Chapter 1: The Edge of Oblivion
Persephone dumped a cupful of black grains into the crock pot and heard them hit the ceramic with a musical tinkling noise. Cooking had become a form of escape for her ever since arriving in Olympus. It felt like it put her back in touch with the mortal realm. Handling the results of the harvest, creating something with them. Thankfully, Artemis had been only too happy to allow her to take over the kitchen. It seemed that before Persephone’s arrival there was a lot of instant food hurriedly eaten between work and sleep. She liked that aspect of it too, being able to give back to her friend. Thank her for her hospitality.
She took to cutting carrots and celery, adding those tiny cubes to the pot as well. She peered into the appliance and sighed. Probably overshot the amount again, but at least this soup froze well. She began dicing an onion to be added to the mirepoix, eyes watering and stinging.
“Careful there, Persie. No good trying to cut something you can’t see.” Large hands covered her own, guiding her actions, the body they belonged to pressing her roughly into the countertop edge.
Panic rose in Persephone’s chest, hot, fast, and volatile. Dropping the knife, she turned within her captor’s embrace, scraping her hip hard against the counter.
Anyone but him.
Apollo smiled his predatory smile down at her and pressed his weight into her body to trap her more firmly in place and placed his hands on the counter to cage her in. He leaned down into her neck, trailing his face into her hair and shivered. Persephone felt the sick rising in her throat like high tide, viscous and burning. Good. Maybe if she vomited on him, he’d finally leave her alone. Apollo ground his hips into her, and she felt a fresh horror dawning as his body betrayed his thoughts.
“Let me go.” Persephone strained through gritted teeth.
“It’s been too long. You’re my girl. No one can stop us, you know.” Apollo grasped her face with thick fingers and forced her face to his. He smashed his lips to hers in a mockery of a kiss. Persephone pressed against his chest with every ounce of strength she could muster as Apollo redoubled his efforts, arms crushing her tight against him.
Persephone bit his lip.
She tasted ichor and knew he couldn’t misinterpret this for an amorous move. Apollo gasped and leapt back from her, and she took her opportunity to round the island, putting the large expanse of countertop between them. Apollo placed a hand to his mouth and inspected his blood covered fingers. His eyes flashed golden with a rage barely leashed.
“You. Little. BITCH.” He ground out; lip raised to expose his teeth in a feral snarl. Suddenly, his face softened, his smile turning subtly cruel. “I can handle that.” He muttered and began humming. His voice came to her gradually, in waves, an ebb and flow of layered notes that was unaccountably soothing. The golden hue of his eyes began pulsing in time with the sound emanating from deep within his chest.
Persephone swayed and caught herself on the counter’s edge. Her head felt as though it was slowly filling with gossamer fabric. Her gaze felt locked to Apollo’s gently flaring eyes, the golden light sweeping across her skin and into her like the final rays of sun on a warm day. She felt an echoing siren call rising in her blood. This is comfort. This is what you need. I can give you everything you need. That didn’t seem right. She knew there was a reason that wasn’t right, but the thought couldn’t land in her brain at the moment. It flitted about the top of her thoughts like an errant songbird, chirping reminders that she couldn’t understand.
But something could.
She felt them first around her calves, the sinuous movement wrapping lower, edging ever outward. Her powers answered the call radiating from Apollo in the only way they could. The soft sounds of new, green wood shifting across the floor the only sign that anything at all was occurring. He was entirely too enthralled in his attempted seduction of Persephone to notice when the vines began to work their way around him like a neatly fitted cage, a hair’s breadth of space between his flesh and the supple wood. Persephone was dimly aware of the visual, her gaze still wholly captivated by his.
Without warning the vines crashed into his flesh as though drawn closed around him by a phantom pull cord. Apollo’s eyes instantly regained their normal purple hue and the fog lifted from Persephone’s mind. She delighted in the panic she saw etched across his face and took control of the vines herself. She pitched his body forward, slamming his head into the edge of the countertop before forcing him to the floor. She slowly rounded the island to stand over him, watching his struggle to breathe as the vines continued to constrict about his chest.
“I am not your girl, Apollo. I never will be.” She stated, voice low and words precise. She could not be misunderstood in that moment, awash with her own power and firmly of the upper hand.
Until she wasn’t.
Apollo’s skin suddenly began glowing, a slow crescendo that culminated in him blazing like the sun itself. Persephone staggered backward, blinded by the god before her. He took advantage of her momentary lapse in control to snap the vines encasing him and leapt to his feet. The remnants of the vines flickered and smoldered on the floor, threatening to start fires in earnest. He rose, uncoiling from the floor like a dark monstrosity and stepped slowly forward, crushing one of the flaming branches decisively underfoot.
“Then you will be NO ONE’S girl.” He spoke low in his throat, quietly, but his malicious intent came through loud and clear.
This fight was for her life.
Persephone wound vines about her hands, heavy with sharp thorns and crouched, ready for whatever attack Apollo would levy against her. She had anticipated a flurry of movement, quick and violent, but he simply smiled that terrible smile and reached for the simple kitchen knife lying forgotten on the cutting board. He tipped his head to each side, neck cracking in response. Dread pooled in Persephone’s stomach. He was enjoying this. Maybe more than attempting to seduce or rape her. She slowly backed away, trying to plan her next move.
Apollo caressed the handle of the knife and idly ran a thumb along the blade. The corner of his mouth rose as the answering cut appeared in his flesh and he placed the thumb into his mouth, sucking the golden liquid from it. He raised his gaze to meet hers. His eyes were empty now, blank and terrifying.
“Sharp. One should always keep their tools in good repair.”
Persephone began weaving brutal vines about herself, creating a bastion of safety. He was between her and the door. How had she allowed that to happen? The best she could do would be to defend herself, and she would.
To the last.
Apollo approached her; his pace unhurried. Any onlooker would suppose he was the very picture of calm and control, but Persephone could see the muscle in his jaw slowly ticking like a clock counting down to an impending explosion. She continued weaving herself a cage of sturdy vines but had only reached mid-thigh. Making the thicker ones took time, time it seemed she didn’t have. She flicked her panicked gaze up to Apollo’s face.
He was nearer now.
Apollo lazily extinguished the flaming remnants of Persephone’s constricting vines as he came across them, stalking slowly across the floor.
The hiss of smothered flame.
Persephone racked her brain for a plan, any plan, that could get her to the doorway. Her phone was in the living room. Foolish. If she survived this, she would never be without a phone again. She briefly considered summoning Hades, but she had wrapped herself to her hips in thick, mature vines and couldn’t bend to reach the floor.
The vines needed to grow faster.
Persephone’s time in Olympus flashed through her mind. The Panathenaea. Eros. Waking up in Hades’ house, the one bright sweet memory. Her heart ached to call for him. Movie night. Apollo taking her by force. Hestia reprimanding her. Minthe baiting her. Had a single soul ever shown her unadulterated kindness in her time here other than Hades?
She poured every ounce of her power and energy into speeding up the process and resorted to making thinner, smaller vines, but more of them. She began to weave them across the front of her body like a shield, praying to the fates that it would be enough. She heard Apollo chuckle evilly from the other side of the small barrier.
“Not enough, Persie” she heard a dark voice say softly from just the other side of the vines right before the blade of the knife came slashing through, cutting her handiwork cleanly in two.
“You can’t stop me. Some ‘B’ grade goddess from the mortal realm? Really. I’m the god of the fucking SUN.” He spat at her, showing his true intentions. Persephone knew he had never really wanted her as anything but a conquest. Something to claim. Something to control. He was close enough now for his breath to coast over her skin, hot and sour. Persephone gagged and turned her head to the right. He grabbed her face again, this time digging his nails ferociously into her cheeks. He turned her head to face him so fast and hard she heard her neck crack. Oh gods, was he just going to break her neck, after all of this?
Apollo released her face, pulled back his fist and drove her head into the wall behind her. Persephone’s vision alternated between red and black flashes while the pain rocketed through her head. She raised her vine covered hands to drive the thorns into Apollo’s face and he met her defense with a slash of the knife along her forearm. Persephone couldn’t pay any attention to being cut. She needed to live.
She slashed at his face again, this time catching him clear across his eyes and down his left cheek. Apollo roared in pain and rage, driving the point of the knife into her shoulder. She continued creating vines to whip at him and driving the thorns into him, but she could no longer hide how weak she was becoming. He had let her exhaust her powers trying to build a cage. Foolish. Should have stayed moving she thought dimly as Apollo captured one of her hands in his. He dragged the blade of the knife across her palm, cutting loose the thorn covered vines she had grown there. She screamed as the blade bit into her palm, ichor running down her arm in hot rivulets. Persephone raised a vine up behind him, swaying like a cobra, and swiftly wrapped it around his throat. Apollo’s eyes grew wide as he flailed behind him with the knife, attempting to sever the offending creeper. He laughed, loud and rough when he succeeded in subduing it. He snarled and lunged towards Persephone.
Why are all my vines crumbling? She wondered hazily as she fell to the floor. The change in position alerted her to the fact that something was present in her body that shouldn’t have been. She slid down the wall to a seated position and tentatively touched her abdomen to inspect the invader. The wooden handle of the kitchen knife shuddered with each breath she took, the blade lodged deep in her belly. She looked up at Apollo, her jaw slack, eyes pleading.
“No one’s girl.” He said flatly. His eyes flashed gold for a split second as he smiled darkly and turning on his heel, he left the room.
Persephone coughed and felt the telltale warmth of her golden life’s blood oozing from her lips. She dropped her head to her right shoulder and saw the rapidly growing pool on the floor beside her. Her vision was blackening around the edges. I… I failed. Her thoughts were far away now.
With the last of her rapidly waning strength, she weakly slapped the ground twice in the puddle, splattering herself with sparkling death.
Chapter 2: Crossroads
Teeth sunk deeply into Hades’ neck and he growled low in his chest. His hand wound up the slim shoulder of his companion, behind her neck and grasped her long ponytail. He yanked hard on it, dislodging her teeth from his neck. Her gasping moan told him she was perfectly fine with this arrangement. He pressed his hips deeper between her thighs, backing her into the edge of his desk, eyes flashing a crimson that matched her skin.
“I thought we decided that the office was off limits?” He panted, still grasping her hip and pressing his arousal into the hollow of her. He leaned in to kiss her neck and she answered his hair pull with one of her own, yanking his head up to meet his gaze.
“What can I say?” Minthe purred “I want what I want when I want it.” Her eyes flared as she ground her lips into his in a rough kiss. Hades growled back and matched her with equal intensity. There was never anything soft between them. Love. Caresses. Sweet, lingering kisses. None of that found a home with them. Together they burned all that away and left nothing but the mechanics. The primal urges and grasping hands. That, and the emptiness. The feeling that those grasping hands and starving kisses might someday fill that yawning void inside them both. Hades pulled back from her, eyeing her red eyes, pupils blown wide with desire and her swollen lips. Admiring his handiwork. Admiring his reality. The darkness in him answered to the darkness in her. Minthe reached down, pawing at the closure for Hades’ belt as he slammed his mouth back on to hers and grasped her breast.
Hades felt it more than he heard it. The call he had answered so many times throughout the millennia. Normally it resounded, a reverberating clarion call, insistent that it be heard. This was different. Something pulled. A cavernous, ancient power awoke, roiling within his gut, demanding his attention. A pulse beat within him old as the universe, pounding exactly twice. He seized Minthe’s clutching hands and pressed them flat to the desktop. The red haze of passion draining from his eyes as the black of his true power leaked into them, smoky and fluid like ink through water.
“Hades…” Minthe recoiled. He was changing into someone else. Something else. Whatever it was, she wanted no part of it. He snapped his gaze up to meet hers and she gasped, scrambling out from under his arm. She stumbled and fell to her knees, tearing her skirt, breaking the nails on one hand, but still clawing a retreat away from the eldritch horror. The god… the creature that stared back at her with bottomless eyes assessed her frantic departure with a neutral stare.
He had been summoned.
He raised his hands before him, inspecting the shifting darkness as it crept across sapphire skin. Galaxies, entire universes, life, death, all coursing across his body. A deep rattling noise erupted from his throat as he began to dissipate to appear elsewhere.
Black and undulating, the pieces of the whole arrived in the ruined kitchen. Fragmented as he was, he held no awareness of his new location. Only once the swirling mist began to coalesce did he begin to notice things. Visibility was low. Smoke coiled through the air in the room. Hades extended his arm, hand open flat and slowly closed his fingers, gathering the smoke to him. Smoke was his. It had always been his, that byproduct of destruction and consumption. He realized he was in a kitchen. Small scorch marks littering the area where he stood. Burned remnants of something, ash and char scattered about the floor. Shattered ruins of a crock pot near the countertop. Scanning the room, he saw no one. The blue began creeping back into his flesh as he realized whatever had happened here was done. If someone had summoned him to extinguish fires, they were going to…
The word die fell to ash in his mind as his gaze landed on the small form curled against the wall.
A pink form just barely visible under the amount of bruising and ichor covering their body. A shredded pale-yellow dress clinging haphazardly to their body. Horror crept, viscous as cold oil through Hades’ body.
That crumpled, abused form was Persephone.
Hades covered the distance to her in a few long, desperate strides. Dropping down to kneel, his hands trembled, hovering over her prone form. The wooden handle of what looked like a kitchen knife protruded from her abdomen just below the protective cage of her ribs. Her face was lurid with bruises and small cuts. Her eyes swollen and dark. Where was it even safe to touch her without causing more harm? Everywhere he looked was another injury, a new horror, more carnage. Hades began to violently shudder as he reached out to her, moaning softly and praying to every power he could think of that life still existed somewhere in that small, battered body. Tears began to fall, unbidden from his eyes.
She was in there, but it was all too slow. Too labored. Hades released a coarse sob. “Hold on, Sweetness. Please, don’t leave me.” He softly pleaded as he searched his pockets for his phone with shaking hands. He located it and selected the number from his contact list, directing his other hand to softly pet Persephone’s matted, filthy hair.
Every ring of the line was a plea to the universe, an eternity, an agony. Every second was a moment too long as Persephone faded in front of his eyes.
“Yes?” Hecate answered the phone with a bite as she so often did when busy.
Hades choked on another cry, “It’s Persephone. We need you.” He broke down as the words left his mouth, the speaking of them making the situation real. A sharp intake of breath on the line told Hades that Hecate had located them from afar and sensed the extent of the damage.
“Hades, she’s bad. Take her to my house. I’ll meet you there.” The line closed with a tone.
Gods, where even to touch her? How to hold her? Hades gingerly threaded a large hand behind her shoulder blades and the other under her hips, trying to maintain the angle she had come to rest at, fear sharpening every movement. Gods forbid the knife shift.
“Hold on, Sweetness. This might hurt.” Hades murmured as he bent his head down to kiss her forehead. He wasn’t even certain she was going to survive this. He had never taken anyone this critically injured with him before. He hoped she at least knew he was there.
Closing his eyes, he embraced the fractal nature of the universe and allowed them to be pulled apart to arrive at Hecate’s home.
Hades slowly became aware of slick, hard stone under his knees. A pair of hands steadying his shoulders. The slight weight in his arms. The wetness against his chest. The sleek, modern furnishings of Hecate’s home gradually appeared through the fog. He glanced down at the broken bundle in his arms and his recent memory came screaming back.
“Over here!” Hecate barked, holding back a tapestry interwoven with silver and directing him to a door behind it. Hades groggily got to his feet, moving his upper body as little as possible, and followed her into the dark corridor. For as polished and contemporary as Hecate’s home was, this corridor was no match. Built of rounded, natural stones set in cement and silent beyond reason, it seemed alive; roiling with energy that Hades knew from that deep well in his gut. Firelight danced and flickered from bowls set periodically along the ceiling. Hecate moved at a fast clip, passing open archways and niches with statues in them that Hades’ mind couldn’t quite make sense of. Hecate came to a stop at a blank wall, and pressing a blue hand against it, a shiver of cold radiated outward as a heavy, dark wood door appeared in the wall.
Hades clutched the fading goddess of spring carefully to his chest, shielding her from the cold as best he could.
He cast his gaze about as he entered Hecate’s secret chamber. Noxious looking plants adorned nearly every surface and hung trailing from the ceiling. Jars with terrible looking animals Hades had never seen before winked malevolently in the firelight cast by wall sconces. Front and center of the room was a shelf entirely filled with bones and skulls of all kinds, some looked ancient and ready to collapse into dust, some looked frighteningly new.
The center of the space was occupied with a dark, scarred and stained table. Hades felt a chill roll up his spine as he thought briefly about the kind of things that could cause a piece of furniture to be in that shape. This was a dark room intended for dark things.
“Here.” Hecate demanded sharply, pointing a vicious finger at the dreadful tabletop. Had her nails always been that long? Hecate busied herself pulling bits and pieces off of various plants around the room, muttering darkly to herself. Hades tenderly laid Persephone’s battered body on the table, smoothing her bloody hair back from her face. She was so swollen; she was nearly unrecognizable, and Hades began to sob anew. He gingerly traced a finger along a split on her brow and silently prayed to the universe.
“Lucky she still has a pulse. The lack always complicates matters.” Hecate turned to face him, and Hades recoiled. Had she changed? The only way Hades’ brain could reconcile what he was seeing was to tell him that there were somehow three of her, flickering and modulating, layered on one another.
She looked exactly the same as she always did, polished, sleek and cool.
She looked wild, long hair writhing about her head with wide, terrible, knowing eyes spilling golden, bloody tears.
She looked ghastly and feral, threadbare hair, her face all sharp angles and sharper teeth, her pupils rectangular like an animal.
But only one body stood before him all the same. She steered hades back out the door by his shoulders. “The living aren’t meant to be here. Go get cleaned up. You’ll frighten her.”
Hecate placed a sympathetic hand over his heart and smiled at him kindly.
Hades blinked hard and shook his head to bring her form back into a single body and nodded wordlessly. He turned and made his way back to the entrance of the hall. He could feel that the hall didn’t want him there. Something about him was anathema to it and leaving it came with the sense of being forcibly expelled. He got the impression that if he tried to reenter without Hecate, he would encounter a horrifying outcome.
