What Nem means to say is lost to Polus as we are pulled into the shadows. My wings open, and we stand outside of her home on Lake Fovos.
“…g…good life,” she finishes, her face still buried in my chest.
She pulls away, realizing where we now stand. She takes a couple of steps back, looking around confused, like a caged animal. Her breathing is hard and rapid. The small beast moves to her, and Nem scoops Ky up in her arms, holding her to her breast. This seems to calm and put her at ease.
“I brought you home, Nem,” I say calmly.
She nods, holding onto the small beast.
“Nem, when was the last time you slept? What is happening? Tell me, I beg you,” I say, closing the distance between us.
She takes a deep breath, and her reserve cracks, the words spilling from her. She tells me everything, the nightmares, Hypnos, and the stranger known as the protector. As she tells her tale, I wrap her in my wings and hold her close, as she had done for me so many times. My eyes wander to the tree, and I watch the flames inside grow brighter, burn hotter. As she finishes, she allows me to hold her, and we stand there as the sky fills with light from the Underworld sun. When two of her attendants come out of the house and hover at the base of the steps, I turn her towards them.
“Get her to bed,” I instruct.
“No,” Nem says in a deadly quiet tone.
“You don’t need to sleep, but you do need rest. It’s my turn to take care of you,” I say as I reach out and stroke her cheek.
She slowly nods her head, and the two concerned looking attendants follow her into the house. She cradles the small beast as she goes. I linger outside a moment or two longer, calling the shadows, letting them form and shape to me, wrapping me back in my cloak before I go in.
Once Nemesis is securely in bed, I dismiss her household staff for the day, giving each a bag full of drachma. They thank me, take their bags, and leave. Now it is just the three of us, and I make my way to the kitchen. She has taken care of me my entire life, and now it is my turn to take care of her. I believe it is time to break some bread and a nice meal is in order.
I have spent months in San Francisco, with the exception of my trip up North. I have been in meetings overseeing the construction with Hephaestus and the mortals. In addition to my regular duties, I am tasked with collecting the rogue souls of my brother’s victims. Not to mention those mortals previously under his sway that once freed have recently committed suicide. Long phone and Skype calls with Mr. Hades dealing with Hypnos’s current level of imprisonment and giving speeches to the mortals written by Moxie and Nick. I am exhausted, as Tolkien would have put it, Not enough butter spread over too much bread.
I have been concerned about Nemesis since the cake incident. When I finally got back to her apartment in the God Complex, I found her still covered in cake. She was holding onto the small beast for dear life and sitting in a dark closet. I plopped down right next to her and held her in the darkness. I could feel her tremble against me, the smell of the chocolate filling the space. I am unsure how long we sat there, but it was until her breathing had evened out. It was a few days later that I got her note about going to the Underworld, which I thought would have been a good thing. Time for her to recuperate and heal. Obviously, that hadn’t worked.
As I fill a large pot with water from the sink, I feel ashamed that I had not reached out earlier, that somehow I let her down. Hypnos’s face swims before my eyes as I put the pot on the stove and turn on the flames. He had his toothy game show host grin on, and the urge to punch the teeth of that revenant was palpable. I push the vision away as the dead victims in my mind cry out. I add salt to the water and wait for it to boil. They will fade out soon, becoming white noise like all the others.
As I rub my heavy eyes, the small beast comes padding in and leaps nimbly onto a nearby stool, making a quick assessment of me with her blue eyes. I reach over and stroke her head affectionately. I feel a smile from inside my head as she purrs in the back of her throat, a deep sounding rumble.
“You left your Mistress,” I say.
“Kiri sleeps, my lord,” Ky’Elli says in my mind.
I grunt. “Are you sure that it is a good idea to leave her unattended?”
“I am waiting to catch her in case she sleepwalks outside to the Kiri tree.”
“The Kiri tree?” I ask.
I feel a small nod inside my mind. “It says no, just like her.” She notices the pieces of chicken I have sitting on the counter near the flour, and I watch her blue eyes widen as they light up. I feel the excitement of meat, and I smile at her.
“There will be meat, my lord?” Ky’Elli asks eagerly.
