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. In this chapter, Persephone heads to the Summoning Ceremony.
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.
I hope you enjoy.
Athena counsels about the two of us for much longer than any other god so far. Whispers begin to bubble up from the audience the more the minutes tick by. I’m numb enough that I’m able to muster the courage to look back at the second row.
My mother’s face is tight, her hands clenched together in her lap. Beside her, Eleni sits with her arm around her shoulders, comforting her in a way I never could.
It’s too painful to keep watching my mother. She looks like she wants to cry again.
I look away. Beside me, Fan Yu is quiet, but every so often, she glances at me.
It feels like an hour before the blue curtain finally rises. Athena sits at her throne, her eyes resolute. She has made her decision.
She stands to her full height and walks to the edge of the platform. Next to her, one of her disciples stands, holding a red velvet pillow. On top sits a single folded blue cloak, a silver-owl pin in the center. The prize.
“It has been a difficult decision to make between the two of you today.” Athena looks at each of us, and when her gaze settles on me, I sense a guarded wall in her eyes.
She composes her face and looks away before I can be sure. She draws out the silence for so long it hurts.
Have I been chosen? What will I do if I have not been chosen?
“My disciple for this year’s Summoning Ceremony is…”
Athena pauses for effect, looking at each of us. Her face is unreadable.
My heart is crashing against my rib cage. I can’t look at Fan Yu. She might deserve this more than me, but it has to be me. It has to be.
Athena opens her mouth, and says, “Fan Yu!”
The audience roars. My heart free falls.
The absence of my name on her lips drowns out the rest of the world. I’m completely paralyzed. I barely notice Fan Yu doubling over with tears of joy, or the roar of the audience and the glorious music.
It’s the only thing I can comprehend. The numbness in my body begins to subside, and dismay begins to creep in its place. I’m breathing very fast, my chest heaving up and down, the world drifts far away from me.
I left my family. Spent all my life savings. Traveled alone in the dead of winter. Starved myself for days at a time. Killed a sacred animal. Only to have Athena reject me.
Something sharp and red and painful twists in my chest, and it’s a battle just to keep myself from falling. I can’t fight back the tears in my eyes.
Fan Yu is crying, too. All of her friends and family members are on their feet, jumping and shouting and cheering at her victory. Athena invites her up to the platform. I stare as she hooks the cloak on her shoulders. She takes her hand and raises it in triumph. The crowd continues to cheer.
I am left on the stage. Alone. I watch blankly when Fan Yu shakes hands with each of the other disciples and take her place beside them.
Athena raises her hands to quiet the applause, then looks down at me. Her gaze holds no sympathy. And I don’t want her sympathy. I’m too angry at myself.
“Lena, for every Summoning Ceremony, I offer my unchosen supplicants words of advice. It is often a difficult choice to make, and I enjoy persistence in my followers whether I Summon them or not.” Her jaw hardens. “But for you, I only have this warning: abandon this reckless endeavor. I have been kind to you today, but do not expect me to keep being merciful if you persist. I don’t care what your motivations are—never again presume that I will help you challenge another god.”
I swallow. “Yes, my Lady.”
She nods once towards the stag’s head. “You may take your tribute and leave the stage.”
My anger, red and hot, subsides as I walk to my pedestal to take my offering. Cool blue rage and determination take its place.
It’s fine. I lie to myself. I’ll find some other way to kill Zeus.
For a moment, I linger next to my stag’s head, looking into it’s empty eye sockets. I brush my fingertips against the antlers.
Sorry I did this to you.
With a heavy sigh, I grab the edges of the mount, ready to heave it off. And then a gust of wind makes the pedestal shake. The breeze is cold, the scent reminiscent of the wilderness, tugging at the edges of my dress like claws.
My nose flares at the wild, familiar smell. Before my mind makes the connection, she appears before me, her hair a cloud of flaming orange and red.
Her hand shoots out, forming a tight claw around my throat. She lifts me high into the air, glowering up at me. I can’t breathe.
“So you ‘faced me and survived,’?” she hisses through her teeth. “You think you can just walk away from me live to gloat about it?”
I hear my mother’s scream rip from across the stadium. Struggling against her hold, I scratch at her skin and kick at the air, only to have her hand tighten around my throat. She spins around, and my legs flail in the wind.
