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Disclaimer: Hercules: the Legendary Journeys and all related characters, concepts, and events are the property of the MGM, Renaissance Pictures and their respective creators and producers, they are not mine, nor is any money made from this. They are only borrowed for the story and for entertainment purposes. You know the drill. I am not that familiar with cannon in this fandom; because this is my first story, so bear with me if it falls somewhere outside established continuity. :D Hela and Loki are a variation on what can be found in different texts of Greek Mythology with my own spin on them.
A salmon leapt through the ice-cold river water as blue-white sparks reflected off of its iridescent scales. In its wake, bubbles floated around it, smaller than those of the ones that lapped the sides of its companion did, a slower and less graceful emerald frog did. The frog's goggle eyes rolled around in its head and glared at its companion. With a flipper splayed it idly splashed the fish and proceeded to worry the lily pads that covered it from top to bottom.
None of this could be seen from the surface. Of course, even if the water's surface was crystal clear as a mirror, neither of the pair of men fishing by the lakeshore, would not have paid much attention to it.
A fishing pole dangled into the water, holding it on the other end was a man with curly blond hair. Iolaus tugged on the line, surprised as it was yanked out of his hands with an almost invisible force. He dug in his heels and tried to regain the line and his balance at the same time. "Herc, a little help here," he shouted to the other man who crouched a little to his left and behind him, trying to get a campfire to cook the fish for their dinner. In the back of his mind, he thought: "It's about time." Either the fish just were not interested in his bait, or he had picked the wrong stretch of shore. He considered himself something of an expert fisherman, and he did not want his friend and partner, Hercules, to think him a boaster. He remembered all too fondly the last time, Hera, Hercules' mother attempted to get at her half-god, half-mortal son, Hercules; through him. She sent one of the enforcers of the Olympian gods, Nemesis, after him. "That was fun. What is that old saying: Pride goeth before a fall? Yeah, I can prove that saying is true, I can still feel the bruises," Iolaus muttered under his breath. "Come on, come on, give me something I can work with." He retained his grip on his fishing pole and then was dragged into the water, when a sudden yank from the opposite end of the line prompted a startled yelp; he was dragged forward with irresistible force for a good five feet.
"Ialous? What's wrong?" Hercules asked, straightening up from where he had been building a tripod of driftwood and for the cooking fire, as he heard what he interpreted as sounds of a struggle and ran over to the lakeshore. Just then a rush of air and water hit him full in the face, and coughed and spluttered, drying his eyes with the heels of his hands. "What is going on? If this is some game, or a joke; we are not amused."
"We?" Ialous spluttered coming up from the lake water, dripping wet, his blond curls matted with lily pads and weeds. "I could have sworn I had a big one there," he replied.
"You know, you didn't believe me, at first, when I pulled your sister, Aphrodite, on the half-shell out of the water of another lake." Ialous shook his head thinking back to that adventure.
"Well, let's just say, it's not that I didn't believe you. I was rather distracted," Hercules replied, grimacing, "I know we're family, by we've agreed to disagree. At the time I was the guest of honor at the wedding of two royal families. If you recall, their union would do more than unite two people who loved each other; but also their kingdoms. My sister, to no one's surprise, was up to her usual mischief."
"Hah!" Ialous shouted. "I remember."
Just then an emerald-eyed frog leapt out of the water, followed shortly after by one of the largest salmon either man had ever seen.
"You caught a fish," Hercules stated, not completely oblivious to the obvious, "Are there supposed to be salmon in this lake?"
"Not that I recall," Ialous replied, as he rubbed the sleep grit out of his eyes with the backs of his hands, and trying to focus on the mismatched pair of amphibians that stared at them. "I think I told you that I've been fishing here on this lake for as long as I can remember, I mean before we met and all. My father used to take me here when I was kid. I'm sure he would have mentioned something about the fish that could be found here."
"I never knew that," Hercules shrugged. "That had to between when you were old enough to learn and before he left to take off for the Pelepenosan Wars, no doubt."
"Yeah, that was the only time I saw him out of full body armor," Ialous grinned. . Ialous exchanged glances with the other man, trying to maintain eye contact; this was somewhat difficult to do given that Hercules was at least a good head taller than he was.
