"Than, remind me why I've decided to do this." The prince of the underworld grouses to his long suffering companion as he sits with a stylus in hand, marking down the exact identification numbers of each room in Tarturus that required re-tiling. For the seventh consecutive hour.
"Because Zagreus, uninterrupted access to the surface has been your goal since you started your constant sequence of escape attempts." Thanatos sits beside the dismayed sprince. His scythe leaned against the desk, at rest, his own tedious work on hold for the moment. "If your Lord Father knew this is what it would take for you to finally do what he wished of you, I... Well, I do not suspect he would have given you what you wanted. In fact, he might have fought harder at first. But he might have heavily reconsidered."
"Well, I'm heavily reconsidering doing this. But I suppose I did make a promise, hmm?" Zagreus taps his ink laden stylus against the desk. He is wary of dripping anything on the completed parchments. Gods forbid he have to redo any of them. "A month of this for a month of Mother? It seems a fair trade.A deal even!" He attempts to convince himself. It works about as well as the 'Hang on' cat poster back in the Administration office proper.
"Your Highness!" Hypnos calls from the end of the great hall, waving his clipboard back and forth merrily. "The queue is full, Your Highness. Must be a big day for Posiden,"he says without fear of the notorious temper of the absent Lord Hades at the mention of his carefree brother. "There's a whole bunch of sailors today...tonight?."
Sailors usually didn't have coins on them when they died and would usually pay Charon in goods or whatever they had on at the time of death. Zagreus wondered what Charon has new in stock for a fleeting moment. He'd have to check it out once the month was up. For now, it seemed his duties were calling for his attention. And he wasn't the only one.
"I have to go, Zagreus. Stay committed and persistent so that we can use our time wisely when we see each other next."
"I will Thanatos. Although I admit it was easier for me to commit to bleeding and trashing the outer circles of Tartarus than committing to endless filing."
"Fare well." With a flash of darkness and a bell's toll Thanatos' chair is again empty and cold with no occupant give it purpose. At least it has an occupant willing to come back, now. Persephone is not likely to ever willingly return and what was once gathering dust behind the desk at the heart of the hall had new life, of a sort. The other seat, likewise has a new sort of life given to it. Mostly as a target for flaming feet that burned to run away from his self-chosen shackle of a post. Doubtless it would need to be replaced before his Father came back to the House.
"Alright, let's get this over with." The parchments in his hands were set neatly to Thanatos' side of the desk. No need to chance them getting ruined if he slammed his face full force into them with frustration. "Court begins. Come on, everyone. Let's go." He settles in, attempting to discover some part of himself that finds sitting down enjoyable. He fails to find it.
What ensues is almost worse than dealing with his Father. It's not quite as bad as dealing with Theseus, if only because the shades that ask for favors don't mercilessly insult him while calling down the blessings of Olympus. It's almost a shame because it would give some zest to this dragging pit of suffering that masqueraded as a desk job.
"Look, mate. You knew the risks and you still ate the fish. It's a no-go."His finger taps the wood as Court drags on. Another request for a restoration of life denied, the miserable Prince observes the hour glass that Nyx had crafted for him from darkness itself. Despite the growing pile of black sand, the bottom chamber was dishearteningly empty.
"Look, old man. I don't need you reminding me. It's bad enough."Zagreus's annoyed snark towards that omniscient voice went unanswered but he supposed that was good enough. He had his own bouncing knee and slowly grinding teeth to torment him, thanks a lot.
Most of the shades there had been quick "no"s. Six hundred eighteen requests to return to life. Twenty requests to bring death to others for various reasons. One hundred and thirty two requests to be upgraded from Asphodel to Elysium. One hundred and two requests for someone else in Asphodel to be downgraded to Tartarus. No wonder Father was so annoyed all the time, if he had to answer the same question forever. Wonder if he ever considered investing in a pamphlet. I'm sure some Shade could whip something up. Zagreus snags a blank parchment to scrawl his wayward thought down. It has promise.
There are some requests worth listening to, something he can actually accomplish. The complaints about Asphodel were more than understandable. Very few shades wanted to linger forever in slag and magma, slavug fishing or not. The sheer number of them almost made him want to take a dip in Phlegathon's overflow, however. He was more than happy to see about what repairs he could make once he got out of this chair but the repetition was wearing down on him like the weight of so many SkullCrushers. Something else to put on the pamphlet, then: We know about Asphodel.
