I landed my chariot in the courtyard of the God Complex. During the flight I had made small talk with Eos, in an attempt to set her mind at ease. “Lady Persephone said he has been doing well and has even learned how to weave his light.”
Eos looked over at me and scoffed, “Why is that a big deal?”
Trying to keep my cool, I glanced back at Erebus, to find a deep scowl of concentration creasing his forehead. We made our way to the outer gates and were met by a couple of guards. They nodded politely before allowing us entry. Eos looked at them and shifted nervously.
Craggy rocks and foliage littered the banks of the Styx. The sound of the lapping waves incessant as Charon shuttled himself between the sides of the river. Trees were saved for the Groves and elsewhere. Styx was not meant to put souls at ease before they were sorted, but to be a reminder that life did not end after the body was gone.
Hades stood waiting at the far end of the river where black sands and shore were all that spread beneath his feet. His presence spoke for itself.
I faced forward as we walked towards Hades, but turned an eye on Eos. I tried to read her body language without pressing through Erebus’ fog. I wanted to make sure she wasn’t going to bolt. With Styx on my right, I caught sight of Persephone and Helios emerging from my left. Eos’ rising anxiety was evident in the shortness of her breath and I asked her to stay by my side, hoping to calm her down.
“Eos, Lady Persephone is bringing Helios out now, but we have to stay with the guards and remain calm,” I paused a moment. “I know how you feel. I am excited to see him too, but we have to show them we are trustworthy and not make any sudden moves. Okay?”
She nodded in response and rubbed her hands on her legs as we walked, clearly getting more anxious the closer we got to Hades and Persephone.
We arrived at the meeting point, where Persephone broke the nervous tension, going over a few ground rules of how the “visitation” would go.
“We have extended this kindness to you,” she said calmly. Her voice was without any hint of nervousness or subterfuge. “We facilitated this meeting so you may visit with your kin. The guards are present for the safety of all. We request you keep the visit short, as this is a highly unusual activity in Tartarus.”
The Underworld Queen, wearing her powerful black crown of Iron, regally directed her next statement at Eos. “I would also ask that everyone keep your hands within sight and maintain distance at all times.” She gave a final stern glance, which served as a helpful reminder to my family that she was in control of this entire operation. “Is this acceptable?”
Nodding, Helios set his gaze on us, looking between Eos and myself, his chained hands in front of him. Though he stood as straight as I remembered, there was an air of resignation sitting on his shoulders.
Eos looked at Persephone, then Helios and me, and nodded. She began, “Helios, are you…how are you, brother?” Her voice shook with the severity of the situation. “It’s really good to see you.”
“It is. You look well. How are your meetings with Persephone going? She said you have been doing well, but hasn’t elaborated,” I asked as a continuation of Eos’ questions.
Erebus stood behind us in silence, keeping my thoughts clouded. My nerves were getting the better of me. I closed my eyes, and wished Artemis was here, holding my hand.
Helios thought for a moment before answering our questions. “They’re good. It has given me time to think, to say out loud what I have been feeling since…” The chains clanked as he gestured with his hands.
Eos wrung her hands and shifted her feet as we talked in the presence of such a public crowd. I knew she would not last long and exchanged a look with Hades and Persephone. We needed to act soon, or she would bolt. In what seemed like one choreographed move, Erebus placed his hand on my shoulder, and we stepped back together. The guards moved forward and clasped chains on Eos, then Persephone placed her hand on Helios’ arm to steady him. Finally, Hades strode into the circle we had made during our meeting.
Eos, Hades, and all the guards, but one left with the screaming and fighting Eos. Helios glared at me and cried out for our sister, but remained planted in place with Persephone’s hand on one arm. The guard added his hand on the other, to ensure my brother’s obedience. By the time her screams began to fade, I lost what was left of my control, and covered my face with my hands. Persephone and Erebus exchanged a look, and he walked away. His services were no longer needed, and the memories became too much for him to bear.
“Helios, I’m sorry. I…” I began, trying to put into words all that had happened today.
Surprise and anger flared in Helios’ eyes. He stood rock still but did not lower his gaze. I could hear Persephone speaking to him as I buried my face in my hands.
“It’s not enough that one of us is locked up? You need both of us?” his voice had a raw edge to it as he spoke.
“Sometimes there is no choice,” Persephone’s voice was calming as she focused my brother’s attention on her. “And sometimes the right choice is the most difficult one. To betray your own feelings or your own flesh, in an attempt to save another. This has not been easy for Sel. She has struggled with making this choice. I know perhaps it makes little sense now. But she could not, and I could not tell you of what was to transpire. To do so would have negated all the careful work she had done.” I could hear the deliberate pause. “And all the work you have done.”
Helios grunted in response as he stared at those of us still gathered at the banks of the River Styx.
Dropping my hands, revealing my tear-streaked face, I began again. “Helios, I felt everything that day. I knew you had changed and had learned. I went to Zeus on your behalf to see if we could arrange for visitation or parole. This,” I gestured with my hands to the surroundings, “was the solution. I had to choose the titan that has contempt and disdain for the king or the one who has served his time and has remorse for his actions. I swear to you, it was NOT an easy choice, and one I did not take lightly. The betrayal alone, to my own blood. I…” I stopped again, wiped fresh tears from my face, and glanced again at Persephone for guidance.
Hades returned and joined our gathering after placing Eos in what was once Helios’ cell.
“Loyalty is not easy, or black and white like the world thinks it is,” Persephone added at my pleading glance. “You have to weigh the loyalty against the penalty. Helios,” she looked up at him, turning his attention back to her, “it may sting when we are confronted with a reality we do not want to admit is true. I would advise at this moment that you look at what Selene has said and done.”
“Am I to be put back now, where I can hear her scream about betrayal? Where she will blame me as well?” Helios held his chained hands up, looking at the heavy metal that had been removed only once before, as he had sat in his cell. “What now?”
Shaking my head, I reached forward to place my hand on Helios’. “Helios, brother, this is an exchange. A titan for a titan. That was my deal with Zeus.”
“One for one.” He looked down at my hand. I knew he could read the emotions that rose like a wave inside me. It was clear on my face and in my heart. “You made a deal? And it will be honored?” Helios took a deep breath and looked to Persephone and Hades for confirmation, to be certain it was not a cruel joke.
“It is a trade. I asked you during my visits if you would be willing to swear loyalty if it meant your release. Selene put everything on hold and put it all on the line to grant this opportunity.” Persephone placed her hand on top of mine to support us both.
My brother looked at me, eyes piercing mine as he nodded once. “I remember our discussion. Selene, is this what you want?”
“More than anything, Sol.” I used the pet name for my brother I hadn’t said in millennia. “I need you. Will you, can you, forgive me? Even if not right now, can you understand where I stand? Zeus is a fair and just ruler. He is worth serving and aligning with. Are you with me?”
“And this assessment is not tarnished by your own history with him?” Helios did not flinch away from the tough question.
I shook my head. “We may have our differences, I suspect we always will, but the ruling of our realm…He has almost always ruled fairly and justly. He isn’t infallible, none of us are. What say you? Do you choose, of your own accord, to swear allegiance to Zeus?”
He raised his free hand, passing it over his face as he listened to my words. Taking a deep breath, he looked over at Persephone, then to me, and responded, “I will swear allegiance to the Three Kings.”