“You will be the death of me,” he whispers.
Silly boy, she thinks. I am the death of everyone.
É/E Mythological AU for sassymontparnassy, who is a damn fine classy lady. :)
“He what?” Éponine says coldly, her face a mask of icy wrath.
Combeferre and Gavroche wince, but Grantaire is too busy angrily pacing in front of her throne to notice. “He refused to bow down to you!” he says.
“Are you certain he wasn’t just refusing to bow to you?” Combeferre asks.
“Oh, trust me, the fucker knew exactly whom he was insulting,” Grantaire snarls. “He all but said he doesn’t respect her at all. Who the fuck does he think he is? He’s a minor god of death, a wet-eared brat, an insignificant little nobody, and he thinks he can pass judgment on my Lady?”
Éponine drums her fingers slowly on the armrest of her throne, right on the old bloodstain. “So he thinks I sit here and do nothing all day, does he? He thinks that I neglect my duties, that just because I choose not to involve myself in the petty power struggles of the gods, it means I have turned my back on my people? He thinks that I, one of the few gods that every mortal must meet—I, the final judge of every soul that passes through Erkalla—I, Death herself, shirk my responsibilities?”
She is shouting by the end of it, standing on her feet and blazing with fury, her anger a palpable thing that causes the very ground of the Underworld to tremble.
Grantaire, Combeferre, and Gavroche all fall to their knees immediately in response, prostrating themselves on the floor.
“You couldn’t have phrased that better?” Combeferre hisses at Grantaire.
The god of fate blanches. “Sorry. I was just so mad—”
“Yeah, well, now our Lady’s two seconds away from going on a raging rampage. Nice job, Taire,” says Gavroche bitingly.
Éponine claps her hands together, the sound loud as a thunderclap, summoning her staff of office, which she proceeds to slam against the ground.
“Hear me, denizens of Erkalla—hear me, demons and monsters, spirits and specters—hear me, my children. Your lady has been offered insult. Nergal, god of plagues, has refused to bend knee in her presence. Will you stand for this?” Her voice rings out through the land, echoing even in the deepest reaches of her realm.
A wordless, seething howl answers her, Erkalla roused to fury on her behalf.
She smiles, anger burning in her eyes. “Hear me, my subjects. It is time to claim our due. It is time for the blood-debt to be paid. It is time for the god of plagues to take his rightful place.”
A cry of vicious victory is her people’s reply.
“And will you show him a proper welcome when he arrives, my people?” she asks.
Gavroche winces. “Oh, we’re in for it now.”
Éponine hears and smiles at him. Oh, yes, they certainly were. She would put this arrogant godling in his place and her people were invited to watch.
She throws her head back and laughs, dark and wrathful, Death stirred to joy.
Grantaire leans casually back in the throne meant for Ereshkigal, addressing the gathered pantheon with a lazy, sardonic air. “Ereshkigal summons Nergal to her realm as an honored guest, that he may see for himself how She Who Rules Alone treats those in her care,” he says, then grins. “He is welcome to stay for as long as he likes. Longer, even.”
Enjolras can see Courfeyrac wince beside him. Everyone need only look at Dumuzi, still pale and trembling from his six-month sojourn to the Land of the Dead, to know how Ereshkigal treats those in her care.
For the first time, Enjolras considers the possibility that he may have gone too far, but it is too late now.
“Well?” Grantaire asks. “Does anyone have a problem with my Lady’s judgment?”
The assembled crowd shifts uneasily. Enjolras, for all his oddities, is still a well-loved god, and Ereshkigal…is decidedly not. If put to a vote, the pantheon could potentially overrule her decree—she has the final say only in Erkalla, and while Enjolras did insult her, many whisper that banishment to the Land of the Dead is hardly a fitting punishment.
But Anu, though he favors Inanna openly, holds Ereshkigal higher in his sight than any but her sister, and when Cosette stands to plead her brother’s case, the other gods take note of his displeased expression and do not rise to join her.
“So be it,” Anu decrees once the final count is taken. “Nergal is to be sent to Erkalla.”
Fantine gives an anguished cry and Jean turns to his brother. “Javert,” he pleads, saying the name that few have permission to use, “surely you can show mercy—”
“Your family has been shown enough mercy,” Anu states coldly. “My daughter will not be slighted under my own roof without consequences. Be grateful that I did not banish him to walk the earth in a mortal shell.”
With that, the chief of the gods turns his back on his brother and walks away, followed by his consort. The other gods process out as well, leaving behind only Enjolras, his family, and Georges.
“There, now,” his uncle says compassionately, patting his sobbing mother on the shoulder. “Do not weep so, sister. You knew this had to happen.”
“But not like this!” Fantine cries out. She looks at Enjolras with devastated eyes. “Oh, why could you not have bowed? Ereshkigal was kind to your father and me, but she is still not a goddess to cross. You will end up in the pits of punishment! Just once, could you not have swallowed your pride and yielded? Now I will never see you again!”
“Mother,” Enjolras says, kneeling before her and taking her hands in his.
