Authors: M.M. Kin
The princess knew she should not be out here at night, but her bedroom felt confining, and she liked having fresh air and walking while she thought. She knew better than to roam the city after dark, especially without a guard, but the walled courtyard of the small Eleusinian Palace afforded safety and privacy. Despite the lackluster results of Abas's work – a gardener could no more control the weather than a King – the garden was still an enjoyable place. She had grown up here in the palace, and dreaded the thought of leaving it.
As she sat down on a bench, she saw a figure move furtively through the shadows. After a moment, she recognized the lanky and small figure of the gardener. Ever since she had first set eyes upon Abas, she had fostered an intense dislike of the squirrelly-looking boy and preferred to avoid his company, all the more when he became a man. Whenever she wanted to take a walk in the garden, she would look around to see if he was working, for he had a way of looking at her that made her feel dirty inside. Aethra, her younger sister, reported he same thing, calling his eyes 'beady'. It was an apt description, and she wondered what he had to do at night. He disappeared around a corner, apparently unaware of her presence, and Thalassa frowned to herself.
The River Styx churned on as it had for all time, standing as the border between the realm of the living and the dead. Unlike the tales told above, coinage was not required to cross the Styx, but the deities of the Underworld did nothing to dispel that rumor. Wealthy and poor souls alike were admitted onto the ferry, for in death everyone was the same. The coins that Kharon received were whisked out of sight, disappearing under the cloak of his robe, presumably never to be seen again.
Kharon slid out invisibly from his cloak, leaving his doppelganger to operate by itself, shadowy hands gripping the oar. One of the nice things about being such a powerful deity was that he did not have to be on his boat for all Eternity. That would be a boring prospect, indeed. The doppelganger was an effective simulacrum of himself and an extension of his will, performing his duty without his physical presence. The passengers were never the wiser.
He followed the course of the Styx, disappearing into its blackness. A body wrapped around him, arms and legs hooking around his limbs, softness pressing against his chest. Styx's flesh was cold, but then, Kharon had never liked heat. Her lips were like ice, but he became impassioned, feeling her hands roam along his body, fingers scraping along like icicles as she welcomed him into the abyss.
Hades stared out one of the windows of his bedchamber, peeking through the heavy curtains as Persephone made her way out from the main room, her feet gliding along the dark marble as she came to the railing. Her pale skin stood out amidst her dark clothing and the shadows that surrounded her, making her seem like a ghost, her skin glowing almost ethereally due to the loss of her light tan. The sky above, dark to represent night as it was on the surface world, glittered with the diamonds Hades had casted up there for his bride-to-be to enjoy. She looked despondent, her gaze distant as she followed the railing, her fingers sliding along its polished marble surface. At one side of the balcony – really more of a terrace due to its wide dimensions – was a set of stairs that led down to the gardens. Oddly, Persephone did not go down these stairs – he was certain she would have, given her attitude – and remained where she was, looking out at the garden that sat below.
She looked ravishing, her hair tied back loosely to show the curve of her neck. Womanhood suited her well, he mused as he studied the delicate plane of her jaw. He imagined the feel of her soft body against his, and what it would be like to finally deflower her, to make her feel like a woman yet again with his attentions.
Oh, Persephone. Do you not understand how much I need you? How much you need me? I am one of the most powerful gods in existence, yet my heart is yours. I would lay the world at your feet if you would but commit yourself to me.
He pressed his hand against the cool glass of the window as he studied the captive goddess. As if she sensed his gaze, she looked up at the window, and like a love-struck boy, he felt his heart do a quick pitter-patter within his chest.
Persephone felt his gaze as she stood outside, and turned her head to see his palm pressed against the window, pale fingers stretched across the glass. She could feel him beseeching her silently, his eyes fixed upon her. She rebelled against Fate. The captive goddess did not want yet another person to dictate her destiny. There had to be more than one way out of the Underworld. She remembered the wish that Zeus had offered her all these years ago. If she could contact him, she would wish for her freedom. After all, Zeus was her sire, wasn't he? He had a duty to protect his daughter!
She raised her hand, beckoning to him. The curtain dropped and he slid out from the doorway, his robe slightly open to reveal his upper chest, making for an enticing sight. Was that intentional? She frowned.
“You cannot keep me down here forever,” Persephone stated as he closed the distance between then. He stopped a pace away from her, crossing his arms.
“I can. I am the Lord of this realm. None can leave unless I say so. And I say that here with me you shall remain for eternity. This kingdom is timeless. The rules of the other realm do not apply here. Look at yourself, can you honestly say that you wish to leave all of this behind?”
, Persephone thought. But she was not willing to admit it. If only she could return to the surface world and enjoy its sunlight and life-energy, then she would not mind visiting this realm, not as long as she had Hades as a host.
“My sire will not approve of this. I am daughter to the King of the Gods, and I will not be prisoner to his brother!” She decided to not mention the wish. If Hades knew, he might outright deny her any contact with Zeus or the other gods.
