Astoria: In Chaos – Part Three

DAY 9

Agent Mann knocked twice on the outside of Cyprin’s door before entering. Therein sat not only the child of Aphrodite, but also Hades.

“Agent Schmit has regained consciousness,” she reported, closing the door behind her. “He’s still a bit shaken up, but was able to give me a general idea of what happened.”

“And an explanation for Miss Fujiwara’s presence?” Cyprin prompted, and Agent Mann inclined her head.

“According to Aiden,” she began, dropping some of her formality, “Minotaur had him at a complete disadvantage, and Miss Fujiwara appeared out of nowhere to draw attention away.”

“That doesn’t explain why she was there,” Cyprin pointed out, touching their chin thoughtfully.

“Given her penchant for sticking her nose in where it doesn’t belong, I think the explanation is relatively obvious,” Hades weighed in.

“You think she was snooping?” Agent Mann queried. “After we ransacked her office?”

“I heard she was quite upset,” Cyprin added, but Hades was shaking his head.

“She’s driven,” he declared. “Hydra was right about her not letting go. It’s perfectly within her character to sneak into a crime scene under cover of darkness.”

“But to consciously put herself in Minotaur’s path?” Cyprin asked. “That’s bold.”

“She’s nothing if not that,” Agent Mann agreed a little wryly. “Footage on her phone clearly captured Minotaur’s aura attacking Aiden, so she definitely saw far more than we wanted her to; whether she remembers it or not, we’ll have to wait until she wakes up.”

“She’s still unconscious?” Hades frowned.

“Doctor Phelps said it was precautionary because of some brain swelling,” Agent Mann explained. “It’s better if she is kept in an induced coma until it goes down, less chance of permanent brain damage.”

“So there’s a chance she won’t remember anything,” Cyprin postulated, and Agent Mann gestured in the affirmative.

“Or worse.”

“Hmmm,” Cyprin sighed, saddened despite the fact Miho had been a pain in the ass.

Hades then stood, the air about him suddenly colder.

“I’m going to interrogate Minotaur myself,” he announced, and Agent man did her best not to cringe.

She was glad she wasn’t Minotaur.

DAY 17

 

Over a week later, Agent Mann – Jazz – was called to the HERA infirmary where Miho had spent the time since her encounter in an induced coma. Finally, MRI results indicated the swelling had gone down enough for it to be safe for her to be allowed to wake.

When she did, Jazz was surprised to find her uncharacteristically subdued. The doctors advised Jazz it would take some time to discover if Miho had suffered any permanent damage from her head injury, and while Jazz nodded, she saw something in Miho’s eyes that better explained her silence.

“Sir,” Jazz greeted, meeting Hades’ approach outside Miho’s room.

“How is she?” he enquired first, and Jazz had to smile a little.

Though they had been trying to prevent the woman from discovering the true nature of HERA and indeed the world of gods and monsters, Hades’ first question was not about what Miho had seen or heard, but rather about her wellbeing.

That was just the way Hades was.

“Physically it looks like she has full function,” Jazz reported. “Dr. Phelps has said she might, at the mildest, suffer some memory loss which might be a silver lining.”

“But?” Hades prompted, knowing Jazz well enough to see there was an unspoken exception.

“But, I think she remembers everything perfectly,” Jazz filled in. “I can see it turning over and over in her mind just behind the mask of stoicism she’s keeping plastered on her face. She might be a tougher nut to crack than Minotaur.”

“That fool knew only that he was encouraged by Zeus to embark upon some random destruction, but never thought to ask why,” Hades reported, shaking his head a little.

“Even if Fujiwara doesn’t have memory loss, there’s nothing to stop her pretending she has,” Jazz pointed out.

“No,” Hades disagreed, looking to the door. “She won’t lie.”

“Oh?” Jazz said.

“Something Agent Genever mentioned,” Hades mused thoughtfully.

“Mieke Genever from Research and Development?” Jazz asked, for the two were acquainted through the other agent’s breakthroughs in aura marble technology. “Mm, well I suppose if Fujiwara won’t talk to you, she might talk to her friend… uh, not that I don’t think you couldn’t get her to talk.”

“It’s fine,” Hades assured, dismissing Jazz with the hand he pressed against the door to Miho’s room.

Therein was light and airy, but the woman in the bed seemed to be sleeping; not that there was anything else for her to do. A nurse looked up from where she was taking notes on a chart, and quickly got to her feet when she noted who had entered.

“Sir,” she acknowledged in a flustered rush –after all, not everyone got to see, let alone speak with a god.

“Is Miss Fujiwara fit enough for a conversation?” he asked quietly, and though the nurse nodded, it was Miho who answered.

“I’m fine,” she declared, her voice still a little raspy from intubation.

Exiting, the nurse closed Miho and Hades in, and the god moved to sit on the side Miho was facing.

“How are you feeling?” he asked, settling in his chair and leaning back.

It took an almost uncomfortable amount of time for her to answer, though she peered at him the entire time.

“Fine,” she repeated, searching, searching, Hades could feel her gaze digging into his skin.

Expecting as much, Hades continued unperturbed.

“Do you remember what happened to you?”

Again there was a long silence and her stare, broken by far too few blinks.

“A part of me wants to tell you I don’t,” she responded finally, a heavy, conflicted sigh. “I think I could pull off a fairly convincing case of amnesia.”

“But you won’t,” Hades noted, watching her struggle.

“Uh, when your own principles come back to bite you,” she grumbled irritably, then slowly began to shift in bed toward a sitting position.

When she winced, Hades grabbed an additional pillow that was wedged between the bed and set of drawers, and tucked it behind her, one large but gentle hand on her back carefully lowering her against it. He felt her tense, saw her flinch but try to hide it in the stubborn set of her jaw and reactive hostility in those hazel eyes.

“We recovered your cell phone from the scene,” Hades told her, returning to his seat, crossing one leg over the other. “Despite dropping it and smashing the screen, you managed to capture most of what went on.”

“But you want me to tell you what I think I saw,” Miho filled in with a severe frown. “How about you come clean? I hate making assumptions.”

“Yet you assumed I and my agents were the bad guys,” he pointed out, but Miho was quick to retort.

“No, I judged you as bad guys for what I observed, and that was covering something up,” she asserted. “Something that nearly got me killed, hell I don’t even know if Agent Schmit survived.”

“He did, in no small part thanks to your intervention,” Hades informed her, but despite his acknowledgement of her efforts, Miho was unmoved.

“Quit misdirecting, Hades,” she hissed, grimacing again. “Tell me what I saw, what I felt – I am tired of conjecture and this stupid sematic game. Minotaur, a man but… what was the orange bull I saw? The power that launched a car, that put holes like that in solid concrete.”

“What you saw was Minotaur’s aura,” Hades explained finally, “the godly part of the monster.”

Slowly Miho inhaled and then released the breath.

“Minotaur, as in the result of Pasiphae’s bestial affair with Poseidon’s bovine gift to King Minos, Minotaur?” she questioned slowly.

“Not my brother’s finest moment,” Hades admitted seriously.

“So this… Minotaur, HERA that he mentioned, the Grand Olympus and you… you’re telling me you are actually the Hades, God of the Underworld?”

The slight incline of his head caused Miho to straighten a little more; despite what she had seen, there was still incredulity in her eyes.

“Prove it,” she demanded curtly.

People, mortals anyway, generally didn’t speak to him like that, and Hades found himself caught somewhere between affronted and intrigued. He wasn’t sure how he’d react in her position, but to challenge the God of the Underworld to prove his identity true was not something he’d request.

“Here is neither the place, nor is it the…” he began, but Miho cut him off.

“Agent Schmit was trying to stop Minotaur,” she interjected, “told him to co-operate, so I can safely deduce his job was to find out what was going on – a law-keeper, even if outside traditional channels, and as your obvious subordinate, he must have been acting on your orders.”

“That sounds suspiciously like an assumption, Miss Fujiwara,” Hades observed.

“Don’t Miss Fujiwara me,” she glowered, hands gripping tight, angry fistfuls of the stiff white sheet that covered her body. “Unless you’re actually planning to kill me for discovering your secrets, which seems unlikely given I woke up in the first place, your best bet to keep me from exposing you and yours to the hungry public, is full disclosure.”

“HERA is an agency responsible for ensuring godly monsters such as Minotaur, and other influences of divine origin, do not have an impact upon the mortals of Earth, that they never have to carry the burden of knowing such things even exist.”

“Good job,” Miho threw in pithily, but instantly bit her lower lip when Hades narrowed his eyes at her.

Suddenly he felt much larger than she knew him to be, his presence expanding and pressing her into silence again.

“Usually mortals settle for the most logical answer, not what they perceive to be fantastical,” Hades expounded, eyes narrowing further. “Usually.”

“I’m… not sorry,” Miho scowled, but she couldn’t meet his gaze now. “What gives you the right to decide for people what they can handle?”

“Aside from being a top tier god?” Hades replied, one eyebrow twitching the moment he spoke – he could hear undertones of Zeus in his own statement.

“As yet unproven,” Miho put in, but still didn’t lift her eyes.

“I have no need to prove anything to you,” he told her, and Miho’s response was to throw off the sheet and swing her legs over the edge. “Miss Fu…”

Hands flat on the squishy mattress, Miho placed her bare feet to the white linoleum floor, ignoring the sudden cold that tickled a line down her spine where the gown hung open.

“What are you doing?” Hades frowned, rising and moving around the bed to intercept her.

“If there are no answers here, I’m leaving,” she announced bluntly, shuffling a little to one side as she tested the strength of her legs.

“You are still recovering from cranial trauma,” Hades argued, not touching her until – when she attempted to step around him – she teetered too far to the left and her knees buckled.

“This…” Miho hissed out, her breathing labored and her eyes rolling. “… this is, it’s unlawful… imprisonme…”

“Be quiet,” Hades growled, lifting her easily and lying her back down on the bed before pressing the call button. “You are going to do yourself more of an injury.”

Through mere slivers tried to focus on Hades’ face, to muster up an expression of fierceness and defiance that might provoke him into providing the proof she’d asked for, but her vision remained hazy and her head swam.

When a nurse, quickly followed by Dr. Phelps entered, Hades explained her dizzy spell – and when Miho finally came good, the God of the Underworld was gone, replaced instead by Agent Schmit.

 DAY 24

Sulkily, Miho remained under observation – not really against her will – but she wasn’t particularly happy about it.

Agent Schmit and Mann visited frequently, and during that time both made their own attempts to convince her staying quiet about what she’d witnessed was in the best interests of everyone. In response, she asked them to explain how lies were better, and finally Jazz lost her temper.

“Does your self-righteousness know any boundary?”

Where she sat by the window, Miho’s expression stiffened.

“Excuse me?”

“No,” Jazz retorted. “You have no idea the dangers HERA protects people from.”

“Of course I don’t,” Miho volleyed, hackles rising. “But not for a lack of trying.”

