I was sitting minding my own business, well…sort of. I had my eye on Atë as she made her way to the bathroom. Her smirk said it all. She was ditching me. I mean, I wasn’t surprised. I expected it. The group of women circling me was a gas, and I couldn’t help but laugh. If Atë thought I would be interested in any of these fawning mortals, she was sorely mistaken. I watched her disappear into the bathroom. Knowing she would have already turned into black mist and snuck out the door, I didn’t bother getting out of my seat. After the hoards of women left me alone, I finished my breakfast in peace. If Atë wanted to play hide and seek, I would let her hide, and I’d just count reaaal slow.
I made my way to the GC and rode the elevator down, all the way down until the doors slid open, revealing the dark Underworld. Most people thought it dismal, but this was my home. I hadn’t frequented here much since the divorce, but I felt like I could finally return with the recent abdication. My advice to anyone, don’t get married if you think it will end in divorce. They take you for half of everything, and sometimes that means your living quarters.
It was excellent timing as things above ground were becoming, shall I say, less private. The After Dark, while a perfect outfit to hide what I was really doing, was no longer the best place for me to operate. Especially on the off chance that Atë could figure things out. Sharing a home with her made things a bit risky, and I couldn’t chance her seeing anything. For her safety. At least that’s what I was telling myself.
As Charon maneuvered the ferry up to the shore, I could see that something was wrong. He looked annoyed. My son was a god of few words, but I knew someone had wronged him. I looked him in the eye, my shadows circling him. A familiar feeling hit me in the gut. Her scent lingered here. Atë? I swept the area with my gaze. There was no sign of her, but she had definitely been here.
“Was Atë here?”
Charon’s eyes said it all. What was she up to? Did she know what I was doing? Nah. I had been very careful. I slapped Charon on the shoulder.
“Don’t worry. She has that effect on a lot of people.”
Handing my son the drachma, I sat down while we crossed the river. If Atë had known what I was up to, I was sure she would have stayed to hang around. Whatever her business was down here, it didn’t have anything to do with me.
I made my way to the House of Shadows. I hadn’t been here in months. To be honest, after Atë had been locked up in Tartarus, I felt guilty for coming here without being able to see her. I had covered all the furniture and turned the lights out, leaving my home in the dark. Now, as I walked through the heavy wood doors, I took a deep breath, feeling a weight lift from my shoulders. The mortals got one thing right. It is Home Sweet Home. I waved my hand, and in one liquid motion, all the candelabra flared to life. The light flickered, warm and welcoming, and a slow smile turned up the corners of my mouth. It didn’t take me long to settle back in.
I went to my study, where I kept a plethora of relics that would make even Clio jealous. Sitting behind my oversized desk, I pulled a key from the breast pocket of my jacket and unlocked the hidden vault in the wood plank floor. The door squeaked open, showing its age. Reaching inside, I pulled out a black velvet pouch, no bigger than my hand. I was surprised by the weight of it. Had it been that long since I last saw its contents? Putting the bag on my desk, I rifled through some papers I had tucked away for safekeeping. There were stocks and investments. I took mild pleasure in playing with the markets. Hidden in the back was the second thing I had come for. I pulled out the old photograph I kept safely tucked away. Its corners were brittle, and the picture itself had faded immensely. But I knew what it was, or rather who it was. I had stared at the picture enough times that the memory of it was burned into the back of my mind. The distractions of late had kept me busy and my mind free of what I had spent well over a millennium searching long and hard for.
The two men staring back at me in the picture were young looking in mortal years. But as immortals, we were more like middle-aged, maybe even older. It’s hard to put that kind of label on a god. Zagreus and I had been like brothers. Granted, he would have been my much younger brother, but that didn’t matter. It didn’t even bother me that his dad was Zeus. He was my best friend, and we always had each other’s back. Where one went, so did the other. We had a bromance before that was even a thing. We fought side by side in wars together, drank ourselves into oblivion when it was all over, and did it all over again. He was an Underworld god like myself. Family was family.
I sat back in my chair, my shadows unfurling all around me as I thought about what happened all those years ago. His death had been the hardest thing I’d dealt with in my entire existence. Not even my divorce pained me half as much. The failure of my marriage was inevitable, but Zagreus’s death had taken me by surprise. I wasn’t there when it happened, and the guilt I felt over that followed me everywhere. I should have been there for him, but I’d had a last-minute family obligation I couldn’t skip. Zagreus was all by himself. He died alone. He was out tying one on, celebrating something frivolous, I was sure. On his way home, he wandered into an old Titan territory. Normally, this wasn’t something we worried about. After the Titanomachy, all the Titans were supposedly locked up in Tartarus. No one saw it coming, least of all Zagreus.
