The word went out across the realms. To every fane and temple, to every heaven and hell. To every underworld. From the nine regions of Mictlan to the deep islands of Annwn. From the frozen shores of Niflheim to the depths of Tartarus. The word flew to every ear keen enough to perceive it – a god of starlight had descended to claim the throne.
Persephone was not impressed. Olorun struck her as an ambitious interloper at best and an idealistic fool at worst. Who was he, this god of the heavens? Where were his temples? Who were his followers? Questions no one seemed able to answer.
“Why are we here, husband?” she asked, looking up at Hades, as they approached the throne room of Olympus. “There are more important matters requiring our attentions than the coronation of a foreign king.”
“Politesse, my dear. We were asked to come, and so we have come.” Hades threw back his all-concealing hood, revealing handsome, pale features. As ever, the sight of him took Persephone’s breath away. Nonetheless, she arched an eyebrow.
“Commanded, more like.”
“Be that as it may, even my sister recognizes his claim to the throne.”
Persephone snorted. “Because she’s an ambitious hypocrite, and always has been.”
Hades frowned. “I would not go that far.”
“No? Wasn’t she the one advocating for a council of the gods, not long ago? All with an equal voice in the affairs of the world? What happened with that particular endeavour?” Persephone shook her head. “I do not deny the good Hera has done, or that she has suffered for it. But I find it strange that she, of all of us, would welcome this stranger – and let him sit on her husband’s throne, as easy as you please.” She tightened her grip on his arm. “I would never allow such a thing.”
Hades gently kissed the top of her head. “No, I have no doubt that you could rule in my stead, and rule well, daughter of Demeter.” He laughed. “Sometimes I even consider abdicating, and just letting you get on with it.”
Persephone slapped his arm. “Don’t joke about such things. I’d rather not tempt fate at this juncture.”
Hades’ smile faded. “Are you certain about this?” he asked, softly. “This plan of yours.. it is dangerous. Have you fully considered the consequences?”
“I always consider the consequences, my love. From the moment I bit into the pomegranate, I have done nothing else.” She smiled sadly. “You know as well as I that if it is not done now, we may never get another chance. Who knows what havoc this Olorun will wreak, or what unseen ramifications Hera’s actions will have. If humanity is to survive, we must help them. For who better than us knows what they endure?”
Hades sighed. “Yes. Before, I did not see.” He kissed her again. “Not until you showed me, my dear. Whatever comes, I will be by your side.”
“That is all I ask, my love.” Persephone thrust an errant curl out of her face. “Now – smile. We got to meet a king.”
Ahead of them, the great doors to the throne room of Olympus were pulled open by two guards, clad in Olympian livery. Persephone bestowed a kindly smile upon the men as they knelt at the passing of the gods. Once, she had barely noticed such little souls. As her mother’s daughter she’d had greater concerns than the brief lives of those who fed on Demeter’s bounty.
But upon becoming the Queen of the Underworld, she had been forced to learn. To sit in judgement beside her husband and hear the stories of the dead. Ignorance had given way to sympathy. How could one listen to such tales of grand tragedy and quiet heroism and not be moved by them? And more besides – for she had seen the awful pattern that bound every little soul that descended into the underworld.
Her fellow gods were not the protectors she had imagined them. Instead, most of them were conniving tyrants, grasping greedily for worship without pause or concern for what effect their actions had on those they were supposed to protect. Hades was different – there was kindness in him, though he hid it beneath stoic indifference. It had taken years for her to help it flourish and grow, to show him how to be the kind of god the dead deserved.
There was music playing, beyond the doors. Gods from all the pantheons had come to Olympus to see this new self-proclaimed king. Servants and spirits moved among them, carrying refreshments. She saw some gods she recognized, others she knew by reputation only. Izanami, Matron of the Dead, glared at her challengingly and flexed clawed fingers, while Baron Samedi tipped his hat respectfully. But while many of the gods of the dead were here, there were also gods of life and light, thunder and sea, in attendance. She spied horned Cernunnos prowling the edge of the crowd, his gaze wary and his manner that of one uncomfortable with such gatherings. Terra, the Earth Mother, stood regal and aloof amid lesser gods, her expression unreadable, as nearby, aged Sylvanus relaxed in the branches of his lumbering tree-beast and conversed animatedly with Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun. There were others whom she knew only by sight. Representatives from almost every pantheon had come, it seemed.
