Continuation of my novel, Summoning Persephone.
Brief overview: Persephone is trying to kill Zeus because he killed her sister. To do this, she's trying to join the Cult of Athena, Goddess of War, so she can get the super strength and super speed necessary to face a god like Zeus. She's bringing the head of a winter stag to the Summoning Ceremony to offer Athena in the hopes that she will get picked by her.
In the last couple chapters, Persephone killed the stag and angered Artemis, the Goddess of the Hunt, for murdering the sacred creature, and Hades witnessed her killing it. Now the Goddess of the Hunt is on her back. Hades crashed the Summoning Ceremony after Persephone was rejected by Athena, saving her from the Goddess of the Hunt by Summoning her himself.
Thank you to @BlueAfrica, @AlyTheBookworm, @Thundahguy, @shima, and @Kanome for reading and being so encouraging.
Goddess of Witchcraft
I’m sitting against the oak tree in the clearing, watching my sisters throw chicken bones on the ground to make Otis run around the yard. I’ve been here since early morning, waking up to catch some time with my sisters before Hades arrives.
Daphne and Claudius invited me in to have breakfast, but I didn’t have much of an appetite. I got a glimpse into the cottage, into my sisters’ shared bedroom. It was disconcerting to be inside their child’s bedroom as their eighteen-year-old sister, a grown woman, knowing I would keep aging while they remained little girls. And when I joined them in the afterlife - whenever that would be - how old would I be then?
Watching them now, I feel I’ve been robbed of something important.
I let my head rest against the tree, staring up at the heavy canopy of leaves.
After Hades left, I spent a good part of the night thinking about his offer.
The guilt about what I intend to do makes me feel uncomfortable and conflicted. After everything he’s done for me. Saved me from Artemis. Reunited me with my sisters.
Throughout my journey across the Underworld, I can’t deny that the God of the Dead has, in a way, become my friend. I can’t say whether the feeling is mutual on his side, but the idea of stealing from him, of using his generosity as a means to kill his brother...it doesn’t rest as easily on my conscience now as it did a few days ago.
How can I accept his offer as a pretense to my plans? Do I have it in me to keep lying to him?
You’ve already come so far. A tenacious part of my mind whispers to me. You can’t give up now.
I squeeze my eyes shut, a headache forming as a result of my warring thoughts.
Last night, before I drifted off to sleep, the bits of knowledge I’d gathered swirled around my head like a cloud of jigsaw pieces.
Atteus’ keys. Hades’ armor. The map. The weapon. I just need to find a way to connect the puzzle.
Most importantly, I need to find a way to get to Tartarus without Hades ever finding out.
I need to stay in the Underworld just a bit longer. I wonder how long I can stall for. Hades, for whatever reason, doesn’t seem in any rush to make me leave.
But I have no doubt he will abide by the laws of his domain. And that means if I don’t accept his offer, I won’t be able to remain here.
I sigh. I can’t accept, and I can’t refuse, either.
Suddenly, I hear soft footsteps coming from my right, and I know it’s him. The sound of his boots pressing against the grass interrupts my thoughts. I look over.
He’s walking through the trees, regal and elegant as a winter stag. He’s dressed in charcoal grey pants and a light, mist-colored tunic. The bright shades of grey make him look different somehow, as though he materialized right out of the fog.
I stand up to meet him as he walks towards me.
“You knew I would be here,” I say.
“Of course.” He smiles, stops just a few feet away from me, his gaze falling on my sisters, and then back to me. “I hate to interrupt.” He holds out a hand.
I glance briefly at my sisters. Callista catches my eye, staring at me and Hades, and waves goodbye.
Serena doesn’t notice us leaving at all.
The rush of water is the first thing I hear, then the birds.
Hades holds my hand as we walk up a stone pathway at the edge of the woods. Immediately to our left, the forest gives a wide berth to the River Lethe. The water rolls steadily down the sloping hill, silvery tendrils of mist curling over the river.
To our right, branches of neatly placed yew trees curve over us, forming a natural tunnel over the path we are walking on. Lanterns with purple flames hang from the branches above us.
I stare up in wonder, and I catch a glimpse of tiny finches hopping around. Their feathers are a flamboyant mix of yellow, purple, and blue, bright against the backdrop of neutral greens and browns.
