I explain the situation to the one Ky’Elli calls Joren as we follow Nemesis’s trail to a mountain top. The night air smells heavily of burnt ozone, the scent reminiscent of a lightning strike. I can sense Hypnos’s pain in Tartarus from here. I stand behind Nemesis for a moment before she becomes aware of our presence and pivots.
Her eyes widen when she sees Joren. She crouches, drawing the hilt of her shadow sword, the blade coming to life. I raise my scythe as Joren rotates his sword in a flashy move. Ky’Elli matches Nem’s crouch and rumbles in the back of her throat.
Nemesis sweeps low with her foot as quick as lightning, catching my ankle and taking me down hard. My scythe skitters away over the rocks. She nimbly dodges as Ky’Elli pounces. She places a restraining boot onto my chest as she and Joren clash swords.
Joren may be a skilled fighter, but Nemesis is crafty and quick to improvise. As he swings his blade to strike her side, she catches his wrist with her hand and twists. There is a cracking noise, and a look of pain erases the surprise on Joren’s face as his sword falls to the snow. Her fist wraps tightly around the pommel of her sword, and she deals him an uppercut. Joren goes air-born, and with her free foot, she swings out, kicking the man and sending him sailing away. He hits the ground hard and rolls. The air leaves my lungs as her full weight comes down on my chest. I let out an oomph!
Joren lies there looking dazed and in awe at her as she spins and turns her attention back to me. She leans down and touches my nose with the tip of her finger, a wide grin curving her lips.
“Boop!” she says.
“Wha…” I begin.
The small beast pounces once again. Nem catches her, spinning her around, laughing, and covering the beast’s face in kisses. Ky’Elli rumbles deep in her throat, nuzzling Nem with her head.
“And Hypnos?” I say, slowly getting to my feet.
“He is alive, but no longer in my head. I am free of him, little brother,” Nem says, a flicker of pain still at the back of her eyes.
I embrace both of them tightly, overjoyed and relieved that Nem is okay. Joren slowly rises to his feet, recovering from his injuries, and Nem’s eyes narrow on him suspiciously. I let her go and stand between the two of them. I can feel her mistrust hitting against my back in waves.
“Would you like to come to dinner?” I ask.
“What?? No??” Nem hisses in my ear.
“Shhh, we are trying to make allies, and besides, he came all this way to help,” I shoot back.
“We cannot trust him! You do not know if he has ulterior motives,” Nem growls.
“How do you expect to make new friends if you start off by mistrusting everyone,” I growl back.
Nemesis opens her mouth to answer, but is cut off by Joren’s laughter. She closes her mouth and glares at him over my shoulder.
“No, thank you for the kind offer, Thanatos, but I must get back. I’ve been away too long. So until we meet again.” With a smirk and a wink toward Nem, he says, “And, goddess, the next round is on me. I promise to be better prepared.”
I can feel Nemesis blush as Joren ports away, leaving the three of us alone on the cold mountaintop. I look over my shoulder at her and smile. She scowls and ports away herself, and I follow with a low chuckle.
We land in front of her home and start up the back steps.
“Did you leave the door open?” Nem asks.
“I may have. I did rush out to save you,” I say.
“I saved myself,” Nem gloats.
“Yes, I can see that,” I say.
“He did leave the door open and the stove on. You two are lucky I arrived when I did,” Erebus says, standing in the doorway.
Erebus is ruggedly handsome in a black suit. He opens his arms, and Nemesis steps into his embrace. He hugs her tight and kisses her on the cheek. He greets me with a firm handshake and a pat on the back as I join them. Nem leads us inside, and we find the table set and the meal I started ready to eat. Erebus had been busy while we were away tracking Nem.
“I thought your mother and some of the others would be here,” Erebus says.
“I sent invites to all, but it would seem they are all previously engaged at the moment,” I say.
“It smells delicious,” Nem says, fixing her plate.
“It does. Let’s dig in. I am starving,” Erebus agrees.
“Where is Atë, Father?” I ask as I cut into my chicken.
“She couldn’t make it either. I think she was unsure if your sister would let her in,” Erebus says, putting a forkful of pasta into his mouth.
“Only if she behaves herself,” Nem says, cracking open a bottle of red wine.