Among the familiar faces, she saw Nu Wa, the Guardian of Heaven. The goddess stood watching the new king of Olympus, a speculative expression on her face. Persephone glanced at Hades, and he nodded. She pushed through the crowd towards her old friend. Nu Wa was one of the few gods Persephone respected, for they shared a concern for the lives of mortals. “And what do you make of him then, my lady?” Persephone murmured, as she joined the other god. “He has descended from your territories, has he not?”
Nu Wa shook her head. “No, he comes from stars farther than mine, though their light shines just as brightly.” She looked at Persephone. “What is your opinion of him?” Persephone shrugged. “Too early to tell. Though I find it hard to trust anyone who is so eager to claim a throne that is not theirs.”
“Zeus is gone. Someone must sit on it.”
“Must they?” Persephone murmured.
“Your husband once attempted it, setting his nephew and niece against one another.” Persephone frowned. “A mistake. One he has sworn not to repeat.”
“And what of you?”
“Persephone looked at Nu Wa, but saw no hint of guile in her expression. “I do not make mistakes,” she said, after a moment. She glanced towards the throne, and the being who occupied it. He was.. impressive, that could not be denied. He shone with a celestial radiance, even at rest, and his eyes blazed like distant suns. They passed over the gathered gods, seemingly missing nothing.
She had seen that look before, on Hades’ face – and on her own. Here was a god who fancied himself a judge. A flicker of unease passed through her as she considered the implications. Hades, noticing her disquiet, joined her and took her hand.
“It will be all right, my love. Whatever else, I am here.”
“They did not all answer my summons,” he said, quietly.
Hera turned. “Did you expect that they would?” The once-queen of the gods stood at his side, as his advisor. The others had their own tasks. Ra and Kukulkan had gone forth as Olorun’s ambassadors to the pantheons, while Horus hunted for his treacherous uncle.
“No.” Olorun paused. “But I hoped.” He sighed. His claim to the throne was still tenuous. Set was abroad and causing no end of trouble. Too, Bellona, Discordia and various others saw opportunity in the current strife. While they had not defied Olorun openly, neither had they acknowledged his authority.
“It will take time.”
“It will take more than that, I think. They hear words, but they must see action before they will believe.”
“And that, I presume, is why you called this gathering.” Hera frowned. Olorun could feel her annoyance. He had not told her why he had requested the guardians of the various underworlds to attend him. It was not a matter of trust. He could read her heart as easily as he could read the stars.
“Yes,” he said.
“What are you planning? I cannot help you, if you do not tell me.”
“Patience, Hera. All things have their season.” Olorun leaned forward. The throne was uncomfortable. He supposed that was the point. It kept one alert. He studied the gathered gods. They talked amongst themselves, but there was no friendliness, no camaraderie – only politesse. Something Olorun intended to change. For many mortals, the gods of the dead were the first and only gods they ever met. Of all the gods, they were the ones who knew humanity best.
“Do you smell that?” Hera muttered. “Camazotz. Foul creature.”
“Olorun followed her gaze, and saw the bat god crouched atop one of the broken pillars that lined the throne room. The creature did not seem interested in socializing with the other gods. Instead, he eyed them with undisguised greed, eyes alight with bestial anticipation. The creature stiffened suddenly, and turned to meet Olorun’s gaze.
Olorun met and held Camazotz’ glare, and the bat god looked away first. “The Lords of Xibalba sent him as their representative, even as I sent Kukulkan to them,” Olorun said. “Their idea of a joke, perhaps.”
“Better the death bat than Ah Puch, at least.” Hera paused. “Ah. Late as ever.”
