In mid-afternoon I arrive at my third site visit for today. The first two were the companies that employ the largest numbers of subcontracted shade workers, but this one is something different. It’s a small company and they require a specialized workforce of shades who are literate and able to cope with computers and technical ideas.
I’ve done my research. Exypnos Systems is a small company which produces software for monitoring security cameras. I find them interesting both because of their product and the specific types of shades they require.
I enter their office, which is located just outside downtown, at the edge of the warehouse district. I’m guessing that they chose this location for the cheaper rent; they have quite a large space, with a central lounge under a big skylight. I do wonder what’s the point of a skylight in a} land with no sun, but there’s no denying that it’s pretty.
A copper-colored daimon greets me. He’s of medium height, with brownish hair, and seems very friendly. “Good afternoon, Ms. Persephone. I’m Monachikos. Welcome to Exypnos.”
“Glad to meet you,” I say. Monachikos introduces me to the other senior staff, a dark-eyed nymph called Arketa and a slightly-built satyr named Stamatiste, who seems shy. “Thank you all for having me.” I set up my presentation. This is the third time I’ve done it today, and I’m getting proficient. I walk them through a brief description of Elysium, its purpose, and the plan for populating it with worthy shades.
I go into the main point of my visit: “We anticipate that the shade workforce will be reduced by approximately 15% over the next few months as shades gain admission to Elysium. We are also observing an increase in productivity due to shades working harder to earn a place, although we don’t have firm numbers on that yet.”
“So demand is going to increase as the numbers of shade workers decrease? Will that raise the subcontract fees?” asks Arketa. She’s a sharp one.
“We don’t anticipate raising fees at this time,” I tell her. It’s something we’ll have to revisit, certainly, but Hades and I agreed that companies shouldn’t suffer because we changed the rules on them. “Also, the data suggests that the Mortal Realm is experiencing a population boom, which will eventually mean many more shade workers.”
Stamatiste is the statistician, and he jumps in. “I have read that as well. Unfortunately it doesn’t necessarily mean larger numbers of the types of workers we need.”
I nod. “That’s true, but the newly-restructured shade training program should have better success with identifying qualified workers.”
They seem satisfied with my explanation. A lot of companies have been extremely nervous about holding on to their contract workers, which is the reason I’m making these site visits. I continue to the second purpose of my visit. “Since I’m here, I’d love to hear more about what you do with your workers.”
The three of them exchange smiles and launch into a long explanation. It seems they use shade workers to label large quantities of data, which allows them to create very sophisticated programs that identify potential threats that can be picked up on video cameras, such as fires, or thieves.
Their description matches what I learned through researching their company, but also goes well beyond, explaining some of the background math. I’m a long way from an expert in technology but Arketa in particular has a knack for describing their work in ways I can understand.
“The question I’m left with is: is the software you’re creating specialized in security applications, or is it more a general-purpose way of analyzing data?” I ask.
“Some of both,” says Stamatiste. “It depends on what kind of data we give it to work on. Right now we’re specializing in security applications, but we’re keeping in mind other uses for later.”
“Do you think your product could be redesigned for agricultural use?” I ask.
Stamatiste looks over at his colleagues and thinks for a minute. “I don’t see why not. It could monitor weather patterns and, say, pest populations, and provide an analysis of conditions and what interventions are needed.”
I’m very excited. “A system like that would be extremely helpful for Elysium. It’s a closed environmental bubble and it requires a lot of monitoring and maintenance.”
Arketa and Monachikos look enthusiastic, while Stamatiste seems to be lost in thought, perhaps thinking through the implications of my idea.
“Is this something you’re thinking of pursuing?” Arketa asks.
“It’s possible,” I say. “I think it’s worth exploring, at least.”
All three are smiling now. “Would you like a tour?” Monachikos asks.
It’s getting to be the end of the day, and I’ve seen the entire facility, including where the shades work and their break room. Everything I’ve seen impresses me and gives me a sense of confidence that this company treats their workers well. Their competence and enthusiasm also bode well for a possible partnership in the Elysium monitoring project.
“We were planning to go out for drinks after work,” says Arketa. “Would you like to join us?”
I’m a little surprised, but pleased by her friendliness. Monachikos and Stamatiste add their agreement, encouraging me to come. I suppose I could join them for a bit. It would probably be a little rude not to.
“Sure, I’d like that,” I tell them.
Stamatiste and Arketa go off to do a few last minute tasks, saying they’ll meet us in the lobby shortly.
“So, um, since we’re doing a social thing, I hope it’s not inappropriate to ask, but are you seeing someone?” Monachikos says.
“Oh, yes.” I’m smiling because I’m thinking of Hades. “I have a boyfriend.” My heart starts beating really fast. I’ve never called him that before.
He looks surprised. “Oh! Ah. Well, you should invite him to come along. Arketa and Stamatiste’s partners usually meet us at the bar.”
That sounds like a fantastic idea. “Okay,” I say. “Excuse me for a minute.”
We take Arketa’s car and drive a few minutes into town, and park in a busier district. We enter into a well-lit building; it seems to be an upscale bar and restaurant. It’s starting to fill up with people who are obviously professionals relaxing after work. It's pleasantly dim inside, and decorated with antique posters, padded leather chairs, and flickering candles on all the tables.
My companions seem to be regulars; they all head into the corner where there’s a big rectangular table. We sit down, reserving chairs for the people who are joining us. Shortly Arketa’s girlfriend and Stamatiste’s wife arrive, and I get introduced.
“So is your boyfriend a god, too?” Arketa asks me.
“Yes,” I reply, a little surprised.
It’s not a secret that I’m dating Hades. After last week’s civic banquet, there were a few pictures in the papers, and a moderate little paragraph in the society news. I know the press is wary because of what Hades did to that photographer months ago, but I think their politeness is at least as much due to Sorya’s efforts.
I notice that Arketa’s girlfriend is looking at me with a significant smile. She’s clearly seen the papers, but she’s enjoying that no one else knows. The others don’t follow gossip, I suppose.
“What’s he like?” Monachikos asks.
“Oh,” I have to pause. How do I describe Hades in just a few words? I could go on all night! “He’s thoughtful. And very handsome.”
“I’m delighted to hear you think so,” Hades says right behind me.
I turn, only a little embarrassed to be caught talking about him. “Hi, baby.” Wait, why did I call him that ? I don’t think I’ve ever called him a nickname before.
He bends almost double to kiss me, and then settles in the chair I saved for him.
It’s my turn to make introductions. “This is Arketa, Monachikos, and Stamatiste of Exypnos Systems, and Arketa’s girlfriend Leios and Stamatiste’s wife Axio. Everyone, this is Hades.” That last part is hardly necessary, but leaving it out seemed weird.
I take his hand and squeeze it tightly. I really missed him today.
Hades walks me to my door and I invite him to come in. “Eros and Psyche won’t be home until late,” I mention.
He accepts and we go inside and snuggle up together on the big couch. I kick off my shoes; it’s been a long day. I’m sitting next to Hades, under his arm, and right up against his side. His other hand is holding mine, stroking it with his thumb.
“Hey,” I say. “Are you okay? I thought all evening that you looked awfully tired or something.”
