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.
Chapter 15 pt. 1
We reappear at the foot of the steps leading up to the door of my cottage.
Hades releases my elbow and doesn’t say anything. But I know what he’s about to tell me. I can almost feel the sun’s waning trail across the sky. My time in the Underworld is almost done.
“How long do I have to decide?” I murmur without looking at him.
A tense moment, and then he answers, “I will give you until midday tomorrow.”
“And if I haven’t made a decision by then?” I ask, wondering if I can stall any longer.
Hades shakes his head, his expression resolute. “No. Tomorrow, you decide. Either you remain in my kingdom a disciple, or not at all.”
Without saying anything, I nod in understanding. As I walk slowly up the steps to the front door, I already know what I’m going to do now.
But a tiny portion of my mind can’t help wondering if the last few days with God of the Underworld meant anything. To him. To me.
I know, in the long term, it doesn’t matter at all. But I have to admit - the knowledge that what I’m going to do will likely destroy any kind of friendship with Hades is disappointing.
I shut my eyes, shaking my head infinitesimally, not enough for Hades to notice.
Don’t lose your head.
I touch the doorknob.
“Persephone,” Hades says from behind me.
Without turning from the door, I slowly look at him over my shoulder.
His stance is cool and formal, but when he speaks, there’s a soft edge to his voice.
“You may want to say goodbye to your sisters tonight,” he says.
I plan to. I think to myself.
Out loud, I say, “I might do that.”
He inclines his head slightly, understanding, his eyes betraying nothing at what my statement implies.
As I turn away from him, I realize this might be the last time I see Hades on positive terms. The thought creates an uncomfortable rift in my chest.
I open the door, and without looking back at him, I go inside.
Closing the door behind me, I lean against it, feeling his lingering presence beyond it pressing against me like the weight of a mountain.
What will he do when I betray him?
When he’s gone, I immediately go to my sisters to say goodbye. I need as much time as I can get, and though I regret not being able to spend more time with them, I need to get to my destination as soon as possible.
Serena, to my surprise, is quite sad when I tell her I’m leaving for a little while.
Callista is a bit more subdued, going quiet when I tell her the news. She takes in my change of attire - I’m back in my hunting clothes, the bow and arrows slung over my back and the knife hanging at my belt. Her large eyes meet mine, impressively solemn for her eight-year-old features.
“Whatever it is you have to do,” she says quietly. “Try not to die, all right?”
I smile tensely at my dead sister. “I won’t die.”
She hugs me tightly, and Serena follows suit, making me promise to come see them again when I return. I don’t say anything to that.
Eventually, I find the strength to let them both go.
Leaving their little dwelling behind, I venture into the Asphodel Forest and find the River Lethe. I stop at the edge of it, looking upwards of the current.
The sun is hanging just a small distance above the trees. So little time, and it all depends on how quickly I can find Hecate.
If there is any chance that I can make my impossible plan work, it lies with her.
I just hope she will listen to me.
It is the blue hour of dusk by the time I see the telltale purple fire. Hecate’s lanterns sway in the gentle evening breeze, hanging off the yew trees beside the Lethe. I have been walking for only a few hours, but even that amount of time has my heart racing. When I see the lamps, I break into a sprint, running up the sloping path as fast as I can.
Finally, I reach the waterfall, my lungs burning. I slow to a stop by the walking stones, remembering what happened the last time I tried to hop over them. With cautious steps through the water, I make my way to Hecate’s house.
The braziers on the terrace burn bright with that purple flame, lighting my way up to her door. I don’t pause for breath; grabbing the knocker, I strike it against the door three times.
A moment later, the door opens, and I’m face to face with her.
“Persephone?” she asks, surprise evident on her face. She looks over my shoulder. “Where’s Hades?”
“He doesn’t know I’m here,” I tell her. “I came alone.”
“Are you all right?” she asks carefully.
I shake my head. “You’re the Goddess of Crossroads, as well as Witchcraft.”
“I am.” She waits for me to clarify.
“I’m at a crossroads,” I whisper.
A quiet moment passes. And then she holds open the door, stepping aside. I release a breath.
“Come inside,” she says.
Inside Hecate’s house is quiet. The only thing I can hear is the soft sound of burning fire, and the ticking of the polecat’s paws as he creeps around the hardwood floors. We go into the lounge area by the terrace. The room is lit by the braziers and the hearth. We find Sadi sitting on some plush cushions by the fireplace, reading a book. Vaguely, I wonder if it’s a spellbook.