The reverberating sound of the last grain of darkness falling into the waiting grasp of its brethren at the bottom of Dark Hourglass was a soothing balm on the senses of the Underworld's prince. "Court's on hold. Break time for me!" Zagreus dashed from his seat only to turn back and grab his completed paperwork before resuming his run to the administrative offices. He half knocked the door down in his eagerness to see the back of those files.
"Here, my good shade. Work orders to be filed. Catastrophes of the hour filled out. Newest Tartarus assignments for Arsonists, Thieves, Rapists and Murderers. Tisiphone's going to have fun with that one." Zagreus hands different chunks of his punishment-slash-job to a different shade. They had initially despaired at the thought of Zagreus filing things more than Zagreus himself had. The quick hand off every few hours was more than equitable for all involved if one weighed the fact that two minutes more work for each of them saved all the shades incalculable hours of trying to figure out where he erroneously stashed something important. If anyone had a problem, they didn't dare voice it. On his way out he slapped an open palm to the half empty cooler of blood. It filled itself instantly. Perks of being the god of the stuff.
Zagreus, Prince of the Underworld and sloppy avoider of filing paperwork dashed out of the back room and through the Great hall as though Hermes had blessed him thrice over. Instead of heading to the window of his chambers as he had done during his series of escape attempts and actual escapes, he went directly for the Pool of the Styx. Charon had been a sight for sore eyes (and sore bruises) before Zagreus had decided to bargain with his Lord Father. Now it was even more so, as Charon was allowed to take him as far up the river as the Temple of Styx. The unlimited access to any part of the Underworld was keenly appreciated when he needed to be anywhere else, to do anything else than be confined to a single spot.
"To Elysium,if you please, my good Boatman!" The Prince and acting Lord of the House chirped like a Surveillance Bat as he flung himself into the boat.
"Already empty? Wait just a moment, then." Zagreus scarcely has his coin purse in his hands when he upends it into a small box attached to the seat. Rides are not free even to the Prince of the House, but Prepayment arrangements were a pleasant feature for one of his station.
"Couldn't have said it better myself, Charon, mate!" With a deep breath Zagreus relaxed as the boat beneath his flaming feet began to move. Freedom, fleeting as the rarely viewed sunrise but all the sweeter.
Zagreus has learned many things from his Father. How to scowl, scold and shout were but a few of them. The most relevant now being his tendency to drag his work behind him like an oversized chiton gathering dust.
It has barely been four days. Nyx's Dark Hourglass is impeccable at keeping time and he can hear it no matter where he is in the Underworld. Even in Chaos' domain the sounds of it resonate in his ears. The prince's flaming heels had scorched the legs of the Throne of the Underworld to barely held togehter cinders. If a chair could die, this one was well on its way to Elysium for its staid service in the face of a slow, agonizing death. It was only the presence of Zagreus' own bloodstones that fortified the unfortunate furniture, truly.
"Your Lord Father will be displeased when he returns, Zagreus." Thanatos directs his eye from the bleeding chair back to his own paperwork. He had been willing to endanger his position with Lord Hades to help Zagreus before. A little paperwork was not enough to dissuade him. It wasn't his favorite pastime, but the presence of Zagreus at his right hand side sweetened the deal more than any nectar.
"Father has worse to worry about than a single chair, but if it matters so much to him then all the better. " Zagreus has moved on from sadness and is now well into anger at himself, his Father and the Underworld itself. A bit of mild treason was a vast improvement from the recent situation. Thanatos could happily ignore that. "Besides, Tartarus chamber 31-45-22 C has plenty of chairs. Two shades are being forced to build chairs and destroy them for all of eternity." Thanatos does not stop his paperwork even as he looks over at Zagreus to gauge his sincerity. Zagreaus does not either as he meets Thanatos' golden eyes. The look they share expresses volumes before they look back to their work.
"Really? That's not typical for Tartarus. I would expect more along the lines of Megeara. Not chairs. And I'm surprised that you recognized a single room the Tartarus enough to all it out by designation. Aren't your runs supposed to help you forget about work?"
