Hold bottle two inches from nostrils. Close eyes and inhale. Ask your heart what you really want.
Wait for the answer.
The brakes squealed as the train rolled to a stop in the station. The sound echoed in the cavernous hall, mingling with the sounds of shuffling feet and arrival announcements. Eurydice slowed her pace and picked her head up to look. It was a passenger car, not simply cargo; must be new arrivals. The doors hissed open and the still-bright faces of those from Up Top staggered out, marveling at their first glimpse of the Underworld.
Eurydice leaned against a pillar and watched them, idly amused. They always looked so fresh and wide-eyed, like they’d never seen a room so grand before, and were either exhilarated by or terrified of it. She must’ve looked the same way herself, when she’d arrived, she mused. Their clothes were varied, all colored and crisp and betraying where each wearer had come from, what they had left behind (not that anyone in the Underworld would remember what Surface geography was like anymore). One in particular caught her eye, a girl in boots and a blue dress, with a skirt over ruffled petticoats perfectly suited for some kind of lively dance. Eurydice laughed to herself. How impractical.
Her smile, though, dissolved when she saw the Boss himself step off the train after her, after the last of the passengers. She furrowed her brow. It wasn’t uncommon for Hades to go up top to reap a new crop of souls from time to time -- hell, it was how she got here herself -- but normally he sat in his own car, private, or else went down before they arrived to greet them at the platform. Come to think of it, most of the time he wouldn’t greet them himself until they reached his office, and he’d send an envoy to escort them in his place. (It was moments like this when Eurydice wondered just how anomalous her own descent to Hadestown really was, or wasn’t.)
The girl in the dress frowned and looked at him from the corner of her eye. She had something in her hand, fingers curled around it in a firm grip. Hades raised an eyebrow, looking her over, before stepping through the small assembly and leading them through the station. Bands of workers who were passing through all stopped and stood still, tall, and respectful like army soldiers before their general. Eurydice kept an eye on the girl in the dress, who trailed in the back of the group. She gazed around, taking in the architecture, the inhabitants of this new world. She seemed guarded and simultaneously wondrous.
Eurydice watched them disappear up the carved stone steps, through the grand gates and out of sight into Hadestown proper. She pursed her lips, staying to ponder for a moment, then picked herself off the pillar and continued on her way.
“There are papers to be signed,” instructed the old man. It could hardly be said he had a voice; the sound he made was much more akin to the rumbling of gravel under a wagon or the bowing of a string bass. “Step into my office.”
Laurey squared her shoulders and followed him in. He shut the door behind. On the other side was an ornate, neat study, with a large and handsome wooden desk. Shelves lined the walls, dark in their mahogany and ebony faces, where there weren’t windows overlooking a sight she’d never seen before: a sea of industry, glowing with neon and magnesium fire. She recalled postcards, descriptions of worlds like this, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Birmingham, booming with iron and automotives. Chicago, New York. Skyscrapers. Iron and mirrored glass. Real concrete sidewalks beneath your boots. Of course, she’d never seen it herself, never even been so far as Kansas City, but she imagined it must’ve been something like this, something like…
“Hadestown,” the man gave it a name, noticing her marveling out the window. She pulled her gaze away and glanced at him. He gestured to the chair opposite his own, across the desk. “You will see plenty of it in time. Please, take a seat.”
She took her place in the chair. It was upholstered in smooth, worn leather; she ran her fingers along it. Hades produced a tall paper from a drawer and slid it across the desk, along with a fine fountain pen. It was satisfying in her fingers, a modest luxury to her, a comfort as her eyes skimmed the page.
“Your contract,” he said simply, leaning back in his chair, hands folded in his lap. “No terms that haven’t been agreed upon, of course.”
Her eyes darted off the page, up to his face. It was flat, businesslike. She couldn’t tell if it was a trustworthy one or not. “Which would be…?”
“You can read it for yourself,” he grumbled, returning her cautious look. “Work, in exchange for bed and lodging. Freedom from your life Up Top.” He raised an eyebrow at her again. “What you wanted.”
She glanced back down at the page. The letters seemed to blur in front of her. The pen weighed like a lump of cold lead in her hand. Her eyes narrowed in thought, confusion. “Why me?” she asked, looking up at him again.
Hades looked reminiscent. “You remind me of someone.” She seemed still guarded and skeptical, though, so he shrugged and pushed that thought aside. “It is...my duty. My nature. To help the troubled and weary souls of the world, offer them something better.”
“My life was...fine.” She said, not even succeeding to convince herself.
“Would a woman happy with her life buy a cheap peddler’s smelling salts to make up her mind for her?”
Laurey was quiet. Hades exhaled and sat forward. “You have trouble with your decisions,” he commented, gently. She wasn’t terribly offended. He was right, after all. “Allow me to make this one easy for you.” He smoothly slid his hand across the page. The ink seemed to fade away, legalese evaporating into air, text rearranging itself like a sentient fluid trapped in paper until all that remained were a few bolded clauses and a line for her signature, practically glowing. He gestured at it lightly then folded his hands on the desk. Laurey scanned the contract, then his face.
She sighed. She signed.