“You’re just a petulant child rebelling against parents who know better.”

“I don’t know you,” Miho spat. “Who are you to decide what I need to be protected from like, like I’ve not capacity to make judgements for myself?”

About half way through her ragey rhetoric, the door opened and Hades stepped in.

Jazz straightened, but Miho seemed to be winding up for ‘The Rant, Part Two’, though she stalled when Hades spoke her name.

“Dr. Phelps has cleared you for release,” he declared. “Please get dressed; I’d like you to come with me.”

“Where?” Miho queried suspiciously.

“Olympus,” Hades replied, and Miho blinked.

“Bullshit,” she dropped.

“You’re going to regret being so disrespectful,” Jazz muttered quietly, and Miho shot her a dirty look.

“You wanted to know, here is your chance,” Hades pointed out.  “But for that you’ll have to trust me.”

For a moment Miho was clearly thinking things over, until she finally nodded.

“Okay,” she conceded more calmly. “But I make no promises about non-disclosure.”

“Understood,” Hades agreed, and though she was still wary of the reporter, Jazz added no protest.

One of the suits Miho had already encountered was in the foyer of the Grand Olympian, when she entered with Hades on one side and Jazz on the other. Resisting the urge to comment, Miho simply smiled pleasantly.

“Pardon us agents,” Hades greeted as he was waved through security. “This underworld princess would like to take Miss Fujiwara on a tour.”

Rather than cringe at his recollection of ‘the foyer incident’, Miho smirked at Hades.

“You should run with that,” she chirped, but her eyes were everywhere, not missing a single surface as they continued into the building.

On their way to a very specific elevator, Miho asked every question that popped into her mind, and with openness that surprised Jazz, Hades answered graciously. When they reached a pair of golden doors, Jazz excused herself, leaving Miho and Hades to proceed alone.

“Just to clarify,” Miho ventured, feeling uncertain butterflies storm in the swirl of her stomach, “Olympus isn’t a metaphor for the place you dispose of people who meddle, is it?”

“It’s a little late for that query, isn’t it?” Hades smiled, allowing her to ponder this for a moment before allaying her concern. “But no, Olympus is quite literally the home of the gods.”

“Quite literally,” she scoffed.

“I don’t recall laughing at your home,” Hades mused, not bothered, just making a point.

“I just find it, well not amusing – odd maybe – that of all the supposed religions that exist and have existed throughout history, that of the Ancient Greeks turns out to be the one.”

“Religion has never been about what is actual,” Hades said, motioning to the elevator’s interior as the doors peeled open, “but rather what people need to feel secure with their place in the world.”

“Among other things,” Miho added, an edge to her tone as she stepped confidently into the lift, regardless of how nervous she might actually have been feeling.

“Not much of a believer?” he queried, stepping in beside her, his arm brushing against hers in the relatively small confines.

Miho shifted sideways a little, and turned her body to face him as the doors closed. Hades noticed now, there was significantly more caution in her body language, though he knew she knew it was well and truly too late to put up a fight if things went sour.

Lucky for her, Hades honestly meant her no harm.

“Self-delusion is not conducive to positive personal growth,” she stated assuredly, but the moment she met his gaze he saw her body tense a little more. “Anyway… elevator?”

“Yes?”

“You ride an elevator to get from Earth to Olympus?” she clarified. “What did you do before elevators were invented?”

At this Hades chuckled, and it was clear from her expression that Miho was caught a little off guard by how warm a sound it was.

“The gods do not require such a conduit to move between worlds,” he explained, keeping his eyes fixed on hers, trapping her there whether she liked it or not. “Mortals, however, demi-gods and godly monsters, are not equipped to travel without. Ultimately, it’s convenient given where HERA is located.”

“Which brings me to my next question – why New York? Why the States? Astoria is nice enough I guess but, isn’t it a little bit odd for something with roots so far away?”

“There are reasons,” Hades answered, but did not elaborate.

Instead, he inclined his head toward the doors, that a second later opened.

The full light of afternoon met them, along with the sound of moving water somewhere nearby, and the call of bird definitely not heard in Astoria. Motionless, Miho just stared, attempting to reconcile her ingrained skepticism with what she was seeing with her own eyes.

“Welcome to Olympus,” Hades smiled, stepping out but looking back when Miho didn’t follow.

Even HERA agents were astounded and sometimes overwhelmed when first seeing the home of the gods, and for many the wonder endured – so Hades was not surprised by Miho’s reaction. Patiently he waited, studying her.

Despite her question about being killed off for interfering, she hadn’t really asked what his endgame was; either she had given him the trust he’d asked for, or was so zealous in her pursuit for the truth behind HERA’s involvement in Minotaur’s destructive rampage, that she was willing to bet even her life on it.

“Shall we?” he prompted finally, extending a hand toward her, and in a daze Miho exited the elevator and reached to take it.

Then stopped. Blinked. Returned her hand to her side.

“You need not be so guarded, Miss Fujiwara,” he told her, lowering his hand with a smile Miho actually thought seemed a little sad.

“You don’t get to hold a girl’s hand when you’re still referring to her by her surname,” Miho sniffed, for some reason feeling the need to offer him a wry grin.

“May I call you Miho?” he enquired, and again Miho was stunned by his manner.

“You are not what I envisioned for the God of the Underworld,” she exhaled, scrutinising him, perplexed.

“Because mortals fear what they don’t understand,” he explained with a shrug, but he stepped closer to her as he did. “They can’t see beyond the veil of death, and because of who and what I am and represent, by association that fear is transferred to me. People make, assumptions.”

“Hm, fair point,” she acknowledged, but her words felt a little sluggish falling off her tongue.

“How about you, Miho?” he then questioned, looking into her face, now no more than an arm’s length away. “Are you afraid of death?”

Her lips pursed. She wanted to look away – not because her answer was yes and not because she was fearful of him per se. In self-defense she reached for humour.

“With that hair to greet me on the other side?”

But her voice was a little breathless.

“Not likely.”

“You’re more than a little obsessed with my hair,” he chuckled, given her an easy way out.

“I’d like to see you as a brunette,” she smirked, clutching the life-line he’d thrown.

“Oh no,” Hades laughed. “Persephone convinced me to do that for Halloween one year, and it looked ridiculous.”

“Would you dye it if I promised to keep your secret?” she ventured, and Hades raised an eyebrow.

“That’s your price?”

“No,” she shrugged. “I was just wondering how attached you were to the mauve.”
“Olympus spreads out before you, and it’s my hair you want to talk about,” he chortled, and in response, Miho tilted her head, peering at him almost curiously. “What?”

“You know, if people could see you, hear you laugh like that, there’d be a lot less fear in the world,” she told him, serious once more.

“Your opinion of me has changed that much?”

Again she found his eyes inescapable, until the call of a beautiful white peacock started her back to her senses – and she didn’t answer his question.

Instead she walked slowly away from the elevator to the edge of the platform upon which they stood. Or rather it wasn’t so much a platform as it was an island floating in a bright sky streaked with pastel wisps of cloud. Beyond, other levitating land masses housed grand structures in the style of ancient Greece, littered with marble columns and grand statues amid lush garden and waterfalls of indeterminate origin.

“This is real?” she exhaled. “You didn’t just, spike my cordial?”

“It’s real, Miho,” Hades smiled at her back. “Let me show you around my home.”

Ever so lightly he touched her shoulder, and when she turned he extended his hand once more. This time, however, though she was still obviously hesitant, she took the offering and allowed her fingers to be gently enclosed by his.

As they walked the winding paths, Hades gave her the TL:DR about the actual role of the gods, including his own work, but Miho sensed there was a great deal he was leaving out.

“And this is the entrance to my estate,” he announced when they passed through a pair of grand gates leading up to his abode.

“Palatial,” Miho commented almost absently, for she was too distracted drinking in her surroundings, trying to memorise every fine detail.

“What’s this?” came a female voice at the top of the rise, just shy of the Grecian manor’s front doors.

It was the twitch of Hades’ grip on her hand though, that snapped Miho’s head to the only other person they’d seen so far.

“You haven’t brought a woman home since,” the cheerful voice continued, and Miho met the owner’s bright green eyes, “well, since me, and I don’t count.”

Slowly, Hades’ fingers uncurled, and after clearing his throat, Hades made introductions.

“A reporter?” Persephone blinked, looking from Miho back to her uncle.

“Despite HERA’s efforts to keep her out of it,” he explained, “Miho is largely responsible for Minotaur’s capture.”

“Hades must trust you a great deal to bring you to Olympus,” Persephone nodded, all the while maintaining a stunning smile. “Most HERA agents never get an invite.”

“I’m not sure about that,” Miho replied, “but, I am very grateful for the opportunity.”

“I was just on my way to speak with Poseidon,” Persephone said, shifting her gaze back to Hades, “but I could eat first and go later if you want me to whip up something for you and your lady friend.”

The edge to her tone was teasing, and Miho was surprised to find a little more colour blossom in Hades’ cheeks.

“Oh, I like her,” Miho grinned, and Hades clicked his tongue.

“Ganging up on me is absolutely not allowed,” he frowned, but this only made Persephone laugh.

“Come on, Miho,” she prompted, stepping forward and taking Miho’s hand – at least Hades had asked, but there was absolutely nothing threatening about her, “I make the best salads in all of Olympus.”

Someone should have told Persephone you don’t make friends with salad, but Miho did not protest, allowing herself to be dragged into the mansion with Hades trailing behind.

True to her word, Persephone produced the most delicious meal Miho had ever had, even though it was salad. She found herself incredibly comfortable with the goddess, whose friendly manner and complete lack of agenda let Miho drop her guard, just a little. Occasionally, however, she would feel Hades’ amethyst gaze grazing her, and though this was not threatening in and of itself, it left Miho wondering what it was he was trying to figure out… other than whether she actually planned to publish an exposé.

He insisted his niece leave the washing up for him to do, and before Miho knew it, she was standing in the kitchen beside him drying dishes.

“As if all this isn’t surreal enough,” she huffed, mostly to herself, “here I am doing to dishes with death incarnate.”

“It wasn’t initially on the itinerary,” he admitted, passing her the last plate. “But Persephone is…”

“Your personal chef?” Miho put in.

“Not far off to be honest,” he conceded, “not that I can’t…”

“Nanny?” Miho amended.

“Okay, that is going a little too far,” Hades frowned, and there was even the hint of a pout which Miho found hilarious.

“Oh no, you seem to me like the kind to over work – see getting in the way of my job at every turn – and forget to take care of himself. I bet she even irons your shirts.”

“She does no… ah… well maybe she did this one,” he scowled, and Miho found it… adorable.

“I wish you’d let me interview you, take pictures,” she sighed. “You would make my career… well you would if I actually had one.”

“No,” he told her flatly, a large chunk of humour disappearing from his tone.

“Ugh!” Miho grunted, stomping around the counter. “You’re only showing me all of this because you know if I run this fantasy without solid evidence even the crackpot conspiracy theorist will laugh at me.”

