Lord of the Underworld. Lord of Terror.
He had consumed souls. He had twisted them into monsters. He had forced resting souls of fellow deities to take shape again and do his bidding. He had massacred entire countries. He had started a world war over a fake wish. He had drowned most of humanity into their own blood.
He had done it all. He could do it all.
Yet Zeus, his blasted youngest brother, the weakest god currently, made him do something he wasn't truly able to.
Hades took a sharp breath, angrily flexing his uselessly short, neon green claws, glancing down at the Palm-like tattoo on his arms that held most of his powers back from him. He still had these urges, even after coming back, even after being spared from exile through the suggestions of his own little brother and the young Goddess of Springtime, Persephone. These urges to scream and rage and go berserk like a caged animal, to tear off his own skin, get rid of this damned shackle, to go on a rampage, kill every god and then set the Earth ablaze. They passed by fast, sometimes as mere flashes, but still they were there, reminding him of the god he could be… and perhaps the god he should not be.
The pebbles gave their characteristic grating under his feet as he walked on the path, leading up to his destination. He made each step as slow as possible, yet he couldn't force himself to turn around and leave. What was even more aggravating, that it wasn't even because of some sort of spell the gods had put on him.
It was of his own free will. Zeus merely told him what he had to do now that he came back. And here was Hades, proud Lord of the Underworld, fighting a losing a battle against himself.
- At least nobody came along – he mumbled to himself.
That would have been just the worst, honestly. Hades feared his incredibly acting skills would have failed him terribly in that situation. He had always been an excellent actor, with performances so convincing he had used them many times in the past to stab foes in the back, or make them believe he was killed so he could slip away unnoticed. Gods know, this skill alone saved his hide countless occasions during the hundred-year-long Godwar against his father.
Foster father, actually.
Hades figured he should be thankful that he wasn't actually related to Kronos, but born out of wedlock. Let Poseidon and Zeus deal with having that lunatic bastard of a father. Hades had better things to do than that.
Like facing the single being in the entire Universe he did not want to face.
Despite his best efforts to make his journey as slow as possible, his destination finally appeared before him. The pebble-filled, winding path led up to a small hill in the middle of this long abandoned ancient dark forest where not even Viridi ventured much. Upon the hill stood the oddest structure one could picture, one that filled the god with both uneasiness and a strange, nostalgic sense of peace and safety. It was roughly spherical, towering over the ancient pine trees like a mount, and it was woven completely out of twigs. Thick branches of an unknown, long extinct plant wove themselves into a basket-like pattern, forming a dome that held a bottomless darkness in its depths. The entrance was covered by a curtain of twigs and beads on strings. Countless ages of moss, smaller plants, dust, rain and even a few trees gave this strange structure a lush green cover, a strong contrast against the dark grey branches. It was older than most gods upon this world, older than humanity itself.
The nest of Lady Rhea, Ancient Goddess of Motherhood. Mother of Zeus, Poseidon… and Hades.
The fearsome Lord of the Underworld stopped before the hole-like entrance, and timidly stared into the darkness beyond.
- Mother? – he called out, far less sure of himself than he would have liked. He could never ever sell any act in the presence of Rhea.
There was no answer, not even a twitch.
- I—I have returned home… from a long journey – Hades said softly, casting his gaze to the ground, reciting an ancient mantra of sons. – I have seen many miracles, done countless acts, faced daunting odds. I have been battered by the storms of life. Now I come back… to my cradle, to the place that is my home. Will you accept me back, my mother who set me upon this journey?
At first, only silence came once again. Then, a soft whisper that could almost be mistaken for a breeze:
Hades pursed his lips but did not look up.
- What have you done? – came the voice, somewhat louder this time.
- I… have committed many crimes and mistakes, I know that.
Why had he done all this? Because he had enjoyed it. Because it had entertained him to no end.
- Because I am a monster – Hades admitted in defeat, unable to lie to his own mother.