Hercules wondered why it bothered him more than he would like to admit that his own father, Zeus, had never acknowledged him as his son. Zeus had never even shown the remotest desire to spend quality time with him, as other mortal fathers and sons seemed to feel as natural an instinct as breathing the air.
Granted, Zeus was a god, and he was half-mortal. He knew that this was on old issue, and one that was not likely to be solved this instant. So, he shoved it to a back corner or his mind.
In between the wars, Ialous' father had found time to not only spend time with him, but teach him all the glories and male bonding rituals to be found in the simple task of fishing. "It's been several years, the locals could have seeded the lake with fish from other regions of the country," Hercules said, trying to shake of his wandering thoughts.
"It's possible, but would they would be that big," Ialous turned back to the pair who had not moved an inch since the exchange had begun.
His attention wavered for a fraction of a second, caught by the high cry of a hawk as it let out a harsh, fierce, and hungry cry as it sailed across the sky. When he turned back an instant later, ripples had appeared and the both amphibians began to grow larger and larger, until both were about the size of a small hut. The intent stare in their marble black eyes was getting on his nerves: it never wavered. First the salmon got up on its tail until it would stand like a man would, and the next thing he knew he was facing a blond man wearing boiled leather made up of plated metal scales that fit his muscular but lithe body like a second skin. Hercules shook his head, it wasn't so much the fact that an animal had suddenly turned into a human male, he'd been through similar things in his lifetime; it was more the surreal and strange feeling that it gave him. He turned to Ialous, and had just opened his mouth to ask him if he felt the same way, when the frog turned into a beautiful dark-haired woman.
"Who the hell are you?" Hercules demanded, out of patience with the whole ordeal.
"Allow me to introduce ourselves," Hela began. She was very tall and wore black robes that draped over her lithe form. A stray breeze lifted the hem of her skirts to reveal a pair of ankle length boots. She moved forward until she was almost standing nose to nose with Hercules. "I am Hela, and my companion is called Loki." She thrust out a very white skinned arm and grasped Hercules around his forearm and began pumping it up and down like a farmwife would the handle of a well to bring a full pail water up. "You must be Hercules. Well, I must say your reputation does proceed you. Spinning around on her heel, she eyed Ialous like a mountain cat would eye a goat it was considering having for dinner. "Iaolus, is it not? A pleasure to meet you." She disengaged her hand from Hercules and proceeded to shake his hand.
Meanwhile, Iolaus swallowed, his throat suddenly dry, and managed to gulp out a stammered ' Yes, Ma'am' and shake hands with her and the one she had called Loki.
Ialous then grabbed the purple and gold tunic jacket had had left lying on the riverbank. He recovered from the shock of watching two very ordinary amphibians transform into people. He gave the strange woman a good look, which took in everything: From the raven black hair that trailed down her back in an ebony wave, still glistening from the water. Her skin was as pale as marble and her green eyes glittered like the skin of the frog whose shape she had worn. He had to admit she was beautiful in the way that marble statues are beautiful, but there was something about her that made his hackles raise in the back of his neck.
"We're from Asgard, and we've traveled a fair distance in order to find to find you," Loki announced, as he folded his arms over his chest.
"Asgard. The people, and by that I mean mortals live in a place called Midgard. It's the realm of mortals located in the farthest reaches of the northlands. Asgard, is the home of the Norse Gods. It might be easier if you just thought of it as our version of Mount Olympus," Heal stated.
"What's that got to do with us?" Hercules demanded, folding his arms across his bare chest.
"Everything," Loki replied, smiling, revealing a set of very white, very sharp teeth. "Now, that all depends on you."
"What are you trying to say?" Hercules demanded, rapidly running out of patience with both of them. A twinge of uneasiness made itself known at the back of his neck and the small blonde hairs stood up in a row.
"Every civilization, hell, every world that is, has been, and will be," Loki began, his pale eyelids blinking several times in succession, "Although the affairs of Greece and its Olympian Gods are a smidgen out of our jurisdiction. We do try to stay abreast of current events." Loki smiled, a vague thinning of his lips, and it was not a pleasant smile.
"All right. " Hercules sighed, "Just for the sake of argument that this is true, and don't even bother giving any patented 'who me' looks, what kind of disaster do you believe is coming and what do you need us for?"
"Who died and made you the Oracle," Ialous muttered under his breath.
