Fortuna, 8,000 light-years from Earth

Security is always tight on the capital world of the Tyche Empire, and today even fewer people are admitted in the royal palace: the young goddess is getting dressed for her wedding.

She stands proudly as her slaves make the last few adjustments to her blue silk dress. The flaming halo above her head floats a little higher than usual, leaving space to work for the woman who is fixing her hair in a fancy hairdo. The woman is wearing an extremely revealing pink dress, and while she doesn’t look much older than the adolescent Tyche, this is actually her mother Aphrodite.

-You look stunning, my dear. Without me in the audience, everybody would be staring at you.

-Please don’t make a scene, mother. I already have to keep an eye on Dionysus – Tyche pleads.

-No promises – Aphrodite giggles, caressing her daughter’s check; pink sparkles flow on her face, fixing her makeup in an instant, before coalescing into a red rose on her hair.

-I’m serious, mother. I’m only marrying him because I need to validate my political situation, but it would reflect badly on me if you were found sleeping with him. The fact that you already had a son from him is awkward enough…

-Oh, speaking of Priapus, should I tell him to call you sister or aunt now?

-Mother!

-Fine. But you still haven’t told me why you didn’t invite any of my children to your wedding.

-Isn’t it obvious? – replies a male voice. The attendants are surprised to see a man was allowed to be present, and the first of them walks angrily towards him.

-This is sacred ground! No mortal is allowed to lay eyes on the Goddess without-

The attendant doesn’t finish the sentence because she just disappeared in the blink of an eye. And as the man walks towards Tyche with a smile on his face, the other women disappear just as quickly.

-Because Hera is officiating the wedding, and any reminder of Tyche’s illegitimate birth would only undermine her status. Besides, having to decide whether to find a wife or a husband for Hermaphroditus would only frustrate her – the god explains.

-I love it when you say smart things, Hermes – Aphrodite says, literally throwing herself in his arms to exchange a passionate kiss. Tyche rolls her eyes at this.

-Nice timing, father. If you’re here to reclaim your title and your kingdom…

-Is it too hard to believe I missed my daughter and decided to be at her side at her wedding, sweetheart? – Hermes asks, pinching Tyche’s nose. To her frustration, she’s too slow to stop him.

-Yes, and don’t call me sweetheart. What do you want?

-Aphrodite, my lovely, lovely rose, can you please give us a minute? I promise I’ll repay your kindness later tonight – Hermes tells the goddess of sex, kissing her hand.

-I’ll hold you to that – she replies, disappearing in a cloud of pink cloud that Hermes pushes away.

-Ugh. I swear, if she wasn’t the hottest thing in the universe, your mother would be really annoying.

-Why are you here, father? You care for my wedding just as much as I care about Dionysus.

-I’ve been keeping an eye on you, sweetheart; I may be keeping a low profile these days, but I’m still Hermes. For example, I know that you conspired with Ulysses to convince my sweet Noriko to kill the Nine Gods.

-Yes, too bad it turned out he was actually Athena in disguise. What is your point?

-Hera is my point. Enforcing all the vassals to get married is the worst idea she’s ever had, which is quite an accomplishment considering her past, and we should either change her mind or take her out of the picture entirely.

-Why do you care? You’re no longer a vassal. And as much as I’d like to avoid marrying a drunkard like Dionysus, I’m turning the situation to my advantage.

-Only because you haven’t figured out who Ilithyia is going to marry. She only has one logical choice, and that choice is going to throw Olympus into a civil war.

-I don’t know what you’re talking about. But if you’re so worried, why don’t you propose?

-Pfft, and have Hera as my mother-in-law? I’d rather watch Olympus burn. You see, sweetheart…

Tyche – she stresses.

Sweetheart, I’m going to survive this just fine. Empires rise and fall all the time, and I’m too smart and important to be forgotten. A minor goddess with little political clout, though?

-I’m the Goddess of Destiny. If anything is supposed to happen in the future, I’ll know.

-I’m sure of it. After all, you knew I’d visit you today and you already know who Ilithyia is going to marry, right? I’m sure everything will be alright, sweetheart – Hermes tells her, kissing his daughter on the forehead before blinking out of her sight.

-Just when I thought I had him figured out – she sighs.

 

Hell, 163.000 light-years from Earth

Noriko had almost forgotten how hot this place is. Now that she’s exposed to its atmosphere, she has problems breathing its air: she can feel her lungs burn with each breath.

-Sorry – Torn tells her, ready to take her back to Earth.

-Wait – she answers, clicking a hidden button inside her green leather jacket. Complex machinery hidden inside the fabric hums softly, surrounding her body with a bluish aura.

She leans against the Demon, catching her breath and coughing a couple more times.

-I forgot it’s ڤۆلثىنلث season – he shrugs.

-Doesn’t that mean “volcanic” in Demonic? – she asks, taking a few steps towards the nearest open window… and immediately regretting it, seeing the gigantic tornado of ash sweeping the red desert under the cloud of fire that covers the entire sky. She takes her N-Phone out of her pocket and uses one of its least downloaded apps, a pocket mass spectrometer.

-A tornado made of sulfur. You do realize that I would die without this environmental shield, right?

-I do now.

-And where are we, exactly? – she asks, looking around. Hell’s architecture is sufficiently alien and uniform to leave little options for taking any guesses.

-We are on top of the Desecration Mountain, beyond the Valley of Despair.

-A popular tourist attraction, I’m sure – Noriko jokes.

