I came through the rift into a hallway within the God Complex, appearing outside of the Penthouse as Moxie’s text had instructed. In front of me was a black leather bench seat. Behind me, massive double wood doors, and through them, the place I was meant to go. In my arms, I held a delirious Nem, and at my heels was Ky’Elli. The small beast looked up, concerned for her giggling and smiling Mistress.
I parked Nem on the bench, almost dropping her. The adrenaline that had pumped through my body had begun to wear off, and I felt every moment of my recent battle with Hypnos. She landed with a thud as I went to one knee. Ky’Elli turned to me, concern radiating from her small body. I forced a smile, and reassured by my thoughts, she returned her attention to Nem.
“I went boom!” Nem blurted as she leaned in so close that our noses touched. She giggled lyrically.
I smiled at her, and it was not forced this time. I was sweating profusely, and my throat hurt to swallow let alone to speak. Hand shaped bruise marks had formed on my pale skin and my knee was swollen and throbbing from the stabbing.
I summoned my scythe to me, it would have to serve as a walking stick until the swelling went down. At least the open cut had sealed. Nem oohed and ahhed as the scythe manifested, clapping a hand over her mouth to hide her giggle. The smile this brought to my face also hurt. My back burned and ached where my wings had been severed. Even though I had grown them back, the pain persisted. I licked my dry lips with my equally dry tongue and met Nem’s gaze. Her eyes lit up as she bopped my nose and smiled, showing off her teeth.
I looked at her and all I could think was, Chaos preserve me.
“Nem, I have to,” I cleared my throat as it hurt to speak, “I have to go through the door and help Ms. Moxie. I need you to stay right here, and stay put with the small beast, okay?”
“Otay,” she whispered looking around almost childlike, “but, what do I do while you are gone, Thano?”
“Count your toes?” I replied, uncertainty in my voice.
“Otay!” Nem yelled with excitement, the sound echoing in the empty hallway.
She kicked off her boots and wiggled her toes which caused her to giggle. Then she bent over and began to count them aloud, “One little piggy! Two little piggies…”
“Yes, you keep doing that,” I told her, opening one of the doors and stepping through.
The first thing I saw was Moxie in her deified form. Moxie and those green-blue eyes. Her arms were folded over her chest, but they dropped and her eyes widened as her unearthly gaze assessed me. I’m sure that I was a miserable sight, all battered and beaten.
She glided over to me, closing the short distance between us. Reaching out, she tentatively traced the bruise on my neck with her fingertips. Her touch was like lighting on my skin, waves of static electricity. The concern in her as she examined my injury warmed me. Goosebumps broke out as the lightning from her fingertips coursed through my body. It was a pleasant sensation, almost like being in Elysium. It stopped abruptly when she removed her warm, ghost-like fingertips from my cold skin.
“You should see the other guy,” I croaked out.
She flashed a crooked grin at me, a glint of amusement in those oceans-deep eyes. The grin slowly faded and her demeanor became all business, but the smile had revealed a small hint of tenderness that lingered still at the corners of her mouth. I could see it.
Moxie turned to look at Zeus then back at me. That grin reappeared on her face at the look of confusion on mine. I opened my mouth to ask what had happened, but she spoke first.
“It’s a long story, Than. He’s in there, but…not in there, if that makes sense. I can’t reach him but I believe that you can. Thanatos, the world needs him. We’ve got to bring him back,” Moxie said, turning her attention to the body.
I leaned heavily on my scythe handle and looked around the room from my position by the door. This place was a tomb. The curtains were drawn, the fireplace was lit, and under a centralized light source, lay Zeus’ body covered with a sheet, his chest moving up and down with each breath. The air was heavy and still, the only light, that which entered from the open doors to the outer chamber.
Moxie turned to me and the firelight caught her eyes, wet with unshed tears. Moxie, crying? She put her hands on my chest and gazed into my eyes. I could feel her sense of urgency, “You can bring him back, can’t you, Than?”
We moved to Zeus’ bedside and I leaned in, taking a closer look at his sallow shell. I placed my hand on his chest, the spot where the soul sits, and I felt a small tremor. I got closer, and with my index and middle finger, I opened his mouth, looking in to see what I could see of the soul. Not that I doubted Moxie, I could see his shallow breathing, but I needed to see how far gone he was and determine what I could bring back. A hand slipped gently into my free one as I examined him. I closed his mouth and turned to look at Moxie, and that pleading yet determined look on her face. I nodded and she squeezed my hand, her eyes lighting up.
“He is in a blue place, Than. It is covered in an azure mist…” Moxie began.
“Azure mist” was what did it. I knew the place of which she spoke.
“The Ether Pit,” I told her.
“Oh? You know this place?” Moxie asked.
“It is a dead place, and I am the god of death,” I said.
“Uh-huh,” Moxie said, that crooked grin on her face.
“But you knew that already. That is why you called me. You can’t enter Zeus without dying with him.” I stared at Moxie’s thread. Yes, deities have threads. “Or without irrevocable damage to your form or destroying yourself,” I said.
“Yes. That’s why I only scanned him, probed his mind. I couldn’t go further. Can you get there, Than? I found a door and Z is behind that door. I’m certain of it. But it won’t open for me. I tried. I suspect that it will open for you, though. It has to open for you,” Moxie said, her eyes drifting over to Zeus. Her hand squeezed mine in a death grip (pun intended).
“I have never been there, and getting there is tricky. I will need a guide,” I told her.
“I can guide you, Thanatos. Like a missile. You will be my missile…won’t you?” she asked, her voice full of hope.