"Don't ask questions like that," Loki said, waving a long narrow forefinger in the region of his nose, in an obviously nay-saying manner, "not unless, you really want to hear the answer."
"Look up at the sky," Hela instructed, "Do you see that star with the small nubbin of a tail attached to it?"
"Aquaris," Hercules said, craning to look up at the star she had indicated. "The Water Bearer."
"Our coming age will be ushered in by a tidal flow of the rushing waters," Loki said. "Only by accepting that as a fact, can stem the tide. Those who build dams to hold it back, build walls to hold resist its force, will be swept under."
"Only those who learn to dance to the tune of the waters will survive," Hela finished.
"Follow me," Hela ordered suddenly, and pivoted on her heels began walking up the path that lead to the white chalk hills, and then down the opposite side where a road lead to the nearest village only two hours walk distant.
Hercules, Loki turned around and strode up the path from the lakeshore, their boots crunching underfoot the white sand, pebbles and rocks. Ialous followed a few moments later, but not before he gave the lake a lingering backward glance over his shoulder. He shrugged and dropped his fishing pole onto the ground, and ran to catch up with the others.
"You sure about this?"
"No, but I don't see how we have a choice," Hercules replied.
"The path to the realm of Hades lies beneath the secret places in world. The way to it leads over oceans and has a variety of entrances through caverns or deep lakes," Hercules shrugged. "In any case, that's what we're looking for."
"I know," Hela nodded and kept leading the way.
"You know, Herc, I really do not like that woman," Ialous muttered under his breath.
"You won't get any argument from me on that subject. Nevertheless, we agreed to help her, and that's exactly what we'll do, even if it means putting up with her quirks, in order to stave off this disaster of a tidal wave of water destroying the world."
"Okay, okay," Ialous nodded, "Not a problem."
They kept going and nothing more was said as they traveled the dusty county roads, staying off the main tracks, and avoiding other people as much as possible. Ialous, if asked, couldn't have said why that bothered him, more than he wanted to admit. The rest of the journey was completed in silence by unspoken agreement.
Long after the sun had set in the west, they arrived at a mountain tarn, its black-green waters shaded by scattered willow trees whose branches grew all the way into the water, and looked like the village women washing their long hair. Ialous looked up at the sky where he could see the moon that had just risen, its near face showing that it was halfway to full. No clouds were out tonight, and he could see that the stars were glittering. Turning his attention back to his companions, Ialous cleared his throat, and faced Loki and Hela. "It's mountain lake, now what?"
"We're here," Hela said.
"Yes, any particular reason you chose this one lake instead any of the dozen of others?"
"Aesthetic reasons," Hela smiled. "For you barbarians that means it's pleasing to the eye and the senses." Hela then turned away from him, lifted up her skirts and waded into the water until she disappeared underneath the waters.
"I know what it means," Hercules sighed, "You chose because it's pretty. That's not a good enough reason."
"Kids, play nicely," Loki interrupted, "You said it yourself, Hercules. We had to find deep caverns or deep lakes. I don't know about anyone else, but I'd say this fits the bill ideally."
"You'd better not be playing us false, here," Hercules stated.
"Now, would I do a thing like that?" Loki replied. Less talking, more plunging" Loki tossed over his shoulder and suiting action to words he waded into the lake, going in deeper and deeper; until the top of his blond head was the last thing they could see before it disappeared underneath the water.
"Come on," Hercules sighed and together, he and Ialous plunged into the lake.
They came to a swiftly flowing if somewhat daunting-looking river. Tied up along its banks was a lone raft with a cowled figure dressed in gray robes lounging on a standing stone that had seen better days. The figure stood up straight when he noted their approach. "Who's the passenger, and does he bear the required fare upon his lips?"
"Charon," Hercules said, by way of greeting.
"I know that voice." Charon spat saliva onto the ground. "Live ones. Go away, my ferry services are only for the dearly, or not so dearly departed. Until you can pay the toll, I'll not take you anywhere."
"I think you just might change your mind," Hercules smiled.
"Oh, here we go again," Charon muttered.
"I need to discuss some rather urgent business with Hades, is in he in today?"
"You're being awful charming today," Charon replied. "What do you want?"
"I told to you, to speak to Hades. It's important," Hercules replied.
"Oh, why not take out the surly old goat, and just commander the boat," Loki suggested.