She looks up when we enter the room. I don’t know if it’s her youthfulness or her dark features, but something about her appearance reminds me of Callista. She has short, boyish black hair, dark brown eyes, deep, golden brown skin, and a small, slender frame. She’s wearing a pale green frock and loose pants, and she’s barefoot.
“Sadi, please leave us,” Cate tells her as I follow her into the room.
The young witch meets my eyes, and they’re filled with curiosity. She’s reluctant to get up, but she does anyway, following her mistress’ orders. The door clicks shut behind her.
“Have a seat,” Cate tells me, motioning over to the table by the open windows. I perch myself on the very edge of the chair. I feel restless and on edge. I don’t have much time.
“Hades told me you’re good at keeping secrets,” I begin. “His exact words were, ‘not even to a dead person.’”
That makes her laugh. She comes to the end of the table and leans against it, measuring me. I know I’m about to take a huge risk, but Cate is my only shot at helping me retrieve the weapon in Tartarus. I’m relying solely on Hades’ words alone that she won’t tell.
“He really said that?” she says, amused. As if surprised that he would say anything nice about her.
“Yes,” I tell her. “And I’m sort of counting on that being true now.”
“All right,” she says. She moves into the seat on the other side of me.
“Hecate,” I say. “I need your help. But I’m asking you to promise that what I’m about to tell you in this room won’t get back to Hades.”
She stares at me, intrigued. A moment later, she says, “I won’t tell Hades.”
And I know it might be foolish, but for some reason I trust these words.
“What is it, Persephone?” she asks, watching my face.
It takes me a minute to form the right words. I need to make this quick, but I have to be convincing.
“How much do you know about Hades and his brothers, Hecate? About their relationship?” I ask.
“You can call me Cate,” she says. She tilts her head to the side, surprised by the question. “And why do you want to know that?”
Again, I take a moment to calculate my words.
“All my life, I and my family and my entire city have been terrorized by Zeus,” I finally say. “I haven’t known Hades long, and I just want to know he’s not anything like that.” It’s not really a lie.
Her eyebrows shoot up, and she laughs. “Comparing Zeus and Hades is like comparing fire and ice. They couldn’t be more different.”
I nod. I already knew this deep down, but it’s good to hear the affirmation from Hecate. At the same time, the guilt bubbles up inside me. This would be a lot easier if Hades were anything like Zeus.
“Do they get along?” I ask.
Cate leans back in her chair thoughtfully. “Well, the last time Hades and Zeus were in a room together, the only thing that stopped them from killing each other was Poseidon.”
“Oh,” I say, surprised. I have a hard time imagining Hades getting violent with anyone. Even Zeus.
“So that should tell you a lot,” Cate muses. “As far as their brotherly relationship goes...Hades and Zeus are more like reluctant business partners at this point. The bond of the Trinity is what keeps the Titans from destroying the world, after all.”
“I didn’t realize their relationship was so...tense,” I murmur. But then I remember what Hades said about Zeus not too long ago.
Zeus was the first to lose the way.
“It sounds like they have philosophical differences,” I say.
“That may be the biggest understatement in history,” Cate laughs. “Why all the questions about Zeus and Hades?”
I swallow hard. “I didn’t tell Hades this but...when I was a child, Zeus tried to kill me.”
Shock crosses her face. “Why would Zeus try to kill you?”
“Why does Zeus kill anyone?” I mutter. “I don’t know, Cate. I’ve been asking myself that question for ten years, and I still don’t know. The only answer I can come up with is I was threatening him in some way just by existing.”
And then I tell her. I delve into the sordid history of how his disciples were given a name, my name, and how they hunted down my family and killed my sisters in my place. How I had to take Callista’s name to protect myself from Zeus ever hunting me down. Her eyes gloss over with sympathy as she listens.
And then, I tell her, “When I went to the Summoning Ceremony, I supplicated to Athena. I wanted her to choose me, to grant me with her powers...because I want to kill Zeus.”
I say the last words slowly, watching her reaction. She has none. Her lovely face is deadpan.
“Did I just hear you correctly?” she finally says, eerily quiet. “Did I just hear you say that you want to kill Zeus?”
Silence is my only response. And then she’s laughing. A full blown, insulting kind of snicker like I just told her the funniest joke.
“You want to kill Zeus.” She holds her fingertips to her forehead, shaking her head. Her coppery curls flicker like embers in the fire. “How do you intend to do that, human?”
