The hotel that Zeus was directed to was really just a desk in the center of the station. A concierge, or what amounted to one, stood behind it with absolutely no life in his eyes. “At least this one isn’t a puff of smoke,” Zeus said to himself.
The discussion with Kali at the Ether Pit led the King of Storms to a conclusion he wasn’t fond of. He knew who ‘The Lucifer’ was, and he would’ve liked it better had it been the fallen prodigal son of Trinity Inc. At least Lucy was a better host. This Lucifer, the former Dawn Bringer of antiquity, was originally known as Phosphorus.
Zeus had to make some tough personnel decisions many moons ago, shortly after the end of the Titanomachy. With the forced retirement of his uncle Helios, who ended up in the Tartarus Correctional Facility with the rest of his kin, the job of bringing light to the mortals was open. Hesperus Phosphorus, the Dawn Bringer, seemed like a natural fit. In what would become a theme during the early years of the Olympus Administration, nepotism became policy, and
Phosphorus was replaced by the favored son of Zeus: Apollo.
It didn’t take a genius to recognize the pickle that Zeus currently found himself in. He had no power here, the issue with calling the bolt to his aid proved that. And then there was the fact that sometime since Apollo had claimed the position that should have been his, Phosphorus had chosen to adopt a name that was most often identified with an agent of a rival administration. It was pretty clear to Zeus that Phosphorus was trying to appear to be something, or someone, of major importance.
“Greetings, traveler, what kind of accommodation do you need? We have all manner of luxuries for your soul. Can we have your name?” the lifeless attendant said, waking Zeus from his introspection.
“Zeus Jupiter Olympus,” the king of the gods said dryly, only half paying attention. There were so many things on his mind, so many thoughts scrambling to be the focus: what did ‘disconnected’ mean? How did a poet get power enough to nearly kill the Lord of Storms? Would he ever get home? What was happening in Olympus with him being dead, or only mostly dead?
“SIR!” the attendant yelled, snapping Zeus out of his daze.“If you please, you are expected: Zeus Jupiter Olympus.” The voice seemed to be a script, with his name being a line tacked on at the end.
“Even in the AfterWorld, robots do the work,” Zeus thought to himself while trying not to make eye contact with the empty shell of a bellhop.
“Please see yourself to the nearest lift. Your room is on the 29th floor. Mind the gap,” the attendant droned on, holding an arm out wide to indicate the direction Zeus needed to walk.
“Expected?” he thought. What the hells did that mean? Slowly, he headed towards the nearest lift, confused, weary, and defeated. He paused as he came to a platform that hovered just above the ground. An elevator without a tube, just the square base to stand on. No sides. No handholds, and exposed to the environment. As Zeus approached, the blue beam of light extending between two pillars on either side faded, opening the way for him. He stepped tentatively onto the platform and nearly fell, as a heartbeat after he set his feet in place, the lift took off. It was an incredibly odd sensation, objectively seeing the ground beneath him get farther and farther away, yet feeling no air or gravity against his form. He felt nothing at all. The only reason he knew he was moving was that he saw it with his eyes, had they been closed, it wouldn’t have registered. Zeus took a chance and looked up. The floors above were rapidly coming into focus, but the feeling in the pit of one’s stomach, of weightlessness or movement, never came.
“29th floor. Mind the gap,” a disembodied voice chimed.
The moment he could, Zeus exited the lift. The sensation was disconcerting and foreign, and he didn’t like it at all. On the interior balcony, he counted down the doors to find room 29. He realized that he wasn’t given a key, although it turned out it wasn’t an issue when the door opened on its own as he got close.
“This is fucking creepy,” Zeus blurted out entering the room. Inside, he found absolutely nothing that would have indicated to him that this was a hotel room. There was no bed, no bathroom, no closet. The creepiest bit though, was the lone office chair sitting in the middle of the room, an envelope perched on the seat. The rest of the room was totally barren.
“Remind me to never die again,” Zeus chided himself for being in this position at all. He closed the door and moved further into the room, picking up the envelope from the chair. Zeus had an impressive number of epithets and titles, some were self-given, others earned through various deeds, or more often misdeeds. The one word printed on the heavy paper was a common word in the mortal tongues, but among the many titles that Zeus had, this one was unique. This name was one of the only things he had left of her. It was the name his mother called him when he was hidden away on the island of Crete: Basileus.
Zeus turned and sat in the chair, examining the envelope. The seal was of an eagle, a majestic animal that he was fond of changing into from time to time. Heavy wax, strong vellum paper, it was an old envelope, it had to be, he hadn’t seen his mother for…so many years. How long has it been? Zeus felt an emotion he had thought lost to him for all time: guilt. He and his mother had a complicated relationship, and history only told parts of the tale.
Zeus was the youngest of the six Olympians, the only child not to be swallowed by his father, Kronus. She hid Zeus on Crete, guarded by protectors, for nearly twenty years. Perhaps it was twenty, maybe more. The Olympians aged so differently than mortals, time wasn’t such a limited thing to them. The Titanomachy had strained everyone’s relationships. Zeus became king, the Basileus, Sovereign of Olympus.
In his hands, he felt the envelope tremble and drop. He couldn’t bring himself to read it. “What would it say?” he thought. “Where has she gone?” There were questions that even he, the King of the Gods, had no answers to. She had missed the lives of five of her children while they were trapped by Kronus, and immediately upon their release, a war broke out. Kronus eventually ended up in prison. Rhea had no husband, a tumultuous relationship with her children, if any relationship at all. So she left, and now, in this place, Zeus realized he missed his mother in a way he could not reconcile alone in this empty room.