"You're welcome to try," Charon snarled.
"End of the world, doom and disaster, that kind of urgency presses us onward, friend ferryman, "Loki interrupted. "I think that just might impress upon the importance of our business, hmm?"
Charon just stared at the group with his mouth hanging open like a landed fish, and then nodded, and with a wave of his hand indicated that they were to board his boat.
"Don't get any of the water on you," Charon said. "It's the river Lethe, the water of Forgetfulness." You fall in, you're dead or you'll lose your memory. Either way, I'm not pulling anyone out of there, especially a bunch of 'live ones."
"It would it really be so bad to be able to forget a few things?" Hela asked, looking around with curiosity, wondering if she could borrow a few of Hades ideas in interior decorating. Her own realm of the dead, over which she ruled in the Norse version, could stand a few touchups here and there.
"You gotta be kidding me, right?" Ialous panted, the air was getting harder to breath the farther they went.
"The river is the Archernon, if you look to your left, you'll notice the asphodel fields, the flowers of the dead, which grow along the banks of the river Styx. If you'll turn your attention to your right, you'll…" he trailed off as he felt a presence beside him, and if he had any breath is his undead body, he would have been choking.
"We did not come here for a tour," Loki griped, "So, if it's all the same to you," he smirked, "Please spare us the guided tour." He then released the boatman and went back to stand in the place he had previously occupied.
Ignoring Loki as best he could, Charon maintained his grip on the poles, and guided the raft along the churning black waters of the river. He refused to be baited, but he did not make any more comments about the landscape as it swept by the occupants of his boat.
Upon reaching their destination, Charon signaled them to wait where they stood, then shipped his oars, sliding the two wooden poles into the oarlocks carved into the side of the boat. He then tied the rotted but still serviceable rope to the docking pier. With a curt nod of his head, "This way. This is where you get off. And if you so much as breathe a word of this to any soul, "his robes flapping around his bony ankles, "well, let's just say you won't live to regret it.
"That a threat, ferryman?" Loki asked.
"No, just a friendly warning. So get off my boat already," Charon growled.
"Not a problem," Hercules said, jumping off the boat and onto the dock, the other three passengers doing likewise and they entered the wide double doors of black adamantine that warded the gates to Tartarus.
"We've really got to stop meeting like this," Hades said, by way of greeting. "What do you want? Do you realize how much responsibility I have done here? Or even how much of a tab you're running up every time I have done a favor for you, Hercules? No, I don't suppose you do." Hades rattled out all in one breath, rising to his feet in one quick motion making shooing warding motions with his hands.
"Your help." Hercules said as he planted himself face to face with the other god.
"You're stubborn." Hades shook his head and slumped back into his throne.
"I know. It's one of my better qualities. Are you going to help or not?" Hercules asked, for the first time since their arrival in the Underworld at his surroundings. On previous visits, to which Hades had referred, he had been too busy or too preoccupied to pay attention to his surroundings. He took a 360-degree inspection; noting that the luxuries that Hades had decorated his throne room with, were shabby and threadbare. The tapestries that depicted hunting scenes in an Arcadian landscape of spring greenery that were either gifts, or taken from the mortal plane; or possibly even woven by the hands of his wife, Perspehone; were unraveling and dusty. Even Hades' throne was crumbling. The gold no longer glinted quite as brilliantly in the watery half-light of the candles in their sconces on the stone walls. The rubies, diamonds, and emeralds mined from their underground lodes shone still, but it seemed to be a lack-luster and half-hearted attempt at outshining the darkness.
"Wow, they've really let the place go," Ialous glancing around.
"What happened here?" Hercules asked, confused.
"A little thing called entropy," Hades answered rubbing the backs of his hands across his eyes. "Nothing last forever, even gods. I'm surprised you'd of all people would even have to ask that question. In our past encounters, I had always thought you were more observant than this."
"It seems our world is in store for some kind of disaster that will come at the turn of the century, and I've got a couple of strangers far from home, who say they come from Asgard and unless we…." Hercules trailed off.
"Asgard?" Hades gasped, "you did say Asgard?"
"Why, do you recognize it?"
"Yes. And if these 'strangers' are who I expect they are, all that rigmarole about the world coming to an end at the turn of the century, is a load of smoke and mirrors to cover up their real intention take over when the Olympian Gods have been eliminated."
