04. Dark Encounter
Act I. Dark Ascension
“The night is still young, Asteria! There will be plenty of time to be with your stars just as there will be enough night for the lovely Nyx,” Dionysus jested whilst greedily gulping down every bit of ambrosia in his golden goblet.
His purple chiton was draped casually over his left shoulder, and the way he carried himself about the ballroom left little imagination of what was underneath. However, it was still characteristic of the God, as he held no notion of modesty and only lived by two principles: ecstasy and wine.
There were two women, who I assumed was brought here from the mortal world, thrown over either side of him in an act of coquetry. One of them, a brunette, gently ran her hands through his thick brown locks, while the other had more intimate intentions in mind as her hand roamed along the bottom half of his body while she batted her doe-like eyes. The scene was always the same obscene scene.
I would have stayed in my castle, but tonight, Dionysus was hosting a feast in celebration of the birth of one of his children, Deianira. Most of us didn’t want to attend given her destructive nature towards the male sex, but to turn down an invitation from one of the Olympians would be considered an act of treason and disrespect.
There were many stories of his daughter, Deianira, but every single one ended with the truth: how she killed her husband Herakles out of ignorance when she discovered he had fallen in love with Ione. To earn some forgiveness for her sin, she took her own life, only to have Dionysus retrieve it from the Styx’s depths.
“There should be a limit to how much we can do when we reach a certain age,” Nyx muttered under her breath, pulling me out of my thoughts. My eyes met the dark-haired beauty wearing a raven-colored peplos that forced me to doubt my simple, blue gown. She popped a grape into her mouth, uninterested in the exotic dance that served as tonight’s entertainment.
“You raise a reasonable point. But how soon would the limit apply? I ceased counting after the second century,” I retorted with a light laugh.
“I do not know, but I imagine that Dionysus should have earned a sense of modesty by now.”
“It seems your imagination is far too wild for me.”
“Asteria, do you see?” she asked whilst placing a gentle hand on top of my own to keep herself, or rather me, anchored.
My eyes followed her gaze, only to feel as though a bucket of cold water had doused me. It was my estranged husband, Perses. After five centuries of complete silence, he was suddenly in my life again, but not how I expected. His olive green eyes were filled with proud determination as he looked up proudly at the individuals that were welcoming him and his new lover, Deianira.
As if he could feel my eyes searing into him, his head slightly turned until our eyes locked onto each other’s.
‘Shall we take our leave?’ Nyx asked in my mind.
‘Yes, the stars are calling for me,’ I replied, knowing that Nyx would recognize that it was a poor excuse. It was still a reason.
We stood up from our chairs and attempted to slip past the doting couple, but a cool hand gently grasped my arm, forcing me to turn around. My eyes traveled from the hand to the eyes of its owner, the Destroyer of Men. She had her blonde hair pinned up in a modest bun, drawing attention to her high cheekbones and glittering forest green eyes. She wasn’t unlike the other women that Perses had paraded around before, but it was enough to rouse anger that was seated in the pit of my subconscious.
“Are you leaving so soon? Is the food not to your liking?” she inquired.
“I actually quite enjoyed the food, but it seems it has lost its flavor. Now, I cannot help but want to drink enough ambrosia to drown out the bitter aftertaste,” Nyx quipped in annoyance.
At any other time, I would have asked her to be more courteous to the guest of honor, but civility was no longer an option the moment that Perses decided he wanted nothing more to do with me or with our child after she was born. Laughter erupted awkwardly from me, gaining the puzzled attention of other guests.
My reaction even elicited a strange one from Nyx, as she was glancing down at me like I’d lost my mind.
Deianira pursed her lips in response and looked to Perses, hoping that he would say something to defend her honor. To her chagrin, he was openly admiring some female entertainers with great interest. She smacked his arm to regain his attention, which compelled three sets of eyes to snap towards the spot she had so callously hit.
Nyx and I knew that he absolutely despised being treated. He was an old-fashioned deity, believing that women exist for two reasons — personal pleasures and menial tasks such as cooking, child rearing, and cleaning. I could recall all of our disagreements and heated discussions that ended painfully abruptly because of my ignorance of his reaction towards aggression.
