It had been a very complicated few weeks. I was not quite sure what to do with myself, and that was a feeling in which I was wholly unfamiliar. Everywhere I looked, there were memories of what had happened in San Francisco. Even spending time with my brother, who I loved, was painful right now. I had nearly killed him. Someone, no, not just someone, my other brother. Hypnos, Than’s twin, had managed to invade my mind and control my actions. He should never have had that much power or strength, yet he altered me enough that I acted against my very nature. It should have been impossible, and it had utterly shaken my world view, but worse, it had shaken my faith in myself and called into doubt all that I am.
Thanatos and Ky’Elli had managed to defeat Hypnos and save me. They brought me back to the God Complex, where things continued to devolve for me. I had come back from that altered state, and my memory had returned, but I was struggling with processing all that happened. I knew I needed some time away from everything.
I packed a small bag and readied my home in the God Complex for my absence. I decided to return home to the Underworld. I figured I could manage some time away; it had been millennia since I had taken a break from the mortal world.
Ky’Elli and I stopped by the break room on our way out, looking for Thanatos to let him know we would be away for a bit. I knew that he was very concerned, especially after having found me curled up in my closet, still covered in cake, and hugging tight to Ky’Elli. If we were to just disappear, he would be worried.
Eros and Clio were in the breakroom, Duck at Clio’s side. The little fox’s ears perked, and he jumped to his feet as Elli and I entered. He bounded up onto one of the chairs and bounced off, flying through the air to pounce on Ky’Elli. Her eyes went wide, and she let out a small shriek that rattled the windows just before Duck slammed into her, the two of them tumbling across the floor in a bundle of feathers and fur.
“Tartarus’s flaming balls! I should have eaten him the moment I saw him!” Ky’Elli snarled in my mind.
I arched an eyebrow at her cursing, my lips twitching as Duck yipped and snuggled at her, licking her on the face as she batted and snapped at him, trying to right herself without hurting him.
Clio laughed and called Duck to her. He released Ky’Elli and ran back to Clio, but then zoomed away, circling the room, seemingly unable to contain his foxy delight. Ky’Elli barely had time to right herself, her fur wet and sticking up in wayward spikes, her feathers rumpled, and her eyes narrow slits. She hissed at him as he headed back towards her, and let out a short, high pitched cry. He spun to a stop, shook his head, and pawed at his ears. She shot him a haughty look and gave a small satisfied sniff as he went to his belly, his tail flicking from side to side. Ky’Elli glared up at me and then sat down to try and right her fur and feathers.
“I am covered in fox drool, Kiri! It is very gross! Almost as gross as frogs!”
Duck snuck closer, crawling along with his belly on the floor, his eyes bright and intent on Ky’Elli.
My lips curved in a real grin, the first in many days as I watched the two of them.
“Hello, Nemesis. It is so good to see you. How are you feeling?” Clio asked, the brightness of her apparent to every sense I had and her concern evident in the gentleness of her tone.
“Hey, Nem,” Eros called with a jaunty salute and his usual smirk.
“Hello,” I said, nodding at Eros. “I am well, Clio. Thank you for asking. I was just looking for Thanatos, have you seen him?” I knew she meant well, but I wasn’t in a space to be comforted or to deal with her care.
“I haven’t, but if I see him, I will let him know that you are looking for him,” she responded.
Duck slid a few inches closer to Ky’Elli, going still and lying his chin on his paws, his eyes wide and innocent when she stopped her grooming to glare at him.
“Thank you, Clio. I wish you both well. Come on, Daisy…err… Ky’Elli, let’s head out,” I said, looking down at Ky’Elli. Her attention snapped to me, and she touched on my mind, concern and near panic filling her. My brow furrowed, wondering where that slip had come from, searching my memories for the cause of her distress.
“Oh, Nem! I was just telling Eros about Duck, and how he faced down a minotaur! He is such a wonderful protector. I can’t thank you enough for bringing him into my life,” Clio said.
My attention diverted, I tipped my head. “A minotaur? Did some queen mate with a bull again? Great Chaos, you would think they would learn!”
“No, no,” she said, “nothing like that. It was a cursed mask that turned Dinlas’s assistant, Eleni, into a minotaur. They still have not caught her. She transformed right in my office at the museum, and Duck was very fierce and brave. He bit the minotaur and helped protect everyone! He is truly something special.”
We looked down at the fox who had snuck a few feet closer as we had been speaking, and was now flicking his tongue out to try and lick the feathers at the tip of Ky’Elli’s tail.
“He is…uh…very special,” Eros said, his eyes glinting with humor as Clio playfully smacked him on his chest.
“He is definitely worthy of a goddess. Remind me to tell you Duck’s origin tale sometime,” I said with a slight smile, turning towards the door.
“Nem!” Clio called again.
I looked back over my shoulder. “Yes?”
“I baked some cookies, won’t you have some with us? I would really love to hear the story.”
I sighed and pushed the dark fall of my hair back from my face. “I do need to be on my way, Clio. Maybe another time.” Ky’Elli and I headed for the door, only to find Duck in the doorway, his liquid eyes huge as he looked up at me, his ears drooping, and his body radiating sadness.
Ky’Elli looked at him and then at me, resignation in her voice, “Maybe just a few more minutes, Kiri? I like cookies, and so do you.”
Eros patted the espresso machine. “I will make you a flat white if you stay and spill the story! Come on, Nemo…it won’t take long, and it has been a while since we have had the chance to talk.”
My lips quirked at the name he has insisted upon using for me since the gods returned. “Ok. Cookies, a flat white, and then the story. But then we have to be on our way.”
I dropped my bag just inside the door as Clio smiled brightly and brought the cookies to the table. Eros followed shortly with the coffee for me and tea for Clio. Ky’Elli settled close to me at one end of the sofa and Duck near Clio at the other end, but his gaze tracked Elli’s every movement.
I took a cookie for me, and one for Elli as Eros settled onto the arm of the couch. “So tell us, Nemo, of the amazing tale of Duck.”
I took a sip of the flat white and began.