He smiles a little bleakly. “I had a truly rotten day, and I missed you a lot.”
“I’m sorry for your bad day. I hope it’s a little better now?”
“No. It’s a lot better now.” Hades squeezes my shoulders and kisses my temple, then my cheek and finally my lips. I rotate to give him a better angle, but he breaks off the kiss. “The thing is, Kore, I’m feeling guilty. I’m trying really hard to be worthy of you, and I don’t think I’m doing a great job.”
I shake my head. “That’s not true at all. You’re way too hard on yourself.”
He looks so sad and tense. “I have a whole list of things I need to tell you about. Things I’m really not proud of, but you should know. Some things I really am ashamed of.”
“I don’t expect you to be perfect,” I tell him. I try rubbing his shoulders; his muscles are rigid with stress.
He nods. “That’s good, because I’m not. I was at a real low point when I met you. I was doing some very stupid things.”
“Me too, really. And a bunch more after I met you.”
Hades looks very serious. “Do you think we’re doing any better now?”
I think about it. It’s an important question and it deserves consideration. “Yes, I do. I like where my life is going.”
“Me too.” Hades pauses and sighs. “I just wonder if you couldn’t do better.”
I kiss him gently. “Where is this coming from? Because I don’t want anyone else but you.”
He snuggles me and rubs his face against my cheek. His shoulders are starting to relax a bit under my massaging hands. “I don’t want anyone else either.” He kisses me this time. “I’m sorry. It was just a really rough day and I’m feeling down on myself.”
“I get that. I wish I could make you see yourself the way I see you.”
“Thoughtful and handsome?” he asks, teasing. He’s getting his sense of humor back, mentioning what he overheard me saying at the bar.
I laugh. “Hey, that was just off the top of my head. I could write a book about how amazing you are!”
“You’re the amazing one,” he says, and I kiss him thoroughly for that. He pulls me into his lap and I press against him, sliding my hands under his jacket. He wears so many layers, like armor. Today he’s wearing suspenders, and I trace lightly along them as our kiss deepens.
I’m opening my mouth for Hades and wondering how I can encourage him to go a little farther tonight. I don’t want to just say it, that’s weird. Surely there must be some way of signalling what I want? I adjust my position in his lap so maybe I can kiss his neck when I feel something very hard suddenly dig into my leg. I jump in surprise.
“Sorry,” Hades says. “It’s the stone.”
I move over a little so Hades can reach into his pocket. He pulls out Ione’s Eye. I haven’t seen it since the day I summoned the Furies, and I asked him to keep it for me again.
“Hey, Kore--it’s kind of intrusive, but can I ask you about this?”
“Sure,” I say, a little nervous about what he wants.
“Hecate saw it, that day of the festival. That’s why we were there. We both had the feeling that something was wrong.”
“Oh. I suppose she told you the other version of the story.” I’m blushing. I called it Ione’s Eye, but that isn’t what it represents at all.
“Er, yeah, she did. I’ve been carrying it around for a while now, which I like, but I want to know what it means to you.”
I hesitate. My mood has shifted and I’m feeling a flood of emotions.
“It was my good luck charm for a long time, just an innocent thing. A rock that I liked. I knew the story, but it didn’t really mean anything to me. And then, after what happened--it suddenly did mean something. Ione intended it to represent her love, her trust and desire--and she gave it to the man of her choice.” I’m getting choked up, and Hades hugs me tight in his arms. “I never meant it to ensnare you or anything like that. I wouldn’t know how to do that, I’m not even sure my powers work that way.”
Hades kisses me: a soft, sweet brush of his lips on mine. “I know, Sweetness. You wouldn’t need to put a spell on me, anyway. My heart has belonged to you since I saw you at the Panathenaea.” His voice is low and rough with emotion.
He didn’t mention seeing me at my mother’s house last year, and once again I wonder if he remembers it. I think about that all the time now, how he asked me to marry him. Hecate seems to think that he still feels the same way, but he hasn’t even hinted at it.
I want to ask, but I can’t. What if he doesn’t remember? What if he does, and wants to forget it? I slide my hands up his shoulders and neck, cupping his head and fingering his silky hair. I caress his lips with mine and try to pour all my love into the kiss.
I’m in the kitchen, finishing my cereal and checking my email, when Eros comes speeding in.
“Good morning,” I say. I’m very surprised, he’s not normally up at this hour.
“Morning! We overslept, is there any coffee?”
“No,” I say. He’s a little frantic, and this doesn’t seem the time to remind him that I don’t even like coffee. “Why are you up so early?”
“We have an appointment with Hera,” he says. “She’s trying to find a way to help Psyche.”
“Oh, that’s good.” They’d better hurry, it doesn’t do to make Hera wait. I put my dishes in the dishwasher while Eros dumps coffee into the maker.
The doorbell rings and I go to answer it. “Good morning,” I say again, this time to Hades.
“Good morning, Sweetness.” He steps in and gives me a hug and a kiss. Psyche dashes past us as we’re standing there.
“Eros!” she calls. “Do you know where my black skirt is?”
“It’s in the dry cleaning bag, babe,” he calls back from the kitchen.
“It’s a little crazy here this morning. They’re not usually up this early,” I tell Hades. “I just need a minute.” I take his hand and lead him down the hall to my room. He stops at the door, and I look at him quizzically for a moment, dropping his hand. Then I realize that he’s never actually entered my room. His sensitivity is touching. I leave him there while I finish getting ready, and he watches me.
I find my shoes under the bed and step into them, then tuck a few things into a bag for our date tonight.
“Is that a new dress, Kore? It’s very pretty,” Hades says.
“Yes, it is. I got it this weekend, on sale,” I brag. I pick up my new Pomelia necklace from the dresser and walk over to Hades, presenting it to him so he can fasten it for me. He claims a kiss on my neck in return, and I reach up to pat his head.
I grab my bag and jacket and I’m ready to go.
I punch the keypad and Elysium’s wide doors slide open with a thunk . Next to me, Artemis looks startled and delighted.
“Wow, Perse, this is really impressive. You described it, but I don’t think I really understood how big it would be.”
I smile with pride. “Come on in,” I say, and we enter, walking slowly down the slope. Artemis called it big, but the problem is that for an independent ecosystem, Elysium is very small. It can’t function on its own without intervention.
We walk towards the forest together, Artemis looking this way and that, taking everything in. I’ve brought a bunch of people on their first tours here, and this is generally how they initially react.
“So why aren’t there any animals?” my friend asks.
I laugh. Naturally she would notice that right away. “That’s why I asked you to come. We need to have animals; some, anyway, or it won’t function properly. But once we do have them, they’ll breed, and we need to have a way to control that.”
“So you want me to come here and hunt for you?” she asks, grinning.
“You can, if you like. I had assumed that some of the shades would want to hunt for pleasure.”
She nods, looking interested. “But really what you need to do is set up a food chain.”
“Yes, I assume so. But I don’t want large predators that would disturb the shades, so we have to make decisions about what animals are appropriate.”
“Cool!” says Artemis, and pauses to think. “So what kinds of animals do you need?”