“Do not lay your hands on me again, woman,” Perses snarled, removing her hand with disgust sprawled throughout his features.
He ran a hand through his copper-tinted hair in frustration, moving to get as far away from her as possible, but not before capturing my gaze. Hope surged within me, wondering if he would ask about our daughter or even about me. But he flashed a toothy grin that would have had me swooning in the past, but now bred frustration and feelings of inadequacy.
After we left the banquet, I returned to my stars, and Nyx did her best to spread nightfall to the eastern hemisphere. Hecate’s astral projection was sitting in boredom on a lone star in the sky, watching me reposition them.
“Daughter, if you have completed all of your duties, perhaps you could help with tonight’s constellations,” I prompted her, without looking up from my work.
“The stars will not accept me. I am nothing but a simple witch that curses an individual now and then,” Hecate replied in a playful tone.
“Might you consider adding ‘creator of excuses’ to that title of yours?” I said, looking up just in time to see her face flush with embarrassment.
“I have many things to do, Mother! Hades always finds ways to keep me busy, I cannot just push that away just to help.”
“If you are so busy, why are you speaking with me instead of completing such tedious tasks in the Underworld? Surely, you must have more pressing matters to tend too.”
Silence. It was like a calm before the storm when she suddenly changed the subject, “I heard Father attended tonight’s festivities. How is he?”
I could hear the anticipation in her voice. She had hoped that Perses spoke of her or changed since the last time she encountered him. It pained me deeply that she looked so much like the man that I’d grown to dislike. I didn’t want to see the disappointment in her innocent violet eyes.
“He seems to be doing well. I did not have an opportunity to speak with him. Your godmother’s raucous behavior kept me quite busy,” I lied, hoping that would be enough.
“I wish I could have attended. I have so many things to discuss with him.”
“I will let him know if I see him again.” My attention returned to the twinkling stars; they were practically begging to be returned to their rightful places.
Propelling myself forward, I landed on another star, crafting a line from each ball of fire to the next until the constellation of Andromeda was carefully embedded in the dark sky.
“Asteria!” a voice called out to me. I turned my head around to my daughter, wondering if she was the one calling for me. I was prepared to deliver a lengthy lecture about her informal use of my first name.
However, she pointed to the ground below to show that it was the Goddess of Spring calling for me. Her ghostly apparition dissipated into nothing, leaving me alone with Persephone.
I jumped from the heavens to the dew-covered grass, landing softly in front of Persephone and her unidentified companion, who rudely refused to make eye contact with me.
Blinking in his direction a few times before greeting her, I replied, “Persephone, I thought you were to be in the Underworld for two more months. What are you doing in the mortal realm?”
“Please don’t tell Hades. He was summoned by Zeus, though I imagine he has discovered our absence by now.”
I clicked my tongue and shook my head in disapproval. “Still the same as always. Hermes would be thoroughly pleased with your antics.”
“I suppose he would!”
“That is hardly a compliment.” My eyes roamed over to the dark figure that was hunched over.
“Who is this?” I asked, feeling anxious. There was something about him that exuded worry and concern, but not in a good way.
“Erebus, don’t be rude.”
He turned around slowly, revealing his full appearance. An awkward smile danced around the edges of his lips. His hands were visibly quaking at the sides of his body. If I didn’t know any better, I would say that he was terrified. I didn’t know if it was from me, Persephone, or something else entirely.
“It’s a pleasure to meet the Goddess of the Stars,” he murmured. His velvety voice sent waves of warmth through my body.
The dark aura of the Guardian of the In-Between oozed into the surrounding space, draining the energy from the flowers in the fields. The unspoken truth rang louder than the hooting owls and chirping crickets altogether. He was not supposed to be here.
“Asteria?” Persephone asked, looking at me innocently.
“My apologies. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Erebus.”
I glanced at Persephone out of the corner of my eye, thrusting a simple question into her mind: What have you done now, Persephone?