A creak echoes from the front of my cell as the sound of metal on stone pierces the emptiness. I lift my head from my sleeping position curled up in the corner, my hair stuck to the sides of my face after my most recent fever dream. Moving a few strands to the side, I lean forward as the door to my prison swings open. I wait a few moments expecting to see someone walk in, or a voice to flutter into my room, but nothing happens.
“Hello?” I call out, my voice raspy and hoarse. I wait for a response, but none comes. Only the hollow, empty screams and begs fill the halls. “Is someone there, or is this some weird peep show we’re trying out now?”
Still nothing. Hmm. I place a hand on the wall, steadying myself as I stand. Using it as leverage, I make my way to the front of my cell, stopping short. This has to be another nightmare. But if it is, where is my companion to lead me into torture?
He is my warden, for lack of better terms. He has visited me before and any visitors I had passed through him. He always opens the door. Unless…
“D-Dad?” my voice rings out, faint, questioning.
Has he come back? Has he found Hera? Or was it too late, and he came back to finish me off for the death of his wife? The thought sends a shiver down my spine. Maybe I had been too late to give my information over, or I led him to a dead end. Literally. I wait for something to happen, a shout or a yell, but still nothing. After a few minutes, I decide no one is coming, nightmare or real. Hesitantly, I lift my hand, trying to press on the shadowed wall, but it goes straight through. There is no more barrier. Impossible.
I don’t stop to question it as I run so fast from my cell I crash sideways into the wall in front of me. Not hesitating, I dissipate and shoot through the lower pit of Tartarus. I reform on a higher level right as the Hecatoncheires make their rounds once more. Their footsteps thud on the ground, echoing through the entire place. No wonder I heard them below. Were they always so loud? I don’t have time for another thought as I dissipate once more, blending into the shadows against the wall. They walk in opposite directions, always watching, always waiting. I am unaware if they even know I am free, but I am in no mood to find out or in any shape to fight. I wait a few seconds longer before seeing my opportunity. I zip between them and out of Tartarus.
After going through several layers of the Underworld, I reform at the edge of the River Styx. Fuck. How could I forget? I don’t have any coins to pass. Had Tartarus rotted my brain so much that I forgot about the only way in and out? I have been so headstrong on just fucking leaving. I turn back towards the entrance of the Underworld and think briefly of going back and stealing some coin to pay. But I can’t risk being seen or caught again. I won’t go back. I refuse.
I don’t have time to form another plan when water splashes behind me. A sign I am no longer alone. I turn to see Charon rowing to the shore. His boat stops, pushing pebbles and stone beneath it as it settles. I half expect him to grunt or make a gesture or something at seeing me. I know I look like I have been through Tartarus and back, which I have. My hair is matted and unkempt, I am covered in dirt, and I smell like the cell I was in for the last thousand years. I weigh my options and figure they are slim to none, so I went with option C.
I move fast, landing on the boat and grabbing Charon by the throat. I don’t lift him up. I can’t, so I just hold him tight enough to crush the windpipe he never uses. I let my small reserve of power slip from me, but I have little to spare. I am weak. Malnourished. Tired.
“Let me pass,” I grit out, commanding as my eyes bore into his.
I mean to compel him, and for a second, I think it works as he tries to move his arm. My gaze follows it, and I see an envelope on the seat of the boat. I let go of him, eyeing him cautiously. Sitting down, I look from him and back as I pop the sealed line open and take out a single piece of paper. At first, it looks like it has nothing on it until I flip it over.
E? Had he? I swallow, my heart hammering like a caged bird in my chest. I don’t think too much on that. I can’t right now. I look back in the envelope, still eying Charon. The weight of it still feels off, like something is inside. I turn it upside down and out falls a single drachma.
When I get out of that boat, the first thing I do is to get the fuck out of the Underworld. Or I at least try to. The elevator that greets me tells me there is only one way out, and that is up. Pressing the button, I wait until the doors open and hurry inside. The door closes behind me, and for the first time since my cell door opened, I let out a breath. I rake my hands through the mass atop my head as the elevator goes up and then stops. I have a moment of panic as it stops, the doors behind me open to a bright white hallway. I raise my arms to cover my eyes. The room itself is blinding. All I see is a thick white light in front of me. I squint as a silhouette of a woman slowly comes into view.
“Atë, we have been expecting you,” her cheery voice echoes.
My eyes start to adjust as a headache forms. Expecting me? Her form soon comes into view as the lights seem to blind me a little less. For the life of me, I do not know who this mortal is. She is dressed in normal business attire with a handful of papers and notebooks. She gets in the elevator and presses a button. The doors close behind us as she turns back around, smiling.
“I have everything prepared for your transition per request. Miss Persephone left these instructions for your rehabilitation and housing. You will be on the fortieth floor. You have rehabilitation meetings every other day at 11:00 a.m. sharp.” She continues talking to me as she hands over files, paperwork, a tablet, and a cell phone. I catch it all, trying to juggle it and pay attention to what she is saying.
“She will call you on this. You are not to lose it. Miss Persephone will return from her cruise in a few days. That leaves you plenty of time to get readjusted to the world again since your,” she pauses, looking at me up and down in distaste, “recent housing.”
There is a ding and the doors open. She clasps her hands together and steps out, waiting for me to follow. I squint once again as a bright lobby blinds me. I leave the comfort of the elevator, still grappling with all that is in my hands. Static buzzes through the walls, causing me to jerk my head to the side. Phones start ringing through walls, people’s voices come in, laughter fills the halls. I drop to my knees, covering my ears. It is too much. The papers and files fall scattering on the floor. The mortal drops next to me, picking everything up and reaching to check on me. Her hand touches my shoulder, sending another wave of sensation through me. I am not used to feeling. Contact hurts.
I reach forward, grabbing her wrist painfully tight. She yelps as I stand and yank her to her feet.
“Leave,” I say through gritted teeth. “I need you no longer.”
Her eyes glaze over, which tells me mine are alight. She nods, dropping what she picked up and heads towards the elevator without looking back. I sway weakly, using my hands on my knees to stay upright. My head throbs as the lights continue to assault me, the noises overwhelming.
Imagine being stuck in a small room full of darkness for what felt like a thousand years. No light, barely any sounds besides the screams wafting through the halls, and then returning to life as if nothing happened. My senses are horrifically overstimulated.
I reach down the best I can, gathering the pages, phone, and tablet. The front has my name and picture.
Atë, Goddess of Mischief and Ruin
*Proceed with caution*
I don’t read the rest. I don’t care. I stumble blindly to the door and turn the handle. The room itself is large, but again I don’t care. I place the items I have on a nearby table and fumble around to every lightbulb and shatter them. I make sure every switch is set to off until it is completely and utterly dark. I head to the large room on the far left and turn the doorknob. A bedroom greets me with yet more lights that I destroy. My headache eases as I slide to the floor at the foot of the bed. I pull my legs up to my chest and wrap my arms around them, surveying the room.
Is Hera alive? Safe? Did my bargaining work? Did Zeus set me free? Am I imagining all of this? Another nightmare? Did I really escape or just trade one prison for another? I have so many questions and no answers. My mind wanders for what feels like hours as I stare at the large dresser in front of me. Suddenly sounds cut my thoughts off. I jerk my head down, looking at the floor and then upwards as I hear footsteps. Footsteps. Like the Hecatoncheires.
So I count.