“Ah. Late as ever.” Olorun turned. “Hades and Persephone,” he said, recognizing the two gods walking hand in hand towards the throne. The other gods gave way before them, though whether out of respect or fear, he couldn’t say.
“Clever Persephone,” Hera said, a slight smile on her lips. “And my brother, trailing after her like a shadow. Nothing ever changes.”
Olorun didn’t look at Hera. “There is derision in your voice.” He didn’t ask the question, but Hera answered it regardless.
“Some, perhaps. She thought she was clever. But the only profit it brought her was my brother’s kingdom of shadows.”
“It seems to agree with her.”
Hera’s frown returned. “Yes. Sometimes, I wonder if she was as foolish as we thought. She has proven an able consort for Hades, if nothing else.”
Olorun smiled slightly. “You do not approve?”
“Hades was besotted with her.”
“You did not answer my question.”
Hera didn’t reply. Hades and Persephone had reached the foot of the dais, and together, they knelt. Olorun gestured. “Stand, please. I ask no god to bow before me.”
“And yet you call yourself king,” Persephone said.
Olorun felt Hera bristle, but bestowed a wide smile upon Persephone. “Do you doubt me?” he asked, making no effort to speak quietly.
Persephone glanced at Hades. “We do not know you, my lord,” Hades said.
“That I speak for him should be enough,” Hera said.
Olorun raised his hand. “Peace, Hera. I can speak for myself. And he is right. They do not know me. None of them do. Long have I maintained my distance from the affairs of gods and mortals..” He rose to his feet.
“But that time has come to an end.”
Persephone felt a wave of power radiate from Olorun as he rose. From his expression, she could tell that Hades felt it as well. The new king of Olympus had all the strength of Zeus or Odin. A god among gods. To confront him openly would be foolish, if not suicidal. It was no wonder Set had made himself scarce, and that Bellona and the other, more belligerent gods had not issued the expected challenges.
Olorun descended the steps of the dais, his radiance dimming only slightly. “Who is this pretender to Zeus’ throne? That is the question you ask yourselves, even as you partake of my hospitality. Nor are you alone in asking it.”
He smiled, and the light around him turned warm and comforting. “I do not begrudge you the question, my friends. You have every right to ask it. You have every right to ask it. You have every right to question my right to lead. As yes, I have given you no reason to trust me – or follow my commands.” His smile faded, and the warmth with it. “But I will. That is why I have requested your presence, especially.” The light that bled from him changed, becoming stark and piercing. Persephone was reminded of the cold emptiness between the stars.
“As far as requests go, it sounded an awful lot like a command,” Baron Samedi spoke up. He leaned on his cane, a wide smile on his face. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m not partial to being told what to do.”
“Indeed,” Izanami said, her voice as cold as the grave. “Such a command smack of hubris. We are not lackey, to be ordered about thus.” Her eyes flashed with rage as she pointed a rotting talon at Olorun. “Did you call us here just to flaunt you strength?”
“No,” Persephone said. “No, he wants something from us. Something he cannot get from any other god.” She looked up at Olorun. “That is it, isn’t it?”
“Indeed.” He nodded. “You are as clever as Hera said.” He looked around. “You rule the dead. You know all who die, and pass through your realms. Is this not the case?”
Persephone glanced at the others. Some looked confused. Others, wary. “We know the dead by name and deed,” Hades said. “That is our duty.”
Olorun looked at him. “So where then are the fallen gods?”
Silence fell, and the question hung on the air. Persephone tightened her grip on Hades’ arm. Olorun shook his head. “Could it be that you do not know?” he said. “Could it be that Zeus and the others slain in the early wars of the pantheons are not truly dead?”
“If that is the case, where are they?” Samedi asked, smiling slightly.
“I believe he is asking us, Baron,” Persephone said.
“Forgive me, my lady but I make no claim to omniscience, save where it concerns the dead. And since they are not dead, as Lord Olorun maintains.. well. I am at a loss.” Samedi turned. “What of you, Lord Hades?”
Hades drew up his hood, hiding his face. “I have nothing to say on the matter.”
