I leaned back in my chair, leather creaking, as I propped my feet up on the expansive mahogany desk before me, eyes scanning my office. Bookshelves encircled the room, filled with tomes of lore, magics, personal journals, encyclopedias, botanist catalogs, autobiographies, the lot. A liquor cabinet rested opposite my desk, filled with the finest of scotch, bourbon, vodka, and wine. Ferns and rubber trees mixed with the dark stone and wood I used to create this space, while floor to ceiling windows to the right of my desk allowed unimpeded viewing of the gardens.
My gaze glanced over the Gem of Tartarus, back gleaming on its pedestal between two bookshelves, then to what used to be an immaculate desktop. Sheaves of paper and ink bottles lay scattered before me, notebooks propped open, two maps, a compass, and a GPS, all tossed on the desk without a care. It irritated me – when had I become so disorganized? But when I moved to correct the mess, I paused.
What was I doing? I mean, what was I really doing? I sat back heavily, holding my hands out and examining them like I had never seen them before, and I wondered when they had switched to autopilot. My projects, my endeavors – what in the twin hells do they even mean anymore? What were my endeavors worth? I found myself second guessing so much I had taken for granted for so long.
I rose from my seat, hands deep in my suit pant pockets as I meandered outside, where a path led me directly into one of my many manicured gardens. A marble gazebo sat beneath a towering willow tree, surrounded by asters and daylilies that swayed gently. I followed the stone trail between rows of sunflowers and delphiniums, the floral mixture wafting through the air relaxed my thoughts for a few moments, and I let myself enjoy this space I had brought to life. Imagine that, Hades the Creator.
A creator. Maybe that’s what I was. Did the Underworld not hold an appeal to me anymore?
I settled myself on a bench inside the gazebo, where I could look out into Groves. A sea of pastel purple and gold drifted back and forth outside the Grove, until the earth ran into the Mnemosyne. I used to walk there often with Persephone, many turns ago. I have not seen her in a long time, and perhaps that is for the best. There was many a time I knew she would have preferred to be topside with Demeter, and yet she came here regardless. I respect someone of their word, but it is blindingly clear that the goddess of spring is only performing a duty now, not something of love or contentment. And, I suppose in a twist of irony that is not lost on me, it is fitting that I have become a mere memory to her. But it is not a one-way stance: I have not much considered her presence for a long time. And it didn’t particularly bother me. Feeling restless, I left the gazebo and headed east, towards the Welcome Center.
When you die, you arrive on the shores of the Styx River. I am told it is quite a sight to behold when you first arrive here, but I have always enjoyed the views from this side of the waters. Charon, one of the many sons and daughters of Nyx, ferries these arrivals to the Welcome Center – for a fee, of course. If you come with no admission fee, you will be waiting for some time to get settled into your new home.
I have not been down to the Center in years – if I give you a job, you will do it. I should not have to check in on your productivity, and if I do, we have a problem. However, my curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to make the walk.
There was nothing extraordinary about this place – if you walked to your local visitor’s center, it would be of a similar experience coming to the Welcome Center. The only difference is that here, there are spirits, a few imps, and sometimes Thanatos. Today, there is no one. The reception desk was empty, save for the neat stack of forms and an outdated computer. The floor was spotless, the guest seating was aligned perfectly, and the door to my office behind the desk was shut tight. And there was no one here.
I stepped around to my office, opening the door slowly, and the smell of cigars and cologne filled my nose. Guess I forgot to air it out. I moved inside, examining my workspace. It was much the same as my home office, though with less of a personal touch. Where there were plant life and decor from around the world at home, only filing cabinets and tissues for watery eyes took up space here. No forms sat waiting for me to go over, no new citizens of the Underworld to speak with. Just as well.
I left the Welcome Center, heading towards the Styx, when a sudden current ran through my shoulders and down my arms. A long smile grew on my face, the first true one I have had in some time, and I turned around to see my youngest brother, Zeus, standing before me.
A grin spread over his face, and we clasped arms, pulling each other into a brief hug. Stepping back, Zeus looked me up and down.
“You look good for an old man.”
“Is that all you came to say?” I smiled at him, before beckoning him to join me as I started down towards the water.
“No, but it’s as good a start as any.”
We walked in silence for a few moments.
“So, what brings you to the land of the dead, brother? You do not often venture this way unless there is a good reason, so I assume you have one.”
We had reached the shoreline and stopped a few feet from where the water crept up the banks. The Styx was a poignant colour of gunmetal, usually still running unless Charon was crossing over. Zeus came up beside me, hands behind his back.
“Nothing business related.” He caught my raised eyebrow and shrugged. “It happens once in a blue moon. I wanted to know if you would do dinner with Poseidon and me.”
I turned to face him properly now. “How whimsical of you. What has brought on this bout of nostalgia? You are not usually one to fall for such things.”
Zeus considered me for a moment. “I need family around me that understands where I come from. Not everyone can see the goals we need to reach, but from what I remember, you used to be one of those people.”
I nodded once, hands in my pockets as I turned back to the Styx. “I understand, and I would enjoy having the three of us reacquainted, but…” I sighed. “I am somewhat at a loss at what to do with myself, never mind the three of us. I fear I would be less than useful if you require something from me. It’s nothing personal, Zeus,” I added, turning back to my brother.
“That’s a first,” he commented, smirking. When I shook my head, he clapped a hand on my shoulder. “Take the time you need. We’re not going anywhere.” And with a nod to me, he disappeared. And now I had even more on my mind.
I walked back home, mind rolling over my options. I could continue on with my autopilot, which is what I have always done. Nothing changing, nothing really happening. Existence at its base level. Very dead, and very me. I could go cold turkey and become an entirely different god – take my everyday and throw it out the window. I did not much like the idea of a complete one-eighty, but maybe it would work. Or I could be reasonable, and just take it one task at a time.
I reached my front doors, the gold and iron glimmering as I let myself in. The hall was quiet, just how I preferred it – but maybe that was it? Maybe it has been too quiet.
“The hermit king, indeed,” I muttered to myself, heading to the sitting room and pouring myself a drink. Maybe one task at a time would be the best option. Change was not something I fit into well. And if I was going to start, well…I best start with the most glaring change. I needed to speak with Persephone.