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. . .
The young god stared at the doors. In complete contrast to his youthful, slightly chubby body, they were impossibly massive, solid and imposing. He couldn’t quite work out what they were made of; as the sunlight bounced off them they appeared to be simultaneously gold, aged hardwood, iron, granite and black marble. This was Grade A deity work, not simply due to the size and the mind-bending weight, but also because they had suddenly appeared in front of him as he was sailing his boat on a vast empty sea. He peered over the prow of his small sailing vessel to see if he could see how far down they went but the sun glinted off the dancing waves, obscuring the view of all things submarine. He looked up and noted how the tops of the doors disappeared into a very localised sea mist.
He sighed and furled his sail, keeping one eye on the doors in case they did something else. He had just finished tying off when the enormous portals cracked open with a gusty moan; sea water swirled and sloshed as the doors pushed out towards him. The god watched impassively, arms folded, as twilight seeped out and caressed the wooden hull of his boat.
“I thought it was you,” said the god to the gloomy space beyond the doors’ threshold. “No-one does dark and imposing like you.”
“Purely subconscious, I’m afraid,” said Hades. “It’s a mind-set that comes with the territory.”
“It suits you.”
Hades stepped slowly towards the edge of his domain and peered cautiously at the brightly lit surroundings as if the sparkling sea and vivid blue sky were likely to give him a migraine. “I have a small job for you.”
“Thanks, but no thanks. I’m a free spirit; you know that.”
“Of course. But I do think that you may be interested in this particular assignment.”
The god raised his eyebrows.
“Something is afoot and it may involve your father.”
“Big woo. Isn’t it his prerogative to play silly buggers with the world?”
Hades dipped his head slightly in acknowledgement. “Indeed. But the player now seems to have left the world to its own devices.”
A frown wrinkled up on the young god’s forehead. “What do you mean?”
“Your father is missing.”
“Missing? How can he be missing? He’s Zeus.”
“That’s what I would like you to find out.”
“Is it Hera?”
Hades threw an questioning look at the god flavoured with faux innocence. “Is what Hera?”
“Oh come on, uncle. We both know that Hera is cunning and lusts after power; she would do anything to ascend to the throne and Zeus is the only thing in her way.”
“That may or may not be the case. But what is of particular interest to me is news of a creature that appeared at the same time as Zeus vanished. I would like you to find out if there is a connection.”
“It is described as being skeletal, undead.”
“I can see why you’re interested. But why should I be?”
“I thought we’d established the fact that your father has disappeared?”
The god on the boat shrugged. “Yeah. So what? It’s not like he’s been a proper father to me. I didn’t ask to be a god. And that mob on the mountain look at me as if I’m some kind of leper; they couldn’t stand the fact that my mother was mortal. I’m just happy doing my own thing, traveling the world, meeting people, having a good time.”
Hades lapsed into silence, considering his options. He paced the shiny black floor of his temple for a few seconds before turning back to the young god. “What if I could offer you something in return for your cooperation?”
A flicker of a smile twitched around the god’s mouth. “You only have one thing that you could offer to me.”
“Yes. And there is only one thing that you could ever want from me.”
“Fine. But to be absolutely clear about this I need to hear you say the words, lay down your terms.”
The God of the Underworld nodded. “I understand. My terms are that, should you locate this creature you are to bring it to me. In return, I will release your mother from my realm.”
“In what form will you release her? I need a guarantee that she will be able to move freely in the world, not shackled to the shadows, not as a tormented wraith with no substance, not as a fragile crone that may once more slip back to your side of the Styx.”
Hades clenched his jaw. “Agreed.”
“And to be specific,” continued the god, “she should be the same age as when she died, in good health with her beauty restored, and she should be immortal.”
“Oh, come on, boy!” he exclaimed. “I am not a wishing stone to be rubbed for outrageous favours.”
“No, you’re merely the supreme ruler of the Underworld and all of its inhabitants. No-one else has your power. And no-one else will ever make this request again.”
“Don’t underestimate the power of precedence.”
“Fine. But can you tell me of another immortal son of Zeus, whose mortal mother resides in the Underworld?”