A small group of mortals had gathered and began following Zag. Of course, it was of no concern to him. They were mortals. Even in his drunken state, he would have been able to take them all out with his eyes closed. But because of his inebriation, he hadn’t realized they were corralling him. They herded him right to the Titan, Melisseus. We were told Zag didn’t go down easy, nor would I expect anything different from him. After he had beaten the mortals to a pulp, Melisseus attacked him. He had shifted into a million bees, swarming Zagreus, numbing his body with each stinging dose of venom. He was unable to move or defend himself, making the kill long and torturous. Melisseus dismembered him, removing limb after limb until there was nothing left. Well, almost nothing.
I spent decade after decade tracking Melisseus. Waiting for the exact moment, I could exact my revenge. During my endless searching, I had come across a few people who had shown kindness to Melisseus by way of harboring or feeding him. Any such person had met their own demise. The fact that this had carried on for as long as it had pissed me off. Melisseus was always one step ahead of me. I had questioned Titan after Titan. And by questioned, I meant threatened them to within an inch of their life, but not a single one would give him up.
I leaned forward, taking the velvet pouch in my hand. Untying the drawstring, I emptied the contents into my palm. It was all that was left of Zagreus. The only thing remaining was his heart, crystalized by the thick honey that covered it. It was Melisseus’s calling card, a present of the dear departed.
I placed the beautifully gruesome trophy at the center of the desk. My shadows circled me, making the candles flicker. A cold hand swept over my chest, squeezing at my heart. I looked around for Thanatos, but I knew he wasn’t here. It might have been Zag himself, but I knew better than to hope for that. Anything goes in the Underworld. I would have to check the wards on my house. Maybe some of them needed to be redone.
I put Zag’s crystallized heart back into the velvet pouch. Enough reminiscing.
I turned the laptop on and punched in the passcode. Time to get to work. Pretending to be out of touch with everything topside was part of my cover. Being a deejay, the television show, all of it was to distract immortals from what I was really doing. No one knew what I was really up to, and I wanted it to stay that way. Than was the only one I suspected who might know anything. I clicked away at the keys, writing new code and opening a zip file that held the latest leads to Melisseus.
It also held all the incriminating documents of my dark deeds. What was next on my list? I flipped through the electronic files. My cursor hovered over top of one: HL. I double-clicked on it. The document was over fifty pages long, filled with names, thousands of them. Even though each name filled a hole in my darkness, the list itself was a reminder of every mark—every man, woman, and child I had killed over the years. All immortals had baggage. Some dealt with twisted personalities, narcissistic tendencies, bright shining and open hearts, and then there were the ones like mine, with closed, dark hollow pits.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I didn’t feel any remorse for taking their lives. Each soul weighed on me and filled my darkness literally. Every soul passed through my shadows before finding their final resting place in the Underworld. Each of them leaving a mark of their own on me. Besides, I only killed the truly dark ones. I know what you’re thinking. How could a child be such a menace that their death would be justified? But psychopaths weren’t made. They were born. The really bad ones didn’t deserve the air they breathed. Sometimes the monsters weren’t the ones with pointy teeth and fiery breath, but the mortals who had a screw or two loose. No amount of rehabilitation could save them. My eyes darted from one name to the next.
I closed my HL file and went back to the one on Melisseus. Reaching into my coat pocket, I pulled out a piece of paper and unfolded it. Written in black ink was a phone number and my latest tip. Helios was still trying to make amends. He hadn’t been much help in the past, but was trying to make up for it now. I knew better than to call the number right away. I had made that mistake in the past. Calling a number only tipped them off and allowed them to jump ship. I hacked into a few government systems and ran the phone number through. A few red flags went up, but I found an address. It wasn’t Melisseus, but it was the closest lead I’d had in a decade.
It wasn’t that I needed revenge. I could find Melisseus tomorrow and, with a twist of my ring, be rid of him forever. But sending him to the dark abyss of a black hole wouldn’t ease the pain in my heart. It wouldn’t fix the gaping hole in my life, and it certainly wouldn’t bring back Zag.
No, what I wanted was something I had never done before, and the last thing one would expect.