This is the next chapter of my book, Summoning Persephone.
The story so far: 18 year old Persephone holds a vendetta against Zeus, God of Thunder and the Heavens, for murdering her sisters for reasons as yet unknown to her. Zeus is also well known as a tyrant who enjoys killing people for blaspheming him, including people from Persephone's home. For these reasons, Persephone conspires to kill Zeus by offering a tribute at the Summoning Ceremony to Athena, the Goddess of War. Through this process, she hopes to gain the powers of Athena as her disciple so she's strong enough to end Zeus once and for all. But things go awry when Athena discovers her plan to wage war against another god, and she rejects Persephone at the Summoning Ceremony. On top of this, Persephone has angered Artemis, the Goddess of the Hunt, because she killed the winter stag, an animal that Artemis holds sacred, as a tribute to Athena. Now Artemis wants her dead for disrespecting her and the other gods.
At the time when Persephone killed the winter stag, she met Hades, who took an interest in her. He shows up at the Summoning Ceremony just to see how things play out with Persephone's motivations. After suffering the consequences of angering both Artemis and Athena, Hades intervenes by Summoning her. He mostly does this to save Persephone's life, but also because he sees her potential to be his disciple in the Underworld. Persephone agrees, and Hades takes her to his kingdom, where he reveals to her that he wants her to be his first Reformer - helping choose souls to bring out of Tartarus (Hell) to be reborn.
During her time in the Underworld, Persephone discovers that there is a weapon hidden away in Tartarus that can destroy both gods and titans. Now her mission is to retrieve the weapon so she can kill Zeus with it. Hades does not know about her motivations and he does not know which god she has a vendetta against.
In the previous chapters, Persephone has successfully stolen Hades' armor which was created to protect him from the fires of Tartarus. In this chapter, she's trying to steal the keys to Tartarus.
Narrowly escaping from the vault, I swift travel back to the guest bedroom above Hades’ quarters. There, I release the breath I’ve been holding. That was a close call with Atteus. I can’t believe I did it. I got the armor.
It is surprisingly soft and lightweight in my arms. Carefully, I drop the pieces of the suit onto the edge of the bed. I grab the piece that covers the torso, feeling the material. It’s sturdy and smooth and has an elastic feel to it. I hold it up to my body. It’s slightly too long and too wide, but I can make it work.
Removing my hunting bow and knife, I quickly put on each piece of the suit. Though at first glance it appears too big for me, each garment molds itself to my shape as I slip it on. It’s like putting on a glove that was made solely for me. The suit has to be enchanted to fit the wearer somehow.
Curious, I walk over to the floor length mirror, feeling light and lithe as a panther. There is virtually no sound as I step across the room.
I stop in front of my reflection. A tall young woman stares back at me, her dark eyes resolute. I don’t see any fear in my face. The armor is sleek and beautiful but brutal in its sharp edges, its stark lines.
The texture is something almost otherworldly. Like satin stretched over a thin sheet of steel. Rather than standing out, the blackness of the suit seems to absorb and reflect everything around me. Inspecting the gauntlets, I flex my fingers and find that I’m able to do so comfortably, though the material feels almost indestructible.
A silvery ripple catches my eye at the center of the glove. I hold my hand up to my face and inspect it. There is a fine, shimmering white vein growing from the middle of my palm down to my wrist, all along the center of the gauntlet and connecting to the inseam of my sleeve. The thin silver ribbon runs all along down the sides of the armor to the boots like a stream of water.
I touch the inside of the glove where the vein grows. Instantly, my hands disappear. I flinch back with alarm, holding my hands in front of my face. I can feel them there, but I can’t see them. Not even when I wiggle my fingers.
Disturbed, I look into the mirror and gasp when I see my head floating in midair, cut off right at the neckline of the armor.
It takes me only a moment to understand. My body hasn’t disappeared. The armor made me invisible. When I touched the vein on the gauntlet, I must have triggered it. Scrutinizing my figure in the mirror, I make out a hazy outline around my invisible body. It is so faint that no one could see it without really paying attention.
I watch my face in the mirror as a slow smile spreads across my face.
I slip on the ram-horn helmet - it glides easily over my head - and watch as my entire body disappears. I am staring into the mirror, but there is no one staring back at me. I can easily sneak up on Atteus like this.
Right. Step two. The keys.