“That isn’t the only reason,” he smirked, the tables turned. “You are talented at what you do,” he went on, folding the tea-towel over a rail and moving across the open space to large glass doors that looked out over the expanse of his estate, “you must be to be standing here now.”

Miho’s brow twitched and she approached him.

“Okay, so I’m talented,” she agreed, and had been set to go on when Hades’ hand was held out to her for the third time that day.

“Let’s continue the tour,” he said with a smile, and with another sigh Miho agreed, pushing the dull throb behind her eyes to the very back of her focus.

After drinking in the sights for quite some time, Hades stopped beside an immaculate, sparkling pool, and suggested they rest for a while.

“It’s not as if taking a leisurely stroll through heaven is especially taxing,” Miho told him, but Hades narrowed his eyes on her knowingly.

“You’ve been grimacing on and off since lunch,” he argued sternly.

“It’s just a headache, Hades,” she scoffed, but sat when he guided her to an intricately carved stone bench at the water’s edge.

“A headache is not just a headache, when you’ve recently been in a coma.”

“An induced coma,” she nit-picked, but had unconsciously begun massaging her left temple.

“I think it’s time I returned you to Earth,” he decided, but before he could draw her back to her feet, there was a thunderous, roaring explosion somewhere in the distance.

“Hades?” Miho gasped.

“Stay here,” he told her gravely – but that was never going to happen.

“No way,” she protested, doing her best to keep up with the cracking pace he set, running up the sloping path toward a plume of smoke staining the now otherwise flawless sky.

She trailed him by some distance, but caught up to find him – among others for whom she had no name – gaping at the collapsed and smoldering side of what looked to Miho like some sort of atrium.

The gods seemed to be in a state of shock.

“Hades, there are people in there,” Miho hissed, staring forward like she meant to jump into the flaming rubble.

But Hades caught her arm in an iron grip and jerked her back.

“Do not move from this spot,” he commanded, a sound like she had never heard from him, one that indeed rooted her to the ground.

She could them only watch as he took control over the scene, directing those around him to attend to all facets of this event they seemed to be having difficulty processing. Miho also tried to fathom the situation – was this an intentional attack on Olympus? Terrorism on Earth seemed an almost daily occurrence, but this place of divinity she thought should have been exempt from such human failings.

A panicked sniffle-sob to her left drew Miho’s attention from the chaos to a small, distraught figure. She looked maybe five or six, but Miho had no idea how gods aged – all she knew, was the apparent child was frantically searching the carnage and looked about ready to dive into the fire.

“Hey,” Miho frowned, when the little girl shuffled forward, “no no, you can’t go in there.”

“My mother is in there!” the child exclaimed, wide eyes a blur with terror.

“Hades will… do something,” Miho assured, but she couldn’t really be sure at all.

All she could do was crouch and try to offer the girl some comfort, not that she was especially good with children.

Then something appeared Miho couldn’t quite reconcile.

Fire, destruction, mayhem, injury and death she could understand, it was all just another day at the office, but the figure that came stumbling from the building’s ruined husk was not just a victim.

When the child let out an alarmed scream, Miho reflexively swept her up, and drew back from the horror that shambled in their direction.

“Don’t look,” Miho hissed, pressing the girl’s face into her shoulder protectively as she retreated.

The woman, Miho assumed she was a woman, looked broken: one leg twisted at an unnatural angle, part of a jagged bone protruding from the side of her neck that lolled to the side as if lacking support – and her eyes wept an oily blackness that dribbled down her cheeks and dripped from her chin.

Shaking, Miho peered around for something she could use as a weapon, settling on a somewhat charred shard of wood that she awkwardly scooped up from the ground.

“I don’t know what this is,” she forced out breathlessly, her mouth dry. “But you need to just… just stop and…”

But discoloured fingers clawed forth, forcing Miho to bat the hand away with her makeshift club.

“Seriously!” Miho barked, quickly placing her ward on the ground behind her and gripping her weapon with both hands. “I will fuck you up… more.”

It sneered, the zombiesque woman, and a rasping, rancid chuckle emerged through lips slick with gore before she lurched her Miho.

The sound of wood connecting with soft flesh and surprisingly brittle bone caught Miho completely off guard, the upward swing she landed against the underside of the ‘woman’s’ chin, substantial enough to knock her attacker down. She followed through with a wide swipe to her left, collecting a second monstrous figure attempting to get at the child who clung hysterically to the back of Miho’s pants.

No time to process.

No time to question.

Miho just acted on instinct, until the rush of a snarling purple shape flashed around her, great, glowing scythe decimating the threats her reach. And she shivered against the cold that touched her skin but left it unmarked, the power that made her feel dizzy but left her and the child unharmed.

Panting, Miho dropped to her knees to embrace the child again, looking up as the reaper receded to reveal Hades had been behind it.

“Are you all right?” he asked, his voice deep with grim concern.

“All right, yes. Okay? No,” she breathed, stroking the little girl’s hair. “What the hell is going on? Zombies?”

“That is an excellent question to which I do not currently have an answer,” he responded on the very edge of a growl that made Miho want to cower, even if the ire was not directed at her.

“Uncle!” Persephone called, rushing up as she shook her head in disbelief.

“Take Miho back to the estate,” he instructed sharply, and Persephone urged Miho to her feet without further question.

“Where’s Peitho?” Persephone rushed, glancing from the girl still wrapped around Miho, to her uncle.

Hades’ indicated one of the bodies now motionless where he’d cut it down, and Persephone’s eyes grew wide.

“Go now,” he prompted a little more firmly. “Take Symphonia with you.”

With a decisive nod, Persephone urged Miho into motion, and reluctantly complied, scowling over Symphonia’s head ad Hades as she did.

He spared her one more glance and a nod before turning back to the confounding scene.

In silence Miho sat, idly stroking the hair of the little girl – Symphonia – who had finally fallen asleep with her head in Miho’s lap. Processing what she had seen and done proved an even bigger challenge than accepting Olympus and the Greek pantheon.

Persephone pottered around nervously, glancing toward the entrance foyer every now and then. Olympus had fallen eerily quiet – even the birds and insects seemed to have recognised the gravity of what had occurred, the abnormality, and the cost.

“Can I get you a drink?” Persephone asked Miho, leaning a little over the back of the couch.

“That’s the fourth time you’ve asked,” Miho smiled thinly over her shoulder. “Maybe you should have one, a strong one.”

“Maybe,” Persephone nodded, moving around to sit opposite Miho. “I just can’t believe what I saw.”

“You and me both,” Miho agreed. “I…”

She lowered her voice so as not to wake the child.

“… Gods… can they actually die?”

Solemnly, Persephone sighed.

“We can,” she replied. “Our souls get reincarnated, we can be reborn, but it’s… difficult.”

“Symphonia’s mother?” Miho prompted.

“Yeah, she will… I think… I mean I’ve never seen a god turned into…”

“… a zombie?” Miho put in, and Persephone cringed. “That’s what they were, right? But how? What power is strong enough to do that to a god?”

“In honesty, I don’t know,” Persephone admitted, slouching.

Both women straightened however, Persephone jumping to her feet, when the sound of the front doors opening and closing heralded Hades’ return.

His face was weary, smudged with soot, his clothing just as grubby with one sleeve torn.

Trapped beneath Symphonia, Miho could only crane her neck and frown, looking him over for injury.

Wordlessly, Persephone questioned him with her eyes.

“I don’t know,” he admitted, and there was real pain in his voice that burrowed toward Miho’s heart. “But, we lost eleven.”

“What kills eleven gods?” Miho whispered.

“Could it have been…” Persephone began, but seemed fearful of continuing.

“No,” Hades dropped definitively. “Zeus may be acting like our enemy, but I cannot believe he would attack Olympus like this, not do that to his own people.”

“Zeus, is your enemy?” Miho exclaimed, and Symphonia stirred a little. “No, no, just stay asleep,” Miho soothed, carefully inching out from under the girl so she could scrutinize Hades after this new revelation. “Hades, what the hell is going on?”

It was unnerving seeing such a man sigh.

“I can explain it,” Persephone piped up, but Hades shook his head.

“No, I want you to take Symphonia to Aphrodite,” he declared, drawing in a bracing breath. “Peitho was her attendant.”

Sadly, Persephone nodded, moved over to the sleepy child and lifted her into a draping carry.

“Wait, will Persephone be safe going out on her own?” Miho scowled. “What if there are more of those… things?”

“I’ll be fine,” Persephone asserted with a reserved smile. “And Uncle will keep you safe.”

In the wake of her departure, Hades and Miho remained standing, still, strained.

Olympus was his home, and god or not, Miho had to think he was deeply affected by what had happened.

“Why don’t you get cleaned up?” Miho offered finally. “I could make some tea or… juice? It’s about dinner time if you’re hungry? You must be exhausted.”

Hades opened his mouth, but closed it without saying anything – then offered her a resigned nod. She hadn’t expected that.

With no idea what to make, Miho poked awkwardly around the kitchen after Hades had disappeared, trying to find various utensils. She found the refrigerator an amazing place, filled with fresh produce that made Miho wonder where Olympus’ farms were. The process of cooking allowed her to distance herself from the tangle of thoughts that threatened to engulf her. In fact, she was so focused, she didn’t even notice Hades had returned until he placed himself in her path.

“Jesus!” she exclaimed when she turned and crashed into his chest.

With one hand Hades’ caught the bowl she nearly dropped, and the other took her arm to steady her.

“No, just Hades,” he corrected, fashioning a mild smile.

Despite herself, Miho blushed. The scent from his freshly washed body, its warmth, and seeing him in casual attire, did something to her she hadn’t expected.

“I… didn’t know what you liked,” she admitted, swallowing as his touch lingered a little before he stepped away. “So, I just… I doubt it’ll be anywhere close to Persephone’s meals.”

“That doesn’t matter,” he responded, heading to one end of the kitchen and opening a door. “I appreciate your efforts.”

For a moment he disappeared again, and when he emerged it was with a bottle in each hand.

“Red or white?”

“Well I was about to grill this fish I found,” Miho replied. “Not sure what type of fish it is, but it looks fresh enough so, white?”

“White it is,” he decided, placing the red aside and removing the cork of the white.

After all that had happened, there was a strange normality to preparing for a shared meal, in being offered a glass of wine in the evening.

But they didn’t toast, to crystal clinking together, and Hades frowned, finally raising his glass.

“To the ones I lost today,” he said solemnly, his eyes focused elsewhere for a moment before he looked into Miho’s face through the pale, golden liquid.

“May they find their way home before long,” Miho added with equal reverence, and she felt the weight of his gaze intensify, watching her as he took a sip. “So, take a seat while I cook the fish.”

“Can I help?” he asked, at which Miho couldn’t help but laugh.

“Would Persephone let you help?” she levelled.

“This is my house you realise,” he pointed out, actually amused.

