AN Hi! First off, I want to apologize for taking so long to update. Depression and anxiety really suck, but I've hopefully gotten a handle on things. I'm going to try my best to update a lot more frequently. Second, thank you to everyone that's read this or is going to read it, you guys rock! And finally, keeping this story short is killing me lol. There's so much I want to expand on, scenes I want to show and characters I want to explore, but I promised myself this wouldn't spiral out of control like everything else I write. It's a promise I'm struggling to keep (especially in scene 2!).
Thank you again and I hope you enjoy!
the god of death and darkness
In the human world the temperature grew colder, the crops withered and men and beasts alike shivered and cursed the sudden chill. On Mount Olympus, the gods convened.
Gloss, king of the gods, most powerful of them all, and far too important to deal with rogue goddesses and their temper tantrums, shoved his hands through his hair in frustration. "Why is she doing this?" he demanded of the room at large, though most of Olympus' thrones sat empty. This was a delicate issue and he'd asked only Cashmere and Brutus to join him.
"She's distraught," his sister offered unhelpfully, her voice positively dripping with disdain. Ironic, considering how she behaved when she was distraught. Gloss glowered.
"I know that," he snapped. "But why? What has her so upset she's slowly sucking the life out of everything?"
Cashmere shrugged and Brutus banged his fists on the arms of his throne. "She probably doesn't even have a reason! She's a lunatic, I've been telling you that for years!" he bellowed and Gloss felt his ire rise. Cashmere nodded thoughtfully.
"You're right," she said. "You have been telling us that for years. Ever since Seeder turned herself into a horse to avoid having sex with you, if I remember correctly." Brutus' face turned nearly purple with fury while Cashmere smiled smugly, as proud and confident as her beloved peacocks. Gloss would be lying if he said he didn't have the urge to snort. Brutus' lips pulled back in a snarl and he opened his mouth, probably to say something heinous. Gloss couldn't allow that. No one, not even their brother, could be permitted to insult the queen of the gods.
"Enough," Gloss commanded, authority and power shaking the very room around them. Cashmere's smile dropped, Brutus' teeth clamped together and rage at having to obey him burned in both their eyes. Gloss didn't care. So long as they did obey him, he couldn't care less if they wanted to or not.
"We need this to end," he said and they did, before all of humanity starved or froze to death. He could make new humans, but that would take a great deal of time and effort. It would be much easier if Seeder could just learn to control herself.
"And how do you suggest we go about ending it?" Cashmere asked with venom soaked words. Gloss thought about it for a moment and then it came to him. He really was clever.
"Darius!" he boomed, the power of his summons touching every corner of Mount Olympus.
"Oh yes," Cashmere sneered, "I'm sure one of your bastards will be of great help." Gloss ignored her (it was safer that way) and Darius came soaring into the room. He landed before Gloss and smiled in his usual cheerful manner. Cashmere glared at him.
"You called Father?"
"I did. You are my messenger, so deliver this message to Seeder. She is to stop this behaviour at once and resume her duties. I command it of her."
That should solve that. No one could ignore a command from him, he was their king. The humans really were lucky they had a god as clever as him ruling over them. Darius nodded and flew off while Brutus muttered under his breath, "She won't listen. She's mad."
Gloss waved this off and ignored Cashmere's dark look. He'd solved this Seeder problem quite well if he did say so and now he deserved a reward. Before this Seeder business had distracted him, he'd been planning on seducing one of Katniss' nymphs and now that he'd prevailed, he not only had the time, but he deserved it. Callisto would make a fine reward.
So long as Katniss didn't find out. She was very protective of her nymphs. That was inconvenient but he'd manage. He'd been dealing with Cashmere's rages for ages, he could certainly handle Katniss.
And he'd saved the world. That had to count for something.
As soon as Madge had changed after breakfast, Posy looped her arm through hers and marched her out of the palace. It was mid-morning but the sunshine falling through the windows was faint and lacked any real warmth. It was disheartening.
"I really can't tell you how exciting it is to have you here. We never get visitors! Well, non-dead visitors. Actually visitors of any sort, because the dead people are here to stay. So really, this is thrilling! I'll show you everything! Not that there's all that much to see, but still! We can go to the Asphodel Meadows, the ferry, stop by the rivers, see the judges in action, go to Rory and Vick's cave and my house of course!" Posy said in a breathless, nearly impossible to follow rush. Madge's melancholy found itself shoved aside as she tried to keep up. The heavy front doors swung open and they stepped outside, the sun shining down over the desolate landscape only a shade lighter than it had been inside. A stone lodged in Madge's throat. Posy tugged her cheerily along.