"That's not going to happen," Ialous shouted defiantly as if sheer willpower could make it real. "What's Ragornak?" he asked after a moment a little quieter as he felt the pressure and calming presence of Hercules' hand on his shoulder.
"That's what this is about? Hades nodded a somber look on his face. "That's what I thought."
"The final battle at the end of the world," Hades whispered. As it sank in an uncomfortable silence filled the dank air of the underground cavern palace of Hades.
Just then Loki and Hela elected to make an appearance. "You get lost?" Hercules said, attempting to get a rise out of the other man, expecting but he was disappointed because Loki simply shrugged his wide shoulders. "My sense of direction just is not what it used to be. You miss me?"
"Hardly," Hercules muttered under his breath.
"I'm hurt," Hela smirked, "All right, so I'm not really, but it was worth a try."
"Speaking of which," Loki added, as he lifted a goblet of red wine and downing a mouthful, leaving red stains around the corner of his mouth. "Here's to drying, rhymes with dying. And since it seems appropriate to the occasion, I would like to propose a toast. Eat, drink, and be merry, for today, you die!"
"I told you so!" Ialous whispered at Hercules side.
"At last, you show your true colors!" Hades shouted.
"What kind of game are you playing at, Loki?" Hercules demanded.
"What gave us away?" Loki shrugged.
"I admit, that I've let things slide around here, and my powers are dwindling, but one thing has not escaped me, that you are nothing if not a skill manipulator of events and people as suit your desire for power. " Hades shouted, than slumped his shoulders, seemingly to deflate. "It wouldn't have taken me long to see through your deception."
Loki clapped his hands, the sound unnaturally loud in the stone cavern, echoing off the walls. "Congratulations, Hades, I was wondering how long it would take you to come that conclusion. All that to the side, you do realize that you are one of many of those building dams to keep the deluge from coming. Immortal or not, you do realize that nothing lasts forever, even the gods.
"I'll stop you!" Hercules roared.
"About time," Hela gliding forward and interposing her body between the two men. "I have a suggestion, why don't you fight each other in single combat. A battle between champions, as it were."
Loki grimaced, "While the suggestion is worthy of merit, Hela, I'm afraid you have the wrong son. You would be far better served with my brother. He's, ugh, more noble than and hero-material than I am. I'm the evil interloper trying to take and evict the Olympians, remember."
"Oh, grow a backbone, Loki! Remember what we agreed before you came up with this scam!" Hela yelled into his ear, and thrust a rune-carved sword into his hands.
"Since we issued the challenge to a fight, it is the opponent's right to choose the weapons," Hades stated, looking around at the tense expressions on the faces of those gathered in his throne room. "You don't have to do this."
"Yes I do," Hercules nodded. "I choose swords,"
"Agreed," Loki nodded, and took up a stance, with his legs straddled far apart, the sword griped in his left hand.
Hercules removed his own sword from its sheath, and rolled his shoulders to ease the stiffness in his shoulders. He hefted his own blade with the point level with the floor. Loki lunged forward and struck hard causing the distinctive ring of metal on metal to come from the blades. Hercules parried the stroke on his own hilt, and skewed the blade aside.
"The barest whisper across my chest," Loki whispered.
Hercules pressed his attack; his two-handed grip enabled him good control as he swung the sword in wide arcs. Loki leaped backwards, seeing an opening. Hercules noted with some interest, that Loki had a tendency to lean too far forward on the follow through. When he did, he had his feet crossed beneath him. Loki grinned, the same one he'd worn throughout the journey, as if he was secretly pleased with himself, which made Hercules feel very much inclined to wipe that grin off that smug face. Hercules tried a whistling arc with his own blade, and angled the cut past Loki's guard.
Loki growled under his breath and began circling, forcing Hercules to counter, and keeping his left shoulder to his opponent. Loki feinted, then lunged. Hercules countered. Hercules slender sword and Lok's heavy one spun in and out in an intricate dance, ringing its own counterpoint.
"It's like he knows every move you're going to make," Ialous shouted to be heard over the noise. "How's he doing that? It's like he can read your mind."
"How should I know? I guess he did his homework. Ialous, a little help here." Hercules added, trying to keep his tight grip on Loki's sword-arm, when it twisted unpleasantly underneath his hand and it turned into the long, scaly neck of the six-headed Hydra and was thrown back a good ten paces and crashed into the wall.
