The door to the cell housing Atë had only just sealed. They had a conversation that bore fruitful information. Hera was in a personal hell. Zeus knew his wife to fear next to nothing. In the millennia they had been together, Hera was as fearless a being as there was in existence. In no small way was this part of the connection that bound the two Olympians together. Her fearlessness and his resolve, among other things, made them a power couple even among the gods. However, there was one thing, one place that Hera never wanted to acknowledge.
Zeus was famous for saving his siblings from the clutches of their father, Kronus. The war was over, and the family restored. History recorded the Olympians as the victors. For hundreds of years, that was all that anyone needed to know, but Zeus knew. He hadn’t ever spoken about it with his other siblings. That was their story to tell on their own time. He would never force or demand an explanation. Ironically, it was the depiction in the texts of the Dead Men that led Hera to discuss it with Zeus at all.
“We weren’t swallowed like candy. We were consumed,” she would say. A distinction that on the surface appeared merely semantic, yet there was a deeper and darker subtext behind the words.
Zeus knew what the truth was, and that truth made his urgent desire to get her home that much more desperate. There were only a handful of people who could find the place where Hera was being kept, fewer still that he could call upon to do anything for him now.
“Thanatos,” Zeus spoke the name aloud. In an instant, he was transported to where the Primordial called home. A dark cottage in a dark section of the Underworld. Quaint, really. A simple abode for a being that performed a thankless and burdensome task.
“Good man, are you home? I have an urgent need,” Zeus asked into the doorway as he remained a respectful distance back. Even the King of the Gods respected the sanctity of a man’s home.
“Yes, Mr. Zeus, I am,” came the reply. “It must be of some need for you to come to me.”
Zeus took one step forward, a gesture of immediacy.
“Hera. I know where she is. I can’t get to her. I need a door,” he rushed through the words.
Thanatos simply nodded, turned back into his cottage, and returned with his scythe in hand. A sign that he needed no further prodding.
“I need an anchor. Either to the realm or her,” Thanatos said.
Zeus thought quickly, searched his thoughts for something that connected him to his beloved. Suddenly he flipped his long white locks to the side, revealing a small item tucked behind his left ear. It was a hairpin, something that Hera had given him many moons ago, but was immediately recognizable once he pulled it from his mane. He handed the item to Thanatos.
“A peacock?” Thanatos asked. “I thought you hated them?”
“I do,” Zeus said, “but she loves them.”
Thanatos cocked his head to the side, indicating that was all the explanation he needed. With the pin in his possession, he grabbed the scythe. Magic rippled in the air, Zeus had forgotten how much power resided in the Primordial. He was a constant force of nature, but to bear witness was a reminder that Zeus had sat too long on his throne and had forgotten who the Gods were.
The scythe moved and cut through the air with the ease and practiced precision of a master. A sweeping arc sliced through the fabric of reality in front of them both. The gap widened, the slow but growing hole became a doorway. Thanatos stepped back and gestured with a hand for Zeus to take a step through. Without another moment’s hesitation, Zeus strode forward into the domain of his father, Kronus.
From the dark and damp Underworld, Zeus stepped into a black forest. A quiet, if haunting, scene. The trees were tall, thick, and with them came a sense of impending doom. A lingering presence hung in the air. Behind Zeus, Thanatos stood with scythe in hand, and surveyed the surroundings.
“We are not welcome here. I would expect resistance. Move with speed,” Thanatos warned.
Zeus moved forward with a start. Any sense of pain, weakness, or other malaise that he had felt since returning from the Ethereal realm was gone. This was Zeus, focused, prepared, and determined. Thanatos followed behind, a quiet spectre providing security. They traveled down the path they were on until a small length of fence appeared. A border to a small patch of land upon which a building sat. A nondescript cottage, truthfully not that different from the home Thanatos kept. The trees slowly swayed, yet no wind compelled them. Something knew they were there, and that something was not happy to entertain trespassers.
“Go to the door. I will remain outside.” Thanatos said.
Zeus ran to the door of the little house, looking for any sign of occupation or life. Nothing. It was all dark. “Hera!” Zeus called. “Hera, please. Are you here?”
The pressure quickly changed outside. Weight, heavy and sustained, assaulted the shoulders of Zeus. Something was coming, and it was trying to squeeze the life out of the unwelcome visitors before it arrived. The door opened with a creak and a groan, revealing a girl. “Who the hell are you?” she said, not at all happy to meet him. Her eyes squinted slightly, perhaps suspicion, perhaps recognition. He couldn’t tell.
“I’m Zeus, I’m here to rescue you,” he said.
The girl stared dumbfounded at him. “Aren’t you a little old to be a hero?”
Thanatos whirled around at the fence line. A foreboding dance. If he was becoming anxious, there was very little time to waste. “Yes. I am a very old man, but you aren’t as young as you think you are. You’re Hera. Queen of the Gods and, um, my wife. I am here to take you home.”
Hera laughed at him. “Bullshit.”
The pressure increased again. Pain shot through his muscles, an increasing sense of collapse heavy in his mind. A faint voice lingered on the edge of his mind. Something at once familiar and unknown. Thanatos turned back to Zeus and called out. “I would ready the bolt, Mr. Zeus. We are about to be overrun.”
Zeus turned to him and yelled back, “I don’t have it.”
Hera snorted. “Some hero you are. I’m not going anywhere with you,” she said as she pulled the door closed. Zeus shot an arm out to grab the door, halting its progress.
“I know this is all very sudden and very weird,” Zeus stammered, trying to find words that would reach this girl who was his wife. ” I need you to hear me. You are trapped here. This isn’t your home. It’s a torture chamber built by a man who doesn’t know you. He’s trying to make you believe you aren’t you. You told me once this place consumes you, it squeezes the life out of you so that you can’t even stand. I need you to trust me.”
Hera looked at Zeus in confusion. “Why? Who am I to you?”
“You are the reason I am what I am. You are the strength in my heart, the fire in my eyes. You are the most beautiful creature that has ever lived, and every day without you has been worse than death. Something I sadly have experience in,” Zeus said. “You are the only thing in all of existence that makes any sense to me, and I cannot lose you. Come home.”
She slowly moved out from behind the door as it closed. “I need you to believe that I love you.”
Hera nodded her head and hesitantly gave her hand to Zeus.
Thanatos ran from the fence to the stoop of the door. “We are out of time.”
There was a rush of wind and a crack of thunder that followed behind the Reaper of Souls. The pressure was becoming a crushing weight. He felt his knees beginning to buckle underneath him. In the distance, along the trail they had come down, a darkness took away all available light as it crept closer. In the void were a set of eyes, and a voice that cried out from the chaos.
“I am coming to end you, Son.”
Hera recoiled at the sound of the formless voice. Zeus picked her up into his arms, as Thanatos began carving the fabric of the realm to create another door. The darkness and crushing pressure did not let up as they made their way through the door. Gasping for air, they fell through. Thanatos sealed the door quickly behind them and collapsed onto a knee.
“You don’t pay me enough for this,” the reaper said.
Zeus coughed and tried to stymie a laugh. “Consider your retainer doubled.”