03. The Prisoner and the Warden

Act I. Dark Ascension

EREBUS

“I will only say this once more, Lady Persephone. I do not, nor will I ever, dance,” I said firmly through clenched teeth. She twirled around in glee while the lampades attempted to pull me towards the center of the meadows.

My fingers twitched at their constant nagging, wanting to shove them away. However, just like the nymphs of the land, sea, and air, these nymphs were equally tenacious.

It was especially infuriating that she continued to dance. Anguished moans reverberated through the clearing. Even Hades had to have heard them from Mount Olympus.

I rubbed my temples with the balls of fingers, trying to ease the quickly building migraine. “Lady Persephone, I need to return to the palace. The souls seek judgment.” And silence the infernal noise.

“You are too serious sometimes. You should allow yourself to have more fun. Lighten up! You’ll enjoy yourself more if you do,” she replied with a carefree smile on her face.

The corners of my lips twitched at her poor choice of words. “How is darkness supposed to ‘lighten up’, Lady Persephone?”

“It’s called a joke, Erebus. The mortals speak of them all the time.”

“Forgive me for my ignorance. I have never been on the surface world or around live humans.” I removed the delicately crafted crown of daisies that was placed on my head, only to find that they were already dry and wilted.

Her smile faltered at my admission, knowing it was the truth. The air grew heavy from the awkward silence as we averted our gazes.

My eyes landed on a small blue butterfly that fluttered from flower to flower. I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of envy knowing that. Even this weak creature had more freedom than me. “I should return to—”

“I could take you there,” she interrupted me.

“Leave the Underworld? I mean no offense, Lady Persephone, but I do not think that would be a wise idea.”

“Do you mean my husband thinks it would not be a wise idea?” I nodded, and she continued, “You don’t have to live there. What is just five minutes compared to never?”

Her bluntness caught me completely off guard, leading me to wonder if these were the sort of tactics she resorted to around her usual bodyguards, and even Hades himself. Though there was a nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach, knowing that I couldn’t argue against her logic. “Do you not fear what I would become if I ascend?” I asked.

“Darkness lives in anyone, whether we choose to see it, Erebus. That does not mean we should hide from it or keep it imprisoned in the In-Between,” she answered whilst playing with a single daisy, manipulating it into a simple ring before placing it around her finger.

Looking up from the makeshift ring, she added, “This may be your only chance. You are already trapped here, there is nothing more that Hades could do to make life unbearable for you.”

Her reasonings wrapped around me tightly, seducing me into temptation. A single word lingered on my mind, ‘trapped.’ My duties were nothing more than formal coils, an excuse for me to stay put. I was no different from the mongrel that served as a merciless watchdog.

Persephone was right. I wouldn’t get another chance. My mind wandered to the argument that Hades and I had; fury and vengeance bubbled, threatening to spill over.

“Perhaps your worries may subside if you throw me in with the Titans. Would that make you feel less threatened, Lord Hades?” I remarked.

“Enough! You will stay here, and you will do what you’ve been told to do. If you have so much as a single thread of hair outside of the Underworld’s boundary lines, I will grant your wish.”

I was no servant to the Lord of the Underworld, nor was I a prisoner. He would regret uttering such a threat.

“Shall we?” Persephone prompted.

“Follow me,” I responded.
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“We’re almost there,” Persephone noted for what had to be the hundredth time, although I was the one leading us to the exit.

We walked along a dark corridor, trepidation slowly building up over time as I grew inpatient waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel. Would it be daytime in the human world? Would I finally see the moon?

“What would you like to do when we arrive?” She asked me, without a glance back in my direction.

“Perhaps you would like to see Nyx? I cannot say for certain where Hemera or Aether are. I’m afraid I have not seen them in quite a while.”

My heart jumped at the mention of two of my children. I longed to see them, even though that yearning was completely one-sided. It didn’t matter that I had a falling out with their mother. I wanted nothing more than to see and hold them in my arms once again.