"Apparently Father was in a petty mood that day." His voice exudes exasperation and mystification in equal amounts. "And you're right ,Than. They are for relaxing. But I see so many of these designations they begin to stick. Did you know, that never once before I sat upon this throne did I know how to identify rooms in Tarurus, Asphodel or Elysium? Now I see the names of every shade when I enter a room. But, even with all of that, you can't really ignore a room of Shades making chairs for eternity. What a waste of time.They could be building literally anything else."
The flames of Zagreus' bare feet crackle more loudly than usual. Thanatos doesn't hear his Mother's Dark Hourglass the same way that Zagreus does but he doesn't need to. His ears can detect the complaints of the battered chair as Zagreus tries not to squirm and accelerating tap of the Prince's impatient fingers on the desk. Any minute now Zagreus will burst forth from the Throne and go haring off through the Underworld again and Thanatos will yearn to go with him only to be pulled back to work by the ever-industrious Fates. The sounds of Zagreus' impending escape from his self-made cage delight Thanatos in a small way. If he couldn't run freely himself, he could enjoy seeing Zagreus so carefree. Which is why the God of Death notices when the wiggling and squirming stop.
"Zagreus?" Thanatos puts down his stylus as he turns towards Zagreus' laurel adorned visage. Said laurel - half vibrant with life, half wilting and vanishing into the ether- almost seems alight as the person under it has gone very still. "Is something the matter?"
"Than. I have just had an idea." Zagreus rises slowly, though his gains speed with every moment. "It's going to take a little bit of doing, but I I think-no, I know it will work."
"What are you doing Zagreus?" Thanatos says to the the Prince running across the Great hall. "You still have four minutes to go."
"I'll put it on my tab, Than. Tell Hypnos I'm busy if he ever wakes up. I'll be back soon."
Hades' return to the Great Hall is more graceful than that of his son's manner of doing so. He arrives on Charon's boat. Imposing as ever, he emerges from the darkness that backs the Pool of the Styx with his chin held high and shoulders squared, ready to face the catastrophe that his wayward, foolish progeny has inflicted on his domain. His first sight of the House is a Shade. Seems the boy couldn't keep up with the flow of the dead. Shades lined the hall in numbers greater than usual even in times of war. Then he realizes that he cannot see his desk from here. The open Hall is now sealed off by a wall bearing a mural matching-but inferior to- the one behind the throne. The first of many of his mistakes to fix, then.
The Shade takes a look at him and turns around to go tell Hypnos. Hypnos wakes from his slumber on a divan, List of the Dead in his hands and quip on the end of his tongue as he pulls off his sleeping mask.
"Oh! Lord Hades! Welcome back!" The smile and tone are so cheerful and sunny it is as though a politer, less obnoxious Apollo has joined his House. "It's been a while since we've seen you. I hope you enjoyed being wherever you were! Because you're going to be surprised about what happened while you were away. And you know what? I think it's going to be a good surprise."
"What exactly has happened while I was away, Hypnos? What terrors and failures has Zagreus wrought upon this house?"
"Woah there-er, that is to say. Begging your pardon Lord Hades! But I think you should give some of these changes a chance. Or at least a look before you judge them. After all, you're used to doing it all day, right? These ones should be a piece of Glaktoboureko to judge."
Hades lets loose a deity sized sigh as he lets the God of Midday Naps say his piece.Blood and Darkness! Hypnos hasn't changed at least. "Hypnos! What. Has. Changed?"
"Er,right! For starters, these shades at the welcoming committee!" Hypnos holds out his hypoxic blue hands gesturing grandly to the the wealth of shades in the Hall. All but a few of them are busy with other shades. In contrast to the plaintive griping and listless wandering he left behind, a good deal of these shades are purposeful and if not content, then not audibly displeased. "These shades have already been judged and are here to help! Help other shades specifically. They explain to incoming souls how things will work for them in the immediate future and to move them from the Pool to the Waiting Hall."
"The Waiting Hall? Has Zagreus somehow managed to make an addition to this House?"
"Not quite, Lord Hades. Prince Zagreus made some commissions, sure! But he mostly just added some seats to the West Hall and expanded it a little." Hypnos gestures to the door just past his divan. Hades passes through, almost afraid to see what has transpired in his absence. True to Hypnos' word, the hall is expanded. It is a full length longer and brimming with shades in pairs. Peculiarly enough, one shade of every pair is writing as they speak with each other. Something is happening here. Something that he doesn't know about. Hades isn't sure he likes it.