“Your sire? Oh, Persephone.” He shook his head slowly. “He gave his blessing for the union.”
“...What?” She became still. Surely her own sire, that kind and friendly King of Heaven with his beaming smile, wouldn't...
“I told him I would have nobody else but you. He said yes.”
“But why would he...” She felt the stab of betrayal in her heart, and it was more painful than she would have ever expected. Her eyes filled with amber edged with scarlet, reflecting her inner turmoil and anguish. Her own father had given her away, just like that. The man she hadn't seen for a decade, the man who hadn't been a real father to her at all, not even after Iasion had died... How could he have thought so little of her? His other daughters –
her own sisters
! – got to reign high on Olympus while she had been cast down here!
“My brother is not without his faults, but he was wise enough to accept my decision. He knew that I would be a good husband. I assured him that you would be well cared for and subject to no mistreatment. He knew you would be better off with me than with any of the other gods or mortals, anyway. As a father, he did not fail in his duty to you, and rest assured, I shall not fail in my own duty as a husband.” He sounded smug at this declaration.
Hmph. Stupid male pride.
It appeared as if Hades wasn't immune to it despite his differences from the Olympians. She blinked back tears, not wishing for the Lord of the Dead to see her cry. She didn't want him to see just how much Zeus's betrayal had hurt her. He hadn't even thought to warn her about Hades! When Hades drew closer, Persephone whipped away from him. She was reminded again of why Mother didn't like Zeus!
Mother had been right to raise her daughter to believe that Iasion was her father. Iasion was a good and honest man who had adored his wife and cherished his daughter. While Persephone would have liked to know the truth, she now understood one aspect of the strained relationship between her mother and herself. When put through that, who could blame Mother for what she had done?
“And did neither of you think to
to me?” Persephone asked before she spun around, crossing her arms and staring out in the darkness, tears burning behind her eyes.
“When Zeus said yes, that was the end of the matter. He has more children and lovers than he can account for, and of course, your mother prevented you from getting to know the Olympians. He was assured of your safety. As for myself? You cannot tell me that you do not enjoy my company or attentions...”
“Damn you, Hades.” She jerked away from the hand that reached out to grasp her arm. At her defiant gesture, tendrils of shadows whipped out, wrapping around her legs and effectively halting her progress. Curses! Hades's Gift had more than one practical application, and when she flung her arms at him, trying to claw his face as he closed in on her, the shadows pinned her arms down.
“This is not fair!” Persephone exclaimed with an indignant gasp. She wiggled against her bindings, muttering in frustration at the almost rubber-like pliancy of the shadows, which could effectively solidify themselves to any density at Hades's will.
“I will not let you walk away from me unless you admit it,” he replied in a nonchalant manner, leaning against the railing as he observed her struggle against her restraints. The defiant captive stubbornly kept her lips shut, shaking her head.
“So spirited. So defiant. I do enjoy your fire, but there are more productive ways of applying it. Do I need to remind you?” Hades continued on, undeterred. Persephone stilled when she felt a tendril rub against her ankle, slowly working its way upwards, wiggling in a teasing manner as it did so. Oh gods! If it reached its goal, Hades would know...
“Stop! Please!” she begged. It wiggled up her calf to the back of her knee. “Come on! Please, let me out!”
“That is not what I want to hear.” Hades tutted gently. Now the silky smooth tentacle had reached halfway up her thigh.
. Wait. The gods would not help her...
“You were... are a rather... pleasant suitor.” Persephone's gaze was averted, a faint blush on her cheeks. Mercifully, Hades stopped his teasing administrations.
“Was that so difficult to admit, my love?”
“No, my lord.” She shuddered as her bindings slid away from her body, caressing her legs as they did so. As soon as she was free of them, she pulled back several paces. “But that doesn't stop me from being angry with you. Or my sire.” She spat out the word 'sire' as if it was a curse.
“Do not be so hurt by what he did. My brother might be careless and clumsy at times, but he is not a cruel person. He knows I will take care of you. He asked that of me.”
“I don't care!” Her eyes glinted fiercely. Was this why Mother had withdrawn from men after Father had died? And considering what Ares and the other gods had done or tried to do... “As far as I am concerned, the world would be a better place without men in it!”
“Ahh, you sound like Artemis when you say that. She is none too fond of her father, either,” Hades shot back with a grin.
“Ugh!” Persephone threw her hands up in the air in frustration, flashing Hades an enticing glimpse of her wrists and forearms. “I cannot believe that I am related to both of you!”
“Surely I am a cherished relation. More so than your sire, at least,” the Lord of the Dead shot back smoothly, refusing to be fazed by her temper.
She let out a short shriek of indignation before she darted at him, her small fists pounding against his broad chest. The fact that he merely stood there and let her take blows at him only further roused her ire. How dare he, that self-assured, smug bastard, just standing there and smiling down at her! Suddenly she found her wrists held by his strong hands, effectively preventing her from throwing any more punches. Her body was pulled flush against him when he lifted her wrists, and she glared at him with an angry blush on her cheeks.