“Lots of insects, specifically pollinators.” I start listing on my fingers. “Also birds, and small things like squirrels and rabbits. Turtles and frogs, fish. Snakes, lizards, porcupines. Oh, and otters. I need to have otters.”
“Foxes and weasels.” Artemis puts in. “What about deer?”
“Deer would be fine with me,” I say. They’re an important part of the life cycles of some plants, but I can also picture them taking over if their breeding isn’t monitored.
“Okay. I think what you need to keep the small animals in check is birds of prey. You can control their breeding if you have good handlers, and I can put you in touch with some.”
“Excellent. This is just the sort of thing I need.”
Artemis nods. “And for the deer, if you maintain a semi-tame herd, you can probably put them on some kind of birth control. I know some veterinary people you should talk to.”
“Good, that’s useful. So what do you think? Can I hire you as a consultant?”
We’re deep in the forest by now, exploring some of the secondary paths.
“Well. I am interested. This is a really fascinating project you’ve got here,” Artemis says.
I’m sensing some reluctance, and I think I know why. “But?”
She looks uncomfortable. I’m not going to help with this, she’s just going to have to say it. I wait, grim-faced. “But… I don’t know if I want to work in the Underworld,” she finally says.
“Mm-hmm. Because why?” I’m not letting her off the hook.
“Look, Perse,” she says, getting exasperated. “You can’t ask me to change my mind overnight just because the guy has been nice to you for a couple months. I still think he’s a dick.”
“Just to be very clear on what you’re saying, you think Hades is being kind to me because he wants sex.”
Artemis blushes deeply. “Yeah. That’s what I mean.”
“Okay. So, as my friend, you might be interested to know that my boyfriend is very concerned for my well-being and has not tried in the slightest to push me into anything I’m not comfortable doing yet. In fact, if anything, he’s the one who tends to slow us down.”
“But--everyone knows--” she stops cold, looking alarmed.
“Everyone knows what ? And who is this everyone ? I’m telling you from my direct personal experience that he’s not like that.” I pause, looking at her. “So who are you going to believe, some unspecified everyone , or your friend?”
I wait. I’m really not sure how this will end. What it comes down to is: does Artemis really respect me as an equal? Is she able to treat me like an adult, and believe that my evaluation of Hades is truly valid, even in the face of contrary popular opinion?
Artemis takes a deep breath. “Persephone. I’m sorry. I’ve been judgmental in an area I don’t even know a lot about. All I wanted was to be a good friend to you and I keep screwing that up.”
I’m relieved, and nudge her shoulder with mine in a joking way. “No, you don’t, you dork. You are a good friend, and you’re trying to help me, I get that.”
Her eyes are still troubled. “Listen. I believe you that he’s good to you and I’ll try really, really hard to be nicer, and I’ll take the job. But if he ever hurts you, I want you to tell me, so I can break every bone in his body, okay?”
I know she’s joking. Sort of. I smile. “Okay.”
“So if I’m gonna take this job, I want to get a good look around first.”
“That’s fine. I have some chores to do here, do you want to meet me by the entrance?”
“Yeah. Give me about an hour,” Artemis says, and transforms into her doe shape. She scampers off, deeper into the forest, and I continue down the path towards the waterfall.
I visit Elysium nearly every day to check on it, and lately I’ve been noticing some odd things. There are some trees going into an autumnal pattern, their leaves reddening and shrivelling up. A streambed dried out and needed to have its source adjusted. I think some plants have actually moved, though I can’t be sure. It’s just enough that I think there’s something wrong, but not enough that I can figure out what.
I move through the forest, taking careful note of things that I think have changed. When I arrive at the waterfall, I pause to study it carefully. It doesn’t look any different from how it looked last week, when I made some adjustments. I decide I’d better check on that.
I reach into the cliff face with my power and pull slightly in just the right place. A finger of rock extends outwards, redirecting the flow of water and allowing access behind. I approach the side of the pool, and enter the cave behind the waterfall that I carved out last week. There’s a short tunnel, and then I enter into a chamber. A pedestal of rock sits in the center of the room, and on it rests a small wooden-and-silver coffer. The box that Athena gave me, containing a god’s seed. I shudder delicately, thinking about it. I still don’t understand why she gave it into my keeping.
I touch the box lightly with my power, checking that it still feels the same as it did last week. I’m reluctant to touch it physically. Everything here seems just as it should be. I leave the cave and go out into Elysium, to see if I can diagnose what’s going on.
After lunch Artemis accompanies me to my next meeting as well, which is the reason why we scheduled her visit for today. Hecate decided that the Underworld Corporation as a whole would do what we can to support #FuryToo and therefore offered one of the larger conference rooms for the first organized meeting of the movement.
More than two dozen women show up for it, goddesses and nymphs alike. A bunch of them are people I know already: Hecate, Athena, and Hera are here, along with Artemis and my assistant Kynora. The Furies naturally are here as well, circulating around, speaking with people. They’re in their element. Sorya is acting as a sort of moderator, bringing together small groups of people with related interests. She leads a tall, dark goddess over to me.
“Persephone, I thought you might like to meet Nemesis,” she says. “She’s an attorney and has offered to represent harassment victims free of charge if they choose to pursue legal action.”
“That’s extremely generous of you,” I tell her. “It would be a big boost for anyone to be represented by someone of your reputation.”
“Thank you,” the dark goddess replies. “I think of it as a community service, and it’s a privilege for me to be a part of a movement like this that’s going to restructure our entire society.”
“Do you really think it will be effective?” I ask. Hera heard the lawyer’s last statement and joins us.
“Yes, I do. Being treated with respect is a basic right.”
Hera snorts. “It may be basic but that doesn’t mean it will really happen.”
“I do understand your pessimism, Hera, but I honestly think the time has come,” Nemesis says. “The number of women who have come forward to tell their stories, to say they’re not going to tolerate bad behavior, has truly reached landmark proportions. It’s not ignorable anymore.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I hope you’re right,” Hera says. “Have you heard Persephone’s idea?”
Nemesis shakes her head and looks at me attentively.
“I want to start a crisis center, for women who have been abused. It would offer medical help and legal support, and help finding resources.”
“That’s an excellent idea. I know some people in health care who may be interested, and I can certainly help with the legal aspects.”
“That would be helpful,” I tell her.
“Usually with this sort of thing the main problem is funding,” Nemesis observes.
Hera smiles slightly. “Not in this case.”
I’m still somewhat uncomfortable with this topic. Hecate spent some time trying to drum it in that this wasn’t just about me. Her phrases good corporate citizen and giving back to the community still echo in my ears, along with excellent optics . It still feels to me like I’ve asked my boyfriend to write a check to support my pet project, and that idea makes my stomach knot with sick tangles of stress.
“Have you picked a location yet?” Nemesis asks.
“Not yet. That’s part of the next phase.”
Athena joins us and soon Hera detaches herself to participate in another conversation. Nemesis and Athena seem to be old acquaintances; they discuss recent aspects of #FuryToo and I just listen. Eventually Nemesis moves on. Athena smiles at me.
“I just checked on your, um, treasure this morning,” I tell her. “It’s fine. I still have no idea what you wanted me to do with it.”
