"Shh," I told the yellow blossom I cradled between two fingers. "Don't cry so loud."
Only it wasn't the flower that was making such a fuss. Cyane was at my side, pulling at my dress like a babe. Her face was contorted in panic.
I shook her off, again, and ran on ahead. There were flowers of every color on this hill, a sea of petals to caress soft palms. Cyane followed me like a burr, once again plucking at my fabric. She had been that way ever since the clouds had come. Nymphs don't like storms, as a general rule. It reminds them of things they don't quite remember.
She wasn't actually crying. Nymphs don't speak around me. I told them long ago that there was something bloody about their singing. That's why it appeals so to men—they talk about it being springtime and ambrosia, but it's really about submission. I heard Cyane sing once, with her sister. It was the whimpering of beaten dogs, the pleading of a child. I hated it.
The winds had picked up. The breeze offered me roses, daisies, and lovely hyacinth, mixed with the salt of a distant ocean. The clouds offered relief from the relentless sun, and I realized that I was alone. Not even Helios could see me through his grey veil.
"Come on!" I cried, grasping Cyane's cold hands. I wanted to travel farther into the field, so that I could stand in the very center of the storm. She tried to pull me in the opposite direction, towards her river, where she could hide me in rushes until the storm passed. I batted her fragile fingers away, always the strongest of my play mates. She gave another one of her lilting murmurs. It was a measure of her distress.
I ignored her and ran away. She would follow, or risk the wrath of my mother. The wind was at my back, and it gave the pleasant sensation of flying as I ran down the hill. The gusts were ruining the flowers now, plucking petals, but I didn't mind. It was a fair trade for the small liberty of being shielded from above.
Then I caught sight of it: the most beautiful flower of all. It stood out in the stormy field like a candle in a dark room. I ran forward, suddenly desperate to possess it. Narcissus, as beautiful in death as in life. Cyane nearly cried out loud with frustration and dismay.
Even as I knelt before it, paying homage to a beauty that nearly equaled my own, the ground began to shake. I ignored it. There was nothing that could endanger me, nothing that could harm the daughter of Gods. I was more sacred than the holiest temple.
"Kore!" she screamed, a sound like water being cut. I paid attention then, finally rising from my fascination.
I drew one breath before the storm lifted me from my feet. Only, it wasn't the storm, it was a cloud that came from beneath the earth. Even that was not right. It was metallic darkness, as cold as stone. It was a wind, it was rock, it was a chariot. It was a man, who now held me against his icy flesh.
"Cyane!" I screamed, fighting against his grip. The flowers had turned to a blur as the chariot turned sharply. The smell of crushed narcissus tainted the air.
I felt sick as the chariot careened in a new direction. The water of the river overran its banks, engulfing the nymph and rising about us. The inky liquid took the shape of Cyane, flowing into a shape as perfectly sculpted as stone. She rose her arms and a wall formed. The horses that were not horses reared, and I heard reigns crack.
"You may not do this thing!" she spoke, her words condensing and falling to soak into the ground. I felt pride for her then, little Cyane, poor Cyane.
My head was pressed into my abductor's side when I felt the sinews of his arm tighten and raise. He pointed towards her, silent as the grave, and blue fire burst forth. The water tightened, turning to a skin, then charred and fell to the ground. It writhed as it fell, and emitted a horrible sound. I fought all the harder then, punching the unflinching flesh.
The whips cracked once more, and the chariot pressed on, scattering Cyane's dusty remains. If I had any doubt of the immortality of my abductor, they were banished with the destruction of the nymph.
The ground lay open before us, a horrible rent in the earth, bleeding fire. The chariot flew within, and the chill of the storm was replaced for a minute with flaring heat. That too passed, replaced by a hyperborean lack. Never before had I experienced such a complete withdrawal. My body protested, and I pressed towards him in an instinctual need for warmth. I think he was surprised. He tightened his hold for a minute, then loosened it. I still could not see his face, but I was distracted by the breakneck speed of the chariot, plunging downwards into complete darkness. I close my eyes, overcome by the inertia.
I cannot die, but I was well versed in the lots of immortals to know a million other fates that could befall me. Foremost in my mind was that I would become horribly lamed, that perhaps this was some plot of Aphrodite's, who had always envied other women their fairness. I thought surely, someone would rescue me from such a fate, but the very clouds I'd welcomed had surely hid the scene from all. All except poor Cyane.
An eternity late, the chariot slowed, then careened to a stop. I raised my head to see the spirit horses crumbled, returning to the grave dust from which they had been formed. Surely, I though, surely I have been scratched by the rocks, or burned by the fire. I felt no pain though, just the constant and benumbing inclemency of my surroundings.
My captor shifted, and I placed two hands upon his chest and pushed myself away with all of my strength. My captor did not so much as move, but I did find myself free of his arm. I stumbled backwards, off of the chariot, and would have fallen in to the strange water of the river Styx had he not grasped me once again.
I looked up into black eyes as he drew me upwards. I expected to see death, perhaps desire, but what I saw instead surprised me. I saw agony.
He pulled me back on to the chariot, then lifted me down on to the other side, where my feet met true land. He was no longer restraining me, but there would not have been much purpose if he had. The plains of Etna were a thousand spans above, and I was sure that even now the earth was healing its gaping wound.
Hades was a darker version of my father. His skin was the color of murky jasper, and every move he made was as though he were dragging chains. I noticed that the mist curled away from him. It only seemed to stick closer to me, until I felt as though the fog was condensing in my pores.
"Why?" I asked.
As if to answer, he placed a hand on the left side of his bare chest. I could see the tiny tear in his skin, so small it was little more than a scratch. But to be so perfectly placed, so near invisible, could only mean one thing. It was the site of one of Eros' arrows; as piercing as a needle. I knew Aphrodite had been behind this somehow.
"Bitch," I summarized.
He nodded, rubbing the spot.
The air was made only a fraction less tense by our shared opinion of his sister.
"I won't be ravished!" I announced.
As soon as the words left my mouth, I felt absolutely ridiculous. But it was the truth. I was a virgin goddess, a rare thing, but I knew the dangers that male gods posed. I had never before considered them as a threat to myself, especially not the dark god of the underworld. But Eros' arrows were dipped in a narcotic as powerful as the ages.
He gave a solemn nod once more.
I didn't know how to interpret his silence. To be sure, I was not sure he could speak. If he attacked me in a mad lust, at least I would know how to react.
Instead he made a wide gesture with his arm, clearing some of the mist to reveal a short path leading to an open arch in the stone. He obviously wished me to walk in that direction. I could see the outline of a building in the distance. Thinking that perhaps it would offer relief from the suffocating fog, I did so. I gave him a wide berth as I passed around him, and he made no effort to touch me again.
As I walked, I felt his unrelenting eyes, as tangible as a touch upon my shoulder blades.