"Okay, I'm thinking, "Ialous shouted back.
"Think faster." Hercules stood up and a wave of dizziness swept over him. He blinked his eyes a few times, idly noting the drying patch of red that spread across the stone floor.
"I got it! If he's assuming the forms of the previous beasties and monsters you've taken it, then they should be subject to the same, uh, vulnerabilities, right?" Ialous gasped. "A torch!"
"No fair running interference during a single-combat," Hela shouted, but made no move to stop him.
"We're a team, and his fight is my fight, and we fight together," Ialous shouted at her over his shoulder as he made a run for the far wall where a torch flickered in its sconce. He made a running leap and snatched the torch from its bracket. With torch in hand, he spun around, and ran back into the center of room where Hercules and Loki, or the shape that he wore now, were locked in combat. In the back of his mind, Ialous couldn't help but wonder one: how Loki managed that particular trick, and two: which shape or mask that he wore, was the real one. Thirdly, if this Loki character changed shape as often as some rulers changed clothes.
He was jolted of his wandering thoughts by the gigantic hydra's many appendages wrapping itself around his upper arm. He shrugged it off, and touched the burning end of the torch to it. The monster/or rather the monster that Loki had turned into screamed in pain. Ialous ignored it, and instinctively dodged out of the way before the next blow could connect. The torch gripped in one hand, and waving it back and forth, he ran into the melee and swept the flames over the monster's length, ignoring the smell of burnt flesh that wafted to his nostrils, and he wrinkled his nose in disgust.
Meanwhile, Hercules and Loki resumed the struggle; methodically he cut off the Hydra's heads. He plunged his sword through the creature's middle, spilling ichor onto his leather vest. With the last removed and blackened by the fire, its form shimmered, collapsed in on itself, and Loki lay on the ground his feet twitching, and his eyelids blinking. Hercules would have laughed, because he looked very much like the fish, the shape that they had first appeared in. He went over, and placed one booted foot on Loki's mid-section. "Do you yield?"
Loki gasped and choked, and sputtered, but eventually looked up into his opponent's eyes: "I yield. Let me up."
Hercules nodded and removed his boot and backed up a few steps to one said, his sword dangling from one hand.
"You are hereby banished!" Hades shouted, jumping to his feet.
"Hades, dear, what about our semi-centennial game of pinochle?" Hela said. "Do you really wish to forever banish us from this dimension?"
"Don't start with me, woman. It's bad enough you...." Hades began.
"I guess, I take can a hint, after it's been shouted at me for the seventh time." Loki yelled, back to his human form, and folded his arms across his chest. He winced, and placed a hand where his lower ribs were located. "I think you cracked all of them," he said, turning to Hercules. "You may have caught me in an admittedly underhanded attempt at subversion and attempt to take over here. But you may have won the battle, that doesn't necessarily you have the won the war."
Hela sidled up next to Loki, and grabbed his arm. "We'll be back." With a snap of her fingers they both vanished from sight.
"Will they be back?" Ialous wondered.
"Unlikely," Hades replied.
"Who were they?" Hercules wondered.
"Loki's a trickster, and the gossip among the gods and other deities, is that he isn't even a god, but one that was granted that status, but the All-Father and Ruler, Odin. He's actually the son of a giant."
"The apple fell a lot farther from the tree on that one," Hercules observed.
"To answer your other question, Hela's my contemporary as ruler of the underworld,"" Hades muttered under his breath, ignoring as best he could Hercules previous comment, which he heard, but refused to respond to it.
"Now what?" Hercules asked.
"I'll send you back to the mortal plane by the quickest route possible," Hades stated. "I've probably already compromised a delicate balance, just for allowing events to go as far as they have, but that's a moot point."
"I don't understand," Hercules said, than shrugged, "but then I get the feeling that I'm not supposed to. That's the nature of the beast, isn't it?"
"You will or you won't. That's all there is to it," Hades sighed.
"Could you be any more cryptic?" Hercules said. "I feel blind here."
"You'll have to make do with what I can offer. To give you any more information than that might be dangerous." Hades replied. "Like dreaming of a better world."
"How could dreaming of a better world be dangerous?" Iolaus asked.
"It isn't. If that better world is better for everyone," Hades replied.