Cupid and Joxer were walking around the newly formed temple, admiring the collection of bizarre things and putting in some finishing touches.
The pit of toads seemed to have no purpose to Cupid, but Joxer insisted that it was a necessity.
//Cupid, come to my audience chamber. We need to talk.// Ares called to Cupid. The serious undertones of the message made a chill crawl up Cupid's spine.
"Gotta go Jox, Dad's calling for me." Cupid said and vanished in a pink flourish.
Immediately Cupid appeared in Ares main hall to be confronted by the icy serious gaze of his father.
"Cupid. I have decided what retribution I require from you." Ares said in a voice of deep solemnity. "You feel that you were a bad son to me because you didn't share in my life, well my retribution is to require you to accompany me through the most painful thing in my life and share it with me."
Cupid felt his heart sink at the look in his father's eyes and the words that were spoken. "Where are we going?" Cupid asked in a quavering voice.
"Follow me, you'll understand soon." Ares said as he walked away.
Cupid gathered himself and followed silently.
They came to a door at the back of Ares' temple. Cupid knew this door. The only place in all of Ares' temple that he had never been permitted entrance. Strife and Cupid had tried for months to open this door but it was locked by mortal and godly means. They had wondered about the contents of this room and had decided that it must be a torture chamber.
With a wave of Ares' hand, the locks and wards fell away from the door of the room.
With hesitation, Cupid entered the dimly lit room. He looked around and was confused by the hodgepodge of items sitting around. There were a few pictures, some weapons, a few scrolls and a harp.
Ares stood by the door as Cupid began to make his way amongst the piles of things. The items looked somehow familiar to him... and yet he couldn't place why.
"What is all this stuff Dad?" Cupid asked his father.
Ares only responded with a hard, pained look.
Cupid decided to look closer at some of the items. He picked up one of the scrolls and recognized the handwriting. [Olerion!] Cupid thought to himself. Then with an icy shiver crawling up his spine, he looked around the room again with understanding. This room contained memories, pain, loss, and grief.
With tears running down his face Cupid realized that the retribution his father had decided upon was to share in this pain... this pain that he should have shared in the first place.
"I'm sorry Dad, I should have been there to share in your mourning." Cupid said weakly, not knowing exactly what to say.
"They deserve better than this... they've been forgotten." Ares said with his own tears.
"Then lets do something for them, make a memorial to the fallen. We can make sure that they aren't forgotten." Cupid said, knowing that this is what he must do to balance things with his father.
"How will we honor them?" Ares asked carefully.
"Together. We will decide the best way to honor each of their memories. Dad, I know how painful it would have been to do this alone, but we can do it together. When we're done we can get Ter, En, Pho, Demi, Harm, and Bliss to come here and get to know the fallen."
Ares got a weak smile on his face and nodded. This was exactly what he had been hoping for. His eldest surviving son wanted to share in his pain and grief and to honor the memory of his fallen children both god and demi-god, Cupid's fallen siblings.
Zeus was nervous. He knew Hera too well to expect her to remain on the sidelines as he had a good time. He had a feeling that she would be striking at any time and he needed to be prepared.
//Jett, I need to talk to you for a moment.// Zeus called out in uncharacteristic timidity.
//Sure, let me ditch the dragon lady and I'll be there in a minute.// Jett replied.
About two minutes later Jett appeared beside Zeus.
"What did you want to talk about?" Jett inquired calmly.
"I was with Hera long enough to know her mode of operations. She'll be striking at me with another attempt at vengeance soon." Zeus said with worry.
"Makes sense." Jett said, knowing that there was more to it.
"Since we've been playing together, she might target you to get to me." Zeus said with irritation beginning to creep into his voice.
"So what do you want to do about it? I mean, do we wait for her to act? Do we do something to prevent her from acting? Or do we strike first?" Jett asked with a gleam in his eye.
Zeus considered it for a moment and said, "Do you already have something in mind for a first strike?"
"I do." Jett said with an evil smirk.
Asclepius walked into Ganymede's room and saw him sitting in deep, serious contemplation.
"Gan, are you alright?" Asclepius asked quietly.
"Yeah Ace, I've just been thinking about things." Ganymede said distantly.
"You feel like sharing your thoughts?" Asclepius asked timidly.
"Yes and no. I mean, I know that I can tell you this stuff and you'll be here to help me. But, at the same time, I feel like I need to do this myself." Ganymede said with a bit of misery in his voice.
"Then how about I just hold you and tell you that everything will be alright?" Asclepius asked seriously.
Ganymede considered the words and his face broke into a smile.
"Yeah, I think that's just what I need right now." Ganymede said and stood to take Asclepius into his arms.
"Everything will be alright." Asclepius said quietly as he laid his head against Ganymede's chest and held him tightly.
Cupid and Ares had worked for two hours, sharing ideas for suitable shrines to the fallen when Cupid received a mental call.
//Cupid.// Hephaestus called in a neutral tone.
"Daddy Hep's calling me. Why don't we call it a night so you can get home to Joxer. I'll think about this and we can work on it again tomorrow." Cupid said quietly.
When Ares heard Joxer's name, any argument that he might have made left him completely.
"That sounds like a good idea. Good luck with Heph." Ares said as he left the room.
"Yes, Daddy Hep?" Cupid responded as he materialized in his step-father's study.
"Your mother and I have decided on the retribution we require." Hephaestus said without a hint of emotion.
