills my veins as my shock turns to panic. “No. I don’t believe you,” I snap as I jump to my feet. “You’re lying!”
“I would not lie to you.” He closes his eyes for a moment. “The last thing I want to do is lie to you.”
I rub my hands through my tangled hair as I pace frantically back and forth. A growl escapes my throat as the darker power edges to the surface. I shake my head, whispering to myself. He is wrong. I know he’s wrong. My hands move frantically up and down my arms as I look back at him.
“Hades, it’s been a hundred years, at least. I counted.” I stop, pointing to the edge of my dark cell. I had broken fingernails on that damned wall, but I counted. I counted every dream, every thought. I counted to the sounds of the giant’s footsteps above. I counted the wails and moans from the prisoners. I counted.
Hades gets up, stops me mid-step in my pacing, and pulls me to him tight. I want to fight like I always do, but the sudden realization brings me to tears. I will rot here in Tartarus for the rest of my life, and time would continue to move by quickly for me, but barely a second to them. I feel broken once more, anxious once more, and frantic.
“I don’t want to be here anymore.” My voice comes out in a mere whisper
“I know, skotadi, I am so sorry,” he says, a hand stroking my head, holding me tighter. “I promise I will not let you stay here forever. You have my word that this will not be the rest of your life, okay?”
His words help calm the part of me that wants to break further, but the same whispers and voices come back. They whisper and beg for an escape. I push back from him, giving myself space as I hold him at arm’s length.
“You can help me. You can get me out. You own this place.”
Hades’ face, as stoic as it always is, falls a shade paler. He shakes his head, sorrow in his voice. “I cannot. I am bound to my word and my brothers. I wish I could, skotadi, I do. All I can do is visit, keep you company.”
“Please, Hades. I’ll do anything,” I beg, my voice straining. “I’ll leave, and I’ll never come back. They won’t even know I am gone. I swear it.”
“You are breaking my heart, skotadi,” Hades murmurs, taking a deep breath and pulling me into his arms.
My thoughts drift off to the time before my fall. Back when I had my family and how simple it was then. “We were friends once. Weren’t we?”
Hades sighs once more. “We still are, Atë. I remember you, all of you, and I would not abandon you again. Not again.”
Hades stays a little while longer just to talk. I think he wants to distract me from my sudden realization of my prison sentence. It works, or so I lead him to believe. He says he will come back to check on me more, but I don’t want that, I want out. I slam and beat on the walls and doors, screaming and scratching in both corporeal and animal form. After what feels like hours, I finally stop. I cradle my legs to myself as tears stream down my face. I make no move to correct them, nor does a cry escape my lips. I had tried so desperately to bargain my way out of here to be free, but no escape would come.
The sound of the Hecatoncheires stomping above me signals their watch. So I count.