He knew he had to read it. There was nothing else but the letter. “This is some bullshit, mom,” he said, as he leaned over to pick the envelope up from the floor. He was scared, that was the tingle in his throat, fear. Zeus had always been brave, he had fought beasts and monsters, even a rogue Olympian or twelve, but he had never been afraid before. The one thing he wanted in this universe, more than anything, was held back by something he was afraid to experience: grief.
Zeus took the letter out of its envelope and unfolded it. The words on the page were carefully and expertly written. The language was old, ancient by mortal standards, and in a tongue Zeus hadn’t spoken aloud in millennia, but he could still read it:
“I know this is not the way it should go, but we never really had a chance to talk, did we? I suppose this is me, not grasping the reality of our circumstance. I do not expect you to approve of my departure, but I do want you to understand why I felt it was the right thing to do. Kronus was the love of my life (I know that the stories may say something different, but this is why we replace Scribes from time to time, is it not? They cannot tell the story as it is, only how they think it should be.) I loved him, and for a time, he loved me. To my horror, that was not enough. When Gaia saw in him the same evil that infected his father, Uranus, she wanted to warn him. The prophecy was only for him to take caution of his father’s sins, not to repeat them. When we had children, it was not the joyous and miraculous affair they all should be. No, it was a daily nightmare. Child by child he took them, swallowed them away, and hid them from me. By the time I had the courage to fight back, he had already taken five of you. I have fought with myself, and even with the Fates, to understand why it took me so many years and children, to take a stand. By the time, I realized what I needed to do, I only had you left. I will always feel I failed them, leaving them to be alone with a father who thought they would be his ruin.
I have left word for each of them to find, in time. I trust that they will know the truth, as well as I can tell it. For you, my youngest, I know the burden that was thrust upon you. I never wanted to have you grow up to fight against him and our kin. I feel that I am, in no small part, responsible for the war that tore us apart. That is not what a family does. A family should never be the source of pain and sadness. I could not bear that burden, it was all-consuming to be the catalyst for war. A family should be the greatest source of strength anyone has. If only they can see it. Our place in the sky is to be an example for the mortals to see and take into their hearts, yet I fear they only see war, anger, hate, selfishness, and vanity.
Forgive them, Zeus, forgive all of them. Our immortal lives are not worth living if they are only lived to punish and resent those who have wronged us. I see in you the greatest parts of what our kind can be. Use it to build a home for all of them. Your children, your kin, they are not your enemy. I wish I could be there to see you be the man, the king, that I know you are capable of being. It was my choice to leave, difficult as it was.
Be good for them, my little Basileus. They need to know that kindness is the way, not punishment. Be the strength and the power behind the light, not the focal point for the empty and evil.
I will always be your mother, just look to the stars and you will see me.”
Zeus let the letter fall to the ground. He just sat there, staring blankly at the barren wall in front of him. “What the hells did I think this was going to be?” he thought. He stirred in the chair, discomfort rapidly building in him. He shifted side to side in the seat multiple times. Finally, he jumped up and grabbed the back of the chair, and with all of the strength he could muster in this “in-between” realm, he smashed it against the wall.
“I fucking died, Mom!” he screamed, remnants of the chair falling to his feet. “I died! And you’re not here!” he cried out. His hands trembled as he ran them through his long, braided hair.
“I don’t know what to do, and you’re not here to tell me.” He slumped onto the floor, bits and pieces of the broken chair bounced a bit when he landed.
“I lost,” he began, “I fought, I lost, and I died.” The release of anger quickly turned into something else. The rage the King of Storms was known for evaporated, now he was struggling to keep his emotions in check. His thoughts stuck in his mind and his words caught in his throat. The warm sensation of liquid spread down his cheeks and into his beard. Zeus cried openly. He nervously kept running his hands through his hair, searching for something he could hold onto, a reason to remain angry.
“Dad was a fucking tyrant and I beat him! I won!” he yelled loudly to the walls. “You should have stayed! You should have stayed and been with us! We needed you! I needed you!” Anger once again rose in him; the familiar tension in his shoulders, the racing heartbeat, tears flooding his vision. He launched himself into the air once more and began recklessly pounding against the wall.
“You should have stayed!” he cried out again, striking the wall with each word.
“Why didn’t you stay!” His fist landed flush with the wall, which gave no ground.
“I built an empire and you were gone!” Another strike, the wall continued to hold. Punch after punch, strike after strike, the wall held. Zeus felt each blow land, his anger rising with each attempt, and yet the wall showed no signs of defect.
“I died and you aren’t here!” the King of the Gods screamed at the top of his lungs. He called upon all of the strength inside him, using the pain in his words to punish the wall for not bowing to his violent command.
“I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO!” he cried to all the heavens. His words carried all the weight and power of a man who had lost all direction. In one final blow, one final and vicious strike, he struck the wall. A sudden and bright explosion of lightning shot from the fist of Zeus. The bolt had returned! The build up of aggression and grief was too much for this ‘in-between’ realm to handle, and the entire room shattered. The walls exploded outward into the void, fragments and shards of the facsimile of a structure faded. A shield of electricity surrounded Zeus, the familiar embrace of the lightning that he was famous for.
He paid no attention. Zeus was on his knees, resting on whatever it was that made up the floor of this now…wide open space.
Zeus wept for the first time in his life. An immortal sovereign, a powerful god, a king of the skies cried, for the first time in forty thousand years.
Years upon years of pent up sadness fell away. The epochs and centuries of time he had lived with this pent up inside of him, all released in a deluge of tears.
When his eyes could no longer cry, and when his lungs could no longer carry air, Zeus fell onto the floor and drifted into a deep and dark expanse of nothingness. The void carried him, such as it could carry anyone, safely held to its breast and allowed him an earned level of peace.