Dead? It wasn’t possible. “Pluto,” she called, ignoring Hades, who stared at her, his craggy face having sunk into deep pockets of rage and despair. “As the former queen of Abbadon and head council member, I implore you to reveal yourself.” Normally, the reminder that she had once ruled the underworld would have sent Hades into a fit of rage, where he’d wax on about the offset of power among the deities. But not this time. Instead, he continued to stare at her from the face the two deities shared. They were counterparts, deities that shared such a common history and personification that when they’d come into existence, it was as two deities in one body. Pluto had been the good one.
Had? What was she thinking? Shaking her head, she met Hades’s gaze calmly. “You’re blocking him.”
Glowering at her, Hades straightened up and flipped his long hair over his shoulder, a common gesture from him that never failed to induce a low chuckle from her. But the way he’d done it just then had seemed menacing. His dark eyes glinted with stone and she couldn’t tell if it was from newfound malice or just because he generally disliked her. “When you hit me, it was him you hit. You killed him.”
“That’s ridiculous,” she seethed. “I did not strike a killing blow.” It had been hard, but not enough to kill a deity. The scythe would have to draw blood to kill …
Rising to his feet, he towered above her, fury seeping from him. And some other emotion she couldn’t name that mingled with his rage and seemed like triumph. “My brother is gone.”
It wasn’t possible that she’d killed Pluto. It wasn’t. If she had, that would mean … “And I am to take your word for it, Hades? After all of this?” She spread her hands, gesturing to the teenagers surrounding them. “Eighteen years ago I said no. I turned you down. And now you have an army of bastard hybrid children, spawned from mortal women. What makes you think I’ll believe anything you have to say when you brought your hoard to our home and demanded leadership of the council.”
“You killed my brother!” he growled, his face creased in a mask of sorrow. “And why would I not bring my children here? This is their home too.” Even under his mask of pain, his rational words, she didn’t believe him. There was something off. He was playacting at pain, like he often did when he crossed souls over. And it wasn’t a good performance. By the nature of death deities, being in touch with humanity was what essentially kept death deities in touch with human emotion, and mortal empathy and compassion was a big part of that. Hades had always seemed unaffected, a sociopath within the death deity society.
Grim paused, gazing at him for a moment, the dawning of awareness coming quickly and chasing her uncertainty away. All the moments he’d demanded she turn over the scythe to the council and the countless times he’d spoken about opening the doors between realms flashed through her mind. Pluto was not dead, she was sure of it. Her sudden conviction eased the pain in her chest, and she sighed with a momentary pang of relief. It was the scythe, she thought, following the smooth, sharp curve of the tool—the instrument that allowed her to pass the dead over into Abbadon, the underworld. He’d wanted the scythe all along.
“You know,” she said, glancing up at him once more. “All these years I thought it was really me you were after. I thought you were angry that I was not some lesser deity to be forced into a disgusting relationship with you. Not some poor Persephone. After all, I was already queen, with no need for a king …”
Hunched slightly over, Hades took a menacing step towards her, his gaze a fury of hate and desire. But the desire wasn’t for her, it was for the gleaming tool she held in her hands, capable of destruction, of life. “You killed my brother.”
Grim ignored him. The truth was, Hades had been the stronger one of the two brothers for as long as he’d existed. The two deities shared a body, but more often than not, it was Hades calling the shots. Pluto could be trapped within him. “Pluto wouldn’t interfere.”
“He—I wanted to give you a message.” Hades stopped talking abruptly, his expression twisting, and he slammed his hands to his head. “I … I … It’s so quiet in here,” Hades moaned, clutching his head in his hands.
Rolling her eyes, Grim gazed unseeingly beyond him. There had been a moment when she’d thought, for just a split second, that a different expression, much more like Pluto, had surfaced on his face. Shaking her head, she blew air out and glanced at Hades again. She was certain he was lying, she just wasn’t sure why. “What are you going for here, Hades? Do you think to see me banished?”
A smile seemed to flash across his face, but it was so fleeting she couldn’t be sure. “I only want retribution for my brother.” He moaned again, and then the council flooded the chamber, surrounding Hades’s hybrid children.
“What madness is this?” It was Osiris, his thin, angular face set severely as he turned his gaze from Grim to Hades, pausing on the Greek deity of death. “Why have you brought discord to our realm, Hades?”
“He is after the scythe,” Grim said. Osiris seemed unaffected by her comment, turning his bony features to her.
“I am certain I asked Hades the question.”
Grim nodded, disliking the suspicion that hung in the cavern air. She was the oldest of the deities and at one time she had ruled Abbadon, but hundreds of years before she had relinquished that control and formed a council, and Osiris had long been one of her most senior members. She respected him. He was a shrewd deity. Surely he would not believe Hades’s lies.