- I have sired you from Tartarus, free from Kronos' influence… yet you have surpassed my accursed husband in cruelty.
- I did.
- You had fought Kronos to free yourselves and humanity from his clutches. You should have been a protector, to both mortals, and to your own brothers! You are the eldest! – the voice was losing its weakness, growing angrier by the minute.
- I am.
- Yet… look at what you have done. Look at the destruction you have wrought upon these poor souls who only wanted to live and die in peace! – something moved in the darkness, and a huge shape slowly neared the entrance.
Finally, Rhea showed herself. She was huge, towering over Hades with ease, her almost pitch black, thick plumage gently waving in the afternoon wind. She was in her humanoid form, her four majestic wings wrapped around her body like a wide skirt. Only her porcelain-doll like face and hands were a stark white against the darkness of her body. Her black eyes were kept on her eldest son, speaking volumes of the emotions her smooth face could not truly show.
- And after all this… pain, misery, deception, betrayal… you dare come and ask me to accept you back?! – she hissed, her predatory fangs bared for a second from behind her cherry red lips.
Rhea was not to be trifled with. She was an ancient goddess, born in the Age of Chaos, when beast-like immortals roamed the land and fought with each other, leaving only the strong alive. Their clashes shaped the Earth to what it is now, their powers easily outshining anything the gods today might be able to accomplish. Rhea had been a fearsome predator in those times, surviving the madness, earning the respect and adoration of two ancient gods, Kronos, God of Time, Destruction and Monsters, and Tartarus, God of the Void, the latter being Hades' father.
Rhea's firstborn, the light in her life, the greatest treasure a mother goddess could ever receive. His real name, Aedos, reflected that well: it meant "Life's Gift" in the First Words, the language of the ancient gods. No matter what happened throughout the hundred years of the Godwar, after Zeus rescued his brothers from Kronos' stomach, Rhea was there support all of them, to gently guide them to help each other and work as a team. It seemed there was nothing that could ruin her bond with her children.
But that had been proven wrong a few decades ago.
Hades kept his eyes on the ground, unable to bear his mother's gaze.
- Yes – he finally answered, voice hoarse and weak.
Throughout his merry journey of destruction and death, he had not thought of his mother once. And now… Now he felt more miserable than ever before. A terrible feeling gnawed at him from the inside, it crushed his throat and he didn't have the strength to fight it. Was this guilt? How could anyone live with this?
- Look at me, Aedos.
With some difficulty, the god obeyed. His mother's beady black eyes nearly burnt holes into his soul.
- I have been crying since the day you first turned against my youngest, Zhe-ousa – Rhea began, tears streaming on her cheeks. – I had wanted to tear my heart out when he was cast aside and forced to flee. I lived every day of my life in the knowledge that he had died out there. Then you… you begin your campaign of terror. I slept and woke with the screams of children slaughtered by your monsters. I saw them die of starvation while their fathers were off fighting a fake war you had sparked!
Hades returned his gaze to the ground. He wanted away from here. The farthest away possible from here. But he had to stay and had to listen to what he had forgotten in his bloodlust.
- I… could not take it any longer. I fell upon a legion of yours and slaughtered them to the last – Rhea continued. – Every single one, before they could reach a town. If you had been there… I would have killed you too. I would have slaughtered my own son in my blind rage.
She slightly turned away as her voice failed her for a moment from sheer terror.
- You do not know how I felt… when I came to my senses. When I realized I had been ready and willing to kill my own blood. My eldest child. You did this to me!
- I'm sorry, mother – Hades answered softly.
- SORRY?! DO YOU BELIEVE THAT IS ALL IT TAKES?! THAT YOU ARE SORRY?! – Rhea shrieked, her voice like a chorus of a thousand birds of prey, thunder and gale.
Hades flinched away.
Their mother never hurt them, not even when they did something horribly stupid. Raise her voice, maybe shout, yes. But never hit them, or hurt them otherwise.
Now Hades was afraid.
You deserve it.