There’s screaming and protest, but the noise fades away when my vision starts to dim. My eyes sting. The next thing I know, I’m being thrown through the air.
My back collides with the pedestal. Bits of porcelain and dust fly up around me, my body skidding across the ground. I feel my skin burning and breaking. Sharp bits of broken porcelain and the antlers of the stag’s head dig into my shoulders and arms, drawing blood.
I finally stop sliding. My mind acknowlege any pain, but the impact of the collision reverberates to my bones.
“Stop it! That’s my daughter!”
I struggle to get up, pushing myself awkwardly into a sitting position. My mother climbs onto the stage, to my horror. My eyes go to Artemis, who is watching me, her head tilted in a predatory way.
Ignoring her, my mother runs past the Goddess of the Hunt and comes straight to me. By the time she reaches me, I’ve managed to pull myself up off the ground. Gravel and pieces of shattered porcelain stick to the scratches in my skin. But I still don’t feel any pain. I don’t know if it’s adrenaline or shock.
My mother’s hands are on my face. She’s trying to get me to look at her, saying my name frantically.
But I don’t face her. I’m watching Artemis, who is drawing closer to us with every step she takes. I push my mother behind me, shielding her with my arm.
And then, in a flash of gold and blue, Athena appears between us.
She’s armed with her shield and spear. The shield is large and round, with an engraving of the viper-haired gorgon on the face of the sun. She stands her spear beside her. The sharp, golden spearhead is hilted with owl wings.
Artemis stops, ripping her eyes off me to glare at Athena. Her hand twitches towards her bow.
“Don’t even think about it, Artemis,” Athena warns. “You’re in my city. You know the law.”
The Goddess of the Hunt grits her teeth, then lets her hand fall. The contrast between her and Athena is striking. One is sleek and powerful, the other savage and feral. Artemis looks past Athena and straight at me.
“Then stand aside and let me have her.”
To my surprise, Athena doesn’t move. She glances over her shoulder at me. The bright sun haloes the shadow of her head.
“What did this girl do to you?”
Artemis’s nostrils flare, her stare cutting past Athena to glare at me.
“She murdered the winter stag,” she snarles, still glowering at me. “Hades convinced me to let her go. But that was before her disgusting display of arrogance. How do we protect the sanctity of the gods if we let mortals run around gloating of their insolence?”
“The girl is...a troublemaker,” Athena allows. “But this is my city, and anyone in my city is under my protection. If you have a problem with her, take it outside of Athens.”
Relief swells through me. I can feel my mother’s iron grip on my wrist as Artemis pins me with a deadly look. And that’s how I know she will find a way to hunt me down whether I’m in Athens or not.
I can’t look at my mother. I’ve put her in danger with my recklessness and stupidity. My face hardeneds into stiff mask. What do we do? Leave Athens and try to outrun the Goddess of the Hunt? Stay and have her kill me anyways?
Her eyes are feral, watching my face, and I know there’s no escaping or hiding from her anywhere in the world.
Athena’s expression is cool. She looks between the two of us like we’re children.
“The two of you need to leave the Herodion now. You’ve caused enough disturbance.”
My legs don’t want to move, but it’s stupid to think Athena would still protect me if I disobey her. I take my mother’s hand, squeezing it with false reassurance. Whatever happens to me, I have to make sure she’s safe. I brought Artemis’s wrath into our lives, and I have to be held accountable for it.
Before I can speak, a flash of darkness flickers on the stage. A second later, he emerges from nothing, as silent and smooth as water or air.
Hades. My heart stirs at the sight of him. He’s dressed more formally than I last saw him. His long sleeved coat is cloud-grey, one shoulder cuffed with woven feathers. He’s wearing fine grey trousers and black boots. Again, no weapons.
Surprised, Athena stares at Hades with a questioning brow. Artemis does not look happy to see him. And I am just as confused as they are.
There are more whispers from the audience. No one knows what to make of him. I doubt anyone has ever seen the reclusive God of the Underworld.
“Hades,” Athena says. “What are you doing here? You’re interrupting the Summonings.”
At the sound of his name, the audience goes completely silent. I look over at their faces. Everyone is watching him with expressions ranging from surprise to curiosity to fear.
“I’ve decided to participate in your ceremony this year.”
Hades speaks to Athena, but he’s looking at me. I’m wary when those bright eyes fall on mine.