“I don’t know either. When the right time comes, you’ll know. I have confidence in you.”
Great. I just love it when people are cryptic. I change the subject. “Hestia wouldn’t come?”
“No. She still practically foams at the mouth when you or anything connected to you is mentioned.”
I huff in annoyance. I think I have a much better reason to be upset with her than she does with me. “I had hoped she could put aside our differences so that we could build something important. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood her priorities all along.”
Athena clicks her tongue and rolls her eyes at me. “Losing you was a blow to her and she needs time to get over it.”
I’m uncomfortable with that. I’m not some sort of trinket to be displayed on a shelf, and I resent that Hestia seemed to view me that way.
Sorya approaches me and Athena politely walks away to give us privacy. “This is going great, Persephone. Everyone here has been willing to share their contact information, and expressed interest in further meetings.”
“That’s wonderful,” I say. We were afraid that some people would be nervous about sharing their information, but I suppose that anyone that anxious simply stayed away from this meeting.
“I’ll be preparing a press release right after this. I’d say the first meeting was entirely a success.” She nods in satisfaction and moves on.
I circulate around the room, meeting women and hearing their stories. It’s sad how similar those are, how frequently this stuff happens. By the time the meeting breaks up I’m feeling rather depressed. I say goodbye to the people I know and my new acquaintances, and start heading back to my office.
Down the hall from the conference room, I spot a tall woman staring out a window. I pass her without a second thought but then she addresses me.
“Excuse me? Ms. Persephone?” Her voice is soft and musical.
I look at her. She’s all bundled up in a long coat with a hood, but looking at her face I see she’s not someone I know. She’s a sea nymph, with the characteristic webbed ear flaps. She’s quite beautiful, with pale skin tinged with aqua and long hair worn in a bun.
“I was wondering if you could help me,” she says.
“I can try.” I’m not sure what she wants. Is she an employee, or was she here for the meeting? I didn’t see her in the conference room.
“I want to be part of Fury Too. There’s a man--he’s treated me just awfully. I want to expose him. But I’m afraid.” She looks nervously around, her darting eyes hunting for threats.
“You poor thing! I don’t know what I can do for you. I’m trying to start a crisis center for women to get help with things like this, but it will be a while before that’s available.”
“Can I get your phone number?” she asks. “Maybe I can be in touch with you.”
I consider it. I suppose, if nothing else, I can always ask the Furies to help her. They’re powerful allies to have. “All right.” I take a business card from my pocket and hand it to her. “What’s your name?”
The lovely nymph smiles sweetly. “Call me Doris,” she says.
Hades made plans for us after work, but it’s a surprise so I don’t know where we’re going. All he told me was that it was casual, and I should dress warmly. We head out to his car, and I’m wearing thick tights under my skirt, along with a sweater and hat. Hades has changed too, he’s wearing dark gray trousers and a black sweater, so I guess I should be warm enough.
“Still not telling me where we’re going?” I ask.
“Nope! Well, I will if you really want to know,” he hedges.
I smile. “It’s fine. I like surprises.” I like some surprises, anyway. I’m guessing I’ll like this one.
Hades drives outside of the city, into the big park on the road to Olympus, and I settle back and enjoy the ride. I look at the distant lights, and allow the soothing darkness to relax me after the workday. I’m hoping that this surprise will include food because lunch feels like it was a very long time ago.
We pull up into a parking lot and stop. The adjacent building is one-storied, and rather large. The parking lot is nearly empty. I’m intrigued, and I think I can guess what this is, but I don’t say anything. Hades opens my door for me and I take his hand. “Hey, are we on a tight schedule here?” I ask.
“No reason!” I giggle, and float off my feet. I plant my lips on Hades’s and he makes a soft noise. His arms close around me and pull me in, so that I’m pressed firmly into his chest.
I pause to ask, “If I get too cold, will you warm me up?” I kiss him again, not giving him a chance to answer. I feel his lips smiling under mine.
“Yes,” he replies after I pull back. “Do you want to see your surprise now?”
“Uh huh,” I answer, dropping back to my feet as he lets me go.
Hades goes around to the trunk and takes out a large bag, then he takes my hand and we go into the building. The lobby has multiple rows of long benches bolted to the floor, which is covered in spongy removable mats. I smile, because now I’m sure of what’s going on.
We sit on a bench at the far side of the room, near some large swinging doors which lead into a farther space. I wait for directions, not wanting to spoil the surprise. Hades opens up the bag, and then glances at me. “You’re going to need to take off your shoes,” he says.
I was expecting this. I take off my heels and set them on the bench next to me. Hades glances at them, then at my feet, then at my face.
“Ready for the surprise?”
I nod. He takes his hand out of the bag, and he’s holding a new pair of white figure skates. They look like they’re just my size. I grin widely. “We’re going skating?” I squeal. I hope I’m not overselling it. I honestly am excited, and it’s not his fault that I guessed a few minutes ago.
“Yes. I asked Psyche to find out your shoe size, I hope that wasn’t too intrusive and weird.” He looks honestly concerned.
“No, it’s fine,” I tell him. I take the skates and slip them on; they’re a good fit. Hades takes another pair out of the bag, much larger black ones that look well-worn. I guess he really knows how to skate.
“May I help you with those? They have to be laced very tightly.”
“Sure.” I don’t mind if he wants to help. I watch while he pulls my laces tight and ties them, then does his own. I put on my gloves and hat.
We get up together and walk with stomping awkwardness through the swinging doors into the rink. The cold hits me, but I know that soon enough I’ll be warm from exercise. The ice is shiny from being recently polished, and there’s no one else here. Pretty, colored lights twinkle along the ceiling, and music is playing. I’m smiling uncontrollably. This is so sweet and romantic!
Hades stops at the door onto the ice. “I’ll go out first, and you can hold on to me, okay?”
He steps out, and turns a tight little circle, getting his feet under him. Then he glides back to the opening and holds out his hand to me. “Ready?”
“Yes,” I say, and take his hand and step onto the ice. I glide towards him, then shift his hand from my right to my left, and skate around him in a slow circle, making him rotate as I spiral around him, my eyes locked with his.
His expression is funny and sweet, a mixture of delight and dismay.
“Oh,” he says, “you can skate already. I thought being from the Mortal Realm you wouldn’t have done this before.”
I beam at him. “There are rinks in Olympus.” I come to a sharp stop right in front of him. “It’s still a wonderful surprise. Thank you!” I turn my face up and wait until he kisses me, warm and slow and tender.
Persephone, 4:37 AM: I miss you
Hades, 4:38 AM: I miss you too, Sweetness. Can’t sleep?
Persephone, 4:38 AM: Not anymore. Did I wake you?
Hades, 4:39 AM: No, I was already up
Persephone, 4:39 AM: Would you admit it if I had?
Hades, 4:39 AM: Maybe. Want to get breakfast?
Persephone, 4:40 AM: Yes
Hades, 4:40 AM: I can be there in 20 minutes
I’m ready early, and watching out the window for Hades’s arrival. When he pulls up out front, I step out the door and shut it behind me. It’s too early in the morning to make any noise; I don’t want to disturb my housemates.