My throat still felt like I’d swallowed shards of glass, so I merely nodded. I was ready. She smiled and the room seemed to glow brighter. She slowly released my hand, sliding her palm along mine, it sent a shiver down my spine and she grinned. She glided to Zeus as I readied my scythe. She placed her hand on and through the side of his head, his body gave a slight jerk.
“Ready?” she asked.
I gave a small nod. Unsteady on my feet, I raised the staff of my scythe to rest diagonally across my body. I centered myself the best I could, preparing to receive Moxie’s directions.
My mind filled with a shimmering silver that narrowed to a thread. I knew at once it was Zeus’ thread, it pulsed and hummed in my head, and then my back throbbed torturously and I lost it. The pain almost brought me to my knees but I refused to fall. Moxie was counting on me. The thread was still there, faint in my mind as I fought through the agony to grasp it again. I finally had it, clear and bright, and was beginning to trace it when my back spasmed again, the connection beginning to dwindle. I bit down and fought through the discomfort, forcing the thread to stay in focus, but I lost my grip on it again. I struggled to keep it in sight, my blade lighting up and flickering out. The pain flare-up was too much, and I dropped to my knees, the thread vanishing.
“Damn it, Than! Concentrate! I need you to friggin focus! For Z!” Moxie raged from the bedside, then softened. “For me…”
I rose to my feet, using the scythe to assist me. I clamped down hard on the anguish my body was in, the agony demanding I lay down and rest. I clenched my teeth against it all and limped closer to Moxie.
“Give me a boost, woman!” I said, turning my back.
Her hand grabbed on and sunk into the back of my head. I could feel a smile and…and other sensations as she entered my mind, blowing away the dead that resided there. The silver thread exploded in my mind. Then I flew.
Not exactly flew but was thrown at high-speed velocity. The landscape of blue buildings and the azure mist of the Ether Pit blew by me in a blur as I followed the thread and was dropped at what appeared to be a freight door. The silver thread went through it. Zeus was pounding on the other side.
“Moxie! Moxie! I hear you! Hello, Moxie, are you there?” Zeus yelled through the door.
“Zeus!” I yelled, putting a hand on the door and attempting to open it.
“Than! Than, Son, is that you?” Zeus asked, his voice full of excitement.
“Yes, Old Young Man, it’s me.”
He broke out in laughter, “So good to hear your voice, Son! Is Moxie with you?”
“In a sense,” I yelled back as I struggled to open the door before me. “Say, is there something you can hide behind or a place to take cover?”
“Yeah, there is a pillar,” Zeus answered.
“Splendid. Get behind it, will you?”
“Will do,” Zeus replied.
I raised my scythe, the blade glowed a bright white. It was almost blinding in this place. I listened to his retreat from the door.
“Ok, Than. I’m behind the pillar.”
I swung my scythe at the door and it shattered like glass, exploding everywhere. Zeus ran out from behind the pillar and I reached out for him. We grabbed each other by the wrist and I yanked him to me as we were sucked backward through the rift.
I slammed him back into his body by my hold on his arm and then collapsed from exhaustion.
Moxie stood at the bedside, her hands clasped in front of her, staring down at Zeus’ body.
Zeus opened his eyes and slowly sat up, groaning with the effort. He smiled weakly at her. “Moxie,” he said groggily.
Her mouth flickered with a smile, then she drew up to her full height, tsked and pursed her lips. “It’s about time.” Her mouth tightened and her brow furrowed, a hint of annoyance creeping into her voice, “While you were napping, the Titans got free from Tartarus and your wife, my mother, went missing.”
“Moxie…” Zeus croaked as she turned and started gliding to the door.
She moved past me with her nose in the air, her lips still pursed, but she dropped a small wink in my direction. My heart raced with the memory of the thoughts she had poured into me when we were connected. She reached the door and turned to face Zeus. He was sitting in the bed with a confounded look on his face.
“Now, if you will excuse me, I am going to go find my mother.” With those final words, she turned on her heel, tossed her diaphanous hair over her shoulder and strode out the door.
I lay on the floor stunned and completely awestruck by her.
I rose painfully to my feet, leaning on the staff of my scythe, using it as a crutch. I turned and looked at Zeus who still sat in the bed, confused and disoriented, trying to grasp all that had transpired while he was gone.
“Than? Son?” he began.
“I am going, too,” I said nodding towards the door, “Yeah…I am going, too.”
“Than, stay, please. Please tell me what has happened, ” Zeus said weakly from the bed.
I froze in place, the weakness in his voice filling me with irritation. My body ached and I had spent enough time battling, enough time immersed in a conflict that stemmed from an act of vanity committed eons ago. I fought the urge to just ignore him, eager to follow Moxie. I wanted a moment of light and beauty. I breathed in and slowly turned as I exhaled. I stared at the weakened monarch and felt a mixture of pity and rage for what he had gone through while in the pit.
“What happened?” I asked, a note of censure in my voice.
“Please,” Zeus said feebly.
“What happened!? Karma happened! Your Frankenstein monster has come home to roost! Atë the exile! The goddess of mischief and ruin returned to lay ruin to everything, and she has succeeded! She freed the Titans! Thousands of lives lost! My own sister nearly killed me! And for what!? For what!?” I roared at him.
Zeus seemed so very small. He appeared to have shrunk in the bed like a child trying to hide a bad grade from a parent. Yelling ripped apart my swollen throat but it felt good to vent my frustrations.
“Even in death, I cannot escape my sins.”
“No…one…can,” I growled.
“Sins are even more eternal than we are,” Zeus said, as he rose from the bed. With more stubborn will than actual strength, he planted his feet firmly on the floor and walked away. Bruises and unhealed wounds still marring his once powerful frame.
With that, I took my leave of him, limping out after Moxie, slamming the door behind me on the way out.