She grasped his fingers and pressed them to her lips. “My son,” she says. “My second-born, what is to become of you?”
His father looks at Georges. “Brother,” he asks, “is there nothing we can do?”
Georges looks at Enjolras speculatively. “Well, there is one thing…”
His farewell resembles one of the mortal funeral processions.
His friends come forward one by one to clap him on the shoulder and wish him the best, and he nods stoically in reply.
Courfeyrac throws his arms around him and whispers fiercely, “You can do this. I’ll see you in a year. Promise me.”
“I promise,” he says back.
Cosette hugs him tightly, so tiny in his arms despite being the eldest. “Come back home, will you?” she says, teary-eyed. “And remember that I love you.”
“And I, you,” is his reply.
His mother and father say nothing, but their embrace lasts even longer than Cosette’s, and Enjolras closes his eyes and memorizes the feel of their arms around him.
It will be some time before he feels this again.
His uncle is the last to step forward. “You remember what I told you, boy,” he says, “and keep an open mind in the Underworld. Erkalla and her queen break spirits that do not learn to bend.”
“I’ll do my best, Uncle,” Enjolras answers.
Grantaire saunters over, hands tucked into the sleeves of his elegant robes. “Are you ready to leave, princeling?” he asks, his grin a little too sharp for comfort.
“Ready as he’ll ever be,” Georges says mildly. “Now, do tell my favorite niece that she must come and visit me, or else I shall come by in a year to visit her—and she knows that I make a terrible guest.”
Grantaire laughs. “Very well, Uncle Georges. I shall be sure to inform her.” He glances at Enjolras and tilts his head towards the gateway to the mortal realm. “After you, my friend.”
Enjolras gives a curt nod and walks through it without a backwards glance. He is prideful and stubborn and flawed in many other ways, but he is no coward—he faces the consequences of his actions with his head held high.
Let Ereshkigal do her worst. He will not break.
There are many ways to enter the Land of the Dead, but they all lead to one gate.
Grantaire chooses to take them to Erkalla through a way located in one of Ereshkigal’s few temples—the goddess of death is not a popular one, and the houses built in her name are scarce. Still, Grantaire greets the wizened old priestess in charge of her temple with a ready smile and a fond kiss to her cheek.
“Siduri,” he says. “How have you been?”
“Well enough,” she cackles. “I’ll not be visiting our Lady just yet.” She is bears the stole of a seer as well the staff of a high priestess, so Enjolras knows she must have frequent dealings with the god of fate, speaking with Grantaire to learn and guide the destinies of mortals. She turns curious eyes on Enjolras and asks, “Who is this?”
“I am Nergal,” he replies, taking her hand and kissing the back of it respectfully.
“Nergal.” She raises her painted brows in faint surprise. “The god of plagues? So she has summoned you at last, has she?”
Enjolras frowns, confused, but Grantaire coughs and sweeps aside the curtain leading to the Underworld. “Yes, and she’s very anxious to meet him,” he says.
“Hmm. I can see why,” Siduri answers, eyeing Enjolras appreciatively.
Enjolras can feel his face flush.
She laughs again and pats him on the cheek, drawing him a little closer. “Take the advice of an old woman: embrace your fate, young godling. You and my goddess shall both be happier for it.”
He would ask her what she means, but Grantaire has already passed through the portal, so he follows after, the priestess of Death’s knowing gaze lingering on his back.
Enjolras meets the god of thresholds, the guardian of the gateway to Erkalla, a tall, quiet man with hair the color of sand, skin the color of the night sky, and eyes an unsettling, changeable gray. He introduces himself as Neti, and Enjolras gives his name as Nergal.
“Pfft. I don’t understand why you don’t all just go by your personal names—it’s not like Gavroche won’t just blurt them out when he has the chance,” Grantaire says, rolling his eyes.
Neti frowns. “Personal names are a precious thing and must be earned. Names have power, Namtar.”
“Grantaire,” the other god insists, taking a swig from the never-empty leather flask he carries around with him. “The kid already knows mine.”
Neti gives him a disgruntled look before turning to Enjolras. “This way, please.”
He proceeds to lead them through a complicated labyrinth of paths and streets. Enjolras can feel the weight of a hundred hostile stares as they walk, and he hears more than a few hisses and growls from the shadows when he passes.
“Scared, godling?” Grantaire smiles, the curve of it cruel and cunning. “You should be. We don’t take kindly to stupid young bucks that insult our Lady.”
Neti holds up a hand. “Peace, Grantaire.”
Grantaire snorts but quiets, and they make their way in silence to the palace.
And palace it is—it is a sprawling, intimidating citadel carved from black stone, with several lush courtyards teeming with rare and fantastic plant life, and room after room filled with precious jewels and metals, fine pottery and intricate tapestries, beautifully crafted furniture and lovingly carved statues. Its entryways and windows are inlaid with lapis lazuli and gold, it walls decorated by colorful murals, and its doors made from the finest aged cedar. Every inch of it is meant to convey wealth, beauty, and a sense of sheer power.