He made his way to the bathroom on the ground floor of Hecate’s home. He flipped on the lights and they came to life with a flicker and a low humming noise. Framing the sink with his hands he peered into the mirror. His hair was flattened on one side and disheveled on the other as though he were standing in a powerful gale. The side of his face had smears of ichor and his shirt was a total loss, saturated as thoroughly as it was. His eyes were hollow and haunted. Hades turned the tap on the sink and watched the polished silver spout pouring clean water into the black vessel. He didn’t bother to wait for it to warm but cupped his hands beneath the flow and poured it over his face. The shock of the cold water making him gasp and assuring him that this was not some kind of eldritch night terror.
Hades had carried a hideously suffering Persephone into this building. He raised his gaze to the mirror, shadows dancing, long and dark across his face. He pressed a hand to the cold glass and his breath appeared in the air in front of him as the light strongly guttered again, humming ominously. Hecate was right. Even this space did not like the living. Hades pulled in a ragged breath and tried to calm his raw nerves. It had been centuries since he had been summoned in the deepest, most horrific part of his soul and it had shaken him badly. He knew now why. Persephone had been so very near death, perhaps still was. Silent tears returned to his eyes as the image of her broken form flashed through his mind. He would find whoever was responsible for her attack and make certain their judgement was swift and horrifying.
The light above Hades’ head began buzzing louder and louder, until the noise became unbearable and he was forced to cover his ears and race from the room. Leaning against the wall, he breathed heavily as he lowered his hands. The sound of high heels efficiently striding across the floor drew his attention to the head of the hallway and he felt a deep fear stirring in his gut. Hecate stopped in the opening; a black form framed by light. She nodded at Hades and her outline wavered. She crooked a wickedly sharp finger at Hades and spoke within his mind.
Come. She wakes.
Chapter 3: In The Mouth of Madness
A deep shiver ran down Hades’ back as Hecate spoke in his mind.
Come. She wakes.
He followed her from the hallway and was relieved when she led him not back to the damp, terrible passage, but to a guest bedroom. He had no desire to reenter her den of horrors to be exposed again to those depths of madness. Persephone was no longer swollen, her cuts had disappeared, but she remained filthy, clad in a torn dress, covered in ichor. She whimpered fitfully as Hecate approached and tenderly began using soft cloths and warm water to remove the gore from her face. Hades slowly approached the bed and Hecate forced the cloth into his hand, and pointed for him to sit, wordlessly handing over the reins of Persephone’s care.
“I-is she in pain?” Hades watched her troubled face vacillating between restfulness and contortion. He gingerly sat, placing a hand on the side of Persephone’s head, grimacing at the feel of her hair stiff with congealed horror. Her eyelids fluttered slightly at his contact and his heart leapt dangerously in his chest, desire to see her awake and whole rising fitfully within him.
“Physically? No. Fates only know what her mind will do.” Hecate stood with arms crossed and face unreadable.
“What do you mean?”
“Some remember. Some do not.” she stated simply and bid her retreat from the room.
Hades looked up at her, gratitude pouring from his gaze. His friend, his terrible, wonderful, monstrous friend had saved Persephone in body at least. Right now, that was the best he could hope for. He reached for the bowl of warm water, rinsing the cloth, he began the painstaking job of gently putting Persephone back to rights. “It’s ok, Sweetness. I’m here.” He murmured low in his throat, tears threatening to spill from his eyes again as her face was gradually revealed, whole pink skin replacing golden stained brutality. Her knitted brow softened at the sound of his voice, a small cry escaping her throat. Hades rested a hand on her cheek and leaned in to press his lips gently to her forehead. Her eyelids fluttered again, and she moaned, a dreadful, ominous rattling noise Hades was certain she had never made before, a cold chill running through his body in response. Without warning her hands clamped tight around his throat as her eyes snapped fully open, wide, red, and terrified.
Hades gripped her wrists and struggled for breath, his smooth shoes scraping for purchase on the slick bedroom floor as her nails dug into the skin below each ear. He wheezed ineffectively and choked out “S-sweetness…”, his eyes wide with the effort and dawning realization that she was awake, but effectively not present. Her strength was something terrible and formidable, but the grasping hands softened almost imperceptibly at the sound of Hades’ voice and he pulled in what breath he could to continue “Please… Persephone… I-it’s me…” he clawed at her small fingers, fighting the primal urge to tear her hands forcibly from his neck. She had been hurt enough. Hades, tears coursing down his face, managed to gain purchase between his flesh and her clutching hands and pressed her wrists to the mattress near her head. Persephone thrashed below him, feral and vicious, snarling and gnashing her teeth.
Hades coughed and pulled in a deep wheezing breath. “Persephone. It’s Hades. You’re safe.” He repeated, begging her, praying she could hear him through her terror. Her back bowed violently, driving her head into the pillow as her form heaved with ragged, deep breaths. Slowly, her muscles began to soften, a physical retreat from the sheer dread coursing through her body. She sobbed as she fell back to the bed, curling her legs upward in a protective gesture. Hades released her wrists and she pulled her legs to her chest, insulating herself. Hades reached out a trembling hand, aching to comfort her, to help in any way he could, but afraid to touch her and reawaken the now ebbing fear. He moved around the bed so she would be able to see him as he spoke. He approached, slowly and low to the bed.
“Persephone.” He whispered. His voice a caress, gentle and coaxing her back to the world. She peered at him over her knees as the red hue began to drain from her eyes. Recognition flickered dimly in its stead.
“H-hades?” she whispered in a ragged voice, hoarse and painful.
“Yes. I’m here.”
Persephone began sobbing in a huge burst, the entire day beginning to rush from her like a torrent of monstrous pain. She bolted upright, and leaning over the edge of the bed, gagged and made to vomit, but nothing came. Hades quickly clambered across the bed to steady her, but she cringed away from his touch. He sat back on his heels and allowed her the space she craved. Coughing, Persephone threw herself back against the headboard to sit upright, struggling to pull in deep, ragged breaths. Tears still rolling down her face, she met Hades’ gaze.
“Where?” her voice broke Hades’ heart. Broken and rough, not the usual musical lilt.
“This is Hecate’s home. I brought you here after you summoned me.” Hades inspected her face for any signs of recollection. “Do… you remember what happened?”
“Some. It… it’s there, but… it makes my mind ache to try to see it...” Persephone roughly cleared her throat and bundled her knees up to her chest.
Hades swung his legs over the edge of the bed and sat, resting his head in his hands. His mind swirled with everything and nothing, seemingly all at once. He was saved from sorting the nebulous thoughts by Hecate’s return. He raised his head tentatively, unsure what he would see, but she stood in the doorway looking like her usual self. She had changed out of her bloodstained suit into one near identical. She smiled softly and approached the bed.
The pink head turned slowly to meet Hecate’s gaze. They stared at one another, some unaccountable conversation being had without the need of something as small and undeveloped as language. The pit deep within Hades seemed to reach towards them, hungry to know, to know that something dark, rapturous and needful that was hanging in the air. He knew in that moment that whatever had transpired to pull Persephone back from the brink of oblivion had changed her in some intrinsic way. He also knew he should never ask.
“I should think you would like to bathe.” Hecate finally spoke. She gestured to a door within the room. “You will find all you need inside.” Persephone uncoiled herself from the bed and walked wordlessly to the bathroom, closing the door behind her with a decisive push. Hades heard, ever so faintly, the sound of a lock engaging as well. He turned to Hecate to see her staring at him, unblinking, her head tipped slightly to the right.
“Come with me.” She said flatly and left the room, not waiting to see if he followed, perhaps knowing that he would. And he did. Hecate led him to the kitchen, all dark marble and concrete, where she had made coffee. “I expect you have questions.” She stated as she filled a cup “But know that I can not answer most of them.” She handed the cup to Hades, who sat at the island countertop cradling the mug of warm, black liquid. “No. That’s inaccurate. I should not.” Hades nervously cast his eyes over to the silver threaded tapestry and felt revulsion stir in his gut.
“T-that’s understandable.” Hades stared down at his large hands wondering dully if they had been trembling all along. “All I want to know is who did… that… to her.” He swallowed thickly, forcing his rising nausea back down. Hecate nodded.
“Apollo.” She stated simply. Hades snapped his gaze up to hers, his jaw slack. He had always known that Apollo was not to be trusted, but this… this was so far beyond the pale…
“H-how do you...?” He trailed off, unable to truly speak.
“What I do… tells me things. Particularly in this case.” Hecate said enigmatically “But rest assured that I am correct, or at least have not been wrong yet.” She stood across from Hades, her face indecipherable. He could sense the opening to that dreadful hallway pulsing with the truth of her words.
“I’m going to kill him.” Hades stated darkly, his hands now gripping the mug fit to shatter it.
“You will not.”
Hades crushed the black ceramic within his fist, scalding coffee flowing over his knuckles and on to the cement counter. “Yes, I will!” he growled his eyes garnets flashing in the low light.
“This justice is not yours to take.” Hecate spoke calmly, unthreatened by the show of rage. “Persephone will make it.”
“Make? Don’t speak in riddles. You don’t make justice. You execute it.”
Hecate shrugged almost imperceptibly. “Nevertheless. She will make it.” She turned her gaze to Hades and his breath seized in his chest. Her rectangular pupils boring holes into him. She smiled, exposing teeth ridged and terrible.
“Something is coming.” Her voice sounded low, dissonant.
Hades felt himself sinking deeply into something and looked around him. The walls of Hecate’s home began dissolving, the image flowing downward as though it was being washed away. As though reality itself was being doused from him. Grey fog undulated in place of what had been. Hades whipped his head around, searching for Hecate or anything of any familiarity. Gnarled black trees, leafless and decrepit littered what little landscape was visible through the murk. A filthy, ruinous looking stream crept lethargically along, dead fish bobbing along the edges of the bank. Life had no quarter here.
Having little other choice, Hades began to follow the stream, the odor cloying, grasping at him like an incarnate thing. He walked for indefinite time. Hours? Days? Perhaps even centuries, through that noxious fog, along that reeking stream. Through the fog he thought he could discern movement, though he hesitated to call what he saw animals. Hades’ mind refused to make sense of them. He knew this wasn’t a dissociative moment, this held none of the recognizable hallmarks of Nyx’s work. Whatever this place was, it was savage, and it was deep, and he dreaded entering the mist.
Rising through the fog, Hades glimpsed a tower rising above the landscape. As he approached it the lines of it became clear. Before him was a twisted citadel of horror. All angles that made no sense and ruined his mind in the effort to comprehend them. The door stood open not in the manner of a welcome, but rather in the fashion of a waiting maw.
Hades stood a moment, hesitant to plunge into the dark entrance, when noise began to make itself known to him, a layered, discordant keening. He turned to look behind him and witnessed the landscape advancing on him, drawing in towards the tower as though being consumed. He backed away from the encroaching world and into the terrible building.
Silence, sudden and encompassing as the grave.
He shivered with the sudden realization that he had been hearing things all along.
Turning, he scanned the room. It was strangely decorated, as though from a time long past. For all its exterior madness, the interior was a threadbare mansion, all softly curving furniture legs and brass fixtures. He strode deeper into the room, his steps echoing, but not quite as far as should be. Flames danced in the hearth, stripped of the merry crackling noise that makes such a thing enjoyable.
A lone piece of parchment lay on a side table, the polished surface of which was thick with dust. Hades picked up the soft paper and attempted to read but could not. The letters, obscene shapes that knew no equal, told him nothing. He felt the smallest hairs on the back of his neck raise and was consumed with the knowledge that someone stood behind him. He drew a deep, shuddering breath and turned.
A woman stood, her head dropped back, gaze pointing at the ceiling. Long black hair fell down her back, clad in tight clothing and a leather coat, she looked entirely out of place in the moldering Victorian space. Hades flicked his glance up but saw nothing that would be of interest. A hollow rattling noise came from deep within the woman’s pale throat as she slowly lowered her gaze to meet Hades’.
Her large, dark eyes gave away nothing, staring deep into the far distance through him. Her jaw slowly dropped and a sound, a roaring, screeching, freight train of a sound came pouring from her mouth as her jaw continued to open. She screamed that unearthly sound, mouth wider than could possibly be. Hades felt frozen, captive to her wail, and felt the slow viscous trickle of ichor from his nose. As suddenly as she had begun, the woman stopped. Jaw snapping shut imperceptibly fast.
In an instant she was upon him. Her face close enough to kiss, a hair’s breadth of space between their noses. She stood staring into him, chilling eyes digging deeply into his soul, her breath smelling of heavy, exotic spices. She stepped back a single pace and spoke.
Chapter 4: Basis For Comparison
Hades sat up with a jolt. Taking in his surroundings he let out a sigh of relief, dark furnishings, huge bed, perpetual night.
He was home, in his own bed, and he frankly didn’t care how that had happened as long as it was true. He ran his hands down his face and took a steadying breath. Reaching out, he rapped his knuckles on the bedside table. It seemed solid enough. He swung his long legs over the edge of the bed, noticing the blood embedded in the threads of his trousers. Persephone’s blood. He ran a hand down the front of his once white shirt, now stiffened with ichor. He had to accept that at least that part of the day had been real. Standing up, Hades stripped off his ruined clothing, leaving it in a pile to throw away later. Even if he could by some miracle get them clean, he never wanted to wear them again. He threaded a hand back through his hair and headed into the adjacent bathroom. The transition from wood to tile on his bare feet sending another comforting signal of reality to his mind.
Hades spun the knob on the shower all the way to the left, and let the water run hot. Steam billowed from the enclosure and he adjusted the temperature down to just tolerable. He needed it hot to scald away the sensory memory of the day. He had gone from pinning a nymph against a desk, to covered in blood, to… somewhere, that dark, audient void. Unable to reconcile whatever that place had been, he was trying to write it off as a dream. The easier thing to focus on was the tangible information. Persephone had been hurt, nearly killed, and left to die alone. Hecate claimed she knew it was Apollo who had assaulted the small pink goddess. Hades felt his vision run red, thinking about the asinine sun god. He would give anything in his kingdom to track him down this second and exact revenge that would leave him begging for the respite of Tartarus, but… Hecate had said he would not. Not that he shouldn’t, in the manner of an opinion, but that he wouldn’t, as though it were fact.
It wasn’t wise for Hades to dedicate too much mental power to trying to figure out Hecate or her assertions today. Something about the whole ordeal felt like there was a gigantic missing piece of a puzzle that it seemed Hecate held, but was not about to let Hades in on. Hades leaned his head against the shower wall, letting the searing water pour over his back. As soon as he could, he needed to track down Persephone. The last he had seen of her, she had been headed for a shower herself, and had been in terrible mental condition.
But she’s alive…the small voice in his mind reminded him. But was she still there? The Persephone he knew and loved. The water running over Hades’ body was growing cold and he switched off the tap. He breathed deeply, drawing the warm, damp air into his lungs. Stepping from the shower, he wrapped a soft, clean towel about himself, and felt his heart drop.
There, sitting against the wall, was a small pink figure, his bloodstained shirt spread over her lap. The visual was so similar to discovering her wounded that for a split-second panic rose violently in his chest screaming not again, but Persephone was unharmed, distractedly running her fingertips along the stiffened fabric, only looking up on hearing Hades gasp.
“Sweetness don’t take this the wrong way, but after the day I’ve had… please don’t sneak up on me like that. I… I don’t have the capacity to deal with it right now.” Hades breathed heavily, the surge of adrenaline ebbing from his body, leaving him chilled.
“I’m sorry.” Persephone peered up at him from her seat on the floor “I heard the shower.” She was clean now, with fresh clothing and her hair cropped extremely short on one side of her head.
“That’s fine, it’s just been a somewhat frightening day. I just… I don’t think I can take another shock without a drink.” Hades smiled at her, that crooked, dorky smile, hoping to calm her fears along with his own. Keeping his towel fastened with one large hand, he extended the other to her, wordlessly offering to help her up. A ghost of a smile danced across her mouth, and she accepted his hand, allowing herself to be pulled from the floor. Hades gently extricated his ruined shirt from her hands, dropping it to the tile.
“Let’s just leave that. Come on, Sweetness.” He moved to grasp her shoulder to steer her from the room, but Persephone recoiled. Immediately changing tack, he instead gestured to the door beckoning her through without making physical contact. She strode to his bed and sat down on the edge, chewing pensively on her bottom lip. Hades entered the vast closet, and rifling through his dresser, found suitable clothing and stayed in the closet to change. His track pants and soft tee shirt felt so jarringly normal against his skin. Just another reminder.
He returned to find Persephone exactly where he had left her, and sitting down on the bed next to her, took pains to maintain distance between them.
“I think…” he began slowly “we could both use some food?” she nodded her agreement, smiling slightly.
“And you, in particular could use some tea?”
“Ok. That settles that. I’ll get some water started and call for a pizza. Y-you’re welcome to do whatever you like… but I think we need to talk. I suspect we both have some holes in the day that the other can help fill.”
Hades strode to the kitchen, as promised, set the kettle to heat, and called for delivery. Main points of need fulfilled he set himself to fixing a drink. He drained the first down in one swallow, coughing as the spirit rammed into the back of his throat, the taste of pain and fire trailing into his stomach. Pouring another, he returned to the kitchen to tend to Persephone’s tea. He carried the steaming cup into the bedroom but found she had disappeared. The momentary thought that perhaps she hadn’t been there at all flickered through his mind. After his experience… dream… wherever that was, he sincerely doubted his mind’s ability to make sense of the day any longer.
Scuffling and quiet whuf noises alerted Hades to Persephone’s location. She had taken up residence on the couch in the living room, surrounded by every living creature in the house aside from Hades. He handed her the mug of tea and made his seat in a nearby armchair.
“Are you able to talk?” Hades was loathe to push, but needed to know what he had been drawn into. Persephone nodded and burrowed deeper into the pile of animals keeping her warm.
“Hecate said… she said that Apollo did… that… to you?” Hades stared down into the golden liquid in his glass, unable to even get the words for what had happened to leave his mouth.
“Yes” she said quietly “and something else.”
Hades snapped his gaze to hers, pain etched in his eyes “What more could he have done to you? He left you for dead.”
