This a chapter of my completed novel, Summoning Persephone. I've posted several chapters before, which I've significantly revised and rewritten. My goal is to make this manuscript as publishable as possible. I'm hoping to start querying agents within a few months.
Brief recap of the previous chapters: Persephone, who goes under the alias 'Lena,' left her home in Greece to kill the legendary winter stag in the Slavic Lands. She did this in order to present the stag's head as an offering to the Goddess of War at the Summoning Ceremony in a few months. In the previous chapter, she was confronted by Artemis, the Goddess of the Hunt, to whom the winter stag is held sacred. She was rescued by Hades, the God of the Underworld, who intervened on her behalf. At the Summoning Ceremony, Athena rejected Persephone because of her ignoble intentions, and because she gloated about surviving Artemis's wrath. Artemis showed up and tried to kill Persephone, but Hades swooped in and Summoned her at the last second.
I appreciate any feedback I can get on this, and just want to say thank you in advance for taking time out of your day to read this. I'm hoping to get your impressions on the readability and the voice. I'd love to get line edits, nits on typos, SPaG, syntax, and rewrite suggestions are all welcome and desired. Sensitivity reading is also wanted—this story features an extremely diverse cast of characters and I want to make sure I'm treating each one with respect.
I hope you enjoy.
A few hours after Hades leaves, two of Apollo’s disciples come to treat me. A young boy and girl. I don’t know what ritual they’ve performed to make my broken body heal so quickly, but I’m grateful for the absence of pain.
They touch me gently, their fingers light and nimble on my skin. I sit in miserable silence while they tend to my injuries. My mind is still preoccupied with everything Hades told me, but I watch with mild fascination as muted ripples of light pulse from their palms. Tingling jolts shoot through my bones, but it’s not painful. “Healing the joints,” they tell me.
I can feel my formerly shattered skeleton getting stronger with each flash of light.
After the healers finish treating me, they bring me a fresh set of clothes and some food. When they leave, I try to eat, but each bite feels like a rock sliding down my throat. I barely finish half my plate before pushing it aside.
Feeling stronger now, I rise from bed and change, fastening the peplos around my shoulders and lacing up the sandals. Fully clothed, I drift over to the open windows, looking out at the laurel trees.
The sky is dimming. The end of another day. My heart sinks in time with the setting sun.
I failed everything and everyone. Hades, Sadi, my family. Myself. I hug my arms around my waist, my eyes brimming. I feel my soul ripping in half, a fissure forming between the me that I was before I’d shot that arrow, and the me that I am now.
What happened on that mountaintop spurred a radical shift in my heart.
I can’t do this anymore. I don’t want to fight anymore. This is the end of my crusade.
The thought sends a surprising rush of relief, of freedom, through my bones. But there’s also sorrow over what I’ve lost.
What could my life have been if I’d just accepted Hades’s kindness? I threw it all away for nothing. If I’d only given myself more time to understand what I wanted. What I needed, which was exactly what Hades was offering me.
A chance to heal. A chance to do something purposeful despite killing the winter stag.
What is my life now? I have no answers, but I know that I’m going live in the shadow of what I’ve done for the rest of it. Beyond my mistakes, I’ll have to live with the ghost of my brief but profound time in the Underworld with Hades.
A javelin of pain lances through my core.
Three knocks on the door interrupt my reverie.
“Come in,” I call, wiping tears from my eyes.
The door creaks open. It’s Apollo.
He’s as striking as the day I first saw him at the Summoning Ceremony. His golden-brown braids are tied back, and when he strides into the room, the walls brighten, as if the very sun is emanating from behind his deep brown skin. He’s dressed in fine, simple green robes, halos stitched in light golden threads on the collar of his tunic.
“Well, look at you,” is the first thing he says when he sees me. “Standing already. You’re much stronger than you appear.”
I bow in respect and gratitude. He stops next to me, smiling kindly. The compassion I find in his golden-green eyes reminds me of Hades. A pang of guilt pierces me, and I look away. He must know what I’ve done.
“Thank you for healing me,” I tell him. “I owe you my life.”
“I don’t make a debt out of healing the sick,” Apollo says, both teasing and serious at once. His eyes roam over my face with mild fascination. “Hades was distraught about what happened to you.”
I bite my lip, look at his feet. “I betrayed him.”
“He’s angry,” Apollo admits. “But out of all of us, I know Hades to be the most forgiving.”
Looking into Apollo’s genuine eyes, it’s difficult not to believe him. I shake my head, sighing.
“If you’ve the strength, I can take you home. I’m sure you want to be with your family.”
My family. What will they say when they know what I’ve done? I’m breaking their hearts, over and over again.
I don’t quite have the courage I need to face them, but I nod my assent anyways.
Apollo takes my hand, and we spin away in a blink of light.
We reappear in my part of town. The nostalgic smell of our apple trees fills my senses. We’re standing in the middle of the street. My house is just ahead.
“You should be well enough to walk on your own,” Apollo tells me. “But you still need to rest for the next few days until you regain your strength.”
I nod at him, bowing. “Thank you, Apollo.”
With a kind smile, he rifts out in a flutter of light.