“Yes, meat, and you’ll have your own plate,” I tell her as I begin to bread the chicken.
It always makes me feel good to cook, especially for the ones I love, but the tingly sunshine feeling of pure joy inside my head is coming from the small beast. I take the chicken, dip it in an egg wash, then the flour, and finally, the pan filled with oil. As they begin to sizzle in the pan, my mind wanders.
Erebus is currently staying in his home in the Underworld. Maybe he would like to come and join us for dinner, I think.
I grab my phone and text him the invite. Then I can almost hear Mr. Hades’ voice as I stir the pot, adding a little more salt to the water. Is the small beast still probing my mind? I don’t feel her anymore.
Where was I then, when was I? San Francisco, a month before the dragon, when Mr. Hades called.
“We need to talk, Than. It’s about your brother,” Mr. Hades said, looking weary on the video call.
“What about him? Has he escaped!” I asked, a lump of dread filling my stomach as I sat down at my desk.
“No, Than, fortunately enough he has not, but there are other problems…”
I push the memory away. Don’t think about it, Thanatos, not yet, not yet. I squeeze my eyes shut, clenching my fist and jaw. I have to focus on Nemesis and the current issue, not the one that is to come. My phone buzzes, and it is Erebus. The small beast is indeed gone. But where did she run off to? It was unlike her to abandon me in the kitchen, especially when I am cooking meat. I flip the chicken before I look at my phone, then I feel it—my hackles stand up, something is amiss, off. I get my answer as the small beast comes barreling and skidding into the room.
“My lord!” she screams in my head as she comes to a halt.
“What!? What is it, dear one? Tell me!” I demand.
“Kiri! It is Kiri by the Kirir tree. You must come!” she cries.
We tear out of the kitchen, all food and phone forgotten as we emerge from the house into the courtyard. Sure enough, Nemesis stands in front of what Ky’Elli calls the Kiri tree. Her power swells and rages around her in a torrent of shadows and purple lightning. She is screaming into the tree as its internal flames glow brighter and hotter. The small beast growls in the back of her throat as we sneak closer.
“Nem! Nem!” I shout to her.
She turns slowly, her face is void of emotion, and the storm that rages in her eyes is full of wrathful ire and madness. She smiles at us, and it is a mix of a snarl and Hypnos’s game show host smile. My heart sinks to see it on her face. It is a punch to my gut, but I only allow it to affect me for a moment. I see the small beast crouching, ready to pounce and pin her Mistress. I summon my scythe to my hands.
“Thanner!” Nem says in Hypnos’s voice.
We don’t wait. The small beast and I move in on her. Her power hits both of us, and we go sailing back into the house. We hit the wall, each of us exhaling a hard breath as we impact it with a thud sound.
“No!” Nem screams in her actual voice and continues to scream as she ascends towards the world above.
“Nem! No!” I cry out.
Ky’Elli cries out in a high shrill sound that cuts through my brain, and it continues until I shoot a thought at her to stop. Her blue eyes turn to me in a panic. I can feel her tiny heart racing and the scattering of emotions going through her mind as she projects them into mine. Our brother is taking up residence in our sister’s head. He really is as dangerous as Mr. Hades had said.
“The Protector!” Ky’Elli shouts.
“Who?” I ask.
“There is no time, the Thano! No time to explain, but he is good like you and helped Kiri in her dreams. He can help now!” she cries shrilly.
“Fine! Fine! How do we get to this supposed Protector?” I ask, my head pulsing from her screaming.
“I will take you,” she says, leaping on me.
We port to the outskirts of a village into a forest of an unknown world. There are men, women, and children milling about with larger versions of the small beast. I have never seen such a sight. Then footsteps approach from behind, and Ky’Elli cries out, “Joren, the Protector. it’s him!”
I spin and see what appears to be a ruggedly handsome young man, but his eyes are ancient. He takes a step back from us as I open my wings fully.
“Death God,” he whispers, his own wings flaring.
“Joren!” Ky’Elli cries and goes to him.
Joren looks down, confused. “Elli? Where have you been? Where is the goddess you bonded with? What is going on, small one?”
“No time!” I say, seizing him and the small beast as she ports us back to the Underworld.