Dolus watched Aridnae climb the stairs of her father’s palace. Fury and adoration twisted his stomach into knots.
She did not gloat over her victory, and in a way Dolus hated her for it. If she had gloried over her battle, then of course she would have deserved some revenge. If she had made some scornful remark over how easy it had been to banish her foe then he could have despised her.
Her hair was like honey, and her skin was like silk. The god imagined silkworms spitting her out into an infant’s cradle. He coaxed himself into believing endless, evil imagines. He expected - wanted - her to be proud and arrogant, because her petulant nature had told him that she would end up that way.
But she climbed the stairs with light, hesitant steps. She wished the stars good night with pure forgiveness in her breathy voice, and there was no pride left in her.
There was nothing that Dolus could hate. There was nothing he could punish. There was nothing there, and so Dolus could not tear his eyes away from the crystal world. Because if there was nothing to punish, then it meant that Aridnae did not deserve her fate.
But he had chosen it for her. He had crafted it, cast it and cursed her for all time.
Dolus sneered a little at the image in the crystal, seeing how her friends gathered around her. They knew the truth, of course. They had begged him to let them into the crystal cage, to see their sacrificial lamb. They were good people, so that meant that sooner or later they would have to tell her. They loved her too much to hide it from her. That the house was the beginning and end of her world. That her father's voice had no mortal source. That her cow-faced brother would never grow any older.
Tonight, they would be happy for her.
Tomorrow, perhaps, or the day after, or perhaps even...
He had tricked the girl into drinking death. He loved her too much to force it on her, even then. He stared at her from the darkness like an asp, willing her to turn - to suspect - to run from him. He still wanted that, even after every insult she had so artfully created. But she was happy to accept oblivion. After the heat of battle she had drawn cool water from the well with her own white hands. She was still too angry to offer any to the fallen god.
She sipped at the crystalline water and smiled.
The poison took not her life, but her mortality.
Dolus had held her in his arms and danced with her until ever drop of it was gone. She had looked up at him, and he had seen death in her beautiful dark eyes. Death, and confusion, and finally her eyes had closed against the giddy glitter of Elysium. She grew cold, and for a second Dolus thought that he had failed. Mortality was stronger than he - she had proven that with her father’s battle-lust in her eyes. She grew colder, and the god held her so closely he could feel the last struggling flutters of her fading heart against his chest. Then, with a cry, her eyes tore open and she dragged herself away.
She fled. Dolus might have told her there was no need. After those few moments he had no desire to pursue her.
He no longer wanted her.
Perhaps, perhaps... staring at her image in the crystal, Dolus wondered if he could recapture that feeling. The moment of cold disgust at having touched such a cold, dead thing was beyond his realm. Elysium was free from it, and his skin crawled at the clammy mortal habit. How vile, to rot away! He could not understand why on earth the humans insisted on doing it. Fickle animals, whining at their decaying flesh and yet still stubbornly marching towards their graves.
He had taken that away from Aridnae, at least. It was a gift - not that he had given her eternal life like one of the petty slaves of Hades. Oh no, he had simply... disillusioned her. He had been very patient, really, lifting the veil from her eyes.
Life was not death, it was habit. Time was not twelve or thirteen, it was as fickle as she was. It could be reordered and commanded, and it could race or be still like any other impassioned heartbeat.
When he had her in his grasp his blood thrummed in every cord, hot and pulsing, and a thousand mortal years had screamed through her ignorant veins. She realised, slowly, what had happened to her. He saw death for a second time in her dark eyes. Not her own, this time. But he could see her father dying, and then her brothers, as she understood that so many years had passed that they were nothing but fetid dust.
She cried for them. Why? She had said she hated them, but she cried. She said she hated her brother, too, but she longed for his unchanging shell with a passion Dolus envied.
Tauros, the great oaf, visited her most often. Theseus was a close second, bringing her poems and pomegranate seeds, but his lingering guilt made him leave when Tauros happily dozed off in the corner. The bull was too stupid to worry about the crystal cage. Aridnae clung to him at first, and then eventually took his comforting silence for granted. They slept on the floor, curled around each other like rats.
Her endless days took on a pattern. It was tedious to watch. It must have been hell to live it. And Dolus watched, because he could not find a single thing that convinced him that she deserved it.
Not a single thing.
And one morning, she looked into the mirror as she combed out hair that would never split or grow an inch longer, and her eyes no longer held death.
Her eyes held his.