We keep going up the path, and I know we are nearing the end when the ground slopes sharply upward; stone steps take us up the rest of the trail, and we emerge onto the bottom of the waterfall.
The river flows in white streams over a precipice of rock and trees. The mist clears away like a fickle lover, and I’m able to make out a house built into the center of the waterfall.
It’s a different kind of stone from the cliff, light grey with an aged, reddish patina. It’s split into two levels, the first on the bottom edge of the waterfall, the other nestled right against the rock, the water cascading over the curved roof. The bottom portion of the house has a terrace with a set of six wall-length windows facing the river. Hanging from the center of each window are braids of lavender-white garlic cloves, with braziers of violet flame below them.
Hades walks ahead of me, waiting patiently beside another set of stone steps as I wander forth, distracted by the beauty of the little waterfall-castle. We go up the steps together, up the ledge at the center of the waterfall.
The path leading down to the house is dangerously rocky. Hades’ movements are graceful and lithe as a mountain cat as he steps from rock to rock. I try to mimic his movements, but my foot slips on a wet stone and I teeter on the edge of the short cliff.
He is there in a fraction of a second, pulling me back to safety by my elbow.
“Thanks,” I say, a little breathless, and a little embarrassed.
His expression is bright with amusement, but he says nothing. He holds onto my elbow, slowing his pace to match mine, letting go when we reach more level ground. Now, the stone is flat and smooth under my feet.
Sun peeks through the overhanging clouds, glimmering over the wet stone and rushing water. The walls of the house are dry and smooth, and I wonder if it's by some magic that keeps it that way.
We stop at the heavy wooden door. Hades smiles down at me before lifting the knocker and hitting the door three times.
Half a second later, the door swings open, and we are met by a lovely, dark-skinned young woman with hair the strangest shade of copper.
As she stares at us both with surprise, I can only guess that it’s her. Hecate. My guess is confirmed when she smiles with delight at seeing Hades.
“Hades,” she says, her light, hazel-green eyes sparkling in the sunlight. “What are you doing around these parts?”
“Touring a prospective disciple, and I just thought we’d stop by.” He inclines his head towards me, and Hecate’s eyes find mine.
I smile tentatively at her. “Hello. I’m Persephone.”
She’s quiet as she stares at me, her eyes wide with confusion. She turns back to Hades.
“I see,” she murmurs. Her eyes find mine again, brimming with curiosity. Then, stepping aside, she pushes the door open with a long, elegant arm, and smiles at me. “Welcome, Persephone.”
Hecate takes us into her strange home. I stare after her as we follow her through a foyer. It’s hard not to look at her, with her unusual red hair and her hazel-flecked eyes. Her tightly coiled ringlets fall down the middle of her back to her waist. She’s wearing a flowing citrine dress that looks like a nightgown, and over it, a long black robe trimmed with fox fur.
She takes us through a little foyer, and a black polecat skitters across our path. A pet? We enter into a cozy dining area, the terrace on the opposite end of the room. A quiet purple fire blazes in the fireplace. The room is a bit dim and murky despite the falling daylight and the flames.
A young girl, maybe thirteen or fourteen, is tending to the fire. She looks up with surprise as we walk into the room.
“Please make yourselves at home.” Hecate motions us over to a table beside the terrace. I take a seat at one side of the table, Hades at the other.
“Sadi, tell Hanne to make tea.” She glances at Hades and suppresses a smile. “Oh, and take Lurker out of the house.”
The girl swiftly leaves the room to tend to her mistress’ orders.
“Oddly enough, I sort of miss the little dog-rat,” Hades muses.
“Nice to see you’ve warmed up to him. A little. And over a half-century later,” she tacks on. She turns to me, her hazel-green eyes bright. “My polecat. Hades never did get used to him.”
“It’s a skunk. It shouldn’t be inside the house.”
“He’s not a skunk,” Hecate sings as she sweeps to her seat at the end of the table.
“What would you call a creature that releases a...fetidstench, when enemies draw near?” Hades asks rhetorically.
“A loyal protector and a faithful companion.”
“We can agree to disagree on that.”