It is not the grandest dwelling Enjolras has ever stepped foot in, but it’s pretty damn close.
Neti and Grantaire leave him in the great hall that houses Ereshkigal’s infamous throne of iron and silver, and tell him to wait.
He stands patiently in the middle of the hall, hands clasped behind his back, and reminds himself of his goals:
One—buy himself time.
Three—beat the Queen of Erkalla at her own game.
He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes.
Yes. He can do this.
She is surprised by the man who awaits her in her throne room.
“This is the god of plagues? This is Uncle Jean and Aunt Fantine’s son?” she asks, raising her brow at Grantaire, who rolls his eyes in response.
“Of course it is,” he says. “I wasn’t going to bring you the wrong culprit to punish. What else were you expecting?”
“Not this.” She frowns as she surveys the young deity. For some reason, she was expecting someone more like Montparnasse, an arrogant godling with a swagger in his step and contempt in his eyes, possessing a manner that made it clear that he believed he could do no wrong and a sense of expectation that the world would hand itself to him on a silver platter.
The man in the throne room is…definitely a man, for one thing. Slightly shocking to think that he was actually the younger sibling of the little baby she’d once sung lullabies to—though it has been three or so centuries, so she supposes it’s her own fault for imagining Jean and Fantine’s children as exactly that—children. Still, she would have found it easier to summon him before this if she’d actually seen his face.
And what a face! Grantaire was right; he does favor Jean with his bone structure, all high cheekbones, a straight nose, and a strong, square jaw, though the full, generous mouth is all Fantine. The hair is as golden as his sister’s, and the eyes a deep blue, the same color as the lakes in ancient volcanic craters, a perfect mirror of the sky, devoid of life and nearly untouched.
They’re striking eyes, she’ll admit.
It is the way he holds himself that truly gives her pause, however. He has the confident, relaxed posture of a man who commands any room he stands in, back straight and shoulders set, feet braced apart. There is an air of profound stillness about him, too, a sense of self-control and power, neatly leashed—rare for one so young, as the gods count years.
She wonders why a man with such strength does not have it in him to recognize and respect her own.
No matter. He will learn.
She signals Grantaire with a flick of her hand, and he nods and bows before leaving. Soon, her court begins entering the throne room: the demons and the demigods, the righteous souls of the dead and the unforgiving deities of destruction, all the denizens of Erkalla that have given their oaths to Death herself.
They are strong enough to lay siege to the world above and win. They are powerful enough to challenge the realm of the gods and leave them scarred. They are her people, and they are mighty and glorious.
The godling doesn’t even flinch as they enter, though he must feel the anger and hostility being directed his way. He is brave, this one, brave and foolish—brave to face them without trembling. Foolish to even be facing them in the first place.
She feels a moment’s regret that it must end like this. Her realm could have been his home; she could have been welcoming him instead of damning him to the pits of punishment.
But she remembers the last time she let her heart soften, the last time she let mercy stay her hand—
“Leave my house! You murdered my consort!” Azelma cries.
“Six months! I keep him only for six months, and I punish him for his disloyalty to you,” Éponine says, arms open and pleading. “Sister, please, I am sorry—”
“You are sorry? Sorry? You imprisoned me!” she shrieks.
“I had to! It is the law!” Éponine says, anguished. “I spared you as soon as I could, but the balance had to be met—my duties demanded—”
“Oh, so your duties matter to you more than I do?” Azelma says scornfully. “Heavy is the head upon which lies the crown, I suppose.”
“Do not lay all the blame on me. You tried to steal my throne,” Éponine says, beginning to get angry.
“And you stole my lover! I wanted you to see how I felt, and that cold, cursed throne is the only thing you seem to care about, so what else what I supposed to steal?” her sister spits out.
“That’s not true,” she says, frustrated. “I love you, sister—”
“Liar! Get out! Get out and never come back!” Azelma yells.
“You don’t mean that—”
Azelma stands and slaps her across the face, sending her to her knees. She is weaker here, far from her power, and she is completely at her sister’s mercy.
“Zelma, please,” she begs, crawling forward, blood spilling into her eye and obscuring her vision. She stretches out a hand to touch her sister’s sandal. “Please, I never meant to hurt you, you have to believe me.”
“Don’t call me that! Don’t you dare call me that! I am Inanna, goddess of war and lust and battle, and you will show me the respect I deserve! Now leave my house. Ereshkigal, breaker of promises, is not welcome in my home. And she is not welcome in any other home that holds oaths to me. Hear me, She Who Rules Alone—from this day forth, I have no sister!”
Éponine leaves, the broken pieces of her heart gathered in her hands, and weeps bitterly that the price of mercy proved so high.
In the present, Éponine sets her mouth in a grim line and lets coldness seep into her eyes. No, no one can say she has not learned her lesson well.
She throws her shoulders back, holds her head high, and throws open the doors to the throne room.
Let the godling look on her and tremble.
She Who Rules Alone shows mercy but once, and he has had his chance and lost it.