“Just sit down and let me get on with it,” she huffed, and actually gave him a light shove to get him moving.

Chuckling and moved as far as the other side of the island counter, and sat on a stool.

“After what you’ve seen, I owe you an explanation,” he said after the initial sizzle of the fish on the grill had died back.

“Eh,” she shrugged, glancing back over her shoulder with a smirk. “Don’t worry about it.”

“What?” he blinked in surprise, glass stalling half way to his mouth.

Again, Miho shrugged.

“It’s fine,” she reinforced. “Just enjoy your wine and your dinner.”

Though he could obviously keep talking, the way Miho turned back around to focus on the fish was a clear message to take her suggestion. It puzzled him greatly, that she – in pursuit of answers- would turn down the very chance to get them.

“You’ll get wrinkles if you keep frowning like that,” Miho snickered, though she hadn’t looked at him.

“Pardon me for feeling a little bewildered,” he replied. “Are you finished learning about this hidden world you’ve finally discovered?”

“Of course not,” she scoffed, taking the thin fish fillets off the heat and putting the pan on the marble countertop. “Now just isn’t the right time.”

“Hmm,” he mused, watching as she plated up their meal.

It was pleasant, and though Miho had a million more questions than she’d had earlier in the day, Hades’ pain was evident, no matter how hard he tried to hide it. It was commendable of him to still be willing to talk after some of his people had been killed… and not just killed.

“Is your head still bothering you?” Hades asked as he picked up her empty plate.

“Hm?”

“You were frowning,” he added, carrying the dishes to the kitchen.

“Nope,” she exhaled, a breath that turned into a yawn, and she rested her head on the back of her chair.

“Tired clearly,” Hades smiled. “I could take you back, but perhaps it would be better if you stayed here the night.”

This caused one of Miho’s eyebrows to lift, and immediately Hades rushed to elaborate.

“I have many guest rooms,” he explained, and Miho grinned wickedly as he blushed.

“Disappointed,” she sighed airily, but her teasing was ruined by another yawn. “Looks like we’ll just have to be quick.”

“I’ll get you a towel and something to wear,” he chuckled.

In a lavish guest room – truly the type of fairytales – Miho sprawled out on the massive bed – a bed so comfortable it felt like she was floating. But she just stared at the softly draped canopy as the world churned in her mind, over and over without rest.

Two worlds.

The things she’d seen defied logic, and yet logic told her all she’d ever needed was first hand proof to believe in something – there was no such thing as ‘can’t be’, but rather ‘I’ve just not discovered it yet’, but everything she’d witnessed that day overloaded her brain.

When she finally struggled into slumber, it was troubled. Darkness lurched at her from all directions, rotting hands infested with pestilence, grabbed from her body and dug in jagged fingernails. No matter how she screamed and tried to fight the monsters off, help seemed so distant – the shape of Hades and the purple reaper she’d seen but once, for some reason holding back.

It had been dark for hours, when she finally wrested free of sleep’s fearful embrace. She woke to find herself in a tangle of soft blankets, gripping her pillow that would moist with tears. Desperately trying to catch her breath, she rocked into a sitting position and put her feet to the floor. It’s stability helped to calm the raging of her pulse, and dispel the storm clouds still clinging to her skin.

“You’re not a kid,” she muttered angrily at herself, scrubbing her cheeks and eyes before smoothing back her hair.

After a few minutes of contemplating going back to sleep – then deciding not to – Miho checked she wasn’t being indecent in the t-shirt Hades had lent her, she exited the guest room and headed to the main area.

She was surprised to still find Hades up, paperwork spread across the dining table. When she appeared he looked up, even before she’d entered his peripheral vision, and frowned a little.

“Can’t sleep?” he questioned, and Miho shook her head, looking a little sheepish.

“Nightmares,” she explained awkwardly. “I can’t stop everything spinning in my brain.”

“Unsurprising,” he nodded, scraping his chair back softly and getting to his feet. “Why don’t you get comfortable on the couch?”

Without protest, Miho moved over to the comfy looking sofa and flopped down. She zoned out almost immediately, losing sight of the room for a wash of blurry, high speed thoughts and images that tried to drag her back into fear, until a sweet smell assailed her nose.

“Hot chocolate?” Miho blinked, staring at the steaming mug Hades was holding out to her from behind the sofa. “Not something I thought a health nut like you would have handy; I’ve seen what’s in your fridge.”

“It’s organic, fair trade cocoa,” he replied with a wry grin, and with his own mug in hand, sat down next to her. “So, what’s bothering you the most? Maybe those answers you refused earlier will help quieten your mind.”

DAY 25

Miho didn’t know how long they talked, nor did she remember when it was she fell asleep. All she knew, was that eventually light tickled her face. She was warm, and snuggled, enveloped and protected by a sense of complete safety she didn’t want to disturb.

Finally, when she stretched a little, something moved beneath her, and she opened her eyes. What she saw was Hades’ sleeping face not far from her own. His arms were draped around her, hands resting in her lower back, and she laid against his chest, formerly with her head tucked beneath his chin.

“How did…” she began, and that was all it took for Hades’ eyelids to slowly peel back.

“Good morning,” he smiled softly, such a gentle expression Miho was caught completely off guard. “I suppose we fell asleep.”

As much was obvious.

Miho remembered him telling her about the search for Hera, about Zeus’ obsession with finding Hera and how it all blew up after the fake was revealed. The pantheon ended up broken, split, a dangerous schism that could well have been the route of what had happened the day before.

Now, Hades’ didn’t seem at all abashed by their circumstances, nor did he remove his arms.

“This looks cosy,” came a suspicious voice from the other side of the room, and Miho lifted her head a little to see Persephone enter.

“Oh, this isn’t, this isn’t what it looks like!” Miho rushed, wriggling, and with a chuckle Hades sat up and unfurled his arms.

He did not, however, rush to move away from her, though his cheeks had become a little pink.

“I just…” Miho began again, but Hades put his hand on her shoulder, even while she hurried to pull his t-shit over her hips.

“It’s okay,” he assured her, then rose. “Yesterday was pretty trying.”

“Is that your shirt?” Persephone wondered, and Hades responded honestly.

“I didn’t think you’d approve of me rummaging through your drawers,” he answered.

“Clearly you didn’t have the same issue about rummaging through hers,” Persephone grinned, and Miho’s eyes stretched wide.

“Wait, that isn’t what happened at all,” she argued, standing up while clinging to the hem of her modesty.

“I don’t disapprove,” Persephone teased, moving over into the kitchen area. “He looks good on you.”

“Okay, that’s quite enough,” Hades finally intervened, running his fingers through his hair.

“Oh god,” Miho exhaled in embarrassment, hand over her face, while Persephone continued to laugh.

“You’re not tired of saying that yet?” the goddess added, and Hades very nearly face palmed.

Giggling, Persephone opened the fridge.

“Why don’t you two take a shower while I fix breakfast?”

“I’m fine,” Miho said quickly. “But I will go put my clothes on.”

Swiftly she scurried back to her guest room, aware of two gazes following her.

“Spill it,” Persephone urged, leaning over the counter at her uncle.

“There is nothing to spill,” he assured her. “Understandably she had difficulties sleeping so…”

“… you gave her a hand? Or something else?”

“Don’t be vulgar,” he chided, settling on a barstool. “I explained how things came to be the way they are now, and what might have been the cause of yesterday’s destruction. But, I would much rather know the facts.”

“Unfortunately I have some more bad news,” Persephone said, finally getting serious. “Erinyes is missing.”

“Missing, or defected?” Hades sought in clarification, his expression filling with shadow.

“Hard to say at the moment,” Persephone sighed. “All we know is she wasn’t among the dead.”

Generally quite calm and in control of his emotions, Hades’ irritation actually bubbled to the surface.

“Zeus needs to stop this madness,” he growled, his fist balled on the benchtop.

In the doorway, Miho paused mid-step as a wave of powerful, negative vibes expanded from where Hades sat.

“Bad news?” she ventured, remaining where she was, and Hades inhaled a sharp breath to reign in his annoyance.

“Could be,” he conceded. “Sorry.”

“No, no, don’t apologise,” she said, moving slowly over to the counter. “Now I’ve a better picture of what’s really going on, I get the stakes are high. I don’t suppose you could call a truce with Zeus, to talk things over?”

Then her eyes cut to Persephone.

“It just occurred to me that Zeus is your father,” Miho noted.

“He is,” she sighed, “but that doesn’t mean I’m going to excuse him for behaving like a thug,” Persephone replied gruffly. “If he is responsible for what happened yesterday, I…”

Her entire body seemed to tense, her brow gathering low between her eyes in a knot.

“I don’t know if I can forgive him,” she finished.

“Persephone is above reproach,” Hades vouched with a curt nod.

“Okay,” Miho accepted, sitting on the stool next to Hades. “So what happens now?”

“We eat,” Persephone declared, trying to lift the mood.

“Then I return you to Earth so I can deal with this mess,” Hades added.

“Just like that?” Miho blinked. “Down the elevator, out the building and goodbye?”

“Maybe a kiss,” Persephone put in, but Miho shook her head.

“Not what I meant,” she explained with a frown. “Now I know all this, how am I supposed to just, go back to ‘normal’ without even knowing how this ends?”

“It’ll be better if you do,” Hades responded, but Miho wasn’t having it, turning her body to him.

“There you go making decisions for me again,” she scowled. “I’m old enough and ugly enough to look after myself.”

“Oh?” he voiced in challenge, also swiveling to face her. “Is that why you were thrashing around and crying in your sleep?”

“I was and you didn’t wake me?” she volleyed, and Persephone took a step back.

“Uh, I don’t want to get in the way of a lover’s tiff, so I’ll just…”

“We are not,” Miho snapped most definitively.

“This isn’t up for debate,” Hades told her, and ambiguity remained about what exactly wouldn’t be debated.

“Fine, then take me back now,” Miho hissed, getting to her feet.

“For someone claiming to be old enough to take care of herself, you sure are acting like a petulant child,” Hades judged, his voice taking on a colder edge.

“Then allow me to get the hell out of your way,” Miho asserted, and began to stalk toward the front door.

“Wow,” Persephone dropped. “You sure know how to pick the feisty ones.”

“Apparently,” Hades sighed, exasperation written all over his face as he began after Miho. “I will be back shortly.”

Miho was surprised there was no further lecture from Hades, especially as they rode the elevator down in silence. He also said nothing about non-disclosure or confidentiality, and simply saw her to the collection of her handbag, then to the foyer of the Grand Olympian.

“Please stay out of HERA’s way, Miss Fujiwara,” he said finally, his voice even and firm, “for your own safety.”

“Sure thing, Reverend Hades,” she dismissed, waving over her shoulder and strutting out of the building like a boss… only to back very quickly back inside. “Zombie!”

The guards looked to Hades, but when the top tier god took Miho’s shoulder and shoved her behind him, the other agents leapt into action.