“It was a while back… Hades, do you remember the night we first talked on the phone?” She stared at him, the very picture of level calm.
“Of course.” He smiled softly, relishing a soft memory in the midst of the hard day.
“Apollo had raped me minutes beforehand.” She said bluntly, before taking a sip of her tea.
Hades paled, his breath catching in his chest painfully. Rape. His beautiful, kind, soft friend had been violated by Apollo in seemingly every way possible. He felt the deep, ancient something deep within his gut surge with hunger, the need for reckoning. He slammed it back down into the dark sea in which it lived and asked Persephone “W-why wouldn’t you tell me then? I would have come straight over.”
“I didn’t know that’s what it was then. I thought I was just conflicted because of the whole Eternal Maiden thing. But now I know. He showed up at the house earlier looking for more. He’s been harassing me for weeks.”
“And you said no.” Hades said flatly.
“Yes. And he got mad. Mad enough to kill me apparently.” She was so unaccountably calm discussing her own attempted murder. Hades felt a chill creep up his spine and suddenly knew, she is the one to be feared.
“I expect he thinks he’s succeeded. You were barely alive when I arrived.” Hades’ eyes welled with tears, the image of Persephone as he’d discovered her flashing through his mind again. That image would compete with a select few to coalesce into nightmares for the foreseeable future. He shook his head to clear the creeping horror from his mind.
“You’re probably right.” Persephone stated simply. She gave her mug a slight swirl and pet JP behind the ear eliciting a pleased grumble from him.
“So… maybe you know. How did we get here?”
“No. I’m not certain. The last thing I remember… Oh, you wouldn’t believe me…” Persephone shifted uncomfortably under the weight of her memory, avoiding Hades’ gaze.
“Try me. It’s been an unaccountably weird day.”
Persephone sighed and clutched her teacup close to her “I got out of the shower at Hecate’s home, got dressed, and then… I was somewhere else. It was strange. Cold. It felt like the pieces of the world didn’t fit together right, if that makes any sense? It was just rolling hills, grasses as far as I could see, so I started walking and I found a tree. It felt like it must be the only tree in the whole world, like life spawned from it, creeping out like roots.” She sighed and met Hades’ gaze expecting him to look unconvinced but was met with slack jawed astonishment. “What? What’s wrong?”
“Persephone… something really similar happened to me, but it wasn’t like that. It was… horrible. A place that felt viscerally dead. W-was there anyone there?” Hades asked tentatively.
“Yes.” Persephone began, looking at Hades with suspicion “Under the tree. A young woman was sitting reading a book. She told me everything was going to be ok, but that I had to find her.”
Hades dropped his glass, the dregs of his drink spattering across the floor. “Find her?”
“Yes” she nodded “That I would have to. Are… you ok?” she watched Hades’ evident panic warily.
“She told me to find her too. Not in half as nice a way, but all the same…” he trailed off. Hades took a deep, shuddering breath recalling the visual of that terrible spire, the grotesque contortions of the woman he had seen. It wasn’t a dream. That dawning terror crept deeply into Hades, chilling him to the bone. “Hecate also said something. She said, “something is coming”. Do you have any idea what she could have meant by that?”
Persephone bit her lip and frowned. “Not particularly, but if Hecate said it, that concerns me.”
“Did that woman tell you how to find her?” Hades raked a hand through his hair, staring at Persephone. She shook her head “No, but I think we really have to figure that out. It feels like… I need to run? Does that make sense?”
Hades nodded “I feel it too. Like something is on my heels. Ever since you summoned me.”
“I’m sorry I’ve gotten you pulled into my problem, Hades. But I really appreciate you being willing to help. I just hope you don’t hate me before this is through.” Her eyes began welling with tears. Hades moved Fudge off the seat next to her and cautiously reached out a hand to grasp hers gently.
“I don’t think I could ever hate you, Kore.” The doorbell rang, a summoning of a different kind, that pulled Hades away all the same.
Persephone stared down at her feet and muttered darkly to herself as he left the room, “But she said you might…”
Chapter 5: Risk
Zeus pulled a colossal breath and rolled off of the golden form beneath him, chest heaving with the labor and the fading aftershocks of his orgasm. Sweat plastered small strands of hair into his brow as he panted, staring at the ceiling, his self-satisfaction telegraphing a mile away. Hera wasted no time in extricating herself from the bed and getting dressed. Zeus looked over at her, flung an arm dramatically over his forehead, and sighed.
“Just can’t wait to get away from me, huh?” He playfully asked his wife.
“What, I’m supposed to be grateful that you chose to stay home to get your dick wet instead of partaking at the office?” Hera quipped, fastening the buttons on her blouse, moving to sit at her dressing table.
“Why shouldn’t I when this is the excellent response I receive for my trouble.” He propped himself up on one violet elbow, assessing Hera’s back, coolly. She threw a scathing look over her sparkling shoulder.
“Maybe with a little more effort you’d wind up with a little more enthusiasm, your highness.” She finished deftly coiling her hair on top of her head, fastening it in place with a jewel topped brochette. She felt the tone in the room become distinctly charged and glancing in the mirror saw the evidence of Zeus’ ire dancing in the air around him, arcing threats of torment surrounding his form.
“I have a meeting with Amphitrite. There’s been an emergency situation brought to my attention.” Fastening her watch on her wrist, she inspected herself and nodded, pleased with the image presented.
“You wait until now to tell me?” Zeus stood, pulling on his boxers and pulling a fresh shirt from his wardrobe.
“I don’t know all the specifics yet, so I wasn’t going to bother until I knew more, but I received a call from Hecate earlier. She had to pull Persephone back from the brink of death last night. Seems that someone stabbed her and left her to die. Amphitrite and I were going to see what we could do about gathering more information before pulling the kings into it, though it appears that your brother is already at least aware of the situation.”
“So, Amphitrite keeps her husband in the loop, but you can’t be bothered even though this is distinctly under my damned purview?” Zeus loomed behind her; shirt still unbuttoned. He cut a more threatening figure than Hera would care to admit, but she held her own against him each and every time.
“Your other brother, you staggering idiot.” She stood, pulling every inch of her height up to glare at Zeus.
“Oh. Him.” Zeus said pensively, peering over Hera’s head to button his shirt in the mirror.
“Yes. Him.” Hera gathered her purse and coat, turned to look at Zeus seriously “But I will let you know what I find out. Hecate said it was… particularly brutal. We need to get whoever is responsible locked down, and quickly.” She blew a kiss to her husband, who responded with a raised middle finger, and she swept out of the room.
Zeus finished dressing and gathered his phone from the bedside table. Maybe he wouldcall Thetis. At least sheappreciated fucking him. No messages from her, but one from Apollo. Zeus smiled, thinking of the younger purple god. He had such potential, but not too much of course, he would never be powerful enough to be a risk to Zeus’ reign, but the kid knew how to have fun. Hard not to call him his favorite.
He flicked his thumb across the message and read “Hey, do you have time to meet up today? There’s something important I need to talk to you about.”
Apollo swaggered into Zeus’ office, winking at Thetis as he passed by. Word travelled fast on Olympus, and he knew Persephone had survived his attack the previous day. The fates damned necromancer hag had managed to pull her back from the edge. He hadn’t anticipated using the ace up his sleeve yet, but saving his own skin was as good a reason as any he could imagine. He entered the office to find Zeus making himself a drink and he turned to greet him, smiling brightly.
“Ahoy hoy! What’s your poison these days?” he gestured at the bar with a short glass.
“Gin.” Apollo returned Zeus’ smile and held his hand out for the proffered drink. “Much obliged, your majesty” he knew that for today to succeed he needed to lay it on, and thick.
Zeus waved his hand dismissively “No need for formalities here, son.” He rounded the desk to sit, gesturing for Apollo to do the same, tenting his fingers in front of him and smiling. “Now you said you had something important to discuss?”
“Yes… I’m sure you’ve heard by now about the terrible attack on Persephone, the goddess of spring?” Apollo arranged his face into the most concern and sadness he could muster. Emotion was always the tricky part. Trying to convince others that you felt as they did was unpleasantly crude, but necessary.
Zeus nodded sagely; his face likewise pulled into an approximation of concern. “Yes, Hera and I were discussing this rather… unfortunate turn of events before she left today.”
Apollo made a show of feeling uncomfortable “I may have some information that could lead to a suspect, but I feel conflicted about bringing it to light…” he clasped his hands and stared off into the middle left distance. Innocence. He needed to telegraph innocence.
“My boy, if you have anything to say, you know you can tell me, and I will treat it with the utmost sincerity. Or are you concerned about someone retaliating?” Zeus rounded the desk to sit on the edge of it facing Apollo.
“I suppose... The person in question is very powerful. There aren’t many gods I am afraid of… but hearing what was done to Persephone… perhaps I should be afraid of him.”
“They’re a male? Well, that limits the pool substantially. It’s not you is it?” Zeus laughed merrily at his own perceived wit, Apollo chuckling along.
“Oh, of course not. That would be terribly foolish to come hand myself over to you, wouldn’t it?” Apollo flashed his most charming smile at Zeus and chuckled again, mimicking the elder King in as many ways as he could. Nothing made him more receptive than a good ego stroking.
“Foolish indeed. Speaking of foolish, if this person is so powerful it would be dangerous to levy allegations without proof, do you have concrete proof?”
Apollo pulled his phone from his pocket and made a great show of sighing and affecting an air of uncertainty. “I do… but I don’t think I can overstate how concerned I am about the ability of this person to retaliate.”
Zeus drew his head up to peer down his nose imperiously at the younger god “I can assure you that there is no god more powerful than I. I will personally guarantee your safety.”
“You truly are a just ruler, your majesty.” Apollo internally gagged on the accolade. Zeus was useless beyond measure, but for Apollo’s plan to succeed he needed the regent firmly in his pocket.
“Truer words were never spoken, my boy. Please, show me what you have.”
Apollo opened the three photo files on his phone. The image of a dazed Persephone lit up the small screen. He fought to control his smile, recalling the evening spent in her bed. Editing the images had been a wrench, but a necessary one. A man needed irrefutable proof. “I received these from the person in question. I doubt they meant to send them to me, but I didn’t say anything. I had suspected that her consent might not have been fully present, but I had no proof of that. I should have come forward sooner.” He forced tears into his eyes “After yesterday… I feel certain that this god is responsible for abusing her and trying to kill her.”
“There’s no concrete proof of anyone specific…” Zeus trailed off, turning the images this way and that, searching for any shred of evidence.
“Well, you’ll notice in the third picture the… their body is partially in frame.” It had been a simple matter to edit the color of his own body in the bottom corner of the frame to a more appropriate hue for his needs, but this was still a huge risk.
“Yes, I can see that. It still doesn’t tell us who that is.”
“Well, your majesty… the person in the picture… well they’re blue. There is only one blue god that Persephone spends most of her time with…”
Zeus’ face went hard, and he glared from under heavy brows at Apollo. “You are suggesting…” he trailed off, giving the younger god the chance to firmly speak his mind.
“You see why I am so concerned.”
“Speak plainly, Apollo.” The air in the room was becoming more heavily charged as the seconds ticked by.
“Your majesty… Hades, King of the Underworld raped Persephone and I suspect attempted to kill her to cover it up."
Hades turned over in his large bed, sighing heavily. It was firmly morning, and he remained exhausted, having been unable to sleep all night. Every time he had closed his eyes, the woman from the mind rending tower had been there to greet him, the ghastly cacophony pouring form her mouth. After a few times of that, he had given up trying to properly sleep. He had set Persephone up in the guest room, Cerberus choosing to bed down with her, and he hadn’t heard her stirring, so at least she was resting well.
Hades grabbed his phone from the nightstand, wrapping himself in a deep blue robe, made his way into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. The pot began making a soft burbling noise as the hot water ran through the fragrant grounds. Hades reached above his head, straightening his back and feeling the vertebrae shift back into place with the stretch. He yawned and pulled a large coffee cup from the cupboard.
“Hades?” Persephone’s soft voice came from behind him. He turned and felt punched in the gut. Sleepy, disheveled, painfully beautiful, she was wearing one of Hades’ gigantic tee shirts as pajamas and had no right to look so adorable in it.
“Good morning, Sweetness.” He smiled softly. “I take it Cerberus kept you good company?”
“Well, he does snore.” She tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, blushing slightly. “Did you sleep well?”
Hades blanched at the question. He tried to think if he had ever been asked that particular question since his mother and drew a blank. “No. Unfortunately, I couldn’t sleep.”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have pulled you into this.” Her head drooped, avoidant of his gaze.
“Don’t worry about me. I’ll be just fine.” He poured himself a cup of coffee and raised the cup, nodding at her by way of salute.
Hades’ phone began buzzing rapidly on the counter. Checking the screen display, he groaned and chose not to answer it.
He had no desire to deal with any of the various brands of idiocy that his brother could possibly be attempting to assault him with today. The call from Zeus had barely passed when the phone yet again began to vibrate across the countertop, this time displaying Hecate’s name. Hades sighed and resigned himself to answering it, still desiring some information from her anyway.
“Hades, thank the fates. You need to pack. Maybe Persephone too.” She sounded concerned, maybe even verging on scared.
“What? Why? We’re at my house, though I suspect you know that.”
“Yes, I do know that. Apollo went to Zeus.”
Hades barked a laugh “Did the little shit turn himself in before I could kill him? Zeus won’t protect him from this. I will create a whole new level of Tartarus for him.”
“Hades. Zeus is not protecting you from this. Apollo somehow convinced him that you raped and tried to kill Persephone.”
Hades’ vison was desperately threatening to go black around the edges, his head swimming with a chill current. This couldn’t be possible. There was no way that his brother, no matter how narcissistic or bratty he could be, would believe Apollo over him. “T-that… that’s not possible.” Persephone was staring at him now, privy only to his half of the conversation.
“Hades. I’m telling you, something convinced him. I do not know exactly what, but the implication that you raped and tried to kill a novitiate maiden would be a huge law broken.”
“I’m aware of the legality of it, but there’s no way anyone can be taking this seriously.”
“You are deliberately misunderstanding me at this point.” Hecate’s voice began to have that ghoulish layered quality and Hades knew in his gut that she was losing her control.
“Zeus is my brother…” Hades trailed off softly, his mind working overtime to wrap around the reality.
“Yes. He is. And right now he, and half of Olympus are gunning for your head.”
“W-what should we do?” Hades cast his gaze to Persephone, her brow furrowed, waiting with bated breath to know what had occurred. Terror was beginning to wind its way through his gut like a serpent, malevolent and cruel.
Chapter 6: Gone to Ground
Persephone pulled the woolen cloak closer around her form, wind whipping cruelly about her. By way of taking Hecate’s advice, Hades had moved himself and Persephone in that strange way of his that left her feeling sanctified with stardust to the lobby of the beach. Knowing they would have no quarter on Olympus, and that locating them in the Underworld would be too simple, left only the mortal realm to retreat to. They had come to the wardrobe and taken what they could find in their sizes, jamming clothing into rough woven bags, dashing to the beach, casting surreptitious glances over their shoulders.
Now Persephone found herself racing through the undulating countryside in a haunting chariot pulled by gaunt horses with Hades by her side. He pushed the team like a madman, eyes wild and filled with desperation.
“We’ll head for the mountains. Hopefully there’s some kind of shelter and we can come up with a plan.” Persephone nodded her agreement. They had materialized in the mortal realm in the northerly portion of Sicily and continued that trajectory, the familiarity of the landscape little comfort to the companions. In the near distance, the great volcano that had birthed the island in a fit of ecstasy and fire loomed large, but dormant for the time being. Small thickets of trees flashed past as they raced through the verdant countryside.
“We’ll call Hecate back. We have to be able to convince them that you’re innocent.” She placed a small hand over his, glancing up at him. She had never seen him so worried. It was etched into his face as though carved by some cruel artist, and she was unable to shake the feeling that perhaps his life would have been better served had he never met her.
“That can’t be. I refuse to believe it.” Hera crossed her arms, cigar smoldering in her hand.
“Pictures, Bunny. You can’t argue with pictures.” Zeus ran a hand down his face. Admittedly it was hard to believe that his gentle giant of a brother could do something like this, but he had been rather obsessed with Persephone since the Panathenaea. Perhaps he had finally snapped after millennia alone sequestered in the dark, victimized by cruel lovers.
She advanced towards him to growl in his face, “I sure as fuck can if you can argue with the ones I got sent! Apollo is lying. Isn’t it more likely that he is the one from my vision?” Zeus loomed over her, electricity flowing smoothly through his long hair like water, the mild humming noise a threat all its own.
“Maybe there’s another reason you’re defending him so strongly?” his eyes flashed, cruel and dangerous, promising retribution if she said yes. His jealousy of Hades still ran deep and acrid, eating at him in the dark of the night.
“Of course not! But this is Hades we are talking about. The King of the Underworld, and also your brother! If you really believe that there’s a single bone in his body that would harm her, you are far stupider than I could have ever guessed.” Hera’s hair began writhing around her head as she berated her husband.
“Keep. Your. Temper. Wife.” Zeus spoke in a calm, clipped tone, his intent clear. Continue to argue this and retaliation will be swift.
“We’ll call them. The rest of the pantheon as well.”
Zeus raised a brow incredulously at his wife “You can’t be suggesting a trial already?”
“No. Just coming up with a course of action. We need to find them. Maybe they’ll answer the call. If not, maybe someone else knows something.” Hera pulled her phone from her pocket and opened the emergency summoning app. She flicked her thumb across the image on the screen and Zeus’ phone on the desk illuminated and began to skitter across the polished top, vibrating harder than should be possible before rising to hover a few inches above the surface, spinning slowly.
The screen glowed ominously, white text on a black screen, a small computerized voice reading aloud.
“This is not a test. All Pantheon members will immediately report to the tribunal.”
Hades stared blankly into the fire, the usual darkness within him seeming to intensify with every passing moment. His own brother believed that shitty little sun god over him. He wavered between wanting to appear in Zeus’ chambers and beat sense directly into his skull or wanting to disappear from the face of all the realms. As though it weren’t enough that he felt he were being pulled into some ghastly state of madness and his own mind couldn’t be trusted, now his own family was possibly turning on him as well.
