And Zee waited his turn and tried with all his might not to run from the room, from this moment, from the utter certainty of what was about to happen. He tried so hard to keep his hand on her shoulder, firm and true. He tried so hard to keep from dissolving completely, so his grandmother would see him solid and present and strong. Never doubt that. You never doubt Grandmother Winter. In that moment Zee—who had never considered an afterlife, and even if he had, certainly would not have believed in it—felt with his entire body, from his toes to his tear-filled eyes, that she was telling the truth.
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And Zee waited his turn and tried with all his might not to run from the room, from this moment, from the utter certainty of what was about to happen. He tried so hard to keep his hand on her shoulder, firm and true.
He tried so hard to keep from dissolving completely, so his grandmother would see him solid and present and strong. Never doubt that. You never doubt Grandmother Winter. In that moment Zee—who had never considered an afterlife, and even if he had, certainly would not have believed in it—felt with his entire body, from his toes to his tear-filled eyes, that she was telling the truth.
Grandmother Winter took a big breath in, a loud, urgent breath—and then Zee saw something flash in her eyes, and what he did not know was that his grandmother was having her last premonition.
Her face darkened, then she turned to her boy, her beloved Zachary, and pulled his ear right to her mouth. It would be her last breath, and with it she said two distinct syllables to Zee. But he did not understand them and would not for several more months. How could he? For when he leaned in close to her, close enough to smell the floury, powdery, lotiony smell of her, Grandmother Winter had whispered: Me-tos. In the beginning there were some mishaps—the Persephone business and the whole Heracles to-do—each and every one caused by some rupture of the world of the Living and that of the Dead.
No more, though. Hades learned his lesson quickly enough. There would be no more journeys into his Underworld for disoriented vagabonds with pretensions to myth or muscle-bound, snake-wrestling goons with delusions of grandeur. There would be no more sorrowful supplications from pretty-boy amateur musicians, no more frat-boy bride-stealing pranks, and yes, he took responsibility too no more bursting the earth open to kidnap pretty, young maidens.
No Admittance. No Exit. There would be only one way for mortals to get in, and once that happened, there would be no getting out. Through his minions he let word slip about some of the more extreme fates one could meet in his backyard. That, combined with an unforeseen sociopolitical shift in the Upperworld, gave his domain a reputation as a wholly undesirable place to visit.
Sure, if you had been really, really bad like, in the upper one half of one percent of all time bad , his Department of Eternal Rewards would send you to Tartarus and devise something suitably punitive—monkeys swinging by your entrails for eternity, say—but your average Joe would be just fine.
Really, Hades tried to be a good king. As he said to himself, if his lot in life was to rule the Domain of Death, darn it, he would be the best Domain of Death ruler the world had ever seen. He tried to keep his subjects reasonably comfortable—or at least make sure they were not un comfortable. After all, they would all be together for a very long time.
A very, very long time. And once Hades passed his Decree for Underworld Preservation and Sanctity, the realm ran very smoothly for a good number of years. The King himself was so much happier without having to deal with mortals, and Immortals people with god or demon blood were governed by a strict invitation-only policy that kept out anyone who might mean him ill.
But nothing other than Death lasts forever, and as the centuries passed by, the Underworld became a more and more difficult place to manage. The problem was simply the lack of turnover in the population; people kept moving in, but no one ever moved out.
There were any number of great business minds in the Underworld, and Hades could spend as much time as he wanted picking their brains, sometimes literally. By the turn of the twenty-first century the Underworld had become a vast network of Divisions and Departments and Directories, with plenty of Subdivisions thrown in for good measure. Hades himself could barely keep track of them all, but it did not matter. Every Division and Department had a firm organizational structure, a careful and clear hierarchy that was quite literally etched in stone.
Any Assistant, Manager, Head, Director, Minister, Regent, or Chancellor who violated the carefully conceived management structure or Zeus forbid bothered Hades with the petty problems of his Division, would find himself living among the whip-happy Erinyes in Tartarus, where he could spend some time contemplating the benefits of adhering to management protocols. As a result ruling the Underworld had become a much less hands-on process than it used to be, and Hades, who once tried to visit every corner of his realm, now barely left the Palace.
The twin brothers really ran the place, and they did such a good job, such a very nice job. Or rather, death. The last except perhaps for his lovely bride, Queen Persephone, who did not venture out into the Kingdom at all, nor did she have anything resembling a daily briefing. But really, how much trouble could there be? There was that one incident.
But Hades was sure he had handled it effectively. One night not so long ago, on the date of their anniversary, Hades was eating dinner with his wife. This was rare indeed; there were so many social duties involved with being King of the Underworld. But he did. He always noticed. So this year he pronounced it would be just the two of them. He had their personal chef prepare all her favorites—beginning with a light pomegranate soup because Persephone could not resist pomegranate.