“Stay here,” Hades rumbled, following his agents onto the street, but Miho was already digging around in her bag for her phone.

She’d left it on, and it was flat, much to her disgust, but that meant her entire focus then went to the scene unfolding on the street.

Several corpse-like figures were approaching the building, but that wasn’t even the beginning of the horror, for strapped to each were vests looking to Miho very much like explosives.

“Get back!” Miho shouted, as a number of people just going about their business, approached along the footpath. “Go, go! There’s a bomb!”

In a city that had already experienced the pain of terrorism, the ‘b word’ had an immediate effect. The people turned on their tails and ran, screaming and shouting at others to clear the street.

Gun shots popped, as agents fired upon the walking dead, while Hades’s reaper aura swept across the now otherwise empty street, collecting the bodies before smothering the explosions that burst forth from the fallen emissaries of destruction.

“Hades!” Miho shrieked, dashing from the store front she’d been hiding in, collecting a metal waste bin as she did.

Which she pitched at the legs of the much faster moving creature that had slipped in behind the agents on its way to the foyer. When the bin connected, the zombie stumbled and fell, given Hades – who had turned to Miho’s call – enough time to sprint and slide in front of her, putting his aura between them.

The explosion tore into the Grand Olympian’s fascia, sending concrete rubble flying, but there was no one left in the foyer to be injured, and the other HERA agents were well out of range. For seconds after the sound of the blast dissipated, Hades remained hunched over and around Miho, who only opened her eyes when her ears stopped ringing.

“That was reckless,” he rumbled, but his arms tightened a little before he straightened.

“But effective,” Miho exhaled, wobbling a little and resting back against Hades who hadn’t moved away.

“Hurt?” he scowled over her shoulder.

“Nope,” she managed, trying to catch her breath and quell the trembling of her body.

Damage to the building did little to quell the involuntary shaking of her limbs. While it all could have been much worse if the blast had detonated inside the foyer, the building now looked like it needed a dentist. HERA agents began cautiously emerging through the jagged cavity, and still Hades held Miho.

“You can let go of me now,” she whispered, as someone called out to Hades.

Flipping a switch, Hades’ expression hardened and he finally stepped away from Miho’s side to begin delegating responsibility for the scene.

Focusing on getting a grip, Miho moved herself out of the way as the street was cordoned off and nearby buildings were evacuation.

As she calmed, words joined together, linking into sentences and paragraphs, pages of cogent story that would absolutely sell/

“Hey!” came an assertive female exclamation, and for a second, Miho wondered if she had spoken aloud without consciously thinking.

“Is there a reason you’re ignoring this badge?”

“This falls outside your jurisdiction, Ma’am,” a straight-faced HERA agent outside the barrier responded – also familiar to Miho.

Without really thinking she might not be allowed back in, Miho stepped out to inspect the gathering crowd, and the one belonging to the loudest voice of all. “And who exactly are you?” the smartly dressed woman demanded, an NYPD badge dangling around her neck. “You sound just like me,” Miho chuckled, drawing the attention of both the woman, and the agent she’d been sparring with. “They’re trained to be that annoying.” “Are you?” the police officer volleyed.

“A reporter,” Miho answered pleasantly, offering the other woman her hand. “Miho Fujiwara, at your service.”

The eyes of the HERA agent narrowed.

“Oh relax Agent Eyeballs,” she grinned, waving her other hand at the man. “You’ve got bigger things to worry about right now than me and my blabbermouth.

When the police officer’s hand made contact with Miho’s, Miho looked back to her brightly.

“Detective Yashitori, Narumi,” the officer greeted, some of her steam escaping in the face of Miho’s unbothered expression.

“Pleasure to meet you, Detective,” she smiled, and turned her back to the HERA agent, subtly encouraging Narumi to do the same.

Conspiratorially, she leaned a little closer to Narumi and dropped her voice, well aware the Agent Scrutiny was watching and listening still.

“Just quietly, they do have jurisdiction, and no, they aren’t going to share much more about how.”

“And you know this how?” Narumi enquired, studying Miho just as closely.

“Oh,” Miho smirked, then raised her voice a little. “I’m sleeping with one of their commanders.”

Yeah, that broke Agent Voyeur’s calm, and he blinked like Miho had just thrown cold water in his face.

“Miss Fujiwara,” he growled.

“Nope,” she sniffed, dismissing him with another wave, linking arms with the somewhat bewildered detective, and urging her into a walk. “I am in desperate need of coffee,” she declared. “And you look like you could use one too.”

Somehow, Narumi’s frustration had evaporated – something about Miho’s manner managed to carry her away. But that wasn’t the only thing. She was a detective, and an observant one. Even as she had argued with Agent Stoicism, she’d spied Miho emerge from within the blocked off area, and her familiar way of speaking with ‘those in charge’ suggested she knew more than most of the morbidly curious crowd.

So she went along.

Not far away, in a cafe Miho had only been in once before, Miho placed a ‘cup of Joe’ in front of Detective Yashitori, just as Hades had done with her. And it wasn’t lost on her how similar the circumstance were – except Narumi had yet to call her ridiculous names or make commentary on her hair.

Before Miho could speak, Narumi took the initiative, just in case the other woman’s purpose was to cover for the suits.

“So, if I can’t get to the crime scene, what am I supposed to put in my report?” she asked, her voice a little edged. “It’s kind of difficult to investigate when some people, somehow apparently have every right not to let me in. My boss is going to love this; I can hear him right now.”

“I bet he sounds a good deal like me,” Miho responded, calm in the face of Narumi’s slight irritation.

Narumi suddenly superimposed Miho’s face over Kirisawa’s, and her annoyance wavered just slightly. What Miho’s assertion also did, was further reinforce the woman who she’d so willingly left a crime scene with, knew something, and had once been in a position of frustration also.

“So, I’m listening,” Narumi prompted, blowing the steam over the top of her mug.

Nodding, Miho chewed on the inside of her cheek thoughtfully.

Here was a cop. Clearly one driven enough to push back at obstructions preventing her from getting to the facts.

The easy answer was, tell a lie to protect the best interests of the masses – and Now Miho sat in his seat.

“So, the Greek pantheon is real, though right now it’s fractured thanks to Zeus being a dick. Now bomb wielding zombies are attacking both Olympus and Earth,” Miho heard herself prattle.

“Well, if I’m honest – and I like to be honest – there isn’t a lot I can tell you,” Miho admitted finally. “And if I feed you the lines they fed me, then you’d be just as dissatisfied as I was.”

“So, you could always try telling me the truth,” Narumi suggested critically.

“Believe me, I want to,” Miho sighed.

“But?” Narumi insisted.

“Well, if your imagination is anything like mine, you have a pretty vivid idea of what might happen,” Miho nodded slowly.

“And your boyfriend?”

“Boyfriend?”

“The commander? He wouldn’t protect you if you say, happened to accidentally let slip a few details?”

“Oh riiiiight,” Miho chuckled. “I never said he was my boyfriend.”

“But you’re sleeping with him?”

“Slept with him, yes, quite fitfully actually,” Miho revealed emphatically. “The guy made for a surprisingly comfortable mattress considering all the lumps and… bulges.”

At this, Narumi blushed a little despite herself, perhaps drawn to the sudden image of someone she knew with bits and pieces in all the right places.

“Mhmm, Detective Yashitori, I do believe you’re imagining something pretty lewd,” Miho grinned, offering her a wink. “Someone special in your life? Yes?”

“Mhmm, Detective Yashitori, I do believe you’re imagining something pretty lewd,” Miho grinned, offering her a wink. “Someone special in your life? Yes?”

Being relatively good at reading people, Miho could see the answer written on Narumi’s face, though the detective quickly covered it up and refocused.

“I suppose I should expect a reporter to be pretty good at misdirection,” she smiled thinly. “Though isn’t your job usually revealing the truth, rather than covering it up?”

For a few seconds she allowed this question to hover, before she spoke again, leaning forward on the table a little.

“Which begs many questions, including why would a reporter be so subversive? Perhaps to protect the commander she is sleeping with?”

“Subversive is an awfully strong word,” Miho grinned, rather enjoying the verbal game of cat and mouse. “As for someone I might be protecting, which it’s entirely within the realm of possibility, that wouldn’t really speak very well of me would it? I mean, several explosions just chewed a chunk out of a New York building – that’s a little bigger than just me and my beloved, right?”

“Right,” Narumi nodded, not so much enjoying the banter as trying to dig her way through Miho’s wall of words. “But I don’t know you, so you could very well be that kind of person.”

“Please, I’m nothing like Agent Pokerface,” Miho scoffed. “I’m pretty sure they are required to take classes in speaking in monotone, and their P.T. involved toning facial muscles so they don’t ever smile.”

“But not you?”

“Nope, I am soooo not on the payroll,” Miho chuckled.

“But you’re toe the line,” Narumi asserted, rather than questioned, and she watched as Miho shifted a little in her seat, a sign – perhaps- this idea didn’t sit well.

“You want to know what’s going on behind the curtain, Detective?” Miho exhaled, leaning back in her seat, poking at her mug idly.

“Obviously,” Narumi responded. “That is my job.”

“Mm,” Miho murmured. “Would you still be pushing to know if it wasn’t your job?”

Narumi took a moment to consider this question. It all came back to why she became a police officer in the first place, what she stood for.

“Yes,” she answered finally, a definite nod added for emphasis – and Miho smiled a knowing and somehow conflicted smile.

There was so much of herself in the other woman it was painful to watch. It was like staring into the not so distant past, observing herself tread the same path of frustration and irritation, facing the same hurdles – only now she was Agent Mann and Hades.

That stung.

“You know what they often say about the Internet, Detective?” Miho posed rhetorically, for she clearly meant to continue. “What has been seen cannot be unseen? I imagine in your line of work, you’ve witnessed many things you wish you could scrub from your memory.”

“That doesn’t mean the reason behind why I saw it doesn’t make it worth the price,” Narumi argued, and she believed it, Miho could see she believed it.

“I understand,” she said, trying not to be patronising. “Things explode, and the protectors of the city don their capes to protect the innocent.”

“I prefer a badge to a cape,” Narumi interjected a little dryly.

“Well I don’t have either,” Miho pointed out a little wryly, “and you know, I thought complete and utter transparency in everything was the only way to be fair, to be equitable – because you and I both know, knowledge is power.”

Waiting for her continue, Narumi pursed her lips expectantly.

“But in recent days I’ve learned, power isn’t everything,” Miho explained, but frowned as she heard her own voice.

“You’re conflicted,” Narumi observed.

“Oh yeah,” Miho laughed, a slightly bitter sound. “It’s crazy how quickly things can change, especially to things you thought were set in stone. Beliefs ingrained in me by my parents, by my environment, by the world and all its perils.”

“Perils like explosions on busy public streets in broad daylight?” Narumi offered.

“Exactly,” Miho confirmed. “All the scary stuff we assume will be less scary when we know the reason why – and I hate assumptions.”