"Hmmm," Hades hums. Too proud to admit it isn't as bad as it could have been. "What is my son having these shades do here, besides wait?"
"So, the Prince decided since the thing we have the most of is shades, Why not use Shades to deal with other Shades? They collect information about the shades in question and get the inital files started. They ask a full battery of questions and make a Preliminary Judgement on where those shades will be stationed."
"A Shade making Judgements!?" Hades boomed, startling every spirit in hearing distance, which was a great many. "The boy will bring ruin to this House."
"Oh, Shades aren't making the judgements, Your Highness! They're just matching the Shades to the criteria already set! If there's any doubt, then they get to have an audience. But the best part is! There's hardly any shades that inspire doubt. The queue line for Audiences has all but vanished!"
"Impossible! That line has been there since humanity began."
"Well, Vanished might be over selling it, slightly. But it has improved dramatically. And of course, since all the P.J.s-that's Preliminary Judgements, your Highness- are based off of pre-existing rulings we've managed to maintain a level of quality in the rulings that befits the house of Hades, Sir."
Lord Hades turns his sights from the paired off Shades to the doorway that should lead to the Hall and the desk within, barring any stranger surprises from his willful son. The doors are guarded by a pair of shades, one of whom he recognizes very well.
"Achilles, I see you have returned to this House." The Spartan Shade bowed in deference and his fellow followed suit. "And Patroclus. What business do you have here?"
"Young Prince Zagreus asked that we guard the door to the Audience Chamber today, my Lord. I dare say he hopes to make a good impression and did not want any carousing Shades to damage his chances."
"Are there unruly shade carousing in my House in my absence?" Achilles was cut off as Patroclus answered this time.
"No, Lord Hades. But this is an important time for him, I suspect. I have only ever known the Prince before in passing but he approaches this with the same determination as when he fought through Elysium. I believe his attitude is 'Better safe than sorry'."
"Hmph. A simple show will not distract from the truth of the matter. And I will see that Truth for myself, now." The shades stood by as Lord Hades, God of the Dead, opened the doors before him and strode though.
For a moment his heart was struck by fancy and his eyes deceived him. Zagreus and Thanatos sat together at the desk while Cerberus laid, dozing as the two looked up from their paperwork. It was just them, not a vision of himself and Persephone from before everything fell apart. If it softened his heart to see the second throne being used, it was only the ghost of a feeling. A ghost which was smothered by surprise as his willful, wayward son saw the face of his release from stewardship of the dead and looked back down to his paperwork instead of bolting for the door.
"Hello, Father. I'll be done in just a moment." The laurel on the boy's head burned itself from the inside, leaving cinders to die in the air. In the absence of smart-aleckry Thanatos spoke.
"Welcome back, Lord Hades." He rose from his seat respectfully. His hand lingered on the skull pauldron of the busy prince at his side. " I hope your departure has been a pleasent one."
"My brothers are foolish as ever. Humanity remains a mess. The domain of both remains terribly governed. Pleasant is not the word for it Thanatos."
"I see, Sir." Hades' eyes looked on as Thanatos plucked a dark Hourglass from the table and held it just in Zagreus' periphery.
"I suspect you might be the only one who does see. Perhaps you've shed some light on this to Zagre-"
"Done!" Zagreus cut in, uncaring of whatever thought his Lord Father might have been trying to communicate. He sprang from his seat like a Slam Dancer, paperwork in hand as the last bead of Dark fell from the hourglass. "Have fun with the paperwork, Father. I'm off to see Mother. Maybe I'll build up a tolerance and be able to last longer. Maybe I won't. But you'll have a month to wonder about it. Before I go, here, for you." And it is with an impish smile that Zagreus throws down a folded parchment on top of his completed paperwork as his feet leave lines of flame on the floor behind him.
"Blood and Darkness! Thanatos, what is this?"
"I believe it's the latest Welcoming Pamphlet, Lord Hades. My mother, Nyx can further explain. But I'm afraid I must go. By your leave?" Thanatos vanishes like the fading echo of a struck bronze bell as Hades dismisses him with a sweep of the hand. He doesn't see Hades sit in the damaged chair no longer held together by Zagreus' bloodstones. Every Shade, Fury and Gorgon in the House does hear him curse as it collapses.