“I’m here to take a new disciple: your Supplicant, who goes by the false name Lena.” He points at me. “I’m Summoning Persephone.”
My mother gasps. Astonished, Athena throws a glance my way, her mouth popping open. Artemis’s eyes go wide with anger.
“You didn’t say you were participating this year,” Athena says when she regains her composure.
He shrugs dismissively, then holds a hand out to me. “Come, Persephone.”
I stare at his open palm, stunned. My mother has a tight grip on my hand.
“No!” She shouts at Hades with more courage than I feel.
His blue eyes flash to hers, tightening slightly. “If you’d like your daughter to be killed by the Goddess of the Hunt, just say the word. Or she can come with me.”
My mother falters. She looks at me, then at Artemis. The Goddess of the Hunt is glaring at Hades.
“You,” she growls in a low breath, “have always meddled in affairs that do not concern you.”
My mother’s hands clench my arm tightly. I’m still watching Hades, wondering why he’s doing this.
Hades ignores Artemis, turning to Athena. “The girl has exceptional hunting skills. I could use someone like her to help me maintain the beasts in my kingdom.”
“Are you allowed Summon someone else’s Supplicant?” I manage to say.
“I can do whatever I want.”
I turn to Athena. She gives me a resigned nod.
Damn. What do I make of this offer? My mind goes back to the day I killed the winter stag. Artemis was so angry. Hades...Hades had been disappointed, but I’d seen no wrath from him. Does he intend to punish me? Or is he really just trying to save me?
“I think we’ve interrupted Athena’s little ceremony long enough.” He scans the audience with a mirthful smile. “People are beginning to stare.”
“I agree,” Athena says coolly. No hint of humor. She cuts a sharp gaze to me. “Lena…Persephone, whatever your name is. Make your decision. Now.”
My heart races. I shake my head fervently. I’m supposed to make this life-altering choice now? I can’t think. I don’t want to go to the Underworld. But I can’t form the words.
It’s my mother who speaks.
“If she goes with you,” she says to Hades, her hand still wrapped around my arm. “She’ll be safe? You won’t hurt her?”
Hades keeps ignoring her, addressing my mother seriously. “Yes. You have my word.”
My mother and I look at each other. She’s crying. I can’t go. I can’t.
“What if I refuse you?” I say without looking at Hades.
He shrugs. “If you’d like Artemis to rip you to pieces, suit yourself. I’m simply offering an alternative.”
His words, though dismissive, are true. Either I go with him, or die.
Mother cups my cheek. Her soft hand is warm. Safe.
“...I have to go,” I whisper.
Her small mouth trembles. Despair fills her doe-brown eyes. Hot tears well up in my own. She pulls me in for the tightest hug, and this really is the last time I will feel my mother’s arms around me.
“I’ll find a way back,” I whisper to her.
She strokes the back of my head. “I know you will. You’re my daughter.”
I hold onto her for a moment longer. I don’t want to let go, but somehow, I do. She looks into my face, her eyes fraught with fear, and I slowly back away from her.
The audience looks on at the great show. I turn around. Look Hades in the eye.
His face is cool and relaxed. He holds a hand out to me. Beckoning me.
Artemis watches, a wolf hungry for her meal. Athena’s face is blank and businesslike. She just wants us to get on with it and leave.
Steeling myself, I take a step forward. Another. Another. And then I’m taking his hand. His fingers wrap gently around mine.
I stand next to him, my heart thundering. He puts his other hand over my palm, and my hand is enveloped in both of his. I can’t tell if it’s a gesture of control or reassurance.
Hades looks at the flowers crowning my head, his eyes brightening. Surprising me, he reaches up to touch the petals.
“Asphodels,” he murmurs. “Interesting.”
I look back at my mother. Tears fall down her cheeks in streams. I don’t know how I manage to keep my composure, but I do. I peer out at the audience, their faces a hazy sea. One girl is standing, holding her hands over her mouth in shock. Eleni, I realize after a moment. The sun is bright and hot. So hot.
“Enjoy the rest of your life in the Underworld,” Artemis hisses with acidity.
I turn back to my mother. “Goodbye.”
The air brushes against my arms like a cool caress. My mother reaches out to me just as Hades pulls me closer, and the light of spring disappears.