Erebus nods and then stops eating, a look of annoyance coming over his face as his phone buzzes. He pulls it out of his pocket and looks at it before clicking it off and putting it away.
“Is it important?” I ask.
“Nothing that can’t wait,” Erebus says.
Nemesis shoots Erebus a glance, the corner of her eyes filling with the storm of her power. Erebus puts up a restraining hand and shakes his head. Nemesis nods, and the storm dies out quickly. Erebus takes a sip of wine, and his phone buzzes twice. This time he growls as he pulls it out. His face drops, and he pales a bit. He sits back and wipes his mouth. Nem, Ky, and I look at him with concern as he rises from the table.
“You two, I am sorry, but I am going to have to cut the evening short. Some very important business has come up,” he says as his phone buzzes four more times in his hand.
“What is it?” Nemesis asks.
“Father, what aren’t you telling us?” I chime in.
“I am sorry, I really can’t get you two involved in this,” Erebus says as he starts for the door.
“You know where to find us when you decide to tell us. We are stronger together,” Nemesis says.
With his back to us, Erebus nods as his phone goes off five more times before he takes his leave. I pour us more wine with a heavy sigh. Nem takes her glass, staring hard at the doorway, and takes a sip.
“There he goes again,” Nemesis says.
“He used to take us with us with him, remember?” I ask.
She smiles and nods. “Tracking and hunting trips.”
“Indeed, you were the bait. He’d leave Morpheus, Hypnos, and I in the darkest parts of the Underworld and instruct us to track you down,” I say, taking a sip of wine.
“Morpheus would always find me first,” Nem says proudly.
“He would, and it would make Hyp and I so jealous,” I say.
We both laugh at the memory as she reaches over and places her hand on top of mine. It is a short-lived moment. Her power sparks as she makes contact with my skin, and she knows what I’ve been keeping to myself for months. She pulls back, recoiling.
“Why did you keep this from me, Thano?! We have never kept secrets from each other! Never!” Nem chides me.
I look down at my plate as my stomach drops. Ky’Elli, who has been eating happily, stops, sensitive to her mistress’ mood. Her ears lay flat against her head as she stares at me. My appetite is completely gone, and I push my plate violently away. Nem and Ky are momentarily taken aback.
“I was put to task to come up with a way to deal with our brother by Mr. Hades. I have spent months weighing my options as I listen to his victims’ never-ending cries for justice inside my aching, throbbing head. He is beyond Dikê’s touch and yours. So I came up with the final solution,” I confess.
“Oh, Thano, no—” Nem starts.
I pound the table hard, slamming both my fists down, causing the plates and silverware to rattle. A wine glass falls over, pouring out its contents. My breathing becomes ragged and harsh as I pound the table two more times. Nemesis and Ky’Elli watch me wide-eyed.
“All of our efforts to curb the powers he gained from the waters of the other world have failed! Hephaestus’s machines drain the water only to have it replenish as he sleeps! No living thing can get near that coffin except me!” I roar.
“Thano, I had no idea,” Nemesis whispers.
“Of course, you had no idea. He was still trying to make a Nemesis puppet. We are here now because you missed! You of all the gods missed! How could you have missed?!” I rise out of my chair, allowing it to topple over.
Ky’Elli leaps onto the table between Nem and me, taking a pouncing position to defend her mistress. Nemesis’s face is a wash of hurt and shock. My outburst makes me feel horrible, and tears flow from my eyes.
“Thano, I know. I understand. I am to protect you. Always have and always will. I am sorry I missed. I am sorry I wasn’t here. I am sorry I got hurt. I am sorry I cannot do this unspeakable thing for you,” Nem whispers from the table.
I close my eyes and nod as Nem rises, wrapping me up in her embrace. I cave and began to cry against her shoulder, taking in her scent.
“He tried to take you from me, and you missed,” I sob out.
She says nothing and holds me, stroking the back of my head, her wings forming and wrapping around both of us. I feel Ky brush between my legs, adding her support and comfort. I pull away and see the wetness standing out on her cheeks. I raise my hand and wipe the tears away with my thumbs. I move past her and start to the door.
“I have business in Tartarus,” I say.
“Thano,” she calls out, but I don’t turn to face her, “do not go, little brother.”
“Don’t worry, Nem. I shall make all things well,” I say.
And with that, I take my leave.