"And I'll introduce you to the others as well! There's not really all that many of us down here that aren't dead, even the judges are dead! The judges decide where people go, did you know that? I mean Gale's in charge of them, so I suppose he must have told them what qualifies a person for where, but it's the judges who get to decide. Huh, I wonder if Gale could overrule their decisions? Probably, right? I mean he is the king. Well, anyway there're three judges, Boggs is the chief judge, he was some sort of king I think and...well I never remember the other two. They were mortals though, I know that." Madge nodded along, tried very hard to banish her creeping discomfort and found it both impressive and frightening how Posy didn't need to pause to take a breath or think.
"There's also the rivers, who are goddesses, but not like we are. I've never really understood that. And Thom's the ferryman. He might be dead too, I'm not really sure. Ooo, maybe we should ask! He could be a god I suppose, but he's not god of anything, so maybe not. Hmm. But Rory and Vick are gods though and brothers! Rory's the god of death and Vick of sleep and they live in a cave for some reason. I've never understood that, why live in a cave when you could live in a house? I do, but boys are strange. Vick'll probably be asleep when we visit, he usually is when he isn't working and Rory's always out collecting souls and stuff, but that's okay. We can wake Vick up, I'm sure he'll be happy to see we have a visitor! And Rory will just have to miss out. He'll be so jealous!"
"I didn't realize there were so many of you down here," Madge said in the first, and for all she knew only, lull in Posy's words. Posy tilted her head and frowned.
"So many of us?" she repeated.
"Well," Madge said and focused on the spindly trees lining the long, winding road Posy was leading her down, "it's just that Gale, he always seems so...so lonely."
Posy was quiet for a moment and Madge reached out to every tree they passed, but not one answered her. They were dead, everything here was dead and nausea bubbled within her.
"Do you really think so?"
Posy's voice was soft but curious and Madge found she was walking on her own. She turned around and Posy was just standing there, a small frown on her mouth.
"You really think he's lonely?" she asked and Madge just stared at her. Had Posy really not noticed? It coated him like skin, real and tangible and so much a part of him it was nearly impossible to imagine separating them.
"I...I do. I think he is very lonely, terribly so," Madge said and felt that same loneliness weeping in her bones. Their situations were so different, and yet, the result had been the same. Separated from the world and completely alone until...they'd found each other. She ached, but at the same time, secret warmth flickered beneath her skin.
"Oh," Posy whispered. "I had no idea." She bit her lip and seeing Madge's look of shock, she continued on. "He's our king, I suppose...well, it is hard to imagine a king wanting for anything. He need only ask and he could have everyone in the underworld provide him with company. But he never has."
Madge nodded and looked up at the ashen sky. "I am no expert on company, but I do not think company that comes by command soothes true loneliness." In fact, the more she thought of it, the more she thought it would only make someone lonelier.
"No, I...I suppose not," Posy murmured and when Madge looked at her, her eyes were downcast. The bright, joyful goddess she'd been only moments ago was fading; suddenly she seemed as dim as the rest of the underworld. Madge wrapped her arms around herself.
"But he has so much family above ground, how can he be lonely? Surely they must fill his heart. And he has always been distant, cold even to us, I always figured he found us a bother. I never imagined he could be lonely." It didn't sound like an excuse, rather Posy sounded confused, distressed and guilty. She looked up at Madge with beseeching eyes and though Madge wanted very desperately to bring back Posy's much needed cheer, the truth came out instead.
"The living world does not want him, not now that he belongs so much to the land of the dead."
It was a harsh pronouncement, a dreadful one, and Posy flinched.
"They do not want any of us." she murmured and Madge's chest throbbed for her, for Gale and for all the beings who lived below ground. How unkind fate has been to them all.
"I can travel freely between realms; with my torches I can lead lost souls here. I've felt how the whole world recoils from us," Posy continued. "But Gale was born there, he grew up there! How could it reject him?"
"I don't know," Madge said and couldn't understand it herself. "But it has. And it makes him miserable."
"Oh," Posy said, her voice very small. "But surely his family still wants him?"