“Let me go!”
“Calm yourself, love. I am your Lord and husband-to-be, not something to beat your fists on. Of course, I could always bind you again and have my way with you...”
“Ugh! No!” She squirmed against his grip, catching a whiff of his masculine odor. He relinquished his grip on her wrists, only to wrap his arms around her, muffling her protest against his chest.
“Stop resisting so much,” Hades whispered in an avuncular tone, one hand reaching up to stroke her hair, his arms forming a grip she could not escape. “Let go of your sorrow and anger. They have no place down here.”
“I cannot! I will not! You do not understand! How could I ever expect a man to understand?”
“I do understand, but what is done is done... Your future lies ahead of you.”
Persephone remained silent, pressing her lips together tightly. Who needed him? She'd deal with this herself. She would find her own way. She was still smarting from Zeus's thoughtlessness and certainly didn't want Hades around to exacerbate her anger. She had been irritated with Mother before, angry with Hades, but she had never felt so wrathful until she learned of her sire's choice. What a thoughtless asshole. If she could just get her hands on him...
“Let me go,” she whispered.
“Are you going to try to attack me again?”
“Good.” Slowly, his arms slid from her and he took a step back. Persephone felt her heart pound with anger, but she managed to keep herself collected.
“Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?” Hades asked, surprising her. Was her pain that obvious?
“No.” She shook her head sullenly.
“Come now. How about a trip to Elysium? There are many skilled artists and performers, and also pleasant places to walk.”
“No. I am not in the mood for that place.” She was in the mood for something dark, something intriguing. Perhaps even violent. Something that would give her an outlet for her anger. Of course, she could seal away the spark of life that she had as she had done before and not feel any more emotion, but she didn't wish to go down that venue unless absolutely necessary.
“Has Tartarus put you in a foul mood, then? Perhaps I should not have taken you there, you are so sweet and that place is so dark...” He reached out to touch her face, and she pulled back.
“I am not a little girl. And it most certainly is not that!”
“Then what is it?”
“None of your damn business.” She lifted her chin defiantly, turning away. He started after her, but paused. He had seen the pain in her eyes and her anger. Being alone seemed to be beneficial for her, so he would leave her be. He honestly hadn't thought she would take the news of her father's involvement so hard. As she went down the stairs to the garden, he leaned against the railing to watch her for several moments.
Persephone drew her robe over her head, effectively cloaking herself. The air down here was pleasant, but it was missing some of the familiar elements of the night in the mortal world. She heard no sound of insects or small creatures, nor the call of the birds. There was no rustling of grass as the night breeze blew through them. Persephone wished for a moon to light her way – moonlit walks were one of her favorite pleasures. Without these small natural cues, this place didn't feel real. She would have lost touch with this world if it wasn't for the solid tiled marble under her feet, the soft and thick linen clothing that hugged her body, and that musky, shadowy scent that lingered in the air, tingling her nose but offering no definite note or source. When she listened hard, she could sometimes hear a faint ghostly whispering, though she often questioned if this was actually a voice within her own head or not. Dis had a way of teasing and playing with her senses at times, overwhelming her or leaving her unsure, grasping at her perception like she was right now.
This place was alluring, yet unsettling in the dark. She could barely see the pomegranate tree against the sky, and she wasn't sure if the faint iridescent flashes she saw of the flowers were a figment of her own imagination. She stilled, trying to orient herself to her surroundings.
Come on, Persephone! It's the same garden, it's just dark.
She brought her hands forward, veering off to the left. Cool bark met her palms, and she let out a quiet sigh. What would Tartarus be like in the dark! Ooh! She shivered at the thought.
The Underworld was a scary place. Persephone felt like a small child, lost without its mother. She was able to see shadowy outlines, but in a place of darkness, this did not count as much. She wished she was in Mother's arms, wrapped up in a warm and strong grip as Demeter comforted her, soothing away her nightmares and fears. Not even the tree could comfort her because it was not of her own world. On the surface, any tree – whether inhabited by a dryad or not – always had a pulse of life-energy if it wasn't dead or petrified. And despite the hungry rumblings of her stomach, she could not eat the fruit that the branches offered, drooping down as if to entice her, the pomegranates blood-red against the inky darkness that enclosed her.
She reached out for one, feeling its weight in her hands. She lowered her arm, and the fruit came away from the branch easily, surprising her. The pads of her fingers slid along the heavy globe, outlining its faintly hexagonal shape.
Persephone closed her eyes and took a deep breath, allowing herself to relax. She would not allow this realm to overwhelm her. If she could unlock its secrets, who knew what she might accomplish. She was not a child, a sheltered little maiden kept away from the world. No, she was a goddess, one with more Gifts than she was aware of, if the Fates were being straightforward about their prophecy for her. Even though her mother had refused to tell her about this bleeding, Persephone sensed that it represented a new stage in her life.