Persephone returned to the cave, advancing through the flickering shadows, arms laden with vegetables. “I know you aren’t a vegetarian, but I can’t grow animals.” She tumbled the small arm load of food near the fire and sat next to Hades.
“I’m not particularly hungry.” He spoke so quietly Persephone had a difficult time hearing him over the crackling flames. She watched him, staring dismally into the fire, light dancing across his sharp features, fluid as ink.
“I-I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have dragged you into this.” Pulling her knees up to her chest, she buried her head into them. The warm weight of Hades’ hand landed on her back and she glanced over at him.
“You couldn’t have known. And this will all get sorted out. I’m just… hurt. My own brother seems to believe me capable of those attacks on you. That’s… hard to swallow.” He sighed, each deep breath pulling at the dull ache in his chest.
“Who can we call for help?”
As though answering Persephone, both of their phones began to chime and buzz before lifting into the air, rotating on an invisible axis to display the identical information on the screens. Hades paled; it had been centuries since there had been an all pantheon emergency call. It was no secret to him what the topic of conversation would be.
“What is that?” Persephone asked, wide eyes filled with trepidation.
“That…” He sighed, eyes darkening with fear “That is likely very bad for me.”
The general tension of the congregated pantheon was a living thing, undulating and setting sparks of discordance throughout the room. The technicolor mass of bodies emitting a low hum of voices. The tall double doors opened, and Hera and Zeus entered the room, taking their seats at the front central dais.
“Quiet please!” Zeus barked and the voices slowly came to a stop. “Thank you. We’ve called all of you here due to a disturbing allegation that has come forward today. As many of you know, Persephone, the Goddess of Spring was attacked yesterday.” At his words a tense murmur ran through the room and a desperate sob broke loose from Demeter’s chest. Zeus raised a hand to still the impending tirade. “That being said, she was saved from death through Hecate’s skills, for which we should be very grateful.”
A light smattering of applause sounded through the crowd. Zeus raised a hand again, and the sound ceased.
“However, someone has come forward today with proof of a past attack on Persephone that is likely tied to the more recent one. This evidence most strongly implicates Hades, King of the Underworld in both attacks.” A collective gasp rose from the crowd, low murmurs of debate following closely on its heels. “We have gathered here to ask for your assistance in locating both Hades and Persephone as they have now both gone missing. It is necessary to locate them to get to the truth of this.” A slim red hand raised in the mass and Minthe strode forward.
Hera stood, golden eyes flashing and slowly began to advance towards the nymph “I don’t recall summoning the common drabble. How dare you attend a closed meeting?!” she stopped, toe to toe with the red form.
“Hades is my boyfriend. I have just as much interest in this as anyone else here. Maybe more!” she bit back at Hera through gritted teeth. “You’ve always hated me, but I have information.”
“Speak.” Hera sparkled with barely contained anger.
“He was with me. Just before the attack, he was with me, but he was summoned. He… he changed. Changed into someone terrible. I ran from him as fast as I could, and I haven’t seen him since.”
Hera flicked her hand, conjuring a cigarette into her thin fingers. “You expect me to believe anything you could say about him? We all know what poison you are to him.”
Minthe clenched her jaw and drew her shoulders back “I’m hardly poison, and besides, what would I have to gain from lying to you?” Hera’s golden eyes raked across her form, assessing her plainly.
“I don’t presume to know what goes through your small, gelatinous little mind.” She snapped her fingers and Minthe disappeared in a cloud of shimmering smoke “You are dismissed.”
Hecate stepped forward “I can only speak for what Hades said to me and a sense memory I gathered while reviving Persephone. Hades told me he was summoned as Minthe said, but that Persephone was gravely wounded when he arrived. I spoke to him on the phone and instructed him to take her to my home to be cared for. When I revived her, I was given the distinct impression that Apollo was involved.”
“Well, Apollo is involved, as he has the pictures.” Zeus cleared his throat “But isn’t it also suspect in its own right that Hades called you? Why not the god of medicine?” He gestured to Apollo, who was in attendance with his twin, wringing his hands in his lap, an attempt being made towards looking wholly concerned. “Perhaps he called you as you are his friend and associate and conceivably wouldn’t ask too many questions?” he rested his elbow on the arm of his seat, propping his chin on a purple fist, regarding Hecate with a judgmental stare.
She returned his stare with equal fervor. “That is not what I mean by involved. And I expect Hades contacted me because he sensed how close to death Persephone was.” Hecate’s eyes flashed, golden, bloody tears visible for a split second. “Necromancy is much more useful on the dead than medicine.”
“This is true.” Zeus beckoned Apollo forward with his free hand “Please, describe for everyone what it is that you brought to my attention earlier.”
Apollo stepped forward, eyes large and doleful, the very picture of worry and compassion. “A short while ago, I received a set of pictures from Hades’ number. Considering the content, I was sure I was not the person meant to receive them, so I kept quiet. The pictures are of Persephone in a… compromising situation with a large male with blue skin. In hindsight, she looks to be under some duress, and perhaps she threatened to tell someone…” he trailed off, forcing a sob from his throat “I should have protected her!” he wailed, hands pressed over his face. Artemis stepped from the crowd to wrap a comforting arm around her brother’s shoulders.
“BULLSHIT!” hollered Eros, pushing others roughly aside to confront Apollo. “I know what you did, you fucking monster!” drawing his fist back, Eros drove it soundly into Apollo’s eye. The two gods began fighting in earnest, each landing enough of their blows to make it count.
Artemis grabbed Eros from the fray by his pink locks and drew a hunting knife from her boot yelling “Get off of my brother or so help me I won’t even give you a head start before I hunt you!”
“Try me. I’m better with my bow than you could ever be.” Eros spat at her feet, golden blood splattering her boot.
“ENOUGH!” roared Zeus, electricity arcing through the air born of his ire “This will not become a brawl. We aren’t here to condemn anyone yet.” He stepped down from the high dais towards the bickering segment of the crowd “We are here to gather everything we know in the hopes that we can locate them and find out the truth.”
“Then I submit that Apollo is the one who raped her.” Eros began, audible gasps emitting from the gathered mob.
“I said we aren’t condemning anyone. How can you know that Eros?”
“Literally the God of sex?” he said confusion coloring his face.
“That you are… Still we can’t say anything one way or another until we find Hades and Persephone.”
“Fine” the pink god spat, bruises developing on his face “But put it under consideration at least” Zeus nodded his assent.
Artemis glared at Eros “I warned her about Hades. I told her to keep her distance, but she didn’t listen, and now he’s kidnapped her.”
“That’s just your opinion, Artemis. I know you think that’s extremely valuable, but I promise you, there’s no box small enough to hold the number of fucks I give about it.” Eros grinned, obviously baiting her.
Hera moved to separate her grandson and the goddess of the hunt. “The amount of time she has spent in the Underworld would be because of me and you know that full well, Artemis. She had an internship with him at my behest.” Hera stated plainly. Artemis scowled at her as though to say exactly. Demeter’s green form emerged from the tense group, marching toward Hera, fists clenched at her sides. Noxious weeds bloomed to life before her stride, withering and dying as she advanced toward her golden sister. She drew herself level with Hera, staring into her eyes for what seemed an eternity.
“You sent my daughter right into his den?” Demeter growled, levying her accusation at Hera, green eyes flaring.
The queen of the gods nodded “Yes, she was well suited to…”
The sudden sound of Demeter’s hand connecting with the queen’s cheek rang out, sharp and wicked through the deathly silent hall, cutting off Hera’s statement. She stood, chin raised, glowering into green eyes, her gaze promising horrible consequence.
“If that’s the case, then this is your doing. You will fix it, or I will.” Demeter hissed before storming back into the milling throng. The colorful mass parted in front of her, only Hestia stepping forward to accompany her from the hall, the doors slamming resolutely behind their backs, and the creeping threat of chaos broke loose.
Hades and Persephone had remained in their niche in the mortal realm, the air heavy with expectation. Neither had retrieved their phones after they had completed their unsettling aerial dance, and they lay on the floor of the cave, menacing as a nest of snakes. Both jumped as Hades phone rang, the sound shrill and threatening in the rapidly waning evening light. Persephone crawled over to inspect the lighted display.
She sighed in relief “It’s Hecate!” She shakily handed the phone to Hades and he cautiously accepted the call.
“What’s going on, Hecate?”
“Wherever you are you need to stay there or maybe stay mobile, but do not come back to Olympus or the Underworld just yet. A good portion of the pantheon believes that you have kidnapped Persephone. Apollo brought photos of someone assaulting Persephone to Zeus, claiming it was you. However, there is also an argument being made that Apollo is guilty.”
“We’re in Sicily. Hecate, we’ll come back, tell everyone the truth. I have no idea what pictures you are talking about, but they can’t be real...” Hades trailed off, noting Persephone as the color drained from her face.
“I did not see them myself, but all is not hopeless. You do still have allies on Olympus, but to be safe, trust no god or goddess you cross paths with other than Hera, Eros and myself. I am not yet sure which side of the argument everyone else has fallen in to. Get rid of your phones as well to avoid being tracked, and do not travel within the darkness. I am certain that at least Zeus and Poseidon would sense you.”
“W-wait! Persephone and I both… saw something at your home. Someone. She said to find her. Do you have any idea how to do that or even who she is?”
Hecate was silent for a moment “I have my suspicions. Leave Sicily. Follow the mainland coastline north. There may be answers there.”
“I’ve had about enough of this mysterious directive bullshit, Hecate!” Hades growled, his eyes flaring red in the dying light.
“Some things are not mine to say, Hades.” She bit back, voice wavering strangely “Follow the coast. There is help to grow her power there.”
Hades opened his mouth to demand more satisfying answers, but the tone on the line said Hecate had disconnected the call. He sighed raggedly, running a hand down his face.
“So… you heard… he says he has pictures of something. Is that true?” Persephone couldn’t meet his gaze, shame eating deeply into her soul.
“I should have told you, but… I never thought he’d hurt anyone but me with them. He has pictures of the rape…” she trailed off into quiet tears.
“And now he’s convinced my own brother that they are from me. Fuck, Persephone! I needed to know he had something like that!” Hades snapped at her. The second it left his mouth Hades wished he could recall the heated words. Hadn’t she suffered enough without him blaming her for the creeping nightmare that had become his life? “I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that…”
Persephone moved to sit, gazing out of the mouth of the cavern, her back to Hades. He sighed and joined her. “I understand.” She spoke quietly “You were just living your own life and I barged in and upset everything.”
“Sweetness, the alternative was your death. I’d rather be on the run with you by a wide margin.” He heaved a deep sigh “Hecate at least had an idea about finding our mysterious woman.”
He nodded “She said to leave Sicily and follow the coastline of the mainland north. Trick is, she said not to travel using my powers, and the island of Sicily is, well, an island, so my chariot won’t be of much use.”
“So, what are we going to do?” she twisted the fabric of her gown in her hands.
Hades smiled, a crooked mischievous grin “Have you ever had to commandeer a boat before?”
“Isn’t that just a fancy way of saying “steal” it?”
“Pretty much” Hades met Persephone’s gaze and after a beat they both broke into laughter. He moved closer and ran his arm around her shoulders, her leaning in to place her head on him. They remained that way, resting in companionable silence, bracing themselves for the trials ahead and watching as the fading light of the day gave way to silken dark.
Chapter 7: On The Move
The crunch of dead leaves beneath his feet seemed deafening as Hades made his way across the weed choked landscape towards the small farmhouse. Once painted green, now faded to a decrepit grey, with cracked glass seated in the windows winking malevolently in the pallid light, the house crouched, antique and repellant. He shivered, a chill wind clawing across his body and winding deeply into his bones. Casting a glance over his shoulder into the green lit gloom, Hades moved toward the decaying building, concerned that the landscape would once again begin rolling up like a vile carpet as had happened the last time he had inexplicably found himself in such a situation. Whipping the door open, he wasted no time in plunging inside and slamming it resolutely behind him.
The world before him seemed to churn with the effort required to exist. He found himself in a long stone room, the high peaked roof seemingly alternating between to close and too far to make sense, as though the entirety of the space breathed around him. Wooden benches were arrayed before him, set at regular intervals on opposing sides of a stone path leading to the front of the chamber. Light spilled from candles, black wax emitting murky light that reached ineffectually into the chamber, doing little to disperse the gloom. The front of the chamber, evocative of an altar, called to Hades, pulling at the deep sea of dark power within him. He slowly approached, becoming dimly aware of figures seated in the dark wooden benches.
Stealing a glance at the seated figures did nothing to assuage the gnawing fear winding its way through Hades’ gut. They sat, still as death, facing the haunting altar, each loosely draped with filthy gossamer fabric, reminiscent both of a bridal veil and a burial shroud. He stopped to inspect the individual seated nearest to him along the aisle, the ruined fabric adorning the face showing no evidence of life’s breath, the pale man stared, unaware of the analysis. Hades felt the dais still calling, whispering his name in the depths of his soul and turned to continue toward it.
A lone figure had taken up residence at the altar, swathed in gauze as the seated figures were, the exception being that the standing person wore black. They raised a hand and pointed at Hades; finger blackened at the tip as though dipped in horror. He followed the inexorable pull, slowly approaching the figure. A quiet singing began echoing though the space, a multilayered choir of souls, dark voices singing dark things, somehow both soothing and deeply unsettling. Drawing level with the figure, Hades recognized through the tattered lace the woman from the crumbling Victorian mansion and felt the terror in his gut run chill as death.
“What do you want from me?” His voice rang out through the chamber, magnified off of the stone walls.
The woman slowly lowered her arm, tilting her head to the side to regard Hades with a calculating gaze.
“Stronger than you know.” She spoke in a single voice now, none of the terrible dissonance of their first meeting evident.
“Both of you.” She extended her discolored palms flat before her, displaying a flickering blue flame in one, pink in the other.
“Persephone…” Hades whispered, hardly daring to speak her name in this arcane space. A slow nod of assent from the woman was her only answer.
Hades turned and scanned the space “What is this place?”
“What has been. What has yet to be.” Her words sent a frisson of surety into that roiling sea deep within him. You have known this before.
“A temple. Mortals once made offerings to me. But this isn’t right… they used to look...” A surge of movement stole the rest of his sentence as he witnessed the statuesque figures in the pews rise in synchronicity and turn their backs to him. “Yes. Away.” He whispered. He turned to the eldritch woman again, colored flames still dancing in her palms. “Why? Why were they facing forward?” he asked, his voice trembling.
“Change. Evolution. The tempering of the craving chthonic void.” She moved her hands together, merging the two flames with a flare into a single one, sparkling with golden wholeness. “That which they know to be in tandem with that which they do not.”
“Stronger than you know.”
“We are coming to find you.”
She smiled, a sly, haunting thing.
“Yes.” With shocking speed, she extinguished the flame in her black dipped hands, the deep black candles guttering and extinguishing along with it.
Her voice crept from the darkness like a phantasm.
Persephone watched the dawn light creeping into the cave. She had once enjoyed the dawn, the quiet dew laden moments of the day, but it had changed for her. The light felt less like light and more akin to creeping fingers, reaching for her, looking to capture her once again. She found herself craving the darkness and safety of the Underworld, though she had some measure of that now. A heavy arm was thrown across her waist, clutching her to a broad chest. The night, having been colder than expected, had coaxed their slumbering bodies together for survival and comfort. Persephone breathed deeply, relishing the moment of calm, her heart pulling dangerously towards him.
“PERSEPHONE!” Hades screamed, bolting upright, moving from dream to wakefulness in an instant.
She started and sat up, turning to him and grasping his face between her palms. “I’m here! Hades, it’s ok.”
He panted wildly, heart hammering, eyes scanning the space for clues to his location. He met Persephone’s eyes and mirrored her action, cupping her face in his hands. Persephone stroked his cheek, murmuring to calm his riotously thrumming heart. Hades breathing gradually slowed as his mind began to truly register the small pink goddess before him. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders, gathering her to his chest.
Persephone pulled back, scanning his face “Nightmare?” she asked simply.
“It was that woman again. D-different place… but…” she trailed off on a shudder “She knows we’re coming.”
Persephone steeled herself with a deep breath, glancing out the cave opening. “Then we best get going.”
Hades and Persephone had made good time from their hiding place to the port of Messina. Ships and boats of all sizes bobbed lazily in the harbor, from large trading vessels pregnant with the weight of their cargo to spry fishing boats laden with nets. Sunlight glinted merrily on the water and a warm breeze played mischievously with the hair of the workmen resolutely moving back and forth along the port. Persephone flicked her gaze from mortal to mortal, confusion etched on her features.
“Why… why isn’t anyone looking at us?”
Hades chuckled, a low sound thrumming through his chest “Perks of travelling with me, Sweetness. It’s a simple thing to avoid them. Stick close to me.” He scanned the boats moored in the harbor, searching for something they could handle between them. A single figure on a small fishing vessel met his gaze and waved at him, sunlight intensifying their green skin.
“Fuck.” Hades muttered “Don’t panic, but I think we’ve been found out.” Persephone followed his observation and drew in a sharp breath as she caught sight of the smiling god on the boat.
“Poseidon…” she whispered. “What do we do?” she clutched Hades arm, not daring to move.
“He’s already seen us. We’ll have to risk it.” Hades started towards the boat, a tense smile on his face. His broad stride making quick work of the distance between himself and his brother, Hades stopped at the water’s edge, inclining his head slightly.
“Check it out! I’m on a boat!” Poseidon swing his arms out wide, showcasing the small vessel.
“Any chance we could borrow it from you?” Hades asked, voice tense, ready to run at a moment’s notice.
“I’ll do you one better. Get on and I’ll take you where you want to go.” Poseidon strode to the edge of the boat, extending his hand to Hades.
Hades glanced down at Persephone, hesitating to possibly put her in danger again.
“Come on, man. I’ve seen you try to handle a boat. You aren’t getting far without me.” The emerald god laughed.
“Fine.” Hades grumbled “We need to get to the mainland.” He lifted Persephone in his arms and stepped onto the gently rocking deck.