"No, I don't think they do."
It was horrible to say it, to hear the words and know they were true. Posy flared up, but this time she did not glow with joy.
"That's awful!" she exclaimed, outrage on her tongue and misery in her eyes. "How could they?"
Madge hugged herself tighter and she wasn't sure she wanted to know. No matter what else she lacked, Madge had always had her mother's love (though perhaps that was the problem). But Gale's family had abandoned him as surely as the world had. She had the sudden urge to find him, to hold him and tell him that he was good and kind and charming and lovely and he deserved kindness and love in turn. Posy wiped angrily at her eyes with the backs of her hands.
"They may sit on Olympus' thrones, but they are clearly not a family worth having," she said. Madge nodded in agreement.
"I feel so horrid for never having noticed, but I shall make amends. I have, on occasion, attempted to make friends with him but I have always felt as if he didn't want me there. I wonder now if he thought I didn't want him there instead," Posy said and the last piece of the puzzle fell into place. Madge had wondered why Gale was so alone when he had other gods in the underworld with him, but it made sense now. He had been rejected by his family, friends and the only home he'd ever known for his association with the underworld, perhaps he feared the same rejection from the underworld for being from the world above. Her heart broke for him.
"I shall make sure he knows that I do want him here, that all of us here would gladly be his friend, if he wants us to be," Posy said and Madge felt her own resolve firm. She would let Gale know that he mattered a great deal to her as well, even as the very idea made her feel faint. She wasn't quite sure if she could properly articulate just what it was he meant to her, but he meant something. Something important. He deserved to know that.
"Do you really think he does? Want us as friends?" Posy asked, a tiny kernel of worry planted in her voice. Madge felt suddenly warm and without really thinking about it, she grabbed Posy's hand.
"I do. How could he not? I know I would love to have you as a friend." The words came out somewhat involuntarily and Madge's face burned. How silly she must sound. But Posy did not laugh or look at her strangely. She squeezed Madge's fingers and smiled. It changed the very air around them.
"I would love that too."
Madge felt her heart bounce. Oh.
"Now come on, let us go meet Thom," Posy said and pulled Madge along by her hand. Suddenly, the underworld did not feel so barren and bleak after all.
As eager as Gale was to see Madge again (and that was still so strange, being eager for something), he still had so much work to do. And, as he usually did, he brought that work to dinner with him. As much as he wanted to spend all his time thinking of Madge, he was still king of the underworld and he still had much to do. He always did.
And the last thing he needed was Rory to again notice his distraction and put the pieces together as to why now that Madge was here. Posy this morning had been bad enough, he definitely didn't need Rory joining in.
Gale spread his many clay tablets out in front of him and maybe Madge wouldn't even join him for dinner. She might choose to eat with Posy, who most would consider cheerier company. He'd never been to Posy's house, but he was sure it lacked the cold austerity of his own palace. Yes, Madge would certainly choose to eat with Posy and he would dine alone with his work as he always did. That was fine. This morning had been an unexpected blessing, but he was used to eating alone. He had no claim on her or her company and of course she'd rather Posy. Who wouldn't?
"I hope I'm not disturbing you," Madge's soft voice said and he dropped his stylus. He looked up and she was standing in the doorway, a small but warm smile on her lips. It wasn't quite as bright as the ones she'd worn above ground, but it was still brighter than anything else she'd sported since she'd come down to the underworld. Posy truly was a goddess of magic.
"No, of course not," he said and resisted the urge to sweep everything onto the floor. He hastily stacked his tablets and pushed them aside, Madge's eyes thoughtful as they watched. He stood and pulled out her chair, her sweet scent of wildflowers wafting around him. It was distracting.
"You're very busy, aren't you?" she asked as he sat back down and he nodded.
"Yes well, death never stops. But unfortunately I do. I sleep and everything piles up which means I'm always behind." He hadn't meant to sound quite so bitter and he winced. Madge nodded and bit her lip.
"If...if you want, I could help," she offered shyly, her eyes on the table. He felt his own widen.
"You want to help?" he asked and she nodded.
"You have so much to do and you've been so kind to me-" she began and something in him turned cold.
"Madge, you never need to earn your keep here," he said seriously. "You are welcome here as long as you want, no conditions, no payment needed."