-We rarely have visits in Hell. And when we do, people rarely leave alive.

-Remind me to explain you what sarcasm is, Torn. But really, what is this place?

-A sanctuary for the very few gods that have been granted access to Hell. You are the first mortal foreigner to set foot here – he tells her.

They have reached an elaborate gate with a pentagram on flames on it. Two massive Demons begin to open the door; even though they’re twice the size of Torn, they are visibly struggling with it.

-Glad you have responded to my invitation – a female voice says from the other side. An elderly Demon woman touches the gate, giving it a light push; she has even less muscles than Noriko, but she moves the massive door like it was light as a feather.

-Lady Of All Demons – Torn nods respectfully.

-“Invitation”? Torn said this was very urgent – Noriko says jumping straight to the point, receiving a disapproving look from the guards for her breach of protocol.

Once they’re inside, Noriko finds herself reluctantly admiring the décor. Its resemblance to the Throne Of The Universe can’t be a coincidence; there are five massive thrones of bones, obviously arranged in a pentagram. Vice sits on the largest one, and to her credit the Lady Of All Demons remains imposing even when the throne is so much bigger than her. Noriko walks towards one of them, but Torn stops her from sitting on one of them.

-No. These are reserved.

-For these “VIP gods”, I guess?

-I don’t know that word – Torn admits.

-You’ve lived on Earth for years! How can you not know what it means!?

-Heard it mentioned. Didn’t care.

Noriko sighs, wondering if she’ll ever get used to her Demon friend, when something catches her attention: a shadow creeps out of one of the thrones and solidifies, turning into a god. His face is hidden beneath the shadow of his black cloak, making it impossible to distinguish his features; but the chills that his presence gives are unforgettable.

-Hades. It figures you’d be the one with a front seat to Hell.

Null. Be grateful that you are already in my graces; any of the other gods allowed in this chamber would not allow this attitude.

-Anyone I know?

-Ereshkigal, Inanna, Anubis and Baal – Vice recites.

-I’ve never met Anubis. And I didn’t even know this Baal existed.

We all wish he didn’t exist.

The god’s voice is soft, barely more than a whisper like it often is. But Noriko can sense a touch of fear beneath his composure; she gives him a chance to change the subject.

-Well, we both traveled to another galaxy for this meeting, so I bet it’s something important that you really, really want to keep a secret from the other gods.

The fame of your legendary intelligence is well earned, Null. Tell me, what do you know about the history of the House of Kronos?

-Not much; Vesta once told me her official title is “Princess of the House of Kronos”.

A title she shares with my aunts Themis and Tethys. Zeus killed all the other children of Kronos. Since Zeus, Poseidon and I founded our own houses when we married, this left only three male heirs to the House of Kronos: Prometheus and Atlas, stripped of their title for their betrayal, and the son of Hyperion and Theia.

-Helios. I know Greek mythology, Hades, what does this have to do with anything?

Ilithyia wants to marry Helios. When she does, as the only married couple in the House of Kronos, they will become the lawful rulers.

-I’m not following. Do they control a lot of territory?

No. The title holds no actual power and is effectively meaningless.

-Please don’t tell me you made me come to Hell just to gossip about your family…

Helios calls himself the Sun God, a title challenged by Apollo. While my nephew does have his own house, it’s not as prestigious. He will declare war over that title.

-So what? Gods fight all the time, and Apollo’s territory is on the other side of the Galaxy.

All of Ilithyia’s immediate family will declare war on Apollo. You have to understand, Null, that the Olympian Galaxy has enjoyed thousands of years of peace because the three galactic superpowers… Apollo, Ares and Athena… kept each other in check. If Apollo falls against a coalition that includes Ares, it will start a civil war against Athena.

-So what do you want me to do? Convince Helios to let this thing go?

You killed his sister Selene. He will never listen to you. You must kill him.

-That sounds like a recipe for disaster. I don’t particularly like Ilithyia, but I don’t even know Helios; if you’re so worried about this, why don’t you kill him?

And spend the next million years defending myself from Hera’s schemes? I would rather not.

-But you don’t have a problem with her targeting me, right? Jeez, Hades, what is it with your family and backstabbing? Why is talking things through always out of the question?

Not all families can be easy like your own.

-I believe the correct Earth term is “gotcha” – Torn comments.

-Oh shut up. I’m getting tired of solving every god’s problem! Where is Zeus in all of this, Hades? I mean, he probably wouldn’t like a civil war in his own family, right?

Lady Vice. Torn. Please leave us, I must speak with Null privately.

-As you wish, Lord Hades. Follow me, Torn – Vice obeys, taking a bow before leaving the room followed by an unsurprisingly silent Torn.

This leaves Noriko alone in the same room with the lord of the dead.

-Well? What’s the big secret?

Zeus has disappeared. Olympus has been without leadership for decades.

-What do you mean “disappeared”? And how can that be a secret?

My brother has ruled Olympus for a million years; a few years would normally go unnoticed. In fact, we’re used to him vanishing for centuries at a time. But when I went looking for him after the return of Isis, I could not find him. He’s not in any galaxy I know.

-That’s just crazy. Does Hera know?

She doesn’t. As far as I know, there is only one other god that knows this secret, and he won’t hesitate to use this knowledge to his advantage at the first occasion.

-Which god is that? Please don’t tell me it’s…

Hermes.

-Yeah, I was afraid you were gonna say that – Noriko admits, biting her lower lip.



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