“Then that’s another thing we have in common,” Narumi encouraged.

“But I was wrong,” Miho admitted, internally cringing. “There are some things in the world, the universe, that I am, that others are, better off not knowing, will be happier not knowing.”

“But who are you to make that judgement?” Narumi very nearly growled. “You said it yourself, you don’t have a badge – I’m at least authorised to protect the public. What gives you the right? What gives your shady friends in the suits the right to get in the way of what should be the jurisdiction of NYPD?”

A sigh drew both their attention to a new arrival not far from their table.

Jazz’s expression said, ‘Oh gods, they’re multiplying’.

“Uh oh, hand caught in the cookie jar,” Miho quipped, but Narumi was instantly scowling at the new arrival.

She didn’t recognise her, but Miho’s comment and her mode of dress suggested she was very much a part of the ‘group’ who apparently thought they had all rights to obstruct police business. Staying quiet on the matter simply wasn’t her style.

“Whatever this organisation of yours is – and it’s certainly not a publicly known or acknowledged institution – I’m going to give you some advice, take it even as a warning if you like,” she declared, standing to make more of a point.

Jazz didn’t move, allowing the officer to continue.

“Even if you are influential enough to convince my superiors to turn a blind eye,” Narumi continued, and Miho watched on, her expression also falling into something bland, “you’re sadly mistaken if you believe the echoes of terrorism will be ignored by not only the NYPD, but also the FBI. We answer to the public, even if you…”

She cast a glance at Miho.

“… and your lackies, don’t.”

Ouch, talk about a slap in Miho’s face, but Narumi wasn’t about to let it go. She might have been relatively calm during her conversation with Miho, but the suit really pissed her off.

“I understand,” Jazz replied calmly, “and you are absolutely right.”

“But,” Miho added in helpfully.

“But,” Jazz said, her lips a sour line of disapproval as her eyes flitted to Miho, then back to Narumi, “I suggest you speak with your superiors before you kick up too much more of a fuss. It’ll save you a lot of time and energy that you could be expending helping the people of New York where we can’t.”

“Well, it’s hard to know where that would be,” Narumi began, smirking though there was certainly no smile in her eyes, “when I don’t know where exactly your jurisdiction starts and ends, isn’t it?”

Desperately she fought the urge of her hands to plant on her hips.

“Apparently, I didn’t get the memo.”

“Yeah, that happens,” Miho put in… yeah, so helpful.

“If you would prefer to talk to my superior, then I’m sure he’d be happy to find the time to detail you an explanation about law, and lawsuits. To whom should he address it?”

“She’s Agent Mann,” Miho answered, and Jazz shut her eyes for a second to keep from snapping, but Miho just grinned cheekily and also got to her feet. “She loves getting mail. Want her email too?”

“Seriously?” Jazz sighed sharply.

“How did you even know I was here?” Miho queried, though she didn’t seem awfully bothered.

“I’m psychic,” Jazz answered, and given what Miho did know, she couldn’t be sure Jazz was joking. “Your favourite commander is looking for you.”

“Of course he is,” Miho beamed, but she was honestly a little hmm, not scared, but certainly apprehensive, given if Jazz had come to fetch her on Hades’ request or order, and he knew she had wandered off with a cop, she might very well be in for a talking to.

Or a spanking.

Hopefully a spanking?

“Well it was lovely to meet you, Detective Yashitori,” Miho smile brightly, offering Narumi her hand again, but this time there was a business card in it.

Still, Narumi’s temper was still agitated, so though she shook Miho’s hand and took the card, she failed to manage a convincing reciprocal expression.

Jazz, on the other hand, scowled as Narumi inspected the card, while Miho sidled up to her.

“Okay, I’m good to go.”

Astoria: In Chaos – Part Two

DAY 8

Another day, another bloody great hole in the ground – this time slap-bang in the middle of an elementary school playground. Miho knew this, because she’d managed to snap a few photographs of the scene, and then of the suit- wearing sweepers who blew in like the wind and cordoned everything off.

Triumphant, she returned to her office, set on stirring the pot with enough vigour to force the ‘cover-up squad’ to reveal something.

But, it wasn’t an especially clever tactic.

“Fujiwara,” came a shape bark across the top of the cubicles in the news room, and Miho paused the furious tapping of her fingers against the keyboard.

A ripple of whispers rushed to meet her when she stood to find several uniformed police officers, followed by the woman she knew only as Agent Mann and a somewhat nervous looking man in similar attire, stalking in her direction.

“This is an order for the seizure of all your work materials,” Agent Mann told Miho in a business-like manner, “along with your cell phone, laptop and any storage devices.”

“What?” Miho blinked in utter shock. “You can’t do that!”

Agent Mann’s eyebrow raised, but rather than argue, she simply handed the piece of paper to Miho who frantically began to study it.

“This,” Agent Mann continued, producing another piece of paper, “is an intervention order preventing you from approaching any clearly signposted crime scenes. Failure to adhere fully to both will be considered contempt of court, and will attract the full weight of penalties that apply.”

“You’re banning me from doing my job?” Miho snarled, snatching the second piece of paper but not even looking at it – the first was legitimate. “Where’s Hades?” she snapped, even as the police began to empty Miho’s cubicle into boxes. “Did he not have the courage to carry out this gag order himself? What is he so afraid of hm?”

Her teeth gnashed at Agent Mann before her eyes flashed at the man standing beside her.

“Not you,” Agent Mann responded dryly. “You’re also required to delete any data you have stored in the cloud, and surrender any notes and materials in storage at your place of residence.”

No matter what Miho said, Agent Mann would not relent, and in the end she was told to wait in the editor’s office while the police did their thing.

Working her jaw painfully, her knuckles popping in tight fists, she glowered out the window. Outrage grated against her skin, itching and burning.

“Think this will stop me getting to the truth?” she hissed, and it just so happened her editor walked in as she said it.

“Yes it will,” her editor declared curtly. “What use do you think I have for a reporter who will land herself in jail if she so much as looks at a crime scene?”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Miho exclaimed. “Editor, I’m the best you’ve got.”

“Not anymore. Go home, Fujiwara.”

“What?” Miho blurted.

The editor sighed.

“I’ll get legal onto this intervention thing, but when the feds are involved…”

“Did you see a badge? FBI? NSA? Homeland Security?” Miho balked, face getting more and more red. “Of course not, because they’re none of those things!”

“Whatever they are, those orders against you are legitimate, so until this is resolved, you’re suspended.”

Slack jawed with disbelief, Miho stared at him until he shooed her from his office. On her desk she found her mobile phone, and when she checked she discovered not just those pertaining to her investigation of the mysterious damage had been deleted, but all images and videos. It wasn’t until he cleared his throat, that Miho realised the suited man was still standing by her cubicle.

“I’m here to oversee the removal of data from your cloud accounts,” he explained, and Miho narrowed wrathful eyes at him.

This caused him to squirm a little uncomfortably.

“Um, really, you have to, so, don’t say you don’t have any or…”

Miho interjected.

“Or what?”

Her teeth chewed through both words, and she looked like she was about to chew through him.

“Or, or Agent Mann said Hades will handle it,” he replied, seeming like he wanted to take a very big step away from her.

“That arrogant toss,” she snorted bitterly.

The man’s eyes widened – a little bit shocked, a little more fearful.

“I wouldn’t speak about him like that,” he warned, the word tumbling from his mouth.

Or… what?” Miho repeated, leaning toward him. “He’ll drag him into the Underworld and torment me for all eternity?”

It was difficult for Miho to imagine the man’s eyes getting any wider without his eyeballs dropping from their sockets, and she couldn’t tell if it was just because he felt affronted on his boss’ behalf, or was thrown off by her gall.

Either way, Miho didn’t back down.

“In fact, why don’t you scurry on back to whatever rock you lot crawled out from under, and tell him exactly that,” she hissed, snatching her phone and her handbag before stalking from the office.

The agent didn’t stop her.

It was as Miho stomped across the foyer that it occurred to her.

That rock they crawled out from under… if she wanted to know who they were, she should just follow Agent Uncertain back to it.

Twenty minutes later she stood before the building Agent Unsure had disappeared into: the Grand Olympian. Miho debated the merits of making a frontal assault, of walking right in like she belonged there on the chance she could bluff her way to the information she sought, but that was fraught with pitfalls.

“Seriously,” she muttered to herself. “Who do these people think they are? Hades and the Grand Olympian? Hmph.”

Several people walked in and out, allowing her a glimpse of the foyer, and the several black-clad, stoic suits standing guard.

“After what they pulled,” Miho growled to herself, losing the battle with her anger and storming across the street.

Into the foyer she stalked, eyes filled with determined balefire, posture set with get the fuck out of my way, and in the middle she stopped to glare from blank face to blank face.

“I want to speak to Hades,” she declared flatly, locking eyes with the nearest man.

The only movement he made was the slight twitch of his eyebrow and his lips as he spoke in the expected monotone.

“Ma’am,” he began, and that only enraged Miho more. “This…”

“This is about to be a really unpleasant scene,” she snapped, her hands flailing about in an animated fashion. “Because I don’t care what excuse you give me, this front doesn’t fool me. So get yourself on the phone, intercom, radio, whatever, and get that underworld princess down here to face me.”

That got more of a reaction. She may not have known what she said, her comments based purely upon his name, but just as Agent Stutterpants, the suits in the foyer looked startled.

“I’m sorry, Ma’am, but you’re going to have to leave,” a second suit told her when he emerged from his bewilderment, and he reached for her arm.

“I will drop you,” she warned ferociously. “Keep your hands to yourself.”

“If you won’t leave willingly, Ma’am, we have no choice.”

A moment later Miho was manhandled from the building and propelled toward the pavement, but what might have actually caused her to fall most inelegantly actually resulted in a most serendipitous collision.

“Sir!” Suit #1 exclaimed, when Miho was practically thrown into his arms.

Equally as surprised, Hades looked down at the woman he’d reflexively caught in his arms as she was flung in his direction.

A little panicked perhaps, Suit #2 and Suit #3 moved up to them, #2 grasping Miho’s shoulder. Though Hades’ grip was light enough that she was drawn away from his chest, a moment later the offending suit hit the pavement with a heavy thud, his arm pulled behind him by the wrist, before Miho leaned her knee in between his shoulder blades.

“I warned you what would happened if you laid a hand on me again,” she hissed. “I was an assassin in a past life!”

“Miss Fujiwara,” Hades’ stern voice rumbled, and her blazing eyes snapped to him. “Please unhand Agent Trevaughn.”

“When I have his word he won’t touch me,” she grated.

“Agent?” Hades prompted, deciding it was best to quickly resolve the situation there on the footpath – even if it meant giving Miho some of what she wanted.

“You have my word,” Agent Trevaughn croaked, cheek pressed against the rough concrete.

Instantly Miho rocked back and released her hold, putting a few paces between she and the man before looking to Hades again.