Hades raked a hand through his long hair, tears streaming down his face. She would have laughed if the situation didn’t seem suddenly dire. A sense of loss washed over her, and she glanced to the council, catching Sebastiana’s gaze, her sister’s warm brown eyes glowing with concern. Her sister clutched her own scythe, the only other one in existence. Before the council turned their focus from Hades to her, she caught Seba’s gaze hard, willing her to understand. The two had always had a strong bond, so she felt a flush of relief when Seba glanced at her scythe and then back at Grim, nodding. Ducking her head, Seba slipped off silently into the cavern halls, the rest of the council members so intent on Hades they’d failed to notice anyone escape.
When Grim glanced at the council once again, they were sliding their gazes to her. “Hades has made the grievous claim that you have killed Pluto. As you well know, it is against deity law to take the life of another death deity,” Osiris said.
“He lies,” Grim said, trying to catch Kali’s eye, who had been staring at her beseechingly only moments before, but the Hindu goddess slid her gaze away quickly. A rumble of unease shivered through Grim, an emotion she was mostly unfamiliar with. Kali was a strong deity, and she had always backed Grim when it came to opposing Hades’s machinations. Something was very wrong within the council’s ranks, she thought, watching as Osiris held her eyes for only a moment before quickly glancing away. They’re afraid. But of what?
“He appears to be grieving true,” Mors said softly, her pale face drawn in grief. She’d been close to Pluto, but did she think him truly dead? The hybrids shuffled, and Grim felt the intensity of their gazes on her, ready to wage war on her at Hades’s word. Was the council afraid of these children? Surely not, she scoffed inwardly. There were many, but not enough to take the council, she was—the ground shook beneath her feet, and her attention flew to Hades, who was staring at her with a small smile tucked within the harsh planes of his face, his eyes glittering with victory. But what that victory was, Grim wasn’t yet sure.
“What was that?” she asked quietly, glancing at the council and noticing for the first time that several members were missing. “Where is Seker? Persephone?”
“Unavailable,” Hades murmured, never taking his eyes off her, all the grief he’d previously worn gone like a mask, but only she was seeing his true face. “And that sound was the rest of my children, coming to grieve their uncle and offer support to me in this darkest of hours …”
“You have more children?” Grim asked, feeling pity for the mortal women who’d bedded down with him. She shuddered. “How many women did you copulate with? The entire planet?”
Hades grinned slowly. “I’ve been making children for a while now. You’ll find that they are more than willing to—“
“Enough!” Grim’s voice boomed from the cavern walls, resonating against the stalagmites dripping with water and bringing the world to silence. “Surely, you must know he has planned all of this,” she said to Osiris. But resignation had settled on the ancient Egyptian god’s face.
“To kill a fellow death deity means banishment. We will meet at sunrise to give judgment on the murder of Pluto at the hands of Grim.”
“I did not strike a killing blow,” she said icily, trying her best to bring rationality back to the council.
“Is it true the scythe is the only means known to us to kill a deity?” Osiris asked.
“Yes, only the scythes have the power to deal a death blow. But I did not.”
“Have you killed a death deity before?
“No,” Grim said stiffly, the movement of more hybrid deity children filtering into the cavern filling her with a sense of dread. In the history of the council, no deity had ever killed another because only she and Seba held the power. What would banishment even mean? For the souls? For her?
“Then how do you know that you did not deal a killing blow?” Osiris asked, arching his prominent brow.
Silence hung heavy, like in the wake of death among loved ones. It was a sound she was very familiar with. They were already grieving her departure. “I suppose I do not know for sure,” Grim finally said, meeting Osiris’s gaze with her own.
“We meet at sunrise,” he said, turning. The remaining council members followed him, exchanging uneasy glances as they filed past the thousands of death deity hybrid children Hades had spawned, which were now taking over the underworld. Her home.
“Don’t forget to bring the scythe,” Hades said.
Smiling slowly, Grim nodded. “Oh don’t worry. If all else fails, I’ll level you with it. To Tartarus with the consequences.”
The smirk that had lit Hades’s face vanished, and she smiled to herself, turning and exiting the cavern. Hopefully, Seba had been successful hiding her scythe far from Hades and his legions of children. Regardless of what happened next, the underworld would never be the same.
* * *
Stay tuned for the conclusion to this short, which will be featured later this week!
K.M. Randall writes fantasy and paranormal for both a general and young adult audience. Her debut novel, an epic fantasy called Fractured Dream, launched in June 2014, and her second book, The Reaper's Daughter, launched May 2015. Randall also published Fairytale Lost, a prequel to Fractured Dream, as an exclusive on Wattpad. She blogs about dreams, female heroines, and activism and its relevancy to the literary and fictional world. And when in the season, sometimes she just likes to talk about Halloween. She is currently hard at work on the second book in the Dreamer Saga series, Shattered World.