I swallow my pride. All things considered, I think her reaction could have been worse. If all she’s going to do is laugh at me, I’ll gladly accept that.
“There’s a weapon that was made specifically to kill gods and titans,” I say.
Abruptly, her smile disappears. “How do you know about that?”
“Hades let it slip,” I murmur. “When he took me to Tartarus, he mentioned it.”
Her full lips press together, her brows coming down in disapproval.
“You’re not supposed to know about that. No one is supposed to know.”
I silently assess her mood now, and I realize that what I’m about to ask her is far more than just a tall order. Suddenly I am second-guessing myself, and not just because I’m afraid she will refuse. A tiny part of me is reassessing what I’m willing to do to kill Zeus, wondering if it’s really worth all the trouble. But I crush that uncertainty down as soon as it begins to rise.
I say, “You said you helped young women.”
“I do help young women. I don’t kill gods.”
“I’m not asking you to kill him,” I say carefully. “I’m just asking you to help me get the weapon.”
She barks out another laugh. “Is that all? Would you like me to help you stab Hades in the back, too?”
I flinch a little at her words, and she goes on.
“Even if I did know where exactly in Tartarus Soul Chord was - which I don’t - do you know how hard it would be to find it? Tartarus is as far into Oceanus as the earth is from the sky. You’d be searching for weeks. If you could even survive being in there for that long. And what do you think would happen to me if I helped you? Because there’s no possibility that either you or I could keep Hades from finding out. He’d banish me from the Underworld forever. I don’t even know what he’d do with you.”
As she speaks, her words grow colder. In truth, I’ve only vaguely thought about the consequences of what I’m planning to do. Yes, Hades will be cross with me. Yes, I might die. But it’s all worth it.
Before my nerve wavers, I say quietly, “So you won’t help me?”
“Very astute,” she says blankly.
I nod once in acceptance. I don’t feel any defeat like I did with Athena. I knew this was a long shot.
Wasting no time, I rise from my seat. Cate eyes me suspiciously.
“That’s all you wanted from me?”
“Yes,” I answer curtly.
She stands up. “I’ll walk you to the door.”
Outside the room, she walks me down the hallway. We walk past a kitchen, where I spot Sadi and Hanne pouring over a large book. Hanne doesn’t notice us, but Sadi glances up, meeting my eyes as we pass by. Our glance is brief, and I’m too consumed in my own thoughts to remember to smile or do something polite as Cate takes me to the foyer.
At the door, the Goddess of Crossroads looks me dead in the eye and says, “Don’t do anything stupid, girl. Just go home.”
I don’t take her harsh tone personally. I just nod in acknowledgment.
“Thank you,” I say.
She opens the door without a word. I step out into the blue watery night. Behind me, Hecate shuts the door.
That went about as well as I thought it would go.
I stand at the edge of the rushing water. My reflection in the moonlit river is a just a rippling black silhouette. I don’t know exactly what I’m doing now, what I’m going to do.
A few days ago, I would have felt the same way as when Athena rejected me. But now, I don’t feel anything like that.
I continue to stare at the rushing water. I’m not really waiting for her to come out and change her mind. I know the likelihood of that happening is zero. I’m just not sure what’s going to happen if I move forward. I don’t know what to expect in the morning.
My only option, it would seem, would be to accept Hades’ offer. To become his first Reformer. And then to figure out a plan to take down Zeus after that.
Yes, that’s what I need to do. It’s the only way to kill him. And killing him is what I’ve always wanted.
I fold my arms over my chest, hugging myself. I hate the uncertainty. Pushing those annoying thoughts out of my mind, I march across the water stones and start making my way down the path back to the cottage.
The purple lanterns guide my way, a comforting light in the vast forest. This is the first time I’ve wandered into the woods after dusk, and the forest is eerily dark and quiet.
When the lanterns fall behind me, I stay walking on the riverbank. The forest on the other side of me is shadowy and deep, and I don’t want to tread in and get lost in there.
A while later, I start walking a little faster. Something is making me nervous and edgy, and I don’t know if it’s just in my head, but I think I’m being followed.
My hand drops to the knife at my belt. Swiftly pulling it out, I hold it at the ready by my side as I increase my pace to a brisk walk.
A distinct sound like the clank of metal disrupts the eerie quiet. Suddenly, a familiar lavender light falls over my path from behind me.
I stop abruptly and spin around. Has she changed her mind?
The light draws towards me from up the sloping path. As the lantern comes nearer, I realize that the silhouette is too small to be Cate. And I’m right. It isn’t Cate.