“Indeed. Some of us prefer dogs.”
I watch quietly as they bicker like a married couple. A second later, Sadi returns with a tea tray. She sets it down on the table and begins serving, but Hecate stops her. “That’ll be fine, Sadi. You can go, thank you.”
As Sadi leaves the room, Hecate puts a teacup in front of me and begins pouring. I watch as the steaming, honey-colored liquid fills the cup.
“Do you take milk and sugar, Persephone?”
“I do,” I say politely.
She drops a square of sugar and a splash of milk in my cup. “Cake? Biscuits?”
“No, thank you.”
She sets a cup in front of him and pours without asking if he wants milk or sugar. Straight black.
Hecate makes herself a cup - also black, and turns her full attention to me.
“I have to say, this is quite the surprise,” she muses. “I didn’t realize Hades was looking for new disciples. Are you going to be a Reviewer?”
“Not exactly,” I say, unsure of how much Hecate knows. “Hades wants me to be a ‘Reformer.’”
She gives Hades a questioning look.
“Long ago, I told you about it - I want to create a circle of Reviewers specifically for the souls of Tartarus. They will be the Reformers, and if Persephone agrees-” he looks at me, “-she will be the first Reformer.”
Her eyes flit to me, puzzled. “You haven’t agreed?”
I shake my head. “I brought tribute to Athena at the Summoning Ceremony, but she rejected me. Hades Summoned me instead.”
“That is...very unusual.” She looks at Hades, a little perplexed. “Your disciples are always very willing.”
“I’m not unwilling,” I say quickly. “But up until just a few days ago, I only ever wanted to join the Cult of Athena.”
“So you’re a warrior.” Her eyes drink me in from my head to my toes, then she turns to him. “Interesting choice, Hades.”
“You know me. I’d never have chosen someone weak or fainthearted. Not even for this new circle.”
“By the way,” I start. “Is there a reason you and your brothers don’t participate in the Summoning Ceremony?”
He shrugs. “I can’t speak for Zeus or Poseidon, but for me, personally, it’s all a bit ostentatious. I don’t think you see a person’s true character when they are - basically - just worshipping you, as you would through a personal encounter.”
“That’s how he chose all of his disciples,” Hecate says. “He just wanders into the living world and picks anyone he likes.”
“Really?” I say, looking at Hades.
“Not quite in such simplistic terms as Cate puts it, but essentially, yes.”
“And what exactly draws you to a person?”
He strokes his jaw. “That’s a good question. It’s different with everyone, I suppose. But in every case, there’s always something special about the person.”
I swirl my spoon around my cup, wondering what it is that Hades sees in me.
“Well, if you decide to stay, you’re always welcome in my part of the woods,” Hecate tells me.
“Thank you,” I say, surprised. “Hades did say you like to help young women.”
“I take an interest in helping girls and women who practice the craft,” Hecate agrees. “Girls and women who face injustice in particular. Sadi is one of my disciples in training. It took some few years of convincing Hades to allow her to reside with me here. Hanne, too. The rest of my Cult does my bidding in your world.”
“You come and go as you please?” I ask. “But you’re not a part of Hades’ circle, are you?”
“I’ve supported Hades and his Cult for centuries, but I am a goddess in my own right. But it’s true that this is Hades’ realm, and I wouldn’t be able to stay here without his permission. I can come and go as I please, as long as the God of the Underworld allows it.”
Interesting. I quirk my mouth and sip my tea.
“And I guess an exception like that isn’t made often, is it?” I murmur to Hades.
“That is correct,” he says politely, but firmly.
“The living do not belong in the Underworld, Persephone. If you don’t want to be my Reformer, fine, but I cannot allow you to remain if that is the case.”
But I thought you wanted me to stay?
The question falls short on my lips. It doesn’t matter. It can’t matter.
“Fair enough,” I say curtly.
“He’s fun, isn’t he?” Cate interjects.
Hades cuts her a look. “I’m plenty fun, thank you.”
She gives me a worn out expression but digresses. “He is right, though. You shouldn’t spend the rest of your waking life here if you don’t intend to serve.”
“Noted,” I say quietly, suddenly feeling like I’m being ganged up on. I swallow a hot gulp of tea. This will be tricky.