“Cool.” Poseidon nodded his head and set to readying the boat to sail. Persephone settled herself on a small crate watching both gods. Hades looked as on edge as she had ever seen him, flight only one misstep away. Poseidon seemed perfectly at ease, firmly in his element and clearly enjoying himself.
The first leg out to sea was slow, working their way through both incoming and outgoing boats, but now with open ocean ahead of them, they moved at a steady clip, the mainland already visible in the distance. Poseidon seemed to need no help to handle the small boat, leaving Persephone and Hades little to do but worry.
“Aren’t you going to ask?” Poseidon finally asked with a brow raised.
Hades glowered at him “Ask what?”
“How the summoning went?”
“I already spoke to Hecate. I should ask what you think so I know whether or not to toss you off this damn thing and run.”
Poseidon laughed uproariously “I’d like to see you try.” He tied off the line he had been working with and positioned himself at the rear of the craft to steer. “Since you’re in such a good mood I’ll talk. It was a shit show, man. Zeus is trying to act all impartial, but he’s clearly having fun with this. Hera is ready claw his eyes out.” Poseidon ticking off the names on his fingers “Eros tried to rock Apollo’s shit in the middle of the whole thing. Artemis is defending the little purple turd…” At the last statement, Persephone’s head drooped. She had hoped that her friend would see through her twin, but clearly had no such luck. “Hermes seems about as confused as always. Go figure. Demeter is on the warpath. Speaking of war, Ares is firmly defending you.”
“What about the others? Who isn’t defending us?” Hades asked glumly
“Well, Thanatos seems to be enjoying himself, I’m not sure how to take that. I’d probably avoid Hestia.” Poseidon sighed “Minthe came too...” he trailed off.
Poseidon raked a hand through his hair “Man, I don’t know what kind of relationship you guys have…”
“What did she say?” Hades asked, voice darkening.
“That you got summoned, you changed, you left.” He shrugged “That’s what I mean. She goes through all the trouble of showing up uninvited but didn’t say anything to defend you. It might not be my place to say, but I don’t think she’s emotionally invested in your relationship anymore.”
Hades glared at the green god “You’re right. It’s not your place to say.”
Poseidon raised his hands in front of his chest in a sign of truce and switched his attention to Persephone. “How about you? You doing ok? I imagine that this has all been really hard for you.”
She met the emerald eyes and saw a genuine concern etched within. Persephone smiled softly, making her mind up that Poseidon was someone she could trust.
“It has been, but Hades has taken good care of me.” She placed a small pink hand over Hades’. “I think it’s been worse for him. He didn’t ask for this.”
“Neither did you.” Poseidon glanced at their hands and smiled “So what’s the plan, man?”
“We both saw something at Hecate’s.” Persephone started. Hades whipped his head to glare at her, wordlessly indicating she should be silent. She raised an eyebrow at him and continued “We need to find someone. She’s apparently on the mainland and I guess she can help us somehow.”
Poseidon nodded sagely. He stood to maneuver the boat as they approached their destination, eschewing the bustling port, instead running them softly aground on a beach. The three immortals stepped on to the soft sand and Poseidon extended his hand to Hades.
“Good luck, man.”
“I should have asked what side you’re on.” Hades said with a wry smile.
Poseidon’s face crumpled with hurt for a moment. “Dude. You’re my brother. I know you.” He clasped Hades’ hand and yanked him closer, wrapping his other arm around his shoulders and patting his back. He pulled back and looked Hades in the eye “Everything is going to be alright.”
Poseidon withdrew, turning to extend his hand to Persephone. He clasped it gently and bowed his head. Looking up, he raised a brow and grinned “Keep him out of trouble?”
Persephone affected a tone of great seriousness, nodding gravely before breaking into a smile. “Thank you, Poseidon. You’re a good friend.”
He grinned and shoved the small boat back in the water, using the momentum to coast away from the shoreline. Turning back and flashing the pair a shaka sign, he made a small sweeping gesture, coaxing a wave to his command, engulfed the small boat, and vanished quickly to the depths below.
Chapter 8: Helping Hands
Persephone sat down heavily under the tree with a groan of exhaustion, Hades following suit. They had been walking for hours along the coastline road, making seemingly little progress.
“Why did Hecate say we couldn’t use your powers?” Persephone huffed.
“She thinks that at least Zeus and Poseidon would be able to track us. We know now that Poseidon wouldn’t be an issue, but I’m frankly not ready to deal with Zeus’ interference. Until we can think of a way to keep our detractors off our backs until we can prove what really happened, best to follow her advice. Speaking of which…” Hades fished in his robes for his phone, holding his other hand out to Persephone “Yours too.” She handed hers over, trusting him implicitly until he stood up, strode over to the low stone wall along the road and overhand pitched them both into the frothing ocean.
“Hey! That’s mine!” Persephone leapt to her feet and stomped over to Hades, glaring at him.
“Hecate said to get rid of them.” He said simply, looking down at her in confusion.
“Well, I didn’t know that! You could have at least told me.”
Hades blushed; his face etched with chagrin. “Yeah, I suppose I’m not that great at keeping you in the loop. I’m sorry.” He scrubbed a hand along the back of his neck.
“Hades, we’re stuck together right now for better or worse. I need to know I can count on you. I mean, I don’t want to go back to Olympus until we figure this out or my mother is just going to wrap me in gauze and take me home for the rest of eternity, but you coddling me isn’t much better! I’m sick of having my decisions made for me. It might not seem like a big thing but telling me about the phones…” she gestured at the expanse of sparkling blue sea “I need that. The little things, the big things, all of it. Can I trust you to do that, or should I just head out alone?” She stared levelly at him, hands on her hips, face serious as the grave.
Hades jaw dropped. He hadn’t expected her to be willing to split up, but now hearing it from her he felt a deep fear settling in his gut. Please don’t leave.“N-no. I want you to stay.”
Persephone nodded once. “Don’t do it again.” She warned coolly and set off determinedly along the coastal road.
Hades watched her march away and for the second time the thought flickered though his mind…
She is the one to be feared.
Hera idly tapped the accumulated ashes off of the tip of her cigarette into the crystal dish. She sighed and crossed her legs as she watched her grandson pace, muttering darkly to himself.
“It could be far worse, Eros. At least Poseidon got a chance to see them, so we know they are alive and at least moderately ok.”
Eros spun and glared darkly at Hera “Moderately ok. So, we’re supposed to just, what? Sit on our godsdamned thumbs and have another fucking drink?!” He shouted, swiping the glasses and bottle of vodka residing on the sideboard to the floor, the liquor bottle shattering to splatter the tall window with its contents.
Hera’s golden eyes flashed dangerously at him “Further dramatics will not be tolerated, family or not.” She pressed one of the many small brass buttons mounted on the nearby side table and a young satyr entered, carrying the supplies to rectify Eros’ tantrum.
“Where is your old house nymph?” Eros asked, cocking an eyebrow as he flopped into a nearby chair.
“I’ve cleaned house.” Hera said, face darkening, cigarette swiftly burning to the quick, turning to ash in her fingers.
“Sorry.” Eros ran a hand through his pink curls. Zeus must have overstepped with the help again. Eros decided not to deviate from their intended conversation again. “We need to help them, you know.”
“How?” Hera stood, approaching the window and taking a sip of her drink. “That is the problem; How am I going to help them without incurring my husband’s wrath?”
Eros followed her, staring out the window at the expansive view of Olympus afforded from the home of the King and Queen. Folding his arms over his chest, he sighed and cast a sidelong glance at her. “Quietly. In the background. As much as we can. We know approximately where they are. We know they’re headed north. We know they need friends.” he rattled off under his breath, hoping to keep only Hera privy to what he was saying “So. Ideas?”
Hera sighed, conjuring up another cigarette “I might know of someone who could help…”
Night had begun falling quickly in the mortal realm, switching from darkness creeping in like the advancing hordes of an enemy army, to enveloping the world all at once. Persephone pulled her wrap closer about her shoulders, attempting to chase off the pervasive chill creeping into her bones, carried by the winds off the ocean. Hades stripped the woolen panel of fabric from his own shoulders. “We’ll stop at the next place we find for shelter.” He said, adding his wrap to hers.
“I am getting tired. But, can I make a request?”
Hades chuckled “Anything. Keeping you in the loop, remember?”
“I would really like to be somewhere other than a cave if possible.”
“Shall we try here?” he pointed at a building still some 100 yards off. Light glowed from the windows and doorway, welcoming in the deepening evening. Persephone nodded, quickening her pace with Hades trailing, hopes of warmth and sleeping comfortably in her mind. The exterior of the home came in to view and to her delight was well kept, small plants lovingly cared for lining the front, front yard well swept.
“Maybe it’s best if I approach?” Persephone offered, looking over Hades’ imposing form draped in darkness. He nodded and remained a few steps behind her, close enough if something went wrong, but far enough away to remain hidden in the shadows and keep his powers from cloaking her.
Persephone approached the door and softly rapped her knuckles on the frame. “Hello?” she called quietly into the home. A figure rose from a table near the hearth, covered in a dark cloak, hood obscuring their face. “I-I was hoping to find shelter for the night for my friend and I…” Persephone explained, fidgeting with the edge of Hades’ woolen cloak. The lone occupant of the home approached the door and wordlessly assessed Persephone.
“You are welcome here, Persephone.” A discreet voice emitted from beneath the soft earth colored hood. The form began to retreat back into the pool of light emitting from the hearth, stopping to speak over their shoulder “Tell the Lord of the Dead to come in as well. He need not hide.” Persephone looked over to Hades, eyes wide with confusion, laced lightly with fear. He stepped forward and gave her hand a quick squeeze, wordlessly reassuring her and corralling his own fear in one gesture and led the way, bowing his head through the low doorway.
The home was furnished simply but comfortably, wood, stone, and woven surfaces all clean and well cared for. Their host sat at the small table and lowered their hood to reveal a lovely young woman with bronzed skin and clear brown eyes, light brown hair framing her narrow face in soft waves. Hades released a breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding, every fiber of his being expecting the woman to be revealed as his otherworldly tormentor. The woman gestured to the place opposite her, smiling softly at Persephone.
She accepted the offered seat, removing one of the woolen wraps and handing it back to Hades “How did you know our names?” she regarded their host with tentative curiosity and sliding a sidelong glance at Hades as he took the remaining seat at the table.
“A few reasons. First of all, though you are pink, I can tell you are no mere flower nymph. Secondarily, Hera sent me.” She spoke with a plain friendly tone, smiling at Persephone and pouring her a cup of tea. Persephone’s jaw dropped, dread flitting quickly over her features, telegraphing her anxiety.
“Please, don’t be frightened. Hera is on your side. I was told to help you in any way I could. I’m Ariadne, pleasure to meet you.”
“I-I’m sorry, I’ve never heard of you before.”
Ariadne shrugged “Not many have. That’s the idea. Zeus is watching the main pantheon, but goddesses like me,” she held her hand out flat, wiggling her fingers “we can kind of sneak through.” She smiled a crooked smile and Persephone found herself returning it.
“You’re a goddess? But you look mortal.” Persephone cringed “I-I mean… not that that is a bad thing! But…” Ariadne laughed at her, eyes dancing with humor.
“You’re fine. That’s because I was mortal once. I was a princess from Crete.” She stood and busied herself filling bowls from a kettle of something that smelled of rich herbs and fragrant vegetables. Persephone’s stomach growled at the promise of a warm dinner. Ariadne dispersed the bowls to her guests, resuming her seat and folding her hands around her tea on the table. Persephone raised an eyebrow at her, and the host waved her hand “Go ahead, I ate.”
“So, how did you become a goddess?” Hades asked, finally speaking to their host, digging into his own meal.
Ariadne sighed “Long story.”
“We’ve got all night.” Hades shrugged.
“True. Well, like I said, Cretan princess. My family was… My mother got pregnant… well there’s no nice way to say it, she was raped by a god.”
Persephone froze “Any idea which one?”
She shook her head “Hard to tell. They were in the form of a bull.” She shuddered but continued “The baby was a monster. Half man, half bull. My father contracted the best architect he could find to build him a huge maze to hide the baby in. Every year…” Her face darkened.
Persephone reached out a hand to her newfound friend “Please, you don’t have to continue if you don’t want to.”
“It’s ok” Ariadne covered the small pink hand with her own “It’s just not pleasant. Every year he sent in seven men and seven women. If they escaped, they could live. If they didn’t… well the beast ate. My father set me up as the warden for the monster. For years I watched the doomed file into the labyrinth… never once did I watch someone come out.”
Persephone swiped an errant tear from her cheek, heart aching for the life Ariadne had lived.
“So, I got tired of the never-ending parade of walking death and decided the next round of sacrifices I would try to help them, but the next person to enter wasn’t an offering. It was a young man come to stop the carnage. My father hadn’t been feeding the beast our own people, you see. They had been from this young man’s kingdom. I made up my mind to help him all the same. He went into that stinking maze of slaughter, and for once, someone came out. He had managed to kill the beast.” Ariadne smiled sadly, standing to mind the hearth.
“That’s wonderful.” Persephone said, a smile lighting her face.
“It was, and it wasn’t. My father would have known that I had a hand in his success. I begged him to take me with him as he left Crete and he agreed. He said I was beautiful beyond compare and that I would return home with him as his betrothed.” She returned to her seat at the table, staring vacantly down at her hands. “We set sail and it felt like my future was opening before me, sparkling like the waves we sailed. We stopped for supplies and rest on an island. I went to sleep that night as a beloved fiancée. I woke the next morning alone, having been deserted by him in the night. It seemed like weeks I stayed on that island alone, growing weaker by the day as my ability to find food diminished. I began to think at length about death. About how I should take the matter into my own hands before my suffering grew too great.”
Hades had long ago stopped eating. He knew now who she was. The calls of those desperate days had been heard by him, the beckoning of one losing all hope.
“Just before I grew too desperate, Hera appeared to me. I thought I was seeing things, she was shining so brightly, radiant and so kind looking. She explained to me that I had been seen by a god, and that god wanted to marry me. After what had happened to my mother, I was in no rush to agree, but the alternative was death. So, I said yes. I was granted immortality and wed to Dionysus.”
She regarded the shocked faces watching her tell her story and laughed, a musical sound full of mirth. “It’s ok, I promise! Everything worked out in the end. I’m not dead,” she ticked off on her fingers “My husband is kind and devoted, and the one who abandoned me got thrown off a cliff. Solid deal all around if you ask me.”
“So… what are you the goddess of ?” Persephone smiled at Ariadne’s grim sense of humor.
“Isn’t it obvious?” She laughed “Mazes. And secondarily, paths. That’s why Hera chose me to send. Who better than the goddess of paths to help lead you where you want to go? Plus, I kind of owed her a favor since she got me married instead of leaving me to die on an island and all.” Ariadne shrugged.
“So, you can help us figure out who this woman is we are supposed to find?” Hades leaned back in his chair eyeing Ariadne.
“Not as such. I got the rundown on who you’re looking for and I have no clue who fits the bill. But I can help you get farther north quickly and without being spotted by anyone you might not want to see.”
“Better than nothing” Hades growled “How far?”
“How does a little town called Pompeii sound?”
The purple god stared into his drink, watching the soft circles coaxed to life by the bass line of the music echo outward. His mind drifted to the afternoon two days previous as he watched the life drain from Persephone’s eyes… or so he had thought at the time. His grip tightened on the glass in his hand, knuckles pale from the strain. The little bitch had managed to call for help and now everything was a fucking mess. He slammed the rest of his drink and crushed the glass in his hand, absently watching the ichor trickle across his palm as the shards of glass fell to the floor. Collateral damage. He smirked and covered his injured palm with the other, a mild glow filling his hands. Opening his palm revealed a healed hand, whole and unpolluted.
That’s all Persephone was now. Collateral damage. He knew his neck was fully in a noose after accusing one of the god kings of raping a maiden, but he wasn’t going to feel that floor drop out. He never had. It paid well to be his father’s favorite. The pounding music slowed, the now topless nymph on the stage scrabbling around to gather the money laid along the rail as quickly as she could to make way for the next girl, the toes of her thick shoes softly clunking against the dark stage.
A new song began, slow and seductive in contrast to the pervious dancer’s heavy number. A small pink flower nymph took the stage swathed in a positively bridal looking white satin bustier and matching accoutrement. The violet god’s eyes flashed gold for a second as he took her in, leaning back to show himself to greatest effect. She would certainly do for the night. Just more collateral damage. He met her gaze, raising a brow, wordlessly letting her know to find him when she was done. Before he could lose himself in the movements of the dancer’s rolling curves, a pale hand clapped down on his shoulder.
“Apollo!” He set his teeth in the likeness of a smile to greet the winged god behind him.
“Thanatos. What brings you here? I thought you didn’t really do clubs.” He raised a brow at the winged god.
“Not usually.” He spoke, taking the seat next to Apollo “Thetis dragged me out. She couldn’t get any of her usual dick, so she’s shopping for something to incite a little jealousy. Easy pickings at a place like this.” A yellow nymph in a microscopic dress headed their way, taking their drink orders. Apollo watched her retreat with great interest. This one had a bigger ass than the flower nymph now climbing the pole on stage, but he was more interested in that pink-skinned illusion tonight.
She returned, Thanatos accepting his drink wordlessly, taking a deep pull. Apollo took his, making certain his hand made contact with hers and met her gaze with one filled with promise. No harm hedging his bets. The nymph blushed, a deep saffron coloring painting her cheeks as she made her way to the other tables “I have no idea why Zeus puts up with Thetis’ shit.” Apollo muttered.
“Must be some damn good ride.” Thanatos shrugged.
Apollo calculated his next move carefully “Speaking of damn good rides, do you think Hades is still hitting that wherever they are? Must have been worth it to kidnap her.” He controlled his face into the picture of bored disinterest.
Thanatos barked with uncharacteristic laughter “Shit, man. The way those two stare at each other all damn day I’m surprised he didn’t start railing her in the middle of the lobby at tower one.”
“We really ought to help her I suppose…” Apollo swirled his drink, ice clinking softly against the glass.
“Why? I don’t give two shits what they’re doing. Plus, it’s pissed off Minthe, so I finally get to shoot my shot there.”