Stepping over to the bed, I mull over the things I’ve brought with me that I left strewn there. Quickly, I realize that I have to leave some things behind or it will all be too bulky to carry. The satchel that I filled with fruit and dried game - I’ll have to take only whatever I can carry of it in the pockets of this suit. The bow and arrows I will have to leave behind, but I can take the hunting knife.
I have nowhere to put Sadi’s lantern, and I don’t like the idea of leaving it behind to retrieve later. I’ll have to carry it with me.
I sigh. The only thing more conspicuous than me carrying a mysterious flaming weapon would be a mysterious flaming weapon floating in midair.
I try not to think too much about it as I sheath my knife and slip it into my leg pocket, where it disappears. After pocketing a reasonable amount of food, I take the lantern.
I look at the mirror again out of habit. I can’t see my face, but I’m nervous about this next part. I can only assume that Atteus has gone back to his living quarters at the Tower of the Judges. I don’t know how I’m going to break inside with the magical barrier keeping me out. The invisibility can only help so much.
Make it up as you go. The fearless part of me hisses.
Right. Just make it up as I go. The Tower of Judges has to be where Atteus has gone next.
With that thought in mind, I close my eyes and will myself back there.
The feel of the plush bedroom rug shifts to hard, rocky ground. I hear the crashing of the waves and smell the ocean air. Hades’ suit insulates my body from the brisk night, but I know I’m back at the tower.
I open my eyes, looking up at the mountainous building, past the window of Rhadamanthus’ study. There are more openings and scaffoldings higher up the tower. Atteus quarters must be somewhere beyond.
Having scaled the tower once already, the task doesn’t seem as daunting now, especially with the suit muffling my movements and hiding me from sight. The only obstacle is getting past the barrier keeping everyone out.
I don’t have time to think. All of a sudden, it seems as if the moon is racing across the sky. I have to move.
Wasting no more time, I begin scaling the tower, letting Sadi’s lantern hang awkwardly from my belt. I can only hope that no one from beyond notices a forlorn lantern crawling up the Tower of the Judges.
Soon, I am at the foothold under Rhadamanthus’ study, where I stop to catch my breath. I peek over the edge of the window, and find that the judge has not moved from his chair. He is scribbling notes onto the same scroll as before, oblivious to the rest of the world. I doubt he would notice me even without the armor at my advantage.
Carefully, I lift myself further up to get a full view into the room. He is all alone with his books and his scrolls. Atteus is nowhere in sight.
Leaning away from the window, I look up. The next window is far above me. Atteus’ room? I have no way of knowing, but I have to make sure. Getting there will take some considerable effort, but I can do it.
I inch away from Rhadamanthus’ window and continue upwards. A few moments later, I’m just underneath the small window I saw from below, and I’m nearly out of breath. My muscles are starting to burn from the strain of the climb.
Stupidly, I make the mistake of looking down.
My heart swoops at the great height, and I quickly turn my face to the wall of the tower.
Breathe. A determined voice tells me. Just breathe. If you slip, you can use the traveling stone to let the ocean break your fall.
Yes. I can do this.
Somehow, I find the strength to keep going. I put one hand in front of the other as I climb, pushing myself forward, willing myself not to look down.
Finally, I reach the window. Once there, I stop to catch my breath.
There is a warm light flickering from inside. I see the ripple of shadows, of movement. Someone is there.
With great caution, I curl my invisible hands over the edge of the window, pull myself up, and peer in.
I’m looking down into a large bathing room, filled with candles and towels. A young male servant is filling a deep stone tub with steaming hot water. The smell of warm lavender oil permeates the humid air.
A moment later, Atteus walks in through the door on the other side.
“That’s good. You’re excused for the night,” he tells the servant as he comes to the edge of the tub.
The servant bows to his master and leaves the room.
Atteus starts to take off his slippers, and my eyes never leave the set of keys dangling off his braid. It’s only when he strips off the rest of his clothes that I quickly avert my gaze.
The sound of swishing water fills the room as I watch Atteus’ shadow sink into the tub. When he’s fully immersed into the bath, I look at him again.
With his arms resting on either side of the tub, he is leaning his head against the edge of it. Steam rises up around his face as he closes his eyes.
The ends of his hair are sunken into the water. I pull myself further up onto the windowsill to get a good look. Sure enough, the braid with the key is adrift in the bath.
How easy it would be to sneak in and take it! Curious, I balance my feet against the rocky footholds and reach inside with one hand, testing the barrier.