“Fancy running into you here,” she exhaled, her smile the vicious injury he’d perpetrated against her. “Just the god I’m after.”

Like the suits before him, Hades raised an eyebrow.

“You want me to roast you out here, or inside?” she asked.

“Hm, I have a better idea,” Hades responded. “Why don’t you calm down and join me for a cup of coffee?”

“Are you really sure you want me in possession of hot liquids?” Miho challenged stubbornly.

“I seldom get what I want,” Hades told her calmly. “But, if you are in any part the reporter you are reputed to be, you would not turn down the opportunity to converse with the subject of your…”

Ire,” Miho filled in frostily, and Hades merely accepted it and inclined his head.

The suits looked at each other.

“So, is it coffee?” Hades prompted.

“Tea,” Miho sniffed defiantly, but she turned her body to indicate she was ready to move out.

“As you were,” Hades nodded to the suits, and with curt recognition they headed back into the building.

A short time later, Hades placed a cup of Lady Grey tea before Miho, before sitting down opposite with his freshly squeezed juice.

She considered his choice of beverage, still clinging to her scowl, determined not to be pacified and yet the grass-shot juice Hades lifted to his lips seemed somehow incongruous with his presence.

“Something wrong?” he enquired, putting the glass down.

“I’d write you a list, but you’d only have your lackies swoop in here and confiscate it,” she charged, but Hades remained unaffected.

“You were warned,” he pointed out, aware the remark would win no favour with her.

“Oh well then, a warning makes it all just peachy,” she snapped, leaning forward. “What are you hiding you’d ruin my career like it was nothing?”

“Actually, Miss Fujiwara, only you are responsible for your actions and their consequences,” he told her, an Miho’s grip tightened around her tea cup.

He watched as she struggled to hold in another unseemly public outburst, that could flip the table and spatter the green rage of vitamised fruit all over the café. But trembling she slowly rose from her seat.

“Thanks for the tea,” she dropped icily and turned to move, but the command – or perhaps something else in Hades’ voice – caused her to freeze.

“Sit down, Miss Fujiwara.”

Before she could comply or tell him to fuck off, Miho made eye contact with a familiar person.

“Oh, hey Miho,” Mieke grinned at her best friend, then slid her gaze to the man behind her. “And… Hades… uh, I mean, Sir.”

“Hades… Sir?” Miho repeated, processing Mieke’s greeting carefully. “You work in an office?”

“Uh… yeah, I do,” Mieke cringed.

His, office?” Miho pressed on, and she didn’t miss Mieke’s pleading glance at Hades.

“Miss Fujiwara,” he prompted, but this time her resistance was decisive.

“Rabbit holes,” she chuckled mirthlessly as she stepped in beside Mieke. “You really never know what you’ll find.”

She then stalked on out of the café.

“You and Miss Fujiwara are acquainted,” Hades stated, and with shoulders slumped, Mieke sighed out her answer.

“Best friends, Sir,” she breathed, “though probably not anymore.”

“Perhaps you could soften the blow of her recent employment crisis,” he suggested, but Mieke was already shaking her head.

“I’m sorry, Sir, but if there is one thing Miho really can’t tolerate, it’s lies, and I’ve been playing dumb as she poured out her frustration over not being able to get anything on HERA – ugh – if she ever speaks to me again it’ll be a miracle.”

Avoiding the confines of her apartment, Miho strapped on her sneakers and began a steady lap around Astoria park. If she couldn’t work, she’d lose her apartment, but that was the furthest thing from her mind – there was no one she could trust now: not her boss, not city law enforcement, not even her best friend.

She was on her own.

And where there were lies, there was something to hide.

“I – will – find – out,” she vowed, words panted out to the rhythm of her footfalls, but her cheeks were wet with distress.

Mieke’s betrayal hurt so deeply, Miho lost sight of what she’d been pursuing and just ran, so much so it was dark by the time she finally stopped.

“Now what?” she exhaled, looking down at her hands where she sat on a park bench.

Feeble fists clenched.

“Ugh!” she shouted, jumping to her feet. “This is bullshit.”

Scratching at her aggravation rather than allowing herself to sink into misery, she picked up her feet again and headed to her local gym to take a shower and change her clothing. But she didn’t go home after that she didn’t go home.

Swathed in brash indignation, she caught a cab a little way before getting out a block from the first crime scene she’d investigated where Hades and his band of merry suits had shown up – she would check them all again, slip through the black fencing and look for clues, anything that could give her a story worth her boss putting his ass on the line.

Sticking to the shadows she slunk with practiced silence and dexterity, but suddenly she stopped her advance.

It must have been her day for familiar people showing up at inopportune times.

“What the fuck is Agent Moron up to?” she murmured to herself, watching him acting very suspicious as he approached his own barrier.

With tailing skills even Kaga would be proud of, Miho drew closer, slipping with almost ridiculous ease past the couple of guards posted, and into the obstructed area. Hiding, she crept closer to see what Agent Hopeless was up to.

She found him examining the deep hole in the sidewalk, much like the others she’d seen, waving over it with a little device with flashing lights.

“What are you doing, Agent Dipshit?” she whispered under her breath.

The answer that came wasn’t really an answer at all… two bodies suddenly flew overhead, limbs flailing and faces pinched in painful grimaces. Their impact with a nearby building was so solid some of the render cracked and flaked away, and when the pair of suits hit the ground – they didn’t move.

“What the?” Agent Stupid blinked, turning sharply from his fallen compatriots to look in the direction from which they’d come.

Scrambling to stay hidden, Miho narrowed missed being hit by… a car… that soared several metres into the air before barreling in Agent Idiot’s direction. He dove to one side, drawing a handgun as he did and taking aim at…

“You HERA guys,” a low, slow voice rumbled, as a real lump of a man came into view on one side of the crater, “so squishy.”

“Minotaur?” Agent Dumbass grunted. “You’re back in the States?”

It was a stupid question, because clearly the guy was right there.

“You gonna shoot me?” Minotaur sneered, and Miho inhaled a sharp breath while fumbling to get out her phone and start recording.

“That depends if you’re willing to cooperate or not,” Agent Sideways replied, but his gun hand was trembling and he seemed to be in considerable pain.

“Unlikely,” Minotaur chuckled, slamming his balled fist into his palm, and for a second there was an orange flash.

Miho swore there was an orange flash in the shape of an angry bull.

“If… if you’re responsible for this,” Agent Retreat stammered, scuttling back, digging for his phone with his free hand.

“And imagine what I’m about ta do ta ya head,” Minotaur leered.

Raging to life, the orange bull, surrounded by irritated sparks, rushed from behind Minotaur and snatched Agent Hapless off the ground. Much to Miho’s amazement and in no small part horror, Agent Ragdoll was shaken violently in the luminescent bull’s grasp, so hard his keys and loose change were flung from his pockets and his phone was thrown across the crater and landed close to where Miho was hiding.

“Agent Schmit?” a voice called from the asphalt, more urgently the second time when Agent Schmit, let out a cry coinciding with his own solid path to the ground.

“Fuck,” Miho gasped, twitching in indecision before finally darting out and snatching up the phone. “Agent Schmit is down!” she hissed. “27th Avenue near St. Margaret Mary – there’s a… mino…”

Despite the questions flung at her Miho stalled as the rampant, glowing bull stomped up to Agent Schmit and look set to crush him underfoot, all while the man himself grinned sadistically.

“Fuck,” Miho exclaimed once more, dropping the agent’s phone and turning her own around. “Hey asshole!” she shouted, setting her phone’s flash on strobe.

In the darkness she might have been little more than a silhouette, a faint shape flashing brightly that divided the creature’s attention long enough for Agent Schmit to crawl to where his colleagues were beginning to rouse.

“Who the hell are you?” Minotaur huffed, and as he turned his body to fully face her, the towering bulls did the same, pulsing with furious energy.

“I… am…” she stammered, eyes stretching even wider as the apparitious bull’s approaching footfalls somehow made the ground shake. “I’m not with them,” she exhaled. “I’ve been tracking your trail of… of awesome destruction looking for an interview! This lot keep cock blocking.”

The bull stopped, and Minotaur narrowed his eyes on Miho as she lowered her phone to her side. He appeared to be processing what she’d said… slowly.

“You ain’t HERA?”

“These suits? Are you kidding me? They ruined my career!” she told him, and well it was the truth.

So she kept talking, talking while Agent Schmit and the other two struggled out of injurious grogginess.

“These… three-piece twits stormed my office and confiscated everything I’ve worked so hard on,” she rushed on, hoping to keep his attention for as long as possible. “But here you are, the very one I’ve been… I’ve been searching for, ha ha, right in front of me.”

“Miss Fujiwara get back!” Agent Schmit shouted, and as if he’d waved a red rag, Minotaur’s attention snapped back to him as bullets were fired.

The next few seconds seemed to move in slow motion.

Thunder seemed to explode from the ground that heaved so hard with the impact of the luminous bull’s hoof, that Miho pitched backward at speed. She soared, glimpsing the night sky above just briefly before even the brightest stars were consumed by an all-encompassing black.

Astoria: In Chaos – Part One

This story is set somewhere after the events of Hydra’s Season 2, but before he gets hitched to ‘MC’ (who is actually Jazz in this instance). Der, Miho is the NEW MC.


DAY X

Miho rounded the corner with a spring in her step, but came to a sudden, jarring halt.

Before her stood a man she thought she’d never see again – a source of deep, agonising love, deep pain and terrible trepidation.

As if he too was surprised, Hades simply stood staring at her, though with far less confusion than she – after all, he had been doing the searching, and she the hiding.

Careful to not yet move, he studied her eyes, locked with his. Those hazel meres had once held such strength, a powerful, noble and idealistic passion he’d thought immutable, but now the light seemed all but gone. She was exhausted, her skin far paler than he had ever seen, her hair dull, her lips a slowly parting line of anguish he had carved there himself.

When finally he moved his hand, just the slightest of forward motions, she flinched back a step, poised to flee.

“Miho wait,” he said quickly – not quite a gasp or a hiss, not quite a barking command, but clearly conveying the urgency of his entreaty.

Her lips began to tremble, and the sea rushed to fill her eyes with waves barely held in check.

“You have no idea,” she began, her voice a mere and shaking whisper, “how much I have wanted, to hear you say my name…”

There she paused, as the knife drawing new blood from her already tattered heart, also cut deep ravines across her brow.

“… and how much I have feared it,” she finished on little more than a desperate breath.

But as she inhaled she drew herself up.

“I am so tired, so empty – just a frayed, threadbare effigy of my former self you set on fire,” she asserted through her teeth, “but I am not going back. I will not surrender – so stop hunting me.”


DAYS 1 to 5

Once upon a time, idealistic me thought exposing and telling the truth was all that mattered. Lies, white or any other colour of the spectrum, were the root of all evil, chaos and discontent, and as a crusader, what I wanted most was to play my part in revealing them.

For justice.

For transparency.

For equity.