Hades meets me on the front walk and holds his arms out to me. I step into his embrace, looking up at him. He looks tense and tired.
“Did you sleep at all?” I ask, concerned.
“Some, it just wasn’t great,” he says. His voice is raspy. I kiss him softly. “What about you?”
“I woke up crazy early and couldn’t get back to sleep.”
He nods, he gets what that’s like. He opens the car door for me and helps me in. I’m still charmed every time he does that.
Once he’s sitting in the driver’s seat I lean over to kiss him properly. “Hey--I love you. Thought you should know.”
He smiles widely, his expression loosening up for the first time. “Love you too. Are you hungry?”
“Very! Do you know where we can go at this hour?”
“Oh, sure. I’ve had lots of late nights of drinking that ended with a desperate need for fried breakfast food. There’s a pretty good all-night diner I know, we can go there.” His tone is interesting, a mixture of self-contempt and forced cheerfulness. I can tell he’s in a bad mood and trying to control it. I kind of wish now that I’d just made breakfast at home, so we could have more privacy for talking.
The drive is only a few minutes. We arrive at a cute, informal restaurant, decorated with chrome and shiny red panels. There are only a few people there and the waitress gives us a big corner booth. I relax a little. It’s a pleasant place and the early hour means we’ll have the privacy to talk after all.
I order waffles with strawberries and Hades orders an omelet. Once the waitress goes, I slide up next to him for a snuggle. He slips his arm around me and kisses the top of my head.
“Do you want to talk about what’s bothering you?” I ask.
Hades looks at me in surprise. Did he actually think I couldn’t tell?
“I told you about… my father.” He pauses for a long time and I wait. “Well. I have dreams about that. Disturbing ones, that wake me up and keep me from getting back to sleep. It’s a big part of my insomnia.”
That makes a lot of sense. “I have bad dreams sometimes, too. I imagine yours are a lot worse.” He shrugs stiffly. “Anyway, you had a particularly bad one this morning?”
He nods. “Yeah. They’ve been worse lately.”
“I’m so sorry,” I say, hugging him around the waist and leaning my head on his shoulder. We’ve been told off for too much public affection but there’s no way I’m not going to give him something. He clearly needs it. He puts his hand over mine and squeezes.
“Thank you, Kore. That means a lot to me.”
“Will you be okay with me being away all day again?” I have another full day of working out of the office planned, this time in the Mortal Realm.
“Yes, sorry,” Hades says, rolling his eyes in self-deprecation. “You don’t have to indulge me when I’m being clingy. It’s not fair for me to expect that of you.”
I look at him, perplexed, but it seems like he’s serious. “But why wouldn’t you? Isn’t the whole point of being together that we can rely on each other?”
“Well, sure, but that’s more for important stuff. Going to parties together, things like that.”
I tilt my head. I’m struggling to understand him. “Are you saying your emotional needs aren’t important?”
Hades opens his mouth to respond and then shuts it. He pauses. “Sometimes you have a way of putting things that makes me feel like a complete fool.”
I shake my head. “I don’t think you’re a fool, and I don’t think you’re clingy. I think the only one you’re being unfair to is yourself. When I was upset about--about what happened, you took care of me. How is it any different for me to take care of you when you’re upset?”
Hades blinks at me in shock. It’s clear to me that he simply doesn’t consider himself in terms of someone whose needs can and should be met. Realizing this is like a stab of ice in my heart. My poor darling!
His voice is shaking when he replies. “Kore, I don’t know what to say. You take me seriously and that’s not something I’m used to.”
I pull him towards me by the front of his shirt and kiss him softly. “I suggest you get used to it, because I’m not going to stop.”
I take Psyche’s hand and pull her through the Narrow Spaces with me and into the Mortal Realm. I don’t want to appear suddenly where there are people to see, so I bring us out in the fields outside the town. It’s a beautiful day for a walk, and I want my friend’s advice.
“Psyche,” I say. “Can I ask you some questions? About--well, about sex?”
She raises her eyebrows. “Of course you can. But are you sure you would not rather ask Eros?”
She smiles a little, understanding me. “He can be a bit enthusiastic.”
I snort. “Yeah, a bit. Anyway, I wanted to know about before. I mean, I’ve heard your story, when Eros took you away and you were living together, but he was patient, yes? I mean he waited for you to be ready?”
“Yes. He was very kind, and I had my own room. He talked to me, and taught me to read. There was no pressure.” She pauses. “Hades seems like a patient man.”
I smile. She’s entitled to hint for more information; I don’t mind. “He is very patient. I thought maybe he would, you know, have expectations, but I should have known better. He said whatever we do is my choice and he will wait as long as I want.”
“That is very good,” Psyche smiles. She’s a big fan of my boyfriend.
“So my question is--I want to try some more stuff but I don’t know how to ask. He doesn’t push at all , so it’s not like I can just let him be the guide.”
Psyche purses her lips for a moment. “I am not sure that I have any particular insight. I think the only thing you can do is ask for what you want.”
“That’s what I was afraid you’d say.” I half-expect her to tell me that if I’m too embarrassed to ask for it, then I’m not ready to do the thing.
“Perhaps it would help if you asked for small things, just tiny increments of something new. You would have to ask more frequently, but you could ask for things that are similar to what you are already doing, and that might not be so strange for you.”
I think it over. “That’s a good idea. Thank you.” I smile at my friend, and we enter her hometown together.
Psyche’s father is the king of a small town and its surrounding area. The town itself is walled, and has a number of stone houses and a marketplace. We cross it quickly and enter into the gray-stone palace. Psyche takes me straight to the central courtyard.
“This is where my family is most likely to be at this time of day,” she explains.
I nod, looking around. It’s a pleasant place, made into a garden with small fountains, potted plants, and benches. The people we see are startled by us, and respectful. They don’t try to stop us. At the end of the courtyard there is a small pavilion, heavy fabric set up on poles to provide shade. Beneath the shade there are some heavy chairs, and an older woman sits there, working on her embroidery.
“Mother!” cries Psyche. The woman looks up, startled. Psyche runs to her and throws herself into her mother’s arms. She is a tall, imposing woman with lovely clear skin and an arresting green flicker in her eyes.
“Psyche? My darling girl! You are alive!” She embraces Psyche, her tears flowing immediately. I smile at this touching scene, and wonder if I should go. I don’t want to intrude. The two of them are talking fast, over one another, pouring out explanations.
“When that monster took you we thought you were killed--”
“--not a monster, that was my beloved--”
“--living in Olympus--”
“--your betrothed was so upset and your father was devastated--”
“--so sorry, I had no choice, Aphrodite said--”
“--your sisters said you were being tricked--”
Psyche finally pulls away at the mention of her sisters. I’ve talked with her about them before, and I know she has some resentment.
“How is it you are here now, my darling?” Psyche’s mother asks, petting her hair.
“My friend brought me--”
The queen gasps, seeing me, and drops to her knees.
“Gentle goddess!” she cries.
“There’s no need for that...” I start.
“This is my mother, Queen Damaris,” Psyche informs me. “Mother, this is my friend, Persephone, Demeter’s daughter.”
Damaris looks shocked. “ You are Kore?”
“Persephone,” I correct firmly. Why does this mortal woman know my baby name?