I stand alone in the street, my mind taking on a dream-like quality. Nothing seems to feel real. Moving very slowly, I start to walk up the hill. I wrap my arms around myself, staring at my feet as I move.
I’m unfamiliar with this feeling. This emptiness. This uncertainty about my life. About who I am. It unsettles me.
Drifting past the apple orchard, I reach my house at last. I stop, staring at the door for a few minutes. It’s so quiet. So peaceful.
Sighing, I walk up to the house and knock on the door. The sound is deafening to my ears. A few seconds later, the door swings open.
My mother peers out at me with large, startled eyes. She stares at me for a split-second, then throws her arms around me, holding the back of my head.
When she pulls away, she looks over my shoulder, searching. “Where is he? Hades? Did he bring you here?”
I shake my head, the sound of his name on her lips tugging uncomfortably at my chest.
She touches my face, crying. “I thought we’d never see you again!”
I hold her hands, squeezing her fingers. “Mother, there’s something I need to tell all of you.”
“What is it?”
I swallow, look her right in the eyes, and say, “We need to leave Greece. We’re all in danger.”
We’re all rushing around the house, packing our most valuable belongings. After sitting my family down and explaining what had happened, we’re all in agreement that we need to leave Aphor as soon as possible. We’re taking the next ship to Attica, and from there, we’re leaving the country. My father wants to take us to Egypt, to stay with my grandfather.
I don’t have much to bring. While my family races about the house, I’m in my room. The stag’s head is sitting against the wall by the window, and it’s looking right at me. I stare back into the empty sockets of the skull, their void a reflection of my own. There’s more than one reason to flee Greece.
Zeus isn’t the only one wants to kill me if he finds out I’m here. Artemis still has a target on my head.
I’ve made a mess of my entire life. And I’ve endangered everyone in it.
I brush the antlers. They’re a perfectly symmetrical circle of golden branches. A tragedy. A mistake I made. But no less a fortune.
When we get to Attica, I’ll sell it to the highest bidder. And then we can use the money to start our lives elsewhere.
I sigh. There’s no time to wallow in sadness. We need to move.
I turn away from the skull and pull out the chest sitting at the edge of my bed. After heaving the skull into the chest and locking it shut, I drag it behind me as I leave the room with my few belongings.
My father and grandfather are waiting by the door. Father has grimmest look on his face I’ve ever seen. Since Arriving, we haven’t had a chance to talk. To make sense of what’s happening. I haven’t seen any of my family since before the Summoning Ceremony, and I hate that this is the way we’re reunited.
The sun starts to set by the time we have everything we can carry. Together, we make our way out of the house. We pool some of our coin together and catch a wagoner who agrees to take us to the port.
Everyone is silent on the ride down. Father keeps looking at me, and something in his eyes reminds me of the way Hades looked at me when he’d found out what I’d done. The sadness. The betrayal.
I can’t meet his gaze.
I’m squeezed in between my mother and Papu. My grandfather squeezes my hand in support. I know what the gesture means, what he’s trying to tell me. Everything will be all right.
We pass by a road perpendicular to the one we’re on, and when I look down, my heart stops.
Clad in gold, crimson, and white, Zeus’s disciples are marching down the streets.
They’re stopping people, searching their faces, interrogating them. One of them marches up to the first house in a row of houses, barging inside with a crash of blinding thunder. A second later, he’s dragging an old man outside by the neck.
A sickening rush spreads over me, paralyzing me. It’s not hard to figure out what they are searching for. Who they’re searching for.
Two of Zeus’s followers burst into the second house, and the third, pulling more people out of their homes. Our wagon is carrying us away from the mayhem, but I can hear what they’re shouting.
“Persephone Soliman—where is she?”
My heart spins like a mouse in a wheel. How could they possibly know I’m still alive?!
Watching them kick the poor man, I know I have to do something—I have to reveal myself, to save these innocent people.
I start to move, but before I can do anything, my father pulls me down with an iron grip.
“I’m not losing you again!” His eyes are filled with fire and fear.
My mother grabs me by the other side of my arm, and Papu takes off his cloak and throws it around me, covering my head. Hiding me.
More claps of lightning burst behind us. There’s more screaming and shouting.
“They’re going to kill everyone,” Alex whispers. My father pulls his head into his side.
Indeed, they will. To get to me.
As I struggle against my constraints, the wagon stops abruptly. My father turns a quizzical eye to the driver.
“What are you doing?” he demands. “Move!”
“I can’t!” He points ahead, and we look.
My shoulders fall.
Below us, right in front of the port, stands a troop of Zeus’s soldiers, blocking anyone from leaving. My father’s face is blank with terror.
And then more appear, filling the streets like a swarm of wasps. Crimson capes and bronze armor ripple through the alleyways. More civilians are brought of their homes. Thunder claps and lightning pulses in the air.
But no one dies. Zeus didn’t send his disciples to kill just anyone. It’s clear what this battalion is trying to do—intimidate until someone hands me over.
I look around, frantic. This is my responsibility.
“We have to hide,” my father whispers.
He takes me by the hand and drops down from the wagon. The rest of my family follows in unison. We sidle around the wagon, and my father leads us toward an empty, shadowy alleyway. No one has noticed us yet.
