“You’re late and you’re all wet. Why are you all wet?” Hades’ eyes widened.
“Ah, well, you know…it's a river.” I rubbed the back of my head and laughed nervously. It wasn’t the best start. Even I knew being punctual was important when it came to dating and business. And according to Charon, Hades was all about business.
“Yeah, I know it’s a river. It’s my river.” Hades huffed and reached for my cloak. “This is soaked! Are you okay? Are you frozen anywhere?” She patted my ribs then began to lift my top, tickling me as her soft fingers brushed my stomach. I grabbed her hand out of reflex and moved it away.
Hades cheeks grew red. “Good. I-It’s not that I care or anything. It’s just with that amount of water you should be a popsicle. Any other shade would be frozen—” She narrowed her eyes. “Why aren’t you?”
“But then I saw you… and I melted.” I flashed what I hoped was a sexy smile.
Hades stared blankly.
“Because you’re so hot?”
The black puppy shook it’s three heads before burying its middle snout under its paws.
“Baka.” Hades turned her face away, then the rest of her til the back of her well-pressed black blazer was facing me. “Well, let’s go,” she said over her shoulder. “We’ll have to stop at my place first to get you cleaned up. Can’t bring you on the tour like that.”
“Afraid I’ll catch a cold?”
“W-what? No. No, I’m afraid you’ll embarrass me. Shades don’t catch colds. B-baka.”
“Oh. Right.” Well that was an upside to being dead. No more runny noses. I followed the blushing death god as she stormed off to a golden chariot waiting on a cobblestone road. Four black horses straightened as she climbed in.
Even in the dull overcast, the chariot glinted. Flowering vines of white gold knotted along the trim of the darker chassis; its inherent brightness contrasted by the dark steeds attached to it. Each stallion boasted a muscular body, long flowing mane, and hair as black as pitch. Also penises, three each, the size of my forearm. Truly these were the horsiest of horses. The stallionist of stallions.
Beyond the cobbled stone, white flowers dotted a meadow of soft green grass while the ever-present mist swirled around all of it, with Hades at the centre, like something from a dream. Maybe the underworld wouldn’t be completely dreary. It had a sort of haunting beauty. That could be nice—I guess. Though I would definitely miss the occasional sunny day.
“Well? She snapped. “What are you waiting for?”
“Twelve penises. It’s like an eldritch abomination under there.” I mumbled to myself.
I looked up. “I’ve never seen a chariot before.”
“Don’t be stupid. Get up here.”
“No seats?” I asked as I squeezed next to the ruler of the underworld. The floor sunk as the pup jumped on behind us.
“Why would a war chariot have seats?” Hades picked up four sets of reigns and clicked her tongue. The horses began to trot.
Having never been in a war chariot before, I wasn’t sure where to place my hands. I gripped the edge of the chassis as we bumped over uneven stone. “Why are we in a war chariot? Are you at war?”
“Yes.” Hades made another clicking sound. The four horses broke into a canter.
It looked rather tranquil for a warzone. The meadow’s white flowers grew denser the further we rode, and taller, until the waist-high plants transformed the field into a miniature jungle. Grey-skinned people knelt hidden between the stems, harvesting the flowers by the root and placing them into baskets.
Hades turned her head to me and sniffed. “Is that frog-swan?”
I lifted the cloak Charon had given me to examine. Sure enough, it was splattered with slime.
“Yes.” The chariot thumped hard over a stone knocking me into Hades. I clutched the front trim with one hand and grabbed her by the waist with the other to stop her from falling out. Mission successful. After I regained my balance I glanced at Hades. Her eyebrow twitched. Her cheeks and neck took on a deep blush.
“Are you alr—” I let go of her and took a step back--right off the moving chariot. I fell backwards into flower stalks and landed hard onto something soft. A lap. I looked up to see a pair of giant breasts hovering over me.
Before I had a chance to apologise, Hades pushed back the curtain of plants and glared at me. She tsked and turned her head. “You really are a pervert, aren’t you?” She headed back to the chariot.