- Mother, I— – he stammered, unable to find the right words in a long long time.
Rhea took a deep shaky breath, her plumage flattening back to her body.
- Go away – she finally said.
- GO AWAY!
Hades fell back at the outburst, his hands shaking.
- I DO NOT WANT TO SEE YOU! YOU DO NOTHING TO RIGHT YOUR WRONGS! YOU JUST BEG TO BE TAKEN BACK! YOU ARE NOT THE SON I HAD RAISED! – Rhea screamed at him, still crying, her lower jaw slightly parting in her rage.
Hades took a step back but was unable to do anything more. Dread spread across him, as if something got crushed and now the shards pierced and cut him to pieces from the inside.
- Please – he whispered one last time, tears almost escaping from his eyes.
- FLEE OR DIE! – Rhea turned into her predator form, rearing high with all her four wings spread wide.
She came crushing down in front of Hades with a shockwave that rattled the world around them. Her swiping claw missed the god's face by a hair's length.
The Lord of the Underworld turned around and ran from his mother. There was nothing else he could do.
He couldn't remember how far he had run, or which direction he even fled to.
All he understood was that he no longer belonged anywhere.
By the time Hades' shocked brain could register things again, he was lying at the base of a twisting tree, covered by a white cape. It was midday, the Sun's rays mostly blocked out by the foliage of the forest, providing shade for him. A few meters away a small stream snaked across the forest floor, its bed made up entirely from smooth oval rocks the water had shaped for eons.
Hades forced some air into his lungs, mind reeling from the shock. He slightly pushed himself up, realizing that the white cape had a deep blue inside, with the light dancing on it like on an ocean bed. Hades fell back with a thud, unable to summon the strength to do anything.
Down by the river bank, Poseidon and Zeus had too noticed him stirring, so they got up from their spots (the storm god with the help of his brother) and they rushed there. Zeus still looked incredibly sickly and thin, his recovery from his three-hundred-year self-exile to deep space had been going on for decades, and it was still nowhere near complete.
- What do you two want? – Hades rasped, hoping to hide his pain.
- W-we fi—found you in… in… – Zeus said softly, struggling with the words.
- Shock – Poseidon finished, frowning as he steadied his little brother. – We couldn't leave you behind.
- Yeah, like you two care! – Hades snarled, throwing the damnable cape back to the sea god. – You two forced me into this in the first place!
- N-no force. Moth-mother want—ed to see you – Zeus shook his head solemnly, leaning against the tree for support.
- You knew you had to face her eventually – Poseidon placed the cape on his shoulder.
Hades stood up, shaking with pent-up rage. He wanted… he didn't even know which direction he wanted to turn his anger. There were too many possibilities, not just the two obvious targets before him.
- Well, now you two had your fill. Enjoyed the show? – he hissed instead with all the desperate venom in the world.
- We did—not see – Zeus gently reached out in a placating gesture, but Hades quickly knocked his hand away, not even caring about the threatening glimmer of Poseidon's trident.
- But judging by your reaction, we wouldn't have wanted to see it, either – the sea god changed his hold on his weapon, into just a bit more practical position.
Hades stepped back, looking away. He was snorting like a bull, but he couldn't do anything. He was stuck, enraged, desperate, bitter, lost, terribly afraid and—
—not the son Rhea had raised.
Hades ducked his head, wiping his eyes with the bottom of his palm. He couldn't cry, not now, not in front of his damnable brothers.
- Leave me alone – he said hoarsely, taking another step back.
- Mmod—mother can acc—ept you b—back – Zeus offered. – You need to—to…
- Prove that you can change back from the soulless monster you had become – Poseidon finished, positioning himself between Zeus and Hades.
- YOU TWO DON'T KNOW SHIT! – Hades exploded, screaming at them. – YOU WEREN'T THE ONES WHOSE HEAD ALMOST GOT CLEAVED OFF BY HER CLAW!
Zeus flinched violently, but Poseidon wasn't so easily impressed.