“Listen here!” someone shouts.
At the edge of the alley, I swivel around, turning to the voice that spoke. My father is still holding onto me.
The one who shouted is a disciple I recognize. My blood thickens when I see his face. That scar, his shaved black hair. Kyros.
He’s standing on top of a house, his red cape blowing in the wind like a stream of blood.
“We have not come for all of you!” he shouts. “We have come for one of you. She has been hiding, for years, it seems, on this pathetic little island. Her name: Persephone Solimon.”
My head hangs, and my father gasps. My mother grips me by the arm. Papu and Alex slide closer to me.
I don’t look at any of them. I can’t. Everything I’ve done, my very existence, has put everyone I love in danger.
“If anyone should know of her whereabouts, speak now,” Kyros goes on in a bellowing voice. He peers at the crowd that’s been forced to gather.
“But we don’t know anything!” someone shouts up at him.
Kyros raises an eyebrow, cocking his head. “How can we be certain? A demonstration, perhaps.”
Across from us, a house explodes, spraying us with grit. We duck, and everyone screams. A lightning bolt strikes a tree in the middle of the square, splitting it in half. The smell of charred wood burns in the air.
“There’s more of that to come,” Kyros promises. “Release the fugitive Persephone Soliman to us now, and you shall suffer no harm.”
“What if she isn’t here!” another voice shouts.
“It matters not,” Kyros answers, calmly. “She is out there, somewhere. We will not stop until we find her and bring her to justice. For as long as she continues to hide, we will destroy anything and anyone to acquire her. Wherever she is, we will ensure that she hears this message.”
I swallow down the bile rising in my throat. Kyros keeps leering at the people.
“Now,” he bellows. “Is anyone willing to speak up? Or shall I destroy this entire city?”
Everyone looks at each other, desperate. Acid roils in my stomach.
Kyros grunts in response to the silence. “Very well.”
White light claps down from the sky. Screams fly left and right. A slew of houses explode with one lightning blast after another. The crowd ducks down on their knees, covering their heads from the demolition.
I look at my my parents—at their concern only for my safety and none for their own. I feel sick.
We’re blocked on every side, and I know what will happen if Zeus’s followers if they run out of building to destroy. They’ll start killing people.
I know what I have to do. For the first time in the past two days, it’s clear. I have to protect my family. I have to protect everyone from the menace of my mistakes.
As soon as I come to this realization, a deep calm spreads over me.
I can do this. I can do this one, selfless thing, perhaps the only selfless thing that I’ll ever do in my life. I can hand myself over to Zeus to protect my family from harm.
Easy. I can die for them. I’ll gladly die for them. I started this whole mess, it’s only fair that I should pay for it with my life.
My mother is watching my face. Her eyes flare open with terror.
“I’m here!” I shout, at the very top of my lungs. It doesn’t matter that my parents are still holding me back.
The explosions keep bursting around me, but my voice carries over the sound.
“I am Persephone!” I cry out at Kyros. “I’m the one you want!”
The commotion stops. The smoke slowly thins, and a stunned quiet washes over the crowd.
Stepping forward, I slip through the crowd until I’m standing in the middle of the square. I throw back the cloak covering my face.
“No!” I hear my mother whimper from behind.
“I’m the one who assassinated your master!” I shout at Kyros. His eyes are wide, stunned by the fervor in my voice. “I decieved Hades. I infiltrated the Underworld and stole the only weapon that can kill a god. I attempted to kill the God of Thunder, and I failed.”
I watch Kyros’s face, and the other disciples. They glance warily at each other. This statement seems to strike a chord, and I can’t imagine why.
“These people are innocent,” I go on, holding my arm out, my voice carrying over the crowd. “Kill me if you have to, bring me to Zeus. I go willingly. No one else needs to die for my crimes.”
A long, strained silence falls over the crowd. Someone is crying. I know who it is. My mother.
I can’t look back. I just can’t. It has to be this way. Either I die, or we all die.
Kyros’s eyes brighten dramatically. “That’s all we asked for.”
He nods towards the others. A horde of red-caped soldiers come marching through towards me.
“No, no!” My father’s bellowing voice shatters the air.
But there’s nothing any of them can do. This is my choice. The soldiers grab me by the arms, shoving me forward. All around us, the people are whispering with outrage. There’s shoving and pushing, and their voices grow louder.
“She’s too young! Leave her be!” someone shouts.
I look back at my family with horror. In between all the bodies, I see my father shoving one of the soldiers in the chest before the sea of people folds between us.
The next thing I know, steel hands are grabbing me, lifting me high into the air. I’m being passed over the crowd, face up to the sky. Someone grips me by the neck under the shoulder and throws me through the air.
The world blurs past me for a split-second, stealing the breath from my lungs.
Someone catches me by the arms and plants me onto my feet. Steadying myself, I look up into Kyros’s blue-black eyes.
His gaze meets mine with cold curiosity. A giant examining a bug. He glances over me, at the shouting horde, my family among them.
“Looks like you’re going to be missed,” he says, barely interested.
He grips my arm, and we flash away in an explosion of light.