Madge smiled at him, truly smiled like she used to when they'd met in the trees, and it was radiant. For a moment, it was like Marvel's sun really could reach all the way down to light his halls and warm his bones. He was breathless.
"I know and thank you. This has been...harder than I could ever imagine, but you have been impossibly kind and I cannot put into words how much I appreciate it. This is terrifying, but less so with you."
He wanted to say something, he truly did, but he couldn't think of a single word. All he could do was stare at her and she was the sun. He'd been right when they first met, she really was unlike anyone else in the world.
"I know I don't have to, but I want to help you. If you'll have me," she said and her cheeks were the softest pink, her teeth biting into her lower lip. She wanted to help? Genuinely? Gale felt a little like he'd had too much nectar, the whole world tipping sideways. He shouldn't let his hopes rise, he shouldn't, but they were rising anyway. She'd come because she had nowhere else to go, he knew that, but now she was offering to step a little deeper into his world rather than pull away from it. Madge, a goddess of living things, was here in the land of the dead and she didn't want to run. She wanted to help him. When was the last time his heart had beat like this?
He was pretty sure the answer was never.
"Yes, I'll have you, of course I will. If you're sure?" he asked because he couldn't believe she really was. His voice was oddly breathless and Madge smiled a little sweeter, his very blood seeming to heat in his veins.
"I am," she said with certainty and it was like she'd reached straight into his chest and touched his heart. She had it in both hands and he nodded with a dry throat.
"Then I'll have you, gladly."
He would. She already had him.
Madge hoped Gale couldn't tell how nervous she was as he led her to his study the next morning after breakfast. She wanted to help, she truly did, but now that the moment was here, all she could think about was the possibility she might make a mess of things. What if she proved more of a burden than a help? What skills or uses did she have for a king? His work was important, could she really aid him in it?
"And here we are," he said and she forced herself to focus on the outside world, rather than the anxiety clawing through her stomach. The study was large, ornate and impersonal, as every room in the underworld's palace seemed to be. The floor was a glossy black marble, as were the columns in the corners, each one shot through with silver veins. A curtainless window tried in vain to light the room, but the too distant sun could do very little. Gale's desk was broad and made of black wood, his chair high backed and terribly uncomfortable looking. The rest of the room was lined with shelves, each one overflowing with clay tablets.
"I know it's a bit of a mess," Gale began and Madge shook her head. Yes the shelves were overstuffed and yes his desk was covered in tablets, but she'd hardly call it a mess.
"Not at all. Considering all the work you have to do, this is far neater than I imagined." She said it with a smile but when Gale didn't respond, it fell from her lips. Had she insulted him? That was the last thing she'd wanted. She turned to him quickly, an apology or explanation or more probably a hybrid creature of both, already perched on her tongue. But Gale didn't look angry or offended, rather he was smiling. Or almost smiling. The corner of his mouth had quirked up and Madge's stomach fluttered at the sight.
"Well, now I feel a bit foolish to admit I was hoping you might help me organize," he said and Madge grinned in her relief.
"You shouldn't. I said it was neater than I imagined, not that it was neat," she teased and this time Gale's mouth formed a proper smile. There was a ball of warmth in her stomach and how could anyone quail at his company? She relished it. "I would be delighted to help you organize."
"You say that," he said as he led her over to one of the walls lined with shelves, "but I should warn you, no one's filed in here in...I couldn't even say how long." He snorted a bit but Madge didn't feel daunted as she took in the immensity of the task awaiting her. She wasn't afraid of hard work and as silly as it made her feel, when it came to helping Gale, she didn't think any task would seem too great.
"I can see that," she joked and Gale snorted again.
"In my defence, as king I have a great many things to do. Organization has never managed to overtake them in urgency."
Madge turned from the wall to Gale and placed her hands on her hips. "Until you need to find something that is, which I can't imagine you'd be able to do now. But you needn't worry any longer. I'm here now and I excel at organization," she said and it was true. There was little else for her to do back home if she didn't want to work at her loom. Gale bowed.
"Then I surrender to your expertise. I'll be at my desk if you need anything."
Madge nodded and watched him walk away, her smile stuck on her lips. Was she homesick? Yes. Did she miss her plants and the feeling of life all around her? Yes. Did the underworld unsettle her? Yes.
Did Gale make her feel warm and bright in ways nothing and no one else ever had? Yes.
Somehow, she'd find the courage to tell him that.