Nothing blocks me.
Evidently, the barrier must keep anyone from warping inside. But not from breaking in the regular way.
But the window is too small to enter through. Damn it. I’ll have to get in a different way if I can.
I drop slightly back from the windowsill. What to do now? Go further up? Go back down and break in through Rhadamanthus’ study? Where would that get me?
Atteus' quarters, from the looks of it, are right at the level that I am. So, not further up or back down...maybe there’s another way in on the other side of the tower.
Wary of my time, I don’t take too long to put my thoughts into action. I start scaling horizontally across the tower, which is considerably easier than pulling my weight upwards.
The tower has a wide perimeter, but I am moving so quickly that I reach the other side in a few minutes. A short balcony finally comes into view, jutting out from the side of the tower. The sight of it makes my chest swell with relief.
When I finally reach the balcony, I climb down from my precarious grip on the tower wall, thankful to have something solid under my feet. My heart falls a little when I see that there are wrought iron gates blocking entry inside.
The double doors form a long and wide arch. There are several slats that offer a narrow view inside. I walk up to the doors and lightly brace my hands on either side, looking in through the openings.
Inside is a dimly lit bedroom. The furnishings are spare but ornate and beautiful. A long, deadly katana hangs on the wall above the low-lying bed, and a luxurious partition stands at the far end of the room. There is Japanese calligraphy painted in deep black ink on the screen’s panels. This must be Atteus’ room.
There’s no one there, but on the other side of the room, I see firelight flickering from a hallway. A moment later, Atteus’ tall shadow comes floating down the corridor, and he walks into the room.
I stay rooted to the spot, watching as he ties his long damp hair back into a loose ponytail. Dressed only in a towel wrapped around his waist, he heads behind the partition to change. Now would be the perfect time to slip in. Determined but with no hope that the doors will just open for me, I grab the handles and pull to see if there is any yield. As I thought, the doors are sealed shut.
Damn. How can I get inside? There are no locks that I can see. Can I break the door somehow?
Edging on desperation, I contemplate what tools I have that could help me. The armor makes me all but a shadow, but I can’t bypass the door with it. I can’t use the traveling stone. All I have is my hunting knife and the lantern Sadi gave me.
I pause. Glance down at the lantern hanging off my hip. Consider it.
She said I can only open it if I intend to use it as a weapon.
Again, I contemplate it. It’s risky...but I’m also low on options. Maybe I can use the flame to melt down part of the door…
I unhook the lamp from my belt and examine it. The flame pulses in my hands like the heart of a violet star. I trace my thumb over the latch keeping the fire contained inside the glass.
Carefully, I turn the latch away from myself. Hooking my thumb under the clasp, I pull the latch open by a crack.
An inferno of purple fire bursts out from the opening, followed by a deafening roar. The flames have a life of their own, licking my hands like the tongue of a great beast. I can feel the heat even through the gauntlets, but the fire never burns through the armor.
The barrage of fire flings me back with so much force I have to dig my feet into the ground to keep from being pushed over. I scramble to shut the lamp as fast as I can. I have to fight with the creature, whatever the hell it is, to force it back inside its container.
When I finally get the latch closed, the fire surges against the walls of its prison. The glass vibrates in my hands as the fiery beast tries to break free. Eventually, it ebbs back into a small flame as if in retreat.
Hell, that was loud.
Panicked, I glance into the room, and find that he has emerged from the partition. He is staring right at me. Thankfully, I’m still invisible, but there’s no way he didn’t hear Sadi’s beast.
He lingers by the partition, only partially dressed. His dark eyes are narrowed with suspicion as he stares at the door. Tensed to defend but unafraid, he flashes over to the wall behind the bed and unsheathes the hanging katana. A second later, he’s at the door.
I only have a split-second to scramble out of sight before the doors swing open. I hide quickly behind one of the doors. The weight of the lantern in my hands feels like an anchor.
My face is level with the slats on the door, and through the opening, I see Atteus stride onto the balcony. I hold my breath, hold perfectly still, pretend to be a shadow. Hope he doesn’t look behind the door.
He stops at the center of the balcony, looking around with his blade at the ready. The wind blows at his loose braid, the keys tinkling like wind chimes on the breeze. I could just reach out and take them, couldn’t I?