The purple god chose his words with exacting care “Well, I imagine once justice is served for these crimes, the pantheon will be in the market for someone else to control the Underworld. Who better than the capable hand of death himself?” Apollo grinned, brow raised, predatory gleam in his eye, and scoffed internally. Thanatos was many things, but capable was not exactly one of them. But… any port in a storm, and this could prove to be a very useful port. The pale god was quiet, obviously weighing the options. He straightened his tie and the corner of his mouth raised in a small, prideful smile.
“I suppose that’s true. What are you thinking? Go look for them?”
Apollo raised his drink, gazing at Thanatos through the faceted glass, comfortable in the fact that his bait had been thoroughly taken “Oh, I think a more hands-off approach would be just fine.”
Hades smiled to himself as he watched Persephone deep in discussion with Ariadne. He was becoming increasingly drawn to the way her fuchsia eyes lit up with joy when she was really enjoying herself. Something deep within him whispered from that endless black ocean, like speaks to like…
He pushed that voice back down into the murk, setting his mind firmly towards the travel they would have ahead of them today. They sat outside in the early morning sun, the dew gently steaming off the land, as the ladies planned their route. He was shaken from his reverie by Persephone calling him over.
“Have your plan laid out?” He asked, crooked smile appearing on his face.
“Ariadne says she’s got a cousin who is willing to meet us in Pompeii.” Persephone smiled up at him brightly and his heart clenched in response.
“If she is anything like you, I’m sure we will be in good hands.” Hades bowed his head to Ariadne.
The hostess laughed darkly “Well, I know she’ll be sympathetic to your plight at the very least.”
“How many days is it going to take us to reach her?”
“The way my power works?” Ariadne picked up a stick and performed some quick calculations in the dirt “Should be there by evening, give or take?”
Hades brows jumped “That far up the coast?”
Ariadne pulled a ribbon from her pocket, holding it straight between her hands “imagine this is the real distance between here and Pompeii. My powers can modify paths. I can make them change direction, get longer,” she folded the ribbon between her hands like a concertina “Or in this case, shorter. It should turn a substantial trip into one manageable in a day.”
“That sounds perfect! Thank you so much!” Persephone hugged her newfound friend, positively vibrating with excitement.
“Oh, don’t thank me yet. The path, once changed, isn’t in the mortal realm anymore.”
Persephone’s face fell “Is it going to cut through Olympus?”
“Not exactly. It cuts through everywhere but nowhere at the same time. I call it the “other” realm.”
“Does it risk us being seen?” Hades asked seriously, face set into hard lines.
“I’m not sure. It doesn’t seem to go through the same place twice. I wish I could tell you more, but I’m still learning.”
Persephone grasped Ariadne’s hands, smiling softly “That is just fine. I am too.”
Ariadne stood, approaching the side of the road she shook her hands slightly as if to loosen them.
“Ok.” She clasped her hands “Good luck, you two.”
Ariadne’s brown hair blew back from her face as though she stood facing into a storm. Placing her palms together she raised them in front of herself, slowly drawing her hands apart, the air in front of her wavering like heat radiating off dark stone. The undulating space began to tear, the landscape separating, exposing nothing but a haunting darkness, poised to consume the pair.
Hades started as a small pink hand wound its way into his. He looked down to Persephone, her curls buffeted by the phantom wind, face set with stony resolution, beautifully strong and ready to face whatever lay on the other side. She met his gaze and the corner of her mouth raised in a small smile. Hades returned it with a small squeeze of her hand.
“Ready when you are, Sweetness.”
Persephone took a deep breath as they both plunged into the nameless dark.
The landscape seemed to undulate around them as if adjusting to the intrusion of the pair. Hades scanned the area, tentative that his phantom woman or some other nameless horror would appear. A simple dirt path wound through the land, dotted with threadbare trees. There was a distinctly odd pallor to the place, as though the light was cast by all three realms at once, each fighting for dominance, none winning out.
“Shall we?” Hades nodded his head indicating the path ahead of them.
“Seems to be the best course of action.” Persephone said softly. Contrary to the experience she had in the mysterious place with the woman, this place did not feel full of life. Rather, it felt flat, a mimicry of the life found in the realm they just left behind, a set piece for a play, lingering neglected in the wings.
As they started down the path a single raven took up occupancy on one of the nearly bare trees.
“Animals are usually a good sign.” Persephone mused, visibly relaxing, though still maintaining her hold of Hades’ hand. Despite his disregard for her the previous day, she realized she had never felt closer to him. If nothing else came from this entire exercise at least they were cultivating a deeper friendship. Seeing him in his mortal realm clothing for days on end wasn’t anything to sniff at either. Though they had been on the road for days now. Sniffing of any kind was ill advised.
“I have one request” she glanced up at him, trying to engage him in conversation and shake him from his anxiety.
“What would that be, Sweetness?”
“When we make it to Pompeii, I would really love to find a bathhouse, or any clear place to bathe, really.”
Hades chuckled, the sound rumbling from low in his broad chest “Fair enough. I think that sounds like an excellent plan.” Hades ran his thumb along the knuckles of her hand he held. “Since we have an uninterrupted stretch of time, maybe you can answer a question for me.”
Persephone chuckled “Well, If I know the answer, I suppose I can.”
“Why did you summon me?”
She remained silent, walking in contemplation for long enough that Hades began to doubt her answering at all. “I suppose… it was because if I was going to die, I wanted yours to be the last face I saw.”
Hades’ breath seized in his chest. He had spent weeks convincing himself that she was someone that he had no business wanting, and here she was saying that at the moment she believed herself to be dying all she wanted was… him. Tears welled in his eyes, the image of her broken in the kitchen springing again to mind. He stopped walking and looked down at her.
“Why mine?” He asked quietly, not daring to hope for the answer his heart wanted. The fathomless pit deep inside him stirred to life, that ancient voice growling, “like calls to like”
Persephone swallowed and met his watery gaze “Hasn’t it been obvious? I have had some feelings for you for quite some time now.” She stood, resolute in her answer “I’m sorry if that isn’t something you wanted to hear, I know you have Minthe. But… well, you asked and that’s the truth of it. I wanted to see you one last time, even if you aren’t mine.” She unlaced her fingers from his, turning to continue down the path. Her gaze landed on one of the threadbare trees, a raven nestled in the branches.
“Following us, little friend?” she asked the corvid with a smile. It cocked its head to the side, regarding Persephone with a small onyx eye.
Hades found himself watching her walk away, his mind still reeling from Persephone’s admission. She had feelings of some sort for him. His heart drummed violently in his chest, the something in the deep well of power within him laughing darkly. He was stunned by the bravery of her statement as well. She was far more mature than he, keeping his feelings for her locked up, engaging in a volatile relationship rather than take that risk.
A raven’s call broke him from his thoughts, looking up at the bird, he found two staring down at him. The lake of desperate power within him trembled slightly, prompting the hair on the back of his neck to raise. He shook his head and hurried to catch up with Persephone.
“Are you ok?” She spoke to him, moving forward, gaze trained on the distant horizon.
“Surprised, I guess. I can’t imagine why you would feel… anything for me.”
She laughed, that musical, sparkling sound making his heart tighten in his chest. “You are pretty bad at seeing yourself for what you really are.”
“And what about you, little goddess? Do you think you see yourself for what you really are?”
“I think I’m beginning to.” Her mouth set in a mysterious small smile.
Another raven call interrupted their discussion. Persephone stopped and scanned the trees, her heart rate rising. The trees around her were thick with small dark bodies, ruffling their feathers softly, giving the impression of being fully leafed and buffeted by a light breeze.
“Hades…” she whispered, and he turned, examining the trees behind them as well. Every tree in his sight was filled with dark birds. Somewhere deep in his mind a flicker of a memory roared to life.
“Ravens. Ravens are an aspect of Apollo…” Hades met Persephone’s gaze as fear drained the color from her face. He slowly moved closer to her, placing an arm over her shoulders. “Ok, Sweetness. On three… we run. Ok?” Persephone nodded, her breath becoming shallow as the panic began to rise in her throat.
“One…” Hades turned them to face down the road
“Two…” Persephone planted her feet, ready to bolt forward.
“THREE!” Hades barked and they both launched into motion. A cacophonous riot of sound went up from the flock of birds, now angrily taking flight to pursue their quarry. Hades paced himself to keep his large form between Persephone and the swirling mass of ravens as she ran flat out, thankfully quite fast, as hard as she could. Sharp talons caught at the flesh of his back, hot rivulets of ichor ran down his skin, but Hades kept his pace, escape and Persephone foremost in his mind.
“There’s too many!” Persephone shrieked, stumbling and losing her pace, attempting to cover her head with her arms as birds dove at her face. Hades dove forward, and wrapping his arms around her waist, tucked her face into his chest as he continued to run. Razor like claws still plucked at his back, trying to gain purchase for cruel beaks to continue the work.
“Persephone! We need to get out of here, NOW!” He huffed, readjusting his grip on her to free one hand. He threw his arm out to the side allowing the bottomless lake within him to surge to life, the shimmering ghost of his bident becoming existent within his grasp. He stopped running with a roar of rage, spinning to brandish the weapon at the furiously churning horde. The birds swooped upwards, deftly avoiding his attack, retreating and rallying for another attempt.
“Άνοιξε!” Hades roared, stabbing the ground with the tines of his bident. The land heaved, movement like a living thing rising to meet his command. With a rumbling noise emanating from deep within the realm, a wild wind picked up, the trees fragmenting, breaking into eddies of particles as the ground beneath the pair opened up and swallowed them whole. Hades landed roughly back in the mortal realm, dropping to his knees with the force, still clutching Persephone tightly to his chest. He snapped his head upward just in time to see the gaping maw of the other realm snap shut.
He panted and sat in the dirt, laying his bident on the ground at his side. He reeled back, grasping Persephone’s face in his hand, examining her frantically. “Are you ok?” His chest heaved as he worked to catch his breath. Persephone met his gaze, nodding shakily. “Thank you.” She scanned the area they had landed in and suddenly scrambled to her feet yelling “Hades!” Strange, reflective eyes surrounded them in the growing dusk. “Wolves! Another one of his.” Hades leapt to his feet, pressing his back to Persephone’s, bident glowing menacingly in the dim. “No. Not again.” Persephone growled, stepping forward she planted her feet wide and reached skyward with both hands. Blinding white light surrounded her as she rose into the air, hair whipping about her face as though she were the eye of a hurricane. She roared, the sound of her rage quaking the ground as sapling trees sprung up beneath each wolf, their forms disappearing into fine mist. Hades stared in awe as a small copse of trees grew around them, enclosing them in Persephone’s power. The ground grew heavy with lush mosses and flowers began to spring to life at the base of each tree.
She was stunning.
She was powerful beyond his wildest imagination.
The eldritch pool of power within him surged to life, aroused as his physical body at the sight.
“Queen” the voice within him growled, feral and needful, and Hades knew without a doubt it was right. The sight before him could leave no reservation that this was his future.
Persephone slowly wilted back to the earth, Hades reaching out to catch her gently in his arms, cradling her form close to him. “Sweetness, that was… y-you’re amazing.” He whispered to her, brushing tangled hair from her face. “So tired.” She murmured. Hades nodded “We’ll stay right here for the night and figure out where we are in the morning.” He lay down with her gently on the thick carpeting of moss, pulling her close to his chest, wrapping her in the now tattered rough spun wrap from his shoulders.
The bottomless something within Hades seemed to purr happily, knowing it’s match, as they both drifted to sleep as the tides of adrenaline ebbed from their bodies.
Άνοιξε = Open
Chapter 10: And Consequences
In the light of day, Persephone’s work was even more impressive. Hades lay on the soft moss, still cradling the sleeping goddess and admired her handiwork. The trees had grown incredibly close, bark nearly interlocked. She couldn’t have created a better fortress if she’d built it rather than grown it. He idly ran his fingers along her arm, taking in the flowers growing along the base, tulips bobbing awake in the morning light. A tremor of sadness ran though him, realizing that they would have to leave this beautiful, handcrafted oasis. Apollo would certainly know full well where they were now, even if they didn’t at the moment. No god could ignore the amount of power Persephone had poured into the universe yesterday. Hades sighed and gently patted Persephone’s arm.
“Sweetness. It’s morning. We really should get moving.”
Persephone rolled over, curling inward and burying her face in his chest groaning softly. He laughed and ran a hand through her hair, puling it back upon realizing his lapse in decorum, heartbeat escalating in his chest. Not yours, he admonished himself.
“I know. I don’t want to either, but It’s not going to be safe to stay. I’m honestly surprised that we made it through the night without interruption.”
“True.” Her voice was muffled as she spoke into him. She shifted, recoiling to meet his gaze. “I’m sorry, I know we weren’t supposed to use our powers, but… if that was really Apollo’s doing…” she trailed off, heaving a shuddering sigh “I just couldn’t let him corner me again.”
Hades frowned “Is that what he did? You didn’t tell me much about what happened in the kitchen.” He blanched “B-but you don’t have to tell me if y-you don’t want to.” He spoke in a rush.
“It’s ok.” Persephone patted his arm, soothing his anxiety “I was trying to do something like this…” she sat up, casting a glance around the citadel of life she had wrought. “But it took too long. Maybe I wasn’t strong enough. I was only half done…” She trailed off, assessing her creation. “That’s what makes this so confusing. I managed full trees in a fraction of the time. It still exhausted me, but it worked.”
“Sweetness, what you did was power like I have never seen from a minor goddess. Between this and my dream,” Hades propped himself up, running a hand through his hair, realizing he was revealing yet another thing he had kept from her “I think there’s more to you.”
Persephone’s brow furrowed “Dream? What, the nightmare you had in the cave? You said she knew we were coming.”
“She said something else. About you.”
“And you didn’t tell me.” Her jaw tightened, her displeasure with him obvious.
Hades raised his hands in front of his chest, “In my defense, it was before I threw our phones in the ocean. I thought I was protecting you. She said that you are more powerful than I know. I think that’s patently obvious now.” He gestured vaguely at the stronghold of trees surrounding them.
“Oh…” she folded her arms, cupping her elbows, standing and pacing about the small enclosure.
“There’s one more thing that might have to do with you.” Hades stood, watching her marching. Noting that she seemed to have no intention of stopping, he continued “She showed me a blue flame in one hand and a pink flame in the other.” Persephone stopped her travel, meeting his gaze. Hades sighed “She blended them together and it turned gold. I have no idea what it could mean, but, pink. It’s likely referring to you.”
“I suppose that makes the most sense.” Persephone chewed her lip pensively, approaching one of the trees forming the wall of their small fortress. She closed her eyes, reaching out to press a palm to the bark of the large tree. Hades watched as the tree seemingly grew in reverse, drawing in upon itself, collapsing downward into its own roots until it disappeared.
“I found a door.” Persephone said mischievous smile set on her face, stepping through the new opening between trees to take stock of their location. Hades chuckled and followed her through. To their relief they were not far off a well-traveled roadway. “Perhaps this is the same road we were following before?” She squinted in the direction of the morning sun, orienting herself off of its current position in the vast sky. “I think north is this way. We have no idea of knowing if we passed our destination, but since you forced us out of that realm earlier than Ariadne had intended, I think it’s a safe bet that we are short of it. What do you think?”
Hades looked at Persephone, standing with her small hands on her hips, thought and determination coloring her face, hair softly waving in the light breeze and felt his heart melt. She turned, catching him staring. Hades blushed “If you think that’s the way to go, let’s take it. I mean, if it’s wrong it’s not as if I have plans.” He smiled crookedly.
She cast her gaze down to her feet “Well, I’m sure that someone is missing you.” She muttered darkly.
Rubbing a hand along the back of his neck Hades sighed “Probably not. Remember what Poseidon said? Sounds like she was neutral at best or believes Apollo at worst. Safe to say that is probably done.”
“Well, I wouldn’t totally write things off until you hear it from her.”
“I guess that’s true.” Hades stretched, pressing his hands into the small of his back “Well. We best stay moving. Let’s go.”
The sun beat down on the pair from high overhead as they trudged down the well-worn dirt of the road. Occasionally a glimpse of the ocean would appear between rolling hills, taunting them with the promise of misting sprays of saltwater, but they maintained their course along the hot thoroughfare, each of them trapped in their own thoughts.
Hades lingering over Persephone’s mood earlier when she had mentioned him having someone waiting for him back home. He didn’t dare want to allow himself to think that she was jealous, but it had certainly sounded that way. He hated to admit that part of him hoped she was. He watched her small form marching determinedly down the road and his soul ached. In none of the possible permutations of their friendship did he ever think that things would play out like this. Running from their homes, names drug through the mud, some horrific woman beckoning them onward. In none of the possible permutations of their friendship did he dare to hope that she felt a fraction of the way that he did.
Persephone’s mind replayed what Hades had told her about the mystery woman and her flames. Without further context it was impossible to know what that could have meant, but something deep within her resonated with the idea. It had initially surprised her how natural being with Hades was, but she had no right to enjoy this or wish for more. Her messy life had dragged down no less than a king. She had to come up with a better plan than continuing to ruin his life. She was shaken from her thoughts by a soft gasp from Hades. He had stopped walking and stared ahead of them, his expression wavering between shock and anxiety. She followed the direction of his gaze. A lone red figure stood leaning against a tree a bit further up the road. Persephone’s stomach dropped. Minthe.
“Here’s your chance, Hades.” Persephone reached out, taking his hand to give it a small squeeze “Go talk to her.” Hades looked down at their hands, hesitating to release hers. He met her gaze and she released his hand, smiling sadly, wordlessly retreating, allowing Hades to make his own choice.
Hades released a shuddering breath and approached the crimson nymph. She leaned against the tree, mortal realm attire clinging suggestively to her body, idly inspecting her nails. “Hey big blue.”
He raked a hand through his hair “We must be doing a great job hiding. You’re the third person to find us.” Minthe raised a scarlet brow at his sarcastic declaration.
“The ravens told Apollo, Apollo told Thanatos, Thanatos told me.” She stared levelly into Hades eyes, as though daring him to have an opinion on the matter. Hades set his mouth into a hard line. He hadn’t been aware that Apollo and the god of death ran together.
