The god smirked, his lips curled upward in an irritated smile as he eyed her in silence.
Frantically, she wrapped her skirts around her waist.
“You do not know much about the human world above, do you?” His weight shifted and he rested his head on his other hand, now amused.
Pulling herself up again, Ariel got her feet under her and wobbled back and forth while she tried to stand.
Rising from his throne, his sandals crossed the distance to her and as he did, a thick, humid breeze swirled throughout the cavern. The sands swirled and were blown away into nothing, revealing dark, violet stone below. The walls rose up high and lifted away around them, expanding more and more until they could no longer be seen.
Ariel stepped once and fell forward, his chest catching her again. Hades did not let her go this time. His large hands held her firm against his torso, and the underwater cavern faded away, revealing the large throne room of the underworld, a floating platform with pillars that came down from the ceiling and no end to the bottomless pit below.
Her eyes were large as she looked up and all around. Hades turned her chin to look at him, “Welcome to the underworld, my little mermaid.”
Pushing away from him, she stumbled again, then stood, looking out at the open space and glowing green light that rippled against the cavern walls from the void below. “What is this place?”
“Where human souls come after death, to spend all of eternity.”
Her legs teetered back for a moment, then she pushed forward and rushed to the edge, her arms wrapping around a pillar as she leaned over to look down at the swirling abyss below.
It fascinated him, the way her curiosity drove her into the unknown. Sirens really did live without fear.
“Those are people. Humans. Why are they wailing?”
“Those are human souls. Some rest peacefully, others, those, do not.”
“Am I… Am I dead?” She whipped her head back to look at him, a glint of worry in her eyes.
Hades lips spread into a wide grin, “My dear little mermaid, you don’t have a soul.”
Ariel turned her face away from him, her hands holding onto the pillar. With her shoulders tense, it was easy to tell she did not like the name.
Moving closer, his hand pulled hers from her grip on the pillar, and held onto it. “Unlike them, when you die, you will turn back into sea foam-”
“From whence I came, yes, I know,” Ariel spoke sharply.
His other hand twirled a lock of her crimson hair around his finger, “Sirens may live longer lives, but in the end, they become nothing, compared to the eternity of a soul.”
“… how do I get a soul?”
The yearning in her voice was riveting. He could see the desires in her eyes, all over again, as she reached out of the water for land, the first night he saw her.
Hades could not grant a soul. No, all he did was manage them after their body had reposed.
However, Ariel never needed to know that small detail.
Leaning down, he smoothed her hair behind her ear and spoke into it, “Nothing is ever free.”
As she turned her head to look at him, stone steps appeared off the platform, spiraling up toward the ceiling.
“But… I have no money.”
“Ariel, I am a god. I have no use for money.”
“Then… what do you want?”
He smiled again, then he finally stepped back, giving her the room to move away from the ledge. Hades motioned toward the stairs, then watched her, without saying a word.
Slowly, she stepped forward, tripping and stumbling. She had to hold onto Hades as they ascended the stairs. He let her struggle with her legs as she walked, staying behind her and only keeping her from falling to the abyss below.
She needed him to perform even the simplest of tasks, like standing. This was the way he wanted it. He wanted her to need him for everything.
Ariel fell a few times, landing on the steps, but each time she picked herself back up and pushed on. Finally, they reached the room at the top. The moans and groans of the dead were muffled in his office.
Hades’ desk and chair were carved from a black stone, and all around were tall bookcases, stuffed with books and scrolls. There were no decorations. He brought her right up to the edge and the smoke swirled around her, forming a chair for him to let her fall in.
Hades did not sit. Instead, he stood next to her, looking down at her. “I want your voice, Ariel.”
Her hand moved up to her throat, “My voice… What are you going to do with it?”
“Do with it? Why, nothing. I want YOU to sing for me. Whenever I desire to hear it. In return, I will grant you your legs.”
Her features brightened. “That’s it? You just want me to sing?”
“Just? Oh, no. You don’t seem to understand.” His fingers gripped the chair she rested in as he leaned down. “I want YOU. If you want legs, if you want to walk on land, you will remain in the underworld with me and sing, whenever I want you to.”
Her eyes slowly became wide, “You… want to keep me here? In the underworld? No,” she shook her head, “No, I want to go to the human world, I want to see my family!” She raised up in her seat, not able to fully stand, but came right up to him. “I will not be your slave.”
“You would rather remain a mermaid?”
“Than be your slave? Of course!”
His mouth turned upward into that slow grin, and the chair Ariel held onto for balance, dissipated into a puff of smoke.
“Ah!” She let off a small gasp of surprise and clung onto his robe instinctively.
The smoke wrapped around her legs, up her torso and to her neck. Letting go, her hands grasped her throat as she began to choke.
Hades watched, a deep chuckle in his throat. The smoke faded and she had been returned to her original form. The mermaid turned and fought as she suffocated.
“When you are ready to make a deal, Ariel, just say the word.”
Bringing her arms to her chest, her gills flicked and flexed once, then closed. She was holding her breath, when there was no water in her lungs to hold onto.
Hades’ grin slowly faded into a look of contempt. Sirens could hold their breath for up to ten minutes. But without water, she should have been begging for her life.