She looks chagrined, and frightened. “I beg your pardon, gentle goddess!”
“I am not offended. Kore was my name as a child.”
“May I offer you refreshment, goddess?”
I accept, not because I want anything, but because it would be rude to refuse. Psyche’s family has received harsh and callous treatment from my kind and I want to do what I can to improve their opinions.
The queen sends for wine, and bread and cheese. I really don’t want wine at this hour of the morning but I guess I can tolerate it.
We sit together under the sunshade and Psyche explains to her mother some of what’s happened to her: Eros’s love, Aphrodite’s test, Zeus’s reluctance. She talks a lot about sharing a home with me and Eros, and doing art, and life in Olympus.
Damaris is wide-eyed. I think she’s having a tough time processing what Psyche is saying.
She addresses me again. “It was most kind of you to take the trouble to bring my daughter home,” she says.
I smile, feeling uncomfortable. “Psyche is my friend. I would do anything I could to help her.” I meant my statement to be reassuring, but the queen is quite discomfited. I suppose any sort of attention from the gods is a frightening thing for mortals.
“It must be a dangerous thing to subvert the will of elder gods.”
What does she mean by that? I exchange a glance with Psyche, who looks just as confused as I feel.
“Mother, what do you mean?” she asks.
“Your friend is risking much for you, to bring you here! You say that Eros wanted to keep you, and Aphrodite and Zeus wanted to test you. Will they not be very angry to find that you are gone?”
Psyche shakes her head. “No, Mother. Eros knows where I am today, and no one else will care.”
She’s not quite getting the implication that her mother thinks she’s come home to stay. I’m not sure if I should get involved.
Damaris looks to me, as if for confirmation. “Psyche is free to come and go as she pleases,” I tell her.
“They show you great honor, my daughter,” the queen says.
I’ve had a couple sips of the wine, and that’s as much as I’m willing to drink. The plan for today was that I would bring Psyche here, and then pick her up at the end of the day after my other tasks are done. I want to check in with her that this is still okay.
I rise to my feet. “Psyche, may I speak to you for a moment?”
She nods, and retreats with me into the main part of the courtyard.
“I think your mother thinks you’re home for good,” I tell her.
“Yes, I just figured that out. I will have to explain better.”
I nod. Something about this place, about Damaris, is making me suspicious, but Psyche seems relaxed and happy to be here. “Don’t tell them about me and Hades, please,” I say. I’m not sure why, but I don’t want my personal business spread around.
Psyche looks surprised. “Of course, if you wish.”
“I’ll explain later, okay?”
I take my leave, and go out from the palace and the town.
“Come to me, my sisters.” I focus my will and push it outwards, lending force to my words. In a moment, the air around me crackles and fizzes, giving off a faint smell of burning hair. Then I blink, and the Furies are here with me.
“Hail, sister,” says Alecto.
“I greet you, my sisters,” I say formally. “Slight change of plans. Tisiphone, will you please stay here and keep an eye on Psyche? I’m not sure why but something about this place disturbs me.”
“Of course, boss,” she replies, and departs into the town to find Psyche.
I turn to the others. “Alecto, where is my mother now?”
She pulls out her phone and sends a text. It’s against the rules to bring technologia into the Mortal Realm, but everyone does it. As long as mortals don’t see, I guess it’s not a real issue.
After a minute, Alecto receives a reply.
“My agent says she’s visiting Thyrea right now.”
“Good. Let’s go.”
The three of us transfer together, and pop out in the fields outside the village I visited twice before. The barley now is hip height, and growing yellower. I start walking towards the houses and Megaera and Alecto walk with me. “Have you learned anything new about my mother’s activities?” I ask.
Alecto shrugs. “She’s visiting lots of places, speaking to mortal women and nymphs and such. It’s hard for our agents to get close enough to hear what’s being said, but if you want them to, they’ll try.”
I frown. I’m not sure it’s worth the risk, for what amounts to no more than a vague suspicion. “Maybe we should talk later about next steps.”
We’re passing between houses now, and taking the shortest path to the priestess’s house. My mother and her nymphs visit here frequently, and I don’t want to linger.
We enter the priestess’s house before anyone gets a chance to get a good look at us. Eunelia is there in the front room, seated on a stool, using a heavy mortar to grind the pile of herbs in the bowl on her lap. She sees me and rises to her feet, setting her tools aside. She smiles and bows to me.
“Gracious goddess, you honor my house.”
“Forgive me for barging in, Eunelia. I didn’t want to be recognized.” Megaera and Alecto move back against the walls, effacing themselves. Eunelia glances at them for a moment, but them focuses on me.
“Of course. You are more than welcome in my home, goddess. May I offer you water?”
“Certainly.” I am no less obligated to accept Eunelia’s hospitality than I was to accept Damaris’s, but I am tremendously more comfortable here in my priestess’s simple home than I was in that palace.
She brings a cup and insists I take the stool.
“How may I serve you, goddess?”
“I have information for you that I would like you to start spreading among other mortals,” I tell her.
She nods. “I will do this. I have something to tell you, as well.”
I sip my water. “Please go on.”
“Your mother continues to visit regularly. She checks on the barley, and ensures that we sacrifice to her. But there is more to it. She talks to people. She asks them how they feel about other gods.”
I frown. I can’t understand it, I have never known my mother to have an interest in how other gods are worshipped. “Thank you. Is there anything else?”
“There is something I have been wondering about, but I am unsure. Since her last visit, the village chief and his wife have been behaving… oddly.”
“Odd in what way?”
She hesitates. “Perhaps it would be best if you saw for yourself?”
“All right,” I say, and set down my cup. “Megaera, can you help me?” I have never tried to disguise myself before, but I’ve seen it done many times and I’ve had it done to me. I think I can figure it out, if someone will act as my mirror.
I wrap a thin veil of power around myself and pull it tight, willing myself into the appearance of a mortal girl. “How’s that?” I ask.
Megaera looks me over critically. “Not bad. Pull it a little tighter, so it just rests against your skin.”
I try that. “No, too much,” she directs. “Loosen it just a touch.”
She inspects carefully. “Yes, that’ll do.”
I look at Eunelia, who nods in calm acceptance. “May I say that you are a relative of mine?”
Eunelia picks up a basket from a shelf and we go out together. I notice that Megaera and Alecto have woven their own disguises: they’re invisible now. In the corner of my eye I have a faint impression of snakiness, but if I look directly at them there’s nothing to see. I will have to ask them to show me that trick later.
I follow Eunelia through the village until we stop at a garden plot outside one of the larger homes. A woman is working there, hoeing weeds.
“Good morning, Nyseia,” she calls.
“And to you, priestess,” replies the woman politely, without really looking up from her work. She’s tall and thin, with light brown hair threaded with gray, bound up on her head.
“My cousin is visiting from another village,” Eunelia says, meaning me. “She is very fond of peaches, perhaps you would be willing to trade some of yours for some of my plums?”
The woman looks at us. Her eyes are very wide, and there’s a suggestion of green in their dark depths. She pauses for what seems like a long time. “Yes,” she says finally. “I would like some plums.”