- We also weren't the ones who nearly drowned the Earth in human blood, just because it sounded like "fun"! – he answered in a raised voice.
Hades wanted to do so many things with his uppity younger brother, but the yellow Palm restrained him, forcing him to stand there and take it with helpless rage.
- You are the only one to blame, Hades. You have turned Mother against yourself. It's your damn job to make things right, if you want her to accept you back – Poseidon thundered, stomping with his left leg and sending a smaller shockwave into the earth.
- W—we can help, it t-takes te—time but… we can – Zeus said, slowly loosening up his guarded stance.
- I don't need your help – Hades forced the words through his teeth. – We are not brothers anymore, did you not get the memo? She dis—dis…
His voice failed him.
- But we are family – Zeus insisted.
- You should have never come back – Hades blurted out.
The next second Poseidon grabbed him by the collar and smacked him hard into the tree, keeping him there.
- I will ignore that last sentence, for the sake of your tongue, brother – the sea god hissed, blood red eyes gleaming dangerously.
Hades returned the glare with equal force, making it clear he would not take the words back. They weren't close siblings. They hadn't been close since winning the Godwar, and Zeus having the insane luck of earning the throne. Hades felt nothing towards his younger brothers.
"You should have been a protector, to both mortals, and to your own brothers! You are the eldest!"
The words almost made him flinch.
- What the hell do you think, huh?! – Poseidon snorted. – That we were just happened to have a walk in this part of the forest and found you by accident?! That we weren't deliberately looking for you, making sure you were alright?! Why do you think we would waste time on all that, if we didn't care?!
Behind him, Zeus nodded, Hades' last jab seemingly repelling with no effect.
- Let me go, will ya! – Hades somehow wrestled his way out of the grip, landing back on the ground.
He wiped his eyes again, his rage slowly morphing into pure, unadulterated despair.
- You shouldn't care. It's not like I deserve it – he breathed weakly.
- No, you do not – Poseidon grumbled.
- B—but it is n-not about de—deserving – Zeus added calmly.
- It is about sticking together finally.
Hades couldn't look at this brothers, he stared at the river, unable to regain control of himself.
- I hate both of you, you know that – he said simply.
- Yeah, you made that crystal clear, don't worry.
- But we d—don't he—hate you.
- I do, actually. But I am willing to work on that – Poseidon shook his head, earning a frown from Zeus.
A short snicker forced its way out of Hades, but it quickly died down. Poseidon's raw honesty was never easy to get accustomed to.
- I want to be alone – the God of the Dead blurted out.
- Ha—des – Zeus said gently.
- I said I want to be alone! Leave me the hell alone! – Hades glared daggers at him, making him shrink back slightly.
- So you won't even try? Was Mother right about you? – Poseidon hissed, his hair puffing up slightly in a threatening gesture.
Disregarding the Palm, the Lord of the Underworld aimed to tear his brother's throat out. The sea god quickly snapped his Trident into a defensive position, but he never got to use it. Behind them, Zeus cried out in alarm. The next second Hades crashed hard into a force field springing up right between them. The shield absorbed the hit, flashed up and immediately sent the god flying backwards with the force of a thousand charging bulls. Hades smacked into the ground, rolling over his head half a dozen times before a stronger tree trunk could finally stop him. His head rang, his chest hurt, and he failed to stand up the first time around.
Zeus collapsed, his own protective magic taking a terrible toll on his frail body. Before the underworld god could fully recover from the Reflect's effect, Poseidon already took up an offensive stance, protecting his unconscious brother, his teeth morphing into shark fangs as he snarled.
However, Hades was over his fit of rage. He dragged himself up from the ground, bits of mud, leaves and branches stuck to his cape. He breathed hard, the collision leaving behind a good amount of pain in his weakened body. For a brief, heavy second, the two brothers stared at each other with murderous rage.
Eventually, Hades turned his back to the scene and limped away.
There were no more other options for him, except being alone.