A thought crossed his mind. Ariel could be stubborn enough to die before she gave in. He had no intention of letting that happen, not when she was so close to his grasp. Of course, Hades would not give in. He always got what he wanted, in the end.
But, the seconds ticked by, one by one.
Thirty eight, thirty nine.
Fog rolled over Ariel as Hades reached his arm down. It lifted her up to him and he gripped her chin, pulling her to him. She looked into his eyes and her gills flexed once more. She had mere seconds. Her gaze has a glossy sheen to it, unable to focus properly.
Pressing his lips against her, his fingers moved through her hair as he kissed her roughly. Her fishlike fangs sunk into his tongue as he pushed it passed her lips. They quickly dulled as they were replaced with human teeth. Feeling the change, she bit his lip one last time, then tore away, still pressing her arms against his chest as her legs wabbled, gasping for air.
“Do we have a deal?”
She took a deep breath, “I never really had a choice, did I?”
“I always get what I want, in the end.”
Her hands moved from his chest to his arms and she held onto them, raising herself up to meet his gaze. There was loathing in her eyes. But, Ariel said nothing. A tear rested on her eyelash. “You promised you would teach me to walk.”
“Did I?” He paused, “So, I did. You didn’t take my hand.”
“I didn’t know you, then.”
“Now…” her eyes searched his.
“Now, you still desire what I can offer. Yes?” He tilted her chin to examine her features, but she pulled away again. Her hands almost lost their grasp on his body, an arm pulled her back against his chest tightly. His nose grazed her cheek. They were so close, Ariel could still feel his breath, no matter which direction she turned her head. “Your curiosity betrays you,” he leaned into her ear, “No matter how badly you want to fight, you yearn for the unknown, more.”
His other hand traced down between her shelled top, to the navel she now had and even lower, to her stomach. “Don’t try and lie. It is my job to see through lies,” he pressed his hand against her tightly, “You can feel it, here, deep within you. That fluttering feeling. And no matter how much you try and fight it, it will never go away, not until you feed it.”
He loosened his grip. Then, she turned and looked him in the eyes, “I want to walk on the shores and feel the sun on my skin,” she was searching for a give in the glint of his orbs, pleading.
“Sing for me, siren. And I will think about it.”
Ariel pushed on his chest again and he let go of her waist and grasp her hand instead. Struggling between her balance and his grip, she shook her head, “I can hear you but I won’t.” She pulled again.
Some look for trouble while others don’t.
There’s a thousand reasons I should go back to my cave
And ignore your whispers which I wish would go away.”
“But you wont.”
“You’re not a voice,” she yanked on her hand once more and he released her hand, “You’re just a ringing in my ear.
And if I believed you, which I don’t, You will just chain me here.”
Stumbling back, wisps of smoke pressed against her back and lifted her arms, to keep her from falling as she fought to stand. “Everything I’ve ever loved is-”
“Here within these walls.” Hades leaned back, watching, learning.
“I’m not your secret siren, and I’m blocking out your calls,” she fought back, balling her fists.
“You crave this adventure.”
“I don’t need something new.
I’m afraid of what I’m risking if I follow you
Into the unknown!
Into the unknown!
Into the unknown!”
“What do you want? ‘Cause its been keeping you awake
Am I here to distract you, is this all a big mistake?”
Her change in tone was surprising, she was twisting this around on him. “There is no one out there who is the least bit like you. You know, deep down, this is what you’re meant to be.”
“Every day’s a little harder as I feel your power grow
Don’t you know there’s part of me that longs to go
Into the unknown?
Into the unknown.
Into the unknown!”
Steadying herself, she flung her arms out to push the smoke away.
You are right here!
Do you know me?
Can you feel me?
Can you show me?
Ooh!” She turned her body away.
Hades walked closer, commanding the tendrils of mist to return to his side and move away from her form. Her legs trembled, but Ariel remained planted where she stood. And indeed, she did stand. Her arms at her side, her hands formed tight fists as she stood still. “Where are you going?”
“Just leave me alone!” She turned and faced him.
“How can I follow you
Into the unknown?”*
As her last notes rang out, he reached a finger up, inches away from her neck, and raised his hand up to her lips, then toward him. As he did, a golden, glowing ball followed, carrying her last note with it.
Ariel clutched her throat, in shock, but unable to utter a single cry.
Hades sneered. holding the orb of light, he brought it to his lips, then held it out and leaned down close to her lips. “I told you, I wanted your voice-“
Whether he was caught off guard, or she still retained her quick reflexes, Ariel slapped him as hard as she could. Then, she grabbed his robe to keep her balance and snatched the orb from his grasp.
Yes, he had silenced her, but the siren spoke wonders through those dancing eyes.
Song*: “Into the Unknown” from Frozen II.
I love how in the last actual chapter, I’m like, “Yeah! I’m back in the groove of things, you guys won’t have to wait as long for the next chapter!” Yeah…
Thank you so much for all the reviews, guys. They are really inspiring and they help to push me to keep writing. I had to force myself through this chapter, but in less than a week, I was able to finish it. I was not planning on adding a song at the end, but “Into the unknown” just popped into my head and it fit so well.
I don’t want to promise that I will have another chapter up, soon, but I have started on it. I’m diving into so much Greek mythology, I’m so excited.
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