Eunelia holds out the basket she brought, offering the plums. Nyseia takes the basket into her house.
“I think I see what you mean,” I say. “Is she normally this slow?”
“Not at all. Nyseia is the most energetic person I know,” the priestess replies.
Nyseia returns after a minute, the basket now empty, and crosses the yard to a peach tree. She moves oddly, with a certain jerkiness about the joints. She slowly inspects the tree, selecting a ripe fruit. I approach her. “May I assist, ma’am?” I ask.
“Oh. Yes, you may. Take as many as you like,” she says. Her voice is distant and reedy. She just stands there, hands at her sides, staring off into space while I select three peaches. I move closer to her to take the basket, and up close, I can smell something that makes my hair stand on end. Ergot and oleander. I remember that smell. I could never forget it.
I gently take the basket from Nyseia’s hand and place the peaches into it. “Thank you very much, ma’am. These peaches look delicious.” She nods vaguely, and moves in her slow, jerky way back to her weeding. I walk with Eunelia back towards her house.
“Is her husband the same?” I ask.
“Yes. That strange way of moving, and the slowness.”
“And the smell?” I ask sharply.
Eunelia nods. “Yes. It is similar to the preparation your mother gave to us when she was punishing our village.”
I nod, glad to have confirmation for my theory that this substance is the same one that Eunelia made the day that I blessed the village’s sacred cup. The day they all died. I’m still not sure whether they died because of my power or not, but I don’t believe Eunelia really knows either.
By the time we return to the priestess’s house I’m feeling tense and unsettled, eager to get out of here, but I have a last item to settle. Alecto and Megaera allow their invisibility to fade, and lean up against the wall again. I explain to Eunelia about Elysium, and what it will mean for mortals when they die.
“I want you to begin to teach this to others. Can you do this?”
“Yes. I will say I learned it in a vision. I can describe it so that people will believe.” She sounds so certain that I have little trouble accepting her assertion.
“Good. Once the people here understand, I think it would be good if you were to relocate elsewhere. A larger place, where there are more people to influence. I want this knowledge of the afterlife to spread. Mortals deserve to know. Will you be willing to do this?”
Eunelia regards me calmly for a moment before she speaks. “I have chosen to follow a goddess who can command the Kindly Ones. I will do anything you wish. There is no sacrifice too great.”
Alecto’s smile is sharply amused. “A wise choice, priestess. You could never outrun the reach of Praxidike.”
I feel a chill crawl up my spine. It’s not the first time the Furies have used that name, but I’m still not accustomed to it.
The three of us return to Psyche’s family’s home. I’m feeling more impatient now, so I don’t bother to materialize outside the city, I pick a spot in the corner of the courtyard. No one seems to notice our arrival. At the far end, there’s now a table set up under the sunshade, and Psyche sits there with her mother and a man who I assume is her father. They haven’t noticed us, and I’m wondering where Tisiphone is.
No sooner do I have this thought when she appears before me, dropping her invisibility spell. “Boss, I’ve screwed up,” she hisses.
“What have you done?” Alecto snaps.
“Hush,” I say, and retreat into the palace where Psyche’s parents are less likely to hear us. “What happened?”
“They’ve been talking and eating, and then the father showed up, and everything seemed okay so I wasn’t paying close attention. Then the mother said there was a special drink she wanted Psyche to try, and Psyche did, and now she’s acting all weird.”
Well. That explains what it was about Damaris that struck me as so odd. She’s under the influence of the herbal potion, the same as the woman back in the village.
Megaera and Alecto have been berating Tisiphone for her carelessness, but I stop them. “Enough. The effects aren’t permanent, and we don’t have time for this now. Alecto, Megaera, did you smell that odd scent on the chief’s wife back in the village?”
“Yes, it was a lot like the smell of the shades in Vathia,” Alecta says.
She’s right, and I’m glad to have someone else confirm my suspicion. “I want you to look through the palace and see if you can find a supply of those herbs. Steal a sample if you can. Also look for any signs that my mother has been here.”
They nod, and make themselves invisible.
“Tisiphone, I’m going to talk to Psyche’s family. You’ll be my backup, all right?”
“Right, boss,” she says tightly, and she goes invisible too. I definitely need to learn that trick.
I step out into the courtyard, my head held high, and walk towards the sunshade. Psyche and her parents turn to look at me. Damaris rises to her feet, and her husband joins her as I step under the shade.
“Greetings, goddess,” Damaris says. “This is my husband, King Aristides.”
I nod politely. There’s the same faint flicker of green in his eyes as in Damaris’s eyes, and in the woman Nyseia’s. I look at Psyche. Her face is impassive, emotionless. There’s an empty cup in front of her, giving off the faint scent of oleander, and the tell-tale flicker is in her eyes too. My heart sinks in dismay.
“Will you sit, goddess?” Damaris asks. “I will send for more wine.”
I sit cautiously, and turn my head slowly until I spot the snakiness in my peripheral vision that marks Tisiphone’s position. She’s behind Psyche, where she can keep a close eye on me.
“Have you had a pleasant visit, Psyche?” I ask.
Slowly her lips part to answer me, but Aristides speaks first.
“Your pardon, goddess, but my daughter is not here to visit. This is her home.”
I manage a pleasant smile and change the subject. “I have not spend much time in this area before. Tell me, what crops do you grow?”
Aristides relaxes and brags about his kingdom, telling me about hops and hogs, grain and geese. I’m not really interested, I merely wanted to distract him while I observe.
Psyche isn’t meeting my eyes, and her face shows none of its usual animation and alertness. I can’t tell just by looking how much the herbs have affected her, but I do know that my friend is happy and content with Eros and is extremely unlikely to have changed her mind about that in the course of a morning’s visit with her family.
From the stories she’s told, she loves her parents but she would be no more inclined to placing herself back under their power than I would be to go back under my mother’s. If I’m going to need to take action to help her, and I’m very glad the Furies are here with me.
I feel a slight touch on my shoulder and hear Alecto’s whisper. “We have the sample, boss. And a letter.”
I nod, and cover it by pretending I’m paying attention to the king’s tedious speech about his kingdom’s produce. “That is so very interesting,” I say. “But I’m afraid I must be going now. Will you please excuse us for a minute? I would like to bid my friend farewell.” I speak firmly to Damaris and Aristides. I’m willing to use force if necessary to protect Psyche but it’s really not my style.
The two of them hesitate for a long moment, but in the end they’re unwilling to defy a goddess, even one as young and unknown as I am. “Of course, goddess,” Aristides says, rising and taking his wife’s hand. “Your visit has honored my house.” They walk together out of the courtyard and I turn to my friend.
“Psyche,” I say gently. “Psyche, my darling friend, do you remember who I am?”
She blinks several times and then gives me a bright, false smile. “Of course. You are Kore.”
She has never called me that. She’s never known me by that name. “Yes. That’s right, Kore. And Persephone, you call me that, too.”
She blinks again, more rapidly. “Persephone?”
“Yes. I’m your friend, remember?”
“Yes,” Psyche says, shaking her head as if there were a fly buzzing in her ear. “Yes, I remember.” She’s starting to pant. “Persephone, something is wrong!”