Hades’ lips spread into a small smile. He took the pen back and capped it, then stood and offered her his hand. She stood as well, party dress dissolving into a pair of thick heavy overalls. She shook his hand.
“Welcome to the Underground, Miss Williams.”
Even in Persephone’s off season, Eurydice still found herself frequenting the speakeasy after hours. There was less warmth, less light, less energy in the summer without the Queen, but there was still music, there were still drinks, still a place where she could let her hair down and take a breather. She sat at her usual table and put her feet up, sipping her Gathering Storm and relaxing. She found it funny, how much she liked strong, dark drinks like this. The very things that she’d dreaded so Up Top. They were like faraway, long lost companions now.
The other noticeable difference during the summers was the relative lack of bodies in the bar; fewer folks turned out to imbibe when the goddess was away. Eurydice couldn’t understand why, but she’d never complained before and wasn’t about to start. It was noteworthy, though, for, like tonight, it made it far easier to notice and far more eye-catching when someone new showed up for the first time. Eurydice spied her as soon as she closed the door behind herself. It took her a moment to place the face, where she’d seen her before. Without that blue party dress, Eurydice almost didn’t recognize the girl from the train.
Eurydice kept a mildly interested eye on the girl. It had been what, only a few days, a few weeks since that train had arrived? The girl must’ve been clever -- or an alcoholic -- to have found the speakeasy out so soon. Eurydice couldn’t help but smile a little to herself watching the girl at the bar, confused by the unusual drinks. When she’d received her order and turned around, Eurydice caught her eye and beckoned her over to the table. Why the hell not? The girl made eye contact and froze, looking cautious, but after a moment came over and sat down.
“What’re you drinking?” Eurydice asked, conversationally, rolling the thin straw between her fingers. She figured probably no one had tried to talk to the girl since her arrival. Most workers don’t.
The new girl glanced at her own drink. It was a rich amber color, neat. “Golden Haze.” She sipped it, and looked thoughtful.
Eurydice held up her own glass slightly, half-empty. “Gathering Storm’s good, if you take ‘em strong.”
“Could go for a bourbon,” said the other, taking another sip. Eurydice chuckled, intrigued. She had an accent, this girl, not like English wasn’t her native, but like she was from somewhere so isolated they’d come up with their own version of it.
“My kinda girl. Might be hard-pressed to find that here, though.” The girl frowned. Eurydice looked her over. She was pretty but not terribly unremarkable, yet Eurydice couldn’t put her finger on what about her felt so oddly familiar. Deciding she’d figure that out later, Eurydice set her drink down on the table and leaned forward, offering her hand. “I’m Eurydice. Do you remember your name?”
The girl looked back at her. “Remember?” she repeated, like it confused her. “‘Course. ‘M Laurey.” She set her own drink down and shook Eurydice’s hand.
“Laurey, huh?” Eurydice sat back. “It’s nice you remember. Hold onto it. It’s worse to forget.” Although, certainly, there were ways in which it would be easier here if she’d lost a few memories of her own.
Laurey seemed to consider this, looking back into her glass. Eurydice took stock of her. She wasn’t stick thin, like some new recruits often were -- she probably hadn’t come out of starvation. And she had clear strength; toned arms evident in her sleeveless uniform, and Eurydice could make out similarly defined muscles in her legs even under her overalls and boots. Possibly a laborer Up Top, too. Why, then, would she come here, of all places? Eurydice wondered. What could drive her here, if she were well-fed and employed?
Laurey sighed and rolled her head around slowly, like she was stretching. She looked over to the band, a gentle quartet playing some slow jazz tune. Eurydice could see in her eyes something nostalgic and sad, when Laurey looked at the guitar. Something she recognized.
“Mine played, too,” she said simply. Laurey glanced at her.
Eurydice swallowed, tapping her fingers on her glass. It was still sometimes tough to talk about, but it helped her to remember. Remember him for all their goods and their bads. “My lover. From Up Top. He played guitar too.”
Laurey pursed her lips and turned away, back to the band, making a face. Eurydice sank a little, feeling like she’d said The Wrong Thing.
“Wasn’t my lover,” Laurey muttered quietly after a beat.
“Said, ‘e wasn’t my lover.” Laurey still faced the band, but she spoke a little louder now, a little more assured. She sipped her Golden Haze. “Jist some braggin’, bowlegged…wish’t-he-had-a-sweetheart bum.”
Eurydice had to laugh at that. Laurey glanced at her. “And he played?”
“Oh, he played.” Laurey rolled her eyes, a hint of a smile playing on her lips. “Coul’n’ git ‘im t’ stop playin’.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Eurydice chuckled, holding up her glass. Laurey smirked and clinked her own against it.
“Who needs ‘im, anyway,” Laurey trailed off, drinking. She looked thoughtful again.
“Mm...who needs ‘em,” Eurydice agreed, albeit with slightly less conviction. Laurey didn’t seem to notice, or at least, didn’t seem to care. She stared at the band in quiet contemplation; Eurydice did the same. Perhaps it was too tentative, too early to say, but she feels like perhaps she’s finally made a friend down here. With any luck, maybe she’d be right.