"What is it Daddy Hep? Just tell me and I'll do it." Cupid said with desperation in his voice.
"We've given it a lot of thought. There have been a few things that have irritated one or the other of us over the centuries but there is only one thing that you have ever done that has actually been a disappointment to us." Hephaestus said and took hold of Aphrodite's hand for support.
Cupid stood, not daring to breathe, waiting for his punishment in the ensuing silence.
Aphrodite broke the silence by saying, "Cupie, you never want anyone's advice or help until you've dug yourself into a hole, then you come to us to dig you out. Our retribution is that you are going to have to do this on your own. We aren't going to tell you how to fix this. You made this mess and you are going to fix it without our help."
"We love you son, you know that. But this once, you're going to have to do this off your own back. You'll have to decide how to make amends and how much is enough. The only hint that I'll give you is that this has nothing to do with your work... this is about our family and your place in it." Hephaestus said solemnly.
Cupid nodded sadly and said, "Thanks mom, thanks Daddy Hep. I'll figure out how to make things right... I love you."
Then Cupid flashed out in a muted pink blur.
Jayce appeared in the main hall of Hades' temple. Thanatos had said they could meet here, since Tartarus was difficult and unpredictable to navigate.
//You came?// Thanatos thought in surprise.
[He expected me to change my mind when I'd had time to think about it.] Jayce thought sadly.
//Yes, I'm looking forward to seeing your sculpture. How was your day?// Jayce asked genuinely interested.
//Not very busy, with Ares being on his honeymoon, business is slow.// Thanatos thought in response with an expression that might have been a smile.
//Mine is slow too. It looks like I'll be getting busier in the next few weeks. Apparently harvest season is a peak time in the debauchery business.// Jayce said conversationally.
//I suppose it would be. Are you ready to go?// Thanatos asked, with a bit of worry showing under the words.
//Sure, lead the way.// Jayce responded with a smile, trying to put Thanatos at ease.
Thanatos had led him to the river Styx and to Charon's boat. After introductions were made, the boat ride was made in silence.
Eventually they made their way into Tartarus. A shiver of fear ran through Jayce’s body but Thanatos reassured him by saying, //You can always transport yourself out, nothing will harm you while you are with me.//
Jayce became somewhat comfortable with his surroundings. Thanatos' assurance had worked and he just enjoyed the unfamiliar landscape as they made their way to Thanatos' home.
Finally Jayce asked, //I'm just curious, why didn't we transport there?//
//Truthfully, I wanted to see your reaction to Tartarus.// Thanatos responded, sounding a bit ashamed.
Jayce thought about that and asked, //How did I do?//
//Better than most. I've seen the shades of some of the most fearsome warlords break down into tears before this point.// Thanatos thought with a smile.
//This place has its own dark beauty. I mean, once I got past the whole 'this is the place you go for eternity when you're damned.' part, I could see the beauty in the craggy stones and the pools of lava, and the stalagmites are fascinating.// Jayce thought as he continued to follow Thanatos until they stopped in front of a cave.
//This is my home.// Thanatos said, seeming to be embarrassed.
//You don't have a door?// Jayce asked with curiosity.
//I never needed one... everyone around here is afraid of me.// Thanatos said simply.
Jayce could see how Thanatos might frighten someone who didn't take the time to get to know him.
Thanatos led the way in and Jayce was amazed by the interior of the cave. The living area that they entered was warm and friendly, possibly the most comfortable room he had ever been in.
//Your home is beautiful!// Jayce thought in wonder as he looked around the room at the comfortable furniture, ornate vases, finely woven tapestries, and beautiful arrangements of dried flowers.
//Thank you, I hoped you would like it.// Thanatos beamed with pride.
//I really do. Where are your sculptures? I've been waiting all day to see them.// Jayce asked excitedly.
//Right through here.// Thanatos said with worry in his mind/voice.
Jayce followed as Thanatos led the way through his home.
They entered a large cavern. Thanatos made a gesture and torches lit the room. Jayce’s breath was nearly taken away by the beauty of the sculptures before him. There were sculpted animals, people, and various other things.
Thanatos watched with worry as Jayce walked from statue to statue without saying or thinking a word.
//So?// Thanatos sent in a timorous mind/voice.
Jayce turned to face Thanatos and had tears in his eyes. //I've never seen such beauty captured in stone. You have a wondrous talent.// Jayce sent with awe in his mind/voice.
//Do you have a favorite?// Thanatos asked as he watched Jayce walking from sculpture to sculpture.
Jayce considered for a moment, then walked to one of the smaller, more delicate sculptures; a raven rendered in onyx and said, //This one, it looks so lifelike that I keep expecting it to take off into flight at any moment... and I don't know how you managed to get so much expression into the eyes but they tell a story of hurt and loss... too many things seen... too many people lost...//
Thanatos was surprised by Jayce’s very accurate interpretation of the expression he had given the raven. He knew how the raven made him feel, but didn't know anyone else would be able to see so deeply.
//When you leave, I'd like for you to have it.// Thanatos said hesitantly, not wanting to be too forward.
//Thank you Thanatos... may I call you Than?// Jayce asked tenderly.
A smile flitted across Thanatos' corpse-like face and he nodded.
//Than, I know I just came to see your sculpture but... could you come with me to the mortal realm for a while? You have shared something so personal with me, that I want to do the same in return.// Jayce asked timidly, fearing rejection.
//Of course.// Thanatos responded with a smile.
//Then follow me.// Jayce said and disappeared in a purple flash.