A few moments later, Sadi appears this time out of thin air, and sweeps our empty teacups away.
“While you are here,” Cate says, her pleasant tone lightening the mood. “Why don’t I show you the rest of my land?”
“Excuse me,” Hades coughs. “Your land?”
“For all intents and purposes,” she answers lightly, then stands from the table. “Come, Persephone. I will show you my gardens.”
We are on a path in the woods, and the weather has turned much more favorable. The mist floats in a warm and sun-kissed glow around us.
“I created some channels to let water from one of the lakes feed my gardens,” Hecate tells us. Her metal-red curls bounce as we trail after her. She carries a basket on her arm, plucking random flowers and herbs and tossing them in as we go.
The rush of the waterfall fades in the distance, replaced with the steady hum of a slow stream. We break into a clearing, and there, we arrive at Hecate’s spring-garden, bursting with color and sparkling with clear water.
“Hello, Hanne,” Hades calls over to an older woman with curly grey hair who is tending to a bed of strange, spidery-looking weeds beside the water. “How are you?”
“Doing fine,” Hann answers curtly without really looking over at us. She seems consumed in her work.
Hecate strides over to her.
“Is it full yet?” She examines the odd water-weeds and nods in approval. “Good work, Hanne.”
“Thank you,” Hanne says before tossing a bundle of the webbed strands into Cate’s basket.
“Hanne, meet Persephone,” Cate holds out an arm towards me. “Hades’ new disciple.”
The woman looks up, her greyish-blue eyes only mildly interested. “Hello.”
“Nice to meet you,” I say back.
Hanne returns to her work, and Hecate laughs.
“Let me help you, Hanne,” she says. “Persephone, help yourself to anything you like here - just stay away from the mandrake root and the ghost-thorn if you want to hold onto your fingers.”
“Ah, I think I’ll stick to just looking,” I say.
Cate’s bright giggle fills the air. As she kneels down beside Hanne to help her tend the water-weeds, I walk around the edge of the spring with Hades just a few feet next to me. There are all sorts of unusually colored plants with odd shapes that draw my eye. I stop beside a strange tree bursting with dangerous-looking fruit - round red balls that look like apples and have needles sticking out from all around them.
“What part of Asphodel is this?” I wonder. I’ve never seen such unusual growth since I’ve been here.
“This is a remote part of the coastal mountain range to the north-west,” Hades tells me. “Not far from your sisters, in fact.”
“It’s so pretty here.”
“It’s no Elysium, but there is much beauty to be found here,” Hades agrees. “Ah.” He hops lithely onto a moss-covered ledge by the spring. A stalk of asphodel flowers bloom up towards him, and he kneels down to pluck one. Rising, he leans down to give it to me.
“Smooth,” I say, taking the flower. He chuckles, the sound bubbling like the rush of spring water.
Suddenly, the mist slowly curls around us like hands creeping through the trees. Hades looks over my head, and I look over my shoulder, following his gaze.
Hecate is watching us, her hands frozen in the soil she’s tending to. Her eyes dart between me and Hades for a portion of a second, and then, she seems to realize what she’s doing.
She shakes her head slightly as if she had been in a trance, and claps the dirt from her hands. A moment later, the fog clears away.
Uncomfortable. Awkwardly, I turn away from Hades, rubbing the back of my neck. I let the flower fall from my hand.
Hades hops down from the ledge, amused. Sensing my discomfort, perhaps, he says to his ex-love, “Perhaps we’ve overstayed our welcome here, Cate.”
“Not at all,” Cate answers, standing up. Her voice is high and cheery. “You can stay as long as you like.”
“I fear we cannot.” Hades is still amused, but his tone has shifted. Cooler and business like now as he watches me. “My chosen’s time is limited here. I’m sure she’d like to spend that time with her family.”
He looks at me meaningfully. I nod.
“Understood,” Cate says politely. Her lips curl up into a bright smile. “If you leave us, Persephone, do come and say goodbye, will you?”
“I will,” I murmur, wondering if there is an underlying meaning to her words. Does she want me to come see her?
“Goodbye, Cate,” Hades says.
I hold onto Hades, and just at the moment before we disappear, I swear I see the mist clouding over us again.