“One of us must,” Anubis growled. “They have no passed to me for judgement, though I expected Osiris at least.” He turned a suspicious glare on his fellow gods. “Olorun is right, one of us must know something – anything!”
“The Lords of Xibalba know nothing of this,” Camazotz hissed. “There are no gods in their ball courts.”
“Would they tell us if there were?” Anubis said.
“Choose your words carefully, jackal,” Camazotz shot back. He flapped his wings, as if readying himself to leap. “Or I might be inclined to add your head to my collection.”
“He has already died once,” Izanami said. “I know this, for I saw it. And yet here he is.” She bared her teeth in a savage grin. “Do you have an answer for us, my lord?”
“I assume it is the same as yours,” Anubis said. “I am lord of death, and it has no true hold over me. Not for any length of time.”
“A pretty story,” Izanami taunted. She tossed her hair, dislodging a maggot, and gestured with a claw. “Shall we test that boast?”
“Silence,” Olorun said, before Anubis could reply. Again, his eyes swept across the assembled gods, and even Izanami looked away. “Anubis speaks the truth. Gods, whatever their sphere, cannot truly die. But they can be trapped. I know this, for I have seen it. Even as I know the identity of the one who holds them captive.” His gaze came to rest on Hades.
“My lord.. perhaps you best explain yourself.”
Olorun watched as Hades stiffened, as the other gods turned to him in shock. Hera stared at him. “Brother – what have you done?” His eyes flicked to Persephone, watching her expression. She glanced at him and he knew then he had made the right choice.
It was a calculated risk, this. But a grand gesture was needed. He had to show the gods what sort of king he was, so that there could be no room for doubt. If that meant confronting the lords of the underworlds and forcing their acquiescence, so be it.
Hades shook his head, and made to reply, but Persephone touched his chest. “No, husband. I will not let you take the blame for my actions.” She looked at Olorun. “My husband is not at fault, as you well know.”
Olorun nodded slowly. “I do. What I do not know is why.”
“What?” Hera said, looking back and forth between them. “What do you mean?”
“Zeus and the others are not dead,” Persephone said, not looking at her. “They merely sleep. And will do so until I say otherwise.”
“You.. have my husband?” Hera said, softly. Olorun set a hand on her shoulder.
“Peace, sister.” He looked at Persephone. “Why have you done this? Why prevent them from returning, as Anubis and the others have?”
Persephone drew herself up, and matched Hera’s glare with her own. “All of them came to me, as meekly as the souls of the mortals whom you pretend to care about. And so, like the mortals, I judged them.” She paused. “They were found wanting.”
“You do not have that right,” Hera began.
“I have every right,” Persephone said, cutting her off. “As Queen of the Underworld, such is my prerogative. And while they are mine – while Zeus is mine – he will never return to Olympus.” She cut her eyes to Olorun. “Then, that would suit you, wouldn’t it?”
Olorun frowned. He felt the sting of her words, and knew the other gods were wondering the same thing. “You know nothing about me.”
“I know enough. You call yourself king, while the true ruler of Olympus languishes in the underworld.” Persephone smiled. “But fear not, pretender. He will continue to do so. Zeus and the others are mine. I will not release them. They sleep now. But soon, they will do more than that. Something much worse.” She laughed. “Just recompense for the lives they have destroyed with their hubris, I think.”
“I will not allow this,” Olorun said. He descended the dais, as if to seize her, but Persephone gestured and thick tendrils of plant matter erupted explosively from the floor. The writhing tendrils lashed out violently, driving back the closest of the gods. Olorun swept out a hand and loosed a blazing orb of celestial energy. Tendrils withered at the touch of the orb, but more rose to replace them as Persephone retreated into Hades’ embrace.
The lord of the underworld enfolded his wife in his cloak, and darkness bloomed, obscuring them from the sight. Even as Olorun lunged forward, his light sweeping away the dark, he knew they were gone – vanished from Olympus, and returned to the safety of the underworld. Only Persephone’s last taunting words remained to mark their passing.
“If you want Zeus and the others, you will have to come and get them.”