The grey lady I landed on didn’t look very happy either. I scrambled to my feet, said sorry, and chased after the death god. She was already back in the chariot. The puppy sat behind her shook its three heads at me as I climbed back in.
Hades clicked her tongue and we resumed moving in chilly silence.
Misty fields fell away as we rode up a mountainous path. In the valleys below, small villages clumped together under blankets of fog. With all Charon’s economic talk, I’d been expecting the underworld to be more metropolitan. From the looks of it, it was pretty rural.
If I picked this place, what would I do? Would I be a farmer? Maybe one of those villages had need of an instant noodle restaurant. Those flowers smelled delicious. I bet I could use them to make a new ramen flavour. Or was it that woman who smelled nice. Could have been. Hades smelled a bit like food too.
I sniffed. Chocolate-coated mints.
Hades shot me a sideways glance.
“I’m not a pervert.”
I had to turn this around. It’s my first date, and I look like a tardy clumsy creep.
“What were those white flowers? Are they edible?”
“Asphodels and yes. They’re one of our biggest exports. Why?” Hades arched a brow.
“I was thinking they’d be good in ramen.”
“Ramen. You know…” A glance at the death god’s face revealed that she did not. My mouth dropped. “You don’t know what ramen is, do you?”
Hades’ face grew dark. “I’m the ruler of the underworld. One of the Olympians. An immortal. Of course, I know what--what that is.”
“Uh huh.” I suppressed a smile as she glared at me. Then a lightbulb went off—literally. I grabbed the bulb that had appeared above my head then quickly dropped it—on account of it being burning hot. The bulb smashed on the cobblestone, crunched under a golden wheel and disappeared in the ever-present mist. Hades didn’t seem to notice.
“Maybe I could make it for you?” I tried to conceal the eagerness in my voice and ended up sounding like a badly dubbed movie. “Before I died, I had an idea for an instant noodle restaurant—”
“You’re a cook?”
“No. More of an entrepreneur.” I hoped I pronounced that right. The headlines for financial sites were always going gaga for entrepreneurs. This could be my chance to both impress my date and make my noodle dreams come true.
“I see.” Hades tugged the reigns as the road took a sharp turn. As we rounded the bend, a palace came into view. Black stone with doors of gold sat behind a courtyard of statues and pomegranate trees. “Fine. You can cook me this—dish. If it’s good, we can talk about restaurants. But if it’s awful then you’ll need to reimburse me.”
“Really?” That was easy. Everyone loves ramen. That restaurant is as good as mine. There must be a catch. She may look like an innocent schoolgirl, but she’s an immortal deity of the dead and by her own follower’s account a ruthless capitalist. “Reimburse you how?”
The corner of Hades’ lip turned up. “My time is valuable. And I assume you’ll need resources? You’ll pay me back for these things by working the fields. Of course, this means you’ll have to tell the others that you’ve chosen to remain in the underworld.”
“And if you like the ramen? Let me guess, I’ll need to stay here for the restaurant?”
“That’d be easiest, no?” Hades feigned a look of innocence.
I wasn’t eager to visit Hell but I had no idea what Anubis and Hel’s realms were like. For all I knew, they were amazing. And who knows, maybe I could do my noodle thing there. “I get what I’d get out of it, but why do you want me?”
“What?” Hades paled. “I-I don’t want you. This isn’t about you at all. The honour of the underworld is at stake. Shades don’t choose where they go. But since Anubis’ rulebook says you can, it’d be best if you chose me—my realm. Do we have a deal?”
“I’ll think about it.”
“Don’t think too long.”
The horses whinnied and stomped as we came to a stop outside the palace entrance. I followed Hades and her tri-headed pup off the chariot. A pair of shades dressed in black pushed open the doors to allow us inside.
“I’ll show you to a bathroom you can use.” She led me through a spacious lobby, past sitting rooms and libraries and up a flight of stairs. Hades’ home was the nicest place I’d ever been, but the atmosphere felt sad. It was big and filled with treasures, but it was empty.
“Do you live here alone?” I asked as she showed me to a suite.