I measure his stance, his capability, and slowly reassess that idea. Hazy moonlight reflects off the water droplets on his bare, muscular body, and the smooth length of the katana glints like a sliver of silver. It’s clear from the way Atteus holds himself that he is not merely a judge. He is dangerous. He is a warrior. If he even senses me lingering behind him, I’m dead. I need to tread carefully.
He slinks to the end of the balcony, tensed to strike if necessary.
The doors are still wide open. I realize quickly that this is my chance.
As he looks out over the balcony, searching for the invisible foe, I quietly sneak out from behind the door, making no sound. Atteus keeps gazing away, giving me just enough seconds to and slip into his quarters.
Yes. I’m in. Opening the lantern turned out to work well in my favor, although differently than I thought it would. Thank you, Sadi.
I make a straight path to the partition, the only place I can see where I can successfully hide. I crouch behind it and peer around the screen, waiting. My heart feels like thunder in my ears.
Atteus walks around the balcony, looking everywhere for the source of the noise. My chest swells up when I see him look behind the door where I was just standing, and once again I’m thankful for what has all been sheer luck up until now. He checks behind the other door. Finding nothing there, he glances around at the balcony again with a quizzical expression. I hold my breath again as he retreats from the window after a moment, shutting the doors behind him.
My eyes never leave him, and I’m praying that he doesn’t come behind the partition. Instead, he walks over to the bed and puts the katana back in its mount above the headboard. I let out a sigh of relief.
Atteus appears now unperturbed; after setting the blade back into place, he throws back the bedcovers. I watch his lithe form slip underneath the covers. In the dim candlelight, he is all but a shadow, but I can make out his profile as he lay his head back to rest. I see his eyes close.
His braid falls to the side of the pillow, the keys draped just over the end.
I stare at the keys, for a moment nearly forgetting everything else. They are literally within arm’s reach. But I have to be careful.
And so I wait. And wait. And wait. The minutes pass, and soon, I see his bare chest rising and falling with his even breaths.
When I’m sure he’s deeply asleep, I slowly emerge from behind the partition. He doesn’t rouse from his slumber as I creep along the edges of the room. The suit takes away all the sound of my movements.
I tiptoe over to the side of the bed. There, I stop and stand completely still, staring down at him.
The purple glow of the lantern hanging off my belt falls over part of his face. His eyes are closed, and his lips are slightly parted, his breaths slow, deep, and synchronized.
Tilting my head, I take a moment to examine the keys. The metal loop is connected to a silver chain as thin as a length of thread, and it’s woven through the end of his braid. It’s clear that I won’t be able to take them without cutting off his hair.
The idea makes me uneasy. Can I do it without waking him?
My heart pounds like a war drum as I reach inside the pocket of my trousers and unsheath my hunting knife. My hand shakes, and I have to steel myself to keep it steady.
Suddenly, Atteus yawns. I freeze in place, my knife hovering just above him. If he wakes up, I’m dead.
Without opening his eyes, he turns and rolls onto his side, turning his back to me. The braid stretches from the back of his head towards me like a length of rope. The keys glimmer off the end of it like a set of jewels waiting to be robbed.
I wait another moment until Atteus settles back into his even slumber. And then, swallowing back my fear, I reach out and gently lift the braid, careful not to tug at the rest of his hair.
I hold my breath again; it helps to keep my hand steady as I position it underneath the braid. My heart is thundering so hard and fast it feels like it might fly out of my chest.
Gritting my teeth, I close my eyes, and cut through the end of his hair with one swift, sharp movement.
The next thing I know, the keys are no longer connected to him. They are in my hand, with a lock of Atteus’ frayed hair on the end. He does not awaken.
Relief and victory surge through me. Amazed at my good fortune but still afraid of him waking up, I quickly back away from his sleeping form and head straight to the balcony doors.
I quietly open one of the doors and slink outside, closing it shut behind me. Once outside, I take a moment to breathe, to marvel at my good fortune.
Whether by sheer luck or some hand of divinity intervening in my favor, I’m amazed that I was able to acquire both the suit and the keys with such ease. But I know this is not the end.
I look up at the path of the moon. I only have a few hours left. And ahead of me, I have greater things to face.
My body trembles at the memory of that door, at whatever it was I saw in that dark pit. Can I face whatever is down there on my own?
There is only one way to know for certain.
I reach up and touch the stone through the material of the suit, more of body than of mind as I conjure up the image of that place, that set of doors at the heart of the fiery Phlegethon.