“I didn’t know you were close with Thanatos.” Hades chose his words with care, trying to avoid her volcanic ire, knowing too well how quickly she could turn. Her eyes flashed, fire growing in their depths.
“I’m not close with him.” The corner of her mouth raised in a crooked smile “Just fucked him as thanks.” Minthe drawled lazily at Hades, aiming to do the most damage. Hades felt the small knife blade of jealousy singing in his chest for a split second. What right did he have to be jealous? They had never had a loving relationship as such, and he had now spent days alone in the company of a goddess that he had been smothering feelings for. It was none of his business, but that dark wealth of churning power within him grumbled to life all the same. He chose to ignore her dig in favor of gathering more valuable information from her.
“So, I take it you believe that shitty little sun god?” Hades glared at her.
“What am I supposed to think? You turn into some kind of monster, looking exactly like your father but somehow even worse, you turn up with a half-dead goddess, then you kidnap little miss perfect and disappear.” Minthe’s glance flicked almost imperceptibly to Persephone, standing far behind Hades. Her scarlet eyes softened, and she approached Hades, hips swaying suggestively “You could try to convince me…” she murmured, draping her arms around Hades’ neck, pressing the length of her body into his. Hades had absolutely no desire to do so. He was able to see this for what it was now, nothing but her manipulating him. It probably always had been. He pushed down the deep loneliness that ran abruptly through his heart.
Hades raised a brow at her “You just got done telling me that you think I’m a monster and that you’ve found someone else. Why in the world would I want to convince you of anything?”
Minthe raked a hand through Hades’ hair “Because you know it’s better between us than either Thanatos or Pinky could ever hope to be? Can you blame me for being a little jealous of you wanting her?” she leaned into Hades lips, brushing hers lightly against his. He grimaced and peeled her arms from around his neck.
“Don’t call Persephone that.” Hades grasped her shoulders, pressing her back from him, holding her at arm’s length like a volatile explosive. “And I never said I wanted her. Whether I like it or not, I have to stay here with her. We have something yet to do.”
“What, you haven’t fucked her again?” Minthe taunted. Hades’ eyes flared, red seeping in as he lost control of his wrath. The frothing ocean within him roared awake, ready for the fight.
“You do believe them. Playing some kind game with them, Tadpole? I can’t imagine it’s going to turn out like you expect.” Hades sneered her pet name at her, revulsion dripping from his words. Remaining calm a massive challenge, but one he was determined to win, Hades grasped at the last straw of his composure like a lifeline. “If you think for one second that I am capable of what that purple idiot accused me of…” he released her, stepping back “Leave. Just leave.”
“Fine. Just like that, you’re done?”
“You think I’m capable of rape. Yeah. I’m done.”
Minthe rolled her eyes, scoffing at him “You’re a god. A King at that. Of course, you’re capable. You all are.”
Hades clenched his fists at his sides, his tenuous final control on his rage slipping by the moment, black hovering around the edges of his vision, threatening to take over, to allow the most feral king out to finish the conversation “Leave” he gritted out once again, his tone making clear that further warnings would not be forthcoming.
“Sure. Enjoy running alone.” Minthe smirked, turning to strut her way out of his life.
Hades closed his eyes and pulled deep breaths into his body, trying to force his heart to slow and his mind to calm. How could he have wasted so many years on someone so hateful? He had always known she didn’t love him, but he doubted she even had friendly feelings towards him at this point. She had shared his bed for years, but the moment a better deal came along… Hades fought the urge to break down, it wouldn’t change anything, and he still had Persephone to look out for. His creeping depression could wait.
“I’m sorry, sweetness…” he trailed off, turning to speak to Persephone but finding no one. “Persephone?” he called to her softly, scanning the landscape. The rolling hills showing no sign of that particular shade of pink. Horror crept slowly into Hades’ chest, hot and viscous as Minthe’s final statement rang in his ears.
Realization crashed down over Hades’ head. Minthe hadn’t come here to see him. She had come here to inject herself between them, to separate him from the one person he had left in this realm. In all his 2,000 years there had been times he had felt lonely, but now, for the first time, he felt well and truly alone.
“Persephone!” Hades shouted, panic rising bilious and choking in his throat, finding only the grasses waving in the slight breeze remaining to hear his entreaty.
Chapter 11: Divide and Conquer
Leaning against the rough bark of the tree, Persephone pulled a deep breath. Flying was often exhausting, but more so when she placed the emphasis on speed and distance. She fought down a sob threatening to erupt from her throat as her mind replayed red arms draped around Hades’ neck. Persephone ran her hands through her hair as she fought with herself. She had told him to try talking to Minthe because it was the right thing to do as his friend, but she certainly didn’t have to like it. Tears welled in her eyes as she cast her gaze around the place she had landed.
She had come to rest near a small stream, surrounded by verdant trees and shrubs. She dragged her fingers through the grass, coaxing more plants to surround her, these laden with thorns, enveloping her in a cocoon of spiked protection. Persephone curled into herself and finally allowed herself to really feel the past few days, deep reverberating sobs wracking her form. The memories flashed through her mind like pages of a book flipping past.
The blank, yet hateful look on Apollo’s face as he had driven her own kitchen knife deep into her body.
Gasping to life on a bed in Hecate’s home, her own small pink hands wrapped around Hades’ throat.
Cutting her own matted, ichor caked hair from her head.
The strange dream world with the peculiar woman.
Waking in Hades’ home.
The phone call informing them that Hades was a wanted man.
Caves, boats, and paths, none of which seemed to be getting her any closer to returning home.
And now… watching Minthe wind herself around Hades possessively like some kind of serpent, Persephone felt that she had lost her only friend. The absolute last straw. Heart aching for a man that didn’t belong to her, she allowed her tears to run dry as she drifted to sleep.
The delicate sounds of the world came into focus as Persephone awoke, opening her eyes to find her bower of thorns missing. She bolted upright, frantically scanning her surroundings. No longer near the rambling stream, lush green grasses waved in the wind along rolling hills extended to the horizon like a living ocean. The insects humming and reeling about and small creatures frolicking through the knee-high growth no longer gave Persephone comfort after the ravens had turned on her so suddenly.
Persephone clambered to her feet, fear coursing through her in opposition to the idyllic landscape. She launched into motion, running as fast as she was capable, hoping to stay ahead of whatever could arrive to chase her again.
Against the horizon a lone tree slowly appeared, and Persephone reduced her pace, recognition flickering dimly in her mind. This was the place she had found herself between Hecate and Hades’ homes. She pulled a deep breath into her lungs, bracing herself to speak to the woman that Hades seemed terrified of. The grass around the base of the tree had been trodden down, and the woman had spread a large white blanket on the ground. She lay on her back, eyes closed, a soft smile on her face, black hair fanned out around her head, hands resting placidly on her stomach. She wore the same flowing dress as she had the first time Persephone had encountered her. She slowly approached, trying not to wake her.
“I’m not asleep, Persephone.” The prone form spoke, a low smoky voice emanating from it, hardly stirring, eyes still closed. Persephone claimed a spot on the edge of the blanket, sitting cross-legged to keep an eye on the stranger.
“What is this place?”
A single dark eye opened halfway, regarding Persephone with a slight smirk. “It’s a realm.”
“Who are you?” Persephone fought to remain calm, fight and flight both battling for dominance in her mind.
“That’s irrelevant at the present time.” The raven-haired woman slowly sat up, wrapping her arms around her knees, eyeing her guest curiously.
“What do you want from me? This is a dream, isn’t it?”
The mysterious woman nodded “Dream is a good way to say it. It’s not so much what I want, but what I must do.” She squinted at Persephone “You’re getting better.”
“Better?” Persephone squirmed under her host’s scrutiny.
“Well, one could say stronger, but that’s not true. You’ve always been as strong as you are. You’re just getting better at accessing it.” The woman waved her hand absently and a basket materialized near her with a wisp of smoke. She opened it and, assessing the contents, plated a variety of fruits, vegetables and cheeses and handed it to Persephone. She idly popped grapes into her own mouth, sitting in silence.
“I-I did notice. The trees.” Persephone muttered by way of explanation. Her host nodded her head but continued wordlessly watching her.
Persephone took a large bite of an apple, swallowing before asking “Why is Hades afraid of you?”
The woman tilted her head to the side, a knowing grin developing on her face “Why does it matter? You left him.” She removed a small knife from the basket and began whittling chunks off an apple of her own, eating them from the blade.
“He’s better off without me. He’s with the one he loves. She’ll help clear his name. I’ve already made enough of a mess of his life.” She cast her magenta eyes downward.
“That you have. You messy thing, you.” The hostess smirked at her “What is your plan going forward?”
Persephone sighed “I’ll just keep going. Keep away from Apollo. Forget about Hades. Find you like you said, I suppose.”
A loud explosion of laughter erupted from the dark-haired woman “There are two of those things that you can’t manage.”
“Excuse me?” Persephone’s eyes flashed angrily at the woman.
“Ask her.” The hostess jabbed a thumb towards the tree they sat under.
Confusion crumpled Persephone’s face “That’s a tree…” she said slowly. Realization dawning that the woman was clearly not entirely sane, and she didn’t want to upset her in any way.
“Now she is.” The woman stood and approached the tree, tenderly placing a palm against the trunk, eyes scanning the lush canopy “I’d like to introduce you to Daphne.”
Persephone remained silent, casting about for a possible escape. Her hostess rounded on her head tilted to the side, assessing her.
“You don’t know.” She spoke plainly, fact, not question coloring her statement. “This is what happens when you try to escape Apollo.” She cast her gaze upward, watching the leaves of the tree swaying gently in the wind. “Specifically, this is what happens when you try to escape Apollo when he wants to rape you.”
Alarm clanged in Persephone’s head. She had never once mentioned the rape to this person “You’re telling me that this tree...” her voice trailed off, unable to finish the thought.
“Was once a nymph. Her name is Daphne. Apollo desired her. She ran, but she couldn’t run forever. She prayed for help evading him,” the woman dropped down to sit at the base of the tree “this is how the gods answered that prayer.” She finished quietly.
The woman shook her head, dismissing Persephone’s sentiment. “It was long ago, and it did solve that particular issue. But running isn’t the answer.”
“I’m getting stronger though. Or better as you put it. If he finds me again…” Persephone glowered into the distance “I’ll handle it.”
“Perhaps.” Dark eyes considered her “It doesn’t change the other thing you can’t manage though.”
Persephone glared at her “What is that?”
“Forgetting about Hades.” Her dark eyes flashed merrily “You’ll never in your life do that.”
Hades continued marching along the road he and Persephone had chosen, bident clenched firmly in his fist, periodically taking to the air to get an overhead view and make faster headway. Whoever had taken her was going to reap the full benefit of his rage. His hands shook with the effort required to control himself. He wanted nothing more than to march to Olympus and demand Persephone’s return, but what right did he have to do that? He cringed, imagining what it would look like, considering many thought he kidnapped her in the first place. Sure, just march up to the entire pantheon and demand they turn over someone you have no right to claim.
He launched himself skyward again, scanning the countryside for flashes of the pink goddess. Diving to skim the tops of trees, he followed a shimmering stream as it wound through the rippling countryside. Hades stilled, panning around him, still seeing nothing of Persephone. He descended to the bank of the slowly trickling creek, panting with exertion, dropping to his knees to drink deeply from the clear water. He knew he needed to rest for a moment, though his heart screamed at him to keep going and never stop until he located Persephone. He ran a damp hand through his hair, wracking his brain over her disappearance.
He hadn’t heard a struggle as he had stood arguing with Minthe. His eyes flashed red at the thought of the duplicitous nymph. She would pay for whatever part she had played in this. Maybe he’d have Persephone exact revenge once he found her. His heart clenched with the thoughts of how stunning the small pink goddess was when she exerted her considerable power. He had never seen something so arresting in his entire existence. The strange well of power within him whispered again, Queen. He groaned and dropped his head into his hands. Queen. Sure, if she even thought of him like that.
He was losing his grip on reality.
He couldn’t keep her safe.
Besides that, what could the god of solemn eternity offer a goddess of vibrant life?
What would he even say when he found her again? I know I failed you more than once now, but how about travelling with me again because I need you more than I ever thought possible? Silent tears coursed down his face as his feelings of inadequacy surged to meet him. He would never forgive himself if something happened to her again. Perhaps she was better off without him.
“Well, this is disheartening.”
Hades whipped his head around, quickly dashing the tears from his face. Small pink feathers fluttered around him as the god of love folded his wings and sat down next to Hades.
“What is? How did you find me anyway?”
“Everyone knows Apollo's shitty familiars found you. Not hard to track from that location. So, I come looking for two lovesick idiots, and I find one depressed as hell King.That is disheartening.” Eros reached over, brushing an errant feather from Hades’ shoulder.
“Idiots?” Hades brow furrowed.
“Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t say anything and allow things to develop naturally, but this is far from a normal circumstance. You have both obviously had feelings for each other for some time yet neither of you have done anything about it. I mean painfully obvious. Cruel to onlookers levels of obvious. So, yes. Idiots.” Eros shrugged “Where is Persephone, anyway?”
“Gone.” Hades said darkly.
Eros stood, stepping to loom over the despondent King “What do you mean, “gone”?” he growled, low in his chest, bow shimmering into existence in his hand, a dark purple cast developing over his eyes.
Hades showed no signs of being bothered by Eros’ threat “I don’t know. Minthe showed up and we were arguing…” He rested his forearms on his knees, hands limp, tears welling in his eyes “She believes Apollo.” Eros relaxed his stance, no longer openly intimidating the despondent god “After we broke up, I turned around and Persephone was gone. I don’t know who took her.” Hades began to openly weep, the time for masculine conventions long passed.
“Fuck.” Eros waved his hand to dismiss his bow altogether and sat back down by Hades again, running a hand through his rosy curls. “Well, I didn’t see her on Olympus before I came here, so whoever has her probably has her either here, or in the Underworld.”
“We were headed to Pompeii to get help. I’m going to keep heading there.” Eros raised a brow at Hades “She’s developing some really strong powers, Eros. I mean not even close to the levels you would expect. Whoever has her is going to either be the object of my wrath or hers. But if she gets free, that is the first place she’s going to go. I-I need to be there for her when she does.”
“If she escapes.” Eros corrected.
“No. I have to believe she will. If I don’t have faith in her I may as well just turn myself in right now and let whatever happens happen.”
“But you’re innocent!” Eros leapt to his feet again “Anyone on Olympus with two brain cells to rub together knows you are!”
“I know. But I know something else too. You’re right. I’ve been an idiot and I could very well be going mad, and I’m not great at protecting her, but she doesn’t need that from me,” Hades rambled on, standing to look Eros in the eye.
“So? What’s your plan?”
“When Persephone gets free, I will be there. Waiting for her. Because I know now my life isn’t worth living without her in it.”
“Now THAT’S my idiot!” Eros crowed, clapping Hades on the back.
Chapter 12: Lost and Found
Persephone awoke, her nest of thorns still intact, surrounding her. Pressing a hand to the ground she willed the plants to retreat back into the earth, leaving no trace they had been there. She sighed, staring blankly at the rambling stream, gathering her thoughts from the dream. She knew the woman was right. Running wasn’t going to really solve the problem. She needed to get back to Olympus to stand up to Apollo and tell the rest of the pantheon who is really in those pictures so Hades could go home. Her heart clenched painfully at thoughts of the King of the Underworld. Once she cleared his name and got justice for herself, perhaps it was best to return to the mortal realm for good rather than remain working in close contact with him, forced to watch his relationship with Minthe continue.
Persephone stood, brushing blades of grass from her chiton, weighing her options. Staying off the road would help keep her visibility down but staying in the tract of trees raised the risk of being seen by Apollo’s animals. She evaluated her choices and opted to stay along the stream. At least having easy access to fresh water and some shade would make the trip less exhausting. She absently waved a hand, summoning a small cadre of butterflies to travel alongside her, wishing she had thought to do that earlier.
Making her way along the stream, Persephone allowed her mind to wander, particularly to why she was suddenly so much stronger. She had initially thought that perhaps it was a byproduct of whatever ritual Hecate had used to drag her back from the jaws of death, but the strange black-haired woman in the dream world had said it was there all along. Something deep within her seemed to twitch and stir at her acknowledgement of that idea. Whatever it was still felt too far away to do anything with, but she wondered how much longer it would be until she could draw from whatever it was. Persephone idly braided her long hair over her shoulder as she picked her way along the stream, grimacing at the feel of it. She had intended to wait until reaching Pompeii to bathe, but her skin crawled with the days of accumulated dirt.
Pausing at the bank of the stream near a bend, Persephone took stock of the area. The area was already fairly well secluded, she hadn’t seen any people, very few animals, and no ravens or wolves. Dropping down, she pressed a hand to the ground gently coaxing the surrounding foliage into denser growth patterns. She stood, brushing her hands off and admiring her work. The small bend in the stream now offered her a modicum of privacy in order to bathe. Stripping her dusty chiton from her body, she knelt down and rinsed it in the stream as best she could, laying it on a nearby rock to dry. Looking up to the interlaced canopy, Persephone twitched a finger and the branches obligingly moved, creating an opening to allow the sun to beat down on her damp clothing, a single shock of warm light, butterflies she had conjured reeling and diving in the patch of heat.
She shivered, stepping into the cool running water and began scrubbing the days of travel from her body and long pink hair.
Hades chose to follow the small stream, hoping that staying under the cover of trees would help keep his visibility low. Of course, every god and their mother were finding him, so he wasn’t certain it was really all the important anymore. Eros had departed, promising to talk to Hecate and Hera, Poseidon only if he ran into him as they ran in different circles and seeking him out would seem suspicious. Hades had also leveraged a promise from the god of love to leave Minthe alone. No good could come of confronting her at the moment and it would most certainly show their hand.
He indulged the idle fantasy of Persephone levying retribution on Minthe for a moment before shaking his head roughly to dislodge it. Knock it off, you sick old man. The idea of the curvaceous pink goddess utilizing her newfound strength was entirely more arousing than Hades felt it ought to be. He had felt the power surging through her body when she had grown their overnight bower, a raging current she bent to her will. He groaned inwardly, recalling the visual. Gods, the moment he found her he wanted to tell her how he felt, hopeful she still felt the same after he had failed her.