The eyes in Hades’ face burned bright with barely suppressed frustration. “Alright,” he snapped. “I agree to your terms. But you must also enquire about your father. Bring me the creature and news of what has happened to Zeus…” he sighed before continuing, “and your mother will be resurrected as an immortal.”
The young god bowed. “Thank you, uncle.”
“The information I have places the creature in a particular region of the sea. I shall transport your vessel to that area, but after that you are on your own.”
“Of course. Should we share a drink before you leave?”
Hades had turned away from the doors to head back to his throne, but glanced back at the god on the boat who was now offering a golden goblet to him. “Did you make that?”
“The goblet or the wine?”
“Of course I made the wine. It’s my thing these days.”
“Then no, thank you. It gives me a bad head. Good bye, nephew.”
And with that the doors began to close, stirring the sea around them into eddies and vortices that rocked the god’s small craft. Mist spilled out of the narrowing divide between the doors, settling around the boat and rapidly obscuring everything from view. The god heard a deep thunk as the doors finally closed and then the mist began to disperse. He looked around. He was still at sea but away in the distance was a small island. With nothing else to aim for Dionysus unfurled his sail and set off towards it.
“No worries,” he said to himself.
The small boat bobbed towards the island with all the speed of a seal lost on a rugged hillside. Shadows were lengthening and Dionysus wondered whether he was going to make landfall before dusk. As he approached a small stretch of beach he was surprised to see another vessel with its bow nestled into the sand. It was a strange looking craft, missing a mast and looking like a cross between a hollowed out log and a shipwright’s mushroom-induced nightmare. He also had the strangest feeling that the boat, if you could call it that, was watching him. All in all, as far as his quest for Hades’ unnatural creature was concerned, this was looking promising.
He beached his boat and hauled it up so that it sat completely out of the water and retrieved his travel bag from the interior. He scanned the beach for a suitable vantage point and set off, eventually squatting down some fifty paces from his vessel. With his right eye closed he stared intently at his boat, lying on the sand. After a while the mind and the eye began to get confused about the true nature of the boat and he found himself staring at a boat that wasn’t a huge thing far away, but a small thing just in front of his face. Small… far away… small… far away… small. Satisfied that his unique perspective abilities had settled down, he picked up the tiny model boat in front of him and placed it in a wooden box inside his cloth bag.
The other vessel was definitely watching him. It seemed to have swung round so that the faded eye painted on the hull was fixed on him with terrific intensity. He nonchalantly ambled over to it and examined its exterior. An image flickered in his mind’s eye, revealing a flash of golden glory before his retinas regained control of sight again; the magical vessel was once again in its current state of crazy wooden tendrils wrapped around ancient reedwork. Dionysus peered over the bulwark and took in the interior. It was just as nightmarish as the hull and just as bereft of living entities. He corrected himself; he wasn’t looking for something living. Plus, he was fairly sure that the boat itself was, in some way, alive or at least sentient.
He patted the hull. “Easy, fella. I’m just looking for someone.”
The sun was now below the horizon and the boyish deity realised that he needed to strike off inland before it got too dark to see. As it was, spotting any useful paths was going to be tricky. Still, this was all second nature to a god that had spurned the easy life of Olympus in favour of trekking through the untamed lands far to the east and south. He had acquired many skills over the years and a mellow temperament to go with a pragmatic one-day-at-a-time outlook. He hefted his bag onto his shoulder and set off. He vaguely pondered how he was going to take an undead skeletal creature into his custody but decided not to worry about that until it happened. In his experience things usually worked out. In the experience of those who came into contact with Dionysus, they tended to be of the opinion that this was simply down to his incredible patience combined with his complete lack of giving a shit.
He mooched along what appeared to be a seldom-used path, pushing grasses and branches out of his way as he went. The path slowly ascended towards the interior of the island and eventually he came to a fork, one climbing higher to his left and one levelling out to his right. Ever the supporter of the easy option, he turned right. A short while later he heard voices, some male and some female. He rounded a large bush and was confronted with a wooden house, yellow light from oil lamps illuminating the interior and spilling out onto the small clearing in front of the dwelling. Laughter suddenly erupted from within.
“Alright!” said Dionysus to himself. “A par-tay! Ain’t nobody more welcome at a social gathering than me.”
And with a grin he headed for the door.