It was her fault. She cast me out, branded me as the ultimate harbinger of destruction. I still remembered that day with startling clarity. She murmured promises of forever when she intended on never. A single word sealed my fate, turning my children and all of Olympus against me.

“I do not think that would be a wise idea,” I responded with a slight edge to my tone. My hands clenched into fists, and heat coursed through my body as though I was re-living that moment. My vision was spotted with black dots, my fury threatening to engulf me completely.

“We’re here,” Persephone said exuberantly, pulling me out of my quickly forming violent thoughts. The anger immediately dissipated, leading me to forget what had fueled my wrath.

Holding a hand up, I expected to be met with a bright flash of sunlight as we passed through the entrance of the Underworld and into the surface world. Surprisingly, there was no sun, but a full moon brightly shining down on us.

I watched as smoke morphed into flesh, as the new sensations of the human world came rushing in all at once. The cool night breeze, the distinct smell of peppermint and pine, and one particularly bright star amidst the darkened sky that caught my eye.

Upon closer inspection, I discovered it was a woman in a dark blue dress with shimmering blonde ringlets that fell down her back in cascading waves. Her body sparkled and glimmered under the moonlight. She twirled and danced freely in the sky as she weaved the stars into place. Every movement captivated me, and for those brief seconds, I was afraid that she’d disappear if I took the moment to blink. The stars gleamed under her gentle touch, never swaying from the positions she placed them in.

“I see you’ve noticed Asteria,” Persephone said with a certain smugness, roughly pulling me back into reality.

“The name suits her well,” I murmured. A rather amused giggle erupted from Persephone, causing me to clear my throat in embarrassment for having voiced my thoughts out loud. “What I meant to say is it is befitting of her considering her duties to the night’s stars.”

“Would you like to meet her?” She inquired.

My gaze lingered on her form in the sky, wanting nothing more than to get a closer look at it, but my pessimism got the best of me. “I do not think it would be good for the stars if we were to distract her from her responsibilities.” Someone as wonderful as her would not have a promising future with someone like me. My very presence here jeopardized her future. For now, it satisfied me with just seeing her. That’s all I could allow myself.

“Asteria!” Persephone shouted loudly towards the Titaness in the sky, quickly gaining her attention.

I flinched at the sound of her voice, looking for a method of escape. “We should return, Lady Persephone. Hades must be furious by now.”

“Persephone, I thought you were to be in the Underworld for two more months. What are you doing in the mortal realm?”

Her melodic voice rooted me to the ground from which I stood. It was far more beautiful than I imagined. I wouldn’t dare turn towards her, so I stood with my back to her, hoping it would hide the chaotic flood of emotions that were flitting across my face.

“Please don’t tell Hades,” she replied playfully. “He was summoned by Zeus, though I imagine he has discovered our absence by now.”

“Still the same as always. Hermes would be thoroughly pleased with your antics.”

“I suppose he would!”

They shared a laugh, but Asteria’s attention suddenly shifted to me. “Who is this?” She asked curiously.

“Erebus, don’t be rude.”

I silently cursed the Goddess of the Spring for quickly outing me to the Titaness. Surely she would have deduced who I was since she had so easily given my name. When I turned around, however, her face was as placid as a calm river. “It’s a pleasure to meet the Goddess of the Stars,” I commented with a deep bow of my head.

“Asteria?” Persephone prompted when the goddess stared at me without a word.

It didn’t require Athena’s wisdom to understand that she was uncomfortable with my presence. She must have contacted an Olympian and alerted them to my ascension. I only wish I could determine what was on her mind. It was difficult with how expressionless she made her face. I shouldn’t have looked at her; I shouldn’t have come here.

The goddess shook her hair, calling my attention to the ghostly, thin wisps that swayed in the air. “My apologies. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Erebus.”

Before the conversation could progress any further, the sound of ear-splitting screeches interrupted us. Glancing up at the sky, my eyes locked onto the blood-red eyes of an Infernal Goddess.