Ever since he'd descended to rule over the lands of the dead, Gale had worked alone. But today, for the first time, he didn't.
Madge worked steadily across the room, gold and pink and alive, and just her presence made him lighter. They didn't speak, they kept to their own tasks, but just knowing she was there, catching glimpses of her from the corners of his vision, even hearing her soft huffs and hmms, made the entire room seem brighter than it had on any other day. She murmured to herself on occasion, she even started humming as midday rolled in, but it wasn't distracting. It was energizing. Gale found his work easier to get through today, found his mood and focus so much clearer. Nothing about his situation had really changed, he was still king of the underworld, he was still surrounded by death, the world above ground still feared his name.
And yet, everything had changed.
Madge had changed it all.
"I really do have to thank you," Gale said as they walked to dinner, "I don't think I've ever gotten so much work done in a single day."
Madge felt her cheeks warm, felt her stomach flutter and bit her lip even as she smiled. "Oh, you don't need to thank me. I was happy to do it." And she really was. It hadn't even felt like work.
"Even still, thank you," he said quietly and touched her hand. "Having you there...for the first time, being king of the underworld did not feel like such a burden."
There was hesitancy in his voice, almost fear even, and Madge's heart tripped over its beats. The fingers grazing her skin started to pull away, but she didn't let them. She grabbed his hand and held it firm, even as her face went as red as roses. His words made her giddy at the same time they frightened her, but she remembered her talk with Posy and how her resolve had hardened. Gale deserved to know how important he was; he deserved to know how important he was to her. She would not give in to fear or uncertainty.
"That makes me happy," she said and wished her voice would steady. Gale's fingers squeezed hers in surprise. "I would...I would lighten your every burden if I could."
"Because you're grateful?" he asked, voice tight, and she shook her head.
"I am grateful, but that's not why," she whispered back, heart running against her ribs.
"No?" he asked, surprised, confused and maybe even a little eager. She looked up at him and he was watching her with beautifully dark eyes. A shiver touched her spine.
"No," she said as firmly as she could and his face was wary but hopeful, that shiver reaching deep inside her to touch places she never even knew existed. He leaned in towards her and she tilted her face up towards his, the space between them narrowing.
"No," he repeated, almost in awe, and brushed his fingers over her cheek. She leaned into his touch.
"No," she promised.
And suddenly there was no space between them at all.
The mortal world was still growing colder, crops were still dying, faster now than ever, and everyday things looked worse for humanity. Gloss was, to put it mildly, infuriated. This should already have been resolved and yet, somehow, it hadn't been. Seeder was still running amuck and Darius, usually unfailing reliable, had failed him.
That was unacceptable.
Gloss tried to breathe deeply, but his temper refused to be reigned in. He'd summoned an emergency meeting and everyone had come, except for Gale. It had been a bit of shock to receive Gale's message saying he was too busy to attend, but then, that was probably for the best. This was a frustrating enough situation, they didn't need his dour presence making it worse. The rest of the gods sat in their thrones and stared at Darius. They knew why they were here (and perhaps that was another reason it was good Gale hadn't come. They would've needed to bring him up to speed). Darius himself was pale and staring into his lap. He may have been the god of lies and trickery, but even he knew his silver tongue wouldn't, couldn't, save him here.
Gloss cleared his throat and all eyes shifted from Darius to him.
"Why have you not delivered my command to Seeder?" he thundered, the air itself crackling with his fury. Darius, usually so chipper, shrunk into himself.
"I...I did Father," he said in a small, frightened voice. Gloss stared at him.
"What? Are you saying she's disobeyed my order?" He almost laughed at the absurdity of that, but Darius merely nodded.
"Yes, Father. She says she will not stop until her daughter has been returned to her."
For a moment, there was nothing but silence. All eyes bounced between him and Darius, though now they were filled with confusion and disbelief. No one disobeyed a command from Gloss, they couldn't. And her daughter? Most in the room were probably unaware she even had a daughter; so tightly locked away did she keep the girl.
(Gloss knew about the girl and knew that she would inevitably get out eventually. Insulted by Seeder's lack of trust in the rest of them, he had already resolved to punish her by having the girl, multiple times if necessary)
"What?" Gloss found himself asking but without the heat he'd expected. Mostly he just sounded baffled. Darius cringed.
"She says her daughter has been stolen and so long as she grieves, so too will the world."