09. Invitation

Act I. Dark Ascension

EREBUS

“Next,” I called out to the abyss. A depressed soul floated forward, revealing her long golden hair and dark blue eyes. She had to be no more than twenty-five years and yet she appeared like she’d seen the darkest of moments in the Mortal Realm. ‘She looks similar to Asteria, though not nearly as beautiful,’ I couldn’t help but think.

“Where am I?” she asked in a soft whisper.

“We are between the world of the living and the world of the dead. You may refer to it as the In-Between. It is where it’s decided whether you will go to Tartarus or the Elysian Fields.”

“And what has been decided?”

“Nothing has been decided yet. State your name, age, and cause of death. And do not lie. It will not benefit you, he will know,” I said, repeating what I told all individuals who passed through.

“Lilliana Asters, twenty-two years old. Cause of death was asphyxiation because of strangulation,” she replied, as though she was reliving her death.

I could tell she wasn’t lying. She was another poor victim of a criminal. She did nothing to deserve it; she didn’t belong in Tartarus. “Pass through the door and pay the ferryman one drachma. When you arrive, you will find yourself in the Elysian Fields. May you have a blessed afterlife,” I instructed her.

“Thank you,” she said as she disappeared.

“Next.”

“Erebus!” a familiar voice called my name. When I turned around, it was none other than Lady Persephone.

“Lady Persephone, what brings you to the In-Between? Such a dreary place does not suit the Goddess of Spring. Perhaps it might be better if you wait for me in the Elysian Fields after I’ve completed my day’s work?” I asked as another soul stepped forward, this time a man.

The man looked between me and Persephone in confusion before questioning, “Persephone is a real person? I always thought Greek gods and goddesses were a myth! You are far prettier than the textbooks describe!”

“Thank you! I hope you end up in a wonderful afterlife,” Persephone said, throwing her hands up in happiness.

“Only speak when you are spoken to, mortal,” I snapped at him. “State your name, age, and cause of death. Lies won’t be tolerated in the afterlife.”

“I’m dead?”

“Dead souls are the only ones who can pass through the gates of the Underworld. Now respond to my prior inquiry, you are delaying my schedule and I would like to retire for the night on time.”

“Erebus, I spoke to Hades, and we came to an agreement. Could you please take five minutes out of judging to listen to what I have to say? I think it will benefit you greatly.”

‘What could they have to offer me? Is it something better than the In-Between? No, I mustn’t get my hopes up,’ I thought. ‘No matter. I should still listen to what she has to say.’

“Charon,” I called the ferryman, and he appeared in an instant. “Please hold all new souls here until I return.”

“As you wish, Lord Erebus,” Charon replied with a solemn bow of his head.

‘Tch.’ I followed Persephone through the same door, although it led us to the gardens outside of her and Hades’ palace.

Hades was sitting at a table, sifting through stone tablets. His features were contorted into a frown as he perused its contents. He looked up suddenly as he sensed our approach. “Persephone, I thought we agreed we would wait until he finished his daily tasks. Why did you bring him here now?”

“A ball takes a lot of time to prepare. The sooner he knows, the sooner we can prepare and send all the invitations out!” she exclaimed.

A ball? “You plan to have a ball in the Underworld? Who would ever want to come to such a lonely place? Surely there are better parties in the Underworld,” I countered. It was strange enough that a ball was being discussed, but even more strange that the Lord of the Underworld decided to assist with one.

“You see now? We would be better off requesting an area in Olympus for a celebration,” Hades said in response.

“Everything is booked with Dionysus’ festivities,” Persephone explained.

It didn’t take too long for me to realize what they were talking about. Everyone knew Dionysus didn’t care where the party was, so long as it was being held at all. And the last party the God of wine threw ended with half of Olympus being destroyed. It would take Zeus’ blessing to allow him to have another.

“Hades, I’m no fool,” I started.

“No, you’re not,” he interrupted. “The truth is Persephone would like to have a masquerade ball thrown in your honor and invite all the Olympians and any other deities to attend to extend their appreciation for your services. I know it is not much compared to the things you have told me and will not make up for centuries of melancholic solitude. However, I think this event may produce favorable results for you.”

“Dare I ask why it is a masquerade ball?” I asked.

“When was the last masquerade ball you went to?” Persephone responded with another question.

“None, of course.”

“Why not make the first ball a special experience?”

“I suppose you have a point. Because you have gone through all this trouble to hold such an event just for me, I will accept the invitation. But I only have one request.”

“Name it and it shall be done,” Hades answered.

“Please do not invite Lady Asteria.” I knew how my request sounded, but a part of me wondered if this was all an elaborate ploy to get Asteria and I in the same room. If I saw her again, I didn’t know if I could part with her once more.

“Why not?” Persephone asked.

“I rather not say,” I replied.

“But—” Persephone began.

“It took a lot of courage for Erebus to make such a request, Persephone. We mustn’t question his choice.” Hades looked at me and added, “You have our word we will not invite Lady Asteria.”

“Thank you. Now, if there isn’t anything else we need to discuss, I shall return to the In-Between. There are approximately thirty-seven souls left to judge,” I acknowledged with a bow of gratitude.

“You may return, but remember to set some time aside to decide what clothes you will wear to the ball. Persephone hopes to have it fairly soon,” Hades agreed.