“I know it is. Psyche, dear, do you want to go home?”
She looks confused. “Home?” She looks around, and my heart breaks for her. “Is this not my home?”
“You have another home,” I tell her. “With me. And someone else, do you remember?”
Psyche’s eyes are very wide and she looks almost panicked. The green flicker in her eyes sputters fitfully. “Eros…” she gasps desperately.
“Oh, Persephone, I want to go home!” she cries.
“Yes,” I say. “We’re going now.” I stand and take her by the hands, pulling her to her feet. She staggers and Tisiphone materializes behind her, grabbing her and holding her upright. Megaera and Alecto pop into view as well. “Let’s go, ladies.” We all transfer together back to Olympus.
The Furies ease Psyche down on the couch.
“I could make some tea, boss?” suggests Tisiphone.
“Yes, do that.” I check on Psyche. After the effort of exercising her memory, she seems worn out. Her eyelids are fluttering, and she’s slumping into the couch. “Alecto, would you please go to Hecate and tell her what happened? Bring her that sample, too.”
“Right,” she says, before disappearing.
“What about me, Persephone?” asks Megaera. “What should I do?”
“Can you go see if Eros is here?” I say, for lack of anything better. I rub Psyche’s hands. “Can you hear me, Psyche? Wake up, please!”
She’s not responding. She seems to be sinking into sleep. I sigh and consider what to do next. I feel terrible for having put my friend into a dangerous situation, where her own family gave her a mind-altering drug.
Megaera returns to the living room. “There’s no one else home. But here, I should give you the letter we found back at that palace.” She holds out a scroll, no bigger than my finger.
“Thank you,” I say, and take it. “Why don’t you help your sister?” I need a few minutes of quiet. I unroll the note and look at it. It looks like my mother’s handwriting, but I’m not certain.
You agreed to supply four tons of iron ore by Midsummer. You will fulfill your obligation or feel my wrath. --D
Why on earth does my mother want iron ore? It makes no sense. I can’t figure this out right now. I take out my phone and send a text to Eros: It didn’t go well, can you come home? Psyche is safe but she needs you.
Tisiphone and Megaera bring in a pot of tea. I’d forgotten they were still here.
“Oh, thank you. You can both go now, I think I’d rather be alone,” I say.
They exchange a glance. “All right,” says Tisiphone. “But call if you need us, please.”
I nod, and they transfer away. I sit watching my friend’s quiet breathing until there’s a sudden pop that startles me, and Hecate and Hades are here.
“How is she?” Hecate asks.
“Sleeping, but she seems all right other than that.”
Hecate starts examining Psyche carefully. Hades sits down next to me and tightens his arm around my shoulders. “What about you?” he murmurs. “Are you okay?”
Suddenly I can’t answer. I’m starting to tremble, and my throat feels swollen shut. I shake my head and then rest it on his shoulder. He wraps the other arm around me and holds me close. I wonder how much Alecto told them.
After a minute or two of inhaling Hades’s scent and being soothed by his voice and his stroking hands, I’m feeling a bit calmer. And selfish. I should be thinking about Psyche, not about myself. Maybe I should ask Hades to go find Eros, who still hasn’t replied to my text.
I pull back to explain this to him and I hear the whoopf of Eros’s wings as he materializes right by the couch where Psyche lies.
“Psyche!” he cries, kneeling down by her. “Psyche, darling!”
“Eros, she’s all right,” says Hecate. “She’s just sleeping, she’ll be fine in a few hours.”
“Oh,” he says, and takes a deep breath. He looks around and spots me. “Perse, what happened?”
“I’m so sorry, Eros. I think her mother gave her something. To make her more impressionable, I’m guessing.”
He looks confused and angry. “You mean like a potion? How did that happen?”
“I don’t know for sure, I wasn’t there.”
“What do you mean, you weren’t there? Where were you?” he yells.
I flinch back, and Hades’s arm tightens around me.
“That was the plan all along,” I say miserably. “I brought her to her family and then I did my own things for a while and came back later. Didn’t you know about this?”
“No! If I’d known I would have gone myself! What the hell were you thinking?” He’s really angry now.
“Eros, that’s enough--” Hades intervenes. I squeeze his arm and shake my head, asking him to stop. I appreciate his instinct but it won’t help right now.
“I was thinking that she’s an adult and can make her own decisions,” I say.
Eros huffs at me, all the wind taken out of his sails. “Yeah,” he says. Then he turns back to Psyche and carefully picks her up, carrying her down the hall to their bedroom.
I’m very relieved that they’re gone. I take a long, slow breath, and Hades squeezes me again.
“That sample you sent, Persephone,” Hecate says. “Is that what was used on her?”
“I don’t know for certain. I sent the Furies to look around, you’d have to ask Alecto where she found it.”
“It’s definitely ergot and oleander, like what was used on the shades. There may be some other things added, I’ll know after I test it.”
I nod. I should tell now about my priestess, and the couple in the village, and my suspicion about my mother’s involvement. I don’t, though. I can’t bring myself to accuse my mother of something, I’m not even sure what.
“I think Psyche’s parents were also under the influence of the same substance,” I say. It’s the best I can do, for now. I swallow down the bitter taste of guilt.
"Huh. That's interesting," Hecate says.
"So they're being influenced by another person," Hades speculates.
"It seems so," I say. I should really tell them. I feel tears gathering in my eyes. and my chest feels constricted, like a giant hand is gripping my lungs.
“Well, I’ll go see about testing that sample,” Hecate says. I don’t look up to see her go.
“I think you had a really rough day, Kore,” Hades murmurs into my hair. I nod. I can’t speak anymore. He’s responding to my distress, rubbing my back again. It’s only when he brushes his thumbs over my cheeks that I understand that I’m crying.
I rotate towards him and circle my arms around his shoulders. I really need his comfort now. I don’t know what to do. If I tell him about my suspicions and I’m wrong, what does that say about me? Does it make me a bad daughter? I love my mother! I’m shaking and my tears fall faster.
If I don’t tell him and I’m right--I don’t like what that says about me, either. I hate the idea that some action of mine could hurt my friends, and especially Hades. Would it hurt Hades, though? I don’t really know. If I’m right, I still have no idea why my mother is acting as she is, or what her goals are.
I guess either way I have to find more information. That’s the only way I can figure out the right thing to do. I sniffle, trying to control my tears.
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be like this.”
Hades makes a sound a little like a laugh. I feel his breath against my hair. “This is exactly what I deserve for making a fuss this morning, saying that I was the needy one. I owe you an apology, Kore. You were right. This kind of support is exactly what I’m here for. I want to be that for you and I have to accept it from you, in return.”
I’m glad he can acknowledge this but I’m being shredded by guilt. How can I ask for his support and sympathy when I’m hiding the truth from him? I can’t go on like this, I have to say something .
I push back from his chest and wipe my face. I swallow down further tears that want to erupt. I look Hades in the eye. “I think you were right when you said that someone else was controlling Psyche’s parents.” I wait, watching his face, showing him with my expression how serious I am.
“I… see.” He pauses. “Kore, is there something you’re not telling me?”
He waits, and I don’t speak, I just watch him. His eyebrows slowly climb upwards.