The day was cold but flashed with light. The Olympian Rings hung in the sky as usual, bands of glowing iridescent dust and ice. Persephone knelt and tugged at the base of a thick stem. Golden-white blossoms sprang loose, ready to be gathered. Their nectar would be made into ambrosia and help gods boost their powers, according to Demeter.
A grassy rustle hooked Persephone’s attention, and she spun to her feet, dropping the flowers. A young man stood there, falsely innocent. Brown skin, a mane of long braids. His fingers hooked around a blood-red sash tied around his waist, and a vest of glittering gold mesh exposed the ink sprawling across his arms.
“Hades.” Her voice was wary.
“I’m not scared of your mother.”
Persephone glowered. “You should be. I need to give her these flowers. Go away.”
Hades pulled something from his pocket, a winking silver-white Stone. He tossed it into the air, and it morphed into a white cloak. Its fabric shifted to shades of green and brown as he flipped the hood up, blending into the forest. “Better?”
Persephone sighed and began picking up her flowers. This was dangerous. “She’ll banish you before anything happens to me.”
“I noticed that about her. That she doesn’t let anything happen to you.” Hades threw back his hood and shimmered back into visibility.
“There’s more to the world of Olympus than this forest.”
Persephone raised her eyebrows in a knowing expression. “Like the Underworld?”
Hades held her gaze steadily. “It’s not far. I can show you around.”
Persephone felt her heart rate pick up. Wild, foolish hope. She covered it up with a weak smile. “I wouldn’t belong there.” She didn’t even belong to herself.
“You don’t owe this place anything. It’s your birthplace, not your home.” Hades whistled. A pure black horse, dressed in riding gear, ambled to his side. “Demeter can take care of herself. When are you going to do the same?”
Persephone’s thoughts felt loud yet silent. This was her chance. She grinned at him. Hades stretched out his hand. Persephone paused, trying to read the flowing script on his forearm, and accepted it. He mounted gracefully and helped her clamber up. Persephone clung on as they galloped, Hades’ hands guiding the reins.
The forest grew deeper and darker as they drew further away from Demeter, forcing the horse to trot even with the light. Finally the horse snorted to a stop, stomping its feet. Persephone tensed.
“Relax. She just wants a break.” Hades slid off, leaving Persephone to clutch the saddle horn, and stroked the horse’s neck, talking quietly.
Persephone dropped to the mud-soft ground on the opposite side. The faintest of light revealed a white ring around the horse’s eye, but it was still a brilliant black. “What’s her name?”
“Poetry In Motion. Poetry for short.”
“Poetry,” Persephone echoed warmly, rubbing the horse’s neck. This was the steed leading her to freedom. “Thank you, Poetry.”
“You’re welcome,” Hades muttered. He pointed straight ahead, at the faintest glimmer of liquid light. “That’s the River Styx. The Underworld’s at the bottom of the river. We need light.”
Persephone reached into her pocket and opened her hand slowly. Her green Stone morphed into a torch, ready to light at a mere thought from her. It flared to life then shrank and faded.
“What’s wrong with your torch?”
Persephone felt her chest clutch. She owed him some honesty, since he had risked her mother’s wrath to help her. “I haven’t had ambrosia for a month.”
Hades’ face was hidden in shadow. Persephone busied herself, winding a strip of cloth around the torch and borrowing his flint to spark natural flames into being. “Let’s go.” She fought the tremble from her voice. Hades didn’t react, just mounted, grasped her hand, and carefully nudged Poetry forward.
“So. Are you going to tell me what happened?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“With me, you always have a choice.”
Persephone gazed at him through the darkness. “My mother limited my amount of ambrosia. She didn’t want me to become too strong. She is the goddess of spring, I have the power of fire . . . . You understand.”
Hades turned his head toward her. Firelight bounced around in his eyes like sound in an echo chamber. A thousand shades of amber and warm brown sparkled, only a little lighter than her own eyes. “You’re lucky to have her. Demeter is strong.”
“Strength doesn’t fear strength,” Persephone growled. “It disagrees and even clashes, but always respects.”
“Is your running away an act of fear, then?”
“An act of anger.”
“Are you sure?” Hades’ expression was flat.
Persephone glared at his shoulders. “I hate her! I accidentally burned down her garden, and she struck me. Hit me across the face. What kind of woman does that to a child!”
Hades’ features were pale, stricken. One blurred glimpse of his face was enough. Persephone stared away, thoughts swirling. He would judge her, pity her. Maybe she should ignore him and pretend nothing happened. Maybe she should just leave.
He wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “I’m sorry, Persephone.”
She drew deeper into his embrace. The words stuck in her throat at first, heavy as stones. “I just want to be free,” she whispered.
“And I want to be your friend.”
You already are.
Persephone swam through the Styx toward the surface. A regally tall figure was approaching the entrance to the Underworld.
Persephone’s head burst into the air just as the thought occurred. Round blue eyes met lidded brown eyes. Two years of lost history passed between them in a shiver of time. Persephone brandished the torch. It burst into flame, shining green with magical energy, and Demeter fled.
Wide-eyed. The clumsiness of desperation. A trapped and frightened animal.
Persephone closed her eyes, trying to steady herself before she could start to sway. She expected triumph. But she had just scared off a weak woman. Where was the triumph in that?
Had her mother even recognized her?
Enough. Persephone ducked back underwater. This was her life now. Brimming with ambrosia, hardened with muscle, confident in her power of fire.
Hades was waiting for her in the glass sphere protecting the Underworld from flooding, colored green and blue by the light shining through the water. His eyes glowed with pride. For her. The bridge had finally burned. Persephone felt her feet practically take flight. She kissed him eagerly, her hair messy between them. “Sorry.”
Hades only replied with an affectionate shake of his head.
Her mother would never leave her, deep down. But she was home.
—Heidi Hackman is a student at Christopher Dock Mennonite Academy, Lansdale, Pennsylvania. As part of an internship assignment, she shadowed Cascadia Publishing House activities, which included this fresh take on the story of Persephone, Hades, and Demeter as a Kingsview & Co guest blog post.