So good could prevail.

Well, I was an idiot, like most young zealots – blinded by self-righteousness and the lofty stature of my moral high horse.

I had cast aside the nay-sayers who told me journalism was a highly competitive fist-fight over the scraps of humanity, and set my sparkling, innocent eyes on uncovering corruption, slashing my way through subterfuge, and sticking it to the powerful who thought the ‘little guy’ was inconsequential.

Au contraire!

As one of those negligible blips in an ever shifting city, I was determined to prove it only took effort and perseverance to make a positive impact in the world. So I slogged my way through cat-up-tree stories, to burst water-mains and traffic chaos, from teacher strikes to criminal vandalism. From there it wasn’t long before I had my claws into theft and assault, and I was wolfishly eyeing off which local politician looked like he or she harboured a deep, dark secret. And I’d lived in Astoria my whole life, so I knew it like the back of my hand.

Except neighbourhoods are a whole lot more complicated than hands.

Hell, you can’t always see what’s really happening in the light, so you can forget about what’s lurking in the darkness… unless you’re a stupidly passionate investigative reporter looking for wrongs to right. Because if you’re anything like me, that leads you down dark alleys and into underground clubs, through seedy bars choked with smoke and into dens filled with monsters far worse than anything humanity really has to offer.

I stumbled into a labyrinth, resolute I’d find the bare facts at the centre – even if that meant I’d never find my way out.

But was I lost? Hell no!

Nope… wasn’t lost.

Not even once.

Knew my way back at any time.

Yep.

Back at my desk in three… two…

DAY 6

Miho had run three blocks flat-chat, and when she finally skidded to a halt felt like she might vomit. Seeing her objective in front of her, however, swept away the nausea and refocused her mind on the goal of her mid-morning sprint.

There was a bloody great hole in the north end of Vernon Boulevard, rimming with jagged asphalt, concrete and dirt, but a cordon had already begun to take shape stopping traffic in both directions and access to Hallets Cove Playground.

“Regular cops,” she noted, still listening through one earbud to the police scanner she had tucked into her handbag.

As she looked for a way to get closer, she stretched out with her ‘reporter senses’, a preternatural ability to spot even the most seemingly insignificant detail.

No broken water mains here, not stranded cats, but also no bodies, no crashed cars, no smoke – just this ridiculous crater like something had exploded in the middle of the street.

“No bomb squad,” she murmured, slowly weaving through a group of curious bystanders toward the playground.

East River lapped gentle at the nearby dilapidated jetty, and for a moment Miho considered a brief swim might be her best way beyond the crime scene tape.

“Get back,” a policewoman growl somewhere to Miho’s right, and when her eyes turned she found a familiar figure.

“Come on,” the man grumbled, “just a few pictures; no one’s hurt right?”

“Thank you Rodger Mallard,” Miho grinned, as the other officer manning the boundary moved to assist his colleague in fending off Miho’s competitor.

She did not waste the opportunity.

Quickly she slid to the wire fence, and with her bag looped over one shoulder, she scaled the obstacle.

“They’re not here yet,” she grinned after a quick scan, and dug her phone out to begin taking photos.

What she found were several other craters like the one on the road, but she was more intrigued by the gaping great hole in the closest building. It looked like a car, or perhaps something a little taller, had crash through one wall, and continued right through and out the other side; but when Miho followed what looked to be the trajectory toward the water, she found no tyre tracks, and the undamaged play equipment between the building and the river indicated whatever had caused the destruction had stopped, or at the very least changed direction at a very sharp angle.

“You again,” came an irritated voice behind Miho.

She dodged away from the sound before looking back, a habit she’d developed after being nabbed for trespassing far too many times. As a result, the hand that had indeed reached for her swiped through the empty space where she’d been standing; it was only after she’d skipped forward and to the right a little, that she turned to look at the man who’d spoke.

Ice blue and fierce in his displeasure.

“I could say the same thing,” she smirked, backing up a little more as she tucked her phone into her pocket. “I’d say it’s nice to see you again, but you and yours have a habit of getting in the way of my stories.”

“Maybe if the tabloids had a little more respect for the victims of criminal damage, we wouldn’t have to,” he pointed out, matching her retreat with steady steps forward.

Miho became aware there was also a female figure approaching from the left, one she also recognised.

“Throw me a crumb and I’ll back off,” Miho volleyed. “What caused this damage maybe? Or how about, the name of the authority you belong to?”

Again she sidestepped when this time the woman reached for her, practiced footwork.

“How about your names so I at least know who keeps covering up these weird crimes,” she added.

Working his jaw, the man looked to his female compatriot almost as if for permission, and Miho saw the slight shake of her head.

“Fine,” he huffed, but it wasn’t in response to Miho’s request.

Suddenly he burst toward her, and it was only by a narrow margin that Miho was able to evade. If he caught her, her phone and the pictures she took would almost certainly be confiscated, and that just wouldn’t do.

As if being chased by a monster, Miho bolted for the gates of the park, even though they were closed and she could see the tall black screening this anonymous group of cover-up agents used to shroud their sites. Even if there were others on the other side, she was confident she could avoid them since she had the element of surprise.

But a tall, broad figure stepped from concealment and through the gates just as Miho reached them, and there was simply no time to stopped. Heavily she collided with the man’s solid chest, and rebounded with such force she was throw inelegantly to the ground.

Gasping and reeling from the shock of the impact, Miho sat dazed long enough for her two pursuers to catch up and block her in, but it was the shadow that had fallen over her that drew her attention.

He was also not unknown to her; she had seen him arrive at many of the other mysteriously cordoned off crime scenes over the last few months, though she had no name for him either.

“Miss Fujiwara,” he stated – a smooth baritone filled with disapproval. “This is becoming something of an inconvenient habit.”

This was the closest she’d ever been to him, and now just a couple of feet away, the magnitude of his presence momentarily strangled the witticism that begged to leave her lips.

And when she found her tongue, her first words to him were.

“Lilac hair. Bold choice.”

“Get up,” the man behind her hissed, taking her under the arm and lifting her up.

“Hey, watch where you’re putting those hands,” she protested, but did not struggle, for it seemed her muscles were paralysed by the luminescent amethysts bearing down upon her.

Eyes, two pools of liquid stardust reaching to some powerful place beyond her understanding.

Her bag, everything within it including her phone, was taken by the black suit-clad woman, while Miho continued to stare up.

“It seems you have me at a bit of a disadvantage,” she managed finally, but her voice emerged much smaller than she meant it to. “More than one, actually. If you’re going to take my stuff, maybe you could exchange it for your name? A badge maybe?”

“Hades,” he answered plainly.

“Sir?” the woman queried, her chin lifting quickly.

“Please show Miss Fujiwara to the correct side of the barrier, Agent Mann,” Hades prompted.

“Is that Mr. Hades? Dr. Hades? Officer Hades?” Miho pressed, seeming to snap out of the spell Hades’ had her under, thanks perhaps to the shove given to her my Agent Mann.

“Come on,” Agent Mann urged with an exasperated sigh.

“Come oooon!” Miho called back over her shoulder. “Professor Hades? How about Reverend Hades?”

“Reverend Hades,” Hydra smirked, when Agent Mann and Miho had disappeared from sight. “If only she knew.”

“It’s our job to ensure she doesn’t,” Hades pointed out coolly.

Though there was no longer any question about who it was Agent Mann had chosen as her lover, there was still no love lost between the god and the monster.

“Then why did you give her your name?” Hydra pursued, bristling a little.

“I hope giving her something might sate her long enough for at least this matter to be resolved,” Hades answered, but Hydra was shaking his head even half way through Hades’ sentence.

“That one’s a bloodhound, and in case her showing up at every crime scene we’ve been called to doesn’t clue you in, she’s persistent too,” Hydra told him, a little heat creeping into his tone. “She’s going to continue being a pest until we do something about it.”

“And what, precisely, would you suggest?” Hades enquired, his arms slowly moving until they were crossed over his chest.

“Silence her,” Hydra answered flatly, “or at the very least her voice.”

“You focus on who’s carving up the neighbourhood,” Hades instructed. “Leave Miss Fujiwara to me.”

Though she tried every persuasive trick she knew in the book, Miho was unable to get the ‘suits’ to return her bag and phone until Hades himself strode to the edge of the barricade.

She pouted sourly when he held out her handbag and she saw the police scanner was gone.

“I don’t suppose you left me any pictures?” she grumbled rhetorically.

“No,” Hades answered curtly, then lifted a brow when Miho looked up at him with a suddenly sweet smile and fluttered her eyelashes.

“Phone number? The hair is totally growing on me.”

“It is in your best interests to not interfere with any further investigations,” he told her firmly, watching as her hands crept to her hips.

“I’d consider it, if I knew who exactly was doing the investigating, Hades,” she suggested.

“This isn’t a negotiation,” he countered calmly, but Miho wasn’t yet done.

“You only say that because you think I’ve nothing to offer,” she grinned.

Hades shifted his feet.

“Is that your modus operandi, Miss Fujiwara? Sexual favours for inside stories?”

Miho’s grin widened, her eyes laughing.

“I don’t know how you figured I was offering sexual favours,” she chuckled. “The conclusion you jumped to out of hope, perhaps?”

At this Hades blinked – in surprise at her gall? Astonishment he’d walked right into it?

Seriousness suddenly reshaped Miho’s expression as she shifted gears.

“Damage like that has been appearing around Astoria for a week now,” she declared – like he didn’t know. “Huge holes in solid concrete, brick and asphalt with no evidence of heavy digging equipment, vehicular impact or explosives, and no evident pattern or motive, so I, and local residents would like more of an explanation than nothing to see here and don’t interfere.”

“I understand your frustration, but for your safety…” Hades began, but Miho cut him off sharply.

“I don’t feel safe in a city where pseudo-authorities, suits, relieve actual law-enforcers of their jurisdiction, and refuse answers to the tax-paying citizens who live in fear,” she growled.

“Hydra was right about her,” Hades thought a little bitterly, then spoke, drawing himself up and pressing out with his presence. “You don’t look very afraid,”

“I’m…” Miho began, her teeth bared, when it suddenly felt as if the man before her had grown ten feet, and could somehow squash her like a bug. “…not.”

“Take this as your final warning,” Hades told her, his voice shuddering its way through her skin. “Do not interfere in any further investigations of any kind. The consequences of failing to heed this will be unpleasant.”

“Threats now?” she responded through her teeth, glaring fiercely though Hades could see her trembling slightly.

“Yes,” he affirmed plainly, then stepped back and headed once more behind the barriers.

For several minutes Miho remained standing, stuck to the spot in an attempt to slow the thundering of her heart.

“What the hell,” she exhaled finally, a whispery, raspy sound.

Slowly she broke free of the spell that had rendered her immobile, and the anger began to bubble again.

“Who does he think he is with his ridiculous I just want to be trendy earring, and that unicorn, fairy-floss dye job?” she fumed.

So much for threats.