She stopped in the doorway. “No. Well, sometimes. There’s a bathroom through that door.” She pointed past a pair of sofas to a door on the far wall. “The other door is to a bedroom. I’ll have someone lay out a change of clothes for you on the bed.” She excused herself.
When her footsteps faded I looked down at my damp clothing. Could I even take the gakuran off? I undid the top button. Seemed so. I hesitated. What did I look like under there? Did I still have a--
“You’re brave.” A voice rumbled from the door.
I turned quickly toward the sound. No one was there. “Ghost?”
“Me or you?” The voice had an unnerving echo.
I looked left and right before taking a step back. Great. The room was haunted. Now I had to take a shower with an invisible pervert lurking around.
“Down here,” said the voice.
Sat by the threshold, the three-headed dog scratched at one of its six ears. It stopped. “I’m Cerberus. I don’t believe we were introduced.”
“You—you can talk.”
“But you’re a dog.”
“I’m Hades-san’s second cousin.” Cerberus sat up straight. “And I prefer hound.”
“Sorry. I’m new to all this.” And I thought my family was weird. Hades’ aunt taught her fur-baby how to talk. “You said I was brave?”
“Indeed, Brave or an idiot.”
Figures, I meet a talking animal and it insults me.
“You told Hades-san ‘I’ll think about it.’” Cerberus tilted its three heads. “Who do you think you are? Don’t you know what Olympians do to mortals who insult them?”
The hound rolled his heads in exasperation.
“Demeter turned a boy into a lizard for laughing at her. Artemis turned a hunter into a stag for the crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was torn apart by his dogs. Athena thought it’d be nice to transform a woman into a spider. Poseidon had a guy’s wife fall madly in love with a bull. She then proceeded to have relations with said bull. Hera cursed a mother to become a child-eating monster. Zeus strapped one mortal to a wheel of fire—”
“Okay, I think I get the idea.”
“Oh I don’t think you do,” Cerberus’ voice rumbled. “Not far from here, in Tartarus, shades like yourself are being tortured in all sorts of interesting ways for displeasing the Olympians. And the Olympians are easily displeased.”
“You think Hades is displeased with me?”
Cerberus stared with his three sets of eyes before giving me a sniff.
“You reek of frog-swan.”
“I hate frog-swans.”
“I killed one?”
Cerberus nodded his heads. “Good man.” The black hound pattered past me and leapt onto the suite’s sofa. “No, I think for whatever reason, my cousin is fond of you.”
“Why do you say that? Did she say something?”
Cerberus grunted. “I’m leaving.”
“No wait.” My mind spun. The entire time here so far had been a disaster. How could she possibly like me…did she have a thing for smelly perverts? “If she’s fond of me, what’s the problem?”
“She’s warm to you right now, but gods don’t like being told no. They don’t like being tricked. And they hate losing. If you want to avoid an eternity of suffering, you’ll need to proceed carefully. Give Hades what Hades wants.”
“I—” I shut the door before taking a seat by Cerberus. “I don’t know if I can. Or if I want to. I get to choose where I spend my afterlife. I’m looking at three other places after this.”
“Listen, mortal. None of those places will be much better than here, but there are places much worse. With my help, you can stay on my cousin’s good side and strike a deal that makes you both happy.”
“Why would you help me?”
With three tongues, Cerberus licked his snouts. “Noodles. All I can eat. Whenever I want.”
I knew it. Everybody loves ramen. Still, I wasn’t sure I could agree with that. What if his appetite put me out of business? “All you can eat…within reason.”
Cerberus lifted an ear. “Noodles. All I can eat. Whenever I want.”
“Okay. Fine.” How much could a puppy eat anyway. “What did you have in mind?”
“You need to seduce Hades.”
I choked. Impressive considering, I no longer breathed. That was no way for a young dog to talk.
In the most frightening attempt at a smile I’d ever seen, Cerberus pulled back his lips revealing three sets of very sharp teeth. He asked, “Have you ever heard of the Red Pill?”
“Pay attention virgin mortal. I’m going to teach you how to be a chad.”