He had the table set as if for their finest dinner party. He informed all of his household staff that he was Absolutely Not to Be Disturbed. Together, the husband and wife sat in their places at either end of the long dining-room table, silver spoons clinking against china bowls, crystal goblets filled with the finest of wines, the flames of tall candles twinkling above silver candleholders, silk napkins folded like swans, shadowy servants bringing out large, steaming, silver tureens.
Persephone sipped her soup. At the sound of the interruption Hades stood up, knocking his tall ebony chair over. The chair hit the ground with a deadened thump, and all the servants in the room jumped. Persephone took a long, languid sip of wine and sat back in her chair. In front of the door had appeared a tall, dark, angular shape clutching a bowler hat. And he was in a twit.
Thanatos cleared his throat. A grandson of Poseidon. Get out with it! You are, no doubt, not very familiar with life in the Underworld, nor with what it is to be one of the Shades who live there, unless you are already Dead. In which case you may skip this part. A Shade is, simply, a dead person. Well, not a person, exactly. A Shade is the essence of a person, what the body leaves behind after Death. History has portrayed the Shades as dull remnants of Life, aimless and joyless shadows lacking in thought or will.
One could call it rather dull, which one, if one is a Shade, often does. As a result, over time, the Shades tend to lose their will, their emotions, their personality, everything that connects them with Life. But there is one thing that can change all that: Blood. Yes, this sounds completely disgusting. Any warm-blooded human being finds the idea of drinking blood completely icky, oogy, squitchy, and well, just plain gross.
But the Dead are not warm-blooded human beings. They are, well, Dead. And the only thing that can make them feel Alive again, if only for a brief time, is blood. Blood is Life, and to the Shades in the Underworld the taste of blood, the feel of blood, gives them the thrill of Life again. As the blood courses through their bodies, the Shades thicken, gain substance, form, emotion.
There was a time, back before the Decree for Underworld Preservation and Sanctity was passed, when people would waltz through the Underworld all the time, carrying fresh blood with them. The smell would lure the Shades, who would crowd, clamor, and claw as if they had already drunk the stuff, as if merely the promise of blood gave them enough Life to fight for a taste. But if you were the ruler of subjects who were half comatose by nature, any substance that transforms them into crowders, clamorers, and clawers would make you distinctly nervous.
And the prospect of any old Tom, Dick, or Herodotus waltzing through your realm and being able to lure and excite your people would not be an attractive one. Blood did not belong in the Underworld. It changed the Shades.
Made them unruly. They began to have delusions of Life—and nothing is more disruptive to a realm of the Dead than delusions of Life. In his Decree for the Promotion of Underworld Hygiene, Hades proclaimed that blood would be strictly forbidden in the Underworld excepting, of course, inside the Palace.
Hades liked his boar extremely rare. What Hades did not know was that not all of his employees obeyed his decrees scrupulously. And the most unscrupulous disobeyer of all was an Immortal named Philonecron. Philonecron was actually born in the Underworld, the son of a daughter of Poseidon and one of the demons who staffed the employee mud spa. He grew up playing along the banks of the Styx, skipping through the Vale of Mourning, frolicking in the Plain of Judgment.
There were quite a lot of Immortal kids, actually; what with such a large number of Immortals working there, most of them only tangentially related to one another, romances sprung up right and left, and sometimes those romances resulted in families. Or at least children. Whether birthed, hatched, or regurgitated, new babies were a common occurrence in the Underworld. And of course with children came institutional needs. And the Underworld adapted.
Day care. A good school system.
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Their quest leads them to a not-so-mythical Underworld, where they face Harpies that love to rhyme, gods with personnel problems, and ghosts with a thirst for blood. Charlotte and Zee learn that in a world overrun by Nightmares, Pain, and Death, the really dangerous character is a guy named Phil. And then they discover that the fate of every person -- living and dead -- is in their hands. Plus, receive recommendations for your next Book Club read. Must redeem within 90 days. Their quest for the cure leads them to a not-so-mythical Underworld, where they face rhyme-loving Harpies, gods having problems with their personnel, and ghosts with a thirst for blood.
The Shadow Thieves
The Shadow Thieves Cronus Chronicles 1 See that girl, the one with the bright red hair, overstuffed backpack, and aura of grumpiness? And something extra-ordinary is about to happen to her. Metos, who takes his mythology lessons just a little too seriously. Their quest leads them to a not-so-mythical Underworld, where they face rhyme-loving Harpies, gods with personnel problems, and ghosts with a thirst for blood. Charlotte and Zee learn that in a world overrun by Nightmares, Pain, and Death, the really dangerous character is a guy named Phil. And then they discover that the fate of every person—living and dead—is in their young hands.