Hades continued picking his way through the foliage along the stream until it suddenly became unaccountably thick. He turned to find the road, intending to switch tack until a flash of pink from the corner of his eye stopped him firmly in his tracks. A delicate butterfly precisely the petal pink shade of Persephone’s skin wheeled in patches of sunlight before fluttering to rest on his arm. He smiled sadly, mind wracking through all the possible places she could be and people who could have taken her. Was she frightened? He didn’t dare to wonder if she missed him.
But shouldn’t you? She chose to see you when she thought she was dying…
Hades shook his head, trying to dislodge the small inner voice. He couldn’t afford to have that kind of hope right now, justifiable or not. What he needed to do was keep going. Blowing a gentle current of air at the small winged creature, Hades set it aloft again. Beginning to pick his way through the dense vegetation a sound faintly came to him, a crystalline melody that his heart instantly recognized. His eyes flared red and he began to crash through the woodland in earnest hunting for the source of the song.
“Persephone!” Hades spun in a circle bellowing her name, desperation coloring the sound. He stood, deadly silent waiting for a response of any kind.
“Hades?” a tiny voice squeaked after a long pause.
Hades’ face lit up and he dove towards the sound. Without warning, he burst through the dense growth and directly into the stream on the other side, the cold water shocking his senses. A shriek accompanied his breaking the surface, swiping it from his eyes and looking about him wildly. Persephone stood on the riverbank, long wet hair draping over her shoulder, clutching her chiton in front of her body in an attempt to preserve her modesty.
Hades waded over to her madly “Persephone! Oh, my gods, I was worried I would never see you again…” He rambled frantically, almost exiting the stream before the visual of what he was seeing really clicked in his brain. Oh, gods. He flushed violently, his mouth opening and closing like a fish on land.
“Fates, Hades! Turn around so I can get dressed!” Persephone shrieked at him. He immediately obliged.
“I-I’m sorry! I j-just heard you singing, and I didn’t think I would find you…” He trailed off blushing again, thankful that he was submerged in water to hide just how badly what flashed through his mind was affecting him.
“It’s ok. You can turn around now.”
Water swirled gently about him, agitated by the folds of his own robes as he turned to face her. The visual wasn’t much better than it had been, if anything it was worse. Her chiton was damp and clung sinfully to her body, drawn to what water had clung to her skin. Darker magenta patches of skin and hair telegraphing her most intimate parts though the pale fabric. Hades felt as though every breath he intended to take for the near future had escaped him.
“Are you going to get out?” Persephone asked with a smirk.
Hades paled. No. He most certainly would not be getting out right now, the rippling creek both hiding his arousal and reminding him that he could certainly use to clean up too. The shadow of a wicked idea flitted across his mind. His lips twitched in a half smile, resolution settling in his mind. He met Persephone’s gaze, reaching up to unfasten his own clothing.
“No. I don’t think I will…yet.” He finished unfastening his robes, throwing them to the riverbank with a wet smack, leaving himself bare in the waist deep water.
Persephone turned a brilliant shade of magenta and quickly spun around. “A little warning would be nice, Hades.” She grumbled, suppressing the flush of heat that had run through her body at the sight of his broad chest tapering down to disappear in the eddying stream. A low chuckle met her statement.
“There’s nothing to see, little goddess. I promise I’ll behave.” The languid, honeyed tone of his voice did nothing to reassure her. If anything, giving her the unaccountable urge to tear her robes back off her body and launch herself into the stream. Nothing to see, my pink ass, she grumbled internally. Hades really had no idea what he looked like, did he? She busied herself laying his chiton out on the rock she had used as a makeshift place to dry hers.
“You’d better.” She admonished him.
“I can’t very well come talk to you at the moment, but will you at least stay there and talk to me? What happened to you?”
Persephone settled on to her knees, back to the stream, staunchly refusing to face the blue god causing her body so much distress. She dabbled in the grass, growing a single flower in front of her to give her a point of focus. She shrugged “Your girlfriend was there. She obviously loves you. I figured she would help you clear your name, so I left.”
Hades heart broke on hearing her admission “I thought someone had taken you.” He said quietly.
Persephone’s head drooped “No. I just…” she heaved a deep sigh before continuing “I’m tired of dragging you through my messy life. You had an out, so I tried to give that to you.” She traced her fingers along the delicate petals of the blossom, changing the colors, alternating them from pink to blue circling around the stem, the old childhood game singing in her mind.
He loves me.
He loves me not.
“Persephone. I told you I would stay with you.” Slight splashing noises accompanied his words. Persephone’s mind ran with possibilities, seeing him, head tipped back, hands running through his wet har, rivulets of water meandering down the muscles of his chest. How easy it would be to chase those droplets with her tongue… She blushed riotously, slamming the door on that fantasy before it could cause that squirming, hot feeling in her belly to escalate.
“I know.” She spoke softly “I just thought I was doing you a favor.”
“Well, you weren’t. I was terrified, Kore! I mean, I know you’re strong enough to escape someone, but… please don’t do that again.” He finished quietly, his voice so vulnerable and small that Persephone couldn’t help but steal a look over her shoulder at him, squeaking when his gaze flicked up to meet hers, a small smile developing on his face. His wet hair and chest looking exactly as enticing as she had imagined. She whipped her head back around to face the small flower in front of her.
The sound of swishing water accompanied Hades wading to shore. Persephone felt his presence more and more acutely with every step he took toward her, knowledge that he was bare ruining her concentration, waking that quivering in her belly to full steam. His hand came into view, trickles of water running down the lean muscle of his forearm. Persephone’s breath became distinctly shallow as she fought the urge to spin around and throw herself into his arms.
Hades’ hand grasped his chiton, pulling it from view and she released a shuddering breath, relaxing in the knowledge that he was dressing. She busied her mind making one more revolution around the petals of the small bloom in front of her.
He loves me.
He loves me not.
Hades stepped into view, fortunately, or was it unfortunately, now dressed in his damp chiton. He extended a hand down to Persephone to help her up, meeting her gaze with an unreadable emotion buried in the depths of his eyes. Without warning, he folded her into his arms, embracing her and resting his head on top of hers.
“I mean it, Persephone. Don’t do that again.” He swallowed hard “I never want to feel that scared again.” His voice wavered with the effort to control his emotions.
“I’m sorry” she murmured into his chest.
“I want to be with you.” He spoke, his voice low, comforting, and unbearably attractive.
Persephone wanted to allow herself to think he meant as more than travelling companions, but the image of twining red arms flashed through her mind. She stood back and smiled sadly up at Hades. “Ok. I promise. I’ll stay.”
He smiled at her “Good. Now let’s go find Ariadne’s cousin.”
Persephone looked about them and waved a hand. The dense growth around the creek returning to its natural state, save one thing.
As they left the small alcove, Persephone stole one last look over her shoulder at the single flower she had left, its petals all a very particular shade of blue.
Shades of fire painted the sky, a vulgar display of the time of day. Persephone and Hades were both exhausted as they finally made their way into the city of Pompeii, just in time for dusk. The buildings stood, black silhouettes in stark relief against the vivid colors of the dying light.
“Food. Bed” Persephone whined, her feet feeling heavy as stones.
“Absolutely, Sweetness.” Hades scanned the area for a suitable inn as they walked. His task was made more difficult by the sheer swelling of mortals in the area. Entering the town, they found it lavishly decorated with flowers, greenery and strips of fabric twisting and dancing in the breeze. A small group of mortals was making their way through town lighting small bonfires in open areas as other spaces began being set up with copious amounts of food and wine. The town seemed to be surging into life as the sun set ever quicker below the horizon.
“What do you suppose is happening here?” Persephone watched the industrious mass of humanity with unabashed curiosity.
“Someone’s festival would be my guess.” Hades muttered, his hackles raising “I think it would serve us best if we found out exactly whose festival we are looking at before deciding to stay or not.” He spoke in a low voice, keeping his side in physical contact with Persephone’s. He wasn’t about to lose her again.
“Have you seen any temples yet?” she watched a small group of mortal children chase each other along the thoroughfare with a smile.
“Not yet. Let’s keep close to the buildings and stay out of sight until we do.” Persephone could hear the anxiety creeping into Hades voice and grasped his arm by way of trying to ground his mind. Guilt again arcing through her mind at him being in this predicament at all. Remember, he said he wants to be with you… a distant, dark voice said within her.
Hades steered them through the heaving mass of humanity, past carts selling all manner of goods, the owners calling jovially to passersby. Those drunken revelers who started early, singing boisterous songs and careening through the street. Quiet couples secluded in alcoves, soft murmurs of adoration and lust tumbling serenely into the twilight as they reveled in one another. Persephone blushed as they passed by one particularly determined couple in the narrow space between two buildings, the woman’s soft mewling cries making it hard to mistake what activity they were engaged in. She stumbled as the image of Hades standing in the creek came unbidden to her mind.
Hades caught her arm, steadying her, earnestly inspecting her face. “Are you ok, Sweetness?” Persephone wordlessly nodded and picked up her pace, eager to remove herself from both the amorous couples and the large blue hands on her skin.
“Persephone!” Hades called to her, scrambling to keep up “Please, don’t!” Seemingly every mortal in the thoroughfare took the opportunity to weave in between them, cutting his line of sight. Anxiety crept up Hades chest, a living thing, trying its level best to take him down. Every second he spent searching for her sent his heart racing. He dove, reaching a hand between two humans, just barely catching Persephone’s hand, stopping her momentum.
“PLEASE! Stop!” He came around to face her, placing his hands on her shoulders “Did I do something wrong?” he searched her eyes, worry etched on his face. Persephone sighed and cast her gaze down to her feet.
“No. Hades. You’re…” she trailed off, looking across the square. Hades followed her gaze to be met with the sight of a surprisingly small temple. The building seemed set back from the activity, not exactly neglected, but not trying to be noticed. Persephone moved to clasp Hades hand and pulled him towards the columned façade.
Small torches lined the walkway leading to the interior of the temple, casting shadows across the ground, giving the effect of walking though dark waves. Persephone stopped along the path, pointing to the plants along the stone front.
“These are all herbs. The only reason I can think that someone would plant these here is if the temple is for…”
“A witch.” A dark, heady voice cut Persephone off. A statuesque woman stood in the entrance, cast in dark silhouette by the flickering interior light. Stepping forward into the pool cast by the nearest torch, she assessed the pair. A shimmering veil was laid atop the woman’s deep ebony braids, her dark caramel skin seemingly iridescent in the firelight as well. Her dark eyes were mesmerizing, pools of deepest water, dark knowledge glowing in the depths. The soft folds of her dark chiton were trimmed in golden threading, clearly denoting a higher status.
“You are the priestess.” Persephone stated, her voice painted with awe.
A slight smile bloomed on the woman’s face “That I am. I am Medea, Priestess of Hecate.” She turned to enter the building, wordlessly beckoning them to follow. The interior of the temple was warmly lit with many braziers, offerings of rare foods, luscious wines, and useful herbs lay atop the altar. The stone walls and floor rustic, but clean. Hades found himself surprised by the light atmosphere, expecting the arcane darkness he had encountered in the hallway of Hecate’s home.
“I was expecting you both days ago.”
“Are you Ariadne’s cousin?” Persephone studied her face, searching for likeness.
“Yes. I have not seen her since I lived near the southern islands. I have had to come into hiding in the north of the mainland.”
Hades approached her, glowering down into her face “Yes. You would have to hide, wouldn’t you?” He shot a grim look at Persephone “Come on. We don’t want this woman’s help.”
Persephone’s jaw dropped “Hades! I don’t think Ariadne would send us to someone she felt was dangerous.”
“Oh, she’s dangerous. More so to her own children.” Hades grasped her hand and attempted to drag her towards the door “We’re leaving.”
Persephone wrenched her hand from his grasp, eyes flashing “I am staying right here.” She flipped her braid over her shoulder with a frustrated huff, turning back to meet Medea’s wry smile. “That doesn’t mean I’m blindly trusting anyone. What is he referring to, you being dangerous to your children?”
Medea’s face darkened “Of course.” She glared at Hades “As I said, I once lived near Ariadne. I was a princess of the kingdom of Colchis. My father had a golden fleece hanging in a tree in a field. Supposedly it held some kind of great power, but I’m a witch. I know arcane objects.” She rolled her eyes “The damn thing was nothing but a pissing contest between rival kingdoms. The one who had it in their possession got to claim they were the biggest, baddest asshole in the area.”
Medea paused to pour herself a chalice of wine before continuing “So, my father had the fleece and he set a dragon that never slept to guard it. Foolproof really, since it could do all kinds of things to derail attacks. Conjure fire breathing bulls, creating armies, what have you. Princes from the neighboring kingdoms would come to try to take the fleece every few years, but no one was successful against the dragon.”
She sighed deeply, casting her gaze towards the ceiling “Until Jason came. He was the rightful prince of Iolcus, and he made a deal with his usurper uncle that he would regain the throne if he could retrieve this irretrievable object. And, frankly… he was really attractive, and I wanted to leave Colchis. So, I decided to help him. I told him how to trick the dragon and he agreed to take me with him.”
“That sounds like a kind thing to do.” Persephone said softly.
She stared pensively into her cup “It would have been, but… I was forced into killing my brother when he tried to stop us. We got past and the act proved my love and loyalty to Jason. We were married and I traveled with him and his crew. Afterall, who doesn’t want an intensely powerful witch on their side?” She laughed darkly.
Persephone shivered “You must be very powerful to be a priestess for Hecate”
“Yes. But travelling nonstop becomes tiring. We made a home in Corinth. Had two beautiful children together. My life couldn’t have been more perfect… until it wasn’t.”
“And whose fault was that?!” Hades barked, eyes flashing crimson.
“Jason’s!” Medea shouted back at him, leaning to make eye contact. “It was Jason’s.” She withered slightly. “He began seeing the daughter of the king of Corinth. He was power hungry. Marriage to her could afford him an even larger kingdom. He tried to convince me to leave but give my children to him for the princess to raise.” Medea bit out, bitterness coloring every word.
“And you killed them rather than let their father raise them.” Hades glared at her.
“I sent her highness a gift. A beautiful circlet and gown. A congratulations.” Medea lifted her goblet in mock celebration “When she donned them, she would burst into flames and the flesh would melt from her body. Every. Second. Of her death would be an agony that rivalled that of Tartarus.” A cruel smile danced on her face “And she did. She accepted a gift from a well-known enchantress, and she suffered greatly for it. Stupid girl.” Medea drained the remainder of her chalice, setting it to the side with a soft clink. She stood, stretching her muscles and continued “Her father tried to pull it from her. In doing so, he shared the curse. They both died as their palace burned, using their corpses for kindling.”
“And your children.”
Medea’s eyes flashed with rage “How was I to know that Jason had taken them into that woman’s home already?!” She shrieked, a hoarse sob wrenching loose from her throat “I only turned my back for a second…” she cried softly.
“Oh, my gods…” Persephone whispered, hand covering her mouth.
Medea pulled in a shuddering breath “My children were not supposed to be there. And Jason escaped! He didn’t even go back for them! He told anyone who would listen that I had intentionally killed our children as well as the king.” She sat back down staring at her black dipped hands “No one believes a woman in the mortal realm. Even less so if they are a terrifying witch, so I was forced to run. I found harbor within the cult of Hecate, and here I have stayed.”
Hades stared pensively at the floor for some time. If Hecate had chosen her, there was likely truth to her version of the story. “I apologize. I imagine that losing them was quite bad enough without the entire world turning on you as well.” He softly said.
“There is one thing I am confused about. I don’t recall hearing that you had killed your brother.” Hades regarded her curiously.
“I was cleansed of that. It was considered a justifiable moment in time. Since my children died as a result of my jealousy and my husband’s disregard, that one stays. I understand that Jason died recently, so I expect that is where your knowledge of me originated?”
“He recently came through for judgement.” Hades stated plainly.
Medea scoffed “Lots to unpack there, I’m sure. I heard the end of his life was rougher than mine.” She softly smiled.
“Why would Ariadne have sent us to you?” Persephone asked gently.
“Who better to assist you than one who has weathered decades of suspicion for a crime they didn’t commit?” Medea shrugged “And I expect I am to put you through to another person further up the coast…” she trailed off.
“Who?” Persephone’s eyes widened at the thought of real progress.
“I need to talk to them first. See if they are willing to help. Perhaps convene with the Goddess. Spend the night in Pompeii. Tonight is a feast night in honor of Hecate. The musicians should be starting a bit, and the food is always outstanding.”
Hades chuckled and shook his head “Hecate does get some of the best offerings.”
“Can you recommend an inn? I am not sleeping on the ground one more night.” Persephone asked.
“A devotee of Hecate owns “ypóloipo” on the main thoroughfare.”
“Rest?” Hades asked, brow raised.
Medea shrugged, the beads in her hair softly clicking together “Not the most creative name, but the rooms are clean, they have a private bath house…”
“Sold!” Persephone chirped, cutting her off with a broad smile.
Medea chuckled “I’ll contact you there in the morning when I know where to head next.”
Hades and Persephone took their leave from the temple, retreating back into the firelit evening. The crowd seemed to have multiplied, their behavior slowly becoming more raucous. Hades clutched Persephone’s hand as they wove through the town, not bothering to hide them, but the mortals seemed to take no notice. A roughhewn wood sign hanging from the side of a two storied building identified it as the inn they were looking for. Persephone mused that “inn” was sorely selling the place short. It was an impressive building, entirely made of cut stone blocks, with luscious plants hanging from the balconies. Mortals spilled from the doors, well-dressed and heading for the festivities in the streets. The two immortals angled their way past them, to the inn keeper.
“Good evening, your majesty.” The innkeeper greeted Hades.
His eyebrows raised high in surprise. “How did you...?”
“You are expected.” The small mortal woman smiled kindly.
“Would it be possible to get a few rooms in your lovely inn for the night?” Persephone spoke, smiling back at the woman.
“Well, we can accommodate you, but there’s one issue.” The clerk nervously tapped her nail on the countertop.
“What is that?” Hades asked warily.
“Well… I apologize, your highness, but we only have one room available.”
ypóloipo = Rest